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Perils of Technology: Dehumanization and Extinction

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Ernst Mayr, a top biologist of the 20th century, explains this bifurcation of our intelligence into cleverness and wisdom by defining it as a lethal mutation that is a type of mutation in which the effect(s) can result in the death or reduce significantly the expected longevity of an organism carrying the mutation. Whether or not Mayr's theory is correct is irrelevant since humans are behaving as if it were true.

Although rarely part of the public discourse, one of the greatest threats to an inhabitable planet is the threat of nuclear weapons. Nuclear war is always possible but doesn't represent the greatest danger, whereas the risk of an inadvertent, unauthorized, technical malfunction or accidental launch is very high, as demonstrated by the hundreds of close-calls in the past. Examples of close-calls include the Cuban Missile Crises in 1962, NORAD Headquarters displaying a Soviet submarine attack off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States on its screen in 1979, Serpukhov-15 (Soviet Monitoring Station) displayed incoming attack of five U.S. missiles in 1983, and a NATO war game misinterpreted by Soviet Union as real attack in 1983.

General Lee Butler, the last commander of the Strategic Air Command who was responsible for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, writes that, "We escaped the Cold War by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion." A statement on nuclear weapons by international generals and admirals warns that, "We know that nuclear weapons represent a clear and present danger to the very existence of humanity." American signatories include General John R. Galvin, General Charles A. Horner, General Robert C. Kingston, General William E. Odom, and General Bernard W. Rogers.

Since the United States and Russia are on hair-trigger alert, even if only one side launches a small number of missiles inadvertently, it will engender a radioactive cloud that will circle the earth and possibly trigger severe food shortages, subjecting billions to possible starvation, and inflict many others to radiation poisoning. According to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, "A new report [concluded] that more than two billion people would be at risk of starvation in the event of a limited nuclear exchange."

Proof of anthropogenic climate change is in the pudding and we are already gorging ourselves. According to the Aeronautics and Space Administration, there is a 97% consensus among climate scientists. Public awareness of the impacts of climate change is growing but to what extent are we aware of the urgency and severity of the potential obtrusion into our lifestyles? Consider the following potential consequences of climate change: drought, forest fires, heat waves, rise in food prices, extreme rainfall, flooding, more frequent and severe hurricanes, tornadoes, gales, tsunamis, climate refugees, salt-water intrusion, coastal erosion, acidification of the oceans, warming of the oceans, and reduced supply of potable water.

There are examples of the above consequences occurring every day somewhere on the globe. For example, in Papua, New Guinea, people living on Carteret Islands have become climate refugees. A ten-centimetre rise in sea levels during the previous 20 years has destroyed their way of life. The nation of Kiribati is forced to move the entire population of its 32 islands to Fiji to avoid rising sea levels. Melbourne, Australia, has also been victimized by global warming as record temperatures in 2009 sparked massive wildfires, killing 171 people. Drought in the midwestern states in the U.S. has cost more than $35 billion and Mississippi waters levels have plummeted. Shortages of potable water have reached the point where 3.4 million people in Africa do not have access to potable water.

In addition, we may be retrogressing to the dystopian days before the discovery of antibiotics. Eighty percent of consumption of the pharmaceutical industry's expensive elixir of life, antibiotics, is fed to livestock to protect them from disease on factory farms and to fatten them expeditiously. We consume small quantities of antibiotics whenever we eat food from treated livestock, which is sufficient to empower the bacteria in our bodies to develop a resistance to the antibiotics. The World Health Organization warns that, "Without urgent, coordinated action the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections and minor injuries can once again kill."

Despite technology's miraculous blessings in the field of medicine, communication and business, it has also become a curse by unleashing forces, mostly irreversible, that will act to the detriment of the human race. We seem to lack the wisdom to render decisions that are in the optimal interests of our species. Every technology has benefits and costs but we are so enthralled by the exciting and glamorous benefits that we fail to weigh the benefits against the costs, which are frequently long-term and obscure. Case in point--genetically modified organisms for which we have yet to understand the true costs. Will we allow technology to become our executioner? The sword of Damocles will fall only if we continue to loosen our grip.

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I have been a professor of political science at Seneca College in Toronto. I have published five books the last of which "Selling Out: Consuming Ourselves to Death" was released in May/08. As well, I have been featured in CounterPunch, Z (more...)
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