Monday, July 30, 2012


I am occasionally accused of being a Luddite. By this I take it that I’m seen as resistant to change. I am actually a sucker for sleek tech, but IT wizardry doesn’t have the instant surface appeal of, say, a carbon fiber bicycle, or the latest Canon digicam, and there’s a lot going on in the field of technology today that I find intrusive, infuriating, and, yes, downright scary.

The other day I had to attend a seminar introducing us exporters to the new electronic Export Declaration procedures demanded worldwide by a pseudo-paranoid America after the events of 9/11.  The slogan of the American company that runs the compulsory new system for our Bureau of Customs: "We Change the Way You Do Business". Either 'change' is now a club with which to belabor the powerless, or it has become an uncritical synonym for progress. 

That science and tech have both an upside and a downside is surely a cliché hardly worth repeating. So, when did change start being automatically good? True, I would almost certainly have been dead several times over without modern medicine - but a lot of Iraqis would as certainly be alive, or born perfectly formed, but for Depleted Uranium. 

The boffin in the lab all too often allows his enthusiasm for potential discovery to override his conscience. This process is greatly aided by a deterministic science.  If we are all mere biochemical cause-and-effect then behavior is determined by physical laws and scientists, bereft of free will, are automatically absolved of responsibility for their actions.

I therefore find the excitement of the scientist in the attached video terrifying.  His promiscuous thrill at the cornucopia of discoveries awaiting him and his clever colleagues in the new field of genetic engineering has been an open invitation to exploitation by amoral, profit-seeking multinationals. His childlike excitement at the heady prospect of reengineering life itself, far from heralding a brave, new world, is a harbinger of disaster. 

The thrill of discovery is amoral.  Its untrammeled expression is the very definition of recklessness, if not madness. Does a similar thrill also keep armaments researchers maiming lab animals late into the night, in their mad quest for a better way to kill people?  I sound extreme, but behind closed doors it’s happening.  Yes, to the dangerous extent that science has abandoned morality I am a Luddite.