Friday, February 26, 2010

Five inventions that have doomed humanity

I just read a fun post tweeted by dtitle, "Five amazing inventions that will doom us all!"

Why wait for the future, though? We already have all kinds of technological doo-dads that have doomed humanity (if not humans):

(Runners-up: Automobiles, telephones, and the incandescent lamp. And record players (recommended by John Spencer).)

Number Five: Television (and other forms of e-media)

Very few folks control television, and very few appreciate how this medium has altered our minds. Democracy depends on discourse, and folks who spend hours a day "consuming" visions produced by very wealthy people with very narrow objectives effectively remove themselves as true citizens (though they can, alas, still vote).

Democracy is essentially dead in the States, and hasn't flourished in most parts of the world anyway, so as influential as televison is, I relegated it to fifth place here.

Number Four: The Haber Process

Prometheus gave us fire, Fritz Haber gave us nitrogen fixation. We were now one with the gods.

Before the Haber process, only bacteria and bolts of lightning made nitrogen available for life. Without nitrogen, we have no proteins, no nucleic acids. Haber gave humans control of the nitrogen cycle. We are gods now, able to make ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen.

We no longer had to rely on poop for fertilizer. Our huge human population depends on fertilizer made possible by the Haber process. Ammonia can also be used to make lots of explosives.

Why is this on the list (aside from my innnate hatred of golf courses)? Haber's process created industrialized agriculture. We disconnected ourselves from the mystery (or so we think), and now believe we can continue to grow food relentlessly, without thought.

Haber helped trigger the Green Revolution. In the end, it will only mean that many more carcasses to burn when our fossil fuels are depleted, and artificial fertilizers become too expensive for all but the elite.

Fritz Haber also developed chlorine gas for use in warfare, and personally oversaw its use in France.

Number Three: The written word

Yep, I use them. I read, I write, I even (*gasp*) blog. I'm a hypocrite.

Words are abstract. They freeze moments. Our collective oral memory evolves through generations, tailoring the needs of the clan with the needs of the community. The written word changes all this.

NONE of any of the rest of this list happens with oral tradition alone. The written Bible does not happen, nor the written Koran. Old conflicts dissolve with time in the oral tradition. The written word keeps grudges alive forever.

In my best moments, words disappear.

I'm OK with burning books, as long as we burn all of them.

Number Two: Computers

We can now process thought faster than we can think. Every one of you reading this post can be traced. Databases record your keystrokes. There is no longer privacy for anyone committed to living the 21st century life.

I'd like to pick my nose and maybe even savor the results without anyone knowing. (That was allegorical, folks.)

Computers allow telecommunications, allow nuclear weaponry, allow large hadron colliders, allow genomic typing, allow pretty much every foray into risky high tech hi-jinks without an iota of thought.

OK, they allow Zelda, too, so it's almost a wash.

And number one:
Nuclear weapons

We got 'em, lots of them. So does Russia, and China. The Brits. The cozy buddies India and Pakistan. Did I mention France? France!?

Well that's OK, no rogues states, eh. (Ooops...almost forgot. NORTH KOREA!)

Maybe Israel. And soon, perhaps, Iran.

But it's OK, we all love each other, and would never use them, right?

Yoshihiro, the baby died 11 days later.
Tanaka Kio, the mother, lived until December 9, 2006.

Their story, our story, is here.

Television pic from, via CC 3.0
Fritz is from wikipedia
The open Bible is from wikipedia, too
Univac via Georgia Gwinnett College
Yoshihiro and Tanaka's photo was taken by Yamahata Yosuke.

Am I serious about this list?

I'd love to hear your opinions....


Unknown said...

I'd like to add electricity to the list and the microwave. Perhaps even the record player. On some level, I believe music shouldn't be captured and preserved like a lifeless butterfly in a cold jar.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I cannot believe I missed recorded music. I'll go update the list!

Unknown said...

I have added an excerpt from this to a post I am working on - I am thinking of calling it "The Dark Ages" because that is what it feels like (I am thinking political climate, war against teachers, climate/evolution debate...). I ned to really finish that up. There is no democracy, I agree.

I might add you really should move TV higher in the list. As for books, Bravo! I am Augustinian. I believe in understanding allegorically and not literally (and thank you for not being literal in your allegorical reference!)

The haber process and our control over ammonia even goes further. Rather than do the right thing and allow cows to pasture to rid them of ecoli, they keep them in feedlots and treat the meet. With what? Ammonia added to the filler they place in the ground beef. Wait: Better living through chemistry, right?

doyle said...

Dear Louise,

Somewhere deep in the ocean is a vent, surrounded by critters who do not know light. But they know life.

No matter what happens up here, life will go on.

As far as the war against teachers, well, that's nothing terribly new, and to be fair, we have the best careers a reasonably sane human could want--surrounded by young humans, molding minds.

Take my words with a grain of salt. In a few weeks bees will be making honey again, honey I will feed to yeast.

The world is wonderful no matter how humans behave.