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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

How We Got Where We Are


    The author (John Burke) of the following quote, from an essay entitled Technology and Values,  was educated at Boston Latin, MIT and Stanford and was, in order, a metallurgist, B-17 bomber pilot and prisoner of war, executive for Cummins Diesel, establisher and owner of an engineering firm, grad student and recipient of a doctorate at Stanford and assistant professor of the history of science and the history of technology at UCLA.  

The essay was included in a volume called The Great Ideas Today - 1969  published in 1969 by Britannica Great Books.

     "In the larger sense, technology has been criticized as promoting a materialistic attitude and as threatening man's spiritual values.  It has been condemned as contributing to more frequent and more devastating wars, because scientists and engineers have been able to devise and produce increasingly more lethal and more destructive weapons. It is asserted that technological advances in perfecting automated work processes will, in time, create massive unemployment in many levels of the labor force, which will undermine or shatter the human satisfaction in personal achievement.  We also now have the capability of constructing a central government computer which, through national networks, could reproduce in seconds a complete dossier of any citizen.  This possibility, of course, raises the spector of a secret police force and a fascist-type dictatorship, controlling our lives and depriving us of our freedom.  Though aware of these warnings and presumptions, it is difficult for most of us to take them seriously. Rather, the advance of scientific knowledge and our increasing technological capabilities appear to point to a marvelous future for all mankind...Though some of our values may suffer because of novel technology, other and higher values, it appears, will be greatly enhanced."

     Yet, later in the same essay the author says..."We may encapsulate the complex problem posed by technology in a few sentences.  We are in a period of rapid and largely uncontrolled technological change, and from this activity we are deriving many material and economic benefits.  Many current technological processes, however, are depleting our natural resources wastefully and inefficiently and are causing deterioration of our environment.  Futher, technological change is contributing to a feeling of insecurity and hopelessness among a large segment of the population, to the invasion of traditional human rights, and to the impairment of the quality of life."

  And so we have it.  In spite of what actually was happening - the loss of natural resources, the desruction of the environment, the deterioration of the quality of life - he still firmly believed that leadership would turn it around and it would all end well.

    Why?   Will the answer to this question help us understand why, after 40 years of slow but steady economic and social change in Brattleboro, no set of leadership has ever done anything different?  Exploring this question will be the work of the Committee of the Future.

    I recently ran across the following quote, said to be commonly attributed to John Maynard Keynes:  "When the facts change, I change my mind.  What do you do, sir?"

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Initial thoughts

The first thing to came to mind was the old 80-20 rule of thumb, roughly stated, that 20 percent are active and 80 percent are passive on most things. Your leaders are often found in the 20 percent, and with a combination of circumstances, luck, and effort they can "lead" the other 80 percent, who would indeed like to be led.

A new idea might find 20% support initially. A leader convinces the 80% to accept the change.

There is another quote: "Search the parks in all your cities, you'll find no statues of committees." This tells me that sometimes, perhaps often, it takes an individual to stand up before things will change. Others don't have the courage or convictions until that one person breaks the mold. "The emperor has no clothes!" Yes, we always knew that but waited for the child to say the words.

Technological advances in cameras and recording from small devices are at the heart of almost all the recent police shooting cases in the country. Society may advance as a result of what we have seen brave individuals record. These same phones deplete natural resources, and so on, as mentioned by Burke above. Is this a contradiction we care to live with?

I welcome and encourage the Committee of the Future to continue theses discussions and pose further questions here. The Philosophy section was created for just such a use.

 
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Prescient!

"This possibility, of course, raises the specter of a secret police force and a fascist-type dictatorship, controlling our lives and depriving us of our freedom."

That could never happen, could it?

 

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