The Technological Fundamentalism Boomerang

Robert Jensen describes the dark side of the faith that technology can continue to solve all our problems. Excerpts below.

Link: Technological Fundamentalism In Media And Culture By Robert Jensen.

An honest assessment of the culture’s technological fundamentalism makes it clear why Wes Jackson’s call for an “ignorance-based worldview” is so important. Jackson, a plant geneticist who left conventional academic life to co-found The Land Institute [http://www.landinstitute.org/pages/SmithsonianMag-WJackson.pdf] to pursue projects about sustainable agriculture and sustainable culture, suggests that we would be wise to recognize what we don’t know. His point is that whatever the advanced state of our technical and scientific prowess, we are — and always will be — far more ignorant than knowledgeable, and therefore it would be sensible for us to adopt an ignorance-based worldview that could help us work effectively within our limits. Acknowledging our basic ignorance does not mean we should revel in the ways humans can act stupidly, but rather should spur us to recognize that we have an obligation to act intelligently on the basis not only of what we know but what we don’t know.

If we were to step back and confront honestly the technologies we have unleashed — out of that hubris, believing our knowledge is adequate to control the consequences of our science and technology — I doubt any of us would ever get a good night’s sleep. We humans have been overdriving our intellectual headlights for thousands of years, most dramatically in the 20th century when we ventured with reckless abandon into two places where we had no business going — the atom and the cell.

On the former: The deeper we break into the energy package, the greater the risks we take. Building fires with sticks gathered from around the camp is relatively easy to manage, but breaking into increasingly earlier material of the universe — such as fossil fuels and heavy metal uranium — is quite a different project, more complex and far beyond our capacity to control. Likewise, manipulating plants through traditional selective breeding is local and manageable, whereas breaking into the workings of the gene — the foundational material of life — takes us to places we have no way to understand.

These technological endeavours suggest that the Genesis story was prescient; our taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil appears to have been ill-advised, given where it has led us. We live now in the uncomfortable position of realizing we have moved too far and too fast, outstripping our capacity to manage safely the world we have created. The answer is not some naïve return to a romanticized past, but a recognition of what we have created and a systematic evaluation of how to step back from our most dangerous missteps.

Letter from T. Boone Pickens to WSJ

Here’s a letter published in the Wall Street Journal from T. Boone Pickens. He is responding to a letter criticizing his plan from Mr. Jenkins.

Link: Letters – WSJ.com.

This Is My Plan for American Energy, What’s Yours?

I read Holman Jenkins’s "Boone Doggle" (Business World, Aug. 6) about my energy plan and I’m convinced that he hasn’t even read my plan. So for the benefit of Mr. Jenkins and his readers, I’ll go over it again.

There are two numbers everybody should keep in mind. The first is 70% — that’s how much of our oil comes from foreign nations.

The second is $700 billion — that’s how much of our money is sent overseas to pay for that oil every year.

Mr. Jenkins argues that this isn’t technically a "transfer of wealth." You can call it whatever you want, but common sense would call it a crisis. It’s hitting every part of the economy, and it’s only going to get worse because we consume 25% of the world’s oil, but we only have 3% of the oil reserves. For years we paid foreign nations to send us their oil and didn’t worry about it because it was cheap. But now it’s not and it matters a great deal.

We’ve had warnings before. Some of us remember the oil embargo of 1973. Back then we were importing less than 30% of our oil but it was still a crisis. And what did we learn? Today we’re importing nearly 70%. We all have — and I emphasize all — allowed our nation’s energy future to rest in the hands of foreign interests. And if we need to know how dangerous it is to rely on other countries for our energy, just look at what’s happening in Georgia. Yes, we buy some oil from our friends, but we also buy from some who aren’t so friendly.

We have to develop domestic energy alternatives and set ourselves on the road to self-sufficiency. Ultimately, that will mean using domestic renewable energy to generate electricity and power our vehicles. Unfortunately, clean, renewable fuels for transportation aren’t ready yet. So here’s my plan to break the foreign stranglehold.

It starts with wind. A Department of Energy study says we can generate 20% of our electricity from wind. I believe that with private investment and proven technology, we can generate 20% of our electricity from wind within 10 years — which happens to be the same amount we currently generate using America’s natural gas. Moving to wind power will allow us to conserve domestic natural gas for transportation. It’s cheaper, it’s cleaner, the technology is ready now and it’s abundant — America only has 20 billion barrels of oil and we’re trying to drill for a few billion more, but we already have the natural gas equivalent of 110 billion barrels in proven reserves and 170 billion more that are being accessed through new technology.

But most importantly, natural gas buys us one thing money can’t buy — time — the time to develop the renewable fuels that will finally end foreign oil’s stranglehold on the U.S.

That’s my plan — to harness domestic resources to reduce the impact of foreign oil and buy us time to perfect the next generation of clean renewables, allowing us to invest more of that $700 billion a year in our own destiny. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it, but I think it’s a good one.

My father used to tell me that a fool with a plan is better than a genius with no plan. So I ask, what’s Mr. Jenkins’s plan?

T. Boone Pickens
Dallas