Have we, human beings, come of age? Have we, as a civilization, matured? Have we finally become the masters of our environment? Can we possibly think that our civilization is here to stay?
The primary concern is technology. Since the dawn of civilization, man has made use of his knowledge of the laws of Nature, to make his living conditions better. For example, he discovered the use of fire, which kept him warm during winter, enabled him to eat cooked food and kept wild animals away. Similarly, he invented the wheel, the plough…
Civilization is closely associated with the development of technology. Does this mean that a progress in civilization is impossible without an advancement in technology? This seems to be the popular idea. That we can live “better lives” with better technology. For being efficient, it is generally felt that we have to use the latest technology.
But does it really work out that way? It depends on what you mean by “efficient”. If you are referring to maximum production with minimum labour involved, probably you are right. But we are already feeling the adverse effects of using the latest technology, on our life sustaining ecosystem. There many crucial factors that are ignored while estimating this “efficiency”. The exploitation of natural resources, pollution, degradation of human work to inhuman labour.
Technology is nothing more than technical “know-how”. It is man who decides “what” to do with it. And don’t you feel that there is something wrong in the preconception that the only way forward is using the latest technology? It’s becoming more evident by the day. It’s pretty obvious that we cannot infinitely advance in a materialistic way, as our planet is finite. But what do we do when the fantastically short-sighted economics which govern our world neglect all those qualitative factors and concentrate only on one thing- economy, or profitability.
E.F.Schumacher develops in his book, Small is Beautiful the interesting concept of an “Intermediate Technology”– technology that is superior to the primitive tools which early man used, but which is simple and sustainable and accessible for everyone- most importantly, a technology that is appropriate for the community concerned. Schumacher foresaw the danger of underdeveloped countries trying to develop along the same lines as the developed countries leading to a dependence of the poor countries on the rich for technology, and increasingly for the basic necessities of life. We are witnessing the vindication of his fears in today’s globalised world.
Small is Beautiful is a work full of wisdom that we badly need today. Let me leave you with a few quotes from the book.
“Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment, do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.”
“[A modern economist] is used to measuring the ‘standard of living’ by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is ‘better off’ than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption. . . . The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity.”
“Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful”