Before we can harness technology with our new Cultural "soul," we must first "grok"24 technology.
We must understand that any technology has the capability of being used for good or evil motives. Technology, per se, is entirely amoral. It is a tool, no more and no less. It is mankind which must create either good or evil consequences out of the available technology, and all moral choice as to what is good or what is evil comes from mankind's own value system, not from anything supplied by technology.
As Toffler asserted, and as the title of this Section might suggest, technology is the "great, growling engine of change." But any engine is merely a tool; an instrument of power, but a tool nonetheless.
Throughout history, mankind has designed innumerable tools, and bent each to the will of the individual(s) wielding those tools. The earliest known tool is supposed to be a stone pistil for the grinding of grain into flour.25 Earlier tools, made of more perishable materials, probably existed, but disintegrated over the vastness of time.
In essence, technology represents a practical application of knowledge gained from pure intellect. Einstein's Theory of Relativity is a development of pure intellect. It will not become part of technology until some "tool" with some practical application evolves from the principles contained therein. However, in pursuit of pure knowledge, scientists have conducted some experiments which verify certain aspects of the theory, thus proving that the theory is, at least in those aspects, part of the Ultimate Truth.
This illustrates an important concept: that technological knowledge is not the totality of all Ultimate Truth. There is other scientific knowledge which is not yet any part of technology, but is still Truth. There is non-scientific knowledge which is still part of Truth. And of course, a huge part of Truth is the various bits of knowledge of all types which we do not yet possess (i.e., "the unknown").
"Progress" can be defined in several different ways, depending upon who is going to benefit and who is going to lose in any given circumstance. In fact, your personal perspective of your own status as either a "winner" or a "loser" will tend to determine your personal approval or disapproval of "progress."
Something which is a truly great "progress" should make all of mankind feel as if they are each a "winner" from the new situation; in other words, it should demonstrate that our lives are not a zero-sum game, where somebody must lose for me to win.
"Progress," therefore, requires change, because it requires an improvement in the position of all of mankind. By analogy, we can view progress as a better tool which alters the "mechanical advantage" in the favor of mankind, thereby allowing more work to be accomplished with less effort. The improvements in our tools are the result of various applications of technology, and it is this aspect which leads both Toffler and I to refer to technology as the "great, growling engine of change."
And, as Toffler points out, technology feeds on itself. One advance piles on top of another, providing a "tool box" with an increasingly wider range of applications and increasingly greater "leverage" to force still more changes to occur.
Our technological engine has been winding itself up in speed for thousands of years. In fact, it was the very speed of change which was the essential complaint which Toffler sought to address in his book, "Future Shock."
For any number of reasons which ought to be obvious now, uncontrolled change is dramatically dangerous to mankind. It is not merely the increasingly rapid rate of change of which Toffler complained, but the uncontrolled directions of changes which the new Luddites complain of. Later, in Book V, Section F, I note in passing that the "steering wheel" for the "engine of change" appears to be found in the allocation of research and development budgets which come from one of two sources: governmental funding or the profits of private businesses being dedicated to the creation of even more short term profits. At the present point in time, it appears that both of these sources are mostly lacking in any moral foundation for deciding which projects get funded and which do not.
But it would still be unfair to allege that this represents the kind of uncontrolled change which we must fear. At the present point in time, both government and corporate profits are, to a greater or lesser degree, responsive to the wishes of "the people." If "the people" are sick of change, they will protest to their government and refuse to buy a "new" product (i. e., "New Coke"). Mankind will only be in danger from technology when these feedback mechanisms cease to function, sometime later in our decline.
If Western Civilization finally does come under the domination of some Cęsar, then there will be no popular control of the rate of change introduced by the government. If that point occurs, then I believe that Toffler's "Future Shock" syndrome will only contribute to the more rapid disintegration of the remainder of Western Civilization, if we are not killed off by some insane invention (like a killer virus).
In essence, where we are now is that mankind has thrown its moral compass overboard, because it gave irrational results. According to Spengler, the inability to rationalize religion has been the primary force which caused the collapse of every single Civilization to date. We see our populace floating, directionless, on an ocean of possibilities. Far too many strike out in directions which others declare to be immoral. Our leaders see this increasing immorality, and decry the collapse of Civilization. But our Civilization continues to decline because even our own leaders have no moral compass left to guide them.
When the population begins to scream for Order, at the expense of Justice and without any overarching morality, that is the time in which some Cęsar will arise to take the reins of our government. The beginning screams are already to be heard: in political phrases such as "law and order" and "family values," in emerging groups such as the Christian Coalition, and in speeches by leaders such as Newt Gingrich.
But the "great, growling engine of change," technology, grinds on; it is oblivious to the moral concerns of mankind. In the next two or three decades, it can give our forthcoming Cęsar an arsenal of monstrous devices. Or, in the alternative, it can prevent that would-be-Cęsar from ever taking power. Technology will not choose between those alternatives; mankind will.
During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan popularized the expression: "a rising tide lifts all boats" in the context of battles over economic policies. The phrase was supposed to convey the impression that increased economic activity would profit everyone in the economy, from the greatest to the poorest. That certainly is a noble goal, but it is next to impossible to achieve in actuality.
Nonetheless, if we do as the scorers do in Olympic gymnastics, and we throw out the lowest and highest "scores" (i. e., something like the wealthiest and poorest 10%), it does appear to be somewhat true. The average people in the middle will, on average, be better off. The diffusion of the benefits of technology to individuals will be somewhat related to the diffusion of economic benefits because technology costs money. In spite of this, it is clearly proper to assert that the phrase, "a rising tide lifts all boats," is probably more true for technology than it is for economics.
We ought to feel this in our bones! The technology level of humanity has been gradually increasing for over ten thousand years. If you discard the lowest ten percent of our population for a moment, where would the next ten percent up fit as compared with citizens of Rome? These people who we call the "working poor" are pretty well off by the standards which applied to the Roman Empire. Over a span of two thousand years, it is fairly clear that the rising tide of technology did benefit all of the citizens of our present society!
Let us look for a moment at medical technology, and let's focus on the one disease which most agitates our populace: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The activists who are pushing for ever more funds for AIDS research would never agree, but there has been truly amazing progress in our understanding of how any virus works due to research which has concentrated on the AIDS virus. We could be about ten years away from a real cure for AIDS. But, when we get there, it will be a rare virus indeed which will not be subject to an equivalent attack! I hold out hope that we will finally cure the common cold, which has been one of the bugaboos of medical science for centuries.
I do not harbor one bit of resentment against the AIDS activists as they push for more research dollars because I know, deep within me, that the technology of a cure for AIDS will be almost instantly applicable to the cure of virtually any other viral disease. Thus, the "rising tide" of medical technology produced by AIDS research will eventually "lift all boats" by providing the technology necessary to cure virtually all viral diseases, including the common cold.
This is clearly an application of technology which would benefit all of mankind. But, this same technology could also be used to engineer a virus which would injure all of mankind. As I said before, there is no morality in technology.
The great need of mankind is for a "steering wheel" for technology. We need to somehow recover our moral compass, which we threw overboard when it seemed totally irrational to our intellect. Mankind must find a way to supply the morality which is missing in our technology. We need a "steering wheel" for our "engine."
24 The word "grok" was coined by Robert Heinlein in his 1961 novel "Stranger In A Strange Land," and it means approximately "to fully understand all aspects of a situation." (see Book V, Section F.)
25 I read this in the Encyclopędia Britannica (1975), but all knowledge of this type is subject to instant change upon the discovery of something previously unknown.
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