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The Fire We Wield

One of the most memorable moments in movie history is found in the opening sequence to the epic film "2001: A Space Odyssey." In the sequence an ape, in what appears to be a prehistoric desert, comes upon a pile of bones. After a lone moment of contemplation the ape picks up what appears to be a leg bone and discovers a practical use for it as a club and hammer. With his newly found club the ape swings and hammers the other bones, shattering them. In so doing the ape has proven to himself that the bones can be more than just an inanimate pile in the desert; his practical idea has become a tool using practice. After hammering the ground with his bone club, the ape then returns to his tribe with his new tool. Later when the apes and his tribe engage in battle against a rivaling tribe for a puddle of water, the club wielding ape cudgels a challenging ape down with his bone, thus effecting the idea that this bone can be both hammer and weapon and in so doing he drives the hostile band away.

The sequence just described depicted a turning point in one tribe's life and their evolution, and ultimately that of the whole species of apes. As a tribe the band of apes overcame an obstacle holding them back from survival in a desert terrain, which in turn effected a leap in evolution by the usage of the tool that aided them. No longer would they be held back by competitors and now they could be more resourceful in the gathering of resources as the bone became a tool with many uses. In an evolutionary sense the band of apes substituted strength for smarts and by relying on the latter they were able to steer their species in another direction by prevailing over the lesser adapt tribes. Why should the band of apes wield strength if intellect provides the keenest edge to carve out a space for their species in an ecological niche? A flip side to this newly developed advantage is that the advantage can become a crutch when it is upheld at other attributes' expense. Gaining smarts reduced their physical strength, hence certain bodily possibilities they once inhabited in their environment are now cut off from them, but a whole new set of possibilities are gained through the growth of their intellect.

Apart from the series of changes the tribe itself underwent by adopting a single hammer tool, their development reflects itself in the environment they inhabit as well, for surely species effect their environment as much as their environment effects them; the most obvious example being that the tool now allows them to find more sources of food, which effects the ecology and enables the ape species to grow in population and use their surroundings more efficiently at the expense of previously unabused or untapped resources. Tools and their usage thus effect entire ecologies and not just the species that use them.

--Technology's Effects on Our Species--

Instead of focusing on our evolutionary ancestors, the effects of technology are best evaluated from a modern standpoint. We have evolved to be a tool-using species since the very first tool was put into usage to help us brave the world. Tools have aided us in gathering food, building shelter and in protecting us from the cold. All this has also contributed to an increase in our population. A principle behind this species growth is that as the requirements for living are eased, the environment can sustain a larger population; the people can live off the land more effectively.

Living more effectively in an environment does not come free, however, as every action always has a consequence and leaves its footprint in the sand. Of course not every tool is equally as powerful and consequential either. Primitive innovations can hardly be compared to modern ones in terms of sheer power of impact on their environment as the general resource drain required to produce modern tools is far greater than that required to produce primitive tools. Note however that much modern technology is built on the backs of old technology. In other words, modern tools wouldn't exist if at one point there had been nothing to enhance upon. A tractor can be envisioned as an evolved plow, however the environmental and species impact of a plow vs a tractor is large and it is questionable as to whether the industrial tractor is as sustainable as the plow. If not, old tools are more adaptable then many modern ones in terms of sustainability.

Looking back on our collective history as a species it is easy to argue that we have improved upon many fields of our everyday lives: transportation, food gathering and production, and shelter construction to name a few. When mankind hauled its logs with horses, tilled the fields with ox and plow, and lived in villages of houses made of sturdy logs, there was much "slack" to be seen, and these few tasks were done with inferior efficiency compared to this day and age of industrial machines. Nowadays there are logging machines and trucks that have largely replaced the horses and sleds of old; tractors and special machines are designed to till our fields; dense cities are erected to provide housing and services for the folk, who now move with four wheels on pavement instead of by feet on the path. All this happened, in part, because there was room for improvement upon old tools.

To us it might be difficult to see the technological lineage behind the environmental surroundings we now inhabit because we often don't think of another environment laying underneath the heavily technologically enhanced one we are accustomed to. However, in order to gain insight into technology and its effects on us we must be able to think big and re-envision our surroundings and link our technologies back to their effects and consequences.

In the modern world we literally inhabit an industrial and technological sheath; exceptions are granted for people's still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Technology has become our ecology and in order to gain knowledge about where we are going collectively we need to retrace the line of our technologies back to their origins and re-envision their usages and practicalities. We have to see the landscape again as it was when it was unformed by human hands. Then can we better wield our technology and understand and shape it with a model for a better future in mind. To do this with true effectiveness we must, as Nietzsche noted, understand our rootedness in the earth. Resources are not infinitely renewable after all.

It at present obvious that we have had a gigantic negative effect on our environment, leading to what some might call imprisonment by our own devices. Attempt a thought experiment for yourself to get a better grasp of our current situation. Look around you while in the middle of a city, take note of the number of inventions we have made: a throng of cars, lights, music, buildings tall, large and small with paint on their walls, multifarious clothing and garments, metal in all possible manifestations, a plethora of foods and drinks, concrete, glass, and infinitely more to the point it is mind boggling.

Because changing environments require constant adaptation by the species that inhabit them we are always striving to gain some form of advantage to further a goal we happen to have in mind as a collective. An invention in a completely unexplored field opens up a world of possibilities and we seek to expand upon that single pioneering idea. Take electricity for example. What first was a source for generating light, became the fuel for tools and electronics never before imagined. The development of a new technology opened up a whole new world of possibilities that were previously unavailable before that technologies existence.

In theory, to make survival easier, we must lessen the demands imposed on our bodies by negative external elements so that we can accomplish more work in less time. Without the aid of tools provided by our environment the burden of development would be on our bodies, but with the right attributes we are able to use and even create tools to work around the problem. In other words, as a technology-centered species, we are constantly working around the challenges posed to us at the expense of physical evolution; we are favoring intellectual development. The excessive usage of tools instead of muscle power, for example, certainly enables us to adapt to larger and larger amounts of load, but how would we do if a link in the technology chain snapped one day, or was severely weakened? Whatever that link supported would topple. The creative fire has forced us into a cycle, in which using its inventive possibilities yields magnificent results but also creates dependency, which is to say we have grown dependent on a large chain of technology for our very survival.

--Spiritual Influence--

In modern times technological dependency is intrinsic to us, seeing as we live in a cradle of technology. The cycle of creative inventiveness and dependency upon the modes of creation is visible in spiritual matters as well. We mirror our external environment within ourselves in the form of values, morals and other characteristics that litter the inner landscape. In our modern era of technological fertility we are experiencing a spiritual poverty. Collectively we are existentially unfulfilled with our living spaces. For evidence of this human condition take note of the anguished art of the modern era. Artists are often a culture's subconscious mouthpiece. The art of the modern era represents a people in personal and spiritual turmoil who are disconnected from themselves and those around them. Think of pop art, expressionism and Dadaism in the early 20th century and the more modern variations of each movement for examples.

Our current problem as a species is rooted not so much in our technologies and their destructive potential, but in the internal ideas and philosophies governing them. The problem is our lust, greed, hedonism and foolhardy desire to expand into the far reaches with no concern for how our technology effects our living environment and daily relations. Ipods, cd players and cell phones, after all, have only given us more tools to tune out the world and the people around us.

Outspoken believers in technology exhibit unquestioning trust in the saving hand of western science and technology. Hence a scientist or humanitarian somewhere is continually talking about technological development bettering our collective welfare; they are looking for external solutions to modern problems that are in fact inward problems. Instead of finding the power within ourselves to endure, to persevere and to conquer, the technocrats of the modern world seek quick external and technological solutions to our problems. They reason: it has worked well for us in the past, letting us dash through bottlenecks to our prosperity with ease, so why not let it lend its hand to us in the future as well?

While this outlook on life may seem positive and optimistic because of the lack of dark clouds it envisions on its horizon, it is actually passive and fatalistic because it is philosophically inept and has a diluted sense of reality. It is the equivalent of promising a profusely bleeding individual that if they put a Band-Aid on their wound they will be up in a jiffy. By a failure to properly assess any given situation and accept that sometimes there are dark clouds on the horizon, we will never see the sun of the future.

Evolution, spiritual as well as its material manifestation, requires a certain amount of adversity and strife in order to be successful. The technocratic fetishists that put full and unyielding faith in the solution of more technology to modern problems do not appear to recognize the spiritual value of adversity. Their position is akin to delusion as while their views of reality are in some ways accurate, they are one sided and fail to recognize other vitals component of reality, such as the need for adversity, discipline and internal strength.

For all our focus on outward development we have forgotten about inward development, which in fact governs outward development. A spiritually inept individual will never properly control the fire they wield as they lack the control and discipline to do so. The modern era presents us with a wealth of intelligences without perspective; engineers, technocrats and others of similar societal positions often fall under this veil. This leaves us with a wealth of brilliant technological inventions that are not controlled by trained or philosophically adept hands. Give an undisciplined child a gun and expect someone to get shot. We also do not know where we wish to go as a species, which is a problem. This means we continually are building more and more technologies on the backs of old technology without seeing far down the future to get a general perspective as to where our inventions will lead us and how they will effect us.

As mentioned previously, inventions aim towards easing the current physical difficulties and so anything new is often seen as inherently positive by the general population as the case is hardly ever the opposite that more technology will bring more physical stimulus; note this does not mean it is good, in fact it appears to imply the opposite as it neglects the utility of adversity. Of course not just anything goes and passes public approval because people on average won't accept every gadget that cunning salesmen spit out to the stores. However we still accept much of what is thrown at us. Our attitudes have been formed through a long process of amazement and satisfaction with technology and we have come to accept it as a faithful friend who would never leave us in times of trouble.

This philosophy has had a profound effect on our values and how we view the world, since in our experience our backs have always been watched by our technology. There always seems to be the omnipotent social figure to clean the bogeymen from under the bed so that we might sleep peacefully. We never distrust this entity, be they scientist or technocrat, because of their apparent benevolence and through this alliance we begin to believe that we ourselves are omnipotent. After all, we perceive ourselves as inviolable because violation has been increasingly at lack in our lives; have we been left in the dark, in the cold, have we had to hunger and exert ourselves? Most of us have not to any significant degree. Through easing our lives the experiences of suffering have been made less common, and without as much suffering and coarse surfaces to grind us we lack the mastery to keep our self-image in check and humbled. Imagine an uncared-for garden that is infested by weeds: the useful plants the garden was supposed to produce are challenged and the essence of the garden is diluted. Eventually the weeds overtake the garden through the absence of resistance and flow freely over the previously productive patches of soil; spiritual inflation and deflation follows a similar process.

One would think that only the aforementioned believers in technology, the technocrats, would truly devote themselves in such a manner to every new invention, but actually the general populace gives itself over as mentally dependent on technology by not being too loud in questioning and weighing its benefits and negativities. Through having and also using the potential crutch of technology, we take it for granted and live and breath it without further thinking; then again, why shouldn't we? It is only expected that we are cast according to our mould and also that our relationship - dependency - to technology won't change unless we reconsider our stance towards it. However, the weakness of will that once allowed us to utilize the crutch anyhow we pleased has hardly created any opposition against the voluntary enslavement of humanity at large. We are blindly pushing onwards on our path and unless we begin paying attention to our surroundings, and ourselves we will encounter consequences our optimistic passivity ultimately cannot save us from.

--Environmental Consequences--

Because the human species is so widespread and our selection and size of tools manifold and grand the unavoidable effects of our technology on nature can not be dismissed. The ways in which we can damage the walls of our environmental home and foul the land are seemingly infinite and in this modern age the awareness of our "footprint" is quite widespread, at least in the Western countries. To counteract the danger posed by reckless pollution, we have agreements that forbid various economic and technological production that might greatly disrupt and environment so much so that it has noticeable negative health effects on the greater populace. Global warming is one of the behemoths we are poised against. Armed with an arsenal of regulations and agreements, of which the Kyoto protocol is perhaps the most famous one due to the refusal of the United States to join its cause.

We are faced with a split in our path: should we proceed with our industries to maximize production, or should we pay more attention to the environment that languishes under our ignorance? The Western popular opinion is in favor of softer, "natural" values, but a drastic break from consumerist/industrial development would be, in essence, anti-modern and as such would cause societal changes that reflect themselves at the positions of power, as well. For maximal popularity, a political compromise is reached and the people are sold an image of developing technology hand in hand with nature: the research, production and consumption of technology is never stalled or halted even for a second, but merely stamped with the "green" brand for easier market digestibility. Of course, it is not disputable that this technology comes with good hearted and benign intentions in some cases, but as the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We never changed, nor change, our course by accepting and using new eco-friendly inventions with profit in mind, and so the abyss yawns evermore terrifying despite the satisfied shimmer in our eyes.

We should note, however, that it is not technology (the idea of it) itself that is harmful to the environment but rather its usage. Being the powerful tool it is, it far expands our influence of either constructive or destructive kind; it can function both towards harmonious living or mindless consumption in the name of maximized comfort. Sadly our intentions as a species have not been towards the former, the latter having the foremost say on our actions. Thus our oceans are poisoned and robbed of fish, lands raped with merciless over-farming and forests cut down, and all the spoils of this war are fed to the machine, which is but an extension of our desires. Therefore our desires should change if the current course is to be steered to a healthier direction.

--Healthy Technology and Balance--

If the usage of technology has affected us so much and threatens to swallow us ever deeper in its alluring abyss, is there such a thing as "healthy technology"; would achieving balance be anything but a utopia in the far horizons? It wouldn't seem so, considering all the mentioned effects our ingeniousity with tools has had upon us and our environment and how surely it carved itself into the essence of our being. Because of this fact, we can never be truly apart from it and as such, absolutes should not be sought. We once were hunters relying on few tools and much of physical prowess, but as the amount of tools has increased we have permanently shifted from that point, resulting in expectable physical degeneration and perpetual technological development. Since our origin lies in the chilling autumnal mornings, the dampness of forests in dawn, craggy boulders, caves opening to fields of snow and the vitalizing fire, we should embrace this past of our selves despite - or precisely for - the obvious hardships it entails.

However, this should not mean, to a certain extent, that all technology should be abandoned at once; cars stopping, lights dying from traffic poles to the innumerable windows around and the smoke of factory pipes reducing to a weak vapor blown off by the winds of this unusual noon. In an "ideal" world humans could use whatever technology they wished, but since every invention forms the top of one pyramid and the base of another, that will not be possible. If we wished to stay at the modern level of technology, for example, and also reduce our footprint, we would have to have the willpower to not engage in harmful habits that require the given present tools to begin with. Self-limitation is a matter of discipline and either physical or mental strength, or both, to make up for the loss of "relief," and as such we'd be faced with a challenge where no tools could aid us.

The development of technology into a severe crutch instead of a tool and the spiritual changes it brought - the lower resistance that begets weakness - is the primary reason why technology as it stands now should be considered harmful. How does this not contradict the notion that we should not abandon technology even though the evidence points to the contrary? Answers should not be sought from the extremes as the world does not function only in black and white terms. If we were to achieve a balance between tool usage and having a rewarding life, we should strive for more than merely seeking to nullify or minimize the struggle required in life; the tools should be considered as an extension of our will like a sword is an extension of the arm. We have an intrinsic capacity for greatness, and that should only be enhanced by tool usage instead of making it obsolete.

In practical terms, such a reform and resurrection of the will would mean that many of our current inventions would be considered irredeemably unnecessary: namely those created solely for the purpose fulfilling our urge for comfort, and those whose resource drain would well surpass their usefulness. If we view the technology at our disposal with this in mind, we would see quite a mixed bag of tools: some would be instantly scrapped for spare parts, some could have useful potential and there would be few truly worthwhile extensions. Examples: television, even though it can function well as an informative device, would be displaced by radio and computers, both of which can serve that purpose at least as well; simple mechanical tools like pulleys, and handheld implements like shovels and hoes are invaluable by their astounding cost-effectiveness; computers, while they are extremely efficient at storing and spreading information, unfortunately are on top of a sizable pyramid, which maintenance and usage would be very costly if they were produced in masses. Chances are they would not be in everyone's home.

If we ever achieve balance with technology and correct the currently distorted master/slave-relationship with it, we would have to go roughly a hundred years back, more or less. It would be grievous to abandon some of the fruits we have invented, such as the revolutionary computer, but in the end, all tools should be viewed as extensions to our will and we should ask ourselves: "How does this tool further my cause, how does it deepen my handprint in the face of reality? Or is it merely something to relieve my tired muscles with?" -Frostwood, with contributions and additions by Gestalt

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