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Technological Solutions to Human Problems?

September 10, 2012

This post is actually a commentary by way of reply to this post titled “Why Explore Space”, but it’s readable on its own as well.

‘I am in agreement with the spirit of this letter: we should stop squandering our planetary resources on “defence” and instead direct them towards quality of life improvements, including the radical advancement of science and technology, and abandon the ethos of international competition in favor of the ethos of planetary cooperation. However, I believe that two common misconceptions about the nature of the present human condition that appear here need to be seriously called into question:

“Basic to the hunger problem are two functions: the production of food and the distribution of food.”

Hunger and starvation are NOT functions of food production capacity, they are ENTIRELY functions of food distribution. Per the immutable laws of biology, no population can grow beyond the limits of its food supply. This includes the planetary human population. Increases in food production are inevitably followed by increases in population, including the percentage of the population that is malnourished. The much-touted “green revolution”, which effectively utilized industrial technologies to convert fossil fuels into agricultural output, was a success only as measured by the standard of worldwide population growth. It was not a success as measured by the standard of human well-being, as there are more malnourished and starving people in the world today than there were in the 1950’s. Since I realize that this concept will be hard for many to grasp, let alone accept, here is a more eloquent and lengthy exposition of it by Daniel Quinn:

“Besides the need for new technologies, there is a continuing great need for new basic knowledge in the sciences if we wish to improve the conditions of human life on Earth.”

Our technology has already reached the threshold necessary to provide a baseline quality of life for all human beings well above the level of mere subsistence, easily since the turn of the century and arguably since World War II. In terms of technological capacity, the post-scarcity regime is already well upon us. Further advances in technology are NOT NECESSARY to secure peace and well-being for all human beings. Granted, further advances in technology can and will continue to improve the baseline quality of life for all people, but physical lack of resources and technological capacity for production and distribution are NO LONGER the root cause of poverty, violence, sickness, and suffering. The causes of human suffering at this point are SOCIAL in origin, not technological. Claiming that we will begin managing our resources and our technology equitably and compassionately when we have enough ignores the fact that we ALREADY have enough. By a conservative estimate, at present at least 80% of our material resources as well as at least 80% of our human capital are being wasted by our existing worldwide industrial economy (while the 20% that are available are inequitably distributed). As a baseline, this means that the potential exists for a 2,500% increase in the quality of life of every human being on the planet by intelligent utilization of EXISTING TECHNOLOGY; we can expect the continuing advance of technology to lead to even further improvements in the quality of life of our descendants, if we choose to organize our social fabric accordingly.’

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