Tuesday, April 30, 2002

An Accidental Debate on the Nature of Man - As it appears in this column, it's sort of Superman vs. Humpty Dumpty, but the basic debate is on whether human beings are a plague on the universe or not. Rand Simberg, who has the home-column advantage here, comes down on the "not" side, while his email correspondent, "Lori M." comes down on the anti-human side.

I have some sympathies with Lori. We have, again and again, shown that we're more interested in what we can do than in what we ought to do, and as our technology advances, the amount of damage we can do with our mistakes is increasing dramatically. When it comes to anything unprecedented, and serious space travel is, indeed, unprecedented, we need to be very, very careful.

But there are some good arguments for Simberg's side to, a few of which he actually makes. First of all, technology is not just computer chips and genetic engineering, it's also sharpening a stick or wrapping yourself in fur (or weeds) to keep warm. Hell, there's a strong argument to be made that a beaver dam is technology. And humanity is not a mono-culture; it's a complex tapestry of thoughts, feelings, and cultures, with diverse aesthetic and ethical standards. As long as we're talking about science fiction scenarios, what if there's some incredibly war-like race out there that is somehow so touched by our exported Tibetan Buddhism that they give up their ways and reform their society. Historically, human beings have been a force for good as well as for ill.

Unfortunately, Simberg's an engineer, and Lori's...well we don't get to know anything about Lori except her views, but we can safely label her a granola-head (that's one of my friend's nicknames for me, so don't get offended, my fellow hippie freaks). As a result, we get what typically passes for 'comprehensive coverage' these days: two people on opposite sides of an issue screaming at each other until time is up.

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