The Exquisite Corpse No. 53, 1995




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        Travis Charbeneau  3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221
            travischarbeneau@gmail.com    Phone: 804 358 0417
                         www.travischarbeneau.com


                     Does High Technology = "Progress"?
                            Travis Charbeneau
                             slug "progress"
                               712 words

Around 1900 a lot of folks figured technology was about to usher in the 
Millennium, beating the calendar by a full one hundred years and putting the 
final kabosh on theology. Over many centuries religion had failed utterly to 
improve the general lot of mankind. But in the relative twinkling of an eye 
technology had already produced sewing machines, automobiles and the Maxim gun 
with which to subdue and baptize the heathen. Ergo: Technology equals forward 
moral force. Why the ferocity of the Maxim gun even made war itself quite 
unthinkable.

Alas, the Maxim gun and its many friends demonstrated in World War I that 
technology was a two-edged sword. It made war not less, but more likely and 
infinitely more miserable. Disillusionment was general. After WWI, deprived of 
both the heaven in Heaven promised by religion and the heaven on Earth promised 
by technology, we got Bolshevism as some sort of cosmic booby prize.

In any case, thanks to ensuing spasms of world war and especially the 
arrival of nuclear weapons, delusions about technology having any "forward moral 
force" are now thoroughly dispelled. Apart from the curse of war, technology 
means little more than a handful of mildly-diverting gizmos accompanied by toxic 
waste, traffic, MTV -- a goblin's feast of horrors. But, yea, I still believe. I 
believe that today terrorism is most demonstrative of the old idea of "forward 
moral force" via supposedly amoral technologies. Consider those nukes.

Fifty years ago, after their victory in World War II, the US and USSR had 
to forego the traditional pleasure of former allies cutting each other's 
throats. Instead, we had to fight puny little proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam, etc. 
until the "Cold War" thawed. This was due solely to the ferocity of our mutual 
Doomsday Machine. Those premature claims of "forward moral force" made for the 
Maxim gun reached maturity with the thermonuclear device, the "Un-Weapon" that 
finally and forever took all the fun out of war by rudely flattening the whole 
planet, including even the most prudent of generals. Armageddon was averted 
thanks, not to great statesmen, peaceniks nor divine intervention, but to the 
ultimate terror device. Not bad. Today, "low intensity" terror devices hold 
similar promise. And yet you scoff?

Imagine a space station with 500 souls aboard orbiting Earth 20 years from 
now. A terrorist keys a computer virus into the ship's life-support system and 
all hands perish. Earth as a planet may already have passed the finite 
capacities of a space station. The analogy is hardly original with me, but what 
makes it apt is vulnerability through technology. Whether we're talking about 
computers, corporations or countries, it takes an ever-smaller monkey wrench to 
"Monkeywrench" the works. 

Accordingly, while we can never eliminate the odd deviant, we can no longer 
to afford to cultivate huge reserve pools of deviant recruits. Some people love 
to debunk the whole justice/terrorism equation by pointing out that there will 
always be individual cranks with impossible grievances, and that's certainly 
true. But, we're playing the odds.

If the odds say that just one Xanian refugee in a thousand will become a 
suicide bomber, a thousand refugees are obviously preferable to a million. High 
tech nations have been made so vulnerable by technology that we now suffer 
intense new imperatives, including drying up pools of Xanian misery before they 
produce their predictable bloom of terrorists. For at least the next year or 
two, individual Xanians will have a hard time building a nuclear briefcase. Not 
so for a big network of Xanian terrorists, perhaps funded by the CIA ("They said 
they were on our side!") High technology -- and the increasing vulnerability it 
creates make it increasingly costly to let injustice fester. Eventually, enough 
people will get sufficiently angry, desperate, well-organized and crazy to beg, 
borrow or steal monkey wrenches from plastique to plutonium to those 
wonderfully-phallic AK-47s now so beloved by street gangs, Republicans and other 
terrorist groups.

By factoring in terrorism, however despicable, "morally neutral" 
technologies suddenly develop curious moral imperatives. Terrorism plus high-
tech may force an admittedly self-interested movement towards justice that all 
the sermonizing of priests and politicians down through the ages has been unable 
to produces. All just in time for the Real Millennium, if our luck holds.

                                 -30-