Monday, April 4, 2016

Society Never Advances


I'm Jonah Hainsworth and I want to discuss how advancements in society hurt just as much as they help and why that matters.

How do we measure the value of a society?

GDP: Gross Domestic Product. This is the measure of the total value of country's products and services.

GNH: Gross National Happiness. This indicator takes into account the spiritual well-being, community and cultural involvement and the people's concern for nation

HDI: Human Development Indicator. This accounts for standard of living, health, and education.

Ecological Footprint: Explores the Earth's capacity vs. the amount we waste and consume as a nation.

While these indicators are great for predicting trends in society and improvements in third world nations, they also show a human flaw. We only tend to measure what we value most. For instance, GDP is great at measuring a nations output but it fails to recognize any of the negative effects caused
Smog in Beijing, China
by production, such as pollution and ecological waste. For instance, if we look at China or the US, whose GDP is very high, we know that they are also struggling with extreme pollution. The more they produce, the more their pollution increases. A lot of times we look at Africa with pity because of the low standard of living and low level of education. We must avoid this way of thinking. The cost of a higher level of production is more pollution. Africa has barely paid this price. The natural state of Africa has been preserved.

In 2008, I visited, Beijing, China. The smog from the high levels of pollution makes it hard to see and breathe. While factories are something that I think most people would consider a societal advancement, they sure seem to be causing a lot of problems.

Evidence from History

Christopher Columbus' Arrival to the Americas
When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492, he discovered the existence of the Indigenous people. He dismissed their advanced technology and complex governmental systems because they did not seem to rich in the way he was used to. The Native American societies had many advantages over the colonizers and may have been able to defend themselves if they had not been plagued by epidemic. Columbus seemed to just look at the GDP aspect of the Native Americans. He saw only their lack of clothing, smaller cities, lack of streets and carriages, and ignored their advanced hunting and farming techniques, beautiful temples and their structured society. Columbus believed that because these people were less educated in things that didn't even matter to them, like math or reading English, that he could make them his slaves. This way of thinking is detrimental to society. It is important to realize that there is merit to every society. 

Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin
In the days of slavery in the United States, cotton was King. The South depended so much upon this single agricultural product and the slaves that helped produce it that they were willing to go to great lengths to protect this labor. In 1794, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. The cotton gin allowed the seeds of the cotton to be separated for the strands of cotton dramatically. Now you're thinking, "This is a great advancement! With the cotton gin the south will be less reliant on slavery." This was not the case however. In 1830, the United States produced 750,000 bales of cotton. In 1850, that number skyrocketed to 2.85 million bales. In the first half of the century, slave labor increased by five times. Who knows if the Civil War would have even happened without Eli Whitney's cotton gin. 

Technological advancements mean that there are also advances in warfare. These advancements make it easier to punish our enemies but in the same token, they also pose the same danger to us. A lot more people die to solve the same problems as before. One particular advancement in warfare that is extremely hurtful is the atomic bomb. While the atomic bomb was a huge advancement in technology in the sense that we created a weapon so powerful that we could destroy any city, it also caused an endless array of problems. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, helping the allies claim victory in the second World War. Little did we know that we would soon thereafter enter into the Cuban missile crisis. Little did we know that this would send us into the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Little did we know that nations in the middle east would threaten to use this technology against us. Not to mention all the environmental damage the atomic bomb caused. To this day, there is genetic damage in Hiroshima and Chernobyl, where a nuclear plant had a spill. The atomic bomb was considered a great invention and yet, we see so many problems caused by it.

History will repeat itself. These examples are just a few. There are countless and we continue to see more and more. The 21st century, the way it is advancing faster than ever, will surely show us even more ways that advancements can have a negative effect on society.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, leader of the Transcendentalist movement, wrote in an essay called, Self Reliance, in 1841, "Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white to his grave." Emerson compares the naked New Zealander, someone we would think of as "uncivilized," to the white man, someone we would consider "civilized." He implies that our possessions and  our technologies do not make us any better. The white man could be killed by an axe that would barely harm the naked man.   

The same is true today. Except maybe now the axe is a lecture. A man that does not have a smartphone is able to use his long attention span to enjoy and absorb a lecture. While a man with a smartphone struggles to pay attention for longer than a few minutes at a time and is unable to understand the lecturers points completely. Computers, cars, factories, and other modern day inventions take a toll on our society. They slowly change the way we act and react. If we are not conscious of these societal changes, we can be led down dangerous paths as we have seen happen in the past. 

We may not be struggling with the same things as our less "advanced" ancestors. But, that doesn't mean we don't have problems. In fact we have just as many problemms. Human nature dictates that we always create problems for ourselves. Because we are always trying to better our situation, we notice every little thing that is wrong in our lives. This leads to more advancements creating even more problems. No matter what socioeconomic state you are in, you will never find yourself completely satisfied. Our reliance on our technology frustrates us when the technology fails us. For instance, some public speakers don't ever memorize their speeches. They rely on the teleprompter. What happens when the teleprompter fails them?

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