Monday, December 3, 2012

Common Sense and New Light 'Bulbs'

Maybe you've heard this joke:
A little old lady on an airliner was obviously uneasy. Asked what troubled her, she replied: "We should all be where God intended us to be, at home watching television!"
My father shared that one with me, about a half-century back. It's still one of my favorite, if fictional, examples of uneven acceptance of technology.

Candles to LED in Two Generations

My father grew up a pocket of the American Midwest that was essentially pre-industrial. A horse pulled their farm equipment, and the first high-tech lighting system was a kerosene lantern.

I grew up when television changed from a black-and-white novelty to a color staple in American households. Back then computers weighed tons, and were almost as powerful as the pocket calculators we sometimes get in cereal boxes today.

I like technology, as did my father. Maybe it runs in the family. An ancestor, Arba Zeri Campbell, was the first person in his part of the country to have a telephone.

Technology and People

Whether technology is helpful, or harmful, depends on the person using it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2293)

For example, electricity can help someone cook food, or set the kitchen ablaze. The competence and intentions of the people involved is what matters.

Assumptions, America, and All That

I grew up when America was flushing the last of McCarthyism out of its system. It's one of the reasons I don't want a return to 'the good old days,' and that's another topic.

I endured the heyday of political correctness, which I also think was a really bad idea.

When the current lot became America's establishment, a silly optimism about science and technology became unfashionable: and was replaced by an equally-silly pessimism.

I resist the notion that I'm "moderate," but am convinced that:
  • America isn't
    • Always
      • Right
      • Wrong
    • The source of all problems
    • Humanity's only hope
  • Science and technology won't
    • Solve all problems
    • Cause all problems

Oh, Dandy: "The Energy Problem?"

I cringed while reading this:
"Questions linked to the care and preservation of the environment today need to give due consideration to the energy problem...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 49)
I kept reading, since Benedict XVI has a better track record for making sense than folks who simply hate new technology, science, or new anything. (April 7, 2011)

"Hoarding?" "Stockpiling?"

Benedict XVI says that folks in less-developed countries get hurt, sometimes killed, due to:
  • Hoarding non-renewable energy resources by
    • Nations
    • Power groups
    • Companies
  • Stockpiling of natural resources
I'm glad that documents like "Caritas in Veritate" have been translated into my native language, English. At times like this, though, I suspect that something got lost in translation.

"Caritas in Veritate," 49, cites stockpiling and hoarding as threats to the development of nations. "Stockpiling" and "hoarding" aren't quite synonyms, but they're close:
  • Hoard (verb)
    • Save up as for future use
    (Princeton's Wordnet)
  • Stockpile (verb)
    • have on hand
    (Princeton's Wordnet)

Of Misers and Petrol Stations

I think, or suspect, that the sense of this part of "Caritas in Veritate" is in connotations of the verb "to hoard." Hoarding is associated with being avaricious. (Thesaurus.com)

Stockpiling can be the act of a miser, someone who refuses to fairly distribute resources. Stockpiling can also be a practical matter of setting aside resources so that they can be used when needed: like the old woodpile; or the more contemporary filling station.

"Superman" Comics and the Federation of Man

"Superman" comics of my youth sometimes mentioned the Science Council of Krypton. A wise, benevolent, powerful world government was a stock item in speculative fiction of the time.

Less optimistic imaginings seem to be more common today: which I suspect are about as accurate as "Just Imagine." (1930)

I think subsidiarity makes sense, I'm not overly fond of top-heavy bureaucracies and regulations, but I acknowledge that some sort of government is necessary. My hope for coming generations is  similar to what Tennyson outlined in the mid-1800s:
"...For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;


"...

"Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.


"There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law....
"
("Locksley Hall," Tennyson (1842, rev. 1865) via gutenberg.org)
Something like Tennyson's Federation of the world, an "international authority with the necessary competence and power," could protect people without resorting to military force. (Catechism, 2308) Would that international authority be perfect? Of course not. I've discussed original sin before.

Today our closest approximations to Tennyson's Federation are organizations like the United Nations. I don't 'trust' the U.N., any more than I 'trust' the American Congress: but it's what we have to work with. (June 16, 2011)

Regulations, Duty, and Basically Good Ideas

"...The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 49)
I think the "urgent duty" and "institutional means" in that excerpt are basically good ideas. I also think the odds of success are better if folks at the receiving end really do get some say in what happens.

We'll almost certainly have problems sorting out a "means of regulating ... non-renewable resources." As I've said before, having problems is nothing new:
"2 But man himself begets mischief, as sparks fly upward."
(Job 5:7)
That doesn't mean that I think we should stop trying: just that expecting a trouble-free process is unrealistic.

Energy, Efficiency, and "Ecological Sensitivity"

"...The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 49)
I think this makes sense, basically. But I'm very far from wanting to go back to the 'good old days' of wood stoves and cholera epidemics.

Like it or not, the system that provides (usually) clean water and (generally) safe food also involves advertising. Lots of advertising. I don't think it's reasonable, or prudent, to insist that cities like New York and Tokyo pull the plug on their digital billboards. Not everybody sees things the way I do, obviously:
From what I've read, one of the major objections to this new technology is that it's distracting: which is the whole point of having a billboard in the first place.

I suppose Congress could pass legislation that forbids Americans from looking at advertisements, and that's almost another topic.

What seems to get lost in the shuffle in debates about new lighting and display technologies is that digital signboards are much more efficient with the energy they use, than the 'good old fashioned' outdoor lighting I grew up with.

I'd like to believe that more folks could learn that "ecological sensitivity" doesn't necessarily mean hating technology and wanting to live in a commune.

LEDs and Me

When I bought a new flashlight a few years ago, I got one with a LED instead of a light bulb. My desk lamp has one of those new CFL 'light bulbs.' In both cases, I wanted to use less energy: and keep working after sundown.

I'm not entirely happy about the way the 'new and improved' lighting technology was forced on Americans. I think we'd have come around to spending less money on our energy bills, anyway. Or maybe I'm over-estimating the amount of sense folks have.

The whole 'environmental sensitivity' thing, as preached by Captain Planet, seems a bit silly to me: but I'm also appalled at the waste I see now and then.

My parents were 'old school,' in a way. They lived through the Great Depression, which reinforced the 'waste not, want not' habits of an earlier time. I learned that throwing food away doesn't make sense, and that reusing paper bags and other 'disposable' items does.

Looking Forward

Getting back to energy consumption and "greater ecological sensitivity:" I don't think that Benedict XVI wants us to go back to the stone age, or even the 'good old days' I grew up in.

For one thing, the Vatican still has that massive website, vatican.va, and keeps adding more features: like Year of Faith / Annus Fidei.

The trick, as I see it, isn't going back to a 'simpler time.' It's using good sense, and remembering that we're not the only folks around. Each of us has about 7,000,000,000 neighbors: plus generations who haven't been born yet.

More:

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"

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