Friday, January 18, 2013

Technology, Freedom, and 'Love Your Neighbor'

"Knowledge is power: and I like power:" Cobra Bubbles had that line, in "Stitch! The Movie." It's one of my favorite movie quotes. What each of us does with the power we have: that's where ethics and free will come it.

I decided that this week's 'in the news' post would focus on technology, with a quick look at some folks putting 'love your neighbor' into practice:

Neighbors, Love, and Expectations

Catholics are told to:
We're also told that we're able to make reasoned decisions: and expected act as if that 'love God, love your neighbor' thing matters. Making reasoned decisions isn't easy, since we deal with original sin: which isn't the same as believing that human beings are damned, doomed, and disgusting. I've been over that before:
In our current state, emotions get in the way of straight thinking. Emotions aren't bad, they're part of being human. But we're expected to think, as well as feel:

1. Dealing with Dangerous Technology

"Obama-backed gun bills considered a long shot in Congress"
Matt Smith, CNN (January 17, 2013)

"Despite supporters' hopes that this time it's different, President Barack Obama's new call for restricting some semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines will face deeply entrenched resistance in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and could be a long shot even in the Democratic-led Senate...."
These "gun bills" benefit from what happened in Connecticut recently. Oddly, I haven't run into impassioned demands that public schools, or automobiles, be banned: although both were involved in the killings.

I strongly suspect that we aren't hearing about "car crimes" because too many folks in America own cars, and went through the experience we call 'getting an education.' in government schools: and that's another topic.

What some folks say about guns suggests, strongly, that hoplophobia is real. The term probably isn't in your dictionary: partly because it's fairly new; partly, I think, because a remarkable number of America's 'better sort' are scared silly of weapons:

"Hoplophobia is a pejorative[1] neologism originally coined to describe an 'irrational aversion to weapons, as opposed to justified apprehension about those who may wield them.'[2] ..."

Power, Censorship, and 'Gun Control'

I don't mind folks having individual power, even if it's the sort of power that comes from knowing how to technology. That's why I'm not afraid of people owning and using:
  • Guns
  • Substances like
    • LP gas
    • Ammonium nitrate1
    • Anhydrous ammonia1
  • Printing presses
  • Fax machines
  • Computers
    (Another War-on-Terror Blog (June 27, 2008))
I'm much more concerned about folks who want to 'protect' us by controlling who gets to use technology. What advocates of gun control and censorship have in common is a desire to control what 'those other people' do. Whether it's 'for our own good,' or a conscious desire to maintain control over subjects: I value individual freedom too much to approve.

Guns, Internet Access, and Public Safety

A paragraph or so ago I said that I'm not afraid of people having the power that comes from owning and using technology. That's not entirely true.

I'm not afraid of what most people are likely to do with individual freedom. Some folks have demonstrated that they can't be trusted with:
  • Guns
  • Investments
  • Internet access
I think it's reasonable to keep folks like Bernard Madoff from running a wealth management company. But it doesn't follow that all wealth management companies are run by swindlers.

Internet access is increasingly important. Today's information technology, and social structures folks are developing, breaks the near-monopoly that traditional information gatekeepers had. That scares folks who like the status quo, and I've been over this before:
I most certainly do not want a federal agency deciding who is allowed to post information online, and who is allowed to read it. (November 15, 2010) On the other hand, I recognize that some folks have demonstrated that they can't be trusted with information technology. Child molesters are a notorious example. That's why I don't have much of a problem with carefully-defined restrictions on the freedom of folks who have behaved badly:
And yes, I know about the pedophile priests. Moving on.

Technology and Decisions

I think that the multiple murders in Connecticut before Christmas were tragic, and avoidable.

I also think that technology is potentially dangerous: all technology. For example, a simple hammer can do serious damage to my thumb if I miss the nail I'm trying to pound into place.

Some tech is particularly apt to do damage. That's why we have rules about how and where I can get LP gas cylinders filled. That stuff's dangerous.

I could, by tampering with the safety mechanism in an LP gas cylinder's valve, set off an explosion that would destroy my house, severely damage my neighbor's homes, and kill my entire family.

I won't, because I know that doing so would be wrong: as well as illegal.

I also won't push for a ban on LP gas sales, or start a grass-roots effort to abolish outdoor gas grills: even though killers in the Columbia school murders carried propane bombs. That's because I think that human beings are able to use our reason and free will: and decide that we won't act on some crazy impulse.

Instead, here's some common-sense advice:

"Grilling Safety Tips - Part 1"

nfpadotorg, YouTube (June 1, 2009)
video, 2:52

  • "Grilling"
    National Fire Protection Association
Getting back to mass murder and public safety, I think it's a mistake to feel that some specific technology is responsible for those crimes. Arguably, someone who decides to shoot his mother and a few dozen other folks probably isn't good at making decisions. Such a person almost certainly should be restrained: for his own well-being, as well as for the safety of others.

But, like anything involving human beings, 'it ain't easy.'

I remember the afterglow of the 'good old days' dramatized in "The Snake Pit." The impulse to 'lock up the loonies,' like the impulse to abolish guns, might result in unintended consequences.

2. Putting "Love Your Neighbor" Into Practice

"Catholic hospital in Jordan struggles to help Syrian refugees"
Estefania Aguirre, CNA/EWTN News (January 17, 2013)

"A Jordanian Catholic hospital is appealing for more money to help with the growing influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in their homeland.

" 'What we're asking for is just to help us help others,' said Sister Alessandra Fumagalli, at a Catholic Near East Welfare Association gathering on Jan. 16 at the Vatican.

" 'It's really an emergency,' she added.

"Sr. Fumagalli made her remarks at the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, speaking alongside Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and the Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast...."
Aside from the 'feel good' angle, I think this news item is a good example of what happens when Catholics are allowed to practice our faith. We're obligated love our neighbors: and act as if that attitude means something. I've written about that now and again:

3. BEAM in Orbit: For Starters

(Bigelow Aerospace, via, used w/o permission)
"Artist's conception of the private-sector supplied Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to be launched around the summer of 2015...."
"Inside NASA's Deal for an Inflatable Space Station Room"
Leonard David, Space Insider, 16, 2013)

"A new deal between NASA and a commercial spaceflight company to add a privately built module to the International Space Station could lead to future uses of the novel space technology beyond low-Earth orbit, space agency and company officials say.

"NASA will pay $17.8 million to Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas to build an inflatable module, test it and prep it for flight. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is to be launched around the summer of 2015.

"The space agency and Bigelow officials provided details of the contract in a Las Vegas briefing today (Jan. 16)...."
The article focuses on habitat technologies Bigelow Aerospace has been developing, how they're marketing BEAM, and how similar inflatable modules may be used as we begin traveling to the Moon and Mars. I think it's likely that BEAM and similar structures will be the Quonset huts of the 21st century.

Science, Technology, and Being Human

I don't see why God would give us brains, unless we were expected to use them. Learning about this astonishing creation, and doing something with it, are an important part of being human. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2293)

Like anything else we do, ethics apply to scientific research. (Catechism, 2292-2295) The idea that at least some folks are "beyond good and evil" may seem attractive, but that's not how things work. (December 17, 2012; March 9, 2012)

This vast universe is filled with wonders: Including, we learned recently, billions of planets somewhat like Earth in our home galaxy. (January 11, 2013)

Closer to home, a physicist is designing a laboratory test for a sort of prototype warp drive. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 30, 2012))

We live in exciting times.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.