It’s hard sometimes to argue a case for the existance of environmental problems with a stalwart denier. They will always have the latest sensational report trashing the integrity of the IPCC or some maverick theory of sunspots or earth wobbles to undermine the modelling and observations of a thousand scientists. And, indeed, science itself is not that good at dealing with complexity in reality. Anyway for the vast majority of us a truly informed view is beyond our reach. Sometimes, as old as I am, I realise that the vast majority of what I believe in is learned rather than first hand experience. I have to choose, to a large extent, who I believe.
Clearly there are great intelligences among us who can take on board and grasp vast quantities and complex configurations of information and see it with clarity, but for many we can only listen and hope to learn. Intelligence does not guarantee exclusive access to the truth however and even the most rational of thinkers in the end has to fall back on beliefs. So I conclude that in the end, no matter how good the evidence or how well argued the case, what is important and what carries the day is a person’s beliefs.
I also conclude that in this area of environmentalism and correct stewardship there are two fundamental belief systems that are based on a simple but profound polarity. Well it seemed simple, but now I come to try to explain it it is starting to look complex. I’ll start with labels. My labels are ‘techno’ and ‘Eco’. Let’s explore what I mean by the question “Are you techno or Eco?’ If you are comfortable with a world composed entirely of artefacts, then you are definitely in the ‘techno’ camp. If you believe that the natural world has value and qualities beyond what mankind can make, then you are in the ‘Eco’ camp. Technos believe that whatever problems loom in our life and experience, history has shown us that there is a man made solution. We are masters of our own destiny and create most of the entities we live with and the environments we live in. Ecos on the other hand see the more than human world as a vast reservoir of experience, creativity and beauty that mere humans would be hard pressed to emulate. Depending on which camp you occupy, many other beliefs and opinions fall into place. Ultimately we could view this as a battle between the city and the wilderness. For most, however, it’s not that extreme.
There was a time when I concluded that technology was a kind of crime against nature. The argument ran thus. The natural world has evolved over millennia through endless adaptations of one entity to another, the competition and/or collaboration of one entity with another (the contribution of collaboration to evolution is unaccountably understated in classic evolutionary theory) as we are persuaded by the theologians of science, without purpose, other than perhaps to be. Technology, on the other hand, the adaptation of its environment by mankind to meet his own ends tends to be one sided and is dictated by purpose. Purpose implies gain, a sort of victory and is a product of the human mind. Here we have the conundrum that, though we are a part of nature and thus might sanction our actions including technology ones part of those actions because of this, because our actions seek advantage over nature and are at a scale much greater than evolutionary adaptation they effectively attack nature and disrupt its otherwise inevitable course.
It took mankind thousands of years to develop a sophisticated blade from simple rock tools but the act of cutting is a symbolic metaphor for the whole of technology that followed. Interesting that the other important prehistoric technology was the kindling of fire. These were developments that wereinstrumental in the hard wiring of the hunter gatherer brain. The most significant aspect of technology as a system is that it is motivated by the will to overcome aspects of the natural order and bend them to human purpose dictated by the ambitions of the moment. Technos would view this as technology’s supreme value while Ecos would view it as its essential flaw. Of course there is much more to this, but it will have to wait until another day!