For over thirty years, I have marveled at the way technology has asserted itself as the most important development of our era. I am part of a fast fading generation, fortunate enough to have missed the Second World War and to have witnessed radical changes of mindsets and lifestyles along the way. I better understand why many countries, especially in Europe, are so attached to history. Truly, by just remembering, our appreciation of what is current and the new patterns emerging can be greatly enhanced when viewed within its overarching context.
It is not that technological advances have slowed down; in fact, it sustains its explosive pace and introduces greater speed, greater power, greater potential. But today, there is an overcast hovering over human existence, over the planet we inhabit, that is affirming the principle of the opposite potential – meaning that power is neutral, that it can be used for the negative or used for the negative. This principle covers not only technology but more fundamentally characterizes man. We, you and I, we are the final determinant of good and evil. It is not somewhere out there, it is centrally in each one of us. In other words, good and evil is our choice.
If there is an overcast over human life and the planet Earth, therefore, it is impossible that we have no participation in it, even for what most of us may not understand in its technical terminology called climate change. I know by now that the human race and our planet are but specs in vast and limitless complexes of universes, arguably mostly undiscovered by man and his knowledge up to today. That context tells us that man is not in total control, and that Earth is not the center of the universe. Yet, what we know from experience and our current level of science is that mankind has its own capacity for manipulating not only our material environment but our immediate climate as well.
It used to be that societies all over the world defined themselves by sustained violence, as expressed by a history where there were more wars than years. Because Europeans have this attachment to remembering the past, they remember the wars. There were simply too many not to know of them and not to be directly affected by them. Wars were led by emperors and kings, by the great warriors whose names we may still be familiar with. By category, these were usually known to be conquerors, or defenders. Kingdoms rose and fell by the prowess of these conquerors or defenders, by the kind of inspiration and leadership they exercised. Because wars were often happening simultaneously, and seemingly endlessly, there was an overview of a world in violent conflict. Which means that the spirit of competition drove and defined societies.
The Second World War brought the scale of human destruction to a new level so frightening that the world of nations tried to take the first global step to avoid another conflagration of the same or worse magnitude. This is what my generation experienced – this first global experiment to avoid another world war. After seventy years, the effort continues. It has not been perfect as these last seven decades have seen conflict after conflict, but universal peace more than universal violence has been the dominant atmosphere. Despite the unfortunate deviations, the pockets of violence that erupt every so often, the struggle to contain violence remains a consistent policy of the world of nations.
Technology has been a powerful tool for containment. By connecting people and nations, by introducing the wealth of discovered science, by the attendant empowerment that knowledge naturally brings to human beings, technology undoubtedly can be the most powerful instrument in bringing people together. And in a reality of togetherness, the propensity for violence will have found a counter force moving towards peace and cooperation.
Before togetherness can find that level of power, however, the propensity for violence must necessarily be restrained. The same technological discoveries, though, offer the opposite potential. As much as they can bring us together, they can destroy us, too. Conventional weaponry was gory because of the blood it splattered as much the time it took to kill and wound – a torture because it can seem like forever. Ask the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Afghans. But when the level of technology is raised to what it can possible deliver today, there may be few people we can ask after the fact. We used to be afraid of a nuclear war. But we were afraid of this seventy years ago. I fear we have no idea yet of what it can do today. And I pray we will never discover it.
The struggle, then, to contain violence must not relent. We know that there remains the instinct for an eye for an eye, and that is such a dangerous reality we must overcome. It is the same human frailty that terrorism is hoping to manipulate, to provoke. Nothing like fear and vengeance can trigger retaliation and the escalation of violence. And only an equivalent determination for peace and prosperity can overcome this threat. I included prosperity with peace because peace needs an extra motivation when it is not yet appreciated. Prosperity multiplies the chances of peace. Inversely, poverty enhances the chances of violence. We already know about the poverty, its power to marginalize, and its capacity to foster anger and violence. We must know more about prosperity, induce more people to experience it, flip the pyramid of values where the 1% controls the 99%.
The most dangerous enemy of the times is the provocateur. Technology can make the work of provocateurs viral, directly or by influence. We already know about traditional provocateurs and we must learn about the new ones. Fake news provokes because it intends to spread conflict. Trolls are provocateurs because they intend to sow conflict. The goal of provocateurs is to activate partisanship and unbridled competition because these guarantee conflict. And this is the minefield of our lives today.
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