EXTRACT: We need to push ourselves and our leaders to ask not just what can we create, but with each new innovation to ponder: Is there a better alternative? What are the possible consequences? Who may benefit and who may suffer? Asking these questions, doesn't mean becoming leery Luddites, and it certainly doesn't mean we halt technological progress, it means being equipped actually to choose the best path of innovation. After all, every choice we make is a matter of focus: every choice takes us on one path, away from another.
GM WATCH COMMENT: Anna Lappe's point accords with what Dr Andy Stirling of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex has repeatedly pointed out - specific technological changes do not spring from nowhere and nor are they somehow hardwired in nature. Technological directions are deliberate choices, and those choices are subject to power.
The choice of possible future technological pathways is much more open-ended than is often acknowledged, and it is an entirely legitimate matter for debate. In fact, the real debate, says Stirling, is about who chooses technology and to what end.
Stirling also points out that just as scepticism is the key to good science, dissent is the key to robust and innovative technologies. This means that it is in the long-term interest of societies to allow more, not less, attention to the politics of technology.
By contrast, says Stirling, those who seek to prevent particular technologies, and the interests and 'expertise' which supports them, from being subject to scepticism and dissent, are simply seeking to narrow society's choices as to the technological path we proceed along.
It is they who seek to exclude discussion, dissent, and diversity. They are the ones placing limits on the range of innovation. And it is entirely reasonable to ask whose interest they serve.
For an article by Stirling and Mayer:
What's Next: Anna Lappe
WorldChanging, December 27 2006
When my grandfather entered M.I.T. in 1931, he was required to bring only one thing: a slide rule. Visiting him recently in New Jersey, we fixed his Internet, watched a DVD, and programmed his new cell phone. At age 93, it's clear he has been witness to a revolution in technology unlike humanity has ever seen.
Yet, despite (or is it because of?) our technological innovation, 15,000 children still die every day of preventable disease and illness and -- I probably don't need to tell you this -- environmental destruction of the planet still threatens all of our lives.
What the world needs now, as we tread further into the 21st century, is a real conversation about technology: its limits, its potential, and where we want it to take us.
If looking back on human evolution teaches us anything about human nature, it is that we are constant innovators. As our tools have become more complex, so have our innovations. But we've evolved tools far faster than we have evolved an ethics of progress a morality of technology. And, we've developed technology faster than we have developed the safeguards to protect our common assets air, water, soil, and more from their unintended consequences.
We need to push ourselves and our leaders to ask not just what can we create, but with each new innovation to ponder: Is there a better alternative? What are the possible consequences? Who may benefit and who may suffer? Asking these questions, doesn't mean becoming leery Luddites, and it certainly doesn't mean we halt technological progress, it means being equipped actually to choose the best path of innovation. After all, every choice we make is a matter of focus: every choice takes us on one path, away from another.
Think about the technology we've privileged in food and farming. We've placed a premium on a certain kind of agricultural innovation, that done in sterile labs with white-coated technicians. The result can be seen in the past century’s farm chemical revolution and our blanketing the planet with known carcinogens, endocrine-disrupters, and neurotoxins. We can also see it in this revolution’s modern-day redux, genetically modified foods.
The consequence of developing an agricultural system based on chemical pesticides has unleashed pollution, sickness, even death, unaccounted for when first introduced. And we’re only beginning to comprehend the potential consequences of the introduction of genetically modified foods into our ecosystems. We’ve made these choices despite having the tools to grow food productively without taking on these unnecessary risks, to human, animal, and environmental health.
Despite receiving just a tiny fraction of the resources that have been funneled into chemical agriculture, we’ve also witnessed a revolution in understanding of the power of agroecological approaches to farming. We’re only at the cusp of understanding nature, based no simply on what we can extract from it, but as Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry reminds us, "what we can learn from it."
So let us not ask simply what can we innovate, but what should we create--to ensure the greatest health for all of us--and then develop the technology, broadly defined, to help us get there.
Anna Lappé is a nationally bestselling author, public speaker, and founding principal with Frances Moore Lappé of the Small Planet Institute. She is the co-author of Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet (Penguin 2002) and Grub: Ideas for an Urban, Organic Kitchen (Penguin 2006). She is currently a Food and Society Policy Fellow, a national program of the WK Kellogg Foundation.