Saturday, January 30, 2010

WARNING: Steve should probably stick to poetry and gardening but sometimes I...don't. :)

When Obama's State of the Union address and Apple's iPad launch were scheduled for the same day, one of the writers over at Slate asked whether technology had become more important than politics. Well, I've some news for you: technology has always been more important than politics.

History is driven largely (entirely?) by economics. Which is a meaningless statement, in and of itself -- a bit like saying that illness is caused by disease. Though, at various times in various cultures, witchcraft and other causes were mistakenly blamed for illness.

Similarly have 'great men' and such been named as the movers of history. Great men (and, of course, women) may rise to the occasion but they are not the force behind it. They may shape history but it would all end up much the same if someone else were at the helm.

For it is the human race that makes history, not individuals. And what the human race is interested in is living. Yes, surviving is part but not all of that -- one might say that all the rest of living, i.e. the pursuit of happiness, is a support for survival. At any rate, we are driven by the need to feed, clothe, house and protect ourselves and our families.

That is, in essence, a matter of economics. Individual choices may be influenced by any number of factors but the choices of groups always come back to this one basic need. There have been many theories put forth to explain the mechanisms by which groups attempt to fill this need but they often seem wanting and/or simplistic. People do tend to like simplistic, which helps explain why Marx's class struggle theory caught on.

Not that it's particularly relevant to this discussion, anyway. People survive. People get better at surviving and survive longer and have more offspring. Getting better means better technology. Technology and economics are always deeply interconnected, forever symbiotic.

So technology is more important than politics, far more important. Always has been, always will be. Politicians, political parties and systems, whole countries, come and go. None of them are as important as the invention of the many tools that help us survive and prosper and even, sometimes, kill each other. They shape our lives, they shape our societies.

Universal health care/insurance may be an admirable political goal but is it anywhere near as important as the medical discoveries of Jenner, Salk, Pasteur? The birth of modern democracy in America was an event of major import but could it have happened without the thousands of technological advances that raised the wealth of the middle class in Western society?

The iPad is hardly an important technological advance so, perhaps, it was less important that day than the president's speech. It is part, however, of a very major and continued technological revolution that has touched everyone's life, no matter how isolated they may be. And this revolution -- as others before it -- will ultimately lead to political change as well. It will shape history.

Stephen Brooke ©2010

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