Humanity, technology and morality


What is technically possible, isn’t always morally desirable, which is of course nothing new. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that inventions started to explode, once our moral guardians – like the Church in Western societies for example – started to lose their grip on these societies.

“Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak,
men mistook magic for medicine.
Now, when science is strong and religion weak,
men mistake medicine for magic.”
(Thomas Szasz, psychiatrist)

“It is science and not religion, which has taught men
that things are complex and difficult to understand.”
(Émile Durkheim, sociologist)

“Doubt grows with knowledge.”
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writer and statesman)

Technology in itself is usually not the problem. It’s how humans use or misuse it that matters, be it iron smelting, nuclear power or the internet. The big challenge, as mentioned earlier, is that the pace of change has increased dramatically over the last 100 years. While Rome was not built in one day, it could easily be destroyed in less than one hour nowadays.

The increasing potency of technology facilitates and encourages immoral behavior. Science and technology do not empower all of us equally. Only some are given almost god-like powers, unfortunately not matched by god-like wisdom. An ever decreasing number of people is in a position to potentially exploit and oppress an ever increasing number of of people in numerous ways. And some do.

“But of all hours most atrocious
Is man at his own madness’ height.
Woe unto those who to the yearning,
The ever-blind lend heaven’s light!”
(Friedrich Schiller, poet and philosopher: Song of the Bell)

The almost religious fervor of many of those empowered is reminiscent of the Inquisition, except that the punishment for dissenters and heretics is not as harsh and brutal as it used to be. There’s no need to burn the witch nowadays or to imprison an heretic for life, when simply deleting her/his account or not ranking her/him will do.

Just remember Galileo Galilei, who was put on trial by the Inquisition as an heretic back in 1633. Even though he renounced his beliefs in the Copernican system (sort of), he was sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later changed to house arrest. It took the Church over 380 years to apologize and accept that Galilei was right after all.

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”
(Edmund Burke, philosopher)

“People will come to love their oppression, to adore the
technologies that undo their capacity to think.”
(Aldous Huxley, philosopher and writer)

Failing moral guardians, including each and everyone of us, are to blame for moral and societal decay, thereby increasing the ethical instability of our world. A world, in which morality has to have a business value, i.e. morality has to be financially profitable. Contrary to business, which often doesn’t need to adhere to moral values, as evidenced by the last financial crisis or the ongoing privacy debate. An increasing number of people seem to equate “everything is possible” with “anything goes” in the name of progress and innovation. In the absence of a moral conscience and effective moral guardians, inequality will keep on rising, resulting in further societal decay.

Merriam-Webster defines morality as “beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior” and religion as “a belief in a god or in a group of gods”.

What does it mean to be good? (Recall the questions about “better” in an earlier post)

Who – or what (!) – is a god?

Do we need god(s) to define and decide what is good and bad?

Does a good person have to be religious?

Can “good” be defined universally?

Do we develop our own moral code or do we just copy an existing one? From whom?

Is there one universal moral code, or are there several, depending on cultures and religions?

Could we find a common, global denominator?

Do we want to?

Who – or what (!) – defines what’s moral and what isn’t?

What is more dangerous: Artificial Intelligence or human stupidity and/or apathy, especially considering the abundant supply of the latter?

While technology is definitely the Golden Calf for some, it is definitely not the Holy Grail for humanity. Technology has no conscience, but humanity should and must.

“The liberating force of technology – the instrumentalization
of things – turns into the instrumentalization of man.”
(Herbert Marcuse, philosopher and political theorist)

Once fully instrumentalized, we stop being human and turn into mindless and spineless biological products, also known as voters, taxpayers, followers and consumers.

“All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means
have become ends, man is an automaton.”
(Erich Fromm, social psychologist)

This fatal development has already started.

Will we let today’s high priests of science and technology have the last word?

Are science and technology our new religion?

Will we enable another Inquisition?

Will we renounce our belief in humanity?

Does humanity, as we know it, have a shelf-life?

Will we pay the ultimate price and give up our humanity for often only superficially rewarding amenities?

Do we really want to live in a fully commercialized world, in which everything and everyone has a price, but not necessarily a value?

“Nowadays people know the price of everything
and the value of nothing.”
(Oscar Wilde, dramatist and poet)

Do we want to live in a world, in which human rights like privacy are for sale, but can only be bought by those with enough money and influence?

Would we still be entitled to human rights, once we cease being human beings and turn into automatons, as described by Erich Fromm?

“All of humanity can be summed up in two sentences.
We ought to. But we don’t.”
(Kurt Tucholsky, journalist and satirist)

But we must!

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