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Libyan Writer Ghoma
الكاتب الليبي غومة

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Friday, 5 November, 2010

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No Development Without Creativity and Originality!

(Part X)

By: Ghoma

" In the north there is a way of understanding things which one cannot find among the Arabs. You Know, from their cool arrogance one cannot strike a spark of common sense."

                                                                        Franz Kafka, "Jackals and the Arabs"

        Once again, the financial meltdown and ongoing economic crunch has brought back old concerns about technology's fitness, flexibility, and adaptibility to the fore. This time around these concerns were couched in economic terms to hit two birds with one stone: searching for economic growth through alternative technology forms, in particular, those with higher sustainability impact as Green Technology for instance. The reasoning goes: a slumpering economy could only be revved up by improving, literally, the engines that run it. A call to fuel technology with different and more suustainable energy sources.

        The world as we know it, built on carbon-rich energy, has reached a critical stage in its reserves, and thus it's time to begin worrying about changing energy sources. If for nothing else then because fossil fuel deposits are getting harder to find and the existing ones are fast reaching their peak production. From now on fossil fuels will be in dwindling supply and their energy dependent technology is therefore entering a period of uncertainty. Hence, the question which begs itself: What is the future of a world built on fossil-fuel energy? Iffy! Could an abundant energy source be found and tapped on in time before oil and coal have run their course? Maybe! And if so what kind of changes be expected in production, settlements, buildings, and ways to communicate and move around?

        Technology as materialized reason, the critical factor here, has always been wrapped in more than an instrumental use, i.e. mere tools. Thus its discussion has also suffered from the explosive charges of love-hate emotions. In part because technology's tentacles strike deep on many sensitive chords and that cause tensions to rise in many of those real and imaginary laden charges: from hegemony, to exoticism, to mere utopia, nostalgia, and romanticism. If there's any silver-lining to this debate must be the jabbing of the Enlightenment's firm and optimistic belief in reason's capacity to overcome age-old human reticence to look facts in the face. The limit to reason, or the doubt which has been peeking its nose even before technology had started manifesting some of its weaknesses, in particular, the one which has hampered its diffusion and has been a nagging thorn on the side of humanity ever since it was still mere techne'. The doubt has been accelerating as technology gets more and more complex –bigger is better! This complexity has not only added to its alienation from larger chunks of its beneficiares but has also put a wedge between it and those who could really benefit from its mastery. Complexity, for instance, has made it difficult for technology to be transferred at a wholesale to other societies, particularly to the less developed ones, without also transferring in the same time a dependency syndrome; which, when left to its own devices, would shortchange any benefits accrued to solving some of these societies' huge problems.

        It goes witout saying that there're also benefits to bigness. However, the balance sheet of bigness was always fraught with all kinds of hazards. With this in mind, aside from the Luddites, most critics of technology still want more of it perhaps only on different scale and in different garb. However, a small but vociferous group has waged a campaign against those believers in technological complexity as a redeeming act. To these downsizing became the buzzword. Or the breaking up of complex systems into simpler units that could be managed easily. But the weighing of complexity vs. simplicity has suffered from setbacks encountered by the notion of small is beautiful. When technology's scale was posed as either/or alterantive some folks have abandoned the quarels with its shortcomings and pinned their hopes for a future with more of the same. But no matter how big, high, or complex systems of technology could get the presumed advantages of economy-of-scale will be offset by the downside of bigness itself, a side effect which is prone to all kinds of the problems stated before.

        While in the Developed World, the sparring followed closely the ebb and flow of cheap energy's availability. As oil supplies went back to where they were before the fad waxed a bit, people soon have forgotten about sustanaibility, alternative energy, and above all the scale of things technological. Whether systems and machines have necessarily to be at certain sizes in order to get the most buck out of the bang was relegated to the sinkholes of academia. But complexity was always the elephant in the room and the waste was its unseen ghost lurking in the corners. While size is only the most apparent, other ways of wastefulness of present technology are still abound, everywhere one looks, in more ways than one. From outright fanciful machine designs, to the carelessness in the daily use of energy, etc. are only some of the froths on the surface. Take for instance electricity! It is generated by boiling water to run turbines in huge power plants. The generators run on burned oil, coal, gas, atomic energy, wind or sun power. The juice then sent along the ubiquitous power lines to consumers. In transmitting the power over the lines some statistics give as high as two-thirds of it is wasted as heat. Wherein lies the rub, why then is there no yearning to search for an alternatieve(s) to these huge plants which would reduce if not eliminate the wasted energy? Why hold to age-old practice, that of transmitting energy across long distances on an extended and intricate grid? When the reasonable alternative seems to point towards smaller plants and localized grids. This, in theory, would offer a solution that will do a better job? Future energy needs can conceivably be better met if and when smaller power plants wil be the norm in each neighborhood and a generator for each building. One can imagine, in a better run world, every building would be self-sufficient in energy, as well as every moving machine would have a self-sustained energy source, that's, has its own energy supply system designed with it, be it solar, geothermal, wind, hydraulic or any other active or passive energy form.

        As new forms of communication have made certain land-use practices, for exampe, siting choices, localizations based on face-to-face encounters, obsolete. And as industry and its ancillary services have been dispersing in the landscape, cities are going to lose some of their allures of old. All indications point to less reasons for huge and tall buildings to concentrate in downtowns of cities. Office buildings as industrial parks can locate anywhere. Thus new forms of land use, urban configurations, building typology, etc, to meet the new demands have to be imagined. Perhaps the day is not far when new forms of self-sustaining villages will replace those monstrosities built since the Industrial Revolution. Maybe finally that Jeffersonian dream of an agrarian democracy could be realized without the agriculture that goes with it?

        Change is always difficult and takes time. Tomaso Di Lampedusa estimated the arc of change stretches to three generations. While developed nations have some resiliency that gives them some stock to tap into in order to get where they need to go. The same couldn't be said for the less-developed nations. Thus 3-World countries are caught in a catch-22 situation, so to speak, where high urbanization rates go hand in hand with chronic deficiency for organization. As Iraq has shown, for example, how its life was parctically paralyzed at the wake of the American invasion due in no small part to the lack of genuine ability to organize. If Iraq were a developed country, the destruction of its main infrastructures would have prompt an endless stream of initiatives and thinking about how to (re)-construct. For instance, is it plausible repeating the same pattern and scale of past experience or to change direction and ways of doing things to completely different approach, in terms of scale, brains, and hands. Such fresh start would begin from the notions of scale and fitness of things technological.

        The world will definitely change. It's only a matter to what and how long it'll will take for change to get there. Concerns such as these are particularly palpable in countries that still lack the necessary know-how and organization to run and maintain systems when disruptions in their networks do occur. The dependency on the Developed nations for the traditional big-sized systems's work and maintenace was never without its glitches. Technology has always been used as a pressure control by those who supplied it. The small-sized systems may not avoid the traumatic disruptions but at least put their running and maintenance at the hands of those who use their outputs. In other words they're more amenable to be managed and controlled by these backward nations while trudging up the civilizational ladder.

        How to effect the necessary changes in these countries so that technology gets some traction and becomes a local language, is the challenge for development to deal with. For starter, modernization has to begin from digesting what historical experiences both West and East have gone through. But above all to ponder how a country, like China, with 1.3 billion poor peasants, has made it to the ranks of the developed nations. How it's awakened itself from its millenial slumber and renewed its society at the speed of light! This may also give the strayed nations of this world a lighting beacon how to do it and where to aim for. Moreover, the chance as well as a motive to never lose hope.

        The hope that reasonable and cool minds will ultimately prevail. It will come out of the realization that the world may be adrift but humans and only them have the power to set it right. This will take place only when humans choose what they can affect and control, that's reddressing this world, life, and the good life. What remains the toughest , if not the hardest obstacle to development, is still that old notion, which has been fueled traditional religions: the downplaying of the concrete world to its imaginary equivalent, the downgrading of the only known life to no more than a bridge to nowhere, etc. Indeed, while these still dominating the collective consciousness, there would be no meaningful breakthroughs into the modern world. Only when the mind reconciles itself with the world as it's and aligns its coordinates with life as lived then and only then could modernity have a chance to set roots. Modernity's main pillar of life as a project of self-actualization, if not self-realization, will finally have a go.

        Modernity has to start with simple matters, as the idea of work! One noticeable trait, common to cultures in Western Europe and Southeast Asia, and seems to be weak in Arabs and their culture, is the ethic of hardwork along with an ingrained sense of skepticism. These traits, in both their material and intellectual manifestations, seemed to have been the engines that drove the cultures of the regions which housed those beehive-like humans. Notwithstanding Max Weber's contention that work ethic was a correlate to disenchantments brought about by the Protestant Revolution, historical evidence seems to sugget these traits were long ingrained in the habits and attitudes of peoples in Western Europe, who had produced the maginficences of Athens, Rome, the Gothic Cathedrals, or In China Forbidden City and the Great Wall, long before the rise of Protestantism in the West or Communism in China. On the contrary all evidence seems to suggest Religions were the cause for sapping human energy in contemplation of the world rather than intervening in it and acting upon it. Medieval inebriation with dogmas -and the falling prey under the sway of the Church of Rome- had supplanted the habits of hardwork and skepticism of the Greeks and Romans with a never-ending streams of ritualistic chants, rites, and sermons. Paralleling this frenzy, Feudalism had filled the gap left by the tranced masses, by pushing more and more of the disenchanted vassals toward those crucible burgeoning cities the bourgeoisie and the guilds had been buys building. These in addition to producing goods and rebellions were also engenering competition and sense of wonder, the twin bases to all civilizations!


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More Articles Written By Ghoma

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