project WORLDVIEW worldview theme info         copyright 2009                Home         

Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #46A: 

        The Technological Fix Mentality

     Worldview Theme #46B: Militarism 
Contrast Worldview Themes #46A and #47A --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!            

agriculture--the technology and practice of farming--preparing the soil, planting, nourishing, cultivating, and raising crops for food or fiber--or raising livestock, fish, etc. for human consumption.  Its earliest beginnings, nearly 10,000 years ago, allowed humans to start trading hunter-gatherer lifestyles for more settled existences.  In the last century, the development of manmade fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized farm equipment--and more recently new varieties of grains--has greatly increased agricultural productivity.  While globally agriculture still employs 35 % of the world's workers,  in affluent countries the corresponding figure is much less (in places dropping below 1%).

appropriate (or soft) technology -- technology selected, designed and implemented with the special environ- mental, cultural, social and economic aspects of the community it is intended for in mind. It typically has little or no significant environmental impact and is well suited to an area since it makes use of what is relatively abundant--for example, labor in places where people need jobs. Typically it involves devices that are small, relatively simple, inexpensive, decentralized, and that can preserve meaningful experiences or work for people. In contrast high or hard technology typically has much greater environmental impact, tends to replace people with machines, and can involve more technological complexity, equipment capital outlay, etc. Example: Using lots of workers with hand tools to control unwanted brush and growth in a forest -- so that young trees can get more sun and grow better -- would be an appropriate technology solution; using one person flying over a forest in a helicopter spraying a chemical herbicide to kill unwanted growth would be a hard technology way of accomplishing the same thing.

automotive technology--from an 1890 or so start, by the mid 20th century, passenger cars, trucks, and buses were typically powered by a gasoline or diesel (both refined oil / petroleum products) fueled internal combustion engine.  A way of transmitting the force it provides to wheels, a (relatively heavy, mostly steel) frame and body, and other accessories round out the basic design.  After decades of improvements, end users are generally satisfied with performance. But overall energy efficiency (measured by miles per gallon) is low based on what is theoretically available from the energy content of a gallon of fuel, and pollution generated (especially carbon dioxide) can be high.  By the first decade of the 21st century, spurred by higher fuel costs and environmental concerns, the technology showed signs of evolving to address these problems.  Especially promising were new engines--the first were hybrids (gas & electric)--and lighter (stronger?) composite frames / bodies.

carbon dioxide capture and storage--a new technology that could keep the carbon dioxide generated by burning cheap and abundant coal from being released into the atmosphere and aggravating global warming--instead it would be captured and stored underground.  It is believed that use of such technology, currently at the research and development stage, would add 30 % to 60% to the cost of electricity from coal-fired power plants.

centralized vs. decentralized ways to govern, meet needs or provide services -- To draw this contrast, consider energy installations...Centralized energy installations are characterized by huge facilities for producing energy, require large capital investment, are owned by the government or large corporations, and depend on a complex distribution system to deliver energy to the point of end use. Examples include large 1000 megawatt electric power plants and big oil refineries. Contrast these with...Decentralized energy installations, characterized by small units for producing energy, owned by individuals, small businesses or communities, relatively little capital investment is required, and they are located where the demand for the energy is. Examples include rooftop solar collectors, and basement natural gas powered cogeneration units for producing electricity , space heat and hot water

computer--a general purpose, programmable machine that manipulates data, performs mathematical / logical operations, and executes programmed lists of instructions typically at a high speed. Modern computers do this using semi-conductor based microprocessors, memory and other chips, and include various peripherals to allow the user to interface with the computer and conveniently input, output, access, represent and organize information in various forms.

domestication--the human practice, beginning around 10,000 years ago, of bringing certain wild plant and animal populations under control for various reasons: to provide food, clothing, protection, enjoyment, etc.

electricity--refers to the convenient, versatile, man-made and widely available source of electrical energy that powers many devices that make modern technological society possible, and people's lives easier and more enjoyable. Whereas matter is typically electrically neutral (# positive charges = # negative charges or electrons) and there is no organized mass movement of its associated charges, electricity can ultimately be traced to charge separation and moving charges.  Conductors like copper have loosely bound electrons capable of moving if a complete circuit exists for them to do so and a source of electromotive force exists. Or if you move the conductor in a magnetic field an electromotive force can be generated. The latter is what conventional power plants do, by using a source of energy (coal, nuclear, falling water, etc.) and transforming it ultimately into mechanical energy that moves conductors through magnetic fields and provides electromotive force capable of doing work.  The first electric circuits were thus powered in the late 1860s.

energy--the ability to do work (done when a force acts to move something over some distance in the direction that force acts).  Energy cannot be created or destroyed--only changed from one form to another. Forms that energy takes include mechanical, gravitational, electromagnetic (including ultraviolet, light, infrared, microwave, radio, etc), electrical, nuclear, heat, sound, etc.

energy efficiency -- the amount of energy that goes to perform a useful service divided by the total amount of energy input into the task. For example, for every 100 units of electrical energy that goes into powering an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, only producing 4 of those units show up as useful light energy given off. The efficiency of this energy conversion is thus 4%. What happens to the rest of the energy ?? The remaining 96% of the total energy input is wasted (here as waste heat energy) In contrast, compact fluorescent light bulbs are around 20% efficient -- so more of the electrical energy input goes for producing light, less is wasted.

engineering design -- the process by which scientific principles, engineering analysis, mathematics, computers, words and pictures are used to produce a plan or design, which, when carried out, will satisfy previously identified and well defined human needs.

fossil fuels--the hydrocarbons (derived from ancient plants) stored in coal, oil, and natural gas which can be burned to release energy.  Over 85% of society's energy needs are met in this way. While reserves of oil and natural gas are dwindling--some argue that global oil production has peaked and will begin to decline--enough coal exists to power civilization for hundreds more years.  Environmentalists hope that most of that coal will remain in the ground: burning all of it--and releasing the greenhouse effect enhancing carbon dioxide gas associated with fossil fuel combustion--will produce unbearable global warming / climate change they argue.

free lunch, there is no such thing as a--refers to the belief that neither a person nor a society can truly get something for nothing: even if something appears to be free there are always hidden costs. The costs may have to be paid in the future, someplace far away, by someone else, be distributed over many people, or they may show up in another form (such as an opportunity cost, environmental cost, increased disorder, etc.)  The physical basis for this belief--which becomes a principle for ecologists and others studying closed systems--can be found in the laws of thermodynamics.  Economists link it to opportunity costs being incurred when choices are made. (If something is free, no opportunities are forfeited!)

genetic engineering--involves the direct manipulation of genes to achieve a desired outcome.  While humans have been indirectly doing this for thousands of years in guiding natural processes with selective breeding of plants and animals, in recent decades they have begun using their new understanding of how living things work at the level of genes / DNA and new techniques to directly modify that DNA.  This technology has great potential--especially to increase agricultural producti- vity and improve human health.  Critics worry that genetically modified organisms pose environmental risks and argue that, given bioethical concerns, society will outlaw certain human genetic engineering procedures such as cloning.

geoengineering / planetary engineering--humans use technology to massively alter the global environment of Earth or another planet.  To combat Earth's manmade enhanced greenhouse effect induced global warming, geoengineering proposals have suggested 1) using space-based mirrors to reflect unwanted solar radiation back into space, 2) adding iron to the oceans to increase carbon dioxide absorption, and 3) adding sulfates to the atmosphere to create haze blocking solar radiation.  In the distant future, one can imagine similar (more massive) efforts to transform planets like Mars and Venus to make them habitable.

human senses, extending them--technology dramatically extends the capabilities of the human senses--most notably for seeing and detecting the presence of chemicals (as in smelling odors).  Of course traditional microscopes and telescopes greatly extend vision, improving the ability of detecting both very small and very far away objects by a thousand times or more. The limitations they run into given their use of ordinary light waves--which are relatively large and lacking in penetrating power--can be overcome by using smaller waves (as in electron microscopes) or other electromagnetic waves (as in radio telescopes).  Similarly other detectors allow humans to "see" all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (x-rays, ultra-violet, infra-red, etc)--not just visible light their eyes are sensitive to.  And whereas human noses typically detect concentrations in the parts per million range of various chemicals, modern analytical chemistry instrumentation can extend the range down to parts per trillion or less.

hydroelectric--electricity generated when falling water turns a generator.  Employing well known technology, it is renewable and inexpensive. Its prospects for growth are not as great as other renewable sources such as solar or wind, since (especially in the developed world) most rivers with large hydropower potential have already been dammed. 

Internet-- the publicly accessible global information and communications network consisting of millions of smaller computer networks (maintained by households, commercial, educational, and government institutions, etc.) typically interconnected by fiber optic / other cables and satellite / wireless links through standard communication (IP) protocols. It includes the inter-linked, hypertext transfer protocol (http) based, web pages viewed with a web browser known as the worldwide web (www). 

kilowatt-hour (kwh)--the unit of electrical energy that power companies use in billing consumers (for total kwh usage at some price per kwh, say $.10 per kwh).  A 100 watt light bulb left on for 10 hours would use 100 watts x 10 hours = 1000 watt hours = 1 kilowatt-hour of electrical energy. 

Luddites -- anti-technologists named after the “machine smashers” of the 19th century revolt against inhumane working conditions in factories

microprocessor--a semi-conductor (usually silicon) integrated circuit chip that receives input, performs logic and arithmetic operations, stores and outputs results. First developed around 1970, they are the central processing unit brain of computers, are found in most consumer electronics, automobiles and anything manmade that at times seems smart!

nuclear energy--can be traced to the energy with which the tightly bound constituents of nuclei (the central massive parts of atoms) are held together.  Certain processes (called nuclear reactions) can liberate this energy in an amount E equal to the "missing mass" m involved, times a constant (which equals the speed of light) c squared--that is, Einstein's famous equation E=mc2.  In comparison to chemical reactions--such as burning of fossil fuels --nuclear reactions unleash about one million times more energy per amount of mass involved.  So the nuclear fission reactions associated with splitting apart the (heavy) nuclei in one gram of uranium unleash as much energy as the combustion of a ton of coal!  Such fission reactions are the basis for nuclear power plants which produce around 20% of the electricity used by the United States (in some countries, notably France, the % is much greater).  Since such power plants do not produce greenhouse gases they are touted by some as a way to combat global warming. Others object to them for three reasons: 1) they produce long-lived radioactive waste which must be stored for thousands of years until it decays to safe levels, 2) concerns about the potential for associated radioactive mischief, perhaps involving terrorists, and 3) high costs of constructing them, given public safety concerns.   

pesticides--substances used to kill or control pests: organisms which interfere with human well being or activities (agricultural, in particular). They are classified according to the type of pest they are used on (e.g. insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.)  While such use of naturally occurring substances goes back thousands of years, the first manmade pesticide to be widely used was the insecticide DDT, developed in 1939.  Like DDT, many pesticides can poison humans and damage the environment. By the 1960s--with the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, it was recognized that DDT interferes with bird reproduction. It is now banned in many countries.  A new generation of pesticides--some of which are biological agents, instead of manmade chemicals-- promise less environmental impact. 

power--in engineering, it refers to the rate at which work is done or energy used.  Electrical power is measured in watts.  A large  power plant might have a capacity of one billion watts = 1000 megawatts. see kilowatt-hour

public transportation--any means of moving people in which passengers do not travel in their own vehicles (or those they hire, like taxis) but join with many people (typically on a bus, train, or airplane) in being transported.  Such transportation involving buses and trains has environmental advantages and can reduce congestion in city centers, but it can take passengers longer to reach their destinations and offers less privacy and flexibility than does going by private car.

quantum computers--unlike conventional digital computers which fundamentally recognize only two states--called  on or off, 1 or 0, high or low, single bit, etc.--these computers of the future would use qubits (quantum bits). Such use of quantum mechanical states / phenomena would greatly extend computational capability and allow certain types of problems to be solved much faster than is currently possible.

radiation--refers to energy transmitted as waves or moving particles, and is most fundamentally distinguished by whether it is ionizing or non-ionizing.  Ionizing radiation can be dangerous to living tissue in that it can cause genetic mutations and kill cells.  Sources of it are high energy electromagnetic radiation (like x rays and gamma rays) and radioactive (unstable) material often associated with nuclear energy related technologies.  Lower energy electromagnetic radiation--like visible light, microwaves, or radio waves--is non-ionizing.  

reverse engineering -- starting with a finished product, to work backwards -- disassembling and analyzing it -- in an effort to understand how the product works so as to be able to make it from scratch -- perhaps even improve on it.

science vs. technology, distinguishing between them -- whereas science involves understanding nature, technology involves controlling it. Whereas technology initially developed in trial and error fashion, by the 20th century most significant technological advances were founded on scientific understanding (applied science).      

solar energy utilization--Meeting human technological societal energy needs using so-called renewable energy sources involves harnessing today's solar energy, whereas using fossil fuels involves drawing on the solar energy that millions of years ago was captured by the ancient plants.  While renewable energy resources such as wind, hydroelectric, wood and other biofuels represent indirect solar energy utilization, it can be used directly either for passive heating or in active systems to produce heat and electricity.  Its potential is enormous. One study concluded that photovoltaic and concentrating solar collectors covering 19% of suitable land in the American Southwest could economically meet 69% of US electricity needs and 35% of total energy needs.  Mass production of thin film (an alternative to silicon crystal) photovoltaics may bring cost breakthroughs.    

technocracy -- refers to a society managed by technical experts, or a government with technocrats or the technically elite in control

technological literacy-- involves understanding what technology is, how it works, what it's good for, and specifically how it can be used to best accomplish specific tasks.  Measuring it involves gauging one's comfort level with technology "encompassing three interdependent dimensions: (1) knowledge; (2) ways of thinking and acting; and (3) capabilities" (the latter according to the National Academy of Engineering).  

technology -- another difficult to define term. Here are four definitions of it: 1) what humans do to gain control over nature in shaping the environment to its liking ; 2) the sum total of special knowledge and the tools / means employed by people to provide goods and services for human sustenance and comfort; 3) knowledge relating to how available resources can be turned into goods and services. 4) according to Daniel Boorstin, technology is “the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it”

technology assessment -- a procedure that involves    1) collecting information about the technology and how it will be used in meeting specified objectives, 2) identifying impacts of its use in various areas (environmental, economic, social, political, etc), 3) assessing impacts and identifying tradeoffs, 4) formulating, then examining alternatives, with quantitative models and forecasts, 5) making recommendations including designating a preferred alternative that best meets objectives while minimizing impacts / other concerns , and 6) making plans for monitoring performance

technology, critiques of -- Anti-technologists charge, among other things, that technology ... 1) ...has escaped from human control, is spoiling both the environment and human life, and has the potential to destroy both ; 2)...increasingly allows people to play God -- giving them power they were never meant to have; 3)...forces people to do tedious and degrading work; 4)...forces people to consume things that they don’t really need; 5) creates a technocratic “elite” and disenfranchises the masses; 6) cripples people by cutting them off from nature; 7) diverts people and destroys their existential sense of being. Technologists answer these charges by saying that particular technologies are just tools, neither good nor bad, but it’s the use that people put them to that can be questioned. And of course people are only human -- not infallible! They argue that technology, over the last century, has considerably extended average human life spans, has made life easier and spared people lots of drudgery. More recently, they argue, that computer technology has made a vast amount of knowledge readily available to everyone, greatly aided learning and understanding, and that this is slowly making the world a better place. To charges that technology cuts people off from nature, they point out certain technological creations have allowed humans to experience nature in settings and in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

tool--a handheld device or simple machine that allows the user to better perform some physical task. Once thought to be the only tool-using species, humans are now seen to be the only species that uses tools to make other tools. 

wind energy--use of this clean, renewable resource to generate electricity has increased by over five times since 2000 to roughly 100,000 megawatts worldwide in 2008. Costs have dropped by a factor of ten or more in the last three decades. Recently some long-term supply contracts have been signed in the U.S. for as little as three cents per kilowatt--hour!  One particularly promising possible use of such electricity is to charge hybrid (or all electric) car batteries--an application which Lester Brown argues could eventually cut U.S. gasoline use by 85% and save consumers $ billions given that the cost of such off peak electricity is the equivalent of fifty cents a gallon gasoline!

  Contrast Worldview Themes #46B and #47B --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!           

Contrast Worldview Themes #46B and #37B --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!    

aggression, origin and types of -- an offensive action, either physical act, verbal assault, bodily attack, display of hostility, or threat. If directed against an individual, it can do physical or psychological damage, reduce fitness, and limit freedom. The attack can be unprovoked and seemingly senseless, or it can be motivated by frustration, fear, or a desire to induce fear -- perhaps even flight -- in others. If the aggression is verbal, nothing more than a strong desire to advance one’s ideas, position or interests may be behind it. Or its origin may be rooted in a special situation or circumstances. Some of these types of aggression have been named, including 1) altruistic aggression -- aggression to protect others, 2) displaced aggression -- aggression directed at a person other than the person directly responsible for the grievance, 3) maternal aggression -- aggression by a mother to protect her children, 4) territorial aggression -- aggression to protect one’s territory.

dehumanizing before killing -- based on the idea that it is easier to kill people who are seen as less than human, before such killing a dehumanizing process must take place. This may begin with discriminating, perhaps tagging with derogatory epithet, scapegoating, and lead to generally “psychically numbing” oneself to the reality that the intended victims are fellow human beings.

ethnocentrism -- adopting the social standards of one’s own culture or ethnic group as the basis for evaluating the social practices, customs, beliefs, etc. of another culture -- and doing so because you believe your society’s values and way of living are superior to those of other cultures. 

Geneva Conventions--from an 1864 beginning, to major revisions / additions of 1949, and including subsequent amendments, these international agreements form the basis for humanitarian treatment of prisoners and non-combatants during war.  Among other things, they outlaw intentional killing and torture, and along with other agreements define war crimes.

Hobbesian view of human nature -- According to 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, human beings were selfish, aggressive, fiercely competitive, highly acquisitive creatures who were incapable of self restraint. With this dim view of human nature, he felt that authoritarian state offered the only way to keep human beings from killing each other in constant warfare and destroying civilization.

jihad–an Islamic term, linked to religious duty, which seemingly has two meanings: 1) spiritual (greater) jihad: refers to striving in the way of Allah, promoting Islam, fighting injustice, and nonviolent religious struggle;     2) (lesser) jihad of the sword: holy war  against the enemies of Islam aimed at defending and expanding the Islamic state.

military conduct and discipline--fundamentally involves obeying orders and consequences for not doing so.  While it includes military courtesy (formal address, salutes, standing at attention, etc), ultimately military training seeks to instill unquestioned obedience, reinforce discipline and respect for the chain of command. 

military education and training--its goal is to prepare individuals for a life of military service. It can begin in private military schools where parents send their young children, become physically demanding in the basic training of new military recruits, and culminate as some become military officers at prestigious national military academies.

military science-- the discipline and scientific study of the principles and practice of warfare / military conflict.

military spending--summing the amounts nations officially budget for military expenditures, the annual worldwide total is $1.1 trillion (2.2% of the gross world domestic product). Corresponding United States figures for 2008 are $623 billion (4.5 % of its GDP)--which exceeds that of all other nations combined.  As substantial as it seems this U.S. figure is based on the Dept. of Defense budget and understates overall military spending.  It excludes special supplement requests (for continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) and spending hidden in other departments--such as in the Dept. of Energy, State Dept., Dept. of Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security, etc.  Adding in these figures pushes the U.S. 2008 expected  military spending total to $1.1 trillion  (nearly 8 % of its GDP).

nationalism vs. patriotism--both of these involve love of one's country,  but, unlike patriotism, nationalism defines itself by putting down other potential rivals and evoking  "an aggrandizing, tribalistic sentiment" in the words of Benedict Anderson, author of  Imagined Communities.

nationalist -- a person exhibiting extreme loyalty and devotion to a particular nation, who places its interests above interests of other nations.

nuclear missile defense--the ground, sea or space-based high tech capability of destroying nuclear missiles in flight.  The USA seeks  to extend its current limited system--critics charge it's too expensive and  easily thwarted.

nuclear war, environmental effects of--begin with radiation from the blast and radioactive fallout (some can last for decades), causing mutations and irreversible genetic damage to living things, and conceivably could extend to include the end of human life on Earth.  All out nuclear war–by injecting massive amounts of sunshine-blocking particulate matter into the atmosphere–could produce a "nuclear winter." Agriculture would collapse; extinction of the human species could result.  A 2008 study indicated soot from burning caused by even a small nuclear war could destroy 70% of Earth's protective ozone.

nuclear weapons--explosive devices that unleash nuclear energy and thus are typically around one million times more powerful than explosives involving the same amount of mass but based on chemical reactions (like those involving TNT). The first such weapons--atomic bombs involving nuclear fission reactions--were tested and used in 1945 by the United States to help end World War II. By 1954, thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs--involving nuclear fusion reactions--had been tested by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Whereas the former typically are equivalent in explosive power to (at most) hundreds of thousands of tons of TNT, the latter's explosive power can be measured in millions of tons (megatons) of TNT.  Such hydrogen bombs can be delivered by missiles that can strike targets thousands of miles away in less than an hour.  A one megaton bomb striking a major city like New York would immediately kill an estimated four million people; another three to four million would be dead from radiation exposure / fallout after two days. While the U.S. and Russia still have the bulk of the world's nuclear weapons--together possessing around 25,000 warheads--seven other countries have them.

patriotism -- the love for and devotion to one’s country

war & ethnocentrism -- According to E. O. Wilson, “War can be defined as the violent rupture of the intricate and powerful fabric of territorial taboos observed by social groups. The force behind most warlike policies is ethnocentrism, the irrationally exaggerated allegiance of individuals to their kin and fellow tribesmen.”

xenophobia -- a fear of foreigners or strangers


Back to Worldview Theme #46