A Weekend in Peterborough.


I’m just winding up (or is it winding down, I can never get these modal auxiliaries straight in English), a short, weekend jaunt to the Peterborough area with a good buddy of mine who has family around there. We both needed to get away from it all for a few days, me from my job with the federal government and he from his numerous duties as an IT guy and all around nice guy/techie trouble shooter who ‘acts local’ and who has many irons, as I do, in the fires of our civic engagement in our little town in the Niagara Peninsula.

We headed out to Peterborough on the Friday of Canada Day and had an event-free drive to our destination, where we were staying at my buddy’s cousin’s apartment while she was house-sitting elsewhere. Our first little dramaturgical event came when we pulled into a McDonald’s on the edge of Peterborough to call my buddy’s cousin. Sounds simple enough.

But for some reason, it took my buddy at least 15-20 minutes fiddling with not one but two different cell phones and his laptop and the WI FI system at the McDonald’s, to be able to call up his cousin’s number on the phone. Apparently, going to the payphone in the restaurant and looking in the phone book for her number would be too easy for the technological age. Nobody uses payphones anymore and the phone company does not print phone books as abundantly as they used to. ‘Well’, said I, ‘why don’t you just look up your cousin’s number on Canada 411?’ Too easy. Canada 411 apparently is owned by the big phone companies and lists only residential phone numbers. So anybody with a cell number is not listed in the online phone book!!! Fancy that!

So as I understand it, everybody now has a cell phone, but nobody is able to get a hold of anybody, unless they divulge their number to them. Sort of sounds like Communism under the Soviet Union, when, the Moscow phone book was so rarely published that people developed a whole clandestine network of ‘contacts’ of people’s phone numbers and everybody began becoming obsessed with ‘privacy’ because there was nothing any longer in the open, publicly financed and administered domain, and everybody was and is now, angling in on each other with mercenary intent and predisposition of conscience, all with the goal of augmenting individual pecuniary gain.

So why is it then, that if computers and mobile devices along with the internet were designed to make our lives so much ‘easier’, ‘faster’, ‘more efficient’, ‘more productive’, and ‘better’ are we now slaving away spending an inordinate amount of our ‘productive’ time trying to satisfy the seemingly endless arcane technological imperatives of computers, mobile devices, and the internet, before these things will do a single thing to help us obtain the outcome we need?

Our corporate leaders and their handmaidens in government all seem to be chanting from the same secular hymnal these days: that of the sacred dogma of ‘science and technology offer endless possibilities and solutions to improve our lives, our outcomes and to solve virtually every human problem imaginable.’

What they don’t mention is that science and technology are often the root cause of many if not most of our problems to begin with, because humanity’s pursuit of its status as co-creator with the Almighty has led us not only to, as JFK put it in his inaugural address: ‘be able to abolish all forms of human hunger and disease’, but also to ‘abolish all forms of human life.’

We must understand that science and technology, like all things, are a double-edged sword, which can cut both ways, and usually do. In the annals of history, humanity has usually used scientific and technological knowledge first and foremost as an instrument of military, and hence politico-economic, socio-cultural and socio-religious domination. It has usually been utilized by humanity to first and foremost subdue and subjugate the earth and its people, thus establishing the constitutionally barbaric institution of so-called ‘civilization’, whose establishment was hence predicated upon the dubious notion of a perversion of natural law so as to establish the hegemony of the laws of man.

Civilization and its body of laws, including the rule of law and due process is thus predicated upon the use of violent force to establish and maintain  a social, economic, political, cultural, religious, and lastly, scientific and technological order which is predicated upon what is often the egregiously disparate difference in temporal wherewithal and opportunity among people.

All the more reason to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS), as we say in AA. Often the best and most efficient solutions from a scientific and technological viewpoint are the simplest. I once saw a report about a contest for structural engineers to build the strongest model bridge out of balsa wood. So of course the engineering students went all out and made a lot of overly complicated spindly model bridges, all of which broke into splinters when subjected to the torsional stresses of the vise. Turns out the winning entry was the simplest design: An old-fashioned Roman arch with a cross bar at the bottom which stood up to the biggest torsional load of them all.

Which brings me to my hero Fritz Schumacher, the author of ‘Small is Beautiful.’ Schumacher wrote about our postmodern obsession with science and high technology and the need for ‘intermediate and appropriate technology’, and for a society ‘on human scale.’ I remember I paid $1.00 for that book. It was the best dollar I ever spent, in my humble estimation.

I think if we got back to basics and stopped trying to over-engineer everything from our car radios to our cell phones and computers, we’d be a lot better off. We often get the idea that just because something is ‘new’, that it is necessarily ‘improved’, or that if it is more technologically advanced, that it too is somehow necessarily ‘better.’ We’ve grown up with the false gods of ‘Progress’ and ‘Growth’, which we’ve falsely equated with the notions of improvement, of ‘going onwards and upwards’, and of the attainment of perfection and heavenly bliss.

Progress does not necessarily equate with improvement. Progression can be either backwards or forwards, up or down. Alcoholism is a progressive illness, in that the alcoholic gets progressively worse until he or she dies or recovers from their affliction. Economic growth is not continuously upwardly linear as we seem to have been led to believe during the era of corporate consumer capitalism since the 1880s. It is rather very cyclical and quite erratic if one is to believe the record of economic boom and bust cycles of the North American economy and that of its European counterparts during the same era, with its accompanying stock market crashes, runs on banks, speculative disasters, hyperinflation, deflation, wildly fluctuating currencies, and commodities markets which have been known to tank based on the vagaries of national governments’ desires to each protect their own agricultural sectors, combined with the calculated brutality of one particularly Machiavellian Soviet dictator whose preemptive move to  prevent Ukrainian secession by confiscating her wheat crop and subsequently dumping it onto the world commodities market in 1932-33, caused world wheat prices to tank precipitously, not to mention causing the deaths of millions of Ukrainians.

We seem to be rather like a hamster in a cage ‘running over the same old ground, have we found, the same old fears, wish you were here,’ as Pink Floyd sang. The circle of history repeats itself, and like Santayana said, who, ironically was an Atheist, ‘those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.’

So essentially, we are not going ‘onward and upward’, continuously, forever into the ‘wild blue yonder’, as the song goes, (even rockets which fly straight up, run out of fuel and come back down), but rather round and round, in ever expanding circles, until the periphery of the circle is so far from core, or point of origin, that the centre cannot hold and the periphery collapses beneath the core, down to a new point of origin, then outwards again and back up to the new point of origin, much like the twin helix of a DNA molecule.

This is why I believe Creation and Evolution are in harmony with each other, that Evolution was borne out of Creation, and that Creation is an evolutionary process which is ongoing and continuous in real time and is something which continuously renews and replenishes itself from an endless wellspring of energy from the ‘unmoved mover’, as the ancient Greeks called it.

So it took 20 minutes to make a phone call at a McDonald’s with two cell phones, a laptop and WI FI. Could be worse. I could have been in Mogadishu with my buddy with an AK-47 looking for food with no phone at all!!! Guess it’s all a question of perception. Well, have a blessed day and keep on smiling!!!



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Posted in democracy, economics, politics, Society, technology

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