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Science And Morality

by Charles MacFarland
Chapter 5


SCITECH V: WHY ARE WE SO POOR?

THE IDEAL.

The year is 1800, and a new century is beginning. We're watching a young man cutting a field of hay. It's a job that people have been doing for 6000 years or more, and the way he's doing it has not changed much in all that time. The blade and design of his scythe may be a little better, but basically he's still doing the whole job by hand.

The amount of hay he can cut has also not changed. If he works hard he can probably harvest about an acre in a ten or twelve hour day. It's boring, back-breaking work, but people have always done it this way, and will continue to do so for another couple of generations.

Now let's jump forward to our own time, and look at another young man setting out to harvest hay. He climbs into the cab of a giant combine. There won't be any bending or stooping for him, and the cab is air-conditioned, and he can listen to music as he works. He'll work ten or twelve hours too, but he'll harvest over a hundred acres.

What a difference! The modern worker does 100 times as much work as the worker of two centuries ago, and he does it in more pleasant conditions. We owe it all to Scitech.

Scitech has done much the same for many other forms of work. The truck driver of today moves 10 times the weight of goods, and moves it 10 times faster, than the man with a cart of two centuries ago. Once again, a factor of 100. Similar increases apply to the clothing worker, the office worker, and many other productive people today. And of course, many people today produce goods which were not even possible two centuries ago: light bulbs, plastics, home appliances, electronic gear, and many other things we take for granted.

All this means we ought to be a lot richer than people of the past. If the productivity of jobs has gone up 100-fold, we ought to be living in a fairyland of wealth. But are we?

Or another way of looking at it is that we ought to be living in a fairyland of leisure. If the modern farm worker can finish his acre of hay in six minutes instead of twelve hours, why doesn't he just knock off for the rest of the day?

Of course, the machine has to be paid for, but even so, it would seem that the modern worker ought to be able to work a lot less than the young man of 1800. Most Scitech inventions were created to do work for people, after all. But do we work less hard?

And do we have more time? With all the "time-saving" gadgets of Scitech, it seems like we ought to have lots of time nowadays to enjoy the many amusements of Scitech, or to cook nice meals and enjoy them with our families, or to read about important aspects of modern life (like Scitech) and discuss them with our friends.

Do we have the leisure? Do we have the wealth?

THE REALITY.

Probably not. The picture painted by the media and by most books on the subject is very different. Most people are frantically busy. They don't live a life of leisure, and what little free time they do have is spent in mental emptiness, watching TV. They're too tired for anything else.

We're not wealthy either, despite the dramatic increases in productivity. Many people are in debt, and if they lose their jobs, or even get laid off for awhile, the result is disaster.

What has happened? Why has Scitech failed in its efforts to give us a life of leisure? Where has all the wealth gone? In short, why are we so poor?

Well, one answer is that we're not. One of the bad habits of human beings is that we quickly take good things for granted. We get used to our pleasures and forget how lucky we are. We are in fact a lot better off than people of the past.

It's well worth reminding ourselves of this, because it can make us feel better. Let's take a few minutes and look at a budget prepared in 1851 by Horace Greeley, the famous newspaper editor. It lists what he considered reasonable weekly expenses for an average American family of five.

The food budgeted for this family consists of a diet of flour, sugar, butter, milk, meat, potatoes, coffee, and tea. That's all. Most people today would consider this pretty bleak. There are no enjoyment foods like potato chips or soft drinks, and no prepared foods or restaurant meals at all. There are also no vegetables and fruits. Of course, the family might grow their own, but this reminds us there would have been no fresh vegetables or fruits at all in winter. All winter long.

The budget allots money for rent and clothing, but nothing for entertainment at all. There were no movies, music recordings, sports centres, or nightclubs in those days -- not even the humble television. There was also no money for transport -- evidently, if the family wanted to go anywhere, they walked. There were horses and carriages and a few railways in those days, but they were very expensive, so the pleasures of travel were almost unknown to ordinary people.

Pretty barren life, eh? And yet the main shock is still to come. The total expense of this budget is $10.37 per week, and that was about twice what a working man could earn in most jobs. A highly skilled worker like an engineer or machinist might earn this much, but for most people, even this bleak lifestyle was out of their reach.

People complain nowadays that both parents have to work to earn a decent standard of living -- but in 1851, even if the whole family worked, they could only achieve a barren life of boredom.

In the year 1851 Scitech was starting to take over from Agsoc. Most people still lived on farms, but many were migrating to factories. The standard of living was rising, and even on farms people were beginning to enter the age of machines.

If we go back farther, to the Middle Ages, when Agsoc was in full force, we find an even bleaker picture. A loaf of bread cost half a day's wages, and a shirt took a whole week's work. For most people, food cost 60 or 70 percent of their working time, and meagre clothing and housing cost all the rest. They lived a life of ignorance, hardship, and toil, with virtually no pleasures, except perhaps sex, with a bit of singing and dancing now and then. "And of course going to church, if church be considered a pleasure.

We live in a world of wonders, and we should take time out now and then to remind ourselves of the things we have -- the things Scitech has given us. The bright lights of cities simply didn't exist til around 1880. Home appliances that we take for granted -- vacuum cleaners, washing machines, hot water heaters, electric stoves, power tools -- did not exist before the twentieth century. Not to mention microwaves and home computers and video tape recorders, whose invention many of us can easily remember. And we can look forward to many even more remarkable inventions, like high-definition TV and computers we can talk to and a power lawn mower that really works.

It's worth remembering all these things. Still, it has to be admitted, people work hard today, and they often run out of money. It's still worth asking, why are we so poor?

EDUCATION.

Scitech has its price. One area in which Scitech has been a burden, as well as a blessing, is education.

In Agsoc, there was very little education, as we said in Essay 4. The kings and nobility might have tutors for their sons, and some learning might be promoted by the clergy, but otherwise, schooling was rare. Most people couldn't even read and write, even the nobility.

Obviously, this would not do for the Age of Scitech. To take part in today's complex world you need to go to school for many years, probably to the end of high school, and in many cases to university and beyond. And/or you need to find education in many other forms, from the media, from friends and job experiences, and from reading intelligent essays.

THIS IS A GOOD THING. Scitech demands education, but our lives are much better for complying with this demand.

The people of Agsoc lived in a terrible darkness. The common people were ignorant and credulous, and it was easy for the rulers to manipulate them, to make slaves of them, and to trick them into doing things that were completely against their own interest, like war.

Most of the rulers were no better off. They were ignorant, narrow-minded, and vain, and it's no surprise that they often made stupid and dangerous decisions in war, and wasted money and lived boring lives in peacetime. A few clever and educated rulers, like Marcus Aurelius and Charlemagne, managed to rise above the morass of stupidity and to do good for their people, but in general the history of Agsoc is a dismal catalogue of inept rulers committing disasterous folly.

But the price of education is money. The general public has to bear the cost of schools right through Year 12, and the cost is enormous, especially in a time of expanding population.

Universities are even more expensive, which is money well spent because they are powerhouses of Scitech progress. If the cost is borne by parents, it can be a well-nigh crushing burden, and in many cases the money has to be borrowed by the students themselves, which saddles them with a burden throughout their early working lives. Companies also have to bear a huge burden sometimes of education for their workers. In some cases this burden falls on the workers themselves, for example if they need to retrain for a new profession. In all these cases the education takes up a great deal of time.

Scitech has its demands. Our lives are much better for these demands, but they do suck up our wealth and time. An even better example of this is medicine.

MEDICINE.

As we said in Essay 2, the one area in which everyone recognizes that Scitech has been spectacularly successful is medicine. It is possible to argue that many other Scitech creations, like cars and plastics and rockets, have been mixed blessings, but hardly anyone would criticize medical advances like the elimination of bubonic plague and smallpox and polio and infections.

The triumph of medicine has also been quite recent. In the 1800's, doctors had few useful medicines, and many of the techniques they used were wrong. Surgery, such as it was, was performed without ether right up through the Civil War, with enormous cost in suffering and death. No one understood infection. The only effective pain killer was opium. Even aspirin wasn't developed until 1898, as we said in Essay 4, by the same company that developed heroin the next year -- a company nobly dedicated to relieving pain.

I once read that it wasn't til 1913 that your chances of surviving a sickness were better if you went to a doctor than if you just stayed home in bed. I don't know if that's really true, but the point is well made. Horace Greeley's budget allows nothing for health care. In his days, maybe that was a good idea.

The first person whose life was saved by penicillain, a young woman at Yale in 1940, is in fact still alive today. I myself can remember being forbidden by my mother from going to public swimming pools because of the terror of polio, which was triumphantly vanquished by Dr. Salk's vaccine in the mid-1950's.

Now we have a fantastic array of medical treatments and drugs. We take it as normal that children can grow up and live long lives, and we forget how recently we've gained that confidence. My mother's family, for example, lost two baby girls in the early years of this century, and such tragedies were regarded as normal. Now we consider it a tragically early death if a person dies at 50, or even 60.

Wonderful changes -- but they come at a cost. Complex drugs and hospitals full of amazing machines do not come cheap. Doctors have to train longer and longer, and charge us more and more. Health care is a terrible financial burden to us, whether paid by the government through taxes or by individuals through insurance. Many people in the U. S. cannot even afford insurance.

Naturally, this makes us feel poor. But we need to keep a sense of proportion in such feelings. After all, who wants to be a rich man in a cemetary?

HOUSING.

Another expense that swallows up the wealth of Scitech is housing. This is in dramatic contrast to the other two necessities, food and clothing. Scitech has made food and clothing very cheap, in contrast with the Middle Ages, as was said above. Then, food and clothing took basically all one's wealth, but now they can easily be purchased for a small fraction of one's income. (I speak, of course, of serviceable food and clothing, not high-fashion clothes or the food of deluxe restaurants.)

Horace Greeley's budget allows $3.00 for rent out of a total budget of $10.37, or about 30%. We don't do much better today. All of Scitech's advances in the building industry, such as new materials, new techniques of building, and labor-saving tools, haven't made housing any cheaper.

Why not? Well, for one thing, houses are much more complicated today. In Greeley's day, a house was just a wooden shell. Now, a house has many complicated internal features, like plumbing, wiring, insulation, central heating, and even air- conditioning as well. Our houses are much better, but such advances cost money.

The other reason housing is expensive is population, that great bugbear of modern times, a subject we've already considered in Essay 2.

The Paddington area of Sydney is an example of this. A hundred years ago, when the beautiful terrace houses of Paddington were built, it was a worker's suburb, more or less on the outskirts of the Sydney of the times. It's about a mile from Paddington to the centre of Sydney, so workers in those days could walk it in about 20 minutes, or take a tram.

Now, Paddington is a wealthy man's suburb. The homes have been restored and refinished with modern conveniences, and they sell for half a million dollars or more. Only the wealthy can live this close to the city. Ordinary workers now have to commute 10 or even 20 miles to work, and because of traffic it takes them at least an hour.

Population in the Age of Scitech does everything to make our lives more difficult. The U. S. adds a city the size of Boston to its population every year. Americans have to build that many houses, that many schools, that many roads, every year.

All of our problems are made worse by population: pollution, depletion of natural resources, crowding in our parks and beaches, crime in our cities, and competition in our jobs. Our failure to control population is perhaps our most spectacular failure to adapt to Scitech.

Scitech protects our lives with modern medicine, and makes food and clothing much cheaper, and gives us wonderful houses to live in, and the natural result is that everyone lives longer. If we don't control our genitals, this naturally means the population will soar. This is a burden for everyone.

Yet amazingly, some groups actually oppose controls on population. They oppose the development of birth control devices and the education of kids in their use. Most amazing of all, they oppose free access to abortion, forcing women to have babies they don't want.

Such groups, whatever their motives, are clearly promoting human misery. What more devastating way to ruin two lives than to make a woman have a child she doesn't want? What more perfect way to frustrate Scitech and burden our whole society that to promote population growth with unwanted children?

Scitech has little chance of being successful as long as people think their genitals are more important than their brains.

KIDS.

This series of essays is about the many ways in which Scitech has made our lives richer and better, and how it will continue to do so if we only adapt our behaviour -- that is, our morality -- to the changes of Scitech.

We've just gone over three areas -- education, medicine, and housing -- in which Scitech has made our lives much better, but also much more complicated and expensive. The striking thing is that all three of these areas are essential to raising children.

If you want to have kids, you'll need medical care when they're born and when they get sick. Even if they never get sick, you'll need to pay much more for medical insurance. Kids also require you to have a larger place to live, and you'll have to think about their demands for schooling too, and perhaps university education. The government will help with some of these expenses, like schooling and perhaps medical care, but there's no doubt that, for most people, having kids will probably swallow up most of their income.

In America, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, a child born to a family earning $60,000 a year will cost $11,000 in the first year of its life, and $350,000 by the time it reaches 18. Figure in college expenses and a kid will cost you $450,000.

Hence the truth of that familiar saying: If you can't afford a Rolls, you can't afford a kid. This is a major change of the Age of Scitech.

In the old days of Agsoc, right up to the nineteenth century, having kids was easy, especially on a farm. You just let them play in the mud til they were old enough to plow in the mud. In fact, kids were an asset on a farm. They could hoe vegetable gardens, milk cows, tend livestock, bring in wood and water, and do a thousand other chores. And there wasn't much that oculd happen to them either, as long as they kept out from under the horses' hooves and didn't fall down the well.

Agsoc made a virtue of large families. Parents wanted kids to look after them in their old age -- still a big factor in the population growth of third-world Agsoc countries like India. Education wasn't a problem either. Jobs for ignorant people were plentiful, either down home on the farm or away logging, sailing, or trading. If nothing else, kids could always be used for cannon fodder, and since Agsoc societies were generally at war, this meant large families were approved by society as well.

Nowadays, everything is different. Take child care, for example. Kids must be supervised constantly, for modern homes are full of wonderful features which are, unfortunately, dangerous to kids: home appliances, power tools, medications, electrical outlets -- the list goes on and on. Outside the home, the dangers of a Scitech world, especially cars, are even greater. The mother who has to get a job to pay for kids then has to pay for child-care services as well.

It's a challenge to have kids today, but on the whole this is a good thing. Population growth has many bad consequences, and it is fortunate that Scitech is making childification so difficult.

People in the Scitech world are starting to think twice about whether they want to have children. Even those who do love children, and cannot find happiness without them, are happily contenting themselves with one or two well raised, rather than many dragged up.

We live in a different world today, and it's a better world. Children deserve a better chance. The world in which they spent their lives slogging in the mud on a farm, or ran away at twelve to become ignorant loggers or sailors or cannon fodder, was a bad old world, and we are well rid of it.

A human being is valuable. A human being deserves good medical care, decent housing, and careful education. If children are getting more expensive, that's great. Children deserve it. We shouldn't have kids if we aren't prepared to give them every opportunity we can.

THE GOLDEN AGE.

There are other factors that continually frustrate the wealth of Scitech. War, for example, still costs a huge amount, as it always did in the days of Agsoc. Most of the armaments we spend so much on are, fortunately, never used, but they swallow up our wealth nonetheless.

Transport is another new aspect of life forced upon us by Scitech. In Scitech, very large quantities of goods are produced in one location, by a factory, and they have to be shipped to users of the goods living over a wide area. It's no accident that trains and roads and better ships were developed as the Age of Scitech began. Transport was necessary for factories to exist.

Centralized workplaces also gave rise to the phenomenon of the commuter. Just as goods had to be shipped out, workers had to be brought in, not only to factories but also to offices in large cities. Commuting has helped to make life a nightmare for many people under Scitech, though the blame should probably be shared by poor urban planning -- another example of a failure to adapt to Scitech.

All these example make Scitech seem, sometimes, like a frustrating source of misery. Sometimes our lives seem frantically busy and poor, trying to keep up with the costs that Scitech forces on us.

But we should never forget that Scitech, for all its problems, is helping us to live better lives. In fact, people today can live far better lives than they ever could before, especially if they think a bit, and plan, and adapt to Scitech.

We live in a Golden Age. We live lives today that could only have been a fantastic dream for people even just a century ago. And if Scitech is forcing us to change our morality, well, maybe that's a good thing too.

Maybe we have to give up some of our old notions, like spawning useless population across a burdened Earth. Maybe Scitech is turning us toward other things in life, like enjoying our beautiful world instead of exploiting and destroying it. Maybe Scitech is heading us toward a future that will be like a fantastic dream to us, just as our lives are a fantastic dream to the past.

We have a bright and wonderful future in the Age of Scitech. All we have to do is to change our old ideas and embrace it.

 


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