May 15, 2007

Heresy of the Moneychangers 1

Why is it that so many divines are terrible economists, and so suspicious of technology? I intend to write much more on this, but to get started, here's a bit written by Eknath Easwaran in a commentary on the third "chapter" of the Dhammapada writes,

It may seem surprising that the Buddha devotes so much attention to suspending the operations of that very instrument that people associate with human progress. All of the major material accomplishments of our civilization--the development of the machine, the conquest of disease, the triumph of technology--stem from creative thought. However, no one today would claim that such exploits have taken humanity beyond suffering, much less that they can free a person from death: both of which, the Buddha claims, come when the mind is stilled.

Moreover, less laudable feats--the poisoning of the environment, the production of weapons powerful enough to destroy all of life--all can be traced to creative thought. So long as the mind is not under control, the Buddha says, destructive thoughts cannot be kept out, and selfish motives cannot help bringing undesirable results as well as desirable ones. ...

I don't mean to pick too much on Buddhism -- some of its non-metaphysical prescriptions strike me as being wise--though the stoics seem to get to pretty much the same place without all the mumbo jumbo -- and you can pick any religion and find commenters offering similar rejections of the worldly in favor of the something else that's not quite quantified. To borrow a bit from Adam Smith,
the self interest of the butcher, brewer and baker has undesirable consequences (providing others with supper?), and there is a coin of a higher realm that is to be preferred to their commerce.

But realistically, can't human progress be quantified? Aren't life expectancies up? Haven't hundreds of millions moved from lives of mindless toil to lives of often mindless, occasionally challenging mental toil in the last century? Hasn't human misery been reduced, in very real terms?

Posted by Ideofact at May 15, 2007 11:48 PM