Neal Morgan: Better science, technology and … liberal arts?

Published 11:29 am Friday, October 1, 2010

Heated discussions can be both fun and thought provoking, and the following idea of mine seems to generally end up that way — in a heated discussion, to put it mildly.

It has been written in this space before, but I think it bears repeating.

It appears to me that mankind has only improved technologically and in no other way.

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For example, if one goes back far enough into the past, all the way back to the invention of the bow and arrow, it isn’t difficult to see the reasons and the practicality of that invention. It was necessary to hunt food or to kill and maim enemies. I’m certain those who didn’t have the know-how to build bows and fletch and notch arrows suffered for a long while.

Then, jumping many centuries ahead, the invention of explosives — by the Chinese, I think — led to the use of gunpowder and a new kind of weapon for hunting food and killing each other, the gun. And guns are, even now, being constantly improved to hunt and kill. Technology in action.

Skipping ahead once more, we should remember how war aided and abetted tremendous jumps in technology. Bombs and cannons were invented for killing people, not for hunting food. The first rockets were used to bomb Britain in WWII, and the first jet planes were built by Nazi Germany in the same war … for the same reason.

And a modicum of research will show how many other things were invented to improve our methods of killing each other — bomb sights in war planes, poison gas in WWI, and aviation rockets come to mind.

Then, of course, the big thing — the atomic bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, proved to be the most efficient man-woman-child killer yet invented at the time. And technology has improved on that with hydrogen bombs, of course.

I have heard it argued that our atom-bombing of Japan showed the rest of the world our willingness to use it, and made them fear us. And that, it was argued, led to the Cold War and Russia’s hatred of all things American — until they went broke through communism, their Afghanistan invasion, and too much bomb building.

It can also be argued, of course, that so many of those things invented in times of war have been put to use in peace time for peaceful use. Yes, those first German jets became today’s air-conditioned, comfortable passenger planes on which people fly all over the earth, for example.

That is certainly true, of course. However, it is still a technological improvement, even though it makes us — we few who can afford it — more comfortable.

So it becomes obvious that we can kill each other more efficiently, but have we yet learned how to overcome/prevent war? No, we have only improved technologically.

My favorite pastime and knowledge acquiring skill is reading. And, I must admit, another technological discovery/improvement made reading easier for millions. I’m speaking of the printing press, of course.

Okay, all that said, I dream of the time when science and technology will blend together with liberal arts to teach us war and killing each other is not only unnecessary, it’s ridiculous and never really ends. Nor, some aver, does it solve anything.

Yet our state and federal governments — and Corporate America — scream about our schools…”We’re way behind in science and technology in our public schools!”

See, we’ve been killing each other ever since there have been people on this earth, and technology has made us more efficient at that. But no one seems to be questioning why that’s true, searching for answers.

No one has yet to scream…”We need more liberal arts courses in our public schools to help us learn not to kill each other and have wars!”

But, alas, one can sell technological inventions, but you can’t sell liberal arts thoughts and ideas. Thus, capitalism once more raises its profit-motive head… “Selling is better than thinking, unless thinking results in profit…”.

Electronic Books (E-books) come to mind. As of a year ago, E-books made up only 2% of the $35 billion-a-year book market. However, even though the sales of paper books declined, E-books sales almost doubled each month since then.

Amazon books, which makes the Kindle my grandson reads, said that when their customers have a choice they buy the digital version (the E-book) of a book 35% of the time. It makes sense when an entire book can be downloaded into a Kindle in about a minute, and hundreds of books can be carried in your bluejeans back pocket. One can, therefore, have an entire library in his jeans.

So it could very well be true that printed books, which are probably the most important technological improvement in the history of the world, are about to become obsolete. A Massachusetts prep school, in 2009, gave away its entire 20 thousand book library. It then converted the space into a learning center with E-readers.

I sincerely hope the Kindle leads to a more peaceful world. I hope more people are reading because of the E-book invention. I also hope that liberal arts teachers everywhere will do their dead-level-best to encourage students to read and think.

2011 is only months away, and, while I don’t believe in the “2012 Aztec Calendar” BS, I hope men can learn to read and think enough to see that science and technology alone are not sufficient.

I hope men can learn what all sorts of religious teachers have been saying for centuries is still true. Loving and helping feed, if need be, your neighbor is better than trying to own more crap than he does or exterminate him. Loving your neighbor might also mean your next-door nation.

And loving your neighbor might also include preserving Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment and other entitlement plans.

Neal Morgan of Nederland is a retired educator. Contact Morgan at