If Sport can neither take the place of War, nor of Consumerism, then how about Science and Technology? Together they compose a powerful economic engine, with advances in technology shaping and reshaping the global economy both through the development of new consumable products and through technological advances in the production, distribution and marketing of those products. And unlike the deliberately trivial consequences of achievements in Sport, achievements in Science have a very real, significant and consequential impact on the world. But how does it perform against our criteria?
- It creates jobs that challenge individuals and nations to their limits: Science and Technology do reasonably well on this criteria. Individuals are certainly challenged by science to their intellectual limits, and scientific achievements such as the construction of supercolliders or the exploration of space can challenge a nation’s resources and capacity.
- It distributes jobs: This criteria is a bit of a cipher. Science and technology jobs are certainly well-distributed throughout society, but always adjuncts to other organizations. Scientists and technicians work for governments, for corporations, for universities, and so forth, but we don’t necessarily see the same kind of distributive hierarchy we’ve seen for other Employment-Creation Systems (ECS). In addition, science and technology jobs tend to be the province of an educated intellectual elite, rather than a general population.
- It makes jobs meaningful:
- by serving as a test of ideologies: Science and technology diverge here. Science and scientific innovation bears a strong imprint of the ideology that creates it, in terms of such things as decisions over what projects should be funded, and what lines of inquiry are worthwhile. However, technology is nearly useless as a test of ideology, because it can so easily be alienated from its origins. A computer is a computer, no matter where it is made and what the ideology is of the people who manufactured it.
- by being definitive: Here the same subclause that ruined Sport claims another victim. The test of a science, not in absolute terms, but in terms of its place in human life, is the technology you can create with it, and the test of a technology is the usages to which you can devote it. In practice, what this means is that Science and Technology cannot take the place of War, because it is too easy and too common to adapt them to the purposes of War. The pursuit of Science may be an end to itself, but the test of Science devolves into the same old physical battle, except played out in a high-tech manner.
In fact, as it so happens, there is a wonderful historical example of Scientific competition used between nations as a substitute for open aggression –the Cold War. The United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were unwilling to risk the disastrous consequences of an all out War between superpowers, so instead they sublimated their struggle for ideological superiority into a race to achieve clear scientific and technological superiority. On the plus side, this led to some amazing scientific breakthroughs, most notably the achievement of manned spaceflight and the lunar landing. In addition, it produced an extended period of relative peace between the two nations. Finally, it arguably achieved a victory without violence for the United States when the USSR peacefully disbanded.
On the negative side, however, the arms race –the uglier side of scientific progress –led to the invention and stockpiling of “doomsday weapons,” weapons capable of killing vast numbers of people at once, many of which are no longer in secure hands. In addition, the “peacetime” of the Cold War was in some senses a fiction, since the United States and the USSR were still fighting out their ideological battles in “hot” wars conducted through intermediaries like the Vietnamese and the Koreans. So we might consider this a partial solution, but one that comes at what is potentially too high a cost.
NEXT WEEK: Art