Michael Reddy, Ph.D, CPC
           Healer  Trainer  Author   610 469 7588

Thursday June 29, 2017
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Endless Invention--Panacea or Peril?

If we “externalize” all human skills by inventing mechanical and electronic replacements for them—what happens to us? What becomes of our role in the world?  

mechanical_hand_pare_ambroiseOur civilization’s a bit one-sided.  It chooses almost always to invent external devices for doing things.  It almost never uses those same needs-to-do-things as occasions for evolving human skills and awareness.

Let's call that tendency "externalism." We are "externalizing" almost every human ability. Handwriting, for instance, was replaced by typing.  Typing is being replaced by speech recognition software.   As computers voice more text, probably reading itself will fade.  Actually, sustained, attentive reading is already disappearing.

Not to mention all the millions of livelihoods that have been lost because of machinery and automation.  All of which mimic or augment human skills.

So Let's Imagine "Internalists"
What Would They be Like?

Our polar opposites would be "internalists." Such people would employ relatively simple externalbuid things you enjoy tools to develop very high levels of human skill and awareness. Their attitude would be, gosh, don't invent a gizmo for doing that. Such a gizmo would take away all the health and strength and growth we get out of doing it ourselves.

Our skills bring the meaning and fulfillment to our lives, they would say.  Again, not to mention gainful employment.

Cars and Dirty Dishes

As externalists, when the horseless carriage comes along, we clap our hands and say, cars!--wow, cool, it's inevitable! So long, walking! We'll go twenty times as fast, with no effort at all! 

The fact that we'll just end up sitting belted into a box in traffic going three hundred times as far doesn't seem to occur to us.

Internalists, on the other hand, would be very suspicious. Without walking, they would ask, walkingtowork1what happens to the strength of our hearts and legs? Or, how would we visit with people and trees and the river on our way to work? 

Bottom line--when faced with dirty dishes, externalists will discover electricity and invent the dishwasher. Internalists will hold seminars on efficient, artful ways to scrape and stack, and turn the act of washing into a kind of meditation. They'll evolve something like the "Japanese rinsing ceremony."

So What Then...  
Go Back to the Stone Age?

I hear you.  Hold on, you say. Those internalists will likely remain utter primitives! They will never invent even the wheel, much less go to the moon, or build a computer! Still slaving in hardscrabble gardens, chopping at tree roots with stone axes--how can you say that's better?

OK, so let's look carefully at this.  'Cause I'm not...


The Creativity Drain

Notice where the creativity tends to collect in these two different ways. With externalists, a few people, usually male, have inventive epiphanies. But the results of these few eureka moments are then imposed on everyone else, for better yes--but also for worse.

How creative is commuting in stop and go traffic? Is time saved and used for some better purpose, or is it just absorbed in the need to drive ever longer distances?

Is choosing to walk any longer even possible?  Too late we learn that so much sitting is unhealthy and struggle to get exercise.

For internalists, alternatively, the emphasis is on developing, around simpler tools, systems of human skills that can be taught and evolved over generations. Everyone who practices these is enriched by them.

As skills pass from older to younger, many many people contribute to them.  Whole communities might be designed, in this culture, just so that people could always walk to work. Typewriting would probably exist, but handwriting would be prized above it as an expressive art.

OK, But Aren't BOTH
Of These Extremes?

Right.  I'm not saying internalism is better.   It's an extreme. It has very definite problems and is totally unrealistic in our current lives. It's good you see them so clearly. But I wonder if you perceive the other side of the coin.

If internalism is an unworkable extreme, then so is externalism as practiced in a completely profit and power oriented post-modern world.

The out and out rush to create external devices to do for us, including as it now does such activities as entertain us, move us, think for us, fight for us, and soon reproduce for us--this rush creates a world in which we have fewer and fewer roles to play.

Again, not to mention the elephant in the room--fewer jobs to support us. 

How healthy, challenging, or enriching is a life consisting mostly of sitting, eating, driving, viewing, and pushing little buttons? True, we still do some of the thinking.  But not for long.  Venture capital is pouring into Artificial Intelligence development at this point.

"Post modern" is beginning to look more and more like "Pre-Dystopian."

Does it Have to Be This Way?

Is this profound erosion of the human skill base really inevitable? Or is some sort of balanced approach also a choice? Decades ago, it became possible to manufacture nylon stockings that would never run, and kitchen sponges that would not wear out in a few weeks.

But these don't exist, because someone chose not to produce them. Apparently, then, choosing to forgo certain kinds of progress is not completely impossible. Corporations say "no" to progress all the time, whenever profits are at stake.

Perhaps people can too, when lives and a planet are at stake.

Dear friends, we have to have a say, a vote, on how fast to implement technological changes that are disruptive.  Especially ones that, for instance, change the quality and depth of how humans communicate.  For all this to happen purely in the name of profit and power is a form of faceless, supercharged tyranny beyond anything seen before in human history.

Spiritually Based Martial Arts?
Or Mass Shootings?

In the East, over several centuries, amazingly effective systems of self-defense evolved employing very minimal external tools--such as hands and feet alone, or sword, or bow and arrow. Advancement in these "martial arts" was often accompanied by profound spiritual growth. Since the real struggle was with oneself and one's worldview--an adept learned far more than just how to "fight."

In the West, on the other hand, a very small number of creative men had their inventive epiphanies--creating muskets, then repeating rifles, then Uzi’s, and so on. Each step in this direction, though highly creative for one person, put greater abilities to kill into the hands of people with less and less skill, wisdom, or even physical maturity.

This is not to say that people cannot become highly skilled at shooting--because they can. Rather, the point is, terrible damage can be done without any skill at all, which is not true of the simpler tools.

In the Eastern way, an archer can achieve such egoless unity with his surroundings as to put an arrow through a distant target he cannot even see. In the West, a neurotic eleven-year old can gun down thirty classmates in as many seconds. Which of these beings should a society try to produce?

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