In the mid-1700, new technologies began to give rise to new forms of technology. These new machines could do, in a shorter time, the same quantity of work that human hands could do manually, and so a process known as ‘mechanisation’ was born. This mechanisation soon took off and the Industrial Revolution was born. The birth of these new machines, I am sure, was quite an affair; a novelty enchanting in what they could perform, simply making a job easier. These new machines gave birth to new possibilities, which led, in their quick succession, to new machines, and still further possibilities. The Industrial Revolution was born harmlessly enough, and the first people to jump ahead of these new technologies were to profit from them in incredible ways. People like Werner Von Siemens, Richard Arkwright, Henri Nestle, and Samuel Colt – household names when you think about it. These folks did not see themselves as doing anything evil, many of them were inventors in their own right. Henri Nestle, for instance, said, “There is no place for belief in modern science. What we do not know is a blank sheet which we must try to fill in.”
They saw their inventions ultimately as advancements that pushed upon the boundaries of knowledge which, to them, was an end in itself. The Industrial Revolution, though, was not without its failings. Indeed, incredible injustices came about because of the Industrial Revolution as it overlapped with the slave trade and used slave labour, as did Samuel Slater, whose cotton spinning factories had their cotton picked by slave hands in the southern states. The Industrial Revolution tore up the old ways of working. Harriet Boyd Hawes said if this: “Of valid economics pre-dating the Power Age (steam and electricity), there remains not a vestige. Of valid economics pre-dating the intensive and extensive use of electricity, there will soon exist only rags and tatters.”
It also tore up the fabric of society. The agricultural rhythms and networks of society have passed into history, and in the new cities, in the ambiguity, animosity, and anonymity, sin became easier and its escape harder due to the pressures of poverty and poor living conditions. The poorly planned industrialisation led to slums and a new way of being poor in blocked up streets in smog-ridden cities. Success was copied a million times over and at the Great Exhibition of Crystal Palace, the western man celebrated at the altar of the machine, the wonders of technological advancement. This destruction of man and nature by these ‘dark satanic mills,’ as William Blake put it quite prophetically, has continued to the present. Man still worships at the altar of technology; still enchanted by possibility, still enthralled by the conceit we can and therefore we should. However, since as early as the 1970s a growing awareness has dawned into the blistering heat of reality, that this Industrial Revolution has set in motion an ‘extinction-level event that is wiping out the biosphere. It has at least temporarily released human beings from the laws of nature, and we have become interwoven and connected directly in our activities, into every aspect of every ecosystem. The deforestation of the planet, the unimaginable levels of plastic, the increased ozone gasses, and the encroachment upon nature has increased afoot, and all of its pace and scope, and in many aspects its activity can be seen as being rooted in the Industrial Revolution.
Dear reader, do you believe that the early devotees to technology had any sense that the path mankind was to walk down would have led to the ecological crisis we are facing today? Do you think they could have foreseen that their cult ‘Deus Machine’ was going to give rise to the blind fury of the legions of the wounded poor who, in their poverty, frapped on to the false hope of communism – with all of its horrors; of which the Nazis were but a response? All our false gods betray us!
Yet, man has no sooner realised the betrayal of this demonic cult down one path, than it is willing to follow its lies down another. Those of us alive at the beginning of the second millennium of our Lord are in the midst of quite the revolution. Likened to the first machines of the Industrial Revolution, but potentially a paradigmatic game-changer; the genetic revolution has arrived. We have now mapped the entire human genome and already have the means to splice and dice and knit it together. Think of it… the power to mix the genome of a dog with an octopus. This is not hyperbole; someone in America is already doing it, and from their garage, no less. The utterly terrifying thing about this new technology is that the tools to play with genes are relatively simple and accessible.
I am no prophet, I can not tell the future or what it will hold, but I often think that the best way of seeing the future is to know the past. For there is ‘nothing new under the sun’; mankind simply repeats the original sin in new ways. Our way of trying to be GOD will be to try and control the genome, like the industrial age tried to harness the totality of nature, even down to harnessing the power of the atom. I am confident, the result will be the same; unforeseen consequences down the road upon which we never envisioned, with perils unthinkable. It seems the stakes that come along with each ‘new’ become ever higher. We can already clone human beings and we have already developed tri-lineal humans. This new revolution will pick up its pace.
However, I want to argue in line with William Blake (a Christian mystic whose mysticism was ahead of its time), amidst the Industrial Revolution, that we are not ready to wield such power. Due to our sad, pitiable worship of the god of technology at the altar of innovation, the truth I know is that we are not ready to yield such power. We are like a child who has been given a weaponised drone to fly; we think it is all a game and are oblivious to the dangers. However, in the light of reflection, we can see from our current ecological crisis, stemming as it does from industrialisation, that we should not rush headlong again down the path of technology just because we can, assuming things will just turn out for the best. Clearly, they do not. It is the malaise of the modern world to be enthralled by possibility, novelty, and opportunity. We need to learn to grow in virtue again before we thrust ourselves headlong into this tumbling rabbit hole that will land us into a world as strange and surreal and Alice in Wonderland! We must seek to cultivate virtue, not technology. Only when we have learned to master the soul will we be in a fit place to even try and attempt to harness nature. We must allow technological development to be filtered through this ‘virtue ethic’, because, without it, we are more the slaves of innovation, than its master. The point of technology should not be to help make our lives forever easier, painless, and without struggles, but rather, to aid us in growing in virtue.
Virtue itself, though, must point to something nobler. Something outside of man, a light greater than all human wisdom, a truth all-surpassing that moves man’s heart and soul and draws out from him that nobility we see all too rarely. It calls him to a way of life that virtue describes, but can not of itself bring to fruition a life of hope, love, and faith. These gifts, for the lack of which man imperils himself in body and soul, must come from looking upon the divine countenance of our Lord, His body on the cross, His wounds, His empty tomb, His declaration of existence, and the nature of being. Without this, even virtue can only leave us partially formed in the nobility of a wild beast. We must return to the worship of YAHWEH and bring the sacrifice of a contrite and broken heart to His altar. We must look upon the world with humility and see ourselves as nature’s caretaker; masters over it, yes, but as servants of GOD above it and ourselves. We need a new story; one that takes the question of ‘how does this technology help us grow in virtue’ to guide our development of technology. I am under no illusions – this struggle is already epic and the reality is, few are tapped into the reality of the struggle we face – distracted as they are with ‘bread and circuses’ and trivial pursuits.
However, for my part, I join with William Blake in saying:
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.