Sunday, December 13, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #21... "Realities are more important than ideas"

Did you follow any of the coverage of the Climate Conference in Paris? I missed a lot of it, but did hear the appeal of some island countries who were begging that world leaders do everything in their power to keep the climate from warming more than 1.5 degrees or their lands could end up underwater due to melting polar icecaps. It's just another proof of the idea expressed in the title of this moodling, taken directly from Laudato Si:On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis' letter to our world.

This week I've been studying part of "The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm," paragraphs 106-110, which are basically all about technology's role in our present ecological crises (the paragraphs can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down).

For a long while, it seems, we have been dreaming that technology will be the solution to all our problems. Paragraph 106 notes that technology depends upon human beings who, "using logical and rational procedures, progressively and rationally gain control" over our surroundings through "a technique of possession, mastery and domination." But the earth is God's gift to us, and we are finally realizing that such a technique doesn't work because the earth is not meant to be possessed, mastered and dominated only by human beings, and that there is no "infinite and unlimited growth" when it comes to the earth's energy and resources and their renewal. Mastery and domination are a dead end if we end up destroying the only planet we have.

We like to think that the many advances in technology in our lifetime mean that we have also advanced in knowledge and wisdom -- but as we saw last week, wisdom is a different creature altogether, and it's clear that the two come unglued from one another too easily. While it is true that we have come a long way in knowing how to build and create and impose order with our machines and computers and factories, we have not been able to foresee the ways these technological advances have endangered our existence -- until the hole appeared in the ozone layer, the polar icecaps and glaciers began to melt, species started disappearing at an alarming rate, and the fabric of our societies began to fray. Technology is just one kind of knowledge (which doesn't necessarily include wisdom), and "technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups" (paragraph 107).

And who are those powerful groups? Can we trust them to improve life for all species on our earth? Not so far. Allow me one example: several big oil companies have provided us with necessary heat and transportation in the past century, but at what cost? When scientists began to notice that our climate was heating up, corporations produced 'experts' to undermine the truth their own researchers had uncovered. Money and power were more important to them than facing up to reality, so they manipulated knowledge to confuse the public with arguments that climate change was a hoax, wasting precious time we should have been using to find and develop alternate energy sources. It's only in these last months of 2015 that we have finally started to hear about the possibility of climate litigation against some of these offenders -- and it's also taken us this long to reach a climate agreement last week in Paris, one that will demand more effort than would have been required had we begun when rising temperatures were first noticed in the 60s...

For many of us, knowledge and technology have become so integrated into our daily existence and so indispensable in our daily tasks that "It has become counter-cultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same" (paragraph 108). But where technology and its particular kind of knowledge are destroying habitats and species, we need to stand against it, to be counter-cultural.

But it's never easy to buck a trend, is it? For example, not to have a cell phone in this day and age is to be "out of the loop." And yet, as I look around and notice how many people on the bus have their eyes fixed on their mobile phones, or when I am forced to overhear someone loudly talking to her boyfriend, I'm not wishing that I had one. I don't want my life to operate through cellphone technology because I tend to agree with the last line of paragraph 108 -- so many of the motives behind our technologies are about power, and "Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one's alternative creativity are diminished" by such power.

And what is this power? Jesus knew. He talks about it in Matthew 6: 24 when he says, "You cannot serve both God and wealth." Our society is hung up on wealth and materialism, and the economy has become the bottom line to the point that we've lost the big picture -- that we were not put on this earth to stimulate the planet's financial growth, but to look after one another and all of creation. Our moral, spiritual and ethical values have slipped to the side even as technology and economic growth have blinded us to reality and fragmented what little vision we have left. As the Pope and friends say at the end of paragraph 109, "We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning, and social implications of technological and economic growth."

Paragraph 110 says it straight out: "technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture." And that larger picture is life as we know it, "appreciation for the whole, for the relationship between things, and for the broader horizon" that shows us our place in the vast goodness of all that God has made. Technology is not "the principle key to the meaning of existence" but by thinking that it is, human beings have come to a place of "environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and community living."

The sooner we remember that technology and knowledge are only tools that allow us to do what needs to be done, the better chance we have of slowing climate change, reducing consumption and saving ourselves and the rest of creation with the wisdom that comes from awareness of the big picture.

So how do we put technology in its place? Perhaps we can begin by turning it off more often, and by realizing how it's possible to live without it. Here I'm talking about these devices that surround us -- phones, computers, TVs, things that distract us or divide us from our families and communities. We can also give more thought to the use of all the machines/technical components in our lives. Are our time- or labour-saving devices really saving us time or labour? Or have we been brainwashed into believing that they make a difference in our lives as they guzzle gas or energy and create unnecessary pollution? (We often forget the pollution it takes to make these items.) Do we really need the latest techie gadget or gizmo, or is it one of those market items that will end up in our landfills sooner than later? How many single purpose appliances are filling our cupboards and taking space in our lives? Is that whisk-o-matic doohickey for frothing my hot chocolate really necessary?

No matter what our sense of entitlement or our marketers tell us, we need to consider the realities of our lives and whether our knowledge or technology will really work for us -- or against our earth. "Realities are more important than ideas," say Pope Francis and friends in the last line of paragraph 110 -- and they are 100% right.

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Up next: #22... BOLD CULTURAL REVOLUTION, anyone?

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