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Technological untruth
Cover of the NI magazine issue 286 In your issue on Technology (NI 286) you broke one of the principal taboos of an ‘information society’ that has little to do with real information and everything to do with power and control. A reading of the thoughts of the great dissenters, from Ursula Franklin to Lewis Mumford, leaves no doubt about the imperialism of our minds that technology allows.

Most modern technological ‘progress’ – that is, the commercialization of invention – has grown out of war and the development of armaments. Such was the mesmerizing effect of the high-tech propaganda of the Gulf War that few people are aware that up to a quarter-of-a-million civilians lost their lives during and in the immediate aftermath of that murderous ‘videogame’.

Thanks for raising the subject and for encouraging others to challenge the fashionable ‘truth’ that is not truth at all.

John Pilger
London, England

PS. This is hand-written, complete with crossings-out and delivered by an (as yet) unprivatized Post Office.

Luddite trap
It is a refreshing change to find NI advocating a short life expectancy, illiteracy, sexual discrimination, poor healthcare, exploitation of women, poverty and absence of contraception. This is what the Luddites, indirectly praised in your issue on Technology (NI 286) were fighting for. It is only the fact that they failed which has given us the technology to produce NI and to learn the reality of life in the ‘Third World’.

Your neo-Luddite criticisms fall into the same trap as the original Luddites. To criticize technical advance itself is to confuse the message with the messenger. I believe the real problem is that any technology is pressed into the service of a social and economic system which is by its very nature unjust and oppressive. We should be trying to develop a system that will let the human race advance, not stagnate technically, while maintaining the planet in a habitable state and lessening or eliminating the poverty and injustice that can be found in every trade and every country. A tall order, I agree.

I would be interested to hear from any NI readers who are prepared to see science and technology as an opportunity rather than the threat it too often becomes. Maybe together we can do more than just protest at the worst faults of society and patch them up.

Chris Holberg
Redhill, England

Traded aid
I was surprised to see Canada’s patronage-driven aid agency CIDA credited with ‘some of the world’s most forward-looking development policies’ (‘Pulling the Plug’ The Poverty of Aid NI 285). In support of this your contributor Mark Fried cites CIDA’s human-rights work in Indonesia.

Presumably he is referring to the $300,000 CIDA contributed to Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission. The head of this Commission, Ali Said, is a military officer who cannot help but be intimately familiar with the routine corruption and brutality of the Indonesian justice system. The Commission was established in 1993, when the Clinton administration threatened to restrict access to the American market unless there was action on human rights.

Canada’s trade mission reported deals worth $2.7 billion. Atomic Energy Canada is hoping to flog one of its clapped-out Candu reactors for a further $4 billion. Trade, not human rights, guides CIDA’s dalliance with Indonesia.

Martin Loney
Manotick, Ontario, Canada

The system not the tools
I have always held the view that computers generally get rid of the (often low paid) jobs that nobody wants to do. Also, they are not simply ‘getting rid of workers’ – many jobs are created by their use. If ‘cost effectiveness’ means computers are replacing workers to their detriment then it is the fault of our economic system rather than the tools used. As always, it is when and how tools are used and by whom that are the key questions.

With advances in robotics and the near-future likelihood of artificial intelligence breakthroughs, developed economies will continue to become more automated. Unless previously unknown occupations develop to compensate, it is likely that unemployment will one day be the fate of the majority in the ‘developed’ nations.

Whatever your views, it is a fact that most economies could not now function in their existing forms without computers.

Jim Howard
Ipswich, England

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Southern interests
Congratulations on your issue on Aid (NI 285) especially the brief history of the reconstruction of Europe following the Marshall Plan in 1948, and its conclusion that ‘repeated attempts to establish (similar) alternatives based on the UN in which the interests of the South were better represented, were thwarted’.

Unfortunately, such attempts, though thwarted have never been seriously studied.

Yet they offer the only practical route to peace, prosperity and security. Bilateral aid programmes to individual states have all failed while all attempts to find agreement about a world economic plan have proved impossible. Reality therefore dictates that future aid programmes must be regional in character and under UN auspices.

The new emphasis on the reform of the UN makes this regional idea even more relevant today.

Ted Dunn
Manningtree, England

Trees from heaven
It is ironic that your issue about misspent international aid (NI 285) should also carry a short report in the ‘Update’ section on how to replant forests by dropping seedlings, like bombs, from aeroplanes. This would be typical of the high-tech, we-know-best aid that the recipients would be better off without.

Taking into account the profits for the aircraft operator and the salaries and wages for the staff, it amounts to aid to those who are well off enough without it, while those who should benefit gain neither work nor money.

Moreover the forest people, with the same instincts as the rest of us, are going to give more loving care to the seedling they have planted themselves than to seedlings that have dropped from heaven above.

Peter Little
Henley on Thames, England

Not all gas
I was pleased to read your articles in the magazine on Energy (NI 284) on the urgent need to protect the environment by replacing fossil fuels with heat from the sun and other methods of obtaining electricity. As you rightly say, if we do not do this universally and quickly we shall not have a planet to protect.

I was then horrified to read your recommendation to heat and fuel housing with gas. We need to force power stations to reduce their running costs by more efficient burning of fuel and gases and use of waste heat.

It is not true to say that electric heating is more expensive. Using night storage radiators my heating bills are 12.5-per- cent lower than those for a similar house heated by gas central heating.

V M Middleton
Birmingham, England

Energy consumption
One aspect that you did not emphasize enough in your magazine on Energy (NI 284) was the reduction in individual energy consumption.

The fact that the primary energy (PE) intensities in an economy can vary a great deal shows the necessity of thinking in energy units rather than in monetary terms when it comes to assessing a personal impact on the environment. The average global PE consumption – or annual ‘budget’ – is about 65 gigajoules (GJ) per capita per year. But since we all have to cut down on fossil fuel this should be about 25 GJ. At present a typical First World citizen consumes about 200 GJ and a typical Third World citizen about 20 GJ. This distorted situation shows that the developed world has to cut down by about 85 per cent while the developing world can still increase their PE consumption. It is really us, then, who must take action.

A major part of PE is embodied in the goods and services that we buy (clothes, CDs, movie tickets etc). It is not earning money which is ecologically questionable but the way we spend it.

I think it is time we focused on spending much less GJ prior to substituting conventional energy with renewables, because cutting down can be done quickly and effectively (if you want you can start tomorrow!).

Manfred Lehzen
Sydney, Australia

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Solution: socialism
In ‘Letters’ (NI 284), Steve Szalai echoes my own letter of eight or nine years ago. With the NI tirelessly producing issue after issue showing a few hopeful activities around the world yet an overall worsening trend in just about every aspect of human existence, I wonder why you seem unable to come to the conclusion that capitalism is the problem and socialism the solution. Is it that you have come to this conclusion but are unable to write it? Do you fear that to do so would scare away many readers who are sold on caring capitalism? Could it be that the best NI feels they can do for socialism is to print occasional letters from readers who point out that capitalism is the problem and hope that others will realize this eventually if the worsening statistics are flagged up often enough?

Neil Smith
Richmond BC, Canada

News and views
I am studying ‘Geography and Development’ with the Open University and I would be interested in exchanging news and information from NI readers who are living in, or have lived in, ‘Third World’ countries.

Franco Cavalleri
Ortelli 3, 22100 Como, Italy

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

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New Internationalist issue 287 magazine cover This article is from the January 1997 issue of New Internationalist.
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