The pursuit of happiness, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, has motivated American policy since the birth of the nation. But for years, in order to pursue the American dream, one had to live in America, or in Europe. Now, we in the industrial West have come to believe that happiness can be exported. In the global village everyone can partake of the benefits of technology, which is the road to happiness. The question is, what is happiness? And is technology being exported to benefit the poorer nations, or only to profit the exporters?
Otto Ullrich in his essay “Technology” considers these questions, taking as a starting point the end of World War II. In the aftermath of that war, many leaders, including President Harry S. Truman, believed that prosperity could be achieved through greater production, and that foreign exploitation must not be a part of industrial progress. “… The old imperialism- exploitation for foreign profit – has no place in our plans… ,” Truman said. Today, however, the Western world appears to be exploiting developing countries for its own profit, rather than for the good of the developing countries. Truman’s hopes seemed to have been in vain.
In this essay, Ullrich discusses the expansion of science and technology into Third World countries, and the problems this expansion, often referred to as Westernization, has created. After World War II, industry in America and Europe started expanding rapidly. Most of Europe had been destroyed and there was a need to rebuild its industrial infrastructure. Also, after two devastating wars it was important for countries to increase their military capabilities. Many believed that if the democratic countries of Europe had not disarmed after World War I, they would have been able to resist Hitler. So the West started increasing production.
During this epoch of rapid industrial growth Westerners started to change their values. The idealism of leaders like Truman was overtaken by materialism. Americans began to believe that happiness could be reached though the possession of material goods. We polluted other countries with what Ullrich refers to as the “European myth” that prosperity could be reached through an accumulation of material goods. But in the process we seem to have created more problems; and people are still not happy. In the West today people are stressed, unmotivated when it comes to their jobs, and locked into a never ending spiral of wanting more, more, more.
Additionally, we are polluting the planet, killing wildlife, destroying ecosystems, and altering life cycles, with total disregard for future generations. In this paper I will discuss Ullrich’s essay and the different points he makes concerning technology. As I previously mentioned, the stated goal behind industrial progress is prosperity. Westerners believe that through the availability of goods created by industries, humans will become happier. However, this belief doesn’t apply to everyone, since the world comprises many different cultures and many different value systems.
Certain cultures may reach salvation through spirituality, religion, social communion, and other non-material means. It is unfair to believe our own definitions of prosperity and happiness apply to everyone. Ullrich speaks to this point in his essay when he says that the West believes that all countries should join cultures and be partners in progress. Joining, however, often means that the small nations are devoured by the big nations. Joining means that the small countries agree to accept the values of the big countries. Ullrich states that most of the money given to poor countries through loans and grants is used to manufacture weapons.
And those weapons are often used by tyrannical governments against their own people, not for self-defense. Today’s weapons are very expensive. For example, think how much it must cost to launch a weapon from one side of the planet to the other with great precision, and how much time and specialized scientific talent is spent inventing, designing, building, and testing these weapons. According to statistics by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SPIRI), in 2003, $950 billion was spent globally on military weapons. That’s more money than was spent than on any other government activity.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell in his book The Prospects of Industrial Civilization states that “Science, hitherto, has been used for three purposes: to increase the total production of commodities; to make wars more destructive; and to substitute trivial amusements for those that had some artistic or hygienic value. ” (1923. p. 186). Moreover, the desperate need to produce more and more weapons never ceases. Although we have enough destructive power to destroy the planet more than once, we continue to build more weapons. According to Ullrich, this behavior is no coincidence. He believes it is part of our inner logic.
As human beings we are preoccupied with our survival; and that is why we continue to build weapons. What Ullrich fails to mention, however, is that many countries actually make huge profits from manufacturing weapons and selling them to other countries. A developed country like the U. S can afford to spend a good part of its budget on the military, and still afford to produce tons of consumer goods. But developing countries don’t have that kind of money. They can’t afford both guns and butter. They should be spending their money on building a viable infrastructure, on health care, education, social welfare, transportation, and housing.
Ullrich has a very negative approach to the weapons manufacturing industry. However, for the developed countries, there is a lot of money to be made in weapon exportation, and some of those profits are re-cycled into raising the standard of living of the country’s citizens. Besides, there is the fact that if the US or any other industrialized country ceased to sell weapons to the developing countries, a different industrial country would do it. Countries compete for arms markets. That competition would continue, no matter what. Next, Ullrich questions whether the forces of production will lead to prosperity.
He refers to Francis Bacon, the British philosopher, who stated that “Through the production of material goods, the necessary conditions for the good life were supposed to have been created… ” (1601). As Westerners, we believe that material gain with little to no effort is the road to prosperity and happiness. But instead of finding prosperity, new dilemmas have emerged as we have made material gains. Today, people don’t have any appreciation for what they have; they always want more, or they want what their neighbor has. And they end up in an endless spiral of needs that Ullrich refers to as homo industriae.
Material commodities don’t make us any happier. Human happiness is reached by other means, such as through ties with people and a building a sense of self-esteem. I strongly agree with Ullrich’s views on this matter. Most people my age today are bombarded by superficial images that distort our values in life. We are supposed to want big cars and big houses to impress others, not to want non-material things that might improve our human values and enable us to help others less fortunate. We already have more material goods than most people in the world.
In certain African countries people struggle to find food and fresh water. We have supermarkets with fresh food and water and 10 flavors of peanut butter, but we take our largesse for granted. In a certain way we are still driven by the European myth that we’ll reach salvation through an increase in production. In order to increase production, energy is needed. As of today we generate much of our energy with coal, a fossil fuel. The use of energy sources such as nuclear and solar power is still limited, even though those sources are environmentally preferable.
Coal is abundant on our planet, but unfortunately it is a dangerous pollutant, affecting the atmosphere. We should find a way to diminish our dependency on fossil fuels. These are serious issues. As we expand our industrial production and culture in our own country as well as in Third World countries, we will need more energy. Ullrich states that even if the entire world were to exploit fossil fuel energy, we would sooner or later not have enough natural resources to provide for our energy needs. He brings up a very strong point. By contrast, in Europe most power plants are either nuclear or use natural gas.
While it is true that new technologies need to be perfected, because they can be harmful, we must spend more time trying to overcome the resistance to change. As of now, we are not only polluting our own country, but we are polluting others when we build ecologically inefficient industries in developing countries. Some might say that we create jobs, which indeed we do. But also, we risk creating a new form of imperialism. By offering jobs at low wages in countries where no jobs are available, we entice the population to work in these industries, and we make large profits from the fruits of their labor.
Moreover, we often force them to work according to our standards, thus creating stress, and separating them from their own cultural values. We have to understand and accept different cultures, and recognize they may be beautiful and unique. We shouldn’t frown upon cultures who have no electricity in their villages, but rather marvel at how genuinely happy the children are who live there. Furthermore, we shouldn’t envy those with more material goods than we have, when we already have enough.
The only way we as a people can come together and stop this process of runaway production, or Westernization, before it takes over the world is to respect the social needs of others and develop our respect for the worth of the human being. We should be able to accomplish these goals without forcing different cultures into our Western ways, or as Ullrich refers to it, “the European myth”. Attempting to force our way of way of life onto others not only shows disrespect for other people’s cultures and values, but it is actually a form of ridicule. Each culture is unique.
Westerners too often point out differences between cultures, and send out a message saying that our culture is better. But it is possible to be proud of one’s own culture without mocking the culture of others. Westernization is often defined as the adoption of Western culture. While it is usually meant to suggest an advance in living standards, it also has its negative aspects. For example, one of them is obesity. America has a very high obesity rate because Americans consume a lot of junk food. When other places become Westernized, they tend to adopt the diet of Americans, and become obese.
Another problem that comes with Westernization is high pollution. Some countries don’t have that many cars; they get around by foot, or bike, or other means. When countries like these become Westernized, more cars and factories appear, and pollution increases because of all the chemicals burnt to generate energy. When people become Westernized, they lose some of their native cultures. They begin to conform to Western lifestyles. This conversion prevents newer generations from learning about their customs and traditions, including their own languages. If this process continues then everyone will end up being the same.
Another problem that occurs with Westernization is rapid urbanization. As small farms become obsolete because of the emergence of large international agri-businesses, farmers tend to move to urban areas, and because there is not enough room or jobs for everyone in the city, many people cannot find jobs and become unemployed and homeless. When “underdeveloped” areas of the world decide to become Westernized, they need a lot of money for this process. Most of the time, they don’t have enough money, and so they end up borrowing a lot from rich nations and international institutions like the World Bank, that charge them high interest rates.
Often they have to pay so much interest that they cannot use the money they have for development. Technology has its good side, but it also has its bad effects. Most of all, since it is developed in industrialized cultures, it cannot be transferred easily into developing cultures. Local cultures must be respected. In addition, technology should not be exported solely for profit. It should recognize local values and customs, at the same time that it is trying to raise the living standards of the local population.