"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Machina Ex Deus

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wrote a few words at The American Spectator about a matter that I revisit as often as possible in speeches and essays: namely, our regrettable tendency to thank God for sunsets and watermelons but not for automobiles and computers.

Here's a taste:

Let's start with electricity to power our homes. This was not imported from another galaxy, it was something built into the fabric of our world. Yet it hovered beyond our reach for over five thousand years of recorded history. All the great men of history, all of our ancestors, all the people who brought us to where we are today, did it without the benefit of a heater in winter and an air conditioner in summer. They spent many an exertive hour flailing at frozen trees with hatchets for a few cords of firewood or hacking at frozen lakes to dislodge blocks of ice for cooling.

Our mothers lost so much of their lives in the arduous painstaking tasks of washing dishes and clothing by hand. Without washing machines and dryers, without dishwashers, every speck of grime on a dish or a cloth exacted a toll in strenuous labor. And time, always time, as great lives ticked away with hands elbow-deep in murky water. We are gifted with a great bounty of hours freed from bondage, open for creativity. Pieces of our lives have already experienced their Exodus and their Messiah; no woman should ever again have to lose an afternoon churning butter.

7 comments:

Hunter Baker said...

You've raised some interesting points here. I'm quite thankful for all these innovations and it unleashes a great deal of time for other activities upon the world. However, I questioned my grandmother along similar lines and she liked the old way better. When everything was labor intensive, she said every person in the family knew they were needed and knew what they had to do. The result was a feeling of strong connection and a serious lack of boredom.

We hear so many stories about that kid who wants city lights and escape from rural toil, but how many loved that way of life even though they chose the easier way as it became available.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to go back, but the whole thing bears thinking about.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Think about it: you have the power to press a little button on a small plastic thingie and say to that grandmother: "Hi, Grandma, I'm in London about to see The Mousetrap... I'm standing at the Eiffel Tower... I'm looking up at the Leaning Tower Of Pisa... I'm saying a prayer at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem... and thinking of you." And she hears all that in your distinctive voice; it makes her feel that much more alive and proud of her life.

You, my friend, are Superman. This is God's magic world coming to life. Nothing could possibly be more exciting.

The least you and I could do is to open our hearts to the experience - and do it with gratitude.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And let us not forget this here internet, which collects us from all corners of the country to teach and nourish each other in a salon with no walls.

I thank God for all those here gathered, and of course for Al Gore, who made it all possible.

connie deady said...

My daughter is spending next semester in Italy. I will be able to communicate with her every day through cell phones and the Internet. She'll be able to snap her digital photos and I'll see that same day what she saw. Amazing when you think about it. I remembe when we would sit around the slide projector after someone went on vacation and see the slide shows of the trip. Now, when she travels through Europe it will be almost like being there.

On a more serious note, technological advances are like compound interest. The more we advance, the more freedom we have to explore our world and make even greater technological advances.

I like progress. I don't understand the yearning for the good old days. The trick is to maintain your values and integrate them into change, rather than rail against it. With change there is always opportunity.

Jay D. Homnick said...

I'm with you, Connie. I do a very powerful public lecture on this theme and if your local organization can afford my fees, I suspect that you would find it very vigorous and forward-looking - without drifting away from the old anchors that keep us aligned with our moorings: a natural extension of history, not a negation of what went before.

Jay D. Homnick said...

And as King Solomon said: "Don't say 'what was it that made the early days better than these?', because you have not asked this out of wisdom."

The 'good old days' had a purpose; they brought out the depth of humanity struggling to make much out of little; now it is our task to make much out of much, building on the work of our predecessors.

But it ain't all about us. History is a collaborative effort spanning vertically across generations of contributors.

Jay D. Homnick said...

My apologies: I failed to note the source of that citation from Solomon. It is in Ecclesiastes 7:10.