WITH all Victorian pomp, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in London flaunted the then groundbreaking fruits of the Industrial Revolution in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Then in the Chicago World Fair of 1893, Serbian wonder-worker Nikola Tesla, together with George Westinghouse, bested the now more popular Thomas Edison in lighting up the White City with his alternating current system which simultaneously brought an end to the War of Currents—basically a question of which arrangement was better for transmitting electricity over far distances.

Then a little over two decades later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria died by a bullet care of Gavrilo Princip. Then there was the Great War.

Poet William Butler Yeats would probably opine that the First World War is but an example of history operating under the model of the double gyres. A gyre is formed by a spiral movement from a point of origin such that a funnel forms. The double gyres are overlapping gyres that give an illustration of the cyclical dominance of opposing principles. Each gyre, upon reaching a certain maximum of either smallness or largeness, regresses to the opposite, thus giving perpetuity to the process. By analogy, invoking double gyres would be like saying that where there is a maximum of light there is a minimum of darkness, and vice-versa. Within such a framework, not only is there predictability to events, but inevitability to them as well.

Another equally apt conception of history would be to invoke a mixture of pure randomness and “a regular component that consists of long-term historical trends” as in Harvard mathematician Theodore Kaczynski’s paper “Industrial Society and its Future.” Perhaps the name Kaczynski does not ring much of a bell until one considers that his essay only got published because he mailed a few bombs to universities and airports which earned him the name Unabomber—University and airport bomber. Having threatened to hurt more people if his 60-page paper did not see publication, Kaczynski finally got to present a view of humanity and technology as an inevitable movement to ever increasing oppression.

A failure of Thomasian education?

Now there would be truly something wrong in endorsing the entirety of acts and ideas of a terrorist, but it would be an indication of something much worse if one were to completely dismiss the glaringly significant arguments presented even by such a demagogue. History is indeed replete with examples of progress concatenated with the emergence of newer forms of oppression. And for Kaczynski, the two seem to be inexorably entwined. When in 1903, Nikola Tesla explained that his Wardenclyffe Tower could be used to electrify the ionosphere to provide electricity for any region of the globe, renowned banker John Pierpont Morgan, his benefactor at the time, asked, “Where do I put the meter?” Tesla could not give an answer, and the tycoon pulled out all his money, thus spelling the death of the project. Tesla had intended his creation to provide free power for everyone. But where was the business profit in that?

Some balance has to ultimately be struck if technology is not to fall into the hands of those who would use it as some sort of either economic or social leverage against everyone else. Unfortunately, technological progress can only jump ahead if a sizable amount of resources is channeled into it. The cycle it appears, is that whenever scientific progress reaches some sort of a pinnacle, it is used by the socially and economically powerful as another means for increasing hegemonic domination such that self-determinacy for people at the grass roots, or for anyone who cannot understand the workings of the emergent technology, is brought down in a subtle but nonetheless oppressive fashion.

Philippine TV recycles the recycled

The remedy is definitely neither an armed revolution nor a radical new breed of fascism in order to level the terrain of power and freedom. And yet the reality of the subjugation cannot be allowed to stand if there is to ever be a true protection and promotion of the human being. Impeding the way to the solution is not the non-existence of an answer but a general love for the pragmatic and the tangibly beneficial.

Try as anyone might to believe and live within the idea of universal human values, there is always the nagging challenge of the material aspect which cannot be neglected. And perhaps this is the last frontier which man must try to command and conquer. If there is to be an end to the dialectic of oppression and revolution, the answer must in itself be an expression of that end. At such a point, even the extremes of religion and ideologies must not be tolerated.

But neither a convoluted hodgepodge of concepts, such as that which the New Age movement teaches nor a nihilistic blend of paranoia and skepticism can be admitted as well. The foregoing may be too demanding and a severely transcendental approach, but where is the true and just war to be fought if not within the human heart?


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