This article (already on our website) was written by Hlatky on the occasion of the very significant first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place in his home town, Stockholm, in 1972. Associated with the Conference was a People’s Forum, where any member of the public could make their views known. Hlatky’s own title for the article was: ‘The demands of common senseon the eve of the forthcoming conference on the protection of the environment’.
Nature is absolute, technology is relative
The generally accepted idea that we can ‘improve’ Nature through technology is the basic cause of all destruction of the environment.
Nature sustains our needs. Technology comes into the picture through the fact that the needs that exist because of Nature require of us some action – a technological procedure – if we are to satisfy them.
The needs remain fundamentally unchanged (i.e. they are absolute), while the satisfaction of them is ongoing in a constant renewal, for better or worse (i.e. it is relative), in that we constantly, time and again, succeed or fail in the process.
When the technological process is faulty, the satisfaction diminishes or fails to be forthcoming; we become unsatisfied. We experience the lack of satisfaction as a fault, because it is a fault; it is not any fault in Nature, however, but in the process, thus in the technological. This means that all faults are technological; no biological faults can ever arise.
It might be thought that this is hair-splitting. So be it. But bear in mind that, even if it is, it is crucial to the whole development of our judgement. For by attributing the fault to Nature, we automatically glorify technology; we give it an absolute value in its relationship to Nature. We then start looking for faults in Nature; we become dissatisfied with Nature instead of looking for the fault in our own action, in the technological. To value technology above Nature and then to look for and ‘establish’ the fault in Nature is the primary cause of all pollution of the environment.
Our demands are therefore the following:
- To stop presenting technology as a doctrine of salvation
This implies in practice:
(a) To stop all the nonsensical talk about unintelligent Nature as against the intelligence of human beings who are supposed to rescue Nature with technological solutions. The absolute purpose of Nature is to endure, to go on. It does not destroy itself; nor can it be destroyed or rescued by humans. The idea of self-destruction is the speciality of human beings (war, suicide, substance abuse, environmental pollution, driving madly along the roads, and thousands of other perverse ways of risking one’s life) – all this because of the fact that, as the highest species on the Earth’s surface, humans can either choose to be more intelligent than animals, by using their ability to understand themselves as a part in the whole reality; or they can choose to misuse their intelligence by using it in the same limited way that animals use theirs: with regard only to themselves.
(b) To stop all the nonsensical talk about nature-reserves. For natural reasons every human being knows that Nature is one and indivisible, because all our experience supports this view. The research results of ecology have only lent a differentiated scientific corroboration to what common sense tells us.
By the encirclement and preservation here and there of Nature, we only create a misleading conception of it and a narrow, and therefore distorted, love of it, together with the deceptive belief that we have thereby done all that we can do. In practice these boundaries bring no protection for Nature, but only preserve the technological lunacy outside the nature-reserve.
- Never haggle at Nature’s cost
A doctor is not allowed to intervene and operate without a diagnosis, without there existing nature-determined causes for a technological intervention. To encourage and make propaganda for technological toys for children and grown-ups without a carefully thought-through and factually stated biological motivation is just as harmful as encouraging doctors to perform operations as ends in themselves, without regard for the patient’s health.
Technology has a decisive significance in our lives, and must under all circumstances be at the service of Nature. There is no such thing as an innocent or neutral technology, that is, a technology without any consequences. Any technology that is not biologically motivated is inevitably anti-biological. Technology as an end in itself is, firstly, the undoing of psychological (mental) health – through our identification with the technological, which automatically blinds people to the biological (the natural). And, secondly, it is the undoing of physical health and the environment. If we want to avoid the dangers of technology, we must create an insight for children into this question of principle while they are still young.
- An insight must be created into the paradox of discussing economics vs Nature.
Everyone knows that no one can express biological values in money or in any other unit of measurement. The practical consequence of this fact is that Nature cannot possibly come into our economic reckonings. Unconscious of this, we have fallen into the habit of immediately thinking about economics as soon as the subject of Nature comes up – as if we are convinced that we live from money and not from Nature. To place economics in relation to Nature is the gravest imaginable offence to human intelligence – to our own (when it amounts to self-deception), as much as to the intelligence of defenceless children, who thereby acquire from the very start a basic view of their situation in life that is inconsistent with reality. Economics can only go with economics, never with Nature!
A technology that cannot be pure is not worth having
If we simply weigh up the economic pros and cons, then it is obvious that a rushed or botched job is cheaper than an intelligent construction. To use economics on the basis of faulty indoctrination and the prevailing disorientation about the basic questions of life as a way of getting people to accept botched jobs, while invoking the holy economy, requires an unnatural piece of intellectual acrobatics; it is therefore without basis and thus unintelligent, an unconscious self-destruction as we allow ourselves to be hypnotized by short-sighted gains.
If any technological solution proves to be anti-biological, that is because it has not been thought through and it must be developed further. The fact that a suicide weapon is cheap is no reason for destroying the whole of humanity.
Common sense tells us that there can never be an intelligent motive for setting anti-biological botched jobs in motion. Unfortunately we have so perfected intellectual acrobatics (unintelligence) that we are unable to come up with a natural thought, unless we happen to be sitting in front of our leisure cabin in the nature-reserve to which we have banished Nature. Nothing should be allowed other than an absolutely pure technology that Nature can absorb without being disturbed. To haggle over this demand is to chose the dirty over the pure, the unclear over the clear, the unintelligent over the intelligent, the unreasonable over the reasonable, and destruction over development.
That the demands put forward here cannot be carried out in the blink of an eye is self-evident, but if we do not define the principles unequivocally as they are in reality, then all our actions will remain confused.
1. Note that the subtitle of Hlatky’s and Booth’s book, Understanding Reality, is ‘A commonsense theory of the original cause’.↩
2. This is a generic term for the conclusion or set of conclusions that each person comes to in their efforts to understand reality, and what they come to value, the judgements they make, as a result of these conclusions.↩
3. This piece was written under the auspices of Action to Broaden the Dialogue.↩
4. The idea at the time was to contribute to the protection of Nature by establishing national parks.↩