What good are technological advances if common sense is going the way of dinosaurs?

Sol W. Sanders [See Archive

Imagine a graph representing world problems:

There are two mounting growth lines. One represents “technology”, defined as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.” The other charts “common sense”, defined as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.”

At the upper corner is an ultimate target, “nirvana”, “a state of free from suffering”. Most Westerners are not convinced that goal would be reached, at least not in this life. But equally they see its pursuit as worthwhile. The problem is deducing/inducing knowledge to provide progress toward such a goal, unattainable as it might be. Underpinning that knowledge is technology and a conflict wherein common sense might be losing out.

Louis Alonzo is reflected on a pump as he fills up a tank at a gas station in La Habra, Calif. on March 16. /Jae C. Hong/AP

It’s the race we see all around us.

Example 1:

President Barack Obama tells us nothing can be done about the current rising gasoline price which is crippling the U.S. economy. It results from many uncontrollable factors, he argues without contest, and we ought to use high prices to force us into new undeveloped types of renewable energy subsidized by government. But that comes at a time when government and private deficits are escalating and his new technologies are unproved.

The fossil fuel producers tell us new technology for extracting U.S. gas and oil coupled with the world’s largest coal reserves have vastly expanded North American energy potential. That would permit utilizing these fuels to spur an economic rebound and new growth. And that, in turn, would finance expensive programs of environmental protection and slower but more efficient market development of new energy sources.

Example 2

Weapons of death and destruction are increasingly at risk of falling into terrorists’ hands – whether missiles fired into Israel by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, American “lone wolves” making weapons from ordinary household products, or perhaps Islamicists grabbing chemical weapons of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s disintegrating regime. These possibilities menace civilian populations unless they can be effectively neutralized.

Proposed anti-missile defenses increasingly can protect civilian populations. But the claimed 80-90 percent effectiveness of Israel’s “Iron Dome” [and similar American weapons] couldn’t stop a recent missile striking a southern Israeli school which – had students been in session — would have unleashed new ferocity. Nor has the Obama Administration’s political concessions to Russia partially invalidating Washington’s proposed European [and North American] anti-missile shield helped. Nor, for that matter, has U.S. elaborate airline passenger inspection devices, however onerous, secured airplanes most of which daily are carrying uninspected cargo in their holds.

Example 3

The U.S. balance of payments has hit new record deficit levels with an increase in Chinese imports even during recession. Washington maintains Chinese unfair competitiveness is based on subsidies including a Chinese currency kept to artificially low exchange rates. That plus the protectionist measures against imports which Beijing promised it would remove when joining the World Trade Organization [under Washington’s sponsorship] enhances China’s power through accumulation of large dollar currency reserves, creating international financial disequilibrium.

Technology, including new automation and other manufacturing shortcuts, indicates some if not most of the American manufacturing escaped to China and other low wage producers could be returned to U.S. industry. Some manufacturers are already doing so without tax incentives and protection — even overcoming U.S. government disincentives. But success might not “bring back” American jobs because structural unemployment [job positions lost through new technology, for example] would be part of the bargain.

Example 4

President Obama has announced a “pivot” in American foreign policy, a supposed “return” of emphasis to the Western Pacific despite continued costly U.S. Mideast engagements. One aspect has been lending rhetorical support to Southeast Asians in their attempt to fend off aggressive Beijing claims for gas and oil and critical sealane dominance in the South China Sea. That requires, in effect, coping with the threat of a growing Chinese military rapidly arming against an unidentified enemy and creating the potential for new conflict in East Asia or beyond.

Technology insures in the near term an increasing superiority of America’s weapons. But the U.S. Navy is heading toward a reduction in the number of ships not seen since before World War II. American strategy might well run into tactical difficulties maintaining freedom of the seas around the world, a primary U.S. concern since the founding of The Republic, including those waters off the East Asian Mainland.

Sol W. Sanders, (solsanders@cox.net), writes the ‘Follow the Money’ column for The Washington Times on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He is also a contributing editor for WorldTribune.com and East-Asia-Intel.com.