Some inprovements make things worse

SCHLEMMBESSERUNG

Improvement that makes things worse

Cenovus CEO, Brian Ferguson contradicted himself.  (Lethbridge Herald, Jan. 16, page B1) He said in response to the criticisms by celebrities about oil-sand development, “In Hollywood, a land of make-belief, everything is black and white.  But a real world does not work that way.”  He means that things are not always clear-cut right or wrong but ambiguous grey.  He is right there. However, a few sentences later, he condemned the critics, “Those accusations are absolutely baseless.”  If it is not clear “black and white”, why use the “absolute” word?   Is everybody wrong except Mr. Brian Ferguson?

Neil Postman, a professor at the University of New York in his book “Technopoly,” makes a point that humans lose something important every time a new technology is introduced.  Progress is always accompanied by negative effects as well as positive outcomes.  In this regard, I like the German expression “Schimmbesserung.”  I understand that the word means an improvement that makes things worse.   There are many so-called new developments that are touted as improvements on human conditions.  They are not always.   Many are changes for the sake of change to make more profits, not necessarily for the better.  Like Ferguson says, it’s not the question of black or white.  Changes can be Schlimmbesserung; may be good but could also be worse.

I don’t accept any argument which claims to be absolutely correct.  I am tired of hearing absolute language, be it from a point of view of a particular ideology, or from the religious fundamentalism.  They exercise willful blindness and use science selectively to suit their purpose.  Recently a decision was made by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) to recommend the Northern Gateway Pipeline project to go ahead.  A law suit against the project points out the gaps CEAA ignored.  It is a good example of willful blindness on the part of the conservatice government.  The governments shut up researchers or make scientists to sell themselves to the highest bidder like prostitutes.  They tire me and make me cynical.

The reality is more often than not neither black or white: right or wrong: good or evil.  Often it is somewhere in-between.  Therefore, let us not speak of the ultimately correct solution in absolute terms.  There is no such thing.  You lose your credibility by referring too often to the absolute, as though you are a god.  No body will take you seriously.

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