Saturday, May 06, 2006

Uninventing

The Sciencebloggers are trying to decide what invention they wouldn't want to have existed. I'm with Dr. Myers. While landmines, embedded advertising and nuclear weapons are horrible (as are the internal combustion engine, the car alarm, armor piercing bullets, mustard gas, and the necktie), the real horror is how they are used. Landmines take limbs from children in many countries, but also prevent North and South Korea from kicking off the third World War. The problem with mines in Cambodia is that they were used wrong.

And while I'd love to see the world move toward nuclear disarmament, I don't think they should be uninvented. Their existence in some sort of balance helped avert a massive war between the USA and USSR. They may well have brought WWII to an end. And even people who argue that they didn't are not challenging the claim that they could have done so.

And well done embedded ads are fine by me. I don't care who was playing at the Bronze in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and if they played well and I learned about a new band, all the better. Will I buy the car that Jack Bauer drives, or that Sidney Bristow rolls in? Probably not, but if Chevy wants to make an episode run without commercial interruptions, it's fine with me that CTU favors Chevys.

The issue with an object is not its existence, but its use. I think there's a fair claim to be made that nuclear weapons or mustard gas are easier to misuse than other items, but their nonuse was very powerful in deterring all out warfare between the Great Powers. Israel's nuclear stockpile has probably been a more important force for stability (if not peace) in the Middle East than any accord on paper.

Things aren't good or bad. People are, and they use things in ways that are good or bad.

The same can be said of ideas. Science isn't inherently good or inherently bad, neither is religion. Both can be used for evil or for good. It falls to people to make those choices.