by Bob Hughes - £10.99 New Internationalist Publications Ltd (2016)
paperback ISBN 13: 9781780263298 | ISBN 10: 1780263295
It’s dinned into us from birth that ‘all good things come at a price’. Today, that price looks apocalyptic, with wars, exploitation and environmental collapse in every part of the globe. Some suggest that the carnage is “a price worth paying” for technological progress. No pain, no gain.
But technology is precisely the business of minimising the costs and impacts of existence… and by whole orders of magnitude. By now, all human beings should be leading creative, leisure-filled lives in a pristine world of burgeoning diversity. So how did it go so wrong? In a word, inequality. In The Bleeding Edge, Bob Hughes argues that unequal societies are incapable of using new technologies well. Wherever elites exist, self-preservation decrees that they must take control of new technologies to protect and entrench their status, rather than satisfy people’s needs.
Bob pursues the latest discoveries about the effects of social inequality on human health, into the field of human environmental impact, and traces today’s ecological crisis back to the rise of the world’s first elites, 5,000 years ago. He argues that new technologies have never emerged from elites or from the clash of competitive forces, but from largely voluntary, egalitarian collaborations of the kind that produced the world’s first working computers.
He shows how inequality drastically reduces our technological options, and turns successful inventions into their own ‘evil twins’. From the medieval water mill to the cellphone, elegant ideas have been turned into engines of destruction - their greater economy of means perversely magnifying their human and ecological impact. A trend that can only escalate until we grasp the nettle and call time on social inequality. Any political programme that tries to arrest climate change while tolerating inequality is as doomed as trying to climb Mount Everest by the downhill route.
Finally, Bob shows that an egalitarian world is not ‘pie in the sky but our evolutionary homeland, the glue that holds societies together, and the “cradle of invention” from which all our best ideas emerge. For a sustainable world, we must stop pleading, as it were, for “a bit less rape”, and put all social domination beyond the social pale. The book concludes: ‘Let’s assume that the commitment to human equality that’s written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights means exactly what it says, and take it from there.’
(Price & availability last checked: October 2016)