Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, October 14, 2004






The Darker Side of The Moon

By Sinister Sisters

Once upon a time, the idea of landing on the moon was the stuff of science fiction and fairy tales. Then one fine day, Neil Armstrong and his teammates turned fiction into fact with "one small step for man…" Science. It is that genie in the lamp that makes all our wildest imaginings come true. In many ways, it is like the moon itself - eautiful, fascinating, and ever changing. Just as poets sing songs and shower odes on the altar of Diana, and a full moon inspires lunacy, the realm of science and technology has also enjoyed its fair share of zealots and nutty professors; it has even become a religion for many. The moon also has a dark side, however, and so do science and technology.

Albert Einstein's theory of relativity has become a mandatory part of a physics student's syllabus. Yet it was his research on nuclear physics that led to the creation of the atom bomb, and before you could say "Fat Boy," the mushroom clouds were rising over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obliterating thousands of lives. If technology can be compared to the moon, then the dark side of this moon is definitely the application of technology by certain factions.

Indeed we have learnt a lot from science in the many different branches of its application. Let's take microbiology for example. It helps us to understand and discover the nature to culture of microorganisms and teaches us how to manipulate them for our own benefit. The technology that has developed from this science makes it possible for us to manufacture synthetic insulin, to brew, to bake or to conserve. Again microbiology combined with genetic engineering enables us to find alternate food and energy sources, 'green' detergents, and eco-friendly sewage treatments.

This same technology that has improved the lives of millions worldwide, has also been used throughout the ages to wreak havoc upon millions of others. I am referring to biological warfare - the use of organisms, usually microorganisms, to weaken enemy forces by spreading disease. Germs for cholera, typhoid, and bubonic plague have been used as early as the Crimean War, and even before that. Today's biological weapons are even deadlier smallpox, anthrax and Ebola. The saddest part of this story is the fact that the targets of these weapons are often innocent civilians.

Similarly, in the world of agriculture, science and technology has contributed to a phenomenal rise in yield, crop resistance, characteristics etc in a green revolution that has fulfilled demands of farmers and populations. The science of new fertilizers, pesticides, mechanization, irrigation, etc, along with process technologies of hydroponics and tissue culture have changed concepts of farming. On the darker side of the moon in relation to this, however, is the unprecedented destruction to the environment due to desertification, denudation of forests, interference with water systems etc. While a residual accumulation of chemical fertilizers is entering the food chain to effect man animals and fish alike. This man-made destruction of ecology is one of the biggest challenges of agriculture itself.

Technology has done wonders for the world of communication. We've come a long way from Alexander Bell's telephone and Edison's telegraph. Today, we can reach out to other people thousands of miles away via e-mail, fax, messaging, voice/data mail, SMS, to name a few. The world is at our fingertips: instant information is just a mouse-click away. Do these things really help us stay connected? With online chatting becoming such a widespread phenomenon, old-fashioned face-to-face tete-a-tetes may soon become a thing of the past, and let's not even get started on handwritten letters. To add a serious twist to this dark moon, let us consider the loss of privacy, hacking, computer viruses, and so on, that are invariably linked to this form of technology.

Another major issue that is recently heating up the headlines is the human cloning debate. With the first cloned human baby being born, new doors for genetic manipulation have been thrown open. The Human Genome Project that immediately preceded this new medical marvel successfully mapped out the human genome, and we came much closer to eradicating gene-linked diseases to bring fresh hope for sufferers of ailments such as cystic fibrosis and haemophilia. Then came this baby after it is said that Dolly the sheep suffered severe arthritis and other physical ailments, which are now attributed as a result of Dolly being cloned. It is unfortunate that this creature had to undergo such discomforts in the name of science, so what right do we have in taking such risks with a human child? One dismiss call thrillers such as Frankenstein and The Third Twin as the mere works of fiction, but let's not forget that Icarus was a myth till the Wright brothers flew their plane. I have to wonder, if they had known that descendents of their invention would lead up to the emerging global conflict centered on those crashing into the World Trade Centre, would they still have gone on with their experiments?

Similarly, the new concept of world family, green peace, etc is an outgrowth of a scientific wonder that can be generically called global village. It allows the world community to respond, act and intervene rapidly in incidences of natural, social and political disasters. People are enabled to interact with each other even in impossible environments, including space in the experience of Mir space station. On the darker side this togetherness, by misapplication, is eroding cultural systems for destroying family and community alike by facilitating transfer of pornography, drugs and other abuses of Mafia.

I do not wish to sound pessimistic about science and technology. And I am not saying it is bad. All I am saying that it is we human beings who bring out the darker sides of science and technology by using them wrongly. There is a need to properly evaluate the role of science, ideas and technology in our lives for there is no doubt that this current age is seeing the miracles of sciences raising the threshold of knowledge and achievements. However it is at a cost, for the individual has lost freedom and is being conditioned to join one herd existence or another in the trappings of these science and their advertisements. Thus a planned desensitization of each and every individual Soul is being paid by one and all, because science is inherently insensitive to the finer feelings. So the crux issue before us is to determine how far and in what way we should use the new sciences in medicine, agriculture, information, etc for improving the quality of life so that we do not end up losing the romance and passion of living in a barrenness of science!



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