Monday, February 1, 2016

What does progress mean? (1994)

From June 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scientific breakthrough!
American scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington have recently found a way of attaching living embrionic brain cells to computer silicon chips.

In a race with Japanese researchers, they are trying to create living computers. Biological engineering and micro-electronics - two of the most rapidly-advancing branches of technology - have been brought together to begin an entirely new line of development. It is a brilliant piece of work.

Rapid progress
But news like this makes most people a bit uneasy. Not only does it seem slightly sinister - like Frankenstein - but similar developments are coming thick and fast these days. Genetic engineering, satellite communications, smart bombs, tissue culture, laser surgery . . .  The speed of change is high - and rising.

Granny is lost
The older you are, the more difficult it is to adjust to accelerating change. Thousands of old people born into a world without cars or electric lighting are bewildered by the disappearance of old things and the welter of new ones. They regard young people as bizarre, unpredictable and dangerous.

To the 18-year-old, 80-year-old people are not just older and slower. They can seem quite alien. This (as well as easy robbery) is one of the reasons for attacks on old people.

We are different
We have become a different sort of people from our parents and very different from our grandparents. The family structure which used to keep children in prolonged contact with their grandparents has almost gone. And so the generations have ceased to feel they have anything in common. This is one of they ways our attitudes have changed. The religion-backed taboos against sex outside lifelong marriage have collapsed in what has really been a very short period of time. Many people have still not come to terms with it. And we are still changing.

No-one is in control
To call for a "return to Victorian values" (Margaret Thatcher) or "Back to basics" (John Major) is therefore to show just how little you understand the society you live in.

It shows, also, how worried our politicians - who represent the interests of the wealthy employers - how worried they are about the way society is developing. And it shows they don’t control it.

Capitalism perverts progress
Computer-controlled production systems may well increase profits, but they also impose pressure for social change because they confirm the possibility of producing plenty for everyone with less and less work.

The capitalists want the profit, but they don’t want to lose their ownership and control of society’s livelihood. So their politicians try desperately to hold back any idea of radical social change.

As a result, we still get changes, but they are distorted. Divorce, child abuse, rape, vandalism, violent crime, drug abuse, resurgent nationalism, terrorism - are all reactions to a society which is changing rapidly but still bottled up inside the class oppression of capitalism. The majority of the population are deliberately kept poor or insecure by the money system so that we have to work all our lives for them.

The industrial and agricultural - and military - potential of society is advancing all the time. But the power structure - the economic and political organisation of society - is stuck back in the 18th century. We are inventing the most terrifying weapons so that they can continue to defend their wealth against their foreign competitors - and ourselves - at the cost of our lives.

Redirecting progress
This is not progress for us. The change we desperately need now is a change in the structure of society itself. A change which will give us freedom from their domination and exploitation. So that we shall have control of the technology and science we develop. Control of the production and distribution we need to live on. Control of change itself.

Only we can make this sort of change. We are in the immense majority all over the world. We produce and manage everything already. The capitalist class and their power structure contribute nothing. But they consume over half the wealth we produce.

This sort of change cannot be gradual. Their governments are spending billions a year holding back social change, limiting democracy, preventing freedom. They have got the world - all of us - by the throat. What are we going to do about it?
Ron Cook

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