Did ANYONE really believe
there were Weapons of Mass Destruction?
In spite of the fact that almost everyone has to take a few science
courses in the process of getting an education, and virtually all
Americans live in an ocean
of technology, technological illiteracy is nearly universal.
The only regular exceptions to the rule of technological illiteracy these days
seem to be farm kids, construction workers and builders, the folks in technical
maintenance such as auto repair, engineers, advanced computer geeks, and folks
with technological hobbies such as drag racing.
Notice that none of these groups are over represented in forums where foreign
policy, education, law, monetary direction, or media decisions are made.
In the world of media or government or academe, technological illiteracy
is so widespread, it could be termed "fashionable." This is not an exaggeration. The
best example of "fashionable technological illiteracy" (hereinafter FTI) might
be the enormous popularity of the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey." In 2001, an
evil computer named HAL threatens innocent Dave with all sorts of disasters.
This view of the future was taken so seriously, classes at known universities
that charged money and issued grades and credits came to include studying this "cinematic
Of course, 2001—the year—came and went and there were no computers remotely like
HAL to be found anywhere on planet earth. Far from being a threat, your computer
is more like an infant—in constant need of care and attention and often irrational
when it decides to cooperate.
This is the case of ALL technology. It is FRAGILE. It is in constant need
of some level of attention. If the film professor at a snooty liberal arts
department could have talked to the guy down the street who raced dragsters
or built flying model airplanes, (s)he would have been regaled with the stories
of how brutally unforgiving technology is to carelessness of the slightest
failure of a $5 bearing destroying a $5000 motor. Folks are truly technologically
literate when they can cite personal examples of why they believe that Murphy
Law fame) was an optimist.
There are millions of folks who really liked 2001—for whatever reason including
the quality of the drugs ingested before viewing. Snooty film professors
are a minor annoyance in the larger world of FTI. Unfortunately the damage
by helping to make fashionable a form of ignorance is very real.
When some bubble-headed TV newsreader admits on camera that (s)he hasn’t "figured
out how to set my VCR," the FTI-meter goes to full-tilt. There is almost no way
to measure the technological difference between the people who invented television
and someone who makes such a remark. Ironically, they are both in the same business
(TV) so we have beautiful techno-illiterates in everyone’s life—a feat made
possible by some of the finest techno-geniuses of history.
It actually gets worse. In many ways, FTI drove the economy of the 1990s.
For example, Jack Welch became a Wall Street darling of the era with his
of GE. Virtually everything GE makes from jet turbines to power-plants is
technologically as sophisticated as anything on earth. GE’s customers are usually governments
or regulated industries. GE was as close to pure socialism as anything we had
in USA—and smart folks actually endorsed this arrangement because "big tech" as
represented by GE was of such value, it was worth taxpayer subsidies and
protection from some of the practices of finance capitalism.
Welch became Wall Street’s man because he was able to return, with mathematic
regularity, increases in "shareholder" value. For this, he was rewarded with
wealth beyond wretched excess.
In the meantime questions as to what was really happening as Welch exported
the know-how and tools of "big tech" to the rest of the world never got asked. In
the world of technology, there is a huge difference between being able to make
the tool as opposed to merely operating it. For much of the 20th century, the
guys who made tools had empires, the folks who only used tools became colonies—is
it really a good idea to squander such a lead?
Welch was "exceeding expectations" in the capital markets—why would anyone want
to question his methods? And who would do it—the TV "journalist" who got college
credit for watching 2001 and writing a report?—and thinks that technology is
evil because occasionally his microphone doesn’t work? Could this journalist
ever understand why Welch’s successor is have a tough time "making the numbers" out
of the technological wreck left him by a professional plunderer?
The FTI media failed us again in the run-up to the USA invasion of Iraq.
In order to have had the Weapons of Mass Destruction claimed for Iraq, they
had to have a GE—pre Welch—in their country. Technology needs ALL the parts to
work. If an essential part is missing you have to make it or buy it. As the embargo
stretched out, the chance that an irreplaceable part had gone missing somewhere
along the technological "food chain" became practically infinite. Even if we "knew" they
had everything to make WMDs (after all, went the joke, we had the receipts) at
one time, we could not know what had been lost. Therefore, technologically we "knew" nothing.
And all the predictions that Iraq had the capability of making WMDs in anywhere
NEAR the quantities believed had less basis in fact than the Sunday-morning
football betting lines.
We are talking about people who truly believed their own voices. USA military
teams took along bunny suits and masks and antidotes. You would think that
THEY would know better—the military being one of "big tech’s" customers after
all. But there seems to be a gap in consciousness between buying, maintaining,
ultimately destroying technology than in building the stuff. In the Army,
talking tough will get you into the very inner rings of power; talking about
infinite ways that technology can be reduced to uselessness will get you
stationed in Greenland.
And groupthink—fashionably technologically illiterate groupthink replaces reason
in the corridors of power. I’ll wager that questioning the existence of WMDs
at the Pentagon in mid-March was a good way to get yourself called "French," even
though the whole idea was technologically preposterous.