SECTION THREE: RE-ANALYZING INTERNAL THREATS
The internal threats to humanity all derive from the weaknesses of human nature. As long as these weaknesses do not change, new internal threats will arise endlessly from new environments and new eras. The weaknesses of human nature are inherent characteristics unique to mankind; they cannot change without significant human evolution. Such evolution cannot happen overnight, so when we look to our future, we can expect no fundamental change in these weaknesses.
One: The Decisive Effect of Science and Technology on Internal Threats
The previous chapter discussed the generally recognized internal threats to humanity. The following analysis will show how closely related these internal threats are to science and technology. The relationship between the two may be indirect or direct, depending on the situation, but the decisive role science and technology plays is for certain.
1. The Strengthening Effect of Science and Technology
Past analysis shows that some internal threats have been fixtures of human society since ancient times, such as war, terrorism, and wealth inequality. However, the threat of these problems has become more severe as human history develops, and it is largely aggravated by breakthroughs in science and technology. Science and technology serve to strengthen the effect of these inherent crises; we will call this the strengthening effect of science and technology.
The strengthening effect of science and technology can be seen clearly in the development of warfare. When mankind first began to disengage from animals, they relied on their bodies to fight with each other. As society developed, wars became larger in scale and more brutal, and weapons became more advanced and destructive. Such escalation will only continue for the foreseeable future.
Terrorism also ensued shortly after the formation of human society. It differs from wars in its secretive, individualized, and brief nature. Most terrorist attacks are short, one-off strikes. During the cold weapons era, the limitations of weapons meant that most terrorist attacks only killed one or a few people. Today, developments in science and technology allow for much more massive terrorism casualties.
Wealth inequality emerged due to the advancement of technology and the ensuing development of society. In the primitive gathering era, there was no surplus of food and materials; all groups divided wealth equally. The technological revolution led to the Agricultural Era. Migratory lifestyle ended, and surplus products appeared; wealth inequality emerged for the first time. The Industrial Era furthered this inequality. As science and technology continues to improve productivity, nations and enterprises become increasingly dependent on technological advancements. The developments brought on by these advancements have changed the social state and vastly increased the inequality of wealth.
2. The Direct Threats of Science and Technology
Science and technology not only strengthens internal threats, but they also bring about direct threats of their own. The successful development of bio-chemical and nuclear weapons is a direct result of scientific and technological achievements.
The Industrial Revolution promoted the progress of science and technology, but it also promoted a revolution in destructive weaponry. Every improvement in killing methods is permeated by scientific and technological advancements; that is an intuitive conclusion.
Cybercrime is closely related to technological improvements as well; the emergence of computers was itself a product of technology, and the internet was built based off of computers. The culprit of ozone layer damage, Freon, is a product of the chemical industry.
Global warming, acid rain, and air pollution are all directly related to scientific and technological developments. It was these developments that led to industrialization and the extensive use of automobiles, aircrafts, and ships, resulting in the production of greenhouse gas emissions, acid gases, and dust discharges.
The unconstrained use of non-renewable resources was also caused by industrialization. Large-scale resource demands were instigated entirely by large-scale industrial production. Industrialization was an inevitable outcome of scientific and technological development.
Water shortage is mainly caused by water pollution, which can be divided into industrial pollution, agricultural pollution, and domestic pollution, all of which are closely related to science and technology.
Desertification and loss of biodiversity seem to be unrelated to science and technology on the surface, but that is not the case. Desertification and biodiversity loss have a common origin—namely, the destruction of forests, grasslands, and wetlands. This destruction usually happens because developing countries are trying to bridge the wealth inequality gap and sustain their growing population. Both wealth inequality and population expansion are closely associated with technological developments.
Two: The Uncertainties of Internal Threats
1. The First Uncertainty: The Ultimate Destructive Power of Science and Technology
The most important human value is the overall survival of the species; thus, the study of internal threats should focus mainly on the extreme case of self-destruction. As a factor that plays a decisive role in the determination of internal threats, could science and technology ultimately endanger the overall survival of mankind? To find the answer to that question, we must first understand the ultimate destructive power of science and technology. Without profound understanding on this level, we cannot make a clear judgment of the ultimate danger of internal threats.
The ultimate destructive power of science and technology is uncertain because human society today is still in its infancy; we only completed our evolution ten thousand years ago. The effect of science and technology only began to emerge two hundred years ago with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The future of mankind will be much longer than that. If we are willing to accept natural fate, we still have billions of years to come, and there is always the hope that humanity will never be extinguished.
It is certain that the science and technology we currently possess may endanger a portion of humanity but will not destroy the species entirely. It is often said that the nuclear warheads in the world could destroy humanity many times over, and if evenly distributed to every individual that would be the case. However, such even distribution is not realistic. Nuclear weapons are more likely to achieve great damage in a localized area. With such reasoning, all the nuclear weapons and biochemical weapons in the world would not lead to total human destruction. Moreover, these weapons are in the hands of many people, so it is highly unlikely that they would be launched all at once. Once some weapons are launched, people will have many ways to avoid the attacks and will find ways to prevent repeated assaults. Stating that the world’s nuclear arsenal could destroy humanity is more of a warning and appeal than a reflection of the actual situation.
Even so, we can make one clear judgment: future science and technology levels will be much more advanced and produce much more destructive weapons. Therefore, whether or not the ultimate destructive power of science and technology can destroy humanity is a priority issue in the research of extreme self-destruction.
2. The Second Uncertainty: Whether Humans can use Scientific and Technological Achievements Rationally
Whether or not humans can apply scientific and technological achievements rationally is another big uncertainty. Would it be possible to one day fully apply technological achievements to all aspects of human pursuits, instead of always using them in war or in negative ways like we do today?
Throughout history, humans have rarely applied any technological achievements in noble or just ways. Regardless of the time period, almost all of our most advanced inventions and breakthroughs have been first applied to war. This rule holds true to this day. No matter how many appeals for peace we make, technological achievements always seem to go the other way.
In the two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution, technological advancements have greatly improved humanity’s ability to transform the world, yet our rational restraint of self has not improved accordingly. Although we have not had the best track record in the past, could we eventually use scientific and technological developments rationally in the future? This is another important factor that may decide the ultimate destructive power of science and technology.
3. The Third Uncertainty: Whether Humans Can Accurately Judge the Performance of Science and Technology
The unexpected harm brought on by the use of science and technology can be clearly seen. The widespread use of Freon seriously damaged the ozone layer; the “miraculous discovery” of DDT caused unforeseen injuries to bird eggs, and its ability to dissolve in oil made it increasingly toxic with the passage of time.
We often wander into the restricted areas of science and technology completely unaware. Just as many of the technological achievements we use today were inadvertently discovered, the destructiveness of such inventions can be unpredictable as well. Whether or not science and technology will destroy humanity is largely dependent on our accurate determination of its performance.
4. The Fourth Uncertainty: Whether Humans Can Control the Development of Science and Technology
Another factor that affects our final conclusion is whether humans have the ability to control the progression of science and technology. It stands to reason that no matter how destructive technological advancements are, as long as humans realize the danger and act rationally to curb their impact, they cannot threaten our overall survival; thus, the future of mankind is still bright, and we can plan for future technology accordingly.
Unfortunately, the past does not offer a positive view in this regard. The use of science and technology can be clearly divided into two stages: before the Industrial Revolution and after the Industrial Revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution, humans only experienced limited benefits from technology. Back then, technological advancements were simple, and science was not yet playing a guiding role in technology. Though science and technology progressed constantly, its progression was very gradual.
The situation changed dramatically after the Industrial Revolution. The achievements of science and technology accumulated to great heights, and the combination of the two brought explosive improvements in productivity. People’s pursuit of new advancements increased fanatically, and few stopped to consider the negative effects. These basic historical facts make us seriously question humanity’s ability to control scientific and technological developments in the future.