These two nuggets of philosophy are both brimming with truth, yet appear to be in direct contradiction to one another. How can something that is beneficial to us also cause us great harm? The simple truth is that there are many such dualities in life – many double-sided coins. On a surface level, there are the obvious addictive substances and pursuits which are perfectly harmless (and sometimes healthy) in moderation, but have the capability to ruin us if we fail to exercise self-control and restraint. This is what the saying, “too much of a good thing is bad for you” warns us of.
The aforementioned saying can also be applied to the subject of knowledge…to an extent. History is littered with tales of those who pursued knowledge doggedly, their thirst for information isatiable. Some of them were driven mad or into extreme seclusion. However, this is pretty much as far as the relevancy of “too much of a good thing is bad for you” goes with regards to knowledge. Why? Because a single item of knowledge could prove to be too much. Knowledge – depending on its form – can be dangerous regardless of its size or the time taken to obtain it.
Have you ever watched a 2003 TV serial called “The Second Coming”? Well, I haven’t but there is great little speech in there from Christopher Ecclestone’s character. This speech was sampled by Orbital for their track, You Lot, and that’s where I heard it first:
“You…are becoming Gods. There’s a new master of creation, and it’s you. You’ve unravelled DNA. You’re five years away from building your own people and at the same time, you’re cultivating bacteria strong enough to kill every living thing! Do you think you’re ready for that much power? You lot? YOU lot? You cheeky bastards! You’re running around science like kids with guns, creating a new world while the world you’ve got is stinking. Go on…hands up…hands up anyone who thinks you’ve got it right. Yeah…there’s always one – I can see you. If you want the position of God then take the responsibility.”
“You stupid, stupid people! I’ve seen what you’ve done! It’s finally happened. Heaven is empty…and hell is bursting at the seams!”
[Note: I’ve omitted the middle section of the speech as it doesn’t really have much bearing on what I’m going to be talking about. This isn’t me using selective quoting to erase part of what was said. You can listen to the full speech HERE]
First of all, I’m an Atheist and a believer in science rather than religion. Even so, what is been said here in the above speech is thought-provoking no matter what you believe in.
Whether you believe that God created the universe or that it was formed from The Big Bang, we should all be able to see that mankind has been making itself into the next Creator. We slice atoms apart and discover the secret building blocks of life. We clone living creatures in labs. We cure all kinds of terminal diseases and prolong life where perhaps life should have been lost.
You may look upon these feats of the human race in either a positive or a negative light. But there’s no denying that we’ve done some pretty bad shit too.
Using all of our knowledge and resources to find new ways to either kill each other more effectively or increase material gain…rather than improving our planet. Playing about with deadly bacteria and viruses in labs, cultivating nasty shit that could be freed (whether accidentally or purposely) at any moment to lay waste to our race. Working on making ourselves obsolete by programming increasingly automonous AI. Turning the people against one another through the power of the media in order to generate ad revenue and push selfish agendas that only benefit specific groups of humans.
I suppose much of it started off with noble intentions: seeking to understand the world around us and how it works so that we might gain knowledge and an understanding. So that we might chase worthy causes such as saving lives or understanding the knock-on effects of our various actions.
But knowledge is power and – as Uncle Ben famously reminded Peter Parker – with great power, must come great responsibility.
Unfortunately, there are a great many of us on this planet who aren’t interested in taking any damn responsibility – at all. Do you think that those who commissioned the Manhattan Project thought ahead and tried to envision how a world stocked with nuclear weapons would look? Do you think any of those people are interested in taking responsibility for the way we live now with atomic energy being wielded so freely? Granted, if the Americans hadn’t created the atomic bomb first then somebody else would have. The Nazi’s were apparently close to a break-through if I’ve read correctly. American, German, British, Asian…it doesn’t matter. What matters is that somebody did it or somebody would have done it at some point.
Knowledge was pursued and knowledge was gained. Power was gained and a Pandora’s Box was opened, never to be re-sealed again. And so we discovered a new way to kill each other en masse.
To reference that speech again, perhaps we are cheeky bastards. We’ve got access to a near-complete toolbox that allows us to forget about how or why we were created, and just become creators ourselves. We think we know what we’re doing. We think it’s a great idea to do X and see what happens to Y. Fuck knows what is happening in top-secret labs the world over. I think I’d rather not know as it might be the sort of stuff that could keep you awake at night.
We’ve gotten a bit cocky and sure of ourselves, haven’t we?
The truth is, there’s so much that we still DON’T understand and so perhaps it isn’t such a fantastic idea to be experimenting with the building blocks of life. Even more importantly, the planet around us really does stink in many ways and I can’t help but wonder whether it would wiser to fix existing problems rather than creating new ones.
Now some of you might be wondering if I’m saying that we should just halt all advances in science and research. That’s not what I’m saying. As a race, we do need to move forwards and continuously improve. The alternative is to slob out and become slaves to mindless entertainment and convenience – as if we’ve done enough and should just call it a day. Right now, there is research underway that will save lives for example. Long may it continue.
“if you want the position of God then take the responsibility.”
And this is our problem because we can’t even take responsibility for our everyday mundane lives, let alone major events that will impact the billions of people living on Earth. Young men unwittingly father children and won’t take responsibility for being too lazy or too selfish to have used a condom. People would rather take companies and other people to court rather than take responsibility for something that was REALLY their fault. A mistake is made in a workplace and everybody says, “wasn’t me.”
So how can we expect a scientist to take responsibility for developing an unstoppable flesh-eating bacteria? How can the billionaires and world leaders be trusted to put the latest break-throughs in technology to use rather than utilising it for financial profit or as a symbol of power? How can we, as a race, be trusted with the keys of creation?
We play at being God and think we know it all but we don’t. I just hope that we don’t find this out the hard way. Not that we’d likely learn from such a mistake anyway.