The diplomatic war with Iran has raged all week and I’ve been fascinated by how communication technology has transformed how we do the war thing. Nowadays it’s as important to win the war on the airwaves as it is in the field, and whilst the British armed forces have a formidable reputation their media advisors should have raised the white flag a long time ago, though they’d probably make a hames of that too.
Technology was also a key element in the education story of the week. Teachers are demanding that website hosts must take responsibility for what they broadcast. Though that strikes me as a little unrealistic, given the inability of watchdogs to take control of the more sinister parts of the web. But it’s at least more plausible than an approach that emerged as an option in a govt sponsored report which proposed giving students ipods for good behaviour.
The other technological dilemma was the heart rending story of Natallie Evans, Howard Johnston and their frozen embryos. This was so desperately sad on all sorts of levels and illustrates how technology often develops faster that our capacity to cope with its effects. I mean, only with the advent of technological interventions could a man presume to assume control of the timing of fathering a child. Only with technological help could a woman assert a right to be a mother.
Now I don’t want to make any cheap religious point about getting ahead of ourselves and thinking our technology can make us God. There may be some mileage in that but I am interested in what Christians call ‘the creation mandate’, the idea that God has given us a challenge to use our creative, imaginative, exploratory capacities for the benefit of the human race. There is, of course, always the danger that mastery of the created order will transmute into mastery of human beings, but this is no reason to block our inherent abilities. It is also why Christians see the need to balance the ethics of a rights based culture with an ethic of responsibility.
For me therefore these challenges and dilemmas will, and should continue to be a part of our future as a human race painful, confusing and disturbing as they can sometimes be.
Finally, there was one story this week which had no technological or medical enhancement whatsoever, which made it classic fare for a holiday week. The naked rambler Stephen Gough was cleared of causing a breach of the peace by refusing to cover up in a carpark in Edinburgh. Bizarrely the Sheriff ruled that his latest case was ‘not proven’. Obviously there was not enough evidence to convict him, but if I was Mr Gough I’m not sure I’d be too pleased by that. Or maybe the weather was just cold in Edinburgh this week.
[BBC Radio Ulster Thought for the Day, broadcast Friday 13 April 2007]