Joe Bennett is a Lyttelton-based columnist, playwright and author.
OPINION: What, if given the chance, would you disinvent? You won’t be given the chance, of course, because as Lady Macbeth so splendidly observed, what’s done, is done, but if you were, which of the countless inventions of the most inventive species ever to evolve on this lonely speck of rock, spinning through space to no point or purpose, would you disinvent? What would you rid the world of? What product of our unique intelligence would you free us from?
Oh come, I think we can do better than the atom bomb. We’ve all been living in its shadow these 70 years or so and I suspect on balance it has done more good than harm, that it’s prevented wars. Remarkably it’s proved a step too far for even those who make a habit of going beyond what you, or I would think the furthest possible step.
Mao and Stalin, for example, butchered millions, but neither pressed the button. And even the loathsome Trump, blind drunk with self-adoring, managed not to press it. (Though that is not, of course, to say that it will not get pressed some day, but if it is, as Lady Macbeth might have put it, it is.) Anything else for disinvention?
The motor car? That’s more like it. We love our cars but look what they have done to towns and cities. Clogged them, blackened them, polluted them with fumes and noise, and even redesigned them. Try to go on foot in any town in North America, a land that worships at the altar of the motor car, and you will find yourself an alien in vehicle-land, an oddity and object of suspicion.
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Why do a billion tourists flock to Venice, Italy each year and not to Venice, Illinois? The answer is that Venice, Illinois is built to suit the motor car, while Venice, Italy is built to suit the human being. It has no motor cars. Its scale is human.
Cars do us no favours, physically or psychologically. They foster indolence and make us fat. They isolate and flatter us. Men in particular conflate their own identities with sleek and potent cars, and thus the ego swells and road rage happens and grown men weep at scratches to their bodywork.
So yes, there is a case for disinventing cars, but I propose a bigger target still. I’d like to disinvent the internet.
Touted as the knowledge revolution, it was never any such thing. It put an encyclopaedia in every pocket, but an encyclopaedia isn’t knowledge. Knowledge is information absorbed. You cannot outsource knowledge.
The internet lacks a gatekeeper, and an unkept gate lets anything in, so the internet abounds in lies with nothing to distinguish them from truth. Thus, anyone who thinks, let’s say, that the world is run by the Illuminati who want to seed us all with monkey DNA by means of the coronavirus vaccine, has only to go online to find their lunacy confirmed. The internet first amplifies stupidity, then exploits it.
And consider social media. It is the opposite of social. Society is people coming together. Being part of society rubs off our sharper edges, makes us tolerant of difference. The internet, in contrast, offers isolation and anonymity.
From behind their solitary keyboards people spew the bile and hatred that they wouldn’t dare to even think in public.
The internet fosters the worst of us, and I would cheerfully disinvent it. But as Captain Grimes once put it, channelling Lady Macbeth, ‘’Too late, old boy, too late. The saddest words in the English language.’’ Ah, well.