Friday, May 26, 2006

Adapting Humanity

Same subject, different verse. DW Buffa, in one of his most recent books, has a character quote from “something Tolstoy wrote…written in 1910, the year Tolstoy died.”

Today, electricity, railroads, and telegraphs are corrupting the whole world. Everyone appropriates these things; they cannot avoid appropriating them, and everyone is suffering in the same manner, forced in the same degree to change their way of life. Everyone is being put in a situation in which it is necessary to betray what is most important in their lives, to betray an understanding of life itself...

What are machines supposed to manufacture? What are telegraphs supposed to transmit? What are schools, universities, and academics supposed to discuss? What kind of news is supposed to be conveyed by books and newspapers? What is supposed to be accomplished by millions of human beings who are drawn together and subjected to a higher power?

From what I’ve read, Leo Tolstoy (above, right) wrote I Cannot Be Silent! in 1908. Maybe this is the book to which Buffa is referring. I’ve never even heard of it. (But that’s why reading is such a hoot: I always learn something.)

Here’s the greatest moral authority in Russia, in that era, raging against technology and the fact that human beings embrace it with fervor. A hundred years ago. Just after Borden embraced change and condensed milk.

The morality of our adapting to tech has been debated and derided ad nauseam, whether it’s the medieval Church banning crossbows or middle-American communities banning pagers in their schools. Technology only changes morality if we let it. If we can cope with steam locomotives and telegraphs, if we can live through the era of portable TVs, we’ll get through the iPods and Blackberrys, too.

Adaptations shouldn’t condense our sense of the moral and the ethical, though. Right, Ken Lay?

Quotes from Trial by Fire, © DW Buffa, 2005. Tolstoy photo from

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