Friday, November 30, 2012

They still refuse to see it!

Yet again, yet another writer has hacked out yet more words trying to claim that Tolkien & Fantasy in general, hate Technology.

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/07/fall-mortality-and-the-machine-tolkien-and-technology/260412/#

The article starts out all right I suppose, but it quickly falls apart as soon as it mentions "The last Ringbearer".. Simply put, they keep missing the point of Lord of the Rings (and truth be told, so do a lot of fantasy writers who seek to emulate it).. These writers are too literal with their approach to technology for one thing, they see Technology only as industrial machinery, be that steam trains or Abrams tanks. These writers are overlooking the fact that Crop Rotation is a Technology, Charcoal making, black smithing, brewing, the gunpowder in Gandalfs fireworks, and the walls of Minus Tirith are all TECHNOLOGY.

Tolkien isn't against Technology, he's simply against the soulless INDUSTRIALIZATION of the world.  If you want to see representations of Mordor, look at London in the 1900's, look at Detroit in the 70's, look at the hole in the O-Zone layer thanks to CFC's Look at the slag dumps outside of African, South American and Chinese mineral mines, look at the clear cut, blasted, hell landscape of the former mountains of the Appalachian chain which have been completely removed.

Tolkien isn't arguing against technology, he's arguing against the fact that we don't use it responsibly. The Dwarves delved too greedily and too deep, They awakened the methane gas explosion that is the balroq. Sauron and later Sauruman sought to dominate life, and they are rewarded with the dim, selfish, spiteful and malformed Orc. The Dragon Smaug's greed lead him to take by force two entire kingdoms, Esgaroth and Erebor, simply so he could horde gold to retire to Boca.. err I mean sleep on.

Think of it this way, the act of inventing the automobile was in itself not particularly bad. But once you factor in the marketization of the automobile, selling them, thus needing a constant supply of them, not to mention the oil drilling, road building, and ugh.. Suburbia.. who doesn't begin to feel a little put upon by them? Especially when you read stories about what happened in the US and Britain to their already firmly built, though no less ecologically problematic, (remember, even the attempt to use the weapon of the enemy for good, can still cause evil) public transit systems. In the 40's and 50's it was not uncommon for US automakers and oil companies to collude with cities to purchase vital segments of the public transit system and then dismantle them.. thus forcing people to have no choice but to buy a car and pay for gas. That's Mordor thinking. One car to bring them all, and in the ring-road bind them.

Everyone has been stuck in a traffic jam, you cannot tell me that if just a little be more civic responsibility had been in evidence during the planning phases that that problem couldn't have been conceived of and dealt with? The South-East US is littered with middle turn lanes, called morbidly "Suicide lanes", which account for a vast number of traffic fatalities.. there are entire towns where there are no sidewalks and no crosswalks, let alone bike lanes or any attempt at providing some alternative to the automobile. They see no reason to build any of that because everyone (who counts anyway) lives too far away from town, secluded in the suburbs and exoburbs and planned communities and gated communities to warrent building anything except more roads to bring in yet more traffic to yet more big box stores and strip malls and fast food joints to pour yet more money into the never satisfied gaping maw of corporate greed.

The US didn't crack the atom to provide clean, cheap power to the masses of the world, it cracked the atom to kill people, and for 60 years afterwards Nuclear Energy was a distant second place to the never ending quest to a bigger and better bomb. Eventually the Soviet Union, what more of a Mordor could you want than a country ruled by technocrats and engineers, crafted the Ultimate in the enormous Tzar Bomba. I'll excuse you while you go and chant GROND! GROND! GROND!.. okay, back? good.

Gandalf could have used his gunpowder to make rockets to fire at the Orcs, but he didn't he used it to make beautiful displays of light and colour to amuse and entertain a bunch of fat drunk hobbits. The Dwarves used their knowledge to make toys and jewelry and the Elves.. well now that's an interesting viewpoint as you can see the same impulses which Sauron and Sauruman had.. in Feanor and the Silmarils.

No, the Elves I think are the one example in which Tolkien may have created a group of beings who either nearly did or entirely did abstain from most technology.. and guess what.. they are declining and slipping away into the past to be replaced by those pesky humans who aren't afraid to harness the weapon of the enemy, hopefully to try and use it for good.  To build solar panels and sea walls and hospitals and high speed electric rail to connect all the little villages and hamlets to magnificently planned urban centers groaning with parks and industry which sequesters it's emmisions and appropriately sources it's raw materials.

Tolkien was a man who had seen the absolute worst of what human ingenuity could concoct. Poison Gas, The Tank, Machine Guns, Grenades, Artillery capable of turning a human into a fine red particulate from a hundred miles away, there is a reason why that war lead to the Geneva Convention.. which itself, in it's attempt to restrain the insanity, simply made humans more ingenuitive  If they can't use poison gas, lets just use cluster bombs, lets coat our bullets with white phosphorus, anti-coagulants, or make them out of depleted uranium.  Let's do all these horrible things because it's easier than finding common ground and working together, sharing a bite and sup and a song and then going for a walk along the hedgerows, or through the park.

Tolkien wasn't saying not to use technology, he was simply saying to advance technology responsibly and with as little negative impact to the surrounding world, and preferably without killing anyone or destroying anyone's home. Tolkien wasn't telling us to become neo-Luddites huddling around tallow candles or to become subsistence farmers.. He was simply telling us that there are better things in life to strive for than greed and death.

4 comments:

David J. West said...

Agreed. It's funny how context get's skewed.

Brian Murphy said...

Unfortunately many critics--like the jackass who wrote the trashy "Last Ringbearer"--have zero subtlety. You have to be "for" unbridled progress and unfettered technology, or "against" it. As you pointed in your post, and as I've argued before, Tolkien was not anti-technology. The rings of power can be seen in fact as a form of beneficent technology--until the One Ring, aka technology without restraint--corrupted them. Tolkien believed that men are more important than machines, and that the natural world was worth preserving. Apparently that makes him a luddite. I'd say it makes him sane.

Michal said...

Perhaps Mr. Jacobs should watch Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator and therefore understand what Tolkien was warning against:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcvjoWOwnn4

Lagomorph Rex said...

That's about right Michal... Progress can be used to great good.. and mostly we use it for evil. I'm reminded of the bit in Carl Sagan's Cosmos when he is talking about the old Orion space system.. which would have used Nuclear Weapons, detonated against a solid plate, to "Putt-putt" it's way across the cosmos.. and he says "It's the best use of Nuclear Weapons we've yet devised" or something to that effect.