27 January, 2014

Bill Gates: Saint of Poverty Reduction, or frightening Apocalyptic Capitalist?

Bill Gates may be the second (or is he now the third?) richest man in the world. 

But despite his wealth, something tells me he may not be the happiest man in the world at the present moment.

Primarily because about 7 billion people--minus the 50,000 who are hacking into computers and networks--are all looking at him and wondering: why on earth did we trust this college dropout?

Granted, the story was cool. College dropout starts amazing technological innovation (wait, I think that was Steve Jobs, but never mind) and becomes richest man in the world. Lets revise that-college dropout markets tech toy invented by another college dropout, and become a global force in marketing. Transforms everything, from education to banking to medicine to every known interaction mankind makes with each other.

Cool. Awesome, in fact.

Unfortunately, anything that gets described as “awesome” should have been taken with a grain of salt. But somehow humanity forgot to do it this time around. Around thirty years after the Big Bang of the computer’s ascent, it seems it is finally coming to rest to earth. With people wondering: why on earth did we ever put every single important and precious data in a box this easily broken, hacked and tampered with?

Seriously. Lets think about this. Was there some mass delusion and hysteria that hit people around 1973-2013, in which people simply didn’t notice that they were putting all their most precious data in some of the most leaky, untrustworthy and easily-wiped out technology on earth? What is it about American triumphantalist rhetoric that makes people ignore common sense?

Right around the time the World Trade Centers came down, George Dubya Bush went on record to boastfully say he was going to bomb Afganisthan “back to the Stone Age.” Now the more you think about it, the more the Stone Age appears a golden age of resilient humanity. All people needed to survive was, well, stones. They hunted with stone implements. They took only what they needed. They sat around the fire and told stories at night, and made some great art. They probably looked at the stars and the constellations and had some notions of divinity, and no doubt they followed rites and rituals which gave them a sense of calendrical regularity. They died at a good age, without having to face the senilities of old age or the horrors of modern allopathic pharmaceuticals.

Then along comes the Post-technological age, or the Digital Age. Now what do you get? You get one electricity blackout in New York City on a hot summer day and everything—I mean everything--closes down. Traffic lights, ATMS, fridges, TVs, radios, trains. The world stops functioning because technology failed and the lights went off. Doesn’t it seem the more “developed” humanity gets, the less resilient and less able to survive it becomes?

Then there’s the hypothetical scenario of one smart thirteen year old who decides to create a computer virus and let it loose on the world, and suddenly everything from Bill Gates to Wall Street will be shitting bricks. This is a hypothetical scenario, folks—but I would bet there’s quite a few teenagers out there who are on the cutting edge of creating “neat and cool” computer programs that can just do a whole lot of damage.

So here we sit, in the post-industrial age, looking at this giant mess we got ourselves into, wondering: WT...?

Well, lets get back to the Stone Age. Stone Age folks were using stone implements to dig out their yams. They got their yams and they ate it, without having to worry some college dropout would one day wipe out their storehouse of food by tampering with their genetic blueprints. Because now Mr. Gates is course on to the next cool thing--inserting viruses into perfectly healthy food plants. This process goes by the “awesome” moniker of “genetic modification,” and everyone’s keen to invest in it.

 At the heart of GM technology seems to be this interesting little process--inserting a virus into something perfectly healthy (BT cotton, anyone?) and screwing with it. Maybe somebody with some power and authority to stop unbrindled capitalism should scratch their heads right around now and say: Pray, Mr. Gates, why would you want to do that?

Just as we said “Awesome!” when Bill Gates started to market us a little old box that promised to do everything from computational calculations to photography, we also said “Awesome!” when he just sold us this notion of the genetically modified yam (delicately, his Foundation leaves out the “controversial” word GM in his address to his adoring followers in 2013). Apparently this yam is now curing hunger in Africa.

So that’s the next neat and cool invention embraced by the Great Mr. Gates—who not only owns a rather good chunk of Monsanto stock, but also seems to be out and about forcing this technology on the people of Africa, and no doubt sneakily in places like South Asia. The mainstream press presents these activities as those of an enlightened philanthropist who aims to wipe out world hunger.

Or perhaps just to market the next great invention onto a captive world? The Davos crowd of course have wasted no time painting Bill Gates as the Saint of Poverty Reduction. It seems they are less keen to examine where exactly this saintly humanitarian philanthropist may have more commercial motives at stake.

I was in a small little mountain town in the Kathmandu Valley for Maghay Sankranti—a calendrical festival that celebrates the shift of the stars. This festival has no doubt been celebrated since the Stone Age. What interested me was the thirteen different kinds of yams I saw being sold in the market. And then I heard these words from a standing bystander, and it sent a shiver down my back: “But the bikasay yam still has to ripen.” The bikasay (“developed”) yam? Anything with the term “bikasay” probably hides the horrors of new, unexamined technology that are being spread around the world with the speed of light and with the intent to enslave people to the grand old God of Profit. Introduce a virulent new GM yam to an unsuspecting mountain town in Nepal under the guise of “technical co-operation” or “support from the embassy,” and it could probably cause all of our thirteen different varieties of yam to become sterile and not propogate the next season.

Let me be upfront here—my blog post is not primarily about computers, or the frightening commercial greed of Bill Gates (or the stupidity of people who gave him that immense power to shape the world), but about what may be humanity’s even greater error than the blind embrace of digital technology thirty years in the past. Mainly, the power to screw with our food, which people with the apocalyptic power of unbrindled capitalism can now push on everyone.

With genetically modified seeds being seen as the next “frontier” of profit, and the free market ruling the world, humanity must do some quick thinking before we find all of our seeds have been wiped out by a few smart college dropouts. Mainly, humanity needs to learn that rich men are not always right, and that we should step in with the international judicial system to stop them before they destroy our food base.

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