Question of the Week #337

Had you lived in 1900 and known that cars would cause 20 million deaths in the next century, would you have wanted to halt their development? What present technologies do you think are too dangerous to develop, given that each year cars kill 500,000 people and cigarettes take 5 million?

Clearly a follow-up to last week’s question

So it’s 1900 and there’s this amazing new invention. A new mode of transportation that allows us to travel from one place to another without the need for a horse to pull a buggy? Sounds great! Why do I have this information that this automobile will be the cause of 20 million deaths over the next 100 years?

If I try to halt the development of this amazing new form of travel because I believe it will cause millions to die in the next century, I’ll be labeled a mad man. The thing about technology is that it can’t simply be halted. I’m sure it can be delayed by the right people in certain positions of leadership or influence. But eventually the genie will get out of the bottle.

Besides, what it really comes down to is money. If there’s a way for someone to make a buck, human lives be damned. Why do you think the tobacco industry continues to thrive even today? For decades they managed to suppress the information that cigarettes were harmful to a person’s health because they were able to continually pay off medical professionals and politicians. I mean, look back at the 1960s and you had doctors endorsing certain brands in television commercials. But even today, when it feels like the information that cigarettes are literally poisoning our bodies is innate knowledge that we are somehow born with, new people take up smoking every single day.

Capitalism may be a successful economic system, but the human capacity for greed knows no bounds and will cross any moral or ethical line if it means a little extra capital can line a CEO’s pockets.

*The Question of the Week can be found in The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

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