BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
16th May 2001
The story this week of the thirteen-year-old boy placed on the sex offenders register for downloading and storing child pornography must have worried any parent of teenagers with internet access. Maybe our little darlings are upstairs in their bedroom, conscientiously researching their geography project. But, perhaps they are accessing web-sites with some other dreadful - even illegal - material.
While other internet entrepreneurs have seen their fortunes crash, Pornography Providers are, unfortunately, the success stories of the World Wide Web. But it is nothing new that amazing technological facilities should be so well exploited for such base interests. It seems to me that generally new technology serves military purposes first – for example, America’s Son-of-Star-Wars - then recreation - and then business, usually exploiting the leisure interests of entertainment sports, sex and gambling. The advancement of humankind, health and welfare, I think, comes a long way behind. It's no wonder that many folk find new technology suspect. For Hinduism, technology is neither good nor bad. It is a neutral tool and how well it serves society depends on the use to which it is put.
There is a story about two men stranded by a river which they desperately needed to cross. However, one of them was blind and the other, lame. They concluded that neither of them could possibly negotiate the treacherous stepping stones and would probably be swept away by the current. So, they decided to co-operate. The lame man climbed on to the back of his partner and together they crossed the river. This is the fruitful combination of resources and vision. We need both the ability to do things and the clear understanding of what to do.
As a society, we are eager to invest in the development of new technologies, but each discovery raises profound questions. How do we use our new powers? What are the acceptable boundaries of cloning; the use of embryos; genetically modifying our food; storing information on the public; building greater arsenals that our rivals? These are not questions for the scientists who create the technology, or for the businesses that sell it. They are questions for us all.
Surely, along with our investment in scientific development, we need to invest a concomitant amount of time, energy and money into devising a coherent moral framework to maximise the benefits of our discoveries. As the Isa Upanishad says:- "a society that cultivates science and spiritual knowledge side by side enjoys the greatest progress and happiness." With all our material resources and technologies, we are certainly not lame. And with our abundance of intelligence and wisdom traditions, there is no reason why we should be blind.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.