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April 28, 1998

Editorial

The Abba-Dingo Reaction Versus the Instrumentality:
Religion and Spirituality in Age of Science and Technology

The Abba-Dingo Reaction is the polar opposite of the Instrumentality. So what is the Abba-Dingo Reaction? The Abba-Dingo Reaction is an onslaught of inexplicable irrational behaviors breaking into the House of the Instrumentality. It's as if Abba, our Father God, has suddenly gone haywire and has become a Wild-dog God, a Dingo god manifesting in peculiar outbreaks of deadly violence, fanaticism, and destructive behaviors of all sorts. The Dingo god is growing stronger; pretty soon maybe his strength will be more than equal to and opposite to the strength of the Instrumentality. Are there any signs that an Abba-Dingo Reaction is afoot? You betcha! Plenty in my judgement. Here's a very short list off the top of my head: David Koresh and his wackos from Waco; the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York; the bombing of the Lockerby flight; FBI vs. "patriots" in Texas and Montana; Postal workers "going postal"; the Jonesboro elementary school shooting and similar incidents; rampant drug addiction; a rise in the frequency of UFO phenomena; a growth in hate group -- Neo-Nazis; the Ayatollahs proclaiming the US is the Great Satan, Saddam Hussain gassing Kurds, Hutus killing Tutis, genocide in former Yugoslavia; you name it.

But don't take my metaphor of an Abba-Dingo god too literally; do I believe the Papa god has gone crazy? No, He has always been crazy or has always had a propensity to go ballistic. Remember The Deluge? Though I don't put much stock in the Papa god, I do believe in the ancient idea of polarities, namely that all excessive behavior -- e.g., idolizing calculative rationality -- breeds its opposite, its nemesis. A civilization that lives by the dissecting knife of calculative thinking alone will die by the sword of irrationality. Hey, we damn near did it on several occasions in recent nuclear times.

So what is the Instrumentality? The Instrumentality is the laws, techniques, and methodology of calculative thinking (AKA Science) harnessed to any complex of standardized means for attaining a predetermined result (AKA Technology). Together they constitute the wonderful appliances of the Sciences that hold imperial sway over the lives of rich and poor alike, converting, more and more, spontaneous and unreflective behavior into behavior that is rationalized in the extreme. Technical man is driven by the need to find "the one best way" to achieve an objective that will insure the maximum return on his dollar. The imperial rule of instrumental civilization commits us to the quest for continually improved means of doing business and blindly and carelessly leaves ends unexamined. In refusing to think in ways other than calculative ways, instrumental man brutally ignores the cost to individuals, to society, and to the environment.

Benjamin Barber characterizes the polarity of irrationality vs. rationality in the title of his 1995 book: Jihad vs. McWorld. My esteemed colleague, Konrad Kressley, in the last issue of The Harbinger summarized Barber's thesis. In this view, McWorld represents the rational pole and Jihad the irrational pole: McWorld, "a globally-oriented corporate culture with a sense of mastery and control" [I'd called it a Will to Power], is sustained by "Its optimism and growing affluence" and "an ever-expanding scientific and technological base. All problems . . . have technical solutions." Whereas the Jihad pole, "on the other hand, represents those who've been left out and are bewildered and frustrated by the control that the 'wired' people are exercising over them." Barber, however, is a bit too neat and tidy in making Information-Age Technology the only big bad bug-eyed monster.

Information-Age High Technology is, rather, the tip of the growing bud, pushing its way up through the soil of older technologies. McWorld -- epitomized by Bill Gates -- is, in other words, a new shoot on a huge Kudzu-like plant that's now sending out its electronic tendrils into all things human. There is no escape -- or soon there won't be should the marriage of science with technology achieve total domination in cybernetic hegemony -- who knows Artificial Intelligence, when it really exfoliates into all areas of human life, may reduce us all to pets of the Computer God. But, as bad as it is, I'll put my money on the likelihood that the Abba-Dingo Reaction will, at the very least, put a crimp in man's hubristic Will to Ultimate Power through Science and Hi-Tek. In other words, the wild-dog God may be in process of providing an irrational, wild, chaotic, destructive escape from the extreme rationality of McWorld. This god, who has much in common with the Old Testament Yahweh -- if we can believe Bible stories -- hates reductive idolatries of all kinds and is not above wiping out the families of man when humans choose to disclose things too narrowly, too constrictively for the Abba-Dingo's taste.

I agree that it's hard to see that McWorld has a down side, but it's not hard to see that the Instrumentality, in some of its other incorporations, has a down side if we care to see it. I read in Mobile's daily this morning (April 23) that we are virtually swimming in a cesspool of animal manure -- two trillion, 730 million pounds of it every year produced by huge feed lots, poultry barns and hog-farm factories, using the wonderful appliances of the sciences to maximize production. McAgribusiness is on the march and it's producing vast quantities of lethal fecal matter and other toxic substances which it spreads raw across farm lands, allowing it to leach into ground water and run off into rivers and streams, and into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. (Mobile Register, 4/23/1998) On the one hand, extreme rational calculative technique leads to miracles of production, but on other hand, for some crazy reason animal waste is not required by law to be sanitized whereas human waste, produced in far less quantities, is. The Abba-Dingo lurks in the very heart of the Instrumentality. We may drown ourselves in animal manure. Poetic justice perhaps.

Moreover, the Instrumentality's Will to Power is evident in all of its incorporations. They get bigger and bigger. Are you aware that "four firms now control over 80 percent of the beef market" and that "over the past 15 years, the number of hog farms has fallen from 600,000 to 157,000, although about the same number of hogs are being produced." (Mobile Register, Ibid.) Well, if you can't send your kids to college to learn how to use a computer maybe you can send them to a hog farm to hose down the manure. Isn't it just a trifle crazy to stand by and let family farms be gobbled up by multinational Agribusiness so that more and more people become, if they're lucky, the serfs of these corporations?

Believe it or not members of The Harbinger's are not Luddites. We believe we are publishing one of the most optimistic and caring newspapers you will find anywhere. The Harbinger tirelessly sponsors symposiums hoping to educate the public about things that are vital to its present and future. At the latest symposium, "Healing and the Spoken/Written Word," Dr. Charles B. Rodning gave a talk in which he did his level best to depict humans as something much more than just desiring/consuming beings. That is, he sees humankind pretty much the way humanistic traditions of Western Civilization have seen humankind, namely as being "harmoniously created in the image of the Divine, reaching to touch perfection." Dr. Rodning, however, fails to appreciate the fact that McMedicine in tandem with McHMO have, in their instrumental view of things, a far less noble view of humankind.

I enjoyed listening to Dr. Rodning's fine talk, but it seems to me that though he recognizes that a "compleat physician" works to overcome vicious bifurcations between body and mind, he nonetheless has no understanding of the hegemonic power of the Instrumentality of science and technology in its many incorporations. Just how much freedom do physicians have within McMedicine dominated by McHMO. He and his fellow physicians may not be hamstrung completely but as yet I don't see much evidence to the contrary. They are stuck within that mode of disclosure and Dr. Rodning understates how thorough the straitjacket is when he says "the ideational environment of contemporary physicians has been substantially influenced by the sciences." In the printed version of his talk [this issue of The Harbinger], he says, "humanitas . . . connotes a system of nurture, education, development, and maturation employing reason and rationality for the benefit of mankind." Obviously, even though Dr. Rodning knows that there's a lot more to human beings than their minds, he nonetheless makes reason and rationality a premier function, "a methodology," and "a system." This is more of the same bifurcation Dr. Rodning would overcome; it sees physicians as rational subjects, functioning like majestic machines to control diseases and other unruly aspects of nature for the benefit of mankind. Just a tad hubristic, I'd say. But that's one of the besetting sins of the Doctor trade.

It is really no wonder that more and more people are turning toward homeopathy and new age therapies and it's really no wonder that dissatisfaction with the instrumental paradigm is driving some physicians to borrow heavily from less "rational" approaches to disease. The McHMO marriage with McMedicine is a huge fly in the ointment of holistic care that physicians more and more feel they need to supply, but apparently Dr. Rodning believes it's possible to function humanistically within that system of production that sees humans as costly consumers of medicine and medical techniques. I don't think so. Holistic approaches to patients are wonderful and necessary but they're not cost effective.

At one point in his article, Dr. Rodning quotes Nietszche: "If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how." Nietszche hits the nail on the head, but he was one of the first to point out just how difficult it is to have "our own why." The difficulty if anything has increased with the ascendancy of the how, with the ascendancy of the Instrumentality. And so we can expect more and more nasty visitations of the Abba-Dingo. As Robert Burns said, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men,/ Gang aft agley."

-- Tom Brennan


Life Forms by Dan Silver

Read more comics in the Life Forms Archive!


Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

This is to inform you and your readers that there is now in Mobile a chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Bob Beckerle and I, along with several others, have organized the local chapter and we want to invite your readers and you to join us at our next meeting on 28 April at 6:30 in the Library of the Ahavas Chesed Synagogue, 705 Regents Way.

Americans United was begun in 1947 by a group of religious, fraternal, educational and business leaders in response to increasing threats against religious liberty. They formed the nationwide organization out of a concern that respect for the principle of separation of church and state was declining in America. The purpose of Americans United is to educate and advocate on behalf of that principle.

There is a very strong radical Religious Right here in Mobile as elsewhere in this nation, and those of us who believe that church-state separation is crucial to preservation of freedom of conscience have joined together to stand in opposition of government-mandated religious exercises and prayer in public schools, use of public tax dollars for private religious institutions and unconstitutional practices that promote religion at public expense.

We hope that you and your readers will join us on the 28th.

Yours Truly
Vivian S. Beckerle


Dear Editor,

A new drugged-driving law was passed by the Iowa House on March 31 by a vote of 96-3 and by the Iowa Senate on April 6 by a vote of 44-2. The legislators must have congratulated themselves with a stiff drink as a reward for their hard work. Perhaps they even had a stiff drink before voting on this bill, as there was almost no debate in the House and none in the Senate.

Actually, this bill is much more than a drugged-driving bill. It doubles the current penalties for second offense possession of illegal substances, and multiplies them by a factor of four for third and subsequent offenses. That means that people who now face a six month jail term in Iowa for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana will now face up to two years in prison for third and subsequent offenses.

Are the tax payers ready to pay the bill? No one asked them. The legislators just assumed that Iowa taxpayers would be happy to pay any expense to win the war on drugs. The war on drug users has replaced the cold war as a favorite pastime.

Iowa Governor Branstad will undoubtedly sign this monster into law this week. However, before he has the chance to turn Iowa into a police state, the American public should at least be aware of what this law contains. This new law allows a police officer to stop any driver and ask for a urine sample, as long as the police officer has a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is operating under the influence of an illegal substance. So much for the Fourth Amendment.

The new law also allows metabolites of controlled substances to be used as evidence of impairment. Since metabolites of marijuana remain in the body for up to 30 days after use, this new law will, for the first time in the history of the United States, allow metabolites of marijuana to be used as evidence of a crime.

I don't know how many people smoke marijuana, but the government estimates that between 10 and 20 million Americans use it at least once each month. That means that at least one out of every 20 drivers is going to test positive for metabolites of marijuana at any given time. That could get extremely expensive, as all these people get drunken-driving convictions and end up being sent to Iowa prisons. Iowa is already facing a critical shortage of prison space.

Are the Iowa taxpayers ready to pay the bill? They better get ready, because Governor Branstad is going to stick it to them, and then he's going to take a stiff drink to celebrate. He's not running for re-election, so he won't have to stick around and clean up the mess.

The text of this bill can be found at: http://www.legis.state.ia.us/GA/77GA/Legislation/SF/02300/SF02391/Current.html

Sincerely,
Carl E. Olsen
Des Moines, Iowa
515-262-6957


Dear Editor,

The Campus Crusade for Christ organization recently sent a Jesus video to every mailing address in the state of Alabama. The cost of production and mailing for this project -- 5.5 million dollars.

There is no valid historical evidence that such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed. Accounts of his career and times were written many years after the supposed events took place. We do not know the true authors of the four Gospels and other books in the Old and New Testament.

The laws of nature cannot be contravened, it is impossible for the dead to return to life. So we know the story of the Resurrection is fiction. The Jesus video is a life story of the world's most popular fictional character.

All rational people know that we live and die in a natural environment. The idea that there is a supernatural realm is just that -- an idea with no basis of fact. Nature is in control and there is nothing constant or permanent in nature.

We must learn to adapt and accommodate nature if humanity is to survive. No god will provide a safe passage for us and prayers to one are an exercise in futility.

The most troubling aspect of mailing these unrequested videos is the cost, 5.5 million dollars. Everyday we pass homeless people in the street, read about drug addicts and AIDS victims. The funds would have been better spent for social programs instead of attempting to pass off fiction as fact.

Jesse Bailey
Birmingham, AL


The Harbinger, Mobile, AL