One of these days i was arguing with my friend Marcio Shimabukuro about technology and money. Shimabukuro’s perspective was somewhat like this: we have to use currently surpassed technology because they want more money. Current selling products in Brazil are equivalent to products from 5 years ago in Japan (but this difference used to be 12 years), and the same goes for most other “First World” countries, and the reason for this lateness is that companies can make more money selling products that use an already old technology but still has a better profit margin than the newest thing. As an example, if you can make an walkman for 10$ and sell it at 189$ and you can make an iPod for 120$ and sell it at 220$, you will prefer to sell the walkman even if the iPod is better.
What i wanted to say to this was: this is a moral argument, even if in hiding.
It is not even actually very well hidden the moral judgement there, for “surpassed” technology is almost like saying “bad” technology, it’s a difference in degree not in kind. You prefer one over the other, and you definitively ought to. If you are not an idiot you do prefer. That is, pretty much, everything you need to make a judgement.
But lets say that, in order to be moral, you need to be reprehending someone. That is, you not only need to be saying “BAD”, but also “THIS guy is BAD”.
Lets consider MORAL an argument that both 1) stablishes a qualifying scale, a system that works as a preference axis, an opposition between a “good” and a “bad”; and 2) appoints blame, that is shows exactly who are the persons at the bad side of our scale.
And now the choice between the R$ (189-10) walkman and the R$ (220-120) iPod is much less clear.
Who is to blame for this? No one, it seems. Certainly not the people who are willing to pay $189 for a walkman when they could save those extra $30 and buy a product with a better technology. But not the salesman who is selling walkmans to a better profit either, for he just wants that little bit extra love (er… money), just like every one of us.
If we put it like this, now the fact that we in Brazil are sitll buying 5-years-late tech does not seem like a moral fact, but just a thing of life. For example, i wish it wasn’t raining right now, but is it bad that it rains? I would prefer not-rain, but is it enough for you to say that i am making a moral-claim when i say “i wish it wasn’t raining”? It’s just the way things are.
Both claims, nevertheless, point at a system that is not perfect. And also, they kind of say which way perfection lies: more technology, less rain. Now the second one, the complaining-about-the-rain, cannot be made perfect: life without rain would not be cool, the guy who wishes the rain to fall only when it is convenient for him is not really judging the current state of affairs, he is just wishfull thinking. He is going like “if I had a jet plane and a lightsaber and a golden chokobo and, and…”
Now the first claim points to a system that could be made perfect. It could be perfect but we lack the means to make it so. We also lack the means to make it not rain, but if we could make it not rain that would be lame. Now if we had the means to revert this bad distribution of technology that would be cool. Heck, these days it seems everyone thinks the iPod is the essence of cool. The world of rains at the wrong times is not perfect but it is not imperfect either, it just is. But the world of technology distribution should be more even. We should have up to date technology at our disposal in Brazil. We can’t and we wont and it isn’t that much of a problem after all and life goes on, but the good thing would be if we could.
If we have a system that is perfectible, that we could make perfect, but whose perfectibility is impossible, it is not an neutral issue any more. It is not like discussing whether or not it will rain. It is not like accepting the way things are. We are making an interpretation of the world. We are putting causes and effects there.
To make it clear, there are all sorts of other ways to explain the technology differences. We could talk about the difficulty of updating the factories that build the walkmans to build iPods, for example. Or we could talk about the penetration of technology in culture. Or we could talk about education. Or about risk, or almost anything else. This is almost by definition a system where there are so many variables that we can’t know which are “causes” and which are “effects”.
So, when you explain the problems of technology distribution through a simple (or simplistic) profit proposition, you are making a value judgement.
The world is not as it ought to be, and the reason for that is profit.
It seems very very clever to point at a difference in profit, to an conjectural bigger ease of diminishing the costs of an older technology, and then pointing at the inflexibility of prices, and just saying that “we understand”. But now not only we have an scale of preference, of “bad” against “good”, but we have a culprit also! We have someone to blame! Profit.
Speaking like that, it might seem that profit is impersonal enough to be, well, just another “force of nature”. But i don’t think it is the case.
Profit is a servant of Power, it is a part of everything else in life that we can’t control and we can’t choose and we can’t run away from. It is a part of everything in the world that makes us insensible and uncaring and afraid. It is a part of everything that has no Meaning.
Even if you can’t really point at a guy and tell say that he is to blame, this world-view passes moral judgement over what is right and what is wrong. Just like medieval church made everyone guilty without really telling them what was not-guilty, our profit-tainted world traps everyone into a moral world, where you can’t really be happy because you can’t really run against the tide and you can’t deny capitalism and you must consume but you can’t be consumerist.
I may not have anything else to offer. But this world-view is moralist, it really is, and if you are going to live by it at least see it for what it is.