Monday 29 March 2021

Poem: The Answer to the Riddle of Needs

by Chengde Chen*

People have always believed that
it is a human need to develop technology
But this is a confusion of two kinds of needs –
needs for survival and needs of a value system
The former comes from nature
while the latter is created by man
If we choose a different value system
we would ‘need’ different things

Developing technology was originally a need to survive
From drilling wood for fire, to farming and weaving
man had to claim his fill, warmth and security from nature
In the great struggle for survival
we formed a utilitarian value system –
pursuing wealth and encouraging competition
with the market and technology as its two engines
This system drove the economy successfully
and then the economy meant survival

It is because this system has been successful
that it has become the soul guiding our thinking
What else do we need after meeting the needs for survival?
No one knows, as the answer is what to be created
The utilitarian values, however, are the creators –
Technology tells us what we ‘can’ need
The market tells us what we ‘do’ need

Originally we did not need the car
but since the car was invented and on the market
we came to need it, and need it so much
that we would feel imprisoned without it
Originally we did not need the television
but since the television was invented and on the market
we came to need it, and need it so much
that we would feel our day incomplete without it
Modern society is a technology-addicted society
Technology for us is like spirits or nicotine for the addicts
It creates the blood and nerves that need it, as well as
the greed for consumption and the desire for competition

Do we need air travel?
Do we need flying at the speed of a bullet?
Why is travelling to a remote and strange continent
more enjoyable than meeting neighbours or friends nearby?
Do we need to go to the Moon?
Do we need to be a hero to destroy its beautiful fairy-tales?
Why is a lunar crater dead for a million years more interesting
than the green hills and flowing rivers of our homeland?
Do we need all those life prolonging medicines,
or to live in the electric current of a life-support machine?
Why is letting a withered leaf struggle on a winter’s branch
more moral or prudent than allowing it to go naturally?

We do not really ‘need’ them, but we think we do!
It is because of nothing but competition
We believe that we need to do what others can
as well as what others cannot
If you can fly into space, I must touch the Moon
If you have reached Venus first, I must land on Mars first
regardless of millions of hungry children crying on Earth!

It is believed that life needs competition
In fact, it is competition that makes competition a need
The strong swagger around, the weak refuse to be outdone
Those in the middle have to struggle against both ends
Every one compels others to be opponents
Every nation forces other nations to be arrivals
Oh, is this all necessary?
Once escaping from the net of utilitarianism
you will find the world war an uncalled-for game
As an old Chinese saying reads:
‘If no side wants to win a war, they win the peace together!’

Many of our needs are in fact not ‘our’ needs
but the needs of our values
The answer to the riddle of needs lies in our value system
Utilitarianism is only one of the possible systems
It championed civilization before, but isn’t an eternal law
nor is it the unique basis settled by Heaven and Earth
If the risk of self-destruction means a new need for survival
mankind has to choose a new system!

* Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today, Open Gate Press, London.

1 comment:

Keith said...

I see human beings as a tool-making species. Tool-making being, I would argue, among our most instinctual, natural drives. Technology, whose pace of invention over the millennia has (irreversibly) accelerated, is the manifestation of that drive. My view is that’s a good thing: with apologies to Thomas Hobbes for my unimaginatively repurposing his phrase from a very different context, technology makes life less ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. (If AI robotics can operate on me more exactly than can a surgeon’s scalpel-wielding hands, I say go for it.) I don’t see humans’ tool-making instinct going away anytime soon, with our retreating to chipping stone around campfires in caves; entirely the opposite, in fact.

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