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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession IV: The control of space and power
close this folderToward a clearer definition of the role of science and technology in transformation
close this folderOsama A. El-Kholy
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. A view of the problem from within
View the documentII. The view from without
View the documentIII. Toward a clearer definition of the role of science and technology in transformation
View the documentAppendix I.
View the documentAppendix II.
View the documentAppendix III.
View the documentNotes

I. A view of the problem from within

When used to indicate underdeveloped countries with low per capita income and industrial development growth rates as compared to western industrialized countries, the expression "Third World" should not imply that this state of underdevelopment has been reached independently of events in the other "worlds." These are components of the same system and such problems cannot be discussed in isolation from the nature of current problems and developments in other parts of the world.

Despite increased world-wide awareness that the majority of the population of the Third World has reached a state of underdevelopment that renders it impossible to provide for their basic needs to any acceptable extent, no recognized solution or course of action has yet emerged. The bankruptcy of the policy of "importing" development goals, theories, and strategies has been proved, both theoretically and from bitter experience in the last three decades. Although it is now recognized that the problem encompasses the whole complex of the socio-economic - rather than the purely economic - system, our knowledge of the operation and mechanisms of such complex systems is still inadequate.

There is a need for persistent intellectual effort originating from within and leading to a specification of objectives and strategies, as well as for the choice of alternatives. Such an effort should be based on recognizing the specificity of conditions in the Third World as a whole, and within each country, and on emphasizing cooperation between Third World countries, all of this performed within an international framework of the problem.4

In the final analysis, dialogues between "North" and "South," though important and necessary, cannot in themselves lead to solving the world's problems. The crucial factor here is the ability to achieve socio-political systems that would enhance the efficiency of resource utilization. Only effective forms of such systems could provide the driving force needed to start and sustain the changes required to overcome underdevelopment on the national, regional, and international levels. Intellectual effort plays a leading role in reaching such forms of socio-political organization and is the only guarantee of the rationality of national and regional decisions.

If our world - under the impact of the revolution in communication has become very small indeed, this should not mean the obliteration of civilizations incapable of asserting themselves under the present circumstances. On the contrary, this should lead to their liberation and to the creation of a suitable climate in which they could provide humanity with the full richness of their heritage of thought, art, and values. The solution we are seeking for world problems is a solution for the whole of humanity. Thus it can only originate in the experience and heritage of all civilizations and countries. This is no call for chauvinism, nor does it mean that theories "originating from reality" are a rejection of all that is positive in another civilization, or system. Rather, it is realizing that neglecting other civilizations - past or contemporary - or failing to analyse them deeply so as to reveal the positive elements in them, will only lead to more global problems and more underdevelopment and subordination. One of the most important positive elements in western civilization is the development of science and technology and the very close links that have been forged between them, while one of its most serious negative impacts has been the obliteration of other civilizations. I single out two points in this respect.

Cultural Identity and Life Styles

The "Interfutures" report of OECD recalls that Arnold Toynbee repeatedly draws attention to the unjust consequences of the current international division of labour brought about by colonialism and to the fact that the basic negative effect of the spread of western civilization over the last two centuries has been distortion and change in the nature of other societies. This was not the result of military-economic might based on science and technology, so much as the influence of values. Garaudy wonders about the way in which we may build a history that is not monopolized by one civilization and considers this as the only salvation for humanity. The fact is that submission to the pattern of western civilization leads directly to serious consequences, such as an alien elaboration of social goals. The role of S e T will become mainly the responsibility of those who decide for us our patterns of thinking and consumption and - to a very large extent, through inevitable subordination - our socio-economic structures.

On the other hand, the independent view of the future and the search for the positive elements in our cultural heritage raise methodological and philosophical issues concerning our ability to view matters independently. Dr. Awn el-Sherif, a Sudanese politician and thinker, puts the matter succinctly by pointing out that those who brought us the tools of the new civilization did not give us the chance to suffer the bitterness of change nor to effect within our beings and minds the necessary changes conforming with the new phase we moved into, so that what is within us would harmonize with what is happening without. Formal progress on the level of material needs for society was the means for entrenching the destructive dichotomy in the life of the individual and of society, since it concerns itself with the outer appearance of the progress of society and not with its content.6

Through naive acceptance of the superiority of the western cultural model, we have tacitly adopted three basic assumptions:

- that this development pattern is desirable in itself and is suitable for our society, now and in the future.

- that its realization is possible to achieve nowadays as it has been possible to achieve in the past.

- that our own experience, so far, in following this path is encouraging.

The simple fact is that none of these assumptions is true, theoretically or empirically:

- Dissatisfaction with this model is now widespread within the industrialized societies themselves. The signs of its disruption and breakdown, materially and spiritually, are now recognized by those who have adopted it.

- This pattern was based on a level of reckless squandering of resources and disruption of the environment, which is neither possible, nor nowadays acceptable.

- Our experience, so far, is that adoption of this pattern has widened the gap between rich and poor, heightened social tensions, and led to more dependence on and subordination to the developed world, with grave political consequences that threaten world peace.

The nature of scientific-technological activity and the role assigned to science and technology are predetermined by the development pattern and life style we choose. Adopting the western model means that national effort will be restricted to importing foreign technology with its ready-made solutions developed by a far superior technological potential for the satisfaction of the social demand of goods and services that form the material basis of this life style. National S & T effort will be geared to the needs of the elite, and it stands no chance of competing with the developed world in this race. At best, our scientists and technologists will be called upon to participate in some adaptive effort or, in the extreme, to imitate the production techniques that provide these goods. There is only one viable option open to them, viz., to become integrated within the framework of a transnational corporation, at the latter's terms.

Should we, however, decide to search for alternative life styles, S & T's function will fundamentally change and its role will be to provide the technology needed to bring about the alternative styles we may choose, since none of these is available today in the developed world nor are such styles likely to interest the developed world commercially.

Rather than allow contemporary S e T as practiced outside our societies to dictate our socio-political systems and alienate us from our cultural roots, rather than let "progress" be an outside force beyond our control, we seek an order within which alienation disappears, or, at least, decreases, and within which man becomes the master of 5 & T in our societies, directing them rationally toward harmony and equilibrium with environment and resources, satisfaction of essential needs, justice, and liberation of man's faculties on the basis of the positive elements in our cultural heritage and not the dictates of profit maximization that currently prevail in international relations. This is the essence of self-reliance, reliance on liberated creativity and sound traditions. We could then speak of technology exchange as practiced nowadays between the developed countries, rather than unidirectional transfer from the centre to the periphery.

Technological self-reliance has been characterized as the autonomous capacity to:

- formulate policies and draft and implement national plans (ordering national priorities - mobilizing resources - achieving consensus and conviction).

- make appropriate technological choices (exercise well-informed social control over technology).

- change and adapt imported technology (on the basis of systematic analysis of national as well as foreign experiences).

- exploit imported technology effectively (as judged by socio-economic criteria).

- innovate and deal effectively - whether as buyer or seller - in the world technology market to the economic advantage of the country itself.

- maintain a national cultural identity while dealing with the outside world.

Freedom and Democracy

If we agree that an Independent point of view and creative ability are necessary departure points for original patterns of development, then the issue of freedom of thought and of research and development has to be faced squarely and analysed in depth.

We are not seeking the return to a glory that has vanished. Such romantic ideas, usually tinged with sanctification of the past, make our societies museums of culture and lead to extremist and reactionary concepts that ignore the weaknesses and defects that led to the passing away of these golden ages. Creative thinking that is serious, profound, and of a high standard can only thrive in an atmosphere of freedom that encourages exploring the unknown and generating the new which may be a challenge to prevailing values and traditions.

We cannot help admitting here that the prevailing intellectual climate is not conducive to the liberation and free interaction of creative thinking.9 Development that is not a copy of another model, nor a slave to it, is bound to be the conscious effort of an educated and well-informed society, enjoying freedom of thought and expression, unfettered by pseudo-religious obscurantism and intellectual bigotry.

It is interesting to note here that such obscurantism and bigotry are usually veiled by the promotion throughout society of a view of science as a deterministic discovery of ultimate and immutable truths and not as an endeavour to understand better the world we live in. This "magical" view of science, in a stagnant autocratic society, leads to intellectual oppression and manipulation of public opinion. The label "scientific" is used as the means for validating the views and values of the power groups in society. It becomes the justification for suppressing the opinions and views of the "layman" and the "extremist," which are, by definition, "unscientific." Consequently, they are barred from discussion and involvement in the decision-making process. Let it be stated clearly here that what is at stake now is freedom for the whole of society to participate in the decision-making process and not simply a legal or formal definition of the rights of man, commendable and desirable as these may be.

Coupled with this, we meet an adulation and blind faith in technology's achievements, which are presented as great victories of the human mind and man's endeavour to master nature. This masks the hidden forces that have motivated such developments and the physical and social problems and disruption they bring about, and presents technology as a disinterested and disembodied activity worthy of admiration. It renders acquisition of the products of modern technology synonymous with progress. Even in the field of armaments, technology is depicted in euphemistic language and breath-taking glamour that hide the ugly face of death and destruction it brings with it.

Thus, integration of social and physical sciences with technology becomes an urgent need. Technological activity has to be viewed as, essentially, social action involving the whole of society. The issue of scientific freedom now becomes particularly crucial for the social sciences, since they often clash with vested interests in society.