The Ethics Of Innovation

I grew up in Detroit, but I’ve got no love for American automakers. I think bailing them out is a waste of money. I want them to die and for Detroit to move on and find an industry who treats them better. Like Eminem, for example.

Why do I hate them? Because they don’t innovate.

What’s wrong with that? Well, when your products spew megatons of pollutants into the air and you not only don’t try to solve the problem, you actively sabotage potential solutions, you’re, um, evil. You’re selling planetary cigarettes.

Then we get into the usual debates about the nature of evil, yada, yada, yada, and the next thing you know, we’re talking about the RIAA. Evil. Why? Like the automakers, they block innovation to maintain the status quo, even when it is obviously profitable to purse another course. (And, no, it’s not stealing, for God’s sake.)

And, no, there’s no difference really. True, automakers may be driving us off a global-warming cliff in our SUVs, while the RIAA just keeps suing broke college kids, but it’s just a question of degree. So to speak. Either way, you’re getting in the way of people trying to make the world a better and cooler place. So to speak. (Sorry, I can’t seem to stop.)

Civilization itself is based on the premise of innovation and progress. Was there a hunter-gatherer coalition burning down crops at the dawn of agriculture? Probably. Later, they would form the basis of our present day NRA and sell homemade deer jerky at farmers’ markets.

Life itself is about innovation. Darwin knew this, but carefully kept his theory of evolution a secret for two decades to keep the Bible thumpers from freaking out. To this day, they haven’t stopped freaking out or trying to block innovation.

Is progress always good? Well, sort of by definition, yeah. And even when it appears to be bad, the truth is, “progress” is no better or worse than we, the people, are. Cynics will always view progress as bad for this reason. But that’s not an ethical issue, that’s just a question of taking the right meds. Yes, you. Stop yelling at your TV. They can’t hear you.

Cynics also hate capitalism and believe money is the root of all evil. But the saying is actually that the love of money is the root of all evil. Technology is a powerful thing. Pursued without any sense of responsibility for what we create, innovation can obviously become dangerous. But that is a choice we make. Just like whether to take our meds.

What is certain is the world is still a troubled place. Maybe a college kid jamming out to their favorite band in their dorm instead of staring longingly at the CD rack at the mall is the butterfly, and the hurricane is that the polar ice caps stop melting.