The Axemaker’s Gift

From the 318th page of Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, the disturbing truth that solutions cause problems of their own:

At the same time, It does not take much thought to realize that the main threats to our survival as a species, the very problems we hope creativity will solve, were brought about by yesterday’s creative solutions. Overpopulation, which in many ways is the core problem of the future, is the result of ingenious improvements in farming and public health. The loss of community and increasing psychological isolation are in part due to the enormous advances in mobility, brought about by the discovery of self-propelling vehicles such as trains and cars. The loss of transcendent values is the result of the success of science at debunking beliefs that cannot be tested empirically. And so on, ad infinitum. This is the reason, for instance, that Robert Ornstein calls human inventions “the axemaker’s gift,” referring to what happens when a steel axe is first introduced to a preliterate tribe that knows no metals: It leads to easier killing, and it shreds the existing fabric of social relations and cultural values. In a sense, every new invention is an axemaker’s gift: The way of life is never the same after the new meme takes hold.

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