RFIDs, Human Trafficking and The Limits of Technology
“Berlin! The very name like two sharp bells of glory. Capital of science, seat of the Führer, nursery to Einstein, Staudinger, Bayer. Somewhere in these streets, plastic was invented, X-rays were discovered, continental drift was identified. What marvels does science cultivate here now? Superman soldiers, Dr. Hauptmann says, and weather-making machines and missiles that can be steered by men a thousand miles away.” All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
A tiny Radio Frequency Identification tag pairs with a Global Positioning System tracker all in a package about the size of a grain of rice. Inject it just below the skin of your expensive Black Lab, a three-thousand-dollar investment with vet fees. If your dog runs off and gets lost or is dognapped for sale in another state, with your cellphone application or the police, you can find her and bring her home safely. Not cheap, but worth it. You love that mutt.
Much has been learned through RFID GPS tracking to manage wildlife populations, even endangered wildlife, to help them thrive or to survive with little damage done during the insertion of the miniature device. Migration habits, size of territories and travel within territories, familial and group/herd relationships, feeding patterns, mating and other behaviors can be tracked, analyzed in computers and used to plan to help or hinder a species depending upon the habitat management objectives.
All good, right? What could go wrong? There are RFID/GPS trackers inserted into razor sharp arrows, so bow hunters can more easily track deer shot through only one lung from a tree stand; deer pierced like that can run a long way in terror and pain before lying down to bleed out. And worse. A lot worse.
“Human progress, though it is a great blessing for man, brings with it a great temptation. When the scale of values is disturbed and evil becomes mixed with good, individuals and groups consider only their own interests, not those of others. “Gaudium et spes,” (“Joy and Hope”), Vatican II documents.
A young emergency room resident in Boston heard a twenty-year-old patient tell him confidentially that she had a RFID/ [i] GPS tag inserted in her thigh against her will. At first the ER staff was incredulous and were making eye contact as though they had someone on their hands akin to a crazy claiming they had been injected with mutant genes during an alien abduction, but within a few minutes they realized that a prosaic local source of evil was at work. Like the branding of indentured Irish servant/slaves and the hobbling of runaway African slaves, more advanced technology had been introduced into the human trafficking industry.
The sex trade bosses have enhanced their surveillance and control capability; these devices have been used in the United States, injected into workers in industry and domestic service as well.[ii] The majority of the prey so subjected are native born Americans; it is not the exclusive province of exploited undocumented immigrants. Subdued in the domain of enslavement, the subjects are those with the fewest options. After they are tagged, their options further diminish.
“The process of going mad is dull, for the simple reason that it is going on. Routine and literalism and a certain dry-throated earnestness and mental thirst, these are the very atmosphere of morbidity… This slow and awful self-hypnotism of error is a process that can occur not only with individuals, but also with whole societies. It is hard to pick out and prove; that is why it is hard to cure.” From A Miscellany of Men, G.K. Chesterton, 1912
This is hardly a new phenomenon – evil uses of science and technology. Zyklon nerve gas to lower the cost per person of killing “undesirable” human beings in the showers of Auschwitz comes to mind. Or perhaps Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood and eugenics nexus, where she advocated deceitful or even forced sterilization of “undesirable” breeders to bring about a more perfect human race.[iii] I could tell you of a co-worker, who suffered such a fate, but that is a tale for another time.
More recently, we see the alarming hastening of the demise of organ donors, especially for those “undesirables” with mental illness or long term illnesses who have expressed an interest in such a hastening. Already happening in the euthanasia friendly climes of Belgium and the Netherlands. Why wait for lethal injection to take effect? Anesthetize the patient, wheel them into the operating room and yank out the most desirable or profitable parts.[iv]
If we don’t understand how we arrived at this ethics of utility, where things are loved and people are used, there are some gaps to fill in. For a couple of thousand years of what is loosely described as Western Civilization we held that ‘reason’ or ‘wisdom’ encompassed science. Science was part of, but far from all of what was considered to be true. Truth and reason were humankind’s efforts to understand the reality of things, and that search involved other and greater aspects of truth than merely empirical observation, hypothesis and experiment. Like a sort of collective macular degeneration, our vision first occluded at the center then faded into an increasing myopia. Metaphysics, art, poetry, religion and philosophy were slowly blinkered as sources of truth.
This will require a part two – how we devolved from a more human wisdom to a new ethos, and how we grotesquely distorted science into a new faith, ‘Scientism.”
“Parts are not to be examined until the whole has been surveyed.” Samuel Johnson
[iii] Maggie, Part Two. Quo Vadis Blog, June 2, 2013
[iv] Euthanasia by Organ Harvesting, Dr. Wesley Smith, First Things, March 31,2016
3 responses to “Science and the Religion of Scientism, Part One”
Hmm. At this point your premise seems to be more about pure ethics than with the ethics of science or scientism. No doubt part two will settle that, but in the meantime…
On RFID chips: Recent articles report an increase in the voluntary insertion of RFID chips by those who find it easier than keeping up with entry badges or credentials. These reports are (so far) from European countries, but it’s only a matter of time here I’d imagine. Truly alarming! And let’s not even get into the amount of information people freely provide on social media about their habits and whereabouts.
On evil uses of technology: Yes, it always happens. Humans (as a species) cannot seem to get beyond their intrinsic need to push everything to its limit, even at the expense of lives. If we consider fire technology then it started way back way back when. And I wonder how long after the invention of the wheel the first pedestrian death was recorded?!
On scientism: An admitted science supporter and practicing skeptic, I am also a humanist. From my perspective science is one of several tools by which we might better understand the world, the universe, and our place within the “structure.” Should we look to science for all of the answers to all of the questions? Probably not, especially since it is a tool wielded by mankind. But our answers should be evidence-based and to that end science appears to be our best bet. Applied sciences have brought us all manner of innovations and tech. In aggregate we are better off. The humanist in me would prefer that we carefully, and to what extent we are able, evaluate the effects of new tech on humanity and always, always, err on the side of morality and human life. The pragmatist in me is pessimistic.
Great topic – Looking forward to part two!
You are right about the ethics aspect. Hopefully, we’ll be able to clarify how ethics and scientism interact the next time, and that there is a point somewhere in this pile I’ve made.
And of course you are right on the human propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with any new technology. I wonder how long to took for human beings to first observe the potential good of fire, warm up the cave, accidentally discover that steak was a lot better seared with a good bed of coals, then rapidly transit to burning out, terrifying and torturing our enemies?
As to your well established skepticism, I only ask that you apply that skepticism to the faith of scientism as well, that maybe, just maybe, we have ridden the pendulum way past the prudent midpoint. Your humanism and thoughtful kindness commend you to the discussion as always, but I also ask you to examine at the foundation of that humanism. From whence did it come?
We can take this up again on the other side of Part Two, so I don’t exhaust my paltry store of ideas.
Jack: Email me: email@example.com. Thanks.