Never Trust A Hippie!

Jaen Santa Catalina

Jaen, from the temporary office in the Castillo de Santa Catalina

I’m back in the office after a rather splendid three weeks surfing, hiking and kayaking my way across Spain, with a couple of weeks of lying on my favourite beach in Xeraco sandwiched in between and it’s good to see that not much has happened in my absence. Journalists are still writing articles making use of big and tiny in the same sentence and finding it droll – health and safety gets the Tiny Technology Big Problem treatment, business articles still have Tiny Technology Big Impact and I file them all in the “Tiny Mind Big Mouth” box.

While holed up in a 13th century castle in Jaen, ostensibly in order to get some writing done, I read Mark E. Smith’s splendid autobiography while I was waiting for the waiter to bring me the bill for dinner, in which he vents his rather swollen spleen on a number of issues, including hippies, which brings me onto Friends of the Earth in Australia (who probably wont think much of some of my other holiday reading).

Smith’s view was that the hippies hijacked society shifting the focus away from the community to me me and me, being effectively a bunch of long haired Nazis who want to stifle any dissent. I remember being chased down the street by a bunch of previously laid back long hairs in the late seventies when I suggested that life was too short to be spent listening to Tales from Topographic Oceans and suggested they listen to the Ramones instead!

Tolerance seems to be an unknown quality for Australia’s Friends of the Earth who are rather upset about the latest attempts to engage the general public with nanotechnology. As the rather successful UK experiment resulted in the “public” concluding that nanotechnology isn’t too bad, and if it saves energy and cures cancer the needle might start hovering over “quite good really” rather than “it ought to be banned/regulated/stopped.”

The objection seems to be that the public will be “educated” as in the UK, by nanoscientists. FoE would rather that the panel be “balanced” by including a number of loud-mouthed chaps with beards who don’t know much about technology but can rant glassy eyed and dribbling for days on the wonders of organic wholemeal bread.  I wonder how the same people would feel if their children’s education was balanced by letting a bunch of creationists and flat earthers run amok with the curriculum? 

Well, one thing that hippies, Nazis, Stalinists, Robert Mugabe and the European Union all agree on is that if you let people have a little education they might reach a conclusion that runs contrary to your plans, and that simply cannot be allowed. If the public show any signs of being ambivalent or, god forbid, enthusiastic about technology then they need to be re educated until they get the answer right, but it’s far easier to get in first and set an anti technology agenda while painting scientists as servants of evil corporations hell bent on raping the planet.  

Ethics and principles are fine, but without understanding the science then any opinion will be necessarily uninformed. I found this out myself a few years ago when during several debates with ethicists about nanotechnology it became clear that none of them had a clue what nanotechnology was and were making generalised statements about scientific ethics – if we had been debating whether to graft pigs heads onto babies then the discussion may not have been too differerent.  

Principles are fine when one has the choice, as most of FoE and their supporters have, but much of the rest of the world simply cannot choose to go organic, the choice is between eating high yielding GMO varieties or death rather than the farmer’s market or Tesco.

I recently attended an evening lecture by Sir David King, who some of you may recall was the UK Government’s chief scientist for most of Tony Blair’s premiership, and who caused somewhat of a furore in Washington with a speech in which he claimed that climate change was the single most important thing that the politicians should be discussing. One clear message was that technology is a fundamental part of the solution to the world’s problems – if it wasn’t for science understanding the ozone hole issue and coming up with non damaging refrigerants and propellants we’d all be facing the choice between factor 100 nanoparticle sun block or skin cancer quite soon. 


Groups such as FoE would do better to encourage informed debate through scientific education rather than simply screaming “not fair” it like a bunch of attention seeking five year olds, or indeed a bunch of hippies.

So why should you never trust a hippie? Simple, because they don’t trust you.



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