This book deals with one of the great paradoxes of the twentieth century. It was a century characterized by economic and technological gains of unprecedented rapidity as shown by all of our economic indicators; an increasing number of economists now argue that they substantially understate the magnitude of these gains (Nordhaus 1997; DeLong 1991–2000). The noneconomic indicators are just as spectacular if one looks at life expectancy, health, and the increase in per capita food supply that more than accommodates an increase in population that virtually all “experts” believed could not be fed. Agriculture had the additional challenge of putting nutrients into the soil to feed the plants so crops could be grown to feed the growing population. The paradox is that these gains are largely denied by some groups, if only by implication, and the science and technology that allowed them to happen have been under attack for almost the entire century. The alleged dangers of modern life have become conventional wisdom to large segments of the population. I believe the attack is a manifestation of an antitechnology elitism.
In the opening chapters of this book, I argue that we are inherently technological beings and that the biological evolution that made us human was inextricably bound with the evolution of our early technology. If technology is in some sense an integral part of our being, it is difficult to see how it is also alienating us. Technology has been with us as long as we have been human. Antitechnology elitism has a lineage in Western culture going back to the Greeks, and there is a similar antitechnology elitism in other cultures, such as that of China. My early chapters explore the development of humans as technological beings and the concept of alienation as applied to our use of technology.
The core chapters concern the issues involved in the contradiction between the past century's gains in the human condition and life expectancy and the widespread belief that modern technology and science are uniquely life threatening. Are “chemicals” killing us? I