What Price Progress: Evaluating the 20th and 21st Century

Student Collaboration for the 21st century: The Idea of ...

Episode 33: The Transformative 20th and 21st Century

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

The main theme of this lecture is the unprecedented technology progress mankind has made in the 20th and early 21st century manifesting, allowing it not only to dominate the planet but to threaten most other species to extinction. Benjamin cites

  • an explosion in global population (adding 5 billion people in the 20th century) and a doubling in life expectancy from 31 to 66
  • massive innovation in communication, information sharing and collective learning.
  • massive increase in the destructive potential of global militaries owing to the development of nuclear weapons and willingness to bomb civilians. Important byproducts of military spending included penicillin, radar, synthetic rubber and jet engines.
  • development in the ability to move people and goods long distances cheaply and efficiently
  • greater control of energy use (via development of nuclear, solar and wind), coupled with risk we may destroy civilization unless we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

His introduction to the topic is reasonable, beginning with a description of the brutal suppression of colonial independence movements in the early 20th century by European powers.

Otherwise he makes a number of assumptions I disagree with. In contrasting strong US and weak Soviet economic growth, he credits the US use of “entrepreneurial markets” to promote innovation. He totally omits the obvious role of the US imperialism in hijacking Third World resources and labor. With the Soviet Union, wealth flowed in the opposition direction, with Moscow using its wealth to shore up poorer allies, such as Cuba, Egypt and Nigeria. He also neglects the federal government’s massive subsidization of US innovation. Since the end of World War II, most innovations in medicine and information technology are developed by the US government and turned over to private corporations to mass produce.

Other points I disagree with:

  • His statement that vaccines and antibiotics are the main basis for increased global life expectancy. Epidemiological research shows a much larger role for improved nutrition and improved sanitation than medical interventions.
  • His claim 20th century technological achievements allow modern humans to live better than ancient aristocrats. This would only apply to the middle class lifestyles of industrialized countries. His remarks clearly don’t apply to inner city residents, America’s growing homeless population or the majority of the Third World.
  • His claim industrial agriculture has allowed the global food supply to outstrip population growth for the first time. Unfortunately he neglects to mention that this has come at the expense of destroying most of the world’s topsoil and contaminating most of its fresh water.
  • His claim GMOs increase crop yields, though most farmers report the exact opposite. .
  • His claim gender divisions between men and women have “broken down,” even though women still earn much less than men and continue to suffer high rates of sexual and domestic violence that is rarely prosecuted.
  • His claim that “corrupt rulers and massive debt” sabotaged new 20th century capitalist economies in the Muslim world, Africa and South America. He neglects to mention these rulers were usually puppets installed by the US.

Film can be view free on Kanopy with library card.



What Really Happened to Malaysian Flight MH370?

Goodnight Malaysian 370: The Truth Behind the Loss of Flight 370

by Geoff Taylor and Ewan Wilson

Wilson Aviation Limited (2014)

Book Review

This book, co-authored by a New Zealand pilot and a New Zealand journalist, lays out a precise chronology of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370 on March 8, 2014. Media reports at the time were extremely confusing and contradictory, owing to an initial cover-up by Malaysian authorities. This book goes a long way towards untangling some of this confusion.

According to New Zealand commercial pilot Ewan Wilson, even though the wreckage, black box or cockpit voice recorder of MH370 have never been found, certain facts remain indisputable:

  1. Approximately 40 minutes into the flight, the pilots ceased communicating with air traffic control and deliberately switched off the transponder enabling the aircraft to communicate electronically with air traffic control.
  2. The Malaysian military picked up MH370 at roughly the same time on radar as it deviated from its Beijing flight path and headed back towards Malaysia.
  3. No fighter jets were scrambled, which is standard practice in Malaysia when an a) radar locates an identified aircraft or b) a known aircraft deviates from its scheduled flight path.
  4. Electronic data automatically transmitted from MH370’s engines to Rolls Royce in the UK (as part of routine maintenance) indicated that MH370 continued to fly for a total of seven hours (when it would have run out of fuel.) It also indicated that instead of flying towards Beijing, it turned back and cross the Malaysian peninsular heading towards the Indian Ocean. Because the Malaysian government tried to conceal this fact, the initial search for MH370 wreckage began in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca. Once the new data was made public, search operations (conducted by Australia, New Zealand and the US) switched to the Indian Ocean.

Evidence that the pilot deliberately deviated from the scheduled flight plan and switched off the transponder suggests MH370 didn’t disappear by accident. Moreover post 9-11 cockpits are impenetrable to passengers or cabin crew, ruling out any possibility hijackers were responsible for these occurrence.

The authors believe the most likely scenario is a successful mass murder/suicide by pilot  Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who had recently shown evidence of withdrawn and isolative behavior. They acknowledge, this hypothesis can only be conclusively proven by finding the plane wreckage, black box and cockpit voice recorded.

Since this book’s publication in 2014, small pieces of probable MH370 wreckage have washed up on the coast of Australia, Africa and several Indian Ocean Islands. In addition, the FBI extracted a flight plan similar to that followed by MH370 (before it vanished) on the hard drive of a flight simulator Shah had built at home.