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March 1995 - Issue No. #18 (p.15-16)

In the Absence of the Sacred:

The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations

Book by Jerry Mander

Published by Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, USA
Reviewed by Daniel Kirk

I put this book down and headed straight for the word processor, because I thought it would be a boon to newsletter readers, for reasons that I will discuss later. Then I realized that I would need to use my computer to write this. Mander is right. I had bought into exactly what he was talking about. I had never examined my reasons for wanting a computer, other than make a list of ways it would make my life easier.

Jerry Mander's point is that technology and what it has brought us should be carefully quantified and qualified. And after carefully explaining what he thinks and why, he exposes the terrifying underpinnings of the technological revolution, and suggests ways for us to live sustainable, peaceful life-styles. (Maybe I'd better drag out that antique typewriter.) The benefits language teachers would gain from reading this book, in addition to the rewarding descriptions of his experiences and ideas, are the appendix, a list of organizations and periodicals, and the bibliography.

In the first chapters of the book, Mander, also the author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, field dresses the megatechnologies that he quantifies, qualifies, and soundly discredits as detrimental to life on earth. Those technologies include computers (Hello!), television, corporations, space colonies, and genetic engineering.

Of the megatechnologies that he dissects, the one that attracted my attention was in the chapter, "Leaving the Earth: Space Colonies, Disney, and EPOCH." Several years ago I had the opportunity to tour the facilities of Biosphere 2 in Arizona, and as I read Mander's description of his tour of Disney World and the EPCOT Center, I had the feeling that they were probably operated by the same folks. (He doesn't deal with Biosphere 2 directly.) Mander describes the management of the plant and animal life, the guests in the park, the suspicious cheerfulness of the employees, and his only experience that suggested humanity when an employee gave him a cheeky reply in the park.

As I read this, I was surprised by the similarities to my experiences at Biosphere 2, where the only suggestion that we were dealing with humans came at the beginning of our visit. Any kind of photographing of the installation was banned, so I decided to lock my video camera, still in its case, in the trunk to avoid problems. As I was doing that a security guard descended on us and demanded that I take the camera out, surrender the tape in it, and leave the camera with her. I turned over the tape, but politely explained that I was not going to leave an expensive camera in her care, and if she tried to take it from me, she and the management should call their lawyers. She explained that the builders of the facility had invested large sums of money in equipment, much of which was unpatented, and that they were afraid of having the competition photograph and copy things. She finally agreed to let me put it in the trunk, and we were off to see the Wizard.

This section was also intriguing because of where we live: Japan - the home of Huis ten Bosch, Space World, SeaGaia, and a country that, as a friend and I have joked about on many occasions, could be transformed into one enormous theme park quite easily. It has rides (bullet trains, gaily painted jets), lots of attractions, Kyoto, Tokyo, and Volcano Land here in Kyushu.

In the second section of the book, Mander gives sobering accounts of how technology is affecting the native people around the world. The homogenization of the world's people is taking p]ace at a tremendous rate, and there is very little debate on what this will mean, not only to them, but to us. Mander assures us that they are the people with the answers to our problems, and that there is a concerted, real effort to shut them up before enough people begin to listen.

The Absence of the Sacred offers a good, eye-opening read, and contains a great list of resources for language teachers.

- Reviewed by Daniel Kirk

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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
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