The Paradox of Progress

Months ago, I attended David Swanson’s book signing in Baltimore to purchase his remarkable work, War is a Lie, and to hear Swanson, Debra Sweet, and Andy Worthington speak. During the question-and-answer period, a woman stood and introduced herself. Speaking beautifully, softly, and passionately, she gestured, pointing to lighting in the room, laptops, and cell phones. She said something like this: “It’s cold outside, but the room temperature is warm. So many here have computers, cell phones, technology?.” She paused and, then, continued, “Are people willing to sacrifice for peace.”

Afterwards, I approached, telling her she’d raised a compelling concern. I wanted to know more about her. Maia Tabet is from Beirut, Lebanon. She’s multilingual, a translator, and a chef extraordinaire.

Are people willing to sacrifice for peace?

This week at the Baltimore Museum of Art, I saw a documentary, Manufactured Landscapes. During the first minutes, I focused on the word “manufactured”. To manufacture is to build, to make. And this implies displacement or replacement. When something is manufactured, is something else destroyed?

Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, the film follows artist Edward Burtynsky through China where he photographs the effects of the industrial revolution. Viewed separately or hanging in a gallery, Burtynsky’s landscapes are gorgeous examples of abstract art. But in the documentary, the images, streaming and juxtaposed with laborers, including children, represent human beings within their world, the connection of industry and nature, and man’s impact on the environment, and raise philosophical issues about modern industry and globalization.

A question, similar to Maia’s must be asked: Are we willing to sacrifice to save our planet?

The film illustrates components of global industry, including Chinese factory workers, robot-like, as they assemble computer parts for large-scale use. Startling is the huge amount of industrial waste, most of which is shipped to China by the West to be sorted for recycling. The young, as well as the old, toil in areas of contamination. There are mountains of debris?all the stuff we toss aside when the loaded-with-more, next-generation, must-have device is manufactured and marketed.

Individual forfeiture is important, choosing to ride a bike, doing something to conserve. But, obviously, large corporations, embracing planned obsolescence, generate the vast majority of our excesses.

I thought about the wars waged for securing resources and not just oil, but, also, mineral deposits, like those found in Afghanistan. So many are essential to industry. Lithium, for example, is critical in the manufacture of cell phone and laptop batteries.

The computer is my link to the world. It’s where I turn, instead of powering on the television. It’s the way I submit my articles and it allows me to receive and answer responses to them. Obviously, I’m using it right now.

Are we willing to sacrifice for peace?

Are we willing to sacrifice for Earth’s survival?

As I watched the men, women, and children in the film, from the workers to the wealthy, all who’ve benefited from modern industry in China, I pondered the paradox of progress, thinking about us, here in Empireville, assuming, consuming, and destroying, feverishly.

We are kudzu, the vine that’s eating the world. China’s moving quickly, an eager participant in her quest for power.

Each of us can make a decision for peace and a healthy planet. But unless we stop the method-to-madness advance of multinational corporations, savaging humanity and ravaging the environment, our efforts will have minimal impact. Control must be removed from Wall Street and placed in the hands of people who understand that we are on the brink.

Are you willing to sacrifice for peace?

Are you willing to sacrifice for our planet?

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland and is troubled to suggest that you use your computer to contact her at

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: