Remembering What We’ve Accomplished

On Friday, President Obama had this to say when visiting Hiroshima, Japan:

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines. The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.

His thoughts are my thoughts too, this Memorial Day. Technology does have a way of finding its own worst use.

Indeed, I’ve been thinking a lot about where we’ve been and where we are, and where we are headed, as a nation and as a society.

Maybe it’s too much thinking. But we are all living with some measure of discomfort.

It can’t be too much to ask that we could be putting our efforts toward making things just a bit better.

Poison Gas, Driverless Cars, and You

The Nobel Prize-winning chemist who discovered the method for creating synthetic ammonia for fertilizer went on to invent the chlorine gas used to devastating effect by the Germans in World War I. He did it because he loved his native country and believed in their ability to win the war.

In the 1930s, a medical scientist was hired by the leading manufacturers of asbestos products to conduct a study of the health risks. He downplayed the negative effects of asbestos exposure on workers at factories and job sites, believing that American industrial progress and fidelity to authority was more important than the human lives being put at risk.

The scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did so out of a sincere belief that they were doing their duty to protect America.

Should these people have stopped somewhere in the process and reflected on what, exactly, they were doing? I think they should have.

Science is not always pure, and technology has a way of finding its own worst use.

I think about these things as I read stories of the mad rush to invent driverless cars. We are due for some self-reflection about whether this really is the direction we, as a society, should be taking.

Google's Chris Urmson

Google’s Chris Urmson driving down the wrong path.

The scientists and technicians who are developing autonomous vehicles sincerely believe in the potential benefits of their work, I’m sure. They explain how it will bring mobility to the elderly or the disabled, save countless lives by avoiding car crashes, improve fuel efficiency, and require less space for parking lots.

Who could be against that, right?

Except that driving a car is, most of the time, a solitary act. Single-occupant vehicles on any given workday make up more than half of cars on the road. With estimates ranging as high as 76 percent, it is clear that we still prefer to drive alone.

And other emerging transportation technologies, such as the ride-sharing models that are being pushed by for-profit companies Uber and Lyft, perhaps are not as sustainable as they want us to believe.

In this world filled with countless ways to communicate and travel, we are still consuming resources and are more lonely than ever.

So instead of creating yet more ways of being alone, society instead should be putting additional effort into social means of transportation–bicycles, buses, trains and other forms of transit. It is only by looking each other in the eye day in and day out that we maintain our ability to be civil and retain our essential humanity. That, and it uses less roadway.

The driverless cars that some believe will help humankind may instead be individual coffins.

We’ve Stopped Fighting, My Transgender Son and I

We’ve stopped fighting, my teen-aged transgender son and I.

Sure, we still go at each other over the stupid little things in life, like who gets the bathroom first, or not cleaning up in the kitchen. But it feels like the transgender thing is a done deal. It is no longer the silent animosity that poisons our personal atmospheres. He needs my support, doubly so since things will never be simple for him.

It was time to end the war.

I don’t know what it was, exactly, that tipped the balance. Since my child came out four years ago, I’ve been reading and listening and learning what I could about transgender. But a few things recently seemed to strip away for me the distractions and get right to the heart of it.

And it was as if a switch had been flipped, like I had crested the ridge of a mountain and could now see clearly the view from that height. This is not to say that the rest of the journey will be perfect. Only that this milestone is behind me now. Behind us.

He may not have seen it quite yet. Or maybe he senses a subtle shift in my approach, my tone. I know that he thinks I should’ve accepted all this years ago.

But I didn’t accept it at first. I was heartbroken, and grieved instead for my beautiful daughter who now does not exist. My now son shares her memories, but he also carries with him those years of anxiety, self-doubt, and self-hatred. And the uncertainty about whether I supported him and loved him.

We are lucky to have avoided the suicide that plagues so many families of trans kids. I hate to consider how close we may have come.

What do all parents try to teach their children? To believe in themselves and to not waste effort trying to be someone they are not. I couldn’t convey that message to my own child if I continued to oppose who he sees himself as being. For him to believe, I have to believe too. Without that, I look like a hypocrite.

Today we have an appointment with a surgeon who will remove my child’s breast tissue. This was something I was very conflicted about, but now, by taking this step, I am moving beyond just passive acceptance. I am putting my support and commitment into action.