Tolstoy's essay, the conclusion of The Kingdom of God is Within You, is one of the most powerful and passionate essays against the exploitation in society that I have read (and I've done alot of reading). It not only gives interesting historical insights to Russia at the turn of the last century, but the similarities of problems of poverty faced in Tolstoy's day and what we face in this new century are striking.
Tolstoy, a follower of the ideal that men are by nature good, felt that the unwillingness to see the true source of harmful acts that primarily benefited the rich and powerful was the evil that he felt kept men from realizing their inherent goodness and acting upon it. As a member of Russia high upper classes during the Romaov rule, he admonishes his peers, as well as ordinary people who worked around them, for their denial and rationalizations of the true causes of oppression and poverty.
Tolstoy felt that given our inherent nature, simply facing the truth would do much to alleviate much of the suffering in the world, as we would then see the true causes suffering and act accordingly:
"... the man of the modern world need only make a moral effort to doubt the reality presented to him by his own hypocrisy and the general hypocrisy around him, and to ask himself, "Isn't it all a delusion?" and be will at once, like the dreamer awakened, feel himself transported from an imaginary and dreadful world to the true, calm, and happy reality. And to do this a man need accomplish no great feats or exploits. He need only make a moral effort."
Is there anything that we can learn from Tolstoy, given our role in society as techno advocates and culture impactors? Obviously, if there is any role to be played in the developments in the years to come, our work is going to have a significant impact.
So my challenge to the readers and K5 is to answer this question: Are we truly honest with ourselves about how society is organized, and our position in it as engineers, programmers, scientists? In fact this leads me to another, even more important question: Is it possible that because our work can used to harm others, we are afforded relatively elite positions in society? Just a thought, and not one without justifiable suspicion given the case of Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, both who lived to regret their confidence in the men for which they worked. I confess to hoping this little-known work of Leo Tolstoy will teach us about ourselves and the current society in which we live, so that we may channel our efforts and our skills in the direction away harming others. I, for one, hope that lies and surreptitious rationalizations are not so ingrained in our culture that even when black is said to be white, we would believe it in spite of nagging doubts to the contrary. I don't mean to make anyone feel bad about themselves, but I do think that open discussion on our rationalizations of priviliged rule, and our role in it, is the first step to a whole lot of good that hasn't yet been realized.