To the Editor: A Floriescent Perspective


I am writing in response to Dirk Nies’s essay in The Crozet Gazette (September, 2022). Briefly, Dr. Nies locates much of societal disorientation in the phenomena of multiple technologies racing ahead in directions unguided by anything that much resembles human values. To corral this stampede, he proposes a triangular interactive fencing system anchored by the nodes of Science, Ethics and Aesthetics—the SEAview as he calls it. As I understand it, what is envisioned is not a body of regulation, but a different and more balanced view of life, a FLORIESCENT perspective, and as such it seems inherently flexible and also very scalable—from the local to the universal. To illustrate, let me try to apply the FLORIESCENT SEAview and see where it takes us.

I’m an historian by trade and training, so the obvious thing for me to do is examine an earlier period of rapid technological change and see how people adapted. But I’ve got to admit, not that many people presently find history that interesting or useful, and arguably what is happening now so transcends precedent that it makes analysis of past trends largely irrelevant.

So instead, let’s move out to my garage with our SEAview glasses on and take a look at one of my favorite pieces of technology…Bat Manuel, a jet-black ’97 Vette. The first thing you will probably notice is that the Bat looks great: low, full of sinuous eye-pleasing curves, an automotive version of a Leopard poised for the kill. Looking a little deeper you realize those good looks are based on the classic aesthetic prescription—form follows function—minimum air resistance and a wedge shape that will drive it into the road at its astonishing top speed of 170 mph. Not recommended, but still the Bat looks good through the Aesthetic lens alone. 

But through all three it starts to get complicated. For a quarter-century-old vehicle, this one has a weirdly new appearance, a Methuselah amongst cars. That’s because it’s made of plastic, amazingly resistant to the dings and dimples that inevitably settle into its metallic counterparts. But while that may be good for us Vette owners, it’s likely a very bad sign for everybody else. All that plastic, in our oceans and pretty much everywhere else, deteriorating at a rate definitely slower than the glaciers are melting: it all looks like the scabs of pollution through our SEAview glasses, and so does my Vette.

By way of redemption, I might mention the Bat’s superb stereo, so good that sometimes I just go out to the garage to sit and listen. Now let’s suppose, to save the battery, I turned on the engine. Well, we can presume in a half-hour or so I’d be breathing my last, hopefully not to the strains of Bohemian Rhapsody, but dead nonetheless, killed by what the Bat is pumping out of his four shapely exhaust pipes. Somewhat less lethally, he’s been doing that for 125,000 miles of driving. At the rate of 21 miles per gallon—amazingly good for a car this fast—but still adding up to around 36,000 pounds of highly volatile hydrocarbons delivered by his huffing and puffing 345 horses into the atmosphere. 

That and all that it implies for the climate become very clear from a SEAview perspective even in the garage, which is my point. FLORIESCENCE is a very flexible and useful paradigm at all levels.

Granted, my perspective bears evidence of tongue in cheek, and also the tastes of an older generation that worshipped cars. But it’s maybe even more true of you X,Y, and Zers, staring endlessly and compulsively at your phones. Was there ever a more elegant and seductive device to capture the human attention span? This is a very serious matter. Lots of us, right or left, young and old, have the feeling of being on a ship without a helm, a jet without a pilot, you name the metaphor, we are going somewhere fast, and we don’t have much idea where that place will be. I think Dr. Nies’s model has the potential to apply some guidance to insure that our destination feels comfortable for human beings.

Robert O’Connell

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