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Jewish World Review May 11, 2006/ 13 Iyar, 5766

Suzanne Fields

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The mission we make possible | "Mission: Impossible III" is a dumbed-down movie to reflect our times. Fireworks overpower plot and diminish character development, and in trying to humanize Tom Cruise by getting him a fiancee instead of merely a girlfriend, the moviemakers make him merely a robotic love comic hero. It's difficult to tell whether the star himself is running, jumping or climbing, or whether it's all just tricks of the masters of animation.

So what else is new? It's only a movie. Remakes of "Mission Impossible" have had none of the style or wit of the original television series, but they're troubling in the way they stunt the creative imagination with stunts. Technology determines the man rather than man the technology. (You almost long for the real-life Tom Cruise, leaping atop a sofa to scream at Oprah; that Tom Cruise at least showed human fallibility.)

The day after "Mission: Impossible III" opened across the country, President Bush gave a commencement speech addressing just how advances in science and technology transform lives. In speaking to the Class of '06 at Oklahoma State University, the president touched on the dilemmas and challenges posed for young men and women leaving the campus for real life.

"Science offers the prospect of eventual cures for terrible disease, and temptations to manipulate life and violate human dignity," he told them. "My advice is, harness the promise of technology without becoming slaves to technology. My advice is, ensure that science serves the cause of humanity, and not the other way around."

This is particularly provocative because it draws on lessons directly relating to human as well as political and economic values. A generation that grows up on dazzling high-tech entertainment spectacles is tempted to hide behind glib appreciation of the razzle-dazzle of boom and bombast without considering the ethical and moral underpinnings of society. Technology triumphs over verbal sophistication and philosophical rumination.

With the Internet, we communicate instantly with people around the world, but an obsession with computer connections interrupts the give and take of family connections. This changing world of high-tech manipulation, the president warned, "needs the anchor of old-fashioned values and virtues, like courage and compassion."

George W. has never dazzled us with profound philosophical insights, but his address at Oklahoma State challenges the mindlessness of worship of science and technology with hard-headed insight. Such worship isolates and insulates us from the larger world. His remarks strike as well at the protectionists who fear the competition from labor markets in other parts of the world. While we enjoy the benefits of our technology, we are tempted to resist the competition that draws on advances in other countries, other societies.

The rise of new competitors in China and India creates uncertainty and insecurity, and the anti-globalists prey on fear and sound retreat into destructive isolationism. "This is a clear path to stagnation and decline," the president told the graduates. "I ask you to reject this kind of pessimism."

The president arrived in Stillwater with his arguments fortified by the latest economic figures, which should encourage confidence among the graduates. They can expect to exploit their education in a strong job market with rapidly expanding opportunities. But if they are to harness science and technology as the president suggests, they must be wary of the pitfalls. Technological and scientific "expertise" can be exploited to support an agenda as dumbed-down as the new Tom Cruise movie is teched-up.

Science data, abused and misused, can be lethal. It was science data that led to banning the pesticide DDT in this country and doomed millions in the Third World to die of malaria. A pesticide that might have killed thousands was set aside, enabling mosquitoes bearing malaria to kill millions. Science and technology can empower both self and society, but science and technology, improperly harnessed, can deflate and diminish human values.

The President's Council on Bioethics has raised several painful ethical questions about the impact of advances in biotechnology on us as individuals and as members of society. In action films like "Mission: Impossible III," the superheroes always prevail against the wicked villains, no matter how much firepower is brought to bear against the good guys. In real life, such triumph is not guaranteed. Junk science and dehumanizing technology often triumph.

The president got it right in Oklahoma: Making sure that science and technology serve the cause of humanity is the mission that we must make possible.

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© 2006, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate