From the Archives:

“The small English cottage was located near a new industrial town at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Here lived a family - father, mother, son, daughter - hard working people, poor, but reasonably satisfied with their lives. One evening, an old family friend returned from military service in India. The friend was a charming guest, and he talked on and on about his many adventures. Near the end of the evening the guest brought out a shriveled-up monkey’s paw. He gave it a look of disgust.

‘This is a very evil thing,’ he said.

‘It will grant to its owner any three wishes. It destroyed the last three people who owned it.’

“The guest threw the paw into the fire.

‘Wait! Let me keep it!’ shouted the father, and he pulled the paw from the fire.

“The guest urged him to destroy it. The father replied that he wouldn‘t use it, that he didn‘t believe in such superstitions anyway, and that he wanted it only as a keepsake. The guest left for the evening, troubled and concerned.

“Early next morning the son left for the factory. The mother and father were talking about the paw.

‘Why don‘t we make a wish?’ the mother asked. ‘Let’s just see what happens.’

“The father was skeptical, but he finally agreed.

‘All right,’ he said; ‘I wish for 15 pounds.’

“The paw jumped around on the mantelpiece for a moment, then all was quiet. The father went off to work, wondering what he had done.

“Late that night the mother was in the kitchen, when an expensively dressed man knocked at the door. The man was sullen and apologetic.

‘I‘m from the factory,’ he said. ‘Please sit down.’

“The man walked nervously over to the mother.

‘Your son - your son, he fell into the machine today and was badly mangled. I‘m sorry, It‘s a horrible loss. He had no salary coming, and we are not responsible in any way. But he was a valuable employee, and I wanted you to have this.’

“The man held out an envelope. The mother opened it. Inside was a 15-pound note.

“The son died, and the grief-stricken family went to the funeral. When the came back, the mother saw the paw on the mantelpiece.

‘The paw! The paw! she screamed. ‘I wish for my son to be alive!’

“Just then there was a feeble knock on the door. A torn and bloody hand began to open the door. The father realized what the mother had done. He grabbed the paw and made his last wish - wishing his own son dead.

“The Monkey’s Paw is a British story from the 19th century. Retold today, it is a warning for our times. We do indeed stand on the threshold of Utopia, with the commonwealth of 10,000 years of civilization at our feet. Will we use it well? Or, like the people in the story, will we fail to understand the tools, abdicate personal responsibility, and ignore the consequences of our actions?

“Like the people in the Monkey’s Paw, we are generally ignorant of the incredible power we have. We are groping in the dark with complex tools we haven‘t learned to use - and we have not clearly defined what we want to do with them. We have not learned how to use the tools to build a larger vision, and we have not, as individuals, taken responsibility for the tools we have.

“What is a tool?

“A tool is a cup, a hammer, a computer. An industrial economy is a tool, and so is a dollar bill. Tools were developed long ago, when someone discovered that a bowl carries water better than a cupped hand. Tools are essential to the survival and well-being of humanity.

“A tool is an externalization. It extends the human body/mind into the environment. A tool is an ax, a raincoat, a radio.

“A tool is an amplification, It increases the ability to impact one‘s environment, and to fulfill needs. A tool is a plow, a factory, a social system.

“A tool is miniaturization. It makes things easier to carry and store, just as a bowl is more convenient to carry than cupped hands, so a pocket calculator is easier to carry than books of mathematical tables, and dollar bills are easier to carry than a dozen eggs or a girder of steel.

“A tool allows specialization. With tools, wo/man can remain the general purpose animal s/he is supposed to be. Because of the hammer we do not have to have a hard fist for driving nails.

“Our definition of tooling in includes ‘software.’ Intellect and intuition are tools. An idea can become a tool. The rediscovery of ‘right brain’ phenomena is an extension of our existing mental tooling.

“Tools are essential, and tools can be beautiful. Tools can also be dangerous. If you have a hammer, you can smash someone’s head. If you have a factory you can pollute a river. If you have a dollar you can go out and buy junk. With responsible use, you will do none of these things. If you do, which is at fault - the tool or the user?

“Technology is socially applied tooling, from bowls to computers, Technology externalizes, amplifies, miniaturizes, and specializes. Does it make sense to hate technology? Without technology, where would you be?

“Technology has a price; we must learn how to use it. The need becomes more acute as technology becomes more complex and dangerous. The need has not yet been met, and that is why humanity is at the crossroads.”


Matt Taylor and Richard Goering


Chapter 3 (part one - go to part two)

The Monkey’s Paw Revisited: Humanity at the Crossroads



When we wrote this, we were in the time and place of the 1970s U.S.A. This is the context of these remarks. The debate about the issues raised in this chapter has shifted since then. In the 1970s, there was much debate about technology and its value; about Capitalism, personal responsibility and where and how it should be “taken.”

Now in the ‘90s, after the “grab everything you can get” 1980s, much of these “issues” have evaporated. On one hand, concern for the environment is much more a social “given.” Technology and tools are better designed and better used. Capitalism has “won.” Yet, most of the concerns raised in this chapter remain unresolved. The debate has faded. A new avoidance is about. The Monkey’s Paw is still on the mantle.

What tooling is remains as obscure as in the past - as a society we, generally, embrace technology with little social debate about its nature nor concern for the consequences of specific tools or their applications. In this chapter we offered a way to look at technology as “an externalization of an innate human metabolic capability” as Bucky Fuller described it. We stressed that each tool has a cost - has often obscure and unintended consequences. We defined responsibility as the requirement to know these and to be aware of the choices one exercised.

Personally, I am less concerned about what choices people and organizations make than their real ability to make them. If I disagree with someone else’s choices, I can always “stay away” from them. However, when I see people voting every day in the market place - creating huge positive feedback loops - with no apparent awareness of consequences or options, then I get scared. I think that this is dangerous behavior.

We have powerful technologies and no manual. Who is on watch?

If someone is missing great chunks of information about about alternatives - they cannot exercise real choice. If they have narrow and closed mental world frames - they cannot exercise real choice. If they are frightened about the consequences of their own ideas - they cannot exercise real choice. If people live in a repressive society or work in a rigid organization - they cannot exercise real choice (except to leave it). Education means “to lead out.” To lead out of what? Ignorance and Plato’s cave. This is what our CHOICE Work Shop is about. This is what the KnOwhere Store books are about. It is not about agreement, it is about the mental room you play in.

In fact, this is what MG Taylor Corporation has been about for 24 years: facilitating choice - not just specific outcomes.

As individuals and as a society we have unprecedented power. We understand power to weight ratios in a car. But we do not understand power to ignorance ratios in our organizations. Quo Vatis?


Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
March 21, 1999

SolutionBox voice of this document:

posted March 21, 1999

revised November 5, 1999

(note: this document is about 50% finished)

Copyright© 1979 Richard Georing and Matt taylor
1999 Matt Taylor


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