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7/27/12

Technolatry unmasked. (idolizing technology)

Technolatryunmasked.(idolizingtechnology)
TheOtherSideMay1,1997 LionelBasney Wordcount:2004.
citationdetails

Ifwewouldthinkusefullyabouttechnology,wemuststartwiththetechnologywehave.Itisnonsenseto talkaboutbeing"for"or"against"technologyitself.Technologyiscommontoallcultures.Itistheactof turninganythingintoatool,machine,orprocedure,withapracticalendinview. Whatwemustaskourselvesiswhetherourdominanttechnologyisthemostefficient,humane,and reverenttechnologywemighthave. Whileoldertechnologiessurviveamongusashandcrafts,museumdisplays,andthearts,virtually everyoneinthedevelopedworldcountsonthedominanttechnologyforfood,shelter,mobility, information,andpleasure.Thistechnologyis,forthemostpart,fossilfueldependent,informationdriven, marketoriented,expertrun,andbeyondprivate,individualcontrol. Manypeopleareawarethatourincreasingplanetarydependenceonsuchtechnologyendangersour future.Wesensetheeffectsofincessanttechnologicalchangeonourearth,onourworkandlivelihood, onourchildren'smindsandemotions. Butwefeelthereislittlewecandoaboutit.OurconcernsareoverriddenbywhatWendellBerrycallsthe "allshapingsuperstitionofourtime"theconvictionthatunendingtechnologicaladvanceisourdestiny. Likeallsuperstitions,thisfalsebeliefparalyzesthought.And,likeallsuperstitions,itservessomeone's power. Thesuperstitionhastwoelements.First,itholdsthattechnological"progress"isinevitableinandof itself,thatitscausesarebeyondourreach.Becauseweseesuchchangeasaformoffate,bearing downonuslikeasemiinourrearviewmirror,wefeelthereisnopointinanalyzingorprotestingits power.Wetherebyforfeitourspiritualandpoliticalfreedom. Thesecondpieceofthissuperstitionisthebeliefthattechnologyisitselfinnocentthatwedetermine whatitmeansonlybyhowweuseit.Infact,nohumanmademachineisvalueneutral.Allmachines encouragesomekindsofactionanddiscourageothers.Likeallhumandesign,theyaremorallyfull,and active. Thetwoelementsofthesuperstitionfittogether:iftechnologyweremorallyneutral,wecouldimagineit arrivingnecessarily,innocently,astheraindoes.Buttechnologyis,infact,alwaysamatterofchoice. Technologyisnotnaturalitiscultural.Likeallelementsofculture,itisconditionedbyfaithandunfaith, moralprinciple,talent,money,andpolitics.Andcultureisalways,inallcircumstances,somethingwe whohavemadeitcanaccept,reject,criticize,modify,orsetaside. Therealforceofthetechnologicalsuperstitionisthatmanyofuscannotwithstandchangesmandatedby powerthepoweroftheglobaleconomy,ofmassmarkets(towhichwebelong),ofcorporatedominance overourpublic,andprivatelives,ofgovernmentalcommitmenttocorporatewelfare.Butwecouldregain somefreedomfromthewaythesechangesimpactusbydetachingourlivesfromtheglobaleconomy anditswelfare. Thepromisedcompensationforthefreedomwehavelosttotechnologicalsuperstitionisa"betterlife." Buttherearethreequestionswemustaskaboutthisbetterlife.One:betterinwhatways?Two:betterfor whom?Andthree:whatisthecost?

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Technolatry unmasked. (idolizing technology)

Industrialtechnologyhasbroughtundeniablebenefitsbetterpublichygiene,morefood,moreandlarger dwellings,moreconsumergoods,fastermobility,wideraccesstoideas.Whetherwewhoenjoytheseare makingfurtherprogressisdebatable.BillMcKibben,forone,arguesthatsubstantiveprogressinmiddle Americanlivesleveledofftwentyfiveyearsago. Anditisunclearthattechnologicalchangehasmadeushappierandmorewhole.AuthorslikeNicholas RescherandPaulWachtelhavearguedthatithasnot.Howcanwebehappyifincessantchangemakes everythingwenowpossessseemshabbyandmeaningless? Theanswertothesecondquestionabetterlifeforwhom?isinsomewaysquitesimple.Technology benefitsthoseinthebestpositiontoobtainit:thosewhoarealreadyinpositionsofsocialandeconomic advantage. Theresourcesavailabletohumanityhaveneverbeenequallydistributed,anditisnotlikelythattheywill everbe.Theinequality,historically,hasbeenpartofthegrowthofmoderntechnology.Ithashitched itselfup,stagebystage,bysubjugatingother,olderwaysoflife. Lowertechsocietieshavealwaysbeenbledtoprovidecapitalforhighertechones.Theearliersociety's peoplehavehunted,farmed,mined,anddoneslavelabortoproducethematerialsforconsumptionby thelatter.Thosewhohavesufferedwereseldom(ifever)askedwhethertheywantedtomakethe sacrifice. Whichleadstothethirdquestion:Whathasthecomingofourdominanttechnologycost?Theansweris thatitscosts,bothnaturalandhuman,havebeenvast,butthatthosecostshaveseldombeenallowed tofigureinourdecisions.Thegospelofinevitableprogressdoesnotadmititslosses. Thepromiseofprogressisthatultimatelyeveryonewillprofitfromit,moreorlesstothesamedegree. Thispremiseisquestionableatbest,forglobaleconomicexpansionwillrunintothelimitsofthe biospherelongbeforeeveryone,inourincreasingpopulation,canbeendowedwithluxury.Infact,the pressuretoprovideforusallthroughatechnologysoexpensiveoffuelandproductiveofwasteisone mainsourceofenvironmentaldamage. Ourdevotiontothepoweroftechnologicalprogresshasalsoshapedthewaywethinkaboutotherareas oflife.JacquesEllulhasarguedthatwein"thetechnologicalsociety"havelearnedtoapproachall elementsoflifewithatechnicalmindset.Originally,wegavetechnicalsolutionsonlytotechnical(that is,physical)problems.Butwehavecometotreatallrelationshipsasiftheycouldbeaddressedthrough technicalsolutions. Wehavereducedarttotechniquewehavetechniquesforprayer,formarriage,andfordying,and seminarsinwhichtolearnthem.Everyexperiencebecomesaproblemeveryproblemhasasolution. Everythingandeveryoneweencounterisanobjecttomanipulate. Thisexplainswhyotherconsiderationsofvalue,affection,reverence,obligation,tradition,orintuitive knowledgealwayscometoolateinoursocialdecisions.Theseconsiderationsimplyadifferentkindof culturalpractice,onethatreplacestechniquewithnurtureandmakeslovethetemplateforconduct. Ourallegiancetotechnologicalsolutionshasalsoconvincedusthatanythingcanbemadeintoanything. Toourtechnology,everynaturalobjectispotentiallysomethingelse.Allobjectsexist,ultimately,asore toberemadeintoahumanlydeterminedtool,fuel,orconvenience. Culturallyandspiritually,thisprinciplemeans(touseMcKibben'sphrase)"theendofnature."Fornature hastraditionallymeantthattheworldhasadefinitecharacterestablishedbysomethingotherthanhuman choiceordesire.Naturepressedbackonusithaditsowndesigns,whichlimitedourlicensetoact. Ifweweretorememberthatnaturehasaspecific,inviolablecharacter,thentechnologymightmean discoveringandcooperatingwithit.Solutionswouldmeananappealtoorder,nottopower.Insome ways,westernsciencehasalwayscontainedthisimpulsehumble,observant. Butinourculturewehavebecomefarmorelikelytothinkintermsofimpositionbypower,Weforcethe worldtoobeyorconcede.Wehabituallysetgoalsinmilitarymetaphors:wecampaignagainstdisease

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Technolatry unmasked. (idolizing technology)

webattle,irrationally,forpeace. Thereductionofnaturetostuffalsomeans,inescapably,thereductionofotherpeopletoservantsofour convenience.Whereverwegotominetheearthforitsresourcesorenergy,wewillfindpeopletherewith theirownlegitimateclaimsonsmallpiecesoftheproductiveearth. Intheend,theonlyoperativeethicalquestionallowedbyourcultureis:Whowilluseandwhowillbe used?ItisLenin'sdirequestion:Whowilldowhattowhom?Thethreatofbeingassignedtothewrong classisapowerfulmotivatingforceforbecomingaproponentofthedominanttechnology. Thedominanttechnologyofoureradevaluesbothitssources(intheworldandinus)anditsproducts. Theonlythinggivenhighvalueisthetechniqueordevice,thetransitoryapplicationofpowerthatturns stuffintocommodity.Andcommodity,quickly,becomeswaste. Thescripturaltermforsucharadicallywrongevaluationisidolatry.Idolatryelevatessomeearthlything, tothestatusofGod.ThisinsultsGoditalso,however,insultstheearthlythingforatreemadeintoa godceasestohaveitspropervalueasatree(seeIsaiah44).Theidolatryofanyearthlythingdistortsour entirescaleofvalue. Thisisespeciallytruewhenweidolizeourownpowerandends.Tothemwewillsacrificeanything, including(irrationally)theverygiftsthatmakeusabletoconceiveofendsandtoexercisepower.Our technolatrydoesnotmaketheexhaustionoftheearthpossibleitmakesthisexhaustioninevitable. Buttechnolatryisastancewehavechosensomethingthatwecanrevokeinourselvesandrepentinthe world.Tofindourwayback,wemustbeginbyreinstatinginourmindsarightevaluation. Thisbeginswiththescripturalprinciplethatneitherwenortheworldexistforhumanends.Fromthisitis naturalthatis,faithfultoaskafterGod'spurposesfortheworld,andtoworkouttheculturalgoodsand goalsthatservethem. Theonlyworkabledisciplineforculturaldevelopmentisthesecuritythathumanloveandworkfindinan assuranceofgrace.Beginningwitharightevaluationoftheworld,wecanbegintostatearightuseofit. Itisnotenoughtodecrydamageorpreachrepentance.Wemustfindwaystolivethatusetheworld gratefully,patiently,forbearingly,thriftily,andwithadueattentiontothedemandsbothofloveandof justice. Thiswouldnotspecifyasinglewayoflifeforeveryone:peopleandplacesaretoodiverseforthat.Butit couldstateprinciplesofconductprinciplesmidwaybetweenthemostgeneralreligiousbeliefsandthe particularchoicesofmaterial,tool,andproceduretobemadeineachsituation. Wehaveavantagepointforthisrethinkinginourverydependenceonthedominanttechnology.Thatwe oweourlivelihoodstoitmeansthatwehavean"outside"checkonitsbehavior.Ifitendangersour livelihoods,wemaysuspectthatitis,itself,dangerous. Onthisbasis,manycommunal,tribal,andreligiousgroupsinthedevelopingworldhavebeguntoresist theimpositionofWesterntechnologyontheircommunitiesandplaces.Theyhavelearnedthattheroom inwhichtoresist"inevitableprogress"canbewonbyresistingtheclaimsoftheglobaleconomy. Tothedegreethatgroupscanmakethemselveslocallyselfsufficient,theycanaskappropriately complexquestionsaboutemergingtechnology:Whatwillitmeanforeducation,forwork,forsocial relations,forpoliticalautonomy,forworshipandconscience? Askingthesequestionscanfocustheconcernsmanyofusfeelaboutthedominanttechnologyandits culture.Theycanprepareustorethinkourpracticalculture.Theycangiveusthecourageofour misgivings. AuthorLionelBasneyisaprofessorofEnglishatCalvinCollegeandafrequentcontributortoTheOther Side.Hislatestbook,AnEarthCarefulWayofLife.(#394A,$10.99)isavailablefromTheOtherSideby calling18007009280orusingtheordercardinthisissue.

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Technolatry unmasked. (idolizing technology)

ArtistPaulChojnowskilivesandmakesartintheBerkshireHillsofWesternMassachusetts.Heis representedbyMacon&CompanyFineArtinAtlanta,andButtersGalleryinPortland,Oregon.

CitationDetails
Title:Technolatryunmasked.(idolizingtechnology) Author:LionelBasney Publication:TheOtherSide(Magazine/Journal) Date:May1,1997 Publisher:TheOtherSide Volume:v33Issue:n3Page:p8(4)

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