Friday, June 24, 2011

Myth of Human Progress and Neutral Technology

In preparation for my Blog Talk Radio interview with Professor Langdon Winner of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and author of Autonomous Technology and The Whale and the Reactor, I have assembled my thoughts on the Myth of Human Progress and so-called Neutral (Amoral) Technology.

I see very little true human progress in any sphere of life. Am I super cynical? Or are increasing numbers of people alarmed at the decline in life quality, freedom, and security that are rooted in unbridled technological advancements?

Oh sure, we have many inventions that make life easier and more comfortable. But does ease and comfort equate to stronger, happier people? Or do they make us weak, fat. lazy, stupid, pampered -- and not as self-reliant as the less "civilized" humans of the past?

Langdon Winner has exposed the potentially malevolent aspect of The Technological Imperative, which I sum up in the phrase "What can be made, must be made, and humanity must submit and adjust to it." In other words, technocrats push the false belief system that all technology is morally neutral. It all depends on how you use the technology. There is no technology that is inherently malevolent. So they say.

Darkness hates the light. Cruel people don't want to be exposed. Insane geniuses want to emphasize the "genius" side of their activities and suppress the "insane" side of their natures. Dr. Frankenstein wanted to animate a dead corpse. Why? To grant eternal life to decent, productive, law-abiding people who had died? Or just "to see if it can be done"?

Technicians, not all of them, but many, seek fame and fortune -- and resist moral interpretations of their work. If one of their inventions ends up being intrinsically harmful, or can easily be used in malicious, destructive ways, why should they care? They resist being held accountable for the Pandora's box they inflict on humanity.

How quickly we forget the completely evil technology of the Nazis with their gas chambers and sadistic human experimentation. I also categorize all animal testing as malevolent and unnecessary. Why test a harsh shampoo on the eyes of a rabbit, to see if it will blind it? Why paralyze a rat, then give it medicines to see if they will help to reverse the crippling?

It's easy to make up flimsy justifications for such cruelty, in the name of benefiting humanity. But I think in the olden days, doctors would experiment and test substances on themselves, not lab animals or paid human volunteers. A person who enjoys inflicting pain and suffering on animals can become a serial killer -- or a product testing lab technician.

There are natural remedies for many ailments, and they have no or few negative side effects when used correctly. Since many of these natural remedies can be grown by individuals, or imported cheaply, because they grow abundantly, there is not much money to be made with them, or you can't patent the naturally occurring substances. The human testing has already been done and there are ancient traditions, like Chinese herbology, that support their use.

When Big Pharma discovers an effective therapeutic plant, they tend to synthesize it, make a chemical analogue of it, so it can be manufactured in laboratories en masse. Here is where the detrimental side effects are introduced. With enough research and advertising, Big Pharma hopes to make a huge profit. But when the drug is taken off the market and class action lawsuits proliferate, we see the so-called "unintended consequences".

Has humanity progressed? Is technology creating a utopia?

Not in my view.

Slavery, racism, sexism, insanity, addiction, war, rape, poverty, pollution, disease, species extinction, wildlife habitat deprivation, ecological disasters, and many other bad realities are rampant. We have "progressed" in many comforts and conveniences, but at what cost?

We are improving in our ability to destroy the environment, poison our soil, mutate our food, dumb down our children, and wage war against both combatants and civilians.

Technocrats want us to submit without question to all new technology. They hide behind Progress as their god. They evade ethics issues. They resent any attempt to hold them accountable for the results of their toys and tools. They seek to dominate society, make us dependent on their mysterious and increasingly complex machines, and reap great fortunes and accolades from their peers.

Yes, a knife can be used to peel an apple and murder a person. Some technology is neutral in essence. The same electricity that powers our computers and enables us to communicate with each other also enables us to launch nuclear missiles and make drone strikes in nations against which we have not (yet) declared war.

Man as a tool making animal is not necessarily the best definition of humanity. As Langdon Winner states, man is better defined as a mind making animal. Before we had technological toys to amuse us, divert our attention from more important concerns, and waste our time, humans were not bored. We spent our free time in contemplation, meditation, observation, and philosphical speculations.

How many children spend time philosophizing today?

How many children play games that are gentle and altruistic?

Slasher films, violent video games, silly fantasies involving demonic beings and superstitious occult powers tend to be the norm.

Wars are increasing, citizens are revolting, governments are becoming more tyrannical, and technology is ramping up the surveillance and control features to enslave us and make us more "transparent" and predictable, while corporations and governments hide in opaque shadows of secrecy and backroom dealings.

Human progress? Neutral technology?

Nice myths for those who put their faith in science as the new religion to which all must conform.

What good is more information -- when people are being stressed with multi-tasking, schedule juggling, weakened memory, and declining powers of observation, memorization, and concentration? Tons of newly available information does little good for those who suffer from attention deficit disorder and inability to reach a rational decision.

Tech gurus and social media pundits tend to praise every new networking tool and gadget. If you bring to their attention the downsides, like how social media is becoming surveillance media, enabling identity thieves and other predators to be more efficient in their crimes, they will dismiss you as paranoid, or claim that such activity is marginal and is compensated by the many "benefits" of the technology.

Let's keep our eyes open and our minds clear. Instead of letting the steamroller smash you into the pavement, resist the false "inevitability" of the machine and question the operators thereof.

Further Reading

Technopolis (Langdon Winner blog)

Wikipedia entry on Langdon Winner

Online Luddism Index

Amazon page on The Whale and The Reactor book by Langdon Winner

Be sure to also listen to these Vaspers radio theater podcasts:

Worst How To Books Ever Published

Misadventures of a Day Actuarian

Amoeba Mice

Trouble at Robot Land Labs

Rent a Party

Robot Rejects vs. the Moon Mutants

Adventures in Robot Land

No comments: