02 Mai 2013

Utopia Postponed


Because the exhilarating 'Gee Whiz!' aspect of technology has failed to deliver the futuristic wonderama we all expected in the 1960s, the dark side of technology has become more difficult to ignore. Certainly there has been ample evidence for centuries that technology is not an unqualified good, but until the twentieth century the ideology of progress dominated all but the most independent thinkers. The horrific conditions of the Industrial Revolution could be explained as a merely temporary sacrifice on the way to Utopia. Only a few romantics had the vision to resist this ideology. People like Wordsworth, William Blake, Lord Byron, Henry David Thoreau, and Mary Shelley saw the ruination within mass industrial society not as a temporary phase or as engineering challenge, but as its fundamental character.
All this started to change in 1914, when the world finally got to see the result of industrialization applied to warfare: battlefield carnage on the mass scale of industry, a whole generation of young men decimated. Twenty-five years later, the carnage returned to encompass entire civilian populations in the conflagration of total war, ending in the first application of the century's greatest scientific triumph: the atomic bomb. At the same time, the organizational principles of the Industrial Revolution, based on the same scientific tools of analysis and control, reason, logic, and efficiency, were applied to the purposeful mass extermination of innocent people under Hitler, Stalin, and their imitators. 
Ironically, it was precisely these principles of logic, reason, and efficiency that were supposed to elevate humanity to a more noble state, just as the technologies of physical and chemical engineering - used in the world wars - were supposed to elevate humanity to a new level of material comfort, health, and security. The irony was not lost on artist, writers, and other cultural sensitives, who have been grappling with the resulting feelings of betrayal and despair ever since.
From Plato onward, Utopian philosophers thought that reason, planning, and method would bring the same progress to the social realm as material technology brought to the physical. Social planning would conquer the wilderness of human nature, just as technology subdued the wilderness of physical nature. The failure of both is seen merely as an evidence that we need more of the same. The ambition of nanotechnology, to extend physical control to a new level of microscopic precision, parallels the social technologies of education and law as they strive toward ever-finer regulation of human behavior.  
Underlying both material technology and sociopolitical methods of control we find the same conceptual foundation. Is it mere accident that from this foundation, the same decimation has visited both the human and natural realm? There is a flaw in the common position that technology is neutral, up to us to use for good or for evil. The pogroms and genocides, the ethnic cleansings and wars of extermination, the despoliation of the planet and the wrecking of indigenous cultures, all these are atrributed to the misuse of technology, not technology itself. But perhaps this position is mistaken. Perhaps something basic to the very mind-set of technology has generated the twin crises in the social and environmental realm.
Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity


Mehr vom/zum Autor unter http://charleseisenstein.net/.

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