Thursday, September 11, 2008

Technological Fundamentalism

Robert Jensen, in CounterPunch:
[I]t may well turn out that the gravest threat to a just and sustainable human presence on the planet is technological fundamentalism -- the notion that the increasing use of increasingly more sophisticated high-energy advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology. . . .

[. . .]

Those who raise questions about this fundamentalism are often said to be “anti-technology,” which is a meaningless insult. All human beings use technology of some kind, whether stone tools or computers. An anti-fundamentalist position is not that all technology is bad, but that the introduction of new technology should be evaluated carefully on the basis of its effects -- predictable and unpredictable -- on human communities and the non-human world, with an understanding of the limits of our knowledge.

One expression of this view is the "precautionary principle," which argues that instead of asking sceptics to prove that a new product or process might be harmful, advocates of the proposed new action should have to prove it is safe. . . .

[. . .]

This idea is not new. An early challenge to greed-fueled technological fundamentalism came from the Luddites, artisans who resisted the factory system in early 19th century Britain not because they were afraid of machines but because they anticipated the negative effects of a dangerous and dehumanizing system on their communities. The contemporary use of "Luddite" as a synonym for "someone with an irrational fear of anything new" indicates how a fearful culture regards this kind of thoughtful critique. The lesson we should learn from the early Industrial Revolution is that the Luddites were correct -- by overvaluing machines we can easily undervalue people and the non-human living world.

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