September 6, 2009

Note on Technology Posts

Filed under: Peak Oil, Scientism/Technocracy — Russell Bangs @ 4:31 am

(This was originally a reply to a comment, but I figured I’d put it up as a post as well. Karl questioned the connection of my thoughts here with other things I write about.)

I’ve been living with all my ideas for years, while I’m only now presenting them in small blocks, so to me the underlying unity is clear, but maybe it’s not always so from the outside.

The basic idea is that faith in techno-progress is organically part of faith in the “progress” ideology in the first place, and it is faith in this, with its concomitant economic (“growth”) and aggressive foreign policy implications which have brought us to such an untenable crisis.

I also believe technology is not some neutral “tool” but has its own inertia. Even without reference to the bad intentions of corporations and the government, by its nature technology seeks domination. You don’t need to be a “totalitarian” by nature to look at technology and naturally be dragged into the mindset of “more, bigger, faster, ever more comprehensive, ever more all-encompassing”.

What are the basic attitudes toward it? “If it can be done, it’s going to be done, and there’s nothing that can prevent it”, and, among engineers themselves, “If it can be done, it should be done simply because we have the capability, and what happens afterward is society’s responsibility, not mine.”

Those two attitudes, the first redolent of determinism and defeatism, the second of pure sociopathy, are both part of human nature, but both seem maximized in the presence of modern tech.

(And as I said, that’s all prior to any bad intentions of greed, violence, will to tyranny on the part of corporations and government. But these are almost always present as well.)

All this modern hyper-tech also depends upon the platform of cheap, plentiful fossil fuel. So as energy descent sets in, civilization is going to have to relinquish much of the techno-structure anyway, or have it forcibly rolled back.

In this sequence the biggest danger will be the kind of ideological revanchism we’re already seeing in America’s imperial transformation. If people are still absolutely committed to the belief in infinity of things like debt, growth, and hi-tech, they’re going to respond ever more tyrannically and violently, looking for political solutions in authoritarianism and scapegoating, in order to avoid facing up to the physical nature of the limitations, and to forestall as long as possible the full consequences of these limitations.

This is what I’ve been calling “resource fascism”.

Then there’s the better-intentioned but intellectually just as pernicious belief that greener hi-tech will save us. But green cornucopianism is still just another doomed attempt at escapism.

Whether the escapist attempt is politically noxious or not, it still prevents us from rationally preparing to enter the next stage of civilization: post-fossil fuel, which technologically will almost certainly be alot like the pre-fossil civilization.

So that’s a brief account of where I’m coming from with this. If it seems like I’m being hard on the CERN guys, it’s just that since I first started reading about that years ago, long before the thing actually failed to work, and even when the economy was booming and Peak Oil was barely a glimmer in anyone’s eye, there’s always been the question of whether it was a good use of resources. Even then it looked like a luxury boondoggle.

And the response of the physicists involved always had this tone of arrogance and entitlement, that “Who are you to question what we want? We have some ideas we want to work out, and whether or not this working out is of any significance to the world, it’s going to cost untold billions, and it’s the world’s responsibility to cough up those billions and then shut up and go away.”

This just always struck me as exemplary of the high priesthood. This project couldn’t even be argued to provide some kind of macroinspiration to man the way they used to argue (and still try) for the space program.

I also thought that if a man seeks intellectual fulfillment, he can do it the way the ancient Greeks did.

He doesn’t need all the billion-dollar bells and whistles today’s intellectual artists claim to need.

It bespeaks an inner impoverishment. But I guess that’s another criticism for another day, though I’ve touched upon it in these posts.

Like I said, I don’t mean for technology to be a main theme here. But I do want this idea to be part of the groundwork, so it’s as a contribution toward that goal that I wrote these scientism posts.

That even if people don’t agree with me right away on that particular point, they’ll maybe at least be more questioning of some things they maybe hadn’t questioned so much before.

%d bloggers like this: