Friday, September 23, 2005

Integrative and disintegrative technology

One of the thoughts behind this website is that a large part of modernity, technology and the mass production world, constitutes a kind of imitation or simulacra of natural processes and pre-modern social and economic relations. One could say that we have the pre-modern world, which is a kind of whole on its own and then we have the modern world laid over it, where technics and modern industrial production fulfill some of the same roles which in a pre-modern setting would be met through other means. So the modern world is sort of a simulation, not in the Baudrillard sense of a consumption/advertizing simulation but rather in the sense of an equivalent construction of something else, of what's gone before. This can get out of control because modern technology and production processes, unlike the pre-modern equivalents which were bound by the limits of the natural world, implicitly have no limits on their action besides the very basic ones of cost effectiveness, possibly. Because there're no limits on where technology can go and what it can do the possibility arises of technology stepping on the limits of the natural world completely and creating an alienated, oppressive, modernity which in its anti-humanism is beyond anything that would have been possible in a setting where natural limits, which tend to point to humanistic concerns, are present. The block after block of industrially produced apartment blocks in the former Soviet Union and the corresponding environmental destruction there are signs of what happens when modernity exists without any limits.

When the modern world replaces the natural world the possibility exists that, with nothing to orient their lives by and an alienation surpassing anything experienced before, that people will seek to fight this by looking backwards into a semi-mythical past and forcibly replacing the technical world with an equally conterfeit world, only this time one which speaks in the language of anti-modernity. Alternately, they could reject some of it and mix the mythic and the technical by seeking to harness the technical to the mythic. These phenomenon are, respectively, better known by the terms "National Socialism" and "Fascism".

To avoid having a fascist reality come to life the simulated reality of modernity has to be subordinated to some limits, limits which will serve the function of humanizing the technological world, limits established to serve humanity instead of turning humanity into another cog in the wheel of industry.

But limits alone aren't enough. Limiting the industrial/technical nature of capitalism, doesn't deal with the question of what is appropriate for technology itself to be used for. It assumes that the only possiblity for technology is to produce an alienated world. But, as a sort of minor point in the story of modernity and technology, there are ways in which technology can connect people to actually bridge some of the alienation created by an artificial world. The web site that you're reading right now is an example of this.

The internet, the various services on the internet that connect people, even cell phones, and other technology, for instance mass transit, can serve an integrating function. Integrating in that they increase the density of culture and of social interchange instead of tending to decrease the richness of culture and social interchange, which would be a disintegrating factor.

Since technology realistically can't be done away with and since we'd lose quite a bit of the comforts which we experience by doing so, finding appropriate technology which exists as a counterweight to the negative influences of some technology is a worthy cause.

If the simulation of society is to go on, which it probably will, then an artificial factor which brings people together is probably needed as well, in order for a technological society within limits to function properly and humanely.

Then there's the question of the transition to socialism, which would involve not only the overthrow of the capitalist order but one of the current technological and environmental order as well and the harnessing of both of them to both humane and environmentally healthy ends. It would involve society being run by the majority for the majority, with a break down between manual work and management and other types of intellectual work, and popular self determination in many areas which are now left up to the market and the bourgeois world to decide.

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