Sunday, May 4, 2008

faith in technology?

Hello decent reading public; I hope this sabbath day finds you all content in your homes with your family and close friends; perhaps you have read a book today (scandalous!) or maybe even taken your wife to a dancing-hall (!). Hopefully you have spend a good deal of time thanking the creator for the wonderful life which he has bestowed upon you.

Of course, if you read this blog, the entire paragraph above is laughable. Sunday is just like any other day; it's a day to study for tests, a day to lie in bed with your lover, a day to cry about last night's injustices. We've all got our recompense on sunday.

It's often that I find myself stimulated by the philosophers I study for class towards thoughts about technology and its place in our collective consciences. Take Nietzsche, for example, the great "sham-smasher", according to Mencken. Now, I am not a sooth-sayer so do not take the following words to be any sort of spiritual meditation on our life. If my words are effective you might find your mind sharing a parallel path to my own, at least for a short while. Let us clear away some brush with our sharply-honed (or at least dense enough) machetes and see how Nietzsche comes to bear on the philosophy of technology.

Nietzsche's achievement was to call into question moral systems as a whole. That is, he was the first to ask: "What is the value of our values?" Nietzsche's answer is unsettling for Hegelians, Christians, and moralists alike. First, some background:

Nietzsche, in his Genealogy of Morals, undertakes an etymological investigation of the words "good", "bad", and "evil". He argues that firstly, there is no word for "Evil" in ancient Greek or Latin. Secondly he notices that the words "Good" and "Bad" are derived from positive, self-affirming values in the aforementioned cultures. There are no 'virtuous' connotations to the word "Good"; the words in Latin and Greek are derived from words for war ('bellum') in the former and 'strong' in the latter; hence the words for "bad" are only attributed to those things lacking strength or prowess in battle.

"Well, what does this have to do with the price of Dell laptops?" my faithful readership might ask. Hold on, hold on. We'll get there. Note now that the ideas of judeo-christian morals are cast in a peculiar light. No matter how 'virtuous' they are, we notice now that they are based upon denials of ego, upon restraint. What implications does this have for religion? Well, once we see that this is our conception of morals, then we see that Christian morality is based upon the restraint of our urges to avenge or commit violence.

Now, before we get to an examination of technology (and, more widely still, science) in contemporary discussion, an examination of Nietzsche's arguments against the existence of God. Nietzsche argues that notions of a 'god' are created from ancient communal worship of ancestors. As a society becomes more wealthy and prosperous, the 'debt' that a society feels to its ancestors increases, until what were previously ancestors are now transformed into demi-gods. One can follow the logical progression of this, but the important thing is to see that God is created out of a notion of indebtedness; the Christian God is the ultimate and logically complete form of this notion: a god that for your sins comes to Earth as a human and allows himself to be destroyed for your forgiveness. Talk about a large tally of debt!

Now, Nietzsche astutely points out that it is the achievement of the modern age to realize this truth, and subsequently turn to science to derive a meaning from life. But, Nietzsche notes, this is simply the exact same sort of worship associated with previous gods! Does one not see this idea of a God echoed in the wide-spread respect for 'scientific truth' and 'logical necessity'? Nietzsche's philosophy was about getting beyond this notion of Truth, but at this point I would recommend the reader to take his attentions to Nietzsche himself rather than listen to this poor conduit.

The important thing to realize is that what people take to be the full-hearted truth, and the thing into which people place the entirety of their hard-fought faith into, this is the same sort of dogmatism that existed before! Any cursory look at the place that technology holds in our society will yield this view. How can it be otherwise? Who do we expect to deliver us from the spectre of global warming? Science and human ingenuity, of course! What we have to realize is that science is something that is of use, not something that yields Truth, in any qualifiable form. We are not interested in Holism (and Truth without qualification is necessarily part of a holistic worldview) - we are interested in the things that will make life easier.

1 comment:

zbarr said...

I think it's a very valid comparison you make with regards to the new religion of "scientism" if you will. In the end I suppose the major error of science is the unending quest to define our terms and identify the most basic unit of existence. I wonder, though, about the origins of "god". Perhaps the original deities were abstract personifications of natural phenomena, the goal being an attempt to bring rudimentary reason to the chaotic existence of primeval man.