Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Soul of Man under Technology

I suppose it sounds mundane and facile to place one’s chief hope in technology after all these grand ethical and metaphysical arguments. If we are so corrupted, so incapable of reason, how could mere gadgets save us? It is admittedly a bleak position: basically I then place my hope in random history that would eventually lead us to a transformation despite our all destructive actions. But yes, if any true progress comes, it surely will come despite the usual vested interests, the usual elites – and trough the usual blind, panicky, shortsighted struggle for power and safety that our human history has consisted of.

In short I don’t believe in any ethical, any rational shortcut consciously embraced because of reason and compassion. Technology can eventually destroy the cruel restraints of human life: cure diseases, prolong life, abolish all physical want. In such profoundly changed conditions we are also bound to change profoundly. And only through profound change, a fundamental ethical and spiritual transformation, can we begin to realize our true potential, our true humanity. So, my little faith in human self-governance is placed on random history, on science and reason somehow prevailing over fear, aggression and stupidity. It does not sound very likely, does it? I would still say that at least this position gives a rational foundation for hope which will always exist. We live in bleak times, we have always lived in bleak times, but there will always exist hope for better, even in the grimmest of circumstances.


helsinkian said...

It always depends on who uses technology and for what purpose. At the end of the day WMD is the planet's greatest threat and the human race may face extinction thanks to technology that can enable a swift collective suicide.

Since we don't longer have the same threat scenario as during the Cold War (MAD = mutual assured destruction, the likelihood of which has significantly diminished since we don't live in a bipolar world anymore), the use of WMD always tends to be on a limited scale, whenever that happens. The idea that WMD use will happen on a limited scale is in some sense scarier since WMD may be used a lot less carelessly if the fate of the planet is not deemed to be on stake.

So while technology will enable us to cure plenty of diseases; WMD use for one may lead to some very nasty diseases, which would offset much of the technological gain.

Technology can be used to cure diseases but just as easily it can be used to cause diseases and to kill people. It's all about ethics in the end.

There is no soul in technology itself; we have to accept that some people will use it in a beneficial manner and others will use the same technology because of its destructive potential. Some efforts may even turn out to be misguided.

Then again, new diseases will always turn out when other ones are cured. Human immortality is not in the best interests of our ecosystem and the fact that we die makes life possible for future generations. In the end nothing is eternal, neither we nor our culture can prevail forever. Even our solar system has a limited time span.

I would argue that it is this very limited nature of life that makes it so much more precious. When technology provides cures for nasty diseases that will help those suffering of them at that point, it is a great miracle. But we can't expect technology to give us immortality and advanced technology increases the responsibility of those who develop it since so much is at stake. The short term survival of our planet is the most gigantic issue that our brains can imagine. The survival of our cultural heritage is part of that quest to preserve the legacy that we carry. In some ways our planet (substitute any minor part of the planet for that pompous big word) is also a memorial to those who have lived here before us.

stockholm slender said...

Valid points certainly. My fundamental argument I think concerns the human nature which I believe is animal at core: fearful, hysterical, aggressive. In that case it does not matter in itself what technology we possess as technology itself is not the problem. But how do we change? Our cultures and societies shape our behaviour, dress our primal instinct either fruitfully or destructively (mostly in the latter way). Cultures and societies themselves are shaped by random history fueled by human passions. As we can see here in the Nordic countries (the most advanced form of human society thus far) that history can have a beneficial direction in which context technology can further progress considerably. Beyond a certain tipping point I can see a fundamental transition through technology that will lead to a fundamental transformation of our base nature as well. To me this is the only realistic hope in the sense of relying on observed facts of our behaviour and story so far. It is a fairly bleak view at heart but at least this slight hope can never be denied even in the grimmest circumstances.