A PARADOX OF KNOWLEDGE
Our collective ability to influence material reality through technology has no parallel in history.
However, as technology evolves to more and more complex creations, common men and women become increasingly unable to truly master their world. Collective knowledge paradoxically leads to a more and more perplexed individual.
We are getting stuck in a mostly passive/user relationship with the machinery and drugs that enable our lifestyles (both at a personal and professional levels). We have fantastic tools at our disposal, but in most cases they are as if gifts from the gods. If they malfunction, or it the web signal is disconnected, we do not know how to fix it and therefore need to sit calmly and wait for help.
How many individuals are capable of repairing (let alone building) their 56″ led TV, the laptops they work with or the cell phones they use to communicate? Beyond changing tires and other minor operations, how many are able to fix the modern cars that drive them around? And on a different component of life, how many diabetics can, for instance, synthetize the insulin they depend on for their survival?
Progress and technology are majestic achievments, but their power has also the potential to corrupt and erode human dignity by erasing any sense of control and mastery over life.
FROM PRACTICAL UNDERSTANDING TO PASSIVE AWE
From a creature that was once able to shape the technologies he interfaced with on a daily basis, man has now become an entity in constant awe of humanity’s impossibly complex creations, stemming from a degree of rarefied knowledge and scientific excellency from which most feel – and indeed are – far removed.
We now take advantage of and manipulate machines and systems that, beyond the most superficial of understandings, we can no longer comprehend, repair or create.
And yet, if dependency in relation to complex and fully integrated artifacts diminishes, a basic (even if imperfect) understanding of science and mechanics would enable an increasingly analogue approach to everyday life.
Why should it be sought?
ANALOGUE PROVIDES CONTROL
In a podcast broadcasted in 2019, Mike Glover, a former special forces operator, alluded to an instance of panic he experienced after boarding a commercial flight. And then, together with his guest, Chad Robichaux, he proceeded to dissect the event.
Mike, amongs many other qualifications, is a freefall jumpmaster, and has obviously flown frequently in aeroplanes during countless combat missions and deployments. However, during the specific flight he mentioned, the sudden realization that he had no control over the situation (obviously compounded by his personal circumstances and stressors inherent to a demanding military experience), brought about a crushing feeling of helplessness that triggered the panic attack.
During his military career and previous experiences in aeroplanes, Mike explained to his listeners that he always had direct communication with the pilot, and that ultimately he could always “bail out” (or at least he was under that impression). There was, has Mike explained, an overall sense of control over his circumstances, no matter how dangerous they were.
As a passenger on a commercial flight, on the other hand, this incredibly experienced veteran had to relinquish control and even awareness of the situation he found himself in. And thus exposed, Mike was suddenly overwhelmed by that troubling and unexpected “sense of fear that I couldn’t do anything about my situation”.
The same necessity to relinquish control is faced by most of us, as we increasingly abdicate personal authonomy to complex technologies that we do not master or fully control, in consideration for certain levels of comfort, luxury and “easiness” of living.
Who controls the technology systems before which we capitulate?
Eisenhower bid his farewell to the presidency in 1961 with a televised speech, during which he alerted the American population and government officials to the dangers of the excessive influence of what has since been called the “military-industrial complex“.
«In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never et the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.»
However, and this was a point that was somewhat lost in the narrative subsequently woven about this speech (mostly by radical left-wing intellectuals), on that solemn occasion the former supreme commander of allied forces in World War II actually seemed more concerned about the danger of both government and society being dominated by what he labelled the “scientific-technological elite“.
The scientific-technological elite
Here is the relevant quote, so that you can judge for yourselves:
«Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.»
Think about it… Just as I write this, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, health and economic policy worldwide has, for the most part, severed its ties to political choices taken by adults in accordance with the democratic process, and has instead fallen under the domain of “science”… as dictated by… the scientific-technological elite.
Huge technological companies dictate the narrative about the pandemic and reserve the right to arbitrate speech surrounding this issue. (Some) specialists in the field produce the papers that governments use as pretext for whatever policy is put in place. Individuals are divided into essential and non-essential workers and businesses are classified in the same binary fashion, with diferent outcomes in relation to what they are allowed (and expected) to do.
BUT WHO GETS TO DECIDE?
In New Jersey, liquor stores were apparently allowed to remain open during the quarantine lockdown (as opposed to churches or gun stores) because “scientists” apparently advised that it would be problematic to close them.
And assuming scientists are human (which seems like a fair assumption), are they not subject to the temptations of gold and glory? Are they not subject to bias and herd thinking? Should their advice on this not be vetted by the people, through the democratic process?
Science and technology are great and mankind’s progress so far is truly astounding.
However, the fact that we are better off than ever before (as least as a whole) should not obscure the fact that the curve can tip down if we are not vigilant and alert to the dangers of surrendering personal sovereignity to systems and technologies under the de facto control of unelected individuals, no matter how smart they are.
Aldous Huxley warned us about this… in 1958!!!