Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: technology (page 1 of 1)


Paul Kingsnorth:

When you can no longer grow your own wood or cut your own turf to heat your own parlour, you are made that little bit more dependent on the matrix of government, technology and commerce that has sought to transmute self-sufficiency into bondage since the time of the Luddites. The justification for this attack on family and community sufficiency changes with the times — in 17th-century England, the enclosures were justified by the need for agricultural efficiency; today they are justified by the need for energy efficiency — but the attack is always of the same nature. Each blow struck against local self-sufficiency, pride and love of place weaves another thread into the pattern which has been developing for centuries, and which is almost complete now in most affluent countries.

Kingsnorth quotes John Michell on “Fireside Wisdom”: the hearth as the center of the home, the family, and the stories that hold the family together. “Modern house-builders have given us high levels of convenience and hygiene while ignoring the psychological necessity of a focus; and through the absence of a cosmologically significant centre our minds have become unbalanced.”

This reminds me of certain passages from Albert Borgmann’s Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, especially those on what Borgmann calls “focal practices”:

To focus on something or to bring it into focus is to make it central, clear, and articulate. It is in the context of these historical and living senses of “focus” that I want to speak of focal things and practices. Wilderness on this continent, it now appears, is a focal thing. It provides a center of orientation; when we bring the surrounding technology into it, our relations to technology become clarified and well-defined. But just how strong its gathering and radiating force is requires further reflection. And surely there will be other focal things and practices: music, gardening, the culture of the table, or running. […]

We can now summarize the significance of a focal practice and say that such a practice is required to counter technology in its patterned pervasiveness and to guard focal things in their depth and integrity. Countering technology through a practice is to take account of our susceptibility to technological distraction, and it is also to engage the peculiarly human strength of comprehension, i.e., the power to take in the world in its extent and significance and to respond through an enduring commitment. Practically a focal practice comes into being through resoluteness, either an explicit resolution where one vows regularly to engage in a focal activity from this day on or in a more implicit resolve that is nurtured by a focal thing in favorable circumstances and matures into a settled custom.

In considering these practical circumstances we must acknowledge a final difference between focal practices today and their eminent pre-technological predecessors. The latter, being public and prominent, commanded elaborate social and physical settings: hierarchies, offices, ceremonies, and choirs; edifices, altars, implements, and vestments. In comparison our focal practices are humble and scattered. Sometimes they can hardly be called practices, being private and limited. Often they begin as a personal regimen and mature into a routine without ever attaining the social richness that distinguishes a practice. Given the often precarious and inchoate nature of focal practices, evidently focal things and practices, for all the splendor of their simplicity, and their fruitful opposition to technology, must be further clarified in their relation to our everyday world if they are to be seen as a foundation for the reform of technology.

rebellion against stability

I’m not a huge fan of the music of Kelly Lee Owens, but I am a huge fan of this interview:

“I grew up in a working class village in Wales and choirs were part of everyday life,” explains Owens. “It’s almost like National Service; everybody has to join a choir. People talk about this idea of finding your voice and I think that’s what happened when I was listening to those choirs. Hard men, ex-miners in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, singing with so much passion. Music had never hit me like that before. It made me want to explore my own voice. How could I express my emotions with this sound?

“The next step was Kate Bush,” she says, laughing. 

Of course that’s how it works: you go from Welsh miners’ choirs to Kate Bush and then you become a successful musician. (Also: “My God, don’t you miss that? Don’t you miss hearing something that good in the Top 5?”) Later: 

Much as I love working on the laptop, there is something about a machine like Dark Time that I find truly inspiring. You can program whatever you want and it doesn’t matter if it’s correct or not. It’s as if analogue is designed to go wrong because you always make mistakes. You press this button or put the kick here instead of here. So much of my stuff has that. I wish you could get plugins to fuck up more than they do. I think we need more of that randomness in music! 

When the interviewer agrees and continues, “Obviously, you can do mouse clicks just as easily,” KLO replies, 

But is it as much fun? Can you still create chaos? Will that kick be ridiculously late? Are you interested in making perfect music? I’m not. What does that even mean? Perfect music. What is perfect? A lot of time in the studio seems to be spent reintroducing variation and accident. I suppose you might call it humanness. Nudging things forward, nudging them back, dipping the volumes, trying to keep the listener engaged…. Analogue keeps things interesting. It rebels against stability. 

Back to the rough ground! 

nothing’s perfect

The only Bluetooth device that has ever worked reliably for me is the first-generation Apple AirPods. In every other circumstance Bluetooth has been hit-or-miss. Probably my Mac will connect to my stereo; but maybe not. I bought the AirPods Pro and they never connected to anything, so I sent them back. And don’t get me started about trying use Bluetooth in my car.

Maybe it works great for everyone else, and my body emits strange radiation that disrupts it for me and me alone. But in any event: I hate Bluetooth, and with very good cause.

Those old AirPods have (inevitably) lost much of their battery life, but they would still be fine for listening to stuff on my morning walks – except that often when I am away from the house the right pod loses its connection and can’t get it back. Weirdly, when I at home this doesn’t happen. But it’s one more form of unpredictability and unreliability and I’ve pretty much had it with that. So I’ve set the AirPods aside altogether and am using wired earbuds again. Last night I was lying in bed listening to some music with them, and as I was drifting off to sleep I thought: Wow, this is amazing. I never have to charge these things – and their battery doesn’t weaken over time because they don’t have a battery. They work, flawlessly, whenever I plug them in. As long as my device has electricity so too do these headphones. What an incredible step forward in technological achievement! And thinking such satisfied thoughts, I rolled over in bed and felt the cord of the headphones tightening around my neck. By the time I rescued myself I was wide awake again. 

Well. Nothing’s perfect, I guess. 

makers and making

Let’s think about three ways in which technological making can go wrong, using some Ludlumesque naming conventions.

First, there’s the Zuckerberg Imperative: “Move fast and break things” in order to achieve DOMINATION. This is evil by intention: it openly rejects moral responsibility.

Second, there’s the Oppenheimer Principle: which I describe here: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” This is not purposefully evil, but it often leads to evil through neglect of moral responsibility.

And third: the Fëanor Temptation.

Many readers of Tolkien’s Silmarillion tend to think that Melkor (effectively the Satan of Tolkien’s legendarium) is the central figure in that collection of myths and tales, but he isn’t. The central figure is an Elf named Fëanor, who makes the Silmarils, the three jewel-like and yet somehow organic objects for which the book is named – because so many of the conflicts that deface Middle-earth (and even places beyond) are brought about by love and desire for the Silmarils.

Let’s approach the significance of Fëanor in a somewhat roundabout way, as Tom Shippey – whom I’m basically stealing my ideas from, straight no chaser – does in his superb book The Road to Middle-Earth. Shippey asks whether the Elves are fallen in the same way that Men, according to Tolkien’s Catholic faith, are. If so:

A natural question is, what was their sin? To keep the pattern consistent, it ought not to be the same as that of Adam and Eve, by tradition Pride, the moment when, as [C. S.] Lewis said, ‘a conscious creature’ became ‘more interested in itself than in God’. In fact the elves seem much more susceptible to a specialised variety of pride not at all present in Paradise Lost, not quite Avarice or ‘possessiveness’ or wanting to own things (as has been suggested), but rather a restless desire to make things which will forever reflect or incarnate their own personality. So Melkor has the desire ‘to bring into Being things of his own’; Aulë, though subjecting himself to Ilúvatar, creates the dwarves without authority; Fëanor forges the Silmarils. One might rewrite Lewis’s phrase to say that in Valinor, as opposed to Eden, the Fall came when conscious creatures became ‘more interested in their own creations than in God’s’. The aspect of humanity which the elves represent most fully – both for good and ill – is the creative one.


Significantly Fëanor learns not from Manwë, nor Ulmo, but from Aulë, the smith of the Valar and the most similar of them to Melkor; Aulë too is responsible for the despatch of Saruman to Middle-earth…; Aulë is the patron of all craftsmen, including ‘those that make not, but seek only for the understanding of what is’ – the philologists, one might say, but also the scopas, the ‘makers’, the fabbri, the poets. Tolkien could not help seeing a part of himself in Fëanor and Saruman, sharing their perhaps licit, perhaps illicit desire to ‘sub-create’. He wrote about his own temptations, and came close to presenting the revolt of the Noldor as a felix culpa, a ‘fortunate sin’, when Manwë accepts that their deeds will live in song, so that ‘beauty not before conceived [shall] be brought into Eä’; fiction, poetry, craftsmanship are seen as carrying their own justification and as all being much the same thing.

And finally, Shippey brings us to the heart of the matter, with a reference to Tolkien’s comment, in one of his prefaces to The Lord of the Rings, that his story is not an allegory of our era but may well have “applicability” to our era:

Love of things, especially artificial things, could be seen as the besetting sin of modern civilisation, and in a way a new one, not quite Avarice and not quite Pride, but somehow attached to both. In that view The Silmarillion would have something like the distinctively modern ‘applicability’ of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, for all its archaic setting.

You can see from all this that what I am calling the Fëanor Temptation is closer to the Oppenheimer Principle than to the Zuckerberg Imperative. There is no direct intention to dominate, no thought of controlling or even influencing others. We are told that “Fëanor and the craftsmen of the Noldor worked with delight, foreseeing no end to their labours” – they find their work “technically sweet,” you might say.

But in the making of the Silmarils there was something of greater dignity, a love of something not made by Fëanor or any other of the Children of Iluvatar (i.e. Elves and Men): “For Fëanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, or it may be that some shadow of foreknowledge came to him of the doom that drew near; and he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable.” The desire to make the Silmarils, then, arises from a delight in the light of the Two Trees made by the Valar, the archangelic demiurges of this imagined cosmos.

But is there in Fëanor, perhaps, a certain desire to compete with the Valar? The Valar themselves seem not to have been concerned: “Varda [the Queen, as it were, of the Valar] hallowed the Silmarils, so that thereafter no mortal flesh, nor hands unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them, but it was scorched and withered; and Mandos foretold that the fates of Arda, earth, sea, and air, lay locked within them.” Yet there is cause for concern in the next sentence: “The heart of Fëanor was fast bound to these things that he himself had made.”

So strong is the hold of the Simlarils over Fëanor that when Melkor offers him shelter for them he is briefly tempted; and though he fiercely rejects Melkor – indeed he is the one who renames Melkor as Morgoth, the Black Enemy; and when Morgoth kills Fëanor’s father we are told that “his father was dearer to him than the Light of Valinor or the peerless works of his hands.” He is no monster; or not for a long time. But when Morgoth steals the Silmarils Fëanor becomes (quite literally, I think) insane with rage, and he and after him his sons are willing to defy the Valar and kill anyone who might stand between them and the recovery of those gems.

They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Ilúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë they named in witness, and Varda, and the hallowed mountain of Taniquetil, vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.

The gems are good; their making was at least potentially innocent; but afterward arose a lust for owning and controlling that led to great tragedy. Shippey again: the Fall of the Elves occurred “when conscious creatures became ‘more interested in their own creations than in God’s’. The aspect of humanity which the elves represent most fully – both for good and ill – is the creative one.”

And this is why “making” in and of itself is not the answer to our decadent moment. “Love of things, especially artificial things, could be seen as the besetting sin of modern civilisation, and in a way a new one, not quite Avarice and not quite Pride, but somehow attached to both” – and this is the Fëanor Temptation. It is in light of this temptation that I advocate repair, which is a mode of caring for what we have not made, but rather what we have inherited. We will not be saved by the making of artifacts — or from the repair of them, either; but the imperative of repair has these salutary effects: it reminds us of our debt to those who came before us and of the fragility of human constructs.  

Special Relationships

If I had another lifetime at my disposal, here’s a book I’d like to write.

Special Relationships: British Sages in America

A history of American infatuation with wise men from Great Britain, structured by changes in technology. In all cases the book trade is essential, but it forms alliances with other technologies: first the lecture tour, then (thanks especially to the Luce empire) the magazine, and finally television. It’s possible that radio would need a chapter, but at the moment my sense is that radio was always more important as a way for Brits to understand America, e.g. Alastair Cooke’s “Letter from America.”

General outline with key figures:

Part 1: The Age of the Lecture

  • Charles Dickens
  • Oscar Wilde
  • G. K. Chesterton

Part 2: The Age of the Magazine

  • C. S. Lewis
  • Arnold Toynbee

Part 3: The Age of Television

  • Kenneth Clark
  • J. Bronowski
  • James Burke

Afterword: The End of an Era

  • Christopher Hitchens

Christians and the biopolitical

Matthew Loftus:

Christians must develop and encourage practices of suffering that accompany those in pain, like Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross during Christ’s passion. The ethical imperatives of the Church are only intelligible to a watching world to the degree that Christians are willing to walk alongside those who suffer and bear their pain with them. Without these practices of accompaniment, Christian moral teaching about issues like abortion or assisted reproductive technology is a cold set of rules enforced by people who have the privilege of not having to bear their cost. It is through these experiences — and not just experiences with those who forsake an accessible but immoral technological intervention, but also accompaniment with the poor, the imprisoned, and those whose suffering cannot be relieved by any human means — that Christians are able to experience growth through suffering and acquire the perspective from below that shapes their advocacy for those who need the work-towards-shalom the most. 

A powerful essay. 

The themes of that essay do not immediately seem directly related to the themes of this interview with Loftus, but I think they are. Responding to claims by some doctors that we should ration Covid care to favor the vaccinated and disfavor the unvaccinated, Loftus, himself a physician, says, 

I think it is a matter of justice not to ration care away from the unvaccinated, because to do so, I think, is to pass a judgment on someone’s other personal health decisions that we would never apply in any other case. All health care is a mixture of trying to provide justice while also being merciful to others. It’s impossible to be a good health-care worker and not be willing to be merciful with people who, quite frankly, got themselves into the trouble that they’re in and had many opportunities not to do so. But it’s also a matter of justice in giving that person what they need to survive or, if not to survive, to die in a way that honors the person they are. 

Loftus is pointing here to a version of what Scott Alexander, in one of the more useful ethical essays I have read in the past decade, calls “isolated demands for rigor.” When doctors treat people for health problems that arise from obesity, they don’t withhold care until they learn whether those people have some kind of genetic predisposition to obesity or are fat because they eat at McDonald’s every day — they just treat the patients. Oncologists don’t give better treatment to lung cancer patients who smoke less or don’t smoke at all. We only think to subject the unvaccinated-against-Covid to that kind of strict scrutiny because the discourse around Covid has become so pathologically tribalized and moralized. 

But Christians in particular have a very strong reason not to employ such strict scrutiny: We believe in a God who sought out and saved “people who, quite frankly, got themselves into the trouble that they’re in.” In an earlier reflection on this general subject, I mentioned Eve Tushnet’s wise comment that “mercy to the guilty is the only kind of mercy there is.” The rationing of medical care away from the unvaccinated is structural mercilessness. It is anti-shalom

medicine as religion

Giorgio Agamben:

It has been evident for quite a while that science has become our time’s religion, the thing which people believe that they believe in. Three systems of beliefs have co-existed, and in some ways still co-exist today, in the modern West: Christianity, capitalism, and science. In the history of modernity these three “religions” often and unavoidably intersected, each time clashing with one another and then reconciling until they gradually reached a sort of peaceful, articulated cohabitation (if not a true collaboration, in the name of a common interest). What is new is that, without us noticing, a subterranean and implacable conflict between science and the other two religions has ignited. Science’s triumphs appear today before our very eyes, and they determine in an unprecedented way every aspect of our existence. This conflict does not pertain, as it did in the past, to general theories and principles but, so to speak, to cultic praxis. No less than any other religion, science organizes and arranges its own structure through different forms and ranks. To its elaboration of a subtle and rigorous dogmatics corresponds, in praxis, a vast and intricate cultic sphere that coincides with what we call “technology.” It is not surprising that the protagonist of this new religious war is the very branch of science whose dogmatics is less rigorous and whose pragmatic aspect is stronger: that is, medicine, whose object is the living human body.

more on geoengineering

As a follow-up to my recent post on climate change and the various means of addressing it, see this from the Economist:

Some form of geoengineering technology, therefore, would seem inevitable if the world has any hope of meeting the Paris targets.

Despite the uptick in interest, the technologies themselves are nowhere near ready. Resistance from some scientists and environmentalists has made research in the field very difficult. In March, for example, a project in Sweden that would have tested scientific equipment to be used in future experiments to release particles into the atmosphere had to be cancelled after protests from local environmental groups. The locals argued — as have others who oppose geoengineering — that the technology being tested would distract from the more important task of reducing carbon emissions.

That is a worthwhile argument. But preventing research on geoengineering has risks too. There are plenty of technical, ethical and environmental questions to answer about these technologies: do they work as intended at scale? If they do work, who should control them? What are the unintended side-effects of all this climate-tampering? If the technologies are not properly scrutinised and governments don’t agree on rules for their proper use, what’s to prevent a rogue actor (whether a country or a billionaire) from going it alone and doing something dangerous?

Geoengineering cannot (and should not) displace the urgent need to cut global carbon emissions. But in the long-term struggle against climate change, the world will need the best information and every useful tool it can invent.

The argument that the exploration and testing of geoengineering technologies should be stopped is not “a worthwhile argument.” It’s a dumb argument. We cannot afford to put all our eggs in the emissions-reduction basket, for the simple reason that there is no good reason to believe that the world’s governments will impose the necessary constraints. We have to have a Plan B, and also Plans C, D, E, and so on. It is tragically wrong for activists to allow their desire to punish us all for our bad choices, to force us all to confront and suffer for our reckless behavior, to overwhelm the need to stop warming by whatever means available. As the article rightly says. 

Climate activists often say — Kim Stanley Robinson effectively says this in The Ministry for the Future — that the struggle against climate change is a struggle against climate injustice, and you can’t disentangle those: fighting against climate change necessarily entails dismantling the system that produced it. There are many things one might say in response to this claim, but the most obvious and to my mind irrefutable one is simply this: When faced with an enormous problem you don’t know how to solve, it’s not a good move to chain it to another enormous problem you also don’t know how to solve.  

As someone with a great sympathy for anarchism — and indeed for the Mondragon-style anarcho-syndicalism that KSR often commends — I would certainly like to see transnational capitalism dismantled. It is my fervent hope that that happens, ideally through a peaceful process of subsidiarist devolution. But we don’t know how to do that, and even if we ever figure out how to do it, the process of devolution will be very long. (The idea that you can simply sow chaos and expect something better to emerge, somehow, from that is just childish.) In the meantime, if it’s possible for the current global capitalist order to develop technologies that will ameliorate climate change, then I think that would be a very good thing indeed. 

UPDATE: This additional piece from the Economist usefully suggests the difference between, on the one hand, reckless and overbold forms of geoengineering and, on the other, more limited and responsible forms. 

UPDATE 2: One more along these lines, from Todd Myers: “On The Dispatch Podcast last week, Sarah Isgur and Jonah Goldberg expressed the hope that a future Norman Borlaug would do for reducing CO2 emissions what the original Borlaug did to feed the world. There may be a climate Borlaug out there, but it is far more likely that climate change will be solved by a million Borlaugs — small innovators whose efforts add up to big changes. The cost of innovation has declined radically since the Green Revolution of the 1960s, and we are already seeing an explosion of new carbon-reducing technologies.” 

pure speculation

Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent novel, The Ministry for the Future, begins with a long and horrific set-piece about a massive heatwave in India, in the year 2025, that leaves perhaps twenty million people dead in a single week. The almost unimaginable death toll kick-starts a serious worldwide determination to deal with climate change; one consequence of this determination is the multinational organization that gives the book its title.

But the Ministry is only one such endeavor. Robinson devotes a lot of time — too much time, for this sometimes glassy-eyed reader — to the description of committee meetings and other workings of a vast bureaucracy, because he thinks that, boring or not, such patient work will make a difference to our climate future, if any difference is to be made. However, as he repeatedly makes clear, bureaucratic action is not the only kind of action there is — systemic inertia and global capitalism being what they are:

The disaster had happened in India, in a part of India where few foreigners ever went, a place said to be very hot, very crowded, very poor. Probably more such events in the future would mostly happen in those nations located between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, and the latitudes just to the north and south of these lines. Between thirty north and thirty south: meaning the poorest parts of the world. North and south of these latitudes, fatal heat waves might occur from time to time, but not so frequently, and not so fatally. So this was in some senses a regional problem. And every place had its regional problems. So when the funerals and the gestures of deep sympathy were done with, many people around the world, and their governments, went back to business as usual. And all around the world, the CO2 emissions continued.

A new government in India, perhaps the first truly representative government in the country’s history, knows that that’s how it goes. So it begins a seven-month campaign of sending cargo planes as high aloft as they will go to release aerosol particulates meant to reflect sunlight away from the earth. Some nations protest; India doesn’t care. India sends the planes because Indians have seen up close what happens when a heat wave occurs that simply overwhelms the resources of the unprotected human body.

Does the seeding help? Probably; a little. It was, one of the pilots thinks, worth a shot no matter what.

Later in the book Robinson describes a more complex technological effort: a massive project of drilling in the Arctic and Antarctic meant to allow meltwater to escape, which in turn slows the shifting and calving of the glaciers. In a related effort, the Russians assume responsibility for dyeing the Arctic Ocean yellow to reflect heat and keep it relatively cool.

I have read many accounts today of the bluntly alarming new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and only one of them (in the Economist) has mentioned technological approaches to addressing the climate crisis — approaches other than those related to the reduction of carbon emissions, which is anyway typically portrayed as a behavioral rather than a technological matter — even though a good deal of research in this field is being done. I’m sure some accounts say more, but certainly the overwhelming message from the media is simple and straightforward: We must reduce carbon emissions, and reduce them by a degree hitherto unthinkable. (And, they add, even that won’t stop significant temperature increases.)

Why so little attention to technological helps unrelated to the reduction of emissions? Well, for one thing, that reflects the emphasis of the report itself; also, that makes for a simple story, and writers of press releases and journalists alike prefer simple stories. But — and this is the meaning of my title — I speculate, I suspect, than something else is at work. Something maybe more important than simplicity.

There’s no doubt in my mind — not one iota of doubt — that we are headed for a global nightmare because of our own greed and self-indulgence. And if technological solutions emerge that slow or stop global warming, then that will mean that we get away with it. We get away with our greed and self-indulgence; we don’t pay the piper, what goes around does not, after all, come around. And that is — for those of us with a strong sense of justice, and I count myself among that number — a bitter pill to swallow. It’s precisely the same impulse that made so many of us choke on the Wall Street bailout a decade ago. They got away with it, the bastards.

Of course, just as I accepted a Wall Street bailout because I believed that it would result in less destruction and suffering than allowing the system to burn down, I would also accept — eagerly! — technological solutions that left us as greedy and self-indulgent and regardless of the future as ever but averted the loss of countess lives (human and non-human) and the destruction of countless square miles of habitat. Surely this is also true of the journalists and climate activists remaining silent about possibly ameliorative technological endeavors.

But here’s the thing: How much hope does any of us really have that the world’s governments will do the right thing? Oh, they may very neatly re-arrange the deck-chairs on the Titanic — but more than that? There ain’t a snowball’s chance in Waco circa August 2075. In his novel, Robinson imagines the emergence of a kind of chastened and de-centralized capitalism — and I want to come back to that in another post, if I have time — but, like Bill McKibben, I fear that “Robinson underestimates not just the staying power of the status quo but also the odds that when things get really bad, we will react really badly.” (KSR may be a better prophet in his anticipation, in the Mars books, of “transnational” capitalism.)

McKibben suggests that such bad reactions could include the emergence of more authoritarian strongmen, and one would have to be naïve to discount the possibility of that, but I think it’s more likely that elected politicians will just find ways to kick the can a little further down the road, again and again and again. Politicians in a democratic order only think as far as the next election — those who win such elections do, anyway — and unelected ones only think of bread, circuses, and mechanisms of intimidation. Long-term thinking about the common good is simply not a political virtue, insofar as “politics” means “gaining and keeping power.” And that is, after all, what politics means.

I, therefore, have nearly zero confidence in political solutions to our changing climate, which means that I am all the more interested in the likely emerging technologies. I wish it was easier to find out about what people are experimenting on, what they are planning. My primary fear for the medium-term future is that, in a time of particular pain, something like Robinson’s picture of a desperate Indian government acting precipitously will come about — and that the consequences will be much worse than those were. This is why I would like to hear less about the reduction of carbon emissions and more about what the scientists and engineers are planning against the Dies Irae.

Daoism and Cosmotechnics

My recent New Atlantis essay on the way beyond what I call The Standard Critique of Technology is now unpaywalled. This is an important essay for me personally, though I have no idea whether anyone else will find it valuable. It’s peculiar.

The basic question I ask is this: What if Neil Postman and Ivan Illich and Ursula Franklin and Albert Borgmann are all absolutely correct in their critique of how modern technocracy has developed — but as a result nothing has changed? What do we do now?

The basic answer I give is: There may be considerable resources available to us through the philosophical (as opposed to the religious) tradition of Daoism.

It may seem odd that as a Christian I am looking to Daoism, but again, it is to Daoism as a philosophical tradition (daojia) rather than Daoism as an organized religion (daojiao) to which I turn, and Christian thinkers have typically been open to the adaptation of non-Christian sources of thought. If Thomas Aquinas can appropriate Aristotle then I see no reason why I can’t appropriate Laozi. There are certain elements of Christian spirituality — especially from the Franciscan tradition: as I say in the essay, St. Francis is a kind of Daoist sage — that echo the Daoist approach to technology, but they remain, I think, underdeveloped. That’s something I want to work on in the coming years.