Technology is often conceived as an extension of our body. A misleading conception. Consider our cameras: they are not mere or innocent extensions of our eyes. They go “farther,” but in doing so they distort, proceeding in an unnatural way, “flattening” the seen in more than one sense. For the eye is alive, whereas the camera is dead: a soulless machine. Is this significant? Yes, insofar as we tend to consider the mechanically-grasped image as “real” on an equal footing with the image received naturally by the living eye, the eye moving spontaneously, “from within.”
Technology abstracts an aspect of vision to gain something to the detriment of something else; to gain “power” to the detriment of “soul.” A Faustian theme. Knowledge is reduced to power as it is emptied of truth, of a truth beyond power. The result: knowledge as means of control. What is being controlled? Experience. Yet, not experience as a whole, but a narrow aspect or facet of experience. Control of experience expands as the domain of controlled experience contracts.
Yet, technology is supposed to give us universally repeatable results. This observation is misleading. Technology fosters the narrowing and flattening of experience, rising to the status of limit of experience. This is where technology is supposed to replace the divine itself.
Technology delivers what we expect to the extent that it defines the limits of our expectations. In doing so, it robs experience of its fullness, or rather it robs us of the fullness of experience. It kills experience, rendering it “virtual,” as we might say, today; driving us to take our new, virtual experience for granted; seducing us into identifying what becomes a “normal” experience as experience tout court. The normal is identified with the good. Grave mistake.
Technology transforms the very fiber of our experience, driving us to experience all things mechanically and as a machine. It then imposes itself as justified by the evidence it itself provides. We become so accustomed to conceiving “evidence” as mediated by the new machine that we fall into utter forgetfulness of the original nature of experience—of the rootedness of experience in “soul.” We become indifferent, even blind to the distinction between dead and living experience. What is alive is approached as if it were dead, and vice versa.
Technology is not questionable, then, merely with respect to its social consequences, but insofar as it does not deliver what it promises to. Technology lies. Its “truths” are false, distorted, mind-numbing, as empty as is technology’s power.
Yet we hear that technology “saves lives.” Is this not true? True if we narrow our vision, our very experience, within technological boundaries. True if we let technology define our experience. Yet, no sooner have we begun questioning the mechanistic and progressive conception of nature constituting the essence of technology than the self-evidence of technological soteriology come to naught.
In what sense is technology at once mechanistic and progressive? In the sense that it seeks outside of itself what is within us, within our life. Technology—together with ourselves insofar as we follow it—objectifies “soul” as principle distinguishing the animate from the inanimate. Technology is continual departure from what is active within us, in search of an inert object outside of us. Technology yields what is dead by fleeing what is alive, or even what raises the living out of the dead: that which animates us out of the inanimate.
Yet we are assured that we can do great things through technology. There is a price to pay, however, and not merely an “external” one. The “end result” of technology is not the only “dark spot” of a technologically-mediated life. The “power” offered by technology is inherently troubling; for it is gained only to the extent that it robs us of the proper or original context of experience, thereby converting experience from 1) the poetic nexus between the determinate and the indeterminate, to 2) the “scientific” nexus between determinations (e.g. one thing or one moment after another) on a technological horizon. Until we become so accustomed to our new technologically-mediated experience, that we reject as absurd or utterly untenable any other kind of experience, which is to say, all experience that is not narrowed and flattened by technology.
Yet we can send satellites to distant planets. Is this not a fascinating proof that technology can explain things that we would otherwise not understand? Does technology not help us predict the future, control chance, or triumph over death? Goethe would respond that we reach a point where we are no longer to any degree certain if we are controlling, or if we are being controlled. Are we controlling nature with technology, or are we handing to technology the power to control us, to keep us “safe,” to alienate us from nature itself, a nature that even technological mediation cannot prove to be devoid of consciousness, of thought, of meaning?
Is technology delivering truth, or is it delivering us lies allowing us to keep truth at bay? Is it extending our lives, delivering evermore life, or is it narrowing and flattening our lives, blinding us to the truth of our dying and indeed to death itself as context of our mechanical lives? Is technology an expression, even the consummate expression, of modern man’s “denial of death”?
We accept to live technologically, but at a twofold price: we blind ourselves to our original non-technologically-mediated experience and remain trapped in an experience in which we grow progressively incapable of discriminating between true and false, good and evil, right and wrong. The new world we are trapped in is one of “data” defined by (being mediated by) technology, the machine that has become our own modus vivendi, our hegemonic blinder.
No other reason or logic is admitted before or above technology’s “imperial logic.” To reason outside of the sphere of the technological imperative is madness. Classical “poetic reason” is senselessness. Today it is superseded by feelings, byproducts of technologically mediated experience. Feelings are not reason, so they need not be mad. They become mad only to the extent that they are guided—and consolidated—by a reason other than that of technology. Feelings are supremely mad where they are guided by a reason or discourse explicitly undermining that of technology, a reason helping feelings find their redemption in their transcendent source, Promised Land of all chagrin, of all melancholia, ancestral mother of reason itself. Then feelings must be wrong, devious, even evil. Thus spoke our technological age.
Yet technology is said to help us see more things, if only on the way to allowing us to see “other things” privatissime, which is to say, to “feel” what technology does not deliver explicitly. We are not supposed to know, or see-directly what is not spelled out by technology. What technology does not give us is “the irrational,” which we are permitted to enjoy or dread in private as long as our privacy submits to the hegemony of technology—to technology as provider of public order. Yet, no sooner does our privacy escape the confines dictated by technology; no sooner do our feelings reject technological mediation; than our feelings become illegitimate. For in a technological society we have no right to see what is public without technological mediation.
Yet technology confirms itself through repetition. Is repetition not a proof of validity, nay of truth itself? Does it not tell us that what technology tells us corresponds to reality? Again, a misleading proposition, insofar as technology sets the table for us to find what technology defines to begin with. Technology’s “predictions” correspond to facets of experience that technology cuts out in the first place, in preparation to fulfilling its own prophecies.
What does technology explain? The mechanical, inexorable link between two moments in a Time conceived as mechanistically as thought itself? A correspondent recently rebuked the classicist’s argument, noting that modern science is superior to ancient science in virtue of a better “grasp of cause and effect relationships that make things happen.” Is that right? The same correspondent adds: “That’s why [Aristotle] is not taught in either physical science or engineering classes today. The sum total of his knowledge of the efficient causes that operate in the world is now surpassed by any bright high senior in a science-focused high school.” Is that why our bright students do not study Aristotle? Or is it because Aristotle had the courage and intellectual honesty to expose our so-called “efficient causes” to modes of causality transcending our all-too-modern expectations? Is our expert “grasping” of “efficient causes” the mark of our scientific success or is it the mark of our scientific failure to let go of a mechanistic compulsion blinding us to the ultimate nature of causation, or to the original harmony of means and ends, as of principium and finis.
Our expertise permits us to build powerful machines, but their power is as meaningless—and thus fundamentally unverifiable—as we become blind to its source, or to the nature of the Nature that we believe to be transforming as we drag it, or its shadow, into our “modern cave” (as Leo Strauss called it), a neo-alchemic Laboratory abstracting power from both beginning and end, both its Alpha and its Omega, now ostracized to the antipodes of a mechanical universe expanding—so we are told—more rapidly than we could possibly fathom.
Spinoza’s progeny has grasped the “logic” of nature, reducing God’s mind to a perfect machine. We have mastered mediation, replacing the “Living Word” of bygone ages with the universally reproducible platitudes of our technological Institutions: everything evolves, nobody’s perfect, everyone’s opinion counts. Really?
Originally appeared on VoegelinView Read More