“The notion that there is a way of life characteristic of modern (or industrial) societies that is qualitatively different from the way of life of premodern (or folk) societies goes back, at least, to the German sociologist Max Weber. Modern societies, said Weber, are governed by bureaucracy; the dominant ethos is one of “rationalization,” whereby everything is mechanized, administered according to the dictates of scientific reason. Weber famously compared this situation to that of an “iron cage”: there was no way the citizens of these societies could break free from their constraints . Premodern societies, on the other hand, were permeated by animism, by a belief in magic and spirits, and governance came not through bureaucracy but through the charisma of gifted leaders. The decline of magic that accompanied the transition to modernity Weber called die Entzauberung der Welt—the disenchantment of the world.
The distinction between these two fundamental types of social orders emerged in a variety of studies in the decades that followed. Thus another sociologist, Ferdinand Tönnies, saw the two in terms of gemeinschaft (community) vs. gesellschaft (society, especially the culture of business), noting that whereas the former was characterized by bonds of kinship or friendship, the latter is notable for the preponderance of impersonal or contractual relations.
Linguist Edward Sapir, in turn, cast the dichotomy in terms of “genuine” vs. “spurious” cultures, arguing that the activities of the former were imbued with spiritual meaning, whereas the latter are discordant and empty.
Finally, the American anthropologist Robert Redfield would relabel the dichotomy as the moral vs. the technical order, asserting that in traditional or folk societies meaning was given, whereas in modern ones it had to be constructed. Individuals had a sense of belonging in the moral order, he wrote; indeed, that’s what a moral order is. In the technical order, on the other hand, people essentially feel lost, cosmically orphaned. Ultimately, Redfield believed that while the human race had made great advances in the technical order, it had made virtually no progress in the moral order— the knowledge of how to live, as it were— and that because of this, the human prospect was rather dim.
At the heart of Redfield’s anthropological research was the conviction that technological progress by itself was sterile. In the technical order, he maintained, human beings are bound by things or are themselves things. If this regime were to be adopted by (or more likely, forced upon) traditional societies, it would tear those societies apart— which is, of course, the historical record. “Every precivilized society of the past fifty or seventy-five millenniums,” he wrote, “has a moral order to which the technical order was subordinate.” Over time, however, this equation was reversed. The consequences, he concludes, are obvious.
Two things deserve comment here. The first is that the dichotomy of moral vs. technical is a bit too stark, based (as Redfield acknowledged) on “ideal types.” As the Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen points out, there are significant differences between traditional societies. And yet, he adds, it is not off base as a first approximation: life in medieval Europe or in a remote village in Melanesia was/ is vastly different from life in contemporary New York. Thus the following things have become scarce in hypermodern society:
Slow time; silence Security; predictability Sense of belonging, and of personal identity
Real experiences (i.e., ones not mediated by the mass media) Recognition that death is a part of life
Whereas the items below are new and constantly in your face:
Chips and computers
Ubiquitous mobile telecommunications
Electronically integrated global financial markets
Interlinked capitalist economy embracing the entire planet
Majority of urban labor force working in information processing
Majority of planetary population living in urban centers
The second point is that it is not at all clear that those of us in the technical order feel more in control of our destinies than those in the moral order did, even though technology is (ironically enough)specifically about control.
Indeed, if we frame this difference in terms of the preceding two lists, what sane human being could possibly find a sense of belonging in the world of the second list? And yet, as Lewis Mumford’s life demonstrates, you can’t get taken seriously if you point this out.
What is left out of public discussion, writes Zygmunt Bauman, is “the role that almost every single ‘modernizing’ measure has played in the continuing decomposition and crumbling of social bonds and communal cohesion.” Or as New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik once put it, “There is the feeling that something vital is passing from the world, and yet to defend this thing is to be immediately classified as retrograde.” What can possibly be done to save a culture that thinks iPads represent “progress,” while everything humanly valuable is going down the drain? What are the chances that this culture might ever be able to rethink its definition of progress? What is the point of these rhetorical questions?
In many ways, it was Vietnam that brought all of this to a boil in the United States. Not that sixties radicals spent a whole lot of time reading Redfield; but the so-called counterculture was definitely attuned to the notion of a technical order that was obliterating the moral one, as it was conveyed through the work of a number of serious, yet popular, writers: Herbert Marcuse (One-Dimensional Man), Arthur Koestler (The Sleepwalkers), and Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society), to name the most prominent. In the context of a hyper-technological society pounding a peasant culture into the dirt with napalm and cluster bombs, some of the younger generation began to make the obvious connections. This surely accounts for the huge popularity of Theodore Roszak’s work, discussed in chapter 1, and a limited but nevertheless vocal revulsion against science and technology, which were now regarded by a small segment of the population as inherently inhumane.
As noted in chapter 1, it was partly the debacle of Vietnam that catapulted a most unlikely candidate, Jimmy Carter, into the presidency. He was hardly unaware of these currents in popular culture, especially as they were taken up by the environmental movement; and as a man trained as an engineer, he was sensitive to technology-related issues. I already mentioned that he was a follower of the economist E. F. Schumacher, and invited the latter to the White House in 1977. As with his attempt to redirect Americans away from the hustling life, so was he interested in getting them to think differently about technology. In his enormously influential Small Is Beautiful,
Schumacher advocated what he called “appropriate technologies”— ones that would operate in local, decentralized contexts, a proposal that had a crafts-oriented, Mumfordian flavor to it. Such technologies, he held, would be nonintrusive— ecologically sensitive and respectful of the communities in which they were embedded. They would employ simpler equipment, for example, and involve the creation of workplaces that were located where people lived; they would be inexpensive, and suitable for small-scale application; and they would enable the use of simple techniques and local materials. Following this vision, Carter saw to it that the U.S. Agency for International Development received $ 20 million to set up an AT program (as it was called), and a National Center for Appropriate Technology also was established. All of this was quickly dismantled soon after Reagan’s assumption of the presidency in 1981. In effect, the AT movement died before it was born. 24 “
Berman, Morris (2014-06-18). Why America Failed (Kindle Locations 1307-1318). . Kindle Edition.
The preceding raises a number of questions that need to be answered before we can understand such things as why technology should immediately be opposed to morality, and why science and technology, which are to all appearances human endeavors, could simultaneously be inhuman:
What is technology in itself and for man?
How do morality and humanity come to occupy similar oppositional roles to technology?
In what way is modern technology different enough from pre-industrial technology that the roles of man and technic have become reversed?
In “The Question Concerning Technology” Martin Heidegger attempted an approach to these and related questions. While some viewed Heidegger as anti-technology, that was in reality no more than the knee-jerk reaction of those who view any critical stance towards something as a total rejection of it. Heidegger, though, quotes Holderlin’s famous line that “Where the danger is, there the saving power grows.” specifically in relation to the dangers posed to humanity by modern technology. If the saving power is where the danger is, then it cannot be encouraged by a wholesale luddite rejection of technology. “Technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology. When we are seeking the essence of “tree,” we have to become aware that That which pervades every tree, as tree, is not itself a tree that can be encountered among all the other trees. Likewise, the essence of technology is by no means anything technological. Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it.
Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology. According to ancient doctrine, the essence of a thing is considered to be what the thing is. We ask the question concerning technology when we ask what it is. Everyone knows the two statements that answer our question. One says: Technology is a means to an end. The other says: Technology is a human activity. The two definitions of technology belong together. For to posit ends and procure and utilize the means to them is a human activity.” – Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology
Heidegger makes clear from the beginning that a passionate rejection is equivalent to a passionate affirmation of technology. Yet worse than either is the passive stance in which we regard it as inherently neutral, as those who claim that technology is not the issue, merely whether we use it for base or noble ends.
This forms the first posited definition of technology, not Heidegger’s own, but a definition accepted in common parlance.
Technology is a means to an end.
This of course implies that technology has a telos, an end or goal. Yet the history of technology in the United States particularly demonstrates that if such a goal exists, we are unaware of what it might be other than it representing somehow “more”.
This brings technology in line with the proper meaning of “evolutionary” as opposed to the Neo-Darwinist conflation of “evolutionary” with any change whatsoever. Such a generalized telos is not properly a telos at all, though, since “more” may be something we are drawn towards, but can never arrive at and so can never fulfill the proper function of telos as both goal and end.
The second common definition mentioned above is related to the first, but says something different at the same time.
Technology is a human activity.
Human activities are often goal-oriented, but not necessarily so. The central claim of Berman’s book, though, is that American society is, and always has been, based on the idea of “hustling”. “Hustling” precisely follows the indeterminate and generalized telos of “more”, and in an extreme sense. The hustler is always in a hurry to get to that “more”, yet there is never any sense of arrival. As a place, the hustler is in a hurry to get to a place that in itself has no determinate features other than at least one arrow that directs the hustler towards “more”. Yet as completely indeterminate, it’s difficult to see how any direction at all wouldn’t imply “more” in some sense. Insofar as the “more” has any determination, it is determined by accumulation.
Accumulation has to do with the measurable, since it is difficult in anything not easily measurable to be sure that one is in fact accumulating. Technology is routinely paired with “science”, so much so that “science and technology” as a catchphrase means simply technology itself.
If we restrict what we call “modern” to the view of the world that began when the term became common and ended after the enlightenment we see a similar fetish for measurement, exemplified at its most extreme by the statement from an early 19th century physicist that “only what can be measured is real”. Leaving aside for a moment the inanity of the statement (not only are many things that are evidently perfectly ‘real’ not measurable, the most measurable of things are those that are precisely not ‘real’ in the everyday sense of the word), the correspondence between measurement fetish and the simultaneous exchange fetish, or commodity fetish, of liberal capitalism can’t fail to be noticed, precisely because only what can be accurately measured can be purely exchangeable, i.e. exchangeable for absolutely anything else.
The most exchangeable ‘thing’ is precisely something that most would consider ‘abstract’ and not ‘real’, at least in a physical sense – money. As the most exchangeable, it simultaneously has the greatest possibility of accumulation.
Money has long been associated with morality, as well, and its relation to morality has undergone precisely the same inversion when the current morality of the West is compared with societies that are not “modern” in the sense of the way that technic is married with all the other aspects of society.
As Heidegger notes, the definitions belong together since positing ends and procuring the means towards them is a human activity. However it is not a uniquely human activity, and while we easily see similar goal-oriented activity in higher animals, the more we learn about simpler systems we find similar (albeit simplified, as one might expect) goal-oriented behavior all the way down the ladder from most complex to least complex life, and even beyond into what has been considered inanimate matter.
“The current conception of technology, according to which it is a means and a human activity, can therefore be called the instrumental and anthropological definition of technology.” – Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology
While quite obviously saying something correct, so far as it goes, the “instrumental and anthropological” definition appears odd in terms of the thrust of Berman’s book.
“Anthropological” means having to do with human beings, while “instrumental” implies control of non-human beings. This doesn’t appear to square well with the notion that technology is both inhumane and functions as a loss of control for the human beings involved. How do we reconcile two apparently opposed viewpoints that both seem to say something entirely correct?
Firstly, “anthropological” does not mean “human” in a general sense, but only within a very specific interpretation of the latter. “Instrumental” may have originated in the notion of man controlling non-human reality, but the instrumentality of the instrumental has long since ceased to only be applied to non-human reality, and includes control of human beings as well, specifically the type of control that allows human beings to be included with all other beings as infinitely exchangeable resources.
This latter move cannot simply be reduced to the class struggle notion that man is split into those “in control” and those “controlled”, since even those in control are viewed as much as exchangeable resources as those controlled. If there has been a shift in control, and evidently there has, it has not merely been from one group of human beings to another. Attempting this argument would force one to ignore the rather obvious fact that in pre- technological societies control was hardly evenly distributed, and perhaps in many ways was more unequal than it is today.
Within Heidegger’s initial (and intentionally simplistic) definition there is also nothing that could indicate either the religious or moralistic aspect attributed strongly by Berman to the American experience of technology.
Heidegger continues on his path of thinking, but takes a slight turn so as not to question the correctness of the instrumental definition, but to question whether it merely says something correct about technology, or properly defines modern technology.
That the instrumental definition applies equally to pre-industrial technology as to industrial technology in itself brings the appropriateness of the definition, when applied to the latter, into question.
“… the instrumental conception of technology conditions every attempt to bring man into the right relation to technology. Everything depends on our manipulating technology in the proper manner as a means. We will, as we say, “get” technology “spiritually in hand.” We will master it. The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control. But suppose now that technology were no mere means, how would it stand with the will to master it? Yet we said, did we not, that the instrumental definitionof technology is correct? To be sure. The correct always fixes upon something pertinent in whatever is under consideration. However, in order to be correct, this fixing by no means needs to uncover the thing in question in its essence. Only at the point where such an uncovering happens does the true come to pass. For that reason the merely correct is not yet the true. Only the true brings us into a free relationship with that which concerns us from out of its essence. Accordingly, the correct instrumental definition of technology still does not show us technology’s essence. In order that we may arrive at this, or at least come close to it, we must seek the true by way of the correct. We must ask: What is the instrumental itself? Within what do such things as means and end belong? A means is that whereby something is effected and thus attained. Whatever has an effect as its consequence is called a cause. But not only that by means of which something else is effected is a cause. The end in keeping with which the kind of means to be used is determined is also considered a cause.
Wherever ends are pursued and means are employed, wherever instrumentality reigns, there reigns causality. For centuries philosophy has taught that there are four causes: (1) the causa materialis, the material, the matter out of which, for example, a silver chalice is made; (2) the causa formalis, the form, the shape into which the material enters; (3) the causa finalis, the end, for example, the sacrificial rite in relation to which the chalice required is determined as to its form and matter; (4) the causa efficiens, which brings about the effect that is the finished, actual chalice, in this instance, the silversmith. What technology is, when represented as a means, discloses itself when we trace instrumentality back to fourfold causality.
But suppose that causality, for its part, is veiled in darkness with respect to what it is? Certainly for centuries we have acted as though the doctrine of the four causes had fallen from heaven as a truth as clear as daylight. But it might be that the time has come to ask,
Why are there just four causes? In relation to the aforementioned four, what does “cause” really mean? From whence does it come that the causal character of the four causes is so unifiedly determined that they belong together? So long as we do not allow ourselves to go into these questions, causality, and with it instrumentality, and with the latter the accepted definition of technology, remain obscure and groundless.” – Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology
This notion of “getting” technology “spiritually” in hand brings the morality prevalent in Berman’s book into a relation of a kind with Heidegger’s thinking. Rather than simply follow the common path of inveighing against the lack of such efficacious morality, though, Heidegger questions whether the definition of technology as a means to an end, while correct, is sufficient to capture modern technology in its fullness, or simply limits our view to an aspect that is easily seen. That an iceberg has an aspect that lies above water for the most part is certainly correct, however any ship’s captain that believes that he has thereby grasped the truth of an iceberg by viewing what lies above the water line is not liable to have a long career.
It could definitely be argued that technology has already done more than ‘threaten’ to slip from human control, if indeed the notion that it was ever under human control is more than a fantasy.
In determining the full meaning of “instrumental”, Heidegger’s return to the doctrine of the four causes may seem anachronistic, even perverse, particularly to those raised on the mythology of modern science that serves for the most part to dissemble the poverty of its actuality. Yet means and ends cannot be properly accounted for by the simplistic, mechanistic idea that passes today for causality, since “modern” scientific causality cannot even distinguish between the two. If those of a mechanistic mindset can be persuaded to keep silent for a moment, and allow at least the possibility of a causality that admits teleology as a necessary aspect, we can see, perhaps, in what the instrumentality of the instrumental consists.
Prior to continuing with Heidegger’s notion of causality, which is of course in the first instance Aristotle’s notion, perhaps we should look at the problem with mechanistic causality, as exemplified in Newtonian physics, precisely from the perspective of post-modern physics itself. The perspective remains an ontological one, of course, since we are questioning what causality itself is as a prelude to questioning what instrumentality is, and ontology is the study of what things are, but this particular ontological perspective doesn’t arise from philosophy, or cultural studies, or any of the other human investigations that scientists and many technologists see as irrelevant, but out of physics as interpreted by physicists themselves.
“Entanglements bring us face to face with the fact that what seems far off in space and time may be as close or closer than the pulse of here and now that appears to beat from a center that lies beneath the skin. The past is never finished once and for all and out of sight may be out of touch but not necessarily out of reach.
Intra-active practices of engagement not only make the world intelligible in specific ways but also foreclose other patterns of mattering. We are accountable for and to not only specific patterns of marks on bodies— that is, the differential patterns of mattering of the world of which we are a part— but also the exclusions that we participate in enacting.
Therefore accountability and responsibility must be thought in terms of what matters and what is excluded from mattering. The point is not merely that there is a web of causal relations that we are implicated in and that there are consequences to our actions. We are a much more intimate part of the universe than any such statement implies. If what is implied by “consequences” is a chain of events that follow one upon the next, the effects of our actions rippling outward from their point of origin well after a given action is completed, then to say that there are consequences to our actions is to miss the full extent of the interconnectedness of being.
Future moments don’t follow present ones like beads on a string. Effect does not follow cause hand over fist, transferring the momentum of our actions from one individual to the next like the balls on a billiards table. There is no discrete “I” that precedes its actions. Our (intra) actions matter-each one reconfigures the world in its becoming— and yet they never leave us; they are sedimented into our becoming, they become us. And yet even in our becoming there is no “I” separate from the intra-active becoming of the world.
Causality is an entangled affair: it is a matter of cutting things together and apart (within and as part of phenomena). It is not about momentum transfer among individual events or beings that pre-exist the intra-action. The future is not the end point of a set of branching chain reactions; it is a cascade experiment.” Barad, Karen (2007-06-20). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (7794-7797). Duke University Press.
“… as Bohr emphasizes, the mutual exclusivity of position and momentum is what makes the notion of causality in quantum physics profoundly different from the deterministic sense of causality of classical Newtonian physics. In particular, as Bohr points out, specific material conditions have to exist for the concept of position to be meaningful, and if such conditions exist, they materially exclude the notion of momentum from being intelligible. Hence the mutual exclusivity of position and momentum— the two quantities that Newtonian mechanics enlists in specifying deterministic trajectories— represents a failure of the Newtonian framework along with its traditional notions of trajectory and causality. Barad, Karen (2007-06-20). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (8748-8753). Duke University Press. (emphasis mine).
If Barad and Bohr are correct that quantum complementarity is not simply an observational uncertainty, leaving an unknowable but still extant exclusivity of position and momentum, but instead is an ontological feature of reality, that only within a given enframing, i.e. within a specific technical setup, can either exist, and that no enframing can produce both, the mechanistic causality that relies on trajectory (along with direct interaction, which also has seemingly insurmountable difficulties in terms of quantum mechanics) mechanism is ontologically inadequate as a basic type of causality.
At best, mechanistic causality is a rough approximation to reality that only appears to work at specific scales and with extremely crude measurements.
Perhaps as importantly, if the separation of observer and observed is sufficient to make even Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity ontologically untenable from the perspective of physics itself, then the notion of control by the human observer is also ontologically untenable.
Certainly by acting, though, the human agent is an integral part of technological means and ends, or the instrumental definition would not simply be inadequate but completely incorrect. Any definition of instrumentality has to involve human action without thereby positing human action as somehow ‘outside’ the reality within which it acts.
It should also be noticed that the phenomenon, as Bohr and therefore Barad intend the word, necessarily includes the instruments, apparatus, gestellen of the experimental situation. Gestell, of course, as enframing or framework, is the name Heidegger gives to the essence of technology itself.
Returning from this diversion to the question of what instrumentality itself means, and we have still not sufficiently clarified what we mean by causality in order to determine in what way it has to do with means and ends, much less with human agency. “Causa, casus, belongs to the verb cadere, “to fall,” and means that which brings it about that something falls out as a result in such and such a way. The doctrine of the four causes goes back to Aristotle. But everything that later ages seek in Greek thought under the conception and rubric “causality,” in the realm of Greek thought and for Greek thought per se has simply nothing at all to do with bringing about and effecting. What we call cause [Ursache] and the Romans call causa is called aition by the Greeks, that to which something else is indebted [das, was ein anderes verschuldet]. The four causes are the ways, all belonging at once to each other, of being responsible for something else. An example can clarify this. Silver is that out of which the silver chalice is made. As this matter (hyle), it is co-responsible for the chalice. The chalice is indebted to, i.e., owes thanks to, the silver for that out of which it consists. But the sacrificial vessel is indebted not only to the silver. As a chalice, that which is indebted to the silver appears in the aspect of a chalice and not in that of a brooch or a ring. Thus the sacrificial vessel is at the same time indebted to the aspect (eidos) of chaliceness. Both thesilver into which the aspect is admitted as chalice and the aspect in which the silver appears are in their respective ways co-responsible for the sacrificial vessel. But there remains yet a third that is above all responsible for the sacrificial vessel. It is that which in advance confines the chalice within the realm of consecration and bestowal.6 Through this the chalice is circumscribed as sacrificial vessel. Circumscribing gives bounds to the thing. With the bounds the thing does not stop; rather from out of them it begins to be what, after production, it will be. That which gives bounds, that which completes, in this sense is called in Greek telos, which is all too often translated as “aim” or “purpose,” and so misinterpreted. The telos is responsible for what as matter and for what as aspect are together co-responsible for the sacrificial vessel. Finally there is a fourth participant in the responsibility for the finished sacrificial vessel’s lying before us ready for use, i.e., the silversmith – but not at all because he, in working, brings about the finished sacrificial chalice as if it were the effect of a making; the silversmith is not a causa efficiens as many modern interpreters would have it. The Aristotelian doctrine neither knows the cause that is named by this term nor uses a Greek word that would correspond to it. The silversmith considers carefully and gathers together the three aforementioned ways of being responsible and indebted. To consider carefully [iiberlegen] is in Greek legin, logos. Legein is rooted in apophainesthni, to bring forward into appearance. The silversmith is co-responsible as that from whence the sacrificial vessel’s bringing forth and resting-in-self take and retrain their first departure.
The three previously mentioned ways of being responsible owe thanks to the pondering of the silversmith for the “that” and the “how” of their coming into appearance and into play for the production of the sacrificial vessel. Thus four ways of being responsible hold sway in the sacrificial vessel that lies ready before us. They differ from one another, yet they belong together. What unites them from the beginning? In what does this playing in unison of the four ways of being responsible play? What is the source of the unity of the four causes? What, after all, does this owing and being responsible mean, thought as the Greeks thought it?
Today we are too easily inclined either to understand being responsible and being indebted moralistically as a lapse, or else to construe them in terms of effecting. In either case we bar to ourselves the way to the primal meaning of that which is later called causality. So long as this way is not opened up to us we shall also fail to see what instrumentality, which is based on causality, actually is.” – Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology
Looking together at Barad’s description of entanglement and the nature of consequences with Heidegger’s explication of the Greek notion of causality as ways of being responsible for something brings out for the first time the origin of morality as intertwined with technology, whether opposed or not, in the sense that Berman views the two as intertwined in history, particularly American history, although the precise way in which it is intertwined is not yet transparent.
Both in Heidegger and Barad an inter (or intra) play is at work, since none of the factors can be taken in isolation as pre-existing but must be taken as determined within and by the intra-action. We can also see how the inadequate causality of mechanistic thinking leads to an inadequate notion of instrumentality, and thereby of technology itself.
Even within technology mechanistic causality has had to be supplemented with the more obscure (and more overtly teleological) causality involved in such things as self-organization and emergence, yet mechanistic causality is rarely directly challenged by technologists, it is simply ignored in practice.
In the first quote from Barad, as well, the term “matter” is used in its original meaning, not merely in the way it is commonly used in classical physics. “To matter” is not only the original meaning of matter, a similar shift in meaning is observable in other words that we use to try to describe the stubborn “stuff” of reality, whether we use terms such as “physical”, which originally referred to anything that had to do with motion, “actual”, which originally referred to something having to do with action or activity, “substance” precisely referred to what remains the same through transformations, including the transformation from ‘matter’ in the mechanistic sense to energy and back; in fact none of the words we use to refer to such “stuff” were originally coined for that purpose, which makes naive materialism difficult to justify – if it is so primary that everything else is largely illusory, why was it perceived as so irrelevant prior to the 17th century that we didn’t even bother naming it?
If on the other hand “matter” is more primordially verbal, as in “what matters” then the mechanistic world-view is doubly inverted: meaning, or “mattering”, far from being a secondary and merely subjective quality, is the primary quality of reality, whatever meaning is subsequently given to subjectivity; simultaneously materiality or physicality in the usual sense, the attributes Descartes named as primary of any “res” or real thing, are situational and determined by relations that are ontologically prior to the relata themselves. Location, extension, and trajectory are determined by relations and do not inhere in the “res” at all, either as primary or secondary qualities. \
This inversion is crucial to the other inversions of modernity, but is not yet transparent in precisely what manner it is involved. It seems clear, though, that the human being, subject, the “I” cannot be conceived as pre-existing and subsequently becoming involved or not without being as determined and redetermined by situations as the other factors in play in any given situation. “Mattering”, both in its determination and its exclusions, has a direct relationship with morality, or more accurately with ethics as situational.
Morality in the sense of a pre-existing law or set of laws suffers the same fate as the pre-existing I-Subject: insofar as we have or recognize such a thing, its meaning is determined and redetermined anew by every specific situation. “Being responsible for” does not necessarily indicate that something matters to us, yet it can do so, depending on the emphasis. If the emphasis is placed on the word ‘Being’, mattering becomes implicit as the emphasis brings with it an intentionality, specifically the intentionality of being responsible for something specific because it is important, because it matters to us.
Exactly how does this intentionality operate with regard to the specifically instrumental interpretation of being engaged with technology, if indeed it does so?
“The four ways of being responsible bring something into appearance. They let it come forth into presencing [An-wesen]. They set it free to that place and so start it on its way, namely, into its complete arrival. The principal characteristic of being responsible is this starting something on its way into arrival. It is in the sense of such a starting something on its way into arrival that being responsible is an occasioning or an inducing to go forward [Ver-Anlassen]. On the basis of a look at what the Greeks experienced in being responsible, in aitia, we now give this verb “to occasion” a more inclusive meaning, so that it now is the name for the essence of causality thought as the Greeks thought it.” – Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology
“To occasion” is also an activity, and as such is inherently part of the first definition of technology, but our more common nominal use of the word – “an occasion” is synonymous with “a situation” in the sense Barad uses it and in the sense ethics intends it.
“Situation” for Barad (and by extension for Bohr, and for quantum mechanics in general) is something set up, enframed, by the apparatus in use, a Gestell defined by the gestellen, or apparatus; what we call “instruments” in a more restricted sense.
Gestell or “Enframing” is simultaneously the term Heidegger uses for the essence of modern technology, specifically as differentiated from pre-industrial technology. If the occasion is produced via apparatus, itself generally conceived as technological apparatus, it would seem that man’s occasioning of the situation is at the very least at arms length. It is achieved through the very technology that is supposed to be what is being occasioned.
Leaving for a moment the philosophical analyses we have so far considered in terms of modern technology and paying attention to the confluence of modern technology and industrialization, how did those intimately involved in the industrialization that made such technical apparatus themselves experience its development?
The common notion of technology and industrialization in particular as “applied science” falls apart precisely in that development and the means employed. If we take the word of people from Bacon to Tyson that modern experimental science was fundamental to industrialization, we are simply taking a misunderstanding by men who had no actual involvement in it whatsoever.
The standard (and largely mythical) story of modern industrial technology is that the “discoveries” of modern science, made possible via experimental method, were then used to improve the means by which material things, including the apparatus used in scientific experiment itself, are produced.
This description is not only backwards but severely overstates the importance of both experiment and science in general in industrial and technological development. We can see the way in which it is backwards by looking clearly at the story that supposedly embodies this process, that of Galileo, specifically the story of Galileo’s theory of the movement of the moons of Jupiter. A simple outline of the story goes as follows:
On 7 January 1610, Galileo observed what he described at the time as “three fixed stars, totally invisible by their smallness”, all close to Jupiter, and lying on a straight line through it. Observations on subsequent nights showed that the positions of these “stars” relative to Jupiter were changing in a way that would have been inexplicable if they had really been fixed stars. On 10 January, Galileo noted that one of them had disappeared, an observation which he attributed to its being hidden behind Jupiter. Within a few days, he concluded that they were orbiting Jupiter: he had discovered three of Jupiter’s four largest satellites (moons). He discovered the fourth on 13 January. Galileo named the group of four the Medicean stars, in honour of his future patron, Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Cosimo’s three brothers. Later astronomers, however, renamed them Galilean satellites in honour of their discoverer. These satellites are now called Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
So far as it goes, it is simply a story of an observation and a hypothesis to explain unexpected features of that observation. While the hypothesis went against certain accepted views, the methodology was in line with scientific methodology used throughout the medieval period and ultimately derived from Aristotle. This methodology we can refer to as experiential science. In the simplest sense, this type of observational hypothesizing predates even Aristotle; Aristotle’s significance in the context of its development into a methodology was to find similarities of behavior between observations of apparently unrelated and dissimilar things.
The context of Galileo’s observation and hypothesis of Jupiter’s moons, however, is largely missing or irrelevant in the above description (does it really matter, in terms of the meaning of the observation, that he named the four moons after a future patron?) .
A more appropriately contextualized account follows:
“Nearly all cultures have a vision of the cosmos as a whole. The earliest cosmologies of the great civilizations in Egypt, India, Babylonia, and the Americas shared the idea that Earth is flat, and that there are layers above and below. Even today some people have difficulty accepting the idea that they live on a sphere suspended in space By the time of Galileo’s birth on February 15, 1564, it was well known that Earth is shaped like a sphere. The idea had been clearly articulated by Aristotle nearly two thousand years before in Ancient Greece. Eratosthenes, a librarian in Alexandria, had measured the diameter of the Earth fairly accurately around 240 BC, and Magellan’s voyage around the world in 1543 AD established beyond a doubt that people live all around the spherical Earth. However, since Newton’s theory of gravity was two hundred years in the future, people needed to understand why, if people live all around the Earth, those on the bottom didn’t fall off. The answer seemed obvious. As stated by Aristotle, the Earth was the center of the universe, and everything fell towards that center, except for the planets, which went in circles around the center. And there were seven of them – the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Galileo’s telescope was only an inch-and-a-half in diameter. Although he did not invent the telescope, and may not even have been the first to use it to observe the sky, Galileo’s interpretation of what he observed with his tiny telescope changed people’s view of the universe in two fundamental ways. Galileo saw countless stars in the milky-white cloud in the night sky, and realized that the “dome of the fixed stars” is not a dome at all, but has depth. Galileo observed Jupiter’s Moons, providing a powerful argument that Earth may not be the center of the Universe, but instead circle the Sun. Galileo also measured the phases of Venus. This unequivocally falsified the geocentric model of the universe.
This is also obviously a simplistic account, but does provide sufficient context to reverse the usual account of the relation between science and technology. Aristotle’s notion that the Earth lay at the center of the universe was not simply a naive assumption but was both an obvious assumption, given that there appears no particular directional difference in observations of the universe (i.e. while it looks different, there appears no directional sense to the observed differences), along with the fact that as a thinker who based his projection of reality on observations of motion, the relativity of all other motion appeared to indicate that the Earth itself must be fixed.
(Aristotle himself in fact abandoned the latter notion, but in doing so created a significant problem in terms of describing relative motion in a non-contradictory manner, and his solution to that problem continues to be controversial to this day).
The important thing, though, is not that Galileo was right in certain things when as great a thinker as Aristotle was mistaken, but the means by which Galileo was able to ascertain certain evidence that was unavailable to Aristotle. The naive idea that Aristotle “couldn’t be bothered” with observation is simply ridiculous, and Aristotle’s eschewing of “experiment” in the modern sense was not a failing onhis part, since the requisite world-view that supports the notion of the modern experiment was entirely lacking. Nor were Galileo’s observations “experimental” in the modern sense.
What was lacking, though, was the technology of the telescope. It’s highly doubtful that Galileo would have seen any issue with the geocentric view of the universe without observations that directly called it into question, observations that could not have been made with the naked eye.
Only in very indirect ways, long after Galileo’s observations and hypothesis had been improved, tested and in large part replaced was there any technology that directly depended on a non-geocentric view of the universe, but in a very direct way those observations and hypothesis depended on an already accomplished technological innovation.
If we follow the histories of science and technology from Galileo to the present the sequence is consistent, and a little thought will show why that must be the case. Modern science requires a demonstrated, that is, already dis-covered, thing that can become an object for it. For the most part such things are dis-covered via technology. This demonstrates something about technology of particular importance for Heidegger, that technology is, among other things, a work, i.e. something that reveals something other than itself, in the same sense that a work of art reveals something it itself is not.
There is no such thing, properly speaking, as a scientific discovery, any object for science has to already have been discovered. What science in fact does is try to account-for that discovery, and necessarily does so after the fact. Referring to technology therefore as applied science is not only inappropriate, it wrongly credits science with what modern science in particular is absolutely incapable of.
Given that this attribution of credit to modern science as the origin of modern technology is the basis of much of the esteem in which science is held in modern society, that it is invalid raises the question of the importance of accounting and the origin of this importance, since in reality all science is merely different types of accounting.
Discovery is intimately related to the notion of progress, and both are intertwined with the notions of evolution and of growth. While all of these things do evidently occur, none can be completely generic. Growth, discovery, progress and evolution are all inherently goal oriented, or teleological, if they are looked at in causal terms.
The teleology of industrialization and through it the development of technology in its specifically modern guise, though, becomes even more mysterious if we abandon, as we must, the idea that it is simply the application of a developing, discovering science. If it is rather the cause than an effect, then as cause the involved teleology cannot be any of the pseudo-teleology applied to science, such as pursuit of knowledge or the like.
While America may be, as Berman posits, the “spiritual home” of industrialization and modern technology, it is not its birthplace. While historians tend to place the birthplace of modern technology in the Renaissance, and thus primarily at the heart of the Renaissance, in post-medieval Italy, the technology they are referring to is still pre-industrial technology, no matter how advanced it seemed compared with medieval technology. Unlike modern technology proper, the means by which it was produced do not substantially differ from medieval or ancient technology. The proper birthplace of the industrial means of production, and the industrial revolution it occasioned, was in England during the 18th century.
Perhaps strangely, given how mercantile an economy England had at the time, it did not happen in one of the mercantile centers of 18th century England, such as London, or one of the large mercantile ports, such as Liverpool, or even Manchester, which is often credited as its birthplace. Rather it happened outside Manchester in a group of small villages situated in a particularly inhospitable part of the moors known as the Pennines.
That what we see as the focal point of modern urbanization did not itself take place in an urban environment, and that its development was not a massive social phenomenon but a localized phenomenon centered around a few families in a few tiny villages with a combined population of less than 20,000 people, seems difficult to imagine given the massiveness of later industrial projects, where places with ten times that population were simply prefabricated for the purpose of manufacturing a single industrial product. This unlikely origin seems even odder when one considers that industrialization didn’t simply start there, spread and then develop for the most part in larger, more populous and more educated areas, but instead virtually every significant advance in industrialization in its first century originated in those same villages, much of it developed by the same engineering and architectural company.
The only equivalently significant developments in industrialization that came elsewhere were the assembly line of Henry Ford and the emergence of robotics initially in the U.S. and Japan in the second half of the twentieth century. Industrialization happened initially, of course, in the cotton spinning industry. While this may not seem “high tech” in the 21st century, cotton spinning was precisely the type of cottage industry that the anti-tech “arts and crafts” movement returned to, albeit as little more than a hobby for the wealthy.
The industrialization of cotton spinning, though, produced the factory and factory system, the electrically powered factory, the iron and later steel framed building, among other specifically technical innovations. From the social perspective it also produced the first union, co-operative, and the first instance of welfare. Within a population of less than 20,000 this is a substantial achievement, and one not easy to account for. Nor were the advantages gained in this small area short lived. As late as 1900, well over a century after the building of the first factory, and nearly a century after the building of the first electrically powered factory, those villages along with others immediately adjacent (expansion into which had been necessary simply due to the tiny population and land area occupied by the first villages) totaled a population of somewhat less than 50,000, yet spun more cotton than France and Germany combined. T
he smallest, but wealthiest of the villages, Crompton, became known as the “Golden Village”, boasting more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world.
While America was obsessed with the geographical frontier and the “wild west”, industrialism had largely already been accomplished.
The archetype of the member of the “religion of technology”, for Berman, is the “hustler”; the “spiritual home” of technology is the United States. “ “In Japanese society,” Stiglitz continues, “a CEO who was responsible for destroying his firm, forcing thousands of workers to be laid off, might commit hari-kari [sic]. In the United Kingdom, CEOs resigned when their firms failed. In the United States, they are fighting over the size of their bonuses.” “ Berman, Morris (2014-06-18). Why America Failed
“We are so committed to the primacy of private wealth over the public good that we can’t even imagine what Europeans , Canadians, and Japanese (for example) take for granted: doctors making house calls, parents being paid to stay home and care for newborns, workers receiving several weeks of paid vacation every year, and paid sick leave as well. As for the life of the spirit, ours is not a population that reads much, walks much, places friendship ahead of career, or makes art. But Dr. Barber is no fool; he knows this— and so do you. We’ll carry on hustling until we literally collapse from it (2008 being only a mild preview); this much is clear.” Berman, Morris (2014-06-18). Why America Failed
It might be expected that the “spiritual home” of industrialized technology would contain significant parallels with the birthplace of industrialization, which, given the extreme localization of the latter, ought to be fairly easy to tease out.
While the area had a somewhat unusual history already prior to the 18th century, having never been under feudal rule, for the most part it does not strike one as especially unusual. It is a group of northern villages on the border of Lancashire and Yorkshire, somewhat cloistered until its inclusion in Greater Manchester and the access to public transportation that afforded. The original villages comprised High Crompton, Crompton and Shaw, Royton, Rochdale and a number of tiny hamlets between those larger villages. After expansion into other local villages, and municipal changes, it is now part of the City of Oldham, Lancashire. The primary religions in the area are Anglicanism, Catholicism (centered in Royton primarily, and unusually for small town Catholicism, largely Jesuit) and Scottish Methodism, although the latter is largely historical and practiced by few residents today. Those of a religious persuasion appear to be fairly easy going about it – when the Anglican church had issues maintaining the building due to the dearth of Anglican priests the local Catholic church agreed to alternate Catholic and Anglican masses in their church, so as to be able to pool maintenance resources. Hardly adventurous, the average resident of these villages to this day lives within 3 miles of their parents. While local education is highly rated relative to many parts of England, families are for the most part proudly (at times fiercely) working class and can be suspicious of those seen as ‘overeducated’. Even in the engineering field apprenticeship has historically been favored over education.
Community plays a large part in local life, membership in private ‘clubs’, which provide a locus and an inexpensive means of socializing and providing activities for both children and adults beyond simply drinking and talking, is a common thing rather than something reserved for ‘toppies’ as the wealthier classes are locally known. This rather general characterization, limited as it is, seems diametrically opposed to the ‘hustler’ archetype that has allowed America an almost inextricable embrace with industrialism and industrial technology. Not only that unions, co-operatives and welfare were invented there not only without serious acrimony between mill owners and workers, but in many cases with owners’ active co-operation (the first welfare, provided during the cotton famine in the mid 19th century, was proposed, enacted and paid for by mill owners).
Expectations on children have been historically high, which is no surprise in an area where opportunity was more than a slogan, but beyond “doing alright” ambition for ambitions sake is not something people are against based on some sort of republican or religious ideal of altruism, but simply because it is seen as an over-complication to life bound to result in unnecessary stress and alienation from one’s family, social milieu and community life.
But the move from cottage industry to factory work is itself significant, and while the existence of cottage industry may be one of the main reasons for the specific locality of the first factories, the existence of capital to subsidize the invention of larger, more productive machines that could only be housed in factories, build those factories, find that the limit on controllability of a machine could be extended significantly if the human power at the controls were replaced by electric power, and fund the move to electrically powered factories and machineery, is another prerequisite. What changed between the medieval, mercantile and properly capitalist periods that made such capital available?
Currency in the feudal and mercantile ages was largely based on precious metals, though as in antiquity, “seignurage” meant that coin was rarely anywhere close to pure. The basis of currency in Europe on gold created an aberrant situation as the Americas were explored, since plenty of unowned gold was simply “lying around”. This gold provided the means to create more currency, whether coin or paper, which began to be more accepted through mercantilism itself. Finally, the founding of the Bank of England (a private corporation) gave some apparent credibility to this newly created “money”.
The difficulty was, money as a form of purchasing power has to have goods available for purchase, yet in most senses little had changed in the Europe of the average man since feudal times. This “money” wasn’t in the hands of the average man, though, but concentrated in the hands of pnly a few men, “adventurers”, who became by virtue of it the first “capitalists”.
Since this “new” money was in and of itself not distinguishable from “old” money based on land and property ownership, although that land was not for sale and there were few goods or servicest that could be purchased, it could be used, particularly with those who were not at all well-off, but were used to accepting small amounts of currency for labour, precisely those involved in cottage industries. The confluence of a huge surplus of “money” based on a large influx of the gold which formed its basis, together with the technology to build machines that were more productive than those that could be used by cottage industry, provided the ability to entice workers in those industries to leave their individual home-based productive efforts and join factories, themselves paid for with the same monetary surplus.
As should be obvious, this is an odd confluence of money in itself largely worthless (since there was neither land, goods nor services that it could be used for) and the availability of technology that, paid for with such ersatz funds, could in a cyclical manner create the industrial revolution and the phenomenal increase in wage-goods production that it represents. As should be equally obvious, this confluence was neither rational nor scientific, but specifically irrational and based purely on engineering technology with no science involved even at second hand.