Our penchant for, and appreciation of technology’s comforts and conveniences, its relief from drudgery and want, have grown proportionally to its advancement and success. As technology has advanced in combating diseases, in producing an ever-increasing abundance of life’s material goods and an unending stream of innovations, so has our dependence and appreciation for it grown ever stronger. But this daemonium ex machina also brings with it affliction and deadly perils, and that dark side is something we have altogether lost sight of. Increasingly terrible weapons of war have become more and more terrifying. The specter of thermonuclear war is evermore present and seems more imminent than ever. We’ve let slip from our purview the fact that the machine can corrupt the garden as subtly as the serpent (1).
This simple ambiguity about technology as a demonic force capable of vast good or catastrophic evil may seem to point to the fact that technology itself is neutral, and the only moral consideration is located in the intent of the individual using the technology. But upon reflection the problem becomes more complicated. Indeed, if the most pervasive and profound characteristic of the modern age is its ever-expanding conquest of nature, which seems now to be a permanent structure of the human condition, then the problem of technology can only lead in tragedy. Nevertheless, this is certain: the problem of technology is the problem of our time.
We must then adequately confront this issue in its full theoretical and philosophical dimensions if we are to truly grasp our present situation, i.e. whether technology has “that which saves” within it or whether its condition is one of tragedy. The following series of essays will tackle the problem of technology from its inception to our present understanding of technology. This means that our discussion will begin with the emergence of modern technology, with its origins in classical Greek thought, and end with the destiny of modern technology. In between we will focus on different conception of human nature, of justice, on the supposed different modes of knowing, on Nietzsche’s will to power, and the Biblical anti-technological conception of the good life among many others. The reader is advised to keep in mind not only the most obvious questions (e.g. Is it moral or desirable to do what our technological capacities enable us to do? On whom devolves the right to decide this question? And how does one control the unanticipated or unintended consequences that may emerge from the exercise of this power, i.e. power to manipulate and control nature?) but also the deeper, and much larger, theoretical/philosophical questions that lurk beneath the surface concerning the rational coherence, the impact on humanity and our psyche, and the moral propriety of the whole modern technological project. Can modern scientific rationalism really give an adequate account of the world and especially the human world? Is the vision of nature and man that it imposes on us compatible with a truly human life? Does not the modern project for the mastery of nature violate some sacred or salutary limit on human power established by nature or God? As we follow along this project the reader is encouraged not to let these larger questions escape their direct attention.
- Genesis 11: 4-9, see also Leo Marx, The Machine in The Garden