📑 From Tech Critique to Ways of Living – Neil Postman Was Right, So What?

Bookmarked From Tech Critique to Ways of Living — The New Atlantis (The New Atlantis)

Cosmotechnics provides guidance for ordinary people and technologists alike. The application of Daoist principles is most obvious, as the above exposition suggests, for “users” who would like to graduate to the status of “non-users”: those who quietly turn their attention to more holistic and convivial technologies, or who simply sit or walk contemplatively. But in the interview I quoted from earlier, Hui says, “Some have quipped that what I am speaking about is Daoist robots or organic AI” — and this needs to be more than a quip. Peter Thiel’s longstanding attempt to make everyone a disciple of René Girard is a dead end. What we need is a Daoist culture of coders, and people devoted to “action without acting” making decisions about lithium mining.

Alan Jacobs explores a new way of living that includes technology, but is not solely focused on technology. His argument is that the standard critique of technology provided by Ivan Illich, Ursula Franklin, Albert Borgmann etc has failed, because it has not necessarily stepped back to capture the wider picture of things:

The “human industrial economy” is Kingsnorth’s term for technopoly conceived in relation to the whole of the natural order. While the proponents of the SCT tend to focus their arguments on what technopoly is doing to us, to human beings, they are not unaware of the consequences of prescriptive, manipulatory technologies for the rest of the world. By adding Kingsnorth’s insights — and those of other thinkers of similar character, especially Wendell Berry — to those of the SCT, we can see more clearly that every depredation of the human is also a depredation of the natural order, and vice versa.

Borrowing from Martin Heidegger and Mark Blitz, Jacobs suggests that a technological enframing of human life risks making standing reserve of us all. As he quotes from Blitz’s article:

Introducing the Bremen lectures, Heidegger observes that because of technology, “all distances in time and space are shrinking” and “yet the hasty setting aside of all distances brings no nearness; for nearness does not consist in a small amount of distance.” The lectures set out to examine what this nearness is that remains absent and is “even warded off by the restless removal of distances.” As we shall see, we have become almost incapable of experiencing this nearness, let alone understanding it, because all things increasingly present themselves to us as technological: we see them and treat them as what Heidegger calls a “standing reserve,” supplies in a storeroom, as it were, pieces of inventory to be ordered and conscripted, assembled and disassembled, set up and set aside. Everything approaches us merely as a source of energy or as something we must organize. We treat even human capabilities as though they were only means for technological procedures, as when a worker becomes nothing but an instrument for production. Leaders and planners, along with the rest of us, are mere human resources to be arranged, rearranged, and disposed of. Each and every thing that presents itself technologically thereby loses its distinctive independence and form. We push aside, obscure, or simply cannot see, other possibilities.

To go beyond such a standing reserve, Jacob turns to the work of Yuk Hui and his book The Question Concerning Technology in China. Hui makes the case for cosmotechnics:

A cosmotechnics is a living thing, always local in the specifics of its emergence in ways that cannot be specified in advance … It is from the ten thousand things that we learn how to live among the ten thousand things; and our choice of tools will be guided by what we have learned from that prior and foundational set of relations. This is cosmotechnics.

This theory is inspired by the Tao Te Ching, going beyond technopoly to propose a ‘cosmopolitanism of difference‘ that allows for different technological futures.

To reopen the question of technology is to refuse this homogeneous technological future that is presented to us as the only option.

It is interesting to think about this alongside other approaches, such as Actor-Network Theory and Assemblage Theory. Maybe they are all a part of a cosmopolitanism of theories? It also has me thinking about what whether the argument for interoperability is an example of the ‘Taoist culture of coders’?

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