Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity. ~ Jacques Ellul
I have long had mixed feelings about technology. On the one hand, I regard the Industrial Revolution as, perhaps, the most important period in our known human history; having allowed us to both understand and act within social systems that maximized our capacities for the production and exchange of the material values that sustain life. The earlier advances provided by the agricultural revolution, combined with industrialization meant that our nutritional menus were no longer confined to the bugs, berries, and tree barks from which our hunting-and-gathering ancestors made their daily dietary selections.
On the other hand, while technologies have largely been created by individuals, they generally end up being financed by and housed within institutions. We become attached to the technologies we associate with the quality of our lives. If Congress, or an imperious president, were to announce that we could keep our Internet connections only if we allowed the state to monitor all our communications; how many of us would reject the proposal? And how many would eagerly accept, lest we lose access to the machinery we believe necessary for our material well-being?
Men and women desirous of living in a world of peace and individual liberty need look no further than to discover whether the principle of privately owned property is respected. Societies in which thinking is dominated by the promotion of material wealth tend to allow this essential civilizing principle to erode in the face of supposedly “pragmatic necessities.” The humanizing qualities that depend upon long-term commitments to values that make our social lives worthwhile, are often ignored when we are engaged in the “real-world” necessities of daily living. Thus does the sanctity of life get sacrificed in the practice of aborting unborn children, some of whom have their organs harvested for financial gain; or the “hydrogen bomb” improvement that allows the institutional order to only kill life forms, while leaving buildings, technologies, and other material values intact; or the morally twisted thinking that gave Clinton administration Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, comfort in defending her government’s policy of allowing some 500,000 Iraqi children to die as a consequence of economic sanctions.
The failure of respect for the inviolability of the property principle does not find expression only in such well-organized slaughter. In lesser – but nonetheless troublesome – ways, our habit of treating the preeminence of institutional interests as the default response in our thinking is evident. Once a new technology is created and manages to surmount corporate-state anti-competitive barriers to entry in the marketplace; varied responses occur. The novelty of the…