Monday, October 08, 2007

Heidegger Wrong On Technology

It has occurred to me that Heidegger was deeply wrong about technology. He identifies in The Question Concerning Technology human developments and extensions as the essential and decisive factor underlying all other dilemmas and conflicts. It constitutes a profound and "supreme danger," he says, in these "needy times" to which "everywhere we remain unfree and chained... whether we passionately affirm or deny it." As Heidegger suggests, it is precisely within the danger of technology that the possibility of a "saving grace" emerges out of a new disclosure of Being. What is this possibility? Heidegger here is uncertain. Perhaps it is the technological singularity? But for Heidegger it almost sounds religious, and it has been said that forking through his work is something seemingly Christian. Yet the same could be said about Hegel, who most recent scholars, like the late Robert Solomon, argue that he was in fact deeply atheist. Heidegger is right about one thing, and that's the liberatory capacity of technology, as evidenced by the last quarter of the 20th Century.

Perhaps this can be explained socially. I've mentioned the work of Simon Kuznets before. Progress in society can be described in 'stages theories'. These theories are quite popular in economics. In developmental economic theory, societies must undergo profoundly alienating and unequal stages of development order to reach a kind of reach a post-development stage, or a sort of plateau, where the alienating factors no longer exist. Kuznet's model justifies rising inequalities as part of an economic process which eventually finds it way back to equal conditions, albeit at higher levels of income and prosperity. Most pessimists of the early 20th Century had a difficult time imagining there was an end to the alienation, since all the technology seemed to do was alienate laborer further from means of production. Those sympathetic toward socialism took a deeply pessimistic stance about the nature and future of technology. Heidegger, disappointingly, felt the same way. But none of the early 20th Century socialists had experienced Web 2.0. It is certainly possible to be socialist and not steeped in Luddism. And although the question as to how involved he was in party politics, Heidegger was, after all, was a national socialist--a Nazi. I don't take this to discredit his work on ontology, however.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

White text on black isn't easy on the eye.....