Technology

John Zerzan speaks about how all technologies have values inscribed into them, and are not merely neutral tools. This clip is from a lecture given at Binghamton University, April 2008.

Anarchism is first and foremost a commitment to critique all systems and relationships of domination and control. So anarchists must regard technology, which exists for humans to control and dominate each other, the natural world and nonhuman animals, with suspicion. By technology, however, we do not mean simply mean “tools” but a broader concept that includes the state, politics, propaganda, sciences, gadgets and a host of inter-related techniques that are all used as tools to dominate, and which themselves dominate.

This latter aspect is probably the least well-recognized aspect of technology. Technology actually dominates our lives. This seems counter-intuitive to many of us because we have constructed a myth that technology has brought us freedom, happiness, and quality of life never heard of before, and any problem that arises, technology can fix it. Lewis Mumford once called this the “ultimate religion of our seemingly rational age.” There are very few problems of major importance in the modern world that have not been caused by technology. Global warming, pollution, extinctions, diseases of affluence (cancer, heart disease, and diabetes), militarization, increased police surveillance and technique, and a host of problems can all be traced back to the problem of technology. Yet, instead of questioning the original technology that caused the problems, we look for a new technology to fix the problem, which in turn creates new technologically driven problems, creating new technologies to fix it, and on and on the circle goes. It is a quick fix mentality that looks to technology to solve our problems, that believes that technology can do so, and that it can do so in a pure manner. It is indeed a religion: Technology is the religion of our modern age and all of our demons are technological. Anarchism’s classical opposition to religion, must be extended first and foremost to techno-worship, the most insidious cult of all.

Technology is never only a a “neutral tool” that simply depends upon how we use it. Once a technology has been created, it’s very existence overrides ethical concerns about not using it. For example, at the end of WWII, scientists created that atomic bomb. American politicians and scientists argued that it would actually be immoral not to use this weapon of mass destruction, because more lives would be lost if they did not use it, than if they did. Or take stem-cell research and biotechnology which reaches into the very fabric of life and alters it, creating unknown and known problems. Calls to halt such research are considered immoral because to stop the research now that it exists, would be to condemn the handicapped and others who might benefit from the research (often done by torturing nonhuman animals). Once a technology exists, its very existence shuts off conversation. In fact, the English word “technology” means “words about technique.” The gadget, the technique itself in our language is the conversation. No need for further discussion!

In this regard, even nonviolence can become a technique, a new technology for the state and corporations to use to keep the status quo in place. The development of “nonlethal” weapons, psychological methods of control, marketing, and other forms of nonviolent techniques, anarchists must denounce as every bit as terrible as the violent methods. We do not want to live in a Brave New World!

Articles for further reading:

See the Jacques Ellul page.

Berry, Wendell. “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer.” New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly 10, no. 1 (Autumn 1987): 112–13.

Glendinning, Chellis. “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto,” Utne Reader, 38, no. 1 (March/April 1990): 50–53.

———. “Technology, Trauma, and the Wild.” In Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. edited by T. Roszak, et al., 41–54. San Francisco. Sierra Club Books, 1995 .

Zerzan, John. “Technology.” Green Anarchy 17 (2004): 10.