“Prometheus Bound” (via Hesiod, Aeschylus, Heidegger, McLuhan)

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar David Schaengold
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    says:

    This is an excellent post. It strikes me as almost certainly true that we are coming to see information as a raw material and our minds as a store of resources. I wonder if the technology of the office, as Weber called it, isn’t more to blame than the internet, though? Isn’t viewing minds as resources a feature of bureaucratic organization?Report

  2. Avatar North
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    Rufus me lad, do I detect a hint of luddite in this?

    I think I get the objections but I think they fall short. In my mind the damage/danger of the new nascent technology lies in its impact upon the early users. The first men to use fire burn and soften themselves, the first people to use writing weaken their memories, the first people to use digital tech loose touch with their inner private selves. But with the former technologies we see (in my opinion) that once mankind adapts to the new techs they then use them to soar. The later users of fire use it to illuminate the world. The later writers create epics, sagas and treatises that illuminate the mind. Who knows what wonders the later users of our digital creations shall achieve.Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to North
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      says:

      Isn’t this a contingent process? That is, we can either fail or succeed at integrating new technologies into cultural accounts of meaning, what it means to live a good life, etc. Our recent failures as a culture on this front don’t give me any great hope that the future of information technology will be more humane, or human, at least.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to David Schaengold
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        says:

        Have we ever failed to integrate new technologies into cultural accounts of meaning? What would it even look like if we failed? Extinction or merely anarchy?Report

        • Avatar Rufus in reply to North
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          says:

          Maybe not extinction or mere anarchy, but spiritual lassitude. My own fears about the future are that it will be endless boredom stretching out to infinity and punctuated by random violence.Report

        • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to North
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          says:

          The car, as Rufus mentions below, is a perfect example. From the 30s through the 70s the United States underwent a massive, concerted effort to change the physical structure of our communities in order to accommodate the car. It now seems clear that this was a terrible mistake, precisely because we failed to realize that the ability to walk places, to pass acquaintances in the street, etc., was part of what constitutes a good human life. If you look back at texts from the time, there wasn’t any actual discussion about this at all except in the books that have since become the founding texts of contemporary urbanists (Jacobs and Whyte in particular seemed to be the only ones who really understood what was going on). Mostly you had animated videos about how wonderful it was going to be to live in a country full of freeways from ocean to ocean.Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to North
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      says:

      I don’t know if I’d call it a hint of the Luddite so much as riffing on Aeschylus, who I don’t take to be as positivist as a casual reading might suggest. Besides, it’s not as if the Luddites were exactly wrong- I mean, their way of life was being ended. I think technologies bring trade offs, and I guess what I’m skeptical about is the mantra: “Technologies are neither good, nor bad; they’re neutral.” Only when not in use I’d say.

      Take the automobile. I love cars and married into a family of gearheads. I love the mobility and speed they’ve provided to humans and how they’ve interconnected our communities. But, it’s easier to kill yourself with a car than with a hansom carriage. And you don’t have to be an eco-extremist to think that probably the exhaust isn’t great for the atmosphere. Not to mention that the car enabled us to make sprawling suburbs where you can’t walk to anything and everyone’s a little bit fat. In one sense, none of that is implicit to the technology, but I’d say it is implicit to incorporating the technology into our lives without thinking critically- we need a hint of the Luddite!

      Of course, part of this is (as usual!) shaped by working in a profession that continues to spout mindless techno-utopianism while trying to teach a generation of internet-addicts to “navigate” the old obsolete paper technology. Recently, the experts at our university have started suggesting we hold lectures on Youtube and let the students email their questions instead of meeting in the farty old physical world. What bothers me is the implication tech-gurus always make that you have no choice- it’s the same coercion that progressivism in general seems inclined to. “Your way of doing things is outdated and ‘unsustainable’. Step with me now into the future! Why do you look nervous?”

      So, what I’m encouraging is not so much criticism of new technologies as critical thinking about them. I’m not as gloomy as McLuhan actually was (in spite of how people read him). I’m okay if people have their Blackberries or whatnot- I just don’t want to be begrudged for reading my “dead tree media” in a “dead language”. I’m still living.Report

  3. Avatar Will
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    says:

    Rufus, could you elaborate on Heidegger’s interpretation of the Greek conception of techné? I’m afraid my only exposure to this has been through bad college debate rounds. Usually, the other team would read nine minutes of Heidegger by way of McWhorter and scream that calculative thought is bad and policy-making predictions are a product of technostrategic discourse (or something). I think I understand Heidegger’s basic argument, but I’m not really sure what his alternative – a bringing forth and revealing of truth? – means.Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to Will
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      says:

      Hey, I just got home from a weekend in the woods. I can sure try to explain this, but I should probably try tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.Report

      • Avatar Rufus in reply to Rufus
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        says:

        Okay, first, we have to take Heidegger with a large grain of salt. I can’t promise to make him much clearer and I’m undecided in general about how seriously we should take anything he said. Often, when reading him, I wonder if he wasn’t either a bit cracked or a con artist.

        So, the essay- The Question Concerning Technology- begins with the idea that we can get to the “essence” of technology by thinking through what was “primally thought” about techné. Heidegger talks often about the concealed original essence of some idea- Being is the big one- with the promise that, if we understand the primal sense of the term we will uncover the now concealed, but not lost, essence of the thing.

        So, with techné, he is saying that, on one hand, it just means craftmaking- but on the other that it is intimately connected to Poïesis, which he defines most broadly as a “bringing forth”- an example he uses is be a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Here one thing steps outside of an original standing to stand as a second thing.

        Another example- from The Symposium!- would be Diotima’s idea of Poïesis as a way of stepping beyond mortality- Sexual Poïesis in reproduction, civic Poïesis through lasting fame, or spiritual Poïesis by cultivation in the soul. It’s a creative bringing forth.

        Part of what makes this confusing is that techné as craft is more often contrasted with poïesis as art. It’s also not clear that the Greeks saw techné nearly as broadly as Heidegger.

        He contrasts techné as “revealing” and technology as “manufacturing”, which is really another sort of revealing, which he calls “enframing”- in which manufacturing is “challenging forth” nature and demanding that nature give itself up as as a “standing reserve”.

        Here he compares a windmill to a hydroelectric plant. I think the idea is that a windmill is man making use of the forces of nature, where a hydroelectric plant, in Heidegger’s term, “challenges” Nature. Instead of just drawing from nature, it puts nature (in this case, the Rhine) at our command. Nevertheless, even in doing this, man takes part in “ordering as a way of revealing”.

        But not wholly- it happens to some extent outside of his handiwork. And the danger is in loosing sight of that and coming to “obey” technology as it unfolds in meaning. If “ordering” becomes “destining” man runs the risk of being taken as standing reserve. The more we stand inside technology, the more nature recedes into the background, being reduced to a storehouse of raw material. Of course, the really horrifying part of his later thought on technology- and notorious- is that because he believes that technology is somehow an autonomous organizing activity acting upon Nature, and not a neutral tool at our command, he sees mechanized agriculture as being of a metaphysical sort with the death camps. These would be two aspects of technology unfolding in history. On one hand, this argument is appalling in that it removes agency from the Holocaust- on the other hand, it is a really intense condemnation of technology, which he only hints at in the essay. Nonetheless, there, he clearly suggests that technology poses a great threat to human existence on the level of Being.

        So, the answer seems to be “listening” to the claims made by technology (on Nature presumably) and in some sense standing outside of technology in order to do so, which means standing back and looking at the concealed truth that reveals itself in technology.

        So, I suspect this gets us back to looking at a hydroelectric plant as poïesis in order to reclaim that lost essence. Since Heidegger sees Being as tied to techné, we would presumably regain some lost sense of Being in regaining an original sense of techné as poïesis. I guess the flipside of this is thinking that hydroelectric power is therefore an attack on Being.

        Again, I’m not sure that I’ve made anything easier to understand!Report

  4. Avatar Titus
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    says:

    Ah, ignorance is bliss. Best not to breed sinners, oweing a debt of gratitude to Zeus or Prometheus. Its March Madness, and that means vasectomy time. May we all live an apathetic, happy life.Report

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