Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Promoted from the Comments

A reader has asked in comments two very good questions that I didn't want to get altogether lost: First, why do I use the charged and somewhat slippery term "technology" to do work that looks pretty much like straightforward "ethics"; and, second, why I am so hard on "bioconservatives," even when they sometimes have rather reasonable points to make. Here are truncated versions of my responses:

I have chosen to focus on what happens to get called "technology" in particular just because I believe that in this historical moment of ours "technology" is quite simply the preeminent arena in which our generation will struggle to do most of the real work of freedom and fairness that falls to us, such as it is.

As far as I see it, I don't have much choice about that sort of thing at all, and this is simply a matter of calling things as I see them.

I believe that there are stunning social and cultural energies afoot that would naturalize and stealth perniciously anti-democratic assumptions and efforts under the sign of "technology" and "development." And at the same time I believe that the crucial charge of democrats and freedom fighters in this moment is to demand that technodevelopment be as emancipatory a force as may be: consensual, sustainable, democratizing, expressive, and fair.

As far as the "bioconservatives" go, understand this: It is not their reasonable fear that we will be rash that concerns me. It is not their reasonable admonition that in the frenzy for the new there is much that is worthy that is lost to our cost that concerns me.

It is the stealthy apologia for unearned privilege, the complacent acceptance of intolerable cruelty, the self-congratulatory identification with authority at the heart of any invocation of the "natural" over the (multi)cultural that earns my enmity. And let me be clear about this: I think there is a deep and probably ineradicable complementarity between conservative and naturalist politics and, hence, I see anti-democratic, cruel, authoritarian values as essential rather than accidental features of any naturalist ideology.

Progressive, scientific, secular, democratic, consensual, properly planetary perspectives can easily accommodate the reasonable intuitions in which bioconservatives cloak themselves to peddle their poisonsous perspectives, but without taking up ourselves the package of anti-democratic "naturalist" nostalgia hidden at the heart of their pious politics.

1 comment:

Pace Arko said...

"peddle their poisonsous perspectives...package...pious politics."

Got a little alliterative towards the end. Was that intentional?

I think bioconservative is a useful term that helps explain the otherwise strange alliance between people like Kass and other religious conservatives on the right and Rifkin and other deep greens on the left in their stance against certain kinds of biotechnology research.

Perhaps you won't agree but I think the term also pushes us who are closer to the political center together. It's like we're saying, "Look, we know they're extremists. We don't really agree with them."

But here is the thing. I think the Republicans have made a mistake in recent years. They cynically buy votes from the religious conservatives and throw them a few bones to placate them. But this will eventually backfire on them in the end as they alienate the middle.

On the other hand, I don't think the Democrats have ever really made close cause with the luddite, romantic left. I guess their too square or or too many science supporting secular humanists in the ranks or something.