The Technological Paradigm

Few people deny that technological change has political consequences; yet equally few people seem to realize that the present "system," in the widest sense, is the product of technology and cannot be significantly changed unless technology is changed.

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities ... has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”

If the bourgeoisie did all this, what enabled it to do so? The answer cannot be in doubt; the creation of modern technologies.

Once a process of technological development has been set in motion it proceeds largely by its own momentum, irrespective of the intentions of its originators. It demands an appropriate "system," for inappropriate systems spell inefficiency and failure. Whoever created modern technology, for whatever purpose, this technology or, to use the Marxian term, these modes of production, now demand a system that suits them, that is appropriate to them.

Maybe what is most wrong is that which has been and continues to be the strongest formative force - the technology itself.

If our technology has been created mainly by the capitalist system, is it not probable that it bears the marks of its origin, a technology for the few at the expense of the masses, a technology of exploitation, a technology that is class-orientated, undemocratic, inhuman, and also unecological and nonconservationist?

I never cease to be astonished at the docility with which people - even those who call themselves Socialists or Marxists - accept technology uncritically, as if technology were a part of natural law.

The implicit assumption is that you can have a technological transplant without getting at the same time an ideological transplant; that technology is ideologically neutral; that you can acquire the hardware without the software that lies behind it, has made the hardware possible, and keeps it moving.

People still say: It is not the technology; it is the "system." Maybe a particular "system" gave birth to this technology; but now it stares us in the face that the system we have is the product, the inevitable product, of the technology. As I compare the societies which appear to have different "systems," the evidence seems to be overwhelming that where they employ the same technology they act very much the same and become more alike every day. Mindless work in office or factory is equally mindless under any system.

I suggest therefore that those who want to promote a better society, achieve a better system, must not confine their activities to attempts to change the "super-structure” rules, agreements, taxes, welfare, education, health services, etc. The expenditure incurred in trying to buy a better society can be like pouring money into a bottomless pit. If there is no change in the base - which is technology - there is unlikely to be any real change in the superstructure.

In other words, the new technologies will be in the image of the system that brings them forth, and they will reinforce the system. If the system is ruled by giant enterprises - whether privately or publicly owned - the new technologies will tend to be "gigantic" in one way or another, designed for "massive breakthroughs," at massive cost, demanding extreme specialization, promising a massive impact - no matter consequences." The slogan is "A breakthrough a day keeps the crisis at bay."

[E.F. Schumacher]
Good Work, p. 38-44

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