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Tesla Cars, Technology, The Market Economy, and the Environment Tesla Cars, Technology, The Market Economy, and the Environment
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-08-25 12:55:48
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“Everywhere we remain un-free and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral, for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.”
                                                        --Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”

“Technology is never neutral, neither does it guarantee a good government either on a purely utilitarian or on an ethical basis…it is conceivable that technocracy could threaten democracy. The global crises of the economic markets demonstrate how right was Croce in not reducing liberalism to a mere economic system founded, in theory, on competition.”
                                                      --Ernesto Paolozzi, Interview with Mario Scarpa

The two quotes above by Martin Heidegger and Ernesto Paolozzi provide us with the essence of the problem that Western Civilization faces vis à vis technology. How are we to conceive of technology? If one conceive it as integral part of science, then the Positivists are on the right track in their assertion that science is the last cycle of a developing progressive civilization, superseding,  and rendering obsolete, the first cycle constituted by myth and religion, the second cycle constituted by reason and metaphysics, and ushering in the third, final and superior and triumphant scientific empirical method as conceived by Francis Bacon. Ever-perfectible science is the culmination of progress as the 18th century, the age of reason, would proclaim via reason and rationality. This explains why the third cycle is superior: it eliminates subjectivity and bias and arrives at the truth via a fail-safe method. The fruits of science, after all, are there for everybody to see. Via science we can now go to the moon and back. Nowhere are those fruits more apparent than in the technological innovations which currently keep on multiplying almost exponentially. It is technology which will save us by a few push button solutions, not religion, not philosophy, proclaim the starry eyed modern positivists.

 tes01

A Tesla car

Take the automobile which at first resembled carriages without a horse, almost as a throw back to the 19th century, but eventually became a symbol of inevitable progress for the 20th century, just as the train was the symbol of progress for the 19th century. Is now automotive industry becoming a part of a problem, not of a progress in 21st century? The youngest automotive company in the US and Western Europe is 90 years old. Do we here talk about conservative clubs? Rigidity in the dynamic environment of otherwise very promising 21st century?!

 tes02

A 19th Century Train

The automobile, as well as the train, proved to be problematic for the environment; coal and oil are not clean and environmental friendly. But that too seems to have been solved via the electric train and the electric car. Tesla Motors now produces battery cars that run just as fast, as far and as efficiently as internal combustion cars, are aesthetically pleasing and, most importantly, are pollution free. Who could ask for anything more? Indeed progress is inevitable and unstoppable. When the train arrives in the American prairie, not only the buffalo is to be exterminated to make room for progress and the future, but native American tribes, stuck in the first cycle of development, need to move over also. Those who refuse to enthusiastically welcome the religion of progress, are simply relegated to reservations, or worse, exterminated like the buffalo. So it turns out that despite its claims, technology is not so neutral and value free as the Positivists have claimed; it always implies a choice to use well or to use it for ignoble ends. As Paolozzi well puts it in the above quote: “Technology is never neutral, neither does it guarantee a good government either on a purely utilitarian or on an ethical basis… “

 The 2012 Olympics opened with an image of a roaring train coming down the tracks. Somebody said in the 19th century that the greatness of England resided in its abundance of coal which allowed the industrial revolution and the building of the English Empire over which the sun never set; to which the poet Matthew Arnold replied that the true greatness of England was Shakespeare. Thus began the war of the two cultures: the scientific positivistic culture vs. the culture of the liberal arts, still ongoing in the 20th century with C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures, a dichotomy that would have been inconceivable to a Leonardo, who was both a great scientist and a great artist.

 Heidegger begins his Being and Time with the question Why is there something rather than nothing?; a question that any positivist would deride, if for no other reason that he cannot answer it via science nor does he care to answer it. He’d rather look at the cosmos than ask why the unexamined life is not worth living. And yet, neither Heidegger, nor Paolozzi, nor Vico whose masterpiece is titled The New Science, are anti-science luddites. Rather what they are saying is that knowledge and science are never neutral; there is always an interpretation and intentionality; they can be use for good or for evil. What made possible the horror of the Holocaust were people with much knowledge (9 of the 12 Nazis who planned the logistics of the event had Ph.D.s after their names) which was used for evil, so that the train would run on time and the ovens and the extermination chambers would function efficiently. Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society is illuminating in this respect.  Heidegger, on the other hand, paradoxically joined the Nazi party and even worked for it for a short while. So, given that technology is never neutral unless it is in the hands of unthinking automatons, or zombies without a consciousness, the question persists: how shall we use technology in the 21st century? Tesla and its sleek electric motors is a solution of sort, but it is a scientific solution which does not solve the human problem; that problem is encapsulate in these questions: how do we live meaningful purposeful lives and assure our survival and salvation as the human species?

 ****************************************************************************

Note: This article has already appeared in Modern + Diplomacy: Special Reports in August 2014.

 


       
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