Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jacques Ellul on technology, freedom and moral judgment

Technology will not tolerate any judgment being passed on it. Or rather: Technologists do not easily tolerate people expressing an ethical or moral judgment on what they do.

But the expression of ethical, moral and spiritual judgments is actually the highest freedom of mankind.

...So whatever I say about technology and about technologists themselves is unimportant to them.

It won't deter them from what they are doing. They are now set in their course. They are so conditioned.

For a technologist is not free. He is conditioned by his training, by his experiences and by the objectives which he must reach.

He is not free in the execution of his task. He does what technology demands of him. That's why I think freedom and technology contradict each other.

-Jacques Ellul
The Betrayal of Technology: A Portrait of Jacques Ellul (~28:00 mark)

Ellul of course speaks broadly. After all, no matter their vocation few people tolerate moral judgment on their work.

One could debate what he means about the expression of judgments as the highest freedom. But it is certainly a higher freedom than that of instrumental reason.

The "conditioning" of technologists is not simply the kind of habit one expects of a virtuous man. Rather, it is a discipline bordering on the penal. Without conscious effort, efficiency and neutrality towards ultimate matters easily become the highest virtues. Here is a curious overlap between a technological focus, careerism and consumerism.

Especially in bioethical debates, technological experts and pretenders to expertise often appeal to freedom from moral censure. Ellul's often radical philosophy suggests this phenomenon is in fact the slavery of a man in servitude to his tools.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

CIA has plants in state governments, Jesse Ventura claims

Jesse Ventura's election as Minnesota governor was hailed as a refreshing change from the status quo.

As an independent, he was soon trapped in the gridlock of a friendless capitol and quit politics in disgust.

Now a host for a television show examining conspiracy theories, he seems to be discredited one-off. Any politician seriously proposing 9-11 "truther" arguments is doomed to become a footnote in U.S. history.

But then there's the question of how he became open to conspiracy theories in the first place. This video suggests a cause:

A debriefing with nearly two dozen CIA agents about one's unexpected election victory is surely an eye-opener. The CIA has even confirmed a meeting took place, though the details are not verified.

Ventura's tale of CIA plants in the Minnesota state government, known only to the governor and his chief-of-staff, is another concern. The man suggests his state was not unique, speculating it is standard operating procedure to plant permanent intelligence agents.

Despite the ex-governor's circumspection, he provides identifying information. The alleged agent, probably male, was in a deputy position in the state executive branch. He retired and was replaced while Ventura was in office.

On this point the news media have failed to do their job, as have conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. True watchdogs would have already established likely candidates, if the facts do not contradict Ventura's allegations.

Ventura, a former professional wrestler and actor, is himself a showman. But attempts to dismiss his claims as a publicity stunt for his latest book would be more credible if somebody bothered to try to verify them.

In related news, are any readers familiar with plans to move the CIA's National Resources Division to Denver? The Washington Post reported on the move in 2005, as did the Denver Post. However, it is unclear whether the plans were acted upon.