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.

1 comment:

Tor Hershman said...

Ages don't pass 'cause they ain't.
Ages seem to exist but they're only 'wave seasons'.