Time to get a grip on technology!

IssueApril 2014
Comment by Dave King

Nowadays, technology takes the lion’s share of military budgets and it is technological superiority, far more than numbers of soldiers, that determines who has military superiority. Not content with nuclear MADness, the military in different countries are busy developing cyber-warfare, directed energy weapons, enhancement of soldiers’ capabilities with brain-computer interfaces, drones that take their own targeting decisions, and robot soldiers. They’re also discussing biological weapons created through synthetic biology, and ecological warfare, including weather manipulation.

From 2 – 5 May, activists working on military technologies will be coming together with those working on other issues in the politics of technology at Unstone Grange near Sheffield. The aim of the Breaking the Frame gathering is to make the links between these issues and to create a new network that can challenge military and corporate control of technology.

Faced with the awesome power of military technologies, it is tempting to look away, or to hope that they will be made irrelevant by international movements for peace. But the truth is that such movements can only succeed if they fully address the dynamics of technological development, which, like Reagan’s Star Wars project in the 1980s, can destabilise political agreements and drive wars as testing grounds for new weaponry.

It can often seem that the technological dynamic has its own momentum which is entirely beyond human control - the ‘technological imperative’ that if something can be done, it must be done. This is an illusion: everything that happens in our society happens because of decisions made by human beings. The problem is that that there is a pattern of human thinking associated with technology, which originated 400 years ago in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, which tends to plough relentlessly on, regardless of consequences. It is ironic that this profoundly irrational way of being is defined in our society as rationality.

This technocratic mindset, in which scientists and engineers are subtly trained, and which now seems to us like common sense, was first crystallised by the philosopher/statesman Francis Bacon: knowledge (of the workings of nature) is power.

The writings of Bacon and the founders of the Royal Society are full of explicit statements advocating the domination of (unruly, female) nature. It is this inherently violent attitude, which breaks relationship with nature, and is expressed most obviously in the military technological project, that has characterised much of the Western technological enterprise.

As many green writers and activists have argued, it is the technocratic attitude embodied in industrialism, just as much as the capitalist profit motive, that has created the multiple environmental crises that we face today. Technocracy has its own philosophy and internal dynamic that has also created the panoptic surveillance society and the fascist vision of cyborgs/genetically-enhanced ‘transhuman’ elites, as well as existential threats raised by synthetic life forms, climate engineering and the potential redundancy of most human beings in the face of artificial intelligence.

An international movement for peace can only succeed if it addresses the technocratic dynamic as part of militarism. That means dismantling military technology programmes, including some basic scientific research programmes, and ensuring that technology is developed under democratic control and under conditions of full transparency. Such a movement must link with movements addressing other political issues raised by technology, as well as alternative technology movements.

This is the vision of the Breaking the Frame gathering, which has been organised by Luddites200, Corporate Watch and Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Topics: Technology