After Technopoly

Alan Jacobs in The New Atlantis:

A man walks outside of the crumbling oval skeleton of the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party on mount Buzludzha in central Bulgaria on March 14, 2012. Over two decades after the toppling of the regime they glorified, the megalomaniac monuments of the communist era are still standing, setting a quandary for Bulgarian authorities, who can neither maintain nor dismantle them. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

What Neil Postman called “technopoly” may be described as the universal and virtually inescapable rule of our everyday lives by those who make and deploy technology, especially, in this moment, the instruments of digital communication. It is difficult for us to grasp what it’s like to live under technopoly, or how to endure or escape or resist the regime. These questions may best be approached by drawing on a handful of concepts meant to describe a slightly earlier stage of our common culture. First, following on my earlier essay in these pages, “Wokeness and Myth on Campus” (Summer/Fall 2017), I want to turn again to a distinction by the Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski between the “technological core” of culture and the “mythical core” — a distinction he believed is essential to understanding many cultural developments.

“Technology” for Kołakowski is something broader than we usually mean by it. It describes a stance toward the world in which we view things around us as objects to be manipulated, or as instruments for manipulating our environment and ourselves. This is not necessarily meant in a negative sense; some things ought to be instruments — the spoon I use to stir my soup — and some things need to be manipulated — the soup in need of stirring. Besides tools, the technological core of culture includes also the sciences and most philosophy, as those too are governed by instrumental, analytical forms of reasoning by which we seek some measure of control. By contrast, the mythical core of culture is that aspect of experience that is not subject to manipulation, because it is prior to our instrumental reasoning about our environment.

More here.