17 May 2010

Technology, principles and sustainability

This blog entry regarding the importance of restraining principles in the exploitation of technology may seem to have little to do with the anarch or Ernst Jünger, however it did emerge from a discussion of whether Jacques Allul was an anarchist or something other. Hence I include it.

(I can only imagine Ernst Jünger would agree with Allul's ideas, since they correspond closely to his notions of the titanic abuse of science. His brother Friedrich Georg Jünger also often wrote about the unprincipled application of technology.)

As Allul explains in this interview, in certain middle age societies, a rule regarding technology existed which forbad the use of iron tools in working the earth. Although the people of the time knew that these would undoubtedly have been more efficient, the earth was considered a mother whom the use of hard tools would have injured.

In the light of our unrestrained use of technology today, we may think such a rule out-dated, inapplicable to us and above all inefficient - and yet when we look at how mining (and mechanized agriculture) have degraded and impoverished the earth in the last centuries, we understand that there was a real sense to this rule, that it contained simpler but greater wisdom than our technological cleverness. Such a rule or principle would have prevented the rape of the earth that we have witnessed in recent centuries.

Back then the extent to which our "iron" technology would progress would have been inconceivable - and probably considered demonic. Yet in consideration only of their own simple technology, without reference to all the mistakes we have since made, these civilizations followed a principle which protected the earth and ultimately also them. And had we maintained this principle, we would also have avoided our current environmental troubles.

We can learn from this that technology requires the guidance of principles - even when it seems that little damage can be done. One never knows to what extent a a contemporary technological development may progress. A conservative principle protects one from this danger. It allows stability, an equilibrium, to develop in a system - 'thus far and no further'.

That is to say, restraining principles applied to our technology would allow the development of that magical "sustainability" which so fills our rhetoric today.

Above all it must become clear that it is not more and better technology that will bring salvation, sustainability - it is new restraining principles for its use. Whether these are religiously or rationally-based is irrelevent - religious ones would probably work better for the masses.

Incidentally, Allul doesn't come across as an anarchist to me - he evidently values what tradition may offer. It is only the modern desacralization of nature that he objects to.

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