Chapter 4: The Limits of Technical Rationality

I had a short conversation with a couple academics a few weeks ago. Questioning Technology came up, and they wondered what I thought of it. It’s hard to talk about books like this with guys like this, but I had to confess that I’d never read any of the philosophers Feenberg uses to get his concepts together. Weber, Heidegger (only an article on Nietzsche), Marcuse, Habermas, I hadn’t read a single word of them. That’s pretty much why the pulled quotes I call “notes” are all I type out. But in philosophy I have read, the concepts of autonomy and human creative force were forged long ago.

So I ask a question, why read some monster tome of god-smothered thinking? I’ve tried Kant. Once you’ve read his name being dragged through the mud of Nietzsche’s anger it’s hard to put in the effort to read Kant. I picked up a slim hardcover copy of his Introduction to Logic, and I’ve tried to start it several times but can’t get past the first line, maybe I get a little into the second line, then I’m done. The book goes back on the shelf. I was told by one of the academics to hold off my judgement and read Kant. No reason, just read Kant.

Like I said this was weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about that. My philosophical reading has been limited to the sons of Nietzsche. So I decided to read the Critique of Pure Reason. I thought it would be interesting to read it with the Critique of Cynical Reason. Plus, there’s something mystical about this.

Anyway, these are some quotes that I pulled:

“Democratic” rationalism is a contradiction in Weberian terms. On those terms, once tradition has been defeated by modernity, radical struggle for freedom and individuality degenerates into an affirmation of irrational life forces against the routine and drab predictability of a bureaucratic order. This is not a democratic program but a romantic anti-dystopian one, the sort of thing that is already foreshadowed in Dostoievsky’s Notes From Underground and various back to nature ideologies. (p.75)

We need not go underground or native to escape the iron cage… this is in fact the meaning of the emerging social movements to change technology in a variety of areas such as computers, medicine and the environment. (p.76)

Two principles of technology’s ambivalence:
1. Conservation of hierarchy: social hierarchy and the continuation of power are generally unaffected by the introduction of new technologies.
2. Democratic rationalization: technical initiatives often follow structural reforms pursued by social movements.(p.76)

Technological development is not unilinear but branches in many directions, and could reach generally higher levels along several different tracks. (p.83)

A critical theory of technology can “demystify the illusion of technical necessity, and expose the relativity of the prevailing technical choices.”(p.87)

Social groups excluded from the original design network articulate their unrepresented interests politically. New values the outsiders believe would enhance their welfare appear as mere ideology to insiders who are adequately represented by the existing designs. (p.94)

Design is not a zero sum economic game but an ambivalent cultural process that serves a multiplicity of values and social groups without necessarily sacrificing efficiency. (p.95)

We will someday mock those who object to cleaner air and water as a “false principle of humanity” that violates technological imperatives. (p.97)


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