Technology and Human Civilization
Last edited 25th October 2020Tech and Social Structure technology and humankind
What is specially and uniquely human is man's capacity to combine a wide variety of animal propensities into an emergent cultural entity: a human personality. The Myth of The Machine (Page 20).
Lewis Mumford Argues that tool making and tool using is not unique to humans. There are many animals that use tools, complex organization structures, and construct habitats and they have been doing so for much longer than human beings. He argues that its not the technological tools that define humanity, but this combination of animal propensities, social tendencies, and the extensive use of symbolism. He later argues that technological development and tool usage stemmed not from the desire to increase food supplies or amass greater resources, but instead to remove the burden of survival in order to, "fulfill more adequately his superorganic demands and aspirations" through play, art, and culture The Myth of The Machine pg 8.
Mumford further states that "...man is pre-eminently a mind-making, self-mastering, and self-designing animal; and the primary locus of all his activities lies first in his own organism..."The Myth of The Machine(Page 23). Insinuated as above that the tools of man are mere an ends a means; that means being the ability to be "more human".
As a Neo-Luddite, Mumford fears that the subsumption of all human society into technology will destroy the human identity and goes against the original intention of humans' technological advances. ?? How can we imbue current technology in richer symbolism ??
One of the powerful technological innovations that man has created is culture. Through culture, the speed of evolution increased orders of magnitude faster than it would if left to nature. Culture allowed humans to unify around a standard set of acceptable criteria for a mate, for social behavior, for economic systems, etc. and to reward those individuals best adapted to suit that particular standard. Religion, combined with culture allow humans to build the first civilizations, or as Mumford refers to "maegamachines". Religion is a fascinating technology because it allows humans to assert control over each other without the necessitating the use of force. Just like steam power or electricity, "heavenly power" allowed for the execution and organization of work. fragmentSystems like democracy can only arise from situations where a large enough body of people recognize that they will accomplish more and be more comfortable in cooperative action, yet seek to respect the individuality of their fellow human beings. The notion of a collective, community, nation state, city, becomes the power behind democracy; that sacrificing some individual freedoms allows for a better outcome and does not require the use of force to maintain social cohesion.
Both the science of today and the religion of the ancients are based on the observations of the natural world. They capture in their own ways powerful symbolism present in natural occurrences. How can one argue with the priest if they claim that Helios driving the sun in a chariot across the sky if you reliably see it rise and set every day of your life? How can one argue with research done with sophisticated instruments that show that light when in a vacuum always travels at the same speed? One does not need technology to observe the natural world and learn its secrets, and one can be ignorant of the natural world while still commanding impressive technology. Similar parallels can be drawn from Jonathan Blow's talk, Preventing the collapse of civilzation where he warns that we run the risk of being technologically illiterate in the midst of the greatest technical era of humankind if we don't properly understand the fundamental workings of the technical foundations upon which our society is built.
We study history in the "recent" past in terms of society, culture, language, and economics. We study history in the "ancient" past in terms of tools. The fact that the society, culture, language, and economics of early humans has not survived has skewed our perceptions on what was truly special or revolutionary about our earliest ancestors. We are blinded by the lack of evidence which may hold clues and insight into why we behave the way we do today.
??Is technology alone enough to advance humans as a species??
What would we do if given advanced alien technology? We currently have incredibly powerful computers in our pockets and we use them mainly for reading text and looking at pictures.