If Our Technology is so Wonderful, We Must be Wonderful Too
In fact, just the opposite has been true – as our technology has improved, we, as humans, have deteriorated.
The reason for this is simple, but one we cannot grasp – people are not machines, but every technology is. The difference between the two is profound, but one we are determined to ignore. We are determined to forget what being human once was. We seem to think humans are just inferior machines, and we are determined to become something better – super people, empowered by our super things!
Underneath this rosy conscious behavior, just the opposite is happening – we are destroying the world – including ourselves. We seem to have a built-in moral switch which can make us either good or bad – and one flip of this switch changes everything.
The idea of switches I got from linguistic theory. In the study of what makes the different languages different, they have discovered switches that send language development among the young down different paths. Small children, who are developmental geniuses, look for these switches in the unconscious process of learning a language.
It is not hard to discover periods in human history when people became evil and destructive – the two seem to go together. Morality is not just a matter of being nice – it is a matter of having a functional society. At present, we have become dysfunctional in a big, big way. If we could become aware of this, we might be able to fix it – but this is just what we are lacking: an overall awareness of what is really going on. We continue to focus on our technology – instead of on our selves – who we seem to have forgotten entirely.
This would be a good time to discuss the importance of mass man – who showed up, all of a sudden, along with all these marvelous technologies. Ortega y Gasset has noted the population explosion in the 19th Century that caused them. This is a fact, and no one disputes it. But no one, even Ortega, has accounted for the vast changes in human behavior involved – although he, and quite a few others who wrote about mass culture, have come close. Closing the gap, and simply noting our overall direction, is something few can manage. It is just too horrible to contemplate.
Figuring out how this happened doesn’t seem like such a difficult job to me – just put yourself into their shoes. There they were, overwhelming the world with their vast numbers. This had two effects – mass conformity and a determination to run the world their way.
First, mass conformity. Why this? It was herd mentality coming to the fore – part of our basic animal nature. Instead of developing their human nature – always tricky business – they did the easy thing, and reverted to their animal nature. This demanded total conformity in order to make themselves more powerful – acting like a vast machine with awesome political clout.
The second part – the determination to run the world their way, what Ortega call the Revolt of the Masses, was simply a class struggle for power, something Marx did a good job of alerting us to – although he missed the rise of the masses entirely – and like everyone else concentrated on the effects of industrialization. In a post-industrial world – the 20th Century – different things were happening, but the mass still remained, and were the force behind Fascism in all its forms.
The Nazis, along with Marketing in the Business world – who were much the same thing – discovered the power of propaganda to influence the masses. They could still feel they were in power, but they were not – any more than puppets on a string. With the advent of the computer/software/internet – something that only become strong after 1980, they had even less power – but even vaster illusions. Their consciousness, reinforced by Television - as McLuhan said, now encompassed the whole world. They (in this new incarnation) had truly become all-powerful!
But they also had lost the ability to control their world – and their ability to be.