April 02, 2006

Technology: A Post-Left Anarchist Perspective

by Fuck Authority
In recent years, nothing has caused more bitter sectarian division within the anarchist movement than the issue of technology and its role in human society. This issue has divided the anarchist movement into two sects: green anarchists, who advocate an abolition of most or all technology and a return to agricultural or hunter-gatherer economies, and red anarchists, who favor modification of the existing technological-industrial system. This split has caused far too much animosity between anarchists who otherwise have much in common: a hatred of domination, a desire for unrestricted freedom, and a vision of a radically libertarian and egalitarian future. In my opinion, we need to arrive at some resolution on the issue of technology that is mutually acceptable to all anarchists, so we can focus our energy on combating oppression and domination, rather than on bickering and infighting.
[post-left? What the hell is that?]

In this essay, I will first present my own thoughts on technology, and then attempt to present a vision of an anarchist society which could be hospitable to both red anarchists and green anarchists.

First of all, what is technology? Technology, for the purpose of this essay, will be defined rather liberally as “any instrument or structure created by modifying physical elements to perform a specific task.” Using this definition of technology, it seems almost impossible for anyone to advocate the complete abolition of technology, since this would require the abolition of beaver dams, beehives, and anthills as well as all human tools including even the most primitive tools such as spears and clubs. Anyone who is seriously critiquing technology is critiquing specific, malignant technologies, rather than the entirety of tools created to serve specific purposes, without which our lives would be nearly impossible. Quite clearly, there are many forms of technology which are objectively malignant, which must be abolished altogether if we are to create a liberated society, including:

1) Forms of technology that are designed specifically to be used to control and dominate other people and which cannot be used for any other purpose, such as weapons and surveillance devices

2) Technologies whose creation requires unfree human labor

3) Technologies whose creation or use has negative repercussions on the health of humans or other living beings

Under our current politico-economic regime, it is obvious that almost every single technology does fall into at least one of those three categories, but it is less obvious whether our modern technology is malignant because technology is intrinsically malignant, or whether modern technology is malignant because it is created and used by a malignant politico-economic system. I believe that the problems of ecological destruction and social domination are caused by oppressive politico-economic systems, not by the tools they use to oppress, and I believe that if we were to establish a different politico-economic system with libertarian and egalitarian priorities, these malignant forms of technology would cease to exist.

It is true, for instance, that the process involved in creating technology in our current society almost always involves some sort of forced labor which is extracted from workers either by direct violent force or by the threat of starvation; however, it seems bizarre to suggest that the problem of forced labor exists because of the existence of technology. Long before there was massive industrial technology, forced labor was violently extracted from slaves, peasants, and serfs by elite masters. The problem of forced labor is politico-economic, and its solution must be a change in the politico-economic paradigm, rather than a change in the use of technology.

Similarly, there is no reason to believe that the modification of nonliving physical materials to perform a beneficial task must necessarily cause environmental destruction. In our existing society, the creation of technology often does cause ecological destruction, for the simple reason that the people who control the technological system don’t care about the environment, so they don’t bother trying to create ecologically safe technology. If we can abolish the current hierarchical, authoritarian politico-economic system, and take popular control over the creation of technology, there is no reason that we can’t create technology that can be used without any negative repercussions on living beings. People who suggest that it is impossible to create ecologically safe technology underestimate the ingenuity, creativity, and imagination of the human mind.

However, even if technology is not inherently objectively malignant, there are certainly rational subjective reasons for rejecting it. Many people find technology to be extremely alienating, and find that use of technology is stultifying and incompatible with the visceral, immediate, uninhibited lives they wish to live. Other people who wish to be completely self-sufficient and autonomous reject technology because they are afraid of becoming dependent on technology for their wellbeing, and therefore becoming dependent on the social system that created the technology. Still other people who are unsatisfied with their current situation in industrial society are beginning to realize that, in a great many ways, life in small-scale tribal societies with little technology is far superior to life in highly technological societies: individuals work less, play more, and are often much happier, as is discussed in works such as The Original Affluent Society by Marshall Sahlins. I personally am very interested in living life with as little technological support as possible, however, I feel very strongly that the decision to reject technology should be one made at the individual level, and should not be forced upon people who, for whatever reason, prefer technological society.

There cannot be any sort of hegemonic, totalizing policies in an anarchist society; every person must be allowed to live completely autonomously and participate in society as they choose to. Any sort of overarching policy will be by its nature authoritarian and anti-anarchist. Anyone who seeks to systematically impede the autonomy of other people in the promotion of a certain way of life is by definition not an anarchist, so it’s rather bizarre that there are so many different anarchist sects, because if everyone who claimed to be an anarchist truly was an anarchist, there would be no sects within the anarchist movement, there would simply be people with different lifestyle preferences.

I believe that the matter of technology should be a personal choice in a liberated society; there should be an abundance of untouched wilderness for people who choose to live as green anarchists to inhabit, and people who wish to use appropriate technology should be allowed to do so as well. What could be more interesting than a global society in which all people are allowed to choose from a diversity of lifestyles?


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