Many people today assume automatically that technology is progress. Still, thereis some criticism of this view in America, partially because of 20th centurywars and arms races. Marx visited China in 1984, and it seemed as though theChinese were incredibly optimistic about western technology, and had littlesense any problems that technology might create. Where did this idea oftechnology as progress come from, and where do the roots of distrust oftechnology come from? Early Americans like Ben Franklin saw technology as ameans to achieving social and political liberation for the masses; it was partof the revolt from authoritarianism.
If some technology, especially the factorysystem, would jeopardize these social and political goals, then that thing isn’tworth its price in quality of life and should be rejected. As America becamemore industrialized, the new industrialists who had both money and power came tosee the technology which they helped produce as an end in itself, or as a meansto more purely economic ends. The used phrases like “manifest destiny”and “the conquest of nature” to help justify the increasing forces oftechnology, even at the cost of the environment or Native Americans, all in thename of “civilization. ” Technological advancement is seen asadvancement, period, regardless of what social and political changes it mightbring. There was a great deal of optimism that if we continue to make scientificinnovations, the rest–quality of life, and social and political ideals–willtake care of itself automatically. The “technocratic” ideal, whichsees everything as parts of the machine, began to take control, and humanitariangoals like justice, freedom, and self-fulfillment became secondary.Order now
Technologywas accepted unquestioningly, and efficiency and scientific progress were themain goals. This is the stage that the Chinese seem to be at, says Marx. However, there was some backlash from the technocratic view. Emerson, Thoreau,and others questioned whether we were remaking America for the better, andwhether we were beginning to almost worship technology. They questioned whethernew inventions were “improved means to unimproved ends” (p. 12), andwhether we’re becoming “the tools of our tools” (p.
12). However, itwas hard to take this too seriously when rapid improvements were being made inthe material conditions of life. Today, as we’re becoming aware of some of theunintended effects of technology, many people are starting to wonder iftechnology is always a good thing. Is technology better used as a tool forsocial and political progress, or is it instead an end in itself? Moreover, cantechnology cure all of our social and political problems (for example, SDI)? Theearly notion of progress which saw technology as a mere means to more importantends provided natural limits, and a way of assessing particular pieces oftechnology.
If, however, we view technology as an end in itself, we’re not ledto ever question its value or place any limits on it. Marx thinks we need toconsider what we want our technologies to accomplish. Does technology meanprogress? Progress toward what, Marx asks. What are our goals? When we answerthat question, we can see that technology does not automatically mean progresstoward those goalsPhilosophy