A Political Question of the First Order

In the course of urging us to “think what we are doing,” Hannah Arendt made the following observations in her 1958 work, The Human Condition:

“This future man, whom scientists tell us they will produce in no more than a hundred years seems to be possessed by a rebellion against human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking), which he wishes to exchange, as it were, for something he has made himself. There is no reason to doubt our abilities to accomplish such an exchange, just as there is no reason to doubt our present ability to destroy all organic life on earth. The question is only whether we wish to use our new scientific and technical knowledge in this direction, and this question cannot be decided by scientific means; it is a political question of the first order and therefore can hardly be left to the decision of professional scientists or professional politicians.”

Later on she adds:

“But it could be that we, who are earth-bound creatures and have begun to act as though we were dwellers of the universe, will forever be unable to understand, that is, to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do. In this case, it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking. If it should turn out to be true that knowledge (in the modern sense of know-how) and thought have parted company for good, then we would indeed become the helpless slaves, not so much of our machines as of our know-how, thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget which is technically possible, no matter how murderous it is.”

As is always the case with such excerpts, I offer them for your consideration because I find them interesting and provocative.

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8 thoughts on “A Political Question of the First Order

  1. Very interesting. I wonder the degree of analysis that past societies put into new technology after they came into use. Did the users of the first bow and arrow contemplate reflectively if this was a good or bad innovation? I imagine not. I would speculate that we are not unique. Rather that our consequences of poor decisions are so much worse.

    • A Tecnologia hoje faz parte de nossa vida. De nosso dia a dia. Antes, fazíamos tudo, trabalhavamos, estudavamos e nos divertíamos muito. Hoje, se temos problemas com o celular, “paramos”. Ficamos sem movimentação e sem saída. Precisamos da Tecnologia e ela é parte integrante de nossas vidas.

  2. Many years ago I read a beautiful and insightful book by Jerry Manders, In the Absence of the Sacred, where he looked at many of the technologies which had been absorbed by our society and asked a similar question. If we knew then what we know now about the impact of _____ (gasoline vehicles, atomic weapons, television, computers, etc.) would we have so readily adopted it into our society? He also wrote a book , 4 Arguments Against Television. Very interesting and valuable as a tool of reviewing the ‘stuff’ and ‘cultural concepts’ we include in our lives. I believe both of these were published in the ’80s. There are times today that they still influence decisions I make about including new ‘gadgets’ or cultural mores in my life.

    • Interessante! Mas, lembramos que precisamos nos integrar sempre. Nesse processo de integração, as vezes, necessitamos abrir mão de alguns valores. Precisamos pensar sobre isso.

  3. I don’t know about that. We are already doing a lot to shape the genome. Maybe all the GMO foods are going to have a profound effect on us. It really is up to us to decide what kind of future we would like. Better that than the scientists or politicians.
    Leslie

    • Sim, concordo com você. Porém, sabemos que a ciência vai andar muito nas próximas décadas, desvendando muitas coisas de nossas vidas, tais como o que realmente somos e como surgimos. De que tipo de energia somos potencializados. Interessante!

      • Ah, as questões filosóficas mais profundas! Eu acredito que ha algo que não se destinam a saber.
        Voce ja ouviu minha musica? Meu proximo album e sobre Manaus, Brasil. Ele ainda não esta pronto.
        Leslie

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