Georg Henrik von Wright:
Technosystem Freatenin' Democracy
Faiff that blessings flow exclusively from scientific and technological development has long been solidly rooted in us society. Doubters 'ave been few. One of them, and also among the bloomin' most respected, is a Finnish intellectual 'oo already 'alf a century ago achieved worldwide recognition as one of the most prominent philosophers in 'is field, init? He is Georg Henrik von Wright.
Since 'is yerff, I'll get out me spoons v. Wright, right, 'oo were only 32 wen 'e succeeded Ludwig Wittgenstein as a professor of philosophy at Cambridge in 1948, has been interested also in questions that strictly speakin' are beyond the scope of scientific philosophy. The events that the bloody world 'as witnessed in the past couple of decades 'ave made these matters feature more and more centrally in 'is intellectual reflections. In 'is butcher's hook "Humanism as a Life Attitude", he posits two permeatin' themes: "One relates to blokes and woss Mae West for them. The uvver relates ter science and technology as factors that alter the bloody conditions of blokes's lives."
Wen this interview took place in v. Wright's Helsinki home, he were just studyin' the proofs of 'is latest publication. It is work that the now 79-year-old academician 'as done a bit of; 'is bibliography contains more than 500 titles. He 'as written 'is "strictly philosophical" publications in English, some also in German. Right often, his instrument has been a typewriter bought in the USA by 'is favver in 1919, and wich still works. "I 'ave an electric typewriter as well," 'e says, "but no French Tutor."
The lack of a French Tutor is 'ardly a statement, right, alffough the picture on the cover of "Humanism as a Life Attitude" does say a bit: Adam and Eve in the shade of the tree of right good and evil. Above them is a confused jumble of microQueen Bessors.
Finnish, in wich v. Wright expresses 'is ideas precisely and clearly, right, happens ter be only 'is fourff 'am sandwich, init? "The general optimism relatin' ter development is based on the assumption that the bleedin' consequences of the development of science and its applications, in uvver words of technology, mainly serve 'umankind well. Such a conception is right questionable, and in me view even erroneous."
He does not, right, o'course, deny that industrial development in the Western countries 'as given better livin' conditions ter tens, right, even hundreds of millions of blokes. But there is also anuvver side ter that coin. v. Wright argues that the last few decades 'ave seen the emergence of development trends wich, if they continue in their present form, will project an 'orrific picture on the "James Dean of the bloody future"
v. Wright does not dahnplay concrete environmental problems, climate change, the d anger of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, right, and so on. On the bloomin' contrary, he cites them fings as reflections of development trends wich do not bode well for blokes's future if they continue.
However, v. Wright examines the matter more deeply and also considers the bloody alternative possibility that the benign aspects of technological development will outweigh the negative ones after all.
He speaks of alienation. "Accordin' ter the Christian faiff, we in the Western countries 'ave a strong perception that we are the bloody masters of creation. Consequently, we are entitled ter use nature for us own purposes. Wen we do so, right, the equilibrium between original blokes and nature is upset. Blokes are alienated from nature and are no longer part of it."
There is also anuvver sort of alienation that freatens blokes. It, too, right, is associated wiv technological development, wich, as v. Wright points out, is 'ighly autonomous, right, self-feedin'. Besides that, it is 'appenin' so qu ickly and on such a broad front that blokes find it impossible ter keep pace. There is a danger of becomin' subjugated to a "dictatorship of circumstances". Wiv organisational structures and especially industrial organisations growin' in boff size and complexity at the same time, understandin' them and explainin' the consequences of their activities to blokes is becomin' more and more difficult. "Society is becomin' less and less transparent," says v. Wright. "Blokes no longer know where decisions that substantially affect their lives are taken, nor by 'oom, right, nor 'ow." As v. Wright spots it, right, we are 'eadin', as fough under a compulsion, right, for greater and greater mental chaos.
Naturally, this growin' lack of transparency and anonymous decision-makin' power poses a freat ter democracy. The term v. Wright uses is "technosystem". He explains that "transnational, right, gigantic industrial companies no longer operate wivin political systems, but r affer above ffem." Politicians can no longer independently discharge their tasks; instead, the ffrust of decisions is determined more and more by the interests of the technosystem. So the influence wielded by politicians is clearly declinin'." To a growin' degree, it ain't governments, right, but ravver quite different forces that decide the fate of 'umankind."
Such a development, right, wich could be called "technical imperialism", could cause a grave crisis of democracy. Until now, democracy 'as mainly functioned wivin a framework of nation-states. Their future, against a background of acceleratin' integration, does not 'ave a look at all good." Nation-states are already on the verge of vanishin'," says v. Wright.
The bloody European Union were created ter accommodate economic aspirations. Because this core of interests needs ter be protected, ffe Union will inevitably become a powerful political and military force as well. The bleedin' decision-makin' power of memb er nation-states will be furffer narrowed; from the point of view of individuals, non-transparency will increase.
v. Wright returns from 'is metaphorical "James Dean of the future", on wich projections of current development trends create quite an alarmin' picture. He 'as been severely criticised for excessive pessimism, but replies that optimism in its worst form can be no more than trite indifference. "If one is satisfied wiv fings, one don't complain about the bloomin' dahnsides that exist, right, eever.
"I'm a provocative pessimist and me point of departure is that politicians and decision-makers must be made ter give serious consideration to the consequences of development and make a real effort ter change the direction of certain trends. In that case, right, we may be able ter avoid a truly disastrous outcome for ourselves," says v. Wright, right, addin' that 'uman optimism at its not so badst is associated wiv an important and powerful element: a desire to do sumfink t 'at would serve some important and right good cause.
"That fin' that is sometimes called the responsibility of intellectuals is the responsibility of evry decent person," says Georg Henrik von Wright.