Interesting and long read by Zachary Loeb, commenting over an an even longer one (Laudato Si, by Pope Francis).
Yes, I’ve been and will remain critical of the clergy, but if you have something interesting to say, then I’m listening (or reading).
Also, I’ve realized I need to read and learn about certain concepts and authors and their critiques of technology, like Mumford (democratic technics), Illich (convivial tools), Schumacher (appropriate technology), Bookchin (liberatory technology) and Ellul
Below a few extracts of my liking.
1. Repairing Our Common Home
The matter of change is at the core of Pope Francis’s recent encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to You”). Much of the discussion around Laudato Si’ has characterized the document as being narrowly focused on climate change and the environment.Though Laudato Si’ has much to say about the environment, and the threat climate change poses, it is rather reductive to cast Laudato Si’ as “the Pope’s encyclical about the environment.”
What Laudato Si’ represents is an unabashed ethical assault on high-tech/high-consumption life in affluent nations. Yet it is not an angry diatribe. Insofar as the encyclical represents a hammer it is not as a blunt instrument with which one bludgeons foes into submission, but is instead a useful tool one might take up to pull out the rusted old nails in order to build again, as Pope Francis writes:
“Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” (Francis, no. 13)
There are aspects of Laudato Si’ that will give readers cause to furrow their brows; however, it would be unfortunate if the shortcomings of the encyclical led people to dismiss it completely. After all, Laudato Si’ is not a document that one reads, it is a text with which one wrestles.
And while Laudato Si’ is not a document that seeks (not significantly, at least) to draw people into the Catholic church, it is a document that warns people against the religion of technology. After all, we cannot return to the Garden of Eden by biting into an Apple product.
2. Meet the New Gods, Not the Same as the Old God
Technology has become a site of millions of minor miracles that have drawn legions of adherents to the technological god and its sainted corporations – and while technology has been a force present with humans for nearly as long as there have been humans, technology today seems increasingly to be presented in a way that encourages people to bask in its uncanny glow. Contemporary technology – especially of the Internet connected variety – promises individuals that they will never be alone, that they will never be bored, that they will never get lost, and that they will never have a question for which they cannot execute a web search and find an answer. If older religions spoke of a god who was always watching, and always with the believer, than the smart phone replicates and reifies these beliefs – for it is always watching, and it is always with the believer. To return to Fromm’s description of religion it should be fairly apparent that technology today provides people with “a frame of orientation and an object of devotion.” It is thus not simply that technology comes to be presented as a solution to present problems, but that technology comes to be presented as a form of salvation from all problems. Why pray if “there’s an app for that”?
The religion of technology is not concerned with the next life, or with the lives of future generations, it is about constructing a new Eden in the now, for those who can afford the right toys. Even if constructing this heaven consigns much of the world’s population to hell. People may not be bending their necks in prayer, but they’re certainly bending their necks to glance at their smart phones.
Those in affluent nations who enjoy the pleasures of high-tech lifestyles – the faithful in the religion of technology – are largely spared the serious downsides of high-technology. What often goes unseen by those enjoying their smart phones are the exploitative regimes of mineral extraction, the harsh labor conditions where devices are assembled, and the toxic wreckage of e-waste dumps. Furthermore, insofar as high-tech devices (and the cloud) require large amounts of energy it is worth considering the degree to which high-tech lifestyles contribute to the voracious energy consumption that helps drive climate change. Granted, those who suffer from these technological downsides are generally not the people enjoying the technological devices.
3. Laudato Si’ as Critique of Technology
A particular sign of the growing dominance of technology, and the techno-utopian thinking that everywhere evangelizes for technology, is the belief that to every problem there is a technological solution.
Laudato Si’ is a document which is skeptical of the belief that smart phones have made people happier, and it is a text which shows a clear unwillingness to believe that large tech companies are driven by much other than their own interests.
In other words, “technique” gradually eliminates the alternatives to itself. To live in a society shaped by such forces requires an individual to submit to those forces as well. What Laudato Si’ almost desperately seeks to claim, to the contrary, is that it is not too late, that people still have the ability “to limit and direct technology” provided they tear themselves away from their high-tech hallucinations. And this earnest belief is the hopeful core of the encyclical.
“There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere.” (Francis, no. 113)
Well…one rarely hears such arguments today, precisely because the dominant ideology of our day places ample faith in equating “scientific and technological progress” with progress, as such.
“It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same.” (Francis, no. 108)
And yet, what Laudato Si’ may represent is an important turning point in discussions around technology, and a vital opportunity for a serious critique of technology to reemerge. For what Laudato Si’ does is advocate for a new cultural paradigm based upon harnessing technology as a tool instead of as an absolute. Furthermore, the inclusion of such a serious critique of technology in a widely discussed (and hopefully widely read) encyclical represents a point at which rigorously critiquing technology may be able to become less “countercultural.” Laudato Si’ is a profoundly pro-culture document insofar as it seeks to preserve human culture from being destroyed by the greed that is ruining the planet. It is a rare text that has the audacity to state: “you do not need that, and your desire for it is bad for you and bad for the planet.”
Laudato Si’ is a piece of fierce social criticism, and like numerous works from the critique of technology, it is a text that recognizes that one cannot truly claim to critique a society without being willing to turn an equally critical gaze towards the way that society creates and uses technology.
4. The Bright Mountain
Apocalyptic romanticism, whether it be of the accelerationist or primitivist variety, paints an evocative image of the world of today collapsing so that a new world can emerge – but what Laudato Si’ counters with is a morally impassioned cry to think of the billions of people who will suffer and die. Think of those for whom fleeing to the foothills is not an option.
People have always been predicting the end of the world, and here we still are, which leads many to simply shrug off dire concerns. Furthermore, many worry that putting too much emphasis on woebegone premonitions overwhelms people and leaves them unable and unwilling to act. Perhaps this is why Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth concludes not by telling people they must be willing to fundamentally alter their high-tech/high-consumption lifestyles but instead simply tells them to recycle. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis writes:
“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.” (Francis, no. 161)
Those lines, particularly the first of the two, should be the twenty-first century replacement for “Keep Calm and Carry On.” For what Laudato Si’ makes clear is that now is not the time to “Keep Calm” but to get very busy, and it is a text that knows that if we “Carry On” than we are skipping aimlessly towards the cliff’s edge. And yet one of the elements of the encyclical that needs to be highlighted is that it is a document that does not look hopefully towards a coming apocalypse. In the encyclical, environmental collapse is not seen as evidence that biblical preconditions for Armageddon are being fulfilled. The sorry state of the planet is not the result of God’s plan but is instead the result of humanity’s inability to plan.
Laudato Si’ does not suggest that we can escape from our problems, that we can withdraw, or that we can “keep calm and carry on.” And though the encyclical is not a manifesto, if it were one it could possibly be called “The Bright Mountain Manifesto.” For what Laudato Si’ reminds its readers time and time again is that even though we face great challenges it remains within our power to address them, though we must act soon and decisively if we are to effect a change.
Doing so will be difficult. It will require significant changes.
But Laudato Si’ is a document that believes people can still accomplish this.
In the end Laudato Si’ is less about having faith in god, than it is about having faith in people.
Source: Towards a Bright Mountain: Laudato Si’ as Critique of Technology