Thursday, September 17, 2009
What I'm Reading Now
"Postman (Conscientious Objections, 1988, etc.) once more cuts across the grain as an important critic of our national culture, this time arguing that America has become the world's first 'totalitarian technocracy'--otherwise known as a 'Technopoly.'' Postman starts out from the long view, showing that while every human culture becomes 'tool-using,' the use of those tools doesn't necessarily change that culture's beliefs, ideology, or world view.
In 'technocracy,' however (for us, this stage began to burgeon in the industrial 19th century), there's a change: tools (they're now called 'technology') begin to alter the culture instead of just being used by it: 'tools...attack the culture. They bid to become the culture.'' And technocracy becomes Technopoly when tools win the battle for dominance and become the sole determiners of a culture's purpose and meaning, and in fact of its very way of knowing and thinking--or of not thinking. The tools, in other words, come not only to use us but to define what we are--which is 'why in a Technopoly there can be no transcendent sense of purpose of meaning, no cultural coherence.'
So desolate a view of generalized inversion and ideological collapse fails to subdue either Postman's humane and faithful energy or his unflagging quickness of mind as he travels from Copernicus, Descartes, and Francis Bacon on through discussions of modern bureaucracy, concepts of worker 'management,' the intellectual hollowness of social 'science' and its monster-children of poll- taking and IQ testing--these and others (schools, TV, the computer 'culture') all being 'technologies' that in fact are 'without a moral center,' yet ones that we insistently revere and haplessly measure ourselves by, because 'we have become blind to the ideological meaning of our technologies.'
Amusing, learned, and prickling with intelligence, Postman easily outclasses the Allan Bloomians in the grave work of showing how it is that we've now stumbled our way into 1984--and offers, at end, some modest suggestions as to what to do about it. "