In The Question Concerning Technology Heidegger ponders a hydroelectric plant that is set into the current of the Rhine river. Heidegger describes how our harnessing and use of natural force has removed us from nature in a bold and terrifying new way. The Rhine stops being a river and becomes a power supply, its being, a concept Heidegger wrote extensively on, changes and becomes dualistic; there is in one instance The Rhine river; dammed up and providing an on demand service, and there is also The Rhine river of great art and poetry. Heidegger compares this example of modern technology with the archaic technology of the windmill, a less aggressive harnessing of much more obvious natural force. The problem that Heidegger seems to find in this, and the reason he refers to it as a monstrosity is the psychological effect it has upon humanity; no longer are we genius opportunists of nature, it seems as though, in some instances, nature is at our command to provide us with the necessities of modern life that we can take, transform store up and distribute, consumers to the end. This carries over to all sorts of industry, the earth can only be reaped for so long.
On this premise Heidegger arrives at some unfortunate truths, i collected some sound-bites which seem aptly true for today, quoted as follows.
`Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral`
`Meanwhile man, precisely as the one so threatened, exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that everything man encounters exists only insofar as it is his construct`
`The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already affected man in his essence. The rule of Enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth`
`Sometimes it seems as if modern humanity were rushing headlong towards this goal of producing itself technologically. If humanity achieves this, it will have exploded itself, i.e. its essence qua subjectivity, into thin air, into a region where the absolutely meaningless is valued as the one and only ‘meaning’ and where preserving this value appears as the human ‘domination’ of the globe.`
I think this applies quite deeply and profoundly to our current age, especially that last quote, of the current state of technology. We created in order to connect to one another but on reflection i feel that we have only distanced ourselves. In Charlie Chaplins `The Great Dictator` he gives the greatest cinematographic speech i think i have ever heard. Chaplin warns us that knowledge has made us cynical, the earths provision has left us greedy, he warns that we think too much and feel too little and whilst humanity always ought to be the goal of the day, it is not. This was especially true in Chaplins day as Modernism was in full swing (the film is a parody of Hitlers regime and so lends itself to this) but it is a message of universal worth and of relevance today.
Technology has brought us to an age of information, in which one could, if so inclined, spend ones days using the internet as an educational tool to learn everything and anything, however in all this information we lose what is truly important; interpreting, analyzing and critiquing in a manner that is correct.A great example of this is the New Atheism, that so often expresses horror at the morality of ancient holy texts, they seem to gather their information but fail to understand that it must be interpreted and analysed in its proper context, that of an ancient, `uncivilized` culture which is probably more estranged to us today than any other.
It is also true that technological growth is unsustainable, with the slow realization, acceptance and terror of peak oil, we can no longer produce machines and computers that practically run our daily lives, unless there is an intervention of some genius. It is not just fuel however, because without oil we cannot reproduce technology (cars, tractors, computers, e.t.c) it effects everything. We are dependent on technology and technology is dependent on unsustainable resources . The attitude i perceive of those who have the power to cause change and enact a long-term strategy just do not seem to care, it is the manifestation of nihilism, and this is where we are in widespread popular culture. If you look at the London `riots` you understand that they were utterly meaningless and had no statement to make other than `we do not believe`. Normally a riot is caused by indignation, in this case for some it may have been an experience, others an opportunity but what took place points towards a passive nihilistic condition caused in my opinion by the modern veneration, or mutation, of capitalism.
So i`m running low on energy now, but my whats my point? For those few of you who will ever read, care or take notice is that our ever extending goal of recreating and extending ourselves, ontologically, through technology will end us in a fix. It may be that we end in the kind of crisis that the holocaust presented for modernism. That we will be forced to reassess and enact yet another cultural change when the realization that we have once again failed ourselves, our dreams and goals and ultimately, just as every age and generation before us, we have no ultimate solution, no grand unifying theory and just as history repeats itself, another age and another generation will be waiting to play out their experiment in the world. It seems surprising that some people may find just cause in history to continue in this way; progress by humanity. So perhaps, as i propose, we stop looking inwardly to ourselves for an answer and accept that actually, what we do, what we have done and have been doing, that it does not work.