IS TECHNOLOGY THE PROBLEM?

by John Spritzler

July 24, 2022

[The URL of this article is https://www.pdrboston.org/is-technology-the-problem ]

Some people (most famously Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, in his manifesto) argue that the cause of the most serious problems (for ordinary people) is our society's use of and reliance on technology, specifically technology that requires large scale social organization to produce, as opposed to technology that individuals or small communities can create and use on their own. An example of the former is a refrigerator, because it requires electricity that in turn requires a generator that in turn requires copper wire that in turn requires a large industrial base; examples of the latter are an ice box and salting meat to preserve it and pickling vegetables to preserve them.

Kaczynski argues that technology that requires large scale social organization destroys human freedom because in a world based on such technology a) the real power is inevitably in the hands of a small elite who control the large scale organizations, and b) the aims of the elite that controls the technology is inevitably to make people serve the needs of the technology rather than to make the technology serve the needs and values of the people.

Kaczynski says the only solution to this problem is to destroy all technology that requires large scale social organization. This would mean destroying not only every technology that was developed by or after the Industrial Revolution (machinery that is not powered by animals or humans, or anything that uses electricity, for starters) but even technology much older than that, for example the ancient Roman empire's road-building and aqueduct building technology.

Kaczynski's Key Mistake

Kaczynski's key mistake is this. He assumes that large scale organization can only exist in a manner that is fundamentally anti-democratic, i.e., in a manner that prevents small communities from having the real power over their lives that freedom requires. Kaczynski observes, correctly, that in today's society the large scale organizations that make technology possible are in fact profoundly anti-democratic and freedom-destroying. But Kaczynski fails to see that there is a very different way to have large scale organization, a way that is not freedom-destroying: voluntary federation of egalitarians.

Voluntary federation of egalitarians (described here and here and further discussed here and here) achieves large scale organization without there being any centralized commanding authority. One can see here examples in real life today of voluntary federation (although not of egalitarians) on scales even as great as global. 

What Kaczynski fails to understand is that the profoundly anti-democratic and freedom-destroying consequences of how our technological society operates today are due not to technology per se but rather to the fact that our society (and hence its technology) is controlled by the minority of people (yes, it is truly a minority!) who value class inequality, the domination of the many by the few, and the use of power to treat ordinary people like dirt (as I illustrate with many examples here) for the purpose of keeping them "in their place" at the bottom of a very unequal society. THIS is why the large scale organizations of technology today do indeed destroy freedom and often treat people like dirt.

The solution is not to abolish all technology that requires large scale organization. No! The solution is to abolish class inequality so we can use voluntary federation of egalitarians to achieve the large scale organizations we desire to have technology we desire to make our lives better and free.