Monday, November 3, 2014

Bad Technology

(George Orwell)


- We've talked about the technology of good.* Is there a technology of evil?
- There is. Technology is knowledge of the world that we use to make things. We also have knowledge of people that allows us to make social things: governments and institutions, customs and habits. Institutions can be creative, but usually they are ritualistic.
- Meaning?
- Knowledge ritually learned is learned without conscious awareness. Rituals can be deliberately constructed, or occur without conscious intention.
- How are rituals deliberately constructed?
- By eliciting passions, and creating a situation where there is only one direction for everyone to go.
- Starting a war, everyone is angry, everyone gives up material comfort and does what he is told without complaint.
- Right.
- So evil is social technology, constructing rituals to manipulate people?
- When deliberate. But it's complicated. We don't always know what we are up to. Remember what we said about doing for the sake of doing, making money for the sake of making money, power for the sake of power?** Would you like to know what is happening behind this seeming circularity?
- Tell me.
- Orwell in his novel 1984 *** says that leaders of totalitarian countries maintain inequality for the sake of power. But I'd say it works the other way around. We use our power for the sake of establishing inequality. We don't want power for its own sake. We don't want to control nature, don't even really want to possess things. We want to operate our social technology. We want security in our lives with other people. Inequality provides that security, in a perverse way. In 1984 the party leaders spy on and torture the led not only for the practical purpose of maintaining order, but more importantly to get practice in, to perform a ritual of inequality in the most extreme form.
- Perverse. When we do something for the sake of doing it, make money for the sake of making money, we are practicing a ritual. What is the right way to practice social technology?
- Creatively. With love. The act of conceiving and instituting ritual produces inequality: the operator of the ritual operates on the operated, the leader leads the led. Apes making faces at each other are operating a social technology, instinctively created. We can experiment with this technology, creatively invent new rituals. Orwell argues that if a totalitarian government is to be stable and last, leaders have to be free to re-invent rituals, and in the work of reinvention keep partly self aware, alert to the world and able to deal with incipient rebellion. However they could not choose not to do that job assigned them: being assigned the job is ritual operating on them, and they unconsciously learn they must accept the job.
- Who established that ritual assigning them the jobs? Who operated on them?
- No one. Or they each impose it on the others. I've described**** how antique dealers sometimes are able to set "market" prices: sharing the same profit loving character, each demands 200 percent profit from a resale. Because anyone wanting to sell to them meets the same low offer from all, a "market" price granting high profit is set without any conspiring between dealers.  In Orwell's novel the idea of rewriting history is hit upon as a means of protecting the effectiveness of ritual subordination as the world changes in inapplicable or unanticipated ways. Just say it didn't happen, an idea immediately occurring to anyone with experience of forgetting himself in ritual practice, to anyone self-consciously aware of his ability to create ritual. With this shared knowledge and experience, everyone agrees to accept changed history, the bad guy is now a good guy, black is white, because the result, as long as everyone agrees, is that it works. The power of the ritual is regained. Anyone who breaks ranks falls from the category of leader to led, from the creative instituter of ritual to passive consumer and victim of ritual. The mental possibility of accepting the contradiction relies on the fact that only one term in the contradiction is the product of a voluntary process of thinking, the two opposing "beliefs", the ritual and the independent, operate each in their own sphere.
- But if the leaders' participation in ritual assigning them the job of rewriting history is not creatively modified, won't the totalitarian government fail, according to Orwell's ideas? Leaders, he wrote, have to act creatively if they are to maintain alertness to threats of rebellion.
- Yes. The government won't fail from individuals making what freedom they can for themselves, becoming more and more independent, but by the incompatibility of rituals to the real conditions in the world, since the world is not controlled by rituals as people are, is not in fact changed by rewriting history. We have global warming, danger of natural disaster from nuclear weapons, etc.
- We have allowed technology to be used to construct ritual by people themselves in the grips of ritual. And, as you say, it is not necessary. We don't need to apply social technology to ritual.
- Ritual is a possibility inherent in our species nature, not a destiny. It is a deviant path.*****
- We could creatively construct creative societies.


- What stops us?
- From what?
- Creatively constructing creative societies.
- Assume Orwell was right. Oppressive governments oppress not for sake of control over things but control over people, Totalitarianism aims not for power in the abstract, but to maintain subordination. Surveillance and torture are practiced not primarily to discover secrets, but to give leaders opportunities to subordinate the led. If this is so, then conquering totalitarianism is not a matter of changing relations to things, of spreading them around more fairly, is not a matter of economics at all. If subordination works by creating fear and the repetitive group action in response, then it can be defeated by substituting stability and cooperative creativity for the artificially produced fear and group repetition. Provide people with enough of things, and an opportunity to work creatively and cooperatively together and they'll care more about making things than possessing them.
- But you said that wouldn't happen. The government is on its guard to prevent it. And anyway, to people with neither enough of things nor an opportunity to cooperatively create things, such a proposal is to exchange what they know provides security, for a freedom they haven't experienced.****** We can't sit by idly and wait for an environmental catastrophe to wake us up.
- The prophet hopes he stirs the imagination and memory of those he warns and they act to stop him from being proven right.

Further Reading:
Liars And The Free Market
Einstein And Intellectual Physics
The Search For Evil