Deus Ex Machina: Tradition and the Essence of Technology

October 4, 2017 Uncategorized Comments (0) 161

How is a traditionalist to treat his relationship to technology? For a tool destined to set us free and bring about world-wide enlightenment, technology has been largely a force of imprisonment for the masses. As the title of this essay suggests, technology was envisioned to be a literal “Deus Ex Machina”: our salvation and means to achieve peace here on Earth, and this is a point that the so-called “post-humanists” (Kurzweil, Zuckerberg, and so on) will not shy away from, although they stop just at the boundary of naming this force, this phenomenon, their own artificial Christ.

But those of us who yet retain or have salvaged some participatory and real relationship to the divine’s presence in the world are confronted with a reality in which we too are caught up within the bounds of this overwhelming and forward-seeking force. The technological is inherently tied to the philosophies which were its boon and nurturing soil. The hyper-rationalism and instrumentality of the Enlightenment has been so ingrained in the very operation and understanding of technology that it becomes very difficult for one to view the phenomenon from a non-technological perspective.

The problems of technology only breed more technology. This instrumental view of reality is a mode of being we have to consciously escape from. The modern man regards all things based on their function and benefit, while the traditional man confronts reality and “brings-forth” being.

Technology vs. Tradition

When we speak of technology we use words like “progress” or “exponential growth” and our fancy imagines a world of tomorrow full of miraculous machines which can conform to our every whim and need. This is the allure and illusion of technology: that it must and will always serve our purposes. In fact, the word “machine” is noted in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “probably related to the Greek μῆχος ‘means, expedient, remedy’”, but ultimately deriving from the Latin root machina, which in its second sense denotes “a device, plan, contrivance, a trick” (OED).

Technology: a trick of a remedy. Technology as a force, and a means to an end is temporally always future-oriented. It advances and never regresses, it always speeds up yet never slows down. This is fundamentally in opposition with the living tradition which is at its root past-oriented, while also being constantly renewed in the present. The main difference here is that although technology was present in antiquity it wasn’t there in it’s entire form, whereas we call tradition ‘alive’ because it maintains wholeness throughout time and space. Technology must always accumulate because it is never complete: there is always one more improvement to make, one more way to increase efficiency. And this is its essence.

Technology as an Essence

When speaking of the essence of technology, the purpose is to find the character of its being and relation to other beings. This is not a newly posited question. In his essay “The Question Concerning Technology” Heidegger seeks to resolve the very same issue encountered here. There are many nuances to Heidegger’s argument which encompasses and builds upon his notions of being and time, but for our purposes, a few key points are crucial to understanding what is essential about technology:

First, the essence of technology is not something we make; it is a mode of being, or of revealing. This means that technological things have their own novel kind of presence, endurance, and connections among parts and wholes. (Blitz)

The difficulty of separating oneself from the technological is not just one of material consequence (e.g. to remove all technological apparatuses from one’s life) but rather it is a separation that would involve the very make-up of the modern consciousness. The scientific mind places great emphasis on the “tool-making” phase of man’s evolution as a fundamental step towards our later sapience or wisdom. Thus, it is impossible to not think about technology without being caught in the philosophies and modes of thought that themselves produced technology (the post-enlightenment, modernist philosophies).

Like a snake eating its own tail, the paradox of technology endures, and all criticism of itself and the solutions to the problems caused by the technological are technological in nature themselves. In an article for the Catholic theological journal Communio, titled “Thinking About Technology” George Parkin Grant begins his piece with the quotation: “…Technology is the ontology of the age.” What he goes on to outline and explore (in dialogue with Heidegger) is that somewhere along the way we could not escape a technological way of perceiving the world, each other and as a matter of fact the divine.

The Technological as a Mode of Perceiving the World

Due to being immersed in the technological mode of thought, it seems extremely difficult if not impossible to escape from it’s grip. This is especially true for those of us born in the internet age; we have accepted it to be a fact of life as natural as the function of one’s own arms,. Yet for millennia man lived and sought another mode of life: a different relationship with the world and the beings around him. This mode or experience is often described as a “naivete” or better yet an acceptance of the mystery inherent in the world. To retrieve this is to polish the philosopher’s stone. Yet while many have claimed to find their way back to the Edenic state and to be in conscious communion with the gushing divinity revealed through creation, we as Western peoples have in recent history not paid any heed to these individuals. Instead, we have rather implicitly accepted the utilitarian and instrumental experience without question. Until now, that is.

The scientific claim for the objective truth or interpretation of reality is to treat the thing out there (whether the natural or personal) as object. The scientist is he who takes a scalpel to all things (whether social, literary, natural or divine). Grant states:

At a higher level of attention we can recognize that our political and social decisions are interwoven with the pursuit and realization of technological ends (613)

He later on calls the technological trend a homogenizing one (619); it devours all things in an attempt to deny anything outside of it’s objectifying gaze, like the Medusa of the ancients, turning all things into stone. Heidegger originally explores this notion as the ability of replacing “the familiar connection of parts to wholes; everything [becomes] just an exchangeable piece” (Blitz). Whether human, animal or religious, its meaning extends only as far as its use does. This is witnessed in our social and political institutions. This is true of the liberal capitalistic society where the individual is reduced to the consumer or just another component of the free market, and the Marxist, where the worker is as equal as another screw in the communist machine.

This instrumental view of reality is a mode of being we have to consciously escape from. The modern man regards all things based on their function and benefits. This is a system, or schema, or machine which has been integrated and envelopes our consciousness. It acts from the very time a babe wakes and lamentably finds him/herself in the present age and continues on through that grinding factory we call public education. In this world every lesson and sensation tells us that what is real is only what we can objectify and analyze; all else is rubbish or a primitive’s fancy.

Speaking on the new sciences (more particularly particle physics, but the point can expand to everything we encompass under the neat umbrella term STEM) Grant goes on to say:

…[the sciences] were in their essence folded towards the mastery of the energies of nature, in a way that was absent in the pre-modern.. (612)

Although our ancestors utilized the bounty of nature and manipulated it, the manipulation was not both the means and end within itself. Most of their mechanisms were one or two steps removed from the natural element. The classical man knew that without respect for the numinous forces present in the energies and states of matter found in the universe he would be doomed forever serve them.

The Instrument is Us

As technology progressed and took on its own being, a vague awareness permeated our subconscious that this force was an uncontrollable one with its own “mind” and intention. Today in the so called “digital age”, concerns over meddling too far with the primal forces of matter, or talk of the dangers of artificial intelligence are all too present for even the common citizen. With what great burden must he fall asleep knowing that the fate of reality is in the hands of those that see him as but another machine, a marionette doll to be poked and prodded?

The sad reality is that we did not need technology but technology required us. We Westerners are the ones instrumental to its development and eventual chaotic cycle. Although the technocrats are fooled into believing they hold the reins or press the buttons; it is technology that uses them as the “raw material” (Grant, 624) required to plaster together its Frankenstein and its own Metropolis. On this, Heidegger believes:

these acts [the minutia of technological development] occur not primarily by our own doing; we belong to the activity. Technological conscriptions of things occur in a sense prior to our actual technical use of them, because things must be (and be seen as) already available resources in order for them to be used in this fashion. (Blitz)

Therefore, since the technological doesn’t encompass only the material aspect but the conscious orientation of the individual, the person wittingly or unwittingly makes oneself a propagator of its destiny. Without us the natural world has no need to assemble a Boeing 747 by its own means. Whether this destiny is our shared destiny or a challenge to spiritual man is yet to be seen. But any person adherent to tradition must be aware of its affects on one’s very perception of the world. With awareness and vigilance, we can begin to unplug from its power over us. Ever so slightly, we can lift the veil of “objectivity” anew to glance upon the living world.

The Essence of Technology is Demiurgic, Daemonic, Satanic

These three terms are not to be understood interchangeably but as different aspects of the same beast. The Demiurge – quite literally meaning “maker” or “craftsman” (OED) – was a Platonic (and heretical) concept of deity. It was later utilized by the Gnostics as a being antagonistic to the spiritual development of man and responsible for the soul’s entrapment within the material body. Like technology, the folly of the Demiurge is to not accept anything outside the bounds of its own being. It believes that it can treat everything contained within as similar in nature to itself. Such that under the gaze of the mechanism, we too become machine.

Like technology, the Demiurge has the potential to fool the masses to believe this assumption to be true. For many, anything beyond the material (read: mechanical) is incomprehensible: the brain is a computer, the mind a hologram, while the soul is written off as a glitch somewhere along the way. Yet for the few with a lingering sense of mystery and awe, however small, this is the eternal lie: there always has been something more and forever will be, to think otherwise is the folly of the fallen.

Within this context, the daemonic is from here on taken to mean “of the underworld”, “pertaining to the lower nature of man”, or more simply just “downward-looking”. The technological experience of the world focuses on sensation and phenomena claiming to ascertain their causes while in actuality only referencing back to itself and its own terminologies and neologisms. To be utilitarian is to be constantly concerned with the basic appetites: how to feed, how to bathe and how to achieve maximum pleasure.

Even when gazing heavenwards, the technological man reduces the planets (once perceived to write destinies) to statistics and chemical compositions ignoring their spiritual and symbolic significance. So we ask them, would the Egyptians, conscious of astronomical phenomenon and well-versed in their observation assign so much significance in their architecture and religion merely to dense gaseous bubbles? Or were they conscious of some significance beyond the one available to the very self same eyes we share?

Finally, arriving at the Satanic aspect, a problematic term absolutely, but one suiting for the Heideggerian essence of technology as “challenging-forth” rather than the “bringing-forth” power of the revelatory experience of being. Satan, or “shaitan” is denoted as the “adversary” or “great accuser”, the one who challenges God and all his workings. What has been the greatest challenge to the Christian conception of the world if not the technological/scientific developments which followed the 17th Century? Constant and proud in its intention to leave no stone unturned and to substitute truth with fact, technology is truly an arm of Satan. Did Blake not warn of “these dark Satanic Mills” when gazing upon the industrialization of his ancestral homeland? When explaining what he means by challenging-forth Heidegger reveals:

…that everything is imposed upon or “challenged” to be an orderly resource for technical application, which in turn we take as a resource for further use, and so on interminably. For example, we challenge land to yield coal, treating the land as nothing but a coal reserve. The coal is then stored, “on call, ready to deliver the sun’s warmth that is stored in it,” which is then “challenged forth for heat, which in turn is ordered to deliver steam whose pressure turns the wheels that keep a factory running.” (Blitz)

It is technology’s inability to see the real world outside it’s own earthward-looking gaze that challenges the sanctity and divine nature of being. Such a gaze when persisted upon will turn all that is beautiful to simple symmetry (as seen in the progression of the “modern arts”) and even all that is spiritual into the merely psychological. Or as the poetry of Blake puts it with greater force and reality than all the prosing in the world can hope to aspire to:

And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion. (Jerusalem, Chapter 3)

From the Tool-Making Man to the Worshipping-Man

From the beginning man’s essential relationship to the world is one of praise, reverence and stewardship. The traditional man sees that the material and sensory is only one of many interpretable layers available for him to access in the universe around him. Yet this does not make it any less essential than the rest. To treat the physical as something to be avoided or moralized as evil was never the intention of this treatise, but rather to see it as a beginning point which leads us to a more whole and participatory experience of being. To do this one must escape the spiritual grip of technology.

The internet, social media and technology have been, if anything, nourishing to the spread of a traditional ontology or perception of the world. It has brought many people towards the path of light and removed many a clouded veil from the formerly lost. But it is only a means for the living tradition to transmit itself, while it remains unchanging. It would be foolish to take on a luddite approach to the bounty of technology, to completely immerse oneself in so-called “primitivism”. The substance to be transformed only begins with the body but it’s intended goal is man’s conscious perception of the world around him.

Evola’s lesser known esoteric work within the bounds of the anonymous UR Group, gives a guiding principle to take from all of this on the difference between the “cause” as seen by the spiritual man (the initiate) and the hardened scientific man (the uninitiated). They1 state:

Modern men believe that this is the same in the case of their science, since through various techniques science brings about well-known material realizations; and yet they are grossly mistaken, since the power afforded by technology is no more a true power than the explanations of profane sciences are true explanations. The cause, in both cases, is the same; it is the fact of a man who remains a man, and who does not change his nature to any significant degree.

Once the technological baggage weighing down consciousness is dissolved, then a new and meaningful universe will emerge and others will be recognized as common souls. The very same universe of Plato, of Augustine, of Dante will present itself to you: overflowing with fullness and divinity.

What is the traditional point of view, if it isn’t seeing all of creation as a sacrament of our Creator and Lord?

 

1: The pronoun “they” was chosen out of respect for Evola and friends’ desire for anonymity

______________________________________________________________________________

Blitz, Mark. “Understanding Heidegger on Technology.” The New Atlantis. N.p., n.d. Web.

Ea. “The Nature of Initiatic Knowledge.” Introduction to Magick (n.d.): n. pag. UR Group, Julius Evola. Web.

Grant, Mark Parkin. “Thinking About Technology.” Communio 28 (2001): 610-26. Print

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Canada, Tradition, and Government

July 22, 2017 Symposium 2017 Comments (0) 666

The following essay is part of Northern Dawn’s Symposium for Canada’s 150th anniversary. The theme is Canada: Who Are We? We hope these studies of Canada’s heritage will inspire readers to consider its future, and the broader civilization of which it is a part. Those who rule must know what they are ruling.

The following essay is by Cole Dutton. Cole blogs at The Dominion Standard about a variety of traditionalist and conservative themes.

The traditionalist Canadian often faces a certain type of assertion roughly analogous to ‘why is that the role of the government?’ Or ‘the government deserves no part in that.’ Now, aside from market considerations, it becomes very difficult to respond to such assertions in a succinct and cogent fashion. It is the aim then of this piece to take a glance backwards at Canada and its liberal political discourse and contrast it with the principal notion of intellectual and political conservatism: the assertion that government for conservatives has an end or purpose specific to it. This position enables one to see the importance of government in asking the critical question fielded by Northern Dawn in response to Canada 150. And that question is ‘who are we?’

From this observation, it behoves the conservative to counter that the government plays a larger role than the electoral apparatus, the law, or social services. In contrast to both the classically liberal perspective and the egalitarian doctrines, the conservative considers neither freedom nor equality substantive when comprehending the fullness of government. This position is one of government as a necessary and positive institution in society. The government, in this case, has drifted from its appropriate purpose and lost its orientation. This change has come at the expense of the well-being of society and the free individual.

The chief problem of Canadian politics is identical to the one that has infested and metastasized across the western world. Erik Kuenhelt-Leddihn termed it the choice between Calvin or Rousseau.[1] The western world chose Rousseau and a vision of mankind’s goodness that led western man to see the state as a little more than an instrument. This modern western man perceives the state as something that is not its own organism, and intertwined with the soul of the civil society as Roger Scruton imagined it.[2] Rather, his view of the state presupposes two particular principles: first, that mankind is by nature good; second, that even when it is self-evident that the individual is not by nature good, democratic elevation of the majority is a capable antidote to the ills of the individual.[3]

The position then becomes one of man as corrupted creature. However, in response the modern mind imagines that the herd is wise; to the modern western man, good men will always outnumber the bad (as if the bad were not the same men as the good). The modern vision of man’s corruption is not corruption in the sense of the metaphysical. It is not the corruption of the mind referenced by Susan Schreiner in her masterful study of reformation intellectual history entitled Are You Alone Wise? Nor is it the corruption encapsulated in the story of Genesis. It is the corruption of man by inadequate political and social systems. These systems operate in a systematic fashion upon the individual character. This is the liberal and socialistic paradigm. A paradigm that consists of the argument that material and social conditions govern the quality of the individual and find expression in social pathology. This diagnostic view paves the way for immediate prognostication and remediation. The government then becomes the engine of reform and revolution. The state exists as merely a tool to remake the society. This liberal state stands independent of the institutions of government, in the name of the artificial and elevated virtues of equality and liberty.

This is problematic for a simple reason: upholding liberty and equality as the paramount virtues necessitates the obliteration of other virtues in kind. This elevation comes at the expense of justice, piety, obligation, and temperance in particular. For they demand the destruction of distinction and the levelling of value to embolden those who engage in vices condemned by historical and traditional norms. Given these basic claims, the liberal and egalitarian transformation of the social fabric of Canada makes sense. The extirpation of the history of Canada creates incredible problems. This arises because the system of authority embodied by the current state destroys the basis for civil society: tradition. In the same fashion, this movement also undermines the promogulated norms that legitimise the authority of the state.

Yet, this has not stopped the chattering classes of Canada, particularly the liberal party, from innumerable crimes against the nation. These acts consist of eliminating the Royal designation from numerous institutions. The list in no particular chronology and only in part reads as follows. The Liberal Party adopted a new flag, and the Alberta NDP attacked Catholic schools on the issue of LGBT rights. The Liberal Party weakened the already feeble Senate; it also established a vacuous national anthem in O’Canada; meanwhile, it aimed to destroy our first past the post system. Various groups have also agitated on behalf of a narrative of aboriginal genocide. The liberal party continues to claim Canada had a multicultural history of mass migration; Justin Trudeau asserted Canada is a post national state (itself a contradiction in terms); and lastly, Pierre Trudeau and his Liberal Party wrote a charter which undermines the principles of Parliamentary supremacy and the validity of the king in Parliament.

How then may conservatives challenge the position of the government as utility? How can they obstruct the tendency of the modern western mind to engage in instrumental thinking at the expense of the soul of civil society and the state? The answer demands a clear statement of what conservatives in Canada ought to imagine as an ideal understanding of the government. By understanding the purpose of government, Canadian conservatives can direct their policy proposals toward doing justice to who we are.

From this position, the argument is that government exists as the proper and capable trustee of the soul of civil society. The distinct communities, institutions, families, faith, and modes of living which allow the emergence of the fully distinct and free individual compose the soul of civil society. Philosopher John Kekes terms the same soul the pluralism of tradition.[4] This pluralism of traditions provides a framework, unconscious to most and embodied in natural prejudice, that enables individuals to interact with each other in a coherent and predictable fashion. This predictable engagement is necessary for the exercise freedom without sin both against the future and the past. Kekes states, ‘when individuals form their conceptions of a good life, what they are to a very large extent doing is deciding which traditions they should participate in. The decisions may reflect thoughtful choices, thoughtless conformity to familiar patterns, or something in between.’[5] This same pluralism of traditions allows numerous historically couched visions of the constitution of good government to attempt to address the demands of human nature in varying ways while adhering to the same objective realities of the human condition.

Working from Edmund Burke’s fundamental political axiom: mere ‘renters’ cannot fulfil true government. Instead, the government must be a compact between ‘not only . . . those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.’[6] Government, given that it cannot exist solely for those interests currently embodied in the present generation, is not an instrument of the political class or of the demos; it is a being itself with a life of its own and duties appropriate to it. In fact, it is the only body in existence that can take the soul of the people and instantiate it beyond the limits of generation and time. To abrogate this principle is to not only attack our ancestry, but to attack future generations who may have no trust that their land, people, institutions, and faith will be safeguarded in the future. It is to put ourselves and the present in the position of supremacy and shackle those to come. Tradition defines the framework for social relations and answers to the questions of how best to live. In this way, it becomes imperative for the conservative theory of government to steward custom and history both so that the present may benefit from them as well as the future. This is the first principle of conservative government, but not the last.

The final and most important principle in a conservative theory of government is its stance against evil. Of course, asserting the existence of evil, especially for the modern mind, is begging the question. When we cannot agree on the basic constitution of evil in the world, we do not have a failure of philosophy or theology, but a reflection of the moral vacuity of our present condition. Regardless, for my purposes here it is enough to concede the existence of evil, and leave the definitions to the philosophers and theologians.

It’s important to recognise that evil did not play a minor role in constitutional theorising in the past. Even in the humanist epoch of the Renaissance the force that is evil was acknowledged. Recognition of evil had a strong theological founding located in the scepticism of medieval theorists. Renaissance thinkers recognised the instability and frailty in mankind. Dante Alighieri noted in his De Monarchia ‘higher natur[ed]’ men must leave behind a legacy to posterity. However, if there is a higher nature there must be a lower something not admitted in our modern discourse.[7] Marsilius of Padua spoke likewise in his support for a plurality of governing institutions; he states that he is dealing with a fallen man, when he argues “and [if Adam] had remained in this state [of innocence], the institution or differentiation of civil functions would not have been necessary.’[8] Modern man does not make the same theological claims, but he need not abandon the assumption of evil and the need to respond to it. For the government, itself stands ready as an arbitrator to do justice between victim and perpetrator.

This is where government’s moral role enters the political calculus. Liberals, secularists, and socialists think that the purview of the state should be limited to ambivalence regarding right conduct. The state instead should direct its sympathy toward the individual. This individual himself is a product of conditions, not natural frailty. This position is evident in the abject surrender in the Omar Khadr settlement. There is no judgment of evil in this instance. The rights of the individual, in this case, Khadr came without duties. For Khadr being born on Canadian soil entitled him to all the rights and protections of the liberal state without any necessary obligations in return. Meanwhile, the state itself could not condemn such an individual if he was by nature good. Likewise, the state abandoned its moral imperative or more likely lost confidence in it. A conservative state then is one that is sure of its moral position, recognises the evil in man, and buttresses itself and the society against such evils. It is a state that demands of its participants something in return beyond taxes and offers more than freedom. David Lowenthal speaks to the need of free societies to affect the morality of their civil life, and though his examples pertain to America they are apt here as well:

…for men to live together as a civilised nation devoted to their common freedom rather than as a loose collection of individuals devoted to their own pleasures, moral virtues are necessary. . . . Only in free societies does what pleases most individuals—whether it is consistent with sustaining the regime or inconsistent with it—make a crucial difference to their destinies. Only free societies require of all their members the moral dispositions and capacities that make cooperation in self-government possible.[9]

Freedom is empty without good people. In turn, the state in its active prevention of evil brings about the condition for good lives while not permitting evil to flourish in its name.

To pull the threads together, it is worth examining another claim from Kekes that necessarily arouses the consternation of the liberal modern man. To Kekes, autonomy is an inadequate political end in part because by loosening the fetters on the good, we likewise loosen the fetters on the evil. It is only possible to admit absolutes of liberty when we surrender the moral imperative to prevent evil.[10] This is not the only problem the liberal or egalitarian mind faces because the conservative vision of government, in its stewardship of history and tradition, limits the potential of government to act as an emancipatory engine. A vision of Canada as a specific state, character, and history is a necessary leash on the attack dog of liberalism. Therefore, to the modern mind, virtue and the past must both kneel before the modern man. The modern mind does not care to answer the question ‘who are we?’ because the answer is always ‘I am only who I am and who I am is my present consciousness and no more.’ They reject the a priori concepts and the antecedent reality in which they emerged because to be beholden to the past is limiting to the autonomous individual and the levelling projects of the egalitarians.

In response, Canadians can answer the question ‘who are we’ by building a government that lets those answers emerge through the civil society of which it is the transgenerational expression. By acting as custodians of our inheritance while building and enforcing a moral framework accommodating the reality of evil, conservative government can protect the social fabric. This social fabric enables the soul of civil society to respond to the question proposed.

 

[1] Erik Von Ritter Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?” Modern Age, Winter 1971, 45-46, 48.

[2] Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 3rd ed. (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine Press, 2014), 40.

[3] Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?” 52.

[4] John Kekes, “A Case for Conservatism,” The Good Society 8, no. 2 (1998): 5.

[5] Kekes, “A Case for Conservatism,” 6.

[6] Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France: and on the proceedings in certain societies in London relative to that event, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (London: Penguin Books, 2004), 194.

[7] Dante Alighieri, De Monarchia, Trans. Prue Shaw (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 3.

[8] Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, trans. Annabel Brett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 31.

[9] David Lowenthal, No Liberty for License: the forgotten logic of the first amendment (Dallas, Tex: Spence Publishing Company, 1997), 91, 102.

[10] John Kekes, A Case for Conservatism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 81, 86-88.

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