The Industrial Society and its Future, pt. 3

First part, second part.

3) Is technology making us less human?

I’ve put off writing this part for a long time, because this question has another underlying question to it, which is “What does it mean to be human?”. There’s another reason too – this is probably the strongest argument against the proliferation of technology.

We are far divorced from our ancestors. We neither hunt nor gather. Sex is decoupled from reproduction. Culture takes place on an unimaginable scale. World population was, ten thousand years ago, around one million. We lived in tribes back then. And now …

Let me quote Kaczynski:

47. Among the abnormal conditions present in modern industrial society are excessive density of population, isolation of man from nature, excessive rapidity of social change and the break-down of natural small-scale communities such as the extended family, the village or the tribe.

This is true, for a given value of normal. Most of human evolution geared us for pack (tribal) behavior under a dramatically different set of circumstances that one might call normal. Building cities, driving cars, and reading newspapers might then be considered inhuman. But that definition would only be embraced by people who want us to go back to basics and give up the technologies that we need to live our lives. The definition of humanity is sort of a transformational target – we adjust what it means to be human based on what our goals are.

But we’re also working against some of our base desires. We now have the technology to alter those base desires in a number of different ways, and that ability only increases with time. If our base desires define us as human, then altering them probably pushes us away from our humanity. We also work against our base instincts all the time, but this is somehow considered more human than alterations at the chemical or genetic level.

I don’t think that the loss of humanity is such a great tragedy, so long as it does not come with a loss of morality. It will be possible to make people, or intelligences, without any immoral desires. It will also be possible to make intelligences without the physical needs of humans. To me, the loss of humanity is a price that must be paid for rising to a more abstract and ideal form of intelligence and rational thought.

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The Industrial Society and its Future, pt. 3

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