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Shon in TCR Land Has Moved October 18, 2009

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I’m now at http://shonintcrland.com. Domains/hosting are cheap. Thought, I’d be doing this schooling, academic thing for a good, long while. Might as well stake a true piece of the cyber-pie for myself. See you over there. Everything on this blog is there.

Chapter 55 ~ “Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Freedom” by Andrew Feenberg October 16, 2009

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Chapter 55 ~ “Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Freedom” by Andrew Feenberg (revised – 1992)

Reading chapter 55 was like reading a Who’s Who in the Philosophy of Technology. Many guest stars, to include Ellul, Heidegger, Marcuse, even hackers, make an appearance in this piece; I will say that it feels appropriate to have read this piece after Haraway. Though they tackle the idea of technology in two distinct ways, a bridge between them is that of embracing technology to better self and society.


“Technology is one of the major sources of public power in modern societies” (652) and the “masters of technical systems” – to include corporate and military leaders and professional associations for groups such as physicians and engineers – have far more control over parts of society than all of governmental institutions.

Feenberg notes that this issue is at the heart of Marx and socialism, for there is the argument, found in socialism, that “democracy must be extended from the political domain into the world of work” (652).

Why haven’t we truly democratized industrialism?

Feenberg states two rationales behind this:
1- Modern technology is incompatible with workplace democracy. There can be no democratic theory that would destroy the economic foundations of society.
2- Technology is not responsible for the concentration of industrial power; that is a political matter.

Feenberg argues that technology is neither determining nor neutral; it is, in a sense, a mediator of a variety of social activities, and as such, Feenberg believes that democracy must be extended beyond its traditional bounds to include technology for society (and its relationship with technology) to sustain and actually do better than sustain.

After presenting an overview of various theories that link themselves to technological determinism, Feenberg presents his alternative approach, a non-deterministic theory of modern society: “critical theory of technology.” This approach follows the logic that:
1- Technology is not just the rational control of nature; both its development and impact are intrinsically social.
2- This view undermines the typical reliance on efficiency as a criterion of technological development.
3- Because of this, broad possibilities of change can be realized.

[Discussion Questions]

Chapter 37 ~ “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” by Donna Haraway October 14, 2009

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Chapter 37 ~ “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” by Donna Haraway

Haraway argues for a connection amongst feminism, socialism, and materialism through the image of the cyborg, a blend of machine and organism, both a creature of social reality and of fiction.

Through this image of the cyborg, the dualisms that confine us – specifically, human/animal, human/machine, and physical/artificial – can be broken down, allowing us to have multiple perspectives of our world.

There were a few things I liked about this piece – despite wishing for more clarity on some of her discussions, like of those she seems to “shut down,” such as Foucault:

1- The idea that the cyborg is a creature without an origin story and because of this if we entertained the thought of a “cyborg life,” we could move past the need to reclaim some paternalistic, patriarchal “wholeness” and get a life that is truly ours.

Love the first full paragraph on the right side of page 430. Because the cyborg does not have an original story, it’s not looking to be made whole or restored by something else.

Though they are “wary of holism,” they are “needy for connection” (430). The problem, however, as Haraway sees it is cyborgs “are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism” (430). But this shouldn’t matter too much because illegitimage offspring are known to have issues with those who made them. “Their fathers, after all, are inessential” (430).

For Haraway, the three major dualisms we fight with, stated above, can all be bridged through the use of the cyborg.

2- The discussion on “the informatics of domination” was interesting because her arguments seems to dismantle the “naturality” we aspire to the objects on the left-hand side of the list.

3- TOTALLY enamored with the idea that the woman must disassemble and reassemble a personal self. Everything from “The ‘Homework Economy’ Outside ‘The Home'” on in the piece struck a personal chord with me. I’m not sure if I’m a cyborg (though with how much technology is engrained in me and I it might suggest I am), but I do see Haraway’s argument about how important it is to embrace what the technology can do for us in assembling what we want to be.

This is a departure from the earlier people we read (and some of the recent authors) who believe we must run from technology. I have to admit, if you don’t think and just read, it’s easy to get caught up in the paranoia of those arguments. But the truth remains that technology is here, and it’s probably not going anywhere any time soon. Makes sense that we would accept this, learn from it, utilize what makes it good, and change ourselves for the better because of it.

Idea for Rhetoric Paper October 9, 2009

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Finally nailed down a topic for Kemp’s 20th Century Rhetoric. Found an African American orator/feminist from the 19th century that interested me: Maria W. Stewart; I’m always interested in “the firsts” – those people who seem to be a voice for a generation of others to come along and promote an agenda. Stewart was one of the first – if not the first AA woman to speak out on women’s rights.  As I did preliminary research on her, I noticed that there wasn’t much on her. Some, but not a lot. Decided I wanted to do a rhetorical analysis on one of Stewart’s speeches, but the key is I have to frame this paper within 20th century rhetoric. What does this mean for me? Reading and delving into more Woolf, Foucault, Burke, and others to get my grounding for the paper.

Last night, while in 20th Century Rhetoric, I was skimming through our textbook when I noticed that Stewart was in the book. Kemp mentioned something like, Well, we at least know she’s known if she’s in this book. Which of course, made me worry. One of my biggest issues has been not wanting to reinvent the wheel with projects I do.

So I skimmed the introduction of “19th Century Rhetoric” in the textbook and it speaks of Stewart, briefly. What I found interesting was that she and other women of color were lumped into “The Development of Women’s Rhetorics” section of the introduction; whereas, men of color received their own section: “The Rhetorics of Men of Color.” Significant? Probably not, but it’s something that makes me go, Hmmm.

My worries of reinventing the wheel, somewhat, have been abated. In reading the introduction leading into Stewart’s work in the textbook, there is still not a lot of work done on Stewart, so I’m sure I can lend my voice to the discourse on this extraordinary woman.

Chapter 35 ~ “The New Forms of Control” by Herbert Marcuse October 7, 2009

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Chapter 35 ~ “The New Forms of Control” by Herbert Marcuse (1964)

“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress” (405).

In the earlier stages of industrial society, according to Marcuse, rights and liberties were an extreme importance; but now, they are losing their traditional rationale and content.

When Marcuse states, “Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the individuals through the way in which it is organized” (405), I can’t help but to wonder if this means society is now “creating” a pseudo-independence for people.

At a time, it seemed as if autonomy could be realized through technology; if technology could be harnessed to take care of people’s needs, then people could move beyond necessity toward a freedom that enveloped autonomy.

Marcuse asserts that actually the opposite of this occurs; “the apparatus [technology, machine] imposes its economic and political requirements for defense and expansion on labor time and free time, on the material and intellectual culture” (406).

Talks of the political world and its stronghold on technology, a stronghold that mobilizes society over any one individual or group, but this can be reversed, creating a potential basis of a new freedom of man. This freedom requires us to redefine traditional terms of economic, political, and intellectual liberties.

In Marcuse’s discussion on true and false needs, he realizes there is a need to figure out what exactly are false needs and what are true needs. If Man must be “free” in order to give his or her distinction, how do we free ourselves in order to differentiate?

Marcuse states “as long as they [man] are kept incapable of being autonomous, as long as they are indoctrinated and manipulated (down to their very instincts), their answer to this question cannot be taken as their own” (407).

So, how do those who have been manipulated and dominated for so long create conditions of freedom for themselves?

For Marcuse, this comes from the “replacement of false needs by true ones, the abandonment of repressive satisfaction” (407), but I wonder if that can even be done. Would be this individually based? Feels like, at some point, even true needs of one could ultimately become false needs of someone else.

Advanced industrial societies, by their nature, suffocate liberation. The ability to choose disintegrates because those in control select the choices as oppose to the individual deciding “what can be chosen and what is chosen” (407). If the choices are connected to the sustainment of society control, then they are not really choices FOR the individual.

This domination has been so enforcing that to even think outside of societal norms is to seem “irrational,” and even though Marcuse makes note of the idea of “inner freedom,” even that he says “has been invaded and whittled down by technological reality” (408).

This consuming of individual thought is a disturbing one…but not a new one. In some ways, I liken it to Foucault’s thoughts on the Panopticon. Everyone who is a part of the Panopticon plays a part in its running, from the warden to the prisoner to the society who watches it all. The Panopticon is a framework to which all its “participants” actively play a particular role. In the society Marcuse discusses, there is a similar “play.” Society, with its technological progress, blankets individuals with a way of living and after being indoctrinated into that way of life come to see it as “normal.” Once you have been trained to see society’s thoughts as your own thoughts, how can you possibly break away from that?

Chapter 34 ~ “Do Machines Make History?” by Robert L. Heilbroner October 7, 2009

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Chapter 34 ~ “Do Machines Make History?” by Robert L. Heilbroner (1967)

Heilbroner’s goal in this piece is to answer the question, “Does the effect of technology determine the nature of the socioeconomic order?”

This, he rightly notes, is a large task to handle, so he focuses on two stages:

1- Can we explain why technology evolves in the sequence it does?
2- How does the mode of production affect the superstructure of social relationships?

To begin to answer this initial question, Heilbroner poses yet another question, is there “a fixed sequence to technological development and therefore a necessitous path over which technologically developing societies must travel” (399).

Heilbroner believes there is, and he offers three pieces of evidence:

1- The simultaneity of invention
2- The absence of technological leaps
3- The predictability of technology

These are by no means proof to Heilbroner; they merely “establish the grounds on which a prima facie case of plausibility may be tested” (399).

He makes to strengthen his argument by adding two “reasons why technology should display a “structured” history (400).

1- “A major constraint always operates on the technological capacity of an age, the constraint of its accumulated stock of available knowledge” (400). In addition to “gradual knowledge,” an age’s technical expertise is important, too.
2- Technology imposes certain social and political characteristics upon the society in which it is found.

For Heilbroner, there seems to be two influences to how technology imposes certain social and political characteristics upon the society in which it is found:

1- The composition of the labor force
2- The hierarchical organization of work

Heilbroner remains cautious, refusing to suggest that machines, that technology is the sole determiner of society; because of this, he urges us to practical “‘soft determinism’ with regard to the influence of the machine on social relations” (401).

Toward the end of his piece, Heilbroner touches upon three thoughts that ultimately make him conclude that technology may not be the ultimate determiner of socioeconomic order, but it does play a mediating role:

1- Technological progress is itself a social activity.
2- The course of technological advance is responsive to social direction.
3- Technological change must be compatible with existing social conditions.

In his conclusion, Heilbroner asks, “What mediating role does technology play within Western society,” of which he offers three answers:

1- The rise of capitalism provided a major stimulus for the development of a technology of production.
2- The expansion of technology within the market system took on a new “automatic” aspect.
3- The rise of science gave a new impetus to technology.

Chapter 54 ~ “Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals, with the Author’s 2000 Perspective” by John McDermott October 5, 2009

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Chapter 54 ~ “Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals, with the Author’s 2000 Perspective” by John McDermott

McDermott doesn’t waste much time attacking Mesthene for his middle of the road approach in discussing technology and society. Although McDermott does believe Mesthene “is anti-capitalist in spirit” (a spirit shared by McDermott), he also thinks Mesthene “lacks bite” in his argument (638).

McDermott strikes a very personal chord in his essay as he uses Vietnam (and his experience there) to illustrate the importance ot examining Mesthene’s abstract distinction between technology’s positive opportunities and its “negative externalities.” He shows two features from this anecdote.

1- From the standpoint of the planners, the bombing program McDermott describes is very rational because it creates unavailable opportunities.
2- From the standpoint of goals and values not programmed by designers, the program is very irrational.

McDermott bashes the notion that technology “is a self-correcting system” (640) and the idea of “laissez innover,” which Mesthene suggests will benefit all of mankind; McDermott, on the other hand, sees this principle as a way to mark a separation between those who make the technology and those who consume it (the rest of us).

The GI story example starting on page 642 painted a stark illustration of this separation in that there are those who have the information and there are those (like the GIs) who without the information needed “placed in a position where their social behavior is governed largely by the principle of blind obedience” (643).

Though McDermott notes that there have been technological innovations that have brought forth a democratization to society, we are now (now being 1969) moving back to a more stratified society where once again, there will be a small elite of knowledge makers and a majority who are led by this group.

Not surprisingly, in his retrospective in 2000, McDermott still sees the same problems as he did 40 years ago and shows how with each generation, from the 40s onward, there has seem to be this same issue with a new title, from the “Economic Growth” narrative of the 40s to “The Market” narrative of 2000.

Chapter 53 ~ “The Social Impact of Technological Change” by Emmanuel G. Mesthene October 5, 2009

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Chapter 53 ~ “The Social Impact of Technological Change” by Emmanuel G. Mesthene (1967)

In our age (age being 1967), Mesthene saw two major differences from any other age:

1- We dispose of a lot of physical power
2- We are beginning to think and act upon the realization of #1

Because of these two things, we are the first to free ourselves from the tyranny of nature.

I laugh a bit reading that because I wonder why living with nature as is must be a problem

For so long, man had been ruled by nature, finding no physical way to conquer it. However, we did use language to “celebrate in art what men could not aspire to in fact” (618).

Though there were inventions in the past, these inventions were sporadic, few and far between. Because of this, society had time to implement the invention, understand it and its ultimate changes to the worldview.

Today, according to Mesthene, technology is less revolutionary because we seek its power at a more frequent rate. Now, we “use invention as a deliberate way to deal with the future” (618).

Does this mean that invention in the past didn’t focus on the future and that all invention was “accidental”?

Reading the following sentences made me cringe a bit: “We are today coming to the further realization that the physical world need not be as it is. We can change it to suit our purposes” (618). Why do I cringe? Not necessarily sure our ability to change the physical world to suit our purposes is a good thing.

As Mesthene write, “Belatedly, we are also realizing the new opportunities that technological development offers us to make new and potentially big mistakes” (619), I was momentarily glad. Felt Mesthene had been wearing rose-colored glasses thus far, but as I continued to read, I got the sense that he was dwelling in the middle of the road on this issue.

Though Mesthene states “technology is nothing if not liberating” (619), he does offer four reasons why many fear technology increasingly enslaves, degrade, and destroys man’s most cherished values. This confuses me a bit because some of the reasons seems like he’s still tata-ing to technology and not coming at this as hard as he should.

1- Technology does destroy some values, and we shouldn’t be shocked by this.
2- Technology often reveals things it did not created; it reveals the hidden and makes the secret public.
3- Technology has the potential for evil.
4- Technology complicates the world.

Because of our fear, we may distrust technology and/or allow the fear to prohibit us from discussing important issues.

Technology, thus, has a dichotomy; it is full of promise, or it discourages and defeats us.

Mesthene pauses here to discuss this attitude of despair/fear and how it can evade our lives and ways of thinking. One thing that interests me in this section is his statement that “the more machines can take over what we do, the more we can do what machines cannot do. That, too, is liberation: the liberation of history’s slaves, finally to be free” (620). I have to admit I never thought beyond the whole “technology will take away our jobs” mentality. Having said that, my thoughts are still colored by my belief that Mesthene is hedging in this article.

“Why not stop it all” Mesthene asks (621). Why not stop what technology is doing? For three reasons, he believes: we do not want to because we have an innate need to know, we cannot because by doing so we become “defeated by the responsibility of being human” (622), and because we accept the first two reasons, we therefore should not stop.

From there, Mesthene moves on to discuss religious views in relation to “failure of nerve” idea he brought up. Holding thoughts on this – still mulling and disagreeing in some ways. Can’t formulate thoughts on it.

Mesthene states three inadequate views about technology.
1- Technology is a virtually unalloyed blessing for man and society.
2- Technology is an unmitigated curse.
3- Technology is not worthy of special notice.

Mesthene takes a moment to talk about the benefits of technology, which he believes is as important as discussing negative impacts before moving into why we might or might not develop or use a particular technology.

In his discussion on containing the negative effects of technology, Mesthene seems to side with those who are innovators, those who look at what benefits them in the long run when determining what products to put out as opposed to also looking at the social harm of putting out said products. Do we really need rules and laws for humans to think humanly? I know this is a complex issue, but personally, it’s hard for me to think values without linking that outside of me, to society and humanity. And if we do create these laws, aren’t we then becoming what Jeannie has talked about in class a few times – people with lazy morals, doing what is right because we have to not because we want to or believe we should do so?

Ultimately, Mesthene concludes his essay in a way in which I can appreciate. He focused on the need to adapt technology, values, and education. With or without technology, values change and to hinge technology solely on values would probably be to the detriment of technology…and society. By embracing what works in all three sectors, we all – from the bottom-up – can become part of the system that makes society work.

Chapter 52 ~ “Anti Anticonstructivism or Laying the Fears of Langdon Winner to Rest” by Mark Elam, with Langdon Winner’s Reply September 29, 2009

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Chapter 52 ~ “Anti Anticonstructivism or Laying the Fears of Langdon Winner to Rest” by Mark Elam, with Langdon Winner’s Reply (1994)

The first part of this piece is a write-up by Elam in which he discusses Winner’s anticonstructivist stance. Looking at Geertz and his thoughts on the “harmful pattern of intellectual dread” found in antirelativism, Elam picks up the gauntlet “to encourage a commitment to anti anticonstructivism” (612).

To try to define anti anticonstructivism, Elam states that “an anti antiposition entails a concerted effort to counter a view without thereby committing oneself to what it opposes (612).

To counter Winner’s view on constructivism, Elam examines one facet of Winner’s argument (makes sense) which that constructivists are hardly ever “prepared to take a stand ‘on the larger questions about technology and the human condition that matter most in modern history’” (613).

In his argument, Winner heavily critiques Woolgar for side-stepping “questions that require moral and political argument” (613); however, what Elam illustrates is Woolgar and Winner actually share many traits, thus the issues that Winner seems to have with Woolgar he could easily place upon himself.

At the end of his piece, Elam brings forth Rorty and the idea that not be illiberal we must separate private and public lives. It seems we have as much chance of doing that as we do in living in a utopian world where we and technology are so in harmony we forget what the “bad” life we used to have been technology dominated our existence. It’s just not going to happen. Not just because of technology, though that’s certainly a big reason, but because people aren’t wired that way. We connect to things, and when we do, our thoughts and opinions are often one of the first things to be displayed, for good or bad. To many, private and public lives are one and the same.

Winner’s response is quick and to the point, albeit a bit cheeky at times. He takes on most of Elam’s concerns and cuts them. For Winner, he’s not about being cruel or inflicting any kind of pain to anyone. He wants people to question technology and its existence in their world. He wants more than dissertations written and academic discourse on issues. He wants to be entrenched in the lives of people who are being affected to understand how this technological affliction occurred and how it can be remedied.

Chapter 51 ~ “Luddism as Epistemology” by Langdon Winner September 29, 2009

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Chapter 51 ~ “Luddism as Epistemology” by Langdon Winner (1977)

Winner begins his piece with a brief discussion of various suggestions (from Goodman, Bookchin, Marcuse, and Ellul) on how we can eliminate the problems that technology has brought (“brought” being a weak work in that we actually brought the technology into existence) into our lives.

Winner’s proposal contains the following suggestions:

  • The search for new technological systems
  • The development of these forms participation of those concerned with their everyday employment and effects.
  • Integration of specific principles to guide further technological construction: Technology be intelligible to non-experts, Technology be flexible and mutable, Technology be judged according to the degree of dependency they tend to foster
  • The understanding of technology as a means that can only be used when there is an understanding of “what is appropriate.”

Winner immediately offers up faults that might be seen in the suggestions, such as utopianism and unreality. Two barriers he sees with this notion are those people who ignore problems by not focusing on the problems with the system but by adding new features to the existing system and the fact that no one truly knows how to actually create a new system because no knowledge is present to do this.

He uses the example of the counterculture of the 60s to show how we can change the outward appearance of a problem, but it doesn’t eliminate the problem.

For Winner, the question of “means” must be examined for true change to take place, and here, he brings up the idea of dismantling systems in order to understand. However, this is not the breaking off machines or the smashing of machines and some believe Luddites to do. This is more self-reflection and examination because “the most interesting parts of the technological order in this regard are not those found in the structure of physical apparatus anyway. I have tried to suggest that the technologies of concern are actually forms of life – patterns of human consciousness and behavior adapted to a rational productive design” (608-9).

Luddism, in Winner’s mind, calls for using self as research. Disconnecting one’s self from technology and noting the needs, habits, or discomforts that arise because of the disconnection is important to understand how much we need a particular form of technology in our life and if there are other, more effective, less obtrusive forms of technology that can be built to blend better with our lives.

The most significant alternative in Luddism is not this, however. It is simply not fixing technological systems as they break down. To Winner, society seems to see this “fixing” as “growth,” but if we actually refused to fix these systems, we could possibly develop new technologies that benefit us.

Winner concludes his essay by taking us back 2,500 years to Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” to illustrate that these problems are not new. We just find new ways to reinvent the problems, or to escalate them. And perhaps it’s time to truly think about what we can do to help ourselves. “Perhaps means can be found to rid the human world of our self-made afflictions” (610).