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The digital age, science and tecnology may have connected us across the globe in some ways, but has left us disconnected in the most fundamental sense.

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Technology and the Intelligence of Nature

April 24th, 2013

by Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein shares his concerns about how pervasive the 'technology will fix it' mentality has become, and proposes an entirely different approach to healing our current ecological and social crises.

None of our fixes can control the pain, grief and rage we feel as we gaze out upon what we have wrought.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens are increasingly beginning to recognize the delusion of the 'technological fix' – the use of technology to remedy problems caused by previous technology. 

It is increasingly obvious that a new pesticide won't finally eliminate the superweeds that evolved to resist the previous pesticide, that new and more powerful antibiotics won't bring final victory over the superbugs that evolved to resist previous antibiotics, and that massive geoengineering projects like seeding the stratosphere with sulphuric acid or the oceans with iron (to combat climate change) will likely cause horrific unanticipated consequences.

What is less obvious is how pervasive the mentality behind the technological fix is. In the United States, we respond to the failure of metal detectors, lockdowns, and other forms of control in our schools by calling for even more control. European countries unable to pay their debts are lent even more money, with the proviso that they try even harder to pay their debts. Imperialist powers apply military violence to fight the terrorism that is a response to previous imperialism and violence. Doctors prescribe drugs to address the side-effects caused by other drugs. Urban planners address traffic congestion by building more roads (which leads to more development and more traffic). And millions of people manage the emptiness of a life of material acquisition by buying more material possessions. 

Underneath the technological fix is a way of perceiving ourselves and the world. More than a mere mentality of separation and of control, it comes from a disconnected state of being that is blind to the indwelling purpose and intelligence of nature.

For example, a skilled organic farmer might see weeds or bugs not as interlopers but as a symptom of imbalance in soil ecology. To address them holistically, she must believe there even is such a thing as soil ecology. In other words, she must believe in the wholeness and interconnectedness of all beings that make up soil. She must see soil as a collective, emergent entity in its own right, and not an inert, generic substrate that plants grow in.

Conventional agriculture, on the other hand, sees weeds as kind of an outbreak of badness, similar to the way we have seen terrorism, or violence in schools, or disease. To see it otherwise, as a symptom of a deeper disharmony, presupposes that there is such a harmony, an integrity, a beingness, and not just a senseless jumble. The technological fix addresses the symptom while ignoring the illness, because it cannot see an integral entity that can become ill.

I don't want to gloss over the profundity of the paradigm shift we are accepting if we are to see nature as intelligent and purposive. To do so is to abdicate the exclusive domain to which we have appointed ourselves: the sole intelligence of the world. It is to humble ourselves to something greater, and seek our place not as Cartesian lords and possessors of nature, but as contributors to an unfolding process beyond our selves. This inescapable conclusion is, perhaps, the reason why teleology is anathema to orthodox science. Purpose was supposed to be our domain! And the king of that domain was the scientist, wielding technology to enact its dominion. 

The idea of an inherently purposeful universe is far more radical than religious notions of intelligent design, which agree with mechanistic science about matter and cede intelligence to an external, supernatural being. Such a narrative offers no compunctions to limit the despoliation of nature. It asks us to humble ourselves to nothing of this world. 

To be so humbled, we must see that the soul of nature – its purpose, intelligence, and beingness – comes not from without but from within. It is an emergent property borne of non-linear complexity. In non-linear systems, small actions can have enormous consequences. The technological fix is based on linear thinking. The alternative is to develop sensitivity to the emergent order and intelligence that wants to unfold, so that we might bow into its service.

What might that look like? Technology in service to Earth includes things like regenerative agriculture and permaculture to heal the soil, replenish the aquifers, and sequester carbon. It includes green energy technologies, conservation technologies, bioremediation, wetlands restoration, zero-waste manufacturing, anything that contributes to the health of the planet and its ecosystems.

Today, painfully, we are becoming aware of the folly of the delusion that we can, with clever enough technological solutions, avoid the consequences of what we do to the world. We are learning that we are not separate from nature, and that it bears a wholeness that we ignore at our peril. Our techno-utopian dreams and basic scientific paradigms are unraveling in tandem with many of our social institutions, because the underlying narrative of separation is unraveling as well.

These converging crises – social, ecological, and intellectual – are expelling us from our old story. As that happens, none of our fixes, technological or otherwise, are working anymore to control the pain: the grief, the rage, the loneliness we feel as we gaze out upon what we have wrought. Thus begins the healing journey into a new narrative of cocreative participation in the unfolding destiny of our planet.

Charles Eisenstein is the author of Sacred Economics and other books. http://charleseisenstein.net

 

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