Narrative and Technology
Dr. Adam Johns
28 April 2012
Preservation or Destruction: A Middle Ground
In Herbert Marcuse’s book, One-Dimensional Man, he claims that in our modern society, technology is being exploited in order to imprison mankind. With this, he delves into the concept of how science is being used, as being oriented towards preservation, or towards destruction. With the way technology is being used today, this imprisonment not only gives man a false sense of freedom, but it also severely limits mankind’s intellectual potential. At first glance, it would seem imperative that aiming the focus of technology towards preservation instead of towards destruction would be the ideal choice; however both sides offer their benefits. In modern society, governmental funding backs a massive majority of the technological research and advancement. Of course, much of this is due to the ever-constant arms race between every major nation in the world. To say that technology could be directly aimed towards preservation and not towards destruction is quite frankly impossible in the immediate future. As such, almost all forms of scientific advancement will be partially aimed towards the benefit of the military, and therefore towards destruction. With science oriented towards destruction come motives by the government intended to keep society in the dark. This is a major element of the enslavement of modern technology. However, the advancement of technology in the direction of preservation certainly has obvious benefits towards society as well. Renewable energy sources may not be the prime concern of the military, however there is no denying that there will come a day that fossil fuels will run out, or at least reach critical levels that absolutely require new forms of energy. This direction of technology has the potential to release the chains that science aimed at destruction puts on mankind. If the focus of technology is oriented towards a middle ground between preservation and destruction, we as a society can maximize our technological advancement while simultaneously limiting our imprisonment from technology. In the foreseeable future, only a balance between these two outcomes will satisfy those who provide the funds for technology and those who should benefit from it most.
Science Oriented Towards Destruction
“In the contemporary period, all historical projects tend to be polarized on the two conflicting totalities-capitalism and communism, and the outcome seems to depend on two antagonistic series of factors: (1) the greater force of destruction; (2) the greater productivity without destruction. In other words, the higher historical truth would pertain to the system which offers the greater chance of pacification.”(Marcuse, Chapter 8)
It is here that the argument for preservation versus destruction begins. Marcuse agrees that there is much greater force behind technology aimed at destruction. In modern society, one of the major fields of technological advancement is in the field of engineering. Engineering applications can be applied to almost every facet of modern life. The origins of engineering are based on the fundamental properties of the world we live in, dealing primarily with physics. However, with the passing of time, engineering is concerned with much more than just physics. Certainly physics remains the basis of engineering, but engineering is primarily concerned with the applications of physics to the real world in such a manner that can generate wealth. And these applications are certainly successful in doing so. It should come as no surprise that many engineering-based careers have one thing or another to do with the military. Suppose a mechanical engineer works for a steel producing company. Who is the major customer from such a facility? The government. The steel purchased from the company is used to create weapons, ammunition, vehicles, etc. What about an electrical engineer working for a microprocessor producing facility? The government certainly has use for such technology, what with all of the electronic components in various military technologies, such as controls for vehicles, surveillance satellites, and futuristic electric-based weapons, such as rail guns, sonic weapons, or lasers. The list goes on and on. If an electrical engineering field is not heavily funded by the military, then it is heavily funded by some other governmental branch. For example, bioengineers work towards the modernization of health services. Enhancing the quality of life is and will always be a primary concern of mankind, and as such, it will always be funded. The point is this: if a field of technology has the capability to aid the government via the military or create profits elsewhere, it will certainly be funded. While one can certainly argue for the advancement of better health, is this obsession with advancement of military equipment for the overall enhancement of mankind? This is the root of science oriented towards destruction. While funds could be aimed at more productive research, instead it is aimed towards destructive methods, as this benefits the major provider the most. However, there is no denying that without this heavily funded research mankind would have many of the technologies available to us in this modern day and age. That is exactly why science oriented towards destruction is a powerful tool which is essential is rapid productivity in the field of technology.
Science Oriented Towards Preservation
While Marcuse believes that the abolishment of science aimed towards destruction is the method for massive productivity, it is simply impossible in the foreseeable future for science purely directed towards preservation, without destructive tendencies. With that said, it is undeniable that steps need to be taken to preserve not only our resources, but the infrastructure of society, in all senses of the word. While much of government funding is aimed towards military production, it would be certainly much better aimed towards several field of science aimed at preserving not only nature, but the type of comforts experienced in modern society. This is not to say that there is no funding in such fields, but simply that they are underfunded. The National Academy of Engineering currently has a list of Grand Challenges for Engineering. Among these challenges, many are concerned with what Marcuse would consider to be dealing with preservation. The list of these challenges:
“make solar energy economical, provide energy from fusion, develop carbon sequestration methods, manage the nitrogen cycle, provide access to clean water, restore and improve urban infrastructure, advance health informatics, engineer better medicines, reverse-engineer the brain, prevent nuclear terror, secure cyberspace, enhance virtual reality, advance personalized learning, and engineer the tools of scientific discovery.” (National Academy of Engineering)
In the United States, the infrastructure of the highways, bridges, and many buildings are becoming very out of date. The maintenance required in order to upkeep them can be very expensive, and in order to minimize similar problems in the future, funding could be put into the development of new materials and structures that can withstand time and stress much better than those currently at society’s disposal. This is certainly a concern of engineering, particularly civil engineering; however when one considers the rapid advancement of military technology compared to that of all other fields, the possibilities of other fields are almost unimaginable. Another field of engineering, environmental engineering, is in the process of becoming one of the major fields, although it certainly one of the underfunded fields, which comes to no surprise considering it is not at the core of the military’s future. Currently, solar energy is a very inefficient form of renewable energy, but if the funding put into the military were instead invested in technology dealing with chemical solutions and new forms of glass and other materials, solar energy could certainly be a major energy provider. With any of the Grand Challenges, increased funding from the government could certainly jumpstart these challenges that would help preserve the earth and our modern society.
Two Forces Combined
With the immense funding and power behind what Marcuse would refer to as science oriented towards destruction, and the opportunities awaiting mankind with enough investment in the technologies aimed at preservation, it is easy to see that a middle ground between the two would be the most ideal way of progressing to a better future. However, the problems associated with such a combination are vast. There would need to be a motivation for the government to decrease their funding in military research. This is highly dependent on foreign relationships, which is never a certain future. As such, it is difficult to imagine lessened military funding. However, one method that could potentially meet preservation halfway is by finding new ways to relate preservation technologies to military technology, and to find ways to make preservation technology lucrative to the point that any investment the government puts into it, would come back with a profit. Just looking at the list of Grand Challenges for Engineering, it is not difficult to imagine ways for the government to implement the technologies that are needed to be met with military needs. Starting from the top, making solar energy economical could provide energy to military bases in and out of the country, particularly in areas where shipping fuel or delivering power plant energy could be highly costly. This should be more than enough of a motive for the government to invest in solar energy. Next, providing energy from fusion seems like it would be a major priority for the government. Nuclear Fusion has been proven to be highly efficient, safe, and economical, if the conditions could be sustained. Although many may be opposed to it, nuclear fusion technology certainly has a place in military technology. Going through the list, many challenges are much more aimed at preservation and are difficult to imagine military applications, such as carbon sequestration (reducing the carbon footprint by burying carbon dioxide underground) and managing the nitrogen cycle, however in the past many technologies invested in have produced uses that were unforeseeable, but certainly useful and profitable. Marcuse may argue that the concept of profit-driven research is flawed and what imprisons mankind, but the reality that we live with is that that is the only method of rapid advancement in any field, destructive or preservative.
In Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, he argues against what he refers to as destructive scientific advancement, claiming that it is what imprisons mankind in a seemingly free society. He argues for the Pacification of nature, claiming that only when destructive technological advancement is left behind will society be at its most productive. Although these seem like ideal conditions, leaving destructive advancement behind is not in the future as long as military technology remains as important to the government as it is today. As such, in order to head in the direction of preservation, there is a need to relate both destructive and preservative technologies together, so that the investment in one results in the investment in another. Without the powerhouse of research development that the government provides, preservative technology will always be left in the dust behind destructive technology. Although many, including Marcuse, may argue that this combination will not ease the un-freedom presented by destructive technology, I disagree. I feel as though any sort of leveling the field where destructive vs. preservative is conserved will help ease society into regaining control. Of course, simply reorganizing the funding into research will not have nearly as large of an effect on the consciousness of citizens; modern technologies that affect citizens more than military technologies alone can certainly help reduce the un-freedom that is subtly present. Although Marcuse would more than likely disagree that this method is the best for a society to adopt, I feel that he could agree that given the current social climate, this is one method of applying more preservation-based technology to a massively destructive technology market.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional man; studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. Print.
“Grand Challenges – Engineering Challenges.” National Academy of Engineering. National Academy of Sciences. Web. 27 April 2012.