Industrial Society and its Future

TWO KINDS OF TECHNOLOGY

207. An argument likely to be raised against our proposed revolution is that it is bound to fail, because (it is claimed) throughout history technology has always progressed, never regressed, hence technological regression is impossible. But this claim is false.

208. We distinguish between two kinds of technology, which we will call small-scale technology and organization-dependent technology. Small-scale technology is technology that can be used by small-scale communities without outside assistance. Organization-dependent technology is technology that depends on large-scale social organization. We are aware of no significant cases of regression in small-scale technology. But organization-dependent technology DOES regress when the social organization on which it depends breaks down. Example: When the Roman Empire fell apart the Romans' small-scale technology survived because any clever village craftsman could build, for instance, a water wheel, any skilled smith could make steel by Roman methods, and so forth. But the Romans' organization-dependent technology DID regress. Their aqueducts fell into disrepair and were never rebuilt. Their techniques of road construction were lost. The Roman system of urban sanitation was forgotten, so that until rather recent times did the sanitation of European cities that of Ancient Rome.

✲1 ¶207-209: technology is divided into two kinds, depending on whether it necessitates large scale development. Interesting notion. This requires further scrutiny. Apparently, electricity grid is out. Computers, DNA research, nuclear physics, modern irrigation system and agriculture, mass food system, modern medicine, x-rays, radio, TV … are all out. Highway is out. Cars are out. All modern transportation are out. Bicycle is out too. (consider the wheel, ball bearings) Paper and books in modern form are out. All plastics and most metallic things are out. It is hard to imagine what could be small scale technology. I think this division is artificial… essentially there is no such thing as small-scale technology. Or it being exceedingly primitive. In other words, can we advance technology while limiting it to non-organization dependent? I think this severely puts a limit on what tech are possible.

209. The reason why technology has seemed always to progress is that, until perhaps a century or two before the Industrial Revolution, most technology was small-scale technology. But most of the technology developed since the Industrial Revolution is organization-dependent technology. Take the refrigerator for example. Without factory-made parts or the facilities of a post-industrial machine shop it would be virtually impossible for a handful of local craftsmen to build a refrigerator. If by some miracle they did succeed in building one it would be useless to them without a reliable source of electric power. So they would have to dam a stream and build a generator. Generators require large amounts of copper wire. Imagine trying to make that wire without modern machinery. And where would they get a gas suitable for refrigeration? It would be much easier to build an icehouse or preserve food by drying or picking, as was done before the invention of the refrigerator.✲1

✲2 ¶210 very interesting. One should do some research to verify this. But basically, the further we go back, the more this is true. We just need to find out how severe is the notion of progress prevalent starting about what century. (and in what parts of the world)

210. So it is clear that if the industrial system were once thoroughly broken down, refrigeration technology would quickly be lost. The same is true of other organization-dependent technology. And once this technology had been lost for a generation or so it would take centuries to rebuild it, just as it took centuries to build it the first time around. Surviving technical books would be few and scattered. An industrial society, if built from scratch without outside help, can only be built in a series of stages: You need tools to make tools to make tools to make tools … . A long process of economic development and progress in social organization is required. And, even in the absence of an ideology opposed to technology, there is no reason to believe that anyone would be interested in rebuilding industrial society. The enthusiasm for “progress” is a phenomenon particular to the modern form of society, and it seems not to have existed prior to the 17th century or thereabouts.✲2

✲3 ¶211: The statement is a bit fuzzy. What does the author mean by “stable” and “dynamic”? The Islamic world, India, Far East, all has their own wars. China at the time is quite technologically advanced. See History of science and technology in China. I don't know much about European history, or history of Islamic world and India, but the author might be referring to Europe's possibly more diverse states and ethnic groups, which caused wars between the nations. (not sure what is the ethnic diversity (as by genetic info) in Europe as compared to mid east, india, or far east.) In China for example, for one reason or another, they maintained a single written language, and the Confucianism culture is prone to create harmony and de-emphasis technology and logic, in comparison to dominant European thoughts. Confucianism almost do not have the concept of freedom, while freedom or individual freedom is a dominant theme in European thought.

211. In the late Middle Ages there were four main civilizations that were about equally “advanced”: Europe, the Islamic world, India, and the Far East (China, Japan, Korea). Three of those civilizations remained more or less stable, and only Europe became dynamic.✲3 No one knows why Europe became dynamic at that time; historians have their theories but these are only speculation. At any rate, it is clear that rapid development toward a technological form of society occurs only under special conditions. So there is no reason to assume that long-lasting technological regression cannot be brought about.

✲4 ¶212: this whole deliberation about taking down technology seems not worth it at all. So, with all the trouble and risks, in 500 years it might come back? As suggested in ¶211, there are immense quantities of unanswered questions. Can't we do more research before undertaking the risky gambit of toppling modern technology? In the past century, we've garnered tremendous insights in psychology, neurology (how people thinks, dreams), economy, social sciences, political sciences (how ruler rises)… etc. There are tremendous knowledge we have learned that have yet to be applied. Are we gonna throw all these away? Eradicate industry tech, so will be gone of all books as we know it. Humanity go back into a blessed-ignorance dark ages? Local tribal wars and famine?

212. Would society EVENTUALLY develop again toward an industrial-technological form? Maybe, but there is no use in worrying about it, since we can't predict or control events 500 or 1,000 years in the future. Those problems must be dealt with by the people who will live at that time.✲4

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