Robert Jensen describes the dark side of the faith that technology can continue to solve all our problems. Excerpts below.
An honest assessment of the culture’s technological fundamentalism makes it clear why Wes Jackson’s call for an “ignorance-based worldview” is so important. Jackson, a plant geneticist who left conventional academic life to co-found The Land Institute [http://www.landinstitute.org/pages/SmithsonianMag-WJackson.pdf] to pursue projects about sustainable agriculture and sustainable culture, suggests that we would be wise to recognize what we don’t know. His point is that whatever the advanced state of our technical and scientific prowess, we are — and always will be — far more ignorant than knowledgeable, and therefore it would be sensible for us to adopt an ignorance-based worldview that could help us work effectively within our limits. Acknowledging our basic ignorance does not mean we should revel in the ways humans can act stupidly, but rather should spur us to recognize that we have an obligation to act intelligently on the basis not only of what we know but what we don’t know.
If we were to step back and confront honestly the technologies we have unleashed — out of that hubris, believing our knowledge is adequate to control the consequences of our science and technology — I doubt any of us would ever get a good night’s sleep. We humans have been overdriving our intellectual headlights for thousands of years, most dramatically in the 20th century when we ventured with reckless abandon into two places where we had no business going — the atom and the cell.
On the former: The deeper we break into the energy package, the greater the risks we take. Building fires with sticks gathered from around the camp is relatively easy to manage, but breaking into increasingly earlier material of the universe — such as fossil fuels and heavy metal uranium — is quite a different project, more complex and far beyond our capacity to control. Likewise, manipulating plants through traditional selective breeding is local and manageable, whereas breaking into the workings of the gene — the foundational material of life — takes us to places we have no way to understand.
These technological endeavours suggest that the Genesis story was prescient; our taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil appears to have been ill-advised, given where it has led us. We live now in the uncomfortable position of realizing we have moved too far and too fast, outstripping our capacity to manage safely the world we have created. The answer is not some naïve return to a romanticized past, but a recognition of what we have created and a systematic evaluation of how to step back from our most dangerous missteps.