II. The globalization of the technocratic paradigm [106 – 114]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

106. The basic problem goes even deeper: it is
the way that humanity has taken up technology

84 Ibid.
85 Ibid., 87-88 (The End of the Modern World, 83).

and its development according to an undifferentiated
and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts
the concept of a subject who, using logical and
rational procedures, progressively approaches
and gains control over an external object. This
subject makes every effort to establish the scientific
and experimental method, which in itself is
already a technique of possession, mastery and
transformation. It is as if the subject were to
find itself in the presence of something formless,
completely open to manipulation. Men and
women have constantly intervened in nature, but
for a long time this meant being in tune with and
respecting the possibilities offered by the things
themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature
itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now,
by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on
things, attempting to extract everything possible
from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting
the reality in front of us. Human beings and
material objects no longer extend a friendly hand
to one another; the relationship has become
confrontational. This has made it easy to accept
the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which
proves so attractive to economists, financiers and
experts in technology. It is based on the lie that
there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods,
and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry
beyond every limit. It is the false notion that
“an infinite quantity of energy and resources
are available, that it is possible to renew them
quickly, and that the negative effects of the
exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed”.86

107. It can be said that many problems of
today’s world stem from the tendency, at times
unconscious, to make the method and aims of
science and technology an epistemological paradigm
which shapes the lives of individuals and
the workings of society. The effects of imposing
this model on reality as a whole, human and social,
are seen in the deterioration of the environment,
but this is just one sign of a reductionism
which affects every aspect of human and social
life. We have to accept that technological products
are not neutral, for they create a framework
which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping
social possibilities along the lines dictated by
the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions
which may seem purely instrumental are
in reality decisions about the kind of society we
want to build.

108. The idea of promoting a different cultural
paradigm and employing technology as a mere
instrument is nowadays inconceivable. The technological
paradigm has become so dominant that
it would be difficult to do without its resources
and even more difficult to utilize them without
being dominated by their internal logic. It has become
countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose

86 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium
of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 462.

goals are even partly independent of technology,
of its costs and its power to globalize and make
us all the same. Technology tends to absorb
everything into its ironclad logic, and those who
are surrounded with technology “know full well
that it moves forward in the final analysis neither
for profit nor for the well-being of the human
race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term
power is its motive – a lordship over all”.87 As a
result, “man seizes hold of the naked elements
of both nature and human nature”.88 Our capacity
for making decisions, a more genuine freedom
and the space for each one’s alternative creativity
are diminished.

109. The technocratic paradigm also tends to
dominate economic and political life. The economy
accepts every advance in technology with
a view to profit, without concern for its potentially
negative impact on human beings. Finance
overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of
the global financial crisis have not been assimilated,
and we are learning all too slowly the lessons
of environmental deterioration. Some circles
maintain that current economics and technology
will solve all environmental problems, and
argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that
the problems of global hunger and poverty will
be resolved simply by market growth. They are

87 Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 63-64 (The
End of the Modern World, 56).
88 Ibid., 64 (The End of the Modern World, 56).

less concerned with certain economic theories which
today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their
actual operation in the functioning of
the economy. They may not affirm such theories
with words, but nonetheless support them
with their deeds by showing no interest in more
balanced levels of production, a better distribution
of wealth, concern for the environment and
the rights of future generations. Their behaviour
shows that for them maximizing profits is
enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee
integral human development and social inclusion.

89 At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’
of a wasteful and consumerist
kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with
the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”,
90 while we are all too slow in developing
economic institutions and social initiatives which
can give the poor regular access to basic resources.
We fail to see the deepest roots of our present
failures, which have to do with the direction,
goals, meaning and social implications of technological
and economic growth.

110. The specialization which belongs to technology
makes it difficult to see the larger picture.
The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful
for concrete applications, and yet it often leads

89 Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate
(29 June 2009), 35: AAS 101 (2009), 671.
90 Ibid., 22: p. 657.

to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the
relationships between things, and for the broader
horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This
very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of
solving the more complex problems of today’s
world, particularly those regarding the environment
and the poor; these problems cannot be
dealt with from a single perspective or from a
single set of interests. A science which would offer
solutions to the great issues would necessarily
have to take into account the data generated by
other fields of knowledge, including philosophy
and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to
acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons
to which one can appeal. Life gradually
becomes a surrender to situations conditioned
by technology, itself viewed as the principal key
to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation
confronting us, there are a number of
symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as
environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the
purpose of life and of community living. Once
more we see that “realities are more important
than ideas”.91

111. Ecological culture cannot be reduced to
a series of urgent and partial responses to the
immediate problems of pollution, environmental
decay and the depletion of natural resources.

91 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November
2013), 231: AAS 105 (2013), 1114.

There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at
things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational
programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which
together generate resistance to the assault of the
technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best
ecological initiatives can find themselves caught
up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a
technical remedy to each environmental problem
which comes up is to separate what is in reality
interconnected and to mask the true and deepest
problems of the global system.

112. Yet we can once more broaden our vision.
We have the freedom needed to limit and direct
technology; we can put it at the service of another
type of progress, one which is healthier,
more human, more social, more integral. Liberation
from the dominant technocratic paradigm
does in fact happen sometimes, for example,
when cooperatives of small producers adopt
less polluting means of production, and opt for
a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and
community. Or when technology is directed primarily
to resolving people’s concrete problems,
truly helping them live with more dignity and less
suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create
and contemplate beauty manages to overcome
reductionism through a kind of salvation which
occurs in beauty and in those who behold it. An
authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis,
seems to dwell in the midst of our technological
culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping
gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise
last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic
rising up in stubborn resistance?

113. There is also the fact that people no longer
seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer
have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on
the present state of the world and our technical
abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific
and technological progress cannot be equated
with the progress of humanity and history, a growing
sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere.
This is not to reject the possibilities which
technology continues to offer us. But humanity
has changed profoundly, and the accumulation
of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which
pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to
pause and recover depth in life. If architecture
reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures
and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of
globalized technology, where a constant flood of
new products coexists with a tedious monotony.
Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue
to wonder about the purpose and meaning
of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate
the present situation and need new forms of
escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us
to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.
Science and technology are not neutral; from the
beginning to the end of a process, various
intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on
distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to
the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and
look at reality in a different way, to appropriate
the positive and sustainable progress which has
been made, but also to recover the values and
the great goals swept away by our unrestrained
delusions of grandeur.

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