Exercises in Secular Heresy: Technological Determinism, Civil Liberties, and the Taboo of Diminishing Returns

Presented to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Collaboration in the Arts and Sciences 2016 conference

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Abstract

While phrases like “technological evolution” and “technological progress” are frequently used in both the mainstream press and scientific journals to explain or justify broad social changes, closer examination reveals serious problems with this way of thinking. The use of evolution in reference to technology is fundamentally metaphorical, fallacious, and a threat to both democratic institutions and human ecology. The fallacy is precisely the secular equivalent of “intelligent design” among religious creationists, with similarly troubling implications. “Technological evolution” is furthermore used to frame “progress” in terms of natural processes rather than economic policies, forming the nucleus of an ideology that is profoundly influential but largely overlooked due to its effective invisibility as an ideology. “Progress” must end, and ending “progress” requires a realistic appraisal of the diminishing returns associated with investments in technology, and, accordingly, a shift in how resources are allocated.