Why technocracy won’t save the world

Benjamin Cohen writes: In a 2014 New Yorker profile of twenty-five year old entrepreneur Rob Rhinehart, Lizzie Widdicombe explained the millenial’s motives for inventing a new caloric infusion named for the 1973 film. Rhinehart thought that “food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive.” He “began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all.” It was becoming too problematic for him to invest the effort in food shopping, preparation, or even, apparently, consumption. For the lifehacker, these were the wrong kind of disruptive. Widdicombe resisted editorializing on the shocking arrogance of the view that food was a hindrance to life. But I won’t. When a Bay Area twenty-something understands food as an obstacle to daily life, that person conceives of the environment as a constraint on rather than the basis of living. The dream of efficiency and the view that food is but a calorie delivery vehicle is all too familiar as resting on assumptions of a technocratic worldview.

I question whether anything is best pursued by technocratic means, let alone environmentalism; the political character of technocracy is ethically tenuous for the governance of people, not to mention nature. Technocratic thinking is based on logic of dehumanized values. It’s pinned to strictly technical criteria measured by disembodied quantitative metrics — efficiency, speed, yield, productivity, for example. Anything non-technical is not of significance: if it can’t be stated as a technical problem then it isn’t a problem at all. Values beyond that of a thin and narrow register — consider empowerment, dignity, justice, fulfillment, nourishment, honor, harmony — have no place in such a discussion because they’re too difficult to shoehorn into technical metrics. As for environmental virtues, good luck. Biodiversity, environmental knowledge, or the organic tenets of sustainable ecosystems find little space in technocratic pursuits. [Continue reading…]

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