Department of Philosophy,
Olabisi Onabanjo University,
Ago-Iwoye, Ogun, Nigeria.
Sonia Elizabeth Okogie-Ojieko
Scuola de Lingua, Liceo Scientifico,
Fabriano, Vita Volterra, Italy.
Abstract Technology has its therapeutic and enthralling repercussions. The 21st century obviously is one that is not only steeped but completely reeks in technology. Like a drug addict, humanity is irreversibly hooked. It is therefore pertinent to query: Between humanity and technology who is superior? Is it the case that the one controls the other? If this is the case, what is the implication of this hegemony? When there have been torrents of literatures on the subject, we find most of them implausible as they have defied addressing the real essence of technology itself. This study for this reason therefore, revisits the phenomenological approach of the German scholar Martin Heidegger. It appraises, admits and justifies Heidegger’s suspicion and caution from Ecology, Alienation and International Relations. In the end, this study submits that Heidegger’s reflections on technology are not only insightful but evincing of the ills that come with technology. Ills, which more than ever now have the capacity to vacate the human species from the face of the Planet.
PDF Keywords: Martin Heidegger, Technology, Being, Humanity, Alienation.
This is the age of smart phones, laptop computers, and other technological gadgets that would have all the ancestors of humanity gaping in awe if they can ever see the 21st century from the other realm (if there is such). Technology has brought humanity ease and comfort. Many hitherto impossible activities are now otherwise. Technology even with its long history has come to stay. Any attempt to deny this assertion, in the words of David Callahan is “to indulge in daydreaming.”
It is not the opposite of the truth that humanity is tied around technology for breath and life. It is in this perspective that one has to revisit and then rethink whether or not this union has a philosophic significance. Even when there are other philosophers like Jean Baudrillard, Andrew Feenberg, Jacques Derrida, Paul Virilio and Sherry Turkle, the present essay ponders over the classical reflection on technology, its source, its correct meaning as opposed to the truth about it, and how humans relate with it as holds by Martin Heidegger. In other words, the present research queries the place of technology in human lives giving close attention to the orthodox position of Martin Heidegger.
Writing over half a century ago on the subject, Heidegger is fairly convinced from phenomenological analysis that while the overall impression is one of the perpetual, progressively reinforcing reduction of all things in the world to mere resources, it is pertinent to comprehend that the essence of technology is “way of revealing” among several other ways of revealing, which frees one from captivity that technology is the only mode of revealing and the tyranny latent in it. How did Heidegger arrive at this reflection? How does he identify the ‘ways of living’ in the world? Do these have an effect over his thoughts on technology? More importantly, with the advent of the torrent of reliance on androids, smartphones and other technologically-driven gadgets in the present century, is Heidegger’s caution in the preceding century justified?
This study attends to the foregoing posers, through the method of analysis and interpretation in five parts, the first being this introduction. The second part of the study chronicles a terse conundrum or dilemma that has divided scholars on the relation between technology and humanity. This prepares the ground for the striking perspective of the German sage Martin Heidegger that occupies the third part. In that part, attention is given to Heidegger’s essay on technology, with some random comments and queries that lead up to the justification in the fourth section. In the fourth rift of this study, we assess Heidegger’s position in the light of recent developments in technology and the impact they have had on not just humanity but the environment as well. The impetus of this section is to extrapolate a justificatory explanation as to whether or not Heidegger’s tinkering in the previous chapter holds water. The fifth section concludes this inquiry.
Technology: A Benevolence or Malevolence
Before delving into the question of the benefit or evil in technology, it would be helpful to commence first with the notion of the concept. Etymologically speaking, technology derives from the Greek techne, which connotes “art, skill, cunning of hand.” However, the term has evolved over the years. Brian Arthur conceives it as “a means to fulfill human purpose.” It could represent anything built by humans, from their understanding of reality or nature for the advancement of the species. Not only has the term ‘technology’ evolved over the years, the products and machines that have been built from the era of Stone are no longer paraded in today. Technology has dovetailed into sensitive areas like Nuclear Technology, Genetic Biotechnology which equally raises the brow as to whether or not technology has done more good than harm to humanity, the subject matter of the present section.
However, it would be unfair to commence without postulating that technology seems to be part of man. In other words, it seems clear that man has always been technological from antiquity. David Callahan ponders similarly, when he avers that “man has ever been a technological animal, a builder a shaper and maker of tools.” This is the case revealed in Genesis where Noah built an ark for the safety of the humanity. From the Stone Age to the Age of Chips, humans have not only exposed the inventiveness and resourcefulness but improved conditions of living. It is the case that a historical excursion into the place of technology in human history would eventually leave “…us in no doubt that technology has really come a long way. So for it to show signs of controlling people and acquiring autonomy and maturity should not be a surprise.” It is in this vein that scholars are divided over whether or not man is in control or technology has taken over the being of man. Hence, the task of this section is to scrutinize the di-polar positions on the essence of technology in relation to humanity before we ponder on the phenomenological submission of Heidegger on the subject.
Buckminster Fuller is fairly convinced that it is only through technology alone that creative individuals can with free will arrange for the continuing preservation of mankind. He argues that humans’ mastery of the energy in the universe will be seen as progressive. Elsewhere, he takes a scientific bent to justify that since energy can neither be created nor destroyed, energy, which to him is wealth is irreducible. It is the case that Fuller’s position is a conviction that technology is under the whim and caprices of humanity. Sigmund Freud shares this sentiment when he claims that technology serves to make life easier and creates a sense of happiness in humans. For Freud, “life has improved greatly throughout human history with the advancements in science and technology.” These thoughts have received intellectual corroboration from Alvin Toffler who remark that those who pirate anti-technological nonsense in the name of some vague human values need to be reminded that to turn the technological clock back will condemn billions to permanent misery at precisely in history when their liberation is becoming possible. Whereas it is doubtful if technology is liberating, Toffler contends “we need more not less technology.” What it seems Toffler overlooks is the dependence but not the liberation on technology that now pervades humanity. In this sense, it not the caser that humanity has become a tool in the hands of the technological? Jacques Ellul, Victor Ferkiss, and even Karl Marx seem to hold a cautious view that is redolent with the affirmation that humanity may have turn into a pun for technology.
Jacques Ellul defines technology as “the ensemble of practices by which one uses available resources in order to achieve valued ends.” He asserts that technology has become so pervasive that humans no live in the milieu of technology, not his old milieu, nature. He debunks the milieu of technology as artificial, autonomous, self-determining, nihilistic, with means primacy over ends. He holds the outlook that technology has become so powerful and ubiquitous that social phenomena such as politics, economics are situated “in it rather than being influenced by it.” He concludes that man no longer has any means to subjugate technology. Everything in the society for him has turned into its servant. To use his words, Ellul states: “Man finds himself disarmed and naked before it.” In a related development, Victor Ferkiss wrestles with the idea of man’s capability to handle the complex and powerful technological gadgets in which he is do deeply immersed. He argues that with all the views that portray humankind as being on the threshold of an existential revolution because of its technological potential and possibilities, humanity has to adjust to the technological logic since technology has acquired absolute power. Cameron Hall shares this view as he unmasks the overwhelming invasion of technology into every aspect of people’s life. He says technology has become so indispensable that it is in the air we breathe. He continues: “It is rampant where people live and work, raise their families, attend church and plan their lives. Business, industry, science, engineering, medicine, and the arts are flinging their work increasingly at the computers…” Hall believes that the experience of the modern man is highly artificial and superficial as his experience is with nature is now marginal. For him, humans’ dependence on artificial devices and processes hides him from his ultimate reliance on nature whose mystery, complexity and resourcefulness are the roots of his being and survival. This is why Karl Marx expatiates in a similar mould that “the machine accommodates itself to man’s weakness in order to turn weak man into a machine.” And the consequence is estrangement or alienation which Marx lists thus: alienation from the product of work; alienation from the work itself; alienation from one’s fellow beings; and alienation from human species-life.
The foreboding implications and the benefits of technology have had scholars divided. However, there has been a bold attempt from David Callahan to synthesize. In his words:
Whatever the ragings of the present anti-technological counter-culture, whatever the hesitations and anxieties of their more measured and established couterparts in ‘straight’ culture, whatever the chilling effects of daily and quite accurate messages on the latest degradations done to man in nature by technology, whatever the revolt at an impersonal, mechanical, socio-industrial order, no matter what, technology as a human phenomenon and roughly in its present state, is here to stay…To work with any other hypothesis is to indulge in daydreaming.
Callahan is convinced that technology is wedded to man. For him “since we are by nature technological, me must learn to live with it…not only that we might better than learn how to enjoy and profit from it, but also how to keep ourselves from being killed by it. In other words, to learn how to be healthy rather than sick technological slaves.”
When those who endorse technology fail to give a critical look at the ills that surround it, those who emphasize the ill and problems that comes with it seem to have taken the baton too far. The attempts of scholars as David Callahan that make a synthesis also falls short because they are working “…within a conceptual framework that is through and through a product of technological imperative. Hence their proposals do not offer any significance breakthrough.” This is where Ian Barbour enters the fray. For him “technology should neither be uncritically embraced nor totally rejected, but redirected.” This redirection, he implores must involve research and developmental enterprises be oriented towards fundamental human needs. Is this redirection not redolent with the position that man can control technology? Does it not reinvigorate the perception that man is hooked, like a hemp addict to technology? It is the case that the positions examined so far have shortcomings that are easily deducible. It is at this juncture that this essay takes a phenomenological approach to the discourse on Martin Heidegger
On Heidegger’s Phenomenological Appraisal of Technology
This section chronicles Heidegger’s submission on technology. It is important to state from the outset that in his metaphysical schema, Heidegger in the words of Mark Wrathall “punished the German language.” What this connotes is that Heidegger had to employ words in unique ways as to shift them away as much from their everyday and pedestrian usages, where meaning and comprehension of reality are elusive and vague. Heidegger was deeply committed to the method of phenomenology to unearth the kind of being humans stand in relation to the world.
Moreover, for Heidegger, phenomenology means “to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way which it shows itself from itself.” In other words, the central task of phenomenology from the perspective of Heidegger is that it “requires us to stick with the things that appear in experience and learn to see them in such a way that they show up as they really are.” With these points or comments briefly articulated, we are then in a position to see the phenomenological approach to technology in Heidegger.
For Heidegger, one has to come to understand the essence of technology from the way it is, through a free relationship with it. In his words: “when we can respond to this essence, we shall be able to experience the technological within its own bounds.” He begins by making a distinction between technology and the essence of technology, using a tree as an analogy. He harps:
When we are seeking the essence of “tree,” we have to become aware that That which pervades every tree, as tree, is not itself a tree that can be encountered among all the other trees. Likewise, the essence of technology is by no means anything technological. Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it.
The above propositions are very powerful not because they reveal that humanity has now been chained to technology, but regurgitate the distinction between universals and particulars to the discourse. However, Heidegger tries to give a terse conception of the idea of technology among the ancient Greeks as opposed to how it is conceived in modern times.
Modern technology, like ancient techne, from which it springs -and like science and metaphysics, which are essentially one with it-is a mode of revealing. Being, through its manner of ruling in all that is, is manifesting itself within it. That which has come to fruition in Descartes and in all of us, his modern successors, not only took its rise long before in a temporal sense. It also took its rise long in advance from beyond man. For in its fulfillment Heidegger sees the holding sway of a “destining” or “sending forth” of Being, that has come upon man and molded him and his world.
We ordinarily understand modern technology as having arisen subsequently to science and as subordinate to it. We consider it a phenomenon brought about through scientific advance. This is where the instrumental end of technology springs. Consequently, in the words of Rev Professor E. M. Uka it becomes pertinent to appraise “the dialectical question on Man and Technology: who controls who?” The tendency is rife; to construe that technology is a subordinate and dependent on science.
Heidegger points out that, on the contrary, modern science and machine technology are mutually dependent upon one another. More importantly, technology, in its essence, precedes and is more fundamental than science. This is no mere statement concerning chronological priority, for the “essence of technology” is the very mode of Being’s revealing of itself that is holding sway in all phenomena of the modern age. Man’s arrogation to himself of the role of subject in philosophy; his objectifying of nature, life, and history in dealing with them in ‘the sciences’ and his calculating and cataloguing and disposing of all manner of things through machine technology-all these alike are expressions of that essence and of that revealing. Technology, so understood, is in no sense an instrument of man’s making or in his control. It is rather that phenomenon, ruled from out of Being itself, that is centrally determining all of Western history. It is not unsurprising that Martin Heidegger’s argument for technology is a converse and strikes one from the mainstream and dominant allusion. The failure to comprehend and understand this has led precisely to some of the sufferings humanity faces in modern times. This position seems to be what Emile Durkheim, from the dimension of moral sociology when he articulates:
The suffering and alienation experienced so widely in Modern Society do not arise primarily because the struggle for existence has become more painful or because it is more difficult to satisfy our needs. They result rather because we no longer know the limits of legitimate needs or perceive the direction of our efforts. The problem is one of meaning, of knowing the purpose of existence and the legitimate standards for judging our actions. The maladjustment from which we suffer does not exist because the objective causes of suffering have increased in number or in intensity. It bears witness not to greater economic poverty but due to an alarming poverty of morality. [Emphasis mine – E.O.]
The foregoing therefore poses a challenge from the technological dimension. For Heidegger, Modern technology in its essence is a “challenging revealing.” It involves a contending with everything that is. For it “sets upon” everything, imposing upon it a demand that seizes and requisitions it for use. Under the dominion of this challenging revealing, nothing is allowed to appear as it is in itself.
The ordering of everything as standing-reserve, like objectifying itself, is once more a manifestation of a destining. It is first of all the bringing to fruition of a way of appearing that is given to everything that is, from out of Being itself. But as such, it does not, of course, take place simply outside of or apart from man. The same destining that gives this mode of appearing to whatever is also a rule in him, provoking him to order everything in just this way, as standing-reserve. The challenging claim that now summons man forth, that “gathers man thither to order the self-revealing as standing-reserve,” Heidegger calls das Ge-stell (which could be roughly translated as Enframing).
“Enframing,” denotes the claim that ceaselessly brings both men and things to take their places in the stark configuration that are being wrought out through ordering for use. This challenging summons, ruling in modern technology, is The dominion of Enframing as the essence of modern technology and the concomitant presence of the standing-reserve are most clearly seen in the realm of machine technology, where no object has significance in itself and where the “orderability” of everything, from energy and statistics to machines and persons, is all-important. It can be found also, Heidegger says, in the sphere of science, namely, in modern physics. There again, the object, otherwise the hallmark of the sciences, has disappeared. In its stead the relation between subject and object comes to the fore and “becomes a standing-reserve” to be controlled.
In a nutshell, Heidegger seems fairly convinced that the ‘challenging revealing’ gives humans the sway to order nature as a ‘standing reserve’ to be used without respecting nature’s being. This may be exported to the thoughts on technology too. This is the case as Heidegger compares physis (spontaneously regenerating nature), poiesis (poetic creation or bringing-forth) and techné (a knowing kind of bringing-forth, in both crafts and fine arts, related to epistémé or theoretical knowing), showing that, as modes of “bringing forth” they all represent a kind of (what the Greeks called) alétheia (truth in the sense of “un-concealedness”). Hence, what is the “alétheia” or “un-concealedness” about modern technology, compared to its “correct” meaning as a means to an end? Does it, too, bring something forth out of un-concealedness? Heidegger believes that it does, but while modern technology is also a mode of “revealing” just like physis, techné and poiesis, it is not a bringing-forth in the same sense that poiesis (poetry, art) or physis (nature) is, but a “challenging-forth,” as we had already noted.
This gives the impression that technology is there for human use, and that it is indeed, as the “correct” definition claimed, no more than an instrument. Nothing can be further from the truth, for Heidegger. In the first place, humans may be able to “control” technological devices such as aircraft, but they are unable to control “un-concealment” (alétheia) itself. This includes the manner in which the “real” manifests itself differently in various historical epochs in ways distinct and peculiar to that era. For instance, in ancient Greece nature showed itself as physis (spontaneously and cyclically self-renewing nature), in the Christian Middle Ages the world manifested itself as God’s creation, and in the modern epoch the world appears as a “standing reserve.”
Finally, the positive side of Heidegger’s tinkering on nature eclipses the converse side of it. Heidegger’s analysis calls humanity to see technology not as the only mode of revealing but one out of the many modes of revealing. Unless one realizes this, Heidegger maintains, one is steeped in ignorance and slave to technology. Bert Oliver sums this better when he avers that:
while the overall impression is one of the perpetual, progressively reinforcing reduction of all things in the world (including humans) to mere resources, once one has understood that the essence of technology (“Ge-stell “) is “a way of revealing the real” among other such ways of revealing (in art, for example), it frees one from the impression – which keeps the vast majority of people captive – that technology is the ONLY legitimate mode of revealing. And once one realises this, it frees you from the tyranny of technology – it frees you to “use” technological devices without being “mastered” or possessed” by them.
From the excursion into the idea of Heidegger on the technological, it is therefore pertinent to query: Is Heidegger right about technology? The answer to this is affirmative. If that is the case, the explanatory justification is therefore wanting. This in essence, is the central task of the next section.
Technology and the Revealing Modes of Being in the 21st Century
The occupation of the present rift is to allocate a proper analysis to the idea of Heidegger in 21st century technological mode of revealing. The guiding question in this section hence is: From Heidegger’s perspective, does 21st century humanity not perceive technology as the only legitimate mode of revealing and hence enslaved by it? Put in a logical formulation, and far from a phenomenological parlance, is it or not the case that humans in the 21st century have been ‘mastered’ or ‘possessed’ by technology? Yes, it is the case and we riposte from the arenas of ecology, international relations and the alienation of the human species life, to borrow from Marx. The remainder of the section uses these as grounds to justify Heidegger’s assertions and suspicions on technology.
The increasing use of technology has set a lot in motion within the ecosystem that has finite land, sea, and air. It has created the tremendous problem of pollution of air, water and the degradation of the lad surface. Due to the increasing consumption of non-renewable resources (minerals, fossil fuel) technology has brought about energy crises. There has never been a better time in history that she possessed the technology to wipe out every element of life on the Planet with the push a single button. When one considers the technology that surrounds the exploration of crude oil in a place like Nigeria, the situation does not improve. One is encouraged to ponder whether or not technology is a blessing or a curse. For the people of the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, the latter seems to be that case, thereby justifying Heidegger’s conviction that technology reduces everything in the world, including humans as mere resources. While speaking on the state of environmental pollution that has come to the area, Adati, Ayuba Kadafa holds that:
In general, the assessment of other researchers into this issue acknowledges that the oil industry has undoubtedly brought economic benefit to the Nigerian state but has left environmental pollution problems with visible physical destruction. The prevention of environmental degradation is a task that must be pursued vigorously.
Oil spillage is one of the evils done by Multinationals in the area. According to the Human Rights Watch:
Oil spill is one of the major environmental hazards in the Niger Delta. This particular cause of environmental hazard contaminates water, destroy plants and animals. The causes of oil spill have been attributed to poorly maintained pipelines and ‘blow-outs’ of poorly maintained oil well.
A similar standpoint has been echoed by Emoyan, O.O et al (2008) that:
The major sources of degradation of forests, land and water in the region include oil spills, gas leaks, blowouts, canalization and the discharge of wastes and effluent from oil and gas operations directly into surface water bodies and the land surface.
All of the foregoing signify efforts meant to reveal the gradual and persistent hunt for capital, through technology at the expense and disregard for life both terrestrial and aquatic. Technology that now seems to be holding humanity and everything she stands for at the jugular.
This inevitably leads to the alienation of human beings from species life. There is an increasing sense of rootlessness, alienation for the individual that technology has affected. Within human society, technology is having an autonomous and uncontrollable status, destructive of religious values and a fostering of materialistic values. These, in Heideggerian terms are clear cases of perceiving technology as the only mode of revealing. For it has brought about a technocratic society and a bureaucratic state in which the individual is increasingly submerged, marginalized, manipulated, dehumanized, and de-personalized. In the words of E.M. Uka: “Modern technology has led to the creation of sub-cultures and counter-cultures. Such sub-cultures as culture of poverty is a culture in which poverty is a way of life…There is also the phenomenon of counter culture. This term is used to describe youth culture whose members reject the key-norms and values of the prevailing culture. They question the social, economic and moral basis of conventional technological society.” Nothing can be further from the truth, for Heidegger. In the first place, humans may be able to “control” technological devices such as aircraft, but they are unable to control “un-concealment” (alétheia) itself. This includes the manner in which the “real” manifests itself differently in various historical epochs in ways distinct and peculiar to that era.
Upon the place of international relations, technology holds sway powerfully. “The concept of progress as understood and applied in international relations has more or less been defined in terms of the level of technological development and Gross National/Domestic Product.” These criteria however do not reveal how economic benefits are distributed. For the public are both beneficiaries and victims of the affluence of technology. The affinity between GDP and technology is played out to create tension in international relations since it is used to fractonize the peoples of the world into first, second, third and fourth worlds. What is therefore most disturbing about technology however is the manner which those who possess the latest and most advanced had applied it to systemically eliminate certain tribal peoples, in order to acquire their mineral and natural resources. Eduardo Galeano and Michael Parenti have accurately chronicled events of this nature in human history where superiority of the technology of arms and ammunitions has allowed the interlopers usurp the rightful possessions of natives.
It is the case that the ideas of Martin Heidegger on technology have deep and penetrative ideas. With great insight and analysis, Heidegger exposes the dangers inimical to a being that is tied around the technological being. While Heidegger is conscious of the positive outcomes of technology, he seems to be willing to admit that attempts to reduce other modes of existence to that which is technological makes man a slave to technology. It is the case that his phenomenological approach to the subject outweighs the dominant debate as to whether or not humans are in control of technology. It is the submission of this study that even in the present century, Heidegger’s penetrating analysis of the subject of technology remains justifiable.
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 Ibid, 5
Op Cit, Heidegger 1977, 3-4
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Op. Cit, Heidegger 1977, 14
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Emile Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology. (New York: Free Press, 1951), 386-87.
 Ibid, 18
 Ibid, 19
Op. Cit, Lovitt, xxx
Op Cit, 1977, 15
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Opc. Cit, Uka 4
Emmanuel Mesthene, Technological Change: Its Impact on Man and Society. Cambridge Massachusetss: Harvard Press, 1970), 17-20.
Adati. Ayuba. Kadafa, “Oil Exploration and Spillage in the Niger Delta of Nigeria” in Civil and Environmental Research, 2 (3) (2012), 39.
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Op. Cit, Uka, 5
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Op Cit, Uka, 5
Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997)
Michael Parenti, The Sword and the Dollar. (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1988)
Philosophia 17/2017, pp. 29-44