"Radical Man" on Freedom and Technology
I’m currently reading Charles Hampden-Turner’s Radical Man (c. 1971), which I bought because some random Amazon review said it was amazing and that they wished they had read it at a mcuh younger age. It is very much worth reading, both because of the surprisingly timeless philosophy of human psycho-social development, as well as for some of the unfortunatley untimely, incorrect predictions. The following passage from the epicly-titled chapter, “Crypto-conservatism of Technological Thinking”:
Futurologists make great play with the notions of “freedom” and “technology creating opportunities” for us all and presenting us with a greater number of alternatives. Yet the meaning of freedom in the contexts which they use it is essentially a choice of a large number of games, or the choice in playing a particular game to reach a predetermined objective by interchangeable routes. Thus George A. Miller, a Harvard psychologist, and a prominent contributor to Toward the Year 2000 envisages numerous children in communication with a central computer.Within the broad limits set by what materials have been prepared by the computer, the student is free to study those things that are of most interest to him.
Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether the computer as opposed to the programmer can be said to have prepared anything, let us consider this use of the term “freedom”. It is the freedom of a rat to run a maze by turning left or right on any of a hundred separate occasions. It is the freedom of a guided missile to reach a predetermined target by an infinite number of paths or the freedom of a quarterback to gain fifty yards by kicking, running, or passing in a myriad of ways. I can think of few marine commanders who would not endorse the kind of “initiative” by which recruits dropped in the wilderness find their way back to base by any means they wish, provided they cover three hundred miles in thirty six hours.
Freedom, of course, means more than the ability to explore a vast technological prison with new wings added yearly and play alternative technical games therein. Unless the paths chosen by the individual contain a human logic and meaning, then it makes little sense to consider the human being as investing himself freely, intensely, or authentically. Given a run-away technology, wherein “can” is repeatedly translated as “ought” as technical means become ends in themselves, the survival of human freedom and meaning and the confirmation of this meaning by others, becomes harder and harder to achieve.