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Date Created: 09/19/15
Auihwpubgy 222 Saws Muir Basalla George 1988 The Evolution of Technology New York Cambridge University Press Chapter 71 Conclusion Evolution and Progress 0 Darwin the author of one half of the theory of evolution natural selection acting upon pre39existent variability in life forms he was unaware of the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel s work on genes because the latter did not publish widely which would have given him the other half of the modern theory of evolution the reason for the variation itselfgenetic recombination amp mutation quotnever considered applying his evolutionary theory to technologyquot Basalla 1988207 nor to human society for that matter which is why others who did are called quotSocial Darwinistsquot He published his monumental Origin of Species in 1859 Karl Marx a number of Darwin s contemporaries readily drew analogies between the development of living beings and material artifacts The earliest and perhaps the most famous nineteenthcentury figure to do so was Karl Marx who published his Capital in 1867 quotMarx s evolutionary analogy includes two stages all of these explanations were quotstagequot models usually progressing in the same sequence that archaeologists were discovering for Europe hence quotunilinealquot or quotonelinequot something that will prove fatal for Marxism in the nonWestern world 0 In the first stage technology engages humanity in a direct active relationship with nature Men and women use their labor to shape physical reality thus creating the artifactual realm Once the natural world is transformed by work nature becomes a virtual extension of the human body Thus men and women working with natural obj ects and forces bring nature within the sphere of human life This minimized the differences between the made and the living worldsquotBasalla 1 988 207 The central cultural metaphor for Marx as a Westerner was nature as a quotminequot to be dugout quotminedquot and exhausted by humans for their own benefit Labor took the place of God for quotgivingquot the bounty of nature to O 1 material in square brackets added by Dr Roe Anthropology 222 Professor Roe Basalla Ch 7 Notes Page 1 of6 humans o Marx quot suggests that the Darwinian approach to the history of Nature s Technology the productive organs of plants animals amp humans as a product of natural selection evolutionary explanations should be applied to the technological means that humans use to sustain lifequot Differences between Darwinian amp Marxist thought In Darwin s theory biological evolution was selfgenerating39 in the Marxian scheme the evolution of technology is not selfgenerating but is a process directed by willful conscious active people and molded by historical forcesquot Basalla 1988207 208 but Marx never pursued the evolution of tech Diversity quotThe concept of diversity which stands at the beginning of evolutionary thinking is basic to an understanding of technological evolutionquot Basalla 1988208 Technical DiversityPr0ducti0n 0f the Super uous The Spanish social philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset 1933 declares quotthat technology was the production of the super uousquot Absolute Necessity is not a Reason for Technology Basalla is against the old saw quotNecessity is the Mother of Inventionquot quotArtifacts are uniquely identi ed with humanityindeed they are a distinguishing characteristic of human life39 nevertheless we can survive without themFire the stone axe or the wheel are no more items of absolute necessity than are the trivial gadgets that gain popularity for a season and quickly disappear Biological necessity is not the reason that so much thought and energy are expended on the making of novel artifacts but he does not explain why39 I suggest that the quotplay impulsequot is that mechanism The history of technology is not a record of the artifacts fashioned in order to ensure our survival Instead it is a testimony to the fertility of the contriving note he does not say quotplayfulquot perhaps because he is also a product of our culture one that labels play as just childish activity of only entertainment value not a powerful quotsearch mechanismquot for generating the super uidy of artifacts which is then culturallyselected Play amp Fantasy but he does say quotThe importance of play and fantasy in the creation of technological innovation has been stressed here because their significance has been overlooked by scholars who believe necessity is the sole spur to inventionquot Basalla 1988209 Military Competition is quotAbsolute necessity Perhaps in theory humans could exist without tech but only as an isolated single band of humans Basalla ignores the best case for necessity human social competition amp no Anthropology 222 Professor Roe Basalla Ch 7 Notes Page 2 of6 single human quottechnolessquot society could survive for long in contact with another armed with technology This may not have meant open warfare especially at the beginning when human population densities were small and thinly spread but it could have been eXpressed even then equally effectively in quotagonisticquot displays of threats that would have spaced and competitively excluded less technicallyprecocious societies Economic Explanations Aren39t Suf cient quotThe supporting scholarship for the economic interpretation of innovation is notable for the amount of data it has amassed and the ingenious reasoning it has advanced Yet in the final analysis the arguments put forth on behalf of the economic interpretation are unconvincing and we are obliged to seek out those cultural factors that fuel the drive for noveltyquot Basalla 1988209210 Technological Continuity quotIf artifactual diversity is to be eXplained by a theory of technological evolution then we must be able to demonstrate that continuity eXists between artifacts that each kind of made thing is not unique but is related to what has been made before The prevalence of artifactual continuity has been obscured by the myth of the heroic inventive genius by nationalistic pride by the patent system and by the tendency to equate technological change with social scientific and economic revolutions However once we actively search for continuity it becomes apparent that every novel artifact has an antecedent Whenever we encounter an artifact no matter what its age or provenance we can be certain that it was modeled on one or more preeXisting artifactsquot Basalla 1988208209 0 Progress dates to the Renaissance amp has 6 assumptions 0 quotFirst technological innovation invariably brings about a marked improvement in the artifact undergoing change quot quotsecond advancements in technology directly contribute to the betterment of our material social cultural and spiritual lives thereby accelerating the growth of civilization quot O 0 quotthird the progress made in technology and hence in civilization can be unambiguously gauged by reference to speed efficiency power or some other quantitative measure quot O quotfourth the origins direction and in uence of technological change are under complete human control quot quotfifth technology has conquered nature and forced it to serve human goals andquot O o quotsixth technology and civilization reached their highest forms in the Anthropology 222 Professor Roe Basalla Ch 7 Notes Page 3 of6 Western industrialized nationsquot Basalla 1988211 0 Opposition to the Idea of Progress quotappeared as early as the seventeenth century but not until the midtwentieth century did all siX assumptions come under strong critical attack on a variety of issuesquot due to the heavy casualties of the 2 World Wars the threatening advent of the Nuclear Age posing a threat to all life on earth as well as the looming ecological disasters quotFinally the longheld belief in the inherent superiority of Western technology was challenged by those who cogently argued that some nonWestern technologies better served human needs without disrupting the natural worldquot as much Basalla 1988211 The Quantitative Response quotAs proponents of progress found it increasingly difficult to present the control of nature or the betterment of human life as the goal of technological advance they redoubled their efforts to use physical quantities as indicators of technological progressquot ie we move faster communicate better heal better learn more etc Basalla 1988 211 Numbers mean Nothing CrossCulturally in Time or Space Yes rates of anything say travel speed have gone up amp were one to place anancientsledge being hauled at 2 mph with a modern car going 60 mph on the same highway there would be no doubt as to the quotprogressquot of velocity But would there As the British prehistorian V Gordon Childe said quotDid a reindeer hunter in 30000 BC or an Ancient Egyptian in 3000 BCreally need or want to travel a couple of hundred miles at 60 mphquot Basalla 1988212 TECHNOLOGYMUST BE EVALUATED IN TERMS OF THE CULTURES IN WHICH THEY WERE CONCEIVED AND USED CROSS CULTURAL COMPARI SONS OR THOSE MADE WITHIN A GIVEN CULTURE OVER EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME FOR THE PAST OF EVEN ONE S OWN CULTURE WAS IN FACT A DIFFERENT CULTURE ARE VERY POOR SOURCES OF DATAFOR ESTABLISHING THE ADVANCEMENT OF TECHNOLOGY Basalla1988212 Total Cost Involved is rarely Calculated just endproducts not process If one compares Mexican slashandburn horticulture with a modern North American farmer quotthe yield of corn by weight is 28 times greater on the American farmquot but if one factors in the cost of the corn in terms of energy inpquutput the scales are reversed With his modern gasolinepowered tractor the necessity of buying monocrop hybrids amp the pesticide fertilizer amp water needed to grow them the North American farmer has a ratio of 3 1 whereas the MeXican using just human amp animal labor amp local seed corn yields 111 retums What is progress yields or cost sustainability or non Anthropology 222 Professor Roe Basalla Ch 7 Notes Page 4 of6 sustainability basalla 1988213 The Demographic Index for ProgressV Gordon Childe did believe however that he could measure progress directly by adding the longer prehistoric view to the shorter time span of history He pointed out that a measure of Darwinian quot tnessquot the result of successful adaptation Via natural selection was reproductive success If technological progress was like evolution then the increasing numbers of people going from earliest prehistory to modern times is ipso facto proof of progress Basalla 1988 215 However even if one could link the greater numbers to technological progress which perhaps we can in the case of modern medicine one still has the fears of a modern 6 billion population will cause catastrophic environmental amp human cost Is this progress or cancer that will kill the host the planet and with it the pathogen us Remember Mr Smith s the guard program s soliloquy about humans in the first Matrix film If ScienceFiction is Our Mythology What does it say of progress A minority Star Trek opinion is the multiculti heaven of resolved con ict the brooding Blade Runner lm noir response which is in the distinct majority presents a burntout world lled with vengeful androids and hunted humans Basalla39s Solution like natural evolution no implied teleology or overreaching goal Technological evolution must be judged within a narrow scope of time place amp culture for narrow purposes amp without generalizing these advancements to greater qualitative concerns such as quotadvancementquot or quotcivilizationquot eg transmission distance of electromagnetic radiation starting after 1887 the German physicist Heinrich Hertz was content to achieve a 15meter transmission as proof of concept by 1894 Oliver Lodge reached 54 meters then Guglielmo Marconi communicates via radio Morse Code across the English Channel in 1899 amp across the Atlantic in 1901 quotthis constitutes technological progressquot since quotThe events took place within a limited time span less than twenty years and within a relatively homogenous cultural setting England and Germany The goal was simply the transmission of a radio signal over ever greater distancesquot amp using the same principle intermittent sparks created by an induction coil or banks of capacitorsthe continuous wave transmission of the human voice radio as we know it came later after 1920 amp that is a different story Basalla 1988216217 Limited Evolution No Progress quotNeither the historical record nor our understanding of the current role of technology in society justi es a retum to the idea that a causal connection eXists between advances in technology and the overall betterment of the human racequot Basalla 1988 218 altho he Anthropology 222 Professor Roe Basalla Ch 7 Notes Page 5 of6 implicitly recognizes that this position will not be acceptable to most people who still hold the quotpopular but illusory concept of technological progressquot p218 It is arguable that medicine is an exception to his argument since health amp longeVity have been increased altho humans are now Victim to a whole host of cancers and other ailments produced by technological compleXification Anthropology 222 Professor Roe Basalla Ch 7 Notes Page 6 of6
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