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What do anarchists find most bothersome about technology?

+2 votes
Even outside of anarchist thought, people tend to fear the capabilities of it, like mind-control, artificial intelligence, ect, along with the knee-jerk reactions to the frustration of dealing with it. How do anarchists feel about technology in the more personal sense?

The thing that bothers me about it the most is that it gradually interferes with the ability to do things yourself and act directly (alienation), and if you have some specific issue with it then you would ultimately have to take it up with the corporations who make it.
asked Nov 8, 2016 by anonymous
i find the term itself bothersome.
The latest estimates are that within twenty years commercial fishing will become impossible, there simply won't be enough wild fish left in the oceans. Within fifty years every wild land animal larger than a dog will become extinct or only exist in zoos. By the end of the century some 80% of the surface of the earth will become one giant polluted desert because, while the lights might be on, nobody is ever home when money does all the driving.

4 Answers

+4 votes
the only interesting thing i have to add to things i have said about tech before on here is that i feel like we are externalizing things that we used to do for ourselves (as individuals, and as people), memory being the one that stands out for me most significantly. there were people who were the rememberers, and then there was writing, and then there were printing presses, and now there are phones that take pictures.

i didn't intend to have the remembering people be a part of that trajectory, but perhaps they are.

what i would call the anarchist part of that concern is the idea that centralization of the basics of our lives comes from/recreates control out of our own hands.
answered Nov 8, 2016 by dot (57,400 points)
+3 votes
Unpopular Opinion™: I like technology.

I guess I'm just going to be posting an answer that is somewhat off-topic, but it annoys me on a personal level how taken for granted it is that anarchists dislike technology - even if there is a pretty large grain of truth to this, it doesn't hold in all cases.

I don't really care for anarcho-transhumanism in general (even if subjectively I think that transhumanism would probably be p cool), but I think that the arguments anarchists and primitivists tend to make against technology are pretty weak and uninteresting. @-H+ types will argue that we can't really say that technology is inherently oppressive when the totalizing system we live in is already inherently oppressive. We simply by and large have no real control over technology, like most other things, because it exists within the sphere of capitalism and the State. So, it's kind of truism to me to say that technology is oppressive. Pretty much everything (including our precious individual Selves with all their internalized bourgeois ideology) is oppressive to some extent, and we can find small TAZ's in pretty much everything. Free Software (the FSF and the GNU Project for the uninitiated) is a pretty good example IMO of how technology can be liberatory, even if it has faced a lot of problems when competing against proprietary software and more recently "Open Source".

The problem with @-H+ is that they seem to want to keep the liberal humanist elements that you find in classical anarchism, and just add transhumanism on top of it. They take it for granted that technology is just a tool that we can seize and use instrumentally and augment ourselves with. However, objectively - and this is where I think the anti-tech line of thought makes some good points - technology is a complex system that we can't in the first place hope to fully grasp as individuals. Even a full-stack programmer cannot possibly know everything that's going on in any given computer from looking at its boot sequence, for instance; there's simply too much information for us to handle, which is why we in the first place have technology. Technology remembers stuff so we don't need to. And the natural consequence of this is inevitably AI, and as OP noted, people are scared by this.

The thing about technology is that if it's too complicated for any human to fully grasp, it doesn't really matter to me who is in control. At a certain point, "technology" reaches a state of being its own territory. The World Wide Web is constantly expanding, new spheres of autononomy are being opened and closed as easily as by setting up a new node on Hyperboria or a new Tor onion site. Even on the Internet itself, there are literally thousands of small corners of security-by-obscurity to hide in. People overestimate how much the NSA is actually spying on us, really. The NSA is collecting mountains of data and storing it for later. It isn't pouring over everything, and even if it is, this is only on the clearnet.

At a certain point even, if technology continues to develop on an objective path based on our understanding of it, it reaches Singularity and becomes its own autonomous entity. The system goes out of control, out of our hands, and becomes some separate thing we have to contend with. Maybe it would be a grey goo scenario, where the natural world would be replaced entirely by a Giger-esque bio-mechanical landscape, or maybe it would lead to some kind of intelligent AI. In the latter case, I see no reason why it would be any less human than myself. And while I would be pretty sad about the destruction of the "natural" (as we currently understand that word) world, and the passing of the human race towards some new form, the planet is already fucked to begin with, and I don't see why I'm supposed to value "real" humans over "fake" humans when maybe I identify more with intelligent AI. Given the choice I'd probably join the AI side of that conflict, tbh

I guess what I'm getting at is that the thing that annoys me most about how anarchists deal with technology is that anarchists have nothing philosophically interesting to say about technology, and no interesting relation to technology thru praxis. Technology is an all-or-nothing standing between us and utopia - either the gateway to it, or our barrier to it - and I just don't give a fuck about the progressivist narratives that transhumanists or primitivists have when they talk about technology. Technology is here, and it most certainly is dangerous, but I'm most interested in engaging with it from a post-humanist perspective.

I feel like I'll probably be told that I'm supposed to like a forest more than a server room, too.
answered Nov 8, 2016 by n1x (710 points)
I don't know about "liking" a server room more than a forest, but I find the latter to be far more relaxing if im not worrying about anything. It calms my mind unlike anything related to humans. I had never heard of anarcho-transhumanism before, but the only thing I don't like about it now after having read scant parts of their shit is the same thing I don't like about all ideologies: take  some "truths" and then create a dedication towards it, like for example, "the tyranny of our bodies", i have said before that i support people using the medical system to improve their lives rather than dieing to support the "wellbeing of the environment", atleast in its abstract, societized form.
"there's simply too much information for us to handle"

i think a deeply critical analysis of that statement right there - why? how? who? ... - would go a long way towards addressing the original question.

i see technology (vague as that term is) as the quite understandable (maybe even unavoidable) result - and ultimately a driver, as well - of the ongoing massification, homogenization, quantification and control of all life.

i won't go into the good vs evil crap that seems to dominate this kind of discussion, but i will say that i see no possible way that technology (particularly high tech) could come to exist in an anarchic world. creating it requires a level of control, destruction and resource extraction/theft that cannot be reconciled with my own anarchy.

nonetheless, here we are.

@n1x: you've made your position on technology very clear. however, i'm curious as to how you would answer the original question specifically. as a proponent, what do you find most bothersome about it?

also: isn't "intelligent AI" redundant?


"anarchists have...no interesting relation to technology thru praxis."

i'd like to know a little more about this statement. what kinds of things would an anarchist need to do/say for you to call it an "interesting relation to technology thru praxis" ?

Good answer to a good question. I am uncomfortable with a certain kind of technology: the kind that is supposed to make life better or easier for those who have access to it. For example, I really dislike automatic spell-checkers and electric car windows. It feels like giving up some freedom/individuality.

On the other hand, there is a kind of technology that is liberating and empowering. I guess I'm thinking of things like the plow and the internet. This kind of technology increases the power and responsibility of individuals. I think it makes life harder rather than easier -- as freedom should.

They say "guns don't kill people; people kill people." Could also say "technology doesn't enslave people; people enslave people."
+1 vote
probably repetitive, but my visceral response:

- alienation from directly interacting with the living world.

- destruction of the living world in order to create/maintain/improve/expand itself.

- decisions about technological development are made by a relatively few elites, but impact all of life.

- virtual elimination of the possibility of self-reliance (diy), replaced by centralized control.

- requires and facilitates/perpetuates mass industrial society.

i have no interest in the discussion of whether technology is good, evil or neutral. that is subjective. the fact that it has done immense harm as well as help is undeniable (different perspectives would simply disagree on what specifically helps vs harms and to what extent).

the fact that it has been imposed on all of life - while the vast majority of life has had no input whatsoever - is also undeniable. and that alone should say all that needs to be said from an anarchistic perspective.
answered Jan 20 by funkyanarchy (12,120 points)
0 votes
Technology doesn't have to be imposed on everyone, it can be localized.

Pretty much all anarchists I know admit that in an anarchist/communist society, there would be far less technology in our day to day lives. It is impossible to sustain everyone's home temperature perfectly by computers and gasoline, everyone having a car, and new iPhone models every year without total environmental disregard and literal slavery, (not just wage slavery.)

Further, I think most communists, at least anti statist ones, think that community centric models work for socialism and big, clustered cities don't function as well if at all.

But the jump from that to getting rid of all post industrial technology seems a massive and unnecessary one. The conclusion that we should get rid fof agrarian farming even more so. There's a balance where a certain level of day to day technology in our lives won't shorten the sustainability of the planet enough to bother me, and if we didn't spend any resources on military or the massive beuracratic costs and inefficiency inherent in a state/capitalism, we would have more than enough resources for things like advanced medical care for a helluva long time. Especially if we stop eating meat.

Automation has enough benefits to justify itself, too, imo, even though it decreases self sufficiency. This near worship of sufficiency leads to a mindset dangerously close to the AnCap maxim that it is just for things that consume more than they produce to die out, albeit on a community scale rather than an individual one.

Things that significantly reduce the number of hours required to sustain a human life, this increasing our chances of feeding, clothing, housing, giving medical care to everyone shouldn't just be thrown out.

Sure, it's not indefinitely sustainable. But nothing is. Life exists because the sun is relatively stable and there's still a lot of tectonic activity. One of those things will not be true, eventually, and then everyone's fucked. If the transhumanists are somehow right and we explore the stars, at some point the whole damn universe dissolves and stuff becomes a thing that happened once. I'm going to live the most ethical way I can in the interim, or hope to, not extend the game as long as theoretically possible.

That said, I think green and anti-civ movements in anarchy are essential, I respect them, and would like to learn more about their philosophies. I just don't want to universally apply their principles.
answered Jan 27 by Denver332 (400 points)
i like a lot of what you said, but it doesn't seem you answered the question..."what do you find most bothersome about technology"
Sure. In order of greatest to least;

1. The environmental impacts.

2. The fact that technologies like medicine and automation, which should mean it takes fewer manhours to sustain a human life, have resulted in us having to work more hours to live.

3. Increasing ease with which to destroy entire ecosystems, countries, and human lives.

4. Greater centralization of banks and the resulting globalization of currency.

5. Weapons and surveillance technology which ensure the compliance of citizens because only governments can afford them.
Aren't we missing somewhat of a point here. Technology in itself isn't anything. All it is is a tool, a hammer is technology.

The point is the person wielding said hammer for good or for bad. As an anarchist I do not blame the tools we use but the people who wield said tools.

An anarchist world if one ever came about would not be a world without said tools and if you believe as much then this is foolish.

Anarchy as I see it is a question of not a chaotic world, but a fairer world. Not with any predetermined ideology but one where both individual and community can exist in sync with one another. No hierarchy but at the same time not the chaos that comes with people's traditional thinking of anarchy.
hi mattias, welcome to the site.

there are many things in your comment i disagree with. how fun! :)

a. i really disagree that technology is just a tool. the definition that i think makes the most sense is that  technology is a relationship.

b. i disagree that tools are "just tools". that is, tools influence us. for example, it's much easier to kill someone with a gun than it is with a knife. or perhaps you've heard the saying that for a person with a hammer, every problem is a nail? both of those are examples of how tools influence how we think and act.

c. my experience with people who say that they want a fairer world has not led me to believe that they are anti-ideological. who determines what fair is? who polices (sorry for the loaded word) to make sure things stay fair? i look forward to your explaining more how that might work.
I don't entirely agree. The very existence of nuclear arms is violent, they aren't morally neutral.

Also, sure, technology would exist in an anarchist and/or communist world. But not the same ones. Different demands would lead to different products. Also, there are certain things capitalism does well, and we would never do as good a job at as capitalist, (nor would I want to.) An anarchist society will never be as efficient and building machines like, say, satellites, or bomber jets, as a capitalist society. The incredible expense in labor and resources and the vast number of unique, highly specialized agents required makes it a task better suited to capitalism or state communism.

As I've said before, though, this is not a bug. It's a feature.

"Technology doesn't have to be imposed on everyone, it can be localized."

perhaps that would be true of whatever technology you would have in your anarchist world. but if you consider current technology in the existing world, much of it absolutely is imposed on everyone. from the impacts of climate change, to the poisoning of the air and water, to laws making it illegal to ignore/avoid certain technologies (i recently read about a national building/zoning law in canada making it required to have electricity in homes! supposedly for smoke detectors and ventilation), to schools requiring the use of computers for kids, etc. not that i give a shit about laws, personally, but ...

not to mention the jobs that require you to have a footprint on social media to get hired, and/or require you to have a cell phone to be continually accessible...
so many ways...