Democracy and Nature: The International Journal of Politics and Ecology, Vol. 4, No. 1, issue 10 (1997)



Democracy and Nature, continuing the discussion it started in no 8 about the contours of an inclusive democracy for today, initiates in this issue a dialogue on the all-important issue of the nature of technoscience in today’s society and contrasts it with a democratic science and technology.

Nikos Raptis, in a very comprehensive examination of the historical evolution of technology, periodises technological history in three stages: the past, which extends from primitive times up to 1879, the present, from 1879 to date and the future (if there is one) . The criterion that the author uses to distinguish between the past and the present is the emergence of the big corporation, which has been directly related, on the one hand, to the development of science, which made the big corporation possible and, on the other, to technology, whose form and content has in effect been determined by the big corporation. In the process, the author shows the links between today’s science and technology with the present political and economic oligarchy and contrasts it with the possibility of an inclusive democracy and the implied democratic science and technology.

Hugh Lacey makes a significant distinction between what he calls ‘wide-ranging understanding’, which reflects the dominant form of science that is dominated by the values of the capitalist system and particularly the value of control, versus ‘full understanding’ which reflects an alternative science, which may be linked with more liberating social and technological practices. Correspondingly, he distinguishes between advanced technology, which is informed by wide-ranging scientific understanding, versus appropriate technology, which not only is informed by versions of full understanding but also is characterised by social relations that “dialectically further the well-being of the poor majority, rather than dialectically generate class inequalities and the tendency to privilege the interests of such groups as the rich and the military”. However, although Lacey’s analysis provides useful insights on alternative conceptions of science and technology, he does not seem to link the transition from the dominant conceptions of science and technology with a change in the broader institutional framework (market economy, representative democracy). Instead, taking the existing institutional framework for granted, he discusses ways of changing non-neutral institutions, like science and technology, through a change in our values with respect to them. But, one may argue, a change in the broader institutional framework is the necessary condition for a change in the value system that the dominant conceptions of science and technology embody. This implies that a movement to change our values with respect to science and technology is bound to fail unless it links the demand for such a change with a new liberatory project, like the project for an inclusive democracy.

The first aim of my (Takis Fotopoulos) contribution is to examine the claims about the neutrality and autonomy of science and technology in an effort to show that a democratic conception of technoscience has to avoid both technological as well as social determinism. The second aim is to consider the important issue whether the democratic nature of technoscience is inherently determined or whether is instead determined by the subjective meaning assigned to it by a democratic society. The conclusion derived by the article is that a democratic science and technology pressupooses a political, economic and ecological democracy, as well as a democracy in the social realm, i.e. an inclusive democracy.

Muhammad Ahmad examines the racial implications of the technological revolution with particular reference to the Afro-Americans. Starting from the classical Marxist theory of imperialism, his analysis highlights the structural factors which make the black proletariat particularly vulnerable to the economic implications of the internationalization of the market economy, neoliberal policies and the technological revolution. Furthermore, it is shown that the intensification of competition brought about by internationalization, in combination with the end of the cold war and changes in technology, have increased racial stratification within the world labor market. Although one may raise serious reservations about the analytical tools mentioned in the analysis (crisis of overproduction and underconsumption, falling rate of profit etc) and their empirical validity in today’s conditions, still, the article’s contribution in documenting the racial dimension of the inernationalization of the market economy and of the technological revolution is significant.

Costas Kavoulakos, in a systematic examination of Habermas’s views with respect to the society-Nature relationship, shows the antinomies of his critical theory on the matter. The author’s conclusion is that “the analysis of the antinomies of the Habermasian oeuvre demonstrates that it is not possible to distinguish the problem of technical and cognitive approach to Nature from the wider analysis of the institutional framework of a specific, historical society (and) in this sense, ‘the change in our attitude towards Nature’ lies in a relationship of mutual implication, together with a more general social change in a liberating direction”. In the process, Kavoulakos shows that the Habermasian “critical” theory not only takes for granted the existing institutional framework of political and economic oligarchy but, in consistency with this stand, also adopts the neutrality of technology thesis, in order to conclude that there is no science or technics more humane than the existent! However, although the author correctly criticises the anthropocentricity of Habermas’s communicative ethics he leaves open the issue whether an ‘objective’ ethics could be the foundation of the ecological ethics he calls for. This is a particularly important issue given the incompatibility of an objective ethics with the author’s stand in favour of social and individual autonomy as the basis of a truly democratic society.

Jhan Hochman rightly criticises Donna Haraway’s adoption of an effectively ‘neutrality of technology’ thesis which differentiates between means (high technology) and ends in order to derive the familiar conclusion that it is just capitalist (or state socialist) ‘ends’ that have to be blamed. Still, Hochman’s analysis seems to fall into the usual alternative trap, that it is just the means that have to be blamed. This is the impression one gets from a statement like “technology, in effect or intent, increasingly means a weapon leading to mass destruction” --a statement which is not qualified by any distinction being made between capitalist technology and an alternative technology that could be developed in a different socio-economic framework. It is therefore obvious that the author’s dismissal of the projects for libertarian municipalism and inclusive democracy as ‘grandiose leftism’ simply reflects the same failure to see that the socio-economic institutional framework and the values embodied by technoscience are integral parts of the same totality which no amount of individual action could ever effectively ‘environmentalise’ and ‘socialise’.