Douthwaite’s Controversy: A Glimpse into the Conundrum of Technological Fixes

Michael and Joyce Huesemann would critique Douthwaite’s technological fix argument by showing how approaching social problems with a reductionist mindset is ineffective due to Barry Commoner’s laws of ecology. Commoner’s first law, “Everything is connected to everything else,” fundamentally undermines reductionism, as it requires reducing the problem to its independent parts for analysis (Huesemann & Huesemann, p. 3). Commoner’s third and fourth laws also detail the ultimate dangers of technological fixes to natural ecosystems as the organisms have not evolved and adapted to the rapid changes, which result in the destruction of these ecosystems (Huesemann & Huesemann, p. 5-8). Sean Johnston would take a more cautious, historically-based approach towards critiquing Douthwaite’s argument. Johnston would argue that history has shown a recent growing lack of trust in technology due to ethical concerns and undervalued societal impacts (Johnston, p. 52). However, Johnston would not completely disregard technological fixes, as history has proven that when used ethically and after considering the societal and cultural impact, technological fixes can solve big problems.

The most compelling reason I’ve seen as to why technological fixes have negative repercussions on societal and environmental systems is that the historical context behind these systems were not considered when these fixes were concocted and implemented. By this, I mean that the reasoning for why a social problem exists or how an ecosystem came to be due to evolution and adaptation was ignored during the creation process for the technological fix. However, this implies that there is a correct way to create and implement technological fixes that solve large scale societal and environmental problems, which includes in depth research into the societal, natural, economical, and ethical factors at play within the world of the problem. If this were the case, I believe that technology would serve as an extremely powerful tool able to be used by both technical engineers and social engineers to collaboratively solve social and environmental issues.

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