The ills of pragmaticism

Douthwaite doesn’t explicitly state that technological fixes are necessary- rather that they work temporarily and may offer an “important contribution” (Douthwaite, p 32) to solving social problems. He acknowledges that technological fixes are “not real solutions”, that “we need both types of understanding, technological and social”, and that it is a “terrible temptation to assume the fix will last” (Douthwaite, p 32). Johnston and Huesemann would add that technological fixes have social and political dimensions and implications, that technological fixes obscure the nature of social problems and in doing so fail to solve them, and that relying on technological fixes to social problems inevitably results in more problems. Johnston cautions that technological fixes are typically sought within the interest of maintaining the status quo (Johnston, p 53); that is to say, technological fixes work in favor of existing power-dynamics rather than for humanity as a whole. Huesemann urges us to recognize that there is no separation between humans and the natural world, and that whatever we do in regards to the environment will eventually make its way back to us. He reminds us that billions of years of natural selection have worked to ensure optimal conditions for life, and that disrupting this process inevitably does damage (Huesemann, p 6).

Technological fixes are pragmatic adjustments: they do not consider the multi-faceted nature of social problems, or seek to address their ultimate causes. The repercussions of technological fixes create new social problems, which are then addressed in the same way. Douthwaite uses the example of solving the issue of drunk driving with alcohol detectors and ignition interlocks (Douthwaite, p 31)- a shallow solution that does not address the underlying ills of a society which has produced individuals that feel compelled to drive drunk. The underlying problem will persist, and find new and damaging ways of circumventing the technological fix. Technological fixes also assume that we are able to out-run our dependence on the finiteness of the natural world, which is only plausible if we make it off the planet before destroying ourselves. Technological fixes are encouraged within the capitalist framework, which has proven to be unsustainable. However, the race against climate change doesn’t seem to allow for time to thoroughly reflect upon the consequences of our actions from this point on. I tend to think that until we are able to confront our consumption in a real, meaningful way- a true paradigm shift- technological fixes will just stall the inevitable.

Leave a Reply