#3590 Created 04/14/2014 Updated 04/15/2014
From the Technopoly neil postman
If we define ideology as set of assumptions of which we are barely conscious but which nonetheless directs our efforts to give shape an coherence to the world, then our most powerful ideological instrument is the technology of language itself. Language is pure ideology. It instructs us ot only in the names of things, but, more important, in what things can be names. It divides the world in subjects and number, and forms our ides of how we stand in relation to nature and to each other. In English grammar, for example, there are always subject who act, and verbs which are their actions, and objects which are acted upon. It is a rather aggressive grammar, which makes it difficult for those of us who must use it to think of the world as benign. We are obliged to know the world as mad e up of things pushing against and often attacking, one another. 123
Of course, most of us, most of the time, are unaware of how language does its work. We live deep within the boundaries of our linguistic assumptions and have little sense of how the world looks to those who speak a vastly different tongue. We t4end to assume that everyone sees the world in the same sway irrespective of differences in language. Only occasionally is the illusion challenged, as when the difference between linguistic ideologies becomes noticeable by one who has command over two language that different in their structure and history. 123-124
English (and other Western languages) have a particular ideological bias ... that we call "the scientific outlook." If the scientific outlook seems natural to you, as it does to me, it is because our language makes it appear so. What we think of as reasoning is determined by the character of our language.
Winner wrote "language has an ideological agenda that is apart to be hidden from view. In the case of language, that agenda is so deeply integrated into our personalities and world-view that special effort and, often, special training are required to detect its presence. Unlike television of the computer, language appears to be not an extension of our powers but simply a natural expression of who and what we are. The is the great secret of language: Because it comes from inside us, we believe it to be a direct, unedited, unbiased apolitical expression of how the world really is. A machine, on the other hand, is outside of us, clearly created by us, modifiable by us, even discardable us; it is easier to see how a machine re-creates the world in its own image. But in many respects, a sentence functions very much like a machine, and this is nowhere more obvious that in the sentences we call questions.
(non quote) Postman notes that students will always do better answering multiple-choice questions, because the structure of the question, and the available answers, provide context and hints at the correct answer, unlike a fill-in-the-blank question. A multiple-choice question arranges matters so that chances of knowing the right answer are improved. Postman writes that students will always be "smarter" with multiple-choice because of the bias in the way the question is presented. (non quote end) 125
Some technologies come in disguise. Rudyard Kipling called them "technologies in repose." They do not look like technologies, and because of that they do their work, for good or ill, without much criticism or even awareness. This applies not only ti IQ tests and to polls and to all systems of ranking and grading but to credit cards, accounting procedures, and achievement tests. It applies in the education world to what are called "academic courses." as well. A course i a technology for learning. I have "taught" about two hundred of them and do no know why each one lasts exactly fifteen weeks, or why each meets lasts exactly one hour and fifty minutes. If the answer is that this is done for administrative convenience, then a course is a fraudulent technology. It is put forward as a desirable structure for learning when in fact it is only a structure for allocating space, for convenient record-keeping, and for control of faculty time. The point is that the origin of and raison d'être for a course are concealed from us. We come to believe it exists for one reasons when it exists for quite another. 139
Language itself is a kind of technique--an invisible technology--and through it we achieve more than clarity and efficiency. We achieve humanity---or inhumanity. The question with language, as with any other technique or machine is and always has been, Who is to be the master? Will we control it, or will it control us? the argument, in short is not with technique. The argument is with the triumph of technique, with techniques that become sanctified and rule out the possibilities of other ones. Technique, like any other technology, tends to function independently of the system it serves. It become autonomous, in the manner of a robot that no longer obeys its master.
Second, management is an important example of how an "invisible technology" works subversively but powerfully to create a new way of doing tings, a classic instance of the tail wagging the dog. 142
...But the spirit behind this scientific ideal inspired several men to believe that the reliable and predictable knowledge that could be obtained about stars and atoms could be obtained about human behavior.
Among the best-known of these early "social scientists" were Claude-Henri de Sanit-Simon, Prosper Enfantin, and, of course, Auguste Comte. They held in common two beliefs to which Technoloply is deeply indebted: that the natural sciences provide a method to unlock the secrets of both the human heart and the direction of social life; that society can be rationally and humanely reorganized according to principles that social science will uncover. It it with these men that the idea of "social engineering" begins and the seeds of Scientism are planted. 146
By Scientism, I men three interrelate ideas that, taken together, stand as one of the pillars f Technopoly.
The first and indispensable idea is, as noted, that the methods of the natural sciences can be applied to the study of human behavior.
The second idea is, as noted, that social science generates specific principles which can be used to organize society on a rational and humane basis. This implies that technical means--mostly "invisible technologies" supervised by experts--ca be designed to control human behavior and set it on the proper course.
The third idea is that faith in science can serve as a comprehensive belief system that gives meaning to life, as well as a sense of well-being, morality, and even immortality.
[the use of "science" to describe what psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists is deceptive and confusing, says postman] 147
Using definitions proposed by British philosopher Michael Oakeshott, we may say that "processes" refers to those events that occur in nature, such as the orbiting of planets or the melting of ice or the production of chlorophyll in a leaf. Such processed have noting to do with human intelligence, are governed by immutable laws, and are, so to say, determined by the structure of nature. 147-148
By "practices" on the other hand, Oakeshott means the creations of people--those events that result from human decision and actions, such as writing or reading this book or forming a new government or conversing at dinner or falling in love. These events are a function of human intelligence interacting with environment, and although there is surely a measure of regularity in human affairs, such affairs are not determined by natural laws, immutable or otherwise.In other words, there is an irrevocable difference between a blink and a wink. A blink can be classified as a process; it has physiological causes which can be understood and explained is within the context of established postulate and theory. But a wink must be classified as a practice, filled with personal and to some extent unknowable meaning and, in any case, quite impossible to explain or predict in terms of causal relations. 148
[dd the image of science ]
Yet social "scientists" have consistently sought to identify themselves, and in more than name, with physicists, chemists, biologists, and others who inquire into the lawful regularities of the natural world. Why students of the human condition should do this is not hard to explain. The great successes of modern times--indeed, perhaps the only successes-- have come in medicine, pharmacology, biochemistry, astrophysics, and all the feats of mechanical, biological and electronic engineering made possible by the consistent application of the aims, assumptions, and procedures of natural science. These successes have attached to the name of science an awesome measure of authority, and to those who claim the title "scientist" a similar measure of respect and prestige. Beyond that lies the nineteenth-century hope that the assumptions and procedures of natural science might be applied without modification to the social world, to the same end of increased predictability and control, and with the same kind of engineering success. This hope has proved both misguided and illusory. . But the illusion is a powerful one, and given the psychological, social and material benefits that attach to the label "scientist," it is not hard to see why social researchers should find it hard to give it up. 159-160
And outside the authority of brute force which can scarcely be called moral, we seem have little left bu the authority of procedures. 161
Scientism is all of these, but something profoundly more. It is the desperate hope, and wish, and ultimately the illusory belief that some standardized set of procedures called "science" can provide us with an impeachable source of moral authority, a suprahuman basis for answers to questions like "What" is life, and when, and why?" "Why is death and suffering?" What is right and wrong to do ?" "What are good and evil ends?" "How ought we to think and feel and behave?" It is Scientism on a personal level when one says, as President Regan did that he personally believes that abortion is wrong but we must leave it to science to tell us when a fetus enters life. 161-162
In Technopoly, the trivialization of significant cultural symbols is largely conducted by commercial enterprise. This occurs not because corporate America is greedy but because the adoration of technology preempts the adoration of anything else. 165