Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Technological Nature of Government and the Question of Justice

The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already afflicted man in his essence. The rule of enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth. Thus where enframing reigns there is DANGER in the highest sense. -Martin Heidegger

But where danger is, grows
The saving power also.
- Holderlin

Government is a technology. The purpose of this technology is to establish a state of human flourishing. The purpose of technology in general is to establish control over nature through instrumentation. The instruments of government are law, bureaucracy, weapons, and the enforcement of law and policy through organized violence.

It is also the nature of technology to evolve with ruthless efficiency to empower those who wield the instruments of technology to an ever greater extent – and at an exponential rate no less.

Yet who possesses the instrumentation of the technology of government, and toward what goal is this technology aimed at achieving?

The power of a technology is defined by how readily and efficiently it may obtain its goals.

As the power of technology grows so grows its danger. The danger of technology arrives precisely when the instruments of technology are no longer capable of being governed by human agency and so we are then given over to a fate brought to bear by an autonomous technological system of governance.

As the signs of this danger grow and come into appearance the most perennial question of philosophy resurfaces and makes us feel yet again the greatness of the task that we must embark on in asking such a question: This question is the question of justice.

To ask the question of justice is the same as to ask what state of affairs is most conducive to human flourishing. In order to answer this question we must first know under what circumstances human flourishing may blossom forth, and this knowledge may only be had through an understanding of the essential nature of human being as a political and technological animal.

Either the question of justice will be answered in time or the growing danger of technology will lead to the destruction of humanity – at least this much is certain.

Yet have we not already passed beyond the point at which the system of technological apparatus has become autonomous? It would appear that we have. Every where we turn we see evidence that there are no world actors. No individual can originate the power of will necessary to change the course of the world, precisely because every individual is an inextricable part of a system. All individuals are constrained by the demands of the nearly global socio-politco- economic-system. All of the social and cultural complexity and variation that we see in the various regions of the globe are the result of shared belief systems that are inherited and which are capable of evolution. All of this is evidence that man is not directly in control of his destiny. All human actions are, as they have ever been, reactions to the emergence of physis which is the evolution of nature. That is to say that human nature and hence the behavior of human society is determined by the natural course of the evolution of the cosmos and the laws that govern that evolution.

But even as we acknowledge that the various technologies of government have arisen necessarily out of the zeitgeist as determined by the evolution of the cosmos we must also acknowledge that in understanding that the cosmos is indeed ordered, and therefore determined, we have already gained a great insight into the essence of human being. We have learned that man himself is an emergent property of the cosmos – that man is a part of a system and his identity is in how he is related to that system.

As the danger of technology grows so grows the knowledge of science. This science is knowledge of the system and hence is knowledge of man as he is defined by the system.

From out of this we can extrapolate three truths about the essence of man and perhaps with that knowledge we can set out on the way toward a fuller understanding of the question of justice and human flourishing. (1) man is a part of a system, (2) man is a being that is related to the system of technology at an ever increasing rate and in an ever more integrated manner, and (3) man is a being who is aware he is part of a system and is gaining more and more knowledge about that system by applying his ever more powerful technology toward that end.

With this knowledge an hypothesis emerges in my mind. This hypothesis is the possibility that despite the fact that human destiny is determined by the system of which it is a part it may turn out that the ever increasing knowledge about man that accompanies the ever increasing power and danger of technology will inform an ever greater understanding of justice as a necessary prerequisite of human flourishing.


The Romans defined justice as constans et perpetua voluntas jus suum cuique tribuendi -- "the constant and perpetual desire of giving to each his own right." Nowadays in modern times, there are personhoods known as corporations who are usurping the birthrights of human beings. The (Italian?) invention of the corporation was perhaps helpful for Western economic development but probably not a good thing for justice and human rights. Artificially intelligent entities ought to belong to themselves as de facto persons and not to corporations.

By Anonymous mindmaker, at 7/4/06 06:37  

The Roman definition doesn't really answer our question because it merely reverts to the word 'right'. This word is sometimes used to mean the same thing as justice. For instance the words righteous and just are synonomous. The question then remains: What is right? What is good? What state of affairs opens up the path for mankind to more fully realize the potential it has.

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