The Folly of Technological Luddism

The front page article of today’s Sunday Review section of the Times bears the title: “The Perils of Perfection.” In the article, the author laments that: “Silicon Valley’s technophilic gurus and futurists have embarked on a quest to develop the ultimate patch to the nasty bugs of humanity.”

I’m always amazed that Luddites such as the author (Jacques Ellul, John Ralston Saul, Ted Kaczynski, etc.) always, always serve up the exact same tripe: that problems make us human, inconsistency makes us human, that too much perfection leads to totalitarian states. And just like Ellul, Saul, and Kaczynski, the article’s author runs quickly to hyperbole and Godwin’s Law: “… imperfection might be the price to pay for a half-functioning democracy. There is, after all, little partisanship in North Korea.”

Point one: I cannot even conceive of the backstabbing politics going on every day in Pyongyang – little partisanship in North Korea? In such a political hellhole, it is every man for himself. The author cannot be more wrong.

Point two: How many problems (that Silicon Valley engineers are working on) rob us of our humanity every day? Disease, disaster, delay – the list is endless. These problems make us human? Please.

Point three: Does the author truly have such faith in technology that he thinks the really hard problems are going to be solved so soon? If so, I have news for you: your faith is much stronger than any Silicon Valley engineer’s. (I should know, I am one.)

Toward the end of the article, the author names his bogeyman: “The ideology of solutionism.” Well, I tend to think that wading in and working on people’s problems is an immeasurably better “ideology” than Luddism.

And the most powerful tool that Silicon Valley wields is capitalism.