Does Technology Threaten Politics?

In 2008, the global financial crisis occurred which has its roots in the subprime mortgage crisis and bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Eventually, financial capitalism failed as a consequence of excessive globalization. Unexceptionally, Japan, where I was born, has been greatly influenced by the crisis. Even though you might not believe it, Toyota, which represents a company in Japan, fell into the red. Thus, undoubtedly, Japan is also in a major depression. In addition to global collective concerns such as climate change, and world poverty, Japan has the numbers of deep-rooted problems such as a growing gap nationwide, more than 30,000 suicide victims annually, an increasing number of violent crimes, and so on.

Why do such unexpected and undesired situations happen? That is because human experience and knowledge are limited to understand relativities between all phenomena happening in this universe. This uncertainty is a reality and people never been inescapable from it no matter how much we endure. However, people want the certainty for the future and started inventing “technology”. Today, it edges into our livelihood naturally and has huge impacts on it. We might be able to say that politics is also affected by technology in the same manner.

Does technology threaten politics? I can say that it can be. It depends on how people deal with it. That is, since technology itself is neutral without humanity, it can become both opportunity and thread with us. Technology was invented for the human prosperity and, actually, it has made our livelihood convenient, effective, and flexibly. For example, information technology enables us to communicate quickly with a terminal connected with network such as computer and cell phone no matter when and where we are. However, as history shows, technology has changed or destructed physical objects such as landscape, buildings and even human with development, wars and so on. Also industrialization as a technology made it possible to produce a huge amount of goods at a time with less people. It has actually produced many jobs for people but managers who seek just for profit tend employ more technologies than workers for efficiency to produce more. Therefore, as long as people utilize technology, which means it could threaten us, we need to ensure that politics is defended against it.

Crick describes, in the book “In Defense of Politics”, “technology” in politics as “Science”, “Technology”, and “Administration”. Each of them has a visible and fixed object that is some kind of “system”, “tool” or “form”. In general, “technology” is a “tool” invented by people with existing scientific principles to the production of tools and goods. “Science” is a kind of “form” which people have discovered in this universe with existing knowledge. “Administration” is an existing system of how to manage any form of community effectively. We tend to believe that these technologies promise certainty by being testable by experiments and work also at realms in our livelihood in the same manner. Crick says, “’Technology’ holds that all the important problems facing human civilization are technical, and that therefore they are all soluble on the basis of existing knowledge or readily attainable knowledge” (p. 93). However, in fact, technology can apply only to the environments or circumstances in the certain scope that is within human’s existing experience, knowledge or imagination. Thus, technology is not universal something. There is no assurance that technology works correctly at new environments or circumstances because there are a lot of facts that have not been proven in science especially of universe, environment and even human.

This uncertainty is a reality. Our society and environment are formed by various calculations by various experts in economics, science, and politician in their own way. However, we face a lot of uncertain and undesired situations as illustrated in the first paragraph of this paper. Interestingly, also there is something that falls short of expectations from those experts positively. For example, Curitiba, Brazil had been facing considerable problems derived from depending on society based on automobile, which was established by a certain norm called “American Dream” invented by a handful of experts and politicians as a kind of technology.  The problems include a massive traffic jam that requires extra hours to get the destination comparing to the case of public transportation and ineffective development pattern based on automobiles that makes people live a place away from any destinations as well as danger of traffic accident, air pollution and noise etc. From this point, the city effected sweeping reform of transportation from the automobile-oriented way to public-transit-oriented one. Experts in the city expected that it would be long way to go but, as a result, people in the city adjusted the new environment only for a week. This strongly demonstrates that the uncertainty is a reality even with collective knowledge and experience of experts or scientists.

However, people still depend on such experts for gaining certainty. As long as we do it, experts would try to influence on politics with the scientific principles with a semblance of reality to control such passive folks. Today, technology has been spread all over the world as a doctrine that power and production are the same thing. Crick states that “The modern state is simply the governing committee of the bourgeoisie; all power is economics and economics is production”  (p. 94).  Many of the bourgeoisies would try to gain more economic power with technology such as industrialization. Some might seek for power more aggressively with considerable ways that include backstabbing other people.

In this condition, people still overestimate experts but experts become more arrogant with their underestimation of citizen. Crick mentions that, “The complete concept of ‘Technology’ is that of all society itself as one factory of which the state is manager” (p. 94). In this case, the workers who gain benefits from the factory that produces the needs and happiness of them don’t have a right to produce anything without the manager’s skills, direction, and permission. The workers who cannot create any form of certainty by themselves still depend on the manager who could show a certain form whose certainty could prove at the limited environments and circumstances.

What are the disadvantages in such a situation? Crick introduces the position of Saint-Simon in 1821 that is, “In the new political order … the decisions must be the result of scientific demonstrations totally independent of human will … Under such an order we shall see the disappearance of the three main disadvantages of the present political system, that is, arbitrariness, incapacity, and intrigue.”  (p. 96). This means that since technology is utilized as “safety of democracy” not as something necessities for society, the potential of politics is limited. Saint-Simon viewed “arbitrariness” as “no more than product of diversity”, “incapacity” simply as “some sense of limitations”, and “intrigue” as “no more than the conflict of differing interests in any even moderately free state” (p. 96). These disadvantages create the safety of democracy but it just means people are kept away from politics without freedom by experts’ attempts to control politics even in a democratic state.

In states with totalitarian ideologies, these tendencies are obvious. Crick says, “Totalitarian ideologies make claims to be the basis of a world order, to offer a comprehensive explanation of everything” (p. 99). Under fascism, that market-like structure in politics already mentioned above can be seen in a way that personal rule dominates the state. In this condition, the personal authority of the ruler is more critical element than the institutions of the state to decide what to do. Hague and Harrop argue in the book “Political Science: A comparative introduction” that, “Once Hitler and Mussolini achieved power, state and party merged as personal vehicles of the supreme ruler” (p. 349). This is the most obvious way of “top-down” decision-making. In this case, the ruler might refuse any advices not only from ordinary citizen but also even from experts because he can make decision on his own way without any limitation or restraint. This means that the state is controlled only by the ruler who is originally an ordinary man. Since any ordinary man is limited to have skills, knowledge, view points, imaginations, and experiences, the fascist state is the most obvious case of Saint-Simon argued arbitrariness, incapacity, and intrigue.

In a communist state as one of the totalitarian forms, there is an institutional structure unlike the fascist states.  There are the executive, legislature and the judiciary but they are less well-developed than in democracies. One of the most critical differences comparing with free states is that there is a ruling communist party that dominates the formal institutions of the state. In this situation, the power is deconcentrated into more than one person unlike the fascist states. Also, skills, knowledge, view points, imaginations, and experiences from other people could be more shared to quickly adjust to new environments and circumstances than that of the fascist states. However, as long as the power is concentrated and elements for decision-making are dominated only among a certain group or individuals, the nature of arbitrariness, incapacity, and intrigue remain in the state.

There can be the danger of technology against politics in free societies. Rollins states in his article “Yes, Play Politics in the White House” that, “Believe it or not, most people in a White House are not from the world of politics. They are lawyers and experts on the budget and foreign policy”. In this point, it can be understood that those experts have unignorable influences on politics. The most obvious form of technology to be able to be seen in free states is “the respectable disguise of academic social science. Crick states that, “Politcs is, to so many social scientists, a kind of disease: society is a patient ridden with tensions and political events are the unreal, neurotic fixations by which it tries to rationalize these contradictions” (p. 100). Such social scientists know how to convince people with the rational, effective, and flexible ideas in their doctrine even though these ideas are not applicable to all environments and circumstances. So they attempt to prioritize on their scientific principle rather than citizen participation to make decision in politics by making people believe that the principle is certain.

There are two options in free states when experts utilize such their own scientific principles in the realm of politics. The first one is to cheat on people with the notions to have more power. This is the way of making improper use of technology I discussed so far. The second one is to try to use it to change society in a favorable manner also for people. Al Gore, ex-vice-president of the United States, tries to organize a bunch of scientists in the environmental field to gain as many scientific evidences on global warming as possible. At this point, what he does is the same as what modern politicians, good or bad, try to do. However, Gore utilized these scientific evidences to make people wake up to take action, hosting thousands of lectures to introduce the evidences to the “people” in the world. As a result, he earned Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. This indicates that, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, whether technology works effectively or not depends on how people deal with it. Therefore, the critical difference is that how significant such politicians and experts view for participation of citizens.

Currently, those who live in the today’s world cannot forecast how cup of sorrows will be brought into them next by such artificial macro forces and there is no end to the concerns unless they can handle such a problematic governance situation. To make the future more certain, we need as many view points from citizens as possible. That is why citizen participation is required. The need of it would be obvious with “participatory governance” as one of the most desirable example. The significance of participatory governance can be showed also by contrast with design-centered approaches based on top-down approach such as the New Urbanism. For example, these top-down approaches encourage many people to benefit at one time. However, these approaches cannot cover all concerns and problems residents have at each area unless these are conducted as a people-based strategy in bottom-up way. Also, for instance, the New Urbanism cannot sustain desirable outcomes over a lengthy period but just produce immediate outcomes in a short period of time. On the other hand, participatory governance can create a path that leads more desirable outcomes in the end even though quick effects are hardly produced.

Participatory governance draws many players in different interests into one meeting place and encourages conflicts to be arisen among them, which strengthen the decision-making. For example, at the Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee (TPAC), a committee for transportation planning in technical aspects in the Portland Metropolitan region, considerable conflicts are inevitable to be arisen because of the nature of the meeting. The committee is made up of representatives from local jurisdictions such as counties and cities, implementing agencies such as Oregon Department of Transportation, and citizens. Actually, some members made an objection against numerous claims made by speakers at some points, saying “It is not true at all!” in a straightforward manner. It is always accompanied by pain. However, such conflicts are essential in a process to advance projects step by step. Portland has advanced its planning steadily based on the participatory governance. Especially, as for the transportation system, MAX, the extensive light rail transit in Portland metropolitan region, extends its service coverage every couple of years in this decade. It is really a surprising fact to those who do not have good governance in their city like me. The success in transportation system in Portland metropolitan region is largely originated in efforts of the participatory governance. What it does is to bring all players in one place and identify and share essential problems and concerns each member has by encouraging conflicts to occur.

Politics is uncertainty of future. To make the future more certain, at least, citizen participation is required. Technology is consistently only a supplementary element for decision-makings. Crick discusses, “science and politics are different ways of looking at a common reality for different purposes” (p. 103). Technology or science must not be more prioritized than citizen participation. Rather, people have to decide whether each technology should be used or not through the process of collecting as many view points as possible from citizens and delivering what should be more prioritized politically among citizens. The danger of technology against politics is derived from the pride or arrogance of experts. Crick mentioned in the book as a part of his conclusion of the chapter 5, “What they are in fact doing, faced with all sorts of complicated choices and alternatives as to how to allocate scarce resources, is to make political decisions without the institutions and procedures which register actual social demands honestly – a place for people to speak without fear for themselves or the interests of their group” (p. 110). Therefore, as long as we utilize technology, which means it could threaten us, we need to ensure that politics is defended against it.


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