Friday, January 28, 2011

Progress through Technology

Over the last century, our technological advances have risen almost exponentially. At this rate, it is hard to see how the world will look like in the next century—will it be a beautiful utopia without any problems or will it be absent of human life completely? The answer lies in how we will progress over time. “Progress is not a neutral term; it moves toward specific ends, and these ends are defined by the possibilities of ameliorating the human condition. Advanced industrial society is approaching the stage where continued progress would demand the radical subversion of the prevailing direction and organization of progress” (Marcuse 16). I believe that Marcuse is trying to say that eventually we will reach a certain breaking point, in which technology will be able to pacify human society to infinitesimal levels. This is the point in which humans will be able to choose which future they will attain. To reach an ideal world, he proposes that the political world and technologic world have to work in methodical synchronicity; to create a truly totalitarian universe in which society and nature—mind and body—are kept in a state of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe (Marcuse 18).

In analyzing Butler, by Marcuse’s definition, it is clear which progressive path humanity has chosen in this alternative universe. They’re progress is quickly retroverting back to primitive times, despite the technological levels they have obtained. I could see Marcuse criticizing the government as the major problem of these consequences. The government, instead of implementing its booming technology to solve the many problems the country has, it spends most of its resources trying to escape the problem—the colonization of other planets. In my opinion, even if this alternative does miraculously prosper, it would not matter because there is nothing stopping society from repeating its same mistakes. There needs to be another factor that would inhibit such behavior.

Parable of the Sower offers a very biological example of how human kind can progress. Of course the dramatized illustration of this in the novel is the spread of hyperempathy disorder, a mutation that can benefit humanity. Whether or not I agree that this particular condition would assist humanity is irrelevant. My point is that, in a world of chaos and survival, substantial evolution would finally be able to occur in humans via natural selection. “In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix first must burn (Butler 153).” This view of progress, demonstrated by Butler, directly contradicts Marcuse’s view that technology can only take two paths, as even if it takes the dystopian path, it can open a new one through biologic means.

That, however, is the big picture I got from Butler’s text. Butler herself, through her protagonist, Lauren, would probably define progress as humanity coming together and overcoming petty differences such as race, sex, and age. She incorporates a very diverse group of people into Lauren’s traveling community—Whites, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and even mixed races—all of varying age and sex. Her ideal way of progressing humanity is to start anew and slowly spread the ideas of Earthseed throughout a world that would finally be able to accept a radical change. The role of technology becomes a necessity in this scenario, as it becomes essential prove superiority over any other groups; this is why the community tries to arm itself to the teeth, despite them not looking for opposition.

I think Butler and Marcuse defined progress similarly, but the means as to how to obtain it were pretty different throughout. In one of Marcuse’s concluding points, he states, “Under this aspect, neutral scientific method and technology become the science and technology of a historical phase which is being surpassed by its own achievements” (Marcuse 233). In other words, I think Marcuse is reiterating that technology, if not controlled correctly by its people and the government, can quickly dissolve any past accomplishments that were made by human civilization. Butler, on the other hand, shows a world where this is taking place; however, she offers hope through her characters that even in the worst of times, humanity can pull through and start over.


  1. Your grasp of Marcuse on 16 seems quite good; on 18, though, he's signaling that he's not talking about his own views by using the world "totalitarian", which nobody ever uses in a positive way.

    In the 2nd paragraph, I think you're probably right that Marcuse would oppose space colonization (at least for a while), but it's a little unclear *why* you're using that as an example - to open up contrast between Marcuse and Butler, maybe?

    I like this line: "This view of progress, demonstrated by Butler, directly contradicts Marcuse’s view that technology can only take two paths, as even if it takes the dystopian path, it can open a new one through biologic means." You're going straight to Butler's interest in the utopian possibilities within dystopia, which is good. Let me make the point, though, that Marcuse has a pretty similar point of view.

    The shift to the non (or even anti) technological view of progress toward the end is very interesting. I'm not 100% sure where you're going with it, though - which leads into my final problem. In the end, you establish a reasonable contrast between Marcuse and Butler. That's fine - and then suddenly it stops. I'm really not sure what *your* point of view is, even though you have a reasonable view of both Butler and Marcuse. A good start - and then it stops before you finish.

  2. I think that the comparison of the use of technology in each of these novels is very relevant to the core of each of these author's ideologies. They both, especially Marcuse, consider the development of technology a pivotal point in society but differ at some points in how they feel it should be used and what its ultimate purposes or benefits are.

    I think you did a fairly good job of defining each author's point of view but I didn't get the feel that there was a real and active comparison going on. This is definitely something I'd like to read about further but you definitely need to make a few points of concrete contrast between the authors (using quotes or events in Butlers case). It might also help to identify how crucial technology is in the authors' opinions of salvaging or developing a society.