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This article is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

Newton's Sleep (3): 'The Murderousness and Gadgetry of this Age' Raymond Tallis
 
I HAVE DISCUSSED the distaste for, and ignorance of, science and technology that is pandemic amongst humanist intellectuals. In this essay and the next, I shall examine the irrationality, the hypocrisy and the dangers of contemporary technophobia. George Steiner's passing reference to 'all that is literally bestial in the murderousness and gadgetry of this age' (Real Presences,p.49) is but an extreme example of a widespread hostility to the domination of the present age by technology. The moral differences between Auschwitz and Special Care Baby Units, between machinery for making antibiotics and those for delivering chemical weapons, are lost in the withering gaze of the Kulturkritik. It is symptomatic of how deep technophobia now goes and how widely it is accepted that Steiner merely nods affirmatively in the direction of an assumption that the ascendency of technology is linked with what he calls 'our diminished humanity'. This is a belief so universal that he does not have to argue it; its shallowness and irrationality are consequently safe from challenge.

For this reason, the defender of technology needs to begin by stating the obvious. That technology is the application of scientific principles to the creation of devices which will assist in feeding, clothing, watering, healing, entertaining, defending and informing the inhabitants of planet earth. That technologists search for the most general and reliable solutions to the problems with which they are confronted. That this requires unremitting self-discipline, eschewing idle fantasy (though not creativity) and daydreaming (but not imagination). That ...


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