Thursday 30 December 2021

Modern Technology Equals Materialism

I don't comment in many places online but I recently did so on a good article on William Briggs's site as it addressed one of my concerns, that being the nefarious influence of modern technology on the soul or, better put, on awareness of the soul. The article was basically saying that none of events of the last two years could have taken the form they did without technology which has aided, abetted and made possible the agenda from lockdowns to pecks to incessant testing to the possibility of home-working etc. This could not have happened until the last few years which makes one wonder if the reason the thing broke out when it did was precisely that it could now happen. Be that as it may, the fact is that even ten years ago we would just have had to tough it out and get on with life as we have had to do on previous occasions. And it is quite possible that it would all be over by now instead of being dragged out seemingly endlessly.

My comment was not to with the way modern technology facilitated what Mr Briggs correctly calls "the madness of rulers, Experts and ourselves" but the whole notion of technology itself. I said as follows. "Technology equals materialism, it’s as simple as that. Yes, I know stone age man had tools but that’s not what I mean. A line is crossed when the technology we use is no longer made by hand and the average person cannot understand how it is made. Then we find we have separated ourselves from the world of spirit and embedded ourselves in matter. That is why it is a mistake to say that technology is neutral, it’s how we use it that matters. The sort of technology we have and use inevitably bends our minds into its shape. The more sophisticated the technology, the more it separates us from God. The only way to protect against this is to be very aware of it."

My point was that technology as we practice it now is not a neutral tool that can be used for good or ill. That theory is often put forward but I regard it as a grave error. The sort of technology we use determines the sort of people we are or the sort we become. A materialistic technology, one based on machines, makes a materialistic people. It cannot fail to do this because it makes assumptions about life that we tacitly absorb when we use it. It even moulds our minds into the form it takes so to say that it is neutral is absurd. 

Another commenter disagreed with me maintaining that it is not technology but what we do with it that matters. In other words, the technologies are neutral argument I have mentioned. He said we are made in God's image and our technologies reflect God's creativity. This may seem superficially plausible but ignores the effect that using a materialistic technology has on the soul however you use it, as well as the mindset that creates and sustains such a technology. What is that mindset? Human beings probably could have done this kind of thing long ago but did not think it worthwhile because we were more spiritual focussed. Only when we lost that focus did we pursue the path of dominating matter by artificial means.

 In order to clarify my original post I replied that I was talking about modern technology which I regard as an aberration which is not to say that it shouldn't have happened at all but it may have been a phase to go through and grow out of relatively quickly rather than get stuck in as has happened. Was it just a coincidence that modern technology arose at the same time as atheism, materialism and the decline of Christian understanding and it directly supported these things? The technology we develop and use does affect our relationship with the world and our approach to God so it really isn’t what we do with it that matters. It does things with us, with us and to us, and a materialistic technology will materialise our minds. It dehumanises us and desanctifies the world. It separates us from both God and Nature. That is what it has clearly done and is doing more than ever now. 

God certainly did make us in his image but we constantly distort that image. I do believe that a spiritual technology can be developed (it may even have existed in previous civilisations), but it will not be mechanistic as our current technology is. A materialistic technology produces materialistic people.

My commenting correspondent said that "Materialism implies that living in matter or desiring things made of matter is bad. But if the Creation is good, then how can that possibly be? It can’t." To which I replied that the Creation is certainly good but we live in a fallen world. Matter is good but only when seen as the expression of spirit not when seen as its own reality.

I know that an argument of this sort can go on forever. I can be accused of hypocrisy because I use technology when I criticise the basis of it, but I live in the modern world and have to adjust to it up to a point. That doesn't mean that I can't envisage a situation better than the one we have. Do you not know that if our consciousness changed the world would also change? A spiritualised consciousness would produce a more spiritualised world. The physical environment would actually adapt to our minds. We cannot use the tools of materialism without the strong likelihood of becoming materialised ourselves.


Anonymous said...

I am not at all convinced that you have in fact thought this through.
If you actually did believe that the use of technology itself "dehumanises and desanctifies the world" then writing a blog on a computer and publishing it through the vast, complex physical infrastructure of the internet is surely the last thing you would do?
Unless you are deliberately trying to drag us all down, including yourself?
From what I have read here, that doesn't seem to be your intention, but then of course, I only know your views as expressed through highly advanced technology...

William Wildblood said...

You haven't read the last paragraph properly which tried to address just this point. I live in the modern world and have to use its tools but that doesn't make the fact of modern technology any less materialistic. Maybe I am using technology to point out its drawbacks because that is all I can use in the modern world? And, of course, technology has many benefits. I am not disputing that. What I am saying is its overall effect is spiritually corrupting. I could write potentially spiritually corrupting but I actually believe that it is worse than that. It inevitably does take us away from God and Nature, the only question is whether we can limit that or not.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - A particular aspect of this business, that I had not considered until I read Jeremy Naydler, is electricity.

It is really astonishing how electricity has taken over our lives, and (still increasingly) dictates much of what we do and the way we think.

Taking a lead from Rudolf Steiner, Naydler also talks about the mysterious and dark nature of electricity itself - how unnatural and 'abstract' it is; how it was regarded as sinister and destructive by ancient peoples (in so far as they knew anything about it).

I have not really thought this argument through - but I think there is definitely 'something in it'. Some modern lives are almost-completely mediated by electricity. It is rather as if demonic powers can 'work through' electricity, can use it to gain access and influence...

Morten Nielsen said...

The Amish in America are living without advanced technology right now, so the use of it is surely a choice and not a necessity.
At this moment I am in Denmark and I believe you are somewhere in Britain, so even if we both yelled rather loudly, I doubt we would hear one another at all. For this purpose technology is indeed necessary and not optional.
The claim you are making is that this technology "inevitably does take us away from God and Nature" and that this can at best be limited but not prevented. If true, this would mean that every time you write something on your blog, that act in itself takes you away from God and Nature, even if the thought you are expressing is meant to lead in the opposite direction.
And the same would be true for those of us who read what you write.
If you actually do believe this, are you not taking a very serious risk by writing a blog at all?

Matter in itself is not evil. If it were, the incarnation would be evil, and Christian faith would be false. In Luke 24 Christ makes it very clear that even after his resurrection he is still a man of flesh and bone, and not a pure spirit.
Obviously spirit is above matter in a rightly ordered world as well as in a rightly ordered person, but spirit does not and should not exclude matter. Rather, spirit should sanctify matter by putting it in beautiful forms and to good uses.

I would define technology as matter shaped by spirit according to some intent, so good intent would lead to good technology. By this understanding, your claim that all technology is (at least somewhat) corrupting would mean that spirit cannot afford to interact with matter, and hence cannot sanctify it. Would you agree with this, or do you perhaps use the word technology in some different sense?

In my opinion, the real problem in the rotting carcass of the West is that the vast majority of people and pretty much all of the rulers have turned away from God. This corruption is a spiritual choice. Corrupting material technology is simply a means to distract from the spiritual pain caused by that choice.

Chent said...

I think that the problem is that modern technology requires modes of cognition that are antithetical to the modes of cognition required by spirituality.

When you drown in lots and lots of information, you cannot process each piece of information with the depth it was processed by our ancestors. They could reflect about a topic for days and get to the core. We are beings that process (or discard) lots of information very quickly but very shallowly. We are efficient but not that deep.

This is opposite to the religious thought processes, which demand tranquility and depth to consider things in detail. This is why apologetics is not that popular. People use slogans ("the Spaghetti Flying Monster") so they don't have to think things through: they don't have the time nor the inclination. They use their emotions to govern their behavior, as Bruce said in a recent post.

This is also opposite to meditation and contemplation, that require that the mind is still but aware.

Since the Internet texts are relatively short, you reduce the attention span, which is also bad for spirituality.

In addition, most people don't read on the Internet: they only watch videos or play games. Religious thought processes require imagination, which is stimulated by the written language (or oral narrations in "primitive" people). I see the lack of imagination in my students every year. It gets worse and worse.

It is easy to diagnose a problem, but much harder to find a solution. I don't see any way out of this.

William Wildblood said...

Well, I'm glad to have provoked some comments! To respond, first of all I think that Bruce's remark about the 'the mysterious and dark" effects of electricity on consciousness deserves serious consideration. I had long intuitively felt that something about electricity was almost demonic but Jeremy Naydler's book confirmed this for me. It's a very controversial thought even among spiritually concerned people but I do believe there is something in it.

I don't think the Amish have the answer. Going back is never the solution. On the other hand, going through something and coming out on the other side might be though I don't claim to know how that would work. Mr Nielsen is saying something similar to Anonymous at the top and I do appreciate the point. But still I reject it! To condemn the ideas behind modern technology and claim that its influence is spiritually negative is different to saying that one should never use it while functioning in a world in which it is everywhere. The distinction may be subtle but it exists. I am not saying that anyone who uses a materialistic technology is taken away from God and Nature but the overall effect of that technology on a civilisation that practises it is to do that. Looking at our present world, can one seriously dispute that?

And again, nowhere am I saying matter is evil but it is the form in which spirit is expressed and technology reverses that hierarchy. Spirit becomes secondary to matter. Quality is quantified. That surely is the basis of computer technology. You say you "would define technology as matter shaped by spirit" but I don't see where spirit comes into things now. Modern technology is matter shaped by mind and by mind of a certain, usually spirit-denying, sort. The fact that people have turned away from God is hugely aided and abetted by technology which, I repeat, will bend its users' minds to its own shape unless they are very aware of its dangers. Perhaps you are aware but most people are not and even those that are, I include myself and Chent's comment also bears this out, are still at risk. We have to resist a kind of assimilation and that requires conscious awareness.

I know I couldn't speak to you Denmark without technology and I couldn't have a blog on which to write anti-technology diatribes. I couldn't listen to the music I enjoy and many other things besides. Since I had appendicitis at 16 which needed surgery I would probably be dead. Of course, technology makes life in the world easier. But what it adds quantitively it might cause to be lost qualitatively, and none of its obvious benefits can obscure the reality, as I see it, of its spiritually destructive nature. You might even see technology as a kind of Faustian pact. Are we gaining the world to lose our souls?

William Wildblood said...

By the way, I only mentioned it in passing because I completely agree with it so there was nothing to add, but Chent's comment is very pertinent to this subject. I do also appreciate Morten Nielsen's remarks because these are serious matters which deserve thought and a statement such as technology is detrimental to spirituality needs a lot of unpacking in our world. I suspect it may have been regarded as obvious in other times and places.

NativeAsianBear said...

Whats in your browser history? Clearly the simplicity of your black screen has dulled your ability of discernment. Your question was already addressed but you desire vitriol instead of discourse. You have proven this bloggers point. Well done. Do you also want a participation trophy?

jorgen said...

That christians were convinced to tolerate the existence of atheists is the problem. If there were no atheists this technology would be fine. Atheists should have all been stoned to death in the 1800s and we wouldn't have this problem.

William Wildblood said...

Jorgen, you really need to reconsider what you just said. Quite apart from anything else "let him without sin cast the first stone." I understand frustration at the spiritual destruction atheism has wrought in the world and the hearts of men but if you believe in God you must act in a godly way. Otherwise there is a disconnect between belief and action and even the belief is of the wrong sort.

Anonymous said...

Social media constitutes 90% of the social problems with technology, and banning children and women from the internet would solve 90% of the problems with social media.

See also: Haredi Kosher Internet.

Morten Nielsen said...

I agree that this is a many-layered issue and since practically all of our modern lives are suffused with technology it is one each of us will inescapably have to address.
While we will probably disagree on the main point it may be worth finding where the disagreement begins. I would suggest splitting this into two parts:
1) Here and now
2) The future

At the moment Christians are scattered and powerless and even the churches have been corrupted by the "kindness and caring" of the coup regime. All technologies are made and distributed through the corporate branch of the global system and surely the default assumption should be that all of it is corrupt and corrupting to some extent. In this I don't think we disagree. I have never owned either an automobile or a television and remain stubbornly unvexed, all because I do not trust the system and wish to dissociate from it as much as possible.

I think the disagreement comes when considering future possibilities.
As you say, man has always used technology. However, over the past 400 years or so, a qualitatively new kind of technologies have been created based on the systematic study of the laws of nature. Things like steam engines, electricity, flying machines, radio, computers etc. Nothing like this has ever existed in all of previous human history. The question is whether this new thing is inherently evil or potentially good. Is it an evil seed that has grown to fruition, or a good seed that has been corrupted in its growth?

Modern science and almost all the technological applications thereof (up to maybe 50 years ago) has come almost exclusively from the Christian parts of the world. In itself this proves nothing; it could mean either that science-technology is a gift from God given to the world through Christendom, or that science-technology is a ploy by the devil to destroy Christendom from within. It is certainly a fact that all large-scale Christian societies have fallen away from the Faith - even the hypocritical pretense is gone.
However, I still lean towards the first view.
First, where S-T has been applied, hunger has ended, health has massively improved and people increase in number. In the Old Testament, such prosperity was given to ancient Israel by God. They consistently used it as an opportunity to fall away from Him, but nonetheless the prosperity was a gift from God. God creates, satan destroys.
Second, as evil and faithlessness have increased, science and technology have stalled. Most progress of fundamental science has all but ended now.
And lastly, I have sat in an aeroplane looking out at a sunset above the clouds (while listening to Mozart). Without technology, such beauty of creation would go unseen and unsung. I refuse to believe this is what God wants.

I don't know whether there will ever be large-scale Christian societies again. Perhaps that time is past as Bruce Charlton has often claimed. My own hopes in "common, decent people" have certainly been a tad reduced over the past two years. But if a revival of such societies ever occurs, I for one would want them to embrace and apply the most advanced technologies human God-given creativity can make, to explore the still largely unknown depths of the oceans, the great and wonderful expanse of our solar system and to be the shepherds of Life unto new worlds. All to the glory of God. I would consider such stewardship of the material world that God has made to be one of our spiritual duties!
And if, as currently seems more likely, we are headed for a collapse of this phase of civilization, then I would consider it a Christian duty to salvage as much knowledge of science and technology as we can, so the seed can hopefully grow again one day. In a less corrupted form.

Well, this is my proposed alternative to your own view of technology. Make of it what you will.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your conclusion. I have long ago suspected that even modern music technology may have had negative side effects for us. I used to listen to music very often in my youth. When I became a Christian a few years ago, I realized that listening to music all the time was toxic spiritually. I longed for peace and quiet. Our ancestors did not listen to music any time they wanted too, and often in a synthesized form. Only those who played an instrument heard it often. They were likely more able to connect with God without the constant distraction of music we have today. Now, hearing a beautiful piece of music can make you aware of the divine; but the incessant use of music today, I'm convinced is spiritually unhealthy.
And that incessant use came about through technology.

Don said...

Just don't let any Ted Kaczynski madness enter into your technology musings. :)

William Wildblood said...

"hearing a beautiful piece of music can make you aware of the divine; but the incessant use of music today, I'm convinced is spiritually unhealthy." I agree, Sue. I love music and have far too many CDs but I recognise that the easy access to all sorts of music I might never known, specifically early music, that technology has enabled has also led to an erosion of the ability to appreciate music qualitatively, and that's speaking as someone who never listens to music as background. There's been an exchange and who can say if it's been for the good?

Bruce Charlton said...

Chent said: "I think that the problem is that modern technology requires modes of cognition that are antithetical to the modes of cognition required by spirituality."

That's the main problem in a nutshell.

From where we are, it is essential that we become aware of this, recognize the problem - and For This Reason - take appropriate action in our own lives.

The right motivation is essential, as we can see from the law-enforced lockdown: externally imposed restrictions do Not produce overall spiritual benefits; whereas voluntarily chosen the same restrictions may well be a first step in the right direction.

William Wildblood said...

I agree that Chent has identified the problem. Unfortunately, engagement in this technology absolutely requires us to change our mental approach to the world and this is the reason for its destructiveness to proper spirituality. I say proper because a false spirituality can be made to go along with the technological mindset. The worst example of that would be transhumanism but there are many softer versions that are not so obvious. Traditionally, we are supposed to renounce the world, the flesh and the devil. Technology is part of the world.

Unknown said...


Technology gets to the very heart of the matter.

I have found, in my various spiritual ramblings, that criticizing technology constitutes a sort of red line.

You will be allowed various spiritual criticisms, but once you explicitly criticize technology, a surprising number of people will push back with a surprising strength.

It shows what is the true God of our age; ourselves, our ability to control, to accumulate power. That is where we truly put our hope. Not in cooperating with a force greater than ourselves.

I am more and more convinced that criticizing technology is one of the great spiritual fault lines of our time, one of the great battles of our time. On no other subject have I received similar pushback, and that is telling.

The great spiritual themes are condensed in technology - are we humans, with our rational brains we are so proud of, in charge on the end? Or is there a greater force - call it Nature, God, or what have you?

William Wildblood said...

Morten, I have to say that you have made a thoughtful defence of the technological transformation of the last couple of centuries but I am not persuaded. I don't say that we should live like cavemen but I do think the spiritual effects of technology since the Industrial revolution and , more particularly, the computer revolution are deeply harmful. I believe that a spiritualised consciousness could produce a kind of technology that worked in harmony with itself not one that worked against it. The more we depend on machines, the more our souls shrink and the more mechanical we ourselves become. It is machine technology that I principally am condemning here. I do not believe that is God-given since its very nature is of a dead thing imitating a living thing.

Anonymous said...

Technology is certainly serving the opposite of its assumptions. In declaring to bridge distance of communication, it allows and is compelling people to choose to stay apart. The pagan stoic Epictitus is quoted as saying that one can not learn what one thinks they know. This Toaist(to give it a reference) kernel expands in human consciousness across time and space to direct human being to its origin. This kind of knowledge, and its method, is lost to the scientists and academies of the present.

Lastly, I want to remark on the peculiarity of the invention of electricity. I will go in search of whom Dr. Charlton mentions. To use Evolian and Aristotelean terms, the noblest metals of gold and silver contain some of the most harmonious conduction of electricity than the other metals, they are the noblest or most regal and royal. It may be said that electricity is untameable, indeed, its containment is a filthy process.

mobius said...

"that it is not technology but what we do with it that matters."

This is backwards, bad intentions shape the technology, not the other way round.