Discover more from Polemics
Countering Albert Borgmann's Managerial Christianity through Coexistence and Dark Ecology
Why Christianity cannot have association with post-capitalism
Albert Borgmann (1937-) is a German-American philosopher known for his commentary on technology and religion. Building upon Martin Heidegger, Borgmann contemplates in his book, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry, that technology will play a pivotal role in the future of human intellectualism and the arts.
Importantly, through a "Design Research" perspective, Borgmann brings up the notion that the "device paradigm" is the be-all and end-all around technological automation. This in turn would challenge human art, as well as the limits of post-scarcity, often argued by Marxists. Design Research could be described as the artistic discipline and philosophy around design, and what we learn and apply from it will influence the outcome of our technological future. Ask, what does an artistic object do? And what are its functions for humanity?
However, Borgmann is also an outspoken advocate of Christianity, and like René Girard, he has influenced a sect of Christian thinkers to incorporate his technological criticisms within religion. Borgmann has an answer against this robot revolution and seems to be about advocating a managerial class of high priests, enslaving its robotic underlings. Thus Design Research can also be about social control, through concepts like the "elegance" of operation, or Hugbox feedback.
Aside from the James Burnham or Dune references, I see our American future headed towards a similar Eurasian future, where Chinese technology will rule over us. This means that Christianity will be downplayed in process by Confucianism, and negating Borgmann's stance. Perhaps more anime and video games will be made as Design Research progresses in the arts. However, Christian or not, what will remain is a small elite, oppressing everything else. We are headed towards an Akira cyberpunk future with feudal characteristics. Politically speaking, Borgmann only cares if this corrupted elite is human.
Is it possible that we can control Borgmann's device paradigm without either having robots, or humans, ruling over us?
Contrary to Borgmann, Timothy Morton (1968-) is a controversial philosopher who goes against his Christian-techno obsession, by advocating an atheistic "dark ecology" paradigm. I believe many dissident activists will instead become advocates of Morton's dark ecology, where "non-humankind" and "hyper objects" can coexist with one another, rather than following the footsteps of Borgmann's crypto-neo-reactionary blueprints.
Instead of the oppressive nature of cyberpunk, think of multipolarity.
For Morton, what is "dark" is not just in light emission, but within the dark web, where we cannot see the surface level, but what is hidden throughout. Hence a dark ecology would refer to an ecology beyond living organisms, and representing non-humankind, or what we refer to as "object-oriented ontology." A hyperobject doubts Borgmann's device paradigm, as the hyperobject puts doubt over the concept of our limited understanding of the object. The hyperobject is no longer the object we know and has become a universal language. How do we know that the sofa we sit on, or the computer we write on, has a mind of its own?
Dark ecology, just like "deep ecology," considers every living thing existing, and that too can also mean that living technology can have power over us. Rather, radical egalitarianism is about considering the equal rights of non-humankind that will resist the Christian supremacy of the humans-only (and "racist") managerial class. This means leveling the equality between humans and non-humans rather than creating hierarchical divisions. We need an understanding of hyperobjects over mere Design Research.
What sounds like something on the fringes of the political left, is a political movement for conserving humanity. As Morton explains, "One goal of Dark Ecology is to make agrilogistic space speak and so to imagine how we can make programs that speak differently, that would form the substructure of a logic of future coexistence." (Morton, Dark Ecology, 2016, pg. 46). This is where the non-human can co-exist with the human, as there is no need for oppression, and rather, there should be only a "coexistence." All is a creation of life, the soul drive of any political movement.
Morton further explains the concept,1
"What is dark ecology? It is ecological awareness, dark-depressing. Yet ecological awareness is also dark and uncanny. And strangely it is dark-sweet. Nihilism is always number one in the charts these days. We usually don't get past the first darkness, and that's if we even care. In this book, we are going to try to get to the third darkness, the sweet one, through the second darkness, the uncanny one. Do not be afraid.
What is dark ecology? Ecognosis is a riddle. Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting be known. It is something like coexist-ing. It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn't become less strange through acclimation. Ecognosis is like a knowing that knows itself. Knowing in a loop is weird. Weird from the Old Norse urth, meaning twisted, in a loop?"
By becoming aware, we must also consider the ill logic of liberalism and political incorrectness, that our current political "ecology" does not want us to acknowledge. We thus get into a loop about "thinking about thinking." This is how we can understand dark ecology, as an ecological system that considers every possible outcome. It is not just a social justice crusade, but an acknowledgment of every possible thought against the rule of liberalism.
In the arts, dark ecology is best expressed through "synthetic landscapes," or, the creation of a speculative landscape with modular material. Think of an actual modular synthesizer that can change its sound through analog warm-up and control voltage paths. Synthetic landscapes are ever-changing, and exactly what Ecognosis is. Hyperobjects become artistic in their rights, without human rule.
Accordingly, this is also a divide against Design Research, as Design Research focuses on a human-centric object-oriented ontology, which puts human existence over the existence of non-human objects. For an artist, this can come in handy, as expressed through the work of Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things, and how the non-human can be expressed with human aid. For example, Game Design relies on human-centric design with non-human objects.
However, Borgmann ultimately wants a Christian monarchy, where humans can control the destiny of non-humans through a religious understanding of Design Research. Religion is outside the context of the political, and the political dissident movement can only incorporate Morton's dark ecology rather than Borgmann's device paradigm. Such as certain grifts of "e-Trads" can appreciate Borgmann, while not seeing the benefits of dark ecology. This can be a problem on many levels in both politics and religion.
Synthetic landscapes or Design Research, we have come to an intersection between two different opposing parties and art movements. Both, however, acknowledge that "the Anthropocene," or, the human-centric era, is in trouble. We must acknowledge the existence of artificial intelligence. Either we are nice to it, or we rule over it. The latter will shift the political meaning of social justice, as the political left will care about the egalitarian rights of the robotic. Meanwhile, the political right will focus on Borgmann's Christianity and managerialism.
However, I hope that the political right will think in terms of coexistence than managerialism, a byproduct of late capitalism. In true libertarian fashion, what has to be conserved is the living, not by conserving the oligarchs, and their obsession with modernity.
To make sure the political right does not create a greater error in the future, a cultural right must infuse Morton's philosophy into their praxis, as Christianity continues to isolate and purge the blasphemous. It is okay to have a religious understanding of the world, but when religious bigots cannot see past political logic, they irrationally hang on to the Anthropocene.
We need coexistence within dark ecology rather than a rejection of it. Religion cannot proselytize the non-human.
Morton, Timothy, Dark Ecology, 2016, pg. 5