The dilemma of hypermodernity (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
An earlier, academic version of this essay has appeared in This World: Religion and Public Life (Culture and Consumption) no. 31 (2000) (New Brunswick, USA and London, UK: Transaction Publishers), pp. 29-45. This is the 16th anniversary of the appearance of the academic version of the essay – which had also appeared in various, different, non-academic iterations in the 1990s, including in Polish translation. The essay had also appeared in three parts on its 15th anniversary, in Quarterly Review (UK).
One of the most significant, yet often cursorily examined phenomena of modern society is the increasingly enervating pace of technological change, development, or growth. It is plain to see that the amount of theoretical scientific knowledge (that is, in the "hard" sciences) is growing exponentially, as is the number of chemicals / substances / tools / devices which are being produced, as a result of the growth and practical application of such scientific theory. Ultimately, these technological processes are fuelled by the market-economies of (primarily) North America, Western Europe, and now, the Pacific Rim countries. Yet, among all this frenzied growth and creative entrepreneurship, one may well wonder to what ultimate end all this unbridled expansion is taking us.
Social theorists such as George Parkin Grant, David Ehrenfeld, Christopher Lasch, and Jacques Ellul -- inspired by figures like Simone Weil and Martin Heidegger -- have described an emergent "vicious cycle", where all the problems caused by modern technology can only be solved by the application of further technologies -- which engender newer, greater problems, for which new technological solutions have to be found -- and so on. It seems impossible to think that this process can go on forever -- at some point, the crises engendered by technology (a total saturation of the environment with pollutants of various sorts, for example), will catch up to humanity. And the suggestion that recombinant DNA technology could be used to "adjust" humans to live in heavily polluted or radiated environments is simply nightmarish. Our world is one with genes of mice spliced with those of carrots; mice with genetically human blood coursing through their little bodies; as well as the beginning of our entry into the wholly malleable, electronically-based "virtual reality". Biotechnology companies develop new, unique life-forms, such as the aforementioned mice, over which they then exercise exclusive proprietary control. Recently, there was the story that scientists in Britain had developed transgenic pigs, whose organs are to be used in humans. There were also reports in the media that a research laboratory in Basel, Switzerland, had produced genetically altered flies with fly eye structures in 14 different places in their bodies, where they never naturally occur. There is ominously under way the attempt to map out or "sequence" the entire human genetic code. These various tendencies can be seen to represent only the beginning of the infinite manipulation of human and physical nature through technology, against which -- along with other thinkers -- Aldous Huxley warned, in his finely-crafted dystopia Brave New World.
Apart from the so-called purely physical effects, e.g., toxic waste dumps, poisoned air, skin cancer from ozone depletion, shrinking forests and green spaces, as well as dwindling or extinct natural species -- which are bad enough in themselves and now obvious to almost everyone -- there are also the enormous social effects and costs of total technologization, for example, massive overpopulation, especially in often overburdened urban areas -- which are enfolding more quickly than the ultimate dangers of pollution and biological manipulation.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.