Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Technology, humanity, public good and - power?

My fear is that as science and technology draw from an increasingly large proportion of those best endowed intellectually, we will have fewer and fewer men [sic] capable of contemplating in any adequate way the problems of national or international society.
Sir Ian Clunies Ross, 1956

This was in a letter to Eric Ashby - I was privileged today to read ICR and Ashby's correspondence 1949-1959 - and was Clunies Ross' comment disagreeing with Ashby's optimism for a "technological humanism".

The new rise and rise of technology in universities was perturbing to many and hopeful to some, after the Second World War. There were deep concerns that a reduction in the proportion of people studying the humanities might gradually reduce the "humanity" of society.

But what really stood out for me in the Ashby-ICR letters was the almost clerical calling Ahsby and Clunies Ross felt to the protection of knowledge and for the good of society. They felt that knowledge gave them a responsibility to steer society in good ways, to contribute what their intellectual abilities enabled them to, with gentleness and generosity.

It is no wonder Ashby could not understand that some people saw knowledge as a sort of violent power. H has no framework in which that particular analysis of knowledge or power made sense.

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