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Between Technology and Traditionalism

Between Technology and Traditionalism

It is a well-known fact that a number of the problems of modernity are in part due to industrialization. These problems extend far beyond the reach of “first world” countries, and affect the planet at large, and have inflicted severe damage on the environment. In the places where technology gave rise to the reign of quantity, it has also given rise to material surplus, allowing some people in those nations to become decadent and slothful, while regarding others as little more than “cogs in the machine,” whose primary purpose is that of material production.

Living in modern times, it’s easy to envision the future as a polluted and dysgenic dystopia, and current projections might indicate that even those projections are quite optimistic.  From the traditionalist point of view, the technologically-oriented society’s primary problem is the obsession with surplus and quantity, and as such experiences a state of spiritual stagnation and degradation as a result. The cultural planes, because of the surplus, are also degraded to the level of the lowest common denominator, and the environment which they engender is in fact dysgenic as a result of individuals no longer using intelligence, but instead relying on machines. Spiritually, people in technologically-oriented societies are also regressing. Evola duly noted such trends:

[America] has introduced the religion of praxis and productivity; it has put the quest for profit, great industrial production, and mechanical, visible, and quantitative achievements over any other interest. It has generated a soulless greatness of a purely technological and collective nature, lacking any background of transcendence, inner light, and true spirituality. America has [built a society where] man becomes a mere instrument of production and material productivity within a conformist social conglomerate.

Given the links between technology and modernity, we might be prompted to ask about the role that technology plays in traditionalist-oriented societies. This is a question which must be addressed cautiously. It is all too easy to over-simplify it, or worse yet, to involve too much emotion on the issue.  Pentti Linkola, perhaps has the most radical solution: the elimination of human and technological excesses.  Linkola pessimistically said:

The most central and irrational faith among people is the faith in technology and economical growth. Its priests believe until their death that material prosperity bring enjoyment and happiness – even though all the proofs in history have shown that only lack and attempt cause a life worth living, that the material prosperity doesn’t bring anything else than despair. These priests believe in technology still when they choke in their gas masks.

Although Linkola may take a highly cautious approach, it is possible to recognize the limited benefit, and indeed some of the inevitable requirements of the techno-industrial system, while still rejecting the overall spirit of its consequences. Hideo Kishimoto, a professor of religion at Tokyo University made the following distinction:

Westernization would mean that a certain indigenous cultural element of the traditional East is replaced by the penetrating Western element, and the functional role of the former is taken over by the latter.

Modernization, on the other hand, basically means to remold a cultural system into a new mode.

Although Kishimoto’s terminology here is slightly different from our own, and he speaks from a purely technical standpoint, he is totally correct. In the case of Japan, wearing Western attire and listening to Western music, or adopting Western perspectives on philosophy and ethics would be regarded by Kishimoto as “Westernization,” while the use of introduction of telephones, TV, airplanes, mass communication, and other technology can be considered a form of modernization. For a Westerner this is no different: adopting the attitudes and behaviors of a modern person is a completely different concept from using contemporary technology such as cellular phones or the internet. In fact, a number of technologies, such as solar power, might be employed to serve some ends demanded by a Traditional society (in this case, environmental sustainability).

Environmental preservation might be one use of Traditionalist-oriented technology

We might say that the problem is not the use of technology itself, but the overarching mentality of a society. A society which is entrenched in modernist thought will continue along that path, even if they never developed metal tools or fire. On the contrary, a society which is rooted in its values and in tradition doesn’t necessarily have to forsake technology. From the economistic point of view, the problem is one of balances: finding the essential point at which it is possible to be prosperous, but not subjugate man to the material or the means of production. From the Meiji Reformation until fairly recently, the Japanese had done just this, but today the situation in Japan seems quite different, even to the casual observer.

It is sufficient to say that some technology might be required by force of necessity. For instance, it is advantageous for national military forces to possess modern weaponry, so that they can defend themselves against foreign invasions. However, the adoption of such technology should not come at the expense of the real warrior ethos. Again, an example comes from Japan: during World War Two, the Japanese kamikaze still upheld the ethical precepts of Bushido and held in high esteem a certain asceticism in which the noblest action was self-sacrifice. Other technologies, while not necessary, are not “wrong” in and of themselves. For instance, the ability to communicate quickly and efficiently over long distances can be useful in disseminating knowledge consistent with Traditionalist ideas.

Traditionalism acknowledges the timeless nature of certain eternal principles, and it is possible to use technology as a way to ensure that these principles remain dominant. However, a caveat does exist. As nearly every nation which has undergone modernization has shown, this is easier said than done. Adopting technology often carries with it the baggage of modern attitudes (the Persian writer Jalal Ahl-e-Ahmad described this in one word: ‘machinestruckness’ ). As history has shown, this ‘machinestruckness’ permeates nearly all modern societies, and it is practically inevitable that technologically advanced societies all too often begin to fall under the spell of progress.  The social implications of this are, of course disastrous from a Traditionalist point of view, because it paves the way for standardization and ultimately a regression of the castes.

In conclusion, technology in and of itself does not mean that one should ignore technology completely.  When used correctly, technology should give us more leisure time to engage in activities which are ultimately transcendent and beneficial, but used incorrectly, technology is malefic, and indeed may lead to our downfall.

About the Author

William van Nostrand is a native of Chicago, Illinois and is currently the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of RidingTheTiger.org. He holds a B.A. in Economics as well as a minor in cultural anthropology. His interests are highly varied and include late medieval European architecture, German romantic classical music, and travel.

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