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Teaching Nonviolence as Technology7/05/2007 22:34:08
Scientology has a great term that I want to ride on for a moment: "religious technology." (There is also a Scientology subsidiary, which manages the Hubbard estate, called The Church of Spiritual Technology.) Religious technology includes but is definitely not limited to the wild Scientology gadgetry like e-meters and the rest. But really it grasps the wider definition of technology that includes clever ideas. One of the organizations my office at the AAAS happens to deal with, the International Technology Education Association, hints toward this when it defines technology as "human innovation in action." Technology is a set of skills, techniques, and tools that channel the reach of human energy. Understood in this way, actually, culture itself is a subset of technology (especially according to the Geertzian definition, which thinks of culture as meanings).
Meanwhile, these days I've been going to classes with the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C., which is the one-man show of Colman McCarthy. Over the course of a sequence of weekly night classes, we cover a number of topics, from animal rights to conflict resolution, to Tolstoy and so forth. Tonight we talked about the Danish resistance during World War II. The whole thing has been inspiring me very much, even to the point of maybe being something I would like to do. It seems a very worthwhile thing to spend one's time teaching young people about strategies for peace, as if this were something that was important to know (it is). Right now we mostly just teach them about how to go to war.
Of course McCarthy's class, for better or worse, reads like a far-left rant sometimes (he is an anarchist). Everyone in the class felt comfortable to speak freely about their dislike of the reigning administration, assuming everyone else would agree. Whether or not this is the intrinsic consequence of a person being peaceful or not, it felt rather limited as a result, like some kind of tribe meeting. The ideological content pervades, and he presents it (pretty defensibly) as something other than "mere" ideology. He is a gentle and wonderful teacher who makes it pretty easy to disagree with what he is saying.
But it seems to me that in this society, violent or not, this is not the approach that will ultimately work. As I have seen so brilliantly recently, education is a deeply technological process: it is secularized. We teach not the reigning ideology, but the tools and skills that imply it. At all costs we avoid the controversial, but we dance around it, placing strong claims on the technology that made it. Yet we are never quite trained so much in cultural self-reflection. In a market economy, this makes sense: since the market generates culture and the market is the center of all activity, what culture we find ourselves comes out as byproduct. In technocratic societies, Marx's critique of ideology is complete, though without the revolution.
Back to nonviolence as religious technology - or spiritual technology: if a culture of nonviolence, that actively seeks nonviolent solutions to its problems, is to take hold, we have to begin with the technology. Nonviolence should not, therefore, be taught as an ideology to grasp hold of. That will only help those who welcome the ideology, which is few. Rather, it must begin as a spiritual technology: a set of techniques, proven, "scientific," demonstrated in computer models, and ready for processing by the public. Its superior efficiency over violence must be proclaimed in "studies." We teach them to our children and each other as necessary skills and we come to depend on them to solve our problems the ways we depend on our iPods. Then, just the same as our iPods, we find that we cannot bear to live without them.
That is how passion-for gets created, not by passionate preaching on controversial subjects. Technology (we insist) is not controversial because it is what you do with it. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." But of course the perfect Marxist truth is that guns make it a lot easier to kill each other, just as learning nonviolent technology makes it a lot easier to seek nonviolent solutions to conflicts.
re:ideology and technology - 7/05/2007 23:35:04