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Balance and Imbalance In the Equation on “Differentiation – Continuity” Between Civilisations 4/4

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“‘Following Scientific revolutions, and through an unexpected transfer, scientists are now facing a different science’. This is the conclusion reached by Thomas S. Khun in his theory on the structure of scientific revolution. In the case of technological revolutions however, the whole world is exposed to a gradual change, and the rate of change depends on the nature of the technologies of impact ad their interaction with the elements of the social environment.”

Civilisation and Technology and the Struggle of Informatics 
The relationship between science and technology, or between commodities and the know-how underlying their existence, does not require many explanations. This is since there is no need for us to reaffirm that science and technology, which are the two component elements of civilisation, are made up of “human” knowledge and skills pertaining to the whole human race and, therefore, not necessarily related to the national identity.

In other words, the absence of these two components, leading to the necessity to import does not in principle belittle the national entity when it comes to sovereignty and/or identity. It is when they are turned into a means by the members of one civilisation in order to impose its values on others, with the goal of expanding and enforcing hegemony, that the matter becomes totally different.

What happens, in this case, is a civilisational kind of “invasion” or “the attempt one society to impose its values on another society”, by the civilisation that possesses know-how and technology over the civilisation that lacks them or that possesses them to a lesser degree. This is what is really taking place in the world today, for civilisational hegemony by the power that has the means to impose its own civilisation, and such means are multiple, has become necessary from a strategic point of view to reinforce economic and political hegemony.

This last assertion, in the light of the current informatics’ leap, signifies that this leap, leads to a concentrated civilisational “theft” and, perhaps, to end (or at least to lessen) civilisational differences, by creating one model with broad generalised mechanisms of its own. This holds especially, if we note that “technology” was, throughout history, the essential engine and product of “cultural” change. On the other hand, we know that most important drive behind new technologies is the strategic creation of a new world market, with the main western economic axes as a pivot.

As to the influence of culture and technology, it clearly appears that the technology of information has turned culture into a self-contained industry with its own services, products and attainments, and it seems right to say that culture impacts on almost all the elements of the technological system, and on the interrelations of these elements, although they do not comprise the management of cultural sources only, but which is most important, the edifice of knowledge in society, and the bases and principles underlying this knowledge, as well as its moral sources.
There are many examples of the impact of technology on culture, and we can refer to three such examples in this paper.

Firstly, the impact of the Gutenberg printing press in the middle of the 15th century. This technology has accelerated the eradication of illiteracy and the monopoly of knowledge, which is one of the main reasons behind the breakdown of the reactionary order. This is in which all the power was in the hands of the nobles and the clergy on the one hand, while a fast development of urban centres and the expansion of trade were taking place on the other.
These are the social changes that lead to the industrialisation of Europe and to the democratic transformation of its political institution.

At this point, we must underline the influence of printing on Western thought, which lead to the age of reason, and the development of scientific, educational and cultural institutions. Printing did not merely help to spread knowledge, it also helped to develop the capacity to think rationally as a result of a cold interaction with texts, far from any speaker’s personal impact and the emotional reactions that are usually provoked by oral linguistic communication.

Secondly, there is industrial technology and the emergence of capitalism which impacted on Christian European thought. The brilliant achievement of science have led, among other things, to the birth of a philosophical thought based on the veneration of science, reason and the belief in man’s capacity to control nature entirely; a kind of thought that is not merely sceptical concerning the existence of God, but that sometimes goes as far as formulating the precepts of a humanistic religion without rites, churches or clergy.

It is worth mentioning here, in the light of the history of American society at the end of the 19th century, that there was an adverse reaction to what the relation between technology and religion had previously generated in Europe, when the passage from an agricultural to an industrial society led to what may be called “religious fundamentalism”, since many sub-cults branched out of the main religions, which led to a multiplication of and religious communities.
Thirdly, is the impact of science and technology, not only on intellectual and literary production, but on creation itself, where literature, drama and art are closely linked to science and technology.

The relation between Newton’s discoveries of the colours of the spectrum was closely related to naturalism, and this was clearly expressed in art by pointillism, a school created by the French artist Georges Pierre Seurat, who painted little dots with the colours of the spectrum. Neither can we forget the relation between analytical science and analytical (abstract) art by Picasso and Braque.

These three examples reaffirm the influence of technology over culture, although this does not mean at all that it is a one sided influence. This is since technology and culture are two parties in a mutually dynamic relation, but culture in its turn has an influence over technology and architecture is one example of this fact.

For this, art is one of the points where culture and technology coincide, as it is a mixture of figurative art, sculpture, construction engineering and mechanics and material technology added to the influence of the sovereign’s power. This is as in the case of the deified pharaohs and of ancient mythology on the architecture of Ancient Egypt, and in that of the Islamic attitude towards the figurative arts with the resulting effect that it had on Islamic architecture, which is further evidence of the impact of culture on architecture.

All this goes to show the mutual relation between culture and technology, or the mutual impact of technology and culture on each other, although it brings to one’s mind the saying that every society has the technology that it deserves, a saying that clarifies the strong connection between the degree of sophistication of a society and the high level of the technology that it for provides for others.

In addition, all this shows that the differences in quality that we are currently witnessing between the different societies is due to the enormous growth of the amount of information, and the availability of the scientific capacity, to interact with this enormous amount of data, as well as the vital role played by information all social activities which resulted in turning information into the basic source of political, military, economic and cultural power.

We cannot foretell what will be induced by this complicated phenomenon, but what we can indeed forecast within the frame of the more realistic expectations, is competition – if not a struggle – between the “main economic” axes.
The current international scene reaffirms this idea as follows:      

The United States of America exercises pressure with all its scientific, technological economic, political also, military weight, to preserve its own superiority, despite the fierce campaign launched by the Japanese to win the race in these fields, while the Western European states are striving to keep their place in the arena, and the states of the pacific and some other in south east Asia are seeking to strike a balance between these two parties in the technological struggle, by using the relative advantages provided, by their cheap labour and the successful introduction of some aspects of “advanced technology” in their societies.

Meanwhile, the “developing” countries are split into two groups: one group which tries to seize all the opportunities available a very small frame of manoeuvre. On the other hand, the remaining majority (the second group), which is in a state of deep lethargy, leaving their destiny at the mercy of the mechanisms of social selectiveness (the survival of the most scientific).

Societies are being sifted and rearranged into new “classes”, new blocs and new balances of power so that the weaker, more defeated societies are falling haphazardly through the holes of sieve.

The most important question that we shall briefly refer to, in this context, is the manner in which informatics, the machinery of social change, can be transformed into a play on word in which social interaction become the interaction of speech at the service of the strongest party (such as, for example, the Multilateral Agreements of the “GATT”). This leads us to say that we must renounce all the slogans based on the false assumption that science and technology are neutral, such as the famous slogan: “Technology instead of ideology”.

Informatics has become the main instrument of the policies aimed at dominating information and influencing education, and we do not think that anyone could deny its impact on the system of values and on the outlook of individuals, given the sharp the changes that it has induced in people’s standards and modes behaviour.
There is definitely no need to comment on “optimism” or “pessimism” vis-à-vis informatics, and its future expected results, and the realistic expectations that there will be a “between axes in their struggle for informatics”.

One important point, however, is that the “developing” (third world) countries, or the countries of the “South”, are facing a difficult civilisational predicament, for this very strong “wave” has hit them. They are going through states of extreme fragmentation and isolation, and their national entities are threatened with disintegration, under the impact of heavy external pressures and of ruthless internal constraints.

No wonder, therefore, that we should question the possibility of feeling any “optimism”, since we know that “pessimism” is, in fact, to expect the worst, and to be unable to impede it, deter it or avoid it.

Hussein Maaloum -

Hussein Maaloum is an Egyptian researcher and writer.

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Balance and Imbalance: In the Equation on “Differentiation – Continuity” Between Civilisations 3/4
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Last Updated on Sunday, 23 August 2009 23:10  

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