“Not only are you responsible for serving your community, but you are partly responsible for there being any community to serve.”

Mary Parker Follett


“In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the industrialization of England accelerated at such a pace that historians have found no term adequate to describe it save one usually reserved for violent political change – revolution.”

Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity


Ah. Technocrats. This is a companion piece to “circulation of elites” just that this time I am focusing on technology and monopolistic technology autocrats who think of themselves as the elites to guide us all to a better future. Now. The bible of how technocrats have hijacked capitalism is Technopoly by Neil Postman, but the concept of technocracy can be traced to William Henry Smyth, a California engineer, who introduced the term “technocracy” in his 1919 article titled “Technocracy – Ways and Means to Gain Industrial Democracy,” which was published in the Journal of Industrial Management (Corporate Finance Industry). Anyway.  Technocrats not only have an odd view of capitalism, but of society in general. Generally speaking, they have an inordinate dislike of constraints which only encourages technological advancement without any constraints, or any real moral boundaries, as they believe the market will naturally sort itself out.  That is a dangerously naive thought. As Leo Marx said:

“The simple republican formula for generating progress by directing improved technical means to societal ends was imperceptibly transformed into a quite different technocratic commitment to improving ‘technology’ as the basis and the measure of — as all but constituting — the progress of society.”

The technocrats play an interesting game. They say just enough reasonable things to suggest maybe they are doing something good for all of us, and they even use some key enlightenment ideals without really understanding enlightenment. What I mean by that Is they tend to think of reason without any real boundaries. It is almost like they embrace Foucault’s nihilism. Rather than the philosophical ideas that are central to progressive society like a commitment to universalism over tribalism, firm distinction between justice and power, and a belief in the possibility of progress (Susan Neiman), this generation of technocrats tend to look at these ideas as disconnected rather than connected. In other words, progress above all even at the expense of universalism and justice. Their reason is justified by outcomes, not process and they tend to believe that all technological progress is good. This leads to a belief because they are forces of ‘good’ that their power should be unconstrained. Yeah. Its unconstrained technology development combined with unconstrained power. Ultimately this version of technocrat doesn’t really see monopolies, just ‘scale.’ That trickster nuance leads this merry band of technocrats down a path where business is more important than, well, anything (because they believe the business ‘serves for good of society’) and they see their redesigning of society as simply reengineering humanity (without tending to humanity’s needs).

  • ** note: there is a significant difference between reengineering and redesigning. The former is simply reshaping the system and structure that exists, i.e., simply propagating an already existing flawed construct; the latter actually demands a vision to build toward, i.e., design something new and have technology enable it.

This can get a bit worse. Similar to the originators of the world wide web (most of which have reflectively accepted their naivete) they still view the limitless flow of information as a net positive for society and humanity. This includes limitless information flow to and from what their ultimate objective – computer intelligence which surpasses people’s. Their vision is all encompassing in that it envisions an entire system, an infrastructure in other words, to undergird everyone – regardless of (a) whether humanity has the capacity to absorb the limitless flow of information in any meaningful way, and (b) all will be equally empowered to take advantage of this new system. They seem to ignore, well, lots of things. But they mostly tend to ignore how power and control and information/knowledge pools. Maybe that is so because they see the existing pooling benefiting them and they see some undemocratic view of the world where a weird meritocracy is generated – weird in that it truly isn’t the best of the best, but rather simply the best at taking advantage of the system.

They are reengineering society, but just to be clear, they do so in the pursuit of scale and profit over safety concerns and public accountability. But maybe what should concern us most is HOW they seek to reengineer. Its not just that their objectives are a bit naïvely dangerous, but they also are crafting a structure of numbers and measurements (its kind of an extension of a belief that machines are the future so the way the future should be shaped is in machine terms).  They are shaking the entire etch-a-sketch of society and they don’t care if any of the sand is lost while shaking. They have a structured ideology of mathematical measurement to justify anything and everything. It’s a warped vision of even the warped Taylorism that got us to where we are today. It is almost like we are being led by an illiterate group of people in that their only literacy is in numbers, scale and machine technology wrapped in a loose, but extreme, libertarian etch-a-sketch. They weave webs of ‘progress’ under the guise of numbers – usage, engagement, and views – while ignoring whether those individual usages, engagements & views, are actually good for human beings. “It will all sort out” and “scale flattens negative affects” represents the technocrat mantra. They ignore the relationships between morality (what is good) and the power of the tools they are crafting. Once again, if you squint hard enough what they say seems reasonable, but stop squinting and it all becomes a blur of dangerously unconstrained technological innovations and systems. They will claim they are not doing this, but they are sacrificing progress for humanity and society for a hollowed out, but profitable, progress in business (because they see their ‘business’ as not really a business but a societal infrastructure development – for which they get paid for). I say all that so we can stop being surprised by the horrible existing leadership. They have no vision for what they are creating. They are just creating things assuming a vision will emerge from their technological wizardry. The past is all unworthy of consideration (even the important things of the past), they believe the future will be shaped not through some grand strategy but rather by chasing things – at exponential scale/pace – that seem beneficial, and numbers become proof of performance (note: numbers are not people). All of this is done rather than creating and sustaining a substantive healthy society.

Yeah. I know their arguments. Their entire argument revolves around “it is because of technology lives have dramatically improved.” The problem is that immediately veers into a warped unconstrained development with “if you restrain any development, imagine what you are costing humanity.” Yeah. Its technological development no matter what. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something I pointed out in my “will of the institution’ piece. Business over the past 100 years has encouraged everyone, all workers, to view business in a religious sense – “business is the savior for not only you – your family – btu society in total. Technocrats simply warp that idea (an idea I would note has had incredibly negative repercussions to human psyche, meaning, life purpose and even the nuclear family) to an exponentially existential level – technology is THE hope for a better future. It absolves them of any moral clarity and suggests we, the people, would benefit by hedging our moral bets. To be clear, this isn’t anything they actually say out loud, but, similar to the robber barons of the past who argued they are beneficial to society, they will not say this shit. This means we cannot rely on some grand sense of business responsibility or moral clarity from these technocrats as they pursue unconstrained ambitions.

Which leads me to how their ambitions get conflated with freedom.

Throughout the technology world we hear endless talk of individual freedom, yet, there has never been such pressure for conformity from the market itself. I don’t mean capitalism, but rather when wealth is the objective, the peoples reduce their ambitions to speculation over reason – albeit we label it as being reasonable. In fact, technocrats depend on the masses to have blind faith in the value of reason while, if we are honest, it is simply speculative thinking at the moment (it sounds possibly reasonable with benefits, with no probabilities attached to the possibilities nor penalties). Reason sifts into every dimension of social life and technology is the tool of ‘reason.’ Reason becomes how we administrate a confusing life (and the sense of impending crisis), which means moral forces get kicked to the side. We become directionless other than that which technology wrought. Bereft of true sensemaking and morality, we plod along at the speed of technology. And technocrats endorse that vision through their ambitions.

If technocrats get their way, we will become a society of immense technological power where people will increasingly dwell in a world of illusion, or delusions, comforted by tribes of likeminded dwellers. Well. That’s what I believe. This isn’t to suggest that increased information flow to more people isn’t a good thing because it does inevitably increase the general knowledge of the population, but it comes with some problems if that information isn’t constrained in some ways and continues being delivered in its firehose way. Anyway. The only universality is not humanity and justice, but simply the ubiquitous reach of technology. Technocratic planning is simply an extension of the existing corrupted industrialization thinking – just on exponential steroids. The truth is the technocrat ultimately, sees economics as the sole measurement and technology is the material with which to build these economies. They see their private advantages as things which will inevitably ‘trickle down’ to public good. Its just a different, but equally horrible, version of trickle-down economics. Industrialization is, and has always been, a system to maximize material welfare. Technocrats may twist this truth as they discuss enhancing the brain, optimizing the body’s potential and any number of human enhancing features, but they do so with the objective to increase productivity and wealth. Technology is certainly only increasing its role in the weave of lives, personal and professional, and the general infrastructure of how life is lived. There is no lack of technology ‘plenty.’ But one should reflect upon the harsh truth that nothing cuts deeper to a society, or any business in fact, then the unhealthy relationship between ‘want’ amid ‘plenty.’ Technocrats cannot envision anyone ‘wanting’ in the future when the reality is, unless constrained in some key ways, while technology will be plenty, plenty of people will end up ‘wanting’ for something other than technology. I will say that the one thing the technocrats are clearly right on is ‘technological driven future is inevitable.’ Technology will only become more and more ubiquitous in our lives; often in some fairly invasive ways. Some of the issues this creates cannot be ignored and, I would argue, should be resolved before we go off to the technological races (this is an excellent conversation between Yuval Hari and Mustafa Suleyman, a cautionary pessimist and a reality-based optimist, on some of the issues at hand). We shouldn’t cast aside the machines, but we should view them as reasonable tools for progress, not unreasonable replacements of humanity. Technology has certainly revolutionized how we do things, but inevitably humans decide what to do. I fear technocrats want technology to decide what humans want to do. And maybe that is where I will end. With technocrats’ stronger belief in technology than in humans. This is important because, well, let us remember Mary Parker Follett’s words: Not only are you responsible for serving your community, but you are partly responsible for there being any community to serve. Ponder.



Written by Bruce