Neodicy: balancing technology’s promise against its pitfalls

Paul Raven @ 15-12-2010

Over at his own blog, gruff comics-writing curmudgeon Warren Ellis turns the mic over to Jamais Cascio for a slice of bullshit-free futurism. Cascio’s thoughts on neodicy – your neologism for the week – chime nicely with my reasons-to-be-hopeful-if-you-can’t-be-cheerful from yesterday. Take it away, Jamais:

This deep fear that what we have built will both give us heretofore unimagined power and ultimately lay us to waste has been with us for centuries, from the story of Icarus to the story of Frankenstein to the story of the Singularity. But because of its mythical roots, few foresight professionals give this fear sufficient credence. Not in the particulars of each story (I don’t think we have much cause to worry about the risks associated with wax-and-feather personal flight), but in the recognition that for many people, a desire to embrace “the future” is entangled with a real, visceral fear of what the future holds for us.

[…]

… the real value of a neodicy is not in the utility it provides, but the understanding. For too many of us, “the future” is a bizarre and overwhelming concept, where danger looms large amidst a shimmering assortment of gadgets and temptations. We imagine that, at best, the shiny toys will give us solace while the dangers unfold, and thoughts of the enormous consequences about to fall upon us are themselves buried beneath the desire for immediate (personal, economic, political) gratification. Under such conditions, it’s easy to lose both caution and hope.

A world where futurology embraces the concept of neodicy won’t make those conditions go away, but it would give us a means of pushing back. Neodicies could provide the necessary support for caution and hope, together. Theodicy is often defined simply as an explanation of why the existence of evil in the world doesn’t rule out a just and omnipotent God; we can define neodicy, then, as an explanation of why a future that contains dangers and terrible risks can still be worth building — and worth fighting for.

Amen, brother.

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2 Responses to “Neodicy: balancing technology’s promise against its pitfalls”

  1. Buffalo says:

    My visceral reaction to this is that the future will remain sinister to all in some way simply because inevitably it contains our individual deaths somewhere along the line, irregardless of technology. Death is the ultimate unknown and I think that people are not really that comfortable with the totally unfamiliar. About the dangers and possible benefits of advancing technology, two thoughts come to mind. First, can we really accurately predict what a technological development will lead to? Look at the internet, for example. I understand that no one who was involved in the initial idea had any thought that this would be what we ended up with. Second, it is implied by the articles that technology advances human civilization. I’m not so sure about that at all.

  2. Jetse says:

    To recap: “We put hope in front of fear”, as Steve Perry sang in Journey’s “Frontiers” in 1983.

    Not that I’ve been saying something similar for quite a while…;-)