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This distinction can be clarified best with examples. Take the extreme difference be- tween a religion such as Buddhism or Christianity and money. Religions are based on substantive value choices, choices that reflect a preferred way of life and exclude other disapproved alternatives. Money is a purely formal basis of social action. It can be used to buy an infinite variety of different things and integrated to different and contradictory ways of life without prejudice. In principle, it seems as though money carries no particu- lar substantive value in itself but can serve any value system. The question posed by substantive theory is whether technology is more like religion or more like money, as I have just described it.

Substantive theory replies that technology is more like religion. When you choose to use technology you do not simply render your existing way of life more efficient, you choose a different way of life. Technology is thus not simply instrumental to whatever values you hold. It carries with it certain values that have the same exclusive character as relig- ious belief. But technology is even more persuasive than religion since it requires no be- lief to recognize its existence and to follow its commands. Once a society goes down the path of technological development it will be inexorably transformed into a technological society, a specific type of society dedicated to values such as efficiency and power. Tradi- tional values cannot survive the challenge of technology.

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Actually, this vision of technology can be extended to money as well. Although it seems as though money is a neutral instrument of our purposes, on closer examination we re- alize that it is much more than that. We say there are things money can’t buy such as love and happiness. Yet people do try to buy them all the time with disappointing re- sults. Bought love is after all something quite different from the real thing. Those who




base their whole lives on the power of money have poor lives. Money is fine in its place, but outside its place it corrupts and diminishes people and things. So in a sense money too has a substantive value and basing a way of life on it is a positive choice and not the best one at that.

You will have noticed the similarity between substantive theory of technology and de- terminism. In fact most substantive theorists are determinists as well. But the position I have characterized as determinism is usually optimistic and progressive. Both Marx and the modernization theorists of the post-War era believed that technology was the neu- tral servant of basic human needs. Substantive theory makes no such assumption about the needs technology serves and is critical rather than optimistic. In this context the autonomy of technology is threatening and malevolent. Once unleashed technology be- comes more and more imperialistic, taking over one domain of social life after another. In the most extreme imagination of substantivism, a Brave New World such as Huxley describes in his famous novel overtakes humanity and converts human beings into mere cogs in the machinery. This is not utopia—the “no place” of an ideal society, but dysto- pia—a world in which human individuality has been completely suppressed. Huxley has people produced on assembly lines for specific social purposes and conditioned to be- lieve exactly those things that adapt them to their function. People have become, as Marshall McLuhan once said, the “sex organs of the machine world.”

The most famous substantive theorist was Martin Heidegger, a major 20th century German philosopher. Heidegger argued that modernity is characterized by the triumph of technology over every other value. He noted that Greek philosophy had already based its understanding of being on technical making and argued that this starting point cul- minates in modern technology. Where the Greeks took technê as the model of being in theory, we have transformed being technically in practice. Our metaphysics is not in our heads but consists in the real technical conquest of the earth. This conquest transforms everything into raw materials for technical processes, including human beings them- selves.

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