Interiority over Mechanism

September 13th, 2019 / 5 Comments

Civilization today is increasingly shaped by machines and technology. While machines can be helpful, their benefits can tempt us to think we, other creatures, and the world are machines. And we can be tempted to think technology is our savior.

I’ve recently been thinking about civilization writ large. The ecological crisis, my engagement with Institute for Ecological Civilization, and my belief in the primacy of love have spurred this recent work.

I want to see civilization become oriented around love. In previous blog essays, I’ve talked about the kingdom of God and similar phrases as pointing to what I’m calling “a loving civilization.” I think building a loving civilization is possible.

As I see it, a loving civilization prioritizes interiority over mechanism. In this essay, I explain briefly what I mean.

Mechanism

The power of machines and technology tempt us to think our primary good comes in promoting the mechanization of society. That can tempt us to spend time away from plants, animals, wilderness, and open spaces.

I believe a loving civilization rejects the mechanization mentality. And it prioritizes the inner life and natural world.

The scientific revolution and computer age have affected the way many think about what it means to be a creature. The underlying thought patterns of many shifted from animism to mechanism, from thinking of creatures as organisms to thinking of them as computers.

Instead of seeing creatures and creation as alive, ensouled, responsive, or aware, many now regard the world and its creatures – including humans – as machines.

Our Purpose?

Charlie Brooker, the co-creator of the popular Netflix series Black Mirror, seems to buy into the mechanization mystique.

“It looks like we’re going to have to rethink our position in the world over the next four decades or so,” says Brooker, “as we begin to cede more and more control to automation and computers. We’ve got to work out what our purpose is. And if we’ve got [a machine] that thinks it knows better than us what we should be doing, maybe we should start listening to it.”[1]

I believe a loving civilization sees the purpose of life in terms of love. And love requires interiority. Machines don’t have interiority.

A loving civilization regards creatures as valuing beings rather than machines. Creatures feel, enjoy, and respond intentionally. Machines do not possess these capacities, because they are constructed of entities externally related to one another. This distinction matters.

Organismic Philosophy

Perhaps the best overall framework to make sense of creatures as possessing interiority is the organismic philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.[2] Instead of regarding existence as comprised entirely of substances ricocheting off one another steel balls in an arcade game,

Whitehead believed we and all beings are fundamentally experiential. He agreed with William James who said existing beings are “drops of experience.”[3]

Thomas Berry identifies the interiority issue when he says, “the universe is composed of subjects to be communed with not objects to be exploited.”[4] Subjects have interiority.

We make better sense of both simple and complex creatures if we place priority upon mentality, response, choice, valuing, and more. The mechanization mentality ignores or even denies these capacities fundamental to organisms. We must place interiority before mechanism.

Existence and Subjects

Seeing existence as comprised of subjects with interiority provides a conceptual framework for understanding love for all others, human and nonhuman. This interior dimension is a way of talking about our feeling and expressing love.

In many previous blogs, I’ve spelled out what love means. Defining love carefully is important if we are to make progress toward a loving civilization. And I’ve argued that we need a revolution of love to make that kind of progress.

Humans are not the only creatures capable of love and interiority. In loving civilizations, members respect the feelings and bodies of humans and nonhumans. Other creatures matter too.

Conclusion

While machines and technology can be useful in the work to promote overall well-being, we must avoid thinking of creatures are machines. And we must spend time with other creatures and nature more broadly to remind ourselves of the priority of interior life.

Without seeing ourselves and others firstly as subjects with interiority, little progress can be made to establish a loving civilization. A loving civilization assumes the priority of interiority.

If we don't see ourselves and others first as subjects with interiority, we can make little progress toward establishing a loving civilization. Click To Tweet

[1] Matthew Reynolds, “Charlie Brooker on tech’s next terrifying Black Mirror moment,” Wired (12/28/17) http://www.wired.co.uk/article/black-mirror-tech-future (Accessed 2/7/18)

[2] Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, corrected edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York:  Free Press, 1978; orig. ed., 1929).

[3] James, Some Problems of Philosophy (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1911), 172, 185.

[4] Quoted in Derrick Jensen, Listening to the Land (White River, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2004), 2.

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Comments

Phil Bence

Thanks, Tom. You quoted one writer who sees the world mechanistically. How commonly do you think this view might be held? Where does Wendell Berry fit into your thinking?


Lisa

Hi Doc! You might find it interesting that is the first principle of SAORI weaving is “Consider the differences between people and machines”. In other words, people should not try to imitate machines in their hand weaving. In weaving you should only do what a human being can do. https://www.loopoftheloom.com/weaving


thomasjayoord

Thanks for that info, Lisa!


thomasjayoord

Phil – I love Wendell Berry! I think many think of humans as machines when they want to use humans for some end, irrespective of the needs and love these humans need.


Carlton Larsen

Thanks for the Whitehead quote. I am glad to get another sneak peak of what I am getting into as I read Process and Reality.


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