When Technologies Take on a Life of Their Own.
A Featured Review of
Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present
Paperback: Princeton UP, 2011.
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Reviewed by Myles Werntz.
In an age of iPads, digital uploads, drone surveillance, and debates over the limits of the Internet, the question of whether or not “technology” is an unlimited good remains an open question. Proponents of the most recent iteration of the technology revolution will decry the naysayers as “Luddites”, while the inheritors of Wendell Berry and Jacques Ellul will continue to remain suspicious of technology’s pervasive effects within society, and (more perniciously) over against society. As Wendell Berry has argued, technology may be an aid to communal life, or it can destroy it; the latter use of technological advances–the use of arrows in Genghis Kahn’s conquest of Asia, or the use of gunpowder to colonize Africa–remains the dark side of technological advances.
This last point–the relationship between technology and the subjugation of people is the subject of Daniel Headrick’s Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present, in which we are presented with an account of western imperialism, and its relationship to technology. Headrick notes that the common assumption is that imperialist cultures flourish because they are able to make use of superior technology. Such a narrative is too facile, Headrick argues, for it assumes that superior manipulation of natural elements (technology) always results in a successful conquest.