Understanding Karl

by Evans Yonson

(Note: We begin another series in The Light Traveller. As a traveller, most of the time we read about the grounds that we are in and our host culture. History gives us an idea of the past in order for us to really appreciate the present and understand what will be.)

They say that to begin a paper, or a presentation, or even a personal diary, it is not good to start with negative thoughts or ideas. But I must admit that my theoretical foundations in the social sciences are not that strong. I have read on several theorists like Marx, Weber, Giddens and many more while I was doing my university studies in a small island in the Philippines, where books on theories, especially on social sciences, are a rare find. I remember one professor of mine, the only person in my city, who had a copy of The Communist Manifest that students and professors from other universities had to line up to borrow it. We had to copy everything by writing it down because there were no photocopying machines then. But that was before the age of advanced technology. Not being able to get hold of The Communist Manifest nowadays is no longer a big excuse but the greatest mockery.

Given that technology has been advancing more and more everyday beginning at the end of the last century up to the present, has it changed the way people behave in a given society? Technology (or the machine) for that matter have been influencing people’s behavior since time immemorial. Karl Marx’s thoughts on capitalism and the proletariat were founded on the idea revolving around the machine. The concept of technological determinism then gets into the picture of my opinion. The technological determinist view is a technology-led theory of social change: technology is seen as ‘the prime mover’ in history. In economics, this is known as a ‘technology-push’ theory rather than a ‘demand-pull’ theory. To view technological determinism in this day and age, let us try to use mass media and communication, where communication technologies and media are the sole or prime antecedent causes of changes in society, and technology is seen as the fundamental condition underlying the pattern of social organization.

Karl Mark is often associated to technological determinism because technology and machine played a great part in most of his writings. An example of this could be taken from his “The Poverty of Philosophy” (1847); “The windmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.” However, several technological determinists like Marshall McLuhan, Leslie White, Siegfried Giedion, Lynn White Jr and Harold Innis insist that Marx was not a technological determinist. These determinists see things differently as Marx did in his time. The present determinists take technology in general and information and communications technologies in particular as the foundation of society in the past, present and even the future. I believe that Karl Marx laid the foundation for all these technological determinists to move on and analyze the past, the present and the future. Karl Marx becomes defenseless at this point save for his loyal followers and if he were alive today, then he would have said what Hypatia said in her days, “if I fail to prove my hypothesis now, then I must start all over again to prove my point.”