Viable technology

Viable technology LOGOS stands for knowledge - which makes technology more than just technique.The term also denotes knowledge. Both our own and nature’s wisdom. And ways of organising a given technique. And how we and our own minds are structured by any technique. This makes technology an inclusive term for technique, knowledge and organisation.

A nuclear plant is not a proper vehicle for democratic control and does not encourage democratic modes of organisation. By contrast, windmills profit from democratic management. In fact, shared ownership around the production of energy, milk, pork and water did account for superior quality, large incomes, modest prices and a vital democracy in a prolonged, simplistic period of Danish history. This era, alas, has become a thing of the past. Put on shares and offered for sale together with the right to dispose. Put to rest by an unequivocal triad - experts, free competition and greed. We intend to learn from that past.

Decisions are ‘soft’. They can be undone, and they are susceptible to their own consequences. As for technology it is a different matter. Once established, a technology can never be undone. We will never be able to forget how to produce a nuclear plant - never forget that it is possible.

Physically speaking, there is another difference. Technology is ‘hard’. Once there it cannot be removed at a stroke. And the bigger and more expensive, the harder to get rid of. This fact is being increasingly exploited. The use of large-scale, and above all: cost-intensive - technologies is gradually eliminating our possibilities of changing, rethinking, redoing - which actually means that we are losing our potential to learn by experience and thus get wiser. Obviously, this is the underlying intention, when mega-technologies are being pressed on against the wish of the population.

If asked, we do not want highways; nor do we want the big shopping malls. However, once they exist, we are sure to use both - of course. And such large-scale technology will not be demolished - even now that the problems have begun to surface. Thus, the unviable mega-technologies have become efficient tools in the combat against common rule.

The Democracy Project & The Enlightenment Project Any history is also the history of technology. Deeply religious farmers once populated the American South states with black slaves. The steam engine freed the slaves. But does that make the steam engine a viable technology, or farming an unviable one? It is not all that simple. Slavery or pesticides, both are plagues, and cotton production remains wrong. They are as ambiguous as industry and steam engine.

The question ends up right on our table: How do we use things, and how do they mould us? This point is promising and optimistic as well, for if anything, technology is our own doing: If we want to shape our life and history (and we do), then it is a also a question of technology. Today social life, environment, culture, and democracy are falling apart. This, too, has technological reasons.

A different pathway requires a different technology. Proper management of the familiar one won’t do it. There is no such thing as a ‘proper’ way of managing nuclear plants, highways and pesticides. In that case we would be discussing adopted, and not adapted technology. What we need is applied technology, integrating four sustainability elements: environment, culture, social life, and democracy. Only so can technology development follow through a solution where doing the right thing is sometimes an uphill job. Technology, a viable technology, also implies a democracy project and an enlightenment project.


Features of a viable technology

What are the features of a viable technology and its techniques? They include:

reversibility, i.e. of nature enabling removal without irrepararable consequences.

a local basis, i.e. that they respond to local conditions, and are based on local resources, climate and soil.

integrating, meaning that any technology whose remains can be used as raw material for others, or which utilises the remains generated by other technologies will be preferred regardless of its economic feasibility.‹

‘cyclicity’, that is, applying reusable or recyclable materials.

essential, including that it helps stop the shareholders of the agrochemical industry from increasing their profits.

democratic, i.e. call for democratic organisation, and of a scale and risk profile open to control by democratic bodies.

balanced, meaning that no technology should reach such dimensions or complexity that it can no longer be controlled by man or democratic bodies.

be substitutive, meaning that by comparison any technology is viable whenever substituting a less viable one.

Viable technology implies a rich knowledge and organisation structure Technology has to be rich in knowledge and organisational structures, but light in matter. As an example, ‘rich in structures’ implies that,
- the biogas plant will discuss slurry and sludge deliveries with the local water treatment plant and the organic farmers;
- the organic farmers will contract with the biogas plant to have the residual product returned and distributed. Such an approach will require that a social dialogue on sludge quality is already in place - which in turn implies decisions regarding agrochemicals; and the entire local community need to be involved, since such manoeuvres are often not feasible from a purely economic viewpoint. Other values will have to be thrown into the feasibility scales, and someone will make sure to keep management people and economists away from the meetings. And once the fish have returned to the sea, the farmers will agree with the coastal fishermen for phosphate deliveries from landed seaweed and refuse - and also with the local community, since this won’t be feasible either, seen from the speculator’s viewpoint. And the CHP plant will supply surplus heat for producing green-fodder pellets. And the biogas people, windmill people and CHP people will get together for talks about how to optimise and co-ordinate the heat and power supply. And everyone will meet and talk about the school, the local co-operative bank and a local commitment to pension savings. The same goes for the towns, even cities, and will invariably require productions to be small-scale and viable. What we have at hand makes the technological landmarks of something with a reasonable chance of evolving into common rule; however, this cannot be done on a large-scale basis. It is only possible in a local way. But then we might have the beginnings of some decent and meaningful harvest festivals - and then we can let in the management folk. For a start, they might just try to learn dancing with someone different than themselves.

Viable technology generates meaningful culture
Harvest comes before the harvest festival, in terms of chronology as well as inspiration. Harvest is the ritualisation of a reality and an effort. As such, the harvest creates the festival, and not vice versa - a true celebration. Obviously, the local evening school is free to arrange a harvest festival, without having completed a harvest; and of course the drivers of the machine pool are free to arrange a harvest festival some late night, when they’ve taken the station’s combine harvester to the garage; but such a lot won’t amount to much of a dance. Which of course makes an excellent argument for returning to men with scythes and harvest girls with rakes; it also underlines the simple truth that the crop (the product) and the harvest (the effort) go before the dance (culture). This is equally true of the topping-out ceremony and the launching of a ship - all that we have left by now.

Or take the first strawberries of the year (in the days when they were seasonal) - an occasion in its own right, culture or not. Anyway, eating dilapidated insipid strawberries all the year round has nothing to do with culture. Detached from effort and occasion culture has deteriorated into entertainment - and one often used for compensation right where people have been excluded from efforts and occasions. Then they will make a little culture by themselves. Viewed in that light, it does somehow make monstrously sense when democratically elected politicians are insisting on more TV channels as the target of a major political effort. Increased air time is used for increasing the number of utterly stupidifying and violence-glorifying serials. Children are spending more and more time in front of the tellies, which all respectable politicians regret - only to canvass their voters using catchwords such as ‘more television channels’. If that’s supposed to be a culture policy we’d be better off without it.

A viable technology does not aim to create the basis of a meaningful culture; however, it will .... There will be occasions to celebrate because we’ve joined in, done well and can answer for it. Who knows, harvest festivals in the Mariager Fiord area may have been a bit lame in 1997?

Horsecart and/or tractor?


Experiments have shown with irrefutable results that if you abstain from trimming their tailtufts, cows are perfectly able to whisk the flies off their udders. Considering the fact that no eggheads were involved in contriving the said tail, it is quite a marvel what such a cow can think of; and compared to diverse technical and chemical fly repellents this is what we could term a viable technology - and nature’s own. Muscovy ducks in cowsheds is yet another viable fly-limiting technology, a knowledge-intensive one that solely relies on the farmer’s proficiency. So are genetically manipulated insecticides, of course; but in their case the knowledge lies somewhere else, padlocked and patented. Reasonable technology is rich in knowledge triggering action - in this case involving cows, flies, and ducks. Obviously, it is harder to comprehend the intricacies of protein synthesis and whatever else belongs to the paraphernalia of genetic manipulators. Yet there is more inherent wisdom in the cow’s tailtuft - only, the cow has it! The knowledge required on our part is about interacting with living organisms. It’s the horse versus the tractor, or is it the horse and the tractor? Could Little Claus and Big Claus be one and the same?

[Illustration: Little Claus and Big Claus, from the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.]

Looking at organic farming, we find the same picture, though with radically increased requirements regarding the farmer’s insight, knowledge and intuition. Drawing on nature’s wisdom is not simple and requires more than just knowledge: intuition, insight and respect. While, in agrochemical agriculture, we may just as well leave out the three aspects. With agrochemical agriculture you can grow the same crop on the same spot of land for year and year again. The soil is exhausted, encouraging plant disease and pests. In terms of plant diseases, large monoculture areas, year by year, become just like refugee camps with cholera: sheer pest-incubators. Making skilled farmers redundant, craftsmanship, liberating us from nature - be it earth, climate or the vital requirements of organisms themselves - that is the ambition of agrochemical agriculture. An unbelievably primitive technology that has reduced agriculture, once a provider of necessities, into the profit-generating vehicle of the agrochemical industries.