Essay on Summary of The Whale and the Reactor by Langdon Winner

Essay on Summary of The Whale and the Reactor by Langdon Winner

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Summary of The Whale and the Reactor by Langdon Winner (pp. ix-39, 99-200).
Winner states implicitly that he wishes to add his book to a surprisingly short list of works that can be characterized as "philosophy of technology" (which includes Marx and Heidegger). His book will deal primarily with the political and social aspects of this philosophy, pertinent since as he notes the world is changing because of tech., no longer comprised of national entities--a global economy, etc. In this context he will also look at language and determine how adequate it is presently for handling the state of the art high tech world. His ultimate and ever present question being asked throughout his book is, "How can we limit modern technology to match our best sense of who we are and the kind of world we would like to build?" (xi), since the "basic task for a philosophy of technology is to examine critically the nature and significance of artificial aids to human activity" (4). Winner makes a crucial distinction: "technologies are not merely aids to human activity, but also powerful forces acting to reshape that activity and its meaning" (6). Of course, the social arena is directly and profoundly influenced by tech. W cites a recent court case from San Diego where, as in Los Angeles, virtually everyone travels everywhere by car, of "a young man who enjoyed taking long walks at night through the streets of San Diego and was repeatedly arrested by police as a suspicious character." A criminal court ruled, however, that "Merely traveling by foot is not yet a crime" (9). Yet it is important not simply to see tech as the "cause" of all world "effects." Rather, "as technologies are being built and put to use, significant alterations in patterns of human activity and human institutions are already taking place" (11). All the same, tech developments are absorbed into the ever mutating process of human activity so that they some to be taken for granted and are integrated into our view of what is natural and/or inherent in the world--they become "second nature," as Winner, taking after Wittgenstein, terms it, they become part of our "forms of life" (11).
In this context we can best appreciate certain crossroads or perhaps better to say thresholds we are facing, such as geneti...


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...uot; [174]. What, now, that we are involved in changing "the gene pool" [174]? Where, now, do we store our abundance of radio active waste?) Even when we make decisions to institute new technologies, considering their relative risks, even when these decisions are based on the best available scientific evidence, we may be making terrible mistakes--as is often borne out be later scientific evidence that causes revision of the earlier findings. Unfortunately, what we often do in this circumstance, W says, is begin to rationalize our original
decisions, rather than tearing down the edifice we have constructed because it is now deemed to be not safe; we begin to ask, "just how unsafe is it, then? is it safe 'enough'?" W's point is that unsafe is unsafe. Period. "More and more the whole language used to talk about technology and social policy--the language of 'risks,' 'impacts,' and 'trade-off-smacks of betrayal. . . . The excruciating subtleties of measurement and modeling mask embarrassing shortcomings in human judgment. We have become careful with numbers, callous with everything else. Our methodological rigor is becoming spiritual rigor mortis" (176).

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