Hungarian Conservative

The Perfection of Technology and ‘Global Greenwashing’

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As long as people are conditioned to become consumers by advertising applied on an industrial scale, and as long as material comfort and interest are above all else, the environmental crisis will not be solved satisfactorily and especially not with more technology.

As Ernst Jünger’s brother, the poet and thinker Friedrich Georg Jünger wrote, technology is something that is completely opposed to beauty—we can also see this in the myth of Prometheus: the gods do not like homo faber and blacksmithing—, from which modern technology derives itself:  this art is ‘taught by dwarfs, cripples and scamps.’ Technology is the epitome of the titanic pride that the Greek gods fight against, and that fights against the gods themselves. Prometheus’s power lies in the confusion and rebellion that pushes Zeus from his ‘golden throne’ to strip the world of the gods and replace them with himself. Homo faber ‘is hated by the gods because of his zeal, his ceaseless activity, his feverish activity, his desire for unbridled power.’[1]

The idea of permeating the world with technology is deeply rooted in the European soul. According to Oswald Spengler, this can also be called a ‘Faustian idea.’ Goethe’s Faust makes a deal with Mephistopheles on top of the highest mountain in northern Germany (the Brocken in the Harz Mountains, which was considered the site of witches’ Sabbaths in the Middle Ages). With this image, Spengler refers to a German legend from the second half of the 17th century, in which Doctor Faustus, an unsatisfied man of contemporary science, makes a ‘Faustian bargain’ in exchange for previously unattainable magical power and unlimited pleasures. Although in the short term these pleasures will satisfy him, his soul will, however, be pushed into eternal damnation.

Spengler’s Faustian man is attracted by a ‘primordial symbol’: the desire to conquer the infinite space unfolding before him. It is this desire that, after all, with the effective help of technology, has created the ‘globalized world’ which is more civilized than any previous one. However, let’s add: according to Spengler, ‘civilization’ is just a phase of a wider circle of culture. Civilization is sharply separated from the original meaning of ‘culture’, which is an organic, living, spiritual and creative reality. Civilization, on the other hand, is something like old age: stiff and tired and therefore machine-like. It believes that through machines it can conquer the infinity, but it actually needs the machines more and more to keep itself alive with ‘artificial respiration.’

As the technological permeation of the world and the process of industrialization progress more and more, the seas become polluted, and invisible toxins enter the earth, water and air—the effects of this will gradually become obvious in many areas—, there is more talk about climate protection or environmental pollution. Although it would be more correct to say nature pollution instead of ‘environmental pollution.’ The narrowest environment that surrounds us at the beginning of the 21st century has itself been permeated by technology to such an extent that it cannot be called ‘nature’ in any previous sense of the word. Today, we see everything through the filter of technology. If we look at a world that has not yet been overwhelmed by it, we often see a landscape deeply shaped by it; a ‘planted forest’, so to say, looking back at us, and if we still find ourselves outside the sphere of technology, it is as if we were in some ‘foreign world.’

Nowadays, environmental pollution itself is often attributed to an unforeseen, or rather unwanted consequence of technological progress and global industrialization. However, its possible solution—and this is very characteristic of modern thinking, given its profoundly technocentric nature—is also expected from technology.

It is as if it were completely impossible to solve any problem that arises in any other way than with even more (newer) techniques.

As if the matter were not yet complete: the interpenetration of the world with technology today is not yet satisfactory, and the propagation of the supposedly all-solving ‘digitalization’ in various forums is also aligned with this. Newer technology—or ‘environmentally friendly’ technology—apparently cannot and will not solve the problem of the fundamental mentality behind modern environmental destruction. Formed into a watchword, this mentality stems first and the foremost from the idea of ​​technical perfection, which the man of the most modern age, along with the still existing belief in progress, cannot give up by any means. As for technology, he sees only the short-term, doubtless benefits, but fails to admit the long terms results that speak for themselves.

Some of us consider the pollution of the natural environment just some kind of derailment, a ‘fixable problem’; but this mentality is also in close proximity with the belief in progress: in reality, we just do not know the far reaching consequences. In this context, the so-called environmental pollution is just as much a technical issue as any other problem that arises: if the technology continues to develop, then these things will sort of be solved—in other words, the problem is not with the technology itself, but only with the technology that is not ‘environmentally friendly’ enough. They never assume that the idea of the technological permeation of the world itself stems from a deeper psychological level of mentality-change regarding nature: of Cartesian dualism and subsequent materialism. In its sense, nature is ‘completely different’: a mere extension that is profoundly alien to us as a self-enclosed thinking thing (res cogitans in Descartes). The idea of technological power first appears in Bacon’s New Atlantis, and later develops itself into Descartes’s ‘rational mechanism’: a human person can improve his destiny first of all if he does not expect it from a transcendent power, but somehow ‘takes back control’ into his own hands and creates his own mechanical creatures. If his creations fail, he tries to repair the derailment caused by his Promethean ingenuity with renewed actions.  

The environmental protection movements and climate protection policies, which are currently pursued by various green organizations, Greta Thunberg’s ‘climate strikes’ and the more radical, left-wing movements (Just Stop Oil, Letzte Generation), while falsely identify capitalism with conservatism, political power with tradition, consumer society with European culture, are not solving the problem. Rather, they are diverting it onto the social and political plane.

Climate protection is rising to the rank of official politics in the EU,

while—regarding the intertwining between the political and the industrial complex—the same industrial interests responsible for the process of environmental pollution could also be behind some of the ‘climate protection’ measures. A typical analogy for this is the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’ or ‘green sheen.’ The term ‘greenwashing’ was coined by the American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s, when he noticed that a hotel called itself environmentally conscious only because it offered its guests not to change their towels every day, i.e. reducing their own costs with ‘green paint.’

Elevating the so-called ‘environmental awareness’ to a political programme is often just such ‘greenwashing’—just as the organizations sponsoring environmentalists can also serve the interests of the same industrialist and technocrats who want to solve the worsening environmental crisis by developing ‘even newer techniques.’ The optimistic belief in technical progress, as inherited from the French Enlightenment and the age of industrial revolution, is largely unbroken, and environmental protection could be just another excuse for the biggest beneficiaries of global capitalism, the tech-companies, to conquer new territories, while now they can also appeal to the awakened conscience of the masses. ‘Environmental pollution’ and ‘the ecological footprint’ can thus even serve as the basis for various political sanctions,

when a political representative of an industrial-political concern wants to punish one of its ideological opponents.

Building a kind of ‘green utopia’ has long been a popular programme for those who want to replace ‘environmentally polluting’ techniques with state-of-the-art ‘environmentally friendly techniques’—for example, the ‘denuclearization’ of Germany was launched on this basis. A kind of environmental protection programme can be surmised, for example, also from Klaus Schwab’s recent books.

Nowadays, the programme of environmental protection is undoubtedly becoming a political ideology, while the so-called consumer mentality in Western societies is taking on larger proportions than ever before. The current environmental regulations are often as dishonest as they are opaque. The threat of climate change can be a means of punishing ‘ecologically sinful states.’ Green movements that ostensibly take action against the problem of environmental pollution are either ineffective on their own, or they may themselves be extras in a ‘diversionary operation.’ The further whipping up of material desires through limitless advertising, the ‘culture of the product’, and even the actual cult of material things in  ‘the society of the spectacle’ (Guy Debord) today, is much more pervasive than either at the beginning of industrial capitalism or in the years following the Second World War. Environmental pollution is thus one of the most striking results of ‘practical materialism’, along with the various forms of ideological materialism.

It is also obvious that the use of technology cannot be dispensed with in today’s world, as people have been conditioned to it for generations by industrial capitalism.  To suggest that the masses socialized in the environment of late modernity’s industrial-technical apparatus and advanced technical civilization would, as it were, voluntarily return to a social existence where almost everyone has to do uncomfortable physical work is unrealistic, to say the least. This may only work for a few ‘dissenters’, but not on a societal level. The peasant society based on the system of small estates imagined by the Anglo-Saxon distributists (Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc) as an alternative to global capitalism has utopian overtones, even if organizing the economy in such a way would actually be much more beneficial in the long run for man, society and nature than the current, new forms of ‘ecologically friendly’ industrialism.

Still, it would be necessary to embark on a different path. The hope that somehow it is really possible to solve the ‘global ecological crisis’

can only start from a radical break with the materialistic and comfort-driven mentality

that regards the world as a resource and the individual in the world primarily as a consumer. As long as people are conditioned to become such consumers by advertising applied on an industrial scale, and as long as material comfort and interest are above all else, the environmental crisis will not be solved satisfactorily and especially not with more technology. If viewing nature on a materialistic basis means that nature is a resource, then, to paraphrase here Martin Heidegger’s famous dictum, ‘not even a god can save us.’ As G. K. Chesterton wrote in 1927:

‘If we cannot go back, it hardly seems worth while to go forward. There is nothing in front but a flat wilderness of standardization either by Bolshevism or Big Business. But it is strange that some of us should have seen sanity, if only in a vision, while the rest go forward chained eternally to enlargement without liberty and progress without hope.’[2]

[1] Friedrich Georg Jünger: Die Perfektion der Technik. Verlag Vittorio Klostermann. 2010. 174.

[2] G. K. Chesterton: The outline of sanity. New York, Dodd, Mead and Company, 22.

As long as people are conditioned to become consumers by advertising applied on an industrial scale, and as long as material comfort and interest are above all else, the environmental crisis will not be solved satisfactorily and especially not with more technology.