Thinking about environmentalism, a blog

by Chris Salazar.  Photography by Sean Henry.

Technocratic rationalism or technocracy

So the previous post was a primer, an introduction to the concept of what a “progress trap” is. Today we’re going to continue that conversation but segue into several terms that you may or may not be familiar with: Technocratic rationalism or technocracy. These two terms are relatively new and deal with…you guessed it: Technology and deduction.

Blog continues below.  Click on any image to engage the slideshow of inland empire images by Sean Henry.

So the previous post was a primer, an introduction to the concept of what a “progress trap” is. Today we’re going to continue that conversation but segue into several terms that you may or may not be familiar with: Technocratic rationalism or technocracy. These two terms are relatively new and deal with…you guessed it: Technology and deduction.

But before we go any further let’s break these terms down because it’s rather important to understand the language being used so as to avoid confusion. Now, technocracy, generally speaking, refers to a form of government governed by technicians. That is, society is managed by technical experts (engineers, scientists etc). It’s important to note that this concept is still largely hypothetical, how much so is up for debate, but this does not detract from its significance. Moving on, rationalism, in epistemology, states that “reason is the chief source and test for knowledge.” However, more formally the term rationalism can be defined as a methodology in which the criterion of truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. Those who consider themselves rationalists believe that the universe or reality has a logical structure, and as such, conjecture that our intellect can grasp this logical framework, these truths. Moreover, they assert that this structure exist in mathematics, logic,  ethics and metaphysics and are so radically true that to deny them is to live in contradiction. Rationalists place such a great confidence in reason that proof and physical evidence are not required to confirm truth. In other words, knowledge can be gained independent of sensory experience.

Hopefully, you now have a better grasp and see where we’re headed (hint: pay attention to the italics).

So far we’ve defined “technocracy” and “rationalism” but what do I mean by “technocratic rationalism”? Simply put, it deals with individual or societal commitment to and a preoccupation with technology or technical specialization as a means of transcending the ails that plague our globalized civilization. Thus creativity or rather creative solutions slowly fall to the wayside. To be sure, I am not advocating that technology is the devil in disguise, however, I want to make clear that unless we truly understand how ecosystems work, whether financial, political or environmental, technological advancements become a quick fix without ever addressing the actual problem itself.

An example of how problems are created by technical specialization is the mismanagement of irrigation or grazed pasture resulting in desertification. Sumer is a classic example of how inaccuracies, specifically as they pertain to technology’s appearance of transcendence, may compound itself and become irreversible. Sumer was no longer able to support their crop production because of the high degree of salinity in the soil. This was brought about by a campaign of output-irrigation canals and logging.  The modern day equivalent can be seen in our unabated oil consumption. So far the proposed solution that has received great praise is the bio-engineering of algae to create crude oil. To me, this is a progress trap bar non. The solution is not more but rather less. Less production and consumption of the environmental derivatives which make up the basis of our entire infrastructure. The derivatives can never be more important than their source, for if we destroy their origin then there will be no derivatives to be made. So, instead of creating crude oil to meet the worlds energy demands, of which we don’t fully understand how the symbiosis of the environment will react, why not retract our misaligned notions of progress?

So how does this tie into the notion of a progress trap? Good question. I suppose if I had to put it succinctly I’d posit that we are the victims of our own success by way of mechanistic perspectives and technocratic notions of growth . That is, we have become rather efficient in our attempts to conquer the natural world, and as such, erroneously believe that our technological superiority can save us from the compound effects of human ignorance and environmental decay.

In the end, the proper application of reason, emotional intelligence, the correct implementation of technological advancements  and a return to simplicity and holisticity will serve as the foundation for future enterprises.

Thanks for reading and look out for the next post in which I’ll discuss how agriculture and it’s spin offs can aggravate or improve the integrity of the environment.

Progress Trap

This blog is all about confronting environmental issues. More specifically, I want to tackle the question of how we can create a regenerative system of agriculture. Put another way, it’s a search for viable modalities by which we can overcome the degenerative state of our habitats via the harmonious mergers of science, technology, human ingenuity and collaboration. Along the way, I will surely broaden my knowledge, gain new perspectives, and understand complex issues from diverse points of view. But, my ultimate goal is to improve the human condition, to give something back. Truly, our legacies are greater than our currencies.

“Only one who devotes himself with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” – Albert Einstein

Click on any image below to begin the slideshow.  Photos are larger in the slideshow, click on any image to begin.  The blog continues below. 



Since time immemorial we’ve altered the environment to meet our own based ends. This was a good thing. Well, for most of our evolution that is, but I suspect that we have reached the top of what author Daniel O’ Leary has coined a “progress trap”.

So, what’s a progress trap?

Simply put, and rather ironically, a progress trap occurs when human societies utilize their innate resourcefulness in pursuit of progress  and inadvertently introduce new and more complex problems that prove extremely difficult to solve due to diminished resources or political will, for fear of short term losses, stability or quality of life. Often, this perpetual cycle of progression can lead to collapse. 

The term “progress trap” gained notoriety with Martin Scorsese’s documentary Surviving Progress. While the concept is not necessarily new, the central problem lies in scale and political will, or lack thereof. To be sure, I don’t believe progress is a demon that needs to exorcised but rather a perception that needs to be readjusted. That is, our error occurs in the belief that what works on a small scale can be successfully implemented into a larger one. This extrapolation causes a depletion of natural resources and the degradation of the environment. The aftermath: an undercut of societal durability. Thus the successful implementation of our large scale innovations is subject to diminishing returns and society becomes destabilized from overpopulation, erosion, green house gas emissions or as greater consequences reveal themselves.

Unfortunately, many of those in positions of authority are simply unwilling to make the changes necessary. To do so would be to relinquish their power at the top of the political hierarchy.  Even those who challenge the status quo find they’re unable to muster the crucial economic resources and public support needed, try as they might. And, while natural resources may provide reprieve, like the European discovery of the New World, the advance of globalization has made that notion rather unlikely.

Stay tuned for the next installment where I’ll write about technocratic rationalism and agriculture and how they fit into the conversation.

This entry was published on August 18, 2014 at 4:51 pm. It’s filed under Galleries, Opinion, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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