Technology, Science and Democracy: Why care about their Synergy?

By Tadesse Nigatu

“There are, as we have seen, a number of different modes of technological innovation. Before the seventeenth century inventions (empirical or scientific) were diffused by imitation and adaption while improvement was established by the survival of the fittest. Now, technology has become a complex but consciously directed group of social activities involving a wide range of skills, exemplified by scientific research, managerial expertise, and practical and inventive abilities. The powers of technology appear to be unlimited. If some of the dangers may be great, the potential rewards are greater still. This is not simply a matter of material benefits for, as we have seen, major changes in thought have, in the past, occurred as consequences of technological advances.”
                                                                                                  D. S. L. CARDWELL

Introduction

Taken together, Technology, Science and Democracy are the most powerful enterprises that have changed humanity for the better. The irony is that most of us do not see interdependency and synergy among them all. Democracy is associated with politics alone while science and technology linked with economy.  But a closer look reveals that they are closely related and interdependent.

A holistic approach that involves Science, technology and democracy should be at the forefront to solve societal problems such as poverty, poor public health, lack of good education, environmental deterioration, repression, corruption, and other social ills. Obviously, this is not the case in Ethiopia. EPRDF -the party in power, does not recognize the holistic approach to the solutions of the country’s challenge. To EPRDF, economic development (application of Technology) must be dealt with first before we start implementing democracy. This is a twisted and one-sided approach did not relief Ethiopians from the chronic starvation let alone to move the country forward towards development.

Genuine development comes from the citizens of a country who pursue the scientific approach to democracy and technology. At a granular level, democracy is the application of scientific principle to governance to create a harmonious society. And it is only technology that is in the hands of the citizen that can develop a nation.

This article attempts to show the connection between them and the practical implication of those relations towards a better Ethiopia. Before I do that, I first look at technology, science and democracy separately with bird’s eye view. I then show how they relate to each other and the critical role they play to bring the social change that makes real difference. Let me start with technology.

Technology

Let’s start by asking what technology is? Technology is that human endeavor that seeks to bring nature and its forces under control, to liberate us, humans, from misery and toil, and to enrich our lives. Scholars in the field regard Technology as a human endeavor comprising of artifactsknowledgeactivities and volition [1].

Technology as artifacts refers to material objects such as tools, machines, power plants, and all others humanly fabricated material artifacts and consumer products. Technology as knowledge refers to the skills and know-how of making and using of artifacts and include recipes, procedures, laws, rules and theories. Technology as activity: Technology is more than material artifacts such as tools and machines and mental cognition and knowledge. Technology is also activity or that pivotal event in which knowledge and volition (intent) unite to bring artifacts into existence or to use them. The actions of inventing, designing, manufacturing, constructing and using all comprise technology as activity.

Technology as volition: In addition to artifacts, set of knowledge and activities, Technology is also associated with the desire, will, motivation, drive, aspiration, intentions and choices. Technology expresses itself as a will to satisfy human needs, the will to control nature and society, the will to be free, the will to be efficient.   Therefore, the desire to know and use technology and understanding its consequences is part of technology itself.

Further, ‘technology’ frequently refers to some (but not all) varieties of social organization – factories, workshops, bureaucracies, armies, research and development teams, and the like. For our uses here, the term ‘organization’ will signify all varieties of technical (rational-productive) social arrangements. Another closely related term – ‘network’ – will mark those large-scale systems that combine people and apparatus linked across great distances… (Winner, 1978) [2].

In short, the term technology refers to all activities geared to finding solutions to human challenges and aspirations.

Technology as the foundational human enterprise  

 

In the very early part of our history, humans could not be distinguished from their ancestral brothers and sisters, the apes and monkeys. Because humans could develop- and use tools, not only they were able to survive the extinction that befell other species but they could also thrive to dominate the earth. Given that humans are physically weak compared other primates, without Technology, they could not have survived the hostile and changing natural environment by biological adaptation alone.

 

It can be said, then, that modern humans are in many ways a product of their own labor and tools without which they would not be the present-day humankind.   In their struggle to survive, humankind, through their useful tools, have developed from a hunting community (simply a parasite upon nature) to an agricultural community–the start of civilization. Agriculture, in turn, enabled in the development of settled community.  This settlement taught mankind not only to understand and cope with laws of nature, but also to cooperate with other human beings to advance their common well­ being.

 

Over time, the settled communities developed higher order social systems where the advances of technology began to branch out from farming to taming animals, pottery, metalworks, toolmaking, developing transportation, trade, etc.

 

 

People also developed language, art and literature. All these led to the development of full-fledged society as we know it today.   At this stage of its development, human society had realized that their well-being depended on the advancement of technology.  Therefore, although not without interruption and failure, humankind have constantly attempted to improve and develop technology.

 

Technology is therefore both the creation and creator of human society.  This is to say without technology, mankind, as we know it today, would not have existed, and on the other hand, it is only mankind who can develop and utilize technology.  It is difficult to imagine social progress without the parallel progress of technology. The fact that historians named human civilization according to the materials they dominantly used such as Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Nuclear Age, etc., shows that the development of society is very closely tied to the development of technology.

In today’s life, almost every society (including societies in the remotest part of the world) is affected by Technology. In fact, if there is any single endeavor that has affected human life in all its facets, it is technology.  Almost every activity in a society is affected–sometimes determined by it.  Production and distribution of goods and services, education, recreation, the conduct of war, health, etc., are but a few examples determined by it. Technological development is a major criterion for categorizing the countries of the world.  Those countries with advanced technologies, known as first world countries, have the power to decide not only their own future but also the futures of countries with less advanced technologies. On the other hand, the starving, the ignorant, the destitute, and the sick are in those countries with the least advanced technologies.  The technologies in these countries are not capable of improving the production goods, distribution of knowledge, health, and other important services which developing communities need.  The difference in technological development has created nations that are strong and influential as well as nations that are weak and dependent. The key-take-away point here is that if we want to defeat poverty and underdevelopment technology is our best partner.

 

Science

Here too, let’s begin by asking what Science is. A typical dictionary definition of Science goes like this: Science is “The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation [scientific method], and theoretical explanation of phenomena. Such activities to stablish fact-based, objective knowledge include both the natural as well as social phenomena. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study[3]. Science is accumulated and established knowledge, which has been systematized and formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws. It is a set of knowledge that is classified, comprehensive, profound and philosophical the search for truth.

Science is not merely a collection of facts, concepts, and useful ideas about nature and society, or even the systematic investigation of both, although both interpretations are common definitions of science. Science is a method of investigating nature and society–a way of knowing about nature, and society–that discovers reliable knowledge about them. In other words, science is a method of discovering reliable knowledge about nature and society. There are other methods of discovering and learning (knowing) about nature or society (these other knowledge methods or systems will be briefly mentioned below), but science is the only method that results in the acquisition of reliable knowledge.

Reliable knowledge is knowledge that has a high probability of being true because its accuracy has been justified by a reliable inquiry method. Reliable knowledge is sometimes called justified true belief, to distinguish reliable knowledge from belief that is false and unjustified or even true but unjustified. Note that no distinction is made between belief and knowledge at this point. It can be said that what one believes is what one’s knows. The important distinction that should be made is whether one’s knowledge or beliefs are true and, if true, are justifiably true (can be proved). Every person has knowledge or beliefs, but not every person’s knowledge is reliably true and justified. In fact, some individuals believe in things that are untrue or unjustified or both. Many people possess a lot of unreliable knowledge and, still act on that knowledge! Other ways of knowing, and there are many (other than science), are not reliable because their claimed knowledge is not justified. Science is a method that allows a person to possess, with the highest degree of certainty possible, reliable knowledge (justified true belief) about nature, society, knowledge and the process of knowing. The method used to acquire and justify scientific knowledge, and therefore to make it the most reliable, is called the scientific method. 

The Scientific method has three central critical thinking components. 1. Observations, data, hypotheses, testing, and theories, are the formal parts and flow of the scientific method, but these are NOT the only important components of the scientific method. 2. The scientific method is practiced within a context of scientific thinking, and scientific (and critical) thinking is based on three things: using empirical evidence (empiricism), practicing logical reasoning (rationalism), and possessing a skeptical attitude (skepticism) about presumed knowledge that leads to self-questioning, holding tentative conclusions, and 3. Being undogmatic (willingness to change one’s beliefs) when facts prevail. These three principles are universal throughout science; without them, there would be no scientific or critical thinking [4]

Furthermore, the conviction of science is that nature is intrinsically knowable, that it can be probed, that causes can be singled out, that understanding is gained if phenomena and their implications are explored in highly controlled ways5.

The scientific method along with its critical thinking components have accelerated the rate at which humans generate tested and true knowledge. Armed with the true scientific knowledge, humans could discover the laws of nature (both physical as well as biological), and society. With the understanding of the natural and social laws, they in turn could build technological systems and operational methods to produce more, travel far, communicate faster, live healthier and longer, understand the deeper secrete of nature, build harmonious social systems etc.

 

Democracy

Most of us are all familiar that, the word Democracy stands for “government by the people and for the people.”  The principal purposes of democratic government are to promote and protect people’s rights, interests, and welfare so that they live together in harmony (without war and dislocation). So, for democratic government to work, every citizen (minus criminals of course) must be free, equal, responsible, and respectful while participating in the process of governing and being governed. Freedom, equality, respect and responsibility lie at the heart of the concept and practice of democracy.

The following elaborate on democratic systems

  • People are the ultimate source of the authority of constitutions and governments—is a fundamental principle of democracy.
  • Free elections and other forms of civic participation are essential to democracy.
  • The People must be able to monitor and influence the behaviors of government officials in office.
  • Elections are at the heart of the practical means for the People to assert their sovereignty.
  • Elections in themselves do not fulfill the requirement of democracy; they must be free, fair, and sufficiently frequent if the People’s will to have effect.
  • As overseers of government, the People must have alternative sources of information. Freedom of the press is therefore an essential aspect of democratic government.

Now the big question is: how did people come to know and apply the above democratic principles? In other words, how did people discover these democratic principles? There is no clear-cut answer for this question. But, it is important to note that it took humankinds a long time to figure out, identify and solidify the democratic principles mentioned above.

Grounded on freedom and responsibility, the goal of democracy has been to harmonize society by requiring all citizens to respect the democratic principles. To bring harmony to a society, there must be rules of law that enforces those basic principles. Now, people did not come to these concepts, principles and rules right away. It took thousands of years, lots of bloodletting wars between rulers and the ruled, slaves and slave owners, the invaders and the invaded, the farmers and the landlords, between the factory workers and factory owners, between nations etc. For people to discover these principles. The democratic principles were created to avoid the cruel consequences exploitation, operation, discriminations and wars. They are hard earned discovery. They are discovered through the trail-and-error learning process and had to go through countless failures and iterations.  As the result, lots of learning, thinking, hypothesizing and theorizing had taken place to figure out how to best arrange, organize and re-organize people to build harmonized societies. Democracy and its principles are the sweet fruits of all those countless bitter human experiences all over the world.

Just like technology and science, the ideals of democracy had to go through many ups and downs to evolve. Our first encounter of the practice of democracy had its beginning during Greek and Roman civilizations. History also teaches us that Democracy faced a serious setback in the dark ages and regained attention during the Renaissance, and developed during enlightenment and the scientific revolution.  Democracy gained even stronger holding during the industrial revolutions (1760-1840) and the French revolution (1789-1799) and the many revolutions that took place latter in other nations (mostly European nations that advanced technology).

Seen from this perspective, it cannot be far from the truth to say that democracy also follows the footsteps of science in that it developed its principles through observations, data collection, hypotheses, testing, and forming theories. The only difference is while the experiments, data collection and observation in natural sciences are done in controlled atmosphere, the observations, data collection, hypotheses, testing for democracy are done over long periods of times (due to resistance against wars, exploitations, discriminations, invasions etc. by millions of peoples living in different societies at different times in history etc.) The facts and observations which led to the democratic principles were collected from hard-to-control “experiments”.  They were and still are very hard to control (as it is hard to control social unrests or revolutions) and as such the hypotheses and theories and conclusions that resulted in democracy had to take long time to be arrived at.

Such being the difference between the experiments in the natural and social sciences, it is within reason to state that, the Democratic principles that people in democratic countries cherish today are the results of observations and conclusions arrived at, based on the scientific inquiry as applied to society. This is to say that the democratic principles (freedom, equality, respect, responsibility, election, rule of law etc.,) have scientific method as their basis, as they are principles that humanity arrived at through trying, observing and learning to create harmony among people.   If people did not discover those democratic principles and applied them we wouldn’t have democratic governments today. The alternative would be endless exploitation, discrimination conflicts, wars, migration, instability and poverty. In fact, this is what happening in most undemocratic countries including Ethiopia.

 The connection between Science and Technology and Democracy

Technology has been with humankind from the very beginning, when people began to use sharp stones as tools. Then followed series of discoveries and inventions including, bow and arrow for hunting, the discovery of fire, the making of pottery, and metal tools. Moving on, farming, building of shelter, building of cities, weaving, writing etc. etc. showed up. Those valuable early technologies were built only by trial and error and by learning from each other.  Science only emerged after the scientific method was discovered which itself came after scientific revolution that took place late in the seventeenth century.

Science required a certain density of leisured population who are willing to do experiments and accept failures to find the truth. And this educated leisured sector of the population could only come after pre-science inventions such as the advanced plow, the water or wind driven grain mill, and other technologies which allowed surplus of food for large number of people. In other words, science needed prosperity and population growth to emerge⁵. And they both come from technology.

As mentioned, the integral parts of the scientific method are simple. They consist of observation, cataloging, recording and then communicating the observed. Once the scientific method itself was invented and science has taken hold, there came the collaboration between science and technology. Because of the scientific method, the rate of finding the truth, discovering the natural and societal laws and inventing more technologies started accelerating. Just within one hundred years, science and technology gave birth to industrial revolution. Note that 100 years is a very short time compared to the 200,000 years when humans emerged or even the 15,000 years when agricultural revolution took place. From then on, the world (particularly) the western world never looked back.  In our times, science and technology go hand in hand and their relation is strengthening by research and development activities conducted in university, industry and government laboratories, in three-way collaborations.

I need to emphasize here that Democracy cannot be separated from technology and science. I repeat, the role of democracy is to harmonize society and facilitate for societal progress. Society is made of individuals with different interests and perspectives, to harmonize those differences, every individual’s needs (interests and perspectives) must be met or compromise made, otherwise, there is no harmony or peace. Through trial and error, observation, cataloging (recording) and communicating humans discovered (just as in science) that if individuals are treated as equals, free, respected, and are made responsible, a harmonized society emerges. It is that accumulated wisdom that became the foundation for democracy.  If there is harmony in society, there is peace. If there is peace, there is even faster scientific and technological progress because there would not be war or dislocation (which are symptoms of inequality, lack of freedom, disrespect, corruption etc.) that obstruct humans’ scientific inquiry and creativity. Democracy is science applied to society’s governance. The discovery that justice, equality, respect, freedom and responsibility are necessity to peaceful coexistence were made by observing countless social experiments which took place over many centuries by millions of people across the world. As a form of social organization, Democracy is also considered as technology.  In short, technology, democracy and science are inseparable and interdependent human activities and should be dealt with as such.

The Implication of the connections of the three

As Ethiopians, we are all proud to be from one of the oldest and independent countries in the world. At the same time, we are all (or at least most of us) are also humiliated that our country is one of the poorest, unstable and undemocratic nations in the world. We all ask: why?  Different people have different answers to this question. My answer is: we are where we are because, we Ethiopians, have very low regard for the interdependence between science, technology and democracy.   Let me try to explain.

As mentioned above, through technology, people harness nature and develop themselves and their communities. So, to develop is to make technology work for the benefit of humankind. Faster development requires, technology that is supported by scientific inquiry and creative activities. And creativity and the implementation of scientific method require liberated minds. Liberated minds require that democracy must exist. With democracy in place, freedom and rule of law will lend confidence to all citizens to be even more creative in applying the scientific method and discover more natural and social laws that will advance technology even further. The key here is the free participation of citizens. You see, they are all interconnected and interdependent. One cannot flourish without the other.

It took 15,000 years between the agricultural and industrial revolutions. But we saw much faster acceleration of science and technology development after the industrial revolution. The technological progress is even faster during the last fifty years. We see this speedy progress wherever there is the cooperation between science, technology and democracy. This testifies that the three are interdependent and became swift and powerful when they all work together.

Coming back to the low regard we Ethiopians have for the interdependence and synergy between Technology, Science and Democracy, let me site few situations with the hope to convince you that is the case.

  1. There are those who say that economic development should precede democracy. They say that Ethiopia should develop its economy first and worry about democracy latter. This is the official position of the EPRDF government. There is no better indicator for the failure of this approach to economic (technological) development. than the lack of economic progress during the last 25 years of EPRDF’s rule. Note that we should not confuse a holistic national development with few tall buildings in big cities. The problem with this position is that it denies the interconnected and interdependent nature of democracy and Technology. There cannot be equitable economic development without wide spread implementation of Technology by significant number of the citizens. Wide use of technology by the masses requires that people feel that they are free to use their nature given talent and creativity to apply the scientific method. At the end of the day, it is the people not the government who make development happen. The role of the government is to facilitate for development by letting free people to be the best that they can be not to block them.   

 

  1. An equally wrong position is the public attitude including that of most political organizations which unofficially or officially state that democracy must come before economic development. Because of such position, it is hard to find a political organization that gives serious attention to bring Technology and Science to public domain and spread its awareness, let alone, helping its development in the farm fields, metal smith, clay-works, wood shops etc. by partnering with working people. It is unfortunate that there is no one political organization that is engaged in technological (economic development) activity even to the level of a small philanthropic organization. To develop technology means to understand how nature and society work. This understanding leads to enlightenment and paves the way for democratic values to come into play. To work on technology means to improve the lives of citizens at the grass-root level. And if you are a political organization and you improve lives, that means you have built your political base. I think the position that denies the interplay between technology and democracy needs to change immediately.

 

  1. Science is the best agreement builder. If you and I used the same method to see a problem, then it is likely we can come up with similar conclusion. With the same token, if most of us apply the same method to find out the facts about an issue, it is likely that we will have similar opinions about them. If the method we use to arrive at the truth is the scientific method, the chance of arriving at the same conclusion is even better. The challenge is that most of us are not using the scientific method to find out the truth about any issue. We form our opinions and conclusions on guess, hear-say or incomplete information. We approach reality with different methods (mostly other than the scientific) so our conclusion is that much different. One consequence of such differing approach to reality is the different understanding that can be arrived at.  Difference in understanding leads to difference in conclusion which leads to different solution to the same problem. Difference in conclusion and solution to a problem leads to disagreements. This is probably why we have so many different political organizations who interpret the reality of our country in different ways and then try to solve it differently.   The scientific method is the best way to find out the truth about the natural and the social world. If we all take the time to understand the realities of our nation using the time-tested method, most us come to the same conclusion about them and what to change and how.  With science, the truth is, but not emotion that guides us.

 

  1. Science guide us to own our responsibility. No one is responsible for our own development, our destiny is in our own hands. It is we the people who can make the change happen. We have seen, how powerful Technology, Science and Democracy can be when they come together and synergize. We noticed how symbiotic these forces are among themselves and with human society. In the end, we should not forget that it is the people who are in the center. It is Humans who built technology, the scientific knowledge and democracy. In the process, they first moved humanity out of the jungle. Then, took them through many revolutions and brought them all the way to the current age- the electronic age.  Humans needed no supper power or miracle to reach this pinnacle. They did it with technology, science and democracy which in turn facilitated for mass education, economic development, better health and good governance. It is true that not all humankinds have become the benefactor of all these achievements yet. However, the process has begun. The path is laid out. Since those who succeeded have shown the way to the rest of us, it is now much easier to follow the path than to start fresh. All we need is the collective will from most of us. I have confidence that Ethiopians can do it. Then the future is Bright!!!

 

With Technology, Science and Democracy Ethiopians will free themselves from repression and poverty!!!

 

[1] Carl Mitcham, Thinking through technology: The path between engineering and philosophy university of Chicago press, 1994

[2] www.aber.ac.uk/media/Modules/MC10220/whattech.html

[3]  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition 1996.

[4] www.freeinquiry.com/intro-to-sci.html

[5] Keven Kelley, what Technology wants,  2009

6[i]. Brian Arthur, The nature of Technology, Free press, New York, 2009

 

[i]

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