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The #Zeitgeist of #StarWars: #Art, #ICBM Counter-Measures, and the Strategic Defense Initiative

posted May 22, 2014, 12:41 PM by Peter Joseph Moons   [ updated May 22, 2014, 7:50 PM ]

The Zeitgeist of Star Wars:

Art, ICBM Counter-Measures, and the Strategic Defense Initiative

By Peter Moons

Towards the end of the 1970’s, the US was in the middle of what was rightly called a ‘malaise’ -- a word bestowed on the era by then President Jimmy Carter.  Oil prices were higher than at the start of the decade, which subsequently impacted multiple sectors of the US economy; the mood of the country was down.  There was one upbeat time, though, thanks to the entertainment industry in Hollywood.  In 1977, Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation released the motion picture Star Wars.[i]  This fantasy tale of good against evil set against the backdrop of space ships and light speed travel featured dazzling light-energy weapons.  A few years after this film, the US Department of Defense began to look at the feasibility of weapon systems that could use directed energy resulting from nuclear explosions,[ii] a potential technological breakthrough.  In a major speech in 1983, the next US President, Ronald Reagan, sought a new program to develop those potential weapons as a countermeasure to any missiles threatening the country; critics labeled his proposal ‘Star Wars’ for its fantasy-like solution.  Thus, in following G.W.F. Hegel’s concept of a zeitgeist, the ‘common spirit as a way of seeing’[iii] events, the theme of ‘Star Wars’ fit Reagan’s theoretical plan to put counter-missile, laser-like weapons in space, which matched the public’s impression of space warfare that they had seen in the film.




The artwork in this zeitgeist became a sensational blockbuster immediately upon release: moviegoers were enthralled.  The principal artist responsible for the film was George Lucas, who both wrote its script and directed.[iv]  The medium for this artwork was initially a theatrical release in the US on 25 May 1977,[v] followed by release on VHS tape and pay television in subsequent years.[vi]  Unlike other zeitgeists where the artist may have created his or her art for the pure enjoyment thereof, Lucas, and his financial backers, made the film with at least some intent for commercial profit. 


History has proven the viability of the science fiction/escapist genre and the medium of film for its presentation.  This film, in particular, was described as “heady, escapist stuff,” part “space opera,” part “western.”[vii]  The idea of hero is clearly evident in Star Wars, which closely follows the highpoints of “monomyth” as described by Joseph Campbell in his masterful work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, with its challenges, triumphs, and “superheroes.[viii]  The Hegelian dialectic is also present in the film: the thesis is the old republic that previously exists, followed by the antithesis of the tyranny of the Empire, which leads to a synthesis with the victory by the rebels.


Star Wars was an epic tale of good guys against bad guys, scrappy “underdog”[ix] fighting an ‘empire,’ with not a small amount of morality in terms of good triumphing over evil.  The conflict between the two sides in the film was really a “momentous collision” in Hegelian terms:[x] two forces locked in an existential struggle, which is a dialectic politicians, especially ones in the US, are apt to employ.  The film also had a heavy portrayal of machines of war, particularly by the ‘Empire,’ which was not unlike the art portrayed in the Futurism movement.[xi] 


The theme of the good ‘little guy’ fighting, and winning, against a bigger opponent, is an ancient one.  Of the oldest along this theme is that of the biblical story of David versus Goliath, where the mighty fell at the hands of the supposed lesser.  Clearly, the idea of tension, struggle, and overcoming tough odds made this film, like other movies or literary works, worthwhile entertainment.  Likewise, the Rebel Alliance in the film possessed the quality of a “national spirit” in which they were defined as moral and virtuous.[xii]  This theme of overcoming the odds will recur later in this zeitgeist when discussing the reasons Reagan proposed space-based weapons.


The weapons in the film certainly gave the viewer the idea of much power and were visibly the same whether they were used by people on the ground or by ships in space: fast moving beams of light that contained dangerous energy that blew things up when they made contact with something.  Perhaps the nearest competitor to these fantastic energy weapons in the minds of moviegoers was from the TV shows Star Trek or the even earlier Buck Rogers.  There certainly was much shooting in the film, though no blood, which left the impression of ‘antiseptic’ warfare: sentient beings died, but at least they were not blown to bits.  There are certainly similarities in the art of Star Wars with its antecedent Dr. Strangelove.[xiii]  For example, the Empire’s Death Star is destroyed in the end of Star Wars just as a nuclear war starts at then end of Strangelove.




The second part of this zeitgeist is the technology that Reagan proposed in 1983.  Certainly, the most feared weapon system on earth was a missile flying at thousands of miles per hour.  This threat existed since WWII and even then countermeasures were sought: “Soon after the German launch of the first V-2 ballistic missile against London in September 1944, the American military initiated a research and development programme to create defences against future missile attacks on the United States.”[xiv]  However, research on Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) -- weaponry designed to defeat intercontinental ballistic missiles launched at the US or allies -- would progress slowly owing to the complicated technology involved.


For decades, the US’s BMD program consisted of firing missiles at incoming enemy missiles, bidding that a mid-air collision would derail the enemy’s shot.  Still, much damage could be done if either there was such a collision, or if the anti-missile weapon failed to connect with the other.  The Soviets likewise had their own BMD systems, which would thus negate the US’s strategic missile capabilities.  From the mid-1970’s onward, the Soviets were spending billions in treaty-permitted anti-ballistic capabilities and second, there was a “growing vulnerability of land-based US ICBMs [that] made some form of defense attractive.”[xv]  In the same decade, US President Jimmy Carter sought a two-pronged effort concerning nuclear weapons: he simultaneously pursued the SALT II negotiations but continued “the development of new nuclear MX, cruise, Pershing II and Trident D-5 missiles.”[xvi]  The US and the USSR were really in a quickly escalating nuclear weapons and countermeasures procurement race.


This decade also saw many other advanced technology projects involving lasers, space-based systems, and detection technologies, which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) ran.[xvii]  One of the most exotic new technologies involved fusion and lasers, coming from the major US weapons science center, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.[xviii]  Of particular interest to strategic defense were weapons programs that incorporated lasers.  One was “the Inertial Confinement Fusion program [that] was formed in 1972 to demonstrate laser fusion in the laboratory and to develop laser science and technology for both defense and civilian applications.”[xix]  Another was system of space-based platforms “called a ‘battle station’ the very term used in Star Wars;”[xx] essentially, these were “space stations…equipped with laser weapons able to shoot down missiles launched against the US.”[xxi]


One scientist in particular, the famous Edward Teller,[xxii] was a catalyst behind much of the BMD research.  As the inventor/designer of the hydrogen bomb, Teller was in a unique, commanding position in the scientific community and his reputation carried much gravitas for those in non-scientific fields.  Teller and a group of scientists at Lawrence Livermore created a concept called “Smart Rocks [which] involved deploying thousands of tiny rocket-propelled canisters in orbit, each capable of ramming itself into an incoming ballistic missile.[xxiii]  Eventually, Teller presented President Reagan an overview of the capabilities of the new technologies in 1982,[xxiv] likely including discussion of nuclear-powered, space-based lasers.[xxv]  This overview also included a description of “a robust constellation of Smart Rocks interceptors would provide a strong defense against nuclear attack.”[xxvi]  This discussion would prove seminal in influencing a policy shift in the US Government.


Not long after in 1979, then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan[xxvii] visited the North American Air Defense Command.  There, he learned of the US’s inability to respond effectively to any missile attack by the Soviet Union on the US homeland,[xxviii] except by the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction.  Reagan would eventually propose employing space-based weapons because he realized that the US was ‘defenseless’ against Soviet missiles; Mutually Assured Destruction was the only response option available to the Commander-in-Chief.[xxix]  Of course, the idea of having to launch many nuclear missiles in a retaliatory strike meant wide-scale catastrophe, with no hope of ‘winning.’  Instead, Reagan chose the “moral, virtuous, strong”[xxx] response, emblematic of his vision of America, especially the idealized version he favored.


This fact, combined with proposals to freeze nuclear weapon levels in Europe in the early 1980’s, which would have disadvantaged the US comparatively,[xxxi] along with Reagan’s perceived immorality of the US strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction, led Reagan to seek alternative means to safeguard America against the US’s Cold War enemy, the communist USSR.  At the same time, the nuclear freeze movement was gaining steam: “the success of freeze proposals in several state referenda” along with “basing” issues of the new “MX” missile spelled trouble for the Reagan Administration’s missile build-up plans.[xxxii]  Because Reagan “could not find an acceptable basing mode for the new MX intercontinental missiles, meant to guarantee retaliation after a Soviet attack,”[xxxiii] he was on the look-out for alternative defensive measures.


            Besides Teller and the lab at Lawrence Livermore, another organization was instrumental in the process of influencing the President: The High Frontier Organization,[xxxiv] which was allied with “the conservative Heritage Foundation.”[xxxv] Led by “retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency” the High Frontier Organization “called for battle stations in space, launching kinetic weapons that would destroy their targets by collision.”[xxxvi]  Graham, soon joined by Teller, proposed a system of “orbiting ‘space trucks,’ each with 50 miniature homing devices to intercept ballistic missiles in the post-boost phase.”[xxxvii]


Soon “High Frontier made two presentations to Reagan,”[xxxviii] meaning that Reagan was hearing from both Teller and from High Frontier of possible alternatives to Mutually Assured Destruction.  The future hope for US strategic defense came in the concept of defeating enemy missiles early in flight, rather than destroying them at the last moment or retaliating in strength.  Eventually, Reagan’s dream for this new technology was forthright: “to engage and destroy a ballistic missile while it is in stage 1 or stage 2 flight.”[xxxix]  Anti-ballistic systems such as land- or sea-based types, what the US then had in place, were designed to engage missiles upon their descent and are notoriously hard to hit.[xl]  As shown by his forthcoming policy proposal, Reagan had incorporated all these new technology concepts, thus completing the second phase of this zeitgeist, which can also be known as the ‘cause’ for which the President’s policy became the ‘effect.’




“What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?”

-- Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983[xli]


            The philosophical or political idea of this zeitgeist came from two speeches Reagan gave in March 1983.  The first speech was to the National Association of Evangelicals followed by his Address to the Nation on Defense and National Security.  Of course, Reagan himself was the political author but several persons involved in the speeches can be considered the intellectual authors.  These were Dr. Teller[xlii] and General Graham, by then a Presidential Advisor.[xliii]


On March 8, 1983, then-President Reagan gave a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, wherein he referred to communism as “the focus of evil in the modern world,”[xliv] and the USSR as an “evil empire.”[xlv]  This address “quickly became known as his ‘Evil Empire Speech’” and occurred at a time of debate about a “nuclear freeze,” which the USSR supported and “would have prevented the deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing II Missiles in Europe.”[xlvi] 


Soon thereafter, on March 23, 1983, in his Address to the Nation on Defense and National Security, Reagan proposed using “new technologies” to defend the US and allied nations as well as asking Congress for the funds to conduct the research.[xlvii]  The portion about the new technology was only a small part of the speech but turned out to be the highlight: “the “insert was drafted by Robert C. McFarlane, the deputy national security advisor, with science advisor [George] Keyworth looking over his shoulder.  Reagan reworked the draft in his own handwriting.”[xlviii]  The support from the American people Reagan had desired from this Address did not materialize, though, owing to comments from one of his harshest critics in the US Congress.


The next day Reagan critic Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) labeled the speech “misleading Red Scare tactics and reckless ‘Star Wars’ schemes.”[xlix]  So even before a title could be given to Reagan’s new defense concept, the label ‘Star Wars’ was stuck to the idea that later officially became the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI),[l] and remains so today.  The President “re-defined American defence strategy, offering hope for a non-nuclear future” through the employment of space-based defensive weapons instead of launching retaliatory nuclear missiles.[li]  Clearly, Reagan was concerned about the Hegelian aspect of “preservation of a people, a state, of the well-ordered spheres of life.”[lii]  Interestingly, just as the Star Wars film “was very much on Reagan’s mind throughout the month of March,”[liii] in the US at the time of the speech, “‘Star Wars’ was on everybody's mind.”[liv]  Thus, the connection between the proposal in Reagan’s address and the film was inescapable.


Figure One is an image of President Reagan during his Address to the Nation on March 23, 1983, where he introduced what would become the SDI.[lv]


Figure One


The zeitgeist of Star Wars was about antiseptic, space-based, laser-like weapon systems that provide pinpoint accuracy to destroy missiles fired by the USSR.  The zeitgeist is about weapons that are extraterritorial, operate with impunity, are beyond international control and are emblematic, perhaps, of a country trying to prevent the Hegelian “slaughter-bench”[lvi] from reaching its shores.  In contrast, Star Wars offered a version of warfare that was clean; indeed, this is emblematic of “The Romance of Technology,” through which presidents and militaries, dictators and rebels, seek to defeat their foes.[lvii]


This zeitgeist captures ‘a common way of seeing the world’ through the art of the film Star Wars, the technology of new weapons designed to shoot down Soviet missiles in flight, and the philosophy of President Reagan who saw the USSR’s political structure and expansionism as a threat, even a moral and religious challenge, to freedom.  The structure of the zeitgeist comes full circle when the comparison of the Evil Empire of the USSR is made to that of the Empire in the film, which was ground-breaking in its portrayal of a battle in outer space with futuristic, laser-like weapons.  In the public’s mind, those weapons were similar to what Reagan proposed with his SDI.


The three factors that created the zeitgeist fit well together.  The movie Star Wars provided the visual imagery that set the stage in the public’s mind for laser battles in space.  Next, the nascent technology provided the government with a way to defend the nation strategically without relying solely on nuclear weapons, and which just so happened to be not far afield from what the film envisioned.  Next, Reagan’s speech made the policy statement about a change in strategy, which needed Congressional funding to come to fruition.  Sen. Ted Kennedy's lambasted Reagan's speech as “reckless Star Wars schemes”[lviii] and the media took off with that linkage, the zeitgeist launched, so to speak.  Here the cause was Kennedy’s political criticism and the effect was the connection in the public’s mind between the film, the prospective technology, and Reagan’s proposal.


This was a great political and rhetorical trick on the part of Kennedy.  His comment immediately denigrated this lofty concept of strategic defense by high-tech weapons through the association of the fictional movie.  Moreover, the movie had good guys, bad guys, space–age weapons, and of course, a happy ending.  Thus, connecting the policy proposal “with the film really did make it appear implausible.”[lix]  So not only was Reagan’s defense concept scoffed, history has shown that SDI would never be unbound from its connection to the film and the fantasy of laser battles in space.


Like any other zeitgeist, a dreamer comes up with the idea and plants the seed for future development.  This can be Galileo, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, or Steve Jobs.  All of these people overcame the doubters, and created some great idea; some ran their idea until completion while some merely inspired others.  Reagan’s SDI initiative has in fact been “compared to President Kennedy’s proposal in May 1961 to put a man on the moon.”[lx] The concepts that both presidents fostered live on in evolutionary forms: Man has put machines on the surface of Mars and advanced technology anti-missile weapons guard the US from land and sea.  For the technology of SDI, the dreamers were Reagan, Dr. Teller, General Graham, and a few like-minded scientists and policy planners.


At some point Reagan may have confused the special effects of the movie with the concepts for future weapon systems that he was hearing.  Thus, Reagan may have projected the effects in the film into the defense weapon systems he foresaw as the future of the US’s strategic deterrence.  Whatever the case, the discussions between Reagan, Teller, Graham, et alia on the technology could not have come at a more propitious time, since Reagan was already looking for a replacement for the Mutually Assured Destruction strategy.  Reagan’s policy would be to show real and potential enemies that no matter how many missiles were launched at the US, space-based weapons would defend the nation.


While the impetus for Reagan’s policy statement -- requesting money from Congress for weapons research -- meant a potentially bigger defense budget, in reality many technology and defense companies across the country would benefit from the windfall in funding.[lxi]  Not long after, protests on the campuses of research universities in the US began with the goal of stopping schools from conducting SDI-related research; however, university administrators knew research grants were very beneficial.[lxii]  The money involved was not insubstantial: SDI was costing the US Government “$2-4 billion annually” in the early 1990’s.[lxiii]




The Star Wars aspect to Reagan’s initiative certainly received much ridicule and there were many characterizations of the new policy as simply silly.  The medium of political cartoons in print newspapers saw many such caricatures.  Figure Two shows a political cartoon from the San Diego Union drawn by S. Kelley in 1983 depicting Reagan’s speech of March 23, 1983.  Surrounded by characters from Star Wars and E.T., Reagan says, “and we’ve assembled a crack team of experts to advise us on the project…”[lxiv] Figure Three, from 1983, is a political cartoon drawn by Orlando Sentinel cartoonist Dana Summers that portrays Reagan in the Oval Office introducing a new weapons designer, Yoda, the sage from Star Wars.[lxv]  Finally, Figure Four, another political cartoon from The Atlanta Constitution drawn by Marlette in 1988, shows a befuddled-looking Reagan as the “Star Commander-in-Chief, while a stern Nancy Reagan stands rigid by his side; both are wearing futuristic space outfits.[lxvi]  This portrayal shows the progression of the Star Wars theme for the presidency as Reagan is no longer bringing in space characters to work on his team, but he himself has become one.


Figure Two


Figure Three

Figure Four

            The legacy of two of the elements of this zeitgeist continues to live.  While the original film made a fortune,[lxvii] the enterprise of Star Wars grows ever stronger and has branched into video games, cartoons, Halloween costumes, action figures, Lego toys, and even tattoos of characters from the films.  Star Wars has become more than a component of a zeitgeist, but a lifestyle, providing the joie de vivre for many fans.  In fact, of the three components of art, technology, and policy, the film and its subsidiaries will outlast the other two in the minds and memories of most people.


For the technology, SDI evolved with the development of exotic, technologically advanced weapon systems.  Eventually, the concept of Smart Rocks became known as Brilliant Pebbles.[lxviii]  This program, though, envisioned “4000 armed satellites” surrounding the earth and capable of launching “watermelon-size pieces of tungsten” at incoming enemy missiles.[lxix]  With cost as a consideration, as well as the recent collapse of the Soviet Union, the Clinton Administration ended the program in 1993. [lxx]  Other off-shoots of SDI are still around, though.  The US Navy soon intends to field a ship-borne Laser Weapon System (LaWS), operated by “a video game-like controller…[that can] manage the laser’s power to accomplish a range of effects against a threat, from disabling to complete destruction.”[lxxi]  Reagan would have been proud.




In summary, this zeitgeist captures ‘a common way of seeing the world.’  This zeitgeist combines the art of the film Star Wars, the technology of new weapons designed to shoot down Soviet missiles in flight, and the philosophy of President Reagan who saw the USSR’s political structure and expansionism as a threat, even a moral and religious challenge, to freedom.  The film, the anticipated technology, and Reagan’s speech were seen as a “convergence of politics and science fiction, reality and fantasy”[lxxii] by many in the US and abroad.  The structure of the zeitgeist comes full circle when the comparison of the ‘Evil Empire’ of the USSR is made to that of the Empire in the film, which was ground-breaking in its portrayal of a battle in outer space with futuristic, laser-like weapons.  In the public’s mind, those weapons were similar to what Reagan proposed with his SDI.  Although Reagan’s critics lambasted SDI and attempted to heap ridicule by conflating the concept with the fantasy film, some observers claimed “the association of Reagan’s SDI and Star Wars worked in its favor.”[lxxiii]




Bogen, Amir. “Human History According to George Lucas: Models of Fascism in Star
     Wars’ Prequels.”, July 2001.



Brode, Douglas, and Leah Deyneka. Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars:
     An Anthology
. Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, July 2, 2012.


Buchanan, Pat. “NED's Chickens Come Home to Roost.” RealClearPolitics. April 18,


Busch, Andrew E. “Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom.” Lanham,
     MD: Rowman & Littlefield, Jan 1, 2001.


Correll, John T. “They Called It Star Wars.” Air Force Magazine. June 2012, Vol. 95,
     No. 6.


Firey, Thomas A. Star Wars Saga Reflects Political Ideals.” Commentary.
     Cato Institute, Washington, D.C.


Gordon, Andrew. “Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time.” Literature Film Quarterly. Fall 78,
     Vol. 6 Issue 4.


Greenberg, David. “The Empire Strikes Out: Why Star Wars Did Not End the Cold War.”
     Foreign Affairs. March/April 2000.


The Heritage Foundation. “Update on the Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative.”
     33 Minutes Missile Defense.


Kramer, Peter. “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars.” History Today. Volume: 49 Issue: 3


Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence Network,


Markoff, John. “The Air Force Eyes a Star War.” Nation. 1/7/1978, Vol. 226 Issue 1


Meyer, David S. “Star Wars, Star Wars, and American Political Culture.” Journal of
     Popular Culture
. Fall 92, Vol. 26 Issue 2., The Claremont Institute,


The President’s UFO Website,


Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives and Records


Schechter, Erik. “10 Weapons That Never Made It.” Popular Mechanics.


Scholl, Jaye, “The Force Is With Them, Star Wars Defense Will Benefit a Slew of
     Companies, Barron’s, April 30, 1984.


Slayton, Rebecca. “Discursive Choices: Boycotting Star Wars between Science
     and Politics,” Social Studies of Science, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Feb., 2007).


Walter, Katie. “Adapting to a Changing Weapons Program.” Lawrence Livermore
     National Laboratory.


Winter, Karen, The Politics of Star Wars,,





[iii] Professor Jim Hersh’s comments in HUM 620.




[vii] Andrew Gordon, “Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time.” Literature Film Quarterly. Fall 78, Vol. 6 Issue 4, 316 and 318.

[viii] Ibid., 318-335.

[ix] Peter Kramer, “Fighting the Evil Empire: Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the Politics of Science Fiction,” Douglas Brode, and Leah Deyneka, Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars: An Anthology, (Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, July 2, 2012), 71.

[x] G.W.F. Hegel, Reason in History, Robert S. Hartman, trans., (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), 39.

[xi] Mary Warner Marien and William Fleming, Flemings’ Arts & Ideas, (Belmont, CA: Clark Baxter, 2005), 566.

[xii] Hegel, 79.

[xiii] Nick Desloge, “Star Wars, An Exhibition in Cold War Politics”, Brode, Douglas, and Leah Deyneka, Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars: An Anthology, (Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, July 2, 2012), 58.

[xiv] Peter Kramer, “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars,” History Today, Volume: 49 Issue: 3 1999.

[xv] Andrew E. Busch, “Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom.” (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, Jan 1, 2001), 199.

[xvi] David S. Meyer,Star Wars, Star Wars, and American Political Culture.” Journal of Popular Culture. Fall 92, Vol. 26 Issue 2, 100.

[xvii] John Markoff, “The Air Force Eyes a Star War,” Nation, 1/7/1978, Vol. 226 Issue 1, 17.

[xviii] “The initial focus of the strategic defense initiative was a nuclear explosion powered X-ray laser designed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by a scientist named Peter Hagelstein who worked with a team called O Group, doing much of the work in the late 1970s and early 1980s. O Group was headed by physicist Lowell Wood, a protégé and friend of Edward Teller, the ‘father of the hydrogen bomb.’”

[xix] Katie Walter, “Adapting to a Changing Weapons Program,” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,

[xx] Kramer, “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars.” “One of the key proposals in the revival of strategic defence in the late 1970s was to set up space stations which were equipped with laser weapons able to shoot down missiles launched against the US. When this weapon system was first proposed in an article in Aviation Week in October 1978, it was called ‘battle station’ the very term used in Star Wars

[xxi] Kramer, “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars.”

[xxii] Reagan and Dr. Teller met on September 14, 1982 and discussed nuclear defense technologies.  Prior to this meeting and thereafter, Dr. Teller communicated with Reagan on emerging technologies in the field of ballistic missile defense.

[xxiii], A Project of the Claremont Institute, “In the early 1980s, scientists Edward Teller, Lowell Wood, and Gregory Canavan began gaming out a new missile defense concept known as “Smart Rocks” at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Smart Rocks involved deploying thousands of tiny rocket-propelled canisters in orbit, each capable of ramming itself into an incoming ballistic missile.”

[xxiv] Dr. Teller’s presentation to President Reagan was about emerging technology: a weapon that could shoot down an inbound missile.  The author states: “The basic concept involves using the immense energy released in a nuclear explosion to ‘pump’ a laser, thereby directing that energy in a straight line over great distances to strike a target.”


[xxvi], A Project of the Claremont Institute,

[xxvii] Reagan narrowly missed becoming the main GOP candidate in the elections of 1976.

[xxviii] Kramer, “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars.” The author states, “Reagan was dismayed when confronted with a screen display of the simulated tracks of nuclear missiles moving towards targets in the US without the American military being able to stop them.”


[xxx] Hegel, 90.


[xxxii] Kramer, “Fighting the Evil Empire: Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the Politics of Science Fiction,” Douglas Brode, and Leah Deyneka, Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars: An Anthology, 67.

[xxxiii] Peter Kramer, “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars,” History Today, Volume: 49 Issue: 3 1999. Reagan “became interested in the development of a missile defence (sic) system, a project that gained some urgency early in his presidency.”


[xxxv] John T. Correll, “They Called It Star Wars,” Air Force Magazine, June 2012, Vol. 95, No. 6

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Ibid. The presentations were made “[a]t the invitation of Edwin Meese III, counselor to the President, and George A. Keyworth II, White House science advisor and a protégé of Teller’s.”

[xxxix] “Update on the Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative,” 33 Minutes Missile Defense, The Heritage Foundation,

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on Defense and National Security, Oval Office, The White House, Washington, D.C., March 23, 1983.





[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] In the address, Reagan says, “America does possess -- now -- the technologies to attain very significant improvements in the effectiveness of our conventional, nonnuclear forces. Proceeding boldly with these new technologies, we can significantly reduce any incentive that the Soviet Union may have to threaten attack against the United States or its allies.”

[xlviii] Correll,


[l] On January 6, 1984, The White House issued National Security Decision Directive Number 119.  This Directive gave explicit guidance to the Department of Defense stating that “the “SDI will explore technologies which might offer the potential to engage attacking missiles in any of their four phases of flight (boost, post-boost, mid-course, and terminal).”  This concept also helped solidify the ‘Star Wars’-like image of the program in the minds of the public.

[li] Kramer, “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars.”

[lii] Hegel, 38.

[liii] Kramer, “Fighting the Evil Empire: Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the Politics of Science Fiction,” Douglas Brode, and Leah Deyneka, Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars: An Anthology, 68.



[lvi] Hegel, 27.

[lvii] David S. Meyer,Star Wars, Star Wars, and American Political Culture.” Journal of Popular Culture. Fall 92, Vol. 26 Issue 2, 105-106.

[lviii] Correll,

[lix] Comment by Linda Pastryk, in class discussion, HUM 620.

[lx] Correll, “They Called It Star Wars,”

[lxi] Jaye Scholl, “The Force Is With Them, Star Wars Defense Will Benefit a Slew of Companies, Barron’s, April 30, 1984, 8-9.

[lxii] Rebecca Slayton, “Discursive Choices: Boycotting Star Wars between Science and Politics,” Social Studies of Science, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Feb., 2007), 38-47 passim.

[lxiii] Meyer.

[lxiv] The President’s UFO Website,



[lxvii] Kramer, “Ronald Reagan and Star Wars.” “Following its release in May 1977, the original Star Wars movie had quickly become the highest grossing film of all time at the American box office.”

[lxviii], A Project of the Claremont Institute,

[lxix] Erik Schechter, “10 Weapons That Never Made It,” Popular Mechanics,

[lxx] Ibid.

[lxxi]Navy’s Star Wars-style laser weapon to be tested in Persian Gulf this summer,” April 10, 2014,

[lxxii] Peter Kramer, “Fighting the Evil Empire: Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the Politics of Science Fiction,” Douglas Brode, and Leah Deyneka, Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars: An Anthology, 65.

[lxxiii] Ibid., 72, quoting Robert Karl Manhoff, “Modes of War and Modes of Social Address: The Text of SDI,” Journal of Communication 39, no. 1 (Winter 1988): 59-84, esp. 69-70.  Hegel and his students would agree that the film, the technology, and the policy melded well together and are a lasting image of their era.

The Ethics of Surviving a Famine: An #Aristotelian Perspective on Starving Citizens' Decisions in #NorthKorea

posted May 21, 2014, 10:14 AM by Peter Joseph Moons   [ updated May 21, 2014, 10:28 AM ]

The Ethics of Surviving a Famine:

An Aristotelian Perspective on North Korean Citizens' Decisions


By Peter Moons


            ‘No country is more than two missed meals away from revolution.’  This maxim used to be a standard of domestic security.  However, at least one country that has endured a severe and years-long famine has apparently broken that paradigm.  From the start of it’s famine in about 1994, the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) saw little risk from a mass uprising against it’s power structure.  How was this done?  The DPRK’s military was kept well fed owing to the government’s “military first” policy.[i]  The North Korean people suffered drastic food insecurity, especially those on the lowest rung of the tiered social structure: “the court class, the wavering class, and the hostile class.”[ii] The average citizen who survived did so by making tough choices, always with the interest of saving themselves, sometimes saving their family members while sometimes not, but seldom helping those outside their own families.  Each hungry citizen made choices that affected their survival, and in the case of the citizens profiled in Barbara Demick’s book Nothing to Envy, in an Aristotelian analysis, shows their actions to be not virtuous -- a condition exacerbated by the inaction of the government.


Aristotle noted the issue of norming when there is a large amount of diversity in the populace; he said, “although citizens are dissimilar, preservation of the community is their task.”[iii]  With a tiered society like in the DPRK, where benefits of the state depended on party membership, a family member’s job or war record, and purity of North Korean bloodlines, when famine struck, the formerly constant community commitment slowly broke down.  Eventually, the structure of society nearly collapsed; the only element that held the society together was the state’s vast security and surveillance apparatus.[iv]  However, the state was virtually absent as millions of citizens saw their food rations decrease until they no longer received anything and were forced to barter, sell off their possessions or themselves, steal, and eventually forage for sustenance.  In trying circumstances such as these, the key question to ask is this: If people of good character to do heinous and unethical actions in a trying time, then does that mean they possess a bad character?


This discussion of the famine in North Korea must include noting the role of the government in contributing to its cause, covering up its spread, and then punishing those who sought to help themselves.  Aristotle, in this regard, reserves the utmost concern for wise behavior for those who rule, as he wrote, “…but the good citizen should know and have the capacity both to be ruled and to rule, and this very thing is the virtue of a citizen.”[v]  The familial leadership of the communist party in North Korea by the Kim family meant there was little connection between the those who govern and the governed, except in the absolute fealty demanded by the former of the latter.  As the famine spread slowly throughout North Korea, the government at first tried to hide its existence.  The official line was food was being stored for “the starving South Korean masses on the blessed day of reunification.”[vi]  However, the government then launched a propaganda campaign, encouraging the hungry to trim consumption with the ironic phrase, “Let’s Eat Two Meals a Day.”[vii]  The ancient Greeks would have abhorred this obfuscation and manipulation.


The control of the population during the famine was necessary for the maintenance of order.  Up to a point, the two maintained a direct variance: as the famine increased, control increased.  In order to monitor people in the early days of the famine, the government relied upon a “extensive network of domestic surveillance” as well as a vast network of state security organizations, detention centers, and work camps.[viii]  Meanwhile, the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Il, “didn’t care if he bankrupted the rest of the country,”[ix] just as long as he and the upper party elites maintained their power and their quality of life.  Obviously, concern for the governed was not a common trait at the highest levels of government, nor, in the mind of any tyrant or dictator should that have been so, for the first rule of a dictator is to stay in power.


With the DPRK’s massive security state, Kim ruled in a twisted Machiavellian style: demanding to be loved but optimally feared.[x]  In Aristotelian terms, man does things for a “right reason,” with some aim in mind, though to promote evil negates the justice inherent here.[xi]  For an analysis of the famine, categories or standards of conduct are necessary.  Aristotle provides these with his “three objects of choice - fine, expedient and pleasant and three objects of avoidance - contraries, shameful, harmful and painful.”[xii]  Aristotle defines virtue as being in a “state” that contains “a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency.”[xiii]  In this famine, the “objects of avoidance”[xiv] were dominant and there was often a “deficiency”[xv] of concern for one’s fellow human outside the family circle.


With these two descriptors as the polar opposites, people act between them with their feelings, actions, and perhaps metaphysically even in their thoughts.  While the DPRK cannot receive all the blame for the difficult, if not horrible choices people had to make in order to survive, the government is responsible for setting the conditions that forced people into the position to have to make such choices.  Since the government is a major influencer in developing moral character, preceded by a belief system, family, and community, the DPRK itself shares no small blame in the downfall of virtue during the famine.  The following examples will show how virtue collapsed in the DPRK, with self-preservation eventually becoming the highest priority.


By 1994, the food crisis had become desperate to the point that “[t]he search for food and thoughts about food became the highest priority, the most pressing matter.”[xvi]  People picked “weeds and wild grasses to add to their soups” and also ate “leaves, husks, stems and [corn] cobs” to add bulk to their diet.[xvii]  One child “was debating whether or not to go to school” because “there was rarely enough food for him at home to bring a lunch…he spent most of his time looking out the window, thinking that if he were outside he could go off and find something to eat.”[xviii]  The food crisis had become so acute that people “picked kernels of undigested corn out of the excrement of farm animals,”[xix] “dandelion or other weeds,”[xx] “grass ”[xxi] the “inner bark of the pine [tree] sometimes extended with a little sawdust,”[xxii] or “bean and corn stalks.”[xxiii]  Soon, North Koreans began to “die from eating substitute foods that their bodies [could not] digest.”[xxiv]  Evidently, the hunger crisis was causing desperation in the search for food and would also cause people to make hard choices.


In one of three specific examples, Demick describes Dr. Kim, a new and dedicated female physician.  She was a committed patriot who worked extra hours as she sought party membership, not for self-gain but because she believed in the DPRK’s goals.[xxv]  Applicable in her case is Aristotle’s description of virtue as a state of one’s character; He says, “it is not unimportant, then, to acquire one sort of habit or another, right from our youth; rather, It is very important, indeed all-important.”[xxvi]  Dr. Kim’s habit was caring for her patients’ well being and following the rules of the state, which soon came into conflict.


Among her patients, Dr. Kim had seen multiple indications of starvation and disease due to a lack of nutrition.  She observed, “Even four-year-olds new they were dying and that I wasn’t doing anything to help them… all I was capable of doing was to cry with their mothers over their bodies afterward.”[xxvii]  There came a time when “the hospital emptied out.  People stopped bringing their sick loved ones.  Why bother?” was the question asked.[xxviii]  Apparently, everyone knew that the sick were not going to get well but only die. 


Dr. Kim faced an ethical dilemma herself and fell away from the side of virtue: She began to write false prescriptions in exchange for bits of food, even though she knew “it violated every oath she had ever made to her profession and her country -- but she knew she was helping her patients and herself to survive.”[xxix]  To be ethical is to be virtuous in Aristotelian terms: “Virtue, then, is about feelings and actions,” some of which are voluntary and others like “pardon and pity… are in voluntary.”[xxx]


Dr. Kim had both pardon and pity for her patients.  She once faced an ethical dilemma when she wanted to give a prisoner, who was also a patient at her hospital, some antibiotic -- the pardon -- but the hospital administration refused her request; the convict “committed suicide soon after.”[xxxi]  Unknown is if Dr. Kim may have been able to acquire the necessary medicine but did not.  Wherein she wrote false prescriptions that aided North Koreans in some manner -- the pity -- and provided her sustenance, she would not cross the ethical line in all circumstances.


When her own life was at stake, she crossed the line, but when another was at risk of death, she did not.  Aristotle would have disfavored this application of situational ethics, though.  After “losing custody of [her own] child,”[xxxii] Dr. Kim’s life began to further unravel, but nothing prepared her for her father’s downward spiral and death by starvation: he refused to eat, telling his family “why should a good for nothing like me go on living and consume food?”[xxxiii]  However, one could say this was an honorable, self-sacrificing act because by his death, he did make more food available to his surviving family members.  In utilitarian terms, Dr. Kim’s father saw that his sacrifice would favorably benefit others directly.


In a second example, the life of Miss Mi-Ran provides telling instances where ethical challenges prompted people to sometimes come to the aid of others but only to a point, eventually choosing to save their own skins, even at the expense of family members.  While studying to become a teacher, some of “[t]he girls in the college began getting sick.  One of Mi-Ran’s roommates was so malnourished that the skin was flaking off her face.  He dropped out of school and others followed.”[xxxiv]  The college was not able to feed all of its students and thus had no problem went Mi-Ran asked to live off campus.[xxxv]  Essentially, the government institution made the decision to let one go in order to have just a little more food for those who remained on campus. 


As a schoolteacher, Mi-Ran saw her children becoming emaciated from a lack of food, some even with distended stomachs.  In desperation, to feed all the children during lunchtime “Mi-Ran would take one spoon each from those with to give to those without.”[xxxvi]  Over time, malnutrition took its toll as children’s “eyes narrowed to slits sunken beneath swollen lids,” hair became “brittle,” and they could not stay awake in class due to lack of food.[xxxvii]  Kindergarten enrollment drastically “dropped from fifty students to fifteen;”[xxxviii] imaginably, most of the non-attendees starved to death or died from some illness aggravated by malnutrition.  Worth noting is that there are “capacities” that each person possesses: “anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, love, hate, longing, jealousy, pity, in general whatever implies pleasure or pain.”[xxxix]  Mi-Ran would soon find that pain avoidance by hardening her heart was the best individual survival instinct to follow.  Here is another example of Aristotle’s “object of avoidance.”[xl]


Eventually, those around Mi-Ran began to offer callous advice, likely emblematic of a nation under long-term duress.  For example, Mi-Ran’s boyfriend told her concerning her sad, starving students: “What can you do? Don’t take it all on your shoulders.”[xli]  The advice rang hollow as the teacher herself “was eating better than she had in years” because she moved back home with her family.[xlii]  Her lack of drive in actually helping the children who were so desperate around her “weighed like a stone on her conscience” a decade later.[xliii]  Clearly, in a time of desperation, she did not do enough; she had failed to be virtuous.  Then again, the nation of the DPRK set the conditions for people to be evil to each other; the DPRK’s corrupt culture seeped outward and affected everyone, until caring for one’s fellow human being became virtually non-existent.


Like others around her, she “had to learn to stop caring” as a “survival skill,”[xliv] and for a good reason.  The government of the DPRK was failing in its self-appointed task of rationing food supplies: “Food insecurity affected many…[A]s school lunches got smaller and finally disappeared, children started cutting school to look for food.”[xlv]  Mi-Ran came to the point where she helped neither her students to the best of her abilities nor any “stranger.”[xlvi]  However, her family took care of her own and this is why, perhaps she did not fully help her five and six-year-old pupils.  She likely thought feeding one’s own was a familial responsibility.  The Aristotelian concept of “preservation of the community”[xlvii] apparently stopped at a family’s doorstep for her and many of her countrymen.


The slippery slope of situational ethics eventually caught up with Mi-Ran’s family, and all remaining virtue was lost as the family began to turn on its own members.  One sister, a brother, and her mother devised a plan to escape North Korea via China.[xlviii]  Some of Mi-Ran’s family chose self-preservation over familial bonds as the defection would cost the lives of her two married sisters who stayed behind in North Korea: they were arrested in 1999 shortly after the family’s escape became known and likely died inside of a labor camp.[xlix]  


Mi-Ran and her family could have told the sisters that the family was defecting but doing so likely would have disclosed their plans to the government, thereby foiling their departure.  Thus, the four family members made a fateful decision that their freedom was more valuable than the fate of the two sisters.  This choice, in the face of a harrowing situation, was unjust and cowardly, as Aristotle noted about human “actions” in such “terrifying times.[l]  Here, again, is an ethical situation involving an “object of avoidance:”[li] the pain of staying in North Korea and remaining hungry.


            A third situation provides another heartbreaking example of ethical choices in the famine.  In this particular case, as the intensity of the food crisis grew, moral standards decreased.  Mrs. Song, a mother, was happy she had “one less mouth to feed” when her son moved in with his girlfriend.[lii]  Mrs. Song watched her mother-in-law and her husband die of malnutrition even though she tried desperately to feed them, usually with soup made of grass.[liii]  When she was given the news that her starving son needed an antibiotic to treat his pneumonia, she went to the market to buy some.  Because the penicillin cost 50 Korean Won (a large sum), Mrs. Song chose instead to buy a “kilo of corn” and in short order, her son was soon dead.[liv]


While attempting to second guess the decision-making process of a starving North Korean woman is futile, understanding that stressful situations prompt confused decisions is valuable; perhaps Mrs. Song was non compos mentis.  Though Aristotle recognized that virtue is good, he detected the virtuous are not so all the time, for he stated, “…the excellent citizen is not necessarily prudent.”[lv]  While Mi-Ran attempted to care for her students by sharing spoonfuls of lunches with the less fortunate, this anecdotal evidence showed Mrs. Song could not make a wise choice concerning malnourished family members.  At some point in people’s lives of starvation, wise judgment is absent and prudence is no longer possible.


Obviously, the famine brought out the worst in people, but there was an evolutionary aspect to the food crisis.  While the “simple and kindhearted people who did what they were told…were the first to die,”[lvi] the capitalistic and entrepreneurial or those adept at stealing food often survived.[lvii]  In other words, those who were not virtuous and broke the rules of the society were able to find ways to feed themselves.[lviii]  The mathematics of famine worked in the survivors favor for after five years, “there were fewer mouths to feed [because] ‘[e]verybody who was going to die was already dead.’”[lix]  The survivors became ever more callous: In another example of an Aristotelian “object of avoidance,” in this case, again, the “painful,”[lx] Mrs. Song saw a cartload full of what she thought were only a collection of cadavers until one’s “eyes blinked faintly;” he would stay in the cart because he was soon be dead anyway.[lxi]


Since constant, debilitating hunger in this years-long famine was the norm, the recourse to scrounge for anything edible became, in Aristotelian thinking, a “habit,” but not a habit for inculcating goodness.[lxii]  There were many perverse rumors and actually a couple of cases of cannibalism during the famine.[lxiii]  The decline of virtue in North Korean society had reached extreme levels.  Aristotle says, “Actions are called just or temperate when they are the sort that a just or temperate person would do;”[lxiv] however, the conditions of the non-existence of food drove even the temperate to do the unthinkable.


This situation led to the ultimate Hobson’s Choice: die of hunger and thus violate the rule of self-preservation, or eat another human’s flesh.  Some may say that for the virtuous, this is no choice at all, as to engage in cannibalism is to dehumanize man.  In evolutionary terms, meaning by the need to continue the self or the species, the latter was justified; in doing so, though, the human’s body may survive by engaging in cannibalism but the soul dies.  Aristotle leaves the conclusion much more vague, as he did not identify conditions as extreme as the famine created.  Likely, Aristotle would have chosen honor over the dishonor and depravity of eating another human being.


Aristotle observed that citizens should be happy and happiness is the ultimate goal of life.  He noted that “[t]he virtue of the excellent citizen must exist in all…”[lxv]  In the end, many of the defectors who inhabited this story of the famine in North Korea were unhappy at the condition of their lives, despite the fact that they had finally found a level of freedom in South Korea or elsewhere.  Perhaps they embody the sentiment that Aristotle says, “the happy life seems to be a life expressing virtue.”[lxvi]  These defectors, all of whom made exceptionally difficult choices in the course of surviving the famine, are saddled with the guilt of their non-virtuous decisions.  They may be able to return to attempting to lead a virtuous existence but their pasts will never escape them.


In the exceptionally difficult circumstances of a famine, people of good character will do vile and unethical actions.  Aristotle may not say they thus posses a bad character because character development comes from several inputs; family, community, and country, are some of these.  In the examples of the lives in Nothing to Envy, there are clearly people who took care of their families first while at least attempting to do something for their communities, like Mi-Ran aiding, in a limited manner, some of the hungry children in her classroom.  This was particularly necessary since the DPRK government all but abandoned its citizens, in contrast to its previous practice of meticulously rationing food.  Hunger caused even the virtuous Mi-Ran to sacrifice her sisters’ existence, and likely their families, so she and three other family members could seek freedom in South Korea.  Clearly, Mi-Ran is like many other North Koreans during the famine as she gave up on her corrupt government first, followed by her community, and eventually on her very own family.  In this case, the harshest judges of Mi-Ran and everyone else who was forced to make difficult ethical choices may be themselves.




Aristotle. Introductory Readings. Terence Irwin and Gail Fine, translators. Indianapolis:
     Hackett, 1996.


Aristotle. Politics. Carnes Lord, Translator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.


Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Kindle Edition. New
     York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009.


Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,


Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. 2nd ed., Harvey C. Mansfield, translator. Chicago:
     University of Chicago Press, 1998.


[i] Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Kindle Edition. (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009), 66 and 146.

[ii] Ibid., 26.

[iii] Aristotle, Politics, Carnes Lord, Translator, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 1276b29-30.

[iv] Demick, 70; 174-175.

[v] Aristotle, Politics, 1276b14-16.

[vi] Demick, 69.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Demick, 70; 174-175.

[ix] Ibid., 66.

[x] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 2nd ed., Harvey C. Mansfield, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 68.  Of course, Machiavelli balanced being hated and feared, and said the prince should choose the latter.  In the famine of the DPRK, people began to see Kim and the government as the problem, particularly when food rations were cut or ceased altogether: The government that provided everything for the people had failed and the citizens eventually recognized that when they began to create micro-market economies.

[xi] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aristotle: Ethics,

[xii] Aristotle, Ethics, Introductory Readings, Terence Irwin and Gail Fine, translators. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996), 1104b32–34.

[xiii] Ibid., 1107a1-4.

[xiv] Ibid., 1104b32–34.

[xv] Ibid., 1107a1-4.

[xvi] Demick, 71.

[xvii] Ibid., 11 .

[xviii] Ibid., 96.

[xix] Ibid., 134.

[xx] Ibid., 136.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid., 137.

[xxiv] Ibid., 140.

[xxv] Ibid., 104.

[xxvi] Aristotle, Ethics, 1103b23–25.

[xxvii] Demick, 113-114.

[xxviii] Ibid., 114.

[xxix] Ibid., 152.

[xxx] Aristotle, Ethics, 1109b30.

[xxxi] Demick, 107-108.

[xxxii] Ibid., 108-109.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 109-112.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 86-87.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 130.

[xxxvii] Ibid., 130-131.

[xxxviii] Ibid.

[xxxix] Aristotle, Ethics, 1105B22-24; 25.

[xl] Ibid., 1104b32–34.

[xli] Demick, 131.

[xlii] Ibid., 132.

[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Ibid.

[xlv] Ibid., 72-73.

[xlvi] Ibid., 132.

[xlvii] Aristotle, Politics, 1276b29-30.

[xlviii] Demick, 205.

[xlix] Ibid., 270-271.

[l] Aristotle, Ethics, 1103B15– 18.  “For actions in dealings with other human beings make some people just, some unjust; actions and terrifying situations in the acquired habit of fear or confidence make some brave and others cowardly.” 

[li] Ibid.,1104b32–34.

[lii] Demick, 138.

[liii] Ibid.

[liv] Ibid., 144-145.

[lv] Aristotle, Politics, 1276a16-17.

[lvi] Demick, 141-144.

[lvii] Ibid., 161.

[lviii] Ibid., 149.

[lix] Ibid., 146.

[lx] Aristotle, Ethics, 1104b32–34.

[lxi] Demick, 158.

[lxii] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

[lxiii] Demick, 168-169.

[lxiv] Aristotle, Ethics, 1105B6-8.

[lxv] Aristotle, Politics, 1277a2.

[lxvi] Aristotle, Ethics, 1177a2.

Author: Peter Moons
Author: Peter Moons

The Silicon Chasm: Technological #Enhancements and Politics in a #Transhumanist Future

posted May 15, 2014, 7:07 PM by Peter Joseph Moons   [ updated May 15, 2014, 7:08 PM ]

The Silicon Chasm:

Technological Enhancements and Politics


By Peter Moons


Humans have wholly embraced the idea of self-improvement from the beginning of the species.  From using a crutch for balance, to building primitive ladders that increase height, to the invention of eyeglasses, man’s tools aid in improving what he was endowed with naturally.  Now with the advent of the technological age, self-improvement takes on a more intrusive, individualized, and expansive meaning, however, the era of seamlessly melding man and machine is still fiction.  What is known is that humans’ interpersonal relationships will change once that melding occurs; one such relationship is that of politics.  If every human can communicate electronically with all others, and governments and companies can monitor and communicate with people, as well, the nature of political structures will change.  Therefore, owing to technological enhancement of humans, politics in democracies will change in the form of choices, styles, and perhaps even its existence.


Artifacts Have Politics


Necessary in the discussion of technology and politics is an understanding of the infusion of politics into man’s creations, which then become artifacts.  Technologies can be used for good purposes or evil intent, to improve people’s lives or as a tool of oppression.  By choosing an intent, people are either empowered or disenfranchised.  One such example of the latter was Robert Moses’s bridge designs.  Moses’s racial and class politics negatively affected the social welfare of generations of underserved populations in NYC by limiting their access to areas outside the city.[1]  Similarly, in another example, union workers were manipulated to entice them to quit their jobs by installing inferior equipment on a factory floor.  The end that was achieved aided the plant owner.[2]  


So there is a formula at work here with regard to artifacts of politics: the right tool or design applied against a vulnerable population leads to a specific outcome, which may not be desirable for one party but aids the intent of another.  In the human mind, the subterfuge employed makes the process appear evil.  However, arranging the technology to produce an effect is valuable in political terms.[3]  The common feeling among publics in many, if not perhaps most countries, is that governments and companies are manipulating the population for their own gains.  For example, bus stops are removed to prevent loitering or voting machines and voting ballots are crafted to falsely lead voters into making certain choices.  Thus, politics are infused in many artifacts.


With the examples above, a trend becomes evident: there is a connection between authoritarianism and science and technology, when the latter is pursued by some people with evil intent.[4]  Since a major aspect of technology is its ability to organize[5] and control, such as turning chaos into order or “subdue[ing] nature” as Engels’s wrote,[6] many commentators on technology express concern.  Their apprehension does not make them Luddites, per se.  In fact, such fears about control by political artifacts are justified, as the near daily litany of disclosures about the surveillance society -- not only in the UK and the US but globally -- shows.  The concept of authoritarianism and technology, which Engels saw, does not result in a utopia but in, to use a cinematic example, Metropolis.  The result of technology is not always freedom but often enslavement, owing to the will of those in positions of power and the power structures that allow for their hegemonic designs to gain ground.


A great value from technology comes in its “specific ways of organizing power and authority;”[7] for example, when power -- be that natural or political -- is organized, society becomes stratified and assumes a structure.  Such configuration is conducive for totalitarianism politically and for the existence of central planning economically.  The future could see further attempts at a reprise of central planning, owing to an unstoppable faith by the technorati on organizational ‘Big Data,’ analytics, quantification of the worker, and algorithms that crunch all those numbers in an attempt to balance input and output.  The horror, then, would be the conflation of political tyranny and economic central planning facilitated by science, technology, and data analysis.


This assessment may sound hyperbolic, but the link between governments and technology companies is unmistakable.  At one time, a “techno-scientific-industrial-military elite” ran some processes in the US, particularly in the then-new area of nuclear physics.[8]  Of course, 70 years after the Manhattan Project, the elites’ power is much more pervasive throughout society, and the linkage to governments even stronger.  Government and corporate elites have evolved their collusion to include vast elements of private industry since World War II.  The new elites decide what consumers products will be available for purchase, owing to steep initial entry costs for manufacturers of high technology products.


The complicity shown here is also a form of political control: the small inventor is kept out of the market due to governmental regulations and cannot achieve ‘scale’ in manufacturing and distribution unless a large conglomerate provides support.  As yet, the new technology that goes into humans is uncontrolled by any governmental entity, at least in the US: there are no regulations against Radio Frequency Identification Chips being implanted in adults, for example.  Currently, the industry of transhuman enhancements has not expanded beyond the do-it-yourself genre.  Once that passage to the commercial occurs, governments and corporations will seek to gain both control and profit, skillfully guiding the consumer public to make choices that serve the former two at the expense of the latter.


Realistically, then, the idea that “technical objects” have “social meaning” and a “cultural horizon”[9] can affect both relationships and politics.  In an example of engineers and meaning, the engineering designs for a goal can appear as aggression against man,[10] such as the inferior manufacturing machines mentioned above.  This is the tyranny of technology aided by man against man in pursuit of a goal – be that for profit or fame, but now more often for control.  Martin Heidegger was famously concerned with what was concealed within technology, and was only slowly revealed, if at all. Thus, there may be a need for a “human interpreter” to give “meaning” to technology,[11] to find out its true purpose or alternative, even ulterior goals.


Others have warned about the deleterious effects of technology.  In England centuries ago, some naysayers of the Industrial Revolution were mocked with the label “Luddite.”  Now such people are criticized with the adjective “antitechnology” or “antiprogress”[12] making them appear as opponents of innovation.  One could say this labeling is an attempt by industry to encourage consumers to keep buying the next shiny object on the shelf.  In one fledging field, self-driving autos, a nexus of car manufacturers, IT companies, and governments are setting the conditions for another paradigm shift. 


Those that say a world of connected, data-driven, self-driving autos will be susceptible to computer hackers or massive government surveillance, choice limitation, and behavior control, are labeled as neo-Luddites themselves.  The reality is that there will be a great political upheaval with networked ‘things,’ such as self-driving autos and the so-called ‘internet of things.’  Just as networks control electrical grids, military systems, as well as the rise of ‘social networks,’ networked humans are also susceptible to manipulation.  This vast connectivity can lead to both favorable relationships and heightened control, the latter for commercial or political ends.


Technology in General


Governments have always embraced technology and used that as method to control humanity.  One can see this trend even in the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia where measurements were stamped on clay vessels annotating their weight, to today: that which can be regulated is regulated.  Heidegger’s essay, The Question Concerning Technology, showed that technology possesses the ability to turn humankind away from nature, which represents man in his most free and least ‘connected’ form, and permits the enslavement of man. 


Here, Heidegger noted an interesting connection between three elements: technology, nature, and man, with humanity maintaining primacy of them.  Heidegger acknowledges the power that man holds here for he says, "everything depends on our manipulating technology in the proper manner as a means.”[13]  However, Heidegger goes on to say that man’s hubris may actually blind him to the reality that he cannot control technology.  The current zeitgeist of science-fiction certainly points to Heidegger’s prophecy: technology, like Zeus’s fire stolen by Prometheus, slips out of the gods’ control causing unpredictable damage.


            An introduction of a definition of transhumanism is required at this juncture.  Simply stated, transhumanism is "the power of technology to transform humanity."[14]  This change goes beyond eyeglasses, for the technology is intrusive and radically changes man’s ability; change means enhancing existing capacities or creating capabilities that did not exist previously.  Some people will embrace enhancement technology, as the now definite distinction between “enhancements and treatments,” disappears.[15]


Improvements in technology, just as changes or manipulation of the human body that are deemed as acceptable, are “culturally located” in time and place.[16]   There is a difference between curing problems and making lives better, certainly.  Additionally, a pertinent question regarding human enhancements is their location: “does it matter whether enhancements are worn outside of bodies as opposed to being implanted?” [17]   The answer, for functionality is no, but yes in terms of aesthetics.  If the latter, the ability to blend in with a population of non-enhanced humans increases.  Also, if internal, a deception of appearance would permit all beings to look alike, with no distinguishing features,[18] thereby decreasing the dichotomy of enhanced versus non-enhanced beings.


            However, what is available now and is acceptable and what will occur in the unknown future of enhancements may be radically different; further, what is tolerable now and what will be acceptable may look odd, even ghastly to those in the present.[19]  Bringing this back to politics, one can see how the politicians in the democracy in the US of 1789 would see many similarities to that in the US today, though some of the measures of control, the intrusiveness of regulation, and the power relationships fostered by political campaign funding would seem abhorrent.  With transhuman bodily enhancements, the changes of the future may also appear undesirable.  The acceptance of change can be called ‘accustomization’ -- our behavior adjusts, but people still walk into the manmade inventions of windows and windmill blades.  Perhaps this is the melding of technology and Darwinism.


Heidegger once made the claim, “only another God can save us.”[20]  Of course, another God may not necessarily be a god, gods, or God, or none of the above, but perhaps man’s intervention in the midst of technological development.  An ‘interpreter’ or an interlocutor between man and technology could aid in “salvaging aspects of the enlightenment” that “radically transformed and integrated into a new understanding of reality.”[21]  Heidegger explained that man does not know what the Entframing of a technology covers; for this reason man must understand the potentiality of each new technology.


The manner today in which “man exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth,” means he is just engaging in an “illusion.”[22]  In fact, man is further deluded because he “can never encounter only himself,”[23] likely because technology becomes part of man’s environment, often in unforeseen ways.  Naysayers to transhumanism and its enhancements will take this warning to heart, for the effects on both man, society, and the environment from activities like nanotechnology, bioengineering, and genetic manipulation, despite the best efforts of ethicists, are still unpredictable.


One problem the world may see is that companies that provide enhancement technologies become the focal point of transhumanists’ lives.  People may be indebted to their ‘makers’ for life sustaining upgrades, which would be similar to having to upgrade personal computers in order to make them compatible with the latest technology and software.  If a transhumanist does not decide to ‘upgrade’ herself, she may have a shortened life expectancy, because not upgrading may be a violation of the ‘terms of service’ to which she initially agreed.


Historically, man thinks he owns the technology but he may even become a slave to his new master, whom he had thought a liberator.  This scenario is just as true of governments as of companies: the rebels who liberated the country now take away freedoms for their own ends.  In the Prometheus myth, man benefited from having fire, but then must keep the flame perpetually burning; that ‘burning’ may one day be some aspect of life that man will have to surrender to a government or company.


Originally, man employed technology to change the world, to create order or design from the chaos of nature, which he could not control; now humanity uses technology for self-change.[24]  Logically, the next step is to change human relationships through technology, which is already being done through social networks and even focused on the individual, immediately, through hand-held devices connected to said networks.  Since humans naturally seem to favor grouping themselves, political structures will be the next step that technology will change.  However, even though the manner and outcome of technologically driven changes in political power and political structures remains unclear, some predictions are possible based on how people are enhancing themselves and the social networks they form.


Democracies: Change and Choices


Technology now brings people together but could very well soon divide them into classes, at a minimum, or drive them apart and into conflict at the maximum.[25] Technology, as we have learned elsewhere, creates communities that would not otherwise exist, because of the ability to allow people to generate their own personas and live vicariously through them; moreover, there is a “bias” towards technology that supports people’s “social interests.”[26] Of course, an interpretation of that technology provides the “social” context.[27]  Who joins what community, historically, was determined by such factors, as race, creed, tribe, economic status, education, etc.  What may occur in the future is that interest and finances will be the factor for joining an entity of some dimensions, either political, social, or other.


The technology available and who can afford to pay the costs of entry will matter much in the future.  Because “innovative technics,” including expensive technology, are often enjoyed by the few,[28] the costs of entry will limit involvement initially.  Of course, as Moore’s Law describes, computing power will increase just as price will come down.  The result will be the diffusion of technology.  However, owing to increasing costs, knowledge of use, and societal barriers, a stratification in society between the ‘have nots,’ the ‘haves,’ the ‘have more,’ and the ‘have firsts,’ when discussing technology or merely the access to technological devices, will develop.  However, has this stratification only just developed or has this always been the case?


The diffusion of tools, of printing presses, of arms, etc. also occurred after the research and development, initial creation, and use-by-full-funded-elites phases.  So while the normal arc of technological introduction and spread means that few people today are riding through cities on horses and buggies, the cost of riding in an individually owned automobile are still out of reach for many.  A look at how technology can affect voters and voting, in lieu of human enhancement, is relevant.


There may come a time where there are tiers of voters: the humans, transhumans, and posthumans, each with different voting rights owing to how vested they are in the results of the political structure of their communities and countries.  People, meaning all three of the aforementioned categories, will see each other differently.  Democracy would be in jeopardy if those with technological enhancements garnered some type of advantage over others owing to their technology.  In fact, political structures of the future could be based on who has what ‘upgrade’ because those with certain technology may be able to provide immediate input to each other and to their elected representatives in any assembly.  This scenario is not far from what exists today, as voters with web access can email their representatives while the few without or those who are non-adopters of such technology, rely on phone calls to their representatives’ offices.


Perhaps, just as identity politics plays a role today, humans, transhumans, and posthumans will have their own, unique political interests, voting blocs, and candidates.  An “otherness to the technology” could develop, just as HAL 9000 and the astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey, saw each other as separate entities.[29]  The psychological concept of ‘social proof’ is valuable here: what guides people in choosing and acting comes from others’ opinions of what is acceptable behavior.  If one person modifies themselves, and then another, and so on exponentially, enhancements will be seen as socially acceptable.


This process can affect voting patterns; many people take queues on voting from people they view as ‘thought leaders’ and this will occur with enhanced voters, too.  When voting blocs become defined by technology, patterns of voting and support for issues will become increasingly complicated.  Further, enhanced people could become the majority in a population and vote in their own self-interests over the choices of other, non-enhanced people.  Power and rapid grouping of people with like interests are going to be of high value in the democracy of the future.


Discussions about authoritarianism versus freedom vis-a-vis the techne of a technology[30] or implement is very beneficial in understanding the power and politics a technology may have.  Technology is of course the conduit to achieve Transhumanism by changing humans' bodies, brains, and psychological mood.[31]  There is a risk here that governments may alter or influence transhumans for their own benefit, especially when concerned with political power.  And electrical power is key: if all transhumans are in need of electricity in order to function, then electricity will be the ultimate key to force compliance.


Certainly, there is only a small step between monitoring and control, especially about choices, such as what to purchase, where to work, and for whom one wishes to vote; with in-body surveillance, that step is even shorter.  Similarly, individuals’ concerns “over their personal information flows”[32] are real, however, the tangible scare is when governments and companies aggregate that data and harness the power of data in an expansive scale.


As one example, ‘first adopters’ on the cutting edge of in-body enhancements have begun implanting electronic devices under their skin for various purposes.  However, device implantation into animals themselves is not new as veterinarians have put tracking or identification tags under the skin of pets for well over a decade.  The resistance about device implantation into humans is seemingly low, likely because humans are so desensitized to technology with the profusion of heart pacers, pagers, cell phones, and web-connected devices.  Democracy will change once humans are able to vote immediately on an issue and provide their input directly to their representatives.  At this point, democracy would appear as a giant game show of collective opinions, immediately identifiable, by region, type of person, economic status, and so on.

Technology, Politics, and Defining a Citizen


This change in democracy, especially in voting, may come in the near future: once software begins to fully design itself and develop ‘post-humans,’ this sense of “otherness,” again, will create a chasm between humans who are not enabled and those who are.[33]  The changes from technological advancement and enhancements will be profound and thus a question arises: with burgeoning "power of technology to transform humanity,"[34] after enhancements, will man still be fully human?  In the age of transhumanism or posthumanism, will the enhanced beings still be citizens?  Will these enhanced beings.  If some cannot vote while others can, some transhumans and posthumans may claim discrimination by non-enhanced humans, and vice-versa.


There is an argument that says enhancements are “against human nature,”[35] however, any enhancement, such as eyeglasses, individually improves lives.  Currently, no one complains that someone who wears glasses has an unfair advantage in life or those who wear them should get extra voting power.  What can happen in the near future is discrimination against some or a sense of entitlement by others.  For a pluralist society, enhancement technology can create “huge gulfs between the enhanced and the unenhanced [which] would represent an even greater threat”[36] to democracy.  The drive for enhancements in all their forms may change “the very nature of politics,”[37] particularly because the political system is not up to the task of lawmaking with the future in mind.  The US’s legislative bodies are focused on the present and not the future.[38]  However, legislators do have a responsibility to the future especially if man can manipulate himself to have a prolonged, or even an eternal life.[39]


Once enhancements become routine, society will recognize that laws must change, too.  Thus, a very important question in the future, once enhancements become commonplace, is this: how will the law define a voter?  “Genetic manipulation,” “asexual” reproduction, and even “human cloning” are issues that will matter in the definition of citizenship and voter.[40]  As with most innovation, there is a recognition that enhancement technologies are evolving and coming to market faster than laws are created or changed to address new developments.[41]  A major concern for a country that prides itself on the voice of the common man being heard through the ballot box is that human “enhancement[s] could simply elevate the accepted competence threshold for qualifying as a voter, establishing a new minimal baseline for competence.”[42]  If enhancements are a requirement, and someone does not have the requisite type, they may legally be excluded from the voting process.


One factor that will be increasing in importance as humans become enhanced technologically is that of “legitimacy.” [43]  When governments and companies can know much more about an individual -- biologically, genetically, and even their thoughts -- a person’s ability to keep secure in their person, as the US Constitution states, becomes limited.  Here, a government’s intrusiveness de-legitimizes its functionality.  Therefore, a major concern for those who are enhanced, perhaps more so than those who remain natural, is the real possibility that governments or companies can monitor people and do so at an increasingly low cost.  This monitoring process may affect the electoral process as the anonymity of voting disappears.


Because of the “greatly reduced the costs for governments to amass detailed profiles of citizens and residents,”[44] the largest barrier to collection on people disappears.  The technological means for monitoring behavior, likewise, will become increasingly easier, especially when devices are implantable within a person.  This type of surveillance is certainly more intrusive than the current paradigm of external surveillance through cameras and sensors outside of the body.  Finally, man must keep in mind that enhancements, like surveillance, possess “a technology powerful enough to reshape what we are [and] will have possibly malign consequences for liberal democracy and the nature of politics itself.”[45]


Will Democracies Continue To Exist?


Noting the enhancements in the human body and mind, especially the impact these changes will have on society, including politics, may lead to a world of “Technoutopians.”[46]  Thus, one can contemplate a time and place when democracy may become superfluous.  There are downsides to a utopia, though.  In particular, because humans abhor blandness, the striving for uniqueness and competition may have to be bioengineered out of humanity.  Otherwise, there will be discontent, both socially and politically, in such a utopian society.


If a forced utopia is in place, then a “decreasing [of] the absoluteness of individual rights”[47] will also occur.  Keeping the population down, as in any tyranny, will require governmental control of one identity group over another.[48]  At least one academic predicts the return of eugenics owing to “Genetic enhancement technology;” this bodes ill for society and democracy owing to an increase in inequality as the uneducated and poor will not access the new technology, just as the educated and rich will achieve more.[49]  Of course, then, the latter are more likely to continue to vote in their interests vice those of others.


There is, of course, a deep libertarian streak within the technological and scientific communities.  Many technology developers see themselves as going ‘beyond politics’ in their planning for the future of society.  In one example from the last century, “[i]n place of authoritarianism and representative democracy,” a forward thinker in New York in the 1970’s advocated “for world governance through direct electronic democracy.”[50]  Thus, in this manner, democracy may exist but at hyper-speed and on a world-wide scale.  Assuming all beings, human, transhuman, posthuman, and anything else with voting rights can vote, their voice would be heard and their vote counted, instantaneously; the result would be a global democracy.




In several different scenarios, futurists advanced the idea that melding minds and machines would create globally linked enterprise of humanity, thus “leading to the emergence of collective intelligence.”[51]  These ideas were proposed as “Global Brain,” the “noosphere,” and the well-known “Singularity.” [52]  The end result of these utopian arrangements is the connectivity of humanity, with the implication being an end to war, famine, greed, etc.  Presumably, physical conflict between nations and political strife within countries would also disappear, once we can read each other’s minds.  Enhancements, in all their myriad forms, are likely the first step in this scheme.


Ultimately, national governments and voting within them could also fade away, as their functions would be subsumed into a global government of interconnected humans.  In fact, the word ‘government’ implies such a structure would be necessary, when this type of political body may be superfluous, as well.  An apropos final thought on how technological enhancements of humans will affect politics is this: any technology that is capable of dramatically changing humanity also has the power to alter how humanity governs itself.






Cockfield, Arthur. “Surveillance As Law,”Griffith Law Review, 2011, Vol. 20, Issue 4.


Cole-Turner, Ronald. "Introduction: The Transhumanist Challenge," Transhumanism and Transcendence:
     Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement
. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press,


Fukuyama, Francis. Our Posthuman Future: Consequences Of The Biotechnology Revolution. New York:
     Farrar, Straus And Giroux, 2002.


Gregory, Eric. “What Do We Want from the Just War Tradition? New Challenges of Surveillance and the
     Security State.” Studies in Christian Ethics, 2014.


Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.


Hughes, James J. “The Politics of Transhumanism and the Techno-Millennial Imagination, 1626-2030.”
     Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science. Dec2012, Vol. 47 Issue 4.


Kaplan, David, ed. Readings in the Philosophy of Technology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.


Lett, Dan, Sean Hier, and Kevin Walby, “Policy Legitimacy, Rhetorical Politics, and the Evaluation of City-
     Street Video Surveillance Monitoring Programs in Canada,” Canadian Review of Sociology, Nov.
     2012, Vol. 49 Issue 4.


Lin, Patrick, and Fritz Allhoff, “Against Unrestricted Human Enhancement.” Journal of Evolution &
. May 2008, Vol. 18 Issue 1.


Shapiro, Michael H. “Does Technological Enhancement of Human Traits Threaten Human Equality and
San Diego Law Review. Summer 2002, Vol. 39 Issue 3



[1] Langdon Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 253.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 253-254.

[4] Ibid., 257.

[5] Ibid., 259.

[6] Ibid., 257.

[7] Ibid., 259.

[8] Ibid., 258.

[9] Andrew Feenberg, “Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Freedom,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 144.

[10] Ibid., 144-145.

[11] Ibid., 144.

[12] Winner, 255.

[13] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 5.

[14] Ronald Cole-Turner, "Introduction: The Transhumanist Challenge," Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 4.

[15] Carl Elliott, What’s Wrong with Enhancement Technology?, Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 435.

[16] Ibid., 436.

[17] Patrick Lin and Fritz Allhoff, “Against Unrestricted Human Enhancement,” Journal of Evolution & Technology, May 2008, Vol. 18 Issue 1, 5.

[18] Ibid., 2. The authors describe a scenario where no one knows who is and who is not enhanced: “As artificial intelligence advances, nano-sized computers might be imbedded into our bodies in order to help process more information faster, even to the point where man and machine become indistinguishable.”

[19] Elliott, 436.

[20] Hubert Dreyfus, “Heidegger on Gaining a Free Relation to Technology,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 32

[21] Ibid., 31.

[22] Heidegger, QCT, 27.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Cole-Turner, 7.

[25] Feenberg, 141.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Robert McGinn, “Technology, Demography, & the Anachronism of Traditional Rights,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 189.

[29] Don Ihde, “A Phenomenology of Technics,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 93.

[30] Clark Summer, Virtual Presentation slideshow, HUM 605, commenting on Winner’s essay.

[31] Cole-Turner, 7-8.

[32] Arthur Cockfield, “Surveillance As Law,”Griffith Law Review, 2011, Vol. 20, Issue 4, 796-7.

[33] Ihde, 93.

[34] Cole-Turner, 4.

[35] Julian Savulescu, “Genetic Interventions and the Ethics of Enhancement of Human Beings,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 428.

[36] Michael H. Shapiro, “Does Technological Enhancement of Human Traits Threaten Human Equality and Democracy?,” San Diego Law Review, Summer 2002, Vol. 39 Issue 3, 824.

[37] Hans Jonas, “Technology and Responsibility,Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 178.

[38] Ibid., 183.  Sometimes, they are not even up to focusing on the present, such is the nature of deliberative democracy.

[39] Ibid., 181.

[40] Shapiro, 837-838.

[41] Jay Stanley and Barry Steinhardt, “Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 306.

[42] Shapiro, 830.

[43] Dan Lett, Sean Hier, and Kevin Walby, “Policy Legitimacy, Rhetorical Politics, and the Evaluation of City-Street Video Surveillance Monitoring Programs in Canada,” Canadian Review of Sociology, Nov. 2012, Vol. 49 Issue 4, 331.  Regarding legitimacy, the authors note: “Policy legitimacy also entails procedural legitimacy: the ways in which policy advocates persuade stakeholders and members of local communities that formal standards of policy making have been addressed.”

[44] Arthur Cockfield, “Surveillance As Law,” Griffith Law Review, 2011, Vol. 20, Issue 4, 795.

[45] Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences Of The Biotechnology Revolution, New York: Farrar, Straus And Giroux, 2002, 7.

[46] James J. Hughes, “The Politics of Transhumanism and the Techno-Millennial Imagination, 1626-2030,” Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science. Dec2012, Vol. 47 Issue 4, 772.  The “Technoutopians” are those who believe in the power of technology and human enhancement to create a better world, if not a utopia.[46]

[47] Robert E. McGinn, “Technology, Demography, and the Anachronism of Traditional Rights,” Readings in the Philosophy of Technology, ed. David Kaplan, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 193.

[48] Eric Gregory, “What Do We Want from the Just War Tradition? New Challenges of Surveillance and the Security State,” Studies in Christian Ethics, 2014, 53.  The author writes that “a lust for security and secrecy has become the lust that dominates America and its idolatrous politics of dominating others.”[48]  Domination of others is the natural end-state of a tyrannous government.

[49] Fukuyama, 159.

[50] Hughes, 762.

[51] Ibid., 765.

[52] Ibid., 764-5.

#Identity: Philosophical Perspectives of #Heidegger, #Arendt, #Nancy, #Agamben, and #Mouffe

posted May 15, 2014, 3:50 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

Philosophical Perspectives of Heidegger, Arendt, Nancy, Agamben, and Mouffe

By Peter Moons

     The concept of identity is embedded in the human psyche. Once they become aware of themselves, human beings develop an idea of who they are followed by who they are not. This idea also delves into likes, dislikes, favorites, and avoidances. In the development of an individual identity are the nascent ideas of family, tribe, community, and nation. All of these bounded entities, like the individual, define themselves as much by their beliefs by their dislikes. In the current age, technology has a role in self- awareness, as well. Five philosophers, Heidegger, Arendt, Nancy, Agamben, and Mouffe comment on identity, though each diverges in their focus; in their opinions, they posit some positives about identity while also discussing the aspects that can lead to problems in societies.

     In his Memorial Address, Martin Heidegger posited a clear identity of a person being rooted in their land. One could say that Heidegger’s concept of Dasein is applicable in the development and structure of identity: the presence of the self and the community that individuals inhabit are linked. In the Memorial Address, Heidegger argued that humans are becoming separated from their original culture, which alienates them from their original identity that was connected to nature, to their land.1 Of course, Heidegger wrote at a time when the effects of the Industrial Revolution were being experienced by the multiple generations of families.

     This alienation occurs for many reasons. First, workers have become deracinated and left their homes and native land to find work in far away, dehumanizing urban environments. Second, the technology that creates employment in urban areas further debases the workers and turns them into mere cogs in industrial machines. Though Heidegger wrote this essay in the 20th century, the paradigm he described still exists today in factories in the developing world. Third, there are factors of modernity that degrade “the heavens and the spirit,” as Heidegger wrote: “planning and calculation...organization and automation.”2 These can be called the ‘four horsemen of modernization’ that contribute to the alienation of an individual from his or her identity.

     Certainly, in context, the Germans, and other Europeans whose cultures are more anchored and less mobile, relate to the identity factor of origin. The Germans particularly promoted this idea for years with their Heimat culture of films, music, and dance, harkening back to an ideal relationship of people rooted in their land, families, and even nation. Heidegger’s caveat is this: without a sense of “autochthony,” humanity will lose the ability to dream, to engage in “meditative thinking.”3 These activities are what humans need to create a sense of self. Thus without them, humanity moves away from land, home, family. The facilitator of this deracination is technology; without “rootedness” to land, Heidegger saw that humanity could become rooted to an artifact, especially a technological one.4

      Finally, the salient point Heidegger made about the controlling effects of technology is this: “modern techniques of communication stimulate, assail, and drive man” away from his native land to an unknown space.5 The implication is that owing to modernity’s nature,6 humans may no longer be so rooted in land but in data, causing one to drift through cyberspace, living vicariously through online lives. While he noted the march of “progress” is unstoppable, Heidegger also wondered if humanity’s addiction to technology will eventually to the technology controlling humans.7 If technology can dominate humankind, then technology can also take away or alter a person’s identity. The only escape, then, is through the Heideggerian process of “Die Gelassenheit” -- a “releasement” of technology,8 wherein humanity frees itself from technology’s control and one can find their own identity.

      Hannah Arendt took another view of identity in her book, The Human Condition. For Arendt, one’s homeland is not as important as one’s actions. She noted that “men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world.”9 In her view, behavior and verbal actions are the discriminators of identity, not someone’s “qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings.”10 This is a very curious turn and Arendt resolved this conundrum in a Heideggerian style of revelation: A person’s “who” is hidden from them and is only revealed through “speech and action.”11 Even more important than the action that an individual performs is the “who” that is doing the action.12 For Arendt, the actor must reveal herself or himself. Without an identity, the action is nothing.13

      Since the individual has primacy for Arendt, she was not interested in the beginning of history, but the beginning of man.14 Clearly, Arendt saw the story of the world as also the story of man, because man is the “agent” or the “hero...of the story.”15 Of course, telling a personal story changes the perspective on/about someone; a modification takes place.16 However, Arendt said that man, being the hero of the story of the world, cannot also be the “author.”17 This reasoning appears in line with her ideas, as noted above, that humans are recognized by their action. In literature, a valid comparison is that of the title character in Hamlet: his qualities, gifts, and talents, as Arendt would say, are great, but his inaction is not that of a hero archetype.

     For Arendt, there is a major difference between the history of the world and the history fashioned by man: the former occurs effortlessly while the second is both a happenstance and a construct. People seek “immortal fame in the polis,” which shows humans as vainglorious;18 however, death ends this fame-seeking by the individual though perpetuated by those with self-interest who remain behind. Since the final reality is death, humanity could spend less time in technological activities and more time in “contemplative thinking,” as Heidegger argued in his Memorial Address.

     A great question Arendt had here is this: who authored this story of history?19 Really, either God or man is the author of the story, though a person would not know the world if he were not in the world, until his or her identity is revealed. In this regard, Arendt discounted the idea that humanity made the history of the world. Instead, the history of the world could not be made by a collective but by an individual. Arendt’s view is not completely dissimilar to Ayn Rand’s, as she advocated the primacy of individual persons.

     The reality is that man cannot escape his desire for recognition, as an individual or a vain person or even just to have one’s own identity. Arendt noted that “the aspiration toward worldly immortality” is perhaps uniquely linked to “political activity,” which is also “equated with vainglory.”20 Finally, Arendt theorized that the end of humanity might mean the end of the modern age21 as she was concerned about the fate of the individual and the identity she or he possessed. No wonder, then, that humanity experienced an existential crisis concerning the world, wondering if “it was real.”22 If people had more sense of their own identity, they would not feel that the world around them has consumed them as individuals.

     Jean-Luc Nancy discusses identity, identity groups, and violence committed on their behalf, especially ones at the national level, in his chapter titled “Eulogy for the Mêlée.” In the post-Cold War era, identity has trumped the ‘-isms;’ these were, of course, capitalism, totalitarianism, socialism, totalitarianism, and communism -- all prevalent throughout the 1900’s. In the current era, there is a “reduction to identity”23 likely owing to the movement away from the bipolar political structure that spawned global competition between two political camps and their off-shoots. This change, from the international to the local, results in the supremacy of identity.

      While not focusing on the structure of inter-identity group violence, Nancy is concerned with the Serbian-Croat-Bosnian conflict as a paradigm, likely owing to the violence he saw on European TV daily in the early 1990’s. His over-arching theory appears to be that identities are lost to both sides in such a conflict. Nancy describes names of cities, countries, and people as being disassociated from their essence, thereby avoiding the “proper name.”24 The name of the identity, not the individual thing itself, is what matters, especially with ‘the other’ painted as an enemy.25 Perhaps this relates to Dasein from Heidegger: both the transgressor and the victim have their identities concealed during acts of violence.

     Though he goes into deep discussion about mélange and mêlée, more important is his idea that what drives identity violence is the same thing that drove violence with the ‘-isms’ noted above: Group-belonging at the expense of the individual. Nancy notes that the individual is subordinated to the “identity”26 of the wider group, and, concurrently, the individual is devalued in order to grow the construct surrounding the identity. Certainly, national identity is not static but dynamic, particularly over time.27 Due to changes in fortune, demography, war, famine, strife, economic success or failure, etc., a peoples’ identity will morph. In other words, history shapes identity, from the individual to the national level. Nancy’s observation is thus similar to Arendt’s warning about the individual’s subordination to a higher identity group.

     Nancy also describes how violence between different identity groups denies a belief in community; such acts also negate “relation,”28 in many forms. Moreover, the mêlée Nancy describes, “spreads everywhere and kills, violates, irradiates,” affecting neighbors and countries alike. Nancy likely could not fathom the neighbor versus neighbor hate borne out of the Balkan conflict and, unless one lived there, comprehending the conflict was difficult. Essentially, violence negates the identity of the transgressor himself.29 State–sponsored support of identity group violence, like Slobodan Milosevic generated, has the capacity for escalating national aggression, leading to deracination, pogroms, and genocide -- exactly the course of action the Serbians followed in Bosnia.

     Lastly, the outcome of identity group mixing, Nancy’s mélange, can be “an apocalypse” owing to the clash of extremes,30 but is inherently “disruptive.”31 The catalyst is not the difference in identities but the concept of differences people see, particularly racism, which Nancy describes as “stupid, obtuse, and fearful.”32 Thus, while differences receive highlight between groups, the members of the groups seek to increase their own identity, particularly the idea that their group is pure, and ‘the other’ impure. Nancy counters this disparaging mechanism by noting a “pure identity” never exists.33 Because of a lack of purity, the individual and community identities are an mélange themselves. Purity of identity is only in theory: beautiful and undiluted, as well as promoted and exploited for political purposes. The reality is much more messy. Essentially all identity is syncretic and accretive; Nancy saw this and was thus disillusioned at the violence he witnessed in Europe’s backyard.

      Giorgio Agamben has an interesting discussion about ethics, morality, and original sin, which relate to the identity of the individual in light of her or his community. In original sin, he says humans are locked in, or bound by “shackles,”34 implying there is no respite from the emotional and religious history embedded in these concepts. For believers, this imagery is reality, which is inescapable; if there had been no original sin, then they would behave differently, at least in a moral sense. Original sin is also something of a crutch: when humans fail, they fall back on original sin saying they are this way because of a ‘fallen’ nature. As Agamben writes, our “potentiality” is thus handicapped.35

     Also interesting is that humanity recognizes, ontologically, its virtues and vices are oppositional, like yin and yang. So many aspects of humanity have a Manichean nature: love and hate, good and bad, day and night, even life and death. These are the conflicts that make up identity, when considered in totality. Religion, in this regard, provides a semblance of hope – to relieve suffering or explain life’s vicissitudes. Though for some, religion can ‘reveal’ a deeper purpose, or at least attempts to do this, Agamben notes that in “potentiality,” he thinks this must be “repressed.”36

     Agamben also uses the idea of “foundation,” and this is what provides an ethical base for many in the development of identity.37 This basis for ethics becomes skewed when viewed through the lens of class, though; another layer or filter is added, through which we see our “social identity”38 especially when observed in contrast to the ‘other.’ Social class can illuminate (or identify) our ethical ideal, particularly when contrasted; one can call the catalyst ‘inequality.’ The contrast between classes thus shatters ‘concern for the other’ and damages morality.

     This point about identity exemplifies the real fragility in both our moral and political systems: in any revolution, there is a heightened, even extreme sense of vengeance and justice. A time of struggle causes man to not focus as much on potential but how to destroy, as Agamben writes, that which “shackles their potentiality.”39 Therefore, while ethics provide the “potentiality,” a class struggle sees how a segment of society exploits others,40 hoisting a flag of justice and ethics for the few to oppress the majority, until the masses reach a tipping point of tolerance. The cycle continues: A revolution will break the extant paradigm, throwing off the their bindings, freeing the individuals who are members of that community.

     Chantal Mouffe argues for a “pluri-verse”41 solution to the existing individual identity politics in play, particularly in Europe. Mouffe employs concepts of Claude Levi- Strauss labeled “coexistence,” “diversity,” and “originality.”42 There is a dichotomy of thought: a wider “community” identity43 versus the uniqueness of the smallest nation- state of ethnic enclave. In place of the individual and his or her own identity, based on one or more of the multiple factors available, Mouffe advocates for a “collective identity...that creates a strong identification among the members of a community.”44

     Mouffe touches on many different themes: economics, political unification strategies, identity politics, as well as the “insider” and “outsider” perspective.45 In this last concept, Mouffe suggests that Europeans define themselves by who they are not: ‘who are we’ versus ‘who are not us,’ which itself harkens back to the Cold War, but allows for the development of the collective sense of identity she promotes. The ‘us versus them’ model bodes well for international politics, in terms of building consensus among the dozens of EU states. For this reason, Mouffe proposes a “federal union” to politically manage the “homogenous demos.”46 The federal union model would also aid in allowing for the small political, ethnic, and cultural groups to have their voices heard, which Mouffe desires.47 She believes these smaller groups have fallen under the control of larger political, thus preventing their identities from flourishing.

     Importantly, she states that the EU model is not working48 and that Europe needs to move away from the economic policies of capitalism49 in order that Europeans become less like “consumers” and more like “citizens.”50 Mouffe, from her economically socialist perspective, sees the economics of the EU as a catalyst for conflict vice the glue that binds the disparate EU countries together. Consumers do not need identities, essentially; what they require is purchasing power. Thus, Mouffe senses a loss when consumerism reigns at the expense of both citizenship and its concomitant cultural capital. Mouffe disfavors the “Westernization” of economic structures as well as democracies, as this favors consumerism over an individual’s participation in a wider community.51

     Another point Mouffe proposes is in relation to power centers within Europe: she advocates for the development of regional power centers, called “multi-centered forms of governance.”52 Such loci of power would be spread throughout Europe, aiding her agonistic approach to politics -- essentially augmenting the bureaucracy and hierarchy already extant in EU politics. Mouffe’s proposal is encapsulated in the idea of a “pluri- verse,”53 where countries agonistically “engage with each other without any one of them having the pretence (sic) of being the superior one.”54 Mouffe here identifies the culprit: the EU dominated by the large economic states, which bully the smaller ones, causing them to lose their cultural identities, and assume a lower rung on the political power ladder.

     Mouffe also defines democracy in several ways, which is important owing to the value of the individual in such a political system. First, doctrinally, her agonist- antagonist dynamic points her to see competition as evident, but desirable to be maintained, at a low level; thus, she promotes regional power centers versus a strong central government. Mouffe appears to follow the zeitgeist of non-traditional political viewpoints as she promotes what can be called ‘inclusive democracy.’ This structure ensures that all voices in a political debate have the opportunity for speaking, to be heard. For this reason, she endorses the concept of “common” and “collective” identity.55

     In conclusion, there is a difference of focus on identity among the philosophers. Heidegger firmly wishes for a retrenchment by the itinerant workers slaving away in cities; for Arendt, behavior and verbal actions are the markers of identity.56 Nancy sees identity as promotion of the group, to which the individual is subordinated.57 As well, Nancy identifies group-belonging at the expense of the individual as the cause of group violence, which is further exacerbated by a lack of community.58 Agamben proposes the idea of “foundation” as an ethical base for many in the development of identity.59 Lastly, Mouffe wants to hold onto identities within countries so they are not lost to a larger political entity; doing so will permit the creation of a larger “pluri-verse.”60

     There is value in each of these philosophers’ concepts on identity. Heidegger’s concept of connection with the land and the threats to individual identity from the pervasiveness of technology are still valid. Likewise, Mouffe’s valuation of the individual within a “common” and “collective” identity61 promotes inclusiveness. Arendt and Nancy, too, value the individual; the latter sees men and women as individuals, not as “simple, homogeneous” beings.62 Finally, Agamben seems to take a different approach as he sees identity preventing the coming together of larger communities. The issue of identity and how people are part of a political, economic, or demographic community obviously still matters.


1 Martin Heidegger, Memorial Address, from Discourse on Thinking, (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 48. 2 Ibid., 49.
3 Ibid., 46-49.
4 Ibid., 53.

5 Ibid., 48.
6 Ibid., 53.
7 Ibid., 52-53.
8 Ibid., 54. This German word can also mean the beautiful ‘serenity,’ as translated by Google, and is applicable in the sense that to be serene means to not be captured or controlled by technology.
9 Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 179.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid., 179-180.
12 Ibid., 180-181.
13 Ibid., 180-181.
14 Ibid., 184.
15 Ibid., 185.
16 Ibid., 184.

17 Ibid., 185.
18 Ibid., 197.
19 Ibid, 185.
20 Ibid., 314.
21 Ibid., 322.
22 Ibid., 320.
23 Nancy, Being Singular Plural, (Standford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 145. 24 Ibid., 146.

25 Ibid., 146-7.
26 Ibid., 147.
27 Ibid., 153.
28 Ibid., 155.
29 Ibid., 155.
30 Ibid., 150.
31 Ibid., 149.
32 Ibid., 148-149. 33 Ibid., 153.

34 Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 44. 35 Ibid.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid., 43.

38 Ibid., 63.
39 Ibid., 44.
40 Ibid., 64-65.
41 Chantal Mouffe, Agonistics: Thinking The World Politically, (Brooklyn: Verso, 2013), 64. 42 Ibid., 39.
43 Ibid., 46.
44 Ibid., 45-46.
45 Ibid., 49-50.
46 Ibid., 50.
47 Ibid., 49.
48 Ibid., 58.
49 Ibid., 60.
50 Ibid., 59.
51 Ibid., 39.
52 Ibid., 51.
53 Ibid., 39.
54 Ibid., 42.
55 Ibid., 51-53.
56 Arendt, 179.
57 Nancy, 146-147.
58 Nancy, 155.
59 Agamben, 43.
60 Mouffe, 64.
61 Ibid., 51-53.
62 Nancy, 147.

Why #Machiavelli Teaches Evil…and Its Limitations

posted Jan 1, 2014, 4:46 PM by Peter Joseph Moons   [ updated Jan 1, 2014, 4:46 PM ]

Why Machiavelli Teaches Evil…and Its Limitations

By Peter Joseph Moons


            Machiavelli does not advocate evil, per se, though he does teach that a prince who uses certain techniques will maintain his rule.  Essentially, he teaches how a Prince should rule effectively in the face of challenges and stay in power.  He notes that atrocities are acceptable, if they result in achieving the desired ends.[1]  However, gratuitous violence against the people under one’s rule is unacceptable for they will rebel against the ruler.  To be timid against one’s real or potential enemies is also a sign of weakness; Christianity is in this vein.[2]  Therefore, the best route is to rule by creating fear of the Prince, without hatred.  His oft-cited choice is between being loved or feared, of which he chooses the latter, but also cautions against needless cruelty[3] that results in enmity.  Thus, these are not concepts of persistent evil but of moral realpolitik, for cruelty committed all-at-once is less cruel than when done sparingly and in a protracted manner.[4]


Critics of Machiavelli’s leadership techniques recognize their unsustainability, particularly for rule in an expansionist, militaristic, constant crisis-mode style.  A prince could grow an empire by continuous expansion and keep moving his capital to conquered kingdoms.  However, there are limitations to ruling as if an emergency exists every day, as subordinates may tire of this constant stress and strain.


A prince who rules per Machiavelli’s advice would need to remember that being feared and committing violence against enemies holistically are the best paradigms to follow in order to stay in power.  To say that Machiavelli teaches evil implies that there are good and bad forms of governance…and there are.  However, he notes that if a person who gives a gift, as well as the recipient of the gift, think the gift is good, then that gift is good.  In this case, the gift is the advice on how a prince should rule.


In context, Machiavelli was a disgruntled, former government civil servant then attempting to curry favor with his treatise, doing so in a sly, seemingly sarcastic style.  His manner of writing was over-the-top in its time and is still so today.  He appears as an extreme realist and is emulated now only by autocrats.  Machiavelli’s intense nature is because the prince operates in a world with like-minded princes.  Machiavelli’s environment is one where the prince who follows Machiavelli’s teachings will realize that to win, he needs to dominate the other guy, every time.


Certainly, the prince has to be more ruthless, more feared, and more cunning, because all the competition does the same.  For this reason, Machiavelli completely disfavored the magnanimity of Christianity and the softness of politicians who just want to be loved by their people.  Those qualities will only get the prince in trouble and threaten his ability to rule.  Finally, the prince’s behavior is limited as he must avoid cruelty, otherwise he will incur the enmity of his people.[5]


On Machiavelli and the Use of Technology


            The employment of technology under Machiavellianism would significantly increase a leader’s ability to achieve desired ends.  Competitors to a prince would likewise use technology against him.  The likely result would be a never-ending spiral of invention and innovation…for exceedingly evil ends.  One could see how a Machiavellian leader would use technology: to instill fear in a population, to manipulate citizens, to efficiently eliminate enemies, for militarism, to aid the military-industrial-media complex, for expansionism, to create a constant state of emergency, and to control domestic or international commodity supplies, currencies, and markets.  These points are reminiscent of Nineteen Eighty-Four or the pervasive police state in the former East Germany.


Interestingly, today’s technology could enable a Machiavelli-inclined despot.  When one looks at the applications on any smart phone, there are usually two kinds of apps: ones that influence what we think (information/news/Yelp-type reviewing) and others that influence what we do (games/tools).  Thus, while technology allows a person to run their life better, technology in a Machiavellian realm would make easy the maintenance of a regime, aid in population manipulation, and achieve results faster, more easily, and more completely.  There is an oft-quoted saying that man never invented a weapon he did not use; whether true or not, in a technologically driven country, Machiavelli would exploit the tools available to him in order to prolong his regime.


A connection between technology and population manipulation exists especially in, but is not limited to, undemocratic political orders.  There are several historical examples that show the paradigm of new technology exploited for propaganda or for mere control.  Nazi Germany used three: they had a vast radio propaganda program, the first live television broadcast followed by its use, and monumental films, particularly those by Leni Riefenstahl and the state-sponsored film industry.  In that country, the leader was loved more than feared, one could surmise.


Another example is Egypt during its so-called Arab Spring uprising. To stem the opposition's use of technology, the country's leadership hit the internet ‘off button’ and the web there went dark for days.  Machiavelli would have approved as this all-at-once action, which bought the regime some time.  Lastly, the use of ‘big data’ in political campaigns works well in democracies now but will work even better in corrupt and autocratic regimes, where limitations on data mining, surveillance, and media manipulation are stronger.  Thus, without the pervasive protection of freedoms, such as those in the Bill of Rights, the ability for a Machiavellian prince to leverage technology to control the population, defeat political enemies, and maintain his regime will only increase.

[1] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 2nd ed., Harvey C. Mansfield, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 9.

[2] Ibid., 69.

[3] Ibid., 66.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Ibid., 37.

#God and #Man in the Machine: #Religion in the #Transhumanist Environment

posted Dec 29, 2013, 9:55 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

 God and Man in the Machine:

Religion in the Transhumanist Environment

By Peter Joseph Moons 

Transhumanism, and beyond that, Posthumanism, will impact man’s relationships to other beings, his community, and his religion.  Owing to the increase in intellect, reasoning, and logic, man may sense that he has reached a superior level.  What will really launch a discussion about religion, particularly, if there will any longer be a need for religion, is when technology permits the immortality of man, at least an intellectual eternal existence.  At that point, humans will wonder if they themselves are not godlike, because their hyper-connected brains will have access to all the information man has created and they will be able to live forever, either being part human-part machine, or more machine than human.  Thus, religion and the concept of spirituality will change when man can live forever in the Transhuman and Posthuman environment.


This paper will ask many questions, for which there likely no answers, as of yet.  Necessary for this discussion is a definition of Transhumanism, which, simply enough, is "the power of technology to transform humanity."[1]  Posthumanism is likely the point at which the human brain is the center of reasoning in a non-human body.  Most importantly for this discussion, Transhumanism is not therapy but enhancements.[2]  Both of these possibilities -- Transhumanism and Posthumanism -- prompt a central question: when humans are transformed through technology, will they think they can become God or will they think they are God?  They, meaning our future selves, may come to think thusly.


Regarding Transhumanism, owing to the perpetual pace of technology and people’s acceptance of its effects, many will see that an "enhanced person [is] still human,"[3] just as anyone with a pacemaker is still human.  The question that Transhumanism may lead to soon is this: Will enhancements mean the end of the human species?[4]  If we can change humanity, should we?  Christians and other believers will say we are made in the image of God, so to change that image is to violate God's intent.  This is what the Bible intends in the phrase about the body being ‘a temple.’  The question, ‘should we become Transhuman?’ is a moral one because after the threshold is crossed, there is no going back.  As just noted, one could say that we already crossed a line with health implants, prosthetics, and bio-engineering.


Concerning "the power of technology to transform humanity,"[5] after enhancements, will we still be fully human?  Currently, as far as we know, only humans on earth believe in God.  So beyond Transhumanism, if humans increase the intellect and consciousness of animals, could we raise them to the level of where humans are now, so that they too believe in God?  Further, what happens if we bioengineer animals to be super-intelligent, as we do the same to ourselves?  Maybe then humans and animals can worship God together.  Personal transformation is already a concept in Christianity[6] so perhaps there is a way for future technology[7] to work towards the improvement of man, animals, and the environment.


Certainly, technology is the conduit to achieve Transhumanism by changing humans' bodies, brains, and psychological mood.[8]  If God and evolution did well in creating the human species, at least our intellect and consciousness, will man's manipulation of man do any better?  We have to ask, what is the goal of Transhumanism?  There is logic in nature and faith in God;[9] what will we have when logic is the only method in a Transhuman reality?  The original use of technology was to change the world; now we use technology to change ourselves.[10]  When we do both simultaneously, we will have exponential growth, linking and leveraging our tools, our technology, and ourselves.


In terms of how Transhumanism may alter the human genotype as well as personality factors, we should consider N. F. Fedorov.  Fedorov addressed "the unbrotherly attitude"[11] between people, which causes all types of violence and hatred. Certainly, a positive outcome of Transhumanism would be to excise out of humans this tendency toward terrible violence; doing so would enable man to follow the golden rule without even realizing a rule was involved. I f the default attitude of man could be designed to treat everyone in a brotherly manner, then Federov's concern would be assuaged.


Fedorov also saw how death destroys "personal identity"[12] and is "evil."[13]  If technology aids man in conquering death, then he will no longer be human, but "post human."[14]  Christians believe in an afterlife, as does every other major world religion.  Once there is no death, for many people, there also may not be a need for an afterlife.  The End of Death[15] (which itself sounds like a book title) would be the biggest news ever, bigger than the splitting of the atom or Watson and Crick's discover of the double helix in DNA.  Believers know God is eternal now, though one wonders what will happen to this idea if man is also eternal.  At that point of Transhumanist development, or in Posthumanism, will man become divine too?


There is a transcendent element to overcoming death[16] and by becoming immortal, man will likely think of himself as a Nietzschean "Übermensch."[17]  A concern for religious believers will be the disposition of the soul.[18]  In many religions, when the body dies, the soul goes to another state.[19]  With Posthumanism, the body, in some manner, and the soul will exist in perpetuity.  So while the soul will exist in either the mortal or Posthumanist realm, with the mortal, the soul dwells in the bounty of the afterlife; with Posthumanism, the soul never reaches nirvana, nor heaven, etc.  Religious believers would clearly be disappointed at this outcome of Posthumanism.


Christians believe in salvation through Jesus Christ[20] but being Posthuman will mean man has already conquered death.  However, Christianity is not the only world religion that eternal man will affect, as Hinduism, with the cycle of samsara and achievement of nirvana, will also be affected.  For Christians, Posthumanism and it's version of life everlasting would mean, firstly, no death, but also no "resurrection" nor a "new body" from this event.[21]  These possibilities upset the doctrine of the Christian faith, and likely in some way other faiths, as well.  Perhaps if Posthumanism becomes reality, some or many religious believers would drop their faiths; others may embrace their faith more, as happens during times of turbulence.  Whole sectors of religious experiences will change, such as marriage ceremonies, or memorials for the deceased, who may no longer die.  So another question is, will religion seem superfluous when man's intellect is superior to its current state?


There are indeed secondary and tertiary effects of non-heavenly eternal life, especially concerning the Christian sacraments, such as baptism, penance,[22] and marriage.  There is a linkage between "human redemption and transformation" as well with technology[23] here.  Therefore, in the Transhumanist environment, humans will look at sin differently than today. Since technology may reprogram sin out of humans, such concepts as "the seven deadly sins"[24] may become defunct.  Some additional questions then arise: Will traditional, non-eternal priests want to baptism a genetically modified baby that will never suffer a natural death?  Will a priest or minister want to marry a couple that is destined to live forever?  Moreover, will couples want to marry if they know they will be with the same person endlessly, perhaps never growing old?  One can suppose, that if Transhumanism can modify the human psyche to maintain ‘honeymoon-level love between a couple, then, yes, that pair would want to live forever together.  However, this would mean having to maintain high levels of oxytocin in the human body; perhaps Transhumanism will adjust for that, too.


Humans are very accustomed to their virtual lives so we may even be ready for a Transhumanist existence that is part corporeal and part cyber.[25]  Eventually, Posthuman man may no longer need his body; he may live forever in cyberspace.  At such a point, there is the possibility that humans can still 'live' the bifurcated life as individuals and as a community…and spirituality can still remain a part of that existence.  Humans could spend time pondering the image of the face of Christ, only not have to travel to Russia for the experience.[26]  Moreover, future technologically manipulated humans existing in cyberspace may create their own gods or saints to worship or honor.


Additionally, humans seem to naturally meld the world around us into our religions, for we intertwine the cycles of nature with religious events, such as in the Abrahamic religions, or even ancient, "animist" cave-dwellers with their carvings and "figurines."[27]  Just as Hermes was honored as the patron saint of "service industry" workers,[28] or New Age followers worship Gaia, our future selves may collectively pay homage to some syncretic saint, slyly stated as 'GoYahMi’ -- an amalgamation of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.  In a cyber-connected Transhuman existence, everyone would have access to ALL religious texts and media ALL the time, unlike the few who did in past eras.[29]  When all Transhumans are connected, such as in a ‘Singularity’ or ‘noosphere’ environment, we may collectively come up with a way to worship, or a thing to worship, that does not now exist.  Moreover, if there is "a correlation between brain activity an religiosity,"[30] then Transhumans or Posthumans will take the next step and communicate at the next level, whatever that will be, with God.


Curiously, in the online arena, there is much "sameness" in online personas even as people strive for "individuality,"[31] which leads to narcissism.[32]  So maybe there is a future for religion in terms of even more individuality. Certainly, the paradigm for 'atomization' of religious experiences already exists: online-religions have a uniqueness and individuality that the established world religions do not.  One possibility is that Posthumans may enjoy more cerebral or neuropathic connections in their religious experiences and in life in general vice the "alienated reflection"[33] common now.  If the internet has allowed for the creation of so many sui generis 'religions,' then Transhumanism, with its intrinsic manipulation of humanity, will allow for even more individualizations of religious experiences.  The next question is this: will religion matter anymore when humans transcend pain, hardship, bad weather, failed relationships, or even death?


            In conclusion, the real concern for religious believers is that altering the mind and body of humans through technology will mean to them that humans are attempting to become “godlike.”[34]  And, if so, then humans may think they are gods, which is a concept as old as ancient Greek philosophy.  Now, designing a syllogism is possible to encapsulate this concept:


God is eternal

Transhumanism will make man eternal

Man will become like God


For Christians, there is a falsehood embedded in this syllogism: humans are already like God, for the Bible says man is made in God’s image.  There are, as discussed here, many unanswered questions on Transhumanism and Posthumanism, on the physical, philosophical, and moral levels.  Thus, the persistent idea that man, in some form can live forever, will upset religion, religious institutions, and man’s concept of spirituality. 



Campbell, Heidi. Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media
. Ed. London: Routledge, 2013.


_____. When Religion Meets New Media. Routledge, 2010.

Cole-Turner, Robert. Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of
     Technological Enhancement
. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011.


Davis, Erik. “Imagining Technologies” in Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the
     Age of Information
. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.


Foerst, Anne “Recreating Ourselves” in God in the Machine: What Robots Teach Us
     About Humanity and God
New York: Dutton, 2004.


Herzfield, Noreen. “Cyberspace on Our Minds” in Technology and Religion: Remaining
     Human in a Co-created World
. Templeton Press, PA, 2009.


O’Callaghan, Sean, “Cyberspirituality and the Sacralization of Information,”
     unpublished essay, 2013.


Partridge, Christopher. “Cyberspirituality” in The Re-enchantment of the West, Volume
. London: T & T Clark International, 2005.


Possamai, Adam. “Yoda Goes to Glastonbury: An Introduction to Hyper-Real Religions”
     in Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions. Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2012.


[1] Ronald Cole-Turner, "Introduction: The Transhumanist Challenge," Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 4.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid.,10.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.,4.

[6] Ibid.,9.

[7] Ibid.,

[8] Ibid., 7-8.

[9] Anne Foerst, God in the Machine, What Robots Teach Us About a Humanity and God (New York: Penguin, 2004), 34.

[10] Cole-Turner, “Introduction,” 7.

[11] Michael S. Burdett, "Conceptualizing a Christian Perspective on Transcendence and Human Enhancement," Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 25. 

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] Ibid., 27.

[14] Brent Waters, "Whose Salvation? What Eschatology?" Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, ((Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 165.

[15] Ibid., 166.

[16] Ibid., 168.

[17] Ibid., 169-170.

[18] Ibid., 171.

[19] I want my soul to go to the state of Hawaii.

[20] Ronald Cole-Turner, “Transhumanism and Christianity,” Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 197.

[21] Noreen Herzfeld, Technology and Religion: Remaining Human in a Co-Created World, (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2009), 66.

[22] Cole-Turner, “Transhumanism and Christianity,” 198.  Cole-Turner employs the biblical word “repentance.”

[23] Cole-Turner, "Introduction,” 4.

[24] Foerst, 26.

[25] Herzfeld, 64-65.

[26] Herzfeld, 85-87.

[27] Erik Davis. Techgnosis (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 24-25.

[28] Ibid., 16-17.

[29] Ibid., 31.

[30] Foerst, 16.

[31] Herzfeld, 82.

[32] Ibid., 84.

[33] Davis, 27.

[34] Cole-Turner, “Transhumanism and Christianity,” 200.

#Rousseau’s Views on The Corrupting Effects of #Society and #Technology

posted Dec 27, 2013, 11:05 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

Rousseau’s Views on The Corrupting Effects of Society and Technology

By Peter Moons

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's argument on the corrupting effects of society is that these develop as people group together in ever-larger communities. Rousseau notes that as society develops, great disparities emerge: "inequality" and "abuse of wealth"[1] arise just as the rich chase money and the poor commit "brigandage."[2] If these negative manifestations of society continue, violence will result. Moreover, as governments develop, citizens will have contempt for laws that "change daily;" they will also disfavor evil being employed to correct actions of lesser evil.[3]  Additionally, Rousseau notes the ill effects of mob rule as well as the imposition of rule and administration of civil society by a corrupt and/or unjust leader.[4]  What is the solution that Rousseau recommends? Increasing virtue and "morality" while addressing the "physical inequality" in society are two requirements. These actions are necessary because man cannot return to the state of nature whence he came.


In the state of nature, a healthy self- love kept man alive. Contrast this experience with the decrease in pity in modern civilization. Rousseau does not mention God, or His compassion, or influencing man to have compassion for others. If there is compassion, the government is its provider. Thus, if the vanity of man in the state of nature continues in a civilization devoid of pity, a rough form of society will ensue. This new paradigm will combine greed by the rich and anti-social behavior by the poor, resulting in a worsening situation. Rousseau will argue that a better civilization can develop once the focus is on compassion, which will mean the government will have to ‘spread the wealth around’ through redistribution schemes; many citizens may not like this while other will welcome such methods.


For Rousseau, technology worsens injustice. Rousseau’s economic philosophy promotes capitalism and the division of labor in the market. Of course, this contrasts with man in the state of nature and there are two points on technology-induced injustice. First, on the theory side, technology will decrease the amount of labor needed by the owners of the means of production. The result is that workers are thrown out of their jobs and back into the vast ranks of the unemployed (and then seek new work and/or new skills…or not).


Concurrently, technology is advancing at an exponential, not linear, rate and the previously valuable skills held by the workers quickly pass their expiration date. The real-world example of the injustice is that no one will hire a 55-year-old former middle manager, whose job went to China and the profits from which went to a banker on Wall Street. This ex-manager does not have the skills to dominate in the information age; the economic paradigm shifted from under her feet.


Secondly, also on the theory side of Rousseau, capitalism is hyper-competitive, and this pervades the job-market, life-styles, and socio-economic classes. The injustice comes from the ultra-consumerism that results in capitalistic societies. People in this environment become über-consumers, even though they may not have the money to afford expensive consumer items outright, as they vainly compete for status. The introduction of technology into this equation only makes the market economy more selfish, surreptitiously stimulating unsustainable consumerism.


Rousseau noted the freedom that is inherent in the state of nature and this is juxtaposed against a society that would have three factors enabling a more controlled environment: technology, a division of labor, and a market. Technology would only heighten the ‘man-as-cog-in-the-machine’ mindset, as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis emphasized. The result can certainly be an increase in injustice. Thus are visible the dialectics intrinsic in Rousseau’s philosophy: the state of nature versus modern society, natural versus artificial, equality versus inequality, and freedom versus exploitation.

[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992) 53.

[2] Ibid., 55.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] Ibid.

#Patriots and #Tyrants: A #Lockean Perspective

posted Dec 23, 2013, 3:26 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

Patriots and Tyrants: A Lockean Perspective

By Peter Moons

How and why Locke limits the tasks of government


John Locke disfavored a strong sovereign ruling a state, for he worried about the loss of liberty; he also preferred the state of nature, where the individual enjoyed much freedom.  Locke did not believe in the ‘summum bonum’ -- the common good -- for some individuals might be exploited for others’ undeserved gain.[1]  This mindset is consistent with Locke’s appreciation of the lack of constraints found in the state of nature; however, Locke’s concern that the state of nature was “unsafe and uneasy” prompted him to allow for some government activity.[2]  Providing for common security is an action attributed to governments: having the government ensure the safety of persons and property meant that some individuals would have to relinquish some freedom.


 Locke saw that citizens could provide their ‘consent’ to be governed, which meant that governmental interference in their lives was not by force.  Locke limited this governmental involvement to a finite amount of activity, such as enforcement of laws, judicial oversight of contract disputes, and security of the people and their property.[3] These are activities that benefit each person within the society, yet are dependent upon the people’s consent.  The people and their property are then better protected with government’s involvement than if the people had to perform this task individually.  Thus, Locke supported the idea of private property and ownership, which is the opposite of government-ownership, or as came to be in the 20th century, collectivization.


A balance of powers is central to Lockean politics and Locke’s semi-holy trinity of three branches of government is of course a foundational concept of American democracy…and others.  One has to wonder what Locke, as well as Jefferson and Madison, would think of the current US system of so much power centralized in the executive branch.  This thought certainly leads back to one of Locke’s other key concepts: the consent the governed give to the government to enforce laws, provide for security, etc.  The people grant that consent while acknowledging that the government will continue as initially formed.[4]


However, once those citizens pass on, and new generations come after, those latter citizens provide their consent by voting as a democracy on laws and as a republic for legislators, council members, governors, and presidents.  What they do not get to vote on is the extant form the government has assumed;[5] Locke takes this into account in his discussion on tyranny.  Presently, Locke would be astounded to compare some democracies today with how they were originally organized.  For some democracies, Locke would say there has been a “usurpation [of] power”[6] for which “dissolution” may be required.[7]  Power taken from the people and consolidated within the government is an abuse of authority, of which Locke warned.

Locke’s Promotion Of Technology

Locke implicitly promotes technology because this knowledge and machinery as such stimulates better information flows, which aids in keeping tyranny at bay.  As Locke argued, government comes from the consent of the people.[8]  The higher the quality and quantity of information the people have about their government, its functions, and decisions, the better able those citizens are to make informed decisions in participatory government.  Moreover, more information means an increase in transparency and a decrease in corruption.  Through the concept of consent, Locke implies that information, and in the current modality, technology, benefits good governance.  From whatever point on the political spectrum, patriots know and participate in their government, while low-information voters, or the non-participatory, allow tyrants to usurp control from the governed.


Locke believed that human liberty is a valuable good; technology that sustains that liberty, especially in the face of arbitrary power, is therefore good and needed.  Locke would see that just as the use of big data and analytics in elections is acceptable, so is technology in the hands of the average citizen in order to make wise decisions during elections.  Again, as Locke noted, all the power the government has comes from the people.  Thus, the people, campaigns, and governments should have an equitable amount of technology though which they can access information that continues a government rightfully, one whose power comes from the people’s consent.


Of course, technology is inherent to the multiple passed and current revolutions   -- industrial, information, transhuman, etc. -- that governments have either funded, allowed to flourish, or exploited. This last point is most critical in light of governments performing a security function: people, in every society, have a tendency to be lazy after their revolution is over or their new government is installed; they just want to get on with their lives. As much as the people want to be left alone, the masses leave the government alone, at least until they need something. And this is where things go awry and a new theory is plausible: the more politically unengaged the public, the higher the tendency for the government to devolve into tyranny. A corollary to this theory is that technology in the hands of government makes this tyrannical transformation easier.  Locke would echo this caveat.


[1] John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government. (Indianapolis: Bobs-Merrill Company, 1952), Chapter IX, 131.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., Chapter IX, 123-131.

[4] Ibid., Chapter VII, 99.

[5] Ibid., Chapter VII, 120.

[6] Ibid., Chapter XVIII, 199.

[7] Ibid., Chapter XIX, 211.

[8] Ibid., Chapter VIII, 98.

God’s Facebook Page: New Media and Religious Communications

posted Dec 21, 2013, 3:11 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

God’s Facebook Page:

New Media and Religious Communications


By Peter Joseph Moons

The role of new media aids in the diffusion of beliefs and in the dissemination of information. One must remember that the new media, mainly meaning any electronic technology, is merely part of the evolutionary process of communication between humans.  Only now, the information about a religion, the sharing of religious experiences, and social encounters happen nearly instantaneously, with very little cost, and from anywhere with web connectivity. In sum, the communication styles that existed pre-Internet circa 1991 are the same today, only now the happen faster, anywhere, and with reduced cost;[1] these three factors of new media change the dissemination of religious information for all types of online religious activity.


            The emergence of online religious activity is such a new concept that understanding the genre, as well as looking at this issue as an academic subject, is still in its nascent stages.  One thing is clear, though, “the concept of cyber-religion provide[s] a way to explore and call into questions traditional assumptions and understanding of religion as it engaged with new cultural and technological contexts.”[2]  Of course, this “understanding” of cyber-religion is far from complete.  Moreover, comprehending the aspect of religion in the virtual realm may indeed give insight into traditional, physical, brick-and-mortar-only religions.  So there are at least two benefits to this new emergence of cyber-religion: first, understanding the contrast between cyber and traditional religions, and second, the adoption of new media communications methods by traditional religions.


In the first benefit, there is a significant contrast between online-religions and religions-online: the purely virtual presence of the vast majority of the former.  This is the most obvious departure for religion, but should not be surprising given the advent of online personae, avatars, icons, etc., especially in online communities and role-playing games.  This idea goes further than just choosing a symbol for one’s online presence, but adopting a whole back-story of existence.[3]  This imagined identity could naturally evolve into other aspects of life: marriage, children, jobs, and, of course, religious preferences.  Thus, “imagined religions” are not a far leap from an imagined life.[4]  Also, with online religious activities, the limitations of distance to travel to attend the religious service of choice no longer exist; likewise, the believer can form their own “individual autobiography.”[5]  The connectivity afforded here by cyber-presence leads to the three factors mentioned above: speed, ubiquity, and cost.


            Now with information traveling at the ‘speed of the internet,’ the dissemination of ideas, religious or otherwise, changes the dynamic of religions, doctrine, and perhaps even beliefs.  The “shared beliefs” that traditional religions had were disseminated by interlocutors of many different stripes; there does not appear to be any traditional world-religion that did not have some person who acted as an interpreter, visionary, prophet, or intermediary between the believer and God or the gods.  Clearly, one of the most fascinating changes with online-religions is the introduction of “user-generated content.”[6]  This idea of the universality of input into an online-religion diverges from, for example, the Roman Catholic Curia making for its devotees doctrinal decisions that could change the course of history, such as decrees on issues of divorce or even more theological issues.


However, even for some of the more extreme online-religions,[7] there has to be a body of theology upon which believers base their faith. The G.K. Chesterton comment that ‘once someone stops believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they will believe in anything’ even applies to self-generated, spontaneous online-religions.  Some parameters, or boundaries, have to exist and someone or some group of persons have to be held accountable for them,[8] whether the believers want to admit this constraint or not.[9]  This body of theology/accountable party concept is a similarity to traditional religions but the communication between the two types of religions shows that the online ones diffuse beliefs more rapidly than the traditional type.


The role of new media in communicating religious ideas is cross-spectrum for online religious activity, as both online-religions and religions-online have similar characteristics.  The new media allows for linking like-minded believers into communities and matching people’s identities,[10] for “social networking,”[11] and for encouraging a “personal and community experience."[12]  There are differences in use of new media by online-religions and traditional ones.  For example, those of the “cyber-church” type are “aiming to reproduce in cyberspace some aspects of conventional church life,”[13] which already exist in traditional churches.  Conversely, the ‘save the world’ aspect of some traditional religions does not translate into cyber-religions.[14]  There is an overall appearance difference, too.  For example, the Church of Moo’s website[15] does not look much different than a dark, fantasy comic book, while the Latter Day Saints main page appears much more bright.[16]


Assessing the effectiveness of these forms of religious dissemination via new media intuitively points to the cyber-religion’s advantage.  Because of the seemingly unrestrictive nature, in fact, the inclusivity and acceptance of new members or members with only slightly complete beliefs in the religion, the online-religions can grow.  This concept is akin to ‘an initial cost of entry:’ with low entry costs, believers can commit to a religion, stay as long as they like, believe as fervently or superficially as they prefer, and drop out any time with little or no financial price, but perhaps some emotional cost.  The old saying that ‘no one is as zealous as a convert’ may drive online believers to become emotionally committed to their new beliefs and further disseminate information such as chat-room or online religious activity participation.[17]  A topic for further research would be to look at ‘joining’ and ‘drop-out’ rates of cyber-religions and compare those figures to information dissemination activities within the religion.


Another positive aspect of the communication by online-religions is their intrinsic nature.  Because they form and exists in a cyber environment, their believers are apt to communicate via online media, which include the aforementioned chat-rooms, web cam teleconferences, ‘joining in’ by watching a spiritual activity, or ‘liking’ posts, or even joining the ubiquitous Facebook pages that religions and their sub-branches have.  Thus, net denizens are already ‘online’ so their religious or spiritual activity is merely an extension of their cyber life.  Indeed, this linkage explains why there are so many religion-related websites; for example, a Google search of “god's Facebook page” returns 28,500,000 hits.[18]  Ipso facto, any internet user can generate content in this manner.


Further, being comfortable online enables the social community[19] aspect of online religious activity; this is perhaps the greatest shift prompted by new media.  The ability to, firstly, seek out and then join people of like-minded religious or spiritual inclinations in the cyber arena makes online communication a natural activity for these believers.  Contrast this development with traditional churches and their believers who are, perhaps, older;[20] if they have a cellular phone, they likely have a ‘flip-phone’ designed 15 years ago, with little or no web connectivity on the device.  Meanwhile the cyber believer lives online.  There is, though, one sign that this paradigm is changing: Pope Francis’s Twitter account.


An example of the new media's impact is found in the Roman Catholic Church’s use of social media, especially the Pope’s Twitter feed and the Vatican's website.  These tools represent a dramatic shift from methods of communication employed less than two decades ago. Anyone can follow Pope Francis's twitter account, @Pontifex, and receive timely inspiration.[21]  A believer can now receive their 'daily dose' of the Pontiff's pious prayers. The Vatican's website is also sui generis among well-established religions with an online presence. The site holds vast amounts of historical documents, provides doctrinal materials, and explains Church teachings.  At the website, a visitor can experience a virtual tour of the Church's history, reaching back millennia.


Contrast this development with how Church documents were spread just several hundred years ago: A Cardinal or a courier transported precious scrolls with pontifical declarations embossed with thick wax seals hundreds or thousands of miles by carriage or sailing ship, risking their life to spread papal communications.[22]  Now, of course, the Pope can write, and can publish, a document…and overnight, the document may go viral globally.  A timely example of this is Pope Francis's exhortation on justice in capitalist markets published in late November 2013 and available for anyone to read for virtually free, from anywhere.[23]  Overnight, believers, naysayers, and pundits commented on the Pope's treatise, from around the globe, via video, online postings, and TV.  This is a perfect example of the impact of new media and the diffusion of information.


            With the advent of the internet era, communications for all types of online religious activity occur faster, from any location, and often with minimal cost, if any.  With the breakdowns of what were once barriers to communication between the religious hierarchy and the believers, the latter have become ‘content creators’ -- in other words ‘self-generators’ of religious content. In the arena of online-religions, the content creators are free to explore and create without limitations.  With search engine optimization, meaning the use of key words in their content, online-religions can attract interested persons and new members, and thus grow exponentially fast.  There are some areas where both online-religions and religions-online use new media for communication with their members: in promotion of their beliefs and activities, as a means of apologetics, and even for proselytization.  Finally, of these two types of religions, the online-religions will maintain a slight advantage in the use of web-based communications for perhaps a decade to come; however, as younger, more tech-savvy adherents of religions with online components assume leadership roles, this disparity is likely to become more balanced.






Campbell, Heidi. Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media
. Ed. London: Routledge, 2013.


_____. When Religion Meets New Media. Routledge, 2010.


Church of Moo,


Cole-Turner, Robert. Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of
     Technological Enhancement
. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011.


Davis, Erik. “Imagining Technologies” in Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the
     Age of Information
. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.


Foerst, Anne “Recreating Ourselves” in God in the Machine: What Robots Teach Us
     About Humanity and God
New York: Dutton, 2004.


Herzfield, Noreen. “Cyberspace on Our Minds” in Technology and Religion: Remaining
     Human in a Co-created World
. Templeton Press, PA, 2009.


Latter Day Saints,


Partridge, Christopher. “Cyberspirituality” in The Re-enchantment of the West, Volume
. London: T & T Clark International, 2005.


Possamai, Adam. “Yoda Goes to Glastonbury: An Introduction to Hyper-Real Religions”
     in Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions. Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2012.




[1] Erik Davis. Techgnosis. New York: Three Rivers Prese, 1998, 31-32.  Davis recounts Christians’ use of the codex, “a storage device” for transporting the Word of God and other sacred writings “from town to town.”  Compare this technology to the modern portable telephone and the technological leap is astounding.

[2] Heidi Campbell. Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds. Ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 2.

[3] Mia Lovheim, “Identity,” Campbell, 48-52 passim.

[4] Adam Possamai, “Yoda Goes to Glastonbury: An Introduction To Hyper-Real Religions,” Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2012, 18-19. Possamai uses the terms “fake religion” and “invented religion.”

[5] Ibid., 52.

[6] Knut Lundby, “Theoretical frameworks for approaching religion and new media,” Campbell, 226.

[7] Christopher Partridge. “Cyberspirituality.” The Re-Enchantment of the West. 159-160.  Partridge’s describes a few extreme online-religions as engaging in as much techno-speak as religious activity.

[8] Stephen Garner, “What is Theology?” Campbell, 256.

[9] The boundaries will occur because people or groups eventually, de facto, define themselves by what they are not.

[10] Ibid., 260.

[11] Ibid., 258.  The “networked structure of the internet,” of course, is the prime facilitator of social networking.  The religious sites’ use of social networking mirrors that done for business professional, such as Linkedin, or for social engagement, like Facebook, or for snark, for example, Twitter.

[12] Ibid., 252.

[13] Ibid., 256.

[14] Ibid., 253.  Garner notes that “humans are called by God to responsibly transform the natural world through the application of their freedom and ingenuity,” though there is the appearance that cyber-religions are not necessarily interested in relieving world hunger, feeding the hungry, or sheltering the homeless.  In sum, the Christian Beatitudes do not have a cyber-homologue.


[16]  The LDS site is airy and filled with smiling people.  The Moo site has no photos and is only black background and colored text, filling the viewer with a foreboding sense of doom.  Of course, these feelings by the author are culturally biased, as will be all webpage viewers.

[17] Sean O’Callaghan, “Cyberspirituality and the Sacralization of Information,” unpublished essay, 6-7.  There is a ‘search for information’ that online-religious websites satisfy for people; This is likely why there seems to be such intensity in explaining beliefs on their websites.  Intuitively, a knowledgeable person knows what a Hindu believes, or the basic tenets of Islam, but very few know what the Church of Kopimism is. (8)


[19] Heidi Campbell. “Studying the religious shaping of new media.” When Religion Meets New Media. (New York: Routledge, 2010) 171.


[21]  The inspirational messages fit Twitter’s 140 character limit, are crafted on a theme, like forgiveness or love, and sometimes for a specific audience, such as for youth in general, or for World Youth Day.

[22] Davis, 31-32.

[23] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of The Holy Father Francis,

Tweets from God: Religious Activity in The Online Environment

posted Dec 21, 2013, 3:09 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

Tweets from God:

Religious Activity in The Online Environment


By Peter Joseph Moons 

            Religion and spirituality has been a human activity since hominids developed sentience.  Whether animist, monotheist, or polytheist, the tendency for man is to believe in something.  Indeed, to not be spiritual, in some manner, even in the contemporary setting is to be in the minority.  There is a line of reasoning that views man as hard-wired to believe in God or at least in the presence of an otherworldly power.  This supposition about humanity may exist because life for man for millennia has been so unpredictable and out of the realm of his control. Thus, man's brain theorized reasons for what the natural world around him was doing: nature often behaves irrationally, pace man's desire for order and control of his surroundings, which is needed in order to survive in the state of nature.  Fast-forward through the creation of the world's great religions to the present and religions are still trying to answer the same questions.  Now that there is a world enveloped in electricity and silicon chips, religious activity continues online.[1]  What once existed only in a physical religious environment now occurs in cyberspace, which provokes some questions about man and his relationship to religion.


            A primary question about this relationship is the following: Does a person's humanity decrease if we no longer interact directly (in-person) with holy figures or fellow believers in any spiritual manner?  What makes us human is not only our physical essence[2] but our ability to reason.  When participating in religious activity in physical sense, human brains synthesize all the incoming inputs: sights, smells, sounds, touch.  Anyone who has walked into a centuries old synagogue, church, or mosque, and, depending on the religion, heard the organ, smelled the burning incense or votive candles, and seen the icons, chapels, alcoves, naves and vestments, and listened to the prayers, will remember the experience.  They will also remember with whom they experienced these senses.  So the dichotomy between physical and online religious activity is stark: while both may be otherworldly, the former is typically a full sensory activity while the latter is sight, sound, and some non-bodily involvement.


            This extra-corporeal sensation in online religious activity is one that seems yet to be fully explored, less understood. There can be a group, collective nature to the experience -- now, ever more so, thanks to enabling technology. Though, is the experience less real and more synthetic?  To the adherents, if they believe in the activity, the answer would be no.  Certainly, there are apostates in cyber religions, just as in physical ones.  Thus, another linkage between the two styles of belief is faith: one incorporates the religion and its beliefs into one's being, regardless of mode of reception.  A curious question derives from this idea: If faith can be measured, can believers in online-religions have stronger beliefs than those who practice solely in the physical realm?  The answer, owing to the complexity of the issue, may be impossible to discover.


            Belief certainly is in the mind of the believer; indeed, the process of faith, its strength, its weakness, and the manner of how relationships affect belief are complicated, if not incomprehensible.  Faith itself seems unquantifiable: humans may say their beliefs are strong or weak, but as yet there is no universal 'intensity spectrum' that accurately measures faith in a higher power.  Similar to experiencing love or pain, belief is highly personal.  Whether one participates in an online church or a physical community of believers, the experience remains subjective.  So, the concept of what is ‘holy’ change when religion or communication with God comes through a hand-held device or a computer may seem natural to someone who spends a large percentage of his or her life online anyway.  Clearly, if a person 'lives' in ‘Second Life' though an avatar with an imagined personality, having a cyber-centric belief system is not a far step beyond.  In fact, doing so may feel to those persons a natural progression of their being.


Another question about online-religions is the familiar appearance of their web sites to each other, as well as to commercial sites.[3]  Of course, their images are different but their data presentation is often the same. Perhaps there is a template for creating a standard religious website.  There are some similarities between the many websites for both the online-religions and religions-online.  There are offerings of meditation, different types of prayers, benediction, votive candles, descriptions of sacraments, and maybe even indulgences.  This last item leads to the commercial side of the websites. 


Many online-religion websites have goods for sale in their cyber shop; others offer opportunities for adherents to make a donation.  Of course, with the explosive growth of online activities in the last ten years, particularly with mobile cellular connections, the add-ons for cyber religious sites have also expanded.  Believers may be able to access a ‘hotlineto call for emergency interventions, read holy scripts and texts, view of holy places or shrines, as well as seek advice.  This later concept leads to the social side of any religious community.  Cyber sites have may social networking sites, dating/meet-up places, and live-streaming of ongoing events.  Visible here is a mirror image of the brick-and-mortar religious communities.


            However, there is one activity that seems to be missing in online-religions:  a confession space.  Perhaps this aspect of religion, along with the concomitant penance, are too personal for cyber religious sites.  So why would this be? If believers of religious faiths that require confession can use this application for their confessions, could the confession be received in real-time or asynchronously?  This of course is a possibility.  How could the ‘evaluationand/or penitence be given? One method would be via a video with a discussion of the sin, and of course ways to avoid such offenses in the future, as well as the penitence.


            Some people may debate the idea that confession and the related activity of atonement  or penance, implies a sense of being flawed.  Really, to engage in a confession is to admit fault, pay for acts of commission or omission, and then seek and receive forgiveness.  This series of actions requires a level of humility.  Since online-religious participants may be more individualistic, they may believe in their own strengths more and not sense the need to rely on someone for forgiveness, even a spiritual interlocutor.  Then again, a group chat room may suffice for a modern cyber confessional.  Certainly, some online-religions may eventually deliver absolution via Twitter Tweets or Facebook Posts.


            Besides initiation ceremonies, a confession of one's sins is perhaps the most emotionally intense experience in religions.  The act of admission of failings compares solely to what a person may say to a close personal friend in order to seek guidance for a grave problem.  Certainly, not all religions have a confession-type activity; confessing of sins is to take personal responsibility for failure to live up to a well-defined standard; some online-religions appear more fluid in the doctrine or even a nearly-anything-goes attitude.  Online-religions, particularly later model versions created solely in the age of the internet, may be more in line with the mindset that humans do not need to apologize, or that someone or something else prompted the behavior to do or say a regrettable act.


            Alternatively, there may be a de-emphasis of finding fault with oneself in online-religions.  If people join an online-religion because of the goal to seek like-minded individuals, one of the last things someone may want is to be is judged, particularly by a co-equal.  When one accesses the online-religion's website, one is still physically alone, even though they will likely interact with others.  Thus, a confession to a peer in the cyber community may not have the same effect elsewhere, or even be desirable.  Ultimately, should there be an application for confession and penitence in an online-religion's website, the user would need to be able to find resolution, even feel a catharsis, and all this would be done, like most everything else in online-religions, principally through a computer and its web connection.


            In conclusion, the religious experience that existed only in a physical religious environment also occurs in cyberspace.  The expansion of the environment for humans to engage in spiritually changes man's relationship to religion and to other believers. Humanity itself changes by no longer being confined to experience religion in a purely physical realm, which used to mean a building or an outdoor venue.  The idea of belief expands as the possibilities for accretion of spiritual rules and synthesis of faith grow.  Likewise, the  community of the believers is different as limitations for memberships owing to physical constraints dissolve.  Lastly, the idea of the most intimate of religious experiences, that of confession, also may adapt to the cyber experience, based on the needs of the believers.  The trajectory of online-religions is changing the experience of religion and spirituality, but most of their core processes remain the same as before the cyber era.

[1]This essay principally focuses on online-religions, vice physical, established religions that also have a cyber presence.

[2] A combination of several physical qualities separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom: speech capacity, opposable thumbs, and bigger brains, for example. 

3 For example, this online-church site is emblematic of the genre.




Campbell, Heidi. Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media
. Ed. London: Routledge, 2013.


_____. When Religion Meets New Media. Routledge, 2010.


Cole-Turner, Robert. Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of
     Technological Enhancement
. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011.


Davis, Erik. “Imagining Technologies” in Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the
     Age of Information
. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.


Foerst, Anne “Recreating Ourselves” in God in the Machine: What Robots Teach Us
     About Humanity and God
New York: Dutton, 2004.


Herzfield, Noreen. “Cyberspace on Our Minds” in Technology and Religion: Remaining
     Human in a Co-created World
. Templeton Press, PA, 2009.


Partridge, Christopher. “Cyberspirituality” in The Re-enchantment of the West, Volume
. London: T & T Clark International, 2005.


Possamai, Adam. “Yoda Goes to Glastonbury: An Introduction to Hyper-Real Religions”
     in Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions. Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2012.

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