Technology and Craft, Distinguishing Means and Ends

We talk of technologies when we believe that the means justify the ends. Craft reminds us constantly that the means are the ends.

One of Krishnamurti‘s most powerful insights is that the means are the ends. So much for unintended consequences! There is no mystery there. What blind-sides us is our recurring expectation that we can establish and maintain a distance between means and ends. We read the collapse of that wished for distance as unintended consequences.

All of our discussions concerning technology are mired within this expectation. We have stripped away the context of our actions, willfully we choose to believe that techniques are merely means and that they are as a movable feast available to us to choose whatever is expedient to toss at whatever end we have in mind. This results in unintended consequences. We join battle with these, as if they were some capricious result, or some outside foe messing with our plans, and we double-down. Then triple-down. Then shift the battle to cover a wider front. All the while unintended consequences pile on and proliferate and expand to reach tipping points and carry us into new regimes of increased destabilization – or, perhaps even worse – new stable regimes that are increasingly hostile to life.

This path is easy to fall upon. There are always moments when the means-to-an-end-crowd, their copies of The Prince in their back pockets ready to defend their realpolitik as the ultimate in pragmatism, win a victory or remove a foe. But these are Pyrrhic victories, and a new foe is always ready to step in.

When I speak of Craft I’m not talking about a nostalgic desire for any particular craft tradition or any modern fad that looked at Craft as a quaint respite from the necessity to get things done. What I’m finding is that in any actual Craft tradition there is buried an attitude towards making and doing that leads us away from the urge to settle for a means to an end.

Our modern resistance to Craft, “It’s so slow! It’s so hard! It’s so inefficient!” are all based on our desire not to look too closely at the dangers of distinguishing means from ends. In every case these resistances provided by Craft are there to pull us back from that precipice, the precipice we are up against and looking down from with increasing horror.

Faced with the enormity of our predicament, what do we do? We use this fear to prod our sense of urgency so we can remain fully committed to chasing after ends by whatever means.

Ever wonder why futility catches up with us? No matter, we can throw more will at it! Stir up more fear and anger! These will keep us on task!

They will. They will keep us focused. They will keep us focused directly on the process that got us here, and by doing so we are insuring that nothing will be done that might actually change our course.

What does it take to recognize that the means are the ends?

It all comes down to whether we are honest with ourselves about our level of engagement with what is. What is is not what we would like it to be. It’s not what we fear it to be either. It is very difficult to maintain an engagement with since our conditioning, the operating system of habits and memories, and thoughts and emotions, we are saddled with as a result of the way we develop within families and societies, keep getting between us and what is.

I’m beginning to think this is why Crafts developed. In times when it was not so easy to insulate ourselves from the consequences of our actions – and that was most times in the life-span of humanity – without cheap and easy fuels to throw at our difficulties – we had to develop Crafts as a way to keep our focus on the consequences of our actions. There had to be a mediator between desire and action. A way had to be developed that would give precedence to a mature response to both desires and needs, so that our actions would remain within some sort of bounds.

Often these bounds have been couched as questions of morality. We’ve worn the efficacy off these arguments. What is moral has come down – whether we choose to believe them or deny them – to be a battleground over authority. We accept them or reject them, not for their validity, or in ways that make them useful, but simply as a means to fight for an end regarding our stance on authority.

Because of this it seems worthwhile to look beyond moral arguments for any action. These are compromised motivators and they don’t give us any traction where it matters most.

Behind every moral argument is a core of utility. This term has also been degraded. Utility has been subsumed into the means-to-an-end point-of-view. Utility has joined efficiency and pragmatic as excuses for chasing after ends by whatever means.

Behind all of these arguments lurks validity, a truth so masked as to often lead us astray into falsehood. The truth behind the moral or utilitarian arguments for recognizing that we confuse the relationship between means and ends at our peril is that whatever means we choose, these will be the ends we arrive at.

There is no weight in our intentions or our expectations for a particular result that will bring us to whatever end we’ve held up as our excuse. We will be working on our means. We will bring these means to be. They will fill our present and shape our future. Whatever ends we posed to justify ourselves simply do not exist. They are projections, wishes, illusions we generate in a naive or calculated attempt to hide our falseness. They become rallying points around which we expect to create a conspiracy of lies so that we can maintain our falseness. This is a definition of corruption.

It becomes easy to spot the corruption within those who most obviously benefit directly from these lies. This is one benefit we have within this moment of clarity provided us by our global predicament. The hard part is recognizing that we all have paid our dues to this club and we all conspire to maintain the lies when we choose to maintain the falsehood that simply replacing one set of corrupt actors with one flavor of corrupt actions with another will solve anything.

These are the fruits of the clarity available to us, given to us by the perspectives we have available to us today. Perspectives from so many periods in the past, from all over the world. The knowledge we have of the pervasiveness and depth of our predicament. The enormity we face is more clear now than it has ever been. We cannot hide behind any narrow view or provincial partisanship.

There have been people, human people physically interchangeable with us, on this earth for between one and two hundred thousand years. Out of that great span we have a record, loosely bound within a set of stories we call history, that stretches at most five thousand years. Before that time there were long periods of stability. There were enormous cataclysmic upheavals of climate and geology. Humans persevered throughout.

During this last blink of an eye we have become enamored of looking for means to achieve ends. This has led us as though on a path of reductio ad absurdum to the edge of global destruction by a host of available means. Each of our means has grown out of our following a convoluted path as we’ve chased after one series of unintended consequences after another. We stand on this edge and continue to put most of our efforts into playing the same game.

Remnants of Craft remain. Remnants that have much in common with the stone tools and baskets of that long prehistory keep whispering in our ear,

“The means are the ends.”

Will we stop long enough to listen?

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