When Purposeful Action Is Emancipated From Moral Constraints—The Horror

It Is Becoming Increasing Difficult To Look To Science And Technology For Rescue And Renewal

01.7Prospectus Continued

The data generated in this research project will help answer two questions: 1) Does a preoccupation with private self-consciousness activity, e.g., the tendency to think about feelings, beliefs, values, generalizations, and, particularly, self-identity, lead a person to be tolerant of ambivalence and therefore less likely to exhibit prejudiced attitudes?; and, 2) Are people who demonstrate prejudiced attitudes toward racial minorities also likely to demonstrate prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities? If the answer to the first question is yes, then a new direction would open up for studies of prejudice and intergroup boundary manipulation. If the answer to the second question is yes, then this data, in addition to supporting the juxtaposition of prejudiced attitudes and authoritarian syndrome, [i.e., the phenomena of authoritarianism as it is linked with anti-Semitic ideology in the classic work, The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno, et. al.,1950)],  would also act to underscore, at the risk of stating the superfluous, that persons with physical disabilities face the same obstacles that confront other racial minorities, e.g., discrimination in employment, education, income, and housing.

The sequel will address the interdependent link between prejudiced attitudes and ambivalence.  I would like to suggest that on a different level, a more significant level, acquiring a more thorough understanding of ambivalence (as opposed to acquiring a thorough understanding of the specific elements of prejudice), might have an even greater impact on sustaining (or creating) a healthy, caring society, that is, if our common objective is to reduce unnecessary human suffering.

Although it is customary to believe that technological societies will not advance without producing some negative side affects, it is hoped that modern technology and scientific research will, ultimately, cultivate a better, more livable, world. Faced with the ills of modern society, however, e.g., the instabilities of the global market place, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the escalating threat of ecological catastrophe, it is becoming increasing difficult to look to science and technology for rescue and renewal.

There is a price that must be paid for the benefits that accrue from scientific research and technological advance. According to Andrew Weigert (1991, p.165), the cost of “technological progress” is an ambivalence producing cultural pathos:

“[Modernity’s] characteristic features, such as science, technology, computer rationality, near instantaneous communication, bio- and material engineering, indeed, any form of functional rationality cannot resolve ambivalence… In a word, the characteristic institutions of modern society are the driving forces of an ambivalence inducing culture.”

Ironically, it is the scientist’s attempt to eradicate ambivalence, or, the inability to read a situation correctly and choose between alternative actions, which fuel the inflated sense that advances in science and technology will transform uncertainty into certainty and ambivalence into transparency.

As science and technology advances, the scope of individual and collective responsibility becomes blurred.  New technologies do not produce intrinsic values to

guide action. Rather, new technologies produce more and longer lasting consequences, both seen and unseen; consequently, the more modern society goes about subverting ambivalence through technological progress, the more modern society produces ambivalence. This ambivalence may have devastating consequences.

[Footnote. Ambivalence gets its ultimate condemnation when Zygmunt Bauman (1991, p.50) enjoins ambivalence with the rendering of human genocide. The rise of modernity, – the blurring of lines of responsibility, emancipating purposeful action from moral constraints, an exaggerated faith in rational thought, – has created, according to Bauman, the necessary condition for the occurrence of human genocide:

“Without being the sufficient cause of the genocide, modernity is its necessary condition. The ability to coordinate human action on a massive scale, a technology that allows one to act effectively at a large distance from the object of action, minute division of labor which allows for spectacular progress in expertise on the one hand and floating of responsibility on the other, accumulation of knowledge incomprehensible to the layman and the authority of science which grows with it, the science-sponsored mental climate of instrumental rationality that allows social-engineering designs to be argued and justified solely in reference to their technical feasibility and availability of ‘under-employed’ resources (all these to be put in service of the relentless lust for order, transparency, unambiguity) are all integral attributes of modernity.”

This same sentiment is found in Weigert’s (1991, p. 177) discussion on Lifton’s (1986) study of Nazi doctors operating the genocide of the German concentration camps.  Weigert suggests that it is an escape from severe ambivalence into a psychological condition where everything is permitted as an expression of one’s “scientific identity.” According to Weigert, “The Nazi doctors double forth an ‘Auschwitz self’ within whose social world the daily degradation, torture, and murder of thousands of victims not only is acceptable but is transformed into a preferred moral act. The Auschwitz self believes in such contradictory imperatives as ‘therapeutic killing’ that is not in violation of, but demanded by, their identities as doctors.”]

We are sensitively attuned to the pain and suffering associated with racist attitudes that debase the sacredness and dignity of life, but, we have a tendency to remain blissfully ignorant of the harm that occurs when purposeful action is emancipated from moral constraints in the name of social engineering and the quest for truth. This issue is the affective motivating factor that inspired the writing of this research project, and, accordingly, this research project’s primary significance will be found in how I speak to this issue.


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