The Ecphorizer

The Role of High Tech in Undermining Democracy
Tim Donovan Jr.

Issue #65 (April 1987)


The scientific and technical basis for Brave New World is rapidly materializing. Advances in genetics and cybernetics will make the designing and control of humans possible. The high-tech revolution will also undermine democracy, and make the state all-powerful.

By 2010, supercomputers and robots will have replaced all but a few human workers. Countless millions of jobs will be [quoteright'/>performed by ultra-efficient mechanical slaves. A world built on slavery, in which the average citizen loses his livelihood and power, as in ancient Rome, cannot be democratic for long. The middle class will shrink, and a wealthy and powerful minority will face a "have not" majority. Not only will this situation in itself work against democracy, so will the resulting instability. The un- or underemployed masses will lose their stake in the existing order, be discontented if not desperate, and hence prone to radicalism and revolution. Ambitious leaders will pose as their champion in an effort to gain power. Other, neofascist groups will prey upon the fears of the wealthy, advocating a police state to forestall revolution. Democracy will be the clear loser in this crisis.

In theory, democracy can be saved if the unemployed majority is hired by the state, the employer of the last resort, thereby averting trouble. But that would require such a tremendous expansion of the state — its bureaucracies, power and scope — that democracy would become farcical. Moreover, many people would be assigned to the military. Its expansion would definitely wreck democracy. Because military values — hierarchy, discipline, etc — are the antithesis of democratic ones, a militarized society is bound to be dictatorial. In addition, a huge standing army is a virtual guarantee of a coup. Just because the US has been a civilian-run democracy for so long doesn't mean it will be that way forever. Rome also had a strong Republican tradition, but it was eventually wrecked by generals who made themselves dictators.

The mass displacement of workers and their resulting dependence on the state — as aid-recipients, soldiers, etc — will lead to a reversal of traditional attitudes toward the state. Presently maligned, in the future it will become the source of people's livelihood and consequently an object of veneration. A new "state religion" (secular ideology) and Caesarism will flourish, while allegiance to democracy, private companies and the church will wither. As corporations, for example, turn to high-tech, they will lay off all but a few of their workers, driving them into the arms of the state, whose mushrooming power will overshadow corporations, the church and everything else.

Another important point is that the decreased purchasing power of most individuals will mean less emphasis on individual luxuries and amenities and more resources for great common or state enterprises: military preparedness, space colonization, etc. Thus high-tech will spark a reversal of values and priorities in every sphere. 

Contributor Profile

Tim Donovan Jr.

Apocalyptist TIM DONOVAN Jr. writes messages to us on the insides of envelopes. We're still not quite sure how he gets them there.




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