The least-discussed chapter in Patrick Deneen’s much-discussed Why Liberalism Failed is—I would venture—“Technology and the Loss of Liberty.” Similarly, Rod Dreher has lamented that relatively few readers or reviewers discuss the technology chapter in The Benedict Option. These oversights are unfortunate because our current cultural and political climate is unintelligible without an adequate account of the role technology, and particularly digital technology, plays in enabling and shaping our quest for freedom.
Deneen’s focus is on how the political ideology of liberalism pushes societies to develop technologies that enable autonomous individuals to satisfy their desires, although these technologies often backfire and leave us more lonely and enslaved. In Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship, Jacob Shatzer explores the inverse of this dynamic: the digital technologies with which we live subtly yet powerfully shape us into autonomous, liberal subjects. Such technologies habituate us through what Shatzer terms “liturgies of control.” These liturgies create the plausibility structures necessary to sustain the myth of liberalism: that we are autonomous individuals capable of arranging the world to fulfill our appetites. The arguments that Deneen and Shatzer advance are really two sides of the same coin; as one interpreter of Marshall McLuhan put it (perhaps paraphrasing Churchill), “We make our tools, and then our tools make us.”
— Front Porch Republic (@FrontPorchRepub) May 28, 2019