Discover more from Mattias Desmet
The desire for technocracy – or technécracy?
An online survey requested by VRT (the national broadcaster here in Belgium) and the newspaper De Standaard shows that 60% of Flemish people are in favor of replacing democracy with a technocracy – a form of government in which experts make decisions instead of democratically elected politicians. In fact, 35% also want a strong leader "who doesn't have to worry about parliament and elections".
A survey is just a survey, of course. In the same study, 81% of respondents also say they swear by a democratic system. These conflicting results could mean anything. That the survey should not be taken seriously. Or that man doesn’t always know what he desires.
In any case, I assume that VRT is not surprised by the population's inclination for technocracy. Have they not done exactly this in the last three years: created public broadcasting in which politicians were put behind society's school desks as children and the ‘experts’ as teachers at the front of the class? Let me add right away: I’m not surprised that the mainstream media has chosen this approach. And certainly not that part of the population goes along with it. Within the dominant view of man and the world, this choice is not only perfectly logical, it is an ethical duty.
The materialistic worldview considers the universe and everything in it as a big machine that can be rationally understood to its core. It makes perfect sense then that decision-making is left to experts – people with the most rational knowledge about the workings of the machine. On what grounds would you allow a democratically-elected politician to make decisions when the machine malfunctions, for example, during pandemics and climate crises? That's not just stupid; it would be criminal.
Technocracy is the inevitable result of a worldview according to which the essence of life can be rationally understood. So the question arises: is that correct? I see some people frown: "How would facts and laws of nature behave, other than rationally? Science’s success proves that, doesn't it?” Well, that depends on your opinion of science.
Science, on the one hand, is an impressive accumulation of rational knowledge. It has given us high-speed internet and nuclear bombs. On the other hand, it also shows us in an unparalleled way that the essence of life always eludes rational understanding and control. For example, the behavior of elementary material particles is completely absurd from a rational point of view. Nobel Prize laureate and physicist Niels Bohr expressed this with these winged words: “When it comes to atoms, language can only be used as poetry”.
Complex dynamical systems theory shows us even more clearly: every complex and dynamic system – and that includes most phenomena in nature – ultimately behaves like an irrational number. It can begin to behave chaotically at any time and then become completely rationally unpredictable.
Therefore, rational knowledge is always and eternally incomplete and in motion. What is scientifically correct today will be obsolete tomorrow. In its journey forward, science does not follow a straight line. It circles around the object it is trying to understand, swinging in an unpredictable way.
Tomorrow's scientific knowledge may say the opposite of today's scientific knowledge. According to Niels Bohr – I defer to him once again – that is characteristic of any advanced theory: it ends in paradox. Sailing on the compass of rational knowledge, therefore, is like sailing on a compass that steers north today and south tomorrow.
Science is undeniably one of the greatest achievements humanity has ever produced and we must walk the path of rational analysis to the end again and again. But rational knowledge is not the end goal of the journey. Nor can it be the guiding principle of life. The technocratic idea is incredibly naive in this regard.
So, if not technocracy, what can be that guiding principle? Scientists have already started to answer that question. In the words of Renée Thom, mathematician and founder of systems theory: if you study an object rationally long enough, you develop the ability to ‘get into the skin of it’. You get a certain feel for it, in the same way as an art student suddenly gets a feel for his craft.
It is at this point that technical-rational knowledge takes a qualitative leap and becomes a form of truth that the ancient Greeks referred to as techné. Rational knowledge is always a form of external knowledge; techné, on the other hand, corresponds to a sense of the interior, and essence, of the object.
If the object to be known is another human being, or a society, or human existence itself, then this “interior” knowledge allows people to really connect with each other in an essential and meaningful way, allows a leader to get in touch with the people he leads, and allows man to discover the essence of his own existence. As such, this kind of knowing offers a solution to the greatest ailments of our time: the loneliness and fragmentation of society, the degeneration of leadership into bureaucratic tyranny, and a growing sense of life's meaninglessness.
We can thus interpret the idea of a knowledge-led society in two ways. A technocracy is a form of government based on technological control and technical-rational knowledge; a “technécracy” is a society based on techné – a kind of intuitive knowing to which rational-technical knowledge is only the prelude.
Perhaps it is precisely this last kind of society that people are really looking for when they indicate in one and the same survey that they desire both a technocracy and a democracy.