Midterm Study Questions, Nature, Technology, and Society, Spring 2015

Study questions Winner, Technologies as Forms of Life

1.         How does Winner define/understand technology?

2.         What are the two reasons Winner gives for why our society has not engaged in the philosophy of technology?

3.         Explain the idea that “technology is neutral” and then explore Winner’s views on this idea.

4.         Explain, using examples, in what way technologies are forms of life according to Winner.

5.         What does Winner think about the idea that it is important to pay attention to the “side effects” of adopting a new technology? Are social changes that accompany the adoption of new technologies important “side effects”?

6.         What is technological somnambulism and what does Winner think about it?

7.         What is technological determinism? Is Winner a technological determinist?

8.         What does it mean to say “people are what they do?”

9.         Has the adoption of information technology changed the kind of people we are?    

Study Questions, Roszak “In Defense of the Living Earth”

1.         Define Luddism. Who were the Luddites?

2.         What is technological unemployment? Is this a “Luddite fallacy?” Does technology create more jobs than it eliminates? Explain the argument for this claim? Is it plausible

3.          Explain the idea of humans as “homo faber.” Does Roszak accept this idea?

4.         Does Roszak reject all technology? Why or why not? Is he an absolute Luddite or a technological enthusiast?

5.         What does Roszak think about the science behind modern technology?

6.         Explain the four points of the Luddite program that Roszak identifies.

7.         What is the relation between Luddism and industrialism according to Roszak?

Study questions on Shepard’s “The Only World We’ve Got”

1.         What is evolutionary psychology? Does Shepard think out biology is important to us?

2.         What consequences have come about, according to Shepard, from our belief that humans are largely free from our biology?

3.         *Why does Shepard think that we need to “go back to the Pleistocene?” What does he mean when he says this? According to Shepard, what do we need to do to reestablish our connection with nature and achieve human fulfilment?

4.         *How does he respond to those who argue we can’t go back to the Pleistocene?

5.         What does Shepard think about the idea that scarcity is a fundamental human condition?

6.         Does Shepard think Pleistocene humans had problems? How do they compare to the problems of modern people?

7.         *Does Shepard think our problems today are due to technology and materialism? Why or why not?

8.         Why does Shepard think agriculture was a step backward for humanity? What problems grew worse with the invention of agriculture?

9.         *Explain why Shepard thinks our domestication of animals and plants has let do our alienation from nature.                                   

Study questions on Diamond’s “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”

1.         What does Diamond think is the worst mistake? How can archeology provide evidence for this?

2.         Why does Diamond’s agree or disagree with the idea that hunter-gatherers had to work more than agriculturalists to provide for their food?

3.         What does Diamond think about the idea that agriculture increases food security (when compared with hunter gatherers)?

4.         What does the evidence suggest about health of hunter-gatherers compared with agriculturalists?

5.         Explain why Diamond thinks agriculture lead to despotism, deep class division, including sexual inequality.

6.         Does Diamond think it is ridiculous to claim that people were better off as hunter gatherers than agriculturalists? Which people?

7.         Does Diamond allow that agriculture is what allowed the creation of art?

8.         According to Diamond, why did hunter-gatherers take up farming?

Study questions for Heinberg, Primitivist Critique of Civilization

1.         What are the two reasons Heinberg gives for thinking a critique of civilization is unavoidable? Do you think those reasons are valid?

2.         Explain and evaluate from your own perspective Heinberg’s definition of primitivism. Is this a good definition. To what extent do you embrace or reject the ideas suggested?

3.         How does he characterize “civilization?” Can there be human culture w/o “civilization.”

4.         What is his response that modern civilized democratic societies have governments that respect the individual?

5.         What is “anarchy?” What does Heinberg claim is core idea of anarchism? Do you agree with this idea?

6.         Does Heinberg propose giving up all dimensions of civilization? How does he propose to determine which dimensions to keep? How does he (and Mumford) characterize “civilization’s good face?”

7.         Does Heinberg thinks we should go back to being hunter-gatherers?

Questions on Kingsnorth’s Dark Ecology

1.         Why does Kingsnorth believe people use brushcutters instead of scythes?

2.         Identify the dimensions of the “myth of progress manifested in tool form” that he identifies and that explains the above.

3.         Why is the scythe a technology that he thinks acceptable?

4.         In what sense is the critique of technology a critique of power, according to Kingsnorth?

5.         Is Kingsnorth optimistic or pessimistic about the prospect of environmentalism and our future? Explain your answer.

6.         How does Kingsnorth characterize “neo-environmentalism?” To what extent do you support or reject those ideas?

7.         What is a “progress trap?” In what way does the “Pleistocene overkill” illustrate this idea?

8.         What is Kingsnorth’s view of the prospects and possibilities of “green technologies?”

9.         Describe several of Kingsworth suggestions for what we might do in light of his dark perspective on the future

Question of Berry’s “Why I’m Not Going To Buy A Computer”

1.         What are some of the reasons Berry gives for why he is not going to buy a computer?

2.         Describe four (distinct) standards that Wendell Berry (in “Why I’m not going to buy a computer?”) has for accepting new technological innovation in his own work.

3.         Does Berry think we should end all involvement in harmful technology right away?

4.         Does Berry think that it is the producers of harmful goods that are responsible for their harm and that the consumers bear only secondary responsibility?

5.         Describe Berry’s views about consumption and consumerism.

Study questions on Berry’s Feminism, the Body, and the Machine.

1.         What does Berry think of the idea that women need to work outside of the home in order to be liberated?

2.         What does Berry think about the idea that our increased life expectancy shows that technological progress has improved our lives?

3.         According to Berry, what are the aims of technological progress? What should be its aims on his view?

4.         Does Berry think that we should (through technology) aim for a life of ease? What do you think and why?

5.         What does Berry think about the prospects of reducing our dependence on technologies we have already adopted?

6.         Does Berry reject the idea that a computer would allow him to write faster, easier and in greater quantity?

7.         Explain what Berry means by his concern that “technological progress leads to degradation and obsolescence of the body.” Apply this idea to the question of Berry using a computer in his writing.

8.         Why does Berry think writing by hand is valuable?

9.         What are some of the technologies Berry has rejected and what are some that he uses with regret?

10.       According to Berry, where should we draw the line with new technology? Do you agree?

Questions on Skrbina’s Introduction to Kaczynski’s Technological Slavery

1.         Identify and evaluate moral objections to reading and thinking carefully about Kaczynski’s ideas.

2.         What is “technological determinism” and to what extent are Skrbina (and Kaczynski) technological determinists?

3.         Identify and explain the “Mismatch Argument” and then evaluate if from your own perspective. Do you think it true that human nature was shaped in a primitive, low-tech world and that our current high tech world is not conducive to satisfying our nature?

4.         What are the five steps of Kaczynski’s argument as summarized by Skrbina? Evaluate the argument from your own perspective.

5.         Does Skrbina advocate that we live without technology? Explain.

6.         Describe the low-tech lifestyle Skrbina suggests is desirable. How does he respond to the objection that such a life is the life of a brute?

7.         Contrast Winner’s (in Technologies as Forms of Life) views on technology with those of Skrbina’s, specifically on the issue of technological determinism, and the possibility of assessing the meanings and effects of technology.

Study questions for Lyon’s “Are Luddites Confused?”

1.         What is Lyons’ definition of Luddism?

2.         Explain Lyon’s defense of Luddism in his terms and then in your own plain language. What do you think of this argument?

3.         Explain the idea that technology is neutral and then explain Lyon’s response to it in his discussion of the supposed neutrality of “power.”

4.         What is the difference between “know-how” and “know-whether?” What does Lyons say about the relation of these two?

5.         Explain: “Blind change helps entropy.”

6.         State in detail Lyons abstract argument for why future technology likely to bring more harm than good. Assess this argument from your own perspective.

7.         On Lyon’s view, why should we expect the overall consequences of global warming to be bad?

8.         What is Lyon’s response to the argument that we are better off today than we were before the scientific revolution and the invention of modern technologies? Use his “deformed child analogy” to make his point. Assess this argument from your own perspective.

Study Questions Florman’s In Praise of Technology

1.         What is Florman’s response to the idea that technology is beyond our control?

2.         What is Florman’s response to the idea that technology degrades the quality of work?

3.         What is Florman’s response to charge technology has created a class of technocrats who exploit others?

4.         What is Florman’s response to the charge that technology harmfully separates humans from nature?

5.         What does Florman think about the idea that use of technology alienates us from our human nature?

6.         Does Florman agree with this statement? It is true that frequent contact with nature is essential to human well-being, but technology can help us with this contact

7.         Explain in what ways Florman thinks critics of technology “romanticize primitive cultures.”

8.         Evaluate Florman’s claims that “few people are willing to turn to the past” and that “the vast majority of people in the world want to move forward, whatever the consequences.”

Study Questions, Latour’s Love Your Monsters: Care for Techs as do our Children

1.         Explain the Frankenstein story and the lesson that Latour takes from it about our relation to technology. Explain his analogy between technology and children. What lesson should we not take from the Frankenstein story. Do you think that Latour’s lesson is the correct one to take from Frankenstein?

2.         What is Latour’s view about the relation between humans and nature? How does he use this view to criticize the traditional environmental ideal of trying to protect a human-independent nature? Do you accept the close tie between humans and nature that Latour promotes?

3.         Explain what Latour has in mind by his “compositionist” position. How is it different from what he describes as “modernism?” How is it different from what the ideas of “traditional environmentalism.” In your explanation use his notions of “attachments” and “unintended consequences.”

4.         What is Latour’s critique of “traditional env politics?” Do you find this a plausible critique?

5.         Explain Latour’s view about taking a hand’s off approach to protecting “pristine nature.” Now evaluate these ideas from your own perspective.

6.         Explain in what sense Latour agrees with the idea that humans are “masters and possessors” of nature and how this is different from the Modernist’s ideal of total dominance over and emancipation from nature.

7.         What is the “precautionary principle.” How do environmentalists traditionally understand it and how is this different from how Latour understands it?

Questions on Ehrenfeld, Pseudocommunities

1.         What are three distinct negative effects Ehrenfeld identifies that have resulted from the television culture and rise of e-communication?

2.         Give some examples of what Ehrenfeld calls “pseudocommunities” and explain why he labels them with this term.

3.         Using examples, explain the tradeoff between efficiency of daily life and community.

4.         Explain Ehrenfeld’s assessment of electronic communication. Do you agree with him?

5.         Why does he think e-communication is a threat to community?

6.         Is e-communication typically unreflective compared with other types of communication?

7.         Explain Ehrenfeld’s idea that the internet fosters loneliness.

8.         What are some of the positive values Ehrenfeld sees in the internet?



Note: This material will be for the final exam (not midterm): Study Questions on Kingsolver’s “Fist in the Eye of God”

1.         Explain how natural selection works. Use an example.

2.         How is genetic diversity in a population important for the survival of that population? Why does Kingsolver think it important for food crops to have genetic diversity in them?

3.         Explain Kingsolver’s magic wheat example and the lessons she draws from it.

4.         Explain the differences between contemporary genetic engineering and traditional cross breeding. In addition, why does Kingsolver think only cross breeding “works with nature.”

5.         Why do some believe that genetically engineered organisms are like exotic species and pose some of the same risks?

6.         Explain some of the worries that Kingsolver describes about Bt Corn.

7.         Explain how the consequences of Bt Corn use might be similar to the consequences of the overuse of drugs leading to anti-biotic resistance.

8.         In what way does Kingsolver think genetic engineering is a “fist in the eye of God?” Do you agree with her?

9.         What are some of the concerns about the new fast growing salmon about to be approved for production and human consumption.

10.       Explain how genetically-engineered herbicide-tolerant crops can lead to super weeds.

11.       Explain some of the health worries of eating genetically engineered foods.

12.       What are some of the political problems that may result form global spread of genetically-engineered crops?

13.       What is “terminator technology?” Identify one negative consequence of this and one positive use.

14.       What is Kinsolver’s “quasi-religious” argument against genetic engineering?

Note: This material will be for the final exam (not midterm): Study Questions for Monsanto vs Vandana Shiva on Genetically Modified Organisms

1.         Discuss the controversy over GMO labeling. Does Monsanto support GMO labeling? Explain.

2.         Discuss the debate over patenting seeds. Why does Vandana Shiva think GMOs involve “biopiracy?” Explain.

3.         Explain the difference between herbicide tolerant and pest resistant GMO crops. Give examples of each.

4.         Explain Monsanto’s comparison between skepticism toward GMOs and skepticism toward the use of vaccines. Do you think it a good one?

5.         Describe some of the differences between the industrial agriculture Vandana Shiva’s opposes the ecological agriculture she supports.