This “great belief in technology” is not secular but closely linked with a great belief in American awesomeness…
The certainty of American awesomeness that led to the war in Iraq or to the current destruction of the Gulf of Mexico, has been rooted in one, politically powerful branch of American Christianity. And what has feed much of this overrepresented group’s tireless (and often comical) resistance to the hard facts of, say, Darwinism, has been the belief that American greatness cannot be separated from divine providence, from supernatural agency.
When Charles soars, I often feel like I’m in a tiny Piper Cub straining to get off the ground, but I love that he gets back to the real meaning of awesome — not just neat or cool, but full of awe. Awe-inspiring. that is, as well as potentially awful/awe-full. And he’s right: that sense of awe is essentially religious. That is, it’s faith-based.
Our conviction that technology has the answers — in this case, to cap the burst oil well under the Gulf — is now revealed as the article of faith it has always been. One major impulse behind religious faith is to create a sense of order in the universe, and through order, control. We are no longer hapless, meaningless, pawns of existence. Faith might seem to be about humility, but more often, it’s the opposite. Through faith, in whatever god, we aggrandize ourselves. We assure ourselves of our meaningfulness, our purpose (as in that terrifyingly mechanistic idea of “the purpose-driven life”). Faith puts us in control, gives us the illusion that we possess the key to it all.
Of course if we really thought technology invincible, we wouldn’t need faith in it. So to suppress that awareness, we fetishize technology — we make it into a fetish, worshipped for its magical powers. We take applied science and turn it into an article of faith. We think it all-powerful, invincible. Until it isn’t.
You read this, obviously, courtesy of technology. But remember when the screen crashes and you feel utterly vulnerable. TDS — technology deprivation syndrome — kicks in. You feel bereft, helpless, cut off from the omniscience and the omnipotence of the Web. You’ve been dropped into a void. Your god has failed. Examine that feeling closer and I suspect it’s close to that of an addict suddenly cut off from his or her drug — and that the flood of relief when “service is restored” is very like the first hit of a restored supply of meth or heroin. All memory of vulnerability vanishes. Wheeeee…. we’re flying again. Until the next crash.
We can hardly say our faith in oil companies has been shattered (though it would be nice, if absurdly naive, to think that their faith in themselves has). Presumably the BP engineers who insisted on riskier, less expensive blowout-prevention procedures did so in full faith that they would work. Well, make that partial faith. They were playing the odds, and they knew it. Always a dangerous thing to do when gods are concerned, especially when it’s you that’s trying to play God.
Did they never hear of the Golem, or see a Frankenstein movie? Never hear the line “the monster lives”? Now here we are, stuck with a real-life monster movie. Simultaneously sickened and fascinated, terrified and thrilled, we watch it with horror — and a sense of terrible awe.