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Those of us who do roam the supermarkets every week on the quest to find real alternatives to this complex system are faced with an almost unsolvable dilemma: The prevailing condition is shaped by global food players that exploit non-humans only to fulfill their desire for mere profit whilst at the same time providing the nutrition that billions of people depend on.

But the alternatives in reach seem to be caught up in a false binary.

There are technocritic approaches that demonize industrial agriculture and yearn for romantic local produce that become elitist and exclusive as they won’t ever be able to scale. And there are technocratic approaches that dream of automated food landscapes that will result in a complete loss of visibility that will eventually eradicate all forms of accountability when it comes to the harm they pose to both people and planet.

The Technocrats

Technocratic thought is based on a binary problem/solution logic. The first step is to identify the problem and the second is to come up with a technology that can solve the issue.

This way of thinking dates back to the beginnings of science and has proved to be highly effective when it comes to isolated problems.

As the world is becoming more and more complex technocrats rely on increasingly large systems to both identify and solve globally relevant issues. If one takes the problem of climate change for example. An issue that is almost impossible to isolate. Here the technocrats are increasingly reliant on even more advanced forms of technology like artificial intelligences and supercomputers which in return contribute to the complexity of our environment. Whereas this approach is celebrated as progress in the modern society there is also critique that is being voiced towards it. The strongest might be that technocrats that increasingly rely on technologies to ‘solve’ the problems at hand exclude the human aspect from their thinking.

Humans seem to become more and more insufficient and only a source of error and mistakes. And if we are removing humans from the equation and creating black boxes that ‚solve‘ issues society loses interest and engagement which in the end results in the lack of responsibility and accountability.

So whilst technologies are able to make life easier and have been the source of wealth and health around the globe they also disassociate people from a variety of key aspects in our lives.

Or more concretely: If we would want to ask the question who’s fault is it that we have a broken food system we would not be able to tell as it has moved behind shiny curtains of the agricultural industry and therefore beyond peoples understanding and their political interest to demand change.

The Technocritics

Technocritic thought is based on the question if new technologies actually contribute to improving the world from a holistic point of view, or if they rather misplace or delay complex problems while only solving selective symptoms. The most prominent example for this approach might be the theory of de-growth. Instead of always finding new technologies that solve issues like our increasing energy consumption (e.g renewable energies) de-growth proposes to focus much more on decreasing the overall energy consumption. A move away from continuous progress towards more circular and resilient systems.

The solutions that are proposed by technocritics mostly revolve around themes like the resilient power of communities, more natural ways of living or the importance of sensorial experience.

The practice of Yoga can be named here as an example. Instead of treating symptoms like back-pain, headache, insomnia or similar contemporary issues with chemicals - Yoga promotes a holistic view on health based on movement, self-awareness and the power of the body to actually heal itself.

A critique one might voice towards this approach is that technology has been the enabler of large scale endeavors. That in return means that various technocritic approaches are struggling severely with scaling up to answer the urgency of global problems.

The second point of critique only applies for the rather extreme end of the spectrum of technocritics that have the romantic wish of returning to a simpler time without any forms of modern technology. Even though these are more rare it does need to be mentioned here. Because Technologies have been a vital part of human life since the invention of fire. So dismissing them entirely ignores the fact that all human societies have been only made possible by the use of some form of machines or tools.

In the end both approaches do have their relevance. And it is important to have people on both ends of the spectrum to drive the discourse forward. But what I want to critique here is that they tend to open up a false binary around technology. We can not longer debate over the question if technology is good or bad. It is too deeply intertwined with the way we live on this planet. But we need to ask the question about how to use technology.

Because somewhere between those extremes there seems to be a healthy middle ground. A sweet spot that combines the best of both worlds. A vision that is big enough to make a change but considers both humans and non-humans.

Something visible and inclusive. Something sustainable and scalable. Something that accepts the entanglement of humans nature and technology and tries to move towards a sustainable future for all.