Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Comments on 'Delinquent Genius': by Mike Cooley

Comments on 'Delinquent Genius':

(  Cooley, Mike (2018). Delinquent Genius: The Strange Affair of Man and His Technology. UK: Spokesman BooksISBN 978 085124 878 3

This is a romantic and, at times, a nostalgic book, which might not be surprising as it is a critique of modern technology. It is perhaps more surprising that the author, Mike Cooley, was a designer and engineer at Lucas Aerospace working on military technology and the main argument of the book is that relatively recent forms of technology, underpinned some aspects of scientific rationale are superceding and devaluing other forms of human knowledge, experience and ways of interacting with the world.

However, this is less of a contradiction, if one considers that Mike Cooley was one of the originators of the Lucas Plan which proposed using the design and technical skills of workers at Lucas Aerospace could to used to make products which were more socially useful than high-tech killing machines.
Mike Cooley’s approach is not anti- scientific, reactionary or anti-technological, there are passages which show that he is clearly in awe of what scientific design can achieve. Yet, in other places, he details the apparently unquantifiable and intuitive nature of human skills, which is something a scientific-technological world view tends to ignore or denigrate.

Perhaps at times Cooley falls into the trap of over stating the de-humanising effects of the European scientific revolution. He is critical of the way in which it promotes an impoverished and reductionist views of humans, seeing them as little more than biological machines.  However, this is not just the end result of changes in European thought that can be traced to the renaissance and the enlightenment. Many civilizations, in Europe and elsewhere, have engaged in large scale civil and military engineering projects using mass enslavement or other forms of forced labour. Some of these projects took place in pre-Colombian America, yet Cooley seems a times to use a generic ‘Indian’ as a exemplar of how systems of knowledge outside the European scientific tradition were more environment and people friendly than it was.

In one chapter Cooley is fascinated by how elements of Japanese culture survive sand co-exist with the adoption of western derived science, technology and forms of social organisation. This perhaps shows that the use of science does not necessarily displace all previous cultures, and that it can be adapted to fit in with them, and vice-versa.

So, does Cooley confuse the effects of bureaucratic social organisation with those of European originated science and technology? It would be interesting to know what he thought about the Chinese scientific and technological achievement which preceded western ones, such the invention of gunpowder, the development of a far larger ocean-going vessels and devising means to prevent their crews contracting scurvy.

But these criticisms maybe nitpicking, Delinquent Genius is  a fascinating examination of human creativity and intelligence with all its pitfalls and potential to go beyond the current confines it has made for itself with  the narrow application of science and its diversion to serve the exploitative , and may be catastrophic interests of nation states.

P.MURRY 31/01/2019

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