“A whale can injure another whale with its sonar. A whale can speak to another whale across sixty miles of ocean. A whale is as intelligent as we are, just in a way we can’t quite measure or understand. Because we’re these incredibly blunt instruments” (Vandermeer, Jeff, Acceptance, 81).
When I encountered this passage in Jeff Vandermeer’s conclusion to his ecological sci-fi trilogy The Southern Reach, it allowed this week’s readings to click in ways that they previously hadn’t once I realized the source of the nagging feeling in my lower back. Throughout his trilogy, Vandermeer explores how ineffectual any of our existing technologies have been at improving life for humans and non-humans, and in this quoted moment from Acceptance, it became apparent to me that this may not necessarily have to do with our technologies innately being blunt instruments, but that the motives to innovate remain fairly singular and determined by a microscopic minority of humans who prefer blunt instruments.
The readings this week both point out to the incredible imagination and ambition of Western scientists in the early to mid 20th century, but also the relatively limited scope of what they conceive of technology, and their optimism bordering on naïveté regarding its application. In light of Angela M. Haas’s article on ‘Wampum as Hypertext’, it becomes even clearer to me that in addition to all the many ways I have come to learn that hegemonic constructs choke the world, another that I’ve been ignorant to until this time is how Western hegemony has narrowed our conceptions of advancements in technology, reducing our innovations to merely creating new iterations of the same blunt instruments. We have continued to expand our technologies, preventing them from entering entropy, but what are we ultimately achieving through these advances beyond increases in efficiency and aesthetic variation? Well aware that this is a basic question, I also add: how can we, like Sequoyah, create a technology that does something different and operates from new ontological frameworks without unconsciously borrowing from hegemonic powers?