A Poststructuralist Ethic? Maybe.
(insert some verrry messy thinking here)
When ethics are subsumed under technological expediency, the danger of such pathogen spread [the pathogen of fascism in an economically troubled society] is high. Technical communicators by definition attempt to aid the spread (communication) of technology. If a technical communicator sits day in and day out writing manuals, it might be possible to forget the human issues and think purely in terms of spreading the technology. How can we as technical communicators ensure that we retain an ethical system such that we harness technology for human purposes? (Baake, Week 10 Lecture Notes)
The theory hound in me wonders if the leavings of poststructuralism (that is, its ideas about subjectivity, bodies, and the other, as well as the responsibility of
deconstructionism) are part of an appropriate situational ethical response to the “pathogen” of technological expediency.
Certainly there is much technofetishism in poststructuralist theory–read anything having very much to do with Foucault, and this becomes obvious. And the tendency to argue for fully incorporate understandings of the technology-body relationship (that relationship which is fundamental to every ethical question to do with technology and technical communication) has the potential to lead us headfirst into embracing technology before regarding it circumspect.
Yet many of the problems with deontological and teleological systems of ethics are answered by postructuralist ethics– though not necessarily always in neat ways. Deontological ethics are powerfully limited by their own boundaries, and is very often conflicted on positions inside those boundaries. Teleological systems get hung up on how to define a seemingly deontological ‘correct’ consequence–the most important of these is a nattering concern with WHOM the consequence is correct for. Situated, subjective poststructuralism is, in the end, messy, and allows for a constant revision of ethical boundaries in its quest to reject a single meaning for existence. Though running the risk of anarchy–or at the least, Sophistry, a poststructuralist ethic embraces its lack of neatness as it breaks down traditional power structures in favor of the oft-displaced Other. Though this reversal isn’t in the immediate best interest of those in power, it (ideally) works out in the long (unstable) run.
This subjective lack of neatness, is the first method I’d offer to curtail technological expediency. Because of the poststructuralist’s complex process of questioning in
overabundance and continually turning over structures of thought, the expedient solution is inevitably mired in the murk of an everspreading differance. Poststructuralism is no way to run an Army–it’s not even a good way to run a Temp Office–but openness in the process of knowledge construction and dissemination has the potential to keep a single point of view from becoming monolithic. As well, since much recent poststructuralist theory is concerned with “the body” as well as “the other,” such focus offers a necessary check against an overweening bias to the technological and the objective. There is an explicit responsibility to make this kind of mess, to exploit the potential ‘difference’ in the heterodoxical point of view.
Early on, I said “the leavings” of poststructuralism. Obviously, technical communicators cannot spend their days in generating densely-wrought texts a la Derrida or Butler. But the attention of poststructuralism to bodily-aware openness to Others has an important place in a field where the main job is translating technology to an increasingly widening gyre of users. We must attend to THEM at the same time that we attend to IT. If we call attention to enough of the ideological blind spots of deontological and teleological ethics—of any overarching system—we have the potential to work even more for the best interest of those who could be victimized by those systems. Technical communicators are employees of companies, but they are often advocates of a user to that organization—such a perspective demands an ethic of responsible and active questioning. In a broader culture of such questioners, the kind of full-out technological pathogen of fascism is a legitimate threat, but perhaps not a menace to live in full fear of.
That’s the theory hound in me, anyway. The practical side of me still wonders:
Does that mean I’m arguing for a “don’t worry, it won’t happen to us because we’re so diverse and all that good stuff!” point of view? Maybe. I don’t know.
It’ll have to work out in the praxis.