19 décembre 2009

Lewis Mumford - The Myth of the Machine (note de lectura)

Made by Silviu Man.

Volume One - TECHNICS AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT - Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, New York, 1967
Volume Two – THE PENTAGON OF POWER - Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, New York, 1970


Chapter 1 – Prologue

Tool-technics, in fact, is but a fragment of biotechnics: man’s total equipment for life.
Until man had made something of himself he could make little of the world around him.
Is this association of inordinate power and productivity with equally inordinate violence and destruction a purely accidental one?

Chapter 2 – The Mindfullness of Man

The burial of the body tells us more about man’s nature than would the tool that dug the grave.
The difference between brain and mind is surely as great as that between a phonograph and the music that comes forth from it.
Beside that achievement of consciousness in a single being, the hugest star counts for less than a cretinous dwarf.
Would have man have ever dreamed of flight in a world destitute of flying creatures?
Because of the extreme complex structure of man’s large brain, uncertainty, unpredictability, counter-adaptability and creativity (that is, purposeful novelty as distinguished from randomness) are constitutional functions.
The fact that order and creativity are complementary has been basic to man’s cultural development; for he has to internalize order to be able to give external form to his creativity.
Until man fabricated a culture, his brain was undernourished and depleted.
If survival were all that mattered to primitive man, he could have survived with no better equipment than his immediate hominid ancestors has possessed.
The critical moment, I suggest, was man’s discovery of his own many-faceted mind, and his fascination with what he found there.

Chapter 3 – In a Dreamtime long ago

From the beginning, one must infer, man was a dreaming animal; and possibly the richness of his dreams was what enabled him to depart from the restrictions of a purely animal career.
Creativity begins in the unconscious; and its first human manifestation is the dream.
Emerson: “We know … vastly more than we digest”.
Our highly mechanized Western civilization has many devices for limiting the province of the dream: we even canalize the subjective life into collective mechanisms like the radio and television, and let a machine do our dreaming for us.
If man had not encountered dragons and hippogriffs in dream, he might never have conceived of the atom.
The infant, too young for language, left completely to himself with a few blocks, will spontaneously place one on top of the other, as Arnold Gessell has experimentally shown, no less surely that he may, at another moment, fling them with a wild gesture to the floor.
Probably man was sky-conscious or season-conscious or earth-conscious and sex-conscious long before he was self-conscious.
Man act out ideas long before they understand them.
Meaningful behavior anticipated meaningful speech.
Wherever we find archaic man, we find no lawless creature, free to do what he pleases…
Ritual […] was the first step toward effective expression and communication thorugh language, so taboo whas the first step to moral discipline. Without both, man’s career might have ended long ago, as so many powerful rulers and nations have ended their lives, in psychotic outbreaks and life-depressing perversions.

Chapter 4 – The Gift of Tongues

Symbolic figures are first of all living figures.
If identified by their technical equipment, the Yahgans could hardly be said to have reached the level of beavers: is it their language that demonstrated that they had grown to human nature. (30.000 words, apud Thomas Bridges)
One of the first efforts of a political conqueror is to suppress the popular language of the conquered; and the most effective means of defence against such suppression, first suggested by Rousseau, is the revival of the national language and its literature.
Obviously, the child is ready for ritual and speech long before his is ready for work.
How much meaning will be left in the world when the scientific observer eliminates his own subjective contribution? No mechanical system knows the meaning of meaning.
Words originally were not merely a means to the performance of magic, but were in themselves the archetypal form of magic.
The passion for mechanical precision which man now pours into science and technics stems originally, if I guess correctly, from the primordial magic of words. – stricteţea, standardizarea ritualului
Every creature knows in the act of living something about life that will forever escape scientific analysis.
Does not this misuse of repetitive spells still continue in the form of advertising and propaganda? Word magic is one of the chief means of attaining power and status in the ‘affluent society’.
Language is the great container of culture.

Chapter 5 – Finders and makers

His biggest find and his first shapable artifact was himself.
Long before even the crudest domestication can be suggested, man must have achieved an encyclopedic of the contents of his environment.
His adaptability, his non-specialization, his readiness to come up with more than one answer to the same problem of animal existence – all this was his salvation.
Possibly the passage from purely symbolic ritual to an effective technics was opened through surgery and body ornament.
If one looks for the first evidence of the wheel, one will discover the earliest form of it, not in the fire drill or the potter’s wheel, but in the hollow ivory rings, carved out of an elephant’s tusk, in Aurignacian finds.
The bow-and-arrow is like nothing whatever in nature: as strange, as peculiarly a product of the human mind as the square root of minus one. This weapon is a pure abstraction translated into a physical form: but at the same time it drew upon the three major sources of primitive technics: wood, stone and animal guts.
Partly through working stone, early man learned to respect the ‘reality principle’: the need for persistence and intense effort in order to achieve a distant reward, as opposed to the pleasure principle of obeying momentary impulse and expecting an immediate response, with little effort. If paleolithic man had been as indifferent to stone as civilized man has long proved indifferent to the organic environment, civilization itself would have never taken form, for, as we shall see, it was originally a Stone Age artifact, shaped by stone tools and stony-hearted men.
Like some hunting tribes to this day, paleolithic hunters possibly begged the slain creatures’ forgiveness, pleading hunger as justification, and limiting to kill to such food as was actually needed. Millennia passed before man would take the life of his own kind in cold blood, without even the excuse, magical or otherwise, of needing to eat them.
“sensory vividness and esthetic tension” – Magdalenian hunter’s abstraction representation of animals in motion

Chapter 6 – Fore-stages of Domestication

Edgar Anderson: “there are five natural sources of caffeine, tea, coffee, the cola plant, cacao, yerba mate and his relatives. Early man located all of this five and knew that they reduced fatigue. Biochemical research has not added a single new source.”

Chapter 7 – Garden, Home, and Mother

Good taste, at least in clothes and food, is a distinctly neolithic contribution.
Here again art preceded utility: glass was first used for decorative beads and iron for finger rings, while in early Jericho the clay figure of a cow preceded pottery – the paleolithic clay bisons had by many thousand years preceded the neolithic milch cow.
Once the domestication of animals reached the stage of utilizing their milk, their blood, or their meat, this new art brought into further use a custom derived directly from ritual sacrifice: the deliberate slaughter in cold blood of man’s playmate, companion and friend. Only the dog and the horse, the earliest and the latest of the domesticates, usually escaped this fate – but in Mexico even the dog did not escape.
[Neolithic village culture:] Wherever the seasons are marked by holiday festivals and ceremonies […] where work, even hard work, is rarely divorced from rhytm, song, human companionship, and esthetic delight […] where neither power nor profit takes precedence of life: where the family and the neighbor and the friend are all part of a visible, tangible, face-to-face community. […] Are we sure that these surviving archaic traditions are mankind’s worst curse – or the greatest obstacle to man’s continued development?
Every member of the community had access to the entire cultural heritage, and could ordinarily master every part of it; and there was no order of authority, no hierarchy of precedence, except the natural one of age, since in such a community, he who lived longest knew most. The easy interchange of skills and occupations, with a minimum amount of specialization, gave village culture a flexibility and a range that counterbalanced its eventual conservatism, one the first experiments in domestication had been made. Even the specialists who became a necessary part of such communities, the potter or the blacksmith, the miller or the baker or the weaver, could on take part in communal work at harvest time.
[In archaic village community, they] had the joy of being at one with themselves and their world: not like the growing mass of unfortunates today, alienated by the sterile environment, the sordid routine, and the faked excitements and amusements of modern city.
Most of the equipment that makes for domestic comfort, the hearth, the chest, the closet, the storeroom, beds, chairs, cooking ustensils, drinking vessels, blankets, woven clothes and hangings – in short, the whole furniture of domestic life – are neolithic and chalcolithic inventions: mostly before 2.000 B.C.

Chapter 8 – Kings as Prime Movers

On these three foundation-stores – communion, communication, and cooperation – the basic village culture has erected.
The great rivers were drainage basins, not only of water, but of culture, not only of plants, but of occupations and technical inventions.
In Mesopotamia two, sometimes three, crops of barley or wheat were possible every year. Under proper management, which was forthcoming, the mainly subsistence economy of the village would be turned into an economy of abundance. The new flood of energy from food, which rivaled that from coal and petroleum in the nineteenth century, provided both the groundwork and the incentive for a new kind of political society. -> “change of pattern”, “change of scale”.
“Civilization” from the beginning was focused on the machine.
Standardization was the mark of the new royal economy in every department. […] Quantification and magnification are the marks of the new technology. Instead of the little neolithic shrine, there stands a towering temple, the ‘Mountain House’, and nearby a huge granary.
The myth of the machine and the cult of the divine kingship rose together.
The historic effort, as recorded on two Egyptian palettes, begins at the point where the paleolithic hunting chief, the first among equals, passes over into the powerful king, who takes to his own person all the powers and prerogatives of the community.
Regularity and security now became a political desideratum.
… the power to deal with current matters [was left] in the hands of a group of elders, but in times of emergency they chose a king to “take charge for a limited period” (Thorkild Jacobsen)
Such submission, such abject self-humiliation, never had a counterpart among the humble members of any village community until ‘civilized’ institutions filtered down from above. But this drill had the effect of turning human beings into ‘things’.
In Greece, […] even posts of ministerial or military command were often assigned to slaves, who were too thoroughly conditioned to obedience to recognize their humiliation.
Primitive society recognizes by and large only two serious crimes: the breaking of the incest taboo and murder. But with the new system of administration and codes of law introduced by kingship, the number of possible crimes increased and the punishments became more terrifying. Disobedience to the orders of a superior was the worst of the sins.
Civilization – the group of institutions that first took form under kingship.
The efforts to create a universal society were delayed, until our own day, by the lack of adequate technical instruments for rapid transportation and instantaneous communication.

Chapter 9 – The Design of the Megamachine

Only kings, aided by the discipline of astronomical science and supported by the sanctions of religion, had the capability of assembling and directing the megamachine. This was an invisible structure composed of living, but rigid, human parts, each assigned to his special office, role, and task, to make possible the immense work-output and grand designs of this great collective organization.
That invention was the supreme feat of early civilization: a technological exploit which served as a model for all later forms of mechanical organization.
If a machine be defined […] as a combination of resistant parts, each specialized in function, operating under human control, to utilize energy and to perform work, then the great labor machine was in every aspect a genuine machine.
Through the army, in fact, the standard model of the megamachine was transmitted from culture to culture.
Accountability and the written word both went along historically with the control of large numbers.
The mechanical agents had first to be ‘socialized’ before the machine itself could be fully mechanized.
Two devices were essential to make the machine work: a reliable organization of knowledge, natural and supernatural; and an elaborate structure for giving orders, carrying them out, and following them through.
For the first time in history, power became effective outside the immediate range of hearing or the arm’s reach.
The bureaucracy was, in fact, the third type of ‘invisible machine’ – one might call it a communications-machine – co-existing with the military and labor machines, and an integral part of the final totalitarian structure.
While the labor machine largely accounts for the rise of ‘civilization’, its counterpart, the military machine, was mainly responsible for the repeating cycles of extermination, destruction, and self-extinction.

Chapter 10 – The Burden of ‘Civilization’

Ideally, the megamachine’s personnel should consist of celibates, detached from family responsibilities, communal institutions, and ordinary human affections: such day-to-day celibacy as we actually find in armies, monasteries and prisons. For the other name for the division of labor, when it reaches the point of solitary confinement at a single task for a whole lifetime, is the dismemberment of man.
Pugnacity and rapacity and slaughter for food are biological traits, at least among the carnivores: but war is a cultural institution.
The invention of the megamachine, as the perfected instrument of royal power, produced the new purposes that is was later supposed to serve. In this sense, the invention of the military machine made war ‘necessary’ and even desirable, just as the invention of the jet plane made tourism ‘necessary’ and profitable.
The two poles of civilization, then, are mechanically organized work and mechanically organized destruction and extermination.
The one lasting contribution of the megamachine was the myth of the machine itself: the notion that this machine was, by its very nature, absolutely irresistible.
War in its all disruptive spontaneity temporarily overcame the built-in limitations of the megamachine. – eliberarea prin război
The Bronze Age chariot preceded the general use of wagons of transportation, burning oil was used to repel enemies besieging a city before it was employed for powering engines or heating buildings.
The scythe was attached to chariots for mowing down men before it was attached to agricultural mowing machines.
Plainly many of the mechanical triumphs of our own age were already latent in the earliest megamachines, and what is more, the gains were fully anticipated in fantasy.
From the beginning, the balanced of mechanized power seems to have fallen on the side of destruction.
Until real machines of wood and metal could be manufactured in sufficient quantity to take the place of most of the human components, the megamachine would remain vulnerable.
This small-scale organization [of Jews], though as unarmed and open to oppression as a village, could maintain itself active nucleus of self-sustaining intellectual culture for over twenty-five hundred years, when every larger mode of organization, based on power alone, had disintegrated.

Chapter 11 – Invention and the Arts

Almost from the beginnings of civilization, we can now see, two disparate technologies have existed side by side: one ‚democratic’ and dispersed, the other totalitarian and centralized.
For those who were drafted into the megamachine, work ceased to be a sacred function, willingly performed, with many pleasurable rewards in both the act and its fruitition: it became a curse.
The maker and the object made reacted one upon the other. Until modern times, apart from the esoteric knowledge of the priests, philosophers and astronomers, the greater part of human though and imagination flowed through the hands.
Our machine-infatuated age
To sacrifice esthetic invention or functional ‚rightness’ in order to double the output, or even to hurry the process of production, was foreign to the whole scheme of pre-mechanized civilization, whether democratic or authoritarian.
No article, even of vulgar daily use, was regarded as finished, unless it bore some unmistakable stamp, by its painting or modelling or shaping, of the human spirit. This mass of esthetic inventions compares favorably to with the total mass of mechanical inventions during the last few centuries. But so far from suppressing technics, as our current economy suppresses art, these two modes of invention interacted. This current separation between art and technics then, is, a modern solecism.
Hero of Alexandria designed a windmill to work an organ, and later, steam was generated to work and organ bellows, long before the either force was used to pump out a mine.
It was the decorative, the symbolic, and the expressive arts that progress was maintained, even in ages that, in retrospect, otherwise seemed stagnant.
A.N. Whitehead: “So far as their individual freedom is concerned, there was more diffused freedom in the City of London in the year 1633… than there is today in any industrial city of the world”.

Chapter 12 – Pioneers in Mechanization

As early as 1066, when William the Conqueror seized England, there were 8.000 watermills, serving less than one million people. At the very modest estimate of 2.5 horsepower per mill, this was twice the energy that was available through the assemblage of the 100,000 men who built the Great Pyramid, and probably more than twenty times in relation to the population of their respective countries.
Even in backward mining communities, as late as the sixteenth century more than half the recorded days were holidays; while for Europe as a whole, the total number of holidays, including Sunday, came to 189, a number even greater than those enjoyed by Imperial Rome.
The idea that there should be no limits upon any human function is absurd: all life exists within very narrow limits of temperature, air, water or food; and the notion that money alone, or power to command the services of other men, should be free of such definite limits is an aberration of mind.
Where capitalism prospered, it established three main canons for successful economic enterprise: the calculation of quantity, the observation and the regimentation of time (‘Time is Money’), and the concentration on abstract pecuniary awards. Its ultimate values – Power, Profit, Prestige – derive from these sources and all of them can be traced back, under the flimsiest of disguises, to the Pyramid Age.
Leonardo: “men shall walk without moving [motorcar], they shall speak with those absent [telephone], they shall hear those who do not speak [phonograph]”.
Is the intelligence alone, however purified and decontaminated, an adequate agent for doing justice to the needs and purposes of life?
Leonardo, for example, invented the submarine [but] he deliberately suppressed the invention “on the account of the evil nature in men, who would practice assassination at the bottom of the sea”.
Inventions in Medieval Age: velocipede and military tank (Fontana), diving suit and infernal machine (Konrad Keyeser von Eichstadt), toxic gas
John Stuart Mill – ‘Principles of Economies’: it is doubtful if all the machinery then available had yet lightened the day’s labor of a single being.
Within a century or two, the ideological fabric that supported the ancient megamachine had been reconstructed on a new and improved model. Power, speed, motion, standardization, mass production, quantification, regimentation, precision, uniformity, astronomical regularity, control, above all control – these became the passwords of modern society in the new Western style.


Chapter 1 – New Explorations, New Worlds

What was truly new for Western man was the exhilariating sense that, for the first time, every part of the planet was accessible.
1. The exploration of abstract symbols, rational systems, universal laws, repeatable and predictable events…
2. The exploration of the concrete and the organic, the adventurous, the tangible.
 In both modes of exploration, there was from the beginning a touch of defiant pride and demonic frenzy.
 Both movements, to begin with, were characterized by an unconcealed hostility to the past.
Campanella : according to the contemporary astrologers the coming age would have more history within a hundred years “than all the world had had in the four thousand years before”.
Within half a dozen years after Columbus’ landing the Spaniards, a contemporary observer estimated, had killed off one and a half million natives.
Not merely slavery but genocide gained ground with the New World exploration.
Hunting parties in Tasmania – slaughter the natives.
… released from the provincial presence of an over-insistent here and now.
If the present generation has now lost the sense of the liberation, it is because all too soon seventeenth-century science imprisoned the mind in an ideology that denied the realities of biological self-transformation and historic creativity.
If the living present could be visibly transformed, or at least deliberately modified from a Gothic to a Classic structure, so could the future be remolded, too.
For the first time, it would seem, the future, however untried, was more attractive than the past.
A trap: for in order to overcome time, in order to begin anew, it was imperative for him not to run away from the past, but to confront it, and literally to live down its traumatic events within himself.
With every fresh invention their debt to the machine became heavier, as the canal, the steamship, the railroad, the telegraph brought the two new Worlds even closer together. The more prosperous the New World settlement, the less use it had for its own primitive foundations, once dearly prized, later sentimentally over-celebrated.
What were the Indian ‘reservations’ but early concentration camps?
Alexander von Humboldt: “In the American forests, as well as elsewhere, experience has taught all beings that benignity is seldom found together with power”.
If anything, the finders and collectors have served the needs of life more fruitfully than the fabricators and the manipulators.
In wrecking them [cultures disrupted by Western man] he was reducing his own intellectual working capital. E.g. : rubber plant, quinine…
The underlying notion of ‘improvement by movement’ curiously bound together both the roving frontiersmen of the New World and the mechanical pioneers, who have for the last three hundred years devoted no small part of their energies to speeding every form of the mechanical transportation.
These two artifacts of glass technics [telescope and microscope] wrought a far more radical transformatiom of human life than did the steam engine.

Chapter 2 – Return of the Sun God

Viewed through the glass of science, man shrank in size.
The mechanical regularity already achieved in machines, above all, in clockwork, provided the miniature replicas of absolute cosmic order. ->
The association of the new astronomy with the revival of divine kingship and centralized political power was no mere accident, still less is it a meretricious conceit.
The first mark of the Sun God’s ascendancy, then, came not in technics, but in government: the new religion re-enforced both ideologically and practically belief in power, inordinate and unqualified power.
Astrology made still another contribution to exact science: it established as a canon of faith a belief in the strictest sort of determinism.
Butterfield: “Copernicus rises to lyricism and almost to worship when he writes about the regal nature and central position of the sun”.
Plainly, it was not the new truths that astronomy disclosed about the vastness of physical nature, but old truths man neglected about himself that diminished his stature and importance. Those who looked upward and outward and forward, and were prepared to traverse astronomical distances, forgot to look downward and inward and backward.
The new world that astronomy and mechanics opened up was in fact based upon a dogmatic premise that excluded from the outset not only the presence of man but the phenomena of life. […] Not the man but the machine became the central feature in this new world picture.
If one ignores the religious aura that hung over the great scientific discoveries in the period between Copernicus and Newton and never entirely faded away, one missed the hidden subjective contribution of the new outlook and its great source of sacred power.
Kepler’s rhetoric is the language of religious adoration, perfervid, exalted.
New World of geographic exploration, New World of the machine.
The new ideology fostered an intense interest in space, time, motion, in their widest cosmic setting, not the setting in which organisms actually function in their earthly habitat, intermingled with other organisms, and pursuing their own further life-potentialities. Abstract motion took possession of the Western mind.
Speed shortened time: time was money: money was power.
Science produced no martyrs – though there were in fact religious martyrs, like Michael Servetus, and humanist martyrs, like Giordano Bruno.
Once, indeed, scientists decided to exclude theology, politics, ethics, and current events from the sphere of their discussions, they were welcomed by the heads of state.
Science, I repeat, produced many ‘saints’, dedicating their lives with monastic devotion to their discipline – but no notable rebellious martyrs against the political establishment. Yet, as we shall note later, that alienation and renunciation are at last perhaps under way.
By formal declaration of Northern American states had abolished slavery; but the shovel gangs of the Irish and Chinese immigrants who built the railroads were, during their working span, hardly to be distinguished from slaves, if only temporary slaves.
So when one consideres the three components of the New World dream, the utopian, the romantic and naturalistic, and the mechanical, one must realize that the first two had vanished as tangible possibilities well before the last frontier had been conquered. This left the mechanical impulse dominant.

Chapter 3 – The Mechanized World Picture

Galileo’s dismemberment of the human organism; for he treated the mind as if it could function without all the other members of the body.
To understand the physical world, and ultimately man himself, who exists in this world as merely a product of mass and motion, one must eliminate the living soul. At the center of the new world picture man himself did not exist, indeed he had no reason for existence.
In interests of ‘objectivity’, the new scientist eliminated historic man and all his subjective activities. Since Galileo’s time, this practice has been known as ‘objective science’.
Galileo, in all innocence, had surrended man’s historic birthright: man’s memorable and remembered experience, in short, his accumulated culture.
Galileo accepted Kepler’s baseless notion that the brain was a specialized organ peculiarly adapted to handling mathematical information; and that to achieve such intelligible order, all other avenues of information must be sealed off.
The only world that human beings move about in with some confidence is not Galileo’s ‘objective’ world of primary qualities but the organic world as modified by human culture, that is, by the symbols of ritual and language, by the diverse arts, by tools and utensils and practical activities, by geotechnic transformation of landscapes and cities, by laws and institutions and ideologies.
The experience of reality in the higher organisms, particularly man, involves a continued oscillation between the inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective fields, and this reality is not limited but falsified by a one-sided account.
David Hume: “If we take in our hand any volume, of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion”.
More than one scientist has lately said that any work of science more than ten years old is not worth considering.- exemplul cu Faraday şi proto-computerul lui Babbage.
Consequences of the new scientific philosophy:
1. The invention and the multiplication of machines
2. An abstract numerical notation referring to weight or number – to goods offered to sale.
The transformations of science resembled those of the marketplace in that they both required a neutral medium of exchange.
First, the scientist excluded himself, and with himself a good part of his organic potentialities and his historic affiliations, from the world picture he constructed. As this system of thought spread into every department, the autonomous worker, even in his most reduced mechanical aspect, would be progressively excluded from the mechanism of production. Finally, should these postulates remain unchallenged and the institutional procedures remain unchanged, man himself will be cut off from any meaningful relationship with any part of the natural environment or his own historical milieu.
Leibniz’s salient description between accurate knowledge and adequate knowledge.
By utilizing only a part of the human self to explore only a part of its environment, the new science successfully turned the most significant attributes of life into purely secondary phenomena, ticketed for replacement by the machine.
The progressive reduction of the dimensions of life involved far more serious humiliations than the discovery that the earth was not the center of the universe.
All through the nineteenth century, the major voices in science proclaimed, as confidently as Huygens and Newton had done, not simply that the laws of mechanics are the only laws needs for an adequate explanation even of life and mind, and that no other non-mechanical behavior need to be looked for.
‘it is absurd to try to express the existence of something that cannot possibly be described’ – theoretic limit of a scientist
Frank O’Connor being told by his mother how the babies are conceived: “mummies had an engine in their tummies and daddies had a starting handle that made it work, and once it started it went until it made a baby.”

Chapter 4 – Political Absolutism and Regimentation

Descartes : ‘… thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature’. The language of the last sentence is obviously not the language of the disinterested speculative scientist.
From the nineteenth century on, science’s preoccupation with man’s one-sided mastery over nature took another turn: that of seeking artificial substitutes for every natural process, replacing organic products with manufactured ones, and eventually turning man himself into an obedient creature of the forces he had discovered or created. Ironically, the duplication of urea, an animal waste product, was the first great triumph of such research!
The destruction of organic complexity was the prime condition for effecting mechanization and total control in every department.
The stripping away of the constituent groups that composed any real community – the family, the village, the farm, the workshop, the guild, the church – cleared the way for the uniformities and standardizations imposed by the machine.
In rejecting the cumulative contributions of history, Descartes lost sight, lost, of both the significance of nature and nature of significance, and failed to understand their independence.
Descartes elevated the scientist into an absolute lawgiver.
Causal analysis, by definition, has no concern with final ends or human purposes.
Taken by themselves, machines present a puzzle, not an explanation. The answer to that puzzle lies in the nature of man.
As machines became more lifelike, Western man taught himself to become in his daily behavior more machine-like.
The distinguishing mark of actual machines, even the most life-like of computers, is that its powers and functions are derivative: their increasingly lifelike qualities are all secondhand.
Organisms most closely resemble machines in those lower functions that have passed out of consciousness, while machines resemble organisms in those higher functions associated with purposive designs.
Unlike an organism, which is an open system […] mechanisms are closed systems.
The obedient slave [machine] first made himself indispensable to the master [science], then defied and dominated him, and finally supplanted him.
Comenius: “I maintain that it is not possible for one teacher to teach several hundred scholars at once, but that is also essential”. […] Is it surprinsing that he also provided for the eight-hour working day and the forty-eight-hour week?
For Comenius, as for his fellow-encyclopedist J.H. Alsted, and later for John Locke, the mind of man was a blank sheet of paper.

Chapter 5 – Science as Technology

If science and technics have not been officially married, they have long lived together in a loose common-law relationship that it is easier to ignore than to dissolve.
To assume that accurate, positive knowledge did not exist until the scientific method was invented is to overpraise contemporary achievements by belittling those of a different order that laid the solid foundations for them.
A.N. Whitehead termed the greatest invention of the nineteenth century: “the invention of invention”. Purely theoretic and experimental discoveries repeatedly suggest outlets and applications that could not even have been conceived until the scientific work itself was done.
Quite possibly it was not by accident that the electronics of radar location coincided with coordinate advances in high-speed flight.
… freaks and follies unrelated to human need, but technologically attractive because of their very difficulty.
Necessity had always been a most reluctant mother of invention: Bacon understood that ambition and curiosity were far more fertile parents, and that the inventions so promoted would become the mother of the new necessities.
If ‘meaning means association’, as Gray Walters observes, then dissociation and non-intercourse must result in decrease of shared meanings. Thus in time, specialized knowledge, “knowing more and more about less and less” finally turns into secret knowledge.
Bacon’s aphorism, “Knowledge is power” […] was a declaration of intention and it meant emphatically that power was important.
In establishing headquarters outside the University, the exponents of science not merely asserted their independence from traditional knowledge, but turned their backs upon any effort to present a unified and inclusive view of the world.
Science now makes all things possible, as Bacon believed: but it does not thereby make all things desirable.

Chapter 6 – The Polytechnic Tradition

Curiously enough, the scholars who first popularized the notion of medieval backwardness read their documents with spectacles first invented in the 13th century, published their ideas in books produced on th printing press of the 15th century, ate bread made of grain ground in windmills introduced in the 12th century, sailed by the sea in three-masted ships first designed in the 16th century, reached their destination with the aid of the mechanical clock, the astrolabe, and the magnetic compass, and defended their ships against pirates with the aid of gunpowder and cannon, all dating before the 15th century, while they wrote on paper and wore woolen or cotton clothes fabricated in watermills that date back at least to the 3rd century B.C. in Greece.

The effective inventions of the 18th and early 19th century, apart from the steam engine - the spinning jenny, the flying shuttle, the power loom – occurred in the ancient Neolithic industries: spinning, weaving and pottery.
Long before rapid transportation and communication became mechanically possible, this polytechnics had broken through national barriers and drawn upon a planet-wide culture. Since this vital agricultural revolution owed nothing to later mechanization till the middle of the 19th century, its significance has been played down, or completely overlooked.
To equate technical development with the machine alone is literary to place the cart before the horses. The very term we still use for units of work, horsepower, betrays this original debt to medieval technics, with its improved shoeing and harnessing of horses.
Immense polytechnical heritage: if the watermill went back to pre-Christian Greece and the windmill to eighth-century Persia, the plow, the loom and the potter’s wheel went back two or three thousand years further. […] The bow that won the battle of Crecy for the English was a Paleolithic invention, once used in hunting Magdalenian bison.
… in fact – the community’s total response to life – took form in these supreme technological achievements.
Except in servile industries like mining, playful relaxation, sexual delight, domestic tenderness, esthetic stimulation were not spatially or mentally separated completely from the work in hand.
The purpose of art has never been labor-saving but labor-loving.
Such an economy had something that we now have almost forgotten the meaning of leisure: not freedom from work, which is how our present culture interprets leisure, but freedom within work, and along with that, time to converse, to ruminate, to contemplate the meaning of life.
Medieval technics not merely introduced new inventions like the silk-reeling machine (1272), block printing (1289), the spinning wheel (1298) and the wire pulling machine (1350), but expanded and perfected older industries, like glass-making and glass-blowing. […] The first large-scale use of glass was not for utilitarian but for esthetic purposes: the great windows of the Lady Churches of the 13th century.
No culture had to wait for the “industrial revolution” for endless modifications and qualitative improvements.
The relation between the soul and its God, between the serf, the armed retainer, and the lord, between the apprentice and the master, between the guildsman and the city, even between the king and his people, was a personal relation, too complex and too subtle to be confined to a specific function or limited to a specific contractual agreement, since it involved the entire life.
… a system of mechanization and automation that ignored the human premises upon which older agricultural handicraft technologies had been founded.
Diderot’s encyclopaedia counted as many as two hundred and fifty crafts.
John Nef: the steam engine was launched by the Industrial Revolution rather than that it was the cause of it.
Appearance of the patent system and the joint stock company, with limited liability – gave advantage to machine operations over the small surviving workshops that utilized local materials and local hand labor.
Absentee ownership, the cash nexus, managerial organization, military discipline, were from the beginning the social accompaniments of large-scale industrialization.
It was in the production of muskets that this method [fabricating machines with standardized and therefore replaceable parts] first became widely adopted [although the priority of this belongs to the inventors of printings].
It was in the army, finally, that the process of mechanization was first effectively applied on a mass scale to human beings, through the replacement of irregular feudal or citizen armies, intermittently assembled, by a standard army of hired or conscripted soldiers, under the severe discipline of daily drill, contrived to produce human beings whose spontaneous or instinctive reactions would be displaced by automatic responses to orders. Military regimentation proved the archetype for collective mechanization, for the megamachine it created was the earliest complex machine of specialized, interdependent parts, human and mechanical.
This dehumanization of the living worker was complemented, paradoxically, by the progressive hominization of the machine – hominization of the lifelike motion and purpose, a process that has come to a striking consummation in our days.
If the first [polytechnic economy] was in fact inherently a scarcity economy, how was it that it could afford to put so much energy into works of art and religion, that it could waste so much manpower in war, that the wealthy could retain such large armies of retainers and menials?
Benjamin Franklin’s estimation – well before megatechnics had taken hold – that if work and reward and consumption standards were more evenly distributed, a five hour day would suffice to supply all human needs. If, on the other hand, the machine economy has now transcended these limitations, how it is that in the United States more than a quarter of the population lacks an income sufficient to provide a minimum standard of living.
Emperor Vespasian’s refusal to accept a labor-saving device for lifting building stones up the Capitoline Hill, because it would deprive the ‘little people’ of their work and wages.
Had Leonardo’s moral sense hot have been awake, he would not have suppressed his invention of the submarine, because he felt that the soul of the man was too devilish to be trusted with it.

Chapter 7 – Mass Production and Human Automation

The historical progress may be condensed in a brief formula: manual work to machine work; machine work into paper work: paper work into electronic simulation of work, divorced progressively from any organic functions or human purposes, except those that further the power system.
The productivity of every earlier system of production was restricted, not merely by available natural resources and human capacity, but by the variety of non-utilitarian demands that accompanied it.
Postulates of the new industrial system:
Man has only one all-important mission in life: to conquer nature. By conquering nature the technocrat means, in abstract terms, commanding space and time … -> there is only one efficient speed, faster; only one attractive destination – farther away; only one desirable size, bigger; only one rational quantitative goal, more. On these assumptions the object of human life, and therefore of the entire productive mechanism, is to remove limits...
Thanks to the proficiency of the machine, the problem of older societies, that of scarcity and insufficiency was – at least in theory – solved: but a new problem, equally serious but at just the opposite extreme, was raised: the problem of quantity.
The point is that the most massive defects of automation are those that arise, not from its failures, but from its indisputable triumphs.
Derek Price calculated that at the present rate of acceleration in scientific productivity alone, within a couple of centuries there will be dozens of hypothetic scientists for every man, woman, child, and dog on the planet.
Automation has thus a qualitative effect that springs directly from its quantitative accomplishments: briefly it increases probability and decreases possibility.
John von Neumann: “Technological possibilities are irresistible to man. If man can go to the moon, he will. If he can control the climate, he will”.
Geneticist Hermann Muller, speaking of the possibilities of using banks of frozen human sperm cells taken from ‘geniuses’: “Their mere existence will finally result in an irresistible incentive to use them”
The secret motto of our power-oriented society: “You may, therefore you must”.
If the world we have put together with the aid of science is, by its own definition, a world that excludes values, by what logic can we assign values to either science or automation?
Norbert Wiener: “priests of power”.
Stuart Mill and Norbert Wiener : “the sum total of human potentialities in any community is infinitely richer than the limited number that can be installed in a closed system”
There is a difference between using the machine to extend human capabilities, and using it to contract, to eliminate, or replace human functions.

Chapter 8 - Progress as ‘Science Fiction’

The animus behind technical innovations
Mechanical progress and human progress came to be regarded as one.
They measured progresss by the number of antiquated institutions that could be cast off.
Until the invention of symbols, technological progress thorugh manipulation and manual work played only a small part in that basic transformation.
Despite the wide array of machines produced during the last two centuries, it is mainly by vechicles of transportation – the steamboat, the rail, the motor car, the plane, and the rocket – that the advances of modern technology have been identified in the popular mind.
For like every other technical achievement, speed has a meaning only in relation to other human needs and purposes.
In the classic philosophies and religions, the notion of perfection had been directed almost exclusively to the cultivation of self or the salvation of the soul. [...] The Doctrine of Progress, on the other hand, conceived important as external and automatic: no matter what the individual desired or chose, so long as the community accepted the multiplication of machines and the consumption of the machine’s typical products as the chief goal of human effort, progress was ensured.
What is the meaning of these many efforts [utopias] to identify the possibilities of human happiness with an authoritarian, or often indeed a grimly totalitarian society?
Berdiaev: How can we return to a non-utopian society, less ‘perfect’ and more free.
The real use of utopias was their service as ‘trial balloons’, anticipating one or another form of the collective termitary we have been bringing into existence. […][The utopias] are subjective anticipations of formidable actualities that have proved all too easy to accomplish – thanks to technology. Utopia, in other words, is the secret destination of the invisible, all-embracing mega-machines.
Harvey Wheeler: “instant information creates instant crisis”.
Here is a situation without any parallel in human history. In the past, every invention passed through a long period of probation between its first appearance of fantasy, its intermediate stages of composition and invention, and its materialization as a working apparatus or machine.
Thus at the moment that the actual powers of technical invention have become unbridled, its compulsions and obsessions remains untempered by reality, since the only reality this society fully accepts is that which embodies these materialized psychoses and fixed ideas. On those terms, technics becomes licensed irrationality.
A soulless perfection

Chapter 9 – The Nucleation of Power

What made this prospective transformation socially dangerous was not the expansion of energy by itself, but the coincident release from moral inhibitions and life-conserving taboos, practices that had proved essential to human survival from the earliest stages on.
Components of the machine:
- Cosmic religious preparation
- Centralization of political power
- Bureaucracy and the army
Up automatism; down autonomy.
War is the body and the soul of the megamachine.
The reassemblage of the ancient invisible machine took place in three main stages, at considerable intervals:
1. 1789 – The French Revolution – reinstated with far greater power the abstract counterpart of the traditional king, the National State
2. 1914 – The First World War – the enlistment of the scholars and scientists as an arm of the state, and the placating of the working classes by universal suffrage, social welfare legislation, national elementary education, job insurance
3. 1917 – Bolshevik revolution – the inheritance in the bureaucracy the most perfect surviving example of the ancient megamachine, untouched by economic competition and industrial efficiency.
Even when deployed against whole cities, not military targets, official inquiry revealed that only twenty per cent of the bombs dropped during the Second World War by the American Air Force fell on the designated areas. From London and Coventry to Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, and Hanoi, the minuscule military results were hugely disproportionate to the industrial effort needed.
Churchill […] retailed against the Nazis by adopting the same totalitarian method; and in 1942 the American Air Force followed suit. This was an unconditional moral surrender to Hitler.
Something worse that the invention of a deadly weapon had taken place: the act of making the bomb has hastened the assemblage of the new megamachine; for in order to keep that megamachine in effective operation once the immediate military emergency was over, a permanent state of war became the condition for its survival and further expansion.
The medium of war had proved an ideal broth in which every kind of lethal organism could multiply. [by the converging paths of science and war]
Megamachines compared:
- Both are mass organizations capable of performing tasks that lie outside the range of the small work-collectives and loose tribal or territorial groups.
- The modern megamachine has progressively reduced the number of the human agents and multiplied the more reliable mechanical and electronic components: not merely reducing the labor force needed for a colossal operation but facilitating instantaneous remote control.
- Both megamachines are oriented toward death

Chapter 10 – The New Megamachine

“When the members of my department meet once a week at luncheon table, we never talk about our own work. It has become too private for words. We take refuge in gossip about the latest car models or motor boats” – a physicist to Lewis Mumford.
The Organization Man may be defined briefly as that part of the human personality whose further potentialities for life and growth have been suppressed for the purpose of controlling the fractional energies that are left, and feeding them into a mechanically ordered collective system.
In every country there are now countless Eichmanns in administrative offices, in business corporations, in universities, in laboratories, in the armed forces: orderly obedient people, ready to carry out any officially sanctioned fantasy, however dehumanized and debased.
Dr. Stanley Milgrim’s experiment in The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology:
Forty subjects of various ages were recruited and told that the experiment was a scientific investigation of the effect of punishment, by electric shock, upon the learning process. The subjects were seated at console with thirty switches. Visible in the next room, separated by a glass wall, was seated a voluntary ‘learner’ duly coached to act his specified part, supposedly in an ‘electric chair’ but actually unconnected with any current. According to the label on the switches used by the subjects, each switch gave a predetermined shock, ranging from mild to severe, as a penalty for making a mistake. After the switch labeled ‘Danger: Severe Shock’ there were two other switches bearing the ominous marks XXX! By instruction, the pseudo-learner reacted by crying out as if in pain when the 300-volt switch was flipped, though he banged on the wall demanding that the ‘teacher’ continue. At this point ten more switches remained, indicating increased intensity of voltage and pain.
Out of forty subjects only fourteen defied the experiment’s instructions and refused to cooperate further when the response registered showed intense pain or torture. To their credit as human beings, some of the subjects who continued were emotionally disturbed by the experience: yet ‘in the interest of science’ sixty-five per cent of the continued beyond the danger point.
Hermann Muller: ‘Man as a whole must rise to become worthy of his best achievement. Unless the average man can understand the world that the scientists have discovered, unless he can learn to comprehend the techniques he now uses, and their remote and larger effects, unless he can enter into the thrill of being a conscious participant in the great human enterprise and find genuine fulfillment in playing a constructive part in it, he will fall into the position of an ever less important cog in a vast machine. In this situation, his own powers of determining his fate and his very will to do so will dwindle, and the minority who rule over him will eventually find ways of doing without him’.
But liberation from what? Liberation from the conditions under which man has flourished: namely, in an active, give-and-take, mutually rewarding relationship with a varied and responsive ‘un-programmed’ environment, human and natural – an environment full of difficulties, temptations, hard choices, challenges, lovely surprises, and unexpected rewards.
Erich Fromm: ‘Escape from freedom’.
An historian of science; “Taking up Crick’s point about the humanist argument whether one has a right to have children, I would say that in a society in which the community is responsible for people’s welfare – health, hospitals, unemployment insurance etc. – the answer is No”
In ‘Genetics and the Future of Man’, a social scientist, highly respected as a population expert, has declared that deliberate genetic control is ‘bound to occur’, and once begun “it would soon benefit science and technology, which in turn would facilitate further hereditary improvement, which in turn would extend science, and so on in a self-enforcing spiral without limit. […] When man has conquered his own biological evolution, he will have laid the basis for conquering everything else. The Universe will be his, at last”.
The seemingly solid older megamachine with its rigid limitations and predictable performance might give rise to the exact antithesis: an electronic anti-megamachine programmed to accelerate disorder, ignorance, and entropy. In revolt against totalitarian organization and enslavement, the generation now responding to McLuhan’s doctrines would seek total ‘liberation’ from organization, continuity, and purpose of any sort, in systematic de-building, dissolution and de-creation.
Communication is now on the point of returning, with the aid of mechanical devices, to that instantaneous reaction of person to person with which it began.
The lifting of restrictions upon close human intercourses has been, in its first stages, as dangerous as the flow of populations into new lands: it has increased the area of friction … [and] has mobilized and hastened mass-reactions, like those which occur on the eve of the war.
The maintainance of distance both in time and space was one of the conditions for rational judgement and cooperative intercourse, as against unreflective responses and snap judgements.
Audio-visual tribalism (McLuhan’s ‘global village’) is a humbug. Real communication, whether oral or written, ephemeral or permanent, is possible only between people who share a common culture.
Electronic Tower of Babel.

Chapter 11 – The Megatechnic Wasteland

The working quarters of the priesthood, called research centers or think tanks.
Minds content to exploit the medium and ignore the message are irrational end-products of what has been uncritically called ‘rationalization’.
With exquisite symbolic accuracy, the first object of space exploration was a barren satellite, unfit for organic life, to say nothing about of permanent human habitation.
Humanly speaking, space technics offers a new style of non-existence: that of the fastest possible locomotion in an uniform environment, under uniform conditions, to an equally undistinguishable uniform destination.
Since technics is, at every point, a function of life, the excessive overgrowth and over-integration of ‘technical’ processes must threaten, like any other organic imbalance, many equally essential functions of life.
Teilhard de Chardin: ‘The Big Brain thinks, therefore I am not’.
Such a description of the ultimate reign of pure intelligence is not science but mythology and eschatology.

Chapter 12 – Promises, Bribes, Threats

The dogma of ‘increasing wants’ as an indispensible basis for further industrial progress.
Instead of the duty to work, we now have the duty to consume.
To ensure rapid absorbtion of its immense productivity, megatechnics resorts to a score of different devices: consumer credit, installment buying, multiple packaging, non-functional designs, meretricious novelties, shoddy materials, defective workmanship, built-in fragility.
The aim of industry is not primarily to satisfy essential human needs with a minimal productive effort, but to multiply the number of needs, factitious and fictitious, and accommodate them to the maximum mechanical capacity to produce profits. These are the sacred principle of the power complex.
Not the least effort of this system is that of replacing selectivity and quantitative restriction by indiscriminate and incontinent consumption.
Thus the shorter working day promised by this system is already turning into a cheat. In order to achieve the higher level of consumption required, the members of the family must take on extra jobs. […] The effect, ironically, is to turn the newly won six- or seven-hour day to twelve or fourteen hours; so in effect, the worker is back where he started, with more material goods than ever before, but with less time to enjoy them or the promised leisure.
If all these goods are in themselves sound and individually desirable, on what grounds can we condemn the system that totalizes them? So say the official spokesmen.
All these goods remain valuable if more important human concerns are not overlooked or eradicated.
Unqualified successes in over-quantification.
When a scientist in good repute, like Dr. Lee du Bridge, can defend the wholesale immediate use of pesticides, bactericides, and possibly equally dangerous pharmaceuticals, by saying that it would take ten years to test them sufficiently to certify their value and innocuousness and that ‘industry cannot wait’ – it is obvious that his rational commitments to science are secondary to financial pressures, and that the safeguarding of human life is for industry not a matter of major concern.
The ironic effect of quantification is that many of the most desirable gifts of modern technics disappear when distributed en masse, or when – as with the television – they are used too constantly and too automatically.
No umbilical cord attached man to nature: neiter ‘security’ nor ‘adjustment’ were the guidelines to human development.
Patrick Geddes: Conditions of degeneration in the organic world are approximately known. These conditions are often of two distinct kinds, deprivation of food, light, etc. so leading to imperfect nutrition and enervation; the other, a life of repose, with abundant supply of food and decreased exposure to the dangers of the environment. It is noteworthy that while the former only depresses, or at most distinguishes the specific type, the latter, through the disuse of the nervous and other structures etc. which such a simplification of life involves, brings about that far more insidious and through degeneration seen in the life history of myriads of parasites.

Chapter 13 – Demoralization and Insurgence

The medium not only replaces the message but likewise the subject to whom the message was once addressed.
Both non-art and anti-art meet the exact specifications of the Power Complex: unrestricted productivity, instant achievement, large profits, immense fashionable prestige, blatant self-advertisment.
Psychiatrists, a generation ago, discovered that painting was one of the many manual crafts thorugh which patients could work their way back to reality. Fashionable non-art and anti-art now perform precisely the opposite function.
Anti-art acclimates modern man to the habitat that megatechnics is bringing into existence.
Before man had created a firm over-layer of culture, through ritual and language, he was dangerously open to the random, often destructive and suicidal promptings of his own unconscious. That danger still remains.

Chapter 14 – The New Organum

Darwin himself, as a person, made an even more important contribution to the organic world picture that Darwinism, the hypothesis that the struggle for existence and the natural selection of the fittest account for the modification of the species.
The chief properties of a power economy – the magnification and over-expansion of power alone, and the lack of qualifications, limits, and boundaries – are antithetic to those of an organic system.
The only way effectively to overcome the power system is to transfer its more helpful agents to an organic complex.

Epilogue: The Advancement of Life

Francis Bacon: Mere power and mere knowledge exalt human nature but do not bless it.

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