THE MYTH OF THE MACHINE
Volume One: Technics and Human Development (1967)
Volume Two: The Pentagon of Power (1970)
Notes on chapters at this link
Direct quotes from 'The Pentagon of Power'
The period that opened at the end of the fifteenth century has been called the age of exploration; and that characterization covers many of the events that followed. But the most significant part of this new exploration took place in the mind; and what is more the cultural New World that was opened up still was attached in fact, even in the Western hemisphere, to many obscure ramifying roots in the Old World, roots that pushed through heavy layers of soil into the debris of ancient cities and empires.
Broadly speaking, then, two complimentary kinds of exploration beckoned Western man. While they were closely related to their point of origin, they moved in different directions, pursued different goals - though often crossing - and at last merged into a single movement, which increasingly sought to replace the gifts of nature with those more limited fabrications of man which were drawn from a single aspect of nature: that which could be brought under human domination. One exploration focused mainly on the sky and on the orderly motions of planets and falling bodies, on spect-measuring and time-keeping, on repetitive events and determinable laws. The other boldly traversed the seas and even burrowed below the surface of the earth, seeking the Promised Land, lured partly by curiosity and cupidity, partly by the desire to break loose from ancient ties and limits.
One mode of exploration was concerned with abstract symbols, rational systems, universal laws, repeatable and predictable events, objective mathematical measurements: it sought to understand, utilize, and control the forces that derive ultimately from the cosmos and the solar system. The other mode dwelt on the concrete and the organic, the adventurous, the tangible: to sail uncharted oceans, to conquer new lands, to subdue and overawe strange peoples, to discover new foods and medicines, , perhaps to find the fountain of youth, or if not, to seize by shameless force of arms the wealth of the Indies. In both modes of exploration, there was from the beginning a touch of defiant pride and demonic frenzy.
Writing to his friend Michael Montaigne, Etienne de la Boetie said: "When at the threshold of our century a new world rose out of the ocean, it happened because the gods wished to create a refuge where men under a better sky can cultivate their fields, while the cruel sword and ignominious plague condemn Europe to perish." A similar mood, a similar desire to make a fresh start united the scientists with the inventors, starry-eyed writers of utopias with swaggering pioneer backwoodsmen.
When the active period of discovery and colonization was over and the promised land still lay below the horizon, much of the original faith and fervor was transferred from the exploitation of the indigenous 'New World' to that of the machine. But in fact these two different approaches to the New World - one aimed at natural resources to be discovered and appropriated, the other at mechanical power and artificial wealth, to be fabricated and profitably sold - had never from the beginning been far apart.
Our current views of both the terrestrial and the mechanical New Worlds have been falsely colored by the opaque religious prejudices of the leaders of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Thinkers like Voltaire and Diderot, judging medieval institutions by the decaying survivals of their own day, took for granted that the Middle Ages were a period of besotted ignorance and superstition; and in their desire to throw off the influence of the Established Church, they converted the High Middle Ages, one of the great moments in European culture, into a neo-Gothic horror story, assuming that no serious progress had been made in any department until their own period.
As for the equipment that made these conquests and exploitations and enslavements possible - the armor, the crossbows, muskets and cannon - these new technical facilities gave the Europeans who commanded them, though vastly outnumbered, the power to overcome the aborigines: Their grim audacity and their utter ruthlessness were not only supported but magnified by their superior weapons.
From the beginning there was an inner contradiction in Western man's attitude about the New World: not merely between the dream and the muddy reality, but between the desire to extend the influence of Christianity - under royal power and command - to distant parts of the world, and a seething dissatisfaction with these same institutions at home, which nourished the hope that at least on the other side of the planet a fresh start might be made.
On the one hand the Christian missionaries sought to convert the heathen, by fire or sword if need be, to the gospel of peace, brotherhood, and heavenly beatitude; on the other, the more venturesome spirits wished to throw off the constraining traditions and customs, and begin life afresh, leveling distinctions in class, eliminating superfluities and luxuries, privileges and distinctions, and hierarchical rank.
Nowhere were these contradictions more flagrant than in North America. The very colonists who threw off their allegiance to England and justified their act in the name of freedom, equality, and the right to happiness retained the institution of slavery and exerted constant military pressure upon the Indians, whose lands they systematically seized by fraud and force, shamelessly described as 'purchase,' sanctified by treaties the United States government has repeatedly broken - and still keeps breaking - at their own convenience.
But an even more tragic paradox sullied the New World dream and made it impossible to begin life afresh under a new sky. For the high cultures that were already established in Mexico, Central America, and the Andes were not in any sense primitive or new, still less did they represent more acceptable human ideals than those the Old World cultures had put forward. The conquistadors of Mexico and Peru found a native population so rigidly regimented, so completely deprived of initiative, that in Mexico, as soon as their king, Montezuma, was captured and unable to give orders they offered little or no overt resistance to the invaders. Here, in short, in the 'New' world was the same institutional complex that had shackled civilization since its beginnings in Mesopotamia and Egypt; slavery, caste, war, divine kingship, and even the religious sacrifice of human victims on alters - sometimes as with the Aztecs on an appalling scale. Politically speaking, Western imperialism was carrying coals to Newcastle.
Wherever Western man went, slavery, land robbery, lawlessness, culture-wrecking, and the outright extermination of both wild beasts and tame men went with him: for the only force he now respected - an enemy with equal power to inflict damage on him - was lacking, once his feet were firmly established on the new soil, Within half a dozen years after Columbus'landing the Spaniards, a contemporary observer estimated, had killed off one and a half million natives.
Emerson noted, significantly, in his 'Essay on War,' that the celebrated Cavendish, who was thought in his times a good Christian man, wrote thus to Lord Hunsdon, on his return from a voyage round the world: "Sept. 1588. It hath pleased Almighty God to suffer me to circumpass the whole globe of the world, entering in at the Strait of Magellan, and returning by the Cape of Buena Esperanza; in which voyage I have either discovered or brought certain intelligence of all the rich places of the world, which were ever discovered by any Christian. I navigated along the coast of Chile, Peru, and New Spain, where I made great spoils
. I burned and sunk nineteen sail of ships, small & great. All the villages and towns that I ever landed at, I burned and spoiled. And had I now been discovered on the coast, I had taken great quantity of treasure."
These New World practices (enslavement and genocide) formed another secret link with the anti-human animus of mechanical industry after the sixteenth century, when the workers were no longer protected either by feudal custom or by the self-governing guild. The degradations undergone by child laborers and women during the early nineteenth century in England's 'satanic mills' and mines only reflected those that took place during the territorial expansion of Western man. In Tasmania, for example, British colonists organized 'hunting parties' for pleasure, to slaughter the Australian natives, who should have been preserved, so to say, under glass, for the benefit of later anthropologists. So commonplace were these practices, so plainly were the aborigines regarded as predestined victims, that even the benign and morally sensitive Emerson could say resignedly in an earlier poem, 1827:
Alas red men are few, red men are feeble,
They are few and feeble and must pass away.
As a result Western man not merely blighted in some degree every culture that he touched, whether 'primitive' or advanced, but he also robbed his own descendants of countless gifts of art and craftsmanship, as well as precious knowledge passed on only by word of mouth that disappeared with the dying languages of dying peoples. With this extirpation of earlier cultures went a vast loss of botanical and medical lore, representing many thousands of years of watchful observation and empirical experiment whose extraordinary discoveries - such as the ancient Indian use of Rauwolfia serpentina as a tranquilizer in mental illness - modern medicine has now, all too belatedly begun to appreciate. For the better part of four centuries the cultural riches of the entire world lay at the feet of Western man; and to his shame, and likewise to his gross self-deprivation and impoverishment, his main concern was to appropriate only the gold and silver and diamonds, the lumber and pelts, and such new foods (maize and potatoes) as would enable him to feed larger populations.
Unfortunately the hostility that the European displayed toward the native cultures he carried even further into his relations with the land. The immense open spaces of the American continents, with all their unexploited or thinly utilized resources, were treated as a challenge to unrelenting war, destruction, and conquest. The forests are there to be cut down, the prairie to be plowed up, the marshes to be filled, the wildlife to be killed for empty sport, even if not utilized for food and clothing.
In the act of 'conquering nature' our ancestors too often mistreated its original inhabitants, wiping out great animal species like the bison and the passenger pigeon, mining the solids instead of annually replenishing them, and even, in the present day, invading the last wilderness areas, precious just because they are still wilderness, homes for wildlife and solitary human souls.
This attempt to make a new beginning rested on the valid perception that at various points something had profoundly gone wrong in man's development. Instead of accepting this as ineradicable, as an integral defect for which the theological name had been original sin, and instead of submitting to it as fatally ordained by the gods, Western man, to his growing self-confidence, wanted to wipe the slate clean and begin all over. And therein lay a trap; for in order to overcome time, in order to begin anew, , it was imperative for him not to run away from his past, but to confront it, and literally to live down its traumatic events within himself.
These ancient words, as applied to the Americas, strike an ominous note whose significance was brought home by one of the greatest of exploratory scientists, Alexander von Humboldt. "In this paradise of the American forests," he wrote, "as well as elsewhere, experience has taught all beings that benignity is seldom found together with power."
As for the debt of our present technology to primitive societies, it would remain huge if only a single contribution were taken into account: that made by the obscure tribe of Amazon Indians who had learned the uses of their native rubber plant and had produced, before the White Man had encountered them, not merely rubber balls, but syringes and raincoats.
While all too little noted, the transoceanic explorations of Western man had still another effect: namely on the development of the exact sciences themselves. Long-distance sea voyages, out of sight of land for weeks at a time, demanded for their success more than a courage close to foolhardiness, though even the latter, as in the case of both the Norsemen and their Hawaiian contemporaries, seems to have been possible mainly through a close observation of the flight of land-based birds.
Navigational skill required exact science; it was on the sea that the main procedures of the scientific method itself were first worked out. It was the mariner's need for astronomical information, quite as much as the demands of astrological prediction, that turned the European mind to exact solar and stellar sightings.
All these practices were registered and re-enforced in the scientific mind. Modern science's original debt to navigation is no less than its debt to capitalist accountancy; and it was on that double foundation that the abstract structure which the seventeenth century identified with cosmic reality came into existence.
At the beginning, I suggested, the two forms of exploration, terrestrial and technological, had a common source, and for long remained in constant interplay. For a few centuries, Western man, or at least a wakeful minority, believed it would be possible to make the best of both worlds. We are now sufficiently far away from the original New World pictures, which linger only as after-images, to see that they did in fact have much in common.
Both movements, to begin with, were characterized by an unconcealed hostility to the past - though to different parts of the past: they openly gloried in discontinuity, if not outright destruction.
Beneath both attitudes toward the past was the sense, which had appeared at earlier points in history, notably in the sixth century B.C., that formal civilization had somehow gone wrong; and that its most successful institutions had retarded and restricted, rather than furthered, the full development of man, though it had made possible great collective assemblages of manpower that transformed the environment and energized the mind -enterprises that no earlier tribal community or village had even dared to conceive.
The state, the official religion, the bureaucracy, the army, these resurgent institutions of civilization were capable indeed of effecting great constructive transformations of the environment, but the human price of their success was heavy: the class structure, the lifetime fixation of function, their monopoly of land and economic and educational opportunity, the inequalities of property and privilege, the chronic savagery and war, the fears and obsessions of paranoid ambitions of the ruling classes, culminating in mass destructions and exterminations.
The underlying notion of 'improvement by movement' curiously bound together both the roving frontiersmen of the New World and the mechanical pioneers, who in the last three hundred years devoted no small part of their energies to speeding every form of mechanical transportation. 'The more rapid the movement the greater the improvement' was accepted as axiomatic. Behind both efforts was the belief that 'farther' meant not only farther away in space but farther away from the past.
The New World utopia, this promised land, was soon buried under the ashes and cinders that erupted over the Western world in the nineteenth century, thanks to the resurrection and intensification of all the forces that had originally brought 'civilization' into existence. The rise of the centralized state, the expansion of the bureaucracy and the conscript army, the regimentation of the factory system, the depredations of speculative finance, the spread of imperialism, as in the Mexican War, and the continued encroachment of slavery - all these negative movements not only sullied the New World dream but brought back on a larger scale than ever the Old World nightmares that the immigrants to America had risked their lives and forfeited their cultural treasures to escape.
As a result of this setback, the mechanical New World displaced the 'romantic' New World in men's minds: the latter became a mere escapist dream, not a serious alternative to the existing order. For in the meanwhile a new God appeared and a new religion had taken possession of the mind: and out of this conjunction arose the new mechanical world picture which, with every fresh scientific discovery, every successful new invention, had displaced both the natural world and the diverse symbols of human culture with an environment cut solely to the measure of the machine. This ideology gave primacy to the denatured and dehumanized environment to which the new technological complex could flourish without being limited to any human interests and values other than those of technology itself. All too soon a large portion of the human race would virtually forget that there had ever existed any other kind of environment, any alternative mode of life.
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 the belief in power, inordinate and unqualified power. "Scientific thought," Bertrand Russell once observed, correctly interpreting 'The Scientific Outlook,' "is essentially power thought - the sort of thought that is to say whose purpose, conscious or unconscious, is to give power to its possessor."
Plainly, it was not the new truths that astronomy disclosed about the vastness of physical nature, but old truths man had 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 Sun God had dazzled and blinded them into conceiving scientific reality as a landscape without figures - forgetting the artists that had spent countless generations painting it, and without whom the universe in its vastness was literally unthinkable.
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. On this new assumption the cosmos itself was primarily a mechanical system capable of being fully understood by reference solely to a mechanical model. Not man but the machine became the central feature in this new world picture: hence the chief end of human existence was to confirm this system by utilizing and controlling the energies derived from the sun, reshaping every part of the environment in conformity to the Sun God's strict commands. In the acceptance of this mechanical orthodoxy man was to find his salvation.
In fixing their gaze on the sky and on the movements of physical bodies, the scientific revolutionists were only continuing an austere religious tradition that goes back to the beginnings of civilization, if not before: and more immediately, they were resuming a practice that looks back to the Greeks. When Pythagoras was asked why he lived, he answered: "To look at heaven and nature." That struck the new scientific note. Similarly, Anaxagoras, de Santillana points out, when accused of caring naught for his kind and his own city, replied by pointing at the heavens and saying: "There is my country." The exchange of the Christian's universe, focused on man's existence and his ultimate salvation, for a purely impersonal universe without a God except the blazing sun itself, without a visible purpose or a desirable human destination, , might seem a bad bargain: indeed, a pitiable loss. But it had the compensatory effect of making science the only source of meaning, and the achievement of scientific truth the only ultimate purpose.
Now, the seeds that suddenly flowered in the sixteenth century had long been buried in the soil, ready to sprout at the right moment. There was not a single idea in the new scientific and mechanical system that had not existed in some form before. Celestial mechanics, astronomical measurement, heliocentrism, empirical observation and experiment, the discovery that the earth itself was a spheroid, the belief that change alone is real and stability an illusion (Heraclitus), that matter, however massive, is composed of minute particles like motes dancing in the sun, the atomism of Leucippus and Democritus, of Epicurus and Lucretius - in short the main assumptions of post-sixteenth-century science - had all been formulated, if only crudely, by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, before the separate shards were dug up again and pieced together. What is more, the two key sciences, astronomy and geometry, were an integral part of medieval higher learning with its special gift of handling metaphysical abstractions.
Whereas many of the older ideologies had mistakenly accepted a static, earth-centered world, with only the most limited possibilities of change, mostly of a cyclical or apocalyptic order, 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 their own further life-potentialities. Abstract motion took possession of the Western mind. The rotation of the earth, the majestic geometric path of the planets, the swing of the pendulum, the arc described by hurtling objects, the exact motions of clockwork, the rotations of water wheels, the accelerated motion of sailing ships or land vehicles - all these now commanded interest in their own right. Speed shortened time: time was money: money was power. Farther and farther, faster and faster, became identified with human progress.
The language of daily speech no longer sufficed to describe this insistently dynamic world or served to direct it. For this purpose new symbols and logical operations were needed, those of algebra, trigonometry, and differential calculus, vector analysis. While there is no real analogy between a planetary system and a machine, they share the properties of motion and measurability; and so the abstract advances first made in astronomy and mechanics proved serviceable, both in direct and round-about ways, to mechanical invention in every department; for in both it was necessary to exclude qualitative organic factors and concentrate upon quantities. This relation was reciprocal: the increasing use of artillery in warfare called for better scientific data to make sightings more accurate, and this in turn called for the spyglass to supplement the naked human eye. Precisely the same kind of military demand led to the development of the computer today.
In turn, metaphors and analogies derived from the machine were applied shrewdly, if coarsely, to organisms: to reduce life to its quantitative mechanical and chemical components seemed an infallible method of eliminating the ultimate mystery of life itself.
Actually, despite conflicts and skirmishes with the Church, science produced no martyrs - though there were in fact religious martyrs, like Michael Servetus, and humanist martyrs, like Giordano Bruno, The fate of the latter, who defiantly challenged the Church's doctrines, contrasts with that of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes, who discreetly sidestepped martyrdom, and who therefore could not be effectively silenced. Fear of the implacable Inquisition, it is true, often delayed publication and retarded the circulation of fresh knowledge; but pride and vanity on the part of individual scientists, seeking to establish priority and concealing fresh discoveries in anagrams and similar disguises, played a similar part in the retardation of new ideas. Whatever the Church might say or do, the fact is that kings and emperors, from Fredrick II of Sicily onward, repeatedly accorded scientists their favor.
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. In return - and this remains one of the black marks against strict scientific orthodoxy with its deliberate indifference to moral and political concerns - scientists habitually remained silent about public affairs and were outwardly if not ostentatiously 'loyal.' Thus their mental isolation made them predestined cogs in the new megamachine. Aware of this political neutrality, Nepolean I, while he favored mathematicians and physical scientists, distrusted humanists and excluded them from his circle as troublemakers.
Even under the provocation of the military misuses of nuclear power as an instrument of genocide by the United States government in 1945, the nuclear physicists, however humanly apprehensive and morally concerned not a few of them were, never went so far as to propose a general strike of scientists and technicians. Only a brave minority disdained the patronage and the rewards that the government offered for their acquiescence, if not their active cooperation. 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.
How is it that the period of terrestrial exploration and settlement was conducted with such flagrant brutality, with such disregard for traditional human values, with so little regard for the future, though it was usually in the name of a better future that so much of this effort was made? And how is it that the development of science and invention, with its intent to liberate man from the burdens of heavy toil on a meager subsistence level, imposed new burdens, new diseases, new deprivations, in a routine that lacked all direct contact with the sun and the sky and other living creatures, including his own kind?
In short, how did the brave new world of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' become the derisive 'Brave New World' of Aldous Huxley - now vulgarly pictured as the inexorable destiny of modern man? To these questions no one can yet give more than a tentative and imperfect answer. Yet certain clues to this gross miscarriage are not lacking.
Exploration was merely the first stage of exploitation; and with it came back war, slavery, economic pillage and piracy, and environmental destruction: the ancient trauma of 'civilization,' which has been imprinted on every 'advanced' culture ever since. The discovery that the world is always at the mercy of merciless men had been made by those Fifth Millennium hunting chiefs and proto-monarchs whose bloody maces had subdued the unarmed gardeners and farmers of Egypt and Sumer; and in the very act of inventing, organizing, and diffusing the genuine goods of civilization, some of which, like iron tools, eventually benefited the conquered groups, the new power complex only repeated and magnified the errors of the old.
Yet with every step forward that Western man made into the New World, with its promise of natural abundance, social equality, personal autonomy, mutual aid - and all these brave, vivid promises, newly made, seemingly within the pioneer's grasp - he took two steps backward into his 'civilized' but savagely brutal past, and repeated methodically all the sins that had accompanied the otherwise valuable achievements of the Pyramid Age. The promise of a great forward movement was authentic: but the regression into the past, the sinking back into the original perversions of power, was no less real. Against such forces, the salutary romantic reaction that began in the eighteenth century proved hopelessly naive - and eventually impotent.
By formal declaration the North 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.
New World man, if one may put the case paradoxically, dug his own grave before he was out of the cradle. So when one considers the three components of the New World dream, the Utopian, the romantic, and the naturalistic, and the mechanical, one must realize that the first two vanished as tangible possibilities well before the last frontier had been conquered. This left the mechanical power impulse dominant. Even in the New World itself it was the other part of the New World vision, the possibility of enlarging human powers through systematic scientific investigation and mechanical invention that actually conquered: not merely conquered, but sought to gather to itself the prerogatives of nature and the promises of utopia.
Among New World scholars it has become customary to smile patronizingly at the Romantic idea of believing that both wild nature and the cultivated countryside are essential foundations for a full human development. This 'bucolic' or 'pastoral' ideal, as the apologists for Megalopolis like to call it, is supposed to contrast unfavorably with their own inverted romanticism of living not according to nature, but according to the machine.
The ancient paleolithic hearth has become a backyard picnic grill, where, surrounded by plastic vegetation, factory-processed frankfurters are boiled on an open fire made with pressed charcoal eggs, brought to a combustion point by an electric torch connected by wire to a distant socket, while the assembled company views, either on television or on a domestic motion picture screen, a travelogue through an African game preserve, or scenes with grizzly bears to Yellowstone. Ah! Wilderness. For many of my own countrymen that is, I fear, the terminus of the pioneers' New World dream.
One of the reasons for the general failure to understand the radical weaknesses of both aspects of the New Exploration is that their subjective side has been neglected, indeed not even recognized as existing: chiefly because scientists, in overcoming the subjectivism of earlier systems, resolutely denied the many evidences of science's own subjectivity. Yet at the very outset, the subjectivism was expressed with classic clarity in Kepler's 'Dream,' which anticipated by more than three centuries the world in which we are actually living: its empirical knowledge, its practical devices, its compulsive drives, its mystic aspirations - and finally, most remarkably now, its rising disillusion.
If Kepler was a sun-worshiper, he was also as moon-mad as any of the contemporary technicians at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). As a student he devoted one of his required dissertations at Tubingen University to the question: "How would the phenomena occurring in the heavens appear to an observer stationed on the moon?" He already saw in his mind what the first astronauts beheld with hardly greater vividness from their space capsule; and Plutarch's work, 'The Face of the Moon,' so fascinated him that in 1604, in his 'Optics,' he drew from it fourteen quotations.
Herman Melville predicted, in 1846, that by the end of the nineteenth century people on the West Coast would, thanks to air travel, be spending their weekends in Honolulu. But Kepler's impatient prediction was even more audacious.
The fact that these fantasies should have appeared, fully fleshed, in Kepler's mind at the very moment when the first halting theoretic advances were being made, would seem to indicate that they were issued from deep common sources in the collective psyche. The same self-confidence, the same ambitious or aggressive impulse that sustained a Cortes in the subjugation of Mexico, was also working in the leading minds in astronomy and mechanics, though in a more subtle and sublimated form.
Galileo took up and developed an observation that his younger colleague Kepler had made in the first volume of his 'Opera.' "As the ear is made to perceive sound," Kepler observed, "and the eye to perceive color, so the mind has been formed to understand not all sorts of things but quantities. It perceives any given thing more clearly in proportion as that thing is close to bare quantities as to its origin, but the further a thing recedes from quantities the more darkness and error inheres in it." Roger Bacon in his 'Opus Majus,' Part IV, had long before taken the same position: "All that is necessary for physics can be proved by mathematics, and without them it is impossible to have an exact knowledge of things." But in both cases, exact knowledge was identified with sufficient knowledge, and the truth that applied to things was applied without amplification to organisms - though it did not suffice there until they
were reduced to things.
In 'The Assayer' Galileo repeated Kepler's idea in his own words. "Philosophy," says Galileo, "is written in this great book, the Universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the letters of which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these one wanders around in a dark labyrinth." Following Kepler's clue, Galileo constructed a world in which matter alone mattered, in which qualities became 'immaterial' and were turned by inference into superfluous exudations of the mind.
Galileo's spirit was so close to that of Kepler, with whom he was in active, friendly correspondence, that he did not suspect how many fallacies lay embedded in what seemed to both thinkers a quite obvious statement. And even now, so firmly have their views become entrenched, indeed popularly accepted as unchallengeable axioms, that I shall find it necessary to expose these fallacies before tracing their consequences. Fortunately, this effort has been lightened by the criticisms of a growing group of mathematicians, physicists, and biologists, from Stallo and Lloyd Morgan and Whitehead to Planck, Schrodinger, Bohr, and Polanyi: they have not merely accepted this analysis, but carried it further, each in his own department.
First one must note that the 'universe' both men were talking about was comprised only of isolated physical bodies, destitute of life: 'dead' matter. But we know now that this utter absence of life - or at least of life potentiality - is an illusion.
But no organism could survive in the rarefied world that the physicist, up to the present generation, regarded as the real one, the abstract area of mass and motion - any more than man could survive without massive equipment on the life-forsaken moon. The actual world occupied by organisms is one of literally indescribable richness and complexity: a life-furthering accumulation of molecules, organisms, species, each bearing the impress of countless functional adaptations and selective transformations, the residue of billions of years of evolution.
Of these vast transformations only an infinitesimal part is visible or can be reduced to any mathematical order. Form, color, odor, tactile sensations, emotions, appetites, feelings, images, dreams, words, symbolic abstractions - that plenitude of life which even the humblest being in some degree exhibits - cannot be resolved in any mathematical equation or converted into a geometric metaphor without eliminating a large part of the relevant experience.
Both Kepler and Galileo held that organisms cannot, so to say, become respectable citizens in the commonwealth of scientific knowledge until they are dead. This curiously dogmatic discrimination against living phenomena had no ill results at first upon the pursuit of experimental physics and mechanics; but for long it retarded biological investigations and diverted them into blind alleys. It has taken the scientist the better part of three centuries to see through this faulty analysis. Recent experiments fortunately have demonstrated, according to Dr Laurence Hinkle, that to cut the mind off completely from qualitative stimuli of light, color, sound, muscular tension, even under laboratory conditions, is to bring about psychological disintegration; for it is only through maintaining constant intercourse with his complex surroundings, including his own organs, that man's delicate mind can be kept in balance. To reduce events solely to their quantitative elements is to make the practitioner of this method unfit for dealing with any kind of organic behavior.
What was implicit in this whole formulation was something that Galileo would hardly have put into words, even if he had been aware of it. 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: instead of man, a creature with a long history on a planet whose inhabitants and habitats have had an immeasurably longer history, only a fragment of man remained - the detached intelligence, and only certain special products of that sterilized intelligence, scientific theorems and machines, can claim any permanent place or any high degree of reality. In the 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.'
By his exclusive preoccupation with quantity, Galileo had in effect disqualified
the real world of experience; and he had thus driven man out of living nature into a cosmic desert, even more peremptorily than Jehovah had driven Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. But in Galileo's case the punishment for eating the apple of the tree of knowledge lay in the nature of knowledge itself: for that tasteless, desiccated fruit was incapable of sustaining or reproducing life. One vast tract of the real world, the world of living organisms, was excluded from the province of the exact sciences: those transactions and configurations that belonged most clearly to that world, along with human history and human culture, was dismissed as 'subjective,' since only a minute part could be reduced to abstract 'sense data' or described in mathematical terms. Only cadavers and skeletons were suitable candidates for scientific treatment. At the same time, the 'material' world, that is, the abstract world of 'physical objects,' operating in an equally abstract space and time, was treated as if it alone had reality.
What their conception has come to mean in its final twentieth-century vulgarization can perhaps best be demonstrated by citing Buckminster Fuller's sublime description of the nature of man: a description which, if not authentic, I might be accused of having wantonly invented for the purpose of exposing the crudity and absurdity of the original doctrine:
Man, observes Fuller, is "a self-balancing, 28 jointed adapter-base biped, an electro-chemical reduction plant, integral with the segregated stowages of special energy extracts in storage batteries, for subsequent actuation of thousands of hydraulic and pneumatic pumps, with motors attached; 62,000 miles of capillaries, millions of warning-signal, railroad and conveyor systems; crushers and cranes ... and a universally distributed telephone system needing no service for 70 years if well managed; the whole, extraordinary complex mechanism guided with exquisite precision, from a turret in which are located telescopic and microscopic self-registering and recording range finders, a spectroscope, et cetera
Only one thing is lacking in this detailed list of mechanical abstractions - the slightest hint, apart from his measurable physical components, of the nature of man.
He never suspected that the ultimate consequences of the mechanical world picture would be an environment like our present one: fit only for machines to live in.
Though Galileo's interpretation of planetary movements led to a charge of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church, the heresy that he was accused of was one he did not utter. As he plaintively put it at the end of the 'Dialogues of Two Worlds,' he could not be justly convicted of a crime he had never committed. Like so many eminent later colleagues in science, such as Pascal, Newton, and Faraday, he was a theological conservative; and even in science he had no notion of bringing about any revolutionary overthrow of previously established truths: his error there, if anything, was to attempt clumsily to shore up and repair Ptolemy's traditional structure.
But actually, Galileo committed a crime far graver than any the dignitaries of the Church accused him of; for his real crime was that of trading the totality of human experience, not merely the accumulated dogmas and doctrines of the Church, for the minute portion which can be observed within a limited time-span and interpreted in terms of mass and motion, while denying importance to the unmediated realities of human experience, from which science itself is only a refined ideological derivative. When Galileo divided experienced reality into two spheres, a subjective sphere, which he chose to exclude from science, and an objective sphere, freed theoretically from man's visible presence, but known through rigorous mathematical analysis, he was dismissing as unsubstantiated and unreal the cultural accretions of meaning that had made mathematics - itself a purely subjective distillation - possible.
For the better part of three centuries scientists followed Galileo's lead. Under the naive belief - exposed by Stallo a century ago - that they were free from metaphysical preconceptions, the orthodox exponents of science suppressed every evidence of human or organic behavior that could not be neatly fitted into their mathematical world picture.
In dismissing subjectivity he had excommunicated history's central subject, multidimensional man.
All living forms must be brought into harmony with the mechanical world picture by being melted down, so to say, and molded anew to conform to a more perfect mechanical model.
Only by throwing off organic complexity, purifying it into abstraction and intellectual sterilization, eviscerating man's inner organs, and prepping the remains in ideological mummy cloth, could man become as flawless and as finished - finished in every sense! - as his new mechanical artifacts. To be redeemed from the organic, the autonomous, and the subjective, man must be turned into a machine, or, better still, become an integral part of a larger machine that the new method would help create.
True, the mechanical world picture, as first put together by Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and Boyle, has long ceased to be acceptable in advanced science: through the reasoning and the experiments of Faraday, Clerk, Maxwell, Planck, and their successors, every part of the classic 'physical world' has become dematerialized: more insubstantial, more subtle, more complex, and therefore ultimately more elusive than ever - but also more ready to come to terms with the complexities and mysteries of life. The seventeenth-century world of spinning planets, swinging pendulums, hurling cannonballs, falling stones, hard atomic pellets no longer embraces all observable or conceivable existence; for electro-magnetic radiation, spreading in every direction, cannot be plotted on a two-dimensional surface, and many ultimate 'physical' phenomena, physicists tell us, cannot be visualized at all.
Despite this, the world picture of the scientist, even today, still bears the faded impress of Galileo and Kepler; for, as Schrodinger observed, it still remains without "blue, yellow, bitter, sweet, beauty, delight, sorrow" - in short, without the most vivid reports of human experience. Existentially, the scientific world picture is still under-dimensioned; because at the outset it eliminated the living observer and the long history recorded in his genes and his culture.
"In 1893," Loren Eiseley reminds us, "Robert Monro in an opening address before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, remarked sententiously ... 'imagination, conceptions, idealizations, the moral faculties ... may be compared to parasites that live at the expense of their neighbors.'" To have pointed the way to this devaluation of the human personality and its eventual exile was the real crime of Galileo.
Galileo accordingly deserves the approbation he has won by helping to establish a method that would induce open minds to correct their personal bias and faulty reasoning, and, through careful observation and well-planned experiments, skillfully interpreted, to arrive at common conclusions equally open to all who would repeat the same operations. Not merely strict reasoning but reasonableness, not merely brilliant intuitions but humility in accepting the cooperation or the contrary findings of other minds, working under the same orderly discipline, were the great moral fruits of the new scientific method; and in time these mollifying intellectual courtesies spread from the sciences to other departments. The high reputation that the scientific vocation once rightfully enjoyed was largely due to this selfless detachment, this open-mindedness, this willingness to discard untenable hypotheses, to correct errors - even to revise basic postulates: in short, to the absence of ulterior motives and willful passions.
This eye-opening had begun, we have seen, at least three centuries before; notably in the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon, who observed: "He who wishes to rejoice without doubt in regard to the truths underlying phenomena must know how to devote himself to experiment. For authors write many statements and people believe them through reasoning which they formulate without experience. Their meaning is wholly false. For it is generally believed that the diamond cannot be broken except by goat's blood, and philosophers and theologians misuse this idea. But fracture by means of blood has never been verified, although the effort has been made; and without that blood it can be fractured easily; for I have seen this with my own eyes."
"I have seen this with my own eyes." This was the new note, now struck more emphatically and decisively by Galileo and his successors.
Unfortunately, in achieving these results, and attempting to make them more austerely objective, 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.
"As soon," Galileo wrote, "as I form a conception of a material or corporeal substance, I simultaneously feel the necessity of conceiving that it has boundaries of some shape or other; that relatively to others it is great or small; that it is in this or that place, in this or that time; that it is in motion or at rest; that it touches or does not touch another body; that it is unique, rare, or common; nor can I by any act of imagination disjoin it from these qualities. But I do not find myself absolutely compelled to apprehend it as necessary accompanied by such conditions as that it must be white or red, bitter or sweet, sonorous or silent, smelling sweetly or disagreeably; and if the senses had not pointed out these qualities, language and imagination alone could never have arrived at them. Therefore I think that these senses, smells, colors, ect. with regard to the object in which they appear to reside are nothing more then mere names. These exist only in the sensitive body, for when the living creature is removed, all these qualities are carried off and annihilated ... I do not believe that there exists anything in external bodies for exciting tastes, smells, and sounds, ect. except size, shape, quantity, motion."
This judgment was not, be it noted, the result of any experimental demonstration: it rested solely on the postulates of astronomy and mechanics, backed by a hypothetical operation performed by the observer, which removed all physiological data except those necessary for describing size, weight, 'force,' or, even more abstractly, 'mass' and 'motion.'
When Galileo's successors pulverized this immense cultural heritage into that which was measurable, public, 'objective,' repeatable, they not merely falsified or obliterated the basic facts of human existence, but curtailed the possibilities for human growth. Even worse, they created split personalities, whose private and subjective life never could, on the accepted postulates, modify or be modified by their public, objective life. By the nineteenth century, that split opened an unbridgeable gap between the artist and the scientist: a gap not to be closed, on Lord Snow's prescription, simply by making the artist more receptive to science.
As for Galileo's belief in the objective reality of shapes, without reference to the contribution of the observer, this, too, has no foundation.
The classic summation of Galileo's conception was made by David Hume, a brilliant mind that, under the cover of complete skepticism, established the new outlook as a dogma. "When we run over libraries," Hume noted, "persuaded by these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume, if divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity and number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning mater of fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."
Those who took these injunctions seriously found it easy to wipe out every mode of theology and metaphysics other than their own, which they mistook for common sense and reality. Lived and recorded history suffered the same fate. On his own terms, Hume's 'History of England' would have been among the first works to be destroyed. Science in fact so completely lost any respect for the immediately non-observable or non-repeatable, that it is only recently that scientists and technologists have begun to be interested in their own history. More than one scientist has lately said that any work of science more than ten years old is not worth considering. This indicates more than the inordinate inflation of the scientific ego that the great theoretic and and experimental advances of the last generation have produced: it indicates an effort to discredit an essential part of organic experience, memory, which establishes continuity with a longer past and a wider environment than a ten-year mind can encompass.
The new scientific philosophy took over and carried further two processes that were already at work in society, and were partly responsible, indeed, for the renewed interest in science itself. One was the invention and multiplication of machines, composed of closely articulated, finely measured, standardized, and replaceable parts, as in the mechanical clock and the printing press. The other was the wider use of coined money, stamped uniformly by machines, which in itself was partly due to the increasing practice of attaching a price - an abstract numerical notation referring to weight or number - to goods offered for sale. The maxim of Franklin's Poor Richard, "Time is money," symbolized this change; and the transactions of science resembled those of the marketplace in that they both required a neutral medium of exchange.
As mechanical power increased and as scientific theory itself, through further experimental verification, became more adequate, the new method enlarged its domain; and with every fresh demonstration of its efficiency it shored up the shaky theoretic scheme upon which it was based. What began in the astronomical observatory finally ended in our day in the computer-controlled and automatically operated factory. 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 unchallenged, man himself will be cut off from any meaningful relationship with any part of the natural environment or his own historical milieu.
E. A. Burtt, commenting on the consequences of giving special status to the so-called primary qualities, observed correctly that this was "the first stage in the reading of man out of the real and primary realm ... Man begins to appear for the first time in thought as an irrelevant spectator and insignificant effect of the great mathematical system which is the substance of reality."
The ecological complexes of existence overwhelm the human mind, even though some of that richness is an integral part of man's own nature. It is only by isolating some little part of that existence for a short time that it can be momentarily grasped: we learn only from samples. By separating primary from secondary qualities, by making mathematical description the test of truth, 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. Thus, living organisms, in their most typical functions and purposes, became superfluous.
Again, it was the philosopher E. A. Burtt who, a generation before Erwin Schrodinger, put his finger most decisively upon the consequences of the new system of analysis.
"Man's performance could not be treated by the quantitative method except in the most meager fashion. His life was a life of color and sounds, of pleasures, of griefs, of passionate loves, of ambitious strivings. Hence the real world must be outside the world of man: the world of astronomy, the world of resting and moving terrestrial objects. The only thing in common between man and his world was his ability to discover it, a fact which, being necessarily presupposed, was easily neglected, and did not in any case suffice to exalt him to a parity of reality and causal efficiency with that which he is able to know ... Along with this exaltation of the external world as more primary and more real, went an attribution of greater dignity and value. Galileo himself proceeds to this addition. 'Sight is the most excellent of senses, because its relation to light, the most excellent object; but as compared with the latter, it is as inferior as the finite in comparison with the infinite.'"
The Bell telephone engineers Pumphrey tells us, "found that all intelligence could get through a system called a Vocorder, which instead of transmitting a continuous but limited spectrum, squeezed as it were all the sound energy of speech through ten narrow gates, thirty-two cycles wide ... with the economic consequence that, with sufficient paraphernalia at the sending and receiving ends, ten intelligible messages can now be simultaneously transmitted over a channel where one would go before.
"The interesting feature for us," continues Pumphrey, "is the effect of the process on the character of speech, for in discarding or blurring the detailed structure, it has effected a completely mechanical separation of the emotive and informative functions of speech. The output of this infernal machine is perfectly intelligible and perfectly impersonal. No trace of anger or love, pity or terror, irony or sincerity, can get through it. The age or sex of the speaker cannot be guessed. No dog would recognize his master's voice. In fact, it does not sound as if a human agent was responsible for the message. But the intelligence is unimpaired."
"The intelligence is unimpaired."
That is only another way of saying, in fact, that this sort of intelligence is, in terms of life, innately defective, since it can never receive or respond to a sufficiently full and comprehensive report of the actual world as experienced by fully activated organisms and mindful human personalities.
In denying the importance of subjective factors, that is, human propulsions, projections, and autonomous responses, the followers of Galileo unfortunately fended off any inquiry into their own subjectivity; and in rejecting values, purposes, and non-scientific meanings, fantasies, dreams, as irrelevant to their positivist methodology, they failed to recognize the part such subjectivity had played in creating their own system. What they had actually done was to eliminate every value and every purpose but one, the one they regarded as supreme: the pursuit of scientific truth. In this pursuit of truth, the scientist sanctified his own discipline and what was more dangerous placed it above any other obligations of morality. The consequences of this dedication have only begun to appear in our own age. Scientific truth achieved the status of an absolute, and the incessant pursuit and expansion of knowledge became the only recognized categorical imperative.
If the new science had begun with the observer himself, as an essential component in its own scheme, the insufficiency of his mechanical model and his de-natured and de-humanized universe would have been apparent - indeed, inescapable.
But in addition more egoistic ambitions and utilitarian lures played a part from the beginning of the development of science, as earlier with magic; and these concerns come out even in the austere statements of Descartes. "I have perceived it to be possible," he observed, "to arrive at knowledge highly useful in life; and instead of the speculative philosophy usually taught in the schools, to discover a practical [method] by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various crafts of our artisans, we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which they are adapted, and thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature."
The language of this last sentence is obviously not the language of the disinterested speculative scientist: it was attached rather to the social motives that from the sixteenth century on had begun to play an ever more active part in the whole development of Western civilization: in exploration and colonization, in military conquest and mechanical industry. To become "lords and possessors of nature" was the ambition that secretly united the conquistador, the merchant adventurer and banker, the industrialist, and the scientist, radically different though their vocations and their purposes might seem.
Even at the beginning, science and technics played a part in furthering these extravagant ambitions and arrogant claims. Without the magnetic compass, astronomical observations, and cartography, the circumnavigation of the globe would have been long delayed, if not impossible. But 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! But many other substitutes - fibers, pl,astics, pharmaceuticals - followed; some excellent in their own right, some merely producing larger profits for bigger organizations.
What Descartes did by equating organisms with machines was to make it possible to apply to organic behavior the quantitative method that was to serve so efficiently in describing 'physical' events. To know more about the behavior of a physical system one must isolate it, disorganize it, and separate out its measurable elements, down to the minutest particle - a necessary feat for understanding its operation. But to pass beyond the limits of a physical system into the realm of life, one must do just the opposite: assemble more and more parts into a pattern of organization that, as it approaches more closely to living phenomena reacting within a living environment, becomes so complex that it can only be reproduced and apprehended intuitively in the act of living, since, at least in man, it includes mind and the infra- and ultra-corporeal aspects of mind.
From Descartes' time on until the present century, to all but the most penetrating minds of science, a 'mechanistic' explanation of organic behavior was accepted as a sufficient one. And as machines became more lifelike, Western man taught himself to become in his daily behavior more machine-like.
Science as Technology
Between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries the new scientific world picture became increasingly unified, though the various sciences that took part in this change had different points of origin, developed different methods of investigation, and were governed by different, sometimes contradictory, aims. Random exploration, severe mathematical analysis, piecemeal discoveries, organized experiment and invention, even historical exploration in geology, paleontology and phylogeny - all these eventually took the name of science and contributed to its growing authority. By now the original ideological foundations have given way, yet the deceptively simplified superstructure remains intact, seeming to float in air.
If the world picture that emerges from these disparate efforts presented any coherent image, it was that which could be traced back ultimately to the Ionian philosophers, and more immediately to the ascendancy of the automaton. As fields of investigation were parceled out very much in the way that the territories of the planet were parceled out for exploitation among the great powers, the pattern of knowledge reflected this division; and soon it became considered impermissible for anyone, even the professed philosopher, to deal with human experience as a whole.
Now, however high-flown modern scientific theory may be, and however much subjective delight it may give to its adepts, the scientific establishment from the beginning has been encouraged and promoted chiefly because of its hoped-for or promised applications to practical affairs: warfare, manufactures, transportation, communication. The belief that science developed solely out of a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is at best only a half-truth, and at worst, mere self-flattery or self-deception on the part of scientists. As with holiness of saints, which has bestowed unwarranted authority on the grosser worldly claims of the Christian Church, the total effect of scientific ideology has been to provide both the means and the justification for achieving external control over all manifestations of natural existence, including man's own life. If science and technics have not been officially married, they have long lived together in a loose common-law relationship that is easier to ignore than to dissolve.
Unfortunately, if "meaning means association," as Gray Walters observes, then dissociation and non-intercourse must result in a decrease of shared meanings. Thus in time, specialized knowledge, "knowing more and more about less and less," finally turns into secret knowledge - accessible only to an inner priesthood, whose sense of power is in turn inflated by their privileged command of 'trade' or official secrets. Without faintly suspecting it, Bacon had rediscovered the basic power formula of the megamachine and laid the foundation for a new structure that all too closely parallels the ancient one.
The corporate scientific personality has thus taken over the attributes of the individual thinker; and as science comes more and more to rely for its results upon complicated and extremely expensive apparatus, like computers, cyclotrons, electronic microscopes, and nuclear piles, no work along the present lines can be done without close attachment to a well-endowed corporate organization. The dangers that this technological advance offer to science have not yet been sufficiently canvassed; but in the end they will perhaps nullify no small part of its benefits and rewards.
Behind Bacon's expectations, however, there was a little-noted factor which was to mark the inauguration of an age committed increasingly to the pursuit of science and the perfection of machines: an ambition for conquest that coincided with a growing sense of power which the machines already in existence, particularly cannon and firearms, had greatly stimulated.
Bacon's aphorism, "Knowledge is Power", must not be taken as a mere descriptive figure: it was a declaration of intention, and it meant emphatically that power was important. Though Bacon was, apart from the personal lapses, a studious moralist, he did have sufficient insight to realize that the attempt to extend "the empire of man over things" might have even more terrible consequences for the human race than a too compliant adaptation to nature's conditions. If conquest of nature on the purely physical level was a less bloody achievement the any form of military conquest - at least until this conquest began, in the nineteenth century, to have a disruptive effect upon the ecological balance of all organisms, including man - the same ambitions, the same drives, indeed the same neurotic compulsions to sacrifice all other occasions of life to the displays and demonstrations of power, gradually took possession of its opponents. This created special ties with the more vulgar forms of conquest, those of the trader, the inventor, the ruthless conquistador, and the driving industrialist seeking to replace natural abundance and natural satisfactions with those he could profitably sell.
Since the conversion and utilization of energy is an essential characteristic in the growing and working of all organisms, this drive has a biological basis: to increase power is one of the prime ways of increasing life. What was embarrassing in the social application of power is that once energy is released from its organic setting, escaping the limits imposed by the habitat, by other parts of man's own nature, and by other organisms, it knows no limits: it expands for expansion's sake. Thus the vulgar form of imperialism, which resulted in the temporary subjugation of the major territories of the planet by Western industrial and political enterprise, had its ideal counterpart in science and technicians. The nobler ambition that Bacon approved has in fact never been free from the baser egoism of the individual and the tribe.
These changes completed the depersonalization of the whole industrial process. After the seventeenth century an increasing number of anonymous workers were exploited for the benefit of equally anonymous and invisible and morally indifferent absentee owners.
Thus the various components of mechanized industry conspired to remove the traditional valuations and the human aims that had kept the economy under control and caused it to pursue other goals than power. Absentee ownership, the cash nexus, managerial organization, military discipline, were from the beginning the social accompaniments of large-scale mechanization. The removal of limits had the effect of undermining - by now almost totally destroying - the earlier forms of polytechnics, and of replacing it with a monotechnics based on maximizing physical power, contracting or expanding or diverting human needs to those that are required to keep such an economy in operation. Warfare, the activity that had first made such heavy demands on the mine, in turn contributed further to mechanization by reverting in industry to a military discipline and daily drill, in order to ensure uniform operations and uniform results. This reciprocal interplay between warfare, mining, and mechanization was ultimately responsible for some of the most vexatious problems that must now be faced.
From the beginning, I must emphasize, if we are to understand technology's increasing threats to mankind, the murky air of the battlefield and the arsenal blew over the entire field of industrial invention and affected civilian life. The war machine hastened the pace of standardization and mass production. As the centralized territorial state increased in size, efficiency, and command of taxable wealth, larger armies were needed to reinforce its authority. By the seventeenth century, before iron had begun to be used in large quantities in the other industrial arts, Colbert had created arms factories in France, Gustavusa Adolphus had done likewise in Sweden, and in Russia, as early as Peter the Great, there were 683 workers in a single factory: a heretofore unheard-of number.
Within these factories, the division of process in serial production had already begun, each worker performing only part of the operation; and the grinding and polishing machinery was worked by water-power. Sombart observed that Adam Smith would have done better to take arms manufacture, rather than pin-making, as an example of the mechanization of the process of production, with its specialization and fixation of human effort before the machine itself was sufficiently organized to take over the whole job.
Standardization, prefabrication, and mass production were all first established in state-organized arsenals, most notably in Venice, centuries before the "industrial revolution." It was not Arkwright, but Venetian urban officials in command of the arsenal, who first established the factory system; and it was not Sir Samuel Bentham and the elder Brunel who first standardized ship production, with various tackle blocks and planks cut to uniform measure; for centuries before, the arsenal of Venice had so well mastered the process of pre-fabrication that it cold put together a whole vessel within a month. And though the priority of fabricating machines with standardized and therefore replaceable parts belongs to the inventors of printing with movable type, it was the production of muskets that this method first became widely adopted: first in LeBlanc's innovation in France in 1785, and then, in 1800, in Eli Whitney's factory at Whitneyville, under contract with the United States government. "The technique of interchangeable part manufacture," as Usher observes, "was thus established in general outline before the invention of the sewing machine or harvesting machinery. The new technique was a fundamental condition of the greatest achievements realized by inventors and manufacturers in those fields."
The mathematical calculations and physical experiments that increased the precision of artillery fire reflected the military preoccupations rather than those of the current industrial arts, with their cut-and-try methods; and this influence was so universal that the roles of the military, or civil, and the mechanical engineer were at first almost interchangeable. Let us not forget that the same demands for accurate artillery fire resulted in the invention of the modern computer.
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. "His is not to reason why," was the motto for the whole system: the doing and the dying followed.
Military regimentation proved the archetype for collective mechanization, for the megamachine it created was the earliest complex machine or specialized, interdependent parts, human and mechanical.
The regimentation and mass production of soldiers, to the end of turning out a cheap, standardized, and replaceable product, was the great contribution of the military mind to the machine process. And not strangely, the first important by-product of this transformation was the military uniform itself.
The military uniform was an early example of a general tendency to uniformity, which characterized the barracks architecture and street facades of the seventeenth century, with their uniform roof-lines and repetitive windows. Each soldier must have the same cloths and the same equipment as every other member of his company. Drill made them act as one, discipline made them respond as one, the uniform made them look as one.
With an army of 100,000 soldiers, such as Louis XIV had brought together, the need for uniforms made no small demand upon industry. This was in fact the first large-scale demand for standardized "ready-made" consumer goods. Individual taste, individual judgment, individual needs other than the dimensions of the body, played no part in this new mode of production: the conditions for complete mechanization were present.
The great change produced by this whole process of mechanization was to shift the balance of economic power from agriculture, with its accompanying industries - textiles and pottery and building, all neolithic in origin - to mining and warfare and machine production. The application of mechanical inventions to textiles, which went on so rapidly during the seventeenth century, only increased this imbalance of undermining the old hand-workers and drawing a largely unskilled labor force into the new factories, organized on the same principles that governed mines and arsenals.
Thus facility in making automatic, power-driven machines, which resulted in enormous gains in productivity in essential industries like textiles, was accompanied, as it had been in the Pyramid Age, by the practice of debasing the worker to the level of a machine: depleting health, deforming the body, shortening the life of the worker, and driving the unemployed into pauperdome and beggary, starvation and death. This dehumanization of the living worker was compensated, paradoxically, by the progressive hominization of the machine - hominization in the sense of giving the automaton some of the mechanical equivalents of lifelike motion and purpose, a process that has come to a striking consummation in our own day.
All this would indicate, not technical insufficiency, but rather the fatal absence of a just system of distribution: a conclusion that is re-enforced by Benjamin Franklin's estimate, well before megatechnics had taken hold, that if work and reward and consumption standards were more evenly distributed, a five hour work day would suffice to provide for all human needs. If, on the other hand, the machine economy has now transcended these limitations, how is it that in the United States more than a quarter of the population lacks an income sufficient to provide a minimum standard of living?
Of only one fact we can be sure; and this is that although the material resources of the world have been immensely increased by our high-energy technology, the net gain has not been nearly as great as is usually reckoned, when the constant factor of wanton waste, premature obsolescence, organic deterioration through environmental pollution and depletion, and premature death by war and genocide are taken into account.
As late as the middle of the nineteenth century an immense technological heritage was still in existence, widely scattered among the peoples of the earth, every part of it colored by human needs, environmental resources, inter-cultural exchanges, and ecological and historic associations.
The major part of the this technical equipment had been passed along for thousands of years, and had consciously drawing into a common pool, more or less accessible through books and printed publications, many precious components that had hitherto been confined to the widely scattered communities where they originated, passed on intermittently only by imitation and word of mouth. The diffusion of this store of knowledge in Western Europe, after the twelfth century, provided in itself the equivalent of many new inventions and was in no small part accountable for the technical dynamism that made still more sweeping technical changes - later misidentified as "the" Industrial Revolution - possible. During these fateful centuries (A.D. 1200-1800) mankind learned more about the earth itself as a habitable globe, about the organisms that inhabit it, and about human cultures than had ever been known before.
Biologists have coined the term "gene pool" to describe the immense amount of genetic material available, in ever fresh combinations, in a large population. Though over a long period certain genes will tend to disappear because they are lethal, and others will undergo modification and selection with each other, there are many gene traits and organic properties that go back far into our mammalian past, whose absence or deficiency would undermine man's higher development.
Similarly, one may talk of a technological pool: an accumulation of tools, machines, materials, processes, interacting with soils, climates, plants, animals, human populations, institutions, cultures. The capacity of this technological reservoir, until the third quarter of the nineteenth century, was immensely greater than ever before: what is more, it was more diversified - and possibly quantitatively larger, as well as qualitatively richer - than that which exists today. Not the least important part of this technological pool were the skilled craftsmen and work teams that transmitted the colossal accumulation of knowledge and skill. When they were eliminated from the system of production, that vast cultural resource was wiped out.
The diversified technological assemblage not merely contributed to economic security; it permitted a continuous interplay between different phases of technology; and for a time this actually happened. Though the water turbine was a late eotechnic invention (1825), coming at a time when water was being widely replaced by coal as a steady source of energy, it came back at a higher level in the turbines of hydro-electric power stations; and the turbine principle was still later applied to the airplane motor in an advanced type of jet propulsion. A reverse reaction, in which an older technology benefited from new scientific advances, is exemplified in the lateral cut of mainsail and jibs in modern sailing vessels: a change resulting from the closer analysis of air flow for the purpose of improving airplanes.
Western man's pride over his many real achievements in mechanization made him too easily overlook all that he owed to earlier and more primitive cultures. So no one has yet attempted to make an inventory of the massive losses resulting from both the neglect and deliberate destruction of this craft heritage, in favor of machine-made products. While the population of complex and technically superior machines has enormously increased during the last century, the technological pool has actually been lowered as one handicraft after another has disappeared.
The result is that a monotechnics, based upon scientific intelligence and quantitative production, directed mainly toward economic expansion, material repletion, and military superiority, has taken the place of a polytechnics, based primarily, as in agriculture, on the needs, aptitudes, interests in living organisms: above all on man himself.
Both the tool and the tool user, with a wide range of aptitudes, have almost disappeared in many areas. To get a simple job or repair done on a rake, William Morris once presciently predicted, with only a pardonable exaggeration, one would eventually need to transport a whole crew with their mechanical equipment. That day is already here. What cannot be done by a power machine or replaced by the factory must be scrapped, for nothing can be repaired by hand. The very ability to use simple tools with patience and skill is fast disappearing.
It was not technological insight and adroitness but cupidity, power-hunger, overweening pride, and indifference to the future that kept Western peoples from maintaining their own craft traditions and their tool-using habits. If there had been any appreciation of the immense technological treasure that was being wrecked, or of the powers of the human personality what were thus being sapped, the growing commitment to a monotechnics, based on the displacement of man, might have been publicly challenged and slowed down, or, when necessary, arrested.
There was no reason whatever to make a wholesale choice between handicraft and machine production: between a single contemporary part of the technological pool and all the other past accumulations. But there was a genuine reason to maintain as many diverse units in this pool as possible, in order to increase the range of both human choices and technological inventiveness.
The nearest our machine-oriented culture came to preserving some of its immense wealth of technical traditions was to install a limited number of sample specimens in museums of art and natural history, and to collect a trickle of information - rarely adequate - about processes and methods from travelers, and later, from trained archaeologists and anthropologists. So one-sided has the effort been, however, that the article on crafts in the current International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (1968) treats the subject as if it could be confined to the working traditions of primitive peoples! One could hardly guess from that article that the crafts are a basic heritage of the entire human race, not least in the higher cultures, and that many unexplored potentialities will be destroyed if they are allowed to lapse. There is no new combination of mechanics or electronics that cannot be readily absorbed in this great technological pool. The only thing that cannot be absorbed is a system that would destroy the pool, and all its immensely historic variety, in favor of a humanly underdimensioned monotechnics.
For those who responded to the mechanical world picture, the extension of the machine to every possible human activity was far more than a practical device to lift the burden of labor or increase wealth. As the otherworldly concerns of religion faded, these new activities were what gave fresh meaning to life, no matter how unfortunate the actual results on any cold rational appraisal might seem to be. Here again one sees, as long before in the Pyramid Age, how the process of mechanization was furthered by an ideology that gave absolute precedence and cosmic authority to the machine itself.
When an ideology conveys such universal meanings and commands such obedience, it has become, in fact, a religion, and its imperatives have the dynamic force of a myth. Those who would question its principles or defy its orders do so at their peril, as groups of rebellious workers continued to discover for the next three or four centuries. From the nineteenth century on, this refurbished religion united thinkers of the most divers temperaments, backgrounds, and superficial beliefs: minds as different as Marx and Ricardo, Carlyle and Mill, Comte and Spencer, subscribed to its doctrines; and from the beginning of the nineteenth century on, the working classes, finding themselves unable to resist these new forces, countered the capitalist and militarist expressions of this myth with myths of their own - those of socialism, anarchism, or communism -under which the machine would be exploited, not for a ruling elite, but for the benefit of the proletarian masses. Against this machine-conditioned utopia only a handful of heretics, mostly poets and artists, dared to hold out.
What hastened the pace of mechanization was the fact that it not only represented but actualized the new world picture: engaged on a conscious mission - that of spreading the empire of the machine - the demands of mechanical progress had the effect of a divine ordinance, sacrilegious to technics was helpless: it had no corresponding ideology to draw on: when forced to face this fact, William Morris, the archetypal craftsman, turned to Marxist communism.
The results of this concentration are now painfully visible: every error, every defect, is now repeated - often instantaneously - on a worldwide scale. The more universal this technology becomes, the fewer the alternatives that will be available, and the less possibility to restore autonomy to any of the components of the system.
Though a considerable part of this transformation can be read in purely technical terms, one must not overlook the shift in human motives through the increasing translation of both political and economic power into purely abstract quantitative terms: mainly, terms of money. Physical power, applied to coerce other human beings, reaches natural limits as an early stage: if one applies too much, the victim dies. So, too, with the command of purely material goods or sensual pleasures. If one eats too much, one suffers from indigestion or is overtaxed by corpulence: if one seeks sensual pleasure too constantly, the capacity for enjoyment decreases and eventually becomes exhausted.
But when human functions are converted into abstract, uniform units of energy or money, there are no limits on the amount of power that can be seized, converted, and stored. The peculiarity of money is that it knows no biological limits or ecological restrictions. When the Augsburg financier, Jacob Fugger the Elder, was asked when he would feel no need for more, he replied, as all great magnates tacitly or openly do, that he never expected such a day to come.
Thus the transformation of traditional polytechnics into a uniform, all embracing monotechnics marked likewise the translation of a limited goods economy, based on a diversity of natural functions and vital human needs, to a power economy, symbolized by and concentrated on money. The transformation had taken thousands of years: and even today there are billions of people who remain outside the system and govern their activities by a different code. Coined money, a great step toward quantitative abstraction, was a relatively late invention (seventh century B.C.) and standard interchangeable monetary units came far later: while paper money and credit accounting on the scale now practiced was inconceivable before rapid transportation and communication became possible.
The historic process may be condensed in a brief formula: manual work into 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.
What took place was a far more commanding and complete transformation: the nucleation of the power complex, comparable to that which produced the colossal constructive transformations of the Pyramid Age in both Egypt and Mesopotamia. What I have hitherto designated with intentional looseness as the myth of the machine I now propose to define more closely as the Power Complex: a new constellation of forces, interests, and motives, which eventually resurrected the ancient megamachine, and give it a more perfect technological structure, capable of planetary and even interplanetary extension.
In English, by a happy alliterative accident, the main components of the new power complex all start with the same initial letter: beginning with Power itself so that one may call it - all the more accurately because of contemporary American overtones - the Pentagon of Power. The basic ingredient was power itself, beginning with the Pyramid Age with such an assemblage of manpower as no earlier group had been capable of bringing into existence. Over the ages, this has been augmented by horsepower, waterpower, windpower, woodpower, coalpower, electricpower, oilpower and climatically, only yesterday, by nuclear power, itself the ultimate form of power from chemical reactions that had made the gasoline motor and the rocket possible.
Organized political power backed by coercive weapons is the source of both property and productivity: first of all in the cultivation of the land, using sunpower, and then at later stages in every other mode of production. Mechanical productivity, linked to widening markets, spells profit: and without the dynamic stimulus of profit - that is, money power - the system could not so rapidly expand. This perhaps explains why cruder forms of the megamachine, which favored the military caste rather than the merchant and industrial producer, and relied on tribute and pillage, remained static, and in the end unproductive and unprofitable to the point of repeated bankruptcy. Finally, no less an integral part of the power system is publicity (prestige, panache
), through which the merely human directors of the power complex - the military, bureaucratic, industrial, and scientific elite - are inflated to more than human dimensions in order better to maintain authority.
These separate components of the power system derive from the far richer ecological complex - 'ecosystem' in scientific parlance - in which all organisms, including man, live and move and have their being. Within that ecosystem, which includes human culture, all of these components of the power complex originally had their place and performed their indispensable functions. What the power complex did was to wrench these separate components from their organic matrix and enclose them in an isolated subsystem centered not on the support and intensification of life but on the expansion of power and personal aggrandizement.
So closely are the components of the power system related that they perform virtually interchangeable functions: not only in the sense that every operation is reducible to pecuniary terms, but that money itself in turn can be translated equally into power or property or publicity or public (television) personalities. This interchangeability of the power components was already plain to Heraclitus at the critical moment that the new money economy was in formation. "All things may be reduced to fire," he observed, "and fire to all things, just as goods may be turned into gold and gold into goods."
Commitment to the power complex and relentless pursuit of pecuniary gains, in both direct and indirect forms, define the power system and prescribe its only acceptable goal. That goal, fitly enough, belongs to the same memorable series of alliterations - progress. In terms of the power system, progress means simply more power, more profit, more productivity, more paper property, more publicity - all convertible into quantitative units. Even publicity can be expressed in column-yards of newspaper clippings and man-hours of television appearance. Each new achievement of the power system, whether in scientific research, in education or medicine, in antibiotics, or in space exploration, will be expressed through the same media for institutional magnification and ego-inflation. The school, the church, the factory, the art museum - each currently plays the same power theme, marching to the same beat, saluting the same flags, joining the interminable columns already assembled on the side streets to become the new leaders of the parade that the kings, the despots, the conquistadors, and the financiers of the Renascence first marshalled together.
The power system has often been mistakenly identified with feudalism, with absolute monarchy, with princely despotism, with capitalism, with fascism, with communism, even with the Welfare State. But this multiple identification points to a more important characteristic: the fact that the power complex increasingly underlies all these institutional structures: and as it knits more closely together, seizing more power and governing wider areas, it tends to suppress original cultural differences that once, under feebler political institutions, were visible.
From unrestricted power through expanding pecuniary profit to insatiable pleasure, the most striking thing about this power complex is its studious indifference to other human needs, norms, and goals: it operates best in what it, historically speaking, an ecological, cultural, and personal lunar desert, swept only by solar winds.
As respects its isolation and its indifference to the basic requirements of all organic activity, the pecuniary power complex discloses a startling resemblance to a newly discovered center in the brain - that which is called the pleasure center. So far as is known, this pleasure center performs no useful functions in the organism, unless it should prove that in some still obscure way it plays a part in more functional pleasure reactions. But in laboratory monkeys this localized center can be penetrated by electrodes which permits a micro-current to stimulate the nervous tissue in such a fashion that the flow of current - and hence the intensity of pleasure - can be regulated by the animal himself.
Apparently the stimulation of this pleasure center is so rewarding that the animal will continue to press the current regulator for an indefinite length of time, regardless of every other impulse of physiological need, even that for food, and even to the point of starvation. The intensity of this abstract stimulus produces something like a total neurotic insensibility to life needs. The power complex seems to operate on the same principle. The magical electronic stimulus is money.
What increases the resemblance between this pecuniary motivation and that of the cerebral pleasure center is that both centers, unlike virtually all organic reactions, recognize no quantitative limits. What has always been true of money, among those susceptible to its influence, applies equally to the other components of the power complex: the abstraction replaces the concrete reality, and therefore those who seek to increase it never know when they have had enough. Each of these drives, for power, for goods, for fame, for pleasure, may - it goes without saying - have as useful a part to play in the normal economy of a community as in the human body itself. It is by their detachment, their isolation, their quantitative over-concentration, and their mutual re-enforcement that they become perverse and life corroding.
But one unfortunate feature of the pecuniary power complex has still to be noted; for it sets off recent manifestations from the earlier myth of the machine, and it makes them even more obstructive to further development. Whereas in the past the power-pleasure nucleus was under the exclusive control of the dominant minority, and so could seduce only this extremely limited group, with the growth of megatechnics all its major features have been distributed, under the canons of mass society (democratic participation) to a far larger population.
To discuss the proliferation of inventions during the last two centuries, the mass production of commodities, and the speed of all the technological factors that are polluting and destroying the living environment, without reference to this immense pecuniary pressure constantly exerted in every technological area, is to ignore the most essential clue to the seeming automatic and uncontrollable dynamism of the whole system. In order to 'turn on' this insensate pleasure center 'technological man' now threatens to 'turn off' his life. Money has proved the most dangerous of modern man's hallucinogens.
Every earlier system of production, whether in agriculture or in handicraft, developed in response to human needs and was dependent upon the energy derived mainly from plant growth, supplemented by animal, wind, and water power. This productivity was restricted, not merely by available natural resources and human capacity, but by the variety of non-utilitarian demands that accompanied it. Aesthetic design and qualitative excellence took precedence over mere quantitative output, and kept quantification within tolerable human limits.
In the mechanized, high energy system developed during the last two centuries, these conditions have been radically altered; and one of the results from commanding a plethora of energy is to place the stress on precisely those parts of our technology that demand the largest quantities of it; namely, those that make the fullest use of power-machines. This new industrial complex is based upon a group of postulates so self-evident to those who have produced the system that they are rarely criticized or challenged - indeed almost never examined - for they are completely identified with the new 'way of life'. Let me list these postulates once more, though I have already touched on them in examining the mechanical world picture.
First: man has only one all-important mission in life: to conquer nature. By conquering nature the technocrat means, in abstract terms, commanding time and space; and in more concrete terms, speeding up every natural process, hastening growth, quickening the pace of transportation, and breaking down communication distances by either mechanical or electronic means. To conquer nature is in effect to remove all natural barriers and human norms and to substitute artificial, fabricated equivalents for human processes: to replace the immense variety of resources offered by nature by more uniform, constantly available products spewed forth by the machine.
From these general postulates a series of subsidiary ones are derived: 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, to hasten the pace of change, to smooth out seasonal rhythms and reduce regional contrasts - in fine, to promote mechanical novelty and destroy organic continuity. Cultural accumulation and stability thus become stigmatized as signs of human backwardness and insufficiency. By the same token, any institution or way of life, any system of education or production that imposes limits, retards change, or converts the imperious will to conquer nature into a relation of mutual aid and rational accommodation, threatens to undermine the power-pentagon and the scheme of life derived from it.
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. This problem has many aspects: not merely how to distribute the potential abundance of goods justly, so that the whole community will benefit, but how to allocate the investment in machine-centered organizations without negating or destroying those many human activities and functions that are injured rather than helped by automation. The first of these problems has been far more successfully dealt with in many primitive communities than under any industrial regime.
Slaves and servants, treated as if they were such mechanical parts, may actually have delayed the coming of automation, for even now, it has been found, human organisms are still the best available all-round servo-mechanisms, cheaper to produce, easier to keep in order, more responsive to signals, than the most finicking mechanical robot.
What was lacking until the seventeenth century, then, was not automatons but a fully developed system
of automation, and this awaited two things: the construction of the new mechanical world picture and an increase of demand sufficient to justify the installation of the expensive prime movers and batteries of elaborate machines, kept in constant use.
Here we come to the great paradox of both early mechanization and its ultimate expression of automation: so far from being responses to a mass demand, the enterpriser had in fact to create it; and in order to justify the heavy capital investment necessary to create automatic machines and automatic factories that assembled these machines in larger working units, it was necessary to invade distant markets, to standardize tastes and buying habits, to destroy alternative choices, and to wipe out competition from smaller industrial competitors, more dependent upon intimate face-to-face relations and more flexible in meeting consumer demand.
Sigfried Giedion's classic analysis of the processes of rationalization and automation, in 'Mechanization Takes Command,' demonstrates that the result of automation is not necessarily a better product; it merely enables the same product to be sold at a larger profit in a mass market. The growth of automated bread-making has driven thousands of local bakers out of existence; but the result is neither a cheaper nor a superior loaf. What automation has done is to funnel its local energy-economies into long-distance transportation, advertising, higher salaries and profits, and further investments in plant expansion to the same ends. The desired reward is not just abundance but absolute control.
But it is not to point out the frailties in operation that I have traced the tendency of mechanization and automation to form a self-enclosed system: one must expect residual errors or malfunctions in any product that comes from the hand of man; and where the object is an appropriate one the gains from automation may far outweigh the occasional disabilities one encounters. The point is that the most massive defects of automation are those that arise, not from its failures, but from its indisputable triumphs, above all, in those departments where the most optimistic hopes and boasts have been completely justified.
Let me emphasize: work in all its aspects has played a decisive, formative part in the enlargement of man's mind and the enrichment of his culture, not because man is identifiable solely as a tool-making animal, but because work is one of the many activities that have stimulated his intelligence and enlarged his bodily capacities. But if, for argument's sake, one accepts the still lingering anthropological identification of man's basic nature with tool-using and tool-making, what then should one say about the cumulative results of mechanization and automation, if they affect man's adaptive intelligence?
What merit is there in an over-developed technology which isolates the whole man from the work-process, reducing him to a cunning hand, a load-bearing back, or a magnifying eye, and then finally excluding him altogether from the process unless he is one of the experts who designs and assembles or programs the automatic machine? What meaning has a man's life as a worker if he ends up as a cheap servo-mechanism, trained solely to report defects or correct failures in a mechanism otherwise superior to him? If the first step in mechanization five thousand years ago was to reduce the worker to a docile and obedient drudge, the final stage automation promises today is to create a self-sufficient mechanical electronic complex that has no need even for such servile nonentities.
If work has been an integral part of human culture, and thus one of the active determinants of man's own nature for at least half a million years - and had perhaps its dim beginnings a million and a half years earlier, in the little hominoid ape that many anthropologists have too hastily identified as 'man' - what will remain of man's life if these formative activities are wiped out by universal cybernetics and automation?
Here we face the great paradox of automation, put once and for all in Goethe's fable of the Sorcerer's apprentice. Our civilization has cleverly found a magic formula for setting both industrial and academic brooms and pails of water to work by themselves, in ever-increasing quantities at an ever-increasing speed. But we have lost the Master Magician's spell for altering the tempo of this process, or halting it when it ceases to serve human functions and purposes, though this formula (foresight and feedback) is written plainly on every organic process.
As a result we are already, like the apprentice, beginning to drown in the flood. The moral should be plain: unless one has the power to stop an automatic process - and if necessary reverse it - one had better not start it. To spare ourselves humiliation over our failure to control automation, many of us now pretend that the process conforms exactly to our purposes and alone meets all our needs - or, to speak more accurately, we cast away those qualifying human traits that would impede the process. And as our knowledge of isolatable segments and fragments becomes infinitely refined and microscopic, our ability to interrelate the parts and to bring them to a focus in rational activities continues to disappear.
The exponents of mass production of knowledge have created a hundred journals devoted only to abstracts of papers; and now a further abstract of all these abstracts has been proposed. At the terminal stage of this particular solution, all that will be left of the original scientific or scholarly paper will be a little vague noise, at most a title and a date, to indicate that someone has done something somewhere - no one knows what and Heaven knows why.
Though this program for the automatic mass production of knowledge originated in science, and shows characteristic seventeenth-century limitations, it has been imitated in the humanities, particularly in the American universities, as a sort of status symbol, to underwrite budget requests in competition with the physical and social sciences, and to provide a quantitative measure for professional promotions. Whatever the original breach between the sciences and the humanities, in methods they have now - pace
Charles Snow! - become one. Though they run different assembly lines, they belong to the same factory. The mark of their common deficiency is that neither has given any serious consideration to the results of their uncontrolled automation.
Even a generation ago there was still a large margin for free activity and independent thinking within higher education. But today most of our larger academic institutions are as thoroughly automated as a steel-rolling mill or a telephone system: the mass production of scholarly papers, discoveries, inventions, patents, students, Ph.D.'s, professors, and publicity - not least, publicity! - goes on at a comparable rate; and only those who identify themselves with the goals of the power system, however humanly absurd, are in line for promotion, for big research grants, for the political power and financial rewards allotted to those who 'go with' the system. The voluminous flow of corporate capital into the Educational Establishment, with a corresponding rise in money incentives for research, has proved in the United States the final step in making the University an integral part of the new power system.
Meanwhile, a vast amount of valuable knowledge becomes regulated, along with an even greater amount of triviality and trash, to a mountainous rubbish heap. For lack of a method with built-in qualitative standards, fostering constant evaluation and selectivity, and with assimilative processes that, as in the digestive system, would control both appetite and feeding, the superficial order of the individual packet is offset by the nature of the end product: for to know more and more about less and less is in the end simply to know less and less.
Do not, I beg misinterpret this factual description of the automation of knowledge as mischievous satire on my part ; still less must it be taken as an attack on science, scholarship, or the many exquisite feats of electronic and cybernetic technology. No one but an idiot would belittle the immense practical benefits and the exhilarating prospects for the human spirit that the sciences, abetted by technics, have opened up. All I am saying here is that the 'automation of automation' is now a demonstrable irrationality in every department where it has taken hold: in the sciences and humanities as much as in industry and warfare. And I suggest that this is an inherent defect of any completely automated system, not an accidental one.
This irrationality was humorously summarized, with feigned exactitude, by Derek Price; for he 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.
Both the ancient and the contemporary control systems are based, essentially, on one-way communication, centrally organized. In face-to-face communication even the most ignorant person can answer back, and he has various means at his command besides the word - the expression of his face, the stance of his body, even threat of bodily assault. As the channels of instantaneous communication became more elaborate, the response must be officially staged, and this means, in ordinary circumstances, externally controlled.
The more complex the apparatus of transmission, the more effectively does it filter out every message that challenges or attacks the Pentagon of Power.
Once automatic control is installed one cannot refuse to accept its instructions, or insert new ones, for theoretically the machine cannot allow anyone to deviate from its own perfect standards. And this bring us at once to the most radical defect in every automated system: for its smooth operation this under-dimensioned system requires equally under-dimensioned men, whose values are those needed for the operation and the continued expansion of the system itself. The minds that are so conditioned are incapable of imagining any alternatives. Having opted for automation, they are committed to flouting any subjective reaction and to wiping out human autonomy - or indeed any organic process that does not accept the system's peculiar limitations.
Here, at the core of automation, lies its principle weakness once the system becomes universal. Its exponents, even if they are able to recognize its deficiencies, see no way of overcoming them except by a further extension of automation and cybernation.
Here finally we face another difficulty derived from automation itself. As the mechanical facilities of our educational institutions expand, with their heavy investment in nuclear reactors, their computers, their TV sets and tape recorders and learning machines, their machine-marked 'yes-or-no' examination papers, the human contents necessarily shrink in significance. What automation has done in every department where it has taken command is to make difficult - in many cases impossible - the give-and-take that has existed hitherto between human beings and their environment; for the constant dialogue that is so necessary for self-knowledge, for social cooperation, and for moral evaluation and rectification, has no place in an automated regime.
While our technicians have been designing machines and automated systems to take on more of the attributes of living organisms, modern man himself, to fit into this scheme, finds he must accept the limitations of the machine and not ask for those qualitative and subjective attributes which the Mechanical World Picture originally failed to acknowledge, and which the machine-process, inevitably, does not possess.
What has proved quite as serious is that as the system of automation becomes more highly articulated, and thereby more self-sufficient more self-sufficient and self-enclosed, it is less possible for anyone to intervene in the process, to alter its pace, to change its direction, to limit its further extension, or to reorient its goal. The parts may be flexible and responsive, as individual computers that play chess have demonstrated: but the larger automated system becomes increasingly rigid. Automation has thus a qualitative defect that springs directly from its quantitative accomplishments: briefly it increases probability and decreases possibility. Though the individual component of the automatic system may be programmed like a punch card on a motor-car assembly line, to deal with variety, the system itself is fixed and inflexible: so much so that it is little more than a neat mechanical model of a compulsion neurosis, and perhaps even springs from the same ultimate source - anxiety and insecurity.
The scientist who emphasized the function of control, by giving computerized direction the name of cybernetics was Dr. Norbert Wiener; and probably no one else contributed more to the early development of this series of inventions. Wiener helped endow the computer with some of the fresh information and to correct its own errors or failures (feedback). Yet no one better realized the problems that the independence of the computer from human intervention would raise; and no one was more concerned than he over the peculiar fascination automated systems would have for autocratic minds, eager to confine human reactions to those that conform to the limited data they are capable of programming. Technicians who themselves lack other purposes and values, memories and feelings, see no human deficiency in their seemingly superhuman machine, or the kind of demands that they themselves make on it.
Norbert Wiener, in contrast, respected man's autonomy, his unpredictability, and his moral responsibility: the very qualities that those who now seek to extend the realm of automation in every direction - those "priests of power," as Wiener called them - have deliberately sought to eliminate. On this matter Wiener demands to be quoted at length.
"If we use, to achieve our purposes, a mechanical agency with whose operation we cannot efficiently interfere once we have started it, because the action is so fast and irrevocable that we have not the data to intervene before the action is complete, then we had better be quite sure that the purpose put into the machine is the purpose which we really desire and not merely a colorful imitation of it.
"The individual scientist must work as a part of a process whose time scale is so long that he himself can only contemplate a very limited section of it. Here, too, communication between the two parts of a double machine is difficult and limited. Even when the individual believes that science contributes to the human ends which he has at heart, his belief needs a continual scanning and re-evaluation which is only partly possible. For the individual scientist, even the partial appraisal of this liaison between the man and the process requires an imaginative forward glance at history which is difficult, exacting and only limitly achievable. And if we adhere simply to the creed of the scientist, that an incomplete knowledge of the world and of ourselves is better than no knowledge, we can still by no means always justify the naive assumption that the faster we rush ahead to employ the new powers for action which are opened up to us, the better it will be. We must always exert the full strength of our imagination to examine where the full use of our new modalities may lead us."
Obviously computers cannot invent new symbols or conceive new ideas not already outlined in the very setting up of the programs. Within its strict limits, a computer can perform logical operations intelligently, and even, given a program that includes random factors, can simulate 'creation,' but under no circumstances can it dream of a different mode of organization than its own. Faced with the problem of translation from one language to another - a function once hopefully assigned to the computer - its choices become absurd and its meanings scrambled, as in the case of brain damage.
Man, on the contrary, is constitutionally an open system, reacting to another open system, that of nature. Only an infinitesimal part of either system can be interpreted by man, or come under his control, and only an even minuter portion accordingly falls within the province of the computer. At any moment new and unexpected factors of subjective origin may upset or falsify the computer's most confident predictions - which latter has happened more than once in election forecasts. Such order as man has achieved through his laws and customs, his ideologies and moral codes, has proved precious - however infirm - precisely because it helps to keep both organic systems open without permitting man's capability for integration to be totally destroyed by exorbitant quantifications or irrelevant novelties.
By now it should be plain that many of the exorbitant hopes for a computer-dominated society are subjective emanations from the 'pecuniary-pleasure' center.
The most disastrous result of automation, then is that its final product is Automated or Organization Man: he who takes all his orders from the system, and who, as scientist, engineer, expert, administrator, or, finally, as consumer and subject, cannot conceive of any departure from the system, even in the interest of efficiency, still less for the sake of creating a more intelligent, vivid, purposeful, humanly rewarding mode of life.
For mark this: the automaton was not born alone. the automaton has been accompanied, we can see now, by a twin, a dark shadow-self: defiant, not docile: disorderly, not organized or controlled: above all, aggressively destructive, even homicidal, reasserting the dammed-up forces of life in crazy or criminal acts. In the emerging figure of man, the sub-ego or id threatens to function as the superego in a reversed hierarchy that lowers the authority of the brain and puts the reflexes and blind instincts in command. The aim of this subversive superego is to destroy those higher attributes of man whose gifts of love, mutuality, rationality, imagination, and constructive aptitude have enlarged all the possibilities of life. It is in the light of these impending negations and destructions that the whole concept of subjugating nature and replacing man's own functions with collectively fabricated, automatically operated, completely depersonalized equivalents must at last be reappraised.
Behind the scientific discoveries and technical inventions that rapidly accumulated after the sixteenth century one must recognize the constant influence of the cosmic and mechanical world picture which accompanied them. Although the technical innovations themselves were new, the animus behind them had existed in a shadowy form ever since the Pyramid Age, awaiting only the reincarnation of the Sun God, so to say, in order to take effect.
"the essential feeling of all the earliest work," noted Flinders Petrie of the Egyptians, "is rivalry with nature"; and this feeling of rivalry, the desire to conquer nature and control all her manifestations, in an almost literal sense to get on top of her, has been one of the distinguishing marks of modern man.
By the eighteenth century, a subtle transposition of values had begun to take place, as technics itself began to occupy a larger place. If the goal of technics was to improve the condition of man, the goal of man was to become ever more narrowly confined to the improvement of technology. Mechanical progress and human progress came to be regarded as one; and both were theoretically limitless.
To understand how the idea of technical progress achieved such widespread acceptance as a quasi-religious faith during the nineteenth century, one must examine its history, which is a curiously brief one. There have been periods in every high culture when evidence of technical improvements were plainly visible: as in the replacement of bronze tools and weapons with iron ones, or in the conversion of the rude wooden temples of seventh-century Greece to the masterly marble forms of the fifth century - themselves made possible by redoubtable engineering ability in cutting, transporting, and erecting huge blocks of stone. But though these improvements were striking enough to incite imitation, they did not breed any sense of their inevitability, nor did they presage a long series of improvements in other fields. Strangely, those who sought human perfection were still inclined to look for it in an earlier age: they sought to recover a simplicity that had been lost, a humanity that only later had been corrupted.
The earliest idea of progress was perhaps latent in the Christian notion of self-perfection for divine ends; and its ideal consummation, if not reversion to the Golden Age, was that of an equally static future in Heaven - a future not to be enjoyed by the whole community, since it also included for the wicked the possibility of an equally long but painful residence in Hell. The notion of progress ; likewise had its roots, as Tuveson has demonstrated, in the latter-day belief in a coming millennium, not in a passage to a remote Heaven but to a more tangible Heaven that was about to arrive in earth.
This idea was expressed as early as 1699 by John Edwards, an orthodox divine. The interesting thing about his statement is that in contrast to earlier Anabaptists, who, too, had millennial social visions, and even experimented beatnik-fashion with their realization, he felt that improvements in natural and "mechanik" philosophy were being matched by improvements in Divine Knowledge, so that physical nature and human nature would be renewed simultaneously. Result: "the virtuosi will improve natural philosophy, the soil will regain its original fertility, life will be more comfortable. The inheritors of the utopian earth will be not the risen saints but simply posterity." It would be hard to find a single sentence anywhere that encompassed so many of the focal ideas of progress: science, specialized skill, comforts, moral elevation, utopia, the future. In brief, Heaven would at last come down to earth, and "mechanic philosophy" would bring this about.
This picture of a steady, persistent, almost inevitable accumulation of improvements reflected not merely the bland optimism of 'Enlightenment' intellectuals, but also their self-flattering notion of their own place in human history; for the leaders of this movement, from Voltaire on - but here one must except Turgot! - believed that past cultures, particularly that of the Middle Ages, had been the victims of blind instinct, besotted ignorance, priestly repressions, and ruthless tyrants. Once the monstrous ideas and practices of the past were extirpated - they were particularly hostile to Gothic architecture! - all men would be moved and governed by reason alone, in conformity with the innate goodness of human nature.
What was a dire, if well-founded, foreboding to Marshal de Catinat became, for the progressive minds of the eighteenth century, a happy promise. They measured progress by the number of antiquated institutions that could be cast off. If progress be considered a linear movement through time, it may be taken in two ways: getting closer to the desired goal, or getting further away from the starting point. Those who favored progress simply-minded believed that evils were the property of the past and that only by moving away from the past as rapidly as possible could a better future be assured.
There was just enough traces of truth in this doctrine to make its radical fallacies more dangerous. All civilizations had carried with them for some five thousand years, I emphasize again, the traumatic institutions that had accompanied the rise of earlier power systems: human sacrifice, war, slavery, forced labor, arbitrary inequalities in wealth and privilege. But along with these evils had come also a considerable accumulation of goods, whose conversion and transmission were essential to man's own humanization and further improvement. The exponents of progress were too committed to their doctrine to anticipate that the authoritarian institutions they sought to destroy forever might come back more oppressively than ever, fortified through the very science and technics that they valued as a means of emancipation from the past.
Parallel reversals had taken place, as even an eighteenth-century historian could know, not once in human history but many times before, with a similar break in tradition, a loss in knowledge, a dissipation of real wealth, to say nothing of outbreaks of violence and a general inordinate increase in human misery. These patent historic facts made nonsense of Gibbon's description of the steady increase in wealth and happiness. And if the doctrine of progress provided a key to a new future, there was certainly nothing in Gibbon's summary statement - though much in his historic description - to prepare his own countrymen for the reversal of technological 'Progress,' followed by a similar retreat and collapse throughout the British Empire. In his own imagination, indeed, he had already seen some future Gibbon surveying the ruins of London, as he had viewed those of Rome.
What Gibbons was in fact celebrating was not the realities of human progress but the smug feeling of superiority and security enjoyed by the British upper class, who thought that in time humane intelligence would assume control of every institution and even ensure that the comforts and luxuries of the dominant minority would be passed on in appropriately diluted and vulgarized form, to the rest of the population: the essential doctrine of Whig 'Liberalism.' On this assumption Gibbon could even say, only a few years before the American and French Revolutions - actually the beginning of two centuries of national uprisings, class struggles, imperialist conquests, and savage repressions - that there was no longer any need for revolutions!
The equation of mechanical with moral progress, once implanted in the Western mind, became a generally accepted doctrine, denied only in the Catholic countries of Western Europe, or in backward continents that the machine had not yet penetrated. Each successful new invention only supported further this unqualified faith in a corresponding human improvement. Naturally, the belief in the inevitability of progress tended for a while to bring further evidence of it into existence, just as an unqualified belief in a witch-doctor's powers often ensures the working of his magic curses or cures. Since the idea of progress had no way of accounting for new evils or regressions, it tended to sweep away the volumus evidence, both historic and contemporary, for their existence. To count only the benefits and to take no notice of the losses proved the standard method of retaining the millennial assumptions on which the doctrine of progress had originally been built. But even in material comforts progress had been so uneven that, as Winston Churchill once wryly remarked, English mansions in the twentieth century still lacked central heating, which had been enjoyed by their Roman prototypes almost two thousand years before.
To believe that a later point in time necessarily carries a larger accumulation of values, or that the latest invention necessarily brings a human improvement, is to forget the patent evidence of history: the recurrent lapses into barbarism, most conspicuous, and most dreadful, as Giambattista Vico long ago pointed out, in the behavior of civilized
man. Was the Inquisition, with its ingenious, mechanical innovations in nicely graded torture, a sign of progress? Technically, yes: humanly, No. From the standpoint of human survival, to say nothing of further development, a flint arrowhead is preferable to a hydrogen bomb. Doubtless it hurts the pride of modern man to realize that earlier cultures, with simpler technical facilities, may have been superior to his own in terms of human values, and that genuine progress involves continuity and conservation, above all, conscious anticipation and rational selection - the antithesis of our present kaleidoscopic multiplication of random novelties.
In vulgar usage, Progress has come to mean limitless movement in space and time, accompanied, necessarily, by an equally limitless command of energy: culminating in limitless destruction. Even my old master, Patrick Geddes, still an optimistic Victorian at heart though tempered by the realistic pessimism of Carlyle and Ruskin, used to say equally about ideas or projects: "We must be getting on," and he held it a sufficient condemnation of Mahatma Gandhi's method of seeking Mother India's independence via hand-spinning that his ideas came from three main sources, Thoreau, Ruskin, and Tolstoy, all three already two generations behind. Despite the wide array of machines produced during the last two centuries, it is mainly by vehicles 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.
However arbitrary and ignorant the rejection of the past, the idea of progress was at first a liberating one: a casting off of the rusty chains that had crippled the human spirit. In the immediate setting of Western Europe this led to unsparing criticism of many serious evils, and despite the ruling-class hostility to 'reformers' and 'meddlers' it brought about effective remedies. Under this new impetus free public education was introduced everywhere, the insane were unmanacled, noisome prisons were cleansed and exposed to light: in some countries the populace were grudgingly granted a share in national law-making: the deaf and dumb were helped to express themselves, and even those who like Helen Keller were blind and deaf too, were with superhuman patience led to talk. For a while even torture was eliminated - at least officially - from criminal interrogation, though the most injurious ancient institutions, notably slavery and war, still kept their grip.
One need not belittle the fact that such happy changes were fostered and hastened by the idea of Progress. But though these improvements were often notable, it is perhaps even more notable that not a single one owed anything directly to mechanical invention.
This is not to deny that from the eighteenth century on there was an interaction between the idea of progress, systematic mechanical invention, scientific discovery, and political legislation: success in one department confirmed and supported similarly efforts in other departments. "Where can the perfectibility of man stop, armed with geometry and the mechanical arts and chemistry?" demanded Louis Sebastien Mercier in his eighteenth-century utopia 'The Year 2440.' Where indeed? The very choice of that distant year proclaimed that the future had become coeval with the past and even threatened altogether to supplant it.
Mercier's was one of the first of the futurist utopias that became common in the nineteenth century; and not a few of his anticipations have come to pass before his climactic date. The notion that the machine by reason of its rationality of design and its austere perfection of performance was now a moral force, indeed the
moral force, one that set new standards of achievement for man, made it easier to equate the new technology, even in its more sordid manifestations, with human improvement. Sinfulness no longer consisted in falling short of human potentialities: it now meant to fall short of the maximum utilization of the machine.
In classic philosophies and religions, the notion of perfection had been directed almost exclusively to the cultivation of self or the salvation of the soul. Only as a by-product were human institutions considered the object of such effort. Still less was the technical milieu involved, until the Benedictine discipline turned work itself into a form of piety. This divorce and isolation of the self from the economic system and the material culture that helped to form it and give it substance was as crucial an error as any made in the delineation of the mechanical world picture. But it had one merit: it demanded conscious participation and disciplined effort. The Doctrine of Progress, on the other hand, conceived improvement 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.
Little did Emerson suspect that superior technical equipment might beget not a world of union of republics but a hostile alignment of destructive totalitarian military machines. Today there are still 'avant-garde' minds cast in this old-fashioned 'progressive' mould, who continue to believe that instant communication by television will produce instant understanding, or who are even so bound to their dogmatic faith in technological progress as to believe that the direction of congested and impeded auto traffic by radio from a helicopter is an evidence of superb technological efficiency - instead of what it really is, a revelation of a glaring bankruptcy alike in contemporary engineering, transportation planning, social control, and urban design.
As an Ersatz
religion, the doctrine of an inevitable mechanical-cum-human progress gave the new world picture something that it lacked: an implicit goal; namely, the total demolition of the past, and the creation, mainly by 'mechanical' means, of a better future. Change itself became, in this complex of ideas, not merely a fact of nature - as it is - but an urgent human value; and to resist change or to retard it in any way was to 'go against nature'- and ultimately to endanger man by defying the Sun God and denying his commands.
At all events one fact should now be plain: change is no in itself a value, nor is it an automatic producer of values; neither is novelty a sufficient evidence of improvement. These are only the catchwords and advertising slogans of commercial interests with something to sell. As for the notion that technical innovations have been the main source of human development, this is a disreputable anthropological fable, which does not, I showed in Volume One of 'The Myth of the Machine,' stand up under a more comprehensive analysis of man's nature and culture. Once modern man understands the need for continuity and selective modification, in terms of his own capacities and purposes, instead of blind conformity to either nature or his own technology, he will have many fresh choices before him.
Yet utopian literature, from the beginning, had a hidden bond with the emerging system of collective mechanical organization; and it is only now that one can command sufficient historic data to make a plausible tracing of the route followed. If the true goal of human development was the perfection of the whole community, then a system that shaped each specialized part for the more efficient performance of this particular function would in the end perform with the efficiency of a machine.
On the surface, the concept of utopia implied just the opposite of progress: once perfection was achieved, utopian authors saw no need for further change. Even Marx deserted his dynamic Hegelian ideology once communism was supposedly achieved. Thus the ideal society would operate indefinitely, like a well-oiled machine, under the guidance of a collective dictatorship. The behavioral adaptations of the social ants and bees have demonstrated that such a mechanized collective is actually within the realm of organic possibility.
While there have been wide variations in the social and economic circumstances envisaged by different utopias since Aristotle made his first comparative survey of the ideal Greek commonwealths, there are only a few classic utopias, notably William Morris' 'News from Nowhere,' that reject the basic common assumptions: that of designing a whole society in conformity with an ideological blueprint, in which autonomy will be transferred from the individual organism, where it exists in some measure even in the lowest types, to the organized community.
Strangely, though the word Freedom is sometimes included in the descriptions of utopia - indeed, one nineteenth-century utopia was called Freeland - the pervasive character of all utopias is their totalitarian absolutism, the reduction of variety and choice, and the effort to escape from such natural conditions or historic traditions as would support variety and make choice possible. These uniformities and compulsions constitute utopia's inner tie to the megamachine.
Even before the mechanical world picture had taken hold of the Western mind in classic utopias, particularly Plato's and More's, the two most influential ones, showed these limitations. Professor Raymond Ruyer, in his exhaustive study of utopias, has confirmed my own original analysis in 1922: almost all utopias emphasize regularity, uniformity, 'dirigisme' or authoritarianism, isolation, and autarchy. Not least, they stress hostility toward nature, which leads to the suppression of the natural environment by geometric or mechanical forms, and the replacement of natural products by artificial manufactured substitutes.
These fixations seem all the stranger when one finds them in the work of such a sensitive and humane thinker as Thomas More. For in the main, the life More describes is only a robust idealization of actual practices of the medieval country town and rural manor, as independently described in Stow's early survey of London. But More superimposes on this a flatly contradictory regime, his 'ideal' one, in which he treats uniformity and regularity as if they were ends in themselves. How otherwise can one account for his singular boast, that he who knows one of the towns Utopia knows all of them? Beneath the medieval garments of More's perfect commonwealth an iron robot has already begun to move his artificial limbs, plucking the fruits of life with iron claws.
What is the meaning of these many efforts to identify the possibilities of human happiness with an authoritarian, or often indeed a grimly totalitarian society? This sterile fantasy has been floating in the mind for tens of centuries, like the dream of the mechanical robot, or of human flight. With the coalescence of the mechanical world picture, Utopia took on a new role: it served as a prefabricated 'ideal' model for the actual society that the process of mechanization was rapidly making possible. Though even now few people seem to suspect the ideal form and the ultimate destination of the industrial organization that has been taking shape in our own time, it is in fact heading toward a static finality, in which change of the system itself will be so impermissible that it will take place only through total disintegration and destruction.
In short, it turns out that Utopia is not so much the distant ideal goal as the imminent operational terminus of our present development. Viewed realistically, the literature of utopias, when further supplemented by science fiction, presents a cross-section of the 'coming' world, as conceived by the accredited ministers of progress.
Do not misread this interpretation: there is no causal connection. The actual process of mechanization was not affected in any serious way by the publication of literary and scientific utopias. Except for Bacon's 'New Atlantis',' utopias have had virtually no effect upon technics: though an occasional one, like Bellamy's 'Looking Backward,' may have carried some current innovations to a later social conclusion. ... It would be truer, indeed, to hold that the exceptional speed of technical progress has, on the contrary, validated the ideal principles of utopia and brought on social consequences that might well have disconcerted the original authors. "Utopias," the Russian philosopher Berdiaev remarked, "appear to be much more capable of realization than they did in the past. And we find ourselves faced by a much more distressing problem: How can we prevent their final realization ... how can we return to a non-utopian society, less 'perfect,' and more free."
Once again, it is not the failure of mechanization, but its achievement of an effortless perfectionism that is in question; and this makes it all the more imperative to look closely at the pictures of supposed social beatitude we find in our technical utopias. 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 various 'perfect' future societies the utopian writers have put forward are not in fact prospectuses for a new Golden Age, too remote to permit of their realization. On the contrary, they 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 megamachine: the same destination that Teilhard de Chardin pictured in cosmic terms, in a strangely euphoric mood, as the omega point.
Anyone who had read the literature of utopias during the past two centuries would have had a far better idea of the 'shape of things to come' than a newspaper reader who sedulously followed the random reports of events from day to day. When collated, the overall design that was taking form throughout society became apparent in these utopias, from a generation to a century in advance.
If one supplemented this account by wide reading in science fiction, from Poe to Jules Verne through H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon, not to mention a multitude of more recent predictions, one would have possessed an almost clairvoyant fore-knowledge of present day society. As early as 1883, for example, one utopian prophet not merely pictured the electronic motor car, gliding noiselessly over smooth concrete roads, but even added a refinement that was not introduced in the United States till the late nineteen-thirties - a dividing line in the middle of the road.
Utopian literature has had a distinction that lifted it above the compartmentalized thinking characteristic of the mechanical ideology: it sought in some degree to deal with some of the ramifying human relationships in a concretely conceived society. And what the main utopias disclosed as an image of perfection was a totalitarian community, so organized that its rulers would, with the aid of a machine, assume control over all human activities, translating a large part of its functions into a mechanical or electronic form, and holding the workers themselves under the strictest possible discipline "for their own good." With disarming naivete, Etienne Cabet, the author of one of the most influential mid-nineteenth-century utopias, describes this organization. The workers, he said, are "divided into as many groups as there are parts to be manufactured, and each of them always manufactures the same parts. There is so much order and discipline that they look like an army." Enough said.
Mechanical uniformity and human conformity are embedded in the prefabricated utopias of the nineteenth century: but it remained for the World's Fair at Chicago in 1933 to proudly emblazon this utopian theme over its portals, in so many words. "Science explores: Technology executes: Man Conforms." The mind that coined this slogan undoubtedly believed that this conclusion was so obvious, this result so benign, that they needed no explanatory justification. With exquisite irony, the title of the Fair was; 'The Century of Progress.'
Progress indeed! Man conforms.
In only slightly more sophisticated form, the same kind of fossilized utopia is still rolling off the assembly line, though the technical compulsions may be imposed by a space rocket, a computer, closed circuit television, or a nuclear reactor. Those who have followed my earlier description of the original Myth of the Machine will see that the classic utopias of the last two centuries have been stirred by the same myth as was working in the minds of ancient engineers, bureaucrats, and military commanders. unfortunately neither the utopian writers nor our 'realistic' political leaders had sufficient historic background to anticipate that this new assemblage would be accompanied by more savage wars and revolutions, by sadistic terrorisms, and psychotic human disorders. Even now, with the record before them, they studiously turn their eyes away from the scene, as one historian of technology was honest enough to remark in a personal letter, lest they be forced to confess to a radical flaw in their own philosophy.
But if utopian writers did not anticipate any of the possible malfunctions of their ideal system, or suspect that the megamachine most of them were describing was necessarily a minority-manipulated majority-manipulating device, they correctly delineated the most salient characteristics of the new technical and social complex itself. In only one respect did they remain extremely naive: they thought they had caught a glimpse of entrancing possibilities for universal human felicity, and that once utopia was achieved mankind would live happily ever afterward.
During the last half century this whole picture has changed: much more than anyone born after 1910 could realize from his personal impressions and memories. And what seemed at first like a series of unrelated and often contradictory tendencies has turned out, not to be an entirely new phenomenon, but one that has first taken place at the very inception of civilization, largely as a result of a parallel constellation of forces operating under similar ideological premises and psychic drives, and bent upon achieving similar objectives: the domination of nature and the subjugation of man.
in Volume One of 'the Myth of the Machine' I associated this implosion with the birth of a new religion, the religion of the Sky Gods. And in my treatment of the scientific and technical transition after the fifteenth century, as the reader must be aware, I have steadily kept an eye on this approaching consummation. When one puts together the scattered , seemingly unrelated components of both systems, the likeness between the two ages becomes striking: all the more because what were once 'impossible' wished, vain hopes, and empty boasts in the mouths of the ancient gods and kings have now become actualities, and herald even more wanton expansions of both irresistible power and unrestrained irrationality. Let us assemble these necessary components in order of their appearance.
At first, there was the cosmic religious preparation, which I have already described as the rebirth of the Sun God, or, to put it in more commonplace terms, the heliocentric system of Copernicus. The exponents of this religion, once called natural philosophers, later scientists, for long bore themselves with such modesty and self-effacement, and brought forth such an abundance of useful knowledge, applicable in mining, hydraulics, navigation, war - and eventually medicine, agriculture, and public health - that no one suspected that their methods might also become a prime instrument of dehumanized authority.
Along with the new universal religion of the Sun God came - with a deceptive air of independence - the centralization of political power, first in the emerging race of tyrants and despots and kings, who subverted both command over private wealth, by taxation, expropriation, and downright conquest and robbery of weaker peoples. Out of this personal sovereignty of the king by divine right, openly proclaimed as such, rose the impersonal sovereignty of the State. Under oligarchic or republican rule, this collective agency claimed all the prerogatives and powers that the king had originally claimed in person, indeed more sweepingly than any monarch had yet dared to do. As with Egypt, the commands of this super-sovereign could not be carried out without the training and disciplining anew of two ancient orders: the bureaucracy and the army. Up automation: down autonomy.
None of these institutions had, it is true, entirely disappeared during the intervening five millennia: in some respects, they had benefited from time to time by technical improvements in the media used for keeping the permanent record, in weapons and tactics, in functional hierarchic organization. Both had been kept in being, carefully nurtured by old traditions, in the Army and in the ecclesiastical organization of the Church of Rome, an etherialized megamachine which had endured for some fifteen hundred years.
The new absolute rulers, like Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia, and Louis XIV of France, commanded permanent armies installed in permanent barracks, governed by a permanent bureaucracy - all capable, even before telegraphic communication, of exerting more or less effective remote control over distant enemies and scattered populations. This modern centralized mode of organization was incomparably more powerful than that of dispersed medieval communities, with then loose feudal or municipal armies, fitfully trained and sporadically assembled, or their municipal government by amateur officials, exercising limited powers for a single year in office.
These transformations only emphasize that there is no component of the modern megamachine that did not exist, in fact or in dream, in the original model. What is distinctly modern is the effective materialization of archaic dreams that had hitherto been technologically impracticable. With the coalition of political absolutism, military regimentation, and mechanical invention came the re-introduction of an ancient institution that had long been in abeyance: forced labor and compulsory national service for war. The first took the form of slavery and wage labor, under threat of starvation and imprisonment: a system that, like slavery in the United States, flagrantly eroded the pious professions of the current libertarian ideology. But compulsory national service, introduced under the banner of democracy, went even further: it came in as an instrument of 'national survival' in the heat of fighting the wars of the French Revolution, and was continued by the audacious, self-made emperor who liquidated that revolution. Thus the chief military innovation that made the Egyptian megamachine possible was re-introduced for the first time since as a permanent auxiliary of large-scale government. Even at the height of the Roman imperium, no such total organization of large populations for work or destruction had been feasible.
The significance of national conscription (politely called 'universal service') as an essential instrument for mass control, has been passed over by modern political and historical scholars with incredible frivolity or equally incredible blindness. Though no other factor has done more to add to the destructiveness of war, and to condition large populations to the rituals of human massacre, the scholarly literature on the subject is negligible. 'Conscription' claims only two pages in the first edition of the 'Cambridge Modern History' in the volumes dealing wholly with the French Revolution and with Napoleon. The only notable exception is an article by Colonel F.N. Maude in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910); for he noted that "there is perhaps no law on the statute-books of any nation which has exercised and is destined to exercise a more far-reaching influence on the future of humanity than this little-known French act of 1798." That judgment has still to penetrate our political consciousness.
Up to this point, forced labor, as for road building and fortifications, and compulsory military service, had been general, but local and sporadic: now they became systematic, regular, universal. The national army became, in effect, an educational institution for conditioning its human units to the unthinking, obedient, automatic execution of orders. Even allowing for its occasional generation of resentment and recalcitrance, there is no doubt that this systemic regimentation of a whole population found its way back to the bureau and the factory, and in fact imposed machine-like docility on a scale never before conceivable: all the more because the appropriate ideological doctrines and emotional responses supplemented the physical drill.
The effect of this regimen has become plain. What imperious social reformers like Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte had learned from the Napoleonic era was the efficacy with which military technique can be applied to social behavior. These prophets envisaged a "revolution so final and complete that it would render all legal and political institutions absolute." That goal identifies the new megamachine, and this revolution is now in process.
Let me make clear, at this point, a difference between the State as a mere unit of political administration and the activated megamachine. This difference is brought out in the changing definition of the word 'power' in English. The 'New English Dictionary' traces the definition of power as "possession of control or command over others" back in 1297, it then in 1486 shifts to legal ability, capacity, or authority to act; but in 1727 power takes on a technological role as "any form of energy or force available for application of work." Finally, with the construction of the megamachine, all the modes of power became available for work - both constructive and destructive - on a colossal scale otherwise unattainable. The megamachine, accordingly, is not
a mere administrative organization: it is a machine in the orthodox technical sense, as a "combination of resistant bodies" so organized as to perform standardized motions and repetitive work. But note: all these forms of power, one re-enforcing the other, became essential to the new Pentagon of Power.
Unlike machines that perform partial operations for specialized purposes, the megamachine by its very nature can be used only in collective, large-scale operations, which are themselves components of a larger power system. By increasing the range and number of such operations from the archaic jobs of canal building, highway building and urban demolition, to the entire industrial process and thence into an organization of education and consumption, the megamachine exercises more effective control over large populations than any merely political unit can profess. Nietzsche once described war as the "health of the State"; but more than this, it is the body and soul of the megamachine. The extent of the megamachine's activities can be judged by the fact that, once a large war comes to an end, it takes from three to five years before the organizations and industries the megamachine absorbs can recover, even with the aid of the central authority, the ability to carry on as quasi-independent units.
All the properties of individual machines - high energy inputs, mechanization, automation, quantity output - are increased by their inclusion in the megamachine: but so likewise are the disadvantages of such machines - their rigidity, their irresponsiveness to new situations, their detachment from human purposes other than those embodied in the design of the machine. The chief of these embodied purposes is the exercise of power.
Even before 'absolute' weapons were invented, automatism and absolutism were firmly coupled together in the constitution of every military organization. Hence war is the ideal condition for promoting the assemblage of the megamachine, and to keep the threat of war constantly in existence is the surest way of holding the otherwise autonomous or quasi-autonomous components together as a functioning working unit. Once a megamachine has been brought into existence, and criticism of its program, and departure from its principles, any detachment from its routines, any modifications of its structure through demands from below constitute a threat to the whole system.
I have left to the end the one institutional prerequisite of the megamachine which, so far as one can analyze the megamachine at its point of origin, did not exist in the ancient model: namely, a special kind of economic dynamism based on rapid capital accumulation, repeated turnovers, large profits, working toward the constant acceleration of technology itself. In short, the money economy.
The coalition of money power with political power was one of the decisive marks of monarchic or despotic absolutism; and the more dependent the military machine became on technological inventions and mass production of weapons, the greater the immediate profits of the national economic system - even though in the long run succeeding generations would find these putative gains offset by the cost of reparations, repairs, and replacements, to say nothing of human wretchedness. Though the moral onus for promoting war has made the munitions manufacturers the scapegoats, the fact is that paper-profits of war equally enrich every other part of the national economy, even agriculture; for war, with its unparalleled consumption of goods, and its unparalleled wastes, temporarily overcomes the chronic defect of an expanding technology - 'overproduction.' War, by restoring scarcity, is necessary on classic capitalist terms to ensure profit.
In turn this economic dynamism, through bellicose destruction - or the building up of military capability for this eventual use - depends upon a vast transfer of credit to the government; and the need for both capital and current income to cover national military expenditures gives sanction to what, from the standpoint of orthodox 'free enterprise,' is an odious imposition: a national income tax. This is a measure that even absolute monarchs introduced with grave misgivings. Louis XIV did not dare to impose it without getting from the theologians of Paris the reassuring dictum that such an imposition could be justified since, as a ruler by 'divine right.' all land and property in the country belonged to him, and could be distributed at his pleasure. It was only during the Napoleonic Wars that, in a relatively free constitutional monarchy like England, the income tax was introduced; though conscription, in the inequable and arbitrary form of navy press gangs, had preceded it; and without the introduction of the constitutional changes that legalized the income tax in the United States, in 1913, the vast sums needed to create the new megamachine after 1940 would not have been available.
By now it should be plain that the extravagant largess derived from national taxation has become a substitute for the profit motive in fostering the economic dynamism of the modern economy. Neither profit-and-loss nor cost-benefit accountancy reduces effectively the operations of the megamachine; for the costs are magically converted into benefits, and the prospective losses through military obsolescence and outright destruction are the source of fresh corporate profits.
Through war, actual and prospective, the megamachine increased its scope and expanded its power, and incidentally removed the one form of feedback the capitalist system had developed to regulate and rationalize its operation: namely, close accountancy of profit and loss, with ultimate bankruptcy as the penalty of miscalculation. It was through effecting major changes in the capitalist economy, which remained in a general state of semi-paralysis in the nineteen-thirties, but through re-armament and war that an economic revival was effected; and it was by war alone that the system was temporarily saved from self-destruction through its radical weakness: its failure to achieve distributive justice.
Not merely does the money economy, then, over-excite every part of the already expanding power technology, but it makes the continued extension of the megamachine into every area imperative in order to ensure the surplus needed for the negative enterprises of war, planned extermination, and mass control. What is more, as the State extends social security and technical services to the country as a whole, a growing part of the population - despite the fact that income tax is habitually rigged in favor of the rich - has a stake in this centrally directed mode of production, distribution, and collective destruction. In this combination of technological, financial, political, and military dynamism, no one agent was more essential than the other: but all were needed before the megamachine could be reconstituted in an efficient, up-to-date model, with most of its historic defects repaired and its traditional limitations removed.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the main components of the new megamachine were already in existence, though some were still in half-formed state.
Only two things were lacking: a symbolic figure of absolute power, incarnating in a living ruler, a corporate group, or a super-machine; and a crisis sufficiently portentous and pressing to bring about an implosion of all the necessary components. The crisis arose and the implosion took place: but before that happened, older and cruder models of the megamachine, energized by new mechanical equipment, had come into existence and opened the way for the final explosion of 'absolute' power.
Unfortunately, their training had conditioned the scientists to the idea that the continued increase in scientific knowledge, and its speediest possible translation into practice, without regard to social consequences, was nothing less than a categorical imperative.
While a concerned contemporary can understand the initiative taken by Einstein and ratified by President Franklin D. Roosevelt - very possibly the present critic would under the same circumstances have made the same mistake - it is now plain that this proposal was made within a far too limited historical context: it was a short-term decision to effect an immediately desired result, though the consequences may disastrously undermine mankind's entire future. To propose creating a weapon of 'cosmic violence' without at the same time providing, as a condition for scientific aid, the coordinate moral and political safety measures shows how unused even these moralized scientists were to considering the practical consequences of their vocational commitments.
But the facts are now clear: the preparation for this misuse of power preceded the explosion of the first atomic bomb. Well before the first atom bomb was tested, the American Air Force had adopted the hitherto 'unthinkable' practice of the wholesale, indiscriminate bombing of concentrated civilian populations: this paralleled, except for distance from the victims, the practices employed by Hitler's sub-men in extermination camps like Buchenwald and Auschwitz. By using napalm bombs the Air Force had roasted alive nearly 100,000 civilians in Tokyo in a single night. Thus the descent to total demoralization and extermination was neatly plotted well before the supposedly 'ultimate' weapon, the atom bomb, was invented.
Once the plan to make an atom bomb was sanctioned, the scientists who gave themselves to this project were caught by their own erroneous ideological premises into accepting its military use. Their original error could not easily be repaired, no matter how their consciences might pain them, nor how strenuous the efforts of their more sensitive and intelligent leaders to awaken mankind to its plight. For something worse than the invention of a deadly weapon had taken place; for in order to keep that megamachine in effective operation once the immediate military emergency was over, a permanent state of was became the condition for its survival and further expansion.
Thus, one of the supreme feats of modern man's understanding of the ultimate constituents of the 'physical universe,' culminating in his unlocking of the very energies that the Sun God commands, came about under the pressure of a genocidal war and the threat of wholesale annihilation: a condition that paralyzed all life-conserving and life-promoting efforts. The continuation of that state, with the deepening and widening of the crisis in the ensuing Cold War, has greatly increased the malign possibilities that Henry Adams foresaw.
Both megamachines can be identified by their similar technological capacities: they are mass organizations capable of performing tasks that lie outside the range of small work-collectives and loose tribal or territorial groups. Yet at every point the ancient machine, since it was composed mainly of human parts, lay under human limitations; for even under the harshest taskmaster, a slave cannot exert much more than a tenth of a horsepower, nor can he keep working indefinitely without lowering his output.
The great contrast between the two types of machine is that the modern machine has progressively reduced the number of 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. Though human servo-mechanisms are still necessary at nodal points in the system, the modern machine escapes spatial and temporal limitations: it can operate as a single, largely invisible unit, over a wide area, with its functional parts operating as a whole through instant communication. Thus the new model commands whole regiments of diversified mechanical units, with superhuman power and superhuman mechanical reliability, and not least with lightening speed. Though the ancient megamachine would hardly have been conceivable without the invention of writing, earlier totalitarian regimes fell down repeatedly because of slowness in communication; indeed one of the chief concerns of older megamachines was the improvement of road and water communication, with relays of runners and horses, or with galleys pulled in a machine-like unison by slaves.
As with all modern technical performances, the mass infliction of death has been both expanded and speeded up. But so far, nuclear explosions and rocket explorations, both directly issuing from war plans, have been the most conspicuous manifestations of these lethal facilities, along with the communications systems upon which they depend. The fact that no human
purpose, present or prospective, would be served by these modes of extermination, no matter how successful in 'overkill,' only demonstrates the deep under-layers of psychotic irrationality upon which the fantasies of absolute weapons, of absolute power, and of absolute control have been laid. Freud made a parallel between the magic rituals of many so-called primitive peoples and the behavior of neurotic personalities in our time. But there is no practice in these arrested cultures, neither head-hunting nor cannibalism nor voodoo murder, that is comparable in superstitious savagery and mental corruption with the current plans of highly trained scientists, technologists, and military men to inflict collective death on the scale that modern technological agents have made possible.
The penalty for producing nuclear bombs sufficient to destroy the human race was that it put these genocidal and suicidal weapons in the hands of demonstrably fallible human beings whose astounding scientific achievements blinded their contemporaries to the human limitations of the culture that had produced them.
Power of this magnitude had never been in human hands before - hardly even in fantasy. But even power on a comparatively minute scale has, all through history, notoriously produced distortions and aberrations in the human personality; and the observed results of such power in inflating pride had made Christian theology, with acute perception, treat pride as the gravest of sins. Among the rulers of the United States and Soviet Russia, inflamed by the possession of 'absolute' weapons, ideological aberrations soon hardened into 'fixed ideas.'. These 'ideas' fomented pathological suspicion and relentless hostility similar to that recorded on the walls of the tomb of Seti: a text dating from the fourteenth to the twelfth centuries B.C. but, according to Wilson, showing signs of a much older original. In this text Re, the Sun God, fancies that mankind is secretly plotting against him, and in return he plots the destruction of mankind.
Thus the area of this self-enclosed citadel has widened steadily, while the walls around it have grown thicker and more impenetrable. By the simple expedient of creating new emergencies, fomenting new fears, singling out new enemies or magnifying by free use of fantasy the evil intentions of 'the enemy,' the megamachines of the United States and Soviet Russia, instead of being dismantled as a regrettable temporary wartime necessity, were elevated into permanent institutions in what has now become a permanent war: the so-called Cold War. As it has turned out, this form of war, with its ever-expanding demands for scientific ingenuity and technological innovations, is by far the most effective device invented for keeping this over-productive technology in full operation.
The generation that has permitted the new megamachine to be installed as a permanent feature of national existence has been reluctant to confront the evidence of this radical miscarriage of human purpose: they accepted the goal of total extermination, as a mere extension of war without perceiving that the prospective increase in quantity was a far more frightful aberration than war itself. Paralyzed like a monkey in the coil of a python, the immediate post-Hiroshima generation, unable to utter a rational sound, shut its eyes and waited for the end.
Among the first of the many casualties already produced by the megamachine was the honour of the scientific guild that had helped to bring it into existence. For their success as members of this growing totalitarian establishment threatened the loss of the scientists' most conspicuous virtue - the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, experimentally verifiable, shareable by their peers, accessible to public inspection, testing, and correction.
No one could serve the new megamachine and hold to the scientific ideal of uncensored, unimpeded thought; for total secrecy, necessitated by war, became incorporated as a permanent feature of the 'peacetime' (Cold War) regime. In return for this loss of independence and disinterestedness, the new priesthood has exercised an authority they had never dreamed of exercising before. And they have buttressed their new position by regarding as fixed and beyond challenge the crass assumptions on which the Cold War was based. Thus, one of its spokesmen, Herman Kahn, in a reputedly objective survey of the theoretic possibilities of thermo-nuclear strategy, refused to consider even the possibility of achieving peace. Here his 'objective' inquiry disclosed the typical trick of the new scientific establishment: to give answers only to carefully loaded questions that in themselves dictate the nature of the answer.
Those who rejected the megamachine's absolutism, notably many of the original scientists on the nuclear bomb project, withdrew from active atomic research. They had been raised in an atmosphere of relative intellectual freedom and moral choice: so that once they were awakened to the fact that as Henry Adams had predicted morality had become police, they threw their energies into criticizing and resisting the megamachine. Einstein, Szilard, and Wiener, to mention only the dead, belonged conspicuously to this honored company. But neither the United States nor the Russian government had any difficulty in enlisting less enlightened - or less morally sensitive - minds, particularly among a new generation that had been studiously bred to indifference both to moral values and to autonomous activity.
Obviously, these misdirected absolute powers demand absolute immunity from independent investigation, and absolute conformity upon the part of those who operate the machine. Otherwise such life-threatening strategies themselves would be subject of open public discussion, critical appraisal, democratic control. Those who possess sufficient knowledge to challenge the prevailing policies are therefore excluded or extruded from the totalitarian establishment. So it was only after resigning his post as scientific adviser to the Pentagon that it was possible for Dr. Herbert York to say publicly: "If the great powers continue to look for solutions in the area of science and technology only, the results will be to worsen the situation."
What Clinton Rossiter has demonstrated in his analysis of a single aspect of its transformation, the political. in his study of Constitutional Dictatorship, is now inherent in every operation of the megamachine. Each megamachine has displayed the same common features: the tendency to become self-sufficient, to draw into its structure organizations and institutions that would otherwise divert the energy it commands or divided loyalties and thus curb its automatic expansion.
In both Russia and the United States, centralized government agencies, unchecked by public opinion, uncontrolled by elected bodies, have perfected the techniques of the 'permanent crisis' in order to consolidate the powers that were originally designed solely to meeting a passing threat.
The interests and demands of the populations subjected to the megamachine are not only unheeded but deliberately flouted. "The great issue of nuclear energy," as Professor Hans J. Morgenthau has observed, "cannot even be the subject of meaningful debate, whether in Congress or among the people at large, because there can be no competent judgment without meaningful knowledge. Thus the great national decisions of life and death are rendered by technological elites."
In every field from atomic energy to medicine, policies that will permanently affect the destiny, and probably bring to an end the whole adventure, of human life have been formulated and carried through by self-appointed and self-regulating experts and specialists, immune to human confrontation, whose very willingness to make these decisions on their own responsibility is proof positive of their total unfitness to do so.
The principal means needed to operate the megamachine correctly and efficiently were a concentration of power, political and economic, instantaneous communication, rapid transportation, and a system of informational storage capable of keeping track of every event within the province of the Divine King: once these accessories were available, the central establishment would also have a monopoly of both energy and knowledge.
With nuclear energy, electric communication, and the computer, all the necessary components of a modernized megamachine as last became available: 'Heaven" had at last been brought near. Theoretically, at the present moment, and actually soon in the future, God - that is, the Computer - will be able to find, to locate, and to address instantly, by voice and image, via the priesthood,, any individual on the planet: exercising control over every detail of the subject's daily life by commanding a dossier which would include his parentage and birth; his complete educational record; an account of his illnesses and his mental breakdowns, if treated; his marriage; his sperm bank account; his income, loans, security payments; his taxes and pensions; and finally the disposition of such further organs as may be surgically extracted from him just prior to the moment of his official death.
In the end, no action, no conversation, and possibly in time no dream or thought would escape the wakeful and relentless eye of this deity: every manifestation of life would be processed into the computer and brought under its all-pervading system to control. This would mean, not just invasion of privacy, but the total destruction of autonomy: indeed the dissolution of the human soul.
Neither the ancient nor the modern megamachine, however automatic its separate mechanisms and operations, could have come into existence except through deliberate human invention; and most of the attributes of the large collective unit were first incarnated in an ancient archetypal figure: Organization Man. From the most primitive expression of tribal conformity to that of the highest political authority, the system itself is an extension of Organization Man - he who stands at once as the creator and the creature, the originator and the ultimate victim, of the megamachine.
Whether the labor machine or the military machine came first, whether the general pattern of regimentation was first evolved by the priest, the bureaucrat, or the soldier are idle questions, since no firm data are available for judgment. We must confine our description of Organization Man to the point at which, through documents and symbolic evidence, he becomes visible. Since the first definite records, after the paleolithic caves, are Temple accounts, tabulating the quantities of grain received or disbursed, it seems likely that the meticulous order that characterizes bureaucracy in every phase derives originally from the ritual observances of the Temple; for this kind of order is incompatible with the hazardous events of the hunt, or the chance-happenings of organized war. Yet even in the latter occupation, we find remarkably early records, in definite figures, of prisoners captured, animals rounded up, loot taken. Even at that early stage Organization Man can be identified by his concern with quantitative accountancy.
Behind every later process of organization and mechanization one must, however, recognize primordial aptitudes, deeply ingrained in the human organism - indeed, shared with many other species - for ritualizing behavior and finding satisfaction in a repetitive order that establishes a human connection with organic rhythms and cosmic events.
Out of this original cluster of repetitive, standardized acts, increasingly isolated from other bodily and mental functions, Organization Man seems to have sprung. Or to put it the other way around, when one has detached, one by one, the organs and functions of the human body, and along with the historic accretions of art and culture, what one is left with is their common mechanical skeleton and muscle power, essential for vertebrate life but functionless and meaningless when treated as a separate entity.
The present age has reinvented this ideal creature as the Robot: but as a recognizable part of the human organism, and as an integral and indispensable aspect of all human culture, organization itself has always been present. It is precisely because mechanical order can be traced back to these primal beginnings, because mechanization itself has played a constant role in human development, that we can now understand the danger of isolating Organization Man as a self-constituted personality, detached from the natural habitats and cultural traits, with their limitations and inhibitions, that ensure a fully human character.
Organization Man, then, 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 factional energies that are left, and feeding them into a mechanically ordered collective system. Organization Man is the common link between the ancient and the modern type of megamachine: that is perhaps why the specialized functionaries, with their supporting layers of slaves, conscripts, and subjects - in short, the controllers and the controlled - have changed so little in the last five thousand years.
Like any other cultural type, Organization Man is a human artifact, though the materials out of which he has been fashioned belong to the system of animate nature. Historically, it is an anachronism to picture Organization Man as a purely modern product, or as solely the product of an advanced technology: he is, rather, an extremely primitive 'ideal' type, carved out of the far richer potentialities of the living organism, with most of the living organisms either extracted, or embalmed and desiccated, and the brain itself shrunken to meet the requirements of the megamachine. (The current epithet for such reduction of human potentialities -'head-shrinking' - is all too deadly in its accuracy.)
Within the limited settings of large-scale corporate economic organizations in the United States, W.H. Whyte has given a classic picture of the selection, training. and discipline of Organization Man at the higher levels of command, the transformation of the 'fortunate' - or at least fortune-seeking - minority into smoothly working components of the bigger mechanism. But this is only a small part of the condition which that begins with the infant's toilet training and, through its equation of the Welfare State with the Warfare State, finally covers every aspect of life through to death and organ-transplantation.
The degree of external pressure necessary to model Organization Man is probably no greater than that needed by any tribal society to secure conformity to ancient traditions and rituals: indeed, through compulsory elementary education, military conscription, and mass-communication, the same stamp can be imprinted on millions of individuals in modern society quite as easily as upon a few hundred who meet face-to-face. What the sociologist Max Weber called the 'bureaucratic personality' was destined, he thought, to be the 'ideal type' prevailing in the modern world. If the present constellation of forces should continue to operate without abatement or change of direction his prediction may be easily satisfied.
The characteristic virtues of Organization Man correspond as nearly as possible to the machine that he serves: thus the part of his personality that was projected in mechanical instruments in turn re-enforces that projection by eliminating any non-conforming organic or human functions. The stamp of mechanical regularity lies on the face of every human unit. To follow the program, to obey instructions, to 'pass the buck,' to be uninvolved as a person to the needs of other persons, to limit responses to what lies immediately, so to say, on the desk, to heed no relevant human considerations, however vital: never to question the origin of an order or inquire as to the ultimate destination: to follow through every command, no matter how irrational, to make no judgments of value or relevance about the work in hand, finally to eliminate feelings of emotions or rational moral misgivings that might interfere with the immediate dispatch of work - these are the standard duties of the bureaucrat: and these are the conditions under which Organization Man flourishes, a vital automaton within a collective system of automation. The model for Organization Man is the machine itself. And as the mechanism grows more perfect, the residue of life needed to carry on the process becomes more minute and meaningless.
Ultimately, Organization Man has no reason for existence except as a depersonalized servo-mechanism in the mega machine. On those terms, Adolph Eichmann, the obedient exterminator, who carried out Hitler's policy and Himmler's orders with unswerving fidelity, should be hailed as the 'Hero of Our Time.' But unfortunately our time has produced many such heroes who have been willing to do at a safe distance, with napalm or atom bombs, by a mere press of the release button, what the exterminators at Belsen and Auschwitz did by old-fashioned handicraft methods. The latter were slower in execution but far more thrifty in carefully conserving the by-products - the human wastes, the gold from the teeth, the fat, the bone meal for fertilizers - even the skin for lamp shades. 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.
The more power entrusted to Organizational Man, the fewer qualms he has against using it. And what makes this 'ideal type' even more menacing is his successful use of the human disguise. His robot mechanism simulates flesh and blood; and except for a few troglodyte specimens there is nothing to distinguish him outwardly from a reasonable human being, smooth-mannered, low-keyed, presumably amiable. Like Himmler, he may even be a "good family man."
This type was not unknown in earlier cultures: even within our own era these servo-mechanisms arranged gladiatorial combats in the Roman arena and manipulated the bone-wracking machines used by the Holy Inquisition. But before megatechnics invaded every department, Organization Man had fewer opportunities: he was once a minority, largely confined to the Bureaucracy or the Army. What makes the difference today is that his name is legion; and since he beholds his own image when he looks around him, he regards himself as a normal specimen of humanity.
If this characterization seems like the grossest sort of distortion, it is only because the reality has become so commonplace that we cannot even identify it. Let me therefore place in evidence the words of an eminent scientist: a Nobel Prize winner, universally acclaimed by his fellow-biologists as a leader in his field. On the evidence of his writings he seems to have a rational, 'normal' personality, free from any obvious neurotic pressures or aberrations. These attractive traits unfortunately throw into relief the actual proposals for human improvement he put forth as a geneticist before a group of fellow-scientists.
"Man as a whole," this scientist observed, "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."
I have not invented this scientist: his name is Hermann Muller. Before Muller described the assumptions and purposes of the new megamachine, I had already identified both the ancient and the modern types. What is remarkable is that after ten years' study I can support Muller's statement with a long list from other scientific exponents, some no less eminent than Muller. What is disconcerting is the fact that it was on the very same grounds that Muller used that the Jews were rejected by Hitler as unfit to participate in Hitler's great enterprise and find "genuine fulfillment in playing a constructive part in it." It was to carry out this 'final solution' of these unworthy non-Aryans that Eichmann and his colleagues were ordered to herd their victims into the gas chambers.
"Find ways of doing without him" seems like a quiet phrase: but is not its quietness ominous? Would it not have been more honest to say "do away with him"? Already these faithful servants of the megamachine have taken for granted that there is only one acceptable view of the world, that which they stand for: only one kind of knowledge, only one type of human enterprise has value - their own, or that which derives directly from their own. Ultimately they mean that only one kind of personality can be considered desirable - that established as such by the military - industrial - scientific elite which operate the megamachine.
Though we are too close to it to make a completely objective judgment, it has become obvious that our own culture has fallen into a dangerously unbalanced state, and is now producing warped and unbalanced minds. One part of our civilization - that dedicated to technology - has usurped authority over all the other components, geographical, biological, anthropological: indeed, the most frenetic advocates of this process are proclaiming that the whole biological world is now being supplanted by technology, and that man will either become a willing creature of his technology or cease to exist.
Not merely does technology claim priority in human affairs: it places the need for constant technological change above any considerations of its own efficiency, its own continuity, or even, ironically enough, its own capacity to survive. To maintain such a system, whose postulates contradict those that underlie all living organisms, it requires for self-protection absolute conformity by the human community; and to achieve that conformity it proposes to institute a system of total control, starting with the human organism itself, even before conception has taken place. The means for establishing this control is the ultimate gift of the megamachine; and without submergence in the subjective 'myth of the machine,' as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnicompetent, it would not already have advanced to the point it has now reached.
Let us go back again to the table of probable future inventions that those who have surrendered to the myth of the machine are now so busily propagating: such a plausible table as Arthur Clarke, for instance, has offered. Of the more than a dozen technical exploits he lists, from lunar landings to weather control, from suspended animation to artificial life, no one of them has the slightest relation to man's central historic task, more imperative today than ever - the task of becoming human. The failure to perform that task for a single generation might set the erring community back a whole geological epoch: indeed, there is reason to suspect that this has actually begun to happen in our time.
The one set of discoveries and inventions that these prophets of technology will not allow for are those internal human devices that would eventually bring technics itself under constant human evaluation and direction. On the contrary: to meet any such counter-attack, before it begins, they have propagated the belief that technology provides the only conceivable and acceptable way of life today.
The business of creating a limited, docile, scientifically-conditioned human animal, completely adjusted to a purely technological environment, has kept pace with the rapid transformation of that environment itself: with tangible rewards, partly by denying any real opportunities for choices outside the range of the megatechnic system.
What is most suspicious about this discussion, however, is not just the defect in scientific insight, but the absence of prudent self-awareness and self-criticism. Never more clearly has the dismissal of history, that is, the cumulative human evidences of human experience, showed itself more plainly as a source of error. I am not talking only of human history but of organic evolution. Those species of ants that have achieved firm control in breeding special types have remained fixed for some sixty million years. They foretell the ultimate fate of a human population similarly constituted. Ah, Brave New World.
In this new scientific hierarchy only one-way communication is observed: those who speak with the highest authority upon some minute section of exact knowledge too often unblushingly claim the right to speak for mankind upon matters of general human experience upon which they can testify only on the same lowly basis as other human beings. In many discussions of the science-governed future, the right of popular resistance is not even mentioned; whereas, even in feudal society, as Mare Bloch pointed out, vassal homage, however humble, was a genuine contract and a bilateral one; and the right of resistance to unjust or arbitrary authority was not only implied but often specified. The sovereign himself was held responsible to the people, like the 'swineherd to the master who employs him," as an Alsatian monk wrote about in 1090. By one measure or another, often under the guise of public good, that precious right - the right of nonconformity, and counter-action - is now covertly being denied.
What is most suspicious in all these discussions of possible technological futures, mainly by the extrapolation of visible tendencies of incipient inventions, is the ingrained fatalism they display: they refuse to allow the possibility of a complete reversal of existing trends. This fatalism characterizes sociological observers like Professor Jacques Ellul, who plainly detests the evils of megatechnics, as well as those who are impatient to hasten the pace even if many precious human achievements are defaced and destroyed.
Let me give a final example, selected only because it is regrettably typical. 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." He concludes that "when man has conquered his own biological evolution, he will have laid the basis of conquering everything else. The Universe will be his, at last."
This is a museum specimen of archaic thinking, and circular thinking that, for the original premise of automatism - "it is bound to occur" - is asserted as if unchallengeable. This scientist ignored that fact that every item in his deduction is unproved and unprovable, beginning with the notion that human development itself can be equated with the unconditional support of science and technology.
But even if scientists were able to identify the specific traits predisposing the embryo to these vocations, by what rational criterion could one say that the magnification, intensification, or wider distribution of these traits would constitute a desirable human goal? There is sounder ground for believing that a much richer genetic pool must be drawn on - in the human future as in the pre-human past - to realize further improvements; and
that quite different character traits and human types are now needed to overcome mankind's present cultural disequilibrium.
As for settling on scientists and technologists as the supreme product of human evolution, the final incarnations of the 'just man made perfect' - what a happy solution that is! But so naive in its narcissistic admiration of the scientific image that it is actually embarrassing to read. Such self-adulation would be laughable were it not so widely shared and if this now-common belief did not constitute a formidable barrier to the emergence of different personality constellations that do not fit into the power system and conform to the prescribed technical-scientific formula.
This proposal for genetic control exposes the idea of control itself in its ultimate absurdity: the arrogant notion that finite minds, operating with finite the limited equipment of their particular culture and historic moment, will ever be qualified to exercise absolute control over the infinite future possibilities of human development.
One final term nevertheless demands exegesis: the idea of 'conquest' itself. In what sense does the notion of 'conquest' have the slightest meaning in relation to man's place in nature? What bearing does this have on the cooperative transactions and interactions of species, or to man's own attempt to transcend his own biological limitations by super-organic modes of life? The very term 'conquest' is an obsolete military term, however re-enforced by our whole power system: actually it is an ideological fossil left over from the traumatic original episodes in civilization which brought forth war, slavery, organized destruction, and genocide. 'Conquest' and 'cultivation' are historic enemies: they stand at opposite poles.
In short, conquest is in no sense a necessary sign of higher human development, though conquistadors have always thought otherwise. Any valid concept of organic development must use the primary terms of ecology - cooperation and symbiosis - as well as struggle and conflict, for even predators are part of the food chain, and do not 'conquer' their prey except to eat them. The idea of total conquest is an extrapolation from the existing power system: it indicates, not a desirable end, accommodation, but a pathological aberration, re-enforced by such rewards as this system bestows. As for the climactic notion that "the universe will be man's at last"- what is this but a paranoid fantasy, comparable to the claims of an asylum inmate who imagines that he is Emperor of the World? Such a claim is countless light years away from reality.
Teilhard de Chardin's further description of mind, however, is what must be subjected to searching analysis: for his interpretation of man's coming evolution rests on his embracing, without a critical revision, the notion that has been current since the seventeenth century: namely, that consciousness is measured by intelligence, and that the intelligence, in an increasingly abstract mathematical form, is the highest manifestation of mind.
Under megatechnics, the pecuniary motive dominates every class in a way unknown in agricultural societies. 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 or fictitious, and accommodate them to the maximum mechanical capacity to provide profits. These are the sacred principles of the power complex.
The most serious flaw in megatechnics, uncorrectable on the principles historically embodied in the power complex, springs directly out of its astounding performances: human life is being suffocated and surfeited at a hundred places by sheer quantitative excess - beginning with an excess of births. This excess, we now can see, brings not only positive gains but heavy costs and disastrous penalties; and what is worse, the power complex prospers quite well in producing negative goods like cigarettes and pesticides as in growing nutritious foods: indeed the profits from such deleterious products are often far higher.
Technology, unfortunately, has not yet developed from within, nor in terms of its favored economic incentives does it look forward to, any limit in the proliferation of machines or machine products: both power and profit depend upon producing more goods for more customers, and ensuring their consumption in the shortest possible time span.
In short, megatechnics, so far from having solved the problem of scarcity, has only presented it in a new form even more difficult of solution. Result: a serious deficiency of life, directly stemming from unusable and unendurable abundance. But the scarcity remains: admittedly not of machine-fabricated material goods or of mechanical services, but of anything that suggests the possibility of a richer personal development based upon other values than productivity, speed, power, prestige, pecuniary profit.
Created on 04/11/2014 12:53 PM by admin
Updated on 05/05/2014 11:05 AM by admin