FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Homo Technomorphis?

by WILLIAM MANSON

Over several decades, I’ve managed to hold on to my worn, battered copies of Lewis Mumford’s The Myth of the Machine (two volumes: 1967, 1970).  And a few nights ago, disturbed by the wide-awake nightmares in which we are now forced to “live,” I found myself immersed once again in this fascinating, monumental work.  In his brilliantly comprehensive, comparative-historical analysis, Mumford demonstrated how centralized “power-systems”—whether, say, ancient Egypt or Nazi Germany—have utilized technical means for the military-bureaucratic regimentation of immense human populations (“the Megamachine”).   (As to the latter example, see Edwin Black’s recent study IBM and the Holocaust.)  Mumford painstakingly examined how over centuries technical means, implementing mass-organization and over-arching social control, have served power-elites.  In social theory, “modernity” is characterized by centralization, standardization, ever-greater “efficiency,” and the reduction of the unique individual into “the calculable person” (Foucault).

How did Mumford differ from other major critics of technology?  First and foremost, he was a humanist, emphasizing that the ultimate function of social structures (“society”) should be to enhance individual development and mutually beneficial patterns of social cooperation.  Living in such conducive, humanly-scaled communities, individuals could develop their many-sided capacities (moral/empathic, cognitive, aesthetic, etc.).  Technical means, if limited to these human purposes and values, could enhance such growth and social well-being—a humanist vision shared also by such previous thinkers as W. von Humboldt, J. S. Mill, and even Marx & Engels (“the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”).

What was Mumford’s somber vision for the years to come?  The beleaguered– even “obsolete”–individual would be entirely de-skilled, reduced to a passive, inert, “trivial accessory to the machine.”  Technical surveillance and limitless data-collection—“an all-seeing eye” (Panopticon)—would monitor every “individual on the planet.”  Ultimately, the totalitarian technocracy, centralizing and augmenting its “power-complex,” ignoring the real needs and values of human life, might produce a world “fit only for machines to live in.”

Moreover—as we already observe now–people, losing “confidence in [their] own unaided capacities,” would become psychologically dependent on an array of ubiquitous devices, instruments, computers.  Entirely indoctrinated in what may be called “techno-inevitabilism,” such “machine-addicts” would mindlessly accept the latest gadgets, surrendering “to these novelties unconditionally just because they are offered, without respect for their human consequences.”  By 1970, Mumford was already diagnosing “technological compulsiveness”—a condition in which “society meekly submits to every new technological demand and utilizes without question every new product.”  And even a decade earlier, sociologist C. Wright Mills had perceived a qualitative decline in human thinking– obscured by an “overwhelming accumulation of technological gadgets.”  (More recently, see Simon Head’s book, Mindless: How Smarter Machines are Creating Dumber Humans, 2013.)

Ultimately, Mumford advocated a negative revolt—resistance, refusal, withdrawal– whereby individuals may reclaim their autonomy and humanly-derived desires and choices.  One might call this “dodging the Mega-System”: possibly fleeing the urban, market-driven “Patholopolis”—or at least, exercising one’s autonomous right to–Choose to Refuse!  Technolatry—a failed religion which has denied and starved real human needs and aspirations—is already beginning to lose its acolytes and followers.

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

 

 

 

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail