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:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail