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Technique, Propaganda and the Left Liberal Nature of the West
To be a true "conservative" would mean being opposed to the West itself, at least the West since the Enlightenment. Why is this? Because the operating system of the West is Technique and Progress.
Introduction to Technique
Once you read Jacques Ellul, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that reforming the systems and mechanisms that govern our society, both in the public and private spheres, is never going to fix the problems of our society. We are, down to the very core mythology of our culture, a technological society. It colors how we look at the world, how we approach problems and it fuels our constant desire for “solutions.” Humans have always been tool using and technological, but at some point a shift occurred. Once we were the masters of our tools. They were a means to express our skill, creativity and humanity. We have since become mastered by them, such that we are ruled, not just by technology and machines, but by technical systems and technical thinking, such that we see all problems as essentially technical in nature and they depend not on us as human beings being better, but rather on the perfection of the technical system. Ellul helps us to understand this transition and what it means, not just for politics, but for human flourishing in general.
When we think of technology, it is natural for us to do so by focusing on devices and machines and their effects upon us. There is merit to this. Examinations of the effects of say the automobile and the mobility this machine brings are useful avenues of inquiry. What is the meaning of the car? Commonly today we consider the effects that computers, the internet, smart phones, and social media have on us and our society. Again, these are good questions to ask and the answers are important to know. But Ellul argues that the technologies we implement are actually less important to understand than the ways of thinking that give rise to the making of machines. In fact, Ellul argues, modern technology is the final step in a chain that begins elsewhere. He calls this way of thinking “technique.”
If there is one thing I hope you take away from this piece, it is an understanding of “technique” and “technical” thinking. We must understand that technique is very much an integral partner to the idea of “Progress.” Progress is achieved through technical advancement, not just in the area of machines and devices, but also through the implementation of systems. Essentially, the idea of “management” that has its roots in early “time and motion” studies is the application of technical ways of thinking to social and organizational problems. “Scientific management,” as it was once called, is essentially a technical enterprise. If you wonder what the link between a phenomenon like “woke capital” and government bureaucracy is, it is at this level of a sharing a fundamental worldview. All problems are essentially technical. Social problems are technical. Business management problems are technical. Once it is determined that there is a society wide problem, is it only natural to harmonize all technical systems in order to manage the problem. As Ellul says:
“Technique has now become almost completely independent of the machine.”
In truth, he takes it a step further:
“The machine is entirely dependent upon technique.”
“The machine is now not even the most important part of technique.”
The truth in this last sentence is the one most necessary for us to see and interiorize. Technique and technical thinking has taken over all of man’s activities. It is not just a thing of productivity, or science, or the making of machines and devices, technical thinking is what integrates human beings into a machine society. Technique both paves the way for the machine and integrates humans into the use of the machine. Technical thinking constructs the kind of world that the machines needs.
What kind of world is this? It is world that values efficiency. It wishes to bring efficiency to all human activity. We must be ever more productive. To achieve greater productivity, everything must become more efficient. To become more efficient, every human action needs to be standardized. Humanity is made to fit the world of the machine. Humans become an extension of the machine, an efficient and productive cog in the great technical system. Technique is the model, the ideal, and its attributes are valid once and for all, for everyone.
Our social mythology understands technology as the product of scientific discovery. We have this mental picture of scientific advances being made that then find practical, often commercial applications which can be marketed to buyers. This, argues Ellul, is backwards of how it actually works.
“Everyone has been taught technique is the application of science…this traditional view is radically false…technique comes first.”
What Ellul notes is that most advances in scientific discovery first required a preceding technical advance that then make possible new areas of inquiry. Technique and technology make possible the experiments that then allow scientific knowledge to advance. He goes so far as to say that when the technical means are not there, science is completely unable to advance. It simply does not happen.
“Without technique, science has no way of existing. If we abandon technique we disown the domain of science and enter into that of hypothesis and theory.”
Without the technical means to test a theory, scientific theory remains just that, theory. In fact, scientific inquiry has been so superseded by technical activity that it is impossible for us to think of science at all without the notion of technical application. The two, science and technology, have essentially been collapsed into a single thing. Science is the means to technology and technology is the means to do science. In the ordering of the two, the purpose of science is to realize technique. Science is the handmaiden to technology and technical thinking.
Because technical thinking is the foundation of scientific thinking and scientific thinking has become the aspiration of all disciplines, technique comes to be the foundation of every aspect of society.
“What Toynbee calls “organization” and Burnham calls “managerial” action, is technique applied to social, economic and administrative life.”
Ellul argues that Burnham’s “managerial revolution” is the societal expression of technical thinking extending itself further and further into society. The influence of technique is the standardization of everything. Standardization means resolving in advance all the problems that might impede the functioning of an organization. What Ellul wants us to see is that thrust of technical thinking is to remove human variance from the outcome by standardizing all activities through policy, through computerization, through methodology, through systems. The idea is that all activities can produce standardized outcomes regardless of which human beings are within the system. We can standardize outcomes in manufacturing, customer relations, teaching, as well as social problems like poverty and racism. Everything has a technical solution. Once the processes of that technique are refined, we can garner the outputs we desire, regardless of whether those outputs are widgets, student learning, ending poverty, or winning wars. All problems are technical in nature and all problems have a technical solution.
“We can be confident that the final result will be that technique will assimilate everything into the machine.”
How Did the Technical Society Emerge?
As we noted already, technique has always been with us as human beings. We are tool using creatures. So what changed? When did we stop being the masters of our tools? What caused us to assimilate ourselves into the technical machine? To answer this, we need to look back at the origins of technique. We begin with tradition which is itself a form of technique. The difference is that these traditional processes are inherited and modified slowly under pressure from circumstances within the confines of a body social. They are held within the collective memory of the people. They are passed on through hands on instruction, one tool user to another. There is a culturally embedded notion that “this is the way we do things around here.” This way of doing things works for this particular people in the context of their lives. It is the way that is best for them because it is the way that holds past and present together in a cohesive whole.
Today, technique has become autonomous from the social context. It obeys its own rules, its own laws. Technique renounces tradition, attempts to replace it and supersede it. Technique does not rest on tradition and the social context, rather today’s techniques rest on previous technical processes.
Another subtle change from the traditional use of technique to today’s technical system, is that when techniques were the result of tradition and a specific social context, the point of the techniques was the ends they produced. Once techniques were liberated from tradition and became something based only on themselves, the ends become only tangentially important. Because you are building one intentional process upon another intentional process, the means, the process becomes the true object, more so than the ends. If a process is not generating the desired ends, you then work to improve the process. Do this enough, and the process becomes the point. How many times have you endured in a management context where the most important part of a decision is that we focus on good process. Making a good decision, the desired outcome, is secondary to everyone feeling that they have been part of a healthy process. This is the technical mindset at work. This is one part of why reforming the system is a futile effort. The point of the technical system is the technical system. The point of government bureaucratic systems is the bureaucratic systems. The idea that we need to “get our people in to run things” misses the point of both government and business systems. The point is the system, not the results. Efforts to reform the system simply reinforce the legitimacy of the system and the technical thinking that underlies it.
What is the decisive thing that led people to abandon the traditional, socially imbedded use of technique for detached rational techniques? It was largely the quest for greater efficiency. It is this quest for efficiency that turns a spontaneous or traditional phenomenon, an unconscious one and brings this into the realm of clear, voluntary and rational concepts. In this regard, something as basically human as friendship or marriage can be turned into a set of techniques that can be standardized and applied universally.
Ellul argues that the Greeks, from a cultural perspective, a society obviously brimming with knowledge and skill, rejected technique because they valued self-control and a certain conception of life over the brute force that technique represented. To use tools was in fact the highest form of human expression. It was a form of self-mastery. The idea that use of tools would supersede personal mastery of the tool would have seemed alien to them. In this light, Ellul argues, we have to understand that the technical movement rose up in an environment where the culture had already withdrawn significantly from the dominant influence of Christianity. As Christianity reseeded, technical thinking filled the void that the Christian faith once did.
He argues that the Christian faith had traditionally impeded the emergence of technical thinking. There was a number of features of it had that suppressed this:
Christianity condemned the love of money and luxury. Renunciation was seen as the spiritual ideal. Attachment was seen as hinderance to the development of faith.
Eschatology, the understanding that Christ would return and bring an end to this world, was more important than the achievement of practical ends in the here and now. If this world was going to pass away, there was not the felt need to perfect life today. Without this desire, there is no need to perfect technology.
The question, “Is it righteous?”, was asked of every attempt to change transitional techniques and modes of production. Change, when it happened, was slowly introduced and subordinate to its effects on the social and spiritual climate of the people.
Ellul argues that the process of breaking with this worldview began with the Protestant Reformation. In its attempt to return to primitive Christianity it ended up undermining the social restrictions to technique.
From the time of the Reformation, the next decisive step in the development of a technical society was during the French Revolution. Here you had a state emerge that was fully conscious of itself and was autonomous in relationship to any prior religious or social conditions. It was able to focus on implementing systems and processes in order to achieve specific outcomes
“…it was a period of rationalized systems, unified hierarchies, card indices and regular reports. With Napoleon particularly, there was a tendency toward mechanization which resulted from the application of technique to more or less human spheres of action.”
Technique and the technical mindset are revolutionary at heart. It desires to clear away the old and the traditional and the seemingly haphazard in favor of the rational, the efficient and the standardized. It was an ideological process from the outset.
“The revolution also entailed the exertion and re-grouping of all national energies. There were to be no more loafers, no more privileged persons, no special interests. Everyone must serve in accordance with the strictures of technique.”
There was a move to systematize and standardize the law over those laws that were unwritten and variable and embedded in custom. Revolutionary France sought to be rational, and thus began to use technique as a form of the rational mastery of society.
This began a shift from qualitative modes of thinking to the quantitative. What matters is that which can be measured and accounted for on a ledger sheet. As this revolutionary mindset begins to take hold, it is this technical rational way of thinking about law, society and government that paves the way for the increase in machine use. The proliferation of machines requires first a technical mindset, that desires to standardize and increase efficiency.
We also have to understand that the 1700’s were a time of great optimism. This optimism allowed the technical mindset to flourish. They believed in their project, that they were improving society through reason. There was also a diminished fear of evil. They believed in exploiting natural resources for the betterment of mankind. They believed that they were making the world a better place through their scientific discoveries and the growing use of machines. There was a belief in the inherent goodness of technique.
Ellul identifies five basic factors necessary for the transformation of a society into a technological society:
There is a long incubation period of technical experience and gradual technical improvement that primes the pump for a tipping point.
There is a suitable economic environment.
There is a period of social plasticity.
The appearance of a clear technical intent.
He argues that the fourth point, a time of great social change which would have otherwise restrained and perhaps even squashed the other factors, was the most decisive of the five. The social flux that enabled the technical system to emerge was the erosion of the Christian faith in the general cultural life of society at the time in which the clear technical intent was also emerging. What this fraying of the Christian social fabric did was remove the social taboos surrounding machines and technical thinking in combination with a diminishment of natural social groupings around long established communities.
Christianity, up to this point, had ordered society around Christian aims. All other aspirations were secondary to these larger faith pursuits. Christian society was more important than the technical. As long as that moral order is stable, then anything new will have to be tested against that order. But once the Christian social order began to break down the clear Christian intent of society was quickly replaced with a clear technical intent. In a sense, technique and technical thinking were essentially sacrilegious in the Christian era.
Ellul describes the pre-technical society this way:
“The individual found livelihood, patronage, security and intellectual and moral satisfaction in the collectives that were strong enough to answer all his needs but limited enough not to make him feel submerged or lost. They sufficed to satisfy the average man who does not try to gratify imaginary needs if his position is fairly stable, who opposes innovation if he lives in a balanced milieu, even though he is poor. This fact, which is so salient in the three millennia of history we know, is misunderstood by modern man, who does not know what a balanced social environment is and the good he could derive from it.”
All of the obstacles that this balanced environment placed on technical proliferation disappeared at the time of the French Revolution.
“A systematic campaign was waged against all natural groups, under the guise of a defense of the rights of the individual; for example, the guilds, the communes, and federalism were all attacked, this last by the Girondists. There were movements against the religious orders, against the privileges of parliament, the universities, and the hospitalers. There was to be no liberty of groups, only of the individual. There was likewise a struggle to undermine the family. Revolutionary legislation promoted the disintegration; it had already been shaken by the philosophies and fervors of the 18th century. Revolutionary laws governing divorce, inheritance and paternal authority were disastrous for the family unit, to the benefit of the individual. And these effects were permanent, in spite of temporary setbacks. Society was already atomized and would be atomized more and more. The individual remained the sole sociological unit, but, far from assuring him freedom, this in fact invoked the worst kind of slavery.”
For an individual in an atomized society, all that is left is the individual and the state. The state is the sole authority, the highest authority. The state in this environment becomes omnipotent. This growth of the state is aided by this technical drive for standardization, for finding the one best way to do everything and anything.
As you may have guessed, the primary actors in the breakdown the old feudal and monarchical system, the urban bourgeoisie merchant and professional class, were the main drivers behind the introduction and proliferation of technical thinking and with it the introduction of the machine. It was precisely because technique made the bourgeoisie money that they became so committed to technique and machines. It has remained this way ever since. The stewards of this class interest has shifted from the owners to the managers, but the impulse is the same. Their power is rooted in their unwavering commitment to the technical mindset.
It was not as if there was not resistance to the introduction of this way of thinking and its corrosive, atomizing effects on society. There was significant push back. The implementation of technique and machines throughout society happened in part because:
“Karl Marx rehabilitated technique in the eyes of the workers (who were opposed to to technique in the 1800’s because they bore all the hardships and none of the triumphs). He convinced the working class that they would not be liberated by the struggle against technique, but, on the contrary, by technical means itself, which would automatically bring about the collapse of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism. This reconciliation of the masses to technique was decisive.”
Looked at this way, Marx enabled a psy-op against the worker allowing a bourgeoisie technical mechanized society and economy to be fully implemented. Instead of liberating the common worker and protecting him against the rapacious influence of the technically minded capitalists, Marx enabled them to be enslaved by the technical system.
Because we now live with the fundamental myths of technical thinking, they seem to us as just the way things are and have always been. They have become almost religious in nature. Take the myth of Work, this idea that hard work is its own reward. Prior to technical society, that was not the case:
“For [pre-technical] man, and for historical man until a comparatively late date, work was punishment, not a virtue. It was better to consume less than have to work hard; the rule was to work only as much as absolutely necessary in order to survive.”
“Man [maximizing his own agency] used the utmost ingenuity to obtain a maximum of results from the minimum of means.”
What this meant in practice is that he lived in a society where there were few laws, few tools, few techniques and all of them were honed over countless generations, perfected for a multiplicity of situations. You applied your skills and used old means to solve new problems. The deficiency of the tool was compensated for by the skill of the worker. A man’s talents could make his crude tools yield the maximum results.
“Everything varied from man to man according to his gifts, whereas technique in the modern sense seeks to eliminate such variability.
With every search for new tools and new techniques means the giving up of the pursuit of real skill. Just as societies are not interchangeable, so too ancient techniques remained part of the secret wisdom of a society. Technique in this context was subjective.
The Need for Propaganda
The heading of this section gives away the answer, but why would people allow themselves to be subjected to a technical society? The answer is that technical society requires propaganda to make it function. The whole technical system is itself an ideology that is imposed onto reality and not one that emerges organically from the reality. Thus, in order for people to accept modern technical living, they must be submerged constantly into a fog of propaganda.
We are not going to go too deeply into Ellul’s thoughts here, but enough give you extent of the propaganda problem within technical society. The purpose of propaganda is not to change our way of thinking, it is certainly not to elevate our thoughts; rather, propaganda is meant to make us serve. In this case we are convinced that we must serve the technical system. I am going to be blunt. If you believe in progress, or things like the rights of the individual or the value of capitalism for humanity, your thinking is a product of propaganda that is designed to make you serve the technical machine system. This is the system of the bourgeoisie. Today’s representatives of the this are the managers, the bureaucrats, the professional managerial class, the nowheres, the plastics, whatever label you use, this is their system and the main force of propaganda is aimed towards your dutiful participation in this system.
“These common presuppositions of bourgeois and proletarian are that man’s aim in life is happiness, that man is basically good, that history develops in endless progress, and that everything is matter.”
Propaganda rests on the fundamental myths of our western culture, that is, our technical mechanical society.
“In our society the two great fundamental myths on which all the other myths rest are Science and History [that is, Progress]. And based on them are the collective myths that are [technical] man’s principle orientations: the myth of Work, the myth of Happiness (which is not the presumption of happiness), the myth of the Nation, the myth of Youth, the myth of the Hero.”
Propaganda builds on these basic presuppositions and expresses these basic myths. Any narrative that runs counter to these fundamental myths has a hard time getting any purchase with the general public. So when one builds one’s messaging it must be seen as moving with these primary mythic messages. They must go always in the same direction as the myths. Attempts at propaganda which would stress virtue over happiness and presents man’s future as one that is dominated by austerity, hardship and complication will lose out to messaging which emphasizes prosperity, progress, convenience and personal autonomy.
As noted above, technical society, and with it propaganda, wishes to isolate people, to treat them as individuals, to separate them not just from each other, but also from the past and the future. The propagandist does not want the individual thinking about the great questions of human life, its meaning, his obligations to God and so forth. This constant present is actually achieved through a emphasis on current events. The propagandists want the isolated individual thinking continually about the latest happenings in entertainment, politics and economics. Remember that when Ellul wrote this, mass communication meant newspapers and radio predominantly. This focus on current events does not require the internet, a 24 hour news cycles or social media. The proliferation of newspapers was enough. Propaganda starts with current events. If you want to get your own thoughts back, step one is to stop paying attention to the news.
To the extent that propaganda is based on the news, it cannot permit time for thought or reflection. One thought drives away the next. Old facts are replaced with new ones. Under the condition of propaganda there is no thought, one just feels. Because of the deluge of information from the media, entertainment, news, work, the person compensates by forgetting what he has just seen or heard. In so doing, a man loses his sense of continuity. His life is disconnected and fragmented without a meaningful whole. He is lost and adrift on a sea of information.
Eventually the person simply accepts the prevailing worldview of the propagandist as the world. Whatever is in accord with the propaganda is good, and whatever cuts against it is bad. He is like a fish in water. He cannot see the water. Anything that alerts him to the water is then bad. He has a passive attitude. He is seized. He is manipulated. He is committed. He experiences what he is asked to experience. He is transformed into an object. The propaganda has control of the individual by means of a social force. This force has control over his inner life and he is deprived of himself.
Why is this important? In this time of political upheaval, we need to understand that what happens within western technical society happens within that society. Our technique based system, including rationally implemented forms of governance like the American Constitution are all part of this anti-traditional, technically oriented social project. Classical liberalism, enlightenment liberalism, left liberalism are all the same thing. They all share the same fundamental stories. In order to gain purchase in the public realms of this social system, it must move with the primary cultural myths.
When so-called conservatives make appeals to individual liberties like free speech, freedom of assembly, religion or even the right to bear arms, they are supporting and drawing from the same set of myths that left draws from when they want to end racism by means of a managed systems of quotas and reverse discrimination. They are like different denominations of the same religion. This is largely because both accept the world of technique and technical thinking. Ellul puts it this way:
“[because of the myth of Progress, propaganda] must be associated with all economic, administrative, political and educational development…thus…the general trend toward socialization can neither be questioned nor overridden. The political left is respectable; the Right has to justify itself before the ideology of the Left (in which the Rightists participate). All propaganda must contain and evoke the principle elements of the ideology of the Left in order to be successful.”
This is why it always seems like the two options politically are fast liberalism and cautious liberalism, because within the myth system of technical and scientific progress, those are your options. This is also why radical leftism, that is, some form of Marxism, never seems to be rejected because Marxism is in line with the fundamental myths of enlightenment society. A true right wing option is not just out of bounds, but evil, in that is threatens to undermine the very core myths of society.
This is also why developing a true right wing political program is so difficult, because so many of those who see problems in the current system, critique it mostly from within the system. They are looking to find the true heart of the west, the true heart of enlightenment liberalism. But it gains traction only to the degree that it never challenges the fundamental myths of society, especially those of individual autonomy or technical progress or the value of economic prosperity or even the value of hard work. This is not a denial that these voices don’t exist or that you can’t find them, but they don’t gain broad purchase because they do not adhere to the fundamental mythic structure of modern western society, a mythic structure that is ideological and imposed upon us by propaganda and maintained by propaganda.
It is this propagandistic nature of our society that suggests that perhaps the only path of recovery is some form of unplugging and separating one’s selves as an alternative society.
The Essential Characteristics of Technical Society
Since we are like fish in water, what do we need to do to help ourselves see the water for what it is? So what are we looking at, and how do we recognize it? Here are the basic characteristics of today’s technical phenomena:
Rationality: technique is always the application of rationality. It is never organic. Any rationally conceived plan, solution, method, approach, system and so forth is technical in nature. Whether that is applied to building rockets, running the government or growing churches, these rational approaches are technical in nature.
Artificiality: technique is opposed to nature. At its heart it is ideological. Technique never emerges naturally or organically, it is always developed and imposed. It is the creation of an artificial system. Technique destroys, eliminates and subordinates the natural world and makes it impossible to enter into a truly symbiotic relationship with the created world.
Automatism: technique is always pursuing the “one best way” to do anything. Whether that is a political system, or running a fortune 500 company, or testing intelligence, or teaching students. There is always a “best way” or a “best practice” for everything. Technique is always trying to achieve the most efficient way of doing anything.
Self-Augmentation: technique now proliferates now almost without human intervention. One technique suggests the next. Modern man is so absorbed in technique, so convinced of its superiority that without exception he is oriented towards technical progress, which is social progress.
Technical progress is non-reversible.
Technical progress is always geometric in nature.
Monism: the technical phenomenon embraces all the separate techniques in order to form a single seamless technical whole. This is a process of self-augmentation, where techniques now depend upon and reinforce other techniques.
The technical civilization is constructed by technique, for technique and is exclusively technique. Technique has taken over the whole of civilization. The human being is forced to capitulate, accommodate himself to techniques and to not experience any personal feelings or reactions. The technical system becomes a form of propaganda itself, the fundamental belief.
“No technique is possible when men are free…technique requires predictability and no less exactness and precision. It is necessary that technique prevail over the human being.”
“The individual will no longer be able, materially or spiritually to disengage himself from [technical] society.”
Can the System Be Reformed?
The short answer is, no. It is what it is. As Ellul details in his final book on the subject of technology: technique and technical systems don’t care. Technique is neither good, nor evil, it is ambivalent. You cannot go into the system and try to fix it such that you end up with a more humane form of technique. This is why the “man of destiny” that many on the right hope for will not be able to rise to power and shape the system after his will, bending it towards the end goal of human flourishing because the system is a technical system. Why can’t the technical system be reformed? In part because of the four laws of technical ambivalence which Ellul identified:
First, all technical progress has its price.
Second, at each stage it raises more and greater problems than it solves.
Third, its harmful effects are inseparable from its beneficial effects.
Fourth, it has a great number of unforeseen effects.
As technique proliferates, because of the fundamental faith in the technical system, there is a belief that the next round of technical reforms will finally get the system right. Or the related belief that if we get our guy in to run things, the man of destiny or some such, that we will be able to finally reform the system. This is a false hope. Because of our fundamental orientation towards rationalism, there is a belief that we can fix the system. We can either add new systems or reform the current system. The one option that is never considered is to dismantle portions of the system or to cease using a particular technology. When techniques were still being developed cautiously and organically in the traditional western social arrangements with all of its constraints upon technical development, there was time to watch how a new tool or technique affected a social group and simply stop using it if it seemed to bring too much harm. This option is closed to us today.
Ellul calls this a form of “unreason.” At every stage of technical implementation the system grows increasingly more complex, its good and bad effects continue to multiply and it becomes increasingly more susceptible to failure. Inefficiency makes the system more robust and better able to handle shocks. This is the difference between that old truck you have that has been running for 25 years and a Formula 1 race car. It is the difference between an inefficient global supply chain that had buffers in the system, warehouses filled with inventory and the highly efficient just-in-time delivery system that is wonderfully efficient but vulnerable to the slightest shock. It is why no reform of any government program ever works. You may solve one problem, but this will bring a multiplicity of new problems.
But as we have seen, we are vested in keeping the system going, in part because of unreason, in part because that unreason is fueled by a fog of propaganda. It is likely that the system will not be reformable without a significant shock to the system. It is too complex now for simple reforms. Get rid of all standardization? Get rid of all policy manuals? The whole empire of western civilization, everything from churches, to governments, to businesses all participate in the mythology of technical progress. With increasing unreason we press on, adding to it, introducing yet more devices, engaging in ever more risky researches in a social mania to somehow keep progress going. The one thing we seem incapable of doing is to say “no.”
But we are playing out an old story, rather an old set of stories that we stopped taking to heart. The story of Adam and Eve. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. With technical society we have bitten from the apple and there is no going back. We cannot unknow what we know. We must live honestly with our sin, so to speak. And now, like with Cain, “sin crouches at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” That did not end well for either Cain or his brother Abel. Finally, we are trying to build that tower to heaven, and it will likely end for us the way it ended for them, with us scattered and the tower in ruins.
There is no way to read Ellul and not in some way be depressed by our current situation. But knowing is the first step to grappling with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. There is no plan that will save us. All plans work to sustain the current system. At best, I think, the path is to unplug and try to find ourselves again. Yet here am I, deeply enmeshed myself in this technical system, trapped and controlled by its necessities using a computer to post writings to a mass media web site. One hope that I have is that there are values, values of faith, values of human community, things still uncorrupted by the system. These things can be found, nurtured and fostered. Perhaps they will open a pathway to step away and unplug, to create refuges from the technical system. In the meantime, let us all be mindful of how we use machines and how we are controlled by them. One step at a time.