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November 20, 2008 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Any author other than Ellul making the "modern technology = loss of freedom" argument?

I'm currently translating/adapting a textbook on technology and sustainable development. There is a short section on technological determinism presenting Jacques Ellul's "modern technology=loss of freedom" argument. The book also uses Kaczynski (the unabomber) and his manifesto as another example of this type of argument (citing the whole of paragraph 127). Frankly, I'm a bit uncomfortable with this (on many levels), and I'd rather not use Kaczynski at all. I might have the leeway to do this if I were to replace Kaczynski with another author that has a similar argument but no propensity to maim and kill people with bombs. Any suggestions?

(If you want to make the argument that using Kaczinsky in that context is perfectly legit, I'm willing to listen. The textbook is aimed at engineering students. One of my concern with using Kaczinsky is that it almost consitutes an "ad hominem" attack on the "anti-technology" argument: "Of course it's a completely ludicrous argument since it supported by such a crackpot")
posted by bluefrog to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Zerzan is a little bit removed from Kaczynski if I understand you correctly and Marcuse has a nice critique of technology that doesn't go the whole primitivist route which may avoid unpleasant associations all around. The Wikipedia article on the Unabomber has a few more examples but those are two that I think are popular enough to be well-known and accessible.
posted by jessamyn at 3:42 PM on November 20, 2008

There's "The Tyranny of Choice". Similar, but not exactly the same.
posted by Class Goat at 3:59 PM on November 20, 2008

Not sure if this touches your "loss of freedom" argument but Al Gore and Bill Joy have both seemed to echo Kaczynski in places.
posted by grobstein at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2008

In This Ugly Civilization (full text) Ralph Borsodi makes several arguments against industrialization. If I remember right, one of his points is that technology as expressed in industrial society and consumerism infantilizes us and makes us less capable adults.

However, he's not talking just about technology, which he seems to view as neutral. He's talking about efficiency and the factory mindset: "It is the factory, not the machine, which has transformed man from a self-helpful into a self-helpless individual and which has changed mankind from a race of participators in life to a race of spectators of it." If I remember Ellul correctly, he had similar concerns about efficiency, not just technology.

More Borsodi: "The servitude to the factory which it enforces uniformly upon all men harnesses skilled workers and creative individuals in a repetitive treadmill which makes each muscle in their bodies, every drop of blood in their veins, the very fibres of their being, cry out in voiceless agony that they are being made to murder time--the irreplaceable stuff of which life itself is composed. For America is a respecter of things only, and time--why time is only something to be killed, or butchered into things which can be bought and sold."

You might also be interested in Turning Away from Technology, which brings together many thinkers about the issue, including Jerry Mander, Wendell Berry, and many others. It's not the most organized book, unfortunately. And, of course, Kirkpatrick Sale is one of the best known neo-Luddites, but I can't think offhand of a particular publication that will give you what you need.
posted by PatoPata at 4:43 PM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:24 PM on November 20, 2008

Jerry Mander's (author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television) In the Absence of the Sacred.
posted by Manhasset at 7:54 PM on November 20, 2008

Perhaps Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology, but maybe you're looking for something more recent.
posted by hala mass at 10:03 PM on November 20, 2008

Some further recommendations that might be helpful ... Lewis Mumford (a marvelous architectural and literary critic turned technological historian) produced several books about what he saw as the total system of tools and apparatus and the ways in which it obliges us to work and live, calling this whole "technics." In his late The Myth of the Machine he starts from technics to talk about the "megamachine," parts of civilization in which humans are reduced to components in a technical infrastructure (examples include the Pyramids, armies and mass industrialization, and the Cold War techno-state, symbolized for him by the Pentagon). He's pretty respectable -- his ideas play a role in the New Urbanism, alongside Jane Jacobs, etc. He summarized his position in the lectures collected as Art and Technics (1951): "Salvation lies not in the pragmatic adaptation of the human personality to the machine, but in the readaptation of the machine, itself a product of life's needs for order and organization, to the human personality. A human pattern, a human measure, a human tempo, above all, a human goal must transform the activities and processes of technics."

Siegfried Giedion (another architectural critic-cum-technohistorian) wrote a quietly influential book called Mechanization Takes Command in 1948, where he tries to assemble the "anonymous history" of technologies that either constrain or liberate people and their relationships to the world -- "At the origin of the inquiry stood the desire to understand the effects of mechanization upon the human being; to discern how far mechanization corresponds with and to what extent it contradicts the unalterable laws of human nature. The question of the limits of mechanization is bound to arise at any moment, as the human aspect, which is fundamental, cannot be disregarded. The coming period has to reinstate basic human values. It must be a time of reorganization in the broadest sense, a time that must find its way to universalism."

Giedion and Mumford together enormously admired the work of engineering, and knew it intimately (Giedion, blown away by Garnier's Industrial City, said he preferred the "lasting ecstasies of engineering to the fleeting rush of cocaine"). They were criticizing its priorities from the inside, and aren't open to ad hominem moves like Kaczynski.

Depending on how much historical context you want, you might also be interested in the Victorian anti-industrial critique of John Ruskin and William Morris, both of whom didn't just complain (eloquently), but tried to develop alternate means of production.

(Wow, who put a nickel in me? Enough!)
posted by finnb at 3:12 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I suspect from what I heard in college that Habermass' Life World theory (ultimately leading to the recolonization of the Normative and Political Life Worlds by the Economic Life World) would fit this pretty accurately. But modern philosophy is not my forte...as my name might suggest.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:05 AM on November 21, 2008

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