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 The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul

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PostSubject: The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul   Wed 04 Nov 2009, 4:04 pm

The Technological Society
By The Necromancer
http://thenecromancer.wordpress.com/2007/04/02/the-technological-society/

Impressive in its criticality and depth, Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society (1964) has been compared to works by other major theorists of technology and society, like Thorstein Veblen and Lewis Mumford.

Taking his lead from Jünger, who says that “technology is the real metaphysics of the 20th century,” Ellul explores technology in its broadest sense, talking about “technique” as a powerful form of thinking. In his earlier (perhaps influential) work Mumford employed a similar term: technics. “The essence of technique is to compel the qualitative to become quantitative,” Ellul says…

He begins with the self-evident comparison between the machine and “technique”, arguing that “the machine is the most obvious, massive and impressive example of technique, and historically the first.” Though technique began with the machine and in a sense depends on it, it also transcends the machine. “All-embracing technique is in fact the consciousness of the mechanized world.” Technique, Ellul would have agreed, is the essential by-product of mechanistic thought. In a way, it is mechanistic thought.

Technique is also allied to science, and though it hasn’t always been the case, they are now increasingly analogous. Yet technique has its own logic…One of organization and standardization — Ellul sees psychoanalysis, sociology and propaganda (i.e. PR) as technique. Historically, technique is rooted in the applied rationality of ‘Enlightenment’ thought — the utilitarian, pragmatic and materialistic philosophy of the 18th century. Following the critical theorists, Ellul feels this period marks the emergence of a particular mental ethos: “From this point of view, it might be said that technique is the translation into action of man’s concern to master things by means of reason, to account for what is subconscious, make quantitative what is qualitative, make clear and precise the outlines of nature, take hold of chaos and put order into it.”

Seeing the atomization of society as essential to the spread of technique, Ellul argues it reaches mass scales along with the “massification” of society (ca. 1850-1914). Technique’s most obvious characteristics in this period are automatism, rationality and artificiality, emblemized by the mass medium of the newspaper, which serves a somewhat sinister, broad-based function: “The content is not the product of chance or of some economic form. It is the result of precise psychological and psychoanalytical techniques. These techniques have as their goal the bringing to the individual of that which is indespensible for his satisfaction in the conditions in which the machine has placed him in, of inhibiting in him the sense of revolution, of subjugating him by flattering him. In other words, journalistic content is a technical complex expressly intended to adapt man to the machine.”

As Ellul continues, outlining the relationship between technique and order, introducing the notion of totalitarian technique, we sense he perceives it to be almost universal and thoroughly widespread. Linking technique to capital and monopoly, he further shows its economic face. And yet, when it comes to politics, there is a schism — a clear conflict between political technique and the use of technique as a whole. Ellul here starts to address the question of propaganda…

For him, politics, propaganda and democracy are inextricably linked. Moreover, this triptych is seen as central in the development of American political culture. Ellul quotes Driencourt: “The country which boasts of being most liberal (that is, the United States) is the country in which technique of thought direction is, by its perfection, the closest to totalitarian practices, and is the country in which people, accustomed to living in groups, are most inclined to leave it to experts to fix lines of spiritual conduct.” Think about that for a second…

Ellul’s optimism fades at this point in conceeding that technique has the potential to become an all-encompassing force…A powerful practical science (a “zweckwissenshaft“) whose influence is only on the upswing: “In view of what has been said, it may be affirmed with confidence that, in the decades to come, technique will become stronger and its pace will be accelerated through the agency of the state. The state and technique — increasingly interrelated — are becoming the most important forces in the modern world; they buttress and inforce each other in their aim to produce an apparently indestructable, total civilization.” Hegemony indeed.

Digressing into a discussion of cultural imperialism through the lens of the Coca-Cola/wine divide that once split European and American capitalism, Ellul also addresses unionism, propaganda and transference, and sees sport as a form of factory discipline, but, in the end, wisely returns to his main theme (technique) and its relationship to (you guessed it) medicine.

Ellul warns of the risk of medical technique through its association with the state. He speaks of embryo research (then only in its infancy…), technical convergence and the rise of “biocracy”. If he had written the book a few years later, he might have employed a term close to the one I coined about a dozen years ago to critically describe similar phenomena — “genetocracy”. But these transformations are still in process, and hopefully Ellul’s term will more properly evoke the character of this evolution in technique.

It is here, at the pill-popping core of our collective consciouness — where technique seems most dark and ominous — that Ellul finds faint glimmers of light. Sure, we live in the age of advertizing and the mass man, and truly, he argues, we risk falling into a completely technized mode of being. An essentially contextless and ahistorical being. What he describes as the life of “the joyous robot”.

But, offering some optimism, Ellul says this about “biocracy”: “Humanity is still captive of a metaphysical and dogmatic mentality at a time when experimental science (technique) could beyond any doubt allow them to solve their principal difficulties. We are still half buried in scholasticism at a time when biology is in a position to be our salvation…Our dogmatisms have well shown their mischeviousness…It is therefore indespensable henceforth to resist the seductions of systems based on metaphysics and to face up to the reality which we can understand and which concerns us…The life sciences bring together certain means of knowledge and action. All doctrines which draw their inspiration from abstract conceptions have already betrayed their fundamental incapacity to organize the human world. Biocracy, that is, organization in accordance with the basic laws of life, represents our only chance of salvation at a moment of our development in which the various metaphysics and systems left over from archaic cultures still corrupt human life.”

His environmental message is a hopeful beacon. In a final challenge to the poverty of intellectual discourse, this time through a quote from Norbert Weiner, Ellul seeks to spawn new voices in what the old cyberneticist once saw as a unified chorus: “The intellectual has become a mere mouthpiece subject to the demands of the various techniques.” This, Weiner argued, causes the sterilization of intellectual life in the modern world: “Present-day methods of communication exclude all intellectual activity except what is so conventional that is has no decisive value.” One wonders whether the Internet, perhaps the omega point of technique, exacerbates this phenomena…

Ellul ends on a Huxleyian note, suggesting that if technique overwhelms public discourse, it is our own damn lazy, pleasure-seeking fault for letting it happen. Stoicism is a tough message to sell when it comes to technology and the media, but Ellul is brave and clever enough to make us think about why we should try and approach them in this light.

To not heed some of his other considered warnings — about medicine and politics, for example — would also be rash. While they are the admittedly dated critical thoughts of a self-avowed Christian anarchist, it’s foolish to ignore them altogether.
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PostSubject: Re: The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul   Wed 04 Nov 2009, 4:40 pm

The Betrayal by Technology: A Portrait of Jacques Ellul (1992)
http://www.archive.org/details/TheBetrayalByTechnologyAPortraitOfJacquesEllul1992



"The term technique, as I use it, does not mean machines, technology, or this or that procedure for attaining an end. In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods ralionally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity. Its characteristics are new; the technique of the present has no common measure with that of the past." (p. xxv)

"Capitalism did not create our world; the machine did. Painstaking studies designed to prove the contrary have buried the obvious beneath tons of print. And, if we do not wish to play the demagogue, we must point out the guilty party. 'The machine is antisocial', says Lewis Mumford. 'It tends, by reason of its progressive character, to the most acute forms of human exploitation.' The machine took its place in a social milieu that was not made for it, and for that reason created the inhuman society in which we live. Capitalism was therefore only one aspect of the deep disorder of the nineteenth century. To restore order, it was necessary to question all the bases of that society — its social and political structures, its art and its way of life, its commercial system." (p. 5)
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PostSubject: Re: The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul   Wed 04 Nov 2009, 11:51 pm

With regards to the last post. I have often thought about computers and the internet. For many of us they consume our days and lead to impersonal contact. Long distance socialization with no personal touch. For all I know everyone in this forum could be one of the quantum computers the govt has locked away deep in the earth. Their are both fortunes and misfortunes to the mass immediate contact that we now have. I would love to sit around the camp fire til 4am talking with others in this forum about philosophy, the current simulacrum, and various other topics. Of course with this technology here we are impersonally posting and reading others messages two days later or whenever our desires see fit. But yet without we more than likely would have never met. Its the catch 22 of it all. Technology, is it a curse or a gift? It definitely mechanizes us, there is no doubt in that. Some, not all have become so emblazoned on having the latest gadget which brings no further fruit or happiness to their life but the media tells them to buy without any qualitative reason to do such. We see it year after year when the crazies go out during Christmas shopping and fight over a dumb piece of cotton with plastic in it or some other sweat factory product. Here in America we bitch about the cost of gasoline or whatever cost increase but the rest of the world is working for slave wages producing Shit that is nothing more than garbage after about a weeks worth of enjoyment. Sorry to rant. So needless to say with regards to The Betrayal of Technology, there is no doubt in my mind for the most part it is to me but it all started with dumbing us down to not even question the purpose of whats been created, just do no thought.


Last edited by stilltrying on Wed 04 Nov 2009, 11:51 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : missed a y on for many)
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PostSubject: Re: The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul   Sat 07 Nov 2009, 2:20 am

stilltrying wrote:
With regards to the last post. I have often thought about computers and the internet. For many of us they consume our days and lead to impersonal contact. Long distance socialization with no personal touch. For all I know everyone in this forum could be one of the quantum computers the govt has locked away deep in the earth. Their are both fortunes and misfortunes to the mass immediate contact that we now have. I would love to sit around the camp fire til 4am talking with others in this forum about philosophy, the current simulacrum, and various other topics. Of course with this technology here we are impersonally posting and reading others messages two days later or whenever our desires see fit. But yet without we more than likely would have never met. Its the catch 22 of it all. Technology, is it a curse or a gift? It definitely mechanizes us, there is no doubt in that. Some, not all have become so emblazoned on having the latest gadget which brings no further fruit or happiness to their life but the media tells them to buy without any qualitative reason to do such. We see it year after year when the crazies go out during Christmas shopping and fight over a dumb piece of cotton with plastic in it or some other sweat factory product. Here in America we bitch about the cost of gasoline or whatever cost increase but the rest of the world is working for slave wages producing Shit that is nothing more than garbage after about a weeks worth of enjoyment. Sorry to rant. So needless to say with regards to The Betrayal of Technology, there is no doubt in my mind for the most part it is to me but it all started with dumbing us down to not even question the purpose of whats been created, just do no thought.

My very thought, ST. :-)
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PostSubject: Re: The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul   Sun 18 Aug 2013, 6:25 pm

Why would anyone believe that the scientists are "naive"? (see red excerpt below)

Quote :
The Technological Society
http://www.amazon.com/The-Technological-Society-Jacques-Ellul/dp/0394703901

Technique - the bedrock of the modern world, June 7, 2004
By Jonathan Armstrong "enantidromian" (Denver, CO United States)

Before proceeding with this review, let me just say that no fewer than a hundred pages could be trimmed from its content without diluting its message at all. Many of the examples used in the book are extremely dated; while I think I'm fairly well read, I confess that I'm not really up on the vicissitudes and catfights of French academic sociology in the early 1960's (to give but one example). With that being said, this book is worth well worth the time spent reading its 436 pages.

This is undoubtedly one of the most important books of the twentieth century, and if you accept its thesis you won't be able to look at the political milieu in the same way ever again. (If you agree with it and it doesn't change the way you look at things, you haven't grasped its importance.) Most political theorists take ideology to be a central point from which "real world" consequences emanate. In other words, a Communist or libertarian ideology in practical use will produce a particular type society and individual divorced from the actual technical workings of the society. Liberals and conservatives both speak of things in such a manner as if ideology is the prima facie cause of existence - but as Ellul shows in painstaking detail, this is wrong. What almost everyone fails to grasp is the pernicious effect of technique (and its offspring, technology) on modern man.

Technique can loosely be defined as the entire mass of organization and technology that has maximum efficiency as its goal. Ellul shows that technique possesses an impetus all its own and exerts similar effects on human society no matter what the official ideology of the society in question is. Technique, with its never-ending quest for maximum efficiency, tends to slowly drown out human concerns as it progresses towards its ultimate goal. "...the further economic technique develops, the more it makes real the abstract concept of economic man." (p. 219) Technique does not confine itself merely to the realm of technical production, but infiltrates every aspect of human existence, and has no time for "inefficiencies" caused by loyalties to family, religion, race, or culture; a society of dumbed-down consumers is absolutely essential to the technological society, which must contain predictable "demographics" in order to ensure the necessary financial returns. "The only thing that matters technically is yield, production. This is the law of technique; this yield can only be obtained by the total mobilization of human beings, body and soul, and this implies the exploitation of all human psychic forces." (p. 324).

Ellul thoroughly shows that much of the difference in ideology between libertarians and socialists becomes largely irrelevant in the technological society (this is not to say that ideology is unimportant, but rather that technique proceeds with the same goals and effects.) This will doubtlessly please no one; liberals want to believe that they can have privacy and freedom despite a high degree of central planning, and libertarians want to believe that a society free of most regulation and control is possible in an advanced technological society. Libertarian fantasies seem especially irrelevant given the exigencies of a technological society; as Ellul notes, as technique progresses it simply cannot function without a high degree of complexity and regulation. "The modern state could no more be a state without techniques than a businessman could be a businessman without the telephone or the automobile... not only does it need techniques, but techniques need it. It is not a matter of chance, nor a matter of conscious will; rather, it is an urgency..." (p. 253-254). Can anyone really doubt Ellul here, especially seeing as how twenty-plus years of conservative promises to downsize government still result in more regulation and bureaucracy with every passing year? Planning, socialism, regulation, and control are the natural consequences of technique; an increasingly incestuous relationship between industry and the State is inevitable. "The state and technique - increasingly interrelated - are becoming the most important forces in the modern world; they buttress and reinforce each other in their aim to produce an apparently indestructible, total civilization." (p. 318).

This is not an optimistic book. Given that the nature of technique is one of a universal leveling of human cultures, needs, and desires (replacing real needs with false ones and the neighborhood restaurant with McDonalds), Ellul is certainly pessimistic. He does not propose any remedies for the Skinnerist nightmares of technique somehow leading to a Golden Age of humanity, where people will enjoy maximal freedom coupled with minimal want: "...we are struck by the incredible naivete of these scientists... they claim they will be in a position to develop certain collective desires, to constitute certain homogeneous social units out of aggregates of individuals, to forbid men to raise their children, and even to persuade them to renounce having any... at the same time, they speak of assuring the triumph of freedom and of the necessity of avoiding dictatorship... they seem incapable of grasping the contradiction involved, or of understanding that what they are proposing." (p. 434).

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PostSubject: Re: The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul   Tue 20 Aug 2013, 12:25 pm

C1 wrote:
Why would anyone believe that the scientists are "naive"? (see red excerpt below)
Quote :
The Technological Society
http://www.amazon.com/The-Technological-Society-Jacques-Ellul/dp/0394703901

Technique - the bedrock of the modern world, June 7, 2004
By Jonathan Armstrong "enantidromian" (Denver, CO United States)

Before proceeding with this review, let me just say that no fewer than a hundred pages could be trimmed from its content without diluting its message at all. Many of the examples used in the book are extremely dated; while I think I'm fairly well read, I confess that I'm not really up on the vicissitudes and catfights of French academic sociology in the early 1960's (to give but one example). With that being said, this book is worth well worth the time spent reading its 436 pages.

This is undoubtedly one of the most important books of the twentieth century, and if you accept its thesis you won't be able to look at the political milieu in the same way ever again. (If you agree with it and it doesn't change the way you look at things, you haven't grasped its importance.) Most political theorists take ideology to be a central point from which "real world" consequences emanate. In other words, a Communist or libertarian ideology in practical use will produce a particular type society and individual divorced from the actual technical workings of the society. Liberals and conservatives both speak of things in such a manner as if ideology is the prima facie cause of existence - but as Ellul shows in painstaking detail, this is wrong. What almost everyone fails to grasp is the pernicious effect of technique (and its offspring, technology) on modern man.

Technique can loosely be defined as the entire mass of organization and technology that has maximum efficiency as its goal. Ellul shows that technique possesses an impetus all its own and exerts similar effects on human society no matter what the official ideology of the society in question is. Technique, with its never-ending quest for maximum efficiency, tends to slowly drown out human concerns as it progresses towards its ultimate goal. "...the further economic technique develops, the more it makes real the abstract concept of economic man." (p. 219) Technique does not confine itself merely to the realm of technical production, but infiltrates every aspect of human existence, and has no time for "inefficiencies" caused by loyalties to family, religion, race, or culture; a society of dumbed-down consumers is absolutely essential to the technological society, which must contain predictable "demographics" in order to ensure the necessary financial returns. "The only thing that matters technically is yield, production. This is the law of technique; this yield can only be obtained by the total mobilization of human beings, body and soul, and this implies the exploitation of all human psychic forces." (p. 324).

Ellul thoroughly shows that much of the difference in ideology between libertarians and socialists becomes largely irrelevant in the technological society (this is not to say that ideology is unimportant, but rather that technique proceeds with the same goals and effects.) This will doubtlessly please no one; liberals want to believe that they can have privacy and freedom despite a high degree of central planning, and libertarians want to believe that a society free of most regulation and control is possible in an advanced technological society. Libertarian fantasies seem especially irrelevant given the exigencies of a technological society; as Ellul notes, as technique progresses it simply cannot function without a high degree of complexity and regulation. "The modern state could no more be a state without techniques than a businessman could be a businessman without the telephone or the automobile... not only does it need techniques, but techniques need it. It is not a matter of chance, nor a matter of conscious will; rather, it is an urgency..." (p. 253-254). Can anyone really doubt Ellul here, especially seeing as how twenty-plus years of conservative promises to downsize government still result in more regulation and bureaucracy with every passing year? Planning, socialism, regulation, and control are the natural consequences of technique; an increasingly incestuous relationship between industry and the State is inevitable. "The state and technique - increasingly interrelated - are becoming the most important forces in the modern world; they buttress and reinforce each other in their aim to produce an apparently indestructible, total civilization." (p. 318).

This is not an optimistic book. Given that the nature of technique is one of a universal leveling of human cultures, needs, and desires (replacing real needs with false ones and the neighborhood restaurant with McDonalds), Ellul is certainly pessimistic. He does not propose any remedies for the Skinnerist nightmares of technique somehow leading to a Golden Age of humanity, where people will enjoy maximal freedom coupled with minimal want: "...we are struck by the incredible naivete of these scientists... they claim they will be in a position to develop certain collective desires, to constitute certain homogeneous social units out of aggregates of individuals, to forbid men to raise their children, and even to persuade them to renounce having any... at the same time, they speak of assuring the triumph of freedom and of the necessity of avoiding dictatorship... they seem incapable of grasping the contradiction involved, or of understanding that what they are proposing." (p. 434).
Perhaps because he doesn't want the repercussions that would arise if he was more honest in his description?  That makes sense to me-- he would want to give a truthful view to his audience (of the evil  psychology involved),, but  does Not want to *offend* some influential, or otherwise 'connected',  people.  

Could be, I think..no?

Think I will start to reread Ellul again--for the third time. I need his perspective for moral support, and he has always helped before.
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PostSubject: Re: The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul   Wed 21 Aug 2013, 12:44 am

ScoutsHonor wrote:
Perhaps because he doesn't want the repercussions that would arise if he was more honest in his description?  That makes sense to me-- he would want to give a truthful view to his audience (of the evil  psychology involved),, but  does Not want to *offend* some influential, or otherwise 'connected',  people.  

Could be, I think..no?

Think I will start to reread Ellul again--for the third time. I need his perspective for moral support, and he has always helped before.
Yes, I think Ellul was just trying to stay within "limits"

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