The Ecology of Freedom : Chapter 10 - The Social Matrix of Technology
(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "The social view of humanity, namely that of social ecology, focuses primarily on the historic emergence of hierarchy and the need to eliminate hierarchical relationships." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...a market economy based on dog-eat-dog as a law of survival and 'progress' has penetrated every aspect of society..." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "The historic opposition of anarchists to oppression of all kinds, be it that of serfs, peasants, craftspeople, or workers, inevitably led them to oppose exploitation in the newly emerging factory system as well. Much earlier than we are often led to imagine, syndicalism- - essentially a rather inchoate but radical form of trade unionism- - became a vehicle by which many anarchists reached out to the industrial working class of the 1830s and 1840s." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
Chapter 10 - The Social Matrix of Technology
Just as serious as the extent to which we have mechanized the world is the fact that we cannot distinguish what is social in our lives from what is technical. In our inability to distinguish the two, we are losing the ability to determine which is meant to subserve the other. Herein lies the core of our difficulties in controlling the machine. We lack a sense of the social matrix in which all technics should be embedded — of the social meaning in which technology should be clothed. Instead, we encounter the Hellenic conception of techné in the form of a grotesque caricature of itself: a techné that is no longer governed by a sense of limit. Our own, thoroughly market-generated conception of techné has become so limitless, so unbounded, and so broadly defined that we use its vocabulary ("input," "output," "feedback," ad nauseam) to explain our deepest interrelationships — which consequently are rendered shallow and trite. In its massive tendency to colonize the entire terrain of human experience, technics now raises the apocalyptic need to arrest its advance, to redefine its goals, to reorganize its forms, to rescale its dimensions — above all, to reabsorb it back into organic forms of social life and organic forms of human subjectivity.
The historic problem of technics lies not in its size or scale, its "softness" or "hardness," much less the productivity or efficiency that earned it the naive reverence of earlier generations; the problem lies in how we can contain (that is, absorb) technics within an emancipatory society. In itself, "small" is neither beautiful nor ugly; it is merely small. Some of the most dehumanizing and centralized social systems were fashioned out of very "small" technologies; but bureaucracies, monarchies, and military forces turned these systems into brutalizing cudgels to subdue humankind and, later, to try to subdue nature. To be sure, a large-scale technics will foster the development of an oppressively large-scale society; but every warped society follows the dialectic of its own pathology of domination, irrespective of the scale of its technics. It can organize the "small" into the repellent as surely as it can imprint an arrogant sneer on the faces of the elites who administer it. Terms like "large," "small," or "intermediate," and "hard," "soft," or "mellow" are simply externals — the attributes of phenomena or things rather than their essentials. They may help us determine their dimensions and weights, but they do not explain the immanent qualities of technics, particularly as they relate to society.
Unfortunately, a preoccupation with technical size, scale, and even artistry deflects our attention away from the most significant problems of technics — notably, its ties with the ideals and social structures of freedom. The choice between a libertarian and an authoritarian technics was posed by Fourier and Kropotkin generations ago, long before Mumford denatured the word libertarian into the more socially respectable and amorphous term, democratic. But this choice is not peculiar to our times; it has a long, highly complex pedigree. The exquisitely designed pottery of a vanishing artisan world, the beautifully crafted furnishings, the colorful and subtly intricate patterns of textiles, the carefully wrought ornaments, the beautifully sculpted tools and weapons — all attest to a wealth of skills, to a care for product, to a desire for self-expression, and to a creative concern for detail and uniqueness that has faded almost completely from the productive activity of our day. Our admiration for these artisan works unconsciously extends into a sense of inferiority or loss of the artisan world in which they were formed — a world that is all the more impressive because we recognize the high degree of subjectivity expressed by the objects. We feel that identifiable human beings imprinted their personalities on these goods; that they possessed a highly attuned sensitivity to the materials they handled, the tools they used, and to the age-old artistic norms their culture established over countless generations. Ultimately, what arouses us emotionally is the fact that these objects attest to a fecund human spirit, a creative subjectivity that articulated its cultural heritage and its wealth in materials that might otherwise seem pedestrian and beyond artistic merit in our own society. Here, the surreal halo around everyday things — the reconquest of everyday life by a pulsating integration of hands, tools, mind, and materials — was actually achieved not merely as part of the metaphysical program of European intellectuals but also by the common folk who lived that life.
But in our preoccupation with the skill, care, and sensibilities of traditional artisans, we all too easily forget the nature of the culture that produced the craftsperson and the craft. Here, I refer not to its human scale, its sensitivity of values, and its humanistic thrust, but to the more solid facts of the social structure and its rich forms. That Eskimos crafted their equipment with considerable care because they had a high sense of care for each other is obvious enough, and that the animate quality of their crafts revealed an internal sense of animation and subjectivity need hardly be emphasized. But in the last analysis, all these desiderata flowed from the libertarian structure of the Eskimo community. Nor was this any less the case in the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic communities (or of organic society generally), whose artifacts still enchant us and whose traditions later formed the communal and esthetic base of the "high civilizations" of antiquity. To the degree that its social traditions retain their vitality, even in a vestigial form, its skills, tools, and artifacts retain the all-important imprint of the artisan conceived as a self-creative being, a self-productive subject.
Initially, a libertarian is distinguished from an authoritarian technics by more than just the scale of production, the kind or size of implements, or even the way in which labor is organized, important as those may be. Perhaps the most crucial reason for what produces this distinction is the emergence of an institutional technics: the priestly corporation; the slowly emerging bureaucracies that surround it; later the monarchies and the military forces that preempt it; indeed, the very belief systems that validate the entire hierarchical structure and provide the authoritarian core of an authoritarian technics. Lavish material surpluses did not produce hierarchies and ruling classes; rather, hierarchies and ruling classes produced lavish material surpluses. Mumford may be perfectly correct in observing that one of the earliest machines to appear in history was not an inanimate ensemble of technical components but a highly animate "megamachine" of massed human beings whose large-scale, coordinated labor reared the huge public works and mortuaries of early "civilizations." But the growing religious and secular bureaucracies were even more technically authoritarian. Indeed, they were the earliest "machines" that eventually made the "megamachine" possible — that mobilized it and directed its energies toward authoritarian ends.
However, these bureaucracies' most signal achievement was not the coordination and rationalization of this newly developed human machine; it was the effectiveness with which they reduced their animate subjects, their vast armies of peasants and slaves, to utterly inanimate objects. The "megamachine" could be disbanded as easily as it could be mobilized; its human components lived out the greater part of their lives in the organic matrix of a village society. More important than the "megamachine" was the extent to which institutional technologies objectified the labor it generated and, above all, the laborers who formed it. Labor and the laborer suffered not merely under the whip of material exploitation but even more under the whip of spiritual degradation. As I have already noted, early hierarchies and ruling classes staked out their claims to sovereignty not only by a process of elevation but also by a process of debasement. The vast armies of corvee labor that dragged huge stone blocks along the banks of the Nile to build pyramids provided an image not just of an oppressed humanity, but of dehumanized beasts — ultimately, of inanimate objects upon whom their foremen and rulers could exercise their sense of power. Their sweat formed the balm of rule; the stench from their bodies, an incense to tyranny; their corpses, a throne for mortal men to live by the heady norms of deities. For the many to become less was to make the few become more.
It is difficult for us to understand that political structures can be no less technical than tools and machines. In part, this difficulty arises because our minds have been imprinted by a dualistic metaphysics of "structures" and "superstructures." To dissect social experience into the economic and political, technical and cultural, has become a matter of second nature that resists any melding of one with the other. But this tendency is also partly due to an opportunistic political prudence that is wary of confronting the stark realities of power in a period of social accommodation. Better and safer to deal with technics as tools, machines, labor, and design than as coercive political institutions that organize the very implements, work, and imagination involved in the modern technical ensemble. Better to deal with how these means achieve certain destructive or constructive forms on the natural landscape than to explore the deformations they produce within subjectivity itself.
A liberatory technology presupposes liberatory institutions; a liberatory sensibility requires a liberatory society. By the same token, artistic crafts are difficult to conceive without an artistically crafted society, and the "inversion of tools" is impossible without a radical inversion of all social and productive relationships. To speak of "appropriate technologies," "convivial tools," and "voluntary simplicity" without radically challenging the political "technologies," the media "tools," and the bureaucratic "complexities" that have turned these concepts into elitist "art forms" is to completely betray their revolutionary promise as a challenge to the existing social structure. What renders Buckminster Fuller's "spaceship" mentality and the design mentality of the "how-to-do-it" catalogs, periodicals, and impressarios of the "appropriate technology movement" particularly unsavory is their readiness to make "pragmatic" compromises with the political technologies of governmental and quasigovernmental agencies that nourish the very technologies they profess to oppose.
Once we grant that the term "technics" must also include political, managerial, and bureaucratic institutions, we are obliged to seek the nontechnical spheres — the social spheres — that have resisted the technical control of social life. More precisely, how can the social sphere absorb the machines that foster the mechanization of society? I have already noted that the great majority of humankind often resisted technical development. Historically, Europeans stood almost alone in their willingness to accept and foster technical innovation uncritically. And even this proclivity occurred fairly late, with the emergence of modern capitalism. The historical puzzle of what renders some cultures more amenable to technical developments than others can only be resolved concretely — by exploring various cultures internally and revealing, if possible, the nature of their development.
The most important feature of technics in a preindustrial societal complex is the extent to which it ordinarily is adaptive rather than innovative. Where a culture is rich in social structure, where it enjoys a wealth of human relationships, communal responsibilities, and a shared body of mutual concerns, it tends to elaborate a new technical ensemble rather than "develop" it. Controlled by the constraints of usufruct, complementarity, the irreducible minimum, and disaccumulation, early societies tended to elaborate technics with considerable prudence and with a keen sensitivity for the extent to which it could be integrated into existing social institutions. Ordinarily, the ability of technics to alter a societal structure significantly was the exception. Technical innovation occurred in response to major climatic changes or to violent invasions that often transformed the invader as much as the invaded. Even when the "superstructure" of a society changed considerably or acquired a highly dynamic character, the "structure" of the society changed little or not at all. The "riddle of the unchangeability of Asian societies," as Marx was to call it, is in fact the solution to the entire puzzle of the interaction of society with technics. Where technics — bureaucratic, priestly, and dynastic as well as tools, machines, and new forms of labor — encroached upon the social life of tribes and villages, the latter tended to bifurcate from the former and stolidly develop a life and dynamic of its own. The real powers of the Asian village to resist technical invasions or to assimilate them to their social forms lay not in a fixed "systematic division of labor," as Marx believed. Its powers of resistance lay in the intensity of Indian family life, in the high degree of care, mutualism, courtesy, and human amenities that villagers shared as cultural norms, in the rituals that surrounded personal and social life, in the profound sense of rootedness in a communal group, and in the deep sense of meaning these cultural elaborations imparted to the community.
It is surprising to learn how technical innovation left vast aspects of social life untouched and often contributed very little to an explanation of major historical developments. Despite the extraordinary technical ensemble it created, the Neolithic Revolution changed relatively little in the societies that fostered it or adopted its technics. Within the same community, hunting coexisted with newly developed systems of horticulture up to the threshold of "civilization," and often well into antiquity in many areas. Village settlements, often highly mobile in Central Europe, retained strong tribalistic features in the Near East. James Mellaart's work on Çätal Hüyük, a Neolithic city in central Turkey, presents a very sizable community of thousands — well-equipped with a fairly sophisticated technology — that apparently was distinguished for its matricentricity, its egalitarian character, and its pacific qualities. As recently as 350 A.D., Indians of the Nazca culture in the coastal regions of Peru provided "the general picture [of] a sedentary democratic people without marked class distinctions or authoritarianism, possibly without an established religion," observes J. Alden Mason. Unlike the nearby Moche culture of the same period, the Nazca culture exhibits less difference in the "richness" or poverty of the graves, and women seem to be on an equality with men in this respect. The apparent absence of great public works, of extensive engineering features, and of temple pyramids implies a lack of authoritarian leadership. Instead, the leisure time of the people seems to have been spent in individual production, especially in the making of perfect, exquisite textiles and pottery vessels.
By no means is it clear that such Neolithic techniques as pottery, weaving, metallurgy, food cultivation, and new means of transportation altered in any qualitative sense the values of usufruct, complementarity, and the irreducible minimum that prevailed in hunting-gathering societies. In many cases, they may have reinforced them. At a time when the words "Neolithic Revolution" are meant to convey sweeping societal changes that technical innovations are believed to have induced, it may be wise to restore some balance by emphasizing the continuity in values, outlook, and community responsibilities the new villages preserved and possibly enhanced.
New World prehistory is a mine of data, provocative issues, and imaginative possibilities so heavily biased by neo-Marxist interpretations that its cultures seem to be mere reactions to climatic and technical factors. Yet after we have categorized Indian communities according to inventories of their "tool kits" and environmental surroundings, we are often surprised to find how markedly they resemble one another attitudinally, in their basic cultural substance, even ceremonially. Among bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states we find an extraordinary commonality of outlook, basic human conventions, communal solidarity, and mutual care that tends to override their different economic activities as food gatherers, hunters, food cultivators, and the various combinations thereof. These similarities are strongest on the community level of the society, not its political or quasipolitical summits.
Technics, in the narrow, instrumental meaning of the term, does not fully or even adequately account for the institutional differences between a fairly democratic federation such as the Iroquois and a highly despotic empire such as the Inca. From a strictly instrumental viewpoint, the two structures were supported by almost identical "tool kits." Both engaged in horticultural practices that were organized around primitive implements and wooden hoes. Their weaving and metalworking techniques were very similar; their containers were equally functional. Like all New World societies, they both lacked large domestic animals for agricultural purposes, plows, wheeled vehicles, pottery wheels, mechanical spinning and weaving machines, a knowledge of smelting, bellows, and modestly advanced carpentry tools — in short, virtually all the techniques that mark the most significant advances of the Neolithic. When we look at the Iroquois and Inca "tool kits," we seem closer to the late Paleolithic than to the high Neolithic. Nor do we find marked differences between them in their orientation toward sharing, communal aid, and internal solidarity. At the community level of social life, Iroquois and Inca populations were immensely similar — and richly articulated in their social and cultural qualities.
Yet at the political level of social life, a democratic confederal structure of five woodland Indian tribes obviously differs decisively from a centralized, despotic structure of mountain Indian chiefdoms. The former, a highly libertarian confederation, was cemented by elected but recallable chiefs (in some cases chosen by women), popular assemblies, a consensual decision-making procedure in the united tribal council in matters of war, the prevalence of matrilineal descent, and a considerable degree of personal freedom. The latter, a massively authoritarian state, was centered around the person of a deified "emperor" with theoretically unlimited power; it was marked by a far-flung bureaucratic infrastructure, by patrilineal descent and by a totally subservient peasantry. Communal management of resources and produce among the Iroquois tribes occurred at the clan level. By contrast, Inca resources were largely state-owned, and much of the empire's produce was simply confiscation of food and textile materials and their redistribution from central and local storehouses. The Iroquois worked together freely, more by inclination than by compulsion; the Inca peasantry provided corvee labor to a patently exploitive priesthood and state apparatus under a nearly industrial system of management.
Doubtless, climatic and geographic factors helped sculpt the structure developed by the two systems of association. A highly forested area would tend to yield looser political units than would fairly open geographic areas, where visibility between communities was high. The variegated physiography of the Andes, from the lush Amazon valley to the virtually barren Pacific slopes, would have placed a high premium on mobilized labor, a pooling of resources from different ecosystems, and a more secure and diversified redistribution of goods. But the very mountainous terrain that fostered decentralization among the Greek poleis did not seem to inhibit centralization among the Inca, and the temperate forest land that fostered a hierarchical society in medieval Europe did not obstruct the superb elaboration of an egalitarian democracy in pre-Columbian America.
Hindsight and a highly selective choice of "tool kits" may help us describe how a band developed into a tribe, a tribe into a chiefdom, and a chiefdom into a state, but they do not explain why these developments occurred. From time immemorial, hierarchies and classes have used shifts in emphasis to reverse social relations from systems of freedom to those of rule, without dropping a single term from the vocabulary of organic society. Ironically, this cunning on the part of the rulers indicates the extent to which the community valued its egalitarian and complementarian traditions.
Quite apart from New World prehistory, a vast social development began much earlier in the Near East, from which it radiated outward over the entire Eurasian continent. The "Neolithic Revolution" of the Old World was technically more dramatic and more ancient than that of the New. But technics, in a strictly instrumental sense, explains surprisingly little about the sweeping developments that carried society into semi-industrialized — indeed, relatively mechanized — systems of agriculture, pottery, metallurgy, weaving, and above all a highly coordinated system of mobilizing labor.
None of the great empires of antiquity developed substantially beyond a late Neolithic or early Iron Age technics. From a strictly instrumental viewpoint, their technical ensemble was notable for its smallness of scale. As Henry Hodges observes in his broad assessment of classical technics:
The ancient world under the domination of Rome had in fact reached a kind of climax in the technological field. By the end of the Roman period many technologies had advanced as far as possible with the equipment then available, and for further progress to be made, a bigger or more complex plant was required. Despite the fact that the Romans were quite capable of indulging in gigantic undertakings, their technologies remained at the small-equipment level. Thus, for example, if it was required to increase the output of iron the number of furnaces was multiplied, but the furnaces themselves remained the same size. Whatever the cause, the idea of building a larger furnace and devising machinery to work it seems to have been beyond the Roman mind. As a result, the last few centuries of Roman domination produced very little that was technologically new. No new raw materials were discovered, no new processes invented, and one can indeed say that long before Rome fell all technological innovation had ceased.
But innovation there surely was — not in the instruments of production but in the instruments of administration. In terms of its far-reaching bureaucracy, legal system, military forces, mobilization of labor, and centralization of power, the Roman Empire at its peak was the heir, if not the equal, of the authoritarian apparatus of preceding empires.
Probably no imperial system in the Old World ever achieved the totalitarian attributes of Egypt or the brutality of Assyria. Corvee labor gave the Near East its public buildings, temples, mortuaries, megalithic sculptures and symbols, and its highly coordinated irrigation works. Egypt and Mesopotamia led the way by enlisting hundreds of thousands to raise the structures that still monumentalize their existence. But the early commandeering of labor by the Near Eastern despotisms established no distinctions of class or status: artisans as well as peasants, city folk as well as rural folk, wealthy as well as poor, scribes as well as laborers, even Egyptian priests as well as their congregations — all were subject to the labor demands of the State. Later this "democracy" of toil was to be honored in only the breach, until it gave way to a visibly onerous burden on the agrarian and urban poor.
In regions with small farmers, it was difficult to establish totalitarian states. Where their position was weakened, or where large labor surpluses were readily available, centralized states were much more possible and often developed. Carthage and Rome cultivated the latifundia system: a plantation economy worked by gang (largely slave) labor. Sparta introduced a communistic warrior-elite system in which each citizen at birth was given a small, state-owned landed competence, worked by serf-like helots, that reverted to the polis after his death. In contrast, Athens and Hebrew Palestine developed a yeoman farming class that worked the land with family labor and often with two or three slaves.
But apart from a few states that were based on the individual farmer, the authentic hallmark of early "civilizations" was an extensive system of mobilized labor — either partly or wholly devoted to food cultivation and monumental works. Where elaborate irrigation systems were necessary, the underclass of riverine societies indubitably gained greater material security from these totalitarian systems of labor organization and redistribution than they would have enjoyed on their own. Egyptian mortuary records celebrate the success with which the Pharaohs alleviated local famines. But what the peasantry acquired in the form of buffers to nature's uncertainties they may have more than lost in the onerous toil that was exacted from them for often frivolous monumental works. Nor can we be very sure, unlike archaeologists of a generation ago, that the highly centralized regimes of the Old World (and New) greatly enhanced the coordination and effectiveness of alluvial irrigation systems. A carefully tended network of trenches, canals, and pools had appeared in arid areas long before the "high civilizations" of antiquity surfaced. That the "hydraulic" communities of the predynastic world were sorely afflicted by conflicts over water and land rights was clearly a serious problem, but centralization often served merely to escalate the level of conflict to an even more destructive one between kingdoms and empires.
From the New World to the Old, the stupendous elaboration of centralized states and the proliferation of courts, nobles, priesthoods, and military elites was supported by a highly parasitic institutional technology of domination composed of armies, bureaucrats, tax farmers, juridical agencies and a septic, often brutal belief system based on sacrifice and self-abnegation. Without this political technology, the mobilization of labor, the collection of vast material surpluses, and the deployment of a surprisingly simple "tool-kit" for monumental technical tasks would have been inconceivable. Beyond the responsibility of massing huge numbers of human beings into regimented tasks, this system had three essential goals: to intensify the labor process, to abstract it, and to objectify it. A carefully planned effort was undertaken to piece work together so that the State could extract every bit of labor from the "masses," reduce labor to undifferentiated labor-time, and transmute human beings into mere instruments of production. Historically, this unholy trinity of intensification, abstraction, and objectification weighed more heavily on humanity as a malignant verdict of social development than did theology's myth of original sin. No "revolution" in tools and machines was needed to produce this affliction. It stemmed primarily from the elaboration of hierarchy into crystallized warrior elites, and from the genesis of an institutional technics of administration largely embodied in the State, particularly in the bureaucracy that managed the economy. Later, this technics of administration was to acquire a highly industrial character and find its most striking expression in the modern factory system.
The manorial economy of the Middle Ages, like the guild system of its towns, never came to social terms with ancient concepts of labor and technics. Infused by Roman concepts of justice, Germanic tribalistic traditions existed for centuries in unresolved tension with the centralistic claims of materially weak monarchies and an ideologically suspect Papacy. Forced back from its inland sea, Europe was buried in its huge forests, bogs, and mountains — a victim of its own accursed invaders from the north and the east. Here, the manor became the social interregnum that cleared the ground for a new historic point of departure. From the eleventh century onward, technics bolted forward with an energy that had not been seen since the Neolithic Revolution. In successive order, the use of windmills was followed by the horse-collar (which made it possible to pull heavy plows and transport inland goods cheaply), striking advances in metallurgy and metallic tools, an imposing system of highly developed agriculture, a complex machine technics based largely on wooden components, and a sophisticated version of the ancient water-wheel that would have surprised the most informed Roman engineers.
Yet none of these technical innovations produced any decisive changes in medieval social relations. Except for the Greek polis, the medieval towns were usually more democratic than the urban centers of antiquity, the agrarian system less mobilized and rationalized, the craft occupations more individualistic and democratically structured. We cannot account for this favorable constellation of sociotechnical circumstances without noting that the State and its bureaucracies had reached a nadir in the history of political centralization and bureaucratization. Until the emergence of nation-states in England, France, and Spain between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europe was comparatively free of the despotisms and bureaucracies that coated the social life of North Africa, the Near East, and Asia.
The one class to benefit most from the rising nation-state was the European bourgeoisie. Increasingly centralized monarchies and their growing bureaucratic minions imposed the king's peace on the inland trade routes of Europe, the king's courts on local arbitrary systems of justice, the king's mint on the erratic metallic currency distributed by financial robber barons, the king's navy on nests of maritime pirates, and the king's armies on newly colonized markets. This structure, even more than any appreciable "advances" in instrumental technics, provided the basis for the next great system of labor mobilization: the factory. The modern origins of abstract labor are found not only in the market economy and its clearly defined monetary system of exchange ratios, but also in the English countryside. There, the "factors" who carted raw materials and semifinished fabrics to cottage workers eventually brought them together under a single roof (a "factory") to rationalize and intensify a fairly traditional body of technics under the watchful eye of foremen and the icy stare of mean-spirited, heartless, and cunning industrial entrepreneurs.
The early factory introduced no sweeping technical dispensation other than the abstraction, rationalization, and objectification of labor — and its embodiment in human beings. Spinning, weaving, and dyeing were still performed with all the machines that cottagers had used in their own homes for generations. No engines or prime movers were added to this old ensemble until the machinery for spinning, weaving, and dyeing yarn were invented a century or so later. But a new technics had supplanted the old: the technics of supervision, with its heartless intensification of the labor-process, its conscienceless introduction of fear and insecurity, and its debasing forms of supervisory behavior. Where the "factors" had bought products, not people, the factory bought people, not products. This reduction of labor from its embodiment in products into a capacity of people was decisive; it turned fairly autonomous individuals into totally administered products and gave products an autonomy that made them seem like people. The animate quality that things acquired — qualities which Marx aptly called the "fetishism of commodities" — was purchased at the expense of the animate qualities of people. An underclass was being produced that was almost as inorganic as the factory in which it worked and the tools it used — a transubstantiation of humanity itself that was to have profound consequences for the legacy of domination and the future of human freedom.
Leaving aside the stupendous array of devices and prime movers that the factory was to commandeer in its service, its most important technical achievement has occurred in the technics of administration. No less important than its evolving technical armamentarium was the evolution of the joint-stock company into the multinational corporation, and of the feisty, muscular foreman into the suave, multilingual corporate executive. Nor was the State to be spared its own change from a royal court, with circuit judges and ink-sputtered scribes, into a stupendous bureaucratic population that, together with its military strong-arm, formed a nation-state in its own right within the confines of the nation. The bureaucratic apparatus that underpinned overtly totalitarian monarchies such as the Incas of Peru and Pharaohs of Egypt is dwarfed by the managerial civil, and corporate bureaucracies of a single American, European, or Japanese commercial city.
But no mere description of this development can pass for an explanation. Bureaucracy, conceived as an institutionalized technics in its own right, may well have its origins in the primordial world. I refer not merely to the internal dialectic of hierarchy that yields a legacy of domination in the forms of gerontocracies, priestly corporations, patriarchy, and warrior chieftains. I am equally concerned with the civil sphere of the male, who produces rationalized ceremonial and military systems as compensatory mechanisms for his own ambivalent status in organic society. He is necessarily less fulfilled in a domestic society, where woman forms the core of authentic social activity, than in a civil society — but one that he must elaborate into a fully articulated and structured sphere of life. His very identity is at stake in a world where production and reproduction are centered around woman, where the "magic" of life inheres in her own personal life-processes, where the rearing of the young, the organization of the home, and the fecundity of nature seem to be functions of her sexuality and personality. Whether he "envies" matricentricity or not is irrelevant; he must evolve an identity of his own which may reach its most warped expression in warfare, arrogance, and subjugation.
The male's identity does not have to find fulfillment in an orbit of domination, but where this does occur on a significant scale, it is fatal to the entire social environment. Not only is the community itself transformed by the elaboration of this civil sphere into a political, often militaristic, one; the surrounding communities must also respond — either protectively or aggressively — to the rot developing within the social ecosystem. An apparently democratic, egalitarian, possibly matricentric culture such as the Andean Nazca would have been obliged to react aggressively to an authoritarian, hierarchical, patricentric — and militaristic — culture such as the nearby Moche. Sooner or later, both would have had to confront each other as tyrannical chiefdoms, or the Nazca would have been compelled to defer to the Moche. Given sufficient exposure to external forces, a process of negative selection on the level of political life has always been at work to favor the expansion of ruthless cultures at the expense of the more equable ones. What is surprising about social development is not the emergence of New and Old World despotisms, but their absence in large areas of the world generally. It is testimony to the benign power inherent in organic society that so many cultures did not follow the social route to Statehood, mobilized labor, class distinctions, and professional warfare — indeed, that they often retreated into remoter areas to spare themselves this destiny.
Perhaps the most important ideological factor to foster the development of capitalism in European society was Christianity, with its strong emphasis on individuation, its high regard for the redemptive role of labor, its elevation of an abstract Supernature over a concrete nature, and its denial of the importance of community as distinguished from the universal Papal congregation. That individual initiative, even more than a high sense of individuality, promoted human will and inventiveness hardly requires elaboration. The Thomas Edisons and Henry Fords of the world are not great individuals, but they are surely grasping egos — vulgar caricatures of the Biblical "angry men." The transformation of Yahweh's Will into man's will is too obvious a temptation to be evaded. Even the Church's ecclesiastics and missionaries, driven by their zealous fanaticism, are more transparently bourgeois men than mere Homeric heroes who lived by the canons of a shame culture.
This emphasis on the personal ego, with its voyaging sense of enterprise, was reinforced by Christianity's obsession with labor. Historically, the Church placed its highest stakes on faith rather than works, on contemplation rather than labor. But in practice, the medieval Christian orders were mundane working establishments which left a heavy imprint on the technologically undeveloped peasantry around them. Monasteries played a major role in innovating technics and in rationalizing labor; indeed, they pioneered as missions, not only in the dissemination of faith but in the dissemination of technical knowledge and planned, orderly systems of work. Here, they found a welcome response, for there was no need to preach a gospel of work to highly impoverished agrarian communities that desperately needed the technical wisdom of knowledgeable and disciplined monastic orders.
The work ethic, despite its ill-repute today as a Calvinist trick, was not invented by the bourgeoisie or, for that matter, by preindustrial ruling classes. Ironically, it can be traced back to the socially underprivileged themselves. The work ethic appears for the first time in Hesiod's Works and Days, a peasant Iliad of the seventh century before Christ, whose antiheroic workaday title and tenor reflect the tribute the poor man pays to his poor life. For the first time in a written legacy, work — in contrast to valor — appears as an attribute of personal nobility and responsibility. The virtuous man who bends his neck to the yoke of toil occupies the center of the poetic stage and enviously elbows out the aristocrat who lives off his labor. Thus do poor men assemble their virtues as the attributes of toil, renunciation, and husbandry, all the more to affirm their superiority over the privileged who enjoy lives of ease, gratification, and pleasure. Later, the ruling classes will recognize how rich an ideological treasure trove the Hesiods have bestowed upon them. They too will extoll the virtues of poverty for the meek, who will find treasure in heaven while the arrogant will pay in hell for their sinful "heaven" on earth.
Hence, toil has its rewards for the Christian congregation, just as contemplation has its rewards for the Christian elect. These rewards, to be sure, remain rather vague: an ethereal, everlasting life that may well be more boring than the earthly one, an unceasing reverence for God, a world abstracted of the luscious concretes that render Cokaygne so superior to Paradise. In its abstract Supernature, Christianity already begins to spawn the vagaries of abstract matter and abstract labor. Yahweh is a nameless God, nature is merely the epiphenomenon of his Word, and even good works are in themselves less virtuous than the activity of working.
The dissociation of working from works — of the abstract process of laboring from the concrete use-values work produces — is savagely dystopian. The lingering concrete use-values of things in a world that has largely reduced them to exchange-values is the hidden romance buried within the warped life of the commodity. To deny them is to deny humanity's claim to the satisfactions and pleasures they are meant to bestow. An overly ascetic and rationalistic outlook is the counterpart of an overly hedonistic and instinctive one. But this denial is precisely the function of a theology that places the Word before the deed, Supernature before nature, and working before works.
As to broad ideological matters, Christianity had fewer differences with Galileo than either of them realized. The Galilean universe of lifeless matter and perpetual motion differs very little in principle from the Christian view of nature as inherently meaningless without the illumination of a heavenly Supernature. By Newton's time, one could read (even write) the Principia without feeling any sense of conflict between the Church and the Royal Society. It was naiveté and distrust that separated for so long such kindred outlooks as the Christian and the scientific. The true smoke of peace between them was finally inhaled not from the bowls of ritual Indian pipes but from the belching smokestacks of modern industry.
Finally, no religion assailed more earnestly the authenticity, intensity, and meaningfulness of community affiliation than Christianity. The Stoic plea for a recognition of a universal humanitas entailed not a denial of one's loyalty to the community but merely the individual's recognition of mystical affinity to the "city of Man." The Christian plea for a universal humanitas was actually more cunning. It shrewdly acknowledged the claims of the State but tried to replace the community's claims with those of the "city of God," notably the Church. The Church's jealousy toward the Christian's community loyalties was lethal; the religion demanded strict obedience to its clerical infrastructure. The notion of Congregation implied that the clergy had priority over all communal claims upon persons — indeed, over all relationships among persons other than those ordained by God — and over all codes of solidarity other than the laws of Deuteronomy and Christ's strictures to his disciples. Thus the Church lived in covert hostility with the community — just as the State could find no peace with the blood oath, even in its patriarchal form. Here, industrial capitalism, like science before it, found a perfect fit between the bourgeois concept of citizenship and the Christian. The free-floating ego, divested of all community roots, became its ideal of individuality and personality. The "masterless men" that all previous societies had feared so intensely became the new image of the untrammeled, self-reliant entrepreneur — and his counterpart in the uprooted, propertyless proletariat.
We must recognize what this attempt to divest technics of its community matrix imparted to the spirit of technical innovation. If the true meaning of techné includes an ethical emphasis on limit, then this emphasis was valid only if there was a social agency to nourish and enforce the conception. To the extent that techné was thrown into opposition to community, the word began to lose its original ethical connotations and become strictly instrumental. Once societal constraints based on ethics and communal institutions were demolished ideologically and physically, technics could be released to follow no dictates other than private self-interest, profit, accumulation, and the needs of a predatory market economy. The time-honored limits that had contained technics in a societal matrix disappeared, and for the first time in history technics was free to follow its own development without any goals except those dictated by the market.
The Romans replicated their small iron furnaces instead of enlarging them not because they were technologically obtuse but largely because the communities from which the Roman imperium was formed held its instrumental and institutional technics in check. To say that the Roman mind could not conceive of larger furnaces is simply to reveal that its technical imagination was formed by an artisan conception of the world, however grandiose its political imagination. This bifurcation of State and society, of the central political power and the community, is crucial to an understanding of the nature of a libertarian technology and the relationship of technology to freedom.
Organic society, while institutionally warped and tainted by preindustrial "civilizations," retained a high degree of vitality in the everyday lives of so-called ordinary people. The extended family still functioned as an attenuated form of the traditional clan and often provided a highly viable substitute for it. Elders still enjoyed considerable social prestige even after their political standing had diminished, and kinship ties were still fairly strong, if not decisive, in defining many strategic human relationships. Communal labor formed a conspicuous part of village enterprise, particularly in agriculture, where it was cemented by the need to share tools and cattle, to pool resources in periods of difficulty, and to foster a technical reciprocity without which many communities could not have survived major crises. One does not have to look for, as Marx put it, "the possession of land in common" or an "unalterable division of labor" that served as "a fixed plan and basis for action" in India's villages in order to know that under the tightly woven political carpet of the State was an active, subterranean social world based on consensus, ideological agreement, shared customs, and a commonality of religious beliefs.
These traits are found even where political despotisms tend to be highly invasive. And they often are highly marked by peasant attitudes toward labor. Their most striking feature is the extent to which any kind of communal toil, however onerous, can be transformed by the workers themselves into festive occasions that serve to reinforce community ties. In a hypothetical account of the work habits of Inca peasants, Mason surmises that:
Like all cooperative labor, it must have been a jovial and not an onerous occasion, with plenty of chicha beer, singing, and bantering. The songs, perhaps in honor of the gods when working the church lands, or in praise of the emperor while engaged in the state fields, were appropriate to the occasion. As soon as the fields of the gods were finished, the work was repeated on the government lands, and then the people were free to cultivate their own fields. There was a communal spirit of helpfulness, and if a man was called away on state business such as military service his neighbors quietly attended to his agricultural needs.
To the extent that recent archaeological discoveries and research into current Andean labor customs throw any light on their work habits, Mason's account seems reasonably accurate. Beneath the massive structure of a highly despotic State that closely supervised its underclasses, the peasantry lived a distinctly separate and socially organic life of its own. Indeed, the Inca State implicitly acknowledged this covert immunity to its controls by punishing the community as a whole if its individual members were guilty of certain infractions of State regulations. This practice is so universal and ancient that it recurs repeatedly throughout history.
One of the most vivid accounts of how communal labor traditions and forms linger on into modern times, often transforming grueling toil into festive work, appears in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Levin (Tolstoy's typical fictional counterpart) observes peasants haying on his sister's estate. Sitting transfixed on a haycock, he is "fascinated" while teeming peasants in the meadow buoyantly cut the hay, stack it, and pitch it with hayforks on wooden carts.
Before him in the bend of the river behind the marsh, moved a gaily colored line of peasant women, chattering loudly and merrily, while the scattered hay was rapidly rising into gray, zig-zag ridges on the pale-green stubble.
The men follow the women with their hayforks until the haying is almost complete. The dialogue that ensues is inimitable:
"Make hay while the sun shines and the hay you'll get will be lovely," said the old beekeeper, squatting down beside Levin. "What lovely hay, sir! Tea, not hay. Look, sir, at the way they pick 'em up! Like scattering grain to the ducks," he added, pointing to the growing haycocks.
The work, in fact, is nearly done and the beekeeper calls out to his son, who responds:
"The last one, Dad!" shouted the young man, reining in the horse and, smiling, looked around at a cheerful, rosy-cheeked peasant woman, who was driving by, standing on the front part of a cart, flicking the ends of his hempen reins.
It is tempting to focus our descriptions of technology and our accounts of technological innovation on the large-scale works of mobilized labor favored by early states and ruling elites. The achievements of power — its temples, mortuaries, and palaces — evoke our ingrained awe of power. The hydraulic systems of great alluvial empires like the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Asian, and the cities, roads, and megalithic structures of pre-Columbian America cast a long shadow over history. Tragically, this shadow has largely obscured the technics of peasants and artisans at the "base" of society: their widespread networks of villages and small towns, their patchwork farms and household gardens; their small enterprises; their markets organized around barter; their highly mutualistic work systems; their keen sense of sociality; and their delightfully individuated crafts, mixed gardens, and local resources that provided the real sustenance and artwork of ordinary people. A complete history of technology, food cultivation, and art has yet to be written from the standpoint of the so-called commoners, just as has a complete history of women, ethnic minorities, and the oppressed generally.
In some cases, as we now know, even large political empires like the Hittite Empire were based overwhelmingly on small farms. Typically, these were worked by five or six people, using perhaps two oxen, and the cultivable land was divided into mixed croplands, vineyards, orchards, and pastures that rarely supported more than small flocks of goats and sheep. In imperial Roman times, yeoman farms that had lingered on from the early republican era coexisted with immense latifundia worked by thousands of slaves. The beautifully terraced slopes that marked agricultural belts from Indonesia to Peru were worked not merely for the State but (often segregated from State-owned lands) for the needs of the extended family and local community. If Chinese corvee labor in the Sui dynasty (c. 600 A.D.) may have exceeded five million commoners (who were under a guard of 50,000 troops), the great majority of the peasantry continued to work its own plots, cultivating mixed crops and orchards, and raising domestic animals. Even Aztec agriculture, despite the highly despotic militaristic state that governed central Mexico, was organized primarily around clan-type horticulture, notably the lovely floating or chinampa gardens that lined and infiltrated the shallows of the Lake of Mexico.
Viewed at its agrarian "base," medieval Europe may well represent the apotheosis of the small, agriculturally mixed farm within the social framework of a class society. The famous "open field system," with its rotation of fallow and cultivated crop lands, was organized around individually farmed narrow strips. But strip farming necessarily involved such close coordination of planting and harvesting between cultivators of adjacent strips that the peasantry normally shared its plows, draft animals, and implements. Not uncommonly, periodic redistributions of the strips were made to meet the material needs of larger families. Carried to the village level, these farming techniques fostered free peasant assemblies, a lively sense of reciprocity, and the reinforcement of archaic communal traditions such as the use of uncultivable land for "commons" to pasture animals and collect wood for fuel and construction materials. The manorial economy of the territorial lords by no means dominated this increasingly libertarian village society; rather, it retained only a loosening hold over the artisan and commercial towns nearby. In later years, the villages and towns in many areas of Europe, thoroughly schooled in the practice of self-management, gained supremacy over the local barons and ecclesiastics. Particularly in Switzerland and the Lowlands, but to a very great extent throughout western Europe, villages and towns established fairly powerful, often long-lived peasant federal republics and strong urban confederations.
The new, comparatively libertarian "institutional technics" spawned by this fascinating world yielded, in turn, an equally remarkable elaboration of a human-scale, comparatively libertarian instrumental technics. Aside from the watermills already in abundance throughout Europe (William the Conqueror's Domesday Book lists some 5,500 in about 3,000 English villages in 1086 A.D.), there were also windmills. Apparently derived from the ritual Tibetan prayerwheels, they had become so numerous by the thirteenth century that the Belgian town of Ypres alone could celebrate the fact that it had reared 120 windmills in its environs. Even more striking is the extraordinary, unprecedented variety of uses to which European waterwheels and windmills were put. This multipurpose character of medieval prime movers stunningly illustrates the extent to which unity in diversity is a correlate of ecological technics. Watermills, known as early as Greek times, had been used almost exclusively to mill grain; windmills, already in use in Persia as early as the eighth century, had probably been confined to the same limited uses. By contrast, the lively, alert, and increasingly individuated town and country people of the high and late Middle Ages deployed these new prime movers not only for restricted agricultural purposes but also to raise and trip ensembles of heavy hammers in forges, to operate lathes, to work bellows in blast furnaces, and to turn grindstones for polishing metals as well as grinding grains. The new interest in machinery, as yet small in scale and fairly simple in design, led to a highly variegated use of cams, cranks, and pumps, and of an ingenious combination of gears, levers, and pulleys. It also fostered the triumphal invention of the mechanical clock, which lessened the need for arduous toil and greatly increased the effectiveness of craft production.
What is highly attractive about the new vitality that appeared in medieval technics is not simply the sense of innovation characterizing its development; rather, it is the sense of elaboration that marked the adaptation of the new to the social conditions of the old. Contrary to popular images that read our own values back into the medieval world, the technical "utopians" of that time were far removed in spirit and outlook from the technocratic "utopians" or futurists of the present era. Roger Bacon, the thirteenth-century Franciscan, predicted large, highly powered ships steered by a single operator, flying machines, and wagons that would travel at considerable speed by their own motive power. Figures like Bacon were not prescient engineers of an era to come; they were primarily theologians rather than technicians, alchemists rather than scientists, and scholastics rather than craftsmen. They bore witness more to supernatural powers than to human ingenuity. Some three centuries were to pass before authentic inventors like Leonardo da Vinci secretly sketched their cryptic designs and wrote their notes in a script that could only be read by using a mirror.
Technics in Bacon's time was deeply embedded in (and its development constrained by) a richly communal social matrix that fostered an organic epistemology of design, an esthetic use of materials, an elaboration of an adaptive technics, a deep respect for diversity, and a strong emphasis on quality, skill, and artfulness. These instrumental norms reflected the social norms of the time. Town and country were much too close to each other to render socially and intellectually acceptable the geometric temples, the urban gigantism, the inorganic social relations, and the deadening images of a mechanical world. However much the Church emphasized heavenly Supernature over earthly nature, the world of nature came increasingly to be seen as gift of a heavenly dispensation — a sensibility that found its theological voice in the ideas of Saint Francis. Work and the high premium placed on skills were much too individuated to make large masses of peasants and "masterless men" amenable to the mobilized labor systems of earlier eras. To the extent that we can think in terms of sizable masses of people, we must think more in terms of ideological crusades rather than of highly controlled labor forces. Owing to its decentralized character and its Christian sense of individual worth, medieval society was simply not capable of utilizing, much less mobilizing, huge numbers of "commoners" to monumentalize itself in public works. For all the abuses of feudal society, corvee labor was confined to the maintenance of public roads and tenant-type systems of food cultivation for the manorial lords, to defensive structures that were needed by the community as well as the barons, and to miscellaneous "gifts" of labor to the nobility and Church.
Technics itself tended to follow an age-old tradition of nestling closely into a local ecosystem, of adapting itself sensitively to local resources and their unique capacity to sustain life. Accordingly, it functioned as a highly specific catalyst between the people of an area and their environment. The rich knowledge of habitat — of region, local flora and fauna, soil conditions, even geology — that enabled people like the Bushmen or San to provision themselves in (as it seemed to Victorian Europe) an utter desert wasteland survived well beyond primordial times into the European Middle Ages. This high sense of the hidden natural wealth of a habitat — a knowledge that has been so completely lost to modern humanity — kept the latent exploitative powers of technics well within the institutional, moral, and mutualistic boundaries of the local community. People did more than just live within the biotic potentialities of their ecosystem and remake it with an extraordinary sensitivity that fostered ecological diversity and fecundity. They also (often artistically) absorbed technically unique devices into this broad biosocial matrix and brought them into the service of their locality.
Only modern capitalism could seriously subvert this ancient sensibility and system of technical integration. And it did so not simply by replacing one instrumental ensemble by another. We gravely mistake capitalism's historically destructive role if we fail to see that it subverted a more fundamental dimension of the traditional social ensemble: the integrity of the human community. Once the market relationship — and its reduction of individual relationships to those of buyers and sellers — replaced the extended family, the guild, and its highly mutualistic network of consociation; once home and the place of production became separate, even antagonistic, arenas, dividing agriculture against craft and craft against factory; finally once town and country were thrown into harsh opposition to each other; then every organic and humanistic refuge from a highly mechanized and rationalized world became colonized by a monadic, impersonal, and alienated nexus of relationships. Community as such began to disappear. Capitalism invaded and undermined areas of social life that none of the great empires of the past could ever penetrate or even hope to absorb. Not only was the technical imagination savagely dismembered but also the human imagination. The cry "Imagination to Power!" became a plea not only for a free-play of fancy but also for a rediscovery of the very power to fantasize. Whether its advocates recognized it or not, the urge to bring imagination to power implied a restoration of the power of imagination itself.
The recent emphasis on "limits to growth" and "appropriate technology" is riddled by the same ambiguities that have imparted a conflicting sense of promise and fear to "high technology." I have said enough about the danger of dissociating instrumental technics, "soft" or "hard," from institutional technics; I leave the elaboration of their integration to the closing, more reconstructive chapter of this book, where I shall explore the possible structures of freedom, of human relationships, and of personal subjectivity that delineate an "appropriate" social matrix for a libertarian technics. For the present, however, I must emphasize again that terms like "small," "soft," "intermediate," "convivial," and "appropriate" remain utterly vacuous adjectives unless they are radically integrated with emancipatory social structures and communitarian goals. Technology and freedom do not "coexist" with each other as two separate "realms" of life. Either technics is used to reinforce the larger social tendencies that render human consociation technocratic and authoritarian, or else a libertarian society must be created that can absorb technics into a constellation of emancipatory human and ecological relationships. A "small," "soft," "intermediate," "convivial," or "appropriate" technical design will no more transform an authoritarian society into an ecological one than will a reduction in the "realm of necessity," of the "working week," enhance or enlarge the "realm of freedom."
In addition to subverting the integrity of the human community, capitalism has tainted the classical notion of "living well" by fostering an irrational dread of material scarcity. By establishing quantitative criteria for the "good life," it has dissolved the ethical implications of "limit." This ethical lacuna raises a specifically technical problematic for our time. In equating "living well" with living affluently, capitalism has made it extremely difficult to demonstrate that freedom is more closely identified with personal autonomy than with affluence, with empowerment over life than with empowerment over things, with the emotional security that derives from a nourishing community life than with a material security that derives from the myth of a nature dominated by an all-mastering technology.
A radical social ecology cannot close its eyes to this new technological problematic. Over the past two centuries, almost every serious movement for social change has been confronted with the need to demonstrate that technics, "hard" or "soft," can more than meet the material needs of humanity without placing arbitrary limits upon a modestly sensible consumption of goods. The terms of the "black redistribution" have been historically altered: we are faced with problems not of disaccumulation but of rational systems of production. Post-scarcity, as I have emphasized in earlier works, does not mean mindless affluence; rather, it means a sufficiency of technical development that leaves individuals free to select their needs autonomously and to obtain the means to satisfy them. The existing technics of the western world — in principle, a technics that can be applied to the world at large — can render more than a sufficiency of goods to meet everyone's reasonable needs. Fortunately, an ample literature has already appeared to demonstrate that no one need be denied adequate food, clothing, shelter, and all the amenities of life. The astringent arguments for "limits to growth" and the "life-boat ethic" so prevalent today have been reared largely on specious data and a cunning adaptation of resource problems to the "institutional technics" of an increasingly authoritarian State.
It is social ecology's crucial responsibility to demystify the tradition of a "stingy nature," as well as the more recent image of "high" technology as an unrelieved evil. Even more emphatically, social ecology must demonstrate that modern systems of production, distribution, and promotion of goods and needs are grossly irrational as well as antiecological. Whosoever sidesteps the conflicting alternatives between a potentially bountiful nature and an exploitive use of technics serves merely as an apologist for the prevailing irrationality. Certainly, no ethical argument in itself will ever persuade the denied and underprivileged that they must abdicate any claim to the relative affluence of capitalism. What must be demonstrated — and not merely on theoretical or statistical grounds alone — is that this affluence can ultimately be made available to all — but should be desirable to none. It is a betrayal of the entire message of social ecology to ask the world's poor to deny themselves access to the necessities of life on grounds that involve long-range problems of ecological dislocation, the shortcomings of "high" technology, and very specious claims of natural shortages in materials, while saying nothing at all about the artificial scarcity engineered by corporate capitalism.
Anything that is not renewable is exhaustible — this is a philistine truism. But confronted by such truisms, one may reasonably ask: When will it be exhausted? How? By whom? And for what reason? For the present there can be no serious claim that any major, irreplaceable resource will be exhausted until humanity can choose new alternatives — "new" referring not simply to material or technical alternatives but above all to institutional and social ones. The task of advancing humanity's right to choose from among alternatives, particularly institutional ones, that may yet offer us a rational, humanistic, and ecological trajectory has not yet been fulfilled by "high" or by "low" technology. In sum, "high" technology must be used by serious social ecologists to demonstrate that, on rational grounds, it is less desirable than ecological technologies. "High" technology must be permitted to exhaust its specious claims as the token of social "progress" and human well-being — all the more to render the development of ecological alternatives a matter of choice rather than the product of a cynical "necessity."
Still another issue that may well be regarded as a new technological problematic is the association of the "realm of freedom" with "free time," the political counterpart of Marx's "abstract labor" or "labor time." Here, too, we encounter a tyrannical abstraction: the notion that freedom itself is a res temporalis, a temporal thing. The res temporalis of free time, like the res extensa of irreducible matter, is dead — the "dead time" from which the Parisian students of May-June, 1968 sought freedom by translating time itself into the process of being free. Viewed from this standpoint, "free time" is very concrete time — indeed, a very active, socially articulated form of time. It entails not only freedom from the constraints of labor-time, from the time-clock imposed by abstract labor on the "realm of necessity" (or what we so felicitously call "mindless production"); it also entails the use of time to be free.
If only in reaction to the deadening time-constraints of abstract labor, the ideal of "free time" is still tainted by a wayward utopianism that exaggerates the power of use-values over the tyranny of exchange-values. Free time is still seen as inactivity on the one hand and material plenitude on the other. Hence, "freedom" is still conceived as freedom from labor, not freedom for work. Here we encounter the aimless interests of the isolated ego, the rootless "libertarian" monad who wanders waywardly through life as the counterpart of the wayward, rootless bourgeois monad. The workers in À Nous la Liberté, Rene Clair's playful French "utopia" of the early 1930s, achieve their freedom in a highly industrialized land of Cokaygne: their functions are taken over completely by machines while they do nothing but frolic in nearby fields and fish en masse along river banks that have an uncanny resemblence to their assembly lines. This is characteristically very moderne. Clair's hoboes, the principal characters of the motion picture, leave the tramp's version of freedom imprinted on the conclusion of the cinematic "utopia." They are the "masterless men" of the twentieth century who have yet to be formed into citizens of a community, like the rootless, wandering radicals of the New Left who carried their "community" in their knapsacks or under the roofs of their trucks. The "utopia" is charming but aimless, spontaneous but unformed, easy-going but structureless, poetic but irresponsible. One may live long in such a "utopia" but not "live well."
The Hellenic ideal of freedom — an ideal confined to the citizen — was different. Freedom existed for activity, not from activity. It was not a realm but a practice — the practice of being free by participating in free institutions, by daily recreating, elaborating, and fostering the activity of being free. One was not merely "free" in the passive sense of freedom from constraint, but in the active sense of "freeing," both of oneself and one's fellow citizens. An authentic community is not merely a structural constellation of human beings but rather the practice of communizing. Hence, freedom in the polis was a constellation of relationships that was continually in the process of reproduction. According to Fustel de Coulange,
We are astonished . . . at the amount of labor which this democracy required of men. It was a very laborious government. See how the life of an Athenian is passed. One day he is called to the assembly of his deme, and has to deliberate on the religious and political interests of this little association. Another day he must go to the assembly of his tribe; a religious festival is to be arranged, or expenses are to be examined, or decrees passed, or chiefs and judges named. Three times a month, regularly, he takes part in the general assembly of the people; and he is not permitted to be absent. The session is long. He does not go there simply to vote; having arrived in the morning, he must remain till a late hour, and listen to the orators. He cannot vote unless he has been present from the opening of the session, and has heard all the speeches. For him this vote is one of the most serious affairs. At one time political and military chiefs are to be elected — that is to say, those to whom his interests and his life are to be confided for a year; at another a tax is to be imposed, or a law to be changed. Again, he has to vote on questions of war, knowing well that, in case of war, he must give his own blood or that of a son. Individual interests are inseparably united with those of the state [read polis]. A man cannot be indifferent or inconsiderate. If he is mistaken, he knows that he shall soon suffer for it, and that in each vote he pledges his fortune and his life.
To recover the substantive, richly articulated attributes of "freedom for" rather than merely "freedom from," I am obliged to speculate about the attributes of a new society that would transmute "busyness" into the process of reproducing freedom on an ever enlarging scale. Yet we may reasonably ask whether technics as a form of social metabolism has certain formal attributes (its social matrix aside, for the present) that can nourish social freedom as a daily activity. How can the design imagination foster a revitalization of human relationships and humanity's relationship with nature? How can it help lift the "muteness" of nature — a problematical concept that we, in fact, have imposed on ourselves — by opening our own ears to its voice? How can it add a sense of haunting symbiosis to the common productive activity of human and natural beings, a sense of participation in the archetypal animateness of nature?
We share a common organic ancestry with all that lives on this planet. It infiltrates those levels of our bodies that somehow make contact with the existing primordial forms from which we may originally have derived. Beyond any structural considerations, we are faced with the need to give an ecological meaning to these buried sensibilities. In the case of our design strategies, we may well want to enhance natural diversity, integration, and function, if only to reach more deeply into a world that has been systematically educated out of our bodies and innate experiences. Today, even in alternate technology, our design imagination is often utilitarian, economistic, and blind to a vast area of experience that surrounds us. A solar house that symbolizes a designer's ability to diminish energy costs may be a monument to financial cunning, but it is as blind and deadened ecologically as cheap plumbing. It may be a sound investment, even an environmental desideratum because of its capacity to use "renewable resources," but it still deals with nature merely as natural resources and exhibits the sensitivity of a concerned engineer — not an ecologically sensitive individual. An attractive organic garden may well be a wise nutritional "investment" over the quality of food obtainable in a shopping mall. But insofar as the food cultivator is preoccupied only with the nutritional value of food on the dinner table, organic gardening becomes a mere technical strategem for "foodwise" consumption, not a testament to a once-hallowed intercourse with nature. All too often, we are flippantly prepared to use hydroponic trays as substitutes for actual gardens and gravel for soil. Since the object is to fill the domestic larder with vegetation, it often seems to make no difference whether our gardening techniques produce soil or not.
Such commonplace attitudes are very revealing. They indicate that we have forgotten how to be organisms — and that we have lost any sense of belonging to the natural community around us, however much it has been modified by society. In the modern design imagination, this loss is revealed in the fact that we tend to design "sculptures" instead of ensembles — an isolated solar house here, a windmill there, an organic garden elsewhere. The boundaries between the "organic" world we have contrived and the real one that may exist beyond them are strict and precise. If our works tend to define our identity, as Marx claimed, perhaps the first step in acquiring an ecological identity would be to design our "sculptures" as part of ensembles — as technical ecosystems that interpenetrate with the natural ones in which they are located, not merely as agglomerations of "small," "soft," "intermediate," or "convivial" gadgets. The principal message of an ecological technics is that it is integrated to create a highly interactive, animate and inanimate constellation in which every component forms a supportive part of the whole. The fish tanks, "sun tubes," and ponds that use fish wastes to nourish the plant nutriment on which they live are merely the simplest examples of a wide-ranging ecological system composed of a large variety of biota — from the simplest plants to sizable mammals — that have been sensitively integrated into a biotechnical ecosystem. To this system, humanity owes not only its labor, imagination, and tools but its wastes as well.
No less important than the ensemble is the technical imagination that assembles it. To think ecologically for design purposes is to think of technics as an ecosystem, not merely as cost effective devices based on "renewable resources." Indeed, to think ecologically is to include nature's "labor" in the technical process, not only humanity's. The use of organic systems to replace machines wherever possible — say, in producing fertilizer, filtering out sewage, heating greenhouses, providing shade, recycling wastes, and the like — is a desideratum in itself. But their economic wisdom aside, these systems also sensitize the mind and spirit to nature's own powers of generation. We become aware that nature, too, has its own complex "economy" and its own thrust toward ever-greater diversity and complexity. We regain a new sense of communication with an entire biotic world that inorganic machines have blocked from our vision. As production itself has often been compared with a drama, we should remember that nature's role is more than that of a mere chorus. Nature is one of its principal players and at times, perhaps, the greater part of the cast.
Hence, an ecologically oriented technical imagination must seek to discover the "Way" of things as ensembles, to sense the subjectivity of what we so icily call "natural resources," to respect the attunement that should exist between the human community and the ecosystem in which it is rooted. This imagination must seek not merely a means for resolving the contradictions between town and country, a machine and its materials, or the functional utility of a device and its impact on its natural environment. It must try to achieve their artistic, richly colored, and highly articulated integration. Labor, perhaps even more than technics, must recover its own creative voice. Its abstract form, its deployment in the framework of linear time as a res temporalis, its cruel objectification as mere, homogeneous energy, must yield to the concreteness of skill, to the festiveness of communal activity, to a recognition of its own subjectivity. In this broad revitalization of the natural environment, of work, and of technics, it would be impossible for the technical imagination to confine itself to the traditional imagery of a lifeless, irreducible, and passive material substrate. We must close the disjunction between an orderly world that lends itself to rational interpretation and the subjectivity that is needed to give it meaning. The technical imagination must see matter not as a passive substance in random motion but as an active substance that is forever developing — a striving "substrate" (to use an unsatisfactory word) that repeatedly interacts with itself and its more complex forms to yield variegated, "sensitive," and meaningful patterns.
Only when our technical imagination begins to take this appropriate form will we even begin to attain the rudiments of a more "appropriate" — or better, a liberatory — technology. The best designs of solar collectors, windmills and watermills, gardens, greenhouses, bioshelters, "biological" machines, tree culture, and "solar villages" will be little more than new designs rather than new meanings, however well — intentioned their designers. They will be admirable artifacts rather than artistic works. Like framed portraits, they will be set off from the rest of the world — indeed, set off from the very bodies from which they have been beheaded. Nor will they challenge in any significant way the systems of hierarchy and domination that originally reared the mythology of a nature "dominated" by one of its own creations. Like flowers in a dreary wasteland, they will provide the colors and scents that obscure a clear and honest vision of the ugliness around us, the putrescent regression to an increasingly elemental and inorganic world that will no longer be habitable for complex forms of life and ecological ensembles.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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