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Technology and Its Mediated Use - Page 40

We will have to renew our acquaintance with the feudal imperfection, not in order to make it perfect but in order to supersede it. We will have to rediscover the harmony of unitary society and liberate it from the divine phantom and the sacred hierarchy. The new innocence is not so far removed from the ordeals and judgments of God: the inequality of blood is closer to the equality of free individuals, irreducible to one another, than bourgeois equality is. The cramped style of the nobility is only a crude sketch of the grand style which will be invented by masters without slaves. But what a world is trapped between this style of life and the mere way of living on, surviving, which ravages so many existences in our time!


Contrary to the interests of those who control its use, technology tends to disenchant the world. Mass consumption society strips gadgets of any magical value. Similarly, organisation (a technique for handling new techniques) robs new productive forces of their subversive appeal and their power of disruption. Organisation thus stands revealed as nothing but the pure organisation of authority (1). Alienated mediations make man weaker as they become indispensible. A social mask disguises people and things. In the present stage of privative appropriation, this mask transforms its wearers into dead things, commodities. Nature no longer exists. To rediscover nature means to reinvent it as a worthwhile adversary by constructing new social relationships. With the expansion of material equipment, the old hierarchical society is bursting at the seams. (2)


The same bankruptcy is evident in non-industrial civilisations, where people are still dying of starvation, and automated civilisations, where people are already dying of boredom. Every paradise is artificial. The life of a Trobriand islander, rich in spite of ritual and taboo, is at the mercy of a smallpox epidemic; the life of an ordinary Swede, poor in spite of his comforts, is at the mercy of suicide and survival sickness.

Rousseauism and pastoral idylls accompany the first throbbings of the industrial machine. The ideology of progress, as one finds it in Condorcet or Adam Smith, emerged from the old myth of the Four Ages. With the age of iron leading into the golden age, it seemed 'natural' that progress should fulfil itself as a return: a return to the state of innocence before the Fall.

The belief in the magical power of technology goes hand in hand with its opposite, the movement of disenchantment. The machine is the model of the intelligible. There is no mystery, nothing obscure in its drive-belts, cogs and gears; it can all be explained perfectly. But the machine is also the miracle that is to transport man into the realms of happiness and freedom. Besides, this ambiguity is useful to its masters: the old con about happy tomorrows and the green grass over the hill operates at various levels to justify the rational exploitation of men today. Thus it is not the logic of disenchantment that shakes people's faith in progress so much as the inhuman use of technical potential, the way that its mystical justification begins to grate. While the labouring classes and the underdeveloped peoples still offered the spectacle of their slowly decreasing material poverty, the enthusiasm for progress still drew ample nourishment from the troughs of liberal ideology and its extension, socialism. But, a century after the spontaneous demystification of the Lyons workers, when they smashed the looms, a general crisis broke out, springing this time from the crisis of big industry: Fascist regression, sickly dreams of a return to artisanry and corporatism, the Ubuesque master-race of blond beasts.

Today, the promises of the old society of production are raining down on our heads in an avalanche of consumer goods that nobody would venture to call manna from heaven. You can hardly believe in the magical power of gadgets in the same way as people used to believe in productive forces. There is a certain hagiographical literature on the steam hammer. One cannot imagine much on the electric toothbrush. The mass production of instruments of comfort -- all equally revolutionary according to the publicity handouts -- has given the most unsophisticated of men the right to express an opinion on the marvels of technological innovation in a tone as familiar as the hand he sticks up the barmaid's skirt. The first landing on Mars will pass unnoticed on Blackpool beach.

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