The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (II)

(a.1) The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (continued)

Assignation of The Feminine1 to The Earth2 and The Masculine3 to that-which-is-machinic is not to ascribe some intrinsic negative value to The Feminine, nor to ascribe some intrinsic positive value to The Masculine, for the Masculine has also become subsumed into the specter as well. Consider the work of the Marx and Kierkegaard inspired Christian anarchist4 and sociologist, Jacques Ellul, who, in his The Technological Society (henceforth referred to as TTS) lays out a broad and emotionally charged description of modern industrial society and elaborates on (and often decries) what he believes to be the principal flaw in the system: Technique. Ellul’s technique is distinct from both its folk-psychological and scientific usages as it is, in brief: a collection of mental processes which arose from the utilization of machines which is implicit in every aspect of society that works through men only to further efficiency of ordering. Ellul describes technique in his own words as:the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”5

In the aforementioned work Ellul states, “It will not do for him [the reader] to challenge factual analysis on the basis of his own ethical or metaphysical presuppositions6. The reader deserves and has my assurance that I have not set out to prove anything. I do not seek to show, say, that man is determined, or that technique is bad, or anything else of the kind.” This is rather contrary to declarations he makes later on in the TTS which clearly show that he believes technique to be the very root of all the ills of modern (or postmodern), civilized society.

Furthermore, there is the issue of Ellul’s peculiar and non-individuating sociological methodology which must be taken into account before further examinations can be made. He writes, “I do not deny the existence of individual action or of some inner sphere of freedom. I merely hold that these are not discernible at the most general level of analysis, and that the individual’s acts or ideas do not here and now exert any influence on social, political, or economic mechanisms. By making this statement, I explicitly take a partisan position in a dispute between schools of sociology. To me the sociological does not consist of the addition and combination of individual actions. I believe that there is a collective sociological reality, which is independent of the individual.”7 This laying-out of methodology is instrumental in understanding all that follows (as well as in understanding Ellul’s followers who we shall touch upon in later texts) given that he never states as to why he believes this in any truly cogent way; it would have been immensely helpful to his case if he had made, at least, some small effort to sketch out and concretize his methodology in his book. Speaking of this methodology, Ellul’s “partisan position” relies on attuning his representations to but a single strata of analysis; that of the crowd. Yet, a crowd is nothing without it’s constituent parts; without the individuals which make it up. To say that a group can be a group without individuals is the same as saying that capitalism can exist without capitalists or that an army can fight without warriors. One need not eliminate the individual altogether in pursuit of a clear and concise method for broad-range analysis of social phenomena, yet Ellul does just that; indeed, he goes even further than the mere elimination of the individual and eliminates individuation altogether in strange outpouring of poetically vague dialectical materialism (which he likely took from Karl Marx who he noted as one of his principal inspirations). This is clearly demonstrated in the line “I believe that there is a collective sociological reality which is independent of the individual.” What does this even mean? Ellul himself does not really say. It is one thing to say that there is a sociological reality which is co-dependent upon the individual, but it is rather another to say that the individual contributes nothing to the crowd. Ellul effectively postulates that there is some reality which simply emerges from the ether, unmoored from any given individual, solely existing upon, but separate from, any given group; this essentially positing technique as a self-replicating emergent process borne, not of consciousness, but of the machine. If you should be skeptical of the veracity of our assessment so far, if one is of the mind that Ellul could not possibly have believed that a human conception was created by machines, consider the following, “-let the machine have its head, and it topples everything that cannot support its enormous weight. Thus everything had to be reconsidered in terms of the machine. And that is precisely the role technique plays. In all fields it made an inventory of what it could use, of everything that could be brought into line with the machine. The machine could not integrate itself into nineteenth century society; technique integrated it. Old houses that were not suited to the workers were torn down; and the new world technique required was built in their place. Technique has enough of the mechanical in its nature to enable it to cope with the machine, but it surpasses and transcends the machine because it remains in close touch with the human order. The metal monster could not go on forever torturing mankind. It found in technique a rule as hard and inflexible as itself. Technique integrates the machine into society, It constructs the kind of world the machine needs and introduces order where the incoherent banging of machinery heaped up ruins. It clarifies, arranges, and rationalizes; it does in the domain of the abstract what the machine did in the domain of labor. It is efficient and brings efficiency to everything. Moreover, technique is sparing in the use of the machine, which has traditionally been exploited to conceal defects of organization. “Machines sanctioned social inefficiency,” says Mumford8. Technique, on the other hand, leads to a more rational and less indiscriminate use of machines. It places machines exactly where they ought to be and requires of them just what they ought to do.”

Here we come to the crux of the issue; when Ellul writes that “it [technique] places machines exactly where they ought to be and requires of them just what they ought to do” he is saying that technique itself is controlling machines! Technique has requirements of machines? To place this argument, this bizarre claim, into a concrete and real-world context, it would be analogous to saying that chiaroscuro controlled a paintbrush which, in turn, controlled a painter. Now a painter might well adopt different techniques based upon different kinds of brushes but it means absolutely nothing at all to say that such techniques are controlling those instruments which are, in turn, controlling the aforementioned painter. The most you could say is that the painter is constrained by the techniques available for the design, manufacturing and dissemination of his instruments as well as by the number and variations of brushes available to him. To conflate acting and constraint, will and pure conditions of possibility is to render all as agents, which is to eliminate the world of man when man himself, as such, is the object which Ellul wishes to safeguard (even if it is from his own devices).

This methodological quandary, this profound anthropomorphization, then, cannot help but lead our erstwhile hand-wringer astray as he is looking at machines as agents who created yet another agent – technique – which then proceeded to overtake it’s creator and rule over mankind like some kind of conjured demon. Somewhat later Ellul writes, “It is said (and everyone agrees) that the machine has created an inhuman atmosphere.”9 No context is provided for this, it is merely asserted that everyone already agrees with him, well, let us politely disagree, for the machine is, in brief summary, the tool for the transformation of the world in the image of man himself. Later still he let’s further cats out of the bag and exposes the whole of his game, “Think of our dehumanized factories, our unsatisfied senses, our working women, our estrangement from nature. Life in such an environment has no meaning.”10 Like as not you saw this coming. It was only a matter of time before “nature” reared it’s ugly head! How woesomely predictable! How dreadfully tiresome to ever wear these shackles of naturality! Whilst Ellul, in his rambling and effete introduction to TTS, goes to great lengths to assure the reader that it is not his intention to prove or even make a point, insisting that the text is merely a sociological survey which is meant to awaken the sleeping, yet what then is with all this talk of dehumanization and estrangement from nature? He goes so far as to refer to industrialized society as a “metal monster” – such an emotion-laden pronouncements and references can hardly be described as merely descriptive, quite the contrary. In the text we also witness a integral feature of the specter – the enclosure of the future. Given that the specter is conceived of as that which is eternally commensurate with the design of the earth, the field of possibility is intensely and rationally whittled away with ever increasing regularity. In defense of The Earth or Nature or The Natural, its defenders must always hew away at man’s potential, his will must be tempered, his creativity must be tamped down, his innovations, discarded, and so on and so on until every future project which is not ratified as aligned with the “needs” of Gaia are declared verboten. Yet, the natural is not given, it has no intrinsic qualia (least not that can in anywise be discerned – and that is a crucial thing), no externality beyond the mental landscape where it has grown and grown and now looms titanic, overshadowing and threatening to entomb all futurity by hemming man into one and only one modality of being: concordance with “the planet.”

If the cult of The Mother Goddess (qua Sjoo & Mor11) defines the promise of the specter (earthly paradise); Ellul’s anthropomorphic technique acts as a ancillary theology that defines the reasons why one should move away from the-world-of-man (human creation and construction) and instead retreat into the mists of prehistory, for, in those swirling depths, the “metal monster” holds no sway. Ellul errs in that in any endeavor, where a technique is found wanting, inferior to some challenge, the solution is not the decimation of technique-as-such, but rather, superior techniques.

In closing, it is important to preempt a likely line of criticism, that of conflating the specter with Ellul’s technique. Technique, is fundementally anthropomorphic (and well covered above) whereas the specter of earth is no such thing, rather, is the recognition, the bracketing, of all misattributed anthropomorphisms which are transposed from the mind of man unto the face of all the earth. Here we have seized the thread, here we understand the opposition and here we declare that nature as enclosure of the future must be changed or, failing that, destroyed. For the conceptual invariably informs the performative.

1We are here utilizing The Feminine to constitute the total set of all behaviors & appearances which are associated with the female sex.

2Here we deploy ‘the earth’ as idealization rather than earth-as-is (earth as space-rock).

3We are here utilizing The Masculine to constitute the total set of all behaviors & appearances which are associated with the male sex.

4A Christian anarchist is one who believes that societal order must be rejected given that God is the one and only authority. Ellul stated that he believed anarchism to be “an absolute rejection of violence” and the “most serious form of socialism.” Due this inclination, Ellul believed state power to be ‘the beast’ which was described in the Book of Revelations.

5The Technological Society, xxv.

6Echoing the concept of ‘false consciousness.’

7The Technological Society, xxix.

8Here Ellul references the American historian and sociologist, Lewis Mumford.

9The Technological Society, p. 4

10Ibid., p. 5

11Authors of the anthropological and religious text, Great Cosmic Mother.