The machine is adapted for humans and humans are adapted to the machine. It is a human-machine merger.
from Resurgence issue 186
THE LATE FRENCH philosopher, Jacques Ellul, made the case that in technological society all forms of human activity, whether personal behaviour or organized social and economic activity, are fundamentally adaptive to the dominant logic and form of the machine. Beyond adaptive, human brings and our political, social and economic expressions are at one with the machine, part of a seamless symbiotic product.
Ellul offered the term tecnic (technique) as a way of encompassing the merger of humans with mechanical and industrial forms, and the human embodiment of industrial consciousness. He argues that the process is now ubiquitous, planetary. It is discoverable not only in the external forms of industrial expression, but also in the process of human co-evolution with the machines we use. (As we drive our cars, we merge with the machine and the road, becoming ultimately "car-like". As we "watch" TV, we actually ingest its images and store them and they become our consciousness; we begin to merge with the images we carry. As we use our computers, we are engaged in endless feedback cycles which bring our minds, hands and bodies in concert with the machine. As we work the assembly line, we are utterly subject to the external repetitive rhythms that the line imposes, but which are also internalized and carried by us beyond working hours.) On each side of the human-machine equation, there are adaptations to one another -the machine is adapted for human use, and we adapt to the machine -- with the ultimate goal being merger.
It is that merged symbiotic form that Ellul labels technique, and he applies this as much to human behaviour and consciousness and thought as he does to the metallic expressions of it. In fact, it has been a different co-evolutionary process, from times before the technological age, when evolution was strictly among living creatures and with the expression of nature. Now, increasingly, our co-evolution is with mechanical or electric forms, while non-human nature is dropped from the equation, and from consideration, with already evident disastrous consequences.
IF THIS PROCESS of technique can be grasped, merging human thought and behaviour ever more into industrial forms, then it is entirely obvious why the organizational forms that we invent and employ are even further expressions of technique, made more exquisite by the purity they can obtain. The corporation, for example, itself an example of technique, operates by a system of laws and inherent structural rules that leave it utterly and purely beyond the norms of human "morals" or concerns for community, or for the harms that may be caused by industrial activity to a world beyond the technological world -- to nature and natural processes. The corporation operates by an internal logic containing certain guidelines: economic growth, profit, absence of ethics and morals, and the endless need to convert the natural world into industrial processes and commercial products, by the fastest, most "efficient" means possible.
All "values" aside from these become secondary; in that, they do not enter the picture at all in most instances. Questions of community welfare or environmental sustainability are only issues of public relations, under techno-corporate consciousness. And as for the intrinsic values of the creatures of the Earth -- its wildlife, its forests -- all are reduced to their objective commercial potential with their ultimate fate determined by what fits technological industrial processes most neatly.
In the case of forests, the picture is particularly grim as objectification of the sort above reduces the forests to so many "board feet", so many dollars per unit. Consideration of the entire forest biotic community is out of the picture; intrinsic values are never discussed; the spiritual emanations of ancient forests are not perceived; sustainable economic processes are "inefficient" and too slow for the market machine; and long-term planetary health becomes much too, well, long-term for a technical-commercial values construct.
So, in machine society, it becomes solely the values and forms of the technical instruments -- including corporations -- that finally determines the organization of human activity and our relationship to nature. This is now clearly evident in every area economic endeavour, through especially in the areas that corporations have gathered under their control. Whether we speak of the agricultural sector, or manufacturing or food delivery, or fishing industries, or the care and use of forest communities of' living organisms, from trees and humans, to insects and microbes, all arc subject to the logic of the machine.
All, THESE ECONOMIC areas now show visible symptoms of industrialization, exemplified particularly its monoculture In agriculture, where many families formerly grew diversified crops to feed themselves and their communities, we now see a global juggernaut of corporate massification: massive land buyouts, people driven from their farms and cultures to squalid urban situations, and vast farmlands converted to monocultures, using pesticides and machine-intensive means to care for plants that human beings once nurtured. Where once small farms fed many people and kept the land rich, now all production is in soybeans, or cattle, or coffee for export. This is industrial logic. Meanwhile, the poisons on the lands seep to the rivers and into the food and water. And the people driven to cities, jobless, join the hordes of hungry migrants moving across borders.
The situation with forestry is identical. Where once thriving biotic communities of biotic communities of life permitted a biodiversity rich and stable in its complexities, industrial forestry, following the dictates of the objective rules of technique and the corporate directors of the process, replaces diversity with emptiness: clearcut. Life removed. Sometimes the clearcut areas are replanted into the "tree farms" that corporations will trumpet in their advertising - long rows of single species of pine or eucalyptus or fir - looking just exactly like the assembled lines of' other industrial processes, with all diversity of of forest life wiped out: a forest community no more.
Similar instances can be cited in the industrialization of fisheries, the giant trawler sweeping quantities of ocean life thousands of' times greater than the small fisher boats, killing the oceans and the traditional fishing practices alike. We could enumerate a hundred other areas of economic endeavour. In cities the forms of the industrial-technical process are especially clear: suburbs, freeways, high-rise buildings, concrete on the land, nature nowhere visible, humans moving via machines through industrial canyons at industrial speed.
This homogenizing, massifying process is now being globalized as the corporate supervisors follow the inevitable growth and expansion dictates of their technological mandates. Technique goes global.
TODAY, IT IS ONLY the very rare society that has managed to stay away from the subjugation of technique. There we can still see the application of' some principles of a reciprocal relationship to the natural world and the application of non-machine formulas; reciprocal processes as determined by planetary nature-based logic no visible within technological forms But once those societies succumb to the dictates of the machine, or are pressed to do so, all becomes uniform, at one with the rules of efficiency, objectivity, productivity, economic growth and profit that are intrinsic to technique.
Only one century into this process, the result is apparent in the looming catastrophes of global warming, ozone depletion, loss of species, pollution of all waters, loss of species, pollution of all waters, loss of ecosystem viability, massive loss of biodiversily and in the case forests, their rapid elimination and replacement with vast wastelands of clearcuts, or monocultural industrialized tree farms. The combination of these and other goings-on has brought us directly to the brink of a terrible ecological Armageddon.
Are there beneficiaries? Not judging by what is also simultaneously happening among human populations being similarly industrialized, made to fit the rules of the corporate-industrial process. We now see a level of alienation, suicide, violence, and a growing gulf between rich and poor that bespeaks a society that has been victimized nearly as much as the natural world it worked to destroy. As the industrial processes globalize, the devastation accelerates, as does the despair of human beings left even more powerless in their decimated, and increasingly jobless, communities. Only those few people who are at the driver's wheel of the global industrial machine will benefit, albeit briefly, though one wonders at their joy in drinking their champagne toasts on the decks of the Titanic.
But if our acceptance of the entire industrial experiment has been a mistake, whether viewed from the social or ecological perspective, how do we escape from the mess? It is not complicated.
The first step is to gain consciousness, and to stop engaging in the process which is killing us and killing the planet. Then we need to recover viable practices to reverse it. In the case of forestry the immediate need is to abandon the industrial forestry model as quickly as possible, and seek to apply such principles and practices as express a reciprocal relationship with nature, beyond the rules of the machine; a human-nature collaboration rather than a human-machine one.
Reprinted from Ecoforestry: The Art and Science of Sustainable Forest Use, edited by Alan Drengson and Duncan Taylor (New Society Publishers, 1997). ISBN 0 86571 365 0. Distributed in the UK by Jon Carpenter, Oxford at £18.99.
Jerry Mander is the author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and In the Absence of the Sacred. He is a Fellow at the Public Media Center in San Francisco.