Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Machine

Lewis Mumford.  Technics and Civilization.  New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1934.  ISBN: 0226550273.

I have gathered some thought-provoking quotes from this book here, preparatory for a class I will be teaching this fall.


"Behind all the great material inventions of the last century and a half was not merely a long internal development of technics: there was also a change of mind.  Before the new industrial processes could take hold on a great scale, a reorientation of wishes, habits, goals was necessary" (3).

"All the critical instruments of modern technology--the clock, the printing press, the water-mill, the magnetic compass, the loom, the lathe, gunpowder, paper, to say nothing of mathematics and chemistry and mechanics--existed in other cultures.  The Chinese, the Arabs, the Greeks, long before the Northern European, had taken most of the first steps toward the machine.  And although the great engineering works of the Cretans, the Egyptians, and the Romans were carried out mainly on an empirical basis, these people plainly had an abundance of technical skill at their command.  They had machines; but they did not have 'the machine.'  It remained for the peoples of Western Europe to carry the physical sciences and the exact arts to a point no other culture had reached, and to adapt the whole mode of life to the pace and capacities of the machine" (4).

"Machines have developed out of a complex of non-organic agents for converting energy, for performing work, for enlarging the mechanical or sensory capacities of the human body, or for reducing to a measurable order and regularity the processes of life.  The automaton is the last step in a process that began with the use of one part or another of the human body as a tool.  In the back of the development of tools and machines lies the attempt to modify the environment in such a way as to fortify and sustain the human organism: the effort is either to extend the powers of the otherwise unarmed organism, or to manufacture outside of the body a set of conditions more favorable toward maintaining its equilibrium and ensuring its survival" (10).


"The clock, moreover, is a piece of power-machinery whose 'product' is seconds and minutes: by its essential nature it dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences: the special world of science.  There is relatively little foundation for this belief in common human experience: throughout the year the days are of uneven duration, and not merely does the relation between day and night steadily change, but a slight journey from East to West alters astronomical time by a certain number of minutes.  In terms of the human organism itself, mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action, and in the longer span of days, time is measured not by the calendar but by the events that occupy it.  The shepherd measure from the time the ewes lambed; the farmer measures back to the day of sowing or forward to the harvest (15) ... Though mechanical time can, in a sense, be speeded up or run backward, like the hands of a clock or the images of a moving picture, organic time moves only in one direction--through the cycle of birth, growth, development, decay, and death--and the past that is already dead remains present in the future that has still to be born" (16).

"When one thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, one does not go to bed with the chickens on a winter's night: one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps, so as to use all the hours belonging to the day.  When one thinks of time, not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, minutes, and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into existence" (17).


"In medieval cartography the water and the land masses of the earth, even when approximately known, may be represented in an arbitrary figure like a tree, with no regard for the actual relations as experienced by a traveller, and with no interest in anything except the allegorical correspondence ... When a medieval chronicler mentions the King, it is sometimes a little difficult to find out whether he is talking about Caesar or Alexander the Great or his own monarch: each is equally near to him.  Indeed, the word anachronism is meaningless when applied to medieval art: it is only when one related events to a co-ordinated frame of time and space that being out of time or being untrue to time became disconcerting ... In this symbolic world of space and time everything was either a mystery or a miracle.  The connecting link between events was the cosmic and religious order: the true order of space was Heaven, even as the true order of time was Eternity" (19-20).


"What the painters demonstrated in their application of perspective, the cartographers established in the same century in their new maps.  The Hereford Map of 1314 might have been done by a child: it was practically worthless for navigation.  That of Ucello's contemporary, Andrea Banco, 1436, was conceived on a rational lines, and represented a gain in conception as well as in practical accuracy.  By laying down the invisible lines of latitude and longitude, the cartographers paved the way for later explorers, like Columbus: as with the later scientific method, the abstract system gave rational expectations, even if on the basis of inaccurate knowledge" (21).


"Like the machine, the monastery was incapable of self-perpetuation except by renewal from without.  And apart from the fact that women were similarly organized in nunneries, the monastery was the army, a strictly masculine world.  Like the army, again, it sharpened and disciplined and focused the masculine will-to-power: a succession of military leaders came from the religious orders, while the leader of the order that exemplified the ideals of the Counter-Reformation began his life as a soldier.  One of the first experimental scientists was a monk; so, again, was Michael Stifel, who in 1544 widened the use of symbols in algebraic equations; the monks stood high in the roll of mechanics and inventors.  The spiritual routine of the monastery, if it did not positively favor the machine, at least nullified many of the influences that worked against it.  And unlike the similar discipline of the Buddhists, that of the Western monks gave rise to more fertile and complex kinds of machinery than prayer wheels" (34-35). 

"In still another way did the institutions of the Church perhaps prepare the way for the machine: in their contempt for the body.  Now respect for the body and its organs is deep in all the classic cultures of the past ... The affirmative sense of the body surely never disappeared, even during the severest triumphs of Christianity: every new pair of lovers discovers it through their physical delight in each other.  Similarly, the prevalence of gluttony as a sin during the Middle Ages was a witness to the importance of the belly.  But the systematic teachings of the church were directed against the body and its culture: if on the one hand it was a Temple of the Holy Ghost, it was also vile and sinful by nature: the flesh tended to corruption, and to achieve the pious ends of life one must mortify it and subdue it, lessening its appetites by fasting and abstention ... Hating the body, the orthodox minds of the Middle Ages were prepared to do it violence. Instead of resenting the machines that could counterfeit this or that action of the body, they could welcome them.  The forms of the machine were no more ugly or repulsive than the bodies of crippled and battered men and women, or, if they were repulsive and ugly, they were that much further away from being a temptation to the flesh.  The writer in the Nuernburg chronicle in 1398 might say that 'wheeled engines performing strange tasks and shows and follies come directly from the devil' -- but in spite of itself, the Church was creating devil's disciples" (35-36). 


"Compare the complex phenomenon of an ox moving over a winding uneven road with the movements of a planet: it is easier to trace an entire orbit than to plot the varying rate of speed and the changes of position that takes place in the nearer and more familiar object.  To fix attention upon a mechanical system was the first step toward creating system: an important victory for rational thought.  By centering effort on the non-historic and inorganic, the physical sciences clarified the entire procedure of analysis: for the field to which they confined their attention was one in which the method could be pushed farthest without being too palpably inadequate or encountering too many special difficulties.  But the real physical world was still not simple enough for the scientific method in its first stages of development: it was necessary to reduce it to such elements as could be ordered in terms of space, time, mass, motion, quantity.  The amount of elimination and rejection that accompanied this was excellently described by Galileo, who gave the process such a strong impetus.  One must quote him in full:
'As soon as I form a conception of a material or corporeal substance, I simultaneously feel the necessity of conceiving that it has boundaries of some shape or other; that relatively [sic] to others it is great or small; that it is in this or that place, in this or that time; that it is in motion or at rest; that it touches, or does not touch, another body; that it is unique, rare, or common; nor can I, by any act of imagination, disjoin it from those qualities. But I do not find myself absolutely compelled to apprehend it as necessarily accompanied by such conditions as that it must be white or red, bitter or sweet, sonorous or silent, smelling sweetly or disagreeably; and if the senses had not pointed out these qualities language and imagination alone could never have arrived at them.  Therefore I think that these tastes, smells, colors, etc., with regard to the object in which they appear to reside, are nothing more than mere names. They exist only in a sensitive body, for when the living creature is removed all these qualities are carried off and annihilated, although we have imposed particular names on them, and would fain persuade ourselves that they truly and in fact exist. I do not believe that there exists anything in external bodies for exciting tastes, smells, and sounds, etc., except size, shape, quantity, and motion.'
In other words, physical science confined itself to the so-called primary qualities: the secondary qualities are spurned as subjective.  But a primary quality is no more ultimate or elementary than a secondary quality, and a sensitive body is no less real than an insensitive body.  Biologically speaking, smell was highly important for survival: more so, perhaps, than the ability to discriminate distance or weight: for it is the chief means of determining whether food is fit to eat, and pleasure in odors not merely refined the process of eating but gave a special association to the visible symbols of erotic interest, sublimated finally in perfume.  The primary qualities could be called prime only in terms of mathematical analysis, because they had, as an ultimate point of reference, an independent measuring stick for time and space, a clock, a ruler, a balance" (47-49).

"In general, the practice of the physical sciences meant an intensification of the senses: the eye had never before been so sharp, the ear so keen, the hand so accurate.  Hooke, who had seen how glasses improved seeing, doubted not that 'there may be found Mechanical Inventions to improve our other senses, of hearing, smelling, tasting, touching.'  But with this gain in accuracy, went a deformation of experience as a whole.  The instruments of science were helpless in the realm of qualities.  The qualitative was reduced to the subjective: the subjective was dismissed as unreal, and the unseen and unmeasurable non-existent.  Intuition and feeling did not affect mechanical process or mechanical explanations.  Much could be accomplished by the new science and the new technics because much that was associated with life and work in the past -- art, poetry, organic rhythm, fantasy -- was deliberately eliminated.  As the outer world of perception grew in importance, the inner world of feeling became more and more impotent" (49).

"The division of labor and the specialization in single parts of an operation, which already had begun to characterize the economic life of the seventeenth century, prevailed in the world of thought: they were expressions of the same desire for mechanical accuracy and for quick results.  The field of research was progressively divided up, and small parts of it were subject to intense examination: in small measures, so to say, truth might perfect be ... Selectivity is an operation necessarily adopted by the organism to keep it from being overwhelmed with irrelevant sensations and comprehensions.  Science gave this inevitable selectivity a new rationale: it singled out the most negotiable set of relations, mass, weight, number, motion.  Unfortunately, isolation and abstraction, while important to orderly research and refined symbolic representation, are likewise conditions under which real organisms die, or at least cease to function effectively" (49-50).

"In short, the accuracy and simplicity of science, though they were responsible for its colossal practical achievements, were not an approach to objective reality but a departure from it ... What was left was the bare, depopulated world of matter and motion: a wasteland.  In order to thrive at all, it was necessary for the inheritors of the seventeenth century idolum to fill the world up again with new organisms, devised to represent the new realities of physical science.  Machines -- and machines alone -- completely met the requirements of the new scientific method and point of view: they fulfilled the definition of 'reality' far more perfectly than living organisms" (50-51).

"By renouncing a large part of his humanity, a man could achieve godhood: he dawned on this second chaos and created the machine in his own image: the image of power, but power ripped loose from his flesh and isolated from his humanity" (51).


eotechnic (pre-industrial), paleotechnic (industrial), neotechnic (post-industrial)

"Looking back over the last thousand years, one can divide the development of the machine and machine civilization into three successive but overlapping and interpenetrating phases: eotechnic, paleotechnic, neotechnic.  The demonstration that industrial civilization was not a single whole, but showed two marked, contrasting phases, was first made by Professor Patrick Geddes and published a generation ago.  In defining the paleotechnic and neotechnic phases, he however neglected the important period of preparation, when all the key inventions were either invented or foreshadowed [i.e. the eotechnic phase] ... While each of these phases roughly represents a period of human history, it is characterized even more significantly by the fact that it forms a technological complex.  Each phase, that is, has its origin in certain definite regions and tends to employ certain special resources and raw materials.  Each phase has its specific means of utilizing and generating energy, and its special forms of production.  Finally, each phase brings into existence particular types of workers, trains them in particular ways, develops certain aptitudes and discourages others, and draws upon and further develops certain aspects of the social heritage" (109-110).

"Almost any part of a technical complex will point to and symbolize a whole series of relationships within that complex.  Take the various types of writing pens.  The goose-quill pen, sharpened by the user, is a typical eotechnic product: it indicates the handicraft basis of its industry and the close connection with agriculture.  Economically it is cheap; technically it is crude, but easily adapted to the style of the user.  The steel pen stands equally for the paleotechnic phase: cheap and uniform, if not durable, it is a typical product of the mine, the steel mill and of mass-production.  Technically, it is an improvement upon the quill-pen; but to approximate the same adaptibility it must be made in half a dozen different standard points and shapes.  And finally the fountain pen--though invented as early as the seventeenth century--is a typical neotechnic product.  With its barrel of rubber or synthetic resin, with its gold pen, with its automatic action, it points to the finer neotechnic economy: and in its use of the durable iridium tip the fountain pen characteristically lengthens the service of the point and reduces the need for replacement.  These respective characteristics are reflected at a hundred points in the typical environment of each phase; for though the various parts of a complex may be invented at various times, the complex itself will not be in working order until its major parts are all assembled.  Even today the neotechnic complex still awaits a number of inventions necessary to its perfection: in particular an accumulator with six times the voltage and at least the present amperage of the existing types of cell" (110).


balanced, antifragile, civilized, egalitarian (non-monopolistic), biotechnic

"During this period the machine was adequately complemented by the utility: if the watermill made more power available the dyke and the drainage ditch created more usable soil.  If the canal aided transport, the new cities aided social intercourse.  In every department of activity there was equilibrium between the static and the dynamic, between the rural and the urban, between the vital and the mechanical.  So it is not merely in the annual rate of converting energy or the annual rate of production that one must gauge the gains of the eotechnic period: many of its artifacts are still in use and still almost as good as new; and when one takes account of the longer span of time enjoyed by eotechnic products the balance tips back toward its side of the arm.  What it lacked in power, it made up for in time: its works had durability.  Nor did the eotechnic period lack time any more than it lacked energy: far from moiling day and night to achieve as much as it did, it enjoyed in Catholic countries about a hundred complete holidays a year" (148).

"The goal of the eotechnic civilization as a whole until it reached the decadence of the eighteenth century was not more power alone but a greater intensification of life: color, perfume, images, music, sexual ecstasy, as well as daring exploits in arms and thought and exploration.  Fine images were everywhere: a field of tulips in bloom, the scent of new mown hay, the ripple of flesh under silk or the rondure of budding breasts: the rousing sting of the wind as the rain clouds scud over the seas, or the blue serenity of the sky and cloud, reflected with crystal clarity on the velvety surface of canal and pond and watercourse.  One by one the senses were refined.  Toward the end of this period the repetitious courses of the medieval dinner were analyzed out into the procession of foods that pass from the appetizer which rouses the necessary secretions to the sweet that signifies ultimate repletion.  The touch, too, was refined: silks became commoner and the finest Dacca muslins from India took the place of coarse wools and linens: similarly the delicate smooth-surfaced Chinese porcelain supplemented the heavier Delft and Majolica and common earthenware" (148-149).

"But above all, during this period the eye was trained and refined: the delight of the eye even served other functions than pure vision by retarding them and giving the observer a chance to enter into them more fully.  The wine-drinker gazed thoughtfully at the color of the wine before he supped it, and the lover's courtship became more intense, as well as more prolonged, as the visual pleasure of his beloved distracted him for a moment from the desire for possession.  The wood-cut and the copper plate were popular arts during this period: even a great part of the vulgar work had affiliations to good form, and much of it had genuine distinction, while painting was one of the dominant expressions of intellectual as well as emotional life.  Throughout life, alike for rich and poor, the spirit of play was understood and fostered.  If the gospel of work took form during this period, it did not dominate it" (149-150).

"This great dilation of the senses, this more acute response to external stimuli, was one of the prime fruits of the eotechnic culture: it is still a vital part of the tradition of Western culture.  Tempering the eotechnic tendency toward intellectual abstractionism, these sensual expressions formed a profound contrast to the contraction and starvation of the senses which had characterized the religious codes that preceded it, and was to characterize once more much of the doctrines and life of the nineteenth century.  Culture and technics, though intimately related to each other through the activities of living men, often lie like non-conformable strata in geology, and, so to say, weather differently.  During the greater part of the eotechnic period, however, they were in relative harmony.  Except perhaps on the mine and the battlefield, there were both predominantly in the service of life.  The rift between the mechanization and humanization, between power bent on its own aggrandizement and power directed toward wider human fulfillment had already appeared: but its consequences had still to become fully visible" (150).


imbalanced, fragile, barbaric, monopolistic, antibiotic

"The phase one here defines as paleotechnic reached its highest point, in terms of its own concepts and ends, in England in the middle of the nineteenth century: its cock-crow of triumph was the great industrial exhibition in the new Crystal Palace at Hyde Park in 1851: the first World Exposition, an apparent victory for free trade, free enterprise, free invention, and free access to the world's markets by the country that boasted already that it was the workshop of the world.  From around 1870 onwards the typical interests and preoccupations of the paleotechnic phase have been challenged by later developments in technics itself, and modified by various counterpoises in society.  But like the eotechnic phase, it is still with us: indeed, in certain parts of the world, like Japan and China, it even passes for the new, the progressive, the modern, while in Russia an unfortunate residue of paleotechnic concepts and methods has helped misdirect, even partly cripple, the otherwise advanced economy projected by the disciples of Lenin.  In the United States the paleotechnic regime did not get under way until the eighteen fifties, almost a century after England; and it reached its highest point at the beginning of the present century [20th], whereas in Germany it dominated the years between 1870 and 1914, and, being carried to perhaps fuller and completer expression, has collapsed with greater rapidity there than in any other part of the world.  France, except for its special coal and iron centers, escaped some of the worse defects of the period; while Holland, like Denmark and in part Switzerland, skipped almost directly from an eotechnic into a neotechnic economy, and except in ports like Rotterdam and in the mining districts, vigorously resisted the paleotechnic blight" (154-155).

"Wages, never far above the level of subsistence, were driven down in the new industries by the competition of the machine.  So low were they in the early part of the nineteenth century that in the textile trades they even for a while retarded the introduction of the power loom.  As if the surplus of workers, ensured by the disenfranchisement and pauperization of the agricultural workers, were not enough to re-enforce the Iron Law of Wages, there was an extraordinary rise in the birth-rate.  The causes of this initial rise are still obscure; no present theory fully accounts for it.  But one of the tangible motives was the fact that unemployed parents were forced to live upon the wages of the young they had begotten.  From the chains of poverty and perpetual destitution there was no escape for the new mine worker or factory worker: the servility of the mine, deeply engrained in that occupation, spread to all the accessory employments.  It needed both luck and cunning to escape those shackles.  Here was something almost without parallel in the history of civilization: not a lapse into barbarism through the enfeeblement of a higher civilization, but an upthrust into barbarism, aided by the very forces and interests which originally had been directed towatd the conquest of the environment and the perfection of human nature.  Where and under what conditions did this change take place?  And how, when it represented in fact the lowest point in social development that Europe had known since the Dark Ages did it come to be looked upon as a humane and beneficent advance?  We must answer these questions" (154).

"In all its broader aspects, paleotechnic industry rested on the mine: the products of the mine dominated its life and determined its characteristic inventions and improvements.  From the mine came the steam pump and presently the steam engine: ultimately the steam locomotive and so, by derivation, the steamboat.  From the mine came the escalator, the elevator, which was first utilized elsewhere in the cotton factory, and the subway for urban transportation.  The railroad likewise came directly from the mine: roads with wooden rails were laid down in Newcastle, England, in 1602: but they were common in the German mines a hundred years before, for they enabled the heavy ore carts to be moved easily over the rough and otherwise impassable surface of the mine.  Around 1716 these wooden ways were capped with plates of malleable iron; and in 1767 cast iron bars were substituted.  (Feldhaus notes that the invention of iron-clad wooden rails is illustrated at the time of the Hussite Wars around 1430: possibly the invention of a military engineer.)  The combination of the railroad, the train of cars, and the locomotive, first used in the mines at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was applied to passenger transportation a generation later.  Wherever the iron rails and wooden ties of this new system of locomotion went, the mine and the products of the mine went with it: indeed, the principle product carried by railroads is coal.  The nineteenth-century town became in effect--and indeed in appearance--an extension of the coal mine: The cost of transporting coal naturally increases with distance: hence the heavy industries tended to concentrate near the coal measures.  To be cut off from the coal mine was to be cut off from the source of paleotechnic civilization" (158-159).

How the steam engine overshadowed the perfection of eotechnic water power, and became a driving force behind monopoly and wage slavery.

"The whole technique of wood had now to be perfected in the more difficult, refractory material--iron.  The change from eotechnic to paleotechnic of course passed through transitional stages: but it could not remain at a halfway point.  Though in America and Russia wood might, for example, be used right up to the third quarter of the nineteenth century for locomotives and steamboats, the need for coal developed with the larger and larger demands for fuel that the universalization of the machine carried with it.  The very fact that Watt's steam engine consumed about eight and a half pounds of coal per horsepower, in comparison with Smeaton's atmospheric engine, which had used almost sixteen pounds, only increased the demand for more of Watt's kind, and widened the area of exploitation.  The water-turbine was not perfected till 1832: in the intervening two generations steam had won supremacy, and it remained the symbol [sic: i.e. "false symbol"?] of increased efficiency.  Even in Holland the efficient steam engine was presently introduced to assist in the Zuyder Zee reclamation: once the new scale, the new magnitudes, the new regularities were established, wind and water power could not without further aid compete with steam.  But note an important difference: the steam engine tended toward monopoly and concentration.  Wind and water power were free; but coal was expensive and the steam engine itself was a costly investment; so, too, were the machines that it turned.   Twenty-four-hour operations, which characterized the mine and the blast furnace, now came into other industries which had heretofore respected the limitations of day and night.  Moved by a desire to earn every possible sum on their investments, the textile manufacturers lengthened the working day: and whereas in England in the fifteenth century it had been fourteen or fifteen hours long in mid-summer with from two and half to three hours allowed for recreation and meals, in the new milltowns it was frequently sixteen hours long all the year round, with a single hour off for dinner.  Operated by the steam engine, lighted by gas, the new mills could work for twenty-four hours.  Why not the worker?  The steam engine was the pacemaker" (161-162).

Iron was the dominant element in paleotechnic structures, tools, machines.

"Unfortunately, the commonness and cheapness of the iron, together with the fact that it was used according to rule-of-thumb prescription long before its properties were scientifically known, fostered a certain crudeness in its utilization: allowing for ignorance by erring on the side of safety, the designers used over-size members in their iron structures which did not sufficiently embrace the esthetic advantages--to say nothing of economic gain--possible through lightness and through the closer adaptation of structure to function.  Hence the paradox: between 1775 and 1875 there was technological backwardness in the most advanced part of technology.  If iron was cheap and if power was plentiful, why should the engineer waste his talents attempting to use less of either?  By any paleotechnic standard, there was no answer to this question.  Much of the iron that the period boasted was dead weight" (167). 

The paleotechnic regime pursued profits at the expense of ruining the environment (which it did not value except as a source of raw materials that could serve the paleotechnic machine).

"For all its boasts of improvement, the steam engine was only ten percent efficient: ninety per cent of the heat escaped in radiation, and a good part of the fuel went up the flue.  Just as the noisy clank of Watt's original steam engine was maintained, against his own desire to do away with it, as a pleasing mark of power and efficiency, so the smoking factory chimney, which polluted the air and wasted energy, whose pall of smoke increased the number and thickness of natural fogs and shut off still more sunlight--this emblem of a crude, imperfect technics became the boasted symbol of prosperity.  And here the concentration of paleotechnic industry added to the evils of the process tiself.  The pollution and dirt of a small iron works situated in the open country could be absorbed or carried away without difficulty.  When twenty large iron works were grouped together, concentrating their effluvia and their waste-products, a wholesale deterioration of the environment inevitably followed" (168).

Ure's ridiculous equation of sunlight and artificial lighting in windowless factories.

"In this paleotechnic world the realities were money, prices, capital, shares: the environment itself, like most of human existence, was treated as an abstraction.  Air and sunlight, because of their deplorable lack of value in exchange, had no reality at all.  Andrew Ure, the great British apologist for Victorian capitalism, was aghast at the excellent physician who testified before Sadler's Factory Investigating Commission on the basis of experiments made by Dr. Edwards in Paris with tadpoles, that sunlight was essential to the growth of children: a belief which he backed up -- a century before the effect of sunlight in preventing rickets was established -- by pointing to the absence of deformities of growth, such as were common in milltowns, among the Mexicans and Peruvians, regularly exposed to sunlight.  In response to this Ure proudly exhibited the illustration of a factory room without windows as an example of the excellent gas-lighting which served as a substitute for the sun!" (168-169).

The paleotechnic machine regards money (and the resources it represents) as infinite: it wastes them profligately.

"The values of the paleotechnic economy were topsy-turvy.  Its abstractions were reverenced as 'hard facts' and ultimate realities; whereas the realities of existence were treated by the Gradgrinds and Bounderbys as abstractions, as sentimental fancies, even as aberrations.  So this period was marked throughout the Western World by the widespread perversion and destruction of environment: the tactics of mining and the debris of the mine spread everywhere.  The current annual wastage through smoke in the United States is huge -- one estimate is as high as approximately $200,000,000.  In an all too literal sense, the paleotechnic economy had money to burn" (169). 

Nature has safety-valves: her organic machines (biological organisms) come built to survive -- incorporating fuel-saving mechanisms and other disaster-limiting features that the paleotechnic machine disables.

"During the paleotechnic period the changes that were manifested in every department of technics rested for the most part on one central fact: the increase of energy.  Size, speed, quality, the multiplication of machines, were all reflections of the new means of utilizing fuel and the enlargement of the available stock of fuel itself.  Power was at last dissociated from its natural human and geographic limitations: from the caprices of the weather, from the irregularities of the rainfall and wind, from the energy intake in the form of food which definitely restricts the output of men and animals" (196).

Nature comes with upside and downside: the paleotechnic entrepreneur sees only the upside.

"The chief use of power during the paleotechnic period was to decrease the time during which any given quantity of work can be performed.  That much of the time so saved was frittered away in disordered production, in stoppages derived from the weaknesses of the social institutions that accompanied the factory, and in unemployment is a fact which diminished the putative efficiency of the new machine.  Vast were the labors performed by the steam engine and its accessories; but vast, likewise, were the losses that accompanied them.  Measured by effective work, that is, by human effort transformed into direct subsistence or into durable works of art and technics, the relative gains of the new industry were pitifully small.  Other civilizations with a similar output of power and a larger expenditure of time had equalled and possibly surpassed the paleotechnic period in real efficiency" (196). 

the commoditization of time = the invention of busywork

"Time-saving now became an important part of labor-saving.  And as time was accumulated and put by, it was reinvested, like money capital, in new forms of exploitation.  From now on filling time and killing time became important considerations: the early paleotechnic employers even stole time from their workers by blowing the factory whistle a quarter of an hour earlier in the morning, or by moving the hands of the clock around more swiftly during the lunch period: where the occupation permitted, the worker often reciprocated when the employer's back was turned.  Time, in short, was a commodity in the sense that money had become a commodity.  Time as pure duration, time dedicated to contemplation and reverie, time divorced from mechanical operations, was treated as a heinous waste.  The paleotechnic world did not heed Wordsworth's Expostulation and Reply: it had no mind to sit upon an old gray stone and dream its time away" (197). 

the death of agriculture, and the creation of inherently unstable global markets

"The jockeying for profits without any regard for the stable ordering of production had two unfortunate results.  For one thing, it undermined agriculture.  As long as food supplies and materials could be obtained cheaply from some far part of the earth, even at the expense of speedy exhaustion of the soils that were being recklessly cropped for cotton and wheat, no effort was made to keep agriculture and industry in equipoise.  The countryside, reduced in general to the margin of subsistence, was further depressed by the drift of population into the apparently thriving factory towns, with infant mortality rates that often rose as high as 300 or more per thousand live births.  The application of machines to sowing, reaping, threshing, instituted on a large scale with the multitude of new reapers invented at the beginning of the century -- McCormick's was merely one of many -- only hastened this development" (192).

"The second effect was even more disastrous.  It divided the world into areas of machine production and areas of foods and raw materials: this made the existence of the over-industrialized countries more precarious, the further they were cut off from their rural base of supplies: hence the beginning of strenuous naval competition.  Not merely did the existence of the coal-agglomerations themselves depend upon their ability to command water from distant streams and lakes, and food from distant fields and farms; but continued production depended upon the ability to bribe or browbeat other parts of the earth into accepting their industrial products.  The Civil War in America, by cutting off the supply of cotton, reduced to a state of extreme penury the brave and honest textile workers of Lancashire.  And the fear of repeating such events, in other industries beside cotton, was responsible in good part for the panicky imperialism and armament competition that developed throughout the world after 1870.  As paleotechnic industry was founded originally upon systematic child slavery, so it was dependent for its continued growth upon a forced outlet for its goods" (192-193).

"The hit-or-miss tactics of the market place pervaded the entire social structure.  The leaders of industry were for the most part empirics: boasting that they were 'practical' men they prided themselves on their technical ignorance and naivety.  Solvay, who made a fortune out of the Solvay soda process, knew nothing about chemistry; neither did Krupp, the discoverer of cast-steel; Hancock, one of the early experimenters with India rubber was equally ignorant.  Bessemer, the inventor of many things besides the Bessemer process of making steel, at first merely stumbled on his great invention through the accident of using iron with a low phosphorus content: it was only the failure of his method with the continental ores that had a high phosphorus content that led him to consider the chemistry of the process.  Within the industrial plant scientific knowledge was at a discount.  The practical man, contemptuous of theory, scornful of exact training, ignorant of science, was uppermost.  Trade secrets, sometimes important, sometimes merely childish empiricism, retarded the cooperative extension of knowledge which has been the basis of all our major technical advances; whilst the system of patent monopolies was used by astute business men to drive improvements out of the market, if they threatened to upset existing financial values, or to delay their introduction -- as the automatic telephone was delayed -- until the original rights to the patents had expired.  Right down to the World War an unwillingness to avail itself of scientific knowledge or to promote scientific research characterized paleotechnic industry throughout the world.  Perhaps the only large exception to this, the German dye industry, was due to its close connection with the poisons and explosives necessary for military purposes" (193-194).

the cult of death and fear (and garbage)

"The state of paleotechnic society may be described, ideally, as one of wardom.  Its typical organs, from mine to factory, from blast-furnace to slum, from slum to battlefield, were at the service of death.  Competition: struggle for existence: domination and submission: extinction.  With war at once the main stimulus, the underlying basis, and the direct destination of this society, the normal motives and reactions of human beings were narrowed down to the desire for domination and to the fear of annihilation -- the fear of poverty, the fear of unemployment, the fear of losing class status, the fear of starvation, the fear of mutilation and death.  When war finally came, it was welcomed with open arms, for it relieved the intolerable suspense: the shock of reality, however grim, was more bearable than the constant menace of spectres, worked up and paraded forth by the journalist and the politician.  The mine and battlefield underlay all the paleotechnic activities; and the practices they stimulated led to the widespread exploitation of fear.  The rich feared the poor and the poor feared the rent collector: the middle classes feared the plagues that came from the vile insanitary quarters of the industrial city and the poor feared, with justice, the dirty hospitals to which they were taken.  Toward the latter part of the period religion adopted the uniform of war: singing Onward Christian Soldiers, the converted marched with defiant humility in military dress and order: imperialist salvation.  The school was regimented like an army, and the army camp became the universal school: teacher and pupil feared each other, even as did capitalist and worker.  Walls, barred windows, barbed wire fences surrounded the factory as well as the jail.  Women feared to bear children and men feared to beget them: the fear of gonnorhea and syphilis tainted sexual intercourse: behind the diseases themselves lurked Ghosts: the spectre of locomotor ataxia, paresis, insanity, blind children, crippled legs, and the only known remedy for syphilis, till salvarsan, was itself a poison.  The drab prisonlike houses, the palisades of dull streets, the treeless backyards filled with rubbish, the unbroken rooftops, with never a gap for park or playground, underlined this environment of death.  A mine explosion, a railway wreck, a tenement house fire, a military assault upon a group of strikers, or finally the more potent outbreak of war -- these were but appropriate punctuation marks.  Exploited for power and profit, the destination of most of the goods made by the machine was either the rubbish heap or the battlefield.  If the landlords and the other monopolists enjoyed an unearned increment from the massing of population and the collective efficiency of the machine, the net result for society at large might be characterized as the unearned excrement" (195-196).

THE NEOTECHNIC MACHINE (1832 - present, in competition with PALEOTECHNIC)

"The neotechnic phase represents a third definite development in the machine during the last thousand years.  It is a true mutation: it differs as much from the paleotechnic phase almost as white differs from black.  But on the other hand, it bears the same relation to the eotechnic phase as the adult form does to the baby" (212).

"Emerging from the paleotechnic order, the neotechnic institutions have nevertheless in many cases compromised with it, given way before it, lost their identity by reason of the weight of vested interests that continued to support the obsolete instruments and the anti-social aims of the middle industrial era.  Paleotechnic ideals still largely dominate the industry and the politics of the Western World: the class struggles and the national struggles are still pushed with relentless vigor" (213).

"The first definite change, which increased the efficiency of prime movers enormously, multiplying it from three to nine times, was the perfection of the water turbine by Fourneyron in 1832.  This came at the end of a long series of studies, begun empirically in the development of the spoon-wheel in the sixteenth century and carried on scientifically by a series of investigators, notably Euler in the middle of the eighteenth century.  Burdin, Fourneyron's master, had made a series of improvements in the turbine type of water-wheel -- a development for which one may perhaps thank France's relative backwardness in paleotechnic industry -- and Fourneyron built a single turbine of 50 HP as early as 1832.  With this, one must associate a series of important scientific discoveries made by Faraday during the same decade.  One of these was his isolation of benzine: a liquid that made possible the commercial utilization of rubber.  The other was his work on electromagnetic currents, beginning with his discovery in 1831 that a conductor cutting the lines of force of a magnet created a difference in potential: shortly after that he made this purely scientific discovery, he received an anonymous letter suggesting that the principle might be applied to the creation of great machines.  Coming on top of the important work done by Volta, Galvani, Oersted, Ohm, and Ampere, Faraday's work on electricity, coupled with Joseph Henry's exactly contemporary research on the electro-magnet, erected a new basis for the conversion and redistribution of energy and for most of the most decisive neotechnic inventions" (213-214).

"By 1850 a good part of the fundamental scientific discoveries and inventions of the new phase had been made: the electric cell, the storage cell, the dynamo, the motor, the electric lamp, the spectroscope, the doctrine of the conservation of energy.  Between 1875 and 1900 the detailed application of these inventions to industrial processes was carried out in the electric power station and the telephone and the radio telegraph.  Finally, a series of complementary inventions, the phonograph, the moving picture, the gasoline engine, the steam turbine, the airplane, were all sketched in, if not perfected, by 1900: these in turn affected a radical transformation of the power plant and the factory, and they had further effects in suggesting new principles for the design of cities and for the utilization of the environment as a whole.  By 1910 a definite counter-march against paleotechnic methods began in industry itself" (214).

"True: the industrial world produced during the nineteenth century is either technologically obsolete or socially dead.  But unfortunately, its maggoty corpse has produced organisms which in turn may debilitate or possibly kill the new order that should take its place: perhaps leave it a hopeless cripple.  One of the first steps, however, toward combating such disastrous results is to realize that even technically the Machine Age does not form a continuous and harmonious unit, that there is a deep gap between the paleotechnic and the neotechnic phases, and that the habits of mind and the tactics we have carried over from the old order are obstacles in the way of our developing the new" (215).

"With the neotechnic phase, two facts of critical importance become plain.  First, the scientific method, whose chief advances had been in mathematics and the physical sciences, took possession of other domains of experience: the living organism and human society also became the objects of systematic investigation, and though the work done in these departments was handicapped by the temptation to take over the categories of thought, the modes of investigation, and the special apparatus of quantitative abstraction developed for the isolated physical world, the extension of science here was to have a particularly important effect upon technics.  Physiology became for the nineteenth century what mechanics had been for the seventeenth: instead of mechanism forming a pattern for life, living organisms began to form a pattern for mechanism.  Whereas the mine dominated the paleotechnic period, it was the vineyard and the farm and the physiological laboratory that directed many of the most fruitful investigations and contributed to some of the most radical inventions and discoveries of the neotechnic phase" (216).

"Similarly, the study of human life and society profited by the same impulses toward order and clarity.  Here the paleotechnic phase had succeeded only in giving rise to the abstract series of rationalizations and apologies which bore the name of political economy: a body of doctrine that had almost no relation to the actual organization of production and consumption or to the real needs and interests and habits of human society.  Even Karl Marx, in criticizing these doctrines, succumbed to their misleading verbalisms: so that whereas Das Kapital is full of great historic intuitions, its description of price and value remains as prescientific as Ricardo's.  The abstractions of economics, instead of being isolates and derivatives of reality, were in fact mythological constructions whose only justification would be in the impulses they excited and the actions they prompted.  Following Vico, Condorcet, Herder and G. F. Hegel, who were philosophers of history, Comte, Quetelet, and Le Play laid down the new science of sociology; while on the heels of the abstract psychologists from Locke and Hume onward, the new observers of human nature, Bain, Herbart, Darwin, Spencer, and Fechner integrated psychology with biology and studied the mental processes as a function of all animal behavior" (216-217).

problems with the car -- new wine in old bottles

"The new machines followed, not their own pattern, but the pattern laid down by previous economic and technical structures.  While the new motor car was called a horseless carriage it had no other point of resemblance than the fact that it ran on wheels: it was a high-powered locomotive, equivalent to from five to a hundred horses in power, capable of safe speeds up to sixty miles an hour, as soon as the cord tire was invented, and having a daily cruising radius of two to three hundred miles.  This private locomotive was set to running on the old-fashioned dirt roads or macadam highways that had been designed for the horse and wagon; and though after 1910 these highways were widened and concrete took the place of lighter materials for the surface, the pattern of the transportation lines remained what it had been in the past.  All the mistakes that had been made in the railroad building period were made again with this new type of locomotive.  Main highways cut through the center of towns, despite the congestion, the friction, the noise, and the dangers that attended this old paleotechnic practice.  Treating the motor car solely as a mechanical object, its introducers made no attempt to introduce the appropriate utilities that would realize its potential benefits.  Had anyone asked in cold blood -- as Professor Morris Cohen has suggested -- whether this new form of transportation would be worth the yearly sacrifice of 30,000 lives in the United States alone, to say nothing of the injured and the maimed, the answer would doubtless have been No.  But the motor car was pumped onto the market at an accelerating rate, by business men and industrialists who looked for improvements only in the mechanical realm, and who had no flair for inventions on any other plane.  Mr. Benton McKaye has demonstrated that fast transportation, safe transportation and pedestrian movement, and sound community building are all parts of a single process: the motor car demanded for long distance transportation the Townless Highway, with stations for entrance and exit at regular intervals and with overpasses and underpasses for major cross traffic arteries: similarly, for local transportation, it demanded the Highwayless Town, in which no neighborhood community would be split apart by major arteries of invaded by the noise of through traffic" (236-237).

problems of scale, specifically with new means of communication (telephone ... Internet)

"With the telephone the flow of interest and attention, instead of being self-directed, is at the mercy of any strange person who seeks to divert it to his own purposes.  One is faced here with a magnified form of a danger common to all inventions: a tendency to use them whether or not the occasion demands.  Thus our forefathers used iron sheets for the fronts of buildings, despite the fact that iron is a notorious conductor of heat: thus people gave up learning the violin, the guitar, and the piano when the phonograph was introduced, despite the fact that the passive listening to records is not in the slightest degree the equivalent of active performance; thus the introduction of anesthetics increased fatalities from superfluous operations.  The lifting of restrictions upon close human intercourse has been, in its first stages, as dangerous as the flow of populations into new lands: it has increased the areas of friction.  Similarly, it has mobilized and hastened mass-reactions, like those which occur on the eve of a war, and it has increased the dangers of international conflict.  To ignore these facts would be to paint a very falsely over-optimistic picture of the present economy.  Nevertheless, instantaneous personal communication over long distances is one of the outstanding marks of the neotechnic phase: it is the mechanical symbol of those world-wide cooperations of thought and feeling which must emerge, finally, if our whole civilization is not to sink into ruin ... Plato defined the limits of the size of a city as the number of people who could hear the voice of a single orator: today those limits do not define a city but a civilization.  Wherever neotechnic instruments exist and a common language is used there are now the elements of almost as close a political unity as that which once was possible in the tiniest cities of Attica" (240-241).

the influence of biology

"The belief in mechanical flight grew directly out of the researches of the physiological laboratory.  After Leonardo the only scientific study of flight, up to the work of J. B. Pettigrew and E. J. Marey in the eighteen-sixties, was that of the physiologist, Borelli, whose De Motu Animalium was published in 1680.  Pettigrew, an Edinburgh pathologist, made a detailed study of locomotion in animals, in which he demonstrated that walking, swimming, and flying are in reality only modifications of each other ... From these investigations Pettigrew -- and independently Marey -- drew the conclusion that human flight was possible.  In this development, flying models, utilizing the new material rubber as motive power, played an important part: Penaud in Paris, Kress in Vienna, and later Langley in the United States utilized them: but the final touch, necessary for stable flight, came when two bicycle mechanics, Orville and Wilbur Wright, studied the flight of soaring birds, like the gull and the hawk, and discovered the function of warping the tips of the wings to achieve lateral stability.  Further improvements in the design of airplanes have been associated, not merely with the mechanical perfection of the wings and the motors, but with the study of flight in other types of bird, like the duck, and the movement of fish in water" (250-251).

what technology is, and what it isn't: work for its own sake is often waste

"We have with considerable cleverness devised mechanical apparatus to counteract the effect of lengthening time and space distances, to increase the amount of power available for performing unnecessary work, and to increase the waste of time attendant upon irrelevant and superficial intercourse.  But our success in doing these things has blinded us to the fact that such devices are not by themselves marks of efficiency or of intelligent social effort.  Canning and refrigeration as a means of distributing a limited food supply over the year, or of making it available in areas distant from the place originally grown, represent a real gain.  The use of canned goods, on the other hand, in country districts when fresh fruits and vegetables are available comes to a vital and social loss.  The very fact that mechanization lends itself to large-scale industrial and financial organization, and marches in step with the whole distributing mechanism of capitalist society frequently gives an advantage to such indirect and ultimately more inefficient methods.  There is, however, no virtue whatever in eating foods that years old or that have transported thousands of miles, when equally good foods are available without going out of the locality.  It is a lack of rational distribution that permits this process to go on in our society.  Power machines have given a sort of licence to social inefficiency.  This licence was tolerated all the more easily because what the community as a whole lost through these misapplied energies enterprising individuals gained in profits" (276-277).

"Elaborate antiseptics are offered in expensive mechanically wrapped packages, made tempting by lithographs and printed advertisements, to take the place which common scientific knowledge indicates is amply filled by one of the most common minerals, sodium chloride.  Vacuum pumps driven by electric motors are forced into American households for the purpose of cleaning an obsolete floor covering, the carpet or rug, whose appropriateness for use in interiors, if it did not disappear with the caravans where it originated, certainly passed out of existence with rubber heels and steam-heated houses.  To count such pathetic examples of waste to the credit of the machine is like counting the rise in the number of constipation remedies a proof of the benefits of leisure" (277). 

uniformity comes with benefits and demerits

"The third important characteristic of the machine process and the machine environment is uniformity, standardization, replaceability.  Whereas handicraft, by the very nature of human work, exhibits constant variations and adaptations, and boasts of the fact that no two products are alike, machine work has just the opposite characteristic: it prides itself on the fact that the millionth motor car built to a specific pattern is exactly like the first.  Speaking generally, the machine has replaced an unlimited series of variables with a limited number of constants: if the range of possibility is lessened, the area of production and control is increased.  And while the uniformity of performance in human beings, pushed beyond a certain point, deadens initiative and lowers the whole tone of the organism, uniformity of performance in machines and standardization of products works in the opposite direction.  The dangers of standardized products have in fact been over-rated by people who have applied the same criterion to machines as they would to the behavior of living beings.  This danger has been further over-stressed by those who look upon uniformity as in itself bad, and upon variation as in itself good: whereas monotony (uniformity) and variety are in reality polar characteristics, neither of which can or should be eliminated in the conduct of life.  Standardization and repetition have in fact the part in our social economy that habit has in the human organism: by pushing below the level of consciousness certain recurrent elements in our experience, they free attention for the non-mechanical, the unexpected, the personal" (277-278).

machines and the ongoing crisis of values  

"At the beginning, the machine was an attempt to substitute quantity for value in the calculus of life.  Between the conception of the machine and its utilization, as Krannhals points out, a necessary psychological and social process was skipped: the stage of evaluation.  Thus a steam turbine may contribute thousands of horsepower, and a speedboat may achieve speed: but these facts, which perhaps satisfy the engineer, do not necessarily integrate them into society.  Railroads may be quicker than canalboats, and a gas-lamp may be brighter than a candle: but it is only in terms of human purpose and in relation to a human and social scheme of values that speed or brightness have any meaning.  If one wishes to absorb the scenery, the slow motion of a canalboat may be preferable to the fast motion of a motor car ... Because the process of social evaluation was largely absent among the people who developed the machine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the machine raced like an engine without a governor, tending to overheat its own bearings and lower its efficiency without any compensatory gain.  This left the process of evaluation to groups who remained outside the machine milieu, and who unfortunately often lacked the knowledge and the understanding that would have made their criticisms more pertinent" (282).

"The important thing to bear in mind is that the failure to evaluate the machine and to integrate it in society as a whole was not due simply to defects in distributing income, to errors of management, to the greed and narrow-mindedness of industrial leaders: it was also due to a weakness of the entire philosophy upon which the new techniques and inventions were grounded.  The leaders and enterprisers of the period believed that they had avoided the necessity for introducing values, except those which were automatically recorded in profits and prices.  They believed that the problem of justly distributing goods could be sidetracked by creating an abundance of them: that the problem of applying one's energies wisely could be cancelled out simply by multiplying them: in short, that most of the difficulties that had hitherto vexed mankind had a mathematical or mechanical -- that is a quantitative -- solution.  The belief that values could be dispensed with constituted the new system of values.  Values, divorced from the current processes of life, remained the concern of those who reacted against the machine.  Meanwhile, the current processes justified themselves solely in terms of quantity production and cash results.  When the machine as a whole overspeeded and purchasing power failed to keep pace with dishonest overcapitalization and exorbitant profits -- then the whole machine went suddenly into reverse, stripped its gears, and came to a standstill: a humiliating failure, a dire social loss" (283).

"One is confronted, then, by the fact that the machine is ambivalent.  It is both an instrument of liberation and one of repression.  It has economized human energy and has misdirected it.  It has created a wide framework of order and it has produced muddle and chaos.  It has nobly served human purposes and it has distorted and denied them" (283).


problems concretely illustrated

"Mr. Bertrand Russell has noted that each improvement in locomotion has increased the area over which people are compelled to move: so that a person who would have had to spend half an hour to walk to work a century ago must still spend half an hour to reach his destination, ebcause the contrivance that would have enabled him to save time had he remained in his original situation now -- by driving him to a more distant residential area -- effectually cancels out the gain" (272). 

"Many of our so-called gains in efficiency have consisted, in effect, of using power machines to apply 758 pounds to work which could be just as efficiently accomplished by careful planning and preparation with an expenditure of 22 pounds: our illusion of superiority is based on the fact that we have had 736 pounds to waste" (275).

assimilating the machine: solutions -- Ludditism, romanticism, nationalism / regionalism, pioneering asceticism (new religions, including Mormonism!), primitive hedonism (sex, sports), *war (the most successful and worst solution)

"The destruction of machines ... might have been accomplished by the working classes of Europe but for two facts.  First: the direct war against the machine was an unevenly matched struggle; for the financial and military powers were on the side of the classes that were bent on exploiting the machine ... The second point was equally important: life and energy and adventure were at first on the side of the machine: handicraft was associated with the fixed, the sessile, the superannuated, the dying: it manifestly shrank away from the new movements in thought and from the ordeal of new reality" (284-285).

"The newness of the mechanical products was, from the utilitarian standpoint, a guarantee of their worth.  The utilitarian wished to put as much distance as possible between his own society of unfettered money-making individuals and the ideals of a feudal and corporate life.  These ideals, with their traditions, loyalities, and sentiments, constituted a break upon the introduction of changes and mechanical improvements ... What most obviously prevented a clean victory of capitalistic and mechanical ideals was the tissue of ancient institutions and habits of thought: the belief that honor might be more important than money or that friendly affection and comradeship might be as powerful a motive in life as profit making: or that present animal health might be more precious than future material acquisitions -- in short, that the whole man might be worth preserving at the expense of the utmost success and power of the Economic Man.  Indeed, some of the sharpest criticism of the new mechanical creed came from the tory aristocrats in England, France, and in the Southern States of the United States" (285-286).

"In its animus, romanticism was right ... Unfortunately, in its comprehension of the forces that were at work in society the romantic movement was weak: overcome by the callous destruction that attended the introduction of the machine, it did not distinguish between the forces that were hostile to life and those that served it, but tended to lump them all in the same compartment, and to turn its back upon them ... The romantic movement was retrospective, walled-in, sentimental: in a word, regressive" (286-287).

"The creation of nationalist states was essentially a movement of protest against alien political powers, wielded without the consent and participation of the governed: a protest against the largely arbitrary political groupings of the dynastic period.  But the nations, once they achieved independent nationality, speedily began with the introduction of coal-industrialism to go through the same process of de-regionalization as those that had had no separate national existence; and it was only with the growth of a more intensive and self-conscious regionalism that the process began to work in the opposite direction.  The revival of place interests and language interests, focussed in the new appreciation of regional history, is one of the definite characteristics of nineteenth century culture.  Because it was in direct conflict with the cosmopolitan free-trade imperialism of the leading economic thought of the period -- and political economy had a hallowed status among the social sciences during this period, because of its useful mythological character -- this new regionalism was never carefully appraised or sufficiently appreciated in the early days of its existence" (290-291).

"Not until the new lands were completely occupied and exploited did the machine come in, to claim its special form of dominion over those who had shown neither courage nor luck nor cunning in exploiting Nature.  For millions of men and women, the new lands staved off the moment of submission.  By accepting the shackles of nature they could evade for a brief while the complicated interdependence of the machine civilization.  The more humane or fanatic types, in the company of their fellows, could even make an equally brief effort to realize their dream of a perfect society or the Heavenly City: from the Shaker colonies in New England to the Mormons of Utah there stretched a weak faint line of perfectionists, seeking to circumvent both the aimless brutality of nature and the more purposeful brutality of man" (296-297).

desires aroused but never sated: we see the life (sex) that machine culture takes away from us (by separating us from family, community, etc.)

"The primitive disclosed itself during the twentieth century in the insurgence of sex.  The erotic dances of the Polynesians, the erotic music of the African negro tribes, these captured the imagination and presided over the recreation of the mechanically disciplined urban masses of Western Civilization, reaching their swiftest development in the United States, the country that had most insistently fostered mechanical gadgets and mechanical routines.  To the once dominantly masculine relaxation of drunkenness was added the heterosexual relaxation of the dance and the erotic embrace, two phases of the sexual act that were now performed in public.  The reaction grew in proportion to the external restraint imposed by the day's grind; but instead of enriching the erotic life and providing deep organic satisfactions, these compensatory measures tended to keep sex at a constant pitch of stimulation and ultimately of irritation: for the ritual of sexual excitation pervaded not merely recreation but business: it appeared in the office and the advertisement, to remind and to tantalize without providing sufficient occasions for active release" (299-300).

"The romantic movements were important as a corrective to the machine because they called attention to essential elements in life that were left out of the mechanical world-picture: they themselves prepared some of the materials for a richer synthesis.  But there is within modern civilization a whole series of compensatory functions that, so far from making better integration [between man and the machine] possible, only serve to stabilize the existing state -- and finally they themselves become part of the very regimentation they exist to combat.  The chief of these institutions is perhaps mass-sports.  One may define these sports as those forms of organized play in which the spectator is more important than the player, and in which a good part of the meaning is lost when the game is played for itself.  Mass-sport is primarily a spectacle" (303).

"Sometimes, as in dance marathons or flag-pole squattings, the record goes to feats of inane endurance: the blankest and dreariest of sub-human spectacles.  With the increase in professionalized skill that accompanies this change, the element of chance is further reduced: the sport, which was originally a drama, becomes an exhibition.  As soon as specialism reaches this point, the whole performance is arranged as far as possible for the end of making possible the victory of the popular favorite.  Instead of 'Fair Play' the rule now becomes 'Success at Any Price'" (306).

"The hero [of sport] is handsomely paid for his efforts, as well as being rewarded by praise and publicity, and he thus further restores to sport its connection with the very commercialized existence from which it is supposed to provide relief -- restores it and thereby sanctifies it.  The few heroes who resist this vulgarization -- notably Lindbergh -- fall into popular or at least into journalistic disfavor, for they are only playing the less important part of the game" (307).

war lets people live authentically (take real risks, make real friends, harvest real rewards, transcend mechanism even as they use it); it lets people face fear, let go of responsbility, and react without trying to understand their reaction

"But war, for those actually engaged in combat, likewise brings a release from the sordid motives of profit-making and self-seeking that govern the prevailing forms of business enterprise, including sport: the action has the significance of high drama ... For peoples that have lost the values of culture and can no longer respond with interest or understanding to the symbols of culture, the abandonment of the whole process and the reversion to crude faiths and non-rational dogmas, is powerfully abetted by the processes of war.  If no enemy existed, it would be necessary to create him, in order to further this development" (309-310).

"As long as the machine remains an absolute, war will represent for this society the sum of its values and compensations: for war brings people back to the earth, makes them face the battle with the elements, unleashes the brute forces of their own nature, releases the normal restraints of social life, and sanctions a return to the primitive in thought and feeling, even as it further sanctions infantility in the blind personal obedience it exacts, like that of the archetypal father with the archetypal son, which divests the latter of the need of behaving like a responsible and autonomous personality" (310-311).

coming to grips with the machine requires understanding and assimilating the values of the machine

"The technique of creating a neutral world of fact as distinguished from the raw data of immediate experience was the great general contribution of modern analytic science.  This contribution was possibly second only to the development of our original language concepts, which built up and identified, with the aid of a common symbol, such as tree or man, the thousand confused and partial aspects of trees and men that occur in direct experience.  Behind this technique, however, stands a special collective morality: a rational confidence in the work of other men, a loyalty to the reports of the senses, whether one likes them or not, a willingness to accept a competent and unbiased interpretation of the results.  This recourse to a neutral judge and to a constructed body of law was a belated development in thought comparable to that which took place in morality when the blind conflicts between biased men were replaced by the civil processes of justice ... The concept of a neutral world, untouched by man's efforts, indifferent to his activities, obdurate to his wish and supplication, is one of the great triumphs of man's imagination, and in itself it represents a fresh human value" (361).

"In the development of the human character we have reached a point similar to that which we have attained in technics itself: the point at which we utilize the completest developments in science and technics to approach once more the organic.  But here again: our capacity to go beyond the machine rests upon our power to assimilate the machine.  Until we have absorbed the lessons of objectivity, impersonality, neutrality, the lessons of the mechanical realm, we cannot go further in our development toward the more richly organic, the more profoundly human" (363).

"In the development of the neutral valueless world of science, and in the advance of the adaptive, instrumental functions of the machine, we have left to the untutored egoisms of mankind the control of the gigantic powers and engines technics has conjured into existence ... When one subtracts from the manifest blessings of the machine the entire amount of energy and mind and time and resources devoted to the preparation for war -- to say nothing of the residual burden of past wars -- one realizes the net gain is dismayingly small, and with the advance of still more efficient means of inflicting death is becoming steadily smaller.  Our failure here is the critical instance of a common failure all along the line" (366).

"We are now entering a phase of dissociation between capitalism and technics [really?]; and we begin to see that Thorstein Veblen that their respective interests, so far from being identical, are often at war, and that the human gains of technics have been forfeited by perversion in the interests of a pecuniary economy.  We see in addition that many of the special gains in productivity which capitalism took credit for were in reality due to quite different agents -- collective thought, cooperative action, and the general habits of order -- virtues that have no necessary connection with capitalist enterprise [has history vindicated this or refuted it?] ... The belief that the social dilemmas created by the machine can be solved merely by inventing more machines is today a sign of half-baked thinking which verges close to quackery [still true]" (367).

"The humane arts of the physician and the psychologist and the architect, the hygienist and the community planner, have begun during the last few decades to displace the mechanical arts from their hitherto central position in our economy and our life.  Form, pattern, configuration, organism, historical filiation, ecological relationship are concepts that work up and down the ladder of the sciences: the esthetic structure and the social relations are as real as the primary physical qualities that the sciences were once content to isolate" (371).

"What are, then, the essentials of the economic processes in relation to energy and to life?  The essential processes are conversion, production, consumption, and creation.  In the first two steps energy is seized and prepared for the sustenance of life.  In the third stage, life is supported and renewed in order that it may wind itself up, so to speak, on the higher levels of thought and culture, instead of being short-circuitedat once back into the preparatory functions" (375).

"In short, as John Ruskin put it, There is no Wealth but Life; and what we call wealth is in fact wealth only when it is a sign of potential or actual vitality" (378).

Mumford argues for socialization / communism (but not Maoism or Bolshevism, he claims: how is he wrong? how is he right? to me, he appears overly optimistic, especially since Hayek is appearing more right than Keynes these days -- but that does not mean his ideas are worthless)

"To increase conversion, then, is no simple matter of merely mining coal or building more dynamos.  It involves the social appropriation of natural resources, the replanning of agriculture and the maximum utilization of those regions in which kinetic energy in the form of sun, wind, and running water is abundantly available.  The socialization of these sources of energy is a condition of their effective and purposive use" (382).

"Under a scientific economy, the amount of grain, fruit, meat, milk, textiles, metals and raw materials, like the number of houses needed annually for replacement and for the increase of population, can be calculated in the gross in advance of production.  It needs only the insurance of consumption to make the tables of production progressively more accurate.  Once the standard was established, gains beyond those calculated would be bonuses for the whole community: such gains, instead of stopping the works, as they do now, would lubricate them, and so far from throwing the mechanism out of gear they would lighten the load for the whole community and increase the margin of time or energy available for the modes of life, rather than the means" (404).

economic regionalism

"In a balanced economy, regional production of commonplace commodities becomes rational production; and inter-regional exchange becomes the export of surplus from regions of increment to regions of scarcity, or the exchange of special materials and skills" (388).

"A region entirely specialized for a single resource, or covered from boundary line to boundary line by a solid area of houses and streets, is a defective environment, no matter how well its trade may temporarily flourish.  Economic regionalism is necessary to provide for a varied social life, as well as to provide for a balanced economy" (389).

paradox of social values in the West since the dawn of the modern era: enormous wealth requires enormous consumption in order to exist, leading people to create social norms favoring waste and debt

"Despite the natural egalitarian tendency of mass production, a great gap continued to exist between the various economic classes: this gap was glibly accounted for, in terms of Victorian economics, by a differentiation between necessities, comforts, and luxuries.  The bare necessities were the lot of the mass of workers.  The middle classes, in addition to having their necessities satisfied on an ampler scale than the workers, were supported by comforts: while the rich possessed in addition -- and this made them more fortunate -- luxuries.  Yet there was a contradiction.  Under the doctrine of increasing wants the mass of mankind was supposed to demand larger quantities and more various kinds of goods -- the only limit to this obligation being the persistent unwillingness of the capitalist manufacturer to give the worker a sufficient share of the industrial income to make an effective demand.  (At the height of the last wave of financial expansion in the United States the capitalist sought to solve this paradox by loaning money for the increased consumption -- installment purchase -- without raising wages, lowering prices, or decreasing his own excessive share in the national income: a device which never would have occurred to the more sober Harpagons of the seventeenth century [but which we are trying again!])" (393).

"The justification of labor-saving devices was not that they actually saved labor but that they increased consumption: whereas, plainly, labor-saving can take place only when the standard of consumption remains relatively stable, so that increases in conversion and in productive facility will be realized in the form of actual increments of leisure.  Unfortunately, the capitalistic industrial system thrives by a denial of this condition.  It thrives by stimulating wants rather than by limiting them and satisfying them.  To acknowledge a goal of consummation would be to place a brake upon production and lessen the opportunities for profit [!!]" (396).

medical analogy (pursuing a leaner, more efficient health)

"A finer knowledge of physiology reduces the number of drugs and nostrums in which the physician places confidence: it also decreases the number and scope of surgical operations -- those exquisite triumphs of technics! -- so that although refinements in technique have increased the number of potential operations that can be resorted to, competent physicians are tempted to exhaust the resources of nature before utilizing a mechanical shortcut" (425).

*the ultimate goal: dynamic equilibrium in the environment, in industry and agriculture, and in population

"Our machine system is beginning to approach a state of internal equilibrium.  Dynamic equilibrium, not indefinite progress, is the mark of the opening age: balance, not one-sided advance: conservation, not reckless pillage" (429-430). 

"Not mine and move, but stay and cultivate are the watchwords of the new order" (430).

"As we approach an industrial and agricultural equilibrium part of the raison d'etre of capitalism itself will vanish [in contemporary, realistic terms, this sort of 'pure' Marxism might simply translate to a new kind of capitalism: capitalism does not vanish, but it moves away from the paleotechnic centralization toward a more dispersed model -- not Soviet or Maoist Communism or the Western socialism that Mumford sometimes seems to want, but a new order, a new kind of company to replace the global syndicate 'too big to fail']" (431). 

"The problem of tempo: the problem of equilibrium: the problem of organic balance: in the back of them all the problem of human satisfaction and cultural achievement -- these have now become the critical and all-important problems of modern civilization.  To face these problems, to evolve appropriate social goals and to invent appropriate social and political instruments for an active attack upon them, and finally to carry them into action: here are new outlets for social intelligence, social energy, social good will" (433). 

the metaphor of the orchestra

"It would be a gross mistake to seek wholly within the field of technics for an answers to all the problems that have been raised by technics.  For the instrument only in part determines the character of the symphony or the response of the audience: the composer and the musicians have also to be considered ... Looking backward on the history of modern technics, one notes that from the tenth century onward the instruments have been scraping and tuning.  One by one, before the lights were up, new members had joined the orchestra, and were straining to read the score.  By the seventeenth century the fiddles and the wood-winds had assembled, and they played their shrill high notes the prelude to the great opera of mechanical science and invention.  In the eighteenth century the brasses joined the orchestra, and the opening chorus, with the metals predominating over the wood, rang through every hall and gallery of the Western World.  Finally, in the nineteenth century, the human voice itself, hitherto subdued and silent, was timidly sounded through the systematic dissonances of the score, at the very moment that imposing instruments of percussion were being introduced.  Have we heard the complete work?  Far from it.  All that has happened up to now has been little more than a rehearsal, and at last, having recognized that importance of the singers and the chorus, we will have to score the music differently, subduing the insistent brasses and the kettle-drums and giving more prominence to the violins and the voices.  But if this turns out to be so, out task is even more difficult: for we will have to re-write the music in the act of playing it, and change the leader and re-group the orchestra at the very moment that we are re-casting the most important passages" (434-435).   


  1. The topic portends interest. Some teleological quotes about machines:

    Keiji Nishitani (1983). Religion and Nothingness. University of California Press.

    ``[There] is the appearance of a gradual deepening in the power of things to make use of the laws of nature parallel to the relative strength of those laws. This ... aspect means that the release of things from the laws of nature, from bondage through the use of those very same laws of nature, and the freedom that this leads to becomes manifest ever more deeply in those things.'' p. 82.

    ``The higher we proceed up the chain of being, the deeper the reach of the rule of law; but at the same time, the more fully actualized the freedom of things that use those laws.'' pp. 82--83.

    ``They are nowhere to be found in the world of nature (as products of nature); yet the workings of the laws of nature find their purest expression in machines, purer than in any of the products of nature itself.'' p. 83.

    George Orwell also made some mordant commentary concerning the ``ghastly emptiness of machine civilization'' in quite a few places if you're willing to dig. It's not evident from your quotes above just how far into societal commentary you wish to stray, but the philosophical journal The Monist vol. 92 features several articles relating ontologically to engineering.

    1. Thanks for these references. I meant to thank you earlier, but life distracted me.