Preliminary Notes and Quotes for a Post on Marxism and Technology

1. Outline of Marxist and non-Marxist approaches to the question of technology

2. A non-stagist version of the Marxist theory of history

A. Neolithic Revolution (10,000 BCE — 1300 ACE)

B. The Capitalist Revolution (1300 — 1800 ACE)

C. The crisis of capitalism (1750 — 1850 ACE)

3. Traditional society and modern society

4. Progressive and regressive tendencies within the social application of technology

5. The Problem of Reification

6. Against facile, multicultural, and Romantic anti-technologism

7. Conclusions

Max Horkheimer, from “Means and Ends.”  In The Eclipse of Reason

“Having given up autonomy, reason has become an instrument. In the formalistic aspect of subjective reason, stressed by positivism, its [15] unrelatedness to objective content is emphasized; in its instrumental aspect, stressed by pragmatism, its surrender to heteronomous contents is emphasized. Reason has become completely harnessed to the social process. Its operational value, its role in the domination of men and nature, has been made the sole criterion. Concepts have been reduced to summaries of the characteristics that several specimens have in common. By denoting a similarity, concepts eliminate the bother of enumerating qualities and thus serve better to organize the material of knowledge. They are thought of as mere abbreviations of the items to which they refer. Any use transcending auxiliary, technical summarization of factual data has been eliminated as a last trace of superstition. Concepts have become ‘streamlined,’ rationalized, labor-saving devices. It is as if thinking itself had been reduced to the level of industrial processes, subjected to a close schedule — in short, made part and parcel of production.”  Pgs. 14-15.

“The more ideas have become automatic, instrumentalized, the less does anybody see in them thoughts with a meaning of their own. They are considered things, machines. Language has been reduced to just another tool in the gigantic apparatus of production in modern society. Every sentence that is not equivalent to an operation in that apparatus appears to the layman just as meaningless as it is held to be by contemporary semanticists who imply that the purely symbolic and operational, that is, the purely senseless sentence, makes sense. Meaning is supplanted by function or effect in the world of things and events. In so far as words are not used obviously to calculate technically relevant probabilities or for other practical purposes, among which even relaxation is included, they are in danger of being suspect as sales talk of some kind, for truth is no end in itself.”  Pg. 15.

“Reification is a process that can be traced back to the beginnings of organized society and the use of tools. However, the transformation of all products of human activity into commodities was achieved only with the emergence of industrialist society. The functions once performed by objective reason, by authoritarian religion, or by metaphysics have been taken over by the reifying mechanisms of the anonymous economic apparatus. It is the price paid on the market that determines the salability of merchandise and thus the productiveness of a specific kind of labor. Activities are branded as senseless or superfluous, as luxuries, unless they are useful or, as in wartime, contribute to the maintenance and safeguarding of the general conditions under which industry can flourish. Productive work, manual or intellectual, has become respectable, indeed the only accepted way of spending one’s life, and any occupation, the pursuit of any end that eventually yields an income, is called productive.”  Pg. 28.

“The reduction of reason to a mere instrument finally affects even its character as an instrument. The anti-philosophical spirit that is inseparable from the subjective concept of reason, and that in Europe culminated in the totalitarian persecutions of intellectuals, whether or not they were its pioneers, is symptomatic of the abasement of reason. The traditionalist, conservative critics of civilization commit a fundamental error when they attack modern intellectualization without at the same time attacking the stultification that is only another aspect of the same process. The human intellect, which has biological and social origins, is not an absolute entity, isolated and independent. It has been declared to be so only as a result of the social division of labor, in order to justify the latter on the basis of man’s natural constitution. The leading functions of production—commanding, planning, organizing—were contrasted as pure intellect to the manual functions of production as lower, impurer form of work, the labor [38] of slaves. It is not by accident that the so-called Platonic psychology, in which the intellect was for the first time contrasted with other human ‘faculties,’ particularly with the instinctual life, was conceived on the pattern of the division of powers in a rigidly hierarchic state.”  Pgs. 37-38.

From “Conflicting Panaceas” in The Eclipse of Reason.

“The objective progress of science and its application, technology, do not justify the current idea that science is destructive only when perverted and necessarily constructive when adequately understood.”  Pg. 40.

“Along with pseudo-religious or half-scientific mind cures, spiritualism, astrology, cheap brands of past philosophies such as Yoga, Buddhism, or mysticism, and popular adaptations of classical objectivistic philosophies, medieval ontologies are recommended for modern use.”  Pg. 42.

From “The Revolt of Nature,” in The Eclipse of Reason.

“The contemporary mode of production demands much more flexibility than ever before. The greater initiative needed in practically all walks of life calls for greater adaptability to changing conditions. If a medieval artisan could have adopted another craft, his changeover would have been more radical than that of a person today who becomes successively a mechanic, a salesman, and director of an insurance company. The ever-greater uniformity of technical processes makes it easier for men to change jobs. But the greater ease of transition from one activity to another does not mean that more time is left for speculation or for deviations from established patterns. The more devices we invent for dominating nature, the more must we serve them if we are to survive.”  Pg. 66.

“Economic and social forces take on the character of blind natural powers that man, in order to preserve himself, must dominate by adjusting himself to them.”  Pg. 66.

“The story of the boy who looked up at the sky and asked, ‘Daddy, what is the moon supposed to advertise?’ is an allegory of what has happened to the relation between man and nature in the era of formalized reason. On the one hand, nature has been stripped of all intrinsic value or meaning. On the other, man has been stripped of all aims except self-preservation. He tries to transform everything within reach into a means to that end. Every word or sentence that hints of relations other than pragmatic is suspect. When a man is asked to admire a thing, to respect a feeling or attitude, to love a person for his own sake, he smells sentimentality and suspects that someone is pulling his leg or trying to sell him something. Though people may not ask what the moon is supposed to advertise, they tend to think of it in terms of ballistics or aerial mileage.”  Pg. 69.

“The complete transformation of the world into a world of means rather than of ends is itself the consequence of the historical development of the methods of production. As material production and social organization [Pg. 70] grow more complicated and reified, recognition of means as such becomes increasingly difficult, since they assume the appearance of autonomous entities. As long as the means of production are primitive, the forms of social organization are primitive. The institutions of the Polynesian tribes reflect the direct and overwhelming pressure of nature. Their social organization has been shaped by their material needs. The old people, weaker than the younger but more experienced, make the plans for hunting, for building bridges, for choosing camp sites, et cetera; the younger must obey. The women, weaker than the men, do not go hunting and do not participate in preparing and eating the big game; their duties are to gather plants and shellfish. The bloody magical rites serve partly to initiate the youth and partly to inculcate a tremendous respect for the power of priests and elders.”  Pgs. 69-70.

“Modern insensitivity to nature is indeed only a variation of the pragmatic attitude that is typical of Western civilization as a whole. The forms are different. The early trapper saw in the prairies and mountains only the prospects of good hunting; the modern businessman sees in the landscape an opportunity for the display of cigarette posters. The fate of animals in our world is symbolized by an item printed in newspapers of a few years ago. It reported that landings of planes in Africa were often hampered by herds of elephants and other beasts. Animals are here considered simply as obstructors of traffic. This mentality of man as the master can be traced back to the first chapters of Genesis.”  Pg. 71.

“National Socialism, it is true, boasted of its protection of animals, but only in order to humiliate more deeply those ‘inferior races’ whom they treated as mere nature.”  Pg. 71.

“The history of man’s efforts to subjugate nature is also the history of man’s subjugation by man. The development of the concept of the ego reflects this twofold history.”  Pg. 72.

“The principle of domination, based originally on brute force, acquired in the course of time a more spiritual character. The inner voice took the place of the master in issuing commands. The history of Western civilization could be written in terms of the growth of the ego as the underling sublimates, that is internalizes, the commands of his master who has preceded him in self-discipline. From this standpoint, the leader and the elite might be described as having effected coherence and logical connection between the various transactions of daily life. They enforced continuity, regularity, even uniformity in the productive process, primitive though it was. The ego within each subject became the embodiment of the leader. It established a rational nexus between the variegated experiences of different persons. Just as the leader groups his men as foot soldiers and mounted troops, just as he charts the future, so the ego classifies experiences by categories or species and plans the life of the [73] individual. French sociology [Durkheim] has taught that the hierarchical arrangement of primitive general concepts reflected the organization of the tribe and its power over the individual. It has shown that the whole logical order, the ranking of concepts according to priority and posteriority, inferiority and superiority, and the marking out of their respective domains and boundaries, mirror social relations and the division of labor.”  Pgs. 72-73.

“At no time has the notion of the ego shed the blemishes of its origin in the system of social domination. Even such idealized versions as Descartes’ doctrine of the ego suggest coercion; Gassendi’s objections to the Meditations poked fun at the notion of a little spirit, namely, the ego, that from its well-concealed citadel in the brain—arcem in cerebro tenens—or, as the psychologists might say, the receiving-sending station in the brain, edits the reports of the senses and issues its orders to the various parts of the body.”  Pg. 73.

“In Descartes’ philosophy, the dualism of ego and nature is somewhat blunted by his traditional Catholicism. The later development of rationalism, and then of subjective idealism, tended increasingly to mediate the dualism by attempting to dissolve the concept of nature—and ultimately all the content of experience—in the ego, conceived as transcendental. But the more radically this trend is developed, the greater is the influence of the old, more naive, and for that reason less irreconcilable dualism of the Cartesian theory of substance in the ego’s own domain. The most striking example of this is the extreme subjectivist-transcendental philosophy of Fichte. In his early doctrine, according to which the sole raison d’etre of the world lies in affording a field of activity for the imperious [74] transcendental self, the relationship between the ego and nature is one of tyranny. The entire universe becomes a tool of the ego, although the ego has no substance or meaning except in its own boundless activity. Modern ideology, though much closer to Fichte than is generally believed, has cut adrift from such metaphysical moorings, and the antagonism between an abstract ego as undisputed master and a nature stripped of inherent meaning is obscured by vague absolutes such as the ideas of progress, success, happiness, or experience.”  Pgs. 73-74.

“Hatred of civilization is not only an irrational projection of personal psychological difficulties into the world (as it is interpreted in some psychoanalytical writing). The adolescent learns that the renunciations of [76] instinctual urges expected from him are not adequately compensated, that, for instance, the sublimation of sexual goals required by civilization fails to obtain for him the material security in the name of which it is preached. Industrialism tends more and more to subject sex relations to social domination. The Church mediated between nature and civilization by making marriage a sacrament, still tolerating saturnalia, minor erotic excesses, and even prostitution. In the present era marriage becomes increasingly the cachet of a social sanction, a payment of dues for membership in a club of male prerogative for which the women make the rules. For the women, it is also a cachet in the sense of a prize to be striven for, a prize of sanctioned security. The girl who violates the conventions is no longer pitied or condemned for the reason that she is losing her stake in this and the other life; she simply does not realize her opportunities. She is foolish, not tragic. The emphasis shifts completely to the expediency of marriage as an instrument of conformity in the social machinery. Powerful agencies supervise its functioning, and the amusement industry is enlisted as its advertising agency. While society is busily engaged in abolishing the small rackets of prostitution, which make a commerce of love, instinctual life in all its branches is increasingly adapted to the spirit of commercial culture. The frustrations produced by this tendency are profoundly rooted in the civilizing process; they must be understood phylogenetically, not only ontogenetically, for to some extent the psychological complexes reproduce the primitive history of civilization. It is true that in the current phase of civilization these primitive processes are being relived. On this higher level, the conflict centers about the ideals for the sake of which the renunciation is enforced. What fills the adolescent with distress is, above all, his dim and confused realization of the close connection or near-identity of reason, self, domination, and nature. He feels the gap between the ideals taught to him and the expectations that they arouse in him on the one hand, and the reality principle to which he is compelled to submit on the other. His ensuing rebellion is directed against the circumstance that the air of godliness, of aloofness from nature, of infinite superiority, conceals the rule of the stronger or of the smarter.”  Pgs. 75-76.

“The spiteful use of the mimetic urge explains certain traits of modern demagogues. They are often described as ham actors. One might think of Goebbels. In appearance he was a caricature of the Jewish salesman whose liquidation he advocated. Mussolini reminded one of a provincial prima donna or a comic-opera corporal of the guard. Hitler’s bag of tricks seems almost to have been stolen from Charlie Chaplin. His abrupt and [81] exaggerated gestures were reminiscent of Chaplin’s caricatures of strong men in the early slapstick comedies. Modern demagogues usually behave like unruly boys, who normally are reprimanded or repressed by their parents, teachers, or some other civilizing agency. Their effect on an audience seems due partly to the fact that by acting out repressed urges they seem to be flying in the face of civilization and sponsoring the revolt of nature. But their protest is by no means genuine or naive. They never forget the purpose of their clowning. Their constant aim is to tempt nature to join the forces of repression by which nature itself is to be crushed.”  Pgs. 80-81.

“Hitler appealed to the unconscious in his audience by hinting that he could forge a power in whose name the ban on repressed nature would be lifted.”  Pg. 81.

“Some among the masses seize the opportunity to identify themselves with the official social ego and as such carry out with fury what the personal ego has been unable to achieve—the disciplining of nature, domination over instincts. They fight nature outside instead of inside themselves. The superego, impotent in its own house, becomes the hangman in society. These individuals obtain the gratification of feeling themselves as champions of civilization simultaneously with letting loose their repressed desires. Since their fury does not overcome their inner conflict, and since there are always plenty of others on whom to practice, this routine of suppression is repeated over and over again. Thus it tends toward total destruction.”  Pg. 82.

“Clearly, the Nazi rebellion of nature against civilization was more than an ideological façade. Individuality cracked under the impact of the Nazi system, yielding something that is close to the atomized, anarchic human being—what Spengler once called the ‘new raw man.’ The revolt of natural man—in the sense of the backward strata of the population—against the growth of rationality has actually furthered the formalization of reason, and has served to fetter rather than to free nature. In this light, we might describe fascism as a satanic synthesis of reason and nature—the very opposite of that reconciliation of the two poles that philosophy has always dreamed of.”  Pg. 83.

“Because of its inherent humility toward nature, Darwinism could help in the task reconciling it with man. Whenever this theory encourages the spirit of humility, and it has done so on many occasions, it is definitely superior to opposite doctrines and corresponds to the element of resistance discussed above in relation to the ego. However, popular Darwinism, which permeates many aspects of the mass culture and public ethos of our time, does not exhibit this humility. The doctrine of ‘survival of the fittest’ is no longer a theory of organic evolution making no pretense of imposing ethical imperatives upon society. No matter how expressed, the idea has become the prime axiom of conduct and ethics.”  Pg. 84.

“The doctrines that exalt nature or primitivism at the expense of spirit do not favor reconciliation with nature; on the contrary, they emphasize coldness and blindness toward nature. Whenever man deliberately makes nature his principle, he regresses to primitive urges.”  Pg. 86.

From “The Rise and Decline of the Individual,” in The Eclipse of Reason.

“Because modern society is a totality, the decline of individuality affects the lower as well as the higher social groups, the worker no less than the businessman. One of the most important attributes of individuality, that of spontaneous action, which began to decline in capitalism as a result of the partial elimination of competition, played an integral part in socialist theory. But today the spontaneity of the working class has been impaired by the general dissolution of individuality. Labor is increasingly divorced from critical theories as they were formulated by the great political and social thinkers of the nineteenth century. Influential labor leaders who are known as champions of progress attribute the victory of fascism in Germany to the emphasis laid upon theoretical thinking by the German working class. As a matter of fact not theory but its decline furthers surrender lo the powers that be, whether they are represented by the controlling agencies of capital or those of labor. However, the masses, despite their pliability, have not capitulated completely to collectivization. Although, under the pressure of the pragmatic reality of today, man’s self-expression has become identical with his function in the prevailing system, although he desperately represses any other impulse within himself as well as in others, the rage that seizes him whenever he becomes aware of an unintegrated longing that does not fit into the existing pattern is a sign of his smoldering resentment. This resentment, if repression were abolished, would be turned against the whole social order, which has an intrinsic tendency to prevent its members from gaining insight into the mechanisms of their own repression. Throughout history, physical, organizational, and cultural pressures have always had their role in the integration of the individual into a just or unjust order; today, the labor organizations, in their very effort to improve the status of labor, are inevitably led to contribute to that pressure.”  Pg. 97.

“There is a crucial difference between the social units of the modern industrial era and those of earlier epochs. The units of the older societies were totalities, in the sense that they had grown into hierarchically organized entities. The life of the totemistic tribe, the clan, the church of the Middle Ages, the nation in the era of the bourgeois revolutions, followed ideological patterns shaped through historical developments. Such patterns—magical, religious, or philosophical—reflected current forms of social domination. They constituted a cultural cement even after their role in production had become obsolete; thus they also fostered the idea of a common truth. This they did by the very fact that they had become objectified. Any system of ideas, religious, artistic, or logical, so far as it is articulated in meaningful language, attains a general connotation and necessarily claims to be true in a universal sense.

The objective and universal validity claimed for the ideologies of the older collective units constituted an essential condition of their existence in the body of society. But the patterns of organization, such as that of the medieval Church, did not point for point coincide with the forms of material life. Only the hierarchical structure and the ritual functions of both clergy and laity were strictly regulated. Apart from that, neither life itself nor its intellectual framework was completely integrated. The basic spiritual concepts were not entirely amalgamated with pragmatic considerations; thus they maintained a certain autonomous character. There was still a cleavage between culture and production. This cleavage left more loopholes than modern superorganization, which virtually reduces the individual to a mere cell of functional response. Modern organizational units, such as the totality of labor, are organic parts of the socio-economic system.

The earlier totalities, which were supposed to conform to an abstract spiritual model, contained an element that is lacking in the purely pragmatistic totalities of industrialism. The latter likewise have a hierarchical structure; but they are thoroughly and despotically integrated. For example, promotion of their functionaries to higher ranks is not based on qualifications related to any spiritual ideals. Almost exclusively it is a matter of their ability to manipulate people; here purely administrative and technical skills determine the selection of governing personnel. Such capacities were by no means lacking in the hierarchical leadership of former societies; but the dissolution of relation between leadership capacities and an objectivized framework of spiritual ideals is what gives the modern totalities their distinctive character. The modern Church [99] represents a carry-over of the older forms; this survival rests, however, on extensive adaptation to the purely mechanical conception—which, incidentally, the inherent pragmatism of Christian theology has helped to propagate.”  Pgs. 98-99.

“This is not to say that a return to the older forms should be desired. The clock cannot be put back, nor can organizational development be reversed or even theoretically rejected. The task of the masses today consists not in clinging to traditional party patterns, but rather in recognizing and resisting the monopolistic pattern that is infiltrating their own organizations and infesting their minds individually. In the nineteenth-century concept of a rational society of the future, the emphasis was on planning, organizing, and centralizing mechanisms rather than on the plight of the individual. The parliamentary workers’ parties, themselves a product of liberalism, denounced liberalistic irrationality and promoted a planned socialist economy in opposition to anarchic capitalism. They promoted social organization and centralization as postulates of reason in an age of unreason. Under the present form of industrialism, however, the other side of rationality has become manifest through the increasing suppression of it—the role of nonconforming critical thought in the shaping of social life, of the spontaneity of the individual subject, of his opposition to ready-made patterns of behavior.”  Pg. 99.

From “On the Concept of Philosophy” in The Eclipse of Reason.

“The formalization of reason leads to a paradoxical cultural situation. On the one hand, the destructive antagonism of self and nature, an antagonism epitomizing the history of our civilization, reaches its peak in this era. We have seen how the totalitarian attempt to subdue nature reduced the ego, the human subject, to a mere tool of repression.”  Pg. 110.

“Ontological revivals are among the means that aggravate the disease. Conservative thinkers who have described the negative aspects of enlightenment, mechanization, and mass culture have often tried to mitigate the consequences of civilization either by re-emphasizing old ideals or by pointing out new aims that could be pursued without the risk of revolution. The philosophy of the French counter-revolution and that of German prefascism are examples of the first-named attitude. Their critique of modern man is romanticist and anti-intellectualist.”  Pg. 111.

“Today, progress toward Utopia is blocked primarily by the complete disproportion between the weight of the overwhelming machinery of social power and that of the atomized masses. Everything else—the widespread hypocrisy, the belief in false theories, the discouragement of speculative thought, the debilitation of will, or its premature diversion into endless activities under the pressure of fear—is a symptom of this disproportion. If philosophy succeeds in helping people to recognize these factors, it will have rendered a great service to humanity.”  Pg. 126.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, from The Dialectic of Enlightenment.

“Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth is radiant with triumphant calamity. Enlightenment’s program was the disenchantment of the world.”  Pg. 1.

“Technology is the essence of this knowledge. It aims to produce neither concepts nor images, nor the joy of understanding, but method, exploitation of the labor of others, capital.”  Pg. 2.

“The categories by which Western philosophy defined its timeless order of nature marked out the positions which had once been occupied by Ocnus and Persephone, Ariadne and Nereus. The moment of transition is recorded in the pre-Socratic cosmologies. The moist, the undivided, the air and fire which they take to be the primal stuff of nature are early rationalizations  precipitated from the mythical vision.”  Pg. 3.

“Myth becomes enlightenment and nature mere objectivity. Human beings purchase the increase in their power with estrangement from that over which it is exerted. Enlightenment stands in me same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings. He knows them to the extent that he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things to the extent that he can make them. Their ‘in-itself’ becomes ‘for him.’”  Pg. 6.

“Any attempt to break the compulsion of nature by breaking nature only succumbs more deeply to that compulsion. That has been the trajectory of European civilization. Abstraction, the instrument of enlightenment, stands in the same relationship to its objects as fate, whose concept it eradicates: as liquidation.”  Pg. 9.

“The doubling of nature into appearance and essence, effect and force, made possible by myth no less than by science, springs from human fear, the expression of which becomes its explanation. This does not mean that the soul is transposed into nature, as psychologism would have us believe; mana, the moving spirit, is not a projection but the echo of the real preponderance [10] of nature in the weak psyches of primitive people. The split between animate and inanimate, the assigning of demons and deities to certain specific places, arises from this preanimism.”  Pgs. 9-10.

“With advancing enlightenment, only authentic works of art have been able to avoid the mere imitation of what already is.”  Pg. 13.

“In me first stages of nomadism the members of the tribe still played an independent pan in influencing the course of nature. The men tracked prey while the women performed tasks which did not require rigid commands. How much violence preceded the habituation to even so simple an order cannot be known. In that order the world was already divided into zones of power and of the profane. The course of natural events as an emanation of mana had already been elevated to a norm demanding submission.”  Pg. 15.

“Existence, thoroughly cleansed of demons and their conceptual descendants, takes on, in its gleaming naturalness, the numinous character which former ages attributed to demons. Justified in the guise of brutal facts as something eternally immune to intervention, the social injustice from which those facts arise is as sacrosanct today as the medicine man once was under the protection of his gods. Not only is domination paid for with the estrangement of human beings from the dominated objects, but the relationships of human beings, including the relationship of individuals to themselves, have themselves been bewitched by the objectification of mind.”  Pg. 21.

“Spinoza’s proposition: ‘the endeavor of preserving oneself is the first and only basis of virrue,’ contains the true maxim of all Western civilization. in which the religious and philosophical differences of the bourgeoisie are laid to rest. The self which, after the methodical extirpation of all natural traces as methodological, was no longer supposed to be either a body or blood or a soul or even a natural ego but was sublimated into a transcendental or logical subject, formed the reference point of reason, the legislating authority of action.”  Pg. 22.

“The technical process, to which the subject has been reified after the eradication of that process from consciousness, is as free from the ambiguous meanings of mythical thought as from meaning altogether, since reason itself has become merely an aid to the all-encompassing economic apparatus.”  Pg. 23.

“For civilization, purely natural existence, both animal and vegetative, was the absolute danger. Mimetic, mythical, and metaphysical forms of behavior were successively regarded as stages of world history which had been left behind, and the idea of reverting to them held the terror that the self would be changed back into the mere nature from which it had extricated itself with unspeakable exertions and which for that reason filled it with unspeakable dread.”  Pg. 24.

“The essence of enlightenment is the choice between alternatives, and the inescapability of this choice is that of power. Human beings have always had to choose between their subjugation to nature and its subjugation to the self. With the spread of the bourgeois commodity economy the dark horizon of myth is illuminated by the sun of calculating reason, beneath whose icy rays the seeds of the new barbarism are germinating. Under the compulsion of power, human labor has always led away from myth and, under power, has always fallen back under its spell.”  Pg. 25.

“That reason’s necessity is illusion, no less than me freedom of the industrialists, which reveals its ultimately compulsive nature in their inescapable struggles and pacts. This illusion, in which utterly enlightened humanity is losing itself, cannot be dispelled by a thinking which, as an instrument of power, has to choose between command and obedience. Although unable to escape the entanglement in which it was trapped in prehistory, that thinking is nevertheless capable of recognizing the logic of either/or, of consequence and antinomy, by means of which it emancipated itself radically from nature, as that same nature, unreconciled and self-estranged. Precisely by virtue of its irresistible logic, thought, in whose compulsive mechanism nature is reflected and perpetuated, also reflects itself as a nature oblivious of itself, as a mechanism of compulsion.”  Pg. 31.

“Enlightenment is more than enlightenment, it is nature made audible in its estrangement.”  Pg. 31.

“In the mastery of nature, without which mind does not exist, enslavement to nature persists. By modestly confessing itself to be power and thus being taken back into nature, mind rids itself of the very claim to mastery which had enslaved it to nature. Although humanity may be unable to interrupt its flight away from necessary and into progress and civilization without forfeiting knowledge itself. It least it no longer mistakes the ramparts it has constructed against necessity, the institutions and practices of domination which have always rebounded against society from the subjugation of nature, for guarantors of me coming freedom. Each advance of civilization has renewed nor only mastery bur also the prospect of its alleviation.”  Pgs. 31-32.

“But to recognize power even within thought itself as unreconciled nature would be to relax the necessity which even socialism, in a concession to reactionary common sense, prematurely confirmed as eternal. In declaring necessity the sole basis of the future and banishing mind, in the best idealist fashion, to the fur pinnacle of the superstructure, socialism clung all too desperately to the heritage of bourgeois philosophy.”  Pg. 32.  Adorno is here referring to Bernsteinianism and Social-Democracy.

“By sacrificing thought, which in its reified form as mathematics, machinery, organization, avenges itself on a humanity forgetful of it, enlightenment forfeited its own realization.”  Pg. 33.

“The formation of the self severs the fluctuating connection with nature which the sacrifice of the self is supposed to establish.”  Pg. 41.

“The self wrests itself from dissolution in blind nature, whose claims are constantly reasserted by sacrifice.”  Pg. 42.

“In class society, the self’s hostility to sacrifice included a sacrifice of the self, since it was paid for by a denial of nature in the human being for the sake of mastery over extrahuman nature and over other human beings.”  Pg. 42.

“The superiority of nature in the competitive struggle is repeatedly confirmed by the very mind which has mastered nature. All bourgeois enlightenment is agreed in its demand for sobriety, respect for facts, a correct appraisal of relative strength. Wishful thinking is banned.”  Pg. 44.  Adorno and Horkheimer are primarily speaking of the manner in which second nature comes to imitate the first, working only through compulsion.

“The system must be kept in harmony with nature; just as facts are predicted from the system, so they must confirm it. Facts, however, form part of praxis; they everywhere characterize the contact of the individual subject with nature as social object: experience is always real action and suffering.”  Pg. 64.

“Nature actually does not know pleasure: it does nor go beyond the satisfaction of needs. All pleasure is social, in the unsublimated affects no less than in me sublimated. It springs from alienation. Even when enjoyment is ignorant of the prohibition it infringes, it owes its origin to civilization.”  Pg. 82.

“[T]he town-planning projects, which are supposed to perpetuate individuals as autonomous units in hygienic small apartments, subjugate them only more completely to their adversary, the total power of capital.”  Pg. 94.

“Technical rationality today is the rationality of domination.  It is the compulsive character of a society alienated from itself.”  Pg. 95.

“Industry'” is interested in human beings only as its customers and employees and has in fact reduced humanity as a whole, like each of its elements, to this exhaustive formula. Depending on which aspect happens to be paramount at the time, ideology stresses plan or chance, technology or life, civilization of nature.”  Pg. 118.

“To those who compulsively control it, tormented nature provocatively reflects back the appearance of powerless happiness. The idea of happiness without power is unendurable because it alone would be happiness. The fantasy of the conspiracy of lascivious Jewish bankers who finance Bolshevism is a sign of innate powerlessness, the good life an emblem of happiness. These are joined by the image of the intellectual, who appears to enjoy in thought what the others deny themselves and is spared me sweat of toil and bodily strength. The banker and the intellectual, money and mind, me exponents of circulation, are the disowned wishful image of those mutilated by power, an image which power uses to perpetuate itself.”  Pg. 141.

“The terror originating in remote preanimist times passes from nature into the concept of the absolute self which, as its creator and ruler, entirely subjugates nature.”  Pg. 145.

“Society perpetuates the threat from nature as the permanent, organized compulsion which, reproducing itself in individuals as systematic self-preservation, rebounds against nature as society’s control over it.”  Pg. 149.

“In technology the adaptation to lifelessness in the service of self-preservation is no longer accomplished, as in magic, by bodily imitation of external nature, but by automating mental processes, turning them in to blind sequences. With its triumph human expressions become both controllable and compulsive. All that remains of the adaptation to nature is the hardening against it.”  Pg. 149.

“Civilization is the triumph of society over nature — a triumph which transformed everything into mere nature.”  Pg. 153.

“Only mediation, in which the insignificant sense datum raises thought to the fullest productivity of which it is capable, and in which, conversely, thought gives itself up without reservation to the overwhelming impression — only mediation can overcome the isolation which ails the whole of nature.”  Pg. 156.

“The rage against difference which is teleologically inherent in that mentality as the rancor of the dominated subjects of the domination of nature is always ready to attack the natural minority, even though it is the social minority which those subjects primarily threaten. The socially responsible elite is in any case far harder to pin down than other minorities.”  Pg. 172.

“The liberation of citizens from the injustice of the feudal and absolutist past served, through liberalism, to unleash machinery, just as the emancipation of women has culminated in their being trained as a branch of the armed forces. The mind, and all that is good in its origins and existence, is hopelessly implicated in this horror.”  Pg. 185.

“For cognition, the space separating us from others would mean the same thing as the time between us and the suffering in our own past an insurmountable barrier. But the perennial dominion over nature, medical and nonmedical technology, derives its strength from such blindness; it would be made possible only by oblivion. Loss of memory as the transcendental condition of science. All reification is forgetting.”  Pg. 191.

“The love of nature and fate proclaimed by tota1itarian propaganda is merely a superficial reaction to fixation at the level of the body, to the failure of civilization to fulfill itself. Being unable to escape it, one praises the body when not allowed to hit it.”  Pg. 195.

“The precondition of the Fascists’ pious love of animals, nature, and children is the lust of the hunter. The idle stroking of children’s hair and animal pelts signifies: this hand can destroy. It tenderly fondles one victim before felling the other, and its choice has nothing to do with the victim’s guilt.”    Pg. 210.

Herbert Marcuse, from “Some Implications of Modern Technology” in Collected Papers, Volume 1 — Technology, War, and Fascism.

“In this article, technology is taken as a social process in which technics proper (that is, the technical apparatus of industry, transportation, communication) is but a partial factor. We do not ask for the influence or effect of technology on the human individuals. For they are themselves an integral part and factor of technology, not only as the men who invent or attend to machinery but also as the social groups which direct its application and utilization. Technology, as a mode of production, as the totality of instruments, devices and contrivances which characterize the machine age is thus at the same time a mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships, a manifestation of prevalent thought and behavior patterns, an instrument for control and domination.”  Pg. 42.

“In the course of the technological process a new rationality and new standards of individuality have spread over society, different from and even opposed to those which initiated the march of technology. These changes are not the (direct or derivative) effect of machinery on its users or of mass production on its consumers; they are rather themselves determining factors in the development of machinery and mass production.”  Pg. 43.

“The principle of competitive efficiency favors the enterprises with the most highly mechanized and rationalized industrial equipment. Technological power tends to the concentration of economic power, to ‘large units of production, of vast corporate enterprises producing large quantities and often a striking variety of goods, of industrial empires owning and controlling materials, equipment, and processes from the extraction of raw materials to the distribution of finished products, of dominance over an entire industry by a [44] small number of giant concerns…’ And technology ‘steadily increases the power at the command of giant concerns by creating new tools, processes and products.’ Efficiency here called for integral unification and simplification, for the removal of all ‘waste,’ the avoidance of all detours, it called for radical coordination. A contradiction exists, however, between the profit incentive that keeps the apparatus moving and the rise of the standard of living which this same apparatus has made possible. ‘Since control of production is in the hands of enterprisers working for a profit, they will have at their disposal whatever emerges as surplus after rent, interest, labor, and other costs are met. These costs will be kept at the lowest possible minimum as a matter of course.’ Under these circumstances, profitable employment of the apparatus dictates to a great extent the quantity, form and kind of commodities to be produced, and through this mode of production and distribution, the technological power of the apparatus affects the entire rationality of those whom it serves.”  Pgs. 43-44.

“Under the impact of this apparatus, individualistic rationality has been transformed into technological rationality. It is by no means confined to the subjects and objects of large scale enterprises but characterizes the pervasive mode of thought and even the manifold forms of protest and rebellion. This rationality establishes standards of judgment and fosters attitudes which make men ready to accept and even to introcept the dictates of the apparatus.”  Pg. 44.

“Lewis Mumford has characterized man in the machine age as an ‘objective personality,’ one who has learned to transfer all subjective spontaneity to the machinery which he serves, to subordinate his life to the ‘matter-of-factness’ of a world in which the machine is the factor and he the factum.”  Pg. 44.

“The decisive point is that this attitude — which dissolves all actions into  sequence of semi-spontaneous reactions to prescribed mechanical norms — is not only perfectly rational but also perfectly reasonable. All protest is senseless, and the individual who would insist on his freedom of action would become a crank. There is no personal escape from the apparatus which has mechanized and standardized the world. It is a rational apparatus, combining utmost expediency with utmost convenience, saving time and energy, removing waste, adapting all means to the end, anticipating consequences, sustaining calculability and security.”  Pg. 46.

“In manipulating the machine, man learns that obedience to the directions is the only way to obtain desired results. Getting along is identical with adjustment to the apparatus. There is no room for autonomy. Individualistic rationality has developed into efficient compliance with the pregiven continuum of means and ends. The latter absorbs the liberating efforts of thought, and the various functions of reason converge upon the unconditional maintenance of the apparatus. It has been frequently stressed that scientific discoveries and inventions are shelved as soon as they seem to interfere with the requirements of profitable marketing.”  Pg. 46.

“The machine that is adored is no longer dead matter but becomes something like a human being. And it gives back to man what it possesses: the life of the social apparatus to which it belongs. Human behavior is outfitted with the rationality of the machine process, and this rationality has a definite social content. The machine process operates according to the laws of physical science, but it likewise operates according to the laws of mass production. Expediency in terms of technological reason is, at the same time, expediency in terms of profitable efficiency, and rationalisation is, at the same time, monopolistic standardization and concentration. The more rationally the individual behaves and the more lovingly he attends to his rationalized work, the more he succumbs to the frustrating aspects of this rationality. He is losing his ability to abstract from the special form in which rationalization is carried through and is losing his faith in its unfulfilled potentialities.”  Pg. 47.

“The idea of compliant efficiency perfectly illustrates the structure of technological rationality. Rationality is being transformed from a critical force into one of adjustment and compliance. Autonomy of reason loses its meaning in the same measure as the thoughts, feelings and actions of men are shaped by the technical requirements of the apparatus which they have themselves created. Reason has found its resting place in the system of standardized control, production and consumption. There it reigns through the laws and mechanisms which insure the efficiency, expediency and coherence of this system.”  Pg. 49.

“The standardization of thought under the sway of technological rationality also affects the critical truth values. The latter are torn from the context to which they originally belonged and, in their new form, are given wide, even official publicity.”  Pg. 50.

“Several influences have conspired to bring about the social impotence of critical thought. The foremost among them is the growth of the industrial apparatus and of its all-embracing control over all spheres of life. The technological rationality inculcated in those who attend to this apparatus has transformed numerous modes of external compulsion and authority into modes of self-discipline and self-control. Safety and order are, to a large extent, guaranteed by the fact that man has learned to adjust his behavior to the other fellow’s down to the most minute detail. All men act equally rationally, that is to say, according to the standards which insure the functioning of the apparatus and thereby the maintenance of their own life.”  Pg. 51.

“The ever growing strength of the apparatus, however, is not the only influence responsible. The social impotence of critical thought has been further facilitated by the fact that important strata of the opposition have for long been incorporated into the apparatus itself — without losing the title of the opposition. The history of this process is well known and is illustrated in the development of the labour movement.”  Pg. 52.

“The emergence of the modern masses, far from endangering the efficiency and coherence of the apparatus, has facilitated the progressing coordination of society and the growth of authoritarian bureaucracy, thus refuting the social theory of individualism at a decisive point. The technological process seemed to tend to the conquest of scarcity and thus to the slow transformation of competition into cooperation. The philosophy of individualism viewed this process as the gradual differentiation and liberation of human potentialities, as the abolition of the ‘crowd.’ Even in the Marxian conception, the masses are not the spearhead of freedom. The Marxian proletariat is not a crowd but a class, defined by its determinate position in the productive process, the maturity of its ‘consciousness,’ and the rationality of its common interest. Critical rationality, in the most accentuated form, is the prerequisite for its liberating function. In one aspect at least, this conception is in line with the philosophy of individualism: it envisions the rational form of human association as brought about and sustained by the autonomous decision and action of free men.”  Pg. 55.

“In the period of large scale industry, however, the existential conditions making for individuality give way to conditions which render individuality unnecessary. In clearing the ground for the conquest of scarcity, the technological process not only levels individuality but also tends to transcend it where it is concurrent with scarcity. Mechanized mass production is filling the empty spaces in which individuality could assert itself. The cultural standardization points, paradoxically enough, to potential abundance as well as actual poverty. This standardization may indicate the extent to which individual creativeness and originality have been rendered unnecessary. With the decline of the liberalistic era, these qualities were vanishing from the domain of material production and becoming the ever more exclusive property of the highest intellectual activities.”  Pg. 61.

Marcuse’s explanation of commodity fetishism or reification: “Modern mass society quantifies the qualitative features of individual labor and standardizes the individualistic elements in the activities of intellectual culture. This process may bring to the fore the tendencies which make individuality a historical form of human existence, to be surpassed by further social development. This does not mean that society is bound to enter a stage of ‘collectivism.’ The collectivistic traits which characterize the development today may still belong to the phase of individualism. Masses and mass culture are manifestations of scarcity and frustration, and the authoritarian assertion of the common interest is but another form of the rule of particular interests over the whole. The fallacy of collectivism consists in that it equips the whole (society) with the traditional properties of the individual. Collectivism abolishes the free pursuit of competing individual interests but retains the idea of the common interest as a separate entity. Historically, however, the latter is but the counterpart of the former. Men experience their society as the objective embodiment of the collectivity as long as the individual interests are antagonistic to and competing with each other for a share in the social wealth. To such individuals, society appears as an objective entity, consisting of numerous things, institutions and agencies: plants and shops, business, police and law, government, schools and churches, prisons and hospitals, theaters and organizations, etc. Society is almost everything the individual is not, everything that determines his habits, thoughts and behavior patterns, that affects him from ‘outside.’ Accordingly, society is noticed chiefly as a power of restraint and control, providing the framework which integrates the goals, faculties and aspirations of men. It is this power which collectivism retains in its picture of society, thus perpetuating the rule of things and men over men.”  Pg. 62.

“The technological process itself furnishes no justification for such a collectivism. Technics hampers individual development only insofar as they are tied to a social apparatus which perpetuates scarcity, and this same apparatus has released forces which may shatter the special historical form in which technics is utilized. For this reason, all programs of an anti-technological character, all propaganda for an anti-industrial revolution serve only those who regard human needs as a by-product of the utilization of technics. The enemies of technics readily join forces with a terroristic technocracy. The philosophy of the simple life, the struggle against big cities and their culture frequently serves to teach men distrust of the potential instruments that could liberate them. We have pointed to the possible democratization of functions which technics may promote and which may facilitate complete human development in all branches of work and administration. Moreover, mechanization and standardization may one day help to shift the center of gravity from the necessities of material production to the arena of free human realization.”  Pg. 63.

“Technological progress would make it possible to decrease the time and energy spent in the production of the necessities of life, and a gradual reduction of scarcity and abolition of competitive pursuits could permit the self to develop from its natural roots. The less time and energy man has to expend in maintaining his life and that of society, the greater the possibility that he can ‘individualize’ the sphere of his human realization. Beyond the realm of necessity, the essential differences between men could unfold themselves: everyone could think and act by himself, speak his own language, have his own emotions and follow his own passions. No longer chained to competitive efficiency, the self could grow in the realm of satisfaction. Man could come into his own in his passions. The objects of his desires would be the less exchangeable the more they were seized and shaped by his free self.”  Pg. 64.

Theodor Adorno, from “The Schema of Mass Culture” in The Culture Industry.

“Variety celebrates the paradoxical fact that in our advanced industrial epoch there is still such a thing as history, while its archetypes, the first chimney and the first top-hat, already suggest the idea of technical control over time in which history comes to a standstill. Surrealism lives off the obsolescence of that which has no history and which presents itself as obsolescent, as if it had been destroyed by some catastrophe – this paradox is celebrated by the variety show.”  Pg. 70.

“The omnipresence of technology imprints itself upon objects and everything historical, the race of past suffering in men and things it taboos as kitsch.”  Pg. 78.

“The practical is all the more beautiful, the more it repudiates the semblance of beauty. But as soon as objectivity is wrenched free of ends, it degenerates into precisely that kind of ornamentation which it had originally denounced as a crime. Wherever film and radio abandon themselves to technocratic visions and Utopian techniques, they resemble that advanced architecture before it made its peace with the world, when it still dishonestly struggled against it with all its might.”  Pg. 78.

“The masses draw the correct conclusion from their complete social powerlessness over against the monopoly which represents their misery today. Through this [93] adjustment to the technical forces of production, an adjustment which the system imposes upon them in the name of progress, men become objects that can be manipulated without further objection and thus fall far behind the potential which lies in the technical forces of production.”  Pgs. 92-93.

Theodor Adorno, from “Culture Industry Reconsidered,” in The Culture Industry.

“The total effect of the culture industry is one of anti-enlightenment, in which, as Horkheimer and I have noted, enlightenment, that is the progressive technical domination of nature, becomes mass deception and is turned into a means for fettering consciousness. It impedes the development of autonomous, independent individuals who judge and decide consciously for themselves. These, however, would be the precondition for a democratic society which needs adults who have come of age in order to sustain itself and develop.”  Pg. 106.

5 thoughts on “Preliminary Notes and Quotes for a Post on Marxism and Technology

  1. A huge projekt! Your intelligence and passion for these debates is admirable Ross. I agree with R.E though – post them as a series of blog posts. That way we can slowly digest.

    I’ll hopefully have time to respond in greater detail to some of the quotes today or tomorrow. One question though: where are Marx’s words? As much as I love Marcuse and appreciate Adorno (and could care less about Horkheimer) I think what we would need among all this is a sense of what Marx’s own position was.

    I argue that Marx was fully entangled in the enlightenment narrative of exulting instrumental rationality and its accompanied value system centered on the ideology of European superiority and “progress”. Although I think Marx was a genius, and much less entangled than most thinkers of his day, he was a Victorian intellectual after all.

    • Yes, sorry to just present it as a continuous stream. I just was becoming somewhat overwhelmed by the quotes and ideas myself. I will chart out Marx’s own position on this through quotes. All I will say is that it is very clear, as Benjamin points out, that Marx was very much opposed to the idea of a simple mechanical course of “progress” through history, as illustrated by his searing “Critique of the Gotha Program.”

      Instrumental rationality as an end in itself, insofar as it transforms all ends into means, is pernicious. Instrumental rationality, when directed toward a human or social need, is beneficial. This is the perversity of capitalism. As Marx himself wrote, capitalism becomes “production for production’s sake.” Production must be for society’s sake, so that society can provide for itself and perpetuate its own existence without suffering want or fear of collapse.

  2. I argue that Marx was fully entangled in the enlightenment narrative of exulting instrumental rationality and its accompanied value system centered on the ideology of European superiority and “progress”.

    During the 60s, Maoists used to argue, Maoism is Marxism in its highest form, because Mao wasn’t European, therefore presenting Marxism for people of color.

    Marx didn’t write about poor countries as much as Lenin and Trotsky. Marx was objective about poor countries, particularly use of technology techniques.

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