Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford
Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, NY
Comments on the author:
Mumford coined the term "technic" to define development of technology as it has grown with society and changed humanity. With in that term he defines three periods; eotechnic, paleotechic, and neotechnic. He credits another for these well defined periods in human growth, yet he shows a social and technical cycle that occurs with clockwork precision which most recently occurred in the year 2000 with globally disastrous results. This book was written in 1930 just as the airplane and radio communications began to define what is now called the "information communication technology." He paints a very not-pretty picture of exploitation by controllers and owners, something I experienced in more than a decade in the financial services industry. He supports Marxian economics as a viable approach, and Marx certainly describes economic problems very accurately.
Missing from his range of knowledge is the concept of cooperation only now possible with the growth of neotechnic phase into the truly democratic "Information Society" of the Internet. This new market concept is called e-mutual ism, sometimes known as "open source", and the single most powerful free market organization, Microsoft, credits it as its greatest threat.
He defines the social foundation of our technological world so accurately it is a wonder that his concepts are not household words. Even within e-mutual ism, which I coin the "opentechnic", he offers clues to the forces at work within its micro-society. According to Milton, he was a close ally of my sociological and therapeutic influences, Maslow and Rogers despite his technological slant.
He was an urban planner by trade and knowledgeable about art, especially photography. In photography he found harmony between human creativity and the machine. While the camera is technically speaking an ICT, or information communications technology, and the motion camera by Carl Rogers was important in linking humanistics with the Information Society, the focus of the Information Society continues to be scientific study and communication, especially with the technology of the Internet.
When reading Mumford's Tenics and Civilization, it may be helpful to simply substitue the phrase _the machine_ with the term technology. However, he often uses the phrase to include the systematic side of society meaning an _economic machine_ similar, possibly to a _political machine._ He also often refers to the _economic man_, possibly as the operator of _the machine._
(Will to Order)
The machine had been developing steadily for the past seven hundred years [in Western Civilization] before the industrial revolution. Men had become mechanical before they perfected complicated machines the will to order had appeared in the monetary, the army and in the counting house.
(Birth of Science)
No one can put his finger on the place where magic became science, where alchemy became chemistry, where astrology became astronomy
Alchemy creates the tools of science, the herbalist becomes the botanist; magic was the bridge that united fantasy with technology.
(Beginnings of Factory Control)
compulsively drawing society into a regimented mold, was the methodical routine of the drillmaster and the book-keeper, the soldier and the bureaucrat [who] gained full ascendancy in the seventeenth century.
(Work Ethics of the Bourgeoisie)
The new bourgeoisie, in the counting house and the shop, reduced life to a careful, uninterrupted, routine ... Waste of time became one of the most heinous sins ... mere sociability, or even sleep, was reprehensible.
Isolation and abstraction, while important to research, are conditions under which organisms die the rejection of experience in its original whole had a grave result the belief in the dead. [science required organisms to be dead for dissection] they substituted the dissected corpse for the living body, dismantled individuals for men in groups to
achieve a limited mastery at the expense of the truth
The call of the hunter for weapons was to increase the food supply he is the beast of prey, and the needs of his appetite as well as the excitement of the chase cause him to inhibit every other reaction-pity or esthetic pleasure in the act of killing. The herdsman domesticates animals and in turn is domesticated by them the lessons of the crop and herd are in cooperation, solidarity and the nurture of life. The hunter can have no respect for life as such. He has none of the responsibilities [of] the farmer. Trained in the use of the weapon, killing is his main business. Shaken by insecurity and fear, the
hunter attacks not merely the game but other hunters. The predatory mode of life not die out with the success of agriculture it tended to direct their animus against other groups.
Unarmed hands and feet are relatively innocent, their range is limited; their effectiveness is low. It is with the regimentation of the army that conflicts have reached heights of beastiality and terrorism
Robbery is perhaps the oldest of labor saving devices, to obtain women without processing charm, to achieve power without processing intelligence, to enjoy the rewards of labor without lifting a finger in work or with out a single useful skill. As civilization advances, the hunter turns himself to systematic conquest: he seeks slaves, loot, power, and he founds the political state.
The machine had come into our civilization, not to save man from servitude, but to make possible mass servitude to the immoral standards of consumption that had grown up among the military atrocities.
Three phases: eotechnic, paleotechnic, neotechnic
Eotechnic, dawn age of modern technics. 1000 to 1750, climax with Leonardo.
Paleotechnic: Coal and iron, mining and factories, the world of Oliver Twist
Neotechnic: A joining of concepts such as the designs of Leonardo with the age of today by the benefits of the machine with social advancement.
**Many nations skipped the suffering of the paleotechnic age to join the eotechnic with the neotechnic. Holland and Switzerland are examples.
Glass typical neotechnic advance, allowing light in, modifying it with color, creating
glasses to see better, telescopes and microscopes. The mirror allows introspection, the
better the technology of the glass the better one can see things as they really are.
Clipper ships, ready to wear sailors clothes, ship biscuit factories
Guild monopolies, cave way to the bestowed monopolies of chartered companies and
then to the owners of patents for specific inventions.
Invention was a way of escaping from ones own class, amateurs can make decisive
changes. Inventions broke the caste lines of industry and they were to threaten the caste
lines of society itself.
The experimental method was the most important innovation.
Clock first instrument of precision, pattern of accuracy for all other instruments.
Clockmakers, blacksmiths and locksmiths were the first machinists.
Its perfection delineates the eotechnic phase, to this day it is a symbol of fine automatism.
The printing press is vital to the Information Society. Block printing came from the
Middle East, and paper from Asia. The Germans create moveable type with Gutenberg
and perhaps a more primitive mode was used by Coster in Haarlem.
It saturated society in fifty years despite attempts at secrecy and monopoly and it was
encouraged by government which freed from taxes and guild regulations. Print became
the means of communication and discussion.
Invention of the laboratory combines the monks cell, the study, the library and the
Creation of the factory simplifies the collection of materials and the distribution of
product. Concentrated skills by dividing the processes of production and provided a
common meeting place for workers allowing them to overcome the isolation and
helplessness of the cottage based handicraft worker when the guilds had become
Factory had two roles, it gave a vehicle for capitalistic investment in the form of the joint
stock company giving the powers that be a significant weapon; it also created a meeting
place for the worker and gave him the opportunity to participate in efficient production
and presumably benefit in this highly profitable system.
Energy Shortages: As society becomes more coordinated on the basis of time, delays and
stoppages caused by variations in nature especially with respect to wind and water mills,
were very costly.
Lost Social Controls-Guilds: New industries were outside the controls of the old order.
Glass making was near the fuel supply, wood, which was in the forests, beyond the reach
of guild regulators was semi-capitalistic. Mining and iron-making defined capitalistic
structure by being capital intensive, printing escaped guild regulation legally, and other
industries escaped out to the country. Industry escaped the regulations of the guilds and
the state itself such as the statue of app
rentices allowing capital industry to grow with out
social controls. Mechanical improvements flourished with out improvements for the
worker that had been introduced by the craft guilds. These social voids allowed a
widening gap between the owners and workers, masters and men.
The progressive character moved to more naked forms of human exploitation.
Manufacturing, organized and partitioned handwork carried in large establishments with or
without power-machines, breaks down the process of production into a series of
specialized operations. Dividing the operations is a form of analysis of the working
process; the series of human motions can be translated into mechanical operations.
Rebuilding the entire process into a machine is now possible.
The machine becomes humanized by developing the mechanical equivalents of human
actions. Humanizing the machines is the dehumanization of humans. The works tasks of
craftsmanship cannot be compared to it. The human is, in effect, divided up by assigning
repetitive motions to a specific part of the body in an unnatural and hazardous way. All
the beauty of being human is left behind, manufacture forces the worker to become
specialized at the cost of a productive world of impulses and facilities. (Marx)
Energy surpluses create renascence, in Holland where the dikes and windmills had
created greater and more reliable energy, and canals new cities aided social
communication, vast fields of tulips where a hungrier nation would have had to grow
Fine textiles from other countries replaced course linens, water systems created a clean
environment by bringing natures streams into the cities. Cooking comes into its own as
an art form as copper pots and pans replaced rough iron pots. Fine glassware allows the
wine taster to appreciate color as much as taste. Block printing brings art into every
house, even second-rate common prints had the content of great works.
With the breakdown of European society there was a shift from life values to pecuniary
values. Work was no longer a means for enrichment and necessary for a livelihood, but
became a means unto itself. Industry moves out of the cities to the country to avoid the
influence of culture and to be able concentrate on its capital intensive purposes. People
caught in the shift from crafts and farms drifted towards work in mining or
manufacturing. Vast areas become bleak with the after effects of high energy production
supplied by coal. Progress having removed any cultural memories and social meaning
allowed for only one activity, steady toil. Any popular traditions were erased, one lived
and died within sight of the coal pit or factory. Competition with mechanization drives
wages further down, and if wages could not support normal families, paupers could be
pressed into service.
(Iron and Coal)
The invention of the blast furnace where coal instead of charcoal is used to create iron.
(Energy for free)
The heritage of past ages in the Earths history provide energy in huge amounts. Instead
of intense investment in drawing active energy from nature such as in windmills or dams,
potential energy stored in the distant past could be released in a reliable stream allowing
much closer coordination of factory processes by owners.
Coal allows the creation of more iron, iron becomes the steam engine, increasing the
demand for coal. Trains as a combination of locomotives and trains of cars begin in the
mines and are adapted to passenger and cargo transport a generation later. Iron rails give
eventually them unlimited life and the steam engine is applied to the waters, though
sailing ships, an eotechnic invention, survive almost to the modern age.
Coal and iron benefit capitalized industry so much that it creates a fever of exploitation
where coal and iron are the pivots of all of society.
Energy and material mining is a robber industry, the mine owner is constantly
consuming the resource and the end result is a befouled pit and an abandoned town. No
pit lasts forever and the land was never returned to its original uses.
(Blood and Iron)
Iron and coal dominate the paleotechnic period. Their color, black, dominated the era,
coaches were black, top hats were black. The landscape of the period was covered with
soot and cinders and the center of English industry was called the Black Country.
Pittsburgh in the United States, similarly had a black cast over it during this period.
**Some nations such as Holland and Swizterland barely experienced this era. They
advanced from the developmental
Military demand created cheaper more efficient iron production facilities and techniques.
The Bessemer process of de-carbonizing cast iron to create steel made it feasible to create
bigger weapons, cheaper transport systems such as the rail and its engines, and cheap iron
enabled nations to build vast fleets of warships.
From the middle of the 1800s onward, the paleotechnic regime specialized in a newly
defined extrema of war. Mass weapon builders successfully created paranoia and
competition between nations, with the loyal support of their stock holders. They wrecked
peace conferences as part of a century long strategy consisting of thousands moves to
create demand for their lethal products.
There was crudeness in the production and use of iron. It rusts when exposed and melts
under heat but it is the second most available material on Earth and the energy need to
produce it was cheap. The engineering was weak and much of the paleotechnic structure
was purely dead weight. As early as the American Revolution, Ben Franklin suggested
re-burning coal smoke to garner more energy and to eliminate pollution. He was, of
course, ignored. Coal was burned only once and chimneys were erected so the wind
could carry the unburnt waste somewhere else. While small individual mills could trust
nature to absorb their atmospheric sewage, conglomeration of twenty or so instantly
destroyed the local environments.
This age defines the ultimate degradation of the worker. Humans were treated just as the
environment, a means for cheap production. The poor propagated like flies, matured at
twelve years, promptly served in mills or mines and died inexpensively.
castration of skill, discipline of starvation and the closing of alternatives by means of
land monopoly and dis-education.
With landowning, education and travel options cut off, the worker becomes part of the
starvation, ignorance and fear
Richard Arkwright creates the code of factory discipline. He ends the happy-go-lucky
habits of the craftsmans' traditions, the prerogative of stopping when he pleased,
eliminating any threat to the clockwork of production.
As the machine grows, the worker becomes an attendant to the machine, fixing its
failures. Children are just as useful now, providing behavioral control is harsh enough,
and vastly cheaper. Increased automation is the answer to the factory discipline and
striking workers actually increased the need for more automation as often as any other
In 1770 the House of Terror had been proposed to put paupers to work, effectively a
prison for fourteen hours a day the workers were controlled by starvation. This became
the model for the paleotechic factory.
Industrial disease increases with the increases in the speed of production, from
contamination to accident.
The sudden increase in population creates labor as a new natural resource. The industrial
owners feigned moral indignation at the introduction of contraceptives, philanthropists
and health specialists were a threat to an important resource. The breakdown of
humanity through handicap and stupefication didn't necessarily harm industry, the
factory only uses a portion of the human, the rest isnt necessary to production.
The owners drove themselves as hard as the workers, the gospel of work applied to
themselves as much as the wage-slaves. Will to power drove them as much as the fear of
starvation drove the workers.
Economic Man: Penny in the slot automation ... bare rationalism. Sacrifice everything in the "untrammeled pursuit of power and money"
With more money can can be used and more power that can be exercised, they repent. Nobel, explosives to peace, Carnegie, Rockefeller.
Privately become victims of art dealers, mistresses, tailors.
(Starvation of Life)
Homes of workers so far away from nature, that it would be alien to them. Adulterants become commonplace. Flour and plaster, pepper and wood, bacon preserved with boric acid, milk with embalming fluid. Medicines were bottled from bilge water. As the palette dissapears, hard liquor and tobacco further befuddles the senses and becomes the "quickest way out of Manchester." Rather than "religion being the opiate of the poor, opiates become the religion of the poor."
poor begin to imitate the clumsily "the graceful boredom of the idle and the leisured"
Sex, above all, was starved and degraded in this environment. IN the mines and factories, indiscriminate sexual intercourse of the most brutish kind was the only relief from the tedium and the drudgery of the day: in some English mines, the women pulling the carts worked completely naked -- dirty wild and degraded as only the worst slaves of antiquity had been ... girls and boys [where thrown] into the same sleeping quarters ... power [was given] to the overseers of the children which they frequently abused: sadisms and perversions of every kind were common ... home life was crowded out of existence [while] moralists looked upon [the nude] as a lewd distraction that would take the mind of work and undermine the systematic inhibitions of the machine industry.
Clothes eliminate the legs, arms, sexual organs, they even misshape the human figure.
The laborer sells himself to the highest bidder. The market has no other standard than buying cheap and selling high. Even law and medicine are undermined. The mines that used Watt's steam engine refused to pay him the royalties they owed. Shuttle clubs were formed to by [textile] manufacturers to assist members sued by Kay for royalties on his invention.
Visual world of the renascence has been obliterated. Art declines but music grows in the concert halls. France alone does not succumb to decay or progress, where painters like Delacroix and Renior survive. Despites its distance from the centers of music, Coketown's residents at least had a glimpse to the nourishment of music over its spoiled and adulterated foods, shoddy clothes and jerrybuilt houses.
Links the renascence to the world of modern living. Visions of Leonardo are now turned into engineering drawings. Society now does what could only have been done by solitary individuals. Neotechnic phase failed to transform the iron and coal complex.
Transformed by many inventions either creating or making use of power, especially electricity.
Size of production is controlled by the operation itself. A small unit can compete with a big unit, it is the process not management that determines efficiency and therefore profitability.
Aluminum sets lightness standards, develops airplane and electrical transmission. Most abundant material on earth, requires huge electricity to produce. Efficiency of the water turbine (92%) provides that.
Petroleum evolves from snake oil to distillates -- transportable energy.
Instantaneous communication over long distances, radio TV links leaders and groups, creates political unity, risk greater than benefits. Secondary personal contact with voice and image may increase mass regimentation.
** one way communication, challenged by the matrix of the Internet
Fallopious, discoverer of the fallopian tubes, describes both male and female contraceptives. Until the 19th century, contraception remained the property of the upper classes, and its practical use had to wait for discoveries in the processing of rubber. The first great decline in the English birthrate took place between 1870-1880 when the gas engine, the generator, the telephone and the light bulb became practical. Neotechnology provided an answer to the irresponsible birthing of humans. It also allowed sexual relations to be an art or recreation available to all including the poor despite repression by industrial owners.
Contraception stabalized family relationships by removing possibly tragic results until a more mature decisions could be made by potential parents. It restored sex to a more central role in the human personality allowing the personal relationship to have influences on society.
An economic equilibrium as has been established where the size of the population can tune itself to the rescources locally available. Planning on the mass scale becomes possible and waste and suffering can be elminiated. Unfortunately, it has come too late and now, in the 21st Century, is still being discouraged by those who benefit from a high human birth rate who have been able to define morality to this end.
**This provides clues to the yet-unexplained disaster of the technical bubble of Y2K
Machine was an attempt to substitute quantity for value in life. Because social evaluation is absent in the development of the machine, it raced like an engine without a governor, overheating and wearing out without any benefit to society.
Those who might object to this wasteful pattern lack the knowledge to make their points and publicize them. The problem of the equal distribution of products is supposedly offset by creating a wasteful abundace of them. The process is justified solely in terms of production and profits. Purchasing power, however, fails to keep up with produciton and the machine suddenly goes into a meltdown, sucking down the economy in its downdraft.
The machine is both an instrument of liberation and one of repression. While creating apparent order it has caused global chaos. An this has not gone unnoticed, humanity will object and attempt to slow the uncontrolled process.
The most direct resistance to the machine is to smash it and kill its inventor, but the power of the industrialist and the military makes this an uneven battle. Soldiers with machines protect the machines. Only in the attitudes of those who work the machines can the machine be influenced to where the machine is working for the worker rather than vice-versa.
Utilitarian: The spreading of the ideals of manufacturing, money, power, comfort, technology and science through free trade with other societies. With some filtering down of the benefits from the owners to the "under privaledged" classes done prudently enough to keep them in a state of respectful submission.
The sentiments that clustered around an old house may sand in the way of opening mine that ran underneath it, the affection between master and servent under the old order might stand in the way of self-interest which could impact the dismissal of the worker. However the belief that honor and affection might be more important that cash in adding value to life prevents a clean victory for capitalism and the ideals of industry. Not just modern activists, but old school aristocrats balk at the concepts of the the purely financial model. Ancient thought is still alive and rebels against the uncontrolled machine.
Unlike play, mass-sport requires an element of mortal chance or hazard. Instead of chances occuring spontaneously, as in mountain climbing, it must take plcae in accordance with the rules. Play is found in every human society and among most higher species, but sport in the sense of the mass spectacle, with death to add to the excitment, comes when a population has been drilled and regimented and depressed to the point of needing vicarious participation in feats of strength or skill. The demand for sadistic expoits and for blood is characteristic of s civilizations that are losing their grip: Rome under the Caesers, Germany under the Nazis. These are signs of impotence and a death wish.
Sport which was originally a drama becomes an exhibition. Instead of fair play, the rule is now "success at any price."
Sport in this mechanized society is no longer a game but a profitable business where the maintainence of the sport is as important as any other profit making mechanism.
Thus sport which began as a sponteaneous reaction against the machine, has beomce one of the mass-duties of the machine age. It is aprt of the univerissal reginmentation of life, for the sake fo private profits or nationalistic exploit.
Sport has turned out to be one of the least effective reactions against the machine, the other less effective in its reaction to the machine, more ambitious and ultimately disasterous, war.
(The Cult of Death)
Conflict is a component of human societies and war is a specialized institutional drama of conflict where the aim is not to resolve differences but to annihilate the defenders of opposing views or at least reduce them to submission. Whereas conflict is the inevitable in any active system of cooperation to be welcomed for the diversity it introduces, war is a speicalized perversion of conflict descentant of predatory hunting groups which is no more necessary to society than cannibalism or infanticide.
Ranging from the ritualistic warfare of primitive societies to systematic combats between entire nations, it now occupies the majority of time an resources of "advanced" and "peaceful" industrial nations. Our food gathering ancestors were more peaceful before the invention of the hunting weapon than the civilized peopels of today.
It indicates a throwback to the infantile psycal pattern on the part of people who can no longer stand the exacting strain of the life in groups with all the necessities for compromise, give and take, live and let live, understanding and sympathy that life demands, and with all the complexities of adjustment involved. They seek by the knife and the gun to unravel the social knot. They are collective competitions where the the battlefield takes the place of the market.
War is the supreme drama of a compltetely mechanized society; what puts it above all the predetory forms of mass sport is that it is real. In sport it does not really matter who is victorious, except to the gambler. In war, there is no doubt to the realness of it. Success may bring the reward of death just as surely as failure and it may come to the remotest spectator as likely as the gladiators in the vast arena of global war.
It brings about a release from the sordid routine of profit making and self-seeking that govern the business enterprise. It has the significance of high drama.
The death or maiming of the body gives the drama the element of sacrifice. The effort is sanctified and intensified by the scale of the holocaust.
For peoples who have lost the values of culture and can no longer respond to the symbols culture, the abandonment of the whole process of life and reversion to non-rational dogmas is abetted by war. If no enemy exists, than one is created to further this de-evolution.
War breaks the tedium of a mechanized society and relieves it from daily efforts. War sanctions the utmost exhibition of the primitive at the same time deifies the mechanical; the raw primitive and the clockwork mechanical become one.
War is the most disasterous outlet for the repressed impolses of society that has been devised, with the dead, crippled, insane people, devestated regions, moral corruption and anti-social hatred and gangsterism. The difference between the ritualized battle of the primitive tribes and the armies who face each other with weapons of mass destruction is the difference between the ritual of dance and and the routine of the slaughterhouse.
War, like a neurosis, is the destructive solution of an unbearable tesnsion and conflict between organic impolses adnt the code and circumstances that keoop one from staisfying them.
The destructive union of the machine and the savage primitive is the alterantive to the humanized culture capable of directing the machine to enhance life. If our life were an organic whole this perversion would not be possible. The primitive impulses which we have repressed by excessive preoccupations with the machine would find natural outlets in appropriate cultural forms.
Until we are able to acheive an open culture, war will remain the constant shadow of the machine. Wars between armies, gangs, classes all driven by the drill of regimentation and propaganda of war. Society that has lost its life's values will make a religion of death which satisfies the paranooiacs and sadists that a disrupted society produces.
We cannot give up the hope that it will be possible to unite technics and art in a higher rhythimical unity. We must see, feel, touch, sing, dance, and communicate before we can extract from the machine any further sustenance for life. If we are empty to begin with, the machine will only leave us emptier.