Does modern technology serve us? Or do we serve it? Ben Warner asks who is in charge: the machines or us. For more on different types of their relation to the society, read this.
Industrial Technology is a Death Cult
by Ben Warner
Once upon a time our activities and our technology were available to all with almost no cost or negative impact. Starting a fire, moving from one place to another, making a place to live, were things every human could do without causing long term harm to living communities. Now they are restricted, expensive and life destroying. What was once human centred has become system centred.
Once upon a time we walked on Earth. Our feet were bare. We walked across the globe. Some of us made canoes and crossed the ocean. Now we use trains, cars, boats, and planes.
Once upon a time we told stories around the fire. Anyone could speak. Everyone could participate. Now we silently watch films, TV and Netflix.
What happened in between is the story of one group of humans, not the story of humanity. For thousands of years and for most of our brief time on Earth we walked and talked. We made bows, fire drills and baskets. These activities were things a human would learn how to do before they became an adult. They were made from local materials by the people who used them. When they were no longer useful, they were returned to Earth. We had a land-based existence. Everything and every being that helped to sustain us came from our local environment and was eventually, returned to it.
After thousands of years a new type of technology began to emerge.
Matches, transportation devices, concrete and steel are not freely available to every human and they destroy life. Now this type of technology dominates and is in the process of destroying Earth and life. Its strength will only last, as long as we believe its lies. It seems impenetrable but the things that make it strong are also its weaknesses. This technology appeared around the same time as cities and agriculture. The dominant narrative told us that it would make our lives better and easier, so we would have more time to do the things that made our life more fulfilling. Never mind that we were already doing them. It lied.
We do not have more spare time now, we have less. Our lives are not more fulfilling in fact there is an epidemic of suicide and depression. We can turn on the light with a flick of a switch. But first someone must mine, poison and destroy living communities to make electricity, lightbulbs and copper wire. The system creates infrastructure, builds houses, with all the social and environmental impacts that these things entail. Then individuals work for most of the day to pay for it all. With each level of convenience comes another layer of complexity.
With every bit of ‘freedom’ comes a new restriction.
The writer Lewis Mumford called this new type of technology Authoritarian. He distinguished it from Democratic technologies. This Authoritarian Technology said “I will be your servant. Your benevolent tool. I will make you the lords of nature.” But we are its slave. We are the tool of our own technology. The machines have taken over. Any human can learn how to make and use a fire drill with only the resources they might find in a living unmanaged forest. To make a box of matches you would need to mine the steel for an axe, make charcoal, make a forge, forge the axe, chop down a tree, cut the tree into matches, get ammonium phosphate, get paraffin, make card, turn the card into the box and you would still not be finished. Yet this type of technology emerged, and began to dictate the way we lived.
Without forced labour, mechanization, mass production, the work arm, the military army, the bureaucracy and specialized, standardized, replaceable, interdependent parts we could not have modern technology. Worse than this, it inevitably leads to the utterly insane and deplorable notion that the system itself must expand at whatever the eventual cost to life. It cannot exist without a hierarchy to control it and it never stops growing. But the elite will only remain in power while the system functions and you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.
Walking Earth and telling stories requires only human energy, human skills and human direction.
They are fulfilling small scale, freely available activities that do not require bureaucracy, coercion or any kind of centralised system. Cars and films cannot be produced without physical coercion, machine energy and centralized political control. Given a real choice no human would work in a mine for the benefit of others in a distant culture. Films and cars cannot be made without mines. Yet they are made and their production turns living communities into dead commodities. Humans have become like dead machine too disconnected, driving, working, watching a screen.
Our activities used to take place in the same living communities as we derived our sustenance and resources from. The land we shared with others. Now we get our resources from heavily ‘managed ecosystems’ that are often many miles away from where we live. Most of us, especially white Western males, do not see the devastating consequences of our way of life. We do not directly experience the grief, death, and devastation it causes daily. This is an inevitable consequence of living in cities. It is a fundamental component of the Authoritarian technique. It does not have to be this way.
The system based on authoritarian technology is unstable, with no inner coherence.
One break in communication or in the chain of command and the machines fall apart. We make these links. We can unmake them too. A miner can strike and leave the coal in the ground. A train driver can refuse to drive the coal to the power station. An aboveground activist could block the gates to the power station. An underground activist could scale the fence and shutdown the power station. All it takes, all it has ever taken, is organisation and collective refusal or collective action. The system attempts to prohibit local autonomy, but we can and do create it. We have no reason at all to obey the elite. Their power is an irrational paranoid myth. They have no divinity and the only authority they have to govern is that which we give them. The truth is they are utterly corrupt and self-serving. The system functions because of our collective obedience. It will collapse the moment we all stop doing what it tells us to do.
When we all remember this, its power dissolves and we become free human beings once again. We can choose to serve this system or we can choose to serve each other and life. Our lives need not be uniformed, drilled and regimented. The Authoritarian technique tries to eliminate the whole human personality. Eventually it will exterminate the human race. This will only happen, if we allow it. Complete control over physical nature is impossible and should not be a purpose of existence.
Life on earth is being destroyed so humans can use, own and hoard technology that fails to make our lives more fulfilling. This is not the way it has to be or the way it should be. We should not have to apologise for being human. We need simply return to a land centred way of life and begin the regeneration of the living communities that sustain us. Our connections with each other, with land and with the living communities that sustain each other must be remembered, refreshed and cherished once again.
We just have to bring down industrial civilization first.
Ben Warner is a longtime guardian with DGR, a teacher, and an activist.