I had to get Propaganda on interlibrary loan and I can’t renew it, and of course, it came before I finished TTS. Who Am I kidding? I may never finish TTS..
Not that it’s not a good book. Actually, both of these are GREAT books, meaty, wonderful stuff to think about, really worthy of the time and attention it would take to complete them.
But I don’t think you can really grasp his intentions in Propaganda if you’ve not read TSS first. He uses several terms in a very peculiar to himself fashion- and he defines them in TSS, but just assumes you know them in Propaganda, and TSS is a densely packed, meaty, 400 plus pages- pages initially written in French, so then you have the additional complication of reading a translation.
This is not a book review. It’s really more of a free wheeling narration while I try to understand what I’ve just read. I also don’t have anything more to say about Propaganda in this post- the rest of my comments are all from TSS.
His contention is that we have become a society of technicians rather than freely creative human beings who have minds and souls as well as bodies. He wants to examine the consequences of continuing down this path of a heightened focus on production, efficiency, and using the one best method as opposed to living creatively and valuing other things at least as much as and sometimes more than efficiency.
One danger is that this efficiency usually can only be determined, in a society devoted to technique, by numerical measurements and calculations, thus relegating all decisions about what is best to ‘experts.’
He uses the word ‘technique’ a lot- the problem with our technological society isn’t technology (he’s not a luddite), but our technique. Technique, he says is “any complex of standardized means for obtaining a predetermined result.”
“The technical man…. above all… is committed to the never-ending search for ‘the one best way’ to achieve any designated objective.”
This ‘technique’ he says, transforms ‘ends into means’ and things are only valued if they are a means to some other end. The technicians are more concerned with what is than with what ought to be. “The state is not the expression of the will of the people nor a divine creation nor a creature of class conflict. It is an enterprise providing services that must be made to function efficiently…. political doctrine revolves around what is useful rather than what is good.”
Dictatorship is the form of government best suited to the unprincipled use of technique (and technique doesn’t value any principles more than it values efficiency), and the natural consequence of this trend to technicians is that government gains power and people lose it.
He recognizes that some of his peers blame capitalism for the same sociological problems he sees, but he says, basically, that they are missing the real cause of the problem.
The technological society trends always toward centralized control, and then must use propaganda to keep people complacent (I said I wasn’t going to write more about his book Propaganda, so I won’t, except to say that his definition is very different than our go-to definition)
He says that mass education and mass entertainment both are products of this ‘technique’ and propaganda, and that if we look closely we can see they both have more in common with the assembly line than with free human endeavors.
He also says that because human beings are humans, they will sometimes break out of being forced into the limiting mold of merely being producers or consumers with no other parts, but these breakouts will be dangerous and destructive because they are based on *feelings* of discontent without any meaningful thought or understanding about the true causes (Occupy Wallstreet, hmmm?).
We are most enslaved, he says, when we think that ‘we are comfortably settled in freedom.”
He isn’t exactly pessimisstic, but he does say that looking for escape is futile- we must transcend technique rather than flee. I don’t really know what he means by that, but I am only about 1 percent through the book.
He also says that we will never truly transcend so long as we continue to abdicate our responsibilities and lead a trivial existence- a very Charlotte Masonesque idea.
He also says that scientists have disappeared and been replaced by mere technicians who work as part ‘of a team, willing to give up… freedom of research as we as personal recognition in exchange for the assistance and equipment of a great laboratory.’ (that’s a phrase’s of a quote from somebody named Jungk)
Another word for this technique is standardization, or, if it’s not another word for it, it’s another symptom, our mania for standardization- ‘resolving in advance all the problems that might possibly impede the functioning of an organization instead of leaving something to inspiration, ingenuity, or even intelligence to find a solution at the moment some difficulty arises, it is rather in some way anticipated both difficult and solution from then on.’
No technical man could write a poem like Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Glory Be to God for Dappled Things. (Ellul doesn’t say that, but it’s something that I wonder about).
I especially loved these ideas, even when I saw where I am guilty of being a technician myself:
Standardization creates impersonality in the sense that organizations rely more on methods and institutions than on individuals.
And while we imagine we live in a utilitarian world, he says it’s actually post-utilitarian, because method has overtaken utilitarianism. We are no looking merely at what is pragmatic and ‘works,’ we are looking constantly for the ‘one best means’ every single field, at home, school, and in the workplace.
We want formulae for every process-
It occurs to me that his is why, perhaps, courtship and certain other practices worked well for us, but appear to have failed for others. I haven’t been able to quite figure it out- okay, sometimes, it’s obvious, because sometimes total control freaks were attracted to it for all the wrong reasons (just as sometimes, lazy parents are attracted to the public school option for all the wrong reasons, or parents who want to live vicariously through their kids push for dating for all the wrong reasons).
But sometimes I have been really puzzled because people I think are much better parents, much nicer people than I am, deal with a lot more, um, ‘drama’ that we have (we do have one that is more of a challenge….but that leaves six who generally have not done the teen angst and drama,). There are many reasons for this, of course, not the least of which is just the grace of God.
We weren’t using a recipe or a formula, we weren’t thinking that if we did this, then only that could result. For some people homeschooling is merely a means to an end, and the means are the most important part of the equation. They thought it was a recipe, part of a precise collection of steps to fulfill in order to reach a standardized product of the right sort of child.
Homeschooling was and is important to us, but not merely as a means, it brings with it a certain way of life. It’s a way of life that is the opposite of ‘technique,’ even though we did not know that term.
Courtship for us is a means to an end. It’s our favored process, but it’s not the only means to that end, it’s not even a guaranteed means to that end, and it’s definitely not more important than that end. We recognize that there is no guaranteed means to that end, because we are dealing with humans here, including ourselves.
You can’t replace the standardization and homogenization of public schooling with the standardization and homogenization of homeschooling and expect lovely results, because human beings are not made to be standardized and homogenized.
They are, wait for it….. born persons.