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In the Absence of the Sacred
critical analyses of the impact of technology on human evolution

The most interesting puzzle in our times is that we so willingly sleepwalk through the process for reconstituting the conditions of human existence.... Why is it that the philosophy of technology has never really gotten underway? Why has a culture so firmly based upon countless sophisticated instruments, techniques, and systems remained so steadfast in its reluctance to examine its own foundations?... In the twentieth century it is usually taken for granted that the only reliable sources for improving the human condition stem from new machines, techniques and chemicals. Even the recurring environmental and social ills that have accompanied technological advancement have rarely dented this faith.... We are seldom inclined to examine, discuss or judge pending innovations.... In the technical realm we repeatedly enter into a series of social contracts, the terms of which are revealed only after the signing.
—Landon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor (1986),
cited in In Absence of the Sacred, (p. 30)

So the whole question comes down to this:
can the human mind master what the human mind has made?
—Paul Valéry (1871-1945)
citation from Liquid Modernity

Oct 2014 IFG Teach-In: Techno-Utopianism & The Fate of the Earth
Jerry Mander: Questions We Should Have Asked About Technology
Michael Huesemann: Why Technology Can’t Save Us
John Michael Greer: False Promises
Jim Thomas: Synthetic Biology/Designing New Life Forms
Katie Singer: “An Electronic Silent Spring”: EMR: Radiation Soup
Jeannette Armstrong: Indigenous Economics
Bad Magic: The Failure of Technology
Interview with Jerry Mander by Catherine Ingram, November 1991
“In the Absence of the Sacred” seek and cultivate alternative visions
I have to reject the idea that selfishness is instinctive. It’s come to be understood that selfishness is part of human nature, but I think that’s in the context of the lives that we have now. We are so isolated that we tend to act only in our own self interest.
We seem to have it backward. In the absence of the sacred, anything goes, because we’re completely spun off, unrooted, with no sense of consequences, no family, no community, no nothing.... These technologies do act as drugs. They are what society offers to make up for what has been lost. In return for family, community, a relationship to a larger, deeper vision, society offers television, drugs, food, noise, high speed, and unconsciousness. Not only are those the things that are available, but those are the things that keep you from knowing that there’s anything else available. It’s easy to see why people go for those things and why they become addicted to them, because each one offers some element of satisfaction.... Now if you’re asking how we might change that pattern, I can only say that you have to create alternative visions; you have to get people to experience what they’ve lost.
{T]he difference between native peoples and Western peoples [is that] there are still people who know about what came before, and who know that there’s still wild nature available and that they have a relationship to it. Among the native cultures of the world there’s still a memory and a philosophical base for resistance.
Corporations will advertise whatever isn’t true because if it were true they wouldn’t have the image problem in the first place. If the corporation were a good citizen it wouldn’t need to say it is. The truth is that corporations generally act in direct opposition to nature because profit is based on the transmogrification of raw materials into a new, more salable form.
Jerry Mander: Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television, 1978
If this book has any basis in “authority,” it lies in the fifteen years I worked as a public relations and advertising executive. During that time, I learned that it is possible to speak through media directly into people’s heads and then, like some otherworldly magician, leave images inside that can cause people to do what they might otherwise never have thought to do.
     At first I was amused by this power, then dazzled by it and fascinated with the minutiae of how it worked. Later, I tried to use mass media for what seemed worthwhile purposes, only to find it resistant and limited. I came to the conclusion that like other modern technologies which now surround our lives, advertising, television, and most mass media predetermine their own ultimate use and effect. In the end, I became horrified by them, as I observed the aberrations which they inevitably create in the world. (p.13)
Marshall McLuhan did not help us very much in our early efforts to understand television. By the time he was popular in the mid-1960s we had already been through the Army-McCarthy hearings, the Kennedy-Nixon debates, and then the Kennedy funeral, which had plugged eighty million people into the same experience at the same time.
     None of these events had caused the slightest ripple of alarm, but rather produced a rush to praise our new electronic unity. The mass viewing of the funeral, particularly, was hailed in religious terms, like some kind of breakthrough in the evolution of consciousness: everybody unified in grief, transcending the conditions of their individual lives. Human ingenuity had now advanced to the point where technology could produce a nationwide, one-mind experience, previously thought to reside only in the realm of the mystic.
     McLuhan, who saw so much, could have helped us see through that crap. Instead, because of his celebration of our electronic connection, our planetary-tribal village, he effectively encouraged support for the techno-mystical-unification theme.
     His words entered the arena of talk show patter and wordplay. “Hot and cool.” “The medium is the message.” People struggled to find concrete meaning in these phrases. They became the basis of hundreds of conferences and thousands of cocktail party debates. Most people were satisfied that they understood something if they grasped that, because of television, we were now vibrating together to the same electronic drumbeat. Joyful at what looked like a new and positive unity, we failed to perceive, nor did McLuhan help us become conscious of three critical facts, 1) it was only one drumbeat, 2) this drum could be played only by a handful of players, 3) the identity of the players was determined by the technology itself. (p.29-30)
Jerry Mander: In The Absence of the Sacred
                      The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations
, 1991
                      multiple formats at     and local copy: PDF, Full Text
By the time I was thirteen or fourteen I became obsessed with the possibility of nuclear war. I kept imagining nuclear explosions with my family being ripped apart. What a stupid situation. Here I was at the beginning of my life and already the thought of annihilation was foremost in my mind. A tremendous amount of my emotional and intellectual attention revolved around how to live my life, given the existence of this one piece of technology. Worst of all, no one seemed able to talk about it—not my school, not my family, not the media. It was a profound technological experience shared by everyone in the United States and in most other parts of the world, but each person went through it alone. (p.20)
A skillful video-game player stimulates the computer program to go faster, and as the cycle (computer program to nervous system to hands to machine to computer program) speeds up, the player and the machine become connected in one fluid cycle; aspects of each other. Over time, and with practice, the abilities of the human being develop to approximate the computer program. Evolution is furthered by this sort of interaction, but this is a notably new form of evolutionary process. Where evolution once described an interaction between humans and nature, evolution now takes place between humans and human artifacts. We coevolve with the environment we have created; we coevolve with our machines, with ourselves. It’s a kind of in-breeding that confirms that nature is irrelevant to us. (p.65)
“You have to realize,” Gilday continued, “that most people still live in extended families here. Ten people might live in a one- or two-room house. The TV is going all the time and the little kids and the old people and everyone are all sitting there together watching it. Now they’ll all be seeing men beating up naked women. It’s so crazy and so awful. Nobody ever told us that all this would be coming in with television. It’s like some kind of invasion from outer space or something. First it was the government, then those oil companies, and now it’s TV.” (p.105)
The great French philosopher and technology critic Jacques Ellul makes it one of his central points that evaluations of technology must not be confined to the machines themselves. Equally important, he says, is to grasp that in technological society, the structure of all of human life and its systems of organization reflect the logic of the machine. All are encompassed by Ellul within the single term technique, which suggests that in contemporary society, human behavior, human thought, and human political and economic structures are part of a seamless fabric inseparable from machines. Technique is machine logic extended to all human endeavors. (p.120)
... many years later, I was sitting in a room in San Francisco hearing similar words from a new generation of Indians. I was realizing that the most astounding fact about Indian people today is that despite what they face and what they know, they continue to express themselves in exactly the same terms. They are uncompromising, speaking of values alien to the dominant culture. And yet they continue.
     Following Danny Blackgoat, each of the other Indians rose to speak. One said that “religion is the most important thing in our lives, and the struggles for the land are religious struggles.” Another spoke of the importance of the land: “If you were born on the land, that land is your home. That cannot be taken away from you. Tribal councils, relocation, American education—all of this is intended to get us away from our culture and our way of life.”
     A young western Shoshone Indian, Joe Sanchez, spoke about the failure of Americans to grasp the Indian struggles:
For most Americans, land is a dead thing. It means nothing. But to disconnect from land is unthinkable to Indians. The land is everything. It’s the source of our existence. It’s where the ancestors’ spirits live. It is not a commodity that can be bought or sold, and to rip it open to mine it is deeply sacrilegious to all Indian people. Nowadays most Americans live in or near cities. They have no connection with the dirt, with the earth. They have no way of identifying with the most essential feelings that define Indian experience and values. So they don’t take us seriously. When our elders try to explain that Indian people die if they are removed from the land, Americans don’t know what they’re talking about. The schools and media don’t help. The public pretty much assumes we’re all dead and gone. We are invisible to Americans and so are our causes. To Americans we are just part of some story about the past, somehow connected to their own pioneer heroics.
The final speaker was a young Menominee Indian woman, whom I know as Ingrid Washinawatok, but who also uses her Indian name, Opegtaw Mataemoh:
My first name means Flying Eagle Woman. My second name means The Spirit Watches Over. I am one of those Indians who lives between worlds but I know the one I prefer. I go back and forth from the reservation [in Wisconsin] to my job in New York City. When I fly over the land in a plane I can see a big dark spot and I know that’s where the reservation is. Everywhere else has been clear-cut for dairy land and farming and for timber. The reservation is the only place where the people try to leave the land in its natural state.... Americans have really strange notions about what’s an Indian. If you’re a traditional Indian they tell us we don’t belong in the world anymore and they ignore us. If we wear blue jeans and drive a pickup truck they say we’re not really Indians.... My kid was watching TV and he started talking about power. He saw a commercial where power was associated with a toy gun. I told him that wasn’t power. I told him to come back to the land and I’d show him what power is.... The traditional Indian people are protecting something that is important for everyone. They are trying to keep the land alive, and the world in balance. Sometimes I get the feeling that you [looking at the audience] don’t really get the point. You are not really helping us. We are helping you. (pp.223-24)
Jerry Mander: The Capitalism Papers
                      Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System
, 2012
                      multiple formats at     and local copy: PDF, Full Text

PDF formats:

Landon Winner:
          The Whale and the Reactor, A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (1986)
          Autonomous Technology - Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (1978)

Ivan Illich: Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health, 1976

Dr. John Ott: Health and Light, 1973

Jacques Ellul:
          Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attidues, (OL) (1973)
          The Technology Society (1964)

out side

Walter Benjamin:
          “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” (1936)
          “On The Concept of History” (1940)

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer:
          “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception (1944)

Guy Debord:
          The Society of the Spectacle, (1967, 2014)

Langdon Winner:
          “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” (Daedalus, vol. 109, no. 1, 1980)

Andrew Kimbrell:
          “Cold Evil: Technology and Modern Ethics,” (2000)
          “Salmon Economics (and other lessons),” (2003)

Michael & Joyce Huesemann:
          Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, (2011)

Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization, by Robert Williams (Palgrave Macmillan 2012)


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