Empty Days

Friday, July 09, 2004



The sorrowful paragraph.

119. The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system. This has nothing to do with the political or social ideology that may pretend to guide the technological system. It is the fault of technology, because the system is guided not by ideology but by technical necessity. [18] Of course the system does satisfy many human needs, but generally speaking it does this only to the extent that it is to the advantage of the system to do it. It is the needs of the system that are paramount, not those of the human being. For example, the system provides people with food because the system couldn't function if everyone starved; it attends to people's psychological needs whenever it can CONVENIENTLY do so, because it couldn't function if too many people became depressed or rebellious. But the system, for good, solid, practical reasons, must exert constant pressure on people to mold their behavior to the needs of the system. Too much waste accumulating? The government, the media, the educational system, environmentalists, everyone inundates us with a mass of propaganda about recycling. Need more technical personnel? A chorus of voices exhorts kids to study science. No one stops to ask whether it is inhumane to force adolescents to spend the bulk of their time studying subjects most of them hate. When skilled workers are put out of a job by technical advances and have to undergo "retraining," no one asks whether it is humiliating for them to be pushed around in this way. It is simply taken for granted that everyone must bow to technical necessity and for good reason: If human needs were put before technical necessity there would be economic problems, unemployment, shortages or worse. The concept of "mental health" in our society is defined largely by the extent to which an individual behaves in accord with the needs of the system and does so without showing signs of stress.

Footnote 18. (Paragraph 119) "Today, in technologically advanced lands, men live very similar lives in spite of geographical, religious and political differences. The daily lives of a Christian bank clerk in Chicago, a Buddhist bank clerk in Tokyo, a Communist bank clerk in Moscow are far more alike than the life any one of them is like that of any single man who lived a thousand years ago. These similarities are the result of a common technology. . ." L. Sprague de Camp, "The Ancient Engineers," Ballentine edition, page 17. The lives of the three bank clerks are not IDENTICAL. Ideology does have SOME effect. But all technological societies, in order to survive, must evolve along APPROXIMATELY the same trajectory.
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In my opinion this is the most sorrowful paragraph in the whole of Unabomber's treatise. The sorrowful element is based on a deep contradiction - his concern is humanistic, he is raging against a largely inhuman society, simply too large to be human. At the same time he is himself inhuman in wanting to destroy the whole world before it destroys more human beings.

This is the contradiction at the heart of all western humanism - all the ideal social models that were imagined and put in place to garantee perfect happiness to all and ended up sacrificing untold masses of individuals (also known as human beings) to these dreams of universal progress.

We are in no way past this contradiction - it is at the heart of all our thinking. Our morals, our feelings, our very humanity is deeply skewed on account of it. Paradoxically, western humanism carries the gene of its own destruction - this tiny original contradiction of the individual vs society.





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