This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).
chapter nine – two images of technology.
In this chapter, Murray Bookchin examined the current disillusionment with the idea of technological progress. This is something fairly new, he notes. In the early 20th century, even radicals such as Woody Guthrie celebrated giant engineering feats such as Boulder Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
There is a big difference, he wrote, between the ancient ideal of the good life and the modern ideal of the abundant life.
Ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle believed that the good life was an ethical and balanced life lived within limits and within community. A skilled craftsman, according to Aristotle, had understood well not only how to do his work, but the reason and purpose for his work.
Modern industrial production is the opposite. It defines efficiency in terms of quantity and cost. Workers are not required to understand their work, only to follow instructions. “Living well” is defined as consumption and material comfort apart from work. Industrial workers, unlike laborers in preceding ages, do not sing work songs.
Bookchin said the modern industrial system is not a result of technology. It is a result of peasants being uprooted from the land and their communities, and having no choice but to work for merchants and capitalists. Originally this was done by piecework in the home, but “factors” insisted in assembling workers in common workplaces so that they could be better controlled.
Industrial technology developed to fit the already-existing factory system, Bookchin said. Mindless labor is not a product of mechanization, he wrote; it is part of a process of subordination and control.