Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Their Technology And Ours

  

I.

Coming in from the street, three armed guards, shoulder patches identifying them as employees of a private corporation with government sounding name, block your way. Your belongings are searched one by one, and you pass through a gateway metal detector. You move on to the line for the customer service counter.

One out of every 6 or 7 Americans have to come to government offices like this one. According to the woman at reception 200- 400 people come here every day. They wait 4 or 5 hours. 1,000 to 2,000 hours of life are spent waiting every day at this one office. In a year about half a million hours.

After waiting about an hour and a half I'm surprised to hear my name called. The young man takes me in through the door to the where the administrators do their work, only no further than just inside the door. He has to tell me that he can't do anything for me, I have to fill the applications out all over, and wait from the time of submitting the new papers the usual wait period. 4 or 5 hours. I say to the young man:
- You remember, your father told you he was coming home from work at 6. If you didn't go out skateboarding with your friends he and you could play ball together. This was "making an appointment". Your father's limited free time could be used for both his and your best interest. An appointment is simple social technology. Have you thought of making appointments so you wouldn't have to see those hundreds of people waiting out there when you came to work?
- We do make appointments.
- Can I make an appointment?
- No. Appointments are available only after the application process has been started.
- I already have been qualified.
- Your qualification was cancelled. We wrote to you that you needed to appear for an conference and you didn't come.
- What address did you write to?
- This office here. You had to come pick up the notification.
- You could have written to my email address.
- We have to do things officially here.
- Email isn't official. I see. You could have written me an email telling me a paper was waiting for me at your office.
- That's not how we do things.
- You have computer files. The information is still there. But I have to reapply on paper, 30 or 40 pages?
- Yes.
- I've waited two hours to talk with you, only to be told I can't make an appointment and have to fill out a stack of papers and wait 4 or 5 hours.
- Yes. Since it's only 12 you'll probably be finished today. By 6. Or if you want, come in the morning.
- The wait is shorter then?
- Yes.
- But a lot still? 2 or 3 hours?
- Can be.
- I have to leave now.
- Goodby, Mr. Miller.
II.

Tolstoy wrote more than a hundred years ago:
If the arrangement of society is bad (as ours is), and a small number of people have power over the majority and oppress it, every victory over Nature will inevitably serve only to increase that power and that oppression. This is what is actually happening.
In the sixteenth century, 300 years before Tolstoy, La Boetie wrote a pamphlet called Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Dictators, and tyrannies in general, get their authority from the voluntary submission of the people:
Now there is no need to combat this solitary tyrant, no need to defeat him: he will be automatically defeated, provided only that the nation refuses to accept slavery. There is no need to take anything from him: simply refuse to give him anything. There is no need for the nation to do anything on its own behalf, so long as it refrains from doing anything against itself. It is evident, then, that people allow themselves to be dominated, or rather that they actually bring about their own domination, since merely by ceasing to serve they would be free. It is the people who enslave themselves.

It is I think beyond doubt that if we were to live according to the rights which nature gave us and the precepts she teaches us, we would be deferential to our parents, subjects of reason, and serfs of nobody.
According to La Boetie people submit to tyranny for four reasons:
1.They've been born into the condition of slavery and don't know any better.
2. They are afraid of the consequences of rebellion.
3. They identify with the joy and prosperity of their oppressors.
4. They are too lazy to do anything important.
People are ignorant, fearful, identity confused, and indolent. They get that way when techology has been used against them to deprive them of technology.*

III.

Systematic destruction of social technology in the government office waiting room:
1. Ignorance: for half a day you can't chose what to do. You can read if you have books, listen to music, use your telephone. You can't go in any individual direction. You can entertain yourself privately, with the private life you took in with you, but can't choose your company by going out into the city. Your choice of society is only between those of your class, that of 1 of 7 Americans who visit these offices. You are tempted to imitate them. Or maybe suspect you already have a hidden quality in common which has led you to the same place, that what brought you there is out of your control. You begin to forget life can be different.
2. Fear of punishment: herded into a room, windows locked shut, closed in at the exit by armed employees of corporations with interests opposed to your own. Implied threat of consequences of withdrawing your consent.
3. Identification: entertaining yourself while you wait with performers whose success makes them representatives of ruling class.
4. Indolence: enforced idleness and deadening repetitive filling out forms.
IV.

La Boetie's friend and fellow judge, the essayist Montaigne, wrote about their friendship:
If I am urged to say why I loved him, I feel that it cannot be put into words; there is beyond any observation of mine a mysterious, inexplicable and predestined force in this union. We sought each other before we had met through reports each had heard about the other, which attracted our affections more singularly than the nature of the situation can suggest. I believe it was some dispensation from Heaven...When we met we embraced each other as soon as we heard the other's name. We found we were so captivated, so revealed to each other, so drawn together, that nothing ever since has been closer than one to the other....We loved each other because it was he, because it was I.
As we have learned to make appointments we also have learned how to make friends. Friends help us live the best we can. We learn about the world, where and how we may expect to find our friends. On the basis of this knowledge and experience we have confidence in ourselves and can act without fear. Instead of losing ourselves in an identification with someone whose life has no connection to our own, we find together with our friends new possibilities and motives for doing things.

Knowledge, confidence, independent appreciation of others, and energy; not ignorance, fear, identification with oppressors, indolence.

From Tolstoy we learn that technology will be used by the ruling class to further their interests and against the interests of the subject class. From La Boetie we learn that the ruling class uses social technology to destroy the ability of the subject class to practice social technology. From Montaigne we learn what is being destroyed.

Continued in Monsters

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*Technology (from Greek τέχνη, techne, "art, skill, cunning of hand"; and -λογία, -logia[1]) is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a pre-existing solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function.