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[liberationtech] Authoritarian and Democratic Technics

Alberto Cammozzo ac+lists at
Mon Mar 6 07:32:28 PST 2017

I just found a very short yet inspiring paper by Lewis Mumford, written
in 1964. A sort of compass emerging from a time capsule...

I copied below a few excerpts as appetizers, the full paper is available

Mumford, Lewis. “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics.” Technology and
Culture 5, no. 1 (1964): 1–8. doi:10.2307/3101118.
My thesis, to put it bluntly, is that from late neolithic times in the
Near East, right down to our own day, two technologies have recurrently
existed side by side: one authoritarian, the other democratic, the
first system-centered, immensely powerful, but inherently unstable, the
other man-centered, relatively weak, but resourceful and durable.
The inventors of nuclear bombs, space rockets, and computers are the
pyramid builders of our own age: psychologically inflated by a similar
myth of unqualified power, boasting through their science of their
increasing omnipotence, if not omniscience, moved by obsessions and
compulsions no less irrational than those of earlier absolute systems:
particularly the notion that the system itself must be expanded, at
whatever eventual cost to life.
Through mechanization, automation, cybernetic direction, this
authoritarian technics has as last successfully overcome its most
serious weakness: its original dependence upon resistant, sometime
actively disobedient servo-mechanisms, still human enough to harbor
purposes that do not always coincide with those of the system.
The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent
bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member
of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual
and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available
hitherto even for a restricted minority: food, housing, swift
transportation, instantaneous communication, medical care,
entertainment, education. But on one condition: that one must not merely
ask for nothing that the system does not provide, but likewise agree to
take everything offered, duly processed and fabricated, homogenized and
equalized, in the precise quantities that the system, rather than the
person, requires.
" Now let man take over! "
There are large areas of technology that can be redeemed by the
democratic process, once we have overcome the infantile compulsions
and automatisms that now threaten to cancel out our real gains.

This gives me the occasion to thank Yosem for his work!
And of course I'm glad to help for list continuation.


Know your rights
All three of them!
[The Clash - Know your rights]


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