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Technocracy and the culture war (Jim Kalb)

Technocracy and the culture war

Jim Kalb


I usually discuss the current situation by reference to fundamental liberal concepts like freedom and equality, and try to show how those concepts come out of the modern turn away from the important and toward immediate experience and formal logic, and how they naturally lead, though various forms of modernity, to what we have today. Hence — among other causes — the fuss about religion.

Many people, of course, are inclined to say that social trends come out of something more concrete, the material conditions of production or whatever. That view emphasizes the political rather than spiritual aspects of the situation. In the end, the difference of emphasis may not matter. Material conditions, basic concepts, and concrete ways of doing things all go together, so if you start with one part of the picture you’re likely to end by discovering the others. Still, varying the analysis checks the accuracy of what’s been said already, so it’s useful to consider the practical workings of modern technocratic society and what they lead to.

An obvious point is that the workings of the current form of society tend toward a unified system of things in which all qualitative differences become differences in individual taste, so that from a public and practical perspective everything is essentially the same and can be dealt with in the same manner:

  • Urbanization, electronics and modern transportation make every person, place and thing in the world equally present to every other person, place and thing, so each finds itself in an identical setting from which none can distance itself. The identity of position and environment destroys all differences of implication and meaning, so that everything becomes an object of undifferentiated desire or aversion, or a mere resource for some other purpose.
  • The whole of social life — work, education, entertainment, the mechanics of daily life, even sex and family life — thus becomes integrated into a rationalized process that treats the whole world as raw material for the efficient equal satisfaction of preferences. Since a rationalized process works better if differences as as few, well-defined and suited to its needs as possible, standardization becomes a constant theme.

Under such circumstances, the particularities of history, place and particular human relationship become confused and lose legitimate significance. “Discrimination,” the recognition of such particularities, becomes a radical sin against social morality. And the greatest threat to society becomes “fundamentalism” — recognition of an authoritative principle that can’t be reduced to the unified rationalized process that defines and constitutes the established managerial liberal order. Any such recognition is considered utterly irrational, since it rejects the exclusive rationality of the principles of the established system, and necessarily violent, since the system is thought to exhaust rationality and constitute the sole possible basis for a tolerable social order.

The great issues of social life and politics today — PC, multiculturalism, the struggle over sex and family life, the rise of the radical secularist Left, globalization and empire — all have to do with the attempt of advanced managerial liberal society to perfect itself by eradicating all traces of other forms of social organization. The Left, which includes all respectable social and moral authorities as well as all the forces of official rebellion, is an integrated part of that attempt. In our time eminent moral philosophers, law school deans, academic radicals, leading cultural institutions, and cutting edge artists work cooperatively for universal tyranny and the annihilation of the human spirit. If my description of the situation seems extreme, consider the extremism of what is considered mainstream.

So what can be done, if the forces of inhumanity are integrated with such immensely powerful tendencies of social organization? Who can rebottle the genie that eliminates every kind of distance and all particular connections, and makes it possible to treat everything — even the squeal of the protestor — as raw material for an integrated industrial process that eats up everything for the sake of rational hedonistic ends? Here, one can only observe that the new order proposes a utopia that can’t be built from the crooked timber of humanity. Man can be disordered, corrupted and killed, but he can’t be stripped down, neutered and made manageable in the way required. And somebody has to run things. Who will the guardians be, and how will they be educated and kept honest? So we don’t know just how the new order will fail, or exactly what will follow it, but fail it will. In the meantime, our task is to fight it every way we can, and keep whatever we can alive for better days.


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