*This article is the fourth of a series of articles in support of the general thesis that mass society corrupts human beings. It forms part of the background of work meant to tangibly support Hannah Arendt’s instinct that mass society, distinct from both the life of the community and from political life, has a tyrannical effect on human freedom. Following Arendt’s instinct, I assert that mass society has become so embedded in, and so constitutive of, our political systems and in our individual thought life that we no longer recognize the corruption of our very experience.
Beyond this, there has been the unique argument with persuasive evidence, stemming from social justice movements like feminism and the civil rights movement, that the experiences of inequality and injustice are “systemic” in nature. In other words, experiences of inequality are built-in to the human artifice and are not merely happenings of our experience, but constitutive features of it – a mechanics very similar to corruption. So this article is the fourth in a series that explores the most structural features of human experience to show that it is the human experience that is corrupted.
One further note here: a key argument that appears here in its first recognizable form is the attribution of technocratic rationality to mass society. Arendt never fully articulated what she meant by “mass society”; however, individuals need to be able to identify the operation of mass society by recognizing its discernable features. I am here venturing to help us recognize technocratic rationality as its main method and to attribute it habitually applied by oligarchic forces. In other words, by identifying technocratic rationality in its use by an individual or organization under oligarchic control, we can recognize times when our human freedom is threatened. I have, in other places, identified human freedom under the term “Authenticity”.
A Corporate Agenda Part 4: 1958
For many of us, the 1950s is a decade worth forgetting. The technocratic rationality of our present-day may regard many points in the twentieth century as turning points in history. But 1958, with the publication of Hannah Arendt’s “The Human Condition” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World Revisited”, marks the heralding of technocratic rationality as a dominant systemic feature of life going forward. Huxley writes, “If the first half of the twentieth century was the era of the technical engineers, the second half may well be the era of the social engineers – and the twenty-first century, I suppose, will be the era of World Controllers, the scientific caste system and Brave New World.”
Thirty years earlier, “Brave New World” was set in the distant future, depicting a scientifically managed, dystopian society. Ruling authorities gain mass compliance not through violence, but in supplying the masses with almost infinite streams of distracting entertainment, with drugs, and with other technological methods. “Brave New World” was a warning; He believed advances in science and technology were paving the way for such a dystopian society. He believed that if such a society solidifies it could precipitate an ultimate revolution. People will have their liberties taken from them, and yet will enjoy it and never question it, let alone rebel. In a 1962 interview at Berkely, Huxley said, “It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: that we are in the process of developing which will enable the controlling oligarchy, who have always existed and who will always exist, to get people to love their servitude.” According to Huxley, this social solidification (read: systemic embedding) was most likely to happen in the twenty-first century.
In “Brave New World” advances in psychology made it possible for the ruling authorities to use “mind control” to condition citizens from an early age to think and behave in submissive and conformist ways. It is mind control. Nearly a hundred years later, has this condition escaped the novel and become a feature of our experience? One may dispute whether there is such an oligarchy, that using the term “the ruling authorities” is a vast overgeneralization. But as I have exemplified here, and is more forcefully argued here, such an oligarchy exists as banal fact. In 1958, Huxley warns us, “Today the art of mind control is in the process of becoming a science. The practitioners of this science know what they are doing and why. They are guided in their work by theories and hypotheses solidly established on a massive foundation of experimental evidence.” Beyond mere science fiction, a chorus of voices from across disciplines, including from Critical Theory (not to be confused with Critical Race Theory), Bertrand Russell (philosophy and mathematics), and Carl Rogers (sociology), to name a few. Insightfully, Rogers classified the largest collection of academic disciplines as becoming an “if-then” science, meaning that “if” certain conditions are created, then members of a society will act in predictable, and thus controllable, ways. The 1950s heralded it; Scientific American has demonstrated it in the early 20th century. Technocratic rationality has become a dominant method of controlling change.
As “Academy of Ideas” launches into features of “A Brave New World”, it becomes vital to recognize technocratic rationality when it is functioning. Academy of Ideas spells out, in its analysis of “Brave New World” how the oligarchy uses technology to control the citizenry. It provides the citizenry “non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature,” a phrase quoted from “Brave New World Revisited”. There are two purposes of the distractions: 1) so that the citizenry did not pay attention to political and social realities, and 2) to promote “docility and stupidity” so that freedom is no longer interesting. It seems that such corruption has indeed come to fruition. Through the phone in your pocket and the TV in your bedroom, media technology delivers stupifying and morally degrading content at an almost uninterrupted rate, a streaming assault on our own capability for “action” (as understood by Arendt), an accepted crippling of our own spiritual capacity as human beings, as we shackle ourselves to its oligarchic chains. This is technocratic rationality at its most recognizable. Yet “technocratic rationality” is not merely a type of argument, like becoming the most highly efficient reasoning based on mathematics to produce so-called “optimal” results; technocratic rationality, if we believe Herbert Marcuse in “One-Dimensional Man”, is so ubiquitous that it is unrecognizable. We are provided a type of affluence where we can “buy” our happiness by an oligarchic and corporate elite that we fail to recognize its totalitarian structure because it has become our very “reality”. In other words, it is a systematizing of control under a particular kind of rationality.
As a side note, the becoming public of the existence of thousands upon thousands of unmarked graves of indigenous children here in Canada is a reminder that technocratic rationality is not all there is. Instead, it reveals how very dangerous technocratic rationality is. Before the technical advent of the smartphone, an oligarchic force of the Catholic Church and governmental forces tried to use so-called “schools” on Indigenous persons to, in the words of Bishop Grandin, ‘be humiliated about everything in their historical identities, so that the only “Native” thing will be their blood’. The genocidal attack on Indigenous persons in Canada is the same technical rationality to impose a technological reality in the place of human history.
However, it is the “how” of screen influence over the mind that demonstrates the severity of technocratic rationality, and why you should care. In a recent study at McGill University, a strong correlation was found between the use of screens for absorbing information and the suspension of critical thinking capacities. We become open to control in the consumption of media, not only because consuming media has dominated our leisure time, but because our capacity to think – literally – is diminished. Last year, Harvard University issued a study detailing the link between smartphone use and states of hypnosis. Neurologically, our brain patterns change in ways that coerce us to be open to suggestions, only we are not aware of the coercion. This isn’t science fiction, folks, and think of the common phrase, “there is an app for that”; have we, the citizens, adopted technocratic rationality instead of reason itself – and not only the oligarchic elites?
If we follow “Brave New World”, the drug “Soma” – when taken in small doses – offers a temporary escape from reality that pacifies people, making them highly susceptible to government propaganda. Perhaps our opioid epidemic (and the Crack epidemic earlier), the legalization of marijuana, the rising rates of alcoholism and methamphetamine addiction during the time of COVID, and the pervasiveness of medicated treatments for mental health “disorders” are the increasingly efficient mirrors of Soma. They are governed by oligarchic forces toward increasing control of a citizenry.
These examples of technocratic rationality – i.e. smartphone deliverance of distraction and propaganda and medical pacifications of the citizenry – would be horrifying enough, but the possibility that COVID-19 and its variant were originally manufactured in a lab, to be released (accidentally or otherwise) on the world would make the impacts of technocratic rationality in concentration camps seem minor in comparison. The most terrifying aspect of technocratic rationality is that not only is it employed in the vaccine “solution”, but it is also used to gobble up discussions of inequality itself – the very issue that gets at the problems of oligarchies. In a recent scandal talking about the inequality of opportunity to run The Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Mary Ng, on May 31, unapologetically admitted the existence of the oligarchy itself in which the organization who was granted the rights to manage the fund “had been there all along”, and thus there was no need for the due democratic process.
While, at this point, I am not prepared to discuss Huxley’s presentation of scientific castes in “Brave New World”, we should become increasingly suspicious of technocratic rationality in its mortally and morally dangerous form, despite its seeming banality as a dominant and ubiquitous framework for interacting with the world. Arendt is also on point. When Arendt described the concentration camps of Hitler and Stalin as a new evil in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1961), she identified the original sin: what those experiments demonstrated was that “the omnipotence of man” is bought at the price “of the superfluity of men.” Arendt suspected this three years earlier in The Human Condition. There she offers a conception of the human person, based on plurality, that is the remedy for evil.
Technocratic rationality, then, needs to be recognized as a feature of mass society and as a systemic threat to our freedom, and its oligarchic substitution of a human artifice for a real-world with unmarked graves; the original sin of assuming that man is the measure of all things, makes its appearance there. It makes its appearance in the controlling of society to restore the economy – an oligarchic and technocratic rationale so obvious that it is surprising there isn’t more protest.
I can feel the technocratic rationality in the sweat on my body as I refuse to purchase air conditioning for my home. It isn’t that it is too uncomfortable to go outside to purchase one. I could have it delivered. An air conditioner will placate me, but will also contribute to making the world burn. If one thinks that it is possible to “buy” a solution to discomfort, one employs a corporate agenda via technocratic rationality. And as Alfred, Batman’s trusted surrogate father-figure, describes the Joker, some people just want to watch the world burn.