[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] Indexes: Main | Date | Thread | Author

RE: [ba-unrev-talk] Lewis Mumford

for those in a Mumford state of mind, his predecessor & teacher, Patrick
Geddis, is worth a look.    (01)

As part of the traditional Scottish obliteration-of-our-past project,
Edinburgh University has removed all the Geddes articles from their site,
but there is a somewhat bizarre cached version at
ev.htm++patrick+geddes+mumford&hl=en&ie=UTF8    (02)

Mumford was a huge Geddes fan. For what it's worth, Geddes coined the word
"Synergy". Back when it was cool.    (03)

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-ba-unrev-talk@bootstrap.org
[mailto:owner-ba-unrev-talk@bootstrap.org]On Behalf Of Peter Jones
Sent: Tuesday, June 18, 2002 4:56 PM
To: ba-unrev-talk@bootstrap.org
Subject: [ba-unrev-talk] Lewis Mumford    (04)

Hi,    (05)

Bumbling around a bookshop I discovered a battered copy of Vol. II of
"The Myth of the Machine". Vol I was published in 1967, Vol II in 1974.
(Medium-sized tomes - possibly not for the faint-hearted or
individual.)    (06)

Mumford was a philosopher, writer, architectural critic and urban
He died in 1990 at the age of 94. However,...    (07)

For those looking for a sustained argument about the relationship
people, technology, and environment, and the need to head off the
possibility of the impending self-destruction of humanity through the
of technology, this might be a useful text to reference.    (08)

A revealing synopsis of the book can be found here:
(Cancel the Korean Text Support download if it hits and you are able to
English -  it isn't necessary to read the text if you read the English
translation.)    (09)

"Although most of the components of the megamachine were in existence by
early twentieth century, two things, he argues, were lacking: a
figure of absolute power, incarnated in an living ruler, a corporate
or a super-machine; and a crisis sufficiently portentous and pressing to
bring about an implosion of all the necessary components." Before this
fusion took place older, cruder models of the megamachine appeared, the
menacing in Nazi Germany. it was in response to Hitler's brutal military
machine that the United States and Russia produced modern megamachines,
their inefficient human parts replaced by mechanical and electronic
subgstitutes, and with their well-drilled armies backed, as Henry Adams
predicted, by "bombs of cosmic violence." The invention of the atomic
gave science and scientists a sacred niche in the new power complex.
became permanently allied with the military elite, who "fortified
in an inner citadel [a Pentagon]...cut off from inspection or control by
rest of the community." In these command centers, sealed off from
give-and-take, the Organization Man becomes a menace to global survival;
surely, Mumford notes elsewhere, there are Eichmanns in every missile
center, ready to obey orders, no matter how horrific.    (010)

"By manufacturing new emergencies and enemies, by instituting a state of
permanent war, naively called a cold war, the megamachines of the
superpowers became permanent institutions, headed by a new class of
decision-makers who wielded world destructive powers. This, then, was
latest megamachine, or what Mumford calls, alternatively, the Pentagon
Power, since it was based on five P's: Power, that is energy;
for the sake of Profit: Political control; and Publicity. But Mumford
anticipates something even more frightening than the expansion of this
war-oriented technocracy in the not-too-distant future. Given present
trends, it is not unlikely, he predicts, that the technocentric elites
soon be replaced by a supreme ruler without human parts or attributes,
ultimate decision-maker - the central computer, the true earthly
representative of the sun god.    (011)

"In his earliest writing Mumford had seen electricity as a potential
for social improvement, opening the way for a decentralization of
and population, and the revival of small industries. In the Pentagon of
Power, however, he emphasizes the electronic computer's insidious impact
personal privacy and autonomy. To him the computer is merely another
overated tool, vastly inferior to the human brain; in the wrong hands,
however, an extraordinarily dangerous one. The computer, he argues, is
eyes of the reborn sun god Re; it serves as a private eye for the
megamachine elite, who expect complete conformity to their commands
nothing can be hidden from them. In the future no action, no thought,
perhaps even no drem will escape this all-scrutinizing eye. And perhaps
will eventually lead to the elimination of autonomy itself: "indeed the
dissolution of the human soul."    (012)

"Yet, for all his premonitions of chaos and catastrophe, Mumford ends
Pentagon of Power with the reminder that the megamachine, at least in
U.S., is based on little more than an enticing "bribe"-if the individual
gives the system his unquestioning allegiance he will have a chance to
the privileges and pleasures of "megatechnic" affluence-and that this
in turn, is based upon the myth that power and economic growth are the
aims of life. Once we reject this bribe and cast off this myth, the
megamachine will, like its historic predecessor, crumble and collapse,
ironic victim of those it claimed to serve. "For those of us who have
off the myth of the machine, the next move is ours: for the gates of the
technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty,
hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out." "    (013)

"It is not, then as a prophet of doom but as a rising voice of renewal,
Isaiah for his age, that Mumford hopes to be remembered. The optimism of
Pentagon of Power, however, is not altogether convincing, coming as it
after a grimly gray portrayal of the "megatechnical wasteland"; it is
something Mumford layered on at the end, almost as an afterthought. He
have been an optimist about possibilities, but he was most certainly a
pessimist about probabilities, hence his often repeated assertion that
human-kind can be save-but only by a miracle. While Mumford might have
believed in miracles he knew enough history to realize that they do not
occur very often. "    (014)

(You have to read the earlier bits to understand the reference to a sun
god.)    (015)

Possibly very interesting stuff, whether or not you agree with the
conclusions.    (016)

>From http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~rxv/books/mumford.htm#mumford67
"He was a disciple of Sir Patrick Geddes, and corresponded with many
important contemporaries, including Fred Osborne and Vannevar Bush. "    (017)

Peter    (018)