This excerpt from East of Eden will be the initiation of this debate, so take this in first if you haven’t already read this book.
Now physically get up and look around you. If you’re like me, everything around you is the product of mass-production or made by someone else, except for this post in front of me which I’m writing. Now look at our culture, some of the top selling music in America are made by corporate companies, not individuals (O-Town, American Idol are a few key figures). Our food isn’t being crafted, it’s being manufactured(McDonalds advertised over 40 billion served). There are two main highschools in my district, both holding 2,000 students. They’re run through the school like numbers. My brother a freshman in college told me just today that in freshman orientation they had people asking what supplies they need. This is college… do you really need someone to tell you, “You need a pencil and a notebook?”(I could understand someone asking this question in an advanced computer class and needed to know what specs they need, but during orientation? Come on now.) We have laws that tell people not to cross the street, and not to spit.
So, the question I pose is this: Do you believe mass-production has urked its way into mass-thought? If yes, will it do so to a greater degree, or lesser degree in the future?
And in previous times, the mass or collective idea from which no dissent was allowed frequently was God, or some particular conception thereof.
The most industrialized parts of the world are also the areas of the world where freedom of thought most flourishes. Medieval serfs or Afghans under the Taliban had no freedom of thought. Spartan helots or black slaves in the Old South may have had freedom of thought inasmuch as no one really cared what they thought, but they were generally systematically deprived of the opportunity to stop and reflect and think their own thoughts by the demands of the coercive systems they lived in, and American slaves were also in many instances deliberately denied the power to read and write, thus cutting them off from a vital means of deepening and broadening their thoughts.
It’s true that in the 20th Century there was a rise of totalitarian ideologies which had unprecedented “achievements” in repression. But there is no simple equation of “mass production = mass thought”; rather, advances in the technology of communications and transportation allowed the Stalins and Hitlers of that century to achieve things which a Philip the Fair or an Aurangzeb could only dream of. In other words, modern industrialization poses a threat not from any intellectual contamination, but because it gives everyone, good or evil, more power to do things.
Mass production simply allows people to make things more efficiently. If anything, it has helped expand freedom of thought, not constrict it, by allowing the common man (and woman) access to wealth and leisure which were once accessible only to a few, which has both intellectual benefits and has led to a more democratic distribution of political power as well.
I dunno, I like my house and my mass-produced furniture and appliances. I’m not eagerly contemplating slapping together a shack and living unabomber-style just so I can fend off some imagined collectivist threat.
You can cross the streets wearing a blindfold and spit to your heart’s content, but if you slip on a loogie and get run over by a garbage truck, it’ll be your fault, not society’s.
As for Steinbeck:
It’s pretty obvious he was never subjected to:
[ul][li]The Spanish Inquisition;[/li][li]France’s Reign of Terror;[/li][li]Any number of Russian Pogroms;[/li][li]A Salem witch trial;[/li][li]The general dirt, disease, starvation, misery, oppression and early death that was a casual part of every human’s life prior to modern medicine and industry.[/li][/ul]
Part of Steinbeck’s premise is right in line with Ayn Rand’s writings, but Rand thought individuality and creativity could work well within industry and capitalism, while Steinbeck apparantly thinks we’d be better off roasting freshly-killed rabbits over an open fire on a chilly windswept plain. Thanks, but I’ll stick with electric heating and air conditioning and refrigerators, if you don’t mind. And I’m not unhappy or confused.
Of course, if you really thought mechanization = collectivism = evil, I look forward to reading your manifesto in a few years.
No; Mass production has freed me to pursue my own lines of thought and creativity - and specifically those lines of thought that interest me most - I could have been burdened with the task of creating by hand all of the necessary, mundane items around me - this table and chair, the rug, the clothes I’m wearing, the cupboards in the corner, but these things have been manufactured for me, leaving me free to travel along lines of (hopefully)creative thought and action that are entirely my own and may not be immediately profitable (or ever).
I think it’s worth pointing out that East of Eden was written at a time when Communism was beginning to spread throughout the world. Communism being the extreme form of the “collectivism” he seems to be talking about, I think I can see where he was coming from, and based on that passage, he doesn’t sound altogether paranoid. I think he was just concerned about the world becoming one giant Gulag, which may seem laughable now, but in the 50’s and 60’s, got a lot of people purty scared.
That being said, I gotta agree with Mangetout. God Bless mass production, so I can go home, pop some dead cow on the gas-grill, and kick back to… well, whatever I damn well please.
-Of significance to me? Emphatically yes - I have a very diverse set of interests and skills that I could not possibly pursue or enjoy if I was tied to subsistence labour. That I am able to dabble in creating (trivial) new things is of immense value to me.
-Of significance to others immediately around me? - I like to think so; (without wanting to sound conceited in any way) I’m a ‘solutions’ man and I love giving new or unique things to people - have (I hope) contributed significantly to the pleasure index in the lives of my immediate circle (as they have to me).
-Of significance to the human race as a whole? - AFAIK not noticeably (yet), but I have hopes, I have hopes.
Well, I think the OP does have a point that the development of the mass production consumer culture does lead to a certain uniformity of thought, especially in the United States. Anyone who’s ever seen a suburban development with 4 types of houses and identically well-kept lawns should see that.
That doesn’t mean it’s better or worse intrinsically. I’d say that’s a decision for the individual.
And that’s great I’m glad you’re using your free time to “travel along the lines of creative thought”, but I’d say that’s not a high priority on a lot of peoples list. Many of us wake up, eat, go to work/school/obligation, eat, come home, eat, sleep, repeat. Even though we have the technology to be incredibly efficient and leave us lots more open time, we still don’t have time. Why is that? Maybe mass-production has left us with a facade?
I’m not proposing that we should cast away all our items and live unabomber style and eat wood. Rather, I think they only way to beat the mass-thought of mass-production is to recognize it and learn to think and question everything. Something that I don’t think is being done in many, many cases.
And hundreds of years ago, people got up, fed the chickens, milked the cows, tended the crops, slopped the pigs, blah blah blah, then ate dinner and went to bed. I don’t think it’s credible to say that people now have less spare time overall then they did in the past. Some people will always be perpetually busy (either by choice or by necessity), and some people will always have plenty of free time to do what they please. I think as time progresses, though, the ratio of “no free time” people to “lotsa free time” people goes steadily down.