Having recently read “Industrial society and its future”, I’d like to discuss Kaczynski’s diagnosis of the problem of industrial society in its psychological and anthropological perspectives. Irrespective of agreement with his proposed remedy, do you agree with his diagnosis of the problem or with some of his descriptions of human psychology and anthropology?
I will summarize his diagnosis while adding a minimum of commentary. I will skip over his description of what he calls leftism and his proposed remedy because mixing those with the diagnosis and psychological and anthropological descriptions would muddy the discussion. I ask that the moderators leave this thread in IMHO and not put it in GD because what I want is opinions on psychology and anthropology rather than arguments about the evils of capitalism (which would miss the point entirely) from people eager to engage in axe grinding during a recession.
Kaczynski provides an illustration which encapsulates his argument:
“Suppose Mr. A is playing chess with Mr. B. Mr. C, a Grand Master, is looking over Mr. A’s shoulder. Mr. A of course wants to win his game, so if Mr. C points out a good move for him to make, he is doing Mr. A a favor. But suppose now that Mr. C tells Mr. A how to make ALL of his moves. In each particular instance he does Mr. A a favor by showing him his best move, but by making ALL of his moves for him he spoils his game, since there is not point in Mr. A’s playing the game at all if someone else makes all his moves. The situation of modern man is analogous to that of Mr. A. The system makes an individual’s life easier for him in innumerable ways, but in doing so it deprives him of control over his own fate.”
Kaczynski is not against all technology. He draws a distinction between small-scale tech and organization-dependent tech. Small-scale tech can be used by individuals or small-scale communities without outside assistance. For example, just about any medieval craftsman could build a water wheel. Organization-dependent tech requires large-scale organization and standardization. For example, refrigerators would not be worth it if it were not for interchangeable parts, the availability of certain gases, electricity and wiring. All those technologies require large organization and standardization of human action.
An industrial society requires the cooperation of large numbers of people. The larger and more complex the organization, the more decisions must be made for the organization as a whole. For example, if one wants to make a computer, all workers must make it in the same way according to specifications drawn up at the company or industry level. All the inputs must be regular otherwise the computers will be unacceptably unreliable. Decision making must be taken from small group and individuals and given to large organizations.
Why is this negative? Because large-scale organizations and the affluence that came with industrialization have disrupted individual autonomy and the power process, a central psychological need detailed below.
Kaczynski defines autonomy as efforts undertaken by one’s own initiative, direction and control. When decisions are made by the individual or a small-scale organization which the individual can influence, the individual has power over the circumstances of his own life which satisfies his need for autonomy. Since industrialization, life has become greatly regimented by large organizations because it’s required for the proper functioning of industrial society and because the means of control by large organizations have become more effective. It’s true that before industrialization, nature imposed limits on man but limits imposed by nature itself are not a source of frustration of the need for autonomy.
The power process consists in autonomously choosing a goal, making an effort to reach it and having a good rate of success. Kaczynski splits human drives into three categories; Drives that can be satisfied with minimal effort, drives that can be satisfied with significant effort and drives that have no realistic chance of being satisfied no matter how much effort is exerted. The first category leads to boredom. The third category leads to frustration, low self-esteem, depression and defeatism. The power process is satisfied by the second category.
Yet industrial society pushes most goals into the first and third category for most people. Goals become either trivially easy or nigh impossible. For example, for most people, having enough to live requires little effort. Even when it requires effort, most have very little autonomy in their job. Industrial society also creates disruptions and dangers which are beyond the control of individuals and small groups.
The way most cope is by taking on surrogate activities. These are artificial goals pursued not for their own sake but for the sake of fulfillment. In other words, instead of hunting to eat and feeling fulfillment at having succeeded, someone collects stamps to feel fulfilled. Even if pursued autonomously, these artificial goals often fail to bring fulfillment.
By reducing the ability to autonomously exert significant effort to achieving real goals, industrial society has greatly hindered the individual’s ability to satisfy his power process. This leads to modern man’s unhappiness.
Here is the PDF if you want to read the whole thing: http://editions-hache.com/essais/pdf/kaczynski2.pdf