Need Structures and Technological Development

I have argued before that scarcity is manufactured in many industries by the deliberate cultivation of economic demand through structures of artificial need. Given the importance of technology in these industries it should not be surprising that the manipulation of technological development plays an enormous role in the manufacture of these structures.

The idea that the malaise of the world has a strong technological aspect is, of course, by no means unprecedented in the literature of anarchism and adjacent ideological regions. The works of Jacques Ellul spring to mind, The Technological Society being a definitive example. Likewise Ivan Illich (e.g. Tools for Conviviality), Lewis Mumford (e.g. Technics and Civilization, The Myth of the Machine), E.F. Schumacher (e.g. Small is Beautiful), Leopold Kohr (e.g. The Overdeveloped Nations: The Diseconomies of Scale), and the “neo-Luddite” Kirkpatrick Sale (e.g. Human Scale). All of these resonate with the position I take here, though I differ in certain respects from each. For anarcho-primitivism I have, in this instance at least, no use.

Notably, Ellul and Illich quite rightly characterize technology as a cultural system rather than a quantity of artefacts, and as rightly emphasize the pervasive nature of that cultural system and thus warn against such spurious ideas as “responsible use”; but in so doing loses sight of the possibility of quite viably lifting, as it were, the artefact out of what might at this moment be its native context. Hence we might have technology qua cultural system, i.e. Ellul’s La Technique, as well as technology qua my or your capacity to create this or that. The boundary between them is exactly the point where Illich’s idea of “radical monopoly” kicks in. I mean to show that the active cultivation of radical monopoly is the predominant factor which currently determines the sort of technological development that happens, and that it is therefore a function of the modern government-corporate state. From this two things may be deduced: First, that many technologies may be “cleansed” of the character of radical monopoly simply by removing the state – here properly understood to encompass the large industrial corporations as well as government; and second, that perhaps as many technologies, however freely available they might become to you and me, would be quite pointless without radical monopoly, as they arose and exist mainly for the sake of cultivating radical monopoly. …

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