2017, Friedrich-Georg Jünger, Friedrich-Georg Jünger's “The Perfection of Technology”, Robert Steuckers, Technology
A denunciation of the mechanized titanism of Western thought, this work is the quarry from which all contemporary ecological thought draws in order to refine its critiques. Divided into two parts and one excursus, themselves divided into a multitude of small concise chapters, the work begins with an observation: Utopian literature no longer takes politics as its subject matter, but technology, which causes a disenchantment with the Utopian line of thought. Technology resolves none of man’s existential problems. It doesn’t increase leisure time; it doesn’t reduce work: it only replaces manual labor with “organized” labor. Moreover, it doesn’t create new wealth, on the contrary it condemns the condition of the worker to pauperism.
The deployment of technology was due to a general lack that reason sought to fill. But this lack didn’t disappear with the encroachment of technology: it only camouflaged it. The machine is a devourer, annihilating substance: its rationality is henceforth illusory. The economist believes, at first, that technology is the generator of wealth, then he realizes that its quantitative rationality is only an illusion, technology, in its infinite will to perfect itself, only follows its own logic, which is not economic. The modern world is henceforth characterized by a tacit conflict between the economist and the technician: the latter seeks to determine the processes of production despite profitability, a factor judged to be too subjective. Technicality, when it attains its highest degree, leads to a dysfunctional economy.
This opposition between technology and the economy will astonish more than one critic of contemporary uni-dimensionality, accustomed to putting economic and technological hypertrophies on the same level. But Friedrich-Georg Jünger saw economy as its etymology implicitly defined it, setting the standards of oikos, the housekeeping of man, well circumscribed in time and space. The establishment of oikos doesn’t proceed from an excessive mobilization of resources, similar to the economy of pillage and la razzia [Translator’s note: referring to slave raids conducted by the Barbary Pirates] (Raubbau), but a parsimonious enrichment of the place one occupies on earth.
The central idea of Friedrich-Georg Jünger regarding technology, states that it is an automatism dominated by its own logic. Once that logic starts forward, it escapes its creators. It multiplies itself in an exponential manner: machines demand the creation of other machines, until achieving complete automation, both mechanical and dynamic, at an extremely regimented pace, thus in a fatal pace. This fatal pace penetrates into the organic tissue of the human being and submits man to its deadly logic. Henceforth man no longer possesses his own pace, internal and biological, but feverishly seeks to adapt to the inorganic / fatal pace of the machine. Life inexorably comes to be submitted to the grand automation that technology produces, which ultimately regulates life entirely.
This generalized automatism is the “perfection of technology,” to which Friedrich-Georg Jünger, an organicist thinker, contrasts maturation (die Reife), which only natural beings can attain, without violence or coercion. The major characteristic of gigantic technological organization, dominant in the contemporary era, is the exclusive domination exercised by technology’s own determinations and causal deductions. The state, as a political body, can acquire, by means of technology, more power. But that is, for him, a sort of pact with the devil as the principles of technology then imply the extirpation of organic substance and its replacement by technological automation.
Whoever says total automation means total organization, in the sense of management. Labor, in the era of the exponential multiplication of automation, is organized to the point that it detaches itself from the ergonomic immediacy provided by hand and tool. This detachment leads to excessive specialization, normalization, standardization. To this Friedrich-Georg Jünger adds the concept of Stückelung (splitting, cutting, “division into pieces”) where “fragments” are no longer parts (pars, partes, Teile) of a whole but pieces (Stücke) reduced to serving a function in a device.
Friedrich-Georg Jünger joins Marx to denounce the alienation of these processes but distinguishes himself from Marx when he considers the process to be fatal so long as one remains chained/ connected (gekettet /angeschloßen) to the technological-industrial apparatus. The worker (Arbeiter) is a worker precisely because he is connected volens nolens [Translator’s note: Latin, willingly or unwillingly] to this apparatus. The condition of the worker doesn’t depend on the modesty of his wages but on this connection, independent of the amount of salary. The depersonalized connection causes the loss of the personal quality. The worker is he who has lost the internal bond that ties him to his work, the relation that makes interchangeability impossible, between him and another worker or between his purpose and another purpose. So alienation is not primarily economic, as Marx thought, but technical.
The general progression of automation devalues all labor directly derived from the interior character of the worker and triggers the process of natural destruction, the process of “devouring” (Verzehr) substance (the resources offered by Mother Nature, the generous donor). Because of this alienation by the technical order, the worker is hurled into a world of exploitation without the least protection. In order to benefit from a semblance of protection, he must create organizations, notably unions, but those remain connected to the technological-industrial apparatus.
The protective organization doesn’t emancipate, it enchains. The worker defends himself against alienation and “division into pieces” but paradoxically accepts the system of total automation. Marx, Engels, and the first socialists only saw political and economic alienation, and not technological alienation. Among them, no one took machines seriously. The dialectic of Marx, from this fact, became a sterile mechanicism, in the service of mechanized socialism. Socialism retained the same logic as total automation under the capitalist aegis. Even worse, its triumph would not put an end to automated alienation but would cause this movement to accelerate, by simplifying it and increasing it.
The creation of organizations generalizes total mobilization, which makes all things mobile and all places like workshops or laboratories buzz with incessant agitation. Any social sphere that tries to escape this total mobilization counteracts the movement and consequently endures repression: thus concentration camps open, mass deportations and collective massacres begin. It’s the rule of the unrestricted manager, a sinister figure appearing under a thousand masks.
Technology doesn’t produce harmony, the machine is not a goddess that dispenses blessings. On the contrary, it sterilizes the giving natural substrates, it organizes pillage to the ends of the Wilderness. The machine is a devourer, it must be unceasingly fed and, because it consumes more than it gives, it exhausts the riches of the Earth. Enormous elementary natural forces are hijacked by the gigantic technological machinery and its imprisoned retinues, which often leads to explosive catastrophes and demands constant surveillance, another facet of total mobilization.
The masses embroil themselves, voluntarily, in this total automation, annihilating isolated resistances, individual consciences, in the same stroke. The masses allow themselves to be carried by the hectic movement of automation, so that in the case of failure or a momentary halt in the linear movement towards automation, they experience a feeling of emptiness that seems insufferable to them.
Henceforth war is also totally mechanized. The destructive potential are amplified to extremes. But the shine of uniforms, the mobilizing worth of symbols, the glory, fades. We expect nothing but endurance and tenacious courage from soldiers.
The absolute mobility initiated by total automation turns against everything that retains endurance and stability, notably property (Eigentum). Friedrich-Georg Jünger, by posing this assertion, defines property in an original manner: the existence of machines rests on an exclusively temporal conception; the existence of property rests on a conception of space. Property implies limits, demarcation, hedges, walls and fences, enclosures. Technological collectivism wants to make these limits disappear.
Property creates a limited, circumscribed field of action, enclosed in a determined, precise, space. In order to progress vectorially, automation must break down the locks of property, the obstacle to the establishment of its omnipresent communication and connection networks. A humanity deprived of any form of property cannot escape total connection.
Socialism, by denying property, by refusing what remains in the world of “enclosed” zones, exactly facilitates absolute connection. Thus the possessor of machines is not an owner; the mechanized capitalist undermines the order of property, characterized by endurance and stability, to the benefit of an all-dissolving dynamism. Personal independence is only possible if there is no connection between events and the technical apparatus’ way of thinking and organization.
Between his critical and acerbic reflections on automation and the excessive technicality of modern times. Friedrich-Georg Jünger challenges the great philosophers of the European tradition. Descartes initiated a dualism that established an insurmountable separation between the body and the mind and eliminates the systema influxus physici that both relied on, in order replace it with punctual divine intervention that made God a watchmaker. The res extensa [Translator’s note: corporeal substance] is a dead thing: it its explained as an arrangement of mechanisms in which man, the instrument of the watchmaker God, can intervene at any moment with impunity. The res cogitans [Translator’s note: the mental substance] is then established as the absolute master of the mechanical processes ruling the universe. Man can become like God: a watchmaker who can manipulate everything to his will, without fear or respect. Cartesianism gave the signal for the exorbitant technical exploitation of the planet.