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 "The Future in the Light of Technology",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, July 6, 1969,
of a book:
TECHNOLOGICAL MAN: The Myth and the Reality,
by Victor C. Ferkiss.
New York: George Braziller, 1969

 

 

"The Future in the Light of Technology"

 

 

 TECHNOLOGICAL MAN: The Myth and the Reality.
By Victor C. Ferkiss.
George Braziller Co. 336 pages. $7.95.

 

    Technological Man takes its place near the top of the long list of recent books seeking to discern the shape of the future of our technological society. Prof. Ferkiss sees the problem in terms of a sharp contrast between the nineteenth century's industrial society, operated by "industrial man" (that is, a bourgeois society motivated by the individualistic pursuit of private profits), and the growth of a new "technological society" which requires a new kind of "technological man" to operate it.

   Unfortunately, while the shift of industrial society into technological society is obvious, there is little evidence of the appearance of a new kind of man capable of controlling, without disaster, the powers made available by the rapid advance of science and technology. Ferkiss makes it quite clear that if bourgeois industrial man continues in control of the new technological society, the consequence may be catastrophic disaster threatening the continued existence of humanity as we have known it.

   The growing power of the new technology should increase the area of human freedom and make it possible for man to develop more fully his human qualities which have been restricted in the past by emphasis on man's animal needs. Now the burden lies heavily on man "to invent his own future" and to make what he wishes of himself and his world. "What should be his criteria of choice?" asks Ferkiss, adding, "In the past, nature and ignorance set limits to man's freedom and his follies; now they need no longer stand in his way, and technological man will be free even to destroy the possibility of freedom itself."

Pessimistic Conclusions

   The central core of this volume lies in chapters 6-8, which examine the interrelationships between technology and, in order, economic; political, and cultural patterns. The conclusion, in each case, is a pessimistic one; there is little evidence that any of these areas is changing its patterns in ways more capable of handling the technology of the future nor of contributing, in any substantial fashion, toward the creation of a new technological man capable of doing this.

   In this discussion Ferkiss shows his remarkable combination of talents, including a broad familiarity with the most recent thinking on this whole vast subject, which stretches from science and technology on one side, through the newest ideas on economics, political action, and popular culture, to recent schools of psychology and religion.

Debunking Myths

   Ferkiss not only knows this material, but he has the ability to think about it without emotional or personal bias and without committing himself to any special point of view or any narrow outlook. His thinking is hard-headed and skeptical without being materialistic, egocentric, or cynical. His skepticism reminds me of Crane Brinton, a similarity which extends also to his verbal style and facility of expression, while his ability to deal with complex social problems, often from an original point of view, is similar to Kenneth Galbraith's.

   Major portions of the three core chapters are concerned with debunking contemporary myths about our present condition. These include: That our economy is becoming a "service economy" rather than a productive one; that power in it is passing to a "technical" or "scientific elite"; that the economic future will consist of an unstable mixture of "automation, unemployment, and affluence; that a "classless society" is emerging; or that suburbia is an example of this new homogeneous, one-class, single-outlook society. Instead of these "myths," Ferkiss sees our economic life today moving toward a "riskless, state-subsidized capitalism" in which "contemporary man is essentially bourgeois man with new tools and toys."

   As might be expected of a political scientist, Ferkiss is most revealing (and most pessimistic) when he turns to the political aspects of the situation. He quickly disposes of the double myth that our future will contain a mass political society under an omnipotent centralized government. On the contrary, he sees governments becoming increasingly impotent, increasingly vulnerable to sabotage, and increasingly incapable of making decisions (or even of formulating the issues) which we must face in the future. He sees both nations and party systems breaking down from the inability of the political system to give meaningful direction to society. Existing political systems "have been unable to structure the issues and to relate them to the decision-making process in such a way as to enable the popular will to be expressed." This is especially true of the vital ecological problems of the present and future. This means, according to Ferkiss, "that certain choices are almost automatically ruled out, and that man's technological ability to cope with the situation is destroyed. . . . Then it is obvious that the present political order makes the emergence of technological man impossible."

The Cultural Scene

   A similar pessimism pervades Ferkiss' analysis of the cultural scene, where he sees nothing contributing to the formation of personality types capable of dealing with the problems of technological society. On the contrary, the evidence here leads him to conclude that "the pattern of the future is not technological man so much as neoprimitive man trapped in a technological environment. The most certain thing that can be said about the future is that it will be culturally eclectic; but this could easily mean chaos rather than the emergence of a new human type."

   In this connection, Ferkiss is equally skeptical of the existence of a sexual revolution, or a revolution of the young, or any significant mass movement either toward or away from religion. In each case he supports his skepticism with common-sense evidence which seems obvious, yet is usually ignored by those who speak of these movements.

   Most writers, having reached such pessimistic conclusions about present tendencies, might have ended on this somber note. But Ferkiss has a deep understanding of the past of our society, rooted in the Greco-Roman and Hebreo-Christian traditions, and has the faith, the hope, and the epistemological skills to see a way out. Accordingly, in his final chapter, which reveals an unusual understanding of present tendencies, Ferkiss points the way toward the outlook of "technological man" and gives some indication of how the processes of our society might move us in the right direction, even while our economic, political, and cultural patterns continue to move us toward social bankruptcy.

The Technological Man

   In brief terms, Ferkiss sees at least three aspects to the outlook of technological man: The first would involve recognition that man, while the culmination of natural evolutionary processes, has gone far beyond material nature and has risen above simple animal characteristics, while still continuing as part of nature and of natural processes.

   The second involves recognition that all problems are parts of larger wholes in which solutions must be sought in constantly larger contexts and even of the whole itself (in sharp contrast with nineteenth century methodologies, which invariably sought explanation by breaking wholes down into smaller parts).

   The third involves recognition that man, nature, and deity are three mutually interrelated and intermingled aspects of that largest "whole." I might point out in passing (although Ferkiss does not do so) that the thinking revealed in this final chapter involves points of view and implications of eternal values and of techniques of human understanding which have much in common with some of the oldest religious thinking of Asia and of the more neglected aspects of our own Western tradition. Possibly Ferkiss may recognize this fact for he concludes this stimulating volume with a quotation from Meister Eckhardt, a German mystic of the fourteenth century, not a source which would have been used by obsolescent industrial man.

CARROLL QUIGLEY

 

Scans of original review

1 2

 


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