The Church of Euthanasia
Today's sermon will be delivered by the immortal Jacques Ellul, grandfather
of the Situationists and author of The Technological Society. According
to Ellul, "what characterizes technical action within a particular activity is
the search for greater efficiency." Technique, as Ellul defines it, is
truly the great weakness of the tool-wielding apes. In the words of Robert
Merton, ours is "a civilization committed to the quest for continually improved
means to carelessly examined ends. Indeed technique transforms ends into
means...The Technical Man is fascinated by results, by the immediate consequences
of setting standardized devices into motion." The glittering Spectacle feeds on
this passive quality of fascination; in the Age of Absorption, we de-evolve into
mere automatons, eyeballs with fingers. When every individual agrees that a
single most efficient technique exists for every objective, and that these
techniques can and should be arrived at, all is lost. How can we defeat the
overwhelming logic of efficiency? Surely not with technique; we become what we
resist. Only individual transformation can stem the tide; the spread of
enlightenment becomes our greatest responsibility. John Wilkinson said of Ellul
that "To him, to bear witness to the fact of the technological society
is the most revolutionary of all acts." We share Ellul's profound conviction,
as well as his hope, that humans may yet prove stronger than the powers they
invoke. Dear brethren, I give you, Jacques Ellul:
The term technique, as I use it, does not mean machines, technology,
or this or that procedure for attaining an end. In our technological society,
technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having
absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every
field of human activity.
It is said (and everyone agrees) that the machine has created an inhuman
atmosphere. The machine, so characteristic of the nineteenth century, made an
abrupt entrance into a society which, from the political, institutional, and
human points of view, was not made to receive it; and man has had to put up with
it as best he can. Men now live in conditions that are less than human.
Consider the concentration of our great cities, the slums, the lack of space, of
air, time, the gloomy streets and sallow lights that confuse night and day.
Think of our dehumanized factories, our unsatisfied senses...our estrangement
from nature. Life in such an environment has no meaning. Consider our public
transportation, in which man is less important than a parcel; our hospitals, in
which he is only a number. Yet we call this progress...
It must be emphasized that, at present, technique is applied outside
industrial life. The growth of its power today has no relation to the growing
use of the machine. The balance seems rather to have shifted to the other side.
It is the machine which is now entirely dependent on technique, and the machine
represents only a small part of technique. If we were to characterize the
relations between technique and the machine today, we could say not only that the
machine is the result of a certain technique, but also that its social and
economic applications are made possible by other technical advances. The machine
is now not even the most important aspect of technique (though it is perhaps the
most Spectacular); technique has taken over all of man's activities, not just his
From another point of view, however, the machine is deeply symptomatic: it
represents the ideal toward which technique strives. The machine is solely,
exclusively, technique; it is pure technique, one might say. For wherever a
technical factor exists, it results, almost inevitably, in mechanization:
technique transforms everything it touches into a machine.
It is an illusion--unfortunately very widespread--to think that because we
have broken through the prohibitions, taboos, and rites that bound primitive man,
we have become free. We are conditioned by something new: technological
civilization. I make no reference to a past period of history in which men were
allegedly free, happy, and independent. The determinisms of the past no longer
concern us; they are finished and done with. If I do refer to the past, it is
only to emphasize that present determinants did not exist in the past, and men
did not have to grapple with them.
In my conception, freedom is not an immutable fact graven in nature and on the
heart of man. It is not inherent in man or in society, and it is meaningless to
write it into law. The mathematical, physical, biological, sociological, and
psychological sciences reveal nothing but necessities and determinisms on all
sides. As a matter of fact, reality is itself a combination of determinisms, and
freedom consists in overcoming and transcending these determinisms. Freedom is
completely without meaning unless it is related to necessity...We must not think
of the problem in terms of a choice between being determined and being free. We
must look at it dialectically, and say that man is indeed determined, but that
it is open to him to overcome necessity, and that this act is freedom.
Freedom is not static but dynamic; not a vested interest, but a prize continually
to be won. The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to
determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in
In the modern world, the most dangerous form of determinism is the
technological phenomenon. It is not a question of getting rid of it, but, by an
act of freedom, of transcending it. How is this to be done? I do not yet know.
That is why [I] appeal to the individual's sense of responsibility. The first
step in the quest, the first act of freedom, is to become aware of the necessity.
The very fact that man can see, measure, and analyze the determinisms that press
on him means that he can face them and, by so doing, act as a free man. If man
were to say: "These are not necessities; I am free because of technique, or
despite technique," this would prove that he is totally determined. However, by
grasping the real nature of the technological phenomenon, and the extent to which
it is robbing him of freedom, he confronts the blind mechanisms as a conscious
If man--if each one of us--abdicates his responsibilities with regard to
values; if each of us limits himself to leading a trivial existence in a
technological civilization, with greater adaptation and increasing success as his
sole objectives; if we do not even consider making a stand against these
determinants, then everything will happen as I have described it, and
the determinants will be transformed into inevitabilities...
[My] purpose is to arouse...an awareness of technological necessity and what
it means. It is a call to the sleeper to awake.