Summary of Chapter 3: Towards a Liberatory Technology
In this third chapter he lays out the third part of his overall platform, detailing the way that technology will be embraced, but used differently, in a revolutionary post-scarcity society. Despite various criticisms that could be made of Bookchin’s romanticism, naturalization, etc., it seems likely that any actually successful, sustainable, egalitarian society of the future will bear a good deal of resemblance to his vision.
According to Bookchin, people used to fetishize technological progress, but now there is a "schizoid" mentality: people fear it on the one hand (apocalyptically) but at the same time desire its benefits with a “a yearning for material abundance, leisure and security” (107). There is also a schizoid aspect to technology, producing both helpful and disastrous technologies and inventions: “The bomb is pitted against the power reactor.” Bookchin says the fear side is winning out: “technology is viewed as a demon, imbued with a sinister life of its own, that is likely to mechanize man if it fails to exterminate him” (108). This is dangerous:
There is a very real danger that we will lose our perspective toward technology, that we will neglect its liberatory tendencies, and, worse, submit fatalistically to its use for destructive ends.
A balance must be struck:
The purpose of this article is to explore three questions. What is the liberatory potential of modern technology, both materially and spiritually? What tendencies, if any, are reshaping the machine for use in an organic, human-oriented society? And finally, how can the new technology and resources be used in an ecological manner—that is, to promote the balance of nature, the full development of natural regions, and the creation of organic, humanistic communities?
He argues against deterministic views, which cast technology as inherently liberatory, or as inherently dehumanizing (citing Juenger and Ellul on the second point).
An organic mode of life deprived of its technological component would be as nonfunctional as a man deprived of his skeleton. Technology must be viewed as the basic structural support of a society; it is literally the framework of an economy and of many social institutions. (109)
He notes 1848 as a key year with the Communist Manifesto as a statement of revolutionary theory, the workers' uprising, and being at about the “culmination” of steam technology that had started a century and a half earlier; both the potential, and the limitations of 19th century technology had an influence on 19th century revolutionary thought, as evidenced by M&E's manifesto. One inherent shortcoming of this is that said technology had not yet reached the potential for post-scarcity, that, according to Bookchin, is the real precondition for revolution:
However glowing and lofty were the revolutionary ideals of the past, the vast majority of the people, burdened by material want, had to leave the stage of history after the revolution, return to work, and deliver the management of society to a new leisured class of exploiters. Indeed, any attempt to equalize the wealth of society at a low level of technological development would not have eliminated want, but would have merely made it into a general feature of society as a whole, thereby recreating all the conditions for a new struggle over the material things of life, for new forms of property, and eventually for a new system of class domination. (111)
[He cites M&E to the same effect just below this. I'm not sure the argument (regarding the conditions of want becoming “a general feature of society” after a revolution with industrial-era technology) has merit. But he is basically talking about why and how M&E differ from his own analysis, because of the different technological development of their day: enough to deliver some promise, but not enough to deliver the truly revolutionary promise of the post-scarcity society].
The fact that men would have to devote a substantial portion of their time to toil, for which they would get scant returns, formed a major premise of all socialist ideology—authoritarian and libertarian, Utopian and scientific, Marxist and anarchist.
The problem of dealing with want and work—an age-old problem perpetuated by the early Industrial Revolution- produced the great divergence in revolutionary ideas between socialism and anarchism. (112)
Marx pursued the compromise of a worker-run state; Bakunin and Kropotkin argued for tradition, social pressure, or moral instinct to mutual aid as their hope for a state free society. According to Bookchin, the former compromise made Marxism by the 20th century no better than mainstream capitalist doctrines, while the anarchists back in the time of scarcity had been admirable idealists, but ultimately mere impractical idealists, all the same [he will argue that post-scarcity changes the equation: anarchism is now practical rather than merely idealistic.]
Bookchin discusses how the USSR promoted the ideal of workers and full employment, everyone working hard. Bookchin, in contrast, sees the importance of distinguishing between “pleasurable work” and “onerous toil” (114) and wants to get rid of the toil aspect. By Bookchin’s time of writing (1965), the possibility of a world without toil has become obvious. He notes, and dismisses, contemporary calls for an annual guaranteed income, as being stuck in the quantitative thinking of a scarcity society, instead of being open to the qualitative thinking of a post-scarcity society. In an important footnote, he delineates a distinction between “justice” (quantitative, scarcity-era thinking) and “freedom” (qualitative, post-scarcity thinking):
An exclusively quantitative approach to the new technology, I may add, is not only economically archaic, but morally regressive. This approach partakes of the old principle of justice, as distinguished from the new principle of freedom. Historically, justice is derived from the world of material necessity and toil; it implies relatively scarce resources which are apportioned by a moral principle which is either “just” or “unjust.” Justice, even “equal” justice, is a concept of limitation, involving the denial of goods and the sacrifice of time and energy to production. Once we transcend the concept of justice—indeed, once we pass from the quantitative to the qualitative potentialities of modern technology—we enter the unexplored domain of freedom, based on spontaneous organization and full access to the means of life. (116)
[The links between justice and scarcity, and freedom and post-scarcity, are worthy of being further explored. On the one hand this is a poignant critique of the current fervor for “social justice” which often relies on appeals to a redistributive state. On the other hand, we currently do still live in a situation of scarcity, not just of material wealth but in which political power is unevenly distributed (and thus scarce for the many). To argue in this context for a politics of freedom rather than justice may be equivalent to taking the position of the abstract (privileged, white, male, etc.) subject, not recognizing that the conditions for this freedom and equality have yet to be achieved for most people.]
Bookchin lists the new questions he wants to pose about technology:
Is this technology staking out a new dimension in human freedom, in the liberation of man? Can it not only liberate man from want and work, but also lead him to a free, harmonious, balanced human community—an ecocommunity that would promote the unrestricted development of his potentialities? Finally, can it carry man beyond the realm of freedom into the realm of life and desire? (116-7)
For the first time in history, technology has reached an open end. The potential for technological development, for providing machines as substitutes for labor is virtually unlimited. Technology has finally passed from the realm of invention to that of design—in other words, from fortuitous discoveries to systematic innovations.
Because the problem is no longer dealing with scarcity, technology has “reached an open end” with new unlimited potential; the realm of “invention” has been replaced by the realm of “design,” by which he means that we have gone “from fortuitous discoveries to systematic innovation” building off an existing system. He quotes Vannevar Bush on this [which is funny because I was just reading Wiener talking about how he gave Bush ideas for computers, etc. Interestingly Bush’s illustration of such “systematic design” is about how to design a car that would follow a white line down a road, and the answer is basically a "breadboard model" with sensors and actuators, basically an arduino!] Bush's point is that there is a host of reliable gadgets to be called upon, and of "men who understand fully all their queer ways" (118). Nothing would really have to be invented, just assembled, because we have achieved a platform or system for easy and quick innovation in the future [also presumably better directed than under the capitalist system, which subordinates technological progress to the demands of profit.]
Bookchin pulls two points out of Bush's story: "the two most important features of the new, so-called "second," industrial revolution," [again echoing Wiener]:
 the enormous potentialities of modern technology and
 the cost-oriented, nonhuman limitations that are imposed upon it.
The second is the profit motive under capitalism, and is a constraint upon innovation.
Perhaps the most obvious development leading to the new technology has been the increasing interpenetration of scientific abstraction, mathematics and analytic methods with the concrete, pragmatic and rather mundane tasks of industry. This order of relationships is relatively new. Traditionally, speculation, generalization and rational activity were sharply divorced from technology. This chasm reflected the sharp split between the leisured and working classes in ancient and medieval society. (118)
[This is interesting as both Wiener and Braverman have been making this point, but here Bookchin is much closer to Wiener’s analysis than to Braverman's, or at least so far]
In our own day this synthesis, once embodied by the work of a single, inspired genius, is the work of anonymous teams. Although these teams have obvious advantages, they often have all the traits of bureaucratic agencies—which leads to a mediocre, unimaginative treatment of problems. (119)
Bookchin notes that a lot of industrial growth is not due to mechanization but to the "continual reorganization of the labor process," here sounding increasingly like Braverman:
Historically, it would be difficult to understand how mechanized mass manufacture emerged, how the machine increasingly displaced labor, without tracing the development of the work process from craftsmanship, where an independent, highly skilled worker engages in many diverse operations, through the purgatory of the factory, where these diverse tasks are parceled out among a multitude of unskilled or semiskilled employees, to the highly mechanized mill, where the tasks of many are largely taken over by machines manipulated by a few operatives, and finally to the automated and cybernated plant, where operatives are replaced by supervisory technicians and highly skilled maintenance men.
And then like Marx:
the machine has evolved from an extension of human muscles into an extension of the human nervous system. (119-20)
The mechanical devices and engines developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not replace human muscles but rather enlarged their effectiveness. Although the machines increased output enormously, the worker's muscles and brain were still required to operate them, even for fairly routine tasks. (120)
The development of fully automatic machines for complex mass-manufacturing operations requires the successful application of at least three technological principles: such machines must have a built-in ability to correct their own errors; they must have sensory devices for replacing the visual, auditory and tactile senses of the worker; and, finally, they must have devices that substitute for the worker's judgment, skill and memory.
In other words, [feedback], sensors, and knowledge; this could be contrasted with Wieners account. Bookchin gives examples of feedback mechanisms, distinguishing between “closed” (controlled by feedback) vs. “open” (manually controlled) systems; sensors can be used to turn open systems into closed ones, thus reducing the need for human labor (122). He brings up digital computers, and looks at the impact of automation in an automobile factory: there is a great increase in speed, along with a reduction in the number of needed workers; but even the current system is quickly out of date as new speeds are reached.
[So far a difference between Bookchin and Braverman is that Braverman has asked what the development of technology would be like in a worker-centric or controlled system – how this would lead to technological development that was not an attempt to control or limit workers’ power and knowledge, skill, etc. and thus would presumably not have led to the split between managerial/technical knowhow and brute, repetitive labor. Bookchin, in contrast, takes this separation for granted, because he is not talking about what a system would look like that had been shaped all along by anti-authoritarianism, but rather how an anti-authoritarian or anarchist society could result now, only just now having been made possible, after the fact of having gone through this capitalist development (Bookchin is thus closer to Marx here).]
Among the many parallels in this chapter with the recent chapter of Wiener, labor in mines is given as a standard of the most grueling kind of work:
If it is true that the moral level of a society can be gauged by the way it treats women, its sensitivity to human suffering can be gauged by the working conditions it provides for people in raw materials industries, particularly in mines and quarries. (125)
He quotes Mumford on the mine as the first artificial environment, where work is divorced from the day and night cycle:
The abolition of mining as a sphere of human activity would symbolize, in its own way, the triumph of a liberatory technology. That we can point to this achievement already, even in a single case at this writing, presages the freedom from toil implicit in the technology of our time. (126)
[Bookchin here echoes Wiener's discussion or rather example of mining as a good kind of work to get rid of; however he seems not to be taking Mumford’s point about mining as the birthplace of a certain organization or way of thinking about and imposing work discipline.]
His vision of small, local, distributed factories, produced with that plug-in breadboard-like “design not invention” principle of shared knowledge and tech:
It is easy to foresee a time, by no means remote, when a rationally organized economy could automatically manufacture small "packaged" factories without human labor; parts could be produced with so little effort that most maintenance tasks would be reduced to the simple act of removing a defective unit from a machine and replacing it by another—a job no more difficult than pulling out and putting in a tray. Machines would make and repair most of the machines required to maintain such a highly industrialized economy. Such a technology, oriented entirely toward human needs and freed from all consideration of profit and loss, would eliminate the pain of want and toil—the penalty, inflicted in the form of denial, suffering and inhumanity, exacted by a society based on scarcity and labor.
He begins to discuss how technology might be reorganized after the revolution:
The current type of industrial organization—an extension, in effect, of the industrial forms created by the Industrial Revolution—fosters industrial centralization (although a system of workers’ management based on the individual factory and local community would go far toward eliminating this feature). (128)
He talks about the history of computers and the trend towards miniaturization, as developments that presage the desired local ecologically conscious system; in contrast, he gives the existing example of a top-of-the-line steel mill which needs vast amounts of material constantly to be at maximum effectiveness:
Even if it is totally automated, its operating and management needs far transcend the capabilities of a small, decentralized community. The type of administration it requires tends to foster centralized social forms. (130)
[The two examples set up an opposition between tech advances which enable “human scale” distributed organization, vs. those which favor centralized, top-down organization].
He discusses several alternatives to centralized steel mills, which would allow for local-based steel production; smaller localized factories would also need fewer resources overall, and so could bring locally available sources, which had fallen out of production due to economies of scale on a global market, to be brought back into production, decreasing costs of transportation and resulting in a more ecologically responsible use of resources.
Since the smaller complex requires ore, fuel and reducing agents in relatively small quantities, many communities could rely on local resources for their raw materials, thereby conserving the more concentrated resources of centrally located sources of supply, strengthening the independence of the community itself vis-a-vis the traditional centralized economy, and reducing the expense of transportation. What would at first glance seem to be a costly, inefficient duplication of effort that could be avoided by building a few centralized steel complexes would prove, in the long run, to be more efficient as well as socially more desirable.32)
This goes along with the economics of a shift from single purpose (part of the expensive centralized system) to multipurpose machines (reusable when products change). He turns to “the ecological use of technology” (134ff); that is, the question of how to design a technological system which encouraged people to be more conscious of their environment and their impact on it, as opposed to the current system which divorces consumers from such awareness.
I have tried, thus far, to deal with the possibility of eliminating toil, material insecurity, and centralized economic control-issues which, if “utopian,” are at least tangible. In the present section I would like to deal with a problem that may seem highly subjective but which is nonetheless of compelling importance—the need to make man’s dependence upon the natural world a visible and living part of his culture. (134)
“Actually, this problem is peculiar only to a highly urbanized and industrialized society;” in all earlier cultures, the relationship to nature was much more obvious. The question is how to restore this sort of knowledge without giving up on the benefits of modern technology. [A good question, because the previous awareness was, after all, based in large part on the existential peril of scarcity].
He discusses Fourier and the early Utopians, and their advocacy of reintegrating town and country. But Bookchin does not want this to mean that people labor like peasants, somehow “for their own good.”
If we grant that the land and the community must be reintegrated physically, that the community must exist in an agricultural matrix which renders man's dependence upon nature explicit, the problem we face is how to achieve this transformation without imposing “painful toil” on the community. How, in short, can husbandry, ecological forms of food cultivation and farming on a human scale be practiced without sacrificing mechanization? (137)
He discusses various current (in 1965) technologies for automating and simplifying agricultural production. He sees a potential for mechanized agricultural which nevertheless keeps people in touch with the ecosystem and landscape:
Let us pause at this point to envision how our free community might be integrated with its natural environment. We suppose the community to have been established after a careful study has been made of its natural ecology—its air and water resources, its climate, its geological formations, its raw materials, its soils, and its natural flora and fauna. Land management by the community is guided entirely by ecological principles, so that an equilibrium is maintained between the environment and its human inhabitants. Industrially rounded, the community forms a distinct unit within a natural matrix; it is socially and aesthetically in balance with the area it occupies. (139)
There is much discussion of the way “town” and “country” are to “blend” in a way that preserves the positive features of both. Agriculture will become an enjoyable activity, engaged in not only for food but for the pleasure of the work:
I believe that a free community will regard agriculture as husbandry, an activity as expressive and enjoyable as crafts. Relieved of toil by agricultural machines, communitarians will approach food cultivation with the same playful and creative attitude that men so often bring to gardening. Agriculture will become a living part of human society, a source of pleasant physical activity and, by virtue of its ecological demands, an intellectual, scientific and artistic challenge. (140)
And thus, even though there is plenty of machinery and automation, people will regain that sense of connection to the land which had been lost with the industrial revolution:
They will regain the sense of one-ness with nature that existed in humans from primordial times. Nature and the organic modes of thought it always fosters will become an integral part of human culture; it will reappear with a fresh spirit in man's paintings, literature, philosophy, dances, architecture, domestic furnishings, and in his very gestures and day-to-day activities. (141)
There will be a locally-based mixture and diversity of technology and energy sources (including nuclear). Discussing ways that locally-based production could be achieved without dependence on some large centralized production process, he talks about how there are trace elements of useful minerals in even a handful of soil, and claims that tech is being developed, or will be, to extract this efficiently. [What happened to the idea of not seeing nature as a resource to be mined/extracted?]
As the chemist Jacob Rosin argues, if an element can be detected in the laboratory, there is reason to hope that it can be extracted on a sufficiently large scale to be used by industry. (143)
[Laboratory-centric reasoning? It seems to contradict the farming-experiencey thing].
The question of reliable local [and less polluting] energy sources arises; he talks about the promise of solar power, and lists examples of solar tech of the time, for several pages, along with tides, wind power, etc. According to Bookchin, these sources will only ever be good enough for small communities, they will not be able to support large cites like Paris, London, or New York. (151)
Limitation of scope, however, could represent a profound advantage from an ecological point of view. The sun, the wind and the earth are experiential realities to which men have responded sensuously and reverently from time immemorial. Out of these primal elements man developed his sense of dependence on—and respect for—the natural environment, a dependence that kept his destructive activities in check. The Industrial Revolution and the urbanized world that followed obscured nature's role in human experience—hiding the sun with a pall of smoke, blocking the winds with massive buildings, desecrating the earth with sprawling cities. Man's dependence on the natural world became invisible; it became theoretical and intellectual in character, the subject matter of textbooks, monographs and lectures. True, this theoretical dependence supplied us with insights (partial ones at best) into the natural world, but its onesidedness robbed us of all sensuous dependence on and all visible contact and unity with nature. In losing these, we lost a part of ourselves as feeling beings. We became alienated from nature. Our technology and environment became totally inanimate, totally synthetic—a purely inorganic physical milieu that promoted the deanimization of man and his thought.
[There is an interesting insight here into how the means of obtaining energy affects society and thinking. Coal/Fossil fuels support an extractive/resource view of the world, while electric transmission supports a dissociation from the power source, which is only relevant to the extent that we have power flowing to our homes, etc.]
To bring the sun, the wind, the earth, indeed the world of life, back into technology, into the means of human survival, would be a revolutionary renewal of man's ties to nature.
Human systems would in effect be part of their local ecological system, not an [alien force] operating against it.
Crafts would regain their honored position as supplements to mass manufacture; they would become a form of domestic, day-to-day artistry.
Higher quality would replace [planned obsolescence] and overall shoddiness/cheapness of mass production; the ecological sustainability of an item would be part of its appeal.
In the final part of the essay, called “Technology for Life,” Bookchin turns more explicitly to how he expects technology to work in a revolutionary society. His critique of previous revolutions could be said to be that they were a sort of holiday or world-turned-upside down ritual, in which business as usual was briefly suspended, but after which everyone had to “go back to work,” and this fact – that working people remained tied to their labor – allowed for elites to re-install themselves and eventually bar the working class from effective political participation.
In a future revolution, the most pressing task of technology will be to produce a surfeit of goods with a minimum of toil. The immediate purpose of this task will be to open the social arena permanently to the revolutionary people, to keep the revolution in permanence. (152)
Thus far very social revolution has foundered because the peal of the tocsin could not be heard over the din of the workshop. Dreams of freedom and plenty were polluted by the mundane, workaday responsibility of producing the means of survival. (153)
This means the people were too busy, and so “the reins of power fell into the hands of the political ‘professionals,’ the mediocrities of Thermidor.” He gives the example of the bourgeois Girondin party during the French Revolution, who wanted the doors of the popular assemblies closed at ten in the evening, to keep the workers from arriving after work:
Essentially, the tragedy of past revolutions has been that, sooner or later, their doors closed, "at ten in the evening." The most critical function of modern technology must be to keep the doors of the revolution open forever!
Bookchin celebrates “those magnificent madmen,” the Dadaists, for their refusal of work. Turning to the question of technology, he criticizes the idea of technology as an “extension” of the human [in a way that could be said to presage Stiegler’s discussion of technology as pharmakon]. Only in the case of traditional technology, argues Bookchin, can technology be seen as an “extension of man,” because back then craft workers controlled their tools, instead of being controlled by them:
The tool amplifies the powers of the craftsman as a human; it amplifies his power to exercise his artistry and impart his identity as a creative being to raw materials. (154)
With the industrial revolution, this relationship is reversed:
The machine now appears as an alien force—apart from and yet wedded to the production of the means of survival.
Technology becomes part of a “social machine” which is also distinguished from the human or individual (aka “men”):
Although initially an “extension of man,” technology is transformed into a force above man, orchestrating his life according to a score contrived by an industrial bureaucracy; not men, I repeat, but a bureaucracy, a social machine.
With the arrival of mass production as the predominant mode of production, man became an extension of the machine, and not only of mechanical devices in the productive process but also of social devices in the social process.
This distinction between “mechanical devices in the productive process” and “social devices in the social process” echoes his discussion back in Chapter 2, where part of his critique of the Marxist position on class had to do with the creation of consumer consciousness through mass media, marketing, education, etc. – this is presumably what “social devices,” refers to, though the term seems even more relevant to a smartphone-dominated society. In line with this, he denounces the consumer as an unwittingly manufactured dupe:
The decline from craftsman to worker, from an active to an increasingly passive personality, is completed by man qua consumer—an economic entity whose tastes, values, thoughts and sensibilities are engineered by bureaucratic "teams" in "think tanks."
Man, standardized by machines, is reduced to a machine.
In a footnote, Bookchin lists the ways in which “man-the-machine” is an ideal tool of power:
The “ideal man” of the police bureaucracy is a being whose innermost thoughts can be invaded by lie detectors, electronic listening devices, and “truth” drugs. The “ideal man” of the political bureaucracy is a being whose innermost life can be shaped by mutagenic chemicals and socially assimilated by the mass media. The “ideal man” of the industrial bureaucracy is a being whose innermost life can be invaded by subliminal and predictively reliable advertising. The “ideal man” of the military bureaucracy is a being whose innermost life can be invaded by regimentation for genocide. (155)
Here is another one of Bookchin’s dense paragraphs where he contrasts the idea of the eternally renewing revolutionary potential of the youth, versus the sloth of the bureaucracy: the “man as machine” ideal
is continually defied by the rebirth of life, by the reappearance of the young, and by the contradictions that unsettle the bureaucracy. Every generation has to be assimilated again, and each time with explosive resistance. The bureaucracy, in turn, never lives up to its own technical ideal. Congested with mediocrities, it errs continually. Its judgment lags behind new situations; insensate, it suffers from social inertia and is always buffeted by chance. Any crack that opens in the social machine is widened by the forces of life.
[Of course, how would the newer generations of so-called “digital natives” fit into this vision? Bookchin would perhaps argue that the “social device” training of the young gets earlier and earlier and more and more intrusive, because it has to; this is not a sign of the ultimate triumph of the machinification of the human, but of its fragility and desperation.]
How can we heal the fracture that separates living men from dead machines without sacrificing either men or machines? How can we transform a technology for survival into a technology for life?
Bookchin foresees two possibilities, the first of which is burying/hiding the technology [an interesting link to the soft city, not to mention the Teletubbies-Eloi and their subterraneann caretakers-Morlocks-“machines of loving grace”]:
Or these humans of the future may simply choose to step over the body of technology. They may submerge the cybernated machine in a technological underworld, divorcing it entirely from social life, the community and creativity. All but hidden from society, the machines would work for man. Free communities would stand at the end of a cybernated assembly line with baskets to cart the goods home. (155)
The fracture separating man from machine would not be healed. It would simply be ignored. (156)
Bookchin, naturally, is against such a move:
Ignoring technology, of course, is no solution. Man would be closing off a vital human experience—the stimulus of productive activity, the stimulus of the machine. Technology can play a vital role in forming the personality of man.
He cites Mumford on art and personal growth [basically Marx’s, or indeed Kant’s, insight regarding production and self-consciousness, the need to act on the world and see results]. In a liberated society, machines will make the hard work easier, while leaving the artistry and craftsmanship to humans:
A liberated society, I believe, will not want to negate technology precisely because it is liberated and can strike a balance. It may well want to assimilate the machine to artistic craftsmanship. By this I mean the machine will remove the toil from the productive process, leaving its artistic completion to man. The machine, in effect, will participate in human creativity.
The machine can absorb the toil involved in mining, smelting, transporting and shaping raw materials, leaving the final stages of artistry and craftsmanship to the individual.
In this wiser, no longer profit-driven economy, degrowth would become a reality, as the concept of what is “necessary” would change (with reference to Marx’s discussion of the “realm of necessity”):
Having acquired a vitalizing respect for the natural environment and its resources, the free decentralized community would give a new interpretation to the word “need.” Marx's “realm of necessity,” instead of expanding indefinitely, would tend to contract; needs would be humanized and scaled by a higher valuation of life and creativity. Quality and artistry would supplant the current emphasis on quantity and standardization; durability would replace the current emphasis on expendability... (157)
The shallowness of market exchange would be replaced with the creativity of a gift economy:
The repulsive ritual of bargaining and hoarding would be replaced by the sensitive acts of making and giving.Things would cease to be the crutches for an impoverished ego and the mediators between aborted personalities; they would become the products of rounded, creative individuals and the gifts of integrated, developing selves.
In contrast to the hierarchy and separation which are the effects of a centralized economic system, local production could lead to communities finding ways to cooperate over resources, which would thus act as “sinews of confederation” crossing ecological boundaries (157). He rejects the idea that society is too “complex” to operate as decentralized, autarchic communities: much of this apparent complexity is really just the fluff and wastefulness of state and corporate bureaucracy; filing cabinets, paperwork, etc.:
As in Kafka's novels, these things are real but strangely dreamlike, indefinable shadows on the social landscape. (159)
[Here is an interesting connection to Braverman, who discusses the “shadow world” of bureaucratic paperwork, stealing agency from human workers and turning them into “automata” per Taylor].
Degrowth is not just ecologically sensible, but would also lead to a simpler, and thus more anarchist, society, by getting rid of a lot of hierarchical bloat:
if we grant that buttons must be styled in a thousand different forms, textiles varied endlessly in kind and pattern to create the illusion of innovation and novelty, bathrooms filled to overflowing with a dazzling variety of pharmaceuticals and lotions, and kitchens cluttered with an endless number of imbecile appliances. If we single out of this odious garbage one or two goods of high quality in the more useful categories and if we eliminate the money economy, the state power, the credit system, the paperwork and the policework required to hold society in an enforced state of want, insecurity and domination, society would not only become reasonably human but also fairly simple. (159)
No community would specialize wholly in one product, but would instead have “rounded” economies producing “rounded” people:
Every community would approximate local or regional autarky. It would seek to achieve wholeness, because wholeness produces complete, rounded men who live in symbiotic relationship with their environment. (160)
Even today there are acts of mutual aid, even though these go against society; how much more there shall be in the future, when it is let loose! Bookchin admits we could end in disaster, but he expects rather than we will create a better society:
Would it not be the height of absurdity, indeed of impudence, to gauge the behavior of future generations by the very criteria we despise in our own time? Free men will not be greedy, one liberated community will not try to dominate another because it has a potential monopoly of copper, computer “experts” will not try to enslave grease monkeys, and sentimental novels about pining, tubercular virgins will not be written. (161)
Echoing Brecht, he asks people of the future to forgive us for taking so long with the revolution, and to try to understand us.
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