Monday, May 30, 2016

Today's Greatest Source of Power

In his book, Perspectives on Our Age (1981), Jacques Ellul rightly points out that today’s most powerful countries are no longer those with the most money or largest populations. Today, power is based on technology.
He first uses the example of Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. These oil-rich countries have grown fabulously wealthy. But, as Jacques points out, “the accumulation of their wealth is not bringing any true interior development or any sort of independence from the West” (78).

Arab leaders and people, in other words, have not been able to use their fabulous wealth to create a distinctly Islamic society and culture. Instead, they have organized their society along technological lines and subordinated their culture, as the West has, to technological beliefs, values, norms, goals, and stories. They use their money to purchase objects, such as military hardware, factories, and refineries, which are manufactured in the West. When they battle others, as Iraq battled Iran in the 1980s, they use the methods and equipment of the Global Technological System (GTS). “Nothing remains of Arab military culture” (78).
Real power, therefore, is wielded by those participating most intensely in the growth of the GTS. We may contrast this growth with development. “[G]rowth is chiefly quantitative and development qualitative” (78). In terms of the economy, for example, growth would mean a constant increase in the number of products manufactured, distributed, and consumed. In contrast, development would mean a commitment to creating an economy which promoted the vitality of all humans, societies, cultures, and ecosystems involved. Products would be far fewer and of much higher quality. As E. F. Schumacher famously put it, “small is beautiful.”
This important contrast between growth and development also applies to politics, society, and culture. But the GTS has subordinated all these areas as well, including churches, to its own unchecked growth in power.
Nor does any connection remain between population and power. Western European societies experience an unusually high standard of living compared to countries with much larger populations. This is due to the way in which the GTS has grown and to the imbalances in power which emerged as it grew.
The harsh reality is that there exists only one way to maximize the power available through the GTS. To exercise the greatest power possible, “we must be able to organize society in a certain way, we must be able to put people to work in a certain way, and we must get them to consume in a certain way” (79).
The GTS subordinates all political, economic, social, and religious differences to its own imperatives. Separate European countries could form a Union for this reason. Societal and cultural differences between the US, Russia, and China could fade as all seek to grow in technological power; that is, to embrace and embody the GTS as much as possible. Speaking in his own time (1980) but with words still relevant today, Jacques could say, “Whether the discourse is Communist or capitalist, [conservative] or Socialist, in fact, everyone is obliged to do more or less the same thing” (80).
Unfortunately, this shared lust for power guarantees war by every means possible. Power is a zero-sum game; if one has more, others have less. For others to gain more, they must take it from those who have it. Furthermore, this game is a dynamic one: if one isn’t constantly gaining power, then one is losing it to one’s rivals.
Understanding this, Jacques predicted today’s conflict between the US, Russia, and China as contemporary centers of technological progress. “They will soon find themselves facing one another in such a way that a conflict will be inevitable—the conflict over the use of raw materials, for example. It is a question of life and death. This, ultimately is what endangers world peace, and nothing else” (80).

Copyright © by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.