One example he gives is “the transformation of a hierarchical society into an egalitarian one” (70). To help us understand the significance of this transformation, he gives us a little history lesson. “Traditional society, all traditional societies, are hierarchical…There have  never been any egalitarian societies, and hierarchy was part of the general-cultural universe” (70-71). All individuals within an organized social group, and all organized social groups within a society, have always been hierarchically organized.
He sharpens the issue by adding: “The rare egalitarian movements (the Levellers [England, 1640s], for instance), envisioned no real equality, but rather a conquest of power for themselves!” (71). Even apparently egalitarian movements of the past remained, in truth, hierarchically oriented.
Ellul then makes this ambiguous point: “Since the eighteenth century, not only has the idea of equality become general, but, even more, it [is] taken as an established fact, and its realization seems possible” (71). Hierarchies have been universal until our own times. In our age, this has changed. Hierarchies (at least traditional ones) have been both challenged and modified as equality has become a significant cultural value.
This radical historical change has been brought about by technology.
Technology cannot put up with irrational discriminations or social structures based on beliefs. All inequality, all discrimination (e.g., racial), all particularism, are condemned by technology, for it reduces everything to commensurable and rational factors. A complete statistical equality for any adequate dimension and any identifiable group—such is the goal of a society having technology as its chief factor (71).
And this corresponds to the process of specialization. If everything is specialized, if all specialties are equally technological, equally necessary from a technological point of view, how could we help but have equality? If fact, we can resolutely say that the demand for equality…is nothing but the ideological product of the unlimited use of technology (71).
In The Technological Society (1964), Ellul defined technology as the totality of methods which have been rationally developed to have the greatest possible efficiency, effectiveness, usefulness, success, power. This totality of methods has grown and integrated itself into today’s gigantic and inescapable Global Technological System (GTS).
Before the GTS, the traditional religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were social structures based on qualitatively determined beliefs, values, norms, narratives, and goals. Indeed, each of these three religions created and sustained its own unique and enduring civilization. As vital parts of each civilization, organized social groups such as congregations, families, workplaces, schools, towns, and governments were structured in terms of them. Painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, and music expressed each religion in unique ways. People understood themselves primarily to be Jews, Christians, or Muslims.
The GTS has changed all that. It has been able to assume the immense proportions it has by imposing its intolerance of irrational discriminations or social structures based on beliefs. In other words, the GTS is intolerant of any way of thinking or living that does not, as it does, exalt efficiency as the greatest of all values. Consequently, the GTS fragmented the three ancient religious civilizations of Olympia with their religiously structured societies, cultures, and personalities. It broke them down into their component parts and then rationally reassembled those parts solely in terms of their technological suitability.
In this way, Ellul is right in asserting that the GTS has succeeded, beyond anyone’s imagination, in completely disintegrating the hierarchies of the three traditional religious civilizations of Olympia.
Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.