The following is an except from The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul. You may
want to read the Berger selection first.
Modern society is moving toward a mass society, but the human being is still not fully
adapted to this new form.
The purpose of human techniques is to defend man, and the first line of defense is that
he be able to live. If these techniques strengthen him in his nineteenth-century individualism
(itself no ideal state of affairs), they only aggravate the split between the material structures
of society, the social institutions, and the forces of production, on the one hand, and man's
personal tendencies, on the other. This presupposes that technique can in fact defend man's
individuality. But such a disruption is technically impossible because it would entail
insupportable disorders for man. Human techniques must therefore act to adapt man to the
mass. Moreover, these techniques remain at variance with the other material techniques on
which they depend. They must contribute to making man a mass man and help put an end
to what has hitherto been considered the normal type of humanity. The type that will emerge
and the type that will disappear will be the subjects of a forthcoming work. For the moment,
it suffices to establish concretely the tendencies of our human techniques to create the mass
Material techniques usually result in a collective social form by means of a process
which is largely involuntary. But it is sometimes voluntary; the technician, in agreement
with the technical data, may consider a collectivity a higher social form. Involuntary and
voluntary action are both to be observed, for example, in the sphere of psychological
collectivization. I have indicated . . . the means by which this involuntary and, in a way,
automatic adaptation appears. I shall refer to one other striking phenomenon of involuntary
psychological collectivization; advertising.
The primary purpose of advertising technique is the creation of a certain way of life.
And here it is much less important to convince the individual rationally than to implant in
him a certain conception of life. The object offered for sale by the advertiser is naturally
indispensable to the realization of this way of life. Now, objects advertised are all the result
of the same technical progress and are all of identical type from a cultural point of view.
Therefore, advertisements seeking to prove that these objects are indispensable refer to the
same conception of the world, man, progress, ideals - in short, life.
Once again we are confronted by a technical phenomenon completely indifferent to
all local and accidental differences. Indeed, American, Soviet and Nazi advertisements are
in inspiration closely akin; they express the same conception of life, despite all superficial
differences of doctrine. The Soviet Union, after having for a period violently rejected the
technical system of advertising publicity, had more recently found it indispensable.
Advertising, which is founded on massive psychological research that must be
effective, can "put across" the technical way of life. Any man who buys a given object
participates in this way of life and, by falling prey to the compulsive power of advertising,
enters involuntarily and unconsciously into its psychological framework.
One of the great designs of advertising is to create needs; but this is possible only if
these needs correspond to an ideal of life that man accepts. The way of life offered by
advertising is all the more compelling in that it corresponds to certain easy and simple
tendencies of man and refers to a world in which there are no spiritual values to form and
inform life. When men feel and respond to the needs advertising creates, they are adhering
to its ideal of life. This explains the extremely rapid development, for example, of hygiene
and cocktails. No one, before the advent of advertising, felt the need to be clean for
cleanliness' sake. It is clear that the models used in advertising (Elsie the Cow, for instance)
represent an ideal type, and they are convincing in proportion to their ideality. The human
tendencies upon which advertising like this is based may be strikingly simpleminded, but
they nonetheless represent pretty much the level of our modern life. Advertising offers us
the ideal we have always wanted (and that ideal is certainly not a heroic way of life).
Advertising goes about its task of creating a psychological collectivism by mobilizing
certain human tendencies in order to introduce the individual into the world of technique.
Advertising also carries these tendencies to the ideal, absolute limit. It accomplishes this by
playing down all other human tendencies. Every man is concerned, for example, about his
bodily health - but show him Superman and it becomes his destiny to be Superman. In
addition, advertising offers man the means for realizing material desires which hitherto had
the tiresome propensity of not being realized. In these three way, psychological collectivism
is brought into being.
Advertising must affect all people; or at least an overwhelming majority. Its goal is
to persuade the masses to buy. It is therefore necessary to base advertising on general
psychological laws, which must then be unilaterally developed by it. The inevitable
consequence is the creation of the mass man. As advertising of the most varied products is
concentrated, a new type of human being, precise and generalized, emerges. We can get a
general impression of this new human type by studying America, where human beings tend
clearly to become identified with the ideal of advertising. In America, advertising enjoys
universal popular adherence, and the American way of life is fashioned by it.
In addition to the involuntary, psychological activity which leads to the creation of the
mass man, there are certain conscious means which can be used to attain the same end. We
must not misunderstand the qualification conscious in this connection. The degree of choice
is very small; the process is effectively conditioned by material techniques and the beliefs
they engender. However, this consciously concerted action is geared to psychological
collectivization and, unlike advertising techniques, exerts a direct effect. It has a twofold
basis and a twofold orientation, and centers about the notions of group integration and
unanimity. . . .
Up to now, in discussing human techniques we have considered only man's need for
adaptation with a view to his happiness or, at least, his equilibrium. This plays a role here
too. For example, it can be shown that in our society the individual experiences tranquility
only in a consciously gregarious state. This involves not only the undeniable "strength of
unity" and "forgetfulness of one's lot in the crowd," but also the conscious recognition of the
need to apply adequate remedies to social dangers. In our culture, the person who is not
consciously adapted to his group cannot put up adequate resistance. Lewin's studies of
anti-Semitism, for example, indicate that the Zionist groups with their collective psychology
were able to withstand persecution much more readily than were the unorganized Jews who had
retained an individualistic mentality.
It cannot be denied that this kind of conscious psychological adaptation, which gives
the individual a chance to survive and even be happy, can produce beneficial effects.
Though he loses much personal responsibility, he gains as compensation a spirit of co-operation
and a certain self-respect in his relations with other members of the group. These
are eminently collectivist virtues, but they are not negligible, and they assure the individual
a certain human dignity in the collectivity of mass men.
While I have insisted on the "humanistic" tendencies of human techniques and,
starting from the premise that man must be adapted to be happy, have tried to demonstrate
the necessity of these techniques and their interrelation with all other techniques, my attitude
has been resolutely optimistic. I have presupposed that technical practices and the intentions
of the technicians were subordinated to a concern with human good. And when I traced the
background of the human techniques, I proceeded from the most favorable position, that of
integral humanism, which it is claimed, is their foundation.
But there are more compelling realities. The tendency toward psychological
collectivization does not have man's welfare as its end. It is designed just as well for his
exploitation. In today's world, psychological collectivization is the sine qua non of technical
action. Munson says: "By building the morale of the troops, we are trying to increase their
yield, to substitute enthusiastic self-discipline for forced obedience, to stimulate their will
and their attention - in short, we are pursuing success." There he gives us the key to the kind
of psychological action: the yield is greater when man acts from consent, rather than
constraint. The problem then is to get the individual's consent artificially through depth
psychology, since he will not give it of his own free will. But the decision to give consent
must appear to be spontaneous. Anyone who prates about furnishing man an ideal or a faith
to live by is helping to bring about technique's ascendancy, however much he talks about
"good will." The "ideal" becomes so through the agency of purely technical means whose
purpose is to enable men to support an insupportable situation created within the framework
of technical culture. This attitude is not the antithesis of the humanistic attitude; the two are
interwoven and it is completely artificial to try to separate them.
Human activity in the technical milieu must correspond to this milieu and also must
be collective. It must belong to the order of the conditioned reflex. Complete human
discipline must respond to technical necessity. And as the technical milieu concerns all men,
no mere handful of them but the totality of society is to be conditioned in this way. The
reflex must be a collective one. As Munson says "In peacetime, morale building aims at
creating among the troops the state of mental receptivity which makes them susceptible to
every psychological excitation of wartime." And this "receptivity" must also be installed in
every other human group in the technical culture, and especially in the masses of the workers.
Psychological conditioning presupposes collectivity, for masses of men are more
receptive to suggestion than individuals, and, as we have seen, suggestion is one of the most
important weapons in the psychological arsenal. At the same time, the masses are intolerant
and think everything must be black or white. This results from the moral categories imposed
by technique and is possible only if the masses are of a single mind and if countercurrents
are not permitted to form.
The conditions for psychological efficiency are, first, group integration and, second,
group unanimity. (This should not be taken to mean that on a larger scale there may not be
a certain diversity.) I am speaking of a determinate group (for example, a political party, the
army, an industrial plant) which has a definite technical function to fulfill. The purpose of
psychological methods is to neutralize or eliminate aberrant individuals and tendencies to
fractionation. Simultaneously, the tendency to collectivization is reinforced in order to
"immunize" the environment against any possible virus of disagreement.
When psychological techniques, in close co-operation with material techniques, have
at last succeeded in creating unity, all possible diversity will have disappeared and the human
race will have become a bloc of complete and irrational solidarity.
A LOOK AT THE FUTURE
. . . the human race is beginning confusedly to understand at last that it is living in a new and
unfamiliar universe. The new order was meant to be a buffer between man and nature.
Unfortunately, it has evolved autonomously in such a way that man has lost all contact with
his natural framework and has to do only with the organized technical intermediary which
sustains relations both with the world of life and with the world of brute matter. Enclosed
within his artificial creation, man finds that there is "no exit"; that he cannot pierce the shell
of technology to find again the ancient milieu to which he was adapted for hundreds of
thousands of years.
The new milieu has its own specific laws which are not the laws of organic or
inorganic matter. Man is still ignorant of these laws. It nevertheless begins to appear with
crushing finality that a new necessity is taking over from the old. It is easy to boast of
victory over ancient oppression, but what if victory has been gained at the price of an even
greater subjection to the forces of the artificial necessity of the technical society which has
come to dominate our lives?
In our cities there is no more day or night or heat or cold. But there is overpopulation,
thraldom to press and television, total absence of purpose. All men are constrained by means
external to them to ends equally external. The further the technical mechanism develops
which allows us to escape natural necessity, the more we are subjected to artificial technical
necessities. . . The artificial necessity of technique is not less harsh and implacable for being
much less obviously menacing than natural necessity. When the Communists claim that they
place the development of the technical society in a historical framework that automatically
leads to freedom through the medium of the dialectical process; when Humanists such as
Bergson, or Catholics such as Mounier, assert that man must regain control over the technical
"means" by an additional quantity of soul, all of them alike show both their ignorance of the
technical phenomenon and an impenitent idealism that unfortunately bears no relation to
truth or reality.
Alongside these parades of mere verbalisms, there has been a real effort, on the part
of the technicians themselves, to control the future of technical evolution. The principle here
is the old one we have so often encountered: "A technical problem demands a technical
solution." At present, there are two kinds of new techniques which the technicians propose
The first solution hinges on the creation of new technical instruments able to mediate
between man and his new technical milieu. Robert Jungk, for example, in connection with
the fact that man is not completely adaptable to the demands of the technical age, writes that
"it is impossible to create interstellar man out of the existing prime matter; auxiliary technical
instruments and apparatus must compensate for his insufficiencies.: The best and most
striking example of such subsidiary instruments is furnished by the complex of so-called
"thinking machines," which certainly belong to a very different category of techniques than
those that have been applied up to now. But the whole ensemble of means designed to
permit human mastery of what were means and have now become milieu are techniques of
the second degree, and nothing more. Pierre de Latil, in his La Pensee artificielle [Artificial
Thought], gives an excellent characterization of some of these machines of the second
"In the machine, the notion of finality makes its appearance, a notion sometimes
attributed in living beings to some intelligence inherent in the species, innate to life itself.
Finality is artificially built into the machine and regulates it, an effect requiring that some
factor be modified or reinforced so that the effect itself does not disturb the equilibrium . .
. Errors are corrected without human analysis, or knowledge, without even being suspected.
The error itself corrects the error. A deviation from the prescribed track itself enables the
automatic pilot to rectify the deviation . . . For the machine, as for animals, error is fruitful;
it conditions the correct path."
The second solution revolves about the effort to discover (or rediscover) a new end
for human society in the technical age. The aims of technology, which were clear enough
a century and a half ago, have gradually disappeared from view. Humanity seems to have
forgotten the wherefore of all its travail, as though its goals had been translated into an
abstraction or had become implicit; or as though its ends rested in an unforeseeable future
of undetermined date, as in the case of Communist society. Everything today seems to
happen as though ends disappear, as a result of the magnitude of the very means at our
Comprehending that the proliferation of means brings about the disappearance of the
ends, we have become preoccupied with rediscovering a purpose or a goal. Some optimists
of good will assert that they have rediscovered a Humanism to which the technical movement
is subordinated. The orientation of this Humanism may be Communist or non-Communist,
but it hardly makes any difference. In both cases it is merely a pious hope with no chance
whatsoever of influencing technical evolution. The further we advance, the more the purpose
of our techniques fades out of sight. Even things which not long ago seemed to be
immediate objectives - rising living standards, hygiene, comfort - no longer seem to have that
character, possibly because man finds the endless adaptation to new circumstances
disagreeable. In many cases, indeed, a higher technique obliges him to sacrifice comfort and
hygienic amenities to the evolving technology with possesses a monopoly of the instruments
necessary to satisfy them. Extreme examples are furnished by the scientists isolated at Los
Alamos in the middle of the desert because of the danger of their experiments; or by the
would-be astronauts who are forced to live in the discomfort of experimental camps n the
manner so graphically described by Jungk.
But the optimistic technician is not a man to lose heart. If ends and goals are required,
he will find them in a finality which can be imposed on technical evolution precisely because
this finality can be technically established and calculated. It seems clear that there must be
some common measure between the means and the ends subordinated to it. The required
solution, then, must be a technical inquiry into ends, and this alone can bring about a
systematization of ends and means. The problem becomes that of analyzing individual and
social requirements technically, of establishing, numerically and mechanistically, the
constancy of human needs. It follows that a complete knowledge of ends is requisite for
mastery of means. But, as Jacques Aventur has demonstrated, such knowledge can only be
technical knowledge. Alas, the panacea of merely theoretical humanism is as vain as any
"Man, in his biological reality, must remain the sole possible reference point for
classifying needs," write Aventur. Aventur's dictum must be extended to include man's
psychology and sociology, since these have also been reduced to mathematical calculation.
Technology cannot put up with intuitions and "literature." It must necessarily don
mathematical vestments. Everything in human life that does not lend itself to mathematical
treatment must be excluded - because it is not a possible end for technique - and left to the
sphere of dreams.
Who is too blind to see that a profound mutation is being advocated here? A new
dismembering and a complete reconstitution of the human being so that he can at last become
the objective (and also the total object) of techniques. Excluding all but the mathematical
element, he is indeed a fit end for the means he has constructed. He is his essence. Man
becomes a pure appearance, a kaleidoscope of external shapes, an abstraction in a milieu that
is frighteningly concrete - an abstraction armed with all the sovereign sings of Jupiter the