Society and Technology Steering One Another


A theoretical text that tries to develop a more political approach to technology. Written early into Brodey’s Norwegian stay. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.


There are some small advantages an outsider obtains when he lives in a new culture. He is of necessity at first granted the privilege of being an observer this is not a happy privilege for one wishes to join in.  Nevertheless as a newcomer to Norway, aware of the sickness invading this country from those countries where it’s highly developed – it seems natural to try to piece together what I’ve been told, what I have seen into an initial analysis of my experience. An observer’s rationalization may receive more active criticism in Norway than in most countries because Norway has (1) a relatively strong political consciousness – and (2) because the changeover to a finance organized society with central control – financial feudalism, has come on so rapidly that the citizens have not become accustomed to the progression.  The people in Norway are politically advanced. But nonetheless I submit my rationalization to your criticism. In America, these thoughts would be labelled subversive and immediately disregarded. In America, financial feudalism has grown slowly and silently; In Norway, it is noisy and lively process caricaturing itself as it proceeds. 

From this beginning, the reader will have gathered my point of departure. I must only add that reason to be objective, that is the privilege of those who have the means of escape no matter what they advocate. 

If I were a worker who recently had been asked by the other workers to represent them on the board of directors of the corporation which paid my wages, what would I use to structure my thinking? I have very little experience with being a worker and so cannot beging to answer this question directly. My experience of meeting Norwegians fishermen suggest that fishermen are quite aware of the issues I intend to speak. I will assume the industrial workers as well. 

What have I to add: my experience is that of a person who has spent his years in working with people, with machines, with social systems and with science. But who among us, hasn’t? I have had time to think about their relation – that luxury is more unique for most of us have been boxed into one cell or another.

The cell where we earned our living and were released for vacation Christmas, Easter and in the Summer. But the workers too think informally of these. So I have no excuse other than I chose to wonder out loud and have the means of producing, print more at my deposal, than the man who is wiser and will and will be heard when he is recognized for his folk wisdom is given power over media resources. Meanwhile, society, technology and science are boxed into specialist categories: 1) sociologists, psychologists, etc. 2) engineers of all sorts. 3)scientists – the priests of our time and each tries to speak for the worker or owner. In the past, these experts were paid for their work by the patrons – the owner, or the government. He was a given a grant to do such studies. 

But enough by way of introduction. 

The unity of society and technology and science

Though there are those who wish to blame society or Technology or Science for the contradictions, we will presently take up; it is useful, I believe, to consider these three terms as descriptors of a single process. The words fragment in order to help us describe, but the actual material process of production is a unity. This unity may develop serious contradictions and fragment in a way that justifies separating Technology from Society. But the tools of a man – stone, then bronze, then iron – , each change his social life: specialization in manufacturing stone tools, and agriculture began late in the stone use as did the beginning of the commerce. And this kind of social specialization in craft centers meant the need for importing what the stone crafts needed – but few people were involved in this specialization and most people lived a very direct life, having control over the means of producing the tools, food and shelter they required. This story is told in everyday history book.

In Norway, one need only go back to before World War II, to the 1930s to find, a Norway where there were areas of little specialization and for example, in the relation between man, his technology and Society. The tools that one used for manufacture, or for agriculture were like the fisherman’s boat, in his nets, or the farmers wagon or plough – made near to home and were not subject to force that put the government in bed with every housewife as a presence always put and made the bank, the foundation at work of the home. Economy of scale came to mean [unreadable, bad picture] had to be farmers to be taxed that way and a large trawler sponsored by the government through the financial institutions was more efficient than small fishing boats, and special center industry. Home industry, small industry, small communities were developed and centralized schools, stores ceased to flourish. People moved to the cities, in hope of finding there a better life. Thin local multigenerational communities had lost their meaning. 

The social and technical and Science history of many centuries is caricatured by the sudden shift of the lifestyle in Norway as it proceeded from a self-sufficient, local economy to a centralized financial feudalism with lightning speed.

How did this happen! What have this to do with the unity of Society and Technology; and their contradictions? What is the next stage of development? What new rationalization might help the worker with new power in the feudal councils to take those steps to hasten the growth out of the increasing contradiction a new stage of development. 

I do not know why just after the war industrialization came to Norway with such speed manufacture, the collection of skilled workers into workshops, and the use of unskilled workers and machines to assist them was new to Norway; nor was commercialism for Norway had long been an important nation in the transport of goods by sea. Its commercialism was in Sea transport. The owners were a different class but they felt responsible as people to the sailors’ people. 

The social change of people into commodities that could be bought and sold came with the distance of the owners from their factories. 

Technology made it possible to live in Oslo and own a local factory in a way that increasingly held directive power in Oslo rather than delegating it locally. The change of people into labour costs to be bought and sold like other commodities come hand in hand with a change in technology. The machines built the mass production of industrial commodities used people as machine parts – to do jobs that would be expensive or beyond the technology to duplicate. One person could be replaced by another, the name in the pay book changed. The human were the directors, those involved with financial affairs – the production of money from buying and selling of raw materials machines labour and products. The workers are distanced from finances else they might wish to share in the loot from financial manipulation that is not their affair. Even individual pay is kept as private. A new division begins in Norway as in other industrial countries. A small over class grows stronger, the workers using as its base financial power derived from the workers, the sailors accumulated productive work, now dehumanized and considered simply money: make money and to buy technology and the machines. The workers are bought to serve the machines. But in Norway, this class division to my observation proceeds so fast that it is in contradiction to a sense of solidarity among Norwegian people; and where class division exists more strongly it is closely allied to a family paternalism. But the class toots cannot gain hold in a feudal spirit of superior/inferior birth. For Norwegian, there is more danger of enjoying solidarity the game of corporation regardless of its purpose. 

Norway after the war vastly increased the per capita productive capacity of each worker. Each worker’s production was increased by the machines he was associated with. But when we say that the production per worker was increased, we are using a different way of looking at the situation: the worker is no longer a tool of the machine but uses the machinery to the owner in fact is the producer. But he doesn’t own the machinery. What does this mean: shareholder or the bank using management as its tool and government had power in deciding what kind of machinery would be used in the factory, what would produce, how these products would be distributed how the raw material. To speak of the production as the result of the worker’s effort is not keeping with his exclusion from power. 

What kind of power is he denied? He is denied the power of decision. Through his union activity the worker seeks to reestablish his power – but until recently, the power that was focused on, as obtainable, was the power to control (wages, health conditions, pensions, holidays and so forth). The unions and workers accepted the centralization of decision making in the hands of the few and in fact, the unions themselves organized in the same power-to-the-few manner. The few being elected from the workers ranks. But this story is familiar. 

It is called “economy of scale”. A large size workers’ organization was needed to combat the large size industrial organization. The tradition for organizing large size organizations is to make them smaller by hierarchically shrinking them at the top of the pyramid. 

Society has had no other tool with which to deal with the large size systems created by mass production.

This is the antique reality that will be presented to the worker who finds that he is in a new position of power as a member of the corporation board. It is the reality that conditions the boards activities the unions, and will be used to conditions the workers own perspective. 

What are its contradictions?

The contradictions

The “economy of scale” used in mass production increases the productivity of each worker many times. His efforts are multiplied by the machine that he is working for; there is available to him and his family vast amounts of material goods. Food, clothing, shelter, cars, washing machine, toys of all sorts are available for him to buy. But something is wrong. The worker is able to buy commodities in exchange for the money she receives for serving the machine. But increasingly she loses meaningful decision power. The worker is less in control of his own surround. The person is a commodity, even his opinions are bought and sold, manipulated by advertisements, radio, TV, controlled news and all manner of centralized forces.

What is the primary contradiction mass production has been provided at the cost of mass control by those who own the means of production. Or to say it more simply: mass production of goods has been joined to mass reduction of “quality of life”. “Quality of life” depends upon food, shelter, clothing and the like when these are absent. But once starvation and protection from climate are no longer problems – persons want again the freedom they gave up in order to satisfy these needs. And the return to a new social freedom is required to match the abundance in goods that industrialization with its initial creativity provided. 

If one took the position of maximizing goods production, it should be clear as this analysis is being presented, that the author perceives a historical development proceeding in an orderly way – through periods of crisis but with a limited number of likely outcomes for the next step, once each subsequent step has been realized. Further, that within the world perspective, many of the steps in the progression are being worked at simultaneously. 

Norway need not, and indeed will not simply repeat the steps toward increasing the production and consumption of goods that coincided with the intense technical creativity of the sort that has occurred in the technocratic countries. Nor is it likely that she simply imitates the steps in resolving the more godless freedom used by china to prevent the development of a minority “expert” class who would as a ‘knowledge elite’ exploit the masses of people by using their knowledge to remove control of the means of production from the masses of people. 

It is important that the many rather than the few seek to understand the historic flow of past events that have effected their control of the results of their own labour. Such knowledge gives a scientific rationalization with which to share their intuition of how to proceed. Self-confident struggle by individuals and groups to create a theory and a practice that will return control to the many is far healthier than the wishing for some ideal state of manifest itself because it is good. Trial and error in practice, analysis of consequences, the development of purpose – these help the community of members to take the correct path from among the few choices available at any real time. 

At this point, you will perhaps feel the stirring within you of a kind of enthusiasm which will probably as soon die out as you realize the weight of bureaucracy which holds down initiative and the indirectness of design in the present system that makes sensible action seem foolish. It makes little difference who owns the means of production for the alliance of the government protecting the rights of ownership of those few with financial control, and the premises shared – the premises of centralization renders personal initiative merely a step for the individuals movement from slave to master, but has little impact on the system. 

Let us begin our analysis again but this time; disregard our blaming and wishing for good to conquer evil in the name of all that’s holy. What materially is happening clearly is the move from individual direct production – the farmer who is self-sufficient and barters with his neighbor and in town, with a local village barter economy, needs to import goods from other villages from cities and some from distant lands. He can reduce and control this outside the “mutual and” production unit trade. But the increase means of production per worker, at present comes from “the economy of scale”. A tractor or a threshing machine, or a printing press, or a sawmill or a factory for wearing cloth, each has an optimal size given the kind of machinery, and capital investment used. One man with a small tract of land cannot effectively use the productive capacity that tractor financial economics are based on. So it is the technology that controls the social consequences, and organizes for example large collective state or privately owned units to make use of the machinery! In the title, I spoke of Society and Technology steering one another. 

Going back historically to the days before the war in Norway and before the rise of financially organized production – there were already power concentrations, in the hands of large merchants, sea transport owners, and state bureau crats who had begun to take over the function of providing the security to citizens that had once been provided by solidar families and communities. In the face of the new productivity being imported from abroad the old security system seemed inadequate. A trade off was made. More capital intensive productivity, and reduce labour intensive productivity. More simply stated, a man + a large loan produced a machine with a man attached that could produce more goods than 10 men or perhaps a hundred. Progress it was called. Labour costs were reduced; and the reduction taken up by capital costs. The capital costs were financially determined but socially at that time meant joining the capital manipulation system which has developed since into the financial feudalism of monopoly capital.

A group of feudal landlords provided a way to create more products with less work and using money as the exchange provided a more comfortable way of life, than was at that time possible with self-sufficient barter economy. Or so it seemed. In any case, both the state and industry to increase the wellbeing of the people of that era – the destruction of the self-sufficient community, and other mutual aid systems replacing them with well-ordered accountable bureaucratic centralism.

That this move common to the time was considered to be in the interests of the people and was supported by the people I will not question. You may. The centralized concentration of financial power increased, centralizing in other lands. But people also had more products they could in fact buy. Their homes were more easily worked and they had more easily determined security. 

What was the contradiction that also increased. Here we return to the word steering in our title. Humans need change. They are willing to pay a price for it. When a circus visits a town or city and well-advertised, if life is dull work at home wants to visit the circus, and the young people long to join the circus and share its excitement. The circus came to Norway after the war.

But calling a sudden economic change a circus is surely a cheap way to get out of the analysis of what happened. I have watched farmers sitting on small tractors using mechanical cutters to cut hay that they could have as efficiently cut themselves by hand. But it is more splendid to sit on a mechanical horse popping and roaring, and to try ones’ hands at getting close to a tree so as to cut every blade without finishing the job with a hand tool. Young people drive motor scooters back and forth – or cars – on a small island. There is a story I must tell here: an architect visited a factory owner. The factory owner lived in the city but the factory was in a very, remote community. He asked the owners, have there been problems? No was the reply… only the usual ones. Tell me, the architect asked with curiosity. After two months, most of the girls quit work. Why? They had earned more money than they had ever seen, and saw no need to work further – the job is boring. What did you do. We put a branch bank in the town, and arranged for a hairdressing parlour, a stylish dress shops, and better transport to places where more money could be spent.

Why did the girls continue at a boring job, they had a community at the job, they could purchase ways of simplifying chores and of increasing the productiveness of the time lift to them after work, they could purchase entertainment, they had social security, in short they were better off. They had made a trade -  a boring job as slave of the machine, no control over the product of their work traded for what money can buy. And maybe a few girls would get promoted to more interesting jobs closer to the center. The government helped – they brought centralized education to the remote community, education for city living; they overwhelmed the local education system, the local relational system, they moved people insisted on better non-traditional housing. And industry provided mass produced homes TV media – and the village of people became commodified, fitted to standard so they could be – in a modular manner – accountable as is necessary for central control. 

But where does the contradiction enter? More mass-produced goods – less control by the masses of their results of their own production. Surely you, the author would not recommend giving up the abundance the people of Norway have found through industrialization? This is the usual question! It disregards the flow natural to systems. There is no way to reverse living systems and our community and its tools comprise a living system. Those who live in the world of ideas can reverse them but living material events do not reverse – they move relentlessly forward. 

So let us look forward! There are always of the possible next steps around us, each matched to its context so it cannot be extracted, but only serves as a guide to help us chose from the few possible choices available at any real time. The contradictions in a system, burst into a new creation when they can no longer live side by side. 

What is the new creation? What lies ahead. 

The symptoms of contradiction

The disease that grows out of the contradiction increased mass production decreased mass participation in controlling the means of production is common knowledge. 

Natural resources are plundered to make products that are designed to become rapidly obsolescent, so more money can be made on their replacement, repair is purposely rendered unreasonable, one product demands another it is foolish – then a third… The high-speed car demands high- speed highways demands reasons for moving at high speed from one place to another, demands more high speed machines… Faster faster with no place to go. 

Building go up that violate their natural surround… institutional brutality in the name of security law and order, keeping good records is common place. Bureaucracy flourishes, local control vanishes.

Initiative outside the system is penalized by meaninglessness. People are beaten, not by physical weapons but by advertisements and misuse of media that mocks their sense of personal worth and group solidarity. One is supposed to be in solidarity with a chosen group of intellectuals or even local people who are lived with local pride into following the public format. People become subdivisions of the public. And their natural groups become organized into schools and the like. 

We are so used to this! What is wrong with it? Am I exaggerating? Do I advocate going back to the old self-sufficient existence? Horses no cars? Why is this symptomatic of the loss of the people’s control over the means of production together with increase in production. 

Were the new means of increased production under the control of the masses? SurelySurely, they would find a way of using the benefits without paying such a high cost. But the people have greatly increased state control. The state represents the interests of the mass of the people! What other interests could it have? The people elect the state controllers? The state controls industry. What is not working.

The masses of people in Norway have localized the problem. The contradict high production: few in control. Means the masses must buy what is produced. But there is a mass market. Surely, it controls what is produced. Psychologists who are specialists in knowing the market demand have large budgets just to decide what can be produced that will sell in large numbers, and be profitable because of economy of scale. Their advertising programs are designed to touch the mass market. 

Something is wrong.

What is this “Economy of Scale”? It is cheaper to produce more of the same for the same machines can work faster! And more of the same machines can also be created faster and cheaper by the machine-making machines.

Something is wrong! What step did the people of Norway take to stop the progression down this road of dehumanized progress. They decided not to join the EEC. That is not to join a larger unit of centralization – supposedly to increase production by enlarging to an all-Europe Economy of Scale

Stop! That was the vote! Let us find another path, that was implicitimplicit, and it is the effort to find another path that motivated those who chose to place the worker representatives on the control board of each corporation.

Let us find another path. What real choice exist?

To find another path, what real choices exist.

When we look politically at “Economy of Scale”, we find that it serves as the justification of centralism and in fact, is served by centralism. Many so-called economies of scale consist of bookkeeping advantages where the bookkeeping omits with care cost born by the community through taxation – the costs of low variety production. Here for the first time, I may have introduced a new term. “Economy of Scale” or mass production meant more goods but smaller variety among this larger mass. To use an agricultural analogy – with mechanized ploughing, seeding and harvesting, more grain is produced, with less human muscle, but huge fields now stretch as far as the eye can see, grain stands in uniform rows, the lend has been made regular and there are but few varieties increased. The grain is planted regardless of small wet spots or dry spots, locations that would better support other varieties. Economy of scale is achieved by uniformity, i.e. low variety.

Those who have seen industrially produced housing, lined up row after row with variety for people to choose from a selection of colours, left right alternation, and a small set of units that can be assembled in different order know what I mean by low variety. The old town had structures that personified its community of people no central authority state or private conditioned the old town into a low variety cost. Cost was not tied in previous times to the degree of depersonalization, though the capacity to live luxuriously may have been less.                  

Mass production required for its economy of scale, a scaled economy one where each module of people and their goods was sufficiently like the next that simple planed economies could be achieved. Town planning enabled industrial planned production. Stabilizing was necessary for the mass production systems were expensive and the capital invested by private industry, and the state and the people (their savings, pension funds, stock ownings, etc.) needed protection.

Stabilizing required good bookkeeping. That mass production was economical gradually became offset by the amount of middlemen, bookkeeping, stabilizing hiding of waste and citizen support that grew. Economy of scale came to mean growth without development. The productive capacity of the worker was increased but the number of employed people who were productively employed reduced. Most people were employed in jobs that helped a few at the top maintain control. Since people did not want many of the products made, they had to be sold. Buying and selling became a major source of employment, and counting, and accounting and preventing theft, and collecting taxes, and avoiding taxed, and telling people how to live and supporting those who could not live that way so they would not be forced to steal or starve. These costs were not considered as the costs of economy of scale.

A scaled economy does allow the kind of military organization of well-defined government and industrial departments, that provide a direct line of command. A well-defined hierarchy – and to my mind, this need for a well-organized line of command was the social steering that produced a technology suited to reducing the natural groupings among people to a more individual grouping that could be reassembled into offices and schools, union clubs and theatre audiences – the social groupings of a low variety centrally controlled society. 

If you will examine the effect of taxation on spontaneously beginning a small industry, or handcraft you will know what I mean. A group of farm people two years ago, began picking the berries, on the hill, making them into preserves, they worked happily forming a natural group. But someone informed the authorities. The proper papers were not being filled out. MOMS was not computable – the job of pleasing the authorities was too much, next year the berries rotted.

Need I elaborate the costs of centralism to Norwegians. No! For someone from another land like myself, it comes as a shock that citizens should be so much more sophisticated in Norway than in America. What have I added to the story so far. The idea of high variety and low variety systems. This concept is taken from biology and in particular from ecology. The stability of natural systems stems from their high variety. A meadow, a pond, a forest – if healthy has a very great variety of species living together interlinked with one another, one providing shade for the next, that in turn may encourage worms to dig the earth and improve water circulation.

High variety systems are simply situations where many varieties of performance join together, you will think I have suddenly become abstract. No! I am saying that uniformity is healthy until it overwhelms a total system then that system is likely to die. The cells of cancer do not settle down in a way that’s useful to their neighbours, they grow without entering into regional or area development. They ruin the area overwhelmingly changing it to cancerous growth -  finally killing the host that gas supported the cancer. Healthy organisms organize with a degree of variety that provides a depth of development to support growth. 

Again, I am using a way of thinking that may not be familiar. Maintaining one’s level of choice, of relevant variety is as necessary as having air to breath. 

The cost of mass production and economy of scale was not high, while scarcity was extreme, or when the availability of products was new. The Circus had come to town – with meaningful tools as well as novel gimmicks. But when scarcity itself was reduced, the human imagination, ingenuity shell that was organized by the need for security for example, was stifled by a low-cost caretaking social security plan which one had to accept! And pay for! and it was centrally controlled, and payments used to finance industry. And being able to prove to the voters that it was “fair” meant clean low variety rules so the control lines between the military like organized departments would be clear, and so no one could cheat or go hungry, or be old without care. And the families’ traditional solidarity with its process of aging was disrupted, and compulsory and centralized education took over the local areas function of bringing up the young. 

A low variety society is boring. People fall asleep at the wheel. They don’t steer. They go into a stupor drink beer and watch television, complain, and speak of ideals. When consciousness awakens as with the EEC struggle, it soon declines again, waiting for a crisis that can be dramatized, without organizing its strength.

What is a high-variety society like in a system where there is or can be an abundance of goods, and services, and rudimentary needs supplied, Where there is no hunger, but hunger for bare food to eat for starvation prevention is turned to appetite?

Now let us return briefly to our primary contradiction. During the period of post war hunger, the contradiction was not a major force. During the period of initial reorganizing of socialist industrial agricultural cooperative government, the novelty was high, what sort of structure would be built. The forces within which decisions were being made could only provide a centralized control. As this control became effective according to its plan, its overwhelming contraction was revealed, and those groups of citizens with vision began the release of the next stage of development: the return of control of the means of production to be integrated by the people of an area. The first lesson of this new stage is placing members of the local work force on the board of control of their industry so that they can become familiar with operations. 

The power of a high variety system is that its growth is supported by its development. What grows beyond its development can die without destroying the stability of the larger system. To use the analogy of the huge inform grain fields – one variety monocultures as they are called in ecology are easily victimized for a single disease can disrupt all the uniform fields – there is a huge vacuum, which is seriously unstable. Many small fields each matched to the land and the producer and the weather and all the producer and all the many conditions one can deal with locally – is less vulnerable to attack. 

The power of high variety folk systems is best illustrated in the comparison of guerilla vs centrally controlled warfare. Area or guerilla warfare is fought by people who know the local conditions, their wants, and their strengths and their appetites. The productivity of the guerilla can be increased by local folke technology (methods of battle invented locally). But guerilla warfare is not foreign to Norwegians and its costs and weaknesses are familiar. 

So I shall write of guerrilla peace instead of guerrilla war, and allow you to correct the errors of my inexperience. In a guerrilla peace system, ah but you will immediately think I am speaking of poverty and painful war conditions. No! Perhaps we can take with us into the new stage of development the fruits as well as the lessons from the past stage. And surely the stages are not to be in fact cleanly divided. 

In a guerrilla peace system as I think of it, the control of the means of production are returned to the local people, what is to be produced, how, with what labour-intensive, capital-intensive mix. How much automation, what kind of organization… all the questions now falling heavily on the shoulders of the few and many more can be distributed among the many. But is this conception of distributed control another ideal? How does it emerge as the likely outcome of the conflict that is beginning to be raised to active intervention in this country? It is only a likely outcome because of the forces at work that make the continuation of the past totally and quite impossible. 

Guerrilla peace is the solution being used widely to solve the problem of the vacuum created by centralism increasingly rapid self-defeat, so the vacuum will not be disruptive, or create useless delay in moving to the next stage while the people are protected by a fascist dictatorship of the military-industrial-government clique as has occurred in other lands with more advanced disease. 

But you will say immediately when I speak of guerrilla peace. Where is the capital to come from the banking system is centralist; it will not support our guerrilla activity. Where does the money in the bank come from? Whose labours? What to prevent the local area from organizing its own means of storing community reserves – as products, or as money? The answer is very simple. The centralist government by its system of protecting the public prevents it. But where does the government get its power from? The people, or from its various hinds kinds of police forces. This important question will answer itself but need not distract us from finding the correct strategic path into the next stage development.