Politics: An Arena of Techniques

Reply Tue 1 Nov, 2005 07:01 am
"Technique refers to any complex of standardized means for attaining a predetermined result. Thus, it converts spontaneous and unreflective behaviour into behaviour that is deliberate and rationalized. The Technical Man is fascinated by results, by the immediate consequences of setting standardized devices into motion. He cannot help admiring the spectacular effectiveness of nuclear weapons of war. Above all, he is committed to the never-ending search for 'the one best way' to achieve any designated objective.

Ours is a progressively technical civilization: by this Ellul means that the ever-increasing and irreversible rule of technique is extended to all domains of life. It is a civilisation committed to the quest for continually improved means to carelessly examined ends. Indeed, technique transforms ends into means. What was once prized in its own right now becomes worthwhile only if it helps achieve something else. And, conversely, technique turns means into ends. 'Know-how' takes on an ultimate value...

The interaction of man with his technologies has transformed the world and has transformed man. The extension of man's natural senses and abilities, through the development of tools, techniques and the media of communication, has altered nature and man's attitude towards it as well as reflected it. Incorporated into a technology is a segment of man's cosmology, his view of the universe, his own skills, reasoning and imagination. Built into each and every tool man makes, is an extension of man himself and yet the tool, the extension of man into his technology, reflects him imperfectly, distorts the image and operates on the world and on humanity in ways so different from those intended as to modify and modulate the world unexpectedly.

Politics... becomes an arena for contention among rival techniques. The technician sees the nation quite differently from the political man: to the technician, the nation is nothing more than another sphere in which to apply the instruments he has developed. To him, the state is not the expression of the will of the people nor a divine creation not a creature of class conflict. It is an enterprise providing services that must be made to function efficiently. He judges states in terms of their capacity to utilize techniques effectively, not in terms of their relative justics. Political doctrine revolves around what is useful rather that what is good. Purposes drop out of sight and efficiency becomes the central concern. As the political form best sited to the massive and unprincipled use of technique, dictatorship gains in power. And this in turn narrows the range of choices for the democracies: either they to use some version of effective technique - centralized control and propaganda - or they will fall behind.

Restraints on the rule of technique become increasingly tenuous. Public opinion provides no control because it is too largely oriented toward 'performance' and technique is regarded as the prime instrument of performance, whether in the economy or in politics, in art or in sports. (Merton, 1964)

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Reply Tue 1 Nov, 2005 07:09 am
Interesting theory--but ultimately, i think, not a useful way to view politics and politicians. A politician's ultimate goal is always office-holding, whether by election or appointment. To that end, she courts public opinion--either of the broad variety characterized by the putative majority opinion of the electorate, or of the narrower variety characterized by putative opinion of those who appoint and confirm appointment. The social contract only become funtional when politicians can effectively reconcile the ends of the electorate, or of the political sector which functions to award office, and thereby maintain a career in what is sometimes referred to, often ironically, as "public service." The extent to which, in what are referred to as democracies, the electorate becomes actively involved in the choice of politicians and the scrutiny of their executive or legislative functions, determines the extent to which a politician actually serves the public, or serves a narrower interest. Referring to technique is actually irrelevant to such considerations, as the politically successful are those who adapt technique the the necessities of pursuing office.
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