12-13-2015 | Sunday Sermon

5: Remote Control

Central to the power complex from the beginning was remote control. As long as the main components of the megamachine were human beings, this required doglike obedience from every human unit in the chain of command. Such one-way hierarchic order was secured by severe punishment for the slightest disobedience. The transition from this cumbrous and laborious method was facilitated by the introduction of a national educational system, first in autocratic Prussia in the eighteenth century: afterward in France under Napoleon. National military conscription, imposed first by the 'democratic' French Revolution, completed the process.

The translation of these sometimes inefficient and recalcitrant human automatons into purely mathematical and electronic units made instantaneous remote control practicable: this was the largest possible gift to centralized authority, not only in government and military affairs, but in the widened operations of the great industrial corporations and financial conglomerations that now increasingly operated on a continental or global basis. The control room of the Houston Space Center, shown above, demonstrates this system at its superhuman best - though without the active cooperation of still semi-autonomous astronauts its space missions would have been repeatedly bungled or aborted.

Even before the computer and television were in operation, Hitler's direct interference in military battles on the Russian front, by direct contact with even lower field officers, demonstrated one of the inherent disadvantages of remote control: misguided interference. But the basic weakness of remote control is that it is not, and cannot possible become, a two-way system open to feedback and revision, without the aid of intermediary units. While electronic processing of information makes instant decision possible at headquarters, the absence of responsible local units with sufficient authority to form independent judgments, to correct misinformation, and to add unprogrammable data, enlarges the probability of human error.

This calls for the rebuilding of a decentralized, semi-autonomous if not independent, groups and agencies as an imperative safety device, as well as an essential condition for responsible human participation.

"The Pentagon of Power" - Lewis Mumford

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