05-06-2016 | Mere Humanism
As Zbigniew Brzezinski remarks: "The government is conservative in relation to change because it generates essentially post-crisis management institutions. In order to create pre-crisis management institutions, in a setting which we could call political-democratic, we will have to increasingly separate the political system from society and begin to conceive of the two as separate entities." To separate the way in which men relate to one another and reify that way itself as something over and above the men themselves is to achieve the triumph of what Jacques Ellul calls "technique," by substituting the efficacy of systems for the experience of men.
Because the liberal humanist believes in institutional rationalization and in working from within, he is only too easily rendered impotent by the masters of procedures and routines. Liberal humanists are men of good will, but like the benevolent Owenite capitalists who sought to check the power of the industrialists, they are beautiful orchids growing in a jungle. The appeal to "work within the system" is always sounded by the systems managers, for they know well that the mass of liberal humanists is nothing against the inertial mass of the system itself.
Once again the historical irony appears that all things end up in the position opposite to their beginning. The beginning of liberalism with Locke was a movement away from the throne and altar into new free spaces of the market and the school. Now at the point of its complete development, we are bound to the corporation and machine. The genius loci of this era in which the school and the market are one is, of course, the new operational liberal, the technocrat. And one of the most eminent members of this new breed of liberal is Herman Kahn.
The author of On Thinking the Unthinkable and the man who put the word "megadeaths" into the English language is certainly the man who can look into the eye of thermonuclear war and, without blinking, take the shroud measurements for the corpse of civilization. But, surprisingly enough, Kahn too succumbs to the general positivism of his time and only toys with apocalypse when he is asked to look ahead. For him, too, the future is more of the same, and in his Hudson Institute's study, The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years, he sees the future in a linear extrapolation.
Mr. Kahn takes into account the probable appearance of nativistic revolts against technology, but he does not see these as becoming sufficiently effective to alter the basic, multifold trend. He sees the twentieth-century Luddites as being as ineffective as their predecessors; the Technological Revolution in America will roll over protest just as the Industrial Revolution did in Great Britain. The liberal industrial worldview will spread until all the undeveloped nations are under its polluted sky.
Kahn's view of the future is a very predictable one, for it is only human for a writer to expect that history will grow in his direction. The liberal feels that liberal values will become increasingly triumphant; the powerless fundamentalist feels that the apocalypse will tumble the proud and mighty into the dust, and that he will be found living in the truth. Few on either the Left or the Right ever imagine that they both will be right, and that in the supra-ideological process of history, events will be as profoundly ambiguous as existence has always been.
So it is not so strange at all than an established technocrat like Herman Kahn should see history as moving in the terms of his liberal, multifold trend. We are all magnets and what is locked in the fields of our consciousness is merely the "facts" we attract. But what is surprising about Kahn's worldview is its utter dearth of imagination.
-William Irwin Thompson, At The Edge of History p. 114-117