In recent articles, I have been discussing the reactions of two groups of members of more traditional societies - corrupt people and terrorists - to the transformation of their more organic living environments by modern technology. I basically focused on two kinds of effects that these two groups experienced. First, for people who are used to freer continual movement, there is the effect of strictures and constraints on behavior. Machines require precise mechanical movements to operate them. Computers, with their digital language, require complicated patterns of discrete movements and responses from people. For people who have primarily lived their lives in flowing continual movement, such patterns of discrete movement are the equivalent of being boxed in. The accommodations to such patterns by these people are never very comfortable.
The other effect I have examined is the loss of organic surfaces on which to make, preserve and receive imprints. People who tend to be more traditional can experience this loss particularly hard. For these people, who have been bonded with and grounded in their organic living environments, the loss of these environments as a result of technological transformation has led to a heavy loss of rich vibrant life experiences in which strong organic imprints could be made and received. The loss of the organic living environments also results in a loss of opportunities for strong surrogate immortalities to prepare for death. The loss of such living environments means the loss of the opportunity to leave the kind of meaningful imprints that create longlasting sources of memories for the people who survive after a person’s decease.
There is another layer of effects that should be explored more thoroughly in order to fully understand the connection between technological transformation and the violence of these traditional outsiders. Apart from the strictures and patterning of human behavior that the patterning of machine operations generates, there is the internal experience of a loss of control over the basic processes of life. And for people who are used to a strong sense of organic grounding in their environment, and a strong feeling of organic friction as they use their implements to carve out the world, the mediation of their connections to the world by modern technology is particularly difficult for them. The sensory distortion resulting from the smooth frictionless operation of computer technology on the one hand, and the noise and smoke from industrial machines and from the tension pockets of cars and people crowding against each other in urban settings on the other hand, is particularly disorienting. The traditional organic environment of more traditional people acts as a template for the strong bonds the people form with their family, friends, artifacts and art. With these bonds, traditional people are able to leave deep meaningful imprints on their fields of experience, and this allows them to feel vibrantly alive and to prepare for death. The traditional organic environment even acts as a strong template to allow people to leave strong disruptive destructive imprints on enemies during war. There is a complicated bonded connection even to enemies in traditional organic environments.
The loss of control for more traditional people leads to a loss of a sense of empowerment. Unlike the basic tools like a hammer, a pick, a shovel, a hoe, or a knife, that have been a part of their fundamental way of being, industrial machines and consumer technology lead to a loss of feeling in charge of what is impacting their lives. It is like the world is spinning on without their own immediate and direct intervention. For some traditional men, in particular, rather than feeling empowered through the extended capacities provided by machines, they are made to feel psychologically impotent and numb. This psychological impotence and numbness can result in a lashing out in the form of sensorily explosive acts in order to feel alive. Sensorily explosive acts in the form of violence.
In truth, although the effects seem very pronounced among more traditional people, they also occur in more developed societies. Poor people, particularly minorities, form violent criminal gangs to give themselves a sense of empowerment in communities where they feel a disconnect from the mainstream technological economic processes. And then there are the violent crazies - the people who are into process-oriented violence just to feel alive rather than goal-oriented violence to feel empowered.
The one thing we can say is that, whether in developing countries or developed countries, the more machines make things more frictionless in daily life, the more people there will be who will want to create the abrasive friction of violence in order to leave imprints and feel alive. Too much smooth frictionlessness in life can be psychologically castrating. Just as people need a certain amount of healthy bacteria in their bodies in order for their bodies to function properly, so they also need a certain amount of healthy friction in life in order to function properly, leave imprints, and feel alive.
The people in developing countries are just reacting more intensely and more publicly to situations that are also affecting developed countries. More people in developed countries have adjusted somewhat to the experiential transformation created by modern technology. It is not that, as mammals, their nervous systems feel comfortable with sensory distortion. People in developed countries still experience sensory disruption from the overstimulation of tension pockets on the one hand, and sensory deprivation from the understimulation of vacuum areas of modern technological environments on the other. They still respond with conative acceleration - the speeding up of the will - and conative anesthesia - the numbing of the will - as strategies to try to tolerate the sensory distortion. And going rapidly back and forth between conative acceleration and conative anesthesia creates the kind of discrete jerky movements we associate with robots. In other words, people develop systems of conative distortion behavior in order to deal with the sensory distortion they experience. People in these developed countries today are allowing themselves to become more robotized in order to survive. And they are doing this because, even though they are still mammals, they are trying to find ways unconsciously of fitting in with their living environment, so that they don’t have to suffer so much from sensory distortion.
We are focusing here on two major postures for dealing with encroaching technological transformation of the living environment: that of the people who adjust and gradually become more robotized and that of the people who at least partly resist through some form of violent expression. This does not mean that all those people who resist technology do it through violence. But it does mean that there a lot of people who do.
For many people, it will seem counterintuitive to think that making more and more life processes frictionless can actually influence some people to become more violent. One of the major purposes of modern technology was to make life easier for people. But people need stimulation in the form of friction to feel alive. And there comes a point in technological development where there is simply too little friction in daily life. And some people react more strongly to this lack of friction than others do. But we should really pay attention to these strong reactors rather than simply lock them up when we are able to do so. They are an early warning system for a danger that affects all of us.
© 2012 Laurence Mesirow