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Wednesday 16 March 2011

Theodor Adorno: The Veil of Technology


Dr. Mark Mills drawing diagrams during testimony before the Congressional Joint Atomic Energy hearings on atomic radioactive fallout
: photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran, US News & World Report, 27 May 1957 (Library of Congress)

Each epoch produces those personalities -- types varying according to their distribution of psychic energy -- it needs societally. A world where technology occupies such a key position as it does nowadays produces technological people, who are attuned to technology. This has its good reason: in their own narrow field they will be less likely to be fooled and that can also affect the overall situation. On the other hand, there is something exaggerated, irrational, pathogenic in the present-day relationship to technology. This is connected with the "veil of technology." People are inclined to take technology to be the thing itself, as an end in itself, a force of its own, and they forget that it is an extension of human dexterity. The means -- and technology is the epitome of the means of self-preservation of the human species -- are fetishized, because the ends -- a life of human dignity -- are concealed and removed from the consciousness of the people.

A radiation detector marks 0.6 microsieverts, exceeding normal day data, 15 March 2011, near Shibuya train station in Tokyo: photo by Associated Press/Kyodo News

It is by no means clear precisely how the fetishization of technology establishes itself within the individual psychology of particular people, or where the threshold lies between a rational relationship to technology and the overvaluation that finally leads to the point where one who cleverly devises a train system that brings victims to Auschwitz as quickly and smoothly as possible forgets about what happens to them there. With this type, who worships technology, we are concerned -- baldly put -- with people who cannot love. This is not meant to be sentimental or moralistic but rather describes a deficient libidinal relationship to other persons. Those people are thoroughly cold; deep within themselves they must deny the possibility to love, must withdraw their love from other people initially, before it can even unfold.

Installation of atomic generator in Baltimore Lighthouse, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland: photo by U.S.Coast Guard, 1964 (Library of Congress)

Those prejudiced, authoritarian characters whom we examined at Berkeley in The Authoritarian Personality provided us with much proof of this. A test subject -- the expression itself already comes from reified consciousness -- said of himself, "I like nice equipment" [Ich habe hübsche Ausstattungen, hübsche Apparaturen gern], completely indifferent about what equipment it was. His love was absorbed by things, machines as such. The alarming thing about this -- alarming, because it can seem so hopeless to combat it -- is that this trend goes hand in hand with that of the entire civilization. To struggle against it means as much as to struggle against the world spirit...

A baby is tested for radiation in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, 15 March 2011. Panic swept Tokyo on Tuesday after a rise in radioactive levels around an earthquake-hit nuclear power plant north of the city, causing some to leave the capital or stock up on food and supplies: photo by Reuters/Kyodo

Theodor Adorno: Education After Auschwitz (edited excerpts): shortened transcription of radio lecture "Wissenschaftliche Ehrgangerung in Amerika," broadcast 31 January 1968; this translation by Henry W. Pickford in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, 1998




In "A world where technology occupies such a key position as it does. . . ." "A baby is tested for radiation in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, March 15, 2011" . . . .


grey whiteness of clouds above shadowed
green of ridge, lighter greens of field
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

position in space, reflected
during and just after

picture, placed in situation,
in relation to “works”

grey white clouds reflected in channel,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

TC said...


You'd think that about this time even the technicians of high finance might be backing off the nuclear dream just a bit, but no. Apparently we are still enshrouded by the veil of technology.

Don't know if you see "the paper" -- here's Andy Ross in SF Chron today (16 March) on how Bechtel might turn to small, modular nuclear plants.

With taxpayer bailout billions in loans guaranteed to support construction in these potentially deadly yet still it seems potentially profitable-for-somebody industries, for a helpful Bechtel it's one of those "no-lose" situations... like, say, Iraq?

Robb said...

Thank you for this, Tom




Thanks for that link, hadn't seen it but did hear yesterday that we've got 104 nuclear plants in the US, more than any other country -- and here we find out that Bechtel has built more than half of them. . . . Another advocate for such things on TV last night claiming "this was a lesson we'll learn from, as we go forward" [i.e., building more plants in the US]-- and he kept saying that ("lesson learned"), wouldn't back down when the interviewing kept pressing for some sense of -- what? -- doubt? ? ?

TC said...

That phrase "going forward..." always scares me to death.

The six reactors at Fukushima, by the way, were designed and supplied by General Electric, the same design prototype also employed in the construction of 23 nuclear power plants in the US.

(And the same design flaw in the spent fuel rod cooling system exists in all of them.)


after visiting a big exhibit on Futurism I realized how much we now live in their world, the one they envisioned with the worship of machines, speed, sports, violence, war, cars