Jaques Ellul – the modern ludite or a visionary

Jaques Ellul – the modern ludite or a visionary

When we talk about the modern clutches of the power structures and the so called “hidden elite” the naïve approach is to make bombastic claims that appeal to our desire to have simplistic explanations (black and white). If we really want to peel all the layers and understand what is happening we have to ask the question “How”? It is not enough to know that we are fed propaganda, we have to unveil the implicit agenda and the methods that are in action.

Let’s make a simple test. When was the last time we heard any serious critic of the modern world on TV / social media? Do you remember the program discussing the heritage of Jacques Ellul on the issues of media, technology, and politics? No need to rush with an answer. Yes, people like him are virtually nonexistent in the age of information.  If you follow along you will see some clues as to why that is the case.

Unquestionable technique

If Brave New World and Orwell showed us the dystopian future that lies not so far away, Ellul opened our eyes to realize the magnitude of the impact of the modern institutions to steer us in the right direction happening right now. One of the topics for which he is “famous” is his critique of the technique and technology. To him the definition of the technology as gadgets and appliances is too restrictive so he came up with a new, broader one. The technique encompasses all the means and methods to achieve any goal effectively and rationally.  Once the measurements are done and the best path chosen that makes the technique automatic. Notice here any considerations of the feelings, moral values and virtues become obsolete by definition. Needless to say, the modern individual is shaped by the social forces and economic considerations without any possibility to object or reflect. The mass society demands and imposes an order in which it is hard to adapt and there is no community to help (as it was the case in the past).

Democratic propaganda

When talking about the influence of the “chosen few” over the masses the French philosopher does not distinguish between the totalitarian propaganda and the democratic version. The state doesn’t tolerate dissenting views and ambiguity, especially in the age of constant bombardment of uncorrelated facts. Ellul points to the lack of any frames of reference in the modern society and reveals the extent to which that this leads to the individual being more susceptible to propaganda on mass scale. Contrary to our common logic, he states that the educated man is a perfect pray to the propaganda – the average consumer receives the same information by the sources of disseminations. Inevitably, that produces a fertile soil for the same prejudices and myths instilled by an unknown force.

Politicize me

Another topic on which Ellul has written, is the politicization of the current society. We have accepted without any battle that everything is now a responsibility of the all-pervasive state. It used to be a utopian vision of the past but it now unfolds right before our very eyes. No middle ground allowed – if we desire to achieve some goal that can be obtained only by means of political affairs and the state increasing its power.                                       

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