node created 2019/09/29
The whole concept of alienation found its first expression in Western thought in the Old Testament concept of idolatry. The essence of what the prophets call "idolatry" is not that man worships many gods instead of only one. It is that the idols are the work of man's own hands -- they are things, and man bows down and worships things; worships that which he has created himself. In doing so he transforms himself into a thing. He transfers to the things of his creation the attributes of his own life, and instead of experiencing himself as the creating person, he is in touch with himself only by the worship of the idol. He has become estranged from his own life forces, from the wealth of his own potentialities, and is in touch with himself only in the indirect way of submission to life frozen in the idols. The deadness and emptiness of the idol is expressed in the Old Testament: "Eyes they have and they do not see, ears they have and they do not hear," etc. The more man transfers his own powers to the idols, the poorer he himself becomes, and the more dependent on the idols, so that they permit him to redeem a small part of what was originally his. The idols can be a godlike figure, the state, the church, a person, possessions. Idolatry changes its objects; it is by no means to be found only in those forms in which the idol has a so-called religious meaning. Idolatry is always the worship of something into which man has put his own creative powers, and to which he now submits, instead of experiencing himself in his creative act.

Among the many forms of alienation, the most frequent one is alienation in language. If I express a feeling with a word, let us say, if I say "I love you," the word is meant to be an indication of the reality which exists within myself, the power of my loving. The word "love" is meant to be a symbol of the fact love, but as soon as it is spoken it tends to assume a life of its own, it becomes a reality. I am under the illusion that the saying of the word is the equivalent of the experience, and soon I say the word and feel nothing, except the thought of love which the word expresses. The alienation of language shows the whole complexity of alienation. Language is one of the most precious human achievements; to avoid alienation by not speaking would be foolish -- yet one must be always aware of the danger of the spoken word, that it threatens to substitute itself for the living experience. The same holds true for all other achievements of man; ideas, art, any kind of man-made objects. They are man's creations; they are valuable aids for life, yet each one of them is also a trap, a temptation to confuse life with things, experience with artifacts, feeling with surrender and submission.
When confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he [Eichmann] was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence.
"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
It is no accident that modern education doesn't teach the distinction between symbol and thing — if it did, education as we know it would fall apart. After that, after education reshaped itself to provide actual knowledge instead of the symbolic representation of knowledge, the society around us would be transformed.

But in the meantime, most "educated" people cannot tell the difference between a fact and an idea, the most common confusion of symbol and thing. Most believe if they collect enough facts, this will compensate for their inability to grasp the ideas behind those facts.
The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, "normal" knowledge of murder and lies. Eichmann's great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for "language rules."
"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
Meanwhile, in the course of this "Terrorist Generation" campaign, for Obama to claim, "you know, I'm really worried about terrorists, so I have to to read -- well, they claim they don't read it -- I have to get information about your email, where you are, who you're talking to, what you have on Facebook; I've gotta put that on my big database"... actually, we're moving into a world which was described, pretty accurately I think, by one of the founders of Google... I don't know if you followed the stories about Google Glass? Well, Google has some new, ridiculous thing, they're marketing glasses which have a small computer on them. So you can be on the internet 24 hours a day, just what you want. It's a way of destroying people, but quite apart from that, this little device has a camera, and presumably, if it doesn't already it will soon have a recorder, which means that everything that's going on around you, goes up on the internet. Some reporter asked Erich Schmidt, didn't he think this was an invasion of privacy, and his answer was exactly right, comes right out of the Obama administration, he said: "If you're doing anything that you don't want to be on the internet, you shouldn't be doing it." This is a dream that Orwell couldn't have concocted. We're moving into it, and it's not the only case. if you read the technical journals, there's more stuff coming along. So, for example, right now there are corporations that are concerned about using computers with components made in China, because it's technically possible to build into the hardware devices which will record what the computer is doing and send it to those bad guys. well, the articles don't point out that if the Chinese can do it, we can do it better, and probably are, so it may end up in Obama's database the next time you hit the computer.
We have much studied and much perfected the great civilised invention of the division of labour; only we give it a false name. Truly speaking it is not the labour that is divided; but the men: – Divided into mere segments of men – broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin.

Only in right understanding on the part of all classes of what kinds of labor are good for men, raising them and making them happy, by a determined sacrifice of such convenience, or beauty, or cheapness as is to be got only by the degradation of the workman; and by equally determined demand for the products and results of healthy and ennobling labour can this evil be met.
For the masses, the feeling that technology develops along an inevitable path reflects their lack of agency — the fact that the crucial decisions about the technological conditions of society will be made by a largely self-regulating confraternity of elites. For engineers and scientists, technological development appears to be driven by a combination of what they can imagine, what is technically feasible, and what governments or markets demand. Even those whose particular genius produces the breakthroughs feel this as an inevitability, as if they are possessed by some inner logic that is the real force ushering in this new world.
The interpretation of the pleasure in hunting as pleasure in killing, rather than in skill, is indicative of the person of our time for whom the only thing that counts is the result of an effort, in this case killing, rather than the process itself.
"The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness"
It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a DestroyBaghdad procedure. Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a DestroyCity procedure, to which Baghdad could be given as a parameter.
the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race"-the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
[..]

The horseman serves the horse,
The neatherd serves the neat,
The merchant serves the purse, 
The eater serves his meat;
'T is the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind;
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.

There are two laws discrete,
Not reconciled,--
Law for man, and law for thing;
The last builds town and fleet,
But it runs wild,
And doth the man unking.
'T is fit the forest fall,
The steep be graded,
The mountain tunnelled,
The sand shaded,
The orchard planted,
The glebe tilled,
The prairie granted,
The steamer built.

Let man serve law for man;
Live for friendship, live for love,
For truth's and harmony's behoof;
The state may follow how it can,
As Olympus follows Jove.

[..]
"Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing"
Companies do not act on the basis of the best evidence. They merge even though much research shows that mergers destroy value. They use forced-curve ranking systems for performance reviews even though extensive evidence documents the harmful effects. There is no reason to believe they would behave any differently with respect to their human capital.
The salvation of the world depends only on the individual whose world it is. At least, every individual must act as if the whole future of the world, of humanity itself, depends on him. Anything less is a shirking of responsibility and is itself a dehumanizing force, for anything less encourages the individual to look upon himself as a mere actor in a drama written by anonymous agents, as less than a whole person, and that is the beginning of passivity and aimlessness.
Most of us are unable to sort out reality — we can't distinguish between a thing and a symbol for that thing. This springs from several causes. One cause is that we are isolated from the natural world, where the distinction between a thing and a symbol is more obvious. Another cause is our educational system, which simply reflects the intellectual laziness of the society in which it is embedded. A third cause is resistance on the part of vested interests — if we could think creatively, we would be difficult to govern, and advertisers would have to appeal to reason instead of emotion.
In all major socializing forces you will find an underlying movement to gain and maintain power through the use of words. From witch doctor to priest to bureaucrat it is all the same. A governed populace must be conditioned to accept power-words as actual things, to confuse the symbolized system with the tangible universe. In the maintenance of such a power structure, certain symbols are kept out of the reach of common understanding – symbols such as those dealing with economic manipulation of those which define the local interpretation of sanity. Symbol-secrecy of this form leads to the development of fragmented sub-languages, each being a signal that its users are accumulating some form of power.
"Children of Dune"
These men were able to give the counsel they gave because they were operating at an enormous psychological distance from the people who would be maimed and killed by the weapons systems that would result from the ideas they communicated to their sponsors. The lesson, therefore, is that the scientist and technologist must, by acts of will and of the imagination, actively strive to reduce such psychological distances, to counter the forces that tend to remove him from the consequences of his actions. He must -- it is as simple as this -- think of what he is actually doing. He must learn to listen to his own inner voice. He must learn to say "No!"

Finally, it is the act itself that matters. When instrumental reason is the sole guide to action, the acts it justifies are robbed of their inherent meanings and thus exist in an ethical vacuum. I recently heard an officer of a great university publicly defend an important policy decision he had made, one that many of the university's students and faculty opposed on moral grounds, with the words: "We could have taken a moral stand, but what good would that have done?" But the moral good of a moral act inheres in the act itself. That is why an act can itself ennoble or corrupt the person who performs it. The victory of instrumental reason in our time has brought about the virtual disappearance of this insight and thus perforce the delegitimation of the very idea of nobility.
"Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation" (1976)
The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.
The rise of the natural sciences is credited with a demonstrable, ever-quickening increase in human knowledge and power; shortly before the modern age European mankind knew less than Archimedes in the third century B.C., while the first fifty years of our century have witnessed more important discoveries than all the centuries of recorded history together. Yet the same phenomenon is blamed with equal right for the hardly less demonstrable increase in human despair or the specifically modern nihilism which has spread to ever larger sections of the population, their most significant aspect perhaps being that they no longer spare the scientists themselves, whose well-founded optimism could still, in the nineteenth century, stand up against the equally justifiable pessimism of thinkers and poets. The modern astrophysical world view, which began with Galileo, and its challenge to the adequacy of the senses to reveal reality, have left us a universe of whose qualities we know no more than the way they affect our measuring instruments, and — in the words of Eddington — "the former have as much resemblance to the latter as a telephone number has to a subscriber." Instead of objective qualities, in other words, we find instruments, and instead of nature or the universe — in the words of Heisenberg — man encounters only himself.

[The German physicist Werner Heisenberg has expressed this thought in a number of recent publications. For instance: "Wenn man versucht, von der Situation in der modernen Naturwissenschaft ausgehend, sich zu den in Bewegung geratenen Fundamenten vorzutasten, so hat man den Eindruck, ... dass zum erstenmal im Laufe der Geschichte der Mensch auf dieser Erde nur noch sich selbst gegenübersteht ... , daß wir gewissermassen immer nur uns selbst begegnen" (Das Naturbild der heutigen Pkysik [1955], pp. 17-18). Heisenberg's point is that the observed object has no existence independent of the observing subject: "Durch die Art der Beobachtung wird entschieden, welche Züge der Natur bestimmt werden und welche wir durch unsere Beobachtungen verwischen" (Wandlungen in den Grundlagen der Naturwissenschaft [1949], p. 67).]
"Vita Activa"
Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans.
Tagsalienation
From a philosophical viewpoint, the danger inherent in the new reality of mankind seems to be that this unity, based on the technical means of communication and violence, destroys all national traditions and buries the authentic origins of all human existence. This destructive process can even be considered a necessary prerequisite for ultimate understanding between men of all cultures, civilizations, races, and nations. Its result would be a shallowness that would transform man, as we have known him in five thousand years of recorded history, beyond recognition. It would be more than mere superficiality; it would be as though the whole dimension of depth, without which human thought, even on the mere level of technical invention, could not exist, would simply disappear. This leveling down would be much more radical than the leveling to the lowest common denominator; it would ultimately arrive at a denominator of which we have hardly any notion today.

As long as one conceives of truth as separate and distinct from its expression, as something which by itself is uncommunicative and neither communicates itself to reason nor appeals to "existential" experience, it is almost impossible not to believe that this destructive process will inevitably be triggered off by the sheer automatism of technology which made the world one and, in a sense, united mankind. It looks as though the historical pasts of the-nations, in their utter diversity and disparity, in their confusing variety and bewildering strangeness for each other, are nothing but obstacles on the road to a horridly shallow unity. This, of course, is a delusion; if the dimension of depth out of which modern science and technology have developed ever were destroyed, the probability is that the new unity of mankind could not even technically survive. Everything then seems to depend upon the possibility of bringing the national pasts, in their original disparateness, into communication with each other as the only way to catch up with the global system of communication which covers the surface of the earth.
"Men in Dark Times"