‘Life in a Technocracy’, 1933: a soviet of technicians… in America? /9 (2021)

“Other men remold human nature. Their attempt is to adapt man to his environment rather than vice versa

by Federico Soldani – 14th Mar 2021

“The general consideration of art has been left to the last because art, using the term in its widest meaning, will probably become in a technocracy the most important field of human activity.” Chapter VI of Loeb’s utopian essay ‘Life in a Technocracy’ is about ‘art’ but indeed is about much more than that, in primis it is largely about psychological considerations.

If a large part of citizens will be devoted to leisure and broadly defined ‘art’, could this cause the citizenry to become potentially very critical of technocracy itself? The provision in the ‘Code of nature’ of 1755 essentially prohibiting citizens from any activity that was not technical or scientific might appear less prone to such potentially auto-destructive developments.

While dealing with issues related to government in a post-capitalist technocracy, Loeb referred in 1933 to an external and objective world, material and measurable, where no debate is needed since engineers, scientists and technicians of different types, including medical doctors, would decide the rational course of action in a “most undemocratic” – a quote from Loeb’s utopia – system of non-national state government adopting something similar to a utilitarian scientific stance. According to the ‘Code’ of 1755 citizens can only submit to the orders and advice of those they believed capable of restoring the original laws of nature and the resulting regime would still be called a “democracy.”

The VI and second to last chapter of Loeb’s utopia instead – the VII and last one being on the “advent” of the post-capitalist system and about some of the exact steps to be taken for such a political revolution to happen – is about a subjective, internal world of the psyche in which artistic and aesthetic principles, considered by Loeb indeed entirely subjective, were dominant.

Such internal and subjective world would become more prominent as such in a technocracy – something which might appear paradoxical – and this would happen because of two related factors: [1] the disconnect that will be created between the individual citizen and his or her rationality, what in psychoanalytical terms has been called ‘ego’, on one side, and the external world of the environment, on the other side. A disconnect that is possible to see as related – this is my view – to what other authors including contemporary 21st century ones call “ego dissolution” or “ego death”. [2] The increasingly significant overall amount of leisure time that people, citizens out of work, will have available.

By the way, by being out of work the Hegelian dialectic between servant and master will be broken. We could also add a third factor nowadays, related to invasive and pervasive digital technology not available and perhaps imaginable in Loeb’s times: [3] by being closely scrutinized and via big data and predictive software / algorithms, everyone would be subject to electronic labelling, becoming as a result a candidate for potential interventions, whether psychological, medical, or otherwise.

Where there is a friction between the individual citizen and his or her environment the psy disciplines in general and psychiatry in particular, historically and looking closely at their origins and genealogies, tend to focus fundamentally on modifying the individual, in particular the internal world or psyche of the individual in question, and defocusing from his or her surrounding environment. This is a concept that I developed and had a chance to present for instance in an online seminar during the Spring of 2020.

As far as I am concerned, I arrived on my own at the concept of a crucial distinction and potential disconnect between the internal and the external worlds, two concepts I had not formulated as such in relation to contemporary political transformations or psychiatry until a few years ago, as I tend to assume there is essentially one world or one reality. This was done on my part mainly by observing contemporary events and analyzing them in recent years, including the changing public and political rhetoric.

Locating the specific historical origins, if any, of such contemporary and increasingly popular dichotomous worldview that I was arriving at by observing and analyzing contemporary political events was in my view not an obvious achievement. It is not of the Cartesian res extensa vs. cogitans that we are talking about here, or at least not only, but especially about a distinction between the individual citizen, especially his or her rationality, subjective view, and feelings / emotions vs. his or her surrounding natural, cultural, familial, social, work, economic and political environment/s.

It was only towards the end of December 2020 that I had a chance to read, while studying the history of utopias, Loeb’s ‘Life in a Technocracy’ (1933) for the first time. The extraordinary correspondences between my reading of current events and what Loeb wrote in 1933 in his technocratic utopia are in part analyzed in this articles series. This series has been indeed motivated by finding such correspondences in Loeb’s utopia.

Here is what Loeb wrote on the distinction between the internal and the external worlds at the beginning of Chapter VI of ‘Life in a Technocracy’, a chapter entitled ‘Art’:

Man and his environment act upon each other. Both are altered in the process.

Some men work upon the external world. The remolding of the earth’s crust in order to make it more congenial to human life, and the use of natural materials to satisfy physical needs are functions of men of action.” These men are primarily “engineers“, “technicians“, and “practical scientists.” “Their effort – Loeb continued referring to contemporary capitalism – is directed toward making money and sometimes as a by-product, goods. In a technocracy” – sometimes written with a capital letter while at other times not – “the by-product would be the end and the no longer necessary and anti-social incentive called profit would be abolished. […]

Other men remold human nature. Their attempt is to adapt man to his environment rather than vice versa. The transmuting of the nature of man, the developing of his perceptions so that he is able to attune himself to those inner harmonies which give value to life, the digesting of phenomena so that instead of fear and disgust they give pleasure, and the interpreting of nature’s phases are the province of the artist.”

“Under capitalism” – and here becomes clearer how widely Loeb considers the province of ‘art’ – “this task has been delegated to teachers, scientists, psychoanalysts, philosophers, and preachers, as well as to the poets, musicians, painters, photographers, cinema directors, and acrobats, to whom the term artist is more frequently applied.”

(9 – ninth of a series, previous articles here, 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8)

[In the photo, covers of Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts established and directed by Harold Loeb. “Initially, the magazine was printed in Europe, first in Rome and then in Berlin, with the intention of bringing new, avant-garde art back to the U.S.”]

Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "‘Life in a Technocracy’, 1933: a soviet of technicians… in America? /9 (2021)," in PsyPolitics, March 14, 2021, https://psypolitics.org/2021/03/14/life-in-a-technocracy-1933-a-soviet-of-technicians-in-america-9-2021/.

Last Updated on March 28, 2021 by Federico Soldani

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