The Efficiency Invasion: How Industrialism Destroyed the Traditional Family
(This is the third of a three-part series on Ralph Borsodi's This Ugly Civilization.
Part One: Machines and Families;
Part Two: Industrialism: Rooted in Greed)
The Cult of Efficiency
In the first article of this series, we began to explore the nature of the technological society, the vast "super-system" that dominates so many aspects of our lives. We have seen how it differs fundamentally and radically from traditional agrarian society. In the second installment, we looked at the origin and guiding principle of industrial and technological society. We saw that the system is organized to generate great wealth for those at the top, but that to do so demands ever-increasing efficiency. The quest for greater efficiency has led to the development of high technology which re-invents itself every few years and demands continuous modernization at the point of use.
Efficiency will ultimately be seen as a god that has failed. It has not failed to make some men very rich, but it has certainly failed to give most human beings a better life. Instead, the quest for efficiency has imparted a stress and “driven-ness” to the work of most people that compares to the pressure imposed on slaves in other places and times. But that is only the beginning of the evils caused by the worship of functional efficiency. Far greater damage has been done to the human condition by the misguided attempt to apply the principle to every area of life.
This wholly new system of economic and social organization was to become the ultimate machine for the concentration of wealth. As such, it must be seen to be anti-Christian to the core, for the Scripture says, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth” (1 Corinthians 10:24). We have seen that the principle of "efficiency," defined as the most profitable way to accomplish a given task, is vital to the continuation of that system. In this article, it will be our aim to explore the consequences of industrialism for the home and the family, and especially how the ideal of "task-efficiency" has wreaked havoc on the family.
Let’s look at an expert's definition of "efficiency." Borsodi writes:
Harrington Emerson, who has been called by an admirer the "High Priest of the New Science of Efficiency," defines efficiency as: "the elimination of all needless waste in material, in labor, and in equipment, so as to reduce costs, increase profits, and raise wages."This definition should at once make clear the legitimate field of the factory system and also the limited sphere of activities in which its application is desirable. In a factory, which has its justification only in its capacity for producing the largest possible quantity of commodities at the lowest possible cost, the elimination of every waste is most desirable.
But outside of a factory, in all the activities of man which have their justification primarily in the extent to which they enrich life, the quantitative criterion which efficiency enjoins becomes absurd. Life, if man is to dignify it by the way he lives, must be lived artistically. Not quantitative but qualitative criterions apply in home life, in education, in social activities, in literature, painting, sculpture. Yet the apostles of efficiency have not been content to limit its application to the factory. They have made efficiency a philosophy of life and are now busily engaged in applying the factory system to the regulation of every activity of civilized man.
Traditional societies are organized in terms of personal relationships to a much higher degree than Technological society. Relational concerns predominate over the functional. What Borsodi calls qualitative criteria versus quantitative criteria are the aesthetic and ethical values. Although Borsodi’s secularism (pre-occupation with the present age) limits his understanding of what is most important, his analysis is correct as far as it goes. “Man does not live by bread alone” (no matter how much or how cheap). Christians understand that a meaningful and satisfying life goes much deeper than just dignity, comfort, self-expression and the like. Yet Borsodi was keenly aware of what the cult of efficiency had done to every realm it touched.
While the goal of the fathers of industrialism was the narrow pursuit of gain, they profited from the belief of the masses that "efficiency" was a thing good in itself — an ultimate value or ideal. This ideal was part and parcel of the Scientific Rationalism of the period known as "the Age of Enlightenment" in which industrialism was born. (To this day, most people in industrial societies accept this ideal. At the same time, most people have never considered the place and limitations of the principle of efficiency.) Industrialists continue to use the appeal of this ideal to maintain the support of the masses for a system which is ultimately ruinous to them.
Borsodi shows how the successes of industrialism led to the broader application of its principles:
What a nightmare vision! Or rather — not a vision — but sober reality now. The contrast between the vital, bustling homestead of pre-industrial times with the typical home of today could not be more dramatic.
The application of the three techniques which comprise the factory system to the production of the goods we consume has revolutionized life. It has enabled this civilization to realize the goal of increased profits, higher wages, lower prices. Material well-being has been increased; life in many obvious respects has been made less uncomfortable. Man has more shelter, more clothing, more creature comforts of all sorts than before.
It is only natural that those who have brought all this to pass should feel that the application of the factory system to all the activities of life, often under the nom de plume of "business methods," would result in equally startling improvements in every aspect of living. The factory system applied to the home should make the family happier; applied to the farm it should make the farmer more prosperous and farm products less expensive; applied to the business of our tradesmen it should add to their profits and make them serve their customers better; applied to the school it should produce a better educated citizen; applied to the church it should make our spiritual life richer; applied to philanthropy it should decrease the sum total of human suffering and make men more unselfish; applied to politics it should make government function more justly, more benignantly, more intelligently — above all more economically.
In his introduction to his epoch making volume The Principles of Scientific Management, the late Frederick Winslow Taylor, the founder of the efficiency movement, said of the principles of which he was so ardent an advocate: The same principles can be applied with equal force to all social activities: to the management of our homes; the management of our farms; the management of the business of our tradesmen, large and small; of our churches, our philanthropic institutions, our universities, and our government departments.
As we shall see, we are now in the process of fulfilling in every activity of life Taylor's prophetic words: "In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first."
The former was a beehive of variegated activities involving family members of all ages. The latter is little more than a place for people to sleep. The factory system has stripped the family of a home-centered way of life that was in the highest degree possible productive of human happiness. Now life is no longer centered in the home — or anywhere else. Life is lived without unity, in pieces, in various places shared with strangers. Mother and father may both be out of the home as much as they are in it. All economic activities take place elsewhere. Instead of being in the mainstream of community life, the home is now a retreat from life. Instead of being the building block of the community, the home is too insignificant and the family too weak to build a community with. Man has become a servant of the system, and little else.
Three Pillars of the Factory System
Here is Borsodi’s description of what he calls “the factory system”:
The factory has not been able to keep the factory system within the limits of its four ugly walls. What is the factory system? It is the group ofmethods used in manufacturing of which the most conspicuous are (a) systematic production; (b) standardization to insure uniformity of product; (c) division and subdivision of labor. These represent the application of the principles of efficiency to the work of producing the necessaries and luxuries of modern civilization.We will consider in turn each of these three methods for increasing efficiency as they have indirectly affected or have been directly applied to the home and the family.
Systematic ProductionThis brings us to the consideration of the first industrial technique as it affects the home and family — Systematic Production. This principle was first applied to the factory floor, but it was inevitably applied to the factory office, to marketing and every other area. Soon the industrialists were insisting that it be applied to the nation’s economy and every other sphere.
The result was to be a super-system or mass economy with the state as its care-taker.
As Taylor said above, "the system must be first." Man (mass man — not his industrialist masters) must be made subservient to the machine. But not only individuals — all the institutions of society must also be re-designed to facilitate the efficient operation of the industrial economy. The family is mainly viewed as a group of individuals who either work or produce workers — or both. The structure of the family, its relation to other social groups, its other functions, its meaning, its God-ordained place and value are all secondary to the perfecting of the economic system.
The first problem with the family that had to be solved was that it represented a rival to the industrial economic system. It was a "produce and consume" system, as opposed to our familiar "earn and buy" system. As long as families could produce most of their necessities, they would need little money to buy things — and would have little incentive to become the cheap labor that
the factories required. They would also never be a large market for cheap, standardized, mass-produced goods while they could make better, personalized goods for themselves. So what did the industrialists do? To quote Borsodi:
When the first manufacturers discovered that wealth could be accumulated much more rapidly by applying power to the making of one thing in one place instead of making many different things in one place, the first step in the development of the factory system had been taken. On the heels of this discovery came lower prices, made possible by economies in labor and economies in material, and a ruthless war of extermination upon the guild, the custom, and the domestic systems of production.
The ubiquitous village smithy, where horses and oxen were shod and where practically everything which the neighborhood needed in the way of iron work was made: agricultural implements — plowshares, bog-hoes, stone hooks, garden forks; carpenter's tools — broad-axes, pod-augers, beetles and frows; building hardware — hinges, latches, and locks; fire-place utensils — andirons, gridirons, cranes, tongs, and shovels; cooking utensils, cutlery and hundreds of other things, disappeared. The smithy's place was taken by mills and machine shops in each of which only one article or one commodity was made, or if a number of allied products were made, each was produced serially instead of on custom order.
The spinning wheels, the combs and cards, the reels and the looms and the loom rooms disappeared from the craftsmen's shops and from the homes of rich and poor. These were replaced by mills in each of which only one process in the making of fabrics was carried on. One mill spun yarn. Another wove gray goods. A third dyed and finished them. Or mills confined themselves to only one fiber, to linen, to wool, to cotton, or to silk, and performed the various processes of manufacture in separate departments each of which made possible systematic factory production.
Much of the cooking and preserving disappeared from the home. Homes with kitchens, pantries, vegetable cellars, smoke-houses and milk houses in which foods were cooked, smoked, pickled and preserved by the joint effort of the entire family were replaced by packing houses and canneries, in which foodstuffs were systematically packed and canned and bottled by the most approved factory techniques.
Serial production in the factory destroyed the very foundations of individual production. The factory owners, by concentrating systematically on one product, were able not only to outsell the craftsmen but to paralyze most of the productive activities in the home. The factory product, eventually, sold so cheaply that the workshop producers could not hope to meet its competition. It became so cheap that it did not even seem worth while for individuals to continue its production for their own consumption. (Italics added.)
With competing systems of production eliminated, the industrialists now had control of the means of production, a large and dependent market, and a willing workforce of displaced people who had to earn money somehow to buy their necessities. Production was now systematic and could be made fully subservient to the principle of "efficiency." The productive homestead, however, was gone.
Standardization to Insure Uniformity of ProductThe second industrial method, standardization, affected the life of the family in a less dramatic, but highly significant way. Borsodi explains:
Home and workshop products tended to vary not only in response to the moods and creative urge of the maker, but often in accordance with the needs, desires, and idiosyncrasies of the consumer. Under such conditions eccentricity was no luxury. Personality could be catered to because individual taste was not penalized. Being made individually and not serially, the products could be varied in size, in quality and in design to suit the maker or consumer without materially affecting the actual cost of production. But none of the economies of mass production, mass distribution and mass consumption is possible if the finished product is permitted to vary in this manner. Serial production in the factory is dependent at all stages upon uniformities: uniformities of design, material and workmanship. Each article exactly duplicates every other, not only because uniformity is essential for economical mass production, but because it is essential to the creation of mass consumption.
If the cooks in the canneries were permitted to vary each batch of soup as the spirit moved them, some of the cans of soup would contain more salt, other less; some would contain onions, others would have none; some would be thin, others would be thick. It would be obviously impossible to create a mass demand for the soup. Mass production is dependent upon mass consumption. The consumer must know before hand just about what the soup is going to contain. The recipe, therefore, has to be a compromise which appeals to all kinds of demand. Taste has to be standardized, not only in soup, but in nearly everything that is consumed, or factory production becomes impossible. The standardization of consumables results in decreased personalism in the home. The cook no longer prepares food "just the way you like it.” There is also less scope for self-expression in "opening a can" than there is in making soup "from scratch." The variety of ways that family members interact with and express feelings for one another is greatly reduced when everything is mass-produced to a compromise standard dictated by the tastes of the majority, rather than personally hand-made to please the beloved family member who will use or consume it.
Division and Subdivision of LaborWith the economically productive and independent homestead gone, and with the personal relationships within the family weakened by the culture of mass consumerism, the next step in the process of subordinating everything to the economic system was to impose on all of society the principle of ultra-specialization — thus re-defining every institution and every person in terms of the function it serves in the system.
With serial production and with uniformity in the product, division and sub-division of labor make possible revolutionary reductions in the amount of human labor which have to be used per unit of production. Special machines can be devised for each operation, and the worker, instead of having to be able to perform all the operations involved in making the product from beginning to end, can be confined to the endless repetition of a few simple operations. Amazing economies, as Henry Ford has shown, become possible.
When one workman assembled the fly-wheel magneto for the Model T Ford automobile complete, it took about twenty minutes. By dividing the work of assembly into twenty-nine operations performed by twenty-nine men, the total time for the assembling was finally cut to five minutes; one man was able to do somewhat more than four men were able to do before.
First, the children have become specialists in (1) going to school and in (2) consumption. Unlike the children of the eighteenth century in America, children no longer provide their parents with an economic benefit because they no longer have work to do at home. They are instead a huge economic liability because they not only contribute less, but they demand more from their parents: more expensive designer clothes, electronic entertainment, fast foods and convenience foods. (And American parents do not see this as spoiling their children, but as “love.”) Instead of having many responsibilities, their chief responsibility is to go to school (which may or may not be the same thing as learning) until they are old enough to go to school some more (this time at enormous cost). Their labor does not belong to the parents anymore, and they rarely provide any economic benefit when the parents grow old.
Next, the fathers are specialists in earning. It does not matter what they have to do so much as how much money they need to make to support the spoiling of the wife and the children and the burden of the responsibility to consume to keep the economy “healthy.” A sense of vocation is rare, because one cannot afford the luxury of choice. One must be willing to fit into the labor requirements of society — no matter how bewildering, empty or dehumanizing the work.
The mothers, on the other hand are specialists in spending. They are the ones who make most of the purchasing decisions, and the ones who forsake the home for life in the shopping mall. Mother is not likely to be a homemaker anymore — what is there to do at home? She may have to earn a second income to support her spending, but that is secondary to her basic role.
The old folks specialize in feeling useless — for they know that they are obsolete in today’s world. No one wants to listen to the wisdom they have gained by long experience. No one wants to hire them for the service they can best provide, because their ideas are considered obsolete. Besides, most employers prefer young people.
Modern institutions are highly specialized, too. The home has become nothing more than a place of consumption, the church a place for religious expression, the “club,” bar or restaurant the place of social activity. You are born in a hospital and go to a rest home to die. All of these activities used to take place in the home.
The Family on the Brink
Life has become fragmented and meaningless and so has the family. The traditional extended, consanguineal family has been replaced with the modern “nuclear” family. The difference is profound. The consanguineal family is a group that includes everyone of the same blood. It is a strong social unit that ordinarily grows with each generation. It can learn from its mistakes if it regards the wisdom of its patriarchs. It naturally builds a multi-generational community based on a common faith and heritage and common experiences.
The nuclear family is a part of that extended family operating in isolation from the community of common blood. It may not grow at all, because the grown children go off to start their own little independent families, leaving the now-unneeded old folks behind to fend for themselves. There is no continuity in such a social grouping, because the modern couple feels no connection with the past and no obligation to perpetuate the folkways of the families of origin. There is no family tradition, because children are taught today to choose their own values. The nuclear family is not an alternative model of the family — it is the family at the brink of destruction. It has little capability to resist the destructive forces of the surrounding world.
For all practical purposes, the family as the basic unit of society has been replaced with the individual on the one hand and the mass collective on the other. The family is no longer the center and source of economic activity, social life, education or anything else. Like a vestigial organ, that no longer serves any purpose, it is a useless relic of the past, destined to pass away. But that is the price we pay for the benefits of the Technological Society.
Is there any hope?It is very painful to realize how far we have come down a dead-end road, and what we have lost by going down it. But it is the first step of recovery to understand where you are in relation to where you want to be. In this case, the road back is going to be long and painful at best. It is well to get that clear at the outset, so that when the road gets rough we are not surprised. Some may wonder if it’s worth the trouble, since we (and maybe our children as well) will have to live in this disjointed, misshapen world as it is for the foreseeable future. Perhaps we should just accept it and make the best of it.
For Christians, there can be no allowance for such pessimism. It’s bad for morale, and we are soldiers in the Lord’s army. There are some significant changes that we can make in our lives that are bound to make a difference. Many of you are already doing one of the most important things — giving your children a Christian education. Whether you homeschool or entrust your children to Christian teachers, your children ought to be far ahead of where you were at their age. If they are properly educated, they will be equipped to articulate and to plan for a better life for their children.
But we must not put our trust in education — even a holistic Christian education. Even more important is the example of spiritual self-discipline and self-denial they see in their parents. We must raise up a holy seed for the Lord. How we can hope to do this without shutting off the television I can’t imagine. We must live like soldiers in the field, without all the comforts and worldly indulgences that make us soft and unfit for the rigors of battle. If we want to change the world, it’s going to cost us something. We are going to have to live as a people set apart to the Lord if we want to know spiritual power.
I have watched immigrant families who come to this country with nothing, and within a few years they are able to maintain a lifestyle that is comfortable — even luxurious. They can do this because they are willing to make large sacrifices for the sake of a goal to which they are really committed. They work extremely hard to be the best at what they do. They feed their families on a few dollars a week, because that is one of the few costs they can control. We have it so easy growing up here that many of us never learn this kind of discipline.
Saving the FamilyThe first step in restoring the vigor of our struggling families must be to remove as many of the unnecessary destructive influences as possible. The Amish have been able to survive as a Christian culture in a secular world because they have understood the necessity of separation. (I am not arguing for the exact way they do this.) Whatever we may think of their customs and rules, they have succeeded in building and maintaining a culture that has refused to be pressured into conformity with the surrounding secular society. Before we reject everything that these brethren have to say, we should at least appreciate what they have been able to accomplish and how.
In effect, the Amish see themselves as a family. Like every family, the elders of the family set the standards for the protection of each member and the group as a whole. While these standards are not elevated to the level of Scripture, they are nevertheless binding on the group. The purpose of government is to ensure the integrity of the community and to allow it to act as one people, with goals that can only be reached by the cooperation of all, and by sacrificing merely private concerns for the public good — building the kingdom of God.
The Amish have stressed the need to keep out the influences of decadent western culture, and so they have banned television, telephones and computers from the home. They have been able to do this because of a work ethic that allows little time for mere entertainment, by entertaining themselves in active ways, by using community telephones placed outdoors, by allowing computers in business offices, by cultivating relationships “face-to-face” and by doing business locally as much as possible.
While we are not advocating the extremes of the Amish model, even as isolated Christian families we must find ways to lessen the influence of the world on our families. It is not enough to just keep them from “getting into trouble.” We must see our goal as developing a strong family identity as a people who are impassioned advocates of justice and truth — who are dedicated to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything that is going to hinder that needs to go. The cumulative effect of “innocent entertainments” and “harmless indulgences” can be as devastating as outright and open sin.
The second step in restoring our families is to replace those things that serve some necessary purpose with better alternatives. The economic pressure which the technological society places upon us is extreme. It is impossible for most of us to avoid participation in the “earn and buy” economy in the short term. Even if we live in Christian communities, most of us are not capable of supporting ourselves by subsistence farming. I believe that is a good goal for many — but it is still far off for most of us. As a first step toward self-sufficiency, some of us should be thinking about starting our own businesses. This would allow us to control more of our time, our business relationships and in some cases — our ability to relocate. In Rivendell, there are businesses that use the Internet and the phone lines that could operate just about anywhere.
Another change we can begin to make is to learn home arts and crafts that will eventually allow us to build self-sufficient homesteads in self-sufficient communities. In particular, one of the goals of our children’s education should be to make them proficient in at least a few of the useful arts of the homestead. This is an excellent way to discover the interests and giftedness of our children, as well as producing useful and valuable goods for the family’s use — and can even become a source of income for the family.
The third step is to buttress the nuclear family (where this is feasible) by restoring and strengthening relationships with our extended families. This can be difficult or impossible, because some of our relatives may not want to have strong ties with us. However, let me suggest a few things. We need to make the conversion of our extended families a top priority (if we haven’t already). We should try to build reciprocal relationships by remembering them and doing things for them (not just at Christmas). Those that are Christians we must further seek to lead into a vision of God’s righteous kingdom. Finally, we must let each of them know that we value them and thank God for the family ties that bind us. We should especially seek the wisdom of older relatives, and thus honor our fathers and our mothers. There are times when even unregenerate parents will have good counsel.
The fourth step is to commit our families to the goal of building Christian community We should be praying for God to show us how he would have us work together to build Christian communities. This is not an option, I am convinced. We must build the new world one community at a time. Perhaps we can establish Christian communities where we are. Perhaps we can move to one already in existence. Perhaps we need to pray and study and wait for light. God may open a way unexpectedly, as he did for this author and many he knows. Perhaps we need to begin to network with others around the country who aspire to the same goal.
If it’s not feasible for us to join one, we can set it as a goal for our children, and plan accordingly. Perhaps that money we were going to spend on a college education could buy them property instead. Which is more important — to make our children secure in a world order that is passing away, or to help them to build the kingdom which cannot be moved?
These are just a few of the things we can do to start to move things back in the right direction. Others will occur to us as we seek the Lord’s wisdom. This is not the first time the church has had to face a powerful pagan society and overcome it. Our hope is in the Lord.
(This article originally appeared in "Patriarch Magazine" edited and copyrighted by Phil Lancaster. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)