Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Family in Technological Society: Stephen B. Clark's Analysis of Technological Society and its Effects on the Family

By Howard King

What follows is the second of a two part abridgement of the eighteenth chapter of Stephen B. Clark’s book, Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in the Light of Scripture and the Social Sciences. This book is one of the most important written in the twentieth century, and this chapter, “The New Social Environment: Technological Society” is one of the most important parts of the book. The historical and sociological data he presents are accurate and his analysis profound. Many of these facts have been presented by others before, but never have they been organized into the concise yet comprehensive and systematic form that Clark provides – and never have they been viewed from the perspective of a rigorous Christian orthodoxy.

This chapter, which occupies 40 pages in the original book, is jam-packed with information and insights. In attempting to distill the essence into two ordinary-sized magazine articles a great deal must necessarily be lost. It is this editor’s hope that the reader will be inspired by what he finds here to go on and read Clark for himself, in unabridged form. In any case, he will find much here that will help him to understand the predicament of the family in the modern world. —HK

Part One:
Tradional vs Technological Society

The Family in Technological Society

The family constitutes the basic unit of both traditional society and, to a more limited extent, technological society. The family is also the unit of society which resists functionalization most stubbornly. In fact, one could even say that to the degree that the family is functionalized, to that degree it is weakened and dissolved. The dynamic of family life is contrary to the dynamic of technological society, and family life increasingly manifests the strains that come from inhabiting an inhospitable environment.

Changes in Family Life

Two major changes befall the family in technological society. The first change involves the gradual weakening of kinship ties and supportive neighborhood-type groupings. In traditional society, the family consists of more than the nuclear unit of husband, wife, and offspring. The traditional family consists of a sizable group of people and includes many conjugal units linked through some structure based on common descent. This wide set of committed kinship relationships exists regardless of whether the group lives together in one building. The larger family, kinship group, or clan has several important functions. It provides financial aid to the individual conjugal unit in times of special need, and often functions as a unit of economic operation. For example, a family farm or business often belongs to the larger kinship group instead of to the head of a conjugal family. The kinship grouping therefore serves as the social security, welfare, and insurance system. The members of the larger family also share one another's good fortune. If one member arrives at a position of power or wealth, the entire kinship grouping can expect to benefit. Side by side with this strong kinship system is a committed village, neighborhood, occupational, or class grouping. These groupings sometimes perform functions and fulfill roles similar to those of the kinship grouping. The conjugal unit thus finds its place in the wider set of relationships and commitments provided by the kinship system and the neighborhood type grouping.

Technological society changes the relationship between the conjugal unit and both the wider kinship and village-neighborhood networks. The bonds within a kinship grouping begin to weaken, and the family group as a whole becomes smaller. Village-neighborhood relationships lose much of their familiarity, stability, and interdependence. This process whereby the conjugal family is isolated from larger relational groupings should be familiar from the previous discussion. It includes an increase in geographic and socioeconomic mobility, the general weakening of all groupings which do not operate according to strictly functional principles, the trend toward making the individual the basic unit of society, and the gradual transfer of the functions of the kinship network to larger social institutions with more resources at their command. Thus, the conjugal grouping of husband, wife, and children assumes a new independent existence, and becomes the only major familial unit of society.

Many internal features of the conjugal unit also change. Descent loses much of its importance, and the descent system therefore shifts from a matrilineal or patrilineal structure to a bilineal structure. This means that the individual traces his descent through both the father and the mother, and kinship groupings thus become less unified and distinct. This change predated technological society in the Western European family but affects many other family systems in the process of technological development. Choice of spouse becomes primarily the prerogative of the individual, in part because the newly created conjugal unit will find no integral place in a larger network of committed relationships. As larger relational groupings diminish in significance, the conjugal family increases in emotional intensity and in the psychological burden which it must carry. In technological society, the nuclear family unit of husband, wife, and children therefore becomes "the family."

The second major change affecting family life is the loss of family functions. In traditional society, the family provided for most of the needs of its individual members.

First, the traditional family was a major economic unit. Whether the family consisted primarily of farmers, craftsmen, merchants, rulers, or warriors, the individual normally found employment through the family relationship, and most often worked in the context of his own home.

Secondly, the family was a social welfare unit. The sick would be cared for at home by other family members. The aged would live with their younger relatives and would receive material and emotional support from them. Anyone who encountered financial trouble or other types of difficulties would normally seek help from family members. Only after reaching the end of family resources would they seek help from outside the family, from neighbors, a wealthy person in the region, or someone else in the associated village-neighborhood network.

Thirdly, the family was the primary educational unit. Most young people received their basic and technical education from their parents, older brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, and older cousins. In Western traditional society, a young person's technical education would often be supplemented by apprenticeship to an unrelated adult, but even in the new setting the young person would become part of the master's household. Tutors only served in noble and wealthy families, and special schools, as developed later, would be only for those receiving professional training. In Western society, schooling did not become common for wealthier bourgeois children until the seventeenth century, and mass education was a product of the nineteenth century.

Fourthly, the family was often a unit of defense and protection. Families were frequently armed. Families often served as units in citizen armies, and they sometimes had the responsibility and legal right to punish certain offenses committed against family members (i.e., the right of blood vengeance).

Family functions vary from society to society and from time to time within the history of a society. Nonetheless, it is generally true that an individual in traditional society spent much of his life within his family and under the care of his family. The basic unit of society was the family, not the individual.

In technological society, most of the functions once associated with family life are transferred to the realm of mass institutions. Economic life occurs within distinct economic institutions (businesses, factories, offices) separated from people's homes. Hospitals, clinics, doctors, and nurses care for the sick, and most people are born and die in a medical institution apart from the family. Infirm aged are cared for in hospitals, convalescent homes, and retirement centers. Financial support is provided by insurance agencies, loan agencies, social security systems, and welfare departments. Most education (except for the earliest stages) occurs at a school or on the job. Religious education is provided by Sunday school or catechism class. Police and standing armies assume all defense functions. Even leisure becomes less the province of the family, and more the province of peer groups and "friends."

The family only retains the functions of reproduction and early childhood training, and emotional and personal support. In fact, the burden of emotional support falls more heavily on the nuclear family as kinship ties and neighborhood-type groupings weaken. The family becomes the only place in society where the individual receives stable, unconditional, overall concern. Home is the place where "they have to take you in." As society assigns more and more things to specialized groupings designed for specific purposes, and as an individual's life gets portioned out to different groups and institutions, the technological family loses many of the functions which the family performed in traditional society.

Consequences for Modern Family Life

The gradual weakening of kinship and neighborhood ties and the loss of family functions which occur in technological society have several significant consequences in family life.
Isolation. First, the conjugal family becomes isolated from other relational groupings which can support the pattern of family life. It is popularly supposed that this isolation strengthens the conjugal family. This view assumes that as the conjugal family becomes more independent of the wider kinship grouping and makes more decisions on its own, it should increase in strength and vitality. In fact, isolation appears to weaken the family. The traditional kinship network has a great interest in the stability of the individual nuclear family. The kinship network strengthens the individual family by placing it in a larger communal setting that reinforces family ties and compensates for individual family weaknesses. The institutions of technological society provide some support for family life, but they cannot replace strong kinship relations.

Emotional Support.
Secondly, the nuclear family life tends to be unable to carry the heavy burden for personal and emotional support that technological society lays upon it. In studying the family in technological society, Norman Ryder makes this point:
The competitive and impersonal environment of an occupational structure (for the adult) or of an educational structure (for the child) is psychologically burdensome because it asks much of the individual in discipline and returns little in psychological security. The conjugal family serves as an oasis for the replenishment of the person, providing the individual with stable, diffuse and largely unquestioning support, assuaging the bruises of defeat and otherwise repairing whatever damage may have been done in the achievement-oriented struggles of the outside world. The network of relationships through which one could seek such acceptance without the test of satisfactory performance was once much larger; it encompassed the extended kinship structure and the community of residence…. With the erosion of these alternatives the importance of the immediate family as a source of dependable emotional support becomes enhanced.
Technological society is dominated by functional situations which demand much from the individual and give little in return. Since the kinship network is no longer strong enough to assist and other stable relational groupings have weakened or vanished, the conjugal family must shoulder the full burden of this support. In addition, the absence of other family functions tends to make this one function the focal point of family life. This emotional intensity produces a strain on the conjugal family which it is not always able to cope with.

Parents and Children.
A third and related consequence of the changes in the family within technological society is a weakened relationship between parents and children. As family functions are attenuated and emotional support becomes the basis of the family relationship, the bond between parents and children grows fragile. Ryder states this point as well:
The links between parent and child, unlike those between husband and wife, are forged during the long and intimate process of interaction required for child socialization. In spite of this solid foundation it is uncertain that those links will survive the child's transition to adulthood, because their structural supports, which are characteristic of a traditional society have now largely vanished. The parents once controlled access to the land and provided most of the training necessary for the child's later work, but now land is not the prime base of production and technical education is acquired outside the family. The shift of the control of rewards and punishments from the family to the society has attenuated the traditional authority of the parent over the child. Deference, respect and gratitude alike have been diluted by the intrusion into the family structure of the alien ideology of individual rights and liberties.
Therefore, parents in technological society become less important to their children in every area other than emotional attachment. They provide for less of their children's needs — less of their education and rearing, less of the key to their future life. As they grow older, children rely upon their parents only for financial assistance, and even this need soon disappears. Nor do parents rely upon their children for anything other than some form of emotional support. As technological society develops, children perform less work within the family, and become noncontributing dependents. Parents increasingly provide even for their own old age. The breakdown of structural supports puts considerable pressure on the emotional bond, and in many cases the bond is too unstable to bear the pressure. The father's authority in the family becomes questioned, and the relationships between parents and children as a whole become brittle and unsteady.

The Man's Role.
Fourthly, the gradual weakening of kinship ties and the loss of family functions which occur in technological society also affect the role of the husband and father. The adult male familial role narrows in scope, and many of the traditional incentives for assuming this role are eliminated. This can be seen first of all in the separation of work site and home that results from the loss of the family's economic function. Since he must spend a large proportion of his time away from his home and in activities which exclude the participation of other family members (such as young sons), it is more difficult for him to exercise consistent authority over the household and to raise his sons.

In addition, the psychological demands of the functionalized work environment cause many men to use their time away from work as a period of emotional escape, rather than as an opportunity to fulfill the demanding responsibilities of a husband and father. The traditional male role in the family can appear as a difficult extra chore, since it is no longer integrated into the daily fabric of the man's life.

The loss of family functions also diminishes male incentive for fulfilling a paternal role by virtually severing the connection between a man's family and his career, livelihood, and status. In most traditional societies, a man desires offspring as a way of recruiting laborers for the family's economic enterprise, providing for his old age, gaining added physical strength for defense, carrying on his name and lineage, and generally advancing his position and status in society. These incentives no longer exist in technological society. Also, as "deference, respect and gratitude" for the paternal role are "diluted" among the children, the role of father and husband ceases to bring status and honor even within the family. The male familial role thus narrows in scope, and the man has few structural incentives to fulfill even this narrow role.

The Woman's Role.
Finally, the changes in family life which occur in technological society seriously undermine the traditional role of women in the family. The woman today who assumes the traditional role of wife, mother, and domestic manager becomes increasingly isolated and dependent. The weakening of kinship ties means that her household role no longer places her in the midst of a lively and attractive set of personal relationships. The loss of family functions means that she no longer participates productively in the economic activities of the family. She thus becomes isolated from economic, social, and political life, and grows more emotionally and financially dependent upon her husband.

At the same time that she becomes isolated, she also finds her traditional household role shrinking in significance. She has fewer children to care for than would a mother in traditional society, and the increasing longevity of people in technological society means that she will spend a much smaller proportion of her life caring for those children. The diminishing significance of family life in all but its emotional aspects means that little of her knowledge and skill is demanded of her while much is demanded of her emotionally.

In addition, the educational institutions of technological society treat men and women alike; thus many women grow up with functional work skills and desire for achievement. This causes a role conflict to develop. As Ryder puts it, "The education system, which typically exhibits less overt discrimination than either the home or the place of work, equips the young woman with capabilities for and interests in non-familial roles. If her aspirations are frustrated, she experiences discontent; if her aspirations are fulfilled, she experiences guilt."

The traditional role of women is also attenuated by trends which detach many women from family units. Women in traditional society were always attached to men and family life. Since their role was primarily internal to household life, they were even less independent of the family than the men were. However, the changes in the family in technological society have altered this condition. More and more women are unattached to men and to family, and not always by the woman's choice. In many sectors of modern Western society it is assumed that females, like males, will eventually become independent of the parental conjugal family. Often they can expect to spend much of their adult lives alone because of a husband's death, divorce, or because they never marry. In traditional society, unmarried and widowed women would automatically become part of a family group. In technological society, being unmarried or widowed usually means being on one's own. In such circumstances it is almost impossible for a woman to fulfill the traditional female role.

The role of women as traditionally defined is thus undermined by the changes in family life which occur in technological society. The female role within the family begins to lose much of its substance. Since the world of work appears to be the only option, many women enter this world. Children tend to be entrusted to various institutions and surrogates, such as the day-care center, school, or television set. The family — the one situation in technological society which has a place for men's and women's roles — diminishes as a significant relational grouping. Personal relationships among men and women occur chiefly in strictly functionalized settings, or in spontaneous, unstructured, and informal friendship groups. In such a social condition, the demands expressed in women's movements arise almost of necessity.

The forces of technological society militate against groupings structured according to a relational principle. The family therefore finds it difficult to inhabit such a society. Family functions are removed, wider support systems are broken down, and roles and relationships become less stable and secure. Yet the family continues to play a role of great significance in technological society, as it must in every society. The family rears the children and provides personal and emotional support. As Ryder points out, many conflicts result from the family's ambiguous position in technological society:
The conjugal family is a relatively efficient design for supplying the kind of labor force a productive society needs and for providing comfort to the individual exposed to the consequences of participation in that system. The family has been the foundation of all systems ascribing status on the basis of characteristics fixed at birth (such as race, sex, ethnic group and frequently social class). Its influence is antithetical to the exercise of productive rationality through equality of opportunity. Yet any attempt at further attenuation of family ties, in the interests of optimal allocation of human resources, would probably be self-defeating because of the high psychological cost to the individual. The family is an essentially authoritarian system persisting within an egalitarian environment. The growth of industrialism has been closely linked to the development of the ideology of individual liberty. Family political structure — the authority of male over female and of parent over child — has no immunity to the implications of this ideological change. Grave internal difficulties may therefore be expected.
The position of the family within technological society is precarious. It performs essential functions for the wider society, but in so doing it must operate according to a principle of social structure diametrically opposed to this society. Consequently, the family undergoes serious tensions, and its future in technological society is in question.

Evaluating Technological Society

Traditional society provides a more hospitable environment for what can be termed the natural structures of society — those structures based on age and sex differences that find primary expression in family life and supply an environment in which people can live and receive personal support, rather than merely work. Technological society fails to come to grips adequately with these natural structures, and thus develops a specific set of social problems.

These problems especially concern those groups of people who are unable to participate fully in the functional world of work.Two such groups are the aged and the dying. Neither group is able to participate functionally in the way demanded by the larger society. In addition, the changes in family life in technological society mean that the aged and the dying can no longer find their place in the family unit. The technological family is constructed in such a way that few adult roles remain after the children have been fully raised. Older people find themselves alone, isolated, separated from constructive life, and without a sense of being able to make a worthwhile contribution. Their age earns them little respect, for they are unable to fill the positions or perform the tasks that give status and honor. The family unit is no longer large enough or cohesive enough to care for the aged, the infirm, and the dying. These people are thus entrusted to mass social institutions or left to care for themselves. They often find their lives purposeless and meaningless, for they have no place or role in the society around them.

In traditional society, the aged, the infirm, and the dying found themselves in a very different position. Although there was a consciousness that age brought failing powers, older people were normally accorded greater respect, partly because their greater experience proved more useful to a younger generation living in a society that did not know rapid change, but also as a consequence of an ascribed status. Age was automatically accorded respect. In addition, the aged were not isolated. Rather, they lived as part of a family group in a home environment where most of the vital functions of society were performed. They could relate actively and constructively to people of all ages. The infirm and the dying also found their place in the family. The size and commitment of the family allowed them to be cared for within a familiar home environment, in the midst of bustling daily life, among a group of people who were personally loyal to them.

Thus, the aged, the infirm, and the dying all found themselves in relational groupings of people who had known them all of their lives and had built up an abiding respect, loyalty, and affection for them. Traditional society was therefore better able to incorporate these people into the whole life of the society. It could do this both because of the strength of the family, and also because functional considerations did not predominate in personal relationships.

In similar fashion, traditional society had a place for the young. Children became a part of normal daily life after their first few years. They quickly began to contribute to the well-being of others and to care for others. They were surrounded by models from whom they could learn. They were confident of their role in life and of the right way to live. They drew their personal identity from their family membership.

On the other hand, the young in technological society are confined to a world of their own populated by other human beings who lack the age and training to be able to function competently. For years they are unable to contribute substantially to the welfare of others, and remain apart from the "real life" of society. They also grow into a world of uncertain values, and they are segregated from an experience of how more mature members of society confront the most important situations in life. The young consequently experience an "identity crisis" and seem increasingly prone to dissatisfaction with themselves and with others.

Finally, as discussed earlier, women occupy a difficult and ambiguous position in technological society. Their traditional role within the household no longer places them in the mainstream of social and economic life. Women thus face a challenging dilemma. If they maintain their traditional role, they become isolated and dependent, and unable to assume a functionally productive role in the larger society. However, if they pursue an occupation and a career, they are less able to care for a family. Many women arrange some compromise between these two alternatives, but some ambiguity and tension normally remains.

The female role operated much differently in traditional society. Because the family was so important to society, women were able to both care for a family and participate in the wider society. There is little evidence that women in traditional society experienced widespread dissatisfaction with their role in society. They knew that they were valued as women, and they could achieve a great deal of respect through fulfilling their womanly role well. In contrast, technological society tends to put less and less value on their role as women, and more value on their functional success as individuals.

The transition from traditional society to technological society has radically altered human social structure. Since the world of the writers of the Scripture was a traditional world, while ours is a technological world, it is not surprising that many Christians find it difficult to understand the scriptural teaching on social structure. The material presented in this chapter should help us to perceive clearly the background of much of this teaching, and thus help us to understand the teaching itself. This material should also help us identify our own preconceptions and presuppositions, as people of the twentieth century, regarding various approaches to social structure. Many people respond negatively to the scriptural teaching because they bring a functional mentality to their reading of scripture.

In addition, the material presented in this chapter should also clarify the genesis and development of the feminist movement. This movement is in part a response to genuine needs and problems. Though the feminist solutions are often inadequate, any adequate Christian approach to the roles of men and women must squarely face these same needs and problems.

(This article originally appeared in "Patriarch Magazine" edited and copyrighted by Phil Lancaster. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)


Friday, May 4, 2007

Tradional vs Technological Society: Stephen B. Clark's Analysis of Technological Society and Its Effects on the Family

By Howard King

What follows is the first of a two-part abridgement of the eighteenth chapter of Stephen B. Clark’s book, Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in the Light of Scripture and the Social Sciences. This book is simply one of the most important written in the twentieth century, and this chapter, “The New Social Environment: Technological Society” is one of the most important parts of the book. The historical and sociological data he presents are accurate and his analysis profound. Many of these facts have been presented by others before, but never have they been organized into the concise yet comprehensive and systematic form that Clark provides – and never have they been viewed from the perspective of a rigorous Christian orthodoxy.

This chapter, which occupies 40 pages in the original book, is jam-packed with information and insights. In attempting to distill the essence into two ordinary-sized magazine articles a great deal must necessarily be lost. It is this editor’s hope that the reader will be inspired by what he finds here to go on and read Clark for himself, in unabridged form. In any case, he will find much here that will help him to understand the predicament of the family in the modern world. —HK

The life of the human race has undergone a radical change in the last 250 years. We have moved from a traditional society, or, to be more accurate, a collection of traditional societies, to a world-wide technological society that is rapidly becoming universal for the human race. This change from traditional to technological society has revolutionized human life, and one of the elements of human life that has been radically altered is social relationships.

From a Relational to a Functional Society

When a human society moves from traditional to technological society, a basic principle changes in the organization of the social structure. The organization shifts from a social pattern in which relationship is the most fundamental consideration to a social pattern in which functional accomplishment is the most fundamental consideration. An overall systemic change occurs in the structure of human society, and this change reshapes everything in human life. Because the change is systemic, many elements change in a subordinate way. Family life moves from being consanguineal to conjugal. Government moves from being personal to bureaucratic. The fundamental unit of society ceases to be the family and becomes instead the individual. The care of social needs shifts from the realm of stable personal relationships to the realm of specialized social welfare institutions. Efficiency considerations replace status and honor considerations. Tradition as a source of authority yields to utilitarian rationalism as a source of authority.

The functional principle

When a group of human beings is highly interested in completing a task, they tend to organize their activities and interrelations according to a functional principle. One can speak of a functional approach to human activity and interrelations when a set of human interactions are systematically shaped to maximize production or to achieve other goals. The functional approach is most dominant in a situation where work occurs in a different time and place from "living," that is, when a work site such as an office or factory is separated from the home.. The chief or overriding criterion which organizes activities in the functional situation is task-efficiency. The functional principle is thus a work principle oriented primarily to production, achievement and efficient task-performance.

This criterion of task-efficiency is not universal to the human race. Those accustomed to the functional efficiency of the modern office or factory can be maddened when they visit another culture where work is not segregated from "life" in special environments dominated by a functional approach. They may become frustrated and confused when they discover that an official will readily spend hours talking to a friend who happens by, or when they confront a political situation in which ceremony is accorded a high value and consequently often replaces the functional tasks of government rather than being separated as much from them as possible. Such visitors are encountering a principle of social structure that differs from the functional principle.

The relational principle

The alternative to the functional principle of social structure is the relational principle. This has been the predominant principle shaping the social organization of most cultures throughout human history. The main remnant of such relational groupings in technological society is the family, but other remnants are sometimes found in villages, neighborhoods, religious communities or other intentional communities. People join together in relational situations primarily for the sake of living together and not primarily for the sake of accomplishing a task or producing a product. For example, a family often shows much devotion to a family member who is hostile, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to make a functional contribution to the family. If asked to explain such loyalty, family members would probably say simply, "he is my father," "she is my daughter," or "he is my brother." Questions of functional contribution and task efficiency are not primary in determining the structure and life of the grouping.

Many people living in technological society think of the word "functional" as a term of unqualified commendation. What is not purely functional is described as "inefficient," "purposeless," or "disorganized," in other words, as functioning poorly. However, though the relational approach is not primarily task-oriented, it is inaccurate to characterize it as "purposeless" or "inefficient." A different criterion for efficiency applies to relational settings. This criterion measures "relationship value" rather than "task efficiency." A type of purposiveness exists in relational groupings, but one that differs from the task-orientation of the functional grouping. The primary goal in a relational grouping is to strengthen the relationships and the people who are in the relationships. Task considerations are not ignored. However, they are secondary to the primary concern for the solidarity of personal relationships and the welfare of those individuals who are in the relationships.

People who live in a technological society usually find it difficult to understand the concept of "relationship value." This difficulty springs largely from the tendency to divorce purposive, goal-oriented activities from expressive activities. The sphere of expressive activities includes aesthetic expression (e.g., music, dance, painting), emotional expression (e.g., anger, affection, grief), and ceremonial expression. According to the functional approach, this sphere remains separate from the functionalized work setting, since expressive activities do not directly contribute to the accomplishment of the tasks at hand. As a consequence, the concern for usefulness and purpose is not supposed to interfere with the expressive sphere. A person gets angry, celebrates, or sings a song, simply on the basis of preference and feeling. Expression is an end in itself and is divorced from the purposive sphere of productive or utilitarian concerns.

This separation between goal-oriented and expressive activities does not occur in a relational situation. The relational work setting provides room for expressive activities, such as customs of respect or affection; as, for example, among a family preparing a meal. There is also a purposiveness in the expressive activities. They are not merely guided by emotion and preference. Activities such as showing affection, of respect, worship, ceremony, and celebration express aspects of a personal relationship when done in a relational grouping and are often done on the basis of objectively understood principles. They are not primarily ways of expressing emotion, though emotions can be involved. The purposive, goal-directed sphere is thus integrated with the expressive sphere within the context of stable personal relationships.

There are several other important differences between groups structured according to functional and relational principles.

Personal vs. task considerations

First, functional groups tend to be characterized by certain types of impersonality when contrasted with relational groups. Functional situations are normally structured in a way that makes them independent of particular people. This type of impersonality in functional groupings is sometimes described as the "institutional" or "bureaucratic" element of the grouping. An organization is created (a factory or a corporation or a government) which is staffed by people, but the people are replaceable. All of the people in the organization could die simultaneously and be replaced by people of like skills, and, if adequate records were left, the organization could continue on in the future as it did in the past.

A relational grouping operates according to a different principle: the work and life of the group depends to a greater degree upon the particular people within the group. The father of a family is not replaceable. If he dies, another man may marry his widow and care for his children, but he would not easily be considered more than "like a father" to the children. A family shop will be passed on to a son, even if he is not specially competent, rather than be given to someone who passes an exam.

A functional grouping is also impersonal in the sense that it tends to be concerned with people only insofar as they contribute to accomplishing a task. Each individual works according to the job description and procedures (whether specified explicitly or understood implicitly), and as far as the organization is concerned, the characteristics of the individual are irrelevant except insofar as they strengthen or weaken his or her ability to perform that job. The functional principle thus leads to the sharp distinction between purposive goal-directed activities and expressive activities. Family life, personal interests, and feelings have no place in the functionalized goal-directed work environment.

A relational principle of social structure, on the other hand, leads to the integration of personal considerations and task considerations, with the personal considerations predominating. The personal relationships determine how the group acts together. The son may be more competent than his father at managing the family business, but he will not therefore become the father's boss. The nature of their personal relationship precedes in importance strict task-competency considerations. Nor is there anything like a private sphere. The entire life of each member of the grouping is of concern to each other member. A father is concerned with his son's performance in school or work, but he is also concerned with his son's personal interests, desires, and relationships. Relational groupings thus take into account and even build upon personal considerations, without totally neglecting the accomplishment of tasks.

Specialized vs. holistic

Another important difference between functional and relational groups is that functional groups tend toward specialization and standardization, whereas life in a relational grouping is more holistic and varied. The tasks and roles that an individual performs in functional groupings tend to be highly specialized. Not only is economic life specialized by craft, but there is a tendency to specialize more and more within each activity. At the same time, a functional principle leads to greater standardization. There is a tendency to make everything uniform so that it can be interchangeable.

One result of the dual process of specialization and standardization is that people are mainly considered as the bearers of a skill. The chief interest that a functional grouping shows in another human being is in that human being's ability to perform a particular task effectively, i.e., that person's competence. Moreover, the functional grouping is only interested in individual bearers of skills. A civil service office or a factory cannot deal with a family as a unit. Families are not allowed to hold positions, only individuals who bear the requisite skills.

Life in relational groupings is approached in a more holistic and varied fashion. One man is father/farmer/warrior/builder/judge. As a result of this varied and holistic approach, people are not considered primarily as either individuals or bearers of a specialized skill, but as members of particular corporate groupings. A man is not primarily seen as John the lawyer or engineer, but as John the son of Will from Bridlington.

Different views of change

Finally, functional and relational groupings differ from one another in the way they approach change. Functional groupings tend to prize innovation and flexibility, whereas relational groupings value stability. M. F. Nimkoff describes this contrast vividly:
An important factor here is that economic production, being based upon science, is subject to the process of rationalization, and the family is not. If science can be said to have a motto, it is: There is always a better way. Obsolescence and innovation are encouraged. But the family, like religion, is designed to afford stability to social life. We may be interested in a new model of car every year, but not in a new model of family life.
If something can be done better, the dynamic of the functional principle is to change to do it better – at least if the cost is not too great. This principle finds prominent expression in modern technological society, which exposes all of its members to a constant experience of change.

On the other hand, a relational principle tends more toward stability. Family relationships are considered permanent. No one can divorce their children, and divorce in a marriage is unfortunate rather than ideal. Friendship, neighborliness, and other bonds among people grow stronger over time. In addition, relational groupings value consistency in a personal relationship. When family members or close friends regularly rearrange their values or alter their patterns of response, the social group is weakened. Changes that are seen by all as improvements in someone's behavior are always welcome, but other types of constant change weaken and even destroy personal relationships. A relational grouping thus tends much more to stability than does a functional grouping.

Social Structure in Technological Society

Western European civilization began to undergo a significant change in the eighteenth century which led to the development of what is now sometimes called "technological society." A new type of society began to form, one based on new principles of social structure. The term "technological society" indicates the importance of the role technological change played in shaping this new form of society. However, technological development was not the only major factor involved in this process of social change. Economic and social factors played a major role with the growth of population, economic activity, and urbanization, and with the disruption of traditional social patterns caused by the new form of economic life and by the rapidly expanding cities and proletariat. Ideological factors also played a significant role with the increasing influence of Enlightenment thought on society and the declining influence of Christian belief, values, and order. Nonetheless, this new social order has been sufficiently molded by the demands of modern technology that the term "technological society" is an acceptable label for the new society.

A central characteristic of technological society is the way the functional principle dominates social arrangements. In traditional society, relationship considerations were dominant in shaping the social structure. Most modern people would be surprised at how little a functional principle was adopted as a way of structuring various groupings in traditional society. We are so thoroughly accustomed to the idea that people work in a different place from where they live that we tend to project this modern model into our view of the past. However, in past societies, most people worked at home: on a family farm, at a craftsman's workshop, or in a shop attached to a craftsman's or merchant's house. Moreover, functional considerations and family and personal considerations were much more integrated than they are today. People normally worked with members of their families or with members of other families as servants or apprentices, and the relationships shaped the way in which work was carried out. The functional principle played a more dominant role in some settings. However, before the eighteenth century, it was rare for a group of human beings in any setting to systematically organize all of their activities and interrelations to maximize their efficiency in completing certain tasks. In the eighteenth century, this functional principle began to be widely applied to certain economic enterprises with the development of the factory system of production. As time passed, the dominance of the functional principle spread to other areas of life.

In technological society, social relationships are thoroughly transformed. As the world of interactions that follow a functional principle expands and dominates new sectors of society, the overall shape of people's lives changes. There is a life-pattern that "fits" with the development of technology, a life-pattern in which the shape of a person's life provides the least obstacle for that person finding a place in the socio-economic activity that characterizes technological society. Central to this pattern is the establishment of the individual and the mass collective as the main units of society.

The individual and the mass collective

The primary unit in traditional society was a group, not the individual. Individuals functioned as part of groups in such a way that their lives were largely determined by the life of the group rather than by their own individual direction. People spent more time together in groups both physically (fewer homes had private rooms) and socially. Individuals in traditional society were more conscious than we are of belonging to certain groups and of identifying themselves according to their role in those groups. The primary group was the family, but not merely the nuclear family. The family in traditional society included a wider kinship grouping, though all in the grouping did not necessarily inhabit one residence. In addition, there was the larger social group of the village or the quarter of the city, or the guild or craft association.

In technological society an individual is detached from his group relationships so that he can function according to a skill he bears or a job he performs. Family commitments ideally play no part in a modern work environment such as a factory or an office. Guilds and other professional or religious corporations are inefficient and have to be eliminated because they operate as social bodies and fraternities rather than merely as functional groups. The dynamic of technological society undermines the groupings of traditional society which constitute its fundamental structural units and which provide people with a communal life and a sense of communal belonging and identity. These groups are deprived of their legal protection and either reduced in importance if indispensable (as was the conjugal family), eliminated (as were most guilds and corporations), or replaced by functional and relational groupings which are more clearly distinct (as "functional" professional societies and "relational" clubs replace the older corporations which integrate relational and functional considerations). This frees individuals to move and act independently of other individuals. People become more mobile. They can take a job, invest money, and change residence without needing the agreement of anyone else (other than immediate family members). They can fit into the technological system according to their competency and the system's need. In other words, individuals can fit into the system in a way determined solely by functional criteria and not by personal relationship or communal criteria.

As the individual replaces the relational grouping as the basic unit of society, the mass collective also develops as the main corporate body. Society becomes less and less a structured set of interrelated groupings, each with its own rights and responsibilities. Instead, it becomes increasingly a mass aggregate of individuals.

The absolute state

Historically, this process was aided by the concept of the absolute state, and by the actual increase in the state's authority. A further major step was taken on the European continent beginning with the French Revolution: Many groups within society lost their rights. Local rights, guild rights, university rights, and church rights were frequently stripped away, or else conferred upon these groups by the sufferance of the state. The concept of the rights of man (i.e., the individual) and its correlate concept of state authority replaced the view of society as a network of interrelated semi-independent bodies, each with its own traditionally guaranteed rights. Jacques Ellul describes more fully this societal shift which occurred in France at the time of the French Revolution:
The very structure of society – based on natural groups – was also an obstacle (to the development of technological society). Families were closely organized. The guilds and the groups formed by collective interests (for example, the University, the Parliament, the Confraternities and Hospitals) were distinct and independent. The individual found livelihood, patronage, security and intellectual and moral satisfactions in collectives that were strong enough to answer all his needs but limited enough not to make him feel submerged or lost. These obstacles disappeared at the time of the French Revolution, in 1789... a systematic campaign was waged against all natural groups, under the guise of a defense of the rights of the individual; for example, the guilds, the communes, and federalism were attacked, this last by the Girondists. There were movements against the religious orders and against the privileges of Parliament, the Universities, and the Hospitalers. There was to be no liberty of groups, only that of the individual. There was likewise a struggle to undermine the family. Revolutionary legislation promoted its disintegration; it had already been shaken by the philosophy and the fervors of the eighteenth century. Revolutionary laws governing divorce, inheritance, and paternal authority were disastrous for the family unit, to the benefit of the individual. And these effects were permanent, in spite of temporary setbacks. Society was already atomized and would be atomized more and more. The individual remained the sole sociological unit. For the individual in an atomized society, only the state was left.
Thus the French Revolution gave considerable impetus to the movement towards the mass collective. This trend towards mass society is present today throughout the technologized world.

Personal care

The shift in the basic units of society is also reflected in the way that society cares for personal human needs. In traditional society, education, professional training, health care, and financial support all occurred within a relational social grouping. Family, guild, village, and church normally met these needs. Hospitals existed in Western traditional society, but they were only for special illnesses, and they were ordinarily administered and staffed by religious orders. The aged were cared for within the family. Orphanages existed, but they too were special facilities, administered and staffed by religious orders, for those individuals who had lost their place in the interrelated set of groupings which was society.

In technological society, mass institutions predominate in the care of personal human needs. Personal needs which were once met within a relational grouping are now handled by functionalized public institutions staffed by people hired and trained for the purpose and with whom the cared-for individual has no personal bond. The development of educational institutions is of particular importance. In traditional society, children were educated and formed in the course of daily life by their parents and older adults within a relational grouping. In technological society, they are segregated from normal adult life and entrusted to special institutions where they relate solely to other children (their peer group) and to professional educators. Just as government is exercised through a mass collective institution rather than a relational grouping, so personal needs are cared for within a mass institutional setting.

The functionalization of society thus undermines the traditional structure of society. Government and personal care are no longer conducted within a set of interconnected relational groupings which form the basis of society. Instead, the new technological social structure is based on mobile individuals and mass collective institutions which govern the aggregate of those individuals and care for their personal needs. The overall structure of society thus undergoes a change that has tremendous consequences for human life.

Values and Personal Relationships

In addition to the basic structural changes just described, the functionalization of society also produces concrete changes in values and personal relationships.

Ascribed and achieved positions.

In technological society greater value is given to achieved positions, whereas positions which derive from birth or inheritance are devalued. The key criterion for obtaining status and respect is competency defined in functional terms. Family background and inherited wealth no longer qualify a person for status or respect, except insofar as they put someone in a position of power. The positions of father, mother, son, or daughter are not highly valued, but are instead taken for granted (father and mother less so, since raising a family can be seen as an achievement). The functionalization of society thus leads to an increase in the status, respect, and value given to achieved positions, and to a corresponding decrease in the value given to non-achieved positions.


The functionalization of technological society also affects the nature and quality of personal relationships. One major change occurs in the type of commitments that are made within social groupings. Technological society emphasizes partial, functionally specific commitments. Commitments in traditional society tend to be few, but they encompass the whole of life. For example, a guild was a professional society, but a craftsman's commitment to the guild extended far beyond what modern people would consider the limits of his professional life. It included an obligation for the welfare of the other members, who could call upon him whenever a need arose. The guild could discipline and regulate his private conduct. The guild was a religious body which worshiped together and a fraternal body which socialized together. By contrast, most commitments in technological society are functionally defined in a more specific fashion. This trend towards limited, partial, functionally specific commitments affects most of the groupings within technological society, including most religious groups.

Separate functional and personal spheres

Another significant change in personal relationships occurs as a result of the new division created within technological society between the functional and personal sphere. As mentioned earlier, traditional society incorporates purposive, functional activities and approaches into a broader network of personal relationships. Relational groupings in traditional society are stable, structured, and purposive, but they are also personal at the same time. They contain an order of authority, defined roles, and customary patterns of relationship; they are stable over a long period of time; and they encompass both the world of work and the world of family, preference, and emotion. Relationships in technological society, on the other hand, tend to follow one of two courses. Relationships are either structured, purposive, and functional, such as those on a work site, or they are informal, expressive, and non-purposive, as those in friendship groupings.

This separation is a consequence of both the breakdown of stable social groupings and the reaction to the preponderance of functional groupings in technological society. People in traditional society associate with one another primarily according to stable relationships and according to the roles and order of those relationships. The patterns of interaction are determined by longstanding family, kinship, village, craft, and religious relational groupings. On the other hand, in technological society the stability of relational groupings decreases as commitments are partialized. Kinship relations outside the immediate nuclear family become less stable than in the past, while associations centered upon work or residence become more temporary and less likely to be marked by stable bonds or commitments than was once the case. Therefore, the non-functional relationships that do exist tend to form according to interest, attraction, and sometimes according to current proximity, and tend to be characterized by fluidity, informality, lack of structure, and instability.

The formation of these types of relationships is also furthered by a popular reaction to the preponderance of functional groupings in technological society. Most people have some reaction against the impersonality and structured rigidity of functional groupings. Though they accept that some type of order is necessary in functional situations to efficiently accomplish a task, they desire that their "private life" be free of such an order and purposiveness. The personal realm thus becomes the antithesis of the functional realm. In the personal realm, emotion, spontaneity, and preference hold sway. One makes friends for reasons of mutual interest or mutual liking, and not for reasons of mutual advantage or benefit. Romantic love becomes the sole basis for marrying and remaining married. Arranged marriage passes away in technological society and family considerations no longer enter into the choice of marriage partner. To a person living in a society where the functional and personal realms have been almost entirely separated, considerations such as mutual benefit or advantage in friendship or marriage choice seem crass in contrast to pure preference or attraction.

The very term "personal relationship" as used in modern society reveals the extent of the divorce between functional and personal spheres of life. The term usually refers to human relationships that are not predominantly functional, that are in fact as different from functional relationships as possible. Since structure, order, and purpose characterize functional relationships, personal relationships should proceed according to different principles. Such a definition of "personal relationship" would be less intelligible to people living in a traditional society, where functional relationships are much less frequent and less important, and where "impersonal" relationships are nearly nonexistent. Almost all relationships in traditional society are "personal" in the sense that they involve all aspects of a person's life, though few relationships in traditional society would be “personal” in the modern sense.


The effects of this divorce are especially evident when examining the place of emotions in technological society. Emotional expression in traditional society was thoroughly integrated into stable relationships. People felt strongly and expressed themselves freely (perhaps more freely than people in technological society), but their emotions were regarded as but one element in their personal relationships. Emotion was not normally valued for its own sake, and the guide to genuineness in personal relationships was loyalty rather than emotional authenticity.

In technological society, as personal and functional spheres separate, emotion becomes more distinct from outside purposes, and becomes a major independent criterion of judgment. In fact, feelings become the basis and criterion of personal relationships. One should not show love without feeling love, nor show respect without feeling respect. To do so would be "inauthentic." Sharing of emotions becomes the crucial test of the depth of a relationship. For those who live in technological society, the traditional approach to emotions appears repressive or unpleasant. However, it is not in fact clear that the technological approach is superior. For example, it is arguable that arranged marriages in traditional society may succeed better than modern marriages based on romantic love.

This discussion has sketched the broad outlines of the substantial differences between technological society and traditional society. These changes amount to a radical transformation in the shape of human society. They also lead to significant changes in that grouping which proves most central for an understanding of men's and women's roles – the human family.

This article originally appeared in "Patriarch Magazine" edited and copyrighted by Phil Lancaster. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

Part 2: The Family in Technological Society


Monday, April 23, 2007

The Efficiency Invasion: How Industrialism Destroyed the Traditional Family

By Howard King

(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:

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."

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 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 Production

This 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 Product

The 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 Labor

With 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.

Obviously, specialization makes sense up to a point, but what followed was a massive and indiscriminate application of the principle. How has this principle of specialization affected the family?

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 Family

The 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.)


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Industrialism: Rooted in Greed

By Howard King

(This is the second of a three-part series on Ralph Borsodi's This Ugly Civilization. Click here for part one: Machines and Families)

As Ralph Borsodi showed in the excerpt published in the most recent issue of Patriarch, the industrial revolution did not introduce machines to the world. Sophisticated, cost-effective, productive machines of many kinds had been in use for centuries in homesteads, shops and mills all over Europe and America. Rather what occurred was the development of machines designed for centralized mass production. These large and powerful machines, driven by massive power plants rather than muscle represented large investments of capital, and a very large return on investment was expected.

Christians know that the Adamic curse has limited the productive capacity of the earth (Gen. 3:17-19). Scarcity is a well-known fact in economics. Man is normally to "eat bread by the sweat of his brow" — that is, if he chooses to live within the physical and moral boundaries of this fallen world. The dishonest and the greedy have always been able to find shortcuts to wealth. The ordinary way to do this on a large scale since ancient times was conquest.

The British empire in the nineteenth century had become very rich by plundering the resources of the world. The slave trade was its most profitable enterprise of all. R. L. Dabney writes, "the slave trade was the cornerstone of the present splendid prosperity of that empire." (A Defense of Virginia and the South, p.30). The financial center of the world was London, with its sophisticated system of paper instruments that allowed the rapid movement of capital from less profitable enterprises to those that were more profitable. It was a money system, as opposed to a system built on the value of real assets (land and houses and the like), and was designed by speculators and usurers to facilitate the rapid acquisition of huge fortunes — legally.

Jacques Ellul, in his classic work, The Technological Society, says " was the bourgeoisie who discovered how much profit could be extracted from a consciously developed technology... At the beginning of the nineteenth century, they saw the possibility of huge profits from this system... It is solely because the bourgeoisie made money, thanks to technology, that technology became one of their objectives.” (p.53)

The factory is the product of crass materialism. Gary North, who is certainly no leftist (and no enemy to technology) commenting on an article by R.V. Young, writes" was not Christianity, but the materialists who were the designers and engineers of the modern industrial system." He speaks of " ...the industrial society, which is now ruthlessly polluting and destroying nature." (Genesis: the Dominion Covenant, p.34)

Some Christians have been erroneously taught that the modern world was built on Christian principles. This is not true. Christianity has not been ascendant in the West for the last three centuries — rather it has been in decline. The wealthy and powerful have made bows toward the Christian minority as required, but it is their principles — not ours — that have shaped the world. (This is not to say that Christianity has not furnished the wicked with much useful knowledge.)

To say that America's "wealth" and "greatness" is because of God's blessing may be true. To say that it is because God approves of our way of life is insupportable. No doubt the Romans believed that their vast empire was proof of their rightness and the favor of the gods!

Technological society is a system that is based on covetousness. Covetousness is wanting more for ourselves than is proper, and using "legal" means to get it. This understanding of the word is made necessary by its distinction from theft, both in the ten commandments themselves (Exodus 20:1-17) and in Christ's summary of the commandments (Mark 10:19). Theft is the act of taking something that does not legally and properly belong to us. The sin of avarice or greed does not necessarily lie in any outward act, but in the excessive and unrestrained desire — a desire that is allowed to reign in the heart where God alone should be King. It is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

The factory was born of the greed of the first industrialists, as Borsodi argues.

They made their profits by taking over one industry after another, and abandoning each one as the level of return (inevitably) dropped when competition brought prices down. It was not enough to make a profit on goods. There will never be enough money made by just producing and selling goods. One must move into an industry and undercut all the competitors first, then raise prices until the profit on each piece is large. Then others will be attracted to the industry by the enormous profitability. Finally, you get out when competition brings the prices down, and go build another factory. All of this economic conquest is enormously disruptive to society.

Not only was the factory created by greed — because it depends for its survival upon mass consumption, it must foster in every way possible the sin of covetousness in the masses. A society which only makes and consumes what it needs is anathema to the factory system. Both a taste for luxury and a willingness to live in debt must be nurtured. The masses must be convinced that there is something really wrong with the simple agrarian way of life. It's not exciting or fun! Fun is spending money on things just because you want to — not because you need them. Fun is spending without regard to the future. And for those who care more about security than fun, security is having a lot of money — which means they must invest heavily in the factory system.

What happens when aggregate demand falls below aggregate production? The last time it happened was called the Great Depression. When Borsodi wrote this book (1920s), we were on the doorstep of that event. Borsodi spoke out clearly on the dangers of "over-industrialization." He also predicted that it would lead to socialism — as it clearly did. We have managed to avoid a depression for a long time now (thanks to a world war, a cold war and the opening of global markets), but who knows how long before it happens again? Global demand is down, and overcapacity is a huge problem worldwide. Factories are being idled, and the demand for labor in the U.S. is at a nine-year low today. The rates of personal and corporate bankruptcies are very high. Yet people seem to keep spending — at least in the U.S.. For how long?

This evil of materialism is inherent in the technological society. It is the organizing principle of all activity. Hence "efficiency," defined as the cheapest way to do anything, the most profitable — rather than the best way for all concerned — is exalted as the "Dao", the "Way", the "summum bonum". Without the highest efficiency, nothing can be done at an adequate profit.

This is especially true because the factory has an "Achilles' heel" — what Borsodi calls "the institutional burden." Because of the centralization of production, certain advantages (economies of scale, mostly) accrue to the factory — advantages which allowed it to destroy their original competitors: cottage industry and village crafts. But there are offsetting weaknesses to the factory, which Borsodi charts for us here. Factories can only sustain this burden if they are ruthlessly efficient. Otherwise, given a similar level of technological development, decentralized, home-based production becomes more economical for the things people most need.

The egregious evils of the Factory are not to be seen as incidental to the system, but rather symptomatic of its fundamental unsoundness. The widespread adoption of the principle of efficiency is evil in itself. We should be trying to make exchanges that are mutually profitable (1 Cor. 10:24) — not seeking to make the most profit possible for ourselves at the expense of the other party. Business must be regulated by the golden rule. Otherwise the quality of products will continuously degrade.

A disregard for the real well-being of the masses is expressed in the haste to get gain. It contributes to pollution of the vital and irreplaceable common resources of air, water and land.

But equally as important is its tendency to weaken the family, reducing the home to a place where people come to sleep, rather than the vital center of a rich family life, of which Borsodi will speak more elsewhere. All of this is a result of the prevailing notion that man is autonomous — not accountable to God or dependent on him, and that this life is "all there is" on which technological society is finally based.

The cult of efficiency would not be so great a hazard if it had been limited to the sphere of manufacturing. Along with the acceptance of the Factory by the masses came the idea that all of life should be re-invented based on scientific and technological principles — chiefly the principle of "efficiency." The modern office, the school, the home — even our cultural expressions and entertainments bear the marks of mutilation by the intrusion of this ungodly principle, as Borsodi will also show in a later installment.

(This article originally appeared in "Patriarch Magazine" edited and copyrighted by Phil Lancaster. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

Continue to part three: The Efficiency Invasion: How Industrialism Destroyed the Traditional Family


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Machines and Families

By Howard King

Christians today are deeply divided on many issues that are vital to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Some believe that the world has no future and that it is therefore a waste of time to debate what the future ought to look like. Others imagine a future that looks a lot like the present technological society, only "cleaned up" by the influence of a dominant Christian majority. A small minority of us see a radically different design for the establishment of God's Kingdom in the world. We believe in a kind of Christian Agrarianism.

The technological model focuses on tools, while the agrarian model focuses on the task itself which God gave to man at his creation — to make the whole earth into a beautiful and fruitful garden. The Technologist believes that the key to a better future is better and better tools. Efficiency at all costs! If the institutions and conventions of society have to "evolve" to accommodate the quest for greater productivity and a higher standard of living — so be it! Of course Christians who are Technologists must draw the line at some changes (usually to retreat and re-draw the line somewhere farther back later on). The status quo dictated by the technological establishment generally prevails. Even Scripture must bend to accommodate it.

The Christian Agrarian, on the other hand, asserts that industrialism as it has existed historically is not an acceptable way for man to exercise dominion over the earth. He maintains that as a system:
  1. It is based on defective and unbiblical principles.
  2. It tends to the destruction of nature, rather than its cultivation.
  3. It is hostile to the institutions requisite to a godly social order.
To date, no work has appeared (to this author's knowledge) which provides an adequate defense of Christian Agrarianism. Until this occurs, I know of no better critique of industrialism available than This Ugly Civilization, by Ralph Borsodi. Published in 1929, just before the Great Depression, this book clearly pointed to some of the problems which created the greatest economic downturn in our history. It is a wide-ranging, thorough-going and utterly damning critique of the causes, nature and ultimate results of industrialism. But it goes further, showing also how it is possible to resist and proposing alternatives for the living of life as it was intended to be lived.

Though the world Borsodi bravely takes on is the world of the 1920s, I believe that his work is still relevant. High technology is, after all, just the advanced stage of industrialism. It is accelerated and intensified industrialism — the factory on steroids. As such. both the quantitative gains and the qualitative losses produced by the modern factory system are accentuated. And the already-stressful pace of change has been vastly accelerated.

It will be plain to the reader of Borsodi that he was not a Christian. I wish he had been, but he was in fact a militant atheist and a nihilist. His concern was only with the things of this life. Taking this into account, I would not favor the unedited re-printing of this book. However, its value remains, and I suggest we make use of it in a spirit of gratefulness to the One who is the source of all truth, wherever found, and who lays up the wealth of the wicked for the just.

The style is vigorous and passionate and exceedingly clear. As compared with the abstractedness of Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society, it is concrete and specific — both in its critique and in its proposal of alternatives to the status quo. (I was never quite sure what Ellul wanted us to do.)

Neither Borsodi nor Christian Agrarians are against the use or the improvement of tools. Rather, we insist that machines are to serve man — not man the machine. By destroying the village and the productive homestead, the Industrial Revolution has wreaked a calamity upon mankind of incalculable dimensions. Though enriched in the number and variety of possessions, we have been impoverished in terms of human values like community, family life, self-expression and fulfilling work.

Borsodi boldly asks the question, "Where would we be today, if the genius of the Industrial Revolution had been applied for the benefit of domestic production, rather than to centralized mass production?" I suspect we would see a very different world — one in which massive waste of resources, pollution, urbanization, social upheaval, displacement of small-scale farmers and craftsmen, degradation of work, socialization of national life, class warfare, reduction of product quality, weakening of the family, and the virtual extinction of the homemaker had never occurred.

Instead, if machines had been developed and refined for the improvement of the homestead, the quality of our lives would have been made better — not worse. And here is the bright spot in Borsodi's assessment of our predicament. It is not too late for an "industrial counter-revolution." Residential electric rates are low today. Power is cheap. Technology is being developed for homestead applications as never before. All we need is the vision and courage to step out and challenge the system that we are sick and tired of anyway!

Borsodi goes into detail to show us that it is economically feasible to build productive, more self-sufficient homesteads that will provide the satisfaction of living more meaningful, natural, comfortable lives. For Christian Agrarians, this is more than an option — it is mandated conformity to the Divine plan. It is the shape of things to come. "But every man shall sit under his own vine and his own fig tree, and none shall make him afraid."(Micah 4:4)

This Ugly Civilization is available online at:

(This article originally appeared in "Patriarch Magazine" edited and copyrighted by Phil Lancaster. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

Click here for Part Two: Industrialism: Rooted in Greed