a book-blog mired in irony by Chellis Glendinning

in honor of the 200th anniversary of

the Luddite Rebellion

1811-1813 to 2011-2013

I: “I am a Luddite”

Native peoples in earlier centuries were stymied when they tried to talk about the European conquest; their pre-Columbian vocabularies had no words to describe such a battering.  And it’s like that again.  You and I can only peg together language to describe the invasion overwhelming our bodies, psyches, and cultures by technology.  And that assault, taken together with the economic/political institutions that fuel it, is swiftly diminishing life’s future on this Earth.
Back in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, I thought I had a few words.  I was part of a society of activists and thinkers collaborating to refurbish the analysis of technology that the original resisters against industrialism, the Luddites, had initiated.  We were a lively collection of folks from countries all over the world.  Theodore Roszak.  Kirkpatrick Sale.  Vandana Shiva.  John Mohawk.  Gustavo Esteva.  Stephanie Mills.  Helena Norberg-Hodge.  Langdon Winner.  Godfrey Reggio.  David Suzuki.  Jerry Mander.  Chet Bowers.  Beth Burrows.  Satish Kumar.  Charlene Spretnak.  Sigmund Kvaloy.  Susan Griffin.  Teddy Goldsmith.  Now, we knew how to talk.  Sitting together around conference tables at five-day meetings that boasted such titles as “Mega-technology and Development” and “Mega-technology and Economic Globalization,” we proclaimed that the “new technologies that were coming” would wreak a havoc grander in scale than even the industrial revolution had wrought.
But what were we expecting?  It wouldn’t affect us?  Did we think we would go on meeting in luscious locations to spin our theories?  Write a white paper or two?  Give a rally speech?  Hang on to our land lines? 
I’ll be frank: we didn’t think anything.  We couldn’t.  We had no way to imagine.  No vision.  No words other than “supercomputer,” “satellite communications,” “genetic engineering,” “transnational corporation.”
And so that cadre of stellar minds fell through the unforeseen cracks that gashed open when tectonic plates of political/economic/technological proportion clanked apart like iron.  Most got a computer and a cell phone.  Some landed the grant monies they were seeking and clicked into the focus of a more manageable pursuit.  And more than one insisted that, for strategic purposes, we not speak of technology any more.  And then that ever-so-brightly rising star of resistance -- paralleling one that had begun two centuries before during a comparable siege -- shot into a glorious sky, only to burn away. 

Plutonium pit.  Packbot.  Prostate cancer.  Broken back.  Brain tumor.  Beached whales.  Wasting elk.  Whiplash.  WiMAX.  iPod.  Oil tanker.  Iraq.  The biggest shopping mall on the planet.  The tallest skyscraper.  Scrape.  Save.  Spend.  Crave.  Credit card.  Debit card.  Macromind.  Multiple sclerosis.  Melting ice.

The concerned will rave about war, poverty, oil depletion, and climate upheaval – as well they should.  Some venture to name racism, capitalism, empire; cruelty and greed can be high on the list.  But technology’s role in shaping these same tragedies handily slips from the perceptual gaze.  Despite all and still, the notion of technological development is linked in the popular mind to “progress,” “advancement,” “evolution.”
And fear.
“I WANT MY MAMMOGRAM!” shrieks a radio listener like a child.  The tantrum occurs on a talk show during my 1990 book tour for When Technology Wounds.  Also like a child, the woman carries zero awareness of likely precedents to her susceptibility to breast cancer: like synthetic hormones and pesticides.  Or the radiation from last year’s mammogram.
The inherent disjuncture of mass society does not propagate the kind of thinking that would unify the parts of the whole.  It severs instead.  It fragments.  It scatters – and lays ground for engaging and defending only one fragment at a time.
Wendell Berry 

“I am a Luddite!”  Such was the scandalous proclamation Wendell Berry bellowed at the first official gathering of our new generation of technology critics.  San Francisco was the place, 1993 the year. 
For the time, the statement was heretical.  Since the rebellion (and demise) of the original Luddites at the launch of the industrial revolution some 180 years earlier, this new wave had been constrained by an intellectual context forged by the winners of the earlier conflict: the term “Luddite” had been made into a dirty word, a put-down, a brazen denigration.
          Everyone burst with laughter –- Wendell was, as always, preposterously right-on -– and everyone breathed in relief.  A deep-seated taboo had irretrievably been broken: without further excuse we were going to be who we were.  To boot, our work -- which up until that moment had been conducted solo -- could move forward enriched by interaction among a worthy collection of hearts and minds.
        A small flurry of activity followed. 
Well, OK: our actions got swept up in the onrush of media attention the Unabomber was getting.  In 1995, in an attempt to bargain with mail-bombing Ted Kaczynski, the New York Times and Washington Post published his manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future.”  Fortuitously, Kirk’s Rebels against the Future rode this event like a wrangler on a small bull and, in the process, gave readers a glimpse into the long-repressed details of Luddite history.  The Jacques Ellul Society was born, named for the French sociologist who had so brilliantly critiqued technological society.  One of our group, biologist Martha Crouch, quit the university in protest against its collaboration with biotech corporations.  Others took on the fight against bio-specting in Yellowstone National Park.  A few stalwart researchers tried to reveal the negative impacts threatened by the entry of computers into education.  Stephanie, Kirk, and I regaled a standing-room-only audience in New York City with our theatrical performance Interview with a Luddite, and we all spoke copiously on the radio.
At the same time other thinkers and activists –- alternative-technology inventors, Native and land-based peoples favoring traditional livelihoods, monkey-wrenchers, anarchists, and modern rebels against the future –- were challenging technology with their own words and acts.  Some dedicated anarchists tore down high-voltage power lines in the American West and liberated lab animals from science experiments; environmentalists draped tall buildings with pro-Earth banners; and a group of simple-living advocates in Ohio put out a hand-set magazine called Plain and threw gatherings for contemporary Luddites, to which they exhorted everyone to travel on foot, buggy, or train. 
The upshot: the proclamation “I am a Luddite” re-entered the vernacular.  And none too soon, we suspected.
What we were referring to as the “new technologies” in the early ‘90s have by now facilitated not only the emergence of a global economic order whose means and goals are corporate dominion, ecological ransacking, and mass consumption; they have infused our very rhythms, thought patterns, and identities.  Indeed, the upheavals we are enduring are equal in scope and magnitude to those that swept through the early-19th century. 
Then: the destruction of the commons.  The break-up of village life, wild spaces, the family.  The separation of work from meaning, city from country, luxury from misery.  The creation of slums.  Child labor.  Environmental illness.  Theories of progress, inevitability, utilitarianism, laissez faire.  The budding of rebellious but deeply conservative thoughts in the work of Keats, Shelley, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens.  The melding of machine with discontent, radical politics with rusticity, hope with passion.
Today: global warming, climate upheaval, economic collapse.  The microwaving of the planet.  The demise of the last wild places left.  The exhaustion of oil reserves.  The rise of the richest class of individuals in history -– with a parallel fall in quality of life for everyone else.  Environmental refugees.  Species extinctions.  Build-up of nuclear, biological, and electromagnetic weaponry.  The continuation of rebellious but deeply conservative thoughts.  The melding of cyberspace with violence, radical politics with marginalism, passion with desperation.
And is not today’s world that teeters so precariously on its cliff of demise the extension of economic and social patterns that were made painfully evident some two centuries ago?   Is not the resistance mounted by courageous bands of weavers, foresters, and villagers in Europe and the United States -– and the systemic analysis they offered -- as relevant now as they once were?
My presence at the 1993 gathering of contemporary Luddites began three decades before in a lecture hall at U.C. Berkeley.  It was in Professor Allen Temko’s class on the history of the city that I first encountered the ideas of Lewis Mumford.

Lewis Mumford
My God!  When I read his words, I had to stop every three or four paragraphs and breathe just to contain my excitement.  His aim was to merge the intellectual with the passionate, the lofty with the earthy –- and this he did.  To the hilt.  Born in 1895 and growing up at a time when Americans were swelling with pride over the streamlined possibilities of mass mechanistic society, when “science” and “democracy” appeared to be ushering in a permanent era of peace and prosperity, he pierced through the veneer to reveal the deepest patterns of a civilization in trouble.
What stunned –- and inspired -- me was his sweep of vision. 
Mumford asserted against all prevailing belief that the centerpiece of the cult of “progress” -- technology -- did not lie at the dividing line between our animal ancestry and the first sparks of human consciousness; art, music, ritual, and language did.[i]  “I have taken life itself to be the primary phenomenon, and creativity, rather than ‘the conquest of nature,’” he wrote, “as the ultimate criterion of man’s biological and cultural success.”[ii]
In his two-part ‘Myth of the Machine’ series, Mumford described progress as “a scientifically dressed up justification” for practices the ruling classes had used since the time of the pharaohs to congeal and perpetrate power.[iii]  He identified the Megamachine as the central theme of Western society:  a social construction built upon absolutism, centralization, mechanization, regimentation, militarism, genocide, biocide, spectacle, and alienation – with attendant loss of the very qualities the species had developed through evolution: autonomy,  human scale, spontaneity, diversity, communalism, and participation. 
Displaying a moral indignation that bucked the overarching assumptions of the times, he spoke of the potency of the Megamachine’s grasp upon the popular mind: “The wonder is … that the hopeful dream has remained alive for so long, for some of its original luminosity still dazzles and blinds the eyes of many of our contemporaries who continue to pursue the same archaic fantasies.”[iv] 
And he fortuitously foretold that a “dominant minority” -– the masters of technology and accumulated wealth –- would create “a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation,” just as he described every-day citizens as “cut off from their own resources for living, feel(ing) no tie with the outer world unless they are constantly receiving information, direction, stimulation, and sedation from a central, external source.”[v]
My own grasp of the dynamics of such a Megamachine was thrust forward by industrial medicine’s perpetration of birth control.  After two years of suffering chronic yeast infections from the imbalances generated by synthetic hormones, a physician at Congressional hearings in 1970 rattled the myelin off my nerves with his proclamation that The Pill was “the largest experiment” foisted upon unsuspecting human beings in the history of medicine. 
Being a victim of medical technology came with some poignancy:  I was the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Cleveland Clinic and haled from a family whose members had given their lives to the healing profession.  But my suspicion of allopathic medicine was not yet as deeply rooted as it would become; still seeking the quick fix, I replaced my packet of chemicals with the latest pharmaceutical do-dad: the Dalkon Shield Intrauterine Device.  And sure enough, with an already depressed immune system from The Pill, I contracted pelvic inflammatory disease.
By the time, in the late 1970’s, I met Jerry Mander in the cafés of San Francisco’s North Beach and launched into his Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, I was fertile for the all-encompassing analysis he had focused upon a single technology. 

Too, there had been the vision.  It had come as a flash when I was taking time off from the intensity of anti-war protest in Berkeley to work on a maple sugar farm in Vermont.  The year was 1970; Earth Day was on the horizon.  But more crucial to me, Paul Ehrlich’s article in the September 1969 issue of Ramparts magazine -- “Eco-Catastrophe: The End of the Ocean”[vi] -- had jolted my notion of the future.
“THE OCEANS,” the cover art proclaimed on a marble headstone inscribed for the Earth’s seas:

Born: Circa 3,500,000,000 B.C.
Died: 1979 A.D.[vii]

On the farm marvelous insights pushed through the icy drudgery of digging winter ditches, a by-product of physical work I surmise, as if to bring color to black-and-white thoughts.  Most often it was a feeling of awe that grew up in me like a crocus through snow.  This time though, the insight was a moving picture that took over my inner world: citizens storming factories.  I didn’t yet harbor consciousness of the dysfunction of the whole of mass society -- and yet the kind of mass protest we had engaged in to stop the Vietnam War had morphed to a prophecy of what might be required to stop destruction by technology.  Just as my reproductive organs were wracked with disturbances from technical interventions, I was catching glimpses of what would unfold as the historical textures of my lifetime.  The template that would become mine had been delivered: the personal is political. 

This blog is a book. Please feel free to read the next chapter now. Go to the Table of Contents under the introduction on the right side of the page and click on the next chapter.

[i] Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1934.
[ii] Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970, preface.
[iii] Lewis Mumford, “Prologue to our Time,” The New Yorker, March 10, 1975, p.45.
[iv] Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power, p. 7.
[v] Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power, p. 352, Ill. 14-15 (between pp. 180-181).
[vi] Paul Ehrlich, “Eco-Catastrophe: The End of the Ocean,” Ramparts, Vol. 8 No. 3, September 1969, pp. 24-28.
[vii]Jeffrey Gholson, cover photograph, Ramparts, September 1969.

II: a ritual for despair

For peoples in earlier times, the gestalt of inwardness/externality had been a blending of birth, clan, wildness, creatures, stars, and vibrancy.  For us, the task of re-connecting the disparate fragments and re-assembling the whole more resembles traipsing through a junkyard littered by disaster, picking up our feet so as to avoid the neon pools of caustic fluid and ragged metal edges. 
         Plutonium.  Packbot.  Prostate Cancer.  Brain Tumor.  Beached Whales.  Wasting Elk.  The Biggest Shopping Mall in the World.  The Tallest Skyscraper.  Scrape Save Spend Crave.  Credit Card Debit Card.  Melting Ice.  Spaceport.  Airport.  So The Animals Die.

I devoured Jerry Mander’s book on television and found myself conceptually clawing my way up between the cracks of the psychic numbing and denial that had paralyzed post-WWII America.  Suddenly the hills of San Francisco looked more awe-inspiring to me, the espresso machines in North Beach sounded frothier, the world felt more alive: I could see the formidable place technology’s development had played in human history.
         Two public events thrust my nascent aliveness into action.  The first was Three Mile Island.  The second was U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s break from previous Cold War policies of containment into reckless tirades against the “Evil Empire.”  At the same time, an inner event jarred me with its echo of the outer crisis.  It was a dream delivering a ritual for containing human emotion in the face of possible annihilation.  I described it in an article first published in 1980 in New Age Journal.

That week as the nuclear power station in Pennsylvania teetered on the edge of meltdown I -- residing 2000 miles away in San Francisco -- ex­perienced the intensity of feeling I might were the plant in my backyard. By day I darted from radio to newspaper to television, consuming every word of every report as if my life depended on it. At night I lay half-asleep/half-awake feeling myself hanging from the slenderest of threads, dangling in space with no support, no Mommy, no Daddy, no help.

In those days the topic of the danger of nuclear technology was taboo, and to speak of it -- even as a nuclear power plant neared meltdown -- was denied. I steered my own course, scrupulously acknowledging each feeling that bubbled up inside me. Fear. Anger. Despair. Grief. Surrender. Urgency. As I did, I became aware that just as emotional patterns we manifest in adult life mirror mechanisms developed at an earlier age, so these feelings harkened back to an earlier era.  For the first time in almost 20 years, I was experiencing a sense of universally impending danger. This time its catalyst was an in­dustrial accident, but the long repressed material -- laced with memories of grade-school bomb drills, the day the Russians exploded an H-bomb, the Cuban Missile Crisis -- was the threat of nuclear war.
I had a number of epiphanies. First of all, techno­-historical forces -- from blatant nuclear technologies to the more insidious environmental contaminators -- have as potent an impact on our human psyches as do families and early education.  A second realization was that no matter what political, economic, or social categories divide us, we humans are united in our insecurity before such forces. A third: a crucial aspect of ensur­ing human continuity is psychological. Not only is our predicament human-invented, but on the other side of the taboo against having thoughts or feelings about it lies the psychic wisdom we might use to mobilize for survival. Fourth: since both insecurity and the task to survive are shared, addressing our unconscious and conscious relationship to them would best proceed, not in the relative isolation of a psychotherapy session, but in the mutually supportive context of a group.
I decided to dedicate myself to the task of providing such a context.
My first opportunity came in June. I was scheduled to give a plenary at a woman’s mental health conference. I wanted to design an experiential presenta­tion that might affect participants on three levels. By raising awareness of our predicament, it could be educational. By crossing the taboo against expressing feelings, it could provide a model of vulnerability in the Nuclear Age. Last, by making conscious our internal relationship to the situation, it could catalyze psychic shifts.
But there was a problem. Despite the fact that I had been giving workshops for years, I was stumped. If, as social scientists and philosophers are saying, the Nuclear Age confronts Western peoples with the necessity for altering the very foundations of how we perceive, the fact that the form of the plenary came to me in a dream could suggest that what lies ahead may well exist at the edge of col­lective consciousness.
The form was not a conven­tional group therapy or workshop session: it was a ritual. This develop­ment seemed noteworthy because so many rituals provided by modern society have lost their abilities to teach and transform us and because, if we are to forge the kind of recon­nection with our psyches, each other, and our planet, we may have to create rituals that speak to us and through us of the peril, pain, and promise of our times.
I called the plenary "Environmental Ritual." It consisted of three concentric circles formed by the participants. The outer circle was to be the Circle of Information, a place for safe witnessing and reporting. The next circle was the Circle of Fear and Rage; the innermost one, the Circle of Sorrow. 
To begin, all participants were to stand in the outer cir­cle. Anyone could start by expressing a feeling or thought, personal or shared, about our common plight. "My father was on the clean-up crew in Hiroshima and he’s dying of leukemia." "The fish in Lake Michigan have cancer!" "I feel scared." Then, to provide affirmation of the truth of this statement, everyone in the circle would say: "So It Is." Since it is terrifying to confront the experience of living in an endangered world, we would then invoke a technique used in spiritual practices: to build bridges among ourselves and to that which is bigger than us all, we would chant an agreed-upon phrase. Then a second person would express a thought or feeling, and the ritual would proceed. The only re­quirement was that each move to the circle that best reflected her current state, be that fear, anger, grief, calmness, or observation.
Concentric circles are archetypal forms, but the concepts driving the ceremony derived from influences in my own experience. One was the work of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross,[i] with whom I had studied. Called griefwork, her approach to the psychology of death and dying is es­sentially an emotional passage past denial and through the anger, depression, fear, and sorrow that the prospect of dying elicits. By embarking upon such a process, the dying and their loved ones can arrive at an acceptance of death -- and a new sense of what it means to be alive. Like this process, the ritual provides an arena for par­ticipants to move beyond denial of the possibility of collective death.
A difference between facing individual death and this collective one is that in this situation we do not know the outcome. We do not know if more bombs will explode. We do not know how strong are the forces of life to counteract the poisons already spread around the globe from bomb-making, bomb-testing, and un-ecological practices. Another difference is that in this situation all people are facing the prospect of death simultaneously. As we face it together, we lose our sense of isolation, and our hitherto unexpressed experience is invoked, spoken, and acknowledged in com­munity. A final difference is that since the menace is human-made, acceptance is not of the inevitability of nuclear war or ecological disaster, but rather of our shared respon­sibility to do what we can to stop them.
A second influence derived from China: "speaking bitterness," a practice used by peasants to heal the pain of injustice and inspire participation in social change. A Westernized version of this is feminist consciousness-raising. Both set up a conduit for in­dividuals to deal with psychological problems caused by social realities. Both serve as interventions in the immobilization of individuals.
A last influence in the creation of the Environmental Ritual was my ex­perience with ceremony. Because the rituals I had been performing focused on the relationship of modern industrial people to nature, I had often seen sorrow, anger, fear, and longing -- but it was not until the Environmental Ritual that I linked their expression to harness them towards social change.
That morning in 1979, 150 women gathered in a rustic clearing. I explained the origins, purpose, and procedure of the ritual: I asked participants to speak their minds about what is happening to us because we live in the Nuclear Age.
Hesitancy stilled each woman in the circle. Expressing feelings about nuclear war or ecological disaster was an un­heard-of thing to do. Finally, one brave soul stepped forward and announced that she had suffered a mis­carriage she believed was caused by environmental pollution. Another called out that she had been having nightmares about fallout shelters. A third told us that her mother had worked on atomic tests in Nevada, had eaten pork from live pigs roasted by a blast, and was now dead. By the end of the two-hour session 150 people were pounding their fists together, sobbing, and holding one another.  We felt outraged, afraid and sad, and as we realized how connected we are by the fate that hangs over us, a fourth circle spontaneously formed -- one of kinship and commitment. The ritual completed itself when a woman placed her nine-month-old child in the center of the circle, and we held hands to sing. (1980)[ii]

Hope?!  Kinship?  Commitment?  What a starkly different world we inhabit today.  Packbot.  Prostate.  Twin Towers.  I am struggling with how to apply ordinary words to the totality of this high-tech/high-anxiety/high-calamity world we now inhabit.  Indeed, the changes that have occurred do top those that ravaged the world through the industrial revolution.  Stephanie Mills puts it this way:  “The front has lengthened, almost to infinity.”[iii]

This blog is a book. Please feel free to read the next chapter now. Go to the Table of Contents under the introduction on the right side of the page and click on the next chapter.

[i] Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969; Death: Final Stage of Growth. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975.
[ii] Adapted from Chellis Glendinning, “Beyond Private Practice: An Approach to Mental Health in the Nuclear Age,” in Kenneth Porter MD, et al., eds., Heal or Die: Psychotherapists Confront Nuclear Annihilation. New York: The Psychohistory Press, 1987; first appeared as “A Ritual for Despair,” New Age, Vol. 6 No. 5, November 1980, pp.52-53.
[iii] Stephanie Mills, email communication, Maple City MI to Chimayó NM, February 6, 2008.

III: technology heroes

I first laid eyes on Andy Hawkinson in a dimly-lit hotel ballroom in downtown Berkeley.  The year was 1984.   The National Association of Radiation Survivors was holding the first of what would become its annual congress, drawing together atomic veterans, uranium miners, down winders, and lab workers for collective support and the pursuit of remediation.  I was rounding the cardboard display of photos of survivors in their various locales of contamination and stages of radiation-related illness.  I leaned in to squint at a shot of a stocky veteran -- he had a pinkish pock-marked face and thin blonde hair -- and then I refocused my eyes to the people viewing the display. 
There he stood.  He was a fast-talking man with the spirit of a giant.
“At this point what do I believe in?” he said to me.  “Nothing.  Who advises me?  Nobody advises me.”
Andy had been a military policeman with the U.S. Army in 1957, assigned to Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.  Between 1948 and 1956, 22 nuclear bombs had been exploded there, including Edward Teller’s infamous 15-megaton hydrogen bomb.  “I lived at Ground Zero,” he explained -- and yet the Army never warned him.  He discovered his contamination 20 years later when a People magazine article about two survivors of Eniwetok harboring his same slew of mysterious ailments -- cataracts, blindness, heart attacks, internal bleeding -- led him to research what had happened.
I met other survivors: Navajo uranium miner Phil Harrison; atomic vets Ricardo Candelaria and Gilberto Quintana; Japanese-American Roy Kimura who had traveled to Hiroshima to search for relatives after the bombing; Dr. Dorothy Legarreta who, having filed a Freedom of Information Act request on human radiation experiments and was about to complete a book on the subject, inexplicably “drove off” a California highway to her death.
What struck me was the similarity between their experiences of contamination and deteriorating health and that of survivors of contraceptive technologies like myself, and so I attempted to draw such links in 1990 in a book called When Technology Wounds.

A person’s sense of meaning in life is central to psychological health. The cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker calls the significance we infuse into life our “hero system.” It consists, first, of a belief system and, second, of a means to enact that belief system. To Becker it is immaterial whether one’s hero system guides one to perform bold acts or to earn a living; what is important is that it gives a person a feeling of value, usefulness, or connection to forces greater than one’s self -- of heroism.[i]
Most technology survivors lose all or part of their hero system. Long-standing beliefs about themselves and the world can shatter into irretrievable fragments — and one's identity can be the first to go. Psychologist Benina Berger Gould experienced a loss of sexual identity when she underwent an emergency hysterectomy. After having a family, Benina was advised to wear the Dalkon Shield and Copper-7 IUDs. She developed severe pelvic pains, which were diagnosed as endometriosis (and later, in surgery, found not to be). To treat the condition, a doctor prescribed massive artificial hormones. She developed what was diagnosed as a cyst which, the doctor asserted, would explode in her abdomen if she didn’t have a hysterectomy.
Her response to the surgery was a feeling of piercing loss. "I would never again see that part of me that was female," she recalls. "There was a hole in my belly. No more cervix."
Another devastating loss that threatens one's sense of meaning is the ability to have children. Many technology survivors lose their biological ability to reproduce, endanger their lives if they do, or endanger the life of the child if they do. Ricardo Candelaria grew up in the 1930’s in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a slow-moving time when people farmed the land, ground corn to make tortillas, and sold chiles on the street. The core of the tight-knit community was the family, and Ricardo looked forward to having one of his own.
In 1950 he was proud to be accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps. This was a valued opportunity in the barrio and perceived as heroic. Ricardo was sent to Yucca Flats, Nevada, where he was ordered to witness the Ranger atomic test from a foxhole a few miles away. He describes the experience: "You were supposed to drop down into the hole, dig yourself in, and put your gas mask on. They told us when the count reaches zero, the flash would come first — bright blue — and if we wanted to see it, open one eye. Well, I closed both eyes as tight as I could, but I still saw that blue light right through my eyelids. They also told us if we wanted to see the blast, count to 20 before getting up.  To be sure, I counted to 30. Then I stood up, and I saw the mushroom going up, the bright red streamers of fire flying down from it, and a doughnut of fire billowing out in all directions. That doughnut was so big -- and it was coming toward us fast.  You could see the heat rising up and the dust forming into a mushroom pattern in the sky. My mouth fell open. I didn't know what was happening. The helmet blew off. Then the blast came and threw me against the hole."
After waiting for a few hours, the soldiers were ordered to approach what Ricardo calls "Dead Zero." Then the military technicians detected amounts of radiation that were too high. The desert soil was black and cracked. Military equipment placed near the blast site had powdered into the ground. The troops were ordered to retreat.
In 1956 Ricardo discovered that he was sterile. Today he explains with hurt in his voice: "If I'd have known about the radiation, I wouldn't have gotten into that trench. I'd have been court-martialed and gone through whatever trial and punishment they had. If I had to come out of the service with a bad discharge, okay, but I'd have been a father." His shoulders shaking in sorrow, he cries: “You don't know how much I wanted a family!"
Andy Hawkinson's confusion as a father centers on the children he did have. "I don't know if the root of the problem can ever be reached," he says. "The pain, the suffering, and my perpetuation of that by fathering children! I was exposed to radiation in 1957, but I didn't know about it until 1977. My daughter just got married, and I wonder: Should I tell her she could have a deformed baby?"
On top of losses to one's sense of heroism, faith in the institutions survivors perceive as responsible for hurting them may be gone as well. Unless pressed to discuss it, Andy Hawkinson would be the last person to reveal his anguish about the breach of trust he feels. It is too painful. When he went into the Army in 1957, he was a "red-blooded patriotic American boy,” he says. And yet, he explains: "The Statue of Liberty. Red, White, and Blue. My Country. I have often asked myself if I had to lose something, in what order of progression would I be willing to give it up? Well, I would probably sacrifice my mother first . . . my wife second . . . my children third—before I would ever, ever sacrifice my country. But then not to experience the same reverse loyalty from my government when I'm willing to give it so much — this is a rejection I'm not prepared to handle."
Loss catalyzes bereavement – and with its pangs of longing, panic, anxiety, anger, and helplessness. Caught in the turbulence of such all-consuming emotions, Andy describes his use of denial. "In coping with it all," he says, "I live a great big lie. I keep telling myself, ‘This isn't a problem,’ 'That isn't a problem.' I lie to myself saying, 'Sure, you can handle it.' But periodically something ruptures and I have to live through another trauma. Then I get back on my merry-go-round of lying until the next episode." (1990)[ii]

This blog is a book. Please feel free to read the next chapter now. Go to the Table of Contents under the introduction on the right side of the page and click on the next chapter.

[i] Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death. New York: The Free Press, 1973, p. 5.
[ii] Adapted from Chellis Glendinning, When Technology Wounds: The Human Consequences of Progress. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990, pp. 79-86.

IV: hitting bottom

Plutonium, broken back, debit card … denial.  And as they say about denial: it ain’t a river in Egypt.  The defense mechanism may better be described as the pall the mind casts over realities it cannot bear to glimpse.  Evolutionary psychologists tell us that a psychic function as slippery as this one aided survival by greasing the wheels of escape while facing a clawed animal in the savannah.  But today, given that technological society has rolled like a bulldozer over every blade and tendril on the planet, the modern-day version -- the chronic, unbreakable, impenetrable denial that may help one survive the claws of a demanding day, also directs us toward the demise of everything
         I attempted to put words to this terrible reality in an essay for the Institute for Policy Studies’ 1993 anthology Technology for the Common Good:

I met with a young political activist for conversation last week at my favorite café. The founder of an anti-war organization during the first Gulf War, this 21-year-old lives to explore social issues and act on his convictions. His burning question of the hour con­cerned technology. "Has television made people less intelligent?" he wondered, and he based his conclusion on the deconstructionist dictate that one speak only from personal experience. His answer, "Decidedly not," and indeed this young man's mental capacity was as substantial and his wit as clever as any I had seen of any age. 
But I could not help but notice that even before a quadruple espresso latte had exploded onto his brain cells, my young friend was ranting at 120 words-per-minute, vibrating in his seat like a rocket poised for take-off, and hurling about words like VPL, CDTV, HyperCard, and Macromind. And answering his own questions in quantum leaps across paradigms unintegrated by coherent worldview, physical reality, or moral obligation.
Like my friend, most of us who inhabit mass technological society find it difficult to understand technology's impact on social reality, let alone on our psyches. Like the tiny aerobic bacteria that reside within computer hardware, we are so entrenched in our technological world that we hardly know it exists. Yet widespread radioactive contamination, cancer epidemics, oil spills, toxic leaks, environmental illness, ozone holes, poisoned aquifers, and cultural and biological extinctions indicate that the technological construct encasing our every experience, perception, and political act stands in dire need of criticism. Further, such a critique requires integration by a coherent worldview, physical reality, and moral obliga­tion.
Gazing at ourselves from outside our hardware, few of us will be able to deny that we need to reconstruct both our world and our worldview. Yet not many of us have begun the conversation that would lay a concep­tual framework for such a shift. Instead, we remain trapped within both hardware and hardware-determined worldview, and technological development promises to march onward toward nanotechnology, virtual reality, genetic engineering, biological weapons, and all kinds of new technologies that will further disrupt ecological balance, cultural diversity, and psychological well-being.
I count myself as both technology critic and activist, proudly following in the footsteps of such insightful thinkers as philosopher Lewis Mumford, sociologist Jacques Ellul, historian David Noble, political scientist Langdon Winner, and social critic Jerry Mander.[i]  The system under observation is mass technological civilization. As philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote, "We are questioning concerning technology in order to bring light to our relationship to its essence.”[ii]  What is the essence of modern technology? How does it structure our lives?  Our perceptions? Our politics? How does it shape our psyches? What does it say about our relationship to our humanness and to the Earth? Unfortunately, obstacles to answers are entrenched, like concrete piers at a freeway exchange, in both our social and psychological reality.
I discovered the scope of such obstacles while I was on a promotional tour for my book When Technology Wounds.[iii] The book is based on a psychological study of technology survivors:  people who have become medically ill as a result of exposure to some health-threatening technology. I interviewed Love Canal residents, atomic veterans, asbestos workers, DES daughters, electronics plant workers, Dalkon Shield survivors, homeowners whose groundwater had been contaminated, Nevada Test Site downwinders, sufferers of cancer, environmental illness, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction, and many other survivors.

By all accounts, this population is on the rise. Forty-one thousand Louisiana residents are exposed to 3.5 million tons of toxic landfill along the industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.[iv]  Thirty million U.S. households, or 96 million people, live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant.[v] One hundred and thirty five million residents in 122 cities and counties breath consistently polluted air,[vi] while 250 million American -- everyone of us-- are exposed to 2.6 billion pounds of pes­ticides each year, in addition to all the radioactive fallout ringing the globe from Hiroshima, Chernobyl, and the nuclear test sites in Nevada and Khazakstan.[vii]
On the book tour I suggested that since people are getting sick from technological exposure, we had best enter into an informed conversation about technology. Such a conversation was not forthcoming. In a debate on Public Radio International with MIT Professor Marvin Minsky, the founder of artificial intelligence, I was asked if I had any objections to computers. I expressed concern that the deadly chemicals used to manufacture computers -- such as chlorofluorocarbons, diethylamine, lencast, 4,4 isophopylidenediphenol, and biosphenol A -- contaminate the biosphere. I mentioned Yolanda Lozano, a 36-year-old worker from the GTE plant in Albuquerque who died of cancer from chemical exposure on the job. In reply, Professor Minsky quipped, "It doesn't matter.”[viii]
Elsewhere on my tour, the conversation ended before it began. "Get this woman off the air! She's the stupidest guest you've ever had!" shrieked one talk show listener.[ix]

I compare today's public awareness of the impacts of technology to that of alcoholism in the 1950’s. Back then, everybody drank.  It was more than socially acceptable to drink; it was required.  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was 20 years old and growing, but still considered an embarrassment.
It is not a new idea that we who live in mass technological society suffer psychological addiction to specific machines like cars, telephones, and computers, and even to technology itself. But the picture is bigger and more complex. As social philosopher Morris Berman says:

Addiction, in one form or another, characterizes every aspect of industrial society.... Dependence on alcohol (food, drugs, tobacco . . .) is not formally different from dependence on prestige, career achievement, world in­fluence, wealth, the need to build more ingenious bombs, or the need to exercise control over everything.[x]

The editor of Science describes the nation’s dependence on oil as an addiction,[xi] while Vice President Al Gore claims that we are addicted to the consumption of the Earth itself.[xii]  Evolutionary philosopher Gregory Bateson points out that addictive behavior is consistent with the Western approach to life that pits mind against body and concludes, "It is doubtful whether a species having both an advanced technology and this strange [polarized] way of looking at its world can survive.”[xiii]

To clarify this notion that contemporary society itself is based on addic­tion, what I call "techno-addiction," we will do well to turn to the pioneers of the sociology of technology. Mumford, Ellul, Winner, and Noble remind us that no machine stands alone.[xiv]  In other words, we will forever be trapped in a narcissistic "I-want-my-mammogram" analysis as long as we view technology only as specific machines that either serve us in­dividually or do not.  What Mumford calls the “Megamachine" is an entire psycho-socio-economic system that includes all the machines in our midst; all the organizations and methods that make those machines possible; those of us who inhabit this technologi­cal construct; plus the ways in which we are socialized and required to participate in the system; and the ways we think, perceive, and feel as we attempt to survive within it.

What I am describing is a human-constructed, technology-centered social system built on principles of standardization, efficiency, linearity, and fragmentation-like an assembly line that fulfills production quotas, but cares nothing for the people who operate it. Within this system, tech­nology influences society. The automotive industry reor­ganized American society in the 20th century. Likewise, nuclear weapons define global politics. At the same time, society reflects the technological ethos. As Mander shows, the social organization of workplaces, as well as their architecture and physical layout, reflect the mechanistic principles of standardization, efficiency, and production quotas.[xv]
From our everyday experience we might note that "normal" acts like standing in line, obeying traffic signals, or registering for the draft all constitute acts of participation in this grand machine. Regarding our minds and bodies as disconnected in health and disease, or thinking that radioactive waste buried in the Earth won't eventually seep into the water table, are symptoms of the fragmented thinking that emerges from such a mechanical order.
At this point in history, technology and society are completely interwoven. The feminist philosopher Susan Griffin characterizes the impos­sible task of distinguishing the two as "like saying my hand causes my fingers.”[xvi] "Technology has become our environment as well as our ideology," writes the Dutch social critic Michiel Schwarz, "We no longer use technology, we live it.”[xvii]
Vine Deloria, Lakota author of books on Native history and politics, describes the results of this social-technological imbrication as "the artificial universe."

Wilderness transformed into city streets, subways, giant buildings, and factories resulted in the complete substitu­tion of the real world for the artificial world of the urban man ...Surrounded by an artificial universe when the warning signals are not the shape of the sky, the cry of the animals, the changing of seasons, but the simple flashing of the traffic light and the wail of the ambulance and police car, urban people have no idea what the natural universe is like. . . . Their progress is defined solely in terms of convenience within the artificial technological universe with which they are familiar.[xviii]

Langdon Winner moves the idea further, arguing that the artifacts and methods invented since the technological revolution have developed in size and complexity to the point of canceling our every ability to grasp their impact upon us. The scientific-technological reality that now threatens to determine every aspect of our lives and encase the entire planet is out of control, he asserts. "Our technologies are tools without handles.”[xix]
Characteristics like total immersion, loss of perspective, and loss of control tip us off to the link between the psychological process of addiction and the technological system.  According to Craig Nakken of the Rutgers School of Alcohol Studies, addiction is a progressive disease that begins with inner psychological changes, leads to changes in perception, behavior, and life-style, and then to total breakdown.[xx]  Its hallmark is the out-of-control, often aimless compulsion to fill a lost sense of meaning and connectedness with substances or experiences.
Throughout technological society the recognized symptoms of the addictive process are blatantly evident. They are obvious in the behavior of those Jacques Ellul calls "the cabal of self-serving officials and execu­tives"[xxi] who promote technology to maintain control over society or inflate their own bank accounts and egos. And they are evident for us all because our experience, knowledge, and sense of reality have been shaped by life in the technological world. Some symptoms of the addictive process include: denial, control, dishonesty, thinking disorders, grandiosity, and an unhealthy relationship with one's feelings.

This blog is a book. Please feel free to read the next chapter now. Go to the Table of Contents under the introduction on the right side of the page and click on the next chapter.

[i] Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1967; The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power; Technics and Civilization; Jacque Ellul, The Technological Society. New York: Vintage, 1964; The Technological Bluff. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1990; David Noble, America by Design. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1977; Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1977; Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986; Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. New York: Quill, 1978; and Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991. 
[ii] Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Levitt. New York: Harper & Row, 1977, p. 3.
[iii] Glendinning, When Technology Wounds.
[iv] David Maraniss and Michael Weisskoff, “Corridor of Death along the Mississippi,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 31, 1988; and Jay Gould, Quality of Life in American Neighborhoods. Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1986, pp. 2.117-2.120.
[v] Critical Mass Energy Project, “The 1986 Nuclear Power Safety Report.” Washington DC: Public Citizen, 1986; and Daniel F. Ford, Three Mile Island. New York: Penguin, 1982.
[vi] Aerometric Information and Retrieval System: 1988 with Supplemental Data from Regional Office Review. Washington DC: Environmental Protection Agency, July 1989.
[vii] Unfinished Business: A Comparative Assessment of Environmental Problems. Washington DC: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Policy Analysis, February 1987, pp. 84-86; Lawrie Mott and Karen Snyder, “Pesticide Alert,” Amicus Journal,  Vol. 10 No. 2, Spring 1988, p. 2; and Information Disease Almanac, 1986. Boston MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1986, p. 129.
[viii] “Neo-Luddism Is Sweeping North America: An Interview with Chellis Glendinning and Marvin Minsky,” Canadian Broadcasting Company rebroadcast on National Public Radio, March 26, 1990.
[ix] “The Mike Cuthbert Show,” WAMU-FM, May 16, 1990.
[x] Morris Berman, The Re-Enchantment of the World. New York: Bantam, 1981, p. 242.
[xi] D.E. Koshland, “War and Science,” Science, Vol. 251 No. 4993, February 1, 1991, p. 497.
[xii] Al Gore, Earth in the Balance. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
[xiii] Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Random House, 1972, pp. 309-337.
[xiv] Mumford, Technics and Civilization, p. 12; The Myth of the Machine: The  Pentagon of Power, Chapter 13; Ellul, The Technological Society, pp. 3-11; Winner, Autonomous Technology, pp. 8-12; and Nobel, America By Design, Chapters 8-9.
[xv] Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred, Chapter 7.
[xvi] Conversation with Susan Griffin, Berkeley CA, June 15, 1987.
[xvii] Michiel Schwarz and Rein Jansma, eds., The Technological Culture. Amsterdam: De Bailie Publishers, 1989, p. 3.
[xviii] Vine Deloria, We Talk, You Listen. New York: Delta, 1970, p. 185.
[xix] Winner, Autonomous Technology, p. 29.
[xx] Craig Nakken, The Addictive Personality. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988, pp. 19-62.
[xxi] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. New York: Vintage Books, 1965, p. 121.