Life vs the Machine

Now, the fundamental "principle" of agriculture is that it deals with life, that is to say, with living substances. Its products are the results of processes of life and its means of production is the living soil. A cubic centimetre of fertile soil contains billions of living organisms, the full exploration of which is far beyond the capacities of man. The fundamental “principle” of modern industry, on the other hand, is that it deals with man-devised processes which work reliably only when applied to man-devised, non-living materials. The ideal of industry is the elimination of living substances. Manmade materials are preferable to natural materials, because we can make them to measure and apply perfect quality control. Manmade machines work more reliably and more predictably than do such living substances as men. The ideal of industry is to eliminate the living factor, even including the human factor, and to turn the productive process over to machines. As Alfred North Whitehead defined life as “an offensive directed against the repetitious mechanism of the universe," so we may define modern industry as “an offensive against the unpredictability, unpunctuality, general waywardness and cussedness of living nature, including man.”

small-is-beautifulp. 87–8

“From the factory,” it has been said, “dead matter goes out improved, whereas men there are corrupted and degraded.”

small-is-beautifulp. 124

Simulacra of control

Compare: visions of the human as machine

I thus come to the cheerful conclusion that life, including economic life, is still worth living because it is sufficiently unpredictable to be interesting.

small-is-beautifulp. 201


small-is-beautiful Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich. 2001. Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as If People Mattered. Random House. ↩︎ 1 2 3