Thursday, April 9, 2009

IF that's Alienation... where do i sign up??

A while ago I was asked to read an article about the alienation brought into our lives through the use of tools. The article heralds a resurgence of a technological primitivism. It advocates a return to home manufacturing (at least in part) of the products we use daily; home gardening, the making of our cloths, and so on.
Although the article is championed by the working center’s creator, I found the idea rather silly and short sighted. Firstly, the article falls into the same trap that all dreams of primitivism falls into, idealization of the past. The use of tools was not forced on anyone. The fact is, there are advantages of the alienatetion brought on by the use of tools. If I were to make my own shirt it would take me countless hours. Today, if I were making minimum wage ($9) it would only take me about 2 hours of work to afford the shirt I wanted. The article at it’s core, negates the social evolution that took us from the past to present. Over time, people adopt things that make their life easier/more productive, things that detract from our lives are simply dropped into the wastebasket of history. Our current means of production came into place organically, through the choices made my a large amount of people over a long period time, things that worked were incorporated, things that didn’t work were lost. The article idealizes the past to such a blinding degree that it fails to see the strengths of today and the weaknesses of yesterday.
Secondly, the article negates to incorporate the liberation that tools afford us. Simply stated, tools allow man to translate his mental prowess into his physical prowess. Remember, the distinguishing factor of man is his ability to manipulate his environment. Man is not the strongest nor the fastest, yet through his engineering he has surpassed his natural peers. With further innovation man has liberated himself from a survival based existence. Through the use of tools and our current means of production, I am afforded tremendous amount of leisure time, something I would not have if I was not alienated from the production of the things I use everyday. Alienation is not always a bad thing. I am not particularly skilled at the production of food while others are. It is in society’s best interest to have people working in the vocation that best suits their ability and aptitude. This by its very nature forces the individual to be ‘alienated’ from the production of a lot of things, while affords him to be immersed in the production of something specific, this is call specialization. Specialization allows us to have teachers, doctors, mechanics, and a long list of other occupations that would not exist without the alienation afforded to us by the use of tools.


  1. Good point. I do see both sides of it though ... tools can both alienate and us and improve our lives. But you're right, without tools (and progress), life would be a lot harder. In any case, people would likely divide up the labor to increase leisure time ... ie I can knit, so I'll make you a shirt, if you bake me some bread while you bake your own. You got me thinking though. Thanks for that.

  2. I definitly agree with this post. I also fall into this category of thinking that we should be taking advantage of all the progress we've made. The fact of the matter is that we are living in a time where everyone uses cell phones and email, etc - and to be "radical" and make a personal decision to stop using these tools WOULD be alienating ourselves from others. So long as we use these tools responsibly, I am with John in celebrating our acheivements instead of suggesting we ignore them.