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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Religious Motivation (p. 95)

From chapter "Rationalization"

Marx and Engels anticipated much of what the industrial system would accomplish, and though they also described the soot and grime of the factories, they did not have real ecological understanding. This is not surprising, since almost nobody in our culture, even a century later, even environmentalists, has anything remotely approaching true ecological understanding. In fact we avoid it—rationalize it away—whenever possible. The Communist Manifesto called for factories owned by the state; bringing “waste lands” into cultivation; the establishment of industrial armies especially for agriculture; the combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; the gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country through a more equable distribution of the populace over the country; and the combination of education with industrial production (most of which has also come to pass, damn it all). Marx and Engels believed that technology and “progress” were good, and that the class system so that everyone could enjoy the industrial fruits. To Marx and Engels, all relations were determined by the relations of production. All of history was only the story of class struggle, and once the workers had taken hold of the levers of the machines, class struggle (and history) would magically end. They did not understand that instead of the workers taking hold of the machines, the machines had already taken hold of the workers.

Max Weber understood that. He brought psychology and social dynamics into his understanding of the nightmare. He knew that society isn’t moved only by material forces, and that human motivation isn’t only rational or instrumental, but that motivation is a mix of rationality, values, emotion, and habit. He saw how modern society emphasizes the rational, the instrumental, the means to achieve certain goals, at the expense of everything else (including life itself). This narrowing of motivation in modern society has been fueled by the rise of bureaucracy and industrialization. Honing in, Weber saw that modern institutions, both public governments and private corporations, were becoming bureaucracies characterized by hierarchical authority, impersonality, rules, promotion by achievement, division of labor, and efficiency.

Weber wanted to understand how traditional ways of living and being in communities had come to be abandoned in favor of the rational, the goal-oriented. He thought that nothing short of a religious motivation would be capable of overcoming people’s natural tendency to work only until they were comfortable, rather than to pile up wealth for its own sake.Capitalist propaganda aside, the allure of wealth has never been sufficient to make people work hard (especially when it’s their hard work for someone else’s wealth, which has always been how things happen in the “real world”).

Here’s how the religious motivation worked: The “waste of time,” Weber wrote, became “the first and in principle the deadliest of sins.”He also wrote, “The religious valuation of restless, continuous, systematic work” became for this culture every human’s perceived salvation, and the “most powerful conceivable lever for the expansion of . . . the spirit of capitalism.”“Outside the Church there is no salvation” became “Outside of Work there is no salvation.”

At the risk of tipping our hand, we all know where this leads in the end, to Arbeit Macht Frei over the gates to hell.

Or to the factory. Sometimes you cannot tell the difference.

We need to not allow our analysis to become too sterile, too bureaucratic in itself. The pretense that the only things at work are psychology and social dynamics serves those in power. The Panopticon is ultimately based on force. It always has been and always will be.

Sure, when it’s working well—when, to switch metaphors, the machine is well greased—the violence can safely hide in the background. That is the power of the Panopticon. Just yesterday I took my mom to Wal-Mart. Now, before you shout hypocrite! at my even visiting this temple of consumption, recognize that in this small town Wal-Mart has already wreaked its damage. My mom’s telephone “died” the last time the electricity went out, and she “needed” another one. In this town her choices are Wal-Mart and Radio Shack. Would you like red or blue identity papers? My mom bought a new one, and it didn’t work. I took her to exchange it. There was a line at the return counter, and it was a nice day, so I went outside to wait for her to finish. On one bench sat a woman eating a sandwich, and on another sat a man smoking a cigarette. I often prefer the company of bushes to humans anyway (especially the ones entranced by Wal-Mart) so I sat on the curb near some imprisoned pyracantha. Now here’s the point: I could tell that those who walked by, especially Wal-Mart employees, were made uncomfortable with the fact that I was sitting in an unauthorized spot. And I know the problem was where I was sitting: I didn’t have unauthorized long hair, nor unauthorized body odor, nor unauthorized dirty clothes, nor was I frowning in some unauthorized manner. But I could feel that people wanted me to move, and consequently I could feel myself wanting to move, to get back in line.

This is one way the machine works, when it is well greased. The same psychological pressures to conform would be at work were I instead standing with a pistol in my hand, pointing it at a Russian Jew kneeling beside a pit filled with writhing bodies, or with a chainsaw in my hand, pointing it at an ancient tree, or poised at a mass media magazine rack, choosing between Soldier of Fortune, Penthouse, or Car and Driver.

But, and here’s the real point: what is the grease that smooths the machine? It is our own bodies and the bodies of others. Another way to get at this is by asking what happens to those who do not voluntarily enter the cells of the Panopticon, who do not voluntarily submit to the rules of the industrial-commercial-educational-security bureaucracy.

A hint: none of my students at Pelican Bay knocked on the doors begging to be let in. Well, precision requires that I amend that statement. They didn’t knock the first time. Some few, having been what they term “institutionalized”—made incapable of surviving freedom—will commit crimes immediately on release to put themselves back in. I heard of one prisoner who escaped from minimum security a couple of weeks before his release date so he’d get sent back: prison had turned him into someone who could no longer survive freedom.

I’m sure you see how this applies on the larger, social scale.

But there still remains the question of what to do with those who will not become institutionalized. Of course we have the answers of what happened to the American Indians, and what continues to happen to the indigenous the world over: dispossession, dispersion, mass murder, genocide. And we also see what happens personally to those who resist: there are members of the Black Panthers who have been held in solitary confinement since the 1970s.

There’s something missing amidst all this talk of those in power gaining information through darkened and lightened rooms in buildings that aren’t actually buildings but instead metaphors for the whole culture. And that has to do with the actual gaining of information, where the rubber hits the road, as it were, or more precisely, where the rubber hits the flesh.

We need to be explicit about interrogation techniques employed by the CIA and associated groups. I have in front of me a CIA Torture Manual—oh, sorry, a Pain Compliance Manual, oh, sorry, this time a real title (and I’m not making this one up) Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. I’m sure you can guess their contents. I also have in front of me the chapter from the 1963 CIA KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual entitled “Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources.” These manuals are explicit: “The following are the principal coercive techniques of interrogation: arrest, detention, deprivation of sensory stimuli through solitary confinement or similar methods, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, narcosis, and induced regression.” No wonder they call it counterintelligence.

They go on to describe the advantages and disadvantages of each technique, and how each of them can be most effectively used to break their victims. The goal is to cause three important responses, “debility, dependency, and dread,” that is, to cause their victims to “regress,” that is, to lose their autonomy. As one manual puts it: “these techniques . . . are in essence methods of inducing regression of the personality to whatever earlier and weaker level is required for the dissolution of resistance and the inculcation of dependence. . . . As the interrogatee slips back from maturity toward a more infantile state, his learned or structured personality traits fall away in a reversed chronological order, so that the characteristics most recently acquired—which are also the characteristics drawn upon by the interrogatee in his own defense—are the first to go. . . . [R]egression is basically a loss of autonomy.”

The point is to deconstruct the individual’s self, or in short and in vernacular, to mindf**k victims until they give the perpetrators what they want. As the manual puts it: “Coercive procedures are designed not only to exploit the resistant source’s internal conflicts and induce him to wrestle with himself but also to bring a superior outside force to bear upon the subject’s resistance.”

Every day, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, we see these processes and purposes at work in the culture at large, whether from teachers, bosses, cops, politicians, or abusive parents who try to exploit our internal conflicts to increase their control, safe in the knowledge that if we refuse to be so exploited they will use force to achieve their same ends.