Man and Technics
A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life
By Oswald Spengler
I. TECHNICS AS THE TACTICS OF LIVING
The history of Technics asks what value within life, does it posses, where – socially and metaphysically – does it stand.
Two answers. One of the idealists was that Technics were below culture. (Goethe and idealists).
The other was Materialist. Which was fashionable among the half-educated during the end of the 19th century.
Whatever was useful to “humanity” was a legitimate element of Culture.
Now the Greatest Happiness principal. Istead of humanity we have the “achievements of humanity” by which nothing more was meant than progress in the Technics of labour-saving and amusement-making. Of the soul, not one word.
The GHP led to the belief in no more war; no more distinctions of law, peoples, states, or religions; no criminals or adventurers; no conflicts arising out of superiorities and unlikeness, no more hate or vengeance, but just unending comfort through all millennia.
It was naïve.
Today both views are out of date. The facts of world history have been laid bare.
We have learned that history is something that takes no notice whatever of our expectations.
Technics is immemorially old.
The free-moving life of the animal is struggle. And tactics in the face of the “other” Technics is not to be understood in terms of the implement. What matters is not how one fashions things, but what one does with them. Not the weapon, but the battle.
There are chemical warfare techniques that call for a logical technique.
As a painter, it is a matter of purposive activity, never of things.
Movements on these paths lead to “progress” But whither? For how long? And what then?
Every truly creative human being knows and dreads the emptiness that follows the completion of a work.
The animal only knows fear of death in the moment of being killed.
An old Greek legend – without which the illiad could not have been – tells how his mother oput before Achilles the choice between a long life or a short life full of deeds and fame.
Man was, and is, too shallow and cowardly to endure the fact of the mortality of everything living. He wraps it up in rose-coloured progress optimism, he heaps flowers of literature upon it, he crawls behind the shelter of ideals so as not to see anything.
We cannot be Persian kings. There are no men-in-themselves that the philosophers talk about. Only men of a particular time.
II. HERBIVORES AND BEASTS OF PREY
Man is a beast of prey. A beast of prey is everyone’s foe. Never does he tolerate an equal in his den. Here we are at the root of the truly royal idea of property. Property defended.
Once this is understood, we see that there are carnivore and there are herbivore ethics.
The fight of nature-within against nature-without is not misery, as Schoepenhauer and as Darwin’s “struggle for existence” regard it, but a grand meaning that ennobles life, the amor fati of Neitzsche.
Animal thought knows neither neither experience nor anxiety. It is not true that the female animal “cares” for her young. Care is a feeling that presupposes mental vision into the future, concern for what is to be.
III. THE ORIGIN OF MAN: HAND AND TOOL
Since when has this type of the inventive carnivore existed? And how did it get here? The answer is through the hand.
Hand and tool change and arise simultaneously.
What has divided, however – not chronologically, but logically – is the technical process, so that the making and the using of the tool are different things. As there is a e question of whether something is suitable or unsuitable – the criterion of the doer – has nothing to do with that of true and false, the values of the observer. And an aim is a fact, while a connection of cause and effect is a truth. In this wise arose the very different modes of thought of the truth-men – the priest, the scholar, the philosopher – and the fact-men – the statesman, the genera, the merchant.
The clenching hand is an expression of will.
The act of the thinking hand we call the deed. Animals do acts, but man does deeds.
“World history” the history of a steadily increasing fateful rift between man’s world and the universe.
That is the beginning of man’s tragedy – For nature is the stronger of the two.
The fight against Nature is hopeless and yet – it will be fought to the bitter end.
After the age of the armed hand. But now comes a second epoch – making change.
What changed was, not equipment, but Man. Once more, it is only from his soul that man’s history can be discovered.
IV. THE SECOND STAGE: SPEECH AND ENTERPRISE
The date of this mutation can be fixed with fair accuracy as being somewhere in the fifth millennium before Christ.
What in all this is the spiritual transformation? The answer I put forward is this – Collective doing by plan.
This is what suddenly changes now. The new processes take up long periods of time. Between the felling of the tree and the sailing of the ship that is build out of it. The story divides itself into a set of well-arranged separate “acts” and set of “plots”.
How much tech is possible with native “booming and buzzing” confusion? Is linear thinking tied to tech demands?
“Speech” or “language” is only an abstraction from this, the inner (grammatical) form of speaking, and therewith of words. This form must be common property and must have a certain permanence if information is really to be imparted by its means.
Speaking sentences is preceded by simpler forms of communication such as signs for the eye, signals, gestures, warning and threatening calls.
For the origin of speaking in words, is not to be found in the activity of speaking itself. That was the error of the Romantics, who (remote as ever from actuality) deduced speech from the “primary poesy” of mankind. Nay, more, they thought that speech was itself this poesy – myth, lyric, and prayer rolled into one.
Levy – Bruhls purpose of language in early consciousness.
This, in turn, brings us to the fundamental error of those sworn foes of Romanticism, the rationalists, who are for ever chasing the idea that what the sentence expresses is a judgment or thought.
Consequently the “thought” appears to them as the object of the speaking.
Their view of the origin of speech is, therefore, false, for they look upon it as monologue.
The source is in the conversation of several persons. The object is not one of understanding as a consequence of reflection, but one of reciprocal understanding as a consequence of question and answer.
These are sentences, originally quite brief, which are invariably addressed to others, such as “Do this!” “Ready?” “Yes!” “Go ahead!”
Even today the peasant is slow of speech as compared with the townsman.
The original object of speech is the carrying – out of an act.
As Mephistopheles ironically says to Faust:
“…when to my car my money yokes six spankers, are their limbs not my limbs? Is’t not I on the proud race-course that dash by? Mine all the forces I combine, the four – and – twenty legs are mine!”
Man, the preying animal, insists consciously on increasing his superiority far beyond the limits of his bodily powers. This is a will-to-more-power .
Large production requires lots of common thought. In every enterprise planning out and carrying out are distinct elements. There is director’s work and there is executant’s work.
These, by the way, diverging more and more definitely as the centuries go on.
There are men whose nature is to command and men whose nature is to obey, subjects and objects of the political or economic process in question.
Now this verbally managed enterprise involves an immense loss of freedom, for the leader and the led alike.
With collective doing the decisive step is taken from organic to organized existence.
Out of the annihilation of the vanquished springs the law that is imposed upon the vanquished. Human law is ever a law of the stronger to which the weaker must conform.
From the individual to the organized people, the animal with one soul and many hands.
In the tribes of this primitive sort the individual life mattered little or nothing. That in every great building task no small part of the workmen perished. Clearly all that mattered was that enough were left to represent the spirit of the whole.
In this increasing interdependence lies the quiet and deep revenge of Nature upon the being that has wrested from her the privilege of creation. This petty creator against Nature, the great symbol of this fact was the house.
The soul of this beast of prey is ever hungry. It is precisely its best specimens that know least of quiet, happiness, or enjoyment.
In general , these peoples and tribes multiply to say, downwards. What grows is not the number of “heads” but of hands.
But even this lordship of the few is far removed from the ancient freedom – witness Frederick the Great’s saying: “I am the first servant of my State.” Hence the desperate efforts of the “exceptional” man to keep himself inwardly free. Here, and only here, begins the individualism that is a reaction against the psychology of the mass. It is the last uprising of the carnivore soul against its captivity behind the bars of culture, the last attempt to shake off the spiritual and intellectual limitations that are produced by, and represented by, the fact of large numbers.
The idea of personality, in its dark beginnings, is a protest against humanity in the mass.
Hate, the most genuine of all race-feelings in the beast of prey. Being that stand lower one despises. Beings that themselves stand low are envious.
V. THE LAST ACT: RISE AND END OF THE MACHINE CULTURE
Only some cultures get to the level where personality emerges from the rebellion against cultural entrapment. This results in “high” culture.
There arises “society” with its hierarchy of classes, noble, priest, and burgher, as an artificial graduation of life against the background of “mere” peasantry.
The urban Culture is luxury. Without an economic wealth that is concentrated in a few hands, there can be no “wealth” of art, of thought.
And, in this sense, the technical processes that mature in these Cultures are also spiritual luxuries.
The Faustian, west, European Culture is probably not the last, but certainly it is the most powerful, the most passionate, and – owing to the inward conflict between its comprehensive intellectuality and its profound spiritual disharmony – the most tragic of them all.
The Northern countryside, by the severity of the conditions of life in it. To elevate the destiny of the free personality to being the very meaning of the world A will-to-power which laughs at all bounds of time and space.
At the beginning of every high Culture the two primary orders, nobility and priesthood – take shape.
The noble, warrior, adventurer lives in the world of facts, the priest, scholar, philosopher in his worlds of truths. The one is (or suffers) a destiny, the other thinks in causality. The one would make intellect the servant of a strong living, the other would subject his living to the service of the intellect. And nowhere has this opposition taken more irreconcilable forms than in the Faustian Culture, in which the proud blood of the beast of prey revolts for the last time against the tyranny of pure thought.
Experiment, Bacon’s “Scientia experimentalis,” which is the interrogation of Nature under torture with the rack. It is the stratagem of intellectual beasts of prey.
Greek ontology = stuff. Enlightenment epistemology = force.
The faustian science, and it alone, is Dynamics, in contrast to the statics of the Greeks and the Alchemy of the arabs. It is concerned not with stuffs, but with force.
Now he meant, not merely to plunder her of her materials, but to enslave and harness her very forces so as to multiply his own strength.
Not this or that bit of the world, as when Prometheus stole fire, but the world itself.
But he who was not himself possessed by this will to power over all nature would necessarily feel all this as devilish.
With the growth of the towns, Technics became bourgeois. The successor of those Gothic monks was the cultured lay inventor, the expert priest of the machine. Finally, with the coming of rationalism, the belief in Technics almost becomes a materialist religion. Technics is eternal and immortal like a god.
In reality the passion of the inventor has nothing whatever to do with its consequences. It is his personal life-motive, his personal joy and sorrow.
The electrical transmission of power and the discovery of the possibilities of energy from water have depreciated the old coal-areas of Europe and their populations. Have such considerations ever caused an inventor to suppress his discoveries?
All great discoveries and inventions spring from the delight of strong men in victory. They are expressions of personality and not of the utilitarian thinking of the masses, who are merely spectators of the event, but must take its consequences whatever they may be.
Its production, the working of the machine being done by inorganic force has dangerously accentuated the spiritual tension between leaders and the led.
The earlies “enterprises” in the pre-Christian millennia required the intelligent co-operation of all concerned, who had to know and feel what it was all about. There was therefore, a sort of camaraderie.
But by Egypt and Babylon, that was no longer the case.
Work was a curse by the time of the bible. People don’t see that their leaders (the creators) are working hard. They just see subjection and hate their leaders.
As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man. The lord of the world is becoming the slave of the Machine. Their strength is bound up with the existence of coal.
The degree of military power is dependent on the intensity of industry. Countries industrially poor are poor all round; they , therefore, cannot support an army or wage war.
The increasing value of the leadership-work of the few creative heads is no longer comprehended and valued. In so far as it is so at all, practical America rates it highest, and Germany – “The land of poets and thinkers” the least.
The civilization itself has tried to become a mechanical engine. In the great cities the car is now slower than walking on foot.
Now Faustian thought begins to be sick of machines. A weariness is spreading, a sort of pacifism of the battle with Nature. Men are spending their time in sport instead of technical experiments.
Strong and creative talens are turning away from practical sciences and going towards spiritualism and philosophy.
It is the spirit of Rome in the Age of Augustus. Out of satiety of life, men take refuge from civilization in the more primitive parts of the earth, in vagabondage, in suicide.
The work of the hands (now without significance) mutinies against their destiny, against the machine, against organized life or anything.
A big mistake was the advanced nations giving technology to all.
The low wages of the third world will face us with a deadly competition.
They are now revenging their lords. For the the colored races, it is but a weapon in their fight against the Faustian civilization.
Our Faustianism is an inward challenge. Theirs is an outward challenge to us.
We will be overtaken, but we should go with a bang, like Achilles.