Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Processing people to serve industry

Human beings are being used as the principal raw material for the growth and expansion of industrial society, says the writer. Thus, education for example has come to mean the production of workers with skills demanded by industry.
 
By Jeremy Seabrook
 
The perception that we live in a "post-indusrial society" could scarcely be more false. Simply because in Britain the old sites of industrial production have largely fallen into decay, or been demolished, this does not indicate a weakening of industrialism.

Indeed, the idea of "post-industrial" era only serves to dissimulate the reality that our lives are more and more deeply penetrated by the necessities of industrial life. It is not only manufactured goods which are produced by industrial society; society itself is industrialised, as the term implies.

In consequence, human beings are now being processed. Our very lives are the object of a division of labour once thought appropriate only to the production of artefacts and commodities. We are being re-fashioned in the image of the mass-produced objects which shape and dominate our world.

Humanity has become the principal raw material for the growth and expansion of industrial society. The "reform" of our institutions reflects this: these are now all taking on the lineaments of the business enterprise; so that education, for instance, has come to mean the production of people who will fit into the paradigm of adding value, in the shape of skills, inputs, training.

They must adapt themselves to the next phase of industrial life, be "re-tooled" for the 21st century, respond to whatever the market demands.

Sometimes, this is expressed in the crudest terms. The average child, we are told, in the UK "costs" £20,000 in the first five years of its life. People are frequently heard to say "We can't afford to have another child"; as though children themselves were the kind of item of consumption that must vie with a new car or a skiing holiday in the economic calculus which now governs emotions and spirit no less than the daily purchases essential to our lives.

Auto-producing

It is as though we have become so obsessed by our capacity for industrial production, that we seek to become like our own creation. We now hear of strange new forms of industry, a health care industry rather than a health service, for example. We become units upon whose repair and maintenance more and more money must be spent; enhanced longevity through spectacular technology promises a mechanised and non-spiritual version of immortality.

Our lives have become portfolios of experience, a quantitative aggregate of what we have been able to buy in; and human remains, as it were, are the living leftovers of the mutations of industrial processing.

Naturally, as in the whole history of industrialism, labour must be saved: all of which involves a decreasing role for other human beings.

Thus, educators are not there to teach but to facilitate learning, to create a positive learning environment. In other words, we are expected to autoproduce; as is only to be expected, since this is the counterpart of automated industrial manufacture.

The buy-in culture requires assembly plants for the creation of whole human beings; and this is the function of the vast retail outlets, shopping malls, the marble halls in which we try to reconstitute some kind of identity for ourselves.

Indeed, the celebrated freedom of choice is another way of saying that people autoproduce themselves by means of the do-it-yourself kits which have already been pre-manufactured.

Of course, there will always be faulty models, especially among those ill-adapted individuals who have not yet understood what is required of them. These swell the crime figures; and for them, correctional facilities are designed. Welfare remains to help in cases where more benign interventions are required.

One of the most crucial elements in these happy changes are entertainment industries, which serve to distract us, not so much from the human condition as from human conditioning. They carry us off into a realm of fantasy — a form of colonisation of the imagination — so that we are absolved from the necessity of leading our own lives.

In Japan much industrial production has been transferred to jidoka — the endowment of machines with human-like intelligence. It is only a short step to the endowment of human beings with machine-like intelligence, which is far less messy, more efficient and less fallible.

We recognise this to some degree in the jargon which has replaced communication in contemporary society. When we talk of human resources, we are not speaking of creativity, the capacity to invent and to imagine.

Human resources are perceived as an analogue of material resources — something to be mined like metals, trawled like the seabed, to be diverted like natural watercourses for an optimum yield.

And indeed, we regularly talk now about "investing in people"; as though humanity itself were a kind of speculative venture, whereby monetary inputs may be expected to produce returns that will far exceed the initial outlay.

And indeed this is what happens. Industrialising humanity is the next logical step after the industrialising of society. If human beings must be disaggregated, broken down and then re-assembled so that the need for more and more marketed inputs can be assured in perpetuity, so much the better for the health of the economy.

Prepackaged responses

There remains a danger that human emotions may escape the straitjacket of industrial necessity, and throw the whole process into disorder. This has been taken care of.

Human emotions — pain, suffering, loss, joy, fear — are no longer allowed to remain what they are, an expression of the complexity and contradictory diversity of our deepest experiences, but must be managed, just as turbulent and volatile employees had to be managed in the early industrial period.

This is why there are so many counsellors, advisers, therapists, those who — for a determined sum — will help us come to terms with all the unpredictable — yet so well known — events in our life.

Our lives are increasingly led for us by cultural indicators which exist all around us, and which ensure that our footsteps do not stray from carefully programmed grooves in which our autoproduced existence may accomplish itself through time.

We can see this in prepackaged responses of people whom the limelight of television strikes randomly. Thus, the winner of the lottery jackpot is always "over the moon", "on cloud nine"; the cheated and disappointed are "gutted", "choked"; the afflicted say "I don't believe it", "It's a nightmare", "This can't be happening to me."

Even expressions of the deepest emotion have been rehearsed for us. "Why me?" "What have I done to deserve this?"; as though grief or affliction were not to be expected in the banalised and flattened landscapes of the motorways of our life. Significantly, at the scene of some grisly murder or shooting, eyewitnesses frequently say "I thought it was a film they were making for TV."

It is in the interests of furthering industrialism that the individual is a matter of such solicitude in Western culture. The individual is the most irreducible particle of humanity; and   it   is   less  for  her  or  his  well-being   that   the  West  cherishes  the  individual  so conspicuously, than for the capacity to manage her or his mechanised passage through the desertified terrain of the technosphere which is now our home.

We have been doubly deculturated. Work, the labour of society, production of the necessities for survival have been reduced to "jobs", merely activities to facilitate our role as consumers; a process which requires the shedding of all characteristics, of all skills, of all control over our environment; so that we may be ready to perform any simple, meaningless task in order to get the money that has become our life-blood, and to see the industrialised artefacts from remote transnationals as if these were gifts from heaven.

We become infinitely suggestible, unencumbered by tradition, erased of memory, without resources, so that we more eagerly grasp at the inputs that are offered us in the place of grounded, rooted, transmitted experience through time.

Let us hear no more about post-industrial society, the de-industrialisation of Britain or elsewhere, or "advanced societies" or "the developed world".

We are undergoing an ever more profound penetration by industrial society, so that we have not the faintest perception where humanity ceases and the industrial machinery in which we are inexorably caught up begins; and we do not know the difference between our needs and the economic necessity; so that we come to identify the rise and fall of our breath with the dilation and contraction of the economy; so that the feelgood factor is a response to disposable income and not to the joys and exaltations of the heart, and morosity and introspection mean economic downturn, not human cycles of ageing, loss or bereavement.

This can go a great deal further than anything we have yet seen. The prodigious quantities of resources that must be extracted from the earth to keep this deformity going are matched only by the neglect and rejection of the real inner human resources — the ability to cope, to make and mend, to invent and create in dealing with our own joys and sorrows, the woes and afflictions of others.

A huge work of reclamation awaits us; not only of the polluted earth and poisoned seas, but a retrieval of the damaged human substance, the restoration and healing of our broken belonging and being together, a recuperation of a capacity for living that is under enemy industrial occupation, a rekindling of the ability to distinguish a common humanity from a uniform industrialised substitution for it. — Third World Network Features