INTELLECTUAL DEGRADATION AND THE ABSENCE OF COMMUNICATION

Jacobello Alberegno — Polyptych of the Apocalypse (1360-90)

I have spent a considerable amount of time in contemplative thought over the past two years. In fact, on any given day, I have made contemplation and its attendant awareness the focus of my thought.

Contemplative thought has been given a bad rap over the past two-hundred years. In fact, so much so, it seems all forms of thought have been thrown into the same barrel, the lid closed and left in the hot sun to rot. From time to time, a public ceremony is declared where we pry open the lid a little and all present quickly agree that whatever is inside stinks. I personally think the word they are actually looking for is odious. But stink will do. It’s more emotionally satisfying and efficient in a tweet.

And for thought to work as a partner in communication, there needs to be a common framework of understanding. And clearly, at the present moment, both of these ways of living are in critically short supply.

I was led to believe by my education that we are at heart and by definition a ‘tool’ using animal. But it turns out that this is a convenience and restrictive definition that shifts our focus in an immense and critical fashion. The end result being that we have arrived at a point that we can equally define ourselves as extremely complex and sophisticated monkeys that have been highly trained to act against our own best interests. This in itself is no mean feat. Nor one to be ignored. But we did not arrive here by accident. And we did arrive here through the complete absence of thought.

I no longer have any memory of the last time I was ‘required’ to think as a part of my daily life. In fact, in many cases, being thoughtful or thought provoking has turned out to be a major liability. It is the position we assign to those we consider as not capable of being team players. Team players don’t think. They act, and hopefully in co-ordination. In fact a well organized and highly trained team is capable of accomplishing many amazing feats of action. Which is why we hold them in such high regard. Seldom will we see any rewards or even attempts to form a highly accomplished thinking team. The results are often disturbing and require actions we don’t like. And stuck as we are in the mental year of 1779, we don’t do things we don’t like unless we are forced to. And that is all the thinking that’s required.

I’m not going to harp on this point. Much has already been conveyed sufficiently to reach a common understanding of the serious implications this involves.

In the end, co-incident with the same period, the last years of the 18th Century; it seems as if thought somehow congealed and took solid form in the resurgence of iron and motive force that we call the first industrial revolution.

Thought was something that now could be preserved, packaged, reprinted, co-modified and consumed through the skill and collaboration of the newly explosive power of mercantile capitalism that was coming to dominate the world and everything in it. A certain concept that founded all value in life as a specifically designed relationship with certain metals, precious and otherwise.

The rich and emerging world of observation and thinking–reflection and contemplative thought–didn’t stand a chance. The hard won personal freedoms of the reformation, the collaborative undertaking that underpinned the age of reason, the threads of Aristotelian thought that were woven into the fabric of the time; they were violently rent asunder and cast aside in our worship of action and commerce. The last vestiges of the age arrived on our doorstep as a permanent insult meant to stop an argument in it’s tracks. A ‘romantic notion.’ A ‘fantasy’ not a fact. Apollo’s handmaidens were again somehow qualified to decide Marsayus’ fate. A fate no less horrific in our time.

I’m not here to defend the Eleusinian Mysteries nor the end of the Romantic world. I am here as a result of our calloused attitudes toward thinking and thought.

For two years, a simple question has faced me every day. A question so simple it is repeated several times, seemingly at random, on purpose, a challenge, with intent. “what’s on your mind?” And every day I fail. I fail at this basic and most inane of tasks. It was designed to fail, and to shamelessly reveal the extent of that failure in it’s full horror.

Never once was a cute cat or any other seemingly important piece of trivial nonsense on my mind. If you knew me in life. I’ve never been able to be trivial. Enough that I consider it to be my most major shortcoming and stumbling block in life.

No… what’s on my mind resembles this post. All the time. And it has been for most of my life. In fact there has been no time I remember it being any different. Normally I’m labeled ‘smart,’ which is even farther from the truth. No… what separates me is that I think. And in this world it is a painful and lonely truth. If there is one approach to life we punish. It is for those who think. It’s always been thus, I believe, to some extent, but the adaptation to healthy thought and any attendant change could be managed within a human’s life or immediate surroundings. But today. The product of thinking is our greatest threat. A threat to the very basis of our constructed life. It means change. And to a world so hell bent on avoiding change at all cost. Thinking is nothing short of catastrophic violence against the system. It’s almost always been vehemently punished as a crime. But equally, and ultimately it has been bound up with our salvation.

And again in our current folly. Thinking, and contemplative thought my be our only lifeline ..and it is disappearing extremely fast. It is a rare and dangerous act. And it is no accident that monastic thought and the institutions that lent it protection and support have more than once saved our collective ass.

This isn’t a new situation, nor one new to me. This has been my single field of study for a solid fifty years. And in the end. There is much to say. And there being no time like the present. Now is the time to say it.

I first encountered Jacques Ellul in the late 1970’s in a series of interviews called ‘Perspective on Our Age’. I was already in my early twenties and already deeply interested in the transformation of the world wrought by Giotto painting the sky blue, I was stopped dead in my tracks by both what he was suggesting and what he had to say.

It was a one shot deal. Two voices on the radio. Transient, important, and too confusing to be memorable. A transcript, if it were available, was worth nearly ten hours of full time wages. Not a single other person I know to this day heard what he had to say. And yet I knew in a profound way. That what he was talking about came from a place of sufficient understanding, experience and struggle that it was necessary to sit up and pay rapt attention.

I scribbled pages of notes as best I could on sheets of three-ringed-paper on my drawing table. I pinned them to my wall and hand copied bits and pieces and put them in my pocket so the were available while I thought and reflected on what he said. I studied and lived with those ideas as constant companions as I went about my every day. I looked under stones, poured through manuscripts and books, talked to knowledgeable people, and traveled to far off places until I felt comfortable that I knew, by my own experience that there was more than just simple merit in his commentary.

In the following years I continued to explore and widen my comprehension of his ideas. I became aware of others who had also made many of the same propositions the subject of their investigations and work as well. The entire project becoming, day by day, and year by year, more critical as the world continued to teeter more precariously on the knife edge of a monstrous and hideous disaster for us all.

The writing was clearly on the wall, but very few had read it, and absolutely nobody thought about what it meant. Fifty years later we are still in the same position, having careened off the edge of a cliff and everyone still arguing about who deserves to ride shotgun and who deserves a window seat. To call this sinful would be not only be accurate. But right.

I had excellent and highly respected instructors for my formal introduction into this world. As early as 1975 the director of the small college I attended began to speak openly about the looming cultural warfare that had already begun, and what was, historically, and otherwise, likely to occur.

My broadening and passionate understanding of history only confirmed what I saw happening around me. We were looking at a fundamental cultural revolution at a scale the human animal rarely experiences and it was going to happen in less time than a single lifetime.

From my current point of view. What I have experienced in the last twelve months amounts to nothing less than cultural genocide. Unheralded but complete. Utterly complete. Utterly thorough. Utterly without thought.

We have arrived folks. Time to get off the bus. Please keep your feet on the Yellow Rubber Line and keep your hands to yourself.

Nobody wants to think.

Nobody has to.

When I re-read the book I quote at length from below. That it was written in 1948 is a chilling blow. I picked this book up again a week ago, the last time I read it being thirty plus years ago. It was only then that I had stumbled once again on the granddaddy of them all when it comes to critical modern thought. He remains along with Ruskin, Neitzche, Goethe, Marx, Gandhi, and a handful of others, capable of speaking accurately to our times and where we have finally arrived.

When I open my Facebook account and it says. “What’s on your mind?” Well. I don’t. I can’t. No amount of social media, zoom meetings or fiddling with the dials are going to get us to where we need to go. Our sickness is spiritual. And a spiritual solution starts specifically at the point where we begin to think. Without our intellectual capacity and it’s communication we are doomed and there is no way around it. And what we have now is the farthest thing we have ever experienced from human communication.

Jacques Ellul

Jacques Elul The Presence of the Kingdom (1948)

“In the sphere of the intellectual life, the major fact of our day is a sort of refusal, unconscious but widespread to become aware of reality. Man does not want to see himself in the real situation which the world constitutes for him. He refuses to see what it is that really constitutes our world. this is true, especially for intellectuals but it is also true of all the people of our day, and of our civilization as a whole It is as though we were confronted by an enormous machine, equipped to prevent man from becoming aware, from driving him into a corner, to an unconscious refusal, or to a flight into the unreal. The dramatic characteristic of this epoch, in this sphere, is that man no longer grasps anything but shadows. He believes in these shadows, he lives in them, and dies for them. Reality disappears, the reality of man for himself, and the reality of the facts which surround him. *

The Man of the twentieth century (and we may say that is the first time in the course of history that this fact appears) oscillates unceasingly between the phenomenon and the explanatory myth: that is to say, between two ‘shadows,’ both of which are extremes, and are opposed to each other. The phenomenon might be described as the external presentation of the fact. Our contemporaries only see the presentations which are given them by the press, the radio, propaganda, and publicity. The man of the present day does not believe in his own experiences, in his own judgment, in his own though: he leaves all that to what he sees in print or hears on the wireless (internet) In his eyes, a fact becomes true when he has read an account of it in the paper, and he measures its importance by the size of the headlines! what he himself has seen does not count, if it has not been officially interpreted, if there is not a crowd of people who share his opinion. This statement, which may seem over-simplified, is in reality at the basis of all propaganda. A fact is untrue, it is printed in a newspaper with a circulation of a million, a thousand people know that the fact is false, but nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand believe it to be true. The the act becomes true. that is what I mean by ‘phenomena or ‘shadows’ that the modern man grasps and knows exclusively. Why exclusively? Because every day he himself has a number–a very limited number perhaps–of genuine experiences, but he is so embedded in his habits, that he doesn’t even know it! On the other hand, every day he learns a thousand things from his newspaper and his wireless, and very important and sensational things. Can he help it, that his little personal experiences, which deal, perhaps, with the excellence of a plum or of a razor blade, are drowned in this flood of important illusions concerning the atomic bomb, the fate of Germany, strikes, and the like. Now, these are facts of which he will never know the reality.

And it is these ‘shadows’ which become his life and his thought. This produces a result, very important from the intellectual point of view, namely, that modern man,submerged by this flood of images which he cannot verify, is utterly unable to master them. They are not co-ordinated, for news succeeds news without ceasing. For instance, in the columns of the newspaper he will read one day about an affair which quickly disappears from the paper, and also from the brain of the reader. It is replaced by others; it is forgotten. A man gets used to living like this, without a present and without a past. He gets used to living in complete incoherence, because all his intellectual activity is taken up with these fugitive visions, themselves without a past and without a future, and without any substance even in the present.

Now in this reality, real facts, within reach of everyone are entirely hidden, they have no outward reality, so of course they do not exist: for instance, social classes (save class dictatorship), the great city or problems of transport (except in the questions of town planning). Attention is given to the fact that has no great importance: the incident, whether political, military or economic.. or nationalization: all these different incidents, by the way in which we colour them, are objects of human passions.

On the other hand, man evidently needs a certain coherence. He cannot submit to being simply an eye which registers [and consumes sic], without understanding, the jerky images of a mad kaleidoscope. Man needs some logical connection, he demands that there should be some coherence between all these surface facts. Now this cannot be their real coherence, for this would pre-suppose a true knowledge of the facts, and not only the superficial view that we have of them, and it presupposes a highly trained and alert intelligence. Now the more that the press and propaganda develop along their own lines, the more they appeal to the crowd, and the smaller the proportion of intellectuals becomes, the more it becomes necessary to simplify, and to present news and ideas in a very condensed way. It is equally urgent to give the explanation, and this link, however must be on the level of the ‘average’ reader, a level which automatically sinks lower and lower.

This leads us to the other pole of our extraordinary present intellectual situation: the explanatory myth. In addition to its political character, and its mystical and spiritual necessities, the ‘explanatory myth’ is the real support of our whole intellectual system. It has often been considered an accident, something which only belongs to dictatorial regimes, but in reality it is the essential element in every kind of politics at the present time, and in our own sphere. Confronted by the confusion of these various phenomena, and the necessity to give them some coherence, they are linked together, from a purely external point of view, by a new phenomenon, which makes it possible to explain the rest. /this phenomenon, which has a spiritual root, and is only accepted by an absolutely blind credulity, becomes the intellectual key which serves to open all secrets, to interpret all facts and to understand what is happening in the tempest of phenomena. We all these explanatory myths: the bourgeois myth of the Hand of Moscow, the Socialist myth of the Two Hundred Families, the fascist myth of the Jews, the communist myth of the anti-revolutionary saboteur, etc., etc.. but what is evidently very serious is that modern man has no other means of intellectual coherence or of political investigation than this myth. If he abandons it, he cuts himself off from the wold in which he is living; he can, of course, simply lead his personal life; but this is a suicidal solution, for modern man cannot contract out of the world that we have made.

This myth, which we only mention in passing, and do not analyze completely, is, further, the stable point in the thought and consciousness of our contemporaries. Thus it is not only the means of understanding and of coherence: it is also the only element which seems fixed in the midst of streams of facts; this helps man to avoid the fatigue of thinking for himself, the disquiet of doubt and of being questioned, the uncertainty of understanding, and the torture of a bad conscience. What a prodigious economy of time and of means, which one can use to great advantage in order to produce a few more flying bombs! Modern man has a good conscience because he has an answer for everything; whatever happens to him, and whatever does, depends on the explanation which is provided for him by the myth. But this process lands him in the most complete unreality. He lives in a perpetual dream, but it is a realist’s dream, woven out of innumerable facts and theories in which he believes with all his might, as a man involved in a mass-civilization, who could not break away from the masses without dying.

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What is the reason for this situation, from which it seems impossible to escape? There are a whole number of facts which combine to explain it: first of all, there is the really extraordinary complexity of our world. The more we advance and the more this world is formed of complicated organisms overlapping one another, variable in quality, but all seeming equally important–the more impossible it is to know them all, or to grasp them–so mankind wanders uncertainly through this forest.

Then there is the influence of the means of knowledge, placed at our disposal in order that we may meet these facts. These means (mainly the press, the radio, and the cinema) are essentially mechanical in their nature, and presuppose a considerable capital in order to be put into action. In consequence they are obliged to depend on capital, whether that of private ownership or of the State. These two aspects of the means produce the following consequences in the order of political or economic knowledge: the mechanical character means that they can only be attached to the external aspect of facts. There are things ‘which it is possible to represent technically on the radio, but others are impossible.’ This means that we can only know one aspect. This twofold condition consequently leads to a mechanical choice among the actual facts. We have to find that which corresponds to the demands of means–and, finally, the mechanical aspect means that we have to use large affirmations without any shade s of meaning–and they have to be affirmations, not reasoning, for by the very fact that this has to be don by mechanical means, we are speaking to the crowd. The financial obligation of the means brings with it a certain restriction in choice of the facts which are to be broadcast. The presentation of an aspect of the world based upon hidden presuppositions, and the progressive application of these means to all spheres and to all men, since it is a condition that the affair should yield a high rate of interest (financially, if we are concerned with ‘private information’, politically, if we are concerned with ‘secrets of the State’–it’s all the same!).

A third element of the explanation comes from the crushing character of the means of knowledge with society puts at our disposal. We can scarcely deny the information which is thus transmitted to us, and even if we doubt it personally this does not hinder the adhesion of the crowd, which is evoked by the evidence of power. There is no discussion with the radio or with the press. Their power over the masses is absolutely irresistible when it is employed in certain conditions (which specialized institutions make it their business to control more and more fully).

Finally, evidently we must take into account the question of ‘distraction,’ in the sense in which Pascal uses the word. To-day everyone is ‘distracted’ by civilization; indeed, we might say that our whole civilization, from its games and sports up to its’ serious business, has arranged everything in order to achieve this distraction. This is what I meant when I spoke about ‘the effort to make men become unaware.’ His way of life, his amusements, his work, his political parties, etc., all this absorbs modern man to such an extent that he easily falls a prey to these ways of acquiring information, Their influence is strengthened by the man who uses them, who is profoundly incapable of meditation and of reflection. He is satisfied with these phenomena, with thee apparent explanations, because he is already ‘distracted,’ even before ‘the news-reel’ or the wireless have helped to ‘distract’ him still further. Thus the intellectual situation of modern man is extremely serious; although he knows more ‘things,’ and possesses more mechanical methods, than ever before, and although in theory he may be more fully developed than at any other period in history, this development is due to inaccurate information and hazy facts.

But, someone may object, ‘this is not the position of the modern intellectual, though it may be that of the man-in-the-street; that’s all!’But actually the intellectual is also affected by the same atmosphere, although in a different way.’ the intellectual can easily see through the stupidity of the explanatory myths. He can refuse to accept them, and he can reject the terrible over-simplification and the wretched dogmatism of the present time. But when he has got rid of all this he is absolutely defenseless when confronted by the mass of news which reaches him from every quarter. His is capable, it is true, of rejecting the myth, but he is not capable of attaining reality. Thus in the current intellectual system, which circles round and axis passing through the two poles–the ‘phenomenon’ and the ‘myth’–he is obliged to preserve one of these poles, the phenomenon, and this makes thought wholly unbalanced. he is obliged to adopt this position because the phenomenon does not depend upon himself. But this intellectual may be perfectly well aware that in so doing he is only concerned with an illusion. He can be perfectly clear of the unreality of what others believe to be facts, but he still cannot grasp this reality. What then will he do? For some the solution is 9intellectual0 suicide: such people shut their eyes, and accept the myth, in order to remain in fellowship with the majority; they accept this sophism: ‘doubtless the phenomenon and the myth do not correspond to the facts, but the moment that men believe that they do, they become real, and we must adhere to this reality.’ This is the great paradox of Communist and Fascist intellectuals (it is true that in this camp there were not many of them!). They have to commit intellectual suicide, and to abandon clarity of thought, in order to find a reason for existing at all! The intellectual will then adorn his ‘suicide’ with an intellectual crown, by appealing to the myth in which he believes: such as the ‘permanence of man’, or the ‘dialectic of history’.

Other intellectuals also commit suicide. The ‘phenomenon’ is so crushing and so pervasive–it becomes so impossible to gain a true view of political reality, or of the social and human reality of our day, and human development is so superficial that anyone who understands it despairs of ever knowing anything else, or of finding any kind of coherence in this perpetual motion. Thus the intellectual is gradually led to think that there is no reality behind appearances, or that, if there is one, it is entirely out of reach, and that, so far as man is concerned, it is absurd. henceforth it is useless to look for an explanation, or for coherence, since we are wandering in a world of shadow. and because everything presents itself to our understanding in the form of appearance, because everything has already been interpreted, since the intellectual cannot know the reality of these facts, he refuses to accept any fact as valid and certain. thus he comes to lose awareness of the world in which he is living. The result of this attitude will show itself in different ways, sometimes in a desperate heroism, sometimes in surrealist dilettantism, but in any case it is intellectual suicide due to the despair provoked by the factual situation.

Whether directly or indirectly, all modern intellectuals adopt one or other of these positions. This comes out very clearly in the case of the Parisian intelligentsia. Thus the position of the intellectual is not particularly enviable. It is more precarious in our own day, when there are so many ‘openings,’ when novelists make such fortunes, and cultivated men and technicians are needed more than ever. this precarious situation is not due to material conditions, but to the intellectual and spiritual conditions in which the intellectual has to practice his profession. That is to say, he is menaced from within and no longer from without. However we cannot dwell on this point here.

We have considered one of the aspects of the intellectual transformation of our own time. There is, however, another, which is no less serious.

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Until now the intelligence had various ways of expressing itself and of controlling the world and men. In our own day, however, the intelligence has found a form of expression which corresponds to our civilization, and one which presents new and disquieting features: it is technics. Owing to the fact that technics has invaded all spheres of action, we find it also in the sphere of intelligence. It goes without saying that we use this term ‘technics’ in its most comprehensive sense. By it we mean literary technics, technics in the realm of sociology, law, and history, and not only in the realm of science. All the spheres of intelligence are, in fact, exploited by the technicians. this, of course, has the advantages which are always presented by technics, of precision, rapidity, certainty, continuity, universality: which are all characteristics of efficiency.

This does not mean that technics is anti-intellectual. We might easily put it the other way round and say ‘intelligence has become technical.’ It is no use moaning about this situation, but we must be aware of it. Here as elsewhere technics is an instrument at the disposal of intelligence, but after our study of the end and the means this idea is not very reassuring and it must be admitted that this instrument has had a disintegrating effect upon modern intelligence.

It is striking that technics appears to be an instrument of our intelligence which is univocal. Whether we are concerned with intellectual matters or with the control of the world, or with self-knowledge,in all these operations there is a technical way, and this way, since it is swifter, more effective, and more practical, is the only way which a modern intellectual can use. There is no longer a choice. An entomologist will not act any longer like Fabre <<https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Henri_Fabre>&gt;, nor an historian like Commynes. <<https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_de_Commines>&gt;. For there are precise techniques which give much better results, and if we do not use them we are regarded as amateurs, if not as impostors, charlatans and frauds! In point of fact, we might say that to-day the technical way is the only method which the intellect uses to express itself truly. This comes out very clearly in art itself, whether directly as in the cinema, or indirectly, as in modern painting, which is actually controlled by the obsession of ‘self expression,’ and the effort to be as different as possible from photography–that is, a technical problem. Now this instrument–which the intelligence can modify, bend, and apparently control–this instrument which excludes any other, actually causes profound alterations in intellectual behavior. It becomes imperious. The intelligence may manifest itself by intuition, but it does so in the abstract, it cannot coincide with this instrument which is so remarkably exact. This ‘imperialistic’ attitude of technics can be understood, for instance, if we look at the attitude of our modern intellectuals when confronted by the knowledge of the world, ways of acting on the world …proceeding from other intellectual methods, like eastern spiritual practice, seem to the modern intellectual, to be an object for research, and for sociology, but not as an intellectual path which is still open, another way leading towards the knowledge of reality and of truth. This makes it evident that this way of knowledge does not compete with our technics. This is only one example.

But so far as the intelligence is tied to its technical expression, so far as the intellectual tends to become a technician, his sphere of action–which seemed to be extended by all the technical aids–in reality becomes narrower and narrower. Because the intelligence cannot be freed from its instrument, it remains limited to-day to the sphere in which this instrument can act, can be utilized.

If we are not prejudiced already we ought to consider that according to current opinion there is a ‘serious intellectualism,’ one which can be used–technics–and an intellectualism of fantasy, which no one takes seriously, which has no repercussions in any sphere, that is, one which does not succeed in being ‘technical’ because its object is not suited to this method–as, for instance, theology, metaphysics, and, in general, art.

This is simply the restriction of the intelligence owing to its univocal modern method. It is rationalism, but not as we might currently understand it. Owing to this, the intelligence is forced to act on that which can be seen, weighed, counted, and measured. It acts strictly in the sphere of the material world, and tends to deny the existence of any other. and that which might have been simply the fact of a materialist theory, is now the result (which is more serious) of the very method of the intelligence. It is more serious, because a doctrine can be refuted, but one cannot question the technical method. The intelligence of modern man is no longer nourished at the source of contemplation, of awareness of reality, and is more and more absorbed by the instrument which it has created, an instrument whose principal aim is the control of the material world.

Thus the intellectual who takes his profession seriously can no longer be anything other than materialist, not theoretically, but owing to the method which he uses. If there are other philosophical positions, these will have no effect on his actions, save to question his technical method–which is evidently catastrophic–not perhaps, catastrophic from the genuinely intellectual point of view, but from the point of view of achievement, and of his personal career (for this intellectual will immediately cease to be taken seriously).

So far as the intellectual is concerned, who imagines that he can remain truly idealistic and humanist in outlook while employing the rational technique, his want of lucidity proves that he is not a true intellectual. Action which is entirely directed towards the material world, by eliminating its spiritual elements, in the last resort necessarily destroys this spiritual reality which lies at the heart of intelligence. The latter has become more and more the slave of its method, and can no longer find a way of escape. That which ought to be the liberation of the intelligence is the worst slavery that it has ever known–set free of dogmas it is the slave of means. There is no longer any conflict or tension between Ariel and Caliban. Caliban has produced a system where Ariel in chains finds his whole raison d’etre, and caresses his chains with joy, under the illusion that he possesses a power which is in reality the very one Caliban possesses.

There evidently have been some reactions, sometimes violent ones; for instance, Cubism and Surrealism, which seek by means of the intelligence to gain an influence over the world by a way that is not technical. But what vitiates these reactions is, first of all, the fact that these movements deny the existence of a reality other than apparent phenomena, and refuse to admit an objective reality. This produces the first stage of intellectual degradation of our time. And, further, as soon as these movements were born, from an explosion, they had to look after their ‘efficiency,’ so they had to adapt themselves to the law of the present day, and they started looking for new techniques. This comes out very clearly in the sphere of Surrealism, and in the quarrels between surrealist factions. We thus perceive that they were led to an application of strict rules, forming a different style, but presenting the same fundamental features; strict rules, which are in reality technical rules excluding intellectual liberty.

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These two facts which we have just emphasized–the lack of awareness and the enslavement of the intelligence to technical methods–lead, when combined, to the most terrible situation for the intellectual: absence of communication.

It is a platitude to say that the men of our day no longer understand each other. this is nothing new since the Tower of Babel. But God had left a certain relation between men through intelligence. Now it is this bridge which our day has just broken down. Men no longer understand each other: on the level of the peasant this is not evident; on the bourgeois level it is inconvenient, on the intellectual level it is tragic, because for the intellectual there is no other genuine reason for living than that of communication, in order to understand the world. To-day this communication has become practically impassible. In order to understand each other we need a minimum of ideas which are common and valid for everyone, of prejudices and values which are the same for all–and most often unconscious.

Now the mechanism of information increasingly destroys this common basis of communication. Doubtless, other prejudices are created, other common ideas which have other features: instead of being the expression, the most deep and the most authentic, of a certain kind of civilization, they are now the myths and artificial ideas created by propaganda. This means that individuals can no longer meet one another in a given trend of civilization. They can only meet in each the myth in which they themselves believe, and this myth is only an artificial creation (we must come back to this again and again) created in order to prevent modern man from going mad.

Further, we have seen how the sense of reality–objective reality–is increasingly being lost, and the man whom we meet has ceased also to have for us an objective reality, We are more and more plunged into this abstraction, and this is not only with regard to facts, but with regard to men. We can no longer communicate with man, because the man whom we are faced has lost for us his reality. The intellectual of the present day no longer believes in the possibility of rejoining this man. He speaks in an emptiness and a desert, or, when he speaks for the proletarian, for the Nazi, for the intellectual, etc. There never was a time when people have talked so much about Man: there never was a time when so little has been said to Man. The reason for this is that people know that it is futile to speak to him. Conditions are such that ‘man’ has disappeared. He remains in the form of the consumer, the workman, the citizen, the reader, the partisan, the producer, or the bourgeois. Some people wave the tricolor and others are internationalists, but in all this, man has disappeared, yet it is to him alone that on can really speak: it is with him alone that one can really speak: it is with him alone that one can communicate.

Finally, we can no longer communicate with man, because the only intellectual method of expression is a technical one. the fact that the intelligence is obliged to use the technical channel breaks personal relations, because there is no possibility of contact between two human beings along this line. Communication transcends technics because it can only take place where two human beings are fully engaged in a real conversation. Now this is precisely what the intellectual technique of the present day both avoids and prevents.

The modern intellectual is aware of this great impossibility–and it is his very existence which i at stake; what matters is to know definitely whether he still has something to say to man which man can understand, instead of discoursing indefinitely about matter, and how to perfect one’s means; and this also concerns the intellectual who calls himself Christian. The modern intellectual seeks for ways–for instance, DeRougemont with his search for a thought which ‘commits’ you, or Malraux, who re-discovers man in ‘the Event’. This is not false, but it is ineffective. For to say that man finds himself in ‘The Event’, as, for instance, in war, in revolution, in the concentration camp, is tantamount to say that he can only find himself in exceptional situations, which in relation to our civilization are very demanding, and, indeed, only to the extent in which he escapes from our civilization. But this attempt does not reach the heart of the problem, because it springs, necessarily, from a sphere which is temporary, limited, and changing. This physical or spiritual adventure, which is so necessary if communication is to become possible once more, is only itself the expression of this communication already realized. It is impossible to recreate what has been broken from the outside. It is impossible to re-discover man artificially and in the exceptional element of life. Our whole civilization needs to be examined, and by each person, on the plane of his individual destiny, which may not be heroic, but which is certainly a human destiny, and cannot exist without genuine communication with the human beings by whom he is surrounded.

Here we also come upon one of the characteristics of our day: the ‘will-to-death,’ one of the forms of universal suicide towards which Satan is gradually leading man. Satan makes people gradually get used to this idea of suicide: suicide in enjoyment or in despair, intellectual or moral suicide which is slowly preparing, and will involve the whole world, body and soul.

It is our duty to react against this habit of suicide in all its forms: the form of non-communication is particularly pernicious, particularly invisible, for the men of our day, when they want to meet one another, put their trust in the post office, the railway or the newspaper–that is to say, precisely in that which breaks and kills the very power of finding each other as human beings, in the reality of flesh and blood.

Paris, 1948

*We do not intend here to touch the philosophical problem of ‘appearance’ and ‘reality.’ We do not aspire to know whether matter has reality, or whether all the visible world is simply an illusion to our senses if man can grasp a reality or if the myth is a reality, etc. We are on a much more elementary level, and the object of this inquiry will come out clearly as we go on.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Ellul

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