September 2 1990
Already widely noted for his penetrating insights on humanity and society and for his ability to express his views incisively, Jacques Ellul has done that again: The Technological Bluff is a masterly critique of contemporary culture.
In the forward Ellul explains that this book deals not with technique but with technology as discourse on technique, as a philosophy or sociology of technique. He says, “I am talking about technological bluff, the gigantic bluff in which discourse on techniques envelops us, making us believe anything and, far worse, changing our whole attitude to techniques… The bluff consists essentially of rearranging everything in terms of technical progress… Technique is regarded in advance as the only solution to collective problems (unemployment, Third World misery, pollution, war) or individual problems… It is [also] seen as the only chance for progress and development in every society. There is bluff here because the effect of possibilities are multiplied a hundred fold in such discussions and the negative aspects are radically concealed.”
Examining the recent explosion of techniques in several areas – computers, lasers, and genetics, for example – Ellul concludes that, significantly, people no longer adapt actively and critically to technical growth but allow themselves to be neutralized, without conflict, by its diversions and illusions. We are moving very rapidly into a world which is increasingly the product of technique. But what is the goal of this progress? What effects will it have? Is technique a tool in the service of humanity or is it an independently evolving system so complex and universal that no being can exist without it?
Ellul’s poignant critique of modern technology cuts across several areas – sociology, social ethics, economics, history, political science, philosophy of science – and will therefore interest a wide range of educated readers.
Jacques Ellul is Professor emeritus of law and of the sociology and history of institutions at the University of Bordeaux, France. He is the author of more than forty books, including The Technological Society, Propaganda, What I Believe, and The Humiliation of the Word.