In his bestseller, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television , Jerry Mander argued that television is, by its very nature, a harmful technology. The trouble with television is not a matter of content, as the current debate suggests, it goes deeper than that. Whether one watches children's programming on public television or violent, late-night crime dramas, the effects are essentially the same, Mander said: the medium itself acts a visual intoxicant, entrancing the viewer and thereby replacing other forms of knowledge with the imagery of its programmers. Television's effects on young children are especially deleterious, Mander insisted, since it infuses them with high-tech, high-speed expectations of life and separates them from their natural environments.
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We have lost the understanding that existed in all civilizations prior to ours, and that continues to exist on Earth today in societies that live side by side with our own; we have lost a sense of the sacredness of the natural world.
We still have not developed an effective language with which to articulate our critiques [of the technological juggernaut]. This, in turn, is because we ourselves are part of the machine and so we have difficulty defining its shape and direction. But even if we have this difficulty, there are societies of people on this planet who do not.
Millions of people still alive on this earth never wished to be part of this machine and, in many cases, are not. These are people whose ancestors and who themselves have said from the beginning of the technological age that our actions and attitudes are fatally flawed, since they are not grounded in a real understanding of how to live on the earth.
Lacking a sense of the sacred we were doomed to a bad result. They said it over and over and they still say it now. In the beginning we were told that the human beings who walk about on the Earth have been provided with all the things necessary for life. We were instructed to carry a love for one another, and to show a great respect for all the beings of this Earth.
We were shown that our life exists with the tree life, that our well-being depends on the well-being of the Vegetable Life, that we are close relatives of the four-legged beings. The original instructions direct that we who walk about on Earth are to express a great respect, an affection and a gratitude toward all the spirits which create and support Life. When people cease to respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will be destroyed, and human life on this planet will come to an end.
The majority of the world does not find its roots in Western culture or tradition. The majority of the world finds its roots in the Natural World, and it is the Natural World, and the traditions of the Natural World, which must prevail. We must all consciously and continuously challenge every model, every program, and every process that the West tries to force upon us. The people who are living on this planet need to break with the narrow concept of human liberation, and begin to see liberation as something that needs to be extended to the whole of the Natural World.
What is needed is the liberation of all things that support Life—the air, the waters, the trees—all the things which support the sacred web of Life. The Native people of the Western Hemisphere can contribute to the survival potential of the human species. The majority of our peoples still live in accordance with the traditions which find their roots in the Mother Earth. But the native people have need of a forum in which our voice can be heard.
And we need alliances with the other people of the world to assist in our struggle to regain and maintain our ancestral lands and to protect the Way of Life we follow. The traditional Native people hold the key to the reversal of the processes in Western Civilization, which hold the promise of unimaginable future suffering and destruction. Spiritualism is the highest form of political consciousness.
Our culture is among the most ancient continuously existing cultures in the world. We are the spiritual guardians of this place. We are here to impart that message. Mander took 10 years to write this book, and a lot longer thinking about it.
Quoting from the interviewer Catherine Ingram, In the Absence of the Sacred paints a comprehensive picture of how the multinational corporations and the major financial institutions, combined with new technologies, form a juggernaut unhindered by any governmental control and which, day by day, constricts us further.
We no longer have a religious or philosophical basis for making choices regarding the evolution of technology. All those decisions are made in the corporate world. But there are other societies where taboos, the very concept of taboo , still exist.
Taboo is probably the only concept that is taboo in this society. But in traditional societies they have had centuries-long discussions about whether to plant or whether to continue being nomads or whether a certain kind of agricultural relationship is a good idea or not.
Taboo constitutes a philosophical framework. I have to reject the idea that selfishness is instinctive. We are so isolated that we tend to act only in our own self interest. The fantasies of utopian existence promoted by proponents of the technological, industrial mode of life for the last one hundred years are now demonstrably false.
What we got was alienation, disorientation, destruction of the planet, destruction of natural systems, destruction of diversity, homogenization of cultures and regions, crime, homelessness, disease, environmental breakdown, and tremendous inequality.
We have a mess on our hands. This system has not lived up to its advertising; in developing a strategy for telling people what to do next, we first have to make that point. It makes people happier. We seem to have it backward. These technologies do act as drugs. They are what society offers to make up for what has been lost. In return for family, community, a relationship to a larger, deeper vision, society offers television, drugs, food, noise, high speed, and unconsciousness.
Technology overpowers them. When we lived in relationship to nature, we needed to know when something new was coming along that would affect us. So there is an innate human response to something new. In addition to that, machines are very interesting. My experience is that native people see the downside faster.
Up till now, corporations have not been critiqued as technological forms, or in terms of their inherent characteristics which would reveal why they behave as they do. The common wisdom said that we can get corporations to behave more responsibly if the people in the corporations could be educated in better values and saving the earth and so on.
This is naive. The corporate form predetermines the way corporations have to behave. In order to sustain themselves, and be financially viable to banking and other institutions, corporations must produce a profit and they must grow. Profit and growth are absolutely required. Corporations live in a kind of nether world where they have all the rights and protection accorded individuals by our laws. But the difference is that the individual is only able to use handbills and maybe do a little article in a magazine now and then, while the corporations are able to spend a billion dollars in advertising to tell you what to think.
The truth is that corporations generally act in direct opposition to nature because profit is based on the transmogrification of raw materials into a new, more salable form. When Jerry Mander suggested in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television , published in , that television was not reformable no matter who controlled the medium, it represented the first time anyone had dared suggest that we do away with television altogether.
Mander argued that television is a primary tool in the ongoing mediation of human experience , the visual intoxicant that entrances the viewer into a hypnotic state and thereby replaces other forms of knowledge with the imagery of its programmers. It infuses young children with high-tech, high-speed expectations of life, so that a walk in nature would likely seem interminably boring.
It is the tool used not only to sell the resources that have been dug up, melted, forged, and otherwise appropriated from the earth, but to sell us back our feelings , which the entrancement has eclipsed. Television colonizes its viewers by way of an artificial reality replete with its own values.
And it is bad for our bodies as well, creating mental and physical sickness by the mesmerizing phosphorescent glow of its artificial light. It expands on themes in his earlier book, including the inherent tendency of a given technology to predetermine its use and render the technology anything but neutral , and the marriage of technologies with large corporations that stand to reap the greatest benefit from the manipulation or sales of them.
Mander carefully analyzes the fundamental assumptions that have led us to accept almost every technology that has come on line, and he reminds us of the price we pay—in ecological and social breakdowns—for those assumptions.
The book also examines alternatives to the technological way of life—alternatives that can be found among tribal peoples who lived for thousands of years in a harmonious relationship with the earth, and who exist to this day. His experience in commercial advertising shifted over the years to advertising for public interest groups, primarily in the environmental movement.
But he first became aware of the plight of native peoples when he was working in commercial advertising in the mid-sixties. A shipping company sent him to Micronesia to assess its impact on the area. During his two months in Micronesia, Mander glimpsed for the first time the ways of traditional peoples.
He returned to San Francisco to give the client his recommendation: move the company out of Micronesia and leave those islands the way they are. A process of self-examination was underway for Mander by this time. Although he had realized his dream of success, going beyond the aspirations of his immigrant Jewish parents, he was no longer comfortable writing ads for audio equipment and Land Rovers by day only to turn to environmental issues by night. He began to feel the contradiction between advocating more consumption while, at the same time, perceiving consumption as one of the root causes of ecological destruction.
Mander had also begun to feel personally disconnected from nature. Meanwhile, his ad agency had been hired by the Sierra Club and later by Friends of the Earth, both under the leadership of David Brower, the renowned environmentalist, who would have a powerful professional and educational influence on Mander.
Mander wrote many of the ads that eventually saved the Grand Canyon from the construction of dams, blocked development of the American supersonic transport, and established Redwood National Park and North Cascades National Park. He also wrote the ad that caused the Sierra Club to lose its tax-exempt status while creating sympathetic news headlines and a groundswell of support.
Mander went on to form the first nonprofit advertising and public relations agency, Public Interest Communications. A few years later, several of its founders, including Jerry Mander, wound their way to Public Media Center PMC , an offshoot of the original nonprofit organization. Jerry Mander has written many of these ads and, as a senior fellow of PMC, continues his work there to this day. But it has been through his books that Mander has managed to weave together the threads of what he has learned in studying the ecological and social issues of the past thirty years.
In the Absence of the Sacred paints a comprehensive picture of how the multinational corporations and the major financial institutions, combined with new technologies, form a juggernaut unhindered by any governmental control and which, day by day, constricts us further. How can we ever remedy all this? Is Mander actually proposing that we turn back? Furthermore, according to Mander, there are a few basic principles—understood best by traditional peoples—which we will need for the survival of this planet: we must abandon values that emphasize the accumulation of commodities and growth economics; we must reduce world population; we must abandon technologies that are incompatible with sustainability and diversity on the planet and we must study the forces which have caused the social and ecological crisis we now face.
First, a few excerpts from the book itself:. An Interview with Jerry Mander by Catherine Ingram When Jerry Mander suggested in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television , published in , that television was not reformable no matter who controlled the medium, it represented the first time anyone had dared suggest that we do away with television altogether.
America has had a love affair with each new technological wonder. You suggest that with most of these technologies, we assumed a best-case scenario.
What are the questions we should have asked before they came on line? The point is the way new technologies are introduced to us without a full discussion of how they are going to affect the planet, social relationships, political relationships, human health, nature, our conceptions of nature, and our conceptions of ourselves.
Every technology that comes along affects these things. Cars, for example, have changed society completely. Had there been a debate about the existence of cars, we would have asked, do we want the entire landscape to be paved over?
Do we want society to move into concrete urban centers?
A heartfelt plea to rethink the industrial world's alleged headlong rush to oblivion through its mad pursuit of technology. Mander, who conducts ad campaigns for nonprofit groups, expands greatly here on ideas he discussed in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television Through clever manipulation of product images and relentless promotion of best-case scenarios, Mander says, Americans have been sold a bill of goods by corporate, government, and academic boosters of new technologies. Evidence of this pattern surfaces in several predominant technologies—computers, TV, genetic and molecular engineering—and in each case a negative side exists to blacken industry's rosy view. Provocatively claiming that society would be better off without computers of any kind, since they benefit the military and a Big Brother mentality far more than they meet individual needs, Mander argues that serious consideration of age-old native attitudes toward life and economics is the only viable cure for the cancer of megatechnology. Details of recent battles between corporate and native interests in Alaska, Nevada, Hopiland, Hawaii, and elsewhere—in which the author played an active part—make the point that the spiritual and social values of these native peoples continue to be attacked even as their perspective becomes more desperately needed. Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations
In this more recent book, he pulls out all the stops in his criticism of new technologies and adds a special slant that involves native Americans. The plight of native Hawaiians and the campaign reveal a great deal of what this book is about. The one book that resulted links these two concerns. The first two parts of In the Absence of the Sacred are a skeptical critique of new technologies. I also hope that you will read everything that you can by and about Indians and their struggles, and that you find a way to be engaged. We read of the Western Shoshone dealing with MX missiles, the Innus of Newfoundland, Canada dealing with the overflight of military planes, and the impact of the Indian Lands Claims Act of which he sees as primarily negative since it trades land for money payment, and many other current struggles. There are around 3, of these native nations worldwide.