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CHAPTER II

MACHINES

 

   ALL civilizations have been ugly. They couldnot well avoid it.

   But this civilization is unique. Machines makeit possible for this one to be beautiful, and yet it is in many respects indescribablyuglier than the civilizations that have preceded it.

   For this civilization, instead of using machinesto free its finest spirits for the pursuit of beauty, uses machines mainly to producefactories--factories which only the more surely hinder quality-minded individualsin their warfare upon ugliness, discomfort, and misunderstanding.

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   Consider, for instance, the persuasive and eloquentapology for the factory which Mr. Glenn Frank has recently written and which be entitled"The Machine Age." 1 Among contemporary students of our civilizationMr. Frank has no superior in equipment and experience for the task of defending our"machine civilization" from those who venture to criticise it. He is apractical man, with years of business experience under Mr. E. A. Filene of Boston,the head of the largest men's and women's clothing store in the world. He is a forcefulwriter, with the skill in expressing himself to be expected from a man for so manyyears the editor of the "Century." He is an erudite man, for he is thepresident of the University of Wisconsin, one of the best exemplars of the highereducation in these machine-dominated states.

   And yet Mr. Frank makes the serious mistake oftaking a facile phrase, the machine age, too seriously. To speak rhetorically ofa machine age is permissible if the inferences drawn are merely rhetorical. But itis not permissible to assume that "machine age" is a self-defining termand that no obligation exists for defining it as carefully as every general conceptshould be defined when it is used as a basis for broad generalizations. In the absenceof definition I can truthfully say that I am heartily in favor of my kind of machineage and very much opposed to Mr. Glenn Frank's kind of machine age. Plainly, if weare to understand each other, we must define our terms.

   Mr. Frank fails not only to define adequatelythe term which gives his thesis its title but he uses it interchangeably with suchexpressions as "the machine," "machine industry" and "machinecivilization"--expressions which he likewise fails to define.

   Certainly Mr. Frank, who says he has spent everyhour which he could steal from his profession for the past ten years in researchfor a correct understanding of American civilization, ought not to fall into thiserror. And yet if so well equipped a student fails in this way to penetrate beneathsurface appearances it is not surprising that defenders and critics of the machineage both make the same mistake.

   It is a rather common mistake. Most of thosewho criticise the machine and nearly all of those who defend it show clearly thatthey do not really understand the machine.

   The time has come to understand it. The timehas come to begin the discussion anew with a better definition of the thing thatoccasions the dispute. Perhaps we shall then find ourselves a little nearer to thediscovery of what is probably the wisest course of conduct upon which mankind mayenter with respect to the machine.

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   In India, where criticism and defense of themachine is in the realm of practical politics, the failure to define the term "machine"has led to a considerable confusion among the followers and the opponents of MohandasKaramchand Gandhi.

   Writing with deep appreciation of the revivalof domestic spinning, Gandhi says:

   Slowly but surely the music of perhaps the most ancient machine of India is once more permeating society. 2

   But in the same book in reply to the charge thathe is opposed to machinery and progress be says:

   Do I want to put back the hand of the clock of progress? Do I want to replace the mills by hand-spinning and handweaving? Do I want to replace the railway by the country cart? Do I want to destroy machinery altogether? These questions have been asked by some journalists and public men. My answer is: I would not weep over the disappearance of machinery or consider it a calamity. 3

   I have taken the liberty of italicising the linewhich makes it very plain that two different kinds of machines are referred to inthe two quotations. In the first, Gandhi speaks approvingly of the growing use ofthe machines of one kind. In the other, he says that he would not weep overthe actual disappearance of machines of another kind.

   Evidently there is real need not only for a definitionof the term "machinery" but also for the drawing of a distinction betweenthe two kinds of machinery to which Gandhi referred.

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   According to the dictionary, very nearly everykind of mechanical contrivance which does not fall plainly into the category of tools,falls into that of machines. The dictionary makes it clear that the term "machine"is applicable to innumerable mechanical appliances, many of them antedating the applicationof power to machinery and many of them very different from those which are conjuredup in the mind when we think of modem machines.

   If we forget the dictionary definition of machines,it is very easy to forget that machines are very old; that machines were used toperform the work of the world long before the industrial revolution. What the industrialrevolution brought upon us was not the machine but the application of power to theoperation of machines. Power did not introduce mankind to the machine. Power merelyrevolutionized the manner in which man used the machine.

   What is called the industrial revolution wasreally the economic, social and political changes caused by the transfer of machineryfrom the home and workshop to the mill and factory.

   It is quite possible that the application ofpower to machinery resulted in a reduction in the amount of machinery used per capita.The spinning wheel was certainly a piece of machinery. It is extremely doubtful whetherthe number of spinning machines per capita is as great as the number when practicallyevery home boasted several spinning wheels and many kinds of spindles. It is doubtfulwhether the number of looms per capita is as great as before the introduction ofthe power loom. It is doubtful whether the number of iron mills, flour mills, andlumber mills per capita is as great as when every neighborhood included a numberof them.

   What did result from the application of powerto machinery was the gradual abandonment of machine production in the home and workshopand its transfer to the mill and factory. An even more unfortunate result was thefact that this transfer blighted the development of the technique of domestic productionfor nearly two hundred years. Only since the development of the internal combustionengine and of the electric motor has a technique of domestic production been developedwhich makes it possible for the family to compete with the factory.

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   It is easy to forget that the distinctive featureof our present industrial civilization is not so much our machine technique as itis our factory technique. It is the impressive use of machinery by the factory thatmakes us forget that there is a significant distinction between the domestic machineand the factory machine.

   Factory machines, important as they are in ourpresent civilization, are by no means the only type of machines which are characteristicof this age of ours. In the discussion of this question this other type of machineryis almost invariably overlooked. Critics and defenders of the machine age forgetthat our domestic machines include sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, washing machines,mangles, refrigerating machines, cake mixers, meat grinders, polishing and scrubbingmachines, and of course automobiles. In addition, suburbanites and farmers use breadmixers, cream separators, fruit presses, steam pressure cookers, mechanical churns,automatic pumping systems, lighting plants, saw mills, grist mills, all of whichare distinctly domestic and not factory machines. Obviously it is not these machineswhich Mr. Glenn Frank has in mind when be speaks of machines; of a machine age; ofmachine industry; of machine civilization. Yet these domestic machines are indubitablymachines, often power driven, and they are indubitably characteristic of the times;perhaps even increasingly characteristic. The industries which are producing thesedomestic machines are growing rapidly, a growth of ominous significance for manynon-essential and undesirable factories.

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   The distinction between the factory machine andthe domestic machine is very important. For domestic machines are generally wagingeconomic warfare with factory machines.

   The domestic sewing machine is at war with thefactory sewing machine.

   The domestic washing machine and domestic mangleare at war with a whole group of laundry machines.

   The domestic refrigerating machine is at warwith the machines in the artificial ice-factories.

   The domestic steam pressure cooker is at warwith the machines in the canneries and packing houses.

   The domestic cream separator and churn are atwar with the butter-making machines in the creameries.

   The domestic flour and grist mill is at war withthe flour mills, feed mills and cereal mills with their legions of brands and gaylycolored cartons.

   Even the family automobile and auto truck, bya logical extension of the term factory, may be said to be at war with factory machinery--withthe railroads and the trolley cars which produce mass-transportation as comparedto the individual transportation produced by the individually owned automobile. Youngas they are as means of transportation, the automobile and the auto truck have alreadyserved largely to relegate the mass-producers of transportation to that heavy-haulingfor which they are best adapted. As domestic machines are perfected, as they approachmore nearly to the state of perfection to which the automobile has already attained,it is possible that they may tend to restrict factory production to that heavy-manufacturingto which the factory is best adapted.

   Some manufacturers are well aware of this conflictbetween the two types of machines. The laundries of the country and the manufacturersof machines for use in laundries became alarmed several years ago at the great increasein the sale of domestic washing machines and mangles. Improvements in these domesticmachines, especially the attachment of electric motors to them, threatened to checkthe abandonment of home washing upon which the future prosperity of the laundriesand the manufacturers of laundry machinery was dependent. One of the largest manufacturersof laundry machinery in America, The American Laundry Machinery Company of Cincinnati,Ohio, began a general advertising campaign to urge the women of the nation to uselaundries rather than to do their washing at home. A "Visitors' Week LaundryParty" was made a part of this campaign and promoted by this company as an annualevent. During this week the laundries of the country invite housewives to visit theirplants. This one company spends about a quarter of a million dollars annually tokeep America safe for the factory idea of washing our dirty linen.

   Could anything more clearly demonstrate the factthat there is a fundamental difference between the two types of machines? Machineryis used by the laundries to destroy domestic laundering, but machinery is also beingused in the home to maintain it. If home laundering survives, it will be becausethe domestic machinery has been sufficiently perfected to free housewives from thedrudgery of old fashioned scrub-boards and sad-irons. They will have been freed fromthis drudgery just as surely as if they bad turned to the laundries to free themthough they would still have useful but not such heavy work to do in the home. Ifthe laundry prevails, the housewives will be freed from washtubs and ironing boards,but only on condition that many other women work in laundries. Who that knowssomething of the conditions of labor in our laundries will say that this would meana net gain in the beauty of civilization?

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   This illustration can be duplicated in one fieldafter another and in all cases the conclusion to which one is driven as to the netsocial result is the same.

   If mankind is not to be made into appendagesto machines, then domestic machines must be invented capable of enabling the hometo meet the competition of the factory--the right kind of machinery must be usedto free man from the tyranny of the wrong kind of machinery.

   It is not the machine, therefore, but the factorywhich needs consideration at the hands of thoughtful people.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which proliferatesat a rate which man has found impossible to control, and which is so relentlesslymechanizing the whole of life and reducing all (except the relatively few blessedwith administrative genius) to mere cogs in a gigantic industrial machine.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which makesrailroads and steamship lines absolute necessities and which makes city and countrydependent upon our lines of mass-transportation.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which isreducing all men and all commodities to a dead level of uniformity because the factorymakes it impossible for individual men and individual communities to be self-sufficientenough to develop their own capacities.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which destroysboth the natural beauty and the natural wealth of man's environment; which fillscountry and city with hideous factories and squalid slums, and which consumes forests,coal, iron and oil with a prodigality which will make posterity look back upon usas barbarians.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which isresponsible for the fact that we now make things primarily for sale rather than primarilyfor use; that we make things as cheaply as possible instead of as substantially aspossible.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which encourageswastefulness and which makes us measure products in terms of money instead of interms of the labor involved in making them and the worth of the materials of whichthey are composed.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which tendsto decrease the number of men engaged in production and which condemns more and morepeople to the idiotic task of flunkeying for one another.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which isresponsible for the class antagonisms and for the foolish and often bloody strikeswhich disgrace the supposedly enlightened and progressive industrialized countries.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which isdestroying the skilled craftsman to whom work is a means of self-expression as wellas a means of support.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which createsthe citizen who lacks a sustained interest in government; which destroys the initiativeand self-reliance of men by making them into mere machine-tenders and clerks in factoryoffices.

   It is the factory, not the machine, which hastransformed man from a self-helpful into a self-helpless individual and which haschanged mankind from a race of participators in life to a race of spectators of it.By destroying the economic foundations of the home it has robbed men, women and childrenof their contact with the soil; their intimacy with the growing of animals, birds,vegetables, trees and flowers; their familiarity with the actual making of things,and their capacity for entertaining and educating themselves. If we live in flatsand hotels, eat from tin cans and packages, dress ourselves in fabrics and garmentsthe design of which we only remotely influence, and entertain ourselves by lookingat movies, baseball and tennis and listening to singing arid music, it is due tothe fact that we have applied the factory technique, not the machine technique, tosheltering, feeding, clothing, and entertaining ourselves.

   Finally, it is the factory, not the machine,which is responsible for the extension of the soul-deadening repetitive labor thatis the greatest curse of this civilization. Not only are the natural-born robotsof the nation condemned to perform the same identical operation hour after hour andday after day, but those who are capable of creative work in the crafts, the artsand the professions are forced to conform to repetitive cycles because the factoryleaves open no field in which they may exercise their talents and live. In some casesit entirely destroys the market for their services; in others, it limits the marketto a small part of what it should be in a great civilization. We have a great marketonly for the mass-producers of culture--for mass-art: rotogravure; for mass-literature:newspapers and magazines; for mass-drama: movies. This is the ugliest crime of whichthe factory, not the machine, is guilty. Accepting the democratic dogma that theindividual, no matter how gifted, must be subordinate to the welfare of the mass,mankind is forgetting that the destruction of conditions which make it possible forsuperior individuals to impose their tastes upon society means the destruction ofany really desirable way of life for all of the race.

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   The trouble with Mr. Glenn Frank and the apologistsfor the factory is just this: they accept without question what is the most dangeroussocial myth of this factory-dominated civilization. They do not realize that theidea that mankind's comfort is dependent upon an unending increase in productionis a fallacy.

   It is more nearly true to say that happinessis dependent not on producing as much as possible but on producing as little as possible.Comfort and understanding are dependent upon producing only so much as is compatiblewith the enjoyment of the superior life. Producing more than this involves a wasteof mankind's most precious possessions. It involves a waste of the only two thingswhich man should really conserve--the two things which be should use with real intelligenceand only for what really conduces to his comfort. When he destroys these two things,he has destroyed what is for all practical purposes irreplaceable. These two thingsare the natural resources of the earth and the time which he has to spend in theenjoyment of them.

   When he produces more things than are necessaryto good living, he wastes both of them; he wastes time and he wastes material, bothof which should be used to make the world a more beautiful place in which to live,and life in it more beautiful than it is today.


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