Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Propaganda as Psychic Violence

This is a brief excerpt of a chapter that I have written for a forthcoming book, "Jacques Ellul on Violence, Terrorism, and War."

“We need a revolution,” Ellul concludes, “in a world in which it has become impossible,”[1] a highly technologically developed world of the mass-manufactured, mass-marketed, and mass-distributed reality. “We need a rediscovery of the meaning of human activity, of the relation between means and ends, of their true place in a world which is given up to the love of power”[2] over material reality.

The revolutionary spirit – the will to fight the violence of technique – demands that we acknowledge the fact that violence is a natural and normal part of society, that it dwells in what Ellul calls “the realm of necessity” “imposed on governors and governed, on rich and poor. If this realism scandalizes Christians, it is because they make the great mistake of thinking what is natural is good and what is necessary is legitimate.[3]

In considering violence to be part of the human condition dwelling in the realm of necessity, and acknowledging that fact, it might become possible to cease our attempts to avoid it. For in our avoidance, it seems, we often do nothing more than replace one form of violence with another, move the realm of necessity from the world of nature to the world of technique. With great and constant and unavoidably violent force, our technological culture promises to protect us from violence and consistently delivers on that promise. All we have to do in return is to allow ourselves to be constrained, limited, shaped, and guided by values that aren’t our own; to give up everything that makes us most authentically human – our curiosity and creativity, our empathy and reason, our organic connections to nature and to each other. True human freedom is found in that brief, too-frequently comfortable interval between the stimulus and the response, between the offer and the acceptance, and in the realization that freedom is that perpetual struggle against necessity implicit in our conscious free will.

[1] Ibid., p. 118.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ellul (1969), op. cit., p. 127.