Current Drift

Dynamic Tension for Pandemic Times

By Randal Marlin One of the great features of Ellul’s writings is his extraordinary ability to keep focused on what is important. It is important, for example, to take account of how readers are going to interpret your writings. It is important that they become engaged in an issue. Constant qualification can baffle the hearer. Ellul’s political and sociological writings tend to leave us with unsolved problems. In the case of propaganda, for example, he points to a need on the part of a liberal government to engage in propaganda to offset seditious ideas from within the state or propaganda from other states seeking conquest over one’s own state. But he recognizes that once a state begins to engage seriously in propaganda, it erodes its own claim to being liberal. In Propaganda, he leaves his readers with a stark understanding of the dilemma without resolving it. I see a parallel … Read More

Jacques, Jack and the Technocrats

By Ted Lewis A full decade before Jacques Ellul wrote his groundbreaking work, The Technological Society, C. S. Lewis completed the third book of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength.  Since Lewis was called Jack by his family and friends, it is interesting that he and Ellul shared a first name rooted in the name Jacob. But they also shared a prescient sense of where applied science and technology would lead modern societies if human-based values were no longer at the helm. Whereas the first two novels of Lewis’ trilogy involve the prospect of Mars and Venus being colonized by imperialistic scientists, the final novel takes place on Earth, setting the stage for the beginnings of a dystopian society seeded by a group of British technocrats. Lewis was genuinely concerned that other planets, through technological advancements, would be corrupted by adherents of what Lewis knew as Scientism. Arthur C. Clarke, … Read More

From Caregiver to Technician: Doctors in the Technological Society

By Lester Liao Physician conscience has been at the forefront of medical news over the past few years in North America. With the rising prevalence and legislation of physician assisted death and the ongoing controversy surrounding abortion, many concerns have been raised regarding the role of the physician. If she believes these practices are harmful to patients and inherently wrong, should she be compelled to participate in them? I am not aware of any North American jurisdiction at this point that mandates physicians to perform these procedures. Recent conscience protection clauses have been set in place in the United States. In Canada, however, jurisdictions like Ontario mandate that physicians refer patients to professionals that are willing to carry out these controversial practices. Many physicians argue that this is a form of coercion against conscience. These policies are not surprising. Again, Ellul has proven prescient. While not specifically addressing medicine, he … Read More

Shattered Monuments and the Technical System

By Richard L. Kirkpatrick In the news every day, down goes another statue, another name erased, of one historical figure or another, condemned for one reason or another, some compelling, others not, often depending, it seems, on which pole of the day’s polarization you occupy.  Wikipedia compiles a long list casualties, including Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt; Confederate heroes get a separate long list all their own. The lists are so long that everybody is touched, pro and con — a suspiciously systematic phenomenon. Our wisdom literature –ranging from Juvenal to Sir Thomas Brown, Samuel Johnson to Shelley– consistently warns us of the transience and vanity of worldly memorials. One might justly rest there in complex meditation on the human condition, history, and memory. But something else is going on; there is also a non-human, technical dimension. While each monument demolition and damnatio memoriae has its own advocates, rationale, and agenda, a … Read More

Planning in a Technological Age

“To plan, or not to plan, that is my question.” By Paul Garrison Hello, Ellul community. I hope you’ll forgive my conversational tone, but I have a practical, day-to-day issue that I am confronting, which I would love your insight on. Here’s my situation: I am a recent father, my oldest son is 7, and he has been joined by a younger brother, age 5, and two younger sisters, ages 2 and 7 weeks! I work as a high school teacher, but we home school our children primarily to lessen the socialization that schools intentionally bring. Ellul has opened our eyes to a number of necessities which determine our choices, and my wife and I are constantly working to take that first step of freedom described in the Ethics of Freedom: “One might say that the first step which is seen to be necessary–leaving open the possibility of a second … Read More

Finding New ‘F-words’ in Trump Era News

The delivery of political news in the Trump Era has certainly taken on new dimensions. Months before President Trump was elected in 2016, Americans were bamboozled with Fake News. That ‘f-word’ (Fake) has certainly been monopolized by Trump ever since; we are almost to the point where we can predict when he will pull that term out of his sleeve. No doubt, Ellul would have been all over this phenomenon with his social analysis were he alive today. I am more interested, however, in three other ‘f-words’ that President Trump’s team will not claim as useful adjectives to publicly advance their interests. They inform a newer style of generating news that carries significant power. These are: Fuzzy News, Fast News, and Flip-Flop News. Consider the obfuscation that comes from Fuzzy News. Trump’s first six months involved a daily diet of news about Russian involvement in swaying election results. Or was … Read More