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Planning in a Technological Age

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“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 step–is that of recognizing and evaluating necessity…the only freedom man has is to recognize these and to recognize that he is determined by them. The first act of freedom is…To face up to the necessity that is seen at work in oneself, to perceive that I myself obey necessity and to consider the implications of this–this act of recognition is an act of freedom” (44).

Just to give you an idea of the plans we are hatching, here’s an example. We are planning to have our children skip high school and enroll in a junior college when they are each 15. To accomplish this, we are working backwards and pushing them now to achieve academically beyond their grade-level standards without sacrificing any love of learning. Should we continue to plan like this, or should we avoid planning so that in one area of our lives, we are free from planning? In keeping with his dialectics, Ellul offers contradictory ideas:

At the very end of The Humiliation of the Word, in discussing the charge of negativism, he writes, “But was I also supposed to take the freed prisoner by the hand, make him my pupil, and teach him what he should and could do? Doesn’t this purely negative deed produce freedom? Now that the person is unfettered, the person can stand up, begin to walk, and choose where he wants to go; he could do none of this before. Well, let him to do it! But only he can do it, and if he wishes to stay hunched up in his prison wishing for his chains back, what further positive deed can I do for him” (268)?  Also, at the beginning of the Ethics of Freedom, “Man’s enemy…is a collection of mechanisms of indescribable complexity — technics, propaganda, state, administration, planning, ideology, urbanization, social technology….There is less chance about them and more mathematics. A scientific attempt is being made to get to the inner forum of man and to change it” (27).

But in The Technological Society Ellul writes “Planning is inseparably bound up in coercion….I do not use the word planning in the technical sense, as when one points to school construction programs or traffic-signal installations. Local entities are of course able to execute such programs. But they do not represent planning any more than does dike construction in the Netherlands” (181, 182). Also, in my reading of Ellul, I have been empowered to trust my personal experience.  We have noticed like Newton’s 1st law of motion that our lives are already moving to fulfill the roles and norms society decides, and to break this movement, we have need to plan. On the other hand, perhaps this need to plan is just another of the myriads of examples of how I judge truth by sight.

What advice would you give us? To plan, or not to plan, that is my question.

Posted in Current Drift.

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