The hopes of the Enlightenment for a future founded on ethical and moral reasoning have been lost to the rush of technology and capitalism. The period of imperialism, colonialism, and plunder that made the Enlightenment possible also made the accompanying industrial and technological revolutions possible and allowed capitalism to be refined to the point of taking on its own perpetuation. As societies established rulers to provide security and property rights they inadvertently gave power over the masses to those with more property. Those with the property and power, through the desire to increase both, gained further control of the people through division of labor, thereby not only making the proletariat obliged to them for subsistence but also creating a class structure. The stage was now set for full control of the people. “The powerlessness of the workers is not merely a ruse of the rulers but the logical consequence of industrial society, into which the efforts to escape it have finally transformed the ancient concept of fate. What human beings seek to learn from nature is how to use it to dominate wholly both it and human beings. Nothing else counts.”(1) This goal and its logical consequence did indeed cause the rulers themselves to lose control of their creation.
As Sir Francis Bacon (January 22 , 1561 – April 9, 1626) surmised, Kings and merchants could not control the acquisition and growth of technology. It is now as democratic as the economic system with which it evolved. As technology and industrialism expanded people became more dependent on it. As people became more dependent they became less likely to question where the system was headed and the ethics and morals of the goal. It was much easier to blindly accept the current way of life. (A ‘This is how it has always been and so we can’t change it’ attitude.)
Rousseau looked back on a feudal and monarchical history and conceived of political inequalities that depended on the common consent of mankind. These inequalities included wealth, honor, and power over others. “Preoccupation with the drive to possess status disguised the oppression of the people and kept them from realizing that they were not free or natural. People with property need a way to protect it, so the rich man, thus pressed by necessity, at last conceived the deepest project that ever entered the human mind: this was to employ in his favour the very forces that attacked him, to make allies of his enemies, to inspire them with other maxims, and make them adopt other institutions as favourable to his pretensions, as the law of nature was unfavourable to them.”(2) Those with only the wealth they could obtain through their own labor needed protection too. Those with power and property then convinced the people to make laws that “fixed forever the laws of property and inequality” (2). In order to secure their current station in life and avoid the fear of change it became necessary to not analyze the conditions of the world and how man’s activity was affecting both the current state and future fate of mankind.
The failure of the Enlightenment to change society has been brought about by its very antithesis. The people are kept busy trying to survive and the wealthy are busy acquiring more. No one has time or inclination to question the system. If they would stop to examine what they have created they would find that it has been running itself and is not now, nor has it ever been, under the control of anyone and is rushing forward towards death by more. Except for a very small minority of the wealthiest of the wealthy, everyone else are just cogs in a machine. Everyone is expendable and can be replaced from the reserve labor force of the unemployed. The system created by man will lead to its own destruction if everyone continues to rely on the ‘Just doing my job’ defense to deny their own complicity. It is the responsibility of the creators of the monster to put an end to it. This will only be done through reason, reevaluation, and creation of new, more realistic goals for mankind. Nature can no longer abide fiscal calendars and corporate goals.
(1) Horkheimer and Adorno – Dialectic of Enlightenment
(2) Jean-Jacque Rousseau – A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind