brian carroll on Sun, 15 Aug 1999 21:34:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> ae fragments/mumford

| working on 'the architecture of electricity' (ae) thesis to be
| finished near 2000 Common Era. just finished writing this piece
| today, which i propose is an archaeo-architectural (mis-)
| reading of the classic architectural text by Lewis Mumford,
| The Myth of the Machine. the upper-case letters on the website
| will be of a smaller font size than the lowercase letters, and
| these words will be hyperlinked to their definitions, as will
| the numbered footnotes with the bibliographic information. of
| the concepts in this piece, most all have been established in the
| the thesis prior to this text (this is at the end of the thesis).
| thus, a concept like the E-INFRASTRUCTURE has a whole section
| detailing how electricity is produced and consumed, and that in
| turn has another section about what ELECTRICITY is, etcetera.
| feedback is welcome. bc
 a r c h i t e x t u r e z : an online community for hacking |
 and cracking the architectural code - |

 L E W I S   M U M F O R D

Lewis Mumford, a profound social critic and commentator throughout the
20th century, wrote over 20 books on ARCHITECTURE, technology, and human
values.  Specifically, the two volume book the Myth of the Machine
(1964-1970)  helped to establish a rational understanding of "the machine"
as a cultural artifact, which in turn enabled an ethical analysis of our
relationship with the technological BUILT ENVIRONMENT. 

By correlating Mumford's idea of "the megamachine" with the phenomenon of
ELECTRICITY, a groundwork is prepared for evaluating the ELECTRICAL
INFRASTRUCTURE as ARCHITECTURE, which will help us rationally account for
its ethical influence upon our daily lives. 

To do so, we need to look at how Mumford utilized the traditional
definition of "machine"- as "a combination of resistant parts, each
specialized in function, operating under human control, to utilize energy
and perform work"- to define "the megamachine." (53n) 

The megamachine, then, is an archetypal machine composed of component
political and economic, military, bureaucratic and royal machines. (54) In
its ancient form it was "an invisible structure composed of living, but
rigid human parts, each assigned to [his|her] special office, role, and
task, to make possible the immense work-output and grand designs of this
great collective organization." (54.2) 

Mumford cites the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt, as an early example of the
megamachine, with its "fine measurement, undeviating mechanical precision,
and flawless perfection" demonstrating the large-scale material
transformation and collective human will possible under the reign of a
divine king. (54.3) As the first large-scale POWER machine, it had a total
output of between 25,000 and 100,000 manpower, "at the very minimum the
equivalent of 2,500 horsepower" which today equals the output of a 1.8

Harnessing 'this outburst of ENERGY', the cult of divine kingship created
an institution for the total control of POWER, which Mumford describes in

"Under the protective symbol of his god, housed in a massive temple, the
king... likewise served as a high priest... By assimilation, the town... 
became a sacred place, a divine 'transformer,' so to say, where the deadly
high-tension currents of godhead were stepped down for human use... This
fusion of sacred and temporal power released an immense explosion of
latent energy, as in a nuclear reaction. At the same time it created a new
institutional form... an enclave of power..." (54.5) 

This megamachine of POWER focussed upon the claim of universality by the
king, where "power as an end in itself, became the chief identifying mark
of 'civilization,'"- that which Mumford denotes as- those first
institutions created under kingship, including: centralized political
power, class separation, division of labor, mechanized production,
militarization, economic exploitation, slavery and forced labor, while at
the same time enabling "the invention and keeping of the written record,
the growth of visual and musical arts, the effort to widen the circle of
communication and economic intercourse far beyond the range of any local
community: ultimately the purpose to make available to all [wo|men] the
discoveries and inventions and creations, the works of art and thought,
the values and purposes that any single group has discovered." (54.6) 

Mumford continues that the physical and mental model of technics used in
constructing and running the megamachine were then "transmitted, sometimes
with all its parts in good working condition, sometimes in makeshift form,
through purely human agents, for some five thousand years, before it was
done over in a material structure that corresponded more closely to its
own specifications, and was embodied in a comprehensive institutional
pattern that covered every aspect of life." (55) 

We propose that the foundation of this new "invisible" megamachine is
based on the harnessing of the ELECTRICAL FORCE by HOMO ELECTRUS, and that
the ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE is the physical manifestation of this
evolutionary monopolization of absolute POWER run by a bureaucratic
priesthood of ELECTRICAL experts. (55.1)  But, as Mumford states, rather
than a divine king at the apex of this present-day pyramid of POWER, it is
instead the "gigantic and dehumanized form" of the Sovereign State. (55.2) 

And, as the ultimate coup d'etat, the disembodied "central COMPUTER" is
declared as the new divine king by Mumford: 

"The new megamachine.. brought into existence the ultimate
'decision-maker' and Divine King, in a transcendent, electronic form: the
Central Computer.  As the true earthly representative of the Sun God, the
computer had first been invented... a fantastically rapid
electro-mechanism, to facilitate astronomical calculations... whose
'movable parts' are electric charges, celestial electronics replaced
celestial mechanics and gave this exquisite device its authentic divine
characteristics: omnipresence and invisibility." (55.3n) 

In many ways our present-day ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE of POWER, MEDIA,
and TECHNOLOGY can be considered an ELECTRICAL megamachine of a systemic
and almost total control of the ELECTRICAL ORDER which impacts the
political and economic, military, bureaucratic and royal dimensions of
highly centralized way of perceiving REALITY, utilizing the new ELECTRICAL
ORDER of lightning-fast SPACE-TIME, which depends upon an Úlite priestly
and bureaucratic class of ELECTRICAL experts. (55.31) This monopolization
brokers is dangerous, as Mumford states: 

"Secret knowledge is the key to any system of total control." (55.32) 
Indeed, if our individual and collective CONSCIOUSNESS does not include a
vivid understanding of ELECTRICAL POWER, MEDIA, or TECHNOLOGY, then we are
unable to direct our future, but instead become enslaved to the ELECTRICAL
megamachine and its totalitarian goals of dominance and dependence. 

We become ELECTRONIC pyramid builders, without even knowing it, without
even having a choice in the decision. 

For instance, Mumford states that the monopoly of POWER often has an
infrastructure, "a special form of transmission gear," consisting of "an
army of scribes, messengers, stewards, superintendents, gang bosses, major
and minor executives, whose very existence depended upon their faithfully
carrying out the king's orders... In other words, a well-organized
bureaucracy is an integral part of the megamachine: a group of [wo|men],
capable of transmitting and executing a command..." (55.33) 

Similarly today we have an ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE consisting of a
bureaucracy of POWERPLANTs, TOWERs, and POLEs which transmit and
distribute our present-day pyramid of ELECTRICAL POWER, in turn sustaining
rely upon for our daily sustenance and REALITY. 

This is most notably realized in our Internet COMPUTER NETWORK of 2000
C.E.  wherein, for example, we each "buy into" this pyramid scheme by
working to obtain a COMPUTER by which we dial-up a SERVER over TELEPHONE
LINEs to access the global and "invisible" COMPUTER NETWORK: each COMPUTER
another piece of silicon in the pyramid of ELECTRICAL POWER. 

routers and databases, we give it more POWER to rule our future lives as
if it were divine and immortal decentralized yet "centralized COMPUTER." 

This interpretation may not be far off the mark, if we are to include the
total mania surrounding e-commerce, CYBERSPACE, VIRTUAL REALITY, and
artificial intelligence as a predestined technocratic utopia for our
ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION, and thus, the ELECTRICAL megamachine. (55.34n) 

Mumford considers this loss of control or CONSCIOUSNESS to the megamachine
a dystopic destiny of the electrified wasteland: 

"Would not electrical omniscience, if indeed it possessed like [wo|man] an
equivalent of subjective life, prove as crazy, cruel, and murderous as the
powerful deities of the Bronze Age in fact were?- all the more hostile
because totally lacking in the cultural safeguards that even then [wo|man]
had built up for [his|her] own self-protection against [his|her]
unconscious." (55.35) 

That our evolution may in fact become our devolution concerned Mumford.
The paradox is that "...the conversion and utilization of energy is an
essential characteristic in the growing and working of all organisms,
[and] this drive has a biological basis: to increase power is one of the
prime ways of increasing life." (55.36) Yet, it is this exponential
increase of POWER that is the megamachine's very weakness, as it "has no
built-in method of controlling its growth or modulating the enormous
energy it commands in order to maintain, as every living organism must, a
dynamic equilibrium favorable to life and growth." (55.37) 

Thus, if the highly centralized megamachine of ELECTRICAL POWER becomes
unbalanced, say in a global POWER outage, it could vanquish the LIFEFORMs
which it ecologically supports, including all ELECTRICAL APPLIANCEs, and

This vision of what our ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION could become is haunting,
and Mumford's writing sounds oddly familiar to today's debate surrounding
the accumulation of PUBLIC and PRIVATE INFORMATION within the Internet
COMPUTER NETWORK, which subsequently takes on the hue of a mystical and
divine creation:  "With nuclear energy, electric communication, and the
computer, all the necessary components of a modernized megamachine at last
became available: 

'Heaven' had at last been brought near. Theoretically, at the present
moment, and actually soon in the future, God- that is, the Computer- will
be able to find, to locate, and to address instantly, by voice and image,
via the priesthood, any individual on the planet: exercising control over
every detail of the subject's daily life by commanding a dossier which
would include [his|her] parentage and birth; [his|her] complete
educational record; an account of [his|her] illnesses and [his|her] mental
breakdowns, if treated; [his|her] marriage;.. [his|her] income, loans,
security payments; [his|her] taxes and pensions;... In the end, no action,
no conversation, and possibly in time no dream or thought would escape the
wakeful and relentless eye of this deity: every manifestation of life
would be processed into the computer and brought under its all-pervading
system of control. This would mean, not just the invasion of privacy, but
the total destruction of autonomy: indeed the dissolution of the human
soul."  (55.38) 

Was Mumford thinking of a specifically ELECTRICAL megamachine when writing
the Myth of the Machine? It is indeed likely that, like 'all roads lead to
Rome', all infrastructural POWERLINEs ultimately lead to the ELECTRICAL
POWER SYSTEM, and thus the ELECTRICAL megamachine, as Mumford implies: 

"No other religion [than the new pyramid-complex] has ever produced so
many manifestations of power, has brought about such a complete system of
control, has unified so many separate institutions, has suppressed so many
independent ways of life, or for that matter has ever claimed so many
worshippers, who by word and deed have testified to the kingdom, the
power, and the glory of its nuclear and electronic gods..." 

The POWER Mumford speaks of is indeed ELECTRICAL. 

Moreover, Mumford states that the NUCLEAR reactor is the symbolic entrance
to the new pyramid of ELECTRICAL POWER: a place where "the energy of the
sun was now united with the smaller concentrations of energy at [wo|man]'s
command: thus the Sun God had in effect undergone a human incarnation, and
[his|her] priests at last commanded a commensurate authority." (55.39) 

Thus Mumford connects the cosmic understanding and harnessing of the ATOM
with the new ELECTRICAL megamachine, declaring ELECTRICAL experts as the
priestly and bureaucratic authority of this new ELECTRICAL ORDER. 

In sum, then, this pyramid of the ELECTRICAL POWER SYSTEM has the
networked central COMPUTER as its all-seeing eye, a reincarnated
electro-mechanical divine king, as Mumford states: 

"The computer turns out to be the Eye of the reinstated Sun God, that is,
the Eye of the Megamachine, serving as its 'Private Eye' or Detective, as
well as the omnipresent Executive Eye, [s|he] who exacts absolute
conformity to [his|her] commands, because no secret can be hidden from
[him|her], and no disobedience can go unpunished." (60) 

With the centralized COMPUTER at the apex of the pyramid of ELECTRICAL
POWER, it becomes possible to establish "a monopoly of both energy and
knowledge" wherein there is "a concentration of power, political and
economic, instantaneous communication, rapid transportation, and a system
of information storage capable of keeping track of every event..." (61) 

Today this ELECTRICAL megamachine can be seen churning its way into our
immediate futures in the form of a panoptic CYBERSPACE, with the
innumerable ramifications of e-commerce, telecommuting, narrowcasts, and
technological symposia detailing its total embrace of our lives and

Mumford next states the final purpose of LIFEFORMs in terms of the
ELECTRICAL megamachine: 

" furnish and process an endless quantity of data, in order to expand
the role and ensure the domination of the power system. Here if anywhere
lies the source of that invisible ultimate power capable of governing the
modern world." (64) 

ELECTRICITY is undoubtedly this "invisible" POWER governing the ELECTRICAL
megamachine that Mumford so convincingly writes of. 

Thus, we propose that the ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE is evidence of this
pyramid of ELECTRICAL POWER, including the monopolization of ELECTRONIC
MEDIA SYSTEMs, and ELECTRICAL TECHNOLOGY. And evidence abounds, as do
ethical questions from proposing a foundational relationship between
ELECTRICITY and Mumford's megamachine. 

For example, the rapid and dynamic evolution of the ELECTRICAL
INFRASTRUCTURE suggests that "...the only form of control effectively
exercised is that of making every part undergo still more rapid change,
whilst the system itself becomes more immobile and rigid." To Mumford,
this means that we as individuals are losing our personal life, and
instead are "being turned into a 'thing' destined to be processed and
reconstructed collectively by the same methods that have produced the
atomic pile and the computer." (65) 

Obviously, this transformation Mumford refers to is the organic evolution
slave, not the master of the destiny of our ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION. This
view contrasts with what Mumford proposes is our central task; becoming
human. Instead, the new ELECTRICAL megamachine could make us into
sub-human robots or super-human cyborgs. (66n) 

The ethical problem of the ELECTRICAL megamachine then becomes its "single
all-dominating purpose - [the] replacement of natural and human
potentialities by its own under-dimensioned and strictly programmed
system.  All the improvements incorporated in this power structure are
addressed, not to [humans], but to the megamachine and its auxiliaries..."
(68) This internal referencing can be seen in robotics, VIRTUAL REALITY,
and artificial intelligence which may in time supercede our traditional
relationships with one another and further develop the pyramid of

Ultimately, Mumford proposes an "Organic World Picture" as a possible
solution, reconstituting our relationship with the fully-developed
ELECTRICAL POWER complex in new terms. The ethical situation regarding our
utilization of ELECTRICAL ENERGY is stated: 

"Too much energy is as fatal to life as too little: hence the regulation
of energy input and output, not its unlimited expansion, is in fact one of
the main laws of life. In contrast, any excessive concentration of energy,
even for seemingly valid purposes, must be closely scrutinized, and often
rejected as a threat to ecological equilibrium." (69) 

TECHNOLOGY is highly monopolized in either PUBLIC or PRIVATE
manifestations, it can actually deter the evolution of our species, HOMO
ELECTRUS, and instead devolve us into an dangerous relationship with the
ELECTRICAL megamachine, leaving us in bondage to the pyramid of POWER,
where ELECTRICITY becomes our godhead. 

For example, highly centralized POWERPLANTs or COMPUTER operating systems
are formatting our future and deterring certain possiblities for the
growth of our species, which could lead to the extinction of different
views of REALITY and the destruction of ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION through

Mumford's solution is to establish an ecological state of understanding of
nature, the BUILT ENVIRONMENT, and humanity. (69.5n) To do so will enable
a new perspective of the ELECTRICAL megamachine, and thus the ELECTRICAL
ORDER, to take hold in our CONSCIOUSNESS. (69.7n) 

Mumford declares this "is nothing less than a revolt against a
power-centered 'civilization.'" (69.8n) 

What will it take for this revolution in ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION when,
"...despite their gestures of revolt against the established goods of
civilization, the young are in fact addicted to its most decadent mass
products..." such as TELEPHONEs, RADIOs, TELEVISIONs, and COMPUTERs? 

Mumford believes it will take widely scattered movements using these very
same ELECTRICAL tools to decentralize the pyramid of ELECTRICAL POWER,
which will in turn enable the dismantling of the entire megamachine.

helped create these totalitarian conditions needs to be reconfigured by
HOMO ELECTRUS as a democratic and ecological ELECTRICAL organism. Instead
of highly centralized and monopolistic ELECTRICAL POWER, MEDIA, and
TECHNOLOGY, we need to research, develop, and build a highly decentralized
and sustainable ELECTRICAL CIVILIZATION using, for example, FUEL CELLs and
cryptographic COMPUTER NETWORKs. 

In summary, the ethical issues surrounding the adoption of a concept such
as the ELECTRICAL ORDER into the field of ARCHITECTURE needs to be
examined in relation to its probablistic support of an ELECTRICAL
megamachine. (70n)  By recognizing this ethical dilemma, we can change our
perspective and thus our CONSCIOUSNESS by designing an ARCHITECTURE OF
ELECTRICITY which promotes an alternative and sustainable ELECTRICAL
STATE. (71n) 

The Myth of the Machine, Volume 1: Technics and Human Development; by Lewis
Mumford, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., NY, c.1966, (53n) As defined by
Franz Reuleaux. (54) p.188 (54.2) p.189 (54.3) p.196 (54.4) p.196, 1
horsepower = 746 watts. (54.5) p.170 (54.6) p.186 (55) pp.188-189 (55.1)
pp.199 (55.2) pp.262 (55.31) p.286 (55.32) p.199 (55.33) p.200 (56n) p.191,
In chapter 11, Invention and the Arts, the Two Technologies, Mumford
evaluates centralized-totalitarian and dispersed-democratic technologies.
The Myth of the Machine, Volume 2: The Pentagon of Power; by Lewis Mumford,
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., NY, c.1964, 1970, (55.3n) p.273, this
electronic megamachine could be compared with Deleuze and Guattari's 'body
without organs'... (55.34n) p.212, "Utopia... is the secret destination of
the invisible, all embracing megamachine..." (55.35) p.72, (55.36) p.119
(55.37) p.127 (55.38) p.275 (55.39) pp.300-301 (55.40) p.372 (60)
pp.274-275 (61) p.274, (64) p.275, (65) p.287, (66n) p.284, [wo|man]'s
central task... is "the task of becoming human." (68) p.304, (69) p.403,
(69.5n) p.393, "All thinking worthy of the name now must be ecological, in
the sense of appreciating and utilizing organic complexity, and in adapting
every kind of change to the requirements not of [wo|man] alone, or of any
single generation, but of all [his|her] organic partners and every part of
[his|her] habitat." (69.7n) p.434, "No outward tinkering will improve this
overpowered civilization, now plainly in the final and fossilized stage of
its materialization: nothing will produce an effective change but the fresh
transformation that has already begun in the human mind." (69.8n) p.372,
p.435 ".. for those of us who have thrown off the myth of the machine, the
next move is ours: for the gates of the technocratic prison will open
automatically, despite their rusty hinges, as soon as we choose to walk
out." (69.9) p.377,
(70n) Thus, the electrical megamachine can be seen as the power complex
created within the electrical infrastructure of power, media, and
technology, unifying the communications, energy, and transportation
infrastructures, which in turn impact the economic, social, and political
machines dependent upon electricity in order to function, in addition to
labor, military, royal, and bureaucratic machines. (71n) pp.434-435,
Mumford states that "William James' perception [was] that the human person
has always been the "starting point of new effects" and that the most
solid-seeming structures and institutions must collapse as soon as the
formative ideas that have brought them into existence begin to dissolve..."

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