Mechanical Nihilism

This is a book about life in a society from which higher goods have been expelled, leaving no place for love, wonder, or beauty.  The “compulsion” of the title is that which guides people in such a setting.  In default of anything better, people fall under the dominion of itches, obsessions, and impositions, and mistake their slavery for freedom.  No higher principle is telling them what to do, and that, they believe, is liberty.

Today’s commercial and managerial technocracy is increasingly just such a society, one that views the world and everything in it primarily as a resource for achieving whatever goals people and institutions happen to choose.  God has been exorcised, leaving only a this-worldly system of force and desire.  In such a world things are not valued in themselves but as means to the triumph of the will, which has been rebranded as Choice and Autonomy and made the foundation of what now counts as human dignity.

The book discusses the pathologies to which such a situation gives rise, especially in connection with the world of childhood.  Adults are mostly formed already, and they have to get things done, so there are aspects of technocratic society they find at least convenient.  That is one reason for the widespread support it enjoys: It destroys the joy of life, but after a while we forget what we have lost, and turn to solving immediate practical problems...

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