Is the industrial way of life a failure?


Has the industrial way of life failed?

Some find it easy to answer 'Yes' to that question.

The evidence of recent years is plain that the industrial nations have come into deep trouble.

Yet, ask older persons who used to get drinking water from a well or spring in all kinds of weather if they prefer that, or do they prefer modern indoor plumbing with its “instant” water supply?

Do you know many people who would continue to use an outhouse if they had an indoor toilet available?

Would many people prefer kerosene lamps if they had electric lights?

Would they want to wash clothes by beating them on rocks or by scrubbing them against a washboard by hand if they could use a washing machine instead?

Would they choose to walk miles to talk briefly to someone rather than use a mobile phone and communicate instantly?

To get hot water for a bath, many people used to haul buckets of water from outside, heat it over a wood fire and fill a tub. (Many still do.)

Ask an old-timer if this is his preference, if he would rather do this than turn on a hot-water shower in a modern bathroom.

In today’s world few people would choose to go back to the old ways in such matters.

Without a doubt, then, the industrial way of life has brought changes that many people prefer.

That is why hopes were so high that a wonderful way of life would result from the “Industrial Revolution” that began about the year 1600.

It was thought that the labor-saving devices, the comforts, the quicker transportation and communication would constantly improve life.

Hence, technology was greeted with enthusiasm by many.

And when such things as automobiles, airplanes, telephones, electric lights and radios were invented, more and more people were convinced that a bright new era had indeed dawned.

In the past few decades the process picked up speed.

Television came into existence, as did computers, automation, space satellites, jet planes and sophisticated machines of many types.

While the benefits of machines became apparent, the deeper problems did not, at first.

The problems seemed relatively minor.

But then they began to grow.

How industrial way of life problems grew?

Until the coming of the Industrial Revolution, farming was the usual way of life for people.

There were small towns, but very few large cities.

Even the few cities that existed had a rural flavor, without large, multi-storied buildings.

However, the coming of the industrial age changed that.

For machines to be produced, there had to be factories.

For factories to be manned, workers had to move close to their place of work, as no means of rapid traveling to work existed then.

Thus more and more people left the farms and moved into cities.

Eventually, hundreds of millions of people crowded into cities all over the world.

Before the Industrial Revolution, many craftsmen could get some satisfaction out of their work, since, to a degree, it involved their own initiative and creativity.

But in factories the machines ruled and set the pace.

Many workers came to view this as a kind of slavery to machines.

Too, machines often replaced workers whose skills were no longer needed.

These dislocated workers were not always able to acquire new trades.

When industrialization took a disastrous turn

While such problems grew, it was thought that science and technology would find solutions.

So, around the turn of the twentieth century, mankind was still viewed as entering a “golden age.”

Then came a crushing blow.

The very machines that were supposed to help man were turned against him during World War I, from 1914-1918.

Nearly ten million men were killed.

New devices such as the machine gun, the submarine, tank, airplane and others took a fearful toll.

Weapons of mass slaughter had thus become available for the first time in history—a direct result of the Industrial Revolution.

In another way the industrial age also contributed to the war: one of the reasons for the conflict was that European powers were challenging each other to carve up the world for raw materials and markets for their growing industries.

In the book Promise of Greatness, The War of 1914-1918, in a chapter by British author Richard Rees, it is noted:

The 1914-1918 war brought two facts to light: first, that technological development had reached a point where it could continue without disaster only in a unified world and, second, that the existing political and social organizations in the world made its unification impossible.”

This was so, for, shortly after World War I, the industrial nations engaged in another armaments race, culminating in World War II, from 1939 to 1945.

Even more hideous weapons of mass destruction were developed, including atomic bombs.

As a result, the slaughter was far greater.

An estimated 55,000,000 people were killed!

And to this day, industry pours out more highly destructive weapons than ever before.

The industrial age had created a ‘Frankenstein monster’ that has turned on its inventors.

This was acknowledged, during World War II, in an interesting letter written by Orville Wright, who, with his brother Wilbur, had pioneered the development of the airplane.

This letter was written to Henry Ford, Sr., pioneer of the mass-produced automobile.


Wilbur and I thought the plane would hasten world peace. So far it seems to have done the reverse. I suspect when you introduced mass production—one of the great inventions of the ages—you little thought it would be used thirty-five years later in building tanks world destruction. It seems that no beneficial thing can be introduced without some one finding a vicious use for it.”

Little did these peoples realize that such inventions and others would provide even more trouble in the years that followed.

For example, in the heavily industrialized nations of Europe and the Americas transportation systems are becoming more and more unwieldy and undependable.

During rush hours in large metropolitan areas, traffic is extremely congested.

Millions of people who drive to and from work experience slowed traffic, pollution, aggravation and wasted time.

Even the air space around the larger cities becomes more congested with heavy plane traffic.

In many countries the automobile has turned out to be one of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

Since the invention of the automobile, more people have been killed by it than have perished in the nation’s wars!

In the book Ark II, authors Dennis Pirages and Paul Ehrlich state:

The historical movement in long-distance transport from train to bus and from auto to airplane is similarly defined as progress. From an ecological point of view, however, each step has represented regression in that each is less efficient in using energy. . . . Indeed, it is doubtful that the transportation revolution has substantially increased the quality of life as measured by personal happiness. When all the social, resource, and environmental costs of autos and airplanes are accounted for, the world may realize that progress should have stopped with bicycles, trains, trams, and sailing ships.”

Unmet expectations 

It was hoped that with increasing industrialization, bad living conditions would be eliminated.

But that hope has proved to be a vain one.

There have always been millions of poor, and very poor, people in the industrial lands.

Professor of government Herbert Muller of Indiana University observes:

An increasing abundance of material goods made more glaring an elementary failure of industrialism: all along it failed to provide a great many workers with the minimum necessities of a decent life—an adequate diet, adequate medical care, decent homes, pleasant surroundings. Living conditions were most appalling in the new industrial towns. . . . the slums would remain, above all in wealthy America, and with them other root evils that would grow worse.”

Other “root evils” such as crime, pollution, congestion, drug addiction, poverty and hunger have indeed grown worse.

So have sicknesses associated with the pressures of industrial living, such as heart disease, mental disorders, and cancer.

Professor Muller cites a reason for these woes:

Why all such neglect or even contempt of elementary human values? The immediate answer seems to me as obvious: it was due to the vaunted free private enterprise that created industrialism, for the sake of private profit.”

He states that the “heroes” of the Industrial Revolution “distinguished themselves by exploitation, plunder, and fraud, on a colossal scale.”

The selfish grasping for profits and power has plagued the industrial way of life

It is often the reason why new inventions are pushed regardless of the consequences.

So, while a new machine or process seems to help in one area, it can create problems in another.

As a contributing editor of Harper’s magazine, John Fischer, states:

I am persuaded that technology is a servant of only limited usefulness, and highly unreliable. When it does solve a problem, it often creates two new ones—and their side effects are usually hard to foresee. . . . Every time you look at one of the marvels of modern technology, you find a by-product—unintended, unpredictable, and often lethal. . . . Moreover, technology works best on things nobody really needs, such as collecting moon rocks or building supersonic transport planes. Whenever we try to apply it to something serious, it usually falls on its face.”

Even worse, the problems created by technology now endanger the very existence of the human family.

The New York Times reported this conclusion by a group of scientists:

The stresses and strains produced by its own speed of technological advance are not only overtaking man’s powers of adaptability—both physical and mental—but are endangering his very survival.”

Drastic change required

What needs to be done to solve all staggering problems that grow with every passing year?

In the book An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, Robert Heilbroner says:

I believe the long-term solution requires nothing less than the gradual abandonment of the lethal techniques, the uncongenial life ways, and the dangerous mentality of industrial civilization itself.”

What would this entail?

Heilbroner adds:

This implies a sweeping reorganization of the mode of production in ways that cannot be foretold, but that would seem to imply the end of the giant factory, the huge office, perhaps of the urban complex.”

Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm declares that the current sicknesses of industrial society can be dealt with “only if the whole system as it has existed many years can be replaced by a fundamentally different one.”

Do you think that humans themselves are likely to accomplish such a change, replacing “the whole system”?

Surely no one can say they have not had the time to do so before now. 

Does this mean they will not come at all?

On the contrary.

The drastic changes needed, the entirely new way of life required to provide peace, security and happiness for humankind is unavoidable for humans future existence!