Friday, October 20, 2017 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Lewis Mumford (1895 – 1990)


American historian of technology and science, also noted for his study of cities.
Lewis Mumford
Unfortunately, once an economy is geared to expansion, the means rapidly turn into an end and "the going becomes the goal." Even more unfortunately, the industries that are favored by such expansion must, to maintain their output, be devoted to goods that are readily consumable either by their nature, or because they are so shoddily fabricated that they must soon be replaced. By fashion and built-in obsolescence the economies of machine production, instead of producing leisure and durable wealth, are duly cancelled out by the mandatory consumption on an even larger scale.
Mumford quotes
Unable to create a meaningful life for itself, the personality takes its own revenge: from the lower depths comes a regressive form of spontaneity: raw animality forms a counterpoise to the meaningless stimuli and the vicarious life to which the ordinary man is conditioned. Getting spiritual nourishment from this chaos of events, sensations, and devious interpretations is the equivalent of trying to pick through a garbage pile for food.
Mumford
Today our world faces a crisis: a crisis which, if its consequences are as grave as now seems, may not fully be resolved for another century. If the destructive forces in civilization gain ascendancy, our new urban culture will be stricken in every part. Our cities, blasted and deserted, will be cemeteries for the dead: cold lairs given over to less destructive beasts than man. But we may avert that fate: perhaps only in facing such a desperate challenge can the necessary creative forces be effectually welded together. Instead of clinging to the sardonic funeral towers of metropolitan finance, our to march out to newly plowed fields, to create fresh patterns of political action, to alter for human purposes the perverse mechanisms or our economic regime, to conceive and to germinate fresh forms of human culture.
Instead of accepting the stale cult of death that the Fascists have erected, as the proper crown for the servility and brutality that are the pillars of their states, we must erect a cult of life: life in action, as the farmer or mechanic knows it: life in expression, as the artist knows it: life as the lover feels it and the parent practices it: life as it is known to men of good will who meditate in the cloister, experiment in the laboratory, or plan intelligently in the factory or the government office.




Mumford Lewis quotes
Nothing is unthinkable, nothing impossible to the balanced person, provided it comes out of the needs of life and is dedicated to life's further development.
Mumford Lewis
Here was my city, immense, overpowering, flooded with energy and light... The world, at that moment , opened before me, challenging me, beckoning me, demanding something of me that it would take more than a lifetime to give, but raising all my energies by its own vivid promise to a higher pitch.
Lewis Mumford quotes
Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.
Lewis Mumford
The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity.
Mumford Lewis quotes
Now life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for the training of a mere beginner. In life, we must begin to give a public performance before we have acquired even a novice's skill; and often our moments of seeming mastery are upset by new demands, for which we have acquired no preparatory facility. Life is a score that we play at sight, not merely before we have divined the intentions of the composer, but even before we have mastered our instruments; even worse, a large part of the score has been only roughly indicated, and we must improvise the music for our particular instrument, over long passages. On these terms, the whole operation seems one of endless difficulty and frustration; and indeed, were it not for the fact that some of the passages have been played so often by our predecessors that, when we come to them, we seem to recall some of the score and can anticipate the natural sequence of the notes, we might often give up in sheer despair. The wonder is not that so much cacophony appears in our actual individual lives, but that there is any appearance of harmony and progression.
Mumford
The way people in democracies think of the government as something different from themselves is a real handicap. And, of course, sometimes the government confirms their opinion. 
Mumford Lewis
Today, the notion of progress in a single line without goal or limit seems perhaps the most parochial notion of a very parochial century.
Lewis Mumford
One of the marks of maturity is the need for solitude: a city should not merely draw men together in many varied activities, but should permit each person to find, near at hand, moments of seclusion and peace.




Lewis Mumford quotes
If we are to prevent megatechnics from further controlling and deforming every aspect of human culture, we shall be able to do so only with the aid of a radically different model derived directly, not from machines, but from living organisms and organic complexes (ecosystems). What can be known about life only through the process of living and so is part of even the humblest organisms must be added to all the other aspects that can be observed, abstracted, measured. ... Once an organic world picture is in the ascendant, the working aim of an economy of plenitude will be not to feed more human functions into the machine, but to develop further man's incalculable potentialities for self-actualization and self-transendence, taking back into himself deliberately many of the activities he has too supinely surrendered into the mechanical system.
Lewis Mumford
As opposed to [megatechnics], an organic system directs itself to qualitative richness, amplitude, spaciousness, free from quantitative pressure and crowding, since self-regulation, self-correction, and self-propulsion are as much an integral property of organisms as nutrition, reproduction, growth, and repair. Balance, wholeness, completeness, continuous interplay between inner and outer, the subjective and the objective aspects of existence are identifying characteristics of the organic model; and the general name for an economy based on such a model is an economy of plenitude.
Mumford quotes
On one side is the gigantic printing press, a miracle of fine articulation, which turns out the tabloid newspaper: on the other side are the contents of the tabloid itself, symbolically recording the most crude and elementary states of emotion.
Mumford Lewis
If we are to create balanced human beings, capable of entering into world-wide co-operation with all other men of good will and that is the supreme task of our generation, and the foundation of all its other potential achievements we must give as much weight to the arousal of the emotions and to the expression of moral and esthetic values as we now give to science, to invention, to practical organization. One without the other is impotent. And values do not come ready-made: they are achieved by a resolute attempt to square the facts of one's own experience with the historic patterns formed in the past by those who devoted their whole lives to achieving and expressing values. If we are to express the love in our own hearts, we must also understand what love meant to Socrates and Saint Francis, to Dante and Shakespeare, to Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti, to the explorer Shackleton and to the intrepid physicians who deliberately exposed themselves to yellow fever. These historic manifestations of love are not recorded in the day's newspaper or the current radio program: they are hidden to people who possess only fashionable minds.
Mumford Lewis quotes
...in general, the traditionalists are backward-looking, conservative; pessimists about the future and optimists about the past.
Lewis Mumford
In the elemental emotions of fear and rage associated with the most primitive parts of the brain, this swift response without conscious intervention or direction is a condition of survival: but something more than survival comes forth from it; for this very automatism freed the growing brain and ramifying nervous system for more important services, detached from the immediate pressure for survival, performed by the new brain. Here by his conscious symbolic activities man created a second realm that conforms more closely to his higher personal and social needs.
Lewis Mumford quotes
What plethora of material goods can possibly atone for a waking life so humanly belittling, if not degrading, as the push-button tasks left to human performers?
Lewis Mumford
The relation between psyche and soma, mind and brain, are peculiarly intimate; but, as in marriage, the partners are not inseparable: indeed their divorce was one of the conditions for the mind's independent history and its cumulative achievements.
But the human mind possesses a special advantage over the brain: for once it has created impressive symbols and has stored significant memories, it can transfer its characteristic activities to materials like to stone and paper that outlast the original brain's brief life-span. When the organism dies, the brain dies, too, with all its lifetime accumulations. But the mind reproduces itself by transmitting its symbols to other intermediaries, human and mechanical, than the particular brain that first assembled them.
Mumford Lewis
But what would become of mass production and its system of financial expansion if technical perfection, durability, social efficiency, and human satisfaction were the guiding aims. The very conditions for current financial success constantly expanding production and replacement works against these ends. To ensure the rapid absorption of its immense productivity, megatechnics resorts to a score of different devices: consumer credit, installment buying, multiple packaging, non-functional designs, meretricious novelties, shoddy materials, defective workmanship, built-in fragility, or forced obsolescence through frequent arbitrary changes of fashion. Without constant enticement and inveiglement by advertising, production would slow down and level off to normal replacement demand. Otherwise many products could reach a plateau of efficient design which would call for only minimal changes from year to year.


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