The life of the human race has undergone a radical change in the last two hundred fifty years, a change as great or greater in scope than the change from primitive society to traditional society which occurred among some peoples in the third millennium BC.1 We have moved from a traditional society, or, to be more accurate, a collection of traditional societies, to a worldwide technological society that is rapidly becoming universal for the human race. This change from traditional to technological society has revolutionized human life, and one of the elements of human life that has been radically altered is social relationships. It is difficult at this time to assess the full significance of this change, since we live even now in the midst of an ongoing process of rapid technological and social change whose end result can be predicted in only a tentative fashion. Though some observers predict that the process of rapid change will soon be brought to a halt as the new technological order encounters various crises, such as resource shortages, the change could possibly continue for a while to come.2
To understand men’s and women’s roles in the contemporary world, one must understand the transition to technological society. In particular, one must understand those aspects of modern social life that have resulted from the rapid social change produced by technological development. This understanding is first of all necessary background to comprehend accurately the scriptural teaching. In the above discussion of the scriptural teaching on men’s and women’s roles, it was often necessary to consider the differences between the social structure in scriptural times and the social structure in modern society in order even to understand the meaning of the words in the scripture. But in order to understand more fully the scriptural teaching, we also have to understand ourselves as modern people who are reading the scripture. The writers of scripture had their own distinctive human characteristics that marked them as members of a specific culture and a specific era, but we do as well. If we are to avoid the mistake of assuming that our position is privileged and the presuppositions of our society and culture are automatically authoritative, we must understand the content and sources of our presuppositions. Then we can judge how these presuppositions ought to influence our response to the scripture.
In addition to aiding our understanding of the scripture, an understanding of the development of the modern world is in itself something that must be considered when discussing the construction of a workable Christian social structure. As mentioned in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen, any adequate approach to social structure, and therefore to men’s and women’s roles, must successfully take three significant issues into account: What is the nature of the human material? What is the ideal human society? What is the nature of the existing social environment? This chapter will examine this third issue—the nature of the modern social environment. It will thereby contribute to a successful Christian approach to men’s and women’s roles, and social structure in general, in the modern world. The final approach to men’s and women’s roles advocated in this book will not be determined exclusively by the pressures and demands of the existing social environment. The ideal for human society and the nature of the human material must also contribute to the final approach. However, if we are to live with a pattern of men’s and women’s roles of any sort, we must do so within our present environment, and for most human beings today this environment is shaped by the development of technological society. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the development and the structure of modern technological society.
In the eighteenth century a major change occurred in Western European civilization, beginning with England. Peter Laslett, a British historian, characterizes the change in these words:
. . . the general contrast between seventeenth and twentieth century English society is the one which seems to us now considerably more important than any other known to English history. If by the exercise of historical ingenuity it could be attached to a particular set of events, there can be no doubt that it would have been called revolution, the revolution in fact.3
This “revolution” centers upon the advent of industrialization and the beginning of what is now known as technological development. However, this change extends beyond the industrial sector of society. Laslett calls this change a “revolution” because it effected radical change in the way human beings approach all of life. Defining and describing this change precisely is not an easy task. As Laslett points out, no easily isolated “particular set of events” make up the technological “revolution.” However, even the most casual student of history can perceive a great change beginning in the latter part of the eighteenth century, accelerating and spreading in extent in the nineteenth century, and in the process of totally transforming all of human life in the twentieth century. It is too soon to describe the exact results of this change should it continue to its fullest form, but it has clearly inaugurated a new era of human history among all the peoples of the world. This chapter is concerned with understanding how this change produces a life different from that of traditional societies, and how it affects social relationships, especially in the family.4
For our purposes, human social groupings can be divided into three main types: (1) primitive society5 (all of which is prehistorical except insofar as it is described by “historical men” who make contact with contemporary primitive cultures); (2) traditional society (the type of society in which the New Testament was written and which prevailed in Western Europe until the eighteenth century); and (3) technological society. The concern in this chapter is with the difference between “traditional society” and “technological society.” An understanding of this difference will clarify the unique and extraordinary qualities of this modern technological society which we so easily take for granted. The difference between traditional and technological society is also important because it is precisely the fundamental difference between the world of the New Testament and the world in which we now live.
In drawing a contrast between traditional society and technological society, one should be aware of the diversity that exists among both traditional and technological societies. The term “traditional society” refers to a broad spectrum of societies with many diverse social arrangements. The society of Palestinian Judaism in the first century AD differs in many respects from the society of Imperial Rome in the same century and of Western Europe in the fourteenth, and all of these societies differ greatly from that of Tang China in the eighth century. Significant differences can be observed in the shape of political institutions, economic arrangements, social stratification, and family life. Though there is good reason for grouping these societies together, they do demonstrate a high degree of diversity.
Recognizing this diversity can be helpful, because many people inaccurately describe technological society by contrasting it exclusively with the type of Western European society which immediately preceded it in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Such a contrast can prove misleading, for Western society at this time had its idiosyncratic elements and was not completely typical of most traditional societies. First, this society contained many remnants from medieval Western Europe, such as the remnants of a feudal system. Secondly, Western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and perhaps earlier) also included features which can be considered advance developments of technological society, such as the development of the capitalist system and the emergence of a special school system for educating the young of at least the wealthy class.7 In other words, this particular society is not always representative of the majority of traditional societies.
The variety existing among traditional societies does complicate the contrast between technological and traditional society. This contrast is further complicated by the evolution of technological society.8 In its early forms technological society looked very different than it did in its later forms. A gradual but accelerating development of technology has spanned the past two hundred years. At first this technological development primarily involved mechanical changes, such as the harnessing of new forms of power in the steam and internal combustion engines. Now this development is predominantly technetronic, as exemplified by the remarkable advance of computer science. Corresponding to these technological changes, the most significant socioeconomic developments were at first in the most basic levels of industrial production, but are now, at least in the more “developed” nations, in the human organizational sector (managerial development) and in the application of technology to change in human beings (training and opinion-forming methods). A manifestation of this evolution has been the shift from a predominantly agrarian population to a predominantly proletarian or “blue-collar” population, and then to a population that is predominantly engaged in service occupations (such as secretaries, salespeople, clerks, social workers, and teachers). In earlier stages, technological change was seen mainly in terms of the machine and industrialization. Now the computer has replaced the machine as the symbol of modern society, and the power of technology to transform human life is much more evident.
The contrast between technological and traditional society is also complicated by the contemporaneous existence of all three types of society—primitive, traditional, and technological—in the twentieth-century world. It would be a mistake to view the modern world as a collection of uniformly technologized societies. However, the dominance of technological society in the twentieth century is evident from the rapid pace at which traditional and primitive societies are being drawn into the process of global technological advance and consequent social change.9 Traditional societies still exist, but they inevitably feel the impact of neighboring technological society, and begin to show signs of change. It is thus possible to pass a series of Bedouin tents in a Middle Eastern desert and find television antennae extending from the tops of the tents. Many people in rural areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America still follow a predominantly traditional pattern of social life, but these rural areas surround major technologized urban centers which are in the process of transforming the nature of rural life. Even the nations of North America and Europe, which are some of the most technologically advanced nations in the modern world, still include remnants of traditional society, particularly among rural groupings and ethnic subcultures. However, these remnants are quickly dissolving. The world at present contains many types of societies, but the dominant force is that of technological society. Trends within all societies are in the same direction—toward a technological pattern of life.
For all the possible refinements of description in the contrast between traditional society and technological society, it is still the basic contrast that is most important in obtaining an overall perspective on recent human history and on the difference between our life and that of people in scriptural times. A characteristically new approach now dominates human life. Understanding the basic principles of this new approach and how they transform social structures will provide a helpful perspective for understanding social roles in the modern world and the roles of men and women in particular.
When a human society moves from traditional to technological society, a basic principle changes in the organization of the social structure. The organization shifts from a social pattern in which relationship is the most fundamental consideration to a social pattern in which functional accomplishment is the most fundamental consideration. An overall systemic change occurs in the structure of human society, and this change reshapes everything in human life. Because the change is systemic, many elements change in a subordinate way. Family life moves from being consanguineal to conjugal. Government moves from being personal to bureaucratic. The fundamental unit of society ceases to be the family and becomes instead the individual. The care of social needs shifts from the realm of stable personal relationships to the realm of specialized social-welfare institutions. Efficiency considerations replace status and honor considerations. Tradition as a source of authority yields to utilitarian rationalism as a source of authority. Each of these factors is somewhat independent of the others, but there is a mutual interaction among them. Hence, there are two systems of human interrelation, each shaped by a different basic principle. It is helpful to begin a study of the difference between traditional and technological society by examining the difference between a relational and a functional principle of social structure. It will then be possible to see how a change from the one principle to the other involves a major change in the structuring of society.10
When a group of human beings is highly interested in completing a task, they tend to organize their activities and interrelations according to a functional principle. One can speak of a functional approach to human activity and interrelations when a set of human interactions are systematically shaped to maximize production or to achieve other goals.11 The functional approach is most dominant in a situation where work occurs in a different time and place from “living,” that is, when a work site such as an office or factory is separated from the home. When the functional principle has been thoroughly applied to a job, then the laborers will go to the work site for a particular amount of time for the purpose of performing certain tasks. The time spent at the work site is used primarily for performing these tasks, and all people are excluded from the work site if they are not contributing measurably to the accomplishment of those tasks. What leads most to accomplishing the task with the least expenditure of time and effort is what is most desirable. The chief or overriding criterion which organizes activities in the functional situation is task efficiency. The functional principle is thus a work principle oriented primarily to production, achievement, and efficient task performance.
This criterion of task efficiency is not universal to the human race. Those accustomed to the functional efficiency of the modern office or factory can be maddened when they visit another culture where work is not segregated from “life” in special environments dominated by a functional approach. They may become frustrated and confused when they discover that an official will readily spend hours talking to a friend who happens by, or when they confront a political situation in which ceremony is accorded a high value and consequently often replaces the functional tasks of government rather than being separated as much from them as possible. Such visitors are encountering a principle of social structure that differs from the functional principle.
The alternative to the functional principle of social structure is the relational principle.12 This has been the predominant principle shaping the social organization of most cultures throughout human history. The main remnant of such relational groupings in technological society is the family, but other remnants are sometimes found in villages, neighborhoods, religious communities, or other intentional communities. People join together in relational situations primarily for the sake of living together and not primarily for the sake of accomplishing a task or producing a product. For example, a family often shows much devotion to a family member who is hostile, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to make a functional contribution to the family. If asked to explain such loyalty, family members would probably say simply, “He is my father,” “She is my daughter,” or “He is my brother.” Their replies would consist of a simple statement of the type of personal relationship that exists among them. Questions of functional contribution and task efficiency are not primary in determining the structure and life of the grouping.
Many people living in technological society think of the word “functional” as a term of unqualified commendation. What is not purely functional is described as “inefficient,” “purposeless,” or “disorganized,” in other words, as functioning poorly. However, though the relational approach is not primarily task oriented, it is inaccurate to characterize it as “purposeless” or “inefficient.” A different criterion for efficiency applies to relational settings. This criterion measures “relationship value” rather than “task efficiency.” A type of purposiveness exists in relational groupings, but one that differs from the task orientation of the functional grouping. The primary goal in a relational grouping is to strengthen the relationships and the people who are in the relationships. Task considerations are not ignored. However, they are secondary to the primary concern for the solidarity of personal relationships and the welfare of those individuals who are in the relationships.
People who live in a technological society usually find it difficult to understand the concept of “relationship value.” This difficulty springs largely from the functional tendency to divorce purposive, goal-oriented activities from expressive activities. The sphere of expressive activities includes aesthetic expression (e.g., music, dance, painting), emotional expression (e.g., anger, affection, grief), and ceremonial expression.13 According to the functional approach, this sphere remains separate from the functionalized work setting, since expressive activities do not directly contribute to the accomplishment of the tasks at hand. As a consequence, the concern for usefulness and purpose is not supposed to interfere with the expressive sphere. A person gets angry, celebrates, or sings a song, simply on the basis of preference and feeling. The more purely it expresses feeling (and not a utilitarian or even a social purpose), the more genuine or authentic it is supposed to be. Expression is an end in itself and is divorced from the purposive sphere of productive or utilitarian concerns.
This separation between goal-oriented and expressive activities does not occur in a relational situation. The relational work setting provides room for expressive activities, such as customs of respect or affection, as, for example, among a family preparing a meal. There is also a purposiveness in the expressive activities. They are not merely guided by emotion and preference. Activities such as showing affection of respect, worship, ceremony, and celebration express aspects of a personal relationship when done in a relational grouping and are often done on the basis of objectively understood principles. They are not primarily ways of expressing emotion, though emotions can be involved. The purposive, goal-directed sphere is thus integrated with the expressive sphere within the context of stable personal relationships. This integration sheds light on the meaning of the term “relationship value.” An activity has high relationship value when it expresses, establishes, or strengthens a relationship, even though the activity may not be productive or utilitarian.
There are several other important differences between groups structured according to functional and relational principles. First, functional groups tend to be characterized by certain types of impersonality when contrasted with relational groups. Functional situations are normally structured in a way that makes them independent of particular people. This type of impersonality in functional groupings is sometimes described as the “institutional” or “bureaucratic” element of the grouping. An organization is created (a factory or a corporation or a government) which is staffed by people, but the people are replaceable. They assume positions on the basis of their competency for the job. The positions have set responsibilities and functions defined according to certain rules of administrative structure. The procedures by which the group operates are formalized, that is, fixed and official. All of the people in the organization could die simultaneously and be replaced by people of like skills, and, if adequate records were left, the organization could continue on in the future as it did in the past. The organization is thus independent of the particular people who work and live within it.
A relational grouping operates according to a different principle. The work and life of the group depends to a greater degree upon the particular people within the group. The father of a family is not replaceable. If he dies, another man may marry his widow and care for his children, but he would not easily be considered more than “like a father” to the children. A family shop will be passed on to a son, even if he is not specially competent, rather than be given to someone who passes an exam. Such a business may also be handed over to an apprentice, but the apprentice would inherit the business because of his personal relationship with the master. It is the personal relationship which counts, and not the fact that he is the most skillful craftsman available in the town. In a traditional state, the personal identity of the ruler is central, and authority to act derives from a personal relationship with him. Government is executed by the servants or friends of the ruler; their commissions are often established to deal with a particular situation, and they can be changed at will by the ruler without the approval of a functionally organized administrative or legislative body. This contrasts with a functionalized or bureaucratic state, where, while a ruler may have his own personal staff, the government as a whole is structured according to functionally defined positions, each of which has its own area of responsibility, competency of authority, and rules of operation, and many of the office holders continue to fill their positions even after the term of the current chief of state has ended.
A functional grouping is also impersonal in the sense that it tends to be concerned with people only insofar as they contribute to accomplishing a task.15 A functional approach tends to pare away all factors besides strictly functional ones, and hence tends to eliminate all personal considerations that are not in some way relevant to the efficient accomplishment of the task. Each individual works according to the job description and procedures (whether specified explicitly or understood implicitly), and, as far as the organization is concerned, the characteristics of the individual are irrelevant except insofar as they strengthen or weaken his or her ability to perform that job. The functional principle thus leads to the sharp distinction between purposive goal-directed activities and expressive activities. Family life, personal interests, and feelings have no place in the functionalized goal-directed work environment. The consequence of this type of impersonality is the tendency to separate “private life” from “public life.”16 Private life occurs away from the impersonal functionalized work environment, and is the place where the individual expresses his own interests and preferences. It is the place where affective and expressive activities are acceptable in themselves and where family life can be lived.
A relational principle of social structure, on the other hand, leads to the integration of personal considerations and task considerations, with the personal considerations predominating. The personal relationships determine how the group acts together. The son may be more competent than his father at managing the family business, but he will not therefore become the father’s boss. The nature of their personal relationship precedes in importance strict task-competency considerations. Nor is there anything like a private sphere. The entire life of each member of the grouping is of concern to each other member. A father is concerned with his son’s performance in school or work, but he is also concerned with his son’s personal interests, desires, and relationships. Relational groupings thus take into account and even build upon personal considerations, without totally neglecting the accomplishment of tasks.
Another important difference between functional and relational groups is that functional groups tend toward specialization and standardization, whereas life in a relational grouping is more holistic and varied.17 The tasks and roles that an individual performs in functional groupings tend to be highly specialized. Not only is economic life specialized by craft, but there is a tendency to specialize more and more within each activity. The extreme form of industrial specialization is found in the assembly line where each worker performs one operation. Governmental specialization leads to the creation of a multitude of departments designed to perform more and more circumscribed and specialized governmental activities. At the same time, a functional principle leads to greater standardization. There is a tendency to make everything uniform so that it can be interchangeable. The same jobs are developed with the same qualifications. The same methods are used. Tools, parts, and equipment become uniform. In addition, this standardization occurs not only in one area, but over a broad geographical region.
One result of the dual process of specialization and standardization is that people are mainly considered as the bearers of a skill. The chief interest that a functional grouping shows in another human being is in that human being’s ability to perform a particular task effectively, i.e., that person’s competence. Moreover, the functional grouping is only interested in individual bearers of skills.18 Relational corporate units bring needless complications. A civil service office or a factory cannot deal with a family as a unit. Families are not allowed to hold positions, only individuals who bear the requisite skills.
Life in relational groupings is approached in a more holistic and varied fashion. One man is father/farmer/warrior/builder/judge. One ruler performs all the functions of government. He might do so as part of a college (a council) or with subordinates who govern smaller geographical areas on his behalf, but he will normally perform all the functions of government. A relational principle also allows more variety from grouping to grouping. For example, in the Middle Ages there was a great degree of local variation in tools, parts, equipment, jobs, and methods. As a result of this varied and holistic approach, people are not considered primarily as either individuals or bearers of a specialized skill, but as members of particular corporate groupings. A man is not primarily seen as John the lawyer or engineer, but as John the son of Will from Bridlington.
Finally, functional and relational groupings differ from one another in the way they approach change. Functional groupings tend to prize innovation and flexibility, whereas relational groupings value stability.19 M. F. Nimkoff describes this contrast vividly:
An important factor here is that economic production, being based upon science, is subject to the process of rationalization, and the family is not. If science can be said to have a motto, it is: There is always a better way. Obsolescence and innovation are encouraged. But the family, like religion, is designed to afford stability to social life. We may be interested in a new model of car every year, but not in a new model of family life.20
If something can be done better, the dynamic of the functional principle is to change to do it better—at least if the cost is not too great. This principle finds prominent expression in modern technological society, which exposes all of its members to a constant experience of change. On the other hand, a relational principle tends more toward stability. Family relationships are considered permanent. No one can divorce their children, and divorce in a marriage is unfortunate rather than ideal. Friendship, neighborliness, and other bonds among people grow stronger over time. In addition, relational groupings value consistency in a personal relationship. When family members or close friends regularly rearrange their values or alter their patterns of response, the social group is weakened. Changes that are seen by all as improvements in someone’s behavior are always welcome, but other types of constant change weaken and even destroy personal relationships. A relational grouping thus tends much more to stability than does a functional grouping.
The contrast between functional and relational groupings can be drawn too strongly. Functional and relational principles are actually “pure types” that are never completely embodied in one group.21 For example, families or friendships often employ a functional approach. In fact, human beings take this approach to some degree whenever they work together. A functional principle can be applied to specific areas within a grouping which is predominantly relational. The movement from Palestinian Jewish society to the Christian community discussed earlier involved a movement from a social situation in which many leadership positions were determined by birth (except those filled by the scribe-rabbis) to a situation in which the elders were all chosen for positions on the basis of ability. As the pastor of a community of people, an elder served in a much more relational way than a manager of a modern factory, but a functional element had been introduced. Various institutional or bureaucratic elements have existed in communities and groupings that are predominantly relational.
The relational principle also intrudes constantly in the modern world of work. Just as the functional principle emerges in some form whenever human beings work, so the relational principle emerges whenever human beings come together. Friendship, sexual attraction, and accommodation to preferences, feelings, and needs all surface in the functionalized world of work even though the demands of task efficiency would restrict them to the private sphere. In all likelihood no human groupings can ever be totally functionalized. Nonetheless, though the functional and relational principles exist only as pure types, it is still the case that all human groupings are formed primarily by either one or the other. Each principle has a logic of its own, and each produces different results when applied to particular social structures. The difference between a functional and relational principle must be understood in order to accurately understand the nature of modern technological society.
Western European civilization began to undergo a significant change in the eighteenth century which led to the development of what is now sometimes called “technological society.”22 A new type of society began to form, one based on new principles of social structure. The term “technological society” indicates the importance of the role technological change played in shaping this new form of society. However, technological development was not the only major factor involved in this process of social change. Economic and social factors played a major role with the growth of population, economic activity, and urbanization, and with the disruption of traditional social patterns caused by the new form of economic life and by the rapidly expanding cities and proletariat. Ideological factors also played a significant role with the increasing influence of Enlightenment thought on society and the declining influence of Christian belief, values, and order. Nonetheless, this new social order has been sufficiently molded by the demands of modern technology that the term “technological society” is an acceptable label for the new society.
A central characteristic of technological society is the way the functional principle dominates social arrangements. In traditional society, relationship considerations were dominant in shaping the social structure. Most modern people would be surprised at how little a functional principle was adopted as a way of structuring various groupings in traditional society. We are so thoroughly accustomed to the idea that people work in a different place from where they live that we tend to project this modern model into our view of the past. However, in past societies, most people worked at home: on a family farm, at a craftsman’s workshop, or in a shop attached to a craftsman’s or merchant’s house. Moreover, functional considerations and family and personal considerations were much more integrated than they are today. People normally worked with members of their families or with members of other families as servants or apprentices, and the relationships shaped the way in which work was carried out. The functional principle played a more dominant role in some settings: in professional armies like the Roman army, in some civil service situations where bureaucratic methods developed (including some ecclesiastical “civil service” situations), and in some economic situations.23 However, before the eighteenth century, it was rare for a group of human beings in any setting to systematically organize all of their activities and interrelations to maximize their efficiency in completing certain tasks. In the eighteenth century, this functional principle began to be widely applied to certain economic enterprises with the development of the factory system of production. As time passed, the dominance of the functional principle spread to other areas of life. The concern here is primarily with its impact on social relationships, and the differences between social relationships in the old and new order.
Basic Life Pattern
In technological society, social relationships are thoroughly transformed. As the world of interactions that follow a functional principle expands and dominates new sectors of society, the overall shape of people’s lives changes. There is a life pattern that “fits” with the development of technology, a life pattern in which the shape of a person’s life provides the least obstacle for that person finding a place in the socioeconomic activity that characterizes technological society.24 Central to this pattern is the establishment of the individual and the mass collective as the main units of society.25
The Individual and the Mass Collective ▷ The primary unit in traditional society was a group, not the individual. Individuals functioned as part of groups in such a way that their lives were largely determined by the life of the group rather than by their own individual direction. People spent more time together in groups both physically (fewer homes had private rooms) and socially. Individuals in traditional society were more conscious than we are of belonging to certain groups and of identifying themselves according to their role in those groups. The primary group was the family, but not merely the nuclear family. The family in traditional society included a wider kinship grouping, though all in the grouping did not necessarily inhabit one residence. In addition, there was the larger social group of the village or the quarter of the city, or the guild or craft association.
In technological society an individual is detached from his group relationships so that he can function according to a skill he bears or a job he performs. Family commitments ideally play no part in a modern work environment such as a factory or an office. Guilds and other professional or religious corporations are inefficient and have to be eliminated because they operate as social bodies and fraternities rather than merely as functional groups.26 The dynamic of technological society undermines the groupings of traditional society which constitute its fundamental structural units and which provide people with a communal life and a sense of communal belonging and identity. These groups are deprived of their legal protection and either reduced in importance if indispensable (as was the conjugal family), eliminated (as were most guilds and corporations), or replaced by functional and relational groupings which are more clearly distinct (as “functional” professional societies and “relational” clubs replace the older corporations which integrate relational and functional considerations). This frees individuals to move and act independently of other individuals. People become more mobile. They can take a job, invest money, and change residence without needing the agreement of anyone else (other than immediate family members). They can fit into the technological system according to their competency and the system’s need. In other words, individuals can fit into the system in a way determined solely by functional criteria and not by personal relationship or communal criteria.
As the individual replaces the relational grouping as the basic unit of society, the mass collective also develops as the main corporate body.27 Society becomes less and less a structured set of interrelated groupings, each with its own rights and responsibilities. Instead, it becomes increasingly a mass aggregate of individuals. Historically, this process was aided by the concept of the absolute state and by the actual increase in the state’s authority. A further major step was taken on the European continent beginning with the French Revolution: Many groups within society lost their rights. Local rights, guild rights, university rights, and church rights were frequently stripped away, or else conferred upon these groups by the sufferance of the state. The concept of the rights of man (i.e., the individual) and its correlate concept of state authority replaced the view of society as a network of interrelated semi-independent bodies, each with its own traditionally guaranteed rights. Jacques Ellul describes more fully this societal shift which occurred in France at the time of the French Revolution:
The very structure of society—based on natural groups—was also an obstacle [to the development of technological society]. Families were closely organized. The guilds and the groups formed by collective interests (for example, the University, the Parliament, the Confraternities and Hospitals) were distinct and independent. The individual found livelihood, patronage, security and intellectual and moral satisfactions in collectives that were strong enough to answer all his needs but limited enough not to make him feel submerged or lost. . . . These obstacles disappeared at the time of the French Revolution, in 1789. . . . a systematic campaign was waged against all natural groups, under the guise of a defense of the rights of the individual; for example, the guilds, the communes, and federalism were attacked, this last by the Girondists. There were movements against the religious orders and against the privileges of Parliament, the Universities, and the Hospitalers. There was to be no liberty of groups, only that of the individual. There was likewise a struggle to undermine the family. Revolutionary legislation promoted its disintegration; it had already been shaken by the philosophy and the fervors of the eighteenth century. Revolutionary laws governing divorce, inheritance, and paternal authority were disastrous for the family unit, to the benefit of the individual. And these effects were permanent, in spite of temporary setbacks. Society was already atomized and would be atomized more and more. The individual remained the sole sociological unit. . . . For the individual in an atomized society, only the state was left. 28
Thus the French Revolution gave considerable impetus to the movement towards the mass collective. This collectivization has only been implemented thoroughly and uniformly in certain Communist or Fascist states. However, even in Western societies, which contain various independent corporate bodies such as labor unions, the main social and political groupings are not structured relationally. Instead, they are structured functionally as a band of individuals joining together to exercise power in the only ways available to them in a mass collective society. This trend towards mass society is present today throughout the technologized world.
Government and Authority ▷ The shift in the basic units of society has several significant aspects. One of these aspects appears in the way groups are governed and authority is exercised.29 Government in traditional society is predominantly personal. It is incarnated in a position represented by a man who is the leader of the people. A personal relationship exists between him and the group he is leading. He is a figure in their lives, someone they respond to with personal loyalty (or personal disloyalty and hostility). He may gain his position through inheritance or by being chosen (either by training or election), but he exercises his leadership within the context of a personal relationship.
By contrast, government in technological society is more impersonal. It occurs within a mass institution, not within a small relational grouping. The leaders are officeholders, and they can be freely replaced by others as long as the function is fulfilled. Their role consists primarily of administration and policy setting rather than personal leadership. This does not mean that they cannot exert personal leadership or become the focus of personal loyalty (or hostility). The president of the United States, for instance, frequently exerts some form of personal leadership, although he mainly functions as a chief executive. Human beings cannot completely avoid wanting or having leaders. Nonetheless, the trend away from personal government is evident, and the contrast between traditional and technological society is clear: In technological society an institution tends to fulfill the functions of government, whereas in traditional society leaders assume a more personal governmental role. The government in technological society is “the state,” not the king or the council or the elders, and the historical development of the nation-state was one of the chief factors preparing for the advent of technological society.
As forms of government change, so do the ways of exercising authority or “social control” (a sociological term derived from the leadership models of technological society).30 In traditional society, a leader relies primarily upon the direct exercise of personal authority within a personal relationship. A different mode of social control emerges in technological society. Rather than exerting direct authority, the leaders of mass institutions prefer to establish policy, make regulations, and influence opinions. In short, the governing institutions regulate and propagandize. The people in technological society are very susceptible to such control because they are all individuals isolated from one another and unconnected to stable groupings which loyally hold and carefully pass on other values.31 Moreover, much of this type of social control affects people on a less than conscious level. People are often unaware that they are being controlled, and will accept this control willingly while reacting against anything that looks like a direct exercise of authority. For example, most modern Americans resist and dislike clear commands and directions, but they submit with readiness to various forms of control through opinion formation. The exercise of social control in technological society can be at least as thoroughgoing as in traditional society, and perhaps more so.
Personal Care ▷ The shift in the basic units of society is also reflected in the way that society cares for personal human needs.32 In traditional society, education, professional training, health care, and financial support all occurred within a relational social grouping. Family, guild, village, and church normally met these needs. Hospitals existed in Western traditional society, but they were only for special illnesses, and they were ordinarily administered and staffed by religious orders. The aged were cared for within the family. Orphanages existed, but they too were special facilities, administered and staffed by religious orders, for those individuals who had lost their place in the interrelated set of groupings which was society.
In technological society, mass institutions predominate in the care of personal human needs. Education, welfare, and communications are increasingly entrusted to social institutions such as hospitals, schools, welfare agencies, and retirement homes. Personal needs which were once met within a relational grouping are now handled by functionalized public institutions staffed by people hired and trained for the purpose and with whom the cared-for individual has no personal bond. The development of educational institutions is of particular importance. In traditional society, children were educated and formed in the course of daily life by their parents and older adults within a relational grouping. In technological society, they are segregated from normal adult life and entrusted to special institutions where they relate solely to other children (their peer group) and to professional educators. Just as government is exercised through a mass collective institution rather than a relational grouping, so personal needs are cared for within a mass institutional setting.
The functionalization of society thus undermines the traditional structure of society. Government and personal care are no longer conducted within a set of interconnected relational groupings which form the basis of society. Instead, the new technological social structure is based on mobile individuals and mass collective institutions which govern the aggregate of those individuals and care for their personal needs. The overall structure of society thus undergoes a change that has tremendous consequences for human life.
Ascribed and Achieved Positions ▷ In addition to the basic structural changes just described, the functionalization of society also produces concrete changes in values and personal relationships. In technological society greater value is given to achieved positions, whereas positions which derive from birth or inheritance are devalued.33 The key criterion for obtaining status and respect is competency defined in functional terms. Family background and inherited wealth no longer qualify a person for status or respect, except insofar as they put someone in a position of power. However, power which has been inherited rather than earned usually draws an equivocal response of respect mingled with resentment. The positions of father, mother, son, or daughter are not highly valued, but are instead taken for granted (father and mother less so, since raising a family can be seen as an achievement). The position of Christian likewise loses value, as does the position of clergyman unless it is reinterpreted in functional terms (for example, as “counselor”). Class distinctions based on birth lose their importance (with the frequent exception of race), and members of society are categorized chiefly according to socioeconomic class. The main categories of upper, middle, and lower class are determined by job and education—the equipment for jobs. The functionalization of society thus leads to an increase in the status, respect, and value given to achieved positions, and to a corresponding decrease in the value given to non-achieved positions.
Commitments ▷ The functionalization of technological society also affects the nature and quality of personal relationships. One major change occurs in the type of commitments that are made within social groupings. Technological society emphasizes partial functionally specific commitments.34 Commitments in traditional society tend to be few, but they encompass the whole of life. For example, a guild was a professional society, but a craftsman’s commitment to the guild extended far beyond what modern people would consider the limits of his professional life.35 It included an obligation for the welfare of the other members, who could call upon him whenever a need arose. The guild could discipline and regulate his private conduct. The guild was a religious body which worshiped together and a fraternal body which socialized together. By contrast, most commitments in technological society are functionally defined in a more specific fashion. Membership in a modern professional society involves a much more partial specified commitment than did membership in a guild. The member only participates to a limited extent: He is normally committed for a certain amount of time, money, and perhaps work, but no more. His religious and social life as well as his personal needs and conduct are of no official concern to the society except insofar as they directly affect his professional life. Aside from special friendships that develop among members, any acts of personal concern or of responsibility for the private life of another member would likely be resented as unwarranted interference. This trend towards limited, partial, functionally specific commitments affects most of the groupings within technological society, including most religious groups.
Separate Functional and Personal Spheres ▷ Another significant change in personal relationships occurs as a result of the new division created within technological society between the functional and personal sphere. As mentioned earlier, traditional society incorporates purposive, functional activities and approaches into a broader network of personal relationships. Relational groupings in traditional society are stable, structured, and purposive, but they are also personal at the same time. They contain an order of authority, defined roles, and customary patterns of relationship; they are stable over a long period of time; and they encompass both the world of work and the world of family, preference, and emotion. Relationships in technological society, on the other hand, tend to follow one of two courses. Relationships are either structured, purposive, and functional, such as those on a work site; or they are informal, expressive, and nonpurposive, as those in friendship groupings. There are several exceptions to this generalization. For example, the family still normally combines structure and purpose with expressiveness, though the tendency to separate these spheres is affecting even family life. Clubs and groups sponsored and staffed by adults but geared for children, such as scouting groups and athletic clubs, also present some exception. In both the family and in youth organizations, the presence of children seems to increase the demand for structure. Nonetheless, the trend of technological society is definitely toward separating the functional and “personal” spheres of life.
This separation is a consequence of both the breakdown of stable social groupings and the reaction to the preponderance of functional groupings in technological society. People in traditional society associate with one another primarily according to stable relationships and according to the roles and order of those relationships. The patterns of interaction are determined by longstanding family, kinship, village, craft, and religious relational groupings. On the other hand, in technological society the stability of relational groupings decreases as commitments are partialized. Kinship relations outside the immediate nuclear family become less stable than in the past, while associations centered upon work or residence become more temporary and less likely to be marked by stable bonds or commitments than was once the case. Therefore, the nonfunctional relationships that do exist tend to form according to interest, attraction, and sometimes according to current proximity, and tend to be characterized by fluidity, informality, lack of structure, and instability.
The formation of these types of relationships is also furthered by a popular reaction to the preponderance of functional groupings in technological society. Most people have some reaction against the impersonality and structured rigidity of functional groupings. Though they accept that some type of order is necessary in functional situations to efficiently accomplish a task, they desire that their “private life” be free of such an order and purposiveness. The personal realm thus becomes the antithesis of the functional realm. In the personal realm, emotion, spontaneity, and preference hold sway. One makes friends for reasons of mutual interest or mutual liking, and not for reasons of mutual advantage or benefit. Romantic love becomes the sole basis for marrying and remaining married. Arranged marriage passes away in technological society and family considerations no longer enter into the choice of marriage partner. To a person living in a society where the functional and personal realms have been almost entirely separated, considerations such as mutual benefit or advantage in friendship or marriage choice seem crass in contrast to pure preference or attraction.
The very term “personal relationship” as used in modern society reveals the extent of the divorce between functional and personal spheres of life. The term usually refers to human relationships that are not predominantly functional, that are in fact as different from functional relationships as possible. Since structure, order, and purpose characterize functional relationships, personal relationships should proceed according to different principles. Such a definition of “personal relationship” would be less intelligible to people living in a traditional society, where functional relationships are much less frequent and less important, and where “impersonal” relationships are nearly nonexistent. Almost all relationships in traditional society are “personal” in the sense that they involve all aspects of a person’s life, though few relationships in traditional society would be personal in the modern sense. The modern use of the term “personal relationship” is in itself a reflection of the divorce between functional and personal spheres in technological society.
Emotions ▷ The effects of this divorce are specially evident when examining the place of emotions in technological society. Emotional expression in traditional society was thoroughly integrated into stable relationships. People felt strongly and expressed themselves freely (perhaps more freely than people in technological society), but their emotions were regarded as but one element in their personal relationships. Emotion was not normally valued for its own sake, and the guide to genuineness in personal relationships was loyalty rather than emotional authenticity. In technological society, as personal and functional spheres separate, emotion becomes more distinct from outside purposes, and becomes a major independent criterion of judgment. In fact, feelings become the basis and criterion of personal relationships. One should not show love without feeling love, nor show respect without feeling respect. To do so would be “inauthentic.” Sharing of emotions becomes the crucial test of the depth of a relationship. For those who live in technological society, the traditional approach to emotions appears repressive or unpleasant. However, it is not in fact clear that the technological approach is superior. For example, it is arguable that arranged marriages in traditional society may succeed better than modern marriages based on romantic love.36
Though it is accurate to say that technological society tends to divorce emotion from functionality, one qualification must be made. Technological society has also created a technology of emotions. Functionally efficient techniques have been applied to the control of human emotion and many people labor diligently and methodically at increasing their emotional pleasure. The entertainment “industry” has only developed in technological society. The same is true of T-groups and other therapy groups designed to produce emotional results in their participants. The sphere which in certain respects contrasts with the functional realm has become in another respect one of the more functionalized areas in technological society.37
This discussion has sketched the broad outlines of the substantial differences between technological society and traditional society. The basic units of technological society are the individual and the mass collective rather than a set of relational groupings, and this affects both government and social services. Achieved positions are valued more than inherited positions. Commitments become partial and functionally specific. The realm of personal relationships and human expressiveness is separated from the functional realm, resulting in relationships based primarily on emotion, preference, and an anti-structural, anti-purposive bias. These changes amount to a radical transformation in the shape of human society. They also lead to significant changes in that grouping which proves most central for an understanding of men’s and women’s roles—the human family.
To understand technological society, one must understand and assess its impact on the family. The family constitutes the basic unit of both traditional society and, to a more limited extent, technological society. The family is also the unit of society which resists functionalization most stubbornly. In fact, one could even say that to the degree that the family is functionalized, to that degree it is weakened and dissolved. The dynamic of family life is contrary to the dynamic of technological society, and family life increasingly manifests the strains that come from inhabiting an inhospitable environment.
Two major changes befall the family in technological society. The first change involves the gradual weakening of kinship ties and supportive neighborhood-type groupings.38 In traditional society, the family consists of more than the nuclear unit of husband, wife, and offspring. The traditional family consists of a sizable group of people and includes many conjugal units linked through some structure based on common descent. This wide set of committed kinship relationships exists regardless of whether the group lives together in one building. The larger family, kinship group, or clan has several important functions. It provides financial aid to the individual conjugal unit in times of special need, and often functions as a unit of economic operation. For example, a family farm or business often belongs to the larger kinship group instead of to the head of a conjugal family. The kinship grouping therefore serves as the social security, welfare, and insurance system. The members of the larger family also share one another’s good fortune. If one member arrives at a position of power or wealth, the entire kinship grouping can expect to benefit. Side by side with this strong kinship system is a committed village, neighborhood, occupational, or class grouping. These groupings sometimes perform functions and fulfill roles similar to those of the kinship grouping. The conjugal unit thus finds its place in the wider set of relationships and commitments provided by the kinship system and the neighborhood-type grouping.
Technological society changes the relationship between the conjugal unit and both the wider kinship and village-neighborhood networks. The bonds within a kinship grouping begin to weaken, and the family group as a whole becomes smaller. Village-neighborhood relationships lose much of their familiarity, stability, and interdependence. This process whereby the conjugal family is isolated from larger relational groupings should be familiar from the previous discussion. It includes an increase in geographic and socioeconomic mobility, the general weakening of all groupings which do not operate according to strictly functional principles, the trend toward making the individual the basic unit of society, and the gradual transfer of the functions of the kinship network to larger social institutions with more resources at their command. Thus, the conjugal grouping of husband, wife, and children assumes a new independent existence, and becomes the only major familial unit of society.
Many internal features of the conjugal unit also change.39 Descent loses much of its importance, and the descent system therefore shifts from a matrilineal or patrilineal structure to a bilineal structure. This means that the individual traces his descent through both the father and the mother, and kinship groupings thus become less unified and distinct. This change predated technological society in the Western European family but affects many other family systems in the process of technological development. Choice of spouse becomes primarily the prerogative of the individual, in part because the newly created conjugal unit will find no integral place in a larger network of committed relationships. As larger relational groupings diminish in significance, the conjugal family increases in emotional intensity and in the psychological burden which it must carry.40 In technological society, the nuclear family unit of husband, wife, and children therefore becomes “the family.”
The second major change affecting family life is the loss of family functions.41 In traditional society, the family provided for most of the needs of its individual members. First, the traditional family was a major economic unit. Whether the family consisted primarily of farmers, craftsmen, merchants, rulers, or warriors, the individual normally found employment through the family relationship, and most often worked in the context of his own home. Secondly, the family was a social-welfare unit. The sick would be cared for at home by other family members. The aged would live with their younger relatives, and would receive material and emotional support from them. Anyone who encountered financial trouble or other types of difficulties would normally seek help from family members. Only after reaching the end of family resources would they seek help from outside the family, from neighbors, a wealthy person in the region, or someone else in the associated village-neighborhood network.
Thirdly, the family was the primary educational unit. Most young people received their basic and technical education from their parents, older brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, and older cousins. In Western traditional society, a young person’s technical education would often be supplemented by apprenticeship to an unrelated adult, but even in the new setting the young person would become part of the master’s household. Tutors only served in noble and wealthy families, and special schools, as developed later, would be only for those receiving professional training. In Western society, schooling did not become common for wealthier bourgeois children until the seventeenth century, and mass education was a product of the nineteenth century. Fourthly, the family was often a unit of defense and protection. Families were frequently armed. Families often served as units in citizen armies, and they sometimes had the responsibility and legal right to punish certain offenses committed against family members (i.e., the right of blood vengeance). Family functions vary from society to society and from time to time within the history of a society. Nonetheless, it is generally true that an individual in traditional society spent much of his life within his family and under the care of his family. The basic unit of society was the family, not the individual.
In technological society, most of the functions once associated with family life are transferred to the realm of mass institutions. Economic life occurs within distinct economic institutions (businesses, factories, offices) separated from people’s homes. Hospitals, clinics, doctors, and nurses care for the sick, and most people are born and die in a medical institution apart from the family. Infirm aged are cared for in hospitals, convalescent homes, and retirement centers. Financial support is provided by insurance agencies, loan agencies, social security systems, and welfare departments. Most education (except for the earliest stages) occurs at a school or on the job. Religious education is provided by Sunday school or catechism class. Police and standing armies assume all defense functions. Even leisure becomes less the province of the family, and more the province of peer groups and “friends.”
The family only retains the functions of reproduction and early childhood training, and emotional and personal support. In fact, the burden of emotional support falls more heavily on the nuclear family as kinship ties and neighborhood-type groupings weaken. The family becomes the only place in society where the individual receives stable, unconditional, overall concern. Home is the place where “they have to take you in.” As society assigns more and more things to specialized groupings designed for specific purposes, and as an individual’s life gets portioned out to different groups and institutions, the technological family loses many of the functions which the family performed in traditional society.
Consequences for Modern Family Life
The gradual weakening of kinship and neighborhood ties and the loss of family functions which occur in technological society have several significant consequences in family life.
Isolation ▷ First, the conjugal family becomes isolated from other relational groupings which can support the pattern of family life.42 It is popularly supposed that this isolation strengthens the conjugal family. This view assumes that as the conjugal family becomes more independent of the wider kinship grouping and makes more decisions on its own, it should increase in strength and vitality. In fact, isolation appears to weaken the family. The traditional kinship network has a great interest in the stability of the individual nuclear family. The kinship network strengthens the individual family by placing it in a larger communal setting that reinforces family ties and compensates for individual family weaknesses. The institutions of technological society provide some support for family life, but they cannot replace strong kinship relations.
Emotional Support ▷ Secondly, the nuclear family life tends to be unable to carry the heavy burden for personal and emotional support that technological society lays upon it.43 In studying the family in technological society, Norman Ryder makes this point:
The competitive and impersonal environment of an occupational structure (for the adult) or of an educational structure (for the child) is psychologically burdensome because it asks much of the individual in discipline and returns little in psychological security. . . . The conjugal family serves as an oasis for the replenishment of the person, providing the individual with stable, diffuse and largely unquestioning support, assuaging the bruises of defeat and otherwise repairing whatever damage may have been done in the achievement-oriented struggles of the outside world. The network of relationships through which one could seek such acceptance without the test of satisfactory performance was once much larger; it encompassed the extended kinship structure and the community of residence. . . . With the erosion of these alternatives the importance of the immediate family as a source of dependable emotional support becomes enhanced.44
Technological society is dominated by functional situations which demand much from the individual and give little in return. Since the kinship network is no longer strong enough to assist and other stable relational groupings have weakened or vanished, the conjugal family must shoulder the full burden of this support. In addition, the absence of other family functions tends to make this one function the focal point of family life. This emotional intensity produces a strain on the conjugal family which it is not always able to cope with.
Parents and Children ▷ A third and related consequence of the changes in the family within technological society is a weakened relationship between parents and children. As family functions are attenuated and emotional support becomes the basis of the family relationship, the bond between parents and children grows fragile. Ryder states this point as well:
The links between parent and child, unlike those between husband and wife, are forged during the long and intimate process of interaction required for child socialization. In spite of this solid foundation it is uncertain that those links will survive the child’s transition to adulthood, because their structural supports, which are characteristic of a traditional society have now largely vanished. The parents once controlled access to the land and provided most of the training necessary for the child’s later work, but now land is not the prime base of production and technical education is acquired outside the family. The shift of the control of rewards and punishments from the family to the society has attenuated the traditional authority of the parent over the child. Deference, respect and gratitude alike have been diluted by the intrusion into the family structure of the alien ideology of individual rights and liberties.45
Therefore, parents in technological society become less important to their children in every area other than emotional attachment. They provide for less of their children’s needs—less of their education and rearing, less of the key to their future life. As they grow older, children rely upon their parents only for financial assistance, and even this need soon disappears. Nor do parents rely upon their children for anything other than some form of emotional support. As technological society develops, children perform less work within the family, and become uncontributing dependents. Parents increasingly provide even for their own old age. The breakdown of structural supports puts considerable pressure on the emotional bond, and in many cases the bond is too unstable to bear the pressure. The father’s authority in the family becomes questioned, and the relationships between parents and children as a whole become brittle and unsteady.
The Man’s Role ▷ Fourthly, the gradual weakening of kinship ties and the loss of family functions which occur in technological society also affect the role of the husband and father.46 The adult male familial role narrows in scope, and many of the traditional incentives for assuming this role are eliminated. This can be seen first of all in the separation of work site and home that results from the loss of the family’s economic function. Since he must spend a large proportion of his time away from his home and in activities which exclude the participation of other family members (such as young sons), it is more difficult for him to exercise consistent authority over the household and to raise his sons. In addition, the psychological demands of the functionalized work environment cause many men to use their time away from work as a period of emotional escape, rather than as an opportunity to fulfill the demanding responsibilities of a husband and father. The traditional male role in the family can appear as a difficult extra chore, since it is no longer integrated into the daily fabric of the man’s life. The loss of family functions also diminishes male incentive for fulfilling a paternal role by virtually severing the connection between a man’s family and his career, livelihood, and status. In most traditional societies, a man desires offspring as a way of recruiting laborers for the family’s economic enterprise, providing for his old age, gaining added physical strength for defense, carrying on his name and lineage, and generally advancing his position and status in society. These incentives no longer exist in technological society. Also, as “deference, respect and gratitude” for the paternal role are “diluted” among the children, the role of father and husband ceases to bring status and honor even within the family. The male familial role thus narrows in scope, and the man has few structural incentives to fulfill even this narrow role.
The Woman’s Role ▷ Finally, the changes in family life which occur in technological society seriously undermine the traditional role of women in the family. The woman today who assumes the traditional role of wife, mother, and domestic manager becomes increasingly isolated and dependent.47 The weakening of kinship ties means that her household role no longer places her in the midst of a lively and attractive set of personal relationships. The loss of family functions means that she no longer participates productively in the economic activities of the family. She thus becomes isolated from economic, social, and political life, and grows more emotionally and financially dependent upon her husband. At the same time that she becomes isolated, she also finds her traditional household role shrinking in significance. She has fewer children to care for than would a mother in traditional society, and the increasing longevity of people in technological society means that she will spend a much smaller proportion of her life caring for those children.48 The diminishing significance of family life in all but its emotional aspects means that little of her knowledge and skill is demanded of her while much is demanded of her emotionally. In addition, the educational institutions of technological society treat men and women alike; thus many women grow up with functional work skills and desire for achievement. This causes a role conflict to develop. As Ryder puts it, “The education system, which typically exhibits less overt discrimination than either the home or the place of work, equips the young woman with capabilities for and interests in nonfamilial roles. If her aspirations are frustrated, she experiences discontent; if her aspirations are fulfilled, she experiences guilt.”49 Great pressure is therefore placed upon the traditional female role in technological society.
The traditional role of women is also attenuated by trends which detach many women from family units. Women in traditional society were always attached to men and family life. Since their role was primarily internal to household life, they were even less independent of the family than the men were. However, the changes in the family in technological society have altered this condition. More and more women are unattached to men and to family, and not always by the woman’s choice.50 In many sectors of modern Western society it is assumed that females, like males, will eventually become independent of the parental conjugal family. Often they can expect to spend much of their adult lives alone because of a husband’s death, divorce, or because they never marry. In traditional society, unmarried and widowed women would automatically become part of a family group. In technological society, being unmarried or widowed usually means being on one’s own. In such circumstances it is almost impossible for a woman to fulfill the traditional female role.
The role of women as traditionally defined is thus undermined by the changes in family life which occur in technological society. The female role within the family begins to lose much of its substance. Since the world of work appears to be the only option, many women enter this world. Children tend to be entrusted to various institutions and surrogates, such as the daycare center, school, or television set. The family—the one situation in technological society which has a place for men’s and women’s roles—diminishes as a significant relational grouping. Personal relationships among men and women occur chiefly in strictly functionalized settings, or in spontaneous, unstructured, and informal friendship groups. In such a social condition, the demands expressed in women’s movements arise almost of necessity.
The forces of technological society militate against groupings structured according to a relational principle. The family therefore finds it difficult to inhabit such a society. Family functions are removed, wider support systems are broken down, and roles and relationships become less stable and secure. Yet the family continues to play a role of great significance in technological society, as it must in every society. The family rears the children and provides personal and emotional support. As Ryder points out, many conflicts result from the family’s ambiguous position in technological society:
The conjugal family is a relatively efficient design for supplying the kind of labor force a productive society needs and for providing comfort to the individual exposed to the consequences of participation in that system. The family has been the foundation of all systems ascribing status on the basis of characteristics fixed at birth (such as race, sex, ethnic group and frequently social class). Its influence is antithetical to the exercise of productive rationality through equality of opportunity. Yet any attempt at further attenuation of family ties, in the interests of optimal allocation of human resources, would probably be self-defeating because of the high psychological cost to the individual. The family is an essentially authoritarian system persisting within an egalitarian environment. The growth of industrialism has been closely linked to the development of the ideology of individual liberty. Family political structure—the authority of male over female and of parent over child—has no immunity to the implications of this ideological change. Grave internal difficulties may therefore be expected.51
The position of the family within technological society is precarious. It performs essential functions for the wider society, but in so doing it must operate according to a principle of social structure diametrically opposed to this society. Consequently, the family undergoes serious tensions, and its future in technological society is in question.
As the discussion of family life illustrates, the transition from traditional to technological society has had a great impact on the roles of men and women. The roles of husband and father, wife and mother now involve numerous conflicts and dilemmas that at least partly explain the rise of the feminist movement over the past one hundred and fifty years. Unfortunately, modern critics of the traditional remnants of men’s and women’s roles often make several errors in historical interpretation which come from a lack of genuine understanding of traditional social structure and of the social change which occurred in the shift from traditional to technological society. Three of these errors are especially prominent in the modern literature of men’s and women’s roles, and will be considered here.
First, much modern literature on men’s and women’s roles attributes the social problems of technological society to the continuing influence of traditional society and the traditional structure of men’s and women’s roles. Sometimes this criticism of traditional approaches points to social problems in advanced technological societies and holds the traditional approach responsible. For example, some critics blame isolation of the modern housewife on the traditional pattern of men’s and women’s roles which rigidly restricts her to domestic family-related tasks.52 However, such attacks on a “traditional” approach to the female role are not really attacking a fully “traditional” approach at all. Instead, they are attacking a remnant of an old order, a fragment that has lost much meaning as a result of being severed from its natural context. The domestic role of women in a technological society where the household has lost much of its strength and significance means something quite different from the domestic role of women in a society where the household is central to the corporate life of the entire society. It is important to understand that the full traditional approach to men’s and women’s roles passed away with the breakdown of the traditional social system. The remnants of a traditional social order may cause problems in technological society, but these are not problems which can justly be attributed to traditional society.
Sometimes the criticism of traditional approaches points instead to societies in an earlier stage of technological development, either in the nineteenth or twentieth century, and attributes their social problems to weaknesses in the traditional social structure. For example, Chinese society before the Revolution is often depicted as a time of great oppression and social turmoil, with good reason.53 The conclusion usually drawn, especially among those who sympathize with the Revolution, is that the traditional social structure was responsible for the turmoil. However, China of the early twentieth century was hardly a traditional society in the full sense. It had already been influenced considerably by Western ideologies and Western industrialization. It is more accurate to describe China or Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century as predominantly traditional societies which were suffering great upheaval as a result of the importation of new and alien social principles—the principles characteristic of technological society. While traditional societies certainly have social problems, the problems caused by the impact of technological development on traditional societies are different. Traditional society should not be blamed for the problems caused largely by the pressure of a newly emerging technological society.
A second historical error is the view that women have been deprived of full human rights since the beginning of human society and have only won these rights within the past two centuries—since the beginning of movements for women’s rights. In the past two centuries women have attained equal access to education; full rights to inherit, own, sell, and control property; full rights of citizenship; and access to most professions with equal compensation. Women may not always be treated equally with men in these areas, but these rights have a fundamental legal and moral recognition. To be sure, women in most societies did not have these “rights” before 1900. However, this is because traditional society made little or no use of the category of “individual rights” for anyone—men or women. This concept is an aspect of the shift from a society based on relational groupings to a society based on a mass of individuals.
When women are given “rights,” they are being treated as full individuals in a mass society. These “rights” are a way of applying the social structure of technological society—with all its advantages and disadvantages—to women. Giving women “equal rights” is a way of weakening relational groupings and communal social structure and fitting women into a functional technological society. Before the advent of technological society, men did not have these “individual rights” either; the structure of traditional society made these rights a meaningless category. Traditional society was based instead on the rights of relational groupings, and the position of men and women derived from their personal relationships within these groupings. Women were generally subordinate to men in all traditional and primitive societies, but men were also generally subordinate to other men, and no one would have thought of such a subordinate role in terms of limited individual rights. As technological society developed, the basic pattern of individualization was applied more slowly to women and children than to men because the family unit was preserved longer than other relational groupings. However, as the family unit is gradually attenuated and functionalized, women are treated increasingly like men and gain their “rights” as full individuals in a mass society. At the same time, however, women have lost the special legal provisions (both privileges and limitations) which came from their position in a society structured on families.
A third error in historical analysis found in much feminist literature is a caricature of traditional womanhood based on the late nineteenth-century Victorian attitude that women should stay at home, work as little as possible, and be kept in a protected, restricted, and passive state. Feminist polemics can draw a particularly vivid contrast between this late nineteenth-century view of woman and the new liberated woman of the future.55 It is reasonable to attack such a view of ideal womanhood, but it is not reasonable to express or presuppose that this late nineteenth-century view was the traditional view of womanhood. The non-working, passive, delicate, protected woman who always stayed at home is a bourgeois Western ideal. It grew partly out of the medieval tradition of courtly love, partly out of a trend toward domesticity in the seventeenth century, and partly out of social conditions in the nineteenth century after the first phase of industrialization had taken the world of work from the home and left the women behind. The late nineteenth-century bourgeois ideal of womanhood is hardly that of the sturdy helpmate found in scripture or in most of the history of Western society.
All three of these historical perspectives are severely critical of the approach to men’s and women’s roles taken in traditional society. Traditional society certainly had its weaknesses; nevertheless, the charges made in these three interpretations of social history do not accurately reveal any such weaknesses. They are errors in historical interpretation which probably derive from a critical attitude toward the remnants of traditional men’s and women’s roles as they are found in modern society. Admittedly, there are many problems with the way men’s and women’s roles currently operate in technological society. However, these problems should not be allowed to distort our perception of the way men’s and women’s roles were actually lived out in a traditional social setting.
An overall evaluation of the shift from traditional society to technological society lies beyond the scope of this book. Some people idealize traditional society and deplore “modernization” as the ruin of humanity. Others demonstrate more enthusiasm for modern “progress,” and see the increase in knowledge and power brought by technological society as an unparalleled boon to the human race. However, it is in fact very difficult to make an adequate evaluation of the overall shift. This is true largely because of the great variety that exists among both traditional and technological societies. Both types of society have had their share of successes and failures. One can readily draw up a list of atrocities that have occurred solely within traditional societies, but then one can as readily draw up a list of equal length for technological societies. Both types of societies have their weaknesses, and stand in need of improvements. In the final analysis one’s evaluation of the shift from traditional to technological society depends more on one’s values than on a factual assessment of strengths and weaknesses.
This chapter was not intended to provide either an exhaustive comparison between traditional and technological society, or a final assessment of the disadvantages and advantages of each system. For instance, the genuine benefits of technological society, such as medical science and increased food production, have not been touched upon. Instead, the purpose of this chapter has been to examine one significant aspect of the difference between traditional and technological society—the underlying organizing principle of social structure in each—and to see how these two principles affect social structure in general and the family in particular. It is possible to conclude, based on this examination, that in at least one area of human life traditional society seems to have succeeded better than technological society. Traditional society provides a more hospitable environment for what can be termed the natural structures of society—those structures based on age and sex differences that find primary expression in family life and supply an environment in which people can live and receive personal support, rather than merely work. Technological society fails to come to grips adequately with these natural structures, and thus develops a specific set of social problems.
These problems especially concern those groups of people who are unable to participate fully in the functional world of work. Two such groups are the aged and the dying.56 Neither group is able to participate functionally in the way demanded by the larger society. In addition, the changes in family life in technological society mean that the aged and the dying can no longer find their place in the family unit. The technological family is constructed in such a way that few adult roles remain after the children have been fully raised. Older people find themselves alone, isolated, separated from constructive life, and without a sense of being able to make a worthwhile contribution. Their age earns them little respect, for they are unable to fill the positions or perform the tasks that give status and honor. The family unit is no longer large enough or cohesive enough to care for the aged, the infirm, and the dying. These people are thus entrusted to mass social institutions or left to care for themselves. They often find their lives purposeless and meaningless, for they have no place or role in the society around them.
In traditional society, the aged, the infirm, and the dying found themselves in a very different position. Although there was a consciousness that age brought failing powers, older people were normally accorded greater respect, partly because their greater experience proved more useful to a younger generation living in a society that did not know rapid change, but also as a consequence of an ascribed status. Age was automatically accorded respect. In addition, the aged were not isolated. Rather, they lived as part of a family group in a home environment where most of the vital functions of society were performed. They could relate actively and constructively to people of all ages. The infirm and the dying also found their place in the family. The size and commitment of the family allowed them to be cared for within a familiar home environment, in the midst of bustling daily life, among a group of people who were personally loyal to them. Thus, the aged, the infirm, and the dying all found themselves in relational groupings of people who had known them all of their lives and had built up an abiding respect, loyalty, and affection for them. Traditional society was therefore better able to incorporate these people into the whole life of the society. It could do this both because of the strength of the family, and also because functional considerations did not predominate in personal relationships.
In similar fashion, traditional society had a place for the young.57 Children became a part of normal daily life after their first few years. They quickly began to contribute to the well-being of others and to care for others. They were surrounded by models from whom they could learn. They were confident of their role in life and of the right way to live. They drew their personal identity from their family membership. On the other hand, the young in technological society are confined to a world of their own populated by other human beings who lack the age and training to be able to function competently. For years they are unable to contribute substantially to the welfare of others, and remain apart from the “real life” of society. They also grow into a world of uncertain values, and they are segregated from an experience of how more mature members of society confront the most important situations in life. The young consequently experience an “identity crisis” and seem increasingly prone to dissatisfaction with themselves and with others.
Finally, as discussed earlier, women occupy a difficult and ambiguous position in technological society.58 Their traditional role within the household no longer places them in the mainstream of social and economic life. Women thus face a challenging dilemma. If they maintain their traditional role, they become isolated and dependent, and unable to assume a functionally productive role in the larger society. However, if they pursue an occupation and a career, they are less able to care for a family. Many women arrange some compromise between these two alternatives, but some ambiguity and tension normally remains. The female role operated much differently in traditional society. Because the family was so important to society, women were able to both care for a family and participate in the wider society. There is little evidence that women in traditional society experienced widespread dissatisfaction with their role in society. They knew that they were valued as women, and they could achieve a great deal of respect through fulfilling their womanly role well. In contrast, technological society tends to put less and less value on their role as women, and more value on their functional success as individuals.
In addition to these social problems, some psychological problems appear to be associated with technological society.59 These problems are more difficult to describe and less commonly studied, but it is reasonable to see them as tied in some way to the advent of technological society. Many of them are emotional problems, and may well be connected to the lack of stable relational groupings in technological society. The following are some of these psychological problems:
- An emotional need for relationship, love, and community. Many people are prone to loneliness, and feel that no one in the world can understand them or share their inner life.
- Greater personal insecurity. This is likely tied to the weakening of commitment and stable relationships in technological society. This may be also tied to the fact that most social bonds are based on emotion. This often leads people to relate to others with great intensity of emotion, especially in sexually based relationships, but the emotional basis introduces instability and a lack of peace often all the greater because of the intensity of feeling.
- Heightened level of anxiety and guilt feelings. These feelings are probably connected to insecurity, and the absence of stable, unconditional relationships which need not be earned and are not easily lost.
- Greater desire for the approval of others. It is reasonable to relate this pattern to the fact that from early years people must compete for approval in evaluative settings. They earn approval and acceptance through the proof of personal abilities. The lack of unconditional committed relationships means that people must also “earn” satisfying relationships.
- Lack of self-discipline. Most people receive technical training in modern society, but they do not receive training in personal life. This may be one cause of a problem with self-discipline.
- Greater susceptibility to stress, tension, moodiness, depression, addiction, and other psychological problems. People in technological society may also be more prone to neurosis and psychosis.60 The suicide rate, which relates somewhat to these problems, increases with the advance of industrialization and technology.61
Though these psychological problems are not completely alien to traditional society, they do not seem to play as prominent a role as in technological society.
Technological society as presently constituted fails to meet many fundamental human needs that were once met within traditional society. The near universal application of a functional principle to all aspects of social structure appears to be the major cause of this failure. This does not necessarily mean that technological society should be abandoned in favor of traditional society. However, it does imply that some space must be made in modern living for social groupings based on a relational principle. Some restoration of family and community life is needed if the problems of technological society are to be successfully overcome.
The transition from traditional society to technological society has radically altered human social structure. Since the world of the writers of the scripture was a traditional world, while ours is a technological world, it is not surprising that many Christians find it difficult to understand the scriptural teaching on social structure. The material presented in this chapter should help us to perceive clearly the background of much of this teaching, and thus help us to understand the teaching itself. This material should also help us identify our own preconceptions and presuppositions, as people of the twentieth century, regarding various approaches to social structure. Many people respond negatively to the scriptural teaching because they bring a functional mentality to their reading of scripture. In addition, the material presented in this chapter should also clarify the genesis and development of the feminist movement. This movement is in part a response to genuine needs and problems. Though the feminist solutions are often inadequate, any adequate Christian approach to the roles of men and women must squarely face these same needs and problems. Finally, an understanding of the transition from traditional to technological society gives us a clearer grasp of the world in which the scriptural teaching must be lived and applied. If the teaching of the scripture can speak to the man and woman of the twentieth century, and can meet the needs of the Christian people of the twentieth century, it has to be applied to twentieth-century needs and circumstances. It is therefore necessary to understand these needs and the concrete circumstances within which the word can become flesh.
480*A sensitive socio-historical analysis will also note great diversity within most societies according to social class. Because of its limited purposes and scope, the present chapter pays little attention to class. However, it should at least be acknowledged that the history of men and women, children, the family, and social structure as a whole varies a great deal not only according to period and place, but also according to social class. Family and communal social structure in late medieval Europe differed greatly among nobles, bourgeoisie, peasants, and laborers. As the bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century were developing the model of the protected woman at home, the working-class woman, accompanied sometimes by her children, would frequently be in the factory helping to support the family.
481*The diversity among traditional societies applies also to those traditional societies which still exist in the twentieth century. This diversity affects how the process of “modernization” will shape these societies. The end result may not necessarily be completely uniform.6
486*It is helpful to further clarify the relationship between bureaucracy and functional, technological groupings. Though functional groupings are usually organized according to bureaucratic or institutional principles, bureaucratic groupings are not always thoroughly functionalized. In bureaucratic organization, “system” predominates. The bureaucratic spirit is eager for uniformity, control, and order as a value in itself. Something must be added to the bureaucratic or institutional approach in order to make it functional, and this additional element is the preoccupation with results. The motive force of the functional principle is the tendency to improve production and effectiveness. The functional approach tests uniformity, control, and order by the criterion of efficiency. More often than not, the favored organizational scheme is strongly systematic, but greater flexibility is possible since results provide the controlling factor.14
487*In recent years management experts have emphasized the connection between personal factors and the functional efficiency of employees. Managers are thus urged to pay attention to personal factors as a means of improving work efficiency and increasing production. The fact that personal considerations must be consciously reinserted shows how far the functional principle has dominated, and the need to justify these considerations by reference to efficiency and production shows what concerns are actually most prominent. The Japanese corporation seems to come closer to blending the functional and the relational effectively than most Western groupings, but it is likewise a primarily functional grouping. For a short but incisive treatment of this issue, see Jacqueline Scherer, Contemporary Community (London: Tavistock Publications, 1972), 88–90.
488*At first glance, the principles of specialization and standardization may seem to conflict. In fact, they complement one another perfectly. In a nonspecialized work setting, a craftsman performs a general task, such as building a piece of furniture, and single-handedly (or with the help of a servant or apprentice) accomplishes the wide variety of operations involved in the task. Such nonspecialized craft work necessarily allows for much personal and idiosyncratic expression. There may be objective standards of quality which each craftsman in the field must comply with, but there will also be a great deal of variety in the work produced and the methods used by different craftsmen. On the other hand, in the specialized work setting, a group of people perform a general task by dividing the task into a set of more limited operations and distributing the responsibility for the different operations among them. For example, one person may be responsible for the wooden frame of the furniture, another for the legs, another for the springs, another for the upholstery, and so on. If the group is large enough, it might even divide further and appoint different groups to take responsibility for different types of furniture. This trend toward specialization fits well with standardization. The more limited and specific the operation each person performs, the more that operation must be quantified, regulated, and strictly standardized. And since the process of specialization presumes the movement from small independent shops to large centralized industries, there is a strong pressure for tasks to be standardized among a large grouping of people and over a broad geographical area. Therefore, many of the personal and idiosyncratic elements characteristic of the nonspecialized work setting must be eliminated in the specialized setting.
491*Understanding technological society as a society which manifests a system of human relationships formed according to a guiding principle helps clarify the many discussions surrounding the origin of technological society. It is generally observed that a number of elements change at the same time when a society becomes technological. However, disagreement arises over the causal connections among the various elements. Does the economic change cause the ideological change (as Marx certainly held), or does the ideological change cause the economic change (as Goode sometimes intimates [World Revolution, 18–22], though his observations refer mostly to the shift from traditional to technological society occurring among less developed nations in the twentieth century). While this discussion has some usefulness, it often ignores the basically systemic relationship among the various factors. The elements of the social system are interdependent. Each is a condition for the other, and a change in one produces a change in the other. The ideological development of a concern for individual rights is both a cause or enabling factor for industrialism and a consequence of industrialism. Each causes the other and the advance of one makes the advance of the other easier. It is not possible to change one element without in some way changing the rest of the system. An ecological balance exists among the elements. It is helpful to trace the development of the set of conditions which makes a new dynamic possible and which allows it to gradually dominate a society, and it is helpful to trace some of the events which advance the development of that new system, but it is probably not possible to relate most of the main factors as dependent variables in connection with one or two all-important independent variables.
494*Though Ellul’s remarks can create the impression that mass society includes no collective groupings other than the state, such is not the case. In most non-Communist countries, many types of collectives operate without complete state control, e.g., business corporations, labor unions, charitable organizations, and churches. The key observation is that these groups are not relational but functional and each is usually regulated, supervised, and licensed by the state.
499*The technological division between structured, purposive, functional relationships on the one hand and informal, expressive, nonpurposive relationships on the other explains some of the reactions modern people have to the social forms of traditional society. Most twentieth-century people react with condescension or hostility to traditional social forms, for these forms are no longer integrated into a structure of society built upon personal relationships. Marriages in which family considerations are dominant or in which the choice is “arranged” are considered anathema. Objective patterns of ethics and morality are frequently disliked as being too restrictive. Stable social arrangements are avoided. The emphasis is on spontaneity, not on faithfulness; on authenticity not on loyalty. One of the areas of strongest reaction is the area of men’s and women’s roles. It is difficult for modern people to grasp how the structure and order of traditional social roles operated within the context of personal relationships rich in commitment and affectivity. The personal was not banished from the structure of traditional social roles for the sake of greater efficiency, but was at the very heart of this structure. For further discussion, see the section on the “romantic reaction” in Chapter Nineteen, pp. 529–532.
500*Lionel Trilling, in Sincerity and Authenticity, traces the emergence of the modern ideal of authenticity and describes its inherently anti-social tendencies. He begins by analyzing the Renaissance ideal of sincerity, which he sees as best typified in the words of Shakespeare’s Polonius: “to thine own self be true / And . . . thou canst not then be false to any man.” Sincerity means behaving in such a way that motive and action are congruent, in a way that avoids the deception of others. Being true to one’s self is a means to a higher end: being true to other people. Trilling sees the twentieth-century ideal of authenticity as differing from earlier conceptions of sincerity in that truth to self becomes the primary end in view, rather than a means to a broader social virtue. The enemy of authenticity is not the conscious deception of others, but self-deception. Trilling states this point in the following manner:
The hypocrite/villain, the conscious dissembler, has become marginal, even alien, to the modern imagination of the moral life. The situation in which a person systematically misrepresents himself in order to practice upon the good faith of another does not readily command our interest, scarcely our credence. The deception we best understand and most willingly give our attention to is that which a person works upon himself. Iago’s avowed purpose of base duplicity does not hold for us the fascination that nineteenth century audiences found in it; our liveliest curiosity is likely to be directed to the moral condition of Othello, to what lies hidden under his superbness, to what in him is masked by the heroic persona. (16)
The dominance of the ideal of authenticity leads to the introspective search for hidden motives and feelings as a criterion for action. Trilling connects this search to the popular emergence of psychoanalytic techniques and concepts. Ultimately, such a criterion of action dismisses the roles and structure of traditional society as a falsification of the inner experience of the individual. Trilling writes,
At the behest of the criterion of authenticity, much that was once thought to make up the very fabric of culture has come to seem of little account, mere fantasy or ritual, or downright falsification. Conversely, much that culture traditionally condemned and sought to exclude is accorded a considerable moral authority by reason of the authenticity claimed for it, for example, disorder, violence, unreason. (11)
503*Supportive relational groupings not based on kinship are very common in traditional society, though the precise nature of these groupings varies according to such factors as class, nationality, and historical period. For example, medieval peasants received much communal support from their village grouping, whereas immigrants to the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often found this support in the ethnic urban neighborhood. The traditional nobility usually related within a nexus of noble families that was not geographically proximate. For merchants and craftsmen, the crucial relational grouping outside of the kinship network was either a set of patrician families or a guild.
503†The passing on of the father’s name is one of the few patrilineal features of the modern Western family. There is no consistent cultural distinction between a conjugal unit’s relationship to the wife’s family and the husband’s family (such a distinction being the central mark of patri- and matrilineal systems).
512*Nisbet makes this point in the following way:
In the medieval world there was relatively little concern with positive, discrete rights of individuals, largely because of the diffuseness of political power and the reality of innumerable group authorities. But when the consolidation of national political power brought with it a destruction of many of the social bodies within which individuals had immemorially lived and taken refuge, when in sum, law became a more centralized and impersonal structure, with the individual as its unit, the concern for positive, constitutionally guaranteed rights of individuals became urgent. European governments may have sought often, and successfully for long periods, to resist claims of individual right, but it is hard to miss the fact that the States (England, for example) which became the most successful, economically as well as politically, had the earliest constitutional recognition of individual rights, especially of property. In retrospect, however, we see that it was the sheer impact of State upon medieval custom and tradition, with the consequent atomizing and liberating effects, that, more than anything else, precipitated the modern concern with positive individual rights. (107)
513*The purpose of this discussion of women’s rights is not to assert that women always received better treatment in traditional society than in technological society. Such comparisons are very difficult to make.54 Rather, the key point here is that “individual rights” is an inappropriate category for making a historical comparison between the status of women in traditional and technological society. The term itself takes on different meanings in the two different social systems.
513†The working-class Victorian woman was also very different from the bourgeois ideal of femininity. Her economic role made it difficult for her to live a “delicate” or “passive” existence.