The Mechanization of Man

Many workers have became no more than an interchangeable cog in a machine to their employer. They are paid as little as possible while conversely being forced to do as much work as possible for as long as possible in order to maximize profits.

What happens when one becomes nothing more than a cog in the machine to those in power, to be used and thrown away as they see fit? Previously, I spoke of the commoditization of man, something that has been, at some level, a temptation of man since the beginning. However, just as the shift in meaning of the human person when that idea is crossed with the increasingly rapid development of technology has increased, so also have new ideas developed in that time. 

One of those new ideas is the mechanization of man. The basis for this shift in the view of the human person can be traced to the massive upheaval brought on by the Industrial Revolution. While one may see that name, “Industrial Revolution,” and just think of machines and factories, there was a far more fundamental shift that occurred at that time.

While there had been cities for many millennia before this Revolution, most people still lived on farms. On these farms, they lived by the natural flow of the days and seasons. They produced much of what they needed, though they struggled greatly during times of drought and other disasters. They had a profound connection to God’s creation. 

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In town, the connection might not have been as strong, but most who lived in town worked for small local businesses, including the many who were either self-employed or who ran family businesses. Many of those family businesses had been passed down for centuries. There was a profound connection to the product being made. If they started making an inferior product, then people would stop buying their product, and they would go out of business. Finding replacements for people who helped out with specialized products wasn’t all that easy either, giving an extra push to pay any hired worker a just wage and to treat them well.  

While far from perfect in and of itself—the commoditization of man being a thing at the time too—profound change came with the coming of the new age of heavy industry. The rapid growth of heavy industry led to a deterioration of life for those in the cities. The medical situation was bad enough after a while, with various mixtures of noxious, poisonous, and soot-filled smokes filling the air and human waste in the streets leading to massive issues with illness. These threats to one’s health were exacerbated by massive numbers of people from the country cramming together into tiny rooms in slums. Yet, there was far worse to be found once one found work. 

One who found work became no more than an interchangeable cog in a machine to their employer. They would be paid as little as possible while conversely being forced to do as much work as possible for as long as possible in order to maximize profits. If one was unable to work, or had to leave for a family emergency, they could quickly be replaced by someone else who could do the job. The worker and their family would be tossed out on the street with no care to their well-being.

Some mines, especially in the U.S., came up with an ingeniously evil way to keep their employees from leaving. Being at times far away from the next town over, they had a company store at which one could buy what they needed. If they lacked the money, they could put what they needed on credit. However, in order to keep the miners from leaving, the prices were jacked up in order to force most of them, if not all of them, to borrow on credit. 

If they quit their job, they were required to immediately repay all of their debts before they left. If they couldn’t, they could be sent to debtors’ prison until their debt was repaid, leaving their family without any income for themselves until their loved one was freed. This was a worse fate than working the mines. 

This was literal slavery in many ways, but the respect of the owners for the human person had deteriorated so far that all they saw were interchangeable parts (their workers) and dollar signs. While the growing hunger for the newer and more interesting had begun to grow before the Industrial Revolution, it now accelerated, as it was easier to create more of the newer and more interesting faster—something the worker would make happen or else.

With the growth of modern philosophies, already full of issues themselves, new ideas to solve these problems were developed. But sometimes the cure was worse than the problem. While the philosophy of utilitarianism—the idea that the best thing to do is that which creates the greatest amount of happiness, despite any clear, fixed, and agreed upon concept of how to determine the greatest good without a basis of Divine Revelation—was dangerous enough, the worst would come with the growth of Marxism. 

While Communism, an outgrowth of utopianism, in some forms predated Marx and Engels, Marx and Engels developed their philosophy both as a response to the mistreatment of workers in factories and as an assault on religious institutions (and the concept of God Himself). Utilitarianism was bad enough, making clear that the individual didn’t matter if the larger, collective group did better as a result of their forced detriment. But Marxism was far worse, due to its constant assaults against the basic institutions that held up society (such as the nuclear family) and their utter incompetence when it came to developing a society run by scientific logic rather than by time-tested methods.

The scientific methods Marxism developed were mixed with the utopianism that preceded it, leading to the deaths of hundreds of millions. The people were now effectively nothing more than test subjects in various scientific endeavors meant to reshape society. If it harmed them, it didn’t matter; it just meant that a new experiment would be developed, and more people would suffer. Seeing the damage that the societal shift of the Industrial Revolution had done to society, some thought that forcing people back out of the cities and onto farms would cure everything.  

In most cases, this led to mass starvation because the people lacked the skills to farm and, when they failed, a government whose officials also didn’t know how to farm would either punish the starving masses of people or come up with worse ways to mess up both the farming process and the local environment. This made life yet worse for the starving masses. The people were nothing more than biological machines, to be tinkered with by their dictatorial overlords as they saw fit, with no input from the people themselves.

In the countries that didn’t fall to Communist influence, the same kind of dehumanization, though at a much slower rate, began to happen. One can see an example of this in the treatment/ interactions of people in large, modern office buildings. While there are many examples of media depicting the situation in large office buildings, factories, and warehouses, one of the more humorous ones can be found in a movie simply called Office Space

In this movie, a few of the salient points made are separation of people from one another through forcing them to work in a cubical most of the day, the disconnection of the managerial class from their workers in a way that makes it appear that they don’t even know who their own workers are, and the massive amount of unnecessary and pointless busywork that they are forced to do. Not only is it reinforced through the actions of management that the workers really don’t matter, but it is also made clear that, in too many cases, the work they do is a waste of time, aside from the paycheck they get.  

It’s no surprise that as all of these forces have grown, the average person’s view of the human person has changed. They are shown through the actions of others and the words of the scientific minds of the day that they are nothing more than biological machines that need to ignore any issues they may see with the so-called experts and simply comply. They have no purpose other than what is happening in the here and now. No wonder drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and suicides are on the rise. Their only escape may be to the electronic world, a world the manipulative powers of social media are more than happy to provide, only for the price of your data if you’re lucky. 

The idea that the spiritual and material world are separated grows along with all of the ideas mentioned in this piece, especially when the only escape from the pain is to hide from or leave the dark, evil, and hopeless world. Seeing that science has no basis for meaning or ultimate truth, it can begin to seem that these things don’t actually exist. As the West’s view of the human person becomes more and more like that of the Communist’s, the danger for us grows too. 

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]


  • Christopher Lippold

    Christopher Lippold is a lifelong Catholic with a Masters Degree in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles in Cromwell, CT. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Meteorology and a minor in Philosophy from Northern Illinois University.

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