Politics a la Postman

Navigating the site:

Are you in my class?













CORE acronym



Critical links







Health of places








Paz, Octavio



Recent material



Rollins campus


Science subjects

Search the web

Service Learning

Site Map




Technology timeline




water ethics

WEAL acronym



World view

Z-A contents of this site

Return to top of the page

Return to previously viewed page








Return to top of the page

Language itself is "a kind of technique or machine;" a preeminent form of control technology:

Language as ideology | Maps as ideology | Questions as mechanisms | worship of objectivity | zero, use of | lessons

Themes in the Invisible Technologies, chapter in Technopoly, Postman, previous chapters.

This is how, in technopoly,* science is a used to make democracy 'rational'."

p. 132.

"mechanisms that act like machines, but are not normally thought of as part of Technopoly's repertoire."

p. 127.

Ideology of invisible technologies rests on small unseen pieces:

  • what the zero or cipher does to numbers
  • using letters and numbers to grade students
  • The fallacy of IQ tests
  • Francis Galton,1822-1911, statistics and Eugenics

Politics is thus transformed by polling into a neutering of advocacy where opinion which is merely a transient manifestation-- replaces deliberation and reflective thinking-- making technopoly able to demand obedience if not dictate the manufacture of consent and a willing conformity to the mechanics of daily life.

"To put it simply, like any important piece of machinery --television or the computer for example-- language has an ideological agenda that is apt to be hidden from view."

"If we define ideology as a set of assumptions of which we are barely conscious but which nonetheless directs our efforts to give shape and coherence to the world."

p. 123.

"In the case of language, that agenda is so deeply integrated into our personalities and world-view that a special effort and, often special training are required to detect its presence."

p. 124

"see how a machine re-creates the world in its own image."

p, 125


Zero, cipher [sifr -- Arabic, from the Hindu word for void], naught, nothing

as a place holder and as a number such as ten, 10

"The zero made its way from India to Europe in the tenth century. By the thirteenth century, it had taken hold of western consciousness."

Postman, p. 127.

Mathematicians used an abacus to calculate Roman numerals while algebraists used Hindu (Arabic) numerals and the sifr

that abacists versus the algorists

promoted Roman numerals --- advocated the zero

I, V, X, L, C, M --- 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 1000.

"I speak of the zero for two reasons: First, to underscore that it is a kind of technology that makes both possible and easy certain kinds of thoughts which, without it, would remain inaccessible to the average person."

p. 128.

"If it does not exactly have an ideology, it contains, at least, an idea."

these are examples of how symbols act as machines "in creating new mindsets."

Second, the use of the zero, and of course the Hindu numbering system of which it was part made possible a sophisticated mathematics which, in turn, led to one of the most powerful technologies now in use: statistics."


Statistics makes possible new perceptions and realities by making visible large-scale patterns.

"if the world is made up of probabilities at the level of subatomic particles , then statistics is the only means by which to describe its operations."

p. 128.


The first thing to say about zero is that there are two uses of zero which are both extremely important but are somewhat different. One use is as an empty place indicator in our place-value number system. Hence in a number like 2106 the zero is used so that the positions of the 2 and 1 are correct. Clearly 216 means something quite different. The second use of zero is as a number itself in the form we use it as 0. There are also different aspects of zero within these two uses, namely the concept, the notation, and the name. (Our name "zero" derives ultimately from the Arabic sifr which also gives us the word "cipher".)


worldview, idea of

Techniques are social and cultural means of organizing our world

1. signal something that stands for another thing, pointer, cue.
2. regulator a device to control the charge or discharge of voltage.
3. Galton Statistics of everyday life, Eugenics & race purification.
4. numbers measure, quantify, order and assign values.
5 alphabet sequence, standardized ordering, organize.
6 currently Convergence of "big" science, technique & statistics.

Confusion in the use, meaning and understanding of metaphors.

Return to top of the page

Grammatocentric Principle

"everything was organized around the use of writing"

Daniel Tyler, in 1832, at the Springfield Armory conducted time and motion studies, thereby increasing labor productivity and reducing costs.

George Whistler, in 1839, organized railroads on a hierarchical arraignment of central, regional and local managers.

"procedures and rules designed to standardize behavior."

pp. 140-141.

recall the legend of Thamus and his warnings?

"More perhaps than machinery, massive and complex business organizations are the tangible manifestation of advanced technology."

John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State. Postman, p. 141.

Worship of management and statistics replaced traditional sources of authority within the culture that defines us:

Sources of influence examples Bacon's Idols
News media reliable Marketplace
Sports safety Clan
Medicine techniques triumph Cave
Computers logic, digital order Marketplace
Scientism faith in measurement or faith in experiment? Theatre & Marketplace

More on Bacon's idols

Return to top of the page

Questions act as powerful machines because the guide our thinking. In this way they are analogous to management guiding the use of machinery for production.

These mechanisms or intangible means are related to questions because they have powerful influences on our behavior. Among these techniques are: statistics, management, grading, polling, IQ measurements, advertising promotion and Scientism.

Return to top of the page

Automated techniques require new commitment to visibility:

The hidden dimensions need to be exposed and known for what they are, political ideologies.

Technologically advanced civilizations rely on statistics, management, and voluntarism to control the function of machinery to serve the ends of technopoly.


"We must understand where our techniques come from and what they are good for; we must make them visible so they may be restored to our sovereignty."

Make the unseen -- visible so that we may get past our seductive illusions.

p. 143.

"The intricate and vast ensemble of techniques I call Scientism."


Postman's analysis

Tools to Technocracy

From Technocracy to Technopoly

Broken Defenses

An improbable world

Invisible Technologies


Tools of Toil: what to read.
Tools are historical building blocks of technology.