What is industrial paradigm?

Do you also think, this scenery is extremely ugly? This is but production, progress and efficiency to industrial paradigm.

Industrial paradigm is the human-centered, mechanistic and reductionist worldview that dominates science, education and especially economic thought since industrial revolution.

For the industrial paradigm, we humans are not a part of the nature; we are outside the realm of nature.

We stand above all other animals and plants; we are created to dominate and reshape the nature which is a place of wild chaos, barbarism and misery without humans. The world is created for us humans. This means, nature can easily be sacrificed for the comfort, convenience and progress of humans.

For the industrial paradigm, nature is not an active producer; nature is only a passive raw material resource, a passive infrastructure of life, and a passive dumping ground with a certain capacity for endurance and recycling. In other words, nature is not a living ecosystem; it is only a dead, non-living resource without inherent consciousness or intelligence.

There is only one kind of producer: Humans. Everything else is only resource.

Nature is for the industrial paradigm a place of wild and disordered entity that must be tamed and ordered according to the tastes and preferences of civilized humans.

As a consequence of this narrow worldview, industrial paradigm focuses only on human-made things like buildings, roads, cars, computers, smart phones and so on, when it talks about production or technology.

For the industrial paradigm, a giant marine ecosystem that produces (among many other things) millions of tons of fish is not a producer. The only producers are the fishermen who catch, process and sell these fish.

Historically, industrial paradigm -like neoclassical economics- is a co-production of human-centered religious worldview, industrial revolution, imperialism and economic thought in the 18., 19. and 20. centuries. With its focus on human-made things and money, it serves perfectly well to the narrow and short-sighted interests of business corporations.

A person, whose mind is shaped by the industrial paradigm, typically seeks solutions to every kind of problems with human-made technologies; she does not take into account the solutions of nature (ecosystems) or traditions that are based on a very rich biological and cultural diversity. In most cases, she cultivates a blind belief in technological progress (i.e. technological progress will solve all the problems of humanity including the ecological ones).

By undervaluing nature, industrial paradigm fosters ecological ignorance, and an ideological blindness to the non-monetary production of nature and society.

With its blinders, industrial paradigm shapes -in facts distorts- the meaning of many economic concepts like production, technology, innovation, technological progress, modernization, efficiency, economic growth, job creation and free market. I will mention these distortions in my future blog articles.

Industrial versus Ecological Paradigm

Industrial paradigm may be best explained by the dichotomy of industrial versus ecological paradigm.

Industrial vs Ecological Paradigm

For the industrial paradigm, human economy does not reside within the nature; it stands above the nature as a dominating power, connected to nature via simple interfaces (like the interfaces of a machine) for natural resources.

For example, DDT based pesticides were successfully promoted with marketing slogans like “symbol of humanity’s progress and triumph in its war against the nature” by corporations like Monsanto and DuPont, reflecting the prevalence of industrial paradigm as the dominant worldview of the era (see Silent Spring by Rachel Carson for more information about the tragic story of DDT).

Thanks to the high degree of undervaluation (of nature), reductionism and abstraction, the complex, multi-functional and multi-dimensional relationships between humans and nature can be reduced to simple mechanistic interfaces. For example, a forest as a complex living ecosystem which affects human life in many ways (climate, water, air, soil, recycling, recreation, food source, health etc.) can be reduced to a mere timber resource for human industry.

Industrial paradigm models even agriculture -based on living plants, animals and soil- like a mechanic factory which must be fed by fertilizers, water, labor, energy, pesticides etc. (input factors) to produce harvest (output factors); the inter-connections with the environment, and the natural cycles in the living soil are almost completely ignored.

As already mentioned above, nature is for the industrial paradigm a passive (non-living) resource of raw materials, a passive dumping ground and a passive infrastructure of life. Nature is like a non-living, static and mindless residential building that must be kept free of too much dirt (pollution) for the continuation of human health and life.

The narrow mechanistic and reductionist worldview of the industrial paradigm is a delusion that undervalues the essential role of nature in human’s life. Ecological paradigm is the more complete, holistic and realistic worldview which sees humans and human economy as a part of nature, within the nature.

For the ecological paradigm nature is a living ecosystem (organism) and the primary producer that produces most essential things like mild climate, food, water, recreation, stimulation, medicinal plants, materials for various tools etc. for human life. Without the primary production of nature humans (or any other animals) cannot live at all; everything that humans produce (as secondary production) are based on the primary production of nature, including minerals like oil.

Industrial paradigm is generally obsessed with only one kind of production: Monetary human production; things that humans (or firms) produce to sell on the market for money. The fallacy of measuring total economic production with money flow alone (GDP: Gross Domestic Product) reflects perfectly influence of the narrow worldview of industrial paradigm.

Ecological paradigm can perceive all kinds of productions: Production of nature, non-monetary production of societies, monetary production of societies…

So, ecological paradigm is perfectly aware of the fact that a society, which is obsessed with monetary production can be destroying the foundations of its non-monetary production (and life) in the single-minded endeavor of increasing monetary production (i.e. GDP growth).

Written by: Tunç Ali Kütükçüoğlu, August 2019

About tuncali

I began keeping aquariums as early as I was nine years old. Since then, I kept many aquariums and lots of fish, plant and invertebrate species. My favorite fish family is of course cichlids with their fascinating behaviors. My relatively new area of interest is low-tech natural aquariums as almost self-sufficient ecosystems that are I think ideal models for sustainable life.
This entry was posted in Sustainable life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to What is industrial paradigm?

  1. tuncali says:

    E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977) criticized the concept of “progress” of the industrial paradigm in his wonderful book Small is Beautiful:

    “Ever-bigger machines, entailing ever-bigger violence against the environment do not represent progress; they are denial of wisdom.”

    Because, wisdom requires the ability to see the complete picture (i.e. holistic view) for an optimal trading off among many important welfare factors (i.e. multi-dimensional optimization that requires holistic view to include all important factors and constraints).

    Schumacher realized that many human technologies served primarily to the extraction and monopolization of economic power; not to the improvement of general welfare for today’s and future’s generations.

  2. tuncali says:

    E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977) in his book Small is Beautiful (page 14) points to the fact that how it is eagerly overlooked that nature is the primary producer which can’t be simply replaced by human-made technologies:

    “The illusion of unlimited power, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production. The latter illusion is based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most. Every economist and businessman is familiar with the distinction, and applies it conscientiously and with considerable subtlety to all economic affairs – except where it really matters – namely, the irreplaceable capital which man had not made, but simply found, and without which he can do nothing.”

    “One reason for overlooking this vital fact is that we are estranged from reality and inclined to treat as valueless everything that we have not made ourselves. Even the great Dr Marx fell into this devastating error when he formulated the so-called labour theory of value”

  3. tuncali says:

    Industrial paradigm is good for:
    1) Earning money at all costs
    2) Concentrating military and economic power
    3) Extraction and exploitation
    4) Monopolization

    Industrial paradigm is bad for:
    1) Well-being for all
    2) Sustainable life
    3) Economic justice and equity

  4. tuncali says:

    Note that “interface” is a term used for the machines and software that can be divided into several components that are connected via simple (clearly defined, limited number) interfaces (modular design).

    Talking about interfaces as the connection between humans and nature is one of the most typical manifestations of the mechanistic and reductionist industrial paradigm, which reduces a web of complex inter-connections to a limited number of simple interfaces.

  5. tuncali says:

    The dichotomy (contrariness, oppositeness) of “industrial paradigm versus ecological paradigm” may be best analysed and communicated within the context of agriculture: Industrial versus ecological agriculture

    Physicist, environmental thinker and activist Dr. Vandana Shiva often mentions “industrial paradigm” in the context of agriculture in her books and speeches:

    TEDxMasala – Solutions to the food and ecological crisis facing us today

    In Shiva’s book “Who Really Feeds the World”, chapter 4 (biodiversity feeds the world, not toxic monocultures), page 42:

    “The loss of biodiversity in our food and in our land is because industrial agriculture systems promote monocultures.”

    “The rapid erosion of biodiversity has taken place under a food system that sees farms as factories for commodities (industrial paradigm) rather than webs of production and life.”

    “Monocoltures of the Mind, rooted in a reductionist, mechanistic paradigm, create a blindness to diversity of the world. Based on mechanistic thought, these monocultures are blind to the evolutionary potential and intelligence of the cells, organisms, ecosystems and communities.” (organic intelligence)

    It is understandable that corporations prefer industrial to ecological agriculture, simply because there is not much money in ecological agriculture. What can they sell for a farming practice which is inherently self-sufficient and sustainable?

    It is also understandable that the corporations can’t openly say “we prefer industrial farming because there is so much money in it.” They need other arguments to convince, fool and numb the majority of people. This is where the preconditioning by industrial paradigm, or generally ecological illiteracy comes in.

    Thanks to the ideological blinders of the industrial paradigm (plus short-term monetary interests and corruption of course) the majority of the people can be convinced that industrial agriculture with lots of GMOs, chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers), irrigation and controlling technology means “improved efficiency, technological progress, modernization in agriculture, Green Revolution, Smart Farming” and so on.

    Why industrial agriculture prefers monocultures is closely related with its mechanistic and reductionist world view:

    Underestimating the value and (organic) intelligence of biodiversity, replacing organic intelligence by artificial human intelligence, modular design with simple interfaces, replacing non-monopolizable technologies of nature and locality (like non-GMO local seeds) by monopolizable technologies (like certified GM seeds), input/output factors’ paradigm of a factory which ignores the cycles of nature, and balance among different species, divide and manage policy in modular design…

    Apropos modular design and divide-and-manage policy: High degree of specialization in education and science is another significant feature of the industrial paradigm (industrial education) which comes at the cost of losing the ability to see the complete picture (i.e. wisdom).

    Generally, corporations don’t need that kind of wisdom; that is, holistic thinking. Corporations need tamed and obedient specialists who know their particular fields in meticulous detail, and don’t ask disturbing questions about the big picture, like “what am I working for”.

  6. tuncali says:

    “The botany I was taught (at college) was reductionist, mechanistic, and strictly objective. Plants were reduced to objects; they were not subjects.”
    Robin W. Kimmerer in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass”
    What really supports our lives? What is the primary producer?
    Plants or corporations?

    “Our natural tendency to pay attention to things that support our lives has been hijacked by advertisers.”
    Robin Wall Kimmerer
    Unsurprising outcome of industrial lifestyle and education:
    Children who can recognize more than 100 company logos can hardly recognize 10 plant species.

    Robin W. Kimmerer, (35:42 in video)

  7. tuncali says:

    One of the most common symptoms of industrial paradigm:

    Talking about “healthcare” as if it were purely a human-made industrial service (drugs, operations, therapy etc.) offered by either state or private sector, completely disconnected from the environment, lifestyle, food, immune system and preventive public health policies.

    We know today that many deadly diseases including cancer are caused by environmental destruction and pollution like GMOs and pesticides, and also by lifestyle (for example, not enough clean air or physical exercise), and also by unbalanced (monocultural) junk food.

  8. tuncali says:

    My short presentation: What is industrial paradigm? What is ecological paradigm?

    How can such an incomplete and biased worldview (industrial paradigm) be developed and established as the mainstream ideology of development?

  9. tuncali says:

    One of the best examples of mechanistic and reductionist worldview from the European history:

    Scientific forestry: The illusion of high-efficiency with monocultures

    Source: The Growth Illusion by Richard Douthwaite, page 32

    “In a fascinating book, “Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed”, James Scott explains why forestry plantations were developed — and why they proved a major mistake.

    ‘The early modern European state, even before the development of scientific forestry, viewed its forests primarily through the fiscal lens of revenue needs,’ he writes. ‘Exaggerating only slightly, one might say that the crown’s interest in forests was resolved through its fiscal lens into a single number: the revenue yield of the timber that might be extracted annually.’

    Towards the end of the eighteenth century, this only-the-timber-yield-matters thinking led to attempts in Prussia and Saxony to turn chaotic, mixed old-growth forests into predictable, same-age stands, each consisting of a single type of tree (Norway spruce).

    The Norway spruce, known for its hardiness, rapid growth and useful wood, was introduced and planted in blocks in forest areas. It proved so lucrative when first planted that it rapidly displaced almost everything else. From the landowner’s perspective ‘this radical simplification of the forest to a single commodity was a resounding success.’ It was, however, a disaster for the peasants ‘who were now deprived of all the grazing, food, raw materials, and medicines that the earlier forest ecology had afforded.’

    But the landowners’ initial success was not sustainable. ‘An exceptionally complex process involving soil building, nutrient uptake, and symbiotic relations among fungi,insects, mammals and flora … was apparently disrupted … [by] the radical simplicity of the scientific forest,’ Scott says. As a result, the second spruce crop grew 20 to 30 per cent more slowly than the first.

    Moreover, the single-age, single-species stands proved highly vulnerable to damage by pests and to being toppled in storms. The term Waldsterben (forest death) entered the German language for the first time.”

  10. tuncali says:

    Before the 15. century, “organic world” paradigm was prevalent even in Europe. In “The Death of Nature” Carolyn Merchant tells the history of transition from the “organic world” to “machine world” worldview during the industrial revolution (from 15. to 19. century), as a history of cultural evolution.

    “The Scientific Revolution and The Death of Nature” by Carolyn Merchant

  11. tuncali says:

    A person, who is not aware of the huge loss of knowledge & technology caused by every species extinct and every ecosystem mutilated, can easily believe in the continuous progress of humanity, by simply looking at human-made things like academic papers, computers, smart phones, cars, roads & buildings.

  12. tuncali says:

    There’s another term often used in the place of “industrial paradigm”: Exceptionalism

    Ecologist and economist Willam E. Rees explains exceptionalism and its implications for the future of humanity: “The Fundamental Issue – Overshoot” | The Great Simplification #53 (Nate Hagens – youtube)

Leave a Reply