The Age of the Cheerful Robot

The Cheerful Robots

"Given these effects of the ascendant trends of rationalization, the individual does ‘the best he can’. He gears his aspirations and his work to the situation he is in, and from which he can find no way out. In due course, he does not seek a way out: he adapts. That part of his life which is left over from work, he uses to play, to consume, to “have fun”, yet this sphere of consumption is also being rationalized (and conditioned).

Alienated from production, from work, he is also alienated from consumption, from genuine leisure. This adaptation of the individual and the effects upon his milieu and self results not only in the loss of his chance and in due course, of his capacity and will to reason, it also affects his chances and his capacity to act as a free man. Indeed, neither the value of freedom, nor of reason are known to him…

The guiding principles, in fact, are alien to and in contradiction with all that has been historically understood as individuality…there is then rationality without reason…But we must now raise the question in an ultimate form: Among contemporary men will there come to prevail, or even flourish, what may be called the Cheerful Robot?"


(The Sociological Imagination 1959, 170-171, Oxford University Press)

Mass Media: A Sea of Irrelevance

"In Huxley's version (Brave New World), no Big Brother (Orwell's 1984) is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think...

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance...In the Huxlian prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us by his choice. We watch him by ours. "

(Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985 Penguin Books)



In so far as the structural clue to the power elite today lies in the enlarged and military state, that clue becomes evident in the military ascendancy. The warlords have gained decisive Political relevance, and the military structure of America is now in considerable part a political structure. The seemingly permanent military threat places a premium on the military and upon their control of men, material, money, and power; virtually all political and economic actions are now judged in terms of military definitions of reality: the higher warlords have ascended to a firm position within the power elite of the fifth epoch.

In part at least this has resulted from one simple historical fact, pivotal for the years since 1939: the focus of elite attention has been shifted from domestic problems, centered in the ‘thirties around slump, to international problems, centered in the ‘forties and ‘fifties around war....

[But we must always be historically specific and open to complexities. The simple Marxian view makes the big economic man the real holder of power; the simple liberal view makes the big Political man the chief of the power system; and there are some who would view the warlords as virtual dictators. Each of these is an oversimplified view. It is to avoid them that we use the term ,power elite, rather than, for example, ‘ruling class.’]

Neither the idea of a (Marxist)‘ruling class’ nor of a simple monolithic rise of (Weberian)‘bureaucratic politicians’ nor of a ‘military clique’ is adequate. The power elite today involves the often uneasy coincidence of economic, military, and political power.

...The way to understand the power of the American elite lies neither solely in recognizing the historic scale of events nor in accepting the personal awareness reported by men of apparent decision. Behind such men and behind the events of history, linking the two, are the major institutions of modern society. These hierarchies of state and corporation and army constitute the means of power; as such they are now of a consequence not before equaled in human history-and at their summits, there are now those command posts of modern society which offer us the sociological key to an understanding of the role of the higher circles in America. ...

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite 1956)

Imperialism: The Nexus

" Imperialism has generally meant the political, and if need be the military protection of businessmen (the corporate elite) and their interests in foreign areas. The political protection need not include the protection of colonies; the military protection need not involve the establishment of bases and garrisons.

But regardless of the manner of the protection extended, imperialism by definition involves the interplay of economic, political and military institutions and men. No event of significance can be understood without understanding how these interests come to points of clash or of coincidence. "The International System" of the world today cannot be understood without understanding the changing forms of their interplay."

(C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III 1960:67)

Note that the above comments by C. Wright Mills were published almost 14 years before Immanuel Wallerstein formulated
The World System Theory.

"We live in a world where imperialism consigns hundreds of millions of people to lives of misery and oppression and where the shadow of nuclear death is cast upon us all, a world where the pursuit of profit is destroying the ecological conditions of life itself..."

(Michael Parenti, Against Empire 1995)

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (Winner of Two Medals of Honor):

"I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General... I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long.

I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

Defense Secretary under Clinton

Defense Secretary William Cohen, in remarks to reporters prior to his speech at Microsoft Corporation in Seattle, put it this way, “[T]he prosperity that companies like Microsoft now enjoy could not occur without having the strong military that we have.”

“The defense secretary is making the case that conflicts in faraway lands such as Bosnia, Korea and Iraq have a direct effect on the U.S. economy. The billions it costs to keep 100,000 American troops in South Korea and Japan, for example, makes Asia more stable--and thus better markets for U.S. goods. The military's success in holding Iraq in check ensures a continued flow of oil from the Persian Gulf,” concluded the Associated Press dispatch reporting on Cohen's Seattle appearance [February 18, 1999]

[From, Karen Talbot, Backing up Globalization with Military Might, Covert Action Quarterly, Issue 68, Fall 1999)

Nationalism &
Patriotic Zeal

C. Wright Mills:

"The cultural prestige of nations is an attempt on all sides to exploit for nationalist interest what is essentially an international process.

Few indeed are the cultural and scientific products that are due to causes and traditions confined to one nation, and by definition none of them become part of the grand tradition of modern man, unless they appeal to minds that know nothing of nationalistic boundaries."

(C. Wright Mills as quoted by Horowitz, Irving, C. Wright Mills: An American Utopian, 1983:71, The Free Press)

Manipulation by Slogans:
Freedom, Democracy, Human Rights..

"And among people are those whose speech about the world and its life amazes you...yet when they act their aim is to spread destruction through the earth and destroy its ecology and livestock..."
(Quran 2:204-205)

"Those in authority within institutions and social structures attempt to justify their rule by linking it, as if it were a necessary consequence, with moral symbols, sacred emblems, or legal formulae which are widely believed and deeply internalized (by the masses).

These central conceptions may refer to a god or gods, “the votes of the majority”, (“freedom”, “democracy”)… or the alleged extraordinary endowment of the person of the ruler himself.Various thinkers have used different terms to refer to this phenomena: Mosca’s “political formula” or “great superstition”, Locke’s “principal of sovereignty”,Sorel’s “ruling myth”,Weber’s “legitimations”, Durkheim’s “collective representations”, Marx’s “dominant ideas”…Mannheim’s “ideology”, Herbert Spencer’s “public sentiments” (Gramsci’s “hegemony”) all point to the central place of master symbols in social analysis.”

(Hans Gerth & C. Wright Mills, Character & Social Structure, 1964:277)

In economic and political institutions, the corporate rich now weild enormous power... Every such naked interest, every new unsanctioned power of corporation, farm bloc, labor union and government agency that has risen in the past two generations has been clothed with morally loaded slogans. For what is not done in the name of public interest?

Master Symbols & Propaganda

As these slogans wear out, new ones are industriously made up, also to be banalized in due course. And all the while, recurrent economic and military crisis spread fears, hesitations, and anxieties which give new urgency to the busy search for moral justifications and decorous excuses."

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite 1956:344)


"In so far as an economy is so arranged that slumps occur, the problem of unemployment becomes incapable of personal solution (character and personal laziness cannot be the cause in such circumstances). In so far as war is inherent in the nation-state system and in the uneven industrialization of the world, the ordinary individual in his restricted milieu will be powerless-with or without psychiatric aid- to solve the troubles this system -or lack of system imposes upon him.

What we experience in various and specific often caused by structural changes. Accordingly to understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them. And the number and variety of such structural changes increases as the institutions within which we live become more..intricately connected with one another. To be aware of the idea of social structure and to use it with sensibility is to be capable of tracing such linkages among a great variety of milieux. To be able to do that is to possess the Sociological Imagination"

(C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination 1959:10-11)

Moral Schizophrenia

"In the expanded world of mechanically vivified communication, the individual becomes the spectator of everything but the human witness of nothing... The cold manner enters their souls and they are made private and blase. In virtually all realms of life, facts now outrun sensibility. Emptied of their human meaning, these facts are readily got used to. In the official man there is no more human shock; in his unofficial follower there is little sense of moral issue...

Abu Ghraib Prisoner Abuse

...the level of moral sensibility, as part of the public and private life, has sunk out of sight. It is not the number of victims or the degree of cruelty that is distinctive; it is the fact that the acts committed and the acts that nobody protests are split from the consciousness of men in an uncanny even a schizophrenic, manner.

Marine shoots dead an unarmed wounded Iraqi.
Falluja, Nov 13, 2004

The atrocities of our time are done by men as "functions" of a social machinery- men possessed by an abstracted view that hides from them the human beings who are their victims and, as well their own humanity. They are inhuman acts because they are impersonal. They are not sadistic but merely businesslike; they are not aggressive but merely efficient; they are not emotional at all but technically clean-cut....

Haditha Massacre

For today if men are acting in the name of "their nation", they do not know moral limits but only expedient calculations."
(C. Wright Mills, Causes of World War III 1960:88-89)

"If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift to the coming human hell."

(C. Wright Mills- The Causes of World War III)



C. Wright Mills (1916-1962)

"The powers of ordinary men are circumscribed by the everyday worlds in which they live, yet even in these rounds of job, family, and neighborhood they often seem driven by forces they can neither understand nor govern…The very framework of modern society confines them to projects not their own, but from every side, such changes now press upon the men and women of the mass society, who accordingly feel that they are without purpose in an epoch in which they are without power…

As the means of information and power are centralized, some men come to occupy positions in American society from which they can look down upon…and by their decisions mightily affect, the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women. They are not made by their jobs, (but) they set up and breakdown jobs for thousands of others… ‘They are all what we are not’.

The Power Elite is composed of men whose positions enable them to transcend the ordinary environments of everyday men and women; they are in positions to make decisions having major consequences…For they are in command of the major hierarchies and organizations of modern society…They occupy the strategic command posts of the social structure, in which are now centered the effective means of the power and the wealth and the celebrity which they enjoy.".

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956:1)


" During most of human history, historical change has not been visitble to the people who were involved in it or even to those who were enacting it. Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, for example endured for some four hundred generations with but slight changes in their basic is about eighty times as long as the six generations of United States' existence.But now the tempo of change is so rapid, and the means of observation so accessible, that the interplay of events and decisions seem often to be quite historically visible, if we only look carefully from an adequate vantage point.

When knowledgable journalists tell us that 'events not men make the big decisions', they are echoing the theory of history as fortune, chance or fate (mystical determinism)...

The course of events in our time depends more on a series of human decisions than on any inevitable fate...As the circle of those who decide is narrowed, as the means of decision (and communication) are centralized and the consequences of decisions become enormous, then the course of great events often rests upon the decisions of determinable elite of power"

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite 1956:21-22)


The Higher Immorality

" Of course there may be corrupt men in sound institutions but when institutions are corrupting, many of the men who live and work in them are necessarily corrupted. In the corporate era, economic relations become impersonal and the executive feels less personal responsibility. Within the corporate world of business, war-making and politics, the private conscience is attunated and the higher immorality is institutionalized. It is not merely a question of a corrupt administration in corporation or army or state, it is a feature of the corporate rich,...deeply interwined with the politics of the military state"

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite 1956:343)




"Behind these well reported facts are the structural connections between the privately incorporated economy and the military ascendancy. Leading corporations now profit from the preparation of war..."(C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III 1960:67)

"In a society in which money-makers have had no serious rival for repute and honor, the word "practical" comes to mean useful for private gain, and "common sense", the sense to get ahead financially. The pursuit of the moneyed life is the commanding value, in relation to which the influence of other values has declined, so men become easily morally ruthless in the pursuit of easy money and fast estate building."

(C. Wright Mills, Diagnosis of Our Moral Uneasiness, 1952. Irving Horowitz, Editor. 1963:334)


“It is in the continual preparation for war that the power elite now finds the major basis for the furthering of the several and coinciding interests of its members…The expectation of war solves many problems of the "crackpot realists"; it also confronts them with many new problems. Yet these, the problems of war, often seem easier to handle. They are out in the open: to produce more, to plan how to kill more of the enemy, to move materials thousands of miles...war also enables men to solve the problems of the economic cycle without resort to political policies that are distasteful to many politicians...The terms of their long term solutions, under conditions of peace, are hard for the capitalist elite to face…

"For the corporation executives, the military metaphysic often coincides with their interest in a stable and planned flow of profit; it enables them to have their risk underwritten by public money; it enables them reasonably to expect that they can exploit for private profit now and later, the risky research developments paid for by public money. It is, in brief, a mask of the subsidized capitalism from which they extract profit and upon which their power is based.”

C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III, 1960:91

Billions upon Billions upon Billions

"What the main drift of the twentieth century has revealed is that the economy has become concentrated and incorporated in the great hierarchies, the military has become enlarged and decisive to the shape of the entire economic structure; and moreover the economic and the military have become structurally and deeply interrelated, as the economy has become a seemingly permanent war economy; and military men and policies have increasingly penetrated the corporate economy.”

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956:215)


“In the United States… a handful of corporations centralize decisions and responsibilities that are relevant for military and political as well as economic developments of global significance. For nowadays the military and the political cannot be separated from economic considerations of power. We now live not in an economic order or a political order, but in a political economy that is closely linked with military institutions and decisions. This is obvious in the repeated “oil crisis” in the Middle East, or in the relevance of Southeast Asia and African resources for the Western powers…”

(C. Wright Mills & Hans Gerth, Character & Social Structure, 1964:456)

Guiding a Fabulous Technology for War

“Within each of the big three (corporate, political and military institutions), the typical institutional unit has become enlarged, has become administrative, and, in the power of its decisions, has become centralized. Behind these developments there is a fabulous technology, for as institutions, they have incorporated this technology and guide it, even as it shapes and paces their developments.”

C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite. 1956


Negroponte Walks Out on Iraq Debate

“But now that war has become seemingly total and seemingly permanent, the free sport of kings has become the forced and internecine business of people, and diplomatic codes of honor between nations have collapsed. Peace is no longer serious; only war is serious. Every man and every nation is either friend or foe, and the idea of enmity becomes mechanical, massive, and without genuine passion. When virtually all negotiation aimed at peaceful agreement is likely to be seen as 'appeasement,' if not treason, the active role of the diplomat becomes meaningless; for diplomacy becomes merely a prelude to war or an interlude between wars, and in such a context the diplomat is replaced by the warlord......In other words 'the morale of the State Department is so broken that its finest men flee from it, and advise others to flee.'

The "Diplomacy" Facade

Without an industrial economy, the modern army, as in America, could not exist; it is an army of machines. Professional economists usually consider military institutions as parasitic upon the means of production. Now, however, such institutions have come to shape much of the economic life of the United States.

Religion, virtually without fail, provides the army at war with its blessings, and recruits from among its officials the chaplain, who in military costume counsels and consoles and stiffens the morale of men at war... The family provides the army and navy with the best men and boys that it possesses (showing its subordination as an institution in the current epoch). And, as we have seen, education and science too are becoming means to the ends sought by the military.”

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956:206,209, 222)



"America- a conservative country without any conservative ideology - appears now before the world a naked and arbitrary power, as, in the name of realism, its men of decision enforce their often crackpot definitions upon world reality. The second-rate mind is in command (through the mass media) of the ponderously spoken platitude. In the liberal rhetoric, vagueness, and in the conservative mood, irrationality, are raised to principle...

Crackpot Realism

“These men (of the Power Elite) have replaced mind with platitude, and the dogmas by which they are legitimated are so widely accepted that no counter-balance of mind prevails against them. Such men as these are crackpot-realists; in the name of realism they have constructed a paranoid reality all their own…They have replaced the responsible interpretation of events with the disguise of events by a maze of public relations…”

(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956:356)

Push Button Fear Machinery

“…An expensive arms race, under cover of the military metaphysic, and in a paranoid atmosphere of fright, is an economically attractive business. To many utopian capitalists, it has become the Business Way of American Life.”

(C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III, 1960:68)

"The Second-Rate Mind in Command of Information"

"The men of higher circles are not representative men; their high position is not the result of moral virtue; their fabulous success is not firmly connected with meritorious ability. Those who sit in the seats of the high and mighty are selected and formed by the means of power, the sources of wealth and the mechanics of celebrity, which prevail in their society...They are not men shaped by nationally responsible parties that debate openly and clearly the issues that this nation now so unintelligently confronts. They are not men held in responsible check by a plurality of volunteer associations which connect debating publics with the pinnacles of decision...

... Commandeers of power unequaled in human history, they have suceeded within the American system of organized irresponsibility."

(C. Wright Mills,The Power Elite, 1956:360-361)



"The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life...

Punctuality, calculability, exactness are forced upon life by the complexity and extension of metropolitan existence and are not only most intimately connected with its money economy and intellectualist character. These traits must also color the contents of life and favor the exclusion of those irrational, instinctive, sovereign traits and impulses which aim at determining the mode of life from within, instead of receiving the general and precisely schematized form of life from without. Even though sovereign types of personality, characterized by irrational impulses, are by no means impossible in the city, they are nevertheless, opposed to typical city life...

Georg Simmel & The Metropolis

The same factors which have thus coalesced into the exactness and minute precision of the form of life have coalesced into a structure of the highest impersonality; on the other hand, they have promoted a highly personal subjectivity. There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which has been so unconditionally reserved to the metropolis as has the blasé attitude....An incapacity thus emerges to react to new sensations with the appropriate energy..."

Georg Simmel, The Metropolis and Mental Life, 1903

"Just as on the one hand, we have become slaves of the production process, so, on the other, we have become slaves of the products. That means of technology (is offered to us) mastery over the self reliance and spiritual center of life through endless habits, endless distractions and endless superficial needs. Thus, the domination of the means has taken possession not only of specific ends but of the very center of ends...

Man has thereby become estranged from himself; an insuperable barrier of media, technical inventions, abilities and enjoyments has been erected between him and his most distinctive and essential being. There has never been an age in which such an emphasis on the intermediate aspects of life, in contrast to its central and definite purposes was totally alien to that age. "

Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, 1900



"Manipulative Communication"

"The structural trends of modern society and the manipulative character of its communication technique (through the mass media) come to a point of coincidence in the mass society, which is largely a metropolitan (i.e. city) society…The members of masses in metropolitan societies know one another only as fractions in specialized settings: the man who fixes the car, the girl who serves you lunch etc…Prejudgment and stereotypes flourish when people meet in such ways. The human reality of others does not, and cannot, come through…

The Narrow Life

Sunk in routines, they do not transcend, even by discussion much less by action, their more or less narrow lives. They do not gain a view of the structure of their society and of their role as a public within it. The city is a structure composed of such little environments, and the people in them tend to be detached from one another (seeking only those who hold similar opinions or are “like” them).

From both sides there is the increased dependence upon the formal media of communication, including those of (formal) education itself. But the man in the mass (society) does not gain a transcending view from these media (or such formal education); instead he gets his experience stereotyped, and then he gets sunk further by that experience. He cannot detach himself in order to observe, much less to evaluate, what he is experiencing. Rather than the internal discussion we call reflection, he is accompanied through his life-experience with a sort of unconscious, echoing monologue…He is not truly aware of his own daily experience and of its actual standards: he drifts, he fulfils habits, his behavior a result of the planless mixture of the confused standards and the uncriticized expectations that he has taken over from others…

He loses his independence, and more importantly, he loses the desire to be independent…He does not formulate his desires; they are insinuated into him. And, in the mass, he loses the self-confidence of the human being- if indeed he ever had it. For life in a society of masses implants insecurity and furthers impotence; it makes men uneasy and vaguely anxious; it isolates the individual from the solid group; it destroys firm group standards. Acting without goals, the man in the mass just feels pointless...." .

C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956: 320-323


Personality Market, the New Slavery

“In a society of employees dominated by the marketing mentality, it is inevitable that a personality market should arise. For in the great shift from manual skills to the art of ‘handling’, selling and servicing people, personal or even intimate traits of employees are drawn into the sphere of exchange and become commodities in the labor market…

Humanity as Commodity

Kindness and friendliness become aspects of personalized service or of public relations of big firms, rationalized to further the sale of something. With anonymous insincerity, the successful person thus makes an instrument of his own appearance and personality…In the formulas of ‘personnel experts’, men and women are to be shaped into the ‘well rounded, acceptible, effective personality’ (to close the deal or to make the sale)…

Humanity: For Sale By the Week

The personality market, the most decisive effect and symptom of the great salesroom, underlies the all pervasive distrust and self-alienation so characteristic of metropolitan people. Without common values and mutual trust, the cash nexus that links one man to another in transient contact has been made subtle in a dozen ways, and made to bite deeper into all areas of life and relations

People are required by the salesman ethic and convention to pretend interest in others in order to manipulate them…Men are estranged from one another as each secretly tries to make an instrument of the other, and in time a full circle is made: one makes an instrument of himself and is estranged from it also.”

(C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes, 1951:182,183, 187)

The Personality Market

"In the personality market human expressions are no long expressions of private aspirations. For all the features of the character, especially the familial ones- the kindly gesture, tact, courtesy, the smile- now become aspirations of the company's aspirations. They are the salaried mask of the individual, available by the week designed to advance the competitive position of the store with the public..."

(C. Wright Mills,The Competitive Personality.1946. Irving Horowitz, Editor, 1963:272)


Public Intelligence Apparatus

" A more adequate representation of social reality would be the puppet theatre, with the curtain rising on the little puppets jumping about on the ends of their invisible strings, cheerfully acting out the little parts that have been assigned to them in the tragi-comedy to be enacted. ...We see the puppets dancing on their miniature stage, moving up and down as the strings pull them around, following the prescribed course of their various little parts. We learn to understand the logic of this theatre and we find ourselves in its motions. We locate ourselves in society and thus recognize our own position as we hang from its subtle strings. For a moment we see ourselves as puppets indeed. But then we grasp a decisive difference between the puppet theatre and our own drama. Unlike the puppets, we have the possibility of stopping in our movements, looking up and perceiving the machinery by which we have been moved. In this act lies the first step towards freedom."

Peter Berger, Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, (1963:199)

Sociology is justified by the belief that it is better to be conscious than unconscious and that consciousness is a condition of freedom. To attain a greater measure of awareness, and with it of freedom, entails a certain amount of suffering and even risk. An educational process that would avoid this becomes simple technical training and ceases to have any relationship to the civilizing of the mind...

Peter Berger, Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective



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