Light Through McLuhan

The notion that technologies have disturbing or traumatic effects upon societies comes from Harold Innis, though McLuhan, developing Innis's thesis, shows himself to be more interested in the impact of technologies upon the psyche. In McLuhan's work, technologies have a traumatic impact upon the subject/society, who/which forms an unconscious 'identification' with technology as an extension of the self/society, and experiences new technologies as an assault to this identity; technologies also have a structural effect upon the psyche (i.e. a bias towards the 'audile-tactile' or 'visual'), which in turn has an effect upon the 'organization' of the society as a whole (i.e. 'tribal' or 'civilized'). Rewriting Innis, who says that cultures using 'new media of communication' are 'characterized by profound disturbances', McLuhan says that 'new technology disturbs the image, both private and corporate, in any society, so much so that fear and anxiety ensue and a new quest for identity has to begin.' (Innis, 1991 [1951]: 188; WP 126)

McLuhan's concept of the 'image' comes in part from Kenneth Boulding, who says in his book The Image that 'The basic bond of any society, culture, subculture, or organization is a "public image," that is, an image the essential characteristics of which are shared by the individuals participating in the group.' (Boulding, 1956: 64) This concept of the 'image' belongs to what Boulding calls an 'organic theory of knowledge', i.e. a theory of knowledge in which new knowledge must build upon and be integrated with previous knowledge. Technologies are traumatic insofar as they outstrip the individual's/society's skills of integration; all war, McLuhan says, can be attributed to 'accelerated technological change' (UM 102). McLuhan conflates war and education, depicting education as an act of 'aggression', and war as 'a form of compulsory education for the other guy' (WP 149, 153). Previously McLuhan had attributed that function to advertising.

The concept of the 'image' may be compared to Jacques Lacan's concept of the 'imaginary' and the Jungian concept of the 'archetype', and in fact Boulding suggests that it is the psychoanalyst's role 'to explore the image, both conscious and unconscious', though C. G. Jung 'seems to be going too far' in 'awarding images a status which is almost independent of the organism that supports them and that creates them' (Boulding, 1956: 152-153). Jung defines the 'archetypes' as 'psychic contents which have not yet been submitted to conscious elaboration', but that may be 'projected' upon an object (Jung, 1990 [1959]: 5). In fact McLuhan's concept of the 'image' is less like Jung's 'archetype' than it is like Lacan's concept of the imago, which is neither an object with symbolic function, nor 'projected' upon an object like a Jungian 'archetype', but that with which the 'I' (das Ich, the ego) identifies. In Lacan's 1949 (revised) paper 'The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience', Lacan describes the 'imaginary' phase of the child in which the ego is formed through identification with its own image. This phase, as Lacan describes it, is characterized by an 'identification, in the full sense that analysis gives to the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image' (Lacan, 1977a: 2). McLuhan likewise suggests that 'Every new technology diminishes sense interplay and awareness for precisely the area ministered to by that technology: a kind of identification of viewer and object occurs.' (MR 122)

In War and Peace in the Global Village (1968), McLuhan draws from biologist Otto Lowenstein's book The Senses (1966), which McLuhan says 'describ[es] the structure of nervous reaction incidentally and by implication' (WP 54). Elaborating on Lowenstein's concept of 'referred pain' as that which 'arises from impulses in one deep-seated organ, but is localized by the sufferer somewhere at the surface of the body', McLuhan says that: 'When one has been hurt by new technology, when the private person or the corporate body finds its entire identity endangered by physical or psychic change, it lashes back in a fury of self-defense.' (Lowenstein, 1966: 196; WP 75, 97) However, as with referred pain, 'the symptom against which we lash out may quite likely be caused by something about which we know nothing'. (WP 97) McLuhan also draws attention to Lowenstein's definition of phantom pain as that which can 'survive the disappearance of the initial source', to argue that the central nervous system is 'a key factor in pain' (WP 75). Applying Lowenstein's argument to the corporate body, McLuhan says: 'All new technologies bring on the cultural blues [i.e. referred pain], just as the old ones evoke phantom pain after they have disappeared.' (WP 15-16) The concepts of 'phantom pain' (as the effect of old technologies) and 'referred pain' (as the effect of new technologies) apply especially to electronic media in relation to the older mechanical environment. In fact McLuhan suggests that the inability of mechanical technology to provide 'feedback' to the central nervous system (where electronic communications technology is interpreted as the 'central nervous system' of the environment) induces a 'spastic' state. Quoting Lowenstein, McLuhan explains that the 'smooth' movements of the body rely upon the 'coordination between ... antagonistic pairs of flexor and extensor muscles': 'for each muscle moving a limb one way, there is at least one other moving it in the opposite direction' (WP 55). In a spastic patient, however, '[t]he feedback of information from the muscles is defective', so that movements are uncoordinated and jerky (WP 55-56). McLuhan uses this notion of the 'spastic' condition of the central nervous system to explain 'the spastic condition of society during the centuries of mechanical organization' (WP 54).

McLuhan has been criticized and branded a 'counterrevolutionary' for neglecting to incorporate a concept of 'power' in his work (see e.g. Kostelanetz, 1969: 226; Theall, 1971: 6; Kuhns, 1971: 197; Fekete, 1977: xvii; Kroker, 1996: 79). In fact, while never clearly articulated, McLuhan, like Sigmund Freud, finds aggression a more useful concept than that of power, reflecting the notion, inherited from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, of the Earth as an 'organization' of 'energy'. While Freud stresses the function of the super-ego in redirecting aggression back towards the self, Lacan interprets the aggressivity of the subject to be directed by an existential 'frustration' that one's identity is inextricably tied up with an image (i.e. a signifier) that has no 'objective' meaning, only a meaning that can and must be sought in the response of others (or, as Lacan calls the symbolic order, 'the big Other') (Lacan, 1977a: 42). Absent from McLuhan's early work, the notion of aggression started to engage McLuhan more and more after Understanding Media (1964), as the skirmishes in Vietnam escalated into a bloody and protracted war. Sources for Understanding Media include War and Human Progress (1950) by J.U. Nef (see UM 21); while in War and Peace in the Global Village McLuhan samples an eclectic range of books on human relationships, games, and war, from Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens (1938), a seminal study of human 'play', to studies of Napoleon's battle tactics and the Chinese 'Book of Changes', the I Ching. Take Today surveys a greater range of political theory, from Marx's Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Zur Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, 1859) and Capital (Das Kapital, in three volumes, 1867/1885/1894) to Albert Speer's memoirs of the Third Reich and transcripts of the Nuremberg war trials (also in UM 247); sources for Laws of Media (1988) and The Global Village (1989), meanwhile, include Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression (1966 [Das sogenannte Böse, 1963]), and Erich Fromm's The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), which includes a critique of Freud's concept of the 'death-drive' (see Fromm, 1973: 438-478). Notably, McLuhan in War and Peace in the Global Village also cites from Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace (1967), a book exposed as a hoax in 1972. Purported to have been written by a 'Special Study Group' for the United States government (the author was in fact a New York writer, Leonard C. Lewin), the Report from Iron Mountain presents a number of arguments against the desirability of 'peace', as well as strategies for preserving a state of war. McLuhan cites: 'War ... is itself the principal basis of organization on which all modern societies are constructed.... Readiness for war characterizes contemporary social systems more broadly than their economic and political structures, which it subsumes.' (WP 113, 166) McLuhan, connecting this argument with that of José Ortega y Gasset in Man and People (1957), where the handshake is described as 'an ancient ritual of war', comments that: 'To say that "readiness for war characterises contemporary social systems" is saying no more than that the customary handshake is a ritual form of tribal hostility used to maintain a diplomatic or armed truce between entities.' (WP 116)

That forms of exchange, such as the handshake, function to preserve peace (or an 'armed truce'), is an argument that has been explored by a number of anthropologists. Claude Lévi-Strauss in Les Structures Elementaire de la Parente (1949, revised edition 1967, tr. The Elementary Structures of Kinship) says that: 'Exchanges are peacefully resolved wars, and wars are the result of unsuccessful transactions.' (Lévi-Strauss, 1969: 67) Writing back to Freud's Totem and Taboo (1913), an analysis of the incest prohibition in 'primitive' societies (in which Freud posits the horde's killing of the 'primal father' as the origin of culture, guilt, and religion), Lévi-Strauss (1969: 24) says that society rather originates in the exchange of women: 'It is the fundamental step because of which, by which, but above all in which, the transition from nature to culture is accomplished.' Lévi-Strauss asserts that this custom or ritual inheres in all societies in the form of the incest prohibition, which universally prohibits one's sexual union with certain relatives named as 'mother', 'father', 'brother', 'sister', 'mother's sister', 'father's brother', etc. Lévi-Strauss (1969: 30) stresses that 'It is the social relationship more than the biological tie implied by the terms 'father', 'mother', 'son', 'daughter', 'brother', and 'sister', that acts as the determinant [in the taboo against incest].' In fact, he says, many societies 'place identical forms of marriage, from the point of view of proximity, at the two extreme poles of social regulation': 'parallel cousins' (i.e. one's mother's sister's children and one's father's brother's children) are named as one's own 'brothers' and 'sisters'; while 'cross-cousin marriage' between 'the respective descendants of a brother and a sister', 'despite the very close degree of consanguinity between the spouses, is regarded as an ideal' (Lévi-Strauss, 1969: 14) It is '[t]he fact of being a rule', says Lévi-Strauss (1969: 32), that is 'the very essence of the incest prohibition'. He says that in any marriage system, 'the result of the incest prohibition is fundamentally the same, viz., that as soon as I am forbidden a woman, she thereby becomes available to another man, and somewhere else a man renounces a woman who thereby becomes available to me.' (Lévi-Strauss, 1969: 51) In other words, 'the fact that I can obtain a wife is, in the final analysis, the consequence of the fact that a brother or father has given her up' (Lévi-Strauss, 1969: 62). Lévi-Strauss (1969: 32) says that such rules are not restricted to the matter of sexual unions, but are evident 'every time the group is faced with the insufficiency or the risky distribution of a valuable of fundamental importance'. Lévi-Strauss relates the necessity of 'collective intervention' to the condition of scarcity (of women, food, property, valuables, etc.) and says that 'collective intervention ... [is] a state of affairs regarded as virtually normal in primitive society... and necessary to the group if its coherence is not to be continually compromised.' (Ibid.). To Lévi-Strauss, it is through the exchange of valuables (women, food, etc.) that a person or group places another under an obligation to reciprocate in kind. Lévi-Strauss (1969: 52) says that: 'These gifts are either exchanged immediately for equivalent gifts or are received by the beneficiaries on condition that at a later date they will give counter-gifts often exceeding the original goods in value, but which in their turn bring about a subsequent right to receive new gifts surpassing the original ones in sumptuousness'. The 'skilful game of exchange', Lévi-Strauss (1969: 54) says, 'consists in a complex totality of conscious or unconscious manoeuvres in order to gain security and to guard oneself against risks brought about by alliances and by rivalries'. In the phenomenon of 'potlatch', found in the Indian societies of Alaska and the Vancouver region, huge quantities of valuables are transferred between groups, with the aim being 'to surpass a rival in generosity, to crush him if possible with future obligations which it is hoped he cannot meet, so as to take from him his prerogatives, titles, rank, authority and prestige' (Lévi-Strauss, 1969: 53). The same aim is evident, says Lévi-Strauss (1969: 55-56), in the Western exchange of 'certain non-essential goods, such as flowers, sweets and 'luxury articles', to which is attached a great psychological, aesthetic or sensual value': he notes that 'these gifts, like invitations (which, though not exclusively, are also free distributions of food and drink), are [intended to be] 'returned'.' Christmastime, for example, is 'nothing other than a gigantic potlatch' (Lévi-Strauss, 1969: 56).

While Lévi-Strauss connects war with the condition of scarcity, McLuhan hypothesizes that all wars are fought 'by the latest technology available in any culture' and that 'Every technology necessitates a new war' (UM 339; WP 98). He says that 'Any form of continued and accelerated innovation is, in effect, a declaration of war on one's own civilian population.... An act of war directed against another civilian population involves the population in revolutionary adjustments, such as we now take for granted on the home front in an age of rapid scientific advance' (TT 173). Reading the 'symptoms' of war to identify the 'causes', McLuhan wrote to Hubert Humphrey, then Vice President of the United States of America, that the Vietnam war was 'our first TV war, just as World War II was a radio war and World War I a railway war.' (L 349) That the Vietnam war was a 'TV war' was a point that had great currency in the 1960's. McLuhan elaborates: 'TV means that the Vietnam war is the first to be fought on American soil. Parents can now see their sons killed in living color. All sons become ours on TV.' (CIOB 52) The first war against Germany, he says, was a war of 'centralism and encirclement', i.e. of mechanical technology (railway); the second was a war of 'decentralism', i.e. of electronic technology (radio); since then, McLuhan says, all wars have been 'information' wars (CIOB 66). He says that as 'information' replaces the 'movement of commodities' in human activity, 'war itself tends more and more to assume the informational character.' (NAEB III: 130) Thus, 'World War III is a guerilla information war with no division between military and civilian.' (CIOB 66) That radio was to blame for the atrocities of World War II is an argument derived from Innis, repeated by McLuhan in a number of places (Innis, 1972 [1950]: 165; see e.g. TT 25, 192; ML 43; CA 82-83; CB 141; see also Roszak, 1969: 265-266; Ricks in HC 214-215). McLuhan says in the NAEB report that 'radio created Fascism', arguing that '[t]he immediate effect of radio on a tribal society is to intensify whatever elements of tribalism are present.... in Europe, it awakened the old tribal energies ... giving us the form which we call fascism.' (NAEB III: 14, 127; see also UM 215) By contrast, 'The effect of radio upon the sensibilities of completely detribalized men, such as the British and the American, has been to stir up a deep sense of responsibility for the human family in the forms which we associate with socialism and communism.' (NAEB III: 127) In 'The Medium is the Message' (1960) McLuhan cites from a speech by former German Armaments Minister Albert Speer at the Nuremburg Trials. Speer (one of Hitler's most trusted cohorts during the war) suggests that the telephone, teleprinter and radio 'made it possible for orders from the highest levels to be given direct to the lowest levels, where, on account of the absolute authority behind them, they were carried out uncritically' and suggests that '[t]he means of communication alone permit it to mechanize the work of subordinate leadership. As a consequence a new type develops: the uncritical recipient of orders' (UB 17, pp.18-19). McLuhan comments: 'What seems to have occurred in Germany and Japan under electronic impact was the brainwashing of a recently assumed literacy and reversion to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought.' (UB 17, p.19) He attributes the violence of the Holocaust to a 'confusion of images and goals' which he says is characteristic of all cultures confronted by new technologies (CB 141). 'When images or identity, private or corporate, are confused, the natural response is blind violence. Such violence is never a quest for a goal but for an image.' (Ibid.) He says 'This was the horror of Hitler.... the Germans violently sought a new identity to match their new [tribal] psychic dimension .... They used the mechanical technology of the nineteenth century in the delusion of meeting a twentieth-century destiny.' (Ibid.) Since the invention of the atom bomb, however, McLuhan says that 'It is no longer convenient, or suitable, to use the latest technologies for fighting our wars, because the latest technologies have rendered war meaningless. The hydrogen bomb is history's exclamation point. It ends an age-long sentence of manifest violence!' (MM 138) 'The nuclear bomb is not hardware', he says, but is rather a form of software, i.e. information, and so 'It ends war as a means of international power play.' (CIOB 66) 'Whenever hot wars are necessary these days,' he says, 'we conduct them in the backyards of the world with the old technologies. These wars are happenings, tragic games.' (MM 138) The cold war, meanwhile, is conducted with 'informational technology' which 'renders all of our institutions obsolete' (UM 339; L 352). Forms of information, like all other technology, 'constitute the emergence of new staples, and new natural resources in a society', thus 'when the largest commodity of all is information ... war means ... the movement ... of information.' (NAEB III: 130; V: 2) McLuhan explains: 'Real, total war has become information war. It is being fought by subtle electric informational media - under cold conditions, and constantly. The cold war is the real war front - a surround - involving everybody - all the time - everywhere.' (UM 339) If we reinterpret McLuhan's concept of war in the context of scarcity, we can better understand his argument that today, 'cold' wars, i.e. 'information' wars, as McLuhan calls them, are at least as effective than the 'hot' war (if not more so) in controlling the opposition's access to technologies/information - i.e. as resources, as 'staples'.

McLuhan describes the dynamics of the 'global village' in terms of a dialectical engagement between Western 'nationalism' and Eastern 'communism'. Under the impact of electronic communications technology, he says that 'The entire Western world is going East (tribal) and inward. The East is detribalizing - going West and outward.... All identity images, private and corporate, dissolve. Violent struggle to regain these images ensues.' (CIOB 66) The alignment of 'communism' with tribalism may have been inspired by C.G. Jung, who in the Preface to Psyche and Symbol says that 'Communism is an archaic, primitive and therefore highly insidious pattern which characterizes primitive social groups' (Jung, 1958: xvi; CA 22). In fact McLuhan eventually attributes all war to the 'threat of communism' as it is perceived by the West, where the 'West' includes all nations founded on the phonetic alphabet (Britain, Germany, France, the United States, etc.) and 'communist' cultures include all those that have not been exposed to the phonetic alphabet (Russia, China, India, Japan, the Middle East, tribal Africa, etc.). McLuhan often comments on the 'stability' of tribal societies compared with the fragmented 'civilization' of the West, which is characterized by technological disturbances (see e.g. UB 6, p.8). He says that in a tribal society 'all technology is part of a ritual that is desperately sought to be kept stabilized and permanent', and that tribal peoples 'simply cannot comprehend the concept of the individual or of the separate and independent citizen' (EM 240; WP 22-23). The effect of the phonetic alphabet, McLuhan says, is to fragment or compartmentalize all aspects of human interaction and experience, so that the Westerner possesses a 'highly specialized and precarious individual ego (or private psyche)', with corresponding nationalist pride, 'that visual kind of unity that springs men out of local and tribal patterns' (TT 258; UM 215). McLuhan describes how the advent of electronic media in the West has had a dual impact on the perception of 'communism': on the one hand, it produced communism as a Western 'ideal'; on the other hand, by collapsing the walls of time and space between nations, it produced the perception that 'all backward countries are "threats" to all developed countries', for they 'have never known social or political individualism' (L 349-350). McLuhan says that 'To be surrounded by rapidly developing countries whose patterns of culture are widely divergent from our own has certainly upset the American image ... Our confused efforts to re-establish goals, habits, attitudes, and the sense of security they bring have become the main order of business.' (WP 128-129) In the East, meanwhile, 'All the non-industrial areas like China, India, and Africa are speeding ahead by means of electric technology ... they have never had a nineteenth century; they have entered the twentieth century with their family kinship structures and their closely integral patterns of association still intact.' (WP 128) The war against 'communism' is futile, as far as McLuhan is concerned, for as he says in The Mechanical Bride, with men and women 'transformed into replaceable parts .... accustomed to the consumption of uniform products', then 'the effect of mass production and consumption is really to bring about a practical rather than theoretic communism' (MB 55). While in The Mechanical Bride McLuhan attributes this 'practical' communism to the effects of mechanical technology, he later interprets 'communism' as the adjunct of electronic technology and its 'retribalizing' effects, so that 'communism' now threatens the West from within (i.e. the communist party, rock'n'roll music, Woodstock, hippie culture, the beats, etc.). McLuhan mocks Karl Marx (1818-1883) for looking through a 'rear-view mirror' in his analysis of a class system already rendered obsolete through the industrial revolution (WP 4-5; TT 58-67, 68-78). 'Bless the Marxists', McLuhan says in Counterblast, 'for their devotion to the revolution that took place in our service environments over a century ago.' (CB 128) For McLuhan, the 'threat of communism' is paranoia on the part of the West, equivalent to that of the Kaiser in 1914 who 'saw the Slav countries and Russia as terrible threats to German security' (L 349, see also 350). McLuhan wonders if the United States, as 'the only country in history to begin with print technology as its guideline and pattern for all its establishments' is 'of all countries, the least able to confront the advent of electric technology, which contradicts every facet of specialist rational order.' (TT 271-272)

There is some evidence that McLuhan connected the effects of electronic communications technology with terrorism. He says in Take Today that 'The "enemy" in modern warfare is necessarily part of a single body politic, namely, the global community.' (TT 172) As he elaborates, '[t]he enemy within is far harder to oppose than the old-fashioned variety.... The arms race at home is at least as destructive of social peace as the exploding of the product in "enemy" territory.... we can no longer identify our enemies ...' (TT 173) In a formulation that has relevance both for Vietnam and the recent war in Iraq, McLuhan says 'In a word, the outer enemy reflects a fear that in fact originates at home. In seeking to stabilize the existing setup by an external war, there is the recognition of the danger of a social breakthrough at home.' (TT 172) He comments in a letter of 1965, after reviewing Jacques Ellul's Propaganda (1965 [Propagandes, 1962]), that 'under electronic conditions all cultures whatever become propaganda'. (L 324; see also CA 77, 82) Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), and also in Civilization and its Discontents, describes 'the narcissism of minor differences' by which 'communities with adjoining territories ... are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other' as 'a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which the cohesion between the members of the community is made easier.' (SE XXI: 114; XVIII: 101-102) When all the world is electronically 'connected', we witness instead the rise of numerous militant subcultures who declare war upon civilization itself. Writing about the Twin Towers attacks on September 11, 2001, Slavoj Žižek (2002: 9) questions whether the goal of 'today's fundamentalist terror' is 'to awaken us, Western citizens, from our numbness, from immersion in our everyday ideological universe?' Žižek (2002: 40) characterizes 'the split between First World and Third World' as 'the opposition between leading a long and satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one's life to some transcendent Cause.' McLuhan, by contrast, attributes the 'split between First World and Third World' to the clash between the 'communist' or 'tribal' values of non-alphabetic cultures and the individualist, visual values of the West. 'What is characteristic of tribal man,' says McLuhan, 'whether he be a Mountbatten, a "Limey," a Vietnamese, a Japanese, or a member of the kibbutzim, is instant readiness to serve the whole community and to die for it without a qualm.' (TT 266)

McLuhan contrasts the structure of 'civilized' society to that of 'tribal' society. He suggests that the tribal society is characterized by a 'horizontal structure' of 'decentralized' power, where ongoing learning of one's role within the society is integral to the way of life (TT 183). In times of war, however, a 'vertical structure' materializes, and the society is headed by a 'war chief' who 'designate[s] various jobs to various people' (Wilfred Pelletier, cited in Ibid.). The 'vertical structure' and 'delegation of jobs' characteristic of tribal warfare are the rule in Western industrial societies, however, which McLuhan says exist in 'a perpetual state of wartime energy organization' (Ibid.). In War and Peace in the Global Village, pp.23-24, McLuhan criticizes Ashley Montagu's argument in The Human Revolution (1965) that 'as man has advanced in civilization he has become increasingly, not less, violent and warlike ... [whereas] for the greater part of man's history every man of necessity lived a life of involvement in the welfare of his fellows' (Montagu, 1965: 24). McLuhan says: 'It helps to know that civilization is entirely the product of phonetic literacy, and as it dissolves with the electronic revolution, we rediscover a tribal, integral awareness that manifests itself in a complete shift in our sensory lives.' (WP 24-25) However, he warns, 'for the Western world, whose legal and educational institutions are based on the detribalized citizen and on visual training of perception and judgement, such shift to the auditory is violent and traumatic' (Renascence 12(4), p.208). He also warns that 'With literacy about to hybridize the cultures of the Chinese, the Indians, and the Africans, we are about to experience such a release of human power and aggressive violence as makes the previous history of phonetic alphabet technology seem quite tame.' (UM 50) Writing in The Gutenberg Galaxy of the clash between East and West, McLuhan cautions against aggravated violence, warning that 'there is enough inner trauma in such a change without the auditory cultures and the optical cultures flinging themselves at each other in outer manifestations of sadistic self-righteousness.' (GG 68)

If war is but an effect of 'technological trauma', then there is scope for prevention of war (UM 66). One method is by controlling access to technologies. McLuhan suggests in the NAEB Report that if we could understand the dynamics of technologies, we might then, 'in the interests of human equilibrium ... suppress various media [such] as radio or movies for long periods of time, or until the social organism is in a state to sustain such violent lopsided stimulus' (NAEB III: 9). As he elaborates in Understanding Media: 'Whole cultures could now be programmed to keep their emotional climate stable in the same way that we have begun to know something about maintaining equilibrium in the commercial economies of the world.' (UM 28) Such programming, McLuhan says elsewhere, would be 'the equivalent of a thermostatic control' for whole societies (UB 4, p.19). There is also scope for the prevention of war through art, which McLuhan says functions to 'immunize' audiences against trauma. '[Gustave] Flaubert ... [said] that if people had read and understood his Sentimental Education there would have been no war of 1870', notes McLuhan; similarly, 'Wyndham Lewis observes that if people had understood his analysis of popular culture in The Art of Being Ruled, there would have been no World War II.' (McLuhan, 2003: 13-14; see also UM 65) 'To have a disease without its symptoms is to be immune', says McLuhan; 'Today we have begun to sense that art may be able to provide such immunity.' (UM 64)

© Alice Rae 2009