Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Losing Your Soul to the Machine

"The conflict between the central power of the political State, and the whole set of functions and authorities contained in church, family, guild and local community has been, I believe, the main source of those dislocations of social structure and the uprootings of status which lie behind the problem of community in our age." - Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community


When I was in college one of the most interesting classes I took was an English class. It was one of those bizarre classes that apparently one teacher taught in the U.S. It was called, "The Contributions of Literature to Journalism." And was I glad I took it. The professor, for one thing, told us about the theme of the Machine State versus the Natural State.

That theme didn't get started until the Industrial Revolution, when the introduction of machines were as detrimental as they were beneficial. The poet and artist William Blake wrote of what he called "Dark Satanic Mills."

Actually machines are amoral - neither good nor bad - but there is such a thing as a Machine mentally, and there is such as thing as Man as Machine.

Later I discovered the Enclosure Acts, in which Englishmen were forced, by law and the military, off their land to work in the news mills created by the Industrial Revolution. Then there were the Clearances in Scotland, in which the Scots were forced off their land, again by law and the military.

That's when I realized the State and Machines don't mix too well.

Opposed to the Machine State is the Natural State, which can be described as Organic Society. Think the Ewoks. I think of it as the difference between the Political Means (the force, coercion and lies of the State) and persuasion and cooperation of the Economic Means.

The one eternal story, repeated over and over, is that the bigger the State gets the more Civilization retreats. There has never been an exception to that. In other words, the bigger the Machine gets, the more the Natural State shrivels up.

The example I remember my instructor using was of H.G. Well's The Time Machine. The Morlocks lived underground, were mutants, and were slaves to their machines. The Eloi lived above ground and were used as food by the Morlocks. That is, the Machine consumed them, just as the Machine attempts to consume everyone today.

The first time I saw the theme of the Machine State versus the Natural State in a major movie was in Star Wars. Darth Vader, who was described as more machine than man, was also called "twisted and evil."

The whole Empire was a gigantic machine, the Death Star could destroy entire worlds, and the Storm Troopers were nothing but cogs, totally identical and indistinguishable from each other.

Joseph Campbell, the mythologist who was George Lucas's mentor, called Darth Vader "a bureaucrat." The full quote is this: "Darth Vader has not developed his own humanity. He's a robot. He's a bureaucrat, living not in terms of himself but in terms of an imposed system. This is the threat to our lives that we all face today. Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes? How do you relate to the system so that you are not compulsively serving it?"

Campbell also wrhote: "Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that's what is threatening the world at this minute. ...Certainly Star Wars has a valid mythological perspective. It shows the state as a machine and asks, "Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?"

Campbell understood the State itself is a machine, and its purpose is to turn you into a machine, or a cog.

I see the Machine everywhere. And it always involves the State. The military. The police. You are an interchangeable and disposable cog in it. Corporations? Creations of the State. You don't think you are a cog? Think again. Public schools? Need I say more? Perhaps I do. Other have said it better. Think The Matrix (the world as a machine and people as its servants) and its ending song by "Rage Against the Machine":

Some of the jobs today can be done by the Epsilon Minuses of Brave New World. Sometimes I have this fantasy that they are exactly what the schools are trying to produce. In fact, that's what the Machine is trying to produce. When you realize that, that's taking the Red Pill, or better yet, putting on your Hoffman lenses,

It'd be nice if Hoffman lenses did exist so we could easily identify who has sold their souls to the Machine.

Here is another quote from Campbell: "People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about."

The feeling of being alive. Ray Bradbury wrote something similar in his The Martian chronicles: "Why live? Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life as possible." And: "The thing that drives me most often is an immense gratitude."

Bradbury also wrote of his immense gratitude at being alive. And what I have noticed is this: in the Machine State there is no feeling of being truly alive, and there is very little gratitude. That's what the Machine State does to you: it sucks out your life, the way Saruman did in the Lord of the Rings.

I also think of a saying of Jesus: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Unfortunately he has been turned into a servant of the Machine, which has no life, and certainly not abundant life, life to the full.

The disturbing thing is that some people want to be part of the Machine. I suspect there are people out there who would willingly become Borg. These days they are called fascists. Not too long ago, Communists, and before that, Nazis. They got their meaning, importance and community is life by giving their souls to the Machine. They are the ones who suck the life out of things, even though they don't know it, and of course don't believe it when told.

These days the Machine is growing - and soon will collapse - because of democracy (and democracy always falls from within). The Morlocks are voting themselves more and more power. The thieves have already arrived to steal and kill and destroy, and the innocent, as always, are the victims.

Someday, the Machine will blow up and grind to a stop. Then, as always, we'll start over again.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

We're surrounded.

Bob Wallace said...

We are.