Note: This is the concluding chapter of the first part of this book. It is the longest chapter from the first half of the text, and, certainly, the most important. If you have not had time to read all the preceding chapters, please make sure to read this, as it is not only vitally important in and of itself, but is essential to an understanding of the second half of the book. This chapter also marks the end of the critical phase of the book. The second half of the book aims to put forth a positive philosophy.
Despair, despair; machines roll through the cities with iron cries. An utter emptiness. A cold wind blowing in the streets and the rime of frost on the lips.
You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.
The triumph of the machine.
They talk of the triumph of the machine,
but the machine will never triumph.
Out of the thousands and thousands of centuries of man
the unrolling of ferns, white tongues of the acanthus lapping at the sun,
for one sad century
machines have triumphed, rolled us hither and thither,
shaking the lark’s nest till the eggs have broken.
Shaken the marshes, till the geese have gone
and the wild swans flown away singing the swan-song of us.
Hard, hard on the earth the machines are rolling,
but through some hearts they will never roll.
The lark nests in his heart
and the white swan swims in the marshes of his loins,
and through the wide prairies of his breast a young bull herds his
lambs frisk among the daisies of his brain.
And at last
all these creatures that cannot die, driven back
into the uttermost corners of the soul
will send up the wild cry of despair.
The trilling lark in a wild despair will trill down arrows from the sky,
the swan will beat the waters in rage, white rage of an enraged swan,
even the lambs will stretch forth their necks like serpents,
like snakes of hate, against the man in the machine:
even the shaking white poplar will dazzle like splinters of glass
And against this inward revolt of the native creatures of the soul
mechanical man, in triumph seated upon the seat of his machine
will be powerless, for no engine can reach into the marshes and depths of
So mechanical man in triumph seated upon the seat of his machine
will be driven mad from within himself, and sightless, and on that day
the machines will turn to run into one another
traffic will tangle up in a long-drawn-out crash of collision
and engines will rush at the solid houses, the edifice of our life
will rock in the shock of the mad machine, and the house will come
Then, far beyond the ruin, in the far, in the ultimate, remote places
the swan will lift up again his flattened, smitten head
and look round, and rise, and on the great vaults of his wings
will sweep round and up to greet the sun with a silky glitter of a new day
and the lark will follow trilling, angerless again,
and the lambs will bite off the heads of the daisies for very friskiness.
But over the middle of the earth will be the smoky ruin of iron
the triumph of the machine.
The triumph of the machine is one of Lawrence’s most important works, to the extent that if he had written nothing else, he would still be a supremely important figure. What is the Machine? For Lawrence, as for the present author, the Machine symbolizes a number of interrelated things:
the power of the sum total of machines and technological contrivances on the planet;
artificial systems that structure our lives in unnatural manners, such as capitalism, communism, and democracy;
the zeitgeist of the modern epoch, which pushes forward scientific and technological advances without considering their potential for long-term adverse effects;
the world-view in which faith in nearly everything diminishes, save for a misplaced faith in science to explain the unexplainable;
the will-to-power of the human self/ego in which egotism and hubris have ascended to power over the innate tenderness and humaneness of the soul;
and, principally, the great force of evil, historically called Dajjal, Antichrist, and many other names, which is the great anti-life force that rails against the Gods and pushes all of life towards mechanization, automatism, and finally nothingness.
The Machine is the pre-eminent modern-day manifestation of hubris and evil. Lawrence is the great anti-Machine prophet of our age, though others, such as Ludwig Klages, Martin Heidegger, Robinson Jeffers, R. S. Thomas, and Simone Weil carried forth a similar message. Now, more than ninety years after Lawrence’s passing into the abode of the Gods, people speak ever more about the saving graces of technology, as they become more and more caught in the vicious web of the Machine. It is almost as if the entire world has gone mad and developed Stockholm syndrome on a grand scale. We are tortured, beaten down, and brought to the edge of nothingness by the Machine, yet all the masses and upper classes can do is sing its praises. But, Lawrence confidently stated, “the machine will never triumph.” Even if the Machine temporarily triumphs in nearly every component of modern culture, he was supremely confident that life, love, and the Gods would win out in the end.
Anthropologists and archaeologists have evidence that for all of history, human life has been quite similar, no matter the time period. A peasant from 1700s France could have understood the emotions of an ancient Egyptian or Pelasgian Greek, and vice versa, yet now the vast bulk of humanity is qualitatively different to such an extent that homo sapiens is becoming—or has become—homo machina. Only recently have the machines gained ascendency over us, and over these past few hundred years men and machines have wreaked incredible horrors upon the entirety of creation. The swans Lawrence mentions are symbols for the fecund power of life, so when this life-giving power flies away, it means that the Machine is drawing us down into the abyss of nothingness, beneath the lowest lifeforms, beneath even living matter. The lives of modern people are machine-lives, and their brains are drowned in floods of machine noise. As Max Picard writes:
Even more than the labour process, the machine is the embodiment of the never-ending, sterile uniformity of the world of verbal noise.
The machine is noise turned into iron and steel. And just as the noise never dares to stop—as if it were afraid that it might disappear if it were not always to be occupying the whole of space, so there is a like fear in the machine that it might be made to vanish like a ghost if it were not always convincing itself of its own existence by being in constant motion.
Today man no longer believes in an enduring life after death, but as a substitute he lays claim to some kind of vague continuity that seems to be guaranteed by the never-ending process of noise, labour, and technics. In the machine constantly in motion, there is a kind of pseudo-eternity. It is as though man himself would cease to be manifest if the machine stopped moving. In a world in which there is no other kind of eternity, there is at least the continuous, never-ending movement of the machine.
In a factory it is as though silence was being poured into the empty spaces between the iron bars and manufactured into noise. It is as though the great machines were intending to grind down all the silence of earth—in fact, as though they had already ground it down and were now engaged merely on the last motions of digestion. The machines stand there in triumph, as if they were now considering a new campaign of destruction after the completion of the destruction of silence.
The machine at rest fills up the space in which it stands even more than when it is in motion. Everything belongs to it now. The very air and the stillness seem hard with steel.
The stillness that exists when machines stop working is no silence but an emptiness. Therefore there is an emptiness in the worker’s life after the day’s work in the factory. The emptiness of the machine follows him home. That is the true cause of his suffering, the real oppression. The peasant, on the other hand, continues to live in the silence in which he has worked, after his work is over. The workman is mute, the peasant silent.
People have spoken of “the world of the working class”, the “world of the machine”. But the machine that thrusts the worker into the emptiness in which it is itself, is no world, but the end of a world, and the end of a world is quite unable to fill a man with happiness, but only with sadness and despair. That is why the worker can never be content with the machine as a source of happiness.
Man can never be helped by the machine, because it removes him from that realm of time which is a moment of eternity. The continuously moving machine makes a mechanized duration of time, in which there is no autonomous moment, no ‘‘atoms of eternity”. This mechanized duration has no relationship of any kind to time: it does not fill time but space. Time seems to be stuck fast and transformed into space.
Thus man is separated from time. That is why he is so lonely when faced with the machine, which makes him merely a creature of space. And instead of time moving, only space seems to be moving with the motions of the machine. Thus man lives only in space, as in a shaft without end digging its way ever deeper through the machine.
In this word of the machine, the word of the poet can never be born, for the word of the poet comes from silence, not from noise. All the machine-poetry of today seems to have been punched out of metal by the machine itself.
And the god who is possible in this machine world is a god manufactured by the machine itself: in the truest sense of the word the deus ex machina.
The Machine is ascendant, the entire world is in its evil, diabolical iron grip, and it has its hooks and claws through the hearts, brains, bones, and stones of most men. But, it will never, ever enter the heart of any nonhuman animal, and there will always be, so long as humanity exists, some special men, Lawrence calls “sun-men,” who have a direct connection to the Gods and the cosmos, and who are impervious to the sweet-talking enticements of the Machine. For the sun-men are at one with all of creation from the tiger to the lamb.
A soul is immortal, yet if a man willingly gives in to the Machine, he loses a piece of his immortality. That person identifies with that which is mortal; therefore the soul atrophies, and after death, his poor, sad soul rejoins the universal Fire, but without memories, and with no personality. Alternatively, those who are in touch with life, including all animals, the sun-men, and the followers of the sun-men, will never die, and their lives will continue in perpetuity after death. Eventually, the Gods who absconded—though of course they never really left—and the souls of the departed will have their revenge, and an all-out war will be waged with the Machine, which is destined to lose. All creatures will rise up in rebellion, from the snakes, which are lords of life, to the peaceful lambs, and on that day life will triumph, robots will die, and the Machine will break down forever. This will not only be a physical rebellion, but a metaphysical revolution.
The robotic men who are nothing but parts of the Machine will cease to be, while the other robotic men who retain some elements of life within them will go insane. As has been said, “Whom the Gods would destroy they first make them mad.” When this apocalypse comes it will be the end of the world, the modern world, and it will be the most joyous day in history, the day the music of the spheres once again reverberates through the air of the earth. All machines, all systems, everything related to the Machine, and the Machine itself will come to an end so that life may once again flourish.
Life will not recover instantly, but it will triumph over the Machine. Even now we can see this. Look closely at Lawrence’s final two stanzas, then think of Chernobyl: despite it being the world’s worst ecological disaster, and despite the vile ruins and effects that remain, the lack of humans has helped animal populations to thrive in the region. The Machine will never triumph!
The Machine is a parasite on the human body: it cannot accomplish its ends without man, while man, in turn, becomes like a prostitute to the Machine, that great principle of evil on the face of the earth. Compared to all other lifeforms, man is the only one that is capable of great evil. As Robinson Jeffers writes:
That light blood-loving weasel, a tongue of yellow
Fire licking the sides of the gray stones,
Has a more passionate and more pure heart
In the snake-slender flanks than man can imagine;
But he is betrayed by his own courage,
The man who kills him is like a cloud hiding a star.
Then praise the jewel-eyed hawk and the tall blue heron;
The black cormorants that fatten their sea-rock
With shining slime; even that ruiner of anthills
The red-shafted woodpecker flying,
A white star between blood-color wing-clouds,
Across the glades of the wood and the green lakes of shade.
These live their felt natures; they know their norm
And live it to the brim; they understand life.
While men moulding themselves to the anthill have choked
Their natures until the souls die in them;
They have sold themselves for toys and protection:
No, but consider awhile: what else? Men sold for toys.
Uneasy and fractional people, having no center
But in the eyes and mouths that surround them,
Having no function but to serve and support
Civilization, the enemy of man,
No wonder they live insanely, and desire
With their tongues, progress; with their eyes, pleasure; with their hearts,
Their ancestors were good hunters, good herdsmen and swordsman,
But now the world is turned upside down;
The good do evil, the hope’s in criminals; in vice
That dissolves the cities and war to destroy them.
Through wars and corruptions the house will fall.
Mourn whom it falls on. Be glad: the house is mined, it will fall.
Evil, evil. Humans have an almost infinite capacity for evil, yet it is this that will be their undoing. The evil they create will destroy them, and as both Lawrence and Jeffers state, the house will come down. Everything today is the inverse of what it should be, but the Gods are still good, and so if you feel in your heart that the technological contrivances around you are wrong, then find a sun-man and pledge your undying allegiance to him and through him the great Gods. Through this pledge, you will be earning life, and will engage in the only just war, the holy war against the Machine.
Technology has not just changed the world, it has changed who humans are. Qualitatively, the very cores of most people have been drastically changed by technology in a negative manner. Ubiquitous clocks, the printing press, typewriters, and phones have all dramatically changed the way humans interact with the world. Additionally, all of these inventions change the way people think. Primitive hand tools are human-centric, but as technology marches on, rather than tools being molded to humans, humans are molded to tools. The change from oral to written communication has had adverse effects upon memory retention. The printing press, typewriters, and other inventions may, at first, have caused a stimulus of intellectual activity, but, overall, each of these devices has made the human dumber, more docile, more domesticated, and weaker physically, mentally, and emotionally. Much of the technological progress over human history applied to tribes, communities, or governments, such as the development of superior tools for war, but starting in the late 1800s everything changed, with telephones, electric lights, typewriters, radios, and automobiles all coming in rapid succession. Every one of our inventions today is an enhancement of those original inventions; rather than being new machines, they are enlargements of the Machine. For all who care about freedom, life, and all things spiritual, it is imperative to step away from mechanical contrivances for the good of their souls. Computers dull the senses, harden the heart, slow the mind, and imprison the soul. To be truly human, we must free ourselves from the machines. Heidegger tells us why:
[W]hen writing was withdrawn from the origin of its essence, i.e. from the hand, and was transferred to the machine, a transformation occurred in the relation of Being to man. It is of little importance for this transformation how many people actually use the typewriter and whether there are some who shun it. It is no accident that the invention of the printing press coincides with the inception of the modern period. The word-signs become type, and the writing stroke disappears. The type is “set,” the set becomes “pressed.” This mechanism of setting and pressing and “printing” is the preliminary form of the typewriter. In the typewriter we find the irruption of the mechanism in the realm of the word. The typewriter leads again to the typesetting machine. The press becomes the rotary press. In rotation, the triumph of the machine comes to the fore. Indeed, at first, book printing and then machine type offer advantages and conveniences, and these then unwittingly steer preferences and needs to this kind of written communication. The typewriter veils the essence of writing and of the script. It withdraws from man the essential rank of the hand, without man’s experiencing this withdrawal appropriately and recognizing that it has transformed the relation of Being to his essence.
It is interesting that Heidegger uses the term “triumph of the machine,” but what he describes is precisely that, namely the history of the triumph of the Machine over Being. As we have made clear, ultimately, the Machine will never triumph, but at this point of history, on this planet, the power of the Machine is at its apex and its failure will only appear later. Heidegger also makes clear that one reason why the Machine is evil is that it withdraws man from Being. During this period of the end times of Western man—which is now the human of the East as well—the human being, who once thought of himself as the lord of creation, now cowers before his creations. What could be more sad, more pathetic than any sight of modern humans hunched over electronic devices, staring blank-faced into a screen? Most humans are, or are becoming robots, and most of these humans are the living dead. This historical epoch is the epoch of the Machine, and during this period, most of humanity is reduced to the state of a form of slavery, and the rest the world has become a living tragedy in which the supreme principle of evil drives onward every day towards the destruction of all beauty. Oswald Spengler describes this phenomenon lucidly:
Today we stand on the summit, at the point when the fifth act is beginning. The last decisions are taking place, the tragedy is closing.
Every high Culture is a tragedy. The history of mankind as a whole is tragic. But the sacrilege and the catastrophe of the Faustian are greater than all others, greater than anything Aeschylus or Shakespeare ever imagined. The creature is rising up against its creator. As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man. The Lord of the World is becoming the Slave of the Machine, which is forcing him—forcing us all, whether we are aware of it or not—to follow its course. The victor, fallen, is dragged to death by the raging team.
Life has become severely impoverished over the last two centuries. It is difficult, sometimes, even for the sun-men to get through the days without despair, but despair is useless and the Machine is relentless. There is only one solution to this despair: to love the Gods and hate the Machine. As Lawrence writes, we must destroy the machines and cleanse our epoch of the technological mistake:
Because when I feel the human world is doomed, has doomed itself by its own mingy beastliness—then I feel the colonies aren’t far enough. The moon wouldn’t be far enough, because even there you could look back and see the earth, dirty, beastly, unsavoury among all the stars: made foul by men. Then I feel I’ve swallowed gall, and it’s eating my inside out, and nowhere’s far enough away to get away.—But when I get a turn, I forget it all again. Though it’s a shame, what’s been done to people these last hundred years: men turned into nothing but labour-insects, and all their manhood taken away, and all their real life. I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake.
Primitive earth was perfect, divine, full of beauty and splendor. The Gods all rejoiced at all of creation. Then mankind decided to let the soul atrophy and to engorge the intellect. This was the fall of man. After this, it was only a matter of time before man would create the Machine, and once created, it was only a short time more before the Machine would achieve dominance over its creator. At this all the Gods and Goddesses wail in sadness. Now the Machine fights not only man, but the Gods themselves. R. S. Thomas puts this poetically as follows:
It was perfect. He could do
Nothing about it. Its waters
Were as clear as his own eye. The grass
Was his breath. The mystery
Of the dark earth was what went on
In himself. He loved and
Hated it with a parent’s
Conceit, admiring his own
Work, resenting its
Independence. There were trysts
In the greenwood at which
He was not welcome. Youths and girls,
Fondling the pages of
A strange book, awakened
His envy. The mind achieved
What the heart could not. He began planning
The destruction of the long peace
Of the place. The machine appeared
In the distance, singing to itself
Of money. Its song was the web
They were caught in, men and women
Together. The villages were as flies
To be sucked empty.
A tear. Enough, enough,
He commanded, but the machine
Looked at him and went on singing.
There is a sound metaphysical basic for the formation of the Machine. This philosophical basis is an ontological dualism, which expresses itself epistemologically through the incessant search for knowledge outside of the self. On the one hand, we seek to increase the size of the ego, and the way we do this is through our inventions, but with every greater invention we become increasingly smaller. The irony is that the greater we think we are, the smaller we actually are. As people stopped worshiping the life-affirming Gods, they gave their hearts and souls to new religions, which on the surface are anti-machine. But in certain principles—which acted like Trojan horses—doors were opened to the ascendency of atheistic, scientistic, technological man. As soon as the doors were open to the false abundances of science, the doors of perception were closed. We felt we were better than human, that we were gods, yet the more machine-like we became, and the more we desired life-killing unity, the more the basest parts of our animal natures came out, but instead of fighting it out with fists, we used machine guns, rockets, and poison gasses. Humans are, by nature, just as noble as any other species, but once we pledge allegiance to the Machine, we become unspeakably evil. Lawrence describes this process in the following profound passage:
When I am all that is not-me, then I have perfect liberty, I know no limitation. Only I must eliminate the Self.
It was this religious belief which expressed itself in science. Science was the analysis of the outer self, the elementary substance of the self, the outer world. And the machine is the great reconstructed selfless power. Hence the active worship to which we were given at the end of the last century, the worship of mechanised force.
Still we continue to worship that which is not-me, the Selfless world, though we would fain bring in the Self to help us. We are shouting the Shakespearean advice to warriors: “Then simulate the action of the tiger.” We are trying to become again the tiger, the supreme, imperial, warlike Self. At the same time our ideal is the selfless world of equity.
We continue to give service to the Selfless God, we worship the great selfless oneness in the spirit, oneness in service of the great humanity, that which is Not-Me. This selfless God is He who works for all alike, without consideration. And His image is the machine which dominates and cows us, we cower before it, we run to serve it. For it works for all humanity alike.
At the same time, we want to be warlike tigers. That is the horror: the confusing of the two ends. We warlike tigers fit ourselves out with machinery, and our blazing tiger wrath is emitted through a machine. It is a horrible thing to see machines hauled about by tigers, at the mercy of tigers, forced to express the tiger. It is a still more horrible thing to see tigers caught up and entangled and torn in machinery. It is horrible, a chaos beyond chaos, an unthinkable hell.
The tiger is not wrong, the machine is not wrong, but we, liars, lip-servers, duplicate fools, we are unforgivably wrong. We say: “I will be a tiger because I love mankind; out of love for other people, out of selfless service to that which is not me, I will even become a tiger.” Which is absurd. A tiger devours because it is consummated in devouring, it achieves its absolute self in devouring. It does not devour because its unselfish conscience bids it do so, for the sake of the other deer and doves, or the other tigers.
Having arrived at the one extreme of mechanical selflessness, we immediately embrace the other extreme of the transcendent Self. But we try to be both at once. We do not cease to be the one before we become the other. We do not even play the roles in turn. We want to be the tiger and the deer both in one. Which is just ghastly nothingness. We try to say, “The tiger is the lamb and the lamb is the tiger.” Which is nil, nihil, nought.
We cannot simply smash the Machine; we must also sever the cords that bind us to this era, and to do that we need to have a philosophical revolution, and a spiritual paradigm shift. So long as we continue to abide by the ontological and epistemological dictates of the Machine, we will never escape its clutches. If we can rise to this challenge, life will heal, the earth will heal, and the Machine will lose, but humans may not be around for that final triumph of life over the Machine, as evinced in the following poem by R. S. Thomas:
There was a flower blowing
and a hand plucked it.
There was a stream flowing
and a body smirched it.
There was a pure mirror
of water and a face came
and looked in it. There were words
and wars and treaties, and feet trampled
the earth and the wheels
seared it; and an explosion
followed. There was dust
and silence; and out of the dust
a plant grew, and the dew formed
upon it; and a stream seeped
from the dew to construct
a mirror, and the mirror was empty.
The word we need, the word we wait for is “miracle.” To stop the machines and to change the consciousness of all of humanity, at the same time as we bring beauty back to the earth—or more correctly, allow beauty to return—requires nothing short of a miracle. Lucky for us, the Gods grant miracles to those who have faith. Let us, along with Lawrence, pray to Dionysus to make life flow from every dead place:
We wait for the miracle, for the new soft wind. Even the buds of iron break into soft little flames of issue. So will people change. So will the machine-parts open like buds and the great machines break into leaf. Even we can expect our iron ships to put forth vine and tendril and bunches of grapes, like the ship of Dionysos in full sail upon the ocean.
It only wants the miracle, the new, soft, creative wind: which does not blow yet. Meanwhile we can only stand and wait, knowing that what is, is not. And we can listen to the sad, weird utterance of this classic America, watch the transmutation from men into machines and ghosts, hear the last metallic sounds. Perhaps we can see as well glimpses of the mystic transsubstantiation.
As Lawrence states above, “what is, is not.” Our current reality is a reality of unreality, full of simulacra. That which is truly real is on one hand the pulsing life blood of the living man in the here and now, and on the other hand, that which cannot be seen, but can always be felt, namely the soul, the Gods, and the fire-filled umbilical cord called Life that links the two together. The miracle will come. Sometimes the greatest joy is simply to take in a small bit of beauty and wait. As Wendell Berry writes:
are waiting to sing in the trees
that will grow in the quiet
that will come when the last
of the dire machines has passed,
burning the world, and the burning
And so am I.
We should work for the good, but even without us, even if the last man was made into a robot, the forces of life embodied as the Spirits of Place will work to end the reign of the Machine. We see this every day. How else would a single, simple, lonely dandelion destroy concrete? As Lawrence writes:
It is the same bitter tale of the horrid advance of civilisation that subjects all life to its mechanisation of laws and penalties and benevolent Providence. Over the whole world we hear the great wail of natural life under the triumph of civilisation. But the violated Spirits of Place will avenge themselves. How long will such a civilisation sterilise the creative world? Not long. The Spirits of Place take a slow, implacable revenge.
As for the task of those who despise the Machine, there is only one solution, a final solution, in which war is waged against the Machine, and all machines are wiped from the face of this planet. Samuel Butler makes this eminently clear in the following—remarkably prescient (written in 1863!)—passage:
Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.
Our opinion is that war to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race. If it be urged that this is impossible under the present condition of human affairs, this at once proves that the mischief is already done, that our servitude has commenced in good earnest, that we have raised a race of beings whom it is beyond our power to destroy, and that we are not only enslaved but are absolutely acquiescent in our bondage.
Anyone who argues that we cannot go back to a more natural form of life because there would be untold suffering due to our dependence on machines has inadvertently made a great argument against those same machines. Any tool, device, or contrivance that one feels cannot be done without, never should be used in the first place. Now we have jumped down the rabbit hole and find ourselves in a pickle, but it is a totally fallacious argument to say that since jumping out of the hole will cause suffering we should dig the hole deeper and deeper. No! We must end our reliance on machines now, no matter the cost, no matter the suffering. The present author wishes peace and lack of suffering on all beings, but if we don’t pull the plug right now, there will be much worse suffering down the line.
I assume by this point that anyone who has made it this far in the book is at least questioning mankind’s reliance on technology. He or she may not yet be convinced of the necessity or even the possibility of freeing mankind from that reliance, the drastic steps required to accomplish such freeing, or the catastrophic consequences of failing. As such, let us come together now and recite the following prayer from Wendell Berry:
[D]amn their bank accounts, inflated
by the spent breath of all the earth,
of species forever changed to money.
Let their legal falsehoods, corpses
incorporated that cannot see
or feel, think or care, that eat
the world and shit money, fry
in Hell in their own fat. May
their incarnate steel and fire
that destroy the mountains forever
be damned. May the chemicals
be damned that poison the rivers
and damned too the alien slop and fume
that spoil the air, the water, and all
the living world, sold, soiled, or burned.
May the plastic trash that defiles lands
and oceans, the machines that destroy
the work of human hands, the mind-
destroying mechanical dreams be damned,
completely damned. Be damned also
to the incorporations of industrial war
that is the triumph of every machine,
that will destroy any life and every life,
any place and every place, for victory
that always is defeat. May the heartless
speech of machines that break the heart
of the smallest wholeness, and may
the radiant waste that has made geniuses
idiots forever be damned.
Notice the same phrasing that both Lawrence and Heidegger used: “Be damned […] to the […] the triumph of every machine, that will destroy any life and every life.” Great minds must think alike, but Lawrence was the first to come, and he also saw the clearest. Damn the machines, every last one of them, and damn the Machine to the nothingness from which it sprang.
The triumph of the machine. 
They talk of the triumph of the machine,
but the machine will never triumph.
Out of the thousands and thousands of centuries of man,
the unrolling of ferns, white tongues of acanthus lapping at the sun,
for one sad century
machines have triumphed, rolled us hither and thither,
hardened the earth, shaking the lark’s nest till the eggs have broken.
Shaken the marshes, till the geese have gone
and the wild swans flown away, singing the swan-song of us.
Hard, hard on the earth the machines are rolling,
but through some hearts they will never roll.
Ah no, in the hearts of some men there is still sanctuary
where the lark nests safely.
The lark nests in his heart,
and through the reeds of his marshy loins
swims the mallard duck at dawn, in that quick joy;
deer crash their horns in the mountains of his breast,
there are foxes in the cover of his beard.
Ah no, the machine will never triumph;
in some hearts still the sanctuaries of wild life
are quite untouched.
And at last
all the creatures that cannot die while one heart harbours them
they will hear a silence fall
as the machines fail and finish;
they will hear the faint rending of the asphalt roads
as the hornbeam pushes up his sprouts;
they will hear far, far away the last factory hooter
send up the last wild cry of despair
as the machine breaks finally down.
And then at last
all the creatures that were driven back into the uttermost corners of the
they will peep forth.
We repeat here the poem “The Triumph of the Machine,” albeit in a different version, due to its incredible importance to this text, the world, and Lawrence’s oeuvre. Note that this version of the poem contains some different imagery, and rather than the violently apocalyptic imagery of the other version, there is a focus on some men’s hearts being a refuge for wild things. We have had many negative criticisms of humanity, but, as Lawrence makes clear in the poem, humans do have some good characteristics. The human memory can be a repository for wild things; we can remember the dodo bird long after it has vanished from the planet. Without directly naming them, this poem is referring to the sun-men. Sun-men are those men who are directly connected to the cosmos, not only out there, but here in the world as well. A sun-man’s heart is a pasture for all the spirit animals. When a man opens his heart to the spirit of the bear, bison, owl, hawk, and mountain lion, he attains some of their power and understanding—something the Machine can never attain. In the last lines, Lawrence makes clear that when the Machine fails, the wild creatures of the world will be reborn, regain their power, and be resurrected. All that the Machine had killed will be reborn. A machine can break down and it can be repaired, but it can never be resurrected. Lawrence and Christianity may be at odds on certain issues, but they agree in the importance of resurrection, both spiritual and physical.
Once the machine age ends, and it will end, life will recover on this planet, and all that will remain will be intermittent reminders of a bygone civilization. Eventually, even that will turn to dust. Jeffers muses on this thusly:
When the sun shouts and people abound
One thinks there were the ages of stone and the age of bronze
And the iron age; iron the unstable metal;
Steel made of iron, unstable as his mother; the towered-up cities
Will be stains of rust on mounds of plaster.
Roots will not pierce the heaps for a time, kind rains will cure them,
Then nothing will remain of the iron age
And all these people but a thigh-bone or so, a poem
Stuck in the world’s thought, splinters of glass
In the rubbish dumps, a concrete dam far off in the mountain…
We have stated that the Machine is evil, but why is it evil? Clearly it is evil for what it does, but it is also evil for what it is and what it symbolizes. The Machine deposes the Gods, and is, in fact, an anti-God. For this reason, if no other, all people, from all the world’s faiths, should band together to smash the Machine. As Spengler writes:
Man has felt the machine to be devilish, and rightly. It signifies in the eyes of the believer the deposition of God. It delivers sacred Causality over to man and by him, with a sort of foreseeing omniscience is set in motion, silent and irresistible.
“We know enough. We know too much. We know nothing. Let us smash something. Ourselves included. But the machine above all.”Nothing, save the sight of the Gods, can give a sun-man more joy than the vision of the Machine being smashed to smithereens. Lawrence had no doubt it will happen. Already, he could see the magical forces inherent in the world working towards the downfall of the Machine. These forces now are subtle, but once were embodied and will be so again. Various times and places have named them differently, such as elves or fairies, but to the visionaries and poets they do exist and they are plotting to undermine the modern era. As Lawrence writes:
The spirit of the place is a strange thing. Our mechanical age tries to override it. But it does not succeed. In the end the strange, sinister spirit of the place, so diverse and adverse in differing places, will smash our mechanical oneness into smithereens, and all that we think the real thing will go off with a pop, and we shall be left staring.
But what of development, progress, and all the good things modernity, technology, and machines have brought us? Dear reader, if you think any of these things are good, you must be blind to their dark side. Progress comes from the word progredi, meaning to walk forward, so modern technology is not real progress at all, if it kills our abilities to walk on our own two feet, and promotes in us a far less developed way of life—spiritually, philosophically, and artistically—than any previous mode of living. Ludwig Klages calls out modern “progress” for what it really is:
Make no mistake: “progress” is the lust for power and nothing besides, and we must unmask its method as a sick, destructive joke. Utilizing such pretexts as “necessity,” “economic development,” and “culture,” the final goal of “progress” is nothing less than the destruction of life. This destructive urge takes many forms: progress is devastating forests, exterminating animal species, extinguishing native cultures, masking and distorting the pristine landscape with the varnish of industrialism, and debasing the organic life that still survives. It is the same for livestock as for the mere commodity, and the boundless lust for plunder will not rest until the last bird falls. To achieve this end, the whole weight of technology has been pressed into service, and at last we realize that technology has become by far the largest domain of the sciences.
If that is progress, we want no part of it, and if that means we are reactionary, then we embrace that term with pride. Ultimately, we are for all that is pro-life, spiritual, and God-filled, and against anything that reeks of the Machine, such as technology of any sort, machines, no matter how small, the systems that are inherent to the modern way of life, and the hubristic, egocentric attitudes of modern automatic-consciousness robot humanity. What is to be done? Simple:
What to do? Stay green.
Never mind the machine,
Whose fuel is human souls.
Live large, man, and dream small.
Believe that things will change. Life always finds a way. If you feel that the Machine is too powerful today, know that tomorrow it will be reduced to nothing. Wendell Berry presents us with a message, which we have been trying to get across here, namely that the Machine will never triumph:
There will be
a resurrection of the wild.
Already it stands in wait
at the pasture fences.
It is rising up
in the waste places of the cities.
When the fools of the capitals
have devoured each other
and the machines have eaten
the rest of us, then
there will be the second coming
of the trees. They will come
straggling over the fences
slowly, but soon enough.
The highways will sound
with the feet of the wild herds,
returning. Beaver will ascend
the streams as the trees
close over them.
The wolf and panther
will find their old ways
through the nights. Water
and air will flow clear.
will have passed,
and certain pleasures.
The wind will do without
corners. How difficult
to think of it: miles and miles
and no window.
Man and Machine
Man invented the machine
and now the machine has invented man.
God the Father is a dynamo
and God the Son a talking radio
and God the Holy Ghost is gas that keeps it all going.
And men have perforce to be little dynamos
and little talking radios
and the human spirit is so much gas, to keep it all going.
Man invented the machine
so now the machine has invented man.
As Lawrence states above, first it was man that invented, built, and maintained machines, but now machines are so powerful and ubiquitous that they change the nature of human consciousness to such an extent that it can be said, metaphorically, that machines are now making men. In the words of Georges Bernanos: “Man made the machine and the machine became man, by a kind of diabolical inversion of the mystery of the Incarnation.”When the consciousness of mankind changes, the metaphysical beliefs or understandings change as well, so that all the metaphysical truths that we have collectively understood for tens of thousands of years are being rejected and replaced with falsities. For man in the Machine age, the only god is our faith in science and technology. Ultimately, though the history of how we got to this point is important and interesting, the most important thing is to know that everything we thought we knew was wrong, and that modernity is an aberration. As Mumford writes:
The final criticism of Western civilization, as it has developed these last four centuries, is that it has produced the sterile, loveless world of the machine: hostile to life and now capable, if modern man’s compulsive irrationalities increase, of bringing all life to an end.
The world of the Machine is a world without love, beauty, peace, and, finally, life. To draw out some of the nuances of Lawrence’s preceding poem, we can do no better than quote from Schuon whose following passage is, essentially, an extensive gloss on this topic of “Man and Machine”:
In our times it is the machine which tends to become the measure of man, and thereby it becomes something like the measure of God, though of course in a diabolically illusory manner; for the most “advanced” minds it is in fact the machine, technics, experimental science, which will henceforth dictate to man his nature, and it is these which create the truth—as is shamelessly admitted—or rather what usurps its place in man’s consciousness. It is difficult for man to fall lower, to realize a greater mental perversion, a more complete abandonment of himself, a more perfect betrayal of his intelligent and free personality: in the name of “science” and of “human genius” man consents to become the creation of what he has created and to forget what he is, to the point of expecting the answer to this from machines and from the blind forces of nature; he has waited until he is no longer anything and now claims to be his own creator. Swept away by a torrent, he glories in his incapacity to resist it.
And just as matter and machines are quantitative, so man too becomes quantitative: the human is henceforth the social. It is forgotten that man, by isolating himself, can cease to be social, whereas society, whatever it may do—and it is in fact incapable of acting of itself—can never cease to be human.
As Schuon makes clear, one of the most diabolical ramifications of the ascendency of the Machine is that our metaphysical systems, cherished notions, and even modes of thought are turned on their heads. Under the reign of the Machine, the Machine functions as a god, and the Gods are treated as if they lack existence, which is, clearly, the opposite of humanity’s traditional understanding of reality. Also, as Schuon states, magisterially, man, through the act of lowering himself to the Machine, sinks below the Machine in the order of creation, forgetting his true station in life; and though still thinking of himself as at the level of angels, he has descended to the bottom of the Great Chain of Being. Once at this stage, man becomes, in effect, a psychological slave to the Machine, but rather than fighting his enslavement, he is oblivious to it, and revels in his chains, thinking they are blessings.
In terms of the history of the genesis of the Machine, one can do no better than to read the second volume of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Spengler terms the modern era Faustian, and rightly so, since we have sold our souls to a satanic force to temporarily gain power. More importantly, Spengler describes the religious origins of the Machine, and the metaphysical and human errors which led to the Machine’s birth. This is very important so that we may learn from our mistakes, and, once the Machine is vanquished, never make the same mistakes again. If we wish to be like Gods, we must be who we are; we must be men. To be anything else, to strive for dominance over nature or for god-like powers lowers us in the chain of being. The quotation from Spengler, which we will explain in more detail is as follows:
[T]he Faustian technics, which with all its passion of the third dimension, and from earliest Gothic days, thrusts itself upon Nature, with the firm resolve to be its master. Here, and only here, is the connexion of insight and utilization a matter of course. Theory is working hypothesis from the outset. The Classical investigator “contemplated” like Aristotle’s deity, the Arabian sought as alchemist for magical means (such as the Philosophers’ Stone) whereby to possess himself of Nature’s treasures without effort, but the Western strives to direct the world according to his will.
The Faustian inventor and discoverer is a unique type. The primitive force of his will, the brilliance of his visions, the steely energy of his practical ponderings, must appear queer and incomprehensible to anyone at the standpoint of another Culture, but for us they are in the blood. Our whole Culture has a discoverer’s soul. To dis-cover that which is not seen, to draw it into the light-world of the inner eye so as to master it—that was its stubborn passion from the first days on. All its great inventions slowly ripened in the deeps, to emerge at last with the necessity of a Destiny. All of them were very nearly approached by the high-hearted, happy research of the early Gothic monks. Here, if anywhere, the religious origins of all technical thought are manifested. These meditative discoverers in their cells, who with prayers and fastings wrung God’s secret out of him, felt that they were serving God thereby. But for all of them, too, there was the truly Faustian danger of the Devil’s having a hand in the game, the risk that he was leading them in spirit to that mountain on which he promises all the power of the earth. Again and again they succumbed to this ambition; they forced this secret out of God in order themselves to be God. They listened for the laws of the cosmic pulse in order to overpower it. And so they created the idea of the machine as a small cosmos obeying the will of man alone.
Then followed, however, simultaneously with Rationalism, the discovery of the steam-engine, which upset everything and transformed economic life from the foundations up. Till then Nature had rendered services, but now she was tied to the yoke as a slave, and her work was as though in contempt measured by a standard of horse-power. As the horse-powers run to millions and milliards, the numbers of the population increase and increase, on a scale that no other Culture ever thought possible. This growth is a product of the Machine, which insists on being used and directed, and to that end centuples the forces of each individual. For the sake of the machine, human life becomes precious. Work becomes the great word of ethical thinking; in the eighteenth century it loses its derogatory implication in all languages. The machine works and forces man to co-operate.
And what now develops, in the space of hardly a century, is a drama of such greatness that the men of a future Culture, with other soul and other passions, will hardly be able to resist the conviction that “in those days” Nature herself was tottering. The technique will leave traces of its heyday behind it when all else is lost and forgotten. For this Faustian passion has altered the Face of the Earth.
This is the outward—and upward-straining life-feeling—true descendant, therefore, of the Gothic—as expressed in Goethe’s Faust monologue when the steam-engine was yet young. The intoxicated soul wills to fly above Space and Time. An ineffable longing tempts him to indefinable horizons.
Never save here has a microcosm felt itself superior to its macrocosm, but here the little life-units have by the sheer force of their intellect mastered inert matter. It is a triumph, so far as we can see, unparalleled. Only this our Culture has achieved it, and perhaps only for a few centuries.
But for that very reason Faustian man has become the slave of his creation. The machine has forcibly increased his numbers and changed his habits in a direction from which there is no return. The peasant, the hand-worker, even the merchant, appear suddenly as inessential in comparison with the three great figures that the Machine has bred and trained up in the cause of its development: the entrepreneur, the engineer, and the factory-worker. Out of a quite small branch of manual work there has grown up (in this one Culture alone) a mighty tree that casts its shadow over all the other vocations—namely, the economy of the machine-industry. It forces the entrepreneur not less than the workman to obedience. Both become slaves, and not masters, of the machine, which now for the first time develops its devilish and occult power. Not merely the importance, but the very existence of the industry depends upon the existence of the hundred thousand talented, rigorously schooled brains that command the technique and develop it onward and onward. The quiet engineer it is who is the machine’s master and destiny. His thought is as possibility what the machine is as actuality. There have been fears, thoroughly materialistic fears, of the exhaustion of the coal-fields. But so long as there are worthy technical path-finders, dangers of this sort have no existence. When, and only when, the crop of recruits for this army fails—this army whose thought-work forms one inward unit with the work of the machine—the industry must flicker out in spite of all that managerial energy and the workers can do. Suppose that, in future generations, the most gifted minds were to find their soul’s health more important than all the powers of this world; suppose that, under the influence of the metaphysic and mysticism that is taking the place of rationalism today, the very elite of intellect that is now concerned with the machine comes to be overpowered by a growing sense of its Satanism (it is the step from Roger Bacon to Bernard of Clairvaux)—then nothing can hinder the end of this grand drama that has been a play of intellects, with hands as mere auxiliaries.
Spengler sums up much of the argument of the first half of the present book with his claims about the Machine turning nature into a slave—which prefigured Heidegger’s concept of a standing reserve—increasing the population, and making work the highest value. As Spengler makes clear the word “work” only started having a positive connotation around the time of the industrial revolution. Spengler’s words about the microcosm conquering the macrocosm were prescient considering they were written prior to the splitting of the atom. And as Spengler declares, this mastery over nature is bound to end, doomed to fail, and reduces mankind to a slave of his own making. Spengler goes on to discuss how the Machine creates inescapable systems, and in a few words gives the essence of the criticisms of both Ellul and Kaczynski. Finally, and most importantly, Spengler makes it clear that the Machine is an evil force, “devilish,” and satanic, but that there is one way to stop the Machine, namely through great men who recognize the evil inherent in the Machine, who then convince others of that fact. We clearly need religion and a developed metaphysic to defeat the Machine, but not feel-good, new-age religion. These actually make the Machine more powerful by acting as a drug, which stupefies in the same manner as anti-depressants or narcotics. Edward Abbey writes of the dangers of western popular appropriations of eastern religions:
As an antidote to a poisonous overdose of technology and crazy rationality I can understand why so many of the spiritually sick have switched to Zen, om, I Ching, and tarot. As an approach to effective resistance against the on-coming tyranny of the machine, however, these worn-out doctrines and obscure little magics will prove as futile as the machine can prove fatal. In fact, there is no reason why psychedelics and occultists, for example, and the most sophisticated technetronic system cannot comfortably coexist—the former inside the latter. They do; and they will. I find it ironic to see the enthusiasm with which hairy little gurus from the sickliest nation on earth (India) are welcomed by the technological idiots of all-electric California. Computerology, futurology, “high” technology and astrology—basic superstitions of our time—are comfortably compatible.
The intervening decades have proved Abbey correct. Technology and certain forms of religion can not only co-exist, but reinforce one another. This is why we need to go back to the most ancient of faiths, or barring that, to go back to life-affirming, yet austere traditions from the living religions. We need to look to ancient Greek sages, the Desert Fathers, and to the Buddha himself, but never to Californian gurus. Right now, for the bulk of humanity, whether religious or atheist, the Machine is equivalent to the Divine. As Lawrence makes clear: “When the machine is the Godhead, and production or work is worship, then the most mechanical mind is purest and highest, the representative of God on earth. And the rest are subordinate, each according to his degree.”
If we want to change the world, we must first change ourselves! As Lawrence makes clear in the following passage, it is ultimately the heart of man, and not the Machine, that is responsible for the modern tragedy:
Do we use the machine to produce goods for our need, or is it used as a muck-rake for raking together heaps of money? Why, when man, in his godly effort has produced a means to freedom, do we make it a means to more slavery?
Why?—because the heart of man is crude and greedy.
How can the human being be responsible for the Machine, and at the same time, potentially, save the world? It is due to the duality inherent in man’s nature. There is the triumvirate of mind/ego/will that seeks self-aggrandisement, power, money, and progress at all costs, but there is a counter-revolutionary force called the soul that is the basis for tenderness, love, and beauty. To save the world, we must fight the ego—which is always automatic—and cultivate the soul. As Lawrence writes:
Mentality, being automatic in its principle like the machine, begins to assume life. It begins to affect life, to pretend to make and unmake life. It is the end of life, that which falls shed. The mind is the dead end of life. But it has all the mechanical force of the non-vital universe. It is a great dynamo of super-mechanical force. Given the will as accomplice, it can even arrogate its machine-motions and automatizations over the whole of life, till every tree becomes a clipped tea-pot and every man a useful mechanism. So we see the brain, like a great dynamo and accumulator, accumulating mechanical force and presuming to apply this mechanical force-control to the living unconscious, subjecting everything spontaneous to certain machine-principles called ideals or ideas[…] And against this automatism, this degradation from the spontaneous-vital reality into the machine-material reality, the human soul must always struggle.
Any rationalistic, egoistic way of life is doomed to be automatic, and doomed to give rise to the Machine. Only when we give up our worn-out hubristic and egotistic ways and stop desiring more than we need can we finally overcome the Machine. Even used as tools, machines make us into tools. As Ivan Illich writes:
The hypothesis was that machines can replace slaves. The evidence shows that, used for this purpose, machines enslave men.
Masses and Classes
There are masses, and there are classes
but the machine it is that has invented them both.
The classes are so superior
because they are the brains of the machine.
And the masses are also superior
because they are the arms and legs of the machine.
An old Frenchman uttered the truism:
God cannot do without me!
Certainly the god in the machine cannot!
It has all the time to be soothed and consoled by the hands of life.
Ask a person about the origin of machines, and they will state that humans invented them, but rarely will a person tell you that the machines have invented mankind. But, it is true, we would not have modernity, the peculiar class system of today, or modern people, without the Machine. Machines have become so important and so ubiquitous, and people have multiplied so rapidly that each machine is treated as a great treasure, and human life is practically viewed as disposable. Though machines cannot function without men, men are no longer the masters of machines, but their appendages. And yet, it was not machines that decided to do this to humans, but humans who decided to make a Faustian bargain, selling their souls to the Machine. As Lawrence writes, men have done this dirty deed to men:
England[…] was producing a new race of mankind, over-conscious in the money and social and political side, on the spontaneous, intuitive side dead, but dead. Half-corpses, all of them: but with a terrible insistent consciousness in the other half. There was something uncanny and underground about it all. It was an under-world. And quite incalculable. How shall we understand the reactions in half-corpses? […] Ah God, what has man done to man? What have the leaders of men been doing to their fellow men? They have reduced them to less than humanness; and now there can be no fellowship any more! It is just a nightmare. […] With such creatures for the industrial masses, and the upper classes[…], there was no hope, no hope any more.
Oh wonderful machine!
Oh wonderful machine, so self-sufficient, so sufficient unto yourself!
You who have no feeling of the moon as she changes her quarters!
you who don’t hear the sea’s uneasiness!
you to whom the sun is merely something that makes the thermometer
Oh wonderful machine, you are man’s idea of godliness,
you who feel nothing, who know nothing, who run on absolved
from any other connection!
Oh you godly and smooth machine, spinning on in your own Nirvana,
turning the blue wheels of your own heaven
how is it you have to be looked after by some knock-kneed wretch
at two pounds a week?
Oh great god of the machine
what lousy archangels and angels you have to surround yourself with!
And you can’t possibly do without them!
Lawrence makes the strong point here that even the most sophisticated machines need simple people to operate and maintain them. Machines cannot now and never will be able to operate without people. Even the lowliest most automatic-mechanical robot-like human still has a spark of the Divine in him, and contains—no matter how infinitesimally small—the potential for spiritual development and enlightenment. A machine, even the Machine, contains no life, has nothing of the God-stuff in it, and can never become enlightened. Scientists and engineers may make machines with artificial intelligence, an artificial mind, rational faculty, and even ego, but they will never, and can never make a machine that feels, nor a machine that has a soul and comes to know one of the Gods.
To defeat the Machine we need to do something that no machine can do: we need to harness the power of the soul, and through that the power of all of the Gods to wage psychic warfare against the Machine, all machines, robot-like humans, and all of the unknowing minions of the Machine. The secret to destroying the Machine is not to wage all-out frontal warfare, nor to physically attack the Machine’s human minions. That was Kaczynski’s method and it was wrong and evil. He used the tools of the Machine to defeat the Machine, and in the process he made the Machine stronger, and he became assimilated to the Machine. A sun-man would never fight the Machine using the Machine’s tools. Guns, gasses, and bombs are all evil. But the collective power of the will of sun-men can psychically dismantle and smash the Machine. This would be a form of theurgy, of asking the Gods for power or white magic with which to do good in the world. Lawrence mentions precisely this in the following passage:
No more would she subscribe to the great […] great machine which has taken us all captives. In her soul, she was against it, she disowned even its power. It had only to be forsaken to be inane, meaningless. And she knew it was meaningless. But it needed a great, passionate effort of will on her part[…] Hatred sprang up in Ursula’s heart. If she could she would smash the machine. Her soul’s action should be the smashing of the great machine. If she could destroy the colliery, and make all the men of Wiggiston out of work, she would do it. Let them starve and grub in the earth for roots, rather than serve such a Moloch as this.
As the end of the preceding passage, and the following passage by Allen Ginsberg make clear, Moloch, Mammon, Mind, and Machine are an evil, alliterative, quadrumvirate, a four-in-one anti-god, and the supreme principle of evil and nothingness:
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
The collective minds obsessed with the technology of the Machine are insatiable; they are like a cancer upon the world; it grows uncontrollably without stop, killing everything healthy and beautiful in its path. As Lawrence writes: “To keep industry alive there must be more industry, and more industry, and more industry, like a madness.”This “madness” is the Machine’s strength, but also its doom. If we withdraw from the modern world to a peaceful place—Rananim—and become soul warriors like the Desert Fathers, the Machine will collapse under its own weight, and a new peace and new lightness of being will reign upon the earth.
If you are a man—
If you are a man, and believe in the destiny of mankind
then say to yourself: We will cease to care
about property and money and mechanical devices,
and open our consciousness to the deep, mysterious life
that we are now cut off from.
The machine shall be abolished from the earth again;
it is a mistake that mankind has made;
money shall cease to be, and property shall cease to perplex
and we will find the way to immediate contact with life
and with one another.
To know the moon as we have never known
yet she is knowable.
To know a man as we have never known
a man, as never yet a man was knowable, yet still shall be.
Much of the doctrine of Lawrence, and much of the meaning of this book is encompassed within the lines of the preceding poem. The poem functions both as a creed and a prayer. The first stanza declares exactly what a man needs to do to save his soul, namely to give up mechanical devices, money, and private property, and to turn his face to the cosmos. The second stanza, prophetically, declares that money, property, and the Machine are mistakes and they will cease to be, and that, eventually, we will come into living contact with one another again. The final stanza declares that we must look past the surface of things and come to know their real selves. We must get to know other men, the sun, and the moon for what they are in all their majesty.
Lawrence may come off, at first, as strident in his proclamations, but history and lived experience have proven him correct on all counts. Lawrence didn’t hate the Machine for the wrong reasons, or due to some vague feeling, but because he used all of his god-given powers to know, feel, and understand that humanity’s obsession with the technologies of the Machine is evil incarnate. Lawrence tried to make peace with modernity, but learned that no peace can be made with evil. In his own words Lawrence writes:
The bourgeois, the machine civilisation, and the “Worker” (as such) all want to destroy real humanness[…] I hate our civilisation, our ideals, our money, our machines, our intellectuals, our upper classes. But I hate them because I’ve tried them and given them a long chance—and they’re rotten. […] [C]urse the industrial world.
The problems of technology, governance, money, and property are so intimately related that they cannot be separated. The Machine is not just machines, but includes money, property, and the systems that perpetuate greed, violence, and ecocide. But, communism is not the answer, since that is also a machine system. No, the answer is much simpler: the answer is for men to learn to be happy with little and to desire even less. Many of the property and money problems lie in the head. As Lawrence writes:
The question of property will never be settled, till people cease to care for property. Then it will settle itself. A man only needs so much as will help him to his own fulfilment. Surely, the individual who wants a motor-car merely for the sake of having it and riding in it is as hopeless an automaton as the motor-car itself.
Similarly, a person who want a new phone every year is, literally, no better than the phone. If one’s happiness is determined by an object, that object is in control and has all the power. To reclaim power, we must cease caring about objects. To start to know, we must leave off knowing. Trying to know and/or control/change reality through the Machine deadens our hearts and destroys life. Klages writes about this in the following passage:
The machine—nature, too, but nature outwitted and forced to subjugate itself—can destroy life, but never generate it! That we grasped reality truly, because we conquered it mechanically, would be true only in a denaturalized world, which for its part would also be a machine; whereas the corresponding proof for a living world would be furnished only by the generation of life by way of performance. But as little as we breathe life into a dead person, so little is it even conceivable that we would ever create a machine which would feel. And does not the most cursory glance at the real facts show us that tool and machine are fighting the kingdom of the living, exterminating organisms in enormous numbers, devastating the face of the planet at an ever more frantic pace! Did we penetrate deeper into the essence of the eagle’s soul since we have shotguns to exterminate the eagle? Did we unveil the secret of the high forest after we built factories that soon turned even the last one to newsprint? Would we solve the riddle of the liquid, because we know better how to dam lakes, how to channel streams in the twinkling of an eye, and how to use the sacred element of the ancients only by horsepower?
Despite the claims of science fiction and futurist thinkers, Klages is correct in stating that machines cannot and will never feel. It is a noble thing to want to “penetrate deeper into the essence of the eagle’s soul” and to “unveil the secret of the high forest,” but the building of machines and factories takes us away from those goals. If we truly want to know the eagle or the forest, we must get in touch with both nature and the Gods the way the Native Americans or the Druids did, namely through shamanic practices that can lead one to a state where one can converse with nature spirits.
Too much of our organization has killed the joy in our collective lives. For life to be truly joyful it must have space for spontaneity, chaos, and a connection to the Unknown. An ancient person sees a river for what it is, and marvels at it as a thing of beauty and a gift of the Gods. A modern person sees a river primarily as a source of power, food, or entertainment—and only rarely notices its beauty. The ancient way of thinking is sublime, and the modern is a diminution of the Fire from which we sprang. Spengler describes just how degenerate our modern ways of thinking have become:
All things organic are dying in the grip of organisation. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural. Civilisation has itself become a machine that does, or tries to do, everything in mechanical fashion. We think only in horsepower now; we cannot look at a waterfall without mentally turning it into electric power; we cannot survey a countryside full of pasturing cattle without thinking of its exploitation as a source of meat supply; we cannot look at the beautiful old handwork of a lively and primitive people without wishing to replace it by a modern technical process.
Related to this passage from Spengler is one of the most important passages in the voluminous corpus of Heidegger’s writings:
[T]he land becomes a coal reserve, the soil an ore depository. This requisitioning is already of a different sort from that whereby the peasant had previously tended his field. Peasant activity does not challenge the farmland; rather it leaves the crops to the discretion of the growing forces; it protects them in their thriving. In the meantime, however, even the tending of the fields has gone over to the same requisitioning that imposes upon the air for nitrogen, the soil for coal and ore, the ore for uranium, the uranium for atomic energy, and the latter for orderable destruction. Agriculture is now a mechanized food industry, in essence the same as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockading and starving of countries, the same as the production of hydrogen bombs.
In the preceding passage, Heidegger concisely demolishes the entire technological edifice. There are, of course, other criticisms that Heidegger levels against technology, but this one is particularly damning. Put concisely, Heidegger rightly states that modern, mechanized agriculture leads directly to the holocaust and Hiroshima. Stop. Think. Let that sink in for a moment. Heidegger had it right: the production of food according to the dictates of the Machine is integrally and intricately linked to the modern means of war and genocide. There are many that applaud technology, and many more who may profess some scepticism of tech, but who believe that there is good tech, such as agriculture, and bad tech, such as war machinery. Heidegger demolishes all of this. He makes it very clear that all modern tech is damaging to our environment and souls, and, along with Lawrence, it is clear that he desired the technological house to come down. Now, dear reader, what do you want? Do you want nuclear holocaust, genocide, global warming, the acidification of rivers, loss of human feeling and intelligence, the mass extinction of species, or not? You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You must either wish for the Machine to triumph, in which case you side with evil, or you must vow, with the sun-men, to smash the Machine. You must question everything you thought you knew. The great religious thinker Thomas Merton had the following to say:
The central problem of the modern world is the complete emancipation and autonomy of the technological mind at a time when unlimited possibilities lie open to it and all the resources seem to be at hand. Indeed, the mere fact of questioning this emancipation, this autonomy, is the number one blasphemy, an unforgivable sin in the eyes of modern man, whose faith begins with this: science can do everything, science must be permitted do everything it likes, science is infallible and impeccable, all that is done by science is right. No matter how monstrous, no matter how criminal an act may be, if it is justified by science it is unassailable.
The consequence of this is that technology and science are now responsible to no power and submit to no control other than their own. Needless to say, the demands of ethics no longer have any meaning if they come in conflict with these autonomous powers. Technology has its own ethic of expediency and efficiency. What can be done efficiently must be done in the most efficient way—even if what is done happens, for example, to be genocide or the devastation of a country by total war. Even the long-term economic interests of society, or the basic needs of man himself; are not considered when they get in the way of technology. We waste our natural resources, as well as those of undeveloped countries, iron, oil, etc., in order to fill our cities and roads with a congestion of traffic that is in fact largely useless, and is a symptom of the meaningless and futile agitation of our own minds.
To question technology and science is a blasphemy, but a blasphemy against the anti-god called the Machine. Question everything. Even the most seemingly benign technology may be evil, either through its production or through the reverberations it causes. Even something so seemingly simple as a toaster may be responsible for the next genocide. Do you want that on your conscience? Do you really want to live in a world where all beauty is stripped away and nothing is left but emotionally dead people living in terribly polluted cities of steel? As things stand, “The world now appears as an object open to the attacks of calculative thought, attacks that nothing is believed able any longer to resist. Nature becomes a gigantic gasoline station, an energy source for modern technology and industry.”We must stop this; we must work to end the onslaught of modern technology. Together we can build Rananim. Together we can smash the Machine. The Machine will never triumph!
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Farasha, that was brilliant! I will be reading it again and again in an effort to absorb as much as possible given my pedestrian brain. I sincerely appreciate all your efforts, and as always will look forward to your next chapter. Thank you.
Great, Farasha, thank you. I recently obtained a recent English translation of an earlier book by Ellul, called, if I remember correctly, Presence in the Modern World, which is about how to live in the face of the ubiquity of La Technique. I'm keen to see how it is related to the attitudinal change you call for. Don't you think Illich was a good example of the right stance? He couldn't take down the modern medical machine he so brilliantly described, but he did show, by personal example, the right attitude to take. (On matters of health and autonomy, he remains my inspiration). I was also struck by your quotation from Abbey. For what he says about the harmlessness of 'mindfulness' etc. in the West may, I'm beginning to suspect, be said of "Buddhist economics" in its latest manifestations, as it works its way through the business schools -- a kind of comforting, harmless palliative for post-Christian Westerners who crave something but are unwilling/unable to draw on their own ancient tradition. Anyone who decides, like Illich, to take the naked Christ seriously, or for that matter the true Buddha, is in for some serious life upheaval as they embrace voluntary poverty and renunciation. Keep up your good work, Farasha. I'll get to Kazantzakis yet, by the way!