What is to be done?
The Machine Will Never Triumph, part twenty-six
To let go or to hold on—?
Shall we let go,
and allow the soul to find its level
downwards, ebbing downwards, ebbing downwards to the flood?
till the head floats tilted like a bottle forward tilted
on the sea, with no message in it; and the body is submerged
heavy and swaying like a whale recovering
from wounds, below the deep black wave?
like a whale recovering its velocity and strength
under the cold black wave.
Or else, or else
shall a man brace himself up
and lift his face and set his breast
and go forth to change the world?
gather his will and his energy together
and fling himself in effort after effort
upon the world, to bring a change to pass?
Tell me first, O tell me,
will the dark flood of our day’s annihilation
swim deeper, deeper, till it leaves no peak emerging?
Shall we be lost, all of us
and gone like weed, like weed, like eggs of fishes,
like sperm of whales, like germs of the great dead past
into which the creative future shall blow strange, unknown forms?
Are we nothing, already, but the lapsing of a great dead past?
Is the best that we are but sperm, loose sperm, like the sperm of fishes
that drifts upon time and chaos, till some unknown future takes it up
and is fecund with a new Day of new creatures? different from us.
Or is our shattered Argosy, our leaking ark
at this moment scraping tardy Ararat?
Have we got to get down and clear away the debris
of a swamped civilisation, and start a new world for man
that will blossom forth the whole of human nature?
Must we hold on, hold on
and go ahead with what is human nature
and make a new job of the human world?
Or can we let it go?
O, can we let it go,
and leave it to some nature that is more than human
to use the sperm of what’s worth while in us
and thus eliminate us?
Is the time come for humans
now to begin to disappear,
leaving it to the vast revolutions of creative chaos
to bring forth creatures that are an improvement on humans,
as the horse was an improvement on the ichthyosaurus?
Must we hold on?
Or can we now let go?
Or is it even possible we must do both?1
Lawrence, here, poses a very important question to all of those deeply concerned about the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world, namely whether we should fight for a better world free of the Machine, or just let go and allow mankind to exterminate itself so that the world may heal and new beauties take the place of the beauty of the past. Clearly, all those free-spirited, life-loving men and women out there who love nature, animals, and the Gods would like to see things preserved. Ideally, we should preserve that which is good, but a time comes when we must ask ourselves whether humanity is beyond redemption. If that time comes, we should withdraw to places of peace and let robot mankind and the Machine extinguish themselves from the face of the earth. But, until that time comes—and we pray to the Gods that it never comes—we must fight to smash the systems and the machines they have spawned. We must fight, but we must also bide our time and be patient. Rash moves only help to keep the Machine in power. As Lawrence writes:
I believe one must put one’s fist through something much more solid and pernicious than panes of glass. We must make a hole in the bourgeois world which is the whole world of consciousness today. If your mandrake is going to grow, let him shove up under the walls of this prison-system, and bust them. But patience, patience all the time, even while one acts most strenuously, somewhere patience. I am determined, like Samson in the temple of Philistia, to pull the house down sooner or later and all I want is men to tug silently and constantly along with me. […] To live one has to live a life-long fight.2
Even those supporters of the current system seem to see that there is something wrong. Why else would the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, state “make America great again”? Clearly, things are not all well, and just as clearly, people are suffering for it. The more advanced technology becomes, the harder and more costly it is to maintain the infrastructure. Lawrence witnessed just this phenomenon in an early manifestation:
And yet the permanent way of almost every railway is falling into bad disrepair, the roads are shocking. And nothing seems to be done. Is our marvellous, mechanical era going to have so short a bloom? Is the marvellous openness, the opened-out wonder of the land going to collapse quite soon, and the remote places lapse back into inaccessibility again? Who knows! I rather hope so.3
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