The Machine Will Never Triumph, part four
Technology in the modern world takes many forms, one of the most pervasive being media. There, likely, isn’t a single person alive today who has not been exposed to modern media in some way, shape, or form. Modern media is a simulacrum of that which is real. Since, ultimately, only the real matters, radio, television, film, not to mention video games, should be avoided. Despite living at the incipient stage of modern media, Lawrence saw the dangers it presented very clearly.
When I went to the film—
When I went to the film, and saw all the black-and-white feelings that
and heard the audience sighing and sobbing with all the emotions they
none of them felt,
and saw them cuddling with rising passions they none of them for a
and caught them moaning from close-up kisses, black-and-white kisses
that could not be felt,
it was like being in heaven, which I am sure has a white atmosphere
upon which shadows of people, pure personalities
are cast in black and white, and move
in flat ecstasy, supremely unfelt
All media is a simulacrum of reality, a representation, and as such, it can only elicit simulacra of feelings and sentiments. Children who are routinely exposed to television and the Internet during their formative years, often have deadened feelings, decreased intelligence, and hardened hearts. As Heidegger writes: [W]e do not yet hear, we whose hearing and seeing are perishing through radio and film under the rule of technology.2 Life is all about experience, yet today much of what we experience for ourselves is indirect, not even vicariously through others, but through images presented on screens, which in turn project millions of colored dots into our retinas. These images artificially stimulate emotions, similar to the effects of some drugs, so that when one experiences something real they may be deadened to the depth of emotion they should be feeling. Lewis Mumford’s analysis is spot on:
So an endless succession of images passes before the eye, offered by people who wish to exercise power, either by making us buy something for their benefit or making us agree to something that would promote their economic or political interests: images of gadgets manufacturers want us to acquire; images of seductive young ladies who are supposed, by association, to make us seek other equally desirable goods, images of people and events in the news, big people and little people, important and unimportant events; images so constant, so unremitting, so insistent that for all purposes of our own we might as well be paralyzed, so unwelcome are our inner promptings or our own self-directed actions. As the result of this whole mechanical process, we cease to live in the multidimensional world of reality, the world that brings into play every aspect of the human personality, from its bony structure to its tenderest emotions: we have substituted for this, largely through the mass production of graphic symbols—abetted indeed by a similar multiplication and reproduction of sounds—a secondhand world, a ghost-world, in which everyone lives a second-hand and derivative life. The Greeks had a name for this pallid simulacrum of real existence: they called it Hades, and this kingdom of shadows seems to be the ultimate destination of our mechanistic and mammonistic culture.
One more matter. The general effect of this multiplication of graphic symbols has been to lessen the impact of art itself. This result might have disheartened the early inventors of the new processes of reproduction if they could have anticipated it. In order to survive in this image-glutted world, it is necessary for us to devaluate the symbol and to reject every aspect of it but the purely sensational one. For note, the very repetition of the stimulus would make it necessary for us in self-defense to empty it of meaning if the process of repetition did not, quite automatically, produce this result. Then, by a reciprocal twist, the emptier a symbol is of meaning, the more must its user depend upon mere repetition and mere sensationalism to achieve his purpose. This is a vicious circle, if ever there was one. Because of the sheer multiplication of esthetic images, people must, to retain any degree of autonomy and self-direction, achieve a certain opacity, a certain insensitiveness, a certain protective thickening of the hide, in order not to be overwhelmed and confused by the multitude of demands that are made upon their attention. Just as many people go about their daily work, as too often students pursue their studies, with the radio turned on full blast, hearing only half the programs, so, in almost every other operation, we only half-see, half-feel, half-understand what is going on; for we should be neurotic wrecks if we tried to give all the extraneous mechanical stimuli that impinge upon us anything like our full attention.3
The world of media is a world of shades and shadows, which, unless studiously ignored or carefully filtered, can make us into shades with no life, no memory, and no personality. In the past, much of life was filled with silence, which allowed one to contemplate the deeper mysteries of life. Silence is beautiful and desirable, since in times of silence one may contemplate mortality, the Gods, and the beauty of the world. Of course, there is never pure silence, but when one escapes enough of the infernal buzz of the modern world, magical things happen: the ears are opened to the musical sounds of nature, the eyes are opened to the beauty of the earth, and the sense of touch becomes awakened to the tactile majesty of damp moss, fallen leaves, etc. Traditional art too is a representation but it is a representation made by wakened hands, and is a transference of life.
If we are ever to come into close contact once again with the cosmos, we will need to urgently rediscover the sense of wonder. Wonder—childlike wonder—is the surest path to getting back into touch with the sun, moon, and Gods. Media is evil, evil, evil because it robs us of our sense of wonder. The ancients found even the most seemingly mundane of insects magisterial, but today we could be transported to the moon and be bored since we have all seen it a thousand times before. The modern man presented with the world should feel awakened by the beauty of things, but, sadly, a veil comes between him and the world. Lawrence states:
He felt he ought to have his breath taken away. But alas, the cinema has taken our breath away so often, investing us in all the splendours of the splendidest American millionaire, or all the heroics and marvels of the Somme or the North Pole, that life has now no magnate richer than we, no hero nobler than we have been, on the film. […] Everything life has to offer is known to us, couldn’t be known better, from the film.4
This may be why suicide is so rampant. When every child has experienced everything that can be experienced in the form of multitudinous simulacra, which elicit counterfeit emotions, eventually the adult tries to experience something, anything, but they cannot, because they are dead inside. The only way to really experience anything anymore is to have an awakening experience, and the first step on that path is to disconnect all devices and to embrace the power of silence—or so much silence as is possible any longer in this world. Without this effort, one just vegetates like a zombie. Lawrence’s description of the modern man of the 1920s is even more on point today.
[H]e would sit for hours, vacant as an empty whelk-shell, listening to the radio. With a blank, absorbed face, almost like a cretin who might have been a prophet, he would sit motionless, listening to the loud speaker. […] [H]e would rush through his meal, no longer noticing what he ate, no longer anxious about “nourishment”, bolting his food in a blank absorption, to get back to the radio. And there he would sit, like an empty shell, with the noise of the thing rattling through him.5
This description is the perfect description of the vast, amorphous hordes of men and women staring—vacant eyed, open mouthed, and wholly absorbed—at their phones, presenting themselves before these demonic devices as if they are some kind of sacred altar, though the only god presiding behind the phone is the god of the machine, the robot, the harbinger of death, the destroyer.
When one is no longer able to feel the depth of authentic emotions, one may attempt to interact with others as if they could feel, so much of social interaction today is superficial and insincere. This is why many men on the street have devolved into sociopaths.
[B]y higher emotions we mean love in all its manifestations, from genuine desire to tender love, love of one’s fellow-men, and love of God: we mean love, joy, delight, hope, true indignant anger, passionate sense of justice and injustice, truth and untruth, honour and dishonour, and real belief in anything: for belief is a profound emotion that has the mind’s connivance. All these things, today, are more or less dead. We have in their place the loud and sentimental counterfeit of all such emotion.
Never was an age more sentimental, more devoid of real feeling, more exaggerated in false feeling, than our own. Sentimentality and counterfeit feeling have become a sort of game, everybody trying to outdo his neighbor. The radio and the film are mere counterfeit emotion all the time, the current press and literature the same. People wallow in emotion: counterfeit emotion. They lap it up: they live in it and on it. They ooze with it.
And at times, they seem to get on very well with it all. And then, more and more, they break down. They go to pieces. You can fool yourself for a long time about your own feelings. But not forever. The body itself hits back at you, and hits back remorselessly, in the end.6
Eventually the lies take their toll and the man breaks down just like a broken machine. To escape this vicious cycle, the best recourse is to spend time communing with nature and the vivid animal and plant life of this planet. A tree or a fox will never lie and a dog will never fake emotion, so they are great teachers to a humankind that has forgotten how to be in the world.
Modern, high-tech devices have an extremely adverse effect upon the human brain. When we start to see primarily through cameras, hear through radios and televisions, and interact with others primarily through smart phones, we risk losing large elements of our humanity, and become more machine-like. Lawrence writes:
You may say, the object reflected on the retina is always photographic. It may be. I doubt it. But whatever the image on the retina may be, it is rarely, even now, the photographic image of the object which is actually taken in by the man who sees the object. He does not, even now, see for himself. He sees what the kodak has taught him to see. And man, try as he may, is not a kodak.7
One, today, could say that man is not a phone, but man today has become much more phone-like than the man of Lawrence’s era was kodak-like. Most people will never extricate themselves from the prison of the screen, so they need a revolutionary movement to shut down the electrical grids, turn off the Internet, and ban electronics. A person whose connection goes down goes through the same withdrawal symptoms that a heroin addict faces, but we need them to face it, and the sun-men need to ensure that their separation from their machines is cold-turkey.
When one is finally free from the chains of modern technology, Lawrence asserts that a certain realization will begin to dawn; the realization that:
The big, silent statue of Rameses [in Luxor] is like a drop of water, hanging through the centuries in dark suspense, and never static. The African fetish-statues have no movement, visually represented. Yet one little motionless wooden figure stirs more than all the Parthenon frieze. It sits in the place where no kodak can snap it.8
Yes, a simple statue that is hand made or a hand carved wooden bowl contains more truth and beauty than the most elegant photograph of the bowl, made by a world-class photographer. Rather than marvel at the beautiful and simple things in life, modern man goes from one place to another in his machine, works at a job he may hate, then comes home to watch television or websites on a screen. Film and television are very dangerous for one’s psyche and one’s sanity. Lawrence writes the following about these things:
In the moving pictures [man] has detached himself even further from the solid stuff of earth. There, the people are truly shadows: the shadow-pictures are thinkings of his mind. They live in the rapid and kaleidoscopic realm of the abstract. And the individual watching the shadow-spectacle sits a very god, in an orgy of abstraction, actually dissolved into delighted, watchful spirit. […] That is our idea of entertainment.9
If films, photos, and the radio were embodiments of the shadow world, our new obsessions with phones, multi-media, and the Internet are the purest black from the darkest night. Even the indigenous cultures are succumbing to the incessant onslaught of mass media. As Lawrence states:
[W]hat is the good of talking about it all. The Indians are losing too, in the long race. They too prefer to sit passive at the moving pictures, now. Their form of entertainment is nearly finished. The dollar is blotting the mystery out for ever, from their race as from ours.10
One of the biggest problems with modern technology and modern media is that—as part of the technological system—new inventions, rather than remaining novelties, become essential. Even the most strident technophobes have to use certain forms of technology if they want food, shelter, and health care. This should be unacceptable, but it seems to be in the nature of new technology. The apparent advantages of new technologies means that they quickly disrupt the prevailing order, then displace their predecessors, leading to an eternal onslaught of change. By the time that the negative effects are known, a technology has become so enmeshed into society that its removal will be painful, so nothing is done to stop it, more technology is developed, and we descend in a viscious circle down a path to Hell on earth. Sometimes, even the most seemingly benign technologies, such as the radio, refrigerator, pasteurization, or vaccines, will manifest long-term adverse effects, sometimes quite subtle, and turn out to be Trojan horses.
The world of adventure is pretty well used up, especially for a man who has a wage to earn. He gets a little tired of being spoon-fed on wireless, cinema, and newspaper, sitting an inert lump while entertainment or information is poured into him. He wants to do something.11
This may be true, however, for only a few. Most people today are, actually, quite happy to be spoon-fed mind-numbing entertainment. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World—which was written under Lawrence’s influence—predicted that a time would come when people would be more than happy to sell their freedom for entertainment and drugs. If Lawrence and Huxley were alive today, they would probably say: That time is now, that place is here. All the modern man wants is: “More films, more motor-cars, more dances, more golf, more tennis and more getting completely away from yourself. The great goal of enjoyment is to get away from yourself.”12 Marijuana legalization, anti-depression pills, reality television, video games, etc. are, for many, simply escapes from a reality that they are too scared to face. As a civilization we have destroyed nearly everything spiritual within ourselves; we have allowed our creative imagination to become horribly atrophied; we have learned to pretend to be happy in a world gone mad.
Since our lives in the modern world are so dull, we devour artificial speed. “[T]hat triumph of the deaf and dumb, the cinematograph [movie], has come to give us the nervous excitement of speed, grimace, agitation, and speed, as of flying atoms[.]”13 Speed is like a drug; but the most important things in life are only available for the slow, steady, and patient.
If media was at least relatively inert, there would, perhaps, be less danger, but it is not inert, and it therefore changes our brain chemistry, and quite literally rewires our brains. When a person becomes accustomed to film, the book no longer hold value, and when a person becomes attached to the book, oral culture withers and dies. A person writing on a computer or typewriter will never write with the same depth as with a pen or pencil. Lawrence, writing below about camera-vision, perfectly describes how our device obsessed world is losing touch with the life-blood of reality.
What is it that man sees, when he looks at a horse? what is it, that will never be put into words? For a man who sees sees not as a camera when it takes a snapshot, not even as a cinema-camera, taking its succession of instantaneous snaps; but in a curious rolling flood of vision, in which the image itself seethes and rolls; and only the mind picks out certain factors which shall represent the image seen. We have made up our minds to see things as they are: which is camera vision. But the camera can neither feel the heat of the horse, his strange body; nor smell his horsiness; nor hear him neigh. Whereas the eye, seeing him, wakes all our other sensual experience of him: not to speak of our terror of his frenzy, and admiration of his strength. The eye really “sees” all this. It is the complete vision of a child, full and potent. But this potent vision in us is maimed and pruned as we grow up, till as adults we see only one dreary bit of the horse, his static external form.14
When we use phones, cameras, television sets “[w]e haven’t exactly plucked our eyes out, but we’ve plucked out three-fourths of their vision.”15 The only path forward is to leave behind technological devices, just as a drug addict must leave behind his drugs.
R. S. Thomas wrote a telling poem about the phone, which was prescient considering it was written well before the smartphone era.
The telephone is the fruit
of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil. We may call
everyone up on it but God.
To do that is to declare
that he is far off. Dialling
zero is nothing other
than the negation of his presence.
So many times I have raised
the receiver, listening to
that smooth sound that is technology’s
purring; and the temptation
has come to experiment
with the code which would put
me through to the divine
snarl at the perimeter of such tameness.16
And here is Ted Hughes with another poem critical of the most ubiquitous of modern technological devices, namely the phone:
That plastic Buddha jars out a Karate screech
Before the soft words with their spores
The cosmetic breath of the gravestone
Death invented the phone it looks like the altar of death
Do not worship the telephone
It drags its worshippers into actual graves
With a variety of devices, through a variety of disguised
Sit godless when you hear the religious wail of the
Do not think your house is a hide-out it is a telephone
Do not think you walk your own road, you walk down a
Do not think you sleep in the hand of God you sleep in
the mouthpiece of a telephone
Do not think your future is yours it waits upon a
Do not think your thoughts are your own thoughts they
are the toys of the telephone
Do not think these days are days they are the sacrificial
priests of the telephone
The secret police of the telephone
O phone get out of my house
You are a bad god
Go and whisper on some other pillow
Do not lift your snake head in my house
Do not bite any more beautiful people
You plastic crab
Why is your oracle always the same in the end?
What rake off for you from the cemeteries?
Your silences are as bad
When you are needed, dumb with the malice of the
The stars whisper together in your breathing
World’s emptiness oceans in your mouthpiece
Stupidly your string dangles into the abysses
Plastic you are then stone a broken box of letters
And you cannot utter
Lies or truth, only the evil one
Makes you tremble with sudden appetite to see
Blackening electrical connections
To where death bleaches its crystals
You swell and you writhe
You open your Buddha gape
You screech at the root of the house
Do not pick up the detonator of the telephone
A flame from the last day will come lashing out of the
A dead body will fall out of the telephone
Do not pick up the telephone17
A good summation of the foregoing chapter is provided by Ludwig Klages in the following passage:
The mankind of heathen temples and festivals, of Gothic cathedrals and shining twilights, of pomp and circumstance and organ-tones, is finished, yielding place to a generation that reveals itself in the Stock Exchange, radio, airplane, telephone, movies, factories, poison gas, precision instruments, and newspapers. The pilgrim’s path has its stations, but all of them end up at Golgotha. Similarly, the story of Spirit in Europe has its crucial chapters, which announce themselves as follows: the war of body and soul, disembodiment of the soul, or condemnation of joy, or paralysis of creative force; extinction of the soul in the body, or the blinding of intuition, or the body as machine; and man as the instrument of the will to power, which replaces the soul with soul-mimicry, phantoms, and masks.18
Media is not innocuous; it is the Machine’s most visible and ever-present manifestation. Make no mistake, we are witnessing a colossal war of mind and matter, body and soul. The rational spirit is atrophying the soul, but the soul can never die. The soul cannot die, but it can be sold, and just like Faust, we are collectively selling our souls to corporations hell-bent on destroying everything that makes life worth living. Thomas writes of the situation we face:
It was a time when wise men
Were not silent, but stifled
By vast noise. They took refuge
In books that were not read.
Two counsellors had the ear
Of the public. One cried “Buy”
Day and night, and the other,
More plausibly, “Sell your repose.”19
There are still those who shout out loud and clear the warnings about technology that must be heeded, but few hear these warnings, because they hear instead the incessant prattle of modern advertisements. Even a simple app, a comedy show, or an encyclopedia page on the Internet is part of the web that holds us fast. There is no good culture in modernity, since modern culture is an oxymoron. Modern culture is simply a device meant to entrench the power of technology. As Heidegger writes:
“Culture”—in itself affiliated at all only to the age of the commencing modernity—is today merely an appendage of technology and on the one hand serves to veil the irrevocable tyranny of technology and on the other hand helps anesthetize the masses, who are supposed to be fobbed off with the “cultural assets” previously denied them.20
Heidegger, Martin. Ponderings: Black Notebooks Ii–Vi. Translated by Richard Rojcewicz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016.
———. The Question Concerning Technology. Translated by William Lovitt. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.
Hughes, Ted. Selected Poems, 1957–1994. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
Klages, Ludwig. Cosmogonic Reflections. Translated by Joseph D. Pryce. London: Arktos, 2015.
Lawrence, D. H. “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.” In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, edited by Michael Squires. London: Penguin Books, 2009.
———. Aaron’s Rod. Edited by Mara Kalnins. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
———. John Thomas and Lady Jane. Edited by Roland Gant. New York: The Viking Press, 1974.
———. Late Essays and Articles. Edited by James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays. Edited by Virginia Crosswhite Hyde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays. Edited by Simonetta De Filippis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Edited by Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
———. Twilight in Italy and Other Essays. Edited by Paul Eggert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Mumford, Lewis. Art and Technics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Thomas, R. S. Collected Poems. London: Orion Books, 2000.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 385.
Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper Perennial, 2013), 48.
Lewis Mumford, Art and Technics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 97–99.
D. H. Lawrence, Aaron’s Rod, ed. Mara Kalnins (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 134–35.
D. H. Lawrence, John Thomas and Lady Jane, ed. Roland Gant (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), 336.
D. H. Lawrence, “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’,” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, ed. Michael Squires (London: Penguin Books, 2009), 312.
D. H. Lawrence, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 164.
D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 60.
D. H. Lawrence, Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 138.
D. H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy and Other Essays, ed. Paul Eggert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 133.
D. H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, ed. Simonetta De Filippis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 127–28.
R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems (London: Orion Books, 2000), 497.
Ted Hughes, Selected Poems, 1957–1994 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), 215–17.
Ludwig Klages, Cosmogonic Reflections, trans. Joseph D. Pryce (London: Arktos, 2015), 97–98.
Thomas, Collected Poems, 213.
Martin Heidegger, Ponderings: Black Notebooks Ii–Vi, trans. Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016), 266.