The Machine Will Never Triumph, part nine
I like people quite well
at a little distance.
I like to see them passing and passing
and going their own way,
especially if I see their aloneness alive in them.
Yet I don’t want them to come near.
If they will only leave me alone
I can still have the illusion that there is room enough in the world.1
A dramatic increase in population has occurred in the past two-hundred years because of our tapping into the remarkably concentrated energy of fossil fuels. But that will end soon—must end soon—because: 1) we must stop emissions of greenhouse gases to mitigate the climate change we have already caused, and 2) the supply of affordable fossil fuel will be completely consumed in the foreseeable future (although technological innovations keep pushing back that time). We must prohibit or strictly limit the extraction of fossil fuel—over some short-term period of transition to alternatives.
Fish populations expand to the biological limits of their riverine habitats. Population increases of human beings thousands of years ago occurred because of the development of farming and using the power of domesticated animals, as well as growing them for food. Unless we can substitute alternative energy for fossil fuel, the earth’s capacity to sustain the current population will shrink dramatically. But that’s not the only problem, by any means. We are consuming or polluting so much of the earth’s “natural resources” (using the conventional way of describing nature), that its “carrying capacity” is shrinking, for flora and fauna of all kinds, including human beings. And, of course, we are killing and/or destroying the habitat of many species.
So there must be, and will be, a dramatic decrease in human population, probably in your lifetime or the lifetime of many your age. How will it come about? War, pandemics, starvation, mass insanity and suicides, murder, hurricanes, floods, forest fires. i.e., Malthus was right, and his predictions will come to pass. Government (collective) measures or policies to reduce population growth can help mitigate the misery, perhaps, and to some extent, but probably not soon enough to avoid most of it. Population size is not the only problem; overconsumption by people in “advanced” countries, wealthier countries, is a significant part of the problem. Dramatic decreases in consumption of resources, including energy, will be required. And as I said above, that will happen, one way or another. The challenge is to accomplish it in a sane, humane, equitable and least painful manner.
The required collective responses to the plethora of impending causes of misery and destruction will probably not be possible in our “democracy” disproportionately controlled by the wealthiest one percent. I am not sure that some form of “reformed” or “ideal” democracy might work. But, we do need institutions to train and elevate honorable and qualified men and women of good character to perform the functions of governing. And we need to promulgate and implement measures to limit the accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, in amounts vastly greater than the wealth of the one percent. So I think an ideal democracy would require what are now castigated (by conservatives) as “socialist” measures to make sure that the poor have adequate resources and services, and there are reasonable and practical limits to how much wealth can be accumulated by one individual or family. It should be a capital crime, punishable by death to the CEOs and upper-level managers, for a business for-profit corporation (or comparable entity) to contribute to political campaigns or political lobbying efforts.
People are inherently neither good nor bad, which is comparatively different from animals, which are never evil. There have been many good humans, but people need space, and the more people there are, the fewer good people there are. All of us, at least the good ones, the sane ones, need space, privacy, and distance from other people. Even Jesus said Noli me tangere (touch me not)2. Free people who are free from the tyranny of other people are happy and sane people, but when people crowd together in a city, the peace and love innate in a person’s heart can become obfuscated by a black cloud of hatred. Now that there are so many people in the world, even the tallest mountains, most remote forests, and deserts are not free from the presence of people. There is nothing inherently wrong with people—original sin notwithstanding—but fellow humans, modern humans, are often best experienced with some distance. Of course, we are social beings, and the communities of traditional living (Rananim) we aim to foster, would bring people together in tenderness and togetherness, but with the understanding that all of the members also need peace, privacy, and space. Think of a medieval monastery: a monk was together with other monks in a spirit of brotherhood, but there was also enough space and time for private devotions and meditation. Now we are hardly ever alone, and when we are, we are inundated with images from screens. Even in sleep we no longer have peace, since the modern world’s devices have negatively affected the circadian rhythm of a large percentage of the world’s population.
Each and every country must embody the principles of loving-kindness. Right now, many countries claim to do this, but it is more propaganda than reality. One way many countries claim to be showing compassion is with liberal immigration policies, but liberal immigration policies actually enforce many of the world’s problems. If refugees are allowed out of states with terrible human rights violations, those states will change much slower. If people are able to migrate from overpopulated, polluted countries to less populated, cleaner countries, that may encourage policies in those states that maintain a high birth rate, and lead to those places becoming, in effect, baby-making factories for more “advanced” countries, and in turn, those countries will, in a few decades, face population and pollution problems as bad as anywhere in India. Both for the health of the advanced or so-called First World countries, as well as the lesser developed countries, immigration should be severely curtailed, especially immigration for work. Edward Abbey writes:
The one thing we could do for a country like Mexico, for example, is to stop every illegal immigrant at the border, give him a good rifle and a case of ammunition, and send him home. Let the Mexicans solve their customary problem in their customary manner.
If this seems a cruel and sneering suggestion, consider the current working alternative: leaving our borders open to unlimited immigration until—and it won’t take long—the social, political, economic life of the United States is reduced to the level of life in Juarez. Guadalajara. Mexico City. San Salvador. Haiti. India. To a common peneplain of overcrowding, squalor, misery, oppression, torture, and hate.
What could Henry [Thoreau] have said to this supposition? He lived in a relatively spacious America of only 24 million people, of whom one-sixth were slaves. A mere 140 years later we have grown to a population ten times larger, and we are nearly all slaves. We are slaves in the sense that we depend for our daily survival upon an expand-or-expire agro-industrial empire—a crackpot machine—that the specialists cannot comprehend and the managers cannot manage. We are, most of us, dependent and helpless employees.3
We are all slaves. All of us except for the super rich, and even they are slaves of the system. Interestingly, many educated white people, who have only recently confronted a more fulsome history of racism in the United States, and are described as “woke,” seem intent on the destruction of language, including the erasure of words like master and slave from our collective lexicons. They often express their “wokeness” to an absurd degree. Perhaps the words are too jarring for them; perhaps hearing the word slave reminds them too much of their own slavery.
We should love all creatures: fellow humans, animals, trees, even insects, but far too many modern humans are no longer fully human, but are machine robots. Such people, with their sub-human characteristics, can only evoke hatred. As Lawrence writes:
I must say I hate mankind — talking of hatred, I have got a perfect androphobia. When I see people in the distance, walking along the path through the fields to Zennor, I want to crouch in the bushes and shoot them silently with invisible arrows of death. I think truly the only righteousness is the destruction of mankind, as in Sodom. Fire and brimstone should fall down.
But I don’t want even to hate them. I only want to be in another world than they. Here, it is almost as if one lived on a star, there is a great space of sky and sea in front, in spirit one can circle in space and have the joy of pure motion. But they creep in, the obstructions, the people, like bugs they creep invidiously in, and they are too many to crush. I see them — fat men in white flannel trousers — […] and the families — passing along the field-path and looking at the scenery. Oh, if one could but have a great box of insect powder, and shake it over them, in the heavens, and exterminate them. Only to clear and cleanse and purify the beautiful earth, and give room for some truth and pure living.4
We all need space, and we need room for truth, beauty, and goodness. New age gurus will tell you it is never good to hate, but that is wrong, for it is always good to hate that which is evil. The best we can do is escape. We need new communities; communities like Saint Benedict founded, but ones based on different principles. This is the idea of Rananim, namely small, autonomous communities of nature-lovers, who lead monastic lives devoted to beauty and the Divine within the midst of the modern world. Let these communities act as a great shining beacon and an example for others to follow. The masses may be robots today, but inspired messengers of the eternal verities of nature and its celestial archetypes can awaken them. As for those of the wealthiest one percent, it is likely that only a very few of them will change. But Harry Crosby, the poet, and friend of Lawrence, who was quite wealthy, has some words for them:
You business men with your large desks with your stenographers and your bell-boys and your private telephones I say to you these are the four walls of your cage.
You are tame as canaries with your small bird-brains where lurks the evil worm you are fat from being over-fed you know not the lean wild sunbirds that arrow down paths of fire.
I despise you. I am too hard to pity you. I would hang you on the gallows of the Stock Exchange. I would flay you with taxes. I would burn you alive with Wall Street Journals. I would condemn you to an endless round of bank banquets. I deride you. I mock at you. I laugh you to scorn.5
Men are men when they get in touch with nature and the Gods; men are less than worms when the only principle they hold to is the machine-principle. “Iron and stone render up their life, when the hour comes. And men are less than the green-fly sucking the stems of the bush, so long as they live by business and bread alone. Parasites on the face of the earth.”6 Only by getting into vivid, living touch with the natural world can we become men again, and only by turning one’s eyes to the cosmos and the eternal realities that lie behind the cosmos may one, after much time, and the grace of the Gods, become a sun-man.
Though not all humans have been evil, humanity has been an evil presence on this planet. In the words of R. S. Thomas:
Not for long.
After the dark
After the first light
After the calm the wind,
Creasing the water.
After the silence
Sound of the wild birds,
The fox and the hare.
And all these at one,
Part of the tearless content
Of the eye’s lens.
But over the sunlight
Of the first man.7
There are too many people.
There are too many people on earth
insipid, unsalted, rabbity, endlessly hopping.
They nibble the face of the earth to a desert.8
Along with Malthus and Pentti Linkola, Lawrence was a great proponent of keeping the planet’s population in check. Even a few people can do untold damage to the environment if they act irresponsibly, but with the population numbers we have today, even if everyone went “green” the world’s ecosystems would still be in jeopardy. The population must be lowered as soon as possible! But, Lawrence hated war and genocide more than anything save the Machine, with war and genocide, in fact, being the right and left hands of the Machine. Lawrence was not against the fighting spirit, nor war in the classical sense, but he hated with every fiber of his being war waged with machines. If war can not be utilized to reduce the population, then the one and only option is a drastic reduction in the birth rate. Rather than condemning population reduction, it should be applauded, and governments should institute strict population control measures. Only once the world’s population reached a sustainable level, such as a hundred million, laws could focus on population maintenance rather than population reduction. Edward Abbey puts this powerfully:
It will be objected that a constantly increasing population makes resistance and conservation a hopeless battle. This is true. Unless a way is found to stabilize the nation’s population, the parks cannot be saved. Or anything else worth a damn. Wilderness preservation, like a hundred other good causes, will be forgotten under the overwhelming pressure of a struggle for mere survival and sanity in a completely urbanized, completely industrialized, ever more crowded environment. For my own part I would rather take my chances in a thermonuclear war than live in such a world.9
The trajectory we are on is a recipe for disaster and the annihilation of many more species, including human beings, on this planet. Even the worst excesses from the worst periods of what—wrongly—have been termed “dark ages” would be infinitely superior to this, so let us utter a prayer: “Oh, may each she-tigress have seventy seven whelps, and may they all grow in strength and shine in stripes like day and night, and may each one eat at least seventy miserable featherless human birds, and lick red chops of gusto after it.”10 This may sound cruel, but it would be a form of divine justice, for “[o]f all the featherless beasts only man, chained by his self-imposed slavery to the clock, denies the elemental fire and proceeds as best he can about his business, suffering quietly, martyr to his madness.”11
When there are too many people, having too many children is tantamount to a crime against the planet. A sane person would understand this. Lawrence states that “there are such millions and billions of children in the world. And we know well enough what sort of millions and billions of people they’ll grow up into. I don’t want to add my quota to the mass—It’s against my instinct—”12 A parent always hopes their child will grow up to be good and decent, but unless a child born today is completely isolated from the modern world there is very little hope it can escape the evil clutches of the Machine.
Overpopulation may both be caused by the Machine, and feeding the Machine, for modern humans are little more than grist in the Machine’s dark satanic mills. But I know that the Gods are stronger, and eventually, the Machine will fail, for the Machine can never triumph. Lawrence, in The Plumed Serpent wrote the following sacred hymn:
[T]he sun and the moon are alive, and watching
with gleaming eyes.
And the earth is alive, and ready to shake off his fleas.
And the stars are ready with stones to throw in the faces of
And the air that blows good breath in the nostrils of people
Is ready to blow bad breath upon them, to perish them all.
The stars and the earth and the sun and the moon and the
Are about to dance the war dance round you, men!
When I say the word, they will start.
For sun and stars and earth and the very rains are weary
Of tossing and rolling the substance of life to your lips.
They are saying to one another: Let us make an end
Of those ill-smelling tribes of men, these frogs that can’t
These cocks that cant crow
These pigs that can’t grunt
This flesh that smells
These words that are all flat
These white men, and red men, and yellow men, and brown
men, and black men
That are neither white, nor red, nor yellow, nor brown, nor
But everyone of them dirtyish.
Let us have a spring cleaning in the world.
For men upon the body of the earth are like lice,
Devouring the earth into sores.13
When there are few of anything, that thing becomes scarce and hence valuable, so when there are few humans alive every human life is a treasure to be treated with utmost respect, but when there are too many people, any single life means almost nothing at all. Lawrence writes: “Nay, in all the world, I feel the life-urge weakening. It may be, there are too many people alive. I feel it is, because there is too much automatic consciousness and self-consciousness in the world.”14
Humanity needs pruning
Humanity needs pruning
It is like a vast great tree with a great lot of sterile, dead, rotting wood
and an amount of fungoid and parasitic growth.
The tree of humanity needs pruning, badly,
it needs thoroughly pruning, not as in the late war, blasting
with unintelligent and evil destruction
but pruning, severely, intelligently and ruthlessly pruning.
The tree of human existence needs badly pruning
or the whole tree may fall rotten.15
As we have stated before, the population needs to be reduced dramatically, but not through the means of machines and mechanism, but through sane, compassionate means. If draconian measures are taken to reduce the birthrate and this results in a healthy, happy humanity, along with a healed planet, including the flourishing of many species that are now being crowded out, then those severe measures are most certainly worth it. More technology will save nothing, and more people cannot solve the problems we face. It is time to come to terms with the fact that we must make do with less. Edward Abbey expresses this as follows:
[W]e see that it’s only the old numbers game again, the monomania of small and very simple minds in the grip of an obsession. They cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix and Albuquerque will not be better cities to live in when their populations are doubled again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human. […] [T]he pattern is fixed and protest alone will not halt the iron glacier moving upon us.
No matter, it’s of slight importance. Time and the winds will sooner or later bury the Seven Cities of Cibola—Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, all of them—under dunes of glowing sand, over which blue-eyed Navajo bedouin will herd their sheep and horses, following the river in winter, the mountains in summer, and sometimes striking off across the desert toward the red canyons of Utah where great waterfalls plunge over silt-filled, ancient, mysterious dams.16
The latter part of Abbey’s quote expresses the core of Lawrence’s message, namely that the Machine will never triumph. One way or another, nature will win. We must fight for what is right, but we must also remain stoical, knowing that even if we fail, Mother Nature will never fail. We may feel sad about the state of the world, but we must not worry overmuch, since life has been given to us, and life is a beautiful thing. Lawrence writes: “I have decided that the human race is a mistake—one of evolution’s mistakes, since God can’t make ’em—but don’t let it worry me overmuch.”17 Sometimes all we can do is find moments of silence, and other times we must pray as follows: “He will come down from the sky, the King of Terrors, with his swarms of locusts and his games of slaughter… O cruel beast that man is! Nothing will be left on earth, or under the earth, or in the water, which will not be persecuted, despoiled, or destroyed… Open thou Gulf Eternal, and swallow this unbridled race while yet there is time…”18
The soul (seele in German) is that which is in us and is connected to the Gods and the fountain of all being. The spirit (geist in German) is a mental artifice at war with the soul. The spirit is conjoined with the will, leading to mental ratiocination and the will to power, and what William Blake terms mind-forged manacles. We cannot save ourselves or the world through the mind, but only through the soul. This may sound rather complicated—and it is, Ludwig Klages having written a 1,500 page tome on the subject—but Lawrence puts it excellently in the following passage from the second draft of Lady Chatterley’s Lover:
She didn’t want any more dead things and pale triumphs, no more engines, no more machines, no more riches and luxury. She wanted live things, only live things: grass and trees on the earth, and flowers that looked after themselves; and birds and animals, stoats and rabbits, hawks and linnets, deer and wolves, lambs and foxes. There must be life again on earth, and fewer people. There must be fewer people![…] But these dead larval creatures had such invulnerable wills. […] They were like a huge cold death-worm encircling the earth, and letting nothing live. It was Will, the will of dead things to make everything dead. Nothing, nothing must remain free and wild and alive! Men would prevent it. […] One thing, and only one, seemed evil in all the world. And that was the unyielding, insistent human Will, cold, anti-life, and insane!19
Finally, we end this chapter with a powerful poem by R. S. Thomas, which summarizes much of what has been said, with the Christian God as the mouthpiece.
And God thought: Pray away,
Creatures; I’m going to destroy
It. The mistake’s mine,
If you like. I have blundered
Before; the glaciers erased
I saw them go
Further than you—palaces,
Missiles. My privacy
Was invaded; then the flaw
Took over; they allied themselves
With the dust. Winds blew away
Their pasture. Their bones signalled
From the desert to me
After the dust, fire;
The earth burned. I have forgotten
How long, but the fierce writing
Seduced me. I blew with my cool
Breath; the vapour condensed
In the hollows. The sun was torn
From my side. Out of the waters
You came, as subtle
As water, with your mineral
Poetry and promises
Of obedience. I listened to you
Too long. Within the churches
You built me you genuflected
To the machine. Where will it
Take you from the invisible
Viruses, the personnel
Of the darkness that do my will?20
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. New York: Touchstone, 1990.
———. The Best of Edward Abbey. Edited by Edward Abbey. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2005.
Crosby, Harry. Seeing with Eyes Closed. Edited by Gian Lombardo. Niantic: Quale Press, 2019.
Lawrence, D. H. 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.
———. Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Edited by Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
———. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton. Vol. VII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Plumed Serpent. Edited by L. D. Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
———. The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by James T. Boulton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Thomas, R. S. Collected Poems. London: Orion Books, 2000.
Yourcenar, Marguerite. The Abyss. Translated by Grace Frick. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 517–18.
Noli Me Tangere. “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” — John xx. 17.
Edward Abbey, The Best of Edward Abbey, ed. Edward Abbey (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2005), 275–76.
D. H. Lawrence, The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. James T. Boulton (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 134.
Harry Crosby, Seeing with Eyes Closed, ed. Gian Lombardo (Niantic: Quale Press, 2019), 183.
D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, ed. L. D. Clark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 243.
R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems (London: Orion Books, 2000), 128.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:522.
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (New York: Touchstone, 1990), 52.
Lawrence, The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, 205.
Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 133.
D. H. Lawrence, Aaron’s Rod, ed. Mara Kalnins (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 99.
Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, 242.
D. H. Lawrence, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 312.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:585.
Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 127.
D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton, vol. VII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 395.
Marguerite Yourcenar, The Abyss, trans. Grace Frick (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), 335.
D. H. Lawrence, John Thomas and Lady Jane, ed. Roland Gant (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), 83.
Thomas, Collected Poems, 230.