The Machine Will Never Triumph, part eight
When I see the great cities—
When I am in a great city, I know that I despair.
I know there is no hope for us, death waits, it is useless to
For oh the poor people, that are flesh of my flesh,
I, that am flesh of their flesh,
when I see the iron hooked into their faces
their poor, their fearful faces
I scream in my soul, for I know I cannot
take the iron hook out of their faces, that makes them so
nor cut the invisible wires of steel that pull them
back and forth, to work,
back and forth, to work,
like fearful and corpse-like fishes hooked and being played
by some malignant fisherman on an unseen shore
where he does not choose to land them yet, hooked fishes
of the factory world.1
The world is becoming more overpopulated every day, and along with the population explosion, we are witnessing both the movement of people from the countryside to cities and the urbanization of suburbs into cities. Life is supposed to be grand and beautiful, filled with ample silence and time for contemplation, but city life is debased, rushed, and lacking in joie de vivre. The countryside is polluted and is largely used as a base for megacorporations to grow genetically modified, chemical ridden, tasteless crops, but the cities are a vile mass of putrefaction. There is no clean air, no clean water, and no silence (for a magisterial treatment of silence, please see Max Picard’s The World of Silence) in a city. If an innocent child with no conception of Hell were to ask what Hell is like, one could do no better than to send the child to a city. A city today may have fewer fiery furnaces than a hundred years ago, but the canaille that inhabit the cities are more robotic than ever. Lawrence despaired for the city-masses, for they were born of the same humanity that he was, but while he escaped the Machine, most people are caught like fish in a net, hooked and bleeding; going back and forth to their slavery—their work—day after day, leading meaningless lives, no more, no less than robots.
At one time, hundreds of years ago, before capitalism, before the invention of machines, cities were far less horrendous than they are today. Some cities in the middle-ages even consisted of sites of great architectural beauty, which were a constant reminder to all and sundry to think vertically, rather than horizontally. Lawrence writes “How lovely the Bois was in the days of horses and carriages! now it is obscene with motor-cars. No, these great cities have gone absolutely wrong, since electricity and petrol came into use.”2
How did we get to this state? Why did we put ourselves into this position? It is really a marvel of stupidity on a colossal scale that we have created these mega-cities. Lawrence, in The Rainbow writes:
[H]e marvelled, as he returned, thinking of naked, lurking savages on an island, how these had built up and created the great mass of Oxford Street or Piccadilly. How had helpless savages, running with their spears on the riverside, after fish, how had they come to rear up this great London, the ponderous, massive, ugly superstructure of a world of man upon a world of nature! It frightened and awed him. Man was terrible, awful in his works. The works of man were more terrible than man himself, almost monstrous.
And yet, for his own part, for his private being, Brangwen felt that the whole of the man’s world was exterior and extraneous to his own real life with Anna. Sweep away the whole monstrous superstructure of the world of to-day, cities and industries and civilization, leave only the bare earth with plants growing and waters running, and he would not mind[.]3
The noble savage embraced ignoble progress, and the rest is history. But, detachment is key, as the Buddha claimed. We live in the world we live in, and we have to work to improve what we can, but we must first of all be detached from the goings on of the material world. If the cities rise, we should resist them and know they hold no part of our inner being; and if the cities fall, we know that they were nothing but transitory.
As stated already, many beautiful monuments to verticality were built. The shrines to all the Gods were built in faith, but a greater shrine is a small, hand-carved statue, and the greatest of all is the shrine built in the heart. A cathedral is superior to a skyscraper, but a small thatch roof hut is superior to a cathedral. All are part of what Heraclitus terms the eternal flux; what may be here today will be dust tomorrow, and only the individual soul and the Divine are eternal. This is why temples are often torn down and rebuilt in Japan, namely to remind us of the transitory nature of all things.
It always seems to me that the next civilisation won’t want to raise these ponderous, massive, deadly buildings that refuse to crumble away with their epoch and weigh men helplessly down. Neither palaces nor cathedrals nor any other hugenesses. Material simplicity is after all the highest sign of civilisation. Here in Paris one knows it finally. The ponderous and depressing museum that is regal Paris. And living humanity like poor worms struggling inside the shell of history, all of them inside the museum. The dead life and the living life, all one museum.
Monuments, museums, permanencies and ponderosities are all anathema. But brave men are forever born, and nothing else is worth having.4
The key word for life is harmony, and the key word for modernity is discord. All life, except human life is in harmony with all other life. Even the lion and the lamb are in harmony, because both are fulfilling their inner natures. Only humanity embraces discord. Our task, when we seek out companions is to find others who embrace harmony, and to embrace them, and all of creation in an organic and holistic way. Ludwig Klages writes:
From the outset I choose the people that will be important to me based on my ability to view them as if they were fragments of the earth, as if they will be to me as soil, forest, cloud, rock, noble blood, smoldering summer, or spring breeze. Other sorts must remain outside the telluric round-dance, for they are anthropocentric, and, therefore, they themselves constitute the sickness that infects the earth. The Moloch’s belly in which these spiritually diseased characters house themselves is — the big city.5
The factory cities.
Oh, over the factory cities there seems to hover a doom
so dark, so dark, the mind is lost in it.
Ah, the industrial masses, with the iron hook through their gills,
when the evil angler has played them long enough,
another little run for their money, a few more turns of the reel
fixing the hook more tightly, getting it more firmly in—
Ah, when he begins to draw the line in tight, to land his fish,
the industrial masses—Ah, what will happen, what will happen?
Hark! the strange noise of millions of fish in panic
in panic, in rebellion, slithering millions of fish
whistling, and seething, and pulling the angler down into boiling black
The poem The factory cities by Lawrence refers to an “evil angler,” which exoterically is the factory manager, but esoterically is the Machine itself, for it is the Machine that has hooked the steel into the brain, the blood, the soul of the masses of robots that once were men.7 Sex, drugs, rock and roll, television, and phones all serve to dull the minds of the masses, but eventually even the strongest drugs will no longer have effect and the masses will go insane. On that day the Machine will send out sirens of hate, then will finally break down along with the robots it created. Only the free men and women of the Sun will remain, and the cities will crumble. In the depths of our souls we are all free, and we all have the resonating harmony of the wild calling us. Edward Abbey writes:
[W]here is home? Surely not in the walled-in prison of the cities, under that low ceiling of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and acid rain—the leaky malaise of an overdeveloped, overcrowded, self-destroying civilization—where most people are compelled to serve their time and please the wardens if they can. For many, for more and more of us, the out-of-doors is our true ancestral estate. For a mere five thousand years we have grubbed in the soil and laid brick upon brick to build the cities; but for a million years before that we lived the leisurely, free, and adventurous life of hunters and gatherers, warriors and tamers of horses. How can we pluck that deep root of feeling from the racial consciousness? Impossible. When in doubt, jump out. Withdraw.8
“Withdraw” to Rananim9. That is our only hope, our only answer. Only there can we cultivate love and peace. City “[p]eople who live in mean, despicable surroundings become mean and despicable. The chief thing is to become properly conscious of our environment.”10 If the environment is good, and one is in touch with the natural world, one cannot but help to be loved by the Gods11, but if the environment is in discord, those whose eyes are open will be able to see it. “The traffic of London used to roar with the mystery of man’s adventure on the seas of life, like a vast sea-shell, murmuring a thrilling, half-comprehensible story. Now it booms like monotonous, far-off guns, in a monotony of crushing something, crushing the earth, crushing out life, crushing everything dead.”12 When in harmony, we are life bringers, but when we are tools of the Machine, we are death dealers. For one who loves life, the city is hateful, and the Machine is doubly hateful. “Well, the world is hateful. It is as hateful as Melville found it. He was not wrong in hating the world. Delenda est Chicago [Chicago must be destroyed]. He hated it to a pitch of madness, and not without reason.”13
Modern movements, such as socialism and communism are no solution, for they were founded on ideologies tied to materialism, hopes for technological revolutions, and founded by city-people. Mass movements, are only the mass cachinnation of robot masses. The only true movement is the movement of free individuals. Lawrence writes:
In the modern spirit of equality, we can get tremendous concerted action, really machine action, but no culminating living oneness, no great gesture of a creative people. Hence we have no architecture: we have only machines.14
Things always get worse, so long as we give power to the machines. Lawrence, who deeply loved his hometown of Eastwood, and knew the names of all the herbs and flowers that grew locally, discovered that it grew into a hateful place, just as we all have seen our most beautiful and cherished places destroyed before our eyes. He writes:
This was his home district—but from the deepest soul he now hated it, mistrusted it even more than he hated it. As far as life went, he mistrusted it utterly, with a black soul. Mistrusted it and hated it, with its smoke and its money-power and its squirming millions who aren’t human any more.15
One of the greatest depictions of our metaphysical enslavement in modern life, in general, and city life, in particular, comes from Robinson Jeffers:
Our sardine fishermen work at night in the dark of the moon; daylight
They could not tell where to spread the net, unable to see the
phosphorescence of the shoals of fish.
They work northward from Monterey, coasting Santa Cruz; off New Year’s
Point or off Pigeon Point
The look-out man will see some lakes of milk-color light on the sea’s
night-purple; he points, and the helmsman
Turns the dark prow, the motor-boat circles the gleaming shoal and drifts
out her seine-net. They close the circle
And purse the bottom of the net, then with great labor haul it in.
How beautiful the scene is, and a little terrible, then, when the crowded
Know they are caught, and wildly beat from one wall to the other of their
closing destiny the phosphorescent
Water to a pool of flame, each beautiful slender body sheeted with flame,
like a live rocket
A comet’s tail wake of clear yellow flame; while outside the narrowing
Floats and cordage of the net great sea-lions come up to watch, sighing in
the dark; the vast walls of night
Stand erect to the stars.
Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top
On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light: how could I help
but recall the seine-net
Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how beautiful the city
appeared, and a little terrible.
I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together into
interdependence; we have built the great cities; now
There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations incapable of free
From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all dependent.
The circle is closed, and the net
Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing, yet they shine
already. The inevitable mass-disasters
Will not come in our time nor in our children’s, but we and our children
Must watch the net draw narrower, government take all powers,—or
revolution, and the new government
Take more than all, add to kept bodies kept souls,—or anarchy, the
These things are Progress;
Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it keeps its reason?
Or it lets go, lets the mood flow
In the manner of the recent young men into mere hysteria, splintered
gleams, crackled laughter. But they are quite wrong.
There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew that cultures
decay, and life’s end is death.16
All largely true, except that the time of mass-disasters is now upon us, and though life’s end is death, death is also a beginning, as is exemplified in the resurrection of Christ and the myths of Dionysus and Osiris.
In the cities
In the cities
there is even no more any weather
the weather in town is always benzine, or else petrol fumes
lubricating oil, exhaust gas.
As over some dense marsh, the fumes
thicken, miasma, the fumes of the automobile
densely thicken in the cities.
In ancient Rome, down the thronged streets
no wheels might run, no insolent chariots.
Only the footsteps, footsteps
and the gentle trotting of the litter-bearers.
In Minos, in Mycenae
in all the cities with lion gates
the dead threaded the air, lingering
lingering in the earth’s shadow
and leaning towards the old hearth.
In London, New York, Paris
in the bursten cities
the dead tread heavily through the muddy air
through the mire of fumes
heavily, stepping weary on our hearts.17
Lawrence, like Ibn Sina before him, felt that only the free, liberated souls could go on to happy immortality, but that the masses who know nothing of the divine realities are trapped between worlds. These trapped souls are in pain, and they haunt our souls as much as smog haunts our lungs. These are what some call the end times, and a good description of this is provided by Thomas Merton:
We live in the time of no room, which is the time of the end. The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quality, speed, number, price, power, and acceleration.
The primordial blessing, “increase and multiply,” has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror. We are numbered in billions, and massed together, marshalled, numbered, marched here and there, taxed, drilled, armed, worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race and with ourselves, nauseated with life.
As the end approaches, there is no room for nature. The cities crowd it off the face of the Earth.
As the end approaches, there is no room for quiet. There is no room for solitude. There is no room for thought. There is no room for attention, for the awareness of our state.
In the time of the ultimate end, there is no room for man.18
In these times, we have repeated assaults on sanity, and fewer opportunities to enjoy peace, quiet, healing light, and healing darkness. The cities embody all the worst aspects of these end times, and they drive many of their inhabitants into madness or blank-faced idiocy. Just look to the high levels of both violent crimes and drug abuse in cities; while many are going insane and the others are numbing themselves to death. The music of the cities is another drug, which functions as a method of destroying free and independent thought. Most rock, rap, hip-hop, techno “music”, and so on are so brain destroying and soul numbing, they serve as weapons of modern civilization that stifle all ability to think clearly.
In these times, our primary concern seems to be about time, in a quantitative sense, considered as clock-time, such that we focus on extending the length of a life at any cost, despite the damage that may do to quality of life. One of the most diabolical inventions in the history of technology was the clock, and another was the printing press. The clock abstracted us out of real, daily life, and printed books undermined our oral culture and its transmission by memory. City life is a life of contradictions—a living death in life, a life of no life—but divine realities are always greater than our human machinations. As Lawrence wrote: “The mills of God grind on, and will grind these great cities exceeding small: in weariness and effort.”19
There is so little beauty in the cities, but the countryside, though raped and ravished by modern man, still contains some germs of life. “Only in the country, among peasants, where the old ritual of the seasons lives on in its beauty, is there still some living, instinctive “faith” in the God of life.”20 The faith of the rural populations of the world, especially in countries such as America, may be greatly deformed, but it is still faith, whereas the cities are vast wastelands of faith, except in a techno-dystopian hell that people like Ray Kurzweil envision for our future.
Though the cities constantly get larger, and the suburbs turn into cities, certain areas of the countryside are becoming depopulated, since the modern masses of young people are escaping the countryside for the city. “Curiously enough, the more motor-cars and tram-cars and omnibuses there are rampaging down the roads, the more the country retreats into its own isolation, and becomes mysteriously inaccessible.”21 This could provide an opening for autonomous, traditional-living communities to resurface in the countryside. When the great calamities happen, and happen they will, it will only be these small communities who will be able to survive, while the city people will become the primary victims of technological collapse, and murder one another or starve.
Modern cities are not just uglier than ancient cities because they are bigger, but because there are qualitative differences between machine-made cities, built for profit, versus cities built slowly by wakened hands, which were built to honor the Gods. Lawrence writes of the differences between the new and old ways:
Nothing in the world is more ghastly than these Italian roads, new, mechanical, belonging to a machine life. The old roads are wonderful, skilfully aiming their way. But these new great roads are desolating, more desolating than all the ruins in the world.
I walked on and on, down the Ticino valley, towards Bellinzona. The valley was perhaps beautiful: I don’t know. I can only remember the road. It was broad and new, and it ran very often beside the railway. It ran also by quarries and by occasional factories, also through villages. And the quality of its sordidness is something that does not bear thinking of, a quality that has entered Italian life now, if it was not there before.
Here and there, where there were quarries or industries, great lodging-houses stood naked by the road, great, grey, desolate places; and squalid children were playing round the steps, and dirty men slouched in. Everything seemed under a weight.
Down the road of the Ticino valley I felt again my terror of this new world which is coming into being on top of us. One always feels it in a suburb, on the edge of a town, where the land is being broken under the advance of houses. But this is nothing, in England, to the terror one feels on the new Italian roads, where these great blind cubes of dwellings rise stark from the destroyed earth, swarming with a sort of verminous life, really verminous, purely destructive.
It seems to happen when the peasant suddenly leaves his home and becomes a workman. Then an entire change comes over everywhere. Life is now a matter of selling oneself to slave-work, building roads or labouring in quarries or mines or on the railways, purposeless, meaningless, really slave-work, each integer doing his mere labour, and all for no purpose, except to have money, and to get away from the old system.
These Italian navvies work all day long, their whole life is engaged in the mere brute labour. And they are the navvies of the world. And whilst they are navvying, they are almost shockingly indifferent to their circumstances, merely callous to the dirt and foulness.
It is as if the whole social form were breaking down, and the human element swarmed within the disintegration, like maggots in cheese. The roads, the railways are built, the mines and quarries are excavated, but the whole organism of life, the social organism, is slowly crumbling and caving in, in a kind of process of dry rot, most terrifying to see. So that it seems as though we should be left at last with a great system of roads and railways and industries, and a world of utter chaos seething upon these fabrications: as if we had created a steel framework, and the whole body of society were crumbling and rotting in between. It is most terrifying to realise; and I have always felt this terror upon a new Italian high-road—more there than anywhere.22
And one may say, a hundred years later, that one experiences this terror at nearly all times and in nearly all places. Just because many of the people leaving the countryside today do it not for factory or construction work, but for tech jobs in an office, doesn’t change a thing. These people, whether they are paid a little or a lot are all slaves, and they have sold their souls to the Machine. In the modern world, everything is upside-down, and this is, perhaps, best described by Frithjof Schuon:
A characteristic trait of “our times,” is that one everywhere “puts the cart before the horse”: that which normally should be the means, becomes the end, and inversely. Machines are supposed to be there for men, but in fact men are there for the machines; whereas formerly roads were there for the towns, now the towns are there for the roads; instead of mass-media being those for “culture” the latter is there for the mass-media and so forth. The modern world is an inextricable tangle of revolvings that no one can stop.23
When a man forgets the ultimate principles and confuses means and ends, only disaster can follow, but when a man starts to wake up to the eternal realities, new things will dawn upon him, as described by Lawrence:
He had now a horror of vast superincumbent buildings. They were a nightmare. Even the cathedrals. Huge, huge bulks that are called beauty. Beauty seemed to him like some turgid tumour. Never again, he felt, did he want to look at London, the horrible weight of it: or at Rome with all the pressure on the hills. Horrible, inert, man-moulded weight. Heavy as death.24
These are the first cracks in the eggshell for the awakening of the new men, the sun-men, who will hate all that is modern, and love all that is natural and for the glories of the Divine. These sun-men must foster beauty and tear down all that which is ugly, starting with the cities.
Abbey, Edward. The Best of Edward Abbey. Edited by Edward Abbey. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2005.
Jeffers, Robinson. The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Edited by Tim Hunt. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001.
Klages, Ludwig. Cosmogonic Reflections. Translated by Joseph D. Pryce. London: Arktos, 2015.
Lawrence, D. H. Complete Poems. Edited by Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
———. Introductions and Reviews. Edited by N. H. Reeve and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Kangaroo. Edited by Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. Kangaroo. Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company, 2018.
———. 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.
———. Studies in Classic American Literature. Edited by Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton. Vol. VII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
———. The Rainbow. London: Everyman’s Library, 1993.
———. The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by James T. Boulton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
———. “Twilight in Italy.” In D. H. Lawrence and Italy, 2–136. London: Penguin Books, 2007.
Merton, Thomas. Raids on the Unspeakable. New York: New Directions, 1966.
Schuon, Frithjof. The Essential Frithjof Schuon. Edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2005.
D. H. Lawrence, Complete Poems, ed. Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 632.
D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton, vol. VII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 241.
D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (London: Everyman’s Library, 1993), 178.
D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 146.
Ludwig Klages, Cosmogonic Reflections, trans. Joseph D. Pryce (London: Arktos, 2015), 48.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 513.
“The Machine” is Lawrence’s archetypal term for all intricately designed mechanical devices, which would now include complex computer and information technology (IT), which are intended to perform their functions with minimal supervision or involvement of human beings. This includes any “automated or robotic” device that performs functions previously accomplished manually by human beings. The concept of “the Machine” also includes the supra-individual mindset or zeitgeist that aims to render human labor and craftsmanship superfluous by continuing to develop and improve such mechanized or computerized technology. The Machine is a symbol for the entire economic system of production and consumption based on mechanical, industrialized, and computerized technologies. For more information, please see the chapter in this book titled “The Machine”.
Edward Abbey, The Best of Edward Abbey, ed. Edward Abbey (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2005), 350.
Rananim is the name Lawrence gave to his vision of an isolated rural community where free people could come together to practice traditional crafts, commune with nature, learn to love one another, worship the Divine, and escape technology.
D. H. Lawrence, Introductions and Reviews, ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 342.
“The Gods” was Lawrence’s term for divine realities of the spiritual realm, which encompassed deities of all authentic religious traditions, whether monotheistic or polytheistic.
D. H. Lawrence, Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 121.
D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, ed. Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 125.
D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo (Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company, 2018), 294.
Robinson Jeffers, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, ed. Tim Hunt (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001), 514–15.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:617–18.
Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966), 70–71.
D. H. Lawrence, The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. James T. Boulton (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 441.
Lawrence, Introductions and Reviews, 358.
Lawrence, Late Essays and Articles, 15.
D. H. Lawrence, “Twilight in Italy,” in D. H. Lawrence and Italy (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 133–34.
Frithjof Schuon, The Essential Frithjof Schuon, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2005), 350.
D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 346.