Since the megamachine was in essence an invisible organization, the historic record tells us nothing specifically about its existence: what we know is derived from the details that must be pieced together.
— Lewis Mumford
Whom do you serve? The workforce serves the powerful elites. The elites serve the Machine. And what is the Machine? It’s a dynamic, activated mechanism, an artificial creature reminiscent of the old Golem of Prague. The legend talks of an animated clay giant, perfectly and literally performing the task set before it, not understanding anything else, and wreaking great harm when left to its own devices. In other words, an alien creature. Consider this: we live in an age when some of our neighbors wake up one fine morning seemingly remembering having been abducted and anal-probed by aliens. Well! We have been getting snatched and shafted by the mechanical alien for thousands of years now; isn’t it about time somebody noticed? 😛
Whom do you serve? The workforce serves the elites. The elites serve the Machine. Whom does the Machine serve? Nobody. It’s just a mechanism programmed to get a job done. Whether the job helps or harms is not the Machine’s concern, nor within its competence. Service to life or to general human wellbeing is not its goal. Its goal is the continued existence of the Machine; its growth, its mission, its grandeur, its perpetuation, its enhancement and its power. The living inputs are used up and spat out. The Machine is not evil per se; after all, it’s just a machine! It simply does not concern itself with, does not care about, does not understand, life. Its job is to get humans to crank out more control, more work, more stuff, on and on, without end. A thing is what the Machine is, and it will not stop until it turns everything living into itself.
Its runaway feedback loop has been so steadily reinforced, any negative feedback against it so suppressed, that the Machine has not only taken on an independent existence of its own, but its complexity, its speed, its power, and its sheer careening razzle-dazzle seems to preclude any effective action against it. Until it crashes. From Sumer to Rome, from the Mayans to Easter Island, the Machine’s crashes have left devastation behind. Great gains in knowledge and productivity have been overwhelmed again and again by even greater increases in ostentatious waste, paranoid hostility, insensate destructiveness, hideous random extermination.
This invisible monstrous mechanism now reaches into nearly all parts of the globe. Its whirring geartrain consists of economies, “resource” extraction, work patterns, social relations, ways of thinking and living. Into it go human lives and indeed the living world, and out comes stuff. Once the Egyptian Machine built the pyramids, reaching all over north Africa and the Near East for materials and laborers, for artists and craftsmen, for splendid inventions and precious artifacts, binding them all together into the pattern of a huge, durable, impressive and precisely built tomb. Today, the Machine has grown so immense that it threatens the very life of the planet, racing to build a tomb the size of the Earth.
If machines serve us — as we’ve been told over and over — how come we are working harder than ever before? We moderns each have a large herd of energy “horses” at our beck and call, ready to pull our chariots at the flip of a switch. These “horses” power a great many “labor-saving” devices. Yet we scramble, we are swamped by stress, we have no time, we work harder and longer than medieval peasants. Could it be that the machines, like us, serve the Machine?
Science fiction writers such as R.U.R.’s Karel Čapek have feared future human servitude to machines, not realizing it had already happened in the deep past. Our ancestors had created the precursor to the alien mechanism to serve them, to amplify their energy. Instead, we’ve ended up its miserable serfs. And since we serve the “unliving” and funnel most of our daily energies that way, more and more of our world is transformed into the “unliving.” The unliving expands and the living shrinks, as the very logic would predict.
But when we work less and less at the job of turning living beings into inert stuff, the Machine shrinks. As we turn rock dust into living, growing soil, as we turn polluted, eutrophic waters into living, teeming springs and rivers, as we turn refuse and manure into fertile humus, as we turn the dead into food for the living, life grows and the death-dealing Thing recedes. Using thingness to grow livingness lies at the root of the deep green magic of Gaia who patiently waits for us civilized orphans to come home to our senses. Ursula Le Guin once sang of the real work of human beings: using our knowledge to weave the pattern of life like a tapestry; to enlarge the chances of life. We hold the power in the cup of our hand. We shift our allegiance, now.
Whom do you serve? Serve life.