I was standing by the lough tonight, under a moon that was almost full. The darkness was young in the sky; jet blue behind me, but on the horizon ahead, beyond the far shore, still a fading cyan.
There was a wind moving that had been up all day, and it was rilling the surface of the waters in a manner that seemed strange, even unnatural. Unbroken waves were racing across the surface from the east, and the effect, when I stared at the water, was to suggest that the surface of the lough was moving at a speed I had never seen water move at before. The reeds to the west shifted in the wind in time with the movement, and the whole picture was hypnotic under the darkening sky. It was if something was happening here that I couldn’t possibly explain or quite be a part of - which of course was true. All I could do was stand and watch.
Sometimes reality opens a little before you, just a crack, and you are delivered some tiny portion of the world as it is, beyond you and supremely unaware of you. It is a gift, and this gift goes some small way to balance what is going on in your head with what is happening beyond it.
I have spent the last six months working away here, trying to pin down in always-inadequate words what I see and feel about the great, artificial force that is rising around us as the 21st century deepens and darkens. I have called this force the Machine, but there have been other words for it at different times: Babel, the Technium, the Matrix, the Kingdom of Man. Whatever it is, we can see it rising, and we will see it closer and more clearly these next few years, for it is naked now, and unashamed.
But when I stand by the lough, I see something else too: I see that these waters move faster than I ever thought they could, and I see that they are some part of some larger thing, some great greening, some outbreath of life that envelops everything and will outlast everything, even this Machine. What looks in the moment as if it will last forever, is so often more fragile than it seems, as everything human is. The waters will always be moving, and it is good sometimes to stare at them and to allow them to move within you, to dilute what you have seen in the human world.
If we stare too long into the Machine, the Machine will stare back into us. ‘No man can concentrate his attention upon evil, or even upon the idea of evil, and remain unaffected,’ wrote Aldous Huxley. ‘To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad.’ These are wise words. Maybe I will pin them on my wall.
When I began this project back in April, I planned a three-part investigation into the Machine; into how it is eating us alive and how we can refuse to be prey. I have come now to the end of the first part, my Divining the Machine series, which dug into the historical vaults to try and understand where this force came from and what it wants.
My next essay, coming in a couple of weeks’ time, will begin the second chapter of this series, which I'm calling The Hollowing. I’m moving now from past to present, to examine how the Machine is undermining both culture and nature as the 2020s proceed. Amongst other themes, I'll be looking at the ongoing war on cultural roots, the breakdown of nations, the inversion of past values, the abolition of home, the war against the body, the revolt of the elites, the religion of the future, the vocabulary of the Machine and - hovering above it all - the ongoing project by the new rulers of the world to build a hyper-real replacement for life itself.
I expect part two to run for around the same length as my initial series, which is to say for around ten essays or so. When this is done, I'll be moving on to the third part of this project, which I'm currently calling Return to the Centre. After our expedition into the underworld, this will be the point at which I try to shine some light. Here I want to look at how to move beyond all this; how to reclaim our humanity, to become digital refuseniks, to outflank, outwit or oppose Leviathan, and begin to sow the seeds of some kind of human-scale world again.
After that, my life's work done, I plan to just stare at the lough for years.
For the last six months, I have been writing bi-weekly essays. This has been a good discipline, but also sometimes a strain. I want to make sure I have the headspace and the time to continue at the same level, so as part two begins, I am committing to publish every two-to-three weeks. I want to have enough time to read and prepare, and I also want to make sure I can spend at least some time each month staring at the lough, or my wife and children, rather than at the Machine. I'll make sure I offer a good few Intermissions between the big essays, in compensation.
For now though, let me say how much I appreciate your support, and especially the conversation that so many of you have begun and continued in response to these essays. I have been constantly intrigued and pushed on by the quality of the dialogue, and the things I am learning from it. I look forward to that continuing.
At age 72 almost everything I find myself thinking about the world — as it is and seems determined to become — bores me, depresses me, or both. And so I read. I read fiction and non-fiction about the world as it was before digitization and its noise. This reading and echoes of it, while they last, bring respite, mostly borne of gauzy nostalgia, but also comforting insights and hope. This reading … and your writing … are my lough. And I try to ignore the irony of the machines that bring them to me. Thank you … Ken
I thoroughly enjoy your work, Paul. I'll wait as long as you need: It's worth the wait.