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The Tale of the Machine
A user's guide to my essay series
Today is my ‘name day’ in the Orthodox Church, the feast of St Peter and St Paul. It’s traditional to give gifts on your name day, and though this probably isn’t much of a present, my little e-gift to you all today is a summary of everything I’ve written here at the Abbey of Misrule since I began the project more than two years ago.
Together this makes up an argument with a three-part structure, which is summarised below. My project later this year will be to begin the work of turning this into a printed book. More on that as it progresses.
Next week, I’ll be writing here about what I intend to do at the Abbey now that my Machine series has concluded. It’s time for a change, and I’m looking forward to it. For now, here is a summary of what turned out to be an ambitious and at times exhausting project. I want to thank you all, with genuine gratitude, for buying me the time and space to make this happen. It would otherwise have been impossible.
This is the story of a revolution. We are living through it now.
The ultimate project of modernity, I have come believe, is to replace nature with technology, and to rebuild the world in purely human shape, the better to fulfill the most ancient human dream: to become gods. What I call the Machine is the nexus of power, wealth, ideology and technology that has emerged to make this happen.
We are increasingly unable to escape our total absorption by this thing, and we are reaching the point where its control over nature, both wild and human, is becoming unstoppable. It is developing its own theology, as it takes us at warp speed into a new way of being human. Its modus operandi is the abolition of all borders, boundaries, categories, essences and truths: the uprooting of all previous ways of living in the name of pure individualism and perfect subjectivity. We are not made by the world now; we make it. And we can make anything we want. Or so we want to believe.
It is nearly impossible to even keep up with the pace and scale of change at this point. I doubt that any of us really has a grip on what is happening. What I have presented here is only one man’s take, from his own small perspective, on the accelerating war on humanity and nature that we have ourselves unleashed. Here is how the story has unfolded.
Introduction: The Great Unsettling
Drawing on the work of Simone Weil, my introductory essay, The Great Unsettling, dug into the foundational feeling I have long had about the impact of modernity: that it unsettles and uproots us from crucial human connections; to each other, to our ancestors, to our places and to nature. The resulting rootless cultures are virtually unique in human history.
Why is this happening? In The Faustian Fire, I asked Oswald Spengler this question by way of his epic The Decline of the West, and he explained that the West was a ‘Faustian culture’ - a culture of conquest, exploration and dominion, which had risen, dominated the world and was now in its inevitable decline, having exhausted its purpose and strength. The current ‘culture war’, I suggested, was not a cause of that decline, but only a symptom. We have a culture war because we no longer have a culture: the West is fragmenting, and cannot be put together again.
But what is this ‘West’ anyway? In The Dream of the Rood, historian Christopher Dawson offered an answer: it is the former territory of the Catholic church; the thing that used to be called ‘Christendom’ and which now mostly calls itself ‘liberalism’ or ‘modernity’ or ‘the developed world’, but which still runs on the ethical blueprint laid down in the Sermon on the Mount. I dug into Alasdair Macintyre’s After Virtue to explore what happens to a culture when it abandons its foundational spiritual beliefs. His answer mirrored that of Spengler - and both men predicted that the crumbling of the West would lead to a turn back towards real religion.
Part One: Divining The Machine
This part of my series aimed to break down The Machine into its constituent parts, defining it and exploring its genesis. The first essay, Blanched Sun, Blinded Man, used Lewis Mumford’s classic doorstop study The Myth of the Machine to attempt to pull apart and bullet-point the core values and characteristics of Machine society.
How, then, did this ‘Machine’ arise, historically speaking? Acknowledging that it is in some ways a tendency within us which rises and falls at different points in history, I suggested in A Monster That Grows In Deserts that the current iteration could be traced back to the land enclosures in England in the early modern period, which set the stage for the industrial revolution. The same process - the theft of land and the consequent proletarianisation of people - was then globalised, and this process continues.
The next essay, A Thousand Mozarts, explored the political equivalent of enclosure: revolution, focusing in particular on France. By clearing the ground of old structures - aristocracy, church, monarchy and any number of customs and traditions - the revolutionaries failed to create their intended paradise, but did create a space into which the Machine could move. Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.
If the twin revolutions of reason and industry cleared the ground, the Machine which grew on the levelled soil then gave us the ability to conquer nature itself - or so we believed. The Green Grace used Rupert Sheldrake’s book The Science Delusion to trace the shift in attitudes in the modern West to non-human life. From viewing the world as an organism, we came to see it instead as a mechanism, and our appetite to remake it in our image, aided by the twin gods of Science and Reason, began in earnest.
In Do What Thou Wilt I delved further into the philosophy and guiding ideology of science, the practical means and pseudo-religious justification for our domination of matter. With reference to Philip Sherrard’s The Rape of Man and Nature, and drawing on my own experience of the Western mystery tradition, I suggested that science has far more in common with magic than practitioners of either usually feel comfortable admitting: both aim to manipulate the universe for human benefit.
In The Great Wen I explored the growth of cities, and the hyper-urban mindset they create, which is both product and breeding-ground of the Machine worldview. The shift to city living over the last century has been historically unpredecented, and has cut us off both from our past and from the rest of life on Earth. Far from making us more ‘outward looking’, this has in fact centred our gaze on ourselves. Today’s megacities represent a collective assault on nature, human and otherwise.
Want Is The Acid honed in on the immediate gratification of the senses which is required to keep the Machine running, and how all the wheels of our society are oiled to keep that gratification going. Our want is encouraged at every turn, for desire stimulated and then fulfilled is the basis of economic growth, and the Machine needs growth like a fish needs water. The triumph of the Machine is the triumph of the merchants.
Come The Black Ships examined a particular historical example of that triumph - the American economic conquest of Japan - and used it as a symbol for the consequent process of ‘globalisation’, a benign-sounding word for the economic colonisation of the world by market forces. Drawing on my own early books, and on Stephen Toulmin’s Cosmopolis, I suggested that globalisation was a combination of economic rapacity and the desire to extend the ordered, rational worldview of the Machine to all corners of the Earth. The notion that encompassed both was the pursuit of ‘openness’.
The final essay in part one of my series, You Are Harvest, looked at the particular technologies and mechanisms which are being used today to extend the dominance and worldview of the Machine. With the help of Jacques Ellul’s classic work The Technological Society, I looked at how an unprecedented system of monitoring and control is being rolled out, and how most of us are either unaware or unprepared for what is happening. This is no ‘conspiracy theory’ - it is simply, as Ellul explained, the logic of the Machine: a logic which he called ‘technique.’
Part Two: The Hollowing
This second full part of my series dug into the reality of living in a society shaped by Machine values. The first essay, Exodus, offered up its own theory of culture: that Machine modernity has made us homeless, because the radical individualism and economic uprooting it promotes create a restless society. I proposed four key elements of a living culture: a sacred source, place, high culture and folk culture. These could be summed up as ‘the three Ps’: people, place and prayer. Modernity takes aim at them all.
Next in the series came The Migration of the Holy, in which I unpacked my dawning realisation that religion had not departed the world but remained all around us. With the help of Brad Gregory’s book The Unintended Reformation, I examined the argument that ‘secularism’ had emerged by accident from the crumbling of the Western Church but that, despite pretences, society remained fundamentally religious in nature. The religious impulse had simply ‘migrated’ from church to state, and then to the marketplace as well. But while the old values had been cored around people, place and prayer, the new ones were centred on science, sex and the self.
If Christendom morphed into liberalism, then what is liberalism now morphing into? In This Free World took as a guide Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, to examine how liberalism had failed by succeeding. A truly ‘liberated’ people belongs nowhere and is attached to nothing: thus a liberal culture becomes an oxymoron, and democracy and liberalism begin to seem incompatible too. A liberal culture is a natural product of the Machine, which needs a world without borders, boundaries or limits to thrive.
Next followed a three-part series on what I called ‘the culture of inversion’: an attempt to answer my own question regarding what an exhausted liberalism is becoming. In Kill All The Heroes I looked at the ongoing ‘woke’ inversion of all Western norms, stories, traditions and values. As Spengler’s Western decline really kicked in, I suggested, the culture’s elites were beginning to eat themselves. The resulting ‘populism’ was a reaction to the economic and cultural warfare being waged on Western peoples by their own elites. I drew on Robert Bly’s notion that we were now living in a ‘sibling society’ - a culture shorn of adults, which was refusing to grow up.
In part two, Saturn’s Children, I wrote about my own experience of being ‘cancelled’, and examined the close connection between the interests of the bourgeois mobs doing the cancelling and the needs of the Machine. What we were witnessing, I suggested, was not a rising of the marginalised, but what Christopher Lasch, in his book of the same name, called The Revolt of the Elites.
In part three, Down The River, I examined how the political left had abandoned its previous stance against corporate globalisation, and was now a cheerleader for the global Machine. Ultimately, I suggested, the value system of the globalist left and of globalist capitalism were at source the same: a desire for a universal global culture, and the end of all limiting traditions.
Next, In The Desert of the Real delved into Jean Baudrillard and René Guénon, to explore the age of ‘hyperreality’ and its impact on our mind. I confessed my conflicted views about the culture war: while I hated much of what the woke elites were doing, I could understand why they were doing it. Our culture is spiritually and politically broken: nothing is real and money is the only measure. French traditionalist René Guénon called this the ‘reign of quantity’: a time of decline in which only the material is seen as real. What looks like politics, then, is in fact an ongoing spiritual war.
The next essay, What Progress Wants, took a more lyrical turn. If Progress - the grand ideal of the Machine age - were a god, I asked, what would it want from us? And what would we be prepared to sacrifice in its honour? Ivan Illich, Allen Ginsberg and Augusto Del Noce helped me seek an answer.
Next up, it was time to talk about the gender wars, which I suggested in The Abolition of Man (and Woman) were another aspect of the age of hyperreality. Having abandoned religion, and built a new worldview cored around the self, the technological developments of the Machine age now gave us the ability to redesign that self at will. The transgender moment represented an attempt to overcome biological reality and construct a new human self by doing what the Machine does best - breaking forms and destroying limits. Transgenderism and transhumanism, I suggested, existed on the same spectrum: both required the overcoming of biology in the name of self-willed ‘liberation’ from matter itself.
In Keep The Home Fires Burning I examined another pillar of contemporary society which the Machine was undermining, in order that its commercial and technological colonisation might finally become total: the home, and the family it shelters. Both need to be broken if the Machine’s revolution is to succeed. As ever, ‘liberation’ is Machine code for the very particular new form of slavery with which it will replace mothers, fathers, economic independence and community sufficiency.
The Nation and the Grid suggested that the same arguments could be applied to the ongoing abolition of nations, a process which benefits both globalised capital and the Laschean revolting elites who see attachment to place, culture and home as backward or even dangerous. Nations, I suggested, are being replaced by a global ‘Grid’, in which former countries are now just economic and technological nodes. What could a national culture look like in a globalised Internet age? Did people even want them anymore?
Then came another another three-part series, The Light Age is the Dark Age, which examined how technology has reshaped our ability to be fully human. There Were Giants in the Earth examined philosopher Jeremy Naydler’s claim that the coming of electricity marked not just a technological but a spiritual shift in our relationship with everything from time to night, and how that shift is still playing out. The Machine age offers not just a reign of quantity, he suggested, but a new kind of quality: we can no longer even see the world the same way.
Next came The Fourth Revolution, in which I examined the decline of the green movement and its co-option by the Machine. As with the culture wars, concern about climate change or forest destruction is easily re-directed towards the Machine’s central task: the replacement of nature with technology in the name of justice.
Finally, the last essay in part two, God in the Age of Iron, explored what the religion of the future may look like, in the light of everything we have seen so far. The Machine appears to be spawning its own theology. What are its key characteristics?
Part Three: Return To The Centre
What is to be done about all of this? Part three of the series tugged at this question. The first esssay, The Savage Reservation, enlisted Aldous Huxley, and especially his novel Brave New World, to examine the possible responses to the kind of ‘total system’ being constructed by the Machine. One response was to flee outside the walls, to a ‘savage reservation’, to refuse the system and to band together with others to resist it.
In order to do this, whether externally or internally, a certain attitude is necessary. Watch The Great Fall enlisted poets Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers and C. F. Cavafy to propose a kind of stoicism in the face of the crumbling of the culture. Beyond progress and nostalgia, this ‘third stance’ offers a way to stay sane amidst the falling away.
What should be the politics of a time like this, though? If neither progress nor reaction are adequate, what remains? Against Progress offered an answer: a ‘reactionary radicalism’, which rejects Machine values by drawing on eternal things.
Next up, in The Jellyfish Tribe, historian James C Scott helped to pin down one of the main culprits for the rise of the total system - the state - and offered two potentials means of giving it the slip, drawn from the history of southeast Asia: becoming either a ‘raw’ or a ‘cooked’ barbarian.
Next came a two-part essay on the Internet, and in particular on the rise of AI and its significance. Part one, The Universal, asked what was happening, and whether there might be a dark spiritual underpinning to what is going on. Part Two, The Neon God, asked what we could do about this, and how to live with it.
In The West Must Die, I dug into the work of Iain McGilchrist to get to the root of what Rene Guenon once called ‘the Western error’, the extreme rationalism which led to the rise of the Machine. Perhaps, I suggested, we needed to let the abstract concept of ‘the West’ fall away so that we can get back to the reality beneath it.
But what is that reality? In my final essay, The Raindance, I answered the question: people, place and prayer, the eternal trinity which gave meaning to human lives. With the help of the Irish mystic philosopher John Moriarty, I looked at final reasons for the hope in the age of the Machine.
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