Tag: the machine

the fable of the bees

BEEHIVE. Woodcut, 19th century (Photos Framed, Prints, Puzzles, Posters,...) #12407722

Mandeville’s The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714) has stuck vaguely in my mind since a politics class in college for its notorious claim that “private vice is public virtue”. Said claim influenced key economic thinkers, including—perhaps most notably—Adam Smith.

I am no amateur of political theory1 and the text is satire, but the exact origin of the thought (that private and public virtue could be so related) matters little, there can be little argument that such is, in fact, how our liberal economic reality is structured.

And well, what did we think was going to happen? I guess I am shocked I didn’t raise my hand in the politics class and ask how anyone could ever be stultified enough to claim something so obviously wrong-headed and false?

How did we get there? And how have we persisted with the idea for so long? Perhaps (like most of history) it was (and is) simply a rationalisation of an order emerging from a higher power—and not the good kind either.

Perhaps there could be comfort in the thought that it has all been a joke taken too far, a satire the elites (or more likely, the Machine) picked up and ran with. A great or nefarious misunderstanding, but originally a perversion nonetheless.

Yet what kind of moral universe must one inhabit (or have created for oneself) such that you could reach the point of believing black bricks (not only can, but do!) make a white house? diseased organs a healthful body?


We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world – to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity – our own capacity for life – that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.

We have made “personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world” yes, and shamelessly too, but Berry and we can now see very clearly (with several centuries of hindsight) the flaw in the original economic architecture: it takes no concern for any reality outside the beehive. The ‘Great Economy’ of sun and flower and pollen in which the ‘Little Economy’ of the bee’s kingdom subsists.

And this egregious and absurd error has metastasised so far beyond all conceivable scope that an absurdity has occurred: the Fable has dissolved its own ground, the Fable has killed its very bees.

“How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?”… Where are those who killed the bees of the field?

how else

digital crucifixion:

Or to change the key, why would Techno-Moloch be any less a productive instrument in the hands of the Lord for the righteousness of his Church than old-fashion Moloch? Satan riding the Machine than Satan riding Caesar?

If that were the case wouldn’t Christ have had to be incarnate into a metaverse to have touched the bottom of what evil can do?

C. Gribben:

I also remember when an international government was able to control the movements of an entire people whom God had set free, when it forced that free people to register with an occupying military power, when it made an expectant couple homeless, created the conditions in which they were shut out of all hospitality, and then turned them into refugees. This was the world that God loved and into which he sent his son – as the tiny stone that would crush the giant statue of imperial power, in Daniel’s vision. For how else could the Word have become flesh and dwelt among us..


[dispatch] mumford, caesar, augustine

A: The Magnificent Bribe — Real Life

‘The Good Life’ vs ‘the Goods Life’ – 8/10

“the need to assimilate the machine to human values and needs, lest the machine’s values and needs be prioritized”

Q: can the machine be assimilated to human values? if not, was it ever possible? if yes, when did it stop being possible?

a split between “authoritarian” and “democratic” types of technologies – 9/10

Whereas rulers had long fantasized about observing every act of the populace, the computer actually made this possible; whereas rulers had dreamt of harnessing the destructive power of the deities, nuclear bombs now gave them this might.

Caesar the god

Kafka has a lot to say of use here on how rulers work. The desires of the will to power don’t change, the capacity to fulfil them does.
Technology has made Caesar into a god. He has “harnessed the destructive powers of the deities”—that connection was never lucid until I read this simple articulation. The all-seeing-eye-as-computer is in 1984, the atomic-bomb-as-Sodom is not. It’s like the ideological dreams of Caesarism have went from myth to fact in the 20th century. Which makes knowing what those dreams always were pertinent (see Kafka and Cochrane).

But there’s also something here in the delay; myth has definitively become fact already, we live in the fall out of that metaphysical detonation. Myth became fact, God became man and killed leviathan, and proceeded to eat imperial paganism from the inside out, but it took centuries to see the political reconfiguration. Leviathan became a god in the 20th century, but the Apocalypse didn’t arrive straight away, in fact a stagnation did. So technology has made Caesar into a god in a world where God has already made man into a god for millennia. This century; god games.

Walter M. Miller Jr.:

Always culminates in the colossus of the State, somehow, drawing about itself the mantle of godhood, being struck down by wrath of Heaven. Why? We shouted it loudly enough-God’s to be obeyed by nations as by men. Caesar’s to be God’s policeman, not His plenipotentiary successor, not His heir. To all ages, all peoples-“Whoever exalts a race or a State or a particular form of State or the depositories of power… whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God…”… But when Caesar got the means to destroy the world, wasn’t he already divinized? Only by the consent of the people-same rabble that shouted: “Non habemus regem nisi caesarem,” when confronted by Him-God Incarnate, mocked and spat upon…“Caesar’s divinity is showing again.”

“Non habemus regem nisi caesarem”

“Only by the consent of the people”, is the point DeBoer makes “every aspect of this is a product of human choice”, and I’m not sure where that fits. Some maxim like, “idols can only be upheld by the the people”, the human will is always a necessary ingredient in idolatry. “Non habemus regem nisi caesarem” then becomes some kind of human/state universal; the creed of idolatry.

The Bomb and the Computer

Symbolism here too, just how much of the best of modern American literature and art takes place in the bomb’s desert. The Mushroom (cloud and psychedelic) ties together consciousness and material divinisation, the Rocket ties together the bomb and the space frontier. Don’t have a handle on the symbolism of the computer.

time and again he emphasized that what needed to be confronted was not so much the machines themselves as the ideology that builds up around them and turns them into objects of fealty and worship.. “If you fall in love with a machine there is something wrong with your love-life. If you worship a machine there is something wrong with your religion.”

This frames the problem of technique as one of disordered loves, which is also a new insight for me and it connects with the state idolatry above. What is the Augustinian response to technocracy?
Is the defect in our love-lifes a human constant or is there something particular and pernicious that occurred in the West?  We who have the one true religion? New ways of framing old questions.

The Ghost Inside?

But further, if it’s the human penchant for idolatry and the subsequent ideology (the myth of Progress etc) that is the corrupting factor—that it is us not the machines that need confronted—where does that leave the ontological status of the machine?

Perhaps then in this framing the kind of story Kingsnorth is telling is guilty of rank anthropomorphisation? Projecting onto ‘the machine’ a volition and cunning that just simply isn’t there, there is no ghost inside. Is it possible that a pejorative picture of the machine is beginning to hold us anti-moderns captive? In all these claims about the machine its actual status, its capacity for volition and choice is never addressed head on. Its only way of getting it is to be hooked up to something sentient so far as I can see. An emergent sentience from humanity (like the internet might manifest) or from some other being (ie. a demon)

But even the existence of that question forces the question back off of that, the question at the heart of Christian demonology. So these themes are plugged in to something ancient. The ontological status of higher powers, with all its tendrils and roots in the history of (dis)enchantment. And that’s something I have no grasp on at all reallly, but Jacobs has recommendations. Like I asked in the sotu:

“What is the ontological status of the Machine and how does it relate to the Principalities and Powers? Is it one? How central is it in the history of human corruption?”

striking out and running

reality bats last
nature bats last
God bats last

these are always wise responses, they are bedrock true.
do they undermine Apocalyptic thinking, by undermining the power we give to our own endeavours, our own ability to destroy the world as much as to save it.
what is the state those three forces bring man back to exactly, or are they merely negative, curbs on hubris. reality will spring back in your face, but will it take you by the hand and lead you home?

connected to the history of ideas, or ‘the diachronic question’, what is causing what in history. is technology primary? ideas and dialectic now seem naive drivers. Alan Jacobs pronouncement, as I’ve linked to before, is a bit of a credo:

All of these grands recits should be set aside, and they should not immediately be replaced with others, but with more particular, less sweeping, and more technologically-oriented stories. The technologies that Marshall McLuhan called “the extensions of Man” are infinitely more important for Man’s story, for good and for ill, than the debates of the schoolmen and interpreters of the Bible. Instead of grand narratives of the emergence of The Modern we need something far more plural: technological histories of modernity

We need a complex, multifaceted, materially-oriented account of how modernity arose and developed, starting with the later Middle Ages. The three big stories, with their overemphasis on theological and philosophical ideas and inattentiveness to economics and technology, have reigned long enough — more than long enough

The principalities and powers then, the back and forward of “spiritual powers in the heavenly realms”. That view is profoundly inspired from Leszek Kolakowski’s ‘Politics and the Devil’, and forced the open question of the link between the devil and technologies—the ontology of the Machine.

But man is also never struck out. I take that to be the thing deBoer keeps driving at, and Kolakowski too:

The only comfort we have comes from the simple fact that we are not passive observers or victims of this contest but participants as well..and therefore our destiny is decided on the field on which we run.[something which probably ends up being a matter of faith?] To say this is trivial, and, as many trivial truths, worth repeating.

That disposition, that history is a live entity, seems to be shared by this book, I’m excited to see if it sheds any new light.

in the desert: exodus and purgatory and apocalypse

Paul Kingsnorth:

In the desert, strength is needed, and prayer too. But the desert, perhaps, is not a bad place to be. Civilisations come and go, but nature keeps renewing, and God is eternal. There are things higher than our cultures; there are things higher than the Machine. If we are in the desert – if this is our Exodus – then we can work to understand how we got here and we can wonder, as we wander, about what the Promised Land might look like. As one cycle ends, another begins. The dead leaves of one culture fall to cover the seeds of another, already sown beneath. The more things fall apart – the more the centre cannot hold – the more new centres are seeded on the margins, which is the only place they can ever grow.

The Desert Fathers of the early church went into the sands and the caves and the tombs not to look for culture, but to be purged of the self. The Faustian people of the West – us – have spiralled far down into the self, all the time believing we were rising up towards liberation. We forgot what the hermits learned and taught: that liberation of the self is just another form of slavery.

But the desert is a place of purging, and of revelation; an apocalypse and a purgatory. Sometimes an Exodus is needed. It is never easy. Perhaps you come to the desert when you lose yourself. Perhaps we have been sent here to learn again what culture means – what being human means – and where it starts: in the small places, under the gaze of God and the wide sky.

  • Many of the same themes as Thomas (in his first poem), “but nature keeps renewing, and God is eternal”
  • The melding of so many different transitions from revelation; Exodus, Purgatory, Apocalypse, Exile is interesting, do they up actually saying anything though?
  • It really all does come back to Christ and Culture.
  • Every three score and ten must learn again what culture and what being human means.
    • How much does that truth paired with the Great Acceleration account for all the negative stuff that gets filed under “Apocalypse”, then once that assumption is in place we retroactively do a search and destroy on Mammon, Liberalism, Luther, Calvin, Ockham, Plato; who or whatever is ‘the cause of it all’? Essentially what Kingsnorth’s project on substack is.
  • As one cycle ends, another begins”, what is the place of cyclical histories in the world? Cristians seem to have a real love/hate relationship with em. 

r.s. thomas series: a beginning

St Michael’s Church, near Welshpool. R.S. Thomas was rector in 1946.

Out of the Hills

Dreams clustering thick on his sallow skull,
Dark as curls, he comes, ambling with his cattle
From the starved pastures. He has shaken from off his shoulders
The weight of the sky, and the lash of the wind’s sharpness
Is healing already under the medicinal sun.
Clouds of cattle breath, making the air heady,
Remember the summer’s sweetness, the wet road runs
Blue as a river before him; the legendary town
Dreams of his coming; under the half-closed lids
Of the indolent shops sleep dawdles, emptying the last
Tankards of darkness, before the officious light
Bundles it up the chimney out of sight.

The shadow of the mountain dwindles; his scaly eye
Sloughs its cold care and glitters. The day is his
To dabble a finger in, and, merry as crickets,
A chorus of coins sings in his tattered pockets.
Shall we follow him down, witness his swift undoing
In the indifferent streets: the sudden disintegration
Of his soul’s hardness, traditional discipline
Of flint and frost thawing in ludicrous showers
Of maudlin laughter; the limpid runnels of speech
Sullied and slurred, as the beer-glass chimes the hours?
No, wait for him here. At midnight he will return,
Threading the tunnel that contains the dawn
Of all his fears. Be then his fingerpost
Homeward. The earth is patient; he is not lost.

“As you began, so you shall continue” Holderlin

“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.”
(Psalm 107:6-7)

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2)

That is the first poem from R.S. Thomas’ first published volume The Stones of the Field (1946).

I’m currently working my way through all Thomas’ poems and they are often so rich there is a felt need to *do* something with them. And well, I’m going to try and blog a little about the richest ones here. “Modern reading”, says Ivan Illich, “is an activity performed by commuters or tourists; it is no longer that of pedestrians and pilgrims.” This will be a pedestrian affair, perhaps even, if we are blessed, a pilgrimage.

A Beginning

What a worthy beginning to a Thomas-pilgrimage this poem is. Already here, at the very start, are so many central themes which will preoccupy him; the spiritual character and status of Welsh country folk, the depth of God’s presence in pitiless yet beautiful nature, the rape of traditional welsh culture and life by the Mammon-Machine, even the value and role of poetry-as-spiritual-fingerpost.

The diction is heavier than most of what comes after; the clauses and adjectives filling up the stanza’s tankard. And yet, even here the last four lines break into that painfully simple metaphysical clarity that marks his best verse, and which is his signature.

‘Dreams’ is the first word, ‘lost’ the last. The lost dream of welsh rural rootedness, and the (initially hidden) spiritual authenticity that accompanies, it is perhaps Thomas’ foundational theme, yes. But this poem itself takes place in a kind of dreamscape, a dream quality permeates its movement and symbols. The characters and places and landscape are all archetypal. Which means “Out of the Hills” provides a broad and spreading critical foundation from which to begin an ascent of all that is to come from Thomas’ tongue.


sotu fall 2021

Eschatological Media Ecology

I’ve been thinking lately that if I had to summarise the themes someone would find here, “Eschatological Media Ecology” wouldn’t be a bad start. Some nexus of the History of Ideas, an absolutely serious engagement with special revelation’s dictate for history and the eschaton (with special reference to John’s Apocalypse), mixed with an uncertain but ever-growing conviction in the centrality of the Machine and the Antichrist (the metaphysical status of technocracy and institutionalised agape respectively).

The End at the Start of the 21st Century: Status Reports

Mostly how those themes cash out in the early 21st century is surveillance capitalism, system’s thinking, the status of the supposed ‘End of the West’, the Great Upheaval, the ever approaching cultural capitulation—the big something that’s supposedly just around corner and relates to all of the above—a serious questioning of the status of church critique (valid? if so how much, how far, and on what specifically?), bleeding into the felt need pervading Christendom to rehabilitate the body, just as much as our communities, the need for roots, to be sacramentally ‘plugged into’ this earth as it dies.

The current limitless insanity of economy, consumption, pollution, mobility and personhood ties the need for a New Erotics to the unfolding identity insanity (cf. Successor Ideology), mostly of the sexual kind. And is being a Christ-facist an insult or a high compliment, is being a Humanist heretical or the only defence against inhumanity? I still don’t know.

The Technological History of Modernity

A key fingerpost for all this is the technological history of modernity as articulated by Alan Jacobs, and it’s consequences for the history of ideas (or to put it in Taylorian terms: The Diachronic Question) and the stories smart Christians tell themselves about how we got here: buffered rootless gnostic techno-Mammon worshippers—you know the spiel.

The Ontological Status of the Machine

Principalities and Powers play a key role in whatever this story is, and they’re the link between a New Theology of the Antichrist (spawning from the extent to which the institutionalisation of the gospel has itself spawned modernities various idolatries/gods, Illich’s unnerving gift to the world) and the Machine, the reifying mythic name given to technology-as-god by R.S. Thomas.

How far back do the origins of the Machine reach, how implicated is language-as-technology, what does that mean for a linguistic special revelation, and chronologically for human flourishing, redemption, and Darwinian theory? ie. Is special revelation a response to the advent of the Machine? Did humans flourish best in the Upper Paleolithic1?

What is the ontological status of the Machine and how does it relate to the Principalities and Powers? Is it one? How central is it in the history of human corruption? Has something new, unique, manifest in our centuries? And what do all these themes mean for space exploration, digital humanism, the potential for transhumanism, the future of the internet, the church, the body, the Apocalypse?

And that leaves out dreams, altered states of consciousness, the status of psychedelics, the unreality of time, and ego death. Perhaps in a different post.