Kill the machine

Bic Pens

Bic Pens (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

It’s 2013, and we’re in the middle of a supposedly revolutionary era in human history. The digital era. It’s been forty years since the first cellular phone call, a good two decades since personal computing entered its golden age, and on the verge of a second revolution in computing – the quantum revolution. It’s an age where everything we own has at some point been through a factory or a machine – our furniture, books, electronics, pens, watches sold to us straight off an assembly line, put together by a mechanical contraption which never tires, never needs a break, never laughs or cries or dies. Passion is gone. There is only production.

As everything becomes disposable, as pens become a dime-a-dozen item you pick up at the nearest supermarket, clothing becomes obsolete as the new fashion season starts, books become files you can view on an e-reader, identical across every similar device, the sinking feeling that we’re getting it all wrong inevitably creeps in. Humans are in part defined by the connections they make, the feelings and memories they imbue their possessions with – yet sentiment has been replaced by convenience, the convenience of discarding an object and reaching for a new one rather than having to maintain and look after an object which is close to your heart. We have the odd characteristic of developing relationships with our possessions, as a writer develops a bond with a typewriter he has used for years. Call it a feeling of companionship. Yet as these objects start to disappear from our lives, our identity no longer has the symbolic anchors it once had – it is one thing to write with a trusty pen that has served you for ages, and it’s another thing to write with a throwaway. It just isn’t the same, and this is reflected in the shallowness of the material that is produced. The move away from precious possessions to convenience is representative of an evolving unwillingness to devote our time to things of value, an aversion to commitment – this is echoed in the death of literature, to be replaced by easy reads, pop fiction and commercial, mass-produced books of the likes of Danielle Steel and Stephanie Meyer. Humanity is becoming apathetic in all things, seeking only to ‘have a good time’. It is the culture of #yolo, of one night stands, of superficial pleasures; of a humanity which has lost its will to think. A hedonistic flock led by shepherds with motives falling slightly short of altruistic.

This descent, however, is not a mere coincidence. Whilst during the rise of capitalism, religion was the opium of the people, blinding them to what they were headed towards, technology has taken its place. Epidemics like Facebook helped spark the Arab Spring, yet it is one of the agents through which the status quo is maintained and the real revolutions are prevented – revolutions against the commercialisation of every facet of human existence; revolutions against corrupt governments, a phrase which should be an oxymoron yet is instead a necessary connection. Technology allows the controlling interest in today’s blatant neoliberalism to remain in control, for the manufacturers of our technology – of our communication devices, of our medicines, our medical apparatus, our computers, our whatever else – control every sector of our economy and by extension everything we do. We willingly seek out exhaustion and overwork, so long as we can afford to pay for what we perceive as ‘luxuries’, and this drive to compete with other members of our society to see who can amass the most worthless possessions is the string our puppeteers have us hanging from, to the point where our economy of impulse buying is held afloat by credit cards and overtime. Through our willing apathy, the apathy of a society which does not care about politics beyond who can lead our economies to grow the most, the new bourgeoisie is running our societies from the shadows.

What is the solution? Is there even one? What is certain is that the modern obsession with technology and economy needs to die out for humanity to survive. There has to be a reprieve, a chance for the arts and the humanities (especially philosophy, of which science should always be slave and not master) to catch up and give us direction. Science and technology can tell us the hows, but they can never tell us the whys or the why nots. Humanity must stop for a long-needed pause, a chance to consider where we’re headed and what we should be heading towards. We must become empassioned once more, and to do that, we must fight against the capitalist system. We must move away from what is marketable and what we can mass produce towards mastering our ability to create objects of fine and intricate quality which carry significance for their own sake. For a while at least, until we can mature as a species and until we can ensure that basic necessities are fulfilled for all, we must kill the machine.

Luke Scicluna

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7 thoughts on “Kill the machine

  1. Pingback: Socialist Alternative – What is university for? (and what it should be like) | Reason & Existenz

  2. Excellent article, though I don’t agree with science being a slave to philosophy. I honestly don’t know why there HAS to be this divide between humanities and sciences. Unfortunately in our contemporary society, if you’re the art type, then being a man of science is practically impossible…

    Reply
    • It’s pretty simple – for instance, science can tell you how to build a nuclear weapon, but it cannot tell you not to use it. That is the area of ethics, and science should always be controlled and constrained by ethics.

      Reply
      • I agree, in that case. However, there are many instances where science could be beneficial yet is restrained by morality; as in the case of stem cells… We have the power to cure cancer, and some people are willing to be test subject, knowing they will die anyways, what’s the problem then?

      • It depends on the context. In the case you have mentioned, I see no conflict between ethics (at least, my own ethical perspective) and science. However, if one subject can be killed against his or her will to save a million, it would still be an unjustifiable act. The problem arises when science is used either with no regard for ethics, or in a utilitarian manner. Take Hiroshima. Hiroshima was essentially the sacrifice of over a hundred thousand innocent civilians through the unethical use of science in order to save millions. A utilitarian might compare it to amputating a limb to save the body – acting “harmfully” in order to act in the interest of the greater good, yet a limb is not a conscious thing, and one should not trade one life for another.

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