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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Addicts and Servants (p. 193)

From chapter "The End"

Death isn’t an incidental by-product of the machine. The obsession with security ends in wealth-making as ecocide and war as genocide. The obsession with security becomes a death wish not because of the outward appearance or the inner character of the perpetrators; it’s an obsession rooted in underlying, often unconscious motivations. Sometimes it manifests as bloodthirsty, sometimes as larcenous. Sometimes as an overzealous concern for the well-being and right living of others. Sometimes as patriotic pride or dedicated work ethic. Sometimes as pathological lying, as mindless vandalism, or as a good citizen’s respect for the rule of law. But if the underlying motivation is security and rules over freedom, then the end result, the collective result, is to choose comfort over tolerance, rules over responsibility, known over uncertain, wealth over wilderness, control over relationship, and ultimately, death over life. Life isn’t a simplistic set of opposites with one obvious right answer to every question, but the obsession with security tries to make it so.


The smoke and mirrors of high technology appear to be, Wizard-of-Oz-like, our masters. But the fearsome wizard behind the curtain turns out to be everyman and everywoman, fussing with levers, no longer in control or quite sure what the purpose of it all is. We’ve become caretakers of the machine, janitors in the machine’s warehouse, sweeping and tidying up and oiling the levers and attaching the new gizmos that are supposed to control this or that section of the machine. (How come those gizmos are called governors?) We aren’t sure anymore what it’s all for, but someone somewhere must be keeping track, we tell ourselves, and those engineers sure are clever. And we really can’t imagine how the machine could be replaced with anything else. It’s big and it’s more complicated than anyone can imagine, and it’s all humming on into the future….

Gee-whiz science is transforming our world. Isn’t it amazing, this technology that can be used for good and ill? One of the world’s “most advanced humanoid robots” is feted for “walking, turning and even dancing with children.”But it’s not just for kids! When the Japanese prime minister paid an official visit to the Czech prime minister in the summer of 2003, he brought along a four-foot-tall robot that could tell jokes and make a toast. The robot offered to dance, but the Czech prime minister is not into dancing, and declined.Dancing isn’t the only thing robots are good for! The Pentagon’s DARPA is offering a million bucks to see if someone can create a machine capable of going from Los Angeles to Las Vegas without human intervention.The purpose of DARPA’s “autonomous ground vehicle” race in March 2004 was to “leverage American ingenuity to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicle technologies that can be applied to military requirements.”

Big-tech apologist Witold Rybcynski begins his book Taming the Tiger with the declaration that “we must live with the machine; we have little choice”—marshaling what has become, pathetically enough, one of the primary arguments in favor of the current deathly system: we’re committed to it, so if you don’t like the death of the planet, tough luck—and ends it with the suggestion that we can control technology “by directing its evolution, by choosing whether and how to use it, or by deciding what significance it should have in our lives.” But he conveniently forgets that civilization is predicated on power differentials. How do I direct the evolution of the unmanned predator drone? How do we choose whether to use the forty million closed circuit television cameras that capture our movements down the street? How do I decide what significance the recording of my e-mail messages and the revoking of my biometric-encoded passport shall have? Rybcynski rightly reminds us that “the struggle to control technology has all along been a struggle to control ourselves.”We say rightly, but we mean partly rightly, since we aren’t the ones creating predator drones. We aren’t the ones at the center of the Panopticon. This is why it’s not a matter of controlling technology, but of changing the power relations in society. Our obsession with comfort makes us addicts to technology, and our attachment to security makes us servants of authority. As addicts and servants we neither control technology nor change the nature of power.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract declares that governance is by consent, not by mandate. He wrote, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” He also wrote, “The brain may become paralyzed and the individual still live. A man may remain an imbecile and live. . . .”We see both of these around us each day. And he wrote further, as we also see each day, “Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping them. . . . If then there are slaves by nature, it is because there have been slaves against nature. Force made the first slaves, and their cowardice perpetuated the condition.”


A few of the layers of modern society maintain some semblance of consent, but amidst all the high-tech communication and the waves of data, is it informed consent? Is it the consent of consumers who purchase the latest piece of technology wrapped in layers of disposable ancient forest paper? Is it the consent of employees who are utterly dependent upon their paychecks for food, clothing, and shelter? Is it the consent of the wards of high-tech hospitals, unprepared to die, who consent to millions of dollars worth of invasive medicine to prolong life for another month? Is it the consent of voters who choose between corporate- funded and party-chosen candidates?

In this book we have discussed many examples of brittle technologies, the secret machinations of politicians and executives, and the underlying sorting of society by anonymous bureaucrats. The more we depend on these systems, the more insecure we feel, and the more we feel beholden to the latest technology, the latest demagoguery, the latest parental projection for safety. Freedom is responsibility. Security is slavery. Denial doesn’t change this.