Demonic Machines

I have a strange obsession: I am determined to understand the world – and people in particular. People are the ones that give me the most trouble.

I am convinced we have changed greatly, and we now are only partly human. But saying just what we have become has baffled me. It is clear that we have become more like machines – but it is also clear that we have become demonic: intent on destroying ourselves. The two parts didn’t seem to fit together.

But this morning, after a night of nightmares, I can see (or rather, feel) how they fit together. The two metaphors I just used: (seeing and feeling) are those used by the two hemispheres of the brain. The right hemisphere is identified with the whole body while the left is identified with our extensions (as McLuhan put it), such as our machines. And as Iain McGilchrist tells us, it is not longer the Emissary, but has become the Master.

We have always considered our machines to be our helpful servants. And for hundred of thousand of years they were. But then, all of a sudden, they took over our world, with the advent of civilization – which was a complex of our technologies, and our reactions to them. Mankind struggled to cope with these, mostly unsuccessfully.

In our time, we have been hit with the most overwhelming of them all: the computer/software/internet/wireless complex. I have been alarmed to see how this has overwhelmed people, even down here. These new technologies have not made us better, but worse – by taking over more and more of our lives.

I am now reading The Condition of Man by Lewis Mumford, one of my gurus. In the first part of the book, he is quickly going over these developments in the Greek and Roman worlds. I wish you had the time to read it. Everyone should be forced to be a failure (like I was) and then given time to recover (like I have been). But I am getting off the subject, which is demonic machines.

Now that I have realized that such a thing is possible, it begins to make sense (as we say). My twenty years of working in high-tech were full of just such insanity – which nearly drove my crazy myself.

When I tried to explain to the friends I still had back in Silicon Valley that software development was a social process, and therefore subject to the problems of our society – they abruptly stopped listening to me. They were completely enmeshed (like a gear in a machine) in that society, and they were not about to question it.

For that society, the end of the world has already happened. They are on a one-way track that is going nowhere – with no awareness of this, or anything else. Their things become more and more, while they (as persons) become less and less.



Rejection has been a very big deal for me. I was rejected by my mother and I have never recovered from it. The last time I saw her, when I was nearly forty and when she was dying from cancer – she made it clear to me that as far as she was concerned I didn’t exist. And it seems to me that in my adult working life I was treated in much the same way – as if I didn’t exist.

Rejection and the inability to be are intimately related. Both are lethal. It amazes me that psychology has not recognized this. Perhaps this is because rejection one of those things contemporary society is saturated with, but does not want to recognize.

It has rejected the world (or reality). It only believes in a reality it creates for itself, and it can control for itself – as it pleases. This is insanity, pure and simple.

Reality, in turn, has rejected it – as it always does – as it has rejected many beings who could not cope with reality.

People also find themselves unacceptable, and are busy destroying themselves. They know what they are supposed to do.

It’s Actually Funny When You Think About It

It’s funny because thinking is so useless. We made a big mistake when we decided to rely on reason to guide us through life’s murky passages. By the time we woke up to this, our situation was hopeless. We can only look on in amusement as we flounder in the mire.

We can write about this experience, as I am doing here. But language is deceptive by its very nature – as the Buddha discovered, and taught us.

I am tempted here to go into a long digression about how Buddhism has failed Thailand, which now has a military dictatorship, and how the factories who produce many of the hard drives for the world’s computers, have been flooded because they were built on a flood plan with inadequate flood protection – a danger that was well-known even in the Buddha’s time, when dikes, impressive even by modern standards, were built and maintained. If the people back then could see this now they would have a good laugh at our expense.

Poetry Magazine – In a Station of the Metro

As I said, language is inadequate and deceptive. I heard about one of the most important books of our time The Master and his Emissary from an article in Poetry Magazine – of all places. Ian McGilchrist, the author, also taught English; and realized its inadequacies and the necessity for poetry – which has been abandoned by everyone else.

The reason for this is simple – they don’t want to understand what is going on, or understand anything, for that matter. They just want to be like everyone else – stupid.

This reminds me of another book, one I just got: Too Big to Know: rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere and the smartest person in the room is the room. As a matter of fact I have already written about it in Five Centuries of History. The author is extremely clever, but he has his blinders on – as he is required to – and can only talk about the present – as if it were the only thing worth talking about. He lets his readers be optimistic or pessimistic – ignoring questions of value, as he is required to.

To return to Poetry Magazine, and the poem In a Station of the Metro. Be sure to follow the link at the top of the page to an explanation of the poem – which is much longer than the poem itself, and more important – but one most will not be able to follow because of its many literary references. As usual, the ignorant mass – the people who most need it – will not benefit from the poem, or its careful explanation.

To me, this is funny. A strange sense of humor, perhaps, but one appropriate for our times.

The Narrowly-Focused Mind

My mother used to tell me “You have a one-track mind.” And she was right. I still do, and that is one of my problems.

But it also a problem of many other people. They are well-versed in certain areas, but ignorant of most others. McGilchrist would say their left-hemisphere (with its tendency towards specialization) has become dominant. This was probably what I was writing about in my posting Stupid Friends. People get obsessed with (focus on) fixed ideas and make stupid mistakes as a result.

It’s not hard to see they are behaving stupidly, but it is harder to see what is making them behave so stupidly – because these motivations are almost always unconscious – as I said in another posting Most of What is Going on is Unconscious.

Consider how I left my family’s religion. When I went to the University, all of a sudden I realized that our tiny church was not important – compared to all the other things going on in the world. This was the result of my having a more broadly focused mind. How I got that, when I am so narrowly-focused in many other ways, is one of my life’s mysteries. But to this day, on one else in our extended family has had this insight. I regard them as strange people, and they regard me as a strange person – for being so different.

I have learned to regard this difference as an advantage, keeping carefully in mind that for most it is an acute disadvantage.

What it Means to be a Machine

I am reading the final chapter of The Master and his Emissary, and I want to share some of it with you. Here Iain McGilchrist is dealing with a subject many, many people have dealt with – one could build a tank-trap by piling up all the books about this. (Including Lewis Mumford and his The Myth of the Machine.)  Nevertheless, he is worth quoting. From page 430:

Increasingly the living would be modeled on the mechanical…When we deal with a machine, there are three things we want to know: how much it can do, how fast it can do it, and with what degree of precision. These quantities summarize what distinguish a good machine from a bad one; it is more productive, faster, and more precise than a less good one. However, changes in scale, speed, and precision in the real world all change the quality of the experience, and the ways we interact with each other: increasing them no longer gives a clearly positive outcome – it can even be very damaging. In human affairs, increasing the amount or extent of something, or the speed at which it happens, or the inflexible precision with which it is conceived or applied, can actually destroy.

But since the left hemisphere is hemisphere of What, quantity would be the only criterion that it would understand. The right hemisphere’s appreciation of How (quality) would be lost. As a result, considerations of quantity might come to replace considerations of quality altogether, and without the majority of people being aware that anything had happened.

I have the feeling that much more needs to be said now that were are dealing with a very advanced machine: the computer/software/internet complex. But this will do for a start.

He touches on something he should go into at much greater depth: mass man, who could equally be called mechanical man. Not only our brains have been changed – the whole man has been changed.

Scanning ahead, I see he is going to catalog many of our current problems, which can be understood by his insights. But I will save those for later. This is enough for now.

How Can People Not Exist?

For quite a while now, I have been obsessed with an idea that made no sense. I have put it a number of ways, but they all boil down to the fact, as I see it, that people have ceased to exist. How can any idea be any crazier than that – since I am a person, more or less, myself?

Nevertheless, the idea persists – and for me it explains a lot. It explains why Americans are acting so crazy, for example – something that has caused me no end of thought. If I simply notice they aren’t really there, the mystery goes away. But my mind objects and says my analysis is not logical. Which makes me want to trash my mind, and simply trust my instincts – which I am convinced are sound.

I am not the first to grapple with this problem, far from it. Nietzsche, for example, tore into it with a fury – and with the result that it seemed to get the better of him. In all due respect for him, I hope I can make the problem easier.

I want to tackle this problem from two directions. This first is to take the artistic approach, and trust our emotions to guide us in the production of art – for example, poetry. This is what the Romantics did, in their reaction to excessive intellectualization. Poetry – however, I hardly need tell you – is no longer important, because people no longer want to know, or to feel.

Most people in the world are going with whatever appeals to them at the moment, without thinking about it at all. Completely by-passing the problem of being, by not being at all. An elegant solution, to be sure, but a destructive one.

Man is the only animal capable of doing this. Before now, any living being was busy doing just that – being, and being active. Human beings also. Now, as artists have been telling us for over a century, people no longer are. Humans are no longer beings, but something else we have no language yet to express.

I am not saying anything new here – this is probably the most trite observation in circulation (McLuhan, for example, made a living doing this). And yet no one takes it seriously – because, I believe, mankind has deteriorated too much. This also applies to our intellectuals, who seem to be as helpless as anyone else. Once the basic of life are gone, there isn’t much left to work with.

This bring up the question – what are the basics? Which brings up my next approach to the problem – which I am getting lock, stock, and barrel from Iain McGilchrist – who provides a neurological explanation for the problem in his book The Master and his Emmissary. He explains, very neatly, how people can not be – by abandoning their right hemispheres.

His explanation, however, is not being taken very seriously. Evidently people want a more dramatic explanation, something that will hit them over the head and make believers of them. Unfortunately, ideas do not act this way – they only act through people, by influencing them. If there are no people to influence, they have no force at all.

I haven’t finished reading McGilchrist yet, but I don’t think he realizes this double-bind problem – probably because we are not exactly encouraged to see it. If you tell someone they do not really exist, you are not exactly loved for doing that.

As a queer old duck living in isolation in rural Costa Rica, I can more-or-less see it, and write about it – and imagine myself to be a voice crying in the wilderness – but in reality I am only impressing myself – and I am not even doing a very good job of that.

Processed People

Processing was something invented by the Industrial Revolution. Raw materials are its input and uniform products are its output. The key concept here is uniformity. A race of identical persons was an idea too horrible to contemplate before industrialization, but now they are everywhere, and consider themselves perfect – which they are, in a way. But they are not human. Imperfection is part of human nature.

Our educational system is geared for industrial processing of the young – not to enable the development of individuals. And the same is true of our work environments, where conformity is mandatory. And even, sad to say, our mental health industry – which conforms to our overall industrial processing paradigm.

Iain McGilchrist has something useful to say about this in his book The Master and his Emissary – which is about the modern dominance of the left hemisphere of the brain. As he says, we need the processing provided by the left hemisphere – but we also need our right hemisphere to be human.