Mechanical Providence

A frank thought — machines will one day be seen as domesticating man as wheat and rice once did.

Man has long been driven by the desire for the illusion of control without the burden of responsibility in conscience. Even today, he denies but yearns in secret for a saviour to return in a new and modern form to relieve him. A saviour which with he can once again be:

guided… by the few who are strong enough to take on the burden of freedom, [so that he may] live and die happily in ignorance.

The Grand Inquisitor, F. Dostoevsky

Today, he feels pride in conquering his surroundings and the spiritual “backwardness” of his fore man, and the reward: he is richer with impulse, freedom, and stimulus than ever before.  But his relief has not come without cost. For it comes by not from "grace" per se, rather, in the triumphant spirit of providential progress. As such, he believes fervently in the perfectible cosmos described by Kain. That,

The cosmos is neither alien nor designed for us. It is neither terrifying nor benign. The cosmos is neutral and, most importantly, malleable. Human beings must come to understand the cosmos through science and control it through technology. We must make it fit us. it does not fit us by design. We must work on it, transform it, and mold it into a place where we can be at home. We must create our own place.

Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence, and the Horror of Existence (2007), P.J. Kain

In such a cosmos, Byung-Chul Han’s achievement society inevitably emerges, and with it diminishing time for subjective experience and inaction. For such a perfectible cosmos requires labour to perfect. Therein, man has little time to wonder, muse, or let alone contemplate his instinctual relation to himself — life!

In Han’s observation, even passivity “in-between” events, means man is falling further behind his present and potential objective achievements. It is in this constant activity, which, “Follows an unthinking, mechanical course… poor in interruption”, that a quiet alteration of culture is revealed. Counterintuitively, Han sees within the hyperactivity of today, “An extremely passive form of doing, which bars the possibility of free action,” or more concretely, even in a machine’s “Enormous capacity for calculation, the computer is stupid insofar as it lacks the ability to delay”. It is in this lack of interruption and mechanization of action, that the portrait of modern man blooms forth.

However, despite the circumstances, man cannot find relief in a satisfying arrogance having “overcome” the “ignorance“ of the past. For today, where science, knowledge and human agency should rule louder than a church, he has found a new and modern messiah to follow. As The Grand Inquisitor pointed out,  it seems man has returned again to lay his freedom at the feet of a new providence that is not a science but a new church and culture: the machine.

Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain fresh. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us”.

The Grand Inquisitor, F. Dostoevsky

He seldom thinks, for the machine computes for him. He seldom questions, for the machine always possess an answer. He no longer hungers for wisdom, as the “feed” will always provide him just enough bread not to starve. Like the old gods before him and the salvation promised, this new divinity demands the same contractual payment in time, adoration and attention. In so much as he is aware, man in the society of achievement desires, and emulates more than ever the machines he possesses. Only in a preacher’s repressed fantasy, could he imagine modern man’s mannerisms, movements and leisure time revolving entirely around using, consuming, discussing, and worshiping a providential figure as such. ”At last!”, he would call out in frenzy, “The spirit of the Holy Ghost has returned to repossess man. That now he can see through our guidance, molding and congealing the delight of eternal salvation.” Salvation — surely, the machine will bring us to us through progress.

It is ironic, that in a liberal society, the march to freedom has produced the same outcome of control. What was once thought to be true has been overturned: it is seldom felt anymore that man’s humours are best dealt with and controlled as dog on a leash, who in disciplined fasting, and feasting may receive his daily bread and cup of grace. Today,  guidelines, rights of passage and delay have been abolished! The joyful choruses of, “sacrifice and laws created from on high for thy salvation”,  have been replaced with the new messiah’s song of, “a liberation from old ways into a boundless valley of possibilities and existence”. Freedom? He who is free is only liberated in so much as he feigns temptation to test the boundaries of his new cage. The new controller is the black mirror which reflects back he who used to control: “Yes, of course you are in control.. so long as you return back to me.”

The scent of novelty, freshness and vitality in his new cage has dizzied and confused him, his willingness to merit and readiness for greatness. He believes he can achieve anything and readily announces it to the world: a self referential proclamation of one’s own accomplishments? What merit has been earned here? None — and if any it is artificial! History will prove true merit! Ask the fierce turnstiles of time — whose winds blow away all the smoke of self-congratulatory musing, and false action — they will reveal the nakedness of a character without true grounding and base.

It is in the machines he consumes, uses and feeds his bottomless excess that mechanical providence has been born. And what is the promise of his new providence? In all accounts: to bring “heaven” unto earth and banish the non-believers. Heaven: the innocence of childhood with blissful ignore-ance of Kain’s horrific existence,

[A cosmos that] was not designed for human beings at all; nor were they designed for it. We just do not fit. We do not belong. And we never will. The cosmos is horrible, terrifying, and we will never surmount this fact… this is Nietzsche's view.

For in this heaven, what he seeks is Huxley’s soma, and achieves it in the escape of busyness in a society with no time: a circular conveyor belt, scrolling his life away.

His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. — CG Jung