IN reality, however, it is out of the power either of heads or of hands to alter in any way the destiny of machine-technics, for this has developed out of inward spiritual necessities and is now correspondingly maturing towards its fulfilment and end. Today we stand on the summit, at the point when the fifth act is beginning. The last decisions are taking place, the tragedy is closing. Every high Culture is a tragedy. The history of mankind as a whole is tragic. But the sacrilege and the catastrophe of the Faustian are greater than all others, greater than anything Aeschylus or Shakespeare ever imagined. The creature is rising up against its creator. As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man. The lord of the World is becoming the slave of the Machine, which is forcing him, forcing us all, whether we are aware of it or not to follow its course. The victor, crashed, is dragged to death by the team. At the commencement of the twentieth century the aspect of the "world" on this small planet is somewhat of this sort. A group of nations of Nordic blood under the leadership of British, Germans, French, and Americans commands the situation. Their political power depends on their wealth, and their wealth consists in their industrial strength. But this in turn is bound up with the existence of coal. The Germanic peoples, in particular, are secured by what is almost a monopoly of the known coal-fields, and this has led them to a multiplication of their populations that is without parallel in all history. On the ridges of the coal, and at the focal points of the lines of communication radiating therefrom, is collected a human mass of monstrous size, bred by machine-technics, working for it, and living on it. To the other peoples whether in the form of colonies or of nominally independent states is assigned the role of providing the raw material and receiving the products. This division of function is secured by armies and navies, the upkeep of which presupposes industrial wealth, and which have been fashioned by so thorough a technique that they, too, work by the pressing of a button. Once again the deep relationship, almost identity, of politics, war, and economics discloses itself. The degree of military power is dependent on the intensity of industry. Countries industrially poor are poor all round; they, therefore, cannot support an army or wage a war; therefore they are politically impotent; and, therefore, the workers in them, leaders and led alike, are pawns in the economic policy of their opponents. In comparison with the masses of executive hands who are the only part of the picture that discontent will look upon the increasing value of the leadership-work of the few creative heads (undertakers, organizers, discoverers, engineers) is no longer comprehended and valued; in so far as it is so at all, practical America rates it highest, and Germany, "the land of poets and thinkers," lowest. The imbecile phrase "The wheels would all be standing still, Did thy mighty arm so will" beclouds the minds of chatterers and scribblers. That even a sheep could bring about, if it were to fall into the machinery. But to invent these wheels and set them working so as to provide that "strong arm" with its living, that is something which only a few born thereto can achieve. These uncomprehended and hated leaders, the "pack" of the strong personalities, have a different psychology from this. They have not lost the old triumph feeling of the beast of prey as it holds the quivering victim in its claws, the feeling of Columbus when he saw land on the horizon, the feeling of Moltke at Sedan as he watched the circle of his batteries completing itself down by Illy and sealing the victory. Such moments, such peaks of human experience, the shipbuilder, too, enjoys when a huge liner slides down the ways, and the inventor when his machine is run up and found to "go splendidly," or when his first Zeppelin leaves the ground. But it is of the tragedy of the time that this unfettered human thought can no longer grasp its own consequences. Technics has become as esoteric as the higher mathematics which it uses, while physical theory has refined its intellectual abstractions from phenomena to such a pitch that (without clearly perceiving the fact) it has reached the pure foundations of human knowing. The mechanization of the world has entered on a phase of highly dangerous over-tension. The picture of the earth, with its plants, animals, and men, has altered. In a few decades most of the great forests have gone, to be turned into news-print, and climatic changes have been thereby set afoot which imperil the land-economy of whole populations. Innumerable animal species have been extinguished, or nearly so, like the bison; whole races of humanity have been brought almost to vanishing-point, like the North American Indian and the Australian. All things organic are dying in the grip of organization. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural. The Civilization itself has become a machine...
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Man and Technics
Oswald Spengler, "Man and Technics" (Chapter XII Intro)