May 30, 2011

Slave To The Machine

            I was rereading Fred Saberhagen’s excellent short story collection The Berserker Wars (the Berserkers are machines that destroy all human life) and considered how much we fear that our own creations, our own attempts will turn against us. I guess then we’ll know how God felt.
            Thinking machines, machines beyond our control? I suspect they already are. It is fashionable to see machines and computers (which are the machine equivalent of brains I suppose) as symbols of evil, as Jungian projections of our ultimate nightmare, an electronic Ragnarok. Reason run rampant.
            This view is imprinted on our culture as entertainment, interesting conjecture, pap for the masses, a klaxon unheeded. This anxiety of man vs. machine or even man and machine is deeply rooted. Edgar Allan Poe in 1839 published the Man Who Was Used Up about an old military veteran made almost entirely of prosthetic devices (even his tongue) as the result of injuries sustained fighting the Indians.
            The Six Million Dollar Man (based on Martin Caidin’s 1972 novel Cyborg), Darth Vader, the Borg in Star Trek are not far removed from the creations in Blade Runner, the Terminator movies, The Matrix, the Cylon’s in Battlestar Galactica2001: A Space Odyssey and a host of others. These are just fear echoes of the same anxiety felt in A Clockwork OrangeChildren of Men1984, Brave New World, We, The Handmaid’s Tale and the all too true One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch.
            Our failure to act against oppression, our failure to value our solidarity, our willingness to que up at the computer/phone store and take what they hand us will have catastrophic consequences. I write this knowing it to links forever back to me, that I carry a phone that is essentially a tracking device, that we live in a world that not many decades ago would have been unthinkable. A cell phone to a railroad baron would be like the Spirit of St. Louis to Shakespeare. The world changes at the speed of light and we must be vigilant. It should be more obvious.  Any freedom we surrender whether it to a tyrant, a system or a machine is freedom cheaply sold. That which we do not control enslaves us.
            One need only read Tadeusz Borowski’s achingly horrific This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen to be reminded our fears are well founded.