The Last Act: The Rise and End of The Machine Culture
The New Modern Man | Spengler’s Decline of the West Series
The prophetic predictions in Spengler’s Civilization Model for the Western world have been discussed in previous articles here at The New Modern Man. In a later book he published titled Man and Technics Spengler went into further detail about how technology, Western culture’s main obsession would arise and further debase humans from their life-giving biology. This ultimately leads to the end of Western culture.
These predictions ring truer today than they have at any point in our history. Technology worship is everywhere, and people have certainly become debased from their traditions and their biology in service of the God of Technology and “the machine” in the modern age. As Spengler said would happen, life has become a problem to be solved instead of something to be lived. One of the trends representing this philosophical crisis, seen in all past High Cultures Spengler studied, is when people in a culture cannot think of a “reason” to have kids because their lives have become based only on economic theory and technical organization, rather than tradition and religion. After reaching this tipping point, the civilization sterilizes itself.
The reason a civilization moves away from tradition and religion and towards economic theory and technical organization are as follows. All High Cultures ultimately desire to see the fulfillment of their Prime Symbol. In Western civilization, the quest to realize Infinity has resulted in man attempting to turn himself into a machine to achieve perpetual prosperity. This will lead to catastrophe if history is any guide. Egyptian culture attempted to embalm itself to realize fulfillment of its Prime Symbol, The Path, a path that led to immortality in their minds. Of course, Egyptian culture now lies in ruins.
Looking back to see what history may reveal about where we are headed as society becomes based only on economic and theoretical philosophy, we learn the average life span of a High Culture in Spengler’s survey was 1,000 years. We are reaching the end of that period going by Spengler’s model. In the following excerpt from Man and Technics, he details the millennium-long long arc of civilizations and how, in the end of a civilization, the mechanical, technological city cannibalizes the life-giving population of the countryside:
On this soil from 3000 BC onwards, there now grew up, here and there, the High Cultures…each filling but a very small portion of the Earth’s space and each enduring for hardly a thousand years. This group of passionate life-courses invented for its Prime Symbol and its ‘world’ the city, in contrast to the village of the previous state – the strong city in which is housed a quite artificial living, that has become divorced from Mother Earth and is completely anti-natural – the city of rootless thought, that draws the streams of life from the land and uses them up within itself.
Indeed, today’s reality corresponds with this prediction as the vast majority of population in America and Europe has shifted from being a “Rural Intuitive” population to being a “Metropolitan and Uninspired” population today. As man becomes uprooted from Nature in the artificial environment of the city, he is no longer able to reproduce himself, he turns nihilistic and atheistic, and the end of his High Culture draws near.
The Beginning of the End
In 1931, when Man and Technics was published the “last act” of Western Man was just beginning. Spengler thought Utopian dreams of Western man that drive his technological development will never be realized as the last act plays out.
Every high culture is a tragedy. The history of mankind as a whole is tragic. But the sacrilege and the catastrophe of the Faustian (Western) man are greater than all the others, greater than anything Aeschylus or Shakespeare ever imagined. The creature is rising up against its creator.
Spengler saw man’s attempt at dominating Nature as futile, but saw no way out of that development.
Today we stand on the summit, at the point when the fifth act is beginning. The last decisions are made. The tragedy is closing.
Man’s lust for power makes him lose touch with his biology and the natural laws which he thinks do not apply to him, but still do, which leads to tragedy. This is a pattern Spengler saw in previous High Cultures, and prophetically predicted in our own:
The cultures of speech and enterprise – we are at once in the plural, and several can be distinguished – in which personality and mass begin to be in spiritual opposition, in which the spirit becomes avid of power and lays violent hands on life, these cultures embraced even at their full only a part of mankind, and they are today, after a few millennia, all extinguished and replaced. Man, evidently, was tired of merely having plants and animals and slaves to serve him, and robbing Nature’s treasures of metal and stone, wood and yam, of managing her water in canals and wells, of overcoming her obstacles with ships and roads, bridges and tunnels and dams. Now he meant not mere to plunder her of her materials, but to enslave and harness her very forces as to multiply his own strength.
It goes beyond enslaving nature. As the Final World Sentiment of Western man spreads (which Spengler said was the quest for a Socialist Utopia from the year 1900 onward) the Socialist longing turns into a desire to become God. This is a profound commentary on anti-religious Marxists of today and what they really want to accomplish by removing all biology from man. Cultural Marxism’s goal of stripping man of all traditions, individuality, religion, family, and even his gender – making both sexes androgynous as the sickness of feminism is attempting to do with catastrophic results – represents Western man’s longing to achieve infinity: He must become a machine himself in order to become God.
In other words, Marxists hate God because they themselves want to become God. To them, “progressing” into a Socialist Utopia would bring about an infinity; a heaven on earth. Spengler continues:
This last idea never thereafter let go its hold on us, for success would mean the final victory over God or Nature – a small world of one’s own creation moving like the great world, in virtue of its own forces and obeying the hand of Man alone. To build a world oneself, the oneself God – that is the Faustian (Western) inventor’s dream, and from it has sprung all our designing and re-designing of machines to approximate as nearly as possible to the unattainable limit of perpetual motion.
The quest for perpetual motion springs from this longing for the infinite in Western culture. Indeed, the search for infinity is what all art and knowledge in the society have been based on:
- Architecture: Soaring cathedrals and soaring skyscrapers, rising towards infinity
- Engineering: The search for perpetual motion and perpetual energy
- Exploration: Manifest Destiny, exploring the universe/space exploration
- Finance: Infinite economic growth, globalization
- Music: Polyphony, or two or more simultaneous melodies, infinity-seeking sound
- Mathematics: Infinitesimal calculus
- Science: Infinities of space and time, evolution of biology and the universe
- Politics: The quest for an infinite Socialist Utopia
Spengler says the quest for infinity which resulted in these achievements stretches all the way back to the beginning of the study of nature by empirical methods in Spring:
With Roger Bacon begins the long line of scientists who suffer as magicians and heretics.
Unfortunately, the more powerful and “magical” man becomes the more of a danger he becomes to himself. Machines begin to dominate his life and he eventually becomes a slave to the machines he created rather than the machines serving him.
Machines Extinguish Life
Life in the 21st century has definitely taken on a mechanical quality to it. Men often quip they are just another cog in the machine, but this statement actually has a profound philosophical implication to it. Continuing from Man and Technics:
All things organic are dying in the grip of organization. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural. Civilization has itself become a machine that does, or tries to do, everything in a mechanical fashion.
As Western culture ultimately tries to turn not only society but mankind into a machine, people begin checking out of such a sadistic, inhuman system. Echoes of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged come to mind as man grows tired of an existence which micromanages every aspect of his life and his conduct and strangles his freedom with mechanical precision; he eventually abandons the Machine Culture.
The Faustian [Western] thought begins to be sick of machines. A weariness is spreading, a sort of pacifism in the battle with Nature. Men are returning to forms of life simpler and nearer to Nature; they are spending their time in sport instead of technical experiments. The great cities are becoming hateful to them, and they would fain get away from the pressure of soulless facts, from enslavement to the Machine, and the clear cold atmosphere of technical organization.
As he abandons the Machine Culture his accomplishments will wither and fade away, along with his once dominant culture. Someday, the West’s greatest accomplishments will lie in ruin as is the case with the Egyptian pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza, the Indian Pushpagiri Viharathe, the Chinese Great Wall, the Babylonian Ishtar Gate, the Greek Parthenon, the Roman Colosseum, and the Mesoamerican pyramids.
Western Technology in Ruins
It is reasonable to think that Western man’s tech gadgets and machines will not carry on once his culture reaches a tipping point. After passing that point of no return, his machines and technology will either not be used by other cultures, or they will be adapted to serve their own world views. From Decline of the West:
As the idea of the Babylonian or that of the Indian world was remote, strange and elusive for the men of the five or six Cultures that followed, so all the Western world will be incomprehensible to the men of Cultures yet unborn.
As Spengler saw it, the cultures who use the West’s technology see it as a luxury, it does not represent a cultural and spiritual necessity for them the way it does for Western man.
Only Faustian Man thinks, feels, and lives in its form. To him it is a spiritual need – not its economic consequences, but its victories.
Just as the West cannot understand the Point-Present Prime Symbol of Classical civilization, the Rhyming Time Prime Symbol of Mesoamerican (Mayan/Aztec) civilization, or The Path Prime Symbol of Egyptian civilization, the culture that supersedes ours will not be able to understand our Prime Symbol of Infinity and our obsession with limitless gadgets and machines. So, what to do when faced with an outcome that seems to be predetermined?
Faced with this destiny, there is only one worldview that is worthy of us, the one of Achilles: better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long and empty one. Only dreamers believe in ways out. Optimism is cowardice.
Spengler thought knowing about and bravely following the arc of civilization to its end would bring those who could understand his concepts to a better end than those who believe man can ultimately win in his battle against Nature find a way out of the monstrous drama of the rise and fall of civilizations. Indeed, thinking one can break out of cycles that have ended all past High Cultures is highly optimistic.
While the people comprising the culture go on to survive once it collapses, they will not dominate the world nor culture the way they once did.
The Egyptian denied mortality. Today, pathetic symbols of the will to endure, the bodies of the great Pharaohs lie in our museums, their faces still recognizable. On the shining, polished granite peak of the pyramid of Amenemhet III we can read today the words “Amenemhet looks upon the beauty of the Sun.”
The West is also attempting to deny mortality. However, according to the study of history no culture escapes its ultimate fate. The West’s rabid pursuit of a Socialist Utopia by attempting to turn human beings into perpetually running machines is its last gasp as it reaches out towards infinity, meanwhile while the soul and demographics of the society implode as it has lost touch with its life-giving religion and traditions. As the life of man is organic, so is the life of his culture.
An interesting footnote is Spengler thought Russia could be the next High Culture to arise. Russia’s Prime Symbol is The Plane Without Limit.
We can certainly feel an “elective affinity” between the Russian and the Magian souls, but as yet the Prime Symbol of Russia finds no sure expression either in religion or in architecture. It is not yet a style, only the promise of a style that will awaken when the real Russian religion awakens.
If this is correct, as the West fades a distinct Russian High Culture will arise. The epic cycle of the rise and fall of civilizations continues. The Machine Culture ends, making way for a new cultural pursuit.
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