The Machine Stops

Summary of “The Machine Stops“, written by EM Forster in 1909.

The story describes a world where people live in isolated chambers and communicate with each other on devices much like FaceTime.

There is no human contact. Everything is facilitated by the machine, every need and comfort is taken care of. There are no public gatherings. Everything is done remotely, in a livestream kind of way.

Day and night do not exist in this world. Everything runs according to the rhythm of the machine. People do not venture outdoors. They remain inside, on their devices, in the isolated dwelling spaces, and communicate with each other from afar. All the comforts have become uniform across the world, all the beds and desks and appliances and air and temperature have converged in optimization for the consumer public.

The only persistent sound is that of the machine, humming in the background, barely audible to the conscious ear, like the steady hum of an electrical signal powering it all.

The world brings everything to the people, their shopping and conveniences. Gone is the age where people go to things. Everything comes to the people. You summon whatever you’d like, a car (referred to as a “lift”), a meal. People don’t change the room for fresh air, they change the air in their room.

Healthcare is administered by a doctor via a robot within the convenience of your room.

“Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.”

Anxiety is rife.

People never touch one another. That is inappropriate.

People are never direct with one another, but rather speak indirectly. It is barbarous to speak directly, lest you offend someone’s sensibilities.

People worship the machine. It is the spiritually minded thing to do, to confer with the rules of the machine, put forth by the committees that govern the machine, who have become the moral arbiters of machine.

Those that rebel against the machine are excommunicated to “homelessness”, and must live outside the comforts and conveniences the machine provides those who abide.

Going outside is not permitted. Breathing natural air is dangerous, a risk to exposing yourself to toxins.

You are not to exert effort, but must rely on the machine for your needs.

Muscles earn you demerits, social points lost. Babies are inspected at birth, and if found to possess too much musculature, are destroyed. It would be unkind to let athletes live, for they would desire to stretch their legs and climb and jump and work, and this is not conducive to progressing the machine, which must persist eternally.

The world is full of lecturers who exchange ideas for audiences on these live stream devices, providing spiritual guidance and ideas to other audiences watching from their isolated chambers. Similar to YouTube and Instagram personalities.

“Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops — but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds — but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.”

Stimulating ideas are the currency of the Machine.

“I was surrounded by artificial air, artificial light, artificial peace, and my friends were calling to me down speaking-tubes to know whether I had come across any new ideas lately.”

Everything is an abstraction of some distant foreign thing, similar to Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation:

“Beware of first-hand ideas!” exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. “First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element — direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine — the French Revolution.”

Hard facts derived from observation and experience are replaced by platitudes of inert generalizations:

“there will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation

‘seraphically free From taint of personality,’”

Slowly people become desensitized to problems, and rather than act to remedy the dissonance, acquiesce and learn to live with the dysfunction:

“No one confessed the Machine was out of hand. Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence. The better a man knew his own duties upon it, the less he understood the duties of his neighbour, and in all the world there was not one who understood the monster as a whole. Those master brains had perished. They had left full directions, it is true, and their successors had each of them mastered a portion of those directions. But Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself. It had exploited the riches of nature too far. Quietly and complacently, it was sinking into decadence, and progress had come to mean the progress of the Machine.”

“The defects [of the Machine] had not been remedied, but the human tissues in that latter day had become so subservient, that they readily adapted themselves to every caprice of the Machine… All were bitterly complained of at first, and then acquiesced in and forgotten. Things went from bad to worse unchallenged.”

Along with visceral experience, silence has become humanity’s greatest, most crippling fear:

“Then she broke down, for with the cessation of activity came an unexpected terror — silence. She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her — it did kill many thousands of people outright. Ever since her birth she had been surrounded by the steady hum.”

We are living in the Machine.

Perhaps man is nothing more than, as Hume put it in his Treatise of Human Nature, “a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.”

We are in an age where generations cannot conceive a world beyond the Machine. Raised on a steady diet of stimulation and convenience, conditioned to the persistent, reliable hum of the Machine, it’s pervasive influence is shaping our minds to its end, rather than the other way around.

We no longer use the Machine. The Machine uses us. It depends on our complicit attention to fuel it’s growth, while simultaneously robbing humanity of it’s will.

Transactional Costs

Transaction: a mutual exchange of value.

Transactional Costs: time and resources (information, mediums, etc) to conduct a valuable transaction. i.e. the friction of doing business.

The goal of business is to satisfy a demand for something of value.

Transactional costs are often not accounted for in business transactions, because they are incurred by the purchasing party, but they remain a decisive psychological factor in the decision to conduct an exchange. e.g. Waiting in line to purchase, waiting to process an order, learning the value of a thing (creating symmetric information between agents), delivery time, the learning curve needed to utilize the thing of value, etc.

The best business management identifies transactional costs and organizes people and processes to reduce transactional costs as much as possible.

The most competitive businesses have the lowest transactional costs. E.g. Amazon, fast food, mobile apps, self-checkout, PayPal, Square, etc.

Three Principles of the Effective Executive

1. Focus energies on creating and adding value for everyone you engage with: be helpful, go above and beyond, anticipate needs. The goal is identifying the needs in others and effectively delivering value to satisfying those needs.

2. Take full responsibility for outcomes. Enlarge how you perceive your sphere of influence over outcomes, and the tasks and people involved with positive outcomes.

3. Be so dependable you become indispensable. Reduce transactional costs and activity friction for others so they learn to rely on you when they need something. Cultivate activity habits that deliver so much value to others that they become addicted and dependent on you.

I See Satan Fall Like Lightning

Been reading more of Girard the past year. He’s a “Christian” but not a literalist, but a figurativist. If that’s a word.

His take on the socio-psychological role of Christianity’s symbolic process of expunging “sin” through a perfect sacrifice is fascinating.

In this case, sin is a parasitic byproduct of humanity’s natural desire to compete through mimicry. There is a point where the competitive tension of mimesis (copying others) becomes so strong, that the desire to mimic morphs into the desire to “be” the idealized other, that violence ensues.

In order to alleviate the tension and create peace, a scapegoat is chosen, in which all the tension is symbolically transferred to a victim and sacrificed, thus ending the mimetic cycle and violence.

Sacrifice is a prototypical behavior cross culturally throughout history. Cain and Able were sacrificing (hell, when Cain was unable to provide an appropriate sacrifice he killed his brother, whom god favored, thus setting the stage for the sacrificial theme). Jacob and his son. Oedepus. Mayans. Etc. etc.

According to Girard, mimesis, violence, scapegoating, peace, deification— is a natural anthropological procession, an inescapable reality of the human condition.

What reinforces this sacrificial ritual is the double transference that occurs when a scapegoat is killed. 1. Peace is achieved. 2. People attribute the peace to the scapegoat, thus deifying it.

The post sacrificial deification results in a rebirth, or reincarnation of the scapegoat.

What separates Christianity from all other myths and sacrificial rituals is that the scapegoat ends up being wrongly sacrificed. The scapegoat, the lamb of god, is vindicated right before his death by the crowd and his followers, resulting in a blameless sacrifice.

The result is the entire sacrificial procession is demystified, and breaks the spell.

Sacrificial scapegoats are unnecessary.

The Christian narrative is told from the perspective of the victim, rather than the community benefiting from the sacrifice. This is the first instance of a myth told in this way. It allows the readers to see things from the victims eyes for the first time.

This is the crux of Christianity: blessed are the meek, the powerless, the poor, for they shall inherent the kingdom of heaven.

While this message in essence runs in direct contrast to mimetic desire, and more precisely the ego which manifests mimetic desire and perpetuates violence, it opens the door to the sin, by leveraging the victim in order to perpetuate mimetic desire all over again.

This victimization is precisely what Nietzsche shunned, and he referred to as the slave morality.

The slave morality plays the victim card as an insidious and subversive way to reclaim power, under the guise of self-righteousness. It uses pity and condemnation to subvert power structures through guilt and wielding the moral gavel. But this is simply another guise for the parasitic sin of Satan, which is synonymous with mimetic desire.

Parasitic in the sense that Satan has no being, no form, but attaches himself to others to grow in power and perpetuate violence and disorder. From the very beginning, Satan was the angel who wanted to be god: mimetic desire is the source of evil and violence.

Thou shall not covet: the most fundamental of commandments. The origin for the word covet is the Latin word “cupiditas” meaning “to desire or wish for inordinately or without regard for the rights of others”.

Pain and Progress

The pain… is your friend.

The pain is the way.

Pain is the door to growth.

Pushing through pain leads to strength.

Learn to love the pain, and you will become unstoppable.

Because you get what you earn

Because there is no reward without sacrifice

Because you never get something for nothing


We become what we think about.

There are no shortcuts to character. Character defines a person, what they achieve and what they manifest and what they become.

Thoughts become actions

Actions become habits

Habits become character

Character becomes destiny.

The biggest lie of our culture is that there are shortcuts.

That you can buy your way to dreams and goals.

That you can outsmart hard work and character development.

There are no shortcuts to anything worthwhile.

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. If it doesn’t change you, then you remain the same. And if you remain the same, then you are where you started, and there is no progress.

Doing the hard work, the uncomfortable work, enduring discomfort, pushing through the struggle rather than finding a way around… is the key to progress.

Facing the pain. Confronting fears. Looking your fears in the eye, and standing tall, head up, eyes penetrating the darkness, prepared to fight through it, to become greater and stronger than whatever is in your way, is THE way.

Life is a battleground.

The battleground is in the mind.

The mind is the battle ground.

Not people, not circumstances.

Personal fears, emotional obstacles, mental barriers. These are the enemy. This is where darkness exists.

Developing your inner world— cultivating right thoughts, right attitude, right state of mind, proper wisdom— ignites the flame that illuminates darkness, and provides the courage to boldly venture forth, into the dark valleys, to conquer the next mountain in your way.

Progress does not begin until there is pain.

Only when the struggle begins does the journey begin.

Everything else is a charade.

It only counts when it begins to hurt.

The ability to persist through the pain, and endure, and overcome in spite of the pain, is the greatest ability, and the embodiment of ultimate willpower, the greatest tool in our arsenal.

Will Power is mind over matter.

The mind is the master.

Not the body. Not the world. Not others. Not circumstances.

The mind is the master. The mind decides where we are going.

The will is the extension of the mind to persist, to overcome, to dominate.

There is nothing a properly trained mind can not overcome.

The mind is the master. Not the pain. Not the fears. Not the hurt.

Master the mind, and you master the world.

The gym is a metaphor for life.

Progress only occurs in proportion to the struggle we endure.

The longer we endure the struggle, the stronger we become.

Anyone can lift weights. Anyone can move their body. Most people go through the motions and they never challenge themselves, never decide to push through the discomfort. And they never change, and never grow.

To grow, in athletics or gym or in life, you only begin counting when it hurts.

The amount of time you spend pushing through the pain, every additional rep, every additional second of hurt, is the only payment that earns strength.

Everything else is a charade, an act of deception, for yourself or others.

Change and growth and strength and development happens when we learn to love the pain, and embrace the pain, and see it as our greatest ally, rather than our enemy.

The pain is the way.

It highlights where we need to grow, where we are weak. It exposes our shortcomings.

Recognizing pain as a teacher allows us to step toward it, rather than away from it.

Every step toward pain, we become stronger. And the pain becomes less controlling.

We train the mind to be the master.