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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Three Stories (p. 218)

From chapter "Humanity"

Three stories.

The first appeared today in the Los Angeles Times. “There are no sounds from outside, because there are no windows—only a skylight high overhead, through which gray daylight seeps into the bare quadrangle facing the pod’s eight cells, stacked four on four. All that can be heard are a few subdued voices, and the occasional thunderous sound of a flushing toilet reverberating off the blank concrete walls. This is not the crowded, clamorous kind of prison you see in the movies. The SHU, as it’s known, is a starkly efficient place of electronically controlled doors and featureless concrete and steel. Occasionally, the monotony is punctured by bursts of noise and violence. Sometimes inmates scream at guards, other inmates, or themselves. Sometimes there is the clangorous racket of a recalcitrant prisoner being forcibly extracted from his cell. But most of the time, nothing happens. Almost nothing is permitted to happen. That’s the idea of the SHU. . . . In the SHU, there are no jobs, no activities, hardly any educational programs and barely any human contact. You are locked in your 8-by-10-foot cell almost around the clock. You can’t see the other prisoners in the cells adjoining yours, nor the guards watching from a central observation booth. Most of the time, all you can see through the fingertip-sized perforations in your cell’s solid steel door is the wall of the eight-cell pod, the larger cage containing your cage. Guards deliver your meals. Once a day, the remote-controlled cell door grinds open, and you get 90 minutes to spend alone in a walled-in courtyard—a place more like the bottom of a mine shaft than an exercise yard. It’s an environment about as restrictive and monotonous as human minds can design— and, perhaps, as human minds can tolerate.”

This is the quintessence—and future—of our society. This is the center of the machine.

Before you protest that you are not yourself inside of the SHU (and you would never be) look at your own surroundings. What walls surround you? Do you live in the real physical world outside of the machine?

A major difference between those in the SHU and the rest of us is that at least they have the excuse of locked doors between them and the real world. What is our excuse?

Another story.

I have before me several pictures of a “happy event” that took place last year at Plymouth Rock, where the civilized first brought their panoptic god to the people and landscape of what is now Massachusetts. The photographs show hundreds of American Indians meeting with Christians, so that the Indians could get down on their knees and apologize for not accepting Jesus when the white people first offered. Plymouth is not the only place Indians will be allowed to kneel and apologize. The Christian ministers behind this are now taking their show on the road, giving Indians all over North America the opportunity to apologize because their ancestors did not quickly enough surrender themselves to the machine.

This guilt and redemption too is the quintessence—and future—of our society. It is the more or less final incorporation of wild and free individuals into the machine. Not only must we put up with the imposition of the Panopticon and its theft of all our inheritance, but we must apologize for not giving up our lives sooner. We must be thankful for all it has done to us, and be redeemed by the machine itself, for it is God. It is the movement from “Thou shalt not” to “Thou shalt” and finally to “Thou art.”

A third story, from the Oglala Red Cloud: “Friends, it has been our misfortune to welcome the white man. We have been deceived. He brought with him some shining things that pleased our eyes; he brought weapons more effective than our own; above all, he brought the spirit water that makes one forget for a time old age, weakness, and sorrow. But I wish to say to you that if you would possess these things for yourselves, you must begin anew and put aside the wisdom of your fathers. You must lay up food, and forget the hungry. When your house is built, your storeroom filled, then look around for a neighbor whom you can take at a disadvantage, and seize all that he has! Give away only what you do not want; or rather, do not part with any of your possessions unless in exchange for another’s.

“My countrymen, shall the glittering trinkets of this rich man, his deceitful drink that overcomes our mind, shall these things tempt us to give up our homes, our hunting grounds, and the honorable teaching of our old men? Shall we permit ourselves to be driven to and fro—to be herded like the cattle of the white man?”

This, too, is the quintessence of the future. This is the quintessence of resistance to the machine. This is a statement of what it means to be alive.

And one more story, a confession from someone in the inner ring of the Panopticon. A high-ranking security chief from South Africa’s apartheid regime later told an interviewer what had been his greatest fear about the rebel group African National Congress (ANC). He had not so much feared the ANC’s acts of sabotage or violence—even when these were costly to the rulers—as he had feared that the ANC would convince too many of the oppressed majority of Africans to disregard “law and order.” Even the most powerful and highly trained “security forces” in the world would not, he said, have been able to stem that threat.As soon as we come to see that the edicts of those in power are no more than the edicts of those in power, that they carry no inherent moral or ethical weight, we become the free human beings we were born to be, capable of saying yes and capable of saying no.

Remember that.