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The Mechanical Man
by Nikos Laios
2014-04-14 08:59:41
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We swim in an ocean of Prozac doing the backstroke, numbing our neurosis and Mental disorders while we recline on our porches on a Sunday afternoon balancing the cheesecakes on our paunchy little bellies.

While the streets in our alienated cities have become slightly overcrowded, as the whores and dandies make room for the newly homeless and destitute.

So what has become of our western civilisation?

Of the overhanging fruits of our labours that were supposed to be easily plucked from the green luminescent vines?

Our existence is indeed slightly illusory, in that we live on the comfort of the idea of the expectation that a comfortable existence is simply just a vending machine which easily dispenses our cushy modern western lifestyle on demand.

But one has to ask here, who is the more authentic, and who is the wealthier; the whores and dandies, or you and me?

In the movie the 'Wizard of OZ', three of the main protagonists of this fabled land were the cowardly lion, the scarecrow and the tin man; who went on a quest to find the qualities that they respectively desired: courage, intellect and heart.

Have we all become a little like the tin man and lost our heart and soul, and become hollow mechanical men; amongst the swirling grimy papers of our cold and empty streets?

It has been one hundred years since the nations of Europe went to war to compete for a  place on the world stage, to compete for a share of the world's resources during the First World War; and since then have been dragged through a Second World War, countless civil wars, a Cold War, and the subsequent waste of so much manpower and resources.

Yet today - when Europe should have been basking in the shade of a century of collected wealth, glory and wisdom; youth unemployment is an all time high of 24.4%: 57.4% in Spain,58% in Greece,42.2% in Italy, and 36.5% in Portugal.A whole generation of Europeans on the verge of potentially being lost, that could tear the very fabric of Europe apart and therefore making the European Union completely irrelevant.

Where the cities of Europe are in the embarrassing position of being overcome by smog, as the new poor middle-class burn wood for fuel due to the cost,as they contemplate their budgets whilst lining up in soup kitchens.

Are we living in the 'last days Rome'?, is the 'empire' decaying and falling apart?

The Roman Empire in its last days had the barbaric Vandals and Ostrogoths flooding in to destroy and vandalise the columns and foundations of civilisation, yet in our own day and age, our young people are acting more like those same barbarians and irreverently flooding the city centres around the world; graffitiing, vandalising, sullying and desecrating our cities with a marked lack of respect and decorum.

Rather than a fraternal unity of mankind aimed at working in unison at sharing and overcoming the burdens of an ever decreasing supply of resources for an ever increasing world population base, we find ourselves the same immature, infantile monkey-men that have just dropped from the trees, fighting and killing each other.

With Syria self-destructing due to the short-sightedness of the various factions of its own people, as Iran, Russia and the US play chess on the world stage through this conflict; or to the futile and bitter, absurd conflict over a tiny strip of land in the Middle East called Israel, or to the mess of Africa and the bitter infighting actualised through the various conflicts on that continent due to the African people's inability to leave behind an archaic tribal mindset that has no place in the modern world, or to China, throwing around its weight in the world trying to establish itself as a new political power, and leaving behind any shred of civility and civilisation in its relations with its neighbours, whilst filling the world selfishly  with even more choking smog.

The industrial revolution that started in nineteenth century England and swept the world, has brought about the rapid urban industrialisation and the mechanisation of farming production, and the subsequent sharp increase in world populations.

On the mountain of this prosperity brought about by the benefits of the industrial revolution, modern man's penultimate goal was the luxury of an increased leisure time - which hitherto was unavailable until then - and where this increased leisure time would afford us the ability of self-contemplation; to self-actualise and find meaning and definition in our lives.

In 1943, the psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed in his paper 'A Theory of Human Motivation',  a psychological theory on the hierarchy of human needs, which describes the stages off growth and motivation in humans.

Where he ascribed an ascending order of needs, visually represented in a hierarchical pyramid, where the stages of growth and needs from the bottom up are: physiological needs,safety, love/belonging, self esteem, and self actualisation at the top of the hierarchy.

The more developed and sophisticated a society becomes, the more its people focus on the aim at the top of the hierarchical order being 'self actualisation'; and the less developed and primitive a society is, the more time and resources are spent on the base rung of the hierarchical order, being 'food and shelter'.

Yet we find ourselves in the absurd position, where the societies of the developed and 'sophisticated' west spend most of their time on the base needs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs being food and shelter, instead of self-actualisation, and making the world a better place.

Where instead of the societies of the developed western world being creative and innovative in providing for the needs of food and shelter for its citizens, to allow its working class and middle class citizens to self-actualise and grow; the citizens of US, Canada, Western Europe and Australia instead spend most of their time and resources working to borrow money to buy houses that they cannot afford valued variously between $500,000 to $1,000,000 usually at 100% debt;and whereby they will be indebted for the rest of their lives, due to the various societal peer-pressures in aiming at achieving the idealised 'American dream' or the 'Australian dream', instead of finding a meaning and definition in our lives, in this absurd and crazy existence.

Astro-biologists calculate that the brightening of the sun will end life on earth in 2.8 billion years; where in the meantime the population of the world will continue to grow and far outstrip the diminishing supply of resources, where global warming, famines, floods, and natural disasters increases, where man-made conflict is increasing the suffering and unhappiness of large swathes of the people of the world under the shadow of this long-term impending doom - rather than unifying and rallying a final resistance and stand against these overwhelming forces - even if it becomes our own 'Thermopylae'.

For in the end, we are all like the passengers in 'The Street Car Named Desire'; rattling in the carriage together to a preordained destination, with primitive and primal cruelty, madness, loneliness, fantasy and illusion as our companions, and as Blanche in the play by Tennessee Williams of that same name states:

"Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the one unforgivable thing in my opinion and it is the one thing of which I have never, never been guilty."

The fact that the earth is doomed - and that our existence is therefore doomed - goes without saying, but for how long can we continue to live our lives masked by illusion?

Human society throughout the ages has constructed a framework within which man lives life through the construct of the minutiae of daily ritual, to give a meaning and definition to life; through various religious, cultural and socio-political constructs.

Yet, here in our own modern age, everyone of us waking up, trudging to work, going back home, eating, sleeping, and the same repeats again; and as stated by Albert Camus in his book, 'The Myth Of Sisyphus';

" It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the "why" arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement."

The "why" is our consciousness, where one day we become self-aware, aware of our own existence, of the relationship of ourselves to our environment and surroundings; where we use our perceptual attention devices of sound, sight, hearing, smell and touch to interpret the stimuli from the environment that surrounds us to interpret and make sense of how we feel and think of the objects and  'things' around us.

Where we therefore find ourselves in the lonely position of singularly interpreting our world subjectively. Indeed, the imprinting of one's consciousness on the world around us, the subjectivity of one's perception of reality, and the awareness of one's existence; to float aimlessly through modern life devoid of the crutch and construct of tradition, to ask the profound questions of life naked and alone. This is the modern condition of life, and the only way to face the questions of life.

For in the end, we learn that all we have is ourselves, all alone in this vast universe, and alone to interpret our existence and give meaning to it.

The tragic, yet heroic figure in Greek mythology named Sisyphus, was doomed by the gods to forever push a giant boulder up the hill, for it to come rolling back down again, for it to only be pushed up the hill again, and for the same to repeat for eternity.

For we are all like the tragic figure of Sisyphus, where we all have our own burden to carry and push our own boulder endlessly up the hill for it to come rolling down the hill again; where we are all caught in a fate that we cannot escape, and it is in this awareness that we come to realise the absurdity of existence.

Yet like Sisyphus, our one moment of freedom is that momentary pause down the bottom of the hill, that moment when the boulder has rolled down the hill and we pause to catch our breath before pushing our 'boulder' back up the hill; it is in this momentary pause that we remember all our joys and pains, where we can through acceptance and our own choices assign some kind of meaning to our lives.

Where we can rebel against our existential burden by living life with revolt,freedom and passion.

Being the only animal that is conscious and self aware of its own existence, we are caught in the position between being a creation and a creator, Where Nietzsche stated succinctly in 'The Will to Power In Beyond Good and Evil' that;

"Art and nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction to life, the great stimulant of life "

Whereby having to live life in a brutal and cold universe, we attempt to forge a meaning out of this chaos through the use of our artistic side, to create moments of beauty.

Whether it is through art, music or poetry, or even to fragments of moments from our own past, and for me that is invariably stepping stones of lyrical and beautiful memories.

To the fragments of memory from my childhood in the wooded highlands of North Western Greece in Epirus; to the rustic aromas of fragrant wood being burnt in the afternoons with tendrils of smoke wafting from the chimneys, to the sounds of chainsaws and axes chopping the winter fuel, to the salivating flavours of oregano lemon-scented lamb cooking on the spit, to the children playing in the highland village square drowned under the sounds of the afternoon church bells;or to my lyrical summers in Sydney Australia, spent on the beaches on sun-drenched weekends, to dancing on Friday nights to the music of my DJ friends, surrounded by my beautiful friends.

It is moments like these that never fail to put a smile on my face regardless of the absurdity of existence, yet it is surprising that most of us do not have the courage to live an authentic life.

So to the question of who is the most authentic and wealthier, the dandies and whores, or you and me? It is clearly the dandies and the whores, for the rest of us are like the cowardly lion, the scarecrow and the tin man from the movie 'The Wizard of OZ', where we have yet to find the qualities that we require to live life with rebellion, passion, and freedom; namely being, courage, intellect and heart.

In the end of the play 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' by the American playwright Edward Albee, one of the characters in the play, George (a failed history professor) sings to his wife Martha (daughter of the president of New Carthage university) regarding their fictitious son, "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?", whereupon Martha replies, "I am, George...I am."

Which translates to, "Who's afraid of living life without illusion"

The moment we all start to shed our fears of living life without illusion, is the moment we all start to live a more authentic, and fulfilling life.


With a digital drawing from Nikos Laios


Nikos Laios, North Sydney, Australia


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Emanuel Paparella2014-04-14 10:49:01
This is a beautifully rendered collage of snapshots of the human condition as represented by some of the greatest minds of Western Civilization; a civilization which was born in ancient Greece and may very well die in modern Greece under the aegis of a Europe that no longer knows its own cultural identity and has reduced itself to organizing and living the life of entrepreneurship, production and consumption, trade and wealth, power and hedonism. A disturbing picture indeed.

If I may add a few colors to this collage of the great minds, Freud talked of civilization and the winter of our discontent, Marcuse talked of Eros and Civilization; they told us to defer gratification for the sake of civilization or substitute sports for war and in some way that was tried but alas found terribly wanting because the premises were wrong to begin with.

The abyss into which this civilization is staring has not been filled, if anything it has gotten deeper together with our discontent because we have failed in the first place to grasp that Plato had it on target: poverty has little to do with what we have much more to do with how big our desires are; in the second place we have substitute the brain for mind and material satisfaction and technological prowess for spirit and soul. No wonder we find ourselves living empty, meaningless, inauthentic lives; few of us have the courage of a Zorba to keep on dancing in the middle of an existential disaster. We are in the middle of a crisis which is moral and the physical ecological aspect of it is only the symptom of the deeper malaise.

We have no courage because we have no faith in ourselves. Few have the courage to choose a meaningful world rather than a nihilistic meaningless one in the grip of a Nietzschean eternal return. The logos is indeed translatable as the point of it all but few are asking what is the point of it all in our lives, few are convinced that “the unexamined life is not worth living” while Heidegger warned us that “only a god can save us now,” but he was off track since to expect salvation from a god means to expect little if anything from oneself and end up hearing the voice of Being in a Hitler.

Indeed, Mr. Laios, the whores and the flowers expect more from themselves and they will find salvation much more readily than sanctimonious hypocrites who think that a few more technological wonders will heal the human condition!

Nikos Laios2014-04-15 10:22:18
Thank you for your kind words Mr.Paparella...and a further question begs to be asked, are we doomed - we who yearn for the qualities of intellect,heart and soul - to wander our cities with a lamp held high at night like Diogenes searching for an honest man? I think that the few enlightened scattered souls in this soulless wilderness have to become beacons,like lighthouses ringing the world offering hope.This subject I think warrants further examination in further articles.

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