online: 13 september 2006
modified: 13, 14 september 2006

13 september 2006 the social machine

11:38 ...a damp yet sunny morning after rain in the night... there were shining droplets of water on each branch or berry of the hawthorn at my window... and now, sitting beneath a wild apple tree and seeing the dome of St Paul's in the distance... and the tall buildings of the city almost concealed by rain or mist... i am looking across meadow that is having its annual mowing...

...beyond that are the caravans and big tent of the circus that comes here once or twice a year... and now the mowing stops and the man operating the tractor is gathering litter with a long tongs and a black plastic bag...

... to my right is the hospital where i had a tiny operation on my skin this morning - i've had dozens in the past 25 years... i look with gratitude at the hospital from without but today i was glad to leave its interior full of sad or subdued-looking patients and busy professionals dutifully following procedures of medical care and treatment... everyone is so obedient (thank goodness?) to this part of the vast social machine that can cure our ills (but can also cause them!)

the mowing machine, several tons of it (tractor/mower/vacuum-duct/waggon for cuttings) is so noisy and clumsy and enormous compared to the short and silently growing grass that it is cutting as it progresses so dutifully over the meadow... In the past there might have been a dozen people labouring here almost silently with scythes but now there is only one man, plus fuel oil and noisy tractor, and it's train of lumbering machines, plus tongs...

....heathland and city forest, hospital, circus, mowing machines, man gathering litter, and now a kindly-looking man who is walking by while carrying before him a vastly overgrown abdomen... all these and many other phenomena that comprise the world we construct, operate, destroy... and enjoy or suffer... is indeed a world of labour and seldom is it the world of creative work, of public action, or of religious or philosophic or aesthetic contemplation, that, in the marvellous words of Hannah Arendt*, it indeed could be before the modern age...

...and with the aid of self-organising technology (akin to the spontaneous action of nature) it still could be, perhaps...

...and that, in brief, is the vision and half-hidden purpose of softopia... (time to get on with it!)

* Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, 1958, and still in print. very often do I refer to this, her greatest but most neglected book (i think)...

...searching by chance for an example of her writing i find on page 287 the following:

...wherever we search for that which we are not, we encounter only the patterns of our own minds.

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