Death of the Individual: Our Modern Machine

There are no individuals. That singular and independent form of Being has been all but eliminated in the modern world. The individual person has been sacrificed to the machine of modernity leaving only group members and pre-assigned roles to walk among us.

The individual is suffocated in this modern world we have created. One must play the game to survive or fall between the cracks. Play the game of licenses, regulations, appointments, and approval. The modern world demands that everything come from this game. The food we eat must be regulated, the clothes we wear must be bought from a licensed source, and the content we consume must be approved for upload. Our modern machine must have it all.

To bypass the game we’ve created with all the hoops and hurdles would be a threat to the collective dream we have labored to build. Where there was once danger, our modern machine will regulate, investigate, and protect us until the only possible injury is suffocation under the complexity we’re created. Food must be safe and approved, says our modern machine. From the grocery store shelves, restaurant menus, and even the seeds you plant in the earth, they all must be approved by the modern machine. Barcodes, bureaucracies, appeals, and certifications. Everything must follow the rules of the game or else it won’t be allowed to play.

The collective dream for safety didn’t stop with food but expanded to movies, music, and video games. It all must be approved, or else it will not be allowed. The modern machine then comes for technology and innovation. Zoning, building codes, bylaws, and authorization. All acts of individual creation must be approved by the collective or else they will be stamped out. Then the modern machine comes for what an individual can read, think, or say. If the individual will not play with the modern machine, then the modern machine and its infinite capacity for control will be unleashed.

The modern machine is soulless and removes the human spirit from all it touches. The game demands that entertainment become an industry. Farms become factories. People become employees who serve not just a boss, but a faceless corporation. The craftsman himself becomes a tool in a larger project where he has no autonomy, removed from his work and made into a pawn in a larger game. Communal politics become partisan as the party system dominates the individual. Everyone has a superior they serve and rules to follow. Even a transcendent experience of the Divine is codified into a rigid and dogmatic religious order where individuals must not step out of line. The wheels of the modern machine keep turning, grinding individuals into the collective.

Our cities and skylines were once an untapped wilderness full of danger and opportunity. After pioneers brought the wrath of nature under their control, communities grew and the modern machine begins to emerge. Great countries are built by great individuals. But now the individual’s hands are tied unless they act through the collective. Brave individuals once ventured forth to boldly go where no one has gone before. And surely, the modern machine will follow and swallow these individuals into the collective dream they unknowingly build.

Perhaps we should not dwell on our modern machine consuming all facets of life. Perhaps it's not even fair to call this modern machine “modern.” Given enough time, simplicity becomes complexity, and people build complicated social systems. Eventually, these systems gain enough power to smother the individual entirely. This happened to the Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese. Many kingdoms have fallen under the weight of their own complexity. Perhaps this is a tale as old as time. But the question still remains, what must be done about the loss of individualism at the hands of our modern machine? What do we individuals do when it feels as if the individual is powerless?

The answer is not to become angry at the machine. The machine is perpetuated by the fearful who desire safety and control above all else. And let them have it, for feelings of safety and the illusion of control is all they will ever have. They will not create as the individual can. They will not survive on their own as the individual does. They are the collective, and until they become an individual, they will remain a part of the modern machine. The modern machine is inevitable as a protection for the weak.

There are two paths for the individual when confronting the modern machine. The first path is that of the Sheppard whose goal is to maintain the health of the modern machine and guard against possible corruption. Entropy exists in all parts of life. Things are always falling apart and need to be maintained. The modern machine is inevitable and so is its decay. Good and virtuous individuals are needed to keep the modern machine in check and ensure the machine is aimed at creating goodness for the community. Although it may be frustrating and exhausting, there is great honour in maintaining the health of the modern machine.

The second path is that of the Pioneer which seeks to search for where the modern machine has not touched and begin to build there. It’s not cold and calculated regulation that leads to human flourishing. Prosperity is created by individuals, not their societies. If an individual must be an individual and feels suffocated by the modern machine of their society, then this is an opportunity for exploration, adventure, and ultimately, the creation of a shining light to illuminate the darkness.

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Matthew McKenna

Matthew McKenna

When facing hardship and burned by flame / We look to myth for where to aim / As stories of old were understood / Extract the gold and make it good.