The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Friday, December 2, 2022

The Dreary Machine: What we are Becoming


Giorgio Agamben discusses how we are being destroyed by an endless wave of laws, decrees, and regulations encroaching on our living space, and forced upon us by another endless wave of propaganda. The dreary machine in which we are living will eventually destroy itself, but it will take time. Above, a clip from Seven7Lives that seems appropriate as a comment.

The lawful, the obligatory, and the prohibited

28 novembre 2022
by Giorgio Agamben

According to Arab jurists, human actions are classified into five categories, which they list in this way: obligatory, praiseworthy, lawful, reprehensible, and forbidden. To the obligatory is opposed the forbidden, to that which deserves praise, that which is to be reproved. But the most important category is the one that lies in the middle and constitutes, as it were, the axis of the scale that weighs human actions and measures their responsibility (responsibility is said in Arabic legal parlance to mean "weight"). If praiseworthy is that whose performance is rewarded and whose omission is not prohibited, and reprehensible is that whose omission is rewarded and whose performance is not prohibited, lawful is that about which law can only be silent and is therefore neither obligatory nor prohibited, neither praiseworthy nor reprehensible. It corresponds to the heavenly state, in which human actions produce no responsibility, are in no way "weighed" by law. But - and this is the decisive point - according to Arab jurists, it is good that this zone that law cannot in any way deal with should be as wide as possible, because the justice of a city is measured precisely by the space it leaves free of norms and sanctions, rewards and censures.

In the society in which we live, exactly the opposite is happening. The zone of the lawful is shrinking every day, and an unprecedented regulatory hypertrophy tends to leave no sphere of human life outside obligation and prohibition. Gestures and habits that had always been considered indifferent to the law are now minutely regulated and punctually sanctioned, to the point that there is hardly any sphere of human behavior that can be considered simply lawful anymore. First, unidentified security reasons and then, increasingly, health reasons have made it compulsory to have a permit to perform the most habitual and innocent acts, such as walking down the street, entering a public place, or going to one's workplace.

A society that so narrows the paradisiacal scope of behavior unweighted by law is not only, as the Arab jurists believed, an unjust society, but is properly an unlivable society, in which every action must be bureaucratically authorized and legally sanctioned, and the ease and freedom of customs, the sweetness of relationships and forms of life are reduced to the point of disappearance. Moreover, the quantity of laws, decrees, and regulations is such, that not only does it become necessary to resort to experts to know whether a certain action is permissible or prohibited, but even the officials in charge of enforcing the rules become confused and contradictory.

In such a society, the art of life can only consist in minimizing the part of the obligatory and the forbidden and conversely enlarging to the maximum the zone of the lawful, the only one in which if not happiness, at least gladness becomes possible. But this is precisely what the wretches who govern us do their utmost to prevent and make difficult by multiplying rules and regulations, controls, and checks. Until the dreary machine they have built will ruin upon itself, jammed by the very rules and devices that were supposed to enable it to function.


  1. As was said the the 1960s; love it or leave it. Welcome to the 21st century where local civil servants will quote and enforce contradictory laws and ordinances and not be perplexed by laws and ordinances that contradict and negate each other. Perhaps to cope, we should view our predicament from a mythological perspective (see Simon Sheridan's blog as referenced in The Seneca Effect.)

    1. The laws most people are confined by most often are traffic laws.

  2. I guess, this is related to the fact that politicians feel the need to do "positive" actions, instead of just managing current affairs.
    For a long time, there really were many good things to do, and the abundance of resources made it possible.
    Nowadays, the urge to do is still there, but the capacity to do has left us, so the only thing that's left for politicians is to make rules.
    We will have local election next year in Luxembourg, and when asked what I would see as important, I said that my priority is to have somebody who makes sure that the normal things work, which means drinking water, school bus, electricity... I don't want any new project, just that thing don't break apart.

  3. Don't ever think for a second that you can get your 'freedom' - and at the same time the power from the public grid coming to your place - you choose one or the other....

    Humans are not stupid - they know very well that a 24/7 power supply and running water coming to homes and 24/7-open petrol stations filling cars - worth relinquishing some or all of their freedom...

    Humans are not stupid - if somebody is willing to sponsor their Emperor's life style - they will not say - no, even if that somebody thinks triumphant watching the masses giving up their freedom...

    Humans are not stupid - they prefer to keep the running water and power supply for now - even if they knew one day they may become another Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, Russia or Shanghai...

    Humans remain humans - they escape forward when they deeply realise something is fundamentally wrong - so wrong they are required to relinquish their freedom for it...

    "Energy, like time, flows from past to future"


  4. Jammed by the (very) rules and devices that were supposed to (enable it to function).

    Replace (very) with 'new'. Replace (enable it to function) with 'prevent dissent and change'.