Science, Safety, & Slavery to the State

Paul Kingsnorth and Jonathan Pageau Discuss Civilization in the “Age of the Machine”

Paul Kingsnorth is a writer and novelist living in Ireland who operates a Substack account called the Abbey of Misrule. For years his work has focused on the many forms of civilizational control that human beings seek to exert over their fellow man and how such power, whether it be technological, governmental, or corporate, diminishes our humanity and freedom. He is also a newly converted Christian, and he wrote his conversion story for First Things last summer, which you can find here.

In April, Kingsnorth joined Jonathan Pageau on his YouTube channel. Pageau is an Eastern Orthodox iconographer from Canada. In their discussion, Kingsnorth uses the word “Machine” to describe the massive technological control that’s now not so subtly creeping up on many western countries. From the Canadian government shutting down bank accounts to vaccine mandates to “cancel culture,” Kingsnorth thinks the Machine is fundamentally at odds with the way most normal people want to live their lives.

Kingsnorth and Pageau discussed how today’s “creeping totalitarianism” is conflicted with itself. On the one hand, modern liberalism preaches total autonomy of the self. According to its dogma, we’re supposed to be allowed to do whatever we want to do and be whoever we want to be. Such “liberation” from external, traditional, or otherwise institutional constraints is central to the LGBTQ+ movement, for instance.

Yet on the other hand, these institutions and social forces are more prepared than ever to punish people for having the “wrong” views on issues like the vaccine, transgenderism, race politics, or the national history of the United States. Pageau mentioned as an example Justin Trudeau’s decision to shut down the bank accounts of Canadian citizens who wanted to support protesting truckers. Much of the media normalized this move, when truthfully it was sheer tyrannical overreach.

Their conversation reminded me of a poignant C.S. Lewis essay titled, “Is Progress Possible?” from his book God in the Dock. Lewis predicted that in the future, governments would appeal to people’s “safety” to justify their lust for power. “Science,” he predicted, would serve as the reassuring saving grace of mankind, deployed by the State to appear objective and trustworthy to the public.

The COVID-19 pandemic arguably provided fertile ground for totalitarian-minded bureaucrats to make their moves. How many articles over the past two years started with the words, “Experts say…” and proceeded to lay down a new pandemic-related rule for the masses to follow? Too many to count. But who can disagree with the “expert”? Even if the expert’s opinion isn’t backed up by the evidence, he is still put forth as the spokesperson for truth.

Lewis wrote, “I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in." All it takes is a war, famine, plague, or some other such crisis to get people desperate enough to let the government take control. Owning science is the new way to own people.

We have on the one hand a desperate need; hunger, sickness, and the dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it: omnicompetent global technocracy. Are these not the ideal opportunity for enslavement? This is how it has entered before; a desperate need (real or apparent) in the one party, a power (real or apparent) to relieve it, in the other.

Pageau comments that some years ago Prime Minister Trudeau said Canada would be the first “post-national” country. Perhaps now it’s becoming clearer what he really meant by that. He and the other totalitarian minded leaders want a global technocracy in which free societies slowly but surely fall—for the sake of science and safety.

The Machine is alive and well, though it bears a smiling, all-inclusive face. It may want you safe, but it doesn’t want you free.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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