In criticising Marx’s Utopian communist dream, Simone Weil also provided an exemplary commentary on the final part of the movie Wall-E. The crux of which is found here:
“We have only to bear in mind the weakness of human nature to understand that an existence from which the very notion of work had pretty well disappeared would be delivered over to the play of the passions and perhaps to madness; there is no self-mastery without discipline, and there is no other source of discipline for man than the effort demanded in overcoming external obstacles.
A nation of idlers might well amuse itself by giving itself obstacles to overcome, exercise itself in the sciences, in the arts, in games; but the efforts that are the result of pure whim do not form for a man a means of controlling his own whims. It is the obstacles we encounter and that have to be overcome which give us the opportunity for self-conquest.”
(The Causes of Liberty & Social Oppression, 1934:80) [i]
Weil is critiquing Karl Marx’s ideal society. Oppression and exploitation, as understood by Marx, can only be eliminated when we have eliminated the curse of work. This is an either-or fallacy and Weil rightly takes it to task. Even if the worker owns the means of production, instead of being the means by which production happens, the worker is left with having to overcome his or her own vices, such as sloth.
Creativity requires work. Tending to gardens in order to enjoy them requires work. Adam, for example, was given the task of tending and keeping the garden before the fall (Genesis 2:15). This was one of God’s first commands to humans. Work becomes cursed once Adam and Eve fall out with God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:19, 23). Something that were explicitly told not to do.
Despite this, God graciously works to clothe them, and in what could be described as discipline, moves to protect humanity from further destruction, by closing the Garden off to humanity. Eden’s gates are shut and guarded by angel and flaming sword (Genesis 3:24).
The result is that work is redefined by sin. It’s no longer something done in partnership with God. Work becomes what it was never intended to be, cursed, because humanity took it upon themselves to become the source of morality, good and evil.
Every dictator this side of Eden’s gates stands as the master, determining right and wrong, good and evil, to be whatever he or she dictates. The transcendent word of God, made imminent to us by His revelation, is replaced by the word of man and the word of woman.
Weil’s criticism doesn’t specifically mention Genesis like this, but the sentiment is shared. Work cannot be eradicated, it can only be reformed. It can only be redeemed. Work that begins in God’s work on our behalf. Just like the clothes made for Adam and Eve to replace their own meagre work (Genesis 3:7).
This is because the absence of work, which is said to set the worker free, only ends up enslaving the worker. Likewise the absence in our own work is flawed, if the God who lovingly summons us through His own work is ejected or forgotten. The worker is subjected to an ‘unconditional surrender to caprice’ [ii].
According to Weil, there is no way to avoid work, no way of eliminating it without also eliminating ourselves. Therefore, work, in the quest to fight oppression and exploitation of the worker, has to be redefined, reformed, then validated, it cannot be eradicated.
True liberty, writes Weil, is not ‘defined by a relationship between desire & its satisfaction, but by a relationship between thought & action.’ [iii]. Life requires work. Progress requires effort and a reliable foundation, not a mechanised overlord, or a machine that replaces human thought. I see a lot of room in Weil’s thought here for Dallas Willard’s mighty theme, ‘grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort’ (The Great Omission, 2006).
“Bureaucratic machines almost reach the point of taking the place of leaders. Thus, in all spheres, thought, the prerogative of the individual, is subordinated to vast mechanisms which crystallize collective life, and that is so to such an extent that we have almost lost the notion of what real thought is.”
(1934. p.104) [iv]
“If we have machines to tell us what to think, who needs to learn how to think? ‘Ah, just google it’ or ‘I don’t need to be interested in government, if I leave them be, they’ll leave me be. Each to their own.”
Weil’s words match perfectly with the story-line of Wall-E. When the time comes for humanity to return to earth after a long period of waiting, the machines designed to keep humanity safe, become humanity’s prison wardens. They know what’s best. When evidence is presented that earth is now liveable again, the machine seeks to destroy it. The only thing in its way is a lowly earth robot called Wall-E, who, while still a machine, has human-like consciousness. Unwittingly he finds himself in a struggle for human freedom.
Wall-E is a good illustration for the soulless mechanisation that Simone Weil was criticising. On board the ship, humans have gradually become obese, having nothing to do, but be served by their machines. All work has been eradicated. The worker is free, only to find themselves held captive under the dominion of their own creation. Even the Captain is moved around in a chair. All he really does is fill a role to assuage appearances that says to everybody on board that a human is still in charge.
Another example comes from the band Styx. ‘Mr. Roboto’, lifts Weil’s concerns straight up from the page they were written on:
“The problem’s plain to see, too much technology.
Machines to save our lives, machines dehumanize”
(Dennis DeYoung, 1983)
Simone Weil isn’t advocating a troglodyte existence. Her criticism is about our dependence on technology; a dangerously indifferent and slothful dependence which ultimately works against humanity. As Weil wrote, ‘the picture of a completely oppressive social life is where every individual is subject to the operation of a blind mechanism.’ (p.94) [v] This is already happening when it comes to who we rely on for information, morality, ethics, and how we approach education.
To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects God’s grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.
[i] Weil, S. 1934 The Causes of Liberty & Social Oppression in Oppression & Liberty, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1958.
[ii] ibid, p.80
[iii] ibid, p.81
[iv] ibid, p.104
[v] ibid, p.94
Image: Simone Weil, date unknown sourced 9th December 2017, from brainpickings.org