You are not machines!

So many times, I have listened to this speech by Charlie Chaplin at the end of The Great Dictator, the parody of Hitler he made in 1940. For the first time, in the light of what I wrote yesterday, the same theme comes in as it has since the days of William Blake. We are humans and technology is meant to work for our higher happiness and not to enslave us. There is so much in common between the 1780’s, 1933 to 1945 in Germany, indeed the one “great” war from 1914 to 1989, and our own times which may even be but a continuation of the same permanent war.

The “romantic” and “rationalist” themes shine through, and this new hearing of the speech will reveal another dimension of Chaplin.

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4 Responses to You are not machines!

  1. ed pacht says:

    Somehow I just had to post this poem from 16 years ago. Your post brought it back to mind

    August 11, 1999, Sumner Printing, Somersworth NH. Today I’m working at the end of the press, “catching,” that is taking the printed sheets from the end of the press, weighing and boxing them. It is not my favorite job, very mechanical, and very boring. However, it does provide a little free time, in which to think, or, in this case, to write. I find a few rejected placemats and a red crayon and begin to write down an idea that has crowded into my mind. So, here, for your reading, are some “Lines on a Placemat”.

    Lines on a Placemat

    I am machine.
    Here at the end of the press stand I,
    And I
    watch endless line of placemats coming down,
    coming down and piling in a place
    before my face
    where I
    respond in endless repetition
    to the press’s endless busy motion,
    picking, packing, weighing, sealing,
    into boxes piled high for shipping.
    Moment by moment, hour by hour,
    I am machine.

    I am machine.
    My muscles move mechanic’ly,
    the moment’s motions and their rate
    by the rhythms of the press revealed,
    and thus it seems my fate is sealed,
    to be machine.

    I am machine,
    Yet am I not,
    for in my mind there dwells a thought,
    and, though my body’s time is bought,
    yet in my mind much more is sought,
    and from that thought within my mind,
    I write upon this mat these lines,
    and by this poem I now proclaim,
    “I am not machine.”

    I am not machine.
    I am man.
    When earth began,
    God made man,
    His blessed image to proclaim,
    and that image has redeemed
    in Jesus’ mighty Name,
    and in that Name I stand at press,
    and in that Name I here confess,
    “I am man.”

    • Also from Chaplin – factory work in the 1930’s during the Great Depression.

      • ed pacht says:

        Yes, that is just what I felt like!

      • Here’s a place where I worked for 11 weeks back in 1977 before finding a job in a music shop.

        They have modernised the machines and built a new factory since then and it all looks very efficient. Work there for a couple of days and you won’t want to eat another Kit Kat for as long as you live!

        I was never involved in a strike, but we did spend an entire shift in the refectory whilst the fitters were repairing the machines. I remember wishing I had brought a book!

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