Robopathy: The Mutation into Machinery

In 1972, Lewis Yablonski published a book entitled Robopaths: People as Machines. Not just the date of publication is interesting — it follows writings about “Organisation Man” and R. Seidenberg’s “Posthistoric Man” from the 50s, while predating Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism (1979) by a few years — but also because it speaks to one of Marty Glass’s five characteristics of the Kali Yuga (or “Dark Age”) — “the Mutation into Machinery”.

Glass’s five characteristics of the Kali Yuga — (which bear some resemblance to Jane Jacobs’ five characteristics of Dark Age in her book Dark Age Ahead) — are a) The Fall Into Time, b) The Reign of Quantity, c) The Mutation into Machinery, d) the End of Nature, and e) The Prison of Unreality. We may say that these five (as well as those of Jane Jacobs) describe what Gebser means in The Ever-Present Origin about the “mental-rational consciousness structure” now functioning in “deficient mode”.

Furthermore, these characteristics of the Kali Yuga would correspond to that “usurpation” of the Master awareness by the “Emissary” as described by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

Although all five features of the Kali Yuga are interrelated or co-incident (for William Blake, the “Fall into Time” in Glass’s sense is the cause of the others) Yablonski accentuates the feature called “Mutation into Machinery” as “robopathy”, although the other features are implicated in that. So, I want to quote something from Robopaths that illustrates that, but which also seems quite prescient,

“The problem of the physical machine takeover of the destiny of people is obviously a phenomenon of enormous proportion. An even greater problem, one that is more subtle and insidious, exists. This involves the growing dehumanization of people to the point where they have become the walking dead. This dehumanized level of existence places people in roles where they are actors mouthing irrelevant platitudes, experiencing programmed emotions with little or no compassion or sympathy for other people. People with this condition suffer from the existential disease of robopathology. In a society of robopaths, violence reaches monstrous proportions, wars are standard accepted practice, and conflict abounds.

Robots are machine-made simulations of people. I would coin the term robopath to describe people whose pathology entails robot-like behavior and existence. Robopaths have what Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death”. A robopath is a human who has become socially dead. Robopaths are people who function in terms of a pseudo-image. They are automatons who may appear turned on to other people but are in fact egocentric, and without true compassion. Robopaths are the reverse of Capek’s technological robots, they are people who simulate machines. Their existential state is ahuman.

There are at least eight identifiable and interrelated characteristics that may help to define the phenomenon of the robopath. These include: (1) ritualism, (2) past-orientation, (3) conformity, (4) image-involvement, (5) acompassion, (6) hostility, (7) self-righteousness, and (8) alienation.” (pp. 6-7)

In past posts in The Chrysalis, we’ve addressed most of these singly or in combination, although things like “ritualism” and “past-orientation” are probably the same, which today the gurus of contempory “holistic branding”, “spiritual branding”, or “marketing 3.0” would describe as “branded behaviours”, or patterns of consumerism. Most of the quotes from Lewis Mumford’s writings on the “megamachine” that have been posted in the comments section of The Chrysalis also describe what Yablonski refers to as “robopathy”. Yet, that which is described by Mumford, Yablonski, or Seidenberg, among others, as a pathology is today held up as an ideal — the ideal of a “post-human future” of perfectly soulless machinery (even as Rolf Jensen’s utopian “post-rational” and corporatist Dream Society).

Yablonksi’s “past-orientation” would seem to contradict Seidenberg’s “post-historic man”, but what Yablonski means by that is inertia, rather than historical knowledge and consciousness — the unconscious repetition of precedent or the programmatic, a preference for the familiar even when the familiar has become ineffective as a guide to experience or reality. Robopathy is, in those terms, what is today described as “zombie logic”.

Yablonski’s “robopathy” and Lasch’s “culture of narcissism” are, then, equivalent in meaning, not least because extreme narcissism is often accompanied by feelings of being a machine, (which, of course, our present reductionistic Mechanical Philosophy tells us that being “ahuman” is perfectly correct, “normal”, and “well-adapted”).

Actually, though, there is an historical precedent for “robopathy” or “narcissism” found in the Psalms, which describes idolatry (which is the defective mode of the mythical consciousness structure):

The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not. They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths. They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them.

By the time the Psalmist spoke those words, the mythological consciousness had already become decadent and degenerate. The megamachine of that time was the Bull-headed god called “Moloch” (or Baal), who was machine-like, and who demanded human and child sacrifice in exchange for guarantees of prosperity. It might even be Moloch who returns once again as “the rough beast” in Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming“.

(It was, in any case, for Alan Ginsberg in his poem “Howl” where Yeats’ “rough beast” is “Moloch” — the megamachine of antiquity).



2 responses to “Robopathy: The Mutation into Machinery”

  1. mikemackd says :

    The term is spot on – the one I was looking for in my discussions with abdulmonem.

    However, I point out a distinction between Seidenberg, Yablonsky et al. and Mumford, as made by Josel M. Broder in his review of Floyd W. Matson’s “The Idea of Man” (

    “Roderick Seidenberg, Jacques Ellul, Herbert T. Muller, Lewis Yablonsky, and other ‘technological determinists’ perceive the issue of identity versus technology, of liberty versus order, as being closed and the struggle for control as being lost. In contrast, the school of ‘humanistic indeterminism,’ headed by Lewis Mumford, holds that the issue is far from closed, that mankind possesses a viable choice between alternative futures, and that this power of choice imposes a responsibility to comprehend the crucial differences between alternative futures, and between competing paradigms or myths which undergird the issue.”

    I can’t say whether Mumford would still consider the issue as not closed if he were still alive today, and able to see how the power of the Machine and the pathologies of its controllers have grown exponentially since his death, but I do. There remains hope in the cry of every newborn child. Robopaths would respond, “so, stupid, you think there is hope for chickens in a battery farm, or cattle or sheep in a ranch? Dream on!”

    I will.

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