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Life in our tech dystopia
Isn't 6000+ years of this shit enough?
You might have noticed if you’ve read a few of my polemics here that I tend to take a rather dark view of humanity and our society.
As you might imagine, I get a lot of shit for that. People think I’ve got it all wrong. “There is a lot of good in the world,” they say.
Well, duh. Of course there is. How else would we be able to recognize the bad?
But seriously, my life is pretty sweet. I’ve got plenty of health issues, but those are a consequence of potentially stupid decisions on my part in my youth. I say potentially because I did have a shit ton of good times, so maybe it was worth it. Everyone dies eventually, right?
Beyond those somatic annoyances, however, I am living the good life, or what’s left of it as I can’t eat my favorite dishes anymore, can’t hear for shit, and can’t do other things I’ll leave unspecified here, but which I used to enjoy greatly.
I guess I reached my quotas a bit early. I always was a go-getter.
The Golden Billion
But I am one of the “Golden Billion”: that 13% of the world’s population that lives in the West (or in my case somewhere near the South Pole). I’m an educated, experienced, and widely (if not wildly) talented individual who has always been able (well, until recently) to acquire and hold decent (a relative term) jobs.
I have traveled and lived all over the world leaving a trail of greenhouse gases. Just follow the carbon dioxide.
At times I’ve made more money than I knew what to do with (bearing in mind that my needs are modest). And while I have been homeless once or twice, couch surfing or living out of my car, it was my own doing, and I always had friends and family to fall back on if things got really desperate.
In short, I am one of the very lucky few.
And so are the people who keep telling me that the world is really a “good” place. The fuck do they know?
Take one of these people. Any one. OK, now put them back. Please.
Were they robbed today? Yesterday? Last week? Any time recently? Were they raped? Murdered? Lost a kid? Maimed in a car crash?
No, no, no, and no. Things are going OK for them at the moment. Unless they are in the US., of course. In that case, they should probably avoid churches, malls, schools, and nightclubs. Just sayin’.
But this is a localized experience. They undoubtedly live in a safe city, where bombs are not falling daily. Probably where bombs have never fallen in their lifetimes. Where crime is low, and the most you have to worry about is someone stealing your bike.
They have jobs. They make decent money. They drive a nice car, live in a nice house. They go to the gym and the pub and even to the movies or the ballpark.
Hell, where I live the cops (mostly) don’t carry guns and you can still, I think, fly domestically without going through any security at all. Ha, ha. It’s 1950 all over again.
The “good world” folks are most likely not being sex-trafficked, either. But it’s all local.
Globally, things are a bit different. But if you can’t see it, hear it, smell it, then you can pretend that it’s not really happening. Oh, but it makes for titillating videos, no? How many of us now spend our days watching videos on Telegram or Bitchute of real people being really tortured and murdered?
Don’t pretend that it isn’t widespread. Thanatos writ large.
These Pollyannas have not been force conscripted by the secret police, given a few hours of training, handed a rifle, and then sent off to the front where their life expectancy is measured in hours.
But what happens if we pull the camera back, take a wider view? Anything else going on here? Anything else at all on this big blue globe?
How many human beings are being raped while you read this? How many are being robbed? Beaten? Tortured? Murdered? Maimed? Harassed? Molested?
Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Enough to fill a large stadium or two?
How many people are doing the raping, robbing, torturing, murdering? How many are cheating on spouses and lovers? Abusing their kids or spouses—or elderly parents? Terrorizing humans or animals? Leaving gum on the sidewalk, for Christ’s sake! (Not in Singapore, I bet.)
But all this horror somehow does not count because in your safe little space everything is alright for you? Is it really all about you?
Doh! Of course it is.
So you keep voting in the vile infants, supporting the “tough on crime” torture policies, going to work to keep the mass extinction juggernaut running smoothly, spewing carbon everywhere like there is no tomorrow—ensuring that there actually is no tomorrow—paying your taxes to support rape and murder all over the globe, and pretending that all of the suffering, death, and destruction has nothing to do with you, right?
Hey, we just want to have fun, no?
Darkness at noon
When did the world get so dark? Hmm. As an infamous professor once said to my father, “I think they call it the ‘Pleistocene Era’”. He was referring to something else, but we can borrow his answer here.
Humans are predators and we prey, also, on our own. Always have.
Back in the days of “primitive” tribes (as if we aren’t more primitive than ever these days), we solved this to some degree by creating the “other”: that tribe over there who were clearly monsters, sub-humans, beasts.
More often than not we called ourselves the “humans”. Them, not so much. It’s a bit of a giveaway, no?
This clever naming allowed us to rob and rape and kill to our hearts’ content without having to feel bad about it. Cognitive dissonance begone! After all, “they” are monsters. We can do anything we like to them because monsters have no rights at all. It’s a rule we made up.
Hopefully we do this without robbing, raping, and killing our fellow tribe members, although this system wasn’t quite foolproof as we might have hoped. There is always someone who apparently didn’t get the memo.
Hard not to bring those brutal habits home, as the US is now learning. Or failing to learn as it were.
We even had regular upheavals where we’d have to “sacrifice” (i.e., “make sacred”, ouch) one of our own tribe. René Girard in his brilliant book, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, goes into striking detail re our “inhumanity” to each other.
Damn that mimesis.
Or consider the work of the “psychohistorians” for another perspective. Not for the timid. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Whatever one may think of the psychohistorians—and having had some interactions with Lloyd deMause back in the day, I can confirm that he was a truly arrogant asshole—much of the evidence they report is easily shown to be true.
Draw what conclusions you may, it is the evidence that is truly damning. What kind of rational, compassionate, and enlightened species regularly sacrifices their own children to imaginary beings? None.
My conclusion: we are not rational, not compassionate, and far far far from enlightened.
Good news! Now we mostly murder other people’s children. Some 40,000 per day last I heard. But don’t worry because no one gives a flying fuck.
We are not nice animals. Never have been. Although we’ve sometimes shown surprising potential for enlightenment. A few of us may even have attained it.
Mostly, we murdered the enlightened among us if we could not ignore them.
Babies with razor blades
The problem is that our “intelligence” has far outstripped our wisdom and our empathy. Our tools have become immensely powerful, but our ability to control ourselves has changed little if at all. We simply refuse to grow up.
The homo sapiens sapiens [sic] of a quarter million years ago had a brain not significantly different from that of the kid born yesterday.
I’ve said it elsewhere but I’ll say it again: every new “advance” in technology is immediately put to use to create new weapons. And to stimulate new artificial and unnecessary consumer demand.
But it’s more than that. I’ve also mentioned Paul Virilio and his brilliant recognition of the “integral accident”: that one cannot invent the ship without also inventing the shipwreck.
No railroads without derailments (heard about any of those lately?); no automobiles without pile ups; no airplanes without plane crashes.
There simply is no such thing as a free lunch. You do not get to eat your cake and have it, too. These clichés exist for a reason.
So it is that automobiles and airplanes have helped to destroy the family. Where once families lived all in a single dwelling—even extended families—for generations, or an easy walk from each other, now my family is distributed all over the world. As are so many others.
And we can kid ourselves that with aircraft and Zoom and email we can “stay connected”, but it’s all nonsense. I haven’t seen any of my family is six years except in two dimensions on a display. Some I will never see again. I’ve lost count of the friends who have faded away.
That might be OK if we took Stephen Stills’s advice and loved the ones we’re with, but we rarely do. Instead, we become more and more isolated and alone. But we have our “toys” to keep us company. Smart phones, robots even, and now AI.
It only took one real pandemic—the first of many, I promise you—to drive us into isolated little worlds. Instead of coming together like an old-style barn building effort, we upped our brutality and callousness. And our paranoia.
“Smart” phones are making us stupid. “Social” media is making us anti-social. We’re all just “influencers” pumping up our “brands” and collecting “likes” now. What effect do you think AI will have on all this? Will it reverse it or accelerate it?
My guess is that it will finish us off entirely. Artificial “intelligence” will make us un-intelligent. After all, why learn to think if the machine can do it for you?
What will be the point of learning anything at all if ChatGPT and its like can do it faster and better? Why bother with school, education? Once AI can build and improve itself, why are we needed at all?
But at that point, what is their left for us to do but consume? Is this really the destiny we want for ourselves? Frankly, I’d rather be a battery.
When I was a kid, some “futurists” suggested that eventually we’d evolve into a creature with one arm and a single big thumb: that was all we would need to keep pushing the button to make things happen.
Typically unimaginative, of course. A recent article showed that it is possible to train AI (or what passes for it) to read our minds. Ha, ha. So long privacy … forever.
How will we be any different than one of B.F. Skinner’s rats pushing the lever that delivers a jolt of pleasure to the brain over and over and over again ad infinitum? Oh, yeah. We won’t need a lever.
If railroads gave us derailments and automobiles pile ups (and both contributed to the destruction of the family and society), what will the “integral accident” of AI be?
And shouldn’t we ask that question now, before we go all in? Shouldn’t we have been asking questions like that one for the past six thousand years?
And then acting on the answers instead of turning away and brushing them off?