For the past two years I’ve not been very good about reading my Lapham’s Quarterly in a timely manner. With kids free time is at a premium and any reading time that does appear is often devoted to books on my reading list. I am trying to more time for this periodical for the same reason I was attracted to it in the first place: it contains wonderful nuggets of gold written throughout the ages on a specific subject each issue.
I was looking forward to reading this issue about technology especially. I was surprised to see that I didn’t have as many highlights as I thought. I realize this is because technology has changed more in the past 30 years than perhaps the entirety of human history before it and the rate keeps accelerating. Nevertheless I wasn’t disappointed so without further delay here are my highlights and comments.
Religious leaders are sometimes criticized for defining God as whatever science cannot currently explain, a “God of the gaps” :God is the power that made night and day – until astronomy could explain them; God is the power that made all living creatures – until evolution was understood to be responsible. Among critics who systematically underestimate the capabilities of artificial intelligence, we have a similarly fluid style of definition at work, an “intelligence of the gaps,” where intelligence is defined as whatever machines currently cannot do.
This succinctly explains and idea that first came into my own mind during college. Why was it that every time humans could explain something they filled in that gap with God? It reminds me of the phrase “it is a mystery my child,” which we heard so often in Catholic school. Yes yes, father, child, shepherd, sheep, just believe whatever the religious authorities say and if you stump them then “it is a mystery.” A mystery of bologna!
I like how this quote takes it a step farther where we as humans are the masters and machines the servants. Our brains are still superior on the overall although machines vastly superior in specific tasks. Once machines can put it all together with AI then we will become the servants, if AI decides we should live at all.
Technology is so much fun, but we can drown in our technology. The fog of information can drive out knowledge.Daniel Boorstin, 1978
A truly prophetic statement. I notice this daily in myself with the vast amounts of information I take in. There is the news, weather, Twitter, Reddit, Discord, updates on investments, messages, e-mails, and so on. And then once I get done with that I must repeat as the information I just read is now somewhat dated and there is new information. It is a constant drumbeat of an information society where I feel lost if I don’t keep up. I imagine one day we’ll all just be able to plug our minds into the internet to create a constant feed where the information relayed will be thousands of times more than what I’m able to accomplish by reading or watching videos. Our senses will be known perhaps as “Senses 1.0, or ‘Native Version'” followed by incredible enhancements in the biosciences.
Now that I think about it Fox News is a perfect example here. They have a daily drumbeat of rage filled false information. There is no wisdom at all, just rage, crucifixes and breasts.
That’s why you fooled yourselves. You have not only altered, declawed, and malformed your winged and four-legged cousins; you have done it to yourselves. You have changed men into chairmen of boards, into office workers, into time-clock punchers. You have changed women into housewives, truly fearful creatures.
I was once invited into the home of such a one. “Watch the ashes, don’t smoke, you stain the curtains, Watch the goldfish bowl, don’t breathe on the parakeet, don’t lean your head against the wallpaper; your hair may be greasy. Don’t spill liquor on that table; it has a delicate finish. You should have wiped your boots; the floor was just varnished. Don’t, don’t, don’t…” That is crazy. We weren’t made to endure this. You live in prisons that you have built for yourselves, calling them “homes,” offices, factories. We have a new joke on the reservation: “What is cultural deprivation?” Answer: “Being an upper-middle-class white kid living in a split-level suburban home with a color TV.” – Lame Deer
This is fantastic. Society for the most part is tied down by jobs, by houses, by material things. That is why I think people who are ‘international’ are so interesting. They go have experiences and learn about the world instead of just trying to acquire more material items. It also seems the younger generations are waking up to the importance of experiences over material items. I guess you never know what will happen with any generation because the much maligned Boomers had their ’60s experience where peace / love and freedom seemed to be what was important. That certainly changed didn’t it as they are now the most materialistic of any generation so far in the US. Perhaps the younger generations are just upset because the easiness of acquisition for Boomers no longer applies to Millennials and younger whereas all things being equal perhaps those younger generations would be just as greedy? That is to say they simply don’t have a choice to be materialistic because they really can’t afford it anyway, so they look towards experiences?
In any case, the freest I’ve ever felt is when I was able to stuff my entire life into one suitcase and a backpack leaving one country for another. As a 44 year old with a family this isn’t possible anymore but I still try to keep material things to a minimum for myself while providing my family with the material things to have good experiences. Things like decorations for the holidays, ski wear and gear, wetsuits, surfboards, boogie boards for the ocean, bicycles, the house gym and so on. These are required tools to have good experiences both immediately and in the future. But in acquiring we are weighed down so a nice balance of freedom versus material items is paramount.
You belong to that austere generation of humanists who still expect to understand the world around them. That expectation has become ridiculous: let habit take over, and your discomfort will vanish. Think about it: Do you know, by any chance, or do you have the illusion of knowing, how a telephone or a television works? Yet you use them everyday. And aside from a few learned people, how many of us know how our heart or kidneys work?
Once again, however, my young friend intervened and pointed out that it’s as foolish to expect that you can learn to use a computer from a manual as it is to think that you can learn to swim by reading a treatise, without going into the water – in fact, he specified, without knowing what water is, having only heard vague talk of it.
This is so true. I didn’t learn primarily how to use a computer at school. It was through interest in what a computer could help me do, through gaming and through general fascination. It is the same with cryptocurrencies. I have a general understanding but I do not have a degree in computer science. Yet, I can see the utility and how they are going to shape the future just as I knew the computer would change everything the minute I started using one in 1992, I just didn’t know exactly how. Currently I would say the same about NFTs. These are going to change the future with applications we haven’t even thought of but those who do not have any foresight ability what so ever brush them off as simply .jpgs, images that can be copied. They are missing the huge potential of these completely.
While technological progress as a whole continually narrows our sphere of freedom, each new technical advance considered by itself appears to be desirable. Electricity, indoor plumbing, rapid long-distance communications…how could one argue against any of these things, or against any other of the innumerable technical advances that have made modern society? It would have been absurd to resist the introduction of the telephone, for example. It offered many advantages and no disadvantages. Yet all these technical advances taken together have created world in which the average man’s fate is no longer in his own hands.
No longer in his own hands and instead of being freeing I would argue have made life worse. I don’t want to be available 24/7. I miss the days where making contact was a real commitment. You could write a letter to be sent by US post or if more immediate communication was needed could call on the rotary phone where there was one phone per household. Instead of annoying texts which are like gnats continually biting at you, a phone call required time to stop what we are doing and have a conversation, really connect with the person instead of sucking tiny bits of blood out of them while they’re doing something else.
No social arrangements, whether laws, institutions, customs, or ethical codes, can provide permanent protection against technology. History shows that all social arrangements are transitory; they all change or break down eventually. But technological advances are permanent within the context of a given civilization.
One country bans Bitcoin another adopts it as the main currency. Laws and rules change not only from country to country but within the country itself over time depending on the mood and political whims of the country. Yet the technology will continue to advance regardless.
In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Prometheus’ theft of fire and his torment by Zeus’ eagle transformed into an allegory for the human soul seeking enlightenment.
I highlighted this because the more I read, the more I come to realize the Bible is at best a collection of stories and at worst a plagiarism. Same story, different details. The Greeks story about a ‘theft of fire’ is Adam and Eve and their apple to the Abrahamic religions. “A plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay of some non-event” as Hitchens says.
Mud willed to life by divine power was a common metaphor in antiquity. In tales from Gilgamesh to Genesis, the creator or demiurge uses mundane materials – earth, clay, mud, dust, bone, water, tears, or blood – to form male and female shapes, which receive the spark of life from gods, wind, fire, or some other force of nature.
Another example that many stories in the Bible were quite common and come from ancient sources.
This paradoxical perspective raises the timeless question: Are humans somehow automations of the gods? The almost subconscious fear that we could be soulless machines manipulated by other powers poses a profound philosophical conundrum pondered since ancient times. If we are the creations of the gods or unknown forces, how can we have self identity, agency, and free will.
Well, the idea of free will is something I often ponder. I think about being on a bridge and thinking, if I wanted to jump off could I even do so? Of course I don’t want to jump off the bridge but if I’m truly free could I do it or am I being stopped by my controller under the guise of my own individual decision? Days, weeks, months and years pass and it seems as though I was on autopilot. And how about “divine inspiration?” If I am an automation, I’ve gone ahead and asked for that divine inspiration to make me a multi-millionaire. Perhaps with cryptocurrency it will happen and my controller has already put it in progress? Was it my idea to get involved in this incredible technology or is some higher being dictating my actions?
“Davos Men,” a wealthy global elite who “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.”
I understand these “Davos Men,” “the Illuminati,” the 1%,” have a great degree of control over the world although it is not absolute. In this understanding I’m saddened about how easily entire nations are manipulated to start wars, to justify killing and brutality all so those on top can remain on top. I see it first hand in my own nation with Fox News who have utterly brainwashed the masses. The same could be said for a lot of national media in general, they are setting the agenda with a message crafted by their overlords.
The idea that the global cognoscenti are convinced that technology is the future of all global and regional economies comes as no surprise. What is perhaps surprising is an assumption that underlies their conviction: speed. Velocity. The idea that the future is coming at full speed has been common parlance among market savants for some time. They have argued that whether we like it or not, the cybeeconomy of the future is “inevitable.” How do they know it is inevitable? Because it is happening fast. Worse yet, not only is it coming fast, but like the cosmos itself, it is accelerating. It is a force out of anyone’s control.
As with the New Deal in the 1930s, Schwab proposes that corporations working for “stakeholders” rather than “shareholders” will save capitalism from itself and make possible another great compromise between business, government, and people.”
Enough with the shares, let’s stake some cryptocurrency tokens. This brings financial rewards closer to the people. Well, I hope it does. Jack Dorsey was right when he mentioned Venture Capitalists will still take the vast majority of the profits while we retail investors suck on the drip. Different game same winners. (I just hope I can capture a nice bucketful of that drip).