Sep 3, 2020Liked by L. M. Sacasas

"The general idea that holds this tradition of critics together is the conviction that some account of what people are for and of the conditions under which they flourish should inform our evaluation of technology. I recognize now as I did then that this can be contested and contentious territory, but I fear that unless we figure out how to at least raise these questions we will proceed down a path toward de facto post-humanism."

You've made me think of the section "Gods That May Serve" in Neil Postman's book, The End of Education. It struck me when I first read it that some of the contenders in his pantheon (America, Spaceship Earth, universalism) were already deceased, culturally speaking. It's sometimes amazing how fast things move. Now, you can hear people speak giddily about pushing past human limits, while others are adamant that an equal distribution of posthumanism is the only real issue. Most people still aren't paying much attention, or can't afford or stand to.

But that could change soon. Having just finished a handful of books on climate change, it's on my mind how our increasingly desperate situation might alter our perspective toward the technological measures at our disposal, as it's begun to already with GMOs and nuclear power. The dire environmental situations arriving now, which will intensify over the coming decades, are a far more real and imminent threat than runaway AI. It may not be Neuralink that we reach for in desperation, but desperate we'll be, and I suspect there will be many tragic choices to make.

Sorry for the gloomy thoughts, but it's been that kind of year, I suppose.

Expand full comment

The technological perspective you describe here makes me wonder about notions of justice as another way of thinking about human goods or flourishing. What does Musk think of justice? It seems to me that the more technology we adopt, the more we align our notions of justice with the work of adopting more technology. Justice will be served when everyone has a neuralink or a laptop or access to high speed internet. Injustice is not being sufficiently connected with technology.

Or maybe notions of justice don't make sense from a technological perspective?

Expand full comment

The humanist project is a good one, and it exists. I'm sure there are many small experiments. Dark Mountain has been one, but they built their manifesto out of Robinson Jeffers' antihumanism, which was a response to the first industrial world wars. Humanism today has to be an antithesis to the early modern form of it, particularly for its part in colonialism and the nation state which remains a hierarchy of power delegated by power and its tokens, like "whiteness." What was good can be recovered or restored, but there is a lot to santize and purge. So, the challenge of a high-level humanist project would be all the ugliness that comes with ideology and the existing political spectrum. It might be better to skip that and go down to a more practical level and just enhgage in counterfoil research. Instead of arguing over what the humand and good is, look at what a tool is like, concretely, in your hands, in a certain group.

I can't think of a single statement from Jacobs I've ever liked. Wanting to escape into anything from Tolkien seems symptomatic of nothing good. Bombadil (and Radagast) were relicts surviving in remote pockets of no value to anyone...yet. Most of us live in the cities, or somewhere of greater interest to extractive powers, so Gandalf is probably the best model. It occurred to me he is a shaman many years ago, but yesterday it came to me that Bombadil and Radgast are orality close to the point where hominization itself is new and the boundary between persons and animals is not quite defined. Gandalf is from a highly literate age who can speak or understand a little of many languages, including the animals, and he respects the older ways that have retreated into tiny pockets where they still have a little power. Gandalf also understands the power of the industrial and remote communications era associated with Saruman. That's the kind of flexibility necessary to cope with moving between these worlds, surviving, and resisting.

Expand full comment