Infinity can be a potential problem for finite beings with lives of finite duration. Infinity cannot be neatly fitted into history, into a linear narrative of events with clear beginnings and endings. This difficulty is only exacerbated by mechanical time’s imposition of division, analytic segmentation, and dissection. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries, millennia, geologic eras, are all equally and impossibly brief when gauged against the foreverness of forever.
Time is a technological artifact. Time started with the invention of history, with the unbending of an ever-repeating cycle of emergence and return, with the idea that the seasons and days stacked upon each other as collections of footfalls on an arrow-straight path from an unrepeatable past toward a unique future. With the invention of the mechanical clock, time became granular and quantified, and, shortly thereafter, monetized, something to be “saved” or “spent” or “squandered.” Or “served.”
The Silurian hypothesis shows a complete misunderstanding about what industrial civ actually is. Civ is not a natural outcome of human evolution. The agricultural revolution itself was a Black Swan event that happened as a result of a nonreplicable confluence of climactic, geologic, biological, psychological, and social circumstances. Rewind the tape of time back 10K years and let it run forward again, and the odds are very high that industrial civ would never happen.
Becoming human is not a superficial kind of change. On the one hand, it is change along the lines of the caterpillar’s metamorphosis. On the other hand, it is not really change at all. It is the cessation of countless ongoing changes, changes that you have to make each and every moment in order to accommodate the incessant artificial demands of civilized life.
Dehumanization is the process whereby human beings are converted into implements. Once we start to see other people—and ourselves—as constituent parts of larger social entities, we cease to become human beings and become, instead, human-shaped tools. The fact that each of us is a unique locus of experience ceases to be relevant.
Modern city-dwellers have become increasingly nomadic in recent years. But this is nomadism of a different kind from that of a gatherer-hunter. It is a punctate nomadism in which the person moves from one temporary “permanent residence” to another. Modern civilized life is, for many people, a series of dislocations, leading to a perpetual sense of diaspora. Home becomes nostalgia for a permanence of place that in reality rarely exists, a Norman Rockwell painting of a time out of time.
Technologies are born into the world with little or no intentional forethought directed at potential negative unexpected consequences. It is in fact impossible to imagine specific consequences if they are unexpected. So, technological innovation involves intentionally creating new technology that is virtually guaranteed to have negative consequences, the specific form and scope of which we have no way to judge beforehand. What could possibly go wrong?
Subtlety and nuance, these things can be nearly impossible to guard against. This is what makes satire such an effective counterpoint to belligerence, why the kings of old were forced to embrace it, to own it, to control it and contain it. In this way the court jester’s role can be more important than that of the royal guard.
Reverse adaptation: Technology structures our lives in ways that accommodate its own operative requirements. Technologies start out serving specific human ends. But once they come into being, they shape human thought and activity in ways that conform to the structure and organization of the technology itself. The technological solution reframes the original problem, and those features of the original problem that do not correspond to the technological solution are ignored or redefined.
It is a form of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny. Only instead of physical development moving through prior evolutionary physical forms, it is our social and psychological development that is forced to undergo the entire civilizing process, beginning with the domestication of our wild human nature, and then the genocide of our wild spirit, and ending with the colonization of our sense of self.
Historically, civilized systems of power were developed as means for single individuals and monarchical dynasties to enhance the scope and reach of their control. But once established, they are able to operate without any top-down input. Despite a plethora of corrupt and self-serving political leaders, there is no entity at the top of the power structure. It is the power hierarchy itself—or, more accurately, it is our recognition and response to the power hierarchy—that perpetuates the system.
Indigenous activists talk about the struggle to decolonize. For them it is still obvious. For them, it is still possible to imagine the other side, still possible to envision what life was like before the mechanical leviathan crept upon them as they slept. But the struggle goes much deeper than the trauma of colonization, far beyond the pain of genocide. its source, its primal foundation, is an all-embracing world view that replaces the spontaneous richness of life with cold strategic mechanism.
Some have suggested that modern city-dwellers are becoming increasingly nomadic. But this nomadism is different from that of a gatherer-hunter. It is a punctate nomadism. Modern civilized life is, for many people, a series of dislocations leading to a perpetual sense of diaspora. Home becomes nostalgia for a permanence of place that in reality never existed, a Norman Rockwell painting of a time out of time, a conceptual placeholder that feeds an unquenchable longing for stability.
Writer, social critic, professional educator, and cognitive psychologist.
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