Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Lies We Tell

Trial & Errors by Jonah Lehrer

Oh we're a tragically short sighted species.  We invent meaning and dwell on facts while the Truth  is all around us.  Our fictions have served us well, landing us on the moon, splitting atoms, harnessing electricity, but the vast majority of us believe in these things rather than recognizing our limited understanding of them; precious few recognize the huge distance between whatever reality may be and our crude thoughts on it.

We are like moles, blind to what is around us, feeling our way along with our weak senses, trying to make sense of the phenomena we bump into.  We crudely describe the book in our hands because we perceive photons bouncing off it, giving it shape and colour in our eyes.  We think the seeing and touching of the book is the book itself, it isn't.  On a fundamental level our intelligence is removed from the reality in which it is suspended.  This offers us a wonderful imaginative freedom, but also creates a perilous relationship between our being and what we perceive as our place in the universe.

When the stories we invent about the world around us roughly approximate Truth, we are able to stumble forward, creating light in the dark.  Unfortunately these successes feed our egos, provoking us into believing that our understandings are Truth.  Our rough approximations have allowed us to advance in technology, but the vast majority of us use it in ignorance, not even understanding the rough approximations, let alone the galactic distances between our minds and the Truth they inhabit.

One of the most cunning stories we tell ourselves is that of causality.  The result of anecdote, and such an old habit that most of us only see it as truth.  Like other fictions of science, this one often approximates the unknowable, and regularly gives useful results.  Conditioned to recognize this as Truth, we take it in as such; happy fictions for our distant minds.

We busily collect data, numbers that refer to truth in the same way that a nice photograph renders a stunning sunset; a moment in time rendered with data, far from the Truth of the thing.  We then further simplify these poorly recorded moments and correlate the data.  Our triumphant result is a new fact to the happily ignorant.  We make drugs and give them to people based on this approach.  We tell them we can or can't cure them of a disease another set of 'facts' probably gave them.  We live and die by our fictions.

We use technology to further remove us from this Truth, taking us into invented worlds and created moments, free of the complexity of the alien Truth we ourselves are a part of.  Perhaps one day we will harness technology to allow us to comprehend Truth on its own terms, but it seems unlikely.  We'd rather harness atoms and photons to move ourselves away from Truth and create more fictions.  The majority treats technology as a distraction when it might be the key to realizing our place in the cosmos.

Science, like religion, creates stories to justify our sense of self-importance; invented meanings to make our mental isolation bearable.  And like religion, science can be a powerful means of directing and empowering us in our mental confines.  We are free to be assholes of universal proportions, to abuse reality and each other, to embrace lies and greed, and invent self importance.  Systems of thought like science and religion can offer us a way of structuring our minds in potentially virtuous, more universally harmonious ways, but they only work if the user is honestly and truly humble.

Humility is the key to any genuine understanding, be it scientific or spiritual.  We only recognize our blindness to the phenomenal world around us when we view it through the prism of sincere humility.  The nature and complexity of the universe operates on so many more dimensions than we can sense or even comprehend, and until we recognize that, our theories and ideas won't come close to assuming their true (and humble) place in the scheme of things.  Humility recognizes our limitations and allows us perhaps to evolve beyond them without fiction taking over.  It recognizes the limited scope of our perspective and allows us to authentically extend our thinking beyond the confines of our experience.

The moment any human endeavor gains a profit motive, it is no longer humble before creation.  If greed invents short shortsighted economic motives, or competition drives research and ignores evidence, or political power is the reason for analysis, we fall back into the realm of human affairs.  We might become successful in those terms, but only at the expense of distancing ourselves from universal Truth.

We're in such a dead end that most people now believe that profit produces happiness and greed is a virtue.  We think that offloading physical effort to mechanization and thinking to digitization makes us better.  We use technology as an excuse to make ourselves less, not more conversant with nature.

A world ballooning with over seven billion human beings, the vast majority of whom are happy to make use of science and technology without realizing that its fictions are trapping us in a dead end.  On top of that, many of that majority still cling to older ideas of species divinity based on the last round of wrong headed human self-aggrandizement.  Humility is about as far from religion, science, economics or education as we can possibly place it.

Yet Truth surrounds us intimately and continuously, if only we'd quiet our thoughts and feel it.


Kant's noumena & phenomena
Plato's allegory of the cave
Causality gives us the appearance of intimate knowledge, it's the source of arrogance.
"Every story is a slippery conjecture, a catchy conjecture..."
Perception is the greatest prejudice of all.
There isn't a test for any disease, there are correlated results.  Correlation in statistics is a purely abstract means of understanding reality.
Does teaching an idea based on the fact that it's our best way of explaining of explaining it make the knowing less valuable?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is The Singularity Already Shaping Itself?

The idea of an imminent technological singularity that will result in an intelligence greater than current human limits posses some interesting questions. It's called a singularity because we are mentally incapable of understanding how this greater intelligence will work because it will operate on levels of efficiency, understanding and meaning that exceed what we can conceive. The singularity is that point through which human society will begin to be driven by a collectively developed intelligence greater than any one human mind.

This is why the whole Terminator/Matrix/war-with-technology fear is an entirely human emotional response to the unknown; the actual emergence of a greater intelligence (there is nothing artificial about it) will not appear as a comprehensible entity because we will not be able to conceive of its whole. If you want a better grasp of the ineffable quality (and scale) of this evolution, Asimov's Foundation series might get you closer than current tech-fear mongering.

It's tempting to get theological about this, but that would be yet another attempt to dress something greater than we can conceive in a simplistic human understanding, something I'd argue humans have been doing with God forever. I'm going to try and stay away from that. I've always preferred Lao Tsu's approach anyway ("The name that can be named is not the enduring and
unchanging name.")

If we're unable to conceive of how this greater intelligence will manifest itself, perhaps it's already here and we're not able to perceive it. I suspect it already exists (and always has) and, at its best, technology will allow us to access this universal awareness by allowing us to interact with reality in greater and more meaningful ways.

A greater intelligence would also exercise a finer, more expansive relationship with reality, something that technology is allowing us to do in an ever increasing manner. At some point, if technology is progressing as it should, it will allow human beings to sense and interact with reality in minuscule, massive and fully comprehending ways.

In our technological adolescence, we stumble around, amplifying our ignorance with new technology, using it to distract and isolate ourselves from the world around us, rather than as a tool for understanding, enhancing and interacting with reality. It's a dreamtime of technology use when a minority of people are harnessing technology as a means of amplifying themselves, while the vast majority use it as a narcissistic distraction. Then there are the Luddites who fear technology change to such a degree that they actively work to sabotage it.

Until technology gets to the point that it obviously and directly improves everyone's awareness of and participation in reality, it will not even begin to approach a meaningful increase in efficiency. If technology empowers people to destroy their environment, become obese, physically useless, less productive and/or merely dumbs them down into digital sheep, then it is not going to survive because, ultimately, it will end us too.

If there really is a universal Tao or God, then technology that amplifies our ability to learn, create, remember, relate, comprehend, conceive, feel and physically relate with reality should bring us closer to creation. If this is what transhumanism or the singularity will bring, then it means we'll all be continually challenged to be our maximal selves (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically), anything less would not be optimal from even our own limited awareness. If people are becoming a part of a greater intelligence, then they need to be the most educated, engaged, self-aware, empowered people they can be; anything less is... less.

I'm still playing with the idea at:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Craftsmanship And Dexterous Intelligence


Well, at least we've institutionalized half of the human race. If this were happening based on race, people would be up in arms.

TeacherHann on twitter suggested that traits we've bred into men are redundant now that we don't hunt, gather or manufacture anything. We still hunt, gather and manufacture things, we've just found a way to off-load it to out-of-sight, globalized slaves we don't have to think about.

Then we de-value work that boys enjoy (physicality, single minded intensity), because we've made most of the human race serve our own systemic greed and laziness. We've gotten to the point now where there are psychological factories designed around reshaping boys to sit in cubicles.

If we continue to develop an institutionalized and absolute rule of law that dictates our security, then we will continue to find little value in the physicality boys might offer.

If we continue to develop food production and manufacturing on globalist supply logic, then we will use remote, third world financial slavery to produce and build what we use, further devaluing the physical manufacturing that boys used to gravitate toward. Agribusiness will remove people from the food system in favour of machines and internationalization to cheaper markets, further reducing the need (and value) we have for physical labour.

This isn't just a matter of menial labour either. In the process of giving up our hands in favour of a 'mind economy' we also lose craftsmanship. When an automated plant supported by the working poor thousands of miles away does your manufacturing for you, you're only left with your mind economy, and it's a remarkably un-self-sustaining, self serving place.

Better hope the oil lasts. Once we've medicated all our boys into cubicles, there won't be too many people left willing to get their hands dirty while they relearn how to have intelligent dexterity. Mind economies can't feed themselves, or build for themselves.

Our brains our infinitely plastic (Carr). When we begin using a new tool, our brains actually reorganize in order to recognize the tool as a part of our body. If you know how to use a screw driver, it is because your mind has molded itself in such a way as to be able to understand the screwdriver as a part of itself. Looked at this way, our hands are the greatest gateway to differentiated thinking and an accurate understanding of the world around us. What and how we build actually dictates how we think.

If the only tools left to us are keyboards and mice, what then our minds?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Top 10 Reasons To Not Be Human

10.  We ignore truths to suit our own laziness, hurting everything around us in the process.  Enjoy your commute to work in your SUV this morning.

9.   We really do breed like rabbits, unfortunately we don't die like them.

8.   After millennia of cruel dictatorial rule, we finally develop a system of representative government and half the people in it can't be bothered to even vote, let alone participate in a meaningful way.

7.   When we develop technology, a stunning percentage of us just get fat from it, and end up doing less.

6.   Everyone competing in a free market thinks that a monopoly is the goal.

5.   Many augmented human beings are just going end up being amplified ass holes.

4.   When given an opportunity to compete, many of us immediately cheat under the misconception that winning on paper is the point of playing a game.

3.   We prefer to blame other people for our own short comings. (or invent some if they don't have anything obvious - see #2)

2.   We invent differences in order to divide ourselves for our own, individual advantage (racism is purely selfish in nature).  Do you think all the black dogs hate the brown dogs?  (they wouldn't even if they weren't colour blind)

1.   We say we embrace change, but only if something embraces the change for us, we don't want to actually have to do something.

Monday, October 31, 2011

digital zombies

Working with Facebook Zombies...

  • I'm in the middle of a lesson on Hamlet (how different types of archetypal fathers are shown in the play, so pretty light stuff), when a student knocks on the door.  Interrupted, I walk over and open it.  He hesitates, and then asks where another teacher is.  I reply, "not here."  He begins to ask a question, hesitates, and pulls his smartphone out of his pocket in response to a Facebook update... while in the middle of the conversation in which he just interrupted thirty people.  I shut the door and try and remember what I was saying.  He is offended that I shut the door in his face.

  • after trying to pass the human verification test and failing to accurately type in the text half a dozen times, a frustrated student calls me over.  I watch her type in the pass-code wrong four more times.  During two of the attempts she stops what she's doing and clicks over to Facebook and types in responses to an ongoing chat before returning to mis-type the pass code again.  The computer no longer considers her to be a human being.  What will happen to these former humans in the future?
  • We're working on imovie editing when the internet goes down.  We have to have a 10 minute discussion about how the internet going down in no way prevents them from editing their videos.

  • I remove a student from their Mac because they aren't actually doing anything.  He moves to a non-computer table and pulls out his iphone and opens up... Facebook!

  • A student asks for help and I walk over to his desk.  He can't open WORD.  I ask him to show me what he's doing.  He goes to click on the WORD shortcut and misses it, opening up Facebook in his browser.  He minimizes it and goes to click on the WORD link and misses again, re-opening Facebook again.  He tries a third time and finally hits the WORD link (it was broken, we got it re-aimed).  I told him a Freud quote, "there are no accidents."

Got any special moments from working with the Facebook Zombie horde?

... and then I snapped.  Too much shear stupidity!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ignorance Isn't Bliss

The recent #epicfails of Apple and Blackberry this week point to the problem with full service, closed tech eco-systems.  The internet didn't go down, but Blackberry's centralized user access did.  The internet didn't go down, but Apple's 'only through us shall you see the light' centralized control was overloaded by its own success.

If all those users could kick off their BB and Apple training wheels and use the many avenues available to them to access data in the cloud, they wouldn't find themselves labouring under a despotic, closed ecosystem.  Of course that same ecosystem means their tech can be 'easy', 'intuitive' (a catch word for easy) and, most importantly, simple enough for people who don't really care how something works to use it.

This kind of trained ignorance results in people who call themselves technically literate, but don't know how to resolve an IP address when their DNS server isn't working.  Like most people behind the wheel of a car, they have no interest in how it works, yet consider themselves expert drivers.  If you're going to call yourself 'leading edge' and 'technically literate' you should be able to pick up any device because you understand their fundamentals.  Anyone who's an evangelist of a single source of technology and is only comfortable with that one source, especially one in a closed ecosystem, can't claim to have any real digital chops.

An expert driver can hop into a vehicle in Japan or the UK, with the controls reversed and the stick shift on the wrong side, and have it humming.  It's a lot easier to say you're an expert in your field of interest than it is to demonstrate it.  That driver understands vehicle fundamentals and only has to refocus some simple hand-eye habits to quickly acclimatize.  They have the confidence, knowledge and range of experience to quickly adapt.

I sometimes find my Android phone frustrating, but that's usually after I've wandered far from the manufacturer's suggested settings (something easy to do in this open-source environment).  I sometimes find Ubuntu frustrating when it doesn't do things as easily as I would like.  But in either case, I've never sat in the dark for three days wondering where my information went, or sat staring at a single point of failure that got overloaded when the ihordes came in waves.

Ease of use matters, no doubt, and software design only truly works when users are able to effectively operate the machines they are using.  What makes me anxious about the recent closed eco-system failures is that the vast majority of (l)users are trapped in systems designed to keep it simple for them, and they don't realize how dependent and unresilient they are in an otherwise massively complex technical eco-system.

No wonder hackers feel like they are in a forest of low hanging fruit.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Typical Mistake

From:  Orion Spur Civilisation Review
To: Earthlings
Re:  You've made a typical mistake

Greetings Earthlings,

We are a local pan-species research group looking at civilisations within the Orion Spur of the galactic structure.  We monitor over one hundred thousand civilisations across thousands of systems.  We are contacting you today to review your unfortunate situation.  Current estimates put the current human push to diaspora near the eightieth percentile for failure.

Unfortunately, an abnormally high number of civilisations fail at the stage you are likely about to fail at.  Your technological adolescence has given you dominion over the natural processes within your ecosystem, but you have failed to develop an adequate understanding of the consequences of your actions.  You've encouraged technological growth in order to satisfy basic animal needs for protection, procreation and comfort, without adequately accounting for their true costs.

Even though the data is very evidently in front of you, and becoming more obvious daily, your species' tendency towards wishful thinking over rational thought (and the fact that those beliefs often justify your immediate needs while injuring those out of sight), have put you in what we call a 'dead end'.

Typically, this plays out as a collapse of resources under the groaning weight of a ridiculous overpopulation.  Your species has, unfortunately, walked right into a classic 'dead end' scenario.  I/we estimate you have less than a century before your species undergoes a violent reduction in numbers at your own hands; 'a natural regulation of population to counter declining resources' is the technical terminology.  Your own species have undergone this cull in regional cases (Easter Island, your Roman Empire, among others), but this will be the first time it will happen on a global basis.

Evolutionary logic is quite clear: participating in a diaspora beyond your world is the logical goal of any species when they gain dominion over their local ecosystem.  If you overpopulate the only place in the cosmos you are able to reach, you will collapse within your own gravity well.  Your species' inability to grasp this simple truth, and instead squander your resource rich world on tribalism and personal comforts has resulted in a species particularly unsuited to the challenges of interstellar life.

I/we initially hoped for a stronger push towards sustained development and a rigorous, species-wide appreciation of the challenges of technological development.  Instead what we got was a few brilliant hairless apes coming up with very advanced technology and pushing it onto the rest of the population for their own gain.  The vast majority are more than happy to remain ignorant if it offers them an easy life.  They are even willing to ignore the disaster they are passing on to their own children in order to enjoy their ease.  The idea that people could benefit from technology without knowing anything about it (and therefore not being able to recognize its true cost) has buried your drive for the stars.

The problems with 'dead end' scenarios do not end with your (81.1% likely) immanent cull.  The damage caused to the ecosystem and the resource depletion of your initial failure make it exponentially harder for any future iterations your species' civilisation to achieve diaspora.  There are a number of civilisations we monitor that can offer little more than physical labour as their own innovative drive has been bred out of them by life in a resource depleted, depressed ecosystem.  These species are left to peter out, or are eventually tapped as a labour resource.  In either case, failing to develop your own species beyond your world puts you in a poor situation.

You won't ever experience an invasion, but interested parties monitor your world for your (increasingly immanent) failure, for their own benefit.  Dropping a heavy transport on your world to pick up docile, evolutionarily bankrupt humans will (likely) one day be your world's only export.

I've been observing your world since your 'great step forward', something now lost in your species' history.  It saddens me that a species that has created the arts and sciences you have in such a short time will flare out, but such is the nature of these brief bursts of light on the galactic rim.  Overcome by your own success, you will (likely) choke on your own lack of foresight.

I live in hope, but I fear for the future of my homo sapiens.

Please try and do better, time is of the essence.

Agralcabolac176, Hive-mind
Senior Research Associate

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dreaming of a place to hide

I'm in love with the Bruce Peninsula, so time to start dreaming about potential cottages:

Cheap and we could really work it over: I envision an off the grid, self sustaining cottage with this one. It's right on top of the escarpment, I'll be able to develop my Chinese Dragon Wind Kite Turbine Technology in a steady breeze! Nothing says the future like a quaint Victorian log cabin with a sixty foot chinese dragon kite drawing in electricity as it flies above.

I'll need that bank job to come through, then this!

Richard! Still feel like planning the perfect getaway?

Tucked up under the national park, deep in dark sky territory, this one looks more like a self sufficient compune! On 32 acres!!!

Workshop, garage, good sized house, someone already working on the raised potege! It's like it was designed for our weirdness! I'm seeing an observatory on that, something like:

With the darkest skies in Ontario, and a monster scope, I'll be able to see FOREVER! Muhahahaha! (while eating greens from my own garden)

Oh how I dream of dark skies and quiet nights.

No jackasses on Harley Davidsons driving down those dirt roads...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Car Camping: algorithmic analysis!

algorithmic analysis of camping trip:

Main criteria: is our 6yr old ready to camp? Yes...

- Slept like a log in the tent
- got familiar with the equipment
- loved being outdoors
- traveled well
- hiked over 5km in a day with plenty of energy
- handled 2 hour boat trip on Georgian Bay with no side effects

Is car camping an option now? No...

- trailer park motive not conducive to communing with nature;
- Listening to competing car radios in the wilderness = sucks
- Listening to sugar addled children freaking out at midnight because they apparently don't have a bedtime = sucks
- direct correlation between parental involvement and number of children they choose to have (more children = greater disinterest in actually parenting them)
- 3 or more untended children become a feral gang that is potentially cannibalistic (multiply possibility in direct proportion to the amount of sugar they are consuming. Children who administer their own sugar input = high likely hood of insanity)
- Listening to car alarms going off all night (why do you have your #*$&ing alarm set you jackass? You're SLEEPING NEXT TO IT!!!)
- Similar to being a refugee, but your neighbors are sugar addled idiots with SUVs, cheap beer and clouds of pot instead of quiet and starving, so worse that being a refugee.
- the hyena like laughter/bark of teenage girls trying to attract the attention of a mating partner made me feel like I was in some kind of bizarre human zoo exhibit.
- the garbage found thrown to the side of every trail we hiked reminds of how entitled and self absorbed are a significant portion of human population.
- praying for a thunderstorm so the hairless apes will turn off their electronics and go the f*** to sleep.

Future plan 1: partial outbound trip to a canoe-in camp site with no immediate neighbors.

Future plan 2: deep woods canoe/portage doing a circuit in Algonquin. Goal: see no hairless apes.

Silence is golden, you won't get much gold car camping.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Cost of Hope

The Space Shuttle program cost a total of $196 billion dollars, about half what the financial bailout in '08-'09 cost, and almost the same as the AIG bailout alone.

What did we get out of the Shuttle? An internationally cooperative program that put astronauts from many countries into orbit, opportunities in science that have changed our view of the universe (Hubble and many others), innumerable trickle down technologies from ceramics and computer systems to communications and aerodynamics. Then there are the thousands upon thousands of high-tech, specialized jobs, many of which are unique and world class in their execution.

What did we get out of the bailout? AIG executives got their corporate bonuses, we supported and kept alive a dysfunctional deregulated financial system that is doomed to repeat what it has already done. On the non-bank side, we floated two American car makers who were building inefficient, poorly designed vehicles that failed in the marketplace; in short, we supported incompetence.

I'm watching the last flight of Atlantis now on NASA TV. I've been watching Shuttles launch since Columbia launched when I was twelve years old in 1981. I was born a month before Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon, my entire life has been steeped in the mythology and imagery of space flight. I got teary then, and I'm teary now. What makes me emotional about this? Sure, it's expensive, but it's also a grand gesture, and shows what we are capable of as a species; nothing about banking or business does anything like that for me. When a Shuttle launches I see our future, not limited by greed and fossil fuels; we lift our gaze from our own navels and get a truer sense of our place in the scheme of things. This doesn't frighten me, it gives me hope; something else I've never gotten from the banking industry.

If they were trotting out Orion in the next year, I'd be happy that the Shuttle is being retired. But Orion isn't even out of the prototype stage, and is years away from flying. If our only goal is to fill the world with mediocrity and spend our genius on how to take money from each other, it never will reach the launch pad.

I fear, on a fundamental level, that Atlantis' last flight is really the death of Kennedy's dream of an America that takes bold steps, and moves the human spirit forward:

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..."

Said today, it would read, "we no longer choose to do the hard thing, we choose the easy thing, the thing that serves the greedy and short sighted, and satisfies mediocrity. We choose to surrender our role as a leader in the future hopes of humanity, and let others take those risks, and shoulder those burdens. In the meantime we will spend far more money supporting our debt, keeping dead people alive at all costs and killing people in foreign countries than we ever did boldly going where no one has gone before."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Some Thoughts on Sir Kenneth's Civilisation

Civilisation: A personal view by Kenneth Clark
BBC documentary from 1969, (the year I was born) on the development of Western Civilization.
I watched this because it has been (arguably) put forth as one of the greatest documentaries ever made. It was the first of a new breed of documentaries that presented an educated opinion rather than just being factual. In many places that opinion is both jarring and demands of the viewer the development of an opinion of their own.
I would highly recommend this series. It is challenging and cerebral in a way that few current programs are. The latest educational programming tends to shy away from opinion and speculation in favour of CGI special effects and gimmicks to explain mechanics. The site filming around some of the greatest pieces of architecture and art are also breathtaking... and you get to see a young Patrick Stewart doing some Shakespeare complete with hair. Civilisation can be seen on youtube and found online in many places.
Here are some of the moments in the series that spoke loudest to me, along with my own thoughts on the matter. Where possible I write what was said, the time into the episode it was said, and offer a link where you can watch it.
“I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room.”
This episode about the pomp and splendour of enlightenment Italy ends with a memorable scene in which Clark talks about how vacuous and trivial much of the art this wealthy period produced actually was. He ends with observations about the salon culture of the time and the obsession that many of the richest had with creating the largest, most grandiose salons in which to hold gatherings.
Clark’s idea that we can develop ideas that can forward the human spirit, the fact that there is indeed a human spirit at all, is very comforting to me. One of the pitfalls of being a post modern man is that I tend to see humanity not as a caste of fallen angels capable of miracles, but rather as an overly intelligent, viral horde of naked apes intent on destroying their own world for selfish, individual gain.
Our economic system is a vicious joke designed to consume itself again and again while we hold ourselves enthralled by it. It relies on permanent growth that must be exponential if we are to deem it successful. It is a disaster by any analysis; a necessary evil that we force on ourselves to explain and justify our empty existence, much like we used to do with religion. As soon as we developed sufficient technology to make nature seem irrelevant, this was inevitable. But at least with religion we are left with artistic works of edifying brilliance that speak to the creative ingenuity of our species. Our current gospel of materialism and greed will leave us with landfills of happy meals and plastic toys.
In this final scene, as the camera pans away from Clark in a room that appears large, then huge, then enormous, then mind numbingly, tediously gigantic, I couldn’t help but realize that we, as a species, will keep doing what we’re doing until we’ve destroyed everything we have. We’ll never stop because ultimately, we think that self regulation is a kind of failure; a failure of the imagination, a failure of our success as people individually. We are voraciously turning the world into that giant room.
But somewhere I’m going to hold to the idea that a quiet me, in a small room, with no extravagance or ostentation, can do some small thing to advance the human spirit, because I hope, one day, we’ll be able to prune and tend to that spirit, and see it as something noble and personally meaningful, rather than a viral disaster. Civilization requires growth, and some sense of continuity. We’re throwing the entire world into a pot and watching it boil. If continuity is broken, so is any future chance of civilization; the rebirth can’t be too catastrophic, or it will end in death.
“Shopping is not art.”
“Purchased experiences aren’t genuine.”
(A book that puts its finger on how I’m feeling about our pre-any meaningful awareness culture.)
“In the world of action a few things are obvious, so obvious I hesitate to repeat them. One of them is our increasing reliance on machines. They have really ceased to be tools and have begun to give us directions. And unfortunately, machines from the Maxim gun to the computer are, for the most part, means by which an authoritarian regime can keep men in subjection.”
I’m a big fan of technology, but only when it empowers, not when it limits human development. I’m seeing the way technology is being adopted by many people in their everyday lives to be not so different from the authoritarian science fiction of the twentieth century; Huxley and Orwell ring loudly in this quote.
A smaller world has meant greater control. Records of people in all countries have reached new depths of detail, and while strident attempts to regulate and protect privacy have been made in many western cultures, they have been eroded most recently by the individual desire to become famous online. The digital mob is the latest in a series of evolutions surrounding personal electronics and public spaces. You can’t observe an event without seeing huge numbers of people in it recording it for their own purposes.
The recent Vancouver riots were recorded by many people, and have resulted in a reflexive look at how we monitor our behaviour. Orwell and Huxley both hinted at this willingness to support the state at a personal level by observing and recording our fellow citizens. In this case, it is bringing people to justice, but it is a small step from recording for your own use to calling a dodgy cell phone video valid evidence.
Many assumptions are tied in with technology use, and many of them tend to support the ignorance and expectations of simpletons. The vast majority monitor the population with their personal electronics in hopes of seeing someone do something stupid that will advance their own standing as a purveyor of culture (but what an empty, vapid culture it is). In the natural course of things, electronics will continue to enhance the ideas of whatever person handles them. Videos will auto-edit to specific moments (probably requiring an angry kitten and someone being kicked in the crotch). I’ve seen people observe these asinine moments repeatedly online with no thought for meaning or a narrative; these moments have become an end in themselves.
In a vast electronic sea of stupidity we now revel as a species. Work is considered beneath us, we must game at everything. If it isn’t play, it’s meaningless, even cruel. We don’t care for developing a discipline any more, why bother? If we’re just looking for a knee-jerk laugh or repeated stupidity that engages our lowest sense of humour, why develop story? Or meaning? Or an extended, complex understanding of... anything?
The electronic medium that continues to surround us and is supposed to enhance us does more to take us away from simple truths and, for the digital serf in a digital mob, is merely a replacement for television; a tool used to pacify and encourage a sedentary population. And now it’s a means of social control as well.
I’m not saying that the electronic medium can’t be used to enhance the human experience, merely that the vast majority of ignorant people who are enhanced by it, are enhanced idiots who are louder and more influential than any idiots in history.
In this miasma, governments will be able to mine data and organize their societies with greater accuracy and control than ever before. Sir Kenneth is bang on with this one.
“We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion just as effectively as by bombs.”
From his last monologue before the end of the series, Clark has just read Yates’ “The Second Coming”:, what he fears is a prophetic poem.
Said during the middle of the cold war (as I mentioned before, the year I was born), the idea of destruction by bombs resonates with anyone alive in the later half of the Twentieth Century. Throughout the series Clark has talked about how Western Civilization hasn’t been a continual evolution but rather a series of rebirths.
Genius can’t exist in a continuum, but works on a natural cycle of growth, destruction and rebirth. As I sit here listening to legions of lawn mowers destroying the air and see rows of SUVs in driveways pointing to a meaningless and even damaging expression of wealth, I’m reminded of those giant rooms, and how disinterested most people are in change.
When I listen to educators talking earnestly about harnessing the power of games to create an enthralled classroom of students, or pre-empting fun itself in order to use it as a tool for indoctrination in an industrialized system, I realize that we aren’t interested in genius. We aren’t interested in developing disruptive thinkers (a natural by product of genius). What we want is mediocrity at a consistent level, a measurable level. Once the bar is set, we want to work to the bar again and again; systematized thinking breeding the perfect system. Clark’s angles on mechanization and big-room thinking all play to this.
We’ve made the world into one of those giant rooms. We stifle creativity with lawyers and encourage mediocrity in thinking in education, business and government. We encourage citizens to be sedentary, servile and uninformed. We use their ignorance to sell them what they don’t need, with no regard for what it is costing their own descendents; we glorify greed as a virtue. Ignorance creates governments of convenience, incapable of tackling the pressing issues of our time.
Our current civilization will collapse in a spectacular implosion of ignorance, fuelled by the digital mob’s insistence on business as usual, and machines in big rooms will make it happen, unless we choose to redevelop what it means to be human.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Suburban Hell

A friend sent this along the other day.

I sit here listening to no less than 6 gas powered, uncatalyzed lawn mowers making perfect lawns,
What virtue are we promoting?
Slug like men melting on riding mowers,
Spindly blue hairs firing up gas mowers to cut less than 100 square feet of grass,
A two stroke cacophony burning the world.

People spraying dandelions flat,
Hating any change to a senseless aesthetic.
Fight nature, it won't fight back.
Lightning and downdrafts,
Shaking us off.

Suburban Perfection: Shear stupidity

"Under current standards, in an hour a push mower will produce the same HC+NOx as a car driven 257 miles, and the same CO as one driven 401 miles. To put it another way, assuming a car averages 40 miles per hour, a push mower produces more HC+NOx than six cars and the same CO as ten." LINK

And yet, when I tell my suburbanite neighbor that I am trying to maintain a zero carbon lawn, he looks at me like I'm insane.

Pretty Grass: reason 12,304 that we are doomed as a species.