Monday, January 13, 2020

A Future Full of Hope - Finally, and Thanks Benjamin Bratton

I have to take this pause for a commercial message. I seem to have lost my energy for reading this morning, and reading Benjamin Bratton is really hard. He calls his new project The Terraforming, and I enter into it with a heap of loathing and trepidation. I did read his epic tome The Stack a couple of years ago, and have successfully evangelized it to a few people who I thought might read it and be willing to plow through the thick sociological jargon (which honestly does seem excessively and unnecessarily dense sometimes, but I'm not exactly on solid ground to complain).

I couldn't find any politics in The Stack, and made what has turned out to be the grave mistake to assume that Bratton is one of those brain dead libertarian type believers in the glories of a future in technology. I have since learned that he's friends with Kim Stanley Robinson - a science fiction writer who paints fairly optimistic futures - and that Bratton does have politics and is even fairly sympathetic to the politics of China, which we are all still being taught to fear.

I found many of these things out by way of Twitter, Which I sneak glimpses at now and then in the midst of my fasting away from Facebook and other evil tech. Bratton is one of maybe five people I follow.

My sense of our collective future has been blinded for sure in the same mist of my anxiety that at some point there will be a cap I'll have to deal with on the endless spigot of email that comes in my name - almost none of which I look at, thanks to filters that are almost good enough.

And the anxiety that all recoverable traces of who I really am, in writing and in pictures, are now swallowed up in a big unchartable digital pile.That's why I write here, in fact, just in case I want to recover myself. Can you even imagine how much work that would be?

I think I've learned how not to care by reading Michael Pollan on what happens to the mind on psilocybin. It makes me care less about constructing a more durable "I" (even though I've managed to start each paragraph with "I" today. Oh well, I just turned on Google's enhanced spell checker because I've stopped caring about what that evil company does with and to and by means of my personalty. Some day I'll just ask them who I am and maybe they'll tell me (meaning that some AI bot will give me a quick summary which will be more clear than what I can say about myself, just like I'll be able to ask the credit agency what cars I owned and when. Yeah, right.

I digress.

The point is (phew, no "I") that this twisty dense thinker and writer is giving me hope about the future of the earth. I begin to imagine a world where we on this continent actually celebrate China getting to the dark side of the moon and follow that action with the same proud interest that the Chinese do. Of course I've long dreamed of a future where Chinese is the universal written language, just because it's so damned durable and limitless for what can be described by its means.

I feel less stuck in the dystopian moment of our collective contemporary lives. Trump and his ilk (he has a lot of ilk, some of them screaming from Iran now) feel so temporary. The shock treatment will leave future humans (who will probably talk a lot the way AOC does) so much more chill. So much more accepting of any and all others, less bent on self-aggrandizement and their personal brand, and able to find the grace and beauty in shapes and styles for humans that aren't mediated by some future Hollywood sex factory. We'll care a lot less about getting off and a lot more about getting on with one another.

How does Bratton do this? He does it by cleaning up the terminology, getting rid of all the nonsense in usages that pit "artifice" against "nature," my God against yours and more. So much more. Instead of being anxious about what technology is currently about, he looks through that by means of an almost ruthless clear-eyed look at how tech is actually being deployed now. Most of us are too afraid to look. It feels of a piece with climate change, as though tech in aggregate is some out of control life force that will soon gobble up the planet.

Which, of course, it is. But that's because of the rocket fuel of the virus of money which is in turn grounded in how each of us sees yourself. Bratton points out by his near absolute clarity of vision, that tech has already provided us with nearly everything we need to calm the planet and give it a new lease on life. As we all do secretly know, it's not what we have, it's how we use it. That's where politics comes in.

In the end, it's about how we construct our collective narratives. Oddly enough, also in the end, he may be nudging me away from AOC's politics, which have been my politics. The thing is that I'm confident that AOC will continue to inform herself and change. Trump's ilk doesn't know how to do that. They can't and won't let go of a set of beliefs - all ego focused - that cannot but destroy the planet.

Ahhh, now maybe I can continue the hard hard work of understanding. It's a bitch to carry all that weight on my aging shoulders. But I shall soldier on for as long as I am able. One thing's for sure, those Chinese are going to like us Americans again. Now there is a short-term dream to live for. Something I can imagine experiencing even in my life time. Let's at least, please, give our kids that much; a future which looks better the more clear-eyed you look at it, and not so scary you'd rather look away and keep your vision merely local.

We need to get it together, people, and stop hating on each other. Less holding on to beliefs and more just doing good. And way less self-indulgence. Well, except for taking time out to binge-watch Don't F**k with Cats. Ouch! Fleabag is so much better since it doesn't deal with things you have to avert your eyes from. Or does it? Hell, I don't know. I only know I'd never hate anyone for their politics or religion unless and until those espouse hate. Which many do now. Stop this endless loop, please!

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