Sunday, May 9, 2021

Proximity to Greatness; Revisiting Benjamin Bratton by Way of Elon's Mom

Asynchronously along with Pynchon and Heller, apparently, I write while reading William Gaddis' The Recognitions. One of my co-readers of Benjamin Bratton's The Stack tests my memory by, perhaps, misusing Bratton's use of the proto pragmatist term "haecceity." while referring to himself. This is, of course, what Gaddis worries throughout his massive book. Both books deserve to be designated tomes.

Of course there is no authentic essential self qua self. There is no haecceity of "me." We are rather more like subatomic particles, whose proper haecceity is questionable at best. As persons, we are far too much impinged upon, by language by culture, by situation at the very least.

So I want and need to apologize for calling Bratton's work "masculinist," which it most assuredly is. I make the designation rather deliberately, after some consideration. I am proven correct by Bratton's move from his descriptive masterpiece immediately on to action. He has called the action "terraforming," as in how are we to take charge of our future by analog to how we may populate distant planets.

I am beset, to say the least, with anxiety about our collective futures myself. Insurrectionists feel nothing of abashed to rail and curse at the presiding judge in a court of law. I must wonder if all flat-earther anti-vaxxer (or is it just vaxxer?) global warming deniers actually do see airplanes as Unidentified Flying Objects, because they cannot, apparently, see them as abiding by natural law.

Did we walk on the moon? Or shall I say who is this "we" white man? China will build a high-speed rail to the moon while we dither about our liberties. Free speech meaning, apparently, freedom to express hatred out loud and full-throated, as that black fellow did yesterday when I ran a light on my bicycle as he was heading out to cross a downtown street with family. I the only traffic. Well, until the pandemic ends and all the new builds become infilled. Let us pray. My apologies!

Meanwhile it does seem impossible that actual people, in droves, will release their religious beliefs. These things take generations, which is more than it takes for a young Marissa Meyer, just to take one example, to move from ballet to tech titan in a relative blink in time. 

We will make the transition to post-technology because we must, but we won't make it by way of technology for sure. What in the hell do I mean by that? Isn't anti-tech right up there with anti-vaxxing? I guess it's all in the meaning of "by way of," just like seeing "through" a telescope also requires some definition. Is it by means of or by virtue of its transparency?

Well, I'm focusing on the matrix, the ground for human being and therefore for human action. What any technology, and in particular digital technology, cannot do is to steer clear of the transformation of humanity which is its ground. 

Masculinist renditions of humanity are concerned with man as pilot, in control of spaceship earth. We relate merit to some invisible but measurable factor which we broadly designate as intelligence; that thing which Bratton and Gaddis have in spades.

Now I am no denier of natural law, or even of secular law for that matter. By bicycle I only mean to maximize my personal survival chances, which are hardly optimized by my acting - as law would have it - as a car. Mostly, the authorities give me a pass. Well, I am white.

China, historically, has been the feminine side of global history. At the very least, "merit" in Chinese terms has always been a moral quality, which is necessarily different from a quality of pure intellect. I suppose that I don't really know what poetry is, in distinction from any other form of making, but I do know that there is none without some emotional valence. Traditionally, Chinese leaders have been selected for their poetic prowess.

Confucius' rehabilitation notwithstanding, we're still all hangovers from patriarchy. Or rather, Confucius, case in point. Father always does know best and workers must be surveilled if they are to be productive. Yeah, right. Unless they're the mostly men in charge, and rich beyond measure for that.

My beef with science as the progressive process of uncovering natural law - on the model of Michelangelo uncovering the latent slave in the marble, perhaps - is that it relieves us of choice in our actions. The law is the law is the law. And no artist can be original, of course. Gaddis the Michelangelo of writing, as he himself might announce.

I accept that natural law is universal, but I can't accept ( can I?) that the universe must extend beyond those pasts that we can see through our various telescopes. Beyond that is the cosmos which must remain beyond the singularity of what we call the Big Bang. The first origination. 

We can't get to our past, and by the time we get to someplace with the same happenstance that we have to have tossed enough dice to get a monkey writing Shakespeare, the place we were to get to would be gone.

Or in other words, my matrix is not merely physical and thereby logical. I call it mine, because, apart from the brain-dead religionists, I can find no one else to share it with. I use the term "brain" advisedly, because I don't much find my own mind to be contained within my brain within its skull. Mine spreads through the preserved written word at least, and through all the accidents of evolutionary history right back to our origins. No patriarchy between me and what you might call God. Or so I do aspire.

And so my friends, and yes Virginia (my mom whom I'm rushing my writing for the sake a paying her a visit in memory care on Mother's day), I am optimistic about our collective future not because we will repair our ways - a dismal prospect admitting only of despair - but because our ways will fix us. 

Bratton sets for himself and for us an impossible prospect, whose horizon looms far too near. We will not and cannot learn to legislate all the articulations in the time-frame required even to relieve the earth of man-made global warming no matter how much money people may gather for their technological fever dreams. All in the name of doing well by doing good, I suppose.

No, the meaning of technology, if there is one, must be purely ironic. It is we who are operated upon, and not the world around us. It is therefore we who will be transformed in a wink. The world has its own ways without us, and we are not equal.

It has, after all, been only a relative wink, since the time of Christ, let's say, before we overran the earth on the basis of our amoral intelligence. The thesis of WEIRD beats Bratton for its universality for sure. 

What, you think that we ever listened to the messaging of Christ's love? Warfare, colonial conquest, apocalyptic renderings of natural atomic law? Are these what Christ meant by love? Hate your neighbor if they're not like you?

We will re-discover love with shocking suddenness. Shocking enough to make all the recent - industrial, scientific, cybernetic, and now biotech - revolutions seem like slow-motion renderings. We shall release patriarchal structures because we must, and nothing to do with the utterly debased labor theory of value. That sort of value now is purely ephemeral. No new crowns need be minted for our wealthy nobility. They will be dethroned by loss of interest. What, after all, could be more banal than the richest person in the world as MC of Saturday Night Live. Following on the most powerful.

Well, OK, so I don't really think that humanity's highest aspiration should be to get high on Mars-flight and population of the known universe. I mean, sure it would be a diversion from a fully wrecked earth. Call me conservative, but I think we need to get our house in order before we even think about going off in space. But to be fair, Elon didn't entirely suck on SNL. And he brought his mom on, in anticipation of today.

So why am I so optimistic? Because the scientific method itself has already exposed love as a cosmic "force." What do you think all those random events of evolution mean? We are reluctant to let go of our certainties is all. Anyone who has actually experienced what they call "God" knows God's reality. The mistake we always make is to allow someone else - generally a man, in the past tense - to make sense of that reality. To bring it under control.

Generally, that's for more manly power here on earth. Men would like to tell you what you must do if you are to survive. We're insecure that way, and don't feel validated unless other people listen to us, and behave as we direct them to.

Anyhow, the cliff-hanger for me is that we need to rediscover love way before we start to deploy CRISPR technology (invented, of course, by a woman - I'm in line at the Library for the book - can't wait!) against humanity. I use the term "against" in the way that a computer scientist might, not the way a warrior would, please.

We will not overcome mortality in this or any other lifetime. Living is no longer living when it's regulated in advance. That would be called death, in a universal permanent sense, in just the way that travesty of a film Tenet rehearsed the brave new apocalypse. I mean it was fun, but really?

Anyhow, sorry Benjamin, if I hurt your feelings. I'm just simply not filled with hope by the prospect of our getting control over ourselves. That sort of hope just feels like insanity. I am optimistic that life will prevail. Well, OK, so that's a no brainer. But I do mean human life.


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