updates are revisions of dogma
October 25, 2015, 12:10 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

Scientism / athiesm / homo economicus is the unassailable three person godhead of our time. Even if things in general are going very badly, and the scientists, atheist and MBA/ economists have all of the power and are making all of the decisions, we still can’t and won’t blame the godhead. Tyson, Nye, Dawkins, Maher, Greenspan are the robed flunkies who design and administer the sacraments in the temple of techno materialist positivism. We follow in lock step.

It is breathtaking that STEM – science, technology engineering and mathematics – our education policy du jour, leaves out the humanities, the very antecedent of freedom. The fundamentalisms of markets, analysis, reason and tech, have replaced and erased history and the arts.

In the seventeenth century we suffocated under the yoke of religion and yearned for reason; today our god is technology and we pine for mystery.

It is hard now to recreate a sense of the almost complete impossibility of not being a religious believer in seventeenth-century England. But as I enter the Apple Store, symmetrically laid out with its central entrance door and an attractively illuminated high table at the far end, a parallel comes to mind. Digital technology seems to fill a large part of the mental space we reserve for faith. (Art, which is often put up as a candidate, is the opium only of a minority.) We depend on technology for the smooth running of our daily lives, if not for our salvation. We make obeisance to it, we feel obliged to buy into the whole package, rather than selecting and rejecting individual technologies. There is the familiar choice between minutely differentiated sects (Apple or Microsoft), but all must share the same basic creed. Upgrades are like revisions of dogma in which we have no say, but which we are bound to go along with anyway. To reject the technological is to declare oneself a heretic, a position as inconceivable now as declaring oneself an atheist in the 1600s.

Richard Dawkins’ moralizing atheism: Science, self-righteousness and militant belief — and disbelief
I agree with Dawkins more often than I do with the church. So why do I find Dawkins the more annoying?
Hugh Aldersey-Williams

hope of an outside world
January 28, 2011, 12:46 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

“I’ve heard it will be [epic],” said Miss Emily the head mistress from the stage of a gloomy auditorium to a rapt audience of beautiful well behaved English school children.  This is the daily meeting at the boarding school called Hailsham during the 1980s in south England.  And a spontaneous cheer rips through the room, one of the few moments of raw group emotion in the new film Never Let Me Go based on Ishiguro’s novel of the same name.

And, true to her word, in the very next scene, a truck pulls into the school yard and two men unload cardboard boxes past a cluster of kids and into the school.  A little blond girls asks one of them, “Is it [epic]?,” and the man — he seems in on a joke — says that yes it is.  Another emotional flare as the small cluster jump up and down squealing with delight.  The men are wry and hesitant; they look like farmers.

And it turns out the box carriers were in on a rather sick joke:  the contents of the boxes, worn out, used toys and play equipment and cassette tapes and comic books and general brikabrak are strewn over long tables in a large hall and the students excitedly barter for them with chips they have been saving.  These worn sad things, the objects of our acquisitive lives, are to these children the hope of an outside world.

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January 14, 2011, 6:58 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

This excerpt by Erich Fromm describes necrophilia in terms of sadism, control, work and technology.  Necrophilia is literally love of death, which on its face sounds absurd, until we realize, with a closer look, that it’s actually a description of our lives.

In an advanced stage capitalist society like this one Fromm’s observations about money and ownership resonate.  Ideological intractable views about ownership show an unwillingness to define our relationships in human, living terms.  Are they necrophilic?

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brave new google world
November 12, 2010, 10:19 pm
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A vision of the future from the CEO of Google.  Is this why antitrust is so important: to stop the psychopathologization of the increasingly powerful tech leader?  I’m going to try to distill the ideas.

Big Tech is omniscient, in the world, in the mind.

We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.

We don’t know what to do with ourselves.  Big technology doesn’t serve (by merely giving answers); it tells you what to do.  This is an interesting servant / served inversion.

I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions /…/ They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.

Big Technology is a marmy scold.  Again ideally it controls you.

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

The serious goal is, just remember, when you post something, the computers remember forever.

Big Technology promises freedom, from the things that bind us like social convention, family, the law.

I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time … every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.

[people who take issue with their homes appearing online] “can just move” [after Google cars photograph their homes or businesses.]

Big Technology proposes a context of fear and – like magic – protection from it.

In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you… We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.

We are responsible for dealing with the actions of big Technology.  They take on no responsibility for them.  We clean up any messes they incur.

We do worry that as this [personal] information gets collected, it becomes a treasure trove. /…/ In the worst possible case /…/ we know everything you’re doing and the government can track you./…/ Part of the way I answer the question “How do you trust Google?” is the moment we did something untrustworthy to any one of you, everyone of you would know within 5 nanoseconds, and it would be come the conversation in the room and you all would move very quickly to a competitive choice.

Big Tech’s baseline belief is that we don’t know what we want, and that we need them.  We never have before, but this is a new world, a brave … you know.

The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation. /…/ The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as “What shall I do tomorrow?” and “What job shall I take?” /…/ We cannot even answer the most basic questions because we don’t know enough about you. That is the most important aspect of Google’s expansion.

Big Tech improves on your feeble body and mind – the stuff you were born with.  It’s like a software update, it finds and replaces drives that no longer work.  Like human emotion and memory.

It’s a future where you don’t forget anything /…/In this new future you’re never lost … We will know your position down to the foot and down to the inch over time … Your car will drive itself, it’s a bug that cars were invented before computers … you’re never lonely … you’re never bored … you’re never out of ideas.  [Schmidt called this scenario] an augmented version of humanity.

-Eric Schmidt CEO of Google

Tech geeks are now in charge and making decisions that affect public and intimate and really all areas of our lives.  And the best part?  Noone, noone cares.

urban imagination image
March 13, 2010, 2:11 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

The tools are there but not the vision for building great cities, says Richard Sennett in his article The Open City.  Where have we heard this before, the tools but not the vision?  Everywhere it seems, in this structure phobic world we tenuously occupy.  We’re post structure, what’s the use of vision if we can have endless iterations of technique?

Sennett also says that not only will all-the-technology-in-the-world not fill the vision void that keeps us from building good cities, but this detail and technology driven model is making cities that tend to control urban life, when a truly good city is one that is evolving and open and – in that good vibrant way – uncontrollable.

Here is an excerpt from Sennett’s The Open City:

The cities everyone wants to live in should be clean and safe, possess efficient public services, be supported by a dynamic economy, provide cultural stimulation, and also do their best to heal society’s divisions of race, class and ethnicity.  These are not the cities we live in.  They fail on all these counts due to government policy, irreparable social ills and economic forces beyond local control.  The city is not its own master.  Still, something has gone wrong – radically wrong – in our perception of what a city should be.  We need to imagine just what a clean, safe, efficient, dynamic, stimulating, just city would look like concretely; we need those images to confront critically our masters with what they should be doing – and precisely this critical imagination of the city is weak.  This weakness is a particularly modern problem:  the art of designing cities declined drastically in the middle of the twentieth century.  In saying this, I am propounding a paradox, for today’s planner has an arsenal of technological tools – from lighting to bridging to tunnelling to materials for buildings – that urbanists even 100 years ago could not begin to imagine.  We have more resources to use than ever before, but we simply do not use them creatively.

This paradox can be traced to one big fault.  That fault is over-determination, both of the city’s visual forms and its social functions.  The technologies that make experiment possible have been subordinated to a regime of power that wants order and control.


In particular, what is missing in modern urbanism is a sense of time – not time looking back nostalgically but forward-looking time:  the city understood as process, its imagery changing through use, an urban imagination image formed by anticipation, welcoming surprise.

The Open City, Richard Sennett


author:  Richard Sennett

essay:  The Open City