I awoke the other morning with an insight. It was one of those forehead-slapping moments when you realise you’ve been seeing the truth of something all along but never really recognised it until that moment. After years of pouring through books and essays on the riddle of the technological system, the role of propaganda within that system, and the meaning of the technocrat (and of “technocratic shamanism”), I suddenly realised that it all boiled down to a simple contradiction between the machine-world’s requirement for the “well-adjusted individual”, but life’s and the culture’s drive for the “well-rounded personality”, by which is meant the fulfilled, the complete, the whole.
It became quite clear to me, in that moment of revelation, that when I thought back over all the critiques of the technological system or the “Megamachine”, that this was the essential issue and tension in society — the well-rounded against the merely well-adjusted. Let’s unwrap that a bit further.
One of the main reasons that there is such an investment in artificial intelligence today is owing to the belief that society has become too complex for human beings to adequately manage, and therefore has become unsustainable. The attempts to turn human beings into multi-taskers or induce men and women to be “more productive” attests to that growing complexity, but the results were, and remain, very unsatisfactory in terms of stress and human well-being. The belief is, that robots are much better multi-taskers, do not fatigue, and are more adept at handling complexity. Artificial intelligence is conceived as a techno-fix for Overwhelm and for the problem of managing complexity and assuring sustainability and continued growth. Something akin to “fate” is at work here.
“All work, the genuine work which we must achieve, is that which is most difficult and painful: the work on ourselves. If we do not freely take upon ourselves this pre-acceptance of the pain and torment, they will be visited upon us in an otherwise necessary individual and universal collapse. Anyone disassociated from his origin and his spiritually sensed task acts against origin. Anyone who acts against it has neither a today nor a tomorrow.” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin
There is a very heart-rending video making the news of a starving polar bear on Baffin Island. It is in its final moments of life. The film crew spoke of their “soul-crushing” anguish at the spectacle of the starving bear, fighting through their tears to film the poor creature’s slow, agonising death. As one of the film-makers states, it haunts him still, with a warning that this is just a foretaste of things to come.
There is a profound lesson in this tragedy, and it brought to my mind that quote from Gebser about taking upon ourselves, too, the pain and torment of a dying world. What Gebser means by that quote is also the meaning of the compassionate, for compassion is also pain and anguish and a deep sense for the tragical aspect of life. Our hedonistic/consumerist times, on the other hand, aim to dodge this sense of the tragic and the painful which must necessarily also be a suppression of compassion. In the death of the polar bear by starvation, we see the first of the Buddha’s noble truths as well, which is the awakening to the sense of the tragic. Life is dukkha.
As an undergraduate at university, my chief area of interest was the history of propaganda. I was particularly interested in how propaganda affected, or interfered with, consciousness and perception such that “false consciousness” (ie delusion) could become a social problem.
Even after I graduated, I continued in my studies of propaganda. Around 1999, though, I began to feel I had taken my studies about as far as I could and felt I wasn’t making any further progress in my understanding. I came to the conclusion that I needed to expand my horizons and deepen my understanding of the matter by situating the phenomenon of propaganda, as a technology of social and psychological manipulation and control, within the broader historical context of the history and philosophy of science and technology. So, in 2000, I returned to university to further my studies in the history and philosophy of science and technology as these pertained to culture and consciousness.
“We stand, I believe, with a clearing ahead of us. The exhaustion of Modernism, the aridity of Communist life, the tedium of the unrestrained self, and the meaninglessness of the monolithic political chants, all indicate that a long era is coming to a slow close. The impulse of Modernism was to leap beyond: beyond nature, beyond culture, beyond tragedy — to explore the apeiron, the boundless, driven by the self-infinitizing spirit of the radical self.
We are groping for a new vocabulary whose keyword seems to be limits: a limit to growth, a limit to the spoilation of the environment, a limit to arms, a limit to the tampering with biological nature. Yet, if we seek to establish a set of limits in the economy and technology, will we also set a limit to the exploration of those cultural experiences which go beyond moral norms and embrace the demonic in the delusion that all experience is ‘creative’? Can we set a limit to hubris? ” (Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Foreword 1978, p. xxix)
Owing to my distressed kidneys, I’m periodically required to have lab work performed by the local hospital, which I did today. The nurses’ station there also regularly posts “fun facts” about this or that subject. Today’s “fun facts” were about dreams, and so while the nurse was draining me of my precious bodily fluids we engaged in some banter about their posted “fun facts” and dreaming.
Afterwards, it occurred to me that I might also share that conversation with the readers of The Chrysalis, as it just might also aid you in gaining insight into your own dreams, and perhaps even why you dream at all.