Transhumanism: A Theology of the Megamachine

Meghan O’Gieblyn, in today’s Guardian, has written a pretty fascinating semi-autobiographical account of her “deconversion” from Christianity, her deep despair and Angst that followed that loss of faith and identity, and the temptations that “transhumanism” held for her as a surrogate faith and substitute theology. “God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism” describes what can only be called a theology for Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine”.

It’s strange kismet, because last night I was obsessing, for some reason, over an early Pink Floyd song called “See Emily Play“, playing it over and over again trying to discover the meaning of who and what was “Emily”. The surrealistic Emily, I was convinced, bore some resemblance to the mood of Lily Allen’s song “The Fear” (as I discussed that earlier in “The Concretion of the Spiritual“). And it was in Meghan O’Gieblyn’s article that the two themes came together. There is something very profound about the human condition struggling to emerge into consciousness in “See Emily Play”, in “The Fear” and in O’Gieblyn’s “strange journey into transhumanism”.

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Calling Time on Neo-Liberalism

Quite a few social observers are now calling time on neo-liberalism, particularly after the market meltdown of 2008. I’ve noted a few: Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End?, Yanis Varoufakis’s The Global Minotaur, Peter Pogany’s Rethinking the World, Jennifer Welsh’s The Return of History, as well as quite a few I’ve yet to catch up on in my reading. All suggest that the financial crisis of 2008 represents an unrecoverable system failure for neo-liberalism. However, the apparent demise of neo-liberalism (or Thatcherism, Reaganism and so on) isn’t necessarily true also of the Megamachine.

They say one shouldn’t kick one’s foe when he’s on the ground, but I can’t resist getting in a couple of swift ones against a foe, neo-liberalism, that has irritated and annoyed me most of my adult life. It’s cathartic. I might be accused of whipping a dead horse, here, but it’s also true that a whole lot of people are still under the spell of neo-liberalism — ready even to sacrifice themselves for it’s sake — which is why some people speak of “zombie logic”, “voodoo economics” and such. It’s only the ghost of neo-liberalism — or the ghost of Maggie Thatcher — that wanders like a lost soul over the face of the Earth.

So, let’s see how this malignancy developed in the first place so we can be rid of it — exorcise the ghost — once and for all.

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Trudeau, Liberalism, and Climate Change

Bill McKibben has an interesting take-down article in today’s Guardian on Canada’s Sunshine Boy (and his “Sunny Ways” politics), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet.”)

It’s worth taking note of (though perhaps for other reasons than Mr. McKibben makes note of — the self-contradictions of Mr. Trudeau’s government and the Liberal Party). The article highlights the quandary within which all of us are presently embedded and the fumbling, muddling and quite ineffective attempts to reconcile those contradictions; contradictions which, in Wolfgang Streeck’s estimation, already presage the breakdown and demise of the Megamachine ( “How Will Capitalism End?“), which corresponds, equally, to Jean Gebser’s disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure.  Trudeau’s quandary and dilemma — which is the quandary and dilemma not just of Liberalism, but of all ideology today — is exemplary of that.

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The Politics of Streetfighting

There is a widespread belief — the virtual “common sense” — that politics is war, and war by other means. I hold that belief to be only a symptom of the degeneracy of the intellect and of the disintegration — the “deficiency” and decadence — of the modern mind, the mental-rational consciousness structure, as Gebser describes it. The irresponsibility of our politicians (and not just our politicians) lies in this fact, that when you believe that politics is war by other means, you should not be surprised, or feign disgust, when streetfighting becomes the norm of politics. It’s the karmic law. It’s only a decadent politics that thinks of itself as “warfare”.  But once you travel down that path, you have to live with the consequences as a fate.

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Mumford’s Megamachine and the Disposable Human

Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine” is quite real in one sense (and quite unreal in another) — a semi-autonomous system that strives towards its ideal of full autonomous functioning, and, with the tech-revolution and artificial intelligence, is on the cusp of realising itself as such. It has no lack of “handmaidens” (Varoufakis’s phrase in The Global Minotaur) or “courtiers” (Chomsky’s description) to help it realise itself as such either.

The Megamachine has a long developmental history, and we could easily trace its maturation following Mumford’s four stages of realisation or maturation of an idea — from Formulation, through Incarnation, through Incorporation, to its mature phase “Embodiment“. But to the Megamachine (and its handmaidens) living beings are simply an irrelevancy, and human beings are as disposable and dispensible as BIC pens are And if you read contemporary economics schemes it’s as though human beings are not just irrelevant to the purposes of “economy”, but are practically considered inconvenient parasites on the body and the functioning of the perfect machine.

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Mumford’s The Transformations of Man

I’m only about half-way through Lewis Mumford’s The Transformations of Man (1956) but I came across an extremely interesting pattern there that is worth commenting on as it pertains to Jean Gebser’s structures of consciousness, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic (and cross of reality), and the indigenous Sacred Hoop — perhaps even relevant to Blake’s “fourfold vision”. I will cite it at length and then tease out that pattern in relation to Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, the Hoop, and Blake.

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How Did Reality Get So Unreal?

Or, as documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis calls it “hypernormalisation” where things stop making sense, or when nonsense becomes the new common sense which we are calling “the New Normal” — the absurd, the surreal, the “post-rational”, “post-truth” and so on.

It’s not something that has happened quite suddenly. It’s been creeping up on us for the last few decades. Plenty of writers, starting around the late 50s, have been firing warning shots across our bow. But the “post-modern condition” — whose central theme is the “end of the Grand Narrative” or “end of the Master Narrative” (which follows upon Nietzsche’s “death of God”) — is certainly implicated.

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