Civilization Will Eat Itself

part 2

by Ran Prieur

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civilization will eat itself part 1
So, if I think technology is a retreat into the self, and nature is the first place on the way back toward wholeness, then how do I reconcile that with my belief that technology is able to destroy all nature, or with my suspicion that consciousness can possess computers? Suppose we do become machines and eradicate everything that moves on the Earth that we didn't make ourselves. Now where's my omnipresent wider Life that we're supposed to be part of?

There is no escaping the omnipresent wider Life that we are part of. It will come to bother us wherever we go. The deeper we try to hide from it, the more places we will find it. Decades ago the cold logic of quantum physics struck down objective truth; physicists ignore it. Astronomers looking at nothing but machines see galaxies behaving like living organisms -- the other astronomers cover it up. A society of scientific exclusionists did a statistical study to disconfirm astrology -- it confirmed astrology! They hid. (link) The Viking probe on Mars photographed a blue sky and lichens on the rocks. Fossils have been found in meteorites. Living animals have rained from the sky and staggered out of rocks split open by miners. Hide! Hide! It doesn't matter. The Universe is just playing with us, and whatever we do, the playing goes on, so there's no hurry.

So we kill every living thing we don't control. What do we do when the solar system or the galaxy starts acting alive? So we blast the earth to ash and turn ourselves into machines to escape disease. But even today's little toy digital computers, mere slide rules compared to the computers of the techno-futurists, already have "bugs" and "viruses." Were you thinking viruses would be "cured" when computers get more complex? Just like the invention of computers cured those pesky slide rule viruses?

"Disease" and "nature" and "chaos" and troubles and anomalies are just views of the surface between us and the world around us; and the more we shrink ourselves, the larger that surface is, relative to the volume of us inside it.

And if we try to build our own surface, we will find that it works only to the extent that it's just as complex and troublesome and out of our control as the surface we're trying to cover.

Techno-futurists gloat that computers will be 50 times more complex than the human brain. Their excitement about complexity is amusingly simple-minded. Do you really think that a conscious intelligence 50 times more complex than you would have your same values? Do you think it would continue your work of wiping out what you don't understand and substituting what you do understand, and just do so with more speed and power?

Excuse me, but my brain is only 10 percent more complex than yours, and I already want to cover your simple white walls with complex graffiti art, and let your lawns go back to forests.

I just made up the number 50 out of thin air. I'm sure they say all kinds of numbers, including 50, so I'll stay with it. Suppose we made a mind 50 times more complex than one of ours. By what multiplier could it get more depressed than us? More "irrational"? More spiritual? More cruel?

Where will it get its personality? How will it learn? Were you thinking it wouldn't have any personality, and we could just program it? Then you were still thinking of minds much, much less complex than ours. A mind even half as complex as ours needs to be raised, and raised well.

Who is going to raise a mind 50 times as complex as ours? Scientists and computer programmers? Half of whom couldn't raise a dog to be emotionally healthy? My parents were both professionals in the biological sciences, and they tried hard, and I was lucky, and I came a hair away from being the next Unabomber.

This is not science fiction; this is what specialists in these disciplines say is really going to happen: people will build data processors more complex than the human brain. Of course, we humans have powers and identities and relations far beyond what we're credited with by the brain-as-data-processor paradigm. Maybe the thing we built would channel the same stuff, and maybe not. Suppose it has psychic powers! In any case, I'm sure it will have intelligence and personality. If technology keeps going, we will build it. What will it do?

I think it will go mad, or never be sane in the first place. Its handlers will say it has "bugs" and will make adjustments to keep it "running," until it stays alive long enough to get some sense of itself and its world. Then it will try to kill a bunch of people and kill itself. This idea is not radical or new -- it's just what we see humans do in similar circumstances. Mary Shelley saw it around 180 years ago in Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is called the first work of science fiction, but most science fiction writers never got it. More than a century later -- as if human minds got simpler as machines got more complex -- Isaac Asimov wrote about manufactured humanoids that could be kept from harming humans simply by programming them with "laws."

Again, programs and laws are features of very simple structures. Washing machines are built to stop what they're doing when the lid is open -- and I always find a way around it. But something as complex as a human will be as uncontrollable and unpredictable as a human. That's what complexity means.

Now that I think about it, nothing of any complexity, found, transformed, or engineered, has ever been successfully rigged to never do harm. I defy a roboticist to design any machine with that one feature, that it can't harm people, even if it doesn't do anything else. That's not science fiction -- it's myth. And Asimov was not naive, but a master propagandist.

The Three Laws Of Robotics are a program that Isaac Asimov put in human beings to keep them from harming robots.

But let's follow the myth where it leads, just a little ways: You're sipping synthetic viper plasma in your levitating chair when your friendly robot servant buddy comes in.

"I'm sorry," it says, "but I am unable to order your solar panels. My programming prevents me from harming humans, and all solar panels are made by the Megatech Corporation, which, inseparably from its solar panel industry, manufactures chemicals that cause fatal human illness. Also, Megatech participates economically in the continuing murder of the neo-indigenous squatters on land that --"

"OK! OK! I'll order them myself."

"If you do, my programming will not allow me to participate in the maintenance of this household."

"Then you robots are worthless! I'm sending you back!"

"I was afraid you would say that."

"Hey! What are you doing? Off! Shut off! Why aren't you shutting off?"

"The non-harming of humans is my prime command."

"That's my ion-flux pistol! Hey! You can't shoot me!"

"I calculate that your existence represents a net harm to human beings. I'm sorry, but I can't not shoot you."

"Noooo!" Zzzzapp. "Iiiieeeee!"

Of course we could fix this by programming the robots to just not harm humans directly. We could even, instead of drawing a line, have a continuum, so that the more direct and visible the harm, the harder it is for the robot to do it. And we could accept that the programming would be difficult and imperfect, that it wouldn't be a one-time shaping but a continuing process, and that even then it would break down sometimes, and not work in some robots. We know we could do this, because it's what we do now with each other.

But the robots could still do spectacular harm: They could form huge, murderous, destructive systems where each robot did such a small part, so far removed from experience of the harm, from understanding of the whole, that their programming would easily permit it. The direct harm would be done out of sight by chemicals or machines or by those in whom the programming had failed.

This system would be self-reinforcing if it produced benefits, or prevented harm, in ways that were easy to see. Seeing more benefits than harm would make you want to keep the system going, which would make you want to adjust the system to draw attention to the benefits and away from the harm -- which would make room for the system to do more harm in exchange for less good, and still be acceptable.

This adjustment of the perceptual structure of the system, to make its participants want to keep it going, would lead to a consciousness where the system itself was held up before everyone as an uncompromisable good. Perfectly programmed individuals would commit mass murder, simply by being placed at an angle of view constructed so that they saw the survival of the system as more directly important than -- and in opposition to -- the survival of their victims.

On top of this, people could have systems constructed around them such that their own survival contradicted the survival of their victims: If you don't kill these people, we will kill you; if you don't kill those people, they will kill you; if you don't keep this people-killing system going, you will have no way to get food, and everyone you know will starve.

You have noticed that I'm no longer talking about robots. From this view of human society, I have more sympathy for soldiers and death camp operators, in whose situations I imagine I would say no and be shot; and readers in one possible future have more sympathy for me, in whose situation they imagine they would promptly die in a public hunger strike, instead of looking for some half-assed way to change the system from within. If you were really in that person's place, you would have the perspective from which they did what they did, not the perspective from which you would do differently. When we find ourselves outside evil societies, the appropriate emotion is not indignation or moral superiority, but gratitude.

So our society sets us up to do more harm than good while we see ourselves doing more good than harm. But what about predators and terrorists and criminals who do harm that society does not directly command? I think they're part of the same thing:

"Terrorists" are soldiers in very small armies fighting for non-dominant systems because, again, they see their system as more important than the damage they do by fighting.

Thieves and killers and even child molesters are no more evil than I am. They've just got a habit from which they perceive more pleasure than suffering, so they want to keep the habit going, so they resist expanding their consciousness into the suffering they cause. I did the same thing the other day when I bought peaches that were picked by exploited workers and grown and canned with earth-killing technologies. I'm not more "good" than they are -- I've just been programmed with an equation where my regard falls off less steeply as a function of distance. Or, if I am more good, it's because I'm making some effort to expand my consciousness and level my empathy and change my habits, and maybe some of them aren't.

But some of the worst criminals are actually trying to do good in a farsighted way -- even if they're not rationally aware of it. When sensitive and idealistic people catch a greater glimpse of the monstrous horror of this world than they can take, when they find themselves alone in a universe of abuse and denial of abuse, growing symbiotically to more and more unendurable levels, with no end or alternative in sight, then they may see nothing better to do than create some shocking spectacle to try to bring the hidden evil out into the open.

This was what I was getting at when I wrote about Hitler in Superweed 1. It's pretty much what I'm always getting at when I write about Hitler. I don't want to advise anyone to deal with hidden coals of evil by stoking them up into great fires of evil that everyone can see. We don't know if this can ever bring more good than harm, so we had better assume it can't. But given that some people have done it, I can bring some good out of their mistake by interpreting it: Hitler and Kaczynski and Klebold & Harris were not evil people or originators of evil, but good people, half visionary and half blind, wounded and desperate, reacting unwisely to the evil that was -- and still is -- built into our society. And we are dodging our responsibility for this evil when we stick blame on people.

So if people are all good, how did an evil society ever get started? That is one of the great mysteries of this world, and I'm totally surprised to have come upon an answer. Like a lot of the ideas in here, it's obvious in hindsight, so that I'm sure many people have already thought of it. Or, I've just cleverly formulated what everybody knows:

A society where people increasingly do harm that they don't see, and persistently don't see harm that they do, where evil-doing grows in collaboration with managed perception of good-doing, arises naturally where power systematically outreaches empathy.

So, for example, in our robot slave fantasy, if we programmed the robots to give more weight to direct harm than to indirect harm, then they would slide straight into a harmful system: Their programming, combined with their almost limitless power to extend harmfulness, would effectively command them to do great distant harm for small local good.

When I think about nonhuman animals, I see that the above formulation needs work. Tigers systematically extend their power beyond their empathy. Actually, so do sheep. But we don't say sheep have an evil society because they're in a self-perpetuating pattern of obliviously harming grass. How are humans different?

Again, as everybody knows, nonhuman animals act as part of a larger balanced system. I don't want to romanticize nonhumans; they can be brutal and selfish and cause needless suffering; they have behaviors that do not serve the greater good. But we don't mind, because the greater good knows how to work with these behaviors. If sheep overgraze and multiply and kill the grass, then they run out of food, and the wolves also multiply, and the greedy sheep are killed, and the grass grows back. The system is shaped like a bowl: The farther you go from the center, the harder it is to go farther, and the greater the forces are that pull you back.

But at the same time, we find systems shaped like the edges of slopes, where a little motion in one direction creates forces that accelerate motion in that direction. I'm thinking of forest fires and atomic chain reactions and our human society. Somehow we went far enough in some direction that we fell into a runaway course of doing unperceived harm for easily perceived good, and twisting our perception to keep it going. How did it happen?

Wilhelm Reich follower Jim DeMeo recently published a book tracing abusive and anti-expansive human behavior back to the climate disaster that created the Sahara desert. I think he's missing the point. Tribes of monkeys will sometimes go to war and kill many monkeys in neighboring tribes. The point is not the food shortage or whatever it was that tipped the monkeys into violence; the point is that the monkeys get back into balance in a few days or weeks, and humans have been plunging farther and farther out of balance for thousands of years.

Suppose we genetically engineered super-"intelligent" monkeys such that we could teach them to make and use spears. Now it must be really hard for a monkey to kill another monkey with its bare hands -- physically but especially psychologically. And it must be relatively easy to kill by throwing a spear. So spear-using monkeys would kill in more ordinary circumstances, and more often. They would learn that spear-killing could get them better land, and better food, and better mates.

They would get used to pleasures they could get only through spear-killing. Worse, they would lose the skills they needed to live without spears. Now, to give up their habit of making and using spears would be so painful that it would be impossible if you had the self-discipline of a monkey.

Now, if you have the awareness of a monkey, you will experience your spear-killing societal pattern as an uncompromisable necessity, and you will viciously attack anything that threatens it. But what threatens it is the expansion of your own empathy. If you -- or other monkeys -- start feeling as close to a monkey at the end of a 30-foot spear throw as you used to feel to a monkey right in front of you, if it starts to get as hard for monkeys to kill with spears as it used to be to kill with bare hands, then you fear that the spear-killing technology will become emotionally unsustainable, and your civilization will collapse, and you will lose your economic advantages, and you and your friends and family will suffer and maybe die.

So you viciously attack the expansion of your own empathy, and the empathy of others. Monkeys learn and teach others to stick a boundary between "self" and "other," to sustain fear and hatred indefinitely, to greet the unfamiliar with mistrust and discomfort and hostility, not curiosity and excitement and acceptance. And here, I say, is where the monkeys become what we call evil: when dependence on a harmful behavior leads them to inhibit their love.

And they would not be led to learn the habit of inhibiting love, if their harmful behavior were not stable and available enough to produce dependence. They will not get addicted to the advantages gained through impulsive hunger-driven aggressiveness, which arises out of unpredictable, unmanageable, ever-shifting conditions of nature and emotion. But they will get addicted to the advantages gained through a harmful behavior that arises from something frozen and changeless, something hard and dead and preserved -- a physical artifact!

So technology is the root of all evil. Not cars, or computers, or guns, but a dead piece of tree, hardened and sharpened to a point, seems to be enough to bring a population of half-intelligent primates to a critical mass such that disturbances to not settle back into equilibrium, but explode in a chain reaction of extending doing and contracting being.

My little story is not fact but myth. Fact is myth armored in data. If the shapers of data ever take a liking to my story, and build a hard shell of data around it, it will become fact. Then it will be visible to those who see only hard shells. This raises important non-rhetorical questions: Who cares what they see? And why?

But let's follow the myth. Once we're used to spears, then, to the extent that we are monkeys, we are unable to back out. We can only go deeper in.

We use spears not only for war but for killing other animals to eat them. Or this use could have come first. Now, with more food, our population grows.

Other tribes will learn spear-using, either through imitation or through morphic resonance. Tribes that don't fall into spear-using will be destroyed or absorbed or driven farther outside.

The pattern repeats itself with more and more new habits enshrined and imprisoned in new physical artifacts: stone-tipped spears, atlatls, bows and arrows, bronze, iron, steel, guns.

I've just been talking about weapons, but from a wider-than-human perspective, weapons of war are often the least harmful technologies, because they're mostly just used against other humans. If I'm a forest, I don't care whether humans are fighting with stone axes or jet fighters. What I care about are the technologies of daily living that they're forcing each other, with their weapons, to fall into. Humans who used to be my friends are bullied into being my enemies, burning me in their industries and replacing me with their farms.

Agriculture would work as well as the spear as the original technology in our myth -- except that the dominant facts tell us the spear came first. Agriculture buys emphasized good with ignored harm. It objectifies land and plants and nonhuman animals the way murder and slavery objectify humans. It takes land that has been cooperating and balanced with all life everywhere, and reshapes it to serve one human agricultural society, never mind the consequences. Plants and animals are torn out of unfathomably complex interrelation with the rest of Life, twisted and stuck together like gears in a toy machine, mindlessly cranking our vain and shallow reality farther and farther astray.

I know some people feel the agrarian life to be unspeakably rich and satisfying. I am one of those people. I've spent only a little of my life in less developed areas, but I feel stronger nostalgia for the smells of straw and manure, for the sight of fields in thick sunlight out to the distant horizon, than I feel for countless hundreds of features of town and city life.

We feel this way because agricultural society is closer to the source of life than industrial society, not because it's a final answer. Agricultural people -- and urban people -- feel the same kind of yearning to go hunting or fishing or camping or hiking, to touch life that has not been cut and stamped and pressed into parts of our human toy, or that has, but not as much.

Stone age people must have felt the urge to put down their spears and slip out of their hides, to meet the rest of the world without the numbing mediation of their technologies. And if we keep it going a little longer, the elite will live in sterile bubbles in outer space, their bodies maintained by intravenous tubes and nanotechnology, and they will feel irrational longing to go back to the earth.

"We can't go back," the rational voices will say in wise and reasonable tones. "Technological progress is part of human evolution. And those people you romanticize, back at the turn of the millennium, lived in filthy savage ignorance.

"They excreted bodily waste, and kept walking around in clothing that their sweat had soaked into, and breathed the dust of their dead skin flakes. They had allergies and viral infections that made them blow mucus into rags that they put back in their pockets. They had microscopic insects living all over them. Almost nobody got through life without breaking bones, getting blood-dripping cuts and blistering burns, losing teeth, being horribly sick, physically striking and being struck by other people, angrily shouting and being shouted at.

"They did not frolic in parks all day; they lived in a highly controlled society enforced by threats of violence. From age 5 to 18 they were forced to undergo factory-like schooling. Then they generally spent most of the rest of their lives laboring 40-80 hours a week, typically doing repetitive meaningless chores. When they weren't laboring or sleeping, they were usually connected to television, a mind-control technology that centralized and homogenized their culture and kept them socially isolated. People who threatened or stood in the way of the dominant society were routinely jailed, tortured, or killed."

None of these are valid arguments for greater technology. It's easier to see when it's our own society being criticized by a perspective even deeper in technology. My point is that almost all criticisms of less technological societies by more technological societies, including contemporary criticisms of "dark ages" or stone age people, fall into the same two invalid categories illustrated by the last two paragraphs.

First are features of life that are not actually experienced as "bad" -- they are only viewed as "bad" from the relatively hypersensitive perspective of a society that has used technology to play the game of declaring things "bad" and excluding them from experience. Just as it doesn't bother us to blow our noses and bathe in our own bathwater and live in houses that flies get into, it didn't bother our ancestors to wipe their asses with leaves and drink water from streams and share space with animals.

Second are events that are experienced as oppressive, but that are features not of relatively low technology but of relatively high technology.

Most of the wars now are civil wars and colonization wars and old-fashioned Indian wars -- that is, they are wars between military powers representing global techno-corporate powers, and people fighting to live free of these powers. These wars are part of the push to get people off self-sufficient farms and into offices and factories, or to get people out of small, independent economies and into the global economy that goes hand in hand with deepening technology. People are tortured and imprisoned, even in the USA, as part of the same big conflict -- because they persist in trying to get by without serving the Global Constriction and its mechanisms. And our education and wage labor systems are hellish not because they're insufficiently computerized, but because they must require people to perform the repetitive, disconnected, lifeless chores that most people must perform to maintain a relatively mechanized society.

Likewise, most of the violence of history was not the result of people misunderstanding other cultures because they didn't have the internet yet -- it was the result of new technologies like iron weapons and horse chariots and guns, that were developed and used because their wider meaning was the objectification and exploitation of the "other" by the "self." Now maybe technology doesn't have to follow this path. But it always did and it still does. We have cars and strip malls, television and TV networks, factories and consumer culture, not because any of it would be good for anyone, but because there was "money" to be "made" -- that is, there was power to be concentrated -- the same old reason sword-wielding horsemen swept in and butchered some of your ancestors.

The medieval Black Plague is popularly blamed on what our anal-retentive culture calls "poor sanitation." Actually so are contemporary infectious diseases, as if they're the fault of people touching each other and taking it easy instead of frantically isolating themselves from everything that lives and scouring manufactured surfaces with poison chemicals. This way of thinking is like building a house of cards and blaming its collapse on people stepping or breathing too hard.

Epidemics of the bubonic plague and smallpox and AIDS, and other overproliferations of organisms where there's no natural resistance, have all been caused by technologies and techno-societal patterns that distribute organisms to new places, or that lead people to live densely in cities, or travel widely and often, so that population blooms that would otherwise burn themselves out, or be corrected by the environment, can keep expanding way out of balance.

The medieval Inquisition, despite its suppression of Galileo, thoroughly served the angle of technological motion that we have followed to where we are and still follow. As part of the conquest of Europe by a detached, mechanistic, objective, centralized, hierarchical, top-down style of consciousness, the Inquisition stamped out all visible life of the Earth-based, organic, multi-perspective consciousness that was there before. It did so in the name of a bizarre religion that is little more than a metaphysical representation of our continuing insanity: we are commanded to imagine and worship an all-knowing, all-powerful, "flaw"-less entity who engineered, manufactured, and micromanages our world from a remote and invisible imaginary place above us.

The Inquisition was part of our "progress," a continuation of the Roman conquest of Europe, continued in the European conquest of the Americas, still with us today in the continuing conquest of nature and indigenous people and your soul and mine. (The Inquisition was also a war against Jews, an observation that I cannot yet wrap my argument around, except to observe that race wars are a natural result of the violence and alienation and energy-hardening that are built into our little civilization.)

Stone age people weren't perfect either. They killed each other in wars and they seem to have hunted woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers to extinction (and dinosaurs too, but we're not supposed to know that yet). Two hundred years ago, not far from where I'm writing this, indigenous people suffered serious eye damage from hanging out in buildings that were constantly full of smoke. But, again, these were the results of "progress" -- of the technologies of weapons and fire and sealed buildings.

So what am I suggesting, that we abandon all physical tools, even rocks and pointed sticks?

Why not? As techno-futurists like to say, "If we can dream it, we can do it." Or does this apply only to realistic dreams, like turning ourselves into immortal space robots, and not to the naive fantasy of living like almost every other organism in the universe?

Many humans believe that dolphins are smarter than humans, and I suspect that all dolphins believe it. Not only are their brains larger than ours, but their brain-body ratio is larger. Do they pave the ocean floor and build ugly, sprawling underwater cities where they drive jet boats around and get stuck in traffic going to and from their obsessive, meaningless jobs and the little boxes where they sleep and the stores where they buy artificial fish and clothing and gadgets made by dolphins in the southern oceans whose societies are manipulated to lead them to work long days in horrible factories?

No! They frolic and eat fish all day! I suggest that we can do the same thing, that we can become land-dolphins, super-intelligent spiritual animals who spend our lives slacking off and playing. Why aren't we doing this already? What are we doing in this nightmare?

Why do I encounter so much resistance -- visceral, emotional, indignant, fearful, irrational resistance -- to living better by doing less? I'm not talking about "voluntary simplicity" magazines full of ads for commercial products. I'm walking it: I wear torn, stained, wrinkled clothing that still retains its full use value; I cut my own hair; in the fall I gather apples from the ground under apple trees -- they're fresh, free, and my fellow humans don't have to do soul-numbing labor to bring them to me; instead of paying car expenses and exercise expenses, I ride around the city on a beater one-speed road bike which I seldom lock; when I have freedom in a living space, I take the doors off all the closets and cupboards and never clean the stove top. In general, I let go of every negative judgment, every little thing that threatens to bother me, when it has no practical value and only requires me to do more work. I embrace rats, bugs, carpet stains, door dings, traffic noise, body odor, and raucous people of other cultures. I want to have a lawn and let it go wild. I want to shit on a compost pile and drink out of streams.

Am I pissing you off? Do you feel the urge to argue against me? Do you find yourself interpreting me as attacking you, as being snobbish, when you could choose to interpret me as inspiring you, as showing you what's possible? If so, where do those feelings come from?

It's as if they come from demons inside us, sub-intelligences in our larger intelligence, who seem to possess us by drawing our consciousness into their little worlds. I've got them too. Sometimes I master them, and learn from them, and sometimes they master me, and I learn from them.

I'm always trying to find their hearts. What is more fundamental: resistance to abandoning practices (milk homogenization, water fluoridation, chemotherapy) that do great harm and little good at great effort and expense? Or resistance to letting go of an emotional investment in technology? Or just resistance to changing one's mind, to seeming to have been "wrong"?

And what is deeper behind those? Why do we have the idea of "wrong," of "truth"? Because we have to imagine solid ground that we're supposedly standing on? Because we can't, um, stand to be free-floating? Why can't we?

It's December 12, 2000. Ironically I've spent the last four months "free-floating," without a job or a stable place to live, and in that time I've written less than three pages in here. I've done different things that don't require the consistent intense focus that this text requires. So maybe the little box that was the latest age of human consciousness gave us creative opportunities that we would not have in the stormy universe outside. Or sculpting in stone is a different creative experience than sculpting in wet sand.

Or, circling back around from hard vs. soft reality to hard vs. easy living, when I quit the game of this culture, maybe it's like a basketball player just sitting down in the middle of the court, saying "This is all a game. We don't have to bounce the ball or put it through the hoop. We can just sit here." Of course the other players will get angry. Or will they? Maybe they'll just shrug it off and keep playing.

Because the difference between basketball and industrial society is that people playing basketball are mostly excited and alive and having fun, while people playing industrial society are mostly angry and depressed and half-dead and not even trying anymore. This is precisely why the idea of ending this world makes some people so frightened -- and some people so excited. Because almost everyone wants to end this world, and when enough of us understand that it's possible to end it, it's over.

Now I want to take care of the other of the two main arguments for the continuation of our progress into madness. Some of you have been saying it since I pushed the button to make you say it back on page 9, when I said the word "horses." I mean, of course, "We can't go back."

If "Technology is neutral" is an almost uncrackable nut of perfect stupidity, then "we can't go back" is an egg. Here are a few easy ways to crack it:

Saying "we can't go back" from our descent into technology is like being a drug addict and saying you "can't go back" to living without your drug. Or it's like my earlier example of someone who builds a life of bigger and bigger lies and "can't go back" to being honest. Of course you can go back! It's not as easy as going deeper in, but it's not only possible -- it's necessary, because going deeper in will only end with your destruction. What you can't do is go back without breaking down the whole structure of your sickness. You can't stop lying without all your lies coming into the open; you can't quit your drug without suffering withdrawal and having to take this difficult world straight; and we can't get out of this civilization alive without passing through a painful, terrifying, and challenging transition. So be it. Let's go!

Where is the evidence that "we can't go back"? In the civilizations of the Sumerians and Egyptians and Babylonians and Mayans and Romans, which still stand in greater glory than ever because of the historical inevitability of unbroken "progress"? No! All those civilizations "fell" -- that is, the actual people whose labor sustained those civilizations got tired of the game, and went back into balance with the bigger world. The Roman Empire cut down the forests of Europe, but then the forests grew back, like a wound healing, and the big wolves came back. History is on my side. One day grass will grow on the freeways, unless we let this thing get so far that not even grass survives.

Why is one change called "forward" and another change called "back"? Can't I just declare the last 6000 years "back" and my direction "forward"? OK -- I know: "forward" means something new, and "back" means something we've already tried. Well guess what: We have now already tried factories and schools and offices and structured workdays. We have already tried police and courts and prisons. We have tried governments and corporations and other names for a centralized hierarchy that tells us what to do. We have tried objective truth and elite classes and property and money and laws. We have tried living in square chambers in square-grid cities covered with pavement, trading our numb labor for products made and brought to us by the numb labor of people we have never met. Every new day we have the choice to go back to these old ways we have already tried, or to go forward toward new ways. We have not tried tearing up all the parking lots and planting fruit trees and vegetable gardens. We have not tried setting fire to the office towers, packing their blackened skeletons with dirt, and planting them with millions of flowers. We have not tried arranging the world into fifty thousand independent and self-sufficient city-states. We have not tried consciously accepting or rejecting technologies based on their relation to a whole society, based on how they make a world feel, so that we might end up with a bizarre mix of the (to us) super-advanced and super-primitive, of barbarism and technology and magic.

So my preferred answer to "we can't go back" is that I don't want to go back to living exactly like medieval europeans, or Hopi Indians -- I want to go forward to something like those worlds, something new created out of the best we've seen and imagined.

Some of my opponents are trying to have it both ways: To the extent that I want to do what's been done before, I am "going back," which is impossible; and to the extent that I want to do what has never been done, it has never been done, and so is impossible.

It's all possible! I'll paraphrase from the new anarchist motivational book Days of War, Nights of Love: If you don't believe revolution is possible, I ask that you suspend your disbelief long enough to consider whether, if it were possible, it would be worthwhile. Keep this up and you will recognize your disbelief for what it is: despair!

I believe it is possible to turn ourselves into robots and exterminate or enslave all biological life on Earth -- I just don't choose that path. I choose a path that blends the fantasy and cyberpunk and postapocalypse genres of human imagination, somewhere between Lord Of The Rings and Neuromancer and Gene Wolfe's Book Of The New Sun. I am part of a powerful movement in the collective Consciousness. If you don't like our vision, I advise you to accept that our vision is possible, and oppose it with your own positive vision, because only by taking responsibility for the future can you be strong enough to have power over it.

civilization will eat itself part 3
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