To the machine, performative contradiction is anathema. Theoretical contradiction is nonexistent.
-Məhshinēk Horryr, Prt.1
The Scourge of Neo-Luddism
In our previous installment we looked into the pervasive aversion to The Machine and ventured into the labyrinth of the intentionalizing instinct, that primal inclination to attribute agency (and often malevolence) to the inanimate (rocks, bushes, machines) which lies at the root of it (your chances of survival increase dramatically if one jumps at every rustling bush since occasionally there may be more than the wind moving it). Doubtless we have all heard someone say, “The internet is making people [X].” If you haven’t as of yet rest assured that at some point in time you will. Whether [X] is a negative or a positive attribution one is here saying the internet is forcing a individual or individuals into a particular set of behaviors. This makes no sense at all, the internet cannot force anyone to do anything anymore than a gun can force someone to shoot it. Both are machines. Both are oft attributed agency where none exists. The internet can no more will a thing to be anymore than can a gun or a stapler. What is really occurring when one utilizes the internet and finds one’s behavior altered is that one is merely adapting to the internet in a particular fashion. To say, “The internet is making me lazy,” may indeed sound convincing enough but what made you use the internet in the first place? Certainly not the internet itself. Impulse drove one to use it and impulse, reaction, drives one to continue doing so, whether that impulsive and instinctual set of chain reactions leads one to utilize the web for largely positive or negative or mixed ends will, as with everything, end up being constrained to the biological makeup of the individual using it.
Consciously or not, this move (internet agency attribution) is one which absolves oneself of agency in near totality (that is to say, to think outside of and beyond genetic propensities – to think in realms of pure fate, designs without cause). The Machine then becomes conceptualized as a agent who functions counter to it’s silver-screen cliche – whereas Hollywood machines are oft lumbering or digitally deft and invasive monstrosities of twisted, malicious steel – the machine here is a scapegoat for personal failing. For the hedonist, the machine, in this particular conceptual matrix, is not a villain but a savior. A comfortable scapegoat whose woolly backside offers a bounty of inter-personal reprieve. This brings up a interesting question: Why does the fear of The Machine, run so deeply if in most situations the end result is merely a waste of time, a trivial annoyance? The answer is that machines as we have known them have never actually been cognizant agents able to operate in the world by their own designs. There has never been properly thinking and self aware machines, that is to say, AI or Artificial Intelligence. Thus why, as we covered in the first installment, the fictional conceptions which have become icons of both horror and science fiction are so often just that. Whether it is 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Hal 9000, Eagle Eye’s ARIIA (Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst) or Prometheus’ sinister and charming human facsimile, David.
Rather than being mere representations of the intentional instinct these characters are possessed of their own. They have agency. Will. Designs and desires. That is to say, they are not machines, or, at least, not simply just. The first fear entailed here is – in stark contrast to a fear that something like the information superhighway is “making” some nebulous “us” do X – is that artificial intelligence will, due to it’s inherently superior informational processing capabilities and virus-like ability to recursively self-replicate; the first AI has 1 million times the computational powers of a average human, let us say, it creates a new AI which has twice that computational information processing capacity and so on and so forth. If this happens to be be the case (as seems likely) AI’s would swiftly overtake human-kind as the Earth’s supreme apex predator (or they would at least have the capacity to earn that title, though this is far from certain) as humanity is either reduced to nothing more than chattel (as depicted in The Matrix) or utterly annihilated (as happens in one of the timeline eventualities of The Terminator). This fear is one which is felt up and down the social hierarchy, popper and priest alike shudder at the thought (even if they are simultaneously elated as well, as far as end times scenarios go it is one of the “cooler” ones).
For example, the tech maverick and founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk has referred to the eventuality of AI creation as “Summoning the demon” whilst the diet supplement merchant and boisterous founder of InfoWars, Alex Jones, has stated, “Death to all robots!” in response to a public exhibition of Hanson Robotic’s newest product, a human facsimile named Sophia (whom David Hanson, the founder and CEO of the tech company, claims is already, to a very limited degree, self-aware, though this is nearly impossible, objectively, to quantify – my assumption is that this is untrue and is merely a PR move due to the seemingly scripted nature of most of the “android” Sophia’s public appearances). The philosopher and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, echoed Musk’s sentiments in a 2016 TED talk concerning AI wherein he stated that, “We are creating a god. Now would be a good time to make sure that it’s a god we can live with.”
The anxiety concerning AI, however, does not confine itself merely to fears of violent planetary takeover and human overthrow but also to more mundane quandary economic usurpation. Job replacement. Western workers have for years and years voiced their concern surrounding automation. The most stark example of the this technophobic attitude is the Neo-Luddites, a revivalist movement of the 1811’s anti-machinist movement (who opposed weaving looms not because they detested the machines themselves but the replacement of the jobs they represented). The Neo-Luddites first appeared around 90s with the publication of the Neo-Luddite Manifesto penned by “ecopsychologist” and anti-technologist, Chellis Glendinning. Glendinning’s manifesto, much like what we can call mainstream Neo-Luddism, protested almost all new and potent forms of technology and decried the atomizing and exploitative effects (on both peoples and lands) of the world capitalist industrial hegemony. This philosophy is predicated upon several pillars which are long overdue for hewing down. First and foremost is the absurdist idea that there is a “natural state” of man, this is quintessentially Rousseauian notion. The idea that collective Man no longer existed in “his natural state” and had become perverted and malformed from his separation from “the natural” was also a notion upheld by none other than that most supreme devotee to Rousseau , Maximilian Robespierre, one of the principal sources of The Terror during the French Revolution. The idea that man had a specific “natural state” which was far removed from technological invention and industrialism is not incorrect because it happened to be adopted by Robespierre but it is worthwhile to not the personality types who seem most drawn to such notions, that is to say, extreme ideologues for whom the “pure” and transcendent” oft trumps decency and the sanctity of life itself. But the natural state idea is still wrong to its core in every conceivable way. Consider a beavers dam. This is not something which would “naturally” occur unless a beaver built it but a beaver is a “natural” creature. One sees the parallels instantly. The beaver’s dam is no different in how it was brought about than any industrial factory or house crafted by human hands. Certainly, in terms of scale, the dam is generally dwarfed, but both a human house and a beaver’s dam were created by cognizant agents and would not have occurred otherwise and yet no one ever refers to the dam as “unnatural” and yet many would have no hesitation in calling a industrial factory a perversion of nature. If the natural world is all there is that is amenable to our sense perception (and a good deal of things which are not) then there is no need even for the word itself. The problem is reflected in how the idea of the supernatural is so wholly self defeating. If the supernatural is that which is beyond nature (that is to say, other or extra-dimensional or beyond our notion of space-time) then it would not be, in anyway, amenable to our perception and if it is not amenable to our collective perceptions by definition then there is simply no reason to refer to anything as supernatural which can be perceived within the natural order because, again, by definition, if it were truly supernatural said supernatural entity would not be in the natural world to begin with. The natural state of man position of the neo-ludds is then hopelessly flawed from the start.
A secondary problem with the neo-ludds is the wholly negatory tenor of their rank-and-file. They are not one’s who create but only seek to destroy, they do uphold an ideal but merely seek to take apart others which they encounter that have more demonstrable potency in the real world. Much like the anti-tribe crowd who I wrote about in my previous article, The Opposition Identity of the Anti-Tribe the neo-ludd is constantly mewling and whinging about “the singularity” or the way in which “computers are making people isolated and degenerate, lazy and stupid.” It is not that these are not valid concerns to hold and questions to raise (they certainly are, for the price for machines which think may well be men who do not), but rather that their solution is… what? Destroy all electrical grids and live in some neo-feudal dystopian agrarian waste? Yes, let us get rid ourselves of all of our guns and computers and railways and electrical equipment and refrigeration units and life-support systems and throw on some grass skirts and live in mud huts like those “noble savages” of old. One might as well shoot oneself in the head! Consider the fact that the destruction of the US powergrid would literally send us back in time and cause a total social collapse into grim and filth ridden anarchism. Everyone in hospital life support would die. Water would stop flowing. There would be no more lights, no more GPS – cars would smash into each other on the free way and various individuals would no longer have any idea where they were going given the rarity of paper maps – toilets and sewer pumps would cease working causing massive sanitation problems, paper money would cease being of any worth and all markets would collapse and all the social hierarchies which were built up by them. Not to mention that nearly the entire defense system of the USA would be rendered powerless which would then leave the empire open to attacks from hostile foreign powers in a way as yet unprecedented in the countries history. It would be the end of the USA as we know it and as it was known.
All technologies are extensions of our phenotype, of us, of our will. They are not some foreign and alien thing which has slithered in and corrupted the fabric of society and in any given situation where a prevalent or prospective technology has caused perceived irreparable “harm” (porn, TV, nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, nano-tech “grey goo” ecophagy, repressive runaway A.I. systems, ect.) the “harm” is often poorly defined – there is almost always a trade-off, speaking in terms of instinctual biological drives, those being the primal desires for sex, propagation and the power to secure a means to the two former eventualities. That is really at the root of the luddistic problem, they themselves cannot adequately articulate the problem itself. They fail to realize that everything is an arms-race, there was a golden age, a good ole fashioned time when “things were simple” and people were pure and just worked the land in wholesome contentment unvarnished by capital or machines and all the hideous detritus they brought with them. Well cast your blinded and bleary eyes out upon all those “noble savages” who still as yet live in a state of archaic agrarianism, the cannablistic Arawak and the ritualistic Maya, the shamanistic Yanomami and the self-isolating Sentinelese of the Isle of North Sentinel – where are they now and where will they go? The answer to the first question is that almost without exception all of these tribes have been conquered and subjugated, those who have as yet not been assimilated into a prominent industrialized nation (such as the Sentinelese) maintain their independence and security only due to the good graces of their neighbors. Due to a lack of industrialization, general technological innovation, immunization to foreign diseases and so on, these indigenous tribes are placed in a exceedingly fragile position against every other modern civilization. They generally number some couple hundred a village and possess nothing to defend themselves but wooden bows and wooden arrows, sometimes tipped with poison, sometimes not and clubs and, on occasion, the odd knife or sword. Against a small band of US military troops any one of these secluded peoples would be utterly decimated. Against bulletproof flak jackets, night-vision googles, hundreds of years of tactical war planning, training and advanced ballistics technologies primitive stick and stone weaponry would be rendered utterly useless. This is not to say that such a eventuality is likely or indeed to be hoped for, it would be a grave and depressing slaughter-bench, but it is to say that the neo-luddistic instinct would foster a inability for their own survival comparable to the aforementioned indigenous peoples, many of whom will not exist 200-1000 years from now, some of them will vanish from histories great loom even sooner. Survival is the greatest metric across all periods of time because there are no other heuristics for human success without it. Even in those instances where a given individual of a particular tribe finds it prudent to sacrifice himself for the good of his folk the whole of the aim is to ensure the survival of a set group of individuals. The neo-luddite then, in their paranoiac and misplaced terror of the machinic ends up adopting a thanotropic drive to purity over survival which accounts in many ways for why they are so few and far between.