The Internet is now the eye of God, it now creates social reality and it is more real and more frightening than reality itself. The internet interprets itself to us bypassing our humanity. The Internet distorts, it does not enhance, social relationships. The very materialality of the internet leads to an ironic distortion where virtual reality becomes more real than reality. I cannot help but wonder how are self-reflective human actions are still possible? Instead of us unplugging the computers, they are unplugging us from authentic experience and genuine reality thus creating an inverted post humanist reality where virtual reality is more real than the non-virtual, or real, reality. We live in a world where virtual entities such as those found in games are more real than people. Our social media mediated lives proceed like a bad waking dream. A conflated nightmare of allusions and delusions that leads to frightening conclusions. It now seems to me that reality is now only that which can be commodified and reduced to commercial value. Anything else represents an impossible object.
Another feature of the new dark age that I see is the mistaking of advances in the very specific and peculiar technologies of information processing, data storage and communication for general progress and from here, to infer morality, justice and ethics. To do so is to proceed with morality, justice and ethics based on a false or mistaken inference. These hyper rapid but narrow technological advances are unhinged from the rate of progress, or lack of progress, in other domains of human experience. Welcome to utopia, not quite what we thought it would be? It never is.
I also feel that a cold wind is blowing from the future because the future is being built upon a mistaken certainty about the present. The present is based on assuming that a constant growth imperative, within a framework of finite resources, is sustainable. Economic imperatives bleed over into cultural values without our awareness or endorsement. This is a form of enlightenment in reverse. We are consigning agency to the system (or the network as Bridle styles it) and with this, thinking becomes unthinking. This imperative is leading to an anti-literate, post-historical, self-destructive environment of addiction to excess desire that creates an attitude of work to consume and consume to work in a Sisyphean culture. The addiction to excess desire is not at variance with the realism in which we currently reside, but this realism is at variance with reality. Our current culture is an example of realism (status-quo ideology) and nature is an example of reality. A reality in which we strip and destroy the environment without understanding, or even paying attention to, what we are doing or why. If we live by an ideology, the most threatening ideology will be our own because of the expectations it breeds and blind spots it concedes.
Here is my outline interpretation of a New Dark Age:
Drivers of the coming dark age:
• Crass Commercialization of all ideas
• Crude Commoditization of all values
• Caustic Conventionalization of all people
Outcomes from the coming dark age:
• Catastrophe – environmental, natural and human made
• Collapse – public finance, private capital, economic and political systems
• Conflict – between nations and peoples for advantage, safety and resources
Deities of the coming dark age:
• The Goddess Technology
• Her Demigods:
We created them, we bow down before them, we offer them human sacrifice
We have constructed a social order and now a global society that operates through a set of social relations that makes our material prosperity possible, but it comes at the cost of potential ecological disaster and prevents justice, solidarity and peace from ever fully obtaining due to the violence and injustice needed to maintain the false freedoms and pseudo prosperity of the current system. Our very conception of freedom is now tied to capital and commodity. Our very conception of prosperity is now tied to the slavery and poverty of others. No amount of tinkering from within a global market economy will change this because there can only be one realm of freedom within such an arrangement of forces. The market itself is the final arbiter in human well-being and un-being. In its increasing extremism, it is producing a prosperous but pathological social order. In an interesting irony, individualism itself now is exploited in deference to the mass consumer culture through targeted advertising that appeals to individualist tastes and preferences on a mass basis made possible with spyware. This is creating a sea of easily manipulated individualized opinion echo chambers and a fragmented social consensus.
A new form of good old-fashioned alienation provides the light for seeing in the new dark age. This is alienation from our own information. Alienation from our labor was the insight that Marx provided into the phenomena of mass production of commodity goods. We now have the phenomena of mass production of information, big data as it is called, representing an overwhelming volume of sheer information. Simply put, this is ‘information overload’. But this is an overload so vast and complex that it becomes disconnected from all other domains of human experience. Human experience and agency are becoming defined by this big data and the calculations that accompany it as we encounter ever more vast and complex amounts of data. James Bridle points out the irony of how additional data and more calculation has led not to greater clarity, but to obscurity and opaqueness. Greater efficiency leads to greater incomprehensibility. As James Bridle puts it “computation is replacing conscious thought”. Or as I would put it, we are becoming computational zombies. Data breeds data and human culture is being written by code and moving beyond human agency. Human agency is being replaced by a data driven system agency. This started first when we replaced physical labor with machines, then we replaced mental labor computers, now we are replacing creativity and judgement with AI. Next we replace human experience with virtual reality there’s of the embodied, rational, subjective human is over. The subject is dropping out of human subjectivity. Bridel styles this as entering a world of mechanical or machine agency and goes one step further, an era of where agency is unclear and untraceable. In any case, I feel that the systems we create are destroying, disrupting and deconstructing the conditions of possibility for human agency. With diminished human agency comes the diminished capacity for human judgment and discretion. With diminished human judgment and discretion comes diminished human sympathy and empathy. Human beings are becoming better at following instructions than in exercising judgment which is beyond the competence of purely computational thinking. With the aid of technology, the logic of the system now conveniently does the work of oppression with no need for direct human intervention. When the following of instructions and system logic replaces the exercise of human judgment, we will be in a new dark age. But a dark age not without precedent, it is a well exposed human failing. Following instructions over exercising judgment was the key to holocaust and host of other atrocities, and unspeakable horrors of brutality and barbarism. In looking over history it is just as easy to see barbaric ruin as it is rational progress. We are becoming alienated from own experience. What it means to be human is changing before our eyes. This the Zizek’s thief in broad daylight. There is no longer a place for the good old standbys of human experience such as the awareness of ambiguity, nuisance, irony and paradox in world created by algorithms and data analysis. The struggle now is to maintain the human real in the face of this new pathological anti-real, ideological post-real, technological virtual-real and mythological hyper-real world. We seem to be in one great consensual hallucination with reality becoming so twisted there should be no need, or maybe grater need, for mind altering drugs. Thing that were once directly lived experiences are now relegated to a copy, a representation or a vicarious substitute via virtual reality. As I said, the virtual is now more real than the real and the virtual entities and worlds are more real than real people in the real (everyday world of lived human experience) world. And all this passes for sanity. We cannot simply turn it off, the Internet etc. We cannot escape it by turning it off. There is no turning it off. Few seem to mind the superficial culture and the ‘will to nothingness that is the new post humanist ethic, is there strong enough word to describe this end of subjectivity? I guess it is better to be considered insane in an insane world. The nightmare has come true.
This also leads to the more traditional form of alienation emanating from the actions of subjective beings in a world of objects by searching for access to an independent objective world. An object yet ceases to be merely an object. In this new paradigm, the human being becomes one with the object while remaining divided between subject and object. With this, the human being becomes one-dimensional as Marcuse put it. It becomes easier for an authority to superimpose a repressive social reality on the one-dimensional human being content with escaping from the reality of subjective oppression into the fantasy and contemplation of the fictitious objective virtual world of truth and goodness. Simply stated, the path of escape from the world is the path to oppression in the world. The freedom to desire material want becomes the means of producing servitude. This all describes the condition of post modernism, but post modern is not something we as people are, it is something that happens to us.
Fun Aside: The Bridle Paradox:
I agree with much the author has to say which puts me into an uncomfortable and perhaps even hypocritical position. But if I am hypocrite, so is James Bridle. To wit: p. 118, “Behind a few pixels on Amazon’s homepage are hidden the labour of thousands of exploited workers: every time the buy button is pressed, electronic signals direct a real human to set off in motion, to perform their efficient duty.” Oh no, I pushed the buy button to purchase this book. So, what is this efficient duty? To wit: p. 116, “They are intended to act like robots, impersonating machines while remaining, for now, slightly cheaper than them.” Further, “Workers are docked points – meaning money – for failing to keep up with the machine, for toilet breaks, for late arrival from home or meals, while constant movement prevents association with fellow employees.” And yet more, p. 116, “The hand-held devices carried by Amazon’s workers and mandated by its logistics are also tracking devises, recording their every movement and keeping score of their efficiency.” I am guilty of pressing that repressive “buy button” and setting into motion a train of shameless abuse, crass exploitation and crude manipulation but the obvious problem is that of course, this book is being sold on Amazon in the first place with the copyright owned by James Bridle. Bridle is thus participating in, and enabling, the same hegemonic cultural paradigm and repressive agenda to which he objects. He exhibits self-interest, a real blind spot in the current cultural consensus. On his own terms, and by his own accounting of the matter, I am afraid that Mr. Bridle is tempting a hopelessly naive person such as myself to act in an unethical manner by offering his book for sale on Amazon. What could be more unethical than tempting the naive and innocent to act in an unethical manner in purchasing this book?
Bridle Paradox Resolution 1:
There is simply no other way, no other alternative, for James Bridle to avail himself of; he must use the technological tools of the extant system infrastructure, network and cultural paradigm to get his message out. There is no a blind spot after all. He must work within the current social consensus with the tools at his disposal His only other choice would be to remain silent. His silence could then be taken as acquiesce in, and enabling of, the hegemonic cultural paradigm more so than his act of publication.
Bridle Paradox Resolution 2:
This is a prime example of system agency replacing human agency and via the cruel logic of the publishing industry. He had to post his book on Amazon and related other retail channels, James Bridle had real no choice. After all, we are becoming computational zombies. Data breeds data and human culture is being written by code and moving beyond human agency. Human agency is being replaced by a data driven system agency and as James Bridle points out, we also entering into a world of mechanical agency and even one of disguised and hidden agency. The logic of this agency compels marketing certain channels even for books written to protest the logic of this same system agency.
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Verso (1 September 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 178663547X
- ISBN-13: 978-1786635471
- Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.8 x 21.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)