It’s Sunday. I hate Sundays. A hang-over from my high school years. A few days ago some lunatic took out a school full of elementary kids with a hand-gun, it’s colder than usual outside and I’m out of cigarettes. The world is changing. There are signs of it everywhere, and the seismic activity is massive. The Los Angeles of our sensibilities is about to slide into the sea, and most people aren’t even aware it’s happening. They feel it though.
People seem less human. More crazed. Lit with an insane irrational interior light. Blowing each other up, torturing themselves for the sake of art, lighting up their own faces with reflections from a back-lit screen. This happened before during the Italian renaissance when we went from a God-centered world to a human-centered world. One sculptor even nailed innocent men to a cross so he could touch their shoulders and strained biceps and get the proportions right for his sculpted Christ. But if 500 years ago we went from worshiping God to worshiping humans, where are we going now?
Into the abyss, say many.
Not so fast, say others. Isn’t the idea of the human as much of a construct as God and the angels were? Thinking of ourselves as moral, evolutionary spearheads–rational, thinking, reasoning beings with good hearts and even better intentions. The Italian renaissance placed us at the centre of the universe at nearly the same time it placed the sun at the edge of it. We found a perverse pride in our abilities to reason our way into the world of the atom while at the same time proving that environment and consciousness were irremediably linked by the Copenhagen Interpretation of wave-particle duality.
You can look it up.
The point is, this idea of “human” as some kind of specialized species (when we think of ourselves of a species among species at all) is simply an idea, drilled into us for a half a millennium by our art, our science, our philosophy. Nietzsche was closest when he proposed his uber-man, who had broken the bounds of morality and emerged into a new way of thinking of the world and of himself. All the violence, the virtual obsession, the polarization, the religious fanaticism is merely reaction against and towards the inevitable: man losing his definition of himself and extending, finally and at last, into his environment, both virtual and real. The future human will have no great need of identity. He or she can be whomever she chooses to be on that day, similar to choosing an avatar for a video game. He will have no need of morality either. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future a video game will be designed where one can shoot students in a virtual school. And the future human will likely be augmented by technology even more than we are now. They can extend into any program they wish, or manipulate their real environment with the touch of a button. Already there are intelligent, scientifically schooled men and women who’ve postulated that the entire universe is simply a simulation run by super computers created by future humans wishing to observe their own ancestry and evolution. Essentially, those futuristic beings would to us be Gods. And so the answer to where this seismic shift is headed may be similar to the Italian renaissance. From Gods to humans we are simply going back to Gods again. Only this time the Gods will be us. And our machines.
I hate the NRA. I think they are pathetic scum, and the only thing that could have been better than Charlton Heston’s death was if he had been shot by an intruder with a legally obtained hand-gun. But I think the problem is more fundamental than guns, or health care. Some people are losing their minds, and their moral sense, because we are evolving out of our limited definitions of what it means to be human. And they can’t take it. They no longer know if they are real or virtual, machine or human, simulation or simulacrum. It’s no coincidence that Klebold and Harris modeled their massacre on movies and video games. We are moving part and parcel into this 2nd/1st world amalgam. Nothing–not gun control, parental warnings or broader health care access–will change this. Times of huge paradigm shift tend to be the bloodiest. We are looking at all the wrong causes and conditions. Our politics are breaking down into polarized, polemic-laden, pundit-saturated name calling. We no longer have a moral consensus, if we ever did, because what is considered immoral in the first world is perfectly acceptable in the second and most people can’t, or won’t, make a distinction. Especially because most things, like sex on film or becoming lost on your iphone on the subway, are caught somewhere in between the two. Our religions have become a battleground for who has the better life-style, something that used to be reserved for Playboy or Reader’s Digest. And our art has become ironic to the point of meaninglessness.
We need to begin to have meaningful discussions about how to best manage this next phase of human existence, or post human existence. You may think it doesn’t even exist, and I admit it can be hard to see until your mind is trained to see it. But it is there. The evidence is all around you if you care to look. We need to start asking ourselves some really hard questions, like would it be better to have computers in all our brains so that we know what everyone is up to and we can communicate with each other better? Should we start putting all our efforts into AI research and kick-start the singularity, and just hope it goes in our favour? How about nootropics? And colonizing the moon for energy? And how to deal with criminals, and how should we re-define morality for a future age? (In the future, when someone breaks the law, we could force them into a permanent virtual reality so they can live life to a degree but can’t get loose to harm anyone in the real world.) How do we ease the suffering of nervous unstables who perhaps feel the onset of these changes more keenly than we do, so they don’t start shooting everyone up by thinking that the world is already virtual? I’m not saying that this is what happened in Connecticut, mind you. I’m just saying it will happen, more and more. This is just the beginning. There will be more casualties along the way. We are gradually becoming something more than human. Most people just feel more alive if they are connected to the Internet, or flashed upon a screen, or lost in the soft blue sifting machinations of an Iphone. As our technology becomes more sophisticated our retreat into it will become more complete and the old definitions of humanity more inadequate. Many more people will become confused and some of their reactions will be impossibly violent. Let’s talk about that for awhile, shall we?