Technoptimism is Techonaivité

Believing in one’s story until it collapses is a common theme of those failing to live up to Eudaimonia, the notion of a life well-lived. Those whose lifework becomes discredited and desecrated in the twilight years of their life, no matter how successfully they were, or thought they were, cannot be said to have died happily.

The Silicon Valley in which I live, a culture infused with the cocaine high of technological breakthroughs, grates against my earthly sensibilities.

Riding on the crest of adrenaline, discovery, and money, what many in the fair Bay Area know, is not in fact what is. This temporary party-atmosphere, around until catastrophe hits, is the last hurrah of capitalism . Whether technology will trap us in a surveillance state, or liberate us from mediating political, economic, and social predators, dangles in the hands of deliberate planning and meta-organizing on the part of those developers. As users and citizens, we are all developers.

Not knowing the implications of one’s discoveries is very different from saying that there aren’t any. The neoteny of tech bros and gals, and those few beyond and between, is part of the enforced juvenilization of tech “campuses” and a society that values brain plasticity over wisdom.

After all, wisdom doesn’t sell. You can’t fake wisdom or put lipstick on a pig’s face with wisdom. No, but with new forms of glitz and glanz, mind control, and exploiting our dispositions as mammals, money is to be made!

Thus, tech people are predisposed to think, act, and do as children do. They are rewarded to do so. But this has consequences for where we are going as a culture, and as a planet.

Enforced childhood and adolescence–having other people clean your clothes, make your food, and take you to work–creates “first world problems” and obsessions with gourmet food, “the scene” (sorry guys, you already killed it long ago, and are working vigorously to kill it everywhere you gentrify (*cough*Berlin!*)), and competition; and mirrors very boldly the very exploits popular around the fall of Rome in its decadence. By disconnecting life from work and work from life, Millenials are entranced by the modern panis et circensis of indulgent ice-cream and meatfoods (internal parasite- and climate change-causing), sugar, and other drugs. Meanwhile the products you make are giving the keys of ultimate social control over to the highest bidder.

Thus, to work in the tech industry becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of inculcating young minds into believing that what they are doing is indeed a good thing, or a helpful thing for society, as it is being rewarded by their superiors, a glamorous job, treats them like a kid (everyone loves a sweet aunt or generous uncle), and pays well, providing a roulette wheel of opportunity.

At the same time, those highest on the foodchain realize that their techno optimism must be tempered with social intelligence, the likes of which the United States has never seen. Zuckerberg’s Harvard Address talks about the need for universal health care (duh) and Universal Basic Income. This second idea is much needed before we begin to even talk about truth, fairness, justice, diversity, or intelligence.

That there are multiple intelligences is today taken as a given. Anyone believing in just a single scale or parameter (likely their own at which they excel) needs read the literature on multiple intelligence. While most other cultures have known this and lived it, in the West (and especially in the self-interested, individualistic US), this comes as some sort of revelation. It has yet to be integrated into schools, politics, commerce, or tech (let alone science).

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that until people have basic material welfare (food, water, shelter, clothes, access to facilities, freedom of mobility, etc.), they are hard put to be able to participate in democracies. This is what John Rawls and pretty much every reasonable political theorist has said since the 1970’s. Yet, we still expect to have a polity without a society. Our society today is fragmented, violent, scared, and unequal. Millionaire 20-year-olds dodge 60-year-old homeless people in the BART, and hop-scotch between them on Market.

The illusion of progress is one of the most pernicious veils currently enthralling 2017 eyes. The high of “being part of the solution,” “doing well while doing good,” is a strong opiate indeed. There is no coincidence of the drug metaphors that have been used since Marx’s Communist Manifesto comparing capitalism’s coopting and metabolizing tendencies of any opposition, novelty, or expression of freedom. Capitalism, like an out-of-control nanobot army, turns color into grey goo. It turns freedom into commodity, and reifies any authentic expression. As Robert Wright has written, we are caught in a technology trap, where every problem demands a brand new technofix.

Yet, this will to power of techno optimism conceptually doesn’t pan out. What cosmology could ever possibly support such an absurd conclusion as believing that our problems can be used through “innovating” off of the old template? The notion that there is a template, the homogenization of mind globally through damaging the climate, spreading uniform media, and the colonialism of mind, language, and culture–is the problem. Regionalism is the only way to have diversity. Giving back some of the stolen treasure is the only way we will ever get the true beauty of exotic difference that offers the seed of change to us if we’re willing to listen.

We’ve been talking out of both sides of our mouth. Saying we value diversity and quelching it. Saying we’re open to difference and then suppressing it so that when it does pop up, it is a perversion, always needing to fight somehow, for its life, against the white heteropatriarchy. As my friend Erica Wohldmann has said, “Complete control is merely an illusion so we might as well be comfortable.” Being comfortable requires being pushed back. Eating and being eaten. Giving and taking. Sharing.

With our brothers and sisters, along with our fellow species we share this golden-reflecting planet with, we have been stingy with our sharing. We have forgotten that our knowledge is limited, and believed ourselves to be Daedelus rather than the Icarus we have become.

It’s time to come home. To humility and fallibility, and the truth of our poor state of affairs. Delaying the operation is only going to make the sickness worse, and decreases the chances of a resilient recovery.

Our Ancestors only owned as much as they could carry. As all humans were nomadic before agriculture hit, baggage was as much a liability as it was a good. The minimalism movement, and what the Burning Man ethos used to be (way back when) carries this essence. Live simply so that others may simply live.

But what of this simplicity at the societal, political, legal, medical, global level? Decentralization is priority number one. No more anonymous decision-making. If a decision doesn’t directly affect you, you have no right to legislate over it. No more long arms of the government, or far-reaching corporations trying to prey on someone based thousands of kilometers from their corporate headquarters. You gotta keep it local. Otherwise we’re toast.

How does the internet and digital technology play into this? Well, we’ve got to have a localized technology. We can still have global epistemic cultures, but with a noncommercial and non-domination clause.

A moratorium on new technologies will allow us room to assess, remake, refine, democratize, and distribute the existing technologies. For God’s sake, we don’t need any more technology! In fact, oil drilling, gas mining, and genetically engineering are all technologies that we need to assess, and dispose from our arsenal, and then start with technologies lexically prioritizing how to clean up the social, economic, racial, gender, sexual, etc., wounds we’ve made with the previous ones. The precious resources (human capital, natural capital, etc.) we command should be distributed to the most urgent, most pressing problems–with an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural plan of attack; not one made to make money by rich white men. Then, collectively, we gently start to apply solutions, scientifically, not like little kids being bulls in china shops (as big tech currently is doing).

Pandora’s box needs to be shut. But because we’ve unleashed 10,000 Pandora’s we need to systematically, through complex systems thinking, go through the list, look at the synergies and syndemics, and close them all. Of course we will require technology. But those technologies will look very different from the single, aggressive one we have right now.

A native science, a feminist science, an Asian science, a black science–all and more are needed to get us to where we need to go. Unless we can learn to value otherness–difference–we’re just navel gazing and peddling around in circles, creating a rut and wasting valuable energy.

Let us wake up from our stormy dreams, and breathe in the aroma of night flowers. Let us go where we are scared to go, so that we may learn how courageous we are. May we learn from the mist and moist earth, humbling ourselves before the creations which created us. May we work in inner and outer service only towards the true liberation of all beings, through sharing, using less, and evolving our science.