From the outset of this post, consider the extent to which Silicon Valley – and perhaps this can be said with respect – is motivated beyond profit in their own words.
Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google: “Our merger with our technology has aspects of a slippery slope, but one that slides up toward greater promise, not down into Nietzsche’s abyss…The transformation underlying the Singularity is not just another in a long line of steps in biological evolution. We are upending biological evolution altogether”
Elon Musk and Tim Urban: “With the era of mass communication upon us, the collective human organism –
the Human Colossus – rose into existence…Understanding all of this, Elon has dedicated his life to trying to influence the Human Colossus to bring its motivation more in line with the long-term interests of humans.”
Former Google employee Anthony Levandowski, who created a Church for AI, responding to Wired Magazine in a question about AI with the apparently rhetorical: “Do you want to be a pet or livestock?”
From Kurzweil’s leadership at Google to Elon Musk and Neuralink, Silicon Valley is not merely number crunching and stumbling into the apocalypse but acting on outspoken and public ideologies.
On its own, this isn’t anything too unique. While Wall Street used Ayn Rand in its gospel of greed, European Imperialism adopted the White Man’s Burden. The newest incarnation of capitalist power, Silicon Valley is directed by and contributes to an ideology clothing the naked power dynamics underneath.
Only this time, however, the stakes are different. Silicon Valley isn’t just absorbing finance and the military, it soon promises to rework humanity itself through neuralink, AI, the singularity. For Musk, this involves the apparently humble proposition of streaming AI into our brains through neuralink. For Kurzweil, this means merging our consciousness out of our bodies to join AI in a VR super-reality. From Baudrillard’s desert of reality, mere code is absorbing humanity and its environment into its own planes of existence.
As Silicon Valley flirts with unprecedented stakes, what’s required is unprecedented political action. We will have to slaughter the holy cow of the free market while simultaneously imagining new futures of our own maintaining their connections to humanism, not abstractions.
The Big Problems are Technically Stupid
What’s required first, however, is to understand that no deadline or apocalypse commits us to Silicon Valley’s future.
The ‘big problems’ we face is not a want of technical expertise, it’s of leadership. We don’t need AI or even more STEM majors, but solutions for bureaucratic issues that must be addressed with or without them.
Nobody would disagree there are big problems but consider them in more specific terms like our supposed ‘healthcare’ debate. Ultimately, healthcare is an attempted bandage on America’s actual issue: chronic disease. 1 in 4 deaths in America are heart attacks. An estimated 38.4% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point (mostly breast cancer). The most honest statistics estimate 70% of Americans are obese. Healthcare may be debated ethically, but practically speaking its determined by how sick Americans are.
The major tweak is well established among public health experts: stop subsidizing and then tax sugar. Paleo vs. Veganism aside, research shows sugar inflames our arteries and literally feeds cancer cells. Despite this, the US effectively subsidizes sugar through high fructose corn syrup to saturate everything from tomato sauce, cookies, and bread to compensate for bad quality. Public health campaigns and taxes against cigarettes has slashed the number of smokers globally. If sugar were treated similarly, health and healthcare would benefit significantly downstream.
The developing world, as another example, suffers political instability. The hard but simple solution is to build an economy off of moderate capitalist principles so that value becomes more refined. As Yuval Harrari has said: invading Silicon Valley isn’t worth it since the workers would just run away with their Macs. The less a nation’s assets are tangible – oil, for example – the harder it is to loot them, and the less upside there is to foreign invasion.
Even global warming is technically stupid. If we absolutely cared, some aesthetic dictator could paint everything white, nationalize Tesla, and slaughter all the methane farting cows.
What’s scarce is leadership. These experts don’t lack solutions, they’re totally aggravated because the proof is out, but nobody will fight on their behalf against often enormous special interests and institutional apathy.
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but one industry’s passion project shouldn’t override the good progress others can make avoiding the apocalypse.
As for whether these problems with known solutions matter or not, Silicon Valley doesn’t care. Ideologies must be confronted in their own terms, not whether they’re technically viable or necessary.
Given this, it’s worth considering the extent to which this particular ideology un-ironically resembles the Christianity it so commonly derides. Besides Lewandowski’s tacky edifice of a Church, are a set of metaphysical propositions too similar to ignore.
For example, the serious belief in linear history and progress. For the Pagan, history was conceived cyclically in concepts like the Hindu Yugas or Rome’s eternal recurrence.
Abrahamism inverted this by rendering time as a linear storybook of creation, Eden, the Israelite’s triumphs and tribulations, Christianity’s Crucifixion, and the Revelation’s eventual apocalypse. Unlike the Pagans who would’ve agreed ‘history is just one thing after another,’ these faiths took seriously that things are going somewhere.
That may seem vague or trivial at first, but Silicon Valley also promises particular benefits to their progress. In his The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil promotes immortality and resurrecting the dead as his movement’s primary benefits. That may simply appear self-evident, but the Pagan held glorious death in the highest esteem. The Roman or the Viking genuinely yearned to die in battle to join the Valkyries in Elysium or Valhalla. Through Lazarus and heaven, Christian motifs repeat in the Singularity’s main work.
Finally, consider the name itself. The Singularity is a Christian concept from the Catholic Priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s theological work on Christ’s “Alpha and Omega” passage. Chardin concluded that just as the big bang was reducible to a single point (Alpha), the increase in telecommunications was making the world more connected, smaller—theoretically singular (Omega). Like a laser disappearing into a black hole, singularity ideologies believe history is bound for some essential focal point.
What’s in the singularity? No one can really say.
As American televangelist Bill Graham said: “Heaven is more glorious than we can imagine.” But do we know, specifically, how we will benefit from it, if at all? Do I get to see my friends?
As Ben Goertzel – speaking at the World Transhumanist summit in Helsinki – said: “[The Singularity] is a point at which intelligence way beyond human capability comes into play, and transforms the world in ways we literally can’t imagine…The Singularity could be the end of us all. Or – it could be the fulfillment of all our dreams.”
“They stood convicted of hatred of all mankind”
“It seems to me that Dante made a vulgar error when, with fearful ingenuity, he set this inscription over the gates of Hell: ‘I too was wrought by eternal love.’ In any case, the following would make a more appropriate inscription for the gate to the Christian Paradise: ‘I too was wrought by eternal hatred’” — Friedrich Nietzsche
For what was Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity, the author likewise applies it to Silicon Valley’s futurism. Disguised in flowery, transcendental language, singularities of any breed disguise what they ultimately are: nihilism, a death wish, a will to nothing.
What quality of people are behind these movements?
To their own admission, estranged people. Silicon Valley now confirms this is ‘revenge of the nerds’ with pride. As Peter Thiel says: “Aspergers is a competitive advantage.” As both Eric Weinstein and then Naval Ravikant said:
“If in everything you’re a winner now, in your life, it’s because you were a loser at some point. If you had gotten all the girls… if you had everything you want – you were good looking…you would’ve peaked early in life. You would’ve married your high school sweetheart, you’d be living in your hometown, you’d be a manager at the local McDonalds, or whatever.”
But does the ‘winner’ ever get over being a ‘loser’? Consider the writing of Tim Urban and Elon Musk. Promoting Neuralink, they write with a malice begetting their funny-quirky prose:
“Ever wonder why you’re so often unimpressed by humans and yet so blown away by the accomplishments of humanity?
It’s because humans are still, deep down, those people on Planet 2.
Plop a baby human into a group of chimps and ask them to raise him, Tarzan style, and the human as an adult will know how to run around the forest, climb trees, find food, and masturbate. That’s who each of us actually is.”
Thus, skepticism to a private company’s brain implants is reduced to ‘masturbating chimps.’ Meanwhile, Urban and Musk’s ‘ever wonder…’ remains a rhetorical question. It is simply assumed for their audience that people are unimpressive, with no distant sensitivity that people struggle according to their abilities and privileges.
Writing about the Jews and Christians, Tacitus observed, “[they] stood convicted of hatred of all mankind.” A noble Roman in touch with his instincts, he could taste the subversion at play. When the center of weight is placed outside of reality itself to a supposed hyper-reality only accessible to a particular set of people, life is undermined in the most cowardly, sinister, perverse way possible.
The ad hominem alone may be insufficient, but who can deny the stench of these ideas? It is unnoticeable and too convenient that those proclaiming humanity must be shed are those who hate it the most.
Remembering the Future
If Silicon Valley sources capitalism and individualism from our ‘Western Tradition’ it profoundly neglects humanism. Fetishizing quantity, it can only scorn as ‘unproductive’ the qualitative realities of the body, higher consciousness, high art, community, developing a flexible palate through moderated pleasures – dimensions of life with as much a claim to humanism as bourgeoisie productivity is.
The extent of this corruption is profound. In the long term, it draws on modernism and Americanism’s cultural momentum. In the short term, it offers dopamine spikes through GDP and status for those selling out to Big Tech. Physiologically, it resonates to an exhausted mass of humanity hooked on psychiatry, processed food, and escapism of every strain. Every major track in society is oriented to this same blackout, this same collapse and sacrificing of humanism for abstracts.
Any solution must synchronize ideology and aesthetics, so once more our best is to reminisce on what was possible in Sci-Fi. While dystopias like Blade Runner may be fascinating, consider the degree to which Star Trek, Star Wars, or even Dune inspire almost religious zeal in its fans.
Among other things, these visions remain pious to a humanist futurism. They show expansive protagonists demonstrating our human potentials in the spirit for adventure, higher consciousness, or, yes, even our sophistication in war. Fundamentally, they show balanced, whole and so masterly humans who haven’t been reduced to the instruments of AI, tech, or modernist ideas.
Thus is our own historically, biologically, spiritually unique concern. Will we be mesmerized by our own Frankensteins? As we bred dogs from wolves, will capitalism and tech do likewise to humanity?
More comfortable than ever in late-modernity, there’s an exhausting dissonance of hope, anticipation, and fear for the revolt that may or may not come.