Part 1 of this article series features my expansion of Ncaps 01-15 for the book Homo Deus (as discussed in the Introduction, which also includes the full list), as a basis for identifying points of significance and referencing a variety of relevant media. Themes covered in Part 1 include Biotechnology, War, Terrorism, Progress, Death, Elixir of Life, Drugs, Pleasure, and Cyborg.
Note: All italics and bold are my own, which I use to emphasise words, phrases, and sentences; and to recontextualize the passages (I also recommend reading the original sources I have quoted from to consider them in their original contexts).
The ‘Glossed-Over, Double-Edged Sword of Biotechnology’ in the ‘Curing of Diseases’ Overshadowing the ‘Weaponization of Worse Diseases’
“Scientists [are] developing revolutionary new treatments that work in radically different ways to any previous medicine. For example, some research labs are already home to nano-robots, that may one day navigate through our bloodstream, identify illnesses and kill pathogens and cancerous cells […] Biotechnology enables us to defeat bacteria and viruses, but it simultaneously turns humans themselves into an unprecedented threat. The same tools that enable doctors to quickly identify and cure new illnesses may also enable armies and terrorists to engineer even more terrible diseases and doomsday pathogens. It is therefore likely that major epidemics will continue to endanger humankind in the future only if humankind itself creates them, in the service of some ruthless ideology. The era when humankind stood helpless before natural epidemics is probably over. But we may come to miss it.” p16
The key word is “overshadowing”, in that within the small amount of common discourse there is on the subject of biotechnology, the vast majority of it focuses on advertising its benefits whilst minimizing or excluding discussion of its threats.
Plague Wars: A True Story of Biological Warfare, by Tom Mangold & Jeff Goldberg (1999)
This (unread) book in my library relates to this theme of bio-weaponization being under-acknowledged:
“This text argues that biological warfare whether in the hands of ‘madmen’ states or lone terrorists has the potential to do more damage than even nuclear weapons. It cannot be properly banned by treaty; it cannot be controlled; and it requires little investment to refine. It is the poor man’s atom bomb. The battlefields of the new biological menace are being defined and it is time for the world to be warned for it stands close to the threshold of something new and terrible. Centered around the warriors in the biological battle, ‘Plague Wars’ features the men behind Iraq’s plan to gain plague war superiority; how the Pentagon planners have already war-gamed the West’s response to the first full plague war attack; the Japanese cult terrorist plan to spread biological terror around the world; details of the Russian’s biological warfare programme and the defectors who have blown the whistle on what the Russians are really up to and how a covert biological warfare programme may represent one of the last untold secrets of South Africa’s apartheid war. To reveal these stories, the authors have secured the co-operation of the American Department of Defense, the United Nations and various civilian and military intelligence agencies.” -Amazon
28 Days Later (2002 Film)
There have been many movie plots featuring the engineering of deadly plagues; and this movie is a prominent one in the genre, in which the “Rage Virus” is actually created accidentally, by “scientists […] hired to try and isolate the specific neurochemicals that cause anger and excessive aggression in humans in order to develop an inhibitor that regulates anger control issues, [who then decide] to use the Ebola Virus as a delivery system, [after which it] mutated, causing the inhibitor to have the opposite effect—instead of inhibiting anger, it caused its hosts to become full of constant, uncontrollable rage—and creating the Rage Virus.” Rage Virus, Fandom.com
Neurobiology: The Imminent Militarization of Biology, by Mark Wheelis and Malcolm Dando (2005 Article)
This is article testifies both to the reality and gravity of the threat, as well as to the widespread ignorance of it:
“The ongoing revolution in biology, symbolized by the completion of the Human Genome Project, undoubtedly has enormous potential for benefit—for example, in the development of more effective, safer medicines. However, serious concerns have been raised about the consequences of the misapplication of the new capabilities for hostile purposes. As Professor Meselson, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard University, has said: ‘[a] world in which these capabilities are widely employed for hostile purposes would be a world in which the very nature of conflict had radically changed. Therein could lie unprecedented opportunities for violence, coercion, repression or subjugation…’ […] consideration has been given to other kinds of agents, such as bioregulators, that might be misused. Most recently, analysis has suggested how traditional agents, modified traditional agents, and then advanced biological agents—targeted at specific physiological processes—might successively become threats over the coming decades.
“In late 2003, the Office of Transnational Issues of the US Central Intelligence Agency issued as bleak a warning about the future of biological weapons as any academic or non-governmental organization has yet produced. The report, titled The Darker Bioweapons Future, argued that ‘[g]rowing under-standing of the complex biochemical pathways that underlie life processes has the potential to enable a class of new, more virulent biological agents engineered to attack distinct biochemical pathways and elicit specific effects.’ The report cited a number of specific examples of new biological weapons that might become possible, and noted that the panel of experts which had been convened to produce the report considered that ‘[t]he effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be worse than any disease known to man.’ However, to date no open analysis has taken Meselson’s argument seriously and asked where we might end up later in the century if the militarization of biology is not prevented.”
Threats from the use of biotechnology—deliberate or accidental—is being overshadowed, so as to present an optimistic perception of its promises, which is a highly skewed one.
The ‘Inconceivable-ization of War’, due to the Creation of ‘Nuclear Weapons’, which led to the ‘Deterrence Paradigm’, resulting in ‘Alternative Forms of Conflict’
“…wars too are disappearing. Throughout history most humans took war for granted, whereas peace was a temporary and precarious state. International relations were governed by the Law of the Jungle, according to which even if two polities lived in peace, war always remained an option […] During the second half of the twentieth century this Law of the Jungle has finally been broken, if not rescinded. In most areas wars became rarer than ever […] in the early twenty-first century [violence] is responsible for about 1 per cent of global mortality […] In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.” […]
“Even more importantly, a growing segment of humankind has come to see war as simply inconceivable. For the first time in history, when governments, corporations and private individuals consider their immediate future, many of them don’t think about war as a likely event. Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts.
“Simultaneously, the global economy has been transformed from a material-based economy into a knowledge-based economy. Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. Hence as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and wars became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world—such as the Middle East and Central Africa—where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies […] In consequence, the word ‘peace’ has acquired a new meaning. Previous generations thought about peace as the temporary absence of war. Today we think about peace as the implausibility of war.” p16
The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation, by William S. Lind, Marine Corps Gazette, Oct. 1989 (Article)
This article can help to put into perspective the common perception of warfare, which is both misled and naïve. Beginning with a short history of the first three generations of modern-era warfare, Lind then details the possible aspects of the coming fourth generation warfare, in which:
“Mass, of men or fire power, will no longer be an overwhelming factor. In fact, mass may become a disadvantage as it will be easy to target. Small, highly maneuverable, agile forces will tend to dominate. Fourth is a goal of collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him. Targets will include such things as the population’s support for the war and the enemy’s culture. Correct identification of enemy strategic centers of gravity will be highly important.
“In broad terms, fourth generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ may disappear. Actions will occur concurrently throughout all participants’ depth, including their society as a cultural, not just a physical, entity. Major military facilities, such as airfields, fixed communications sites, and large headquarters will become rarities because of their vulnerability; the same may be true of civilian equivalents, such as seats of government, power plants, and industrial sites (including knowledge as well as manufacturing industries). Success will depend heavily on effectiveness in joint operations as lines between responsibility and mission become very blurred. Again, all these elements are present in third generation warfare; fourth generation will merely accentuate them.”
Lind then proceeds to discuss technology, psychology, and terrorism; and then concludes his article thus:
“The purpose of this paper is to pose a question, not to answer it. The partial answers suggested here may in fact prove to be false leads. But in view of the fact that third generation warfare is now over 70 years old, we should be asking ourselves the question, what will the fourth generation be?”
The siginificance of knowledge becoming the “most important economic resource” also heightens its importance concerning war—hence as Lind suggests:
“Psychological operations may become the dominant operational and strategic weapon in the form of media/information intervention. Logic bombs and computer viruses, including latent viruses, may be used to disrupt civilian as well as military operations. Fourth generation adversaries will be adept at manipulating the media to alter domestic and world opinion to the point where skillful use of psychological operations will sometimes preclude the commitment of combat forces. A major target will be the enemy population’s support of its government and the war. Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions.”
The ‘Cyber Warfare’ Dimension towards Subversive-‘World Destablization’
“There is no guarantee, of course, that the New Peace will hold indefinitely. Just as nuclear weapons made the New Peace possible in the first place, so future technological developments might set the stage for new kinds of war. In particular, cyber warfare may destabilise the world by giving even small countries and non-state actors the ability to fight superpowers effectively. When the USA fought Iraq in 2003 it brought havoc to Baghdad and Mosul, but not a single bomb was dropped on Los Angeles or Chicago. In the future, though, a country such as North Korea or Iran could use logic bombs to shut down the power in California, blow up refineries in Texas and cause trains to collide in Michigan (‘logic bombs’ are malicious software codes planted in peacetime and operated at a distance. It is highly likely that networks controlling vital infrastructure facilities in the USA and many other countries are already crammed with such codes).” p19
By Way of Deception – The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer, by Victor Ostrovsky (1990)
Amongst the many insights into the world of the secret services to be found in this exposé, one in particular mentions how special agents—called “combatants”—are sent to infiltrate enemy (or potential enemy) countries, and plant explosives into the structures of buildings and facilities as they are being constructed:
“…combatants […] work closely together in pairs. One is a target-country combatant, his partner a base-country combatant […] When needed, the target-country combatant goes into a target country, using the company as his cover, while his partner, the base -country combatant, acts as his lifeline and gives whatever support is needed […] most combatants pose as Europeans. They sign up for a four-year stint. It is crucial for cover that they have an actual business that will allow them to travel at any time on short notice […] They actually run the business. It is not just a cover story, but a real one—usually dealing in import/export sales.
“Combatants do not gather direct intelligence—actual physical observations, such as movement of arms or the readiness of hospitals for war—but they do gather ‘fiber’ intelligence, which means the observation of economics, rumors, feelings, morale, and such. They can come and go easily and observe these things without any real risk to themselves. They do not broadcast reports from a target country, but they sometimes deliver things there—money, messages. Many bridges […] had bombs planted in the concrete by combatants during their construction—all combatants are trained in demolition techniques. In the case of war, these bridges could be easily demolished by a combatant sent in to detonate the explosives.”
Thus, the planted “logic bombs” are simply an addition to the planted physical bombs—but the principle of modern warfare remains the same: “by way of deception”.
The Overreaction to ‘Terrorism’ in the Extenuation of ‘Oppressively Disproportionate Counter-Measures’, effecting the Inversion of ‘Security Threat’ towards De-Civilization
“…terrorism is a strategy of weakness adopted by those who lack access to real power. At least in the past, terrorism worked by spreading fear rather than by causing significant material damage. Terrorists usually don’t have the strength to defeat an army, occupy a country or destroy entire cities. Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Qaeda.
“How, then, do terrorists manage to dominate the headlines and change the political situation throughout the world? By provoking their enemies to overreact. In essence, terrorism is a show. Terrorists stage a terrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and makes us feel as if we are sliding back into medieval chaos. Consequently states often feel obliged to react to the theatre of terrorism with a show of security, orchestrating immense displays of force, such as the persecution of entire populations or the invasion of foreign countries. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves. Terrorists are like a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot budge even a single teacup. So it finds a bull, gets inside its ear and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop. This is what happened in the Middle East in the last decade. Islamic fundamentalists could never have toppled Saddam Hussein by themselves. Instead they enraged the USA by the 9/11 attacks, and the USA destroyed the Middle Eastern china shop for them. Now they flourish in the wreckage.
“By themselves, terrorists are too weak to drag us back to the Middle Ages and re-establish the Jungle Law. They may provoke us, but in the end, it all depends on our reactions. If the Jungle Law comes back into force, it will not be the fault of terrorists.” p20
Harari does an excellent job of putting ‘terrorism’ into a more accurate perspective, in attributing the real threat to society as not being that of the terrorists, but that of over-reactive media and states.
State Of Exception, by Giorgio Agamben (2003/2005)
This book thoroughly discusses a very important concept, which concerns the suspension of laws under conditions of ‘security threat’, and the lasting effects of such ‘suspensions’:
“State of Exception investigates the increase
of power by governments which they employ in supposed times of crisis.
Within a state of emergency, Agamben refers to the states of exception, where constitutional
rights can be diminished, superseded and rejected in the process of
claiming this extension of power by a government. The state of exception
invests one person or government with the power and voice of authority over
others extended well beyond where the law has existed in the past […] ‘modern totalitarianism can be defined as
the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war
that allows for the physical elimination
not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who
for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system’.
“The political power over others acquired through the state of exception, places one government—or one form or branch of government—as all powerful, operating outside the laws. During such times of extension of power, certain forms of knowledge shall be privileged and accepted as true and certain voices shall be heard as valued, while of course, many others are not. This oppressive distinction holds great importance in relation to the production of knowledge. The process of both acquiring knowledge, and suppressing certain knowledge, is a violent act within a time of crisis.
“State of Exception investigates how the suspension of laws within a state of emergency or crisis can become a prolonged state of being. More specifically, Agamben addresses how this prolonged state of exception operates to deprive individuals of their citizenship. When speaking about the military order issued by President George W. Bush on 13 November 2001, Agamben writes, ‘What is new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnameable and unclassifiable being.’ Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status of POW’s (prisoner of war) as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of people charged with a crime according to American laws’. Many of the individuals captured in Afghanistan were taken to be held at Guantánamo Bay without trial. These individuals were termed as ‘enemy combatants.’ Until 7 July 2006, these individuals had been treated outside the Geneva Conventions by the United States administration.” –Wikipedia
The Terrorist Threat: World Risk Society Revisited, by Ulrich Beck, Theory, Culture & Society, 2002 (PDF Article)
This article examines the theme of the misperception of ‘terrorism’ in the form of “risk society”, and discusses the politics and consequences of such a context:
“Does 11th September stand for something new in history? There is one central aspect for which this is true: 11th September stands for the complete collapse of language. Ever since that moment, we’ve been living and thinking and acting using concepts that are incapable of grasping what happened then. The terrorist attack was not a war, not a crime, and not even terrorism in the familiar sense. It was not a little bit of each of them and it was not all of them at the same time. No one has yet offered a satisfying answer to the simple question of what really happened. The implosion of the Twin Towers has been followed by an explosion of silence. If we don’t have the right concepts it might seem that silence is appropriate. But it isn’t. Because silence won’t stop the self-fulfilling prophecies of false ideas and concepts, for example, war. This is my thesis: the collapse of language that occurred on September 11th expresses our fundamental situation in the 21st century, of living in what I call ‘world risk society’.”
The following articles also help put the theme of modern ‘terrorism’ into much better perspective:
Fake terror plots, paid informants: tactics of FBI ‘entrapment’, by Paul Harris in New York, 16 Nov 2011, The Guardian (Article)
Defining the “New Terrorism”: Reconstruction of the Enemy in the Global Risk Society, by Münevver CEBECİ (2012 Article)
Covert Action in 21st Century Counter-Terrorism, by Gustavo Diaz (Unisci) & Karov Morave (2006 Article)
The Illusion of ‘Progress’ in the Misuse of New Powers to Equivalize Old Problems
“…history does not tolerate a vacuum. If incidences of famine, plague and war are decreasing, something is bound to take their place on the human agenda. We had better think very carefully what it is going to be. Otherwise, we might gain complete victory in the old battlefields only to be caught completely unaware on entirely new fronts […] When humankind possesses enormous new powers […] what will scientists, investors, bankers, and presidents do all day? […] humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness, and divinity […] we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.” p22
Parkinson’s Law, or The Pursuit of Progress, by C. Northcote Parkinson (1958)
This classic satire is effectively an expose of the reality of “the pursuit of progress”, revealing the various absurdities and ploys inherent to ‘Progress’. The satirical tone is very good (enhanced by a few comical illustrations), however the insights are highly significant, with regards to laying bare the behind-the-scenes machinations of bureaucracy—which are generally applicable to prestige-invested modern institutions and procedures.
The De-Sanctification and Superstitialization of ‘Afterlife’ towards the Technicalization of ‘Death’
“Throughout history, religions and ideologies did not sanctify life itself. They always sanctified something above or beyond earthly existence, and were consequently quite tolerant of death […] their moment of death was a sacred metaphysical experience exploding with meaning […] Modern science and modern culture have an entirely different take on life and death. They don’t think of death as a metaphysical mystery, and they certainly don’t view death as the source of life’s meaning. Rather, for modern people death is a technical problem that we can and should solve […] Humans always die due to some technical glitch. The heart stops pumping blood. The main artery is clogged by fatty deposits. Cancerous cells spread in the liver. Germs multiply in the lungs. And what is responsible for all these technical problems? Other technical problems. The heart stops pumping blood because not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle. Cancerous cells spread because a chance genetic mutation rewrote their instructions. Germs settled in my lungs because somebody sneezed on the subway. Nothing metaphysical about it. It is all technical problems […]
“And every technical problem has a technical solution. We don’t need to wait for the Second Coming in order to overcome death. A couple of geeks in a lab can do it. If traditionally death was the speciality of priests and theologians, now the engineers are taking over. We can kill the cancerous cells with chemotherapy or nano-robots. We can exterminate the germs in the lungs with antibiotics. If the heart stops pumping, we can reinvigorate it with medicines and electric shocks—and if that doesn’t work, we can implant a new heart. True, at present we don’t have solutions to all technical problems. But this is precisely why we invest so much time and money in researching cancer, germs, genetics and nanotechnology. Even ordinary people, who are not engaged in scientific research, have become used to thinking about death as a technical problem […]
“Even when people die in a hurricane, a car accident or a war, we tend to view it as a technical failure that could and should have been prevented. If the government had only adopted a better policy; if the municipality had done its job properly; and if the military commander had taken a wiser decision, death would have been avoided. Death has become an almost automatic reason for lawsuits and investigations. ‘How could they have died? Somebody somewhere must have screwed up.’ The vast majority of scientists, doctors and scholars still distance themselves from outright dreams of immortality, claiming that they are trying to overcome only this or that particular problem. Yet because old age and death are the outcome of nothing but particular problems, there is no point at which doctors and scientists are going to stop and declare: ‘Thus far, and not another step […]’ The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not say that humans have ‘the right to life until the age of ninety’. It says that every human has a right to life, period. That right isn’t limited by any expiry date.” p24
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley (1816)
This classic novel relates to the theme of the scientific attitude towards controlling life and death, and the repercussions of such endeavours, as the following article touches upon:
Why Frankenstein is the story that defines our fears, by Rebecca Laurence, 13 June 2018, BBC (Article)
“As a parable, the novel has been used as […] a dialogue between history and progress […] The prefix ‘Franken-’ thrives in the modern lexicon as a byword for any anxiety about science, scientists and the human body, and has been used to shape worries about the atomic bomb, GM crops, strange foods, stem cell research and both to characterise and assuage fears about AI.
“All them scientists—they’re all alike. They say they’re working for us but what they really want is to rule the world!” –Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974). […]
“If you consider that Mary Shelley had lost her mother Mary Wollstonecraft at her own birth, had just buried her baby girl and was looking after her pregnant step-sister as she was writing the book – which took exactly nine months to complete – the relevance of birth (and death) makes even more sense.” […]
“Just like the Romantics, we edge towards a new modern age, but this time, of AI, which brings its own raft of fears and moral quandaries. A clutch of recent films and TV shows have channelled Frankenstein, exploring what it means to be human in the context of robotics and AI – Blade Runner, Ex Machina, AI, Her, Humans and Westworld among them.”
Creating Life Is Bad, aka: Playing God, by TV Tropes (Article)
This article cites Frankenstein as the “Trope Codifier” of this trope, whilst listing many examples of its being used in various media.
Breakneck ‘Biotechnological Developments’ towards Prophesizing Progression from ‘Equality’ to ‘Immortality’
“The breakneck development of fields such as genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and nanotechnology fosters ever more optimistic prophecies. Some experts believe that humans will overcome death by 2200, others say 2100. Kurzweil and de Grey are even more sanguine. They maintain that anyone possessing a healthy body and a healthy bank account in 2050 will have a serious shot at immortality by cheating death a decade at a time. According to Kurzweil and de Grey, every ten years or so we will march into the clinic and receive a makeover treatment that will not only cure illnesses, but will also regenerate decaying tissues, and upgrade hands, eyes and brains. Before the next treatment is due, doctors will have invented a plethora of new medicines, upgrades and gadgets. If Kurzweil and de Grey are right, there may already be some immortals walking next to you on the street—at least if you happen to be walking down Wall Street or Fifth Avenue.” […]
“In the twentieth century we have almost doubled life expectancy from forty to seventy, so in the twenty-first century we should at least be able to double it again to 150. Though falling far short of immortality, this would still revolutionise human society. For starters, family structure, marriages and child–parent relationships would be transformed.” p28
The Second Genesis – The Coming Control of Life, by Albert Rosenfeld (1969)
Despite being five decades old, the topics discussed in this book are not only still relevant, but they are far more relevant now than they were then. This also serves a testament to the fact that there are always much more substantial discussions and revelations available, concerning the long-term direction of science and society—if one investigates the published literature (which is time consuming, but rewarding). With this particular book, the Contents page itself indicates the significance of the subjects and themes within:
The Ideological ‘Sanctification of Life’ towards an Establishment-Serving ‘War on Death’
“An increasing minority of scientists and thinkers consequently speak more openly these days, and state that the flagship enterprise of modern science is to defeat death and grant humans eternal youth […] Such dreams are shared by other Silicon Valley luminaries. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has recently confessed that he aims to live for ever. ‘I think there are probably three main modes of approaching [death.] You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it […] I prefer to fight it.’ Many people are likely to dismiss such statements as teenage fantasies. Yet Thiel is somebody to be taken very seriously. He is one of the most successful and influential entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley […] The writing is on the wall: equality is out—immortality is in.” p27
“…every failed attempt to overcome death will get us a step closer to the target, and that will inspire greater hopes and encourage people to make even greater efforts […] The scientists who cry immortality are like the boy who cried wolf: sooner or later, the wolf actually comes. Hence even if we don’t achieve immortality in our lifetime, the war against death is still likely to be the flagship project of the coming century. When you take into account our belief in the sanctity of human life, add the dynamics of the scientific establishment, and top it all with the needs of the capitalist economy, a relentless war against death seems to be inevitable. Our ideological commitment to human life will never allow us simply to accept human death. As long as people die of something, we will strive to overcome it. The scientific establishment and the capitalist economy will be more than happy to underwrite this struggle. Most scientists and bankers don’t care what they are working on, provided it gives them an opportunity to make new discoveries and greater profits […] enough customers would pay whatever it takes, constituting a well-nigh infinite market.” p32
The key points here are, firstly, that the “sanctification of” and “ideological commitment to” Human Life says nothing about the naturalness or quality of life—it only implies that ‘death’ is an evil to be ‘battled’; and ‘life’ is basically reduced to ‘not death’. Secondly, the unexamined source and motive for this sanctification and commitment is not ‘humanistic’ at all, but purely scientific and economical.
Afterlife-Inspired-‘Piety’-Inversion towards an Elixir-Provoked-‘Ruthlessness’, and the Traditional Respect for ‘Death’ into a ‘Death Fear’-Prism, towards the ‘Dissipation of Virtuous Characteristics’ and the Nullification of ‘Higher Goal’-Inspired ‘Life Sacrifice’
“If all that is not enough, the fear of death ingrained in most humans will give the war against death an irresistible momentum. As long as people assumed that death is inevitable, they trained themselves from an early age to suppress the desire to live for ever, or harnessed it in favour of substitute goals. People want to live for ever, so they compose an ‘immortal’ symphony, they strive for ‘eternal glory’ in some war, or even sacrifice their lives so that their souls will ‘enjoy everlasting bliss in paradise’. A large part of our artistic creativity, our political commitment and our religious piety is fuelled by the fear of death […] If you think that religious fanatics with burning eyes and flowing beards are ruthless, just wait and see what elderly retail moguls and ageing Hollywood starlets will do when they think the elixir of life is within reach. If and when science makes significant progress in the war against death, the real battle will shift from the laboratories to the parliaments, courthouses and streets. Once the scientific efforts are crowned with success, they will trigger bitter political conflicts. All the wars and conflicts of history might turn out to be but a pale prelude for the real struggle ahead of us: the struggle for eternal youth.” p33
Death Becomes Her (1992 Film)
This black comedy is a great one to watch specifically for this theme: the modern fear of old age and death, and the kind of characteristics and behaviours this cultural environment engenders (such as narcissism and cosmetic surgery). Here are some relevant quotes from the film:
Wrinkled, wrinkled little star, hope they never see the scars.
[after seeing herself transformed from drinking the potion] I’m a girl!
is life’s ultimate cruelty. It offers us a taste of youth and vitality, and
then it makes us witness our own decay.
Anna: How about a nice colagen buff instead?
Madeline Ashton: A colagen buff? You might as well ask me to wash with soap and water!
Anna: I could do your make-up myself.
Madeline Ashton: Make-up is pointless! It does nothing anymore. Are you even listening to me? Do you even care? You just stand there with your twenty-two year old skin and your tits like rocks and laugh at me.
Von Rhoman: Go on… Drink it… It is the
completion of your life’s work. You gave other people youth [cosmetic surgeon] and
wasted your own! Drink. And you will be able to work again forever! Drink…
drink, Dr. Menville. You owe yourself another chance! Drink! It’s the right
choice! The only choice! Drink! SEMPRE VIVE! LIVE FOREVER!
Ernest Menville: Then what?
Lisle Von Rhoman: What?
Ernest Menville: Then what happens?
Lisle Von Rhoman: What?
Ernest Menville: I don’t want to live forever. I mean, it sounds good, but what am I gonna do? What if I get bored?
Lisle Von Rhoman: What?
Ernest Menville: And what if I get lonely? Who am I gonna hang around with, Madeleine and Helen?
Lisle Von Rhoman: But you’ll never grow old!
Ernest Menville: Yes, but everybody else will! I’ll have to watch everyone around me die. I don’t think this is right. This is not a dream. This is a nightmare!
Collectivized ‘Self-Centered Epicureanism’ towards ‘Nation-State Degradation’ via ‘The Right to Happiness’
“For Epicurus the pursuit of happiness was a personal quest. Modern thinkers, in contrast, tend to see it as a collective project […] During the 19th and 20th centuries […] governments, corporations and laboratories focused on more immediate and well-defined goals […] Schools were founded to produce skilful and obedient citizens who would serve the nation loyally. At eighteen, youths needed to be not only patriotic but also literate […] they had to know mathematics [….] they needed a reasonable command of electronics, mechanics, and medicine […] when they left the army they were expected to serve the nation as clerks, teachers and engineers, building a modern economy and paying lots of taxes. The same went for the health system. […] The aim wasn’t to make people happy, by but to make the nation stronger […] over the last few decades, the tables have turned […] the right to the pursuit of happiness, originally envisaged as a restraint on state power, has imperceptibly morphed into the right to happiness—as if human beings have a natural right to be happy, and anything which makes us dissatisfied is a violation of our basic human rights, so the state should do something about it.” p34
“If famine, plague and war are disappearing, if humankind experiences unprecedented peace and prosperity, and if life expectancy increases dramatically, surely all that will make humans happy, right? Wrong. When Epicurus defined happiness as the supreme good, he warned his disciples that it is hard work to be happy. Material achievements alone will not satisfy us for long. Indeed, the blind pursuit of money, fame and pleasure will only make us miserable […] Despite our unprecedented achievements in the last five decades, it is far from obvious that contemporary people are significantly more satisfied than their ancestors in bygone years. Indeed, it is an ominous sign that despite higher prosperity, comfort and security, the rate of suicide in the developed world is also much higher than in traditional societies.” [p37] The average American thus uses sixty times more energy than the average Stone Age hunter-gatherer. Is the average American sixty times happier? We may well be sceptical about such rosy views.” p39
The key point is not to say that the goals of 19th and 20th century were perfectly good and humane, which they were not; but to say that the goals from those eras strengthened the nation, whereas the goals of today weaken it—specifically in the Western nations. Thus the “imperceptibly morphed” concept of “happiness” engenders the training of citizens who lack the skill and the will to serve the nation effectively. The ultimate result of this development is to weaken the Western nations in relation to the Eastern nations, who, by my estimation, are ‘Westernized’ only to the degree it serves them in strengthening their own nations.
As one example, this was indicated in the documentary:
Ryan Gander: The Idea of Japan, by Ryan Gander (2017 Documentary Program), in which it can be seen that the Japanese deliberately remain anchored in their traditions—despite (i.e. beneath the surface of) their world-leading technological developments.
Near the end of the program, a non-Japanese car designer commenting on their philosophy, says:
“Even in the complexity, the Japanese are seeking harmony. There is also a sense of humbleness, trust. The Japanese consider their actions on other people as a priority […] The taxis and many parts of Japanese society are comfortably traditional. They’re not ageing, there’s no patina—they’re immaculate. But on the other hand, the culture and the country is known for progress and change and the future—and they live together, these two things [i.e. ‘Tradition’ and ‘Progess/Change’…] Usually a society that’s bent on creating ‘the new’ has a sense of revolution is every part of its fabric. Japan, no. A very old country, with deep culture—but is dreaming constantly.”
Then it cuts to an automated robotic factory building cars, over which Gander narrates:
“They’re dreaming of the future, and here it is. In the West we worry about robots—but here they say dozo: ‘come on in’. There’s a pinch of the samurai in this robotic DNA—and that’s because they’re just here to serve, nothing more.“
To this point I would add that the Eastern nations effectively use this Westernized guise to underplay the ‘power shift’ in strength taking placing between the West and the East; and that the West participates in this misrepresentation—by underplaying both Eastern national strength, and Western national degradation.
The Book of Life – Daily Meditations with Krishnamurti (from the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti, Published 1995)
The writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti come to mind as being remedial to the ‘collective epicureanist’ ways of modern life, and the detrimental effects this has on individuals. He has spoken very thoughtfully on many aspects of life; and this well-known quote of his has relevance here:
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
Suicide: A Study in Sociology, by Émile Durkheim (1987)
This (unread) book in my library is described as being “the first methodological study of a social fact in the context of society”—and of particular relevance here is the context of increased rates of suicide due to increases of prosperity:
“If therefore industrial or
financial crises increase suicides, that is not
because they cause poverty, since
crises of prosperity have the same result; it is because they are crises, that is, disturbances of the
collective order. Every disturbance of equilibrium, even though it achieves greater comfort and a heightening of general vitality, is an impulse to voluntary death. Whenever serious readjustments take place in the social order, whether or
not due to sudden growth or to an
unexpected catastrophe, men are more inclined
to self-destruction. […]
“Man’s characteristic privilege is that the bond he accepts is not physical but moral; that is, social. He is governed not by a material environment brutally imposed on him, but by a conscience superior to his own, the superiority of which he feels. Because, the greater, better part of his existence transcends the body, he escapes the body’s yoke, but is subject to that of society. But when society is disturbed by some painful crisis or by beneficent but abrupt transitions, it is momentarily incapable of exercising this influence; thence come the sudden rises in the curve of suicides which we have pointed out above.” –Suicide, by Émile Durkheim
A Pseudo-‘Positive Achievement’-Vanity, Masking an Unimproved ‘Subjective Wellbeing’, via ‘Non-Objectivity’ and ‘Greater Expectations’ creating an Increased ‘Dissatisfaction with Conditions’, and the Inhibiting of ‘Peaceful Contentment’ via ‘Artificial Sensation’-Inducement towards ‘Transient Excitement’
“On the psychological level, happiness depends on expectations rather than objective conditions. We don’t become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon. Dramatic improvements in condition, as humankind has experienced in recent decades, translate into greater expectations rather than greater contentment. If we don’t do something about this, out future achievements too might leave us as dissatisfied as ever.” p40
“The bad news is that pleasant sensations quickly subside and sooner or later turn into unpleasant ones […] if last year I received an unexpected promotion at work, I might still be occupying that new position, but the very pleasant sensations I experienced on hearing the news disappeared within hours. If I want to feel those wonderful sensations again, I must get another promotion. And then another. And if I don’t get a promotion, I might end up far more bitter and angry than if I had remained a humble pawn.” p42
“In a famous experiment scientists connected electrodes to the brains of several rats, enabling the animals to create sensations of excitement simply by pressing a pedal. When the rats were given a choice between tasty food and pressing the pedal, they preferred the pedal (much like kids preferring to play video games rather than come down to dinner). The rats pressed the pedal again and again, until they collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. Humans too may prefer the excitement of the race to resting on the laurels of success. Yet what makes the race so attractive is the exhilarating sensations that go along with it […] the exciting sensations of the race are as transient as the blissful sensations of victory. The Don Juan enjoying the thrill of a one-night stand, the businessman enjoying biting his fingernails watching the Dow Jones rise and fall, and the gamer enjoying killing monsters on the computer screen will find no satisfaction remembering yesterday’s adventures. Like the rats pressing the pedal again and again, the Don Juans, business tycoons and gamers need a new kick every day. Worse still, here too expectations adapt to conditions, and yesterday’s challenges all too quickly become today’s tedium […] most of us tend to jump all the way from stress to boredom and back, remaining as discontented with one as with the other.” p44
That the matching of expectations to reality is the real determinant of happiness, not objective conditions, is the key point here; with the correlative being that the manufacturing of discontent and the fuelling of expectations has become characteristic of Western culture—particularly after the World War II; and most obviously in advertising.
The term ‘Rat Race’ comes to mind here, which is defined as “an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit. The phrase equates humans to rats attempting to earn a reward such as cheese, in vain. It may also refer to a competitive struggle to get ahead financially or routinely. The term is commonly associated with an exhausting, repetitive lifestyle that leaves no time for relaxation or enjoyment.” –Wikipedia
5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted, by David Wong, March 08, 2010, Cracked.com (Article)
This article goes quite far in drawing the analogy of video games as being designed around the principle of the “rats pressing the pedal again and again”.
The ‘Biologicalization of Happiness’ via ‘Drug Industrialization’, Masking ‘Social-System’-Induced Psychological Effects, towards the Aim to “Manipulate Human Biochemistry” by Marginalizing “Economic Growth, Social Reforms and Political Revolutions” as Factors in the ‘Improvement of Happiness’
“If science is right and our happiness is determined by our biochemical system, then the only way to ensure lasting contentment is by rigging this system. Forget economic growth, social reforms and political revolutions: in order to raise global happiness levels, we need to manipulate human biochemistry. And this is exactly what we have begun doing over the last few decades. Fifty years ago psychiatric drugs carried a severe stigma. Today, that stigma has been broken. For better or worse, a growing percentage of the population is taking psychiatric medicines on a regular basis, not only to cure debilitating mental illnesses but also to face more mundane depressions and the occasional blues. For example, increasing numbers of schoolchildren take stimulants such as Ritalin […] The original aim had been to treat attention disorders, but today completely healthy kids take such medications to improve their performance and live up to the growing expectations of teachers and parents. Many object to this development and argue that the problem lies with the education system rather than with the children. If pupils suffer from attention disorders, stress and low grades, perhaps we ought to blame outdated teaching methods, overcrowded classrooms and an unnaturally fast tempo of life. Maybe we should modify the schools instead of the kids?” p45
“Armies are heading the same way: [American soldiers are taking] sleeping pills or anti-depressants to help them deal with the pressure and distress of war. Fear, depression and trauma are not caused by shells, booby traps or car bombs. They are caused by hormones, neurotransmitters and neural networks […] the difference [in performance] is in the soldiers’ biochemistry, and if we find ways to control it we will at one stroke produce both happier and more efficient armies […] The biochemical pursuit of happiness is also the number one cause of crime in the world [based on statistics of] “…crimes committed in connection with either consuming or trading drugs […] What some people hope to get by studying, working or raising a family, others try to obtain far more easily through the right dosage of molecules. This is an existential threat to the social and economic order, which is why countries wage a stubborn, bloody and hopeless war on biochemical crime.” p46
The following two articles offer some perspective on the medicalization of ‘happiness’, redressing the institutionally downplayed social factors. Both articles are placed within a political context, which for me is not necessary, since the same or equivalent state of affairs could occur under any political party or creed—it’s the description of the state of affairs that is useful here:
Mental Illness or Social Sickness? by Susan Rosenthal, Sun May 18, 2008, SusanRosenthal.com (Article)
“To sustain itself, the ruling class erects institutions of social control backed by ideas that justify the way things are. One of these institutions is modern medicine, which developed as a system of diagnosing and treating individuals, not their social conditions. Medical ideology assumes that individuals malfunction for reasons that have nothing to do with the social world. The physician treats the injured worker, not the unsafe workplace that injured her. Mental illness presents special problems for capitalism. The fact that social conditions generate mental distress is so obvious that a psychiatric industry is required to convince us otherwise. Psychiatry presents itself as a branch of medicine that diagnoses and treats mental illness in the same way that other branches of medicine diagnose and treat physical illness. This claim does not hold up under scrutiny.”
A Mad World: Capitalism and the Rise of Mental Illness, by Rod Tweedy, Aug 9th, 2017 (Article on the book: The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness)
“Mental illness is now recognised as one of the biggest causes of individual distress and misery in our societies and cities, comparable to poverty and unemployment. One in four adults in the UK today has been diagnosed with a mental illness, and four million people take antidepressants every year. ‘What greater indictment of a system could there be,’ George Monbiot has asked, ‘than an epidemic of mental illness?’ […] the significant correlation between social and environmental conditions and the prevalence of mental disorders […] drawing powerful attention to ‘the social determinants of our psychological wellbeing’. ‘The evidence is overwhelming,’ notes Kinderman, ‘it’s not just that there exist social determinants, they are overwhelmingly important.’
“A sick society: Experiences of social isolation, inequality, feelings of alienation and dissociation, and even the basic assumptions and ideology of materialism and neoliberalism itself are seen today to be significant drivers […] Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Jay Watts observes in the Guardian that ‘psychological and social factors are at least as significant and, for many, the main cause of suffering […] Governments and pharmaceutical companies are not as interested in these results, throwing funding at studies looking at genetics and physical biomarkers as opposed to the environmental causes of distress. Similarly, there is little political will to combine increasing mental distress with structural [factors].”
Requiem for a Dream (2000 Film), whilst being a dismal depiction of drug addiction, also alludes to the underlying social causes of unhappiness, which lead to destructive attempts at remedy (or escape).
Use of ‘smart drugs’ on the rise, by Arran Frood, 5th July 2018, Nature (Article)
This article indicates the trend of movement from (or extension of) treating psychological troubles to improving cognitive performance:
concentration while studying is one of the main motivations for taking
cognition-enhancing drugs […] The use of drugs by people hoping to boost mental
performance is rising worldwide, finds the largest ever study of the trend […] The
non-medical use of substances—often dubbed smart drugs—to increase memory or
concentration is known as pharmacological cognitive enhancement (PCE), and it
rose in all 15 nations included in the survey […] US respondents reported the
highest rate of use […] But the largest increases were in Europe […]
“‘The increased diagnoses of ADHD and their prescription drug use is creating a substantial population of young pharmacologically medicated persons whose underlying problems may very likely be located in their social world,’ says Steven Rose, a neuroscientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK.”
Limitless (2011 Film) also comes to mind as a cinematic advert for nootropics, defined as “(colloquial: smart drugs and cognitive enhancers) are drugs, supplements, and other substances that may improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.” –Wikipedia
Some exemplifying quotes from the film:
You know how they say we can only access 20% of our brain? [points out the NZT pill on the table] This lets you access all of it.
No scenario? I see every scenario, I see 50 scenarios, that’s what it does Carl – it puts me 50 moves ahead of you.
I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I have an actual recipe for grandeur.
Eddie Morra: Okay, I need you to go into the bag and take one of the pills.
Eddie Morra: Because you’ll know what to do. You’ll take it and then you’ll know.
Lindy: He’s got a knife. Eddie, I can’t think my way out of a knife!
Eddie Morra: Just listen to me: it’ll come on in thirty seconds and you’ll think your way out—that’s what it does.
Eddie Morra: Well, in order for a career to evolve, I’m gonna have to move on.
Carl Van Loon: And that you would even think that, would only show me how unprepared you are to be on your own […] Your deductive powers are a […] gift, not earned. You do not know what I know because you have not earned those powers. You’re careless with those powers, you flaunt them and you throw them around like a brat with his trust-fund. You haven’t had to climb up all the greasy little rungs. You haven’t been bored blind at the fundraisers. You haven’t done the time and that first marriage to the girl with the right father. You think you can leap over all in a single bound. You haven’t had to bribe or charm or threat your way to a seat at that table. You don’t know how to assess your competition because you haven’t competed.
Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, by Leon R. Kass (2003)
This is book on my reading list is directly concerned with this particular point raised by Harari:
“A groundbreaking new
exploration of the promises and perils of biotechnology—and the future of American society.
Biotechnology offers exciting prospects for healing the sick and relieving
suffering. But because our growing powers
also enable alterations in the
workings of the body and mind, they
are becoming attractive to healthy
people who would just like to look younger, perform better, feel happier,
or become more ‘perfect.’
“This landmark book—the product of more than sixteen months of research and reflection by the members of the President’s Council on Bioethics—explores the profound ethical and social consequences of today’s biotechnical revolution. Almost every week brings news of novel methods for screening genes and testing embryos, choosing the sex and modifying the behavior of children, enhancing athletic performance, slowing aging, blunting painful memories, brightening mood, and altering basic temperaments. But we must not neglect the fundamental question: Should we be turning to biotechnology to fulfill our deepest human desires?
“We want better children—but not by turning procreation into manufacture or by altering their brains to gain them an edge over their peers. We want to perform better in the activities of life—but not by becoming mere creatures of chemistry. We want longer lives—but not at the cost of becoming so obsessed with our own longevity that we care little about future generations. We want to be happy—but not by taking a drug that gives us happy feelings without the genuine loves, attachments, and achievements that are essential to true human flourishing. As we enjoy the benefits of biotechnology, members of the council contend, we need to hold fast to an account of the human being seen not in material or mechanistic or medical terms but in psychic, moral, and spiritual ones. By grasping the limits of our new powers, we can savor the fruits of the age of biotechnology without succumbing to its most dangerous temptations.
“Beyond Therapy takes these issues out of the narrow circle of bioethics professionals and into the larger public arena, where matters of this importance rightly belong.” -Goodreads
Jacob’s Ladder (1999 Film) is partially based on the theme of the biochemical enhancement of soldiers: “Jacob is approached by [a former] chemist with the Army’s chemical warfare division where he designed a drug he called the Ladder, which massively increased aggression. Michael claims that, to test the drug’s effectiveness, a dose was secretly given to Jacob’s unit before the battle, causing some of them to turn on each other in a homicidal frenzy.”
The Story of the Drug BZ, Mark Unno, March (1998, Updated 2002), is an interesting article by someone who was curious enough to investigate into whether or not the story of Jacob’s Ladder was based on reality.
The ‘State Regulation’ of the ‘Biochemical Pursuit of Happiness’ in the Development of ‘Increasingly Sophisticated Methods’, towards the Alteration of ‘Fundamental Patters of Life’
“The state hopes to regulate the biochemical pursuit of happiness, separating the ‘bad’ manipulations from the ‘good’ ones. The principle is clear: biochemical manipulations that strengthen political stability, social order and economic growth are allowed and even encouraged (e.g. those that calm hyperactive kinds in school, or drive anxious soldiers forward into battle). Manipulations that threaten stability and growth are banned. But each year new drugs are born in the research labs of universities, pharmaceutical companies and criminal organisations, and the needs of the state and the market also keep changing. As the biochemical pursuit of happiness accelerates, so it will reshape politics, society and economics, and it will become ever harder to bring it under control. And drugs are just the beginning. In research labs experts are already working on more sophisticated ways of manipulating human biochemistry, such as sending direct electrical stimuli to the appropriate spots in the brain, or genetically engineering the blueprints of our bodies.” p47
The ‘state regulation’ aspect brings to mind several dystopian science-fictions, each depicting the extent such regulation could lead to—the most historically significant one being the novel:
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932), described as “a dystopian novel [largely] set in a futuristic World State, inhabited by genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning, that are combined to make a utopian society…”
The following article is an interesting comparison between the regulation of drugs in the novel, as compared with reality:
Drugs in Brave New World and in the Present World, by Julia Ruck and Carolin Rein, Peutinger-Gymnasium.de (Article)
“In the novel […] the government tries to prevent its people from speaking freely and thinking by giving them soma, a legal drug that is available for them every day […] only the two legal drugs soma and alcohol exist, though alcohol can only be found in the reservation. In contrast […] we find lots of legal drugs in our present world, although we often do not really know that they are drugs at all, such as nicotine […], alcohol, medicine, caffeine, and huffing substances […] you won’t find any illegal drugs in the New World of Huxley because all the drugs they take are ordered by the government. In our world, however, there are many, many drugs that are illegal and if you get caught taking them or selling them you will be punished […]
“Another difference between the two worlds is the attitude society has towards drugs […] Society in “Brave New World” is used to taking soma by their first hypnopaedia lessons, where they are instructed what is necessary for the stability of their system. The lower classes, e.g. the epsilons, deltas and gammas, take regular doses of soma every day. The upper classes can mainly choose on their own how much and how often they need to take soma to flee to the world they would like to be in. In society’s opinion soma is something that belongs to everyone, and a world without it is unimaginable. The ones who want to live without it have to accept a life as an outsider of society. In today’s society, legal drugs are mainly used to calm down, like cigarettes or [alcohol, which are often used] just to loosen up at parties. You also take medicine or drugs in case of illness, and some people take anabolic substances to achieve better results in their athletic activities. Most illegal drugs are taken just to become high or to feed the dependence you’ve created. Society in our world is used to seeing people take legal drugs (like cigarettes or alcohol) because they are allowed to be taken in public places. Illegal drugs, on the other hand, make you an outsider of society […]
“The people in the New World get soma for free because it is […] all ordered and offered by the government. In comparison to that you have to pay for drugs in our world, and most of them have expensive prices that are only affordable to people with enough money. Legal drugs, however, aren’t as expensive as the illegal ones. This has the consequence that many people have to commit crimes and go into prostitution to buy the drugs they depend on. Yet each time they get what they want, they become more and more sick. Although everything for the people in Brave New World is great and everyone is happy and uninhibited if they get their lovely soma, they are also often dependent on the drug. [The] government supports soma to ensure passiveness of its people and thereby the stability of their created world. Alcohol, on the contrary, seems like an illegal drug in the New World because you become an outsider by drinking it, though it is not forbidden by the government.”
THX 1138 (1971 Film) and Equilibrium (2002 Film) are both based on the Huxleyian mass-drugging utopia theme, in which it is mandatory for citizens to take government-mandated drugs, in order to suppress their emotions—in order to maintain Order.
The ‘Pursuit of Pleasure Trap’ towards Justifying the ‘Re-Engineering of Bodies and Minds’ to Increase their ‘Capacity for Pleasure’
“Some 2,300 years ago Epicurus warned his disciples that immoderate pursuit of pleasure is likely to make them miserable rather than happy. A couple of centuries earlier Buddha had made an even more radical claim, teaching that the pursuit of pleasant sensations is in fact the very root of suffering. Such sensations are just ephemeral and meaningless vibrations. Even when we experience them, we don’t react to them with contentment; rather, we just crave for more. Hence no matter how many blissful or exciting sensations I may experience, they will never satisfy me.
“If I identify happiness with fleeting pleasant sensations, and crave to experience more and more of them, I have no choice but to pursue them constantly. When I finally get them, I they quickly disappear, and because the mere memory of past pleasures will not satisfy me, I have to start all over again. Even if I continue this pursuit for decades, it will never bring me any lasting achievement; on the contrary, the more I crave these pleasant sensations, the more stressed and dissatisfied I will become. To attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it.” p48
“The biochemical solution is to develop products and treatments that will provide humans with an unending stream of pleasant sensations, so we will never be without them. The Buddha’s suggestion was to reduce our craving for pleasant sensations, and now allow them to control our lives […] For what is the point of running after something that disappears as fast as it arises? [However] for the capitalist juggernaut, happiness is pleasure. Period. With each passing year out tolerance for unpleasant sensations decreases, and our craving for pleasant sensations increases. Both scientific research and economic activity are geared to that end, each year producing better painkillers, new ice-cream flavours, more comfortable mattresses, and more addictive games for our smartphones, so that we will not suffer a single boring moment while waiting for the bus.
“All this is hardly enough, of course. Since ‘Homo sapiens’ was not adapted by evolution to experience constant pleasure […] it will be necessary to change our biochemistry and re-engineer our bodies and minds. So we are working on that.” p49
Tantalus (Ancient Greek Mythology) comes to mind here, as an allegorical myth which essentially illustrates the torment involved in the “immoderate pursuit of pleasure”:
The curse of Tantalus: “Tantalus […] was made to stand in a pool of water but never able to
drink from it and quench his insatiable thirst as it drains whenever he
bends down to drink. As an added frustration, he was positioned below a tree
but can never quite grasp the succulent fruit that hangs from its boughs.
He is seen in this condition by the wandering Odysseus down in Hades in Homer’s
Odyssey. The hero describes the scene, thus: ‘I also saw the awful agonies
that Tantalus has to bear. The old man was standing in a pool of water which
nearly reached his chin, and his thirst drove him to unceasing efforts; but he could never reach the water to drink it.
For whenever he stooped in his eagerness to drink, it disappeared.’ […]
“Since the Greek mythology gave us the myth of Tantalus, this name became the origin of the English verb “to tantalize”. The underlying idea behind the verb and its products is that when someone is tantalized, that person undergoes the same experiences as the hero of the myth: something needed and desirable is out of reach always, or too hard to get. The verb “tantalize” means to arouse someone’s expectations teasing him, since they are eternally disappointed.” –Ancient History Encyclopedia
Black Museum (Black Mirror, Season 4, 2017)
The story told in this episode of the ‘pain addict’, relates to the scientific enhancement of the capacity for sensation, which in the case of this story, leads to highly disturbing results:
“Dr. Peter Dawson [gets] an experimental neurological implant that would allow him to feel the physical sensations of others. Dawson used this to feel the pain of his patients, which allowed him to become an expert at diagnosing and treating them. Meanwhile, Dawson also used the interface to enhance sex with his girlfriend. After […] experiencing [a patient’s] death via the implant, […] Dawson awoke with the side effect that he now experienced pain as pleasure. He begins to use his patients’ suffering for personal sexual arousal. He was removed from the hospital and, addicted to pain, began mutilating himself. Realising that he could not inflict fear (and thus, further pleasure) on himself, Dawson tasered, tortured, and killed a homeless man with a drill.” –Fandom.com
The ‘Step-by-Step Merging of Humans with Devices’ through Innumerable-‘Mundane Actions’, in ‘Alteration Unawareness’ through ‘Irrelevancy Fear’ and ‘Threatened Belongingness’
“In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods. Not just because these are divine qualities, but because in order to overcome old age and misery humans will first have to acquire godlike control of their own biological substratum. If we ever have the power to engineer death and pain out of our system, that same power will probably be sufficient to engineer our system in almost any manner we like, and manipulate our organs, emotions and intelligence in myriad ways […] Up till now increasing human power relied mainly on upgrading our external tools. In the future it may rely more on upgrading the human body and mind, or on merging directly with our tools. The upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths: biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of non-organic beings.” p49
“Cyborg engineering will go a step further [than natural evolution], merging the organic body with non-organic devices such as bionic hands, artificial eyes, or millions of nano-robots that will navigate our bloodstream, diagnose problems and repair damage […] A cyborg [in contrast to an organic body] could exist in numerous places at once […] Why should a cyborg doctor hold a surgeon’s scalpel by hand, when she could connect her mind directly to the instrument? This may sound like science fiction, but it’s already a reality […] If you wish, you can already remote-control electric devices in your house using an electric ‘mind-reading’ helmet. The helmet requires no brain implants. It functions by reading the electric signals passing through your scalp. If you want to turn on the light in the kitchen, you just wear the helmet, imagine some pre-programmed mental sign (e.g. imagine your right hand moving), and the switch turns on. You can buy such helmets online for a mere $400.” p50
“Foretelling the future was never easy, and revolutionary biotechnologies make it even harder. For as difficult as it is to predict the impact of new technologies in fields like transportation, communication and energy, technologies for upgrading humans pose a completely different kind of challenge. Since they can be used to transform human minds and desires, people possessing present-day minds and desires by definition cannot fathom their implications […] For thousands of years history was full of technological, economic, social and political upheavals. Yet one thing remained constant: humanity itself. Our tools and institutions are very different from those of biblical times, but the deep structures of the human mind remain the same. This is why we can still find ourselves between the pages of the Bible, in the writings of Confucius or within the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. These classics were created by humans just like us, hence we feel that they talk about us. In modern theatre productions, Oedipus, Hamlet and Othello may wear jeans and T-shirts and have Facebook accounts, but their emotional conflicts are the same as in the original play. However, once technology enables us to re-engineer human minds, ‘Homo sapiens’ will disappear, human history will come to an end and a completely new kind of process will begin, which people like you and me cannot comprehend.” p52
“If [attaining divinity] sounds unscientific or downright eccentric, it is because people often misunderstand the meaning of divinity […] Throughout history most gods were believed to enjoy not omnipotence but rather specific super-abilities such as the ability to design and create living beings; to transform their own bodies; to control the environment and the weather; the read minds and to communicate at a distance; to travel at very high speeds; and of course to escape death and live indefinitely. Humans are in the business of acquiring all these abilities, and then some. Certain traditional abilities that were considered divine for many millennia have today become so commonplace that we hardly think about them.The average person now moves and communicates across distances much more easily than the Greek, Hindu or African gods of old.” p54
“Upgrading ‘Sapiens’ will be a gradual historical process rather than a Hollywood apocalypse. Homo sapiens is not going to be exterminated by a robot revolt. Rather, Homo sapiens is likely to upgrade itself step by step, merging with robots and computers in the process, until our descendents will look back and realise that they are no longer [‘human’]. This will not happen in a day, or a year. Indeed, it is already happening right now, through innumerable mundane actions. Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features, then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.” p56
“Calm explanations aside, many people panic when hear of such possibilities. They are happy to follow the advice of their smartphones or to take whatever drug the doctor prescribes, but when they hear of upgraded superhumans, they say: ‘I hope I will be dead before that happens.’ A friend once told me that what she fears most about growing old is becoming irrelevant, turning into a nostalgic woman who cannot understand the world around her, or contribute much to it. This is what we fear collectively, as a species, when we hear of superhumans. We sense that in such a world, our identity, our dreams and even our fears will be irrelevant, and we have nothing more to contribute. Whatever you are today […] in an upgraded world you will feel like a Neanderthal hunter in Wall Street. You won’t belong.” p57
Future Man – Brave New World or Genetic Nightmare? by Brian Stableford (1984) was a major book on the subject of bio and techno-engineering, and which is now outdated only in terms of the technologies discussed at that time (having now been surpassed)—but the discussion of the principles and implications involved continue to grow in relevance.
The Terminator, Robocop, and Iron Man film franchises have all played major roles in acclimatizing society to the idea of “cyborg engineering”—which of course is slowly becoming a reality.
The classic children’s cartoon television series Inspector Gadget (1983–1986) actually predates all of these films, in which Inspector “Gadget is a cyborg (part man, part machine) with thousands of high-tech gadgets installed in his body.” The following article is a very interesting analysis of the meaning of this show:
Transhumanism Is Tempting—Until You Remember Inspector Gadget, by Rose Eveleth, 05.27.2019, Wired (Article)
“Tech gurus are obsessed with treating bodies like machines—something a 30-year-old cartoon about a tricked-out detective suggests won’t work […] This is some transhumanists’ dream, a future where we can completely trick out our bodies and transcend the limitations of human biology. It’s also a description of what the title character from the 1983 cartoon Inspector Gadget can do […] He’s [a] walking gadget, who can turn his body into nearly anything. And yet, with all that power, Gadget can’t solve a single mystery […] despite being equipped with every tool he could possibly need, it’s the brilliant Penny, a completely boring non-cyborg, who saves the day every time.
“Sure, the cartoon (and subsequent film adaptations) are over the top and ridiculous. But our hapless detective can teach us something about the ways we think about bodies, bionics, data, and the future of human-machine interfaces. Gadget’s antics poke real holes in the fantasies that some transhumanists and ‘body hackers’ have about how the body works, and what we might be able to ask it to do.
“More tools, as any overexcited new home chef can tell you, don’t make you a better cook. Inspector Gadget has, it seems, every possible piece of gadgetry at his disposal, but he can’t see the forest through the bionic trees. Penny, on the other hand, undistracted by an endless number of technological choices, remains clear-eyed to save the day. Penny is not completely untechnological. She is, in fact, a brilliant inventor in her own right. In many episodes she builds and deploys devices to help solve the case—a radar system, a long-range camera, a smart watch. But where Gadget has technology embedded within him as a bodily element, and as such has less than perfect control over it, Penny uses technology as a tool outside her body.”
“The ‘body as machine’ analogy dates back to at least the industrial revolution […] As Randolphe Nesse […] wrote in his essay ‘The Body Is Not a Machine,’ ‘The metaphor of body as a machine provided a ladder that allowed biology to bring phenomena up from a dark pit of mysterious forces into the light where organic mechanisms can be analyzed as if they are machines.’ […] this ‘body as machine’ trope is the well from which much of current-day body hacking springs. If the body is a machine, if the brain is a computer, if muscles are simply pulley systems, then we can go in and tinker at will. We can create Inspector Gadget because we can create computers and Boston Dynamics robots and spaceships. But the body is not a machine. It does not behave like one. We did not invent it and we mostly cannot program it. Its parts are not plug-and-play, nor are they discrete.
“As a (reluctant) tech reporter, I get a lot of press releases for products that only work if you assume the body functions like a device. If we could just measure things more accurately, these pitches argue, we could solve eating disorders, infertility, chronic pain, depression—the list goes on. Silicon Valley tech gurus are all in on ‘biohacking’ their bodies just like they ‘growth hacked’ their startups […]
“Body-as-machine fantasies also imagine that the technology will work as we hope, every time. But anybody who’s ever used, well, any kind of device can tell you that that’s not true. Inspector Gadget’s entire comedic repertoire (unbeknownst to him of course) lies in exactly these failures. His gadget arms extend, but won’t contract, his coat inflates when he doesn’t want it to, his feet turn to roller skates when he wanted skis. His existence makes plain the ridiculousness of assuming that something like Robocop could truly happen—a seamless, perfectly efficient blend of man and machine.
“To admit that the body (and mind that sits within it) might be far more complex than our most delicate, intricate inventions endangers all kinds of things: the medical industrial complex, the wellness industry, countless startups.”
Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, by Michio Kaku (2011)
This book is directly attempting to ‘foretell the future’, and serves as an effective starting place towards imagining how “Homo sapiens will [begin to] disappear”:
“…gives us a stunning, provocative, and exhilarating vision of
the coming century based on interviews with over three hundred of the world’s top scientists who are already
inventing the future in their labs. The
result is the most authoritative and scientifically accurate description of the
revolutionary developments taking place in medicine, computers, artificial
intelligence, nanotechnology, energy production, and astronautics.
“In all likelihood, by 2100 we will control computers via tiny brain sensors and, like magicians, move objects around with the power of our minds. Artificial intelligence will be dispersed throughout the environment, and Internet-enabled contact lenses will allow us to access the world’s information base or conjure up any image we desire in the blink of an eye.” –Goodreads
Magical Technologies Just over the Horizon – The products that really wow us seem like pure wizardry, by David Pogue, Aug. 1, 2017, Scientific American (Article)
This article’s likening of technology to magic, parallels Harari’s likening of the mythological powers of ancient gods—both of which go unrecognized in our tech-obsessed society, and thus alludes to the misperception of ‘magic’, ‘gods’, and ‘technology’:
people have always been helplessly drawn
to the concept of magic: the notion that you can will something to happen
by wiggling your nose, speaking special words or waving your hands a certain
way […] any time you can offer real magical powers for sale, the
public will buy it. That’s exactly what’s been going on in consumer technology. Remember Arthur C. Clarke’s most famous line?
‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is
indistinguishable from magic.’ Well, I’ve got a corollary: ‘Any
sufficiently magical product will be a ginormous hit.’
“Real tech magic is simplicity plus awe. The most compelling tech conventions—GPS apps telling you when to turn, your Amazon Echo answering questions for you, your phone letting you pay for something by waving it at that product—feel kind of amazing every single time. Anything invisible and wireless, anything that we control with our hands or our voices, anything we can operate over impossible distances—those are the hits because they most resemble magic. You can now change your thermostat from thousands of miles away, ride in a car that drives itself, call up a show on your TV screen by speaking its name or type on your phone by speaking to it. Magic […]
“…these days magic is everywhere, appealing both to our laziness and to our sense of wonder. It’s in wireless charging and augmented reality. It’s in voice control of our smart homes and in Fitbits that somehow know what sport you’ve just played for an hour. It’s in summoning a car and driver with one tap on your phone. It’s in software that recognizes the faces of your friends in your pictures. Thank you, engineers and designers of the world, for taking on the role of creating magic. Right now we the people can use all of it we can get.”
Black Mirror (2011-) addresses the gradual process of people merging with technology, which it does by depicting near-future scenarios in which the next generation of technology has been implemented, so as to imagine its effects on the human condition.
Netflix’s Black Mirror: Episode Motif Data Viz, by Svilen, Oct 11th 2018, Medium (Article)
This article features a (very nice) graphic table that assigns technological and human motifs to each Black Mirror episode, which can come in useful for selecting episodes to watch (as some are more hi-tech than others).
The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation, by Roy F. Baumeister and Mark R. Leary (1995 Article) This is an extensive examination of an extremely significant principle of life, which applies to all societies and peoples, of all times and places. So whilst Harari is correct to say that the fear of not belonging will compel people to ‘upgrade’, it is even more important to place this particular fear into its proper context—because it applies to even the most primitive of societies, and actually has nothing to do whatsoever with technology.
Credit to all the authors I have quoted here for their writings, which generally I found useful long before using for this article, and which I recommend to readers independently of it.
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