“Save Us From Ourselves”

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Massachusetts Coat of Arms: Colonists Imagined Natives Eagerly Awaited Christian Salvation

Expect more and more media which will have some higher intelligence – either robotic or alien – saving humanity from itself. Science fiction on that theme will replace, I suspect, the zombie apocalypse as the indicator of where the popular imagination is at. (The Great Recession made many feel so hopeless that they began looking forward to the complete break-down of society. Terror aside, the odds would at least be balanced. So too: an out-group one can unashamedly bash.)

It’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on Earth than a much more modest change in capitalism

Slavoj Zizek

I made this prediction after watching 2016’s Arrival.  The plot – and spoilers ahead – has extra-terrestrials gifting humanity a universal tongue and a common purpose that brought to mind one of Reagan’s comments to Gorbachev. In one of the few times his handlers allowed him off-script, Ronnie opined that the only way of attaining pan-human fraternity was by way of an alien threat to the species. (After which point he returned to finger painting.) In other words, all-out interplanetary war is the only way of badgering us into behaving like we would if we were, as economists pretend, rational actors. But, it is true isn’t it, that every utopia – going back to Thomas Moore’s – looks more like a dystopia at its periphery? Our minds only allow in-group solidarity if there exists, simultaneously, a set of people to exclude and possibly bash in.

This shows a level of cynicism that even I, a fully paid-up member of the lefty liberal London bubble, find uncomfortable. At its core it’s a surrender: “no, I have no faith whatsoever in humanity and its capacity to overcome squalling infancy”. We need to import reason and intelligence from elsewhere in the Milky Way, or invent machines that will build the robots that may save us fleshy men-children.

(For an even more pessimistic message, Westworld builds on similar foundations but has technology saving evolution from the dead-end humanity had crafted around itself. It was one of those rare shows that had audiences cheering on their own extinction.)

This idea that salvation lies outside Man, and not the latent drive found in all us fumbling half-apes, verges on Christian thinking. And, if I were to be even more discerning, the very worst sort of that type of “thought”: the Catholic.

Paddy

 

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