An experiment with open conversation
'... I would currently be sunning myself on a distant beach, probably on an island which I had newly purchased myself...'
Probably good that that didn't happen, because wouldn't that be part of the Machine? 😉😁
We are all using machines of one kind or another to comment on the impending nature / impact of 'the Machine'. I just wonder where understanding the problem in-hand via the internet starts to feel meaningless and trying to identify actual things we can do with our lives in way of response might begin? Is it even worth trying to mitigate or dodge the 'great unfolding' of technology? What does one do? Sorry - I appreciate that's more than one ideas thread.
Yesterday I played a little with the ChatGPT app (https://openai.com/blog/chatgpt/), an AI app that aims to help people have better informed conversations. One question that I asked was Will it rain in Heaven tomorrow?, and when the app said that 'since everything is supposed to be perfect in Heaven, it probably won't', I said that rain was good, so why wouldn't it rain in Heaven? The dialogue that followed afterwards was a very tedious repetition of the same idea by the app: 'everything is supposed to be perfect in Heaven, and it probably has other means to nourish the plants than rain', and also an even more tedious repetion of an apology, the app being sorry it had made me believe that it had said rain was not good. It made me uncomfortable, to be frank. It was like talking to a politician.
I had a co-worker years ago who sold a side-project of his to Google. He was contractually bound not to reveal how much they paid him for it. All he could do when asked was to gesture with his hands wide apart to indicate, "A WHOLE LOT". I recall him sitting at his desk, staring somewhat sadly into the middle-distance, and asking him what was up. He sort of half-smiled and said, "I'm ruined."
He quit the next day. I think he was about 28 years old and didn't need to do anything else with his life but sit on the proverbial beach with an umbrella drink.
Many a person has been ruined by too much money too soon. We Abbey-dwellers need to continue with enough paid subscriptions to keep Paul writing, but never so many he can close up shop and take off for that beach.
Hello Paul and everyone here.
I'm Monique from Australia and have spent most of last two years alone in a cabin while the world went mad. I have a tendency to fast forward around corners so 'saw' much of what played out in my mind around late March, 2020. Before this I had just spent the entire winter on the Isle of Iona and before that Romania, Slovenia and a third 'once a decade' wander around Auschwitz with Viktor Frankl in my ears asking myself once again, 'How on earth did this happen? And how did the Germans not know what was happening here?' I wouldn't dare compare the path of the unvaccinated to that of the Jewish people (ever) but I have gleaned a lot from Mattias Desmet's recent work and feel now I have a better understanding of the system and human beings post Covid.
I was going to celebrate my ability to withstand the onslaught that came second half of 2021 by coming to Ireland to see you and Martin, Paul (at the Priory) but it still feels a little weird out there in the big, wide world. A little understandable agoraphobia, perhaps. In all honesty navigating this year has been perhaps obviously surreal and I am so sorry I haven't been able to give you something back for your wonderful words, Paul. I will one day as being able to read what you are seeing and feeling when most of your friends and family are seeing something or nothing else has truly been a God send, as has pulling out my childhood bible myself. I wish I could show you the highlighted chapters in Revelations - truly. Why on earth would an 8 year old be so interested in all that mumbo jumbo?! Interesting feeling yourself speaking to you and current events 40 years later, across time. Just another layer to add to the oddness of feeling as though you're floating through time and space before being reconfigured, kind of like in the Wonka machine. I guess paradigm shifts aren't meant to be smooth sailing.
Regarding Elon Musk, (which I've just realised wasn't a prompt in your introductory email but I'll leave my thoughts here anyway), I admit to becoming a little addicted to it all suddenly. I listened to his live chat on Twitter with a few others (and 100k listeners). There's a change of the guard feeling about it all which is no surprise, and once again, taking out the middle man and the ever generous overlords. The mainstream media - just another institution destined to fall? I believe him when he speaks about the 'preciousness' of free speech and how rare it is to experience this. I also loved what he said about the arcs of civilisations and how ignorant we can be when on an 'up swing'. He certainly has an impressive mind and unless I'm utterly naive, this Twitter move certainly feels to be coming from a good intention. It also takes courage. How The Establishment is going after him now - and Matt Taibbi since part one of 'The Twitter Files' dropped. It's all just so revealing. The powers that be don't seem too concerned about giving their hand away, it seems, yet I guess there aren't many looking as closely as some of us.
Having said ALL that, I mustn't forget that ultimately it's just a billionaire's race to building the infrastructure for transhumanism and streamline all of it into one global system. Musk's 'If you can't beat it, join it' attitude is his modus operandi/long game, and so impressive and well intentioned as the man might be, no thanks. I have been writing about all that concerns most of us for years and the inevitable split when it comes to Late Stage Capitalism. It's only Instagram rants but my hashtag is always the same - go the hobbits. In Tolkenesque times what other conclusion is there? I guess that's always been my answer to the whole thing. I can't help but be wedded to the beauty and wonder of the natural world so I think ultimately, it's going to be a game of staying in our hearts and being present with all that is.
Thank you for the opportunity. So happy to be in good company and be able to say thank you. Thank you again Paul, and thank you also to Rhys Wildermuth. Love you Rhys, if you are reading this. Your writing has also held my heart in tac t and I am greatly indebted to you both. Good health to all reading this. Monique x
Here in Australia we’re approaching Christmas upside down as usual which is quite pleasant being summer and all.
However it is otherwise rather insane to be celebrating a winter solstice festival at the height of summer with fake snow, reindeer and Santa dressed in heavy clothes. Not to mention the whole commercial nonsense. It is another example I suppose of the great inversion which you write so wonderfully about Paul.
My usual response is to take myself off to a Vipassana retreat (in the tradition of S.N. Goenka) for the duration of the silliness. Sitting still in silence and paying attention to the universe unfolding within the framework of ones own mind/ body phenomenon is, I think, one way to counter the craziness of the modern world.
Thanks for all the great essays this year. Really helped us through the covid hysteria which was intense here.
Looking forward to reading your upcoming work.
I liked Paul’s comment in the recent Benburb day with Martin Shaw that perhaps we needed more mystics or cave dwelling saints. Being energy efficient- which we are all being asked to do these days can begin with our efficiency of breath, food, words and thoughts. Fasting on all levels , though against the ethos of the corporate growth machine, has a lot to recommend it !!
What is the meaning of the machine age, not negatively but as part of the coming of the kingdom, theosis of creation, striving of humankind?
I ponder three options which might supply vision:
1. William Blake. We live in Golgonooza, "continually building & continually decaying desolate", but which is also the place we find the "golden string" that leads to "heaven's gate".
2. Owen Barfield. Mechanistic alienation fosters an intensification of individuality, as it seems there's nowhere else to turn, though that suffering interiority because of its suffering will awaken to a renewed participation in divine life not possible before.
3. Dante. This life and the modern way of life (he was the first to use "modern") is a "race to death", which is at once frightening and the path to the fullness of life, consciously one with "the love that moves the sun and the other stars", because both light and dark are embraced.
Just back from my local market "populaire" where I listened to the sellers give vent to their frustration about how the market is dying in my "town" right next to a megapolis in France, through lack of people present and buying. Elsewhere around the megapolis, the market is doing just fine. In my small "town", the city hall has been taken over by an inexperienced group running under an ecological banner that won hands down... during Covid.
If the popular markets die here, it will put yet another nail in my already waiting coffin. They are a place where I can shoot the breeze, play with words, get a little olé olé from time to time, wink. Speak my mind. Still. The popular markets are not the bio market which tends to attract ideologically commanded people who buy and eat... words, more words. To me they are everything but free.
I may already have made this comment, but I will make it again. There was a time when I made the distinction between "paying" and "paid" (I still do.) For me, still, there is a difference between a "paid" subscriber and a "paying" subscriber. My doctor husband is regularly asked by his new patients "are you reimbused ?" and he answers "no, I am paid because you pay me, and YOU are reimbursed."
Perhaps someone would care to explain the, um, logic of talking about a "paid" subscriber for a paying one ? I am all ears. ("Paid" is a passive form, and "paying" is an active one.)
Now, off to a family funeral several hours away by car. The rear guard has its obligations that I will gladly and cheerfully fulfill with a sense of purpose, and, I hope, a certain... grace. I hope...
"It is necessary to conquer evil with Peace, being beyond evil, not its contrary. True Peace has no contrary." Frithjof Shoun
I have been immensely enjoying your writing Paul, and I will probably become a paid subscriber in the New Year.
I went to a conference recently of some Anglican ministers as a sort of interloper (being a baptist myself!). But what drew me to the conference was one of my friends was speaking on transhumanism - a subject I believe will be one of the major challenges for Christians in the future as it gets to the heart of the question - what does it mean to be a human made in the image of God - and what right do we as creatures have to meddle with the creators "very good" design?
Following on from this I heartily agree with your point here in your last piece"
"The ultimate project of modernity, I believe now, is to replace nature with technology, and to rebuild the world in purely human shape, the better to fulfill the most ancient human dream: to become gods."
Taking this a bit further using Christian theology, I would say we are remaking ourselves and the world around us in the "Image" of (fallen) man, and this has immense relevance with transhumanism and its integration with AI. If mankind is fallen and pre-disposed to sin (original sin) (as I believe), then this means this fallenness will influence that which we make in our image - it will be made in the image of sin. With the AI algorithms, we can then say sin and vice will be written in the code, and therefore AI will be predisposed to exacerbate sin/vice (greed, selfishness, violence, hatred etc). Thus the machine not only erodes the "good life" as Berry would say, but furthers the reach of vice and sin into the world and even exacerbates it. And perhaps it does so at a rate that mankind has been shielded from so far due to our limitedness.
A pretty bleak future indeed, and for me, this shows the strength of what we are up against. Thus I am very grateful for your writing showing up the Machine for what it is.
Hello, I have read some of your essays (but not all) and just wanted to recommend three thinkers that I believe you've missed, all of which could be insightful to your "machine" project.
First is Deleuze, although more specifically Deleuze and his co-writer Guattari. D&G talk about "machines" quite a lot, and although they are using the term in a specific way, I think you would find it insightful. It can be a bit hard to understand, but once you do, it's worth it.
Second is Charles Taylor, specifically his work "A Secular Age." Taylor traces the history of Christianity over the last two centuries and shows how "secularity" is really an offshoot of Christianity itself.
Third is Lewis Mumford. I am not as familiar with his work, but I do know that he considered the "machinic" to have begun far before the Industrial Revolution, with its roots in the ordered lifestyle of medieval monks.