What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; “why?” finds no answer. (Nietzsche)
I have been writing for a number of months now about human being both as a musician and also more philosophically too. At the same time I became interested in matters of consciousness and also future technology, initially because of an online contact with similar interests. Simultaneously, I have had an interest in our species and how it is changing in modern times. I have always been interested in standing back and taking a larger view of things and asking myself how things have developed or are developing. I find it good to ask myself the questions "How did we get here?" and "Where are we going?". A specific interest in this time has been the worlds of technology and social media and how they have changed us. Because they have changed us. Today I was looking at a stream of tweets and it struck me as totally bizarre the messages that people just send out into the ether. Its like somebody in public suddenly blurting out to everyone what is on their minds. You would think that person was crazy if they did that in public.
The problem is that all these simultaneous concerns are complex and large topics even in themselves. It requires some serious thinking and some kind of conceptual framework to even attempt to make something from all of this. But I am nothing if not ambitious and, crucially, I am one of those people who sees a need to think things through to come to some sort of serious conclusion. So I apologise in advance if what follows seems to only skim the surface of the issues or be a little shallow. I put that down to the fact that these subjects could each take up many books in their own right and this is but a little blog where I doodle my thoughts. However, if it is the case that any of us regular Joe’s should be thinking about the world we live in, and reaching reasoned positions about that, well then please count this as one of my first hesitant attempts.
What I tell here is a fable of the present, where time means nothing or is absurd, something we are totally conditioned by but feel completely lost in. In this world innocents are crushed beneath the wheels of instrumentality, all value gone. Disappointment is inbred from birth here and dreams and hopes are but memories. We enter The Inhuman Age as humanism multiplies humanism and, as it must, devalues and devours itself and ends in nihilism. Men, the loci of a supposed rational agency, subvert their own descriptions of themselves. The more they insist on their rationality, the less it seems evident. Knowledge, truth, science and technology are venerated as our saviours but we are blind to their fallibilities.
In this fable our culture becomes about mass media, mass culture, social media, mobs, primitive emotions that shove thinking aside. Everything, all our thinking, our whole narrative and its meaning, must be squeezed into 140 characters or less, or a picture or an instant message. Needs are mediated through what ever source. Politics here is in the service of base desire rather than people. Survive as anything or die as nothing is the rule. Speak up or be ignored. The more you have a voice through various media platforms the less your voice actually counts and the more anonymous you become. The more homogenized things are, the more fractured they become. Die in a corner and without any fuss. All fall into your liberal democratic camps to argue for your point of view whilst half the world population still live in huts and eat basic crops, a serious and on-going divide.
This is a fable about the humans who magnified themselves and magnified themselves and in that magnification they destroyed themselves, revealed themselves to be not exceptional but animal, just cleverer apes, a biological phase in the life of an unimportant planet. Eventually, they evolved beyond their biological origins and became pure technology. Humans were never heard from again.
Of course, this is a very 1st World fable. I am a first world person and have never set foot outside of this world. The populations of Europe and the USA come to something just over 1 billion people. This is basically the pool of views that any of us reading this now might ever hear from. Give or take. Social networks report 1 billion members and we sit and draw breath at the enormity of it. But the fact remains that far more people have never heard of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram than have ever used them. There is an unheard of and unconsulted population of the earth that numbers billions. Why do you think that Facebook, for example, are building super drones that can carry free internet around the world? To increase their membership and bring the “benefits” of Western society to other places and new populations.
In so doing I think its not too wide of the mark to say that they will be hastening the demise of the humans. I think this demise is being hastened on its way by the rise of a 24/7 world of social media interconnectedness in which each of us connected is expected to have an opinion on everything. In this world you are basically anonymous (even though you may have given yourself an amusing handle). People on these networks become anonymous anyones, nothings that replace the something you might have to genuinely look at and respond to (a physical person). People online are not real people, at least not while they remain there. They are cyphers for real people but ones you can block, mute, ignore, insult, threaten or abuse without any real consequences in the main. This removal of consequences is just one of the traces of a barely perceptible change, a change which in my thinking takes us from humanity to inhumanity.
Should one wish to find an example of inhumanity in progress it is not hard to find. This Internet world of interconnectedness affords many places where one can egotistically proffer ones views as the fount of all knowledge in the face of others who demur and argue, to the contrary, that it is their views that should actually hold that place. One is left wondering, having observed such goings on, if any real communication ever took place. The Internet has allowed us people on the way to inhumanity a space where we may be brutes expressing our heartfelt urges and base thoughts, a place where we may offend others for the purposes of reinforcing our own identities. I imagine that some bright spark somewhere has invented bots that go online and run through a whole playbook of arguments to no purposes. Many people have probably interacted with them not even realising that they weren’t even talking to a person. It was just an agenda all along. But I validated who I am as a person so who gives a rat’s.
But what does this do to the humans? It pushes them one step further to becoming inhumans. Knowledge is not now about deep thought anymore. You cannot express a deep thought in 140 characters and certainly not unless you have had practice at doing so. Wittgenstein and Nietzsche did not develop their pithiness by tweeting or posting a Facebook post but by thinking. And this is precisely the activity that social media does not promote. It promotes instant response, the sharing of your gut feeling or your opinion. But it does not promote you giving a thought out, considered response. Social media promotes “feelz” as the new kid in town. Saying what you feel is now what matters. This changes us in terms of attention span too. We learn to expect instant solutions and instant answers. Now, now, now. The next thing. Repeat. Thinking becomes something strange and foreign.
But let’s switch focus from the content to the hardware. Technology. Devices. Everyone in the 1st World today knows that you have to keep in touch with everyone else. You need to be on top of things and know what is going on in the world. You need something to play games on and listen to music on. This is where you need to be at. If you don’t have a smartphone or a tablet you are literally not part of the human race anymore. Pretty much every day now as I take my daily exercise I will meet people staring into screens as they walk along in the street. I should declare at this point that I am old enough to remember when these devices didn’t exist at all. Its not that long ago really. Unless you are 25 or under in which case it probably seems ages ago. If you have lived both sides of this technological divide you are in the perfect position to be able to sit back and see how things have actually, demonstrably changed in real time as you lived.
When I was a lad (cue violins) if you needed to tell someone something you went round to their house and asked if they were in. Or you picked up your home telephone, if you had one (we didn’t), and spoke to them that way. In addition, all the people you knew would be from your locality. They were the people fate had decreed you were to grow up with. But then technology came along and everything changed. Now you can speak to people in every continent every day. If you want to you can even speak to them while seeing them. Technology has changed the horizons. You may think this is good but, ask yourself, where does it stop? In another article I wrote recently I mused about the possible future technology that, who knows, someone somewhere may well be working on right now. It makes sense that these communications devices we carry around with us actually become a part of us. Google Glass and other wearable tech is a step in this direction. One day someone will figure out an implant that gives us the global communications we say we need but not just as wearable technology but as technology integrated into our bodies. There are Futurists out there right now who dream of this.
When this happens, as I’m sure it will, it will be a big step. It will be a step along the technological road we have already headed down even though, maybe, you don’t realise that we have. Technology that changes us forever will not be presented as such. And this is part of my argument here as I talk of us going from humans to inhumans. None of this will be overt. The technology will be presented as beneficial, helpful, benevolent. You will almost certainly want it just as you want your smartphone and your computer right now. If you don’t have it you will even feel left out. I remember going for a job some years ago now when I didn’t have a mobile phone. The prospective employer asked for my mobile number and I replied that I didn’t have one. The look on his face spoke a thousand words. I didn’t get the job and I’m convinced that was a large part of why. Not taking part in societal norms can have consequences.
I have spoken a lot in the past few months about a technological future some see for humans. This is one reason why I see the future for humans as becoming inhumans. I read the futures mapped out by Futurists and Transhumanists and I concede to myself that it is foreseeable, one day, that some of the things they dream of will come to pass. Of course, as I’ve said before, a lot of their hopes are mere speculations that are yet to be proved possible but it is clear to me that there are significant funds and personnel tied up in making various technological futures happen. Those who hold out the hope of a pain free, disease free world will always be able to attract a certain audience too. For my purposes I have been content to point out that their future dreams of “techno-humans”, to my mind, leave the humanity part behind. (Our mass media, 24/7 society is part of this development and has effects as I am arguing in this very blog.) And this is what I’m explicitly saying in this blog now. Technologically advanced humans won’t be human anymore. Human beings are defined by their imperfection, not by their increased, increasing or actualised perfection.
There is another angle from which to view our progress along a scale from humanity to inhumanity and that is in terms of a focus on subjectivity. In our modern age we have very much been encouraged to be in control of things, primarily through the technology that we carry with us. Even our currency, money itself, is now being taken from the physical world and “contactless payment” is taking its place. On our TVs we have for some years now been encouraged to think that our views count as we are invited to vote in various popularity contests. The message is that we, as subjects, matter. The metanarratives of yesteryear are gone and even forms of intersubjectivity are shunned. You, the thinking subject, are what counts.
The flip side to this is that things have become rapidly de-centred and now its really just you on your own. Or a helpline in a country where the person speaks your language with a thick, ununderstandable accent. Nevertheless, the subject has become the focus of all things but it is as an anonymous, anyone kind of a subject. There is a sense in which we are all just subjects sitting in our homes in need of purpose, control and something to do. Its very disjointed. There is a move away from social cohesion to social isolation. People to turn to recede to online or difficult to access worlds where an actual person with a face does not exist. In a real sense our age is the age of the world going online which forces you to access it a certain way as nothing else exists. Is it really so hard now to imagine that we become cyber-beings, code with a personality? We are daily creating a world in which being a physical being matters less and less.
What is the symbol of this modern age, of the human becoming inhuman? I want to get in first and say that this symbol should be masturbation. This is the age of the masturbator. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that at any one time millions of us will be online masturbating to something. But my analysis is a bit more profound than this. Masturbation is a non-social way of giving yourself pleasure. It is, for now, a physical act but, in the end, that will be overcome since sexual pleasure is really only a matter of tickling the right neurons. It has nothing to do with penises and vaginas in our inhuman future. Masturbation is the symbol of our age because it is the ultimate subjective experience. Its you with yourself imagining. Its the thrill which reminds us that we are still alive, that there is more than a humdrum world largely devoid of meaning. It is the moment that means par excellence. Before it recedes and is lost again. And its only purpose is that thrill which lasts less and less the more you do it. But masturbation is also a disguise. Its there to cover over the fact that you are all on your own. Its another nothing that covers over where a something should be. No one would masturbate if they could have sex instead.
So this is my modern, badly explained fable. It is that our race, which has taken itself as the measure of all things and called it humanism, is on the way to making itself obsolete by means of itself, its own values and its own progress. It is a reminder that nothing stays the same and that things are always moving on down the pipe. Things always come from somewhere and always go to somewhere else. Standing still is not an option. In this, “inhumanity” and “inhumans” are not moral judgments. They are merely words which express the idea that humanity is changing and is fated to become something else. The animus of our age is technological and its effects upon us both now and into the future are fundamentally changing both us and our world. This will continue, in my fable, up until the point when there are no humans left any more. There will just be the inhumans that we have become.
What form of life these beings will take is not yet clear but they will not be biological for biology is but one weakness that needs to be overcome. This Futurists and Transhumanists know well and I think they have a chance to succeed in their aims. As I have tried to show here, though, its not just a matter of turning our thoughts and memories into code and building a robot. Our form of life right now is changed by the devices we use and the networks we insert ourselves into. Humanity is already changed and continuing to change because of these technologically enabled networks and the media and opinion they dispense.
My conclusion is summed up by the term Existenz². Existenz² is an idea, the idea that humanity, humans and humanism, through their excess and the superfluity of themselves and their values, thereby devalue and degrade themselves to nothing. They cause their own destruction and annihilation. Existenz squared is the end of humanity and the beginning of inhumanity. Think of it by analogy to sound which can be overdriven until the point at which it is pure distortion and the sound you began with has been annihilated. At that point you have just another sound. My message is that more and more of humanity does not equal a better humanity but the end of humanity. All values devalue themselves whether truth, love, compassion, knowledge or whatever. To all things there must be limits.
We as humans are defined by time, by our contingency in time and our finitude as beings in time. This is our lot, to be imperfect, fallible, weak and powerless. But we are also innocent beings, beings who strove to know and valued knowing but could never know enough or truly know anything at all. We were forever stuck with our own descriptions for things and our reasons for needing them, creatures who always wanted more but were always unable to get it. This realisation, naturally enough, leads to terminal disappointment and, in some, a blind refusal to accept the truth. This truth leads to the fact that the project of humanism will come to an end and we humans, the measurers of all things, will, eventually, become inhumans governed by a new project of inhumanism in a context bigger than our world, the world that has defined us but that we could never leave. Human beings are thus revealed as a phase of biological life on planet Earth, one that was always temporary and destined to be succeeded.
I do not know what it will be like to be an inhuman but it will surely not be like this. For just as to a person from 1500 who, were he stuck into the middle of a modern city 500 years later, would be overwhelmed by the world he found himself in, so would we be overwhelmed by the world of an inhuman. We cannot imagine what it would be like to be a machine for machines do not feel, cannot know pain, nor do they need to eat or drink. Should some future humans find a way to transfer our minds and personality to machines then our journey to inhumanity would be complete and we would die out for a superior form of life would have been born.
PS There is, of course, one huge rider to all this. And that is that we do not wipe ourselves out completely first before the inhumans we are fated to become have fully come to be.
This is written in support of my latest album called simply Existenz². You can listen to the sound of the approaching inhumans HERE!