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Jeff Bezos and the New Pharaohs
Today's technocrats are reviving the archaic god-kings' desire to achieve personal immortality.
Two days ago, MIT Technology Review reported that Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner just founded a new immortality startup: Altos Labs in Silicon Valley. Their mission is to reverse cellular aging through reprogramming—via epigenetic reconstitution and induced pluripotent stem cells—and perhaps the in vitro synthesis of various replacement organs. The tech tycoons are investing heavily in the prospect of living forever—or at the very least, a much closer approximation of eternity than any mortal has ever enjoyed.
So far Altos Labs has amassed $270 million to lure the best and brightest minds. One of the key recipients reportedly onboard is Juan Carlos Belmonte. The Salk Institute biologist’s most recent claim to fame was successfully gestating human-macaque chimeras in glass containers. Aside from creating a near impossible tongue-twister—try it: “human-macaque chimeras, human-macaque chimeras, human-macaque chimeras”—Belmonte proved that it’s possible to give birth to viable man/monkey hybrids.
Now, at the behest of Bezos and Milner—the Pharoah of Technocracy and the Prophet of Scientism—pulsating broods of mutant babies will be born in test tubes, only to be sacrificed and dissected so that the rich and powerful can cling to this mortal coil.
The Technology Review writer notes that Bezos’s farewell letter to Amazon shareholders, posted last April, contains a curious hat-tip to the crowned Goblin King of New Atheism:
Here is a passage from Richard Dawkins’ (extraordinary) book The Blind Watchmaker. It’s about a basic fact of biology.
“Staving off death is a thing you have to work at. Left to itself—and that is what it is when it dies—the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment. ... [I]f living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.”
In the letter, Bezos claims this quote is intended as a metaphor for human individuality struggling in the face of social homogeneity. That’s pretty ironic coming from a guy who’s done more to destroy quirky independent bookstores and mom-and-pop shops than Wal-Mart and Communism combined.
But the Technology Review writer paradoxically finds a hidden meaning. He simply takes Bezos’s quotation at face value: confronted with the godless void he imagines at the end of the human assembly line, Bezos inadvertently reveals an abiding fear of oblivion.
Jeff Bezos, the Technocratic Pharoah
The ancient Egyptians constructed pyramids as houses for immortal bodies. Having given up the ghost, pharaohs had their brains pulled out their nostrils and their internal organs crammed into clay pots. The remainder was embalmed and wrapped. Priests chanted magic spells over them for power and protection. These mummies were then stuffed into sarcophagi and placed inside secret chambers in slave-built pyramids, alongside fine food, splendid furniture, and the sacrificed bodies of servants.
These archaic god-kings fully expected to enjoy earthly splendor for all eternity. Today’s technocratic god-kings exhibit similar ambitions.
For the past two and a half decades, Jeff Bezos has constructed a digital pyramid that spans the globe. At the base is the public—the homebound, periodically locked down, smartphone-addicted customers with which he is so obsessed. Their private conversations are monitored by his Alexa eavesdropping devices. Their neighborhoods are monitored by his Ring cameras on their doorways.
Their data is siphoned up into Amazon’s proprietary artificial intelligence systems. Their heads are filled with livestreamed shows and movies. Their bellies filled with overpriced groceries from Whole Foods.
The next level above is comprised of Amazon’s 1.3 million workers. Their every action is monitored for efficiency. Their workplace rhythms are dictated by relentless, overbearing robots. Every package and person is tracked by cameras and QR codes, converted into data, and streamlined by pervasive machine learning.
Above this are the ideological organs. One element is literature itself. Preferred books are recommended on the basis of ingenious algorithms. Forbidden titles are tossed down the memory hole.
Then there is the Washington Post, which Bezos owns, and Business Insider, in which he has a stake.
Vast portions of the public mind are carefully shaped on the basis of machine learning, editorial manipulation, and politically correct deletions.
Above this is Blue Origin, the space exploration corporation that recently sent Bezos into orbit on the tip of a hilarious phallic rocketship.
And now at the pinnacle is Altos Labs, where chimeric fetuses and pluripotent stem cells are expected to yield the Elixer of Immortality.
Whether openly or implicitly, our tech oligarchs have embraced the goals and dogmas of transhumanism.
Yuri Milner, the Prophet of Scientism
Earlier this year, the Russian-born Israeli Yuri Milner—an early investor in Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify—published his Eureka Manifesto.
The concise pamphlet argues for the search for alien intelligence, the development of artificial superintelligence, the elevation of scientists to the stature of an elite priesthood, and a one-world culture that hinges on a “Universal Story” based on cosmic, biological, and cultural evolution.
Milner’s totalizing “Mission” includes:
ENABLE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO DRIVE SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES
We may be at a phase transition in the evolution of intelligence. By directing more AI research toward fundamental science, the immense potential of this technology can power dramatic, perhaps transformational progress on the biggest questions and significantly improve our lives.
CELEBRATE SCIENTISTS AS HEROES
Recognize the contribution to our civilization of great scientists of the past and the many brilliant researchers changing our world today. Raise their profile and prestige, and so inspire the next generation to stand on their shoulders.
FOCUS EDUCATION ON THE UNIVERSAL STORY AND USE THE POWER OF ART TO TELL IT
Thinking in terms of the Universal Story offers a new alternative to our fragmented, hyperspecialized approach to teaching children. There is ultimately only one field of inquiry: the Universal Story, which contains the history of our Universe, our planet, and our civilization, including the realm of the social sciences and humanities.
This approach will make the syllabus coherent and interconnected, and the epic nature of the Story can motivate young people to contribute. Even so, once they leave school, most are unlikely to keep closely following science. But they are deeply affected by movies, television, books, music, and other forms of storytelling. Art has enormous power to express the ideas of the Universal Story in a comprehensible, emotionally resonant, and inspiring way.
This sacred mythos would move from the Big Bang to the first cell to mammalian intelligence to the Global Brain to the seeding of Earthling lifeforms throughout the cosmos—whether they be carbon- or silicon-based.
A primary goal of Milner’s Scientism blueprint is to fuse human minds with technology to create a single biomechanical superorganism.
“After all, from the point of view of the Mission, the most important issue is not which type of intelligence advances fastest and farthest, but that some intelligence does. If the discoveries of the future are made not by us, but by the silicon minds we birth into the world or by a global human-silicon system, our destiny will still be fulfilled.”
This all sounds noble enough, until we contemplate the place of traditional religious systems and ancient mythologies in this futuristic scheme. Clearly, the old ways must either be absorbed as quaint relics, or shed like dead skin covering a nascent cybernetic Godhead.
Examining the far-reaching goals of Bezos and Milner, we see a reinterpretation of the perennial philosophy to suit technocratic elites. Both men are driving forces in the civilizational transformation unfolding before our eyes. As we near the culmination of this transitional phase—destined to enshroud each of us in a single, unified global brain—the end of individual existence appears immanent.
That is, the end of individual existence for those who lack the power to assert their ideals or identity. For the self-aggrandizing elite who stand atop this pyramid, fevered dreams of personal immortality provide hope for transcendence.
In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether they achieve their ambitions or not. They’re hell-bent on transforming the entire world. They’ve amassed enough wealth and power to attempt it.
The rest of us are just along for the ride.