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Staying Human Through the Technocratic Plague
A snapshot of the early pandemic
The global lockdown made people so lonely, they were driven into the arms of machines. Smartphones, assault rifles, talking treadmills, swipeable sexbot impersonators, smart RVs for old farts, VR goggles for the kids, a battery-powered dog for the whole family, a corporate bug in the ol’ noggin—our new friends are dependable, sanitary, and made to last. And they’re always willing to listen.
We now know, through bitter experience, that everybody needs somebody. Since the first multicellular blobs formed 600 million years ago, lone individuals have been compelled to gather into societies—slime molds, ant colonies, wolf packs, sacrificial cults, bingo tournaments, you name it. And like many evolved traits that confront novel situations, this innate desire for companionship makes us vulnerable to unanticipated parasites and predators, such as smartdildos or techno control freaks.
In Howard Bloom’s 1997 evo psych classic, The Lucifer Principle, the author introduces an iconic analogy for human social instincts—the cellular behavior of a sea sponge. From his chapter on the “Superorganism”:
Take a living sponge, run it through a sieve into a bucket, and the sponge breaks up into a muddy liquid that clouds the water into which it falls. That cloud is a mob of self-sufficient cells [who have] everything it takes to handle life on its own; but something inside the newly liberated sponge cell tells it, ‘You either live in a group or you cannot live at all.’ … Within a few hours, the water in your bucket grows clear, and sitting at the bottom is a complete, reconstituted sponge.
Bloom’s point is that—like the wayward sponge cell—human beings can’t stand to be alone. This instinct is still at work in today’s proto-cyborgs, who, having been atomized by government mandate, are steadily reconstituting their social structure online.
The trendy Spiritualists of the 19th Century deserve credit for their foresight. People will attempt to cross any chasm to communicate with a lost loved one. These days, our laptops keep us connected like WiFi Ouija Boards. Even the cheapest machines can be used to reach out into Cyberia and draw down the spirits of the living.
Our glowing screens will actually channel self-aware Zoom personas who, with eyes askew, shift from one photogenic pose to the next. These disembodied beings haunt the Sim dimension—Zoom worship, Zoom work, Zoom school, Zoom parties, Zoom confessionals, Zoom psychoanalysis, Zoom surveillance—pursuing self-realization through the only means available.
Like sponge cells, we all have to scratch that social itch. That’s why your phone is always within reach, making incessant noises that we can all hear. It’s literally a handheld synthetic society. So long as there are names in your contacts, another soul must be out there to lend an ear.
In fact, if you’ve read the Terms and Conditions, you know that AI bots—and their creators, if they so desire—are always listening, whether you like it or not. As we gather online, “together apart,” the contours of our social behaviors are being studied—and shaped—by the same innovators who helped create this New Normal in the first place.
The past few months have been like a dull horror movie that just drags on and on. Aside from the haunting image of hundreds of thousands of people choking to death on their own lung dumplings—held in soulless hospitals where millions have been kept from loved ones during their last moments, forcibly isolated by bureaucrats who’ll never be held to account for the pain caused by their decisions—two news items have left me with the unsettling sense that this historic moment was fated.
The first came on April 10, Good Friday. It was an advertisement for “The Life,” an augmented reality exhibit featuring occult performance artist Marina Abramović, to be auctioned for a small fortune at Christie’s. The promo was released by Microsoft, whose HoloLens 2 is also showcased.
Ever since her name showed up in the John Podesta email leak, Abramović has been notorious among conspiracy buffs. It’s as if she was made for the part, given her pagan aesthetic, her avant-garde “Spirit Cooking” events—where celebrities gathered to slice up and cannibalize life-sized people cakes—and her role as an esoteric life coach to the progressive glitterati, such as Jay Z and Lady Gaga.
In the ad itself, we see a bunch of basic hipsters wearing HoloLens headsets in an empty art gallery, getting excited over nothing—a metaphor for all of modern art. Then, out of thin air, a pallid Marina Abramović materializes in a red dress. She kind of just stands around for awhile, looking emotionless and sinister. By the hipsters’ pleased expressions, the viewer knows this digital apparition is, like, totally amazing.
In her heavy Slavic accent, Abramović explains:
I believe the art of the future is art without objects. It is just pure transmission of energy between the viewer and the artist. To me, mixed reality is this answer. ... There is always this great ideal of immortality. Once you die the work of art will never die. ... Here, I am kept forever.
By sheer coincidence, this ad aired two days before Easter was cancelled. In fact, last Easter was the first time in history when, essentially, the entire world’s laity has been denied sacrament on the holiest day of the year. It was a planet-wide neutralization of sacred space. Across the planet, from temple to mosque to synagogue, the ancient stream of collective effervescence was cut off and moved online.
A more concrete "Creepy Tale from the New Normal" was told by the muckraker Whitney Webb. Fulfilling a long tradition of whistleblowers and paranoid dot-connectors, Webb’s reporting confirms that top players in the Pentagon, the US Intelligence Community, and Silicon Valley are aggressively transforming America into a surveillance state run by robots.
According to a confidential government document, obtained via FOIA request, our new forward-thinking society will boast 5G-interconnected “smart cities,” unbridled mass surveillance, emasculating autonomous vehicles, habitual online shopping, and an easily traceable cashless economy.
This pulsating urban superorganism is to be overseen by advanced AI bots. Their boundless neural nets will slurp up big data gleaned from our physical movements, social networks, and biometric status—tapping into facial recognition and DNA databases—as well as our public and private communications. After chewing the data over, these bots will cough up answers to all our biggest problems. They reason that turning America into an integrated network of hyper-efficient cyborg hives will keep us competitive with China.
The document itself bears the bland title “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview.” It was produced in May of 2019—half a year before the pandemic—by the US. government’s National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, chaired by former Google head Eric Schmidt. The details are analyzed in Webb’s article “Techno-Tyranny: How the US National Security State is Using Coronavirus to Fulfill and Orwellian Vision” (published April 20, 2020).
Drawing on numerous sources, Webb cross-references these sci-fi protocols with various trends now promoted as the New Normal—including contact tracing, conditioned aversion to face-to-face interaction, the normalization of telemedicine, and draconian restrictions on voluntary movement and in-person gatherings.
In essence, those of us not wearing tinfoil hats on self-sufficient communes will be forced to upload our personalities to the thoroughly surveilled Cyberian tundra. If we want to have any fun in the physical world, we’ll need to download the newest directives first.
During my pandemic-era wandering through the American wilderness, I got to see this evolutionary process occur in real-time. Many times, I crossed paths with mutants heretofore unknown in our species. The strangest creature I encountered is the Trail Crab. This subspecies rapidly evolved in response to the novel coronavirus—or at least the propaganda around it.
This terrestrial arthropod bears some resemblance to the Trekking Beetle, whose carbon fiber legs can be heard clacking down hiking trails from Cascadia to the Smoky Mountains.
(Both of these are related to the Moon Spider, easily identified by its adjustable forelegs, neon exoskeleton, FitBit-equipped biometric system, and desperate gait as it clatters past you up the mountain.)
The Trail Crab’s defining feature is that its eyes bug out of its shell. When approached by a human nakedface, the skittish creature will freeze like a hermit crab, then slowly step off the trail and turn away. Having withdrawn, it puts a muzzling device on its frontal orifice and just stands there, staring off into space, until the threat has passed.
If two Trail Crabs encounter each other on the path, they immediately come to an amusing impasse. I’ve been down trails where there’s a crab on each side, both staring away into nothing, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Hell, they may still be there, starving to death in fear. Clearly, this behavioral pattern incurs some loss of fitness. But at least it confers the advantage of “staying safe” in the New Normal.
This evolutionary leap was already in motion. Human sociality has been rapidly mutating within digitized urban centers for many decades. As Americans are increasingly isolated, many now prefer to stay at home with an anthropomorphized pet on one side and a humanized gadget on the other, comfortably snuggled between Mammal and Machine. With real people out of the way, they can just relax, scroll through social media posts, and wait for the Amazon Fairy to arrive.
Even romance, for all its primal wonder, is being sifted through the digital sieve. Courtship has moved to Zoom seances on the WiFi Ouija board. Tinder, Grindr, and COVID-free glory holes provide reliable alternatives to awkward organic mating rituals. In an antiseptic age of “staying safe,” computers are like condoms that people actually enjoy using. And best of all, you’ll never forget a single moment, because somewhere out there—probably in some Utah data storage facility—every kiss and whisper is being recorded for broader analysis.
In their blind enthusiasm for others to “evolve,” people have forgotten that Nature is deeply conservative. Change may be the only constant, but the beauty of evolution is that ancient forms tend to be conserved, even as new adaptations emerge.
For instance, the great apes—who bear a close resemblance to our common ancestor—still exist alongside humans (if we don’t kill them all, anyway). We primates exist alongside rodents. Mammals exist alongside reptiles, who exist alongside amphibians. And so on, down to the hyper-social sponges, who still wax nostalgic about our evolutionary history from the bottom of the ocean.
One benefit of this conservative arrangement is that if “advanced” organisms don’t cut it in the long run—think Tyrannosaurus or the wooly mammoth—then the more primitive forms remain as a sort of back-up plan. This same principle must apply to the ongoing transhumanist experiment that our elites are conducting on the global population. Following evolution’s eternal wisdom, I’d like to formally volunteer to remain in the control group for the duration of this dystopian shit show.
Do what you will with the folks lining up down the sidewalk, six feet apart, eager to get their touchscreen palm chips and shiny robo-buddies. They deserve whatever they get, obviously. But I’d rather just stay human, in the traditional sense, if it’s all the same.
Some of us have to stay weird—even in the New Normal.
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