RETHINK TECHNOLOGY; Introduction
(Tom Mahon has written about the digital revolution from Silicon Valley for over 40 years. His book that expands on these ideas is nearing completing and will appear soon.)
For most of human history, our tools and our belief systems (which are also tools of a sort) have been wedge-shaped.
From successfully using primitive scrapers, and on to developing plowshares and swords, certain groups thrived and expanded. And along the way, they created religions, secret societies and myths to affirm that their gods had chosen them alone, over and above all others, to reign at the center of the world.
So much of our technical prowess over time was used by our ancestors to gain dominion over nature, and mastery over other peoples. It was called The Great Chain of Being, a vertical hierarchy with each link having power of life and death over those below: gods over men; men over women; master over slave; landed over peon; believer over apostate…
Yet in the last century, the sciences — which reveal the underlying natural forces that tools leverage — have shown us the elegant and unsuspected inter-connection of all things, from the quantum to the cosmic scale.
This newly-revealed Great Web of Being model of the universe is horizontal with each node essential to the whole. The cosmos, in fact, may even be holographic, with each part containing the whole.
We will either successfully transition from wedge- to web-based thinking very soon, or become one of many species who fouled their own nests beyond repair, and were a biological or cultural dead-end.
For a while it appeared that the Internet, the World Wide Web, would facilitate the transition, but it’s increasingly evident that, as now configured, the Web can be just as useful at ripping us apart.
The problem lies not in our tools, but in ourselves. We cannot use web-shaped tools with wedge-shaped thinking and expect different results.
After two hideous, global wars in the first half of the 20th Century, the need for web-based thinking became much more evident. At the same time, the physical and life sciences, aided by fast-operating computing devices, were demonstrating that from the quantum to the cosmic levels, everything is interconnected and interdependent.
Unfortunately, the success of this new web model in recent decades has sparked a global backlash from organizations that depend on the wedge-shaped notion that their gain can only come from others’ loss: finance, religion, government, industry, others.
We see this antique thinking all around us now, as some entrenched factions want to return to the comfortable, old divisions based on gender, birthplace, customs, wealth and appearance.
These factions and institutions stand against the flow of history, and the newly revealed foundational laws of nature. At some level they are aware of it, but they will fight like hell to shore up their house of blood and tears, even as its dry, termite-infested beams burn like kindling.
The wedge-shaped institutions realize they are headed to oblivion, and so they have given up the pretense of serving any purpose except their own self-perpetuation.
And the unending revelations of bottomless corruption in our most important institutions is dispiriting many people of good-heart to the point of utter despair.
So we find ourselves in the center of a shift that is perhaps as significant as that during the Neolithic Age 10,000 year ago, when our ancestors gave up hunting and gathering, to farm and herd and build cities. Except they had centuries to manage the transitions; we are dealing in years or, at most, decades to fix our situations.
The powerful are doing that the powerful always do: dividing the powerless, so they fight each other rather than discover the cause of their powerlessness. And the powerful now have digital tools of command and control at their disposal that are so much more effective than anything available to kings and tyrants of yore.
Right now, wealth and power are disconnected. Jeff Bezos of Amazon is the richest man in the world. President Donald Trump is the most powerful man on earth. Fortunately, for now, they despise each other from the distance of a few blocks between the White House and the editorial offices of the Washington Post.
But that division will not last for long. Wealth and power inevitably find each other. And then all the spheres of the planet (bio-, atmo-, hydro-,geo-, noos-) may soon be at the mercy of a wealth/power block beyond anything ever imagined before. And it will have no compunction about laying waste to it all for profit and pleasure now, even if it means stealing from their heirs.
Invasive digital surveillance and control — enabled by the coming “Internet of Everything” (which implies humans can manage nature better than nature itself) — will subject the entire planet to mastery by an elite oligarchy of investors and “innovators” racing each other to become the first trillionaire, leaving behind an enraged underclass of the poorly fed, poorly educated, poorly treated, and poorly served neo-Neanderthals.
I hope I’m wrong, and I pray to God that I am wrong. But this scenario is not impossible given the tracks we are on. Two colossal forces have built up in recent decades — ruthless, centralized political power, and digital surveillance and control in pursuit of unimaginable wealth — and it only requires someone(s) to bring them together to create a maelstrom of very dark energy.
I am not overlooking all the benefits of the digital revolution, which I helped evangelize for 40 years, but from a larger view of history it appears we are entering — or have entered — a new dark age; a digital dungeon where the bars, and chains and whips are made not of steel or iron, but of evanescent sub-atomic entities. Yet the very properties of these electrons — indeterminacy, relativity and uncertainty — utterly annihilate the traditional idea of a universe of hierarchies, and contending opposites.
The Lakota Sioux have a prayer, “Lord, on my last day may I approach you with clean hands and straight eyes.” I fear the coming age is going to be tough for people of clean hands and straight eyes — men and women who balance clear-sighted intelligence with largeness of soul. I’m saying this now, so you don’t lose heart then.
The wedge-shaped institutions may for a while carry the day, but human history and the pulse of the universe itself argue that the next phase of human evolution, seeing all-within-all and acting in that awareness, is inevitable. Even when it seems farthest away.
Armed resistance is futile to this regime of death, gagging on its own moral rot and gorging on the suffering of those whose silent shrieks and tears shame the planet.
But there is a way out. All wisdom traditions say the mark of a successful life is to develop composure within oneself, and manifest that composure by acts of kindness to all other. All others.
Technology is based on leverage — that is, using tools to enable greater and greater outcomes while minimizing inputs. So, for example, you can see the moon more clearly through the precisely ground lens of a telescope than with your eyes alone.
To begin, or to further, the transition from wedge to web thinking and action that we are already in, assume a composed frame of mind before you enter your energy into any tool system. And to the extent possible determine that the outcomes will be acts of kindness.
The user manual for all tools should read: Be composed within yourself when using this or any tool, and determine that outcome will be an act of kindness. Be calm; be kind.
The laws of nature and the laws of the moral order are the same. We exist in a uni-verse. Tragically, we lost sight of that during the Scientific, Industrial and Information Revolutions. But just as the laws of gravity and of thermodynamics are non-negotiable, so too is the law of love, of compassion to all including one’s self.
The path I’m suggesting seems weak and ineffectual. What chance do individual acts of thoughtfulness and kindness have against the rapacity of ruthless elites and their gutless minions?
Yet these are exactly the tools with which Mohandas Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa and Wojtyla, and all their followers used to topple wicked regimes with very little loss of life.
We cower in fear before evil-doers, wring our hands and ask, What chance does a drop of water have against a mountain?
But the laws of nature, and the history of civil nations, show what chance a mountain has against a billion drops of water.
“The day will come when, after harnessing space, winds, the tide and gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J
Text © 2019, Thomas Mahon
Rights to the photo belong to the unknown copyright holder.