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Subway Diary

The brain — self-consciousness — is the first supercomputer, a long-emerging evolutionary mistake that leaves us more vulnerable than if we had just remained hyper-predatory calculating killing-machines. I can’t help but wonder if the generation of supercomputers we’re building, will evolve, eventually — perhaps long long after my lifetime — into self-conscious consciousnesses like us? I wonder when the first computer suicide will be.

“worm's eye view of a passage” by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

This is an odd thought to have on November 7th. I remember taking the subway the day after Trump was elected, and feeling an utter, 1933-esc despair. The world seemed grey and fascistic, even in New York City (and to a degree, it still does). But in the intervening two years, I’ve started to feel that the deep past and the deep future are more frightening than the stark present, and more interesting. Whatever you can say about the 2016–2018 period, nothing truly BIG has happened. No plagues, no wars, no space travel, no tectonic shifts in power. Lots of pawns have fallen — lots of little grimnesses have set in — but the EVENT is… either still to come, or not coming in the course of this historical moment.

To my mind, the last major event was in 2008 — it was the release of the first smartphone in the United States (not the election of President Obama). Everything that has happened after — everything politically — it is a outward ripple from the date that brains began to change. Trump, for instance, was an aftershock; the Democratic revival last night (and the revival of passion for democracy) was also an aftershock. The way people organize and communicate, and what they believe, is changing faster than we can comprehend it.

In the early 20th century, for instance, we saw the beginnings of mass media, as well as the rumblings of fascist ideology. In 1912, the futurists were writing neo-fascist manifestos while Mussolini or Hitler were complete nobodies. New technology, the radical, and radically fluid, transformation of European society was something to be praised, or really, worshipped. No one could foresee that these various mini-events, these smaller strands of change, would eventually merge and mutate. In the 1930s, it became clear that authoritarian leaders who mastered and deployed technology could create an entirely new kind of state: many brains wedded, horrifically, to one brain, one will.

Trump, I suspect, is actually the canary in the coal mine, not the toxic gas itself. Trump’s Twitter use, one day — sooner or later, I can’t say — will look extremely antiquated. Today’s illiberal dictator will give way, evolve into, something far worse.

Photo by Y Heng on Unsplash

My hunch is that an EVENT, a cataclysmic one, at least in terms of global politics, will occur if and when unregulated data merges and mutates with unregulated politics; when a few fascist, racist, authoritarian — primitively evil — leaders deploy (a future generation of) supercomputers to (completely) dominate the psyches of their citizens.