An Essay by O.G. Rose
On Dostoevsky’s Inquisitor, Probability, Progress, Personalization, and the Crooked Timber
Thanks to technology, everything ‘in this world has become everybody’s issue.’¹ People we’ve never met ‘are now involved in our lives, as we in theirs, thanks to the electric media.’² What we are orientated “toward” has dramatically changed in our modern age. Before the 1900s, it wasn’t possible to hear someone’s voice without that person being in the same room: phones didn’t exist. Before the 1950s, it was impossible to watch a live-stream video of something happening in California while in Virginia: the internet, let alone YouTube, was nowhere to be found. Back then, it wasn’t possible to be “toward” events much beyond one’s locality, family, community or work; yes, people could read about the war, events in Europe, and so on, but we couldn’t regularly receive “live updates,” hour by hour, about everything that was happening everywhere. In the past, humans weren’t simply more isolated, but also more “truly ignorant” about global events: people not only didn’t know what was happening, they didn’t know they didn’t know. “True ignorance” can cause major problems, but so can bearing knowledge that the knowers don’t know how to bear.
Today, we are all part of a “collective consciousness”: each life is part of many lives; all shapes all. Humans have always been communal creatures, but today the species is experiencing community in a highly unique way: disembodied, digital, and yet emotionally. With this development, the number of people whose lives we are connected with, however weakly or strongly, has dramatically increased. Additionally, we are more able to stay in contact with friends from high school, college, and work; in the past, it was more difficult to fight against the natural tendency to “fall out of touch,” but this also meant it was easier for us not to be “hard on ourselves” for losing contact. Since we care about our friends, we today are likely to do our best to stay connected, dramatically increasing the size of our “social circles” (and yet at the same time, many feel like they don’t belong to any community, an irony explored in “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose). Since we have the technology and power to stay in touch with people we care about, if we fail, we can feel worse about it, like we’ve done something wrong versus suffer a natural course of life.
Technologies entail trade-offs: being part of a collective consciousness has its benefits and negatives. If we are aware of the negatives, there’s a better chance the positives will prevail. But it is not easy to handle well the powers and capacities granted to us today by modern technology, nor to know exactly how to act and think within a collective consciousness. Constantly participating in and experiencing the lives of others, being “incepted” with thoughts and ideas, and being “forced” to know about things (and then lacking the choice to not know about them), we find ourselves in an existential condition that no prior generation faced. Though today we don’t have to cut firewood or heat water for baths, we do have to wrestle with internal and existential problems that past generations were spared. Since these problems are invisible, we are prone to miss them and at most deem them “first word problems,” focusing instead on more visible issues like poverty.³ Certainly poverty is a major problem, but if we don’t develop the talents and mental abilities to handle our modern existential tensions, problems like poverty, mental illness, institutional racism, and the like very well may worsen. People vote, protest, raise children, work jobs, and so on, all through the lens of their minds, and if minds are not trained to handle living in a collective consciousness, how people vote, protest, raise children, etc. very well may happen in such a way that contribute to poverty, mental illness, and the like.
As warned in “Collective Consciousness and Trust” and “Scripted,” both by O.G. Rose, technology today poises a grave challenge to societal trust, which consequently threatens communal bonds, reconciliation, democracy, and other ties which hold society together. In line with “Up, Simba” by David Foster Wallace, each one of us is increasingly trapped within a ‘dark and box-sized cell,’ and ‘this box that makes [us] ‘real’ is, by definition, locked. Impenetrable. Nobody gets in or out.’⁴ Our age is increasingly “(hyper)real,” and the line between actuality and media is increasingly difficult to draw (“the fake” and “the real” have mixed like milk and dye). Everyone feels increasingly “fake” to us, from politicians to our neighbors, and in an age when trust is broken and cynicism spreading, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe in anything or anyone, regardless what they do to bring about racial reconciliation, end sexism, etc. In this atmosphere, societal problems seem like they can only worsen, and if solutions are found, feeling “(hyper)real,” we are unlikely to recognize them: they will feel “fake,” priming us to disregard the solutions we’ve longed for in search of “real” ones.
Technology brings with it a ‘never-explained numbness […] about in the individual and society.’⁵ Likewise, it begets “a never-explained fakeness” (“(hyper)reality”), which results from “the death of the real” (to allude to Jean Baudrillard). Our capacity to identify and connect with genuineness wanes, and with that spreads cynicism, “metamentality” (discussed in “Metamentality and the Dismodern Self” by O.G. Rose), anxiety, and even mental illness. Though a major blessing, technology is also a major threat, not so much because of its “messages” (to allude to Marshall McLuhan), but more so because of the new “mediums” themselves. This paper will focus on another way technology threatens us: simultaneous to the noted problems, worsening them, technology also “personalizes probability,” making us closer to being omniscient without making us closer to being omnipotent, forcing us to confront our finitude, human nature, and empathetic bias, ultimately increasing the likelihood that we end up like Ivan Karamazov, “stuck on the fence” — insane.
Any moment can end up online: the eating of a sandwich, the yelling at a friend, the experience of a sunset, and so on. Knowing this, our behavior may change for the better or worst. Everything that happens in the world has the potential of ending up in the public sphere, and since there is always something bad happening in the world, there is always something bad that the public can witness. In our Internet Age, everyday can be a dark day, for everyday consists of life and death: there is no perfection to be found (potentially incubating cynicism). We’ve always known “the world wasn’t perfect,” but today we can more so experience the constant imperfection of the world: imperfection has been personalized. In the past, the degree to which a person experienced the world’s imperfection was much more contained (“local,” per se); now, because of technology, it can be a constant experience. We don’t simply know “nothing is perfect,” we increasingly “see” the truth (“personally”).
In the past, invading armies seized villages, violence could be an everyday affair, children mortality was high — I don’t mean to imply that this kind of suffering is more probable today. Rather, I mean to say that we more so experience the totality of imperfection that is occurring all around the world all the time. Before modern technology, experiencing suffering was more “linear”: I could suffer a friend dying, but I couldn’t suffer the experience of an innocent person being shot in California while an earthquake killed a thousand people in China, and a terrorist killed fifteen people at an airport. I’m not interested in “which suffering was worse,” but rather I’m interested in how the way people experience the sum of the world’s imperfections has transformed. Today, versus the past, we are more likely to really experience what it means that “the world is imperfect,” while understanding of this truth in the past was more contained to one’s (linear) life-course.⁶ In other words, humans have always lived with the general truth that “the world isn’t perfect” intellectually, but today we must live with this truth (as more) personalized and experienced. As population rises and technology improves, this will only increasingly be the case.
(Please do not mistake me as saying that “increased awareness is bad”; rather, I’m saying that with awareness comes responsibility and trade-offs. Awareness is a weight that we must develop the mental capacities to handle; otherwise, all the problems touched on in the first section will worsen. Since awareness will increase because technology naturally improves with time (seeing that technology is a result of “trial and error” that naturally increases, given that humans/intelligence perpetuates), we have no choice but to take responsibility for awareness and improve our mental capacities. It’s a call that not answering leads to suffering.)
As of July 8, 2016, the world population was around 7.4 billion. A million is a thousand multiplied by a thousand: if we counted at a rate of one number per second, in one day, we would count to 86,400. At this rate, to count to a million, we would have to count nonstop for around 11.5 days. A billion is a thousand million, so to count to a billion, we would have to count for 11,500 days (or around 176 years). To count to 7 billion, we would have to count for 80,500 days (around 220 years); to count to 400 million, around 4,600 days (around 12 years); hence, to count to 7.4 billion, we would have to count for 85,100 days (around 232 years). I go through all this as a reminder of how vast the number 7.4 billion is — we’ve come to be so used to numbers like “a trillion” and “a billion” that we’ve lost perspective, as tends to happen I think with terms that imply something larger than what can be humanly conceptualized.⁷
If .0001% of people in the world suffered on a given day, there would be 7,400 potential stories the media could cover about bad things happening in the world. If something bad happened to .0001% of the world’s population, there would be 7,400 potential tweets, posts, pictures, etc. of horrible tragedies, suffering, and evil. Imagine that the news did cover all 7,400 events, one by one, each for five minutes. The program would last for about 616 hours, no commercials. Would any viewer be left sane? And that’s just one day (during which, by the way, around 151,600 die — imagine if the media covered each death, one by one, going through each person’s life story, showing images of crying loved ones, etc.).⁸ Can hell can be found in statistical insignificances? Perhaps so.
Every life matters, but .0001% is insignificant (statistically speaking), and yet since every human life matters, we cannot treat the statistic as insignificant, unless that is we don’t have any humanity left in our souls for the 7,400 people behind the .0001%.⁹ What kind of people are we? Monsters?
Is it inevitable that I will get sick? Yes and no. It cannot be said for sure that I will ever get sick, but if I live for 75 years, I have around 27,300 days in which I can fall ill. Considering I interact with hundreds of people, move between countless environments, and so on, there are numerous opportunities throughout a single day in which I could contract a sickness. Multiple that by 27,300, and though it isn’t technically inevitable that I will get sick, it is practically inevitable. In other words, it is rather so probable that I will get sick that the word “probable” and “inevitable” are virtually indistinguishable. It’s going to happen, even though it doesn’t have to happen.
Likewise, though it is not “technically inevitable” that something bad will happen in the world today, it is “practically inevitable,” and hence it is practically inevitable that something will occur that can potentially be featured on the news, on Facebook, on Twitter, and so on. Precisely because the given event, relative to itself, doesn’t have to happen, there will be a feeling that the event could have been prevented, because indeed, it could have been. However, it is practically inevitable that some bad event that could have been prevented will occur. Necessarily, this event will be experienced relative to itself as preventable, and hence, if there is any humanity in us at all, the event will compel us to do that which will keep the preventable event from happening again. Tragically though, it is practically inevitable that some preventable event will occur, and hence that we will be compelled by our humanity to end up like Sisyphus, always pushing a bolder that never stays at the top of the hill — precisely because it is practically inevitable we end up like Sisyphus.
In the way only a mirror can disturb, the monster Joseph Stalin supposedly once said that ‘[w]hen one person dies, it’s a tragedy, but when a million people die, it’s a statistic.’ If we’re human, we can’t want this to be true, and yet I fear that this is true because we are finite. It’s impossible for us even to imagine a million individuals, let alone mourn for them. And yet when we experience a particular person in a particular place die, especially if we somehow know the person, we weep. Shouldn’t we weep for the million? Yes, but we probably don’t. Why? That line of thought is taken up in “Probable Cause,” where The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith is wrestled with and addressed. Here, I will only note that, as finite beings, we cannot maintain deep personal connections with a million people, probably not even a hundred. But that is what our technology, coupled with our necessary morals and values today, demands of us, rather we want to be so asked or not (“incepted,” “no exit”).
According to Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, violence is on the decline. Yet today, thanks to our technology, our awareness of violence is increasing, and so it can seem as if violence itself is increasing (regardless if it actually is or not). Perhaps violence isn’t getting worse; rather, it’s getting seen. If a million murders happen and we only hear about ten of them, it will seem as there are more murders in comparison to when a thousand murders occur and we hear about a hundred of them: in fact, it will seem as if murder is happening ten times more often, a deeply startling and disturbing thought. Under Stalin, millions were murdered, but Americans did not see pictures online of “the purge,” Fox News and CNN did not cover the executions “live,” and videos of the victims’ families lamenting did not reach Facebook. We were ignorant, and perhaps in a way that means we were once crueler, but today we seem just as unlikely to make a difference while simultaneously burdened by knowledge of our ineptitude. However, if violence is indeed declining, this failure is perhaps not so dire, and if technology is indeed somehow contributing to a decrease in violence, the cost for peace is great existential anxiety. Perhaps that is a price well worth paying; then again, perhaps it is until it isn’t (especially if violence is only declining because of a “stalemate of deterrence” that could be broken at any time).
Assuming Pinker is right and violence has decreased, thanks to our technology, we still feel as if violence is worse, which theoretically could lead to a resurgence of violence, an increase in unhappiness, a tearing down of the institutions that helped mitigate violence, and worse. Indeed, if Pinker is right, then the existential and psychological burdens of technology that this paper focuses on may be less of a problem than the problems of the 20th century, but I am still of the opinion that technology, due to our unawareness, is leading us down a detrimental path. Perhaps we will not suffer WWIII, but then again, perhaps we will: better to learn how to live with our technologies regardless and lessen the risk.
As already claimed, humans have always lived knowing “bad things happen,” but today if a million people are killed, through the media, we experience the general truth in particular people and personalized tragedies, all which demand from us a “humane response” (as does the death of someone we know or someone suffering right in front of us). Because of technology, we can experience “the million who make up the statistic,” per se, one by one, each with a personalized face: we increasingly don’t simply bear the knowledge that a million people have died, but increasingly bear a million individuals. And this is very difficult for anyone to bear: it seems to be more than our finitude can take. We need incredible training in an age when that training might not exist, and even if it does, there might not be enough mentors for all of us.
Today, when 151,600 people die, thanks to our technologies, five of them are “tragedies,” per se: every day, we live in the shadow of “five tragedies.” In the twentieth century, Americans lived and worked while Stalin starved and executed millions, and for the most part, not only did Americans do nothing, they didn’t know they did nothing (they were “truly ignorant” of “The Great Purge”). And after all, what could they have done? Demand the government to act, but other than that effort? Little, and yet had they known that millions were dying in the Soviet Union, they would have still had to live and work while carrying the additional burden of knowing how monstrous humanity could be to one another. Yes, this knowledge would have helped them have a “truer view” of the world, and though there is value to this, it’s hard to see how much value would have been gained from this knowledge.
Perhaps public knowledge can contribute to public outcry that helps stop atrocities, and though that’s an argument to support the internet, I’m afraid we don’t see much evidence that things work out this way. From Kony 201 to Islamic State aggression to the Uyghurs genocide, often awareness just causes a stirring of emotions, a few political speeches, and not much else. I’m not saying that knowledge and movements never made the world a better place, and it seems to depend: while the “Me Too movement” seems to have helped victims of sexual assault, the uprising in Syria didn’t seem to fix the corrupt State. Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that the more the “positive change” requires government action, the less likely it is to work out, and tragically it is usually governments which commit genocides. Thus, knowledge about atrocities is often just that — knowledge — and so we often find ourselves bearing an existential burden without the possibility of existential relief through action. Can knowledge about atrocities today stop atrocities tomorrow? Perhaps, and for that reason I don’t want to claim that information doesn’t contribute to moral evolution: my main point is only to highlight our unique existential burden, one that we need to be aware of to avoid the possible pitfalls, neurosis, etc. it may cause.
Today, unless we utterly remove ourselves from human society, all of us must have a “truer view” of the world, rather we can handle it or not. We are necessarily more aware, and thanks to awareness, we can know about injustices that we can stop that we otherwise would not have been able to stop. With awareness comes the possibility of increasing justice, but here’s the catch: probability makes it “practically inevitable” that preventable bad things will happen, and with awareness of these things, our desire for justice must necessarily compel us to stop these bad things from continuing to happen. But probability will always be probability: it is practically inevitable that bad things always happen that are technically stoppable, and so highly probable that our impulse for justice will never be satisfied regardless how much injustice we stop. But precisely because stopping preventable bad things is not technically inevitable, justice forces us to keep trying. Unless, that is, we ignore the injustices of the world and know we ignore them: we can no longer be as “truly ignorant” as was once possible. Hence, to not end up like Sisyphus (as perhaps is the fate of all), we must be inhuman and know we are monstrous. But what am I saying, that we should do nothing? No: I’m saying that, regardless what we do, we’re all “(im)moral.”¹⁰ A ‘storm irresistibly propel[ling us] into the future,’ we find ourselves ‘astray in a dark wood’.¹¹ We can only go forward: we can only feel like we’re never doing enough.
To help shed light on what it means to say horrors and tragedies in the world today are increasingly experienced and personalized versus only understood intellectually, and to help us grasp what this feels like, we will now examine the movie Eye in the Sky, directed by Gavin Hood. The movie helps show the difference between encountering “The Trolley Problem” abstractly (say in a classroom) versus actually experiencing “The Trolley Problem.” The situation the characters find themselves in throughout the movie is like the situation we constantly find ourselves in today thanks to our ever-advancing technologies, and increasingly we are forced to face personalized and practically inevitable horrors, “the tragedy of us,” Nussbaum’s “the fragility of goodness,” and other existentially anxious situations like that of “The Trolley Problem.” If you haven’t seen Eye in the Sky and want to avoid spoilers, feel free to skip the section, seeing as the main argument of the paper can still be grasped without it.
The movie revolves around a decision to use drone fire to kill several high-ranking terrorists, even though civilians might be killed in the process. The British military, with help from Kenyan operatives, sneak a camera into a house where the terrorists are meeting, and, to their horror, they discover that the terrorists are about to launch an attack. The British might only have minutes to stop the terrorists; if they fail, judging from the explosive devices, nearly a hundred people could die. Colonial Powell wants to laugh a strike immediately to kill the terrorists but needs clearance from higher-ups, all of which are hesitant to make the decision. Despite the time constraints, the higher-ups constantly defer to other people even higher up the chain of command. Finally, all that is needed is clearance from the US Secretary of State, who is in Beijing. The US Secretary receives a phone call — he doesn’t see any video — and is clearly annoyed to even be bothered by the issue (it’s obvious to him what should be done). The US Secretary gives clearance, and a thrilled Colonial Powell orders the pilot of an aircraft to fire a missile into the home.
Suddenly, on the verge of pulling the trigger, the pilot spots a little girl approach the house and set up a table on the nearby street to sell bread. She is within range of the missile and will likely be killed. The pilot cannot pull the trigger, even though killing this one girl may save a hundred, and demands another report on collateral damage: he wants to find a spot to shoot the missile that will give the little girl the highest chance of survival. The appearance of the girl complicates the matter again, and, again, the decision must run up the whole chain of command. No one wants to make the decision: legally and militarily, the British officials are in the clear, but politically, they know there will be consequences. They begin to fear what will happen if the video they are watching to monitor the terrorist situation is leaked; they begin thinking of ways to try to move the little girl selling bread; and then suddenly the camera-feed dies — they can no longer see what the terrorists are doing. At any moment, without their knowing, it could be too late. They must make a decision — now.
Satellites kick in, and the British can again see images of the little girl outside the house. If they don’t stop the terrorists, countless little children could die; if they do, this one little girl who has been personalized to them will die. They consider the fact that if they do nothing, they will be able to claim that terrorists killed a hundred people; if they stop the terrorists, the story will be that they killed a child. To act is to lose the propaganda war, and if they lose that, future terrorists might be strengthened, leading to more terrorist attacks and even more deaths. The US government calls suddenly and tells the British to launch a strike now — to those who the girl isn’t personalized, the decision is obvious. If the British don’t act, the US warns that they will have to explain to the world why it was that when they had the chance to save a hundred lives, they did nothing. The clock ticks; no one knows when time will run out.
Eye in the Sky is powerful, and I won’t spoil what ultimately happens. What I want to focus on is how all of us today find ourselves in similar situations to those as the characters in Eye in the Sky thanks to our “grand technologies” (and do note how the title alludes to God, bringing Ivan Karamazov to mind). The movie is ultimately a modern take on “The Trolley Problem,” which is a famous ethical paradox. To put it simply, the paradox asks what we should do if a trolley is heading toward five people on a track, but we are able to pull a lever and send the trolley down a different route where only one person will be killed. What should be done? Should we do nothing and let the five die, or should we pull the lever and kill the one? Countless philosophers have weighed in on this question and come to various conclusions. To most, the decision is obvious: kill the one to save the five. But is this correct? Hard to say. Here, the only point I would like to stress is that this decision is much easier to make when the person being killed isn’t personified. Today, thanks to our technologies, everyday people increasingly find themselves in “Trolley Problem”-like situations (at least in terms of existential anxiety), and those situations are personified.
There is a temptation to think “The Trolley Problem” doesn’t have much relevancy to our everyday lives, but as our technologies improve, existentially anxious situations like those of “The Trolley Problem” increasingly become situations we face. The world has always been full of existentially horrifying situations like what’s depicted in Eye in the Sky, but for most of human history, those situations have been contained to those directly and presently facing them. Now, thanks to the internet and social media, the world is much smaller, and consequently we find ourselves increasingly in these kinds of situations but without any training to handle them. We aren’t like the US Secretary of State, to whom the situation in Eye in the Sky is abstract, only hearing about it from a phone call; rather, we are like the British chain of command, to whom the situation is personified, they seeing images of the girl whose life they hold in their hands. We aren’t always or even often like the pilot, who ultimately decides if the missile is launched, but we are more like those who see the face of the little girl whose life is on the line.
Responding to “The Trolley Problem” is very different when we face it while sitting in a classroom (or while watching or reading about Eye in the Sky) versus actually experiencing “The Trolley Problem”: to only think about it is entirely different than also having to feel it (which considering “The Heart/Mind Dialectic” by O.G. Rose, impacts thinking) — technology emotionalizes issues that before were abstractions. If we are familiar with the ethical paradox, we might have been lead to believe the issue isn’t as tough as it seems — kill the one to save the five, obviously — and this perhaps makes us unprepared via overconfidence for when we encounter such paradoxes personified (though perhaps instead we are more prepared to do what we should do despite our emotions, not to say there is necessarily a right answer). As technology improves, “thrown” into facing situations like what leaders around the world must face regularly, we are forced to realize that we are surrounded by situations like “The Trolley Problem” that are similar at least in levels of existential tension — “tragedies” where competing goods must be chosen between (“the fragility of goodness”), “practically inevitable” disasters that can be stopped yet not due to probability, etc. — and at the same time, these situations are recognized personified, not abstractly. Today, the experience in which we are confronted with a situation that is evidence that the world isn’t simply one of “problems and solutions” and/or “good and evil,” but “trade-offs” and “tragedies” (perhaps causing us cognitive dissonance), is the same moment in which we find ourselves more like Colonial Powell than the US Secretary of State.
How do we respond? Perhaps we’re like most characters in the movie: deferring and running, trying to avoid facing the situation, trying to avoid culpability — unable to escape. Whatever decision is made, the characters in Eye in the Sky realize that there will be consequences: citizens in the village where the drone strike happens might be radicalized. But if the British don’t strike, a hundred will die, which itself might contribute to radicalization when people become hopeless. There is no way to avoid risking something horrible, almost as if it’s sown into the very fabric of reality, and increasingly, our technologies force us all to face this “ontological situation” not just in the abstract but personalized. How should we respond? How do we respond? As time marches forward, we are increasingly forced to see the truth of ourselves — face to face.
Whenever we discuss “the media,” we are discussing “the finite media.” Necessarily, the media focuses on just a handful of horrible events that have happened in the world at a time — let’s say five, which is around .00000000067% of the world population. The five stories tend to consume the media cycle for numerous days and are responded to with millions of tweets, Facebook posts, and the like. In response, protests are organized, protests are criticized, people plead for “something to be done,” people plead for people to “get involved,” governments are told to act, governments are told to stand aside, markets are regulated, markets are unleased — on and on. As made possible thanks to technology and in response to five events that are statistically insignificant and actually could be evidence that the world is a fantastic place (because so few bad things are happening), peoples and nations could dramatically change for the better or worse. This is because people, in a sense, must act, as forced by their ethics and values — ethics and values which societies require to hold together. And this points to a paradox of the human condition that we all must come to understand if our protesting, support of the market, actions, etc. are to do more good than harm.
Ethics is something I’m critical of, as clear in “(Im)morality.” However, please do not confuse my attacks on “Ethical Systems” and “Ethic Classes” with being against character development, empathy, treating one another morally, and the like. I’m of the opinion that a society unconcerned with justice and unconcerned with treating one another humanely is a society that will collapse, not only because it will come to resent freedom (as argued in “On Kafka, Character, and Law” by O.G. Rose) but also because it will devolve into anarchy. Society needs citizens to act humanely and to care about one another, and if that is lost, the society is lost. But at the same time, it is precisely this care which compels us to want to stop bad things from happening, bad things which are preventable and practically inevitable. This creates a problem.
Immanuel Kant, who never traveled far from home, wrote before Facebook, as did G.E. Moore and all the other great Ethical thinkers. Their systems were inherently local and “contained”: in Kant’s day, his “categorical imperative” would only drive an individual to act a certain way toward a contained number of people; now, it implies how Americans should interact with people living in Kenya. Thanks to technology, the universal “categorical imperative” is no longer naturally contained, and consequently, our failure to live up to it is increasingly “visible,” not hidden by “true ignorance.” Today, it is becoming “personal” and clear how incapable we are to avoid “(im)moral” living, but if we have any humanity at all, we must try to do something (as must Sisyphus).
Our knowledge and awareness of the bad things happening in the world is growing, but not so much our capacity to stop “preventable bad things” from happening. We manage to stop some, indeed, but never all, for we cannot erase probability from existence or practical inevitabilities. We are increasingly omniscient, but not any less finite. Technology has increased the quality of life for the average person on the planet by many fold, violence is decreasing (according to Pinker), and so on. In many ways, the world is getting better, and so it is the case that the overall power of humanity for good is increasing, as is humanity’s capacity to improve the lives of average people, but it is not the case that the power of a given individual is increasing (even though it feels like it is because technology is improving) . To the degree humanity works together, the better we can make things (though rather its best humanity works through free markets or governments is a subject of debate), and to the degree awareness leads to protests, changes in thoughts, etc. that increase beneficial collective action is to the degree that increases in awareness lead to an increased capacity to make the world a better place. But again, individually, power does not increase, and since existential tensions always start individually, this means the existential tension we each must deal with is rising, though our capacities to handle this tension aren’t necessarily rising as well. This imbalance can compel us to seek collective action, but if the collective action we support actually makes the situation worse, then we have worsened our plight. Risk is unavoidable.
Even if we do manage to organize collective action that improves justice in the world, there will always be injustices that are practically inevitable (due to probability). And though this has always been the case, in the past, awareness was lower, and so one could increase justice and not the next day hear about a massacre in the Middle East (a success of increasing justice wasn’t so quickly undercut: the sweetness and corresponding hope could last longer). And though we all know we can’t stop all bad things from happening generally, we will still experience particular bad thing as “preventable,” and hence feel compelled by justice to do something to stop “that one thing.” But there will always be “one thing,” and as technology inevitably improves, there will be a corresponding drop in justice’s sweetness. And this will be agonizing.
But we must fight on: justice and our humanity demand it. As awareness rises, we increasingly must hear the calls of justice and humanity, and so increasingly not be “truly ignorant” of our “(im)morality” and “never-explained numbness” — an existential realization that is very difficult to know what to do with, especially when unequipped, as perhaps all of us are in today’s world.
Technology is forcing us to personally confront the (existential) reality that we are finite beings who ascribe to infinite values, that we are contingent beings who live in a contingent world, living according to non-contingent values and ethics which societies require to be just and humane. At the same time, technology is increasingly taking from us the possibility of being “truly ignorant” about our existential and tragic state. It is forcing us to glimpse it and react, and lacking the mental capacities and training to handle the tragedy, we’re proven prone to break.
If I were walking outside and saw that my neighbor was drowning and kept walking, I would be a moral monster, and perhaps even end up in jail. Belief in human dignity and that “everyone is equal” would compel me to stop everything I was doing and try to save my neighbor: no cost or consequence would justify me not trying to help. If I didn’t help my neighbor because I was afraid I would be late for work and lose my job, I would be a moral monster; if I didn’t stop because I didn’t want to be late for my son’s baseball game, no one would think for a moment that I did the right thing. This is because according to our societal values and philosophical constructs, human life is valuable regardless and/or non-contingently: in situations in which we can do something to save human life, there is no justification for not trying to save that life.
We must act.
Peter Singer raises the point that presently, around the world, children are starving to death, and that if we donated the money we will spend on new cloths to help those children, we would save lives. Singer argues that there is no moral difference between this fact and the idea that there is a neighbor drowning before our very eyes: the only difference is that we can see our neighbor drowning, while the child around the world is invisible.¹² Singer is pointing to a moral problem with modern Capitalism; at the same time, I think he also traces out an issue with ethics and values themselves. They are in-finite (“not finite”), and yet we are in finitude.
As has already been argued, probability is such that bad things are practically inevitable, and because of our technologies, we are increasingly aware of these bad things and increasingly experience them “with a face,” versus only know intellectually that “the world isn’t perfect” and that “bad things are happening.” In other words, the suffering of the child in the Middle East is increasingly more like the drowning of our neighbor, and so increasingly similar morally. Perhaps Peter Singer is right and the situations have always been morally identical, but either way, the situations are increasingly phenomenologically and emotionally similar. They perhaps aren’t identical, but closer than they used to be, and with this change rises the imperative to “do something,” as the sight of a neighbor drowning would drive a person to “do something” without a second thought.
Thanks to technology, images, Facebook, etc., we don’t just know about one child suffering in the Middle East, but thousands, all around the world, each increasingly striking us phenomenologically like the sight of a drowning neighbor. We are necessarily impelled to “do something,” especially considering that each of these instances of suffering are, relative to their selves, preventable. Unfortunately though, again, taking probability into account, it is practically inevitable that preventable tragedies will occur, and so there will always be suffering children that we will increasingly feel compelled to help (like Sisyphus pushing a bolder). But even that being the case, only a moral monster wouldn’t help a drowning neighbor because he or she didn’t want to end up like Sisyphus. Like a man who didn’t save his drowning neighbor because he didn’t want to dirty his new coat, so too is a person who, in fear of ending up like Sisyphus, doesn’t respond to the children suffering around the world, the thousands suffering due to mental illness, the victims of terrorism, corrupt police, tyrannical government, and so on. If there is any humanity in us at all, we must act. And yet. And yet. We are stuck in the “and yet.” “Pinned down.”¹³
Because of technology, we increasingly live in what Marshall McLuhan called a “global village,” and consequently we increasingly live in a constant state of “finding our neighbor drowning,” per se. In the past, the likelihood of experiencing such a crisis to which we had to respond in some way — “pinned down” — was much less. Today, it is nearly a daily occurrence, and though we still don’t experience a video of someone suffering around the world with the same emotional imperative as we do the sight of someone we know right in front of us suffering (though we perhaps feel more than we once did, before modern technologies), we still know the examples of suffering are morally identical, and that they are supposed to demand the same kind of response from us. And yet they don’t (as discussed in “Probable Cause” by O.G. Rose), and today we are forced to know that they don’t (“true ignorance’ is no longer an option). We must see and know the truth about ourselves, and this is a powerful existential realization that we need to be prepared to handle, for even those prepared are often still devastated.
As it has ever-improved and ever-raised awareness, technology has ever-shrunken the world and space between tragedies. However, technology has not changed our finitude: we still respond differently to the death of a loved one compared to the death of a stranger. To try to create identical moral motivation and action (as well as to garner attention), media, people online, etc. show increasingly graphic footage, gravitate toward the most extreme stories, comment cynically on tragedies with lines such as “nobody will do anything,” and so on — (well-intended) efforts that will never overcome the human nature described in “Probable Cause” and that will lead to deeper existential angst and an increased spreading of cynicism (despite the grave warnings of David Foster Wallace about cynicism, noted throughout the works of O.G. Rose).¹⁴ Humans are finite, and we cannot help but react to the suffering of loved ones differently compared to how we react to suffering strangers, and though this has always been the case, today these strangers “have a face,” per se — we experience personalized those who we feel less motivated to help.
Today, those who lie outside the limits of our finitude are increasingly persons to us, not just figures or generalities. This makes the reality of our finitude, natural motivation, etc. more difficult to live with: existential stability is becoming increasingly arduous to achieve. Our finitude and human nature are becoming personalized and experienced, versus mere knowledge, all while we are burdened by the knowledge that the suffering of a child in Kenya is morally equivalent to the suffering of a neighbor and that both deserve an equally motivated response (all while we need to hurry up and get to work, take care of the kids, finish our online degree, etc.). And yet. And yet.
“Human dignity” isn’t limited by location, geography, socioeconomic status — all people, all around the world, possess “human dignity” non-contingently (“without exception”). “Finitude” is “a state of contingency,” meaning finite beings are limited by their conditions (such as three-dimensions, a need to eat, being in time/probability, etc.), while “in-finitude” is “a state of non-contingency.” Human dignity is in-finite, while humans themselves are finite. The value of human dignity is the basis on which justice is possible: if humans didn’t have some kind of innate dignity for just being human, there would probably be no moral and/or ontological basis on which justice could be established. Hence, without dignity, there couldn’t be justice (only illegitimate law), and if there was no justice, a society would probably devolve into anarchy: the “non-contingent” value holds “contingent” human beings together. And yet because the value we require is “non-contingent,” we cannot justify not helping the people suffering around the world. This has always been the case (we have always been “(im)moral”), but now that the reality is experienced and personalized, society is existentially destabilized, a condition contributing to the ruin of politics, mistrust between citizens, failings of Pluralism, spreading of cynicism, and so on. Society is held up by a “non-conditionality” we can never live up to, but at least in the past we didn’t have to live with it.
Technology is forcing us to realize our finitude, that in-finite values hold up society, and that we cannot fully live up to those in-finite values on which we depend. A reason we are human and not merely animalistic is because we ascribe to ethical values, but these ethical values, thanks to technology, are increasingly putting us at odds against ourselves and finitude, precisely to maintain our humanity. Living with paradox, irony, and contradiction requires training, mentorship, and critical thinking, but I’m not confident that the majority is receiving this education. But I am confident that the majority is on Facebook; I am confident that existential anxiety is sweeping over the world.
What should be done? Accept that we cannot live up to our necessary values? Accept that we cannot accept that we cannot live up to our necessary ideals? Accept that we cannot accept that we are “(im)moral” and paradoxical “walking contradictions,” “thrown” into a reality held together by ironic and necessary shortcomings — “pinned down?”
We are increasingly having to experience and personalize our finitude (in light of justice) versus simply know we are finite. In “The Heart/Mind Dialectic and the Phenomenology of View(s)” by O.G. Rose, it was argued that though culture often depicts them dualistically, we are not “heart and mind” creatures but “heart/mind creatures”: emotions dialectically influence thoughts and vice-versa. The “heart” and “mind” are different, yes, but they are so constantly engaging and influencing one another that drawing a line between them is often difficult if not impossible. This in mind, the more we experience our finitude personally, the more our emotions and mind are going to be orientated “toward” overcoming the problem. And though we can certainly do some good in the world and help reduce injustice, ultimately, it is practically inevitable that there will be some degree of injustice left. The problem is ultimately our finitude, human imperfection, and the nature of probability. If we cannot accept that there is a “practically inevitable” limit to how much good we can do in the world, we will be driven mad by the images our technologies thrust before us, crushed between our values and “heart/mind.”¹⁵
As technology advances and awareness increases, we are emotionally and mentally compelled to overcome our finitude, which though impossible, our values cannot let us quit. And for good reason: if we give up on our values, we give up our humanity. We increasingly have to personalize our finitude in light of a justice that forces us — to the degree that we are human — to combat our finitude, rendering us like Dostoevsky’s “Underground Man,” beating against an unmoving wall and refusing to accept “2 x 2 = 4.” Existentially agonized, we find ourselves futilely attempting to empathize with millions and to treat millions like neighbors, and to face the truth that every human that suffers in a “practically inevitable” tragedy is a being rationally and morally worthy of countless speeches in that person’s honor, investigations to determine what happened, moments of silence, and the like. Our knowledge growing much faster than our power, we scream at our finitude in an age when we believe less and less in an uppercase-Infinity against which we can contrast and justify the tragedy of our finitude: the tragedy is “all there is” (in a sense, there is no finitude, just “the is”) — there is no Something More. We are increasingly experiencing personalized the tragedies that fill our imperfect world (like Alex strapped down in A Clockwork Orange), while simultaneously not believing in a Divine Narrative that could help us live with them. Perhaps this means we have a “truer view” of reality, but I fear most people aren’t prepared to carry the burden of truth. Whether we’re prepared or not though, our technology will continue to advance. Consequently, we are all more likely to end up like Ivan Karamazov: we are all more likely to “turn in our ticket” and go mad, taking down with us politics, Pluralism, and who knows what else.
Like us compelled by humanity before our finitude, Ivan Karamazov declares ‘[l]et the parallel lines even meet before my own eyes: I shall look and say, yes, they meet, and still I will not accept it.’¹⁶ Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, with his eyes set on modernity, writing just before the beginning of the twentieth century and earning the title of prophet. Each of the three main characters of the book depict a particular kind of person Dostoevsky believed would be found in the twentieth century: Alyosha is a believer, Dmitri an emotionalist, and Ivan an intellectual. These three brothers each represent a “kind of being” who Dostoevsky believed would define modernity, and in all of us, a little of each brother can be found. However, because of our technology and the increasing personalization of our finitude, I believe the “Ivan” in all of us is growing fastest. Dostoevsky wrote with the twentieth century in mind, but his writings apply to the twenty-first century just as well.
In a conversation with Alyosha, Ivan confesses that he cannot accept the world that God has created. Ivan is driven to this position by the immense suffering of children, which he discusses at length, and Ivan asks Alyosha why bad things happen in the world. Alyosha says it is because humans have free will, and Ivan tells his brother that humankind would be better off without free will. Famously, Ivan makes his case through “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” which is arguably one of the world’s most important works of literature (if you are not familiar with it, go and become familiar). In this paper, I will not fully rehash the argument — I have already done so elsewhere — but the main point is that Ivan believes God gave humanity a gift of freedom that humanity cannot handle and doesn’t even want (and so is cruel to give humanity, do note): humans rather be slaves and eat then have freedom and potentially starve.
Ivan simply cannot accept the world God has made. It is not that Ivan doesn’t believe in God: in regard to the questions asked by Satan of Jesus in the wilderness, Ivan observes ‘[b]y the questions alone, simply by the miracle of their appearance, one can see that one is dealing with a mind not human and transient but eternal and absolute.’¹⁷ Rather, it is that Ivan cannot accept how God’s creation “is,” and furthermore Ivan cannot accept that “existing” means being caught in the center of a dilemma: wanting a God of faith who gives humanity freedom but at the price of suffering children, while also wanting a God who enslaves humanity so that children escape suffering. Ivan wants what God isn’t — a God who enslaves humanity into joy — and Ivan is forced to believe God in his omniscience knew such was impossible — an abstract conclusion of omniscience that Ivan cannot know for himself and that, before the personalized suffering of children, he cannot accept. Not only can Ivan not accept freedom, but he cannot accept the fact that existing means suffering existentially: he wants to ‘return [his] ticket.’¹⁸ He’s “stuck sitting on a fence,” not wanting what lies on either side, trying to stay on the fence forever, practically doomed to fall.
As Ivan cannot accept how the world is in being, so too are we increasingly like Ivan, unable to accept “how the world is” due to our values and ever-raising awareness of preventable and practically inevitable tragedies. Later in The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan suffers a horrific realization upon finding out who murdered his father. As Ivan suggested earlier in the text, if there was no God, ‘everything [would be] permitted,’ but if that is true and the God who made humans free didn’t exist, then people would still be free to do whatever they wanted, such as cause children suffering.¹⁹ Whether God exists or not, Ivan is stuck in freedom, and hence stuck in a world where evil is “practically inevitable.” His only hope is for a God to exist who doesn’t give humans freedom, but since God does exist (in Ivan’s mind) and that God has chosen to give humans freedom, the possibility of a different God cannot be realized. Ivan is stuck, ‘no exit.’²⁰
If God didn’t exist, Ivan’s moral foundation for being against the suffering of children would be rendered arbitrary: he would lack an objective basis for being against the torment. The God who gave humanity freedom is also the source from which it can be objectivity said that evil is in fact “evil.” To be against God then is for Ivan to be against the source of justice in the world. Whether this is actually the case or not, it is the case to Ivan, and so again, Ivan is stuck.
Similar to Ivan, it is the very fact that humans exist in finitude that they are able to fight against injustice: without the finitude that tortures us, there would be no effort for justice. At best, there would be a kind of “raw is-ness,” akin to “nothing,” but if there was nothing, there would be no “at best” (no justice nor injustice, no suffering nor joy, etc.). For humans to exist is for humans to have the opportunity for justice, and yet if we are humans and not gods, to exist is to be finite, and so those fated to be “(im)moral.” As Ivan cannot escape, we cannot escape our moral imperfection, and before technology rapidly raised awareness, we were either “truly ignorant” of this fact or the fact was something we knew but that wasn’t personified or personalized. Today, as Ivan saw the cost of God’s choice to give humanity freedom in the faces of suffering children, so we see the cost of our finitude in the faces of those who suffer due to preventable and practically inevitable horrors. And if we don’t learn how to live with this, we will end up like Ivan, increasingly facing the reality of how horrible the world can be, wanting to “turn our ticket back in” and “escape from freedom” (as Erich Fromm put it) — stuck.
In suffering our finitude, like Ivan, we are actually also suffering freedom, for if people did not have freedom, then bad things in this world would not happen, and if they did, they wouldn’t be “practically inevitable” but in fact “inevitable,” and paradoxically that would likely make them easier to live with.²¹ Determined, there would be nothing we could do to stop the horrors in the world, and additionally our values and morals would change to reflect that determinism (they would have choice). Currently, for the most part, our ethics and values reflect a belief that people have freedom and so responsibility for their actions. If this did not hold, our values wouldn’t necessarily force us to come in conflict with our finitude as our values currently do (our values would be more merciful, per se). And yet we would be robots more so than humans: we would live in the world the Grand Inquisitor wanted — stuck.
Every day, “practically inevitable,” bad things happen, but very rarely do we find ourselves in a situation to save our neighbor from drowning. Thanks to technology, all the bad things happening in the world increasingly feel like “finding our neighbor in danger,” a thousand times over, simultaneously. The unlikely has become daily, and constant has become the experiencing of things that experiencing once might be too much. There is no moral or rational justification for failing to try to help our neighbor, and if we do so fail, we must live with the knowledge that we are monstrous, existentially agonizing ourselves. Awareness rising, the practically inevitable tragedies of the world increasingly personalized due to our ever-rising technology, this existential agony is increasingly difficult to avoid, precisely because we as finite humans paradoxically ascribe to in-finite morals and values like “human dignity” — as we must to be human and to hold society together.²² While all this is happening, technology is making the world increasingly “(hyper)real” and “scripted,” unfalsifiable and “theological” theories are spreading, trust and (socioeconomic and intellectual) “free exchange” (tests) are waning, and “the true” and “the rational” are conflating to the detriment of “the life of the mind.”²³ Worse yet, to allude to “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose, since we tend to only think in terms of “low order complexity” versus “high order complexity,” it is highly unlikely the majority will grasp that all this happening, and if they do, it is likely they will support a “low order” solution, which will likely fail to solve the problem. If the situation is worsened, more tragedies will occur, motivating people to do more, which will cause more tragedies to happen, fueling more “low order” responses…
Can anyone today avoid ending up like Ivan Karamazov?
What if we stopped viewing ethical values as “in-finite?” Just because society needs values to avoid collapse, it doesn’t follow that the values must necessarily be “in-finite,” does it? Wouldn’t the finitude of values solve the problem? A fair question, but “finite value” would be “contingent and limited values,” and if the value “murder is wrong” was applied only in spots, it would not be a value at all but a preference. A “finite value” is a contradiction: a finite or contingent ethic isn’t ethical. It lacks authority; it cannot compel. To limit ethics is necessarily unethical: yes, there can be “conditions” a thing must meet to fall under the category of “murder,” but “the category of murder itself” cannot be contingent, for that would mean murder wasn’t always wrong, and if that was the case, all restrictions on and definitions of murder would ultimately be arbitrary and matters of personal say. Murder must always be wrong (even if not all killing is murder) if “not murdering” is to be a value which organizes a society with effectiveness and authority.
Malcom Gladwell presented an argument once about school shootings, using as a framework a theoretical ‘threshold model’ by Mark Granovetter. Granovetter is concerned with collective behavior, and in an internet age in which we are all part of a “collective consciousness,” theories about collective behavior are uniquely important. According to Granovetter, interested in the question of how fads and riots occur, the decision of a person on whether to participate in a movement is deeply influenced by what other people choose to do. This is because people have different “thresholds” before they will choose to participate: those who have a threshold of “zero” will get the movement started, while those with a threshold of “one” will then follow, and if the movement reaches a “thousand,” then those with a threshold of a “thousand” will participate. Critically, the movement will develop if those involved are impacted on a cost/benefit basis by the number of people who are involved: if more people joining leads to the movement being more beneficial to a given actor, the given actor is more likely to join. If more given actors conclude that joining the movement will benefit them as the movement grows, the movement will continue to grow. Actors may conclude they benefit from an increase in respect, a change in law that happens as a response to the movement, an increase in a sense of purpose in life, etc. — how a given moment benefits each of its actors could be incredibly variant (there doesn’t have to be a single or uniformed gain). What matters is that each actor “sees” in the movement a benefit to them (greater than potential costs), and that as the movement grows, more and more people “see” a benefit, meaning higher and higher thresholds are crossed.
Granovetter’s model doesn’t strike me as deterministic, but I do think it works probabilistically, and I do think the higher the number of people participating, the more probable it is that a given movement grows. In other words, it is more probable that people with a threshold of a hundred will participate than it is those with a threshold of one (though of course external factors could get involved that throw off the development). Hence, the “space” between the first person participating and the second is probably wider than the “space” between the ninety-ninth and the hundredth (and even the hundredth and thousandth). In my opinion, there is probably an acceleration of the movement’s development through time. Furthermore, as technology advances, I believe the number of movements in the world naturally increases (for it is a natural, humane response to increased awareness about tragic, practical inevitabilities), and I also believe that advancing technology increases the probability of Granovetter’s model unfolding: the model becomes increasingly deterministic, though not totally, as the occurrence of tragedies in the world isn’t technically inevitable, just practically.²⁴
Seeing suffering, racism, poverty, etc. in the world, some people have a threshold of “zero” before they will do something (perhaps overcoming the “never-explained numbness” caused by technology), while others have a threshold of one; others, a million. As awareness increases with technology, thresholds might be crossed increasingly quickly, and since technology will advance and awareness will increase, we as a society must be ready to direct the movements of people that will increasingly formulate in a direction that benefits society rather than destroys it (with good intentions). But who will do the directing and how? Perhaps each individual must do the directing for his or her self (such is the nature of freedom); perhaps the State must do the directing. Then again, perhaps there can be no directors, because perhaps no “how” is possible. If this is the case, movements will formulate that will ultimately guess at what is the best course of action (according to some difficult to determine intellectual, rational, emotional, etc. rubric) (please note that, following Popper’s line of thought, we are all ultimately guessing at just about everything: I don’t use the word “guess” with the intent of belittling). Overtime, we must hope these movements guess right more so than guess wrong, but as the existential anxiety builds of constantly experiencing personalized and practically inevitable tragedies, it seems probable to me that movements will “guess” increasingly wrong. And yet they will continue to grow and push people forward like Klee’s angel, as will their impacts and consequences.
Perhaps some people have a threshold of “zero” before they will start on the road down which they will become like Ivan Karamazov; others, a threshold of “one,” a “million,” etc.; eventually, even the most joyful and optimistic of people might be pushed by the winds of history to try and “turn their ticket back in.” Problematically, the road at the start looks like it will benefit people more than cost them, and in many ways, it will; furthermore, the road is inhumane to ignore. But then travelers find out the road is endless — that there will always be tragic and practical inevitabilities — and then it is either precisely too late, or since they have not experienced the endlessness of the road (as is impossible), travelers will have reason to keep walking, waiting before making a hasty judgment based on mere knowledge. And besides, to turn around, they must (to some degree) sacrifice their humanity (and they cannot today be “truly ignorant” of this): they must fail before the values and morals that uphold society and make justice possible. And so they keep walking, “in a dark wood,” in need of a Virgil, and as more people travel the road, more travelers join them — all unified by technology, all driven by technology, all increasingly Sisyphus Karamazov, ‘irresistibly propel[ed] into the future.’
If our neighbor was drowning in front of us and we said, “Bad thing things are practically inevitable” and kept walking, we would be a moral monster: to use the truth pointed out in this paper to justify not doing something would be wrong. Likewise, if we witnessed people around the world suffering, all part of our “global village,” and did nothing because “bad things are practically inevitable,” than likewise we would be moral monsters. The value of human life doesn’t drop the further away humans live apart, nor does it drop as increases the difficulty of helping them. To act like it does is monstrous, as it is monstrous to fail to save our neighbor’s life because we don’t want to be late to work (even if it’s for the sake of making sure we can provide for our family). And since every life is infinitely valuable, to fail to help members of the “global village” is to be infinitely monstrous (even though if it is perhaps different to some degree than helping our neighbor next door).
Therefore, against the experience of the personalization of finitude, to abstain from helping people because “bad things are practically inevitable” is to be infinitely immoral, and yet it is true that “bad things are practically inevitable,” and if we don’t accept this truth, we will eventually end up like Sisyphus Karamazov.
And there’s the rub.
To use the reality described in this paper to avoid ending up like Ivan and Sisyphus — as we should (not) — is to be a moral monster. And if we end up like Ivan and Sisyphus, what good can we do? If we don’t help others because we don’t want to end up like Ivan, what good are we? And as technology ever-improves, this horrible paradox, this Greek tragedy in which we must choose between competing goods in an age when we are increasingly unfamiliar with Greek tragedy, will become increasingly personalized to us.²⁵ We will experience it more, adding ever-more existential anxiety to our lives, ever-driving us to end up like Ivan and Sisyphus, all while knowing that avoiding this fate requires being morally monstrous or throwing away the in-finite morals and values that make us human and that hold society together.²⁶ “No exit.”
Perhaps we can just stop technology from advancing? Perhaps, but such a solution — even if possible — would be an intentional truncation of human development, like outlawing heavy equipment to create more jobs. Additionally, technology advances not so much through genius but trial and error, and this being the case, as long as humans exist and are in time, technology will likely if not necessarily advance. Furthermore, following the thought of Deirdre McCloskey, for wealth to increase is for technology to increase; ultimately, what raises the quality of life isn’t so much capital as it is technology: air conditioners, refrigerators, laptops, etc. Furthermore, if “The Creative Concord” by O.G. Rose is correct, to cease creative and technological advancement will lead to a collapse of the socioeconomic order, for “the material dialectic” that Marx described will self-destruct. To cease technological advancement is to cease the necessary growth of the artifex, which stabilizes tension between the bourgeois and proletariat. Considering this, if there is Capitalism, there will be technological advancement, and so there will be the crisis described in this paper, ever-worsening. If there isn’t Capitalism, there will be poverty, a lack of technological advancement, a lack of (social and market) “tests” by which “the good” and “the bad” (“the fake” and “the real”) can be told apart, a lack of an efficient system of resource distribution, a failure to direct natural human motivation “toward” ends that benefit the whole, and worse (to allude to arguments by Deirdre McCloskey, Friedrich Hayek, Arthur Brooks, Adam Smith, and many others). But even if one could argue that all these Capitalistic thinkers were wrong and we could erase Capitalism successfully, we would still be stuck in a world where technology naturally improved through time. Unless that is we outlawed technology, and though that may save us from the tragedy described in this paper, we would not be improved, for we would likely be under tyranny.
Technology immeasurably shapes human experience and human destiny, and if we exist in time, it will change and change us. Frankly, it seems we are naturally “truly ignorant” of how much technology impacts our emotions, cares, concerns, hopes, dreams, hobbies, pastimes, relationships, and more — that or we don’t let ourselves realize the truth. We are homo machinas, perhaps, and the longer we exist in time, the more the “machina” will eclipse the “homo.” While so and consequently, the Greek tragedy of our existence — the reality that we must choose between ending up like Sisyphus Karamazov, a moral monster, or a suicidal fool who throws away the morals and values that make society possible and humans humane — will become ever personalized, experienced, unhidden behind “true ignorance,” and unavoidable. “No exit.”
What does this all mean? Well, we must accept “(im)morality,” “(in)justice.” We must learn to live with tragic, “practical inevitabilities.” We must learn to live with the tension of ascribing to values that would compel us to never accept our finitude. We must learn to live holding onto our humanity while in that very act being driven morally to combat that humanity. We must learn to live always feeling like the world is falling apart. We must learn to live no longer “truly ignorant” of the preventable horror we can(not) stop, in our finitude. We must learn to live increasingly omniscient but not increasingly omnipotent. We must learn to live like the Christian God, nailed down by the freedom/being which makes humans human — able to free ourselves and tempted to do so by everything that makes us good, though powerless to free ourselves without damning the world we have created. We must learn how to expand justice in the world without ending up like Ivan and Sisyphus, even though that is what the very desire for justice would demand of us. We must learn to live with the reality and despair that ‘[o]ut of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.’²⁷ We must learn to live.
¹Kohr, Leopold. The Breakdown of Nations. Green Books Ltd, in association with New European Publications, 2001: 124
²McLuhan, Martin. Understanding Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Eighth Printing, 1999: 5.
³See “First World Problems” by School of Life, as can be found here.
⁴Wallace, David Foster. Consider the Lobster. “Up, Simba”. New York, NY. Little, Brown and Company, 2006: 233–234.
⁵McLuhan, Martin. Understanding Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Eighth Printing, 1999: 6.
⁶For more on how the ways people suffered in the past versus today have changed, and how we today may lack a robust “emotional immune system” due to a failure to be familiar with (small) hardship on an everyday basis (making us better able to handle devastating hardship), see “The Emotional Immune System” by Adarsh Ramakrishnan and O.G. Rose.
⁷On this line of thought, if I asked you to “dance forever” versus “dance 1,343,100 days,” the second would strike the mind as hell; the first, romantic.
⁸Please see “World Birth and Death Rates,” as can be found here.
⁹Keep in mind that as population increases, there will be a natural increase in the number of horrible things that happen in the world.
¹⁰Allusion to “(Im)morality” by O.G. Rose. Also, perhaps “(im)morality” could be a common basis for a new identity, a new grounding for a new community.
¹¹Allusion to Walter Benjamin and Inferno by Dante.
¹²See Peter Singer in The Examined Life, directed by Astra Taylor, as can be found here.
¹³Allusion to the thought of Jean-Paul Sartre.
¹⁴This is especially true as the novelty of the image, video, etc. fades away. Perhaps in the 50s an image of someone suffering had incredible power to impact people deeply, but now, so inundated with images, videos, etc. of suffering, their power is perhaps less. And yet what isn’t lessening is the knowledge that we should act (and that we don’t) or the knowledge that our efforts never stop all the evil in the world. Faced with this reality, numbness if a self-denial mechanism.
¹⁵This is especially true if “the map is indestructible,” as discussed in “The True isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose.
¹⁶Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 236.
¹⁷Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 252.
¹⁸Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 245.
¹⁹Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 625.
²⁰If God didn’t exist and humans were actually determined right now, that too wouldn’t relieve Ivan, for he would still have to experience the suffering of children “as if” humans were free (for apparently part of determinism would be determination to feel free).
²¹It is not by chance that as technology increases, so increases our likelihood to “choose determinism,” as will be discussed elsewhere in the works of O.G. Rose.
²²Worsening the problem, if in response to a “practically inevitable tragedy” (x) there is a certain well-intended response (y) which increases the probability of x, there will be more y, which will cause more x, and so on. In this situation, our technology not only drives us to end up like Sisyphus, but also to worsen the situation that compels us to end up like Sisyphus. Not only do we push the bolder, but we may also add to its weight.
²³Allusions to “Scripted,” “On Collective Consciousness and Trust,” “Discussing Race,” “The Specter of McCarthyism,” “Equality and Its Immoral Limits,” and “The True isn’t the Rational,” all by O.G. Rose.
²⁴I am of the opinion that when a threshold is crossed, it isn’t the case that the person then necessarily acts, but rather that the crossing of a threshold first leads to a “cost/benefit analysis” that may lead to action. Before the crossing of the threshold, this analysis probably doesn’t even take place. Hence, someone with a threshold of “zero” will engage in this cost/benefit analysis before anyone else, and when the day comes that the benefits outweigh the costs, the person will act. Then, a person with a threshold of “one” will engage in a cost/benefit analysis, and when the benefits outweigh the costs, the person will act; and so on. In this way, I don’t think “the threshold theory” is deterministic.
Though it is the case that if a coin lands on heads ten times it is still 50/50 it will land on heads the eleventh time (it’s a fallacy to think otherwise), when it comes to consciousness humans, if it is 50/50 that they will do something the first time, the second time, it may be 60/40, for now they have experiences and ideas impacting their decision-making. Probability with humans can be different than probability with coins, and so though it might be 50/50 that a person with a threshold of “zero” will choose to act (as determined by a cost/benefit analysis), for the person with a threshold of “one,” it might be 60/40, and so on. Hard to say: the point is that it could be 50/50 people will join a movement when it starts (perhaps even 10/90), but as the movement advances, probability may change.
Personally, I believe that people with higher thresholds are probably more likely than the person with a threshold of “zero” to act (it isn’t 50/50 or lower, as it was for the first person). Probability gradually favors the growth of the movement, and I believe this is because the more people who join the movement, the more likely costs will be diluted across “the whole” (such as jail time or social alienation), though benefits (such as ending poverty or gaining respect) will not be equally diluted (especially if the movement is for changing laws). Perhaps this is incorrect, but I still think it holds that a growing movement is likely to keep growing if the total number of people aware of the movement continues to rise, as is perhaps probable thanks to ever-improving technology.
Importantly, in the past, a movement needed people nearby and/or locally who had thresholds of “zero,” “one,” “two,” etc. — at a gradually climbing number — to grow, but now, thanks to the internet, a movement just needs people with tiered thresholds somewhere in the world (who are impacted by the movement and/or its cause). Thanks to technology then, so much as they can overcome “the never-explained numbness” tech causes (a reason for the increasingly cynical and apocalyptic language of media, politicians, and leaders today), movements are likely to start and grow (the natural barrier of geography is no more). If these movements ironically contribute to the problems they seek to solve, these movements will make the world a worse place, and so create motivation for more movements that may ruin the world further, on and on.
²⁵Please see The Fragility of Goodness by Martha C. Nussbaum.
²⁶Ironically, to disregard human morals and values would be to, in the very act, undermine the very reason we throw out those morals and values: the moment they are gone, there no longer exists injustice, and so there is no reason to disregard the morals and values. Hence, there is no reason not to reestablish them (especially when you can (re)gain humanity by doing so), hurling humanity back into the madness.
²⁷Allusion to Immanuel Kant and the work of Isaiah Berlin.
1. For further reading, this paper expands on and combines thoughts from “Representing Beauty,” “Collective Consciousness and Trust,” “Probable Cause,” “The Phenomenology of (True) Ignorance,” and “Ivan” — all by O.G. Rose.
2. The term “technically inevitable” could be used interchangeably with the term “actually inevitable.”
3. It is fair to point out that there is no such thing as “technology,” only “technologies,” and so my use of “technology” in this paper is imprecise. Though there is truth to this, I don’t think it impacts the argument, for it is the case technology/technologies naturally advance/appear through time.
4. If x is shown on television versus y, it is necessarily implied that x is more important than y, even though such isn’t directly stated and perhaps not the case. Furthermore, it is implied that empathy, care, emotions, etc. should be directed toward x instead of y, and since x has been more so personalized and experienced than y, it is probable that more people will race to aid x over y, even if y is in need of more help than x.
5. It is natural to generalize from a particular, which technology only makes easier. When we experience a person saying something stupid, it is then easy to go to Facebook and post something such as “I’m so tired of people saying stupid stuff” — from a particularity, a generalization is made (to a very large audience): something is said about “people” versus “Daniel.” “People” could refer to three individuals or five million: it’s not clear, both at the same time, yet not. Confusion emerges.
It is natural for a hard experience to lead to emotions, and emotions tend to lead to generalizations (a “Humean Error,” if you will). The more generalizations that fill the minds of people, the higher the likelihood erroneous thinking spreads, perhaps with dire consequences.
If we experience one child starving, we can declare, “We need to keep children from starving,” as if thousands, two, or millions of children are dying from malnutrition. Yes, the death of a single child is a tragedy, but if that is the only instance of such a tragedy in the world, statistically, humanity has accomplishing something incredible (statistics and ethics naturally conflict). The generalization creates an impression that might not be true to reality, and furthermore may fail to acknowledge the progress that has been made on reducing poverty. If that generalization inspires action that unintentionally impedes the progress, the compassionate generalization may worsen the problem it seeks to solve.
6. If it is the case that humans aren’t meant to all have a public platform, humans cannot go back to the ways things were meant to be.
7. In line with the thought of Nassim Taleb, the human brain is bad at thinking in terms of probabilities and naturally thinks in absolutes. This is so in a world where there are only trade-offs and probabilities, and social media presents us with countless more topics to think “absolutely” about when we should be thinking “probabilistically.” It is impossible for there to be a world in which there are absolutely no fascists, for example — it defies probability (and hence “the absolute thinker” will always have reason to believe fascism is a problem). But if we understand probability, we will understand a country of 320 million which consists of 50,000 bigots, for example, consists of a population that’s not even 1% bigoted (it’s .02%, to be precise; 1% would be 3.2 million). That’s an incredible accomplishment, and yet the number “50,000” can strike us as horrifying and seems so large that we can’t possibly think that bigotry isn’t a problem. And certainly, there should be zero bigots, and we should indeed fight for that world, but we shouldn’t do so in a way that fails to think in terms of probability. Otherwise, we’ll always be passionately furious about problems that are “absolutely” problems but not “probabilistically.” And yet to accept this reality is to be a moral monster.
8. Perhaps we can avoid becoming like Ivan if we live like Thomas Moore, but it is not clear that this world still has the capacity to recognize or understand a Thomas Moore.
9. As discussed in “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose, it is imperative that a society with social media understands “high order complexity,” for social media forces society to confront and respond to increasingly more issues that are a result of “high order complexity,” and if we are only able to conceptualize these matters in terms of “low order complexity,” how we respond to these matters may only worsen them. Existentially, we will be driven by matters that must be solved via “high order complexity” to fix them through “low order complexity,” and as the problems consequently worsen, we will be further driven to “do something” we cannot do, unable to admit to ourselves that we are powerless (for that would be monstrous), always having the inconceivable space between “low order” and “high order” as room for (moral and rational) denial.
10. One could argue that only a person who hasn’t experienced real tragedy would write a paper like “The Grand Technology.” That might be true, but horrifically it doesn’t follow that the argument of the paper is necessarily false. It is probable that those impacted by a “practically inevitable” tragedy will be unable to read this paper and be outraged, and that is understandable: it is terrifying and enraging that “to be” means “to be” in the middle of a tragedy.
11. Humanity is constantly undergoing events that our morality would compel us, without contingency, to do something about: a woman posts a blog on Facebook about racism she has suffered; a single woman tweets about how single people are treated like lepers; a man suffering from depression posts a picture of his messy apartment after a week of being unable to get out of bed. Thanks to technology, we know about all these misfortunates: we can no longer be “truly ignorant” of them. And so, if we are to have any humanity, we must act, but if we act, we must keep acting — for good.
12. If our friend is killed by a police officer, it is likely that we will be driven to do something about police brutality. Furthermore, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to accept that our friend’s death was “practically inevitable,” especially seeing as, relative to itself, the killing was preventable. Hence, the incident is likely to propel us, rationally and morally (especially if “the map is indestructible”) into becoming like Ivan: because of a tragedy, we are likely to end up a tragedy ourself, for life is hard.
13. In line with thought from “On Consciousness and Trust” by O.G. Rose, as a household can take weeks to return to normal about a sudden outburst from the father, so too can a nation. And if a father explodes again after everything seemed to return to normal, it will take even longer for things to return to normal. And if it happens again, especially if just when things seemed like they were finally alright, normality might be impossible to regain. So it goes with nations, on racism, sexism, financial crises, and the like. And the internet and increased awareness greatly contribute to the probability we find ourselves unable to return to normal, for “father is always erupting,” per se.
13.1 Considering this, we are likely to end up in a “legitimation crisis,” as Habermas calls it, especially today, seeing as practical inevitabilities will arise of world leaders betraying the people, politicians being corrupt, etc. Worse yet, once a crisis occurs, it is highly unlikely we will be able to stop it, at least any more than for ever-shrinking periods of time.
14. As technology increases and awareness ever-rises, we will increasingly find ourselves like readers of “The Part About the Crimes” in 2666 by Roberto Bolaño: browsing, skipping, numb. And as that occurs, faced with our values and morals, we will be driven to change, perhaps unable to change.
15. Walter Benjamin warned that in an age of mass production, art tended to lose its “aura.” What he meant by this was that when a piece of art isn’t “one of one,” meaning it can’t be seen without a viewer traveling to the place the art is showcased and experiencing in the context of its home, the presence of other art pieces, and so on, the art-piece loses much if not all of its power. To put it bluntly, in the age of mass production, art tends to become another consumable good.
In our age of “mass information,” it is possible that tragedies are losing their “aura,” if not human life, exotic places — everything: life itself may be losing its awe. Consequently, we may be becoming numb to life, but if that’s the case, perhaps we aren’t fated to end up like “Ivan Sisyphus?” Perhaps, but I’m of the opinion that for every numb person there is, there’s another genuinely devoted to making the world a better place (and how doomed would we be without such people?). Furthermore, our ethics and values are still strong — we are not growing numb to them — for they are metaphysical and “true” regardless how we feel, while if we don’t feel like seeing Italy, Italy can lose its “magic.” While losing a desire to travel the world isn’t a good thing, at least such a loss doesn’t user in the collapse of society, while a loss of the values of “equality” and “freedom” very well announces such. And at least subconsciously, we seem to know this, and so do not tend to grow numb to our values (or at least I don’t believe so).
This being the case, numb toward tragedies but forced to acknowledge how monstrous this is because of our values, we are driven to “do something,” and so numbness may save some from ending up like Ivan (by making them numb to their humanity), but it will not save all, and thankfully so, lest our humanity be lost.
16. As the existential tensions described in this paper worsen (and as the consequences of “creative destructive” become increasingly apparent), it is possible that we as a people will be increasingly likely to elect “chaos candidates,” enact “chaos policies,” and the like, just to “do something.”
17. The more of a “global village” the world becomes, the higher the likelihood we will make the mistake of the old doctor in The Brothers Karamazov, a mistake also made by Ivan. For the old doctor, ‘the more [he loved] mankind in general, the less [he loved] people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons’ — the doctor became ‘the enemy of people the moment they touch[ed] [him].’¹ Furthermore, ‘it has always happened that the more [the old doctor] hated people individually, the more ardent[ly he loved] humanity as a whole.’²
Latter in the novel, Ivan says ‘if we’re to come to love a man, the man himself should stay hidden, because as soon as he shows his face — love vanishes.’³ Ivan loves humanity: it is clear by how much the suffering of children torments him to the point of rejecting the world God has made. To keep loving people, Ivan keeps people at a distance, but in such a way that has the illusion of being “communal” and “amongst the people.” This is alluded to by Dostoevsky’s description of where Ivan is seated when Alyosha arrives. Dostoevsky writers:
‘Ivan was not, however, in a private room. It was simply a place at the window separated by screens, but those who sat behind the screens still could not be seen by others. It was the front room, the first, with a sideboard along the wall. Waiters kept darting across it every moment.’⁴
This description could be applied to us behind our laptops: we are in the midst of people and yet not. As technology advances, the more we are able to be like Ivan, and furthermore the easier it is to “love humanity without loving individuals.” We must be careful not to fall into this trap, but driven by our morals to save the world, we are driven by our in-finite values to accidentally love ideas of people versus actualities (as is inevitable when we try to love too many people, for a finite mind can only handle knowing but so many). Driven by love, we seem poised to end up like the old doctor.
¹Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 57.
²Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 57.
³Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 237.
⁴Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 228.
18. Humanity will never shoot itself, but the gun might fire itself.
19. Neil Postman pointed out that smoke signals were good at relaying simple messages but totally incapable of relaying complex philosophical ideas; Postman warned that television was similarly ill-equipped. Today, our technologies seem excellent at relaying problems but horrible at relaying solutions.
20. “Painful” and “false” are not similes.
21. Wildfires are often caused by one person. In a country of over three hundred million people, though horrifying, it isn’t surprising they happen just about every summer, destroying countless acres. They are often caused on accident: a discarded cigarette, sparks from a car on the highway, ash from a camp fire. But though caused innocently, the damage wildfires cause is very real: lives are never the same.
In our age of collective consciousness, we have technologically created the conditions for intellectual, cultural, and social “wildfires.” A “spark” from an event in California can start a fire that spreads across the whole country, igniting protests, inspiring “conversation groups,” motivating uprisings, and so on. One careless person, one accident, and the country is consumed. Before our technological state, “intellectual wildfires” were seemingly impossible; today, they feel like they are popping up quicker than we can respond to them. Ideas are emerging and spreading unlike they have in any age before, and ideas are sparks.
What often starts these “wildfires” is a “bad thing” occurring, and as discussed, as population increase, the likelihood of a (practically inevitable) “bad thing” occurring increases. Hence, through time, it will become increasingly the case that we will have to live in the midst of “wildfires,” day in and day out. As technology advances, we will increasing have to live our lives in the midst of fire.
21.1 One could argue that intellectuals play the role of firefighters, combating the fires that spring up, or they are arsenics, empowering it.
22. As our technology forces us to encounter personalized the practically inevitable tragedies that are sown into the fabric of the human condition, it is increasingly likely we will feel ever-helpless. Against this helplessness, we may protest, revolt, slip into cynicism, or sit in our homes and have no clue as to what we should do. As the helplessness worsens, it is possible we will lose faith in our governments, that the Habermasian “legitimacy crisis” will worsen, that existential anxiety between citizens will reach a boiling point, neighborly love may dry up, and who knows what else. Perhaps we will not return to the Dark Ages, but we may experience a collective “dark night of the soul.”
23. A show creates a thesis; another, in response, an antithesis; and then finally a synthesis emerges. A show is created in which the good wins; another, in which good losses; and then finally there is a show where either the good win sometimes or a show in which there isn’t so much “good and evil” as there is competing ideologies. Technologies create and accelerate this process.
There can be a desire for shows in which the bad guys win, not because we’re evil, but because we want to believe it again when good prevails. Dialectics perhaps help create a sense of authenticity. Likewise, if I continually see stories on Facebook approving a certain position, I can desire to see stories arguing against that position just so that I know the position isn’t one everyone is agreeing with thoughtlessly. If in every movie I watch light is used as a positive symbol, the symbol can lose its meaning to me until I see it used as a negative symbol — it’s as if the dialectic functions as a charger for a battery which “recharges” the symbol into meaning. This same logic applies when it comes to television programs using certain “forms” of storytelling or news stations using certain “forms” of reporting: a dialectic is needed to keep these “forms” from becoming trite (please note that I am critical of ascribing “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis” to Hegel, but I don’t deny it can be a useful framework).
David Foster Wallace ‘call[ed] for a fiction that captured how thoroughly television had altered the minds of its watchers.’¹ However, it might be impossible for any fiction to fully unveil to us how much media changes how we are “toward” the world. Television consists of its own dialectics, and those dialectics impact how we experience life. Life then changes, which changes what’s covered by the media, and then the media influences how we experience life, and so on. Another dialectic is established, and considering this, if what media covers is increasingly dark, it is probable that we ourselves are increasingly “dark.” I don’t mean by this that the external world is necessarily becoming worse off, only that something is changing internally. This is because stories, in order to be enjoyed by the majority of people, must discus experiences that most people can understand (to some degree) — the subjects must be universal. Since everyone has parents, a story about parents missing can resonate with everyone, while a story about someone trying to get tenue might only resonate with those in college. Successful stories resonate, and if stories that are dark are popular, for example, something might be happening in society that makes people feel “dark.” Media, in this way, can be an insight into a culture’s heart: what is portrayed in media actually reflects dialectical changes in our ideologies and internal lives. Media might be the best expression of dialectics we can observe.
¹Max, D.T. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. Viking Penguin, 2012: 155.
24. To discuss ideas freely, without thought or care, can be like waving a gun in the air without checking to see if the safety is on. If we get more attention for being more outlandish, there is incentive to wave the gun around more violently. Worse yet, discussing some ideas thoughtlessly might be like playing drunkenly around a button that launches a nuke.
25. For society to work, there are elements of tragedy that are necessary and unavoidable, elements that today thanks to technology, are increasingly personalized and “thrown” right in front of us, making them more difficult to live with, perhaps inspiring us to try to erase these necessary elements that our personalized experiences will not let us accept as necessary. Simply put, if there are necessary evils in this life, thanks to our technologies, they are now more difficult to accept.
26. If lowering the speed limit from 70 to 10 would save the lives of three children, who in the world would be against this policy change? Perhaps everyone, but who would actually say so in public? Perhaps no one. Truth be told, whether the speed limit is 70 or 10, people may die, but who could be against at least trying to save some lives by lowering the speed limit? In a “grand technology” world, if ideas like this (guilty of the “runaway train fallacy”) arise which might be ridiculously impractical but have the potential to save lives, it will be hard for the society to not implement them. When people see pictures of the children who could be saved, when people begin hearing the tragic stories — the policy will only be resisted if there is a “social script” to support it.
27. What one does, all knows.
28. A nation that “chooses determinism” while also being consumed by “the grand technology” is a nation that will struggle to last.
29. Technology may always change the reach and constitution of the freedom we try to escape.
30. Alluding to the thought of “The Conflict of Mind” by O.G. Rose and George Orwell’s thoughts on debating a Flat Earther, technology “pins us down” into personally confronting the always-true reality that our knowledge is far more based on authority and an “expert class” than we tend to realize or like to believe. Encountering this truth can be existentially unsettling, especially considering that it is often rational for us to question and distrust this expert class (due to their own moral failures); furthermore, it is often rational for us to “think for ourselves,” and yet this is an impossible ideal; truth be told, the phrase “think for yourself” must to some degree mean “decide for yourself which authorities you will rely on.” Put another way, it is often rational for us to not accept (at least easily) what we ultimately must accept (a problem that is especially acute in a society undergoing a “legitimacy crisis,” as Habermas discusses, a particular crisis which seems even more likely the more information a society has available to it, which is precisely the society that must be even more reliant on an “expert class”).
31. The number of protests in a society may reflect the number of people realizing that they are Ivan and Sisyphus, a realization against which protesting could be considered a healthy reaction.
32. Technological progress is assumed to always be good, but when it develops too fast, there may not be time for us to establish norms about, or gain wisdom around, the new technology. Even good things, when we don’t know how to properly use them, can be destructive: a beautiful flower, for example, if we don’t know we shouldn’t eat it, could kill us. Likewise, when new and good technologies emerge, due to ignorance, we may use them in ways as absurd as eating a beautiful flower.
33. Once one person does x, it enters our mind that x is possible and that anyone could do x, and in our internet age, we are constantly finding out what people care capable of, which changes how we personally see the people around us. What we know is possible is constantly expanding, which is both inspiring, terrifying, overwhelming, and demanding of response even when there is nothing we can do (which justice will not allow us to admit to ourselves could possible be the case).
34. Like technology, words change “towardness” too.
35. If we loved our children, wouldn’t we want to film every moment of their lives? If we loved our families, wouldn’t we want to talk with them all the time? If we were proud of our accomplishments, wouldn’t we want to post about them online? Technology, in expanding possibilities, forces us to feel a need to try to realize/overcome the non-contingency-ness of our values in a finite world — an impossibility, forcing us to face our tragic ontology, or deny it by attempting the impossible (and suffering all the consequences that result).
36. Technology brings with it a strange feeling of “reality”: it comes to feel like societies that are more technological than others are “more real.” In no way whatsoever does the presence of technology increase the reality of a people, but it strangely can make it feel like such is the case. Why? Self-delusion, perhaps.
37. It is easier to destroy than to create — to tear down a building versus construct one, to grow a flower versus weed it out — and considering this, under intense existential tensions, it is more likely there will be deconstruction than construction: creation is especially improbable. Furthermore, it’s more likely that images of destruction will spread compared to images of construction.
38. Is technology “net neutral” with respect to the heart, or since it increases power, is it an overwhelming temptation and corrupting agent? If we believe the latter, then the progress of history is up a ladder off which we fall.
39. The personalization of “practicality inevitable” tragedies makes it notably difficult not to “kill process,” “kill skepticism,” attempt to avoid epistemically immorality, and the like (as discussed across numerous papers by O.G. Rose).
40. As truth and justice transvalue values, so also technology changes and adds to moral problems. Before the invention of ways to manipulate the human genome, parents didn’t have to wonder if it was immoral for them not to manipulate the genes of their children so that their children were super geniuses. Before AI, it was not a question whether it was immoral to let people work a job that a robot could do better (seeing as perhaps people should be freed from work that they don’t want to do). On the other hand, we wonder if AI is moral on grounds that it will remove work from people, threatening their sense of worth and dignity. Thanks to technology, working a job — which currently can be seen as a value — can suddenly be transformed into a vice.
To invent is to change the moral landscape.
41. Our advancing technology, which forces us to personally face the reality of Pluralism, seems to be advancing faster than our mental and intellectual capacities to handle the reality of Pluralism.
42. With “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose in mind, it is likely always a minority that can handle existential anxiety, and so why it is always advantageous for society to minimize those who suffer existential anxiety, of which in light of technology, society is increasingly incapable of doing.
43. When “hot” books must compete against “cold” mediums like television (as McLuhan would say), we could read books like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn, but it’s “practically inevitable” that books fail to motivate the majority as do videos on Facebook.
44. “Dialectical Ethics” by O.G. Rose in mind, with the invention of the internet, we can now “see” and experience “personalized” the lives of people we do not share “common lives” with, suggesting that we are now developing David Hume’s “sentiment” with people beyond the “such-ness” we daily experience. In this circumstance, we are paradoxically feeling “sentiment” toward those of whom we can only know in terms of “is-ness,” and that is a recipe for existential anxiety and possible disaster.