The Anti-Human Religion of Silicon Valley
How an esoteric Russian religion still fuels the digital apocalypse
There is a Silicon Valley religion, and it’s one that doesn’t particularly care for people — at least not in our present form. Technologists may pretend to be led by a utilitarian, computational logic devoid of superstition, but make no mistake: There is a prophetic belief system embedded in the technologies and business plans coming out of Google, Uber, Facebook, and Amazon, among others.
It is a techno-utopian and deeply anti-human sensibility, born out of a little-known confluence of American and Soviet New Age philosophers, scientists, and spiritualists who met up in the 1980s hoping to prevent nuclear war — but who ended up hatching a worldview that’s arguably as dangerous to the human future as any atom bomb.
I tell the story in my new book, Team Human, because it’s one I have yet to see documented anywhere else. I pieced it together through interviews with some of the people involved in the Esalen “track two diplomacy” program. The idea was to forge new lines of communication between the Cold War powers by bringing some of the USSR’s leading scientists and spiritualists to the Esalen Institute to mix with their counterparts in the United States. Maybe we all have common goals?
They set up a series of events at Esalen’s Big Sur campus, where everyone could hear about each other’s work and dreams at meetings during the day and hot tub sessions into the night. That’s how some of the folks from Stanford Research Institute and Silicon Valley, who would one day be responsible for funding and building our biggest technology firms, met up with Russia’s “cosmists.” They were espousing a form of science fiction gnosticism that grew out of the Russian Orthodox tradition’s emphasis on immortality. The cosmists were a big hit, and their promise of life extension technologies quickly overtook geopolitics as the primary goal of the conferences.
Self-actualization through technology meant leaving the body behind — but this was okay since, in keeping with the gnostic tradition, the body was the source of…