Machines are Immoral

First of all, I have to say the obvious – that machines are only machines, and we cannot assign ethical values to them. But, on the other hand – we can speak of whether or not certain machines, in certain circumstances, make the people who use them better or worse.

We are not used to making this judgement – but it’s high time we did. And I have two machines in mind – Television and the Computer. Which we are not used to criticizing, even though their impact on our lives has been enormous.

Let’s begin with TV – whose antecedents were the Movies and Radio. Both made huge impacts on our lives, early in the 20th Century – and putting them together resulted in an impact much greater than anything we had experienced before. It knocked us flat, and we have never recovered from it. And we don’t seem to want to.

We now demand that something else control our lives – something much better than we are. And the TV networks are happy to do just that. To turn their viewers into idiots – consumers.

All this happened suddenly – in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. In thirty years, we were changed completely! How on earth could this happen – without being noticed?

It was noticed – and plenty of people commented on it, at the time. But they were ignored – by the Mass of the people. Mass culture was noticed, and commented on, by Ortega y Gasset back in the Thirties, in his book The Revolt of the Masses – when Fascism was overtaking his country – Spain. The US destroyed Fascism in Germany and Italy in WWII – but left Spain alone.

Mass culture was created by the Mass Media – now usually shorted to just Media – which still means Television – which still means control by the Rich and Powerful. With most people reduced to a pale shadow of their former selves.

Once again, I ask “How could this happen?” This should be the burning question of our time – but it is not – because answering it would involve an attack on the dominant power structure of our time – Business.

And Business (with a capital B) is now made possible by the second Dark Horseman – the Computer. Which will be the subject of another posting.


Success has Ruined Us

Instinctively, we realize this – and we are determined to not realize this – at the same time.

Since this is the case, I will take it on myself to elucidate the situation.

This will take some review of our history – going back over the 19th and 20th Centuries. A longer overview would also be useful, going over the development of the Modern World in the last six centuries or so. But I will concentrate on something more recent – the Industrial World. When the Human Race really went crazy.

It is not fair to be so disparaging of it – because it had huge benefits. But it emptied itself of these benefits – and could go no further.

The final end came in the Fifties – with the arrival of networked technologies – Television and the Computer. Which were so successful we were left with nothing left.

That phrase, which I just invented, I want to repeat:

We were left with nothing left.

Which, from a Religious point of view, is reasonable. We now live in Heaven on Earth. And Heaven, by definition, cannot be improved on. We have arrived, and can go no further.

This will strike you as ridiculous – after all we do not live in a perfect world. In fact, in some ways it could hardly be worse. And more closely resembles Hell.

We thought we were going to the Good Place – and ended up in the Bad Place.

This is not a new observation – poets have long regarded us as empty shells. And their readers agreed with them – but could do nothing about it.

If we were thinking creatures, we would devote some time to wondering how we got here. But we are no longer thinking creatures – but something else, we have no name for. We have become like computers – able to follow instructions – especially unconscious ones. But unable to reason for ourselves.

This conclusion I realize, will not make me many friends. But I do not have many to begin with – so this is not a great loss.

The Computer has Perverted Us

In my gut, I am certain this has happened. But my brain has a hard time understanding my gut. And part of the reason for this is because the Computer has messed up my brain. Which has messed up the way I think. It has made me think like a machine, the way it thinks – not like a human being.

Which immediately brings up the question – how can the Computer make me do anything?

And the answer is “Very easily, the same as any other technology.”

People are technology freaks, and any successful technology changes who we are. This is even true with religion: any successful religion changes its converts – as they will be the first to assert. This can be generalized – any successful idea changes the people who believe in it.

And the Computer embodies an idea. It would not be too far out to say it is an idea. And the idea is an old one – that the world is a machine.

Which, of course bring up the question “What is a machine?” A question we do not want to answer, because we are not supposed to ask the question. Intuitively, we know what a machine is – but putting this feeling into words is difficult. I will try anyway.

A machine is a device whose outputs are entirely determined by its inputs – and its internal programming. If its inputs are a certain way, it outputs are a certain way. This can be specified by a flow chart – where the inputs are considered in their proper order – and decisions are reached based on the state the device is in.

If you are a logician, you will object to this definition – and point out that it contains ideas borrowed from Programming Development. No matter, I am not talking to them, but to people – who are emotional beings.

This idea (and that is all it is) strikes us as the only way things can be. And it has become the Way of Business – which has become everything – a new religion.

We have never stopped to ask ourselves if any other way is possible – we haven’t considered Life – the way of living things – which works differently. And, not  surprisingly, we are engaged in destroying life on this planet. Including our own lives.

This is not a good state to be in. But for many people it is the right state – and they intend to exploit it fully.

We Gotta be Good to Ourselves

I don’t suppose anyone would disagree with this statement – and would probably wonder why I would even bother to say it – isn’t it just common sense?

Yes, it’s common sense – everybody agrees with it completely – but very few actually behave this way. At least in America – where they have different values at work – carefully hidden under the hood. In the engine compartment, where things actually happen – and where decisions get made.

Like most affluent countries, they have evolved different values that are in conflict with their humanitarian values. And they absolutely refuse to see this. Or to admit that it is in any way important. For them, other things are more important. They have no idea what these other things are – or perhaps they have a new idea every week – one that explains everything. But whatever these values are – they are not about helping people – except perhaps, their kind of people.

I can easily contrast this with where I now live – Costa Rica. In less than an hour after getting off the airplane and seeing the people here – I knew it was the right kind of place – where people still liked each other. They are not intellectually or philosophically aware of this – the ordinary Tico is not intellectual in the least. But this is how they behave, towards each other, all the time.

They have no idea of how to make money in the global economy. Culturally, they are still a Late Medieval country – that never became Industrialized. Living here is like living in a Time Capsule – where time has stood still. This has its advantages and disadvantages – and they could capitalize on its advantages.

Except they have no idea where they are. And like Americans – who they imitate slavishly – they do no want to know.

A Man on Horseback is More Than a Man

This is obvious, isn’t it? But the sequel to it – although equally profound – is not so obvious. Perhaps because we do not want to see the implications involved.

Put simply – our technologies make us more than human. And at the same time – less than human. But this last effect is seldom recognized – and almost never thought about.

And with the explosion of new technologies – climaxing with the Computer – the impact of this has exploded too. And made us much more than human. Or at least it seemed this way to us. Beings from another planet – seeing this for the first time – will probably see this as just an illusion.

But illusions are powerful – and we are convinced that we are now superhuman. It will take a serious collapse – similar to the Fall of the
Roman Empire – that might bring us to our senses – to change this.

Reading vs Watching

I am doing two things this morning – reading a book and watching a movie – both of which I got from Amazon, where you can buy anything – for instant delivery.

Literacy (make possible by the Printing Press) is what made the Modern World – but the Movies made the Post-Modern World – a long development involving Photography and Electricity – but perfected by Television. I was the product of both of them. I was born in 1936 and by the time Television arrived, in the Fifties, I was already a bookworm. Television did not suit me very well, and eventually I decided to remove it from my life. And I have never regretted that decision.

Now that I am watching a movie again – I am asking myself what effect it has on its viewers. This was simple back during Hollywood’s Golden Era. The movies provided an escape from the Depression – and Movie Stars became the new celebrities. When you walked into a Movie Theater, you walked into another world.  People went to the movies.

But Television brought the movies to the people, in their homes – where people watched entranced (as they have before). But Television added something else – the belief (which I keep dwelling on) that we had entered a new, greatly improved world. One that would show us how to be – in exquisite, subtle detail.

I have been to remote areas in Central America where Television (and even Electricity) were not available. The people there would go to extreme lengths to get their movies – which would show them how to be.

Ironically – it showed them how not to be – instead – how to be like everyone else. Being themselves no longer interested them.

Big Data

In spite of my best intentions, I am still learning about Software. And when O’Rielly told me about Implementing Analytics, I put it on my online bookshelf so I could read it.

And it is sobering reading. It shows, once again, how much power The Corporation has over The People. The Computer allows it to analyze everyone’s online presence – and we are all online whether we like it or not. It can find things about us we are not aware of ourselves – and use them to its advantage – and needless to say – our disadvantage. Data Engineers are now a lucrative kind of job. Because, as I have said before, they take power from The People and deliver it to The Corporation.

This is now a lot of talk about privacy – and how it has been invaded so much it hardly exists anymore. People do not get too worried – because, they say, they haven’t done anything wrong – and snooping will get the bad guys. Which they feel are a very serious problem.

I see it as a matter of power – giving more power to those who already have too much of it. Most people are so identified with these powerful people they feel this power belongs to them too. And see nothing wrong with using it against people they do not like. Even if it means blowing them to pieces somewhere in the Middle East.

I know some of these Data Engineers – and I know that they have a carefully constructed persona, or facade – which allows them to do almost anything – in the course of normal business dealings, without pricking their conscience. What is behind this surface is kept carefully hidden – even from themselves.