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.


Early Childhood

The importance of our early childhood on our later lives is enormous – it usually determines who we are. And this early learning, which usually cannot be remembered, cannot usually be changed either. The child is the father to the man.

This is probably why Americans are not interested in history – and especially their family history. If they knew about that, they would know too much about themselves – and their personal limitations – which are severe. They like to think of themselves as having unlimited power – of being in complete mental control of their lives. “I am the captain of my ship.” When this is never the case – and cannot be. Everything in the world is controlled by everything else.

“What about free will?” People will ask. And that is a very good question. The answer is simple – nothing is completed determined by other things – even billiard balls on a pool table. There is always a certain amount of unpredictability (a huge subject in itself). Which results, in the case of living beings – in every individual being different. Every plant is clearly typical of its species – but also different.

Humans are remarkable for the length of their childhood. The small child learns at an incredible rate. In the first three years of their lives they learn almost everything (including a language, or even languages). And they are still learning as adolescents – much to the annoyance of the adults.

The military has considered late adolescence the idea age for a young soldier. He is physically mature, but emotionally malleable, and can be trained to do as he is told.

After this lengthy digression, I want to get down to what I really want to talk about – my early childhood – which was far from ideal. I am reading Jane Eyre for a class of mine, where she has been sent to a charity school – where the conditions were horrible – by any standard. The amount of abuse the children had to tolerate was incredible.

I found, to my amazement, that I had a very strong emotional response to reading about this. I really got really upset – and could hardly sleep all night. This morning I thought about it – and could only conclude that it had brought up some painful memories of my own back in Ft. Madison, Iowa – in Richardson Grade school – a building that is still standing.

I remember going to Kindergarten – and loving it. It was a place made for us – and tailored to our abilities and interests. We had fun. First Grade, by contrast, was a shock. We were abused – and ordered around as if we were unimportant.

Our teachers no doubt saw it differently. We were being toughened up to get us ready for the adult world. Learning how to obey orders and respect authority. As result, we developed a deep hatred for the adult world.

A hatred that could erupt unpredictably in our later lives. And which we would be completely unaware of.

The Corporation is Like the Titanic

Last night I had horrible nightmares about the failure of our corporations. This morning I am asking myself what that means – and asking “What do the corporations symbolize?”

The answer seems to be that they stand for almost everything, and the end of them will be the end of our whole world – not just the end of our global economy, but the end of everything. We can’t imagine life without them.

The reason for this is not hard to find: the corporations provide our jobs, the most important thing in the world. But they are no longer able to do this, and for this reason everything is breaking down.

Now I have said this, I must say it again: if we cannot provide decent jobs for almost everyone we are doomed. But we no longer can do this – and we aren’t even trying. We say something else is more important, without being able to say what this is.

I think I know what this is – now that the world is not working, we have decided to regress, and return to a simpler world where a few have everything and the rest are dependent on them. This would not be an ideal world, we tell ourselves – but at least it would work.

We have been in this fix before: with the collapse of the Roman Empire. True enough, the world did go on – but in a much simpler way. People continued to reproduce, although most of these died an early death. Much as before civilization. We sometimes ask ourselves “When this world is over, what kind of world will take over?” We now know: it will be another Dark Ages – assuming we don’t have atomic warfare, and really cook everything.

But let us back up a notch, and consider the present. As I said (and Keynes also) our primary objective should be to provide full employment ( the details of just how full that should be are debatable, we can agree that all who really want to work should be able to).

For some time now, perhaps forever, many jobs have been useless – but the holders of these jobs didn’t care, all they wanted was that paycheck. A prime example is the military: useless, dangerous work that has no shortage of applicants. They know they may not survive, but rest of their family will.

But, to repeat once again: our present economic system, dominated by the corporations, cannot provide enough jobs, and doesn’t even have that as one of its primary objectives. The people, who should be demanding this, are helpless – and don’t really exist.

This is an important point: at some time in the past, probably in the last few hundred years, people (as independent beings) have been eliminated. And no one has noticed. This is understandable – nothing like this has ever happened before, and we do not even have the vocabulary to explain it.

A key part of this process has been technology: we have put all our efforts into it, instead of ourselves. We now have a stupendous technology – the computer/software/internet/wireless, to say nothing of the automobile and the TV. But no way of managing it.

Indeed, this summarizes our overall situation: we have more things than any people in history – but no people and no tools to manage them.

I want to spend some time on the tools part of this. I worked in the software industry for 20 years, some of that time as a programmer. And I have been interested in finding out what is going on there. Software development is a key technology (after all, software now runs our lives) and we should be concerned about its condition.

Ignore for a moment that most people are not capable of thinking about this, or anything else. And assume some people are, and are working at making things better. What have they come up with? A lot, actually – but on balance they have not been able to make things much better. For the most part, the drive to destroy (which I keep referring to) has made this impossible.

Here the analogy with the Titanic is appropriate. The economy, which consists mainly of the corporations, is a huge machine incapable of coping with reality. It shows no interest in reality, and thinks it can ignore it.

The New GroupThink

NY Times – The Rise of the New Groupthink

This woman has been reading my mind. Here are the opening paragraphs:

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community.

All I can say is “Amen, sister!”

I am sure most people would agree with her – outwardly. But inwardly they are secretly thinking to themselves “But this gal doesn’t really understand the situation, and anyone who agrees with her is in for a rude awakening.” But they say nothing out loud – because they know they don’t have to.

What We Need

What we need is simple – we need to stop needing. Our human heritage is rich beyond compare – we have created a world of our own that never existed before. But instead of enjoying our riches we have become beggars, always wanting more. We have lost control of our world, and cannot get it back – simply because we have lost control of ourselves, and no longer think we have any value.

We started out with a human-centered world – since we made that world ourselves. But now we have been pushed to the side and marginalized another force that has popped up out of nowhere and taken over.

Right away, people will want to know “Yes, but what is the solution?” They will not wait for the answer, which they already know – identify this other force and simply pull its plug. What is this force? The many-headed monster MORE.  And beneath it, something else – a feeling of inadequacy.

How did we get in this state? That’s a long story, going back for hundreds of years Its details are extremely complicated, but its overall outline is clear – people put more and more energy into their technologies, and less and less into themselves. This was natural at the time – technology was easy to change, and the benefits from doing this were clear. But changing ourselves was nearly impossible. Or at least this is what it seemed like at the time. Naturally, we put our energies where we would get the most results.

And ended up losing ourselves – without even knowing it. We have become hollow shells, trying to stuff more and more into a developmental black hole.

Can this be fixed? In theory, yes – if we could understand ourselves better. And focus our attention inward, and not outward. Americans are now convinced their enemy is out there somewhere. When, as is usually the case, it is in here. They have become convinced that their inner selves are too horrible to contemplate – and are destroying them. As a result, their world is collapsing.

Let me summarize – the big problem is the loss of our selves. And the forces of wealth and power (what now constitutes the business world) wants this loss to continue.  We have never been able to control power, and today is no different. Power has become enmeshed with technology, and they have become a deadly combination.

Something else has taken control, and we are afraid to take it back.

The Corporate Power Structure

One of my recurrent themes has been that people are no longer important. This immediately raises the question “What is important?’ The simple answer is Power. The longer answer is The Corporate Power Structure. Organizations, where we all live and work, are mostly corporations, or dominated by corporations. They have all the money and all the jobs – in other words, everything. Survival depends on co-existing with them, one way or the other.

Strangely enough, most people do not want to acknowledge this simple fact, and carefully avoid it. They are content to simply be part of this power structure – without thinking about it – which is too dangerous.

Carefully left in the background is the subject of being – something only living beings can be – by definition. Corporations can not be – but insist on being treated as though they were the same as living beings – indeed, as super beings.

Ordinary beings do not matter.