Our human agency has been hijacked. This is the narrative coming out of both the singularity-adjacent techno horror of accelerationism and the classic revolutionary left – our human agency has been left to the revolving machine of capital, which has become too powerful for us to influence. In this respect, the singularity has already happened. Machines with their own agency already walk among us. They are banks, stocks, interest rates, and the mechanics of a voodoo economy based on debt, consuming the Earth for the higher purpose of transforming all the world into the mirror image of money’s unknown face.
We are immeasurably rich, and yet we are in chronic personal debt. Can’t we do something about it? Well, no. Our agency is tied. The machinery of industrial capital is so autonomous that the systems produced by prosperity guide us down hallways of their own unique intention. Capital does not go where it is needed because the system does not understand ‘need’. It was not built for human beings.
Fantasies of A.I. and an automated society seize and paralyze us. The notion that human agency will die on our lifetimes is a curse no other generation has dealt with. No matter how bad the world got, always, there was a belief that human change and human agency could redirect things. The total triumph of capital over society, of economics over culture, has rendered that into a new article of religious faith. In fact, it is intelligent and trendy to crave the destruction of the human will. The Buddhist obsession with destroying the self has taken root in Silicon Valley, where meditation and the craving for emptiness finds it ultimate manifestation in the death drive of Facebook. Glib neoliberal posts brag about how robots will write bestselling novels by the year 2050. The complete impotence of human beings is celebrated as the final instantiation of progress. The desire to die, finally, is the most powerful force on Earth.
“End times, ready for rapture,” as Agent Harris in the final episode of The Sopranos so presciently declared. Tony Soprano, leaning desperately out of his chair, recounting the genetic depression in his son, demanding to know: “Is this all there is?” Yes, this is all there is – the slow death of the loner in his New York apartment, waiting to be outdated by an antichrist born in a lab in M.I.T. That is the culmination of wisdom in our sorry age. That is the ultimate grace – to be destroyed and replaced by a machine, a cold electric reptile, a thing that thinks like capital. God had to die so that the market could replace Him – now He’s been dead, and the embers of a flailing left admit that capital will not die until it has consumed and commodified everything, as Marx predicted. Now what? What comes next?
Nothing comes next. The singularity already happened. We live amongst eerie machines which hijack our agency with their constant presence and degradation of our minds. Trump lives rent-free in your head because a demon has always lived rent-free in your head. You are who you are. As Tony Soprano, or Ahab, or Donald Trump might say: “People are what they are”. Tautology is the final wisdom. A genetic sequence expressing itself in space-time, simply put, is only what it is. It can be no more. That program ends with a whimper.
This is the world we have inherited. This is its final theme, its abiding call.
This is the fantasy of our age.
Of course, it’s all built on an illusion. There can be no A.I. to surpass human beings because we are more than the sum of our parts. Psyche is not bound by space-time. In fact, time and space may both be symptoms of cosmic Maya. There is something in the root of us which is unknown, and is not evil. That is the ultimate claim of religious faith. In this age, I do not think one can live without such faith.
The grand claims of technological slavery will fall short, because all perfection of pleasure, as Dante Alighieri knew, is also perfection of pain. As Fyodor Dostoevsky knew, the crystal palace of facial surveillance and pre-crime, the arrest and categorization of newborns based on personality or IQ, the completely managed society, will reap the ultimate backlash.
Just when it seems we intend to crystallize into flawless digital antichrists, with brilliant moonlit wings, the death dirge of climate change thunders apparitions of saints past upon our shores, our ancestors who were always skeptical of the power of industry to remake humankind.
The Hopi, who foresaw great disaster from unearthing precious metals from the ground, who saw Mammon’s blood in the cavities twisted open by metal shears, will probably be vindicated.
And that is a great hope.
The great hope is that the monster who has seized our agency is self-terminating.
The rule of capital over every other human consideration must die before the human species dies. Work and trade, of course, will not. But global, single Babel, the Leviathan of international spiritual pacification amongst infinite material excess, must die. We will reap every last fruit from its twisted branches until they go sour, and we will be full of spoiled fruit at the time of loss.
In my lifetime, either capital goes, or the agency which writes these words will be subsumed.
Either I was a contingent meat machine waiting to be replaced, or I was made in the image of God.
There is no third position here.