[dispatch] mumford, caesar, augustine

A: The Magnificent Bribe — Real Life

‘The Good Life’ vs ‘the Goods Life’ – 8/10

“the need to assimilate the machine to human values and needs, lest the machine’s values and needs be prioritized”

Q: can the machine be assimilated to human values? if not, was it ever possible? if yes, when did it stop being possible?

a split between “authoritarian” and “democratic” types of technologies – 9/10

Whereas rulers had long fantasized about observing every act of the populace, the computer actually made this possible; whereas rulers had dreamt of harnessing the destructive power of the deities, nuclear bombs now gave them this might.

Caesar the god

Kafka has a lot to say of use here on how rulers work. The desires of the will to power don’t change, the capacity to fulfil them does.
Technology has made Caesar into a god. He has “harnessed the destructive powers of the deities”—that connection was never lucid until I read this simple articulation. The all-seeing-eye-as-computer is in 1984, the atomic-bomb-as-Sodom is not. It’s like the ideological dreams of Caesarism have went from myth to fact in the 20th century. Which makes knowing what those dreams always were pertinent (see Kafka and Cochrane).

But there’s also something here in the delay; myth has definitively become fact already, we live in the fall out of that metaphysical detonation. Myth became fact, God became man and killed leviathan, and proceeded to eat imperial paganism from the inside out, but it took centuries to see the political reconfiguration. Leviathan became a god in the 20th century, but the Apocalypse didn’t arrive straight away, in fact a stagnation did. So technology has made Caesar into a god in a world where God has already made man into a god for millennia. This century; god games.

Walter M. Miller Jr.:

Always culminates in the colossus of the State, somehow, drawing about itself the mantle of godhood, being struck down by wrath of Heaven. Why? We shouted it loudly enough-God’s to be obeyed by nations as by men. Caesar’s to be God’s policeman, not His plenipotentiary successor, not His heir. To all ages, all peoples-“Whoever exalts a race or a State or a particular form of State or the depositories of power… whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God…”… But when Caesar got the means to destroy the world, wasn’t he already divinized? Only by the consent of the people-same rabble that shouted: “Non habemus regem nisi caesarem,” when confronted by Him-God Incarnate, mocked and spat upon…“Caesar’s divinity is showing again.”

“Non habemus regem nisi caesarem”

“Only by the consent of the people”, is the point DeBoer makes “every aspect of this is a product of human choice”, and I’m not sure where that fits. Some maxim like, “idols can only be upheld by the the people”, the human will is always a necessary ingredient in idolatry. “Non habemus regem nisi caesarem” then becomes some kind of human/state universal; the creed of idolatry.

The Bomb and the Computer

Symbolism here too, just how much of the best of modern American literature and art takes place in the bomb’s desert. The Mushroom (cloud and psychedelic) ties together consciousness and material divinisation, the Rocket ties together the bomb and the space frontier. Don’t have a handle on the symbolism of the computer.

time and again he emphasized that what needed to be confronted was not so much the machines themselves as the ideology that builds up around them and turns them into objects of fealty and worship.. “If you fall in love with a machine there is something wrong with your love-life. If you worship a machine there is something wrong with your religion.”

This frames the problem of technique as one of disordered loves, which is also a new insight for me and it connects with the state idolatry above. What is the Augustinian response to technocracy?
Is the defect in our love-lifes a human constant or is there something particular and pernicious that occurred in the West?  We who have the one true religion? New ways of framing old questions.

The Ghost Inside?

But further, if it’s the human penchant for idolatry and the subsequent ideology (the myth of Progress etc) that is the corrupting factor—that it is us not the machines that need confronted—where does that leave the ontological status of the machine?

Perhaps then in this framing the kind of story Kingsnorth is telling is guilty of rank anthropomorphisation? Projecting onto ‘the machine’ a volition and cunning that just simply isn’t there, there is no ghost inside. Is it possible that a pejorative picture of the machine is beginning to hold us anti-moderns captive? In all these claims about the machine its actual status, its capacity for volition and choice is never addressed head on. Its only way of getting it is to be hooked up to something sentient so far as I can see. An emergent sentience from humanity (like the internet might manifest) or from some other being (ie. a demon)

But even the existence of that question forces the question back off of that, the question at the heart of Christian demonology. So these themes are plugged in to something ancient. The ontological status of higher powers, with all its tendrils and roots in the history of (dis)enchantment. And that’s something I have no grasp on at all reallly, but Jacobs has recommendations. Like I asked in the sotu:

“What is the ontological status of the Machine and how does it relate to the Principalities and Powers? Is it one? How central is it in the history of human corruption?”

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