Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Subhumans, Outsiders, and Glimpses of Posthumanity

There are three types of people, regardless of culture, sex, age, or historical period. There are leaders, followers, and outcasts. These are minimal distinctions in that there are further subdivisions and other complications, but these are the main differences that emerge from the combination of our evolutionary function as social primates and our existential waywardness, our longing to transcend our station, to be supernaturally free. There’s a deeper division, though, between the followers, on the one hand, and the leaders and outcasts on the other, which is to say that the latter two find themselves paradoxically in a similar position: both are forced to face rather than ignore the existential crisis. Although biologically and psychologically all three types are human, in existential terms the followers should be designated as subhuman. At least, intellectual elites from Plato to Nietzsche tend to speak of the mob, the masses, rabble or herd, the vulgar peasants, peons and pawns. Why dehumanize the happy majority? Because most “people” are existentially inauthentic; they’re spiritually undistinguished.

Their happiness is the dubious frivolity of the mythical Adam and Eve, who were only prehuman until they ate from the forbidden tree. In the story, those two were animals rather than people, because they were unaware of the conditions of their existence as embodied creatures. Like the other animals, they could get around just fine, but they lacked the higher-order conception of what was going on. They didn’t understand anything in normative terms of good and evil—which is to say they didn’t understand anything at all, given that Yahweh created Eden for the purpose of testing his favoured creatures. In so far as everything is artificial, everything has a function; lacking that level of knowledge, animals are blissfully ignorant. They have practical know-how, but no godlike, philosophical perspective. Translating this myth into modern, naturalistic terms, the point is that most people are either burdened with the task of merely staying alive, because they find themselves impoverished in failed states, or they’re blessed with middleclass distractions which allow them to approximate the leaders’ decadence. In either case, these masses are undistinguished as human persons; they lack the self-control that requires higher-order thoughts, which is to say a meta-level of thinking about thinking, so that they can assess their mental states, steer their inner evolution, and take full responsibility for their actions. They tend not to engage in meta-reflection because they’re too busy competing in their dominance hierarchy.

Moreover, they don’t understand the natural conditions of life. For example, they don’t appreciate that the natural universe is freakish and wholly preposterous or that all life is an abomination that can be redeemed only by acts of tragic heroism, as is the secret cosmicist teaching of all the major religions. Preoccupied with sports trivia, sexual fantasies and games, idle celebrity gossip, and the minutiae of their increasingly meaningless jobs, the Western masses are ensconced in a real-life version of Robert Nozick’s Pleasure Machine. Nozick asked whether we would choose to be happy in a virtual reality or less-than-happy in the real world. Most people allege that they’d choose the latter, whereas they actually opt for the former, by retreating from the reality of wild nature to our artificial microcosms which serve as so many pleasure machines. The defect of Nozick’s thought experiment is that the pleasure machine, which we can think of also as the Matrix, is part of reality at the hardware level. So the actual choice isn’t between pure reality and fantasy.

Thus, a fantasy can be passed off as reality, especially when the former is an engineered part of the latter. It’s not as if sports teams, sexual pleasure, the entertainment industry, or stultifying bureaucracies don’t exist in the real world. It’s just that when we lose sight of the underlying reality of the undead god, which will eventually raze all the infrastructures that sustain such foolishness, we occupy a virtually virtual world, a sub-world that blinds us to the greater one. After all, secular humanists like Neil deGrasse Tyson are aghast not just because of the persistence of religious fundamentalism in the US, but because even many American secularists don’t take the time to appreciate the spiritual aspect of human history or the majesty of the cosmos. The masses are all about business or ephemeral, narrow-minded pleasure, lacking any existential wherewithal: they literally don’t know what or where they fundamentally are, and they don’t care because they’ve automated themselves to fulfill certain social functions.

The Subhuman Herd

These existential subhumans, then, are the followers. They follow in the same way that not just the less intelligent animals but all material objects as such follow: these things are all merely undead, meaning that their energy is naturally forced into certain patterns, with little transcendent (virtually supernatural or hint of posthuman) power of self-control. The beta masses’ flight from existential authenticity is sinful because they forsake their potential for self-control and for aesthetically noble transcendence, whereas the impersonal parts of nature follow natural law as a matter of course. The alpha members of social animal groups lead their pack, but without much originality; instead, they follow their urges to dominate and to do what’s best for the genetic basis of their species. Beta humans follow the social conventions that initially stand out as products of tragic artistry. Our cultural microcosms are all works of artistic rebellion against the wilderness, conditioned by some creative class’s awareness of such existential facts as that nature is alien and indifferent to us, and that there is no deus ex machina so we alone must look after our kind. But just as metaphors lose their freshness over time and turn into prepackaged, archaic memes, art and technology become stale, commercialized, and dehumanizing instruments of control. Notice how even ongoing wars or spacewalks become old news as the masses are distracted by the latest fad flashing on their mobile device. Those devices feed menacing corporations and the government mountains of personal data that streamline the unsustainable and deleterious hyper-consumption of material goods.