by Damien Williams, a follow-up to Life in the so-called space age
Come close and I'll tell you a secret.
The Breaking Time is really just the continual state of the post-Lapsarian condition. Everything we are and everything we do is a result of the Fall of Man, and that Fall makes itself evident in everything we ourselves create. All decay, all rot, all moral failures and lawlessness, all attempts by mad to trespass into God's domain with works like artificial intelligence, artificial life, and genetic manipulation are just the side-effects of humanity's experience and expression of evil; today is God's Judgment.
This is what I would tell you if I were a fundamentalist Christian-- that we are all sinful in some basic fashion (because of some basic action), and that nature has infected everything we do. But I'm not a fundamentalist Christian, so let's try something else.
The Breaking Time is just the precursor to the coming of the Messiah, and the fulfilling of YHVH's ultimate covenant with Man. We must strive through, as best we can but also spur on progress toward the time when this Messiah will make itself known. As such, we tolerate lawlessness, immorality, and decay, as we know that it will bring us closer to the time of Messianic Fruition.
No? Okay, how about this:
That which we call "evil" is really just the effect of the workings of evolutionary biological processes, selfishness, procreative need, tribalism, and the insular nature of the preferred size of human social groups. The only thing that exists which can rightly be called "evil" are those forces of ignorance which lead us away from inquiry and scientific understanding, and those forces must, indeed, be stamped out and shown as false, broken, harmful, and dangerous, at all costs. Only then will the true nature of the universe be able to be known, free of antiquated moralising and repression.
What about this: The return of Maitreya has meant that there will be a world-wide awakening of consciousness, and His work must be helped along by those willing to make the world over in fire, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to survive these end times.
The fact of the matter is this: We do wonderful and shitty things all the time, and then we try to craft a narrative to fit it. I know-- that's really kind of disappointingly anti-climatic. But it's true, and it's whole, and it's wonderful, and it's terrifying, and it's so full of promise.
Let's digress a moment.
So much of human exploration takes its motivation in the phrase "Because We Can." For instance, we've built new forms of life, and are debating how to handle it in the public sphere, right now. This isn't simple recombinations of existent DNA or RNA we're talking about; it's new, fully synthetic microbes.
We're in the process of making room in the world for something truly terrifying. Who knows what synthetic life will do, when it encounters the standard biological stuff we have floating around? Who knows what will become of it, and of those of us in its path as it goes on to find or to create a niche for itself and a way to survive? Personally, I can't help but think of Margaett Atwood's book Oryx & Crake, and her proposed Madd Addam Trilogy, but that's a cypher for many of the concerns we're talking about here.
We're in the middle of a big push toward artificial intelligence, with creators, programmers, and potential interlocutors discussing its proposed nature, its rights and responsibilities, and the programming which will allow it to come to be.
Any new consciousness brought about through these machinations will be fundamentally alien to us, even while linked to our concerns and our desires. It won't be a biological entity, and so it won't think about things with the same kind of teleological bent as humans. Sure, it might consider them with a different set of purposes in mind, but, absent cybernetic implantation and the biomechanical hybridisation of the human species, we as humans won't be able to, shall we say, identify with it. Here's hoping it really likes cats.
We're starting to work on that last bit, though. The biomechanical enhancement angle? That's not just new running legs, and basic prostheses; it's new eyes, and mechanical arms controlled by our brains. These are breathtaking advancements in what it means to be merely human, let alone what it means to be conscious and alive.
And now we come to the crux of the issue, because you see, so much of what fundamentalism is-- what zealotry is-- rests in the idea that there is one right way to do things. There is one god to worship, one apocalypse to aim past, one science to answer all of our questions, and one way to know and to exist.
The process of coming to terms with new information, with new ways of seeing and experiencing, is one available to those who've either suffered through and embraced an ontological shock, or those predisposed to seek such a shock out; but those for whom there is a fundamental way of things-- that is a foundational or essential way of things?
We are all, at some point, ill-disposed toward questioning some fundamental assumption about the world we think we inhabit. We all of us have that line of Weird over which we will not cross, unless and until we are shoved across it, and into wholly new ways of thinking and experiencing. And from that point forward, we try to create new paradigms, new modes of being.
Antoine Faivre theorised that Renaissance-era Hermetic Magical practice-- those ideas which spawned demonological texts such as the Clavicula Salomonis, western alchemy, and the Jewish mystical tradition known as Kaballah-- was borne on a wave of renewed interest in the Biblical Fall. Faivre posits [pg 28, PDF warning] that the practice of these forms of magic are to be understood as an attempt to correct the damage done by humanity's Original Sin, and to refine the dross of the human spirit into gold.
The naturphilosophie which found a resurgence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries took these practices on, and altered them to align with those newly-encountered religions, newly-discovered sciences and technologies, and newly-devised practices which that heady time had to offer These new paradigms were incorporated into the old, and turned into something more. Similarly, the march of fundamentalism finds new enemies, allies, and tools in the march of 21st century technology.
Though we likely will not see the alteration of most existent fundamentalist doctrines into things which accept these new technologies, what we will likely come to experience in the coming months is an increasing number of groups which which splinter from these main chunks into new-found heresies. What I mean is, while there will always be fundamentalist Christians, zealous atheists, and dogmatic Hindus, there will come to be those who view a kind of ecological symbiosis as the perfection of Lion-And-Lamb, or those who view the first sentient created intelligence as literally Shaitan — the Adversary.
Or perhaps those who believe that the messiah will only come to us through the perfection and acquisition of genetic manipulation, so that we might breed all of the very best traits into one son or daughter of the line of David. Not only that, but we will begin to see attempts to do the same kinds of things with more mainstream denominations.
It seems kind of chuckle-worthy, doesn't it? But look at the notion of the Singularity, what was once a useful shorthand for talking about the pace of technological advancement in a very matter-of-fact way —progress, processor speed, technology's growth — has become a millennial fervour of mind-machine mergers, personality uploads, Mayan World-Consciousness prophecies, and the I-Ching.
believers will fight you about this, or wave off your disbelief with
a smug "If You Say So" smile, or will ask you for your
facebook so they can send you those Kurzweil and Vinge links they
were telling you about. Just like any other proselytizer.
Donna Haraway famously said that she'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess. That is, that she'd rather exist as a self-regulating, recursive processes loop than as a passive figure of worship dependent on the devotion of followers.
Why should you have to choose? The problem with fundamentalist thinking, of any type, is thinking that it has to be one way or the other, one schema and not another. This is a fallacious sense of dichotomy, more often than not, and while we're all subject to it, to some degree, it then falls to us to be all the more aware of what that perceived separation does to us.
These experiences and these technological opportunities are so full of potential that they will not but be made to signify something, but the nature of that significance can remain fluid, if we let it. These signs can point us in multiple directions, depending on our angle of approach, and each of those directions, each of those pointings, can illuminate and indicate something we desperately need to understand, if we are going to survive the brute fact of those things we've caused to signify meaning.
What will they signify? I don't know yet. I have some ideas, but that's just the shape of now playing through the not-so-far-off. My point is that we should be careful about what any of this will "have" to mean. The more we lock ourselves into "has to be" and "exactly this," the harder it will be to extricate the possibility and potential of new ideas from the dread we impart to them.