Science Fiction Is Over–But The Future Is Now by J. M. Porup

Universal Mind Control

Image by Keoni Cabral via Flickr

by J. M. Porup
Guest Writer, Dandelion Salad
www.JMPorup.com
Originally published at wetheborg.com, Dec. 19, 2013
December 23, 2013

Science fiction, and its harness mate, “progress,” both have their roots in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. The sudden technological change was so striking, and had such a profound effect on people’s lives, that the only way to cope was to convince ourselves that these changes were not only good, but necessary. Hence “progress.”

Speculation about where this magic carpet ride would take us led to science fiction. It wasn’t called that, at first, of course, but early sci-fi authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells speculated in their works about the future of technology – and its effect on the human experience.

Some writers – most, even – projected utopian visions of technologically-induced paradise. Other writers, such as Ray Bradbury, warned that the job of science fiction was “to prevent the future.”

Well guess what, Ray. You failed. The future is upon us. We now live in a dystopia worse than George Orwell imagined – where no stray thought or word or moment of love or private contemplation goes uncaptured, unstored, unanalyzed. Uncontrolled. We are now bits and bytes in a gigantic database, to be ruled now and forever by those with the right access.

This is not, by the way, a diatribe about the NSA. Other countries are using information technology for the same ends – population control. Even if the United States were to shutter the NSA tomorrow – an unlikely prospect, I grant you – the technology would continue to exist, and it would only keep getting better. And better.

And better.

Any sufficiently-motivated and -endowed adversary can now know every trivial detail of your life. What books you read. What music you listen to. What your face looks like when you masturbate while watching online porn (you think your laptop camera isn’t recording?) What you whisper in your lover’s ear between the sheets (oh wait, did she leave her cell phone on your nightstand?)

This fundamentally alters what it means to be human. We now live in a world prison, a panopticon of gargantuan proportions. To watch is to control, and to control is to dehumanize. A slave, by definition, is less than human – robbed of his liberty, his freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association and travel, robbed of the ability to dissent, to create, to build, what is a man? Nothing more than a thing, a machine, an automoton.

Philip K. Dick would be proud. We are all replicants now, and most of us don’t even realize it.

Our slavery has been a long time coming. And, like all great tragedies, the end was buried in the beginning, and could be seen far in advance.

From the barely-literate transcribings of medieval monks, to Diderot’s Encyclopedie, to Babbage’s first machine, the dominant theme of our Western culture has been the collection, storage and analysis of information.

This “advance” – this “progress” – continues apace, robbing us of our humanity at now blinding speed. Consider how some of the technology we now take for granted has already turned us into replicants.

Take handwriting. Yours is unique. So is mine. This is why signatures have value – no one else, except perhaps a talented forger, can sign a document in the same way you do.

The medium is the message. What is the message of the handwritten word?

Ink on paper naturally encourages noncomformity, dissent, freedom of thought. One is not constrained even by lines, if one does not wish it. You can write as big or as small as you wish. You can write sideways. You can write on an angle, as legibly or as illegibly as you want. After public speaking, handwriting is the most human medium possible.

But now?

In a world of email, and word processors, and computers, we are all constrained by the same limited palette: Times New Roman, 12 point. Or maybe Courier, if you’re feeling edgy. The medium is the message. And what is the message here? Conformism. Everything and everyone the same. Computers constrain what may be thought and said, and thus rob us of part of our humanity.

(One could argue that the printing press had a similar affect, but more so on the reader than on the writer. Until the typewriter was invented, type was traditionally set from handwritten manuscript. Nietzsche commented that, upon purchasing his first typewriter, the way he wrote and thought changed.)

Or consider the telephone. The human voice modulates between 300-3400 Hz. But the telephone narrowly conducts the range of 1.5-2.5kHz. A human voice transmitted over a telephone has been stripped, constrained, put in a box – a mere shadow of its former self.

Is this a picayune example? I don’t think so. More and more, machines are our intermediaries. When we communicate using modern technology, machines strip our humanity down to what they are capable of representing. And, acknowledging these limits, we modify our conduct, our speech, our writing, our thoughts to conform to what these machines permit us to do, say, and think.

What’s more, this technology is ripe for control and abuse. When we become bits and bytes in a giant database, it becomes a trivial task to query, modify, or even delete unwanted data – to “bug squash,” only in real life. (Spying inevitably leads to a purge, if left unchecked.)

To blame the NSA or the United States for this – as worthy of blame as they are – is to miss the big picture. Our technological slavery is the culmination of centuries of “progress.” We are in the sweep of historical forces so vast, so powerful, so terrible, and so inevitable, that we are compelled to argue for them, to become proponents of our own slavery.

The last six months have seen much of humanity wake up to our digital slavery, thanks to Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. And their noble work may slow the final, tragic ending of our times, perhaps by ten years, perhaps by twenty. But history, as Oswald Spengler tells us in The Decline of the West, is a form of tragedy, with the ending known in advance, and which we are powerless to stop or prevent, but only to watch in awe-struck terror.

What, perhaps you ask, does any of this have to do with science fiction?

Everything.

Surveillance breeds conformity and stifles dissent. And science – like art – like all innovation – can only advance by challenging the status quo. Almost every major scientific breakthrough in history was achieved by a dissenting scientist opposing an establishment unwilling to consider new ways of thinking.

Science fiction exists to speculate about the future. But the future is now. And this dystopic hell we now inhabit is as good as it gets, people. There will be no cure for cancer, no colony on the moon. Forget about space travel. Forget about any new paradigm that might open up new avenues to explore.

That’s over. Done with. The only thing technology now has to offer us is the fulfillment of our current world view – Moore’s Laws, until that, too, ends, more and more pervasive spying, smaller and smaller drones, until online spying becomes a quaint relic, and inexpensive militarized hummingbird-sized drones impose global martial law, mapping our every move, recording our every twitch of an eyebrow, and murdering anyone who dare disobey.

Goethe’s Faust, Spengler argues, is the ultimate metaphor for the modern West: We, like Faust, have sold our souls to the devil in exchange for technology.

And so, automatons all, we wander the earth, soulless, our love, and passion, and originality draining from us like blood from a cadaver. Our children and grandchildren shall haunt the earth, numb to the world, slaves to the machines their forefathers created to serve them.

***

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see

Glenn Greenwald: Why Collecting Metadata is More Intrusive Than Reading Emails or Listening to Phone Calls + Q&A

Technology Servitude by Joel S. Hirschhorn

George Orwell’s 1984 (must-see film)

Brave New World (1980)

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24 thoughts on “Science Fiction Is Over–But The Future Is Now by J. M. Porup

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  7. Technology is like “handguns” at a NRA rally: It is how it is used that matters.

    I subscribe to a slightly more optimistic viewpoint, especially in regards to technology regarding Energy, and how we get it. BETTER technology is the answer to the dirty, poisonous, and dangerous technologies we now endure. This better tech, will force many changes not only physical, but social.

    LENR/Cold Fusion, is very real. It can do that. And it will, when enough of us become aware of it despite the mainstream media blackout on it.

    • Steve , in all due respect , there is an illusion that technology is somehow neutral , and that it is just how we use it . but it is not neutral . it is set up in such a way to actually alienate people . even us talking on computers. name me one weapon that man has created that he did not use ?

      the Technikon is a weapon , and it is not controlled by a bunch of benevolent Zen Monks . Better technology you state is the answer . i disagree. Better human beings is the answer . read ”THE CIRCLE” by Dave Eggers . it just came out , and it will scare the shit out of you . it is as good as the teckkies get , and it starts off as a utopia then it starts to turn real dark , and until the endgame is stripping humans of their humanity .

      social changes happen when people get back geographical proximity and start to talk to each other face to face .

      • Power corrupts. Global thermonuclear war is inevitable. We can only hope it brings us freedom (via death) before the NSA turns us into zombies.

        There is no hope for change. History is a form of tragedy. The best thing you can hope for is that they put you in a concentration camp and you die there. Better that than live as a slave.

        JMP

        • But there is always hope. Not optimism, obviously, but hope.

          Please check out this new series of articles by The Man From The North: https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/tag/the-man-from-the-north/ Also the comment sections. He is a character from The Dandelion Insurrection book by Rivera Sun. See the review: https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/rivera-suns-the-dandelion-insurrection-reviewed-by-guadamour/

          It’s up to us to change ourselves and work in our own communities. There are lots of solutions and we need to learn new skills (old ones, actually).

        • Hmmm. Just a tad bleak and negative J.M.P.

          Inevitability suggests determinism, or fate. Just because the force of Niagara is attractive and mesmeric, doesn’t mean we necessarily have to throw ourselves into it.

          We already have an ongoing nuclear catastrophe in the Pacific that is out of control, so the likelihood of an escalated confrontation with plutonium weapons seems pretty remote to me. I grew up with this nightmare like everyone else of my generation, so frankly I’m sick and tired of the whole lunatic kindergarten playbook. It’s hard to make much sense out of it all.

          Back in the renaissance period they alluded to a type of “mechanico-magical” philosophy of one kind or another. Not a lot has changed, we’ve just gotten more superstitious and now believe blindly in the redemptive power of our own monkey-magic. As Rocket continually assures us, it’s human beings that need to change ~ or to put it another way, evolve a little and grow up.

          The images from Dr Strangelove spring to mind, mad intoxicated half-wits dressed in delusions of glory, rocketing into oblivion. Buckminster Fuller once suggested the only way to deal with nuclear waste would be to launch it into the Sun, and recycle it into the thermonuclear furnace that sustains planetary life. Not a bad idea.

          History continually rehearses the present. We are endowed with life, why waste it?

        • Indeed, we should not throw ourselves into the Niagara of history. We should fight the waterfall — knowing in advance how ridiculous it is to swing punches at a torrent of water.

          History is a tragedy. We already know the ending — the loss of our humanity and our coming slavery to machines.

          Should we fight? Yes! It’s the only thing that gives life meaning. But should we expect victory? No.

          Jens

        • Thanks for responding Jens.

          Don’t forget, you’re not alone, and the US isn’t the only card in the global deck, it may be the digital Joker but so what? other (healthier) minds, other destinies invite optimism and better ways of doing “business.”

          American citizens may see through the spectral miasma that drives their home-grown capitalist clones, but much of the rest of the world is still spell-bound, feeding greedily on Hollywood’s “phantastic” abattoir of the imagination.

          When that finally changes, everything will change. The nuts and bolts of existence can be re-envisioned, morality can be reinvented ~ new ways of realizing the truth will be acknowledged and implemented.

          The secrets of the cosmos may be elusive, but are never forbidden. Life itself is an open secret.

        • Dear David,

          I had to laugh when I read this:

          American citizens may see through the spectral miasma that drives their home-grown capitalist clones, but much of the rest of the world is still spell-bound, feeding greedily on Hollywood’s “phantastic” abattoir of the imagination.

          I’ve lived as an expatriate since 1999. As a general rule, it is the rest of the world who sees through the “spectral miasma” and American citizens (or rather, residents) who remain ignorant of the truth.

          Western civilization rules the world. And America is the torchbearer of the West. And together we shall all rush into the abyss.

          For more, see Oswald Spengler’s masterpiece, “The Decline of the West.”

          JMP

        • Fair point Jens! & I readily accept that generalization is always… (yet another generalization…or, invariably) prone to the accusation that “rules” tend to provoke exceptions. After all, that is the principle by which science amends dogma.

          Let me put it another way….”some Americans..!” and, I would add, the most intelligent ~ while, broadly speaking…”elsewhere, others, particularly those not on the receiving end of US military aggression etc.”

          Of course you’re right. I’ve not read Spengler, but what really irks me is the much vaunted “special” US/UK relationship (ie the NATO alliance) that is continually peddled here (in the UK) as a sacred article of faith; a fait accompli, taken for granted by post-imperial, post colonial corporate-loving apologists and advocates.

          In other words we too are steeped in their big-business propaganda.

          Where legitimate dissent prevails, it is drowned out by cynical opportunism and wishful thinking ~ the US is “still our saviour” type of thing.

          I lived in Canada for 22 years & was actually in Detroit the night MLK was murdered. Many (left-leaning) Canadians in the sixties were hyper-critical of the US establishment. It was all news to me fresh from the old world, wet behind the ears.

          I’d say we’re already in the abyss you allude to, no turning back now. Only consider one thing ~ the scope of the cosmos Hubble has revealed. What we really need if I may be so bold, is a cognitive metaphysical capacity commensurate with that exponential vision.

      • rocket —

        if you’re interested in novels that take on the NSA/spying/technology, you might like to check out “THE UNITED STATES OF AIR”. It’s also available as a free audiobook from podiobooks.com.

        US of Air is a satire that makes fun of mass spying and the horror of what America has become.

        cheers
        Jens

    • hi Steve,

      The problem is that human beings have proven, over the last thirty years, that we are incapable of building secure computers. Any computer built by man will always have bugs, will always have security flaws.

      This makes it trivial for any sufficiently-motivated attacker to exploit.

      More powerful tech is coming, I grant you that. But it will be buggy, it will have security holes, and it will be used by the NSA to spy on and, ultimately, cull those of us who commit thought crime.

      JMP

  8. J.M. Porup’s last paragraph is both an analysis and a challenge. Will humanity acknowledge and meet that challenge? After the shine of new technologies wears off, men and women regain their souls, love, passion, and originality. Bet on it.
    Thanks,
    Jerry

    • On the contrary, Jerry. We are playing out a cycle in history beyond our ability to control. Pandora’s Box is open. There’s no going back. Even if you somehow made technology illegal, governments and criminals (I know, redundant) would continue to use the technology.

      Welcome the future. We’re living in it. And it sucks.

      • In your article you mention “other countries are using information technology for – population control”. Perhaps if one listed all the reasons that such an effort by nations is unethical or immoral while making a case for discontinuance of government activities which literally harm people, the court of public opinion would decide. If you’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, remember Krishna (God) told Arjuna to fight. Your writing suggests a great philosophical battle.
        Thanks,
        Jerry

        • Jerry,

          Of course we should fight. Even if we know we are going to lose. It is the only thing that gives life meaning.

          As for the court of public opinion, it has already decided — for Snowden, and against the NSA.

          But that makes no difference. We don’t live in a democracy. We live in a totalitarian dictatorship run by spies. (The definition of a spy, by the way, is a criminal with a get-out-of-jail pass.)

          If power can be abused, it will be abused — and spies specialize in abusing power.

          So yes — fight. Fight! Go down swinging! I intend to. But I am under no illusions about who the victor will be.

          Jens

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