I am both pessimist and optimist about our future. I expect our civilization, that of the West, to end entirely, and soon. Yet at the same time, I believe we can have an intensely bright future thereafter—not a return, certainly, but something wholly new, informed by the wisdom and knowledge of the past. Moreover, I think that technology, rightly ordered and used, will be a pillar of that future, if we reach it. John Michael Greer, a man hard to categorize politically, agrees with my pessimism, but not with my optimism, especially as regards the future use of technology. Today we will explore whether I should amend my beliefs, through the prism of Greer’s Dark Age America.
This is a disappointing book. Not awful, but not good. The Man from the Future manages to take the life of the polymath John von Neumann and to make it dull, never giving us any real sense of the man, although we do get some sense of his accomplishments. Beyond that, it’s filled with bad history about ancillary matters, making the reader wonder about the veracity of core biographical matters. And worst of all, the author, Ananyo Bhattacharya, wastes our time by endlessly trying to shoehorn into von Neumann’s story fantasy contributions by supposedly marginalized people, who are unknown because they did nothing worth noting. All this turns what might have been an excellent book into a chore.
When I was growing up in the 1980s, a staple belief of socially-correct thinking was that many non-human animals, not only apes but also dolphins, whales, and elephants, had, if we could only understand, minds functionally indistinguishable from ours. Children were told constantly about Koko the gorilla, who could supposedly speak, albeit in sign language. But all this was false, part of the Left project to convince us mankind is nothing special. Herbert Terrace, who has devoted his entire career to ape cognition, here puts the spike into the lies of my childhood, demonstrating that no ape (or any animal, primate or otherwise) can communicate in any way similar to humans.
A constant complaint of today’s Right is that our civilization has been ruined politically and spiritually by decades of Left dominance. But we pay less mind to the physical destruction of our bodies taking place at the same time. The damage is inarguable: witness the gross obesity, the precipitous drops in male testosterone and sperm count, and the huge reductions in women giving birth. The causes are many, if hard to pin down, including distorted foods, widespread use of persistent plastics and endocrine disruptors, and the disaster of chemical birth control. The Children of Men, written by the late P. D. James in 1991, is a good springboard for analyzing this physical devastation, and thinking about what can be done.
Fentanyl, Inc. updates Sam Quinones’s seminal 2015 Dreamland, about the American opioid epidemic, focusing on the synthetic opioid fentanyl, the use of which has exploded in the past five years. No doubt, increasing drug use is a very important topic for the future of America. Unfortunately, Ben Westhoff’s book covers it in a disorganized and blinkered fashion, where the author shrinks from obvious conclusions. The title itself shows the problem. It implies some fictional central entity controls the fentanyl trade, and points the finger at imaginary “rogue chemists.” A much more accurate title would be Fentanyl: How the Chinese and the Mexicans Are Deliberately Killing Americans.
A review by me of this book has been published in the excellent journal IM-1776. The first paragraph, and a link to the entire review, and the journal itself, can be found below. America is already a low-trust society, and with good reason societal trust is rocketing further downward. Yet Americans still, by and large, trust medical institutions — perhaps more than any other set of entities. The pseudonymous Paracelsus, a practicing physician, in his book with the deliberately ironic title First Do No Harm, narrates how we are foolish to trust the medical profession, what is really the medical industry. Published by Calamo Press, First Do No Harm tells us, in short, that the two words that characterize American medicine are not “health and healing,” or even “science and rationality,” as one might think, but rather “corruption and oligarchy.” . . . Read more at IM-1776!
Not long ago, as I wrote, I was listening to a playlist on Spotify (I listen to music when I write, but never when I read). It was Spotify’s weekly list of suggested songs based on listening history—for me, a mix of genres, heavy on thumping EDM (electronic dance music), my preferred writing music, but also indie folk. One song caught my attention—“Cold Missouri Waters,” a haunting song about thirteen smokejumpers dying while fighting a forest fire. I was interested enough to look up the song, and found it relates a true story, equally haunting—the Mann Gulch Fire, in 1949. And from there I found this classic work, now thirty years old.
Digital communications technology is yet mostly a formless thing, still being born, upon which we moderns imprint our fears and our hopes. Some dreamers see it as an unalloyed good, which when grown will let us slip the chains of our humanity. Others, more grounded, see it as a genie best stuffed back into his bottle and dropped down a mineshaft, for otherwise its acid will corrode all that is permanent, melting it into the air. James Poulos takes neither approach; he is the apostle of creating the new way of human flourishing, finding the narrow path that threads between false utopia and catastrophe. “Which way, Western man?”, asks the meme. Poulos has an answer for us.
What role should technology—the complex of machines and computers that undergirds our world—play in our future? This is a crucial question, and among thinking people today there exists a distinct split. Some, such as James Poulos in his soon-to-be-released Human, Forever, call for fully accepting that technology exists and is not going away, while refusing to surrender our humanity. Others, such as Paul Kingsnorth, entirely reject what he calls the “Machine,” and intimate that our technology-dictated future is an anti-human grotesquerie, followed by inevitable total collapse. Theodore Kaczynski falls squarely into this latter category, and this, his famous Manifesto, outlines what should be done—goals he notably took to heart.
Some men have minds that are simply not like those of others, but far better, on a different plane entirely. Such men are vanishingly rare, and appear to be even rarer, because their unique talents are often lost to mankind, when they are not recognized by or not applicable to the society in which they are born. John Moses Browning, who lived from 1855 to 1926, was fortunate in that his peerless spatial-mechanical talent, specifically for the manufacture of firearms, coincided with the right time for his talents to achieve their full potential. A substantial majority of all today’s firearms rely on his insights; I cannot think of another field in which one man has dominated the entire modern era—and whose work shows no signs of fading in importance.