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.
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.
For eighteen months, I have been infinitely puzzled that most responses to the Wuhan Plague have been irrational. Lack of rationality dominates the discourse and actions of the majority, from individuals to governments. This irrationality has innumerable manifestations, the most obvious being belief in plain fictions, recently the made-up threat of the new “Delta variant,” no doubt not the last in a very long list of fairy tales. The irrationality shows itself in many other ways, both secular ones such as the total rejection of cost-benefit analysis, and quasi-religious ones such as belief in strange new gods, saints, and rituals. I have racked my head trying to understand this very strange phenomenon, and made no progress.
Nothing is accomplished by our society today. That little which seems like accomplishment is merely the sating of useless consumerist desires and the serving up of mental frippery and degradation. Apple is valued at trillions of dollars; that fact says all you need to know. Even something that could be thought an accomplishment, such as the rapid creation of vaccines to help counter the modest damage directly inflicted by the Wuhan Plague, is of dubious real value, and is moreover lost in wholly justified suspicion of our rulers. We have collectively marched, or been marched, into the dead end of a box canyon, and we hear the water rushing toward us. Not so long ago, however, as this book shows, the West was a civilization on the arc to glory. Maybe we can be again.
What will the future look like? Not much like our stupid present, certainly, but complaining about the present is easy, while offering a coherent positive vision of the future is hard—especially given the degradation of our present. Yes, the Age of Ideology is over, though its zombie corpse may stumble through the brambles of reality for a few more years, until someone shoots it in the head. But what will replace it will be an organic thing, its exact form hard to predict. In Retrotopia, John Michael Greer narrates an optimistic vision of a renewed America, or part of America. It’s fiction, but it inspires a variety of thoughts, among them a topic of great importance to both Greer and me: is technological progress the enemy of tomorrow’s human flourishing, or its ground?
Whenever, which is often, I see in the media that “experts say . . . ,” I immediately assume what follows is lies. The utter tone-deafness of using this locution, given that many, if not most, people assume as I do, amazes me. Or it did, until I realized it isn’t actually propaganda. Rather, for the media, the mouthpiece of the Left, the invocation of supposed experts has become an incantation, one that wholly substitutes for reason and by its magic keeps at bay the night, dark and full of terrors. Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never is a counter-spell, a book-length evisceration of environmental “experts,” and although it will have no impact on true believers in the religion of environmental apocalypticism, it strengthens resistance to the alarmists’ war against humanity.
A disease is going around. No, not the Wuhan Plague. This malady only affects the Right, and I name it Scrutonism. The symptoms of Scrutonism are a razor-sharp ability to identify one’s enemies and to understand their plans to destroy us, combined with a complete inability to imagine any way in which those enemies can be defeated. For a sufferer of this disease, his headspace is occupied by nostalgia and fear, in varying proportions—mostly the former in the late Roger Scruton’s case, mostly the latter in Rod Dreher’s case. Scrutonism’s harm is that it makes sufferers ignore the only question that matters for the Right today: what are you willing to do, given that your enemies are utterly committed to destroying you and yours?
When I first read Neuromancer, a science fiction classic of the modern age, twenty-some years ago, serious people believed that our certain technological future was one of accelerating, boundless plenty. The Singularity was near. Aging and death would soon be conquered; the removal of all limitation would be, within a decade or two, the lot of mankind. Few asked if this would be good. But no matter, since none of this arrived, and it is long since clear none of it will ever arrive, at least in our world as it is now constituted and ruled. Yet, this book, published in 1983, is a fun ride and shows us visions of many things. So let us talk about what is now our present, and what that says about our actual future.