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The question of happiness April 19, 2011

Posted by Summerspeaker in Primitivism, Technology, Transhumanism.
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Lately I’ve been reading Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. I’ll post in detail on the book at some point; as a brief summary, Turkle argues sociable robots and digital communications have a deleterious effect on human relationships. Ey warns against the substitution of robots and virtual connections for face-to-face personal interaction and claims that this constitutes a threat to our collective psyches. Notably, ey writes that the desire for robotic companionship shows we are failing each other as people.

I can’t argue with that. While eir exaltation of the heterosexual nuclear family disturbs me, Turkle’s study highlights one of the horrors of the modern experience that merits attention. Countless of us live lives of profound alienation and loneliness. Primitivists blame the situation civilization and idealize the emotional benefits of a return to wildness. At the talk I attended, John Zerzan said that he thought mental agony of existing within industrial society would function as the foremost motivation for revolution.

While I grant superiority to the hunter-gather lifestyle in this respect, I have my doubts that I could find fulfillment during or after the crash. My current adventures with primitivists and radicals in general leave much to be desired. Inclusive and supportive community remains a mirage based on what I’ve seen, no matter how much the clique in power trumpets consensus decision-making and positive group dynamics. With the same folks involved, I can’t conceive how we would escape these problems by smashing the machines. Perhaps the generation after collapse, raised as proper hunter-gatherers, would do better, but I’m concerned with current beings.

The David Pearce project of rationally abolishing suffering through applied science strikes me as a more fruitful approach, despite my grave misgiving about of some of eir specific proposal. Unlike Turkle and Zerzan, I see no paradise to which we can return. The family the former adores serves as the chief instrument for beat hierarchy into our heads. Any solace that can be found from that institution comes at too high a price. The primitivist vision genuinely appeals but rests on speculative foundations and still promises the torment of biological degeneration even under the most fantastic reading. Technological transformation offers the best theoretical prospect, as no law of physics prohibits the universal bliss Pearce seeks.

My hopes remain low. I suspect the innovations we transhumanists salivate over will reinforce and advance the dehumanizing aspects of the Enlightenment agenda rather than promoting liberty and equality. Exploitation and environmental devastating show no indications of stopping; molecular nanotechnology may enable the process of resource extraction to expand indefinitely. But I also despair at finding sustaining relationships with other humans as we are now. The problem demands an impossibility: empirical knowledge employed outside the systems of hierarchy that define the discipline of science.

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Comments»

1. AnonymousCoward - April 19, 2011

I want a super-smart/-nice robot companion. I’m lonely and can’t talk with my cat. 🙂 When do you think we’ll see them if ever?

Summerspeaker - April 19, 2011

A super-smart robot companion implies the Singularity, so I wouldn’t except that development too terribly soon. Robots that passably perform the role of supportive conversation partner, however, seem close at hand. Turkle rightly points out the disadvantages of such companions. Narrow AI robots designed to simulate emotional connection will be no satisfying substitute for human relationships.

AnonymousCoward - April 19, 2011

“no satisfying substitute for human relationships.”

Well I want a substitute, or a “cure”. I don’t think it’s near future though, unfortunately. 😦

Therapy and medication is doesn’t work at all, or it seems that way to me.


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