42 Comments

I'm not in essential disagreement with any of this. But ....

I think you utterly miss the historical reality by overrating the impact of "the incoherent set of attitudes that emerged on the West Coast of the United States at the end of the 1960s. Drawing on everything from Wilhelm Reich to Gurdjieff to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of Beatles fame ... (etc.) .... the generation that went on to create Silicon Valley, leveraged buy-outs and many other symbols of our modern, dislocated world, emerged from … the idea that nothing was really, like, real, man."

You know as well as I do that this is only a simplistic cartoon you find it comfortable to invoke. (Also, I'm pretty sure you've never spent much time in Silicon Valley). What you vastly underrate -- what I see no mention of here -- is what's done far, far more to create our current situation than any cultural attitudes of the "nothing is real, man" type. And that's what *actually* came out of Silicon Valley (and DARPA, NASA, and other places that were quite often part of the MIC), which is the simple, brutal, overwhelming, omnipresent *reality* of instantaneous, globally networked electronic media, and the manifestations of autonomous software systems and now, increasingly, AI upon those networked media.

Firstly, the particular form of neoliberal capitalism that's created and advantaged today's PMC, with its attendant offshoring, globalization, predatory financialization, and all the rest of it, only became possible, after all, when those instantaneous global electronic networks became reality.

Secondly, the inception and growth of these technologies and the creation of Silicon Valley itself was nothing to do with the things you cite, but was entirely predicated on the fact that in 1960 the Pentagon bought 100 percent of all microprocessor chips the Valley produced for purposes like ICBM guidance systems and early-warning radar networks; and as late as 1967 the Pentagon remained the buyer of 75 percent of the Valley's microprocessor chips. Before that, for that matter, the first electronic computer's development was spearheaded by John von Neumann to run the calculations on fluid dynamics necessary to build the H-bomb.

*That's* the reality of Silicon Valley. I lived and worked around the SF Bay Area and the Valley for decades, and any concerns the people I knew there ever had with things like the Maharishi, the Beatles, etc. were for not even skin-deep PR purposes.

Overall, I'm suggesting we live in the world J.G. Ballard and -- I guess, still -- Marshall McLuhan described. Not so much Baudrillard, Derrida, Berardi, Fisher, Foucault, or any cultural commentator. Because in 2023 the culture mostly arises downstream from the reality of practically omnipresent, instantaneous global media. In this world, the simulation can indeed constitute the reality, or a form of it -- at least, until the networks break down.

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Aurelius, you really are a Sage for our times. Thank you

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I don't know if your post really allows this, but I am taking my time re-reading Braudel's "Civilization & Capitalism 15th-18th Century". It has more than twenty some-odd years since I plowed through this for the first time. I forgot both how good it was and what a slog it was.

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"I say “we,” because even the higher reaches of the Professional and Managerial Caste. (PMC), or the Inner Party, as I have come to call them, are aware of the reality of the world to some small extent: they just don’t care, and in any case the phantom society conjured up by speeches, documents and media reports from the PMC and its minions suits them just fine."

I would say that *especially* the Inner Party is fully aware of how the world is,

However, they also did not get to where they are today by being more than fifteen minutes ahead of the times.

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Aurelien – you misunderstand (and thereby belittle) the levitators of the 60s.

It was all theater – and quite consciously theater.

None of the participants in the fabled levitation of the Pentagon (or in the levitation of the Pyare Square building in Madison, WI) thought that anything was going to float away or that the demons would be exorcised. They did think that it was a fun and useful way of reminding the public of the evil residing within. It was a celebration of like-minded people coming together. It annoyed the Authorities who could not get past the absurdity of sending in the troops to break up a ... Levitation? And it got a lot of press.

The coming days of No Work/No Jobs/No Economy due to AI will leave plenty of time for theater and other creative pursuits for those of us who have gardens (or who have friends who do).

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Aurelien – you misunderstand (and thereby belittle) the levitators of the 60s.

It was all theater – and quite consciously theater.

None of the participants in the fabled levitation of the Pentagon (or in the levitation of the Pyare Square building in Madison, WI) thought that anything was going to float away or that the demons would be exorcised. They did think that it was a fun and useful way of reminding the public of the evil residing within. It was a celebration of like-minded people coming together. It annoyed the Authorities who could not get past the absurdity of sending in the troops to break up a ... Levitation? And it got a lot of press.

The coming days of No Work/No Jobs/No Economy due to AI will leave plenty of time for theater and other creative pursuits for those of us who have gardens (or who have friends who do).

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I will second reading Peter Turchin's "End Times" and also recommend Jem Bendell's "Breaking Together". I am half-way through reading "Breaking Together" for the second time (a dense slog). Neither provides a useful approach exactly to dealing with the new reality. I suggest intentional, mutual support communities. Although they are subject to being broken up and scattered, each member can be like a dandelion seed - helping sprout new communities wherever they land.

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You are above the fray, consistently.

My suggestion for today, and thanks, not in proportion to what you advanced: autonomy and agency, as individuals(lesser importance) and as groups.

A suggestion as to spike coming essays of yours: what about logic as a builder of a smart fraction that can hold organization and power? Not seen in history, still a first.

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Indeed amans021, I gave up fighting spellchecker.

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I’m deeply grateful for this one🙏

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Oh deary me, this piece''ll get the midwits all in a tizzy! Life's challenging enough for them as it is, without making them feel any more cognitively inadequate than the precise amount necessary (calculated ages ago by anything but midwits) to keep the old Western Boat chugging along for another few leagues.

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I recommend a Blogger, if someone wants to see a scientist watching how science commits suicide, and also his country, then you can read this blog, it also gives ideas on how to rescue science

https://scottlocklin.wordpress.com/2023/03/23/how-to-be-a-technology-charlatan/

I will recommend other books another time.

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Dear Aurelien,

Thank you for your articles and your kind reply to my comment. I apologise for not yet replying to your first article with the book recommendations. I haven't read it yet because I've been busy and it's my personal delayed gratification project. I will read it on the last weekend in November. But I did read this article and it was enlightening as always. Reading it made me think about how difficult it actually is to make a list of book recommendations.

Maybe a few thoughts on reading classic or contemporary literature. I think reading Balzac or Dostoyevsky is a great contribution to trying to understand the world. I think they have shaped the thinking of entire societies over the course of time. The biographies of the great writers have also always been very interesting for me. The discrepancies between the ideals in the novels and the attitudes and behaviours in real life make the writers more human and arouse sympathy for human imperfections. In addition to classic literature, contemporary literature is also a real pleasure to read, e.g. the Prix Goncourt novels "Vivre vite" and "Le mage du Kremlin" and "L’anomalie" to name a few. Speaking of biographies: this book is one of my favourites.

https://www.amazon.com/Letter-D-Story-Andre-Gorz/dp/0745646778

But of course, reading novels is first and foremost a pleasure, an entertainment, it might contribute to a better emotional intelligence and serves general education. The purpose of understanding the world requires an in-depth exploration of topics. In my spare time, I'll be busy following your recommendations. I'm going to start with your recommendations on the subject of economics, as I've defined it as a priority subject for me. In this context, what is your opinion of Michael Hudson? I recently read his book "The Collapse of Antiquity".

I have difficulty accepting the fact that one can hardly contribute to a better world. I find Alfred de Zayas' books very inspiring. In my opinion, he refuses to accept this fact and tries to make concrete suggestions for improving the UN with his background as a human rights expert. The UN is an organisation that I believed would try to contribute to a just world order and which has failed to deliver on this promise.

Love for humanity and people with all their human imperfections should be a driving force to make the world a better place. However, it is quite difficult to find another area besides your family and friends where one can contribute to this ultimate purpose. Your articles help to overcome this dilemma and to perceive myself and my own feelings and perceptions with a healthy dose of self-irony.

Thank you

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That was an impressive arsenal of advice, once again. Reading your essays has brought me much joy and helped contextualize some of contemporary crises in the world better. I'd actually add Ludwig Wittgenstein on this particular reading list for his value on making sense and giving clarity on language, because so much is obscured by the language instead in our times. In a sense, aside philosopher of language, he could also be considered a notable western mystic, after all. -Veli-Matti Toivonen

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Thank you for your thought provoking words and book recommendations.

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