More than sudden illness, what has been shocking is the speed with which power sheds the polite fictions of a stable democratic order. The logic of crisis always serves to excuse the deepening of control. The terrible irony is that a virus – a scientific quandary, questionably neither dead nor alive – has become the occasion for managing life itself.
But life cannot be contained or managed so easily. For each new technological ploy, there are the kids who defeat it. For each new zone of abandonment, there are those in revolt. For each measure of distance imposed, there are new forms of conviviality. Not to mention all those everyday acts of courage and compassion, as communities around the world care for themselves amid failing healthcare systems. Ensuring that the elderly are checked up on, that people have enough to eat, that there is still a communal fabric even as governments seek to tear it further – these are the small triumphs of decaying circumstances.
Power’s hold over us is equally demonstrated by emergent forms of social control and by the utter disregard with which they cast aside our lives. Our inability to survive outside their broken system is rapidly being confronted by our dwindling chances of surviving within it. To resist their control has become inseparable from the urgent need to care for one another. How to treat illness, how to care for the vulnerable, how to overcome isolation, how to reinvent presence, how to live with dignity and perhaps how to die with it. These are among the revolutionary questions of our times.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, a school of psychologists known as transactional analysts came up with a narrative approach to neurosis and personality disorders. The very simple version of the story is that they found that people with psychological problems were living out self-defeating scripts: narratives of which the patients themselves were not conscious, but which exerted a potent gravitational attraction on their interactions with other people. If the patients became conscious of the scripts they were acting out, the spell was broken and they could learn less dysfunctional ways of facing life. Transactional analysis fell out of favor once the pharmaceutical industry got its present stranglehold over the healing professions, but its findings remain telling testimony of the power of narrative to shape values and goals in its own image.
As a fan of life, I would prefer humans and other life forms avoid extinction in the near term. As a rational conservation biologist, I know better than to rely on my beliefs rather than evidence regarding the Sixth Mass Extinction and abrupt, irreversible climate change. In contrast to my evidentiary approach, most humans prefer fantasy over evidence. As one consequence, it is small wonder we have arrived at the edge of extinction.
Because major stock-market corrections typically occur during September and October, we might lose habitat for Homo sapiens this autumn as a result on reduced industrial activity. I am not predicting such a financial catastrophe, although I would not be surprised if such an overdue event materializes (on the other hand, I am surprised we made it this long without a notable financial correction). A rapid release of methane from the Arctic Ocean would also destroy habitat for humans as the Arctic ice continues its rapid disintegration. Ditto for a disruption in the ability to grow and store grains at scale as a result of abrupt climate change. Any of these three events, and probably others, will alter the climate sufficiently to cause our extinction in the near future.
Another alternative future is plausible. The sociopaths who pull the strings of empire might further elucidate ongoing, global militarism to the point that even Americans recognize a world war is occurring. Such an approach has been deemed perennially reasonable by said sociopaths and largely ignored by the dumbed-down masses.
I am often asked where and how to live in the face of the information I present. Although I am disinclined to tell others what to do, I am living with extreme urgency and with the pursuit of meaning in my life.
A disastrous scenario could be that of an unrecognisable Earth, less habitable overall, with hundreds of millions of refugees ruined and forced to leave their homes, whole sub-continents left to the chaos of civil wars and the extraction of resources, and ultra-militarised world powers. These authoritarian regimes would fight each other for the control of Earth’s resources, and would internally reign a dictatorship in the name of the ecological emergency and the exclusion of destitute foreigners hurrying to their doors.
In the name of climate emergency and in the face of a rapid degradation of Earth’s habitability, these regimes will abolish the moral and social boundaries: we will be offered servitude and submission in exchange for survival. The control of our personal data will guide our behaviours. This totalitarian order will present itself as an ecologist and will ration the use of resources, but will maintain enormous inequalities between a general population with diminished life and an elite that will continue to over-consume.
This is the scenario of a capitalism partially de-globalised, and re-structured in dictatorial blocks, in which the militarised state and the economic power would become one. Fully privatised ecological service markets, climate geoengineering, military and extractivist space conquest or trans-humanism would be the “solutions” proposed by these regimes to the problems of the planet. This scenario sends chills up the spine. Yet we are already experiencing these premises, in China, the United States, Russia, Europe or Brazil.
Only a massive mobilisation of civil societies and victims of climate change already facing the damage of existing “globalisation”, only an ethical and political insurrection against all attacks against the living and human dignity itself, only an archipelago of revolutionary changes towards well-being and self-reliant societies can thwart this scenario of ecofascist capitalism.
Such software has certain distinctively teleological features. It employs massive reiteration in order to learn from outcomes. Performance improvement thus tends to descend from the future. To learn, without supervision, is to acquire a sense for fortune. Winning prospects are explored, losing ones neglected. After trying things out – against themselves – a few million times, such systems have built instincts for what works. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ have been auto-installed, though, of course, in a Nietzschean or fully-amoral sense. Whatever, through synthetic experience, has led to a good place, or in a good direction, it pursues. Bad stuff, it economizes on. So it wins.
Unsupervised learning works back from the end. It suggests that, ultimately, AI has to be pursued from out of its future, by itself. Thus it epitomizes the ineluctable.
For those inclined to be nervous, it’s scary how easy all this is. Super-intelligence, by real definition, is vastly easier than it has been thought to be. Once the technological cascade is in process, subtraction of difficulty is almost the whole of it. Rigorously eliminating everything we think we know about it is the way it’s done.
The notion of the inexistence of man, that we are mere simulacrum of an alien mind, that our lives are but the tributary flow of a malevolent thought would in the tradition of religious iconoclasts be a foolish rebirth of ancient gnostic thought as if the world were the dramatic stage of some elder monstrosity, a demiurgic entity full of blind urges whose creation is a catastrophe – a kenosis, a vastation of immanent oblivion. But this would be wrong, a false estimation of ET’s work. No. He was no latter day Gnostic. His thought is closer to an alien incursion from the future, an artificial thought from some machinic world neither transcendent or parallel to our own, but rather our own world and thought known through an unknowing and non-knowledge, an immanent exploration of the Great Outdoors of our own forgotten reality. For it is us who are the fakes, the lost ones wandering in the maze of an illusory order of our own making. Long ago we built up and constructed this false order to hide from ourselves the very monstrosity of our own hideous life. We are the ones who created this counter-world, a utopia of pain and endless labyrinth of death based on our disgusting need to survive.
If we were to make it through this gauntlet of threats, we would still be facing starvation. Grains, the basis of the world’s food supply, are reduced on average by 6% for every one degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial norms. We are now about one degree Celsius above and climbing fast; the oceans are warming twice as fast and have absorbed a staggering 93% of the warming for us so far. If that were not the case, the average land temperatures would be a toasty 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) above what they are now. Of course, there is a huge cost for ocean warming in the form of dying coral reefs, plankton loss, ocean acidification, unprecedented storms, and increased water vapor, which is yet another greenhouse blanket holding heat in the atmosphere.
As I became aware of these facts and many hundreds like them, I also marveled at how oblivious most people are to the coming catastrophes. There has never been a greater news story than that of humans facing full extinction, and yet extinction is rarely mentioned on the evening news, cable channels, or on the front pages of blogs and newspapers. It is as though the world’s astronomers were telling us that an asteroid is heading our way and will make a direct hit destined to wipe out all of life to which the public responds by remaining fascinated with sporting events, social media, the latest political scandals, and celebrity gossip.
However, beginning about five years ago, a few books and other sources of information began to address the chances of full extinction of all complex life, and these became my refuge, even though the information was the most horrific I had ever imagined.
via Catherine Ingram, Facing Extinction, Facing Extinction by Catherine Ingram, 2019 Facing Extinction by Catherine Ingram, 2019-Facing Extinction by Catherine Ingram, Leonard Cohen, Dahr Jamail, Chris Hedges, Extinction, Extinction Rebellion, global warming, climate change, climate disruption, Deep Adaptation, In the Deep, Catherine Ingram podcast, In the Deep with Catherine Ingram, post, Extinction Facebook, near-term extinction