Feature 08.26.2022 13 minutes

What is Technological “Progress”?

Beck & Stone Poulos – TBD

And is it good?

Editors’ Note

The following transcript is from a speech at an event entitled “Lies of the Ruling Class,” hosted in May 2022 by the Claremont Institute’s DC Center for the American Way of Life.

Why is it that a man proclaiming his transhood in 1776, or 776, or 76 B.C. would make very little impact, yet today it is impossible to spend five minutes online without having such people invade and command the consciousness? It’s a question we should ask ourselves. The word itself is now magically just “trans.” Trans what? And the question of why, which few want to pose or answer, is impossible to consider without talking about tech.

It has to do with a ruling-class lie about how technological progress is good. Now, whether it’s true or not that technological progress is inherently good, here we have a compound lie, a deliberate untruth about all three separately: about tech, progress, and the good. In 1969, media theorist and first-ever modern guru, Marshall McLuhan, said the following: “there is a deep-seated repugnance in the human breast against understanding the processes in which we are involved. Such understanding involves far too much responsibility for our actions.”

The ruling class isn’t trying to just evade responsibility here on tech, although it is doing that. We should bear in mind that if we look at the etymology of the word “responsibility,” we discover that it means and has meant, for going on 12,000 years or so, pouring out libations and sacrifice. So, our ruling class really here is trying to evade their responsibility with regard to tech by imposing that responsibility on you, by imposing the obligation for the kind of religious belief and observance that I will talk about.

So let’s turn now to the lie concerning technology. We’re told that technology simply means new tools with new uses; things that apply to everyday general, personal, and practical concerns. Sure, there’s all this other stuff going on, but that’s for experts only, ultimately research and development has this overwhelming and central effect on life as such, generally and characteristically for people as such. Well, actually what’s really going on, what they mean is weapons, not just tools for everyday uses.

That means tools of destruction and debilitation, and of command and control against foreign or domestic targets alike. I’m not making up the martial provenance of our everyday-use devices: you can find some people who are actually champions of this kind of R&D—like Mariana Mazzucato, author of a book called The Entrepreneurial State, in which she makes the case that hey, you can’t really get entrepreneurship without strong central government setting out a research agenda and so forth. And yet basically all of her examples come from military or intelligence research and development.

So if you look at what Five Eyes is doing, you look at what’s going on in Ukraine, you look at what China’s doing and how we’re responding to a social crisis of our own with a so-called CBDC, Central Bank Digital Currency, the kind of hunger for regulating Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that the SEC is eyeing, you can see that the modus operandi has to do with what we’ve seen unfold since even before the iPhone: all of our major technological advances in the field of communications and consumer electronics have basically come out of military-intelligence research and development, from cable television to the touch screen on your mobile phones, to GPS, all the way down the list.

So, one thing that is true about the generality of technology is that these weapons, these tech weapons that have been sort of beaten into tools of entertainment, are used for the fundamental, coercive, comprehensive reordering of the people of the United States and of the world. This is regime change at the global level, and this brings to mind one of my favorite—and I’m not alone in this one—one of my favorite quips from Michael Anton, the Celebration Parallax. Our ruling class says, with regard to their plans to use the weapons of technology to remake the world, “It’s not happening, and it’s good that it is.” I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first let’s turn to the lie concerning progress.

Now, when the ruling class talks about progress, they reject the claim of someone like Heidegger, which I think now is a commonsensical claim, that technology at a certain point does cease to help and empower us. In fact, it begins at that point to erode, and damage, and eclipse us, not just in its use as a weapon, but just in its very existence. You look at the way visible devices and invisible code have swallowed up and ruled the world so that now no single person or group of people can rule the world. It’s what Heidegger referred to as sort of “standing reserve,” this mountainous overlaying by a swarm of digital entities.

This is not what the ruling class wants to talk about. It’s not what they want us to see. They also reject the claim of Marshall McLuhan, which is now also a commonsensical claim, that communications technologies, or media as we would call them, exert formative effects on our senses, our sensibilities, our spirits, and perhaps even our souls, independent of what anyone wants them to do. You can just look at the way that the elites created these technologies and said, “Well, we dreamed, and based on the best dreams, that entitles us to rule the world, so when we create these new tools, those tools will do what we want them to do to consummate our perfect big dream of bringing the world together and everyone on the coast singing hand in hand, singing John’s Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ singing ‘Pure Imagination’ with Willy Wonka, and all the rest.”

But that’s not what they did. Those crazy machines permitted Donald Trump to become president, and then you saw the whole apparatus of the ruling class try to claw back on all those digital entities, all those organizations, as they’re doing right now, and as they will continue to do. When you look at these technologies, when you look at the way that they’ve exerted these independent formative effects, what you see is that they did not in fact develop in the consistent, incremental, straight line that has been the master mindset or characterization of scientific progress, since the Enlightenment, or at least certain strands of the Enlightenment.

In fact, these technologies and informative effects can retrieve—and I’m just following McLuhan here—old or even pre-modern patterns of life and habit and faith. One example: You look at what our digital entities do today, they record and recall information in a way that oftentimes seems far more powerful than anything that human beings can do on their own, tempting us to forget that human memory is itself unique and precious and powerful in a way that the memory of machines is not.

Well, the last time that we had a civilization or a cultural life that was so drastically formed and shaped via the enhancement or the foregrounding of human memory was the Scribal Age in the medieval centuries, where there wasn’t an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters, but rather it was a large number of monks in a large number of scriptoria, sitting there and beautifully and faithfully copying down information for the world. That’s a fact that is startling to people who think that progress is linear and incremental as they had been taught.

Let me give you another example. Civil Rights has become a state religion. How did that happen? How did we flip from, “well, you really can’t stop anyone from doing what they choose, what they please,” to, “well, actually it’s not enough to tolerate those choices, it’s not enough to accept those choices. It’s not even enough to celebrate those choices. You must worship those choices, you must honor those choices, you must kneel before those choices. They are exemplary, they are models that must be imitated or adopted”? These are the kinds of flips that happen through the massive transformations in inner and outer life caused by sea changes in communications technology, as the media have their formative effects on our lives.

So, when you look at something like these swarm of queer identities that have swept over America, if you look at the kind of Borg, for the Star Trek fans out there, that trans identity has become—you know, everyone woke up one morning and this huge vector of lines invaded the rainbow flag and announced themselves as being more important somehow, and they rocketed to the top of the intersectionality pack. When you look at these things then you see, sweeping changes like this are characteristically a result of new formations through digital or, I should say, technological life. It’s also true that the impulse to turn those sweeping changes into regime controls, into moral exemplars, is itself also a result of change. We’ve gone, in short, from “anything boys can do, girls can do better” to “anything girls can do, borgs can do better.” Ruling-class techies often accept any degree of wokeness so long as they’re in charge, and ruling-class wokies often accept any degree of tech so long as they are in charge.

Backwards Progress

Now, there is a clear thrust for us toward the disincarnate, worldwide digital swarm. But this causes people to ask, “why bother?” It spawns these ultimate questions: Why should I be human? Why should I suffer? Why should I have children? Why should I work? Why should I do anything? Why should I live? In the face of these questions, the answer that’s being proposed, the answer that’s really being force-established by the ruling class, is one rooted ultimately in a new transhumanism, a cyborg religion, of sorts, of digital wokeness.

But again here, rather than even religious progress, this is not progress—it’s a regress. It’s back to Gnosticism. That’s the idea that the incarnate, ensouled human form is not a gift, not a blessing, certainly not a precious gift from an almighty Creator. It’s bad news. It’s the embodiment of injustice, and ugliness, and a sickening frailty, and a propensity to violence. It needs to be broken, and the spark of consciousness or the spirit needs to be liberated into a new form of posthumanity.

Now, Leo Strauss suggests in his essay “Progress or Return?” that only philosophy or natural science offers the possibility of indefinite advancement in understanding. Our ruling class really thinks, “no, we must become not philosophers but gods or components of gods.” Natural science has lost out to military science, as Machiavelli understood, and they intend to make the best of it.

Now, of course their regime’s technological progress is causing a huge backlash, not just in rooms like this, but across America. Not just political backlash, in fact, but against the way that it pushes this antihuman, or trans- or posthuman spiritual war through the digital medium, the environment that it creates. Of course, the ruling class looks at this backlash and they say, “well, this is ancient hatreds. This is every stripe of obsolescent, unjust spirit. This is Putler,” as they like to say.

They seem to see that ultimately they must raise a challenge of sorts, a cosmic duel with any regime that is both digital and Christian, regardless of what we the people want. That hardly represents political progress for our own regime, so there’s another lie, another attempt at casting something that isn’t progress as exactly that.

Strauss himself says that progress means the floor keeps rising. The level below which no one can sink continues to ratchet up. But in fact, our ruling class says, “no, no, no. There’s always the risk of backsliding. There’s always the risk of collapse. Bad people at any moment might pop up somewhere and ruin everything. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. That’s why we need social credit doing pre-crime, so that we can make sure that we’re never at risk of going backwards.” Like the nurse shark, as I think Hunter S. Thompson once said, “it must keep swimming or die.”

This is connected with the lie concerning the good. What is good for us, is the first question you have to ask here. And it turns out that what the ruling class answers is, “well, it’s not really a matter of ‘good for us.’ It’s a matter of what’s inevitable or what’s a necessity that’s imposed itself on us.” The goal is not to be good, for them, but to be pure or perfect in a way, in a way that sort of imitates mathematics or code, like a Bertrand Russell—I need to admire the cold, austere beauty of mathematics, and say how much better this is than religion, as if he wasn’t just worshiping math. Umberto Eco refers to this as the quest for the perfect language, the idea to undo the trauma of the Tower of Babel’s collapse and reconstitute the sort of master language powerful enough to build a new one.

So, the ruling class says that we must transform and keep transforming, but only in a way that they can understand and control. That’s in fact their claim to authority. This is a substitute, not a supplement for us, that’s what they want. They don’t want to enhance our faculties, including referring to the media as the extensions of man. They want to replace our faculties with ones that they have created and manufactured in the labs.

Faith in What?

Now, we live in what I believe, the last time I checked, is still the world’s only large commercial republic. This is a regime form that demands a sort of anchored ranging across the field of human endeavor and free association. Without that kind of movement, without that kind of salutary churn amongst the people, their energies freely flowing, we lose the characteristics of a free republic, and we end up where Tocqueville said we would end up: isolated, scattered, brooding, egotistical, frightened, individualists in the worst possible sense. Well, our ruling class has figured out how to automate that process, how to automate soft despotism. They want to automate away the life of the citizen in the large commercial republic, and they’re doing so. I mean look, there are evil and corrupt people at all levels of life, it’s just that when the ruling class contains them, things get a lot worse for most people. And I think one of the reasons why they’re doing this is because many of them believe their own lies. Many of them are convinced that they ultimately have no choice.

I would suggest there’s a clue here, at least in this case, to the esoteric meaning of the Celebration Parallax: “It’s not our responsibility that it’s happening, and it’s good that it is.” Technological progress has done this to you, and only we can control it, they say. It’s reminiscent to me of—and this is probably going to be the first and last time I quote John Maynard Keynes before a Claremont audience—reminiscent to me of a Keynesian beauty contest. And I will now quote from “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” (1936), one time only: “It is not the case of choosing those that to the best of one’s judgment are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion generally thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree, where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what the average opinion expects the average opinion to be, and there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth, and higher degrees.”

Keynes is describing an occult priesthood. Now, Tocqueville and René Girard and others have observed, accurately I think, that reality is religious, that religion is the only permanent state of mankind. Today, Keynes’s occult priests are those who see themselves as alone capable of merging woke and tech into a single new theological political entity or way of being. The ruling class has, in Keynes’s sense, pursued a technological project forming a new existence that requires a new religion. This is a theological occasion concerning worship and salvation.

Technological progress, so-called, is not as rational as it is pretended to be, but is an article, as Strauss suggests in his essay, of faith. Faith in what? A new god formed from the merger of man and machine. The good of that religion is a trans- or posthuman good. No soul, total instrumentalization of the body, the spark of consciousness, of pleasure, of the erotic spirit, and of the will. But it is not just so simple as an individualist or collectivist ideology. It is a new form, a form that has emerged and been shaped by the digital medium itself, that of a swarm or the Borg: “you will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” The universe’s infinite expanse will fill up, in fact, with these entities newly created, a final form no matter how it changes or grows.

It is, in other words, a surprising form, a surprising appearance of the global homogenous state, as Kojève and Strauss debated about; arising not out of the bureaucracy of the industrial world, but out of, as Google likes to say is its mission, “organizing the world’s information”—into a map big enough to swallow up the territory.

Well, what about our good then? Our good, as Americans, most of them, still know very well I think, is unchanged and unchanging, because it is not found in the infinite but in the eternal. Now this is one place where, at least according to Strauss, reason and revelation can agree—on the supremacy of the eternal versus the infinite.

But just as only a few can ever be philosophers, especially in the commercial republic, in our commercial republic it is the faith of the many, in the revealed truth of our origin and stake in the eternal, that our grasp of our good hinges upon—our distinctively American political, spiritual, and technological good. So let me end on a provisionally hopeful note. You wouldn’t know it from the news, but just like leaders such as myself, apparently, a majority of Americans still embrace all three of their country, its technology, and the God of the Bible. That matters. And that’s the way to overcome the untruths of the ruling class.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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