One way or the other, characteristically, the richest, most powerful, and most calculating move to the front of the pack. Historically that has meant a leading role in politics—grand politics. Politics as the highest plane humans can operate on. Politics as what encompasses the world, the universe. People can argue over whether war, and “war in the grand style” as Nietzsche prophesied, spins up out of that, or whether the arrow goes the other way. I assume it goes both ways.
Right now, something else is afoot. The richest, most powerful, and most calculating in the liberal West are not at all the political people, who are certainly not engaged in politics as the master pursuit. Who are they? Clearly, the technologists. What does this mean?
Currently Western politics has been emptied of founders and foundings. Those things have moved into “tech.” Currently philosophy as the West has known it cannot really be practiced or even pursued in academia as a rule. Betting otherwise is a risk fewer and fewer worthy of doing so dare take. Philosophy has moved into “tech.”
This dynamic also seems to be affecting other areas of life or industries. The drain of brains and ambition and canniness and penetrating thought away from the non-technological elite is a sight to behold, but it has created a common-sense impression that politics is no longer a necessary part of human life—not to the degree once taken for granted. The utter triumph of technologists as human agents whispers that politics is no longer the grandest form of human agency. That it no longer masters the world and our humanity within it.
This is a serious break with all that has come before.
Spirit vs. Body?
One reaction has been to conclude that Man is, one way or the other, obsolete. Nerds, soy boys, transism: abandon your disgusting meat body for immortal online consciousness. Choose your fighter. Biological vitalism? Short swords? Testosterone? Sick gains? We might as well be back in the cave smearing gut juice on the walls. Might as well be dumb beasts. “Tech” means looking down on the body with contempt, if you even look at all. The pathos of distance becomes “yea-saying” only to the highest of the high, pure Spirit, guided to the empyrean realm by the angels, the super-human, the invisible bots.
A different reaction has been the opposite: Man is back, and he is very pissed off. Yes to the body, the male body, and all it can do better than anything else. There is no doubt that the terminal pre-digital age has been disgraceful for men. The consequences of this disenchantment of the masculine have been disastrous for men and women, boys and girls. Just look at the open disgust and resentment and hatred aimed at “dads” and all things “dad.” How could they become so pathetic? They had everything handed to them… just like millennials? New generations of young men look around and say, if I give in to pity, especially self-pity, I am literally ded, online and (looks around fearfully) quite possibly off.
So, not just biological vitalism but specifically a Spartacan revolt—against the world-historical self-own of the West’s pathetic but degenerately regnant dads, and the toxic failure mode they seeded throughout their sons and daughters.
But what can such a revolt be in a time like this? A time when politics is no longer the grandest, the highest, the purifying and the pure? The snowy caps where only the leopard treads and the eagle soars? How could Nietzsche be so right about the sickness and so wrong about the cure?
Because Nietzsche, though he may not have been a political philosopher first, still accepted that the pinnacle of the will to life, the apex expression of life, was in the organization of men until something higher came along. Even though he counseled that it is in the very essence and nature of genius and overcoming and overbeing to squander.
If you don’t squander you aren’t great. It was this squandering that was the eternal recurrence! The life of life itself! Just as you must look back on your life and say yes, all of it again, even with a demon heavy on your shoulder and sticking something in your ear, so did the Dionysiac type lead his followers away from politics, away from regime, only to be ripped to shreds, dismembered, his biological vitality flowing into them even as it dripped from their chin.
A high task, in Nietzsche’s philosophy, that “idiotic” sacrifice. But not what is needed to beat lessons into us such that we become creatures who can promise; not what imprints the memories that enable us to have higher imaginations; not what makes stones of men instead of “iron wood.”
But the apparent overcoming by technology of politics as the apex of human performance has scrambled or slapped around the natural cycle of recurrence and squandering. (The bots dgaf: they are not alive!) On the one hand the decadence and degeneration of politics has made it easier to perform and to squander; on the other, the triumph of digital technology has made it too easy, disgustingly easy. Performance and squandering is now every manlet’s lot, yea, even the most smol. Any idiot can ape Dionysus; yet always in the knowledge that somewhere a bot has produced a Dionysian algorithm that makes his liddle human effort farther beneath pity than ever.
Politics is Dead—Long Live Politics
So people are beginning to think that high art is impossible, that the highest performance art is impossible. Why bother? Is it technology that must be somehow performed against, and no longer politics? Is the god of politics dead? How did we drink up the sea? How can a command performance rise up against when politics has become a dead god?
Interesting questions! But for the philosophical founders in technology who would in prior ages have been political founders, founders of regimes, this problem of a mysteriously apolitical revolt against the dead hand of faildads is of ancillary importance at best. The implosion of politics as even a viable busywork algorithm—the failure of managerialism—raises both practical and theoretical questions, such as, what does it mean for us that San Francisco is a failing city and California a failing state? Has the responsibility finally fallen to technologists to salvage regimes? To have to know about regimes? Zen and the art of regime maintenance? Is it now no longer in technologists’ self-interest to “sneak away” from “the world” in order to master it?
This, too, feels like a significant break with what came before. Money and power and virtuosity at calculation gets you much, but does it mog? Not at the accustomed level, hmm…?
Digital technology, often only with the dim foresight of its own elite, has disenchanted both high art and grand politics—so quickly that the best tech founders now find themselves in danger of having to scramble to resuscitate them somehow before the sky starts falling.
How to do it?
Ideas are percolating, but the important point to poast today is that actually, no—politics, grand politics, the politics of founding and refounding regimes, is not dead, not obsolete. There is no escape from it, not for long, and not without terrible price. That does not mean everyone has to go into politics. Far from it. Long live tacit consent. It does mean that even if a high Spartacan revolt of pure biological aestheticism is enlivening, it is not enough. That even if a Gnostic revolution of pure spiritual essentialism would be liberating, it would not be enough. Not enough to prevent meltdown, pandemonium, radical injustice, piss Earth, choose your fighter.
High technology, high art, and high politics must be reunited—not in the cringe pre-digital sense of spinning up one fantasy to rule them all, but in the careful digital sense of grasping what any people, even or especially the best, needs to survive—function—flourish. Digital does not care about muh humanity. If excellent people cease to foster excellent regimes, a new twilight of the idle will descend. Human life will become disgusting, and human glory will die.