A New, Better Story For Humankind Not Needed?

Henry Farrell
Boston Review
January 16, 2018

Think we don’t need a new story to replace the current human-centric myth of civilization? That we are well-provided for by the ideologies and actions of those controlling the current global system’s politics, economics, religion, education, science and technology? That they and their ideas and efforts can adequately address any disaster that might arise; or that they and the rest of us can make clear-headed, well-reasoned course corrections as we progress toward the Enlightenment’s flourishing and perfection of persons and societies?

This essay (link) argues that the realities that society’s and the world’s powerful have created for us have impaired Humankind’s ability to reason and behave optimally. That the raw material of reasoning, factual evidence, is intentionally being distorted or ignored by the powerful. Their goal, I think, is to put the hopes and aspirations the Enlightenment genie provided back into the bottle so that their will, not the people’s or the Earth’s, shall prevail. That what is good in the short term for this elite is also good for everyone and the biosphere in the long term. 

The vast majority of the world’s thinkers and actors in politics and economics are complicit in this effort. They command (legislate, fund and administer) the direction taken in the fields of education, science and technology, and public and private expenditure.

The Humanities - art, history, literature and philosophy - are also to a large degree complicit. Heroic, mostly male, Earth-dominating humans take center stage in almost all they produce. 

However, of all the minds at work in the world, those in the Humanities are, comparatively speaking, the most free, creative and expansive in their thinking. Free to challenge the human-centered myth of what it means to be civilized; and free and well-equipped to write a better, more Earth-centered and humane story for us to believe in and live by. 

The current standard model of civilization favored by most nations of the world - unfettered economic growth capitalism and human beings as both demigods of the planet and cannon fodder minions for the aspirations of the rich and powerful - is failing us. It’s time to start writing and living by a better Earth-centric, truly humane story. 

“[Writing in the 1960-70s, science fiction and dystopia novelist Philip K.] Dick believed that we all live in a world where ‘spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into heads of the reader.’ He argued: ‘the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans—as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides. My two topics are really one topic; they unite at this point. Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans.’”

“In his novels Dick was interested in seeing how people react when their reality starts to break down. A world in which the real commingles with the fake, so that no one can tell where the one ends and the other begins, is ripe for paranoia. The most toxic consequence of social media manipulation, whether by the Russian government or others, may have nothing to do with its success as propaganda. Instead, it is that it sows an existential distrust. People simply do not know what or who to believe anymore. Rumors that are spread by Twitterbots merge into other rumors about the ubiquity of Twitterbots, and whether this or that trend is being driven by malign algorithms rather than real human beings.”
“We live in Dick’s world—but with little hope of divine intervention or invasion. The world where we communicate and interact at a distance is increasingly filled with algorithms that appear human, but are not—fake people generated by fake realities.”


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