Alexander M. Wegner
Dawn of the Post-Human Age
BOTH OBJECTIVELY AND SUBJECTIVELY, WE LIVE IN UNPARALLELED TIMES. For millennia, the world of man was one of mystery, more subject than object. The time allotted to each of our kind was brief – even briefer than we perceive it to be today – and all too often adorned with trials, suffering and things unforeseen. Opportunity was contingent upon the good will of those in power, and being alive, thus, of far greater importance than the attributes of life itself. Knowledge and information, so abundant nowadays, were exclusive, and Zeitgeist reflected the interests of a few, with citizens left to react.
The past was a time of paralysis in the face of a world much larger than any single one. The space we inhabit today could, indeed, be hardly more different: seemingly certain, ceaseless, comforting, of great promise, remarkable insight and individual freedom. Yet here we are, speaking of the End of History, when our longing to design, create and conduct could at last be realized. How is it that vision, passion and hope have vanished from the public realm – and the institutions and organizations empowered for its governance – as Hannah Arendt expected in The Human Condition, confined to hubs of capital and technology like Silicon Valley? Where are the dreamers, revolutionaries and heretics, who sacrificed themselves, attempting to illuminate and improve their world?
I fear we have come to tacitly agree with Fukuyama, trapped in a state of consciousness that declares the present conclusive and the future a product of forces outside our control. The men and women on whose backs progress was made possible, have turned apathetic, endangering their heritage and the prospects of generations yet to come.
Though these circumstances are not novel, anticipated by Alexis de Tocqueville nearly two centuries ago, they are more perilous than at any prior point in time. Disenchanted by the world of appearance – its mundane market commerce, its fruitless administration, its social isolationism and shallow sensations – we look to technology and its creators to write and tell the epics that once fueled the human project. Why else would SpaceX and Google’s moonshots have come to exert such fascination?
Though outraged by inequality, and drawn to Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, we praise and adore the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, while automation advances virtually unnoticed, estimated to affect close to 50 percent of the American workforce. Similarly, despite our resignation, we strive to prolong our indulgence in the here-and-now, and are largely receptive to the promises of genetic-engineers (see CRISPR-Cas9) and oracles like Ray Kurzweil, who hint at a virtual (after)life and one of increasingly blurred lines between man and machine.
Emerging technologies, some more distant than others, are no less celebrated than Big Data used to be for its value in the War on Terror, until one dissident alerted us to its overwhelming cost. Then as now and, so it seems, in the years ahead, will the public outcry triggered by a minority of skeptics and critics be too short-lived to create a path toward enduring change. Since the various societal pitfalls in sight cannot be avoided through individual remedies alone – of which a society of loners like ours is fond – we are ill-prepared for a future in which man is destined to become all too powerful.
The way forward may be less of a progression than a reversal to life as it once was, rooted in families, groups, societies and nations. Technology itself could pave the way by leading us to imagine futures that remind us of who we are, what we are capable of, and where we can still go; if only we recognize all that we have in common, and work together to preserve and further enhance what we hold dear. Absent of societal revival, a re-weaving of the social fabric, the End of History will not merely be a state of consciousness, but denote the dawn of an altogether distinct epoch: the post-human age.
For now, however, the world remains ours to shape, even if progress has yet to spring from the very imagination that led our forefathers to the heights at which we are now privileged to dwell. Technology, and much – if not all else – in life, is curse and blessing at once, reflecting the nature of being itself, and pointing beyond Fukuyama.
The conservative and rule-bound nature of human beings means that institutions which arose as a rational response to one set of conditions persist well after these conditions have abated, and the biological imperative to favor one’s own means that re-patrimonialization is always a threat. –Daniel Luban in “Forward with Fukuyama“