The Long Singularity

Attention conservation notice: Yet another semi-crank pet notion, nursed quietly for many years, now posted in the absence of new thoughts because reading The Half-Made World brought it back to mind.

The Singularity has happened; we call it “the industrial revolution” or “the long nineteenth century”. It was over by the close of 1918.

Exponential yet basically unpredictable growth of technology, rendering long-term extrapolation impossible (even when attempted by geniuses)? Check.

Massive, profoundly dis-orienting transformation in the life of humanity, extending to our ecology, mentality and social organization? Check.

Annihilation of the age-old constraints of space and time? Check.

Embrace of the fusion of humanity and machines? Check.

Creation of vast, inhuman distributed systems of information-processing, communication and control, “the coldest of all cold monsters”? Check; we call them “the self-regulating market system” and “modern bureaucracies” (public or private), and they treat men and women, even those whose minds and bodies instantiate them, like straw dogs.

An implacable drive on the part of those networks to expand, to entrain more and more of the world within their own sphere? Check. (“Drive” is the best I can do; words like “agenda” or “purpose” are too anthropomorphic, and fail to acknowledge the radical novely and strangeness of these assemblages, which are not even intelligent, as we experience intelligence, yet ceaselessly calculating.)

Why, then, since the Singularity is so plainly, even intrusively, visible in our past, does science fiction persist in placing a pale mirage of it in our future? Perhaps: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk; and we are in the late afternoon, fitfully dreaming of the half-glimpsed events of the day, waiting for the stars to come out.

—Cosma Shalizi (original with hyperlinks; h/t Making Light)

“[T]he childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles…”

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.

—David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

Written in 1990.  The whole thing is tight and enlightening.  Amazing how much has changed, and how much hasn’t.

The Opposite of People

There we were—demented children mincing about in clothes that no one ever wore, speaking as no man ever spoke, swearing love in wigs and rhymed couplets, killing each other with wooden swords, hollow protestations of faith hurled after empty promises of vengeance—and every gesture, every pose, vanishing into the thin unpopulated air. We ransomed our dignity to the clouds, and the uncomprehending birds listened. Don’t you see?! We’re actors—we’re the opposite of people!

–Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Samuel R. Delany on Ethnocentricity

Quote

To assume you can somehow escape ethnocentricity and that there is some objective position that stands outside your culture from which, “freely and rightly,” you can criticize other groups who are “trapped” in theirs is the moment of blindness from which grow all the abuses of the dominant, unmarked state when that particular state, whatever it is, obtains dominance—which, if it is culturally useful enough, it will.

­–“Escaping Ethnocentricity?” by Samuel R. Delany

Go read the whole thing.