Our technologies are not going to rob us (or relieve us) of our humanity. Our technologies are part of what makes us human, and are the clear expression of our uniquely human minds. They both manifest and enable human culture; we co-evolve with them, and have done so for hundreds of thousands of years. The technologies of the future will make us neither inhuman nor posthuman, no matter how much they change our sense of place and identity.Technology is part of who we are. What both critics and cheerleaders of technological evolution miss is something both subtle and important: our technologies will, as they always have, make us who we are—make us human. The definition of Human is no more fixed by our ancestors’ first use of tools, than it is by using a mouse to control a computer. What it means to be Human is flexible, and we change it every day by changing our technology. And it is this, more than the demands for abandonment or the invocations of a secular nirvana, that will give us enormous challenges in the years to come.I’m looking forward to it.
Monthly Archives: June 2011
Now the problem is, traditional Buddhism doesn’t actually have anything distinctively useful to teach Westerners about ethics. There’s no single ethical system in Buddhism; it has a slew of contradictory half-systems. Worse, they are mostly quite conservative, often downright horrid, unacceptable to Westerners, and overall no better than the narrow Christianity the hippies rebelled against.So, Consensus Buddhism quietly swapped out traditional Buddhist ethics, and replaced it with “nice” vintage-1990 liberal Western ethics. Which is, roughly, “political correctness,” or the “green meme.”This means Consensus Buddhism has more in common with progressive Christianity (Unitarian Universalism or Liberal Anglicanism) than it does with any form of Asian Buddhism. (Much of the ethical thinking that went into p.c. was done by liberal Christians. Socialism and psychotherapeutic ideology were other major sources.)…Within Consensus Buddhism, there is a huge emphasis on emotional safety. It’s non-confrontational, unconditionally supportive, peaceful, supposedly-inoffensive. This may be appropriate for children, or for people who are severely emotionally damaged. It’s repulsive and ridiculous as an approach for grownups.
Just as Korb was once a vegan, Niebuhr had been a pacifist, but the incarnate evil of 20th-century totalitarianism convinced him that such utopianism was tantamount to standing by at Auschwitz.Christian love, for Niebuhr, can call us to war; by similar reasoning, Korb tells us that concern for animals can coincide with eating them.
I’m not against e-books in principle – I’m tempted by the Kindle – but the more they become interactive and linked, the more they multitask and offer a hundred different functions, the less they will be able to preserve the aspects of the book that we actually need. An e-book reader that does a lot will not, in the end, be a book. The object needs to remain dull so the words – offering you the most electric sensation of all: insight into another person’s internal life – can sing.
There is a two-step process here. First, you accept the mundane. You accept the boredom and the toil of life in general. You even willingly push it to its extreme and sign up, for instance, to work at the IRS for the rest of your life. There you can become one with the boredom. You can have an experience that is not, on the face of it, special in any single way. But if you are truly attentive to the details, if you concentrate on the minutia like a Hasid davening before a sacred text, then you have come out through the other side of boredom into a heightened relationship to the here and now.In fact, the collection of characters at the IRS that Wallace tracks in The Pale King are all mystics of the boring in one way or another. One character with almost autistic literalness and attention to the details of tax-code reaches states of concentration that find him levitating above his desk. Another character spent his childhood in the obsessive, body-contorting, yogi-like process of attempting to kiss every spot of flesh on his own body. These people have come to the IRS not because they’ve given up on life, but because they have discovered what they consider to be a secret at the heart of life. It is the boring that leads you to real reality. It is the mundane that is the door into the extraordinary. The things that seem, at first, to be exciting and pleasurable are actually a trap. They lead to emptiness.
To me, what Buddha was really looking for was a way to live a life that doesn’t suck. Hedonism didn’t work because hedonism sucked. It looked like fun, but it really wasn’t. Austerity sucked too. It provided a kind of high, but that high didn’t make him happy. Instead he found the Middle Way between the two.Buddha was not looking for a way to make all of us clones of whoever comes along claiming to be the manifestation of “adulthood.” He was not looking for a way to make us all “serious” in the conventional sense. He wasn’t an authoritarian leader looking for obedient followers. He was looking for a way to help people live a life that did not suck.Buddhism is about enjoying your life. The goal of zazen practice, if there is one, is to learn how to enjoy living as thoroughly as you can. This is what I am working on. Nothing else. I am working on having as much fun while I’m here as I possibly can without hurting anyone or impeding their ability to have fun.This is why I sit and stare at walls every day. No other reason.
Now Peter Toohey has written a short book defending drudgery. Dismissed in the past because it is not a big, passionate emotion like love or hate, boredom, he argues, should be respected and cherished rather than feared and reviled. It is adaptive, “in the Darwinian sense.” Not only can boredom “illuminate certain very famous pieces of art and literature,” but, “boredom has in some ways been a blessing.” This distinctly un-romantic effort strikingly rejects older philosophical ideas warning that dullness might lead to crime, addiction, or death. “Boredom doesn’t cause anything,” Toohey proclaims. But his book does not merely aim to transform boredom from ugly duckling to swan. It strives to prove that so-called existential boredom might not exist.Boredom itself has been around under various guises and names—acedia, horror, tedium vitae, and melancholia—for centuries. Common wisdom has it that modern boredom began during the Enlightenment, with increased leisure time and the loss of faith. It grew with modernity and rose to epidemic proportions in nineteenth-century France, and, thanks to technology and the expansion of the self, it has become ubiquitous in our times. For Patricia Meyer Spacks, in Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind, boredom is nothing less than an “explanatory myth of our culture.”
Keanu Reeves has written a poetry book…
Summer concert season is upon us, a time for most music lovers to leave their headphone jacks at home and mingle in the sticky air on picnic tables and open pavilions. But it’s just another three months for those who love music and don’t care for concerts. Like me.For me, music is a scrim lowered into the world. A scene moves around me, and a separate group of thoughts and senses develops behind the melody inside a sheen of privacy. Fader on you, solo track on me. I listen to music to be alone.I’m no agoraphobe. I watch football at bars and baseball in stadiums, but sharing sports with 10,000 fans feels as natural to me as sharing music with a thousand strangers feels unnatural. Watching sports compels me to reach out, to high five, to shout and connect. Listening to music inspires all the opposite reactions: internalization, thoughtfulness, something private and quiet.
I hate, hate, hate having to go for nearly a week without writing, but I just finished a thirteen-hour day at work. Monday was a sixteen-hour day. Etc. I am a burnt cinder at the moment.
Footsteps, sweat, caffeine, memories, stress, even sex and dating habits – it can all be calculated and scored like a baseball batting average. And if there isn’t already an app or a device for tracking it, one will probably appear in the next few years.Brittany Bohnet, who was converted into a self-quantifier while working at Google, says she expects these gadgets will follow us in all aspects of our lives – even the most private. “Eventually we’ll get to a point where we use the restroom and we’ll get a meter that tells us, ‘You’re deficient in vitamin B,’” she says. “That will be the end goal, where we understand exactly what our bodies need.”
For now, researchers and consumers can only assume that when presented with a full pipeline of new drugs and better data on the safety, efficacy and public acceptability of male contraceptives, pharmaceutical companies will eventually see an opportunity for their profit margins. The hope is, “If you make it, they will come,” NIH’s Blithe says.
I’ve just started reading Peter Watson’s Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, and I liked these words of wisdom in the introduction:
This is perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from a history of ideas: that intellectual life – arguably the most important, satisfying and characteristic dimension to our existence – is a fragile thing, easily destroyed or wasted.
Plato’s effects on Calvin, Nietzsche’s admiration for Socrates, Buddhism and nineteenth-century German thought, a pre-Freudian psychologist of the unconscious, (Israel Salanter, 1810-1883), the link between Newton and Adam Smith, between Emerson and Hinduism, Bayle’s anticipation of Karl Popper, the parallels between late antiquity and Renaissance Florence.