I’ve been reading a good bit lately about accelerationism — the belief that to solve our social problems and reach the full potential of humanity we need to accelerate the speed of technological innovation and achievement. Accelerationism is generally associated with techno-libertarians, but there is a left accelerationism also, and you can get a decent idea of the common roots of those movements by reading this fine essay in the Guardian by Andy Beckett. Some other interesting summary accounts include this left-accelerationism manifesto and Sam Frank’s anthropological account of life among the “apocalyptic libertarians.” Accelerationism is mixed up with AI research and new-reactionary thought and life-extension technologies and transhumanist philosophy — basically, all the elements of the Californian ideology poured into a pressure cooker and heat-bombed for a few decades.
There’s a great deal to mull over there, but one of the chief thoughts I take away from my reading is this: the influence of fiction, cinema, and music over all these developments is truly remarkable — or, to put it another way, I’m struck by the extent to which extremely smart and learned people find themselves imaginatively stimulated primarily by their encounters with popular culture. All these interrelated movements seem to be examples of trickle-up rather than trickle-down thinking: from storytellers and mythmakers to formally-credentialed intellectuals. This just gives further impetus to my effort to restock my intellectual toolbox for (especially) theological reflection.
One might take as a summary of what I’m thinking about these days a recent reflection by Warren Ellis, the author of, among many other things, my favorite comic:
Speculative fiction and new forms of art and storytelling and innovations in technology and computing are engaged in the work of mad scientists: testing future ways of living and seeing before they actually arrive. We are the early warning system for the culture. We see the future as a weatherfront, a vast mass of possibilities across the horizon, and since we’re not idiots and therefore will not claim to be able to predict exactly where lightning will strike – we take one or more of those possibilities and play them out in our work, to see what might happen. Imagining them as real things and testing them in the laboratory of our practice — informed by our careful cross-contamination by many and various fields other than our own — to see what these things do.
To work with the nature of the future, in media and in tech and in language, is to embrace being mad scientists, and we might as well get good at it.
We are the early warning system for the culture. Cultural critics, read and heed.
The other thing that Ellis cautions us about is the fact that our world is as myth-ridden and filled with magical thinking as it's ever been. The myths have just learned to dress themselves up in the skin of the rationality that tried to kill them.
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