So many things I wish I could write about; so little time to do anything but work on those darn books. But at least I can call your attention to a few of those provocations. I’ll do one today, others later this week.
John Gray’s review of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus makes some vital distinctions that enthusiastic futurists like Harari almost never make. See this key passage:
Harari is right in thinking of human development as a process that no one could have planned or intended. He fails to see that the same is true of the post-human future. If such new species appear, they will be created by governments and powerful corporations, and used by any group that can get its hands on them – criminal cartels, terrorist networks, religious cults, and so on. Over time, these new species will be modified and redesigned, first by their human controllers, then by the new species themselves. It won’t be too long before some of them slip free from their human creators. One type may come out on top, at least for a while, but there is nothing to suggest this process will end in a godlike being that is supreme over all the rest. Like the evolution of human beings, post-human evolution will be a process of drift, with no direction or endpoint.
It is interesting how closely Gray’s argument tracks with the one C. S. Lewis made in The Abolition of Man, especially the third chapter, on the Conditioners and the rest of us. And of course — of course — there’s no question which group Harari identifies with, because futurists always assume the position of power — they always think of themselves as sitting comfortably among the Conditioners: “Forget economic growth, social reforms and political revolutions: in order to raise global happiness levels, we need to manipulate human biochemistry.” To which John Gray rightly replies,
Yet who are “we”, exactly? An elite of benevolent scientists, perhaps? If choice is an illusion, however, those who do the manipulating will be no freer than those who are being manipulated.
That point about free will is also Lewis’s. But Gray raises a possibility that Lewis didn’t explore in Abolition, though he hints at it in the fictional counterpart to that book, That Hideous Strength: What if the Controllers don’t agree with one another? “If it ever comes about, a post-human world won’t be one in which the human species has deified itself. More like the cosmos as imagined by the Greeks, it will be ruled by a warring pantheon of gods.” And so John Gray’s recommendation to those of us who want to understand what such a world would be like? “Read Homer.”