Human Mountain

April 30th, 2016

Above the clouds

Philosophy focuses on resolving existential questions about the human condition. And this is exactly the point. We need more responsible philosophers, who must have more of a say in the “briefing” of scientists, rather than just businessmen, investors and politicians.

Only then will we be able to establish a balance of power between wisdom and skills. Just remember that the word “philosophy” comes from the Ancient Greek word “philosophia”, literally meaning “love of wisdom”. Put another way, we need to strike a balance between Silicon Valley with its high tech and – what I’ve chosen to call – “Human Mountain” with “high wisdom”.

Haven’t you ever wondered why the Gods reside on mountains in many religions, like the ancient Greek Gods residing on Mount Olympus for example?

We need a new vision that we can all believe in.

A new story which is trustworthy and just.

A new ideology capable of mobilizing humanity.

This won’t be achieved by making wisdom as profitable in financial terms as skills. Rather we have to de-commercialize life and commit to values rather than prices. We must become value-conscious more than price-conscious.

And we must fight. We must disrupt, even disturb the peace.

What peace?

Whose peace?

“No one can be good for long, if
goodness isn’t in demand.”
(Bertolt Brecht, poet and playwright)

“Virtue is a state of war and to live in it means one
always has some battle to wage against oneself.”
(Jean-Jacques Rousseau, philosopher)

We need a new model!

Do we have what it takes to close the exponentially widening gap between skills and wisdom, which has opened the door to abuse?

Where is “homo sociologicus”, the social human – first described by Ralf Dahrendorf – who acts not to pursue selfish interests, but to fulfill social roles?

Where is “homo mutandis”, the changing human?

Are we willing to fight against ourselves, as Rousseau deems necessary, in order to overcome our bad habits, our laziness and our gullibility?

Are we willing to overcome our inherent fear of the unknown, our fear of change, our fear of a different future?

Are we willing to unlearn?

Humanity, technology and morality

April 29th, 2016

Morality

What is technically possible, isn’t always morally desirable, which is of course nothing new. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that inventions started to explode, once our moral guardians – like the Church in Western societies for example – started to lose their grip on these societies.

“Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak,
men mistook magic for medicine.
Now, when science is strong and religion weak,
men mistake medicine for magic.”
(Thomas Szasz, psychiatrist)

“It is science and not religion, which has taught men
that things are complex and difficult to understand.”
(Émile Durkheim, sociologist)

“Doubt grows with knowledge.”
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writer and statesman)

Technology in itself is usually not the problem. It’s how humans use or misuse it that matters, be it iron smelting, nuclear power or the internet. The big challenge, as mentioned earlier, is that the pace of change has increased dramatically over the last 100 years. While Rome was not built in one day, it could easily be destroyed in less than one hour nowadays.

The increasing potency of technology facilitates and encourages immoral behavior. Science and technology do not empower all of us equally. Only some are given almost god-like powers, unfortunately not matched by god-like wisdom. An ever decreasing number of people is in a position to potentially exploit and oppress an ever increasing number of of people in numerous ways. And some do.

“But of all hours most atrocious
Is man at his own madness’ height.
Woe unto those who to the yearning,
The ever-blind lend heaven’s light!”
(Friedrich Schiller, poet and philosopher: Song of the Bell)

The almost religious fervor of many of those empowered is reminiscent of the Inquisition, except that the punishment for dissenters and heretics is not as harsh and brutal as it used to be. There’s no need to burn the witch nowadays or to imprison an heretic for life, when simply deleting her/his account or not ranking her/him will do.

Just remember Galileo Galilei, who was put on trial by the Inquisition as an heretic back in 1633. Even though he renounced his beliefs in the Copernican system (sort of), he was sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later changed to house arrest. It took the Church over 380 years to apologize and accept that Galilei was right after all.

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”
(Edmund Burke, philosopher)

“People will come to love their oppression, to adore the
technologies that undo their capacity to think.”
(Aldous Huxley, philosopher and writer)

Failing moral guardians, including each and everyone of us, are to blame for moral and societal decay, thereby increasing the ethical instability of our world. A world, in which morality has to have a business value, i.e. morality has to be financially profitable. Contrary to business, which often doesn’t need to adhere to moral values, as evidenced by the last financial crisis or the ongoing privacy debate. An increasing number of people seem to equate “everything is possible” with “anything goes” in the name of progress and innovation. In the absence of a moral conscience and effective moral guardians, inequality will keep on rising, resulting in further societal decay.

Merriam-Webster defines morality as “beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior” and religion as “a belief in a god or in a group of gods”.

What does it mean to be good? (Recall the questions about “better” in an earlier post)

Who – or what (!) – is a god?

Do we need god(s) to define and decide what is good and bad?

Does a good person have to be religious?

Can “good” be defined universally?

Do we develop our own moral code or do we just copy an existing one? From whom?

Is there one universal moral code, or are there several, depending on cultures and religions?

Could we find a common, global denominator?

Do we want to?

Who – or what (!) – defines what’s moral and what isn’t?

What is more dangerous: Artificial Intelligence or human stupidity and/or apathy, especially considering the abundant supply of the latter?

While technology is definitely the Golden Calf for some, it is definitely not the Holy Grail for humanity. Technology has no conscience, but humanity should and must.

“The liberating force of technology – the instrumentalization
of things – turns into the instrumentalization of man.”
(Herbert Marcuse, philosopher and political theorist)

Once fully instrumentalized, we stop being human and turn into mindless and spineless biological products, also known as voters, taxpayers, followers and consumers.

“All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means
have become ends, man is an automaton.”
(Erich Fromm, social psychologist)

This fatal development has already started.

Will we let today’s high priests of science and technology have the last word?

Are science and technology our new religion?

Will we enable another Inquisition?

Will we renounce our belief in humanity?

Does humanity, as we know it, have a shelf-life?

Will we pay the ultimate price and give up our humanity for often only superficially rewarding amenities?

Do we really want to live in a fully commercialized world, in which everything and everyone has a price, but not necessarily a value?

“Nowadays people know the price of everything
and the value of nothing.”
(Oscar Wilde, dramatist and poet)

Do we want to live in a world, in which human rights like privacy are for sale, but can only be bought by those with enough money and influence?

Would we still be entitled to human rights, once we cease being human beings and turn into automatons, as described by Erich Fromm?

“All of humanity can be summed up in two sentences.
We ought to. But we don’t.”
(Kurt Tucholsky, journalist and satirist)

But we must!

In the year 2525

April 28th, 2016

Some months ago, while I was listening to some of my favorite music from the 1960s and 1970s, one song in particular caught my attention. It was “In the year 2525” by the American pop-rock duo Zager & Evans, released in 1969. A song that – in the words of Wikipedia – describes “a nightmarish vision of the future as man’s technological inventions gradually dehumanize him”.

“In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find

In the year 3535
Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today

In the year 4545
You ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes
You won’t find a thing to chew
Nobody’s gonna look at you

In the year 5555
Your arms hanging limp at your sides
Your legs got nothing to do
Some machine’s doing that for you

In the year 6565
Ain’t gonna need no husband, won’t need no wife
You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube

In the year 7510
If God’s a-coming, He ought to make it by then
Maybe He’ll look around Himself and say
“Guess it’s time for the Judgement Day”

In the year 8510
God is going to shake His mighty head
He’ll either say, “I’m pleased where man has been”
Or tear it down and start again

In the year 9595
I’m kinda wondering if man is gonna be alive
He’s taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain’t put back nothing

Now it’s been ten thousand years, man has cried a billion tears
For what, he never knew, now man’s reign is through
But through eternal night, the twinkling of starlight
So very far away, may be it’s only yesterday.”

Again according to Wikipedia, “the overriding theme, a world doomed by its passive acquiescence to and over-dependence on its own overdone technologies, struck a resonant chord in millions of people around the world in the late 1960s”.

Sounds like they were on to something back in the 1960s, doesn’t it?

Wisdom and skills

April 27th, 2016

Buecherei

There have been more inventions in the last 100 years than in the 40.000 years before. Science and technology have created many new opportunities and liberties, which have led to many changes. And change, especially fundamental change, is initially accompanied by insecurity.

When something is really new, it can only be described by what it is not, as there is no established name for it yet. Without this reference and/or prior experience, we lack the means to assess, whether this new “thing” is reliable and trustworthy. This makes us feel uncomfortable and insecure. Naming, also known as branding, ultimately raises the familiarity and eases our tensions. It helps us in adopting the new. “Googling” is a good example. But adopting something new doesn’t necessarily mean that we will deal with it in a responsible way.

Looking at the world around us today, it is quite obvious that science and technology have advanced a lot faster than our human capability to deal with both responsibly.

Skills by far outweigh wisdom.

“The saddest part of life right now is that science gathers
knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
(Isaac Asimov, author and professor)

“Is it progress, if a cannibal uses a knife and a fork?”
(Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, aphorist)

And is it progress, if we feel more comfortable – if that is the right word – with a smartphone than with a knife and a fork?

Incidentally, my major 2015 New Year’s resolution was not to take my smartphone along anymore when meeting family or friends for dinner. One of my better and more successful New Year’s resolutions, I’m happy to say.

By the way, isn’t the rule that the knife is held in the right hand and the fork in the left hand a clear discrimination of left-handers? That’s what behavioral codes – the so-called dos and don’ts – often do. They aren’t just about good manners, they discriminate the heretics and by doing so, they aim to preserve the status-quo. But that’s another story.

Wherever I go these days, people are talking about scientific and technological progress. But as always, all that glitters is not gold. We spend way too much time dreaming about what science and technology might eventually be able to do, instead of spending more time considering what humanity must do. Over-reliance on skills, i.e. science and technology, is dangerous. For the future of humanity, human progress is at least as important as scientific and technological progress.

We must re-balance wisdom and skills.

Smart this, smart that, but what about smart people?

Can we change to become “better”?

Do we want to become “better”?

What is “better”?

Who defines “better”?

What do we want to be?

What are our goals and ambitions?

How do we want to live?

What are we willing to do for it?

What are we willing to give up?

Why would we do what we might be able to do?

Will we change and evolve voluntarily or must we be forced and/or led?

By whom?

Are we hoping that our tools – science and technology – will take care of everything?

Who controls these tools for now?

What will happen once these tools become more than just tools?

What will happen to us, once these tools become autonomous?

Will they still be tools? Will they still be our tools?

Will we still be autonomous or will we lose our freedom?

Are we presently free? Really?

Do we care?

Will science and technology dehumanize us?

Isn’t it happening already?

Could we eventually be redesigned by having our brains rewired?

Could we rewire our brains ourselves?

Wouldn’t a redesign change who – or what – we are?

Who – or what – would decide upon the redesign?

Biological and genetic engineering?

The return of the “Übermensch”?

What does it mean to be human?

Is techno-feudalism our future?

“Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology,
whether we passionately affirm or deny it.”
(Martin Heidegger, philosopher)

By the way, Martin Heidegger said this back in 1954!

Change

April 26th, 2016

Waterfall

“Because things are the way they are,
things will not stay the way they are.”
(Bertolt Brecht, poet and playwright)

Change

April 25th, 2016

God

“Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.”
(Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher)

Change

April 24th, 2016

Climate change

“Societal innovation is more significant than
scientific or technological innovation.”
(Peter Drucker, management consultant and educator)

Change

April 23rd, 2016

Berliner Mauer

“Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator.
And change has its enemies.”
(Robert Kennedy, politician)

Change

April 22nd, 2016

Abandoned

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who
cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
(George Bernard Shaw, playwright and co-founder LSE)

Change

April 21st, 2016

Change1

“Change before you have to.”
(Jack Welch, retired business executive and author)