I love those little internet tech guys running around ‘changing the world’. They are so cute. Jobs, Zuckerberg, I just want to pinch their cheeks. They are such clever boys. Have you seen the things they think of? It’s amazing – and not only that, they can build it, too. Clever clever boyz. I was very sad when Steve died. He was a passionate, committed artist and I bought as much of his work as would fit.
Even though it’s spread out across the world now, the tech industry is so AMERICAN. Clever clever can-do boyz solving (self-defined) problems. Visionary pragmatists, one might say. They believe in their Silicon Valley exceptionalism with the same mythological fervor that other Americans and their politicians believe in American exceptionalism. It’s touching, really. In fact, their religion is ‘Solutionism’, as coined by Evgeny Morozov in his book, To Save Everything, Click Here. It does not surprise me that critical insight into this religion is by a former citizen of Belarus. Not an American.
I love the interweb, too. Search engines and all the stuff that has been made digitally available is a paradise (with snakes) for a person like myself with terminal curiosity. Could anything be more fun than getting to read about Tiamat and compare the salinity of seawater and blood at three o’clock in the morning, as occurred last night? For me, the answer is pretty much, no.
It couldn’t be better that these guys are part of the world. My hope is that they stay part and that their religion be confined inside their skulls and their theology be seen for the beauty and ignorance and arrogance that it is. It is worrying that the boyz have now decided to enter politics, that ultimately messy, unsolvable, not meant to be solvable realm.
When I was in school studying Greek drama and culture, I accepted that hubris was considered the core sin, but could not at the time make out exactly why it was the key. I’m not confused about it anymore. At the heart of every Greek tragedy is a hero, usually a true hero, a great man, whose hubris destroys those around him and eventually, himself. These stories are the foundation of Western civilization. Thank God. Though whether they have actually corrected anyone midstream, I have no idea. I wonder if they even teach this in the general curriculum at Stanford anymore? We could look it up on Google.
Hubris is one of those things that when you encounter it, makes your stomach turn. Maybe this is because instinctively we know we are in the presence of a tragedy about to happen, and we’re afraid and resentful – though at first, it can be amusing. The self-centeredness of clever or strong young things is natural and carries with it further strength to do things that wisdom will hamper. The salient point is that the clever, strong hubris-deranged must not be in charge. Harnessed, good horse. Unharnessed, bad boss. (see: destroy others, then self). This is tricky. They need freedom, room, tools and as little interference as possible for their proper work. But boundaries, corrals are needed as well, to keep them and their wonderful derangement away from the fields they mustn’t eat or trample.
The idea that adolescent males should be in charge of the world is so stupid, it’s really hard to understand how it happened. Or no, it isn’t. They are strong, clever, arrogant and often cruel, violent and bullying. But look at what’s at stake! They run Wall Street, they run the tech companies, as consumers they control film and much of television, the gaming industry and through the resulting money and power and the nostalgia of older males, much of the government. This is a bad, bad way to organize the world.
The thing about the Great Mother, Tiamat, was that as the primordial potentiality of Creation, everything was just sort of a fertile goo, a great pulsing life-force. Her grandson, Marduk sliced her to pieces, differentiating, geometizing, prioritizing, separating, ordering, until there was a recognizable world. Descriptions of him doing this from the Babylonian Enuma Elish:
He let fly an arrow and pierced her belly,
He tore open her entrails and slit her inwards,
He bound her and extinguished her life,
He threw down her corpse and stood on it…
And returned to Tia-mat, whom he had bound.
[Marduk] placed his feet on the lower parts of Tia-mat
And with his merciless club smashed her skull.
He severed her arteries
And let the North wind bear up (her blood) to give the news.
His fathers saw it and were glad and exulted;
They brought gifts and presents to him.
[Marduk] rested, surveying the corpse,
In order to divide the lump by a clever scheme.
He split her into two like a dried fish:
One half of her he set up and stretched out as the heavens.
He stretched the skin and appointed a watch
With the instruction not to let her waters escape.
This is what, according to one (most) of our founding civilizations, it takes to create a world. Before there were big civilizations, humans had been around for a long time, living in smaller, less hierarchical groups. What those earlier people thought it took to create a world is not well known. We infer from existing tribal peoples that, in general, tearing the Mother to shreds was not regarded as strictly necessary.
The idea that there is a solution to everything, that analyzing, taking apart, geometizing, arranging, rearranging are THE answer, is a crucial drive. It is also wrong. The idea that there IS always an answer is wrong. We must solve problems this way, it is often joyous to solve problems this way, but the world is only eternally solvable by eternal violence. Creative destruction is important but ceaseless destruction is destructive and ceaseless and not enough. That thing where women complain about how they tell their man about some sorrow and the guy starts trying to fix it and then they fight, that is key. The fixing may be full of love, or full of please shut up now, but when she says, I just wanted you to hear me, I just wanted you to sit with me, I just wanted you to comfort me, it is equally, hear me, equally, as necessary. There is NOT a solution to everything. Conflict, contradictory needs, death, pain, agonies of heart, mind, body, soul and spirit are inevitable and the necessary response, as important as any ‘solution’, is acceptance and presence. Without giving the world its due, without giving people their mystery, there is no life force to carve up.
The power of these internet darlings is incalculable and a disaster. The issue is not their material power, which is considerable and growing. It is that like all conquerors, their mythology is on the ascendent. It is a mythology grounded in hubris and ignorance. In and of itself that is nothing new, but you are living in their world now, your children know no other.
* Yogi Berra
** Subatomic neutrino tracks