“Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground–what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?”Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto
The Beginning of Economic History
1989 saw the first set of GPS satellites in space; it also encompassed the fall of the Berlin Wall and Woodstock ’89. As time has passed however, it looks as if Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 brief, written in the National Interest, on the liberalized democratic society as the end of history remains an even more powerful concept today than ever before.
What was yet to be seen in 1989 was how accurate Francis Fukuyama’s piece on the End of History? would be. America’s future in 1989 seemed endless and certain – it was going to climb Olympus and take its mantle as the lead superpower of the world. But, 2016 ushered in critiques from elites that Fukuyama was wrong: we were undoubtedly heading back into the global abyss of nationalism and to a level not seen since the 1930s.
Fortunately, they haven’t been proven right thus far. Fukuyama’s critics miss the crucial fact that he hasn’t been quite proven wrong: a return to nationalism doesn’t imply that we have found a better alternative to the liberal democratic system that the West has adopted since WW2.
In a certain way, he has been proven right – developing countries are liberalizing trade and politics to get to the economic goal of a country in the G5. Since the WTO has set an equal member status across countries, each country has to treat others in the group equally. Therefore, the WTO has brought thousands of people out of poverty by lowering the barriers to trade and letting anyone compete in free markets. Indeed, capitalism has saved billions of people from destitution.
Earlier this year, Jason Hickel from the University of London wrote a scathing review of Gates and other beneficiaries of the free market for suggesting that life was indeed better when people had little need for money in its current form today (credit plus debit) and when people “enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor.”
The foremost shows that across numerous boards, life has gotten measurably better. Not everyone believes this. To paraphrase Hickel’s rebuttal to the the above image: people were happy living within the commons, they didn’t need money; it was the industrial revolution that forced them out of Wonderland and into the back-breaking existence of Marx’s proletariat. The commons were a pareto optimal situation for people because we all shared everything and could keep tabs on one another. Yet, the commons weren’t exactly Wonderland; poverty was rife, intense chores sucked any leisure out of the day, and deadly wars along with disease were pervasive. There is a reason that the Middle Ages are often synonymous with the Dark Ages – life was precarious and uncertain. The Devil was the reason for unhappiness and could strike one down at any moment, nothing was to be taken for granted.
During epidemics of plague, the town authorities had to struggle to confiscate the clothes of the dead and to burn them: people waited for others to die so as to take over their clothes – which generally had the effect of spreading the epidemic.
Furthermore, given how expensive textiles were, people waited for others to die to inherit their clothes. Reports of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 address the fact that the dead were stripped bare before they were buried. The later years of the industrial revolution were perhaps the first glimpses of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for most of humanity – we could feasibly support everyone using the free market and escape Sisyphean toil.
Is there such a thing as too much capitalism?
Despite it’s acute affinity in describing low-fat, oat milk lattes, the term late stage capitalism (Spätkapitalismus) was first conceptualized by the German economist, Werner Sombart and popularized by Marxist theorist, Ernest Mandel. In modern times, it was the anthropologist and author, David Graeber, who wrote an editorial about the pitfalls of capitalism in today’s economy. In the true end of history, there is a market in everything, whereby anything can be rendered a commodity.
Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?David Graeber
This void of a Star-Trek future with it’s fancy gadgets and limitless adventure in the cosmos is one that is shared by past generations who missed the mark. They address this angst through radical political candidates that want to pay off everyone’s student loans or outlandish displays of moral grandstanding through documentaries that address white privilege, barely assuaging the void of an endless frontier that many feel inside.
A Star-Trek future it’s not, however, a Blade Runner future might not be so distant. Recent pronouncements and white-papers of brain-computer interfaces shocked many in technology, of which Musk took the spotlight. Elon Musk described his company, Neuralink’s goal as “[recording] from and selectively [stimulating] as many neurons as possible across diverse brain areas.”
In short, it’s a complete symbiosis between man and machine whereby the machine can trigger certain emotions and impulses in the human brain, controlling inputs and outputs. If we think Facebook is an evil for society because certain advertisements can influence elections, what happens when we reach human and machine symbiosis: when one is remarkably indistinguishable from the other?
Prayer as a Service
“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”Leo Toltstoy, Anna Karenina
The path to hell is paved with good intentions. Musk’s fundamental point that humans are ill-equipped to deal with AI is probably right in the long-term, but undoubtedly misses the mark in the near future. At a certain point, technological advancements without the necessary structures in place for society is game over. It took roughly 100 years for the benefits of the industrial revolution to trickle down to the working class. Though this hasn’t happened yet, what if certain improvements never trickle down?
Portraying Neuralink as the villain in this scenario is woefully misguided – the technology landscape is such that corporations need to keep expanding like the Standard Oil Octopus, grabbing everything it can. Growth needs to continue in perpetuity otherwise businesses die, the stock market collapses, and innocent people lose their jobs. The Luddite fallacy is valid only if and when growth stops.
Neuralink only illustrates what the world has witnessed for years now; corporations want to enter every facet of your life to juice their quarterly returns. We’re starting to see this play out with corporations capitalizing on our thoughts with the mindfulness industry. The seeds are being sown that can later bring havoc. Yes, mindfulness and neuralink are nowhere close to being the same, but these advancements happen gradually and then all at once. It might be normal to have our arm from X company, our leg from Y corp, while our liver is from Z business.
Spirituality is the precursor to modern-day mindfulness. Worship and prayer are one of the characteristics of being human; without them, we are barely recognizable as Dostoevsky said.
“You do not have, because you do not ask”James 4:2
The New Testament views prayer as an intimate discussion with God and that more prayer insinuates prosperity. If prayer is the answer to a good life, and a conduit to God, then shouldn’t we protect it at all costs? As Western faith has slowly puffed its dying breaths, the remnants of religion have been turned into a capitalistic cornucopia. Contemporary mindfulness schemes have essentially become cash grabs for digital entrepreneurs looking to make a quick buck from skyrocketing rates of melancholy. Paradoxically, it’s as if a doctor as sold you a fake medicine that made you ill and is now farcically selling you another medicine that “promises” to fix you.
True mindfulness is a critique of our busy lifestyles and a form of escape. One can do it anywhere – it doesn’t need a $9.99 subscription to an app from the App store. The pessimistic end state is one where corporations can own our minds along with our bodies, following Marx’s idea of never-ending capitalistic progress. We must be aware of propaganda in its most pernicious forms, especially when it exists to sell you the norm as a Deus Ex Machina.