Thursday, August 07, 2008

THE SWEET HEREAFTER. The Ole Perfesser hehs but does not indeed a First Things post mocking the Singularity, a human-robot nirvana for which the Perfesser holds out hope. But the Perfesser does not cast his scorn so wide as to include the IEEE Spectrum item to which First Things refers:
If you’re obsessed with your own mortality, the idea of a computer blinking into consciousness 400 years from now isn’t going to rock your world. You want the magic moment to come, say, 25 years from now at most. Unfortunately, that timetable grossly over estimates the speed of technical progress...
I've had fun with the Perfesser's visions of eternal life, not to be a killjoy, but because it seems integral to his horrible politics. He belongs to a school of conservative-libertarians who take a cheery view of human progress, and while that is usually preferable to the end-is-nigh attitude of crunchier conservatives, it too often serves as a glib evasion of even our most obvious problems.

If Peak Oil ravings are unhelpful, for example, so too may be comforting assurances that we can just drill our way out of our recently acute but observably chronic energy problems. That sort of optimism flips off despair, which is reasonable, but it also flips off any suggestion of how progress might be better achieved by means other than those endorsed by the Republican Party, as shown by the Perfesser's suspicious lapses in confidence when the scientists he expects to grant him immortality take global warming seriously.

We can assume that the impeccably conservative First Things is annoyed by the Perfesser's interest in the Singularity because it conflicts, or rather competes, with their own faith in a more old-fashioned idea of life beyond life. It wouldn't annoy them so much if the Perfesser were not otherwise a fellow traveller -- that the FT post stretches to include Christopher Hitchens is a psychological tell: these fellows are basically on our side, why can't they go the whole hog and come to Jesus? What they don't recognize is that the Singularity serves the Perfesser's conservatism in exactly the same way Jesus serves theirs. It is the blissful prospect of a world beyond that makes sense of their otherwise puzzling lack of interest in the world at hand and the people who live in it.

Conservatives often disparage the alleged liberal faith in "the perfectibility of human nature," but by their actions conservatives tirelessly demonstrate that their contempt is really for the idea that we may improve anything in our present life -- not just the nature of humans, but their condition as well -- by means not endorsed by Reagan or Jesus. Liberals support social programs, they tell themselves and whomever else will listen, because liberals are foolish tinkerers with the human spirit -- just like the Nazis! Of course, we really support such programs as an advance from the want-induced tribalism of earlier times, as some conservatives acknowledge when they are incautious.

It's harder to demonize liberalism on those terms, of course, but I don't think that's mainly why they reject them. They really believe that something besides utility underpins their ideology, absurd as it may look to someone who is mainly looking to get through life with less pain. And that something is eternal, immutable, and unanswerable. So no matter how disastrous the results of their faith may be on this wicked, imperfect earth, that is to them a small thing compared to the reward their faith will buy them on the Other Side.

For the theocons, it's God; for such as the Perfesser, it's the Singularity. For the rest of us it's bullshit. But when they stick together it's difficult to wrest control of the Ship of State from their poisoned judgment.

UPDATE. In comments, Keifus breaks it down: "The rollers and the glibbies both expect to be rewarded for believing the right thing over actually doing the right thing." There's something to that. We already know why the Jesuscons are the way they are (because Jesus, that's why!). And as for the glibertarians, their sloth comes from the suburban/managerial mindset 99% of them are bred to. They think of scientists and engineers as their employees, even though they don't actually pay or manage them. Much as they expect artists to heed their calls to "shut up and sing," the glibbies expect the test-tube and cyclotron guys to devote themselves to sustaining the social order that benefits them. That's why they get mad when scientists turn their attention to stuff like climate change instead of softer cushions for fat glibertarian asses. To the glibs, that's goofing off.

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