Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A loose theme post about the letters "C" and "S"

C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, set out what he believed to be the core, essential beliefs of the faith; that is, he tried to define it simply in the face of many competing and complicated denominational beliefs of his day (which still persist; there's probably been some convergence since then, but you probably shouldn't be taking an atheist's word for that). In computer programming, which is what most C. S. majors spend most of their time doing (whether or not that's what they should be doing) about half of all code written involves data definition. And when I rant (in this blog and elsewhere) I often rant about consumerism, careerism and technological modernism. I have specific definitions in mind when I talk about these things that try to be simple and get to the core of these things, hopefully free of value judgments and vague fears, because neither of those things lead me to understanding, but certainly not free of zany sexual metaphors, because those do lead me to understanding. So here are some definitions, rants, and zany sexual metaphors.

Mere Consumerism: The belief that consumption will improve one's life.

I think that one is pretty obvious. We often act in society by producing, providing, or by consuming, using. We have to do both to stay alive. Those of us that stay alive by eating food are consumerists in that respect, at least. I enjoy eating quite a lot (to paraphrase Maude Lebowski, in full mid-Atlantic-accent glory, It's a myth about vegetarians, that we hate food. It can be a natural, zesty enterprise...), and frequently improve my day by cooking up some stuff and eating it. Expand this idea to many things; even those of us that decry the crass conspicuous consumption of the MagMile (and the corresponding blocks of State and Rush streets that seem to have avoided becoming the symbol that North Michigan has) enjoy consumption of some things unless we just hate our lives completely (not as ludicrous as it sounds; talk to me on a bad day).

(personal opinion) One of the main goals of marketers is to convince people that by consuming something specific they can improve their lives, or that certain kinds of consumption are necessary. It's probably a good idea to ignore them most of the time, if you want to keep sane.

Mere Careerism: The belief that a career is the central work of one's life.

Here, I mean career as the progression (loaded term alert) up the career ladder (loaded term alert) of one or several businesses. So let's get past these loaded terms, and to the basics. In capitalism money represents agency. If you have cash in your hand you can get stuff. This is abstracted to credits (someone, perhaps a bank, is obligated to give you money, and thus this kind of agency, if you ask) and debts (some time in the future you're obligated to fork over some cash). In this basic framework, as a worker becomes more familiar with and more skilled in the operations of a company or industry that worker's efforts become more valuable to employers, who will pay the worker more money to keep that work up. Through this process the worker should gain more power. The more money zie's got the less zie needs to work and easier zie can walk away, or dictate demands to an employer that depends on hir.

(this paragraph is personal opinion) However, employers try to make workers feel more loyal to the company as they continue to work. Among people that tend towards loyalty and selflessness in general this can be dangerous: they'll do what they're asked and not demand what they can, while their employers will cynically try to get every last hour out of them. I believe in saving loyalty for friends and selflessness for humanity. When a career's progression reduces agency instead of promoting it that career may need to be re-evaluated (certainly sometimes trade-offs between the present and future can be made, but there are some things that, once traded away, can never be fully regained). The career is only a construction, and one that mostly serves employers.

Technological Modernism: The belief that technology will save us.

Modernism is all about a narrative of progress. The present is better than the past and the future will be even better. Technology is, widely defined, the work of humanity. The Ultimate Problem: In the cosmically puny span of time we call recorded history populations have grown exponentially and thus consumption and exploitation of Earth's resources have grown exponentially. The Earth is just one rock! Someday we'll overcome its ability to sustain us, and we'll go extinct! That is, you might metaphorically look at human progress like a great inverse pyramid. It's a building, with its foundations in the earth, but each floor is wider than the one below it. Every time in recorded history that the highest floor has been too small we've built another, bigger one on top. But we've also kept drilling farther into the ground below. Won't someday the tower just tip over, or become so large that it destroys the earth that sustains it?

The techogist says that the tower won't tip, because we've built some truly amazing gyroscopic balancing systems. And, "destroy" the earth? That's just a loaded term! In fact, this is what's most truly exciting to such a chap, and the reason I've called hir a technogist. A technogist believes in technogism (shortening of Technological Modernism), whose ultimate goal is THE TECHNOGASM. That is, the technological singularity. The moment that technology transcends nature and no longer depends on it; the moment that the human mind, that which in our present day we struggle to even define, escapes completely the need for the body. This is how the technogist believe that technology will continue to save us forever. This is what the Arcade Fire song My Body Is A Cage is about (haha, I wish... remind me not to ever tell you about my overwrought interpretations of every single song on their album Neon Bible).

(in this paragraph I exploit my new and silly metaphor to say old and silly things) If you still think that technogasm is a myth, that's clearly because you're technically inadequate. All artists and philosophers are fools. To make art, or to philosophize, is to jump into bed thinking only of foreplay; truly, all of the bed-jumping of human creation is to the ultimate end of THE TECHNOGASM!

Alright, that's enough of that. A technogist might say that improvements in technology continue to bring more goodness to more people using less resources than ever. A non-technogist might counter with some examples. Most modern cars get gas mileage no better than a Model T, because the improvements in engine efficiency and aerodynamics have been offset by increased weight, feature bloat, and foolish consumer demand for high performance. Minimum recommended computer power supply wattages go up every year, not down. I have a computer with 80 times the processor speed and 64 times the RAM of one that I had 10 years ago and (no) thanks to (the tripe known as) Web 2.0 the interfaces I use to check my email and write my blog are actually less responsive than those I used for similar tasks 10 years ago.


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