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Memories of Worlds Long Gone

Copyright © 2018 by Robin Artisson

The social dimension of human being-ness is a natural one; we have been social creatures since
the dawn of our human time. The first human identities were co-created socially, through
interactions with other humans.

Social groups existed in a certain way for the vast majority of human history. They were small,
intimate, and largely mobile groups, and compared to the kinds of societies that would appear in
the future, we would consider them "simple"- though to be fair their systems of stories,
relationships, place creation through the enculturing of the landscape, and creation of art shows
that they were not "simple" in any pejorative sense at all.

People who measure "complexity" in purely modern technological or bureaucratic-legalistic terms


seldom grasp how pre-civilized people can have organic complexity of a similar caliber to our
more familiar modern complexities, only without the environmentally and psychically destructive
side effects.

With the dawn of the Neolithic, and the birth of monumental construction projects right before
the start of the Neolithic, new kinds of social groups came into being, new social assumptions and
interactions, and with them, new possibilities for new kinds of identities.

For thousands of years after this point, there was a particular range, or a new set, of social
groupings and social interaction cells. The farming community, with all of its many interaction
tendencies, was the chief "common" sort of community. Communities of herders, artisans,
craftsmen, soldiers, builders, astronomers, thinkers, priesthoods, and the like- they also all came
to exist. The ways these communities co-created one another and existed together within societies
described the tapestry of human society in every place on earth.

With the dawn of the Industrial age, the birth of a new kind of complex technology yielded new
kinds of communities. As this technology became more complex, it began to alter the older
communities. It altered how they understood themselves, how they made efforts in the world,
how they related to one another, and even destroyed some of them completely.

If you look at these three broad eras of humanity (the pre-Neolithic, the post-Neolithic, and the
post-Industrial) you see that the original pre-Neolithic social groups and relationship networks
didn't survive the change to post-Neolithic. The social values of the pre-Neolithic people didn't
translate over into post-Neolithic societies; how people lived after the Neolithic revolution, the
new kinds of communities and social cells they evolved, co-created new values that were at odds
with the older ones, or which simply replaced them completely.

It was literally a "whole new world", in precisely the same way that the glowing technological and
virtual landscape of a modern metropolis is an alien world compared to the small Medieval
farming community in the countryside of England in 1100.

Anyone Who is Alive

This brings me to the point of value creation and identity creation, in light of the inexorable march
of human history, and the coming and going of different ages of humankind.

Anyone who is alive to read this message from me has lived to witness an enormous amount of
social disruption and transformation under the power of new and advanced technologies. I think
it's completely fair to say that the new age of digital and virtual technology has heralded rapid
social transformations on an order perhaps greater than the factory and combustion engine did.

The difference is, we are alive to watch it transform things within a single memory-set; from one
generation to the next, few things remain the same. The world I live in is radically different from
the one my mother or father grew up in, or which my grandparents did. The political system is
ruled by different relationships of information; so is the education system. The entire system of
commerce is virtualized; money is virtual; and countless other crucial relationships are
technology-mediated.

There is no ground under our feet anymore. We are in a virtual air. Change may have been a
constant for human beings for the last 10,000 or so years, but this kind of change is
unprecedented for its speed and fluidity, and for the natural uncertainty that will bring.

And all of these changes are hung with the albatross of a supreme doubt: is this going to herald
anything resembling a "better" world for humans in the long run? The wealthiest interests have
managed to seize control of this entire airy affair, insofar as it can be controlled. They've managed
to enrich themselves immensely, but it's not at present seeming like anyone else will benefit much
from it.

It's natural for humans to resist too much change or fast change. It's natural to have a fear
reaction, and the violent reactions that emerge from that are all but unavoidable. And yet criticism
of this age of super-fluidity doesn't have to flow only from a simple conservative fear of change.
There are reasons to criticize what's happening that aren't born in some privileged social group's
concern that their privilege might be lost.

The talk about "old fashioned values" being lost has a dimension of conservative moronity that
reflects the anger of an aging, privileged class. But it also has a dimension that is born in the
recognition of the dangers of new value creation.

What societies and social groups value governs how they behave in relation to one another and the
world itself. How we value and act in accord with values determines whether or not a future of
safety and provision can exist for generations not yet born. It's a legitimate concern for everyone,
whatever their political whims or beliefs might be.

A Shadow of a Shadow

When the world of Paleolithic foragers died and the world of Neolithic farmers and herders was
born, value systems shifted very radically, around the entire world. Human relationship to
landscape changed, as well as to other humans. The long march towards Empire, and towards
non-sustainable culture and unrecoverable environmental destruction as we know it now was
begun then, but it took a long time for the bigger picture to become known.

Throughout the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages, and all the way into the Pre-Modern era, value
systems and social systems made incremental leaps from older shapes into newer ones. They
didn't have many technological breakthroughs to cause massive value revision. The largest (and
surely very disruptive) revisions that humans saw in those times were the birth of monotheistic
and imperialistic cultural religions which did shatter and wipe away thousands of years of
localized organic spiritual traditions.

And yet, without a true technological shift, these religious transformations couldn't take away the
basic shape of life: the cow, the plow, the wheat, the sword, the horse, the crown. So life continued
on much as before, only with new prestige-ideas in what had become the abstract world of
religious thinking.

That was due to all change under the power of the Industrial revolution, and the birth of
modernity. No matter how "religious" we may feel or act now, and no matter how "religious" we
believe our fellow humans might be at present, the Golden Age of "religion" is long dead. Religion
and spirituality did not fare well in the age of Industry. What we have inherited (those of us who
consider themselves religious) is a shadow of a shadow of the power religion once had to fill the
human life and mind with its own influences and yearnings.

The "Age of Reason" called into question things which had never been questioned before, sending
the "old certainties" into oblivion. All religious beliefs (no matter what they are) are held now in
the minds of men and women with the full knowledge that they are not the only possible
explanations of human life or existence. Everyone knows they are just one story among many, and
science is the culturally preferred story now- the one holding all the social prestige cards.

Technology and Industry sent the old certainties into shallow graves. New value systems arose
rapidly, as technology transformed how people worked, related, and lived. To the extent that
science is wed to technology, to the extent that it informs and empowers technology, science will
remain the supreme story of our civilizations forever.

Certain modern religions, whether they be strains of older prestige religions, or newly emerging
spiritual trends, try to ally themselves with the scientific worldview to maintain relevancy. This
"devil's bargain" can never work, because the true heart of religion lies in an age of social relations
and value-creation that did not survive the shift of the age. The caricature of religion and
spirituality that remains is a ghost with mechanical and fiber-optic bones.

Our modern value-creating systems are no longer based on mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts,
uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and children. They are no longer based on sensual relationship
to a land, to the food the land generously gave, to animals, to a body of water in which the
Ancestors once bathed and gave offerings. They are no longer based on the mystery of vision, on
stories that had been re-told since the dawn of mankind, and memorized anew by each generation
to bear them with honor.

Value is no longer based on the great yearly fair or market that all of the people of the valley will
travel to, to share and sell their goods, to restore the livelihood of the valley until next year. It's no
longer based on the local dance in which families join together as their members find partners for
marriage or love. It's no longer based on the boats that sail out to sea, to return weeks later laden
with the harvest of the ocean, assuring thriving for many months until the boats take to the seas
again.

Values aren't based on anything so tangible anymore. Value is now virtual, and tangible things are
enslaved to the disconnected financial whims of people with authority in a digital and virtual
world. The boats and farms are still there. Food is still coming from the ground, and fish are still
being caught, and people are still joining their bodies (and sometimes their families) together in
the natural passion that they feel. Children are still being born.

But now the food, soaked with chemicals, is pulled from a massive farming operation by corporate
workers. It is shipped in mass convoys of polluting trucks. The boats are corporate flotillas,
grotesque behemoths of metal upon the water. The last little villages with local festivals going
back centuries (in rain forests or rural country-sides around the world) are torn down for mining
operations. The ancient ice melts in the heat of billions. An island of discarded plastic the size of
Texas floats in the Pacific ocean.

The social life is technology-driven. The sites of match-making are garish consumerist scenes, pop
culture pits in which modern relationship rules and norms are taught through the worst
advertising-driven efforts of television and media. The stories are flashing images, glamour, and
consumerism. Devices are required to keep up; upgrades are more and more frequent, and
everything is throw away.

Truthful, quality information is lost amid an ocean of mediocre and manufactured truth. No one
can tell what's real anymore- probably because not much is real anymore- and almost no one
cares. The children don't put their feet on soft grass; the grass is green pixels below the feet of
their avatars in Minecraft. Even my lament now is sent not with warm breath into the concerned
ears of a loved one, but into a virtual space of silence and data.

The aged members of the population are banished to lasting irrelevance, and closed away in
homes or facilities for the elderly. Their world is gone, and so their wisdom or experience born in
that world is irrelevant, too. Their children and grandchildren chase values and objects and
relationships that make zero sense to them. They want to love and be loved; it's fair to say that all
humans do; they want to share what they've been through. But they never had a chance to keep
up with the brand new world that gets reborn every 5-7 years now.

The "Me" Worth Having

Who can create an identity worth having now? This is the social world we inherit at birth. It's
probably going to leave all of us behind, too, before we have a chance to get very old. What values
will a world like this really co-create within us an with us? We can barely make contact with
tangible things and tangible people. What can that leave us?

The Pre-modern periods had many issues, but can we imagine that the issues we have now really
put us in a superior category? Can we be that arrogant? We can be- and are created to be- by the
flashy assurances of blazing-fast internet, bullet trains, jets, and laser surgery.

"Everyone was oppressed back then" we'll say- "women faced violence regularly, children were
made to work, people died of the common cold, only men had any political power, empires
crushed less technologically advanced people underfoot..."

These evils still exist, and more, and no amount of social awareness of them has ever made them
definitively go away. We've become oppressed by new configurations of these forces, only the
distractions are better. Lip-service paid to a history of injustice for different people hasn't stopped
the injustices; they just got moved around and re-configured. The new configuration isn't the
escape from a dark past that everyone thinks it is. It just looks better on the surface. But that
pleases us; we are surface-level people now.

If you could be a forager, and live collecting food with your family from a wide open space of
meadow and forest, and if other families in the area doing that with you would meet with you and
join with you in living and advancing your families into the future, I would say do it. This is a
value-creating and society-creating system I would find safe and good for the human being.

If you could be a farmer, and live growing food, alongside others, I would say do it. If you could be
a blacksmith, and live beating hot metal into needful shapes for the people around you, I would
say do it. I speak now not to modern people, but to the ghosts of people from the long-dead past
who come to me, wondering if the value-creating systems they lived by were good things for them
to base their identities on.

I say that they were. I don't think their world was perfect; the blacksmith and the farmer both had
to co-create identities with the warlike asshole who lived in the castle up the road, and the self-
righteous priest who harassed them about being "sinful", and the plague that sometimes swept
across the land.

And yet, they had socially-created identities based on tangible things and human families and
other families of life that they touched, tasted, felt, and loved in a direct and intense way that I
doubt I shall ever know or understand. In the same way that religious feeling and sentiment now
is an ephemeral mist of the thing it used to be, I fear that intimacy and intensity of emotion is
likewise just a long shadow of what it could be.

To those who live now, I warn you of something you can't avoid. I can't avoid it. But I'll say it
anyway. Don't create your identity based on a society of virtual value. I don't see how we have any
choice in the matter, but don't do it.

This sky-high technology doesn't do what we've been led to believe it does. It's not a replacement
for all the things that have been lost. It's a prison in the air. It tells us that anything we want to
believe at any moment is real and valuable. It tells us that our individual wants, dreams, desires,
and needs are the most important things imaginable, and the only things that should be focused
on. None of this is true. That is a siren-song being sung for lost people, to keep them dazed and
spending. We wouldn't know the profound or the valuable if it stood on our faces and jumped up
and down. The profound probably died with the people of an unnamed village in Brazil, when a
mining company wanted their land.

Sitcoms and reality TV are not how people interact, or should interact. Your Ancestors knew
things about living in the world that are important- and we might not see this until we die, but
those Ancestors are our judges; we are not their judges. They knew how to live on the ground. We
float like rapidly deflating balloons in the air. And all so that some rich people can make more
money.

The very moment we were suspended in the air, our humanity was suspended. The loss of contact
with the ground was loss of contact with the human soul, and the soul of everything else. In the
marketing space of intangible uncertainty that opened up there, moral has no meaning, value has
no meaning, and decency has no meaning, except what we're told they mean, by people who don't
care about a single body or soul except their own. And they don't even think they have souls, only
bodies to be seated in their Limousines. They are the new Gods of the world in very expensive
suits made by slave children.

One human body at a time, one human life-way at a time, the blender was filled, and then
someone hit the puree button. In the well-blended slime that remained, what valuables floated to
the surface were picked out. And then the slime was poured out, to fertilize the distant and
poisoned ground, and grow more bodies for a bigger blender- a bigger one made easier to build by
the advanced technology that could be purchased.

Soon, the next bigger thing won't get built because the soul of the world will be empty, and only
an ageless, poisoned silence will remain. The dim forms of insects stirring in the dark will not
remember us. Is there a "me" worth having now? Can that be created? Is there an "us" that can
ever be healthy? We can't just decide to have a "me" worth having; "me" and "we" are co-created
with other forces that we need as allies, to succeed. What forces are out there to co-create with us?

I can turn my frustration upon my fellow man (and goodness knows that's the common reaction
for most) but it's hardly their fault that they don't have worthwhile identities, and little ability at
co-creating anything healthy. They were blended in the same blender I was. How did traces of
slime stuck to the blade of the blender get cursed with the power to dream of better? Where do
these memories of worlds long gone come from?

Some might say that this is all too negative, too alarmist; humans, they say, are adaptable,
capable, and have gone through many hard times and changes before. We will survive, they say;
we will overcome this and look back upon it, perhaps, as a difficult and dark age. This is the story
of humankind; of "challenge and triumph." (As though Nature or Fate really sits around watching
and writing stories for human beings to be heroes in!)

I don't think anyone who says such things understands the real story of human history. Nothing
like this present morass of darkness has ever been seen before. This is not another repetition of
jagged but historically-familiar human social change; this is unprecedented. This not simply the
Industrial Revolution writ digital. This has no real similarity to any earlier change humanity has
ever seen. This can go into places of contraction and loss that no one who lived before now could
have dreamed imaginable. And there isn't a shred of meaningful evidence that humans can handle
this unprecedented experiment in virtual reality.
The people this experiment produces might not be worth having. I might not be worth having.
How can I become worth having? Can you help make me so? What made you?