Limited / Limitless





Limited                            -                      Limitless
Circular                           -                      Linear 
Conserve                          -                      Progress  
Completion                      -                      Perfection
Earth                                -                      Heaven 
Sacred                              -                      Profane 
Wisdom                           -                      Cleverness 
                  



Religion is a sophisticated system of limitations. It gives us reasons to draw boundaries and designate no-go-zones. Without an encompassing and binding narrative like religion, we are at the mercy of our expansive urges.

Sacredness implies limits - "only at this time", "only by these people." 

Nietzsche suggests that the development of a culture must happen at a certain pace, a careful pace.
This, then, is the job of the conservative - to slow the pace to an andante and to prevent it from progressing too quickly.

It is the prudent imposition of boundaries - of knowing how and where to stop - that is the keynote of wisdom.





Perhaps the question is not, "Can The Matrix ever become a reality?" 

Rather, "What will stop The Matrix from becoming a reality?"

In other words, is technology inevitably taking us toward this destination? If so, when do we put the brakes on?

Another way to look at it is to ask, "If we had the appropriate technology now, would it happen?"

It may already be happening, bit by bit, one advance after another.

We look at The Matrix and are horrified, and yet we covet and praise the contemporary 'advances' that may lead us toward it.




[…] the technological imperative: ‘If an experiment can be done, it will be done; if the knowledge is available, it will be applied.’

[James Goldsmith]
The Trap, p.179



The trouble about valuing means above ends – which as confirmed by Keynes, is the attitude of modern economics - is that it destroys man's freedom and power to choose the ends he really favours; the development of means, as it were, dictates the choice of ends. 

Obvious examples are the pursuit of supersonic transport speeds and the immense efforts made to land men on the moon. The conception of these aims was not the result of insight into real human needs and aspirations, which technology is meant to serve, but solely of the fact that the necessary technical means appeared to be available.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p.42-3



The rule in biological evolution is plain: The immediate individual bodily effects of functioning shall never be allowed to impinge upon the individual genetic coding.

The gene pool of the population is however subject to change under a natural selection which will recognize differences, especially differences in ability to achieve more adaptive functioning. The barrier which prohibits 'Lamarckian' inheritance precisely protects the gene system from too rapid change under possibly capricious environmental demands.

But in cultures and social system [...] there is no equivalent barrier.

Innovations become irreversibly adopted into the on-going system without being tested for long-time viability; and necessary changes are resisted by the core of conservative individuals without any assurance that these particular changes are the ones to resist.

Individual comfort and discomfort become the only criteria for choice of social change and the basic contrast of logical typing between member and the category is forgotten until new discomforts are (inevitably) created by the new state of affairs.

Fear of individual death and grief propose that it would be 'good' to eliminate epidemic disease and only after 100 years of preventive medicine do we discover that the population is overgrown. And so on.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 238




The machine metaphor, stressing bigger and more efficient operations in wordly society, stands in sharp contrast to Amish thinking about the use of tools.

The logic of expanded technology points toward infinite industrial growth and infinite energy consumption. The energy crisis is for the Amish a crisis not of supply but of use, not of technology but of morality.

By carefully restricting the use of machine-developed energy, the Amish "have become the only true masters of technology."

The Amish have problems, but with respect to energy and the balancing of human life with machines, they have mastered one of the contradictions so puzzling to modern society.

By holding technology at a distance, by exercising restraint and moderations, and by accepting limitations and living within then, the Amish have maintained the integrity of their family and community life.

They have escaped many of the noxious side effects of ambitious technology - haste, aimlessness, distraction, violence, waste, and disintegration.

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 383-4




Bostrom calls this the Technological Completion Conjecture:

If scientific- and technological-development efforts do not effectively cease, then all impor­t­­­ant basic capabilities that could be obtained through some possible technology will be obtained.

In light of this, he suspects that the farther into the future one looks the less likely it seems that life will continue as it is. He favors the far ends of possibility: humanity becomes transcendent or it perishes.

The Doomsday Invention: Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?

 



The Amish are inutitively aware of the danger of large-scale enterprises [...] Limitless technology is, for them, greed and a denial of wisdom.

Amish economic thinking is subjected to a traditional wisdom requiring the restraint of selfishness, greed, leisure, and expansionist thinking.

The future of the Amish will be determined not solely by technology, or the means to life, but by the definition they themselves give to life.

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 396




Many argue that posthuman space will be more virtual than real.

Individuals may consist of uploaded minds living as data patterns on supercomputers or users engaged in completely immersive virtual realities.

Postgenderists contend that these types of existences are not gender-specific thus allowing individuals to morph their virtual appearances and sexuality at will.

Postgenderism 




The body, that inconvenient reminder of mortality, is plucked, pierced, etched, pummelled, pumped up, shrunk and remoulded [...] What seems a celebration of the body, then, may also cloak a virulent anti-materialism - a desire to gather this raw, perishable stuff into the less corruptible forms of art or discourse.

The resurrection of the body returns as the tattoo parlour and the cosmetic surgeon's consulting-room. To reduce this obstreperous stuff to so much clay in our hands is a fantasy of mastering the unmasterable.

It is a disavowal of death, a refusal of the limit which is ourselves.

For all its love affair with matter, in the shape of Tuscan villas and double brandies, capitalist society harbours a secret hatred of the stuff. It is a culture shot through with fantasy, idealist to its core, powered by a disembodied will which dreams of pounding Nature to pieces. It makes an idol out of matter, but cannot stomach the resistance it offers to its grandiose schemes.

Taming the Mississippi and piercing your navel are just earlier and later versions of the same ideology. Having moulded the landscape to our own image and likeness, we have now begun to recraft ourselves. Civil engineering has been joined by cosmetic surgery.

'Personalizing' the body may be a way of denying its essential impersonality. Its impersonality lies in the fact that it belongs to the species before it belongs to me; and there are some aspects of the species-body - death, vulnerability, sickness and the like - that we may well prefer to thrust into oblivion.

[Terry Eagleton]
After Theory, p.164-6




Religion has invisible purposes beyond what the literal-minded scientistic-scientifiers identify - one of which is to protect us from scientism, that is, them.

We can see in the corpus of inscriptions (on graves) accounts of people erecting fountains or even temples to their favourite gods after these succeeded where doctors failed. Indeed we rarely look at religion’s benefits in limiting the intervention bias and its iatrogenics: in a large set of circumstances (marginal disease), anything that takes you away from the doctor and allows you to do nothing (hence gives nature a chance to do its work) will be beneficial.

I believe in the heuristics of religion and blindly accommodate its rules (as an Orthodox Christian, I can cheat once in a while, as it is part of the game). Among other things the role of religion is to tame the iatrogenics of abundance - fasting makes you lose your sense of entitlement.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 364-5




Much has been gained when the feeling has at last been instilled into the masses (into the shallow-pates and greedyguts of every sort) that there are things they must not touch; that there are holy experiences before which they have to take off their shoes and keep their unclean hands away - it is almost their highest advance towards humanity. 

Conversely, there is perhaps nothing about the so-called cultured, the believers in 'modern ideas', that arouses so much disgust as their lack of shame, the self-satisfied insolence of eye and hand with which they touch, lick and fumble with everything; and it is possible that more relative nobility of taste and reverential tact is to be discovered today among the people, among the lower orders and especially among peasants, than among the newspaper-reading demi-monde of the spirit, the cultured.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
Beyond Good and Evil, 263




The historical sense […] to which we Europeans lay claim as our speciality, has come to us in the wake of the mad and fascinating semi-barbarism into which Europe has been plunged through the democratic mingling of classes and races […]

The past of every form and mode of life, of cultures that formerly lay close beside or on top of one another, streams into us 'modern souls' thanks to this mingling, our instincts now run back in all directions, we ourselves are a kind of chaos [...]

Through our semi-barbarism in body and desires we have secret access everywhere such as a noble age never had, above all the access to the labyrinth of unfinished cultures and to every semi-barbarism which has ever existed on earth; and, in so far as the most considerable part of human culture hitherto has been semi-barbarism, "historical sense' means virtually the sense and instinct for everything, the taste and tongue for everything: which at once proves it to be an ignoble sense. 

We enjoy Homer again, for instance: perhaps it is our happiest advance that we know how to appreciate Homer, whom the men of a noble culture […] cannot and could not assimilate so easily - whom they hardly permitted themselves to enjoy. The very definite Yes and No of their palate, their easily aroused disgust, their hesitant reserve with regard to everything strange, their horror of the tastelessness even of a lively curiosity, and in general that unwillingness of a noble and self-sufficient culture to admit to a new desire, a dissatisfaction with one's own culture, an admiration for what is foreign: all this disposes them unfavourably towards even the best things in the world which are not their property and could not become their prey - and no sense is so unintelligible to such men as the historical sense and its obsequious plebeian curiosity. 

That as men of the 'historical sense’ we have our virtues is not to be denied - we are unpretentious, selfless, modest, brave, full of self-restraint, full of devotion, very grateful, very patient, very accommodating - with all that, we are perhaps not very 'tasteful'. 

Let us finally confess it to ourselves: that which we men of the "historical sense' find hardest to grasp, to feel, taste, love, that which at bottom finds us prejudiced and almost hostile, is just what is complete and wholly mature in every art and culture, that which constitutes actual nobility in works and in men, their moment of smooth sea and halcyon self-sufficiency, the goldness and coldness displayed by all things which have become perfect. 

Perhaps our great virtue of the historical sense necessarily stands opposed to good taste, or to the very best taste at any rate [...]

Measure is alien to us, let us admit it to ourselves; what we itch for is the infinite, the unmeasured. Like a rider on a charging steed we let fall the reins before the infinite, we modern men, like semi-barbarians - and attain our state of bliss only when we are most – in danger.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
Beyond Good and Evil, 224




This prime feeling of a loosing, Erlösung, solution, of the Soul in the Infinite, of a liberation from all material heaviness which the highest moments of our music always awaken, sets free also the energy of depth that is in the Faustian soul: 

whereas the effect of Classical art-work is to bind and to bound, and the body-feeling secures, brings back the eye from distance to a Near and Still that is saturated with beauty.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 177-8




It is preeminently in the generations and castes that conserve a people that we encounter such recrudescences of old instincts, while such atavisms are improbable wherever races, habits, and valuations change too rapidly. 

For tempo is as significant for the development of peoples as it is in music: in our case, an andante of development is altogether necessary as the andante of a passionate and slow spirit; and that is after all the value of the spirit of conservative generations.

The Jews [...] are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest and purest race at present living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions (better even than under favourable ones), by means of virtues which one would like to stamp as vices -- thanks above all to a resolute faith which does not need to be ashamed before 'modern ideas'; 

they change, when they change, only in the way in which the Russian Empire makes its conquests - an empire that has time and is not of yesterday - : namely, according to the principle as slowly as possible’! 

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 10 and Beyond Good and Evil, 251



If the nature of change is such that nothing is left for the fathers to teach their sons, or for the sons to accept from their fathers, family life collapses. 

The life, work, and happiness of all societies depend on certain ‘psychological structures' which are infinitely precious and highly vulnerable. Social cohesion, co-operation, mutual respect, and above all self-respect, courage in the face of adversity, and the ability to bear hardship – all this and much else disintegrates and disappears when these ‘psychological structures' are gravely damaged. A man is destroyed by the inner conviction of uselessness. 

No amount of economic growth can compensate for such losses - though this may be an idle reflection, since economic growth is normally inhibited by them. None of these awesome problems figure noticeably in the cosy theories of most of our development economists.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p.161



Everything happens slowly. 

In my indigenous culture, everything takes time, and long consideration, and many sleepings on it. It might even be generations before we go, ‘Yeah, alright, we’ll bring that in.’

[Tyson Yunkaporta]
'Talking Indigenous Thinking | Tyson Yunkaporta' (YouTube)




Should the pursuit of science be constrained?

Obviously, scientific experimentation must be carried out in accordance with society's view of ethical behaviour. Science must not travel independently from the social needs of communities. 

Science does not have great wisdom. Rather it accumulates and cleverly analyzes particular information which supplies it with skills. It does not have an overall view based on general understanding. Science is massively powerful, potentially useful and, of course, can be beneficial. But as it solves problems, so it creates others. 

Scientific achievement produces both expected and unexpected results and the latter, quite often, can do more damage in the long term than the former do good.

[...] technology, industry, the economy and science must all serve the true needs of society. Stability and contentment should not be sacrificed so as to further the development of our tools.

Modernists do not accept that each generation has a duty to commit to a contract between the past, the present and the future. They do not see themselves as guardians of continuity but rather as agents of constantly accelerating change. And they think only fleetingly of its potential consequences. 

[James Goldsmith]
The Trap, p. 180, 183-4




In short, we can say today that man is far too clever to be able to survive without wisdom. 

The exclusion of wisdom from economics, science, and technology was something which we could perhaps get away with for a little while, as long as we were relatively unsuccessful; but now that we have become very successful, the problem of spiritual and moral truth moves into the central position.

From an economic point of view, the central concept of wisdom is permanence. 

We must study the economics of permanence. Nothing makes economic sense unless its continuance for a long time can be projected without running into absurdities. There can be 'growth' towards a limited objective, but there cannot be unlimited, generalised growth. It is more than likely, as Gandhi said, that 'Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not for every man's greed'. Permanence is incompatible with a predatory attitude which rejoices in the fact that 'what were luxuries for our fathers have become necessities for us'.

The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom.

The economics of permanence implies a profound reorientation of science and technology, which have to open their doors to wisdom and, in fact, have to incorporate wisdom into their very structure. Scientific or technological 'solutions’ which poison the environment or degrade the social structure and man himself are of no benefit, no matter how brilliantly conceived or how great their superficial attraction. 

Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment, do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful.

The neglect, indeed the rejection, of wisdom has gone so far that most of our intellectuals have not even the faintest idea what the term could mean. As a result, they always tend to try and cure a disease by intensifying its causes. The disease having been caused by allowing cleverness to displace wisdom, no amount of clever research is likely to produce a cure. 

[The insights of wisdom] enable us to see the hollowness and fundamental unsatisfactoriness of a life devoted primarily to the pursuit of material ends, to the neglect of the spiritual. Such a life necessarily sets man against man and nation against nation, because man's needs are infinite and infinitude can be achieved only in the spiritual realm, never in the material. 

Man assuredly needs to rise above this humdrum 'world'; wisdom shows him the way to do it; without wisdom, he is driven to build up a monster economy, which destroys the world, and to seek fantastic satisfactions, like landing a man on the moon. Instead of overcoming the 'world' by moving towards saintliness, he tries to overcome it by gaining preeminence in wealth, power, science, or indeed any imaginable 'sport'.

How could we even begin to disarm greed and envy? Perhaps by being much less greedy and envious ourselves; perhaps by resisting the temptation of letting our luxuries become needs; and perhaps by even scrutinising our needs to see if they cannot be simplified and reduced. 

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 26, 30-1




We are less interested in breaking through certain limits, with or without cause, than in putting in doubt the right to posit such limits in the first place. In a word, we do not believe that there exists, in all rigor, a ... text, closed upon itself, complete with its inside and outside.

[Jacques Derrida]
Dissemination, p. 130



And yet, to live we must impose limits, arbitrary as they may be. 




For primitive societies the natural world (which usually changes only slowly) provided a stable framework and therefore a sense of security. 

In the modern world it is human society that dominates nature rather than the other way around, and modern society changes very rapidly owing to technological change. Thus there is no stable framework.

The conservatives are fools: They whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth. Apparently it never occurs to them that you can’t make rapid, drastic changes in the technology and the economy of a society without causing rapid changes in all other aspects of the society as well, and that such rapid changes inevitably break down traditional values.

[Ted Kaczynski]
Industrial Society and its Future, 49, 50




Whereas formerly the limits of human endurance have imposed limits on the development of societies, industrial-technological society will be able to pass those limits by modifying human beings, whether by psychological methods or biological methods or both. 

In the future, social systems will not be adjusted to suit the needs of human beings. Instead, human being will be adjusted to suit the needs of the system. 

The Industrial Revolution has radically altered man’s environment and way of life, and it is only to be expected that as technology is increasingly applied to the human body and mind, man himself will be altered as radically as his environment and way of life have been.

[Ted Kaczynski]
Industrial Society and its Future, 151, 160




I have come to see that all of the questions raised in these essays - the questions raised in my lifetime of non-fiction writing, and maybe my fiction too - could be said to come back to one word: limits.

Modernity is a machine for destroying limits. 

The ideology of the Machine - the liberation of individual desire - sees our world as a blank slate to be written on afresh when the old limits of nature and culture are washed away. 

This is our faith: that breaking boundaries leads to happiness, that boundaries are barriers rather than opportunities. We strain against all limits. It is who we are.

[Paul Kingsnorth]
'Want is the Acid'



Related posts:-
Closed / Open 
Lines and Circles 
Who's Steering the Ship?
Future Trends
Masters of the Universe 
The Earth's the Limit 
Familiar Territory
Live Forever?
Borders
A Higher Power