© 2024 Blaze Media LLC. All rights reserved.
MacIntyre: The destruction of human agency
Getty Images

MacIntyre: The destruction of human agency

Interfacing with enormous soulless bureaucracies has become a regular feature of life in the modern world. Getting medical care, going to college, finding a job, and stopping that annoying recurring charge on your credit card from a forgotten subscription all require filing endless forms and interacting with automated systems or humans who are trained to behave like automated systems. We live in a world where the vast scale of human organization has made personal interaction impossible.

Bureaucratic organizations demand interchangeable actors and predictable outcomes so that they can operate at scale, but organic human exchanges are messy, chaotic, and tend to be shaped by the moral and cultural particulars of individual communities. This why our current ruling class seeks to create the rootless cosmopolitan individual, the universal man from nowhere who can be molded into anything. In the age of the mass man, learning to interact with bureaucracy becomes far more valuable than learning how to be human.

Anyone who has sought a redress of grievances from a major corporation has had the same experience. A woman with a thick Indian accent who claims to be named Susan takes the caller through an endless parade of inane questions before informing the customer that there is little to nothing that can be done. The call center worker has no agency or accountability; she is only allowed to answer from a prewritten script. The entire purpose of the charade is to grant the customer the illusion of interaction while ensuring that no unpredicted outcomes are possible.

Increasingly, this is not just the standard mode of interaction with customer service, but the only way a human will interface with the many different institutions that rule his life. Human resources, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Internal Revenue Service, health insurance providers, even dating apps. Every human interaction is mediated by a standardized process used to sort and categorize the individual, minimizing the amount of agency exerted by any single actor in the process.

We tend to understand intelligence as something particular to individual human beings, but a more abstract understanding is useful when trying to think about the modern world. In many ways bureaucratic organizations mimic an intelligent mind. In the beginning, these structures are established to serve a specific purpose, like making a company more profitable, but over time they respond to incentives that create divergent interests. Standardization maximizes the efficiency and reliability of the bureaucracy, but humans are not organically homogeneous, so as a mass organization becomes more effective, it also becomes less human.

New ways of thinking and interacting are developed to serve the efficiency of the organization instead of the human behaviors native to founders of that institution. Eventually, training humans to interact with bureaucracies becomes more effective than training bureaucracies to interact with humans, and a positive feedback loop for technocratic expansion is created.

Much ink has already been spilt over the question of whether artificial intelligence can really become a Skynet-style supercomputer that rules the world. I am no expert in the field, but it is hard to pretend that early iterations of the technology are not shaping the world around us. ChatGPT is a large language model used by many to generate all kinds of text. While it still has clear difficulty with creative endeavors like poetry or compelling fiction, the program is great at producing the kind of formulaic boilerplate favored by technocracies.

As human organization has become dominated by bureaucratic leviathans, employers have already been selecting for the ability to effectively navigate these Byzantine managerial structures. Instead of humans talking to other humans, bureaucracies talk to other bureaucracies through people who are trained to think like and to anticipate the needs of this form of artificial intelligence. While some people have perfected this skill, many others find it difficult and can use ChatGPT to generate the kind of response that bureaucratic organizations prefer.

The world of insurance provides the perfect practical example of this phenomenon. Insurance is the most infuriating form of bureaucratic structure, predicated entirely on making heartless and brutal calculations and attempting to deny benefits to as many of its customers as possible. Every interaction is meant to frustrate or confound the average person.

A friend of mine operates a business that needs to regularly bill insurance for its services, and this requires the mind-numbing task of generating mountains of paperwork while formulating responses in exactly the right way to compel compliance from the bureaucracy. The business now regularly uses ChatGPT to generate its responses to insurance companies because it does such a great job of predicting what another soulless artificial intelligence would like to hear. Humans no longer talk to humans, or even faceless bureaucracies, but deploy artificial intelligence to negotiate with other artificial constructs on their behalf.

If it seems like humans are making fewer and fewer of our own decisions, that is because we are. We are told that we live in a liberated age when a whole host of civil rights and social advancements free us from the natural human bonds that once enslaved us. Our duty to families, churches, or local communities has been dissolved, and we are free to pursue the identity of our choosing. But of course, no one forms his own identity. Identity is constructed by social interaction, and those who have been separated from organic social organizations that would have shaped their self-image will instead become plastic in the hands of larger forces. By destroying competing forms of social organizations, massive bureaucracies seek to remove the rough human edges that create friction in their efficient machines. The cultural and moral specificity of organic human social organization is a barrier to the efficient operation of these hyper-agents, who stopped serving human needs long ago and now see natural human behavior as a detriment to their operation. Individuals may have been granted the illusion of choice, but their entire perceptual matrix is shaped by artificial forces that they cannot hope to control.

In his shockingly prescient essay “The Abolition of Man,” C.S Lewis warned against the use of social engineering to change fundamental human behavior. The author saw the modern obsession with using science to quantify and disenchant the world as an inevitable road to disaster. Once humanity, or whatever artificial constructs it created, learned to train fundamental human behaviors out of mankind, there would be no one to pass those attributes on to the next generation. It would mean the abolition of man and the creation of something wholly artificial in its place.

Our modern governments and corporations have adopted the “nudge” strategy, designed to reliably shape human behavior to fit the preferred patterns of bureaucratic compliance. Those who think like machines and conform their behavior to the preferences of artificial constructs are now selected over those who think and act like human beings. Nations have stopped serving the interests of particular peoples and have instead become economic zones full of fungible biological units operated in the interests of artificial constructs. If humans do not become intentional about how they interact with technology and construct their social organizations, what emerges on the other side may not be human in any meaningful sense.

Want to leave a tip?

We answer to you. Help keep our content free of advertisers and big tech censorship by leaving a tip today.
Want to join the conversation?
Already a subscriber?
Auron MacIntyre

Auron MacIntyre

BlazeTV Host

Auron MacIntyre is the host of “The Auron MacIntyre Show” and a columnist for Blaze News.
@AuronMacintyre →