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Elon Musk’s posthuman ambitions won’t save us
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Elon Musk’s posthuman ambitions won’t save us

It’s hard to resist the conclusion that Musk cares more about the “light of consciousness,” whatever that may mean, than he does about our humanity.

At his best, Elon Musk is irascibly, unflappably, unmistakably human — or at least he appears to be: shooting from the hip, laughing and allowing himself to be laughed at, taking big swings reliant as often on personal idiosyncrasy as on dispassionate opportunism. For his trouble, these habits have landed him at or near the center of the human drama in the year 2023, suffused with “main character energy,” as the vox populi on Twitter — I mean X — likes to describe it.

But at his worst, Musk betrays a puzzling fixation on the most cartoonish and implausible vision of scientific progress, one that poses a greater threat even than declining birth rates to the perpetuation of the human race that he claims so often to rank as the highest of his goals.

Most unfortunately, Musk sees X as nothing less than the vehicle for the human race to ... well, how should we put this? Leave itself behind?

Not long ago, in response to a heavy-breathing post about his acquisition of Twitter as a “civilizational critical purchase,” Musk made perhaps his starkest statement yet of his posthuman ambitions: “If successful, X will evolve to be the collective consciousness of humanity or, more accurately, the human-machine collective.”

This is hardly the first time he has referred favorably to the “collective consciousness.” Many a motivational post exists on X repurposing his quip that “perhaps more people might consider loving humanity. Our collective light of consciousness is a tiny candle in a vast darkness. Please do not let it go out.” Others tout his remark that “I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness to make sure it continues into the future.”

In fact, in April 2022, Twitter’s previous chief, Jack Dorsey, tweeted in a passionate thread that “I love Twitter. Twitter is the closest thing we have to a global consciousness” and that, regarding Musk’s takeover, “Elon is the singular solution I trust” because “I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.”

Alone, even our shared consciousness is unworthy of worship. Instead of blasting us off into a mind-blowing future, its elevation above our humanity aggravates the most grievous spiritual errors of the past.

According to influential secular philosophers of technology such as Britain’s David Deutsch, humanity is not the only vehicle available for the extension of consciousness throughout the universe; we have in digital technology a helpmate, one on which, under closer inspection, we must increasingly rely to prevent our own transmission of consciousness from remaining dangerously parochial in the vastness of existence — or indeed winking out entirely.

On consideration, it is hard to resist the conclusion that Musk cares more about the “light of consciousness,” however defined, than he does about our humanity — that perhaps he really only cares about our humanity insofar as it is a vehicle for the “light of consciousness.”

It would, of course, be a great crime against humanity if consciousness were allowed to take precedence over our own humanity, such that harming or ending our humanity were justifiable in the name of consciousness and its enhancement.

After all, despite the insistence by wide-eyed technologists that consciousness is so much bigger than us, the reality is that our given human being encompasses far more than simple consciousness. Viewed accurately, the human being is a microcosm of all creation, and not only that but the triumph, the capstone, the completion of all creation. Annihilating or even attacking this triumphant capstone of all existence in the name of one significant but small part, this whatever-it-is we are naming “consciousness,” simply defies logic and reason. It is, in short, insanity.

But, to lift a line from Napoleon, it would be “worse than a crime, a blunder” to deceive ourselves in the manner of some of our most intelligent people into thinking that our “collective consciousness” is other than what it manifestly is.

Take a look at any social media timeline. Despite rigorous, nearly all-consuming moderation, policing, massaging, and filtering, it is an infinite feed not of pristine reason or peaceful fun but of humanoid insanity: a schizoid pandemonium of fractured and jabbering disembodied voices sharing shards of simulations fueled by chaotic yet deeply manipulated sensations and passions.

However often consuming these emanations results in a feeling of fleeting satisfaction, the experience as a whole is that of a spiritual madhouse, lunacy firmly in control of the asylum.

It’s not very often that faced with situations like this I reach for the New York Times magazine. But there, the Times critic Jason Farago has a remarkably instructive long reflection on that other organ of the “collective consciousness” known as “culture.”

Due to digital technology, Farago observes, the once-distinctive innovation characterizing the 20th century’s march of decades through art, fashion, architecture, and all the rest has come to a crash landing in a sea of stuff seemingly collectivized out of our recognizable space-time.

Trends rise and fall with the old markers of “futuristic” or “retro” simply losing purchase on the tides — and yes, that’s a bad thing. Although Farago makes the necessary leap to recognize that cultural “progress” is not in fact the standard by which the health and fruitfulness of culture are to be judged, so long as a different standard, a spiritual one, is firmly in place. He writes:

On the contrary, non-novel excellence has been the state of things for a vast majority of art history. Roman art and literature [provide] a centuries-long tradition of emulation, appropriating and adapting Greek, Etruscan and on occasion Asian examples into a culture in which the idea of copying was alien. Medieval icons were never understood to be “of their time,” but looked back to the time of the Incarnation, forward to eternity or out of time entirely into a realm beyond human life.

Sure enough, as any Orthodox Christian would be happy to note, icons produced in uninterrupted fashion right up until the present time are still not understood to be “contemporary” in the modern-art sense. Rather, they are artful means by which we are drawn toward communion with the Church and all its members, past, present, and future, no less than with God Himself. In this way, we are drawn into a kind of collective consciousness — this one a spiritual asylum both glorious and healing, rather than the opposite.

Alone, even our shared consciousness is unworthy of worship. Instead of blasting us off into a mind-blowing future, its elevation above our humanity merely aggravates the most grievous spiritual errors of the past, transgressing in the oldest ways against ourselves, one another, and, ultimately, our Creator.

There is no substitute, technological or otherwise, for the sacred collective consciousness with which we have always in our humanity been endowed and which always demands our hard and humble discipline to grow, nourish, and preserve. Should Elon Musk find a way back to that crucial piece of wisdom, his ambition to save the human race from self-destruction might at last bring him back down to Earth.

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