From the museum of dead media: The Paige Compositor.
As I sit here staring at the plunging exchange-rate curve of dollars to Brazilian reals, and reading about the departure of Chuck “I will restore Citi’s reputation for integrity” Prince, it occurs to me to go have a peek at Clusterfuck Nation.
Something I have not done in quite a while.
It is a bit like having a peek at the answer key in the back of the sample test to check your progress or lack thereof.
I have always felt an affinity with Jim Kunstler‘s warnings about the sheer idiocy of what he calls “technological triumphalism” — I call it “the rhetoric of the technological sublime,” while the cultists who chant its mantras tend to refer to it as “innovation journalism” or “technology evangelism.”
Jim, of course, as an economist, has a better notion of the inner workings of the black box.
My own approach is simply to look at the the input to that black box — the prognostications of the rhetoric of the technological sublime — and the outputs — whether technology Big Digs are actually hastening the advent of the New Age and the Rapture — to see if they are congruent.
If the output is mostly garbage, then it is likely that the GIGO principle applies. Or better: it helps to separate out the gabbling about frictionless innovation from actual instances of innovations, which is (1) a real phenomenon, but (2) is exponentially more rare than these people represent, (3) much more labor-intensive than these people represent, and (4) requires an intense focus on prior art that these people try to convince you is wholly unnecessary.
“Forget the past! Look to the future!”
Which is a form of magical thinking.
If we can confirm these points from experience and observation, we can then assume, as a methodological principle, that the rhetoric of the technological sublime is quite likely to be correlated with nonsense and noise.
This can help us to design and construct filters to keep Moonies who emit a constant, gabbling barrage of the RTS from interrupting the responsible adults when they are discussing serious matters.
Surely, I thought, Kunstler — a worthy heir to Swift and Pope and Bacon’s assault on the ‘idols of the tribe,” as filtered through R. Crumb and Hunter S. Thompson — must be having a field day.
The dollar is losing a penny a week against the Euro. In essence, the American standard of living is dropping like a sash weight. So far, a stunned public is stumbling into impoverishment drunk on Britney Spears video clips. If they ever do sober up, and get to a “…hey, wait a minute…” moment when they recognize the gulf between reality and the story told by leaders in government, business, education, and the media, it is liable to be a very ugly moment in U.S. history.
My own hope is that the Great Disillusionment to come — the Iraqis never did strew rose petals in the path of their liberators or pay for their own national reconstruction, for example — will at least produce a backlash that will tamp down the Moonies, innovation shamans and nam myoho renge kyo journalists for good and all.
Or at least for another generation, after which I will be dead and gone and beyond worrying about the emergence of a new Strangelove bent on cutting short my personal exercise in the pursuit of happiness and “the lyfe so shorte, the crafte so longe to lerne” in a reasonably stable and peaceful world.
That it will strengthen the sense that our great Republic was, is, and ought ever to be, at a bare minimum, some sort of reality-based community.
As if there were any other kind of community.
For the faith-based — and there is no reason one cannot have faith and subscribe to the Reality Principle at the same time, I think — the scriptural text to meditate long and hard on during the cold, hard winters of the Innovation Apocalypse will be Ecclesiastes 1:9-11:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.
An inspired Kunstler sally:
One of the stupidest assumptions made by the educated salient of adults these days is that we are guaranteed a smooth transition between the cancerous hypertrophy of our current economic environment and the harsher conditions that we are barreling toward. The university profs and the tech sector worker bees are still absolutely confident that some hypothetical “they” will “come up with” magical rescue remedies for running the Happy Motoring system without gasoline.
In the same vein:
Imagine what the NASCAR morons believe – that the ghost of Davey Crockett will leave a jug of liquefied “dark matter” under everyone’s Christmas tree this year or next, guaranteed to keep the engines ringing until Elvis ushers in the Rapture. The educated folks – that is, the ones subject to the grandiose story-lines of techno-triumphalism taught in the universities – are sure that we’ll either invent or organize our way out of the current predicament. A society that put men on the moon in 1969, the story goes, will ramp up another “Apollo Project” to keep things going here.
When I taught in the universities, in my modest way — composition and lower-division literature courses — I never foisted such magical thinking on my students.
When the purge comes, I want it on the record that I never foisted this nonsense on young minds, and that I therefore deserve to be spared being offered the hemlock.
When I ran across students who, under the influence of their first bong hit or pitcher of margaritas, were inclined to start misquoting from their copy of Cliff’s Notes on The Complete Works of the Late, Brain-Damaged Nietzsche in their term papers on Mark Twain — one of my standard courses was constructed around Huck, Tom, the Connecticut Yankee, and the Mysterious Stranger — I would always point them, for example, to the story of Mark Twain’s investment in (an absurdly impracticable, Rube Goldberg-anticipating) revolutionary new typesetting system, and its effect on his later works.
The Paige Compositor.
It is time to rediscover Twain’s last work, I think, co-authored with Charles Dudley Warner: The Guilded Age.