[Epistemic status: trolling.]
[Previous: Meditations on Moloch; Capturing Gnon. When I refer to Scott or Nyan, I am referring to those two posts.]
Nyan asks, “Will the future be ruled by the usual four horsemen of Gnon for a future of meaningless gleaming techno-progress burning the cosmos or a future of dysgenic, insane, hungry, and bloody dark ages; or will the telos of man prevail for a future of meaningful art, science, spirituality, and greatness?”
The answer is “Gnon.”
When fighting eldritch horrors, you have basically two options. One: keep your head down, try to avoid attracting attention, and hope they don’t eat you. Two: open up the Necronomicon, start reading, and hope that you can control them.
Traditionally, the price of the second is insanity. However, I believe that this is missing the other, more important price; which of us would not willingly become insane to bind Cthulhu?
The other price is that you are meddling with beings beyond human comprehension.
And your spellbook was written by humans.
How sure are you that your spells bind Gnon? How sure are you that they do not just summon him? How sure are you that you comprehend something that is by definition beyond human comprehension?
It is one thing to try to cast small spells: the Elder Sign or a key that transports you back to your childhood dreamland; to campaign for stronger environmental regulations, to educate people about critical thinking. The upside is small, but the downside is small too.
It is another thing to change the entirety of society, to break the bindings that currently control Cthulhu and bind him again. Are you so sure that your bindings are better and stronger? Are you sure that you can bind him at all– that you will not simply wake him up?
Remember the last people who noticed that capitalism was a cruel optimization process that eliminates human values? Remember the last people who tried to implement a society that protected human values from this destructive optimization process?
Even this gamble might be worth it. If you think the current bindings are weak, if you fear they will break, it may be worth the risk. A chance of Cthulhu’s rise is better than a certainty.
But if right now the situation looks basically okay– do not open the Necronomicon. Do not go to Arkham University. Keep your head down. Survive.
Scott recommends Friendly AI. Nyan recommends patriarchy, eugenics, rational theocracy, strong hierarchical order with martial sovereignty, and a careful bottling of productive economic dynamics. I feel I, too, must offer a proposal for agents of Elua.
Scott suggests that this is the dream time: a brief period of excess carrying capacity, in which we can do silly nonoptimal things like art and music and love and philosophy and not be outcompeted by merciless killing machines most of the time.
I suspect that he is wrong, unless by “a brief period” he means “literally from the rise of consciousness until now.”
According to Wikipedia:
Since the 1960s, the consensus among anthropologists, historians, and sociologists has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed more leisure time than is permitted by capitalist and agrarian societies; For instance, one camp of !Kung Bushmen was estimated to work two-and-a-half days per week, at around 6 hours a day. Aggregated comparisons show that on average the working day was less than five hours.
Subsequent studies in the 1970s examined the Machiguenga of the Upper Amazon and the Kayapo of northern Brazil. These studies expanded the definition of work beyond purely hunting-gathering activities, but the overall average across the hunter-gatherer societies he studied was still below 4.86, while the maximum was below 8 hours. Popular perception is still aligned with the old academic consensus that hunter-gatherers worked far in excess of modern humans’ forty-hour week.
The industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, because this labor was not tied to the season and artificial lighting made it possible to work longer each day. Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to factories, and working time during the year increased significantly. Before collective bargaining and worker protection laws, there was a financial incentive for a company to maximize the return on expensive machinery by having long hours.
Admittedly, we are in a brief period of decreasing working hours; but how long is that going to last?
Why? Physical limitations. A hunter-gatherer has no reason to obtain more food or possessions than they can carry: they put in their four to five hours of work, get what they want, and move on. After a certain point, putting more effort into your farm doesn’t actually produce more food, so you might as well take some time off and sing and make art and fall in love. You run out of other resources far before you run out of human time, so humans have free time to do human things in.
What happens if people have more babies than they can support? The Black Death sweeps through Europe and kills millions of people. There’s a bad winter, all the crops freeze and everyone starves to death. The king next door invades and puts everyone to the sword. After the population explosion of agriculture, with a combination of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and ordinary death, the population stays remarkably stable no matter how much people fuck, and Malthusian traps are avoided.
Cthulhu? How far can he spread if you have to copy out books by hand? How far can he spread if you don’t have books and everything has to be transmitted by word of mouth?
Ares? You can’t use all your peasants’ free time to fight wars: they have to stay near their fields. You maintain a warrior class and optimize them for fighting wars– but when you aren’t fighting wars, they have to have something to do, you can’t use them for anything very productive because then you’ll have no one to do it during wars, and maintaining a human body at the peak of condition doesn’t actually take that much time. Hence, warrior poets.
And then technology.
Machines can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no reason not to work your employees at the maximum that can be gotten from them.
We can cure diseases and prevent famines and there is literally nothing stopping our population rising to a Malthusian trap except that Azathoth is a blind god and didn’t evolve us to be motivated to have children, just to have sex.
The Internet allows every crackpot with an incredibly convincing meme to convince strangers a world away.
And technological society has allowed the horrifying invention of total war.
Transhumanists say, eagerly, that the last of the physical limitations will soon be burned away. Let’s make people who can modify their brains! Let’s make people who don’t need to eat or sleep or have any values other than gaining profit for the corporation they work for! Let’s make people who can modify themselves into being motivated to have as many offspring as possible and who can get rid of any obstacles to their reproductive fitness, especially things like love or art or consciousness! Let’s learn how human brains work so we can exploit them to have incredibly convincing memes that are totally uncorrelated with truth! Let’s develop more exciting technology that could be used for war!
The hope of some transhumanists is to make a computer that is an Elua maximizer. The problem with that is that if you fuck it up on any level, you wind up with a dark god crueler and stronger than any god we’ve had before.
I say: the answer is not more technology. The answer is not to enter further into the Optimization Time. The answer is to end technology and return to the dream time. The dream time has its weaknesses: there is no security; there are much fewer material goods. But poor folk do smile.
The only environment guaranteed to preserve human values is the one that created it.
Technology is no friend to Elua. Technology is Elua’s mortal enemy.