A virtual life is not life at all. In fact, a virtual life, brought to you courtesy of a nearly world-wide lockdown, destroys life, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. Being careful is one thing; thinking we can hide from nature is another. In fact, the archons of our age seem to hate and distrust nature so much that they have been trying to “improve” nature, often if not always with disastrous consequences (I’ve written about this often). We think lockdown is the answer. Well, in the short-term, that might be the case, though there is hardly universal agreement that lockdown is the wisest choice. Some of the archons recommend lockdown or some variety of social distancing until a vaccine is developed—even though a vaccine for an coronavirus has never succeeded and even though the various flu vaccines are considered successful with a 50% efficacy rate. I don’t like those odds. Vaccines, in fact, mimic natural herd immunity—and are far less effective (they need boosters, after all). Think of them as plan B.
But what does lockdown do to our humanity? If we move our lives online, are they really lives at all? Is school online really education, or is it content delivery? Is FaceTime a replacement for human contact? Say we kept the elderly in lockdown mode until a vaccine is developed in eighteen months, even though vaccine testing and approval often takes between ten and fifteen years. Even if it were “only” eighteen to twenty-four months, how many of the elderly would die of despair or loneliness without any real contact with their children or grandchildren? But the archons have spoken. Is such an approach to a problem life—or is it fear of life?
It has been my claim through most of my work that the archons in charge of things pretty much hate life. This is as true in medicine and agriculture as it is in politics. Much of this, I speculate, is focused, either patently or surreptitiously, as a way to control or, more accurately, reduce population. And that is surely a project that hates life.
So, in light of recent developments, I thought it a good idea to share a passage from my book Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. It follows:
Philosophers and poets, theologians and artists have long warned about the increasing technicization of the human person and the damage that attends it. Martin Heidegger, in his seminal essay “The Question Concerning Technology” (1954) emphasizes that technology—however we understand it—though our tendency is to assume it benign, nevertheless, is never neutral. He’s not talking about the potential for cutting a finger on a buzzsaw, or the dangers implicit in factory employment, or even of the horror of nuclear weapons. “The threat to man,” he writes, “does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already affected man in his essence.”1 In his essence: das geist, the spirit. Ontology. That is, he argues, it changes who and what we are. Heidegger was hardly alone in this observation.
Nikolai Berdyaev, writing in the 1930s after having witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution in his native Russia and observing the rise of Fascism in Europe, voiced his concern over the role of technology and industrialization as well:
“The speed consequent upon the increasing mechanization of life has had a deadly effect on the human Ego, and has sapped its foundations of unity and consistence. The advent of machinery and the mechanization of life have led to an extreme objectification of human existence, to its materialization in a strange, inhuman and frigid world. And though this world is the work of man, it is essentially anti-human.”2
Neither Heidegger nor Berdyaev lived to see the internet.
But Jonathan Crary did. Crary astutely observes how the internet has turned its users into products to be consumed (and optimized) in a never-ending cycle in which “the modeling of one’s personal and social identity…has been reorganized to the uninterrupted operation of markets, information networks, and other systems. A 24/7 environment has the semblance of a social world but it is actually a non-social model of machinic performance and a suspension of living that does not disclose the human cost required to sustain its effectiveness.”3 A requisite condition of such an environment is the absence of contemplation, since distraction optimizes economic performance and social complacency. The result is an estrangement from nature and likewise from the question of God: in short, an estrangement from Sophia, who unites the two. As Aldous Huxley prophesied in the early twentieth century, an absence of contemplation is a prerequisite of control: “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.”4 Through the advent of the internet, and especially through social media, such is our current situation.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.
1. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1977), 28.
2. Nicolas Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, trans. George Reavey (1938; reprt., London: Geoffrey Bles /The Centenary Press, 1947), 109.
3. Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2014), 9.
4. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932; reprt., New York: Harper Perennial Classics, 1998), 265.