Author Topic: "Weimar Meets Waterloo"  (Read 826 times)

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Offline gladius_veritatis

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"Weimar Meets Waterloo"
« on: August 01, 2011, 10:01:43 AM »
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  • http://kunstler.com/blog/2011/08/weimar-meets-waterloo.html

    Weimar Meets Waterloo

    By James Howard Kunstler
    on August 1, 2011 9:15 AM

    The Sunday night news, scant as it is these days despite the grotesque exertions of over a thousand cable TV stations, showed the old familiar faces lit up with crocodile smiles. The Republic was saved, surprise, surprise, by a last-minute fugue of reasonableness, when all concerned decided that putting the business-end of a double-barreled 20-guage shotgun in America's pie-hole might not summon the spirits of Ronald Reagan, Santa Claus, Adam Smith, Chuck Norris, and the Holy Ghost after all.

         Let's give thanks that it's over because now the USA can get on with its systemic collapse honestly and fairly. Even though the debt ceiling extravaganza ended in something like political failure, one point did seem to shine through: there's no more money. Anyway, no money for non-bankers, and pretty soon even the bankers will be out of money too, because their money is fantasy banking money (sssshhhh, don't tell them) consisting of hard-drives packed with digital slime trails of swindles and frauds. The public can live in straight-up unvarnished fear now that they are liable to lose everything they thought they had.

         This new depression is way different from the hazily remembered one of grampy's boyhood. There was no money then, too, in 1934, but you didn't have to puzzle out the metaphysical workings of a collateralized debt obligation to know what the score was. Your pockets were just empty and the bank down the street was shuttered. The country had plenty of everything except money: lots of oil, good farmland, manpower, ores, timber, beeves-on-the-hoof, excellent railroads, dynamic cities, and factories just recently built (only the orders for goods stopped coming in). Yet something happened that still mystifies the viziers who call themselves economists.

         Was it all that mischief on Wall Street with the "bucket shops" and the margin-gone-wild, and the shoeshine boys proffering stock tips to their customers? Or was it some remorseless cyclical exhalation of history? Or was it that plus the Keynesian monkey-business with interest rates and the issuance of  currency? Or was it some fundamental flaw in the workings of industrial capitalism itself? These questions have never been adequately answered, though there is no shortage of "stories" cooked up to explain it - many of them elegantly entertaining.

         My own guess is that the industrial experience itself was a peculiar experiment rife with treacherous self-amplifying feedbacks that the participants were not prepared for, such as the rapid saturation of markets via mass production at the colossal scale. Whoops. And meanwhile, everybody in China is living in the equivalent of the 12th century, so forget about selling them radios. (Globalization eventually fixed that...or did it?)  To put a finer point on it, industrialism (and all its digital offshoots) may not be a permanent feature of the human condition, but an anomalous congruence of some historical events that had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

         I happen to think we're at the end of this anomalous era because we've run through the material resource base. I know a lot of people eagerly await the nano-dawn of self-replicating bot Satori, where everything we need is literally conjured out of thin air. The Viziers would really love that because, at last, their models would work! Personally, I do not hold my breath waiting for Kurzweilian "Singularity." We'll be disappointed enough when Walmart fails to run on wind turbines.

         So now we enter an economic terra incognita of the real post-industrial economy - not the Cinderella hoo-hah of digi-magic advertised in places like Wired Magazine, but more like a Foxfire world made by hand. We're out of cheap oil, cheap and good ores, ocean fish, good timber, and lots of other things. All the stuff we erected to live our lives in - the stupendous armature of highways, strip malls, suburban houses, skyscraper condos, sewer systems, electric grids - is beyond our power to repair now. We can only patch it, and that can only work for so long before things go dark. (Can you sharpen a saw blade?)

         The money part is not so hard to understand. When the dynamism wanes in a hypertrophic system, money can no longer be created. Real money, that is. Money that means something, a trustworthy medium of exchange, in a system where borrowers reliably pay back loaned money. All the current money fiascos underway around the world, old and new, western and eastern, are just dumb-shows put on to conceal the fact that money is not being paid back. Real wealth is contracting - even as the smaller pool of remaining wealth moves magnetically to the centers of power.

          We will never solve this American debt crisis. We're going broke fast and it will be like falling down a long staircase. The federal government will never recover. It will pretend to be in charge of things that continue to fall apart, and eventually its pretenses will be seen for what they are - and then it will be every community for itself. (The same can be said of the states, and even the counties.)

         The troubles will mount more rapidly, too, from here, because nobody has been fooled by the machinations in congress the past month, except maybe the elected cravens at the center of it all, and many of them are in their final years of lofty, well-feathered splendor. A debt rating warning - if that's what it turns out to be - will be brushed aside, and for some good reasons, too, but it is really a dark sign that our Republic does not function anymore and is primed to break apart.
    + Vincit veritas +

    Offline Man of the West

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    "Weimar Meets Waterloo"
    « Reply #1 on: August 01, 2011, 09:00:36 PM »
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  • I used to read James Howard Kunstler a lot, and I still do on occasion. It's just that sometimes his perpetually sardonic disposition gets to be too much for me. Although I believe in the impending Great Correction, I still have to try and make my way in this world somehow, and weekly doses of JHK weren't exactly helping my attitude. Nevertheless, the idea of peak resources (and the political and economic adjustments that will follow in its wake) is something I've spent many years meditating deeply upon. JHK is an engaging writer; I think his memoirs are probably some of the best material on his website. For an especial treat, I recommend checking out his Memoir Archive.

    For what it's worth, I've never bought into Kurzweil's "Singularity" either. Here's another oldie-but-goodie from my blog (lightly edited), in which I attempted to show the idea's internal contradictions. But before we begin, I must issue one caveat to the reader. I few of the paragraphs in the following essay have a bit of a modernist flavor. I was once an unwitting modernist myself before I began to understand things better. I was originally drawn into Christianity by reading Paul Tillich, of all people. By the grace of God, I am now a Trad Catholic and couldn't be happier about it. If I were to rewrite this essay today I would do it in fully Thomistic terms; but for now I will let it stand as it is, trusting that the readership here will see the intrinsically Thomistic caste of the argument, and will know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.


    ---------------------------------------------------


    A Leibnizian Rebuttal to Kurzweil's Singularity.

    (Note: This post was written by me approximately four years ago in order to refute certain computational theories of mind that had arisen in another discussion forum. Also refuted here is the related notion that the universe tends inevitably towards an "Omega Point," Teilhard de Chardin's vision of a pole of maximum integration and connotation which draws all things unto itself. Ray Kurzweil, the director of MIT's Media Lab, has argued for decades that this Omega Point {or "Singularity," as he prefers to call it} will be brought about by an ever-accelerating advance of computational power and neural nanotechnology. Obviously, this mistaken understanding is predicated on several false metaphysical presuppositions: 1) That the universe in its basic essence is composed of wholly knowable and predictable digital components. 2) That the mind of man is an epiphenomenon arising from physical interactions among these components. 3) That this mind is a physical structure mirroring the funtion of a von Neumann stored-program computer, and amenable to physical manipulation on that account. I have argued here that not only are these metaphysical notions erroneous, but the Omega Point itself is a corruption of the Christian idea of the Eschaton, which cannot occur within history but only beyond it. Hence, all Omega Point theologies are in fact millenarian heresies with an element of the anti-Christ about them. The Church, while ever striving to perfect all aspects of earthly life as much as possible, must be on her guard against such thinking.)

    Since addressing the “theories of consciousness” problem adequately would require stipulating to certain ontological facts that have not really been mentioned here, I think I should begin with a theological examination of the concept of the singularity, from first principles.

    Is there an End of History? Are we to seek for a temporal manifestation of the ideal of unbounded liberty? Do such transhumanistic notions spring from a genuine mystical imperative, and are they capable of becoming the object of Man’s ultimate concern? Are these the “Kingdom Come” that our Lord instructs us to pray for? Or are they something else perhaps – something less desirable?

    It may not have escaped notice that all proposed actualizations of the omega point involve constructions which are essentially mechanical in nature, whether they be computers made from folded space or artificial neurons made from nanomachines. Nor has it gone unmentioned that this transformation of Man’s physical and mental environment into an all-inclusive, controllable machine has been a distinguishing feature of Western millenarianism whenever the latter has broken out. It is quite possible to doubt the plausibility of such constructions, but that would leave the underlying philosophical problem untouched: With what reason do we regard such a world as being superior to the one we actually inhabit? Or in other words: Why is this necessarily the pole toward which “progress” progresses?

    The question goes to the heart of the subjective nature of progress. Among the singularity champions, of course, it is never even asked. The assumption that all progress moves inevitably toward the singularity is the implicit justification of their entire program. By examining carefully the nature of this assumption, we obtain a key as to the theological significance of the singularity. Let us begin by dissecting its aforementioned mechanical nature.

    Mechanics, be it noted, is thoroughly positivistic. A technical artifact receives its meaning, and therefore its form, entirely from the purposes it was constructed to fulfill. Its existence is intentional, and as a result its relevant attributes are strictly limited and capable of exhaustive quantitative description. This very purposefulness is the hallmark of all artifacts; there can be accidental discoveries, but there are no accidental technologies.

    This immediately sets the artifact apart from the matter from which it is constructed, as the latter always possesses additional attributes that are incidental to the intended purpose of the artifact. These attributes it must possess, if for no other reason than that it was capable (through some sort of physical manipulation) of being transformed into the artifact in question. Any “perfect technology,” as it were, would utilize the full spectrum of attributes of its constituent material, and by definition could not be further transformed into anything else. Nor could it have been transformed from anything else, as this would assume the existence of some mode of action by which the constituent material could be affected, but in which it had no inherent ability to participate – a contradiction. A machine is an orchestration of incidents; mechanical properties of its constituent materials are defined, abstracted out from their carriers, quantified, and recombined in exact ratios in order to produce the intended result. We have shown that a perfect machine must possess at least all the qualities of its material, but also that it cannot possess more than these. In other words, it would be identical in all respects to the material from which it was made. It would seem then, that the only “perfect technology” is reality itself, the unmolested matter, plain and simple.

    Important implications follow. If reality is more perfect than any possible machine, then naturally it could not be simulated by any machine – so much for the idea of a computer reconstructing the universe at the end of time. Furthermore, since we now see that any machine must be less than the sum total of its own materials, no computer could even simulate itself, let alone the universe. But it is possible to make an even bolder claim. If reality is more perfect than any possible machine, then it can never be perfectly decomposed into mechanical units by mechanical processes. There can be no completely quantifiable, fundamental building blocks of reality, and consequently no “Theory of Everything” to account for them. No machine, no matter how large, could adequately simulate any bit of reality, no matter how small. Ultimately, the universe is not amenable to technological description. We cannot use physical processes to explain themselves.

    Additionally, to make the same point with another argument, we recall from an earlier definition that all technologies are intentional. For the entire universe to assume the properties of a technology then, we would have to enlarge our circle of intentionality to the point that it covered the whole of physical reality. But we have already seen that reality can not be quantified. The furthest advance we can make in this direction is to apply the concept of intentionality ex post facto to the events as they occur. With this, the intellect has dissolved itself and violated its own necessity. Just as a perfect machine would be identical to reality, a perfect intention would be identical to actuality. The theoretical limit of pure, mechanical ideation could only will that the world be exactly as it is anyway. To attempt further alteration would assume the existence of knowledge concerning reality that could not be derived from reality – a contradiction. And since we can only intend that which we have defined, and reality can not be totally defined (see above), it stands to reason that reality is more perfect than any intention.

    This being the case, no Theory of Everything can be forthcoming. Furthermore, since no mechanical intention can include all the attributes of a given material, no act of mechanical ideation can even perfectly encapsulate the properties of the very machine it was intended to produce. The bolder claim again follows naturally. Since reality is more perfect than any intention, it could never be decomposed by quantitative means into exactly definable thought-units (for if it could, these thought-units could be reassembled into reality by some larger theory, violating the perfection of reality). No theory, no matter how grand, could adequately explain any bit of reality, no matter how tiny. The universe is ultimately not amenable to technical description.

    Neither the physical world nor the spirit who perceives it is explicable in terms of itself or of the other. They must radiate from a source that transcends them both and this source we call God.

    We are now ready to get to the crux of the problem, and examine what is implied by this particular notion of progress. Man’s will to technical self-extension is natural and healthy, but it is not perfect. Every act of mechanical ideation must by definition involve a denial of the unrealized attributes. As a result of this, machines not only fail to emulate reality, they also break down and decay. This is the basis of that which, in physics, is known as entropy. Theologically speaking, entropy is the “judgment” of God that brings justice to the unrealized attributes and denies the property of ultimacy to man’s creations. In the will to technical self-extension, Man takes the judgment upon himself sacrificially, and receives in return his “dominion” over the Earth.

    But this communion breaks down when the will to self-extension becomes the will to technological transcendence. Ontically, matter exists in a state of created perfection. The will to mechanicalize the entire world must involve the act of denying this created perfection in totality. What once was sacrifice has become hubris. By denying the perfection of created being, we exalt the principle of non-being to supremacy in our minds. The will to technical transcendence is Satanic; the singularity is the Antichrist. It is the form in which the idea of “mammon” receives a logical maximum of connotative weight. It is that which is continuously overcome within the stream of history by the very nature of being itself; by its infinite superiority over non-being, by the eternal operations of divine Providence.

    Thus, there is no End of History.

    The bearing this all has upon theories of consciousness may not be obvious, but it is nonetheless logically direct. If we take all the proceeding to be true, then it is plain that human consciousness can neither reach matter nor result from matter – and most assuredly can not be replaced by matter. In fact even “matter”, as we commonly use the term, can not be reduced to purely material units.

    The Western intellect has come full-circle. The journey out of secular night and into the light of revelation is underway. Due to the very ferocity of our particular style of technical ideation and the self-negating tendencies inherent in it, we have prepared our collective consciousness for that day when the reality of God will once again become a persistent, pervasive, and vivid experience.
    Confronting modernity from the depths of the human spirit, in communion with Christ the King.


    Offline gladius_veritatis

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    "Weimar Meets Waterloo"
    « Reply #2 on: August 02, 2011, 08:28:30 AM »
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  • Thanks, MotW :)

    It is indeed wise to take men like JHK is small doses.  For all his merit, he lacks THE key where seeing reality is concerned; the Holy Faith.

    Thanks, too, for sharing your own reflections regarding "Singularity."

    For my part, I definitely disagree with JHK on some things, including his 'ornery ostrich' attitude toward the truth about 9/11.
    + Vincit veritas +


     

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