“The gigantic computer in Brussels will be the means used by the Bankers to control the purchases and sales of everybody on earth… It will control every nation in the world. In St. John’s Apocalypse, two beasts are mentioned, the Beast of the sea and the Beast of the earth.”
In the end-times, the two Beasts will join together and form the “Antichrist” couple. The Beast coming from the sea represents political power. The Beast coming from the earth represents the power of money. The Beast of the earth is presently unveiled to the world: it is the gigantic three-story computer in Brussels, with the number of the Beast, 666.”
The fundamentalists are right to be suspicious to the point of paranoia about the computer’s ever-widening role in structuring our world and organizing our lives. Is there any question that dependence on a very particular structure of technology only grows – evident in the way I’m writing this and you’re reading it?
It is no anomaly that each new release of any major commercial PC program binds us that much more closely to the specifics of Microsoft’s Windows system. It requires no conspiracy from Bill Gates, just the normal advantages of technological development to solidify our subordination.
Technology looks more and more like Tolkien’s Rings: freely distributed, empowering, but ultimately “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
The same dynamic that J.R.R. expressed in the story of The Lord of the Rings, Michael Journal grasps in paranoia (though mislocating the evil in Brussels and the Beast). It is a metaphor many of us live every day as we spend the precious hours of our lives, and bet our livelihoods, on a brittle mechanism whose truest web is one of dependencies.
In short, we make an enormous, and for many of us bittersweet, leap of faith every time we log on. However much we might fancy ourselves savvy, hardheaded realists, in cyberspace we’re all saps. What are those dependencies? Here are some samples for our current activity:
• The power grid
• The long-distance phone network
• The local phone network
• Your Internet server
• Your computer
• The vast industries that build the components for all the above
• The internal integrity of the software that runs the system, from my word processor to the telephone companies’ switches to your Web browser
• The conventions that bind the system together
• The economy that underwrites the system and our ability to participate in it
• The laws that govern it all
The fact that traces of anarchy and evidence of individual creative effort persist on the Internet only reflects the amazing capacity of our society to harness that which it is in the process of denaturing, if not eradicating. And of course we don’t just have to think about the Internet. The same sorts of dependencies apply to CD audio, the modern automobile, office buildings, hospitals, and on and on.
Any sensible person can’t help but be deeply suspicious, not only of the techno-world’s fragility, but also for the way it binds us ever more tightly to an economic and technological order whose fundamental tendencies are centralizing and despotic.
Those proclivities are not necessarily in the consciousness of the system’s mavens and power brokers (who in some cases may be us), but they are evident in the way progress plays itself out.
Our privacy, political liberty, autonomy erode. Well-being is reduced to commodity. Politics shrivel, civil society languishes and civility perishes as scientific, market-driven rationalization overtakes what moral and cultural depth we have left. (This is not just a function of the computer age; read Max Weber, circa 1900.) The survivalists and fundamentalists and militia folk often miss the point in their analysis of who is to blame and how it’s done. Their notion that the modern world system is under the control of some clear-cut, identifiable evil-doer is pure fantasy.
But they are dead right to be terrified. We indeed face a system that is relentless in its operation and that is making our individuality, our very lives, more and more frail by its very promise to make us more comfortable, more connected and, not coincidentally, more corporate. Yet to opt out, to flee technology and the fierceness of progress in favor of the Simple Life, requires a leap of faith greater than most of us are capable of.
To break the threads that bind takes spiritual resources that most of us – well, that I – don’t possess.
Instead, we fancy ourselves surfing the waves rather than being engulfed by them. We find equivalence in entertainment and edification. We seek to build a defensible niche in the wall going up around us, dreaming of the little spaces where we hope to still do right (however pathetically) and fantasizing that the mere act of creation (however meaningless beyond the act itself) will give some point to our surrendering lives.