Why Progressives Can’t Progress & Conservatives Can’t Conserve

“When 21st century Ceasars have the technological, scientific and financial  power to undermine and to undo Creation, then the question arises what is and is not Ceasar’s? And to whom should we render it? ” from ‘Beyond Freedom’ by J. P. Malkin

The foundational principles of our long accepted political philosophies are no longer able to deal with the contradictions of a technological, globalised world.

The times we are living through have been described as a ‘fin de siecle’ era, when an old world is dying and a new one as yet has not been born. It is natural in such turbulent times of instability and challenge that we should reflect and reassess.

Often, in such times, people retreat to old answers within the worn out logic of old certainties that are already passed – sovereignty, free trade, protectionism, putting our nation first and war against some external threat are all familiar themes. However, occasionally someone or something comes along that shifts our perspective to renew our wonder and refresh and reorient our gaze.  Millions of people have found wonder and awe in watching the miracles of nature that the BBC’s ‘Blue Planet’ documentaries reveal about our extraordinary abundant living world – the only one which as yet, present scientific knowledge can say for certain, contains life.

In these films it is not just every species that amazes, but the rich pattern of diversity itself as we glimpse how each species fits within and is dependent upon a greater whole. Yet what remains unspoken and taken for granted is the mystery of the extraordinary species that is examining, recording and celebrating the rich diversity of these ecologies. Perhaps its time to refresh our curiosity and focus again on this special being that is not only capable of creating the technology to observe and document the living world in this way, but is capable of appreciating each species as more than a meal ticket.

Because humans have become a force of nature, how we explain ourselves to ourselves today has significant implications, not just for the kind of society we make, but for every creature of every species on Earth and perhaps beyond, not only today but in the future. Our image of the human being has certainly not kept pace with our technical power, scientific capability and the globalised results it has created. If we don’t know what we are, how can we know where we are going or where we want to go?

In the modern era we have come to see ourselves as separate from and above nature, above creation and for many as separate from God. The media and popular culture see our selves as an intelligent animal that, at different times, is a predatory beast, a conditioned robot, a rational economic actor or a machine-like computer that is also inconveniently capable of emotion. All of these partial, glib, incoherent analogies are premised on a secular, linear, materialist science that despite its technological successes, currently can still only explain a small percentage of matter and which currently has no coherent provable explanation of consciousness. Put another way one might say that human beings are in many important respects as yet not ‘evidence based’ so until that changes  – which, for those of my own persuasion, is not likely in the foreseeable imaginable future, so we need a meta level perspective that is coherent and not reliant on literal measurement of things that intrinsically cannot be measured. In short we need a new story to live by.

It is clear that our power to create is extraordinary, formidable and wide-ranging. For example just as human ingenuity has allowed us to create innocuous vegan menu choices of meat substitutes such as mock duck and mock chicken, the power of technology using artificial “intelligence” is already well embarked upon a quest to create mock humans.However, programmed algorithms that can create mock love in robots will never be the same as human consciousness that freely chooses self-sacrifice and self-restraint for the purpose of relating to each other, to the world and of nurturing life.

Even if we discount the super sensible, within the limits of secular, linear, materialist science, given the manifold legions of complex interdependent, chemical, physical, energetic, biological and cultural systems that make each of us able to think, feel and act in a millisecond with sophisticated, discerning and focused complexity, it is doubtful that artificial general intelligence will be able to replicate the human being – even with the billions and trillions that the military industrial corporations are currently spending on creating the perfect machine for exterminating life.

This juxtaposition raises the most important challenge of being human – how we deal with power – particularly how we deal with our own power.

The problem with liberalism, conservatism and socialism is that they are no longer capable of addressing our power to create and mis-create. The two main purposes of politics – protecting the sacred (what we hold most dear) and constraining power that is self serving (whether of the market, the state or the individual) are beyond the the capability of the broken frame of left and right.

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