In 1952 I spoke of the civilization of make-believe, the one we must shake off, myself, the the first of all! I spoke of columns of gray men on the march toward sterility and self-destruction.
The same year I used the term "transautomation" to show the way beyond the rationalism of technocrats toward a new creation in harmony with the laws of nature.
In 1953 I realized that the straight line leads to the downfall of mankind.
But the straight line has become an absolute tyranny.
The straight line is something cowardly drawn with a rule, without thought or feeling; it is a line which does not exist in nature.
And that the line is the rotten foundation of our doomed civilization.
Even if there are certain places where it is recognized that this line is rapidly leading to perdition, its course continues to be plotted.
The straight line is the only sterile line, the only line which does not suit man as the image of God.
The straight line is the forbidden fruit.
The straight line is the curse of our civilization.
Any design undertaken with the straight line will be stillborn. Today we are witnessing the triumph of rationalist knowhow and yet, at the same time, we find ourselves confronted with emptiness. An aesthetic void, desert of uniformity, criminal sterility, loss of creative power.
Even creativity is prefabricated.
We have become impotent. We are no longer able to create. That is our real illiteracy.
Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.Inaugural Address at University of St. Andrews (1867)
Seeing the Tea Party protests as oligarch theater was the easy part. What we didn't bargain for was how different the American ecosystem is from Russia's: Here, if your reporting causes some serious butt-hurt on powerful interests and they fight back with their PR machine, you can be sure that you will be abandoned by all your journalist "colleagues" and your liberal "comrades." One whiff of gunpowder, and those folks are like peasants melting into the countryside.
He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
[..] intellectual freedom is a deep-rooted tradition without which our characteristic western culture could only doubtfully exist. From that tradition many of our intellectuals are visibly turning away. They have accepted the principle that a book should be published or suppressed, praised or damned, not on its merits but according to political expediency. And others who do not actually hold this view assent to it from sheer cowardice.
Odds are you're pretty boring and nobody is interested in what the NSA has on you. What if you were actually really interesting, and your enemies had a lot of money? Do you plan on becoming interesting at some point in the future, or are you firmly committed to being a bore until you die?
If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. The common people still vaguely subscribe to that doctrine and act on it. In our country — it is not the same in all countries: it was not so in republican France, and it is not so in the USA today — it is the liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect: it is to draw attention to that fact that I have written this preface.
These men were able to give the counsel they gave because they were operating at an enormous psychological distance from the people who would be maimed and killed by the weapons systems that would result from the ideas they communicated to their sponsors. The lesson, therefore, is that the scientist and technologist must, by acts of will and of the imagination, actively strive to reduce such psychological distances, to counter the forces that tend to remove him from the consequences of his actions. He must -- it is as simple as this -- think of what he is actually doing. He must learn to listen to his own inner voice. He must learn to say "No!"
Finally, it is the act itself that matters. When instrumental reason is the sole guide to action, the acts it justifies are robbed of their inherent meanings and thus exist in an ethical vacuum. I recently heard an officer of a great university publicly defend an important policy decision he had made, one that many of the university's students and faculty opposed on moral grounds, with the words: "We could have taken a moral stand, but what good would that have done?" But the moral good of a moral act inheres in the act itself. That is why an act can itself ennoble or corrupt the person who performs it. The victory of instrumental reason in our time has brought about the virtual disappearance of this insight and thus perforce the delegitimation of the very idea of nobility."Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation" (1976)
A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once."Julius Caesar"
But our present State is a dictatorship of Evil. “We’ve known that for a long time,” I can hear you say, “and it is not necessary for you to remind us of it once again.” So I ask you: If you are aware of this, why do you not stir yourselves? Why do you permit this autocrat to rob you of one sphere of your rights after another, little by little, both overtly and in secret? One day there will be nothing left, nothing at all, except for a mechanized national engine that has been commandeered by criminals and drunks. Has your spirit been so devastated by rape that you forget that it is not only your right, but your moral duty to put an end to this system?
If a person cannot even summon the strength to demand his rights, then there is nothing left for him but destruction. We will have deserved to be scattered to all corners of the globe, as dust before the wind, if we do not pull ourselves together in this eleventh hour and finally summon the courage that we have been lacking till now. Do not hide your cowardice under the cloak of cleverness! Because every day that you delay, every day that you do not resist this spawn of hell, your guilt is steadily increasing, like a parabolic curve.
Modern Western culture seemingly has entered a failure-mode unprecedented in history, where we have nobody willing to go first, to stand out, to do what needs to be done, to enact the changes everyone else wants. We've run out of empathetic iconoclasts—people who see the suffering of distant/distributed others, and for whom that aggregate suffering outweighs the risk that might come to the comfortable-life-in-obscurity of all their closer companions. The people with hearts that bleed for their fellow citizens, but then don't shrivel back at the thought of their companions being the ones who end up bleeding.
You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid... You refuse to do it because you want to live longer... You're afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you're afraid someone will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.
Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!"To Posterity" (1939)
They're torturing millions of Muslims in Xinjiang, directly or indirectly through terrifying police state actions that entirely revoke all human liberty.
There is no greater mass atrocity going on anywhere on earth than what's happening in Xinjiang.
How many people, companies, VC firms in Silicon Valley are working with China and living off of Chinese money?
Where's the mass outrage and suspension of relations with China? Nope, you won't see that. No chance in hell.
The millions of Muslims in China being tortured don't matter, and one journalist does? Not exactly: it's because China is a big fat platter of money and many want to feast on it. It's a willingness to disregard all ethics because the check is big enough. It's so much money, the people that claim to care about a single journalist, don't care about millions of people being actively repressed and tortured.
The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'survive.' The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn."Sophie Scholl - The Last Days"
Most civilization is based on cowardice. It's so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame.
Since Hobbes was a philosopher, he could already detect in the rise of the bourgeoisie all those antitraditionalist qualities of the new class which would take more than three hundred years to develop fully. His Leviathan was not concerned with idle speculation about new political principles or the old search for reason as it governs the community of men; it was strictly a "reckoning of the consequences" that follow from the rise of a new class in society whose existence is essentially tied up with property as a dynamic, new property-producing device. The so-called accumulation of capital which gave birth to the bourgeoisie changed the very conception of property and wealth: they were no longer considered to be the results of accumulation and acquisition but their beginnings; wealth became a never-ending process of getting wealthier. The classification of the bourgeoisie as an owning class is only superficially correct, for a characteristic of this class has been that everybody could belong to it who conceived of life as a process of perpetually becoming wealthier, and considered money as something sacrosanct which under no circumstances should be a mere commodity for consumption.
Property by itself, however, is subject to use and consumption and therefore diminishes constantly. The most radical and the only secure form of possession is destruction, for only what we have destroyed is safely and forever ours. Property owners who do not consume but strive to enlarge their holdings continually find one very inconvenient limitation, the unfortunate fact that men must die. Death is the real reason why property and acquisition can never become a true political principle. A social system based essentially on property cannot possibly proceed toward anything but the final destruction of all property. The finiteness of personal life is as serious a challenge to property as the foundation of society, as the limits of the globe are a challenge to expansion as the foundation of the body politic. By transcending the limits of human life in planning for an automatic continuous growth of wealth beyond all personal needs and possibilities of consumption, individual property is made a public affair and taken out of the sphere of mere private life. Private interests which by their very nature are temporary, limited by man's natural span of life, can now escape into the sphere of public affairs and borrow from them that infinite length of time which is needed for continuous accumulation. This seems to create a society very similar to that of the ants and bees where "the Common good differeth not from the Private; and being by nature enclined to their private, they procure thereby the common benefit."
Since, however, men are neither ants nor bees, the whole thing is a delusion. Public life takes on the deceptive aspect of a total of private interests as though these interests could create a new quality through sheer addition. All the so-called liberal concepts of politics (that is, all the pre-imperialist political notions of the bourgeoisie)-such as unlimited competition regulated by a secret balance which comes mysteriously from the sum total of competing activities, the pursuit of "enlightened self-interest" as an adequate political virtue, unlimited progress inherent in the mere succession of events -have this in common: they simply add up private lives and personal behavior patterns and present the sum as laws of history, or economics, or politics. Liberal concepts, however, while they express the bourgeoisie's instinctive distrust of and its innate hostility to public affairs, are only a temporary compromise between the old standards of Western culture and the new class's faith in property as a dynamic, self-moving principle. The old standards give way to the extent that automatically growing wealth actually replaces political action.
Hobbes was the true, though never fully recognized, philosopher of the bourgeoisie because he realized that acquisition of wealth conceived as a never-ending process can be guaranteed only by the seizure of political power, for the accumulating process must sooner or later force open all existing territorial limits. He foresaw that a society which had entered the path of never-ending acquisition had to engineer a dynamic political organization capable of a corresponding never-ending process of power generation. He even, through sheer force of imagination, was able to outline the main psychological traits of the new type of man who would fit into such a society and its tyrannical body politic. He foresaw the necessary idolatry of power itself by this new human type, that he would be flattered at being called a power-thirsty animal, although actually society would force him to surrender all his natural forces, his virtues and his vices, and would make him the poor meek little fellow who has not even the right to rise against tyranny, and who, far from striving for power, submits to any existing government and does not stir even when his best friend falls an innocent victim to an incomprehensible raison d'etat.
For a Commonwealth based on the accumulated and monopolized power of all its individual members necessarily leaves each person powerless, deprived of his natural and human capacities. It leaves him degraded into a cog in the power-accumulating machine, free to console himself with sublime thoughts about the ultimate destiny of this machine, which itself is constructed in such a way that it can devour the globe simply by following its own inherent law.
The ultimate destructive purpose of this Commonwealth is at least indicated in the philosophical interpretation of human equality as an "equality of ability" to kill. Living with all other nations "in the condition of a perpetual war, and upon the confines of battle, with their frontiers armed. and canons planted against their neighbors round about," it has no other law of conduct but the "most conducing to [its] benefit" and will gradually devour weaker structures until it comes to a last war "which provideth for every man, by Victory, or Death.
By "Victory or Death," the Leviathan can indeed overcome all political limitations that go with the existence of other peoples and can envelop the whole earth in its tyranny. But when the last war has come and every man has been provided for, no ultimate peace is established on earth: the power-accumulating machine, without which continual expansion would not have been achieved, needs more material to devour in its never-ending process. If the last victorious Commonwealth cannot proceed to "annex the planets," it can only proceed to destroy itself in order to begin anew the never-ending process of power generation."The Origins of Totalitarianism"
Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love.