Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Wyndorf from the psychedelic rock’n’roll group Monster Magnet. Dave is an old-fashioned kind of guy, the kind of guy who likes his rock dirty, his guitars fuzzy and his art pure.
A man who learned to expose his soul by playing guitar alone in his bedroom with a 4 track tape recorder is not the kind of man who is too keen on bouncing happily on the ride of the modern civilisation, which coincidentally makes him a very pleasant interviewee. He wasn’t marketing his latest product but instead, he reached out. And so, in addition to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, we ended up talking about sarcasm, life, emotions and the dignity in growing old.
Growing old is not cool in our youth obsessed civilisation and its endless encouragement to tune in to a stream of soft focus images and pictures of life instead of life itself. Growing old is ugly, it doesn’t make for a good profile picture or get you many “likes” because it’s not instant but happens quietly and gradually inside your own mind.
On the outside, it means wrinkles, aches, pains, worse hangovers and more life experience. It means realising that there is more to life than passive aggressive futile anger and your own sense of entitlement and illusions of grandeur, it means realising that you and your self-worth are but specks in vast space, and most of all, it means a growing awareness of the fact that one day you will die. That all this other stuff, the stuff we call living, is temporary and therefore all that matters is making the most out of the here and now, while we’re still here.
Old age is too slow and subtle for a civilisation of soundbites and slogans. A world in which true meaning is too heavy when weighed against the unbearable lightness of instant gratification and the eternal, on-going, non-stop strive to become better, to update, to keep reaching for perfection, so hey, why even bother. Anyway, here, have some tits. Click, click, Esc, Save File and enjoy your own custom-made Reality© where no meaning can hurt you, my dear, because no meaning is real.
You are, right now, in this moment of time, nothing but an incomplete potential that must somehow be perfected. You should therefore never stop striving to become better. And don’t forget, by “better” we do not mean getting older and gaining life experience. Quite the opposite. Old age is an embarrassing weakness and a burden on tax payers to boot; life experience is only temporary anyway and besides it doesn’t get you laid.
The younger you look and act, the better. That’s what we mean by “progress.” And the longer you manage to look and act younger, the closer you are to Perfection.
There is not one person who illustrates this brave new mentality and constant craving for perfection quite so clearly as a gentleman by the name of Ray Kurzweil. Ray is not satisfied with the average survival instinct. He goes as far as looking forward to becoming a “software based” upgrade of his current self.
Don’t mind Ray, he’s just a scientist expressing his hope of what will become of you and your children in the near future.
Here is a man who refers to his own flesh as “Body 1.0” and is so afraid of dying that he is set on completely re-designing the human body with biomechanical engineering in order to be able to merge in with the machines and live through robots even after the biological body gives up.
Here is someone who apparently pops 250 supplement pills per day in order to keep his body in shape and fully prepared for computer-aided immortality which is, according to him, just around the corner.
Back in 2005, Ray wrote a book entitled “The Singularity is Near” in which he makes seemingly whacky yet apparently scientifically valid predictions about the near future of our bodies and our lives. He writes very excitedly about the new updated version of humanity, a humanity which will finally be so entwined with technology that its very existence is literally comprised of codes, chips and computer programming with a few analogue parts such as brain and blood cells kept temporarily intact in the wait of an even better upgrade.
Sounds a bit nutty, I know. But hey, don’t worry. Even though Ray may sound a bit like an utterly insane egomaniac, he’s actually completely legit, a successful author and, since last December, the new Director of Engineering at Google. There there, it all feels so much better now, doesn’t it?
As it happens, hiring Ray is just one detail in the bigger picture of the recent rise and rise of Google’s whacky ambition. This year, it invested a large amount of money into a new company by the name of Calico which, unlike Google X, is an altogether separate branch of business but which nonetheless now acts essentially as Google’s Research and Development department.
Also unlike Google X, Calico is not satisfied with developing fun gadgets like computer glasses or self-driving cars. As fun as those things are, they’re not quite the ultimate upgrade in human potential. Instead of developing shiny and colourful blinking things, Calico embraces a more serious approach and sets its sights on no less than the human life and body itself and the very process of aging, thereby very much echoing the thought processes of Ray Kurzweil himself.
The aim of Google’s new project is to find biomechanical solutions to diseases and ailments, particularly to the symptoms of aging and to exploring the possibilities of the science of so-called “longevity.”
In other words, your email provider is now in the business of health care with the intention of curing mortality and extending the human life span. It all feels so much safer now, doesn’t it?
The very fact that death is considered nothing but an ailment, an obstacle in the way of immortality, makes Calico an ambitious project to say the least. Not to mention what it says about the value system and priority list of the folks at Google.
In a world in which millions of people lack proper access to even the most basic form of health care, and where the over-population of the planet is widely discussed along with the limited nature of living space and natural resources, these people choose to close their eyes and instead pick out such facts as “aging” and “dying” as the biggest obstacles which absolutely must be defeated.
Their “perfect upgrade” does not mean deepening the experience of living or creating the best possible living standards to as many people as possible or indeed even appreciating such things as growing old and gaining life experience. According to them, the perfect upgrade of Life is to make it longer by whatever means necessary. Quality gets eaten up by quantity and form finally conquers its own substance.
Ray Kurzweil and the likes of him may well consider it a real treat for the human ego to continue life after the body dies by means of a computerised surrogate robot – but do the rest of us have to share his idea of the “good life”? Do we have a say in this little project of theirs? And who gave Google the permission to determine over the quality of life anyway? I don’t know about you but all I wanted was a damn email account.
Furthermore, I wonder what happens to those of us who do not share Google’s grand ideas of the meaning of life. Those who, for one reason or another, do not manage to update their systems to “Humanity 2.0” will have to wither away and disappear into the shadows like the ugly and scary remnants of an old and primitive world that they are.
I may sound paranoid, but in a world run by youth-obsessed sociopaths, who doesn’t feel a tinge of fear? Might as well be paranoid while it’s still possible: a world of singularity does not, by its very definition, allow space for individual thought, let alone dissent. You will either be a part of it, or you’ll simply not be.
Whether Google will succeed in defeating death and creating eternal life is, at this point, almost beside the point. The fact that they are trying in the first place should be enough to start a wider public discussion on the future of the human race and the way we choose to live our lives.
Because the sad fact is that Ray Kurzweil and the likes of him are merely reflecting a current state of humanity which is characterised by an obsessive submission to constant and blind craving for more, more, more in a world where we mistake our computer screen for the mirror of our soul and the screams of our own egos for the voices of gods.
A world in which human beings are obsessed with idealised perfection which it is told exists just around the corner, behind just one more upgrade, one more correction, one more session at the gym, one more pill, one more sex partner, one more dose of Botox, one more purchase, one more scientific study, one more ego trip and one more chance at Life.
A world in which nobody cares about passion, 4 track tape recorders, fuzzy guitars, dirty rock’n’roll, pure art or growing old.
Thanks but no thanks, I’ll rather die.