August 4th, 2005. Robot Pride Day.
“Where were YOU the night of August 4th?”
This simple phrase, uttered every year on said date has become a mantra for a growing population exposed to the Constant Change subculture that arose from Blue Dog Pict and is run by Sky Pirates.
Over time the special day might suffer the same dilution as Valentine’s Day or Easter – becoming little more than an opportunity for Hallmark to sell cute cards. Like any special holiday, it is important to reflect on the philosophy and spirit that set it in motion.
The following is a way of conveying the message behind this strange and seemingly premature annual event.
On July 4th, 1845 the New York Daily Tribune published a story by Margaret Fuller titled “The Fourth of July” intended as a wake up call to all Americans. In it she identified America?s “slavish materialism” and proposed as a solution: “individual action based on principle to set an example of the practicability of virtue,” creating what Michael Meyer interprets as “the deeply rooted, self-cultivated individual who has the power to awaken his neighbors from their torpid lives of expediency to lives of principle.” 1
In 1995, upon seeing the first iteration of Netscape unveiled, I realized that the human species, inexorably tied to machines after the industrial revolution, had evolved an irrevocable upgrade. In my novel ?True and Selfish Prophets? I wrote:
“Cognition is the water of Life. And the human aphids, (or perhaps the humans as intuitive components within the seed) begin to, in a micro instance, where the conditions simply become ‘right,’ find themselves capable of displacing this cognition at will, exchanging it effortlessly, compiling it, amassing it. For a micro-instance the seed reverberates with the sudden congealing of cognition, its critical component, given rise through the event of a critical mass forming within the micro-instance of the ideal setting, throbbing with expectancy.
“The seed, once perceived to be of planetary magnitude by the parasitic-movers within, suddenly becomes unveiled in its true form”a small seed erupting into life with the push it needed from the aphid-component-parasitic-movers, as they consolidate, and beginning the cycle anew; the newborn child, now becoming a maturing compost-in-waiting, an as yet ignorant aphid-component-parasitic-mover groping blindly for answers.” 2
In 2005 – the tenth anniversary of RPD – Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired, in a special issue devoted to ten years that changed the world, acknowledges [Sun Microsystems?] John Gage?s foresight that “The network is the computer.”
“[Gage] neatly summed up the destiny of the Web: As the OS for a megacomputer that encompasses the Internet, all its services, all peripheral chips and affiliated devices from scanners to satellites, and the billions of human minds entangled in this global network. The gargantuan Machine already exists?in the coming decade, it will evolve into an integral extension not only of our senses and bodies but our minds? “This planet-sized computer is comparable in complexity to a human brain. Both the brain and the Web have hundreds of billions of neurons (or Web pages). Each biological neuron sprouts synaptic links to thousands of other neurons, while each Web page branches into dozens of hyperlinks. That adds up to a trillion ‘synapses’ between the static pages on the Web. The human brain has about 100 times that number” but brains are not doubling in size every few years. The Machine is [it] is fractal. In total, it harnesses a quintillion transistors, expanding its complexity beyond that of a biological brain?[surpassing] the 20-petahertz threshold for potential intelligence as calculated by Raymond Kurzweil. For this reason some researchers have switched their bets to the Net as the computer most likely to think first. ” 3
Although the Web is frequently lauded as the great equalizer, affording a level playing field to the end-user and the MegaCorp alike, we, “the people,” must be cautious in what we are giving away in the process. We are in a boon – where the Internet is still unregulated except for matters of domain administration.
As we become increasingly reliant upon it, we must be aware that this seeming Elysian Field of data exchange might one day be retracted and regulated by a centralized body. (A recent article published by the BBC discloses the UN?s interest in creating ?some sort of talking shop that will give governments and others a say in how the net develops.?) 4 This might not come from even as altruistic a force as the UN – note the recent takeover of populist MySpace.com by Rupert Murdoch?s decidedly Orwellian NewsCorp.
While Sky Pirates and followers of Robot Pride Day are hardly Luddites, it is prudent to consider Popul Vuh, the sacred book of the ancient Quich? Maya, written almost four hundred years ago, wherein the authors caution against our reliance upon the tools that might one day turn against us:
“And all [those things] began to speak…”You…shall feel our strength. We shall grind and tear your flesh to pieces.” said their grinding stones…At the same time, their griddles and pots spoke: “Pain and suffering you have caused us…You burned us as if we felt no pain. Now you shall feel it, we shall burn you.” 5
We have perhaps never felt this reliance upon the Machines more strongly than at the end of the last century when it was realized that the simple omission of two digits from the calendar year could lead to potential widespread disaster as the last digits reset to ?00.? Although Y2K ended being little more than a money-maker for alarmists, it served as a wake-up call concerning our ignorance and utter codependence on technology. More than anything else, it exemplified how we feel incapable of dealing with our own realities outside of the sphere of technology. There seems to be a widespread anxiety that although we can see the collision course we are on with disaster?that is?the depletion of natural resources, the collapse of the environment, global warming, and all associated disorders?we have little power to affect it. We always have the power to turn off the television, pull the plug on the radio, unplug the computer, turn off the lights and turn on candles, feel the sun and walk through nature?or whatever it is we have left of it. Perhaps our greatest arrogance is the idea that we might be more powerful than nature itself. Truth is, nature will outlast us. Ironically, the machines will likely outlast us as well. The only concern we should have is whether we will manage to sustain ourselves within her plan.
It is essential that we become pro-active in preserving the ecosystem (The Natural Resource Defense Council has been fighting a two year battle with the current American administration to prevent it from drilling in the Alaskan wilderness for oil) and supporting sustainable methods of living/farming, waste management, power consumption, or we will succumb to the same pattern of collapse that many great civilization?s (Easter Island, Sumer, Rome) have met.
In his erudite “A Short History of Progress,” Ronald Wright capitulates: “Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I am calling progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn’t easily moved. This human inability to foresee?or to watch out for?long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by the millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begin to suffer?
“We have the tools and means to share resources, clean up pollution, dispense basic health care and birth control, and set economic limits in line with natural ones. If we don’t do these things while we prosper, we will never be able to do them when times get hard. Our fate will twist out of our hands. And this new century will not grow very old before we enter an age of chaos and collapse that will dwarf all the dark ages in our past. Now is our last chance to get the future right.”6
When I assigned August 4th the ironic title “Robot Pride Day” ten years ago (1995), it was to stand as a beacon and an historic flagstone that we had rounded a corner in human development. In our sudden and remarkable new ability to communicate telepathically with the rest of the species, I saw two possibilities simultaneously:
1) We could minimize the disparity of our experiences and find empathy with those whom we did not understand, communicate ideas and create new mythologies that served us as we moved forward
2) We become a homogenous, singular mob that would forfeit its anonymity and independence and become fish in a barrel for the predatory multi-national faceless conglomerates that would target us for financial gain.
In his manifesto “Culture Jam”, Kalle Lasn, founder of AdBusters, writes:
“Layer upon layer of mediated artifice come between us and the world until we are mummified. The commercial mass media are rearranging our neurons, manipulating our emotions, making powerful new connections between deep immaterial needs and material products.” 7
I believe both things have taken place. Just as the Web has expanded in ways that no futurist could have predicted by the sheer amount voluntarily created user content, we have also forfeited much of our ability to think and act independently, based on principle, as Margaret Fuller cautioned over a century ago.
Neither scenario is all-inclusive?there are still many of us living outside the system of institutionally sanctioned thought?watching, creating alternatives, upholding the most virtuous aims. The Constant Change community and its Sky Pirate protectors maintain those traditions in human interaction that perpetuate love, freedom, the quest for knowledge, the earning of wisdom, tolerance, and above all, respect for all creation. We are the children of a new age ? one in which we are more closely tied together than ever before ? and yet this close-knit lifestyle can pose a threat to our very understanding of the way things are. We strive to maintain a greater perspective, to demand the truth, to act against tyranny and to encourage creativity and grace.
We must remain conscious so that we are prepared should that day – when we lose our grip on the reigns of our destiny – ever come to pass.
We will still be there when the lights go out.
What will you be doing when Robot Pride Day comes? How will you answer the morning after when they knock on your door to ask:
Where were YOU the night of August 4th?
Where will YOU be on Robot Pride Day?
Luv and roadkill,
Gematria ? Mission Specialist -08.ZIYA
The Constant Change Crew
August 4th, 2005
1 Meyer, Michael – from the introduction to ?Walden and Civil Disobedience? Thoreau, Henry David, (Penguin Classics, New York, 1986.)
2 Malicki-Sanchez, Keram ?True and Selfish Prophets,? (Los Angeles, 2005.)
3 Kelly, Kevin ?We Are the Web,? WIRED – August 2005.
4 “UN at odds over internet’s future” http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/technology/4692743.stm Published: 2005/07/18 11:56:17 GMT
5 Delia Goetz, Sylvanus Morley, and Adrian Recinos, trans., Popul Vuh: The Sacred book of the Ancient Quich? Maya (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1950), pp. 91-92.
6 Wright, Ronald – A Short History of Progress, House of Anansi Press, Toronto, 2004.
7 Kalle Lasn ? Culture Jam (New York, 1999) p.12