A giant disembodied hologram head flickers to life, and begins to announce the day’s speaker lineup. Ok, I say to myself, that’s a little different.
The theme of Voice and Exit is “criticize by creating.” It’s a three-day meeting for minds on the bleeding edge of innovation. Digital currency, future cities, space travel and decentralized forms of government are among the topics, as speaker after speaker lays out their vision for a brave new world. If the cosmos is balanced between order and chaos, these people are chaos and the aesthetic (psychedelic urban chic) perfectly embodies the raw, untamed life energy driving the movement forward. That’s probably why one of the speakers slams Dr. Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist turned international celebrity. Peterson is the west’s champion of order.
They seem aware of the situation. One speaker reminds the crowd that the men in grey suits who control the world’s mega-corporations will not readily adopt exciting new technologies if they look dangerous. Most people, she says, are deeply risk averse. I am surprised to see one man talk about Jerusalem, and the rapture, and the apocalyptic certainty that certain religious movements are taking refuge in as the deluge of change continues to relentlessly pick up the pace. I am happy, if surprised, to see him include the tech-lords of Silicon Valley who eagerly await the singularity, as part of parcel of this phenomenon. Other speakers are positively gleeful, and can’t wait to detonate the entire international structure, from governments to corporations, and replace it all with decentralized sovereign cultural communities. I am not sure they fully understand what they mean. But that doesn’t matter. A futurist oriented capitalism infused with neo-tribalist communitarianism seems like exactly my jam.
The room is pumped to hear some of the new ideas for the next stage of the digital revolution. But despite the protestations of a total transformation of the mankind, something about the whole thing seems eerily familiar. I am struck by the religious tone of the whole thing. The morning begins with meditation: a call to mindfulness. Compassion, love, a seeming disregard for the grubby desire for money (despite the low-key wealth on display) are emphasized time and again. Tribe is mentioned a lot, and the importance of community. Their advice for young women looking for a long term partner sounds exactly like what my religious aunts would say: don’t have sex until you get that commitment. But the speaker backs it up with biology and diagrams of hormones, rather than exhortations to the sacred law of God.
Strip away the neon hexagons and up-to-the-minute tech jargon, and what they’re actually saying wouldn’t be out of place in a church. Educate yourself. Don’t worry about what the world says. Love passionately and make every day count. As Jordan Peterson says, orient what you’re doing towards the highest good possible, and do your best to speak your being forward into the world. What’s on offer here isn’t tech. It’s religion.
The people are optimistic, in a way I have never seen. This is a movement in its adolescence, deep in the the swirling, crackling process of formation. It’s exhilarating.
I worry about the dark undercurrent to this revolution. Only a handful of people actually understand the technologies driving it. Even amongst the techies, new developments are becoming obsolete almost as fast as they are created, leaving people scrambling to learn the skill-sets necessary to staff jobs that don’t even exist yet, while anxiously waiting for some new AI system to destroy the one they have now. And the ones who understand the technology don’t necessarily understand how people are going to use it, or how its going to impact broader society.
Grounded in the humanities and religion, Lunacy Now is interested in the social and political implications of the movement I am watching march on. Millions of people are going to be out of work in the very near future as the creations of these bright young things at Voice at Exit explode into the world. Attempting to hold back that tide is pointless. What Lunacy Now seeks to do is explain these developments in a way that the average person can understand it. Then we can strategize appropriately so ordinary people are placed to get a piece of the revolution, instead of being crushed under its relentlessly advancing wheels.
Yet despite all these worries the energy is jumping. Something magical is happening.
Elliot Friedland writes about the socio-political implications of emerging technologies.