The latest proclaimers of this narrative reject even the melancholy. Their vision stands in direct opposition to the morbid predictions of observers like Houellebecq, Pera, and Murray. For them, the West and the world are doing great—better than ever—and the death of Christianity is a big part of the reason. These are the best of times, he says.
Indeed, Pinker believes that reports of the death of Western civilization are greatly exaggerated. He dismisses such pessimism as a fashionable intellectual pose fueled by negative biases in human cognition.
I have questions about his assessment of the present. Or is it, rather, a moribund client culture, wholly dependent on the military might, scientific inventiveness, and financial strength of the far more religious United States? Without the Bible-thumping U. The way pessimists like Murray see it, it is being overrun right now in a more literal sense, by a slow-motion Islamist invasion, which could end with our enlightened optimists silenced mid-hurrah.
At that moment in , England specifically, and Europe in general, were, like the West today, celebrating cultural and scientific achievements unmatched in the history of humankind. And yet Kipling, no devout believer himself, marked the occasion by warning his countrymen against atheistic pride, praying:. Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget! Lest we forget that not all intellectual misgivings are as baseless as Pinker says, just 17 years after the poem was penned, Europe was engulfed in the three-decade cataclysm of world war that brought its cultural dominance to an end—war brought on by the anti-Christian philosophy of Nazism and followed by an era of unimaginable mass murders in the name of the atheistic philosophy of Communism.
Pinker comes across as liberal in the best sense of the word. What if it needs to be defended through war or economic collapse? Once the sacred status of liberty is lost, will mothers send their sons to die for a generally upward trend on a statistical graph?
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
The ugly truth is that we can live quite happily in a world of scientific miracles even as we transform ourselves into moral monsters. Though full of quirky insights and fascinating information, it is a textbook example of how materialistic logic can lead to philosophical pathology. Among the fictions that create these intersubjective phenomena are religion, nationhood, money, law, and human rights. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings. Here is an area where I can speak with some expertise.
I am a lifelong maker of fiction, and I am here to tell you that this is not what fiction is; this is not how fiction works.
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Good fiction does not create phenomena; it describes them. That experience can be delusional, as when we hear voices, mistake infatuation for love, or convince ourselves that slavery is moral. But the very fact that it can be delusional points to the fact that it can be healthy and accurate as well. Fiction merely describes the world of morality and meaning that that organ perceives. Because Harari does not believe that this world of moral meaning exists, he thinks that it is created by the fiction, rather than the other way around.
No one who has ever met a woman outside the planet Vulcan can imagine this to be the actual case. Harari himself speaks quite tenderly of the maternal feelings of sheep. What myths have the rams been telling the ewes? Different male and female roles are a human universal because womanhood is a complete inner reality.
He believes that the existence of these worlds creates an obligation in us to treat cows more kindly than we currently do. Fair enough. But why, then, can he not deduce the reality of human rights, natural law, economic value, and femininity from the far more complex inner experience of humans? This language may not necessarily be malign.
It may not suggest that Harari has no visceral respect for human rights. But it does not inspire confidence in his ultimate commitment to those rights, either. It is the Enlightenment Narrative that creates this worship of reason, not reason itself. In fact, most of the scientific arguments against the existence of God are circular and self-proving. They pit advanced scientific thinkers against simple, literalist religious believers. By assuming that the spiritual realm is a fantasy, they irrationally dismiss our experience of it.
But when the same brain perceives the immaterial—morality, the self, or God—it is presumed to be spinning fantasies. Lest this be taken for a joke, a venture-capitalist investor named Tim Draper duly filed a petition to split California into six, with an independent Silicon Valley — putatively the richest state in America — abutting Central California, which would be poorer even than Mississippi. And it got better. In the absence of independence, another venture capitalist, Tom Perkins, suggested that, at the very least, rich techies should be given extra votes and went on to compare criticism of his industry to the Nazi persecution of Jews.
Is there an app for hubris? British comedian John Oliver , in hosting a tech awards ceremony called the Crunchies, gently roasted his guests with the quip: "I heard that the new design for the buses had tinted windows, but with the tint on the inside: 'Look, I don't mind if the peasants see me, but I'd rather not see them'. Like bankers in the UK, techies seem surprised at what is happening to them.
So in many ways am I. For all the gathering cultural divide, driving through Silicon Valley is still an awesome experience. Around every turn stands the glinting HQ of another household name, or two, or three — and not just the big ones you expect, but the everyday others you seldom think about. Even those giants with headquarters elsewhere — Microsoft , Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Amazon, Nasa — have research centres here, such is a concentration of tech talent. The sensation is of having stepped like Alice through your computer screen and even the disposable-looking architecture whispers of the Valley's exotic, hyper-Darwinian credo of "creative destruction".
The phrase you hear everywhere is "innovate or die", which is not intended to relax you. My first mass encounter with the present workforce comes on a Saturday night in Mountain View, home to Google and Microsoft among others, and it couldn't be more startling.
I did, but every time I tried to speak to one, they stared at their sneakers and scuttled away like crabs clutching circuit boards. They were of a stereotypical piece, though, which is why first sight of Mountain View's bright-lit main drag is such a surprise, because the scene doesn't look American. It's populated mostly by knots of generically-dressed young men, the vast majority from the Indian subcontinent or Asia, looking lost, as though not sure what to do away from their screens.
Later I'll check the census figures to find that more than three-quarters of tech workers are now born outside the US, with China, India, Korea and Japan supplying most, often via Ivy League universities, with a small contribution from eastern Europe. Given that women are outnumbered 25 to one, the modern Valley is at once highly international and culturally monocular, adding to the air of transience. Minority female tech workers complain of a frat-housey "brogrammer" atmosphere within the industry. I'm floored by what I see. Inside Molly Magees, an ersatz Irish pub, which turns out to be one of only three places you can dance in Silicon Valley, the music is overwhelmingly from the decade in which most of its clientele was born, the s and I abruptly realise that this is what most the local radio stations are playing, too.
Most of the women cutting a rug together are from local colleges and universities, but the genders operate for the most part at a tangent. Asked what dating is like in this apparent paradise, women tend to roll their eyes or laugh ruefully. I soon see what they mean. Conversations with the men are mostly fluid, but tend to resemble those you have at technology "meetups", where the unspoken question is "Can we do business together?
Silicon Valley: an army of geeks and 'coders' shaping our future | Technology | The Guardian
Good coders are in short supply and tend to regard themselves as an elite, with the best being paid six-figure bonuses just to stay at places such as Google and Facebook. Coders, I quickly learn, are almost universally regarded as weird. So the stereotype is flawed, I rejoice! But no, he groans. As a single guy who likes women, it's hard. I mean, I just work with nerdy guys and there are hardly any women — it's horrible, man.
He doesn't want his name used. Later I meet a woman in her mid-twenties named Sunny Allen whose ex-fiance was a coder. Her eyes widen as she tells me: "They're the real hardcore. He would work for 36 straight hours, sleep for four, then get up and work another Eighty-hour weeks are the norm for those guys and weekends don't exist.
They work harder than any group of people I've ever come across. It's as if these people are not so much a different breed, as a new species. Bachelor and five years experience required. I drive home to Santa Clara thinking about the society being made here. The average age of employees at Facebook is said to be 26, which is exactly the same as at Nasa during the moon landings of the s and early 70s. A Brit I meet named Mark Whelan one of very few Brits out here says he loves being in the Valley, where finance is available for risky good ideas — unlike at home.
Now on his third "startup", for an electronic payment system, he tells me that he loves being around software engineers, "a unique breed, because they're always trying to solve problems, that's what they care about — getting the job done". The question, of course, is whether the problems being solved are worthy of such energy, intelligence and investment. With the honourable exception of Elon Musk , founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors , the challenges they address are not big ones requiring years of commitment, they are the local concerns of Ivy League-educated twentysomething males with a surfeit of cash and no off-screen responsibilities.
Not to mention a widespread awkwardness with people; an empathy deficit that may explain not just the prevailing libertarian, often Ayn Randian politics, but the much-trumpeted techy grail of "connection". Because hardly anyone seems to have noticed that connection is not the same as engagement, upon which deeper relationships are built, and may even run counter to it. Is this disjunct written into Valley DNA? Top venture-capitalist investor Marc Andreessen has pointed out that by the time most techies are 22, they've done the 10, hours work which Malcolm Gladwell , in his book Outliers , claims to be the main constituent of "genius".
As Andreessen says: "[That] doesn't happen in other fields … you can't start designing bridges at age ten. But those 10, hours can only come at the expense of other activities we associate with the process of transcending youth, growing up, finding a place in the here-and-now. If this is the case, should we be more afraid of these men than we currently are? As a graduate computer science student named Yiren Lu noted in a New York Times piece headed "Silicon Valley's Youth Problem" : "If the traditional lament of Ivy League schools has been that the best talent goes to Wall Street, a newer one is taking shape: why do these smart, quantitatively-trained engineers, who could help cure cancer or fix healthcare.
Alison Chaiken is in her fifties, and made a career switch from physics two years ago.
According to Frog Cats sit on gnats Dogs sit on logs Raccoons sit on macaroons Armadillos sit on pillows and Chicks sit on bricks But wait! Cat doesn't like sitting on gnats, they keep biting his bottom! Will Frog and Dog help him change the rules? What a fabulous morning to go to the market.