To betray our nature.

Anthropocene describes what we are doing to our environment, while posthuman is largely phenomenological, a condensed articulation of what it’s like to live in a world where we are constantly making and remaking ourselves, especially via biotechnology. And surely there is some truth in these points, but I want to suggest that the apparent disjunction obscures a deeper unity. A world in which we remake our environment and ourselves is a world that does not feel human to us. We do not know how to play the role of gods, and on some level perceive that to act as gods is to betray our nature.

–Alan Jacobs, Anthropocene theology

Yes: ego, too.

The most notable populist in history was Julius Caesar. He—N.B., those who’ve been saying the 2016 election “had a sharp edge”—was stabbed to death by dozens of senators. The conspiracy was a confused mess. Some of the senators ended up stabbing each other. And the political aftermath was so much of a confused mess that it took Edward Gibbon 3,589 pages to describe it in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

–P. J. O’Rourke, The Revolt Against the Elites

Ice Age Solastalgia

The mammoth’s extinction may have been our original ecological sin. When humans left Africa 70,000 years ago, the elephant family occupied a range that stretched from that continent’s southern tip to within 600 miles of the North Pole. Now elephants are holed up in a few final hiding places, such as Asia’s dense forests. Even in Africa, our shared ancestral home, their populations are shrinking, as poachers hunt them with helicopters, GPS, and night-vision goggles. If you were an anthropologist specializing in human ecological relationships, you may well conclude that one of our distinguishing features as a species is an inability to coexist peacefully with elephants.

But nature isn’t fixed, least of all human nature. We may yet learn to live alongside elephants, in all their spectacular variety. We may even become a friend to these magnificent animals. Already, we honor them as a symbol of memory, wisdom, and dignity. With luck, we will soon re-extend their range to the Arctic. […]

Nikita and Sergey seemed entirely unbothered by ethical considerations regarding mammoth cloning or geoengineering. They saw no contradiction between their veneration of “the wild” and their willingness to intervene, radically, in nature. At times they sounded like villains from a Michael Crichton novel. Nikita suggested that such concerns reeked of a particularly American piety. “I grew up in an atheist country,” he said. “Playing God doesn’t bother me in the least. We are already doing it. Why not do it better?”

–Ross Andersen, Welcome to Pleistocene Park

The more things change

Everywhere there is talk of revolution. People are disturbed when they think of the future. There are those who look forward eagerly to a sudden violent change in the social order. It is said that the revolutions which have occurred in continental Europe are symptoms of a world movement; that bourgeois liberal democracy is inevitably drifting toward catastrophe. There are loyal defenders of the existing order who seem to see in any suggested reform signs of revolutionary conspiracy. And there are many liberal-minded people, neither revolutionists nor apologists for entrenched interests, who are confused by the din of excited propagandists. These liberals are not averse to the orderly process of change. They may even welcome what they would like to regard as trends toward a better social system. But they hear it said that liberalism is dead, that parliamentary government is ineffective and that resort to force in the settlement of present-day economic issues is unavoidable.

Are such fears or hopes well founded? What is a revolution? When is it likely to take place, if at all? How large a portion of the public has in times past participated in revolutionary movements? What has been the behavior of the crowd in such crises? What forces, historical, economic and psychological, have transformed social stress and change into deeds of violence? What, in the end, have revolutions accomplished for human advancement? Are we facing a revolution in America at the present time?

—Everett Dean Martin, Farewell to Revolution (1935), p. ix (from the Foreword)

An actual press statement from our secretary of education:

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the following statement after meeting with presidents and chancellors of Historically Black Colleges and Universities at the White House:

A key priority for this administration is to help develop opportunities for communities that are often the most underserved. Rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.

Their counsel and guidance will be crucial in addressing the current inequities we face in education. I look forward to working with the White House to elevate the role of HBCUs in this administration and to solve the problems we face in education today.

Statement from Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos Following Listening Sessions with Historically Black College and University Leaders

Athens and Jerusalem

The true source of the current trouble reaches back to the foundations of Western civilization and democracy. Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions, or “Athens and Jerusalem,” taught westerners to put their faith in God or reason, and often both, and to be wary of despots and demagogues. Although many have warned of the steady erosion of those traditions, the full consequences of their loss are not appreciated. For the first time, vast swaths of the West are living with the death not only of God but of reason as well. Such a vacuum makes ample room for opportunism and exploitation, while moral chaos invites tyranny.

–R. A. Brown, Illiberalism Rising

The battle after the war

I have come to believe that it is impossible for anyone who is regularly on social media to have a balanced and accurate understanding of what is happening in the world. To follow a minute-by-minute cycle of news is to be constantly threatened by illusion. So I’m not just staying off Twitter, I’m cutting back on the news sites in my RSS feed, and deleting browser bookmarks to newspapers. Instead, I am turning more of my attention to monthly magazines, quarterly journals, and books. I’m trying to get a somewhat longer view of things — trying to start thinking about issues one when some of the basic facts about them have been sorted out. Taking the short view has burned me far too many times; I’m going to try to prevent that from happening ever again (even if I will sometimes fail). And if once in a while I end up fighting a battle in a war that has already ended … I can live with that.

–Alan Jacobs, recency illusions

But Twain disagreed

The Wild West Show could also, as “Hamilton” does now, become a lightning rod for political concerns.  Consider what happened on April 2, 1901, when a new version of the show featuring a reenactment of a 1900 battle fought in China premiered at Madison Square Garden.  Like the “Hamilton” performance that Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended in November, there was a famous man in the crowd that night, Mark Twain. The audience loved the show, but Twain disagreed with Buffalo Bill’s interpretation of the Boxer War.  The next day, newspapers wrote that Twain walked out of the show in disgust, with an expression “as sour as a German pickle,” as one journalist put it. A leading voice in the anti-imperialist camp of the day, Twain viewed the anti-Christian Boxers as “patriots” fighting foreign encroachment on China, whereas Cody portrayed them as bloodthirsty fiends.

–Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Buffalo Bill–A Truth-Bending Showman for Our Times?

Unless Twain, pausing as he left after the show to listen to a tendentious speech specifically addressed to him by Buffalo Bill, and having applauded with apparent sincerity during the performance several times, had been booed by half the crowd upon entering and walked out smiling anyway, the contexts and particulars Wasserstrom cites are so different that it’s tough to detect any insight here, apart from the idea that famous political figures, then as now, occasionally attend performances that may challenge their worldviews.

Science fiction capabilities, not scientific capabilities

Many of Rid’s tales unfold in the Defense Department and in the General Electric factory in Schenectady, New York, where Vietnam-driven businessmen, engineers, and government men created (unsuccessful) prototypes of robot weapons, and where Kurt Vonnegut sets his first novel, the cybernetics-inspired Player Piano. It turns out, although Rid does not say this in so many words, that science fiction has been as instrumental in the rise of the digital as any set of switches. Consider, for example, the creation of the Agile Eye helmet for Air Force pilots who need to integrate “cyberspace” (their term) with meatspace. The officer in charge reports, according to Rid, “We actually used the same industrial designers that had designed Darth Vader’s helmet.” This fluid movement between futuristic Hollywood design, science fiction, and the DOD is a recurring feature of Rise of the Machines. Take the NSA’s internal warning that “[l]aymen are beginning to expect science fiction capabilities and not scientific capabilities” in virtual reality. Or Rid’s account of the so-called “cypherpunks” around Timothy May. Their name was cribbed from the “cyberpunk” science fiction genre (“cypher” refers to public-key encryption), and they were inspired by novels like Vernor Vinge’s True Names (1981), one on a list of recommended books for the movement on which not a single nonfiction text figures.

–Leif Weatherby, The Cybernetic Humanities