Friday 19 May 2023

If the digital world (internet, computation, AI etc) are indeed a demonic incarnation - What then?

William Wildblood has brought to my attention a pair of articles entitled Four Questions Concerning the Internet, part one The Universal and part two The Neon God; written by Paul Kingsnorth, in which he independently converges on a theme explored here (also in related blogs and by Jeremy Naydler) over the past few years. 

Kingsnorth also reaches the same general conclusion (Which William Wildblood has articulated lucidly; which is that 'the internet' and computers generally may (in some circumstances) provide a vehicle for the incarnation of demons

If this is regarded as a possibility (which mostly depends on one's metaphysical assumptions concerning the nature of this reality and the relationship of 'life' and 'matter') - then the hypothesis of demonic incarnation in 'computers' explains a great deal, and has extensive implications.

For instance; technology is usually presented as value-neutral, and whether it is a Good Thing or an Evil would therefore depend on the use to which it is being-put. 

Yet, if demonic incarnation is a reality, then technology may itself become an active and purposive evil; in other words, technology may seek the spiritual harm - including destruction - of Men

If we accept this as probably true, in some real but imprecise sense; then what are the implications?

Kingsnorth (a recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy) focuses on the potential for asceticism; for rejecting, denying-ourselves (as much as possible) usage-of and contact-with these demonic entities. 

Such a strategy has the practical limitation that people Just Aren't doing this - not even the most ascetic. Kingsnorth describes that even the famously-ascetic monks of Mount Athos are, albeit belatedly, often carrying and using 'smartphones'. 

Then there is the more general problem that it is almost impossible to function in the modern world without a significant level of usage of these possessed technologies.      

But there is also - and most importantly - the ultimate limitations of asceticism: the deep question of whether this is the proper or best Christian response to the evils of this world. 

My approach would be rather different. I see the problem of a demonic internet as an extension of the very general problem of evil-affiliated social institutions, a problem that characterizes All major social institutions in The West and 'globally' - including the (self-identified) Western Christian churches (and a Western convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, still counts as Western). 

This means that the Christian inescapably lives in a demon-dominated and evil-orientated society; from which there can be no escape while remaining alive and socially-functional. 

But this has - to some significant extent - always been the case; and was surely the case for Jesus himself during his earthly life. 

Thus Christianity has always, properly understood (e.g. in the Fourth Gospel), been rooted and aimed beyond this mortal and social life - and therefore the task for Christians is to deal-with the presence of pervasive evil. 

As I see it; the primary problem of 'the internet' is that people spiritually surrender their values and attitudes to it; and by this they invite evil into their hearts

Evil needs to be invited - and this invitation of evil has become not just a personal corruption, not just a 'means to ends' as in the past; but in Western Society here-and-now evil has been given positive evaluations; officially, by the mass media, legally, economically etc. 

We are, for the first time in human history, inhabiting a world where transcendental values of truth, beauty, and virtue are substantially and increasingly inverted.

Since this situation is almost-everywhere and cannot be escaped; we must recognize it, and deal with it. 

Dealing with the internet, computers and digitalization is part of this; but only part. Evil needs to be discerned, identified, recognized - and spiritually rejected (and repented when we have failed to do this) wherever it is encountered.  

Some of this will surely entail avoidance of internet, computers, AI etc; but as a specific tactic, not as a general strategy.  

Such a Christian life is not to be envisaged negatively, as a state of siege; ended only by death or the triumph of evil. To accept this understanding would itself be a surrender to the demonic perspective. 

Because the Christian life is positive, not negative; thus discernment is a by-product of faith, and faith is 'about' spiritual learning during this life ('theosis'), as well as resurrection after this life ('salvation').

In sum; life may be regarded as what it spiritually is; that is, an adventure and a quest. 

We must therefore engage-with evil, and the business of identifying and rejecting evil is a by-product of our positive spiritual goals. 

Since God is the Creator, and is Good, and Loves us each as His child; our personal life-situation has been set-up so that nobody can be defeated except by his own choice, and we can all succeed in the end - if that is what we really want to do.  

So, we should strive not for an ideal of asceticism, but for an ideal of high-hearted and hope-full confidence; with faith that, no matter what the demon-dominated world throws-at-us; we are equipped to beat it.  


Ann K. said...

“. . . (and a Western covert to Eastern Orthodoxy, still counts as Western).”

How so?

The very definition and process of this conversion is casting aside the Western ethos and immersing oneself in the profoundly different and in fact mutually exclusive Eastern ethos and phronema.

It requires vigilance and struggle, but as a convert myself, I know it is possible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ann K - By my understanding, it is a matter of the development of consciousness; which is something we Westerners cannot leave behind; for the same reason that we cannot recreate a Medieval mindset and society.

We have changed in our minds and spirits - as part of God's plan for us (which is different for some other peoples). We made the wrong choices during and after this change, but the change itself was ordained.

Nor should we do otherwise - our destiny is to go through this phase, and out the other side.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ann K - A more proximate explanation is that - in an ultimate sense, which I got from reading Fr Seraphim Rose - nobody in the world since 1917 (Bolshevik Revolution) can be genuinely Eastern Orthodox, can practice the full traditional faith; since that requires an Orthodox *Society* (including with a Tsar or equivalent Orthodox monarch).

What exists at present is a denomination, like any other; which may be a valid way of being Christian, or not - this decided mostly at the level of individual discernment.

Seraphim Rose regarded this state of a partial, incomplete, Orthodox life as being a sign of the End Times - which must be endured as best possible.

Christian faith cannot now be un-conscious, passive, taken-for granted - nor a matter primarily of obedience (eg. to a Spiritual Father); must must be individually discerned and chosen. We Just Are individuals, and need to accept this responsibility.

It may be that other nations have another destiny, and may restore an Orthodox Society in which faith may again be obedience to a valid Church, but not in the West.

Stephen Macdonald said...

This is a deep topic but my quick response is that the Internet most certainly is used extensively by the "powers and principalities". It is, however, also used to convey ideas such as those presented in this blog. Prior to the Internet it is unlikely I would have encountered Dr. Charlton's thought (and of those like-minded people such as Mr. Wildblood). The ideas and resources herein have been of great spiritual benefit to me, of this I'm sure. Ergo I cannot accept that the Internet -- or technology generally -- is wholly evil. We are after all created by God as homo faber among our other qualities.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SM - In this respect the internet is like all large organizations. If you look within the most overall-evil organization you can think of, you will find at least relative-good being done and decent people pushing back on particular issues.

Even the worst liar in the world will sometimes speak facts.

But I think we need to recognize and be clear about overall affiliations and tendencies of organizations (towards Good or evil), in order to discern and understand the world.

cecil1 said...

'Christian faith cannot now be un-conscious, passive, taken-for granted - nor a matter primarily of obedience (eg. to a Spiritual Father); must must be individually discerned and chosen.'

Something which strikes me as a very Protestant way of being. Something which I very much have always naturally identified with.

The Gutenberg revolution, and the Protestant one that developed very shortly after, marked a major shift in people's consciousness in the West I suspect, just as it was an end (whether for better or worse) of a medieval way of life.

I'd like to hear more on how digital processes could foster the demonic. Is this a technical scientific argument, or something more spiritual in how we react to it? YOu imply the latter, but could there be a physical basis for this?

I've had a lot of discussions (strangely perhaps, since the 'Covid' lockdown occured) with people including many teenagers who really question whether technology will ultimate to more harm than good. They ask if the Mennonites are right.

Bruce Charlton said...

@cecil "a very Protestant way of being"

If I had been speaking with a Protestant, I would probably have focused on obedience to 'the Bible', as an external authority used to avoid personal responsibility.

"how digital processes could foster the demonic"

This may be the subject of a future post.