I comment here on the editorial with the selfsame title that appeared in The New York Times today. But it is shot through with that modern, twenty-first century iteration of myopia; this editorial was written as it were from the inside. The editorial board of The New York Times is too close to the problem. As such, statements contained in this editorial such as “Big Tech is slowly making its products safer for society” can be conveyed as if there was some overarching truth to them. Forgive me if I think such efforts are akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Look at the bigger picture. This bigger picture is alluded to in the editorial in such statements as “But the viral spread of the Christchurch shooting video shows the limits of the content moderation machine in the face of technologies that have been designed to be attention traps.” I don’t see redesign of the attention traps on the horizon, do you? “It must be a priority to redesign technology to respect the common good, instead of ignoring it.” This is a mere platitude. And then there is the perplexing downside to increased regulation: “More moderation comes with heavy risks, of course. Decisions about the limits of free speech would shift to companies whose priorities are driven by shareholders.” The technological imperative cuts off all avenues of escape. Either way, the repressive structures inherent in the technology and in the ideology which authorizes this technology will carry the day.
The true nature of the technological imperative is here underscored: It follows its own logic and it is a logic of nihilism. All movement within the great internet machine is dead movement. We are confronted here with the inherent nihilistc bias of the Scientific Spirit–which lacks the ability to determine value on the human scale. For the pure knowledge drive, the underlying force propelling the scientific spirit is intrinsically unselective. It does not distinguish between the great and the small and is as a result incapable of providing any unifying mastery. The only criterion it recognizes is that of certainty, to which all other considerations–value for human life included–are irrelevant.
One is reminded at this juncture of Nietzsche’s famous opening to the Genealogy of Morals. “We knowers are unknown to ourselves, and for a good reason: how can we ever hope to find what we have never looked for? There is a sound adage that runs: ‘Where a man’s treasure lies, there lies his heart.’ Our treasure lies in the beehives of our knowledge. We are perpetually on our way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind. The only thing that lies close to our heart is the desire to bring something home to the hive. As for the rest of life–so-called ‘experience’– who among us is serious enough for that? Or has time enough? When it comes to such matters, our heart is simply not in it–we don’t even lend our ear. Rather, as a man divinely abstracted and self-absorbed into whose ears the bell has just drummed the twelve strokes of noon will suddenly awake with a start and ask himself what hour has actually struck, we sometimes rub our ears after the event and ask ourselves, astonished and at a loss, ‘What have we really experienced?’–or rather, ‘Who are we, really?’ And we recount the twelve tremulous strokes of our experience, our life, our being, but unfortunately count wrong. The sad truth is that we remain necessarily strangers to ourselves, we don’t understand our own substance, we must mistake ourselves; the axiom, ‘Each man is farthest from himself’, will hold for us to all eternity. Of ourselves we are not ‘knowers’…”