The challenge of our times

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, men. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact, and we’re very, very pissed off” Fight Club

Just like in the ancient communities the elders were the ones who carried the stories and myths of their people, in the present world there are story tellers that help us understand the world that we live in through books, movies, songs and video games. Between those, one of the most illustrative stories of our modern times is that of the video game Mass Effect. Let’s see how it does that, to better grasp what is the challenge of our times.

Mass Effect is situated in the year 2183. Thanks to the discovery of some ruins in Mars, humanity has developed an advanced technology called Mass Effect. With it, it is now posible to travel faster than the speed of light and colonize planets, trade with other galactic species and manipulate the space-time continuum. Nevertheless, the great scientific development has created a state of war between machine and man.

The main character in the story is Sheppard, a captain of the human army, called The Alliance. This man, during a battle with the intelligent machines, died but was rebuilt with robotic parts, which is why he himself becomes a hybrid between man and machine. In one of his travels, he realizes a great threat: the Reapers.

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The reapers are metal monsters with a highly evolved consciousness that announces that all of galaxy’s life will be destroyed. Even thought there are thousands of them, each one affirms that it is a Nation.

By the end of the game (spoilers ahead), in the middle of all of the destruction of life by the reapers, Sheppard has access to the Catalyst, which is a consciousness in the form of a child that explains him the reason behind the reapers. According to him, when life originated in the galaxy, intelligence was given to it as an instrument of preservation. With intelligence, the different civilizations through the galaxy have been able to implement technology that helps them to survive and develop. Like this, all that was at first given, like the body, the mind or nature, was complement and little by little replaced with the created, like cars, the technologies of cooking, and all of the collective knowledge.

This process, in which the given is progressively replaced by the created, leads to a moment of a battle between the two, called the rebellion of the created against the creators. This war is inevitable, because the created or synthetic has been replaced each time the given or the organic. About them, the organic is the complex, vital, chaotic, primary, non lineal and spontaneous; the synthetic is the simple, efficient, organized and lineal.

Thus, the Catalyst designed the reapers so they would destroy advanced civilizations just before the rebellion started, which happened every 50.000 years. The reapers were instruments of destruction, which simultaneously started cycles of creation, and therefore prevented the war between organics and synthetics to scale to a point so high that it would threaten life itself.

However, the only time in which this millenary cycle has been broken is with Sheppard, which is a half-organic, half-synthetic being, that would be able to finish with separation in the galaxy and unite them against the reapers.

By the end of the great battle against the reapers, three options are given to Sheppard. On the one hand, he can destroy all synthetic life in the galaxy, so the reapers and he himself would disappear, but time would probably take organic life to develop new technology (red option of the photo). On the other hand, he may assume control of synthetic life and use it for the domain of the human species over all life (blue option of the photo). Finally, he may opt for synthesis: the union of the organic and the synthetic in a new type of life (white option of the photo). Which option would you take?

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How representative is this story of the present times? In my opinion, 100%. On the one side, human intelligence has made us progressively replace the organic world with the synthetic one, giving us the capacity of preserving our species but each time more with the rest of life as the price.

For example, man has the incomprehensible whim of creating artificial intelligence, when it can just have children which are already born with intelligence. Also, the internet has come to materialize very much subtle technologies like communication through the collective mind, a concept in ancient communities. Like this, man has progresively replaced many of the things that he already had with more accesible and predictable technology, so it may one day transcend that cumulus of resources called nature. Why do it? At the very root of projects like the creation of Artificial Intelligence, lies the animus of becoming gods. It is the rebellion of man, of the created against its creator.

Nevertheless man, just like Sheppard, is at this moment a hybrid between the organic and the synthetic. Our life has separated itself so much from its origin, that few could deny that we have become Homo Tecnologicus, technological beings. This idea of the mixture between man and machine was related by science fiction under the idea of the cyborg. This hybrid tried to overcome the situation of a human being whose body is fragil and decays with time, but who posseses a mind that gets better with the years. In the presidential eletions of 2016, United States already counted with this ideology and even a canditate for the Transhumanist party, Zoltan Istvan, whose main proposal was the use of technology to end death.

To better understand the process that humanity lives today, we are going to use what Charles Eisenstein has explained from the work of the czech Stanislav Grof. According to the latter, the mind is a complex weft of memories, experiences, simbols and asociations, in which every new remembrance is impregnated by the totality of memory. This webs of memories constitute what he called Systems of Condensed Experience, and they can be asociated with four perinatal stages, those are, diffferent phases before the birth of a child.

The first stage occurs months before conception. The fetus is a tranquil and rythmic place that provides security, warmth and resources for a baby that is still not differentiated from its mother. There are all of the incentives to grow and the world does not offers any kind of limits. In the Bible, this stage corresponds with life in the Garden of Eden, in which man was one with nature and, as the Bible says, he could “be fruitful, fill the earth and subdue it”.

The second stage starts with the uterine contractions. The neck of the uterus has not yet open, so there is a growing pressure and nowhere to go. Every attempt to hold on to the world of the fetus or keep growing only generates more and more pressure, which is why the uterine paradise soon turns into a hell without exit. Therefore, this stage is related with sentiments of depression, desperation and hopelesness. It seemed like paradise was never to come back, or that maybe it never existed.

The third stage has to be with the opening of the uterine neck. After all this suffering, the incredible pressure shows its true purpose: the exist of the baby to a new world. The light at the end of the tunnel opens, but to reach it the baby must stop ressisting and give himself to the new posibility. It is here where occurs what the Bible related with the Apocalipsis- the end battle between good and evil, where the baby may be born into a new world or die in the old one. This phase is related with the sentiments found in difficulty, pain and ansiety, but also with the expectation, excitement and pleasure that a new world promises.

Finally, the baby is born into a new and unsuspected world. By feeding from the mother´s breast, he reafirms his connection with her but on a new level of individualization. This stage is related with the sentiments of calm after the storm, of the death of a version of oneself and the birth of a new one.

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The first stage can be related with the period of the hunter gatherers. Here, there was no way of differenciating between man and nature and, even though life had challenges, the earth was big, without limits and provided food for all without even having to cultivate it.

However, as psychoanalysis showed and Estanislao Zuleta explained in his text Elogio de la dificultad, we are still wanting to get back to the womb. Ideologically, humanity is on its majority on the first stage. Even though we talk about sustainability, we haven´t realize the exarcabated growth of the synthetic world is no longer tolerated by our eearth. In our personal lives, we try to control all of the expressions of human nature, like laughter, sadness and anger, to resemble each time more a machine: effective, methodical and without errors. The war against nature is, and all of its levels, untenable.

At the same time, the second stage could be clearly seen on the XX centure. David Hilbert would say mathematics was a logical game with little correspondence with reality; Noam Chomsky expressed how a universal characteristic of language was the use of structures that could be repeated infinitely; and Nixon would break the correspondence between money and gold, erradicating its limits.

Hence, the problem was simple. While the earth was finite, the internal and external machine in man asked for growth at an infinite rate. The more we strived for growth, the more collateral effects we got on social and environmental terms. In this context, existencialism was to be the phylosophy that would put into words the anguish of humanity: the world was a place without sense, and human lives were condenmed to brutality, loneliness and banality.

But night is darkest just before dawn. The 60´s showed the world an alternative, a possibility. Today we deepen more into the third stage, which is shown in the proliferation of motivational speeches and self help books. Even though stage three of conception is physically harder, it is psychologically more bearable than the second one. At this moment, humanity needs to overcome the Dark night of the soul, so it shuttens all the wounds and enters with vigor to a new world.

The challenge is so big, that it can be compared to a rite of passage, which were those ancestral tests where a young man or woman who was going to enter maturity should face a test without precedents to prove himself apt for the mayority of age. To overcome it, his old self should die, because the attatchment to his youth tricks would only take him to death. Humanity is coming out of its adolescence. The present crisis demands us to refuse antique norms, ancient patterns and old traditions, because under any motiev can we go back to the promised paradise of the whom: we have poisoned it. In the middle of this threat, the greatest difficulty is to break the exarcebated separation in all of the ambits of our lives.

To sum up, each time the moment of the final desition of the game is coming: to go back to organic, keep up with the synthetic or try to find a fusion between the two. In the 60´s, where it really seemed like the syntethic (the Missile Crisis and the imperialism of the United States and the Soviet Union) were going to end up with the organic (the towns in Vietnam, liberty and love) two positions were born. The first one would declarated that it had all been a mistake and that we should go back to a primitive state. They were the people who tried to escape from all of the discontents of civilization and who went to communes or the Tibet´s montains. The second one thought everything was going allright, that we had succed or were very close to it. We only needed a little bit more of the syntethic (order, efficiency or technology) and nanotechnology, artificial insemination or who knows what would save us. By trying to use the synthetic to solve the problems caused by it, they were trying to fight fire with fire.

Today, there is more a more a movement towards a third posture: synthesis. The decision we take each one of us in our personal lives will determine the one that is taken by humanity as a whole. To define where the ambit of the organic finishes and where that of the synthetic starts, is the challenge of our times.

If you´d like to know more about these topics, I suggest the work of Charles Eisenstein and Drew Karpyshyn

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