“Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.” Orange Catholic Bible
That quotation comes from a sacred text found only in the imaginary universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune saga. But if things keep going the way they’re going, we may need that “Bible”.
Dune is about a distant future, over ten thousand years from now. Man has gone off to colonize the galaxy, but on the way, there has been great social upheaval. The machines man made had come to dominate him, and even enslave him. Some of the elite had merged with the machines, achieving god-like power and seemingly unending life, while the rest of humanity was enervated and idle. Then came the war, the Butlerian Jihad. Over a 100 year span, the machines were defeated and the new commandment you see above was enshrined.
Just so much science fiction?
If you’re dismissive of science fiction, you shouldn’t be. Not only has this preoccupation of teenage boys predicted many of the things we enjoy today, everything from smartphones to gene therapy, it has helped to direct the aspirations of those boys.
You could say science fiction is a series of thought experiments about the role of science and technology on the development of human society.
What are people for?
I have a book, a collection of essays actually, by Wendell Berry by that title. It is one of the basic questions. A great deal depends on the answer. I’m afraid most of the people working in the fields of science and engineering proffer a really bad answer. And because the question is so terribly important to being human, the implications of those answers are dehumanizing.
The real Bible tells us that man was made in the image of God and was immediately situated in a garden in order to cultivate it. That work was performed within a household economy right from the start. The union of a man and wife was intended to be productive and they were to share both the work and the fruit. The cultivation included their bodies: Eve is the mother all the living and Adam is the husbandman, tilling the soil of her body. And they are to be fruitful and multiply and extend their dominion, their household–their domus–over all the earth.
The rise of the machines
The machines began their rise when creation itself was reconceived as a machine. Once, man had been the center, a microcosm, the hermeneutic of the cosmos. Man’s life was the scale by which the universe was ordered. This made the cosmos our home.
But today we see things differently. The universe is a vast mechanism and human beings are just tiny cogs in it, perhaps even malfunctioning ones. But we are still microcosms, but now the hermeneutic works in reverse. Now the machine defines us.
Are you obsolete yet?
A few years back a fantasy purporting to be social commentary was published entitled, The End of Men. The gist of it was pretty simple, men are obsolete because many of the functions traditionally performed by men are now performed by either the welfare state or by machines. (The same thing, actually, the welfare state is a kind of machine.)
I’m not sure what would make a feminists think women are exempt from this. Many of the jobs performed by women in the corporate economy are just as vulnerable to being made redundant by machines as those performed by men. (See the video below to see this explained.) Even sex with women is subject to obsolescence; virtual reality-porn is just around the corner and we even have sex-bots to look forward to. And don’t think your uterus makes you indispensable ladies, people are working on a replacement for that too. (Click here to learn about artificial wombs.)
The first possibility is to merge with the machines. There are people out there advocating the way of the Cymeks of Dune. They’d like to take a hand in their evolution and upgrade humanity. (If you think this is overblown, just follow the diva of transhumanists, Ray Kurzweil and I think you’ll begin to see things differently.)
But this is odd; we are told repeatedly by materialists that evolution is a blind process, feeling its way forward, filling niches in a vast, interdependent, mechanical system. Transhumanists overestimate our ability plan and control human development. And wouldn’t radically extending human life-span, genetically modifying people, and merging humans with machines make for a new species? And how will this be implemented? Who will be the early adopters? And how will they feel about the rest of us?
The recovery of the household economy
But there is another way forward. These new technologies could portend a re-centering of the economy back in the household. Telecommunication networks, and small-scale, highly adaptive manufacturing, will allow for a decentralized economy where husbands and wives, and even children, can work together.
What we need is dreamers, people who can envision an altogether different future than the one seen by the transhumanists. We need a vision of man the microcosm again, where our creations enrich us and lend meaning to our lives, not replace us or turn us into something subhuman.
I leave you with the following video. I hope you can agree with me by the end of it; if we can’t redirect this freight train of technological innovation in a more humane direction, let the Butlerian Jihad begin.
An earlier version of this essay was published at Patheos.
If you’d like to read my book on the subject of household economics, Wipf and Stock, the publisher of, Man of the House, has given me permission to share a little sample of the book with you. The hope, of course, is you will like it enough to purchase a copy. Enjoy!.
Click here to download the book excerpt as a PDF: Man of the House_Excerpt