“Humans tried to develop intelligent machines as secondary reflex systems, turning over primary decisions to mechanical servants. Gradually, though, the creators did not leave enough to do for themselves; they began to feel alienated, dehumanized, and even manipulated. Eventually, humans became little more than decisionless robots themselves, left without an understanding of their natural existence.”
I find it fascinating that such pieces of art and especially literature from decades past can prove so prescient, if that is the right word, for our present times. You provided an excellent analysis of Lovecraft´s Nyarlathotep (from 1920, no less) showing just that. The interesting part is that the authors, despite being reasonably well read, as I am led to assume, did not read thousands of pages of elite theory, exact predictions of future technological advances and sociological analyses laying out specific causes and effects of social policy. In other words, they were not among the very greatest scholars of their time. And yet, they were able to see (or feel) farther ahead and more clearly than any of their peers and formulate their vision strikingly. How come such artistic, subconscious or mystical inspiration can turn out much more accurate than "scientific" analyis of the time? I find that a wonderful and enigmatic aspect of human nature.
People underestimate artist forsight. As Carlyle said: in former ages the poets were prophets. Only in our current ontology are prophets forced to be poets. I'd say Dune is prophetic in this way. This essay captures the disturbing ominous unease of the complete disvalue and disinterest in any suffering the machine ends up with. The Erasmus concept takes it one step further, like a Slaanishi dark elf, adding a little malice and warped will to the disvalue.
Ah, the Brian Herbert novels. The son is not the father.
I agree with your review, though I do have a few quibbles or extensions I want to pile on. The idea of retro-futurism isn't unique to Frank Herbert, of course. I'm very fond of the Space Vikings of H. Beam Piper (as well as everything else he wrote, great escapism) and of course the great 'A Canticle for Liebowitz' tells of a future where the common men revolted against the techocratic elite. But I do think Herbert struck on a chord that humanity will regress again and again to an feudal mean. There is something primal about being ruled by a king or emperor, I think it's wired into us. It actually takes effort to fight against it. And Herbert does show what mental and physical laziness leads to, as well as what is possible when history and will cross and unify in a Great Man.
But as much as I appreciate the Butlerian Jihad as a story concept or even as a vision of the future, I really dislike these adaptations. Much like the Star Wars prequels, my image of the Butlerian Jihad or the Clone Wars is better than the "reality" that was shoveled out. It makes me wonder if Brian Herbert or Kevin Anderson actually studied Dune or if they just read the Cliff Notes. For one, the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit originated as teaching schools. The Guild as an exercise in pure mathematics and the Bene Gesserit as political advisors and servants (with genetics as a side project naturally), they weren't X-Men superheroes with psychic blasts. The Mentats are a post-Butlerian creation and not contemporaneous. Ah, I could go on, nit picking and I'm tempted to, but...to the point: I don't consider anything written by anyone other than Frank Herbert authoritative or frankly interesting, after reading several of the Brian Herbert/Anderson novels.
Anyway, thank you for the review and the thoughts about were we are headed in the really real world.
One of the best treatments of this theme that I've ever read was The Stars Are Also Fire by Poul Anderson. He isn't as well known as Herbert, although justifiably famous in sci-fi/fantasy circles. One of the few writers that can pull off hard science fiction and high fantasy with equal aplomb.
TSAAF takes place a few centuries from now, in a world controlled by AI. What makes it chilling is just the humans aren't oppressed or hunted, in fact their lives are quite comfortable. The AIs took over simply because their advice is so good that everyone always just follows it. As a result, human free will is essentially non-existent, and all adventure, drama, and meaning has been stolen from the world. It is a golden prison in which the human spirit is smothered by machines of loving grace.
The conflict in the story emerges with a group of humans who want more. They want to expand out into space, and don't care about the danger; the machines have no intention of letting them, because they want to keep them under control. There's fairly little action, because this future is extremely peaceful, and the machine state is almost obnoxiously humane - utilitarian liberalism at its very best. If you can get past Anderson's libertarian politics, pretty standard for sci-fi writers of his generation, it's a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of human life, and the conflict with safety and security.
I have only read the original “Dune” and that as a teenager trying to understand my future husband’s love for the book. Regardless of the literary merit of the prequel reviewed, this essay is masterful. Really powerful analysis, the painstaking care shows. Thank you.
Slight connection with this essay. Recently I started a new corporate job, I discovered half the time I’m sitting around meetings, sometimes a meeting to schedule the next meeting. The other half the time I’m on the phone to IT trying to get my computer to work. That’s managerial efficiently for you.
Heidegger is very appropriate because we are already ruled by AI enframed civilisational inauthentic organisms. This AI is nothing new in that regard. Enframing is even worse a problem than eluded to here, what Heidegger means is that enframed technology is the essence of metaphysics because of the mistake of Greeks taking Being as another beings (another thing, an 'IS' to be categorised and made an idea, rather than the no-thingness uncreated Being that is the source of all particular beings) by doing that we made all things, and ideas of things, cut off from their ground by forcing their source IN to us! As in, this idea of BEING behind mundane manifestation, defining it as a category and concept places a man made artifice in the way of authentic primordial Being, as the 'source'. Every thing, which needs the true source to glisten in its meaning and value, is then drained of all its meaning because the true ground of ideas and beings is Being, not man. So this techne, ideas and concepts and language and knowledge, it's all old Being (knowledge) turned against us because we took it as final truth. This means there is no escaping it unless we take the route to fundamental ontology, to initiation to cut through the way the utilitarian physicalist, biological essentialist, scientismist, capitalist, world worlds to the truth of primordial Being. That's what Heidegger's 4fold is all about, it's taking us back to how primordial 'things' are 'used' with correct teleology and sanctified Being, when the 'for the sake of' of every thing and man is for the Being-with of the Kin and the gods, not the usury economics we live in. The machine is already in charge, the machine is the old metaphysics.
I only started reading this a couple of days ago, so I don't want to read it all. You shoud give anything by David Gemmell a try (especially "Legend") very uplifting and spiritual.
Fantastic stuff. That was one hell of a deep dive. Now feeling the need to decompress for a bit in a hyperbaric chamber.
Hope you make a video out of this one.