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Posthuman Nation / Knowledge and Noise

The function of the traditional university is conservative. It collects, archives, judges, and redistributes the culture hoard. In times of stability, it works well. It keeps track of every hint of innovation and tests it brutally. Even most of the good ideas are found lacking.

In times of dramatic change, however, the traditional university is worthless or worse than worthless, because first it rejects precisely the new ideas and new knowledges that are required, and then, after change is unavoidable, it opens itself more or less uncritically to every fad. Once its tradition of wisdom is in question, it has no grounds for judgment. In an important document from the 1960's, "On the Poverty of Student Life," an anonymous essay by members of the Situationist International and students of the University of Strasbourg, we read:

Once upon a time the universities had a certain prestige; the students persist in the belief that they are lucky to be there. But they came too late. Their mechanical, specialized education is as profoundly degraded (in relation to the former level of general bourgeois culture) as their own intellectual level, because the modern economic system demands a mass production of uneducated students who have been rendered incapable of thinking. The university has become an institutional organization of the ignorance; "high culture" itself is being degraded in the assembly-line production of professors, all of whom are cretins and most of whom would get the bird from any audience of highschoolers.
Since that time, students have come increasingly to doubt that they are privileged. They have lost the sense of themselves as the producers of education and think they are consumers as they are consumers of everything else in their world. The institution accommodates them or even encourages their misconception. Rather than teaching how to think, it offers an array of finished thoughts from which the students choose, as they choose from shoes.

The rapacious prosperity of the 50's and 60's was generated by the production of the immoral equivalent war and time in the world economy (the World War that began in 1914 never ended). The arms race had the dual effect of generating widespread prosperity in the West and eventually bankrupting the Soviet Union, now leaving the filthy rich in unopposed control of the world. "Šthe world's 358 billionaires have a combined net worth of $760 billion, equal to that of the bottom 45 percent of the world's population" (Richard J. Barnet). With the fear of a worldwide communist movement whipping up class hatred removed, the liberal concessions to the working-class and the poor are revoked. The masses are controlled by an organized assault on the attentions by the media, drugs, fear of difference packaged as religion, misdirected education, and random law enforcement. The focus of consciousness is dulled and its continuity disrupted. It is thus not possible for the exploited even to recognize their exploitation or to have a language in which their dissatisfaction can be articulated. Their self-expression, like every thing else, is sold to them in the form of talk radio, gangsta rap, grunge rock, escapist movies, as well as all of the merchandise in the shopping mall. Underwear and chocolates are forms of self-expression. Consumption is the only sanctioned mode of identity.

The world is now organized to serve the immortality of the billionaires or their children and grandchildren. The scenarios are numerous, most of them, like most sci-fi scenarios, no doubt too probable.

Consider: a century hence, when the earth is so polluted that the working stiffs of the world will be groggy with bad air and contaminated food and water, and the great artificial environments of the billionaires will be in danger of breaking-down beyond the abilities of the impaired maintenance crews to fix them, the space ships of our cosmic imperialism will lift off, carrying the human genome as its pay-load; the billionaires will take off for the stars, leaving the rest of us the planet they have despoiled. (See Frank J. Tipler, The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God, and the Resurrection of the Dead , New York, 1994. Tipler is a widely respected physicist, and his argument is posed as serious science.)

Or consider: a century hence, certain patents will confer rights of paternity, and Bill Gates will be declared the great-grandfather of a new super computer with a self-aware brain a hundred times more complex than the brains of its human progenitors. It will become the billionaire and take charge of the future of the evolution of complexity in the cosmos. The ecological needs of systems based on silicon are much less troublesome than the ecology of hydrocarbons. (See Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, Cambridge, 1988. Moravec is the director of the robotics lab at Carnegie-Mellon University. He argues that we are at a crisis moment in the evolution of cosmic complexity and that humans will become obsolete within the next century.)

These extrapolated futures are in the great western tradition of migration and despoilation that began some time before 1000 BC. All of the fresh starts on earth, all of the fresh starts for humans, have been squandered. This is our advantage. We have lost our innocence. We are not Adam and Eve. The Imaginary University exists because those who matriculate produce it. The students write all of the books in its library, plan the syllabi of the courses. We examine ourselves, we confer our own certificates and degrees.

Now those who educate themselves as posthumans begin to produce a nation. The course of study is difficult, the chances for graduation nil. If you want to study and act, you will be welcome. Otherwise, please, stay at home and watch MTV. You should know, however, that our Nation of Noise and Knowledge is at war with the United Nations and all of its members. You will be required to undertake dangerous missions. The stakes could not be higher.

					A Student, IU, 1995

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