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Welcome to "A Ghost in the Machine"
Lukewarm Takes on Modern Life from a Regular Human in a World Gone Mad
Welcome to A Ghost in the Machine: a substack featuring lukewarm takes on modern life from a regular person. This is my latest attempt to make sense of myself and the world, at a time when it looks like both the world and I have gone completely crazy.
Maybe it’s not the best of times, and maybe it’s not the worst of times, but it’s definitely the weirdest of times . . .
What a wild time to be alive! As I write this in the Year of our Lord 2022, our civilization is on a collision course with a dystopian future that looks like it will be a mangled mashup of 1984 and Alice in Wonderland: a high-tech, totalitarian nightmare in which the dreaded Big Brother is a complete buffoon.
Our civilization wields awesome, almost godlike technologies over both human nature and our environment, and even greater wonders appear to be within our grasp. But our civilization is also controlled by sociopaths who are both devilishly malicious and shockingly stupid. We have built our Tower of Babel and placed a throne at the top of it for Bozo the killer clown.
We live in an era of absurdity writ large. Saying something that was common sense 50 years ago, and that is still true today, can get you fired from your job and blacklisted by mainstream society. Truth may be a perfect defense to libel, but it is useless against an allegation of hate speech.
Meanwhile, national leaders are almost never held to account for their repeated, boneheaded failures. Usually, they’re even rewarded. If you help fund the bioengineering of a virus that causes a global pandemic costing billions of dollars and killing millions of people, and if you then lie about that under oath, and if your botched response to the pandemic is even more destructive than the pandemic itself, and if you promote mass-vaccination but ignore and even lie about the risks posed by the vaccine, and if you do all of that while hiding numerous conflicts of interest that make it look like you sacrificed the public good for your own private gain, then not only do you get to keep your job, but you can also retain your title as “The Science.”
So we live in a world where technology has run amok, where the ruling elite are both brutally evil and comically inept, and where a perverse illogic governs everything. Up is down, down is up, so you need to get down and stay down, because in our culture “up” is now considered offensive, since “up-ness” supports the cis-hetero-white-supremacist-neo-Newtonian-patriarchy. Check your privilege, and do the work by self-sabotaging, white boy! We are all equal, but equity requires that white people make themselves less equal than others.
Seeking Truth in a smoke-filled hall of mirrors . . .
And in the midst of all this madness, I’m still trying to figure out what in the fuck I am doing in life. What is all this? What does it all mean? And what’s my damn password to Paypal; why can I never remember it?
Anyway, this is now my third substack. My first substack was strictly humor writing (it didn’t last long); my second substack was intended to be serial fiction (it lasted even shorter than the first one); and finally, after learning that I could create multiple sections within a single substack, I have decided to bring it all together in one place and just write about whatever the hell is on my mind, in whatever format or style feels right at the time. The common thread is going to be me trying to make better sense of the world and of myself. The process of wrestling with a new issue or idea may take the form of comedy, or storytelling, or religious arguments, or a million other things.
I am calling it “A Ghost in the Machine” in part because of the way that term was used in philosophy to describe Descartes’ mind-body dualism. A lot of people may thumb their nose at Descartes today, but it’s still a pretty good question that none of them can answer: How does something spiritual interact with something material? Most contemporary philosophers prefer to deny the spiritual, but if you substitute the term “consciousness” for “spirit,” you’re stuck with the exact same question, and nobody can answer it definitively.How does consciousness interact with matter? What is "consciousness," and what is "matter?" Are they different attributes of the same underlying reality? If so, then what is that underlying reality, and how are its consciousness and materiality related?
I also named this substack after the Police album, Ghost in the Machine, which is definitely their best album, as well as one of the greatest albums ever made — and I’ll fight you if you say otherwise!
And I named it after a couple of cryptic utterances of the term “ghost in the machine” in the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. I don’t know why those lines put the hook in me, but for some reason, in the crazy context of that bizarre and dreamlike movie, they did.
Note: The clip from Brazil below does not include the parts where someone uses the term “the ghost in the machine.” I could not find such a clip, but even if I did, the effect would probably work only if you heard those lines after watching the movie from the beginning. Nevertheless, I think the clip below does capture that movie’s brilliant juxtaposition of both the comically absurd and the terrifyingly totalitarian, which does seem to capture the zeitgeist of our brave new world order.
Anyway, if you think you might like the kind of stuff I write, go ahead and subscribe to A Ghost in the Machine!
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No doubt some modern philosophers try to avoid the question by denying the existence of consciousness, and some of them may even be non-conscious for all I know. It would explain a lot if they were.
I’m not one who subscribes to the “ghost in the machine” model, as popularly understood. My own take is that consciousness is ontologically priori to the physical; as in, physical matter is an emergent property of consciousness (God’s consciousness, if you will), rather than the other way around. But obviously I cannot prove that, though nobody can prove otherwise either. C.S. Lewis’s argument that materialist naturalism is self-refuting seems compelling to me. Moreover, starting from a similar place of hyperbolic doubt as Descartes does in his meditations, the only thing we can immediately know is our own consciousness and its contents. Materialism takes something we can only infer the existence of (matter), and makes the one thing we can immediately know (consciousness), subordinate to that. This seems unwarranted to me.