Born in the mid 1960s, I experienced potentially the biggest affluence in human history. I might actually have lived in the peak of human achievement. In my early youth this affluence allowed humanity to erect towers a 100 meter high and launch them to the moon, land there and return.
But in my adolescence the Reagan era dawned and the consolidation war started. Thatcher lashed about like a satanic harpy on my side of the Atlantic, sucking all the affluence from the earth’s crust. They called it economic growth, and they alleged it would last forever. And I saw this other boom – internet. I sat behind a greenscreen PC in early 1991 and I logged in to usenet, posting an article (that was later found to dozens of people) and in 1993 I was on the WWW when it existed for weeks. From then on we scaled that mountain, and I saw a freedom and aspiration that ever since dazzled me.
But now it is 2011 and I feel a sense of fatigue. I smell my own personal extinction closing in on me. Sure there is some measure of hope that my life may be extended in a manner that leads beyond the humane state, even if the pope doesn’t approve. I have my hopes but not ‘expectations’, even though Michael Anissimov seems to be pretty sure we’ll all be virtual superbeings in just a few decades.
In 2007 I though I could cheat to keep up. That’s right I cheated. A friend I love dearly, paid for mew going to school, my in my 40s. It was an interesting year but it again made clear my mind is weaker than that of most other humans around me. I cheated by using modafinil, and in a very thatcherian manner I was frantically struggling to extend that peak of productivity the human state sometimes affords us. I hear Margaret Thatcher is still alive, in a severely senile state. She succumbed to the same mental deterioration as did her dear friend, Ronald Reagan.
This week, after precisely 4 years, I have quit modafinil and in a contradictory manner (since modafinil is said to stimulate wakefulness) a feel more awake than ever. A shroud of anxiety has fallen from my mind and I see the world anew. Instead of frantic desperation I first now feel a sense of curious open-mindedness. I woke up this night again considering my own mortal nature, and what it would mean to not be. I considered how quickly my world changes. Four years is a hearbeat, as my mind becomes ever staid. I recall that when I was a child four years in the 1970s were a whirlwind of events, easily more impressions and emotions than I currently integrate in ten. Ageing is a stretching out of experiential existence.
But this is not true. If we do not collectively change the course of our actions, an ageing humanity (on average) has stopped having expectations for (and investing in) the future. Seriously do you all think the mess we are in is because we are so proactive and thoughtful? No I allege the world is in a mess, yes, very badly so, and we are screwing up because we don’t think of a future beyond this fragile life bubble we are currently caught in. Humans are etched on the surface tension of a fragile mortality bubble and we care not if other bubbles pop around us, but for a short moment of sadness.
We live in surreal and abstract times. I lived in abundance and the chance exists it will end in my lifetime. It might not – who knows? As my life winds down in advancing aging, I might see the rules changed. I might witness either thing – a collapse of industrial and high energy and 7+ billion human beings “in a more primitive state” (and I’ll probably die myself as result of such a die-off). I might see the Earth’s constraints enact itself with a dire vengeance. But then again I might also see the emergence of new minds on this planet, changing every bit of assumption for the rest of cosmic history. Surreal indeed.
What do we want? To not die? To be something better, as individuals or as contributing agents of a species? To be returned to a state of blissfull adolescence and passionate exploration? To be pretty and fresh and smart, and then go beyond that, upward, instead of “over that Hill”?
Soon Margaret Thatcher will die, and she won’t know, blissfully unaware, just as Cypher died, “not knowing a goddamn thing“. Maybe that’s the conservative side of humanity – “not wanting to know“. I most passionately say I do want to know, and don’t want to be a human – but something better. I want to be and see more, even if it is all a bit frightening. Was all this the main course or was all this merely an appetizer?
Today I am off the modafinil and it feels as if it is all just starting anew. Maybe I just had a conservative moment the last few years while trying to drug myself to stay awake.