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virtual kingdom
I have a theory that as the highly industrialized societies of the West strive to advance to the next level of development demanded by the apparatus already in place—to make the transition in which information, too, becomes a commodity subject to market forces, and access to information is a sign of privileged status; in which manual labor disappears from the scene (in the sense that political dissidents "disappear") and technology becomes softer, more insidious, less obtrusive, better integrated with itself and the environment—as all this happens, there will be a vast breach in the social fabric, a cutoff point some will surpass, giving them access to a world that is clean and smooth-moving (moving with a soft hum, or silently), from which suffering is banished by decree and information flows like wine, leaving no unpleasant hangover because people are isolated from its effects...a VIRTUAL world, an almost-world.
These will be the privileged class, the technocrats, the managers and dependents of the perfect world that resembles death. On the other hand, there will be those who will not make the grade, who will be left behind or left out. The breach will be absolute. For them there will be a life of poverty without dignity: squalor, ignorance, and fighting over scraps. They will be the majority of human life on the planet, but will be invisible and so will not exist. They will live in places that the denizens of the VIRTUAL world consider its dumping ground, and will be imported as groundskeepers and maintenance workers for the vast and intricate apparatus, performing specialized tasks the managers do not care for, and the workers themselves do not understand.
It will be necessary for those who are excluded from the machine to emancipate themselves from its hegemony and relearn the skills of self-sufficient organization—planting small crops, valuing handicraft and the use of personalized, comprehensible tools—if they are to survive at all above the level of kept beasts. They will need to define their own standards of culture, useful knowledge and dignified existence, and pass these skills on to their children. Eventually they will grow away from living on the fringes or as outcasts of the technocratic world and will, if the managers do not interfere, develop their own thriving, autonomous societies, organized intimately and on a small scale.
Since the inhabitants of the VIRTUAL world will have renounced all knowledge that cannot be called up on a computer safely and free of consequence, all environmental conditions that cannot be maintained within carefully prescribed limits, all culture that is not harmonious with the environment they have created and which has created them—and since they will have gone so far as to make death and the death process invisible—those who are left behind and excluded from this world will be the only ones capable of what we know as free and independent human action: a creative response to the overcoming of challenges as they arise.
If we value the qualities of inventiveness and resilience, the toughness of character and sensitivity to changing conditions that make human life possible in the first place, we must align ourselves with the outcasts, the scavengers and jerryriggers, against their VIRTUAL counterparts, who are engaged in spreading a kind of pollution, the virus of uniformity and death of the spirit.
location: San Francisco
date: April 1994
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