Wednesday, December 27, 2017


In the beginning there was the idea.

My seminary education was “emplaced” along space and time, as all educations must be and most seminaries try to deny, claiming to be universal and unerring.  Luckily, “history of thought” was a value at the U of C Div School, though not everyone bought into it.  In fact, the dean at the time I was there (1978-82) was a defender of the given faith, which meant that two new and edgy process theory systems were suppressed, or at least scowled at, which only encouraged them.

One was phenomenological thought and the other was the biological truth of metaphor.  They were ways of breaking through the always-powerful standing order.  Even at the beginner’s level where I was, puzzling over books and aborting my ability to respond to what the traditionalists expected, I found a little thread to follow in “narrativity” as presented by Richard Stern, mostly a novelist.

Therefore, just now when I finished all four seasons of “Halt and Catch Fire”, a series on Netflix, I could easily see that the narrative line followed the history of the development of the computer.  Four basic points of view, each represented by a character, interacted to create the machine itself, the command operating systems that made it possible to code; then the directories, the commerce, the search engines, the creation of the internet, personal social media — with hints about what might come next.  They did not address the inevitable government attempts to capture the internet or the international use of coding as combat.

The original four characters were Joe Macmillan, who comes from an IBM family and wants to be separate but equal, therefore is always pulling for monetary success.  He initiates projects involving time-sharing, NFSNET, antivirus software, a web browser and a search engine.  But he only has the big concept, not the ability to code.

Cameron Howe is the zany alternative universe person who can code anything but has a doodlebug approach to life.  She’s a gamer, but doesn’t quite move into the alternative world thing.  She wants the phenomena, not the outcome.  But Joe sees her uses and enjoys them.

Gordon Clark is both an engineer and dreamer.  He is “seminal” and therefore has two daughters, one who becomes a hippy looking for Buddha and one who is a gay coding prodigy.  The great irony of the series is that Gordon is losing his mind due to brain disease, but he has originated the dream that is internet thought.

Donna Clark is Gordon’s wife, who goes on to be a success in worldly terms — without Gordon.  She is a type common in series these days: the steel butterfly whose wardrobe is impressive.  Power Woman — and yet she’s not quite up to it.

The great value of this series is that ordinary people might be hooked by the narrative enough to at least marginally understand the issues of both computer and internet — and the social changes that are beginning to unfold from it, which are something like a religious sea change forming, barely perceptible but irresistible.

David Brooks, with his earnest worried face, has been trying to understand all this but not necessarily taking into account the Internet.  What he is mostly thinking about is the separating of society, maybe everywhere, into a small number of people who went to college, are part of a legacy network that is not quite what the paranoid right thinks is the “deep state,” and are wealthy, some of them so wealthy that their corporate holdings amount to landless states, international corporations that have no allegiance to nations.  Even the United Nations have no power to curb this oligarchy.  It’s a program for a crash.

These world entities live in semi-secrecy, but the internet — which is the global means of communication both financial and strategic — can expose them, not just to the educated computer user, but to everyone if the media remains free.  (This is NOT television, one-size-fits-all.)  Thanks to social media, it’s participatory.  But so far it has not solved the brute problem of our human beingness, which falters, but is continually renewed by generational roll-over.

Those who work on evolution — EVERYTHING evolves in spite of those who desperately try to stay the same — suggest that the next step will be empathy for each other, no matter how different we are from each other.  There are individual brain cells dedicated to this task, areas of the eye and brain where this is done, physically.  They are coded in the genomes.  But we are NOT computers.  (See post on 12-17-17  “Tonguing the Paradigm Shift”)

The idea that we are machinery, like computers, is a holdover from the industrial era.  We are programs and we are Internet.  That’s where the intelligence is.  THAT’s where we “halt and catch fire,” which is a metaphor full of irony.  In part what prevents us from stepping away from the machine is our generations-long attachment to individuals rather than the group.  Owning a computer carries the luxury connotation that books used to have before libraries.  (I can’t say libraries are “collectives” because heads will jump to communism as it was conceived in the struggle for industrial era fossil fuel and fossil conceptions of power.)  It is another breach in our Rule of Law idea that we are collaborating nations with treaty boundaries and constitutions, enforced by war if necessary.

It’s not just internet that imitates the brain by constantly connecting two or more conduits of concepts.  One of the powerful forces is music, which I could metaphorically claim is the lymph in which brain cells function, carrying in the energy, carrying out the trash, and delivering hormonal messages.  A song is not exactly universal, but the underlying mechanism is.  It is both phenomenological (felt meaning) and metaphorical (concept carrying).  Both sensory and mathematical.

These are religion before the institutions get hold of what’s going on.  One of the forces protecting the new ideas is the ability to generate electricity in place without fossil fuel.  Another is the need for collaborating forces to put up satellites to bounce the internet messages.  If war means shooting down the satellites, it will become vital to protect satellites in order to use modern electronic features like GPS or surveillance maps or remotely controlled predator drones.  The loss of satellites would make much of the war “machinery” unusable.  But code combat would just use them.  It's already happening.

Like the four characters in “Halt and Catch Fire,” we need new social code, i.e. Rule of Law.  Somehow all our regulation failed at the point of democratic election and is now making difficulties with the correction of that failure.  Ironically, the forces of regression are systematically erasing many regulatory safeguards.  For those who have empathy, early evolvers, it is agony.

One way to send hidden cyber-messages is embedding them in images, where they remain unseen unless you know how to take the picture back to code and examine that x by o.  If you look at these two letters and see hugs and kisses, you’re onto it.  We’re learning so much by watching CSI programs.

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