At the close of the 20th century the very air was pervaded with total self-assurance and optimism at the end of history. The last great rival, the Soviet Union had fallen and with no serious alternatives out there, it seemed clear that an enlightened golden age was nigh that would culminate in a final singularity and carry humanity past its primitive roots forever into an immortal utopia.
Scarcely 20 years later those golden dreams of grandeur lie wet and muddy in the gutter like discarded scraps of gilt confetti and every day reveals a new crack in the shiny facade of the great globalist empire. The advances in technology that followed one after another with precipitous speed since the beginning of the 19th century have finally slowed down to a relative crawl of incremental advances and the whole system creaks trying to sustain its existing infrastructure. As sclerosis sets in, even basic travel and shipping on the roads and skyways of the Empire becomes ever more difficult.
The managerial elites that sit at the top of this crumbling pyramid flap and agitate furiously lashing out at their own subjects as they try to reconcile the grim daily dysfunction with their high minded dreams of equalism and the eternal blank slate. As crises deepen and multiply, the gnawing suspicion that the eternal revolution is in fact over only spurs their prideful spite and existential rage. They’ll tell the whole world it’s a “reset” or a “transition” and all part of the plan but this is of course delusional. It’s just another of hundreds of hubristic Empires that mark the ages like the rings in a tree trunk. The age of growth must come to an end to be followed by the winter season. Not only is singularity well out of reach now, we are entering a new Dark Age instead. It won’t be a Dark Age as we typically think of it, though. In fact I characterize the order I see emerging as a Techno Dark Age where the persistence of present forces are the cause of the descent.
The simplest way to describe this is that when we look at history it seems there is the potential for ages of cultural and scientific invention when enough high quality people have the luxury of resources and space to experiment. This state of affairs managed to emerge in the West from incentives that led elites and the Church to identify and cultivate top talent.
Stable stagnation happens when pretty much everyone has to optimize existing behaviors to break even against Malthusian pressures and the total saturation of every social niche. This pretty much describes Eastern Civilizations and the Middle East for most of its history.
We might define a Dark Age, then as a state when even with most people struggling, the society operates at a net loss and continues to deteriorate until some sustainable new equilibrium is reached.
The present Globalist civilization has by all indications begun to deteriorate against the best efforts to sustain it. We are entering a Dark Age, but counter-intuitively, it is caused not by a loss of technologies but because of technologies. Furthermore, I imagine that the presence of these technologies in some capacity may well characterize the duration of the Dark period. The pressures introduced by the extreme efficiency of modern life have finally reached a point where they have become corrosive to any kind of dynamic, inventive, or even sustainable society. In short, technology has so completely outpaced the social technology and evolved traits of humankind that modern civilization has become a hostile, acidic environment incapable of sustaining human life. Wherever the modern “1st world” way of life fully holds sway, full demographic and societal deterioration is well underway. Where the machine of society uses people most efficiently, they have nothing left to produce anything on their own and certainly not to reproduce. The genes of the most conscientious and capable get shredded and ground into dust each generation as standards of living and competence seem to keep deteriorating for reasons no one can quite seem to understand…
When I was a child, I would constantly hear about how the personal computer and then the internet would open new worlds of progress and creativity and for the first decade or two it was a colorful Wild West that seemed it would deliver on these promises. Indeed, even amidst the first creeping autumn decay, there was a final efflorescence of creativity and culture at the start of a new Millennium. By 2010, though, centralized search and social media platforms were already causing a mass homogenization of online culture that could be easily curated and controlled. Music was dominated by electronic shrieking of autotune and in less than a decade film, with some amazing exceptions, had devolved from Lord of the Rings to endless reboots of reboots of necroposted nostalgic intellectual properties and bland cookie-cutter superhero movies.
The prediction that modern civilization would become massively more creative failed to come true. Actually, the opposite seems to have happened despite having more people, talent, and money than ever. The indicators of civilizational dynamism and creativity have only grown dimmer over the last decade until most of what’s left is corporate Marvel movies tailored to managerial commissars and the Chinese. This brings us to ask the inevitable question: Why does the information age with infinitely better communication and access to creative tools fail to massively increase creative output and invention?
The answer of course, leads us back to our Techno Dark Age. The United States, for example, is a nation that has long held up competition between individuals as a high ideal, a cultural characteristic that has only been amplified technologies since the industrial revolution. Electric lighting, for example, makes it easier to work around the clock. This makes it possible for a workaholic who sleeps as little as possible to get ahead, which also puts pressure on everyone else to not fall too far behind. Any invention that makes labor easier, counter-intuitively makes output more competitive. When you have enough inventions like this, eventually there exists a state of absolute and perfect competition.
Now take an American society that is Absolutely Competitive and add Absolute Information as well….The intersection of these two forces makes a stable, lasting society impossible even as productivity and profit skyrocket in the short term.
Under these diabolical conditions everyone is in relentless existential competition with everyone else while getting real-time updates about every detail. The inevitable result is mass defection and total social breakdown in a Hobbesian nightmare landscape where fewer every year can afford housing or gain the stability to have a family even as the basic networks for transporting food and fuel teeter on the brink.
This nuclear meltdown of the 1st world mass society is what I mean when I say that technology causes and is an attribute of the new Dark Age. Runaway social competition has always been one of the main threats, if not the main threat to social cohesion in all times and places. The societies that stand the test of time, however, all develop social technologies to moderate in-group tensions so that most people can cooperate most of the time with each other and against outside threats. Any group has to be at least as good at mediating cooperation as its neighbors or else it is either slowly displaced or conquered.
Humanity has yet to develop social technologies that have proven able to deal with Post-Industrial society and the information age. It may simply be the case that humans cannot deal with too much information. We now see a new mass hysteria mind virus sweep through the collective consciousness every few months. We see people brainwashed and ghost-hacked into forgetting their former selves and mutilating their own bodies. We see many more turn on their friends and families as if they were bitten by zombies. It’s hard yet to even begin to internalize the true horror of our age as it destroys tens of millions of lives on an assembly line as surely as the great wars of the 20th century.
The Techno Dark Age will be an age of fracture as smaller and more localized groups figure out ways of not being destroyed by the larger mass culture that drives its adherents by the millions into near-extinction. This is already manifesting as a new age of tribalism where the 19th-20th century nation-state has already ceased to exist. Already there are neighborhoods, cities, and whole states that are difficult to travel to in the US if you do not think and look a certain way, a trend that will only accelerate and solidify. Over time, people will assort by region, make local laws and institutions intolerable to enemy groups and become entrenched tribalistic fiefdoms. The groups that come up with the best answers to the pressures of the information age will crush and displace their neighbors as if without effort. The Techno Dark Age is a necessary testing ground to see which models are suited and which are obsolete and doomed to pass away into a few historical footnotes. As we would expect from a Dark Age, most innovation and culture comes to a halt, but it’s necessary to clean out all the dead wood before a new phase of growth can begin. It’s all part of the process, if we are lucky. Without any new continents to colonize and a dysfunctional culture worldwide we can only hope the present crisis does not lead to permanent decay and primitive, sleepy stagnation until some cataclysm finally leads to extinction of the species.