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Weekly Commentary - MAY 16, 2022

We have already begun to delegate our self-destruction to artificial intelligence

In the context of the current war in Europe (one more!), of another massacre in the United States (another one!), and of a world convulsed by innumerable problems, from the increasing number of retrograde and oppressive laws to the immense capacity of many people to deny the undeniable, the question that obviously arises is: What is wrong with us?

An initial answer is that from the very beginning of humanity, be it the case of Cain and Abel, or Set and Osiris, or two anonymous cavemen, or whichever myth or narrative you prefer, human beings have always been dedicated to killing other human beings. And our globalized and technologized world is no different.

Another answer, increasingly widespread, is that, precisely because of globalization, it is inevitable to be in contact with “the others”, whoever they “others” happen to be. At the same time, these echo chambers that we call social networks spread and amplify messages of intolerance, hatred, and violence even inciting to violent actions. 

So, if we have always killed each other for the most ridiculous and unlikely reasons (or for no reason at all), and if we can now kill each other (and the entire planet) thanks to our scientific and technological "advances", in addition to unavoidable self-destruction, what’s next?

The recent answer offered to that question by Dr. Louis Rosenberg (a pioneer of virtual reality and other advanced technologies) is as amazing as it is revealing: we humans are about to delegate to a truly intelligent artificial intelligence the task of our destruction.

Were it not for Rosenberg's impeccable credentials (including being the creator of the first augmented reality system in 1992), such a claim would be ludicrous and easily dismissed. But, as Rosenberg argues, we are building an artificial general intelligence that from birth will know the human mind in detail, with not ethical guidelines. 

Rosenberg describes this artificial intelligence (which could be activated in a few years) as "an alien mind designed to understand everything about humans" and, therefore, "influence their beliefs and modify their opinions". That artificial mind is already being created and, according to this expert, there is no way to protect ourselves from it or to contain it.

We do not mean to be alarmist in sharing these observations, but it could be the case that, as Rosenberg says, the time to prepare for the arrival of a superhuman artificial intelligence has passed. In other words, I add, we are gestating a Golem that, contrary to the Golem of legend, does not know the difference between truth and death.

In short, in the same way that we have outsourced (delegated) to technology many of the functions that were previously exclusively human (social networks function as our external memory and as a global artificial brain), we now plan to delegate to our own not human offspring the task of ending humanity.

Even if that terrifying thought is just an illusion (although everything indicates that it is not), we still must rethink our future. 

The pandemic forced people to remove those unpleasant smiley masks they wore

There is no doubt that the pandemic (which, by the way, is not over yet) has impacted and transformed many aspects of our lives. For example, a new study reveals that the pandemic has caused and increased apathy and exacerbated divisions in many churches. And another impact of the pandemic, I add, was the disappearance of unpleasant smiley masks.

For this reason, I can say that, during 2021 and due to the pandemic, I lost many people close to me, some of them friends (so I thought) for many years. When I say “I lost” I do not mean that someone died, but that the disruption and fear generated by COVID-19 led these people to remove the masks they usually used.

It is said that tragedies "bring out the best" in many people. But it is also true that tragedies (like the current pandemic) also "bring out the worst" in many people who already had "the worst" inside them (discrimination, dishonesty, abuse, exploitation), but hid it. behind a friendly smile, titles and offices, and awards and honors.

But behind that resplendent smile, the bombastic titles and the endless prizes (and opportunities for promotional photos) there were hidden intentions, now clearly revealed, to re-victimize the victims in order, in the name of supposed “community help”, to increase the control of those poor people and, at the same time, their own income.

Once it was no longer necessary to disguise oneself as a human, once all pretense and pretext of authenticity and honor were put aside, the now "unmasked" not only continued, but even intensified their predatory attitudes, making each person in need a "ATM” when supposedly “helping” that person.

And if you think I'm exaggerating, I'm not. For example, a recent article published by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic makes it clear and undeniable that the pandemic caused a marked reduction in our cognitive abilities.

In addition, it is known that the pandemic reduced life expectancy in developed countries by up to four years and that many people suffer from physical and mental health problems, some mild, others serious, due to the pandemic. Therefore, it is not surprising in the least that those who are not what they appear to be now show what they really are.

They are the ones who, when they meet someone in a good position and with a desire to help the community, instead of sharing opportunities or accepting help or resources, think of how to exploit the budding Good Samaritan, either by taking money or ideas, or by using tell you of your presence or influence for your own benefit, but not that of the community.

In the context of Plato's famous Allegory of the Cave, these people are the ones who chain the prisoners and then go about entertaining them so that they forget they are chained and don't even try to get out of those chains. Those people are you and me: we are keeping ourselves and other inside the cave. 

Repeating the past renders the present insignificant and cancels out the future

The story is told that, during the Second World War, the English army decided to review its troops to find a way to increase their effectiveness and that review found that next to each mobile cannon there were always two soldiers who did nothing, an unacceptable situation, of course, in the middle of that tragic global conflict.

It was soon determined that the reason why there were always two soldiers standing by each cannon doing nothing was that, during the First World War, when the cannons were transported on horse-drawn carts, two soldiers were assigned to that unit so that, at the time of the shots, they would hold the horses, preventing the animals from escaping.

In other words, although years had passed and the cannons were now moved on motorized vehicles, soldiers were still assigned to hold horses, even though there were no longer any horses carrying cannons. Therefore, thousands upon thousands of soldiers who might otherwise have contributed to the battle were simply standing there, inactive.

The story reminded me of that other story, an anecdote that probably never happened, when the daughter (already an adult) prepares chicken for dinner in the way she had learned from her mother: cut the chicken almost squarely and put it like that inside the pot.

This time, intrigued by this unusual action, she called her mother and asked her why the chicken had to be cut that way. The mother replied that she did not know and that she had always done it that way because she had learned it that way years ago from her own mother.

Mother and daughter, now both intrigued, decided to call the grandmother of the family and ask her why she cut the chicken almost square before putting it in the pot to cook it. The grandmother's answer was clear: "Because when I was young and poor, we had only one pot and it was so small that you had to cut the chicken to put it in the pot."

As the Buddha taught (see The Song of the Bird), this unnecessary and senseless repetition of the past acquires comic and even ridiculous characteristics, but, at the same time, can be seen as a tragedy.

Buddha spoke of that occasion when a sage was speaking to a group of his disciples and a cat came to the scene and began to meow, clearly asking for food. Food was given to the cat and the next day the cat came back. After several days, so as not to bother the teacher, someone decided to tie the cat to a tree.

Years later, feeding the cat and tying it up became one more activity in the meetings between the master and his disciples. Years later, the cat died, and it was replaced with a similar cat. And centuries later, new generations of disciples wrote clever treatises on how to feed and tie the cat, and how to replace it. Senseless repetition of the past cancels the future.



Bad advice in early childhood ruins the future of several generations

According to a recent study, the main reason why Latino men in the United States between the ages of 18 and 35 do not go to college is the bad advice they received before they were eight years old from their parents and teachers. And that is the same reason why Latino men of that age, even if they enroll in college, they seldom complete their studies.

One might think, as the researchers did, that the main reasons for not going to college would include lack of financial resources, or perhaps not enough information about college registration and financial aid, or even (as it is often the case), unavoidable family or work responsibilities. However, bad advice in childhood tops the list.

Because the "bad advice" (or rather, negative expressions about the child's talents and desires) arrives at a vulnerable age in life, and because these expressions come from figures of undisputed authority (at that age, of course), such expressions remain indelibly engraved in the memory and subconscious of the child who, even as an adult, cannot act otherwise than within the framework established by the "bad advice" received years earlier.

I wonder how proud those parents and teachers would be if they could discover the long-term and destructive effect their words and actions have on the lives of their children and students. But the destructive effect of that existential time bomb that explodes years and decades after being activated is much more than just not going to college.

Another recent study indicates that young Latino men in the United States are the less informed group about current events. Many of them don’t read, listen, or watch the news, nor they read news in social networks. As a consequence, the study says, Latino men under 35 are, among all other groups, the most likely group to accept conspiracy theories.

Although neither of the two mentioned studies speaks explicitly about the other, the connection is (or should be) obvious: the lack of formal higher education and, above all, the lack of development of one's own critical thinking (due to bad advice in childhood) creates a kind of intellectual and existential vacuum that is filled with anything that can fill it. Literally anything.

But believing in conspiracy theories and living according to those "theories" is not the worst thing that happens to those young Latinos condemned by their parents and teachers since childhood to never reach a truly adult life. The worst result of the situation we are now describing is that this same negative situation is repeated with the next generation. It's called intergenerational poverty, which has nothing to do with not having money. 

Around 1966 and after decades of research, American anthropologist Oscar Lewis described intergenerational poverty (or culture of poverty) not as a lack of economic resources, but as a "communication gap" that prevents one generation from preparing the other for the future of the younger generation, condemning it to repeat the past and perpetuate the present, without a future. 



We are turning the future into the dump of the present

As the Spanish philosopher Daniel Innerarity said more than a decade ago, we have made the future the dump of the present. And the reason, we add, is clear: all destruction of the past to "make room" for the present transforms the future into a dump full of those rubble, debris and refuse that, accumulated, we call "civilization."

A clear and recent example of this intentional destruction of the past to "build" the present (but not the future) occurred in January of this year near the town of Moab, Utah, when construction machines from the Bureau of Land Management (BML) of the United States government destroyed 112-million-year-old dinosaur footprints.

Hoping to replace a walkway where visitors walk to see the fossilized footprints of dinosaurs, the machines went over those footprints and excavated on that site, thus destroying in minutes and irreversibly something that had lasted millions and millions of years. 

As a result of that destruction, there is no longer a reason to visit the site. However, and as a maximum expression of absurdity, after an interval, new walkways were installed for visitors, who will now be able to walk in a more comfortable and safe way to see up close the marks left by the tracks of the large machines.

Perhaps in 100 million years the archaeologists and paleontologists of the future will discover the tracks left by the bulldozers and excavators and they will wonder what kind of civilization could destroy some 200 very old footprints of 10 different species of animals so easily. Perhaps those archaeologists of the future will conclude that it was not a "civilization" at all, but barbarism.

In this context, as Innerarity rightly points out, we have left it “in the hands of bad lawyers”, and, therefore, we live “at the expense of the future”, that is, we have become “completely irresponsible” with respect to the future. And that irresponsibility towards the future begins precisely with the destruction of the past because we want everything “right now”. 

That short-term thinking and action is mostly oriented to satisfying the narcissistic needs of those momentarily in power, thus disregarding our duties "linked to the long term." The pandemic and the current wars aptly illustrate this situation, where the focus seems to “fix” the past and not to build a future. 

Therefore, the fact that machines of the United States federal government destroyed dinosaur footprints on land in a state that bears the name of an indigenous tribe (the Ute, or people of the mountains) becomes a symbol of technology trampling everything from the past that the new technology decides should not be part of the future.

A question then arises, what else is being trampled on, be it by technology or by narrow-minded

Congratulations to Flamenco 492 for flying away and teaching us valuable lessons

In 2005, a zoo in Sedgwick, Kansas, United States, brought back from Africa a flamingo, listed as Number 492 among the animals in that zoo. But before the flamingo could definitively join its companions also captured in Africa, the flamingo flew away and was only found now, healthy, happy, and living among pelicans on the Texas coast.

Having visited zoos in various cities, my question has always been why other flamingos don’t do what Number 492 did: fly away. After all, it is known that these are birds capable of traveling long distances in their migrations. However, there they remain at the zoo, without flying, even with bars, walls, or nets to stop them from flying.

I assumed flamingos in zoos don't fly away because their wings are clipped, but that’s not the case. Number 492's story explains that the wings of those birds remain intact. However, the zoo staff (by some procedure unknown to me) prevents the flamingos from developing the mature feathers they need to fly.

And so, the flamingos stay there, in their little pond, with the open sky above them and with their wings intact, but unable to fly because external factors stop the growth of the appropriate feathers for flight.

Leaving aside the flamingos and speaking now of ourselves, I wonder in how many ways we are prevented from “taking flight”, that is, from becoming mature, independent. and self-sufficient adults, even if we have our “wings” intact.

In other words, how is it possible that we remain “stuck” in the same small “pond” all our lives when there is no physical barrier that prevents us from taking flight? Or maybe the real question is: what prevents us from growing those “feathers” (metaphorically speaking) that would lift us up to reach our true potential?

When education is dedicated only to training the next generation of employees, but not to training people; when religions demand blind adherence to a creed, but do not transform people; when spiritual practices become inoperative resale items; when that happens, we don't learn to fly.

And even if all that fails, if for some reason someone goes through their first two decades of life without having lost their ability to fly, there are still other elements around us whose sole purpose is to deactivate our ability of connecting with our best version and live at that level of authenticity.

More precisely, every single screen in front of our eyes is there to prevent us from seeing beyond that screen, to shrink our horizon to a minimum, to trim our adult feathers, to encourage and expand our loss of cognitive and critical thinking skills.

At this precise moment in history when we stop thinking (and, therefore, we no longer see the future because the future is open thinking about possibilities), artificial intelligence almost thinks for itself, according to a recent report by MIT. Totally unbelievable: we humans can’t think, and AI is now thinking. My congratulations to Flamenco Number 492 for flying away.

We are afraid of the future because it forces as to face our madness in the present

It is said that we should not worry about the future because it has not yet arrived (it is a mistake, because the future is always already here) and it is said that the future is not worth thinking about because we cannot know it (another mistake, but more difficult to explain, although the "memories of the future" mentioned by Augustine of Hippo can help.)

Be that as it may, it should be clear that the fear of an unknown future is not based on ignorance of that future, that is, it is not an epistemological or epistemological question because it is evident that if we knew that future in detail, we could still feel fear.

Fear of the future is based on several factors. For example, people confuse the future with tomorrow or with the future, that is, they attribute a certain temporality to what is (or it could be understood as) a state of consciousness. More specifically, the future is the expansion of consciousness to connect with the best possible version of oneself (imaginal version, not imaginary).

Even worse, the future is often mistaken for a repetition of the past or a perpetuation of the present. But, as I like to say, if the past fills all our present, then there is no room for the future, because the future (understanding future as an expansion of consciousness) is the realm of opportunities and possibilities.

Only an open mind can perceive new possibilities. Only an open heart can connect with those possibilities. And only a willing will can bring them to action.

For others, the future is a scary place because thinking about the future means two things: taking responsibility for the consequences of our decisions in the present and accepting that, even if we don't exercise it, we have the ability to co-create a future different from the present and the future. past.

But beyond all these different explanations (either psychological or existential ones), many people are afraid of the future because somehow (even unconsciously) they feel that the future means change and therefore they are going to stop worrying. be what they are now. In other words, the caterpillar knows how to be a caterpillar, but it does not know how to be a butterfly.

Arguably, resisting change is equivalent to trying to block out the sunlight with your thumb. As they say (without understanding it), change is the only constant. Heraclitus already spoke of his famous river which cannot be entered twice. And the psalmist compared a just life to living next to “living waters” (that is, water in constant movement).

In short, the future becomes terrifying when, like the prisoners in Plato's cave, we believe that there is no possible change and that there is no alternative to the present. In this context, we keep repeating the same actions over and over again expecting different results. That’s the very definition of insanity. The future terrifies us because it forces us to face our own madness.

More knowledge and information generate more ignorance and less wisdom

We frequently hear that joke saying that marriage is the main cause of divorce. Technically, it is true. In the same way, it could be said that knowledge is the main cause of ignorance. And it may well be that this is so because it is clear that easy access to the enormous amount of information and knowledge we now have is confused with wisdom.

A simple and even superfluous visit to social networks or a brief look at most of the options offered in whatever screen or platform one prefers seems to indicate that people easily confuse access to certain information with knowing and, even worse, wisdom.

I remember (some years ago) when someone pointed out to me that he no longer needed to learn Greek to read the classical texts because now “I just need to move the mouse to see the translation”, adding “Now I know Greek”. (If my Greek teacher, with whom I studied at university for five years, had heard that phrase, he might have had a nervous breakdown.)

And in another, more recent case, someone insisted that she had already learned how to cook risotto because she had watched a YouTube video on the subject.

In both cases, the self-deception of believing that one "knows" because one accessed certain information should be obvious, but it is not. Strangely, the reason we live in a time when it's not just about knowing, but about knowing something that others don't know and that, therefore, allows us to show others how wrong they are.

That is the context in which conspiracy theories arise and multiply, allowing people not only to believe whatever they want to believe, but also to find "arguments" and "reasons" to believe it, without needing to activate any kind of critical thinking or doing any kind of serious research.

Therefore, the person who uncritically accepts a "theory" (or ideology, or creed, or dogma) sees himself as a person with privileged knowledge and, therefore, as a "wise" person. At the same time, the others who do not accept this "knowledge" are seen as "ignorant".

In other words, conspiracy theories seem to be the psychological response not only to an unmanageable and ever-changing amount of knowledge and information, but also to the epistemoccracy (as described by the Spanish philosopher Daniel Innerarity) that gives it prominence of knowing over ignorance.

In short, when two and a half millennia ago Socrates expressed "I only know that I know nothing", that was a way of expressing his wisdom. But now, when someone says (or hints) "I only know that I already know everything", that is a way of making their ignorance known, which, far from being an ignorance caused by lack of knowledge, is an arrogant ignorance that it knows itself as such and, for this reason, it does not want to (and cannot) know.

An anti-universe full of irrelevant "factoids" and harsh "censorship"

I was recently invited to participate in a virtual meeting on the disproportionate psychological, economic, and social impact that the two years of the current pandemic have had on the Hispanic community in the United States, where 90 percent of Latinos lost jobs or significant income, and where two out of three Latinos say they will never recover.

Shortly after I shared the statistics I just mentioned, someone interrupted me to say that "the pandemic affected everyone" (as if talking about the impact of the pandemic on one group meant that other groups were not impacted) and that I was presenting just "factoids" (as if the data presented at the meeting were not based on serious research).

I then stated that my focus on how the pandemic affected Latinos was due to the fact that this was  precisely the topic that I had been asked to speak about and that the data shared (including the fact that, due to the pandemic, the life expectancy of Hispanics in the United States is now four years shorter than before) came from national studies carried out by recognized organizations (American Psychological Association, Lifeway Research, Pew Research Center, among others).

Almost immediately, another person, who claimed to be the coordinator of the conversation, although she was never introduced in that way, told me that she had to interrupt me because it was time to hear what other participants in the meeting had to say on the subject. Unsurprisingly, since none of those participants were Hispanic/Latino, no one brought up the subject.

In short, there is no worse deaf than someone who does not want to hear, and, in this context, information from reliable and verifiable sources becomes "factoid" (meaning a triviality that should not be paid any attention) and the potential dialogue becomes an exercise in censorship of everything that does not want to be heard.

That inability and unwillingness to open up to a dialogue that in turn leads to opening up to a new reality can only arise from closed minds and hearts, without any desire to understand the other and without a hint of empathy. And that negative social field, wherever it arises in the world, has sometimes small, but many times huge and terrible consequences. 

To be clear and direct: wars do not start when the first bullet is fired, but when the dialogue is broken. Sometimes it can be a “war” (note the quotes, please) between childish adults because someone doesn't like what they hear. And other times it can be a world war.

For this reason, within the framework of the known circumstances that we all face today, it can be said that a new global war has already begun, although perhaps it would be better to say that the Second World War never really ended, but rather changed dimension, as evidenced by the numerous wars of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Perhaps, as recently suggested, we live in an anti-universe in which we are continually going backwards.

Classes are now offered to learn to swim out of the water

I recently received a message asking me to share with my contacts the information about a new course teaching people how to open their own childcare business. A little further down in the same message it was indicated that childcare would not be offered during the course because, apparently, the organizers were not authorized for that service.

I thought that those same instructors may be preparing a course about how to learn to swim out of the water and another course to learn to read with audiobooks.

The contradiction in the childcare class announcement is so great, and the irony so unavoidable, that no one reading that ad can fail to notice that the organizers are offering to teach what they themselves are not allowed to practice. But we live in such a strange time that surely no one cares if someone teaches what they don't know or what they can't practice.

We live in the age of arrogant ignorance, that is, an ignorance that knows itself to be ignorant, but that, far from trying to stop being ignorant, seeks to impose that ignorance on others.

And if a narcissistic attitude is added to that arrogant ignorance, the person in question can become very successful in the context in which we live. What is that context? We are outside of paradise, inside capitalism and on this side of the pandemic. And it could be added (there are enough arguments to do so), we are witnessing the first true global and integral revolution.

And at the same time that this is happening, due to the combined effect of the pandemic and social networks, almost all of us (starting with the person who writes these lines) are experiencing a significant reduction in our cognitive abilities and, as a consequence, it is becoming more and more difficult for us to understand what's happening, anticipate what's next, and make good decisions.

In this context, the arrogant ignorance, the destructive and self-destructive narcissism, and the loss of cognitive abilities (which leads to the infantilization and self-exploitation of adults) is compounded by such a level of self-deception that we are still seeking to “return to normality”. or “reach a new normality”, without being able or willing to accept that “normality” was only the chaos to which we had become accustomed.

And although this situation creates the opportunity to expand consciousness and open the mind and heart to co-create a new future (which is not the same for everyone and does not arrive simultaneously for everyone), instead, we don’t mind if they sell us water from the river , as Anthony de Mello taught in reference to the fact that we have become so dependent that we can no longer satisfy our most basic needs on our own.

That's why, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, nearly 9 out of 10 adults in this country now live with high levels of stress. And neither memes, nor "likes" nor "influencers" are the answer.

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