Note — Mar 22, 2020

A Duplicitous Priesthood’s Superior Knowledge of the Technology of Light and Shadow

Seen in → No.118

Source →

The link above is to Paul Graham Raven’s take on a longer article, Iwan Rhys Morus’ Why superheroes are the shape of tech things to come at Aeon. The latter looks at magic, religion, and superheroes as they relate to technology or how technology is leveraged as false magic, tools for religion, and as the source of many a superhero’s power. Goes from Daedalus and Icarus to David Brewster, Wells, Tesla, Heinlein, and then today’s superhero blockbusters. Raven’s piece has all the best quotes, as well as a layer of transhumanism, McLuhan, and an important note on literature as primarily reflective or also as a reinforcing feedback loop for those same beliefs. And of course you can also connect both with the various pieces on scifi informing and influencing tech, which I’ve previously shared, which also goes to scifi authors used in forecasting, and the various territories around that and speculative design as well as design fiction.

The article featured Tesla musing how his inventions would transform the future of humanity: starting with an image of a newborn child as an animated machine, and concluding with humans harnessing the Sun’s energy and building machines that were self-acting. […]

Heinlein’s later novels increasingly celebrated the independent agency of the individual. The collective was a hinderance, rather than a help. This is the ethos of contemporary superhero culture as well. In some respects – and this is a key difference between the original generation of superheroes and their contemporary successors – collectives are part of the problem to which superheroes are the answer. […]

Looking at it this way, the popularity of superhero culture among aficionados of new technological entrepreneurship seems obvious. It’s a culture that celebrates individual agency at the expense of the collective. Things get done by charismatic individuals rather than by the state. […]

I’m interested in the extent to which the prevalence of such literary-cultural (and more generally media-cultural) narratives act as a reinforcing feedback loop for those same beliefs. Do underwear perverts and transhumanist captains of industry normalise the techno-hero’s journey and the myth of the Competent Man, rather than simply illustrating their popularity?