The Game of Humans and Gods
The game of humans and gods is a very old one but played daily. Historically humans have been characterized as living in fear of god(s) or as aspiring to achieve god status as humans in this game. Since humans are emotion machines, these two characterizations make complete rational sense in historical terms but the modern technological age, in my opinion, has changed the game in two material ways.
The specific aim of this paper is to illustrate the two material changes and explain the importance of viewing both governance and religion as technologies in of themselves. I think it will be meaningful to first explain the latter component to this specific aim. Doing so helps vividly illustrate the material changes in the game.
The purpose for my exercise in evaluating whether governance and religion can be considered technologies was to highlight how they are similar, not how they are different.(1) There is no shortage of books and authors on how governance and religion are different. There are examples of authors exploring how they are the same but they lack a common taxonomy to be useful for meaningful scientific analysis. I believe some people of religious faiths will disagree with my assertion that religion is a human technology. That is fine but I do believe those same people will agree the products of the analysis are critically important because they illustrate how their freedom to practice their particular set of beliefs are more at risk in the modern version of the game. Lets now illustrate how the game of humans and gods has changed.
The first way this game has changed is humans now have a digital life that mirrors their real life.(2) Thanks to advancements in information and communication technologies, humans now emit data and data about data at all hours of the day.(3) This information is stored and shared globally and it can be argued our real lives and digital lives are treated as separate and unequal under the eyes of the law.(4) The vast majority of our data is owned by governments and corporations and not controlled by you as an individual.(5) This information is also not sufficiently secure from theft and illicit use, which can have severe negative implications for our real lives.(6) These are core-contributing factors into the second material way in which the game of humans and gods has changed.
The second way the game has changed is we have a modern understanding of what technology is and how it evolves.(7) This modern understanding enables us to create new and rational definitions of key terms in the game of gods. The terms that can be defined as human technologies in of themselves are “Governance” and “Religion”.(8) These technologies, which are designed to serve a human purpose, are core contributors to the battle of ideas in controlling human behavior. Both technologies have provided ideas that have driven humans into the darkest of emotional times and they have escorted us out of them too. Both technologies are designed to give human emotion machines hope and faith in a rapidly changing world and in the information age, with rapid advancements in new information tools and bio-technologies, the world is changing at the speed of light when compared to all other times in human history.
These two material changes in the game of humans and gods brings me to the rational conclusion humanity is speeding towards an event of emotional cardiac arrest. Any student of history will tell you moments like these almost always manifest in wars that have a true human cost. These have always been emotionally devastating to humanity and what’s lead society out of the dark are new technologies, including upgrades to the ideas generated by the technologies of governance and religion. An empirical data point of the technology of religion getting an upgrade to better serve its human purpose, is the recent changes in family doctrine by the Catholic Church lead by Pope Francis.(9) While the changes by the Catholic Church are encouraging for real human lives, its power and prestige have limits.
The governance systems that comprise modern western civilizations have also undergone upgrades thanks to aggressive foreign policies.(10) These upgrades in response to acts of terrorism can be argued to be authoritarian in nature over foreign and even their own domestic populations.(11) These upgrades are primarily focused on collecting and controlling our information.(12) These governance upgrades have evolved in secret but thanks to brave journalists and whistle blowers, we continue to learn what western governments have been doing and still planning to do with our information. Leaders always say they are doing this in the name of keeping us safe and secure, but it’s apparent this is really about trying to safely secure the modern states power over us.
There has been a shift in Constitutional legal thinking over time towards what are known as “positive rights”.(13) Those who think this way believe restrictions on the power of governance systems are overwhelmingly negative because it restricts what they believe the state through the Constitution should be providing.(14) They refer to their doctrine as “Democratic Constitutionalism” which is ironic because it corrodes democracy and is focused on rendering the Constitution meaningless.(15) Positive rights are synthetic privileges manufactured by the state in the form of laws subject to change based on ideological interpretation.(16) These interpretations have a positive bias towards what the state thinks is right for you and they believe this approach is “simpler government”. I refer to this as the religion of state power and it doesn’t like competition.
Within the U.S. Constitutional framework, the religion of state power uses three approaches to compete for its legitimacy and power. First, it attempts to create parallel tracks of preventative law enforcement that route around the traditional guarantees of the Bill of Rights. Meaningful examples of this activity have been found in the NSA Snowden revelations in how the government is collecting our information and information about our information. The government does this by conscripting the technology industry in secret and coerces them to keep quiet through what have become ruled as unconstitutional practices by courts (i.e. National Security Letters).
A second and related method the religion of state power uses to compete for its legitimacy has been the transition of traditional law enforcement and social services to increasingly resemble the new parallel tracks of laws. Once governments have access to powerful surveillance and data mining technologies, there will be enormous political pressure to utilize them in everyday law enforcement and delivery of government services. Examples of this can be found in the governments’ utilization of the IRS to investigate ideological groups it deems as threats. These efforts restricted the flow of money to support political speech that is ideologically opposed to the religion of state power. In the U.S. money has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as being tantamount to speech, so restricting money that represent beliefs you oppose is critically important.
Another potent example of this second method is U.S. attorney generals legally attacking organizations who fund research related to climate change that challenges government dogma on the matter.(17) Today it is climate change; tomorrow it will be something different. The religion of state power tries to stamp out privacy and free speech first because once it can control the narrative; it can accomplish the rest of its ideological goals; but it still needs help. Which is why the third method is important.
The third method to maintaining its legitimacy is to leverage private power in private/public cooperation. Conscripting technology companies in private to share your data has been one glaring example of this but there are more subtle examples. Utilizing administrative laws and burdensome regulations to influence industries such as energy, healthcare, insurance, banking, and manufacturing are just one way in which the religion of state power gets others to do its ideological work. These are just a few of the many examples people see and feel on a daily basis how this religion is forcing its will on us. The government will always say everyone is equal under the eyes of the law, but truth be told it believes those who serve its purposes are more equal than those who do not. So in closing, I ask the question:
In the information age who is playing god?
*A brief slideshare presentation of this paper is available here: