SCIOPS 01.09: Apocalypse Soon

Hello, World!

SCIOPS is a cogsec newsletter. I’ve focused a lot lately on the concept of existential risk, which seems very distant from mental self-defense


. Last week I started to delve into autonomous weaponry, which is a nightmare situation that no one person can solve. Other things, like superintelligence explosions and mass surveillance, are equally vast and incomprehensible. And I haven’t even begun to talk about climate change and eco-catastrophe. But we’ve got to look at all these things, if we’re to have a hope of maintaining sanity in the Cthulhucene.

The first step in security is understanding your threat model. For cognitive security, I think we have to understand the threats that we are actually faced with as humanity and as humans. Only then can we make practical steps toward undoing our toxic social infrastructure and thriving as a global species.

Correspondent 38373940 sent me this sobering article about the probabilities of various x-risks in the next century (and yes, that is the offical Salon photo):

It’s the end of the world and we know it: Scientists in many disciplines see apocalypse, soo



It summarizes the scientific reasons to fear the Coming Dooms as well as a brief nod at the consistent eschatologies of the world’s religions.

For example, a

2010 survey

found that 41 percent of Christians in the U.S. believe that Jesus will either “definitely” or “probably” return by 2050. Similarly, 83 percent of Muslims in Afghanistan and 72 percent in Iraq claim that the Mahdi, Islam’s end-of-days messianic figure,

will return within their lifetimes

. The tragedy here, from a scientific perspective, is that such individuals are worried about the

wrong apocalypse!

Much more likely are catastrophes, calamities and cataclysms that cause unprecedented (and pointless) human suffering in a universe without any external source of purpose or meaning.

There’s even a  drone army scenario that beats robots-with-guns:

“A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer… You need only three guys.”

We have entered the age of supervillains.

The doomsayers at Salon got me thinking about the 1970s underground classic Illuminatus! . Bob Wilson and Bob Shea encouraged their readers to “Immanentize the Eschaton!” Their message was one of goofy psychedelic rebellion, but maybe it worked a little too well.

The Eschaton – the End of the World – has become ubiquitous through our culture, both in the imagery of media and in the daily machinations of late capitalism. The End is Immanent (it pervades all things) but it is also now Imminent (oncoming, unstoppable) and maybe even Eminent (held in high esteem). We are making the End of the World, deliberately.

We think we are living in a dystopia, as evidenced by our movies and our corporate five-year plans and our desire to escape into space or virtual reality or pharmaceutical oblivion. Yet we have better food, better healthcare, better knowledge and entertainment than can be found in human history. We could just as easily be building a utopia, except for our stubborn refusal to see it that way.

This is the root of cognitive security. All minds build internal representations to model the world and order our sensory impressions. The most powerful exploit in the human brain is its reliance on a worldview . Those who define reality, the arbitrators of the narrative, hold the power. Authors have author-ity. If a person can tell you what is true, then they can tell you what to do. They can hack your brain and make of you a drone.

That’s why I started this newsletter. To protect ourselves against the wielders of the worldview stick, we have to write our own narratives. We need to tell ourselves stories about The World and The People and what it means to be alive in the 21st century. We cannot pretend that we are still operating in the same world as we were before The Cyber. Time has eaten itself. We have entered the Atemporal, and our narratives no longer fit the circumstances.

We have to tell a story of utopia, if we want to survive. But we also must report the truth of dystopia, so that we be motivated to avoid it. The Coming Dooms are already here. We must defeat them, starting now, by looking at them honestly and with the light-hearted knowledge that it is within our power to do so.

I’m curious what worlds we want to create. What principles order your life? What story do you tell yourself to make sense of your own behavior?

Thanks for reading.

– Max


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