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Our Rendez-vous With Death
by Dr. Gerry Coulter
2008-11-21 09:21:55
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Consider the story of the soldier who meets Death at a crossing of the marketplace, and he believes he saw him make a menacing gesture in his direction. He rushes to the king’s palace and asks the king for his best horse in order that he might flee during the night far from Death, as far as Samarkand. Upon which the king summons Death to the palace and reproaches him for having frightened one of his best servants. ‘I didn’t mean to frighten him. It was just that I was surprised to see this soldier here, when we had a rendez-vous tomorrow in Samarkand’ (Jean Baudrillard, Seduction, 1990:72).

What makes us human more than anything else is our tool making ability and technology has long been key to who we are as a species. From the first pieces of flint, to parchment scrolls, the characters of languages, libraries, atomic devices, computers, all the way down to the digitalization of genetic codes, technology has been vital to our destiny. After that first piece of flint was secured to a piece of wood to make an axe (for eating and for war), there was no turning back. We are neither innately good nor evil and we partake generously of both. The axe and the hammer contain as much evidence of who we are as does the Bible or the Koran.

Until the middle of the twentieth century humans managed to keep the upper hand over technology (although there were troubling signs during WWI as we watched a generation literally fed to the machines). Hitler was there as a mere  message boy on a bike but no doubt the first experiences of industrialized death left a mark on him. By 1945 we had learned how to set off a chain of events from which we could only hope to hide underground. The atomic bomb and artificial intelligence seem rather tame now in a time of genetics, and the nanotechnologies with which we will redesign every species on the planet. The most important story of the 21st century will probably be our encounter with one of two likely technological destinies.

Of course we will attempt to wipe out human deformities and the possibility of an inherited disease will become a thing of the past (were these not also Adolf’s dreams?) We will enjoy the birth of children whose characteristics have been selected from a menu. As for cloning are we not already globalizing social clones? Soon everyone will have a wearable mini-computer complete with retinal interface to the brain (the technology is now 15 years old). Perhaps the wear-comp will correct our thoughts the way our word processors correct our typing. We have lived now for half a century in which we have slowly come to realize that the technology which makes us who we are now has the ability to end what we are. We could always picture those ragged survivors of a nuclear catastrophe but a genetic catastrophe would be much more thorough.

But what if all the nay-sayers are wrong? What if we can build a genuinely brave new world glittering with advanced technologies? We could then live out our lives in total security (is this what people talking about ending terrorism are dreaming of?) If we can avoid an ecological catastrophe we might just enter into a utopian world of protection and security even greater than that inhabited by those rich Americans who live in “gated” communities. Computers will generate the models of lives which will become as predictable as the weather – a world in which evil, all negative events, disease, and uncertainty are removed. But this too will be a world of [distilled and slow] death for an adaptive and thoughtful species.

Like the soldier headed for Samarkand our way of life has a rendez-vous with death which is unavoidable. What remains to be seen is which one. Will we as a species succumb to a technologically driven ecological catastrophe? Or, does an even worse fate await us – one in which the current system succeeds?

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Sand2008-11-21 09:46:28
Jack Williamson wrote a science fiction novel back in 1947 titled "With Folded Hands" based on the theme of the article. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/With_Folded_Hands

A sequel, "And Searching Mind" went a bit off the deep end on the subject.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-21 14:35:04
In the movie search for fire based on Morris West’s novel “The Naked Ape” the assumption is that the tribe more technologically advanced (the one possessing the secret to fire) wins the war of the “survival of the fittest or smartest.” Like the book. the movie is ultimately a racist propaganda misguidedly asserting that the culmination of human evolution is the more technologically advanced white race, in particular the Anglo-Saxon race. Indeed, the ape is naked in more ways than one and being naked intellectually and spiritually is a much greater tragedy than mere physical nakedness. That is best shown in the movie “2001, A Space Odissey” which begins with the same premise that technology explains who man is and ends with a computer who fears for its own existential predicament and man who begins to think and act like a computer; the role have been reversed; not to speak of the movie terminator where we see the process of dehumanization completed with the mother happy that her son has now a true friend with whom to play and socialize, Terminator, a robot! Vico had it more on target: what humanizes man and makes him different from other species is language, from which even technology derives. Moroever, there is a prophecy uttered by Dostoyevsky about technological man devoid of mind and spirit and it is this: place man in a completely deterministic universe and he will blow it up simply to prove that he is free. Food for thought!

Sand2008-11-21 17:58:12
The amazing Mr. Paparella PhD who manages to get through life with a mind that is, extraordinarily, all thumbs, has again demonstrated his genius for ineptitude by taking poor Morris West, the novelist who wrote on Catholic themes with novels like “The Shoes of the Fisherman” and “The Clowns of God” and ascribing to him, not the novel but the factual examination of humanity entitled “The Naked Ape” written by Desmond Morris. Thus he is evidently exploring new territory beyond his talent for typos into bollixing up all sorts of literary references.

Mr. P. who communicates with all of us with his clumsy mental stumbles through the computer which is, even he must admit, rather technological, incessantly lays humanity’s current and historical viciousness at the door of technological sophistication. He must have been transported with joy when he heard that the enthusiastic slaughter, rape, and general brutality which characterized the events in Rwanda were administered with simple machetes where the perpetrators could thoroughly and deeply immerse themselves in the action by direct and intimate contact with their victims without horrid technology intervening to blunt their humanity. And, of course, there were no white colonialists involved to flaunt their Anglo-Saxon superiority. What delight!

It is enlightening to hear the opinion of that master of technology, Dostoyevsky, lay all the blame for man’s inhumanity to man on such inventions as antibiotics, heart transplants, the cure for polio, the rise of agriculture, the internal combustion engine, and all other human infernal activities. Who could possibly disagree with that?

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-22 00:03:46
Correction well taken, it is indeed Desmond Morris who wrote The Naked Ape. It has been a good forty years since I read that book. As far as the other comments are concerned, I'll let reasonable readers, i.e., readers without prejudices, snimud and axes to grind be the judge.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-22 00:05:23
Correction: "snimud" ought to be "animus".

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-22 02:17:11
P.S. By the way, Dostoyevsky's books also ended up on the bonfire of 1942 in Germany. Food for thought too!

Sand2008-11-22 06:09:54
I appreciate the uniquely gracious acknowledgment of an obvious gross error. There is some chance that sanity will prevail.

It is a reality that one does not destroy culture or knowledge by bonfires in this age of ubiquitous literary distribution. Much was lost in the ancient destruction of the library at Alexandria but modern technology is quite efficient in preserving all sorts of thoughts, worthwhile and otherwise, into a rather indeterminate future.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-22 09:58:54
The problem with the visiting voices in your head who have appointed you Grand Corrector in Ovi is that they have adviced you to be wholly subjective and selective in your corrections which in effect means that even when those corrections are on target, they remain neverthless in bad faith and biased, more interested in casting aspersion than in linguistic literary correctness, given that you have yet to correct one single "gross error" appearing in other contributions in the magazine.

On the Morris' confusion, certainly I would not have wished to purpously impute a misguided and trashy thought such as "man is nothing but an animal like any other, a naked ape" to the writer Morris West when in fact it belongs to the zoologist Desmond Morris. But the trashy thought remains unchallenged by the voices of insanity and deviousness who not being able to deal with content, attack the form. I repeat: you really ought to stop listening to those voices. They don't make you look very good.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-22 10:09:27
P.S. On the 1942 burning of books by "naked apes" and other assorted specimen of the so called "super-race," are we to understand that such a bonfire is already ancient history in cultural philistine's minds, and not integral part of a technologically advanced culture? That is revealing in itself: the inability of distinguishing the purposeful burning of books of 1942 and the accident of the fire of the library of Alexandria. It is that inability that distinguished the ancient barbarian who purposefully and physically burned ancient manuscripts and the modern "barbarian of the intellect" that consigns to the bonfire, albeit symbolically and metaphorically more than physically, the literary classics of civilization. The latter is a much more vicious state of mind than the latter.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-22 10:37:12
To Dr. Coulter

Intriguing and interesting article. Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization (a sort of synthesis of Marx and Freud)was read by all the "revolutionaries" of the 60s. Some were naive enough to try to implement the utopia that such a book prescribed but it remained an utopia that never came to pass, as indeed most utopias never came to pass. That was tragedy enough. The greater tradegy however, is that nowadays even the concept of utopia has disappeared from the minds of assorted positivists, rationalists and materialist asserting that man is nothing else by a naked ape in search of survival like any other animal, albeit on top of the food chain. I am afraid that all the technology in the world will not save us from that kind of cultural philistinism. Technology and science cannot answer the truly important questions hat partain to our existential situation.

Sand2008-11-22 10:42:56
Aside from the imaginative removal of the Nazis from the human species as an attempt to cleanse the species of motives and actions that daily are demonstrated in the current news as part and parcel of a great deal of present day humanity with no Nazi affiliation, there is nothing noteworthy in Paparella's violent disavowal of any humility on his part for openly committing obvious stupidities. Too bad. I had hopes of at least a modicum of decency.

Sand2008-11-22 19:24:19
Incidentally, Paparella's comment on my indication that modern culture is more durable than that stored in the ancient library at Alexandria is typical of his underhanded and nasty approach to any comment by implicating I was concerned with the motives for the destruction rather than that modern technology, by its broad reproduction of literary material provided protection against its permanent disappearance.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-22 20:38:31
Talking of underhanded and slanderous comments projected in the above comment, there were no direct motives of destruction of the library of Alexandria. The Romans were civilized enough not to do such reprehensible action on purpose. The same cannot be said alas of the 1942 burning of books which were burned on purpose in a technologically advanced country with an ideological motive and makes the Nazis more barbaric than the Germans of Roman times and even those of the Dark Ages who burned books out of sheer ignorance.

Sand2008-11-22 22:57:03
Torquemada's persecution of the Jews in Spain bears a remarkable similarity to Hitler's persecution of the Jews in Europe before and during World War II. Just as Hitler promulgated the Aryan race as superior, Torquemada believed in the superiority of individuals with "pure blood." Both Torquemada and Hitler ordered all Jews to wear identifying markers on their outer clothing. Historian John Edward Longhurst states that Torquemada sponsored "book-burning festivals" in which "Hebrew Bibles" as well as "Arabic books" were destroyed to stem the spread of what he considered heresy. Tales of evil Jews who killed innocent Christian children spread during both the Spanish Inquisition and the Third Reich, although there was no evidence that these kinds of murders ever happened. Profiteering through usury has been cited through the ages as a major crime committed by Jews, even though the practice of making loans and charging interests has benefited economies, including predominantly Christian economies.

Book burning, Nazi Germany

Sand2008-11-23 09:22:22
What strikes me as most revealing about you, Paparella, is your overwhelming horror that some bit of philosophic speculation might have been eradicated by idiotic book burning not but the actual destruction of humans by totalitarian regimes such as the Holocaust and the execution by fire of Bruno and Joan of Arc which are, of course, declared unfortunate but not as bad as the conflagration of speculations and musings of historical and frequently quite ignorant prominent figures. Since your whole viewpoint has been pasted together from the thoughts of others with little if any original thought of your own your interminable and torrential output consists entirely of quotations from historical figures we are expected to grovel before. Naturally you are horrified at the possibility that quotable sources may have been burnt up since you hardly exist at all without these sources. The real world that each of us confronts every day to provide the foundations for our understanding hardly exists at all for you which is why science horrifies you so. Without your many speculative sources, valid or otherwise, you would simply cease to exist.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 09:42:44
The Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 is about a fictional future society that has institutionalized book burning. In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the euphemistically-called "memory hole" is used to burn any book or written text which is inconvenient to the regime, and there is mention of "the total destruction of all books published before 1960". Like Dostoyevsky, Orwell was a prophet who had sensed were modern cultural philistinism, which considers anything pre-modern anacronistic and passè, would evenually lead to.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 09:51:43
P.S. Is that what the visiting voices in your head have suggested lately? Best ignore them. They are slanderers and liars.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 10:15:29

The above link could be useful to any reader who wishes to ecplore the issue of the nexus between science and religion beyond ignorant caricatures and a priori assumptions.

Sand2008-11-23 10:16:29
It seems you have read Orwell. And also that you have missed his message completely. The Party's slogan: "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength." indicates that the ruling power does not bother with burning books as much as to make words meaningless, a program followed closely by the Bush regime.

Sand2008-11-23 12:19:23
And, of course, it is only natural that Paparella is entranced by the horrifying prospect of a human being shearing away the spark of individual fertility and personal analysis which makes each human unique and subduing all that is valuable to become a mere rote data bank of a particular piece of literature in the same fashion that the Muslim madrasas rigidly freeze the minds of children to memorize their religious literature which is beyond criticism or analysis. It is noteworthy that the slogan from “1984” "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength” has its counterpart from religion which insists that “Death is life everlasting” to deny that each of us in death becomes an obvious chunk of uncoordinated meat, an unattractive but clear reality.

For Paparella demonstrates incessantly that his mind is merely a collection of remembered (and frequently badly remembered) pieces of literature.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 14:32:01
Is that what the visiting voices told you about Paparella? Considering the source you ought not be so naive and credulous! On what they told you about rotting corpses they were lying too, for if indeed man is nothing more than the sum of its material parts, a naked ape, with no mind and no spirit, then it makes perfect sense to make lampshade with its skin once he is dead, or even closer to our time, to burn his body and make fertilizer with it, as is currently being done in Holland and other places. Indeed, it all begins with the burning of books, whether physical or metaphorical, and it ends with the burning of human corpses; the Nazi is in all of us, if one be brutally honest about; so is St. Francis of Assisi. The glory as well as the burden of man is that he is not determined and has a choice about it, for which, willy nilly, he remains responsible. The tragedy is to have thrown into "the memory hole" even that much about one's nature and destiny. O tempora, o mores.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 14:40:41
P.S. It is also intriguing to me how much the language of the visiting voices reflected in yours is that of a Grand Bully Inquisitor with its orthodox certitudes; really the other side of the same coin: Torquemada tortured for his beliefs,the modern rationalist likewise is ready to kill for his certain and unassailable non-beliefs. It is indeed the language of intolerance and fanaticism. One of the voices must surely be Torquemada redivivus with a mask?

Sand2008-11-23 15:27:02
Now, now, Paparella, Torquemada was one of your Catholic buddies, not mine. Don't try to offload him on me. He was the one so sure that dead people are somehow invested with the superstitious nonsense you are trying to sell that he tortured and killed to be sure his ideas had some force. You're just so scared of dying you'll believe anything rather than accept that that's the end for you.

Sand2008-11-23 15:56:27
What is particularly disconcerting about you, Paparella, is your prejudice against meat. It's great stuff and can be made into anything from a hamburger to a grasshopper to Michelangelo or Einstein. Of course, in your case it were better ended up as a hamburger.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 16:31:38
Now, now, Mr. S., is that what the voices told you? That your brain is nothing but a computer of meat and at the end can still be utilized as fertilizer? Don't believe them; they are devious deceivers and liars.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 16:35:25
P.S. "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us" (John's Prologue). You may wish to ask to the disconcerting visiting voices how that pronouncement is prejudicial agains matter, or flesh, or to use your more colorful and philistine language devoid of spirit and mind, meat.

Sand2008-11-23 17:27:44
You can have confidence, Paparella, that both your and my brain will make very satisfactory fertilizer when the proper time arrives. Nevertheless, I must concede that your literary output is rather convincing that there is at best a modicum of mind associated with your meat. My own mind and meat, on the other hand, have a very congenial relationship. Your confidence in the matter of spirit, as usual, gains credence for yourself only though extremely questionable authority since you have nothing current to validate your delusions. Spirits, of course, like vampires and werewolves and other things that go bump in the night provide great entertainment at Halloween but usually sensible people retire them on normal occasions.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-23 18:31:11
Point confirmed. Thank you!

Death2008-11-25 00:07:15
Dear Sand and Paparella



Sand2008-11-25 06:54:02
Dear Death. Delighted to have this contact. If there is some way to put Death to sleep I am very happy to be part of the soporific.

Emanuel Paparella2008-11-26 15:48:00
The issue gentlemen is not whether I live or die, for we all die. The issue rather is whether corruption, which runs faster than death, has caught up with you; for once she has caught up, she is leary to let go.
--Socrates (Plato's Apology)

Death2008-11-27 22:44:10
I'm taking a holdiay from all of you.

They made a movie about that too.



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