Guess what? You can cheat, deceive, confuse, manipulate, conquer and control most of the people, most of the time. There is abundant, credible, readily verifiable, hard, unarguable evidence that this has been done, many times. It’s well within the realms of possibility. You can plunder, feed people adulterated food, poison them, infect them deliberately, abuse and mistreat them, torture them psychologically and/or physically, take away their choices, subject them to extreme violence, put them under saturation surveillance, deny their humanity, wage perpetual wars, which they have to participate in, degrade them, and destroy any sense of hope they had, replacing it with dark, deep, black despair. There is practically nothing, it transpires, to stop you. If you read history, you can find lots of examples where these things were done, without consequence to the perpetrators. In short, you can treat your environment and fellow inhabitants of the planet as badly as your whim dictates and you’ll get away with it. Such people almost always do.
The bigger question, though, is this: to what end? What do you actually accomplish? The argument is that all of these things are necessary to preserve unearned privilege and to live in opulence, as a powerful, feared, respected big shot. Indeed, the adherents to this line of thinking assert that there is no alternative. Yes, but is this the shredded remnant of the world that you wish to inhabit, from the safety of your walled, gated, isolated, removed, exclusive enclave?
Is that your definition of “winning”? Being too afraid to associate with humanity, or go anywhere that isn’t robustly defensible? Is your existence contingent on avoiding eye-to-eye contact with those from whom you have stolen and destroyed? That, to me, sounds like a very limited, shitty way to live. You’re no longer free to go wherever you wish, despite your power and wealth. Instead, you have to skulk around, like some overfed peacock in a cage. Where’s the magnificence you so avidly sought? You’re afraid of every loud noise and ducking for cover instinctively. You know everybody wants your blood. Given half an opportunity, you are certain they would tear you limb from limb, like berserk, wild animals. You live with that constant fear and isolation. The only way your existence is in any way viable is to keep on perpetuating ever more brutal and terrifying acts on your fellow men.
The fact is that any given person can choose to short change or bore the rest of us to death, stifling our artistry and creativity, doing the least for us, while charging the most, but what does this course of action really accomplish? Is it even worth pursuing? What do you actually win, by doing so?
As an enterprise, what is the actual point of designing personalised customer experiences, deployable at scale, for people that are too poor and ill to afford to buy from your automated, robotised, corporate, commerce interfaces? The whole reason for being in business collapses if, as a collective, businesses are so extractive and brutally repressive, that those people they call “workers” are also actually the “customers” that are unable to buy from you, no matter how slick your e-commerce mobile app.
If we create art that is never and can never be experienced by anybody else, what was the point of creating it? Was it just so much self-indulgence? A denial of our connectedness and human community, pretending we are singular and supremely isolated – somehow special, destroys any basis for making art or creating anything at all. If your greatest creative act consists of smashing the lives of everybody else you come into contact with, what was its use? Why did you bother? What did you gain? Perhaps you derived a selfish, sadistic pleasure from being able to do what you did, but can you eat it? Will it love you? Does it improve your life or avoid your mortality in any material or spiritual way? What did you conserve, from the exercise?
For whom is computer-made art and for what ultimate purpose? Is it to communicate with another human being, to move them and affect them emotionally, or is it just to take their money? Is machine-made art even “art”, or is it just a mechanism for extracting wealth? Do you care about human-to-human communication, in an emotionally affective way, or are you trying to subvert and fake that, pretending you don’t have to speak to anybody, through your actions, or be accountable for them, to anyone? Do you not see that, in making a machine that makes art to fool humans into believing you are communicating emotionally with them, you are communicating with them, as a human being, only the message you are sending is one of contempt and disrespect for them? Is that the sum total of your existence, on Earth? Was your ultimate purpose to create a machine that insults the intelligence of your fellow humans, while simultaneously eroding their ability to communicate back to you?
Are we charging recklessly, head-long, into creating a future where robots are chauffeured, in self-driving cars, to the last remaining jobs, to make products and services for nobody to consume, while needful human beings longingly watch, in hunger, ignorance, poverty and ill health, from the sidelines? To what end? What will your creations get you and is it worth having?
If being an artist means anything at all, it means connection and shared experience. A society built on denial of this fundamental principle is an artless world. There may be astounding things created in it, but they will have no relevance or meaning. Without that human-to-human communication, they are essentially hollow acts. The reason for doing anything is to uplift your fellow earthly inhabitants. Anything that doesn’t, no matter what the temporary, selfish, personal gain, dissipates our very humanity. Taking without giving is simply not sustainable. Yet, we have an economic system that holds this up as the highest good. It’s a lie.
Next time you think up your next subtle ruse, clever swindle, untraceable scam, bold blatant lie, plausibly deniable campaign or means of getting others to do your bidding, either against their will or unwittingly, ask yourself this fundamental question: To what end?