Denying the dirt

Original sin is a fact but Silicon Valley refuses to acknowledge it

Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin – a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.

G.K. Chesterston.

Original Sin, the doctrine that humans are naturally sinful, is a point of agreement between Jews & Christians. Religions are fundamentally proposals on how to address the problem of sin. It is also notable that religions view this problem as a primarily spiritual issue, connected inexorably to the human nature, not particular humans or circumstances. There is something so resonant in this idea that a Hebrew shepherd in ancient Canaan and a soccer mom in modern-day California can feel the same weight of internal sin before an unseen divinity.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Psalm 51

This sense of sin explains religion’s remarkable ubiquity and relevance across cultures and millennia. But Original Sin is more than a mere internal sense of sin, it is the one religious doctrine that is more of a scientific law than a spiritual assertion. It is stamped on the history of humanity from Nebuchadnezzar to Stalin. It is the default behavior of families, villages, cities, states and nations. It is rampant in the pious and the secular. It is the one doctrine that the secular religion of wokeness has preserved from its Judeo-Christian roots. Original Sin is unescapable.

But Silicon Valley is doing their damnedest to pretend like it doesn’t exist. To our detriment.

Why hasn’t tech made the world a better place?

Looking at a few of the FAANG* mission statements, it’s comical how delusionally optimistic they are. It’s also impossible to miss the flavor of irony in each mission.

  • Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” And in bringing us together we’ve discovered how much we hate each other and want to be separated.

  • Apple is dedicated to the empowerment of man to making personal computing accessible to each and every individual so as to help change the way we think, work, learn, and communicate. Apple has certainly changed the way we think, work, learn and communicate. Our brains are devolving so liner, logical thought is increasingly difficult and our children are slaves to glowing entertainment rectangles.

  • Amazon’s mission is to continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything, and empower businesses and content creators to maximise their success. By raising the bar of customer experience Amazon has erased the customer experience. Now we consume at the speed of an impulse. We’ve erased loosing an afternoon browsing the local bookshop, conversations with clerks behind counters, encounters with friends in the record store—an infinite number of small human interactions gone from our lives.

I’m an “old millennial”, meaning that I remember a time in America before the internet. That wasn’t a time where people regularly went hungry, or perished from easily curable diseases. Poverty or homelessness all seemed to be far less common than today. We weren’t bored or unenlightened. More people had a spiritual dimension to their lives and politics was a sport that came around every four years, like the Olympics. Sex was far less weird (most boys hadn’t seen porn beyond a Playboy or the JC Penny’s catalogue). We were all pretty liberal: Everyone knew that racism was the worst and being mean to someone because they were gay was a jerk move.

Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But it was, on average, better than our world today. No question.

Judging by the hearings on capital hill where Republicans and Democrats are united in their efforts to outdo each other in attacking Silicon Valley I think the rest of America is starting to agree with my sentiments: Tech did not make our lives better. Zuckerburg & co. went from heroic philosopher kings who were leading the world into a glorious techno-utopia, to billionaire oligarchs who were single-handedly responsible for fascism, Russia, and erectile dysfunction. That is some serious whiplash.

Is it really their fault?

I don’t really blame FAANG specifically for the degradation of American life over the last twenty years. If they didn’t capitalize on the technology of the internet and computing, someone else would have. But I am astonished at how naive they were. It seems like they really thought that there would be no downsides to globally erasing centuries of natural constraints and customs in a decade.

They believed that humans would employ iPhones to make art rather than revenge porn; that contact with different groups would engender sympathy and tolerance and not cancellations and hatred; that our public discourse would elevate, not degrade into incoherent jargon punctuated by clapping hand emojis. They believed governments would use technology to liberalize, not deploy a genocidal surveillance state that would make Stalin and Hitler jealous.

They didn’t believe in Original Sin so they didn’t protect their customers. They didn’t believe in Original Sin so they didn’t protect themselves. They didn’t believe in Original Sin so they didn’t see this catastrophe coming. They suffered the fate of everyone who ignores nature from Marxists to hippies: nature always wins. Humans do not change.

One of my favorite tech writers, Mike Solana, made an offhand comment in a recent article: “I believe in God, but I gave up the original sin grift a long time ago.” Mike, I’m a fan, but I think you should reconsider this.

The next round?

Today, in the spring of 2021, after a year of lockdown, riots, and global disease, it’s hard to deny that nature stands victorious against against the millennial optimism of tech. But it’s just the first round. More disruption is on the way.

Blockchain and crypto have incredible potential and risks for our world. And the biggest battle of all: transhumanism is just starting to take off.

I want to write more on all of those in the future but I desperately hope that in the coming rounds, Silicon Valley will have more entrepreneurs whose ambitions are tempered by a belief in Original Sin. Otherwise, the next century is going to suck.

Postscript for Good Friday:

Today is Good Friday, the day where Christian’s celebrate their answer to Original Sin: Forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. As a Christian, I believe that the future of humanity isn’t found in the next innovation but two thousand years ago in a man dying on a cross. We will escape our captivity to Original Sin, death, and our demons. We will transcend. But not by erasing our humanity: by redeeming it. Humans will not ascend to God but God has descended and united himself to humanity.

God will make us like gods.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

*FAANG: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google.