...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, February 23, 2015

6. "Black Mirror," "The Loss of the Creature," Wendell Berry, and the Transformation of the Future

I've watched the first two episodes of "Black Mirror," the BBC anthology show (anthology a la "The Twilight Zone"). The first episode was suspensefully structured in a way that made it hard to turn away, especially given--or because of--the repellent premise of the plot. (Look it up. It's revealed in the first three minutes.) The second episode was something else entirely, more unsettling than any television show I recall watching. I won't discuss the plot (no spoilers here), but it reminded me of how Walker Percy's "preformed symbolic complex," which filters all experiences a person has through a lens of cultural expectations, is inevitable. It can only be transcended by awareness and great effort, or by catastrophe. (This is from the essay "The Loss of the Creature.")

If that preformed symbolic complex were monetized and centrally controlled, acquiesced to by a willing populace, you'd have the plot to Brave New World. That book wasn't compelling the way the second episode of "Black Mirror" was, with its concision and its sickening, unavoidable outcome. Charlie Brooker, the creator of the series, has said, "If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? The 'black mirror' of the title is the one you'll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone." In "Black Mirror," nobody's redeemed from the habit.

Which brings me to Wendell Berry. In this interview, he says, about the two political outlooks in our country, liberal and conservative, "Both evidently suppose that the only effective limit of human conduct is technological capability: whatever is possible must be done. And both evidently assume that nature, the land communities, and the economies of land use can be safely exploited or ignored." Exhibit A, although it's really something like Exhibit 98,712,349,879,874,856,197,309,470,197,234: "Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced." As sure as law.

Hooray? Yeech?

[From the lectionary reading for this week of lent: "If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath."]

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