Tom Valovic

Why we should reject Mark Zuckerberg's dehumanizing vision of a 'metaverse'

The deeper implications of this apparent "technology coup" are troubling for the dealing with the looming climate crisis and urgent need to restore the environment

When I heard that Facebook had changed its name to Meta, I was reminded of the aphorism: "A leopard doesn't change its spots." But in this case, there's more to the name change than meets the eye: a strategic "vision" of the future and an overly powerful, profit-hungry corporation's misguided attempt to shape human destiny. Facebook's new moniker is shorthand for metaverse, a major new technology and culture shift that Big Tech is trying to force feed anyone who uses the Internet. And in the words of a friend who works for another Big Tech giant, this new direction is "terrifying."

We'll all be hearing a lot about the metaverse in the guises of cleverly crafted tech language over the months and years ahead. Technical descriptions such as the one found in Wikipedia can be confusing and lacking in "big picture" implications. It's useful to note that this is a seismic shift, comparable to the Internet in scope and scale, and it's planned to become the dominant paradigm for human communications, transitioning our business, social, and cultural life from physical to online environments.

But I want to be careful not to mince words in describing what this technology coup is really all about: nothing less than an attempt to fabricate an alternate "reality" other than the physical one we now inhabit. This new reality can be accessed, of course, only by paying customers and those in a position to afford and understand it. It is a technology designed by elites and for elites and implicitly leaves behind much of humanity in its wake.

For anyone concerned about the fate of the planet given the climate and biosphere crises and large-scale species extinction (and why do we hear so little of this in the mainstream media?), it is vitally important to understand not only what Meta has up its sleeve but also the larger picture that all the Big Tech players are peddling —a velvet steamroller promoting a massive existential shift that may come much sooner than we think.

What are the Real-world Implications of the metaverse?

Virtual reality and augmented reality have been around for some time but have never really taken off as practical and useful technologies other than in gaming. But that's about to change and, if Big Tech has its way, it will have huge implications for all of us. This radical change in how we live our lives is something that no one will get to vote on as a new and unprecedented kind of technocratic governance begins to replace many of the functions of traditional government and, I believe, even democracy itself.

As Planet Earth and our physical world continue to experience massive biospheric degradation and disruption, the elites that are now in many cases pulling the strings of governance at the country level are heading for the exit doors. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are exploring the realm of space and Musk has a Mars mission planned. Globally oriented elites have a huge head start on the rest of the population for one simple reason: they had advance warning of just how serious the problems are we now face would be (as did, it must be said, many prominent Western governments). These elites looked out for themselves which is what they do best. And governments just kicked the can down the road, something they're also quite adept at doing (and are still at it as the results of COP26 have shown).

Paralleling the notion of space flight as a form of existential escapism is the metaverse. So what if our cities are crumbling, infrastructures falling apart, and the biosphere is seriously degrading? So what if our wasteful consumer-driven lifestyle has created unprecedented levels of pollution so extensive that it's now the number one of cause of health problems globally? No problem…we'll just kick back and don our Meta headsets (or worse get a brain implant) and escape into an artificially fabricated world that lets us turn our back on the massive ecological and environmental problems we now face.

WEF's Plan for Technocratic Governance

The metaverse appears to be part of a larger effort to implement technocratic governance and dovetails nicely with the agenda of the World Economic Forum (WEF). This organization is the official mouthpiece of the billionaire class. The Davos elite is also promulgating its agenda through the mainstream media, ownership of which has been gradually appropriated by representatives of Big Tech. Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post; The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation makes huge million-dollar level "contributions" to mainstream media outlets including PBS; and the CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff now owns Time magazine. (Time, incidentally, recently ran a special issue on climate change which served up a very long-winded article on the importance of developing lab grown meat.)

Other huge technocratic changes are in the works. Large-scale (i.e., globally implemented) genetic modification is another initiative on the WEF agenda. Everything in sight is targeted as a huge profit-making opportunity including the food supply, animal populations, and human bodies. If re-designing animals stretches your credibility, here's what a recent WEF newsletter said about the need to genetically modify animals as a beneficial way of dealing with the climate crisis: "The process of resurrecting traits from extinct animals is commonly referred to as "de-extinction," and scientists hope to bring back the woolly mammoth to preserve the tundra. Engineering other animals and plants can help revive the ocean, protect food systems, and remove carbon from the atmosphere."

The Internet as Social Engineering

It is no secret that technology has become increasingly invasive since the Internet became commonplace. Originally, it did empower us with a rich array of resources. Many of those resources still exist even as some are being gradually clawed back, modified to suit corporate interests, or in some cases outright censored. On balance, the Internet is now increasingly about social control, technology dependence for profit purposes, surveillance, and sometimes cynical corporate manipulation of hearts and minds.

As more and more corporate control was levied, Internet-based technology began to intrude subtly on our personal spaces in exchange for the Faustian bargain of a new set of technological "conveniences". Now Big Tech is aiming to not only extend this intrusion with technologies like Alexa but to make life impossible to live without it…hence the notion of a metaverse. Working in conjunction with elites and Big Tech social engineers, this next big initiative will be even more intrusive and dehumanizing and is being carried out under the rubric of a specious "philosophy" called transhumanism—a set of values that has declared our own humanity as deficient in need of technological enhancement.

The first wave of transhumanism's new invasiveness will come with so called wearable devices i.e., headbands, virtual reality glasses, body attachments, skin implants, and others. The next phase will be an attempt to physically wire our bodies into an electronic alternate reality where privacy and individual autonomy will be nonexistent. (The WEF received a huge wave of pushback when they posted a video with the message: "You will own nothing, have no privacy, and be happy".)

As a lifelong Democrat, I feel that it's important to recognize that these issues are not in any way partisan in nature. Rather they relate to our right to shape, safeguard, and control the quality of our own lives and the future direction of humanity at a precarious moment in history. On a more personal note, I've studied and written about the cultural impacts of technology for many years including essays on the flight from physical into virtual in my book Digital Mythologies. I believe that these issues require critical thinking skills for deciding what kind of world we want to live in since the mass of humanity is not being asked if these invasive technologies are acceptable or desirable.

I passionately believe that we must not be seduced by this chimerical and false vision of reality which further removes our awareness from the natural world and (worse) even seeks to replace it by encouraging us to divert attention from the task of healing the planet and repairing our biosphere. We should not trust Mark Zuckerberg or any other members of the corporate elite with self-serving agendas to guide us through an increasingly precarious future. We should not be willing to accept Big Tech's and the WEF's dehumanizing vision of the future.

Rather, I believe that the true path forward is to reconnect with the beauty of our planetary home and the natural world or, in the words of cultural historian Morris Berman, to "re-enchant the world." We need to somehow, through the seemingly unstoppable momentum of runaway technology, find a way to return to a way of living that retains the use of limited and intelligent technology where appropriate without allowing it to run roughshod over the core values of humanity we still cherish.

Here are 3 questions that didn't get asked during the presidential debates — and probably never will

If you watched the last and final presidential debate, you may have been as gratified as I was to see that some deeper questions about climate change finally made it into the mix. Better late than never. But after the debate, I found myself considering the kinds of questions that could have been asked. Sad to say, mainstream culture continues to be in serious denial about the mega-issues that affect the quality of our lives and those of our children even as time-honored platitudes are invoked that do little to inspire real transformative change. Here are three questions that you'll never hear asked --- all critically important at this most unusual time in our nation's history:

Question 1: The United States and all nations are experiencing three huge challenges. In order of importance they are: 1) massive ecological disruption and looming planetary catastrophe 2) the climate crisis often euphemistically called climate change by the media but very much related to the first item and 3) the Covid pandemic. Some psychologists have suggested that the deep fears experienced about Covid are what in psychology is called the phenomenon of displacement. This means that people are really worried about items one and two but are simply unable to deal with them because their enormity creates an over-riding sense of powerlessness. They therefore (humanly and understandably) shift the locus of their fears to something else more present and tangible such as Covid. While not taking anything away from the terrible suffering, deaths, and societal and economic destruction caused by the pandemic, having a larger perspective is critically important.

Mr. Trump, this first question is for you: What will the US government do to address the widespread ecological destruction and species extinction threatening to destabilize our planetary ecosystem, and along with the climate crisis, is poised to cause massive migration, economic distress, severe health problems, and widespread civil unrest? To what extent do you agree with political analysis that links ecological destruction to out-of-control hyper-capitalism, a model that, unfortunately, the US is responsible for importing to other countries with far greater populations? And what plans will your administration put into place to address all three issues, as overwhelming as they are, so that if our former quality of life can't be fully restored, we can at least mitigate their negative impacts?

Question 2: This question is for Vice-president Biden. The United States now has 13 intelligence agencies and spends a huge portion of its budget on surveillance activities and keeping massive databases that poke into the lives of ordinary American citizens. Some observers such as Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff have stated that what she calls "surveillance capitalism" is an assault on human autonomy and our democratic norms. These massive amounts of data are collected on citizens not only by tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon but also by the federal government through the NSA and other agencies. President Obama did very little to dismantle the surveillance state during his administration nor did you speak out against it in your capacity as Vice-president. Now that the nation is coping with Covid, new largely unrecognized dangers to civil liberty are being posed. Some governments are even taking advantage of Covid to impose greater levels of authoritarian control. This likely means that the surveillance state here will only grow in scope and reach. Mr. Biden, please describe why you believe that such unprecedented levels of mass citizen surveillance are still necessary and whether, if elected, you will continue to support these activities.

Question 3. This question is for both candidates. Money in our political system is the elephant in the room. It's rarely discussed either by politicians or the mainstream media in any direct or comprehensive way. This is a problem that threatens the very core of our democratic processes and has gotten worse every year since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. Ultimately, this ruling and its snowballing effect has allowed corporations to place their interests first and foremost before the collective interests of American citizens. It undermines the very essence of our democratic processes, is why we're in the predicament we're in today as a nation, and is why Americans now have such little faith in their government. The late Senator John McCain tried to highlight this problem but was largely unsuccessful. Now, lobbyists often write the bills that members of Congress either modify or rubber stamp. What is your position on the massive control that corporations now exercise over politics and on the reality of so called "dark money" pouring into campaigns from the very wealthy to influence policies favorable to their financial interests? Further, how do you propose to restore and revitalize our democracy?

Perhaps in some alternate universe, these kinds of questions might get asked. In this one, they would never make it through the corporate media's screening process. But if enough Americans start asking these kinds of questions and demanding answers, then perhaps we'll see a glimmer of hope for real transformative change at this unprecedented crossroads in our nation's history.

Is Artificial Intelligence Too Dehumanizing to Succeed?

Does all the hype about AI sound just a little too familiar? If you’re old enough to remember the first beginnings of the Internet and the dotcom bubble, you might also remember the tsunami of hype that attended these events as they unfolded. Wiredmagazine made endlessly breathless predictions about how the Internet would transform humanity and bring about a technologically-driven utopia. Now we’re wrestling with how such a promising technology devolved into a netherworld of hacking, hate speech, exploitation of personal data, “dark webs”, misinformation, political chicanery, and citizen surveillance despite these glowing promises. In the latest twist, AI is being sold in a similar way by similar players and the cultural amnesia is impressive.

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