The electric ethics of modernity was for humanity like a vast vein of fossil fuel, and now it has been depleted. Does this mean that we have to imagine an electronic ethics of tomorrow? Do we have to think of a new way of being human, one inspired by our fascination with robots, just because long ago we tried to do the same and use electrical energy as a model for being human? Transhumanist thinking will give rise to an abundant variety of electronic ethics in the years to come. These will offer us the ability to go beyond our organic, sensate, electric life in favour of a life modelled on robots, artificial intelligence, and electronic creatures. That life will promise to minimise suffering, sickness, and death. We will be able to cognitively process information at a superior level, and we will gain improved mental capacities for memory, integration, and recognition, all in exchange for our vital intensities. When an image and an idea forge an alliance, we find the promise of a new ethical condition. This happened long ago with electricity and intensity, and it is happening now with electronics and information.
But all that the electronic promise can deliver is a technological version of wisdom and salvation. The electronic promise swings the pendulum back from the intensity of life, forcing itself on to thought towards the information of thought forcing itself on to life. That promise in no way extricates us from the ethical vice that traps our conscience in its clutches. It instead merely strengthens the vice’s grip. So we find ourselves pulled in two different directions at once. To one side, we have the tension between the intense life and the wisdom and salvation offered up by religions; on the other side, there is the struggle between the electric life and the electronic life that is to come. At least the electronic life allows us to realise how obsolete the ideal of electric intensity that we came up in has become. We realise this even if, in many realms of social existence, we continue to obey the modern demand to live hard, fast, and intensely. Other ideals are no doubt already in the works. Some people will believe that they should use the being of information as a model and make their lives into a summary of data that can be preserved and prolonged. The qualities of this life would not be intensified, but they would be more efficient; these would include augmented memory, increased concentration, controlled moods, and the ability to keep death at bay.
Believing in this new promise would mean that we have not learned the lesson of the exhaustion of electric ethics. It would mean wanting to reduce life to thought after having hoped to reduce thought to life. It would propose a materialist analogue of the hope for wisdom and salvation. Believing in that promise once more would drag us into a simulated version of existence, one unencumbered by organic life. To do so would allow us to yet again reduce the feeling of life to something else, or let us deduce something from it, but it will not help us maintain that feeling.
We are not asking for a magical mantra that would show us how to live. We only want one thing, the assurance that we can think up a way for our feeling of living to resist anything that threatens to reduce it or take away from it. We have outgrown our childish expectations that some thought might reveal the meaning of life to us or teach us the rules of existence. All we ask of an ethics is that it assure us that it is possible to live a full life without destroying the intensity of life itself. What is the point of living forever if we lose the feeling of living in the process? Rather than the promise of an intense life or eternal life (be it spiritual or material), what we really want is just a promise that we will be able to feel alive as long as we live.
Just expressing this demand is enough to make us realise that we need look no longer for a solution to our problem; the way we have articulated our demands already makes the solution clear. We are no longer looking to pry our way out of the vice that holds us prisoner. What matters now is finding a way to hang in there and resist.
The Life Intense
A Modern Obsession