The Future Without Me

Every person I care about on this Earth either lived in the past, or lives in the present. Within a very few years of my departure from this Earth, there will be no one left on the planet whom I ever knew or cared about. Why, therefore, should I concern myself about what happens to my work, my thoughts, or my deeds after I leave? The future belongs to people who are nothing to me. This is not a rationalization for “not giving a damn,” since I do have the past and present, i.e., the content and context of my own soul, to care about. Even the future has meaning to the extent that it is logically entailed by what I do today. But as to the people of the future, over whose existence I have no control and in whose choices I have no vested interest, and as to the specifics of the world they will inhabit…not my problem.

Today, with our ubiquitous cameras and all-pervasive government records and infinite internet storage, people frequently and understandably express the thought, often with dread, that “Everything you ever do and say will be recorded and preserved forever.” I think this fear reveals a limited view of time and human development, not to mention an implicit and unshaken faith in what we moderns call “progress.” Forever? Will the internet exist forever? Will these words I am writing exist forever? Will the language I am using exist forever?

I feel the same way about all the anxiety expressed today regarding the dangers of artificial intelligence. Perhaps our fate is precisely to contrive the means to our own complete civilizational annihilation, which would eventually take all our technology with it, right down to the sharpened stone. I see plenty of reason for believing that modern progress, and the moral habits it engenders, are intended to achieve exactly that — intended not by a cabal of global manipulators, but by all of us, collectively, even at the species level. If so, then it will happen, and all our immediate and titillating worries about the monsters we are unleashing will come to nothing. For nothing — which is to say nothing of what we imagine is so serious and everlasting about our own little moment and our own personal significance — is where we are headed, sooner or later. Why fret about it? Particularly when one has come to terms with the fact that the nothingness to which we are headed is not the self-aggrandizingly satisfying nothing of the nihilists — all existence disappearing merely because all men disappear, which reveals the petty egotism of nihilism — but rather only the nothingness of us. The world will be here, but without us, or more likely with a new “us,” starting from scratch, as we ourselves must at one time have done.

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