Cyber Cat

Halloween, 2001

We have two new kittens in the house, and one of them gets engrossed in the movement on a TV screen. I saw her balancing precariously on the back of a chair reaching forward and batting at the screen with her paw.

A few days later she sat on my lap while I did my thing on the computer. And I noticed again that she was staring attentively at the screen, a very focused, intelligent look on her tiny face. It occurred to me that you could set up a touch screen system that she could interact with. I'm not sure what you would do with that, but like most technology, and cyber technology more than any other kind, it takes a while to discover its potentials.

You could make a game with it, that's for sure. Cats are great players. So surely you could devise a little paw-eye coordination challenge similar to the computer games that have been such a driving force in the growth of computer technology. You could create a cat-and-mouse game in which the mouse is in the computer and the cat isn't, the cat is the user. The human in the relationship is a sort of meta-user.

You could create a feeding device that the cat could operate to feed itself. Nice for people who need to leave the cats alone for a while sometimes, nice for the cats to be able to feed themselves, get fresh water. You could do some kind of great catbox actions, but they wouldn't be motivated to clean the catbox the way they would be motivated to eat or play.

I read about some people who worked with apes with a computer-operated language device that used their amazing manual dexterity to manipulate a language with a vocabulary of a hundred or two words. The apes demonstrated the ability to improvise with the language creatively. One lashed out at her trainer in anger, saying, "you big green shit!"

The strangest thing about the whole thing to me was to think that not only is this the first generation of computer literate humans in history, it is also the first generation of cyber-enabled apes, and probably will be the first generation of cyber cats, soon, and who knows what else. This is only one branch of technological-social-human evolution that will be happening. At the same time in biotechnology, it will be possible to grow cats with human brain genes, or hands, or what have you. This will be happening at the same time. This is no longer the domain of science fiction. Science fiction was a form of literature that existed at a certain phase of that evolution when today's world could be anticipated, but had not yet lifted its head out of the muck. Now we live in science fiction. The world of Philip K. Dick has come true.

And that wasn't such a pretty world, if you've dug into "Bladerunner," or "Total Recall" you get the idea. Dick projected a lot of the trends that were visible to him in the '50s, but were invisible to almost everyone else. The society in which money is the only value by which all social decisions are made does not evolve into a very pleasant place to live. It's the America we have now, an extremely high-tech, barbaric, deadly, feudalistic world. It's also extremely fluid, chaotic, packed with novelty.

At some point after the Trade Center catastrophe, I remembered a talk Robert Anton Wilson gave at a conference on "Psychedelics and Cybernetics" in about 1990. He described a curve drawn through history based on the amount of new information in the world at a given time. The amount of information in the world doubled, he said, between the year 1 A.D. and 1500. It doubled again in about 1750, then again in 1900, then again in 1950, 1960, 1967, 1973 and by 1990, he said it was doubling every 18 months. I wonder how he would calculate the rate now.

According to chaos theory, he said, the more information in a system the more the likelihood of fractals, which are defined as "deterministic unpredictable events." Quantum leaps are "undeterministic unpredictable events." The point he was making is that we are in an increasingly unpredictable world. In 1990 the events which had rapidly progressed from nearly unthinkable to old stuff included the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wilson said, "I was in Berlin six weeks before the wall came down. People were saying, yeah the wall may come down in five or six years. No one was saying it was going to come down in six weeks."

The utterly novel will become the routine. Wilson said, "Maybe the Pope will just get up some day and say, 'Hey, I'm no more fallible than anyone else. I've just been on an ego trip. I'm sorry. I'm a celibate! What do I have to tell married couples? I'm not even in the game."

Wilson was probably a little less surprised than most, including the retro minds of Washington, by the crumbling of the towers. The Washington political gang has been completely overtaken by events and cannot alter their conditioning. They cannot temper their frantic heist long enough to see that there's no one driving and humanity is careening into who knows what?

After all, any senator has to bring in $60,000 a week or so just to have enough money to be elected and play the game in Washington. The airlines can close down for a week, the stock market can close down for a week, but if a senator doesn't pull in that $60,000, he's got to get $120,000 the next week, or make it up down the road, and it's a tough economy right now. These guys are frantic. So they are all pushing through their own patrons' agendas and the result in terms of the whole society doesn't make any sense at all. There is no overview being taken from a social point of view. No one is looking out for the voters, the average citizens.

So now we have this Anthrax thing going on. This is a pretty minor health threat as they go. It's not contagious. There is a vaccine for it. But we can't get it because the nation cannot violate the rights of Bayer to make a huge windfall profit out of this national crisis.

What is the source of the power that makes politicians treat Bayer with such deference that a nation must endure a health hazard that has taken many lives and is tying up the headlines of most of the media for weeks on end and still not the hint of a credible solution to the crisis. Money. Bayer has some money to push around, so it gets its way with the health and well being of a nation hanging on the other side of the scale.

The U.S. Defense Department did the tests that proved Cipro could be used as a vaccine. The Federal Drug Administration licenses it and allows the company to sell it in the United States. That's the way it should be, and those agencies should act on behalf of the people, not on behalf of one German Corporation. But that's not the way government works anymore. Power is sold to the highest bidder and that's about it.

George W. has been so responsive to the needs of his "investors," (as he once called them in a slip of the tongue) that every move is transparently in service of the industries he favors: weapons, pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, anything that comes up with a huge amount of cash and above and beyond all, oil. Of course. It's relatively simple to predict most of the administration's moves at least in the larger sense because you know who they work for. And it is not even remotely connected to the flowery rhetoric of its Bushy puppet.

A country that cannot use vaccines because they are somebody's intellectual property is no better off than the society that existed before the invention of vaccines. In a very tangible way, the administration is fulfilling the worst joke prophecies about it and "building a bridge to the 19th century." And from this view, it appears that it's not going to stop there. We are talking rapid transit back to the Middle Ages.

Now is a time for Churchillian leadership. What do we have? A Teletubby. George W., the friendly face of technofascism, not only does not act as a champion of the people, he barely knows they exist. He's grown up in a vacuum of privilege and never had any interest in checking out the world beyond it. He may travel to China, but his mind won't move beyond its narrow margins. Even if George W. wanted to be a good president, he wouldn't have any idea what to do.

So, as George Carlin said several years ago, "Relax and enjoy the ride. Some people, including Muslim fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, Christian fundamentalists and just plain guys from Montana, are going to make life in this country very interesting for a long, long time."

--David Cogswell

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