CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Civilisational Decline

Oct 18, 2007

There are plenty of signs of civilisational collapse. They are easy to come by. Here I want to focus on just two, and discuss a recent case in which they converged into one ugly proposition. I refer to the ongoing process of dehumanisation and depersonalisation on the one hand, and the continued sexualisation of every aspect of culture on the other.

Of course numerous other indications of cultural decline and social suicide can be offered, but these two came together in a news item today. Either one by itself is a worrying trend, but taken together, they provide another indication that we may be losing our way as a civilisation much faster than we realise.

Dehumanisation and depersonalisation takes many forms. Consider just one area: the new reproductive technologies. In the old days there was just one way of having children, and that was the fun way of doing it. Today there may be 40 or more different ways of producing a baby. Many involve what can only be described as assembly-line production and commodification.

And the sexualisation of society has now reached epidemic proportions. We are simply inundated with all things sexual, and there seems to be no end in sight.

These two harmful trends dovetailed in today’s news headline. The news item concerned a Dutch academic who suggested that soon we will see human/robot relationships, including marriage. I kid you not. Let me offer a few snippets from the news item: “Humans will be marrying and having sex with robots by 2050, an artificial intelligence researcher has claimed. Netherlands university student David Levy, who recently completed his PhD on the subject of human-robot relationships, told LiveScience that robots would become so human-like in appearance, function and personality that many people would fall in love with them, have sex with them and even marry them.”

The article continues, “In his thesis ‘Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners’, Mr Levy argued that psychologists have identified roughly a dozen basic reasons why people fall in love, and almost all of them could apply to human-robot relationships. ‘For instance, one thing that prompts people to fall in love are similarities in personality and knowledge, and all of this is programmable,’ Mr Levy said. ‘Another reason people are more likely to fall in love is if they know the other person likes them, and that’s programmable too’.”

He suggests that America may lead the way here (even though it seems to me that Holland would be an equally good candidate): “Mr Levy said Massachusetts would be the first jurisdiction to legalise human-robot marriage. ‘Massachusetts is more liberal than most other jurisdictions in the United States and has been at the forefront of same-sex marriage,’ Mr Levy said.”

Does this just sound like some nutter offering an extreme scenario, unlikely to even happen? For the moment, yes. But may I remind readers that when marriage was weakened by allowing de facto relationships equal footing, some warned that same-sex marriage would be next. They of course were mercilessly ridiculed by critics who said this was just such an extreme and unlikely possibility. Today of course it has become mainstream around much of the world. So the robot sex and marriage proposal may not be all that far-fetched.

What we are witnessing here is the convergence of two large-scale developments: the continued secularisation of society and the moral suicide of the West, combined with an ever increasing array of technological and scientific advances.

Now science and technology can be blessings to mankind if implemented and developed in a morally responsible climate. But in an age where anything goes, where absolute morality is scoffed at, and where people increasingly see themselves as the centre of the universe, the new advances are more likely to lead to a brave new world than to heaven on earth.

Indeed, we need to be cautious even about those with the best of intentions. Many at the forefront of these scientific and technological advances may say they have the wellbeing of society in mind. But often these projects aimed at utopia on earth end up otherwise. As Karl Popper reminded us, “The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell.” And if enough people become convinced that heaven on earth includes sex acts with robots, then we have indeed stumbled upon an earthly hell.

www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22578725-13762,00.html?from=mostpop#

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7 Responses to Civilisational Decline

  • People are kidding themselves if they think programmed affection equals love. A loving relationship necessarily involves volition, and you can’t program ‘will’ and still have a rational being!
    O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Mt 23:37).
    John Nelson

  • Hi Bill
    An interesting and depressing article. I believe that Holland, which used to send out many hundreds of missionaries to go forth and convert many non-believers to Christianity, is finished as a nation. It has completely lost its way. Another aspect of the same sex “marriages” campaigns, is that some commentators predicted that some nuts would be demanding that polygamony should be next to be recognized as legal and normal. One of our major problems, is that you wouldn’t need the fingers on one hand to count the number of Church leaders with enough courage to speak out on moral corruption and scientific corruption. If it were not for people like yourself and that other genuine and courageous defender of Christ, Fred Nile, we would have completely lost the fight years ago. As many people know, I am a practising traditional Catholic and all my Catholic friends are great admirers and supporters of Fred Nile.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie, Qld

  • Hi Bill.

    Methinks the poor lad has only just discovered the late Isaac Asimov’s Robot series of novels – Caves of Steel, Robot Dawn and The Naked Sun. I don’t want to belittle the problem he has exposed, but I am reminded of Ecclesiastes: “there is nothing new under the sun”.

    Asimov explored these themes of robot-human inter-relationship, although he barely hinted at the sexual aspect, as if even a thorough-going evolutionist could recoil from some of the available possibilities.

    The other major theme is the (favourably treated) strict regimentation of the population – even to the extent of requiring permission to have children – one or at the most, two, depending on one’s status/rank in the rigidly stratified society of the future.

    This also is clear in his Foundation series which mainly treats the idea of statistical determinism – another socialist totalitarian idea: essentially a regurgitated fatalism.

    I have little doubt that Asimov’s excellent story-telling skill has allowed such ideas to permeate our society almost without detection, until now they emerge not as far-fetched science fiction, but as “serious” thinking.

    John Angelico

  • So, in about 40 years robots will “become so human-like in appearance, function and personality that many people (will) fall in love with them, have sex with them and even marry them.” I’m still waiting for the flying car I was told to expect from the futurists at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Just because some futurist predicts something doesn’t make it either worth eagerly expecting or worrying about. Probably just the opposite.
    Peter Paplawsky

  • Thanks Peter

    I think it is worrying enough that someone should even contemplate this, whether or not it one day actually takes place. But there have been plenty of nut cases in the past who have seen there hideous dreams realised some time later. I really do not doubt that this sort of thing may well in fact happen one day.

    And some may rightly worry about the fact that other people don’t seem to worry about such things!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill: I certainly hope there isn’t anyone out there who worries about me not worrying about this. I’m just saying that there is enough to be concerned about that is taking place in the here and now to be even remotely upset about this “what if” situation. Its like animal rights people engaging in discussion about the merits of robot animals in zoos. Some things are just not worth our time and energy and robot sex is one of these things, though maybe our great, great grandchildren can begin to think about this someday! (I just recently found this site while doing research and really find your essays and subsequent discussions stimulating and enlightening)
    Peter Paplawsky

  • Bill: Dr. Levy has come up with an interesting question. What is sad, is that an institution, such as an University, would even consider it a proper Thesis for a Doctorial Canidancy. I can understand about writing a Paper on human and robotic relationships- but Sex? Now that is not only an insult- but a riot if you ask me, not to mention painful. Are there not enough people out there now to satisfy the human need for companionship and desire? Why a Robot? That is really sick.

    I, too, have read Asimovs works- mostly as an adolescent, and found them exciting as well as intellectually stimulating. I also read some of the futuristic novellas that were written in the last century. Some of them were really sad views of the future, some of them have played out. Some of them, are good. Not all of mans ideas are bad. This idea however, the one of Dr.Levys,is a real Lulu.

    You know- its hard enough to have an affair, or a marriage, with a real human being- I cannot even imagine what it would be like with a Robot.

    Frankly, I find metal too cold.

    Me thinks, that Dr.Levy has spent to much time outside on a cold Hollander night….

    Cheers! Wolfgang Mozart

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