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How to Pass a Torch

"Sovereign is he who commands the compute." —James Poulos

In his 2021 book Human Forever, James Poulos argues that American culture has been so overtaken by a nihilistic "digital swarm" that future generations could very well lose contact with the human soul.

On the other hand, the vacuity of the digital swarm renders it laughably vulnerable. Our enemy is surprisingly unsophisticated, both technologically and spiritually.

Our situation is therefore gravely dangerous, but also strangely opportune: A computationally and spiritually rectified civilization is there for the taking.

Communities that preserve the soul—through memory, sacraments, and other spiritual technologies—have an opportunity to take power, not through military rebellion or physical conquest, but through a more appropriate and excellent social-spiritual constitution. The digital politics of spiritual war.

The key to securing authentic human culture lies in creating secure digital territories of compute in alignment with one's friends and family. When computational sovereignty is aligned with spiritual discernment, everything that matters can be rectified in perpetuity. This is no easy task, but it is surprisingly simple.

Every generation is one link in a chain of memories, and it is through these memories that the human soul is preserved. The digital swarm insists that memory is a function of the hard drive, to believe in anything else is pre-modern superstition. Structurally, the swarm needs to erase human memory—the primary link between fathers and sons—because memory, and the human soul more generally, are forms of power that the swarm cannot control or assimilate.

Fortunately, communities that have lost the truth of the human soul cannot accomplish very much, beyond a schizophrenic obedience to the vicissitudes of the global marketplace. Hence the cultural decline that is now more than obvious.

There is no longer any question of being "pro-technology" or "anti-technology." The question is only whether we will preserve humanity and materially reproduce its flourishing—through living relations, through memory and speech, and the rites of passage that define the life cycle—or if we will relinquish the soul in favor of the homogenous digitized cyborg flattening. There is an emergent secular party which has capitulated to the machine, and there is a recalcitrant faction that insists on the irreducible human dimension.

For Poulos, it is a matter of passing the torch. It is less about grand political schemes of "taking power" and more about building functional technological and social structures within which humanity will survive and spread through the cosmos.

For the digital swarm, all technological power must be wielded to increase technological power. This is the nihilistic error. The concept of the Bitcoin Monastery, popularized by Ardian Tola (who looms large in the background of the book) evocatively points in the opposite direction. We will organize compute, not for the further maximization of technological power, but in order to exit: In the name of silence, inwardness, spirit, prayer, and peace. A cold computational cruelty to once again make love possible.

Those who organize compute to control digital territory—in alignment with the truth of the human soul—will own the future. It is no longer a matter of traditional politics, but of engineering an ark that can withstand the flood of the digital swarm—reterritorializing the digital through an archipelago of cognitive-security enclaves.

Planetary-scale torch-passing.

Memory integrity infrastructure.

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