44 / Centre Of The Universe

Tech Miscellany

Hi there! Today’s post is a change from my usual ethics in tech variety.

In this moment, which feels so fraught, everything (especially this newsletter) seems frivolous. Nonetheless, there’s reason to be hopeful. We just need more visions of the future to get excited about. This is my humble attempt.

“If we haven’t specified where we want to go, it is hard to set our compass, to muster enthusiasm, or to measure progress. We talk easily and endlessly about our frustrations, doubts, and complaints, but we speak only rarely, and sometimes with embarrassment, about our dreams and values.” - Donella Meadows

Reading time: 5 minutes

Part 1 - Essay

A Hero’s Journey, Revised

Actaeon was the cockiest figure in Greek mythology. A formidable huntsman, he was revered by all across the land. With his Brad Pittian good looks, not to mention his strength and fearlessness, he strutted around Greece in a loincloth, acting like he owned the place. 

One day, while out hunting with his dogs, Actaeon lost the scent of a particularly flighty stag. In his confusion, he stumbled alone through some bushes. Here, he happened upon Artemis, the goddess of nature and beauty. 

Attended to by her retinue of nymphs, Artemis was bathing. She appeared in a riot of nakedness and sensuousness and gloriousness — no sight for mere mortals!

But Actaeon couldn’t help himself. He was in awe. He stood rooted to the spot, mouth gaping and eyes agog. The goddess was the most beautiful being he’d ever seen. 

A twig must have snapped beneath his feet, or maybe it was the sound of his drool splashing into the water’s edge. Either way, something startled Artemis, causing her to spin around and catch the pervy huntsman ogling her.

The furious goddess returned Actaeon’s dumbstruck gaze. But within her death stare, there ruminated a curse — a hex so foul, its words have never been repeated.

Feeling the power of her divinity, Actaeon made a desperate break for it, and retreated from whence he came.

But to no avail. 

As he scrambled frantically through the undergrowth, the curse began to take effect. He started morphing into one of the very stags he was supposed to be hunting. First antlers, then hooves.

He galloped until he reached a clearing, before pausing to catch his breath. But by then, it was too late. He was all stag. 

At that moment, his trusty pack of hounds streamed into the clearing too. The hounds had always worshipped Actaeon — whimpering when he went to war, wagging upon his return. 

Actaeon had mercilessly trained these dogs to rip out a stag’s throat at the first opportunity, and gorge on it’s steaming blood.

In the clearing however, they no longer recognised their leader. They just saw lunch.

So, they ripped him to shreds.

The end.

A Transformation

I love this tale. It doesn’t end as you might expect — in glory. It concludes with human becoming animal.

As a fable for the twenty-first century, this is apt. Because we too are experiencing a similar transformation (albeit with potential for a much happier ending):

In the middle of a pandemic and worsening climate crisis, a copernican shift is underway. We are departing from the hoary perception that humans are the fulcrum upon which the world spins — or as conservationist Aldo Leopold put it; “our roles are changing, from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”

It’s dawning on us, we're not the centre of the room after all.

Indigenous people have been saying this forever, but from the traditional Aristotelian, Western point of view, this is a dramatically different ontology to — we step through this world as masters of our own fate.

Clearly, we don’t.

Poet Bayo Akomolafe calls it "learning the importance of insignificance.” In These Wilds Beyond Our Fences, Akomolafe explains what he means:

“The rapid industrialization of the landscape continued to reinforce the premise that man sits at the heart of the universe. The world was shaved of its sacredness, and the narrative of innovation became the central imperative of the new expansionist project. Today we are subjects of a neoliberal hypercapitalist system that seeks the rapid, largely unregulated, laissez-faire conversion of “nature” into resources and profit. It has changed the way we live, the way we educate ourselves, the way we understand knowledge and produce it, the way we eat and encounter food, the way we relate with the world outside and with the world inside.”

But Wait, There’s Hope

At first, our own transformation feels shocking and painful. But really it’s enlivening and emancipatory. It’s just too soon to see it clearly yet.

Some of humanity's most enlightened moments have come via this torrid path.

Think of how many other "absolute truths," which profoundly shaped civilisation were, at some point or other, debunked:

  • Men are superior to women

  • The earth is the centre of the universe

  • The path to salvation is through God

These "truths" proved difficult to reconcile. In fact, we're still working on some of them. Nonetheless, the scrutinising and questioning of that which was once self-evident, stands behind some of humanity’s greatest accomplishments — think human rights, science and technology, democracy and so on.

Correcting the assumption that humans are separate from nature, will prove to be another.

This will be challenging. In fact, it already is. But the transition is critical. It will help ensure a thriving, happy future for all on planet earth.

Furthermore, threats to humanity have always existed, in one form or another. This reminds us, the true value of Actaeon’s story is not just one of transformation, but also of justice. The ancient Greeks had enough to worry about than punishing poor stalking etiquette. Their world too was stalked by disease and natural disaster.

So as we go, we must continually remind ourselves of Adrienne Maree Brown's comforting words: 

“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”


Part 2 - Good News

Route Canal

Swimmers in Utrecht, must be rubbing their flip flops in glee. A 12-lane motorway encircling the town, is being restored to it’s original state - a 900-year-old moat!

How To Feel Better About The News

Here’s a way to fight “the firehose of negative headlines drowning us every day.” It’s a list of 50 simple things you can do right now to make yourself and the world feel a little better.


Part 3 - Some Nice Things

  1. This is a wonderful and much-needed, feel-good playlist from Yancey Strickler, author of the equally fantastic book, This Could Be Our Future.

01 Lemma Demissew, “Astawesalehu”
02 Lee Scratch Perry, “The Upsetter”
03 Brian Eno, “Golden Hours”
04 Meat Puppets, “Up on the Sun”
05 Link Wray, “Fallin’ Rain”
06 Dennis Brown, “Things in Life”
07 Talking Heads, “Sugar on My Tongue”
08 The Wailers, “Small Axe”
09 Moby Grape, “I Am Not Willing”
10 The Cure, “A Forest”
11 Brian Eno, “Everything Merges With the Night”
12 The Breeders, “Off You”
13 Parquet Courts, “Instant Disassembly”
14 Yo La Tengo, “James gets up and watches mourning birds”
15 Lemma Demissew, “Adrashash tefabegn”

  1. Oddly satisfying.

  1. Meals On Wheels!

I’m excited. Dublin is investing in decent cycling infrastructure — Finally! My son and I can now safely cycle all the way to our favourite café. It’s 3km away from our home, and hardly a car to pass. Bliss!

Thanks for so much for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until next week,