Friday, 19 June 2020

Civilization VI & The Mechanical Mind

(Part 1) Civilization is a history simulation where you act as the Godlike ruler of a civilization of your choice. The aim of the game is to survive and dominate the world using all the means at your disposal, and you do have a lot of means. I'm no stranger to the civilization games I used to play them quite a lot, back when I used to play video games, so I downloaded it Civilization 6 when I saw it was going free recently to see what the game was like these days

 As I was playing it I began to understand why I used to get bored with the game in its later stages. Basically it always results in the same outcome, assuming you survive. In the early game you're confronted with set a choices over what to invest in, religion, culture, military and which political model and so on.

 As the player with few resources you're  faced with a stark choice, do I invest in archery or religion? religion will make your people happy and content, archery will stop them being wiped out. And so the tendency is move toward archery, or to put it another way, to choose technology over spirituality.

Now, you can adopt archery or some other form of weaponry to defend your civilization but eventually the other civilizations will develop canons and gunpowder and so once again you're forced into developing technology over more intellectual and metaphysical matters, over matters of the soul.

This raises a lot of interesting questions about history and what drives it. The Civilization 6 game mechanics have technology as the driving force of history, not class struggle, or ideals. We can whittle it further down as well actually, in the materialist view of Civilization 6 the true force operating in the world is efficiency, whenever one instrument of technology is surpassed by another it becomes obsolete, the flow of time inevitably results in more efficiency, not less.

 And it's here that I began to realize what problems I had with the game in its earlier incarnations, it always ends up the same way. You begin by building a small but idyllic nation and enjoy some farming and taking advantage of the local resources, but by the time you arrive in modernity your nation is a grid, a collection of networks acting as supply chains for mass consumption and production. What's more, any of the other civilizations who've survived are almost exactly the same as yours, because anyone who tried to cleave to the old ways was absorbed or destroyed.

As you reach the year 1940 you can be Fascist or Communist or Capitalist but fundamentally all of these civilizations will be more similar to each other than 3 monarchies facing each other off 500 years earlier.

In the game's earliest stages the civilizations are more or less the same, by the middle ages they've each developed along certain lines and while the weaponry deployed is sometimes similar the general look and feel of each will be very different. But as you get into the modern era those differences evaporate.

 The driving force of the game, efficiency, leaves no room for anything else. In theory you can have a religious victory, but your religion needs to spread and mass communications can do that better than missionaries and churches.

Everything which does not work toward technology and improving the efficiency of already existing technology is regarded as a ''luxury'' or at least relegated to less of a priority. The thinking of technology and science became applied to everything, a religion becomes a system or a code, or a people become a demographic and a set of statistics, and eventually a mass of units.

 And yet, in this simulation of history the player has a God-Like role, you can adopt or cast aside any religion or ideology that you wish, you can decide where the roads go or when to invent gunpowder. You can have a long term strategy that will pay off in 100 years, but you're still enslaved to efficiency and technology, it's a matter of when not if.

A popular school of thought in the online right is that world history has unfolded according to carefully laid out plans by an elite class, there's some argument about when this began, some will say back to the Napoleonic wars when a cabal bought the Bank of England, others will say Cromwell, others still will push it much further back to the formation of Christianity. Lets for the sake of argument take the 300 years scenario. History for the last 300 years has thus been the result of secret guilds and groups plotting against the world, Europeans in particular.

 Now in my opinion this is the case, WW1, the Bolshevik Coup and revolution in Russia and then WW2 and what happened after were projects of elites and famous Banking houses in particular.

 But the question here is how much control they have over the meta-course of history itself. Are they operating outside of history and designing it, or are they making decisions within it?

 If we think of western civilization as a train running along on its tracks, are the tracks following a plan from a control room far away, or is it that the driver can dictate where we go?

 The steam engine itself was invented close to where I grew up by a man called George Stephenson, the impact of the train on England, and then the whole world was profound and abolished a myriad ways of seeing and being in the world. No longer were towns isolated worlds unto themselves, now they were part of a network that stretched across all of England.

 Even the word ''train'' means to make somebody better, faster, more efficient. And that means discarding the elements which hindered and hampered efficient thinking or activity.

 Efficiency won the day, again.

But was this planned out by the elites? was the invention and propagation of the steam engine in accordance with a secretive cabal or was it simply the next step in streamlining travel?

 To be fair the accusations against the Globalists tend to be in terms of controlling money and socially engineering the masses. But technology has a clear impact on those masses and how they live, the problem is that more often than not it directs the masses straight into the frame of deracinated producer and consumer devoid of idealism, beauty and authenticity.

 As others have pointed out, especially after WW1, technology ''un-worlds'' man. Think once again on the train. A person sitting on a train looking through the window inhabits almost a different universe to the person standing in a field watching it go by.

 In Civilization you can't allow for your people to stand around in the countryside feeling the moment, just as art and aesthetics are sidelined for guns, the quiet life is abandoned for the train.

And thus, no matter what you do and no matter how much power you have, the end is set, your bucolic and idealised parochial heaven will, inevitably, make way for the technocratic grid.

 Fundamentally this isn't a universal but something specific to what Spengler called Faustian, or European civilization which he described as having the spirit of perpetual motion at its heart and mode of thought. As in the Civilization game though, everyone else is either on course to be dominated by it or copy it.

But this leaves us with a problem, the processes which have created the grid have also systemically destroyed any higher values and ethics because they don't fit well within it, they aren't a product of efficiency or technology. An example of this is the way we handle crime, crime even the most heinous of crimes, are no longer judged in moral terms, or at least the basis of that morality has drastically dwindled. Instead we view criminals not as being ''evil'' but as a problem to be solved through scientific study.

 Punishment makes way for rehabilitation, they aren't possessed by something immoral, that's now discarded, instead they're a faulty unit that needs to be fixed.

 The Cathedral of Notre Dam and the Hanging Gardens make way for the Skyscraper and the sports arena. Moral certainties and ethical absolutes become lost to the ages and are replaced by rationalism and Empiricism.

 This what modern liberal types would call ''progress'' we are progressing away from the backward and irrational worlds of the past and on toward a brighter tomorrow brought about scientific discoveries.

 As we move through history the old ways are shed, just as a train track goes through the mountain instead of over it, old ways of seeing the world are discarded.

In the end the big question is not the degree to which man can beat man within this arc, but the degree to which this arc and the mechanics of Civilization can be beaten. Playing through Civilization 6 this time I was less occupied by how to beat the Egyptians and the Macedonians and more interested in how I beat the game itself, can you beat history?

As it stands now where exactly are we headed? if use the model presented in Civilization as a guide, which does indeed seem to be a good one. Then what awaits us in the future and can we see signs of it now? is it a happy place?

 In actual fact happiness itself is just a set of chemicals in the brain to be put in petri dishes and measured, if you're unhappy with the technological society then there's always some pills you can take to increase your mood and therefore your productivity. 

 But still...where are we going......

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