Of fish and robots
This is a fishing story. I promise. Stick with me, because….
The thing is, we’re really not that complicated.
Each of us, you see, has these buttons. Push them and things happen. Hear a rattlesnake, your heart rate spikes. Smell bacon, your mouth waters. Glimpse an attractive, half-naked person, the wheels start turning. Most are subtler, but no less reliable. For each stimulus there is a response.
These buttons aren’t bad per se. In fact, they’re largely responsible for our existence. But they can be liabilities… Trojan horses if you will. A capable conductor can program and play our buttons to great effect, and not always to our individual or collective benefit.
That was all well and good for the millennia in which only poets and playwrights mucked about behind the curtain. It was even okay when the good doctors Pavlov, Freud and Skinner set to labeling, measuring and mapping the fundamental circuitry. Things got a little dicier when politicians and marketers got in on the act, but we were still ahead of the curve, more or less.
Then came mass communications, and with it the ability of hucksters to push lots of buttons all at once. We started losing ground. Not so good.
The real trouble, though, the holy hell what have we done type problems, didn’t turn up until we handed the buttons over to the robots.
We put button pushers in every pocket. We gave the bots free rein to watch, track, experiment and adapt. In a blink, the hard-wired responses that evolution etched into us were commandeered en masse and divorced from the interests of survival and well-being. Consumption and economic activity were now the aims.
Fish have similar blindspots. (I told you we’d get there). The hook is bad for them, but damned if they can’t help but bite it when the right buttons get pushed.
There’s a lesson in there, of course, as there are in most mirrors.
But more importantly, there is also an opportunity for conscientious resistance.
Forsaking the steady drip of tailor-made, lab-coded pleasure potion for wind and sunburn, bruises and blisters, trudging and tendonitis, all just to hook a fish, then let it go? It just doesn’t add up. There is no algorithm for that.
So get out there and, in the immortal words of Wendell Berry, “do something that won’t compute”.
The robots will never see us coming. We may just win this thing yet.
We might even catch a few fish along the way.