Electronic materialism

It is a minor point, like many I am inclined to insist upon, but my chief criticism of the Internet, and “cyberspace,” has to do with its materialism. By this I don’t mean the omnipresent advertising that brings filth and dirt into one’s life whenever the World Wide Web is consulted. Yes, it is appalling; but the excuses made for it are, if possible, rather more appalling. (They make the service “accessible to the poor,” who will be the most harmed by it.) There is such a crass display of sensuality, carnality, avarice, that one might argue it gives moral protection, by making these things more repugnant.

The opposition in our culture, between “the material” (rhetorically bad), and “the spiritual” (rhetorically good), dating in some respects to the early Nominalists and thus even before my enemy Descartes, is at the root of many errors about the constituency of both. The human, for instance, with body and soul, is our primary example of “one person,” necessarily including both of these elements, that cannot be separated unless by the mechanism of death. (Yet even then, we are promised a new body.)

Even the bats that fly through the planet’s hollow interiors have this human-like individual unity, and even the rolling stone has gravity for an aunt. This last may not have free will — even the bed bug seems to have a minute quantity — but it doesn’t need any. When freed from his aunt, the stone can participate in the dance of the superlunary spheres. The stars, however, may have free will, and mobility, too, by their solar jets, flares, and coronal ejections. They elegantly dance to the cosmic music, whereas, in the sublunary space down here, our dancing is so shamefully awkward.

The tyrannical doctrine of materialism extends through all of our electronic media, via the (false) art of “virtuality.” The difference between a Virtual Thing and a Real Thing goes back to that conflict between the scholastic philosophers (Nominalists v. Realists), then off-road down an unmarked byway.

One is not “spiritual” and the other “material.” Both are merely temporal.