The other day I wrote a piece for this site on the Post Office scandal and what it has to tell us about the prospect of digital mayhem when the entire scandal derived from an over-reliance on technology that wasn’t understood by anyone involved and which was defective.
Peter Cardwell of TalkTV picked up the article and interviewed me yesterday. You can watch the interview here. He’s an excellent interviewer who asks very perceptive questions and listens to the answers. I much enjoyed the experience but of course we barely scraped the surface of the subject, and I was also left thinking about what he’d said.
One of his questions was: why have we ended up placing so much trust in all this tech and what do we do about it? That left me thinking.
Human beings have always looked to a higher and infallible authority for reassurance, to seek help in an uncertain future, to provide coherence and structure to life, and to legitimate or validate our actions, among which are some of the most terrible conflicts in human history. Cult is also used for coercion and control and so often it works because coercion and control masquerade as security and stability. As soon as literacy came into being around 5,000 years ago, it’s religion that became one of the first aspects of human culture recorded, and from the start it was integral to the state.
A proliferation of gods appeared in antiquity as well as evidence for cult, and most of all the performance of ritual in which human beings seek to propitiate the gods and seek their support. Colossal quantities of resources were poured into the performance of cult and temples in antiquity, not least because the regimes depended for their entitlement to rule on the ‘approval’ of the deities.
Let’s take a single example. Egyptian Pharaohs routinely claimed that they had been sired by the god Amun who had appeared in guise of their fathers and impregnated their mothers. Not surprisingly then, the Pharaoh handed over vast amounts of booty and slaves into the Amun cult which became a state within a state. The remains of the cult centre at Karnak, just outside Luxor in Egypt, bear witness to this: despite being ruinous, it’s still one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Amun was constantly depicted as the god in whose name the Pharaoh did everything, from appearing in a temple procession or brutal wars of conquest that destroyed cities and enslaved thousands. The cult of Amun was a machine which managed resources, owned vast tracts of land and goods and controlled labour.