A new article from Wired by Luke Birgis discusses the mentality and culture of Silicon Valley, and puts the technological vision of life up alongside the classic dichotomy between “Athens” and “Jerusalem.” Athens was symbolic of reason, while Jerusalem indicated the spiritual life of the soul.
Figuring out a way of connecting (or disconnecting) these two mythic kingdoms has long been the task of philosophers and theologians. Need religion be separated from reason? Are science and faith naturally incompatible? These are worthy questions in their own right. Birgis, however, identifies another burgeoning kingdom that is arguably reducing both Athens and Jerusalem to hypothetical rubble: Silicon Valley. The Valley’s core philosophy is neither reason or beauty, but value, or usefulness. Birgis writes,
Silicon Valley, this third city, is not governed primarily by reason (it is practically the mark of a great entrepreneur to not be “reasonable”), nor by the things of the soul (the dominant belief seems to be a form of materialism). It is a place, rather, governed by the creation of value. And a large component of value is utility—whether something is useful, or is at least perceived as good or beneficial.
I realize that some people in Silicon Valley think of themselves as building rationalist enterprises. Some of them might be. The city’s guiding spirit, however, is summed up by investor and podcast host Shane Parrish, popular among the Silicon Valley set, when he says: “The real test of an idea isn’t whether it’s true, but whether it’s useful.” In other words, utility trumps truth or reason.-Luke Birgis, The Three-City Problem of Modern Life | WIRED
Birgis says that this “third city” changes the relationship between the ancient dyad, and that nowadays we tend to camp out in predominatly in one of the three. However, Birgis thinks it’s possible to integrate these cities, viewing their metaphorical walls as “artificial.” He continues,
The most important innovations of the coming decades will happen at the intersection of the three cities—and they will be created by the people who live there.
With the AI “revolution” in full swing, we could see Birgis’s brilliant article as a call to hold technological innovation in healthy conversation with common sense and moral values. Technology, when unhinged from ethics, can enslave the public and alienate us from our roots and deeper spiritual needs.