Leadership Lessons From The Great Books – Shorts #16

Leaders Pursue the Augustinian Option in the Light of the AI Supermen

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My name is Jesan Sorrells, and this is the Leadership Lessons from the Great Books Podcast- Shorts.
There’s no co-host on shorts.

These are two-to-four-minute observations, ideas, thoughts, or rants, about the literature, philosophy, psychology, and theology of leadership.

Because listening to me talk about leadership for two to four minutes is better than reading and trying to understand yet another business book.

The problem is, our technological genius is about to render us as irrelevant as the Neanderthals were to the Cro-Magnons.

In the race to build a better world, we are building technologies that, when combined with data gathering and analytics, behavioral mapping, and dopamine inducement at scale, will create gaps between populations that will be insurmountable.

Here’s a brief case in point:

Neanderthals, a species of humans that broke from what we consider to be modern humans about ranging from 315,000 to more than 800,000 years ago had an inability to adapt to change.

Neanderthals were robust, skilled, had culture (but no evidence of language) and they couldn’t survive the rise of a better, more adapted human, the aforementioned Cro-Magnons, around 100,000 years ago.

A better human with better language, better tools, more efficacy with the technology of fire and farming, and better able to learn how to adapt to a rapidly changing social and physical environment.
I’m not saying that our technology will allow us to become the Terminator.

I’m not even saying that our technology will allow us to merge in a glorious singularity.
I’m not saying that our technology will catapult all of us to greatness.

I am saying that our cultures, economies, philosophies, and even our very biologies, cannot survive intact in their current form if a small percentage of the 8 to 9 billion people on this planet gets to become Cro-Magnons to everyone else’s Neanderthals.

At worst, they will be elite, unredeemable, tyrants driven by their personal appetites, and embodying at horrific scale, the pagan Greek idea of the “the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must”

At best, the technological Eloi, weak and feckless, dependent on ministrations of the unwashed masses, will be food for the non-technological Morlocks.

If you’ve actually read H.G. Wells you’ll catch that reference.

So, what’s the role of leaders here?

Well, current thinking with current tools and technologies has us down to two options: the Augustinian option and the Benedictine option.

The Benedictine Option, proposed by Rod Dreher in his book of the same name, rests on the Alasdair MacIntyre quote: “If the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without hope … We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Those pursuing this option would hole up in caves, preserving the past, and waiting for the AI-driven supermen to line up politely, get in their spaceships and fly away. Then they would emerge, blinking from their caves, into a virgin paradise to rebuild the world anew.

The Augustinian option, as proposed by St. Augustine of Hippo, holds the feet of the pagan, non-cosmological, technology worshipping world to the fire.

Augustine demands in his writing, his rhetoric, and in his argumentation, that such a culture live up to the rules it set for itself.

Particularly when that same culture is behaving and speaking triumphantly about the death of God, tarring the Christian belief system as being “hypocritical,” yet still wallowing in a lack of meaning brought to them by Nietzsche and all his philosophical disciples.

This begs the thought (or the question): Why don’t we in the 21st century hold the technologist’s feet to the fire and make them live up to their own standards? Instead of disengagement, leaders should pursue a path of engagement by alternative means.

You know, the path that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have proposed.

Leaders are going to be pushed, inexorably, incessantly, and—in many cases—unwillingly—into leading people down one of these two paths.

And the time is growing short.

We’re only three to five years—if the engineers are to be believed—from the Cro-Magnons leaping ahead of the Neanderthals yet again.

And that’s it for me.