Revolutionary Audacity

–Are you leaving soon? John Newman asked his senior postdoc, Tian Fanshen.

–I have a few things to finish up for our DARPA presentation. Do you want me to handle the security lockdown?

–That would be great. I think I told you that I am leaving a couple of days early.

I need to get home and pack and then get to Albuquerque to catch my flight. See you in DC.

He knew that it was against regulations. But then it was against regulations for Fanshen to be working on the project. X-Division was off limits to foreign nationals and Fanshen was a citizen of the Peoples’ Republic of China. DARPA had given him a waiver, but she was supposed to work only under close supervision, at least with regard to security matters. And Omega was an Above Top Secret project of which even the lab director was not aware.

Self-replicating nano-automatons: For DARPA they were the ideal military technology, a weapon which could literally “eat” the adversary’s weapons and turn them into a puddle of useless goo, –or, for that matter, into Rice Crispies, if that is what the PSYOPS/Civil Affairs people, who seemed to run everything these days, wanted. Civilians –or for that matter combatants— could be left unharmed, or else “infected” in a way which rendered them docile and ready for internment. They also had promising nonmilitary applications: ecosystem cleansing, climate change management –and manufacturing essentially anything. For John Newman, however, they represented the key link in humanity’s long march towards God or, to be more precise, towards building God. Ever since he had read Barrow and Tipler’s Anthropic Cosmology in the late 1980s, which suggested that the universe could be re-engineered into a supercomputer capable of infinite intelligence and creativity, he had been obsessed with creating the self-replicationg automaton probes which were needed to do the job. He had abandoned a promising academic career –including a post-doc at CalTech, with promise of a tenure track faculty appointment to follow– for a GS-12 appointment at DARPA, positioning himself for an a career in research administration. He had carefully balanced a small but focused research portfolio with a series of progressively more important administrative positions until he finally landed the job which was his real goal –Director of X-Division at Trinity Lab in New Mexico, in 2001. Then he had stayed put, much to the surprise of envious colleagues who had expected him to be Director of the Lab, and possibly of DARPA itself, by the end of the decade. Instead, protesting that he wanted to return to research, he had created a mountain stronghold in the division’s new facility in a secret location in the mountains of Western New Mexico, recruiting the very best talent in nanotechnology and software engineering from around the world and selling his ideas piecemeal to DARPA through the Bush years, then finding a surprisingly positive reception from the Obama Administration. And he had the best cover in the world. Everyone thought he was just another careerist sell-out. No one suspected that he was, in fact, a transhumanist godbuilding zealot.

No one, of course, but Fanshen. Newman trusted her implicitly. She was the only person besides himself he could be sure really believed. Even Tipler himself was more prophet than messiah, not entirely believing the words he himself had uttered, as if the equations had come to him as a kind of mystical revelation or asuric possession. When he had plucked her out of the graduate nanoscience program at Caltech at only 19 she was, to be sure, just another promising asset. But when his marriage had headed south after he failed to meet his wife’s expectations of continued upward mobility, and instead left her stranded for ten years with their two teen age daughters in the decrepit, mostly abandoned uranium mining town that was their nominal home, he had begun to spend more and more time with her, gradually initiating her into the strange technoreligious cult of which he was the high priest. Now 25, she had turned down tenure track offers at MIT and Princeton to continue working with him. And besides, she was, for all intents and purposes a refugee. Her brother had been imprisoned as a dissident in China’s escalating civil war over information access after he created a virus which rendered the government unable to block access to dangerous sites for nearly three months. Her mother was already in San Francisco.

As soon as Newman had left, Fanshen carefully loaded all of the lab’s automatons into a specially reinforced palladium container. Palladium was the one thing that they couldn’t eat –or rather that they were programmed not to eat. Then she activated the containment field, which essentially put them to sleep. Altogether the package, while rather heavy, measured only 1000 cubic centimeters, but it contained a sufficient number of self-replicating automatons to re-engineer the universe. And once they were deployed, if Tipler and Newman were right, the effects would begin to wash back through time …

Her cell phone registered a text message. She viewed it calmly. She had less than three minutes.

She placed the container into her briefcase. Then she inserted a special 1 terabyte flash drive into Newman’s computer and copied out the entire project archive. Finally, she set the computer to format its hard drive, just in case. She looked around quickly, gazing fondly at the little date palm she kept at the window near her work station and at the orange tree she had received as a Chinese New Years gift two years ago. Then she exited the lab and headed for the exit. As she approached the security station, where she would be subjected to a series of scans and physical searches before leaving, she noticed seven men in black clothes and ski masks approaching the station. She nodded slightly and they drew their weapons, killing the guards instantly. She joined the seven, exited, and jumped into a waiting Subaru Impreza, which sped off. The seven then quickly set charges around the perimeter of the X-Omega lab and jumped into their van. They had already changed cars and clothes five times and were on their way to join Fanshen at Estrella Roja’s base in the Gila wilderness near Silver City when the charges detonated, leaving nothing of the most important military laboratory on the planet.

Published by:

Anthony Mansueto

Humanity is the desire to be God (Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness, 1943/1993: 556). Being finite, we are aware of the infinite and seek it without limit. Being contingent, dependent on other beings for our existence, we seek the power of Being as such and seek it absolutely. Human history is fundamentally the history of this seeking, and of the distinct ways of being human to which it has given rise. Precisely because we are finite and contingent, our seeking takes place under definite material (physical, ecological, demographic, built-environmental) conditions which shape the ways which emerge, as well as the social structures through which we pursue them. As something set apart we call this power of Being the sacred but it is, in fact, the warp and woof of the world in which we live, driving secular projects as much as those which understand themselves as religious. My work is centered around an effort to engage the sacred analytically, interpretively, normatively, creatively, and practically. My scholarship is centered around an effort to restore theoria to its original sense as an encounter with the sacred which is empirical, analytic, interpretive and normative, and specifically to understand the diverse ways (including secular ways) in which humanity seeks (to be) God in the context of the material realities out which they emerged and the structures through which they operate while engaging these ways normatively, contributing to the transhistorical deliberation around what it means to be human. As an artist I work first and foremost with narrative, telling stories which, blending elements from magic realism, science fiction, and fantasy, highlight humanity’s engagement with the sacred. But I also create paintings, photo collages, and illuminations and am experimenting with alterealities, games which actually change the world, and which engage all these elements in an interactive context. And I work in the medium of food, creating alchemical cuisine which at once encodes meaning and transforms those who consume it —especially in community. My scholarly and creative work aims at charting a new way of being human, at making the sacred present to people in their day to day lives, and at helping people situate their lives and their decisions, individual and collective, in he context of the ultimate aims of human life. My practical engagements with the sacred cross the boundaries between teaching and mentoring, leading and organizing. As a teacher, it is my aim to cultivate free, creative human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality who have the ability to make rationally autonomous decisions regarding questions of meaning and value, to understand their particular calling and how to realize it, to build and exercise power in service to the common good, to learn the difficult spiritual lessons that come from both success and failure in our lives, and thus to pursue and progress along the way they have chosen. In addition to teaching in formal academic and community based settings, I mentor individuals using a process which integrates deep listening with both traditional spiritual disciplines and secular insights drawn from organizing and business strategy. I cultivate both scholars and practitioners, and challenge my students to cross the boundaries between these two domains. As an academic leader I have worked to promote liberal education for students from working class and ethnic minority communities, to make the institutions I serve into centers for deliberation around questions of meaning, value, and public policy, and to restore (nonconfessional, pluralistic, but still normative) engagement with the sacred to its rightful place in the academy. I see this academic leadership as an extension of my broader work as an institutional organizer helping organizations and institutions find their way, and working to build, conserve, and transform them in service to the Common Good. My work as an organizer has also included significant contributions to interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, from building financial and institutional support for interfaith organizing through catalyzing public deliberation around questions of meaning and value across diverse spiritual and civilizational traditions. I bring to this engagement a substantial record of publications, including nine books and numerous articles in both scholarly journals and journals of public opinion setting forth my vision and strategy, decades of experience teaching the liberal arts to students from working class and ethnic minority communities, a history active civic engagement, primarily in interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, and a range of institutional leadership roles in the academy including department chair, program director, dean, and campus leader with responsibility for all community college functions for a large rural area. As I continue my formal institutional engagements as an academic administrator over the next several years, I am also looking to build support for my creative work and a consulting practice mentoring individual leaders and organizations across the academic, religious, and civil society sectors. Supporting my work through Patreon is a way to contribute to making this possible while getting a glimpse of my creative process, free or discounted artifacts from my alterealities, and the opportunity to benefit from my mentoring and consulting practice at much reduced rates.

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