Algorithms and prayers

The mild-mannered socialist humanist says it's evil to use algorithms to exploit humans for profit, but the articulation of this objection is an algorithm to exploit humans for profit. Self-awareness of this algorithm may vary, but cultivated ignorance of one's own optimizing functions does not make them any less algorithmic or exploitative. The opposite of algorithmic exploitation is not moralistic objection, but probably prayer, which is only — despite popular impressions — attention, evacuated of instrumental intentions. One point of worshipping God is that, by investing one's desire into an abstraction of perfection, against which all existing things pale in comparison, one may live toward the good and still live as intensely as possible. Secular "good people" often makes themselves good by eviscerating their desire, de-intensifying their vitality to ensure their mundane algorithmic optimizing never goes too far. But a life of weak sin is not the same as a good life. Prayer, the practice of de-instrumentalizing attention, does not feign superiority to the sinful, exploitative tendencies of man (like socialist humanism). Prayer is code. Prayers have never hidden their nature as exploitative algorithms — "say these words and it will be Good" — but they exploit our drive to exploit, routing it into a pure and abstract circle, around a pure and abstract center. Secular solutions to the problem of evil typically involve lying about human behavior, whereas a holy life is the application of one's wicked intelligence to the production of the good and the true.

3 comments on “Algorithms and prayers”

  1. Why not invest in God as the strange stickiness and stuckness of reality, rather than its abstract perfection? Prayer (talking to oneself, as other) is a ritual; as a performative, prayer opens a way to rehearse and hence to re-improvise the anthropogenesis of the individual.

  2. A post worth pondering. I'm always tempted to justify myself by measuring my measly misdeeds against the big-time sinners. But the most ardent Christians are those who are hardest on themselves, because they're focused on God rather than other people. Merry Christmas, Justin! I'm glad I discovered your work this year.

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