And all watched over . . .

I like to think (and / the sooner the better!) / of a cybernetic meadow / where mammals and computers / live together in mutually / programming harmony / like pure water / touching clear sky.

I’m afraid I can’t reproduce the layout of the stanza—the damn slash marks are the best I can do—but that’s a bit of Richard Brautigan. I first encountered his work in high school and it was this very poem that I read. In college I picked up a copy (which I still have) of his “novel” Trout Fishing in America. That book is prose, but reads like poetry. I’m not sure Brautigan was capable of ordinary prose, a linear narrative, or even plotting. But it’s great read: sad and lonely, but funny and warm, and filled with memorable images and metaphors, and other nutty stuff that’s hard to explain.

I like to think / (right now, please!) / of a cybernetic forest / filled with pines and electronics / where deer stroll peacefully / past computers / as if they were flowers / with spinning blossoms.

Many of the locales in Trout Fishing are here in Siskiyou County. He mentions the Klamath River several times, as well as Steelhead Lodge, Grider Creek, Tom Martin Creek, and the Marble Mountains. Brautigan was a product of the Pacific Northwest and found his literary voice in the San Francisco counter-culture scene. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Bolinas in 1984 when he was only 49. Trout Fishing brought him fame and some money, but after the 1960s he was mostly a forgotten figure.

I like to think / (it has to be!) / of a cybernetic ecology / where we are free of our labors / and joined back to nature / returned to our mammal / brothers and sisters, / and all watched over / by machines of loving grace.

I like to think of a cybernetic ecology, too. I think he’s on to something here. Could be ironic, or perhaps it’s a warning, but I like to take it literally. Brautigan’s work has an innocence to it, like he was seeing the world from the naive perspective of a child, or maybe he just didn’t like to think too hard about things. There’s a simple, seemingly effortless flow to the words. That’s high art in my mind, making it seem like the writing just happened and wasn’t labored over.

But that’s where we are headed, are we not? Does the wilderness exist? Sure, we draw the lines on the map and officially designate it as “wilderness” but that doesn’t make it so. It may be remote, or harsh country, and it may take “wilderness skills” to survive in it, but the planes are flying overhead and the GPS satellites are beaming their locations and the cars and parking lots are just over the mountain. We’ve parceled out the wilderness and designated where it begins and ends, taming it for our modern sensibilities. What we’ve learned however is that these wild lands still have to be managed. They don’t simply exist on their own. They are now part of our entire ecology, like highways and shopping malls and apartment complexes. Everything else in the human sphere requires upkeep and maintenance, is it so hard to imagine that wild lands will require the same?

And what of us? Will we be better off surrendering the quotidian and mundane to our marvelous new artificial intelligences? Will that, perhaps, return us to Eden? Seems like a long shot. People have a knack for pettiness, venality, and cruelty. Will our technologies be just like us, mean and selfish? Seems like that’s the real risk, that our machines will be all too human! Either way, I dig the notion of a cybernetic ecology, and I think we are living it right now with our smartphones and self-driving cars and automated factories. In fact, we are so immersed in our technological sea that we don’t know if we are swimming or drowning. I’m keeping my snorkel just in case.

 

. . . by machines of loving grace.

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