Lo and Behold

August 21, 2016

Lo and Behold is Werner Herzog’s rendition of what we should be fearful of with the march of technological progress, nay advancement. I must rectify myself in presuming all technology is progress toward a better human condition. It is not self-evidently the case, as the argument can be made, as Herzog tries here, that technology paired with the bottomless depths of human depravity can lead to human ruin. In conjunction with this pessimistic view of what the Internet holds for the world moving forward, there is also the introduction of a jeremiad on cataclysm affecting this frail ecosystem of digital communication, with the off-putting introduction of a quote off the grid human population already experiencing the wrath of technological movement, pained from the radiation of mass communication devices.

While one must respect this pessimism as providing balance in taking technology as a panacea for human ailments, it veers into irrational skepticism with this film. The film itself makes a faint effort to weave together tangential technological trends which have connections with the Internet – artificial intelligence being one of them – yet it only creates a consistency in reading a dire future from humanity’s palm. There is no balance attempted here, in seeing the sweetness that humanity is capable of possessing; of the genuine positivity enabled with mass communication emerging; of lost connections of humans resurfacing; of the exponential leap in human knowledge any one individual can possess; of the better coordination in the economy leading to better prosperity. Instead we are introduced to hackers, to thoughts of the annihilation of civilization because of a solar flare, of the depravity of humans emailing the photo of a nearly-decapitated teenager to her father. Where does such distrust come from?

It is, then, an exuberantly hostile documentary to human potential. Put shortly, it does not believe in humanity’s best, only its worst. Again, this can be justified if it was more plainly asserted in the documentary’s thesis that the Internet has been received overwhelmingly positively, and that there is a dark side to all of this interconnectedness. But the subtitle, Reveries of an Interconnected World, is false advertising then. We do not have an assemblage of good and bad; only cries of false prophesy.

Yes, I decree this is the interpretation of a false alarmed future; something with repeated occurrence in history, which is to say, the skepticism in the human being becoming greater than what he is. I am not certain if this is exactly a Christian inheritance Mr. Herzog is in possession of, which condemns mankind’s uncertainty of his being extended beyond the present into extinction. Clearly, that is always possible. But is it plausible? Is the possession of his destiny, that which he is in control of, determined to be doomed? What is this anxiety and, again, distrust, in this command? It is thoroughly anti-humanist with no clear reason why.

Of course the 20th century brought about the conceivability of despondency. Certainly before this century mankind did not conceive of itself being so viciously homicidal. Yet pragmatically, this homicide was conducted by deciders of world history orders of magnitudes smaller than what would indicate a justification for this suspicion of human potential. Meaning, the deaths of tens of millions was practically decided by only dozens of men who orchestrated themselves to the most dominant positions in their society. And they all abruptly perished. We may have seen this pattern on smaller scales, and it is indeed due to the technological scale to murder, yet how has the Internet been deployed in such scales of horror? Is it too early to tell? If so, why the doubt in mankind?

Why not interpret the world positively, and optimistically, to encourage harmony rather than distrust and hostility among the human race? As a documentarian, therefore, Mr. Herzog fails atrociously. In trying to sound the alarm he is only starting a fire.


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