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Reverend Billy’s Revelations

Issue 280

Our advice columnist takes on wildfire smoke and AI.

Reverend Billy Talen Jun 15, 2023

Dear Reverend Billy,
I left the city during the pandemic and worked remotely. If we get more wildfire smoke, I think I will bail again. I know it sounds selfish, but I just want to be someplace normal where I can see the sky and not choke on the air.

— JANNA

Dear Janna,
The smoke of Wednesday June 7, and I’m sure in the future too, is the way that the Earth speaks to its great predator these days. Each natural disaster is a natural communication. My translation is: “Get back to living in the present tense. You have lost clear seeing, honesty, vision … You live in the future and you live in the past but Be Here Now and you will stop poisoning all of us.”

The corporations and their politicians are always pulling us out of the present into the future. “Buy this perfume, this car, this diploma … and you WILL be happy, wealthy, goodlooking …” The military and their politicians are always pulling us into the past. “Let’s shoot, spy and bomb … and America Will Be Great Again.”

Can we resist these gargantuan pressures (the marketing and military/police budgets of the US are about the same, each over a trillion annually)? To respond to the message in the Earth’s wind and waves we need to Be Here Now! We gotta show up!

•••

Hey Billy,
I’ve been hearing a lot recently about how Artificial Intelligence is poised to take over everything and may someday drive us flesh-and-blood humans into extinction. What are your thoughts on AI? Do you think you could be replaced by a Chatbot?

—LUKE

Dear Luke,
There is something hilarious and true here, watching corporations get chased around by their own products. The personhood of the corporations passed into the products as a transmission of rights.

AI is the latest in that deadly parade of corporate attempts to intermediate how we

think and feel. The human stories, compas- sionate care, cultural inventions that take place in loving, in friendships, in various kinds of public organized chaos we call “the commons” — that is seen by corporate geniuses as so many profit centers.

The computer age with all its scaling up of information distribution, endless social media connections and lately attempts at virtual reality like the zombifying Reality Pro from Apple — all of this is more con- tempt for human-to-human contact of an actual neighborhood commons. Such meeting places, where stories and songs, silence and flirtations are constantly in the mix, in the cradle of the complexity of an ecosystem, in my Brooklyn neighborhood it is the old forest-and-meadow park — that anti-business mystery is not just under attack from the simulations of profit-taking corporations, with advertising looming over the edges of the parks, but such source places are also under siege by militarized police, who cannot seem to trust us to be together. Prospect Park in Brooklyn is vastly over-policed, with NYPD fresh from tours in Afghanistan confronting birdwatchers, accusing them of public urination or walking too slowly in a roadway.

Products and cops, cops and products — these are the bullies of the free. But they have every right to be suspicious. Where does change come from? Not from artificial intelligence. ACT UP and Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter in Ferguson and Minnesota and the world — change takes place between real humans who find a way to meet in person. Those meetings have limitless possibilities in them, with confusion and joy and failure and tune-humming and drumming and demands of justice in those moments we are together. And they might do anything! And we have the mutual best wish to survive the ultimate expression of this benighted electronic age, the completely fake human with the programmed mind and the absence of real love.

REVEREND BILLY TALEN IS THE PASTOR OF THE CHURCH OF STOP SHOPPING. HAVE A QUESTION FOR THE REVEREND? EMAIL REVBILLY@REVBILLY.COM AND UNBURDEN YOUR SOUL.

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