Why do other comedians fear Jerry Seinfeld

Compared to machines, humans are slow, vulnerable and finite. That is our advantage

Artificial intelligence knows no fatigue and therefore no end. Because it lacks natural limitation, the space of possibility remains closed to it.

Will the world never be like it was last year? Obviously, the passions boil on this question. The comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently declared in a report for the "New York Times" rather angry: "We don't need a fool who wants to be back in 2019." The reason for Seinfeld's upset was a viral online column by a comedy club co-owner named James Altucher, who stated that New York City would never recover from the pandemic was "completely dead" and "forever". You can tell that the argument is not particularly factual. Where does this escalation come from? Because the mood is getting worse. As the pandemic continues, many disputes intensify, and this against the background of a fundamental polarity: some have the feeling that the world is melting between their fingers, as it were, dissolving. Others say: That feeling is deceptive, because we live in solid institutions.

In the western media public, we are used to escalating discourse. Before Covid-19, the contrast between artificial intelligence and human consciousness was particularly prevalent. It seems strange when novels now appear that tell of Don DeLillo's «The Silence», because this conflict currently seems strangely secondary, so much so that a pandemic reference is appropriate in the book, which the publisher then uses Marketing uses.

Accelerated slowness

The pandemic itself, however, has brought something else to the fore: the human body. She is in danger. It's an archaic danger, not a technological one. And perhaps the irritation arises from the fact that the pandemic throws us back on a completely different question, which in turn is reflected in the debates about continuity or discontinuity, dynamism or solidity, and that would be: the problem of repressed finitude.

Before Covid-19, social dynamics were regularly thought together with the paradigm of the digital acceleration society, for example in the analyzes of the sociologist Hartmut Rosa. This is an important and fascinating approach, but it should not forget either the finitude of human existence or another factor related to this finitude: its indolence. Which is also an indolence of society, indolence of patterns. Because the human being in his character and basis is much slower than the technology. This paradox has also already been considered, for example in the work of the French philosopher Paul Virilio as the paradox of a society in which technological development accelerates at an exponential gallop and at the same time the cultural movement increasingly freezes. Another French spirit, namely Pierre Bourdieu, would say: The human habitus is tough.

Because of their physicality, compared to machines, humans are slow, vulnerable and finite. The pandemic also confronts them with this, and even more: it offends them, so they react irritably. Humans, born with the intuition of mortality, have never been a great believer in finitude (apart from a few exceptions). In the course of cultural history he has developed various institutions to deny them: religion, art, politics, the market. Philosophy too. The contemporary negation project is called: Self-optimization. Self creation. Everything in this world. And everything in the now.

Fixation in the present and need for fiction

The fashion of mindfulness is interesting here because it, like the lack of humor in meditation, is hardly criticized, although in its appeal to fixate on the present it not least imitates the artificial intelligence and digital culture against whose harassment it promises to remedy. Before the digital era, the need for fiction of the cultivated person was expressed not least in the orientation towards the past and the future. The digital late modernity in which we live, on the other hand, is a culture that revolves around a point of the present, the peak of topicality, the last posting. But if you want to have people always in the here and now, you must ultimately see them as a kind of deficient machine, because only the algorithm is always in the here and now. People need to look forwards and backwards in order to be able to open up to the difference of the new.

For the dialectic of dynamics and stability in the face of a pandemic that threatens the human body, this means: We cannot resolve the matter in present-centered mindfulness. If we want to know how we have to grasp the future, we have to reflect on the flow of time: the human habitus is sluggish, embedded in organic life, socialized, entangled in social relationships and practices and the course of time, both acting and in the Intervening as well as experiencing the world. Our bodies are instinctual and vulnerable - despite all the fascinating attempts and ambitions towards the brain-AI interface, neurocapitalism, enhancement, the dissolution of somatic boundaries and limitations. Here the pandemic exacerbates a value question: Should we try to adapt to the machine, or should we move in those fields that (still) separate us from machines, for example elaborate conceptual apparatuses, historical depth of focus and critical movements of thought? In other words, should the perception of the current moment, the current relative standstill, be embedded in a feeling for the duration, the course, the quality of time?

The ending as a punchline

In any case, we have finiteness ahead of the formal logic intelligence of the machine. In his latest book "Muster", the sociologist Armin Nassehi points out that artificial intelligence has no stopping rule. No beginning and no end. In contrast to human intelligence, human consciousness, which is bodily situated in a body that also ends without infection because it is programmed for self-destruction. This finitude opens up spaces of possibility, as paradoxical as this may sound. Ultimately, setting priorities only makes sense against the background of a limited time horizon. Priorities need a limited horizon so that the importance of the material does not get out of hand. If the last shirt had pockets, greed would be limitless. Values ​​and institutions gain meaning through limitation, which enables stability and development at the same time.

Finiteness as a source of value also includes completed life stories as inspiration and the source of meaning. Infinite life stories would be without reason, goal or direction. The human need for fiction includes an interpretation of the past and the formation of ideas about the future. Finiteness here creates the feeling of finality, purposefulness; it creates what is called a "closure" in the theory of narration. It lets the narrated appear as a cohesive whole that has its own dimension and therefore also its necessary end. And so one can come to different views about the future of New York City. The general rule for evaluating them is that human indolence is responsible for more sequels than doomsday, so the chances are not that bad for the city that suddenly sleeps.

At the social level, institutions protect socialized people; At the level of the individual, the awareness of the time deferred provides additional dynamism. The latter has just been pointedly stated again by the former American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in her autobiography “Hell and other travel destinations”. Regarding the fixation on the present, however, Albright has the following to say: "I also tried meditation once and drove all thoughts out of my head until I suddenly came up with an urgent call - which settled the matter for me."

Philipp Tingler is a writer, philosopher and literary critic.