Johan has been in London for a week and it has been a full week, meeting with the directors of his charitable foundation, interviews, visiting galleries.
Yesterday, David DuHaine an old, good friend from back in the early PayPal days tried to pitch a full drone service to him. Driverless cars and trains, lightweight drone delivery straight to the eighteenth floor widow. A docking bay attached to the outside wall.
He laughed, I have Nastya for that, she would kill me if I replaced her with a machine. Anyway I can print everything I need now, can’t I? You can't print a DRC like this, DuHaine said and raised his glass. Positionality is everythingI Remember? DuHaine quoting one of his own most famous maxims back at him. Johan took a sip. True, but I am not sure I would want a bottle delivered by drone either! You would need a hedge, admittedly, DuHaine replied. They both laughed and DuHaine wagged a finger at him, don’t get too sentimental about Nastya, didn’t Connaught say we are ALL going to be replaced by machines, sooner or later?
Ah yes, Connaught. Connaught was, for all he was ridiculed and derided a perennial topic at dinner, in conferences. It seemed that, dismiss him as you might, still, he was always there waiting: puzzling, insane, conducting who-knew-what kinds of experiments in his research institute in the Freezone that had opened up in the hinterland between Laos and Myanmar, in the jungle.
Even back in the early days when they were all making their fortunes, even among that select and divinely driven crew of innovators Connaught had been a wildly visionary, uniquely brilliant and intense personality. For several years he had managed to hold himself in check, working alongside Kurzweil and Sharpton at The Singularity University before suddenly disappearing into the night with nothing but a series of devastated hotel rooms and bags of exotic pharmacology in his wake, reappearing two years later in the Freezone pushing his thesis on Techstinction, a more radically nihilistic and negatory corrective to what he saw as the latent and crippling Humanism in notions of the Singularity. He rejected both the terms Transhumanism and Extropianism, “we do not aim to improve or transcend the human condition, but to finally destroy humanity itself in the name of the truly radical, alien otherness within us, rationality, science, techne,” he declared in the long, semi-coherent lecture that appeared online two or three years ago. “Our aim is not enhancement, or transcendence, or eternity, but creating a technology which will destroy us”. “Tech Guru Connaught Goes Jim Jones in The Freezone” was the Tech Times headline that greeted his re-emergence. That seemed to sum up the prevailing attitude.
The last time they had shared a stage together, not long after Johan had met Nastya and begun his charitable and curatorial work in earnest, when Connaught was still, as far as anyone could tell, keeping things together was at a TEDX conference. Even then Connaughts incipient madness had begun to disturb those around him, the organisers, the audience, his fellow panelist, and it was felt that perhaps he was not quite, young, brilliant billionaire though he was, the ambassador the Singulairty University had hoped he would be. Johan himself was perplexed by Connaught’s rambling, poetic, aphoristic speech. Shirt untucked and tieless, no power-point slides, no tirelessly reiterated, upbeat, take home message, unless the message was: we are a split and suicidal species, we must drive forward our own extinction, not merely as subjects, but materially, as flesh. The end of the lecture was a long reflection on the term “dull and muddy-mettled rascal” from Hamlet as far as Johan could recall. Mud and mettle, muddy metal, muddled metal, dull mud and metalled rascals, the dull mud and the metal rascal.
That was the first indication that Connaught would go rogue. And yet early on, at Stanford, they had been great friends.
Ah Connaught! Ah Post-Humanity!
Still. He checks his watch, twenty minutes until his session with Calvert, two hours until he goes out to meet his gopher, Graeme Hargreaves. Johan has made a point of remembering the name. These touches, this personal engagement matters even if one is, as the girl from the Guardian suggested yesterday “richer than Croesus”.
That interview had been, perhaps, the only negative so far. He instinctively reaches up to smoothe his jaw-line and is aware suddenly, though he has clearly been doing it for years, of this reflex action, when a negative thought or an ego-compromising reflection assails him, how he sets his own jawline in place, focuses on it, uses it almost as a talisman to ward off bad spirits. How odd. No doubt many people have such small, defensive rituals. He pauses and looks around the room as though there may be some clue to his own behaviour hidden there, though the room is of course minimally, even austerely furnished, a great white space with a black leather sofa, a low, heavily lacquered Japanese horigotatsu table, a huge, ultra-thin, wall mounted flat screen, state-of-the-art black and silver Samsung speaker poles in each corner for deeply immersive surroundsound, and little else.
What other small, supporting tics and twitches of thought, what mechanisms and bits of barely visible maintenance might his whole persona run on? He is watching, through his own reflection, a thousand cars moving through the congested streets, lights coming on in flats and offices, buses and trains delivering the flow of workers and consumers in and out of the centre from the suburbs, the invisible army of small-scale tasks and repeated interventions that sustain the illusion, the fantasy of the City, its magical enormity, its dream-identity.
For a second the room, the city through the windows, seems to shift and tremble, as though some other dimension has momentarily infused itself into this one, set it quivering. Perhaps, he reaches up for his jaw then checks himself, he should discontinue this analysis with Calvert. Connaught perhaps should be a cautionary tale.
Perhaps it is just that, yes that interview yesterday has disturbed him a little, despite his reputation for hardness of head, nose and at one time, heart. A situation he is trying now, through his curating, his charitable work, his analysis, to remedy.
Yes, the interview yesterday was a little tougher than these things used to be ten years ago, when they were all savants and saviours. The crisis was obviously to blame and he imagined that the piece would carry a fairly negative tone as any such pieces were obliged to these days if they focussed on any one who made money before the crash, or had continued to do so during it. And besides it was for the Guardian. The FT or The Economist would have been more supportive.
And yet, yes, he stretched up on tiptoe and settled back down onto his heels again, he did want to be, not loved, but, seen differently, to be admired at least. To be, he searched for the right word. Understood. Connaught would sneer at him, and it was true they seemed to be on opposite paths, deeply divergent paths, or perhaps simply expressing two sides of the same, inevitable trajectory.
Yes he was faintly irritated by the interviewer, a very attractive but rather presumptuous looking young girl, fresh out of a Classics degree at Oxford, hence the reference to Croesus no doubt, obsessing over the phrase “Pay-Pal mafia”. He told her he hadn’t been involved in any of that for years, asked her, who did we exploit, helping to set up a payment system online? This is not the mining industry. Yes but the system. In its totality. This had seemed to be her argument. She had that faintly superior but brittle English upper-class appeal, an English Rose. She was probably good on a horse, had impeccable manners, was spending her twenties pretending to be tough-minded and radical. He felt a little throb of melancholy desire. She was nothing compared to Nastya of course. And yet. he would love to somehow win her over.
No doubt this was why he had agreed to the interview in the first place. He did find himself seeking her approval, he did feel a need to persuade her and her readership and the world at large. He stretched up on to tip-toe involuntarily again and again checked himself. Ah now what was this, another tic? Lowered himself down more circumspectly. I am not what you think I am, I am not who I was. I am one of the good guys
She pushed him on his continuing and endlessly augmenting wealth and his maxim, Positionality is everything. Had he not cornered many markets in many types of goods, especially foodstuffs, especially fish? Hadn’t one of his companies for insistence been racing against the major Japanese corporations to buy up stocks of Eel, Fugu fish and Blue Fin Tuna while another was harvesting seeds for particular types of potentially medicinally beneficial plants and stockpiling as much of the world’s declining biodiversity as it could in huge greenhouses out in Chilean Patagonia? Did he not have a vested interest in extinction? In shortages, in scarcity?
His answer, which he had immediately sensed she was not prepared to listen to sympathetically was that both he and his wife thought of themselves as Curators now rather than business people or entrepreneurs, that they were in a sense rescuing and maintaining, while on another level restoring and bringing into life, illuminating great swathes of the past. The past is not dead and gone, any more than the future is inaccessible, both are immanent. All I do, he explained is draw value out of the future and use it to dynamise the past, I rewire it. Create new circuits. Forget the Future’s market, he quipped, I am heavily invested, in both the personal and financial senses of that word, in Pasts.
Take our great OutlierArt initiative, whose mission is to record and collate the entire artistic output of all humanity, not merely the greats, to throw open the past and expose every nook and cranny to appreciation. To rescue the dead. He almost said, that didn’t he? In the interview. Then thought better of it. Yes, perhaps some man of means will pay an extraordinary sum for the particular frisson of sitting in that restaurant in Tokyo or Beijing or Singapore and eating the final piece, that extravagantly expensive piece of Bue Fin Tuna sashimi, knowing no other human being now will ever get to savour its unique delicacy. But this is how he sees his role, as a simultaneous driver into extinction in some ways and also a redeemer, a bringer into life, rescuing what was lost, granting recognition to the vast shadow-world of human endeavour and liberating it from the hierarchies of taste and judgement, the structures that have suppressed it.
If a man will pay millions for a sliver of flesh melting on his tongue and we can use that money to vitalize the great, unexplored, underexploited past, create more value, reinvest, drive forward more capital into the future! Look, he said. He became almost impassioned, didn’t he? He knows, he knows that he and Connaught are cut from the same cloth. He knows that this is all his mothers and grandfather’s doing, this sense of mission, this religious fervour. He doesn’t need Calvert to tell him that. This is the only hope we have. You said earlier, you used the term “the spatial fix”. Johan waved his hand skyward. There is lot of space out there still and we will reach it. You perhaps don’t know how close we are. But there is also the temporal fix, nor are they so distinct, time and space. The past after all is another country, is it not?
He smoothes his jawline with the back of his hand, the screen up on the far wall is making a soft, insistent buzz and he pivots away from the window, checking the time on his watch. “Activate”, he commands and the screen clicks on. A soft exhalation of static, a faintly clinical glow and there is Calvert waiting to begin their session his smooth face, filling the huge screen, gazing enigmatically out.