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Ramón Llull and the Case for Ignoring Tech Bros

Ramón Llull (1232-1315) was a Mallorcan monk, philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, pioneering Catalan novelist, and theologian. It was the Middle Ages, so if you were literate you could pretty much do anything you wanted.

But even for an intellectual in the golden age of interdisciplinarity, Llull had the macho fatal flaw of not staying in his lane. Along with his bloated belief in the scalability of his innovations, this is what made him a tech bro. 

"The end game? A tool which could automate conversions to Christianity."

Among Llull’s best known technological ventures was the Ars Magna – a work using complex geometric shapes and graphs as a logical mechanism for proving that Christianity was the only "complete" religion. The end game? A tool which could automate conversions to Christianity. As Europeans grappled with the existence of the Qur’an and started to freak out, this was kind of a hot topic. And Llull’s solution was a novelty; present-day tech nerds even call it a precursor to Machine Learning.

Llull spent his life trying to implement the Ars Magna as Christianity’s primary technological and rhetorical tool for missionaries converting Muslims to Christianity. Although it was a brilliant work in its advanced understanding of the essential elements of Muslim faith, this wasn’t enough. He needed it to scale and solve everything. Now. And the business of converting people to Christianity was, as they say, ripe for disruption. 

Undeterred by several unsuccessful business trips across Europe where he failed to secure support or funding from powerful elites in Paris and Montpellier, Llull took matters into his own hands, going on a series of solo trips across the Mediterranean to Béjaïa and Tunis, where he tried to preach the Ars Magna’s arguments to a town square full of Muslims, and promptly got himself thrown into a prison cell. He even built a dreamy oceanfront monastery in Mallorca for young mavericks to study Arabic, Hebrew and the Ars Magna.

 None of it worked and no one ever really saw the value of the Ars Magna. With his tail between his legs, Llull lived out his days writing his autobiography and another totally non-autobiographical romantic novel about a young hero called Blanquerna setting out to save Christianity (haha). Faced with a cool but overreaching technological idea which vastly underestimated the complexity of the problem it was trying to solve, influential elites simply said no, and Christianity continued its slow, messy, at times violent coming together with Islam.

 Again, Llull’s fatal flaw, like that of many techno-optimistic nuts throughout history, was simply the inability to reel it in, call it a day, and revel in his otherwise pretty pioneering work.

Not everything has a technological solution, and that is worth celebrating.

Granted, the European ‘Middle Ages’ were rife with intolerance, war and death. But it was also a time where it wasn’t crazy to tell an overreaching tech bro with an unhealthy level of attachment to a slightly cool but overly ambitious and otherwise pointless ‘innovative’ solution to a complex societal problem to just, I don’t know, stick to reading or something. In a saturated age of panic-driven over-valuation of endlessly unimaginative cookie cutter revolutionary ‘products’ claiming to ‘empower [__] to streamline [__]’ while we run out of water and houses, I think there’s ample space to just say no to innovation. Call it unambitious. I call it progress, baby.  

Este articulo es parte de The Posttraumatic VOL.7 "GENOCIDE".

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