Regarding A System of Strategic Standards by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Ленингра́д - ВОЯЖ , Fever Ray - To The Moon & Back >

The following is move towards a formalization of a system of strategic standards, as discussed on top of a small mountain in Big Sur, California, in mid November and over email with one M. Vassar Arc. This is my assessment and extension of his model, which he notes was inspired partially by remarks made by Ayn Rand in various of her writings, and Machiavelli in Discourses on Livy. Additionally, if I was not in Rome with C. McKenzie and A. Gourley, I don't think I'd be able to think clearly on this subject at all. 

A strategic standard is a requirement for the "success" of a given evolutionary strategy. This is measured in the level of intergenerational stability that the strategy is able to couple to the type of agency that the strategy is able to reap from the practice of the strategy. To build on the ideas I noticed in Butler's Parable of the Sower and combining them with a rather heterodox interpretation of Ricardo's Iron Law of Wages, it is necessary to understand that the practice of a long-term evolutionary strategy requires that one integrates the means and ends of a given strategy, so that the achievable of a desired end bolsters the means for achieving that end again. Further remarks on the way that strategic standards must be integrated are here

Substandard: Firstly, we must understand that there is a failure to meet any of the standards at all. There are many behaviors that cease the life of the individual who undertake them, leaving them infertile in one way or another. While there are of course many reasons to remove the fertile capacities of individual organisms for the sake of a collective whole, it is also clear that the capacities of the collective must be enhanced in such a way as to pay for the sacrifice of those individuals fertility, otherwise the collective will run an overall population deficit and decline unto extinction. 

Standard of Life: Secondly, we have the Standard of Life, wherein the organism is able to reproduce but not dictate and of the circumstances of life of itself or its descendants. It is adaptable enough to be brought into the world without fear for its safety. It may live a debased existence. It may move entirely through the immanence of reflex, and thus be easily conditioned to serve. Yet, if the organism comes from a line that has met the standard of life it does not need to be afraid that it, itself, will fail to adapt to circumstance. Life finds a way, after all. The transformation may be the most brutish trial and error, but it will be accomplished in sufficient time to reproduce and allow their young to try their hand at meeting the standard of life as well. 

Standard of History: Building on the Standard of Life, we have the Standard of History, where the organism in question is able to dictate some of the circumstances of life by being able to control its environment, rather than simply react to its environment in an effective fashion. This is to say, meeting the standard of history is the capacity of making precedent with one's life. One is not able to necessarily define what precedent is made, but individuals who investigated the life of the person that met the standard of history could direct their life according to the precedent set. The Standard of Mythology seems to be a hazy and poorly remembered version of the Standard of History, where no convenient Herodotus is available to begin the process of interpretation, contextualization, and argument derived from biography. By meeting the Standard of History, by doing it their way and saying the things they truly feel, and not the words of one who kneelsthey become a life in the record of lives, such that other lives can define themselves in rebellion or immitation. 

(As an aside, it seems as though there's a general level of confusion regarding the nature of the Standard of History in the post-Napoleonic period, as Napoleon was only shooting for the Standard of History, and individuals shooting for higher standards are compared as though inferior to Napoleon, when in fact very many of them have done better. The Emperor knew that the only reason to have an emperor was to serve as a vanishing point, something that his few betters knew well. Napoleon was an expression of the fashions of the age, rather than attempting to exceed or direct them. His great genius was to know that the best he himself could do was to live within his means, something that, for instance, Meiji decided to disregard to glorious effect.)

Standard of If: Taken from the Rudyard Kipling poem cited in the title-link. The Standard of History constitutes participation, but not production, of a Hegelian Dialectic. The form of the dialectic itself seems to have to be produced by something other than this standard, something greater than and external to history. The will to name is distinct from the will to embody, for the will to name can name a great many identities that it might be sensible to play, given the circumstance. The Standard of If, then, is the ability to rise to meet circumstance, and to choose which circumstances one might choose to meet, as similar to the wisdom of Cyrus cited at the end of this post. The Standard of If is a sort of extensible, unbounded adaptive capacity. Wheres meeting the Standard of History requires one to fit into circumstance, the Standard of If requires one to shift circumstance by what is demanded by universals. 

Standards of Conceivably Limitless Agency: This is the realm of science fiction, including periods of fairly recent history in which humanity has indeed lived up to its potential by being able to execute on the Standard of If in collectives, rather than simply as individuals. The Manhattan Project, the Moonshot, and the Internet all effectively are remnant artifacts of methods of social organization stronger than If. The keen utopianism of any idealist kid trends towards this, as when one is a child one presumes that one's level of good faith collaboration and labor is likely normative for the whole of an individual's life, rather than normative only for the mind before it is broken by violations of trust. A positive singularity driven by friendly artificial intelligence fall are the limit as the standard approaches infinity. 

Notes From the Shelley-Keats House by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: The Mountain Goats - Harlem Roulette >

I went to the former home of the poet Keats yesterday. At the base of the Spanish Steps, it remains a small outpost of a dreaming spirit of Anglophone and Protestant character. It is the spirit of a wandering mind in territories of bad weather, of being captive physically but not mentally. Perhaps it is only in this state that man begins to attempt to divorce himself from nature, and accepts a quest towards discontinuous acts of change where one has framed the world in a low-fidelity abstraction so one can run computation on it. Of course, Borges' manuscript of a commentary "Keats' Nightengale" is there, for Borges was also always possessed by that same spirit, which he perhaps most obviously vocalizes in the lecture notes from his course on English Literature, to my knowledge the only example of his work as a professor that survives. A larger discussion of the exact nature of that enframing is for another time, but it is of remarkable interest that the Romantics clearly attempted to practice it, and the relationship of the enframing tendency and the Catholic world is of significant interest to me at this moment in time. 

In testament, Keats' old house is quiet. There are no photo ops, and so it is not terribly popular with the postmodern crowd captivated by the Spanish steps outside. But, it is the sort of place that offers copies of the poets' books in the reading room. Their library was buffeted by the Baroque and by the increasing dominance of the East. The Romantics were seduced by both, but still oddly provincial in tastes, utilitarian in behavior. If one is to think of the necessary conditions for thought in a world where splendor is used to dazzle the mind, then the mind must have a refuge where it is not fully dazzled to refine the little effects of language in the smallest turns of phrase. The artistic impulse can be characterized as both a metis and a techne, but it matters little which one contextualizes it as, for in the modern context they are used usually to denote a false political disagreement echoing the false political disagreements of the Romantics themselves. Both require concentration, dissociation, and sense of simultaneous safety and necessity. The refinement of language into sequences built for inspiration is just one example of this craft. The Romantics knew what they were doing in a political context, for while the modern assumptions of men like Shelley are that they were doomed soothsayers, attempting to conjure an alternative world in their scripts, they themselves knew that the invocations of such alternate worlds held real currency—he was married to Wollstonecraft after all, the implications of such a fact being looked over by perhaps all of those same people who would dismiss Shelley the Elder's strategies as flights of fantasy, following his death, and Shelley the Younger's writings as idle speculation rather than attempts at depicting the not only possible, but actual. Those same fools would likely assume that Gerome was to triumph, inevitably, over the Impressionists, while at the same time failing to notice that Gerome was, indeed, outputting work with much larger quantities of bits than the Impressionists ever would. While Keats wounds from printed verbiage are another story, one must remember that it was conjectured for some time that Byron might have become King of Greece, though this is of course cast in a most debatable light by modern scholars.

Their engagement with the world was uncompromising. The role of the poet has changed over the years. The post-Beat poets in the 1970s on were as far from engaged with the world as possible, unless they were rappers or other musicians—perhaps the first person I think of here is Leonard Cohen—and those were rising in an era of mass media that Byron and the like had begun creating back in the 19th century with industrially produced portraits and books, but certainly not the moving image on a telescreen half-way around the world. The question, I think, is what they were running away from, and what they were running towards. Industrialism was on the rise in England, and maybe the right thing to do was to follow the lead of Morris, but there seemed to be another distinct potential at hand: that of going back and trying to contend with the past and regain whatever noble spirit was at least hallucinated by men like Plutarch. Remember, Mary marks the humanity of the monster with Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Plutarch's Parallel Lives. Given that Goethe was himself a stop on the Grand Tour for quite some time, and Rome was the clear epicenter of the emergent Western project, it made sense that they were here. Keats himself noted that beauty was truthand truth beauty, but it is unclear if that sentiment was known to the other members of their set.

The Romantic rebellion was canonized in the heart of Rousseau, rather than the hand of Morris. Hope was valued over productive skill and enjoyable experience. The world was cultivated in the image of the ineffable fairy-tale of the intention of the mob. Insofar it was valued for its hope, it was valued for the addictive potential that hope produces. One might aspire to be Cato against Ceasar, but deny the trials of circumstance that limited both the Republican and Imperial strategies, and in that confusion built monuments like Wedding Cakes and simply hope that the general will of the people to maintain and survive would simply prevail. Perhaps this past is only valuable as a counterfactual, only usable as something to be rejected, kept in line of sight while one sails as far away from it as you can with a spyglass trained both at the fore and aft, until eventually that foreign country disappears under the curvature of the earth and it's possible to do something differently, somewhere and when else. Perhaps the best you can do is find a past that isn't yours, and repossess a bit of its marble to build a better foundation. 

You Don't Have To Choose To Ignore Him, Because We've Already Done It For You by Bryce Hidysmith

Myself & Blucifer, a horse that cursed all these United States, Denver, CO.

Myself & Blucifer, a horse that cursed all these United States, Denver, CO.

< Soundtrack: Pixies - Holiday Song, Decemberists - Ben Franklin's Song, Moondog - Invocation >

Rare Earth's most recent video, The People Who Hate Us, is one of my favorite pieces of media that I've seen recently. It's made me think a bit about James Mill's History of British India. In the preface, Mill attempts to justify the writing of the book without knowing any Indian languages, nor ever having visited the subcontinent by suggesting that the British information gathering system was so good that it would be unecessary, even detrimental to try and get first hand information. James Mill's son, the tyke bomb John Stewart Mill's ideas are oddly related to the ideas stated by Evan Hadfield in the video concerning the comparative hedonic yield of different kinds of narrative and experiential exploitation in the depiction of peoples with variable power differentials. The interesting thing to note concerning those ideas is that J. S. Mill's Utilitarian moral philosophy requires the ability to accurately produce a shared unit of account between alien populations. Such divisions, be they geographic, ethnic, racial, gendered, class/caste, or even temporal/generational, provide such opportunities for arbitrage that obfuscation is the order of the day, and the measure is unevenly applied, sometimes to a three-fifths measure, sometimes not at all. In such a utilitarian schema, it matters not what the motivation for the obfuscation is. The assumption that the unit of account could symmetrically account for the lives of perspectives of alien parties is absurd on its head, ignoring the realm of the unknown unknown. This arbitrage can easily be concealed, and an untrue but public narrative is then proliferated, not accounting for the fraud that makes utilitarian accounting possible. 

The elder, James Mill's book is correspondent pretty directly to the ideas in Edward Said's Orientalism, though I can't remember if Said ever directly mentioned it. Said's basic idea is that there is a paradox of depiction: one is both able to have accurate information concerning a subject, as well as use the claim to having accurate information regarding that subject to state falsehoods. Thereby, one may change the way that the subject is treated, changing the subject itself. The whole system is a set of nonlinear feedback relationships between depictor and depicted, with the power held in the hand and eye of that which controls the feedback relationship of depiction, rather than either the image or the original. It seems like there's an overall theme, between Hadfield and Said against the Mills, of attempting to question the assumption that its possible to have complete information, and thus that all attempts at representation are misrepresentation. Both of the Mills assume that the information gathering infrastructure around them—especially the monetary credit allocation processes—are accurate, thereby assuming that its possible to engage in just action by acting within an already debased credit allocation system. Again, this is a willful act of bad faith. It is debatable as to whether or not the Utilitarian intention is viable within an accurate credit allocation system, but the model advocated by Mill the Younger and picked up by modern Utilitarians—especially the present Negative Utilitarian death cult—is limited again by this failure to produce and objective unit of account. This failure of the project of Objectivity has led to men like Said's work being taken up—both inside and outside of the ivory towers of the academy—as a potential justification for theoretically infinite violence for simply making incorrect good-faith assumptions. The Utilitarian perspective does not appeal to liars, it appeals to those privileged souls who have themselves been deceived. Yet, the proliferation of untruth out of incompetence is considered as awful as willful deception in much of the modern world. This lack of compassion is absurd. Ignorance changes the conditions of production so drastically that the young nerd who comes to Mill is not to be blamed for hoping that the world had attained an objective standard. Indeed, all the dominant propaganda has spoken to him, suggesting this to be the case. The question is how to develop viable error correction and model-extension protocols that can justify connection between peoples in good faith by all parties, rather than an accelerating decay into xenophobic depravity. There's no sense in trying to reform the failures of accounting of the past, that will simply perpetuate a cyclic violence, where ones efforts at reform are simply an over or under-compensated derivative effect on the original fraud.

The following paragraph from Kaplan's The Revenge of Geography has been quite dear to me since I read it for the first time around its publication in 2012:

"And yet within this sad acceptance there is hope: for by becoming more expert at reading the map, we can, helped by technology as the Arab Spring has attested, stretch some of the limits the map inflicts. That is the aim of my study—to have an appreciation of the map so that, counterintuitively, we need not always be bounded by it. For it is not only narrow-mindedness that leads to isolationism, but the overstretching of resources that causes an isolationist backlash."

This contains the proper emotional tone for the beginner's mind that can analyze the world in a proper fashion. In addition to the geographic map that Kaplan speaks of, there is also a map of the process of epistemology that is as invariant as the instantaneous state of any given territory. Technology—for example media technologies such as Twitter as in the Arab Spring, or printed copies of History of British India, or anything that might modify the physical or human landscape such as bulldozers or CRISPR—can contort geographic and indeed biological and cultural elements into more logistically (and by extension morally) advantageous topologies. However, it cannot change the basic relationship between depiction and depicted, map and territory, and thus the protocol for aspiring to truth in description will not be transcended by technological advancement, only made less physically or socially costly.

Of course, a cursory look at Said and others like him (Baudrillard, Taleb, etc.) makes it clear that while that the relationship of truth and depiction is clearly invariant in theory, it's certainly not invariant in practice, as any given perspective attempting to implement a process of accurate depiction is operating with limited information of the subject, the substrate, and the means of depiction. This leads to the only solution to this problem being an aspirational, rather than deterministic protocol, as any protocol stated to be deterministic would be fraudulent if developed by any actor with incomplete information, which is to say any actor that is not a literal god. This produces all sorts of opportunities for corruption, where cruel defection rears its head under the excuse of imperfection, needing to be policed by detecting laziness, malice and bad faith, rather than only incompetence, as an assumption that incompetence is the only problem would also assume that the protocol could be deterministic and formulated from a perspective of complete information.

These questions are increasingly dominant in my mind, and seem to be central to the questions of civilizational development. An increasing consensus that I'm seeing among those I respect is that one must attempt to embrace the Achaemenid strategy of strategic centralization without loss of diversity, which is something that has been completely lost in the modern world at least partially because the selection pressures that used to generate an aristocracy competent enough to speak honestly no longer exists. Without an administrative class that is competent at speaking the truth, it is impossible to even begin answering the questions that Said, Hadfield, and others have brought up, and without answering those questions, Utilitarians like Mill are silly children, failing to notice what they don't know. The last paragraph of Herodotus is perhaps the earliest complete written example of the thought that Kaplan expressed earlier. (This is from the Godley translation, and though I prefer the Greene I don't have it on hand at the moment.)

This Artaÿctes who was crucified was grandson to that Artembares who instructed the Persians in a design which they took from him and laid before Cyrus; this was its purport: “Seeing that Zeus grants lordship to the Persian people, and to you, Cyrus, among them, by bringing Astyages low, let us now remove out of the little and rugged land that we possess and take to ourselves one that is better. There be many such on our borders, and many further distant; if we take one of these we shall have more reasons for renown. It is but reasonable that a ruling people should act thus; for when shall we have a fairer occasion than now, when we are lords of so many men and of all Asia?” Cyrus heard them, and found nought to marvel at in their design; “Do so,” said he; “but if you do, make ready to be no longer rulers, but subjects. Soft lands breed soft men; wondrous fruits of the earth and valiant warriors grow not from the same soil.” Thereat the Persians saw that Cyrus reasoned better than they, and they departed from before him, choosing rather to be rulers on a barren mountain side than slaves dwelling in tilled valleys.

I share this as an expression of the basic behavior that would grant one the credibility to depict the world, as in a way it is a way of being able to have the competence to decide how the world depicts you. I am not speaking of the action taken by Cyrus to relocate his people to the steppe, to naturally select them as warriors, but rather the wisdom of Cyrus to be willing to self-modify, to notice that he is his self and his circumstances, but in fact primarily his circumstances and that a significant quantity (if not a majority) of the ways that he is able to influence his self come from changing his circumstances. This, of course, is a directly analogous to the system of depiction from Said. Without this cynical, literal expression of self-control through environmental selection, it is unlikely that anyone is competent to rule even a rag-heap, much less something as influential as a broadsheet newspaper. Of course, a just ruler would also lend the potential mastery of circumstance to the ruled once they were ready, and the denial of that gift during those few moments when it might have been possible has been one of the greatest tragedies of the ancient and modern worlds.

Passargade, by Eugène Flandin, 1840

Passargade, by Eugène Flandin, 1840

The Arrogance of a Private Theology by Bryce Hidysmith

Dancing Maenad from the Capitoline Museums

Dancing Maenad from the Capitoline Museums

I just read Anne Carson's new version of Euripides' The Bakkhai from a sickbed, and a sequence in the middle struck me more than perhaps anything else in the play:

It moves
so slowly,
—the force of the gods—
yet it is absolutely guaranteed
to arrive.
To punish
human folly
and the arrogance
of a private theology.
how a god can hide
and then leap out
on the unholy man.
To think or act outside the law is never right.
But this is valid—
The thing we call Daimonic
fixed in law and custom
grown out of nature itself,

(The formatting is unfortunately my own, as digital publishing does not allow for a replication of Carson's.)

It was an oddly abstract and relational sequence for a play whose poetics are almost entirely anchored in either the naturalistic dialog or keenly specified poetics, such as listing all the different kinds of green Thebes is to garland itself with in worship of the coming of Dionysos from the east.

Still, it does capture the core of the play's moral message, should there be one at all. What are the gods but impersonal manifestations of personal but common truths? Those structures that construct us cannot be suppressed without a disintegration of the human identity. Such suppression is an illusion, they will rise again after coming out of hiding. Such structures must be integrated, rather than amputated. Should they be local to circumstance, their removal is equivalent to the removal of the circumstance, but the potential for re-emergence is not removed unless the character of the organism is such that it lacks the traits that allowed for their situational expression in the first place. Their extinction is ours, even if our alien descendants were to continue to be fruitful and multiply. Perhaps those critics of the Christian Era looked on the text as an expression of an atavistic era where such deeds were required, and in the year of our lord such wills might be removed through castigation as sin. Yet, such talk sounds of self-congradulation and the amputation of the minds-eye. If one is to reject those things that make you up, the rejection must come from a place of truly understanding—even loving—that which is to be rejected. Else, the allure of the unknown should remain one's tireless guide.

I Recall You Saying You Believe We Will All Be Born Again by Bryce Hidysmith

Face of "The Judge" a slot machine in a small museum in Old Town of San Diego.

Face of "The Judge" a slot machine in a small museum in Old Town of San Diego.

< Soundtrack: Molly Nilsson - Ugly Girl / World Order - Permanent Revolution >

In an informal conversation in early October, D. S. and F. L. pointed out an incoherence in my framing questions of ethics in terms of the maximization of consent, rather than the maximization of choice. I had a rather strong emotional reaction, defending the idea of consent maximization in such a way that I think I was subconsciously attempting to avoid listening to their counterpoint. To criticize anything even tangentially related to the notion of consent in this day and age is one of the greatest of taboos, but it is important to note that this criticism of terminology was in service of the maximization of individual consent, not its minimization. This conversation did not change the objectives of my conception of an ethical life, rather that it changed the way that one must practice the art of living in order to aspire to those same objectives, drawing light on the critical role of exacting language in philosophical inquiry and jurisprudence. This is perhaps the most critical rectification of names in the postmodern environment, as the two terms—choice and consent—are read in a largely emotional way by most demographics. Such an emotional reading tracks tribal affiliation rather than structural argument, creating an impossibility of common ethical principles even interior to specific political aesthetics. This occurs simultaneously to a degree of extreme societal pillarization, wherein given political aesthetics are contrary enough to each other—in fact frequently leading to a disgust response—that cross-pollination is almost impossible. I don't think I would even be able to notice this problem if I had not been lived for the majority of my youth in the marches between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, a crosshatched borderland between the Social Justice Pillar and the TechnoLibertarian Pillar, each of whom has radically different and wholly incomplete insights concerning ethical subjects. I also don't think that I would be finding myself thinking in terms of specified language if I hadn't just gotten up and left, finding myself in the New Age Pillar, which seems to have an allergy to clarity of thought. As Vassar's put it recently, one wants to be on the side of truth and beauty, allied against unity.

To begin, it is clear that the principles of any ethical system that is not simply willful solipsism must be based on the recognition of the experiences of others, else the greatest good would be individualistic hedonism. Under willful solipsism, ethics would simply be a process of knowing one's own preferences and exerting them. While solipsism is a consistent proposition for resolving all contradiction, we can reject it out of hand as it is a selective interpretation of data, debased in epistemic hygiene. While it is unreasonable to apply the principle of charity to all reports in a given environment, it is equally unreasonable to apply it to the qualia of one's own experience. One must note at least a morphological similarity between the self and others; if one is to deny the potential for direct recognition of psychological similarity, one must at least note anatomical similarity and assume, as per Occam's Razor, that the other's morphological self similarity implies some degree of experiential self-similarity, and that it is likely an exceptional case if it does not. For instance, in the case of mannequins, statues, and other effigies, the lack of interior self-similarity should be obviously enough to dismiss the notion that the dead or never-alive could be deserving of the same care as the living, and indeed the construction of effigies is an exceptional event in the history of life on earth. The recognition of the experiences of others causes one to envision them as other moral patients as one would evaluate oneself. They are not simply spooks. At least limited action according to their needs and desires is a moral necessity if the consequence of action to them might be as experientially extreme as the consequence of action to yourself. Otherwise, the correct action is resource extraction or the development of an individually beneficial environment of reciprocal altruism.

This base principle is then applied in the balancing act of integrating the needs and desires of the self with others. It matters not what those needs and desires are, for the purposes of this essay they can be left entirely abstract as it is the process of resolving contradictions between them that interests us, not the specific content.  One must attempt to understand the process by which one evaluates the validity of one's own experience while also remembering that such process must be abstracted to the general category that might contain any agent evaluating their own experiential validity. This basic tenet of moral skepticism leaves one with the potentially frustratingly vague understanding that the only possible ethics is a meta-ethics of balancing individuals' ethical systems. Anything else would be inherently tyrannical, though potentially a benevolent tyranny if the tyrant in question was able to know all individuals better than they knew themselves. This, however, would have its own wicked problem of attempting to verify the asymmetric information of the tyrant, which I would conjecture would likely be framed in metaethical terms or be something akin to a cosmic con job. Provided that one is not a chauvinist taking the self's ignorance as a clue and presuming that one's personally derived ethics is somehow universalizable without any modicum of evidence of this being the case for anyone else, one comes to the swift conclusion that ethical systems local to a given agent must be checked for validity by a metaethical system to allow more than one agent to interact without disaster.

This leads us cleanly into the recognition that (meta)ethical problems always bottom out on communication dynamics. The derivation of that metaethical system must be based on a protocol ensuring mutual intelligibility. There are of course such individuals who are fully amoral, but the ethical problem would never be framed from their perspective, and the only necessary ethical question concerning them is how their malice can be contained or eliminated without cruelty. The problem of ethics is not the existence of evil, but confusion among those who aspire to good. The most common (if insufficient) formulation of such a confusion-reducing communication protocol is Hillel's Golden Rule, commonly incorrectly attributed (by Christians) to Jesus of Nazareth, wherein one attempts to simulate the other as the self and count wounds against the other as wounds against the self.

The Golden Rule is a framing of trust as self-similarity, rather than trust as symmetric communication, and fails in light of any non-obvious diversity of moral patients, even if that diversity is simply the existence of multiple individuals of a similar demographic, all possessing opaque minds. Assumption of self-similarity fails with any level of diversity that cannot be immediately simulated. One cannot discern proper conduct to an alien from proper conduct to the self. Such conduct must be discerned either from accurate simulation or empirical observation. Without an ethical system that is able to respond and indeed love the alien, one reduces society to an illiberal hive of atomized individuals, bereft of all potentially meaningful—that is to say surprising—interactions.

There is, of course, some set of similar desires between moral patients. Obvious similarities are easily intuited, such as the fact that one should not damage the bodies of others as one would hope that one's body was left intact, but something ambiguous like informational violence is a far thornier issue. If one says a word that inspires violence by the listener against themself, who is the cause to blame? From a purely causal point of view, the speaker is. One could respond to this ethical problem through the prohibition of speech, for the transit of information can always lead to unforeseen consequences, and the infinite pileup of unknown unknowns results in a blanket prohibition against all action that might have an externalizing effect, leading either to obligate solipsism or suicide. This is madness. Yet, this is madness that exists in less extreme forms in the discourse concerning violence both physical and informational, which trends towards absurdity as it does not seem to question its central assumptions. The Golden Rule position perhaps most clearly stated as a potentially viable relational structure by Rawls in his statements about the Veil of Ignorance, simply by taking away anything that might make the individuals in the system distinctive. While I disagree with some of his conclusions about the optimal structure of a society in the modern context—for instance he and I have very different opinions about representative democracy—his formulation of the problem in abstract is coherent and provides a good example of what a context-free metaethics looks like. It seems necessary then to focus on a specific section of the hypothetical and ahistorical problem of the design of social contracts. But, first it is necessary to debunk the supposed potential of Rawls' hypothetical design to produce a wholly symmetric power dynamic inside of a population.

Rawls, being a political philosopher, does not focus on the psychologies of the individuals he is describing so much as the constraints that a theoretically infinitely malicious individual might be tempered by. Political philosophy is often blinded by its inability to see individuals, except as expressions of ideologies even when the ideology and the individual are impossible to disentangle. The psychology of M. K. Ghandi is far less amenable to the assumption that he was an averge example of his contingent than the psychology of Napoleon Bonaparte, man of the world. Rawls, like almost all political philosophy since the Second World War, frames the task of political philosophy as an attempt to have good ideologies win out over bad ones, without ever really questioning whether or not the ideology is the proper medium for installing a virtuous society.

The central blindspot of this ideological model of the world is the variance of individuals. I have believed (similarly to Robert Michels) for quite some time in a fundamental character of positional strategic asymmetry in any diverse multi-agent system that cannot be diffused by even the best-designed social contract. A brief summary of the reason for this is worth transmitting, even without confidence that it will be clear except in an (as yet forthcoming) longform piece: Take the notion that evolutionary strategic capacity is the ability to adapt under potentially adversarial uncertainty. If a system of agents that contains agents that are sufficiently different to be only probabilistically simulated in the minds of other agents rather than deterministically simulated, then it is possible to artificially create an asymmetry of predictive capacity and thus adaptive capacity between two agents by acting contrary to a correct estimate of a collectively calculated Schelling Point. While the Schelling Point may itself be a Nash Equilibrium, the lack of organic transparency between agents leaves a situation where it is still possible to gain a strategic advantage by defecting and being unpredictable as one's own unpredictability allows the individual to exploit the predictability of the other. While it may not be advantageous for the powerful to use power differentials, that does not mean that the power differentials in question simply cease to exist even if they are this most basic instantiation of a Prisoner's Dilemma.

Rawls presumes that the right way to gain a properly functional community is to position them behind the veil of ignorance and get them to agree on a set of constraints that they would be comfortable conforming to from any given position within the territory governed by the constraint set. There is a flaw, however. The veil of ignorance thought experiment is—intentionally or not—propagandistically malformed by stating itself as a thought experiment, and in doing so deflecting some of the responsibility that would be contained in it if it was written by a culture that believed in randomly assigned (rather than dharmically dispositional) reincarnation, where the self does indeed live behind a veil of ignorance in the next generation. By circumventing real circumstances, it allows one to assume that the social contract and the population are not an interdependent whole, and in Rawls' case largely proliferated uninspired temporally and geographically local norms rather than attempting a serious discussion of utopian potential. The position of the veil of ignorance—a council of spirits in a waiting room before reincarnation—is useful only as a way to draw attention to the traits of identities and social contracts that would be advantageous to instantiate in any environment whatsoever, for the objective of general betterment is the same in all environments as the inconceivably vast majority of general betterment is locked behind the transcendence of local constraints. Even if one does not prescribe to a Singulatarian perspective, the recognition of technological potential shows this to be the case, provided one does not believe in a fundamental toxicity of technology, wherein the primitive communism of a hunter-gatherer society seems to be the optimal state of affairs. Even within the hunter-gatherer context, technology of social relation rather than material reconfiguration is still a method of improving the psychological and physical condition of the tribe without long-term cost. Furthermore, if fundamental strategic asymmetry in the form of defection by Schelling Point reversal, as described above, is immutably a part of social organizations that are not hive minds, it is then required for us to figure out how it is possible to avoid the asymmetric power being used in such a way as to result in a total breakdown of trust. This is akin to ensuring that nobody is placed in a position so intolerable that defection in prisoners dilemmas and the subsequent proliferation of zero-sum strategies is the only viable lifestyle. If power cannot be removed from play, the system of social relations must simply position asymmetric power in such a location in its hierarchy that said asymmetric power is always coupled with equally metaethical decision-making. The key is simply figuring out how this can be accomplished.

The practical considerations of engineering environments of justice—distributive or otherwise—must be assumed to instead be questions of continuous artificial population selection and organization, rather than purely constitutional design. While a constitution can be agreed upon by a set of agents as more valuable to collaborate with than to defect against, one must still be maintaining the necessary selection pressures that cause one to accurately interpret and good-faith accept such a constitution in the first place. Thus, the practical variant of Rawls' theoretical problem is more related to searching for or cultivating a culture that can then be used to instantiate the behavioral program of a given constitution, treating the text of the social contract itself as only one method of attempting to produce the desired environment. However, the existence of a symmetrically interpretable text is the only way that one can produce homogenous norms of deontological or consequentialist ethics, both of which are necessary adaptations to do good in a wide variety of circumstances that cannot be accounted for under other circumstances. Yet, such literate paradigms are downstream from the virtue of literacy, and thus downstream from virtue ethics itself. All behaviors are deterministically bounded as to the vices and virtuous traits of the agent in question. At the most basic level, this determinism is caused by the ontology of the individuals before any judgments are made, as such judgments must be specified using the vocabulary admissible to the ontology. This is where we return to the point where F. and D. corrected my model from consent optimization to choice maximization, as there is a meaningful difference in effect when one implements a metaethical system based on consent, versus when one implements one based on choice.

Consent is a concept that must be assessed by comparison to a counterfactual of the potential event not having occurred. Dependant on the temporal perspective of the assessment, consent is one of two concepts: a proactive and a retroactive form. One may desire or not desire for something to happen, and one may consider it desirable that something did or did not happen after the fact. This produces a contradiction: one might proactively consent to the description of an event, but not retroactively consent to the same event. Or, the inverse: one might experience something good but unpredictable, and have hoped that one's past self had consented to an action that could not have been described accurately. Additionally, the communication process around describing either proactive or retroactive models falls to the same problem—should an event be dependent on the actions of another, they are themselves prey to the same paradox, and additionally prey to all sorts of faults in communication increasing error. Consent—the sense of individuals determining in hindsight that the various components of lives were worth experiencing or, from foresight, could be worth experiencing—is obviously a good thing. Yet, the design of a formal ethical system cannot be based on optimizing for consent alone as it is a second order effect to the decision-making of the individuals involved in any given event that could or could not be consented to, regardless of temporal perspective on the event itself. The question is whether or not the individuals whose behaviors locally effect the event in question constrain the ability of others local to the event to make choices, either through direct, forceful prohibition or subtle obfuscation. The decision itself determines the circumstance that the individual then experiences and assesses. Thus, an argument of efficiency has already been formed as it makes sense to invest all effort in the effectiveness of such decisions to promote proactively or retroactively benevolent states in individuals as justified by the individuals themselves.

Yet, it is not efficiency alone that justifies the reformulation of ethics around choice-optimization rather than consent-optimization. There is also a negative justification: the direct optimization for either proactive or retroactive consent by an outside actor leads to an attempt to predict and constrain the action of that individual, which constitutes a potential consent violation all its own as it denies them access to the potential breadth of consensual states that they might traverse of their own volition. It is impossible to know the other as well as the other knows themself. Even if the outside actor is the past-self of the future-individual who could assess consent retroactively, state-traversal is similarly constrained as if it was a different individual altogether. The only viable solution to take us out of this problem of contradiction is to simply focus all efforts on improving the decisionmaking of individuals in a Pareto Optimal fashion, so that the free choice of individuals does not externalize violence or deception that constrains the potential set of choices of the individual, either by artificially limiting their options or interfering with their mental process of evaluation so as to reflexively control them. The amputation of individual choice kills the potential for either future joy, or potentially informative mistakes, themselves a road for future joy. From this abstract of a perspective, it is the only crime in existence. From this abstract perspective, the only political virtue is the use of power to increase the number of meaningful choices that the given individuals in a political order can make during their lifespan, a perspective that one might consider to be relatively similar to the infinite Game position taken by James P. Carse in Finite and Infinite Games.

So, one must optimize for consent indirectly, by attempting to track the consequences of personal action, and enable others to track the consequences of their actions as well. One primary clue presents itself for how to do this: a hygiene of communication, the same basic norm that formed the initial correction from F. and D that spawned this essay. Such communication hygiene can be understood to comprise three components: an intention of precision and accuracy, a rejection of silencing, and an insistence on symmetrically intelligible communication. (These principles may, potentially, be upended in cases where it is necessary to contain malicious actors.) Those three principles constitute the ethical obligation of individuals to increase the amount of useful information that others can use to navigate the process of making choices. Provided that these principles are embraced, I would conjecture that given sufficient time, the disembodied spirits behind Rawls' veil would by definition design the full variance of potential lives worth living that their minds could envision. Potentially, it is also necessary to allow for the potential of precommitment, as one might want to develop bounded adversarial environments such as GANs or kink, for various reasons, but that is open for debate.

Note On Recreational Labor by Bryce Hidysmith

< The Isley Bros. - Shout & Pharmakon - Bestial Burden, the last of which I saw much of performed at Elbo Room back in June or July when a raw version of this was written. It is going to be one of those shows I remember for the rest of my life. > 

I attended Ephemerisle for the first time in four years this summer. This year was a bit different than the last few. The usual hutong of sail and houseboats was replaced by a massive surplus barge and several other hand-made platforms—among them the fabulously engineered Flatland, and the Wonderland Teahouse, which had, among other things, a patch of living grass to lay about on while staring at the stars, floating in the delta. The last time I went to Ephemerisle, 2014, I stayed for about 24 hours in total. I'd sailed up with a couple of old friends from SFØ in an old fiberglass Pearson and, once I was actually at the event, realized that there just wasn't really anything happening or anything that I felt a strong need to do, so I left, somehow in the process meeting Richard from Numerai for the first time while waiting for my ferry back to the mainland. Still, the clear thing that I felt while I was there that last time was that it wasn't for me, and I couldn't figure out why. It seemed like it was a place where people who had responsibilities they didn't care about off came to let off steam by engaging in recreational labor. It made more sense to solve complex anchoring puzzles than to start a Fight Club. The whole affair is a curious coping mechanism. The experience of the festival circuit is often not actually that extreme, it's often the prosaic and frankly unpleasant tasks of making sure the portable toilets don't fall into the water and there's a proper bumper on the dock, and that while you're doing that, you don't drop a borrowed impact driver into the water. It's recreational work on the water: a hostile environment that wants to consume all of your stuff and possibly drown you. Simultaneously to the work, there's the need to make sure that a bunch of lost party kids (of which I was one not too long ago) or insecure undergrads don't do anything stupid and instead can be integrated in a way that's symbiotically beneficial to everyone involved. 

The creation of a system like Ephemerisle creates a clear understanding just how much you're externalizing, whether its environmental or informational. The feedback loops are short enough that you can actually see if you made things better or fucked them up more. The thing that is critically important, however, is that while Ephemerisle participants are very conscious of their consumption of physical resources and can, generally speaking, let themselves off the hook for consuming a rather high amount of gas and foodstuffs—though likely less than they would in an urban environment—they can much less easily let themselves off the hook for informational pollution and overconsumption. If you borrow a tool and don't give it back, you might completely fuck someone over who need it to literally fix the land you're standing on. Hell, you don't even want to be macho about how tough or good at things you are. Myself, while only overextending slightly, dropped a wrench in the water at some point by mistake and felt quite bad about it, both because I'd destroyed someone's gear and also made everything genuinely more difficult to accomplish. Recreational labor is constrained by its need for enjoyment to take on the character of local socialism, typically either filtered through a military or a hippie aesthetic of coordination. It is a method for retraining that lost art of producing superorganisms, which seems to have been largely lost in American populations by the end of the 1970s except in the case of media-controlled subculture. 

Goffman Corruption In America, Or Regarding BTC@10K by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Hatari - X >

The modern strategic environment is perhaps the first occasion where the performative aspects of intra-class competition in ruling parties extends to their investment strategies. When Nero attempted to use his position to start an acting career in spite of the social horror, the effects of this conflict of expression and culture were just a sideshow in the overall defection of the Julio-Claudians from the business of administration. Furthermore, these attempts at performance as a method of gaining validation were limited to the ruling classes. When the Heian got so addicted to art the government began to collapse, they never demanded that the peasants stop being peasants. The signaling apparatuses of ruling classes have typically been limited to the landed. Indeed, being landed demands de facto owning a number of souls to till that land in the traditional way. To be landed is also to have access to a population that is symbiotic to the land, where the tenant lord of the land extracts the surplus. While the game of Russian Czarist politics played out, one was never so far from the means of agricultural production that one could totally dissociate as to the standard behavior of the serfs that produce a surplus for capture. The robota necessary for automating those princes' lives were the same species as them, but still had to be treated as mere automata. No matter how sophisticated or theatrical the power struggles of the ruling class became, the decadence of the rulers never infected the ruled to the extent that it corrupted their ability to generate a surplus.

Decadence can infect the workers. Such decadence was just a death sentence before globalism. It seems as though this type of decadence might be termed "Goffman Corruption" in reference to the sociologist of draumaturgical analysis. We should define Goffman Corruption as the notion that coordination systems waste energy when the abstract components of their signaling apparatus fail to depict anything outside of themselves, and are not coupled to representative components. The energy spent on this signaling process is simply lost. The coordination costs too much, embedded in costly rituals. Metonymically, the trouble is now that, at least in America, the ruling class also wears Jeans; the whole culture's engaged in some sort of bizarre performative workingman cosplay. This is not to say that the exploitation of the working class is a good thing—far from it—but rather that there is something far worse than simply exploiting the working class: eliminating it. The assumption of a unified economic body in a generalized middle class has created a situation where attempts at performing status have created an environment where there is a fractal worship of financial leverage, influencing the way that the whole economy is structured. It is not as though the whole population is one class, it is as though the whole population has to narratize themselves as wearing the same brand of bootstraps to pull themselves up with. America exports control. It's common to suggest that the Chinese economy is overbuilt on exports, but America is overbuilt on being a city on a hill that is able to maintain an exceptionalist position. Don't be the first person to stop clapping for Stalin, translates to don't be the sucker who ever did any work in modern American capitalism. It's not as though doing work is taboo, exactly, its that doing work now, rather on must have already done the work to self-make in order to have relevant power. Money is still assumed to be the viable metric of worth, and thus it becomes a convergent instrumental goal to look like one has enough money to get enough money to be relevant. Its a perfectly fractal mentality where one produces growth out of growth, rather than growth out of the work of muscles on material. 

This fractal attempt at exceptionalism has resulted in a situation where there is increasingly little reward for doing actual work. The only populations that engage in physical labor are those who don't have any options. This is a massive problem, as it seems as though Ricardo's law of rent only operates when there is the possibility of going out to a frontier and living off the land, using the comparative advantages that are built into your own body and mind. The Schumpeterian notion of rent suggests that the same dynamics suggested by Ricardo and Smith are also possible from an innovation perspective during the phase when the innovation in question has not been diffused additionally assumes that innovations are to be reliably diffused into the commons. If one is to assume that the Ricardian rent dynamics have been transposed to a virtual environment, one has not sufficiently reified Schumpeterian Rent to Ricardian Rent, as Schumpeterian Rent would assume somehow that the dynamics of trade include diffusion, rather than scarcity and comparative advantage. In fact, the Bitcoin example suggests that the Schumpeterian version of the system incentivizes individuals to simply develop new and inventive methods of enforcing scarcity, so as to rent seek from innovations in rent seeking. Bitcoin seems like an almost perfect example of this at this stage, though it could have been so much more if it was reliably grounded through a coordination system interfacing with physical reality. It's more profitable to find inventive ways to permanently control a zero-sum system than actually build anything positive-sum, and it seems like we're watching an escalation dominance strategy take over Bitcoin in this manner before likely throwing away their market dominance so they can start again, buying the dip. 

...With Apologies to the Potential Varelse by Bryce Hidysmith

Definitely an example of Alienism, but not in the way you're thinking.

Definitely an example of Alienism, but not in the way you're thinking.

< Soundtrack: Theme From PSB - Public Service Broadcasting, Pop Music - Poppy> 

The archaic term Alienist, seems to be a much more honest description of the profession of studying psychopathology than Clinical Psychiatrist or anything else currently in vogue. This is perhaps the Platonist in me speaking too loudly over modern voices that attempt to temperance but simply confuse it with agreeableness, but Plato/Socrates' claim that one does not intentionally do evil, and instead only does evil through ignorance begins to make one wonder if the earlier models of psychology had something far more viable than current ones.

While Freud and his analogues were and are certainly showmen fond of retroactive addenda and unable to meet the Popperian standard, there is something that has been lost with the introduction of the Popperian standard as an engineering specification masquerading as a scientific method. That is not to say anything bad about Popper's falsification, rather that it is massively good in the specific context of the analysis of bounded phenomena. In a discipline such as psychology that handles the analysis of subjects that are as complex as the observers themselves, it seems as though there is a need for tempered inductive reasoning and pure rationalism outside of empiricism to generate a sufficiently complex model that might then be testable, though likely not falsifiable as the replicability of experiments will be dubious at best. This seems to point to the notion that sciences that are either anthrocomplex or at the same scale as anthrocomplex systems will never be able to be sufficiently bounded, and that the analysis of anthrocomplex domains will be limited to inductive reasoning from what are effectively historical events, which by their nature can only happen once. This matters not if we're talking about the Milgram Experiment or the Crimean War, both have the same limits to analysis unless one is somehow able to clone the set of individual humans that engaged in these events and place them in an identical physical environment with identical memories at to how they got there. This has a further implication that the analysis of biological causality as, for example, in the heritability of schizophrenia that cannot be pinned down to a set of concretely documented processes of physical mechanisms is capable of generating only the same type of limited inductive conclusions as historic examples. This is not to say that the information gained from these kinds of analyses is not valuable—far from it. Rather, it is simply not the same thing as documenting a clear, falsifiable mechanism.

Regardless, before psychology attempted and failed to meet the Popperian standard, the word Alienist was still sometimes used. It seems to be a far more accurate assessment of what the role of clinical psychology and psychiatry has always been when it has been effective. Philosophical Psychology and Experimental Psychology should be understood to be distinct disciplines. (I believe it was Taylor who first made this argument, though I can't remember the volume.) All three of them are obviously interrelated, but form different practices of coming to psychological truth. The role of Clinical Psychology is the application of information gained in all three disciplines to have a desired effect. One might better term it "field" psychology to encompass the many territories that are similar to, but distinct to clinical psychology such as public relations/propaganda, user experience design, military strategy, and all other disciplines that include the intentional modification of minds for a given purpose. One must presume that the tools of clinical psychology do not require one to swear a Hippocratic Oath, else what would the point of swearing the oath be in the first place? One must also not presume that there is a great functional difference between those that minted the banner of Psychology in the nineteenth century, and the various scholars, clerics, and others who practiced similar crafts in previous eras. For instance, the notion that Thomas Aquinas or Augustine of Hippo are not somehow part of the tradition of psychological analysis as they are marked as solely theological is patently absurd. Stage magic, for instance, has a clear element in common with clinical psychology, but has enough other elements in it that it must be understood to be a hybrid discipline like many of the others above. For example, the psychological aspects of public relations do not include the logistical aspects.

It seems as though there's a clear, coherent convergence inside of the domain of clinical psychology that unifies all of the examples above and more. Clinical psychology is about the use of asymmetric—or in other words alien—information for a purpose. It doesn't matter if the usage of asymmetric information is an attempt to integrate the internal model of a patient to grant them further autonomy in getting over fears that they can know to be irrational, or the exploitation of dark patterns in user experience design. Both of them are based on the usage of alien information, either to preserve the asymmetry of information or integrate it. This seems a coherent reunification of the early psychoanalytic predilection with the unconscious and later, more structured analysis of the nature of the mind as a whole. Thus, it seems as though the term Alienist, shouldn't have become remotely archaic if we were taxonomizing things as literally as possible, rather than engaging in the standard scholarly pursuit of conflating the organizational movement with the field of study or practice. Alienism should be understood to be the superset of skills that involve the manipulation of asymmetric information, which of course includes things like clinical psychology.

Autopoiesis, Ethics, and Strategy in Parable of the Sower by Bryce Hidysmith

"Iansã" Sculpture at the Catacumba Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

"Iansã" Sculpture at the Catacumba Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

< Soundtrack: The Be Good Tanyas - Waiting Around To Die, originally by Townes van Zandt, Sophisticated Side Ponytail - Brite Futures (Formally Natalie Portman's Shaved Head), Fui a Buscar a Sol - Maria Rodés >

Reading Octavia Butler makes me want to have children. Given that Parable of the Sower is possibly the most grimdark piece of fiction that I've ever encountered, this is kind of a strange feeling to have, but the book describes a mental perspective that is capable of producing organizational strategies that can carve out islands of care in oceans of violence. The cynical assumptions that it is fundamentally unethical to bring children into a dying world are subverted by the notion that it is possible to make dying worlds live through observation and communication informing action. 

Parable is a brutal depiction of a slow collapse to human society, where the only enemy is a coordination failure leading to the proliferation of zero-sum strategies, eventually culminating in the re-emergence of slavery with various contrived justifications, drugs that give one an effectively sexual high from watching fires leading to bands of arsonist raiders, and massive droughts rendering increasingly large swaths of the southeastern united states uninhabitable while state lines are redrawn as national boundaries. In the story as in reality, Humanity is a frog that is being boiled alive by its refusal to accept the complexity of the system that it lives within. Its telling that the hero of the book, Lauren Olamina, is a "sharer:" a hyperempath whose sensory capacities force her to experience the physical sensations she notices in others, good or bad. These overactive mirror neurons are described as a complication from her mother's addiction to another narcotic. This correlates Olamina state's to the state of others around her. The good of group is the good of her as an individual: a gardener-queen as a contrast to a fisher-king.

It's important to note that while Olamina is a hyperempath, she can still engage in violence. She can even kill. This isn't a story about nonviolence triumphing over violence in the short term; the book is nowhere near that naive. While Olamina is able to engage in violence, she experiences the pain she inflicts, and thus is incapable of developing the sadism that is adaptive for the vast majority of other characters in the world. These include her brother Keith who becomes some kind of pure zero-sum strategy early in the story, though the exact behaviors are left unclear. Effectively because of this inability to embrace zero-sum strategies, her response to the decline of her family's fortified cul-de-sac is to begin to stockpile books, weapons, monetary and concrete resources such as food and clothing. Furthermore, she begins to write the Earthseed Verses, a religious/philosophical text with the main tenet that god is change, and that the will of earth is evolutionary adaptation. The response of a great number of other individuals inside of her community is to either engage in cut-and-run strategy like her brother, or to dissociate and try and embrace what shot term benefit without pain that she can like the numerous addicts, religious fanatics, and denialists trying to act out twentieth century America family life in spite of the fact that the world is literally burning down around them. This is simply never presented as a coherent or possible option for Olamina.

Olamina understands that the fall of the cul-de-sac is inevitable, but that the end of this small village world is not the end of all possible worlds. She starts to embrace the notion that it might be possible to inherit the stars if she's able to fix the philosophical confusions and psychological coordination failures of her community. Because of her hyperempathy, Olamina is forced to embrace a collaborative, positive-sum strategy because the zero-sum strategies are against her very experiential nature. Her choice is made for her. She has skin in the game of protecting other people's skin. Olamina becomes over the course of the book an exceptionally competent empirical, self-taught, evolutionary psychological systems strategist, able to witness the complexity of the adversarial dynamics at play and counter them with avoidance, xenophilic collectivization, and, if necessary, bullets. Once the cul-de-sac is destroyed in a final raid, Olamina is able to notice the kinds of groups that will have natural allegiances with one another—initially by allying with a second ethnically mixed married couple to go with her initial band of a romantically attached white man and black woman, and herself a black woman dressed as a man to reduce the possibility of sexually motivated attacks. Once the initial reciprocal altruism of the band is established, their numbers swell as they move along the refugee trail north out of Los Angeles in search of increased water security.

By being the kind of strategist who has chosen (or, depending on the interpretation of the hyperempathy, been forced) to be the kind of person who takes care of orphans, Olamina becomes the kind of strategist who realizes that having young children with them increases the chances of peaceful settlements to trade with them and give them safe passage. She is both the kind of moralist who wants to take in escaped slaves, and the kind of strategist who understands that escaped slaves will make loyal and tenacious allies in their fight for both their freedom and the freedom of those who continuously help secure their freedom. Butler is also the kind of writer who is able to describe the kind of emotional damage that an escaped slave would go through—the two examples in the book are either broken and paranoid, or kind of an egoistic asshole for unnecessary reasons. Yet, this is presented by Olamina's narration as, effectively, an unpleasant but necessary puzzle to solve. A tone of intense pragmatism that would be called pessimism by fools pervades the novel. Yet, both pessimism and optimism are incoherent positions in light either of rationalism or empiricism, and Olamina's strategy employs both rational a priori analysis and empirical data collection in service of effective action. She has her band keep watch in pairs that would cause the least sexual infidelity anxiety among partners. She knows to not go after big scavenging opportunities. She deduces that integrating a new band member by making interdependent purchases of a rifle and its cleaning kit and ammunition by two parties is a good method for creating a collaborative spirit of survival. Along with resilience and adaptation, these seem to be sufficient virtues for any hero.

If the term was new and not loaded with the enemy Spencer's absurd Hobbesian fantasy of a war of all-against-all to justify slavery and colonization, I would call Butler's novel the perhaps greatest novel of Social Darwinist thought that I have ever heard of. Butler's model of strategy and morality is based on the notion that the two concepts must be interdependent and able to interface with an evolutionary game theoretic environment in order to have anything more than counterfactual relevance. One must make the discernment of the moral choice, and then make sure that the moral choice serves the agent who made that choice to make further moral choices. The best moral choices are ones that grant one further strategic capacity that can be used to maintain the effects of past moral choices, and able to take further moral actions. There must be an advantage to being a good person in order for one's devotion to the good to not be cheap martyrdom. The only moral strategies that can win are ones that are able to contend with amoral strategies—the laws of nature are fair, which means that they can be used to implement evil. One must embrace the process of implementation, "pray to ourselves, what else is there?" in the words of the book. Effective strategies must not degenerate; they must at least maintain initial capacity or generatively increase their capacity over time. They must contend with a process of continual, relentless change through continual adaptation and refinement—all while not losing the aim of a life fighting and laboring for. I believe that these traits are necessary and sufficient for a long-term positive-sum strategy to be able to triumph against short-term zero-sum strategies.

Morality and strategy, when combined as in the literary example of Butler/Olamina's Earthseed or as described above, constitute an autopoietic or "self-making" system of fractal collaboration, akin to those described by Maturana. An initial act of collaboration in a prisoner's dilemma environment serves as the initial insinuating incident. Once one has established a multi-agent (and thus self-reinforcing) reciprocal altruistic commitment to not defecting on trusted members of the network, then the network is able to grow to the size to whatever the maximum number of agents that a given agent is able to have a personal relationship with. At this point, the Earthseed community must undergo mitosis, as the individuals can no longer personally analyze trustworthiness. Provided that one is able to transmit a set of cultural norms that are able to then communicate the epistemology that generated the insinuating collaboration action to begin with, and those norms are able to be communicated through a set of sufficiently verifiable signals, then the initially personal community is able to authenticate agents or communities that have a sufficiently similar set of norms to blend the communities, however nothing is going to supplant the necessary personal reciprocal altruism networks at the core of the system, as those take the role of someone like a Hyperempath who is psysio-psychologically unable to engage in short-term zero sum strategies. I'm extremely curious what the next book in the planned but incomplete trilogy, Parable of the Talents will bring, but it seemed worthy to take down my initial assessments upon completing the book. My mind is alive, and I am confident in the ability to continue living and in the process of living create environments fit for further life.

To Rent The Land, You Must Create A Forest by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Human Fly - The Cramps, which I heard covered by the current Swans lineup recently at The Independent, which was one of my favorite musical experiences ever. >

To Rent The Land, You Must Create A Forest
- the Dongshi Forest District Department (src)

True freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth.
- Winstanley

Note: I wrote a first draft of this in approx. January of 2017, and have since simply edited and clarified some of the ideas. It seems important to not upset the implicit chronology of the posts on this blog too badly. Additionally, the majority of the thoughts expressed in this essay originally came up in conversation with Skinner Layne, who it is necessary to credit here.

I keep getting into inconvenient conversations with people about why I'm against the idea of a basic income. I bluntly said to someone while exiting a party a couple of nights ago that "implementing it would increase the likelihood of a genocide occurring between the cultures benefitted initially by its implementation." From what I can tell, my conclusion is the exact opposite to the one that I'm generally seeing believed by other people in my life. In the short term they're right. There's going to be a lot less people who are starving on the streets. They obviously shouldn't be there, starving on the street—the whole point is to reduce suffering overall. 

Yet, I think they're missing something. It seems like around me, most people's model of long-term is roughly the same as my model of medium-term. There's a general bias against long-termism as a strategy for effectively doing good, if only because the channel of direct experience is by necessity more influential to individuals than the capacity of said individual to simulate hypotheticals. Thus, individuals generally want to satisfy that direct experience, rather than necessarily satisfy that direct experience while simultaneously satisfying the base-complexity necessary for achieving their long term goals. There's also a whole other school of thought—overworking oneself—that assumes one should only satisfy the base complexity for the largest of long term future goals, but that inevitably bankrupts the individual in short term. This leads to a situation where the process of overworking oneself must become performative to requisition enough resources to continue with hope of taking medium term goals as otherwise the loss of agentic capacity from self injury is just too high to continue. 

Anyways, the central assumption regarding basic income is that it would provide an adequate social safety net for allowing individuals to avoid being starved to death after being outmoded by automated labor. There is, of course, the inherently antiprotestant other school of thought that suggests that one should not have to work to live, but that is not being taken terribly seriously by the mainstream even if it is clearly more ethical by many compelling metrics. The core notion is that we must subsidize humanity, as we are going to be able to fundamentally outmode each and every of the individual functionalities of humanity with mechanistic replacements. This context-free disintegration of the components of human-build automation is supposedly going to outcompete humans on the terms that humans have attempted to set in the current market economy, leading to absurd scenarios like Bill Gates talking about intensively taxing machine labor to fund such a subsidization scheme. Admittedly, I'm a game designer, and thus the kind of person who finds income taxes absurd as the notion of disincentivizing technological capacity increases because they might be used badly seems massively more difficult than just telling people the old Parkerian adage that with great power comes great responsibility. It seems that it's going to be easier to get at least a segment of humans to wield automation in a largely pro-social way than to ban the construction of tools. Should a segment of humans be willing to wield automation in a pro-social way, they will leave the rest of humanity behind. They will hold the freedom to decide what to do with those who did not choose to embrace the new order ordained by the new automation technology. Additionally, it's not as though anyone besides the most aggressive primitivists are suggesting that automation technology is by definition a net-negative; its technology, like any other. The narrative that we should create a basic income is certainly better than the assumption that we have to create jobs, as the latter is simply a way of marking costs as gains and ignoring the benefits of from any gains we've taken. 

With all that out of the way, to the point of why I'm pretty sure basic income isn't the right strategy for dealing with all of this. Beyond the impossibility of the ban automation narrative, the prohibition of dominant economic strategies results in a segmentation of the political body. This leads to a scenario where, from the perspective of the body as a whole, some segment of the population is interpreted as a cancer on society and thus deserving of removal. This casus belli may emerge regardless of whether or not the larger societal body is able to have compassion for the circumstances that led to that population being in a position of parasitism. It does not matter why the parasitism emerged, but rather that the parasitism itself provides the narrative for the casus belli. It also does not matter if there is actual parasitism going on; provided one can use sufficiently socially proven information the social system will grant the authority to do violence against the allegedly parasitic population.

Has this not already transpired in recent centuries? Denied the provision of forty acres and a mule, the African Americans of these United States have been demonized as abusers of welfare systems. This is clearly fraudulent. The African American community was simply denied enough investment to guarantee physical autonomy from the whims of a market defined by the ability of their former masters to continuously offer predatory terms of trade, and a sociocultural environment defined by legitimized lynchings and other terror campaigns. Similarly, can we not triangulate the scenario of the African Americans with the lost cause Southerners who traveled the Oregon Trail, leading them to homesteads and by extension autonomy, securing middle-class status? From this, can we not assume that the key to autonomy is simply autonomy, defined by one's relationship to one's environment? While it is possible that a welfare system can provide necessary stop-gap assistance to people in need, the case of the American welfare queen narrative seems to show that individuals who use charitable infrastructure designed for exactly the kind of unpleasant scenario they have found themselves in will find themselves spuriously accused of abuse by using the very infrastructure put in place to offer them needed relief.

Unless a given population owns or is meaningfully integrated with a means of production, grants of cash rather than capital is effectively a kind of trap. The spending of said money will simply result in an exacerbation of the trends that have placed them in such a position of disadvantage in the first place, akin to the company store that is never incentivized to grant its employees proper autonomy when it pays with company scrip. This, coupled with the creation of political divides that will likely lead to violence, seems like clear enough justification for an opposition to basic income as it is currently presented. As basic income does not grant any degree of real, meaningful control to the populations that are granted resources, it is never in the interests of the governing body giving out such resources to give more than the level of substance necessary to avoid a loss of status from letting the recipients of the basic income starve. Support for a basic land grant program, perhaps based on a trial period of stewardship where one demonstrates the ability to gain a degree of economic autonomy from the use of said land. Provided that one gains such autonomy, one is increasingly immune from abuse by the powers that be. 

This is not to say that monetary investment in the disadvantaged sectors of the population is not a worthy thing situationally, nor that there is something worthy in systems like unemployment insurance that are able to provide a safety net through the mitigation of risk. The key is developing a system that is able to integrate humanity into their own systems of production, rather than lining up an eventual conflict. It's worth noting that the Luddites had the gall and panache to actively destroy predatory machines, and that the Diggers had a fundamental connection to the soil. Both of those movements took their own subjective perspective of their value and their values, in the sense of their map of the world, and compared it to their economic status, determining that it wasn't worth playing by the rules of the dominant culture. They would not be tricked by bread and circuses, nor by basic income. While I am sure that both of those movements lacked the imagination to bind technology to humanist purposes, and in that process would produce suboptimal or even possibly unpleasant worlds worlds, their understanding of a rejection of abstract capital in favor of the creation of a concrete environment is a consistent and reasonable position. The Diggers had the intelligence to try to design a program of life that might be able to last intergenerationally rather than trying to freeze history through violence like the Luddites—always a losing proposition. One must sympathize but not emulate those who are left behind by time and just want everything to stay like it is, but of course no man steps in the same river twice. 

This is the core question that I want to shed light on in this debate: do we want to create a world where humans are able to exist in a world that isn't toxic to their existence, or do we want to give up, assume that our technology is fundamentally anti-human, and try get on with our lives while we are still able to have them while dooming ourselves to violent confrontation a few generations down the road? To rent the land, you must create a forest. In order to hold territory, you must make that territory tolerable for you. One must select for an environment whose various interdependent component parts select for a more-ideal version of one's self. The feedback process therein makes the kind of progress that doesn't leave you behind. I'm sure that if we'd consciously and competently implemented this strategy earlier we wouldn't be in this mess now, as we are currently dealing with the after effects of all of other previous economic automation crises, with perhaps the habits of Keynesian overclocking to national finance as the last major element that really became integral to our structure without ever being used according to a robustly safe doctrine. The creation of a world where technology is not toxic to its creators is a monumentally difficult task, far more difficult than simply taxing robots, yet it is a task that we are likely capable of completing if we are able to not make the same mistakes that we did previously at lower levels of technology. The exact strategy of this is a subject for another time. 

Ceterum Censeo by Bryce Hidysmith

Myself, exhausted in front of one of the murals at Center Camp that I desperately hoped was a joke. Note the Ram Dass quote on the arm, and the fact that it wasn't actually an Aztec reference. Photo by Becca Levy.

Myself, exhausted in front of one of the murals at Center Camp that I desperately hoped was a joke. Note the Ram Dass quote on the arm, and the fact that it wasn't actually an Aztec reference. Photo by Becca Levy.

< Soundtrack: All of No Man's Land is Ours - Einsturzende Neubaten, New York City in the Future - Angels of Light >

“By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.” 
― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
(Note: I saw this in a nice digital blackletter font on a flyer posted on the side of a portable toilet in BRC.)

Note: I am less well-versed in the specific organizational structure of Burning Man than I would like to be, and so this post is more of a collection of notes and initial thoughts than anything like a coherently fact-checked analysis of BRC. I have likely conflated the jurisdictions of various organizations, but I am also rather certain that it was worth thinking through these thoughts and publishing them here as part of my journal rather than attempting to do a perfect, academic level organizational analysis. This post is the beginning of my process of study, rather than the end, and I value the capacity of an intellectual community to engage in public thought at varying levels of epistemic validity, something that Sarah Constantin and Benjamin Hoffmann for instance have been extremely good at in writing. The companionship of them and others like them has proven to be a bolstering element that has allowed me to recently maintain a level of epistemic bravery that I would not otherwise have, but an analysis of the ways in which minds falter in disciplinary societies that use shame as the negative feedback method of choice is a distinct and much longer subject deserving of its own post, and in fact likely a book length work at one point in the future.


September 4th, 2017: 

I made it back early from Burning Man yesterday with a hell of a lot of dust in my lungs, retching every time I tried to speak. And now, about thirty minutes ago, I found out that someone walked into one of the burns. I don't want to speculate as to why; it's not my place. Still, Black Rock City is the kind of place, after all, where the ouroboros is not seen as an inherent symbol of the evil of self-consumption. It's the sort of place where the gnostic tendencies of taking the feeling of enlightenment and figuring it out as you go along have taken the majority of the population, rather than the just internal consistency of logos. I could see someone thinking that it was alright if things just made local sense, rather than consistency throughout all scales of behavior. The term Default World itself, implies that there is a ruleset that exists at Black Rock City that does not in the real world, rather than the traditional Metropolis and BRC being expressions of the same ruleset with different optimizations. Thinking on this burned man's death and the fact that I can empathize with the train of reason that led him to his fate, I have no clear notion of whether or not its right to post the rest of this. I wrote it before learning, edited it after. The photo of me in front of the mural of the human sacrifice was taken on Wednesday, before watching a friend's hook suspension. It seems more fitting to follow a path of consistent publication than obfuscation and self-censorship in times of trouble and pain. Without one's mental ability to triangulate perception with thought and word there is little hope for error correction in signal processing, and thus little hope that will we be capable of coordinating action to endure until tomorrow. It doesn't make it less difficult or less spooky, though it does likely make the process of conscious deliberative thought even more necessary in these trying times. 

It is necessary, then, to put this deliberative process to the topic of less diligent methods of finding or manufacturing truth. The gnostic, synthetic, personally localized enlightenment of Burning Man is of course, the realm of the participants—or, perhaps, more pejoratively the observers as I heard a number of staff call them. It seems as though the two demographics that are drawn to the dirt rave are those that end up with DPW or one of the art crew that just want to demand that the world makes sense, or those that come for some sort of vaguely religious experience in Oceania's pagan capital. I'm not sure if that latter category counts among it the Russians wandering around with no context for the whole thing, just playing around to the crowd best as they can, but I liked them if only because I could plausibly narratize them as just exploring, similar to myself.

The participants seem to mostly using the whole affair as a way of using the city as a method of conspicuous consumption to display a quaternary set of sexual characteristics to facilitate mating in a time when skill is less clearly a marker of intragenerational success than control of capital. This is not unreasonable, this era is a strange time when sexuality and capital have been so thoroughly conflated through fetishistic strategies that one requires a giant light-up brain-car to get laid rather than just a bitchin' camero. Yet, there is a great deal of spiritual plausible deniability outside of the more STEM oriented or cynically trollish camps. The Man this year was built into some sort of shrine like housing with a glowing plastic egg that looked rather like a buttplug beneath it. Feather-clad festival goers kept moving in to touch reverently. I spent a long time standing atop the upper balcony, watching women try to use forced laugher as therapy while men from the upper balcony shouted at them about how much they loved them for unclear reasons. The friend of mine that I was walking with that night later sharpied ANTHROPOLOGIST on our field jackets so that we could explain why we weren't partying. Quite frankly I was tired of feeling like I'd offended people who wanted to flirt with a sense of unity or use such a claim of a sense of unity to flirt. I was there to try and study the systems in play—nothing more, nothing less. I was happy to do work that came my way; I was not looking to be entertained. Still, I was reasonably detached, and happy for it. 

I remember one of the projects on the Playa, a tower of perhaps thirty-five feet with five or so chairs connected to heart rate variability sensors that supposedly measured the "coherence" of the audience, leading to the song that the pillar played being played faster and more clearly. I spoke to a woman who was standing around to claimed to work on the project. She said a bunch of vague things about how being in a state of coherence was good, and that our collective coherence was powerful. "WE are POWERFUL" was the quote I remembered, said in the same vague tones usually employed to show how getting people to realize how "empowered" they are is a good thing, without concrete descriptions of the type, use, and abuse of said power. One must think of the troubling characteristics of psychosomatic unity and identity non-specific compassion without provisions for modulation by truth, communication, or beauty. I looked at the computers that the sensors were hooked up to, and the predominantly drug driven variability of the participants was such that there was little to no regularity between the heartbeats, leading to the causality of the sensors being spurious at best. The total lack of correlation between heartbeats should have slowed down the song far more than the relatively speedy rate that it was playing at. The whole sense of unity was fraudulent, and if I'd opposed it in conversation it would have likely started an argument. Regardless of whether or not this specific, lite-cybernetic fradulant instantiatiation of this in-group phenomena was resonant with the discernment of the whole population, this same desire to belong and not rock the boat is the clear thing that the vast majority of the camps appear to be unified around. A desire for an extended family—a tribe, if you will, if that does not invoke periods of anthropology long out of fashion. 

Perhaps group identity is inherently adaptive in all contexts, or we are simply in a period where the memory of group coherence is still strong enough that we who come from the bleached, content-free, landless populations that a man like Steve Bannon would call Globalist Cucks are willing to entertain the possibility of cutting one out of whole cloth. When taken seriously, the cult of the Man has the armature of a religion without the content of one. It's a sort of hajj for whiteness; a celebration of detachment from context. The Playa Provides is a completely farcical saying, and exists only to obfuscate the relative abundance of the participant population's social graphs. Only in an environment where commerce is banned, the ground is largely worthless, and there is genuine risk from dehydration or a lack of shelter is it possible to create such a space of scarcity without poverty. Even then, there's still a great deal of zero-sum trading going on, only its mostly about sexual or leveraged investment capital rather than momentary money. This is fine by me; I'm not the sort of Puritan who seeks to impose my trade norms on the whole world, only suggest that they might work a bit better on the whole. The trouble is that there's always this odd cover-up when you talk to the observers, where they attempt to speak of connection to universal humanity or art, both concepts that are only ever invoked when someone seeks to cheat by relying on ineffable, uncommunicable, subjective experience. The legend of such ineffable experience is still frequently potent enough to trick the mind into a physically non-instantiated sense of connection, as in the case of the Heart Monitor piece mentioned above. 

On the other hand, one looks to the participants who do a different method of cheating, invoking irony for much of their participation, perhaps as a method for justifying lack of imagination, sunk-cost fallacy, or envy to those who can take the silliness seriously. The city is still shaped like itself, and if one chooses to go incognito it should be for a reason, even if that reason is simply enjoyment of something that one must narratize as ironic for the purposes of keeping one's honor. As with most-all forms of strategy, the trouble with being a troll is that one can quickly become a perfected second-order version of the thing that you sought to troll through imitation. There's a point when you meet a certain kind of hipster, and you go to a monster truck rally and drink cheap beer, and its very, very unclear if it was all a joke, but you had fun anyway even if you don't feel a need to do it again. There's also a remarkably good side to all of this, namely the fact that much of this ironic detachment powers the desire to join the various municipal service worker cosplays that actually power the majority of the project. The jobs that actually do things that build the world are not terribly high status in this day and age, and being able to narratize them as art or just a joke is a remarkably good way to get people who would actually be good at them to join up instead of attempting a sort of cool detachment and ignoring the opportunity and need to do good work. This seems intimately related to the fact that the population that doesn't take things ironically can only actually engage in behaviors that are advantageous on a group scale by forcing themselves to, by, for instance, going to burning man and dropping a lot of cash, time, and effort. Irony, when benevolent, provides the necessary plausible deniability for people to shrug off the psychological damage of being shamed. 

These three invocations—irony, art, and humanity—are methods within Anglosphere and much of Western culture by which one can reject the need for consistency at multiple scales and instead embrace a willfully myopic perspective in a locally socially rewarded but in fact largely globally detrimental fashion. They are a particularly kind of diffuse lie that breaks the adaptive capacity of a group slowly, leading to their consistent toleration even though they don't make a lick of sense. They are methods by which we exploit our tendencies to tolerate short-termism by suggesting that the short-termist strategies are similar to previous long-term strategies of ironic detachment, aesthetic communication, and intercultural extensibility, even though the modern invocations of such strategies have little or nothing to do with the previous versions on the whole. It seems as though the presence of these behaviors suggests that we—the detached, global class—live in a time where our cognitive processes are on the whole much less our own than previous largely landless classes. I cannot speak for other classes position psychologically in this regard remotely as well, but the emergence of these phenomena is highly concerning. It's the kind of scenario that makes it make sense to build the bones of a city every year only to tear it down and start again next time because that's genuinely the best option, given the constraints. 

It is understandable that we seek to cheat our way out of the problems we have found ourselves mired in. This is especially true when those methods of cheating are validated by others suggesting that they worked for them, and public opinion suggests perhaps you just didn't try hard enough or that such methods not working for you would suggest a deep deficiency in one's character. There is a deep emptiness in the Postmodern West. We can feel the lack of content in messages every day and seem to only get by through fanatically suggesting that there is indeed content through a capacity of overdeveloped apophenia, or constantly commenting on how weird everything is, fetishizing it, and not thinking too hard about the implications. The death of Christianity as we knew it historically and its resurrection as an effeectively neopagan phenomenon centered around the cult of the macho-generic god of vague goodness Jesus! appears to have created a scenario where there next to no internally consistent narratives to latch onto. If you don't feel like buying into Jesusism and you're under 40, it is increasingly difficult to find an ideology that isn't a death cult in one way or another. Deep ecology environmentalism is good cover for omnicidal maniacal hopes of the unthinking laws of nature to take over instead of the grace of intelligent life, rather than assuming that the rejection of intelligent stewardship of nature by intelligent life is the problem. In parallel, most privilege politics assume that its impossible to wield power in a way that isn't evil. Almost everything else besides those two that isn't an ethnoreligion is just an attempt to market some sort of product, even if that product is the Mao Tse-Tung Hour. Rarely is the self interest of those ideologies rationally integrated so that one's self-interest can be the same as the group. The dreams of Smith or Rand have been abandoned as impossible, not just a little bit tricky to engineer right, leading to a situation where the world is assumed to be a zero-sum game, and the moral thing to be done is to lose. Even those who intend to win the zero-sum game have a propensity to pretend to be trying to lose it, for the cameras at least. 

Religiously, on playa, this emptyness is compensated by ironic Catholicism—one cannot underestimate the number of fake confessionals on the playa still able to give out the dopamine hits without the piety—unironic but poorly implemented Buddhism, and the sort of Old Testament Hindu-Pagan consensus that thinks that burnt oblations and public sexuality are the way to go. It is, in a way, an absence of worldview. Having a worldview hasn't been incentivized for a long time. Instead, people have a propensity to implement a strategy of membership in the right in-group, much of the time using the strategies of false universals described above.  Synchronized intelligences attempt reward those agents similar to themselves, effectively granting their clones resources even if their clones are only partial. Pure nepotism is, in short, a post-labor evolutionary strategy, where looking high-status in the world is the thing that grants one the resources for life rather than having one earn them through action. I would think that the vision of a city constructed in a few months by people entirely outside of the usual business of building cities would get people to realize that labor is the means by which one makes the world, rather than fitting in with a given union of privilege. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case for most of those that I saw wandering around who weren't directly involved in Gate, DPW, the Power Crew, Media Mecca, Census, Artery, BMIR, and so on. The world of the event is simply something rather like court or mob politics, where the sense of group-feeling is enough to justify any expenditure of resources or level of illegibility. The other sharpied Anthropologist remarked, at some point, of the work of Robert Trivers on the behavior of birds to cheat and not sound alarm calls, allowing themselves to outcompete their brethren until their social units are eaten by predators. One must think of this attempt to exploit group-feeling instead of labor as a similar phenomenon akin to a Ponzi Scheme, or, perhaps, the more keen and obfuscated version of such a strategy that Bernie Madoff managed to pull off. The flocking behavior of hordes is a kind of fraud, its just unclear as to if the chief, the hungry crowd, or a self-reinforcing process containing both is to blame.  

The good works of art that I saw out in the middle of the outer rim of the playa were not the ones that attempted to play at sharing some ineffable enlightenment or moralization. They were things like the Temple of Gravity, a sequence of small Tesla Coils at the Institute Village that were used as amplifiers for an electric violin, or even the indulgent forgery of the Tree of Ténéré, which I liked in spite of myself if only because it was so convincing at distance in the morning sunlight. They simply showed the possibilities of material, of artisanship, and of visceral sensory experience. Perhaps the best piece of art is still the wise-crowd of flocking vehicles and stages, each of which individually I am usually disgusted by but in totality is one of the sights to be seen: a wonder of the modern world. Even the barest coordination of a bicycle traffic jam is beautiful, even if the individual agents are on the whole very badly coordinated with themselves. The beauty that I saw were objective, physical phenomena which individuals could witness and share an authentically similar experience, noting differences in the things they noticed rather than being gaslit into an assumption of similarity. The in-groups then emerge through the process of interfacing with reality—a process which can be verified by each member of the group on their own terms. Volunteerism is only possible when the total group-verification process is containable within the perceptive capacities of each individual within the group. 


The world of Burning Man the urban production project, rather than the event, is a competent technocracy that is able to exist in a scenario with little or no margin of error due to the keen perceptive capacities and grit of its population. That is not to say that mistakes do not happen, rather that mistakes seem to happen frequently but have a tendency to be fixed. Shame does not appear to be the primary tactic used in error correction. Guilt, another way of saying that one has a desire for things to be better than they have been, seems generally used as the method of discipline. 

One must think about how the archaeological record of this will look, where the traces of this strange city that gets build every year are scattered all over the world and yet there is likely nothing remaining on the playa itself, only some stashed equipment in the outpost of Gerlach. The population that builds the city every year are damn good at asking the world to make sense at the maximal human scale. A single subsystem of a city is too large for an individual human to understand, but the semi-lattice structure of individual agents collaborating can maintain the library of knowledge sufficient to make such a subsystem function. The coordination of such subsystems becomes the total system of the city. The complexes of the New York Subway, the Beijing Police, or the Valparaiso Port are all organisms unto themselves, but exist in a crosshatched fashion just as HEAT and DPW have distinct but related responsibilities.

The production of a city is an inherently biomorphic process, a second order effect on the biological needs of humanity as tempered by the search-function of human language. The key is making sure that the individuals who produce the simple systems that grow into complex, nonlinear, living structures still have the will, support, and authority to manage the production of the city. Provided that locally to the size of a system trackable to an individual skill is rewarded with status and command, and that the systems that are trackable to individuals are coordinated in such a way that they are able to exchange information about their capacities and needs while maintaining trust and good faith, the city survives and grows and perhaps even finds itself capable of entering into trade relations with politeia further afield. It is this process why BRC doesn't get a cholera outbreak or a wildfire spreading through tents every year. 

Security is the art of making nothing happen, and the fact that BRC is secure enough against disasters that would likely wreck it is testament to the strength of its culture to both prevent and create. Perhaps one builds a pyramid because one loves the geometry, but really one builds a pyramid to show off the fact that you had the sort of civilization that could build a mountain from scratch. The same is true of the kind of culture that can build a city from scratch and then tear it down. Certainly, BRC is hacked together quite a bit slapdash, but it still functions. Even London started out as a military trade camp, with the walls of the City Of remaining as reminders of that early era as an outpost of the empire on the edge of the world. The same could be said of my home of San Francisco, where the hulls of ships used as construction kludges are still found beneath skyscrapers to this day.

Though some elements on the scale of buildings must be centrally planned, living cities are not designed. Rather, they are grown. While BRC is certainly built upon a tree, its street-grid serves more as a method of hanging chaos upon a degree of consistency that can accommodate rapid adaptation than the lifeless regimentations of those High Modernists cited in Alexander's paper. There is a great distinction between the navigability of Hausmann's Paris and the sterility of the Plan Voisin. One needs only some decent landmarks and the will and tenacity of a few thousand to build a city. It seems that we should do it more often, perhaps in such a place where it won't have to be torn down. I have to admit that the greatest draw for my return was navigating the city's radial layout on bicycle, using visual recognition to navigate a changing environment adapted to the needs of individuals by leaving creative energies uninhibited. It seems as though the clear strategy for the construction of new cities is the creation of enough elements of consistent navigation that the generative chaos of human life can build to specifications. The argument advanced by James Scott and others that organizational planning must by necessity be similar in tactic at every scale from the local to the operational, strategic, or even transhistorical seems farcical in light of the human tendency to gain a profit of action by adaption to collectively accepted parameters at least temporarily until more locally specified solutions can be found, as well as the existence of communication limitations from base physical law and anatomical constraint. The alternative strategy, then, is the deployment of simple systems that can provide profits of economy and systems of collective navigation that can then develop the incomprehensibly complex semi-lattice structures championed by C. Alexander, Jane Jacobs, and so on that are the source of the strength and beauty of our cities. 

So, ceterum censeo, at least a second Black Rock City must be grown, perhaps in some territory that could generate some proverbial milk and honey from the organisms that might dwell on its soil. Black Rock has been good for wandering in the desert with one's people, testing the difficulties of coordination and honor among friends, strangers, and enemies. It is necessary for it to become replicable—perhaps even autopoetic. A decent city should not be a special occasion, justified only by the symbolic value of telling everyone that you'd been there on your grand tour. The central questions then are where to put it, who to seed it with, and what it will produce to trade with the world. Perhaps one can produce an Alexandria after Christopher. Perhaps its export might even just be coordination, the ability to take the proper action giving a set of constraints. That seems a bit akin to the sort of City on a Hill that a version of Reagan who lionized computer science or mathematics instead of Christianity family values would claim America could be. While it might be melodramatic, embracing the discipline of substrate independence might actually be the method by which one could build such a light for the world. 

On Earning The Grass Crown In Industrial Society by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Windswept - Johnny Jewel >

There's a kind of story—I'm thinking specifically of Kubrick's Spartacus, the recent Bong Joon-ho film Okja, and Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go—that delivers its eventual emotional blow because of the way that humans are incapable of ontologizing scale. 

In Spartacus, the eponymous character fails basically because he's incapable of properly telling the difference between cops and soldiers. The cops—slaver guards in this case to be specific—have a personal relationship to the slaves, whereas the legions are industrial. They've made a business out of the military art. That was always the central component of Roman-ness, the existence of the Legion as the actuating arm of the whole enterprise. The use of force by military, rather than police, is totally impersonal. It does not listen, it simply follows orders. Its regular. Predictable. Not listening. 

Okja does not have a pyrrhic victory at its end, where a win has been achieved at great cost. Instead, when it comes time to face down Tilda Swinton's portrayal of the corrupt corporate executive to save the titular Okja, the protagonist, Mija, simply buys Okja for a Chekov's solid gold pig. Swinton's character bites the pig to ensure its validity and makes the trade. The whole attack on Okja was never anything personal—just business. She never cared about anything in the movie that didn't directly influence the bottom line of her business. The entire plot was a sideshow, permitted to occur for sentimental purposes while the industry would continue unaffected. Mija and Okja walk out of the slaughterhouse through the feed lots, showing just how small they are. They get on with their lives as best they can. 

Never Let Me Go is similar. The dark secret that the characters are clones being raised to have their organs harvested is revealed candidly a quarter way through the book. The style resembled the young adult novels of my youth where there's a resistance and a glorious revolution just around the corner, but the narrator and her closest friends were raised to be consumed and were never given the opportunity or resources to even develop the necessary cognitive faculties to discern an opportunity for escape. They simply spend the book living their allotted time, engaging in some simple speculation. They then complete their donations, and their bodies and minds are gone from the earth. 

These stories play us against ourselves by being stories, by forcing us to relate to a narrative rather than a non-narrative description of things. There is a scale that builds around the individual mind as the atomic unit of a narrative, and these are stories that subvert that expectation by putting individual minds against those forces that are structurally distinct from minds in a way that means they cannot be anthropomorphized. All three of these stories of course concern domesticated organisms—a gladiator, livestock for calories, livestock for organ donation—that contain the lived experience to synthesize a narrative, but not the lived experience of meaningful choices. It is possible to create organisms as tools, living in standing reserve. By harnessing the force of industry—in other words the ability to replicate a process on a scale incoherent to human experience—we are able to industrially farm predictably enough so as to create organisms entirely lacking in agency. It is entirely clear that industry outcompetes alternative methods of production, if possibly only by feeding armies well in the short term that can conquer and extract resources from non-industrial natural systems. How can we harness that which is controllable, but not relatable, in a way that it creates lives that are worth living? 

Something on my mind has been the old Roman military honor of the Grass Crown, which was the highest military decoration in the empire. While the legions might be impersonal, they were not disposable. While there was a norm of heroic sacrifice, there was not a norm of heroic martyrdom—Christianity's lionizing of wholly symbolic death appears to have been less terrifying to the romans than it was to the Japanese over a millenia later during the Shimabara rebellion, but the notion was certainly unattractive. Regardless of the willingness of temporally local individual monarchies and oligarchies there was that Rome that might endure for the population to live within its walls and its extended domains, through Italy to Iberia and back through Syria. Even the auxilia were not kept in standing reserve in the eyes of the empire itself, no matter how any individual commander might use them—they were simply at a point along the process of incorporation. 

I wrote the first notes on this subject on the fourth of July. America has always marketed itself as the one country that might be able to live up to Emmanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative by providing the constraint-set that allows for maximal freedom of its population so that said population can specify the life that it hopes to lead, according to its own self-determination. It has never lived up to that goal, but it could. To be the meta-national melting pot that America seems to usually hope to be it seems as though if you could somehow harness industrial force to increase rather than decrease the total accessible state-space of the world, you would have preserved the ineffable internal experience that justifies industry, that produces moral patients and treats them well. There's a part of me that thinks that the recent American Gods television series got the protagonist and the antagonist wrong. The difference is mostly in the aesthetics of affability or vague, creepy malevolence, and the narrative feels strangely distinct in text, rather than in the emoting of actors. Mr. World might be the future, as long as he's providing choices for things other than Salsa. Still, though, ultimately everything is all systems, interlaced, a single product manufactured by a single company, for a single global market...

For Frank Abagnale by Bryce Hidysmith

Impostor syndrome seems to me a historically bounded phenomenon. A majority of people seem to be faking their skill and are still being rewarded. One population normalizes it as somehow the method by which things have always been done, assuming divine intervention or an inexplicable spontaneous generation of functionality from non-functionality. Another population assumes that this claim discontinuous spontaneous generation must be spurious. We—for I am rather obviously in this latter category of belief—begin to assume that we are living on an accumulation of technical credit from the past. In the contract between the dead, the living, and the not-yet-born, someone has defected. When righteousness is lost there are rituals. Rituals are the end of fidelity and honesty, and the beginning of confusion. I remember reading my grandfather's copy of Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings, and noting that he wrote of a mentality and time when it seemed righteousness might be enough. In such a world it might be sufficient to stand tall, not trying to make oneself invisible or prepare posture for boxing—simply a man to behold, a message to send. 

Notes From A Colony II by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Strychnine - The Sonics > 

Ben Hoffmann, Jack Gallagher, and I were driving through the valley of Maui in a rust-bucket of an unmarked white van. There were great scars on the land where perhaps the final crop of sugarcane had been harvested before the regulations set in and made it no longer strategic. Uniform weeds lined the rest of the fields, before giving way to the same copypasted suburbs I'd seen everywhere from Chile to Cambodia.  

Before we ended up back in civilization, we talked about plants. Plants are one of the few existent positive-sum organisms on the face of this earth, in that they at least generally do better when surrounded by other plants. Jack pointed out something more than a little bit important then: "Rainforests are what happens when there's enough resources that even the plants are zero-sum." The rainforest is simply safe enough, in an intergenerational, evolutionary sense that it makes sense to engage in all out and totalizing war on an intergenerational interspecies scale, at least until you end up with humans with technological force multipliers like chainsaws where you kind of overdo it as the stewards of nature. Something remarkably intriguing about this phenomena is that it ends up typically creating systems of stratification wherein a givens species is engaged in totalistic competition for a given canopy level of the jungle, attempting to gain dominance over all other contenders for a given traitset of possible sunlight consumption. While there are certainly interdependencies in things like soil quality, water consumption, and so on, in a given natural rainforest I would at least assume that mineral content would likely be balanced for a given set of convergent evolutionary strategies—provided no species from foreign geographic lineages were introduced. At the end of the day, solar is the scarce resource, and so the strategies largely converge towards to either playing tall like a tree, or playing wide like a vine. I would hypothesize that these general convergences to strata-based strategies are largely a local maxima, itself based on the efficiency of inter-generational cycles to evolve at competitive pace, leading to a situation where this style of specialization is more efficient than other possible methods of gaining an adversarial advantage in traversing the search-space to find a configuration that allows for an asymmetric capture of solar energy. 

I'm not a biologist. This is all speculation. I don't really know anything about this, but what I do know is that writing these things down and giving them names as best as I can gives me a sense of hope. One of the other longer conversations we've had while wandering around Maui has been about the psychology of agriculture. The local population—just like most of the American states as a whole—doesn't seem to understand the nature of food production. In effect, this place is attempting to replace the cash crop of sugarcane with tourism, just as Larry Ellison's strategy on Lanai is trying to replace the pineapple with marketing. In effect, the majority of economic spaces in the modern world are organized so as they attempt to all be second order effects on the abstraction of the market, creating a system of interdependence without local rationality. If the logistic networks of the Pacific were to breakdown, leaving Hawaii somewhat cut off from the world, the socioeconomic systems of modern Hawaii wouldn't be remotely oriented to exist as an independent actor. There would be chaos. I wouldn't be surprised if things would go fairly far in the Mad Max direction with worse costume design. When we thought about how difficult it would be to attempt to get off the island, we came down to the fact that there aren't a lot of places like the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center left, so we'd probably need to wait for a rescue ship, attempt to find a yacht that hadn't already been requisitioned or used, or attempt to learn the difficult craft of boat production from scratch, ideally getting to a level of sophistication that we'd consider sufficient to deploy us back to the mainland. 

So, the reason the fact that my willingness to be a dilettante biologist gives me hope is that its the same well trained pattern recognition and model construction that might get me off a remote island in a crisis. The disciplinary nature of modern academia has created a scenario where almost every field is siloed unto itself in such a way that very few obvious advancements are made that are not in-narrative to a given discipline. If there's anything that I value at the end of the day, it's the random speculation of a few given friends as they attempt to navigate the world.

I have a strong memory of one of the early months of 2014, where my friend April and I wandered around the Drawbridge, California ghost town, tracing the patterns of decay as the old houses sunk into the mud. We spent a while trying to reconstruct ballistic trajectories from bullet holes we found that had tilted a good 45° as the house had sunk. It was odd. At that point in my life, I wasn't remotely used to the possibility of collaborative forensics. Communication itself had seemed zero-sum for so long. Now, looking back on it from this cafe off Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles where I'm writing this, surrounded by men and women who are trying as hard as they can to look like they have no messages to send and are totally self-sufficient and effortlessly prosperous and worthy as moral patients, the message that seems to be necessary to send is one of the thrift and glory of communication itself.  

Asexuality Ep. II: The Clone Wars by Bryce Hidysmith

A Beholder from 1E D&D 

A Beholder from 1E D&D 

< Soundtrack: Dead Format - Blanck Mass >

V. made a point to me the other day about the idea that asexuality creates a scenario of almost totalistic war in the world the other day. For this reason, in the war between the Rotifers and ourselves, we may have won out already. 

It seems necessary to first think about what selection is. In this, I'm going to use G. C. Williams' definition of a gene, found in a footnote in Dawkins. There are of course criticisms to this definition, but they are entirely orthogonal to the possible benefits of attempting to analyze this ontology as Williams' and Dawkins' model is able to adequately track the possible holistic interdependencies that one would assume inherent in biological organization.  

“I use the term gene to mean ‘that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency.’ … A gene could be defined as any hereditary information for which there is a favorable or unfavorable selection bias equal to several or many times its rate of endogenous change.”

Think, for a moment, about what it would mean to be an asexually reproducing organism under selfish-gene models. By virtue or vice of the distribution of those units of selection which make up your identity on intergenerational timescales, everyone is either a close enough clone to yourself that you identify with them, or they are a foreign body, entirely separate. Such foreign bodies are fit only for momentary alliance before falling back into the pattern of totalizing war between factions of clones, whose genes shift and adapt to fate at the speed only of mutation. The sexual shuffling of genes—or, at least the potential for the shuffling of genes present in hypothetical sexual reproduction—allows those genes to collaborate in a meaningful way, so as to allow for a system that is not the totalizing war one would expect among a species where each line of descent is entirely atomic, rather than the genes themselves being atomic. 

The gamete is a key to peace among collaborators. Thus, while it is advantageous for genes to replicate and create broods of themselves, it is likely far more advantageous for them to bind themselves together and craft a system within which they can be a component part. My justification for thinking this is simply the fact that this shuffling of genes and the complexity of possible action and response contained within it would allow sexually reproducing species to carve out a far higher variance of possible niche than asexually reproducing species, something that at least appears to be attested to in the nature of the world as it stands today. 

Notes From A Colony by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Wanna Fight - Cliff Martinez, Hourglass - S U R V I V E, Voyage Intérieur - Michael Mayer/Miss Kittin > 


I'd like to make note of this paper on the viability of conspiracies. I feel like a lot of political thought right now is caught up in paranoid/pronoid assumptions that make the Cold War's look frankly plausible, because at least then most of the major powers had their shit together. 


Ended up in T. Kodoma Bakery today after walking between towns. Good weird stick donuts. Strong sense of malaise. The town of Makawao feels like it was once a completely functional service industry for primary production going on in the rest of up country Maui, but now the real infrastructure such as Kodoma's has been phased out for the kind of tourist art shops you'd expect. What with the end of sugar cane production on Maui, it seems fundamentally necessary to figure out how to develop a non-toxic relationship between primary production and secondary service in areas that are currently being taken over by their symbolic value as tourist destinations, because even from the most tolerant perspective I can think of the voyeurism of the Germans and Texans walking into Kodoma's is far, far less, from the version of Makawao that you can get a picture of from its history museum.

This is the core of it: its important to understand that tourist economies that are not raw hedonism and materialism such as Las Vegas, and have a veneer of culture to them are based on the idea that you are visiting someone else, doing something else. What this ends up meaning if that, eventually, the tourists are becoming a second order effect on something that doesn't exist, a theoretically pure culture that they're able to observe. Pretty soon people start faking the culture because its not the gratification of the culture that matters for the bottom line of the tourist industry, and eventually you have Filipino women being shipped in to hand out leis for gawkers as they get off their plane. 

I know I'm just reiterating Baudrillard here, but it's worth saying again, worth putting in writing so I still demand myself to know. Hawaii has always been fundamentally somewhere that had a history I was intrigued by and a present I knew I would lose honor if I participated in, and so now that I'm here I'm trying to make up for lost honor by doing good work, as one does. I felt about the same way that I did when I was in Siem Reap. It's this same cycle, over and over again, of optimization being pitted against exploration that I document and live. 


13 Reasons Why seems to basically be an adaptation of Vol. 1 of Foucault's History of Sexuality. I feel like I'm learning a lot about the shared trauma that I missed out on by mostly not going to high school, and its raising all sorts of awful questions in me about the validity of accurate depictions of the dystopia we actually seem to live in. I don't think I'd actually really seen a simulation of what I'd assumed the reality of rape culture to be, but there it was, in well cinematographed color. Makes sense that Greg Araki worked on it. I haven't actually seen his other work but the people who talked about him being a genius were just the ones who were tracking these kinds of systems. 

The show is a story about two protagonists, first Hannah and later Clay, discovering that basically every other adult and adolescent has defect on them and every other adolescent. The world is revealed quite quickly to be ethically and intellectually bankrupt, with the notion of identifying with something larger than oneself rendered comical as all of the institutions from the school, to the police force, to the poetry workshop, are simply methods of largely content-free self promotion. Regardless of the epidemiological effect of this kind of media, totalizing despair might not actually be the most insane option in that circumstance. It's sort of like how the strategy of Lowry from Gilliam's Brazil isn't actually the worst to practice.

What do you do when the assumption is that everything is zero-sum, even love, friendship, sexuality, and so on? What do you do, when, additionally to everything being zero sum, the culture contains a large number of mutually contradictory statements about the supposed nature of things, allowing anyone to contextualize your behavior in a way that puts you in the worst possible light—a sort of distributed, headless legalism where everyone interprets things to cast themselves in the best possible light? How does one build trust in that world without having it go the way that it does for Hannah, where every action that could be seen as a desire for anything real is seen as an elemental expression of weakness?  

More than anything, it's a tragedy about waking up from the just world hypothesis. Some characters, Tony for instance, can take the atomization that comes with realizing you're living in an unjust world—though admittedly with the degree to which he has at least two different examples of double-consciousness going on it's clear that he must have woken up earlier than the two main viewpoints who are the kind of cultureless white television audiences have become accustomed to. Hannah and Clay both, in their own way, wake up to the totalizing violence of the world that they live in. I'm wondering if the message of the story—as I haven't finished it yet—is that Clay is able to redeem himself by admitting his complicity in the system, whereas Hannah wasn't able to see her part in it, leaving her with a baffling sense of powerlessness, a paradoxical certitude that the whole game was rigged from the start and it was her fault, rather than being a tractable though dishonest and self-reinforcing system capable of being dismantled with enough careful attention. This is of course likely not how the story goes, but I believe this is how reality works. That which can see is able to be in control. While the finite perspectives of individuals have the capacity to deceive and create systems of injustice, the physical substrate that supports and defines all psychologies must be irrevocably causal and thus just. Without being able to admit both the incompleteness of one's information and the methods by which one's presence as an observer are synonymous with being a participant, it is unlikely that redemption is remotely possible. 


Talking to my friend Garrett yesterday about the need for somewhere like Maui, recovering from industrialized sugar production, I brought up the need for GMOs to reduce the salt content of the soils. He mentioned the fact that the island is crawling with anti-GMO hippies, which is both unfortunate, and led me to remember this video, The Atheists Nightmare, where a couple of of creationists claim that the banana is proof of gods existence. The hilarious thing about this is that the banana is a Cavendish, a clone monoculture which can't even reproduce without human assistance. 


About a year ago at this time I was at Camp Tipsy, in NorCal, building boats and basking hammocked in a geodesic dome eating edamame and drinking ice coffee, very happy to be far away from the Pride crowds. Brexit had just passed, and my friend George had had to skip because she was freaking out about her homeland. I remember talking to my friend Mike for hours on the way back and forth from the campout about the strategy of living in a punctuated equilibrium setting and just how grim it was going to be to face down something like global thermonuclear war. I remember what it felt like to have a passport that didn't have any stamps in it. All of that is over now, the escape into detachment, into festival time, into Veblen labor to attract a guide or signal. Over the last year, it's felt like history has restarted. Rather than relying on this sense that whatever would be would be and that would be fine, there's an increased sense that people might do things for reasons. They might even write those reasons down. 

Your Illuminati Is A Pyramid Scheme by Bryce Hidysmith

Still from Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo

Still from Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo

< Soundtrack: Oh Bondage, Up Yours! - X-Ray Spex,  Nobody Knows - Pastor T.L. Barrett & The Youth For Christ Choir > 

Note: This was written simultaneously to Travels in Hyporeality, and serves to some degree as an inferior companion.

A while back I had the following exchange on Facebook with an acquaintance from the Bay who's the sort of artistic type who's on the periphery of the tech world, but not directly involved with it at an infrastructural level: 

I stand by my comment. At the moment, the profession of the UX Designer is one that demands sadism. If I made money off of attention and consistent use to vacuum up data collection, and I was willing to follow orders, that's the system I would design. The current context of our information and communication technologies is such that they're designed to directly inflict pain on us while providing shareholder value and simultaneously, supposedly, bringing us closer together. Maciej Cegłowski made most of the better points of the nature of the current ecosystem better than I will, but it seemed worth bringing up that this kind of ecosystem is transitioning from simply wasting your time and surveilling you into light psychological torture to convert your emotional problems into ad revenue. It's the best way to fulfill the organizational utility function, as defined by the system's architecture rather than its marketing. 

The current thing that people usually feel good about realizing about the industry is basically just a reiteration of Goodheart's Law, which states that a given metric ceases to be a good metric the moment it becomes a target. In this case, the metric is engagement and the target is usually a combination of agency for the organization that creates the infrastructure and agency for the users of the infrastructure. The incentives get perverse, and we realize that it doesn't matter if news is real for it to be viral, and somehow we've woken up in a giant deception machine. 

We know this though. At least anyone with a functioning mind and voice in the Valley does. The level of intellectual acumen that this takes is low enough actually that I'm usually annoyed at the people who are most visibly angry about all of it, because I'm biased to think it can't be that big of a deal if the rank and file sophomores care about it in predictable ways. In fact, the tendency of reasonably intelligent and informed people to get paranoid and assume that things absolutely have to be more complicated than they could understand to function is more than a bit absurd. I think this concatenation of architecture astronauts has the gall to make John Gall turn in his grave. Whatever informational viruses that take hold in badly designed infrastructural niches have to at least be simple enough to run as subsets of the minds that instantiate them. This means that most of the comforts of paranoid intuition are entirely out of place, and this is actually just a case of foolishness as the level of coordination necessary for most paranoid fantasies to exist is an impossible level of complexity to be contained. 

The first point I'd seen the cruel and predatory nature of modern interfaces phrased well at all was on SSC a couple of years back, with Nicky Case recently displaying much of the same phenomenon in a visual format more recently, while also decrying the fact that these systems do in fact increase traffic and user engagement. I'm hoping Tristan Harris takes some more ground, now that people are actually admitting that this whole scenario is a mess, rather than admitting that while it was the logical conclusion of attention-economics but somehow also not a reprehensible conclusion to our designs of communication technology. All of this is right and true, but there seems to be a lot more going on. The rise of detrimental, zero-sum strategies is never an isolated phenomenon. 

Let's look at the publicly available rot in the social media sphere, which exists at the moment mostly to collect data for attention-economies to play out. It's taken out most online discourse while leaving behind a pseudo-satisfying shell of conversation that feel like cheaply made emotional pornography, and what's left with actual signal is increasingly vibes like Quora or StackExchange that feel kind of like fast food drivethroughs, anonymized and productized—not so much as a virtual place in the manner of the BBSs that I caught the tail end of and simulated in Christine Love's Digitalbut a space lacking space, identity, or action. The only media that I can think of that fits the vibe is David Foster Wallace's The Pale Kingwhich at least one future historian will claim literally killed its author from being too psychologically damaging to produce, as it is torturously dull. At my estimate, Wallace was attempting to intellectually fetishize content-free systems through sheer force of will. Such inhabited space seems impossible to narratize, and thus are toxic to the literary mind. The attempt to find enjoyment in it was an attempt to find enjoyment in indifference, in absence, so that even the chief of diligent masochists cannot find a clear path forward. 

To bring these narrative-free spaces to life, the best you could do is some kind anti-narrative Borgesian derivative, like the Library of Babel but instead of the wonder of a finite system's capacity to produce greatly variable configurations with the intuition that it might be worth exploring and understanding them, the computable information is used for base impulses of domination. Even in potentially anonymized spaces like 4Chan, Tumblr or Reddit, the will to enforce a pecking order remains. This is typically accomplished by invoking a vague sense of degeneracy. In 4Chan's case this is biological and racialized, whereas in Tumblr's case it is social and moralized. This mindset is fascinatingly carnivorous but toothless, like carrion-eaters after a plague even if they envision themselves as lions. At the end of the day, though, the only narrative they can conceptualize is something like Warhammer 40,000's Only War, which is matched by their invocations of God Emperors calling for crusades to stamp out the heretic and mutant. There is a clear isomorphism in Tumblr, though oriented around different shibboleths of fan culture, what with Steven Universe being an entirely different and similarly deeply ambivalent simultaneous indictment and apology for authoritarianism similar to 40K.

It is worth noting that both sides of the internet seem to be awaiting the end, living in a sort of twilight of the idols where even the branding techniques common of late 20th century Anglo-Japanese high consumer culture are supplanted by a great number of individuated hedgehogs. (Just for fun, try googling "[INSERT YOUR NAME/ANY OTHER NAME] + The Hedgehog.") It is known to their residents that these are only pseudo-narrative spaces; most of their residents probably work extremely linearized and regularized jobs or schooling environments if they are not among the NEET class with the internet as their primary interaction. They simply engage in a collective hallucination of cultural memory of historical conflict, said hallucination democratically adjusted to a war re-enactment of the mob's taste. The 4Chan variant of the hallucination is rather intriguingly capable of moving people to more sophisticated action than any of its analogues on the left, with the possible exception of whatever bizarre system of acculturation that made the adventurist PissPigGrandDad, unique among modern American communists in that he does things. One cannot consider the actions of street protestors as anything more than hoping their image and signal will reproduce, even if they cannot be sure of stable acres to raise a future upon. 

I'm rather sure that the Tumblristas and Channer's are losing against the overall cultural move towards anti-narrativism. The increasing consensus among the people of the internet is that being a person isn't worth it any more. The optimization cult that drinks the sacrament of Soylent has started to fall out of sight, but the general conception of it being worth it to be human, but not worth it to be a person stays. I use these words basically to mean that living life as a biological entity piloting Homo Sapiens is still reasonable to these people, but they have an aversion to anything that might resemble mythic, literary, or filmic narrative in their lives. Even the video games are trending away from it, into MOBAs and current gen MMOs. We can probably consider this population the Industrially Farmed version of humanity. One of the few growth industries left consists of the role of their Temple Grandin: a force automating away the friction in their lives by replacing the things that their mothers used to do for them. This increases their economic output in the few remaining objectively oriented engineering sectors where skill—metis or techne—is more important than raw authoritarian power. It's no accident that their places of work are systemized like colleges, which themselves ended up resembling rich high schools. At least from my semi-feral perspective, this feels like the infertile neoteny of pugs. At least centuries ago the upper classes might become overly refined in the decadence of their late-imperial periods. In this case brutishness and predictability have become the more common signifiers of high economic standing, often coupled with solidifications of wealth in manufactured goods—chiefly the iphone—used as though they were simple commodities. There is of course the argument that there's other things going on, in a wide variety of technological spaces, and that I'm focusing on a set of social pathologies too much when the world is bigger, but this is still the system of lifestyles that are being generated and paid attention to, and regardless of whether or not there is other research being done, the worlds that are being constructed to live in follow these patterns. 

The economically dominant strategy is a combination of both self-denial and consumptive excess, yet only as a method to contort the individual into something more akin to an industrial appliance than a self. This recent article in Lapham's describing de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom as an ancestor to the office drama points at most of the complexities of this system. The described operational model that's come to prominence in the tech-giants and their eventually-acquired contenders is to keep their remaining personal alive as the barest of a specialist while automating the rest of their life out of their circle of concern. Simultaneously, the given company's personal is either automating or disintermediating the economy, the latter under the false flag of automation in the case of systems like Uber. The process of disintermediation, as an economic strategy, seems to generally be based on the assumption that owning and monopolizing an industry through the creation of antimarket (in the sense of Braudel and De Landa) or pseudomarket institutions is the only way to turn a real profit in this day and age. Those pseudo/anti-markets are themselves typically cloaked as institutions under market pressure and engage in regulatory capture or implicit monopolistic capture. If there was ever an intention to stack decks against devotees of Schumpeterian creative destruction strategies, this is it. It seems as though the modern disruptors hope to be the last of their kind by freezing the market in a position of stasis for as long as they can, once their massive deferred gratification strategy is successful. At my best estimate, this strategy will fail, introducing costs that cannot be recouped in the ensuing monopoly. 

Yet, I don't even think that Uber's deepest problem is economic. The general intuition in the entire economy and culture that contains said economy is that enslavement and ownership, even when lacking any meaningful agentic capacity, is supposed to win out over agentic capacity itself in the public mind. Uber's recent troubles around sexism both inside of its workplace and out point to its leadership operating under a rather strange ontology that takes this strategy of domination as a given. To assume that the territorial complexity of releasing an application like Uber is inside of the technology—a highly linearizable and scalable geolocation and payment processing application—are absurd when the introduction of a fragile and nascent technology pits one at war with entrenched vested interests in an international, intercultural setting. The organization behaves as though this conflict was already resolved. It acts as though the only possible strategy was domination and everything not attempting it has already been removed from the arena and is just sulking on the wrong side of the ropes. Bizarrely, at this moment in time I'm not sure they were wrong. Provided that everything has been twisted into the bizarre mockeries of abstracted predation that I've discussed thusfar in this essay, it makes sense to want to be the apex cannibal. An assumption of those who think they might be in the contending to become an apex predator might assume that all other reasonable contenders have had a similar realization, and thus will be unconcerned with those unenlightened herbivores who have not gazed into the abyss and seen the dark truth of the universe. In saying this I do not mean to condone these actions, simply suggest that they are the product not of some kind of inscrutable malice, but rather a bounded and situational rationality that makes imperfect and dangerous decisions that are technically right given its incomplete and poorly weighted training data. We must assume that Uber, and all other currently active economic actors that are able to survive in the current economy are operating under some kind of finite-game mentality. 

To be personally transparent, it is this agentic and willful conformity that keeps me up at night, afraid for the future. An economic rationale that is not even wrong and thus extremely hard to counter in good faith. Even the most bad-faith strategies must be countered in good faith if they are going to be fully laid to rest. I’ve written previously about the failing strategy of trying to counter antisemitism in bad faith on this blog, and at least that demon has a name and an absurdly well-developed language of icons to identify it. This strategy of abstracted cannibalistic predation lacks a name and organizational structure and is instead an emergence from a set of constructural behaviors in local economic strategy. Yet, at the same time, it is a wholly rational practice that emerged from an irrational strategic landscape. So, we must ask, what is the distortion in the strategic landscape that made this make sense? What made coordinated symbiosis look youthfully naive, even impossible? How do we believe this now, when we have access to more technologies of coordination than at any time previously? 

The central trend that seems to have caused this is a remarkable abstraction of economic activity. There is a historical argument to be made concerning the advent of this trend in the modern world, but the exact specifics are very difficult to capture, and there are competing narratives that might trace its origin to Sumerian temple complexes, the French Revolution's propensity to believe in a Year One, the East India Companies' travel times, or elsewhere. Regardless of the supposed origin point, the core concept is the difference between business in the modern sense and trade in the historic sense. 

To begin breaking this down, there is the difference between trade and artisanship. In the case of a profession like glassblowing or even the import-export of warehoused commodities, a given economic actor has a direct relationship to the physical world. In the case of the business of business, the decisionmaking process is abstracted from objective cause and effect as it concerns instruments of control—corporations, financial products, that lack physical structure. As they deal in laws, money, and media as instruments of control and representations of physicality, rather than literal things like food, weapons, or buildings, these spaces are artificially simplified environments where the social dynamics present are far more important than the given industry that individual instrumentalists attempt to profit by controlling. Business is almost exclusively about making deals with people who never actually touch the things that they trade in. This is, of course, efficient as long as you can still keep your head about it and somehow simulate the systems one is affecting which becomes increasingly impossible as they scale. It's not as though there's a downside to the invention of money, especially when it's non-abstracted like a Katanga Cross, just as there's not a downside to the advantage of the telegraph or the internet when your population is literate enough to understand the implicit and explicit context of writing and images. 

The troublesome thing is that these fully abstracted, artificial environments are the highest class places to position oneself in society, and in a sort of holdout from the European Aristocracy's gentlemanly norms of passive income, but lacking the pseudo-feudal norms of honor in military or civil service. Engaging in physically-oriented labor is seen as low-status, except as a process of suffering before pulling oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps. Somehow this is all cloaked in a jeans wearing, pseudo-working class affect that conceals the fact that most of the supposed work being done is tokenized, symbolic, and in essence performative. What matters in these kinds of spaces is, amusingly, the immaterial abstractions of capital. 

This tendency towards delayed gratification to obtain future capital though abstract, symbolic labor dominated by people talented in microeconomic negotiation is a present Schelling Point for almost anyone with ambition, regardless of altruism or selfishness. Intellectuals who desire autonomy become careerists even if they would prefer to be scientists, artists, or other informationally and physically productive professions because control is not free, and coordination is expensive. Brutes mask their violence in professionalism. In the lives of these careerists that I have met in finance, politics, or any other abstract domain where control is bought and sold and seen as its own reward, I see a curious masochism. They chose their careers for instrumental value; things to do with money and offices are as far from the metal as you can be. Their whole life is a status symbol, a product, but one totally removed from anything but cosmetic experiential validity. 

So what happens to a society when the Schelling Point is abstraction itself? What happens when the subjective social reality is more important to maintaining status and security than any connection to cause and effect in reality? Well, first the numbers lose their value. It's not as though they need to be representational anymore, as the critical variable for the functioning of any given agent is their position in the social graph and reputation, rather than their ability to actually keep track of the given abstractions used by their position in a control system. Robin Hanson's The Age of Em seems to accidentally be a good counterfactual model of just how absurd the world we live in is. It shows just how much less sense things make if the paper-pushers are actually doing their stated jobs instead of the medium of paper-pushing being the message, instead of anything that's actually written on the paper. By Occam's Razor, we must begin to assume that law, finance, and most all other bureaucracies are a sort of magic trick, even if many of the individuals creating this magic trick aren't even all that conscious of it. The majority of the writing and record-keeping is an act of misdirection to remove attention from the verbal agreements and internal speculation that actually are driving the movement of control. The illegibility of these writing systems leads individuals with the intelligence to discern the fact that there is no content to assume that there must be content, making up fake complexity in the name of not denying the existence of unknown unknowns despite being able to see at least the borders of the totality of the messaging system, unless components of it are obviously classified or redacted. There is no strategic asymmetry derivable from actually doing the work, only from having the appearance of doing it. The utility bottoms out at that which can persuade, rather than that which can be accurate, leading to a general decay in the abstracted symbolic system's accuracy as everyone's competing to halfass their descriptions of things to the maximal level without getting caught. There is no other way to keep up with the rat-race, no time to actually do the work when the appearance of the work is priced higher than the labor itself. 

In this scenario, in-group status becomes paramount above all else. One must learn to fit in. Oddly, sadomasochism might be considered a training system by which one practices the kind of dark power that eventually is used to get the promotion. One must know when to submit and to dominate, to play the tempo-games of the pecking order. The absurd thing, though, is that this assumption that somehow in-group status might confer you long term thriving stability. Why would anyone assume that flocking to someone who was good at winning zero-sum games and pledging labor would lead to eventually gaining enough resources for personal autonomy? The clustering around an in-group in an intense, dominating zero-sum mindset is usually based on the idea that the person at the center has secret knowledge about how to win zero-sum games. However, in the zero-sum ontology, all autonomy is taken or given, not grown from nothing, thus it will never make sense for the local singleton in the in group to allow his lackeys enough autonomy locally to be autonomous, as both the evidence of his authority—followers, employees, etc—will be gone, and simultaneously there will be a rival to deal with while in a damaged state. This is, of course, absurd to look at from a positive-sum ontology, but those are rare, especially in abstracted and symbolic business environments. Even though its absurd, the integration of these ideas into much of the socioeconomic system means that spending time in a great deal of wage-proffering territory is an act of reckless self-endangerment. It is not a fast kind of reckless self-endangerment, but a slow-one based on the attrition of will and freedom by positioning oneself in a scenario where one is vassalized and must obtain further vassals to maintain a position in a larger economic structure. This cannibalistic economy cannot be productive, and more than its lack of production, it cannot be just or kind. We must conclude that all illuminati are pyramid schemes, and to be avoided. We must conclude that the trapper strategies that we see present in companies like Facebook at the moment are elements of this great Pyramid Scheme, something that the Guardian enlightened us on aspects of today. Though this rant of diagnosis is obviously long enough already, I hope to determine an alternative to sociopathology of economic vassalization and cannibalism. 

Elegy for the Cathode Ray Tube by Bryce Hidysmith

"Pre-Bell Man" by Nam June Paik  

"Pre-Bell Man" by Nam June Paik  

< Soundtrack: Killer Mike - Reagan, Edith Piaf - Non, je ne regrette rien, Messer Für Frau Muller - Aiboloid also I just rediscovered the Mummenschanz bit on the Muppet Show and its probably worth sharing isn't it... >

"So, my good Teutons, you are proud of your good poets and artists? You point to them and brag about them to foreign nations? And since it cost you no effort to have them here among you, you spin the delightful theory that there is no reason to take any trouble about them in the future, either? They come all by themselves, isn't that right, my innocent children? They stork brings them! Let's not even talk about midwives!" 

- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Anti-Education,
(which was published in english at such a fortuitous time that it feels as though it is some ploy by a benevolent Berensteinian actor as it is far more directly coherent than that man's other works.)  

I have a strong memory of the first time that I read I, Pencil, in 2013. The insights seemed obvious in retrospect, but it was good to have a canonical document stating them. I'm going to restate them here, in language that contains the same content but a radically different aesthetic.

Human production systems follow a biomorphic and ecological model. Any given actor models the total space relevant for them to obtain their livelihood—just as the grass does not know what it is like to be the cow that sustains itself from it, the miner does not know what it is like to be the smelter or the forger, though of course the life-cycle of ores is characteristically different than the life-cycle of bodies. The system of production for any given good is mediated through a supply chain of actors. Provided that these systems of production have a degree of non-linearity to the choice of which actions a given actor takes in collaboration with other economic actors, we can term them market structures, which we may contrast with predestined linear command. No given actor ends up understanding the totality of the stack, hence "There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work." 

Though the aesthetic of the piece falls into the vibe of just-so stories that I can't really take seriously with the amount of black I wear on a daily basis, it has an important and unfashionable point: the stack of technologies that we use cannot be monitored or managed by a single actor with less power than a literal, physical organism that we would rightfully term a deity in comparison to the humans that currently produce and maintain our technologies. Thus, the cultivation of the economy is not something that can be accomplished under the paradigms of traditional engineering where the totality of creation is contained in an individual object, but rather in the paradigms of complex systems similar to something like forestry where the system's inputs must be understood to have second, third, and nth level effects. Such effects ripple through the whole structure, even if that structure contains individual processes that can be charted as predictable linear industrial isolates, roughly analogous to functions or programming methods.

When I, Pencil was written, the zeitgeist of '58 didn't have much room for cascade failures. Even in the ensuing decades, when the Club of Rome was publishing their famous report, the raw velocity of technology was able to overcome the malthusian failure they predicted by simply inventing our way out of another starving time. For that and many other reasons, the necessary 'ecologicalization' of the field of economics never occurred, instead creating a scenario where environmentalism has failed to certify its results strategically, and economics has resulted in a myopic focus on metrics that bear little relation to anything in the physical systems that define whether or not the dollars, riel, yuan, and baht in my pocket are better off as kindling or communication. The money, rather than being a metric technology, has become a target unto itself. 

The Invisible Hand is a god worth invoking, even if the prayer to it is the circulation of a high velocity currency. It lacks all but the mindless joy of emergent, efficient, multi-actor logistics. It is the method by which we have been able to maintain the function of our civilizations, even if the vector of said civilizations has often been determined by more centralized investment, planning, artifice, and aesthetic. Those actions serve as the constants from which the variance of commerce springs up. However, there is a perspective perhaps best championed in a more mild and reasonable form by Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants that claims there is an inevitability to these systems evolution. This attitude denies the agentic nature of the cultivation of systems of production. It has an almost mystical faith in evolution as something that produces qualitatively better phenomena, rather than phenomena that are fit to their environment. To assume in the hyper-panglossian interpretation of our world that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that it contains the unkillable seeds of an infinite quantity of better ones is simply ridiculous. 

A friend of mine and I passed over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and realized that many of our friends had faith in this strawmanning of Kelly's ideas, and would insist that there was no component of human will involved in the creation of said bridge. There would be an assumption that it was somehow a natural evolution, an inevitability by force of market or of fate. Without the will of a plan, the default would have been submission to the costs of the terrain, going the long way around the northern rim of the bay on foot without even domesticating the horse. The Invisible Hand is not the god of progress but the law of ecosystemics, and it is by playing the games of production within that law that we might see progress done. 

So then how can we play that game of production in such a way as to have ascendant levels of capacity? Recently, as an oddly large number of friends have remarked, our civilization has lost the knowledge of the production of the cathode ray tube.  I'm sure quite a few other technologies are gone that just haven't hit my radar yet. Even if the only reason to be able to produce cathode ray tubes was to be able to properly maintain the works of art of artists such as Nam June Paik, the maintenance of that knowledge is entirely justified both for the first order effect of its inherent interest, and secondarily because of the second order effect of how custodial norms of collective memory influence the general culture. How does one manage a scenario where this is the default—where the social realities lead in this direction instead of decline? 

At my estimate, our current best strategy for that game is the strategic superset that contains the ambient market described best by Hayek in The Use of Knowledge in Society. I'm still intrigued by a world where the cross-breeds of Kanterovich and Hayek might be used to still greater effect, where planning-based isolates can exist with defined ontologies of cost and need inside of a larger free market. Now that I think about this again while I'm editing this, it seems as though I'm talking about fulfilling Coase's prophecies by reverse-engineering Soviet economic technology. This hybrid, capitalistic variant on Cybersyn's cosplay might be able to work some wonders. My best bet for where that might be accomplished at the moment is still Numerai

Still, it seems as though we are not going to have terribly easy answers here without actually building such systems of optimal market development, and thus I feel it necessary to specify some of the core criteria for how the process of developing that kind of a system might be accomplished. The core of the idea that I have at this moment was most clearly found in the works of Jane Jacobs, specifically The Economy of Citiesnotion of import replacement in urban cores. Though her historical scholarship in this book is spotty, Jacobs' model of urbanism is I think the right one, casting urbanization as an aggregation of ambient productive capacity, so that a foreign object brought into a given city might be reverse engineered or improved upon by the citizens of said city. Regardless of her conjectures regarding the origin of agriculture, this functionality is at the core of all market-towns, even those the size of London, and was up until the post-industrial period only predominantly deviated from in the form of military or religious citadels, which one may only debatably consider similar to patterns economic urbanization. Thus, we may understand import replacement as a phenomenon to functionally concern the increases in variance of possible skill for an individual intelligence to know through a combination of proximity to other specialists, simultaneously integrated with automation. Through this, the citizens of the city are able to have a profit of choice, so they may find a way of life that is more in line with their inherent virtues and needs, lacking the painful friction of the world we are familiar with at the moment. The various pathologies that cause a society to stray from this meta-path, a path that allows a society to choose which paths it individuals and groups wish to be on, are certainly individual to each society, but each of them must have a counter, even if that is just outlasting them by living better and enjoying a nonviolent and defensible prosperity. 

This is of course an aspirational notion, a description of a potential utopia of playful labor that might one day be, but which would be at the end of a road blocked by complex obstacles. Years ago I read histories of Babbage searching for the right-type of machined parts for the Difference and Analytical Engines while good Ada was working out the programming. In the present, I heard stories of the woodshop where Evessa Olizar, a childhood friend, worked. The woodshop employed the men who once carved the wax-molds to cast steel parts for who knows what, who, in her words, were now tasked with producing "Ikea-grade customs." Perhaps a mile away there must have been tech-boys verbally circle jerking around some new model of 3D printer, the degredation of infrastructure to appliance, then to entertainment. This is an ecological and economic crash, where the non-linear methods of circumvention by way of the symbolic value of products have caused the local capacities of the system to crash. Perhaps this is why Babbage was not able to build the engines to necessary specification; the base technology was there. The reconstructions I saw in the London Science Museum were built with only historically possible prowess and process, but the engine of coordination that might produce the logistical circumstances to create parts for such a device might have been underdeveloped so that Babbage was defeated by inconvenience rather than impossibility. Regardless if it was vestigial-ness or atrophy, that engine of coordination, that body-economic, must be maintained if we are to accomplish anything at all, including the memory that it was worth accomplishing things in the first place. 

囍 No Anastylosis // No Peace 囍 by Bryce Hidysmith

Myself in the shrine of Lakhsmi at Prasat Kravan. Photo by Mirabelle Jones 

Myself in the shrine of Lakhsmi at Prasat Kravan. Photo by Mirabelle Jones 

< Soundtrack: Little Teeth - Heavy Evidence > 

When I got back to the states from this last trip, I accidentally ended up deleting all of my photos from the trip after a brief scare that someone had cloned my phone. There's a couple left, taken by others or sent in text messages and retrieved from the great and unknowable cloud. 

There's none of the library vending machine in the city center of Wuchang, framing my traveling companion's shock of bleached hair with the spines of novels tinted by blue glass. Chinese ideographic script does much better at lossless textual data compression than any alphabet, it seems the length of books in Chinese can be much shorter and uniform, leading to those without major graphical element to be stored in a regularized array much as snacks might be elsewhere. There's others that I'd write here, but there's a curious privacy to what I'm holding in my mind that I can't put anywhere else. Sound and vision. Smell. Touch. Uncanny conceptual feelings. 

It's not as though I was taking all of these shots to prove anything. I keep thinking about the way that I saw tourists at the Bayon and Ta Prohm in Ankor, taking selfies with the strangler-figs and great stone faces of devaraja. We'd decided to explore the temples in largely chronological order, beginning with the outer rim of Roulous and the northern outpost of Banteay Srei, then worked our way inwards towards the capital, watching the arrival of Mahayana and Thereveda and the possibility of relief drown out the chaotic representationalism of heathenry. 

It was good out in rose-tint Banteay Srei, though the off duty cops following us around certainly made me uneasy. It was built by Yajnavaraha and Vishnukumara, viziers of Rajendravarman II, far off Northeast from the main drag of the capital's urban core. The Gopura contained smaller models of themselves. It felt as though you could reconstruct the whole system from a single stone. It was not in conflict with itself, for the totality of things could not be in conflict with the totality of things. The Tao is the Tao, nothing more or less. It seemed to contain a system of the world in miniature, an autopoesis where the trimurti might let the world play out as justice would see fit, time and time again. There was no teleology except perhaps cycle itself. Though the architecture was eroded by brutal entropy, such concepts did not figure into the vocabulary expressed in the carvings, though perhaps this might just be my lack of understanding of the nature of the worship of Shiva. 

We were less enchanted and enchanting as we got closer to the core of Ankor Thom and Ankor Wat—the temple that became a city. Upon arriving at Ankor Wat, we entered from the east, walking from our motorcycles across the moats and beginning the slow-perusal of the reliefs, pausing on demon-king Ravana, on the Asura and Deva churning the ocean of milk, on Agni atop a rhinoceros, of trampled captives and many heavens and hells. It was odd, the story was there, but the magic was gone, and I felt I might as well just pick some good translations of the epics and take them in leisurely beneath a tree and explore text on my own terms, rather than looking at the integration of these stories in visual form by a state both foreign and disengaged. It was apparent that the imperial carvers were attempting to meet all the criteria, rather than live through the narratives as they etched them. The art was precise, but exhausted. Then the tour busses came into view, dropping their complements of hungry vacationers. The main action of tourism appeared an attempt to prove that you'd been there, rather than the exploration of the system. It was looking for authentication, for validation, rather than exploration. Go climb the central tower, with steps high for someone of my height, which must have been nigh-insurmountable for a 12th century Khmer, and prove you climbed it with a GPOY. The place felt not as though it was made with exploration in mind, rather a set of finite rituals one must participate in to obtain eternal reward. With modern media, this has become oddly easier to authenticate. Back in the day, you could just say you'd visited Goethe and harassed him about Werther even though his career wasn't over. Now you'd take a selfie with the man and no words need be exchanged as your followers would assume your conversation was privileged information, unfit for broadcast. 

The term for the temple reconstruction strategy used in the Ankor Archaeological Park is Anastylosis, where each of the obtained elements of a given structure are located, arrayed, numbered, and then a reconstruction is attempted with as little additional material as possible. Its like a lego set with no instructions, possibly mixed with other lego sets. I keep feeling like this is the thing that's been encouraged by the world, this sense that the whole point of the matter is the autopsy of your works, the retrospective of an artist, the legacy of a politician, or closer possibly in the FOMO generated by your posts. One documents to prove, not to know. The mentality of the mass of humanity that visits these temples does not seem to be a loving curiosity for what these bones might have been like when they were alive, with bodies of wood and cloth and humanity around them, rather a sense of keeping score, Fairer than Grecia's, Roma's temples...

The best traveller I know, one Benjamin Joeng who I crossed my first border beside, never takes photos on his journeys. He just tells stories about them, with the variance of voice instead of text. There's plenty of places I've now been that were first only principalities of rumor from his and others' conversation that I've now visited. A year ago I'd only left the Bay Area a handful of times. Now I've been to eight countries not my own, ten if you count the regionalisms of these United States. There was information in those zones that could not be compressed, for how can one ensure a lack of loss without making the zone anew, through the same circumstances of production?

The only way to learn any of it is to be a pilgrim, and even then that learning was simply the shaping of the self to conform and adapt to these foreign environments. Memories of the roads approaching, then the witnessing of the zone—stinking of 囍 smokes, sweat, and gasoline. Stared at the decapitated bodies of dead-and-remembered gods and eroded Naga balustrades while in heatstroke. Tried to let the eleven year old post-card vendor down easy. A scribble on my map. Something worth remembering, maybe just apophenia of baroque decoration, reconstructing the reconstruction in my mind. It's hard to know. The key, though, it seems that in the navigation of the world, one must simply live and learn by reading the signs and facing the future as though it is yours to face, not embracing the hubris of assumed predestination as though all of this was a test for a leering authority who will judge you from a far off vantage. Perhaps this is the process by which your heart may stay light enough to avoid the teeth of Ammit. At least, I think it might be how one obtains the mead of poetry. I look forward to finding out. 

Small Thoughts Off Sukhamvit by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Rub Out The Word, which consists of Steve Buschemi reading William S. Burroughs' as a sort of thesis for human behavior. While I can't endorse the model that Burroughs is presenting, its better than almost anything else out there even if to get to the core of it you have to resolve your relationship to the cantankerous, Joan Vollmer shooting psychic cannibal that Burroughs was. Also, Ladytron - Ghosts, because its emotionally resonant and why not. >


Touched down in Bangkok maybe 10 hours ago. 4AM dinner of morning glory, noodles + grillpork, Singha. Cafe was a 50/50 shot of expats and locals, the expats exactly the kind of raw anglophone male aggression that I was expecting, but not looking forward to. I'm starting to realize just how little I understand about the globe because I've never spent any time in a tropical environment, and the psychological experience of being somewhere like this is distinct enough to merit fairly intense study by experience. 


 The greatest way to trap a design in the past is to endeavor to make it futuristic with earnestness. In that attempt, the designer inevitably overextends their position and conjures a cheap version of their aspirations, a subset of which are inherently unrealizable, and another subset of which are only realizable as symbolic facades. 

This seems like it might be conceptualized well as being part of an overall subset of design by environmental/psychological determinism of the designer's mind. A good example of this in practice might be the request by Alejandro Jodorowsky to H. R. Giger to design the Harkonen world in his failed version of Dune


In American culture, the thing that we're tracking when we say that someone looks like a cult leader is that someone is not trying to achieve global validation from a higher power. This makes a lot of the writing that I've done on cult systems before make a bit more sense, as it would mean that the usual centerpoint of cults are individuals who have the hubris to assume that they might actually be able to be the center of the world are able to hijack minds who are looking for an alternative to the dominant system in their region. It seems like this would likely bifurcate into three sub-systems: foreigners, who are just uninterested in the local culture and prefer their own, leading to a sort of nationalist cult, autistics who are in their own world and invite others in, and psycho/sociopaths who end up mad with power and are much more akin to the traditional interpretation of a cult leader. The important thing to note is that the system of behavior is effectively emergent, and not solely the cause of an individual's malice. 


 The 2016 film I Am Not Madame Bovary, which is supposed to be a comedy, happened to be what I watched on my flight over here, along with Who Sleeps My Bro and some of McDull: Rise of the Rice Cooker. I am utterly confused about Chinese Cinema in more ways than I can name. It's also worth noting that, when flying through Wuhan, you can get a 72 hour period of being able to hang around China without a visa, provided you can deal with the annoyance of the PRC border service. Additionally, Wuhan really looks a hell of a lot like the Le Corbusier Plan Voison from the air, covered in smog, and seems to be experiencing all of the second order effects you'd expect from such an architecture. 

Also, there was this wonderfully odd advertisement in front of my seat: 

It's actually just an ad for marble, not some kind of extended visual metaphor. 


 While walking through Wat Pho, my traveling companion Mirabelle made a remark about Watts Towers' resemblance in tiling style. Cue the putting a wat in your Watts, because what do you need in your Watts but a wat? 

Also, down the road from Wat Pho is a place called AMA Art & Eatery that had a giant picture of Salvador Dali and a bunch of happy looking monks. Supremely tasty and friendly. 


Somehow the main section of the Museum of Siam was closed, but there was an exhibit on the Tom Yum Kang crisis in a side building, including large sculptural representations of graphs of the banking crisis outside. Bizarrely coherent for being a likely state-sponsored description of an economic crisis. Included a disco ball and an automatic bubble blower at the height of the bubble in the sequence of the gallery.

One of the core things I noticed was an interview with a former graphic designer who became a hairdresser, remarking that "it's all the same measurements." It seems like the general variable of a given people to survive economic hardship is that ability to transpose the enjoyment of differing types of work onto different technological levels, be they material or social. Thinking of the career of Xi Jinping, this seems to sometimes be accomplishable by certain kinds of technocracies, but it likely must generally be a cultural phenomenon and thus decentralized, with the centralized element serving only as a method of incentivizing a subset of behavior. 


Back at the apartment. Getting ready to head out again in the evening to a night market. The sense of malaise that I've felt in Europe, the States, and Latin America—really the West as a whole—that we know where we're going and we definitely don't want to know what's behind the next turn—isn't here. Maybe it's just that I'm a foreigner, but even if it's hallucinatory, the feeling's comforting.