The Venus of Willendorf, its sculptor, and abstraction by Bryce Hidysmith

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

< Soundtrack: Nine Inch Nails - 13 Ghosts II >

Imagine the sculptor of the Venus of Willendorf. I am of the opinion, at my knowledge first posited by LeRoy McDermott in 1996, that the Willendorf figurine is a self-portrait rather than a fecund cartoon.[1] Per this interpretation, the anatomical distortions in the structure of the figure’s body are caused simply by the sculptor depicting her own form from the first person. The foreshortened perspective accentuates the lateral, exaggerating the wideness of the form and downplaying the length of the limbs and torso. The absence of a face is simply an act of underspecification. Like all art, this art was a gesture, an attempt at representation not reproduction, for nature can only be represented, and reproduction is limited to the artificial for only ideas that are simpler than nature itself could ever be reproduced.

Then, long before the figure is tinted with the red ochre that gives it its distinctive coloration, the artist must have moved the figure away from the self, viewing the absence of the face, the contortion of the body’s structure in the accentuation of various body parts from foreshortening, and noticed the fundamentally imperfect replication of her form. Imagine that moment, where this Paleolithic sculptor looks at her creation, distorted with her first-person intentions but seen from a third-person perspective. The trompe l'oeil is more sophisticated than interpretable by modern archaeologists, who have a propensity to try and identify mechanistic cultural practices that do not include the internal experience of the producers of the artifacts that such archaeologists study. In identifying the Willdendorf figure as merely an instance of a fertility idol, the archaeologist can treat humanity in the past as another animal, and simply describe the economy of symbols and labor that lacks subjectivity as a mechanism of behavior. Crude ecology has much the same problem.

By three dimensionally producing a representation of a first person perspective, the sculptor of the Willendorf figurine has effectively applied a transformation function to a third-person representation that shows the distortion inherent in reconciling the first and third person perspectives. I imagine that such an artist would have to develop a new concept, that of the generalization of the third and first person perspective, a transcendent perspective that accepts the distortions in both. The idea, in her mind, of “me” is suddenly something in-between self and other. She has an abstraction of self, an idea that at least implicitly encompasses both perspectives.

I think there are several important generalizations that can be accomplished from this idea. Firstly, an experience such as this seems like the type of event that would cause an altogether different experience of self than Lacan’s idea of the mirror phase, which I’ve written about in an earlier post. Instead of a sense of incompleteness, of the self being fundamentally irreconcilable between a subjective and an objective perspective, the self can be understood as containing subjective experience, but not being limited to it.

Secondly, it seems to show something important about how abstract categories may originate in the human mind. The mind always sees things as phenomena internal to the mind, as rather obviously one cannot interpret anything that has not already been imported to the mind via the sensory apparatus. However, the majority of interesting behaviors that are possible for a given intelligent agent to undertake come from the extension of the mind’s action beyond such mere phenomena in order to have action affect structures external to the mind. B. Joeng, a colleague and friend of mine, remarked to me that he became a linguist because language and linguistics is all that can be known completely by a human mind, for it is the only object that is purely created by the mind, and the study of one’s own mind depends on metacognition that produces an infinite recursion of attempted outside perspective-taking, or a different fundamental uncertainty of being frame controlled by one’s own self.

To accomplish external action, one must develop an understanding of the limitations of the internal sensory perspective. This requires the mind to develop a category of concept—abstraction—that includes information that cannot be known directly. Perhaps the most important of these categories that include information that cannot be known directly is the abstraction of abstraction itself. The best explanation of how the category of abstraction emerged in the human mind that I know of is perspectival experiences such as this hypothetical reconstruction of the experience of a Paleolithic artist’s experience of representing her own body. The relationship of individual perspectives that show that the named entity—in this case the representation of the artist’s body—cannot be reduced to an individual perspective—shows that the abstraction of the name can be used to define the entity without direct reference to the individual perspectives.

[1]A good initial analysis of this topic can be found in @deeallen’s post here, warning for nudity. McDermott’s ‘96 paper is frankly written in an academic idiom I cannot recommend. I will, for the moment at least, focus on this interpretation, as while the criticisms that can be found in @deeallen’s post that other art of the Paleolithic does not take this first-personal self portrait style, this specific art object seems to, and the notion that the Willendorf figure or others sharing the “lozange perspective” somehow must not deviate from a stylistic norm is invalidated by the proof of their own existence. Thus, a surprising explanation such as the self-portrait hypothesis seems justified to me, as the only other likely deviation from realism that I could imagine is a pornographic one, which does not adequately explain the dramatic tapering off of the lower body, as one would see if one was simulating foreshortening.

An anecdote from the customer service department of [REDACTED], a department store. by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Molly Nilsson - 1995 >

Perhaps a year and a half ago in a cafe on the north side of Capitol Hill, Seattle, a friend recounted to me her experiences working at [REDACTED]. She commuted five days a week to a high rise that the firm had attempted to convert into a Google-style campus, but the high-rise lifestyle wasn’t really correspondent to the pseudo-collegiate atmosphere of Californian tech companies, and so [REDACTED] wasn’t really able to compete with them as a lifestyle business, even though it was still holding onto its niche as a real retail business, in competition with the nearby emergent Goliath of Amazon. It was solidly a workplace of the previous world, corporate in the sense that someone would have meant it in the 1980s, which is to say professionalist in the sense that each person is meant to suppress their nature so that they are indistinguishable from their role to the outside view, but not from their own inside view. This is, of course, contrary to the practice of the twenty-first century technology firm, where the worker is meant to be indistinguishable from their role from both the outside view and their own inside view.

My friend was supposed to be a manager in the customer service department, but the strange thing is that the managers of the customer service department outnumbered the non-managers. There were a relatively small number of customer service representatives, and then there were the managers who outnumbered their charges. The bulk of the customer service calls lasted only a short time before the customer service representative said something frictional, which then led to them passing the call up the chain of command after the customer spoke the magic words “speak to your manager.” Then, one of the “managers” would negotiate with the customer. And, slowly, as the customer was insistent, the manager would figure out a way to make the customer happy. Sometimes, if the customer was especially ornery, the call would be passed up to another run of managers, in this case fewer in number, and in this case actually managers.

What is the reason for this hierarchy of customer service, the chain of command shaped like a fat rhombus balanced on its point? It seems that the role of the first tier of pseudo-managers was a way for [REDACTED] to engage in a sort of method acting, in order to do a certain type of emotional labor for the customers. The kind of person who bought from [REDACTED] wanted to think that they were getting an experience as a customer that was above and beyond what the other people got. The experience of buying was a positional good, a validation of their status in comparison to other customers who they could imagine got a worse experience of buying from the same store. They were the sort of people who would say “do you have any idea who I am?” to the clerk at the counter of the hotel who says that all of the room are full. Such a person hopes that someone with a lower class standing than themselves would be thrown out of their bed and onto the street, for the clerk must dispossess them of their room out of fear of incurring their wrath. And so, the customer service department of [REDACTED] slowly changed to accommodate that demand. It wasn’t something like Zappos, where the norm was supposed to be that customer service was always good. It was not the company that was special—[REDACTED] is almost the definition of a pre-digital legacy business—it was that you were special, in comparison to the rest of the clientele who definitionally had to not be. The identity of these consumers was formulated negatively, against the hypothetical experience that they could have gotten if they were not who they believed themselves to be.

Thus, the structure of the company evolved to maintain the pretense of special treatment, when in fact everyone got special treatment. I remember first recognizing this sort of illusion as a young child at the end of the 90s, looking at a promotional advertisement in the back of an edutainment magazine that my parents considered permissible. There was a supposed “special offer” where you could get access to a great number of zoological themed trading cards if you peeled back a sticker on the advertisement to see the image of a shark tooth. I peeled it back, saw the shark tooth, and then ran to my mother, telling her that I’d won the special offer, I just had to send in ten bucks after cutting out the shark tooth and putting it in the provided envelope to get my special trading cards. She reminded me, sternly, that it was far more likely that every copy of this issue had a shark tooth printed there. I wonder, sometimes, if this was the event that inoculated me to these sorts of brazen uses of apparent positional advantage in marketing.

Still, the main question this conversation in Capitol Hill inspired in me was this: How much of the economy is emotional labor to inject the idea of positional specialness in the minds of a customer? How much activity on the market is fundamentally the lie that you could not buy the good available on a fair market, but only on a market that had been rigged in your favor? How much of the market is devoted to simulating the market breaking its own rules?

Psychological implications of taxonomic efforts by 16th to 19th century European colonial trading missions in Asia by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Lil Pump - Drug Addicts >

The East India Companies and other colonial mercantile missions attempted to catalogue the world for the purposes of commercial exploitation. Surveys—linguistic, botanical, geographical, industrial—were the norm. The obviousness of this fact—that a trading company might want to learn of the varieties of natural and artificial products salable in the motherland—belies a substantial difference between the mentality of the European Imperial period and the mentality of our age.

The present post-informational age is one where it is assumed that the maximal generatively is in the mind, and that the greatest inventions will arise, ex nihilo, from the minds of the creative class. Innovation is assumed to need no feedstocks and may be done as well in an an office in Dubai as San Francisco, the design of said offices differing only based on their locations. (I’m thinking now of the coworking spaces I saw at the WEF a few months ago, used entirely for performative purposes.) Under globalism, the local optimization of any specific part of material reality is assumed to be outcompeted by any economy of scale that is able to (at least theoretically) affect the entirety of the globe. The top level of competition is global, and as such is limited to a small abstraction of the world that is graspable to individual knowledge workers. These workers compete far less for control of the material world, and far more for attention, which is used as a proxy for FOMO, which is used as a proxy for legitimacy. The managerial corporation is the instrument that this class of mental generatives is supposed to wield in order to capture more of the economy. This is often accomplished by acquiring individual, smaller firms that are engaged in the direct material optimization of the world, or larger firms that industrially produce replicable physical locations or digitally enabled scenarios (the reference class that includes ridesharing or fast food companies.)

The contemporary ideology is contrary to the assumption of the British and the Dutch companies, which assumed that it was the world that was generative, and not their individual workers’ minds. The world, as it must have been seen by the operators of the East India Companies is one of almost unmeasurable untapped wealth that had simply aggregated over time. The world existed to be arbitraged. Naturally, one must have a catalogue of the products of God’s bounty, their points of origin, and their relative scarcity in territories where they are foreign.

Britain and the Netherlands in the early days of their colonial operations were—at least in absolute production per village/urban unit if not per capita—inferior in industrial production capacity to China, India, and likely many of the states of the Indonesian archipelago. These states had also, of course, perfected the production of a wide variety of commodities—tea, silk, porcelain, etc.—which Europe had nothing comparable, along with the botanical and mineral arbitrage opportunities that access to novel ecosystems always presents.

However, because the industrial capacity of these Asian regions during this era was primarily derived from agricultural production and artisanal production integrated into agricultural production, the idea that the artistry of the individual was the determinant factor in production did not arise. Instead, if I am to try and simulate the perspective of these Colonial traders, production was likely assumed to be a trait of the substrate, where a combination of cultural and mineral/biological forces combined to make a section of geographic territory more effective than another.

I anticipate this was the same reasoning that was applied by the English industrialists who established the first factories in Manchester. This, I think, implies but does not fully substantiate a rather substantially different idea of what entrepreneurial and artistic creativity was assumed to be during the 15th-20th centuries. I will go as far as to speculate that the idea of creativity during this period was the recognition of a phenomena, rather than the generation of one. The realistic art styles of the time such as Dutch Golden Age painting—their techniques largely derived during the Renaissance from the iconic art styles of sacred art in the middle ages—accentuate the visualization of that which exists or had existed in history/mythology and comment upon it, rather than an attempt to wrest entirely new content by applying the mind to matter.

The recognition of a potential arbitrage opportunity, a law of nature, a depiction of a landscape, all of these are expressions of the latent potential of matter. The potential already exists in a sense, even before it is realized. Newton is not thought to have created the law of gravitation, but rather discovered it, just as James Watt is not assumed to have created steam power, rather he is assumed to have discovered it. Yet, Steve Jobs is assumed to have invented the iPhone, rather than having discovered the latent potential in the substrate of Cupertino, California and Shenzhen, China that allowed the iPhone to come into being. The artificial and the human is no longer seen as an extension of the natural and the divinely created, rather it is a discrete break from it. Given that humanity is created out of the material substrate of the natural world, and assuming that there is no injection to the mind of non-local material external to the knowable universe*, this seems like a complete misassessment of intellectual experience in order to allow hero worship and ego claims to eclipse material effect, something not entirely surprising for a post-nuclear society such as ours, deeply skeptical of technology.

*Admittedly, how could there ever be non-local communication in a strong sense? That would just imply a larger universe, containing the regions that import content to the mind. Potentially, the regions accessible to humanity could be partitioned from areas that are able to transmit information to the areas humanity is able to access, but even though the connection is monodirectional the substrate is still unified.

On the authority of nature by Bryce Hidysmith

Berkeley, California, 2019

Berkeley, California, 2019

< Soundtrack: Coil - Are You Shivering >

A formalization of ideas belonging to M. N.

There is no reason to ever trust the concept of nature more than the mind that was capable of forming the concept. How could the mind know something that is not represented in the mind? Nature, itself, must then be considered to be unknowable, mere noumena, a thing-in-itself that the mind consists of a part of, and that the mind itself then is able to grasp a subset of the contents of nature represented in the structure of the individual mind.

Components of nature can be represented in the mind, but they are always filtered through the perceptions and biases of the mind in question. Thus, if anyone ever attempts to use the authority of nature—to be a Lorax and to speak for the trees—they speak merely from their own perspective. Their perspective may be able to grasp subsets of nature—for instance the necessary conditions for the survival of an endangered species—but the idea that they are able to access the will and authority of nature beyond the representation of nature in their mind is impossible. The worship of nature, the claim that nature has authority that can be understood by individual humans, must then be understood to be cover for the interests of the humans in question. The human in question may be lying to themself and not know that they are laundering their own perceptions through claims to understanding the perceptions of “nature,” but the ideology that they have constructed to make their perspective feel authoritative is still first-personal. This goes as much for the hedge fund manager on Wall Street invoking Darwinism to justify the niche of his fund as the hippie in Mendocino whose idea of nature is the aesthetic of trees.

Notes on the Temple of Dendur by Bryce Hidysmith

Myself, outside the Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan, February 2019. The carvings behind me show the Imperator Augustus making offerings to various deities of the Egyptian pantheon.

Myself, outside the Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan, February 2019. The carvings behind me show the Imperator Augustus making offerings to various deities of the Egyptian pantheon.

< Soundtrack: death's dynamic shroud.wmv - ℬÆ, best appreciated at 2x speed, MGMT - Flash Delirium >

The Temple of Dendur has a great deal of graffiti on it, mostly from Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. It was one of the archaeological sites that was set to be submerged beneath the waters of the artificial Lake Nasser that would be created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. A UNESCO project relocated a number of the archaeological structures from the area, presenting the Temple of Dendur to Jacqueline Kennedy of the United States in 1965.

The patrons of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the temple is now kept, seem to experience the temple with a degree of reverence that’s bit strange. The position that this temple has in the popular culture of America is hard to underestimate for a single archaeological artifact. New York is the image of the world as a whole, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is treated as America’s museum of the external world. I must admit that long before I set foot in New York, I was exposed to the idea of this temple through the children’s novel The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which describes the adventures of two children who decide to covertly take up residence inside of the museum. This temple, and the halls of Egyptian artifacts that surround it, are the extent of Egypt for quite a few Americans, despite the fact that the temple is hardly the Egypt that they think they know. The arc of Egyptian history is obscured in the popular historiography of Egypt. Egypt is immutable in its death, and highly variant time periods are compressed into one fraudulent gestalt. The drama of Egyptian history is ignored in favor of the profits of idolatry. Children memorize pantheons of gods and their domains of influence without a sense of timeline. I thank my father for noting that Bes, the protector of the household, must have been a foreign import for his style is so divergent from the styles of other gods of Kemet. The visual shock of a Fayum portrait is perhaps the only thing that ever jars a museum goer out of this sedate experience of Egyptian art. This tendency to assume that Egypt was an immutable, steady-state thing is perhaps best demonstrated by the way that popular culture cannot seem to contextualize Tutankhamun as anything other than a generic “boy king,” forgetting his connections to his likely father the proto-monotheist Akhenaten, his likely descent from a mate other than the famed Nefertiti. This further fails to contextualize Akhenaten’s attempted monotheist revolution after the already chaotic first half of the eighteenth dynasty, containing the reign of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut whose son Thutmose III attempted to expunge from the historical record, and the fact that the eighteenth dynasty was begun by Ahmost I’s expulsion of the foreign Hyksos rulers. Instead, history books for children and museum goers look at catalogues of atemporal plunder and say “yes, the Ankh is a symbol of eternal life” if they are feeling erudite. This period, and the Nineteenth Dynasty following it, seem to me to be a pivot upon which the history of Eurasia turns, for if there is a time of the Biblical Exodus, however metaphorical the Exodus was, it is within this time span, and the events described in the Bible are likely a compression of a great many pieces of history into one romantic narrative, refined for the sake of mnemonics and emotional resonance.

This digression serves only to show just how pedestrian the Temple of Dendur is. The Temple of Dendur is the religious equivalent of a 7-Eleven. Admittedly, it’s a Thai or Japanese 7-Eleven rather than an American one, but still. The temple is a fine example of retail ideology. It happened—for even though it is a building it is an event, before it was embalmed in the met—during a far less precedent setting time in history. It’s one of many construction projects that were used to cement the authority of the Roman-Egyptian state during a time of relative confusion about national identity after the deposement of Cleopatera. The story of Egypt was played out, and the bones of the Pharaoh’s projects would eventually be reformatted into various Roman, Christian, and Islamic political projects. The process by which Egypt lost continuity with its past is hardly binary. At my reckoning, late Hellenistic Egypt was relatively stable as a client state of Rome, as the ptolemaic dynasty had effectively just been grafted onto to an existing nation. Cleopatera’s native tongue was Koine Greek, and she was notably the first of the ptolemaic rulers to learn the Egyptian vernacular, and may have been preparing for a restoration of Egypt to its old older by going fully native, given her attempts to associate herself with the goddess Isis. Cleopatera was preparing for a time of chaos both domestically and internationally, for a succession was already threatening her position when the civil wars of Rome overtook her own state’s history, leading to her expert political maneuvering in Julius Ceasar’s civil war, and her debatable effectiveness in the civil wars after the death of Julius, leading to her eventual suicide after her and Mark Antony’s defeat by Octavian and his general Agrippa. She tends to be treated as a femme fatale straight out of a Bogart picture, but even as a teenager she was successfully building a power base for herself in the local population. Her partnership with Ceasar was as much professional—artistic, even, in the military arts—as it was emotional, if not more so.

But, again, this is still the glorious past, for the Temple of Dendur was constructed when the deeds of great men and women were on the wane, and what was left was a great sum of years of relative peace and complete boredom. When the ToD was constructed, Egypt was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. The imperator Augustus is depicted on the sides of the temple making offerings to the various gods in a pharaoh’s costume, as are two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftan, for proper integrative flair. The Nile’s rhythmic flooding was perhaps the greatest single unit of agricultural output in existence in the world known to the Romans. At my reckoning the only competition at the time was Chinese agriculture in the Yellow River system, and perhaps the cultivation of wild buffalo in the American great plains or the Northwestern natives of the United States’ and Canada’s salmon farms. If there is any message that the Temple is trying to communicate, it is that order will be enforced by an external entity that will be sufficiently integrated to pass as part of the same social structure that existed in this location before, but that will make no effort to actually empower the defining local characteristics of the territory it controls that is not part of its personal ethnos.

Rome would never attempt to entertain the idea that it might not be first among the nations, or rather that the dimensions that it was first among the nations—heavy infantry and military construction—were not the most relevant. Rome was a fragile thing, like the real estate developers building barracks-like luxury condos decorated like airport lounges for the elite in SF or Seattle. In its quest for stability and the willful blindness that came from it, Rome lost its ability to really ever integrate with the genius, the geist of a given territory, and thus forgot its own animist roots, worshipping the will of the blood of Romulus rather than the seven hills, the Tiber, entertaining the idea of ineffable specialness rather than specialness rooted in territorial adaptation. This was a prize fit only for those lacking the aesthetic discernment to understand anything better, and so Rome stagnated, requiring importation of its Auxilia, and unable to integrate the masses of refugees that it displaced by tiling the Mediterranean world in its image, causing its eventual fall. The Byzantines, of course, were able to embrace the idea of ineffable specialness far better than almost anyone else in history. They represent an alternate path of coordination through distinction that I hardly understand. Wielding incense and icon, focusing a Christianity that was able to hold the East together while the West failed time and again to put itself back together, remaining neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

When mass death is cheaper than a mollyguard by Bryce Hidysmith

Pixel sort of a photo of an electrical box in Hunter’s Point I took in 2015.

Pixel sort of a photo of an electrical box in Hunter’s Point I took in 2015.

< Soundtrack: Alash Ensemble - Buura >

Today, the Trump administration grounded the remaining Boeing 737 MAX aircraft under the control of United States airlines, following the lead of many foreign regulatory bodies. The Boeing 737 MAX has had two crashes with no survivors due to an automation system with no killswitch. The first one was Lion Air Flight 610, which crashed into the Java Sea thirteen minutes after takeoff from Jakarta on October 29, 2018. The second was Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed approximately six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa.

The problem with the 737 MAX seems to have been related to its automation. Ars Technica has the best story that I’ve found that isn’t behind a paywall. Quoting from the Ars Technica story:

A stall occurs when an aircraft's angle of attack (AOA)—the relative angle of the aircraft's wing surfaces to the flow of air across them—reaches the point where the wing can no longer generate enough lift to sustain flight. Usually, this happens in a climb with insufficient air speed. Automatic control systems such as MCAS try to solve this problem by pushing the nose of the aircraft down—putting the aircraft into a descent and increasing airspeed and relative airflow across the wings. MCAS relies on an AOA sensor to determine whether this is required. If the AOA sensor is faulty, it could create a false signal of a stall—which is what happened in the case of Lion Air Flight 610 and may have been the issue with the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

The trouble is not just that the sensor may detect a non-existent stall and caused the plane to plunge into the surface of the earth, but that the design of the pilot’s interface is not set up to counteract this. The Ars Technica article attempts to blame the government shutdown for slowing down the FAA for fixing the software problem, but I’m going to hypothesize that the problem is likely more systematic in the way that automation is rolled out in modern aviation. For instance, this other Ars Technica article, quotes from Reuters and Bloomberg that pilots we’re never even told about the changes to the 737 MAX’s anti-stall automation, and thus had no chance to correct the malfunctioning system.

From a few things I’ve read and heard around this subject, the main reason that automation might not be divulged is to avoid costs in retraining pilots with new interfaces. This means that the projected cost for actually telling pilots that this type of potentially disastrous automation is active in the plane and implementing an interface to enable their agency over the automation in the plane exceeded the cost of simply putting the automation in and hoping that it would work without any noticeable errors. Regardless of whether or not this was the actual chain of events—the truth will likely never come to light—the division of labor was still the same, and the design of the division of labor is to blame. The engineers were forced by the executives at Boeing to bet that they had done a perfect job that would require no improvisation on the part of the people actually piloting the aircraft. This disempowered the situational adaptability of the pilots.

I must conjecture that there is no good solution without using situational adaptability and planning for antifragility under unforeseen circumstance. The solution to this is to identify sources of potentially catastrophic automation and enable pilots to be able to switch them off if they have been triggered and the conditions required for their trigger are not clearly met, as empirically judged by the pilot themselves. This issue is as simple as a mollyguard over a big red button that turns off the sensor in question, along with a bank of lights showing the activation state of each automated subsystem that might cause a catastrophic failure. This certainly would put a demand on the pilot and/or copilot’s attention, but given the similar failures of both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights, it seems altogether necessary if the design of modern airplanes requires automation systems that are active during potentially catastrophic sequences such as takeoff and landing that could likely be corrected through a combination of manual control and the intentional triggering of automation routines by the pilot.

This is rather close to my heart, as I’ve spent a great deal of time discussing stop button problems in AI safety with a number of friends. The horrifying thing is that we don’t seem to have a sensible enough doctrine around non-intelligent automation to even put stop buttons on finite-state homeostats. The combination of improper regulation, perverse economic incentives, and just frankly bad design philosophy seems to be driving the detrimental effects of automation tech much more than the philosophical and technical problems typically studied by AI safety researchers. Given this, the 737 MAX case seems like a good justification to begin an altogether divergent research agenda in the study of automation safety, as the power centers of industrial civilization seem to completely lack a viable doctrine of autonomous tool use.

A Theory of Conspiracy & Conspiracy Theories by Bryce Hidysmith

Photo from “Surrealist Ball,” held by Marie-Hélène de Rothschild at Château de Ferrières. December 12th, 1972

Photo from “Surrealist Ball,” held by Marie-Hélène de Rothschild at Château de Ferrières. December 12th, 1972

< Soundtrack: 070 Shake - Glitter >

A priori, it’s possible to taxonomize coordination into two categories. There is coordination through communication, and there is coordination through self-similarity. This is equivalent to saying that coordination between two bodies happens because either a message is passed from one body to another (with or without feedback between bodies,) or that the same command exists within each body without the need to transfer information. As there is no other material way that two bodies could be correlated than a message passed between them or generated symmetrically, there cannot be any other way for coordination to be carried out except random synchronicity. Random synchronicity cannot be considered to be willful coordination at all as it by definition cannot be intentional, for the cause of the synchronicity could not have been willfully generated by either party. However, random synchronicity should be considered a subtype of self-similarity as the bodies in question have momentarily manifested themselves as similar enough to carry out a collective end.

While this might seem fairly obvious—agents either talk to each other and develop a shared intention in conversation through some variance of command and deliberation, or agents desire the same ends as consequences of their identity—this sort of logic seems to be completely ignored when in public discourse concerning tangible contemporary political and economic behavior. Almost always in media-driven contexts, self-similarity based coordination is at least partially interpreted as communication based coordination from a perspective external to the coordination itself.

Conspiracy theory, insofar as the derisive use of the term is descriptive, is typically the misassessment—intentional or not—of a self-similarity strategy as a communication strategy. Conspiracy theory as an insult should be thought of as a way of suggesting that someone is using a sort of Russell Conjugation in order to persuade an audience that one’s opposition is using direct communicative coordination. This type of pejorative use also assumes that direct communicative coordination is more nefarious or threatening than self-similarity, as it suggests a greater degree of potential self-modification through individual and collective metacognition. In such a conjugation: we are a number of like-minded individual who happen to pursue the same interests, they are a colluding force meeting behind closed doors, planning something nefarious.

By virtue of the speaker being part of the outgroup compared to their opposition, the cause of a given effect is obfuscated. Thus it is possible to hallucinate the opposition as far more administratively sophisticated than is actually the case, assuming that a great deal of deliberation and planning went into a given action that may be basically random. The absurd cases of these sorts of conspiracy theories are narratives about things like the Freemasons that assume that the organization is a well-oiled oligarchical mechanism of pure internal loyalty rather than a communication channel for a given in-group, containing a variety of self-similarity and direct coordination strategies. Rarely is coordination in the illuminati-aesthetic actualized. Such means are simply too costly in time, money, and trust. Still, if you weren’t invited to the party, you can pretend that anything and everything happened there.

The simplest behavioral pattern in a possible set is the most likely to have manifested, given that it has the smallest path dependency. So, by Occam’s Razor, it’s much more likely that an “interest group” is not created due to the interest group being able to consciously coordinate distinct personalities for individual benefit, but rather because the interest group is defined by the traits that it shares independently of its membership in a protocol of communicative association that led it to self-select into a protocol of communicative association, not by its communicative protocol itself. An otherwise incommunicative population with similar needs and desires will unconsciously coordinate to modify an environment to better meet its needs, helping other members of its class and itself. The very information that defines its identity is held within other members of its class as well as within its own body. Everyone is partially interchangeable, and the degree that one may approximate the other is the degree that one definitionally serves the interests of the other.

The alternative—a maximally diverse group defined by its membership in a communication protocol and nothing else—is difficult to imagine. Even the earth’s ecosystem has the self-similarity of a similar planetary locality, a similar evolutionary pattern within that planetary locality. Even though plant and animal life have technicality opposing needs when it comes to gaseous intake, the two classes of organism exist naturally in balance due to a their interdependent arising. Symbiosis lacking the potential for defection, instantiated without interdependence as a consequence of identity is hard to imagine. One can imagine an agent taking the action to modify its identity to require symbiosis, but one cannot imagine that the agent would be locked into a pattern of collaboration unless it took willful action to modify its own utility function to require interdependence. This has the odd implication that cases of cooperation due to pure symbiosis are cases of extortion by all against all. The extreme of this would obviously be mutually assured destruction, but Axelrod, in Evolution of Cooperation, seems to have noticed that the threat of opportunity cost is enough.

This is a post about the theory of conspiracy theories, not the practice. The reasons for believing or proliferating this type of paranoid model are sufficiently numerous and sufficiently touchy that attempting to enumerate them for a general audience is beyond me at this stage. The only justification that I think can be communicated easily here is the fact that the West, for instance, has something of a fetish for underdog narratives. The idea that the enemy is a grand and secretive conspiracy is rather attractive as a method of justifying opposition in cases where definite values cannot be used to justify enmity, or one wishes to manufacture a threatening enemy out of something that is not sufficiently threatening on its own. In contemporary American culture at least, both parties engage in a sort of doublethink where their opposition is simultaneously a grand conspiracy to betray America for personal profit, and also fundamentally stupid and incompetent. Both parties are far more similar than distinct in their publicly verbalized goals. This sort of manufactured casus belli is of substantial utility as the points of actual conflict exist in the typically implicit and often publicly unspeakable realm of demographic conflict, and as such a conflict between a conspiracy and a public is an easy fig-leaf to cover up the ugly truth of the conflict.

PSA: The Sampo is a Nanoforge by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Johnny Cash - The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore >

My friends E. and M. brought to my attention the case of the Sampo artifact from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevela. The Sampo is something of a MacGuffin for much of the Kalevala, fought over by many of the characters after its creation. It is, however, never described in such a way that it can be easily matched to a preexisting cultural concept. The description of the Sampo is the following, as translated by John Martin Crawford:

On one side the flour is grinding,
On another salt is making,
On a third is money forging,
And the lid is many-colored.
Well the Sampo grinds when finished,
To and fro the lid in rocking,
Grinds one measure at the day-break,
Grinds a measure fit for eating,
Grinds a second for the market,
Grinds a third one for the store-house.

The only conclusion from this that I can really take is that the Sampo is something equivalent to an automated factory that produces food product, salt, and precious metals reliably without apparent outside input. There is no description of the object requiring mechanical labor from a human. Given the apparent production of primary elements of precious metals, the Sampo must be capable of atomic fusion without the released energy destroying the device and its environs, providing an apparent power source. Plausibly, the only reason that the Sampo isn’t set to produce anything other than flour, salt, and precious metal is that the characters in the Kalevala haven’t managed to figure out how its interface works, and it’s actually a generalized molecular manufacturing device.

I must admit that I haven’t read anything but summaries of the Kalevala, and that I don’t really know anything other than what I’ve written directly in this post. Still, this is a much more interesting MacGuffin than the Rheingold or the Golden Fleece, and definitely on the same level as The Holy Grail or the Ring of Gyges, depending on the interpretation.

Examining Utopian Potential in Huxley's Brave New World by Bryce Hidysmith

A specimin of  Fordite

A specimin of Fordite

< Soundtrack: Shearwater - The Snow Leopard , Icehouse - Loving the Alien , Swans - I Wanna Be Your Dog >

My travels in the winter of 2016-2017 somehow matched the plot of Brave New World far more than was reasonable, with first time visits to London, Iceland, and New Mexico, correspondent to the three primary types of polity described in BNW: the World State, the Island, and the Reservation. So, let’s take a look at the structure of the world state in Huxley’s Brave New World. Let’s not get stuck within the perspectives of the main cast John, Helmholtz, Lenina, and Bernard as they fail to properly analyze the threat and opportunity of the situation. When I think through the mechanisms of Huxley’s world I am struck by the fact that the World State is hardly a utopia, but it has been constructed in such a fashion as to not compromise its possibility to evolve into one. Far from ending history, its possible that the World State is in fact a proper conservative strategy to maintain social progress without sacrificing stability.

Before I go into the design described in the book, I need to remark that I don’t believe that Huxley had any idea of the implications of the structure that he was describing. After reading Brave New World Revisited, I have come to think that Huxley had a rather surface level understanding of the concepts that he was playing with, and seems to have assembled a number of designs which, if one were to appreciate only their component parts, would be unjustified, their aggregate structure is is in fact justified, with Huxley’s depiction one of cynical utopian potential, not utopian actuality.

There are three distinct types of jurisdiction mentioned in Brave New World. Firstly, there’s the directly administered areas of the World State—in the book mostly the metropolis of London is seen—organized according to a rigid caste system and prescriptive consumerist orientation, controlled through a variety of genetic, pharmacological, and psychological interventions. Secondly, there are the reservations for primitive culture that have, on the whole, evolved in absence of the World State’s intervention, including the New Mexican reservation of John’s birth derived from an indigenous population from there. Thirdly, there are the Islands—Iceland and the Falklands are both mentioned—which contain all of the most interesting people in the world who do not fit the mold of the World State.

Given that Mond offers Helmholtz and Bernard escape into the Islands, and assuming that we are taking Mond at his word that the Islands do in fact exist, and are in fact reasonably liberal places wherein the most interesting people in the world are able to pursue their interests provided that they do not interfere with the world state, it strikes me that the World State has properly balanced the enclaves of generativity by which the conditions of its areas of direct administration might be improved. The existence of areas that are not under the direct administration of the World State proves that the world state is not implementing a naive utilitarian policy and has the ability to understand that a single frame of analysis is able to make procedural improvement, but is blind to possible advancements outside of its set of current assumptions. The wildness of the Reservations produces lives that are worth living in a pre-modern coherence, and serve as a “Chesterton’s fence” to retain the ability to rediscover atavistic elements of humanity that might be suppressed unnecessarily by the World State’s policies. The intellectual culture of the Islands produces lives that may-or-may-not be worth living in a plausibly semi-coherent post-modern mode, but which are able to potentially innovate socially and physically in ways that would be suppressed by the rigidity of the world state. I must conjecture that this balance of different levels of risk in the production of lives worth living is correct, if one is attempting to naturally, artisanally, and industrially produce said lives, using all of the tools available from each of the three production paradigms.

Of course, again, we are taking Mond at his word and assuming that the Islands in fact exist. I must also remark that the Islands must not be equivalent to the island of Pala as described in Huxley’s final novel, also called Island, for the Palanese society is not one that I believe would actually be of interest to an exploratory, transhuman mind such as that of the protagonists and their hypothetical island-born peers. The culture of Pala, like so many utopias described but not built by Westerners in the twentieth century, is an oriental fantasy oriented around the common belief among men of science that stoic pacifism and a sense of unity is the only morally defensible political philosophy, and that such stoic pacifism will constitute the end of history and be inevitably defeated and colonized by less scrupulous forces. This comes to the implication that one must side with said stoic pacifism to remain morally defensible, and the Westerners have found themselves in a troublesome situation that they cannot think themselves out of. While there are some elements of Palanese society that would be at home in the Falklands or Iceland of Brave New World, I am inclined to think that the novel is more an expression of Huxley’s conflicted moral compass that demands purity over effect than an actual attempt at describing a set of circumstances that might make Bernard or Helmholz—much less John the Savage—comfortable.

Regardless of these bibliographic details, the implicit system of the World State is relatively straightforward. The overall areas of direct administration produce the best standard of modernism that is available, given both the signal inputs internal to the modernist state and external to the modernist state from both the Islands and the Reservations. The Islands and the Reservations themselves provide a lifestyle more suitable for the temperament of those who are too unpredictable for the World State. I am going to conjecture that, if the Islands exist, they are the stock that the World Controllers come from or they are the dominant global power unless kept in conditions of unnecessary deprivation as a security measure by the World State. If they are capable of their own industries, I believe that their research advantages would cause them to outpace the World State in a few years, leading to the World State’s economy of scale implementing technologies developed in the Islands once they have matured to safety.

Huxley, of course, did not seem to believe my headcanon. Potentially, the Islands are concentration camps or Azkaban-esque prisons with their populations kept drugged or otherwise occupied, but if the Islands exist the state is incentivized to actually use the populations that are housed on them, rather than making them lotus eaters like the rest of the directly administered population or robbing them of their humanity by some other means. Though completely unjustified, selfless evil of this kind is unfortunately common in the real world, the design does not directly confirm that it is existent in BNW. Following that I am going to continue to analyze the book assuming that the islands and reservations serve a sane purpose, and I will further assume that the sane purpose is based on their comparative advantage to the World State of freedom of thought.

I would also conjecture that some portion of effective World Controllers could also come from Reservation populations, but I am altogether uncertain as to the distribution between Reservation-raised and Island-raised/immigrant. The local administration of the Islands and the global administration would need to be separate organizations in order to maintain the generativity of the Islands and the security of the World State. However, if I am permitted to describe a piece of emotional pornography, I must imagine David Foster Wallace as an α, working as a civil servant in World-State Boston-DC Metro Area, writing something akin to his essay E Unibus Pluram as an internal memo. The essay is of course censored by the New England administration, but proliferated throughout the Island network, leading to Wallace immigrating to an Island—let’s say Cuba or Svalbard, those seem like they fit his tastes—and developing a coherent theory of post-behaviorist utilitarian public policy.

Though I have certainly been apologetic for the World State until this point in this essay, there are some further matters of moral ambiguity that must be addressed. The central concrete one is the fact that I am willing to consider the hedonic prospects of a fully domesticated general population of humanity. It is a cultural norm in the contemporary West to see the genpop of Brave New World and recoil in horror, treating it as qualitatively unclean and thus unwilling to quantize the potential hedonic profit from those lives lived. I must admit that I recoil in horror in much the same fashion at the vast majority of extant lives lived in the contemporary real world, and I know that even the mention of genetic modification negatively triggers a substantial segment of the population without fail. I am inclined to take the position that if it is possible to have agency over some physical system of the world, one must use it in as ethical fashion as possible. The following is an exploration of those ethics. While it is of course correct to defame Henry Ford himself as a cruel and somewhat treasonous antisemite of little moral value, the Fordist technique of mass production must be treated as morally ambiguous. The application of techniques of mass production to human lives insofar as it does not interfere with the structure of those lives in a way that deprives them of their internal subjective experiential value must be equivalent as the gains from other types of mass production: of housing, tools, food, and otherwise. Indeed, we have already begun mass producing humanity, the school that you, dear reader, attended was likely intended to mass produce you. While the factory farming of minds is inhumane, from a utilitarian ethical perspective it produces non-zero positive value. Thus, it must be compared to alternatives. A further critique of the limitations of a utilitarian evaluation is a decent subject for another essay—some of my remarks are already here. I am limiting myself intentionally to utilitarian analysis for this post as the central point of interest in the design of the World State, that of the Islands and Reservations, implies that the World State is capable of recognizing the incompleteness of a single utilitarian reference frame, and thus capable of modifying its concept of value so that it is capable of representing more of the world, and thus not falling into the standard traps of utilitarian reasoning.

The primary unethical aspect of the World State’s genetic engineering is the creation of lower-function castes, rather than the production of a population who are all as high functioning as possible. The production of humans conditioned through the Bokanovsky Process as a labor force is of likely indefensible ethical value. However, such a laborer’s life is certainly of greater ethical value than the creation of the Pug dog, whose congenital health problems only exist because of the perverse aesthetics of humans who buy them. The ε-class human is only a Skinnerian behaviorist machine, conscious but lacking a deliberative internal life. I would be horrified to be such a creature, and I assume that my readership would be as well. If such persons were necessary for the functioning of the society, it might be defensible, but at the technological level of the present or described in the book, there is sufficient sophistication in mechanical engineering and design to eliminate the need to produce a crude and servile population by both creating robotic labor and designing infrastructure that minimizes the amount of labor required for its maintenance. Thus, the existence of intentionally disabled classes of human must be considered sadistic and thus unjustifiable.

However, even in light of the description of the ε-class, I am inclined to think that the majority of the presently existent human population desires something akin to a life as one of the lower classes in the World State over the Islands or the Reservations. It is highly plausible that most persons desire a rather simple and industrial life, and if one is to assume that the World State grew out of the world as it was much at the time Huxley wrote the book, those tastes would likely have already been active in the population. I am not sure if the Americans that I grew up proximate to would report the fact that they would prefer the directly administered areas, for even when one sees the most basic of individuals they will often report that they secretly desired to be painters or dancers or that they care about the liberty of their constitution but the revealed preferences of their actions as bare consumerist prove that they would rather live in modern Singapore than the imagined memetic “Bohemia” of nineteenth century pop-culture. Despite the fact that I would much rather live on one of the Islands and, to a lesser degree, one of the Reservations, I cannot blame them. Unless one is animated by something other than bare economic rationality there is no sense in living a life that one makes intentionally difficult for oneself. It may reap impressive rewards, but those rewards are largely subjective and disembodied, and one cannot hold someone in contempt if they lack the subjective experience to enjoy what you would consider a subjective reward if you experienced it in the first person. I am to try and characterize what I am after in this world, it is something like clean postmodern subject-object relations where hypothesis as to cause and effect can be revealed, and the process of revealing can be used to explore a greater variance of structures for their inherent aesthetic reward. This philosophical drive is equal or greater in priority to the basic biological drives that animate me, and the philosophical drive cannot honestly be described as something like “happiness,” rather instead something more like the characteristics of a flow state of Csíkszentmihályi. It is also critical that this basic drive be not prioritized in my body, for if the same behavioral pattern can be manifested in another body that body is of equal precedence to my own, and only our speed of access in exploring uncharted territory serves as a metric for prioritizing energy allotment.

Regardless of the merits of a utilitarian policy in a Platonic formal context, such a utilitarian model is sufficient to describe the behavior of the vast majority of the human population, provided that one believes it is correct to believe their own statements concerning their condition. Such individuals will talk about a desire for art and construct selfie palaces, and though one may have tastes of higher complexity, there is no reason to sneer at the selfie-palace goers unless their museums of ice cream existentially threaten your freedom to be something else. Irrespective of what lives are possible, the lives that industrial society have been able to create are those that involve an individual knowing their place and enjoying whatever entertainments may be allotted. The lives of pre-industrial society were perhaps more valuable, but they were shorter and certainly less scaleable. I am inclined to think that if there is a finite amount of time before the heat-death of the universe, it is better if we are fruitful, and multiply. The only required action is to remain open minded, to take inspiration for the promise of the future, so that one’s society does not become trapped in a finite set of possible expressions. The only required inaction is to not become too compelled by non-specific promises of the future, and pass up the hedons held within tried and true strategies. This points to the majority of the lives that are worth living being a sort of industrial traditionalism, a village life where the factory serves the house rather than the house serving the factory. Huxley, from what I can tell, does not have the will nor imagination to envision such a situation, and so his crude depiction of the World State will have to do for now.

Another matter that must be addressed regarding the morals of the World State is whatever path that created it. I am disregarding Mond’s narrative of the origin of the World State, as well as any of Huxley’s statements external to the narrative, such as those in Brave New World Revisited. If Ford is worshipped by the state, we must take it at its word that it follows Ford’s aphorism that history is bunk. The process of producing a society this controlled may have consisted of a number of severe crimes, or it may have been a slow process akin to the one in our world. It is certainly possible that the World State’s credit from producing lives that are worth living is completely annihilated by the debt taken in order for it to emerge. I am going to not speculate further on the history that Huxley had envisioned at the moment, but simply note that if such information were to arise, it would not invalidate the useful structural aspects of their jurisdictions, but rather limit the potential implementations of such structures to benevolent path dependencies.

Lastly, I must also address the fact that Mond refuses to allow John passage to one of the Islands, instead hoping to see how John will respond to life inside of the World State, in effect causing John’s suicide. While I am disinclined to blame the sadistic behavior of an individual on the society that he is a part of, the fact that the society is so highly controlled and individual and group identity are so highly coupled blurs the distinction between individual and group identity to a degree that responsibility cannot be allocated cleanly to Mond himself. If I am to look at the structural design of the World State, it’s difficult for me to see how Mond’s behavior would not be immediately punished, and the idea that the system is so badly organized as to allow a senior administrator to simply play with a man’s life as a toy. From what I can tell, this is a romantic tendency on the part of Huxley to intentionally set the trajectory of the story to make a poetic point, for if I was to simulate the policy that I would assume Mond would engage, John would be happily in Reykjavik, writing and building geothermal power systems. Of course, if you have a justification for Mond’s behavior other than arbitrary malice implanted by Huxley, please leave it in the comments.

Addendum, Jan 22. 2019: For some unclear reason I’ve ended up at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and took the following picture yesterday. I have absolutely no idea what was trying to be communicated with the BNW MagaHatz, other than some sense of foreboding and with-it-ness that feels a bit middle school by my standards.


…brought down from some ziggurat on high by Bryce Hidysmith


< Soundtrack: The Decemberists - Los Angeles, I’m Yours , Ninos du Brasil - Essenghelo Tropical >

Jaynes’ explanation to the Bronze Age Collapse is more than kind of silly. But, like all contentful paranoid fantasies, it has a grain of truth to it. Take the literal statements of Jaynes: the whole of humanity possessed a schizophrenic bicameral consciousness, that one component of the mind reacted and that the other commanded, and that the commander module was narratized as a god in the culture of the era from the perspective of the reactive mind. Cultures were sufficiently homogenous that pantheons of gods were capable of manifesting with relative invariance in the minds of the nation’s citizenry. The behavior of Marduk in one man’s mind may be sufficiently similar to the Marduk of his neighbor that both of them may say—though not ‘understand’ in the modern conscious sense—that an action was commanded by Marduk, and that they may agree that such an action was commanded by the same intersubjective Marduk, which they would experience as objective insofar as they experienced anything at all.

Jaynes’ is a psychological explanation, but I am convinced that this psychological explanation is less compelling and far less likely than an equivalent sociological explanation. The mental life of the bronze age may only be conjectured. We cannot prove anything about the experiences of our neighbors at present, much less the experiences of men and women thousands of years previous to ourselves. If one throws out explanations that depend on a specific psychological experience, one is left with a description of the communicative relationships between that comprise the society. This allows one to evaluate Janyes’ conjecture on the structure of its evidence, rather than the interpretation that the evidence partially reveals a greater truth than could meet the eye, the content of which was likely fabricated by Jaynes, whether he realized he was doing it or not.

If one strips away the parts of the claim that rely on the interior state of Bronze Age persons, what is one left with? I’ll be ignoring sources other than Jaynes for simplicity, as this post is an exercise in generating a hypothesis rather than an attempt to gather evidence in support or refutation of said hypothesis. If the population of the Bronze Age experienced a dominant part of their sense of causality as coming from forces outside of their own person, then it would have been impossible to act from their own justifications. They would not see their own aesthetic discernments—a more precise way of saying “value judgements”—as legitimate. Rather, they would be acting from their interpretation of how their actions were to be interpreted by an outside observer. Values would be something that was brought down from some ziggurat on high. Provided that the authority of the value-giver is meritocratically allocated commensurate to its aesthetic discernment, this is not a problem. The population, rather than the individual, is bicameral. One part perceives, analyzes, and commands, while the other actuates the content of those commands. Such a strict caste structure is likely not efficient, but it is sufficient to produce the civilizations that we have come to see. Something relatively similar seems to be instituted in post-New Deal America through a sophisticated mass media apparatus, and that was hardly the first time that such a plan was instituted in the current Western continuity. So, how does this more conservative model of bronze age social structure collapse, lacking the psychological justification Jaynes attempts?

What if the Bronze Age Collapse happened only because the vast majority of the investment was placed into accounts that were held by imaginary agents? Jaynes speaks of Osiris as the corpse of the dead king speaking to his son, the living pharaoh. It is not much of a leap to think that the king did not take orders from the voice of his dead father, but from the fearful state of not living up to the ideal of kingship. The relationship of the actual individual to the platonic ideal of his profession might have been the causal relationship, the commanding presence in the mind of the individual. Imagine, a priesthood that does not believe in the gods that they profess to favor, but which nonetheless believes that it wants to believe in belief, and as such goes through the motions knowing that one day the collective unbelief of the priests of Marduk will come to light, for everyone knows that the deeds of the storm king are a show, a piece of stage magic. This is of course not too far from contemporary culture. Corporations and Nation-States do not have bodies. They do not act, rather they form a collective narrative that exerts influence by influencing the beliefs of individual humans with bodies. America and Apple do not act, rather individual bodies react to the idea of America or Apple and take action with hand or voice. The case of Apple Computers having more money than some nations and not using any of that stash comes to mind as an obvious parallel, but the way that professional guilds—the American Medical Association comes to mind—have an image of a respectable professional that seems oriented against adaptability and the fundamentally unpredictable nature of progress as a casualty of limiting liability also comes to mind.

A word of thanks to M. Vassar, with whom these ideas appeared in conversation.

Some Negative Feedback (For Negative Feedback) by Bryce Hidysmith

Foldout illustration from an Elizabethan text on Christian martyrs that B. D. showed me in his office. The full text is several volumes long, with each volume over a foot and a half tall, and at least the better part of a foot wide.

Foldout illustration from an Elizabethan text on Christian martyrs that B. D. showed me in his office. The full text is several volumes long, with each volume over a foot and a half tall, and at least the better part of a foot wide.

< Soundtrack: Brockhampton - Berlin >

The intention to punish an organism must be understood as separate from the intention to deter a behavior. In the first sense, the implicit theory of justice suggests that an individual who goes against the law has a debt to be paid in pain of one kind or another. In the latter, the implicit theory is that the lawbreaker is to be negatively reinforced in order to produce a behavior that is in line with the set of behaviors that the law is attempting to produce. The pain is used as a means of communication, a part of the bargaining process with the lawbreaker. In the former debt of pain model, the pain itself is the objective, whereas in the latter the ideal set of behaviors is the objective. The pain is not a means, it is an end. It lacks no signal encoded in it other than the aesthetic judgement that it is correct for the recipient of the pain to be in pain, for their identity demands it.

Such aesthetics that arbitrarily inflict pain are best termed sadism, and cannot be understood to be prosocial, for they will inevitably eliminate some functionality of the population by gaining pleasure from damaging them. Pain without signal must be understood to be the essence of cruelty, and the term “cruel and unusual punishment” should be used only in the hopes that it does not become usual, for something cannot be in and of itself justified by the everydayness of custom if it otherwise consists of the infliction of pain with no other justification than the pain itself. To say that something is legitimized by custom is to say that it is legitimized by size, even less justified than the common fallacy of “two wrongs making a right.”

To explain further, cruelty cannot be understood to be justifiable unless one takes the repugnant perspective that the pleasure that the community takes in watching the punished suffer is greater justification than the negative justification of the suffering visited on the lawbreaker—something phenomenological, and thus impossible to compare. I must, from my own perspective, demand that such bloodsport be confined to the dust heap of history. Still, the concept of punishment as a debt of pain is embedded into many legal traditions, implying means that the legitimacy of such institutions must be called into question. Often sadism is disguised as negative reinforcement, often by suggesting that negative reinforcement is the only means that might work to avoid recidivism. Negative reinforcement should obviously not be the first choice of any justice system, for if one is able to correct a criminal behavior without any need to inflict pain, why not choose that option instead of the one that causes needless suffering in comparison?

In summary, it seems correct to take the final position that punishment as a debt of pain is never justifiable, that negative reinforcement is occasionally necessary for lack of other options for correcting a criminal behavior, and that these concepts are reliably confused. It seems worthwhile to think about, at some point in the future, why debt of pain and negative reinforcement models are reliably conflated, as the answer to that question is also the answer to why zero-sum behaviors are chosen in situations where they are of equal personal utility to positive-sum behaviors.

Some reflections on the historiography of the early pharaohs. by Bryce Hidysmith

Fake Sphinx with Dog  , Hebei Provience, China

Fake Sphinx with Dog, Hebei Provience, China

< Soundtrack: Molly Nilsson - City of Atlantis / Toto - Africa, as played in an empty shopping center… >

Romer’s A History of Ancient Egypt: from the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid is the few object-level works of history that have monopolized my attention for days at a time. The work serves as a useful description of the emergence of a culture’s self-consciousness, transitioning from mere geologic analysis to archaeological analysis, finally to historical analysis with the introduction of written records. It is the story of a population learning to coordinate in space and time. While it is a remarkable case study in its own right, it also takes a historiographic position that I haven’t seen personally otherwise. I’ve contrasted it in my mind with Toby Wilkinson’s Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, which I read in early high school. Wilkinson begins with the Narmer palette, described as the “first king of Egypt” before some cursory analysis of the pre-literate archaeological evidence which quickly bleeds into low-detail descriptions of tomb development in sedentary settlements, claiming that a set of wars broke out between different royal lines, with Narmer’s house as the victor, claiming after some surface level analysis of Egyptian riparian geography that Narmer’s kingship constituted the formation of the world’s first “nation-state.” I must admit that when I first read Wilkinson, I was almost entirely unable to parse out the projection of present concepts on the past. I did not have the idea that concept formation would itself be a historically instanced act.

In contrast to the pseudo-Washington or Napoleon of Wilkinson’s account, Narmer in Romer’s book only appears first one hundred and twenty-nine pages into the text, after a methodical chronology of the archaeological evidence, noting the remains of economic, religious, and military behavior as the various cultures of the Nile knit themselves together using all three of those subsystems and more. Simultaneously, Romer continuously notes that there was no concept of an Egypt to unite in the minds of either Narmer or his population, except retrospectively when people looked back on previous events and developed a sense of history. It seems worth noting that the idea of History, in terms of investigation as accomplished by Herotodus and many others was not active in the Egyptian context, and we may only speculate as to what other concept the Egyptians used to analyze their past, as it must not be analogous to the modern concept of history, nor the Classical Greek concept of investigation as understood by Herodotus, nor any other culturally bounded model. This section, from Chapter Six of Romer’s book, is characteristic of his perspective on the matter, describing the same tombs that are glossed over by Wilkinson as certainly representative of feudal houses analogous to those of the European middle ages:

Here, then, is the rub. Once archaeologists recognized that the Naqadans had begun to separate the communality of the earlier cemeteries into different types of grave that could be conveniently described as ‘rich’ or ‘poor’, ‘elite’ or ‘working class’, it was but a short step to create a sociology for the Naqadans based on the words used to describe their different tomb types and thus to bestow a kind of history on their graves. For the modern meaning of ‘elite’ signifies those ‘considered to be the best in their society because of their power, talent, or wealth’. And so this Naqadan ‘elite’ is easily portrayed as a class endowed with power and wealth, and as the conduit of social and economic progress. So with passing time, the term ‘elite’ has allowed the occupants of those tombs upon whom it is bestowed to assume a kind of personality. Just as a common Western notion of an individual is of a man who rules himself, so the bones and fragments found within the elite tombs have come to occupy, successively, the role of ‘chief’ then ‘local ruler’ and finally transmogrify to pharaoh.
So kings are crowned, the past is colonized and history becomes a soap opera; or at least it is transported into a universe where great tombs are jargonized as examples of ‘the conspicuous consumption of prestige commodities by an elite’, and ostrich eggs are ‘status symbols’, harpoon points ‘powerfacts’, and those tiny fragments of Afghan lapis flashing in the sand evidence that their owners once ‘dominated by the political advantage gained through exercising control over access to resources that can only be obtained through external trade’. That, though is just a history of consumer trends dressed up as old-fashioned anthropology. For there is no evidence whatever of militarism, politics or individuals at Hierakonpolis, nor even of a grand bureaucracy amongst the relics of the early Naqadans. No evidence, either, of commercial trade or of a Naqadan conception of ownership: terms such as ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, therefore, may be inappropriate.
And yet there is still a history to be made of this most distant age, a history that is not based on modern society, but on the certainty of what survives.

Again, from the same chapter:

Though scalped and smitten, the victims found in the Hierakonpolis cemetery appear to have received a normal burial. One young man who had been maced to death was carefully interred as part of a double burial: a woman whose skull had been similarly smashed had been laid down so that the wound was out of sight and her thick dark hair had been arranged across her face, away from the mass of blood and bone behind. Neither abused, nor shunned nor cast away, such tender burials do not fit the traditional historian’s category of ‘victim’; nor indeed do such burials in themselves show evidence of prehistoric ‘savagery’, let alone cannibalism. Nonetheless, the ancestors of pharaoh, whose culture is popularly associated with beauty, flowers and love songs, appear to have engaged in the brutal execution of some of their own people. Such acts, indeed, became a central image of pharaonic Egypt. Precisely the same cruel practices are pictured in some of the little drawings made in the age of the first kings, images that would be writ large throughout the following millennia on temple pylons where pharaoh smites his enemies by grabbing them by their hair and hitting the side of their heads with the same kind of mace which had done such damage to those poor Naqadans buried in a cemetery at Hierakonpolis.
That killings may have been conducted in early Naqadan times on a yet larger scale than the bodies in the cemetery suggest finds confirmation in the shape of a solitary human neck vertebra excavated inside the enclosure of one of the great tombs at Hierakonpolis. It bears the marks of a beheading that took place just before or shortly after death. Such a killing presages arrangements made half a millennium later at the tombs of Egypt’s first kings, where each royal vault would be surrounded by rows of modest, brick-lined graves like the cells of a honeycomb, each one specially designed, it would appear, to hold a victim dispatched at the time of the royal funeral.
Some of the same little drawings that record events in and around the early courts also hold scenes which show people being violently attacked and sometimes decapitated, and publicly displayed, and they appear to show this taking place in the presence of a king. One particularly violent tableau shows two seated figures who appear to have been partially scalped, their hair dropping down across their faces, their skulls above left round and bare. And of course, although the animals in these same small pictures are shown running free inside an oval courtyard, the physical remains at Hierakonpolis show that, in reality, the oval court had served as an abattoir, the artificially sloping floor a drain for running blood.
Like the moment at the beginning of Buñuel’s famous film where a cloud slides across the moon and a razor runs through a woman’s eye, the physical evidence of such events cuts us adrift from the pretty clichés of pharaonic history. And suddenly, we are in another world.

Compare, then, the opening of Chapter 2: “GOD INCARNATE” from Wilkinson, glossing over the archaeological chronology almost entirely.

The unification of Egypt in 2950 created the world’s first nation-state. Today, this form of political and social unit seems both natural and inevitable: our prosperity (or poverty), our rights and duties, our freedoms (or lack of them) are all profoundly affected by our nationality. With the exception of Antarctica, the entire surface of our planet is divided up into countries, numbering more than two hundred. Yet it was not always so. Before the late fourth millennium B.C., there were no such states. Identity and loyalty were based instead on family, community, or region. The concept of a nation-state—a political territory whose population shares a common identity—was the invention of the ancient Egyptians.
Beginning with Narmer, Egypt’s early kings found themselves the rulers of an entirely new form of polity, one bound together as much by governmental structures as by shared values. It was an unprecedented challenge: to foster a sense of nationhood among diverse people, spread out over an area extending from the first cataract to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The creation of a distinctive sense of Egyptianness ranks as one of the greatest achievements of Egypt’s early rulers. At its heart lay a large measure of self-interest. The doctrine of divine kingship defined pharaonic civilization, produced such iconic monuments as the pyramids, and inspired the great tombs and temples that stand to this day.

Romer accentuates the alien, and while he hypothesizes potential aspects of causality such as the potential correlation between the Naqadan burials and later royal sacrifices, he does not speculate in an interpretive sense, only in a causal sense. It is not the historians task to project meaning onto the past, only to notice cause and effect. The projection of judgmental meaning is the task of the art critic, not of the historian, and the art critic at least has the sense to speak from a perspective that knows what audience an object was made for. Wilkinson grounds the past in the present, rather than grounding the past in the material, effectively forcing the reader to project the past social reality onto the present, rather than noticing that the only thing that such distant past as Hierakonpolis has in common with the present is the material reality. This is an understandable failing. Wilkinson writes in the contemporary intellectual climate, where all religious experience in the West is thought either to be Christian in an entirely abstract sense, or a mutation of the same. Intellectuals in the West do not understand that even among the self-styled Christians there are Pagans who handle snakes and are monotheist only in the sense that they think that other religions are demonic manifestations of negative forces and that they have found the true path. (The word for this, of course, is Henotheism, as coined by Schelling, but to give it the same term as the monotheism of Spinoza is a bit dreadful.) Additionally, under this “airport bookstore” ontology, all nations are an expression of the Platonic “Nation,” as understood by university educated Europeans. There are other traits to this simplification of the world, but the motivating fact seems important: it is assumed that all non-fiction in the English language today is self-help in one way or another, and our conception of self-help involves a sort of narcissistic assumption about the world best characterized by the aesthetic of The Secret. One interprets the facts of foreign contexts—either cultural or temporal—so that one can imitate the traits of persons that the author deems admirable. The present context is not assumed to be meaningfully different enough from the past context that the reason for a given behavior in a past context may have nothing to do with a present context.

The ontology of the Egyptians of the proton-pharoanic Naqadan culture and their contemporaries must be understood to be almost almost implausibly alien to current global perspectives. I am inclined to think that it is less represented in the literary genre of history, and more in the genre of mythology. Even if we are to update our normally unduly nationalistic conceptions of the middle ages and remember that the period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Colombian Exchange was one still knit together by global exchange in Eurasia, Africa, and Oceania, the ancient world was distinct from more recent periods where some percentage of the population might be able to think of themselves as “modernized” and at the leading edge of what it meant to be human. China before the decline and fall of the Qing, for instance, is able to look at itself as the center of civilization when engaging in foreign relations with Japan or the West. Christendom is able to think of itself as the canonical perspective the same way as Dar-al-Islam is able to think of itself as the canonical perspective. But, in the most ancient civilizations, this does not appear to be so. They lack anything to compare themselves to. We are able to understand what something is to be “historic” but it is very strange to think of what it must be to live through those same historical events. Imagine, for instance, what it must have been like to be Sigmund Freud—was the identification that sexuality must exert considerable influence on the minds of humanity an insight? Can we imagine what it would have been for that concept to have been insightful? Think, then, also, of the implicit discovery of entropy by the first humans whose muscles tired or firewood ran out, and then the explicit conception of it by, let’s say Carnot, though like many 19th Century scientific concepts its provenance seems more complicated than might be assessed at a glance. The concept of history itself follows these strange rules as well. Humans reliably invent fictional pasts for their cultures, but one must be at a point in the psychological tech tree where one has storytellers capable of asserting compelling narratives about the past in order to produce such a narrative. There must have been times and places before the past itself was invented or identified. The world appears in these early civilizations to be a remarkably literal place, where the narratives of nations, states, ethnicity, and so on that modern historians love to impose do not seem to have additional cache beyond the material reality that they are able to influence. Such an Ontology is oriented around a world composed of forces in varying degrees of collaboration or competition. Zororastrianism, the Chinese concept of of Tian/天, the abortive Atenist religion, and proto-Judaism, allowed ideology to rise to a level of abstraction that reoriented the world into evaluatable contrasts between that which sided with the god of the reference frame in question and that which did not, rather than the indeterminate dynamism of multipolar material forces characteristic of earlier forms of paganism.

Yet, from reading Romer I am more interested in the earlier Pagan form, a mental state which could never be verified to have existed empirically, but which I am rationally confident enough must have once existed to wildly speculate on its alien characteristics. Though this is a qualitative judgement, the atavism of the earliest Mediterranean civilizations strikes me as remarkable in that they lacks comparison with anything other than their own self in its method of thought. Again, they had not defined the past yet, as described above, but it also goes to reason that there must be a time when humanity had not defined far in relation to near, nor abstract in relation to concrete. There seems to be no realm of ideas distinct from the realm of matter, the whole system is an interplay of one unified material, sometimes orderly and sometimes chaotic. The prime materialist mentality begins to write through pictures. The mentality produces art in direct representation, with abstraction emerging as the Bronze Age peoples produce further means of comparison between objects, subjects, and such abstract things as gods that defy the necessary assumptions about ontological categories requisite to run self-documenting thought processes. The striking contrast of the archaeological sites that precede the Narmer Palette is not that they are somehow more primitive in social dynamic or strategy than those that one might see hundreds of years later—we can assume that the humans of these days were physiologically modern—but rather that the dynamics that have emerged seem to lack performativity for anything external to the polity in question. Provided that there is nothing that can accurately be described as external, this is not an insane way to architect a mind. It seems that if I am interpreting this “prime material” mentality correctly, the Egyptians circa Naqada were likely not even seeing their mind as distinct from their body, which is another way of saying that there is no phenomenological difference internally experienced between map and territory, for there is no way of comparing a mental abstraction and a bodily sensation. This lack of performativity for an outside perceptor, however, has dark effects. If one is able to unite a small polity through the awe of human sacrifice, there is not much in the way of deliberation about whether or not this is the correct thing to do, it is simply how things have been done. Such extreme behavior seems likely the norm when the map and the territory treated as one and the same. It is likely that this sort of mentality is present in all ahistorical peoples, as to lack history is to lack the deliberation over whether or not the present state of play is justified under the laws that one believes. Of course, as I write this here, I have to remember that I am still projecting an entirely unscholarly voice onto a silent, preliterate set of circumstances. Still, it is easier to assume, via negativa, that the types of social self consciousness common to later periods are absent from the forms of proto-civilizations. We can assume that the mechanisms of model-based socially self conscious comparison do not emerge from an absence of stimulus. The assumption of their absence is, I think, a far more simple and compelling answer to the nature of the distinct traits of the Bronze Age than the answer given by Julian Jaynes, and to summarize I believe that the stimuli that are the most relevant are the conception of historical continuity through storytelling, representational image-object distinction, and the invention of an abstract “higher power” to define the tangible world in relation to some other world, perhaps one that could be, but isn’t yet.

While I would like to explore all of these lines of reasoning in much greater detail at a future date, I am compelled right now not by their content but by the confusion of the contemporary historian as they attempt to make the past accessible to a contemporary audience. Perhaps, with luck, one can launder the past and assemble the bleached scraps of incidental record and artifact into commentary fit for the moral palette of one’s community, contextualized either as a high culture from which we have fallen, or a barbarity from which we have risen. But, this is of course a lie, and will accomplish nothing more than the gratification of fashionable sensibility by presenting the past as a different country where deed and thought are both magically accomplished differently. Perhaps that lie is noble if the gratification of fashionable sensibility allows one to bury a past that should remain dead, but if I am to guess it normally just bolsters the sense of the living that they are somehow special, enfranchised in the best of all possible worlds, chosen to prosper. The truth, if it can be summed up in a judgement at all, is that the past was indeed foreign, but that the parts of it that are not part of the same historical continuity as the observer of the past are so terribly foreign that they cannot be summed up in moralistic terms.

Postscript: As pointed out to me by Baeo Maltinsky and Patrick Mellor, from a certain historical completionist perspective, Romer’s book is even incomplete, given that it only covers known continuities of archaeological evidence, disregarding such examples as the abortive stone age Qadan Culture. However, these omissions are entirely correct if one tracks Romer’s responsibility as simply charting the evolution of what we moderns have now come to call “Ancient Egypt.”

A word of thanks to Madeline, who introduced me to the text over lunch a perhaps six months ago.

Failed Marriages by Bryce Hidysmith

The Russian Bride’s Attire - Konstantin Yegorovich Makovsky. The original hangs in the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco and takes up an entire wall. I still marvel at the way that Makovsky was able to impose detail on tiny subsections of the painting without being able to see the representational utility of the detail at the resolution necessary to execute the brush strokes.

The Russian Bride’s Attire - Konstantin Yegorovich Makovsky. The original hangs in the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco and takes up an entire wall. I still marvel at the way that Makovsky was able to impose detail on tiny subsections of the painting without being able to see the representational utility of the detail at the resolution necessary to execute the brush strokes.

< Soundtrack: Jamaican Queens - Water >

Marriage has not fully decayed as an institution in the West. There are enough individuals attempting a postmodern spin on the practice and neo-traditionalists trying to reanimate dead models for it to still be in play. Still, there are some critical questions that need to be answered before it becomes a reliably useful practice again.

Marriage may fully decay in this century. As an aside, a world without marriage is probably an okay place to live, provided it has a political economy reasonably similar to the Na with a less gendered labor caste system. The Na system, at my estimate, sacrifices both a great deal of enjoyment and utility by limiting the pursuits available to individuals by gender, but I must endorse its decision to make the spheres of political power available to each gender incontrovertible while not non-interactive. I estimate that the likely correct system is to make economic life gender-blind, and political life somewhat gender segregated, with the caveat that the economic system must be contained so as to not supplant the political system by instituting a plutocracy. There’s probably a more elegant system that reconciles the separate spheres of the political and the economic, but I estimate that’s largely impossible to derive from the Na social structure, and as would only be designable with an a priori methodology by looking at entirely abstract decision theory. Additionally, I cannot interpret history as anything other than a warning against making the political power of males dominant, and thus must endorse the female political system as primary, but a discussion of my specific justifications for that belief must be the subject of another, much longer, post.

Before evaluating whether or not it’s worth rebuilding the institution in some sort of sane form, it’s worth looking at why marriage failed in the first place and why it was a practice that humanity invented to begin with. Marriage might most easily be thought of as the act of correlating two agents utility functions to a sufficient degree that they can act in the best interests of themselves as a collective unit. This should be distinguished between the concept of the “relationship” or “boy/girlfriend” that are common in modern society, as frequently those practices make no attempt to correlate the utility functions of the persons within the emotional bond. In fact, I might have to note that much of the use of dating is the creation of plausible deniability to succeed in a sexual market by communicating that one has a better BATNA than a potential partner. This is exacerbated in polyamorous cultures such as my native upper-middle class art/tech San Francisco. While the stated intention of open polyamory is the exploitation of the fact that love and intimacy do not have to be finite, one’s lifespan is always finite, and the temporally local amount of one’s lifespan that may be devoted to another is more finite still. This leads, rather obviously, to inevitable envy and conflict, and thus the relationship anarchy model need not be discussed further as anything approximating the same institutional validity as marriage. This is obviously true for persons who want to “make a life together,” which seems like a good way to think of pair bonds, spouses or “primary partners” as common law pairings are often termed in these cultures, but conflicts over scarce time empirically proliferate even in cases where the partners in question do not want to correlate their utility functions and simply desires attention. The latter case of partnerships that make no attempt at correlating intentions can work, but it is reliably a delicate and often unpleasant case of domestic Metternichian balance-of-power politics.

The correlation of two utility functions is obviously most critical for the raising of children, but the practicality of breeders and raisers hardly rules out the necessity of adults able to enter into a contract that produces the effects of a new family without a new generation. While this is of practical necessity in partnerships with infertile individuals or incompatible gametes, the act of marriage should be understood as a tool of undefined and broad use rather than a tool only in service of producing children. Thus, marriage as a concept should be thought of irrespective of biology. The same types of social relationships will remain useful regardless of gender or even the existence of the physical body. Biological constraints should be limited to specific cases, rather than confused for the general concept.

The two failed models of marriage common in the past are both cases of attempting to avoid the problem that one cannot serve two masters by making one’s spouse one’s master in one way or another. They may be best characterized as the following:

  1. Traditionalism, asymmetric power, or the extension of property rights over the spouse: Common in Western society until the much-needed social reforms of feminism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The wife is the ward of the husband. Until fairly recently, this was almost exclusively a patriarchal institution in the West, but with added economic and political equality there are cases where the male of the relationship is effectively the ward of the female, and there have always been same-gender pairings that fit this model. One partner claims the right to dictate the behavior of the other, creating a correlated intention by making the intentions of the property partner invalid. This has the rather obvious effect of robbing the property partner of all agency, and is rightfully witnessed as at minimum in bad taste in the civilized sections of contemporary society, if not actively and needlessly cruel.

  2. Folie à deux, symmetric power, or you and me against the world: The partners in the marriage have the right to unilaterally demand defection against any other person or object, with the claim that the marriage represents a prioritization of the spouse over all other concerns. This is certainly a step up from the property-rights model described above, but has the effect of closing off the spouses from external concerns. It demands loyalty over integrity, in that the members of the relationship are always judged against a rubric that is separate from the rubric used to analyze the persons external to the relationship. This has the added effect of degrading the epistemic ability of both spouses, given that they must act against their better judgement to preserve the loyalty of the relationship. Perhaps the only scenario that this model is effective is the transitional period following the fall of the 1950s property model during the earlier days of women’s liberation, where American and to a lesser degree Western society was structured in corporations that provided the necessary economic, academic, and security coordination to allow for atomized spousal relationships to maintain nuclear families. I do not mean to suggest that this was ideal, the household division of labor during that time was still unnecessarily patriarchal on the whole. While this is still a viable model for a small subset of the American workforce—employees of the financial sector or FAANG-tier companies that maintain a light socialist lifestyle for their workers—such a socioeconomic system does not exist for the vast majority of Millenials and younger, and will likely phase out. Additionally, I cannot endorse the sacrifice of membership in a trusted community larger than the relationship in favor of the marriage. Even if that were a worthwhile trade from the internal perspective of the spouses, it produces conflicts that strain the marriage that often inevitably cause a divorce.

I do not have a good answer as to what model comes next, only that these two models and the non-model of relationship anarchy are altogether insufficient and detrimental to varying degrees. The only intuition that I have, though, is in the idea of loyalty versus integrity based ethics. If the folie à deux model demands loyalty over integrity, then the only clear way of redeeming the model is that one must be loyal to a similar type of integrity to one’s partner. That is to say, marriages will only be successful if the partners in question have similar ethical systems and can coordinate based on a shared endorsement of each other’s ethical system. In a way, this is something of an endorsement of the homogeneity of traditional societies with the caveat that the traditional-proprietary model of marriage must be permanently abolished. Such a shared spousal ethics must be generative, as the marriage is composed of two persons and each person will have a consistent informational asymmetry compared with the other. This discourse between spouses must be interpreted as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage as in the folie à deux, as the ability of one partner to inform the other increases the amount of compute and memory available to the partnership. The core thing is that correct action must be understood to be subjective, but that the information available to a given subject must be understood to be incomplete. This provides an adequate justification for preserving the integrity of one’s partner’s ethical system without sacrificing the integrity of one’s own. Other than that, I am still uncertain as to what a eudaemonic marriage in the twenty-first century looks like.

A word of thanks to C.B, with whom many of these ideas appeared in conversation a few weeks ago on a nighttime walk along the coast of Santa Monica.

First and Second Persons by Bryce Hidysmith

Not to be Reproduced - Rene Magritte, 1937

Not to be Reproduced - Rene Magritte, 1937

< Soundtrack: Mission of Burma - That’s When I Reach For My Revolver >

Freud took a pretty defensible position that people were driven internally. While those drives interfaced with the lives of others and an individual might be compelled to interact with others in a certain manner, this did not imply that the individual in question would only “feel as though they were themselves” when they were engaged in a specific practice with other persons. The characteristics of the individual were assumed to be influenced by their personal history which, if containing social elements, would be partially socially determined. However, while focusing on the ways that identity was socially formed, Freud did not treat identity as dependent on recognition by an eternal party. Most obviously, Freud’s idea of Sublimation—the notion that internal drives that are not socially acceptable are remapped onto socially acceptable actions—suggests that there may be drives that are not constructed out of social relation. The alternative is that the drives that are sublimated are always those that were formatted in a previous state of social relation, and that by immigrating to a new social system, drives must be sublimated in order to achieve acceptance.

Lacan, in contrast, seems to assume that human identity is dependent on social relation. This is evidenced by his idea of the “Mirror Phase,” where an infant looks at itself in the mirror and identifies itself, identifying that its physical presence is stable, while its internal experience may be polymorphic and, more importantly, non-commital and non-specific. Lacan believed that this self-recognition was alienating, in that the act of comparison revealed apparent asymmetries between the self and the self-image. He extended this idea to a general philosophy that the informational asymmetries between organisms were always unbridgeable. Here’s a quote from The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function. I’m sorry that it’s borderline unreadable, but I think it’s right to support this part with the text:

It establishes a genetic order in ego defenses, in accordance with the wish formulated by Anna Freud in the first part of her major book, and situates (as against a frequently established prejudice) hysterical repression and its returns at a more archaic stage than obsessive inversion and its isolating processes, situating the latter as prior to the paranoiac alienation that dates back to the time at which the specular I turns into the social I
     This moment at which the mirror stage comes to an end inaugurates, through identification with the imago of one’s semblable and the drama of primordial jealousy (…) the dialectic that will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations. 
     It is this moment that decisively tips the whole of human knowledge into being mediated by the other’s desire, constitutes its objects in an abstract equivalence due to the competition from other people, and turns the I into an apparatus to which every instinctual pressure constitutes a danger, even if it corresponds to a natural maturation process. The very normalization of this maturation is henceforth dependent in man n cultural intervention, as is exemplified by the fact that sexual object choice is dependent upon the Oedipus complex. 

Excuse my forcing you to experience Lacan’s prose. The core idea here that needs to be expressed is, of course, “it is in this moment that decisively tips the whole of human knowledge into being mediated by the other’s desire, constitutes its objects in an abstract equivalence due to the competition from other people, and turns the I into an apparatus to which every instinctual pressure constitutes a danger, even if it corresponds to a natural maturation process.” If I am to take the liberty of imposing meaning on this sentence, I interpret it to mean that everything that an individual can know, about himself or otherwise, is fundamentally socially mediated. That is to say, Lacan is suggesting that the act of being conscious is the act of being observed and contextualized by an external agent.

I must disclaim that these ideas are largely conjecture, as I find Lacan almost entirely unreadable and have only read sections and commentaries outside of the essay quoted above, and I’ve only made it through Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Totem and Taboo, The Ego and the Id, and part of Moses and Monotheism, and have not exhaustively searched any of those texts for description of identities that are only identities when engaged in a social practice. However, even if the above paragraphs are scholarly indefensible based on further readings from Lacan and Freud, they suggest an interesting idea about how the self is experienced by an individual.

We can look at two opposing ideas of what it means to be a conscious human: Freud’s, where the self is composed of drives authored by the self, and Lacan’s, where the only drives that are authored by the self exist post-Mirror Phase, and thus are social. We might then note that this implies that there are two drastically different ideas of what it means to be “a self” in psychology. There is the internally-produced, independent, first-person model of Freud, and the relationally-produced, dependent, second-person model of Lacan. While empirical claims as to the nature of humanity in a non-socially influenced state are of course impossible to gain—I have never met a feral or fully wild human, separate from social influence, and I have not thus far found reputable information as to the psychology of reputable documented cases—there is something to be gained by comparing the two models of selfhood rationally without experimental evidence.

Mainly, the first-person self is a limited sovereign, able to take action on its own terms, and set up terms of engagement with other persons. This is akin to what one might naturally assume that a human is, if one assumes that a human is an animal with some unique characteristics, but none that violate the basic assumptions of animal-nature. While the first-person is always subject to the Byzantine Generals Problem, it is able to commit to action internally and arbitrarily, as it is able to self-authorize action as a best guess. Under conditions of uncertainty, which is to say all conditions in the material world, there is nothing better that one could hope for. Some of this population may have an ego or “self-image” that they use to inform their decisions, but it is not actually necessary for them to exist unless they need to be worried about others shaming them for the characteristics of their externally witnessed self-image.

In contrast, the second-person self is not able to come to terms with other individuals as it always is attempting to abide by implicit terms that it assumes to already be present. When it contends with the Byzantine problem, it runs up against a basic inability to self-authorize action as it does not have an internal feedback loop to justify a best guess. This likely produces an effect where the second-person self reliably launders its own desires by pretending they were the desires of another, as if the individual is still alive, it must have maintained enough basic biological drives to maintain its own body. This is an extreme reading of what Lacan wrote—he did say only that the whole of human knowledge is mediated by the other’s desires. Even if one assumes that it is only social desire and social knowledge that is immersed in this “paranoiac alienation,” one must understand that the relational self is never able to internalize the idea that something could be fully socially condoned, as it lacks the ability to hold onto its best guess without further validation from external social sources. The core failure of the relational-self is its inability to decide, from its internal felt-sense of aesthetics, that something is valid. Thus, it is never able to build foundations of trust, decency, or any other kind of benevolent precedence. The second-persons are always hungry, and no matter how much they eat they are never full.

To take another term from Lacan, the second-person self is a “Master-Signifier” which is his term for an object that must be treated as a justification even though it has no internal content, or the internal content that its external appearance would imply is somehow irrelevant to how it is used in practice. For instance, democracy, humanity, and art are typical master signifiers in West Coast American culture. Under the rules of behavior described by Lacan, individuals take action according to the direction of their self-image, but the self-image is disconnected from any reality of internal experience of the self.

Lacan was likely being empirical. While I believe he frequently lied in his work and was something of a con artist—the “variable length session” comes to mind—I do not think that he could have devoted his life to an entirely inaccurate model of the world unless he was intending to shift the world to that model. This leaves one with the question as to why he would do it, as the life of second-persons seems to never achieve satisfaction, and Lacan described a psychology of persons who never feel rewarded in any meaningful way, nor ever feel as though they are really understood by anyone, perhaps even by themselves. Thus, one must assume that Lacan did indeed witness persons with relational senses of self, and did indeed believe that it was necessary to contend with their existence. His opinions on the strategy of contending with such a population are unclear, and after some an examination I have found his analysis lacking and am convinced that myself and any reader interested in attempting to find solutions to such political problems is better off starting over than searching the Lacanian archives.

In conclusion, it seems necessary to slightly validate Lacan’s observation while wholeheartedly taking Freud’s position as to the basic nature of humanity, viewing the second-person self as an unfortunate permutation of human behavior that comes out of traumatic experiences and low trust environments. Empirically, I have also conversed and even worked with these hollow men and women, and I would expect that some number of my readers are among their ranks. However, I have also met many more first-person individuals who are able to reliably take their own perspective, and while their existence is disincentivized by a great number of institutions in the modern world—compulsive schooling, corporate culture, authoritarian and democratic politics—it is within them that I believe the vast majority of hedonic human experience and human ingenuity exists.

Some thanks must be given to C. J. and E. S, for demonstrating aspects of this dichotomy through example of Lacanianism and immunity to Lacanianism respectively.

Bromden, What Will it Take To Make You Capitulate? by Bryce Hidysmith

Some light body horror for sale in BUD Airport duty free, Nov. 2018. I’m fairly sure they were skincare products, not sex toys, but, well, Europe.

Some light body horror for sale in BUD Airport duty free, Nov. 2018. I’m fairly sure they were skincare products, not sex toys, but, well, Europe.

< Soundtrack: Grimes - We Appreciate Power >

I’m surprised that I’ve never seen either the left or right Accelerationists talk about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’ll be disregarding the film adaptation, which, though it has some high-grade acting, misses the entire point of the novel due to consequence of its medium making the acts of McMurphy the dram, rather than the commentary of Bromden. The interior perspective of Chief Bromden is, frankly the uniquely interesting part of the book; the rest is just an uncouth prison drama. I’m inclined to think that a better way to think about OFOTCN is that it’s a story from the perspective of Bromden, as he is only able to contextualize the triumph of pseudo-capitalism in America as something equivalent to a unfriendly artificial intelligence of the paperclip maximizer variety. He terms this process as “the Combine.” The goals of the Combine are pretty well stated in this section:

The Big Nurse tends to get real put out if something keeps her outfit from running like a smooth, accurate, precision-made machine. The slightest thing messy or out of kilter or in the way ties her into a little white knot of tight-smiled fury. She walks around with that same doll smile crimped between her chin and her nose and that same calm whir coming from her eyes, but down inside of her she’s tense as steel. I know, I can feel it. And she don’t relax a hair till she gets the nuisance attended to - what she calls “adjusted to surroundings.”
Under her rule the ward Inside is almost completely adjusted to surroundings. But the thing is she can’t be on the ward all the time. She’s got to spend some time Outside. So she works with an eye to adjusting the Outside world too. Working alongside others like her who I call the “Combine,” which is a huge organization that aims to adjust the Outside as well as she has the Inside, has made her a real veteran at adjusting things. She was already the Big Nurse in the old place when I came in from the Outside so long back, and she’d been dedicating herself to adjustment for God knows how long.

"The Outside” of course refers to outside the psych ward, as “the Inside” refers to inside the psych ward. This next quote points to perhaps the core conflict of the book:

Across the room from the Acutes are the culls of the Combine’s product, the Chronics. Not in the hospital, these, to get fixed, but just to keep them from walking around the streets giving the product a bad name. Chronics are in for good, the staff concedes. Chronics are divided into Walkers like me, can still get around if you keep them fed, and Wheelers and Vegetables. What the Chronics are - or most of us - are machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years of the guy running head-on into solid things that by the time the hospital found him he was bleeding rust in some vacant lot.

And, later:

Yes. This is what I know. The ward is a factory for the Combine. It’s for fixing up mistakes made in the neighborhoods and in the schools and in the churches, the hospital is. When a completed product goes back out into society, all fixed up good as new, better than new sometimes, it brings joy to the Big Nurse’s heart; something that came in all twisted different is now a functioning, adjusted component, a credit to the whole outfit and a marvel to behold.

Bromden blames himself for failing to fit into the Combine’s progam, while also understanding that the Combine’s program is destroying everything he values. The mental patients, as “culls from the Combine’s product” are unable to participate in the American system, which is to say adequately adapted to an artificial environment built by the Combine manifesting its destiny all over the place. However, Bromden still frequently takes the perspective of the Combine as legitimate, as seen in the above quote. McMurphy, only feigning insanity in the hope of avoiding a sentence of hard labor, is able to act outside of the frame control of “the Combine,” leading to the events of the book. The central tragedy of the novel should not be understood as McMurphy’s failure to successfully lead a rebellion of inpatients, but Bromden’s simultaneous self-knowledge of the moral and aesthetic bankruptcy of the system he lives within, and his inability to take a perspective that’s able to critique it with an external source of justification.

I’ll leave off here, as it’s probably just best to read the book to get Bromden/Kesey’s perspective on what the goals of the Combine are, but it’s worth noting that the video game Half-Life 2 would later take this idea and run with it, naming their alien adversary after the Combine. In Half-Life 2, the Combine a force that attempts to fold all technological and biological life into itself, draining entire oceans in the process. It’s not as though the Combine has a goal in Half Life 2 other than unifying the universe into a single program of behavior at all costs. They don’t appear to have values other than convergent instrumentality in service of unity of control, leading them to come off as comically evil in a uniquely justifiable way. The highly threatening aliens that invaded the Black Mesa Complex in Half Life 1 are implied to be refugees from the Combine, and under the maxim of ‘the enemy is my enemy is my friend,’ they chose to ally with humanity against the greater threat of the Combine in pt. 2. This is some oddly deep literary criticism for a blockbuster video game, but Valve was pretty great back in the day.

Lastly, I think it’s probably worth noting the lyrics to the Panic At The Disco Song “High Hopes,” which I will certainly not link here. It peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year, and which sends a chill down my spine every time I heard it on the radio:

Mama said
Fulfill the prophecy
Be something greater
Go make a legacy
Manifest destiny
Back in the days
We wanted everything, wanted everything
Mama said
Burn your biographies
Rewrite your history
Light up your wildest dreams
Museum victories, everyday
We wanted everything, wanted everything

Addendum, Dec. 10 2018: Passed through Eugene, Oregon tonight. The statue of Kesey here is an abomination and should be removed and melted down. End addendum.

Addendum, Jan 6, 2019: Some weeks ago the day after passing through Eugene, I took the time to tour museum and grounds of the Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem, the state’s capitol where, among other things, the mightily flaws film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was shot. I took the following image while I was there.

oregon state mental hospital.jpg

On the defensive policy of the Sentinelese by Bryce Hidysmith



< Soundtrack: Bif Naked - Spaceman, a direct inversion of the Sentinelese sentiment.>

The recent death of an American missionary on North Sentinel Island has stirred a few thoughts in me. Firstly, I am now even more convinced that the armed response of the Sentinelese was justified, due to the fact that their initial context with the outside world was through the actions of colonial officer Maurice Vidal Portman. His is Wikipedia page glosses over the majority of the grim details. He was a man who was not only known previously for kidnapping Andaman Islanders and staging them in mock-Greek homoerotic compositions, but who proceeded to abduct six Sentinelese from their homeland, two adults and four children, and returned the four children when the two adults sickened and died from foreign pathogens that they would have no immunity to, dropping the island’s population from perhaps 9000 to only a couple hundred. This thread from @respectablelaw on Twitter is a remarkable download and media stash on the subject and the preceding paragraph is basically just a recap of @respectablelaw’s account, but the most interesting fact is that Portman’s aggression in 1880 is only just now out of living memory. This means that the narrative of alien peoples as sadistic aggressors and bringers of pathogens would be clear to the now-living Sentinelese, with the clear specification that close contact might carry deadly microbes.

I am entirely unsure and largely doubtful that the Sentinelese have a germ theory of disease. In the Western context, germ theories were proposed as far back as Thucydides and Lucritius, and given that the Roman Legions primarily died from wounds in battle rather than disease as Medieval European armies did inclines me to think that the Roman scientific consensus was something equivalent to a germ theory. The fact that the Western medical tradition lost this knowledge, and was so incoherent as to fail to put into practice the undeniable discovery of Leeuwenhoek until Semmelweis instituted hand-washing in his obstetrics clinic at the Vienna General Hospital baffles the mind. However, such a historical trajectory should not be taken as normative, and I am inclined to believe implies a society with substantial barriers to deliberation on scientific subjects, rather than a space of reasonably free discourse.

Given that the Sentinelese were until recently a stone-age people, I doubt that they have a social structure that frees up enough labor to allow the irresponsibility inherent to the profession of the researcher, and I believe that without such a class of person it is implausible that formal theories could be developed. (This is, perhaps, my main vindication of the moral worth of agricultural society.) However, implicit or explicit Sentinalese epidemiological consensus must describe a similar causal mechanic to germ transmission at the relevant level of abstraction to demand the strategic necessity of isolation. This points to the fact that a culture’s level of descriptive materialism must only be sufficient to avoid existential threats, and that as long as existential threats have been accounted for, non-materialist conceptions of the world can still procedurally advance technology by refining heuristics, as the adaptation of iron scavanged from the wreck of the Primrose by the Sentinalese attests directly.

This points to a degree of hope for industrial civilization as well, as it provides a method of specifying policy criteria rather than the fear, uncertainty, and doubt common in environmentalist, foreign policy, and AI risk fields, to say nothing of the potential utter idiocy of our interplanetary communications under the potential of a Dark Forest scenario, something that the late Stephen Hawking noted well when he stated that aliens would be “vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.” Indeed, the behavior of Portman to the Sentinelese suggests that this may be more normative than we would like. Before moving on I must also make note of Douglas Vakoch’s remarks, suggesting that sufficiently advanced aliens would be able to pick up I Love Lucy. This suggests not that we should be attempting to make contact, but that we should be attempting to refine behavior on earth to something that might be deemed respectable by sovereign alien attitudes, and that making pre-emptive contact before developing ourselves into such a state might appear highly threatening, or at the best dull and needy.

Secondly, there are some interesting theological arguments as to the behavior of John Chau, the missionary who recently met his end at the point of a Sentinelese arrow. This was not the first time that Chau had attempted to visit the island, for he had attempted contact previously, shouting “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,” before the Sentinelese opened fire, one of their arrows piercing his waterproof bible. I am not inclined to believe in acts of god, but if I am to contend with a theistic ontology for a moment, there is something to be said for the idea that the Christian God did in fact save John Chau that once from his foolishness, but in his omnipotence was unwilling to do so a second time as Chau had proven himself entirely beyond reason.

Thirdly, there is something to be said about the nature of sovereignty in the modern context. There was—and I guess still is as the news cycle isn’t over—a potential for this to turn into a truly nasty moment in Indian-American relations. The Sentinelese are, in effect, a sovereign people, but at the same time they are a sovereign people empowered by the Indian government’s ability to declare them an exception to otherwise normative claims of rights of movement. This seems to be a very good illustration of how Schmitt’s definition that “the sovereign is the one who decides the exception” can produce nested sovereignty. It is also interesting to note that the Indian government’s ability to coordinate with the Sentinelese has been dependent on their ability to produce a consistence foreign policy. If the Sentinelese had ever failed to maintain their exclusion policy, it is possible that a narrative of a divided society among them could have materialized, and attempts at contact may have become more aggressive. Given that Evangelical Christianity is based on an assumption that the Christian knows the heathen better than the heathen knows himself, it is able to produce an internally justified cause for contact even if contact means further plagues for the Sentinelese as the living world is seen as temporary and irrelevant in the face of eternity. Such reckless and destructive behavior is unfortunately fit and adaptive, and this case likely provides some set of clues for the criteria a class of ideologies that can justify similar types of consent violation. All ideologies of such a class would terminally produce monocultures, and must be understood to be inherently threatening due to their infinite ambitions.

…a horrifically imperfect modern day Osiris by Bryce Hidysmith

<Soundtrack: Laibach - Vor Sonnen-Aufgang >

Over breakfast a few mornings ago in Bassersdorf, J. and I discussed a remarkably amusing alternate history: Imagine if Lincoln survived Booth’s assassination attempt, and only walked away with severe brain damage. Here are some details of the wound from Wikipedia:

Booth opened the door, stepped forward, and shot Lincoln from behind with a derringer.[2] The bullet entered Lincoln's skull behind his left ear, passed through his brain, and came to rest near the front of the skull after fracturing both orbital plates.[c][41] Lincoln slumped over in his chair and then fell backward.[43][44] Rathbone turned to see Booth standing in gunsmoke less than four feet behind Lincoln; Booth shouted a word that Rathbone thought sounded like "Freedom!"[45]

One can imagine an alternate wound. Provided that the bullet passed through the skull, rather than being lodged in the skull and transferring all of its kinetic energy, the bleeding could potentially have been bandaged and stabilized by the multiple surgeons in attendance to the performance. While the period lacked modern neurosurgery, there were certainly individuals who received substantial facial and cranial trauma and survived. Pvt. Jacob C. Miller, for instance, survived a direct gunshot wound to the forehead in a battlefield context, and though I have not found a source as to the type of bullet that struck him, my estimate is that it would be a rifle or musket shot with both substantially more velocity and mass than the mere derringer that killed president Lincoln. Given that Lincoln also died at 7AM the next morning rather than immediately through blood loss or immediate loss of automatic nervous function, it also seems that the doctors with him were reasonably competent in their action to remove blood clots, as they empirically noticed that such removals improved the president’s breathing.

If the bullet had not transferred all of its kinetic energy, it would have simply disrupted a large amount of cranial tissue and broken two sections of the skull, as in the case of Phineas Gage. Likely, the amount of tissue disruption would have been more minor, simply due to the fact that that the diameter of the derringer’s ammunition would have been much smaller than the 3.2 cm of the railroad spike that pierced Gage’s skull. After Gage’s wound, his personality shifted dramatically, likely due to the severe disruption of the frontal lobe. Quoting from John Martyn Harlow’s account of the matter, “Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar Through The Head”:

The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intel­lec­tu­al faculties and animal pro­pen­si­ties, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not pre­vi­ous­ly his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times per­ti­na­cious­ly obstinate, yet capricious and vac­il­lat­ing, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intel­lec­tu­al capacity and man­i­fes­ta­tions, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart business man, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaint­ances said he was "no longer Gage.”

Thus, one can imagine a radically changed Lincoln along this dimension or others, still commander in chief with three more years in his term after having survived the assassination attempt. While I must consider it beyond me to speculate usefully on specific hypothetical shifts in Lincoln’s personality that might have occurred, the potential for such a shift shows the fragility of the passage of the 13th Amendment, the potential further difficulties of maintaining control over the South by the Unionists if who is in our timeline a martyred hero is instead an erratic, disfigured malcontent. However, the larger social context is also worth considering in this matter, as Lincoln would have certainly developed a substantial religious following in the months after his near demise. Given that the Spiritualist Movement was only growing in strength, powered in our timeline by the substantial number of bereaved friends and relatives of soldiers killed-in-action, the idea of Lincoln as some sort of death-defying bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead would be highly attractive to the average person. He might be seen as the second coming of Christ, claimed that he died for a few minutes, and then rose, likely narratized as having died for three days by large sections of the US peripheral to the eastern urban centers. One can imagine Honest Abe as an oracle, a speaker for the dead, a horrifically imperfect modern day Osiris.

Addition, Nov. 5 2018: After talking to my father, I feel like it’s important to remark (somewhat obviously) that this would have happened before the passing of the twenty-second amendment in 1947, so it would be highly unlikely that Lincoln would be out of the presidency any time soon. In this timeline, America likely becomes a theocracy for the remainder of its existence as a unified federal state, before fragmenting into a variety of separate states. Also, he remarked that this idea would make the absolute best big bad for a grimdark realist re-imagining of Wild Wild West. Let’s just pretend that the 1999 version never happened.

Notes on Operational Metaphysics by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Adam Fairhall - Arabian FantasyЛенинград ft. Глюк'oZa (ft. ST) Жу-Жу, Kanye West - Ghost Town, Richard Birkin - Vigil II >

Metaphysics is a filthy word. Not inherently, I don't mean to suggest that metaphysics is itself filth. Rather, it has been sufficiently degraded by its proximity to filth through the idle leisure of the theory class. This leisure was largely a prosocial activity when metaphysics was the domain of academic and/or priestly brahmin, operating within the confines of a system of social pressure demanding mathematical and philosophical rigor, but over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries metaphysics was often exported from those temples and universities into democratic contexts that it had no non-coercive use within. The popularization of dissociative metaphysics and, in tandem, the rise of naive rationalism have produced a general population with extreme blindspots concerning the architecture of any given cognitive process.

Since time immemorial, there have been many attempts to use metaphysical justification as a method of confounding the senses and passions into the anesthesia of solipsism. Perhaps the strongest contemporary tool in the arsenal of the solipsist is the ability to invoke quantum physics to give a sense of pseudoscientific legitimacy the claim of psychic causality. The fallacy of psychic causality can be specified as the belief that mental states can affect the world when the content of said mental states cannot be channeled through physical action on the substrate of the world. While I believe that, for instance, Schoppenhauer's interpretation of Gautama is philosophically sound, the same cannot be said for Deepak Chopra's superficially similar claim that the world is "made of consciousness." He and, for instance, Charles Eisenstein, should be categorized in the same unit as Rhonda Byrne, the author of The Secret. Metaphysics has become popular shorthand for the art of marketing lotus eating as something intellectually prestigious while conflating dissociation with philosophy. Another basic strand of New Age "metaphysical" thinking is the conflation of metaphysics with the "meaning" of reality, a belief which at least implicitly implies that there is a perspective external to and surveiling the self, interpreting the actions taken by the self. While indeed this may be a valid interpretation of the world and there certainly is a valid metaphysics for operating within this kind ontology, it artificially prunes the possible ontologies that an individual could consider themselves to exist within to those that are tacitly theistic.

These confusions have unfortunately shifted the metaphysics of a significant amount of the population such that they believe that they do not in fact have a metaphysical position. This has rendered the deepest conscious level of the psychological stack invisible, forcing one to model the mind's thought process as beginning with epistemology, rather than beginning with metaphysics. Though the Popperian empiricist perspective taken by the majority of the sane world is logically sound internally to itself, it is fails to describe how such a unit must be loaded into a larger apparatus as a component part. In order to take the perspective that probabilistic empiricism is correct, one must have already taken the perspective that the abstract values of reason, statistics, and observation are themselves valid. Aristotle did not reject Plato's rationalism, he simply placed empiricism as a valid partner alongside it by choosing to trust his senses instead of rejecting them—a position we must understood as informed by a likely period of considering the position of rejecting the senses, supposedly commonplace among the Athenians at the time. The act of marking a type of information significant is a metaphysical value judgement about what reality is, which is to say which parts of phenomenology can be understood to be consequential. The judgement to begin an empiricist endeavor is first dependent on a metaphysics, even if the empiricist endeavor then feeds back on the metaphysics that created it in the first place, updating the conception of valid information from phenomenological impressions. 

Though I have not become a proper scholar of his work, I am fairly sure that I am simply retelling the work of David Hume in a personal context. I am not interested in figuring out which of these ideas are mind and which are his, if he was in my place I would hope he would do the same thing and avoid the academic citation war and instead focus on the ways that metaphysics is not entitled navel gazing. Hume's position, reliably, is that of a man who has not been broken by coercive circumstances, and who has not been coddled and thus understands himself to be a finite being with finite capacities for knowledge. Instead of attempting to figure out how much I am channeling his ghost, I want to discuss the distinction between the positions of David Hume and Martin Heidegger, the man of principled custom and the man of dasein. 

Hume knew that it was correct to lean on our accumulated knowledge about the world even if we knew in our hearts that no matter how much analytical knowledge we produced we could not rely on it as evidence that the world was somehow predictable. The fundamental physical constants could lose their relationship to one another, and in doing so the whole world would unravel. (I do not suggest that the individual values of each constant varying would cause a problem, as if motion is relative the forces of each constant varying as a whole, but preserving the same relative strengths to one another would, I think, likely do nothing noticeable to the universe.) Still, we had to retain faith in our ability to discern cause and effect and treat that knowledge as dependable, if potentially badly motivated viziers. Custom is a good guide, even if at any moment our entire frame of reference might be incorrect, and we may find ourselves awake and alone in a sea of unpredictability. The key thing that Hume knows, is that custom must be tempered with humility. We must remember that the Socratic maxim that, in fact, we do not know anything is still true. No matter how much of the map we fill in, it still can never be the territory. This is not something that I think Martin Heidegger ever knew. 

If the subjects of philosophy are ourselves as Heidegger believed, then it is potentially correct to embrace solipsism as we cannot prove that there is something other than ourselves that we are studying. I think this is the central message of Being and Time, both in the medium/style/metadata of the book's format and the text itself. The book's obtuse structure causes the reader to experience cognitive dissonance and come to think that there is more to the philosophy contained within than there actually is. It would be, I think, far more correct to simply embrace the anarchic egoism of Stirner than to try and parse through Heidegger; the end result is the same, and Stirner is far more honest about what he believes. For, to Stirner, the best thing to be was an honest solipsist and to embrace the drives of the individual as they are the only things that can be verified. Heidegger cannot bring himself to admit that he is only a solipsist embracing meta-nationalism as he lacks the introspection to see that he is pacing the walls of a prison of himself, hoping that something will change.

If we are attempting to be authentically who we are in the present moment then we imprison ourselves in the state of mind that we have already been. We may narratize it as a style of being, a certain pattern of being-in-the-world, but it is still an inability to act in time, to coordinate with our future selves and even with the potential of being informed by the actions of our past selves. Mill wrote that it was wrong to sell oneself into slavery, and as such it is also incorrect for one to be attached to a present identity, for a future identity may take the place of the present and one may be better for it, how could you know except from the point in time where the choice is relevant? 

Heidegger makes the same mistake as popular Popperianism, but in reverse. He focuses on the sense of being, deriding the potential of mapmaking as mere techne, mere "enframing" of the world into something that lacks the possibility of the naive will. Popular Popperianism sacrificed the experience of the territory for the power of the map. Heidegger sacrificed the knowledge of the map for the power of the territory alone. It is a good way to coordinate with clones of yourself, to mass great forces of self-similar agents who think that they have access to the thing-in-itself to the degree that they can be themselves, for they are in contact with the only reality that they can know to be there under their metaphysics. But this is a poor epistemology with a rich metaphysics, leaving men like Otto Hahn crying out that there is something that has been overlooked to disastrous effect by both the Popular Popperians and the Daseinbots.

As an aside, I believe that a similar conflict to the one that I am trying to address with Heidegger and Hume appeared much more directly between Noam Chomsky and B.F. Skinner in the postwar period, but the details of that conflict are likely best left for a different discussion, but to begin I would recommend looking at Chomsky's Language and Mind, and Skinner's Verbal Behavior. 

For the Edinburgh Group, and for F. L, a man who gave me the gift of some wrong answers to all the right questions.

On Geopolitical Domination As A Service by Bryce Hidysmith

America makes the best Muppet State.&nbsp;

America makes the best Muppet State. 

< Soundtrack: Nils Frahm - #2 / All Melody

[Epistemic status: borderline conspiracy theory, some slight additions May 1st, 2018, with thanks to J. O. & S. B.]

Update: Tuesday, June 12th, 2018:

After the Trump-Kim summit, it seems as though there are two pieces of information that are worth noting. Trump's remarks after the North Korea summit are already highly illuminating, and one of the major things I have to demand of my readers and colleagues is a focus on primary sources. The fact that Trump openly admitted that he was willing to engage in retroactive continuity in the speech is a remarkable testament to the fact that he is both willing to serve the role described below, and knows that this is his role in the improv game that he's playing, switching between ironic and unironic strategies rapidly. Would highly recommend Keith Johnstone's Impro as a guide to the sort of psychological state that enables Trump's strategy. One of the major questions is whether or not this imrpo/kayfabe mentality is able to transition into something that's able to close deals that ground in physical reality, or is it always pulling its punches to avoid expending too much effort.  Right now, the agreement has created an equilibrium state in social reality that allows Trump and Kim both sufficient plausible defensibility within their respective cults of personality that they can take potentially risky actions. The opposition to the deal previously made such risky actions fundamentally a social capital drain for Trump, especially when dealing with Democratic-aligned elements in the USA. If forward momentum from this initial action in social reality is maintained, moving into physical reality, the social capital drain tactic will no longer work against him, leading to as situation where full forward momentum is possible.

The fact that Kim flew into the summit on a Chinese plane is a major detail as it relates to continuity since events that I mentioned regarding 2013. Given that Xi assumed all of his current positions in 2012-2013, it's plausible that this is just a sign that Xi is supporting the hypothetical Kim Dynastic position as opposed to the Sungun position, as described below. This also important information that relates to how close Kim actually is to the military, given that the military did not seem to attempt a coup when he left the country. Kim may have successfully centralized power more than I previously thought, which removes most of his motivation to fold the regime and instead just points towards trying to extract concessions from the United States. If Bolton is still involved after the "Libya-model" goof, it's likely that he can be shamed into supporting concessions in a way that other possible National Security Advisors wouldn't be. This would be the worst outcome for NK, USA, and the world at large.

Also, just watch Dennis Rodman talk on CNN.

Original Post:

I just work up to the Korean War hopefully ending with the Panmunjom Declaration. This new era begins with a formerly unthinkable gesture: the two leaders of two states in a single country stepping across the border and back with wonderful hesitation. If the summit looked like it was all on script, I wouldn’t have trusted it. If the two leaders had automated away all of the unpredictable intimacy, there’s now way their hearts would be committed to peace. While there is an entirely different narrative that take the perspective of South Korean leaders attempting to reorganize the country in the wake of the impeachment of President Park in 2017, it seems more important to focus on analyzing the North Korean strategy at the moment. However, I will begin with some discussion of Moon and his his positioning for requisite context, such that I can begin the process of speculating on the contents of the Black Box that is the DPRK. 

The main important factor in the South’s behavior is the fact that Moon is willing and able to reconcile with the North, whereas neither Park nor her father ever had such an intention. A good place to start looking into Moon‘s deeds is this article from last year, which reported Moon’s pledge that there would be no unilateral military actions on the Korean Peninsula committed by Southern forces. Moon was playing an endurance game after assuming office. He needed to maintain open arms ready for reunification, while also simultaneously maintaining military superiority in the South Korea-United States alliance. One can think of Moon’s strategy as similar to maintaining an uncomfortable yoga position for a long time: at once at peace, ready for reconciliation, and superior in military might. Under Moon, South Korea was able to rest in a pose of martial vigilance. Given the fact that the antecedent president to Moon was Park Gyun-hye the daughter of a notorious autocrat Park Chung-hee, Moon was the first president of South Korea that was able to plausible communicate this stance to the DPRK leadership, as until now the militarist elements of the Park autocracy were too strong for the south to plausibly commit to peace.

This is impressive and not terribly obfuscated, in utter contrast to the North’s behavior. To begin looking at Kim Jong-un’s strategy, I want to look at two quotes. First, from The Straits Times, itself quoting Kim Jong-un’s announcement that he was ready to halt nuclear tests and ICBM launches. It’s worth making sure that you have the exact (translated) words that Kim Jong-un said before we go into commentary. Specifically, I want to make sure that the phrase “The struggle of the Korean people who worked hard with their belt tightened to acquire a powerful treasured sword for defending peace was successfully concluded,” is fresh in your memory. Think about the wording outside the context of history, as though it were just extremely literal remarks about the structure of the world.

And, the second quote: Mohammad Javad Zarif recently said that, for President Macron and Chancellor Merkel “to try to appease the president (Donald Trump) would be an exercise in futility.” Try the same literal reading, as you did with the Kim quote. Try to picture a world of political communication that isn’t primarily dominated by a sense of ironic detachment from the state of the world. Imagine that one is not avoidant of consequence, or anxious about outcomes, but rather that one is attached to a concrete set of goals and objectives. America, especially Coastal America where I live, tends to forget that politics is not simply a game people play for fun. The last year of Korean history makes a great deal more if one thinks that Kim Jong-un is a man who has in fact channeled his will towards an objective of finally ending the conflict of 1953 and moving towards a unified Korea. Bizarrely, it seems as though he has done this through the normally unforgivable strategy of nuclear blackmail, likely developing a coherent strategy between 2013 and 2016.  

I must conjecture that, at least from the perspective of Kim Jong-un, impossibility of Trump’s appeasement may be a feature, rather than a bug. Like any wild conjecture about current events, this is entirely speculative, but this is my best narrative about the state of play at the date of this article’s publication. I am by no means an expert on North Korea or Korean-American relations. I don’t speak or read Korean, and I haven’t studied the topic anywhere near as much as I would like to be confident in my views. This is a purely amateur exercise in analysis, and while it represents my best bets as to how this system of the world operates, I was meaningfully surprised enough times doing research on this in the last week that it would be unwise to endorse my perspective. I read about the Pyonyang University of Science and Technology today. The university an explicitly Christian organization with American ties sanctioned for operation in North Korea, a country which at least officially has implemented the Songbun class system, wherein one can easily be marked as a traitor for simply having Christian ministers as relatives. This is enough of a departure from the maximally limited view of the DPRK dominant in the American discourse to imply that such a view is as incomplete as the propagandistic, poverty concealing official narrative given to tour groups. My unknown unknowns must be assumed to be greater in relevance than any knowns. I haven’t fact-checked this as rigorously as I would like to, but give the timely nature of the topic it seems worth getting my basic model across. 

Still, I am writing this because I have seen no coherent model of Kim and Trump’s behavior on the English-language internet. The only discourse that I have seen is happening in private Neither the Blue or Red American factions — as described well in the Greenhall-notjafo Model — seem to be willing to consider the possibility. The Bluestate Ideology doesn’t want to think that Trump might not only be a Cold Warrior virulent in hatred the un-American, and thus cannot consider the prospect that Trump might actually be willing to resolve the North Korean conflict without maximal bloodshed. The Redstate Ideology is averse to the idea that Kim Jong-un might be anything other than an anti-American despot, and thus cannot model his interests outside of wishing to destroy the US. Both sides deny at least one relevant party the ability to speak in subtext. Minority Western political factions simply don’t have coherent narratives around international politics :  do the Identitarians think that North Korea has the right to determine its own destiny as an ethnostate? Does Social Justice imply that one should oppose imperialism at the expense of emboldening dictatorship? I have no idea, and the fact that I can’t think of a clear narrative for the stance of the alt-right or the alt-left points to their blessed irrelevance on the issue. 

Let’s ignore popular American political narratives for the moment; they prioritize agreement, and thus fail to depict a world as complex as reality must be. However, I need to speak to something that the popular narratives cover that I will largely not for the purposes of this essay. Most political commentary that is not directed solely to unelected policy professionals on some level attempts to describe first a political or ethical norm, asserts that the commentary is itself part of that norm, and uses this frame control to condemn behavior that is outside of the norm while speaking from a maximally defensible position. Such practices prohibit the revelation of surprising information exterior to individual narratives. Furthermore, despite the fact that there are certainly major unforgivable crimes committed by DPRK personal that require due process, I will largely avoid spending time trying to convince you that I believe that such crimes deserve condemnation. We know that violence is bad, and that the DPRK regime is founded on unthinkable acts of violence. I am choosing to focus on the command structure of the DPRK regime; this does not imply that I am somehow endorsing the regime or its effects. Trial in the court of public opinion is subverted, not bolstered, by telling the public who and what  to condemn rather than letting them see objective fact of right and wrong by their own eyes. This text—and ideally any others that I may be brave enough to write—will simply prioritize communicating a heterodox model without trying to assert the status of said model.  

I believe that both Trump and Kim are basing their strategies on illegibility to external interests. They are able to play into expected narratives, but don’t believe in the script anywhere as near as much as the other actors. This gives them ample room to deviate. Indeed, flagrant disregard for customary norms and social contracts has been the only method by which Trump has been able to effectively navigate the domestic American political environment. But let’s not focus on Trump too much. We know he believes in an ontologically basic deal, and focuses intently on the deal in front of him, attempting to pour all of his compute into winning individual zero sum dominance contests. Trump is the prioritization of the working memory over all other types of awareness, driven by aggression and an intense pride. There is no need for a better model of Trump; we can explain Kim’s strategy for Trump with only this cartoonish simplification. Whether or not Trump is engaging in it with ironic detachment, he’s successfully implemented the Madman Strategy that Nixon initially formulated. Kim understands that Trump will bet everything he has on his ability to win such a dominance contest. This seems to allow Kim to control Trump’s behavior to an oddly granular degree. It’s not without risks; Trump’s desire for ego-syntonic validation could flare up at any time and lead to a new war. 

Still, if Kim actually wanted a war, he would have started one by now. A critical mass of the North Korean military must be itching for a fight. As he is likely going against the military, it seems unlikely that Kim wanted a war in the first place. Beyond the evidence of his inaction, North Korea’s industrial capacity is declining. Their munitions are rusting. Their agricultural base is overtaxed. They have been weakened through sanctions for years, including recently from the PRC. There’s no way they would be able to survive a conflict with the United States without assistance from China or, to a lesser extent, Russia, and it’s implausible that either China or Russia would be able to benefit from such a conflict. If conflict was to escalate to a scale that could potentially lead to the debilitation of the United States, it would likely result in a bilateral nuclear exchange that would kill millions of people for no reason, likely containing almost the entire urban North Korean population. The only potential scenario I can imagine is if somehow North Korea and China both have a strong Marxist Internationalist hardline, but it’s highly unlikely that such internationalists would lack perception and pragmatism sufficient to reject a losing fight, and even more unlikely that they exist in the relevant decisive generations. It’s much more likely that China players are going to behave in a reasonable, self-interested way, noticing—rather obviously—that they have much to gain from avoiding a second Korean-American war. I would be much more worried about Russian or other nuclear interests attempting to use the DPRK as a pawn to provoke a war between the PRC and the USA, hoping that the two will exhaust their nuclear arsenals, leaving Moscow or another capital a singleton ICBM power. This plan is so high risk as to be almost deterministically suicidal, however. At the same time, North Korea has never acknowledged the end of the 1950-53 Korean-American war, and as such is positioned culturally, ideologically, economically, and strategically such that an eventual reignition of that conflict should be and is everyone’s null hypothesis, despite the fact that renewed hostilities is in no one’s interest. 

But, rather than attempting to win an impossible fight, what if Kim Jong-un simply wants to circumvent the entire war by simply folding instead of doubling down? Provided that one wants to fold to American power without having to fight directly, Trump’s tendency to be emotionally triggered and pursue geopolitical domination is potentially a very reliable service. Provided that Kim is not suicidal or implausibly ideologically hardline, this crisis might be solved without the use of machines for burning cities simply because its futile to appease Trump, and Kim has intentionally given himself this impossible task to be able to open negotiation with South Korea. Kim is not lying when he says that the nation no longer needs nuclear weapons; in fact they have already served their purpose by goading the Unites States and the international community into pressuring Kim to begin to fold at least part of his regime. Given the fact that Kim is not demanding the removal of American troops from the Korean Peninsula as a precondition for denuclearization, this seems like a reasonable null hypothesis. The assumption, generally is that Kim will never give up his nukes as they’re vital to the survival of his regime, citing the precedent of Muammar Gaddafi’s denuclearization of Libya. What if the survival of his regime is inessential—even detrimental—to his own survival? 

It is far easier to lose face in capitulation when the choice is between sudden death and prosperous life, rather than autonomy and subordination. The army of North Korea does not march overland much, but it certainly does stand guard on its stomach. In order for the North Korean economy to stabilize, it must demilitarize or integrate with the outside world, and likely both. Regardless of whether or not the claim that Kim’s recent commitment to shutter his main nuclear testing site was a move to ease tensions with the outside world, or driven by the mountain that contained the test site collapsing in on itself, as Wen Lianxing’s team at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei has conjectured, Kim’s contextualization of the shuttering of the test site seems best explained by this attempt to lose a negotiation with grace. Effective politics is almost always done through contextualization rather than action. Kim must be modeled as attempting to appeal to a probability space of possible relevant parties, engaging in strategic ambiguity so as to avoid being pinned down by one faction in his country as a member of another, hostile, faction. Unless the North Korean monarchy is implausibly absolute, we must model Kim as always at risk of looking like good prey for adventurist factions with much to gain and little to lose but their likely rather unpleasant lives. It's likely that Kim is far more personally threatened by elements in the North Korean civil service and military than South Koreans or Americans. 

My estimate is that Kim’s basic strategy was/is to continue the nuclear provocation until eventually the United States would be forced to send a senior diplomat—in this case Mike Pompeo completing a strategy likely set in motion by Rex Tillerson—to begin the process of brokering a deal between the two countries as sovereign powers. Kim needs North Korea to be able to operate as an autonomous state until he can guarantee his own safety, and potentially the safety of other individuals in his circle of concern—the exact side of which I am somewhat agnostic about given the lack of personal displays from Kim. Somatically, he seems to have a great deal more empathy in his eyes than his father or other high-ranking DPRK military or party personal, but this is of course a highly subjective intuitive judgement on my part. Potentially, the details of the eventual deal between Kim and the Americans are all worked out in advance, and the Trump-Kim summit next month is just a quick reality show.  Trump likely does not know this, but as Trump himself has said, “he’s not going to get played,” which is effectively code for Trump precommitting to not being surprised during the meeting. Provided that Kim has a clear picture of what Trump’s desires are, this means that the deal is as good as precommitted, even though it is likely not explicitly so.  Given the remarkably good outcome of the Kim-Moon summit, I am putting high likelihood on this outcome. Trump’s potential military aggression provided plausible deniability inside of the DPRK regime for Kim to begin the reintegration process by unifying Kim with the rest of the DPRK as they were all under the same American existential threat. 

Additionally, Kim has already successfully developed the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal to the point that it can legitimately threaten the United States, leading to a situation where the potential pre-commitments made by Pompeo cannot constrain Kim’s optionality to launch a first strike, giving Kim a decisive advantage that may be necessary when dealing with the US, a power that lacks the cultural unity and self-interest of South Korea. This potential for a first strike effectively ties Trump’s hands, provided that Trump is a sufficiently rational actor to abide by at least a minimax strategy—something that is remarkably debatable in light of recent threats to scrap Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal. By ensuring that the summit with Trump is to occur in person across the DMZ, Kim has the potential ability to save his own skin by defecting to the American side if somehow he is betrayed by ideological hardline interests inside his own country. This is likely unnecessary, and the logistics of this would be extremely difficult, but not inconceivable, and this additional strategy would simply be an additional security policy. There is also, of course, a profit motive on top of existential threats. Jyong Se-hyun, speaking to the South China Morning Post, noted that Kim Jong-un could potentially make a play to open the country up to foreign investment and copy the same strategy as Deng Xiaoping, while being able to take all of the credit for the accompanying prosperity with his already mature personality cult. Under this model, reunification is unlikely, but denuclearization and a formal termination of the 1950-53 war leading to closer relations and potentially eventual freedom of movement between the two Korean territories while Kim is able to successfully trade on maintaining the DPRK’s sovereignty while also simultaneously integrating the allegedly Marxist state into a global capitalist economy. I find the Deng possibility significantly more likely than a model that assumes Kim is running a strategy more similar to Gorbachov’s. 

All of this comes down to Kim and Trump’s psychology, and Kim is far more of a cipher than Trump. I must build a case to explain why Kim Jong-un wouldn’t want a war. I need to build a clear model of Kim’s environment, position, as well as his reactions to both. In order for my theory to make sense, Kim must have had a way to see that the DPRK as he inherited it was locked into a suicidal strategy. He must also have had a way to not personally identify with this suicidal strategy, leading to an attempt to leverage the regime’s own suicidality into the preservation of his life and the lives of others. Most tragically, a member of the Kim Dynasty or a major military leader giving enough of a damn to fold the regime is likely the world's best hope for a resolution to the ongoing conflict without a major attack on Seoul or another civic center outside of North Korea, in addition to large numbers of North Koreans dying in the accompanying invasion. Given the fact that the DPRK seems to effectively be a massive gulag, I see it as unlikely that strategies such as Kang Chol-hwan's media drops will be able to produce sufficient coordination within the territorial confines of the state. The center of power is not likely to shift from Kim or other members of the DPRK elite, leading to a situation where it is almost always better for individual citizens to defer gratification and gather resources, or attempt to escape the country, rather than building coordinated opposition interior to the country. Media drops are an extremely valuable method for easing the pain of future re-integration, but I see it as highly unlikely that they themselves are sufficient for developing a coordinated opposition inside of the state if dissidence is punished as severely as reports suggest. If there isn't a way to build an insurgency inside of the DPRK, then an attack would have to be spearheaded by an outside power, leading to a situation where the retaliatory capacity of the DPRK arsenal comes into play to terrible effect, at minimum killing millions in a localized war and potentially breaking out into a regional or global conflict. This creates a situation where the most effective plan is attempting to directly influence the present and future leaders of the country, thus potentially the best strategy is figuring out how to have Dennis Rodman bring his friends along with smuggling in information from the outside as in the Kang strategy, as other other options seem to reliably lead to at least one megacity being destroyed and the war environment selecting for further brutality, as in the case of the circumstances that led to Kim Il-sung rising to power in the first place. 

The rest of this document will be a historical analysis of Kim Jong-un’s position with ample digressions for context. However, if you already have a sufficient grasp of the topic that the above description makes sense intuitively, it might make more sense to just keep yourself glued to the news. I want to start this section with a story from “Kenji Fujimoto,” the pseudonymous Japanese personal chef of Kim Jong-il. “Fujimoto” stated in his account of his time as a servant of the Kims that Kim Jong-un remarked once: "We are here, playing basketball, riding horses, riding jet skis, having fun together. But what of the lives of the average people?” According to the article linked above, the quote has become a favorite of analysts, suggesting Kim’s isolation and potential leadership abilities, but I think it is perhaps a better example of the sort of naive rationality that might have not been beaten out of the boy by a fully militaristic education. Given the fact that Fujimoto apparently stopped working for Kim Jong-il in 2001, Jong-un would have been rather young at the time. The key question is whether or not he came to accept the hierarchy of the DPRK state as an ontological primitive, or if he managed to hold onto the basic naive rational assumption that the world can and should obey a basic ethical logic. 

So let's look at how that hierarchy works and how Kim fits into it. Firstly, need to establish that North Korea isn’t a fascist or a communist state, rather it is a semi-theocratic monarchy with the Kim family as divinely ordained by the revolution. The document Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System is perhaps the most direct evidence, with the ideological system in question being Juche, which I will cover in more detail below. It was originally proposed in the 1950s under Kim Il-Sung, but was later made official by Kim Jong-il in 1974 before being updated a number of subsequent times. In the version I’ve taken from the notes to Atsuhito Isozaki’s Understanding the North Korean Regime, Principle Ten states that: “We must pass down the great achievements of the Juche revolution and Songun revolution pioneered by Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung and led by comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, inheriting and completing it to the end.” The term “pass down” is a method of legitimizing hereditary succession—fairly obvious when paired with the now normalized succession of Kims I-III. Furthermore, Principle Nine states “We must establish strong organizational regulations so that the entire Party, nation, and military move as one under the sole leadership of the Party.” Given that Principle Three is “We must make absolute the authority of the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung and comrade Kim Jong-il and the authority of the Party and defend it to death,” it’s fairly obvious that Principle Nine is establishing a clear chain of command for the tripartite state. The civilian Party and the military are directly subordinate to the Supreme Leader, who has been normalized to a hereditary member of the Kim family, appointed by the previous supreme leader, themselves definitionally born of the revolutionary bloodline.  

Given that North Korean philosophy dictionaries state that the Ten Principles are “The ideological system by which the whole party and people is firmly armed with the revolutionary ideology of the Suryeong (supreme leader) and united solidly around him, carrying out the revolutionary battle and construction battle under the sole leadership of the Suryeong,” and several sources I’ve found cite it as effectively supreme law in the country, it’s clear that the formal structure of the state as a monarchy is legible to the population. Kim Jong-il’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong was the delegate sent to South Korea for the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics where the Koreas sent a united team. This implies that the Kim Dynasty appears to be reasonably unified in activism to attempt to unify Korea. This is a radical departure from previous policies instanced by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and the fact that the policy change was possible without also delegitimizing the authority of the monarchy is notable. We must attempt to understand how Kim Jong-un came to power as hereditary supreme leader by understanding something of how the system that empowers himself came to be. The following descriptions of DPRK ideological concepts are attempts at discerning the literal content of documentation. Like any state religion, the interpretation of the literal content by living persons is obviously more strategically relevant than the letter of the law. However, Kim, by playing into the explicit narratives of his sovereignty, is likely able to exploit the fact that the North Korean state cannot verbally and directly oppose its foundational ideological principles. 

The role of the supreme leader is legitimized by Juche, the North Korean state ideology, which can be understood of as a radical idealist metaphysics. It can be loosely can be loosely translated as “Self-Reliance,” and is derived from the Japanese “Shutai,” a transliteration of Marx’s use of the German “Subjekt.” The word Subjekt is equivalent to its English cognate, as in subject-object relations. Kim Il-Sung, the founder of the North Korean state, outlined three principles of Juche in a 1965 speech: political independence, economic self-sustenance, and self-reliance in defense. However, the method for attaining this is mediated through the will of the Kim family, rather than through the acquisition of the means of production, allowing collective betterment as in orthodox Marxism. It’s a rather abstract book supporting an abstract ideology. 

To quote from the official English translation of On the Juche Idea: “As the leader said, the Juche idea is based on the philosophical principle that man is the master of everything and decides everything.” Juche philosophy, thus, is idealist rather than materialist, and the overall state ideology asserts that the only way that the mass democratic movement is able to successfully gain sufficient power to attain the ideal sponsored by Juche is by the masses mediating their behavior through the idealized persons of the Kim dynasty. Quoting again from On the Juche Idea: “The leader [Kim Il-sung] gave a new philosophical conception of man by defining independence, creativity and consciousness as the essential features of man, the social being.” These traits are given by fiat, through the leader. This relationship is stated explicitly multiple times throughout the book, for instance here: “How the masses are awakened to consciousness and organized in a revolutionary way, and how they perform their revolutionary duties and historical mission, depend on whether or not they are given correct leadership by the party and the leader.” The masses may be able to reshape the world, for they are men, but they must be led in order to be effective at this objective. Self-reliance depends on a sovereign who is at once the general correlate of the regime’s success, and who is additionally separate from the regime. The Juche idea resembles Neoreaction far more than it does a reasonably functional socialist state trending towards full or even partial communism. Socialism or even potentially full communism is to be willed into existence by the supreme leader, but even while socialist or communist outcomes are potentially superior to other organizational systems in this model that values centralized coordination and the construction of an ordered anthropocentric world above all other things, the state of the world is seen as non-deterministically computed through the will of the sovereign. As with any monarchial system, the output is equal to the personality and skill of the individual implementing it, and as we can see from the reports of refugees from the prison camps, the first two Kims were certainly willing to use pure sadism as a tactic to reshape their society. 

It’s worth looking at the process that led to the end of a unified Korea to explain how this is an intuitive metaphysics to emerge in the North Korean context. When Kim Il-sung was born in 1912, Korea was a Japanese colony undergoing assimilation, but the Japanese occupation was hardly the beginning of Korea’s loss of autonomy as the native Korean monarchy was being intentionally subverted by virtually every great and regional imperial power active at the end of the nineteenth century. While the Korean Monarchy was already in the Qing sphere of influence as a tributary state, at least from my inexpert vantage, the point at which the Korean Monarchy became terminal was the assassination of Empress Myeongseong, orchestrated by the Japanese minister to Korea Miura Gorō. The assassination is the first point at which the Japanese Empire no longer had any plausible deniability as to its intentions in destroying Korean sovereignty. The assassination of Empress Myeongseong led to King Gojong and the crown prince governing from the Russian legation in Jeong-dong, as attempting to target them inside of the legation would be a direct act of war against Russia for the Japanese. This implies that from the perspective of the sovereign Gojong, the Korean state required protection from a superior military power to successfully maintain its existence. King Gojang’s decision as to which regionally interested power to collaborate with was forced, given the need for an expedient reaction to the Japanese threat, and given the fact that Korea was supposed to be officially independent because of a treaty that Qing Chinese representatives had signed guaranteeing Korea’s independence following the first Sino-Japanese War. The war, despite its name, had in fact broken out in Korea a mere year earlier and concluded just months before the assassination of the Empress, and which was prompted by Korea’s request for aid from the Qing in suppressing a Neo-Confucian peasant rebellion. Korea, by the end of the nineteenth century, was simply too small to assert its independence when surrounded by massive and aggressive neighbors. Japan, after the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, was the unquestioned military power in the East Asian region, formally made Korea a protectorate, and had taken over police functions inside of Korea—an obvious symptom of total loss of independence. In 1910, Korea was officially annexed by Japan. Korea was forcibly mobilized as a Japanese colony through the World Wars. The Soviet Union officially declared war on the Japanese two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, leading to a rapid opportunistic advance by Soviet troops across the Korean peninsula while Soviet forces also attacked the Japanese regime in Manchuria. The Soviet-Japanese war lasted a grand total of three weeks and three days, and at its conclusion the Soviets accepted the American suggestion to divide Korea into separate American and Soviet sectors at the 38th parallel. The Moscow Conference of 1945 established that a joint commission of Britain, the U.S, the Soviets, and the PRC. were to attempt to establish a single free government in Korea. The British and the Chinese were unsurprisingly marginalized, and American and Soviet military occupations were established. Notably, they were given a budget of five years to hold a trusteeship over the country before independence could be established. Unsurprisingly, the War of 1950-53 started right on schedule.

If we focus back on the emergence of the Kim dynasty, we need to get a clear picture of the life and times of their founder and how his biography served as a legitimation of their claim to Juche. Enter Kim Il-Sung, born 15 April, 1912 Anno Domini, or Juche Year 1, depending on your messiah of choice. The story’s murky, but I’ll go through it best I can. He’s born in North Jeolla, in what would eventually become South Korea. He claimed to be raised Presbyterian, and his family ran to Manchuria in 1920, either to escape famine or persecution for resisting the Japanese occupation. By ’26 the kid is 14, and apparently founds something called the Down-With-Imperialism-Union that’s considered the predecessor to the Workers’ Party of Korea. Given the lack of information, I like to think that this is sort of like George Washington’s high school debate club being considered the direct successor organization to the US Congress, but Kim definitely joined the Chinese Communist Party (the Korean Communist Party had gotten kicked out of the Comintern for being too nationalist and thus wasn’t cool enough) and got to work as a member of various guerrilla warfare organizations attempting to damage the Japanese Regime. In 1931, this all got more difficult when the Japanese planted some dynamite on their own railroad tracks in what came to be known as the Mukden Incident and claimed it was Chinese dissidents, giving themselves an excuse to set up a puppet state in Manchuria. Some League of Nations investigators called the Lytton Commission figured out it was a false flag the next year, which led to them kicking Japan out of their club. It was during this period that Kim managed to have his first major early success: the raid on Pochonbo, where his gang attacked a small Japanese colonial village, making off with four thousand yen (apparently about 16,000 2015 USD according to a conversion at and burning down various municipal buildings, among them the police station, post office, foresters' office, local elementary school, and fire department. Reading accounts like this makes me realize just how much The Good, The Bad, & The Weird wasn’t exaggerating how much Japanese occupied Manchuria was effectively a Western, while also being narrated as being similarly heroic by the North Korean regime when, in actuality, it seems nasty, brutish, and depressingly small-time. 

The Japanese eventually chased him and his unit out of Korea, whereupon he apparently joined the Red Army and served until the end of World War Two, ending up back in Korea when the Soviets pushed south. Kim was now an experienced fighter living inside of Soviet Korea, one of the twentieth centuries greatest paradoxes: an almost honestly anti-imperialist colonial occupation. Kim was going to exploit this situation for all it was worth. Terentii Shtykov, the Soviet ambassador to Korea and the general in de facto command of the Soviet occupation due to his connections to Josef Stalin, appears to have supported Kim in his rise. While the party has now largely edited Shtykov out of history, he was in effect the DPRK’s first supreme leader. However, Kim Il-sung managed to successfully inherit the position of Sovereign from Shtykov and reassert the DPRK as an independent state rathe than simply a Soviet protectorate. Kim Il-sung used Shtykov’s connections to travel to Moscow in March of 1949 an attempt to persuade Stalin to allow him to begin military actions against the South. However, from an official (read: highly idealized) transcript of their conversation, Stalin ad Kim both agreed that the war was inevitable. Border clashes were already breaking out on the 38th Parallel, and guerrillas were already maintaining operations behind enemy lines. America often likes to pretend that there was not a direct line of conflict from the Second World War to the Cold War, but the conflict is one continuous mass of strategic actions, rather than two discrete periods of hostility. The Korean War is the only time that the great powers of the Cold War ever went head to head in any meaningful sense, with the United States engaging in combat with a pre-nuclear PRC. 

Stalin was not initially willing to authorize military action against the south, but the situation changed by the next year. A likely major persuasive force in this negotiation was the recent victory of the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, which certainly must have increased the strategic authority of East Asian guerrillas by a great deal. Stalin, for his part, was likely quite concerned that the Americans would attempt to remilitarize the Japanese, and use them to limit the Soviet Union’s Asian sphere of influence. Additionally, the Soviets had detonated their first atomic bomb in August, 1949, breaking the American nuclear monopoly. The codes used to communicate with the American embassy in Moscow had also been cracked, leading to Stalin correctly assuming that Korea did not have the importance necessary to warrant a nuclear conflict. Kim Il-sung also seems to have directly lied to Stalin, as evidenced by an official Russian summary quoted on page ten of this linked document. Kim suggested that the war might be won by supporting already active elements behind enemy lines in about three days, and that the Americans wouldn’t be interested in intervening as the South Koreans would welcome their communist “liberators.” Given his wartime experiences, Kim cannot honestly have thought that Korea was ideologically unified enough to want to embrace a new communist government immediately, and I might have to conjecture that Kim was able to play Stalin by letting him oversimplify the Korean perspective. If Syngman Rhee was willing to massacre over 100,000 suspected political in his own country in one of many incidents to come, and still hold onto the South Korean presidency until 1960, Kim was either lying or implausibly fundamentalist in his Marxism. 

The critical thing to take away from all of these details is that Kim Il-sung correctly assessed the strategic landscape, noticing that his position in the world was to be canon fodder for the major powers of China and Russia against the major power of the United States and potentially relevant Japanese allies. By giving lip service to these power plays, he was able to deny the material reality of the war in order to make a direct claim to lead the necessary—potentially suicidal—resistance to the South’s expansion by leading a disposable buffer state. Kim's first steps at asserting Korea as an independent state came, again, under cover Stalin’s sphere of influence, allowing supposed loyalty to the overall Communist cause serve as a cover for Korean nationalism. Indeed, if Kim had not been able to begin the war on terms that clearly made him a client of the Soviets but reasonably independent, he would never have been able to get the assistance from the CCP or Moscow necessary to successfully maintain North Korea as an independent state. When Shtykov was dismissed following a poor military performance during earlier phases of the war, Kim Il-sung was able to exploit the chaos and take command of the government during the decisive phases of the war, most importantly the phases after the PRC directly sent some of its forces into the fight—the People’s Volunteer Army—following their conditional that if South Korean/American/United Nations troops crossed the 38th Parallel, they would entire the fray, tilting the odds in favor of the Communists and providing an environment within which Kim Il-Sung would be able to reliably gather moral authority. The 1950-53 Korean War Wikipedia page gives a pretty good picture of how absurd it is that North Korea survived the chaos of the war as a society at all:

Almost every substantial building in North Korea was destroyed as a result.[326][327] The war's highest-ranking U.S. POW, U.S. Major General William F. Dean,[328] reported that the majority of North Korean cities and villages he saw were either rubble or snow-covered wasteland.[329][330] North Korean factories, schools, hospitals, and government offices were forced to move underground, and air defenses were "non-existent."[325] In November 1950, the North Korean leadership instructed their population to build dugouts and mud huts and to dig underground tunnels, in order to solve the acute housing problem.[331] U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMaycommented, "we went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too."[332] Pyongyang, which saw 75 percent of its area destroyed, was so devastated that bombing was halted as there were no longer any worthy targets.[333][334] On 28 November, Bomber Command reported on the campaign's progress: 95 percent of Manpojin was destroyed, along with 90 percent of Hoeryong, Namsi and Koindong, 85 percent of Chosan, 75 percent of both Sakchu and Huichon, and 20 percent of Uiju. According to USAF damage assessments, "eighteen of twenty-two major cities in North Korea had been at least half obliterated."[321] By the end of the campaign, US bombers had difficulty in finding targets and were reduced to bombing footbridges or jettisoning their bombs into the sea.[335]

Kim Il-sung’s draw against the Americans was an existence proof of Juche in practice. It’s hard to think of survival under these terms as anything other than a remarkable victory against every other country involved in the conflict. Kim managed to reassert North Koreas independence to the same degree as the Joseon, something unseen in living memory. The Juche idea is that survival might have been caused by his will, rather than in spite of it. Juche is dialectical idealism, rather than dialectical materialism, suggesting that as the Soviet and American materialist policy was defeated by the independence of Juche, ideals are stronger than matter. By embracing the Juche system and cutting the DPRK off from the world as the proverbial hermit kingdom, there were little or no attack vectors by which large countries could subvert Kim Il-sung’s sovereignty, leading to him focusing for the rest of his life on the consolidation of power within DPRK borders. 

Of course, Kim Jong-il wasn’t in the picture until comparatively recently, and because of the intricacy of these ideological systems I’ve had to address this entire set of topics more nonlinearly than may be comfortable for some readers. The vast majority of this ideological system was in play by the time that he reached adulthood, and it was not he who was the heir apparent to the chair of the party, but rather his half-brother, the now-assassinated Kim Jong-nam. Little is known about Kim Jong-un’s early life, but by far the likeliest story is that he was educated in Switzerland at English language schools under pseudonyms during the span of the 1990s. He was apparently a quiet child, interested in basketball and under the watch of a bodyguard masquerading as another student. In 2000, he abruptly returned to North Korea and likely attending Kim Il-sung University for a degree in physics, as well as Kim Il-sung military university for officer training. This was shortly before Kim Jong-nam was arrested for attempting to go to Tokyo Disneyland under a false passport in 2001, so potentially his acting out was symptomatic of already having been delegitimized by his father and other stakeholders in the regime, leading to the likely reality that Kim’s recall in 2000 was timed so as to prepare him as a backup heir. Kim Jong-nam himself claimed in 2012 that his father had reacted poorly to his changes from his time overseas, and thus terminated his siblings time outside the country. One might imagine that Kim Jong-nam simply stopped attempting to be a good heir around that time, leading to increasingly self-defeating behavior as his removal from dynastic power was already determined.

The medieval Arab sociologist Ibn Khaldun, in the Muqaddimah, made the point that states founded by formerly nomadic conquerers tend to follow a three-generation pattern. The first generation are conquerers who begin the dynasty, who were hard enough men to conquer settled peoples. Their children are raised by the conquering (or in North Korean terms revolutionary) dynasty, who train their direct descendants to imitate themselves properly. Then, the third generation, raised in the state’s prime, is frequently raised in the luxury of a golden age and fails to maintain the harsh standards of their nomadic ancestors. From the perspective of maintaining an independent state, Kim’s likely lavish upbringing is a strategic disaster. However, from the perspective of folding the state with an ethical mind, it potentially produced a sensitive individual with intense personal preference that he assumes is not inherently evil, as well as perceptive abilities that are able to react to the kinds of threats inherent in a life of palace intrigue. A former classmate of his remarked that he spent a great deal of time in school in Switzerland drawing detailed pencil drawings of Michael Jordan for hours. This kind of self-directed, contemplative behavior was likely upset when he was sent to the military university and rejoined palace society. This breach of social contract may have provided a healthy degree of paranoia while leaving his perspective primary in his own ontology, as opposed to filtering his assumptions of right and wrong through an authority figure. In short, I think that Kim Jong-un may in fact retain a conception of justice, even if it is an alien justice to my norms. We can either interpret Kim Jong-un’s reactions to the circumstances of power that were thrust on him as opportunistic hedonism, but this is an entirely implausible idea given the fact that he has begun the process of giving up his asymmetric leverage by meeting with Moon. Instead, it seems like the only real option is to think that Kim, after being brought back into the palatial fold, maintained a strategic will and a desire to reconcile the contradictions in his life, simply waiting for an opportunity to run a strategy such as the one that is currently playing out. I am not suggesting that somehow this was a masterplan designed to the letter in advance, rather that it seems more likely that Kim Jong-un has been observing a set of heuristics that led him to take opportunities that could lead to this de-escalation of tensions, if only because this would grant him more autonomy and less psychological pain from causing the suffering of others in the long run. His father, Jong-il, certainly did not take such opportunities, and instead simply engaged in private cruelties. Kim Jong-il played the role that was expected of him, whereas Kim Jong-un seems to have held onto an independent mentality, separate from the will of the crowd. 

I have been somewhat intentionally leaving out the other major narrative of North Korean ideology as it does not seem to have come into play anywhere near as strongly until the reign of Kim Jong-il There is a second narrative other than Juche in play in the interpretation of the 1950 War: Songun, or “military first" which you might have noticed as an untranslated term in the above quotes from the Ten Principles. Songun means that after the revolution is completed—something that the North Korean state seems to waffle about a great deal—the process of constructing a new society begins with the military, asserting that the military is the primary source of power in the country. Far more than Prussia ever was, North Korea is a military with a country, where the military is given first priority in everything from information to food. It’s a much simpler idea than the metaphysics of Juche, but in effect its equally as important to the country’s positioning even though I don’t find it terribly compelling. However, it's important to note that Songun didn’t appear as official government doctrine until after the death of Kim Il-Sung. The country was certainly militarized due to situational need, but the military was not given official status to the same degree as party ideology and the Kim Il-sung cult of personality. I conjecture that Songun as an ideological system is an attempt to claim that the Korean People’s Army is the source of ideological legitimacy, rather than the Kim bloodline, as an effort to create a military junta external to the monarchy. In such a position, an individual or set of generals would be able to depose or puppet the monarch and govern from a position of relative security. Songun, as a narrative, has been an attempt to describe the origins of the North Korean State in terms of the anti-Japanese Occupation forces that Kim fought with, rather than Kim specifically, positioning the military as an elite force, able to compete as a separate sovereign to the Revolutionary Bloodline. Ironically, I must note that Kim Il-sung may have attempted the same strategy as his son, attempting to pursue nuclear development in the 1990s, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction potentially providing the plausible deniability to talk with Jimmy Carter in 1994. Kim Il-sung’s death on July 8th of that year is potentially suspicious, but as was 82 at the time this is not terribly suspicious, additionally as nuclear weapons were not pursued following Kim's death until 2006. 

The more I look into this, the more that it seems that Kim Jong-un was intentionally eliminating all threats to his personal rule from the first days of his administration. He inaugurated a “Day of Songun” in 2013, while also keeping his birthday off of the Revolutionary Calendar, seemingly managing to create a holiday associated with him while also giving lip service to the Songun ideology. However, a more interesting element of Kim Jong-un’s purging of his uncle-in-law, Jang Song-thaek in 2013 as a counter-revolutionary. Jang appears to have taken a great deal of de facto control over the country during the decline of Kim Jong-il’s health, while also maintaining a strong relationship with the military. Jang had been communicating directly with the highest levels of the Chinese state, seeming to hopefully create a stronger relationship there. Kim Jong-un’s half brother, Kim Jong-nam himself stated that he was living under Chinese protection, strengthening the idea that this was an attempt to remove Jong-un from power and reposition the country as a junta-led client state for Beijing. Given the fact that he had a relatively legitimate claim to the title of supreme leader, and was clearly inside of the PRC’s sphere of influence, it is not surprising that the DPRK eventually managed to have him assassinated in 2017 using the bizarre method of two women, one wearing a “LOL” shirt, delivered a VX nerve agent, both of whom claimed to think they were filming a prank video for the Chinese market, the flagrant subtext of which may just be my apopheia acting up. Under the internal logic of the feudalist state, Kim Jong-nam was a pawn that could easily be transformed into a claimant the throne, and by primogeniture could easily be used to unseat Kim if elements internal to the DPRK coordinated with outside support. It is difficult to think about the unkindness of feudal politics from a secular, republican vantage, but it is necessary to note that from the vantage of most systems of succession, it is Jong-un who is the pretender, not Jong-nam. 

Quoting again from Isozaki: 

At the Third Congress of the WPK in September 2010, at which Kim Jong-un appeared in public as Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the WPK Charter was revised for the first time in 30 years. At the time, North Korea only released the Preamble to the Charter, and it showed the terms “Songun politics” and “Songun revolution” as being newly incorporated into the Charter whereas the term “communist ideology” had been deleted. It was inferred The Structure of the North Korean Regime 21 that the Charter had been revised in preparation for the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. This method of making necessary revisions to the Charter varied from the way in which the regime handled the succession of power by Kim Jong-il after the death of Kim Il-sung. This process-oriented style of legitimization is one of the characteristics of the regime in the Kim Jong-un era.” 

The military was setting itself up as an intermediary between the official ideology and the monarchy. One could easily interpret this as the military attempting to strengthen their position to oppose the Kim Dynasty. A more charitable interpretation is a desire to use the military to assert independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, either by attempting to directly enter the Chinese sphere of influence or by maintaining a domestic military buildup. Nuclear weaponry, bizarrely, seems to have served the purpose of actually being the sword by which Kim defended peace by avoiding giving the military control of the country. Such military control would have likely ceded Korean autonomy to the Chinese or potentially provoking a war with the Americans, whereas maintaining the monarchy would have let Korea retain its independence by being incompatible with ether the PRC or USA operating system. This would be the obvious strategy that would preserve the position of the military by ceding control to the Chinese sphere of influence, and given that broadcasts such as this one were being aired in 2013, it seems rather likely that the military was pressing for a war independent of the monarchy. Such a war would provide a plausible excuse for a coup, as the military itself had a stronger tie to the revolution’s practical skills than the as-yet-untested Kim Jong-un. While it doesn’t exactly mean anything concrete, the DPRK did indeed declare a “state of war” in March of 2013, along with threatening a nuclear first strike ambiguously against US/SK targets. Pursuing autonomous nuclear development at the expense of relations with great power states managed to produce a scenario where Kim was still clearly the sovereign, and North Korea was still clearly an independent state. Kim Jong-un did not start the North Korean nuclear program, he simply appropriated it at an opportune time as it was the only policy that wold maintain his autonomy, and also be able to be communicated internally to the Party and Military as a pursuit of both Juche and Songun. Beyond this example, I am sure that there are other threats that Kim Jong-un neutralized to his personal rule, this one just seems more obvious than most, and bizarrely the official narrative that Jang was in fact a traitor makes sense on the grounds that Jang was in a position where treachery to the DPRK regime would have let him personally profit. It's also worth noting that Jang’s apparent strategy of using Kim Jong-nam as a pawn while also selling out to the Chinese is not a remotely insane plan for trying to either survive as an individual, nor an insane plan for maximizing the number of Korean citizens who survive and prosper. It’s also worth noting that I don’t actually believe that Kim Jong-un had the foresight to really think through the implications of neutralizing the threat of Jang and focusing on nuclear development. Its far more likely that he was just trying to preserve his own freedom of action, and managed to notice a specific strategy to optimize for that in relation to Trump. In a way, it doesn’t matter if it was intentional or not, just whether or not Kim was able to execute the strategy.  

If we want to try to analyze this chronologically, North Korea in 2013 was ready to go to war March. Tensions increased at least until the end of May, as the DPRK continued engaging in missile tests, until by June the pattern abruptly halted and they reached out to begin conversation with South Korea concerning the Kaesong Industrial Region. By the summer, the Pyongyang-Seoul hotline was restored, and the two Koreas were able to talk to one another again, instead of the North intentionally avoiding communication to increase the likelihood of a conflict. I would conjecture that this shows that the Jang rebellion had failed by the summer. Jang himself was executed in December as a denouement to the likely attempted coup. Kim Jong-un seemed to go through a long period of dormancy after that, including a three week period of absence from public life in September of 2014. The next year, Kim made the bold and unsubstantiated claim that he had a thermonuclear bomb, along with pictures that clearly did not show a hydrogen bomb in 2016. The nuclear testing resumed in earnest in 2017, perhaps in anticipation of the termination of the Pax Obama. The election of Donald Trump was sufficiently unexpected that the opportunity could likely have not been predicted, but the need for more military buildup in light of a likely more aggressive American government under the American Republicans or Clinton would be sufficient cause for Kim to think that it was necessary. Trump’s election was a godsend, then. One imagines Kim experiencing a sudden breather, where the palace intrigue has finally calmed down, and there are no obvious threats besides a bellicose American “dotard” who can provide a much needed narrative to keep internal DPRK coordination up, while pursuing diplomatic efforts to align with the south simultaneously, most obviously through Kim Yo-Jong’s attendance of the 2018 Seoul Winter Olympics. Thus, I think Kim pursued the Geopolitical Domination as a Service plan once it was clear that Trump was predictable. 

I feel a strong need to not obfuscate the level of brutality that was present in the neutralization of this plot. One of Jang’s cronies, the deputy security minister O Sang-hon, was burned alive by Kim's regime. I am stuck trying to analyze these chapters in world history like a good utilitarian, trying to discern whether it was right to burn one man to set an example in order to avoid burning Seoul. The weighing of homicides against urbicides simply illustrates the type of ethical quandary at hand. If one inherits the throne of a sadistic prison state, thus also possessing the opportunity of dismantling it only if one plays along for a great deal of time, is the ethical thing to do to engage in a deferred gratification strategy and become the local power through any means necessary, before implementing something in line with your values? How can Kim have accomplished this without becoming the character he's played so well? If Kim is acting out of an ethical imperative, how does he remember it when there is no way that he could hold himself to such a standard reliably? Kim Jong-un may be the most effective Wallfacer that the twenty-first century has seen thus far, complete with the curse that he will never be truly trusted as he must always hide something. He must always maintain plausible deniability that he is acting in all relevant narratives until the decisive moment when he can limit his optionality to the one thing he always seemed to have wanted: survival, at least for himself, and I hope for others. The troublesome thing is that until the process of peace and reconciliation continues further, everyone must take Kim’s actions almost entirely on faith. His behavior is necessary, but not remotely sufficient to prove the hypothesis I’ve presented here. However, if one day Moon and Kim can speak freely, perhaps the whole exhausting story can come to light. Then this hypothesis can be put to the test.