The Uncanny Mountain by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Rich Chigga - Dat $tick >

Been thinking for several years about the "shock" of increases in visual simulation technology. It's something akin to the inverse of the uncanny valley. Comparatively low-fidelity graphics can confuse the mind into rounding them up into something that reads as realistic even when it isn't remotely. The rhetoric around the release of both Half-Lifes, the original Far Cry & Crysis points to this being a fairly universalizeable phenomenon that's continued through the years, though at least from my perspective commercial grade computer graphics have stalled a bit since around 2013, leaving me with two data points rather than three. Pippin Barr's V R 3a lovely little museum of digital water, got me thinking on the subject again. 

We might term this the "Uncanny Mountain" where the suspension of disbelief in known virtual environments allows graphics to take on their relative rather than their absolute quality in the mind of the viewer. This is derived in comparison both to the fidelity of real life and the fidelity of the next-best graphical representation of the subject. This seems to likely be the causal variable in the success of a given graphical system that's attempting for realism, rather than artistic acumen. This of course might be extended to any kind of simulation in which the simulation is fetishized, rather than solely an attempt at trickery. 

Travels in Hyporeality by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Swans - The Burning World > 

There's a really excellent video essay by S. G. Collins that describes the logistics and economics of faking the moon landing at a time contemporaneous to the actual Apollo mission. He demonstrates that simulating lower gravity for the extent of time depicted was not possible with the film technology of the 1960s. I've kept it close to my heart for a few years as a decent metaphor for the nature of inauthentic production and the cost of lies in relationship to truth. 

I think we can take something of a general law from this: A forgery, by virtue of being synthetic, cannot gain any economic advantage over its real equivalent. The cost of the circumstance of production and the produced object's characteristics existing in misalignment is always nonzero. The quality of the forgery in relation to its original must decay, even if said original is the pure counterfactual possibility of there having been an authentic version of said forgery in the mind of the forger or viewer. There is nothing strong enough in this world to derail the path that got one to the moment at which the artifact is created. There is only the potential to discern methods for the more efficient use of the material available at the moment, leading to greater economy of design and degree of freedom in the creation of a structure. Even if the facade is to extend into the structure of the design, if it is too far a turn from the trajectory of the world the material will decay. One must imagine the pseudo-metal enamel of cheap jewelry, the industrial adulterants in foodstuff, a bad quarto written by a man simulating a remembered play rather than the psyche from which such a play was derived. 

Even if we think of the most emotionally resonant candidate for faking the moon landing—Kubrick—and think of his space movie—2001, we think of things like the flight attendant walking across a tilted floor towards a pen suspended from a clear pane of glass, not simulations of true weightlessness. We had the V1 & V2 projects to piggyback off of, thanks to good old Werner getting paperclipped to NASA. The system of the world determined to make rockets and radio transmission, not video cameras that could take consistent long takes. Acting against it was not only strategically unreasonable, it was impossible.

Regardless, in spaces of strategic unreasonableness, the forgery wins out. Before radiocarbon dating made it more than a bit harder for men like Elmyr de Hory to churn out Modiglianis, Elmyr de Hory was actually churning out Modiglianis, It was possible to sell some lines of charcoal on a piece of paper for for the ransom of a small prince before recent inflation, as the buyer desperately wanted to believe. To that note, one must consider the strategy of Han van Meergeren, the greatest of all imitators of Vermeer. It was not as though Meergeren's works were parallel to Vermeer's paramount gifts. Meregen was chemically deft enough to fool but lacked magic. The mind of the client filled in the failures and imperfection with the unknown pleasures of an artist's genius, an apophenia of nonexistent taste. Faking is usually limited to objects of compressed meaning: art, money, and so on—data compressed structures whose symbolic significance is more than the sum of its parts. We might think of them as being able to serve as currency, detaching that word from monetary capital as we know it to broadly include that which pretends contains multitudes, but cannot physically. 

The Apollo Landing sticks in the minds of many solely because of the fact that it was a political action worth more than the sum of its parts—the meta-narrative concerning the defeat of the Soviets—while simultaneously being wildly improbable, the sum of its parts—god damn space travel—being enough to justify it. In most cases, it's not all that useful to create entire forged events and scenarios out of whole cloth. At least, it's not the dominant strategy for the kind of forces that can typically benefit from the control of narrative at that scale to engage in such behavior. The kind of agent that can can use wholly false events as currency in this era or the preceding Modern and Postmodern periods is typically either a State, a Megacorp, or other non-state actor who aggregate enough power to blur distinct categories. There are of course exceptions. The Big Cons that David Maurer has written about extensively are perhaps the greatest example: whole Western Union offices set up for a rubeish mark, the reality of Mamet's reproductions.  

Yet, the Big Con's forgery of entire events and locations is not typically a dominant strategy. Maybe there's a Reichstag Fire or a Maine to remember once in a while, but almost never the control of reality itself, down to levels that would resemble Fincher's The Game or the real world's Canadian Caper. This manner of phenomenon seems to only emerge when the currency of a given agent's concern is historical causality. The sense that an agent can engage in historical causality feeds into the moral authority of said agent's governance, thus limiting this behavior set's utility to to governments, religions, and other steersmen of society. However, as we have seen from twentieth century business and politics, the primary strategy has been varying degrees of frame control rather than something typically analogous to artistic or theatrical production in the historical sense of the wholly synthetic. The eventual asymptotic form of this artistic technique appears to be something akin to reflexive control and non-linear warfare emergent in the Crimean conflict and predominantly attributed in the Western states to one Vladislav Surkov. 

Still, the question of whether or not Vladislav Surkov is an artist is less interesting than the question of what this "art" thing we were talking about actually was in the first place, as regardless of discussions of semantics, the role of Modern Art in society is qualitatively different than the role of pre-Modern art, not to mention the chaotic decay of delineated genre at post-Modernism took hold. Surkov seems to be using art in its atavistic, magical sense as the control of communicative information. If we are to think of what art meant in the world before the commodification of art objects in the manner described previously that allowed them to be used as currency, we must think of a general plan of informational encoding expressed in much the same way across cultures. To think of the informational design methods of the Achaemenid is to think of something akin to the Aztec or the Malian Empire, with all of them present in entirely different spheres of geography and moments of time. The rejection of ornament in the Modernist period, best characterized by Adolf Loos' essay Ornament And Crime, was a rejection not only of baroque ornament, but of high fidelity visual communication. 

It's odd. I don't think there are very many people in the world, or in my life, who can conceptualize the notion of using art for communication, rather than simply as a method for overvaluing objects made out of otherwise lower-value materials. There is a confusing lie in this: people can conceptualize the idea that there is money in attention, but the attention itself is conflated with money. The thing that we're calling art at this point could just as easily be understood to mean something like "consumer products" as the iPhone's in art museums, whereas historically it referred to a set of specific methods of skillful production. The work of art in the age of digital reproducibility is qualitatively different than any of Walter Benjamin's predictive observations about mechanical reproducibility. It has embraced a new labor-value that conflates fame with prowess, as well as attention with money and money with capital.

At this moment in time, we are in a strange situation where the extension of the phenomenon of art to the whole of consumer behavior points to the possibility that the use-value and the trade-value of a given object are now synonymous, perhaps because the trade-value is the most obvious use-value for a given object. As far as I can tell, this can only have happened if we are living in a social reality that only uses a finite-set of the world's total information to make decisions, creating something that is equivalent to a collective hallucination of prices. Even in this environment of perverse incentives, modern art is deadly serious as it provides the viable patterns for controlling people's minds. One must think of Abramovic, Ono, or Burden as those who carried on the research of Zimbardo's prison in less ethically regulated territory. The title of Claire Bishop's Artificial Hells is probably most of what you need to know. 

This phenomenon of "art" in the modern world is moving largely into three directions while the standard museum/gallery world remains stagnant. One of them is the pseudo-artisinal Veblen goods, characterized by $4 toast and coffee and $1000 firewood. The last is a deadly serious attempt to create successors to Disney and Bernays' control models. This is characterized best by Surkov in Russia as described above with the total aestheticization of politics. Another school is well-characterized by augmented reality gaming such as Pokemon Go in the United States and Japan that use far more technocratic elements befitting a Stafford Beer or Eliot Noyes. I was close to a minor alternative school of thought that has managed to hold on to subsistence if not success in San Francisco. It might be characterized as both neo-Situationist and attempting to run the remnants of the 1990s/2000s Alternate Reality Game scene as an equivalent to the museum/gallery remnants while also simultaneously being interlaced with the local (semi-simulacral) counterculture in orgiastic excess while maintaining a playful, almost family friendly tone in other arenas. 

This topic got back into my head because I was talking in a tiny bar/church in SoMA with my friend Gabe who I hadn't seen in a few years. He's the executive producer of The Headlands Gamble, which is both an extremely interesting art project, one of the jewels of the San Franciscan scene, and something that I'm completely not the target market for. Gabe is in that last category of hoping to do the impossible task of popularizing experience/post-real environmental design as an art form. I respect his mission, but at the end of the day it seems as though there's a different conflict in play in our world than the hope that we might create new ones with the same systems of production as the past diverted to aesthetics playful interactivity instead of objects.

What I told Gabe in the moment as nicely as I could was that I believed that his plan was a quixotic economic impossibility. Synthetic realities are always going to be far more expensive than non-synthetic ones, the only real niche for the art form of post-real design was going to be therapy. It would be effective for bringing people who were used to only feeling safe in artificial environments back into the real world at a pace they might be comfortable at. He runs a multi-thousand dollar counterfeit mystery for couples to bond over, but all of the detective work I've ever done never cost me anything but well-spent time. 

When the late Umberto Eco wrote Travels in Hyperreality initially as Il costume di casa in '85, the Hollywood plan of polymorphic production without respect to material reality was in full effect. The Mall rose in the Arizona Desert, its air conditioned, its products lacking the context of the supply chain and infrastructural stack that produced them, instead contained in a retail outlet that was, itself, a commercial product. It's worth noting that by the 1980s, everything you consumed was increasingly meant to contain a kind of highly personal metadata about the brand of the object's description of your personality. Everything was art and nothing was. Nothing meant anything, exactly, because all of the meaning was subjective and driven by purchasing power. Even that subjective meaning was driven by a trend towards polymorphic indistinctness justified by the supposed ineffability of personal taste. You could be anti-consummerist in one way or another, but that would be sold back to you quickly. Everyone I know who came of age in that period has some degree of damage to their understanding of cause and effect. Eco's revision to the essay simply bolstered the thesis in '95. The totally context-free nature of Neoliberal trade policy actually peaked in the 1990s, and has just been fading in efficiency since then. The sense was, during the period of cheap energy and world trade, that you could do anything, anywhere, provided you threw enough money to cut out the climatic conditions.

All of this was a lie. This is just one of many of the methods by which humanity was sold on a version of the mutability of reality that was never delivered. The brand-world of the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third was supposed to be a world of self-expression, progress, and pleasure, animated by the invisible hands of the market. While there's much to be said about the collapse of the polymorphic production plan in America with the 9/11 attacks, 2008 financial crisis, and present political crisis, it seems more worth focusing on the psychological effects of it on individuals for the moment, and saving the grand narratives for a platform that contains easy ways of writing footnotes and really embracing the non-linear dynamics of what happened/is happening to us. 

Exposure to the polymorphic production plan seems to install in people an ontology that I would describe as a productization of mental classes, where individuals are capable only of understanding something equivalent to consumer products, much in the way that art has become synonymous and thus non-descriptive described earlier. The standard mindset in the Western post-industrial state can only conceptualize of things in an inherently consumerist fashion. This again is keyed into the conflation of trade-value and use-value, where the average American can only understand the symbolic value of things, rather than their physical or strategic utility. More and more of the economy is mediated through a productization of the environment, and the various elements of transmedia storytelling and situational design are an attempt to take this design philosophy to its logical conclusion where art invades life, but remains a predicable, largely consumerist experience, ideally advertised truthfully and thus pre-determined and safely invariant. This is of course not limited to the art world. Denying all of the obvious elements of consumerism, we have to look at things like Effective Altruism as a misguided attempt to replace charity with consumerism. Similarly, in a rather perverse way, postmodern BDSM influenced sexual consent norms are impossible to meet, in that a chaotic and collaborative experience has to be pre-determined for anyone to actually give direct verbal consent about a specific act.  My list would continue with the Maker Movement's modern form as it became adapted to the productized economy, though certainly not earlier or parallel hacker groups. None of these systems are inherently analogous to consumer behavior, and yet they're constructed in a way that makes use of established design patterns that the population has been trained on.

To specify the pattern, a "product" is made up of an almost entirely ornamental object which may be ownable or experiential, a price, the branding/advertising around that price, and the metadata of the cultural context of the product. Everything is mediated through various levels of retail-aesthetic infrastructure, and so the consumers are completely alienated from their consumption, not to mention their labor. If a significant enough amount of the population believes that this is the only meaningful ontological category, they attempt to artificially simplify, and thus damage, their civilization. In a bizarre contrast to someone like Elmyr de Hory, we might think about the modern case of an organization like PC Music, which instead of artificially suggesting a natural system of production is instead artificially suggesting a more artificial system of production. What with the emergence of things like Kung Fury or, more obviously, San Junipero in recent years, we've developed a great nostalgia for the great heights of the Polymorphic by simulating it ourselves in the same terms that it decided to simulate the rest of the world. This strikes me not as a triumph of aesthetics, but the kind of kitschy phase a civilization goes through when it finally wakes up to the fact that it's losing many of its capabilities. The shopping mall will be the characteristic ruin of our Rome, not the forum. We are fetishizing our poverty without scarcity rather than embracing enough scarcity to allow ourselves wealth. This whole line of economic behavior is a complex trap that we must escape from. 

It's worth noting that the last place I'd seen Gabe were I think the synthesis to the thesis of forgery, and the antithesis of this essay: the former home of the artist David Ireland, which now is open for public tour and contains a space lived in by an eccentric man, adapted to his needs and aesthetics through the simple actions of daily life. Gouged, broken boards are memorialized by plaques, the walls are modified with an unlikely material, there are studies in the material of concrete and dirt, trophies of his time as a safari guide. To quote Antonin Artaud speaking of ancient Mexico: "There is no art: things are made for use. And the world is in perpetual exaltation." It is not as though he is suggesting that Mexico or Mexicans lack aesthetics—on the contrary he is highly impressed by them. It is as though, instead, he is interpreting the whole of the Mexican world almost as a gesamkunstwerk. As we advance in our physical technology, our relationship to the world becomes increasingly debatable, and there is a likely possibility of restoring the consistency and literalism of nature and pre-modernity at a higher level of human agency. The question is how to get people who currently are thinking in the productized mindset to realize that someone like David Ireland is just a representative of what is effectively the dying human tradition of trying to have morphic control over one's life and environment. From my perspective at least, this is what being a normal person probably means, rather than some kind of glorified automata. 

The trouble was that the standard, panglossian Whig History model of this coming to be because of some kind of abstract notion of progress is completely absurd, and faith in it has given us the crisis of the last twenty-one years since Eco revised Travels in Hyperreality, and amusingly I was born. The only reason that I know about the world possibly being in perpetual exaltation as Artaud put it is through its echoes, its artifacts. It has felt, for the whole of my life, as though I was walking through the ruins of civilizations that had lived and died so quickly that almost nobody had noticed they ever existed. In the case of San Francisco, for instance, there were two civilizations with ruins within walking distance: the Jewel of the West, characterized by the ruins of Sutro Baths and the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Military-Industrial civilization, characterized by the bunkers built to defend against a Japanese invasion which only stayed in power for about 45 years at my estimate, and is now dying a painful, protracted death. It was these that were remnants of reality, rather than hyperreality, or its decayed, half-assed form of hyporeality. It seems worth picking up the pieces, and stitching them together. Potentially, this might have the effect of bringing the systems of production in consistent intentional line with that which they hope to produce, rather than this world of gilding, of facades, of printed patterns of marble rather than the real thing. I can love my visits to the International Art Museum of America, but I accept it'll never live up to ruin value. I can know Disneyland will not decay gracefully as well, but I can't really accept it. The memory of the world, outside of any given witness, needs at least one Ozymandian experience with Donald Duck. I'm not sure about Meow Wolf, and that indeterminacy gives me hope. 

Note On The Colloquial Definition of Emergence by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Max Raabe - Für Frauen ist das kein Problem, Devo - Gates of Steel >

In some piratical bar of the species of simulacra that ate my hometown, drinking a small-run rum called Triumvirate with a pair of temporarily Heisenmarried bright ones, one of them, C. Barnett made a point I want to reiterate, though paraphrased: "Emergence is just an acceptable woo term for things we can't understand at the moment."

I want to bolster this position. From a properly knowing position the barest Newtonian problem simplified in a 9th grade physics textbook is as emergent as the choreographies of ant colonies, the twists of the Lorenz Attractor, the machinations of an uninterpretable machine learning system, or the human mind or body. This is in contrast with the pseudo-humility of the colloquial, where emergence is still an acceptable kind of excuse where one can pretend to know the behavior of something by hand-waving its complexity as being insurmountable. There is a popular sense that there might be syndromes of the world that simply emerge out of a given system's configuration, rather than the process of said emergence being concieveably trackable. 

There is, of course, a frustratingly non-colloquial use of the word that reflects its definition on Wikipedia, which is the same way that I would use the term even though I know that many people might not really grok it. I would desperately like to popularize this version. 

To reiterate if you are not a clicker of links: there is the term emergence that refers to the process by which complex systems may arise from individuated simple processes. Still, even holding onto the sane and descriptive potential of that definition, there must exist a state of superior surveillance, perhaps at the physical scale that we might round out from our current perspective to omniscience, that contains a step-model of chain of ascendant causality, so that such systems which we presently describe as emergencies become a continuous plane of one cause followed by effect, rather than a discrete jump from which the simplicity we can track becomes a mystic "emergence." In an odd way, it's like the moment when you realize the truth that, in fact, y = mx + b actually is an AI for telling you the slope of a line. It's at least a system of automation, which is almost atomically similar at such low-levels of complexity. 

Perhaps for one who is capable of the humility to accept the limitations of a given intellect, it becomes clear which side of the chasm of understanding it is reasonable to bet contains the bulk of complexity, with the supposed emergence as an event horizon. Perhaps this is the emotional method by which one must confront the existence of even the smallest, most tolerable singularity. The truth of the matter is in the name. At the moment, it seems as though for my class and generation we have chosen to reject the truth even of the words we use. In our moment, shell-shocked and scared from the crises of the limits of Modernism, this is our emergency. This, I think, is key to what Mr. Gu Meant when he spoke of of what it meant to Reject Yourself. 

p.s. the Russians are Coming is still a great movie, go watch it. 

No Exit {Counseling} by Bryce Hidysmith

Still from THX-1138, which used members of the organization Synanon as bald extras. At my estimate, the only alternative for masses of bald individuals at the time would have been skinhead gangs. 

Still from THX-1138, which used members of the organization Synanon as bald extras. At my estimate, the only alternative for masses of bald individuals at the time would have been skinhead gangs. 

(Soundtrack - Max Richter, On The Nature Of Daylight & Blanck Mass' Rhesus Negative

Over coffee today, a friend who's doing some social research mentioned he was looking for a cult deprogrammer to interview. If this was a few years ago, we'd probably just try and track down David Sullivan, but the man who saves you from yourself died a while back. I don't know a deprogrammer personally, but I know the sorts of people who might know a cult deprogrammer. I'm sure I'll have the contact info for three or four in the next 48 hours. 

All I can think of, though, are the tables from various editions of Dungeons and Dragons that detail the types of businesses that appear at various levels of urbanization, as they've reached the minimum population threshold to reach carrying capacity. In the case of the RPG manuals, it usually went from cobbler to blacksmith to spice merchant to college of wizardry. As a child who mostly took municipal transit systems, the idea of business carrying capacity always seemed implicit, even a bit silly to say, but it's odd realizing that it might not be for many individuals who are living in more suburban, abstracted systems, where the processes by which one accesses infrastructure are unclear and dephysicalized from intuitive understandings derived from anatomy. Frankly, it's unlikely that I was born in one of the extremely few sectors of California that maintains elements of a pre-automotive street system. 

Anyways, the reason that I'm musing on this topic at the moment is that the question of what carrying capacity you need to be able to have a cult deprogrammer as a business is a pretty interesting one. As it's a secondary, adversarial predation on the business of cults, one must also ask what the business of cults is. As best as I can tell, cults function with the following operating instructions, adapted to local needs. It's worth noting that the vast majority of cults in spaces like the San Francisco Bay Area are highly implicit—in fact many of these processes are normalized as simply part of many cultures the world over, my own included. 

1. Find people who are disempowered or weakened in some way. It doesn't matter how. It could be individuals who are looking for respite from addictions of some type, looking to bolster their capacity at a skill as they see themselves as insufficient. Perhaps you target individuals who see themselves as certainly being headed for eternal damnation. Recruit them. Offer them salvation; promise a healing of wounds. Strategies like "love bombing" come here. 

2. Provide a World Model that is simplified to the level which the target population of weakened potential cultists believes that they can use it to gain a distinct advantage. The stated secrets must be simple, so there's a sense that they're also able to be mastered. The model, by being simplified enough to be easily digestible and existent as a finite structure in the mind of the cult leader must then by definition not provide any distinct advantage, as it cannot have anything but the broadest isomorphisms to the real world. As the model world-system is fundamentally irrelevant to the functionality of the cult-system, it doesn't really matter what it is. The best of them are as divorced from the functionality necessary for day to day life as possible, and don't even have to be brought up in everyday conversation, to minimize cognitive dissonance taking the individual back to canonical reality before the model has been fully internalized as authoritative. 

3. Provide initial benefit to members of the cult that profess the world model to be true. Roughly, this is just a Pavlovian acculturation moment, but if the cult can initially reward the cult member for acting in accordance with its model as a method for getting the member to accept the cult as a more monolithic and totalizing structure in the member's life, the cult then begins to be able to maintain control at a two dimensional level, incorporating negative feedback, rather than just a one dimensional level, incorporating only positive feedback. Using that system, a cult leader can dominate a given cult member, becoming the totality of their life, the source of truth.

4. Because the cult leader has managed to vandalize the internal world model while simultaneously becoming the only legitimate source of new information, they can then monopolize the labor of the cult members in territory unrelated to the world-model. In short, cults take people at a disadvantage, then make them more disadvantaged, so they can own them. It is in this moment of slavery that the cult is able to profit from its thralls, where the pseudospiritual work of their leaders is met by drudgery of their members, in the form of resource acquisition and internal affairs. 

To reiterate: Cults take weak people who can't survive in normal society or have chosen not to, make them weaker by deluding them about coherent facts about the world, and then are able to monopolize the labor of those individuals for the benefit of the collective because the members of the collective lack a coherent model of the world in sectors outside of the cult.

It's worth noting how intensely similar the cult model as I've described it is to the model of any normal Pyramid Scheme, though typically with a more binary relationship between leader/follower, rather than many tiers of the ziggurat. It's also worth noting that a defining feature of the cult model is its isolation, and its total inability to interface with outside systems by seeding an ontology in its population that cannot relate to other ontologies.

Qualitatively, there is a big difference between an organization that can engage in theological or philosophical debate with another organization, and one that for ridicule, orthodoxy, or taboo cannot. By this logic, the Mormons in their early days might have been classifiable as a cult, but in this day and age certainly could never be as they are thoroughly able to engage with non-Mormons, and while their Mormon upbringing is asymmetric, it doesn't diminish adaptive capacity, and what with the Missions' implicit and explicit cross-cultural training, it likely massively increases it. One might consider cult systems to be something like group-oriented pre-emptive memetic speciation, for the sake of the aggrandizement of the cult's manipulative classes, so that the cult's labor-force is unable to interface with larger market economies. Additionally, it is worth noting that this phenomenon is distinct, but not necessarily that distinct from other forms of pre-modern religious organization. There should be a clear distinction between the ability of an unscientific but compelling worldview that is able to take hold in a given population, being used as a similar explanation due to emotional resonance or just being the best thing at the moment. At least in the context of this essay, the term "cult" refers to the strategy of manipulative parasitism described earlier, and not, for instance, the Cult of Bast at her city Bubastis. This does not mean that religious practice that comes to detrimental behavior through honest behavior is without judgement, thus that it is improper to conflate it with this strategy. 

However, at the same time, it seems likely that there are entire, city-sized or possibly larger organizations that emerge in the same manner of the cults of the 1970s, which have provided an intriguing mirage. Oddly, we might even consider much of this situation a more evolved version of the "bubble" economics prevalent in my home territory of the Bay since the mid-1990s. The genius of Webvan is not structurally all that different than the genius of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, though one of them provided tasty otterpops, and the other salmonella. Whole modern nations might even be considered on this model. 

So what kind of economy do you need to start to be able to supporting cults under this model of parasitism? The clearest thing is that the cult is not reasonably productive on its own terms. The manipulative core has two unfortunate fundamental necessities: First, it must consume, so it can be aggrandized and thus justify its position. Regardless of the alleged asceticism of the leadership, they must eventually engage in some measure of strategic consumption, that matches the necessary aesthetic, if only to justify their position as great or at least first among equals, and thus needing larger flows of resource to maintain themselves. Second, it must not produce anything of direct value, and instead create increasingly complicated maps of nowhere. By necessity, in order to maintain the implicit, emergent hierarchy of the cult system, the leader, who has already presented an emotionally resonant but strategically insane map of the world, must release increasingly complicated versions of that said map so that the embrace of that version of reality can serve as a datapoint for the maintenance of loyalty in the hierarchy. 

Thus, this entirely non-productive system literally is an economic bubble, but it is a bubble that contains a pleasurable ontology instead of simply a supposed way to get ahead. Cults in this model require a system that has a sufficiently developed localized economy to automate the production of the necessary resources of life through market, caste, or technical systems, while simultaneously being able to reject the material reality of that process of automation while pretending that there is some other, idealistic source of production.

At my estimate, this strategy cannot evolve without a reasonably capitalist economy—though it is conceivable that a caste-oriented society such as Sparta whose free citizens had the time to engage in post-malthusian behavior could be hijacked by such matters as this, the only historical examples of such societies are locked in ritual and conflict in such ways that while they may not have immediate material scarcity due to the support of the slaves or peasants, the concern of the individual's position was important enough that a rejection of a coherent ontology would spell doom. 

Additionally, it is worth noting that this strategy cannot evolve without sufficient urbanization for two reasons. The first is the old adage that "the expert is always from out of town," meaning that it is much easier to spawn a totally foreign system of the world to the mainstream when you, yourself, are foreign, with the implicit statement that these strategies worked somewhere else. The second is that, for the necessary behaviors of rapid clustering and community that cults require, there must be sufficient population density for a body of individuals to form to support the manipulative core, while also having sufficient alienation that this can happen at a rate where new members are quickly out of necessity. 

In urban structures—new worlds of centralization where the normal rules of nature are no longer applicable, cults evolve as a solipsism around just how inconvenient the real world is, and how it is more easily replaced by a navigable social graph. If you live in a world like your own that you cannot reasonably expect to understand, does it make sense to go mad, and believe in a world that is simplified enough to understand?

Gilliam's Brazil makes perhaps the best—better even than Orwell's—case that it is, in fact, reasonable when surrounded by sufficient force. Yet, the cults I am speaking of are in fact more like the government in Gilliam's film than Sam Lowry's army of one. We've been living in a world that's too complicated for individual minds to understand since time immemorial, it's just that by the twentieth century we were being reminded of it constantly, and advancements in logistical and communications technology kept making it so that we had to be concerned with things on the other side of the world. In that environment, where the agency that we crave is either impossible or incredibly difficult to craft from the collaboration of minds. Thus, it is adulterated. The cult doles out pseudo-agency, a cheap substitute, some of the benefit from a tricking additive. 

So then, the Deprogrammer is another layer on top of this, the synthesis to the cult's antithesis, the process of bringing individuals back into the system of production that the cult has caused them to reject. Provided that the deprogrammer is not simply bringing the ex-cultist back to a larger cult, they are more than anything else averting the death-orgy that seems to come about at the end of cycles of increasing capacity when the intelligences are no longer able to increase their own intelligence, no longer able to properly collaborate and thus gain further mastery over their environment. A rather worthy goal at this moment in time is likely determining a method to continue that process of capacity increases. 

A word of thanks to Geoff Schmidt, who provided a great portion of my understanding of the cult/infrastructure dichotomy in conversation in 2014/15 or so.

Dinner & A MemeWar: Now 100% Content Free by Bryce Hidysmith

It's worth noting that at least one side of the multidimensional political spectrum considers the last election to have been the site of a memewar. Thus, I think that it probably makes sense to try and figure out a way to model, in isolated, non-digital circumstances, the systems of memetic conflict in a circumstance that completely lacks the emotionally complex political landscape of the present. It also seems worth looking at the elements of memetic conflict that are distinct from 19th/20th/21st century style voting systems, and instead look at the methods by which individuals are influenced by crowd dynamics in their acquisition of memeplexes. It seems like it might be worth running a game/simulation to look at how some of this might play out. It also seems interesting to look at the ways that the situational information around given memes, rather than the actual 

Thus, here are the rules for Dinner & A MemeWar, a quick game that I designed this morning while procrastinating fixing a cellphone and getting the hell out of dodge: 

First, let us consider the following basic principals: The game is played with N players, which can be anything from three at the most basic, to a theoretically unbounded sum. The players exchange “memes” which are either authentic, or inauthentic. Gameplay takes place during a finite amount of time. The ability of the players to return the finite number of authentic memes at the end of the gameplay period determines the score of the individual players. Also, it's worth noting that none of the memes have any specific content to them. Functionally speaking, RarestPepe, InterSectIonaliZE, RetroPlatonism, all have the same characteristics. 

The three scoring methods that seem to be the most interesting are as follows: 

1. Voting : E.g. players feed memes as variables to the final count. Based on how many instances of memes are processed, individual memes win. Potentially, players are allowed to vote for multiple memes. 
2. Rareness/Scarcity : Players win by having access the most minority authentic meme. Considering that this would regress to a scenario where the origin-point of a given authentic meme would simply intend to not share said meme, it’s likely most interesting to attempt to have it be the most minority meme within a limited distribution, e.g. one wins by being part of the bloc of the 5th most popular meme. 

3. Catch ‘em All : Players win by stating the largest number of authentic memes, without stating any inauthentic memes. 

Given that players are able to straight up lie, and spread inauthentic memes that aren't really in the running, this creates an interesting situation where individuals might need to develop moments of interpersonal trust. I'd conjecture that this might be an interesting model of a more opaque, chutzpah oriented game related to, but distinct from games like Avalon Hill's Diplomacy. It also might be intriguing to score with all three methods, or have a deterministic model where one of the three models is chosen based on player behavior. 

What Does It Mean To Reject Yourself? by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack - Lana Del Rey - Video Games > 

I keep thinking about this quote from an article around when AlphaGo managed its ascendency: 

“AlphaGo has completely subverted the control and judgment of us Go players,” Mr. Gu, the final player to be vanquished by Master, wrote on his Weibo account. “I can’t help but ask, one day many years later, when you find your previous awareness, cognition and choices are all wrong, will you keep going along the wrong path or reject yourself?”

I don't have anything meaning to say about this right now, but I think the following question seems worth asking to further specify some of what Gu's getting at:

Is identity more related to the narrative time-series of actions that a given individual's internal criticism and interpretation of said time-series of actions?

In other words, if one is to realize as Mr. Gu did that he had acted imperfectly, and was bested by an outside actor that was able to show inherent flaws in one's strategy, would one identify with the part of the mind that is able to do the right thing procedurally with available information? Would one forgive the self for past action with the understanding that it is necessary to invest all energy in future action, allowing one the privilege to learn? 

Or would one identify with the part of the mind that is capable of constructing a narrative that explains away the possibility of doing the right thing by conflating the narrative with one's identity? Such narratives, and by extension such identities, must be inherently simplifications to be comforting and processable by an intelligence, as such an intelligence is attempting to look itself from the "third person" though the construction of an image must be creating a simplified simulation of the world, rather than engaging with the world: an action that seems inherently narcissistic, although not necessarily maladaptive.  

A View From Mielke's Den by Bryce Hidysmith

I’m writing this in the one of the Stasi’s old cafeterias out in East Berlin. There’s some haphazard propaganda posters on the walls in characteristic 1970s faded ink, speaking out about how to fight Imperialismus, and a video playing a documentary. You can buy tea and soft drinks. I’m sitting on a windowsill, enjoying the February air. Peeking out of the old Stalinist blocks are a Lutheran spire, the Berlin TV tower, a single crane. 

Though this is rather uniformed and heterodox, I think the Stasi must have been rather bad at processing information and mapping out the enemies of the state, who it was supposed to engineer security against. This didn't stop them from building a reign of terror, which was the real objective, with bureaucracy as a sort of performance. I am increasingly intrigued by the competition in organizational design between control-power and action-capacity, as distinct elements. As Will Burroughs put it, You see, control can never be a means to any practical end…It can never be a means to anything but more control…like junk.

I cannot suppose that any of the agents of the Stasi were incentivized to really do their jobs under the level of mutual scrutiny they experienced, only to submit reports that the Egregore of the Stasi would find legitimate. This is already a situation of metrics and targets being conflated, leading to a scenario where the program of the organization is not spread with intention, but through the contagious self-similarity of behavior transmission: a fear-virus. 

One of the concrete projects that the Stasi carried out was attempts to obtain gold and Western money, which is an intriguingly quantifiable and objective metric. It is perhaps the only specific element of their operation documented in the museum that seems like a definitive attempt to increase the capacities of the organization, rather than simply using force in a way that fits the aesthetic of the secret police. Their listening devices were crude, their disguises a bit dull and not necessarily that convincing, their methods of gaining confidential informants simple blackmail. This notion that their craft is complex seems increasingly misguided. It is theatrical, each action a piece of the propaganda of the deed, leading to an overall impression that the world is controlled wholly by secret forces you cannot understand, the whole affair enchanted with paranoia. 

Salman Rushdie (while repeating an anonymous secret policeman who defended him while under death threat from Fatwa in an interview a number of years ago) made the point that security is the art of making nothing happen. This was not the only purpose of the Stasi—they were also attempting to commit memecide on the German people, to eradicate forces oppositional to the Socialist order—but it was their effect: creating a bizarre paralysis of each individual. Engaging in their domestic terror campaign, they integrated their forceful network into the whole of the East German social system, and by doing such, they ensured that everyone who might make something happen was unable to. Nothing was for sure, and it wasn’t worth trying anymore. There is the standard narrative that, at the center of all of this, was a complex institutional “brain” that was capable of tracking the whole affair down to the minute details. This does not seem to be the case—surveillance seems to be more of a kind of violence in this historical case than a tactical method used for its own purposes. One of the Stasi’s victims, a pediatrician who eventually committed suicide, reported that objects in her house were constantly moved around, giving her a sense that she might be losing her mind. The use of surveillance by the Stasi should, I think, be seen as a subset of this behavior: a display of voyeuristic power, of omnipresent, inescapable brutality, echoed forward and backward in time. 

In Erich Mielke’s chambers on the third floor of the HQ, one gets the impression of the den of a stimulation addict. The Spartan wood offices, when the Military Prosecutor came though, were covered with papers, but not much in the way of the actual systems of life that one would need to feel a sense of home. His breakfast was delivered to him the same way every day, as denoted by a card. I wonder, sometimes, if the nature of totalitarian regimes is fairly simple: the state is the totality of the system of note, and thus the unilaterally self-interested individual does their best to ascend in the state because that is the right move, and thus takes comfort as the state is able to further Rossum-automate the ascending individual’s needs.

This lets one live in a curious idealism, a dance between agents like objects in space, moving in and out of each others orbits, extending their spheres of influence. It is worth thinking of both the notion of reflexive control and perhaps even Boyd’s OODA Loop as Anti-Hegelian weapons that render comparative analysis impossible by ensuring an assumption of feints and an embrasure of false-complexity with the assumption it might be real, and thus must be considered as such. In other words (those initially of one M. Vassar) is negative feedback from a malevolent force the same thing as being manipulated by it? It seems as though, if yes, one is unable to actually gain true agency from this attempt to navigate based on the fully empirical behavior of a threat, and, furthermore, your agency will further decline as it is unclear when to stop believing, to act out of the will of an individual, rather than a subsidiary of malevolence that has already implicitly won. The control mentality is a beautiful, paranoid system of thought, where the constant analysis of the enemy, ally, and all in between must shift, trusting the senses possibly a bit too much. It has the beautiful characteristic of allowing one’s reasonable paranoia to fill all of the extra cognitive space: a truly infinite problem that can leave one constantly in mental motion. It seems addictive. Burroughs seems right to model this as a kind of drug, though he was speaking of control at the most general, rather than this specific instance of it becoming an infinite masochistic pleasure for an isolated man. There is a certain perverse decadence to psychopathy, and Mielke seems to fit the bill. This is of course all conjecture, but one must intuit something from the depressive glee of such a haunted place as the Stasimuseum. 

When the wall fell and the process of reunification began, the Stasi didn’t resist much, they just torched the papers that dealt with spying activity in West Germany. The center of the paranoid infection was stormed by protestors, and the guards looked on, smiling in photographs. As long as the past would not come to haunt the future, by virtue of justice sought by the in-group against the in-group themselves, they must have thought that they would make it out alright. In effect they did, Mielke lived until 2000, despite being considered by the likes of Wiesenthal to be "much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people." The dialectic was coming back, at least for a moment. May it continue uninterrupted. 

Conjecture on the Elgin Marbles by Bryce Hidysmith

<Soundtrack: Joy Division - She's Lost Control.

Of the Elgin Marbles that now rest in the galleries of the British Museum, many of the outside reliefs concern mortal battles between men and centaurs. This contrasts to the interior marbles, which depict great numbers of mounted men, and individuated statues that one must assume represent historical personages of note, the gods themselves, or blur between god-man in the way of Pagan life. Of the Greeks, it is likely that they fall into the great pattern of history where the technology of the stirrup was still yet to evolve, yet the devastation possibly wrought by a given mobile adversary was great enough that the legends of the centaurs were perhaps born out of exaggeration of nomad riders at the frontiers, a pattern most dominanant in Eurasian history. The mastery of the horse and the securement of the frontier may be a precursor to the evolution of urban territory as anything more than defensive settlement. 

It is worth noting that, to the context of a Greek in 1801, Elgin was perhaps also this strange nomad, but one from a culture whose primary weapon was not the horse and bow, but the usage of abstractions that might generate an iron horse, and an iron bow. These broadest of design patterns—vehicle, projectile weapon—preserve their integrity out of necessity, while also simultaneously able to evolve while maintaining their functionality in type. The capacity of a society to discern structure-without-instantiation is perhaps its greatest vehicle for longevity and territorial influence. 

Concerning the Seventy-Second Anniversary by Bryce Hidysmith

Three days or so ago (I've lost count from Jetlag, apologies) was the seventy-second anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As our only insurance against a repeat of history is strong memory, it seems worth putting down some notes on the subject. 

When I think of the Holocaust, I am pained.  When think of it and I am not pained, I am scared. I am rightfully sure that I should be pained. In such moments, I am worried that I am becoming callous. I am concerned that the memory of the crime is losing its sting. It is that latter fear, the-fear-of-not-fearing, that I am concerned about at the moment. The absence of that fear-of-not-fearing is exactly what makes me afraid that the great mnemonic chorus of "never again" might not work. 

The plain arguments indicting the crimes of Hitler and his cronies are obvious to the minds of any human whose sense of reason has not been perverted. Such influencing memeplexes of megalomania, crowd-madness, or easy conspiratorial narrative serve as an aggrandizing drug of the ego, rendering others as malevolent automata incapable of depths of experience, or alternately little better than animals and deserving only a mercy-kill. For the individual's own psyche, this is a welcome removal of the burden of thought, especially empathy, which is an especially costly piece of psychological function. The convenience of dehumanization is what makes it so attractive, and thus so dangerous. It is equal parts narcissism and solipsism. It suggests that one thinks and feels, and knows one thinks and feels, yet cannot believe anything non-resemblant to surface characteristics could ever exhibit such behavior. There's something oddly incestuous about all of it. 

I am an American, outside of America for only the third time in my life. 1 As an American it seems worthy to think of America's most popular of World War Two novels, The Catcher in the Rye, which I think shows a good picture of how we've failed to conceptualize the war as a people, at the core of our national identity at this moment of crisis. 

Salinger's biographers, Shields and Salerno, noticed this in their biography—the eponymous Salinger—that the author "took the trauma of war and embedded it within what looked to the naked eye like a coming-of-age-novel." It's worth noting that Salinger served in the Second World War as a counter-intelligence officer, interrogating Vichy and German POWs in their native tongues. In April of '45 he was one of the first Americans to visit a liberated death camp, and later told his daughter that "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live."

He depicted the war a bit in his fiction; For Esmé—with Love and Squalor, is an attempt, which admittedly also is told post-facto and indirectly. Only one of his stories, The Magic Foxhole, depicts active combat. Neither are the canonical Salinger that became typical classroom fare, and neither concern the darkest aspects of his years in the European theater. 

In Catcher, Salinger depicted the life of a young boy, on the verge of being a man, aware almost telepathically of the brutality of the adult world, yet totally unable to communicate it without sounding like a sanctimonious jackass. Over the course of the novel he completely fails to connect with anyone in his life, and narrates the whole affair from an asylum in California after having a nervous breakdown, euphemistically described as "getting sick." 

There are a number of things to take from this. The first is that a man who saw the cannibalistic end of civilization was able to only express it by dodging around the subject in entirely non-obvious metaphor. Another is that the elements people take away from the book are more often a totally misapplied affiliation for Holden, assuming that he is some sort of hero willing to take down the phonies as the sort of pseudo-iconoclast common in the young male protagonist, or taking the other tact which is pointing out that he fails at social interactions and behaves like an entitled dick, frankly wondering why we're even paying attention to the kid at all. These explanations, while lacking nuance, are true, but are limited to a system of first and second person relations, rather than trying to appreciate the character of the situation from a slightly more detached perspective. 

From that slightly more detached perspective, it seems worth noting that a man who should have brought back the truth of the Nazi horror from an entirely outside perspective was only able to properly express it in an novel that concealed it, and that we've been unable to communicate the meta-data about the novel as its been taught in school. This led to a situation where a depiction of the intractability and inconceivability of genocide is witnessed and criticized instead as a story about a dumb kid complaining about nothing. And so a few generations down the line, when the smell is gone and the generations that were there are gone as well, we who weren't attacked forgot.  It's worth noting that the last lines of Catcher are "Don't tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody," and one must wonder, with Salinger's isolation, how much of his behavior and disconnection eventually mirrored Holden's with a time delay. Salinger's novel is not a story concerning the human mind's ability to grapple with the horror of an end of civilization and its death-throes of calculated mass murder, rather a novel about the human mind's inability to even speak about attempting to confront such horror. He didn't even do what Lovecraft tried, and failed, to do in depicting the cosmic horror via negativa. 2

The generation that lived through the war wasn't able to communicate the horror, and so it stands to reason that we weren't able to communicate that you should fear of not fearing without using the rather double-edged weapon of shame. I remember going to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in sixth grade with my class, and realizing a few years in retrospect that many of the same overwhelming media techniques that were described by the museum's exhibits were being used in the Museum itself on similarly young kids. This tactic, though well-intentioned, was massively dangerous and debatably justified. It is entirely sensible to try and hammer home the message of the museum, but I'm afraid that we've created a situation akin to antibiotic resistant bacteria, where some percentage of attendees are able to resist the programming, and thus end up becoming a perverse manner of contrarian, feeling a sense of validation for speaking out against the justified orthodoxy of the evil of the Holocaust. In a world saturated by violent images, the raw-force of pictorial depictions of the camps is likely not enough for many of the desensitized schoolchildren who attend the museum. If I had been further desensitized at the time, perhaps like the proverbial /pol/ types that are currently so riled up, there's a possibility that I would have seen Holocaust Denial as a kind of pleasing rebellion. This contrarian impulse is one of the most dangerous elements of the modern psyche, as it is detached from empirical systems of thought, and instead defines itself in opposition to a partially accurate consensus rather than making its own assessments, leading to a confident and sophomoric dissociation. In that mindset, there is a joyous confidence in the strength of the ego that confuses the ego for the prowess of the intellect. There is no fear of self-deception, instead an assumption that all deception is correspondent to intentional two-facedness, and that it is better to be honest and disastrously wrong than to even aspire to truthfulness. It takes joy in lies. It cannot be persuaded by truth. It cannot understand that there were smells it did not smell, and that the world that it lives in is not the only world at the moment, or even the only world that had ever existed on the earth it walks upon. That ego forgets, and lives in the present: an object in space, thinking itself the origin of all, ready to tear down anything that does not fit in. So, Never Again must not only be a slogan, it must be a demand by the voice of memory itself. That demand must be carried out by the free-will of individuals, those able to know the nature of violent horror by the authority of their mind alone. I pray we will be strong and numerous enough. 




1.  I must honestly count my experience in Northern Mexico as part of the same socio-geographic order as my sojourns in the Southwestern United States, cut off by a border instantiated by competing states rather than any sort of justifiably meaningful division.

2. It's worth noting that Lovecraft's conceptual intuitions of cosmic horror contain grains of philosophical truth, but his personal politics are deluded enough to render a rather intense misidentification of humanoid horror, even if he got the terror of an indifferent natural landscape right. 

Also, it's worth noting that the connections between Salinger and the War have been written about elsewhere, including this Vanity Fair article which contains much of the details. 

I Sing The Body Geologic by Bryce Hidysmith

I wrote this last April. It's the first attempt at fiction that I've made in quite a few years, but it seems as though it probably can't hurt having it posted on here for the moment. Also, it's worth noting that it's a horror story, though not in a terribly traditional sense, so read at risk of potential disquiet. I wrote this when I was first beginning to grapple with many of the subjects that I've started exploring on this blog and felt a total lack of agency around my position in the world, and so it was almost necessary to play Devil's Advocate for a moment to see the limitations of that cynical perspective.  

Additionally, no malice or disrespect is meant to any of the referenced real-world subjects, locations, or individuals referenced within. 

A typical stretch of Cyclopean walling (near Grave Circle A at Mycenae)

A typical stretch of Cyclopean walling (near Grave Circle A at Mycenae)

I Sing The Body Geologic

J. Bryce Hidysmith - april 2016

A Christmas party. I saw him while he failed at seduction. The girl walked. He met my eyes. He was a hungry thing, the kind of man who could keep on ripping at you desperate long after he lost and it would be sensible to tap out. We got talking, clinking glasses and leaning on bannisters. His name was Jacob. 

We spoke of work, both bankers. We did well for ourselves, living in apartments of the unsettled and eating out every night. We discovered we both grew up in the San Diego area. We had attended Brown. We talked about football teams and lovers, about karoshi and our half-absent fathers. We were both recently single and nearing thirty. We were practicing heterosexuals with a requisite period of adolescent homosexual experimentation. We had both attempted relocation to Europe: he to Antwerp, myself to London, and failed to stay. It was unclear where similarities ended and plausibility began. 

I remembered then, in school, reading from Durkheim’s Suicide, and noticing that it was written in a time before the unification of Germany. In those days Saxony and Bavaria were counted as separate nations. Come unification, they would be lumped together. Perhaps it is a matter as simple as this: we came from a time when the individual was seen as the basic building block of the world. This seems farcical now; we’ve met enough others. It wasn’t as though we could tell single stories and have them come out the same; he was not my doppelgänger. Rather, at a certain level of abstraction, our individualities were indistinct. We’d be similar statistics. 

Our conversation moved to a balcony, in streetlight and surrounded by potted succulents and permitted to smoke. We broached darker topics. Jacob confessed to me that he felt he never made anything. He thought a man should be judged by what he constructed. He wasn’t an artist, scientist, or theologian. He assumed that those trades were the only ones of honor and note, for they produced information that lived on after death. “Otherwise,” he told me, “you confined yourself to the worship and aggrandizement of the self.” He expressed a minor personal horror: he’d become a banker because he wouldn’t have to make anything. He found comfort in that fact. 

The host blundered onto the balcony, spilling a martini and offering a barrage of bad investment tips to a companion. The conversation shifted from confessional to performative. We listened to the tips, then to aphorisms of virility, and then to invocations of mid-rank sports teams. Jacob appeared to be transfixed by politeness; I went inside and drank myself silly. 

Jacob asked me to meet him a few days later. I realized that I’d not gone out to meet a new friend in some time. I’d become bogged down in connections professional or romantic. I responded with a yes, and dived into work for the next few days. 

Round lunch, I received a second message. He suggested not a coffee shop or bar, but the natural history museum, beneath the reconstituted skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus. I was intrigued. The next few days until Saturday were uneventful. At noon I arrived at the museum, walked to the Tyrannosaurus, and saw him dressed casually, carrying an umbrella and smirking. “You got me thinking,” he began without saying hello, “and I thought it sensible to carry on the thought with you nearby.”

We walked the galleries. The moneymakers by the door were the planetarium and the dinosaurs. They shifted into a brief detour of American taxidermy, before moving into fossils of trilobites and ancient jawless fish, then samples of sedimentary rock. It was there that we stopped, before a massive fragment of limestone in an alcove. “This is what I want to be when I grow up,” he said, the smirk fast becoming a grin. 

I asked him what he was getting on about. He replied: “Well, I think that you and I are the same kind of stone. If we think of the tides of humanity, moving to and fro, then there are flows and fronts of people. And I understand that, in the end, my whole identity is more than a bit superficial. I won’t erect monuments. I won’t write an epic. And with the exception of those works of stone and song, not a blessed thing remains of most cultures besides the inevitable mineralization of their bones. The living are but a facade upon the dead.”

We talked further, but it was a slow-speech; more of feeling than content. These were things that he told me, or that I told him. The question of which one of us was which is complex now. I will use the pronoun “I,” for simplicity’s sake from now on, but it is worth noting that this is where, in the narrative, that I began to calcify. Memory has taken on a different character, or rather, it increasingly lacks character altogether.  

There were days as a child when I attempted to dig holes to China. I’m not sure if the sector of the US where I lived was actually positioned properly against China, but we’d read the phrase in children’s book. My sister, myself, and our requisite neighborhood friends would stand around, swapping turns with a spade and drinking Coca-Cola in the back yard, until we reached the cold cement our yard was built over. That manmade strata sticks in my memory, the human pavement on top of soil or swamp or clay, whatever this city was built atop. 

When my grandfather died, he was dressed in a suit with a clerical shirt, and laid in a coffin of steel and oak, the lid shut tight, before being lowered beneath the green grass. And all I could think was that he was trapped in there. It wasn’t some sort of New Age thing, I wasn’t ever that style of young professional. It was my economist’s brain. I wanted him to be used; what else was he for? 

And there was a man named Baldassare Forestiere, a New Yorker of Sicilian extraction, who headed west to ply his trade as a citrus farmer. Yet his luck was poor, the plot of land he purchased contained a layer of hardpan, not unlike the pavement under my old backyard, that would so terribly interrupt the roots of his trees. But instead of giving up, he dug into the earth, buried himself, and built a network of tunnels and skylights, with trees growing up into the light in wells from six feet under.  

A week after the limestone, we gathered a sedan full of Jacob’s college friends and drove to these underground gardens. We saw a life in the tunnels, looking at his bedroom, his bath. Forestiere’s life below looked comfortable. The docent was informative, but seemed to misinterpret the gravity of the situation.

Paper and canvas degrade. Music, no matter how much Marconi had hoped otherwise, fades faster. Figurative sculpture is eroded by acid rain. It was not as though we wanted to find a signal that could be understood: we are not artists, scientists or theologians. Instead we are selfish. We want a signal that must endure. We want something that will be buried under the erosion, the sediment its safe-keeping armor. We do not care about witnesses, only permanence. 

We went on other trips as we increased our numbers, the La Brea Tar Pits, DeMille’s lost city of plaster Egypt, unexcavateable in frangibility. We were clear about the souls that we wanted: the same parameters of similarity that Jacob and I shared. We recorded their names, but we have now tactfully lost the record. Symbolic communication must be secondary to our own methods. 

One pilgrimage sticks out: a random jaunt to LACMA where we found a sculpture that consisted of a great trench dug into the earth, a boulder suspended above it.

There was a man named Michael Heizer who made that boulder-thing, and who made other things too. He cut a right angle into the earth, called Double Negative, and then let that cut erode. Interesting, but not the most intriguing. It was his magnum opus that became central to our aspirations. He began City in 1972. It has been inaccessible in its desert home for the subsequent five-odd decades. He died, nine years ago, and construction continued after his death, according to his plan. The work consists of a series of complexes, formed of stone, earth, and concrete. Its design is all 45 degree angles and dark grandeur: ziggurats for the industrialist, minimal Technochitlan before burial under the Distrito Federal. Round ‘87, when the feds were proposing the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump, they suggested building a railroad line across City’s valley. Heizer considered burying it, as it would come into visual range. And all I could think, when I read that, was the introduction of City to the processes of the mineral world even as it left the sight of man. The thing cost roughly twenty-five million, and stretched over a mile in width. Its effects are comparable to those of true cities, when the organic has rotted and only stone and metal remain. It would still be there, a performance for the igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. 

Heizer has been dead for years, and his city remains unfinished. We hired a few investigators to dig dirt. The traditional combination of blackmail and bribery was enough to score us an in with the successors. We twelve are to be laid out in thirty-six feet of horizontal monolith. The concrete is to be unreinforced, and thus unlikely to rupture from rust. We are to commit to our decision with a combination of sodium thiopental and potassium chloride. We have forgone the saline and the pancuronium bromide of good Dr. Jack’s recipe for expedience’s sake. The concrete will be poured in the morning. This is a sacrifice to ourselves, not to the Smoking Mirror or posterity. 

I am ahead of schedule. I look back, at the interstate, itself perhaps the greatest single interruption of the geologic. We will rest beneath a long tomorrow. I know I will be in good hands. I feel foolish for anthropomorphizing something far kinder, yet more indifferent. 

An Era Of Pure Tactics by Bryce Hidysmith

<Soundtrack - Night of Fire - Duc De Japan>  

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. - Catch-22, Joseph Heller, p. 56, ch. 5

It feels like we’re just going to be blown up tomorrow. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Thermonuclear war, maybe continuing into one of those long and unfortunate winters depending on how accurate or planetological estimates are. There’s this memory in my head of people around my parent’s family actually being scared about y2k in 1999, as though we had to invent an apocalypse to explain the fear that we still felt for entirely logical reasons. There’s something quite cute about taking account of our situation, and having our armageddon du jour pertain to accounting. But the message at the core is the same: The Cold War never really ended. Even if the ideologies have changed we're still in this mess where we've got a bunch of devices lying around that can blow up the world. 

I have memories from around the same time of my father telling me about what it was like as a young child in the early 1980s, going to sleep every day with the knowledge that he might not wake up. A couple of men on the other side of North America or far off across the Pacific Ocean and Eurasian expanse might make the wrong calls, and the myths of a strike turned into actualities of nuclear exchange. History fractures globally at the smallest points these days. Is there time to observe and orient? Are our decisions connected to our actions? Or are things moving so fast that our situation is more like roulette than chess? If so, when was that inflection point when it became a more effective global survival strategy to choose randomly than to trust your information? Lastly, is that whole line of reasoning the problem—the notion that it’s possible to get a better result through tricks than those obtained through empathetic communication and cold intellect? 

There’s something strange to the fact that we can only content with nuclear war as an abstraction. Proxy conflicts are just the globe burned in effigy to keep putting the big one off. Every shot fired feels like a prefigurative echo of another awful urbicide after Hiroshima. I keep thinking about Nixon’s Madman Strategy. There’s something horrifying about having to feign the necessary insanity to make people think you might use the bomb, in order to get them to not use it themselves as they’re concerned about your retaliation. In effect, to properly engineer the reliability of life for large numbers of people on the face of this planet, the reliability of truth itself for small numbers of people with control has to be incredibly shaky if not nonexistent. Rational thought creates a scenario where the deceptive embodiment of irrationality is the optimal strategy for trying to ensure the superlatively rational outcome of enduring into tomorrow. 

This is the logical illogic that rules the world. It’s not a revelation. Writing about it is even a little passé. Somehow it kept us alive for enough time for my generation to mature in a time when it was assumed that nuclear exchange wasn’t even an option. The nukes were out of sight, and out of mind. We Americans had to worry about mad dictators and terrorists getting their hands on them, rather than assuming that even interfacing with such weapons put you in a catch-22.  Admittedly, even if the catch-22 narrative was popular high up, it’s not exactly like you can just tell the population that it’s impossible to be reasonable when you can end the world with the press of a button. They’ve got to feel like there’s a tomorrow for today to be worth anything. 

I’m just amazed that we’ve managed to get this far without it going too bad. There’s no further optionality to preserve by engaging in nuclear conflict, as Wargames put it keenly “the only way to win is not to play.”  For decades now, the presidents of various nations have employed entire bureaus of experts in avoiding playing this game by pretending that they might just be crazy enough to think they could win it. As willingness to use nuclear weapons is clear irrationality, the best bluffers are the ones who aren’t bluffing, but that’s not the same thing as hoping to usher in the end. In a disturbing way, the only way to remove the threat of nuclear annihilation is likely the creation of a more-perfect singleton that can break the fearful symmetry of the superpowers. 

We live in an era of pure tactics. This is ensured by the technological constraints of our manner of warfare. There isn’t a future for the people at the center of it all, only the preservation of an eternal present, so the laid back, system-2 style authorial consent of strategy’s just a pleasant myth or ancestral memory. It appears there is simply action and reaction, nothing more. This shifting scenario, where bluffs cannot be serious and yet are, rewards the sort of person who doesn’t have any preferences, for whom the wind might blow any way, and it really might not matter to them a bit. This is cool, in the early, jazz sense: a sort of ironic detachment, pretending that nothing is serious because it cannot affect them. It takes a rather strange kind of individual to adapt in this way: a shell, or an extremely good emulation of one, who does not require assuredness or axiomatic thought, who does not need hope from external sources and yet does not have to manufacture their own. I wonder what it’s like to affect so many people, while also being almost totally unaffected.

I know I could never make those sacrifices. At the moment, all I can do is think about things more personal and narrative. I think about my grandmother, a downwinder, who died in her early sixties after what had become regular and protracted battles with cancer, likely all of them related from fallout, and a woman I once loved whose grandfather worked on the detonation systems that were likely the subject of the tests that rendered my grandmother belated collateral damage.  There was no blood feud, no Hatfield-McCoy scenario, only a sadness at that awful thing crafted in New Mexico, and a hope that it might be put away forever or at least render its destructive potential irrelevant. 

a word of thanks to Yana, who provided me with the title in conversation.

Design Better Cages by Bryce Hidysmith

Voyage dans la lune, dir. George Méliès, 1902

Voyage dans la lune, dir. George Méliès, 1902

<Soundtrack. Encountered this one while listening to Coverville back in the late 00s.> 

I keep seeing movie theaters that have been converted into gyms. I noticed this first in SF in the detriment of Cow Hollow, but it’s popped up all over rate place, in small towns in Oregon, and now in a godforsaken sector of Western LA of all places. I ended up tearing up over this one, which is a little embarrassing, but also kind of reasonable. It was the last straw in an otherwise complicated and uncomfortable day, and the desecration of a purely reasonable post-art deco structure was a bit more than I could take. I just wanted to know why I felt like desecration. 

The ambient assumption around the film industry these days is that there’s just as much good stuff, if not more, than past eras. It’s just being released on the internet, and the death of the cinema is not the same as the death of cinematic media—for crying out loud our video games are slowly becoming movies with pauses to press X to ensure you're still awake. While the internet has not been a massive increase in democratization of content creation, it has seen an increase in efficiency of content dispersal, which should count for something. So if the conversion of movie theaters is about anything, it’s not about the movies themselves. 

But, at least from my perspective that’s actually a complete misappropriation of what you should learn from the movie theaters closing. It’s not a death of media, it’s a death of a kind of media experience. We were never going to give up audiovisual media, but we were willing to give up the collective consumption of high-engagement audiovisual media, and instead move most of our audiovisual consumption to television and surrogates of television, such as Youtube and Netflix. There was something really quite fascinating about films as something that demanded the vast majority of your attention, leaving you to be lost in ahigh engagement, high fidelity experience of another continuity, frequently while holding the hands of someone you found attractive or among a group of friends who would then build continuity around the experience.  My father and his friends went to see Terry Gilliam’s Brazil a truly staggering amount of times as a collective unit, leading to the existence of the film as a touchstone among all of them, whereas in my case it’s rather hard to get more than a small segment of my friend-group to go see the same film while it’s still in theaters, unless it’s a relatively content-free monolith such as the recent Star Wars movies. There isn't enough localized narrative consumption to develop shared mythology. 

While, of course, the consumption of movies in this way was often a youth culture phenomenon, the existence of collective dreamscapes appears to be diminishing as time goes on. There is something of a strange balkanization of our experiences of media, typically into a wide variety of television shows which are able to then create fandoms of varying levels of fidelity, where the sum of fan content is able to massively outpace the size of the non-fan content. The recent memetic accumulation around AMC and HBO shows has been a good example of this, with regards to Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, which are frequently consumed in isolation from other individuals in a binging process. While these worlds are certainly worth exploring and are extremely intriguing in their content and context, again, there is something lost in the disconnection of consumption, and it’s also worth noting that shows like Mad Men were never able to accumulate the sum of views in something like Big Bang Theory, even though the latter is likely as close to a content-free simulacra as you can get on television. 

Cinemas demand your attention collectively with others, and then, in the light after going to see the movie at dinner or on the ride home, demand your analysis as you have something proper to talk about, engaging people together. Film creates collective vocabularies the same way that books or religions do, only while both enforcing attention and not demanding too much time. I’m not sure we do this anymore. From what I can tell, we did this with sermons in church, and with media, which both are basically enough noise and signal to derive your own. *1

So what does it mean if we’re swapping out collective dreamscapes for disconnected, artificial spaces for the maintenance of our bodies? Firstly, it seems worth noting that the need for a gym as a primary source of exercise is a bit disturbing. While there is something of note in the idea of training grounds from prehistory to Sparta to the present, the notion that one’s lifestyle does not provide adequate stimulation of our physical form is a bit freaky. The athletes of Sparta trained for recreation, and for excellence, not for survival. In the ancient world, one walked or rode horses to get around, and the majority if not totality of jobs from the lowliest laborer to the highest priests contained elements physical motion. Yet in modern America it is increasingly necessary to go to specialized facilities to move enough to maintain a baseline of health as the mechanisms by which we gain capital are highly abstracted. 

It seems as though almost nobody besides fitness addicts wants to engage in physical activity in such spaces for the sake of physical activity itself—god knows I don’t, it's boring as all hell. Real physical fitness seems to be more about adaptability, toughness, and homeostatic responsiveness than a perfect sixpack, and is thus more easily attained by interfacing with a difficult to traverse environment, obtaining food under a paleo hunter/gatherer paradigm, or a something isomorphic to it. Thus, it seems fairly reasonable to consider the notion that the only reason that people actually end up engaging with gyms is to attempt to gain an advantage in sexual selection, as that is probably the only thing that’s impossible to totally abstract until we’ve hit some kind of a legitimate transhumanist stage—though it doesn’t stop masses of humans from engaging in a great deal of anorexia and plastic surgery to try and cheat at the system of actually presenting a reasonably well adapted body to the world. At this moment, fitness is a status symbol of privilege at this stage, rather than actually being a meaningful advantage at the navigation and control of the world. Outside of the rank-and-file military, firefighting, and a limited set of construction and agricultural tasks, fitness isn’t even really a major economic advantage, while beauty is an advantage in everything that involves interfacing with other humans which is, of course, almost the whole economy. Professional athletics doesn’t count, as that’s just entertainment, and their bodies are heavily aestheticized. 

At least from my perspective, this is a wildly disturbing circumstance that’s part of a larger set of trends in society that are so big that they’re almost impossible to talk about. While this trend away from the average person being able to physically navigate the system isn’t exactly anything new—the way that jogging was a shocking fad in the twentieth century is enough of a sign that we’d begun the process of abstracting our way of life from our bodies in a generally atrophic manner at least four generations ago if not more. But, this is a rather well-defined semi-symbolic symptom of a trend away from the creation of positive-sum, collaborative memetic gameplay, to zero-sum, competitive genetic gameplay. 

At least to me, witnessing this trend is utterly terrifying. I feel like I was raised in this bubble where these weren’t the rules, and that there was an expectation that the collaborative memetic gameplay model was going to continue for a while—perhaps indefinitely. I am from San Francisco, which, in an only slightly metaphorical way, is where Western Civilization and Western Frontier Expansion collapsed into each other. During the colonial period, it was always possible to go and steal land from someone else to obtain an advantage in the game of mercantile trade war. San Francisco was intriguing because it was where the land ran out. For a while it was the classic gold rush location, where the land and its gold was held in standing-reserve, ready to be plundered to gain an advantage in the market by willing argonauts, who was then played by the tradesmen of the town, who arbitraged the jeans and picks. When that ran out, San Francisco itself became the product in a way that makes productization look kind of silly. The period from the end of the 19th century to the immediate post-war is an conflict between expansionism and civilizational design, leading to a scenario where people just showed up to this strange town by the sea, and asked themselves what they were going to do with it, what it should look like, how one might experience it. This of course changed with telecommunication development, leading to the current waning tech-boom scenario in San Francisco, and increasing trade with Asia, where to a degree San Francisco is being consumed in a mercantilist sense as a wealth-store by China. 

On the other hand, LA has always been a purveyor of dreamscapes. It was the artificial frontier after the frontier was conquered. There’s something really intriguing to the fact that the majority of movies that Los Angeles produced for a great amount of time were Westerns. Once the West was won, the Euro-American population had to invent a new one to continue to justify economic growth. After Muybridge invented the motion camera and the talkie came into vogue, the film industry was a viable alternate reality to the increasingly bleak experience of the average citizen. Nothing is more telling than Jimmy Stewart becoming an actor because there were no jobs as architects during the depression. Attention directed at the possible was far more economically valuable than at the probable. Boosting spirits during a dark time was necessary for there even to be a probable worth living in. 

Los Angeles became an awful version of this though. While it was able to produce interesting text in the form of film, it was almost always producing an increasingly horrifying subtext, in the form of the film industry. Sometimes you get an interesting combination of the two in the form of something like Sunset Boulevard, but mostly it’s just reasonable stories and unreasonable metadata about there being this magical place where there are film stars and palm trees and they are better of than you. So in a way, it’s not wonder that we’ve reverted to localized zero sum competition in this case—the beauty of cinema happened almost by mistake, emerging as a side effect of the creation of new worlds to sell people on. 

At this point, I'm just thinking about this Alejandro Jodorowksy quote that's come to mind, as he always comes to mind when I think about the core of cinema and its inherent magical thinking: 

“Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.” 

The zero-sum competitive structure engrained into human biology is effectively a cage. Strangely, it seems like the best way to convince everyone that it's a cage is by building smaller, prettier cages inside of it that can adequately illustrate concepts inside of the larger cage. The last major alternate reality design industry, the cinema, has generally failed at this process, but the next one, which seems to be something more like high-fidelity experiential design, might actually succeed. Visiting Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return recently was at least a step in the right direction, and it actually lived up to Nietzsche's moral adage—I'd repeat the experience of exploring Emerson's study over and over again until the end of time. 


*1  Honestly, this exegetic tradition is the primary reason why I’m so attracted to Christianity and Judaism—one must consider the inconsistencies in the gospels a feature, not a bug, and assume that the forensic investigation of the emergent truth of the system is what is required by God, regardless of the literality of the words themselves. I’m not quite versed enough in Islam to understand if the Koran works this way as well, though my cursory understanding points to the Koran working as an internally consistent structure, with gaps that are filled in by Hadith of varying source and validity.

The Only Existential Threat Is Marketing by Bryce Hidysmith

While traveling through the outer stretches of the Los Angeles region, my friend Colleen and I stopped in a town to purchase caffeine and gasoline. Upon purchasing units of caffeine and gasoline, we sat in the car in the parking lot of the convenience store attached to the gas station, and looked out at the town. There were a few mass produced restaurants, one of them with a conjoined playspace for young, streets with no apparent destination, and a whole lot of nothing. 

The town had a rather extreme smell.  strange combination perhaps of cattle abattoirs and of sewage. The tone of the light was defined by the dirt on the plastic shells of the electric signs, mixed with an unsettling winter dusk. The men around us wore the leather jackets of the impotent and fronting, and the women wore the sort of shoes that disabled them a little bit but not too much. Nothing grew. The earth was paved instead of salted, and still, these odd humans lived there on life support from the outside, retreating to their homes likely miles away. It was extremely noisy, and more space belonged to automobiles than to pedestrians, and of what little space belonged to pedestrians, the majority of it was commercial. The whole affair was hostile. All the food within reach was poisonous at variable rates of toxicity. As night fell and the sunbeams weakened we looked through an increasingly opaque and vaguely orange haze. On top of the smell, there was friction in my breath. 

It brought to mind a remark my friend Michael had made to me a few days previous:“The only existential threat is marketing.” More broadly, we might simply suggest that the only existential threat is deception, or that which makes things that are insane appear to be sane—the classic upsell, the manufacturing of desire. This practice is able to counter—but not replace—the traits of both intelligence and sanity. Should we integrate these deceptions into ourselves, we will slowly become the thrall of the insanity, lacking any meaningful relation to the world. 

Everything I saw was typical for a Californian town of low to middling prosperity lacking tourism as a major industry, thus lacking a paying judgmental observer to keep it in check. The violence of it was cloaked under a level of manufactured normalcy—the only way to get around that is to take a perspective akin to an archaeologist from the future, asking well, how did the Californians fall?, and even with that the majority of the people who read this will assume that I’m just overreacting. In a sense I am; I am overshooting the personal and seeing where it takes me. 

There’s an old parable by G. K. Chesterton about a fence. Imagine that you find a fence in a field. To be a conservative, in Chesterton’s view, is to not tear down the fence because someone must have built it for a reason, and you don’t know why, but they probably did. The problem is that somewhere like Southern California is fences on top of fences, on top of fences, the lot of them precariously balanced so that it’s increasingly unclear as to what sort of behavior they were meant to direct on the ground. In short, the reason that California, and indeed America will fall is that we lost track of what we were doing, and why we were doing it, because we let outside forces vandalize our instinctive sense of cause and effect. In other words, the only existential threats are threats that neutralize our ability to have agency, either by forcing us to pretend fake complexity exists, or forcing us to ignore real complexity that is relevant to our lives. 

We can understand the first order effect of that town: a refueling shop for city slickers like me, and a warehousing for people in the LA region, but we confuse what something is doing for why it is doing it. There is an assumption that we should provide services for pay so that we may survive, but unfortunately this typically incentivizes behavior at a micro-scale that is awful at a macro-scale. There is simply not enough of a coordination apparatus to allow the micro and macroeconomic components of the system to be integrated, and, indeed, they cannot be integrated unless there is an intelligence to understand them. Indeed, most, if not all, market driven economic thought is considerations of the ways that unintelligent non-coordinated action can mimic and improve upon hubristic, poorly coordinated intelligent action. The trouble is generally that the monetary pricing systems have to actually contain information, and I’m fairly skeptical that they do right now, though if they do free market systems work just fine. 

Such components that are not understood by intelligences inside of economies, and thus the economic apparatus lacks agency over. Our term for this is, of course, externalities, but it seems as though the only way to remedy this is for them to no longer be externalities, for everything to be accounted for inside the economic system. There is an assumption, generally, that we must create these hellholes for “the economy,” but in general this is a bizarro inverse of a deferred gratification strategy at a societal scale. While it is reasonably logical for us to, as a society, ration in times of scarcity, it does not make sense for us to feast without eating, consuming massive quantities of resources that do not feed us with the assumption that it will improve our prosperity in the long run, without directly improving our experiential or tactical situation in the present. 

In a bizarre way, a system that contains externalities is one in which the typical adage the ends justify the means is turned on its head. The means justify the ends, the goal is unimportant—only the perpetuation of the system is necessary. As long as the means of securing momentary wealth are justified by the economy, any judgement of their validity from an outside source is rendered irrelevant, even if that judgment might be more accurate from a materialist or experiential perspective. The current economy is an unintellignet, non-entity, engaging in limited emulation of the genius of intention through the wisdom of crowds, producing stability through whim and accident. There’s a point when you just have to look back at the SlimJims in the gas station and the heat wafting up from the pavement, your legs cramped from a long drive and ask yourself how different this is from a superintelligence slowly edging humanity into suicide like boiling frogs alive, perhaps to avoid weight on its conscience by not technically killing us. 

The next day, we went to the Salton Sea. It’s beautiful in the way that its still waters meet the sky, but its beaches are made of bones, and it smells like death. After the Army Corps of Engineers created it by bungling the redirection of the Colorado River, and then sold land around it for vacation speculation. There were birds there, gamboling in the shallows, going after some of the cannibal tilapia that still survive in a strange, narrowing ecological niche. It’s peaceful, and it could never be my home. 

Basic Strategies of the Bee-Apes — [Some Preliminary Notes For A Positive-Sum Model Of Applied History] by Bryce Hidysmith

A staggeringly stupid D&D monster that somehow ends up being a pretty good metaphor for humanity.  

A staggeringly stupid D&D monster that somehow ends up being a pretty good metaphor for humanity.  

<As usual, a Soundtrack. Note that this was recorded in 1969.>

About a year and a half ago, I was listening to the Lewis and Clark diaries on tape in a beat up Nissan gunning it to a decommissioned firewatch in Nevada. In the midst of a megadrought, we heard voices from a well-kept, largely pre-European contact America. From the text, it seemed a harsh but negotiable land of rivers of salmon and plains of buffalo. Indeed, one of the most striking things about the diaries is just how many different groups of Natives were negotiating with that land, holding onto prosperity in variable contexts, organized into bands and nations skilled in adaptation to whatever context they found themselves in. 

Despite the diversity of environments explored by Lewis and Clark in their trek across the Western expanse, one thing stands out to me in their documentation: Nobody ever spends time alone. Solitude is a sign of something being horribly wrong. This is true both of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and of any of the populations they encounter along their way. The hunting parties are the smallest units of organization sent out into the wilderness, numbering four or so, a viable sum for carrying wounded back and pointing eyes in all directions. The smallest intentionally formed groups of Natives they encounter are pairs of riders serving as scouts, the only solitary individuals are lost and in danger. 

I hesitate to call the landscape of America that Lewis and Clark visited natural, as the marks and stories of cultivation by the Natives are obvious in the diaries and all other reputable historical sources. Instead, it fits a sort of hybrid model: cultivated, yet in many cases the natural processes were used and bolstered as they were clearly more efficient than processes that could be directly controlled and legibilized. The “edible forest” methodology used by many native groups is of course a clear example of such practices. One must only go to the Field Museum in Chicago, and look at the massive volume of a Haida potlatch bowl on display there to see the possible bounty from such techniques. 

Yet, the ability to travel through the untamed land in nearly any time before the advent of modern transit networks required a return to a sort of pre-agricultural nomadism. It is that state that determined the majority of the constraints of human biological, anatomical, and base-social systems. The popular assumptions of the various paleo-oriented schools of thought assume typically that our base wiring concerns a time when we were animalistic and prelinguistic. I would conjecture that while humanity is obviously a biological phenomenon, our cultural evolution is as strong, if not stronger a force than our biology. One must only look at the greying of Japan to see the defeat of reproductive impulse at the hand of technology’s rearchitecting of the human plan. 

However, our psychological capacities do not evolve as fast as our cultural infrastructure. This leads to a scenario where an ancestral environment of our cultural evolution is just as determinant as our biological ancestral environment, despite the fact that they are different periods in human development. In fact, it seems fairly likely that one of the largest conflicts in human life is that between biology and physical force, and culture and abstract design. Both genetics and memetic inhabit separate, but interlinked, regions of the human system, but appear to have distinct motivations. 

To look at human biology is to paint a dark picture. While the environmentalists of the world are right in that we should avoid the wholesale destruction of the ecosystems of the earth, they typically lack the bravery to question the experiential realities of natural life. While there is a fairly good line of reasoning suggesting that the world of the technologically inferior ape is not necessarily worse than that of humanity—look at the bonobo, don’t you want that many orgasms?! they say—I am disinclined to think that humanity’s base biological wiring is inherently benevolent, nor am I willing to accept that bonobos, gorillas, and chimpanzees are actually the idealized creatures we have painted them to be. 

The most obvious examples of the biological drive of apes is patriarchy, the ruling silverback holding onto power as a gerontocrat, where other males maintain their position in hierarchies with the hope of eventually ascending, or engaging in various other beta strategies well documented by the skeezy-yet accurate pickup artistry subculture. While bonobos have used sexuality as their means of communication over violence and conspicuous production, I am not sure that these systems are akin to the unchained dreams of Rousseau. On the contrary, I think these are but methods of restricting production to maintain the once-earned yet not necessary status of individuals in them at the expense of the overall community. This assumption of intra-species relations as a zero-sum game is not only patently absurd, but introduces a corruption that destroys resources and maintains a Hobbesian scenario of life nasty, brutish, and short while a small number of elites maintain only comparative prosperity. 

Perhaps it is odd that I judge the animal world by the same standards I judge the human, but to do anything else would be denial. This horror story of ape against ape is what truly lies behind the term rape culture, where the unintelligent impulses of untempered biology incentivize males act as agents and females to act as capital. This results in males attempting to explicitly own females, females’ response to implicitly control males, and all to engage in crude dominance battles of varying publicity leading to consistent, brutal, and meaningless violence. There are, of course, queer variations on this theme, but those variations rise out of a simplicity of asymmetric incentive in the meat-robots that carry our genes. I hope one day that we will be able to make a covenant with our biology, so that we are no longer at war with ourselves. 

All of these conflicts exist inside of humanity as a species, but humanity was not only in conflict with itself, but also with other species and the hostile environment. While biology optimizes for the survival of genes within the constraints of the environment, culture optimizes for the survival of memes. The memes that increase the fitness of genes appear to be ones that increase the propensity of the individual genes to survive by either gaining informational advantage or enhancing the will to live. Memetic evolution reaches a point of equilibrium when it is capable of meeting the material needs of its population to the extent that it can explain why it cannot totally meet the material desires of its population, in conflict with the material reality of any member of the population. 1  

Provided this cultural system can explain the conditions of the world, it is capable of unifying a population into a superorganism: a symbiotic cluster capable of engaging in non-zero sum behaviors within itself, for it is capable of identifying as a coherent unit. This identification either comes from self-similarity—members of the unit see other members as “backups” of themselves, either for genetic or memetic reasons—or symbiotic need—members of the unit see other members as useful or valuable, lending themselves to an overall collaboration. 2  

In a pre-technological state, our informational advantages came out of our coordination capacity. In a slightly perverse way we may think of the invention of protolanguage as a realization of the old general’s adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. We are social for mutual benefit. Like other animals, our pre-linguistic recognition of the self-similarity of other members of our species was the beginning of this process of organization, a precursor to symbiotic differentiation of behavior. We sought to conquer hunger, escape the teeth of the predator, and keep the fires lit through the winter. Such tasks are close to impossible without a tribe, and through the creations of tribe we conquered the entropic tendencies of the environment and the other species that hoped to digest us into calories for the same purpose. 

Somehow, we won, and were left with the jackpot of the Earth. We are a bizarre hybrid of the physiology of the ape with the systemic organizational capacity of the apocrita, coupled with a tough healing factor unmatched by most other large fauna. The base unit of nomadic humanity is not the individual, but the pack, ready to take on a mammoth in pursuit predation with stone-tip spears or scour fields for tiny fruit before we had time to enlarge it through selective breeding. Our advantages came from communication. To lead, to follow, to see, to speak, to listen, how else could an unarmored ape survive in a world of ice and saber-teeth? 

This is where I want to leave our pseudo-historical narrative for a moment. Humanity has built the cradle for civilization, but not civilization itself. We may picture the classic cromagnon here, standing tall on upon the corpse of some great mammal, perhaps having mastered the basics of taming fire, living in caves and camping, likely predating the adaptations of the land that lead to sedentary behavior. As with all archaeological and paleontological questions, the veracity of this narrative is unclear, but the two basic forces, the zero-sum baseline of biology and the positive-sum force of communicative culture are apparent. 

This pseudo-history will of course continue with part two, a piece addressing a base taxonomy of technological methods by which humanity has repeatedly re-architected itself. 


1: This taxonomy is, of course, derived from Max Weber’s terms of “organic” and “mechanical” solidarity, but “symbiotic” and “self-identifying” seem far less misleading. It is also worth noticing that self-identifying solidarity is often frequently coercive and gameable, and in more advanced societies simply results in implicit possession of other humans as capital, rather than explicit. From what I can tell, Rene Girard has said a lot of accurate things about this, but I haven’t really gotten to reading primary sources yet. 

2: Thought this physiosocial technology level, we are taking about classes like women and non-alpha males, this is effectively what Marx meant when he said that history was the history of class struggles. I object to the linearity of Hegel’s successors, nonlinear dialectical materialism seems to basically just be social evolutionary dynamics. I have a feeling that in this series, I’m likely going to be writing a lot about how Marx’s forensic technique was basically spot on, and that the problems of Marxism come from Marxists, not the approach that Marx took doing archaeology on his present. Though I’m sure I will revisit this topic, it seems as though the failures of Communism came mostly from the assumption that, in order to have a Communist society, you had to remove strategic asymmetry by the force of a totalitarian singleton, rather than rendering strategic asymmetry irrelevant through the creation of real or possibly within-reach abundance, thus rendering zero-sum strategies obsolete. Capitalism has been a lot better at rendering zero-sum obsolete. 

I think I’m feeling brave enough to post something this grandiose because on Friday I went on a date to go see Arrival. While these words were already mostly written, had I not seen the movie they would have likely not ended up on this blog for much longer out of fear of ridicule. Yet, Arrival is a story about what it actually takes for the non-zero sum and positive sum interaction models to start to take hold in a strategic environment: communication and information abundance, leading to rational trust between peers. I highly recommend all of you go see it as soon as you can. The fact that a movie with such a message was not only made, but was made as a high budget, mainstream blockbuster is astounding to me, an signals a slightly different zeitgeist than I’ve been experiencing recently. I want to engender that zeitgeist further, so I'm giving sharing information, When things are immediate, they do not have to be perfect, and as best I can tell, this is what blogs are for: the chronological documentation of an individual's attentions. 

Fire Has No Voice by Bryce Hidysmith

Voice of Fire - Barnett Newman

Voice of Fire - Barnett Newman

<I believe that soundtracks & epigraphs are important.>

I woke up two mornings ago to news of a fire at a party in Oakland.  I'd considered going. I'd marked myself as "interested" on Facebook and forgotten about it. The dead were counted, I was marked among them. I'd slept in, my phone was dead, I was out of communication. I got all sorts of messages asking if I was alive. I confirmed my pulse and shuffled to a fika. Over the day, I found a death toll of nine, which increased throughout the next 48 hours. At some point people started talking about the dead in the past tense. 

An old friend died in that fire. Her name was Cash Askew. We went to middle school together for a few years before I was thrown out. We both wrote in runes and enjoyed synthesizers, and bonded mostly over shared aesthetic sensibilities. We were never very close. I was always terribly intimidated by her. She was always a few steps ahead.  She found her path early, as the sort of musician photographed in black and white, stark contrast and detached, stoic expression. I have a strong memory of sitting on her living room floor in 2010 or so, asking what the music playing was. She smiled, and told me it was her own composition. I'd hear about her from time to time, exchange a few words and smiles at gatherings. I was happy to know she was a force in this city of our birth. I was watching her gain skill and strength. I was excited for her future, and appreciative of the shared present. 

The last time I saw her was at a noise show I attended right before running away to Chile. She'd rigged up her equipment so that a piece of reel to reel tape was moving around a speaker pylon. It sounded like weather after time itself was over. A few monoliths, a discolored sky, nothing beside remains. I was sitting on the ground cross legged, listening to a landscape with no horizon and no vantage point. I want to hold that memory in my head for as long as I can. I have no notion how I could record one of her performances; the closest thing that I could think of would be the creation of an automated room programmed to go through her motions. The technosolutionist in me wakes up in moments like this, but that is just a way of numbing myself to the simple awfulness of loss. 

There were others I knew. None of them as well as Cash. None who I really shared history with. They were simply part of the same world as me, playing parts in parallel stories. One of them, Kiyomi Tanouye, participated in an ARG that had influenced me a great deal as a teenager. I'd always wanted to get to know her, though I'd only ever heard her alias from the game until the day after the fire. Another I'd encountered in online dating. A few others were just faces, perhaps I'd been an unspeaking extra in their lives. Whole worlds burned in the fire, both those of memory, and those never to be built according to the visions of the now-dead. 

Since the beginning of this year, it's felt as though the world is slipping away, piece by piece, person by person. Part of me takes a perverse comfort in solipsism. I hope that this is all some test, some message, a Book of Job or a Kobayashi Maru, where there is some kind of outside force, asking me to not give into despair in light of devastation to prove that I wouldn't give in, even if there was no other sensible option. It's comforting, if deeply self-centered, to hope that the suffering means something: a metaphor for a third party. 

Then I come to my senses. Fire has no voice. Entropy has no signal: only noise cutting sense and memory to ribbons. When we are burned we mourn and engrave the names and stories of those we have lost on whatever material is available. Then we craft worlds less combustable. I am awake again this morning. The last two were numb, spending time in interstitials of Buddhist church and sleeping in. Today I will use what light I have to work. 

We Must Simply Build Their Cradle First by Bryce Hidysmith

Pale Blue Dot, a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billionmiles, 40.5 AU), as part of the Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System.

Pale Blue Dot, a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billionmiles, 40.5 AU), as part of the Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System.

I feel like this is a time when it is necessary to write, so that I may connect with you who sit behind the screen. It is very unlikely that these words will be printed, written by hand, or even spoken aloud by anyone other than myself as I edit them. There is something a bit sad in the privileging of text over dialog, but that immediacy of question and answer was lost long ago with Plato. I may hazard that we gained more than we lost, but writing appears to be something of a faustian pact. Fast forward a few millennia and this odd disconnection from physicality in our age of bit and pixel seems to define the reality around us more than anything else. Our models of the world look almost nothing like what appears to be happening. Still, we view them, and they control us.

We call these models a number of names: narrative, media, culture, and so on. More than anything they are simply maps: small, simplified versions of the real world that we use to predict decisions. We build our models out of our own observations and rumors on the wind. For a while, it seemed like telecommunications was making it easier to integrate rumors into our models. Then Donald J. Trump won the presidency, and nobody really saw it coming except those who wanted to believe. On all sides of the political spectrum, there were people telling stories that they wanted to be true as though simply telling them would make them true. There is something terrifying when prediction is itself a political act. Collaborative navigation of possible futures becomes impossible. In this era, all information is corrupted by the instrumentality of ambitious hope. The world conforms to post-Truth. I hope this essay does not. Still, I know that because the world rewards post-Truth strategies at this moment, this information will cost more to reproduce than it will likely regain in energetic profit.

In the last few months, I’d crossed enough political and geographic boundaries to tell that people were telling very different stories from place to place. The narratives differed, thus I knew that I could not know what to expect. Though the narratives use different terms, their structure converges. Almost all of the stories that I heard told were ones of demographic apocalypse: barbarians of various flavors at the gate. There is a sense among most Americans, and, indeed, most people of the world, that there is a need to defend their very identities from some outside malevolence. We do not seem to understand what that malevolence is, or how to properly fight it. Instead we assume that that malevolence has to be human. It must be just like us, only evil, like an orc. This line of reasoning lacks empirical strength. We do not remember the last eras where identity seemed under siege, nor the circumstances that led to such periods. Collective memory itself is in crisis.

In my present America, that of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, there are no well-kept scribes who remember the nature of the message in each letter with their styluses put to clay tablet or papyrus. There are no mnemonic architectures with diligent monks illuminating scriptures and preserving text. There are people who hoard books in archives, but they do not have the time to study them. Nobody with much power listens to them anyway. There are people who read books, but they are mostly trying to keep up with the ever accelerating pace at which they are published. Rarely does the information in the new books actually matter all that much. There are people who are paid to know what to do, but it’s mostly all Vision Thing and although valuable, it is a kind of magic, not the analytic potential of a science. As one of those people who are paid to know what to do, I can confirm that we are mostly kept around to confirm the feelings of our employers.

For people who aren’t in a position to employ court philosophers, ornamental or otherwise, there is only the screen and its instant delights. To live in a world that has privileged code, media, and abstraction is to live somewhere that left behind itself. The disease is akin to an anorexia of the land. We feed on media’s answers when we simply need food, homes, and companions with whom to live, study, work and play. Even the answer that media isn’t the answer has been repeated so often that this conjecture is repetitive and mildly annoying.

Modernism brought about an artificial plenty. With that, we balkanized the functions of individuals into extremely specified jobs they didn’t really understand. It became easy to rely on bits of personal outsourcing: the supermarket over the victory garden. The outsourcing didn’t work very well in the long term, but it kept us prosperous for a while. While we were prosperous we forgot how to build the world. We left behind art and industry. We picked up advertising. We made a world for the idea of people, rather than people themselves. The last few generations were thus raised in a world of poverty without scarcity. There is quite a lot to go around, but none of it was made with you in mind.

On the news there were rumors of collapse. There were countries that were burning, consumed by conflict or natural catastrophe. Future existential risks, either environmental, technological, or human, loomed over the horizon from time to time. With these images of futuristic violence, there was a great sense of scarcity, but nobody was really sure if it was real. Regardless, if it had even a shred of truth, it was time for action. But if we were to try and act, we couldn’t just go out and build the stable and decent world that we wanted. Anything at scale would be devoured by the political bogeymen most relevant to our model.

At least, that’s what the screens told us. There was a sense that the future did not belong to us, whoever we were. Someone else must have already stolen it, else other people like us might already have won. We had to figure out who they were, and how to get them to stop. The process of securing ownership of the future was deflected to the campaigns of an ideological war carried out primarily online.

We created narratives that explained the malice that we felt in the world. We became retail level missionaries, trying to redeem the people in our immediate circle who bought into a different narrative. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time we just fought and got angry with each other. People started to look like demons. None of the narratives that demonized others really made sense, but they were simple enough that people could agree about them.

The only idea that really held water was people getting up and saying “Please don’t kill me or ruin my life for who I am.” They were scared; the world was made for them even less than others. People demonized them anyway. The sense of scarcity was so strong that anyone who wasn’t like you looked like a threat. It didn’t matter how things actually were, it mattered how it felt. The saddest thing was that everyone was making the best decisions with the information that they were rewarded for using.

All of the narratives had to be simple enough to transmit over the net, ideally in memes. You had to be able to show that you were on the side of the One True Way by attaching your identity to it. Nobody had time to actually look through nuanced positions because the high cost of living meant nobody had time to read. Symbols, ideologies, historical periods, slogans, demographies, ideas, and strategies, began to feel clean or unclean based on the response of those around us on the internet and in real life. To avoid the shun, you had to be on the right track, politically correct, or taking a hardline stance against political correctness, itself a flavor of political correctness. As nothing else could be easily transmitted, xenophobia began to take ground.

If we could just get the outgroup to agree with us, we’d be able to wash away the sins of the past to prevent the sins of the future. We couldn’t agree because we couldn’t communicate well enough to disagree profitably and build shared truth. We abandoned complexity because our political economy didn’t reward it. A strange authoritarianism without leaders kept us from actually building the future. Communication was a risk that wasn’t worth taking. If you ended up on the wrong side you were marked. There was no incentive to learn, only to have already learned before it was necessary.

The inherent vices of our cultural and telecommunication systems divided us. Facebook, over the last few years, has reminded me more and more of some kind of Maoist struggle session, where the sousveillance of the mob was far more oppressive than the far off surveillance of disinterested and overworked state bureaucracies. Shame and the threat of isolation was enough violence to amputate the possibility of dialog. Twitter was actually dangerous. There’s nothing quite like learning that people you know and like have had to take shelter from doxxing mobs.

The other option was to exit the conversation. Your voice wouldn’t be heard, and you’d be even further away from this future that never seemed to come. At that point, it really does feel like someone else stole the future from you. You get angry, and bitter. You’re more ready to fight back next time, so that maybe you’ll have a chance at silencing them. If you could just get the people who were wrong out of the way, then maybe you’d have a shot.

At this point, your strategy transitions from communication to coercive persuasion, then to implicit or explicit violence. Right now the only people who seem to get bitter enough to lash out with fatal explicitness are young men hyped on testosterone and alienation who feel as though they have no future: the mass shooters and other terrorists of this age. What happens when there are more of them? What happens if the bitterness spreads to other demographics, entire tribes rather than just bored young men with nothing to do?

Our experiences in this realm of media have been a sort of rehearsal for the coming phase. They are echoes of a future yet to pass. It must be stopped. Unless we take drastic action to reshape our cultural and telecommunications infrastructure, the validity of a future plan will always be secondary to the number of people who agree with you for meaningless reasons. Provided you have enough other people sharing your memetic acculturation, debate is essentially rendered decorative and predetermined. Demography triumphs over dialog. Mobs may be called with the right invocation of memes, and their positioning is something of a chess game for the few individuals who can see through this mess whose motives are opaque. Additionally, the chessmasters likely lack other chess players with whom to try and build truth. An empiricist in isolation is dangerously likely to turn into a cult leader or callous villain, which just perpetuates the entire system.

Julian Jaynes, in the wonderful and flawed Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, wrote that “Civilization is the art of living in towns of such size that everyone does not know everyone else.” This reveals a rather important notion: the idea that one might extend the hope of prosperity to others with less-immediate relation to yourself.

Civilization is Xenophilia. We have learned methods by which we can see the strange and unfamiliar as an opportunity or an ally, rather than simply something worth raiding or a potential predator necessary to neutralize. The thing that we call Civilization is our ability to identify with something greater than our own anatomy. It is our ability to understand that the success of another can be the same as ours. It is symbiosis itself. First it was family, then tribe, city-state, nation and global humanity. Logically, this terminates in honoring intelligence and experience itself, regardless of its origin. Through this process, the individual gains new possibilities for autonomous action through association with the collective, and each cardinality of the collective gains further capacities in the same manner as the individual.

We are capable of recognizing similarity of ourself to others from genes or memes. The greatest civilizations have been able to privilege memes such that they were able to begin to integrate lives of legitimate difference into their community without forcing those lives to conform and assimilate. To conform and assimilate is to sabotage civilization, and lose the advantages of symbiotic diversity entirely. I wish to clarify here that no past Civilization has ever lived up to the level of inclusion and coordination that I would consider responsible. Additionally, asking individuals to abandon barbarous and violent practices that interfere with communication is not the same thing as asking for needless conformity. America herself has failed to live up even to her founding Declaration and Constitution. Rome doomed herself by failing to integrate the Auxillia properly, and this is to say nothing of the Mamluks who rightfully broke their chains or the Mayans who owed no loyalty to the Aztecs and saw Cortez as an opportunity. In the same patterns as before, civilization is dying and being replaced by aggressive tribalism. Even if we have failed in the past, it is not time to abandon this most necessary of dreams.

At this stage, we are seeing memetic conflicts that are beginning to possibly transition into genetic conflicts. If we keep moving in this direction, the mobs will continue scapegoating to explain why they haven’t been able to get everyone to agree yet. Their sense of threat from the other mobs will increase, and their violence will compound proportionally to their sense of threat. If this trend continues, they will act out this century’s first major instances of human sacrifice at scale. Cultures will die. Cities will burn. Thousands of crying voices in nights of broken glass. Either everyone gets tired eventually and tries to decide what the hell happened and what we’re supposed to learn like last time, or, worse, a single mob is left standing, perversely thinking that they might have been right all along in their manifest destiny, optimized for violence rather than learning, prosperity, or kindness.

We are experiencing a cascade failure of the fidelity of mental models at a scale unprecedented in all of human history. As a whole, we are not even wrong, just training our models on some parallel world crafted to make money and grab attention. We invent myths of poor provenance to explain the very real fear we felt; We navigate America with a map that might well be drowned Atlantis.

Our dominant strategies in this situation eventually encourage needless violence when there are easier routes to equilibrium and eudaemonia for all. These strategies of individual survival based in needless violence are the true enemies of an inclusive future, rather than any specific ideology or demographic. Collectively we may discover a counterstrategy, but only by engineering circumstances that make violence useless and unnecessary. We are ourselves and our circumstances, but in the end it is mostly our circumstances that push back, and define our behavior. We must struggle in moments of lucidity against the malevolent circumstances that make unnecessary violence logical: those stacked decks where demography triumphs against history. This is the malevolence we all feel: the theft of a common history.

All this is but an overture. We watch a sampling of themes that might take flight and gain their own movements as time goes on. Our media broke, thus we only know the broad strokes of the zeitgeist from rumor. It’s not clear where to go or who to trust. We are living in an environment of extreme information scarcity. I conjecture that our situation is far worse than the extreme information scarcities of frontier periods or Dark Ages. Almost no one understands that we’re in a period of extreme information scarcity. People assume everything is already digitized, and that there’s a competent global conspiracy running everything behind the scenes. Nobody knows what to do; anyone who says that they‘re sure is lying.

I know that all of this is a jump to conclusions, there will be people who tell me that I am simply overprojecting. However, I do not see any sociopolitical infrastructure that adequately hedges against the process of demography triumphing over dialog. The mobs will go to war if we don’t do anything about it, and in many corners of the world they already have. I worry that we are falling into something akin the Abeline Paradox, where everyone who wants to avoid another horrifically violent period ends up quoting Stephen Pinker and trying to convince themselves that someone else will handle it, assuming the best they can do is not rock the boat too badly. This is simply a method of playing into the mobs. All the effort that we spend trying to look like we are on the right side is lost, for it cannot be spent on trying to do the right thing.

So, what’s left when you know almost nothing besides legends from a far off past and the base principals of the sciences? What do we do? Where do we go? Who’s left to travel with, who hasn’t been bought by the mobs or had their spirit broken? We can’t know much more than our lives right now, but our own lives are enough. We will not be able to change the world in the way that we hoped with the revolutions of the Twentieth Century, but quite frankly none of those worked out very well anyhow. It’s probably too hard to change the whole world right now if our politicians seem totally disempowered, and populist movements on all sides of the political spectrum get hijacked by baldfaced xenophobic mob dynamics.

Go to those close to you, those souls who have been there for you before. Keep an open mind about those unknown foreign bodies who might be worthy companions in your travels throughout time and space. Find your people and start building. It is time to plant seeds and make homes. It is time to keep records, to do research, to draw maps. It is time to garden and to mine. It is time to heal the sick and purify the soil. It is time to reverse engineer that which you do not understand. It is time to lay down lines of communication, to build supply chains. It is time to learn how to fight. It is time to teach the young how to thrive. In all of this, it is time to build the conditions you need to trust one another, and from that, the strength of all Civilizations.

We must have an arrogant audacity that we can make the world a place worth living in, but we must also remember to play within the limits of control. To carve out a world fit for human flourishing, we must not overextend. Still, we must take as many people with us as we can carry, regardless of origin or identity, provided they are willing to join the long and laborious dialog concerning what a compassionate and strong community must be. To take fewer would be a great dishonor, to take more would be meaningless martyrdom and eventual collapse. Through strategy, curiosity, and empathy, we may forge a worthy home for another generation, and another after that. This must endure, until entropy is our only remaining adversary. There is no scorecard at the end of time that tells us if what we did was right. There is only our conscience in the present, the relieved smiles of those we can shelter through the storms. There is the beauty of looking out on what you have made and knowing that you would do it all again, replaying every heartbreak, for decency is its own reward.

I do not like to think that history is on my side, rather that I am on the side of history. I hope we may remember that history happened, and learn from the errors and triumphs of our predecessors. Though the heat has been turned up this time and we are in a more precarious position than ever before, we’ve rehearsed for this. All that we see approaching has happened previously. It will likely happen again. I only pray that we will stack the deck to be better prepared next time, and that we will persevere through this crisis so that we can have the chance of more days for humanity on this fragile, pale blue dot. The stars will not bear our marks if we do not reach them. There are lives worth living in the long tomorrow, we must simply build their cradle first.