On Earning The Grass Crown In Industrial Society by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Windswept - Johnny Jewel >

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Frank Abagnale by Bryce Hidysmith

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

Notes From A Colony II by Bryce Hidysmith

< Soundtrack: Strychnine - The Sonics > 

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

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

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

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

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

Asexuality Ep. II: The Clone Wars by Bryce Hidysmith

A Beholder from 1E D&D 

A Beholder from 1E D&D 

< Soundtrack: Dead Format - Blanck Mass >

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

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

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

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

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

Notes From A Colony by Bryce Hidysmith

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

Your Illuminati Is A Pyramid Scheme by Bryce Hidysmith

Still from Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo

Still from Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elegy for the Cathode Ray Tube by Bryce Hidysmith

"Pre-Bell Man" by Nam June Paik  

"Pre-Bell Man" by Nam June Paik  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

囍 No Anastylosis // No Peace 囍 by Bryce Hidysmith

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

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

< Soundtrack: Little Teeth - Heavy Evidence > 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Thoughts Off Sukhamvit by Bryce Hidysmith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. An incredibly literal example of this phenomenon in practice might be The Leather Work. 

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.