generativist / metaverse

The Manufacture of Active Impotence

Or, Everyone, For the Love of God, Shut the Fuck Up

Screen capture from Philosopher Armin van Buuren’s Blah Blah Blah VideoScreen capture from POhilosopher Armin van Buuren's Blah Blah Blah Video

People who complain about political correctness want to be able to say whatever horrific shit they feel compelled to say without consequence. People who complain about political correctness are angry and confused by an escalating proliferation of rules that exceeds their capacity for integration.

Both of these things may be true, even at the same time.

Micro-aggressions are covert discriminatory assertions of social status – so covert that the aggressor may not intend nor be aware of the aggression. Micro-aggressions are what you get when people with different experiences and norms try to build rapport. Micro-aggressions are micro- in the sense of aggressions that lie to the left of macro ones on a spectrum of aggression. Micro-aggressions are busy bodies lazily finding clever-sounding words to assert authority by means of victimhood. Micro-aggressions are a useful word for unpacking a complicated set of complex social processes.

All of these things may be true, even at the same time.

The 👌 hand gesture is part of a game that drunk frat bros play to allow one bro to ball-tap the one who foolishly looked at the former’s encircled fingers. The 👌hand gesture is a symbol which asserts white supremacy. The 👌 hand gesture is a “fuck you” to people who assert that the 👌 hand gesture is an assertion of white supremacy. The 👌 hand gesture is a dangerous cultural signifier dangerously constructed by people looking for them everywhere.

All of these things may be true, even at the same time.

Zina Bash being an asshole by trolling viewers during Asterisk Bret’s hearingZina Bash being an asshole by trolling viewers during Bret Kavanaugh's hearing

The Covington Catholic High School student was the new Hazel Bryan and a clear sign of the never-actually-banished Jim Crow resurrection.At the time, I had a Covington hot take that rendered Nick Sandman as the villain. Later, I saw other elaborations that made it more confusing. Then I spent time watching the full YouTube clips and other associated commentary. Then I finally realized: what the fuck am I doing? The Covington Catholic High School student was a child trying to navigate a position he didn’t understand. The Covington Catholic High School student was a symbol of mass overreach and moral panic. The Covington Catholic High School student was the personification of the MAGA disease infiltrating the next generation.

All of these things may be true, even at the same time.

High school student Nick Sandmann facing Native American Activist Nathan Philips on the National Mall.High school student Nick Sandmann facing Native American Activist Nathan Philips on the National Mall

Greta Thunberg is a young adult who — confronted with the clear and critical threat to our existence that scientists have clearly articulated but corporate and political agents deliberately obscure — heroically decided to do something. Greta Thunberg is what you get when adult liberals abdicate their political action to ever-widening set of delusions born of Harry PotterI liked a few tweets along the lines of “everyone is just using her” and quickly found myself with a new set of curious blocks. Abuse is a real problem. But the way blocklists currently work also continues this ever-widening process of fission, polarization, and distance.

All of these things may be true, even at the same time.

Greta Thunberg mural in downtown San Francisco.Greta Thunberg mural in downtown San Francisco.

MAGA is the modern incarnation of Know Nothing nativism and white supremacy championed by deplorable racists and misogynists. MAGA is the 401(k) class stoking and redirecting rural white America’s anger in a way that benefits the former and scapegoats the latter. MAGA is a sustained reaction and movement against endless cultural policing and administration.

All of these things may be true, even at the same time.

Welcome To the Tragic Kingdom

I wrote this to work through my own thoughts — that’s how I process things. All of the prior items represent a tiny sample of the ExTrEmElY oNlInE DISCOURSE over the past year or so.If you follow me and arrived here, you’d be correct to place me on the American left at this particular moment in time. I arrived here after A) spending (too) much time on the libertarian (right) because Ayn Rand told me I was extraordinary and I believed her and B) witnessing the level of decay and decadence inhabiting the Republican party. You may argue that the Democrats are similarly afflicted. I may even agree with you. But harm is a function of both action and power, and right now the asymmetry is stark. In any case, I haven’t criticized the vast excesses of the right — e.g., free speech absolutism that does, in fact, demand freedom from consequences; the continued mistaken belief that the GOP isn’t mostly the political arm of a rising economic aristocracy; the continued pathological use of instrumentalism as the only measure of humanity—because I’m writing mostly for myself and partially for in-group peers. That’s not them.

I felt compelled to share it even though I expect an unpleasant receptionAlthough I hope it won’t happen — all of this risks angry retorts equating me with someone like Brett Stephens. Which would be genuinely hurtful because I think he’s remarkably bad at almost everything he does and the NYT keeps him around for clickbait. Otherwise, there are vast swaths of people who may explain why I am wrong. I’m sure there are many good, very nuanced, and coherent explanations. But, again, that it demands such nuance is one of my points. Others may use variants of the the claim that, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression” and the meme premise, “Do you want me to a be a Nazi? FINE. Now I’m a Nazi!” The former claim is true and latter idea is a lazily-satisfying shitpost. Both willfully disregard the basic recognition that other people have political power and kicking them in the teeth — literally or otherwise — does not invite them to adopt your perspective. Finally, the one group that will fuck me up the most: agreement from people whose company I don’t want to keep. That’s the hardest part of bridge-building — lots of pinched noses for the sake of something better. in (very final) part because of this tweet,

I wrote the following reaction to it at the time,

I’m not sure how much common ground I’d find with Aella. I’m also pretty sure that she does not fuck dogs nor does she want to fuck dogs. Moreover, I’m absolutely certain that 1) the initial pile on of people suggesting otherwise weren’t doing so because they believed she did — they just wanted to dehumanize her, personally, because such attacks feel like agency at a time where there is a perception of dwindling agency; and 2) the, the second, larger cohort that followed were primed by the initial contingent of assholes because that was the online path of exposure and asshole is incidentally virulent.

Informally formalizing this in CS(S) terms: The socio-political-technical environment we inhabit seems to compel everyone to create intractable social issues out of less-significant problems and at the expense of those more critical. And I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I mean we’re expending increasingly more social and political capital on things down-stream from causes because we have to form an opinion on this or that or the other thing because other people seem to be doing so because that’s the social structure encoded by communication networks unbound by space and time yet tightly-bound by attention.

Chinese finger-traps, but for social interactions.

The Hastings Limit that selects for a giant circle jerk of terrible.

At the American center of that storm is the biggest jerk off of all — he who must not be named for fear of the unfollow, the current occupant of office of the American Presidency. Trump is unfit for said office. He is a monster — irredeemably so. Everyone knows it, even his defenders. Ignoring the corruption and nakedly authoritarian tendencies, the single most critical requirement for country of 327,000,000 ideologically-polarized people is a President who seeks unification. Trump does the opposite. For whatever reason — skill or a life of reinforcing experiencesTrump deftly plays groups against each other. The end result is animosity continually renewed through self-reinforcing processes.

Absent Trump, the relative level of fuckery would decline.An earlier version of this had, “Absent Trump, the total level of fuckery would decline.” The intended meaning was, “decline relatively from the current-high water mark” not “would decline totally.” Given the context of this entire essay, I thought this was clear and obvious, however someone had a loud and aggressive different interpretation, so I assume I was wrong. And there is no reasonable justification for his continued power, other than confused or-not-so-confused rationalizations. But the prior level of animosity and antagonism were high enough to make him attractive in the first place. He was and is a lesser cold exploiting a host with an auto-immune disorder and chronic inflammation. At a time when the left kept narrowing the range of permissible social expression, the far-right was loudly responding with, “who fucking cares?!” The evolutionary path followed isn’t hard to work out. What remains is what comes next, beyond the reach of “in retrospect.”

I don’t know what that is. But, I do know that the nice following I enjoy on twitter — both in terms of over-analyzed metrics and in terms of the interactions I typically have — leads me to believe there are plenty of reasons to be concerned. While anecdotal, the DMs from mutuals reaching out trying to make sense of their own online experiences seems to be rising. More and more I open my chat tabs to see private questions of: “what did I do wrong?” Online and offline, more and more people seem increasingly exhausted by the Vampire Castle.

For those people, what paths remain? Nihilism? “I really don’t care, do you?” “Fuck you, I’m taking mine!” If you think this exhaustion is limited to those you don’t have relationships with, it probably means the exhausted people are exhausted by you, too. If you think people are not filtering their expression, you’re probably the person demanding that they must. And, if you think preferences you disagree with are better off concealed than publicly expressed, I’d like to kindly point you back to November 2016 and forward towards November 2020.

Again, what’s happening — at least, what I think is happening — is that, frustrated for a lack of agency — especially in the political context — people have retreated to litigating culture online. In part, it’s a reaction to the loss of orienting sense and a desire to create narratives that are personally compelling and reality re-ordering. None of this is new in the sense that culture has always been a struggle. And, if we’re lucky, it always will be — sclerotic cultures are the ones that don’t bend, they break. But, the sheer complexity and visibility of now outweighs that of any then.

And, this place actually does matter! Don’t believe me, tune into any television news program and wait for tweets to appear. Online spaces form a distributed and (very poorly) decentralized means of social agenda setting. And we’re all implicitly declaring that — at a time of both metaphorical and very literal Earth-scale fires — the nuance surrounding every arbitrary utterance no matter how far removed from the core of the human-grinding machine matters and deserves equal time. The end result is the manufacture of perceived and actual impotence coupled with a tendency towards dehumanization.

That’s absolutely fucked.

The web of norms that binds us together as a society — hell, as one human race—is complex, tangled, and messy. And, it should be. Nothing really makes sense it’s just kludges upon kludges upon kludges that — we hope —leads to the slow and steady ascent towards something workable. If you’re seeking a neat resolution, you’re fighting an intractable battle against an only partially-observable adversary. Or worse, if you’re tearing out any and all connections that don’t suit you, subjectively, you’re building towards a resolution by calamitous social dissolution.

The best you can do? Use good heuristics.

Unflatten socio-political reality. Let it be the big complex mess that it is. You can’t prescribe plurality as a norm while demanding uniformity, so stop trying to do so. Invite people to join you instead of scolding them into submission — the latter doesn’t really work, anyway and the world really doesn’t need more secondary cues by which to skip the process of deliberation. And, finally, reserve your justifiable outrage as fuel for taking actions towards…

…fucking anything more than the emittance of noise.

As for me, I’m saying, “goodbye and thanks for all the rotten fish.” I’m done with the circle jerk. This is my point of departure. Other people will continue arriving and still more will continue following it around the neverending bend. But, I’m hopping the fuck off. Time is finite and desperately precious. I do care very much and want to continue doing so. Consequently, I don’t want to spend mine on this anymore.

The End of Flatland