Hello friends, new and old. We’re back to stay, and we mean business.
Solve Everything is an ongoing exercise in expanding the mind to find solutions to the great existential problems of our time. And of course we start with the American election of a proto-fascist president, and the deeper question of what this means to our psychological well-being, going forward.
Short answer: No more thinking short term. No more compromises on fundamentals. No more spurious false equivalences.No more half-hearted scare-quoted commitments to The Good, The True, and The Beautiful. We tried happy fun time incremental progress with Barack Obama, and look where that got us. Internet trolls, 4chan nazis, and postmodern authoritarians now run the show.
Time to dust yourself off, and come on back to the table. And if you’re coming back at all, you better be coming back for everything…
In the summer, I first started contemplating starting my podcast up again for real, and one of the first things I wanted to talk about was Trump. At the time I was envisioning a sort of esoteric media analysis which, even though he clearly couldn’t win, would take apartwhy and how he got to the stage he was, of nearly (at that point) winning the Republican primary. But every time I started to firm up an idea, I had this creeping feeling that it was premature. I felt like I didn’t really understand what was going on.
And that pattern kept repeating for another four or so months, and that podcast kept on not starting. And now here we are. Turns out I was more right than I knew to hold back a final judgement of Trump’s prospects, even if I couldn’t admit to myself at the time what it meant. That’s the thing about blind spots, though, isn’t it? In retrospect, part of me knew the crisis narrative that Obama inherited couldn’t possibly end well. And now it has ended, and not well. So it goes.
It would be narcissistic, even solipsistic, to imagine my contributions could have made any difference to where we’ve seemingly ended up over the last few years. Still, what is true of the one is not true of the many, of which the one is a part. It is completely clear now that an awful lot of people have misplaced their priorities rather badly for a long time, or else we wouldn’t be in this predicament now, and it would be a little too easy to let myself off the hook, just because I happened to be a typically overwhelmed student. I was content to pretend for quite a while that the winds of history were more or less at all of our backs, I suppose. But things rarely move in straight lines, and that bit of pretending is clearly over now.
The Bad Old Days are here again. Time to get off the bench.
What to expect:
My aim is to do at least 2 podcasts a month, indefinitely, sometimes more when I feel like it, or support/demand justifies it. I have a new patreon page up and running, so if you feel moved to support what I’m doing with a few coins a month, in whatever fashion, that would be excellent. Spreading the word to others would also be excellent. I will, as ever, strive to make it worth your while.
I have four episodes of the new program, which I have titled Solve Everything, in the can already and the first of those will come out probably by the end of the week. Some of it is just working out the trauma of the election at first, but we quickly transition into more interesting philosophical territory, like Platonic theories of knowledge as applied to contemporary democracies, and meta-ethical treatments of things like genocide. I’m hoping to lay something down in the next week or so that is a McLuhan-esque analysis of political regimes as forms of media. Should be a good head-scratcher.I have a very long game in mind for all this, and Solve Everything will be centrepiece. It won’t be totally obvious what it is at first, but those of you who have been around for a long time will have some inkling of what I’m about.
I’m also working on finishing my first novel.Iwill be making it available online in the first half of this year. Those of you who have been around for awhile might find it in keeping with the slightly unhinged satirical tone of some of my more bad-mood-ish writing. In my more whimsical moments I think of it as a cross between Catcher in the Rye, Fight Club, and some really unhinged japanese anime like Ninja Scroll or Neon Genesis Evangelion.
It is an unending source of gratification that many of my original audience have done well and in many cases gone on to do interesting thinks of your own. My thanks to everyone who threw kind words and encouragement my way during the Great Academic Hiatus. My brain simply wasn’t set up to do this and that at the same time. But that is done, at least for the time being, so now it’s time for this, again.
I have changed in many ways, but the thing at the core is beyond changing. It does what it wants with me, always–when I’m not too messed up to pay attention, that is, which is rather often, alas. Sometimes I feel like my entire life is one long shamanic ordeal. I can only hope it’s all for a good reason, which is just another way of saying I hope I eventually succeed at giving it all a good reason. I’d like to think the intervening years have left me improved and not diminished, at least not very much, so I must be doing something right. For now I’m back, I’m healthy, and feeling strong.
The sun goes down and always comes back up again. Someday we all go to live outside of time, where there will be no more sunrises, but that day is not today, at least not for me.
I sat on this for long time, because I was frankly embarrassed by some of my conclusions and loss of objectivity during the heyday of the occupy movement. Looking at it again, there is a lot of merit in the theoretical side, so I’ve decided to let it out. Try to appreciate my flawed predictions from the time, and I’ll bookend this from my current perspective with new podcast sometime soon.
If nothing else, this site and all the work on it, serves a very important purpose: it is a snapshot of my mind at its best and worst moments, all my best ideas and best thinking preserved, in some kind of context, a kind of a lifeline to lead me back out of the occasional blind alley. I suppose that is one of the points of having a journal in the first place. Even deeper though, I have come to think of this place as a concrete manifestation of a guiding spirit. It is odd to be able to go back and hear my own voice telling me things I ought to know, and once did, but forgot.
If human history were just a matter of us learning things once and moving on, of a painfully slow yet incremental and one way ascent into the light of understanding, things would be drastically different for all of us. But of course, they are not that way at all. We receive lessons, then forget them, then struggle bitterly to win them back again, time and time and time again, until the world around us bears enough marks of the lessons that they become burnt into the very landscape, and we simply live in the space that has been carved out, whether we have ourselves actually understood anything or not. In a very real sense, it is not people who learn, but the world. It is the lessons embedded in the world that shape our behaviour.
It doesn’t matter if you understand how cars work, how electricity is generated, why slavery and child labour are immoral. Those lessons are carved into the social economic and even physical landscape. You are surrounded by cars, you use electricity and there are no slaves. Similarly, it doesn’t really matter how often you think you understand something, it isn’t until you reprogram the environment, that your actual behaviour changes in a lasting way. We are only weakly creatures of rationality, and very strongly creatures of instinct and habit. the best use of our fleeting rational faculties, of our transient willpower, is to change the world around us, to make into a manifestation of understanding. To make the world into an extended mind. Our guiding spirit.
Once you begin to see this, it is utterly clear why few positive changes get much traction, and what does happen appears often to be utterly inexplicable or orthogonal to our intentions. If all you do is think of choice and action, and the childish democratic calculus of getting everyone to think the same ideas as the only way to improve our situation, you will miss the way the manifest conditions override even the largest electorates. Millions of people protest the second iraq war before it even starts, net effect? Zero. Design a cellphone cheap enough that everyone on earth can own one? Sooner or later everyone will.
Philosophically speaking, I am closer and closer to be a thoroughgoing monist: whatever is going on here is all one thing, one fundamental substance. There is no point talking about matter and mind as separate things. In a very real sense, if you want to change enough minds, and it’s abundantly clear that is what we need to do, then it’s all about moving the right kind of material stuff around in a way that our collective extended mind has finally learned something in a way that sticks. Instead of letting ourselves get lost in mere rhetoric about justice, peace, freedom and evolution, while embedded in the material assumptions of corruption, warfare, coercion and stagnation, maybe we should struggle always to remember that justice will only be guaranteed when injustice becomes physically impossible. We should remember to ask ourselves what a manifest justice looks like, the same way we are often asked to visualise a ‘free market’. We should remember to ask what we look like in the mirror when our lessons are written in our very flesh, and the world itself has been transformed into our guiding spirit. The ‘true will’ only matters if it strong enough, for just a moment, to move us closer to that.
so, continuing the theme of wayward links and sundry fellow travellers, it’s good to consider the dimension which we might call ‘spiritual’, which I increasingly think is an obscurantist and unhelpful term and perspective, or the meditative/cognitive, which is not tremendously better, but at least more clear. As a ridiculously quick yet at least somewhat cogent aside, the more I study western philosophy, the more I get the horrible sensation that a lot of the western discourse on enlightenment, as imported in the form of buddhism or vedanta, is badly recapitulating the work of early modern philosophers like david hume, and getting utterly mired in the ditch of metaphysics and cognitively meaningless gibberish. I defy anyone to read something like hume’s treatise of human nature alongside almost any enlightenment text you care to name, and see which one describes our moment to moment experience more clearly. Much of what’s being peddled out there, is the would-be enlightened getting lost in the weeds of what are known as the corruptions of insight. From Plato on down, western culture has been grappling with questions more devastatingly real and obvious than most gurus or teachers would dare tell you, we just don’t do it consciously that much.
Which I suppose actually leads me back on track, because what I wanted to talk about was the toll taken in the form of what I will call ‘insight casualties’ to coin another category to go with our ‘doomer fatigue’ from last time. In some ways they are actually sides of the same coin. If they are not the same thing, they are at least closely related. Insight casualties are more from introspection than outward premonitions of doom, and tend to follow a characterstic pattern best described in the stages of insight of vipassana, but appear in similar forms in many traditions, even something as banal as kubler-ross’s stages of grieving. It’s about how the mind processes and eventually transcends identification and loss of identification with its own contents, or all of our experience basically. The doomer tends to experience this as outward instability and the insight casualty as inward destabilization of the sense of self. One can easily see how these can go together and often do. The main difference is that doomers are often at least partly grounded in a hard analysis of objective facts, and this is what brings on the distress, while the insight afflicted get into trouble from a reflective self-observation that many doomers will simply lack.
The other main difference with the insight casualty is that there is an explicit exit to this situation, or at least, periodic exits that come from fruitions, paths, or peak enlightenment experiences. That is, if your practice is well-articulated enough for you to find the exit, which it frequently isn’t, often for the reasons I’ve described above. I cannot tell you how many chronic dark night meditators are wandering down blind alleys of impenetrable bullshit and deepening in the identity of spiritual basket case, or even worse, projecting their inner disorientation and distress onto the world, but it’s a lot. There is the odd person who manages to find their way out of this rat maze and if their internet presence was tied into their period of rat-mazery, one can easily see why these folks would just as soon drop that shit and move on. So whether you’re up and out or down in the ditch and simply non functional, I’m willing to bet this accounts for more than a couple missing voices. Since some of these I would consider my friends and collaborators, I will tactfully not name names, but you know who you are, and you probably even know which category you’re in, better than I do, anyway.
freshening up my page today, and updating my blogroll, and realizing that the whys and wherefores of that constitute some interesting stories in and of themselves. If I mean to continue, then it helps to reflect on why some of my peers and influences don’t, can’t, or simply change. It’s good to internalise feedback and the lessons of others, and several years into the initiatory crisis that more and more looks to be mutating into an open-ended crisis transition-to-nowhere , there’s more than enough room for some tweaking of assumptions and course corrections.
More than anything, the toll taken in my little corner of the blogosphere is down to what I have come to think of as doomer fatigue. Seeing one sickening lurch into the abyss after another, from 911, to katrina, to bush’s second term, to 100$/barrel oil, to the 2008 market crash, and now the parade of helplessness and absurdity of the obama years, deepwater horizon, fukishima, endless churning chaos in the euro zone, the breaking upon the rocks of occupy, soon to give way to the Mormon yoke of Mittens Romney in the US, inevitable default of some kind in europe, and the ongoing reign of a tinpot thug with all the personality of a plastic doll in canada, PM stephen harper ( imagine bush, but even more of a blatant oil crony, and even less of an interesting target for ridicule)… but the fabric never quite rips completely, and the ongoing nervous exhaustion of hoping/wondering/fearing what’s next just burns people out from both ends and the middle. There’re sound technical reasons why the real life crisis never seems to quite match one’s intuitions about it, and sound reasons why few people ever assimilate the perspective needed for the long game. For a lot of people this genre of analysis is a kind of escapism, wish fulfilment, or ongoing bellows for rage and misanthropy, and making it your daily bread with no real outlet or catharsis is eventually toxic. It exposes some very dark and twisted things in certain personalties and even if you can keep your own demons at bay, seeing lots of others who can’t takes its own kind of toll, as does the other end of the spectrum which is blatant denial of what is going on, for lack of insight or a adequate attention span. I have had enough of people who are actually waiting on the crash of the global industrial economy and the ensuing mass starvation of 75% of the human race, just as I have had enough of picking over the gothic horror show of failed institutions pretending they can still do something, to maintain their illusion of legitimacy.
matt savinar, creator of the life after the oil crash website really kicked a lot of my thinking off on these subjects, but his last nerve eventually gave out under the parasitic needs of chronic doomer headcases, and now he’s made his peace and preparations, folded up shop and is evidently doing astrology, of all bloody things. He’s either lost his shit completely, or gone somewhere I cannot follow. Godspeed.
jeff wells of rigorous intuition is probably the biggest influence on my style of writing. he likes to tell a scary story, in an interesting way. Alas, he never learned the secret of magick: write your stories carefully, because they might eat you. At least have an exit hatch from your reality tunnel. wells doesn’t seem to have one, and his audience never rose to the task, sadly, and he has mostly gone under the waves. This kind of writing is like tibetan buddhism: you need to be able to bind demons and turn them into benevolent spirits. Nobody can pull you back out of that hole against your will, once you’ve gone in.
There’s an interesting kind of thing that happens when you develop a large disconnect between people’s psychic condition, and the environment they live in. I talked before about ‘the psychic apocalypse’ that has to precede the temporal one, the kind of revolution of the mind that has to take place before upheavals in the physical world take hold. I think you have increasingly large numbers of people cluing in that the, for lack of a better word, psychological moorings of our civilization have been terminally compromised. But when the outer world doesn’t reflect your inner condition, when you see this weird aimlessness and blithe accommodation to stagnation and ruin everywhere, and no sense that anything can or will or even needs to happen…this can fuck up your mind.
The flipside would be hysterical optimists, particularly of the techno variety. The thing to always remember, and I have failed to do this a number of times, is that all trends occur in a whole system. Peak oil, moore’s law, the maps of insight progress, the kabbalistic tree of life, climate ‘change’, whatever, these all are subject to various negative feedbacks, because a system could only sustain itself if runaway positive feedback loops didn’t blow the whole thing apart during its formation. A runaway train is not a system, at least not for long. Whole systems require homoeostasis, and homoeostasis requires buffers, sinks, and negative feedbacks to dampen accelerating positive feedbacks before they explode or plunge the system into chaos. This explains why we are unlikely to accelerate straight into a singularity, nor dive directly into the maw of malthusian hell as we traverse hubbert’s curve. What’s interesting to consider is how much things can actually change without triggering negative feedbacks or overwhelming the buffers altogether and flipping over into some new condition. I spent a day or two thinking that ‘the singularity’ is not likely to refer to some godlike AI tipping over the applecart of human history, but rather the point where the planet becomes essentially a telepathic hivemind stitched together out of ultracheap mobile devices and ubiquitous computers of other sorts, powered by little more than background radiowave radiation. What does a singularity of social media look like? I think we are basically living it. Pretty soon the phones will be smarter than you are, if not singly, than collectively. Think about it. That by itself, combined with the fact that these things will be running on almost no power at all, tells me that we will never see the deleted scenes from ‘The Road’. The function of information in evolutionary terms is that it makes energy expenditure more efficient and forestalls entropy. That level of ubiquitous information transfer and connectivity will be the king buffer of them all against system disruption due to resource depletion and at the same time a driver for changes we cannot really forsee from here.
basically, extreme optimism and pessimism are not adequate to the level of weirdness we are likely to see. They are ways to not grapple with the real issues at work. I have no time for that anymore.
I wanted to dust things off a bit and get my writing muscles going again, if for no other reason that to get ready for school again, more on that later: I do frequently think about doing things for the site, I have ideas for new podcasts, quite of lot of new meditative insights, a number of changes to keep people updated on, and clearly the world situation and our ongoing march into the crisis narrative has a lot to it that can be spoken of.
In large part I worry I may have succumbed to the general disorientation, fecklessness and helplessness that appears to have infected almost every aspect of social discourse and people’s attitudes to it, and expressed itself most acutely in the sad spectacle of the occupy movement, so I’m making a conscious effort to shake off my ambivalence about engagement with these issues, at least long enough to check in with my audience. gotta start somewhere, so I’ll just uncork the bottle and see what comes out. Bound to have few posts in me this month.
From the top: My plans to follow up on the hunger strike for economic justice were sort of pre-empted by the explosion of the occupy movement last autumn. People have sometimes asked me to talk about my ocuppy experience in more depth, and hopefully this will be a small start in that area. I mean, I certainly cannot take the slightest shred of credit for kicking off a global backlash against economic and political corruption, but I can least be gratified I was still a couple months ahead of the zeitgiest on that one, and maybe helped to seed the public mind, at least in my neck of the woods. The odd timing is an ongoing source of bemusement to me, I assure you.
I just got finished last summer trying to launch a thoughtful public dialogue about resource distribution and the necessity of moral progress in this area, and suddenly thousands of people are marching the streets to this very tune. And yet I could not for the life of me get any of these ‘general assemblies’ to engage in any substantive political dialogue, let alone converge around actual action points with any mass traction. the whole thing devolved into a nightmare of orwellian ‘consensus’, politcally correct censorship masquerading as ‘inclusiveness’, explosive outbursts of barely disguised Oedipal rage at the authorities and each other, and a general inability to think coherently about anything besides nebulous affirmations of good feelings and the importance of a utopian commune in the public square. If it sounds like bad comedy, sort of a reprise of Ariostophanes Clouds, but with more urine flinging and Reiki priestesses, that because it was and is. If it sounds like I am bitterly disappointed, particularly now that it is clear the mass upsurge died on its ass last summer and won’t be back this year, that’s because I am. Maybe I’m wrong, but if the the people I met are anywhere near as shocked and disgusted as I am about the state of mass movements in the 21st century, I don’t think I will be.
I think the failure of mass movements in this setting are a sign of state power reaching diminishing returns. The tea party lunatics probably seized the last real window to hijack the political system for their agenda, and even they have not amounted to much, except for increasing the rate of stagnation and ruin in the political and economic spheres. Mass movements generally work by applying pressure on institutions, which only works if the institutions are actually capable of doing anything. However most of the institutions in question are essentially bankrupt along every axis; financially, ideologically, morally, you name it. Applying pressure to these structures right now will only cause them to fracture and devolve into less and less useful forms. You go out into the street to protest bankers and fight austerity, they ignore you, toss out your elected officials and replace them with banker technocrats, tighten austerity and proceed to the next bailout. Think I’m exaggerating? Look at Greece.
You try to change the dialogue, it changes right back, and stupider than before. You try to educate people and build political consciousness, you get called out for being a shill of the united nations, an intelligence agent, a malthusian, heckled for being a white male, shouted down by angry homeless people, chastised by decrepit old hippies, drowned out by drum circles. You want to involve unions, teachers, nurses, working people, and debtors, and they get alienated by hitler quotations, child porn, and chemtrail enthusiasts… and all that’s before the media and the cops go to work on you. Decades of culture war have rendered us into the psychic equivalent of child soldiers in uganda: fucked in the head and shooting each other for no good reason. Alex Jones is the Joseph Kony of the western activist counter-culture. Fuck me, Joseph Kony is the Joseph Kony of the western activist counter-culture, as I found to my dismay on campus this year. Are people really only noticing this now?
Something else needs to happen. And what is that you may ask? The state knew it was hitting a wall decades ago, that is why they keep trying to unload everything onto ‘the market’, but as of 2008, ‘the market’ has hit its own wall. The brits are now being fed the next thing which is called The Big Society, which is more or less a code word for ‘you’re on your own’. Cue London Riots. Fingers crossed that open source, superempowerment ala John Robb, network culture, fab labs, and radical consciousness change will pull a rabbit out of the hat. More and more it’s looking like the good old bottleneck at the end of history. Except there is no end, and nowhere to go for there to be a bottleneck to, only a webwork of chasms opening up between those of us who actually want to understand what is going on and do something about it, and those who just want it all to go the fuck away.
One mustn’t underestimate the death instinct; the part of us that wants to destroy itself and everything around us, rather than deal with guilt, shame, despair, anger and the failure to deal with responsibility. You gather people together in the name of ‘consensus’ and they end up hating each others guts and agreeing on nothing at all, because they’re all too involved in their own solipsist bullshit. This is the way the world ends. Yeah you got hurt. Join the fucking club. the solution is not to get the entire world to acknowledge and share your pain. If we need group therapy for everyone before we can feed and house the poor, we might as well fold up the world now and and go home.
Sometimes the apocalypse can look better than admitting you were wrong, working hard to be better, swallowing your pride, and facing that there are precious few magic bullets and tipping points in life. If you want to be fit you have to watch what you eat and exercise every day. If you want to live in a better world, you have to think hard about the next right thing, and do it, every day. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. There is nothing else.