wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: americana

How’d that work out for them, by the way?

I’m old enough to remember when a version of the ‘Great Replacement’ just-so story was published by two Democratic consultants to wide acclaim, in 2002, under the title The Emerging Democratic Majority. It forecast unbreakable control of government by Democrats in the coming decades due, in no small measure, to demographic determinism: women vote Dem, blacks and hispanics vote Dem, high-paid professionals (men and women of every colour, esp. the young) vote Dem, it’s just inevitable.

The book was wrong about many things, let’s not dwell on it.

The explicitly conspiracist ‘replacement’ myth that’s long been bandied about by antisemites, fascists, and sundry far-right imbeciles and racist dipshits — demographic revolution is being encouraged, funded, even legally mandated by the Radical Left in order to brown/queer our God-fearing nation and commit ‘white genocide’ — is too stupid and evil to consider. It’s incorrect, ‘white genocide’ is a concept with no analytical value, and people who make such accusations should be dismissed from adult conversation. But you can imagine sane intelligent people, particularly working-class white hyphenates (e.g. Italian-Americans), believing a related story: as America becomes a majority-minority country, hostility to some idea of ‘whiteness’ drives the promotion, by political and media figures, of a vision of America being morally improved by becoming ‘less white.’ Not less racist, not less hostile toward minorities, but ‘less white’ per se.

If you’re an American (or bourgeois cosmopolitan) reading this, you probably agree with both the demographic fact claim and the moral claim. You probably feel, too, that racist\^H\^H\^H\^H\^Hworking-class whites ‘have it coming’ in a sense, whatever exactly ‘it’ is, for reaping the benefits of racial/racist hegemony and not doing their part to Lift Up the less fortunate. (Let’s not quibble about the fact that the working class has spend decades under the boot-heel of the same elites now most loudly trumpeting the virtues of DEI, etc., nor ask how ‘fortunate’ working-class voters of any race have been over the last half-century; nor should we quibble about the sincerity of elite trumpeting. Mouths gonna open, teeth gonna grind.)

Which is to ask: what part of the non-conspiracist (consensus) ‘replacement’ story do you object to, if any? What part do you think the New York Times objects to?

If you think the Democratic Party — an actual elite conspiracy against the laity, like the Republican Party — actually ‘cares about immigrants’ (or racial/ethnic/sexual minorities or indeed anyone else) then you’re a sucker and a fool or worse. Elite Dems care about guarding their prerogatives, like Republicans; they do what Capital tells them. Indeed they are Capital. And because the Democrats have no idea how to appeal to actual humans, they fucking love the condescending idea that Democratic voters can be made…which is why Trump’s successful appeals to minority voters took Dem elites (and rubes) by surprise in 2016 and again in 2020. They desperately want the ’emerging Democratic majority’ replacement-theory to be true, so that they can keep fundraising without actually doing anything for voters.

The Republicans want it to be true for the same reason. Remember: the minority party gets rich too.

Remember too that if demographic shifts are emergent systemic phenomena and no one’s driving — if, in other words, the ‘browning’ of the West is a mundane fact — then Capital is already efficiently moving to exploit it, everyone who can read a graph has begun to ‘price it in,’ and all that’s left open is how human beings feel about it. Regardless of what you want this country to be like, regardless of how you feel about Western Cultural Heritage (tired, wired?) and the many matters of identity wrapped up in how you look or speak and who raised you or didn’t and where you grew up or were kept down and what the State is or isn’t and has probably never been, there’s this nagging question right here and now: Who’s telling you how to feel? Are you cool with that?

Mash those Like/Subscribe buttons and try not to let your suffering interrupt the show, please and thanks.

Advertisement

Irreal Life Top Ten, D-Day 2022.

  1. Phish, Spring Tour 2022. I didn’t notice until the eighth and final show of this mini-tour, when they played their second ‘Sigma Oasis’ of the run, that the band was avoiding any song repeats. They do this regularly, most memorably on the 13-show ‘Baker’s Dozen’ stand at Madison Square Garden, such that it’s now almost unremarkable; you can’t imagine how challenging it is to remember 150 songs until you’ve tried learning three — never mind improvising on them, never mind doing so compellingly. Pianist Page McConnell turned 59 a week before the tour started; what other musicians approach 60 in anything remotely approaching Phish’s condition? No other band in American history, in or out of ‘rock and roll,’ has consistently engaged in the kind of musical risk-taking that’s long been Phish’s basic approach to their art. That’s the positive read; the negative is that this was an unexceptional tour in ‘purely musical’ terms, if those exist, on Phish’s terms. The other positive read is that the rare show-opening ‘Character Zero’ from Orange Beach on 5/29 is instantly one of the two or three best versions of that tune, featuring perfectly seamless transitions in and out of an extended open jam, and the other other positive read is that a ‘bad’ Phish show is still one of the best times in American popular music — and they didn’t play any bad shows this tour, not even close. You might not like their music, I get it, but you’re obligated at this point to understand that in 2022 Phish are a miracle.
  2. Mass shootings and matter. We’re at the point where you can accurately predict demographic information about the shooter based solely on whether and how the national ‘news’ outlets cover the event — corporations like CNN are only interested in ‘motive’ when it suits a political agenda they don’t even realize they have, which is only to say that Capital never changes but changes colour. It’s worth asking yourself whether you’re more scared by stories about one lone nutjob going uptown with ten guns, or ten ordinary sociopaths going downtown with one gun each. It’s worth asking why.
  3. ‘AI alignment risk.’ Doomsday cults, like bugs in open-source software, don’t go away just because they’re publicized. Sane people have to fix them. Because the real risk from AI, already being realized (cf. your Twitter feed), seems to be the slow ruin of functional if inefficient social controls, it’s a lot more satisfying for socially disengaged pseuds who did better in Math class than English class to spin nerdfic about murderous superintelligences than to, say, reckon with the real (social) world, its boring politics and unmanageable actual people. See also ‘Effective Altruism,’ a form of fantasy football for people too annoying to play D&D with.
  4. 16″ Macbook Pro. After using a 15″ Retina model at home for years, I got a 16″ lappy from work — last year’s M1 (‘Apple Silicon’) model. This laptop is a proper chonky boi as the awful wankers say, unexpectedly bulky: nearly a pound heavier than the 15″ machine I already thought was unwieldy at just 4lbs. What does that weight buy, though, in addition to the massive gorgeous screen? It is blinding fast and gets wild battery life…not to mention the eerie silence, which I noticed because I noticed I wasn’t noticing fan noise. I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’s weary, shrugging insistence, when questioned about the ‘Apple premium’ at a conference: ‘We don’t ship junk.’ A difficult thing to hold onto, in a world where junk is what everyone’s used to.
  5. Thunder. A Fortnite streamer on Youtube, presumably an intolerable late teenager or early 20something. When he teams up with his buddies to play group games he has no charisma, nothing to say, no evident sense of humour; his solo gameplay videos are mercifully silent. But he plays like a fucking demon, a goddamn avatar of death — no gimmicks or trick shots, no comedy, no leaning on dull rote strategy, just the lunatic intensity of a boy in his sensory-integrative prime, perfectly in command of a complex instrument and manifestly addicted to the headlong rush of virtual motion. This kid plays Fortnite like pure poetry; it’s hard to imagine anyone being consistently better. Yet in the competitive scene he appears to be a nonentity — which for me is like being awed by an NBA player and then finding out there’s a human city somewhere, deep in some jungle, where everyone’s twelve feet tall. Put it this way, I check Youtube every day just to find out whether Thunder has posted a gameplay video that day. Best of all: the (rare) videos where he comes in 2nd or 3rd out of 100, and posts the clip anyway.
  6. Sweeney Todd. My son can’t stop listening to the beloved 2005 small-stage Broadway revival with Cerveris and LuPone, neither of whom could do an English accent to save a dying relative — LuPone’s is fucking atrocious, embarrassing, which colours the whole cast album for me (same with Dinklage’s mongrel accent as Tyrion Lannister — though he’s an immeasurably better actor in the role of a lifetime). The leads are very good overall, as they’d better be, and Sondheim’s fantastically complex score is the peak of Broadway composition. But there’s something irritating about the production, perhaps linked to the brilliant and daft cast-as-orchestra staging — a weirdly clumsy artificiality of phrasing, e.g. Anthony’s seemingly arbitrary accents during ‘Johanna.’ I bet it was hell to play. The best single performance of the 2005 revival might be Donna Lynne Champlin as Pirelli; she just kills it on her big number, plays flute and accordion too(!). Alas, the cast album suffers from ‘nearby movie’ syndrome: Tim Burton’s film (w/Depp, Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli) is musically far weaker — marred by ham-handed score redactions and simplifications, e.g. goodbye to Sondheim’s infernal dissonances in ‘A Little Priest’ — but beautifully acted by expert screen performers free to play to the camera and mic instead of the back row. The 2005 recording has its sublime high points (the quartet!) but it’s too wired or something. It’s come to sound…pleased with itself, with its cleverness? Somehow, this all-time classic production lost me.
  7. Renewal. We got an email from The Economist saying the cost of our 12-week autorenewing subscription was going up to $80 — I’ll let you do the annual-cost math on that. Lunacy. Three-year subscriptions cost $210 annually, a savings of 40%. I completely forgot that we were on the ‘gullible idiots who mistake hesitancy for caution’ plan, pissing away money for several years now. Of course, because the whole mad concept of ‘money’ is just a plaque in my brain, I immediately started thinking of ways to piss away the savings on something else. Can’t wait.
  8. Star Wars novels. You have to actually try reading them to remember what you’d tried to forget, all those years ago: they’re almost all just terrible. What a thinly, lazily imagined universe. What a waste of story. The haunting Youtube video ‘Obi-Wan Has PTSD’ is better than any Star Wars novel except maybe Timothy Zahn’s breakthrough Thrawn trilogy — and that’s grading generously.
  9. After the moonlanding. A little more than a month into the grand split/tented/mechanical/programmable keyboard experiment, the haunting realization that my layout — designed for efficiency and sustainability — is a grotesque misshapen waste, with an underutilized left hand on several layers and a couple of dead keys on the primary layer. Right there! Embarrassing, amateur-hour stuff. Why did I even go to college, why do I even breathe.
  10. Community, Season Six. Years 2 and 3 of Dan Harmon’s show were one long delirious dissonant crescendo, a work of sustained self-lacerating genius — one of the most complexly emotionally intelligent shows in TV history. But Harmon was an abusive alcoholic pill addict and an asshole, so they fired him. I suspect it saved him creatively and personally. He went off to do Harmontown, got unhappily married, and came back to do the excellent but uneven Season 5. Then it was off to Yahoo TV or some bullshit for the beautiful Season 6 — stretches of which are the deepest, strangest, darkest, wisest work of Community‘s whole run, culminating in the simple perfection of the finale, one of TV’s surest landings, a rich (self-)reflection on relinquishing and departure more mature than fans of Harmon’s earlier work might’ve thought possible. Harmon’s writing, here and on the impossibly complex and demanding Rick & Morty, deserves not just ‘an Emmy’ but all the Emmys — but so does his heartbreaking performance of Community‘s final monologue, which can stand with The Singing Detective‘s word game or the eulogy for Wild Bill on Deadwood: the highest compliment I can give. I expected to enjoy (again) this valedictory season; I didn’t expect to end up thinking it was some of Harmon’s best work.

My current model of what is now called ‘rationalism’…

…is a network of fan-communities, e.g. the large SSC/ACX readership and the small personality-cult surrounding Yudkowsky — largely experienced, like most fandoms by most fans, as a set of exclusionary social/style markers (pseudotechnical language like priors and ‘my current model of…’) and a core activity or two (e.g. performative handwringing about ‘AI risk,’ laundering parochialism/self-dealing through ‘effective altruism,’ boundary-testing their reactionary views on Twitter, etc.). While ‘rationalists’ make reference to the cognitive-bias memes that spread through online nerdthusiast circles a few years ago, the subculture has largely put that shit behind it; why pretend?

I’m glad that socially inept people are able to find one another and get backrubs at group-house parties, but what’s good about Yudkowsky-style ‘rationalism’ fits on a couple sheets of paper with room for a phrenological diagram and a picture of Aella with a big heart around it.

Gonna fall.

The 18-year-old bastard who killed 10 people at a Tops in Buffalo was from Conklin NY.

His earliest memories may, in other words, include not one but two historic floods — in 2006 and 2011 — which displaced 20,000 people from his town and county. Floodwaters in Conklin eclipsed all previous records in both those floods. Hundreds of homes in the area were destroyed.

In 2019 the Army Corps of Engineers opted not to implement additional flood protections for the region. ‘Not worth it’ is the summary finding, in case you were wondering, though some may disagree:

Damage in Broome and Tioga counties [from the 2011 flooding alone] was pegged at $500 million, with damage to an estimated 7,000 structures, including crippling the major wastewater treatment plant in the region.

The existing flood protections had been sufficient prior to 2006, but the next two major floods exceeded the design spec. Surely you heard about this on the national news, right? Even Chuck Schumer made concerned gestures about it. The same thing happened in New Orleans and caused a major political crisis for then-president Bush; surely there must have been some national coverage of two enormously costly natural disasters displacing tens of thousands of rural residents and the government deciding that taking additional prevention/mitigation measures was a bad investment.

Right?

There is, as they say, nothing to be done. Some people are just born unlucky.

Airborne toxic nonevent.

Wrote this December 11, never figured out where to put it. So I’m putting it here, two weeks later.

One of the governing paradoxes of the Covid-19 era is that the arrival of the virus is one of the biggest, most consequential events of the last half-century — temporarily hobbling the world economy, completely altering the culture of ‘knowledge work’ throughout the western world, crippling entire municipalities, driving previously sane leaders to paranoid imbecility — yet most Americans are forced to experience plaguetime as an absence of action, a numbing estrangement from the essential ordinary: a seeming nonevent. Covid-19 has brought one anticlimax after another.

Nearly a million Americans have died, with millions more dead worldwide (many uncounted). Yes, the dead have mostly been old or infirm — one hates to say ‘expendable,’ though you should understand that the Masters absolutely do talk that way. Yet where’s the event? Where’s the History we’re living through? The pandemic has manifested first as a rush of scary news stories, hysterical overreaction, and thereafter for nearly all people an endlessly protracted waiting for the other shoe to drop. Covid-19 is everywhere, most humans will end up contracting some variant of it, but as the second winter of plaguetime arrives in Cambridge what do we see? Masks, empty storefronts bought up by speculators. Shortened hours, canceled events. Immensely long lines for testing and vaccines, then behaviour largely unchanged except for its perceptible slump, its hopelessness. Children somehow adapting to a fatally broken school system’s pointless lessons taught in emotionally crippling circumstances. Reports of a Scary Omicron Variant and evidence that a slightly worse, lonelier life goes on.

Same shit jobs, new opportunistic restrictions. Same feckless local leaders, same interest groups, new justifications for old corruption.

And on the television, by which we mean Twitter and Facebook: EVERYTHING IS NEWLY HORRIBLE! THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION FACES ITS TOUGHEST LEGISLATIVE CHALLENGE YET! NAZIS MARCH! SHELVES ARE BARE! CHINA SUBVERTS DEMOCRACY! NEW FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION ARE DISCOVERED DAILY! EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH IS A HATE CRIME! THE NEW IPHONE HAS A GREAT CAMERA! THE CLIMATE IS IN CRISIS AND DEMOCRACY IS IN CRISIS AND THE SCHOOLS ARE STILL IN CRISIS AND YOUR (tax-deductible annually recurring) DONATION WILL HELP US STAY ANGRY ABOUT IT!

Late capitalism has long been understood by people with expensive humanities degrees as the era of ‘permanent crisis’ — the neverending ‘Police Action,’ the manufactured consensus that a Strong Response Is Called For, the ever-looming Threat of Economic Something-or-Other which the state must take deadly unilateral action to Avert — but under the insectile sign of Covid-19 it’s felt like the Powers That Be aren’t even really trying anymore. This actually deadly pandemic immediately became flimsy pretense for every preplanned1 initiative to strip human beings of autonomy and dignity; the world has gotten much worse in familiar stupid ways.

I don’t even mean vaccines; as everyone numerate knows, the vaccines have worked shockingly well with almost no cost, and you’re a myopic fucking fool for complaining about them while taking your lifesaving MMR and Tdap and influenza and HPV and chickenpox shots entirely for granted.

Rather: work has lost its dignity, politics its veneer of comity; civic life has been wrested from the hands of citizens and given wholesale to international capital (effectively coterminous with government). Even the parking meters have been privatized. Trust in government has completely disappeared, as has even the aspiration to objective journalism, making it that much easier for billionaires and Capital consortia to buy up governments and journalists. HR departments2 have somehow replaced labour unions as Protectors in the eyes of infantile young employees who hate their jobs anyway. Cities have been sold wholesale to the same foreign kleptocrats whom the pious news media make a show of wanting out of ‘our’ elections. If you’ve read any halfway-sane criticism at all in the past 50 years, the only surprising thing is the speed with which the destruction of the modern world has been accomplished, not by Covid-19 but by the same vampires who’ve been sucking society’s blood all along.

Yet there’s been no event, no marker, no deadline. Throughout 2020 there was a sense, profitably encouraged by the ‘news’ media, that the coming election heralded some kind of Big Change, that things would start to improve thereafter. And of course they have, in ways directly pertaining to the pandemic itself: federal agencies are getting restocked with competent workers, international relations are being renormalized (to the extent possible during this extraordinary historical Asterisk) after the departure of the unprecedentedly incompetent Trump administration. But at a fundamental level, the 2020 election didn’t change much of anything, because the underlying dynamics that led to Trump’s catastrophic election haven’t changed — have in fact deepened and intensified. Workers are more alienated and downtrodden than they were five years ago, civic life is more tightly shut against ordinary people’s participation, real wages keep declining, labour power keeps shrinking, ‘social’ media networks are even more powerful and even more dangerous and demented. Journalists are worse at their jobs, houses are flimsier, movies and books are dumber, Epstein didn’t kill himself, nothing has been rethought or rebuilt at a structural level. American politics is somehow even more poisonous and dimwitted than it was when Trump ran, and as the Capitol insurrection has been revealed as an inside job, the Republican Party and its army of judicial saboteurs (starting with a stolen, corrupt, nakedly partisan Supreme Court) have taken every opportunity to accelerate the collapse of the national body — while the Democrats have happily folded in on themselves like a used napkin, entirely beholden to the whims of vicious imbeciles like Joe Manchin and pitifully grateful not to have to actually accomplish anything at all.

Which is to say: Capital has gone on doing what it’s always done, our complementary political parties have continued to be themselves, demographic shifts decades in the making have kept destabilizing existing societies in predictable ways. And the end of modern human life due to anthropogenic climate transformation has carried the fuck on killing us.

Out the window, the same evidence of thinning, hollowing out, slow exsanguination, casual betrayal, abandonment, surrender to entropy. The same atomization and rending of the social fabric, now with more explicit identitarianism but otherwise unchanged over decades. Here in the coffeeshop, only the masks and the sand in the hourglass meaningfully differentiate this world from that of five or ten years ago. The working class is still being ground to a paste; the middle class is still being medicated out of consciousness and guilted into compliance; the idiot rich still feast on everyone else. The planet is rapidly becoming uninhabitable by apes driving cars. Cambridge is still a better place to live than most other cities in the USA, but we’d rather be good guys than heroes — which is why the bad guys won ages ago.


  1. This is important, please tattoo this on the insides of your eyelids. Western capital-governments’ sickening opportunism in the face of Covid-19 DOES NOT MEAN that Covid-19 itself is some kind of ‘conspiracy’ or ‘hoax’ or even just ‘overblown.’ Millions of humans — of every age, in every nation it’s touched — are dead before their time because of this virus and the catastrophically bungled response to it, but the vaccines have worked; they’ve been shockingly safe and will save millions more down the line as the science behind them proves useful in other domains. Cranks claiming that vaccines are part of a ‘depopulation’ scheme can be disregarded because their silly claims have already been debunked; cranks claiming that Covid-19 ‘is just a flu’ should similarly be disregarded for the same reason. The fatal disruption of the USA medical system in 2020 really did happen, the Omicron variant really will similarly tax world hospital systems during the coming ‘third wave,’ and anti-vaccine hysteria should be treated with appropriate contempt. But none of this exculpates the cynics, sadists, and ordinary thieves who’ve used the pandemic as cover for their neverending predation. This essay is about our subjective experience of the pandemic, not epidemiology. 
  2. Every adult who is not thuddingly stupid understands that ‘Human Resources’ departments exist to protect the Money from the Workers; it’s interesting, by which we mean fucking nauseating, that so many 20/30somethings see ‘having my identity category be looked upon sympathetically by HR’ as the highest honour that can be accorded an employee rather than, I dunno, 401k matching or a sane workweek or just not having their real lives in the outside world held in obvious unrestrained contempt by the bosses. 

Sexual identity (politics).

Epistemic status: Thinking out loud, written months ago in what I can only assume was a real bad mood. I genuinely have no idea whether any of this holds up. I’ll note, though, that it’s the kind of old-fashioned blogpost I don’t write anymore, where I hit on a metaphor I like and try to pass it off as philosophy. Somebody give me tenure. –wa.

The funny thing about ‘I’m a sub’ — ‘I’m a queer nonbinary top’ — ‘I’m an asexual furry’ — is the way such declarations assume absolute fixity of sexual identity and ‘preference.’

Wait…fixity? Don’t you mean ‘fluidity,’ oldperson/fascist?

You’d think that, wouldn’t you.

Let’s talk about Magic: The Gathering for a second.

M:TG‘s best trick was to turn deckbuilding into a game activity, a subgame played away from the table. For millions of players over a quarter-century (though by no means all), creating a custom deck has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of M:TG play.

Deckbuilding is solitaire. It’s wonderful, but it’s purely self-centered. Indeed, deckbuilding-by-newsgroup is known as ‘theorycrafting,’ and is a hugely popular activity in the M:TG community — though ‘theorycrafting’ is an awfully elevated term for ‘talking about card combos with strangers.’

The ‘play of the hand,’ meanwhile, is all compromise and reaction and tactical maneuvering and plans not surviving contact with the enemy. What happens at the table is the game itself, and this is where ‘filthy casuals’ find their enjoyment — hence the increasing popularity of the grab’n’go fixed-deck distribution model, even for M:TG itself.

I’ll note here that the term ‘simultaneous solitaire’ is used derisively to talk about games where players choose strategies which are carried out by rote, independent of opponent interaction. Such plans are known as ‘degenerate strategies,’ and they’re major sources of the dreaded Negative Play Experience, because they take the play out of gameplay. They turn it into ‘a piece of business’ (cf. Rob Long’s magnificent book Conversations with my Agent).

For expert M:TG (or Pokémon TCG) players, at-the-table gameplay itself is fun — they wouldn’t stick around otherwise — but high-level play is in dispiritingly large measure a quest to create perfectly predictable decks, removing contingency and guaranteeing the execution of a set gameplan. That’s where the ‘customizable’ in ‘customizable card games’ (CCG) comes from — though note, too, that it used to stand for the more honestly nauseating ‘collectible’…

Now, sex, or rather politics:

Sexual identitarianism — e.g. my opening list of taxonomic declarations — is sold to westerners now as a form of freedom. (Never mind that freedom cannot be sold.) Declare your allegiance, align yourself with a group, know your place (and declare it in your Twitter bio), and We will back up your claim. If you like, We’ll even join in deriding those people so uncool that they don’t yet have a paraphilia. ‘Marginal’ identity is seen as a source of virtue — or rather pity, but only fascists split hairs — and crucially you can opt in to such identity by declaring a marginal sexual preference. (Insert dark joke about ‘predictable endpoint of neoliberalism’ here.)

Sexual identitarianism is deckbuilding — no, it’s theorycrafting, simultaneous solitaire. The (let’s dispense with pretense and just say ‘ideological’) purpose of saying ‘I’m an asexual furry’ isn’t to announce the kind of activities you like, it’s to create the conditions for enforceability, i.e. a justification for disconnecting from an uncomfortable situation. ‘Isn’t that a universal good?’ I suppose it would be, yes, if you assumed ‘uncomfortable’ meant ‘bad.’

The ‘play of the hand’ is where the action is, erotically speaking. The good part of sex is…sex, not theory. But sexual identitarianism’s core sleight-of-hand is to displace eroticism, which is all about bisociation and ambivalence and negotiation and suspense and longing (usually unfulfilled, in the aggregate) and vulnerability and story and posture and tension and fluidity and improvisation and performance and drama and imaginative freedom, in favour of what we might well call brand loyalty. In an identitarian-capitalist system, the outcome of the sexual/ludic/social interaction must be preordained, which means avoiding collective improvisation and negotiation to the extent possible, hence Tinder instead of clubbing and ‘I’m an XYZ’ instead of ‘Let’s find out.’ That’s the palliative point of such anxious preemptive categorization: to stave off unpalatable/unmarketable uncertainty in people accustomed to pleasure ‘on demand’ and by design, even if such preemption means chucking out the eroticism-baby with the uncertainty-bathwater.

Yes motherfucker, you just read the best metaphor in the history of metaphor.

(Hey did you know that collaborative board games — people against a rules-system, an AI, an no interpersonal competition to be found — are hugely popular nowadays? Indeed. I won’t say why.)

Deckbuilding is a fun solo activity but every ‘filthy casual’ — let’s dispense with pretense and just say ‘vanilla’ — knows that the play is the game.

Back to where we started: today’s declarations of sexual identity assume absolute fixity of those identities and of sexual ‘preference’… by which I mean they assume the displacement of sexual desire from the realm of imagination — ambivalence, negotiation, play — to the realm of taxonomy and strategy, the business plan, the knowable, the saleable, the prepackaged, the reassuring, the generic. They manifest an ideology that turns bodies into types, into data points. They’re boring, which is not unconnected to why they’re popular.

Yet you must be able to fuck as you please, obviously, as long as you’re not harming anyone, yourself included. And no one should have to hide (from) their healthy sexuality.

So…what?

The next bit’s the hard bit, so I’ll defer (avoid) it by ending here.

Panoptic fable.

A panoptic fable.

The state builds a prison in the shape of a Coke can with a tower in the middle. The guard sits in the tower and can see everyone. The prisoners are monitored all the time — they can see the guard scanning the crowd with a telescope. They know that they’ll be watched today, individually, but don’t know when. They live, justifiably, in fear.

The prison then puts in a system of mirrors that allows the guard to look at the prisoners (now called ‘guests’) without impolitely staring directly at them. The guests know they’re being looked at, but can’t know the routine, the cadence. They live, justifiably, in anxiety. On the other hand, they don’t have to watch the guard watch them anymore.

The prison then bricks up the tower. The ingenious mirror-device means the guard — a young woman named Anita — can monitor all the prisoners guests unseen, at her leisure. Leisure is important. The guests have no idea, at any given point, whether they’re being watched; they live, justifiably, in a state of paranoia. On the other hand, they don’t have to look at the guard at all.

Honestly, at a certain level it’s kind of a relief.

Anita is let go. Her internship — she’s a sociology student — was over anyway. The prison wants to cut costs, so instead of replacing Anita, it leaves the tower empty. No one is actually watching. The reduction in head count leads to improved profits, a tiny fraction of which are passed along to the guests in the form of less-wormy meals.

The guests, having had time to acclimate to not being able to see Anita, make no change in their behaviour. If anything, prison life grows a little boring.

In its year-end financial statement, the prison reports that instead of the paternalistic/colonial term ‘guests,’ inmates will henceforth be referred to as ‘users,’ emphasizing their agency and humanity. It notes proudly that many of its users are ‘POC.’

One of the users, a young man named Vronsky imprisoned for cybercrime, actually took Literary Theory in college. He points out to the other users at dinner that the prison is what’s known as a ‘panopticon,’ and that — while they can’t be sure, since they haven’t been shown the year-end financial statement — it’s likely that no one’s even in the fucking guard tower. ‘What’s the matter with you sheeple?’ he yells one day while everyone’s working out.

One other user thinks about Vronsky’s claims and actually enjoys his hectoring, but doesn’t want to say anything in support without ‘reading the room’ first. Two more say ‘Hmmm’ but are absorbed in a game of Game of Thrones-branded chess (Danerys and Cersei are the queens; the pawns are little dragons and wights; games cost them $1.99 apiece, charged to the users’ rooms). The rest of the userbase, however, labels Vronsky a conspiracist crank — and they remind each other, in falsely confident voices, to behave so that whoever is in the tower (which, in private, they insist is probably nobody at all!) won’t come down hard on them.

The users who most loudly shame Vronsky are well thought of in the prison population as ‘influencers’ and, indeed, ‘gang leaders.’

At Christmas, Anita is confronted by her cousin Aurelio, whose parents have been in the USA longer and have more money than Anita’s parents. ‘How could you be part of that corrupt system?!’ he yells intemperately.

Cousin,‘ Anita responds, ‘it was the only internship I could get. And I didn’t punish anyone, I didn’t even talk to them. In fact, one time I told my boss not to punish someone — a Latinx user, by the way — for a minor infraction, and they didn’t. I’m actually making a difference.’

Nonetheless guilt ridden, Anita starts watching Youtube videos about something called the ‘carceral state.’

At the prison, Vronsky is knifed in the shower for reasons, it is said, unrelated to his anti-‘panopticon’ agitation. Because a certain rate of user churn is accounted for in the prison’s financial plan, the decision is made not to punish anyone for the stabbing. However, the prison administrators install a complaint box in the lunchroom where users can anonymously Report one another for various infractions.

More than a hundred Reports are generated in the first month, and an unpaid intern (the prison’s first nonbinary employee!) is brought on to dispose of the complaint cards.

Anita becomes a ‘whistleblower,’ i.e. she publishes a Medium post about her experience as an unwitting tool of the prison-industrial complex. This makes her unemployable in that sector. She sets up a Patreon which does moderately well, and always cites her employment at the panopticon in her writing and podcast appearances.

The panopticon, which has recently gone public through a SPAC acquisition (NASDAQ: 0EYE), is listed prominently on Anita’s résumé; her Patreon is not. She eventually gets a job at a nonprofit that connects recently freed users with low-paying green-energy positions, on a temporary basis.

Aurelio works at his local independent coffee shop, and his income is supplemented by occasional checks from his parents.

Prison records reveal that Vronsky was gay, and the prison releases a series of viral videos honouring Vronsky’s independent spirit. It then announces a fellowship — Vronsky’s spot in the prison will be reserved for queer artists working on hot-button political subjects.

The Biden campaign retweets one of the videos.

Melanial dispensationalism.

Idiots do you not understand that she does not care about any of this

The national ‘news’ media love to talk about Trump — he’s good for ratings, if nothing else.

Melania is Trump’s longest appendage: surgically attached to his genitals at enormous cost, with all the charisma of a hair plug. Melania ‘news’ stories excite gullible readers/viewers, hence this CNN headline: ‘Melania Trump departing White House with lowest favorability of her tenure.’ What a cute word, there: ‘tenure.’

Melania Trump’s ‘approval ratings’ don’t matter. She’s not doing ‘the job’ of First Lady — there isn’t one, really, especially when there’s no one coming to the White House due to plague, but she wouldn’t have done it if there were. The position is ceremonial and the Trump administration has starved all White House ceremony of dignity and meaning. Not by accident, either, though Trump can’t help himself — no, that was always part of the sales pitch. ‘They thought they were too good for us,’ says the man with a golden toilet. ‘Fuck them.’ The barbaric Capitol riot matched his sensibilities exactly, which is one reason he didn’t do anything to stop it: he liked seeing his betters, his moral superiors, afraid of him — and loves seeing poor (i.e. not-rich) people do what he tells them.

Melania Trump is a ‘glorified’ prostitute who married evil money and now has to raise an autistic son by herself in a setting she openly loathes and has helped poison. She deserves some bad things in this life but not this bad, and what difference does it make whether Panelist #281 ‘approves’ of her ‘performance’ as First Lady? Has she commissioned insufficiently cheery shoulder pads or fucked a poolboy or bodyguard who wasn’t woke enough? Did she pucker and scowl at an unflattering angle to the camera-eye? Does she call up Marla Maples on the people’s dime and ask what to buy her imbecilic husband for Father’s Day, only to hear cold laughter from the other end of the line? Does the FBI listen in? Do they laugh too?

Melania Trump doesn’t matter and her ‘approval rating’ matters even less. CNN is an entertainment company that sometimes accidentally spills some journalism on its bib. In two days, some fresh hell.

Really dont care do u

Revisiting unpublished 2016 thoughts on Trump and the election.

On the eve of the 2016 election I wrote and didn’t publish a couple of essays on the campaign. I wrote this the week before the election:

As I’ve said and written over and over for the last year, Trump’s candidacy is an ongoing media phenomenon manifesting as a political event rather than a primarily political phenomenon, and the most worrying thing about his candidacy isn’t the old problem of ‘white nationalism’ but rather the more recent catastrophic devaluation of democracy and political participation. Bernie Sanders ran against politics-as-usual, but Trump has harnessed Americans’ disgust with politics of any sort — which is why Hillary Clinton, who was handed a Senate seat by the DNC (who promised that she would face no primary challenge in 2000) and is perceived by many to’ve been given the Secretary of State job as a résumé-booster, is in a sense the best possible opponent from Trump’s point of view, the living embodiment of D.C. insider political scheming. The straightforward corruption of the Democrats’ 2016 primary process is catnip not only for Republicans but for any voter who loathes what Trump refers to as a ‘rigged system,’ and confirms their sense that voting can’t fundamentally change anything. The fact that Trump is a pig-ignorant TV game-show host rather than a person with any knowledge of government or policy isn’t a weakness in his supporters’ minds; the whole point of voting for Trump is to reject the rapidly transforming cultural mainstream. The best possible inoculation against the dangerous ignorance of Trump and his hardcore supporters is more robust community ties and more open communication between individuals and groups across cultural/political/identitarian lines. But while fulfilling and healthy, that’s not as satisfying as the tribal combat which has powered the Trumpist movement.

Correct.

From the same essay:

Though I saw clearly the threat Trump posed to the conventional (not necessarily to say ‘mainstream’) candidates — who were forbidden by systemic norms from responding in kind to Trump’s stinging criticisms of their various hypocrisies and inadequacies, and who in any case were and remain every bit as corrupt and/or feckless as Trump said — I wrongly assumed that the GOP continued to have decisive influence over its own nomination process, and didn’t realize that the massive field of GOP wannabes would work so strongly in Trump’s favour, or that the loser candidates would commit so many unforced errors. Still, I think I got the big points right: Trump’s candidacy will shape not only the content but the form of future campaigns, and (as has been clear for a decade) the GOP’s tenuous political arrangement of kowtowing to multinational corporations while buying working-class votes with culture-warfare is no longer sustainable.

Partly correct. I’m ashamed to have fallen for the ‘Party decides’ determinist stuff that — what a coincidence — Nate Silver explicitly cited as the latest, and therefore most important, thing he’d read.

My last claim, about the GOP coalition no longer holding, might be wrong — it doesn’t take into account demographic/cultural realignment, and probably overestimates Democratic seriousness. And it failed to take into account the creeping authoritarian ideology of an ascendant hypercapitalist ‘Left’ that hates democratic compromise as much as the protofascists do. In other words: the post-Trump GOP coalition might itself be big enough without the GOP ceasing to be, as a national Party, straightforwardly evil. (I believe a sane conservatism is possible and indeed desirable, essential; the Republican Party simply isn’t that.)

From the same essay:

A lot’s been written since 2004 about the end of middle-class white Christian hegemony. The election of a black president and the full integration of women into the workforce have only sped up the transformation, as has the immiseration of millions by two decades of deepening corporatization and a decade of economic crisis, not to mention the rapid (and closely related) decline of Christianity as a political force after its last gasp under Bush. ‘White nationalism’ is in no small measure a rear-guard action against this transformation — and I use that violent/military metaphor quite deliberately, as people will die from what will be a generation-long conflict between cultural dead-enders and the rest of America. But the outcome is foreordained: an ideology that leaves its adherents less able to survive and thrive in the world as it merely is, must adapt or collapse, and the immovability of fundamentalists ends up rendering them immobile. Which, by the way, is why radical theocratic Islam is doomed in the long run: isolationism, which is baked into such stupid reactionary religious fundamentalisms, is unsustainable in the world as it is.

We’ll see. I’m unsure about that last sentence, indeed I wonder if I haven’t gotten it precisely backward: reactionary isolationism is more appealing than ever in This Of All Stupid Worlds. My guess, or bet, was that deepening interconnection would make fundamentalist isolation impossible despite its obvious attractiveness. The trouble is, I won’t know whether I’ve gotten that claim right for several decades. Let’s hope so — though there’ll be loads of bad news to come, either way.

Unfortunately, I also wrote this:

Clinton will win; I’ve assumed this since 2008 and have never doubted it.

The bothersome thing about this claim is that the first bit’s wrong but the self-reinforcing second bit’s true: I didn’t doubt Clinton would win, in no small part because I’d assumed it for so long. I believed the polls, and the poll-aggregators and ‘analysts,’ and massively overestimated the Clinton campaign’s competence even as I was appropriate distrustful of her/its motives and outlook.

Excerpt from an unpublished first-draft essay about Trump as a participatory media phenomenon

I wrote the following in April 2016. The third paragraph is missing a logical step: the Trump campaign was an effective critique of the political system, and supporting him was partly about hitting back at that system, analogous to (but also different from) supporting Sanders. Well, it is what it is.

Donald Trump is easy to make fun of: he’s a friendless gated-community xenophobe of George W Bush levels of rodentine intelligence, who looks to the ‘little guy’ for validation when none of his peers will take him seriously. He babbles like an aphasic TV pitchman, is fetishistically obsessed with his receding hairline, and (for flavour!) is running for president of the United States despite lacking even the most basic qualifications for the position. He’s such a bad candidate that even the dainty authoritarians at National Review had to repudiate him, not that there were any readers left to notice — so bad, so witless, so obviously without principle or percipience, that the priced-to-sell uplifted tortoise Mitch McConnell can’t imagine a way to work with him.

He will lose the general election. Serious People will act as if virtue has prevailed (though our new Madame President, waiting impatiently for Her Turn since 2008, will be a neoliberal wolf in bourgeois pseudoprogressive clothing with a dangerous sociopath for a First Lad). And On January 20th, hundreds of millions of voters will go right back to where they are now, with no prospect of economic betterment and no major party willing to take even the slightest risk to help them.

The popularity of Trump’s candidacy is easy to explain: in a time of massive and rapidly growing inequality, at an unstable moment of profitable secularization and viscerally exciting fundamentalist reaction, with the passing of simple white male hegemony (Obama’s presidency, Hamilton‘s Pulitzer), as gay couples marry and transgender Americans queue distressingly for the bathroom and Prince is celebrated as the modern Ellington, while mere human empathy is phased out through a mix of predatory corporatism and the extraordinary communications technologies those corporate predators sell us — in a world, by the way, where the first of hundreds of millions of victims of anthropogenic climate change have already begun dying, fortunately far from the TV cameras, and only a vanishingly small number of people have even the faintest idea why their ability to read this essay online has actual existing armageddon as its cost — it’s no surprise that a billionaire TV gameshow host with a private jet and a trophy wife and absolutely no scruples would do well. Trump candidly points out what’s wrong with Washington (money) and lets his supporters know they’re not alone in feeling like the country is moving away from them.

[‘…lets his supporters know’ should’ve been ‘makes his supporters feel.’ –wa.]

It is. Has been for ages. This is only news if you’ve deliberately insulated yourself from very obvious long-term trends, by (for instance) watching the costume dramedy called ‘TV news,’ in which actors portraying journalists nod ‘sagely’ while paid operatives yell non sequiturs and everyone involved pretends the boot on America’s throat isn’t theirs. Trump is running as a Republican because that’s where he’ll do well, but there’s nothing ‘conservative’ or indeed particularly Republican about his appeal to voters. Trump’s vibe, a mix of self-pitying authoritarianism and careful image control, is aimed at the gossip pages, which is to say ‘TV journalists’; he doesn’t talk policy because his campaign isn’t about policy at any level. He doesn’t need to ‘play politics’ to win the nomination because Americans don’t particularly care about politics (and care even less about governance) — we understand ‘Washington’ as a distant, abstract villain who pops up periodically on TV to twirl its moustache, deliver monologues about its big world-changing plans, and occasionally wage war on the darkies. (This is true even of ‘sophisticated’ types who only ever talk to a Trump supporter when he’s writing them a speeding ticket.) Trump’s appeal isn’t about governance, and it’s not really about politics. He’s the media figure, the character actor, that his media-obsessed supporters (and their better educated but otherwise essentially identical media-obsessed opponents) crave and indeed deserve.

Trump and the monstrously vapid Kardashian family are, to borrow a phrase, two cheeks of the same derriere.

As such, when it comes to Trump, it’s a mistake to look to politics for precedent and illumination. When you see craven veterans sucker-punching protesters at Trump rallies, you shouldn’t be thinking of the event as ‘political’ in the sense that you’re used to.

[I’ve cut some material that links this setup to the ostensible meat of the essay, which I’m not sharing.]


What is your involvement in politics and governance? Don’t answer glibly: think for a second, and sit with your answer. Be honest. No points for reading this essay, by the way.

How do you stay informed about politics? Do you read primary sources — laws, treaties, the actual words and written instruments of the people in power — or even aspirationally neutral journalism? Or (much more likely) do you rely mostly on ideologically friendly pundits and ‘news analysts’ (read: pundits) to digest your information for you? Do you vote in off-year elections? Are you annoyed by my use of the casually dismissive term ‘off-year’ in that sentence? Have you ever read the platform of a major political party — or a minor one? Do you attend or even pay attention to debates? When you watch a debate, do you go in rooting for one side and always come out confirmed in your belief that your side is right?

Do you know the names of your City Councillors? Do you know how your city’s budget has worked out over the last few years or decades? If your town does participatory budgeting, do you participate? Do you vote in school board elections? Have you ever written a letter to your representatives in congress? Have you ever demanded accountability for your political donations?

One of the reasons Donald Trump has locked up the Republican nomination is that, if we’re being honest, nearly every voting-age American’s answer to most of these questions is something along the lines of ‘I just can’t.’

[The next bit, about ‘turn up every four years to vote in elections where our votes don’t really matter, and can’t be bothered to vote in the ones where they really really do,’ has been cut because you get the point.]

Sigh

I give myself partial credit and am comfortable with that.

Scattered thoughts on WARGAMES (1983).

WarGames is a paper-thin antinuclear polemic, strongly indebted to Dr Strangelove, hiding behind an extraordinarily affectionate young-hacker-and-his-girlfriend caper. All the production values of a TV movie. The attractive fantasy is in the titular games, and Broderick’s traversal of ‘Falken’s maze’ and casually confident mischief will warm the heart of people like me who grew up on this film, Goonies, Sneakers — but the goings-on at NORAD have a totally different (jumbled) tone, and suggest a satiric intent that the closely observed, relatable young-folks scenes never go for.


Much the best thing about the movie is its excitement about personal computing (however briskly it moves through its computer-related plotstuff), and its biggest surprise is a brief exchange between the slovenly hacker and his autistic compatriot at the computer lab. David brings a printout to the Computer Nerds:

MALVIN: Hey what’s that.
DAVID: I wanted Jim to see that.
MALVIN: Wow! Where’d you get this?
DAVID: Protovision. I wanted to see the program for their new games.
JIM: Can I have this back?
MALVIN: I’m not through yet.
[After a brief tug-of-war, Jim — visibly annoyed — gets the paper back from Malvin.]
JIM: Remember you told me to tell you when you were acting rudely and insensitively?
[Malvin nods, an expression of furious concentration on his face.]
JIM: You are doing it right now.

Three extraordinary things about this scene:

  1. David isn’t actually bothered by Malvin’s behaviour. His reprimand is gentle.
  2. Jim is bothered, but he helps Malvin correct his behaviour — unjudgmentally if ungently.
  3. Ally Sheedy, as Jennifer, is forced to stay away from the male nerds — and does so with an obvious mix of envy, resigned acceptance, and eager curiosity. This very definitely isn’t her world, but she’s into it; her relationship to David and the others is complicated. A modern movie would have commented on the whole dynamic, because modern movies treat viewers as idiots.

That brief scene is, I think, a sharp evocation of a complex relationship between a person with undiagnosed autism, a grandstanding hacker-dude, and their unprepossessing but sharp apprentice-acquaintance — the bright high-schooler who hangs out to learn from the older guys. And the girl watches, not of their world but not therefore wanting to destroy it.

Different times.


The Falken material, like the War Room shenanigans, makes for a weird tonal contrast with David and Jennifer’s adventures. Falken’s dreamy film-presentation on the island has that ‘writers letting themselves flex a bit’ feeling that makes me feel right at home. ‘Futility…there’s a time when we should just give up.’ And of course the surrogant children convince The Reclusive Genius to confront his ghosts (demons! in the machine).

The War Room scenes, in contrast to the cheeky kid stuff and dreamy Falken stuff, are just unbelievable broadly comic nonsense. David lives in a ‘fantasy’ world of computer games, but Dabney Coleman and company are the ones living a cartoon. Note that this does not mark WarGames as a children’s movie…


The ‘moral’ — ‘The only way to win is not to play’ — wasn’t a call to disengagement, in those days in that context. It fascinates me, with ‘2020 hindsight,’ to see a film about USA/Soviet Mutually Assured Destruction depicting, at its margins, proto-cyberwarfare conducted by a runaway AI trained on video games.

This is so forward-thinking as to be, now, somewhat creepy.


Ready Player One is a very stupid story that owes (and catastrophically fails to repay) a great debt to this film. It has nothing to say beyond its premise, which is why so many story-illiterate young people seem to love it — because why would you ever abandon a ‘fun’ premise? Why leave home?

The TV adaptation of Westworld should have been called Falken’s Maze.

The character of Rust on True Detective takes an entire season to follow the same character arc that Falken traces in a half-hour.