wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: cognitivemusic

twitter thoughts, change thoughts.

We don’t choose who changes the world.

We only get to decide: Is it me?

Epistemic status warning: I haven’t been sleeping well, I lost the thread partway through and grabbed a different one and who knows whether anything holds together, these are preliminary thoughts, yes this is what my preliminary thoughts come out sounding like, no I’m not so attached to any of this shit that I don’t wanna hear intelligent disputation about it I’m just pompous you see, everyone says so. –wgh

Like a lot of people (within a narrow demographic band) I’ve been thinking a lot about Twitter. Over the last decade it’s eaten more of my time than any other meaningless distraction. It looms large in my daily experience, for bad reasons. It also was instrumental in getting me the 33-1/3 gig, and introduced me to a bunch of people I consider ‘online friends’ — a weird category and worth unpacking some other time. It entertained me. It destroyed my attention span.

I’m happy to see it go.

Everything good about Twitter was intimately bound up in everything bad about it — crucially, Twitter was not a ‘social’ network in a meaningful sense. Facebook is a ‘social’ network of sorts: you log in and have brief text conversations with your Facebook friends. They’re probably not your real friends, but your Facebook connections theoretically map onto real connections, and if Facebook usage tends to devolve into grandpas-sharing-memes, well, some of us are old enough to remember when commercial email was new and rare (and expensive) and email usage devolved readily to grandpas-sharing-chain-emails. Facebook in practice is a bad version of something good, owned by a cruel idiot, surveilled and manipulated into paranoid stupidity, monetized out of any real value — but under its shambling corpse is an older model of online sociality that might, in an alternate universe, have been something good for our species.

Twitter was never that. It was designed to be bad.

Most Twitter use worked on the ad-supported broadcast model, with ‘social’ interactions having even less importance or usefulness than the infamous blog comments sections you weren’t supposed to read. No one is under any illusions about this except ‘knowledge workers’ who got their only taste of status and visibility through Twitter: journalists, academics, political-media figures, et al. Facebook destroyed the economics of journalism, but Twitter hollowed out journalistic work itself; CNN is the cancer that ate American politics but Twitter represents its metastasis; online life has degraded over 25 years to a long game of hotornot.com but Twitter was built around that model. A lot of mistakes and bad intentions went into Twitter: thumbs-up without thumbs-down is profoundly stupid design that did great harm, the ‘you might like this…’ algorithm is clever but evil (i.e. ad-centric), engagement-only metrics are merely stupid/evil — Twitter was never a successful business and won’t be now, but its managers behaved in ordinary business-predator ways, iteratively ruining not only the one good thing about the site (its initial proposition: an RSS feed of your friends’ group text messages in reverse-chronological order) but everything superficially attractive about it. Prior to Elon Musk’s takeover of the service, Twitter was a shitshow, a ‘social’ service where it was impossible to have a sane conversation except by calving off an invite-only space (at which point you were almost certainly better off in an IRC channel or near-equivalent, e.g. a Slack/Discord instance).

The most popular Twitter accounts were pure publicity feeds: Obama, Musk, Bieber, Ronaldo, Taylor Swift, Modi(!), and for some reason the official Youtube account(??). The only remotely real human being in the top 50 accounts of all time is Musk himself. (For mental-health reasons he should have had his account taken away, but what can you do.) Interacting with humans was possible, but once a Twitter feed reaches a certain size it’s almost impossible to control what you’re seeing, at which point normal/healthyish people defocus and stop interacting almost entirely — making it very difficult to actually get the attention of any big account unless you were (1) big yourself or (2) a dedicated status-chaser, in which case (1) was your goal anyway. The network was built around status, attention, ‘engagement,’ which is why both malicious users’ unceasing river of bullshit and the company’s constant clumsy censorship (including well-documented shadowbanning) were inevitable. ‘Advertisers don’t want to be on “free speech” Twitter’ is a common observation among pseuds now, but the primacy of branding on Twitter was always the problem — ask anyone who made the mistake of looking to Twitter for political ‘news,’ and found nothing but court stenographers’ self-promotion…

Twitter was designed to be bad because it never had a way of making money except selling ads, and it predictably deformed around its revenue source. Pay-to-play networks can’t be ‘social’ in any meaningful sense.

That’s why I won’t miss Twitter. ‘Friends share SMS status messages to coordinate get-togethers at SXSW’ is a fine weekend web-dev project. ‘Tens of millions of people wake up and mindlessly scroll through broadcasts from strangers’ is obviously nothing but a distraction engine which is why status-seekers and advertisers liked it and everyone else routinely derided it as a stupid time-suck to which they were addicted and for which they’d consequently make every excuse in the book.

Hence the the current wave of melodramatic, performative Twitter nostalgia, a combination of resistance to change, justification for what everyone sane has long understood to be a destructive addiction — and branding, branding, branding. Twitter’s weird approach to virtual identity has had corrosive effects, and we’re seeing predictable celebrations from the people who’ve adopted it, ‘benefited’ from it, and now face the horrifying prospect of turning back into people.

the bird that could’ve flown

We don’t choose who changes the world.

Musk is a terrible human being, but he’s the only person with both the means to take Twitter private and the lack of impulse control to try it. And since Twitter is bullshit for a host of reasons which boil down to it being a publicly traded corporation chasing after ad money, this means that Elon Musk is the only person alive in a position to fix Twitter. He will fail, he is publicly failing right before our eyes even as I type — but think about what he could have offered to the world:

An open invitation, backed by $50,000,000,000 of funding, to take Twitter’s massive, frankly astounding network infrastructure and build something new on top of it.

Imagine having the keys to Twitter. What would you do? What would you pay hundreds or thousands of engineers to build? If you didn’t have to answer to shareholders or anyone else, if you had an effectively unlimited amount of money and a readymade infrastructure and the attention of the entire online world, with billions of users waiting to see what you’d do next, and if you could (for a minute) have had your pick of nearly any software developer on earth — if you actually cared about implementing the dream of an ‘Internet town square’ and could skip the entire startup-bootstrapping process and present your idea full-grown to the rest of our species — can you imagine what you’d do?

If you had more money than God and were deluded enough to think of yourself as an excellent tech-corp CEO instead of a lucky conscription-dodging legacy admit with a fake résumé, and someone handed you the keys, would you pass up that opportunity?

Musk just bought the right to deploy literally any software project he wants at Twitter scale. imagine what he could do. He’s making bad choices because he’s stupid, but what if he weren’t? If someone told you tomorrow, ‘You now own NASA. Do what you want,’ would you hesitate for even a second before putting people on Mars or something? I bet you would, and honestly that’s probably good. But Elon Musk, a dipshit conman so insecure he lies about his bachelors degree, demonstrably wouldn’t hesitate. He keeps actually doing insane things, his money protects him, and some of them — like brute-forcing the launch of the entire electric-car sector — will change and indeed improve human life to a degree we can’t yet fully comprehend.

We don’t get to choose who changes the world. We only get to choose to try it ourselves, or not. No one reading this, I imagine, will ever be in a position to effect change at Twitter-scale. But one reason for that is simple: no one reading this is actually committed to even trying for that goal.

Musk looked at Twitter, like so many of us, and thought: What else could this be? Because of his limitations, he came up with dumb answers and is tripping over himself to implement them in the dumbest, most destructive possible ways. He’s going to destroy Twitter by accident — and then one of the worst, most influential business executives in history will own billions and billions of dollars of digital infrastructure, with which he can do whatever the hell he wants… Tell me, if that guy offered you $200K/yr to build something else using Twitter’s tech and reach and userbase, would you take it?

Wouldn’t you?

elf-actualization

A ‘self-actualized’ person is someone who lives intentionally, no longer in denial about her nature, her plans and impulses and desires aligned, or at least resolved. Unlike most people she’s…really here, not denying or escaping or sublimating but actually struggling with this moment, this world-in-progress as it actually is. You can ‘skip ahead’ to something that superficially resembles self-actualization by being a Musk/Trump-style piece of shit, having so much money and so few actual friends that you lose connection to humanity, but real self-actualization is peace, which isn’t the absence of conflict but rather the presence (or rather, the process) of harmony and resolution. Musk obviously isn’t a peaceful man, but he’s now in a position to act with almost total impunity, to honour his full self (if he had one). This is capitalism’s shitty simulacrum of peace, the glittering lure: it’s a bad thing that does good things by accident. Musk is late capitalism is human form, a trust-fund baby who uses his money solely to make increasingly large bets on a future that can’t be built any other way, not because they’ll help you and me but because that’s the way his ego is deformed, and everything good that comes of Musk’s predation and exploitation is a side effect.

This is capitalist ideology in a nutshell: your selfishness delivers benefits to us, greed increases freedom as a side effect (presentists and attention-dysregulated readers, cf. Sam Bankman-Fried and all of ‘effective altruism’ and indeed ‘rationalism’). ‘Trickle-down’ economics is just saying the quiet part of capitalism out loud, the rich need to get richer because ‘greed works,’ and it remains not just the social-ideological model of Silicon Valley but the psychological basis of the whole corporate world. That’s the deep-down justification — and note its reflection the current outbreak of Twitter-nostalgia, howls of longing for a world in which endless monologues into the void could take the place of the real (taxing, risky, slow, meaningful) communication that entities like Twitter have themselves destroyed, oh well…

Most people with delusions of grandeur accomplish nothing — but everyone who does anything grand will have, at moments, such delusions. Successful people tend not to get swept up in them, tend to avoid getting high on their own supply; peaceful people learn to avoid this trap entirely. But an awful lot of world-changing people are fucking nuts! And they get someplace legible and impactful to the rest of us by chasing their foolish notions and schemes and visions long past the point at which anyone else would have stopped. Do you think ‘Kim Kardashian’ is a good idea? Does anyone? Christ no. But even a product idea that bad can make a billion dollars if the people pimping it are clear-eyed about what they want and ruthless about pursuing it. That’s the ugly lesson that presumes the late-capitalist cult of accumulation, and it’s the weak vile analogue to the most beautiful idea, that no human is too far fallen to find peace through clarity, intention, and focus — right thinking right action etc., as somebody once said. We don’t get to choose who changes the world or how it’s changed, except that we get to choose (we must choose) to enact and embody that change ourselves. Which is the last thing the bosses like Musk want, and which is why the real questions to ask about Twitter — or about own your inexplicable and misguided decision to know and even care about the ‘Kim Kardashian’ line of near-human beings — are ‘What do I need?’ ‘What do I want?’ ‘What am I doing?’ Maybe you stay connected to the distraction-engine, sucking down toxic fumes and remaining in the fog of ‘Twitter brain’; maybe you turn off the TV when the Kardashian-family infomercial comes on; maybe we finish this goddamn manuscript; either way, the only healthy act is an intentional one, the thing Twitter was built and administered to take away from you, which can only come about through an alignment of means and ends and opportunity and luck (a superstitious nickname for ‘opportunity’).

There’s a universe, maybe not yet born, in which Twitter developed in accordance with a clear vision of a global ‘town square’ rather than an advertising platform trading in private user data. Elon Musk had the opportunity to bring it into being right here, right now, and he didn’t because he’s stupid and undisciplined.1 But he has some combination of traits which gave him that opportunity in the first place. And while we shouldn’t strive to emulate him — though I could live with being richer than Croesus — we might pay attention to the thing he superficially resembles, and take some lesson from his ongoing rise/fall.

And then stop paying attention to him altogether. Musk has stolen enough time from our species. He’s destroying Twitter, literally as I type, and it would take him and his several years to build something worthwhile on its ruins. To hell with them. Meanwhile an unexplored country is visible beyond. Maybe it’s easier to find peace in a new world outside the old. Maybe, with all the time that quitting Twitter is gonna free up, you’ll have a few minutes in which to try.

I’m @waxbanks@mstdn.social for the time being, waxbanks most places I’m found online, tell me something new.

addendum

I want to add: Yes, Musk wanted not to buy Twitter and tried to get out of it. He’s impulsive and seems to’ve backed himself into it. I don’t think that’s incompatible with him having delusions of grandeur about running the place, or even ideas about what it might be; I’m sure they intertwine nicely with his persecution complex as Twitter burns down.


  1. ‘Wait I thought he was a “hardcore” sleep-at-the-office type?’ No, you’re thinking of the people he pays to buttress his reputation. Musk explicitly announced his intention to hand the Twitter reins over to a more committed CEO after completing the acquisition — and he’s notoriously both an impulsive micromanager and an absentee landlord with no attention to detail. Have you ever actually ridden in a fucking Tesla? 
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Twitter was a distraction engine.

Twitter is (was) a distraction engine — its sole function, to steal attention. Bad at selling ads but bad at everything else too.

It’s good for the human species that Twitter is going away.

My prediction is that for a time, regular Twitter users will all just be better off — less ‘doomscrolling,’ less ‘killing time’ by starting at our phones. More Reddit, maybe, and (less likely) more Facebook. Surely more Instagram (which is practically the same thing).

Eventually a replacement will arise.

Mastodon is not a drop-in Twitter replacement — it is intentionally designed (e.g. by lacking quote-tweets) to prevent virality and to militate against shallow engagement, which are Twitter’s main features. Twitter is for distraction; Mastodon is for conversation. People aren’t used to that, which’ll get in the way of Mastodon uptake.

Good riddance to Twitter and its idiot owner.

The important part of ‘organized religion’ is organization.

Without the structured intellectual engagement, community participation, and beneficial narrativization that come with organized religion, what use is it? It’s not the god parts that matter, not the metaphysics it’s the devotion — and the social dimension, which has been the x-factor all through human history. Something has to bind us together.

At the moment, nothing does except freighted things — nationalism, media spectacle. Moral panics and fads (inverse moral panics: moral frolics). As technology defeats geography, we lose the community elements of all our social forms. Religion’s power to cross geographic boundaries without eliding them is too important to dismiss. ‘New Beyoncé album’ doesn’t actually do it, you know? Media fandom existed in the 19th century and all through the 20th, and look where it got us.

Pursue confidence, not comfort.

There’s this idea that once you feel good about your writing tools, you’ll be able to use them more effectively. This is precisely backwards, and stupid. Once you get some experience working with a tool, you recognize what it is and isn’t, what it can and can’t do — and you feel good about knowing what’s up. Bringing your perceptions in line with reality feels good, and creates a sense of confidence (which is what people who look for ‘comfort’ actually need, much of the time).

Seek confidence, not comfort; begin by learning about your world, e.g. tasks and tools. Nothing is as comforting as realism.

Initial zettelkasten thoughts.

  • It’s not as complicated as newcomers think, nor as interesting as adherents think. But it’s a little complicated, and interesting.
  • The method has little to do with ‘taking notes’ and much to do with ‘outboard cognition.’
  • The self-published semischolarly book on the subject is a good read: Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes. Ahrens is a true believer, which could be intolerable, but he’s also a scholar and teacher, and hammers home the central point that the slip-box is part of a comprehensive creative-intellectual workflow — i.e. his book looks like self-help but doesn’t read or work that way.
  • The ‘digital garden’ is only alive in traversal, i.e. when you are thinking it through. Meaning you need to be revisiting your notes regularly; the output of the zettelkasten method is the zettelkasten, parts of which you can gather and revise for publication.
  • My misunderstanding, a common one, was that the zettelkasten method is about storing notes. That is incorrect, badly and essentially so. You store notes in a box. But a brain isn’t a box, it’s a network of machinery. It constantly acts, it churns. The ‘second brain’ metaphor is precise: the associations formed between notes themselves constitute a kind of thought. This is non-neural cognition, of a sort. Think of it as a unique inorganic living thing, a cognitive supplement: a thinking-machine.
  • In other words, you don’t store material inside it to think with; you think inside it.
  • The zettelkasten argues implicitly. Nodes aren’t thoughts; the connections between them are thoughts. Following connections is following a kind of argument. This is nothing like, say, Wikipedia, where each node is a discrete info-drop.
  • All of this is to say, the slip-box (theoretically) makes you a better writer and thinker by making writing into thinking, and making everything writing.
  • This quasi-mystical gobbledygook is characteristic of the zettelkasten community, which has produced almost nothing of value but a library of blogposts about zettelkasten. (Where are the interesting writers/thinkers using this method?)
  • Org-roam is a good implementation whose main weaknesses are (1) you gotta be in Emacs to use it, which you almost certainly aren’t, and (2) viewing and following connections is a frustrating experience at times. It wants shorter entries in org syntax.
  • Obsidian is a good implementation geared toward the same people nearly every such product is geared toward — productivity bloggers. It wants longer entries in Markdown syntax.
  • Denote isn’t strictly a zettelkasten implementation at all, which is a big reason for its excellence: all it wants to be is a great note-taking system for Emacs, using long rich filenames as primary sort/search tools (i.e. no database reliance, so slower but better integrated w/Emacs at large). It’s a new package, but sanely designed and rationally opinionated and therefore not just immediately useful but immediately helpful. It wants whatever you’ve got, form/sizewise.
  • If you pay money for zettelkasten software you’re a fool.

Yeats.

Excerpt from mss. in progress –wa.

Yeats’s ‘lonely impulse of delight’ — the mundane-mystic vision at the heart of his Irish airman’s honest testament — comes back to me unbidden several times a year. It’s one of the few ‘adult’ poems I’ve memorized, and it’s hard for me to recite it without breaking down. OK, now how’s this for mundane: the aerial chase that brings the third Matrix movie to its climax, with Trinity’s flying-craft breaking through eternal oilsmoke night, vouchsafed her (our) first glimpse of the unscarred sky only to plunge to cruel death which in turn frees her blind lover-brother to save both the human and the machine worlds, is forever intertwined in my stupid head with Yeats’s ‘tumult in the clouds.’ ‘I balanced all, brought all to mind’: peace and equipoise, slow and life and quiet amidst machine-death. Trinity looks out at the old world (light from 93 million miles away, memory of faraway minutes ago) and whispers, ‘Beautiful.’ She flies toward grace.

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.

kosmische

Excerpt from a manuscript in progress. –wa.

The ideal state, it seems to us, is sensory-imaginative immersion so total that every element of the experience comes to metaphorize every other — a borderless innerstate of total fluidity and mutability, surrounded and penetrated and haunted, absolute becoming-multiple. Being as we are, we most easily conceptualize such states in musical terms. Remember Bennie Maupin’s ‘Ensenada’ spreading out from pedal point as polytonal mist: intense bodily experience of stillness and slow movement. Remember the cruel carnal-cosmic ‘On your knees, boy’ from U2’s ‘Mysterious Ways,’ literate technosex as border-crossing, principled pain/pleasure. Remember Bernard Xolotl’s ‘Nearing the Gates of Eleusis,’ which establishes its minor colour and then denies return for seven minutes, circling spiritual-erotic yearning for release from the V7 like dervishes dancing, nearing the gates, secret innermost place… Remember those snaredrum 32nd notes racing beneath Jeff Tweedy’s despairing octave leap on the outro chorus of ‘Radio Cure,’ machine noises at the edges of vision like a migraine, like arms enfolding, distantly. Remember the camera pushing in on D’Angelo’s face as his listens to his band mount that astonishing crescendo to sexual-spiritual ecstasy and his rapturous smile shy then proud is the song’s true climax, true self hearing true self. Remember Burial’s ‘Kindred’ circling back to repeat after beatless break, that aching IV in the bass as warped voices multiply and maybe wanna rise, ‘Baby you can find the light,’ but dawn comes for this dream—

We think of experiences of conceptual hull-breach, doors thrown open and compartments flooding one another, every signifier another’s signified: radical polysemy. Nonpolynomial expansion of meaning. He licks his lips because he’s nervous to be naked (vulnerable, validated), he’s thinking of sex (desire, defilement, divinity), he’s thinking of food (family, fellowship), he’s thinking of God (ascension, assumption, apocalypse) — those ideas superpose and crosspollinate until every moment of the work belongs to every one. Think of this unmooring of/from meaning not as irresponsibility but as total responsibility: every possible imaginative relation is in hand, you are trusted with your every thought. No metaphoric link is forbidden or discouraged. Freest association. This is the environment of non-ordinary permissiveness which the term ‘fusion’ in its deepest sense can evoke.

This empowering, exhilarating boundarylessness characterizes mind-altering experiences of ‘psychedelic’ consciousness. It can bring terror, joy, serenity, longing, satisfaction, focused intensity, oceanic diffuseness, distortions or enhancements of perception, affirmation and obliteration of various self-narratives — but always a sense of being intensely alive. A more momentous present moment: more real precisely because more unreal, more surreal. The real world filled with all those other worlds, and no distinguishing between them.

When we speak of the ‘cosmic,’ this is what we mean: the sense, not of breadth or distance, but of multidimensionality.

We were at a party on Jones Beach or thereabouts one night with a bottle of bourbon in hand staring out at the water and things had grown complicated for what felt like it must be (better be) the last time, worst time; we craved resolution and felt intensely sad, angry, broken — sensed ourself to be in violation of principles perhaps we never held. We threw the bottle into the water and went to sleep in the car, maybe not right away. Looking back nearly 20 years later we don’t (as you might expect) ruefully recall the painfully abrading knot of good intentions and bad judgment and mixed emotions which bound us and others (each poisonously to all); it was hard and we were dumb but that’s as far as it went. Rather, we see in that moment an incredible complex potentiality, vast energies circulating. The desperation attached to the memory isn’t to do with hopelessness or choices cut off, but rather the chance (not taken) for absolute transformation. Angry, sad, broken, yes; but also comprehensively involved, able to see out to sea, able to touch inner organs flayed bare, bound up with other hearts, fending off knowledge and drowning in feeling. The sky was huge. It might’ve been summer or spring — what difference does it make?

Not cosmic, not hardly. But without question an experience of the irreducible interconnectedness of things, coloured by negative affect (then and in memory now) but lit from within. Longing, lust, lament. Love and loneliness, and a quietly violent confusion. Knowledge of pain. I fucking felt like everything.

The motif of ‘adventurous expectancy’ which runs through the present work is most intensely evoked, for us, when a purity (singularity) of sensation joins a complexity (multiplicity) of sense: algebra giving way to ecstasy, the great unwieldy mass of form made weightless in ecstatic flight to outer/innerspace. The utter simplicity of a single trembling note, sight of a high strange house on the hill, a pirouette, or the hour after the caffeine kicks in when hard problems feel easy but are known in their complexity — every aspect present. That’s what life is like, at best: every idea, every memory, flowing beneath this single-point awareness. All the contents of the imagination brought to the fore, everything in foreground, front-of-macromind.

The joining of this kaleidoscopic imagination with that of another person, desires in common (in communion), gives this imaginative experience its identifiably erotic dimension. That feeling of borders collapsing to points, points variegating to spaces. You and me, dimensions of one another. Mind and body amen.

Telling the truth is a love letter to everything imaginable.

On climax (excerpt).

Note: This is excerpted from a work in progress. –wa.

To loosely borrow terms from molecular biology: the climax is the egophilic end of the story, its region of attraction and attachment to the sensemaking, sense-craving world of selves. But the body of the story is egophobic, deranging and repelling the unitary ego-self, asserting an alternate order in which we the audience become disordered, dissolve. ‘Lost in the story.’ We bind to the story at its premise (‘on entry’) and come undone, and are put back together when we leave at the end. Maybe that’s what endings are for. They feel great — like letting go of something you’ve clung tightly to, and feeling blood rush back into your hands.

Anticlimax leaves you with an otherworldly feeling, which — in the terms, not solely allegorical or metaphorical, of the present work — marks the presence of an actual other world. Storyworld is real, we can live whole lives there. Anticlimax and ambivalence and insinuation leave open connections between day and night, dream and waking. Sometimes you want that. Sometimes you need it.

Taxonomizing, categorizing, hierarchizing, contrast-heightening judgment marks and enforces that grey blurry border between this world and others. It pushes story-stuff back into its cage. The poet is ‘unacknowledged legislator’; the critic is the hanging judge impressing the law upon once-free subjects. Making the lawmaker’s aspiration into his fiefdom.

To look into the closed system of meaning which is the poetic text, the living community, the human life, and pronounce judgment from without — to demand that it be made legible, communicable, meaningful, climactic — is to cut away that aspect of it which most resembles your own life, all life. This is fear. It is to choose order over disorder and so welcome destruction. It is to refuse to see beauty in the strange; it is to look at the nonsensical world, the impossible universe, to look into infinity, and demand that it do the only thing it can’t, to make sense. To you. You of all people, you of all nations. This is fear and fuck that.

Criticism is possible — e.g. this book exists — but you have to go inside to know. You have to know in vivo. What can you say about music you can’t hear?

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.