Friday, May 17, 2019

Why I Blog

I think blogging isn't really a thing anymore. It's been overrun by people trying to make money. Just more branding.

So this morning, because a friend was trying to get into Pynchon and I've read all of Pynchon and the two of us didn't know if he'd already died or not and so I looked it up on Wikipedia and not only hadn't he but he'd written a recent book which I immediately went to buy, feeling vaguely sheepish for not knowing, only to find that Amazon was helpfully reminding me that I already own it.

Sure enough I pull it up on my Kindle and find not only do I own it, but I've read it and apparently liked it, so I start all over again. There are plenty of books I've bought that I never did start, or started and dropped . . .

Not a shred of memory. Not one.

I used to think that reading novels was important because you came out (through?) as a different person, so maybe that's all it is. Like a river is never the same river and all. Except it seems a lot more likely that I'm just losing my memory, cause of age.

Except my memory always worked that way. Like I had to reconstruct the formulas before acing physics tests when I was whole lot younger. So maybe reading Pynchon changed me, but does that mean I should read him again?

Maybe I should just stop reading altogether, because I'm basically done. Which was, for instance, the reason I dropped Game of Thrones way back around the time this book came out, because liking it once was plenty and it seemed like an investment too big to like it over and over again, though I did watch Breaking Bad through. Be not proud.

But I was with someone. I called this Pynchon reader (well reader-wannabe at that moment, maybe he's different now) a friend, but fact is I have no friends. Nor want any. There is nobody in the world wants to listen to me (that I want to listen to) and have an actual conversation, back and forth. We put each other away is all.

Like I'm done with someone once I find out they're a practicing Mormon, for instance, since what else could there possibly be to say? Or if someone thinks that off-planet expansion is the only way to go, or that life is just about being happy. There are lots of finished people out there. It seems that's the way to be.

Fact is, there's only one sort of reading worth doing, and that's the kind that really does leave you with a different reality because once you know something you can't really un-know it. Though you can sure forget it. Which seems a subtly different thing, somehow.

So I blog to catch those things which I know. No, that's not it, since there's something I know that I'm trying to catch in writing, but I can't seem to do it. I blog to catch schemes that I occasionally come up with; strategies to catch someone - anyone's attention enough to tell what I know. Mostly I noodle these around in my head for a few days without finding the time or gumption instant to start and then once I have that I've forgotten what the strategy was. Then I have this nagging lag. As you can tell, I've never quite managed what I set about blogging to accomplish. I mean, no wonder people are mostly done with me too. Who wants to know what someone else is already certain of?

It's almost as if the writing actively destroys what it was on my mind. I hope you get a chuckle out of that, because who doesn't occasionally suffer that sort of delusion and then some schoolmarmish type says write it down and then I'll take a look at it and you're just left sputtering, as it were.

So, no, I don't blog to catch anything I already know, since most of what I talk about (I do try to make friends) is stuff I don't already know about. I blog to make it happen right during the blogging, so that I can be as surprised as you would be, gentle reader, in the discovery embodied right in the words their very selves.

And of course I peter out before that happens, ever.

Like I would like to have the nerve to be attractive. But my conviction is that I'd only ever look like I was trying to be attractive and clueless about the nuance that might make me so. So, it's not quite as though I try not to be, but is nearly so. Might as well be. Schlump beats fake cool every time, Earnest!

Like, the things (is it only a thing?) I know don't rub off on anyplace else. Just because I know something important doesn't mean I have the best take on politics or parenting or anything else. But I still do rather resent it when someone might be willing to talk with me about politics and then end conversation when I challenge their settled points of view on more important matters.

As I've said, that's because our goal is to be finished, to have made something of ourselves, even if in our own minds, and so maybe none of us that aren't finished can really have any friends, and so they (we) have to blog is all. On the off-chance . . .

I mean I only really want just one reader. It would be such relief!

There is only one choice any of us has in life. And even that one is not about right or wrong. It's about turning off or leaving on emotion. I mean in that sense I honor even Mormons in the breach. Since they must feel actual love for that God construct created by some earthly horse-thief. Who only wants to control women's' bodies in the end. Agriculture by another name.

So I read this essay by a Mormon about how every unwanted pregnancy is created by some man's irresponsible ejaculation, and I wanted to agree with it, because sure, men are the problem all around. I tried to find a contact and I did, and I wanted to write, but not publicly, since I didn't want to be disclosing my abortions like that, but then why do it here?

So, yeah, I've had abortions, multiple, but they were (both) co-conspiracies between lovers neither of whom wanted a pregnancy and both of whom were well-informed and diligent beyond the suggestions for birth control in the aforementioned essay. And then there's Mom who was an early proponent of 'family planning.' The best laid plans and all.

It would be nice if the world were neat. Only true believers think it could ever be so. Pin it on someone and then at least their life will be ruined and not yours, right? Me too? Aren't famous people always suspect?

So I agree with the essay's every point. Just not with its conclusion. History has none, so why should we? Oh, yeah, right, it's that patriarchy thing. Being right. Shall I psychologize this Mormon bitch's elder-envy?

I shouldn't say bitch. I'd probably like her well enough, even though she is an internet self-branding maven. I mean, talk about capitulation to the Man. You need to read a little McKenzie Wark, or whatever she calls herself now that she's a woman. What's the gender of the name McKenzie and why does the New School catalog say Ken? I can't wait for my lovely fluid niece to go there! Vicarious pleasure being what life on the planet is all about now, right? Sex is so yesterday of the sort I once did like.

Getting off is the problem, lady! (of the planet, I mean)

So, yes, I would say that each of us as a life implicates all the rest of the cosmos in our very being. Even without that consideration we do embody lots more complexity than whatever the physicists can catalog 'out there.' Our very Earth, withal, presents much more interest than cosmic forever which we can't even reach in principle. I want no life beyond my very boundaries, whether sanctioned by religion or some techno-fantasy. In that I am right. Right I am.

Because to do so would deny my very existence here and now.

The End

Post-Scriptum

Really, that's just too glib, like the guy who's taking over the book I'm translating from Chinese, who wants to replace the author's labors with showing off how much English he knows and then it all just becomes not worth reading. It still makes me mad, since they have no patience for my care-taking. It's not really a book. It's a translation from Chinese slam-writing, where everyone wants to see it now as it's happening live just in case something wonderful happens. Lost in translation . . . read it and see if you can even tell the difference . . .

So I'm live, but not in competition. I think the author of that book is wealthy, or maybe like the winners of those reality TV talent competitions, only if he can convert to signing with some label. I've signed away anything beyond my six bucks an hour, since that's pretty cheap (negative, really!) tuition for improving my Chinese.

Whatever!

Would that we even cared that much about reading and writing. Well, mark my words, Chinese will become the written language for the planet. I'm right and I don't care if I'm the only one to say so!

Back to the point. I am the "product" as it were, of accident. And as Paul Verilio and his acolyte Benjamin Bratton would tell you, all technology provides new fields for accident. Now we all know that evolution operates on that principle and still and yet we do seem to believe that it is the purpose of technology to remove us from accident viz Ray Kurtzweil which is to say that we shall replace the accidents of nature with and by our own and somehow rationality will reign supreme as the culminator of whimsy or something like that.

NOT

What matters is that we care and not that we do the right thing. At some point, when you're making money, say, you stop caring. You've let the viral life-force of money take over your life, and you can and will and do rationalize it as though it were partaking in some kind of law of physics, Which it is, but that hardly removes you from the realm of choice.

So I celebrate myself for caring even though I don't do anything. Well, except for blogging. I know perfectly well that this makes me really really boring, and In McKenzie Wark's terms unfuckable which is truly a pity, though it might only be that age thing anymore, so why should I care. I have always left the cool stuff for others to pursue. You all have so much more juice than I do!

You can't escape evolution since you are it, no matter how much anxiety you may have that you are more powerful than you are. At some point the machinery is creating us and we simply don't care anymore. As it was in the beginning, and we shall collectively have reached eternity.

THE END

(because we couldn't have cared less)













Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Happy New Year Essay on Agency

I have only very recently read Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. It’s hard to read. I’d pretty much been avoiding it because I haven’t believed that anyone seeming to champion our brave new digital future could be worth reading. Boy, was I wrong.

There is plenty of information up here on this blog about why I might avoid writing that announces itself that way. I have long since decided - on the basis of youthful epiphany really - where I stand on (what feel to me to be) the absurdities of AI/digital intelligence. In brief, it’s the either/or nature of digital, and the gap that hides between digital machinery and our lived existence. What’s hidden is that we aren’t really separable from all else in the cosmos, while digital is. And our connections go well beyond what can be measured and quantified. So any digital simulacrum can’t be real. Digital reality is logic fully abstracted from any substrate. There is only yes and no.

I’ve long since given up on any definitive determination about whether my youthful epiphany was genuine or the random synapse firing of psychotic detachment from reality. I mean the epiphany has continued to make sense to me, but I have yet successfully to communicate it to a single other soul. And so I must remain agnostic as to its truth value; that epiphany of mine.

But I must agree with Haraway. She pushes the man/machine connection way back before digital machinery, but also manages to envision a ton of hope for all good things post-digital! Like doing away with gender bias for starters. That excites me. Too!

So now I’m fixated more on agency. For instance, Natalie Jermijenko, whose work I admire, uses agency as shorthand for what she’s about. I feel no dissent in her audiences, and so I keep my mouth shut, but am I alone in my misgivings?

What we call agency starts with random in my cosmology. An irrational impulse precedes the rational choice, and choice becomes rationalization. Full Stop. There’s lots of neurological research to support this conclusion.

Some are bothered by the apparent lack of conscious agency entailed by this insight. I’m not. I have found in it connectedness to the cosmic other. I distinguish random from meaningless, along with my Chinese cousins. Consciously unknowable is not the same as meaningless.

There are limits to mind’s reach, and so I am happy to leave many of my own decisions to random processes. NOT my driving and healthcare decisions, for God’s sake! But my reading decisions, say. Why prefigure what you’re going to read by what you already know? How can you learn that way? Of course, I do quickly discard anything that’s not well-written or sensible. I’m (mostly) not stupid.

Well, in my life and family now I am trapped by lack of agency. After receiving a modest inheritance upon my father’s death - by modest, I mean it’s equal to about two years of my earning power, and I’m at least three years from a decidedly modest retirement possibility - I’d felt that I’ve been working away for others and never for myself. Ultimately, I was working for The Man, of course, but my daughters are grown and way more competent about managing their lives than I am mine, and I felt responsible to do something with and about my considerable endowments. I decided to retire from an economy premised on little choice for those who aren't rich. Even then, they seem to have bypassed choice altogether, trapped in the joys money brings and blind to what it does to those who lack choice.

Of course I find myself on the far end of competency of a sudden, due to age; which lent a sudden urgency to the exercise of agency, not so much because the end is near as because my grasp on what I spent so long attaining is growing ever weaker.

So, my local dilemma is that I have friends and family who are considerably better off than I am. They often surprise me with their generosity. But just as often, I am lured, as it were, into socializing above my (non) pay-grade, and then stuck with the bill and resentment. Invitations never seem couched in any understanding of my limitations. Or at least I don’t find it. That’s likely because they see me exercising choice they don’t feel thy have. I often hear wistful sighs about how nice it would be to inherit money. That is despite my decidedly modest life-style (a term I detest, life-style, but there you go!)

If you're not seeing irony in all this, then you're not reading well. I know how packed I am with social capital. I know that I'm well within the one percenters of agency on the planet. And yet I feel robbed of it by my financial betters, who place the onus on me to affirm our friendship by my ready acceptance of something I nearly always would very much love to do.

I wish I had the choice to decline without any implication of declining offers of friendship. In other words, I think the onus on them is to clarify (make an offer to host or not) and not on me to ask. I think it's awkward to ask if I will have to pay, since that's the same as asking them to pay for me, really.

This is all fine until things get a little tricky. Like what if someone offers me something that is so far beyond my life-style and so attractive that I would loathe to refuse it. Especially when to do so would be to disappoint the one making the offer. A matter of not wanting to be in "debt" for me, but maybe something more for those who lack agency in general.

Without going into a long disquisition into the social harm of the outsized income distribution we are reintroducing to our once more democratic polity, I would like to suggest that to retain the agency of delighting someone can sometimes rob that person of agency they require. I mean everyone knows the feeling of not wanting to destroy someone else's delight at a gift you'd really prefer not to have gotten. Especially Christmas lately, where all those I know and love have everything that they could possibly want or need. Sheesh!

And that includes me! No matter how much I may appreciate offers of things I cannot buy myself, I am happy with my choice to opt out from a consumerist culture that is wrecking the planet. And when I say "the planet," I mean that web of connections which conditions my pre-agency whimsy. I need the substrate of natural contingency to feel any agency at all. Otherwise, might as well let the AI make ALL the decisions.

That's my point. Human agency requires letting go of intelligence, since that isn't how we exercise agency anyhow (just NOT for driving, OK?) but it also requires that there be more than an artificial decision tree.

Intelligence conditions decisions by exclusion most likely. But it doesn't hardly ever make the decisions.

In other words, agency means letting go of some prerogatives while it requires the agency of some inhuman other. That thing which the religionists destroy by naming the patriarchal other their men require.

Sorry, just had to get that final dig in.

So anyhow, like any tools, of course there is no inherent evil to digital tools. But they do seem to seduce us away from agency, rendering invisible all sorts of choices that are made for us. At the current moment, those choices mostly guide our purchasing decisions.

And speaking of purchasing, that's where we've always relinquished agency in our measuring of want against need. Our seeking now for lowest price against all sorts of externalities not billed may constitute a kind of abdication of moral choice. Especially when one of the externalities not billed is our own purchasing decisions, which are owned elsewhere to enormous profit for the vectorialist owners, not of the means of production now, but rather of the decision trees for consumption.

They read my mind before I do. Damn!

Am I looking for a cosmic universal moral code? Indeed I am, and I make so bold as to suggest that such a thing is far more likely than the discovery of some universal code for natural law. I posit merely a direction for life's evolution, no different, essentially, from time's direction.

Time-keeping is apparently tough to locate in the brain, or so I learned by watching an interesting documentary cued up on Delta airlines. In the physical world, time is more accurately measurable than any other constant, they say. And so where is the connection between mind and matter. It would seem to be a matter for some social accord.

Time's direction seems as arbitrary - a conspiracy of everything - as does existence generally. Our social keeping of time may be as dependent on machines as anything else about us. It certainly does seem to have been a hallmark - in lock-step really - of our recent technological advances. And that fact gets so easily overlooked when folks claim whiz-bang amazement at how fast we've exploded in our advance and "understanding."

A simple moral code expresses direction toward or away from love. By abdication, we are and have been moving in a deadly direction, toward destruction of our living substrate. What could be more immoral than that?

Celebrants of progress express what amounts to faith that we will continue our ameliorative breakthroughs to include even remedy for our own predations on the planet. That reduces our current responsibility to just keep on keeping on, and damn the harm we cause along our way. Because our descendants will resolve our shortcomings (just as they will inherit our debts).

I find that hard to distinguish from just not caring at all. Or in other words, we've lost our moral code. That's not to blame the scientists. It's to blame the sellouts. Well, that and the religionists, who mostly say abdicate your responsibility to my formulation for God. Morally, I don't see any distinction from abdication to the truth we think we'll find someday by means of the scientific method.

But, as I said hereinabove, a moral code is discernible in the cosmos. We're just not looking for it. We're looking to absolve ourselves of responsibility, not to find it!

Happy New Year!