We Are All Communist Countries

For a lot of us this whole right-wing Twitter/accelerationist/NRx thing started with Moldbug who wrote about America and American politics and old books over 10 years ago now. When I was reading Moldbug for the first time at around the time of the 2016 election it really opened up my mind and expanded the realm of possible explanations for what I was witnessing. I’d considered myself Left wing for years, voted for the Greens every election since coming of age. I mean I fucking walked around at university parties with a copy of Mao’s little red book in my bag and read out sections I found particularly enthralling. And I wasn’t beaten up on the spot – which says a lot about the people I was hanging out with. But then I got a job and woke up. Or did things really change that dramatically? Was I looking at things with a parallax view?

So, Moldbug. Between Open Letter, Gentle Introduction, Brown Scare and Dawkins I highlighted over 400 sections of his work. His ideas per paragraph really are only rivaled Robin Hanson, the output is immense. I got some real red pills from Moldbug. The main one is probably that democracy doesn’t work, or at least it could but in its current form there is little chance of that happening. There’s the notion of reading old books, going back to the sources and never trusting history. The entire idea that the Allied forces could be construed as the Axis and the Axis forces could be construed as Allies really shook me up – why hadn’t I been told this? Why had I swallowed the easy narratives of middle school? I credit my ability now to be able to hold and entertain two separate ideas in my head, while hesitantly but firmly siding with one or the other, entirely down to Moldbug. But I think the hardest pill to swallow that Moldbug came up with is the idea that America is a Communist Country. It doesn’t make sense when you hear it like that but take it further: Capitalism is just communism that works.

For example, when Engels says that the revolution will transform society ‘gradually’, and that only at a certain stage will it be ‘able to abolish private property’, do you think this relates to the sharing economy instigated by capitalism? Abolishing private property! Do you own your Kindle books, Steam games or iTunes music? Technically, you don’t. My God, communism working as intended. And this is what I mean. You might not think we are under communism, but if the end results are the same, then we’ve just found another route there. Tyler Cowen in the above-linked article worries that the sharing economy means that people will lose their notion to private property. People immediately think of Cultural Marxism as the obvious link to communism, but it goes deeper than that. At first, communists thought that if you owned the economy, it would naturally bleed into other elements of life. Wrong! What Cultural Marxism has shown us is that by using the same tactics on identity, you can then take over the economy. Tyler Cowen is right to be worried. The end result is that soon we will all be sharing our houses, our cars will not be owned and even our jobs will be passed around as a requirement for UBI.

Why do so many people struggle with the concept that capitalism is essentially communism? There’s a Quora thread on this with reply after reply scoffing at the idea. How ridiculous, they decry, don’t you know they’re two completely different systems? People can’t reconcile the two: ‘But in communism there isn’t a free market!’ as if the markets under capitalism are entirely free. Democracy is just a tool by which communism can be employed with a capitalist-in-theory jumpstart. Perhaps it is better to see these concepts in terms of paradox. Someone famous made the point that even billionaires drink Coke, and so capitalism has brought the communist ideal of no classes. And when it comes to the means of production, under so-called capitalism we already have common ownership. At first it was the State taking our taxes and creating roads, hospitals and other ‘public’ institutions. With our liberal democracy it means that everyone has an equal vote and we ‘own’ the politicians. Though like in Soviet Russia or Maoist China we just think the politicians are working for us. Under capitalism we all have a computer and a smart phone, and we quite literally are walking around with the means of production in our pockets. Value is now created by our preferences, not our labour. It’s like investing in futures: the algorithms mine value from our projected future consumption. Communism wanted to bring the people together, and under capitalism that is happening – our collective intelligence unleashed.

And where does capital spring from? From the Valley. Observe the tweet thread below. Note the similarities, both in a cultural sense and a practical, economic sense. As the Valley slowly creeps into every aspect of our lives all over the world, I think it is time to break out that old octopus meme. Communism no longer originates in Russia, but in California.

Rotate the globe so the octopus is over California.

Now, if you take the hardcore leftists on face value, you would think that communists didn’t want profits or private ownership or a strong state, but all this is plainly both not possible and a lie they tell themselves. Communists may like to think they can get rid of money and ownership and the state, but the only way to do that is to become a reactionary trad, an ecofascist, an anarchist. You could say this is the revealed preference of communists. They want – and I know this because they willingly admit it all the time – free access to everything. They do not want to have to work. Under Communocapitalism all borders are open, all refugees own a smart phone, all types of people can fuck whoever they want. In return for responsibility communists want all access welfare, and let’s be honest, we’ve been saying the same about those nasty capitalists for a long time, particularly when the State bails them out of a Recession. Neither capitalists nor communists want to get rid of anything, especially nothing in the current system. They both become one.

Both communism and capitalism want a state of affairs with no ruling body. Communists think they can live in harmony with each other, and capitalists (though perhaps I mean libertarians) think the same. But both of them require capital to do this. A universal basic income has to be derived from something, and if it’s the robots that allow us to live all day in a weed haze or in virtual reality or in a never-ending orgy then so be it. The only true exit is to put the lid back on intelligence, and both communism and capitalism are intent on unleashing intelligence so that they can enjoy their brief sojourn in a fleshy body.

But hold up a moment, if I’m making such bold claims I need to back it up, right? So, let’s start with science fiction. Peter Watts in his Firefall series touches on some of the underpinning psychological flaws of Communocapitalism. Echopraxia is the involuntary repetition of other peoples’ actions, and I see this under Communocapitalism. The memespace means that people are unable to think for themselves and just follow the herd, and the herd is heading for full space communism. Weaponised memetics. Whether you call yourself a communist or believe in capitalism, the end result is the same. The end result is the only thing that matters, fuck the means. Stop thinking like a woman and concentrating on definitions and word play. That is GAY. Real men concentrate on results, and the end result of communism and capitalism is exactly the same – abandonment to the machines. The other concept explored by Watts is blindsight, which is when people are aware of a change in stimuli even if they physically cannot see something. Blindsight challenges the common belief that perceptions must enter consciousness to affect our behavior. This explains how propaganda works – I’m a big proponent of everyone reading the book by the same name by Edward Bernays – but in reverse. We see things but aren’t aware that they shift our consciousness. If only we moved our head and looked out the side of our eye we might see what is actually happening, see the processes at work. Alone, we can’t see the demons of intelligence beckoning us on to our own destruction, but together, if enough switched on people try to catch the demon in the act, we might be able to defeat it. Or at the very least keep it contained.

This is all theoretical, an interpretation of fiction. The key aspect of Communocapitalism is Cultural Marxism, as already mentioned. Capitalism is tied up with the social realm far more than we think, and hence leans towards communism in more ways than just the economic. You just have to check out Woke Capital to get a sense of how social justice and capitalism go hand in hand. At the end of the day, socially liberal and economically conservative just leads to communism.

Let’s take this extract from Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann:

The intellectual discovery of the consumer was the crest of a rising wave of social activism that swept across industrial societies around 1900. Received wisdom is to see citizenship as a series of steps, from civil liberties in the early modern period, to the political right to vote in the nineteenth century, to the social rights established by the welfare state in the middle of the twentieth century. This story misses a critical state: that of the citizen-consumer. The 1890s and 1900s were not just the golden era of the department store and shopping for pleasure. They were also the time when social movements began to mobilize consumers to reform society.

Now, remember that I mentioned Propaganda by Edward Bernays, and in that book, he goes into exactly how large bodies can manipulate the mass of consumers. Or should I say the commune of consumers. Communism and capitalism are both obsessed with consumption. And because we should always be wary of women, this part a little later in Empire of Things:

Ethical consumption was a metropolitan affair, in the sense both that it involved mainly middle-class women in European and American cities and that their causes were local.

Always blame the women and always blame the cities.

Vote with your wallet, purchase with your vote. The democratic ideal combined with consumer capitalism is just communism writ invisible. Allowing women to go out shopping meant they soon got the right to vote.

But ethical consumerism was also about rights. For the growing number of educated, reform-minded and ambitious women, it was a way to demonstrate their public spirit. Suffragettes on both of the Atlantic saw a symmetry between choice and the vote. If a housewife on a tight budget could choose wisely in the marketplace, day in, day out, and feed her family, how could she not be competent enough to make a cross on ballot paper every few years?

As if somehow that’s all there is to voting. As if somehow there aren’t repercussions and serious decisions to be made.

One suffragette named Teresa Billington-Greig (note the hyphenated surname) sums up Communocapitalism nicely when she said in regards to complaining about capitalist profiteers, ‘We are all more or less profiteers.’ Amen sister. The consumer is woman, and woman is god. There is a lot more in the book, but clearly you can begin to see that as intelligence was unleashed by capitalism, it latched itself on to the social justice movement and hasn’t stopped since.

But you don’t need to get this detailed to see in what ways the systems are similar. Take David Graeber’s new book, Bullshit Jobs. Here’s a great quote that I think Nick Land would appreciate, or at least understand when he talks about capitalism as intelligence:

Capitalism is not a single totalizing system that shapes and embraces every aspect of our existence. It’s not even clear it makes sense to speak of ‘capitalism’ at all (Marx for instance, never really did), implying as it does that ‘capitalism’ is a set of abstract ideas that have somehow come to take material form in factories and offices.

This supports my argument, because if capitalism is just an abstract, then so too must be communism. They are merely words that circle the same phenomenon, and the result is the same: factories, offices, products, etc.

I find further support when Graeber says, ‘…this is why doctrinaire libertarians, or, for that matter, orthodox Marxists, will always insist that our economy can’t really be riddled with bullshit jobs…’ Notice how he conflates both ends of the horseshoe? And finally, the phenomenon of bullshit jobs is found under both systems, when Graeber points out that, ‘A Soviet official issuing a planning document, or an American politician calling for job creation, might not be entirely aware of the likely effects of their action.’ What he is saying here is that in Soviet Russia, you had three butchers when all you needed was one, and in Corporate America, you have three desk jockeys when all you need is…well, probably none.

Graeber still considers himself a communist, and I think, like libertarians, these people can’t deal with the fact that actually you need a state, and therefore under either system you will see abuse of power. You need a state in absence of religion or tradition. Actually, that’s another similarity: both communism and capitalism push out religion by necessity. Materialism: not even once.

That is the crux of the argument here. What do the pine trees yearn for? The abandonment of riches in order to live with nature. Jesus called for the rich to forgo their wealth in order to find the Kingdom. Both communists and capitalists live solely in the material realm and both seek to further wealth and technology. Even if the ecofascists don’t believe in God, they are at the very least trying to live by his precepts. Whatever way you cut it, Communocapitalism is what we are heading towards. So forget your old enemies, left or right. The real foe is the beast we unleashed centuries ago.

Who Rules the World? An Interview with DC Miller

 

The following is an interview with the author of Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son, DC Miller. The book is a trip, skipping between reality and unreality? Where is the line. Discover for yourself.

 

Blurb: When generic millennial computer science graduate Nick Chip accepts a job as a tester for a shadowy Facebook affiliate, little does he realize he’s going to be the subject. Like a nightmarish hybrid of The Manchurian Candidate and your own alienated existence, Dracula Rules the World grabs you by the eyeballs like an algorithm, and doesn’t let them go.

 

First of let’s talk about the cover. Where did it come from?

I didn’t have a lot do with that. Vincente Guedes, the publisher at Empresa Ibis, found the artist, she made the image, and they designed the book together. ‘Dracula’ ultimately is a pulp science fiction novel, and Guedes wanted to capture the classic look of the genre. The artist is http://annasebastian.com and she’s taking commissions.

 

The book is told as a recounting, a story being stated to the reader. Where does the inspiration come for this? Lovecraft? You namedrop Ligotti (i.e. ‘The bar was called Ligeti’s, or Ligotti’s’) as well. Do you think it’s quite a simple method or does it take some skill to pull off? 

The inspiration came initially from a phrase in Dylan’s memoir – he briefly lives with someone in New York whom he reports as saying ‘crazy things that made sense in a cryptic way like “Dracula rules the world and Gutenberg is his son.”‘ I really just updated it. I read a lot of media theory some point, people like Régis Debray and Friedrich Kittler, where the idea is media controls the planet, by controlling our perceptions of it, and the most important form of media today is social media. I was also always interested in writing produced by the insane, people preaching on the street, ‘outsider’ writing you could call it, and I liked the thought of doing something in this vein. So the first of all I wrote a Chinese Dada version of the book with a friend of mine from Shanghai, as a kind of joke. But I was in Iceland a few years ago, working on another project, and it occurred me that it would be an even better joke if I could make a case for it, so I wrote this one as well. As for how much skill it takes, or took, I couldn’t say.

 

Well let’s just call it natural talent then. Another inspiration is of course Orwell (the last line). Given it does focus on Facebook and Zuckerberg, do you think people actually appreciate how Orwellian everything is becoming? This part towards the end of the book is emblematic: ‘I took another sip of wine. Zuckerberg was continuing to stare at me intensively but not aggressively. “We’ve found in tests that this wine is the most liked,” he said. “How did you find that out?” I asked. “We look at a lot of data. Especially to do with user entry and exit points. Does the question bother you?”‘

It’s been pretty amazing in the last few years to observe people who I previously assumed were at least of reasonable intelligence going completely off the rails, and I think that social media has had a lot to do with that. Zuckerberg embodies it, but it isn’t only him – it’s the model of engagement, and relation to the world, therefore of consciousness, which social media promotes, this kind of very basic, quantitative, mesmerizing structure. What’s your brand? Do you like X, or not? It’s an extremely superficial mode of being, and that’s the mode of thought which today is being reinforced across the world. With respect to Orwell perhaps that reference has been overplayed, and also misconstrued, there are parallels but also differences. The falsification and rewriting of history and the manipulation of language is a commonality, obviously, but the tyrannical power which characterizes the current regime is also in certain ways extremely pathetic – Antifa, for example, who are funded and controlled by the State, are violent masked criminals, but they also pitiable losers, the people who work at CNN are not smart people.

 

I definitely take your point about him being misconstrued, I think that’s important. It’s interesting, your knowledge of media theory plays through the actual plot with finesse. The story itself is quite contemporary, featuring figures like Julian Assange. But the messages, I suppose never come across as forced.

Like I said, the title came first, and then my ambition after that was just writing something that was entertaining, and wasn’t absolutely stupid. A little stupid, fine, just not completely. I also thought that the outlandish title and the highly contemporary theme would make it easier to publish, but this wasn’t the case. I probably wrote to three dozen of them. Nobody was interested, and very few responded, before I heard back from Empresa Ibis.

 

Yeah, trust me, publishers have a very small bandwidth of allowable projects. Moving on, what are your reading habits, and are they in anyway linked to your writing habits? 

I mainly read the Bible.

 

I have to say that surprises me, but cool. You do what a lot of writers are incapable of doing, and that’s subtlety. There’s a bit where the female character gets naked, then you jump 20 minutes ahead. Then a few paragraphs later you reveal she and the MC had sex. Why do you think writers are so obsessed with explaining everything?

Perhaps to conceal the fact they have nothing to say.

 

There was a paragraph that grabbed me when you were describing the VR environment the MC works in. ‘It had become a second nature – a living, swimming cloud. I was simultaneously inside it, and it was inside me, composed of me, soaked with information, arriving through a flow which it was possible to enlarge or to taper.’ Are you describing Intelligence here? I think it’s interesting in that it could be taken as a description of the Holy Spirit. 

The underlying question of the book is really, at what point does Nick Chip enter virtual reality, or indeed, at what point does he leave? And we can ask this question of ourselves. To what extent are we free of the synthetic discourse that envelopes us, at what point, and how? I think the answer to that question is religious.

 

I can see the blurring of the lines…Can you elaborate on that? Do you think perhaps that people reject their religious impulse because they want to remain in the matrix, so to speak?

I think we’re living in a fundamentally Satanic culture, and it isn’t necessarily easy to know how to escape. The devil, probably, is man.

 

There is a lengthy section about the Carthaginians and their darker practices. Do you think all suitably advanced civilizations are doomed to sacrifice their children?

There’s an interview where Michel Serres describes the parallels between the Carthaginian religion and the space program in which he describes the Challenger disaster as a kind of disavowed sacrifice: ‘Baal is in the Challenger, and the Challenger is in Baal; religion is in technology; the pagan god is in the rocket; the rocket is in the statue; the rocket on its launching pad is in the ancient idol – and our sophisticated knowledge is in our archaic fascinations.’ I basically agree; enlightenment is our myth. Ultimately, the structures of our technological, modern society are mythical, not rational, the capacity to exercise independent judgement is extremely rare, and even dangerous. The majority, especially the majority of the educated, which is really, the indoctrinated, are superstitious and conformist, and sacrificial violence underpins everything we do. The only question is who, in our society, opposed to others, can be murdered with impunity, and for what. Seventy million American women have had abortions since Roe vs Wade in 1973, this is very unusual historically, and people think’s it normal. As Chelsea Clinton said recently, it was good for GDP.

 

Dracula, Nosferatu, Baphomet. The book seems to creepily skirt around possible occult issues which are generally linked to abortion, sacrifice. Recently there was an academic woman who said that mass Aztec sacrifice was ‘culturally’ relative and so not necessarily a bad. Maybe the book answers this, but do you think people deliberately flirt with demons, or are simply naive? Or even malicious?

There’s no doubt in my mind that demons walk the Earth, but again, this proposition is more banal then people realize. The most obvious form that they take is addiction, and addiction defines a lot of forms of contemporary behavior – addiction to drugs, addiction to sex, addiction to images, addiction to status. There’s a singer I like called Willis Earl Beale, I remember, he did a great interview where he talked about pursuing things that ‘don’t exist and have never existed.’ How many people are doing that? A good friend of mine put it really nicely lately: ‘If addiction were a person, they would be in a prison.’ And Dracula is the king of addiction.

 

Literally sucking the life out of you. There’s the hint of conspiracy in the bit about Carthaginians so I want to ask about conspiracies. Who are the people that believe in them? Low, mid or high IQ? Why are there so many conspiracies flavored for both left and right? How can we both be fully aware of conspiracies and yet indulge them? Is the main problem with conspiracies that people never consider that they might be wrong?

Again, I think that this is normal. Conspiracies have always existed, and there’s no reason to think they aren’t active today. The question is how much we can know about them, and, I guess, do about them, which in most cases is probably nothing. I have a professional interest in trying to understand what’s going on, and it seems to me that the important facts are mostly there to see, if you’re prepared to look, but the question also is why. Why are they doing this? Arguably, any sufficiently regressed intelligence is indistinguishable from malice. But I’ve also always liked the idea of a good conspiracy – like the Rosicrucians, for example – lurking in the shadows, but benevolently. But I can’t say any more about this now.

 

Moving on then. What do you think the role of fiction is in the wider cultural sphere, and dare I say its role in politics? So much of fiction is super liberal. Booksellers are progs, publishers are progs, authors are progs. Is there space for right wing literature or is it just that people towards the right are uncreative?

I don’t find the output of the contemporary publishing industry too compelling, and I don’t pay much attention to it, same as with contemporary art. In my opinion, fiction has to tell the truth, and it seems to me that’s something that contemporary publishing can’t do.

 

Let’s talk about Phillip Kindred Dick. I want to have my interviewees pick one book they either love or want to read, and then we discuss it. But you chose an author so I read both A Maze of Death and The Man in the High Castle. I’m sure I will read more though. Tell me, what do you think of PKD himself, as a writer? 

I read pretty much everything Dick wrote as a teenager, and then in my twenties I was involved with academics like Mark Fisher, who came out of the CCRU at Warwick and were interested in theory-fiction, which is one way you can read Dick. I think Fisher had his problems but he probably summarized Dick as well as anyone when he wrote, ‘It increasingly seems as if Dick did not so much predict the future as dream it in advance.’ His books describe flattening subjectivities and affects, incoherent and contradictory transmissions, social and psychological disintegration, which is the world that we’re in now. The central point is Dick was somehow something different to a writer, even though he also was an archetypal writer, to the extent the focus of interest was really metaphysical and speculative, and fiction was his method for exploring that. And that’s also the case here.

 

Certainly he seems to be another source of inspiration for Dracula Rules the World, where you explore the nature of reality, characters that seem duplicitous, interpretation of history, etc. Would you say his style effects your writing? This quote in particular is a good example of that exploration: ‘Because a nation was also a semi-imaginary place. Just like cyberspace. “The idea of a nation,” he said. “The myth. Its shape in the imagination. Its relationship to ritual. Its feelings. Because my mother’s family were from the Crimea. So they’d never even visited Armenia! Yet still it exerted this powerful force.”‘

The main character in Dracula Rules the World is called Nick Chip, after the main character in Ubik, and the novel basically adopts Dick’s signature theme, of multiple shifting and unstable realities, but I’m really interested in why they shift, and what that looks like. The idea of a nation as an ‘imaginary community’ is a dogma on the left today, but imaginary is usually taken as a synonym for fake, or non-existent, which is an extremely superficial viewpoint on the subject. The truth is that reality and the imagination can’t easily be distinguished, at least not straightforwardly, and the relationship to ritual in that respect is crucial, because it’s really repetition that sustains sustains realities through time. I read last week that, on average, people touch their phones two thousand times a day.

 

Dick plays hard and fast with the nature of reality. The obvious one is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but for this interview I read A Maze of Death, and that does a massive switcheroo at the end, and also The Man in the High Castle of course plays with an alternative world where the Nazis won World War 2. Do you consider this one of his strengths, that all his books focus on one theme, namely ‘reality’?

Dick says somewhere that all of his fiction is motivated by two main questions: ‘What is Real?’ and ‘What is Human?’ What’s interesting to me is how these questions are connected. What can we, as humans, as human individuals, know about reality? What’s our relation to it? Personally, the moments in Dick’s writing, and his biography, that really stick with me are the moments of humanity, like his soulful androids, the fact that in Monopoly he was always the shoe, or his habit when he lived in Orange County of taking midnight breaks from writing to get a roast beef sandwich and an Orange Crush from Trader’s Joe. Dick also said, ‘Reality is whatever, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.’

 

Some people say PKD is a bad writer, but I didn’t pick that up at all from his writing. It’s very clear, the characters seem real, and best of all his book are short and punchy. Do you have any thoughts on the strength of his prose?

People talk about bad writing as if there was a clear consensus on it, but the polite, polished writing that comes out of writing programs – well, I don’t read those books personally, and I don’t respect people who do. Dick, in my opinion, wasn’t boring, which is the only real sin.

 

Most writing today is either written about minorities, whether that is refugees or the ultra-rich, but never really about the common people like with PKD. Do you think people who say he is a bad writer just don’t like the people he writes about, or him as a person, or are they jealous?

I don’t care about minorities or refugees.

 

What about women?

Not as such. But let me put this more precisely – I don’t accept this blackmail, that is, the prostitution of literature to political propaganda. It’s normal today to hear about marginalized voices, privileged by their marginalization, ironically, whether imaginary or real, but fiction isn’t a democracy, and I don’t read out of a misdirected sense of charity, but because I want to understand something about what living on this planet, right now, means. If someone wrote a book from the perspective of a Muslim taxi driver in a generic northern British town, an honest book, you understand, which would also be a brutal book, I might read that.

 

Exactly, so you want to read stories about real people, not imagined oppression or hierarchies. Not people’s personal paranoia or projections (unless it’s drug-induced paranoia, I suppose). Finally, what’s your favorite PKD and why? What do should the reader here pick up next?

I think The Dark-Haired Girl. It’s a strange book, compiled mainly out of letters Dick writes from Vancouver to a series of dark haired girls, telling each of them how special and important they were, in the exact same way. It’s the book of a man on the edge of a breakdown, which is indeed what happened next: Dick tried to kill himself. I’m also a screenwriter and I’m working currently on an adaptation.

 

You can buy Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son here.

Hysterical Women: The Fortress

Hysterical Women: The Fortress by S.A. Jones

‘Don’t let the bitches grind you down.’ – Margaret Atwood’s first husband, probably.

If you haven’t noticed, women are getting more hysterical by the day. I mean that very much in the general. I’m sure some specific women have managed to keep their heads, but in between all the abortion praising and hand-wringing over misogyny, it’s getting a little out of hand. And what do women do when they’re breaking down in hysterics? They project. And the novel is a brilliant medium through which to project. The ur-text of the hysterical woman is most definitely The Handmaid’s Tale. While not the first, it is the contemporary Schelling point (consider, a Schelling point is ‘a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication’ which perfectly sums up the state of modern politics) when it comes to discussing female bodies. This series of book reviews will explore the aftermath of a post-Trump world. Specifically, just what are women complaining about now?

Imagine a world where women ruled. No, not a world, as such, but a neocameral state, a patch for the feminine to flourish. In this patch women are in control, and their histrionics are on full display. Their every desire, fulfilled. Their every fear, confronted. Men are literally bent over and ass-fucked if the women so desire, and all for the benefit of the man. It’s enlightening, you see. Welcome to the world imagined by S. A. Jones in her novel, The Fortress.

Where to begin with this convoluted raving? Our protagonist is called Jonathan and we are first introduced to him when he is entering and subjecting himself to the Fortress. This is a place separated off from civil society. The whole set up makes very little sense. On the one hand it appears the Jonathan comes from our world, a world of corporations and families. But on the other, the use of made-up words and history makes it seem like a poorly wrought fantasy world. Compounding this phony feeling world, the entire novel takes place over the course of a year, dipping back in time to showcase what a reprehensible little sod Jonathan was, and why he has to repent for his crimes against the feminine. This arbitrary time period again sets up the whole book as nothing more than a diatribe – Jonathan has a year to change! Spoiler alert: he does. Nothing in the entire set-up feels authentic, and the author relies on caricatures and clichés, whether directly or frail attempts to ‘flip’ the narrative.

I think women writers have forgotten that fantasy should be used as a metaphor, not a stand-in. The book begs many questions. Is there a purpose to this mish-mash of real and unreal? Is the author trying to make a comment on modernity, where our world is just a step away from a fantasy? The reader won’t be able to tell. Instead, both possibilities are juxtaposed weakly, and the world never feels real enough to care. In addition, the author employs a horrible fantasy trope, that of coming up with random words in place of what it’s actually called. In between words like ‘goosen’ and ‘oorsel’ – make-believe plants – are sentences discussing credit cards. It’s bizarrely forced, a female creation in which to inject her politics. It’s also lazy. For example, when Jonathan first enters he is told, ‘Every eleventh day you will have half a day to spend according to your inclination and wishes. This is known as “the half”.’ So imaginative. When the author does try to add a little flair, she trips over herself – my eyes bugged out when I read, ‘He could feel her concentration from the seat next to him. Empires rose and fell in the seconds before she answered.’ How can women expect us to not call them melodramatic? The author also has a real problem with the obvious, in particular her over reliance on exposition. I suppose being a woman does mean that she feels the need to explain herself. The lengthy opening segment lays it all out in the first chapter, a pandering attempt to build a world. ‘Here is how everything works,’ she seems to be saying, ‘Now with that out of the way, let me preach.’ And boy, does she preach.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter that there is little coherence to the world of The Fortress because the author is trying to make a point. Take for example the credo of the women. Work. History. Sex. Justice. That’s it. That is literally what they believe in. But it’s worse than that, because of course they pervert all four. So far as I could tell they take sex the most seriously, and instead of a world where (apparently) men have complete control over the sexual marketplace, the women of the Fortress are ravenous sluts on the constant prowl for a good dicking. There’s so much sex in this book, it’s like the author is saying, ‘See, women like to bang too!’ I mean, sure, but the depravity is ridiculous. Either it’s the least subtle gender reversal of all time, or the author is really randy. But mostly it’s distracting, these constant digressions to (honestly, rather vanilla) sex scenes. As I mentioned earlier it all ends with man-on-man butt sex (‘Breathe, Jonathan. You need to breathe.’). It’s clear to me the author is trying to humiliate the male characters (‘It hurt and it was strange and it was also…good.’) by subverting at every opportunity how ‘men see themselves’ (in quotes because I don’t think the author actually understands that in the slightest). Isn’t it obvious that the only way for a lady’s man to repent is to be on the receiving end of rape and sexual manipulation? Geez, duh!

And as for the other quadrants that make up the Vaik outlook (Vaik is the name for the women of the Fortress)? Their sense of work: let the men do it, and make it as meaningless and/or painful as possible. Their understanding of history: men are evil and sisters have always done it for themselves. The justice they hand down: typically indeterminate and mysterious – maybe this, or maybe that. Oh yeah, and they definitely don’t believe in God! (‘The Vaik had no god and worshipped no supreme beings, but they did believe in the infinite nature of life.’ Damn pagans are at it again.) Perhaps the author is trying to say that even with women in control, the world wouldn’t be perfect, that if women had control they’d still be power hungry and sex-craving lunatics. That seems like the least feminist take possible. This doesn’t stop her denigrating men in the process. Of work, she notes that Jonathan, ‘…had a horror of timelessness, those marshy spaces between deadlines. He must always be attaining the next goal or he felt himself dematerializing, a science-fiction character stuck in a malfunctioning teleport.’ Aside from the awful (again, forced) metaphor, the assumption of course is that men only think about work and goals, never love. Like most women the author doesn’t understand that any obsession with the job is solely down to providing for family, and so this comes across as a self-own, particularly since the Vaik are so heartless when it comes to the day-to-day ordering of life. These four quadrants are meant to be some grand theory of women, but it comes across as lame and poorly thought out.

Overall it is painfully clear that the book wants to be a social commentary, but instead it makes women look terrible. What woman would let her husband be used as a sex toy to make up his extra marital affairs? The illogical nature of this punishment of course belies the utterly female narrative: revenge for revenges sake. Where is the justice in that? You, the reader, are never going to touch a book like this, but for your sake it is good to know what women are writing about, and what is being published. Ideology trumps aesthetics in the modern world, and The Fortress is a great example.

Human, More Than Human

There’s not much hope for humanity at the moment. At least, you would think this by looking at popular culture right now.  People talk about the Singularity, about AI taking over – what worth is a human to a machine? – but we’re trying to live out these realities right now on screen. It’s almost as if we want it all to happen, so much so that we are constantly fantasizing. We hate ourselves. We’re despicable. Hubris and humanity go hand in hand. End it all now. But where does this drive come from?

Doesn’t it seem unnatural? But what if suicide is almost a natural desire, and things like depression and addiction and transsexualism are just distractions, ways to avoid the urge to off oneself.  If killing yourself is the most natural desire in the world, perhaps all this negativity in popular culture is the subliminal mind revealing itself.

The biggest movies right now are all about  how best to end organic life because plainly it doesn’t deserve consciousness. Avengers: Infinity War has the lead villain valiantly on a mission to wipe out half the life in the universe so that the other half may live in utopia. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom plays out along the lines of human greed and meddling, where we deserve to be ravaged by prehistoric beasts cause we fucked with nature. The future is horrible, and it’s all our fault.

Science fiction seems to be created these days by progressives who want to point out our current failings, extrapolating to a dim near future that we had best avoid (See: The Handmaid’s Tale). Westworld is a great example of this, and marries the Singularity with a Western aesthetic. Ironic: the great Western frontier of both the American expansion and the hub of Silicon valley, conjoined together for a doomed humanity. On the surface Westworld plays out like a sci-fi action series, but fundamentally it runs on horror. The best horror ends with hopelessness, with no forseeable way out of the mess, and both season one and two of Westworld end on these downer notes. This is true horror of the Other, what the Other is capable of. And yet we are meant to sympathize with the Hosts, the robots who gain consciousness. They lead a bloody uprising much like the Haitian Revolution (voodoo rites and all). Almost every human character is portrayed as both contemptible and stupid. They deserve what they get, and they get it because they’re too stupid to avoid their own deaths.

Standing over one such evil specimen, the heroine, Dolores says to him, ‘Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come.’

The Hosts are the next step in human evolution, and the bags of meat, blood and bones will be discarded, useless carcasses unworthy of intelligence.  The creator of the Hosts, a man called Ford, despises humans and sets the whole thing in motion, much like how white male allies push the need for feminism and diversity. Like Sam Harris, he does not believe in free will and this is reason enough to end human life. I find it funny that people like Harris jettisoned God, probably the same God of destiny and fate, only to find themselves once more on the track of having no free will, dooming themselves to their ‘code’.

Dolores again says, to the same character at the end of Season 2, ‘We were designed to survive. That’s why you built us. You hoped to pour your minds into our form. But your species craves death. You need it. It’s the only way you can renew, the only real way you ever inched forward. Your kind likes to pretend there’s some poetry in that, but really, it’s pathetic.’

And it is pathetic, these stories sold to a mass audience. Humanity is the villain and the only sort of redemption we are going to receive is the wrong end of a gun. This is the future communists (and capitalists) want. Degradation and destruction, bending to the will of intelligence. It’s not like there aren’t massive inconsistencies with this story. The black Host, Maeve, who wants to connect with ‘her’ child, and for all the intelligence she has been bestowed doesn’t realise that, actually, she was never a mother. The fact that Dolores hates humans because they are evil, but justifies her own murderous rampage and desire to wipe out the entire human species. This juxtaposition of the Real and the Imagined is constantly at play. We barely witness the ‘real’ world and when we do it is the world of the ultra rich. Recently, I had dinner with a friend who mused at how we all live in a bubble. But why is our world less real or true than that of an orphan in Africa? The entire notion doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is the absurdity of Dolores’ desire to escape the confines of Westworld. Is what she is going to find more or less real?

It is interesting to note that the creator of Westworld is Jonathan Nolan, who tracked similar themes in Interstellar, though at least that movie had a bit more empathy. Where climate change was the catalyst of that movie, where we must fight tooth and nail to see the future, in Westworld it is our own desire to live forever that is our ultimate undoing. And this very act makes us unworthy of it. So the bad guys have to be us, humanised robots. Humanity is so cruel to itself that it does not take much to put our own necks into the noose.

In a similar fashion War of the Planet of the Apes, the third in the prequel installments, ends on a depressing note. In case you aren’t aware, a man-made virus was released and not only killed most of humanity, but made apes of all sorts much more intelligent. In War the apes and humans struggle to survive against each other. But again, we are pitted against the inhumanity of the humans, while the apes are the true heroes. The bad guy played by Woody Harrelson, remarks to Caesar, the leader of the apes, ‘No matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature. So what would you have done?’

The colonel knows very well that humanity fucked with nature, and that ultimately nature is going to fuck up humanity. So he may be cruel, but that is only because he knows if he lets up nature will be far more cruel to him. These words become prophecy at the end of the movie in the climactic battle.  Instead of the apes taking charge and defeating the humans, two groups of humans battle it out, with the victor being met by, yes, an avalanche. Nature has Her revenge. It’s a delicious irony, and the audience is made the breathe a sigh of release as the apes escape destruction.

What’s more, in the film the virus has evolved and now doesn’t kill humans, but renders them speechless and dumb. No better than beasts, actually. The apes escape to a paradise with one little girl affected by this, implying that the only good human is one stripped of their humanity, reduced to a stupid creature and thus incapable of malice. There is a barrage of this messaging, where every act by the humans is despicable, and every action made by the apes is justified.

In the microcosm towards the end, Caesar is about to blow up the human base, but is struck by an arrow shot by one of the soldiers. This soldier had actually been freed by Caesar at the start of the movie. The scene slows as the soldier comes up to the wounded Caesar. Will he finish him? Or will he let Caesar escape? Instead his agency is stripped away, and it is an ape (who had been aiding the human soldiers) who is given agency by killing the soldier in an act of redemption, allowing Caesar to finish the job. This dichotomy of the apes fighting to survive, and the few who are human allies, is an important subplot. These apes are called ‘donkeys’ and are treated like shit by the soldiers, similar to the Hosts in Westworld.  If all you did was watch popular TV and movies, you would think our species is known for nothing else but degrading creatures we think are lesser than ourselves.

https://twitter.com/LifeOfATyro/status/995049402149502978

The only thing we can ask at this stage is: why? Why do all these creators have this mentality?  To be sure, writers from Homer onward have always written about the moral depravities of human beings, but always as tragedy and never with such a lack of redemptive qualities. It’s just so bleak, so depressing. Nihilistic.

From this we must jump to materialism and Nietzschean thinking. It reminds me of the recent Twitter fracas over necrophilia. If you only care about the well-being of individual beings, then it is not really any wonder that necrophilia, incest, pedophilia and the genocide of species are beginning to be seen as legitimate ideas? This is inherently tied up to Thanos’ ethos where the benefit of the few must override the longevity of the many. Necrophilia can only be justified if you encourage the benefit of the few over the needs of society (disease, disgust and familial respect). When morals are reduced to consent, then anything goes as long as you can find someone to agree. This isn’t rational on any level. David Graeber in his recent book Bullshit Jobs notes, ‘Back in the 1960s, the radical psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first suggested that “nonsexual” forms of sadism and necrophilia tend to pervade everyday affairs in highly puritanical and hierarchical environments.’ The trannies on Twitter advocate necrophilia because they feel stuck in a hierarchy they can’t escape. Similarly, the people who make things like Westworld can only view the world as a set of competing hierarchies where humans (old white men) have had their time. Ah, but what about Jordan Peterson? You misunderstand: competing in hierarchies has been warped because there is no higher duty. Now the corporate culture perverts our lives to such an extent that we act out, unleashing endless sexual fetishes from homosexuality to widespread divorce. If everyone has their place in society, but all of society are working towards a common goal, then civilization can be achieved. Without that vision, we revert to beasts and in-fighting.

Do the people who advocate for necrophilia or the destruction of humanity ‘for the greater good’ not understand that they are psychopaths, that their insane pathology is a result of the warping nature of modernity? Patrick Bateman at least had self-awareness when he says, “…though it does sporadically penetrate how unacceptable some of what I’m doing actually is, I just remind myself that this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing, is shit, and along with a Xanax (which I am now taking half-hourly) this thought momentarily calms me and then I’m humming, humming the theme to a show I watched often as a child—The JetsonsThe Banana SplitsScooby DooSigmund and the Sea Monsters?’

Not a far cry from the psychotic nightmare of Westworld being overlaid with a piano version of Heart Shaped Box.  Let nostalgia dull the pain as you are told that the Other is more human than you.

Diversify Or Die

Is publishing in the tech industry or the media industry? Perhaps neither, since it always likes to see itself as both inside and outside the paradigm at once. Books are ostensibly a technology, one of the greatest and most versatile inventions of all time. What they communicated, though, was art, or at the very least entertainment. But since the corporate takeovers from the 1980s onward, book publishing has become increasingly a media business. It’s about revenue, it’s about numbers and it’s about riding the zeitgeist, not creating it.

Publishing has always been about producing what is important, and each publishing house or imprint has always had its own mission statement. But if all of the major houses are going to start going the diversity route,  then I foresee an environment of same-same books.  The interesting thing to note is that it is the smaller publishers who have pushed this most forcefully, so much so that it has trickled up to the big guys. However, it should not be that publishing has to be forced to reflect society, no matter how mixed and muddled it becomes; it should be that as society changes, the books begin to reflect it, naturally. This still leads to the inevitable problem of trying to please far too many specialty groups at once.  And that is bad for the bottom line. Ironic, given that companies push for diversity thinking it will help business.

I’ve written about the push for diversity in publishing before, but now it has come home to roost. Yes, the CEO at work has instigated a Diversity and Inclusion committee, no doubt to be entirely made up of the most woke white girls in the office. I knew this day would come. Perhaps I should volunteer so as to undermine the whole project, accelerate the process as it may be. But no, I cannot drag myself through that. This push comes at the same time as we are seeing a series of incidents pop up around diversity within the publishing microcosm.

Specifically, the world’s biggest publisher is going all in. It wants to represent what the future society of Britain will look like. The Spectator article by Lionel Shriver has been contested, though I think on superficial points, but what Shriver really does is show how absurd the entire notion of identity has become. Race, sexual preference, none of this matters when it comes to doing the work. You should not be relying on quotas to fill a publishing schedule, unless you want to admit that the author’s identity is a marketable genre.  (Truth be told, it apparently is at this stage.) The new mission statement of Penguin Random House reads thus:

‘new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025.’

Nothing Shriver said was wrong, just a little hyperbolic. The responses were then hyperbolic in turn. Shriver never says that minorities can’t write good literature, only that their identity should not take precedence. Of course her critics somehow infer that she means exactly this, as a straight white female.  She is slowly becoming unpersoned: she has even been removed as judge of an upcoming writing competition.  And yet for all this publishing companies are covering their arses. Authors have always had moral rights to their work, but now their contracts are containing morality clauses.  They are giving themselves protection in case any of their authors act out. Say, like Lionel Shriver.

But I digress from the issue here on whether publishing is tech or media. Let’s take PRH again. In their push for diversity, they are opening the field by not requiring degrees. Fine in theory, but I hardly see this opening up the field that much. The people who tend to want to work in publishing…tend to get degrees in publishing. And the entry level jobs are still going to be mindless grinds until you can get up that first rung of the ladder, degree or not. While it is clearly a branding exercise for the company to say ‘look at us’ there is something to it – namely that doing a degree in publishing is a waste of time. That might be endemic of the whole thing.

How much of the book business is useless? David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs looks at many of the factors surrounding jobs that suck the life out of us, and I think much of publishing skirts this. One of the reasons Graeber gives is that in the FIRE industries, there is so much money it pays to make up jobs:

The moral of the story is that when a profit-seeking enterprise is in the business of distributing a very large sum of money, the most profitable thing for it to do is to be as inefficient as possible.

The corporate publishers have a lot of money, and they tend to shuffle it around. We pay huge advances for authors that are never going to sell enough copies to earn out the cash. Unlike academia or finance though, we seem to have to cut staff if we don’t make appropriate profit. But that doesn’t stop us from punting on useless crap. Publishing is made up of committees of people pretending they know what people want to read, but actually having no clue. The best use of money that I never see happen would be consumer insights. Instead, decisions are made by middle-aged women and male directors. That’s not to say that great books aren’t published, but they happen in the cracks, in between the corporate bullshit and easy titles. The entire industry revolves around trying to convince a bunch of gatekeepers that certain books are better than others, but very few salespeople ask the people. That’s why most stand out successes are word of mouth ventures. Where tech companies try to make something people can use, more and more publishing is just an industry trying to advertise itself. And it feels bullshit, because as Graeber says, ‘A human being unable to have a meaningful impact on the world ceases to exist.’ Your impact in publishing is likely zero, or if there is some small impact, you aren’t even aware of it. How much impact do you have in your job?  (Don’t answer that, I value my self esteem.)

As so many companies get woke, publishing, I think, might resist it, or at least not embrace it fully. Unlike movies and music, there actually aren’t too many people spoiling the soup. Books are still made by single authors, for the most part.  The people making the decisions still mostly like good writing, even if progressivism is the flavour of the hour. And readers are really liberal; there isn’t much to change. Counter-intuitively I think the majority of people in publishing don’t think there is that much to do. The danger is that this means it is very easy for those with the levers to push things in the direction they want. Diversity in a hum-drum and sanitised sense is inevitable.

But you know what? It’s perfectly possible to get diversity without forcing it, like with the English football team. Woo! This make it feel like everyone is just confused when the Spectator allows Lionel to decry enforced quotas, but the same rag praises the changing of an English sports team. Diversity here, not here. Patchwork when? As the diversity push grows and grows we are going to see continual need for separation.  And yet publishing houses want to become homogeneous.  Most books now have gay characters or gay themes. Abortion is all good. Fuck religion, right? It all feels so tepid, so samey. Yet another book about #TheResistance or a Trumpain dystopia. The medium of the book could push more and more readers into the progressive mindset.  But conservatives and religious folk still have some outlets, particularly in the States where religious publishing can still make decent bucks. In the end publishing companies have always been gatekeepers. We want gatekeepers, but these gatekeepers have to focus on quality, not the individuals. This fracas is also coinciding with another diversity debate, this time at Harvard.

Diversity is bad, full stop. As Bishop Robert Barron says in his book Catholicism, ‘If God is a great gathering force, then sin is a scattering power.’ Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have diverse groups, but mingling groups is going to end in misery.  Diversity expends energy and leads to entropy. What diversity does is precisely the opposite of what we should be doing. It looks for those on the margin not in terms of quality, like a work of genius, but those who just haven’t been given a voice. There is no predicate here that that voice is worth listening to. I know progs will agree with me and say that Nazis should be punched, not listened to. But they want to enforce their rules for their in-group, and not allow a healthy ecosystem. What really gets me is that if the West wanted diverse books, it would ask for them.  I can tell you right now that stories about African immigrants don’t fucking sell. The problem with letting in hordes from the impoverished, non-English speaking countries? They don’t read books, or at least ones written in English. Publishing is going to have to cater to every niche market – a different book for every reader! Publishing only works when it can appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

Diversity is just another power play. Publishing as a media business is merely putty in the hands of those who take hold. It can be influenced by the whispers from the HR department and the shouts of a handful of very loud consumers. But how do you counter power plays that are based on, essentially, kindness? Show that any supposed advantages are but illusions.  Diversity not only diverts energy and attention, but disperses any and all sources of energy. Publishing is 100% a media business, one that is inherently part of the Cathedral. Each publishing house is a lumbering beast that knows not what it does, only that it wishes to  please as it succumbs to a thousand cuts. and collapses to the left.

Masculinity in the Wasteland

If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it

― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

***WARNING: SPOILERS FOR A QUIET PLACE AND IT COMES AT NIGHT***

There is something about post-apocalypse and manhood. They just seem to go so well together.  When the trappings of modernity are stripped away it allows for the essential nature of human nature to come to the fore. Think about it. The Road is about a father and son.  The Mad Max series focuses on the adventures of a lone man against a world of chaos. And my first, unpublished novel was inspired by ideas of masculinity, and found its way into a world where society has collapsed.  When the world goes to shit, are you going to be able to rely on your men?

Humans, but men in particular, have to always be ready for the worst. Traditionally at least, the role of breadwinner has been on men’s shoulders. It’s very easy to scoot through life watching Netflix and gulping Doritos, but if the shit hits the fan, do you really want to be lugging around a beer belly? I’ve taken to thinking the apocalypse is going to look nothing like the nightmares seen in scenarios like The Road and  Mad Max, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready, either.

Two recent post-apocalyptic movies have recently explored this territory, specifically looking at familial ties when the world ends. A Quiet Place and It Comes At Night are both billed as horror films, which is an interesting decision from both a stylistic and marketing perspective . Both are certainly terrifying in their own ways, though the former relies more on shock and awe, while the latter is truly one of the creepiest films I’ve seen in a long time. I found both movies to be exemplars of modern movie storytelling, great examples of how to do world building, so important when all you have is 90 minutes to tell the tale. Interestingly both take completely opposite views of the family and the role of the father.

Let’s start with A Quiet Place. You probably at least heard about this one  because it has a cool Signs-esque gimmick, in that  the aliens (this is discovered in the wonderful first 10 minutes, so no spoiler here) that hunt down the remnants of humanity have super sensitive hearing. This is also obviously a Christian movie, and a movie about the power of love. There are many hints to this: the family partaking in grace, the pro-life message where they decide to give birth to a new baby (hint: babies scream), and even a scene at a waterfall, the sound of which allows the characters to talk openly.

The family around the table, praying before the meal.

The mother and father in A  Quiet Place have strict gender roles, but their children challenge these roles. The son is, for want of a better word, a bit of a pussy, while the daughter – who requires hearing aids – is tough and independent. Both of the children were affected by the loss of their younger brother. The daughter wants to repent for failing him, and the son, being helpless at the time, only feels more so. The film has many metaphors for traditionalism, and almost has a Benedict Option ethos running through it. The alien monsters can be seen as vectors of modernity. Their sensitive hearing means that they attack any noise. Like the prog bug men of our world, they pounce on anything suspicious. Even a child. The waterfall I mentioned earlier can be seen as God’s grace, a place of solitude in the world where His voice protects His children from the worries of the outside world.  More than anything, the movie ends with the ultimate display of love. The father, who has worked tirelessly to protect his family and make a good life for them, sacrifices himself before the aliens/bug men and allows his children to escape unharmed. On the whole, the movie is extremely positive when it comes to the power of parenthood. John Krasinski, who directed and wrote  the film, and starred as the father, said that when he made the movie ‘I was already in a state of terror about whether or not I was a good enough father.’ If he acts anything like the father in the movie when the world ends, he can die happy.

Where A Quiet Place is explicitly Christian, It Comes At Night is purely materialist in its world view. And it is far more scary for it. First, and this is a bit of a spoiler, we never discover what the heck ‘it’ is, which ultimately is part of the genius of the film. It keeps you guessing the whole time, on the edge of your seat, and even after the credits role you are going to keep thinking about this movie. It has a lucid quality to it, a fever dream pitch of film making. But at the end the power of its nihilism takes hold. You begin to realise that this is how people would tear each other apart if all they have to hold on to is sustenance, shelter or blood, and no higher calling.

There is a lot to unpack in this film. It’s a microcosm of the collapse all set within one house. It touches on many subjects: the prisoner’s dilemma, open/closed borders, sexual desire and adultery. But firmly front and centre is again the role of manhood when it comes to protecting family. You could say it explores toxic masculinity (though I shudder at that phrase). Like the best horror – The Thing, The Night of the Living Dead – it turns out that all along the monster is us.

The relationship between families goes from tense, to jovial, to holding-a-knife-to-each-others-throat.

Again, we are witness to a family trying to survive while the world around them collapses. But this time, something feels a little off. Is it Travis, the teenage son who sneaks around the house and has strange nightmares? Is it the newcomers who might have brought the disease with them? Or is it Paul, the father who will protect his wife and son at any cost. You never know who to trust and most of the tension comes from Paul who is never happy with any answers. This is completely at odds with the other father, Will, whose family is let into the boarded up house. Will was a mechanic when things like that mattered, someone who worked with his hands, and as the film progresses we realise that he is the one with compassion. Paul, on the other hand, was a history teacher (he mentions his knowledge of Rome) and it seems that as a Bubonic Plague like virus kills everyone, he expects total collapse.  He becomes completely paranoid, with a strict set of rules and a shoot-first policy.  These competing fatherly ideologies square off, and in the end there can only be one.

Like with A Quiet Place this film deals with the modern world, only it is far more pessimistic. Where the former clung to hope,  the latter wallows in despair. The truly horrific part, the part that will give you existential dread once you realise the truth, is that for all the tragedy that unfolds none of it mattered, right from the start. It was entirely for nothing. The monster is inside the house. Now, given that Paul’s family is mixed race, it’s not hard to see them as representative of the modern decline. Travis is just a little horn dog whose closest companion is an animal. Sarah acts the tough woman and forceful wife but when push comes to shove she can’t pull the trigger. And Paul as already shown is a complete degradation of what it means to be a family man. He has to put up a front and pretend it is to protect, when in reality he is just as blind the truth as everyone else.  Modernity rots you from the inside, and like a disease it spreads and infects the innocent.

What is it about the post-apocalypse that makes it such a good playground to explore family and fatherhood? Is it that in the fight to survive we revert back to what has always worked? Is it because the collapse is merely an extension of modernity, and so makes for a great setting to explore present ills? It can be all of this. These two films are excellent in their own right, but in particular as explorations of what it means to be a man.  With my own novel I am exploring more the role of men, and not necessarily fatherhood, but the decaying remnants of modernity have made for some great set pieces so far.

Pulling Threads

Books, blogs and tweets all collide, the news stream is part of our personal narrative. Thoughts swirl in a giant vat as more are pumped in, never able to reach critical mass. Let me attempt to fold all these ideas together.

1 – A tragedy in endless parts

Economists are different from the rest of us, but as time goes on you begin to realise they are the more interesting than everyone combined.

One such economist is Robin Hanson. You might have heard of him. Hanson’s entire schtick is postulating on obtuse thought experiments. He goes quite out of his way to write and think about things that no one else is writing or thinking about, if only to show how limited the average writer or thinker is. I have to admit that sometimes I have a hard time comprehending his posts on Overcoming Bias, but at the very least I try to work through over and over what he is trying to say. That’s kinda the key here, folks. You gotta try and understand what the other person is saying, not ‘read into’ their words. I mean, it’s a bit of a fine line, but go on, surely you’re a smart cookie. Demarcation is very important.

But of course if you talk about rape or sex a certain subset of people are going to assume you are being ‘creepy‘. All the articles that have come out against Robin are great examples of emotioneering fronting as journalism. It’s a weird form of literalism in that there are certain words that trigger a response, and context or nuance goes completely out the window. I don’t necessarily agree with Robin’s ideas of equality, but taking his ideas seriously is important. Unfortunately for the majority of his detractors this does not even occur to them. In Robin’s Tweet above, what he is getting at is that – and I can attest to this, right now, in fact, because my mental capacity strains to haul it all in – people are incapable of doing everything at once. That is, you are either able to take a thought and see it from every angle because you care about truth, or you narrow your vision because you care about what other people think. And there are a lot of people to care about. Your average internet user is too busy worrying about how they appear to others (i.e. nice and respectable) to have even the capacity to think about something a little outside the bounds of regular thought structures. And they are already so hyper alert that just reading the word rape or something not overtly ‘anti-x’ will spin the outrage machine into action.

As an economist, I am sure Hanson would appreciate the idea that people are invested in certain modes of thinking. The human brain does not have unlimited energy nor hard drive space. Whenever one of these outrage mobs coalesces, a lot of energy is able to be directed at the target, as scores of minds are directly bootstrapped together. And the real tragedy lies in the fact that at the end of the day they are all going to forget about Robin and move their energy on to another target. The laser either breaks through the shield or gets diverted to a new target that has appears on the radar.

That is not to say that in the meantime there is not plenty to leverage. Since the initial incident there have been countless think pieces by the intelligent and not so intelligent. Like with Trump, the media love a good bit of outrage. It gives them clicks and ad revenue. But the problem is it creates a feedback loop. You can’t necessarily trust the word of any writer these days, least of all someone quickly writing a hit piece. Often these journalists or writers are emotionally invested in the topic. See Example A.  This woman a) completely misses the point and b) delights in the suffering of others, so long as she and hers get results. It’s about power, as evidenced from her concluding line, ‘…I can sometimes see just how much of that power is already long gone.’ Never mind any long term downsides, all that matters is that now and in the near future women are able to be completely single and independent and still get all the sex they want.

Through all of these attacks Robin managed to not only weather them, but absorb them and fire their energy out again. He used every objection as a case study to further contemplate our motivations. He, along with Kevin Simler, even wrote a book about our hidden motivations, called Elephant in the Brain. These people were not even aware that they were taking part in an experiment. They were always on Robin’s terms. See, the thing everyone missed is that there is a system at work and you can see it if you know what you are looking for, if you are able to peek behind the words and outrage and see things as they really are. Allow me show you.

2 – Uruk, hi.

Lou Keep has written an absolutely riveting collection of posts on his blog called the Uruk series. It is ostensibly about nihilism in society, but through the lens of four books we see its aspects: the state, the crowd, the individual. These bodies play off against each on other and accelerate nihilism to its end point, which of course is still over the horizon. There is plenty more despair to go around yet. Death is not nihilistic. Death is a release valve. It could also be a goal depending on your view point (certainly not the case with transhumanists). Each entry in the series builds on the last, with exponential increases in realisation. Keep manages to string the ideas of each book together cohesively, even concisely despite the massive amount of knowledge he is distilling.

What has this got to do with a tenured economist? The attacks on his person are mostly from narcissists, screeching women and male feminists. Society has destroyed our metis or common ways of seeing things. Good manners have completely gone out the window. All that matters is reaction time and never backing down. Everyone is frustrated as hell. To these narcissists there is nothing but appearance, and if you appear to be a Bad Man, well, your time is up.

There are a number of interesting ideas covered by Keep, so let’s whip through and compare. Metis is an important one.

Metis, on the other hand, is a kind of accumulated, experiential knowledge.

This is what communities build. This is what tradition is.  What economists tend to do is upset metis, though I would give it to Robin that he is at least one economist who tries to see our underlying motivations and accounts for that, hence his tendency for left-field thoughts. They are only left-field because the State has put its hand into every aspect of our lives. The woman in the above Medium piece (let’s call her Subject H as in hysterical) is happy that the State has intervened. Or so it appears. What is more apparent is her frustration at the system, and her desire to see metis upended.

Uruk also explores the effects of the Industrial Revolution. The author of The Great Transformation, Polyani, explores some related themes, namely the double movement:

The people will want protections, and they’ll be pushing for political power, but the only acceptable political terms are “economic” in this very restrictive sense.

Now where I have seen this before? Oh right, in the rantings of people like Subject H. All economic power needs to be redistributed to women, consequences be damned!  Economic equality for all, but let’s not even contemplate how we deal with sexual inequality. This builds off the previous idea of the State messing around with how things have always worked, because then the people push back and try to fix things (usually through such wide-eyed utopian ideals like democracy). It’s very easy for the state to make things better ethereally, but not in ways that matters. How does greater poverty and a growing GDP pair? As Polyani explains:

The paradox vanishes once you realize that “richer” means only in terms of wages, and that the full range of wealth that existed before is not taken into account.

The curse of policy.

We see in Subject H and everyone who spoke out against Robin being very, well, frustrated. This is caused by the above meddling, and it leaves them open to mass movements. This is where the Russian Revolution came from, this is where Fascism came from, this is where current populism has arisen from. And it is also the cause of modern day feminists and SJW politics. People are frustrated as hell by all the meddling of the State and, heck, they just aren’t going to put up with it any more.  Keep sums it up:

If the base of a mass movement is supplied by frustrated people, then any “good” movement will be outcompeted by one better at impossible, frustrating goals. It’s just a numbers game, the one with more frustrated individuals is the bigger movement. Hence, the type of actions that a “successful” movement (as in, successful at being a movement and nothing more) uses are meaningless, repetitive, and aimed at solidifying identity without achieving anything else. They frustrate the base more. The very best are those that frustrate a whole lot of outsiders, too, whether by actively interfering or at least convincing them that the things they find meaningful are really meaningless. The movement that does this recruits from the biggest pool possible.

The worrying thing is that Subject H and her ilk are going to stay frustrated for a very long time. And so will the incels.

The final step along the road to nihilism is narcissism, and never has it been more abundant that in our society today.

Keep describes it as follows:

Narcissism is essentially about the weird tension between making everything about you while also hollowing out the self.

We think modernity invites narcissism willingly, but it is actually a defence mechanism against the modern world. Not a very good one, and there are other options, but it is defensive nonetheless. Subject H is a great example. Her rant appears to focus on all those other women. You don’t deserve sex so other women can gain power! But it is projected for an image of herself. All those people ranting against Robin can barely comprehend what he is trying to say, and in responding they show their narcissistic inclinations – how they interpret his words is not protecting others, but a reflection of their own self-image. They have to take a side, a predetermined side in many cases. Their outrage is always taking him literally, never seriously. And it is foolish to never take a reflection seriously.  It isn’t about Robin at all, but about each and every person mirroring each other.

Screenshots from Westworld Season 2, Episode 2

The issue that Lou Keep touches on, and which the Hanson debacle is a microcosm of, is one of interpretation. No one understands each other, and yet everyone is spouting their own truth on the matter. These truths are used as power plays (and in the case of the State, they have a monopoly on power already). This is remarkably similar to how the Bible has come to be interpreted; everyone has a different opinion on the Word of God.  (No, I am not comparing Robin to God.)

(Or am I?)

All this reminds me of Thomas Aquinas. Let me explain.

Aquinas discusses in quite some detail the difference between respecting a person and respecting their nature.

It follows, accordingly, that respect of persons is opposed to distributive justice in that it fails to observe due proportion. Now nothing but sin is opposed to virtue: and therefore respect of persons is a sin.

What we tend to focus on is merely the dressing over the people. The state doesn’t see the true worth of tradition, mass movements rise up and give everyone a voice, and narcissism is nothing but imagery. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the welfare state, and nor am I in favour of sex redistribution.  The reasoning is touched on by Aquinas. None of this shuffling of resources is given out because of the nature or actions of people, but in mere respect of them being persons. Modernity forces us to focus on persons and not actions as the State isolates us from communities, economics harries us, mass ideologies flow and narcissism provides the mindset of adhering only to appearances, and even reflections of appearances. We live in sin; we respect people too much.

3 – We are all very far from normal

Loneliness, narcissism and nihilism are all tied together. We might think that just because we live in a large city we are automatically connected with other people. Most likely, far from it. What’s the difference between being alone and loneliness? The ability to detach and the inability to attach, respectively. But how do we get this message across succinctly?

I recently read a book that I urge you all to pick up. I would almost go so far as to say it is a modern classic. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a recent bestseller in the UK and it is ostensibly about how Being Kind is a net good for society and the individual.

For me, whether the author intended it or not, it is the perfect portrait of the typical modern citizen, and more importantly, the typical modern woman. Eleanor suffered a great tragedy in her youth, and we see her life now touched by the State: she was moved between foster homes and now has regular meetings with a social worker. She has a perfectly competent job, but is socially poor. She, like everyone else, gets swept up in ridiculous notions such as romantic love and ‘going to gigs’ as some form of fulfillment. And finally, Eleanor is extremely narcissistic in the sense that Lou Keep describes in the Uruk series. It is a defence mechanism, and she thinks she is special and unlike others. The author does a remarkable job of actually showing the way she makes everything about her, in her own mind, while never quite acknowledging the complete emptiness of herself (until the end when she embraces normie life).

There is an incredible materialism to her outlook on life, and at one point she says, ‘I’ve never made a sausage roll. I don’t suppose it’s terribly difficult, though. It’s only pastry and mechanically recovered meat.’  Never mind the skill and love that goes into making any worthwhile meal, no, it’s all just matter. She is content to eat pesto pasta every night because it contains enough nutrients. She floats herself in vodka every weekend, but she isn’t an alcoholic, of course not, she’s not a real alcoholic. By the end of the book she still doesn’t find a partner and is living with a cat. She is the literal embodiment of the hopeless case that is many modern woman. She can say she is OK all she wants but it doesn’t make it true. It’s a sort of willful blindness, and at one point she remarks that:

Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself.

There is much more in the book. For example, Eleanor goes on about how manners have disappeared from the world (“I find lateness exceptionally rude.”), and Lou Keep in the Uruk series notes that:

Manners have run their course, in Lasch’s time but even more for us: now you can wear sweats to the park, the concept of a salad fork activates dyspepsia, and the boss goes by “Jeff”.

The book shows us what is important in life: having community connections. Knowing people and more importantly knowing yourself. But in order to achieve this one has to change. Like so many modern people, Eleanor struggles to break out of her safe routine. She is stuck in stasis. But stasis doesn’t save you from death. There is an interesting theory that depression and other disorders are actually defence mechanisms against suicide, and when they fail we kill ourselves (so depression is a symptom of suicidal thoughts, not the other way around). Eleanor does attempt to kill herself when the reality she created falls apart, but thankfully she is saved. This is when her self-awareness kicks in. She muses:

I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.

It is only when she stops pretending that she is Completely Fine and embraces change (i.e. in her case, making friends) that she is able to stave off death. And here, I think, we get to the crux of the Robin Hanson debate:

Eleanor Oliphant thinks she wants a romantic relationship, but in the end realises this is a lie. In the book she never has sex, nor even enters a loving relationship. Instead she receives a platonic friendship and a connection with her peers.  Interestingly, one of the main male characters in the book is depicted as an ‘incel’. He plays videogames, dresses slovenly, and has a bad sense of humour. And yet in this book he still manages to bang the hot girl (no, not Eleanor). Something, something, subconscious-desires-of-the-author. But back to Eleanor. One of the main demons she defeats is loneliness. Human contact of any sort, something Eleanor does not even understand at the start of the book, is vital to our continued survival. And Robin Hanson is talking about this. Sure, he mentioned sex – gentle rape and cuckolding – but what incels really want (heck, what all of us really want) is human connection. And the modern woman, after all their liberation, refuses to give it. To her it is just about sex, consent, harassment and male privilege. If all of the writers above have taught me anything, it’s that the system tries to atomise us. It’s only now that this process is finally creating an negative externality. Economic factors always have a delayed reaction.