nothing here but pagan sci-fi symbology

issue 047 - 5th April, 2020

CJW: Welcome to another issue of nothing here. This issue we welcome Dan Harvey to the team! You may know Dan from his brilliant 20 minutes into the future newsletter, focused on taking tech companies to task for the many ways they abuse staff, manipulate users, disregard privacy, and generally try and run roughshod over society at large. I’m sure some (more) of that will sneak in here thanks to Dan, but he’s also sharing some great art, comics, music, and more.

Welcome aboard, Dan!

I’ve unlocked our latest bonus letter, which came from MKY: Bingewatching the End of Civilisation. To access new bonuses and the full archive, you can become a supporter.

CJW: Society Centered Design

This is a great manifesto coming from Sarah Gold, Dan Harvey, and a collection of other designers and workers associated with Projects by IF. I think this could prove to be an important document - so much of the way we think, plan, and design is defined by our unconscious biases and frameworks, which is one of the reasons why supposedly “unbiased” algorithms keeping outputting racist as fuck data. By deliberately and intelligently changing these frameworks to be more society-centred, we could see a shift away from harmful design practices and damaging knock-on effects, like with facial recognition systems, judicial algorithms, and countless other areas besides.

If you’re a designer in particular you should check this out.

DCH: True story. Corey was linking that before I even got here. He’s not just doing me a solid since I co-authored it. 

CJW: Design Thinking is a Rebrand for White Supremacy (via Ospare)

This seems related - on the history of design, Design Thinking, and the inherent White Supremacy in both. A great example of why Society Centered Design is so important - having a deliberate plan to counter inherent bias, instead of leaving it up to "brilliant" white men to define what good design is (usually meaning design that suits them and people like them).

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CJW: Announcing The COVID-19 Testing Map

Let’s open with something that is both (potentially) proactive, and COVID-19 related (because, as you can probably guess, there’s going to be a lot of virus chatter for at least the next little while).

This map is a timely new project from Sean Bonner and the Safecast team, showing locations where COVID-19 testing is being performed. It's a collaborative project, so if you've got data to add, they'd love to have it.

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CJW: What We Know So Far About SARS-CoV-2 (by Ed Yong, via Damien Williams)

To be clear, SARS-CoV-2 is not the flu. It causes a disease with different symptoms, spreads and kills more readily, and belongs to a completely different family of viruses. This family, the coronaviruses, includes just six other members that infect humans. Four of them—OC43, HKU1, NL63, and 229E—have been gently annoying humans for more than a century, causing a third of common colds. The other two—MERS and SARS (or “SARS-classic,” as some virologists have started calling it)—both cause far more severe disease. Why was this seventh coronavirus the one to go pandemic?

This is an up close and personal look at COVID-19 and the reasons why it is so effective. I found this fascinating in terms of the technical information it offers - elsewhere you’ll hear a lot of figures, but here are some actual facts. 

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CJW: It might take a while before history starts again (via Austin)

Without a massive stimulus package, the corona crash will wipe out most of the small-scale service sector, from barbers to nail salons to internet cafes to specialty coffee bars. The only companies left standing will be Amazon and the large chains, now lording over a recalibrated sub-economy designed to deliver ‘essential’ goods.

This piece covers a lot of ground, and my political theory chops aren't quite honed enough for me to understand it all, but what I did grasp was incredibly interesting. It's largely about the failures of left populism, the decline of neoliberalism, and how both of these relate to the current crisis.

Are we all covid communists now?

It is a question posed especially sharply in Britain, where a Tory government is delivering an economic programme to the left of that offered by the Labour Party in the last election, all the while enjoying robust approval ratings. The contradiction of this fact alone poses a political question: who is trusted to govern and why, and what is the political vision that should accompany economic necessity?

This piece, linked from the above, is all about the current socialisation of capitalism under largely right-wing governments in response to COVID-19.

If the new global disaster socialism is socialist at all it is an avowedly passive, consumerist vision of socialism, in which we get paid by the state to live under martial law as we supposedly work from home while living on the backs of an underclass that are compelled to work for Deliveroo and Amazon while the rest of the productive economy crumbles away: fully automated luxury authoritarianism.

Emphasis mine.

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CJW: Posing With the Flag (at reallifemag.com)

It depressingly feels as though everything I do is merely symbolic, photo ops for structuring my own unfolding story, but there is no way to tell for sure. There is no unilateral move one can make that would make the difference, and no view from above from which you can always tell who is merely posing with the flag and who is really part of a team of responders. I don’t have that sort of perspective even on myself.

This starts off referencing the social contagion piece we shared last issue, and uses that as a launching pad to look at governmental, organisational, and personal responses to the Corona crisis, trying to draw the line between performative care or concern, and the real thing.

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CJW: Panic, Pandemic, and the Body Politic (by Laurie Penny, via Sentiers)

The collective psychology of neoliberalism encourages self-interest and short-term thinking. It both creates and requires human lives that are organized around the kind of constant insecurity and stress that actively prevent us from thinking beyond the next fiscal quarter. The diseases that are most successful in the coming century will, as always, be the diseases that exploit our major failure modes and popular delusions.

This piece by Laurie Penny covers a lot of ground, some of which (also) parallels the social contagion piece from last issue - specifically the way the organisation of our society determines the sorts of epidemics we’re faced with, with Penny providing examples across history.

DCH: This is another great piece from Penny. All about how our decades of catastrophe porn haven’t prepared us for Covid-19.

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CJW: The New Normal for Life Under a New Plague (by Ganzeer)

Masks will become as mainstream as pants. Air-filtering scarves will become a thing, and we may even see shirts designed with mouth covering parts that you can just pull up when necessary (think of it as an evolved turtleneck). Gloves will definitely make a fashionable comeback. Tattooing will be seen as an easy harbor of disease and quickly lose the mainstream acceptance it has gained over the past three decades.

This is a really interesting piece from Ganzeer - as much provocation as prediction, pushing us to really consider the ways that society could evolve under the pressures of this current pandemic. I don’t necessarily agree with all the points he raises (or suggestions [?] he makes), but the sheer speculative energy on display here is impressive to say the least.

And via Ganzeer’s link above, is this: I Lived Through The AIDS Epidemic. Here’s How To Live Through The Coronavirus. Taking lessons from the AIDS crisis and seeing what we can learn from them for life under COVID-19.

Remember:

3) The government will not save you.

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MKY: Rare ozone hole opens over Arctic — and it's big

The counterpoint to all those cool maps showing the drop in air pollution in cities across the globe as everything  s l o w s d o w n is that, holy shit there’s a hole in the ozone layer above the Arctic for like, the first time ever? ‘Cause the Earth System is still collapsing, and a little bit of unplanned ‘degrowth’ ain’t gonna fix a whole lot (how long can you stick ur finger in that dam?) and it’d be ace if we were talking about bailing out the ecology rn too, with some planned regrowth. Instead, we’re gonna watch local manufacturing ramp up again across the West, where in the US especially - but far from exclusively - corps have basically been giving carte blanche to pollute the world. Yeah, I know. It sux.

CJW: Yes! An accidental degrowth won’t do anything in the long term. We need this crisis to teach us that the way our lives, society, and economy have been going is simply unsustainable. We need to let this lead us to fundamentally change the way our lives, society, and economy are organised - and honestly, we probably need to organise if we want to see that happen. I’m sure there are a lot of interesting conversations happening in activist circles, trying to figure out the best ways to keep organising through all this.

I assume this is related, but paywall: Covid-19 has caused a drop in emissions – but it’s not a climate fix

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MKY: Scientists record first reported heatwave at Antarctica's Casey research station

Meanwhile, at that other pole on this nice planet we once had here. A freaking heatwave causing ice to melt faster, and maybe ruin yet another once great biome at the edge of the word. Maybe just maybe the slow down in emissions will take the edge off there? But like Corey just said above, we need to freaking organise and re-organise our relationship with the natural world before bunkers are all that’s left for us forever. Here’s John with the weather: DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM.

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CJW: AI is An Ideology, Not A Technology (via Sentiers)

If a program is able to distinguish cats from dogs, don’t talk about how a machine is learning to see. Instead talk about how people contributed examples in order to define the visual qualities distinguishing “cats” from “dogs” in a rigorous way for the first time. There's always a second way to conceive of any situation in which AI is purported. This matters, because the AI way of thinking can distract from the responsibility of humans.

A piece on the demystification of AI, and the political risks of embracing it fully as being inevitable.

DCH: Jaron Lanier isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea but when he’s right, he’s right.

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Cutting Room Floor:

CJW: DYSTOPIAN DOMESTICATION

When you’re in pain it’s far easier to say “I don’t wanna feel this pain” rather than “I want to feel this pleasure”, and as expected current leftists, as propagandists, are generally dystopian in their critique of the establishment, they create elaborate images to describe the mecanisms and horrors of our predicament but don’t necessarily offer a way out, only the possibility of a gap. This gap waits to be filled.

And it goes on from there to Library Socialism. Read it. I've recommended Ospare's newsletter before, and will probably do so again.

DCH: Ted Chiang Explains the Disaster Novel We All Suddenly Live In

MKY: “we don’t want everything to go back to business as usual, because business as usual is what led us to this crisis.” A-freaking-men.

DCH: Preach, Brother Ted.

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DCH: Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene (Via Anna Dorothea Ker)

You had me at “chthulucene.” Nyarlathotep as The Invisible Hand.

DCH: Billionaire Island

Mark Russell and Steve Pugh deliver a biting satire of the billionaire caste in what promises to be a bloody delight. Russell’s previous work on series like Prez, The Flintstones (yes, The Flintstones) show’s he’s the best satirist working in comics today. Pugh is a master caricaturist and humorist. Together they’re perfect for this sort of revenge fantasy. Go snag the first issue before the second comes out.

MKY: Permanently Moved - 301 - 2012 - The Run Out

This latest drop from @thejaymo’s weekly 5min podcast really sums up that feeling we’re in rn, and expounds on it. If you haven’t tuned in before, he writes, records and edits these in an hour… and I feel like everyone has an hour to spend rn, so why not start a whole series of short, sharp audioblasts about the time we’re in? I’d sure love to get more like this from people around the world.

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DCH: Shadowland

Join Seth and Christina as they share and discuss stories of the strange, eerie and unknown. Each episode covers a single topic, from cryptids and UFOs to weird science and quantum reality. Step into a world beyond the senses, into a hidden realm behind the everyday, where logic fails and dreams illuminate the way. As your eyes adjust to the dark, intriguing mysteries take shape. Welcome to Shadowland.

Seth and Christina are former colleagues. I’m not always the biggest fan of podcasts but this one is fun. Maybe start with the ghost fucking epsiode.

DCH: Quarantine Book Club

Daily Zoom chats with authors. Great way to connect with some brilliant writers. Previous guests have included Charlene A. Carruthers and Cory Doctorow. Marcia Chatelain and Tim Maughan are some of the upcoming highlights. From Mike Monterio and Erika Hall at Mule Design (with a logo inspired by John Warren Hanawalt). 

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DCH: Palantir x NHSX

Palantir is working on contact tracing for the NHSX. This is a very bad thing. Lest you forget, Palantir is responsible for America’s concentration camps. This is even more alarming as Health Secretary Matt Hancock has penned a letter to set aside legal requirements for data confidentiality during the pandemic. This is a power grab by disaster capitalists that tosses our digital rights into the bin.

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DCH: Superchief Gallery
Remember that Cardi B coronavirus clip from the other day? Ok now imagine it with Donald Trump’s head attached. I DIDN’T NEED TO SEE THIS EITHER. SHARE MY PAIN. Thank you.

DCH: Art School Girlfriend, Into the Blue Hour
I’m overdosing on chillwave at the moment. Can you blame me? Hello! Art School Girlfriend is music producer and vocalist Polly Mackey’s stage name. The music is atmospheric, spartan, and haunting. It’s full of loss, lust, obsession, and queer identity.

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DCH: Dream Wife, Sports!

Sports! Is the first track off of Dream Wife’s upcoming second album, So When You Gonna. If you’re not familiar Dream Wife is a punky / power pop quartet that hails from Brighton, England. They are quintessential bad bitches and put on an amazing live show. 

CJW: Owen Pomery (via Kelt)

Warren Ellis recently shared a graphic novel by Owen Pomery in his newsletter, but it wasn’t until Kelt pointed it out on the Restricted Academy forum that I dug a little further into Pomery’s other art. It’s a sublime mix of the ultra-detailed with the pared back - an aesthetic I find utterly striking. 

MKY: Unf! Into this. Adding that to the list stat.

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DCH: Ingrid Torvund

Ingrid Torvund is a Norwegian artist who uses pagan, christian, and sci-fi symbology to explore humanity’s myth-making urges. Her “Blood” trilogy feels even more resonant given the global pandemic.

Still from Magic blood machine, 2012

Still from When I go out I bleed magic, 2015

Still from I found you under earth under blood, 2019

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DCH: Nam June Paik

The Paik exhibition at The Tate Modern was one of the last bits of art I was able to take in back in the before times. Of course we often think of Paik in the context of media inquiry, new media art, and presaging the Internet but let’s not forget he was also a comrade and a hell of a writer too.

I can easily see that being update for Uber and the gig economy...

MJW: Hey, I haven’t added a thing to the newsletter this fortnight. Where have I been in all of this? LOSING MY SHIT, THAT’S WHERE. I’m Quite mentally ill on a good day, so this is A Lot. 

It isn’t that I haven't read any articles I could link, it’s that I’ve read eighteen thousand articles and am about to reach information critical mass. I spend all day peering into my magical portal to the world’s horrors. I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything for longer than ten minutes, so I’ve got no TV or movies to talk about. Every afternoon I take a bath for one hour, in order to try and ‘relax’. While I’m in the tub I AM reading - The Dead Zone by Stephen King, a comfort re-read. I’m doing my best to take care but it’s not easy.

Check in on your mentally ill friends right now. Let them know they aren’t alone. In the meantime, I’ll be obsessively reading the news and yelling on twitter, the only two things I’m capable of. x

CJW: Repo Virtual one of Amazon's Best SFF Books of the Month

I don’t know if this is down to some publicist magick, or purely down to the book readers at Amazon, but either way I’m stoked that this will get the book in front of a lot more people’s eyes.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can read an excerpt here, or just go ahead and pre-order it. Check if your local indie bookshop is doing deliveries at the moment, and maybe sling some money their way. We want our small, local institutions to survive these uncertain times. After loving John Higgs' Stranger Than We Can Imagine, I ordered his book on the band KLF from my local bookstore Brunswick Bound, and they delivered it by hand within the hour. They're a great store, run by great people, and if you're lucky your local could be just as good.

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CJW: And that’s it for another issue. There’s a bunch of stuff I had to trim for the email, so if you want to see what else you might have missed, click the title at the very top to check out the full and unabridged version.

Keep safe, stay well, and reach out to your friends and family who could be struggling with isolation.

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