Welcome to another edition of the nothing here newsletter. This time we have special guest Damien Williams, who has graced these pages previously when I occasionally share links from his must-read Technoccult newsletter.
Damien Williams (DW) is a PhD researcher at Virginia Tech in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society. His research areas include ethics, epistemology, philosophy of technology, philosophy of mind, and the occult. @Wolven most places; afutureworththinkingabout.com technoccult.net tinyletter.com/technoccult
It’s a long issue this time around, largely because we had a lot to say and share about the Christchurch mosque attack, along with the usual fortnight’s worth of links. In fact, this issue is so long I had to cut some stuff just so substack could send it.
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And with that, let’s get on with the show…
Corey J. White (CJW) - The VoidWitch Saga. Newsletter facilitator. Naarm/Melbourne.
Marlee Jane Ward (MJW) - Writer, reader, weirdo. Author of ‘Welcome To Orphancorp’ and ‘Psynode’. Host of Catastropod. ADHD, spec fic, feminism, cats. On Wurundjeri land in Melbourne, Australia. @marleejaneward
m1k3y (MKY) - Wallfacer / #salvagepunk / future ecopoet / @m1k3y
We don’t often cover actual news here in this newsletter because with a fortnightly schedule it really wouldn’t be worth it. But in this part of the world, the biggest piece of recent news involves the white supremacist terrorist attack at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
And I use that word deliberately - “terrorist”. Make sure you notice all the people who refuse to call this terrorism. That refusal is white supremacy in action. The idea that terrorism is something ‘they’ do to ‘us’, but when it’s a white person, he’s an ‘angel’ who just made a mistake, or was mentally ill, or whatever. Bullshit. This is terrorism. This attack is just one facet of a wide-ranging system of white supremacy.
In Australia we have a friendly rivalry with New Zealand. We say they fuck sheep, they say we fuck sheep. We harp on about “fush and chups”, and whichever country won whichever recent sporting event crows about it endlessly. But at the heart of it, we’re connected in a lot of ways (not least of which being our similar colonial pasts), and I know a lot of us here in Australia were deeply affected by the attack.
But already I’m not framing this properly. This isn’t really about Australia and New Zealand, this is about Islamophobia, white supremacy, and the Muslim communities that suffer under this persecution and violence constantly in the West.
I think a big part of the reason why I was so struck by the attack (beyond the obvious), was the fact that it seemed so obvious in hindsight that this was going to happen. The media here in Australia is constantly peddling Islamophobia, platforming racists and neo-Nazis, and supporting our government’s policy of indefinite detention (and torture) of refugees at our disgusting offshore prisons. Because, remember, the attacker was Australian. Every piece of shit commentator, editor, and producer in our media who has normalised this hatred is complicit. Every politician who has pushed these white supremacist policies is complicit. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
Of course, there’s a crucial difference between Islamist terrorism and white supremacist terror in Australia that Janet fails to mention. Islamist ideas have barely any platform in this country, but white nationalism and its forebears are completely mainstream and trafficked every single day in our media – to an extent basically unmatched in the rest of the Western world.
And if you think I’m somehow exaggerating the Australian media’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, have a look at the figures here (via Omar Sakr).
But it’s not just Australia. We’ve shared articles about the technosurveillance system that China has introduced recently - and while that’s horrifying enough, here is some investigative journalism detailing the mass internment and “re-education” of China’s Muslim Uighur population.
He was there for a month in late 2015 and, in some ways, he is one of the lucky ones.
In the early days of the internment camps, the lengths of the re-education “courses” appear to have been shorter.
Over the past two years there are very few reports of anyone being released at all.
And: ‘Counter-Extremism’ in Xinjiang: Understanding China’s Community-Focused Counter-Terrorism Tactics (both links via Josh Fisher)
I’m frankly shocked that this hasn’t been a bigger story, but I probably shouldn’t be. In fact, the only way I could imagine this being mentioned in the Australian media at all would be if Andrew Bolt wanted to congratulate the Chinese government.
Anyway, I have to thank Omar Sakr for tying these, and many other, issues together in this thread. Some of it I was already going to talk about here, some of it only came to mind because of his comments. As well as his erudite cultural commentary on twitter, he’s also a brilliant poet. I had the pleasure of hearing him read one of his poems at a Writers Festival a couple of years back.
And just lastly, I wanted to share this thread from Mona Eltahaway, with video from various Haka performed in response to the attack in Christchurch. The Haka is primarily known as a war dance (or a sports dance), but it has a greater cultural significance beyond that. I can’t watch these without crying, but I’m notoriously quick to tears. If you only watch one, make it this one: students performing the Haka to honour two of their peers who were killed in the attack. Sometimes the kids are alright.
The Rhetoric Tricks, Traps, and Tactics of White Nationalism (both links via Daniel Harvey)
These links might be a little “101”, but they clearly lay out a lot of the online tactics used by neo-Nazis to recruit. This link covers similar ground, but specifically in relation to the terrorist's manifesto.
DW: There’s so much, here, about how Islamophobia, xenophobia, and White Supremacy all found a footing online, in meme culture, in the “just a joke” brand of lulzian pseudonihilism, and there’s a bit, later, where we talk about youtube and other platforms being especially primed to let bad actors game them, but all that seems to pale in comparison to the thing itself. It’s more and more horror built on the back of a growing tide of white nationalist hate, and we all need a strategy to push back against it, hard and fast and soon.
MJW: Corey’s said it all above, but I just wanted to put my bit in about how hypocritical mainstream Australian media and the government has been in the wake of this terrorist attack. After years of anti-Islamic rhetoric spouting from every newspaper, current affairs program and out of the mouths of our appointed leaders, they now have the hide to express their sympathies and condemn the actions of the terrorist, when their words have allowed this kind of hate to fester. They have a lot to fucking answer for. Watching work-experience Prime Minister ScoMo attempting to ‘comfort’ Islamic leaders after the massacre made me feel sick to my stomach, when he is accused of suggesting, in 2011, that anti-Islamic sentiment could be used to boost votes. The sanctimoniousness is fucking galling.
And too, re: Eggboy. Yes, he is a fucking brave ally in his actions, knowing that what would likely happen to him after he egged Fraser Anning in a room full of white supremacists was gonna be shit, hey. Just don’t forget WHY he did it (because Fraser Anning released a statement blaming the victims for the Christchurch attack, and because Anning is a vile piece of racist shit who has no place in government) and don’t forget the brave Aussie POC doing their own work against white supremacy while copping absolute shitloads of flack for it (like Osman Faruqi being chased off twitter by fucking racist assholes.) Alison Whittaker had a really interesting point on why Eggboy speaks to the white left so hard:
MKY: The only thing I have to add here is that this is straight up stochastic terrorism (see earlier issue for definition etc). Don’t focus on the missile (or bullet), focus on who loaded the gun in the first place.
Which I was grateful to see this exact message being posted up on the streets within days:
I really really really hope and pray that people here understand just what they’re voting for come the Federal Election. A vote for the Liberals or Nationals (or yes, One Nation or The Australia Party and so on into the abyss) is a vote for white nationalist terrorism. (And Labor are just as complicit, but at least they weren’t supporting that ‘its ok to be white’ motion.)
The project of Gruppo di Nun emerged both from a deeply personal journey and from the urge to find new and unexplored paths of political resistance. On one hand, the genesis of our idea was a process of individual nigredo, during which we were haunted by the prospect of cosmic death and extinction. In the face of annihilation, the tools and practices of traditional magic, with their anthropocentric view of the cosmos, revealed themselves as unsuitable in dealing with the unsettling inhuman murmur invading us from the depths of time. From a political point of view, we were motivated by the realization that the right has often used, and still uses, magical tools in order to obtain consensus and shape its ideology.
An interview with a group who recently released a manifesto for their own new practice/angle/system of magic(k). You can read that here: A Manifesto for Revolutionary Demonology
What is crucial for us to understand is that the influence of the Right-Hand Path expands into the social and political dimension, imposing a highly organizing and hierarchical force, aimed at establishing a pyramid with Man on top, be it an absolute monarchy legitimized by God, a Nazi-Fascist dictatorship, a white ethnostate or a meritocratic society dominated by the Cisgender Heterosexual White Male.
The intersection of magic, philosophy, and anti-fascist politics here makes me think this is definitely something to share when we've got Wolven on board.
I hadn’t previously considered the Right Hand Path as being analogous to right-wing politics, but it certainly seems to make sense. Right Hand institutions tend toward rigid hierarchy and secret knowledge that can only be unlocked when a person has paid their dues, whereas Left Hand practices (I’m thinking particularly of Wicca and Chaos Magic) seem more geared toward individualism, individual practice, and the idea that the only thing keeping you from secret knowledge is your own focus/effort/work.
DW: I think there’s going to be a lot of contention among other contemporary neo-pagan groups about what it means to be “Left-Hand,” but this seems like it’s doing the argumentative and definitional heavy lifting to reframe it, rather than just making a claim and expecting everybody to be on board.
The idea of an anti-authoritarian Left-Hand is old, but the explicit connection and evolution of that into a genuinely egalitarian and radically open equity-and-justice platform, rather than the more shallowly anarchic individualistic “So just fuck it and do whatever” model? That would be interestingly new.
There’s still something to be said, here, though, about the notion that (in the West) ego-death and self-dissolution are more often touted by people who don’t have to put up with the outside world, culture, and society working to erode their sense of self, all day, every day. An interesting magickal inversion would be turning the process of learning to be subaltern into a call to ritual. An explicit raising of the voices and strengthening the foundations of those who have been silenced and undermined, along with this call for those who have been seduced by the Right-Hand to decenter and deconstruct themselves and their positionality.
I think, all together, that could be something neat.
CJW: Your point about ego-death in the West is something I had never considered before. I’m sure there are a couple of different angles to approach it from, but the one that occurs to me is the question of privilege. Striving to reach a state of ego-death must be trivial when you know that you will return to a body and a place of privilege and protection.
AA: Days after reading this:
...the right has often used, and still uses, magical tools in order to obtain consensus and shape its ideology. We refer, in particular, to the use of meme magic by the alt-right in recent years, and the recurring reference to authors such as Julius Evola by increasingly influential fascist thinkers, like Steve Bannon and Aleksandr Dugin.
We saw the horrifying interplay of memetic/magical techniques and fascist ideology in the Christchurch massacre, and these ideas are particular evident in the shooter’s meme-laden manifesto - in it, he mixes right-wing extremist signifiers like the “14 words” with references to mainstream gaming products like Spyro the Dragon and Fortnite. The shooter plays a song glorifying Serbian war criminals while live-streaming his drive to the mosque on multiple social media platforms, name-checks PewDiePie, and describes his sickening actions as a “real life effortpost”. Make no mistake, everything about this horrific act was designed to take advantage of a media ecosystem which thrives on virality, controversy and stoking the culture war. As this excellent Vox article mentions about the killer’s manifesto and its inclusion of well-known memes:
the ultimate goal of including the memes seems to be a show of solidarity with the manifesto’s primary audience: the “insiders” who understand that while the copypasta is a joke, nothing about the extremist ideology is. The memes inserted into the manifesto serve to bolster fellow extremists’ enthusiasm, making them feel even more unified as people who “get” the references and subscribe to the racist views. Ultimately, the memes help turn the manifesto itself into a radicalizing force.
This is the state of warfare (literal, magical and ideological) in the 21st century. Bewildering, complex and incredibly effective, even as it strains commonly accepted logic and credulity.
I look forward to seeing how groups like Gruppo Di Nun attempt to counteract fascism in their own ways, with their own unique techniques and approaches.
AA: Far-Right Climate Denial Is Scary. Far-Right Climate Acceptance Might Be Scarier (via J Clement - thanks Jev!)
Perhaps the widespread recognition of scarcity will be a boon to the left, underscoring the necessity of robust redistribution, vegetarianism, and social solidarity. But the right’s worldview is also — at least superficially — compatible with a world of unavoidable austerity. One reason pundits mock Donald Trump’s zero-sum conception of trade is that, in a context where real resource constraints place no hard limits on growth, China’s prosperity need not come at our expense. And yet one could plausibly interpret the scientific consensus on climate as saying that non-zero-sum conditions aren’t long for this Earth. Eventually, there won’t be enough grain to keep a chicken in every pot, or at least not enough to maintain America’s per-capita hamburger consumption, allow the Chinese middle-class to enjoy a rising standard of eating, and keep those in the most impoverished corners of the globe alive. Malthus may have been less wrong than he was hasty.
CJW: This article definitely touches on what I see as the darkest but sadly still likely outcome for a climate change ravaged Earth - the West either at war with, or committing genocide against, the Global South, in order to secure enough resources for our lives to continue with as little disruption as possible. It’s something that was also touched on in (I think) that Desert book/pamphlet we shared last year - America as a closed state, kept “protected” by a vast army rampaging beyond its walls. (Or was that one of the possible futures laid out in a DoD document? Which is even more horrifying.)
But it makes sense - that when the far-right (or even just the Right) finally comes around to believing the climate science it will be framed in such a way to fuel their ideological ends. As the piece above says, nationalism is a ridiculous way to fight against something that is so global, but the Right will use the tools they have.
MKY: great piece. Need to get my hands on Wallace-Wells’ new book, stat. The para that leapt out at me was:
It is worth remembering that a pillar of Adolf Hitler’s rationalization of conquest and genocide was an assertion of ecological scarcity. “The annual increase of population in Germany amounts to almost 900,000 souls,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. “The difficulties of providing for this army of new citizens must grow from year to year and must finally lead to a catastrophe, unless ways and means are found which will forestall the danger of misery and hunger.” This premise informed the Nazi regime’s attempts to secure “living space” for the German people through both the extermination of the Jews, and the deliberate starvation of 30 million Eastern Europeans. Hitler’s genocidal Malthusianism was, of course, completely divorced from agricultural reality. The next fascistic tyrant’s may not be.
The only thing that scares the shit outta me more than the rise of fascism (and a complete takeover of the West by the white nationalist international) and the ever increasing encroachment of corporate surveillance into people’s lives is those two forces aligning along ecofascism lines. If only there was a better vision for the future:
Making massive investments in renewable technology — and giving the innovations away to developing nations — seems far more likely to preserve the ecological basis of American prosperity than any attempt to suffocate industrialization in the Global South. Our species’s greatest asset has always been its singular capacity for large-scale cooperation on complex, novel problems. If there is way to sustain a decent civilization for another few centuries anywhere on Earth, I believe it will involve expanding our capacity for solidarity, not contracting it.
And here we continue to just lean into the normalization of facial recognition as part of our carceral justice system, with no interrogation or questioning of assumptions. So that’s… nice. Cool. Yeah.
CJW: From that second link:
IBM has also released an “intelligent video analytics” product that uses body camera surveillance to detect people by “ethnicity” tags, such as Asian, black or white.
IBM said in an email that the systems are “not inherently discriminatory,” [...]
I’m just gonna leave this here...
Facial Recognition is one of those cases where my reading (largely of Damien’s newsletter, I’m sure) means that I simply can’t believe that anyone thinks that proceeding with this technology is a good idea. Even without the white supremacist biases that are (apparently) inherent in so much of our policing in the West and thus will be present in the training data for any neural network, these technologies are presented as if they are fool-proof and unbiased, and anything that undercuts the central idea of the judicial system - innocent until proven guilty - is something to approach cautiously. Consider the number of people that could be wrongfully convicted simply because people (police, prosecutors, judges, and juries) believe that “the technology” is infallible. Ignore the fucking Silicon Valley hype and go rewatch Minority Report.
Also - when was the last time you did a Google search that gave you 0 search results? Search functions these days are designed to give as many results as possible, and the ACLU link above (along with some of my other readings on facial recognition) seems to suggest that the same is true there too. For some reason the people who design these systems think false positives are preferable to no results even when it is a person’s life and freedom at stake.
DW: Well that ties directly into the central problem of most of the algorithmic systems we’re talking about, these days, and something I’ve tried to point out as loudly and as often as possible: On the private sector side, they’re most often built to drive “engagement” in a capitalist system where clicks on returned hits equal “success.” On the public sector side, they’re so often built to push military and policy values which are built from the ground up on exactly the kind of white supremacist garbage assumptions and biases you mention, Corey, that all they’ll do is perpetuate them. Hell, look at what keeps happening with youtube’s white supremacy and malicious actor problem.
They’re all confirmation bias machines, right? Every one of them built to reinforce the values of the people who built and trained them, and the vast majority of the public is only just now being made to reckon with what that really means.
“A camera is a tool—a mechanical device—but it’s not creative,” he said. “Using a tool is an unfair term for AICAN. It’s the first time in history that a tool has had some kind of creativity, that it can surprise you.”
Ian Bogost's skepticism, as well as his knowledge of computers, software, etc, is what makes this read on “AI” art and likely-hucksters more interesting and readable than some of the other computer-generated art articles we (I) may have shared previously.
Also, after watching Velvet Buzzsaw recently (it’s good, but can’t compare to Nightcrawler which is maybe perfect), I take the world of high art even less seriously than I did before. And while we’re on the topic of art, there’s a section in a recent episode of Ashes Ashes about Freeports that are designed as art warehouses/museums/trading floors so that the ultra-rich can trade untold wealth without ever paying taxes.
There will always be fake media and bad actors and people looking to sow discord and dissent. Technology didn’t create bad faith. And there will never be a 100 percent, fully foolproof way to guarantee that we won’t get fooled again. But if we can educate ourselves about those risks, we can become media literate and question stories that feel wrong.We can adapt to new technology as we go.
DW: Yeah, I’m really interested in seeing where this goes, and whether there’s more in there we can tease out about the cultural knowledge-making senses we’ll be likely to develop, as we go forward. The first film of a train caused panics of people who thought they were going to be run down and Ray Harryhausen was once the height of special effects, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was once considered too hyperreal. And now we’re here.
CJW: It’s interesting to consider the fears surrounding deepfakes when you put it in pop-culture terms. It was only a couple of years ago that I was cringing at the unnecessary inclusion of Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One simply because the effects weren’t convincing enough. If the biggest film studio in the world can’t sell me on Grand Moff Tarkin, then maybe I should trust my own senses when it comes to someone making deepfakes in their basement.
I think the real issue will be the confluence between (even technically poor) deepfakes and confirmation bias.
DW: Oh absolutely. It will be and is being used to undermine confidence and sell narratives. There’s a line I’ve been using a lot, lately, when it comes to this kind of stuff: “Is that true, or do you just want to believe it?” Deepfakes is, in a way, the latest and currently-highest peak of that fairly constant question. (I’m also going to be talking about this at Theorizing the Web, in April)
“It’s easier on the eyes after staring at it for so many hours. It isn’t even about the green. That color doesn’t totally matter. You have to make sure the background is black. That’s the key. It’s about the black. It’s easier to stare at something that’s surrounded by the void.”
AA: First of all: I feel like this article vindicates my slavish devotion to Twitter’s Night Mode. Do you hear me, world? I am a void starer, and proud of it! (And no one has ever theorised any downsides to staring into a void, so don’t worry about it.)
Secondly, this article also reminded me of another cyberpunk-adjacent shade of green: Viridian. The green of toxic sludge, and the namesake of Bruce Sterling’s lively environmentalist movement of the late 90s/early 00s.
Here’s how Sterling himself described the movement in his launch speech:
We're an art movement … an ad campaign, a design team, an oppo[sition] research organization, a laboratory and, perhaps most of all, we resemble a small feudal theocracy ruled with an iron hand by a Pope-Emperor.
They also had a cool newsletter called Viridian Notes (archive of the first 50 issues here), one of the first email newsletters I remember subscribing to. Anyway, thinking about all this lead me to an article last year on Greenbiz.com that interviewed Sterling about the Viridian movement, and it’s well worth a read. Even though Sterling thinks Viridian “died on the vine”, there’s still plenty the eco-conscious can learn from his group’s approach...
MKY: omg Viridian Notes flashback feels.
CJW: From that launch speech:
Don't think that just because you have a really cool idea, all those eager volunteers will materialize out of cyberspace to do your organizational work for free. [...] It's not about youthful enthusiasm, it's all about grim middle-aged persistence. Anyone in a frenzy of enthusiasm can edit one issue of a fanzine [...]. Scarcely anyone can do four issues in a row. Everyone in cyberspace has cooler ideas than WIRED magazine. Nobody else can come out on time with their facts checked and the proofs read.
This might be the most accurate thing Sterling has ever said, and he’s said a lot of great stuff over the years.
In a pioneering surgery, titanium implants were placed in the two forearm bones (radius and ulnar), from which electrodes to nerves and muscle were extended to extract signals to control a robotic hand and to provide tactile sensations. This makes it the first clinically viable, dexterous and sentient prosthetic hand usable in real life.
MKY: fuck yes the everyday grinder condition. Nothing spooky about calling the prosthetic hand ‘sentient’ though. It’s totally not self-aware. It totally won’t be plugged into the Stack and ‘accidentally’ make you drop things that aren’t on the AmazonPosthuman Approved List. This is totally not the direction the world is heading in… [The Mechanism, from A Blue Remembered Earth comes to mind here again. Trying to make a fist in violence? ACCESS DENIED]
MJW: And this might make limb transplants, which come with a whole host of their own issues, less common?
Hundreds of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more have been affected by what the UN says could be "one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the southern hemisphere".
The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed: heavy weather edition.
Come and see:
This heavy weather event has been all over the geopolitical news podcast I now listen to every morning, but I as I understand it, it’s barely been on the global radar. Because ‘southern Africa’, I assume [also we can only hold one horror in our heads at time?]. But just look at those before’n’after maps and remember that heavy weather doesn’t give a shit about borders and imagine that happening basically anywhere else. 1.7 million ppl just had their lives washed out. And because geopolitics, who do think will step in to help? My money’s on China getting their Belts’n’Roads on hardcore there. They kinda like functioning ports and infrastructure. Plus, it’s taking off in Italy so...
MJW: Queer Eye Season 3: Yes, I’m going there.
Why does Queer Eye resonate so hard right now? Could it be that it’s so much more than a guilty pleasure that my flatmate and I indulge in after a long day at work?
I thought a lot about posting anything about QE on here, because even though I engage with it on all sorts of levels, I’ve got a lot of old issues that stem from being mansplained to about how everything I like is shit. Doing a newsletter with a bunch of dude-identifying types makes me feel like that could happen again, and even though I KNOW that none of my NH fellows would do such a thing, it’s hard to let it go.
I mean, it's just a show about five queer guys making over some rando from Wherevertown, USA. But the thing about Queer Eye is: it cares. It cares deeply, and doesn't care who knows it. The show tapped into a universal need for some radical kindness in this era of edgelords and trolls. The QE dudes give a shit about their charges. It's not just about the clothes, the house, the skincare regime (though it is); and it's not just about people from different walks of life coming together and teaching each other about acceptance and love (though it is); it's a show about showing up for other people, really listening, showing that you care. KINDNESS MADE COOL AGAIN. I can fucking get behind that.
And too, QE really is a show about gender. It takes the bullshit gender and sexuality stereotypes and flips them all around. You've got Jonathan Van Ness (whose podcast Getting Curious is an awesome listen) in heels and a full beard, showing everyone how to express themselves the way they want to, gender-norms be damned. Karamo Brown giving gay black dude BDE (because BDE is actually about the goodness bursting from your SOUL), along with the skills he's gained through years of social work. Antoni being a useless beautiful bisexual psychopath in the kitchen (and I'm so glad they are playing up the fact that he's a stone-cold weirdo this season.) Not only do they make-over hapless straight men, but gay men, trans men, women. Queer eye is no longer just Gay Men giving Straight Men the tools to do emotional and personal labour. It's truly queer in the modern sense of the word, chucking out preconceived notions of sexuality and tired gender-roles on mainstream telly like Tan France throws away busted T-shirts.
(BUT QUEER EYE, PLEASE, DO NOT REFER TO ANYTHING AS YOUR ‘SPIRIT ANIMAL’. THIS IS NOT FOR YOU.)
MKY: Triple Frontier
This movie is why Jeff VanderMeer skipped over all the previous expeditions when writing Annihilation, and why adding Oscar Isaac to the plot of the movie made it so much worse.
If it starring Ben Affleck wasn’t warning enough, read this interview with Charlie Hunnam.
It’s a shame, cause the premise is fucking great (and highly relevant to that novel I’m writing). But the execution is pure excrement. The helicopter gave a better a performance than all these men combined. Just skip it. You’re welcome.
-looks at credits- holy shit, this is from the director of Margin Call? Watch that instead.
CJW: I didn’t think it was that bad, but I also didn’t see that interview with Chuck until afterward. I think it’s interesting from a storytelling point of view because it is (marketed/trailered as) a heist movie, and while that is certainly part of it, it’s actually about survival, and bonds between people and the breaking of those bonds.
I daresay that if you liked Sicario you’ll find something to enjoy here. If nothing else, watching Affleck/’s character made it worthwhile for me.
MKY: Star Trek: Discovery
They can say fuck and shitstorm now, but don’t think that just ‘cause they’re doing some kray black-ops renegade stuff, and have fought back against Trek’s huge bias against transhumanism to have an openly gay actor playing a gay role with an interracial lover and has been infused with tardigrade DNA and has cool implants (in fact, they’re like CYBERNETIC AND PROUD in the latest ep) doesn’t mean that the season arc hasn’t devolved to some really shit, basically Nick Bostrom fanfic meets Mass Effect fanfic, the evil AI will kill us all (for unspecified reasons) that is better left in the 80s when we could at least justify it with wild extrapolation from ‘oh look, home PCs seem neat, but what if…’ stuffz.
DW: The “for unspecified reasons” is the thing that really messed with me, more than anything. Like… “The AI that is Control wants to learn everything it can about AI from every civilization, past and present.” Okay, seems fine. “It maybe wants to do it for militaristic purposes!” Well… Yeah; it’s a military intelligence AI. “And It wants to do it so that it can then wipe out all other sentient life in the galaxy!” …Wait, what?
I mean the sheer Ease with which the crew of the Discovery made that leap, as if it was meant to be somehow self-evident. WHY would it want to kill everybody? Why wouldn’t it just want to know more about others like itself, around the Galaxy? I just… Ugh.
And that’s even before the whole Airiam thing. I was much more intrigued with her when I thought she was a new cybernetic alien species, rather than a cyborg’d human. One of two of places I’ve felt they seriously missed an opportunity to dig down into the lived experiences of nonhumans on their ship—the other being Saru’s getting “fixed.” He lost his ability to sense danger at literally astronomical distances, something that he lived with literally his entire life. And now he walks around bold as brass taking risks, and we’re supposed to, what? Admire his heroic transformation and freedom from “fear?” So anthropocentric, and in a way they seemed to be way the hell away from, with the tardigrade and the sentient mycelium species.
MKY: right? The implicit bias in their logic is just $%#&$%#%$’ed. (And so much internal groaning at the Vulcan logic extremists wanting AI to rule the ‘verse, but damn Spock telling his adopted sister that she was never the target, he was just shock me. I feel like they’re functioning as a solid stand-in for a certain...type...of...Darkly Enlightened folx.)
I’d been so curious about Airiam, and now I wanna erase my memories of watching that ep.
It’s just like when I was watching Solo and was so into the robot revolution and then…
DW: Still haven’t seen Solo. Will I be disappointed/angry?
CJW: Yes. Yes you will.
MKY: Now Apocalypse
I’ve always enjoyed Gregg Araki’s films over the years, and am delighted to see he’s been given a tv show now. Now Apocalypse is very queer, very very sexy -and even has an AntiFa dropping by in between raids for sexy interludes- and oh yeah, is full of foreshadowings of the Apocalypse (and um Rollins ranting about lizard people?). This isn’t exactly Sense8, but I bet the Wachowski sisters are loving it.
Will isn’t lying at all when he says at the start that this is their best interview since talking with Adam Curtis about Hypernormalistion (which is basically the unofficial commentary track). Ngl, I’ve never finished a KSR book, but since seeing him at WorldCon ‘10, I am a huge fan of listening to him talk about science fiction, political economy and Marxism, climate change and building a believable future, his influences (PKD) and teachers (Ursula Le Guin and Fredric Jameson), and that’s exactly what you’ll get in this podcast, plus birbs.
This no-budget documentary from 2014 follows the titular subject as he wanders around the fringes of his hometown of Casper, Wyoming, interacting with a variety of fellow miscreants and outsiders. This film shares some aesthetic qualities with the early work of Harmony Korine, and to describe this film as a “real-life Gummo” wouldn’t be too far off the mark. But that tidy comparison is possibly too reductive - there’s something inexplicably compelling about the portrayal of this alienated, suburban goth, something hypnotic about his substance-addled musings and no-stakes “adventures”. Gothic King Cobra aka Josh Saunders might be seen by some as a pathetic, cringe-worthy character (and indeed i’ve seen commentary online to that effect), but I found a tragic vulnerability to his portrayal here. The editing and direction by Trapped is (purposefully?) amateurish, but charming in its own right (although those prone to motion sickness might struggle with the camerawork). The unfussy, DIY approach reminded me of early black metal, and some of the stylistic choices made in this film would suggest the director is consciously making this connection. An ambient soundtrack by Zachary Waltman is also employed to great effect. This is a very unusual film that fits nicely in the “dirtbag verite” genre, and I plan on checking out the rest of Trapped’s work as soon as I can.
I think this belongs here - beautiful, captivating portraits of South Korean divers known as haenyeo or “sea women” as featured in The New Yorker. The vast majority of these incredibly skilled workers are over the age of 60, and there is so much of their character and physicality capture in these large format photographs by Hyung S. Kim.
DW: Back in 2017 I was part of SRI International’s Technology and Consciousness Workshop Series, eight sets of week-long meetings, all turned toward different ways of understanding technologies of mind and mindedness. We thought about what it might mean to create conscious machines, what it means for human consciousness to try, and what the hell we even mean by consciousness, when definitions are so varied across all the different fields that have ever taken up the question.
The meetings were held under the auspices of the Chatham House Rule, so participants were only able to talk about their own part in the proceedings, and no one else’s. But as of this month, SRI put out the 92 page official report for public consumption. The report summarizes the findings and recommendations, as well as providing a rundown of the various weeks’ topics and presentation abstracts. You can find a copy here:
CJW: Both Marlee and I are going to be Guest Authors at Supanova in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast. We’ll be there alongside V.E. Schwab, Lynette Noni, Alan Baxter, Jodi McAlister, Rachel Craw, and an extra guest or two depending on the city. We’ll both have books for sale (the third book in Marlee’s Orphancorp series will be available), and zines to give away. If you’re going to be at either event, please come say hi.
MJW: I will actually be ducking out of Supanova for a couple of hours on Saturday the 6th of April so that former guest Alison Evans and I can give a talk at Yarra Library. Come hear us talk YA Lit, gender, dystopias and more.
CJW: And that’s it for another issue. As ever, thank you for joining us on this journey.
And thank you to Marlee for the inspiration for the title of this issue. It seemed a necessary counterpoint to all the abyss-gazing darkness contained herein. These can be dark times - fuck, if you read this newsletter you know that already - but we can choose to be kind. We can cultivate kindness. We can refuse to let the hard times callous our hearts. We can be present and vulnerable and kind, if we want to be. It won’t always be easy, but maybe it’s necessary.