nothing here but the extinction empire

issue 036 - 3rd November, 2019

CJW: Step right up, step right up, and welcome to another issue of nothing here.

Our latest bonus letter was written by moi, titled FitBit vs Do Easy - part 2 of my series on Mundane Occultism. To get access to it, our future bonuses, and the full archive, you can go here to become a supporter.

And away we go…

CJW: A Million People Are Jailed at China's Gulags. I Managed to Escape.

“There were almost 20 people in a room of 16 square meters,” she says. “There were cameras in their rooms, too, and also in the corridor. Each room had a plastic bucket for a toilet. Every prisoner was given two minutes a day to use the toilet, and the bucket was emptied only once a day. If it filled up, you had to wait until the next day. The prisoners wore uniforms and their heads were shaved. Their hands and feet were shackled all day, except when they had to write. Even in sleep they were shackled, and they were required to sleep on their right side – anyone who turned over was punished.”

AA: This is a difficult but important read. The graphic descriptions of rape and torture here truly shocked me - I had no idea about the brutality of the abuses allegedly being perpetrated against the Uighur in Xinjiang (although, like most, I knew something was going on). 

And the campaign against the Uighur seems to take other forms, too - this Guardian editorial discusses the program of cultural eradication being enacted by the Chinese government; destruction of sacred Muslim sites, discouraging women from wearing the niqab and jilbab, and disappearing prominent artists and academics. So will anything change? Many Muslim-majority countries are heavily invested in the Silk Road project and many Western corporations are scared of losing access to China’s growing middle class market if they upset Beijing (just look at recent events surrounded the NBA). Will the global capital put profit before principle? All signs, as ever, point to yes. 

CJW: The post-9/11 Islamophobia of the West will certainly make it easier for companies and governments to ignore these atrocities - “China is just protecting their culture,” etc etc. I haven’t actually seen that justification trotted out yet, but you know it’s coming.

AA: Related: The U.S.-China Cold War Is a Myth. 


CJW: Stripped bare: Australia's hidden climate crisis (via Jane Rawson)

Clearing vegetation has the potential to add millions to a property’s value, as well as yielding high returns in a good year. That alone is enough for farmers to risk up to $1m in fines for illegally clearing, according to one former NSW Office of Environment and Heritage compliance officer, who asked not to be named. But while land clearing might benefit individual farmers in the short term, the loss of native vegetation comes with enormous costs for the rest of us.

It’s hard to imagine any top-down legislation to hold back this sort of land clearing when farmers are upheld as the quintessential “Aussie battler,” despite the fact that as outlined here, many massive industrial farming operations are leading the way with the clearings. (Also, it’s hard to imagine our coal-loving, climate-change denying, authoritarian-leaning, right-wing government ever doing anything positive for the environment.)

AA: These bits: 

“Land clearance and degradation is one of the greatest crises facing Australia and the world,” says Bill Hare, the chief executive and senior scientist with Berlin-based Climate Analytics. “It undermines the basis for food production, is causing species loss and ecological decline, destroys climate resilience, degrades water resources and reverses carbon storage on the land.”

The rate at which we are clearing land in Australia is almost immediately wiping out gains being made under tax-payer funded schemes to address climate change.


CJW: This Is Not the Sixth Extinction. It’s the First Extermination Event (via Dan Hill)

The great historical struggle against capital’s First Extermination has been, and remains, the struggle for land and the rights of the commons. Indigenous nations account for less than 5 percent of the global population while protecting 80 percent of its biodiversity. Indigenous Water and Land Protectors, whose campaigns are often led by women, face a far higher rate of assassinations and state violence compared to non-Indigenous activists in the Global North. From the Lenca people’s victory in halting the Agua Zarca hydrodam on the Rio Gualcarque, to the Lumad’s fight in the Philippines against the expulsion from their ancestral homes for mining, Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the war against necrotic capital.

An interesting piece and an interesting argument. Recently I half-jokingly suggested that XR needs to be less concerned about their own branding, and instead focus on branding the opposition. I mean, a lot of us grew up on Star Wars and we all know that there’s no rebellion without an evil Empire. So, maybe we start using Extinction Empire as a term to encapsulate all the governments that refuse to act, the corporations that spew pollutants into our environment, and any and all billionaires (because, fuck them). Maybe people will pay more attention when they realise they’re living under an empire that needs to be dismantled and destroyed, and its leaders brought to justice if we’re ever to have a chance of surviving the next few decades without a push to Far Right ethno-nationalism, eco-fascism, genocide, and other horrors. I often talk about the end of the world because that’s what it feels like sometimes, but the truth is maybe worse. We’re talking about increasing and accelerating global disparity between the haves and have-nots. We’re talking about an increasingly divided and militarised world. We’re talking about more corporate and authoritarian control over populations (particularly the minority populations that aren’t simply left to die. Deliberate, wide-scale neglect is still genocide). 

If you’re a cis-het white person living in a Western country, there’s a good chance your life could remain at a similar level of comfort to what you experience now, but you will be complicit in the genocide and other horrors being committed in the name of said comfort. Sadly, I think a lot of people will be fine with that. I’m not. I hope to fuck we can change things before we get further down that path.


CJW: A World We Built to Burn (via Sentiers)

[A]ngry people, from [the governor] down, felt somebody, somewhere, was supposed to be responsible for all of this, that there simply weren’t supposed to be problems like choosing between fires and blackouts.

But much of the next century is going to be problems like this, not just for California, but for the whole world, as we deal with several generation’s worth of technical debt around infrastructure and learning to really manage our planet. There’s a lot we can learn from the California case, both about how to fix it, and how to cope in the mean time, like: have a plan.

On the intersection of infrastructure, technical debt, and the increased pressures of climate change.


CJW: Communism Against Civilization or Eco-Fascism

A few issues back, Austin shared the low-key mind-blowing research of Josh Citarella into online Post-Left memes and discourse. Rhizome has commissioned some essays (talks?) to accompany a show that follows on from Josh's work, and this is one such piece.

The future for capitalism, if there will be a future for it at all, is eco-fascism. It’s not a question of if this will lead to genocide, but of when.

This quote could basically stand in as a thesis statement for my next book. And this is the same thing I said last issue:

I think it’s vital to point out that a “Green New Deal” can’t make capitalism ecologically sustainable.


CJW: Terror, genocide, and the “genocratic” turn (via Ospare)

As the Americans’ Iraqi experience centered around fighting terrorism, the dissolution of the Iraqi state, including the army, began to seem to have been a grave mistake. The state, and especially the army and security forces who were once perceived as agents of evil, now appeared to be the antidote to terrorism. What was an enemy of democracy in our countries—the apparatuses of violence and murder, or “repressive state apparatuses,” as Louis Althusser called them—became the solution to the terrorist problem. Democracy was relegated to oblivion.

A detailed talk/essay about the ways in which Western military and political propaganda has moved away from condemning dictatorships to condemning terrorism, leading to a situation where brutal dictators are accepted while the people fighting for freedom from these regimes ignored at best or labelled terrorists at worst.


CJW: Social Media Is Not Self-Expression (via Ospare)

[T]he social order is protected not by preventing “self-expression” and identity formation but encouraging it as a way of forcing people to limit and discipline themselves — to take responsibility for building and cleaning their own cage. Thus, the dissemination of social-media platforms becomes a flexible tool for social control.

What's the social media equivalent of Burroughs' experiments with tape recorder cut-ups?


MJW: How Australia treats complex trauma

Williams says many sufferers of long-term abuse and trauma don’t receive a diagnosis of PTSD. Instead, they are given a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, which raises its own set of difficulties. A diagnosis of BPD can carry with it stigma because the condition is still viewed by some as a flaw of personality, and as such the label can result in many negative consequences. It can make retaining custody of children much harder, for example, and getting a job, insurance or even physical health needs taken seriously very difficult.

CJW: I am shocked, SHOCKED to see this example of sexism within the medical profession directly harming women and victims of abuse. No wait, the other one - unsurprised and utterly disheartened.


MJW: Australian Water Rats Are Eating the Hearts out of Cane Toads with Surgical Precision

After setting up infrared cameras, Dr Parrott found that water rats living in the area were behind these surgically precise deaths. Having worked with water rats before at Healesville Sanctuary, she knew how intelligent and adaptable they were, and said she felt a strange sense of pride when she found out they were the predator. “Within just two years of cane toads moving into the area, they had learned how to disable, kill, and eat something that had killed so many other predators in the region.”

CJW: This is very cool. But sadly not a fix for Australia's cane toad problem:

“With the next flood or breeding event”, Dr Parrott says “there would be so many toads that the system would be overwhelmed. Water rats are doing their bit for the environment, but we’ll need to look at other ways to try and control the toad population.”

AA: Here’s my contribution to this discussion: 

If you’re Australian, you’re probably hearing the (terrible) theme song right now (and it’s probably the only part of the show you ever saw, because it meant you had to change the channel). 


Cutting Room Floor:

AA: Dan Hon’s Things That Have Caught My Attention 

Those of us who have been on the newsletter tip for a while are probably familiar with Dan Hon, a “recovered lawyer”, currently working for Code For America, whose excellent Things That Have Caught My Attention has been running since 2014 (full archive here). Dan’s newsletter had a little hiatus but now it’s back, and Dan has certainly found his groove. He’s continuing a close reading of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which Dan started in the distant past of 2014, looking at all the ways this novel reflects our present, and how it doesn’t. Dan’s observations may be of interest to the many voracious consumers (and writers!) of sci-fi reading this: 

The Deliverator these days drives a Tesla S - moving people from place to place, pickup and delivery points not inferred by phone number but by a system of geospatial positioning satellites, plotting a glowing route on a heads-down Android display in a car that packs, well, lots of potential energy in the metaphor of the day.

All that's missing is Uber getting into the personal loan business - just watch for that shift where startups like Uber, Lyft or TaskRabbit start offering payday loans or short-term personal loans in exchange for 'employment'.

MKY: Lucky Day (2019)

Roger Avary made a new movie. With an anarchist-inked aussie protag no less. With Crispin Glover as the ultraviolent antagonist. It’s a solid crime movie, but what makes this great is that the whole movie serves as a setup for a joke at the end about how art is truly finished.


MKY: Under the Silver Lake (2018)

Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell (It Follows), this is Pynchonesque AF and feels even more resonant now, in this post-Epstein timeline.


MKY: The Laundromat [Netflix, 2019]

Did you like The Big Short? Well, this is the preachy, Boomer version of that, but about the Panama Papers. There’s a 10sec dream sequence where Meryll Streep goes on a rampage with a shotgun, and if only that’d been the whole movie I’d’ve been happy. Instead, FUCK THIS MOVIE - watch something better, like Turks & Caicos - part of the Worricker trilogy. Oh, you need to watch all three films? You’re welcome. Or, The International. Or, just watch the ep of The Giant Beast That Is The Global Economy that is about the Panama Papers.


MKY: Terminator: Dark Fate

Or, it takes a GenX director to bridge the divide between Boomers and Millennials? Tim Miller finally unfucked the Terminator franchise with a film that’s a near-perfect reboot, almost to a fault. It wastes no time doing it too. And its politics are, to say the least, left of Trump Amerika’s. “Where’s the prisoners?”, MacKenzie Davis asks. “They’re called ‘detainees’”, replies the ICE Agent or whatever. -supersoldier-from-the-future dead stare response-

Davis totally steals the movie for me. She gets all the best Millenial lines (“what’re you doing?” “Future shit.”) and gives her updated version of ‘come with me if you wanna live’, because - get it! - she’s the updated version of the franchise. While - yeah, she’s back but you knew that- Sarah Connor gets to say it outloud with “I’ll be back.” And as the two come to work together - the grizzled veteran and the young, enhanced upstart - to ‘save the future’, the film becomes about the family you make, and healing intergenerational divides. There’s other ppl in the movie too I guess, but you’ll have to go see it on the big screen to learn about them. ****

AA: Kokofreakbean (via Craig PUZAHKI) 

I’ve become rather enamoured with the work of Kokofreakbean, a multi-disciplinary artist who has been hard out making completely mental maximalist hyperkinetic glitch video art for over a decade. I’m disappointed it took me this long to find him! In a world of retrovertigo and force-fed simulacra, where culture seems more like corporate IP necromancy than Real Art™, KKFB is on a sacred mission to capture the Now. Dig the fuck in and flip the fuck out, comrogues. 

Rang Zulu 


Eprom music video - Centre of the Sun 

See more at Kokofreakbean’s Youtube Channel here or read this interview by Nick Toti, who summed up KKFB’s appeal most eloquently:

Chaos-priest animator Kokofreakbean is designed to short-circuit intellectual engagement. His work is like crashing from an Adderall binge in a VR haunted house or what religious ecstasy would feel like if it was monitored by lab technicians in a corporate research clinic. If a Xerox machine grew sentient and then subjected itself to the arcane dogmas of a pre-colonial mesoamerican death cult, it would call itself Kokofreakbean.

AA: Happens to the Heart - Leonard Cohen

I was always working steady
But I never called it art
I got my shit together
Meeting Christ and reading Marx
It failed my little fire
But it’s bright the dying spark
Go tell the young messiah
What happens to the heart

CJW: Beautiful and Dangerous

On the problems with goals, and the need to strive for something greater.


CJW: And that’s it for another issue. I hope all is well on your end, my friend. And hopefully your Halloween was as spooky or relaxing as you needed this week.