nothing here but us rational peasants

issue 012 - December 2nd, 2018

This issue we say goodbye to John, who's sadly too busy building his freelance business to keep working on the newsletter. The last thing I want is for this newsletter to feel stressful for any member of the team, but it’s still sad to see John go. I adore his photography, and am really excited by his comic work with Jon Weber, so with any luck we'll have links to more of John's work in the future.

For now though, strap in for issue 12, in this twelfth month of 2018. Can you believe it’s almost over? Can you believe it will ever end?

Corey J. White (CJW)
The VoidWitch Saga. Newsletter facilitator. Naarm/Melbourne. Tweets @cjwhite.

Marlee Jane Ward (MJW)
Writer, reader, weirdo. Author of ‘Welcome To Orphancorp’ and ‘Psynode’. Host of Catastropod. ADHD, spec fic, feminism, cats. Melbourne, Australia. @marleejaneward

Austin Armatys (AA)
Writer/Teacher/Wretched Creature - Oh Nothing Press

m1k3y (MKY)
Wallfacer / Apocalyptic Futurist / #salvagepunk / @m1k3y

ARTICLESFighting in the Age of Loneliness

AA: Fighting in the Age Of Loneliness: The invention of fighting for money - this is a link to Episode 1 of a series about the history of Mixed Martial Arts, written and narrated by Felix Biederman (of Chapo Traphouse) and directed by John Bois (SB Nation). The series has a particularly interesting visual style - a kind of Adam Curtis meets vaporwave aesthetic, all VGA graphics and corporate PowerPoints backed by ambient synth. It reminded me at times of the work of Jon Rafman or maybe some of OneOhtrixPointNever’s videos.

The content itself might be nothing new to fans of professional fighting, but as someone that has never paid much attention to MMA, it was a compelling story, and well told. The history of judo and the Gracie jiu-jitsu dynasty was particularly fascinating.

This is definitely one for the sports fans reading this (all two of you), but I think anyone with an interest in modern “online” aesthetics or the documentary form will find something worthwhile here.

All five episodes should have dropped by the time you read this.

CJW: I’ve got only a passing interest in MMA, and still found this super interesting.

I’ve been listening to Sam Yang’s Must Triumph podcast recently (I thought it was going to be about philosophy, but it's more a no-bullshit take on self-help. If you've got a philosophy podcast recommendation though, I'm all ears), and he has a whole episode about Theodore Roosevelt - detailing Ted’s interest in not just boxing and wrestling, but also jiu jitsu. Apparently, while he was President, he was actively training with various Japanese fighters, and even threw a Swedish minister to demonstrate some new throw he’d learned. Yang (half-jokingly, I assume) makes the claim that if Roosevelt wasn’t so busy governing, it might have been American Jiu Jitsu, not Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that spawned MMA as we know it, as Roosevelt was already experimenting with all these different martial forms. It’s an entertaining notion at the very least, but I think episode one of Fighting in the Age of Loneliness demonstrates that the UFC could have only come from a family like the Gracies.

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CJW: Glimpses of China's Parallel Tech Universe (via Daniel Harvey)

This is really fascinating, and definitely touches on some thoughts I've had while writing Repo Virtual. In film, it's easy to show text convos on screen without slowing the flow of the action, but the "narrative focus" of pointing it out in prose makes it seem like every message, emoji, and link shared between 2 people should be Of Narrative Importance. To show characters in constant communication would be realistic, but it might not be necessary for the plot, and indeed, could detract from it. Why is that character swapping dick pics with a hot Brazilian dude? Is the dude a catfisher hired by the evil megacorporation? Probably not. More likely, the protagonist is just thirsty af and doesn’t realise his whole life is about to get thrown into chaos while he’s busy being horny on main.

Another thing that I’ve tried to keep in the forefront of my mind as I’ve been writing RV, is that in a near-future cyberpunk setting, there is no “online” because there is no offline. Unless it’s some retro-future take on cyberpunk, with wires, physical connections, and “jacking in”, then people can and should be constantly swimming in an ocean of connections. In my first draft of the book, I did a lot of work to put all the characters in the same place at the same time, but this isn’t really realistic, and turned out to not be necessary. Everyone is connected at all times, so physical distance doesn't matter unless/until it needs to.

And more from Daniel Harvey. You may have seen this in the Orbital Operations issue that dropped just after the last Nothing Here, but it’s a recap of a talk about dystopias that Harvey gave at the UX Crunch in London recently. Well-worth a look.

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Model's Feet

AA: This Dazed Magazine article, I watched D&G’s China show fall apart from the inside (via Bruce Sterling - @BruceS), really captures the feeling of watching culture and capital collide in a woozy and unpredictable fashion. It’s Blue Ant era William Gibson X Glamorama as written by an anonymous model. What else do you want?

There’s some fantastic details in here, and the story is well told:

They stare at the phone. The fuck do we do? they say to each other in as many words. I peek over, and I see they’re looking at Instagram, at the now infamous screenshots from @diet_prada showing DMs in which Stefano Gabbana uses five shit emojis to refer to China and talks about people eating dogs.

“Do you think it’s real?” One of them asks. No-one answers him. They keep looking at the phone, lost in their own worlds…

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CJW: How to Kill a Rational Peasant

I wasn’t aware that Adam Curtis had a blog over at the BBC website. Sadly, it hasn’t been updated since just prior to Hypernormalisation’s release, but there’s still plenty to go back and explore.

I’m not sure if the same can be said for all the posts, but this article reads very much like an Adam Curtis documentary (if you’ve seen any of his docs, you will read it in his voice), punctuated with news and documentary footage from the BBC archives. It’s all about the… No, wait, let me start again. This is a story about counterinsurgency, and the ways this doctrine of modern warfare has made the West complicit in civil strife, murder, torture, and terrorism.

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CJW: The Singular Life Of Twitch's Most Foul-Mouthed Streamer

And if you watch her Twitch streams, you’ll certainly learn that Anita, 28, has Tourette Syndrome, a rare neurological condition. She says that she was diagnosed four years ago, after a lifetime of yelling obscene outbursts to strangers on the street and sometimes spanking random passersby without knowing why. During her streams, she’s constantly “ticcing.”

This entails bird-like whistles, popping sounds, and a stream of usually sexual vulgarities: “I’ll fuck your friends,” perhaps, or “Can I come on your biscuit?” in her delicate English accent, often several times a minute. Other tics aren’t so blatantly sexual, like the oft-heard “bitch lasagna” and, a little cutely, “kitten.

Super interesting article about a Twitch-streamer with Tourette’s, and about the importance (or not) of authenticity among streamers on a platform that seems to promise an absolutely real glimpse into a person’s life. If you’ve got any interest in the cult of celebrity that surrounds youtubers and twitch-streamers, then you’ll want to read this.

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CJW: What Really Happens After the Apocalypse (via Jane Rawson)

This kind of focus on antisocial behavior—in fact, the belief that after a disaster humans will revert to some sort of ‘base state of nature’—reflects very common myths that exist throughout Western culture. We think that disaster situations cause panic, looting, assaults, the breakdown of social structures—and we make policy decisions based on that belief, assuming that crime rises during a crisis and that anti-crime enforcement is needed along with humanitarian aid.

But absolutely none of this is true.

[...]

The writer Rebecca Solnit wrote an entire book about this phenomenon, and she called it A Paradise Built in Hell. She points out that it is really the fear on the part of powerful people that powerless people will react to trauma with irrational violence that is preventing us from seeing how apocalypse really shapes our societies. Solnit calls this ‘elite panic’, and contrasts it with the idea of ‘civic temper’—the utopian potential of meaningful community.

MKY: ah, so that’s the origin of ‘elite panic’. I heard another Cory use that talking about his novel Walkaway a while back, and scribbled it down immediately. You know I’m writing down ‘civic temper’ rn, and adding Solnit’s book to the neverending anthropocene reading list.

Also shout out once more to my fave show of last year, Valkyrien, because it totally embodies the idea of cultivating ‘civic temper’ in advance of a possible local apoc.

-thinks more-

ALSO - huge shout out to David Forbe’s book The Old Iron Dream, which continues to be a constant touchstone in parsing a lot of the noise around the fear - and love - of the apocalypse. The right wing science fiction they explore the roots of feels like - no definitely is! - the source of the narrative driving prepper culture, shows like The Walking Dead and Falling Skies (where it first became crystal clear to me), and the anxieties of the alt-right in general. Leaving me with the question: what alternative narratives are being generated to counter this? And how do we promote them?

MJW: This kind of fuels the endless battle I have in my head between ‘people are mostly awful’ and ‘people are actually good’. While I think that (or I like to think that) people would pull together in a disaster scenario, the inherent lawlessness of the post-apocalypse seems to feed this ‘prepper’ vision of what it might look like. I always found it weird that the genre seems to embrace this violent, lawless version when actual lawlessness could lead the way to some kind of anarchist-dream-society, which is infinitely more interesting to me.

(‘Anarchist dream society’ is totally the name of my new band.)

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CJW: Meditation in the Time of Disruption

That meditation and mindfulness have entered the repertoire of global capitalism isn’t surprising: In the face of stagnant wages and an ever-deteriorating boundary between work and whatever we do outside it, why not shift the responsibility of finding peace to the individual? Put another way: Next time work makes you feel less than human, should you gently speak truth to power, or should you use mindfulness to self-regulate and maintain function in an oppressive system? And should you choose to self-regulate, are you tacitly thanking the oppressive system for giving you the tools of self-regulation to begin with? Furthermore, how much of this experience—this process of spelunking into my mind—should be comfortable and brightly colored? How much should feel good?

I’ve been trying to get serious about meditation lately for a couple of different reasons (though the practice definitely faltered during Flu Week), and I’ve been determined to do it without use of an app. If you have limited time and excess stress, then I’m sure a quick 10-minute BLAST of guided meditation is probably exactly what you need, but otherwise it seems like the benefits one is meant to receive from meditation would only be better if the meditation is you struggling to reach that state of quiet mind, rather than simply following a voice. I want to be able to quiet my internal processes, not let them be usurped by some Silicon Valley monkbro with a soothing voice.

MJW: As a person with ADHD, the mere idea of meditation causes me to have a panic attack. Is it even real? Is it actually possible to get your mind to shut up? I call bullshit. The co opting of ‘mindfulness’ by Big Everything also makes me suspicious of it. Capitalism hoovers up everything to see what it can use to feed itself, and like yoga (which I prefer to meditation - I need to mix my mindfulness with movement, which kind of actually defies the point, doesn’t it?) maybe meditation is another helpful tool to be commodified.

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CJW: Alan Moore on Science, Imagination, Language and Spirits of Place

[...] common misapprehension regarding writers is that they have an idea and then they write it down, whereas this is not my experience when it comes to writing. Ideas are usually generated by the act of writing itself. William Burroughs spoke of ‘the word vine’; the process by which if you write down a word, this will shape and suggest the next word, and so on. Take this thinking to its counterintuitive conclusions, it suggests that writers, far from being the god-like creators of worlds that they may imagine themselves to be, are in fact only vehicles by which means ideas can have themselves.

While Alan Moore interviews are never not interesting, I thought the most interesting part of this was Moore’s belief “that this is an entirely predetermined universe without Free Will”, and I really wish the interviewer had followed up with another question about this, because I’m sure Moore would have had a thoroughly deep and detailed answer.

I understand people thinking that “everything happens for a reason” - because it’s the way we select and mould the memories we hold onto in order to write a story for ourselves that makes sense (when really it’s all just chaos that makes sense only in hindsight) - but I assumed predetermination was only for those who believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing god.

I mean, maybe it’s easy to believe in predetermination when you were predetermined to rise to the highest echelons of your chosen field/s of expertise, but I’m sure people who are just as brilliant, and work just as hard, but don’t reach those same heights might think otherwise (or maybe they wouldn’t - because if they were brilliant and they worked hard, and still didn’t make it, maybe it’s easier to think they never made it because they were never predestined to).

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MJW: I Joined an Anarchist Commune Expecting To Hate It, But Coming Home Sucked

Part of me refuses to live without modern comforts, but also part of me wants to live on an anarchist commune.

MKY: yeah, this is why my ideal life is the more cyber- or solar-punk version of Captain Fantastic.

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MJW: Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?

It’s because they realize—either consciously or at some gut level—that there’s something fundamentally flawed about a system that has a prime directive to churn nature and humans into capital, and do it more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment we depend on.

Blame capitalism!

CJW: I actually find the figures given at the top of this article to be really encouraging.

MJW: Me too. It’d be nice not to have to play my own way within a system I don’t believe in, and instead live within one that I do. But I can’t see capitalism going down without a fight. Time to haul out the pickaxes. No, machetes. Boards with nails in ‘em?

CJW: Charlotte Shane’s Post Prostitute newsletter.

For those that don’t know, Charlotte Shane’s Prostitute Laundry is a beautiful sex work memoir that was originally serialised as a newsletter. Since wrapping that up, she’s had a couple of iterations of a newsletter - for a while now it’s been playlists and short missives about her life, but the most recent dispatch is a return to the long-form newsletter. It’s an utterly beautiful and heartbreaking story about the recent death of her cat, while also being an intelligent, thought-provoking, and (again) heartbreaking essay on factory farms, veganism and backlash, prisons, borders, and compassion. There is no archive I can point to, and I can’t paste the whole letter here (as much as I would love to), but if Charlotte ever posts it somewhere online for posterity, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, sign up at the link, and don’t miss the next one.

CJW: December’s pick for the Restricted Book Club over at Ganzeer’s Restricted.Academy forum is… POWER POLITICS, by Margaret Atwood .

I’m not confident in my own ability to intelligently discuss a book of poetry, but hey, we’re still in the beginning stages of the book club, so now is as good a time as any for experimentation. Plus, a short book of poems is probably a better choice for December, which is notoriously hectic with the holidays and family commitments.

If you want to talk Margaret Atwood, poetry, and whatever other topics the book prompts, feel free to join us at the forum.

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AA:

K-Punk

A collection of the late Mark Fisher’s unpublished writing was recently released in the form of the mammoth book K-Punk, which shares a name with the blog Fisher once maintained (and is still accessible over here). The blog is also the source of much of the book’s material.

Over at the podcast Red Scare, author Simon Reynolds (who was a colleague and friend of Fisher’s, and who also wrote the introduction to K-Punk) gives a great primer about Fisher’s ideas and career, including a good summary of concepts like Hauntology and Capitalist Realism. Fisher is the sort of thinker whose ideas seem increasingly relevant, and it’s sad to think he won’t be contributing more to the discourse, but it looks like there will be plenty in this tome to consider and discuss for a while to come.

MKY: CAM (Netflix)

Another psychological horror from Blumhouse Productions, this one focuses on the life of a cam girl trying to escape her world by living her best life online, only to have her online life escape her control when her account is hijacked.

The film does a pretty good job showing the everyday cyberpunk’ness of that reality, but gets far more interesting once you start thinking about how her account gets hijacked… and that will require spoilers.

=== SPOILER ALERT ===

What the film plays with is the now kinda old idea of haunted computers; in this case AIs as demons possessing your digital life. Its telegraphed pretty well what’s going on, and the main tension imo becomes between whether it’s her stalker that’s stolen her virtual life, or some thing else.

It ends up doing little more than hinting - like a classic X-Files ep - that there’s an unspecified entity on the internet that’s preying up on the cam girls, feeding on the livestreams to create a model of their lives that it can use to generate original content. Which to my mind screams DEEP FAKE and also why??? - because when I think about AIs I think about what their wants and needs would be… should they ever come into existence. (It’s almost like AIs have replaced Demons as ‘the mythical thing to be afraid of’.) I was srsly wondering if the twist would be that the company running the livestream servers would be behind it (basically enslaving AIs to generate content for free), but no... it ended up becoming a battle between human user, inhuman corporation, and some thing, to regain control of the account, just so she could delete it - in effect banishing the demon/whatever.

How that battle goes down was probably the most interesting part of the film, if you’re like… super into AIs and theories of consciousness anyway. She manages to trick the demon, or whatever, into doing a side-by-side broadcast to her beloved room (of creepers). And the twist is that the AI/demon/whatever doesn’t recognise her, the person she’s pretending to be except has no awareness that it’s pretending. This means it passes the Turing Test - all the creepers in the room think it, the fake cam girl, is hella real - but fails the Mirror Test. Which is a scenario I can’t say I’ve encountered before… thus all these paras to unpack it ;)

CJW: Struggle Session Discusses Fight Club with Aubrey Sitterson

In this discussion, they say everything I would want to say about the recent backlash against Fight Club, and the reasons why it’s anarchist and Left as fuck, and the ways the Left failed to properly grapple with the themes of the film, allowing it to be co-opted by the Far-Right.

Also, I thought it was funny how they said that in 1999 people were against the terrorist act the film ends with, but that in 2009, after the Global Financial Crisis, it was seen in a new light. But screw that; the first time I saw it in 2000/1, I was all about financial liberation for the people…

MKY: Tyler is an anti-civ anarcho primitivist, like… it’s all there:

Fight Club - Tyler's Vision

That said, one of the things I found fascinating about American Horror Story: Cult (which I watched recently) is how you can see the mutation/appropriation of Fight Club and its aesthetics/ideas/etc by the alt-right, and the constant repetition of the line ‘there’s nothing more dangerous than a humiliated man’ which is like, HERE COMES THE INCELS.

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MJW: I’m really getting into ‘This Is Actually Happening’ because I love the ‘no commentary’ storytelling format. It obviously reminds me a bit of ‘I Survived’, which is one of those shows that I get embarrassed about showing up on my ‘continue watching’, but it’s just super compelling to listen to people tell their own stories.

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MKY: The Voice Interface - https://designtomorrow.co/

Chris Butler talks captology generally - eg how Facebook n Twitter love it when you get outraged - and specifically dark patterns in the Alexa/Siri’sphere; or how Amazon/Google etc are fucking with your head to buy moar stuffz. BURN SILICON VALLEY TO THE GROUND AND SALT THE EARTH.

CJW: I find that I tend to really latch on to final tracks - usually melancholic, sometimes outright depressing, sometimes uplifting - endings so strong they make you want to start the album again right from the beginning. So, I thought, why not put together a playlist of these final tracks, to set the tone as I was writing the final chapters of the final book in the VoidWitch Saga? And that is what I have here for you now - a spotify playlist entitled Endings. The full track list is also up at my blog. Each one of these songs is from an absolute favourite album of mine, and I recommend listening to the full album if any song takes your fancy. I have included Bandcamp links where available.

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AA: After a few years away from the limelight Earl Sweatshirt has released a new record, Some Rap Songs. He is an extremely talented MC, still in his early 20s, who eschews the usual hyper-materialist trappings of modern rap for something that is far more introspective, experimental and moody. He produces the majority of the beats on this album - dark, idiosyncratic rhythms that threaten to fall apart at any minute, taking more from the Madlib and Dilla playbooks than the current array of 808s and skittering hi-hats that dominate hip-hop. Sweatshirt’s music is honest to the point of being occasionally bleak: he isn’t afraid to let his work reflect vulnerability, depression and isolation, but there’s humour and hope here too.

Highly recommended.

THE PROCESS

CJW: For the Love of Deus Ex Machina

I put this link under The Process, because I think it will be of particular interest to writers and storytellers. It’s a mini-essay by Ganzeer, which I found to be really interesting - the Deus Ex Machina as a legitimate storytelling device, rather than something to be avoided and denigrated. Sure, a lazy DEM is still lazy storytelling, but if it works - or, as Ganzeer points out, if it adds an extra layer to the narrative - then it works. And any tool that you can make work is worth keeping in the metaphorical toolbelt.

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CJW: And that's it for another issue of nothing here. The past two weeks have seen me battling a super flu, and I am exhausted. Something that I need to tell myself, now when I'm recovering and in general when I'm tempted to work myself into the ground, is cut yourself some slack. Find time for whatever it is you're passionate about, and guard that time like the precious resource it is, but don't pursue your work at the expense of your health or your relationships.

I'm telling this to myself mostly, but if you need to hear it too, I'm telling you.