Weirding Diary: 11

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Weirding Diary

We’re barely seven weeks into 2020, and it’s already the weirdest year in my living memory. We’ve been through: Australia on fire, a near-war between the US and Iran, a sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing impeachment theater, a primary election mess in the US caused by a Bad App, Actual Brexit,™ and now we have the snowballing Covid-19/SARS-CoV-2/coronovirus crisis (revealing that officials can’t even agree on a name) driving an entire empire into some sort of lockdown, and slowly starting to freeze up global supply chains. All these stories were decades in the making, and none of them is even close to over yet.

Danielle Baskin wins the Q12020 Weirding Way award for coming up with these N95 masks with your lower face printed on them, to allow facial recognition based phone unlocking to work in a world full of coronoviruses and smoke from Australia burning. A whole new meaning to “put on your happy face.”

View image on Twitter

Lenin reportedly said, “there are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen.” Every week in 2020 so far has been one of those decade-weeks. All you can do is put on your happy-smile N95 mask.

I haven’t updated this blogchain since last September, so let’s do a quick reorientation. In fact, let’s step back a bit beyond that, and talk about strategies for mapping and sense-making the weirding.

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Domestic Cozy: 11

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Domestic Cozy

A couple of media mentions to kick off the new year for this blogchain.

First, TANK magazine decided to devote an entire issue to “cosy” vibes (damn the brits and their weird spellings) in the zeitgeist, and I think I can claim some inspiration credit. There’s an extended interview with me in the issue, which you can read online here (the interview uses the American cozy spelling). It’s actually a pretty good overview of the blogchain so far.

Second, a few weeks ago, Rebecca Jennings had an essay out on Vox featuring domestic cozy (I supplied a couple of quotes). It’s the first deep dive I’ve seen so far in mainstream media, though I’m aware of a couple more in the pipeline. I should note though, that Jessica Stillman at Inc gets credit for being first to pick up on the trend back in May last year with a quick mention. Anyhow, looks like the domestic cozy geiger counter is starting to tiktok faster.

Jennings flagged a couple of new indexable items within the trend I wasn’t aware of. There is apparently a hashtag on TikTok called #cottagecore which looks very domestic cozy. And there’s a “drink at home” apertif brand called Haus (with a domain name drink.haus 😆). I have this idea that bitter, rather than the more obvious sweet, is likely the flavor of domestic cozy, and Haus has a bitter clove offering described as “Bitter Clove is darker, with warm spices like clove and ginger and a touch of bitter.” This is basically a toddy turned into an apertif.

Writing this blogchain has been a fun exercise in drip inception over viral. If premium mediocre was a meme I launched into the world with a big bang, domestic cozy is a meme I’ve launched by sort of doping the water supply. I think there’s still time for me to turn Evil Cult Leader.

MJD 58,889

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Captain's Log

I’ve been trying to make up the simplest, most banal definitions of concepts that interest me lately, and seeing how far I can get with them. One I just made up is: a narrative is a road in time, and a story is a particular journey taken along that road. As an example, premium mediocre is a superhighway of a narrative that connected 2007 to 2015, and many of us living lives in Blue America during that period were living out particular stories within that narrative. That narrative is being extended out to 2020 and beyond, but is struggling now. It is no longer a well-maintained, heavily trafficked 8-lane superhighway. It is slowly turning into a poorly maintained one-lane rural dirt road that is permanently backed up. You need personal off-roading capabilities — read wealth — to stick to the premium mediocre road, or you have to get on a different road.

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Predictable Identities 25: External Control

This entry is part 25 of 25 in the series Predictable Identities

My psychiatrist friend deals with a richer slice of New Yorkers, and she describes a common pattern. Her clients recount an abusive relationship or job that is pushing them to the verge of suicide. But they can’t leave, it is the only thing more dreadful than staying. Sometimes they admit the true issue: if I’m not [X], I don’t even know who I am.

Identities can control us. And other people can control our identities, grant them to us and withdraw them. My friend’s clients contemplate death, but the alternative is the death of the story they tell themselves.

Esther Perel describes how identity comes into play in relationships. Historically, marriage used to be about what you do (produce kids and/or feed and clothe them) or what you have (an alliance with the Habsburgs). But modern romance is about being loved for who you really are inside, not trivialities like what you bring to the table. This builds an identity of specialness: soulmate, the missing piece, the only one. As divorce and infidelity are becoming more common than ever they are also more painful, shattering one’s life story along with the relationship.

Not to be outdone by romance, companies also jumped on the identity-producing game. Jobs used to be described in terms of action: “glue together 170 widgets a day”. Now they describe a persona: “leader in the space” / “embodiment of our culture” / “inspiring team member”. You no longer merely work at BigCorpInc; you’re a Googler, Postie, Amazonian.

But these manufactured articles lack the predictive power that imbues identities with potency. Can you tell much about a person from the fact that they’re a Microsoftie? But some identities have predictive associations that were accumulated over centuries. Those who grant and withhold them possess great power, ripe for abuse. 

Yes, we’re going to talk about academia.

How To See Voids

This entry is part 18 of 18 in the series Refactor Camp 2019

In this keynote, Sarah Perry explores how to see voids in the environment. You can also read her essay on the topic, Meaning as Ambiguity (published after this talk).

Being Your Selves: Identity R&D on alt Twitter

This is a guest post by Aaron Z. Lewis

I grew up in cyber spaces where legal names were few and far between: RuneScape, AIM, Club Penguin, Neopets, and the like. But when I turned 13, Facebook opened up its floodgates to teenagers across America and washed away our playful screen names. My online social life slowly migrated to Facebook’s News Feed and, before long, I stopped thinking about all the alter-egos I had during my childhood. My digital identity became finite, consistent, persistent, unified. I was Aaron Lewis — nothing more, nothing less.

In 2018, I started feeling nostalgic for the pseudonymous internet of my youth. I decided on a whim to create a “fake” Twitter account, a digital mask to temporarily shield my First Name Last Name from the strange spotlight of social media. What started as mindless entertainment slowly morphed into a therapeutic exercise in identity experimentation. I always thought that masks were for hiding, but I’ve learned that they often reveal as much as they obscure. They allow you to explore a new identity even as you retreat from an old one.

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MJD 58,866

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Captain's Log

An idea can leak to the extent it has a name that is meaningful within a larger context. A name is, in a sense, a key that unlocks the significance of the contents of the interior of the named idea in terms of signifiers that exist in the exterior environment. But a name also binds and reshapes a new idea to forms that already exist, via metaphor, symmetries, isomorphisms, or rhymes. What one might call idea-socialization mechanisms.

In the Rick and Morty multiverse, our universe is “Dimension C-137 on the Central Finite Curve”. The logic of the vaguely topological sounding pseudomath name appears to have eluded fans so far. It is a name that only makes sense at the multiverse level, where the context of reference is a plurality of universes. Our universe wouldn’t even need a meaningless number without a multiverse reference context. But a number is a rather empty context in a sense: one that contains nothing but reference pointers to subordinate universes. It’s a pure addressing layer, with all actual content and structure, including distinguishable Ricks and Mortys, existing at the leaf level. The alphanumeric designator vaguely suggests two dimensions, and “central finite curve” suggests some sort of manifold within a higher-dimensional space of possibilities (Reddit suspects it is the subset of realities where Ricks exist).

The same kind of logic also applies to our own non-fictional universe. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the address of our home galaxy acquire a new level of named referencing. The Milky Way is no longer just part of the “local group” and “Virgo supercluster” (now an appendage). We are now part of the larger Laniakea supercluster, which puts us in some meaningful patterns of weirdly synchronized galactic rotations created by large-scale structures of hydrogen and dark matter apparently.

To go from meaningless reference number to meaningful name is to have an idea leak from its original container and enter into a condition of entanglement with neighboring realities. The synchronization of galactic rotations within the Laniakea supercluster, due to large-scale structure, is a leakage of the idea of the Milky Way galaxy, a sort of broader smearing of its identity. And with it, a smearing of your identity.

You, individually, are rotating in synchronization with galaxies 120 million lightyears away.

If you, like me, once wrote down your full cosmic address as a kid, with your name on the first line and “Virgo Supercluster” as the last line, that address now has a new last line, and it actually says something meaningful about you: how you are rotating.

The Internet of Beefs

You’ve heard me talk about crash-only programming, right? It’s a programming paradigm for critical infrastructure systems, where there is — by design — no graceful way to shut down. A program can only crash and try to recover from a crashed state, which might well be impossible. I came up with a term for the human version: beef-only thinking.

A beef-only thinker is someone you cannot simply talk to. Anything that is not an expression of pure, unqualified support for whatever they are doing or saying is received as a mark of disrespect, and a provocation to conflict. From there, you can only crash into honor-based conflict mode, or back away and disengage.

The connection to crash-only programming is more than cosmetic, but it will take some set-up before I can establish the conceptual bridge.

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Predictable Identities 24: Anti-Identity

This entry is part 24 of 25 in the series Predictable Identities

Identity is a set of habits of thought. The very idea of identity is just another habit you picked up. The good news: once you realize that, you can build your own from scratch. The bad news: it will troll you.

Countless clichéd people want to be a writer and start cultivating that identity. They install Scrivener. They read research papers and inspiring novels. They plan how the book’s cover will look. They introduce themselves as a writer. They don’t write much.

There are many diagnoses of this common malaise. The predictable identities one is: adopting X as an identity makes you optimize for being predicted as X, rather than for X itself. If you tell people about the book you’re writing they’ll predict that you’re a writer and will treat you accordingly, reinforcing your identity. If you merely accumulate words in a draft file, they won’t.

If I hear someone identify as a “truth seeker” I know that they’re a devout Christian, devout skeptic, or both (i.e., Jordan Peterson). “Truth seekers” love public debates, they love researching arguments and counterarguments, they love talking about the importance of truth. What they rarely seem to do is actually change their mind about anything — the invisible action that doesn’t reinforce their “truth seeking” identity.

The first step to escaping the trap of identity is to build an identity of fluidity, corrigibility, and small verbs rather than big adjectives.  

—  “Are you a writer?”  

—  “I’ve been writing this blogchain.”   

—  “Will you turn it into a book?”  

—  “Probably not, but I may change my mind.” 

—  “So you’re not really a writer.”

—  “Never said I was.”

It’s hard to go overboard with an identity of breaking-habits and keeping the self small, since your natural inclination will always pull you towards consistency, and others will assign labels to you whether you want to or not. Adopting an anti-identity can get you to a middle ground, and that’s a good place to start.

MJD 58,855

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Captain's Log

When I was a kid, several of my friends owned a kind of toy remote control car with only one control: forward/backward. These cars had three wheels, and the third rear wheel was a caster. The car went forward in a straight line, but backwards in a circle. You steered by backing up to reorient, then going forward again. The caster was either left or right-handed, so backing up always turned you in a consistent direction. To go the other way, you’d have to back up more than 180 degrees.

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