Weirding Diary: 1

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Weirding Diary

I did a little poll asking people the extent to which they are treating the current zeitgeist as a temporary weirding (TW) versus a permanent new normal (NN).

The results got me thinking: what is the difference between the two? I think the answer is societal fun levels. A situation is a normal situation if inhabiting it is a matter of going on with your sustainable survival/existence habits, and expecting the situation to persist indefinitely. The mark of normalcy is the allocation of surplus energy to fun, after you’ve taken care of necessary present and future-oriented behaviors.

A situation is temporarily weird if you either can’t, or don’t want to, adapt to it using sustainable habits. In the former case, you cut back sharply on fun, minimize use of resources to survive, and save as much as you can for post-weirding normalcy. In the latter case, you try and exit the situation.

Wartime is the archetypal temporary weirding. Wartime civilian behaviors are sharply constrained survival behaviors. There is a limited ration of fun available to keep up morale, but in general, the wartime psyche does not incline to fun. You expect the war to end at some point, and a return to normalcy. Even if it is a new kind of normalcy that forces you to drop some old habits and form new ones.

When the situation is ambiguous, as it is around the world today, we cannot estimate the proportions of transient weirdness, new normal, and temporarily depressed old normal in the mix. In terms of an investing metaphor, we don’t know whether to go long on the zeitgeist by buying into new cultural stocks, hold on to old cultural stocks that we hope will regain their old value, or short the zeitgeist somehow.

I’m trying out a new format for exploring themes long-term. This is the first entry in my weirding diary.

Series NavigationWeirding Diary: 2 >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. “There is a limited ration of fun available to keep up morale, but in general, the wartime psyche does not incline to fun. ”

    This contradicts *many* descriptions of war I have read, maybe all of them. Everything I have read suggests soldiers and civilians party a great deal.

    • Good point. Fun is probably too imprecise a term. Perhaps “play” is a better term here since fun encompasses fatalistic/nihilistic hedonism, which is not quite what I’m thinking of.

      • I would think it depends a lot on the state of the war, the severity, whether the armies are professional or conscripted, etc…

  2. The word “weirding” already implies a sinister kind of fun for people with my sensibilities. Like a freakish appearance in a mystery tale or the unfolding of a David Lynch movie. Weirding as the sudden invasion of things and people which don’t follow natural laws, an anomaly in the structure of reality. In case of a weirding we have no math-weapons and shields which keep us safe.

    Normalcy allows all things to be reasonable and separated. Logic works. One can reconstruct the whole of a holomorphic function from knowing it on a dense set. That’s awesome. You need to be temporarily crazy as in falling-in-love or develop a kind of a fetishist obsession s.t. things can come together. Weirding on the other hand is surreal, an ontological confusion. You lose your name and age and gender and profession, despite not having altered your mode of thought and perception. You can still do the math but it fits to nothing, because the world itself has turned into a dreamy state: too many overlapping reality branches, too many flips into altered dimensions, too many spooky actions from unknown distance. There is nothing more stable than the naturalist fallacy, persecuted by the moral philosophers. You gain all your morality from ontological stability, from applying causality to your relationships and behaviors. You don’t feel moral duties to ghosts and shadows and projections. You hunt witches without remorse. The remorse comes later after the weirding, when enlightenment cleans up the mess and declares witches for non-existent and everything in the world to be normal, real and reasonable.

    Usually weirding comes along with an ontological censorship, which means in case of mystery and the paranormal, an element of horror and death. People are vanishing and two months later you find their bloodless and mutilated corpses or you find them dead with no cause of death at all. Natural laws can be violated but only temporarily. You cannot just vanish and gain significant information from the future or the past. That’s why you have to die and even the cause of death must be disguised.

  3. Can you give some examples of new/old cultural ‘stocks’?

  4. EntropyMaximizer says

    What about the option that the present contains a temporary weirdness that will transform into even stranger weirdness in the future? To me the explanation seems clear, technological change drives cultural change, as it accelerates we can expect more and more rapid cultural changes until normalcy will dissolve completely.

    Just a few months ago I’ve ordered nootropics from some supplier on the other side of the globe using imaginary crypto-money. 30 Years ago it would sound insane, in 10 years people are going to do even stranger things.

  5. Maybe you’ve covered this — haven’t read the whole series yet — but why the implicit assumption that the long-term equilibrium will resemble either the pre-weirding status quo or the current weirdness? Seems more likely to me that the weirditude feels that way in part because it’s an unstable transitional state, and what it’s transitioning *to* remains obscure.

  6. This Wierding concept strikes a deep chord with me, especially when contrasted with your Manufactured Normalcy Field.
    I have thought more in terms of fractal ornamentation, and then later in terms of Game of Life rules and Browninan dynamics.
    But your terms add a subjective quality to the observation that is both troubling and still manages to convey a sense of natural transition phase, that resonates well with both subjective coming-of-age notions and paradigmatic shifts a la Kuhn

    In short, I love the way your mind works, Venkat :-)