What is Gothic?

Watching this interview with Alan Moore: https://youtu.be/RpajFQECzAk?t=8m10s
During the interview, Moore discusses Gothic horror tradition. He describes it as an “enormous vertical weight in time, placed on the fragile present” with a looming event coming home to roost. (I’m reminded of symbolism using crows). That explains it all so well.
I’ve heard about Gothic things many times before, but nobody has ever tried to explain what makes a Gothic thing Gothic. At least, not the historical Gothic. I think that’s because of this detestable subculture we have called “goths”. (The fact that Visigoths existed doesn’t help with definitions, either). The modern “goths”, in their pre-adolescent obsession with themselves, have obscured a modern day human’s understanding of Gothic art and its sensibilities. Gothic art is not about the color black, pain, and suffering. That is teenage angst. The true Gothic mode is not so pedestrian, it lifts our eyes up and confronts us with the mortality flooding our universe. It’s an incredible moment in human history and that’s why “goths” suck. In my mind, the Cathedrals are the European equivalent of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids.
Before I visied Dom Koelner in 2015, I’d heard of Gothic architecture many times before, but it never made sense to me. It seemed like it was about spires piercing the air. The Gothic architecture style was piercing, but not angular. It preferred curves, but the curves were not comforting and round — they were instead a deviation from rectilinearity. So I knew what Gothic looked like, and had an idea of what it made one feel, but there was something about it I did not understand. I knew the Gothic motif, but it felt like there was a Gothic moral missing.
In my time I had also felt the presence of the Gothic mode in movies. It is quite at home in unsettling space films like Event Horizon (whose title I always forget). Interstellar also utilizes the Gothic mode, which is why Hans Zimmer’s expansive score makes use of the most ethereal instrument available to man: the organ. Space is impossibly enormous and unforgiving. Lovecraft’s Cthulu, fear incarnate, is from space. A very Gothic thing, space.
Every moment I spent in the presence of Dom Koelner (just Dom Koelner, when I was with other humans I felt normal and mundane), I could a feel a slow rumbling chorus in my ears reminiscent of Koyaanisqatsi . Listen.
The ancient European cathedrals feel otherworldly.  They tower over you — very much like a skyscraper. But skyscrapers feel so different: utilitarian, proud, guarded. A safe and mundane place. A cathedral confronts one’s self with their mortality, creating vulnerability and hopefully peace. When one stands at the base of a cathedral and looks up at its bristling spires, one can see the sky move while the intransigent and implacable structure of the cathedral remains fixed in space and time. It is slightly hallucinogenic to look up at them like so. When these cathedrals were constructed, I imagine the Europeans communing with a presence in the universe that modern day humans can no longer feel or reach. Perhaps I imagine that because the motivations these medieval Europeans must have had are utterly opaque to me, a 21st century American. Perhaps I imagine that because of Randall Carlson’s interview on Joe Rogan’s show. The cathedrals were constructed over centuries, many of them remain unfinished. Generations of men worked on them, sometimes falling to their death.
Going back to Moore’s description of the Gothic mode, I can now confidently use the word Gothic in conversation. When he speaks of Gothic being an “enormous vertical weight in time, placed on the fragile present” with a looming event coming home to roost, there is an undoubted sense of overwhelm blanketed with grim and inexorable mortality. The cathedrals are sky-piercing and unyielding monoliths, space is impossibly enormous and unforgiving to our biology. That is Gothic.
What is Gothic?

Sunday; Scientism and Reductionist science

Another Sunday winds down, and with it, another week has passed where I haven’t written something up.

It’s really hard to find the appropriate time for writing with my schedule. I work 10-12 hour days of driving and manual labor. That makes it nearly impossible to get any writing done.

In my reading of writer interviews, seemingly all writers make a regular practice of writing: writing first thing in the morning, usually. This makes sense to me. I find that I’m most productive on a morning with no agenda. My mind is fresh and unburdened, the air buzzes with potential.

In periods of my life where I didn’t have to get up before sunrise, I did a lot of writing late at night. This is the other time that writers will write. The normal activities of humans subside at night. With the ensuing solitude, one’s muse is unimpeded by not only ambient distraction, but also thoughts of the thoughts of other humans. Less inhibition. Go wild and edit everything when you wake up next morning.

Writing at night is not an option when you get up at 5:30am (or earlier).

On weekdays, mornings belong to work. On Saturday, the morning is also not available; I’m doing all the things I can’t do during the work week. When I get back home on Saturday, I want to decompress, not dive into a project requiring significant amounts of human expressive input. I really enjoy my Saturday errands, they let me live a life outside of work, support personal interests and projects, and engage meaningful relationships. But I’m still tired when I get home.

That leaves Sunday. Sunday ends up getting the big hard important stuff since Saturday deals with personal care (mental, emotional, physical). The big hard important stuff is the kind of stuff you know you need to do in order to progress in life. Stuff like writing and making decisions about your future. So Sunday has a lot on its plate. And it also suffers from some schizophrenic juxtaposition. Even if Sunday is the day with the most freedom, it is also the last call for escapism. The impending workweek looms over Sunday, and that means that certain things have to be prepared or taken care of before the rat race begins anew. It’s very easy to say: “I’ll do it next weekend.”

But not this weekend. Instead, I give you two loosely related rants on Scientism and reductionist science.

The first is a response to an essay by William A. Wilson.

The article started out weak, since it covers the reproducibility crisis and its spokesperson Ioannadis (a necessity for posterity, I suppose). For how important and subversive it is, I have yet to read anything that makes that subject not boring to read.

However, after we’re done slogging through that, we get to some fun. To start, some well-deserved shade gets thrown on physics. Then we see that peer review and seniority deference actively work against the aims of science, making the scientific literature resistant to new and unpopular ideas.

I should note that, before I get into my favorite part, pretty much all of the false and problematic research relies heavily on data collection and statistical interpretation.

Finally, we get to the two most recent (and arguably, the most deplorable) forces of scientific regress. That is, the careerists and the Cult of Science (or scientism, sometimes I refer to it as Science with a capital S). I say they are the worst because they are what will keep science in a downward spiral. Careerists can’t compete with novel and paradigm-breaking research; no, the status quo is good for the paycheck, so that is what they will produce. An intellectually humble scientific establishment is incompatible with the dogmatism of the cultists. Moreover, the longer that scientism continues, the more exposure and influence it will gain on the egos and motives on not only the current crop of researchers, but especially the future generations of researchers.

Second, an email to my brother, responding to “How I Stopped Eating Food

Okay, so I have a few things to say. I’m going off my memory of it from when you first emailed it, so if there’s an error, that’s why.

A. It’s really dangerous doing a fully synthetic diet because you never know what you’re leaving out. He even ran into that issue quite quickly with iron… and iron is not exactly a new and exotic element in nutrition. People have known about the critical importance of iron for at least decades… so I don’t know how that escaped his review of literature. Total noob mistake. Then you have to extrapolate that problem to molecules we don’t have a lot of data on yet, molecules we don’t even have names for yet. My personal opinion is that thinking you can create the perfect synthetic diet by looking at some research papers is blind Science worship (Science with a capital “S) because it presumes that we know everything we need to know already. People don’t understand that the most important element of scientific inquiry is intellectual humility. In other words, it’s not about FACT!s, it’s about advancing a theory and accepting that you might be wrong.

B. So why did he improve his health after going synthetic? I’m assuming he knows very little about nutrition, and therefore also assuming he basically ate junk before. This is important for two reasons. If you’re not already a food nazi, and you live in America, you are eating a lot of garbage that is terrible for you. You’re eating lots of PUFAs, man-made chemicals, etc. All that stuff will make you feel like crap, so once you remove it, you feel better. Tada! That’s why a lot of people feel better initially when they go vegetarian or do some other restrictive diet. They’re not actively throwing (as many) toxins down their throat, so they feel better.

The other side of this is that now that he’s planning out his diet, he is consciously selecting for nutrient sufficiency. Compare this to his previous diet where he likely never gave a second thought about whether he was getting enough vitamin C or magnesium. I can guarantee you he was deficient in many nutrients, and so when he started eating a supplement smoothie, he was getting nutrients he wasn’t before. Now his body could start doing processes it couldn’t before.

C. Regarding his thoughts on the social and environmental implications: classic Silicon Valley Transhumanist Engineer babble. Derision aside, I thought his point about trash cans being in the kitchen was genuinely insightful. Most waste is food-related, this is true. But if we’re not pooping anymore… that sounds like some robot type shit to me. It just moves us closer to the man-is-machine utopia these people want. We’re living in temperature regulated structures, using motorized transport, sitting in chairs and interfacing with technology all day… just get in the fucking Matrix already, you pansy. Hook up your damn brain. It’s complete dissociation from one’s body… and other bodies, as well. It’s ignoring all the wonders of manifested reality. It narrows the scope of life, it doesn’t broaden.

Before I got off on that rant, I was going to talk about how eating is an extremely communal practice. Not so much in America, but many other cultures have retained the communal nature of food. It’s what you do with friends and family. When you gather for a meal, you’re not just nurturing your body, you’re also nurturing your relationships, your soul, your mind. It’s a time to slow down. It’s a form of identity, it bonds you to your family, your community. If everyone is ingesting gray goo, that’s another bond you lose to other people, past and present. Again, dissociation — you lose one more way that you know who you are in the world.

D. I did know about Soylent before. In fact, halfway through reading the link, I was thinking “too bad, dude, somebody already made Soylent.” And it turned out that it was THE Soylent. An acquaintance of mine wrote of a review of Soylent from a nutritional perspective: http://fixyourgut.com/soylent-2-0-review/ He makes a rather startling observation:

What is disturbing to me is not the similarity of macronutrients, but the means from which they were sourced and processed. Captive animals, who have lost their freedom to graze naturally, are fed commercial products derived and processed from corn, soy, and vegetable oil. The ingredients are designed to keep animals alive in a confined and restricted environment as cheaply as possible without a reduction in weight. When you read the story of a software engineer overworked, too busy to eat, and consumes Soylent, there are some definite parallels.

If you did want to try something like that, I’d suggest reading this thread: http://forum.bulletproofexec.com/index.php?/topic/13718-most-foods-seem-useless-any-insights/?hl=soylent At least it’s not from some nutritional noob.


Sunday; Scientism and Reductionist science

The stories we tell ourselves

One of the things I’ve realized about myself is that I tend to loosely adopt other people’s opinions in place of my own. This sounds like a very INTP thing to do, and it probably extends to other ‘P’s as well. ‘J’s are typically characterized as being arrogant and judgmental, but I think that’s a little erroneous if for no other reason than that it sounds like a value judgment. That’s what ‘P’s like to say about ‘J’s, giving themselves an advantage in the “who is a better person” game, but the truth is a little more nuanced. ‘J’s, I believe, have more conviction. They have their truth, and will rarely change their minds. ‘P’s have no truth, so we tend to adopt the truths of ‘J’s and elder ‘P’s.
This tendency is both advantageous and problematic. It is advantageous because it allows one to develop compassion for people and a broad, nuanced understanding of many subjects.
On one Myers-Briggs forum, I remember one poster positing that INTPs struggle early in life because their nature is in direct opposition to everything about modern, socialized life. However, by their third or fourth decade in life, their highly developed observational and analytical capacities have allowed them to adapt and flourish — often ahead of other types who are more naturally suited to the modern, highly superficial environment. All types engage in personal growth (development is a sign of psychological health), but due to their observational and analytical nature, INTPs seem to have more potential for it. Lucky for them, since they start at a deficit. A deficit in what? I don’t know, but as children they will lack a lot of self esteem and confidence that their peers are naturally bestowed.
The reason it takes a few decades for INTPs to hit their stride is that it takes a lot of time for INTPs to fully inhabit and experience multiple narratives. In my experience, each narrative takes about 3 years to play out. Furthermore, INTPs ability to integrate these multiple narratives is something they have to teach themselves and teaching one’s self something takes a long time. INTPs are not only quite rare in the population, but also quite different from most of the population. Due to these two factors, they tend to be quite isolated both by intention and as result of their nonconformity. This then leads to a lack of the external feedback that can accelerate growth. However, with so much time in their own heads (and their observational and analytical predisposition), INTPs develop a strong capacity for introspection that comes in handy later in life. I’ll explain one way. Many people encounter some kind of crisis in their lives, be it a mid-life or quarter-life crisis, or religious re-evaluation. In effect, they encounter a narrative shift. Their truth changes. Elder INTPs can navigate these more smoothly as a result of their introspection and their history of regular narrative shifts. Their competence also allows them to integrate the new and old narratives, and avoid extreme reversals in narratives.
This all sounds quite grand for an INTP. Childhood sucks, but if you tough it out you get some awesome talents and potential. There is another dark side to this tendency for narrative adoption, though. When ‘P’s encounter something new, they remain quite ambivalent and neutral about it for some time. They don’t have an opinion. In my case, I sometimes don’t have opinion or feeling about something until well after it is over. Sometimes I will say that I have a delayed emotional response. It’s only after I’ve done a lot of processing and switched perspectives that I develop a feeling. I think the perspective switching is really critical. Reading a paragraph somewhere or remembering something in your past can switch your perspective.
Perhaps the differential between those perspectives is what allows me to develop an opinion or feeling. I can compare the two perspectives and come to some kind of conclusion. ‘P’s are quite sensitive to the relativity of truth. The only way to evaluate an area without absolute markers is by establishing two or more guideposts and assessing the differences between them. Doing this (switching perspectives) takes time, which is why it seems like I have a delayed emotional response. ‘J’s tend to have much more immediate responses. The only time a ‘P’ has an immediate response is when they’ve already evaluated the situation beforehand. I suppose you could say that ‘J’s have an absolutist frame of reference, and so it’s a much quicker response. It’s like plugging in a variable in to an equation, whereas ‘P’s have to re-write the equation each time.
I’m getting off track a lot here. I’ve thought about this stuff a lot over several years and I haven’t written it down before, so it’s not proceeding in as well-structured a way as I’m used to writing.
Back to the dark side. My tendency to adopt other people’s opinions in place of my own has gotten me in trouble before. I’m thinking of two situations in particular and they both proceed in the same fashion. I have a friend, Person A (who is likely a ‘J’) who has an unsavory opinion about Person C (someone we interact with frequently, but is not part of our group, usually in some position of authority). They tell me this opinion, I take it in. Later, I talk to Person B and we end up talking about Person C. Person B has a pretty neutral opinion of Person C, but I inexplicably adopt Person A’s opinion as my own. In effect, I am speaking badly about Person C behind their back — but what astonishes me is that I don’t even have such an opinion. It would be one thing if I truly felt that way and said it, but I don’t. In one instance, this ended up biting me directly in the ass. The other time, who knows — maybe I started some bad blood.
It sounds like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I think the reason why this strikes me so deeply is that in both cases I really admired Person C, and I ended up speaking badly about them.
Why do I do this? My usual explanation is that it’s mostly me trying to fit in. A large part of bonding is a shared experience — most of the time, this means talking shit about something or someone you both dislike. So someone has to offer up some shit-talking to get that started. In those instances, I decided to start it. That’s a result of me trying overwrite my introvert tendencies: “I’ll try and make friends this time instead of just being the quiet but dependable guy.” Afterwards, I get sick and feel more committed than ever to just keeping to myself.
While writing this journal, I came up with an alternate explanation. I adopt the opinion in order to quickly deflect attention. Like I’ve said, I usually take a long time to develop a solid opinion, if I ever do. So you could say my opinion is in a state of superposition, oscillating between many choices. When someone turns the conversation towards the subject in question, I give a quick opinion and this solidifies ‘my opinion’ in that person’s mind. Why do that, why deflect? Because I want to go back to observing. It’s easier and more enjoyable for me to observe. Explaining myself requires time and energy since I generally take pretty nuanced stances. I only feel comfortable doing that in certain circumstances. Moreover, what’s very likely is that I haven’t developed a way to properly articulate my stance, so I’d just be speaking confused, conflicting gibberish.
But honestly, in the two instances I’m thinking of, I probably just wanted to appear tougher and more opinionated than I am by adopting the opinions of friends I respected. Sadly, I ended up engaging in dissonance with my true self and all the emotional turmoil it engenders because I was speaking badly about someone I admired.
Recently, I’ve become concerned about some of the narratives I’m inhabiting right now. I’ve learned a lot from them, but I think it’s time for me to slough them off and begin with a bright new skin. I feel that yearning. They are not serving me well any longer and remaining in them is starting to create dissonance with my true self. The problem is that I’ve never done a directed narrative shift, it’s always been very organic. This will require some pretty drastic shifts, upheavals even.
The stories we tell ourselves

AHS 2016

Hi guys, it’s been a while. A lot of changes in my life have happened since I last posted.
  1. I’m postponing my coach training through Bulletproof.
  2. I’ve started a new job twice. I’m now back at where I used to work a couple years ago.
  3. I’m now co-leader of the Boulder WAPF Chapter. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this.
  4. Finally, AHS 2016 is right around the corner.
In late 2014, I realized that I wanted to do more with nutrition and fitness than just read, eat, and move. That’s best shown in my ‘doubling up‘ article last year. One of the big things on my to-do list was going to conferences. I made a list of all the conferences I knew about and at the top were Ancestral Health Symposium and Wise Traditions (WAPF). Unfortunately, AHS decided to skip their symposium in 2015. But I still got to go to the Bulletproof Conference!
This year I am blessed enough to have AHS 2016 in my own backyard — Boulder, Colorado. I’m super excited since we do not get a lot of nationally renown events in this area. I guess we’re too far from the coasts and other population centers. Chris Masterjohn (one of my favorite researchers) will be there and there are loads of interest talk titles on the schedule.
If you haven’t heard about AHS 2016 yet, I hope it’s not too late for you to join me. It’s going to be great.
AHS 2016

College as lifestyle striving

This is one of those articles that, after reading it, you walk away from your computer in a dazed state of new perception.

The college cynics typically categorize college as a way of signaling either intelligence or work ethic, but to me there’s always been something lacking in that explanation. Why would colleges bother with, as the author notes, cafes in libraries, stupendous stadiums and sports teams, lavish dining hall menus, extensive gyms, etc?

None of these sweeping, ubiquitous changes to college life make any sense under the view that college is for getting a credential, leading to a good job, leading to good income, leading to higher consumption levels. They make perfect sense under the view that young people today expect to have no shot at the career competition and are opting instead for lifestyle competition, and that the college years are training them for that kind of striving.

As someone who dropped out of college after two years, it explains so much — why everything felt so dissonant. When I was a student, I liked to call CU-Boulder an educational day spa. Though I never could explain why that moniker felt so true, I think this article does. It is about the lifestyle, the image, your personal brand.

Lifestyle strivers become obsessed with increasingly arcane points about seemingly mundane leisure activities, and having to flit from one fad to the next in order to not appear to be taking a break but still vigorously invested in the competition. Who is cooking the most original and titillating variation on the mac-and-cheese dinner? Who has the latest style jogging shorts? Who has the most on-point living room decor? Whose playlist contains bands that no one else has ever heard of? Ad nauseam.

If all that is the long road ahead of adolescents, then they had better get a solid training in young adulthood. In fact their parents already model the adult lifestyle striver behavior while the children are still school-aged — bringing home bacon-and-avocado mac-and-cheese for dinner from Whole Foods, so their kids will know what to order when they’re on their own. The parents drag the kids along to IKEA so that they’ll learn what kinds of trendy furniture to pick out once they’re living away at a college dorm room, or their first apartment.

But the parents can only accomplish so much by modeling the behavior. The kids actually have to leave home and begin lifestyle striving in earnest on their own. Hence the current form that the college experience takes.

But why do those insufferable millenials continue to act like millenials, vociferating for free higher education schemes?

Well, it won’t do us any good to lecture them about how they can pay off their debt once they use their degree to get a decent job. They know their degree is worthless — they went to college for lifestyle striving, not to earn more money.

What they’re really asking for is state-subsidized training and apprenticeship in the domain that they’ll be competing for status in as adults — lifestyle contests. In their minds, it’s akin to state-subsidized high school classes in math, science, and technology for those who are planning to strive in the career domain. Fairness would seem to argue for subsidized training for the lifestyle strivers too.

Of course, one of those domains is productive for society, and the other only enriches the individual’s reputation. But the productive niche is already beyond saturated with incumbents and foreigners to whom the work could be outsourced. We can’t expect most young adults to focus on career-building when there are hardly any decent careers waiting to be filled. It’s only natural that they will mostly turn to lifestyle striving as their form of “bettering themselves,” while accepting a crummy job and crummy living circumstances.

The author continues expanding the commentary in the comments.

Perhaps I didn’t drop out of college so much as I opted out of college.

College as lifestyle striving

Iron Excess

I’ve become a lot more mindful of iron over the past year. It shows up in a couple places in the ascorbate-ceruloplasmin story, and there are numerous people covering the harm of excessive iron. What’s fascinating about all these people is that there is very little cross-pollination between them. This, to me, suggests an increase in the credibility of what each of them is saying. There’s a lot more strength in an idea when multiple people come to the same conclusion independently.

The idea of iron excess is agnostic as well. It doesn’t come with any other baggage, it’s not part of the framework of any conceptual systems (CICO, paleo, LCHF, vegan, etc). This lack of attachment means it’s a lot more portable between conceptual systems and its more likely to be accepted by any random person. When an idea is embedded within a conceptual system — that is, the idea is understood to be true by a large segment of people buying into a certain conceptual system — people from other conceptual systems tend to be quite biased against it. There is some adversity between many conceptual systems (probably because people with particular views and dispositions gravitate towards one or the other).

Iron excess doesn’t have this problem. It’s not involved in any ideological turf wars. Outside of the anti-aging community, nobody considers it. It will largely slip right under the quack radar of self-appointed vanguards of Western science, since the solution to iron excess has the air of an unequivocally medical procedure: needles, gloves, bandages, all conducted inside a building filled with plastic containers, white walls, biohazard buckets, and fluorescent lighting. It is what Western medicine excels at. Amusingly, though, blood letting has decidedly “unscientific” roots. It was contemporary and peer to such things as elixirs, electric shock treatment, trepanning, homeopathy, and, when connected to the word “leeches”, it is seen just as backward and barbaric. (Note: like blood letting, I expect to see modern revivals of some of those treatments, too.)

In summary, I think the idea of iron excess has a promising future. To get you up to speed, I will list a handful of sources for you to check out.

  1. https://www.lewrockwell.com/2002/02/bill-sardi/blood-and-iron/#ref
  2. http://aarongrossmanmd.com/agmd-4-the-deadly-truth-about-iron-with-dr-leo-zacharski/
  3. http://roguehealthandfitness.com/iron-accelerates-aging/
  4. http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/iron-dangers.shtml

In link #2, Dr Leo Zacharski mentions Iron Disorders Institute.

Iron Excess

Surveillance Capitalism, Abstractive Forces

Reading Nicholas Carr’s blog, I was made aware of an interesting piece of commentary available on a German journalism site: The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism. It covers a topic on many minds today: the growing ability of faceless organizations to monitor and access data about the lives of private citizens, in both digital and physical realms.

I have been interested in good criticism of the Web for years now. As someone with a contrarian disposition, one thing that makes me uncomfortable is an echo chamber. Silicon Valley is a pre-eminent example of just such a phenomenon. There’s an abundance of breathless descriptions of the shining future that technology and the Web, in particular, will bring us, and I find that suspicious. Not every day is the sky blue; sometimes it rains. So I always enjoy a nuanced critique of the bright, boundless future we are all promised by the technorati.

I suggest reading the article itself, but in I’ve cut out important quotes and and interspersed them with my own commentary in order to highlight a narrative that isn’t fully appreciated by many. Then I attempted to give some historical context for the underlying force in Part 2.

Part 1

“I’ve come to a different conclusion: The assault we face is driven in large measure by the exceptional appetites of a wholly new genus of capitalism, a systemic coherent new logic of accumulation that I call surveillance capitalism. Capitalism has been hijacked by a lucrative surveillance project that subverts the “normal” evolutionary mechanisms associated with its historical success and corrupts the unity of supply and demand that has for centuries, however imperfectly, tethered capitalism to the genuine needs of its populations and societies, thus enabling the fruitful expansion of market democracy.

An analogy is the rapid spread of mass production and administration throughout the industrialized world in the early twentieth century, but with one major caveat. Mass production was interdependent with its populations who were its consumers and employees. In contrast, surveillance capitalism preys on dependent populations who are neither its consumers nor its employees and are largely ignorant of its procedures.”

This is the key insight of Zuboff’s analysis, in my opinion. Corporations and other abstractive forces (like government) are becoming increasingly disentangled with the humans they profess to serve. This is a trend one can identify in the previous centuries, but it has accelerated tremendously in the past century.

“The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale.”

People are scared about this trend intuitively, and you can see this any time someone complains about corporations, government, the elite — an out of touch power subjugating humans — it’s all a cry against the same process. A process that they can sense, but don’t have a vocabulary for — because we are transitioning to a higher, not yet experienced rung on this ladder of progress. Historians and academics in the future will devise terms for this.

“This is a different kind of challenge now, one that threatens the existential and political canon of the modern liberal order defined by principles of self-determination that have been centuries, even millennia, in the making. I am thinking of matters that include, but are not limited to, the sanctity of the individual and the ideals of social equality; the development of identity, autonomy, and moral reasoning; the integrity of contract, the freedom that accrues to the making and fulfilling of promises; norms and rules of collective agreement; the functions of market democracy; the political integrity of societies; and the future of democratic sovereignty.”

Chilling. I would argue that many of those things are a result of the same underlying force that now threatens to disband them.

An example of how you can see surveillance capitalism manifested in real life:

“The very idea of a functional, effective, affordable product as a sufficient basis for economic exchange is dying. The sports apparel company Under Armour is reinventing its products as wearable technologies.”

Very few people are in the business of selling just products today. Instead, they sell brands and now services in an effort to capture customer loyalty or ‘engagement’. This loyalty sustains the corporation and is what separates it from it previous eras of commerce. In a product-driven environment, the needs of the consumer are ultimate: products don’t sell if they’re poor at meeting the needs of consumers. That cause-and-effect relationship is being degraded by a focus on customer loyalty.

Part 2
Of course, none of this is actually special to modern history. As my friend pointed out to me, “those watchers have been around for a long time developing sophisticated skills… There’s a reason Pharaoh was god. He was able to oversee.”

Indeed, this process is described lucidly in Part 1 of Seeing Like A State. The powers that be have sought to standardize and simplify many natural phenomena in order to manipulate and understand that which is under their rule. Examples of this include the invention of surnames, standard weights and measures, street grids, scientific forestry, and freehold property. In its ambition, the state creates a model, an abstract representation of chaotic (to the outside eye) objects. Eventually, through the power of the state, the chaotic reality starts to resemble the model.

For instance, commoners adopted surnames as a way to avoid being taxed twice and to ensure ease of land inheritance. The states power in these matters made the chaotic reality of John, the son of Thomas, the son of Robert become the abstract model of John Carpenter*. In other words, the territory became the map.  This is perfectly displayed in the quote above:

“The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale.”

Their models will change your reality.

It goes beyond that, though. As I wrote earlier, the key insight of Zuboff’s analysis was that

“Corporations and other abstractive forces (like government) are becoming increasingly disentangled with the humans they profess to serve.”

When an abstractive force engages in abstraction (also meaning standardization, simplification) it inevitable discards elements of that which it seeks to model. There is no way around this. For a model to work, something must be determined cruft and that cruft must be thrown out to simplify the picture. For instance, a city map (a two dimensional model of a city) does not denote cracks in the sidewalk or even lamp posts. To include those would require a map the size of the city itself, therefore negating the maps purpose of simplification.

As you can see, the process of modeling removes the abstraction force from the full reality of that which it seeks to model. Hopefully Zuboff will be able to elaborate on the disconnect between abstractive forces and humans.

For now, I think it is most visible in the sometimes onerous ways in which progress compels us to comply. In order to get information about my heart rate, I need an Apple Watch, then I need an iPhone for it to communicate with, then I also need a PC or Mac to tether the iPhone, I also need Internet connectivity so all the software can work, and I need electricity for the hardware to function. All of that infrastructure has to be in place, paid for, and functioning in order for you to see a graph of your heart rate. Is progress our aide? Or are we serving the algorithm?

This is not a new process and has been going on for centuries. Despite my wary perception of abstraction, it is the engine behind all scientific discovery and invention. It also is behind humanity’s ability to achieve things like nation-states (via the science of administration and bureaucracy). Paradoxically, by simplifying, we are able to achieve more complex systems. What becomes simplified becomes a component of a larger, more complex entity.

*Notice also how the external identify of John Carpenter is less connected than the external identity of John, the son of Thomas, son of Robert; he stands alone.


Surveillance Capitalism, Abstractive Forces