Postmodern Vertigo

Back in the day people knew what was real because they could walk on it, they could see it, everything about their world was understandable in the context of their physical surroundings. Concepts in their head were like the kinds of things that were right around them, things they could directly interact with. A motive like hunger could be directly connected to the physical world in basic steps through things like hunting or foraging.

To hunt, they might need a spear, which is made of tree and stone, just like their environment; their tools were recognizable in their source materials, and those were a regular component of their environment. The relation between a tool and its raw material was a process done with their own hands, right in front of their faces. Hunting itself is something they could readily spot in their environment: many fellow animals can be observed to hunt. The connections between the concepts in their head nicely mirrored the connections between the objects in their world. Forming that correspondence didn’t have to be a conscious process–mere observation produced it.

Now we have concepts in our head that don’t correspond to anything physical or concrete. We have things like the Internet or vaccines, where our understanding of how they work is very different from the way we interact with them. What does getting poked in the arm have to do with antigens and possibly dying 10 years from now? What does poking a bright screen to talk to a friend have to do with TCP/IP packets, RISC processors, or rare earth elements? Even many of our labels, our tokens for communication are acronyms, which are an extra layer of abstraction.

And that’s just consumer technology; the same is true with politics, for example. How, if at all, does marking a paper beside someone’s name relate to changes in wealth received from work, or to changes in what will be demanded of us in the future?

If we get hungry, we go to the store to get food, which is a processed product, which means the ingredients and their source are unknown except as abstract classification (made from apple, not any specific apple, not even any specific cultivar, and definitely not an apple that was in this hand, picked from a known, specific tree) and means we get it by giving currency (which can take many forms, made from many different materials, somehow, issued by some organization running in some unknown way, controlled by people who want to remain unknown).

Everything we interact with is just the surface layer and beneath it are layers upon layers of abstraction, and the vast majority of people, if not everyone, don’t know all the layers between the concepts we have in our heads that let us interact with it and the physical reality around us that we can see and touch. There are entire fields of knowledge, entire communities of individuals, complete layers of reality that mostly everyone is unaware of.

There is no ground to our reality. We know some tips and tricks that let us get by in this world (until new technology changes it), but without knowing all the sub-surface layers (which is probably impossible now), we can only make guesses about what’s real. We’re not even sure of what kind of things are possible.

We don’t know what’s underneath the surface, and so we have no way of knowing if or when the surface will give out or fail, so every step we make feels like a risk, as if we’re walking on thin ice, except that there’s no water underneath: we have no idea what’s underneath.

On some level, we know that at any give time, in the next moment we may be falling into an abyss, and so we have an ever-present subconscious sense of vertigo.

One attempt to adapt to this situation is to just pretend it’s not a problem, to not worry about what’s beneath the surface, to only take things at face value, and to unthinkingly accept any absurdities that this inevitably results in.

Maybe that’s what most people are doing right now–it would explain a lot.

Related

Tangential

Openness

Opening your heart to someone new is scary. Allowing yourself to love someone is dangerous because it brings with it the possibility of pain from rejection, betrayal, and loss. Love can be kept secret, and that can protect oneself from some harm, but love is more fully manifested when it’s mutual, and truly loving someone means wanting to protect them, which means taking some possibility of harm upon oneself, removing it from the loved one.

Love is inherently dangerous, it’s unavoidably a risk.

Opening your mind to new ideas is scary. Allowing yourself to question your assumptions and consider new ones is dangerous because it brings with it the possibility of pain from uncertainty, confusion, and thinking differently from those around you. Different thoughts can be kept secret, but even hidden uncertainty and confusion is stressful, and progressing beyond that state to new assumptions may lead to new conclusions and convictions that compel the public defense of newly discovered truth.

Open mindedness is inherently dangerous, it’s unavoidably a risk.

We can decide to not care about uncertainty and confusion, but that’s essentially the same as not caring about truth, which is unacceptable and unworkable to those with an internally-arising motivation for honesty.

We can boldly declare that we don’t care what others think of us, but it’s difficult to overstate how much most people value social approval. Many put it above love, some put it above life itself and kill themselves when opinion turns against them.

Open mindedness requires courage. It’s easy to dismiss this as braggadocio, but dishonesty is often easy, and we could just as easily dismiss that dismissal as cowardice.

Theodore / Jupiter

During most of Kim’s pregnancy we were trying to decide if Jupiter was too crazy of a name, or if it was just crazy enough. Theodore was an easier pick; we had both independently thought of it as a possibility.

On the afternoon of November 25, 2018, more than a week after the due date, Kim wondered aloud whether Jupiter the planet was in the current zodiac sign. A few hours later I checked, and it wasn’t–Sagittarius is the current zodiac sign, and Jupiter is just entering Scorpius.

Jupiter’s position in the zodiac was not significant, but it turns out that Jupiter’s birth in Sagittarius is.

The zodiac system that is most common in the West is called the Tropical Zodiac, and traces back to Ptolemy.  In the 2nd century AD he collected astrological knowledge in his Tetrabibilo.  Book 1 Chapter 17 contains this:

The planets also have familiarity with the parts of the zodiac, through what are called their houses, triangles, exaltations, terms, and the like. The system of houses is of the following nature. Since of the twelve signs the most northern, which are closer than the others to our zenith and therefore most productive of heat and of warmth are Cancer and Leo, they assigned these to the greatest and most powerful heavenly bodies, that is, to the luminaries, as houses, Leo, which is masculine, to the sun and Cancer, feminine, to the moon. In keeping with this they assumed the semicircle from Leo to Capricorn to be solar and that from Aquarius to Cancer to be lunar, so that in each of the semicircles One sign might be assigned to each of the five planets as its own, One bearing aspect to the sun and the other to the moon, consistently with the spheres of their motion and the peculiarities of their natures. For to Saturn, in whose nature cold prevails, as opposed to heat, and which occupies the orbit highest and farthest from the luminaries, were assigned the signs opposite Cancer and Leo, namely Capricorn and Aquarius, with the additional reason that these signs are cold and wintry, and further that their diametrical aspect is not consistent with beneficence. To Jupiter, which is moderate and below Saturn’s sphere, were assigned the two signs next to the foregoing, windy and fecund, Sagittarius and Pisces, in triangular aspect to the luminaries, which is a harmonious and beneficent configuration.

Jupiter our boy was conceived in Pisces and born in Sagittarius.

That’s not all: early on November 26th, three days before the birth of the boy, the planet moved into conjunction with the Earth on the other side of the Sun.  You can look towards him, but you can’t really see Jupiter right now because he’s just emerging from behind the brilliance of the Sun.

To top it off, he was born on Thursday, ie Thor’s Day.  Thor is identified with Jupiter, as seen in the French name for the day: Jeudi, Jupiter Day.

Kim had also wondered whether there were any King Theodores.  The one we found, King Theodore of Corsica, was a German adventurer who in 1736 convinced a group of Corsican rebels to name him their King in return for helping them liberate their island from Genoese occupation. With military aid from the Bey of Tunis, he landed on Corsica in March and waged a war of independence for nine months until he left to secure more foreign military aid in November. These months correspond with our Theodore’s reign in his island womb.

Blue Rose


Roses red and roses white
Plucked I for my love’s delight.
She would none of all my posies–
Bade me gather her blue roses.
Half the world I wandered through,
Seeking where such flowers grew.
Half the world unto my quest
Answered me with laugh and jest.

Home I came at wintertide,
But my silly love had died
Seeking with her latest breath
Roses from the arms of Death.

It may be beyond the grave
She shall find what she would have.
Mine was but an idle quest–

Roses white and red are best!

 — Rudyard Kipling

A Tangible Warmth

Deeper and deeper they went, hacking at the earth, chipping the rock into rubble. Long ago having cursed the sun for its burning light in summer and its pale cold glare in winter, they turned from its remote indifference, declaring instead their fealty and love for the Earth, only the Earth. With an aching need to be closer, to feel its solid, warm embrace they’d entered the cave, descended to the depths of its cavernous abodes, then, upon meeting the final nook, they began to tunnel.

As they descended their gratitude grew, for here they found freedom: freedom from fickle weather, freedom from cruel predators, and freedom from the changing seasons. And they found warmth growing, so they graciously shed unnecessary garments—all was laid bare as the rock of their walls, roof, and floor. When any one of them had doubts about their course and harboured thoughts of the abandoned luminous world above, these were assuaged with an assurance that “where there is warmth, there is light.”

For this devotion they were richly rewarded. An uncontainable abundance of precious metals and stones overflowed their bulging pockets, falling unheeded into the worthless pebbles of broken terrestrial skeleton. Still they drove deeper, superterranean memories becoming more remote, their senses becoming more accustomed to the dim light of their torches. In this darkness, the glint and glean of their newly discovered treasures seemed to ever brighten into dazzling attraction.

In this pursuit, they turned first from the harsh glare of their torches to the faces of those who held them, and as the fires passed away from their sight, so did they pass from their words and thoughts.  Pupils dilated wider. Then even reflecting faces too became unbearable to see, and they turned to their shadows on the walls, addressing them so that when they talked to each other, they talked to their shadows.

Downward they dug in the hot darkness, surrounded by their frantically dancing shadows.

A Nightmare Vision of the Modern World

This is the modern world
Billions upon billions of mass human fleshbags with ultimately no purpose to the obscene, mind-boggling quantity
A dying globe covered with a layer of endless writhing undifferentiated human
It desperately tries to heave off the bulk living detritus, to buck off the mindless mess, but there is too much–much too much–and the suffocation is uninterrupted
We have made a hell of Earth

Blasted Beasts

Kill ’em all, he thought.  18 of the beasts had cornered him here with all the exits blocked, and with what he’d been through, giving up was even less of an option than flight.  They sure as hell wouldn’t call it quits, not while their blood—or whatever it was that oozed out when he put holes in them—still circulated, still animated the hideous frenzied urge that enthralled them to his doom.

He probably wouldn’t make it out of this, but if he did, it would be through their dismembered corpses.  Their faces were like exit signs to him, showing him the way through fortified flesh that needed opening with his blaster.  Point there, squeeze here, and a portal would burst open in the beast, letting him walk out through the meaty mess.  The thought of myriad instant butchery provoked his hunger for killing into just the kind of madness needed to eagerly charge the deadly savagery closing in.

“Put down your weapon and reveal your empty hands!”  The audacity with which the tyrannical beast voiced this demand made his stomach churn.  Those sick freaks had no place using words—words are for humans, real, live, red-blooded humans!  The corrupted souls of these damned creatures—whatever the hell they were–could be seen a mile away through their dead eyes.  They weren’t fooling him, though they continued to try.  “If you comply willingly I am authorised to adjudicate a mitigated sentence.”

The nerve. “There’s just one thing I wanna know!”  He gripped his blaster tighter and became a coiled spring.

“What would you like to know?”

He’d been through hell—all 9 rings and a few extra epicycles to boot.  He’d pillaged a good deal of knowledge along the way, vast booty of arcane science and occult perceptions plus the usual exoteric observations on the requirements of survival: blast whatever gets in your way, keep moving, trust only self and blaster, sleep while blasting, and if blasting doesn’t work, smash it.  Don’t drop the medkit, unless you enjoy moving on perforated legs and smashing with a broken hand (he didn’t—much).  Getting a new medkit takes a lot of killing.

He also knew his blaster had 88% charge.  That would probably be enough, accounting for maybe 2 or 3 more unexpected complications.

And then there were all the things he thought he knew.  He thought he knew the layout of this facility down to the last brimstone brick.  He thought he knew that this room had access to the ventilation exhaust system.  He thought he was out.

It didn’t, and he wasn’t, and now he knew that hell had a lean-to, a 10th ring, a ring for the last finger, the trigger finger.  Lucky for him, he knew all about trigger fingers and his own was just itching to squeeze.  As he looked at the blaster in his hand a flood of countless memories of encroaching doom upon which it had rained down a cleansing fire visited him, and he smiled fondly at the intricately printed metal and energy display and glowing, murmuring hole of death at the end.

“I wanna know what kinda slimy bile’s sloshing around insida your soulless corpses!”  His brain blitzed into activity like a berserk Tesla coil, sending lightning rage through legion motor neurons to explode each harnessed muscle fibre with the motive power of undiluted centrifugally enriched bloodlust—or whatever-the-hell-lust.

The Bitter Cold of Nevada in Summer

Northern Nevada

In Nevada, which should have been the hottest and driest stretch of the trip, or so I thought, ignorantly assuming north was the same as south, after brief periods of minor showers we made our way to the western half of the state.  Cruising along in calm air, a sudden change of wind hit us head-on, bringing a cold ominous foreboding that physically slowed our progress, and mentally assaulted my resolve, so that, in confusion, I stopped at a barren rest stop, void of even a single wall as shelter.  But there was nothing to do, nothing but go on right into the thick of the menacing storm heralded by the bitter relentless gale.  My resolve would be tested yet further as the wind pierced deeper, driving cold wet closer to our souls.  Not heat and aridness would we find, but winding roads littered with fog, snow, and mud–and of course a most beautiful sunset.  Other bikers turned around. We shrugged as they passed and turned our faces forward, the throttle open, and the handlebars naught.

On the other side of it, tired and shaking uncontrollably and rattling frozen bones, I proposed an early stop–why not right here? It was not too far till sundown. Kim was unreceptive and indomitably undeterred, thankfully dragging me out of my momentary weakness. We’ll say the back seat is shielded, more pleasant, less draining. That’s what we’ll say. Knowingly into the dark trap, then. We let the sun duck under the hills and spring an ambush, catching us on the road with a falling shroud of darkness. Groping blindly along the highway, occasionally accompanied by one of the shrugged-at bikers who’d apparently decided to turn around a second time, we snaked westward. At the hotel, we booked the last room and received free cookies.

A grim glorious day that was, but perhaps not as grim as the escape from San Francisco. The transportation networks were choked with traffic; a plethorous mass of human flesh clogging the roads out of San Francisco, slowing the flow to fully stationary, punctuated by brief rolls forward half the length of a car.  Even outside the city, the swelling hominid profusity pressed out and filled all spaces, not sparing the “in and out burger” we stopped at.  Living talking ape meat spread its teeming overabundance into every seat and table so that we were forced out when we eventually received our order, and we ate outside. The masticating mass was repulsively nauseating. As repulsively nauseating as the pink centre of my burger, which I pushed down my throat in a clinically calculating decision to gain nourishment to counter sleepiness without needing to stop at another restaurant. A cheery employee walked by and asked how the food was.  I gave him a cold, dead, “it’s pink”.  As dead and cold as the centre of my burger.  “What?”  “The burger is pink.”  “So… that’s good?”  “No.  It’s bad.”  “Oh… sorry.”  And he walked away.

Later we rolled into Mark and Shannon’s driveway with the relief of Atlas at the apocalypse.

Man and Television, a Music Video

Man is the only beast capable of becoming enthralled to television. He is alone in his desire to turn from reality and life and fixate on the hypnotizing hypercolour display. Unlike the lesser beasts whose existence is tied closely to the world and life around them, he is seemingly freed from the necessity of struggling for sustenance and survival. But he is a natural born slave, and seeks a new master immediately upon release. This he finds in television, and he gladly submits to its remaking of him fully, from the toes up, in its own image. The other beasts are immune to its enticing glow, and instead must be ripped apart and rendered into the new oversaturated and overexposed existence by force, as they flee. Man reclines dumbly into blissful oblivion and welcomes the damaging overstimulation to his senses, and the toxic hypercolor poison blasted into his mind. The fullness of sunlight and its broadly continuous spectrum which nourishes a teeming superorganism of unfathomable beauty and nuance is supplanted and made dull in comparison to the dominating harsh plastic brilliance of the screen’s discreet cold chromatic distillations. Invigorated by its supple prey, television evolves quickly into the apex predator of man’s attention, its obscene glare and hum outcompeting and drowning out all thought in man that is not television. But the wind and beasts and thermodynamic laws have no mental glandes to tickle and continue unperturbed by television. Man’s neglected civilization crumbles around him beside his unwatching eyes, and the synthetic tentacles that went forth from it to give birth to television go slack. A vestigial glow from the unpowered screen shows the deflation and unravelling of the new man in the absence of his animating essence; his flickering screen and hyperstimulation. Flashless to flashless, dull to dull.

The Lamp

Gazing euphorically at the lamp, he was reminded of all the effort it took to get to this point. There was the ten years of study he’d spent in his early years, reading all that was written about genies. Then, emerging from seclusion, there were the years–twice as many–abroad, searching, asking, digging, all in an unwavering drive, never doubting that he’d find one, some day. Against all odds that day came, the day his trembling hands pulled out the tarnished lamp and held it up the the gas lantern so that his eyes might see through their streams of satiated joy and confirm his highest hopes. But even after half a lifetime of anticipation and through his strongest desires for fulfilment, he had willed his hands into stone so that they would be unable to give the lamp the slightest polish, the faintest brush. This genie, he had been utterly determined, would not wake until he’d become ready to meet him.

And so he’d begun the most arduous and most important period of his life, twice still as long as the last. For the last 38 years he’d immersed himself in study of law, philosophy, logic, linguistics, and whatever field or discipline could prepare him in any way to meet the genie. And now, looking down at the lamp, as seductively close to pristine as it had been when unearthed, still beckoning and yearning to be wiped clean, he knew he was ready.

Fools, as the stories show, would unthinkingly rub the lamp right after finding it and summon the genie without preparation. Invariably, they’d ask for gold, immortality, or any number of pleasures, and, inevitably, the genie would smugly grant their wishes through fiendishly calculated horrors. They’d receive gold stolen from a king eager to have it returned, immortality without youth, or a harem whose beauty and quantity was matched only by the ferocity and diversity of its’ venereal diseases. The fools.

But he would succeed where they failed, he’d hesitate in thought where they acted dumbly, he’d outwit the cunning genie and cast a trickery-proof armour about himself as his first wish. He was sure of it.

This first wish was the result of the efforts of his final years. He’d ensured it was grammatically correct. He’d proved the logic had no loopholes for exploitation by ill-meaning genies. And now he was ready to become the first man to come out on top after rubbing a lamp.

He removed the glass case and tossed it aside. It crashed against the floor and spread out into thousands of shards that would be of little concern to one who has the powers he would momentarily undoubtedly possess. This time when he held the lamp the only tremors in his hands came from his age. His certainty was acting for him now, all he needed to do was watch as the scene played out. He watched as his sleeve, held in his hand, rubbed against the lamp. He watched as the shimmering smoke poured out and produced the grantor of wishes with his arms crossed over his ethereal breast. He listened as the genie made the offer: three wishes, whatever he might desire. And he listened as his own reply came, the same as in its numerous rehearsals:

“I wish that I was immune to genie trickery,” he commanded, with a clear and audible voice.

Immediately, the genie disappeared.