Category: Blog

Web

I took a Lyft to San Francisco International Airport. After we struggled to locate each other, the conversation with the driver started amicably – the mutual lament of technology. Then she took her serve. “Where are you going?” I was travelling home at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. She turned down the radio and proceeded to lay out an admirably intricate conspiracy theory about how the virus originated as a bioweapon at a PLA research facility in Wuhan. This, she clarified, was part of an ongoing scheme cooked up by the new bloods, a biological clique of corporations and politicians who promoted emasculating vegan and synthetic foods such as soy, signed iniquitous intercontinental trade treaties for their secret advantage, and directed the mainstream media to brainwash people into submitting like sheep to their plans for world domination. My driver was safe from coronavirus, for she was a free-thinking old blood, fortified by meat and organic foods such as grains and pulses. She made her own way in the world, poring over unsung scholarship on Neanderthal genetics.

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Human chemistry

Many concepts span a metaphorical plane across physical, social, and mental space, such as Lefebvre has interpreted space. Others are balance, order, and decay, which can purportedly be explained by another. Structure refers to the constitutive arrangement, relationships, and patterns between the objects, images, and devices present within in our physical, social, and mental space. The structure of molecules, the ways in which atoms are bonded together, can be represented by analytical chemists through molecular geometry, as in this model:

A profusion of molecular structures react. Bacteriologists and pharmacologists perceive in them an emergent structure – a biological organism, situated in a an ecology of interacting structures. The heuristic category of structure as a means to decode chemical, biological, and ecological space already seems capacious, before considering the structures of galaxies, stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. But, despite its breadth, looking for ‘the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex’ is necessarily a phenomenologically restricted posture. The scientist measures, models, represents, and accords a level of unified coherence to their given conceptual object. The undifferentiated, acting human being on the other hand typically only determines to conceptualise an otherwise overwhelmingly subjective experience through the lens of structure when the encounter with a given phenomenal manifestation seems to necessitate the application of instrumental reason. Though chemical structure is perhaps the only way to think about a molecule, anatomy is just one way to think about an animal – which can also be seen as a cherished pet, a mortal threat, or (for carnivores) as meat. And there are many more ways than theoretical physics to think about the heavens. Just as solipsism can explain nothing, the higher apertures of the structural lens cannot capture the emotional and psychological immediacy of subjective experience. Chemistry contrives order only by deduction from sense, a slanted Faustian bargain – as if to climb the Apollonian tower of reason, without the journey of Dionysian transcendence. Humanism, however, must account for intersubjective modes of consciousness.

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Social media

When I was twelve, I already lived in the world of Web 2.0 – of user-generated content. I used basic social networks, video sharing websites, and spent time on online forums meeting other people who liked hacking Club Penguin. Later, I joined Facebook. By then, the social network had been growing for some time. But it was not yet an all-purpose platform to ‘connect’ everyone, collecting copious quantities of personal data, to process through obscure algorithms, ostensibly for their benefit, with the objective of securing advertising revenue by nurturing compulsive habits. Like most people, I gravitated towards these big social networks. They did and do consume most of the time and energy I spend online.

Over the past decade I have seen the Internet’s potential as a vehicle for meaningful interaction diminish, as digital networks were reworked by developers advancing commercial interests. Instead of fostering specialised and integrated communities, the most used social networks developed highly individuated user profiles and a feedback mechanism which encouraged people into uncomfortably close contact with their constellation of self-representing acquaintances. These features inevitably rendered digital sociality a theatre of vanity and cynicism, and in turn nurtured an industry to produces endless, banal streams of third-party content. As these platforms grew, popular attention focussed on echo-chambers and orchestrated data scouring for targeted political campaigning. I mourn for the time wasted over the last few years scrolling through feeds of misunderstanding strangers, dubious politics, advertising, and click-bait. Dopamine on tap. How to render digital media fit for a desirable social purpose can perhaps only be discovered by the germinating field of Internet studies, should a solution arise which can viably be implemented. Until then, we depend on social media, and are stuck in a purgatory of our own making.

History horror

The historian’s ultimate sybaritic nightmare has always been the annihilation of memoranda. And thus a twisted allegory was realised. An American military jet travelling to an RAF base in England suffered a catastrophic engine failure, stalled, and violently crashed – detonating, exploding, and fulminating directly upon the National Archives building near Kew Gardens. In the initial eruption, the plane’s fuel tank burst its noxious inferno into the surrounding environ, plexiglass discharge searing shrapnel into concrete, bodies, and paper. Hundreds of tonnes of parchment fanned their own flames and mutinied against the indulgent artifices of their preservation – the air-conditioned, tenebrous antechambers designed to preserve them for posterity. The archive staff and readers who survived were hounded by tabloid journalists as they lived out their existences as shellshocked memorialists, victims of a circumstance so catastrophically unlikely, that it could only ever be categorised as a diabolic aberration.

The brutalist edifice itself was destroyed, not in the instant, but gradually, over the ensuing hours, as residual jet fuel sept into every metal-shredded crevice, smothering, engulfing, and setting aflame all interior furnishing, framing, and cladding. The remaining concrete pile, desiccated and spalled, was afterwards allowed to stand as a piteous cenotaph, the only relic of any significance left standing. The event came to be remembered symbolically. Over time, it stopped commemorating the unthinkable human suffering once endured upon that site. As if to reiterate the burning of the Library of Alexandria, the engine failure stood in bleak testimony to a past which had been lost and, through a titanium chain of consequences, burnt its own vestiges. Until finally – with popular support – it was decided, that the archive had to be rebuilt.

America

As a teenager, Larry Clark and Grand Theft Auto sparked my curiosity about the star-spangled capitalist metropole of Apollo and Hollywood, the king-pin of the post-war west. I developed a vague impression, accumulated from these and other haphazard encounters with mass media, of the entanglement of power, money, and violence that prevailed in the self-proclaimed Land of the Free; closed my eyes, and saw a dream of subtly interwoven images: the immense, glistening towers of its skyline, the hunky-dory Texans who lived for rodeos and gasoline, emceeing Bronx teens, imperialism in the Middle East. American history is taught in higher education through weightier concepts: rivalrous mercantilist empires, borderlands, the puritan ethic, the language of civic republicanism and rights, the Enlightenment and the problem of virtue in a commercial republic, slavery, the developing categories of scientific racism, manifest destiny, civil war, reconstruction, prohibition, the political economy of coal, immigration, segregation, Brown v. Board, and oil wars. Then there’s Wall Street, strip malls, Ellen DeGeneres, Silicon Valley, Kanye West, and Donald Trump. Everything else too. America is the infinite accumulation of a porous yet confined spatial domain, of a baffling array of distributed processes, networks, and structures of authority, control, exchange, and co-operation, and their various institutional expressions of fiscal-military, geo-spatial, techno-imperial, and discursive power, as they have developed through antagonising forces – in a dialectical process over time. It is baffling. And yet it is necessary for the thinking individual to reconcile their formative impressions with what they learn and experience over their adult life. I hope it conveys more humility than hubris to say that I am still working out how to work out America.

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Lights out

Fully automated factories, free from human presence, can run with their lights off. Their machines churn away, satiating our greed for commodities, obediently thundering on in the dark. This productive process of industrial replication in the social body could be compared to the catabolic process of food digestion in the natural body. Both leave us unaware as they thereby, without our participation or consideration, sustain our lives.