Batshit Times

“At BATSHIT TIMES, we showcase artists, activists, and scientists challenging contemporary society’s geopolitical, technocratic, hypersurveilled, megacybernetwork nightmare.

We critique the chaos, dissimulation, and fragmentation of our times through visual projects, films, essays, and articles on emerging experimental art forms and science practices.

Currently on the third issue. The first issue is available as a free PDF download.

Ideological Amazon & Punk Nazis

“The words are violence crowd is right about the power of language. Words can be vile, disgusting, offensive, and dehumanizing. They can make the speaker worthy of scorn, protest, and blistering criticism. But the difference between civilization and barbarism is that civilization responds to words with words. Not knives or guns or fire. That is the bright line. There can be no excuse for blurring that line—whether out of religious fanaticism or ideological orthodoxy of any other kind.

Today our culture is dominated by those who blur that line—those who lend credence to the idea that words, art, song lyrics, children’s books, and op-eds are the same as violence. We are so used to this worldview and what it requires—apologize, grovel, erase, grovel some more—that we no longer notice.”

-Bari Weiss, “We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning.” Common Sense. August 13, 2022.

Thinking for yourself is never going to line up with any kind of ideological orthodoxy. Free speech is ultimately about listening to unorthodox voices. But, if it is used to drown them out, giving certain orthodoxies the greatest share of voice, then do you really have free speech? What often pretends to be “free speech” isn’t about free speech. It’s about something else. As Steve Bannon would have it: “This is not about persuasion: This is about disorientation.”

The disorientation is to make it more difficult to come to independent conclusions, and it is also designed to limit the kind of traction unorthodox ideas can get among the population. Both are very much designed to promote established ideas and the status quo.

To use a metaphor, who is the Amazon of ideology in a culture? Often, thee are driven by political elites, whether they be based on religious, business, or some other orthodoxy. Ideally, free speech is about expanding the Overton window, the things that we can talk about. Shouting down the opposition isn’t free speech. Giving room for dissenting voices is free speech.

Of course, if that is the view, people will claim their views are somehow dissenting. They’ll espouse the most mainstream ideas, and they’ll exclude some portion to signal that their ideas are in the minority or unique.

There’s also the other direction. You may have some unique ideas. But, it’s very possible that they aren’t interesting to many other people, even if you believe they should be. Tolerance for people that do not share your views has to flow in all directions. A minority that thinks they are on the right side of history and doesn’t have to listen to people that don’t agree with them have all the same problems of the dominant ideologies without the political clout. For people on the sidelines, it is hard to see the advantages of switching out one for the other.

So, it’s a complex business. The Dead Kennedy’s offered good advice though in Nazi Punks Fuck Off, i.e., our default mode should be to listen to new ideas and voices. But, a punk Nazi, or one that shares some of our ideas or aesthetic, isn’t necessarily an improvement over the choices of the ideological Amazon.

Punk ain't no religious cult
Punk means thinkin' for yourself
You ain't hardcore 'cause you spike your hair
When a jock still lives inside your head

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!
Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

If you've come to fight, get outta here
You ain't no better than the bouncers
We ain't tryin' to be police
When you ape the cops it ain't anarchy

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Ten guys jump one, what a man
You fight each other, the police state wins
Stab your backs when you trash our halls
Trash a bank if you've got real balls

You still think swastikas look cool
The real Nazis run your schools
They're coaches, businessmen and cops
In a real fourth Reich you'll be the first to go

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

You'll be the first to go
You'll be the first to go
You'll be the first to go
Unless you think

Daniel Mendelsohn on the Odyssey

“…I always resist the “classics is impractical” line that people love to come up with when they are critical of the higher study of these fields. You can study accounting. It’s authentically practical in one way. But when your father dies, your accounting degree is not going to help you at all to process that experience. Homer will help you. The Odyssey will help you. Great literature will help you think about mortality and losing loved ones. That seems very practical to me.

A broad education in which you’re deeply read in literature, and history, and philosophy, and mathematics, and science: this teaches us how to be human beings and it teaches us also how to be citizens. I know that sounds very idealistic, but if the current social and political situation in this country is in any way a marker of what a generation spent focusing on STEM does, then I think clearly we need a different answer. The crude preoccupation with moneymaking as the only goal of a college education is giving us a citizenry that is extremely degraded, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s only the crudest and least interesting practicality that has no time for the humanities.”

Daniel Mendelsohn, “Daniel Mendelsohn on the Odyssey.” The Octavian Report. August 12, 2022

Of course, an important question is which Odyssey do you read, Emily Wilson’s, Richmond Lattimore’s or someone else’s? Another think that I found interesting is how they talked about life being tragedy and comedy modes of viewing the world mentioned a few days ago.

US Approves Google Plan To Let Political Emails Bypass Gmail Spam Filter

“The US Federal Election Commission approved a Google plan on Thursday to let campaign emails bypass Gmail spam filters. The FEC’s advisory opinion adopted in a 4-1 vote said Gmail’s pilot program is permissible under the Federal Election Campaign Act and FEC regulations “and would not result in the making of a prohibited in-kind contribution.”

The FEC said Google’s approved plan is for “a pilot program to test new Gmail design features at no cost on a nonpartisan basis to authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership PACs.” On July 1, Google asked the FEC for the green light to implement the pilot after Republicans accused the company of giving Democrats an advantage in its algorithms.

-Jon Brodkin, “US approves Google plan to let political emails bypass Gmail spam filter.” ArsTechnica. August 12, 2022

Who does this serve? Does it serve the person using Gmail or does it serve someone else?

My suggestion: Don’t use Gmail. Protonmail is probably the easiest alternative to set-up and use.

Tragedy vs. Comedy Modes

As Brown notes, Meeker argues that Western Civilization is mostly founded on the “tragic mode,” inspired by the great tragedies in which a “larger-than-life character attempts to bend the world to his (and it’s always his) image.” The character’s success “is also his undoing,” and tragedies end in bloodshed, death, and a funeral of some kind. Our civilization has been built on the tragic idea that we can bend nature to our will, the result of which has been complete ecological catastrophe.

Meeker proposes an alternative for surviving our disastrous times: the “comic mode,” inspired by comedy:

Comedy is not a philosophy of despair or pessimism, but one which permits people to respond with health and clear vision despite the miseries the world has to offer. Its mode is immediacy of attention, adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances, joy in small things, the avoidance of pain wherever possible, the love of life and kinship with all its parts, the sharpening of intelligence, complexity of thought and action, and strategic responsiveness to novel situations. It permits people to accept themselves and the world as they are, and it helps us make the best of the messes around us and within us.

Upon reading this, I was immediately struck by how well the tragic and comic modes map to Brian Eno’s concept of genius vs. scenius, with one being a egosystem and the other being an ecosystem. Our world is an ecosystem inwhich our only real chance at survival as a species is cooperation, community, and care, but it’s being lead by people who believe in an egosystem, run on competition, power, and self-interest.

Comedy and scenius show us a way forward. A chance at survival that, in Meeker’s words, “depends upon our ability to change ourselves rather than our environment, and upon our ability to accept limitations rather than to curse fate for limiting us.” Comedy, like scenius, gives all the characters in the story a surviving role and a chance to live to see another day.

-Austin Kleon, “The comedy of survival.” austinkleon.com November 19, 2020

Make the best of the messes around us and within us is great advice. Recommend the whole bit.

DARVO

DARVO is an acronym for “deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender”. It refers to a reaction that alleged perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior.[1] Some researchers and advocates have indicated that it can be as a common manipulation strategy of psychological abusers.[2][3][4] An abuser (or alleged abuser) denies the abuse ever took place, attacks the person that alleged abuse (often the victim) for attempting to hold the abuser (or alleged abuser) accountable for their actions, and claims that they are actually the victim in the situation, thus reversing what may be a reality of victim and offender.[2][4] It often involves not just “playing the victim” but also victim blaming.[3]

-Wikipedia contributors, “DARVO,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=DARVO&oldid=1100548671 (accessed August 11, 2022).

Not a term I had heard before. h/t emptywheel. See also Identifying a Stupid Person.

A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures

“During Involution phase, many counterelites are trying to slice off adherents and resources at the same time. Some people even become meta-counter-elites, complaining that the counterelites themselves have strayed from the true principles, etc. The actual elites realize their status is also precarious, and some of them side with the counterelites in order to get a new base, bringing the conflicts to the highest levels. The overall tone of the movement becomes darker. Ordinary rank-and-file members hear so much criticism of the movement that it’s hard for them to stay optimistic about it. They stop talking about it as The Amazing Movement That Will Change Everything, and become defensive: “I’m not, like, one of those members of the movement, I just sort of think some of their ideas make sense sometimes.”

-Scott Alexander, “A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures.” Astral Codex Ten. August 9, 2022
  • Phase One: Pre-Cycle, niche
  • Phase Two: Growth, moving to mainstream
  • Phase Three: Involution, complexity, sub-groups, elements shrink
  • Phase Four: Post-Cycle, established institutions, final form or return to Phase One

See also  Giambattista Vico‘s La Scienza Nuova which posits a civilization cycle and is described in Wikipedia as follows:

“Relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in the Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony; in this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione or barbarism of reflection, and civilization descends once more into the poetic era. Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages – common to every nation – constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna or ideal eternal history. Therefore, it can be said that all history is the history of the rise and fall of civilizations, for which Vico provides evidence (up until, and including the Graeco-Roman historians).”

Pretty straight-forward parallels, with the post-cycle indicating a frozen state where institutions persist for some period before descending back into Phase One or dissolution.