Highlights for No Name in the Street

Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become.

I was not the same, but they were, as though they had been trapped, preserved, in that moment in time.

They should have known me better, or at least enough, to have known that I meant what I said. But the general reaction to famous people who hold difficult opinions is that they can’t really mean it. It’s considered, generally, to be merely an astute way of attracting public attention, a way of making oneself interesting: one marches in Montgomery, for example, merely (in my own case) to sell one’s books.

This means that one must accept one’s nakedness. And nakedness has no color: this can come as news only to those who have never covered, or been covered by, another naked human being.

This is the way people react to the loss of empire—for the loss of an empire also implies a radical revision of the individual identity—and I was to see this over and over again, not only in France.

Thus, the exploitation of the colony’s resources was done for the good of the natives; and so vocal could the French become as concerns what they had brought into their colonies that it would have been the height of bad manners to have asked what they had brought out.

Not without warning, and not without precedent: but only poets, since they must excavate and recreate history, have ever learned anything from it.

For, intellectual activity, according to me, is, and must be, disinterested—the truth is a two-edged sword—and if one is not willing to be pierced by that sword, even to the extreme of dying on it, then all of one’s intellectual activity is a masturbatory delusion and a wicked and dangerous fraud.

Nevertheless, this learned, civilized, intellectual-liberal debate cheerfully raged in its vacuum, while every hour brought more distress and confusion—and dishonor—to the country they claimed to love.

But they had no right not to know that; if they did not know that, they knew nothing and had no right to speak as though they were responsible actors in their society;

I may have been romantic about London—because of Charles Dickens—but the romance lasted for exactly as long as it took me to carry my bags out of Victoria Station.

Four hundred years in the West had certainly turned me into a Westerner—there was no way around that. But four hundred years in the West had also failed to bleach me—there was no way around that, either

It is power, not justice, which keeps rearranging the map, and the Algerians were not fighting the French for justice (of which, indeed, they must have had their fill by that time) but for the power to determine their own destinies.

One may see that the history, which is now indivisible from oneself, has been full of errors and excesses; but this is not the same thing as seeing that, for millions of people, this history—oneself—has been nothing but an intolerable yoke, a stinking prison, a shrieking grave. It is not so easy to see that, for millions of people, life itself depends on the speediest possible demolition of this history, even if this means the leveling, or the destruction of its heirs.

Everybody else was paying their dues, and it was time I went home and paid mine.

I was old enough to recognize how deep and strangling were my fears, how manifold and mighty my limits: but no one can demand more of life than that life do him the honor to demand that he learn to live with his fears, and learn to live, every day, both within his limits and beyond them.

But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.

It was as though he were wrestling with the mighty fact that the danger in which he stood was as nothing compared to the spiritual horror which drove those who were trying to destroy him. They endangered him, but they doomed themselves.

Every Southern city seemed to me to have been but lately rescued from the swamps, which were patiently waiting to reclaim it. The people all seemed to remember their time under water, and to be both dreading and anticipating their return to that freedom from responsibility.

Every white face turned to stone: the arrival of the messenger of death could not have had a more devastating effect than the appearance in the restaurant doorway of a small, unarmed, utterly astounded black man. I had realized my error as soon as I opened the door: but the absolute terror on all these white faces—I swear that not a soul moved—paralyzed me. They stared at me, I stared at them.

One has only to remember that American investments cannot be considered safe wherever the population cannot be considered tractable; with this in mind, consider the American reaction to the Jew who boasts of sending arms to Israel, and the probable fate of an American black who wishes to stage a rally for the purpose of sending arms to black South Africa.

Force does not work the way its advocates seem to think it does. It does not, for example, reveal to the victim the strength of his adversary. On the contrary, it reveals the weakness, even the panic of his adversary, and this revelation invests the victim with patience. Furthermore, it is ultimately fatal to create too many victims. The victor can do nothing with these victims, for they do not belong to him, but—to the victims.

Malcolm considered himself to be the spiritual property of the people who produced him. He did not consider himself to be their saviour, he was far too modest for that, and gave that role to another; but he considered himself to be their servant and in order not to betray that trust, he was willing to die, and died.

She was far safer walking the streets alone than when walking with me—a brutal and humiliating fact which thoroughly destroyed whatever relationship this girl and I might have been able to achieve. This happens all the time in America, but Americans have yet to realize what a sinister fact this is, and what it says about them.

I am astonished until today that I have both my eyes and most of my teeth and functioning kidneys and my sexual equipment: but small black boys have the advantage of being able to curl themselves into knots, and roll with the kicks and the punches.

But everything that might have charmed me merely reminded me of how many were excluded, how many were suffering and groaning and dying, not far from a paradise which was itself but another circle of hell

In the village, as in the ghetto, those who were not dangerous before the search-and-destroy operation assuredly become so afterward, for the inhabitants of the village, like the inhabitants of the ghetto, realize that they are identified, judged, menaced, murdered, solely because of the color of their skin.

The prison is overcrowded, the calendars full, the judges busy, the lawyers ambitious, and the cops zealous. What does it matter if someone gets trapped here for a year or two, gets ruined here, goes mad here, commits murder or suicide here? It’s too bad, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

Billy spoke the truth, but it’s hard to shame the devil.

White America remains unable to believe that black America’s grievances are real; they are unable to believe this because they cannot face what this fact says about themselves and their country; and the effect of this massive and hostile incomprehension is to increase the danger in which all black people live here, especially the young.

This unhappy failing will prove to be especially aggravated in the case of the American rulers, who have never heard of history and who have never read it, who do not know what the passion of a people can withstand or what it can accomplish, or how fatal is the moment, for the kingdom, when the passion is driven underground.

To study the economic structure of this country, to know which hands control the wealth, and to which end, seems an academic exercise—and yet it is necessary, all of it is necessary, for discipline, for knowledge, and for power.

I know what I would do if I had a gun and someone had a gun pointed at my brother, and I would not count ten to do it and there would be no hatred in it, nor any remorse. People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.

Highlights for Neoreaction a Basilisk

Angela Nagle’s appalling Kill All Normies, which takes the jaw-droppingly foolish methodology of simply reporting all of the alt-right’s self-justifications as self-evident truths so as to conclude that the real reason neo-nazis have been sweeping into power is because we’re too tolerant of trans people.

This brings us to our second relatively uninteresting question, which is what to do about the alt-right. In this case the answer is even easier and more obvious than the first: you smash their bases of power, with violent resistance if necessary. If you want a more general solution that also takes care of the factors that led to a bunch of idiot racists being emboldened in the first place you drag all the billionaires out of their houses and put their heads on spikes.

The lethal meme, known as Roko’s Basilisk, used the peculiarities of Yudkowskian thought to posit a future AI that would condemn to eternal torture everyone from the present who had ever imagined it if they subsequently failed to do whatever they could to bring about its existence.

I want to be clear, with all possible sincerity, that I love the braggadocio here. I want what he is selling. Yes, Mencius, savagely tear away the veil of lies with which I cope with the abject horror that is reality and reveal to me the awful, agonizing truth of being. Give me the red pill. The problem is, once we get our golf ball-sized reality distortion pill home, put on some Laibach, and settle in for an epic bout of Thanatosian psychedelia, we discover the unfortunate truth: we’re actually just huffing paint in an unhygienic gas station bathroom. Jesus, this isn’t even bat country.

By “crap,” of course, I do not mean “wrong.” Rather, I mean obvious, in the sense of sounding like the guy at the bar watching the news (probably Fox) and muttering about how “they’re all a bunch of crooks.” Liberal democracy a hopelessly inadequate and doomed system preserved by a system of continual indoctrination? You don’t say.

And this really is stunningly weird in the context of all his red pill rhetoric about the corrupt horrors of liberal democracy. Because while there are a great many obvious critiques of contemporary society, “there’s just not enough respect for profit” really doesn’t feel like one of them.

With this, we have a genuinely tricky moment, simply because of the sheer and unbridled number of unexamined assumptions going on here.

But all the same, if you’re going to talk about suppressed ideologies that oppose the interests of entrenched power, you’ve really got to talk about the original red pill: Marxism.

It is tempting to suggest that Moldbug is a failed Marxist in the sense that Jupiter is a failed star, its mass falling tantalizingly short of the tipping point whereby nuclear fusion begins. Over and over again, Moldbug asks questions much like those that Marx asked, and his answers begin with many of the same initial observations. But inevitably, a few steps in, he makes some ridiculously broad generalization or fails to consider some obvious alternative possibility, and the train of thought fizzles into characteristic idiocy.

This sort of “the world can be saved if only everyone listens to me” narcissism belongs in the genre of fiction, where it can accomplish something, and not in the visionary manifesto, where it only reveals its own impotence.

That is not to say they can get away with being wrong, at least not straightforwardly so, but it is to reiterate that the key problem with Moldbug, Yudkowsky, and Land is that they are in key regards uninteresting—that they offer dull and unsatisfying answers to their most compelling questions, of which “hang out with a bunch of racist nerdbros” is merely the worst.

Terence McKenna’s suggestion that DMT is an alien intelligence’s attempt to communicate directly with the human brain

That’s the whole point of the right to exit—a final and decisive rescue of individual liberty at all costs. But exiting requires that people stay behind; if we all go, we’ll just have to storm out again. The entire point of the project is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

He posits that in this situation the “absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all” becomes increasingly relevant, and observes that this is a frequent theme of both philosophy and horror.

The truth is that, despite Land’s evident fascination with them, the bulk of neoreactionaries are not people one would want to have a beer with, and there’s not a great case for reading their books either.

Yudkowsky isn’t just running from error; he’s running from the idea of authority. The real horror of the Basilisk is that the AI at the end of the universe is just another third grade teacher who doesn’t care if you understand the material, just if you apply the rote method being taught.

Hauntology comes from within us; the Weird from outside.

The red pill, pwnage, and for that matter the horror reading, monstrous offspring, and Satanic inversions all follow the same basic pattern—a sort of conceptual infiltration of someone’s thought in which their own methods and systems are used against them.

It is, after all, the great one-liner critique of Mencius Moldbug: he’s exactly what you’d expect to happen if you asked a software engineer to redesign political philosophy. And crucially, Moldbug basically agrees with it—he just also genuinely believes that the Silicon Valley “disruptor” crowd would be capable of running the world with no problems if only people would let them.

Which is to say, Satan opens by negging Eve, accusing her of looking at him “with disdain, Displeas’d that I approach thee thus, and gaze Insatiate, I thus single, nor have feard Thy awful brow,”112 which may be the earliest instance of telling someone they have resting bitch face.

In the face of an ecologically brutal planet, the guys with guns and tribal loyalties are a depressingly compelling bet to stick around.

With Moldbug the sense is overwhelmingly that empathy just never crossed his mind as something to factor into his design. He flat out didn’t think of it. Yudkowsky, on the other hand, thinks about it a lot and cares very deeply about it; he’s just incompetent at it.

The result of this approach is that Yudkowsky, without really meaning to, tends to look at everyone else in the world as inefficient Eliezer Yudkowskys instead of people as such.

Moldbug, Yudkowsky, and Land don’t just “do poorly” with empathy—they represent the most visible and explicit edge of a Cathedral-scaled system of values that casts the desire to listen and try to understand people who are different from you as anathema to reason itself.

This forces us to consider white culture as a set of perpetual ruins—as something that has always been lost, and that can only be apprehended as a tenuous and incomplete reconstruction.

No, what’s really notable here is Moldbug’s doe-eyed certainty that such a thing as an absolute truth service could be built; that there is a general plan of action so self-evidently compelling that if he only expressed it properly everyone would immediately flock to his side. In short, after thousands of words railing against the Cathedral for secretly being a religion, he’s accidentally reinvented religion. And then lost the holy text. You couldn’t parody it better.

They have that marvelous feature of the best gods: perfectly answering a question you didn’t know you had.

And a few, such as Ahania, are genuinely breathtaking in their scope: a pleasure goddess representing intellectual curiosity who is bound in a Persephone-like structure of death and rebirth is a metaphysical/literary construct to rival Milton’s Satan, and one Blake barely scratches the surface of.

And it’s hard not to suggest that the world would be a better place if Yudkowsky had stuck to children’s literature for adult geeks as opposed to starting a weird AI cult that derails efforts to curtail malaria.

And while Gamergate usually doesn’t have a product to sell in quite the same literal way, it’s worth noting how, for instance, two doors down from them is someone like Stefan Molyneux, whose output amounts to 30-60 minute PowerPoint presentations consisting of a by-now familiar sort of low-content dissembling, and whose business endgame is literally a cult.

The Gamergate narrative has always required a vast quasi-conspiracy to function, some story whereby feminists or SJWs or cultural Marxists exercise near-complete control over video games and video game journalism.

Not even a monoculture then—an anticulture, with Vivian James ironically its perfect representation. It’s a desire to befit their worldview, its adamance dwarfed only by its fundamental emptiness. There’s nothing there. There’s never been anything there.

And Gamergate as a whole is scarcely better. It’s always been notable for its near-complete lack of actual discussion of videogames.

More interesting is where his basic inclination towards racial stereotyping originates from: the material realities of New York real estate, its patterns of historical ethnic migrations geologically stratified across the city’s expansion.

He might have had a name. But then he literally built a six-hundred-and-sixty-six foot tower to which he offered up that name, sacrificing it upon its black altar such that the building became a titanic sigil of the sixteenth Major Arcana of the Tarot of the Golden Dawn, symbolizing destruction and ruin, with only the remnants of the man whose name it ate living within the rotting heart of its penthouse.

He sold his name, yes, but what did he get out of the deal? The answer, simply put, is what he would hereafter treat as his most valuable asset: his brand. In short, he became a creature of pure image.

But it also includes the raw allostatic load of living under his rule; the basic psychological wear and tear of waking up every morning in a post-fact world dominated by a bullying narcissist. The act of living in a world where the basic validity of your identity is contingent and perpetually imperiled, where the very definition of “fact” is in dispute, and where a brutish logic of dominance and humiliation pervades the entire social order.

Individuals can act all they want. They won’t make the end of the world go away, any more than their freedom to quit work can make them free to not starve

It helps that one can be against today’s racist wars—though not on the grounds of anti-racism, except of the most specious variety—while quietly accepting and utilising the racial inequities inherited from the racist imperialism of the past. As usual, reactionary thinking is dependant upon amnesia.

It admits that value is a mental construct, but one that is ‘real’ because it has a real social basis and real social effects. Value, for Marx, is neither a thing nor an essence, neither quality nor spirit. It is a social reality because of what humans actually do.

Theoretically detached from the objective and the material, and connected to business as a client, mainstream economics has become—to a large extent—an ideological discourse.

This is how Moldbug and Thiel’s view that democracy is incompatible with liberty arises. A democracy is a society in which the mass of the population—who are, by definition, mostly without property—can shape policy so that it curtails the freedom of the propertied to make their choices. In a free society—by their definition—the capitalists get to make their choices unfettered.

For the Austrians, democracy is to blame for capitalism going into crisis. Democracy breeds special claims by people who are not really concerned with making the choices that regulate the economy. The people without a big stake—the masses—thus destabilise the system.

This is the so-called Austrian ‘Business Cycle.’ Boiled right down: crashes and recessions happen because central banks set interest rates too low. Easy credit results, which screws up market signals. Loaners go crazy. Bubbles inflate and burst. Such lopsided production can only be remedied via letting interest rates rise to their ‘natural’ rate. In other words, the Austrian prescription is: let the crisis rip. It will be harsher but quicker. The only cure for god’s wrath is to wait for the plague to exhaust itself.

Opposition to democracy is entailed by the Austrian view of how capitalism works. Democracy is the rule of the ignorant and selfish public, and the state is their tyrannical arm. Moronic majoritarianism wields unjustifiable power over the propertied and the entrepreneurs who are, for Hayek for instance, almost promethean artists in their special sensitivity and understanding.

The logically consequent idea that emergency dictatorship may be necessary to preserve liberal society from democracy is in neoliberalism’s source code. Neoliberalism, contrary to myth, is an authoritarian ideology, committed to defending property and wealth by violence both physical and structural.

The leaders of Rothbard’s revolution would be the libertarians and the minarchists. The troops would be the masses, spurred to fight the elites. And the spurring would take the form of appeals to racism.

The disproportionate number of former-libertarians in American fascism is revealing because conservatives are far more numerous in America than libertarians, which suggests that libertarianism is statistically over-represented.

The Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory now espoused across the alt-right is a reiteration of what the (actual) Nazis called kulturbolschewismus, an idea central to Nazi dogma, about degenerate art and culture being manufactured by Jewish communists to undermine the unity of the German people. The resurrection and repackaging of this idea across a movement soaked in libertarianism is not surprising, because antagonism to socialism goes right back to the dawn of libertarianism, to the Austrian School’s foundational and self-chosen role as the intellectual foe of Marx.

People might not necessarily formulate their objections to the content of newspapers that way, but they’re nevertheless absenting themselves from daily exposure to one of the main means by which the ruling class produce ideology and public consent. This is at least as big a concern to the people running the media as the need to claw back profits.

In all of these cases, the strategy is to play on insecurities of young men in an age where there are mounting ideological challenges out there—especially on the Internet—to their untroubled social privilege. Coupled with the twin legacies of decades of neoliberalism—increasing ideological and political disorientation, and a future far less secure than that which faced their parents and grandparents at their age—such challenges can terrify the semi-privileged layer of young, white, middle class men, who enjoy all those privileges without also enjoying actual material security.

Reactionary politics once again takes advantage of having a wide batrachian mouth, both sides of which may be used for talking.

The reason actions don’t lead inevitably to goals isn’t because there are complex material structures of oppression that heavily shape people’s lives, but because we exist in linear time. Not only does Rothbard not connect time to what dominates it for most people in capitalist society—work—but hilariously, he doesn’t even bother connecting time to its ultimate horror and constraint, death.

To quote the monster directly: “Milton produced Paradise Lost in the way that a silkworm produces silk, as the expression of his own nature.” Marx would like all labour to be like that, and sees no fundamental reason why it shouldn’t.

It’s pretty clear that the Austrian School doesn’t even remotely care about this fact, but it doesn’t inherently contradict anything they say. But that is, in the end, the point, and one I’ve made before: they don’t care. That’s clear, in a sense, all the way back in the basic axiom, with its active foregrounding of the heroic individual acting upon the world, as opposed to the state of affairs that most actual people experience, which is mostly being buffeted around by various external forces, whether they be governments, history, or the class system. Indeed, “individual human beings are acted upon” would be every bit as justifiable an axiom as “individual human beings act,” if not moreso.

They have been hugging Marxism on the brink of the Reichenbach Falls for a century and a half, staring into its eyes, but have never really seen it.

Mises’ only invocation of courage is in the context of statesmen standing up to labor unions. Decency only comes up in the context of “laws of morality and decency.” And his sole mention of kindness is a complete and grotesque misunderstanding of the very concept as he declares that “the indigent has no claim to the kindness shown to him,” as if being unearned isn’t the entire fucking point of kindness. It is a conception of human action without a shred of concern for empathy – human action devoid of all humanity.

But the real reason for this is that, more than anyone else, Marx provided an alternative to the charade on which their entire philosophical edifice was constructed. He showed the need for the destruction of that which, to them, gives the world meaning—and a method by which it might be achieved.

Given that no small number of conspiracy theories are, in point of fact, anti-Semitic, any attempt to uncritically synthesize them will be as well.

Icke’s theory is much the same way. We know wealthy elites control our minds. Knowing they’re lizards (or, for that matter, Jews) doesn’t actually change anything. It is, to borrow a phrase, malignantly useless knowledge.

Not only does nothing follow from Icke’s conclusions, nothing follows within the argument itself. Icke does not so much lay out a case for the lizard people as blunder among vague associations, hoping that the aggregate of a bunch of extremely tenuous connections will somehow be persuasive instead of a discombobulated mess of shoddy research and sloppy reasoning.

The history of the world consists of a lot of wealthy assholes sleeping with each other and killing people. Changing up which assholes slept with and killed who doesn’t actually make much of a difference.

Ridiculous arguments, especially ones that recognize their absurdity, are capable of revealing things that do not follow obviously, if at all, from self-consciously serious approaches, but that are nevertheless true and valuable realizations.

So is his inclination to be skeptical of the “official” version of history. The value of this, to be clear, is not simply skepticism for its own sake (an approach that is just as likely to lead to things like climate change denial or creationism as it is to some productive insight), but rather the realization that, as the saying goes, history is written by the victors, and the standard version of history is inevitably the one that most flatters those in power.

It is not entirely clear why monstrous truth must take reptilian form, but just as the weird turns instinctively to tentacles and the hauntological inevitably drifts towards skulls, for some reason awful truth must take the form of a reptile, whether a petrifying basilisk or just a bunch of pan-dimensional aliens.

This is a leftist book, and so must engage in a circular firing squad at least once.

This set a pattern whereby trans rights were repeatedly employed by the gay rights movement as a bargaining chip—as the thing they were pointedly willing to sell out in the name of compromise, as they spectacularly did when lobbying for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which excluded trans people in every version that was brought to Congress prior to 2009.

Thiel’s vision of corporate success is blatantly just the Moldbug/Land vision of how authoritarian capitalism will save us from the Great Filter.

Rather, it’s that once you’re willing to question the basic fact of Thiel’s competence it rapidly becomes apparent that the only actual evidence for this competence is that he has a lot of money.

And his fascination with seasteading numbers him among the litany of people interested in micronations, which is such a rich vein of complete crackpottery that I’d hate to deprive you of the pleasure of Googling it. This borders on the investment portfolio you’d get if you gave David Icke several billion dollars.

Who would craft such a thing as the alt-right? Only a fucking idiot. What other answer were we possibly going to find? It’s been idiots all the way down. And so of course even its billionaire supervillains bankrolling world-conquering AIs, vampiric life extension, and Donald Trump are idiots. This borders on “A is A.” And yet for all its obviousness, it captures what is perhaps the key realization about the alt-right—one that’s been implicit through much of this book, but is worth making explicit as we come to a close: they’re stupid.

I do not suggest this to diminish their horror. Far from it: the essential horror of the abyss is stupidity. That’s why it’s an abyss. The unique and exquisite danger of stupidity is that by its nature, it is beyond reason. There is nothing that can be said to it, because by definition it wouldn’t understand. It is an ur-basilisk—the one terrifying possibility that haunts every single argument that has ever been made. It is a move without response, playing by no rules other than its own, which do not generally include any obligation towards consistency. It is, in its way, the only approach that can never lose an argument. And in the alt-right and its affiliates we have one of the most staggeringly vast nexuses of raw stupidity the world has ever crafted.

Highlights for Bluets

This is a simple story, but it spooks me, insofar as it reminds me that the eye is simply a recorder, with or without our will. Perhaps the same could be said of the heart. But whether there is a violence at work here remains undecided.

Last night I wept in a way I haven’t wept for some time. I wept until I aged myself. I watched it happen in the mirror. I watched the lines arrive around my eyes like engraved sunbursts; it was like watching flowers open in time-lapse on a windowsill.

The only exception was Holland, which, for inscrutable reasons, wanted a murky, rainbow-hued abstraction.

Joan Mitchell, for one, customarily chose her pigments for their intensity rather than their durability—a choice that, as many painters know, can in time bring one’s paintings into a sorry state of decay. (Is writing spared this phenomenon?)

But I am inclined to think that anyone who thinks or talks this way has simply never felt the pulsing of a pussy in serious need of fucking—a pulsing that communicates nothing less than the suckings and ejaculations of the heart.

I will admit, however, upon considering the matter further, that writing does do something to one’s memory—that at times it can have the effect of an album of childhood photographs, in which each image replaces the memory it aimed to preserve.

But if writing does displace the idea—if it extrudes it, as it were, like grinding a lump of wet clay through a hole—where does the excess go? “We don’t want to pollute our world with leftover egos” (Chögyam Trungpa).

I have heard that this pain can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender.

The tepid “there must be a reason for it” notion sometimes floated by religious or quasi-religious acquaintances or bystanders, is, to her, another form of violence.

Likewise, I can say that seeing it has made me a believer, though I cannot say what, or in what, exactly, I have come to believe.

As her witness, I can testify to no reason, no lesson. But I can say this: in watching her, sitting with her, helping her, weeping with her, touching her, and talking with her, I have seen the bright pith of her soul. I cannot tell you what it looks like, exactly, but I can say that I have seen it.

Highlights for A Contest of Ideas

One cannot chart a course of social action without understanding the world in which one lives, works, and struggles.

The rise of a system of global supply chains, with their multilayered set of factories, vendors, and transport links, has created a world system in which legal ownership of the forces of production have been divorced from operational control. This shift has generated a system in which accountability for labor conditions is legally diffused and knowledge of the actual producers is far from transparent.

Like the global retailers of our time, they favored free trade, a weak regulatory state, transnational production, and cheap, if not unfree, labor.

Most auto industry foremen took home wages about 25 percent higher than the men they supervised. More important, their paycheck was a good deal more predictable because managers sought to keep a core of experienced men employed even during large layoffs. Such employment stability enabled foremen to purchase solid houses in the better working-class neighborhoods and maintain a standard of living that approached that of the lower middle class.

Freemasonry stood for brotherhood and respectability and propagated a creed of sober self-improvement, conventional morality, and class harmony.

However, on a deeper social and psychological level, the foremen’s union orientation proved a tribute to the ability of a newly mobilized working class to sweep into its orbit whole social strata that in more socially quiescent times might have opposed it.

The Reuther plan nevertheless cast a long shadow, for it contained hallmarks of the strategic approach that was so characteristic of labor-liberalism in the 1940s: an assault on management’s traditional power made in the name of economic efficiency and the public interest, and an effort to shift power relations within the structure of industry and politics, usually by means of a tripartite governmental entity empowered to plan for whole sections of the economy.

Its vision and its power attracted a species of political animal that is hardly existent today: the “labor-liberal,” who saw organized labor as absolutely central to the successful pursuit of his or her political agenda.

The fight for collective bargaining, they argued, had to remain secondary to the more important goal of racial betterment, which could only be achieved by “good will, friendly understanding, and mutual respect and co-operation between the races.”

Others rejected the influence of people who “have always told us what the white people want, but somehow or other are particularly silent on what we want.” “

The union hall, only a few blocks from the Reynolds Building, housed a constant round of meetings, plays, and musical entertainments, as well as classes in labor history, black history, and current events.

The activists encouraged the city’s blacks to participate in electoral politics. “Politics IS food, clothes, and housing,” declared the committee that registered some seven hundred new black voters in the months before the 1944 elections.

With almost one hundred thousand black workers organized in the Detroit area, black union activists played a central role in the civil rights struggle.

Soon after the war, the company began a mechanization campaign that eliminated several predominantly black departments.

But most historians came to see the world of working-class politics as a venue in which a genuinely progressive, multiracial ethos had the best chance to realize itself. This was because the unions, for all their imperfections, were sites of racial empowerment, sometimes within a genuinely integrated context, but perhaps even more as political entities in which black caucuses and factions could emerge in an organic fashion, as they did in unions representing workers in the steel, packinghouse, auto, shipbuilding, and railroad industries in years that long preceded the 1960s.

The responsibilities and expectations of American citizenship—due process, free speech, the right of assembly and petition—would now find their place in factory, mill, and office. A civil society would be constructed within the very womb of the privately held enterprise.

During those dramatic years in the early 1960s, when demonstrations and marches led by Martin Luther King and other militants pushed civil rights to the top of the social agenda, the entire discourse of American liberalism shifted decisively out of the New Deal–labor orbit and into a world in which the racial divide colored all politics.

From the early 1960s onward, the most legitimate, and in many instances the most potent, defense of American job rights would be found not through collective initiative, as codified in the Wagner Act and advanced by the trade unions, but through an individual’s claim to his or her civil rights based on race, gender, age, or other attribute.

That’s true, because this recent advance in social legislation arises not out of the potency of the American labor left, which has been in retreat, but relies instead on the enormous political legitimacy amassed by the civil rights movement and its many rights-conscious heirs.

This is because solidarity is not just a song or a sentiment but requires a measure of coercion that can enforce the social bond when not all members of the organization—or the picket line—are in full agreement. Unions are combat organizations, and solidarity is not just another word for majority rule, especially when their existence is at stake. Thus, in recent decades, employer antiunionism has become increasingly oriented toward the ostensible protection of the individual rights of workers as against undemocratic unions and restrictive contracts that hamper the free choice of employees.

As anti-sweatshop and human rights advocates are now rediscovering, no consistent regulation is really possible without hearing from the workers themselves, and their voices will remain silent unless they have some institution that protects them from the consequences of speaking up.

Thus, the same species of rights-conscious liberalism that abolished racial segregation, ended McCarthyism, and legalized women’s rights has also undermined the legal basis of union power and turned solidarity into a quaint and antique notion.

Rights consciousness therefore transfers authority into the hands of another body—a court, a panel, a government agency—to sort out the various claims and strike the approximate balance. Justice may be served for a particular individual, or even an entire class, but not always through a system of participatory debate and democratic decision making.

In the United States workers have used the new workers rights that emerged out of the civil rights movement to democratize gender and racial hierarchies, only to see their real security and opportunities undermined by the dramatic transformation of a working environment over which they have had little control.

First, the unions must themselves champion the rights impulse so that it does not become the presumptive property of the corporations, the free marketers, or even the human rights NGOs. To flourish again trade unionism does require civil rights and human rights and their vigorous enforcement in every global workplace.

Like the socialists of Europe and the industrial democrats of New Deal America, trade unionism requires a transformative vision to sustain its moral and institutional existence, to link individual rights and social purpose.

Like many other American progressives, both were enthusiasts for Mussolini-style corporatism. Fascism’s appeal to such liberals was found in its experimental nature, its antidogmatic temper, and its moral élan.

The 1935 Wagner Act did offer as its key rationale the establishment of industrial peace, but only after providing guarantees that genuinely independent trade unions had the power and solidarity to meet with their capitalist adversaries on a terrain that gave to labor the economic and political power necessary to cut a negotiated bargain.

In a pattern that really did have a fascist character, Southern elites had long figured out how to mobilize a big slice of the white working class in the interest of a reactionary and violently oppressive racial order. Thus the bitter resistance to the civil rights movement and to the implementation of school desegregation, which reached its apogee in the 1950s, was just the most overt manifestation of the reactionary manipulation of popular white sentiment—a sentiment that had first become apparent when Southern elites confronted New Deal statutes covering crop allotments, minimum wages, welfare payments, worker rights, and voting procedures.

In many of these authoritarian states, opposition movements that were defeated in 1968 reemerged a decade or more later, providing the leadership and a good deal of the spirit for the “velvet revolutions” that brought down the Eastern European regimes in 1989.

Mark Lilla has reminded us,

There was a tension between what capitalist society required of its citizens as producers and the habits it fostered in them as consumers. This contradiction, Bell wrote, would leave advanced capitalist societies without the moral basis they needed for continued prosperity and cohesion.

All revolutions, successful or not, link a transformation of the cultural and ideological terrain with a shift in power and governance.

There were culture wars in the 1930s as well as in later decades; one reason FDR was such a polarizing figure was that he embodied in his administration and in his persona the “class treason” that was so hateful to a generation of Yankee conservatives who had been the natural arbitrators of power and taste for so many decades.

The longest-standing argument against public sector unionism rests on the idea that such collective bargaining by workers in the public sector undercuts the sovereignty of government. The second idea is that public sector unionism makes government too expensive and sets a standard that private industry cannot meet. And the third conservative argument, which reflects the rise in recent years of an intense hostility to the very idea of a welfare state, asserts that public sector unions are bad not because they undermine the sovereignty of the state, but because they sustain it, especially insofar as the state, at either the local or national levels, creates a set of public goods, like education, infrastructure, health care, and even public safety, that conservatives seek to either abolish or privatize.

Trade unions oppose the fragmentation of the public school system, they fight the privatization of municipal services, they sustain the Democratic Party, and they politicize and mobilize voters who would otherwise remain alienated and voiceless.

“Many of the new research people,” he wrote in 1946, probably indicating his own feelings, “are disaffected and morally unhappy: they will their minds to people they don’t like for purposes they don’t feel at one with . . . What some of them really want is to connect their skill and intelligence to a movement in which they can believe; they are ready to give a lot of energy to an organization that would harness these skills in the service of the left. And the left to most of them means labor.”

Mills responded, “By intellectual here we mean humanitarian socialist. What the hell else? So I’ll say so in some innocent, hard-boiled way.”

The phrase “political publics” is important to this typology and in Mills’s mind is quite distinct from the more passive, uninformed “public opinion.” The political publics are more self-conscious, more politically alert communities either of ideology or interest that bring to bear a particular sensibility to the issues of the day. They formulate the ideas and programs that operate on the consciousness of the passive, atomized mass.

Not if “the power and the intellect” are united. And that is why Mills found trade union leaders to be “the strategic elite in American society,” even as he also warned on the very last page, “Never has so much depended upon men who are so ill-prepared and so little inclined to assume the responsibility.”

Trade unions are hybrid institutions—half monopoly seller of labor, half nascent social movement—and their leadership is just as mixed, though not always in the same personage: “an army general and a parliamentary debater, a political boss and an entrepreneur, a rebel and a disciplinarian.”

Here they defended the wildcat strikes that periodically erupted, pushed for a labor party, and attacked those in the labor movement, such as the Communists, who subordinated working-class aspirations for a better life and a more democratic workplace to the foreign policy interests of one of the big powers.

Despite high levels of consumption, unionization, and political complacency, Swados would later write, “there is one thing that the worker doesn’t do like the middle-class: he works like a worker.”

Confronted with the financial and political strength of the most powerful American corporations, the UAW tempered its fight against job dissatisfaction, unemployment, and racial discrimination.

As early as 1945 and 1946 the Communists were overwhelmingly defeated in Western Zone trade union elections by those who remembered the disastrous role played by the Reds during the immediate pre–Nazi era (the Communist slogan then was “After Hitler Us!”).

Thus Lovestone helped erect the ideological Iron Curtain that walled off the unions from an entire generation of New Left activists and civil rights militants whose energy and talent was essential to the health of a truly “free” labor movement.

Some were now union officers and staffers: their resistance, equivocation, and hypocrisy fueled Herbert Hill’s outrage for the rest of his life. Nothing infuriated him more than the complicacy, condescension, presumption, and outright racism that he found in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). In 1960 the ILGWU still traded on its socialist roots, its pioneering role in the New Deal, and in some circles its Jewish and Italian communitarianism. Yet anyone who bothered to look could also see that a stratum of aging Jewish liberals was presiding over a trade union that systematically excluded African Americans and Puerto Ricans from advancement in both the shop and the union hierarchy.

Hill wrote that she “denies the record of union racism in order to sanitize labor history,” along with many other labor historians who “find it necessary to minimize or deny racism in the labor movement because its existence conflicts with the useable past that they are constructing as labor history.”

Hill condemned what he called the “revived populist neo-Marxism that advanced the ideology of working class consciousness and solidarity against the social realties of race.” And as he put it in his critique of Gutman’s study of the late nineteenth-century United Mine Workers, “The attempt to dissolve race in class thus emerged in the ‘New Labor History’ as a modern version of the old socialist dream: that the class struggle, joined by united workers, would in time resolve the persistent and ideologically vexing issue of race by rendering it irrelevant.”

Organized labor is embattled, and not just at the bargaining table, but in a fundamentally ideological way that calls its very existence into question. In this context, academic intellectuals play a vital role as defenders, legitimizers, and even spokespeople for a movement that no longer quite knows how to explain itself to a larger public.

Highlights for Ecology Without Nature

To speak thus is to use the aesthetic as an anesthetic.

We would be unable to cope with modernity unless we had a few pockets of place in which to store our hope.

Rendering is technically what visual- and sonic-effects artists do to a film to generate a more or less consistent sense of atmosphere or world.

elcphrasis

Texts also exploit negative rhythm to generate tone. The absence of sound or graphic marks can be as potent as their presence. Gaps between stanzas, and other kinds of broken lineation, create tone out of sheer blankness.

Moreover, there is an aesthetic politics of the rhizome, which promotes rhizome for rhizome’s sake.

ecopoetics

Ecorhapsody

ecomimesis

Ecodidacticism

ecorhapsodic

It is providing a fantasy, an aesthetic playground in which the ideas in the book appear incarnated, a literary gravitational field generated by the sheer quantity of vivid description (elcphrasis).

This paradoxical act of identification with the fantasy object of ideology could be mirrored in critical analysis, by the relentless close reading of texts, not in order to achieve some tasteful distance toward them, but precisely in order to “mess around” with them, or as my students sometimes say in horror, “dissect.”

In sum, one of the principal complaints against establishing a vivid, solidly real nature “out there” or “over there” is that it just fails to be convincing. This lack of believability penetrates to the very core of ecomimesis, the most potent rhetorical device for establishing a sense of nature. The inherent instability of language, and of the human and nonhuman worlds, ensure that ecomimesis fails to deliver.

The problem comes when we start to think that there is something behind or beyond or above (in other words, outside!) the inside-outside distinction. Not that the distinction is real; it is entirely spurious. Thus, it is wrong to claim that there is something more real beyond inside and outside, whether that thing is a world of (sacred) nature (traditional ecological language) or machines (Deleuze and Guattari world). Yet it is equally wrong to say that there is nothing, to “believe in nothing,” as it were, and to say that he or she who has the best argument is the right one—pure nihilism. There is not even nothing beyond inside and outside. Getting used to that could take a lifetime, or more.

We can expect to find ambient qualities in any artwork whatsoever. We need not restrict ourselves to works that are specifically ambient, and especially not that subset of works that contain ecomimesis. In a world properly attuned to the environment, we would read poems with an eye to ecology, no matter what their content.

Nature cannot remain itself—it is the flickering shapes on the edges of our perception, the strangers who disturb us with their proximity, the machines whose monstrosity inspires revulsion.

They are identical because, under current economic conditions, not only is there no place, but there is also no space.

Before and after the work of capital, there persists a curious silence and absence marked by traces of misery and oppression.

Although some DJs have created superstar cults, the notion of the disco or house DJ is that of an anonymous worker in a “sound factory,” generating libidinal pulses in a space of dancing, producing ambience, in the same way as fairgrounds provide machines for enjoyment rather than work.

Marx described how capitalist alienation is fundamentally how human labor power and labor time get factored out of the process of value generation, even though they are intrinsic to it. Capitalism encrypts labor.

Rainforests are ransacked for biotechnology, and the insides of life-forms provide new products such as patented genomes in what ecofeminist Vandana Shiva describes as another wave of colonization.

In returning to Romanticism, ecocriticism highlights the yearning for a bygone life of feudal hierarchy. Primitivist environmentalisms crave a lost golden age of interconnect-edness with the environment. They look to pre-feudal, sometimes prehistoric, pasts to discover forms of primitive communism. In contrast, futurist environmentalisms are based on the notion that the golden age has not yet happened. They acknowledge that despite the medievalist glamour, most people never had much of a relationship with their land under a feudal hierarchy.

Ambient poetics is about making the imperceptible perceptible, while retaining the form of its imperceptibility—to make the invisible visible, the inaudible audible.

Ambient art wants to make the unknown known, like science. But it also wishes to retain the flavor of the unknown, a certain mystifying opacity—otherwise ambient art would in fact be science.

Organicism, that peculiarly English form of nature ideology, paints society as a nonsystemic heap of classes, beliefs, and practices, as ramshackle and spontaneous as a pile of compost. This is a rich, compelling, and finally authoritarian fantasy—there’s no arguing with it.

Tolkien narrates the victory of the suburbanite, the “little person,” embedded in a tamed yet natural-seeming environment. Nestled into the horizon as they are in their burrows, the wider world of global politics is blissfully unavailable to them. Tolkien’s work embodies a key nationalist fantasy, a sense of “world” as real, tangible yet indeterminate, evoking a metonymic chain of images—an anamorphic form.

The question of animals—sometimes I wonder whether it is the question—radically disrupts any idea of a single, independent, solid environment.

For Tolkien, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and talking eagles are welcome others, but swarthy “southern” or “eastern” men are not.

The only way to remain close to the strangers without killing them (turning them into yourself or into an inanimate object) is to maintain a sense of irony. If irony and movement are not part of environmentalism, strangers are in danger of disappearing, exclusion, ostracism, or worse.

State terror takes an interest in ecological catastrophe.

The struggle between individualism and holism offers an attenuated choice between absolute liberty and absolute authority—in other words, the dilemma called America. Americans are caught between the constitution and a militarized state, between placards and pepper spray.

Mud, mud, glorious mud.

Since it looks like capitalism is about to use an ecological rhetoric of scarcity to justify future developments, it is vital that we recognize that there are serious problems with imagining an ecological view based on limits, even at the level of abstraction we have been exploring. And we need to notice that scarcity and limitation are not the only ecological concepts on the block. What if the problem were in fact one of a badly distributed and reified surplus?

Green consumerism made it possible to be both pro-capitalist and green, repeating the Romantic struggle between rebelling and selling out.

To be a consumerist, you don’t have to consume anything, just contemplate the idea of consuming.

But this promise typifies the paradox of the Romantic avant-garde. If we could just get the aesthetic form right, we could crack reality, open it up, and change it.

Both quietism and activism are two sides of the same beautiful coin. The beautiful soul fuses the aesthetic and the moral.

Likewise, there are fascist and New Age versions of environmentalism.

Nature writing partly militates against ecology rather than for it. By setting up nature as an object “over there”—a pristine wilderness beyond all trace of human contact—it re-establishes the very separation it seeks to abolish.

Significantly, Althusser suggests, if only poetically, that ideology is a dimension of existence—we exist “within” it.167 A more engaged ecological criticism would acknowledge this environment—one we are caught in even as we judge it.

The dizzyingly additive quality of the images makes us forget where we came from at the start of the paragraph, and where we are going—how do we end up at otter scat? But just as “out of joint” is the metaphorical slash of the “as I write.” Since the “as” slides between analogy, temporality, and strict semantic continuity, and since this sliding must take place for the passage to seduce us to visualize a fantasy world, “As I write” breaches the consistency of the ecomimesis even as it broaches it.

Only a very privileged person would make such a big deal out of having eyes and ears, of being able to walk, read, write. There are hints that nature is best accessed by the able-bodied, or at least, those with sharp, undistracted organs of perception.

Ecomimesis aims to rupture the aesthetic distance, to break down the subject-object dualism, to convince us that we belong to this world. But the end result is to reinforce the aesthetic distance, the very dimension in which the subject-object dualism persists. Since de-distancing has been reified, distance returns even more strongly, in surround-sound, with panoramic intensity.

Writing outside the dominant Western traditions, Trungpa notices how materialism and spiritualism are joined at the hip:

Our choice is false if it has been reduced to one between hypocrisy and cynicism, between wholeheartedly getting into environmental rhetoric and cynically distancing ourselves from it. In both cases, we would be writing liturgies for the beautiful soul. Although it is “realistic” to be cynical rather than hypocritical, we do not wish to reinforce the current state of affairs. Our answer to the ruthless ransacking of nature, and of the idea of nature, must be yes, we admit to the reality of the situation. And no, we refuse to submit to it.

Ecocritique could establish collective forms of identity that included other species and their worlds, real and possible. It would subvert fixating images of “world” that inhibit humans from grasping their place in an already historical nature.

To think in terms of either crude action or pure ideas is to remain within the prison of the beautiful soul.

Dark ecology acknowledges that there is no way out of the paradoxes outlined in this book. Far from remaining natural, ecocriticism must admit that it is contingent and queer.

If it is to be properly critical, montage must juxtapose the contents with the frame. Why? Simply to juxtapose contents without bringing form and subject position into the mix would leave things as they are.

 

 

If ecology without nature has taught us anything, it is that there is a need to acknowledge irreducible otherness, whether in poetics, ethics, or politics.

All is not lost in a consumerist universe, if only because the junk that surrounds us is so inconsistent. Its inconsistency has the quality of a clue. This clue is the secret of suffering curled up inside the very dimension of the object.

Embodied in the sonic and graphic materiality of the text, the earth quakes, setting up a subject quake, a tremor of the “I.” What remains after our long delve into the fake otherness of ecomimesis is the fragility of an “I” that we can’t quite get rid of, but that at least can be made to vibrate, in such a way that does not strengthen its aggressive resolve (like a hammer or a boot), but that dissolves its form, however momentarily.

Heidegger has most powerfully described place as open and beyond concept. But Heidegger, infamously, solidifies this very openness, turning history into destiny and leaving the way open for an extreme right-wing politics, which can easily assimilate ecological thinking to its ideological ends, precisely because ecological thinking is highly aestheticized. The Nazis passed original laws to protect animals and (German) forests as ends in themselves.

Romantic environmentalism is a flavor of modern consumerist ideology. It is thoroughly urban, even when it is born in the countryside.

Moving from one station to the next becomes a metaphor for moving from one word to another in a sentence. Landmarks become textual.

To see a place in its strangeness is not just to see how it is permeated with otherness. That could collapse into racism: otherness immigrates and I’m ready with my gun. Within a horizon, you can indeed be aware of “another” place over yonder. Appreciating strangeness is seeing the very strangeness of similarity and familiarity. To reintroduce the uncanny into the poetics of the home (oikos, ecology, ecomimesis) is a political act.

The ecological thought, the thinking of interconnectedness, has a dark side embodied not in a hippie aesthetic of life over death, or a sadistic-sentimental Bambification of sentient beings, but in a “goth” assertion of the contingent and necessarily queer idea that we want to stay with a dying world: dark ecology.

Ecopsychology

We start by thinking that we can “save” something called “the world” “over there,” but end up realizing that we ourselves are implicated. This is the solution to beautiful soul syndrome: reframing our field of activity as one for which we ourselves are formally responsible, even guilty.

We should be finding ways to stick around with the sticky mess that we’re in and that we are, making thinking dirtier, identifying with ugliness, practicing “hauntology” (Derrida’s phrase) rather than ontology.

I often think that the trouble with posthumanism is that we have not yet achieved humanity, and that humanity and posthumanity have no time for what Derrida calls the animal that therefore I am.

In this respect, dark ecology diverges from those Romanticisms that follow a Hegelian dialectic, the story of the reconciliation of the self to the other, who turns out to be the self in disguise.159 It gets over the dilemma of the beautiful soul, not by turning the other into the self, but perversely, by leaving things the way they are.

And being-here, being literally on this earth (Da-sein), would entail a need for forgiveness, an equally radical assumption that whatever is there is our responsibility, and ultimately, “our fault.”

Dark ecology tells us that we can’t escape our minds. Far from giving us a liturgy for how to get out of our guilty minds, how to stick our heads in nature and lose them, Clare helps us to stay right here, in the poisoned mud. Which is just where we need to be, right now.

The only firm ethical option in the current catastrophe, as I observed before, is admitting to the ecologically catastrophic in all its meaningless contingency, accepting responsibility groundlessly, whether or not “we ourselves” can be proved to be responsible.

Instead of trying to pull the world out of the mud, we could jump down into the mud. To emerge from the poisoned chrysalis of the beautiful soul, we admit that we have a choice. We choose and accept our own death, and the fact of mortality among species and ecosystems. This is the ultimate rationality: holding our mind open for the absolutely unknown that is to come. Evolution will not be televised. One cannot have a video of one’s own extinction. A warning to deep ecology: if we aestheticize this acceptance, we arrive at fascism, the cult of death. Instead, ecological criticism must politicize the aesthetic. We choose this poisoned ground. We will be equal to this senseless actuality. Ecology may be without nature. But it is not without us.

Highlights for Broken Angels

At the very least, you habitually find yourself in unfamiliar bodies on unfamiliar worlds where people are shooting at you. Even on a good day, no amount of briefing can prepare you for a total change of environment like that, and in the invariably unstable to lethally dangerous sets of circumstances the Envoys have been created to deal with, there just isn’t any point.

Since it is logistically impossible to expect everything, she told us evenly, we will teach you not to expect anything. That way, you will be ready for it.

But really, I’m optimistic. You’d be surprised how many soldiers still find it difficult to shoot small children, even in these troubled times.

Testing the human frame to destruction

Lapinee, a construct vocalist, was designed and launched to front the replacement song, which told the story of a young boy, orphaned in a Kempist sneak raid but then adopted by a kindly corporate bloc and brought up to realise his full potential as a top-level planetary executive.

Maximum utility for ALL resources is our ultimate goal.

Mandrake was the commercial world’s equivalent of Carrera’s Wedge, and you had to assume a corresponding approach to latitudes of initiative at executive levels. There was really no other way for a cutting-edge organism to work.

And like Quell says, rip open the diseased heart of a corporation and what spills out?’

‘People.’

Body armour for the soul.

There’s a virtual version of me in the machine with some psychosurgeon peripherals wired in. I’ll send it in to bring back the best dozen and a half.

‘Look at that, Kovacs. We’re drinking coffee so far from Earth you have to work hard to pick out Sol in the night sky. We were carried here on a wind that blows in a dimension we cannot see or touch. Stored as dreams in the mind of a machine that thinks in a fashion so far in advance of our own brains it might as well carry the name of god. We have been resurrected into bodies not our own, grown in a secret garden outwith the body of any mortal woman. These are the facts of our existence, Kovacs. How, then, are they different, or any less mystical, than the belief that there is another realm where the dead live in the company of beings so far beyond us we must call them gods?’

We don’t need recourse to the places of origin to explain them. I’m just trying to show you how limited your world view is without an acceptance of wonder.

Times change, but market forces are forever. History unreels, the real dead stay that way.

The rest of us get to go on.

She said wars are fought over hormones. Male hormones, largely. It’s not about winning or losing at all, it’s about hormonal discharge.

War has a soothing, simplifying effect on politics that must hit the politicians like a betathanatine rush. You don’t have to balance the issues any more, and you can justify anything. Fight and win, and bring the victory home.

‘Every skill must be practised. Every act rehearsed. A blade is only a blade when it cuts.’

The wisdom of the ages shredded at a stroke into the pipe-cooked musings of a bunch of canal-dive barflies. Lao Tzu, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Muhammed — what did these guys know? Parochial locals, never even been off the planet. Where were they when the Martians were crossing interstellar space.

Face the facts. Then act on them. It’s the only mantra I know, the only doctrine I have to offer you, and it’s harder than you’d think, because I swear humans seem hardwired to do anything but. Face the facts. Don’t pray, don’t wish, don’t buy into centuries-old dogma and dead rhetoric. Don’t give in to your conditioning or your visions or your fucked-up sense of . . . whatever. FACE THE FACTS. THEN act.

He was like all of them. Same intensity, same goddamned fucking conviction that he was right. Just a different dream of what he was right about.

Highlights for Exit West

but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.

Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians.

They had begun, each of them, to be penetrated, but they had not yet kissed.

for he was so gentle, and evoked in her a protective caring, as if for one’s own child, or for a puppy, or for a beautiful memory one knows has already commenced to fade.

and he did not wish to do this, he preferred to abide, in a sense, in the past, for the past offered more to him.

and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.

who had run from war already, and did not know where next to run, and so were waiting, waiting, like so many others.

Even more than the fighter planes and the tanks these robots, few though they were, and the drones overhead, were frightening, because they suggested an unstoppable efficiency, an inhuman power, and evoked the kind of dread that a small mammal feels before a predator of an altogether different order, like a rodent before a snake.

cutting across divisions of race or language or nation, for what did those divisions matter now in a world full of doors,

The news in those days was full of war and migrants and nativists, and it was full of fracturing too, of regions pulling away from nations, and cities pulling away from hinterlands, and it seemed that as everyone was coming together everyone was also moving apart.

“Millions arrived in our country,” Saeed replied. “When there were wars nearby.”

“That was different. Our country was poor. We didn’t feel we had as much to lose.”

To flee forever is beyond the capacity of most: at some point even a hunted animal will stop, exhausted, and await its fate, if only for a while.

Perhaps they had decided they did not have it in them to do what would have needed to be done, to corral and bloody and where necessary slaughter the migrants, and had determined that some other way would have to be found.

In exchange for their labor in clearing terrain and building infrastructure and assembling dwellings from prefabricated blocks, migrants were promised forty meters and a pipe: a home on forty square meters of land and a connection to all the utilities of modernity.

A mutually agreed time tax had been enacted, such that a portion of the income and toil of those who had recently arrived on the island would go to those who had been there for decades, and this time tax was tapered in both directions, becoming a smaller and smaller sliver as one continued to reside, and then a larger and larger subsidy thereafter.

He was drawn to people from their country, both in the labor camp and online. It seemed to Nadia that the farther they moved from the city of their birth, through space and through time, the more he sought to strengthen his connection to it, tying ropes to the air of an era that for her was unambiguously gone.

But in his devotions was ever more devotion, and towards her it seemed there was ever less.

It seemed to Saeed that the people who advocated this position most strongly, who claimed the rights of nativeness most forcefully, tended to be drawn from the ranks of those with light skin who looked most like the natives of Britain—and as had been the case with many of the natives of Britain, many of these people too seemed stunned by what was happening to their homeland, what had already happened in so brief a period, and some seemed angry as well.

and prayer for him became about being a man, being one of the men, a ritual that connected him to adulthood and to the notion of being a particular sort of man, a gentleman, a gentle man, a man who stood for community and faith and kindness and decency, a man, in other words, like his father. Young men pray for different things, of course, but some young men pray to honor the goodness of the men who raised them, and Saeed was very much a young man of this mold.

and so even though they spoke less and did less together, they saw each other more, although not more often.

Of this, in later years, both were glad, and both would also wonder if this meant that they had made a mistake, that if they had but waited and watched their relationship would have flowered again, and so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.

It has been said that depression is a failure to imagine a plausible desirable future for oneself, and, not just in Marin, but in the whole region, in the Bay Area, and in many other places too, places both near and far, the apocalypse appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic, which is to say that while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with, and plausible desirable futures began to emerge, unimaginable previously, but not unimaginable now, and the result was something not unlike relief.

How this assembly would coexist with other preexisting bodies of government was as yet undecided. It might at first have only a moral authority, but that authority could be substantial, for unlike those other entities for which some humans were not human enough to exercise suffrage, this new assembly would speak from the will of all the people, and in the face of that will, it was hoped, greater justice might be less easily denied.

the lives of cities being far more persistent and more gently cyclical than those of people

Highlights for Sapiens

Humankind paid for its lofty vision and industrious hands with backaches and stiff necks.

But if the Interbreeding Theory is right, there might well be genetic differences between Africans, Europeans and Asians that go back hundreds of thousands of years. This is political dynamite, which could provide material for explosive racial theories.

The foragers may have had their all-conquering Napoleons, who ruled empires half the size of Luxembourg; gifted Beethovens who lacked symphony orchestras but brought people to tears with the sound of their bamboo flutes; and charismatic prophets who revealed the words of a local oak tree rather than those of a universal creator god. But these are all mere guesses.

Every mammoth was a source of a vast quantity of meat (which, given the frosty temperatures, could even be frozen for later use), tasty fat, warm fur and valuable ivory. As the findings from Sungir testify, mammoth-hunters did not just survive in the frozen north – they thrived.

The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.

Back in the snail-mail era, people usually only wrote letters when they had something important to relate.

We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.

Everywhere, rulers and elites sprang up, living off the peasants’ surplus food and leaving them with only a bare subsistence.

We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society.

First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature.

Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can.

The inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals. If a single individual changes his or her beliefs, or even dies, it is of little importance. However, if most individuals in the network die or change their beliefs, the inter-subjective phenomenon will mutate or disappear. Inter-subjective phenomena are neither malevolent frauds nor insignificant charades.

Throughout history, and in almost all societies, concepts of pollution and purity have played a leading role in enforcing social and political divisions and have been exploited by numerous ruling classes to maintain their privileges.

Money comes to money, and poverty to poverty. Education comes to education, and ignorance to ignorance. Those once victimised by history are likely to be victimised yet again. And those whom history has privileged are more likely to be privileged again.

In order to ensure her own survival and the survival of her children, the woman had little choice but to agree to whatever conditions the man stipulated so that he would stick around and share some of the burden. As time went by, the feminine genes that made it to the next generation belonged to women who were submissive caretakers. Women who spent too much time fighting for power did not leave any of those powerful genes for future generations.

Nobody really knows how to solve this thorny question of cultural inheritance.

Yet, in fact, religion has been the third great unifier of humankind, alongside money and empires.

These theological disputes turned so violent that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Catholics and Protestants killed each other by the hundreds of thousands.

If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.

The existence of different human races, the superiority of the white race, and the need to protect and cultivate this superior race were widely held beliefs among most Western elites.

At the same time, a huge gulf is opening between the tenets of liberal humanism and the latest findings of the life sciences, a gulf we cannot ignore much longer.

Successful cultures are those that excel in reproducing their memes, irrespective of the costs and benefits to their human hosts.

Similar arguments are common in the social sciences, under the aegis of game theory.

This was not merely a historical achievement, but an evolutionary and even cosmic feat.

Mere observations, however, are not knowledge. In order to understand the universe, we need to connect observations into comprehensive theories.

Most scientific studies are funded because somebody believes they can help attain some political, economic or religious goal.

What made Europeans exceptional was their unparalleled and insatiable ambition to explore and conquer.

the European conquerors knew their empires very well. Far better, indeed, than any previous conquerors, or even than the native population itself.

No less important was the fact that science gave the empires ideological justification. Modern Europeans came to believe that acquiring new knowledge was always good. The fact that the empires produced a constant stream of new knowledge branded them as progressive and positive enterprises.

Banks and governments print money, but ultimately, it is the scientists who foot the bill.

A hundred years later, princes and bankers were willing to extend far more credit to Columbus’ successors, and they had more capital at their disposal, thanks to the treasures reaped from America. Equally important, princes and bankers had far more trust in the potential of exploration, and were more willing to part with their money.

The secret of Dutch success was credit. The Dutch burghers, who had little taste for combat on land, hired mercenary armies to fight the Spanish for them. The Dutch themselves meanwhile took to the sea in ever-larger fleets. Mercenary armies and cannon-brandishing fleets cost a fortune, but the Dutch were able to finance their military expeditions more easily than the mighty Spanish Empire because they secured the trust of the burgeoning European financial system at a time when the Spanish king was carelessly eroding its trust in him. Financiers extended the Dutch enough credit to set up armies and fleets, and these armies and fleets gave the Dutch control of world trade routes, which in turn yielded handsome profits. The profits allowed the Dutch to repay the loans, which strengthened the trust of the financiers. Amsterdam was fast becoming not only one of the most important ports of Europe, but also the continent’s financial Mecca.

How exactly did the Dutch win the trust of the financial system? Firstly, they were sticklers about repaying their loans on time and in full, making the extension of credit less risky for lenders. Secondly, their country’s judicial system enjoyed independence and protected private rights – in particular private property rights.

This enterprise may sound a little strange to us, but in the early modern age it was common for private companies to hire not only soldiers, but also generals and admirals, cannons and ships, and even entire off-the-shelf armies. The international community took this for granted and didn’t raise an eyebrow when a private company established an empire.

the British demanded and received control of Hong Kong, which they proceeded to use as a secure base for drug trafficking

The most important economic resource is trust in the future, and this resource is constantly threatened by thieves and charlatans.

Markets by themselves offer no protection against fraud, theft and violence. It is the job of political systems to ensure trust by legislating sanctions against cheats and to establish and support police forces, courts and jails which will enforce the law. When kings fail to do their jobs and regulate the markets properly, it leads to loss of trust, dwindling credit and economic depression.

Few of us understand how electricity does all these things, but even fewer can imagine life without it.

Our children’s books, our iconography and our TV screens are still full of giraffes, wolves and chimpanzees, but the real world has very few of them left.

Many call this process ‘the destruction of nature’. But it’s not really destruction, it’s change. Nature cannot be destroyed.

Many kingdoms and empires were in truth little more than large protection rackets.

A person who lost her family and community around 1750 was as good as dead.

Today, parental authority is in full retreat. Youngsters are increasingly excused from obeying their elders, whereas parents are blamed for anything that goes wrong in the life of their child. Mum and Dad are about as likely to be found innocent in the Freudian courtroom as were defendants in a Stalinist show trial.

The decline of violence is due largely to the rise of the state. Throughout history, most violence resulted from local feuds between families and communities.

A lot of evidence indicates that we are destroying the foundations of human prosperity in an orgy of reckless consumption.

A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.

Science fiction rarely describes such a future, because an accurate description is by definition incomprehensible.

Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.

Highlights for The Stone Sky

Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.

He has given up some of who he was, but what remains is still an artist of terror. If he has seen fit to share the secrets of his artistry with them, they’re lucky. She hopes they appreciate it.

“Would’ve been nice if we could’ve all had normal, of course, but not enough people wanted to share. So now we all burn.”

The fires within the earth are nothing to what you’re feeling right now, failed mother that you are.

But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them—even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.

This was what made them not the same kind of human as everyone else. Eventually: not as human as everyone else. Finally: not human at all.

Hjarka Leadership Castrima, who was taught from an early age to kill the few so the many might live, only touches her shoulder and says, “You’ll do what you have to do.”

For some crimes, there is no fitting justice—only reparation. So for every iota of life siphoned from beneath the Earth’s skin, the Earth has dragged a million human remnants into its heart.

You will do this—make her see these things, make yourself face it again, because this is the whole truth of what orogenes are. The Stillness fears your kind for good reason, true. Yet it should also revere your kind for good reason, and it has chosen to do only one of these things.

But that’s no different from what mothers have had to do since the dawn of time: sacrifice the present, in hopes of a better future. If the sacrifice this time has been harder than most … Fine. So be it.

What follows won’t be good, but it’ll be bad for everyone—rich and poor, Equatorials and commless, Sanzeds and Arctics, now they’ll all know. Every season is the Season for us. The apocalypse that never ends. They could’ve chosen a different kind of equality. We could’ve all been safe and comfortable together, surviving together, but they didn’t want that. Now nobody gets to be safe. Maybe that’s what it will take for them to finally realize things have to change.

We will have set her free … to struggle for survival along with everyone else. But that is better than the illusion of safety in a gilded cage, is it not?

Remember, too, that the Earth does not fully understand us. It looks upon human beings and sees short-lived, fragile creatures, puzzlingly detached in substance and awareness from the planet on which their lives depend, who do not understand the harm they tried to do—perhaps because they are so short-lived and fragile and detached.

“They’re not going to choose anything different.”

“They will if you make them.”

She’s wiser than you, and does not balk at the notion of forcing people to be decent to each other.

There is always loss, with change.

Then you say, “I want the world to be better.”

I have never regretted more my inability to leap into the air and whoop for joy.

Instead, I transit to you, with one hand proffered. “Then let’s go make it better.”

You look amused. It’s you. It’s truly you. “Just like that?”

“It might take some time.”

“I don’t think I’m very patient.” But you take my hand.

Don’t be patient. Don’t ever be. This is the way a new world begins.

“Neither am I,” I say. “So let’s get to it.”

Highlights for The Obelisk Gate

That’s when you no longer need an answer to the question. There is such a thing as too much loss. Too much has been taken from you both—taken and taken and taken, until there’s nothing left but hope, and you’ve given that up because it hurts too much. Until you would rather die, or kill, or avoid attachments altogether, than lose one more thing.

Not the thought. The thought was simple and predictable: Better to die than live a slave. But what you felt in that moment was a kind of cold, monstrous love. A determination to make sure your son’s life remained the beautiful, wholesome thing that it had been up to that day, even if it meant you had to end his life early.

The arguments that you have with the other advisors are more important: Your decisions affect more than a thousand people now. But they have the same silly, pedantic feel. Silly pedantry is a luxury that you’ve rarely been able to enjoy in your life.

A girl whose mother never loved her, only refined her, and whose father will only love her again if she can do the impossible and become something she is not.

Once, as you trained Nassun, you told yourself that it did not matter if she hated you by the end of it; she would know your love by her own survival.

The children complain that he’s not very good—none of your finesse, and while he goes easier on them, they’re not learning as much. (It’s nice to be appreciated, if after the fact.)

This is a terrible thing that she is saying. It is a terrible thing that she loves herself.

Now, she needs someone to blame for the loss of that perfect love. She knows her mother can bear it.

“Oh, uncaring Earth,” you whisper.

“This is a community. You will be unified. You will fight for each other. Or I will rusting kill every last one of you.”

Even if “hasn’t yet committed genocidal slaughter” is a low bar to hop, other communities haven’t even managed that much.