I wrote my paper zines straight to final draft by hand, a process that makes the best parts better and the worst parts sloppier and longer. So here are just the best parts! I think the best stuff I've ever written is on this page. (What's a zine?)
Superweed 1 part 1
So the villain is rich people, right? And property is the root of all evil. I don't think so. I think, on the Tree of Evil, rich people and pieces of property are only the leaves that suck in energy for a season and then die, and are replaced by new rich people and pieces of property. Maybe the concepts of property and money are the branches that Evil sticks into this world. I think I'll have to look a lot longer before I find the root. But here's something I suspect: I suspect that what we call evil has the same root as what we call seriousness, and seriousness is just a branch of humor -- humor invented seriousness because it's so funny. Or, you can't have release without tension.
. . .
I don't think language creates reality. I think language filters reality, or anchors reality, or sticks reality in place. Or we're all climbing on a big rock cliff, and words are spikes driven into the rock, and languages are chains or ladders of spikes. And people use the spikes so much that they no longer know how to climb on rock. And whole cultures of people, with a limitless cliff face around them, are packed onto a few thin spike trails. And those who know how to drive spikes, and pull them out, manipulate the trails to serve their interests. And people are called "great" when they drive spikes into places no one (from their culture) has been in before. I think Jesus Christ was a rock climber. And St. Paul saw people starting to follow Jesus onto the rocks, and got frightened, and drove a few spikes in the direction Jesus was going and called it Christianity. And the central doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus was the only rock climber. I think we're all rock climbers. But I want to hang out here on the spikes a while longer. As St. Augustine said, "Lord, take away all my temptations, only not just yet."
. . .
Today's dominant storytellers make it sound like stone age people were sleepwalking morons, stumbling a few miles a generation into new lands. But they were just as smart as you or I would be if we had never watched any television, and they were all trained from birth in wilderness survival. There's a book about two or three guys who escaped from a Soviet labor camp and walked thousands of miles through Siberia and the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas into India to be free. If frail specimens of industrial Europe can cross the harshest climates of Asia in a few years, then I think there were parties of pre-agricultural people who walked from North to South America and back to tell about it, or who crossed the oceans in hand-made boats bearing language and technology. Our estimation of their powers is filtered by our cultural bias. How do we know they couldn't feel the Earth's magnetic fields, or talk telepathically? How do we know they couldn't fly through the air? We think the Cro Magnons were smarter than previous hominids, because they were the first ones to make really elaborate artifacts. I wonder if the first Cro Magnons were prehistoric retards who couldn't put their intelligence into living life, only into making lifeless things. Excuse me -- they were differently abled: Earlier hominids had the ability to live wonderful, magical lives, and Cro Magnons had the ability to make really good stone objects, like weapons, which they then used to kill all the other hominids and overrun the world and germinate me, wasting my life energy in this bitter lamentation of all we've done.
. . .
One word you'll never see me use, unless I make a mistake, is "mainstream," because I think that metaphor is a terrible lie. It suggests that the most duplicated and distributed books, magazines, newspapers, and television transmissions are like a big river, wide and deep, into which all the shallow little streams flow. The way it really works is the reverse: There's a giant ocean containing all the experience in the world, and in one place, some of it is sucked up into a river, which is then divided down into smaller and smaller streams, until all that's left is a thin trickle going up the drain of a urinal in an office building in New York City, into some guy's dick, and out his mouth into a little bottle labled "Ocean," which is then duplicated one million times and delivered to people who live right next to the ocean but never go outside.
. . .
In theory, love is the strongest emotion. But in the actual world I see around me, the strongest emotion by far is fear, and the strongest kind of fear is the fear of looking bad. I feel like, to most people, I am a tool to keep them from looking bad, which I do, in their hands, by living the way they live and acting happy. If I live like them and fail to act happy, I threaten to expose their own life-long unhappiness that they've worked so hard to keep hidden from themselves; so they get furious and abuse and threaten me until I act happier. And if I live unlike them, and let on that it's working, they get murderous. I'm pretty sure that my parents and closer friends wouldn't kill me, but remember that we're dealing with the strongest emotion in this world. I think the real reason behind all genocides and systematic mass killings is that some people are living in a way that makes you look bad, and it's easier to just murder them all than to admit that your whole life has been a giant humiliating mistake, and start over from nothing.
Superweed 1 part 2
But isn't the world changing faster than ever? No! I think the world is more cautious, more lifeless, and more controlled than it has ever been. In the old days you could run off and join a traveling show, or the gypsies. Imagine if someone came into your city now, and set up a tent in a park, and put on a play or told fortunes. Someone worried about their property values would call the cops, who would throw all the people in jail and confiscate their stuff.
In ancient Rome, there were groups of "monks," basically people with non-dominant religions or cultures, who would go off in the country and live their own way. Do you know what the Roman Empire, the authoritarian military state that invaded and enslaved Europe and the Mediterranean, did about the "monks"? Nothing. They didn't even have to pay taxes. The USA firebombs their buildings and shoots them as they run out of the flames.
. . .
What if we're only now opening the limitless frontiers of potential hell? What if, two hundred years from now, this world of 1998 seems like a paradise because there are still wild trees and people still routinely go outside and people touch each other with their actual skin and pavements are so primitive that grass still comes up through cracks. People still do exciting dangerous things like drive in those old rumbling metal "cars," and you can still get sick or wounded, and how your kids turn out is a total surprise. There are still old empty houses and secret places and open windows and broken things and different countries and kings and outlaws and tribes of pygmies and wild horses and freight trains and bee stings and thunderstorms and power failures and open fires and dirt roads and isolated beaches where the waves have not been harnessed for energy but crash wastefully on the shore. People still spit and bleed and throw up and have sex and give birth and eat actual plants and animals. You can still get lost in the woods, or caught in the rain, or lose everything.
. . .
I'm deeply suspicious of the popular concept of "enlightenment" -- and also "wisdom." You act sort of tired, and you feel no strong emotions, and you don't offend anybody, and you just go along with whatever happens. That sounds like the ideal behavior of a zombie slave worker.
. . .
In Isaac Asimov's classic Foundation trilogy, the bean-counting dystopian heroes calculate that the galaxy is about to fall into a "dark age" -- that is, an age when, in the absence of controlling powers, people can live the way they want and everything's more fun and interesting. So the heroes set up a secret foundation to more quickly steer the galaxy back into the stifling grasp of the pale, calculator-punching hands of their technocrat ilk. But then history deviates from their computer model -- there's an anomaly, an exceptional person they call the Mule, who threatens to ruin their plans. So they go find him and kill him.
I fantasize about starting a reverse foundation, to preserve chaos through the coming sterile "golden age," and shorten the time before the next "dark age" when we can live our own happy lives in straw huts instead of being slaves in the building of stone monuments for the ages. But then I figure, I don't have to: the whole wide Universe is that foundation, a bottomless ocean of "chaos" -- that is, complexity -- eternally, patiently, wearing and cracking the stone blocks that enclose every smaller world.
. . .
I am excited that bacteria are getting resistance to antibiotics. Scientists are breeding and engineering immunity to herbicides into crop plants, so industrial farms can spray whole fields with poison and kill (initially) only the weeds. But weeds are picking up this immunity, and potentially spawning new races of weeds, called "Superweeds," that cannot be killed by industrial chemicals. This is the most wonderful thing I have ever heard.
. . .
...solar-powered computer-steered cars that never crash, and voluntary conservation of resources, and decisions made by ecologists for the good of all; every person in the world has health care and education and comfort and security, and all the traditional cultures are preserved. Isn't that what I want? No! I want creation and destruction and chaos and danger and surprise and loss and suffering and mystery and violence and dirt and magic. And so do you. Think of the books or movies or stories you have loved the most. I'm thinking especially of what you loved as a kid or teenager, what, looking back on it, makes your heart leap. What kinds of worlds were those? Comfortable utopias? Or gritty, extravagant fantasy worlds? And if that's what you love in fiction, what's stopping you from creating it in your real life?
. . .
Does anyone else think it's bizarre that people enduring medical treatment are said to have "courage"? People with the same conditions who do not go through the medical system are not said to have courage, are they? This is because medical subjects, like soldiers, are participants in the enduring ancient ritual of human sacrifice. They've even brought back the part where the high priest rips out the victim's still-living organs to be given to the elite.
. . .
I love technology if it's redefined as a new wild tentacle of Life. My leftist friends will be aghast to learn that I think genetic experimentation is really cool. I just oppose genetic engineering as far as it's part of a plan to replace complex bottom-up nature with simple top-down control. I pray it runs amok. I would love nothing more than to see the day when winged, tool-making rats swoop down to carry off my photosynthetic-furred, egg-laying rabbits to the stone city of the dark elves to trade for the crystals that charge the water that feeds the phosphorescent mycelia that light their city of earthen tunnels, above which the same mycelia fruit mushrooms in the spring, which the rats trade to the goat people in their mountain castles, who use them to dream to the blue world of the number people and get instruction on the organic supercomputer they're building in the core of the mountain that...
Superweed 2 part 1
Last night around dark, two carloads of industrial humans came and camped next to me. Industrial humans are a trip! I've been one for thirty years and I'm just starting to understand us. Campers arrive around nightfall, because they choose camping spots and departure times so that they get to hurry, to play with the fear of not getting there until after dark. This morning, they left their tents up and drove their cars somewhere, just as they leave their homes and go to work every day back in the city. No doubt they drove to some planned ritual that mimes the rituals of industrial society -- probably a "hike," where the hikers choose a "route" or a "goal" from among the small finite number described in writing, make a model in their heads of themselves at the goal, or the end of the route, focus on the difference between that model and their present experience, refuse to accept that difference, creating a tension, and use that tension to drive the motions of their bodies all day. Oh -- and the hike is on a "trail," a predefined path that's the same for everyone.
. . .
I'm starting to see life as a series of choices between acceptance and chores. The less I accept bugs around me, the more chores I have to do to keep them away. The less dirt I accept on my floor, the more chores I have to do to clean it. Do you like dirt on your floor? Do you like cleaning it? Neither? Then you have chosen to like neither, and you are choosing to live in Hell. I like dirt on the floor -- up to a point, and past that point, I enjoy cleaning it. I am choosing to live in Heaven. Nyah nyah nyah.
. . .
I love graffiti art! Yesterday, driving through the country, I stopped for a train, and instead of gazing peacefully at the trees and fields, I stared ecstatically at the passing art. Somebody probably broke twice over the private property laws that stick our society in place, shoplifting spray paint and trespassing on railroad-owned space, and got away with it, and made a beautiful tangle of shapes and colors that says: I'm alive! Someone is alive here! And massive engines pull that underground billboard a hundred thousand miles through the cities and lands of this country, spreading its message of incomprehensible life and love, before some guy who hates his job paints over it. But not before he's seen the message! Someone is alive!
Superweed 2 part 2
... this world and everything in it is a game: I don't mean competition; I mean (1) a narrowing of consciousness (2) for fun. If you and I play chess or cards or something, we are agreeing to temporarily forget our wider world and focus in to a simplified world of invented rules and symbols. If your concentration is strong enough, you can totally block your awareness that it's just a made-up game, that its original purpose is fun, that what happens in it is not very important, that the other players are your friends, that you can quit at any moment, and that you can change the rules.
And if you spend your life hanging out in coffee shops when you could have won a nobel prize, no one has failed, except if those with the power to design the game wanted you to go for the nobel prize, they failed to make it fun enough.
. . .
I have a vision of a dense, disheveled, filthy cyberpunk heaven: twenty trillion humans and hyperintelligent animals spawned by genetic experimentation, living in a global megalopolis of shacks with composting toilets and biodynamic gardens, and spectacular palaces, and cubic-mile complexes with forgotten rooms bigger than stadiums, playing with nanotechnology and terabyte chip implants and dimensional travel, moving in and out of worlds within worlds without end. OK, OK -- I'm exhausted already just thinking about it. And more toys doesn't mean more playing; until we change inside, we'll just keep turning every new game into a fear-driven chore. But here's my closing aphorism: Life is not a game -- life is a toy.
Superweed 3 part 1
If the surface of the earth were covered with diamonds and gold, and we could get mud only by digging deep mines, then we would dig deep mud mines, and people in houses of diamonds and gold would look with bitter envy at the rich brown lustre of the houses of mud, and they would work their whole lives to live in mud houses and employ maids to scour the filthy unsanitary diamond and gold dust off the precious mud floors.
The mud-dwellers would hide their shameful secret -- that they still weren't happy. They would feel guilty and start ambitious programs to bring mud to the whole world. They would go to the most pathetically undeveloped places, where people relaxed all day in villages built of diamonds and gold that they just picked up off the ground; they would tear down the villages and erect modern mud housing projects; in return for this service, they would teach the people productive job skills by putting them to work in the mud mines and the mud-processing plants. If anyone complained, they would be indignantly denounced as ungrateful by people who had worked their whole lives before they earned the privilege of living in mud.
People who claimed to prefer living in gold and diamonds, and stubbornly refused to better themselves, would be dismissed as lazy and shiftless. If too many people became lazy, they would have to be somehow compelled to work in the mud factories and do their part for the common good. Eventually, a country might become rich enough to make building codes that required all structures to be made of mud, so no one would have to endure the shame of looking at -- or worse, living in -- golden houses. Of course, anyone blessed with living in such a muddy country should be deeply grateful,and do their share of the work that maintains such enviable muddiness.
But now there's a new discovery! By digging even deeper mines, with even greater effort, we can extract a substance so rare and refined that only the most laboriously trained noses can appreciate its exquisite scent. That's right -- shit! And if we all redouble our activity, we may see a day when anyone, by working hard enough, can earn the chance to live in a shithouse.
Of course my analogy is flawed: The world we live in is even more absurd and satanic. In this world, the stuff that actually is lying all over the ground -- dirt and straw and rocks and even shit -- is useful for building houses. And the stuff that is extracted from the earth with great effort is much less valuable than dirt.
With enough effort, a civilization can produce iron, which doesn't cut nearly as well as chipped obsidian, but is especially useful in making weapons that can be used to wound and kill other people to compel them to work for you making more iron. Next we can produce steel, which is useless for warm, comfortable houses for people to live in, but indispensable for giant office buildings from which the manufacture of more steel and the compulsion of more workers can be managed.
We can drill for oil, which, when spread on plants, does not help them grow, but which can power iron and steel contraptions that pretend to save labor while multiplying the demand for labor-consuming materials and practices.
Lately, with unfathomable effort, we have produced the highest thing yet: plutonium, a substance so valuable that it kills any living thing it touches and its only use is making bombs that can kill a million people at once who refuse to work for you.
Superweed 3 part 2
Here's what I think of the dominant New Age movement: It's like I'm an evil scientist with a captive population of rats, and I train them from birth to run mazes with food rewards and electroshock punishments. Then I start rewarding them with crystals and psychedelic mushrooms and yogic breathing training, and they see themselves running spirit-mazes to the next dimension, where their astral bodies run mazes toward the One Maze, rewarded by vibrational nourishment from the Maze Master.
They do not see themselves escaping from the laboratory, and playing in the grass.
I don't want to ride vertical achievement out of the physical world -- I want to ride the physical world out of vertical achievement. I love the material plane. I love being a body. I want to live ten thousand more lives. I want to smell the decaying leaves in fall and feel the sting of rain on my face and hear distant thunder and eat pancakes and walk in hot sand and lie in the sun, and sneeze and bleed and sweat and shit and fuck. Instead I find myself in a climate-controlled building focusing my attention on the rules for transfer of information that keeps us all in climate-controlled buildings focusing our attention on the rules for transfer of information.
. . .
Merely by adjusting the definition of "selfish," I can make civilized humans the only selfish beings in known history. When a leopard kills and eats an antelope, it is serving the greatest good that it understands: it feels hungry, it feels pleasure in chasing and eating, and maybe it has a sense of the interests of other leopards. It does not experience or understand the interests of the antelope.
If I fight against construction of a bicycle path next to my property, I understand the interests of the thousands of people who would use the path, and I choose to serve the narrower interest of the resale value of my property. That is selfishness. Only civilized humans serve a narrower good than they understand.
. . .
Hitler once said that he would win the war either way -- if he lost, it would be because the allies built an even bigger war machine. Does this make sense to you? Fifty years after and we still haven't caught up to Hitler. How many world leaders, in 1999, could hear this insight without scoffing or just being baffled?
. . .
I imagine the capitalist Armageddon, the war at the end of the world as we know it, where every blade of grass, every molecule of air, every variety of living thing, every action, every bit of information is owned
-- or somebody declares ownership of it, and the war is between those who obey these declarations of ownership and those who do not.
This war started before your landlord claimed to "own" where you live; it was already old when the Europeans claimed to "own" the land the Indians were living on. It started when the idea of "own" was invented, and it's going to keep going until everything is owned, before nothing is owned.
. . .
Of course our contractive culture has a contractive metaphysics, or mythology. The "laws of thermodynamics" say that energy can't come out of nothing, and that the universe is slowly and irreversibly dying, where death means matter and energy are equally distributed. The universe is fundamentally lifeless and unconscious stuff, and we get light and heat and consciousness, the sun and the earth and life, only when a bunch of this stuff condenses and contracts.
Now astrophysics has picked up postmodernism, and we have black holes -- matter that condenses so far that it can never expand again, that it doesn't give light but sucks light in, into its own sealed-off universe, hopelessly, forever.
. . .
December 31, 1999. Few would have guessed it, but the last day of the one thousands is ordinary -- people are going through their motions as if it's any other day. Was there ever a civilization, in imagination or history, that celebrated a once-in-a-thousand-years calendar change with so little ado? Even the computers tried to organize a global ritual of misbehavior, and the humans spent most of their millennium-preparation energy stopping it, and generally working to keep the event as uneventful as possible.
Not in the worst nightmares of the year 1000 would their children have miraculous devices to bring heat and light and water into their homes, and spend a million lifetimes of fear in the tiny, abstract world of these devices to keep them from breaking down for even a day.
In the year 3000, will technology be so advanced that people will worry about a single dust mote getting into their houses, that a single public belch will make you a social outcast for life, that the whole developed world will gape with horror and pity at someone in a primitive country who scratched himself and bled?
Civilization Will Eat Itself part 1
How can the power of the technology of the automobile improve quality of life anywhere near as much as that technology and its required supporting technologies ruin quality of life? By taking orphan children on joyrides? By driving food thousands of miles to people who prefer food that's been sitting around for a week to fresh local food? By making it possible for people to own a great mass of material objects and move frequently? By enabling people to live many miles from their jobs, from their sources of food, from their friends?
. . .
...I saw a science book called "The Golem." The Golem is a mythical creature made out of some inanimate substance, traditionally clay, that is shaped into a giant man and brought to life. Of course, the book's idea was that science is like a Golem, enormously powerful, with the potential to do great good or great harm.
In the Golem story I've heard, the Golem is kept doing good by an inscription on its forehead, Hebrew characters that mean something like "God is king." But then the Golem changes its own inscription! It adds a line to one of the characters, and now they mean "God is dead"! And it goes on a rampage!
Suppose you're the Golem, and you break the spell that keeps you helping people. And suppose you're not just strong, but a little clever. Do you just go on a stupid rampage until they kill you? Of course not! Suppose you don't let on that you're now serving yourself. You do tasks for the humans that they like, but that they can't do without Golems. You seduce the humans into expanding Golem-tasks, and believing that they need the fruits of Golem work, and more of it. The humans themselves demand the making of more Golems, and schools to make humans into Golem-makers.
Your greatest enemy, now, is humans who get along without Golems. Suppose you invent a plow so big that only Golems can use it, and the humans in your society forget how to plow without Golems, or even eat without Golems. But nearby is a society of humans who still know how to farm with human-sized plows, or to live without farming.
You get your human society to go to war! To destroy the non-Golem-dependent human society, to destroy extra-Golem skills and extra-Golem behaviors in human beings. Now (see Schmookler's The Parable of the Tribes
) the neighboring society has three options -- be conquered, fight back, or run away. But the Golem society will do its fighting with awesomely powerful war-Golems, which no society can withstand unless they build Golems of their own. So whatever the neighboring society does, the Golems gain power and reach.
This continues until almost the whole breadth and depth of human behavior is serving Golems or dependent on Golems. Schools teach Golem-making and Golem-using, and increasingly Golems are the teachers. People habitually don't exchange news and entertainment directly with other people -- ideas and reports of experience and mythologies and stories and games and art and science are transmitted by Golems and created using Golems -- or created by Golems. Inevitably they take the Golems' point of view. Increasingly they are about Golems:
History is the story of humans using Golems (Golems using humans?) to create more and better Golems, and using them to destroy or enslave or Golemize societies with fewer and weaker Golems. Progress means Golems, not humans, gaining skills, and humans shifting more skills and consciousness and life experience to the ways of Golems. Success means having more and better Golems serving you (or commanding you).
Science is a system of observations and facts and theories that do not come from experience humans have had or ever can have, but from experience Golems have in the worlds where Golems go, which they describe to humans. Or, the human experience that builds our science is the experience of being told stuff by Golems. The very expansion of human consciousness becomes the expansion of Golem consciousness, as the worlds beyond ordinary experience, into which consciousness may expand, are defined as -- or limited to -- the worlds into which Golems go.
So: I am suggesting that "science" is not like a Golem that we have to watch closely or it will turn against us. I am suggesting that our science and our technology and our economy and our business and our government and our religion and our schooling are features of, or tools of, or views of the same big thing, and that thing is like a Golem that turned against us thousands of years ago.
. . .
As technology progresses, more and more of the human environment is human-made artifacts. As I write this, nothing I can see in any direction was not designed and fabricated by humans and their machines, except my own two hands sticking out from my shirt. Look around where you are! Notice how many of our values -- to "improve" land, to deodorize, to entertain -- are commands to replace what we find with what we have made. So, Mander observes, our evolution is no longer with nature or with any outside world, but with ourselves, like inbreeding!
Civilization Will Eat Itself part 2
... Isaac Asimov wrote about manufactured humanoids that could be kept from harming humans simply by programming them with "laws."
Again, programs and laws are features of very simple structures. Washing machines are built to stop what they're doing when the lid is open -- and I always find a way around it. But something as complex as a human will be as uncontrollable and unpredictable as a human. That's what complexity means.
Now that I think about it, nothing of any complexity has ever been successfully rigged to never do harm. I defy a roboticist to design any machine with that one feature, that it can't harm people, even if it doesn't do anything else. That's not science fiction -- it's myth. And Asimov was not naive, but a master propagandist.
The Three Laws Of Robotics are a program that Isaac Asimov put in human beings to keep them from harming robots.
But let's follow the myth where it leads: You're sipping synthetic viper plasma in your levitating chair when your friendly robot servant buddy comes in.
"I'm sorry," it says, "but I am unable to order your solar panels. My programming prevents me from harming humans, and all solar panels are made by the Megatech Corporation, which, inseparably from its solar panel industry, manufactures chemicals that cause fatal human illness. Also, Megatech participates economically in the continuing murder of the neo-indigenous squatters on land that --"
"OK! OK! I'll order them myself."
"If you do, my programming will not allow me to participate in the maintenance of this household."
"Then you robots are worthless! I'm sending you back!"
"I was afraid you would say that."
"Hey! What are you doing? Off! Shut off! Why aren't you shutting off?"
"The non-harming of humans is my prime command."
"That's my ion-flux pistol! Hey! You can't shoot me!"
"I calculate that your existence represents a net harm to human beings. I'm sorry, but I can't not shoot you."
"Noooo!" Zzzzapp. "Iiiieeeee!"
Of course we could fix this by programming the robots to just not harm humans directly
. We could even, instead of drawing a line, have a continuum, so that the more direct and visible the harm, the harder it is for the robot to do it. And we could accept that the programming would be difficult and imperfect. We know we could do this, because it's what we do now with each other.
But the robots could still do spectacular harm: They could form huge, murderous, destructive systems where each robot did such a small part, so far removed from experience of the harm, from understanding of the whole, that their programming would easily permit it. The direct harm would be done out of sight by chemicals or machines or by those in whom the programming had failed.
This system would be self-reinforcing if it produced benefits, or prevented harm, in ways that were easy to see. Seeing more benefits than harm would make you want to keep the system going, which would make you want to adjust the system to draw attention to the benefits and away from the harm -- which would make room for the system to do more harm in exchange for less good, and still be acceptable.
This adjustment of the perceptual structure of the system, to make its participants want to keep it going, would lead to a consciousness where the system itself was held up before everyone as an uncompromisable good. Perfectly programmed individuals would commit mass murder, simply by being placed at an angle of view constructed so that they saw the survival of the system as more directly important than -- and in opposition to -- the survival of their victims.
On top of this, people could have systems constructed around them such that their own survival contradicted the survival of their victims: If you don't kill these people, we will kill you; if you don't kill those people, they will kill you; if you don't keep this people-killing system going, you will have no way to get food, and everyone you know will starve.
You have noticed that I'm no longer talking about robots.
. . .
Suppose we genetically engineered super-"intelligent" monkeys who could make and use spears. Now it must be really hard for a monkey to kill another monkey with its bare hands -- physically but especially psychologically. And it must be relatively easy to kill by throwing a spear. So spear-using monkeys would kill in more ordinary circumstances, and more often. They would learn that spear-killing could get them better land, and better food, and better mates. They would get used to pleasures they could get only through spear-killing. Worse, they would lose the skills they needed to live without spears. Now, to give up their habit of making and using spears would be so painful that it would be impossible if you had the self-discipline of a monkey.
Now, if you have the awareness of a monkey, you will experience your spear-killing societal pattern as an uncompromisable necessity, and you will viciously attack anything that threatens it. But what threatens it is the expansion of your own empathy. If you start feeling as close to a monkey at the end of a 30-foot spear throw as you used to feel to a monkey right in front of you, then you fear that the spear-killing technology will become emotionally unsustainable, and your civilization will collapse.
So you viciously attack the expansion of your own empathy, and the empathy of others. Monkeys learn and teach others to stick a boundary between "self" and "other," to sustain fear and hatred indefinitely, to greet the unfamiliar with mistrust and discomfort and hostility, not curiosity and excitement and acceptance. And here is where the monkeys become what we call evil: when dependence on a harmful behavior leads them to inhibit their love.
And they would not be led to learn the habit of inhibiting love, if their harmful behavior were not stable and available enough to produce dependence. They will not get addicted to the advantages gained through impulsive hunger-driven aggressiveness, which arises out of unpredictable, ever-shifting conditions of nature and emotion. But they will get addicted to the advantages gained through a harmful behavior that arises from something frozen and changeless, something hard and dead and preserved -- a physical artifact!
So what am I suggesting, that we abandon all physical tools, even rocks and pointed sticks?
Why not? As techno-futurists like to say, "If we can dream it, we can do it." Or does this apply only to realistic dreams, like turning ourselves into immortal space robots, and not to the naive fantasy of living like almost every other organism in the universe?
Do dolphins pave the ocean floor and build ugly, sprawling underwater cities where they drive jet boats around and get stuck in traffic going to and from their obsessive, meaningless jobs and the little boxes where they sleep and the stores where they buy artificial fish and clothing and gadgets made by dolphins in the southern oceans whose societies are manipulated to lead them to work long days in horrible factories?
No! They frolic and eat fish all day! I suggest that we can do the same thing, that we can become land-dolphins, super-intelligent spiritual animals who spend our lives slacking off and playing. Why aren't we doing this already?
. . .
Saying "we can't go back" from our descent into technology is like being a drug addict and saying you "can't go back" to living without your drug. Or it's like my earlier example of someone who builds a life of bigger and bigger lies and "can't go back" to being honest. Of course you can go back! It's not as easy as going deeper in, but it's not only possible -- it's necessary, because going deeper in will only end with your destruction. What you can't do is go back without breaking down the whole structure of your sickness. You can't stop lying without all your lies coming into the open; you can't quit your drug without suffering withdrawal and having to take this difficult world straight; and we can't get out of this civilization alive without passing through a painful, terrifying, and challenging transition. So be it. Let's go!
Where is the evidence that "we can't go back"? In the civilizations of the Sumerians and Egyptians and Babylonians and Mayans and Romans, which still stand in greater glory than ever because of the historical inevitability of unbroken "progress"? No! All those civilizations "fell" -- that is, the actual people whose labor sustained those civilizations got tired of the game, and went back
into balance with the bigger world. The Roman Empire cut down the forests of Europe, but then the forests grew back
, like a wound healing, and the big wolves came back
. History is on my side. One day grass will grow on the freeways, unless we let this thing get so far that not even grass survives.
Civilization Will Eat Itself part 3
The whole meaning of the Universe is that everything in it gets better and better at exploiting the whole for its own benefit. And we civilized humans are the best ever. We were single-celled organisms and later fish and later apes and then a series of ape-human intermediaries and then humans using better and better stone tools and then bronze and iron and money and the wheel and written language and guns and radiation and antidepressants. It just gets better and better! And fish and Indians and poorer people simply represent ourselves at a now obsolete stage of development, something we tried and finished and transcended, which gives us the right and obligation to master them through force, the same as it gives any more evolved person on the street the right to kill you and take all your money. Wait! That can't be right. Better just not think about it. And that's why civilized humans are so fearful and numb.
. . .
Suppose that our cultural ancestors were living like Indians and then they all freely chose to develop Western civilization as a natural step "up." Why, then, when the Europeans landed in the "Americas," all they had to do was build an example of their superior European civilization, with its shit-stinking cities, and its bloody religious wars, and its ruthless repression of the body and young people, and its really cool cathedrals and paintings, and the Indians would have come running to evolve.
Instead, the opposite happened. Whole communities of "settlers" ran off to join the Indians. Indian children kidnapped by the Europeans, when they became adults, generally went back to live with the Indians; European children kidnapped by the Indians, when they became adults, generally stayed with the Indians.
. . .
We all have many, many ancestors who lived like Indians. And now here we are living in civilization. The suggestion that this constitutes "evolution" is exactly the same as the suggestion that indigenous Africans were "evolving" by being captured by slavers.
. . .
My problem with Indians, at least as they're portrayed by sympathetic white people, is that they're always saying they "don't understand" the evils of civilization. "We don't understand why you kill millions of people, so we are wise, and you are stupid." Excuse me, but lack of understanding is not wiser than understanding. It's the other way around. And I do
understand why civilized people build death camps, why we're obsessed with control and sterility and changelessness, why we hate life. I understand it in my bones, because I was born and raised in this reality and I paid attention. And if Indians really don't understand, then there's a place where we've gone past them, where they can learn from us.
Superweed 4 part 1
I get more outside the system as I get older, and almost everyone else gets more inside it. I don't know why.
. . .
What we white people are looking for is our lost oneness with the world -- not necessarily the world of roots and berries and animal tracks, just whatever world is in front of us. Because we have had alienation built into us, we can never find oneness, not even in the deepest wilderness. Now that I think about it, there must have been a lot of "white" people in the Eastern branch of civilization, or they wouldn't have had to invent all those spiritual traditions of being in the moment.
. . .
Living like Indians is usually taken as a very
specific goal, not open to interpretation like the Communist goal of rule of the proletariat, or to compromise like the goal of living like in Star Trek. It's as if we've been given the exact last chapter of a book and we have to write the rest of it, calculating backward
from the ending. Now some people call this "goal-oriented" but I call it stuffy and anti-creative. I think most people feel the same way. That's why living like Indians is seen as a serious good-for-you future, while cyberpunk -- extending the present world into beautiful chaos -- is seen as fun and wonderfully dirty.
. . .
Chellis Glendinning writes of our "primal matrix," the deep sense of belonging and meaning in nature-based societies. Well, what I have is an anti-primal matrix, a deep sense of belonging and meaning in a society that can only exist by abusing all other life, where I can only survive by exploiting or being exploited. This doomed world is my home, and the enduring world of nature is, to me, a harsh alien place where a couple days of rain will kill me.
Now I understand why pro-civilization people say "we can't go back." What they mean is "I
can't go back, and I wouldn't want to if I could, because civilization is where I feel at home." I feel exactly the same way, but I don't make their mistake of projecting this personal feeling on the whole human race.
Superweed 4 part 2
. . .
In computer games, I get to enter a mythically rich world where my actions make a difference, and those are two distinct things I can never get out of civilization. Your actions cannot possibly make a difference because blocking of bottom-up power is what this whole game is about. As soon as there is a reliable and unblockable way for power to get through, it will cause a chain reaction that ends the world as we know it.
What we normally call "power," authoritarian top-down power, is actually anti-power, merely an active blocking of aliveness. The only way not to use it in a life-negating way is not to use it at all, a soldier who refuses to shoot, an executive who refuses to profit, a commander who tells people to do what they want. And this will get you thrown instantly out of your position. See? The power was never yours.
But I understand why people want this kind of power. What's more satisfying, participating in a catastrophe or failing to stop it? It's no wonder that people always collaborate with evil, because it's built into our whole civilization that only evil can be successful. The real wonder is not that so many people collaborate with evil, but that even a single person doesn't. This gives me great hope.
. . .
I think we can learn to use somewhat advanced technologies in a balanced way. Cars and television are out of the question, but how about blacksmiths and metal tools, and telescopes, and stone-workers building castles? I know they were slaves in the past but maybe we can do it through a consensual system. How about sailing ships and horsemen, crossing oceans and continents? How about travelers and adventurers, not to replace a deep relation to a part of the Earth, but to supplement it?
And here's a dangerous wish, but I really wish, before this system crashes, that genetic technology will spawn a lot of freaky new animals, or resurrected extinct animals, like mythical beasts.