If I had a million quid, I’d rob a bank. I’d round up a crew, we’d drill a hole into the vault, and then we’d deposit the million. The robbers made off with negative one million pounds sterling, the newspapers would say. Who knows how that will impact the economy when they start spending them! Why, yes, sir, that’d be one pound. But I’m afraid, my chap, we are British after all, we have become so during the course of this blog post, but I’m afraid all I’ve got is a negative pound. A negative pound! But whatever could I do with a negative pound? Don’t be daft, I’ve got a splendid idea. You go on the internet, right, and you find the richest bastard on google. No, not the richest bastard, but the richest bastard, the wealthy person whom you despise the most. And then you find his address, and you put the negative pound into an envelope, and then you send it to him. It’s basic arithmetic, didn’t you learn that in grammar school? One minus one is zero. By giving that poor sod a negative pound, you’ve made him one pound poorer!Apr 9, 2013
Ryan Bateman linked to a funny news story. It’s really short, so go read it for yourself, but the gist of it is that a North Korean propaganda twitter account was hacked. The funny part is that the account follows only three people, one of whom is some American guy who has no idea why North Korea is following him. But that isn’t what caught my attention. It’s this line: “
AAP could not immediately verify if Anonymous was behind the attack.”
This seems to build on a very big and very common misunderstanding. Let’s review the facts surrounding this account hacking, or act of “cyber warfare”, as the Associated Press chooses to label it. The messages left on the account include phrases associated with Anonymous, as well as a link to the icon and chief symbol of Anonymous, the Guy Fawkes mask. Can there really be any doubt that this is Anonymous?
Yet AP can’t verify that it is. That’s because AP does what traditional media always does, which is treat Anonymous like a group, an underground network, a “cyber-terrorist cell.” Now, something like the hacker group LulzSec, which executed a series of high-profile attacks in the summer of 2011 and then broke up/got caught/went underground, is a group. It consisted of a relatively small, fixed group of members who were in communication with each other, shared an ideology, and collaborated on various political/criminal actions. But Anonymous is not a group. Anonymous is not a network. Anonymous is not a cell, terrorist or otherwise. Anonymous is a meme, or a series of inter-related memes, an abstract entity, a loosely defined complex of ideas and ideology and symbols and modes of operation—and it can be embodied by anyone.
The word “meme” was coined by the biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Also in that book, he defends the gene-centric view of evolution. This perspective asserts the primacy of the gene over the individual. It says that genes don’t exist in order to ensure the replication and propagation of individuals, but that individuals exist to ensure the replication and propagation of genes. The selfish meme, as a cultural analog to the selfish gene, uses individuals the same way. Memes and genes are abstract, not sentient beings, and so incapable of forming intentions and carrying them out, but on this view— the gene- or meme-centric view of biological or cultural evolution—they operate as if they had such selfish intentions.
The meme, then, is a self-replicating idea that uses susceptible individuals to further propagate itself. It’s like a virus, another not entirely biological kind of entity that (metaphorically) uses biological entities for its own purposes. And that’s the kind of thing Anonymous is. Anonymous has no social structure, not even a flat, anarchic structure. There is no such thing as membership in Anonymous, not even the kind of tenuous “membership” which defines human social circles. Just like there’s nothing like “membership” in a gene complex. At any given time, an individual either expresses a set of genes or it doesn’t. If the DNA’s there, the genes are there. You confirm the existence of the abstract concept of the “gene” in a particular case by confirming its physical manifestation in that case. In programming parlance, genes are “duck typed.” If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck.
The same thing applies to memes. You confirm the expression of the memes, you confirm that you’ve got an instance of that meme complex. In this case, all the classic Anonymous memes are there—the lowercase anonymity, the Guy Fawkes mask as symbol, the parlance. Therefore, since Anonymous is not a group of people but an abstract group of self-replicating ideas, this is a clear case of Anonymous. There can be no doubt; there is no need or even possibility of confirming whether “Anonymous is responsible” for this twitter account hack beyond the obvious.
Now suppose that it turns out the attack had actually been planned and executed by members of the actual hacker group LulzSec, employing Anonymous-complex memes to hide their tracks. Would that not mean that Anonymous wasn’t responsible? And if that’s a possibility, wouldn’t that imply that AP was right to insist that they couldn’t confirm whether Anonymous was responsible?
No. That would be analogous to the following case: suppose a new disease breaks out. The disease is caused by mutant gene X. But as it turns out, a secret cabal of government officials have used sinister genetic engineering methods to introduce gene X into the population. On the level of actual intention, the government conspiracy group is responsible. But the gene would still be the material cause and, in the only sense that it makes sense to speak of the “intentions” of genes, the metaphorical sense which Dawkins employs when he speaks of selfish genes, gene X would still be responsible. In the analogous case where LulzSec carried out a hack and “blamed it” on Anonymous, it would still be the case that Anonymous was responsible for the hack, in the same sense that the gene X was responsible for the disease.
Traditional media continues to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of internet movements. Another way to look at Anonymous would be as a kind of loosely defined ideology. On one level, Socialism was responsible for the Russian Revolution. Of course, on quite another, a specific group of people carrying out socialist-inspired actions were responsible. These are two different perspectives on the same event, two different levels of abstraction. But in the case of Anonymous, they’re frequently muddled. On one level, the Russian Revolution was caused by a selfish meme-complex. This meme-complex infected a number of people for the ultimate “purpose” of replicating itself. In that sense, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a very successful move by the socialist meme complex. A decade or two after the Revolution, socialist memes pervaded all of Russian society, at all levels. What had once been a niche political idea became the dominant social reality. But on a different level, as mentioned, the Russian Revolution was a move executed by concrete individuals in a concrete section of space-time. Traditional media keep looking for the corresponding group of concrete individuals responsible for Anonymous. But this group doesn’t exist.
There is no “Anonymous” as such. Or if there is, and they’re reading this and laughing, it’s so secret that the general population and the mass media have no idea about its existence, and if so, it is not identical with the meme complex also called Anonymous.
Al Qaeda is a terrorist group. Anyone could in principle carry out a terrorist action and claim to be Al Qaeda, but that doesn’t make it so. Unless you’re part of the core group of Al Qaeda, you aren’t Al Qaeda. But anyone can carry out an Anonymous action, employ the usual Anonymous symbols and memes, and that in itself makes the action an Anonymous action.
The internet accelerates the spread of memes to the point where social upheaval on the order of the Russian Revolution can happen with no central leadership, no secret group of conspirators—by a series of individual actions only “organized” on the level of the meme, only intentionally willed in the same sense that a gene “intentionally” wills its own replication. The Arab Spring was the first glimpse of that, although it still contained within it the usual elements of traditional revolutions.
One day, perhaps in the near future, a complex of memes spread on the internet may be solely responsible (on the appropriate level of abstraction) for an actual, real-world social upheaval on the order of a revolution. At that point, the traditional mass media will be caught with their pants down. They won’t see it coming, because as usual, they’re completely clueless when it comes to the nature of new media. At that point, the revolution absolutely will be tweeted, or it will be [verbed] in the latest internet fashion, whatever that happens to be at the time.Apr 4, 2013
My dad is a great guy, but he doesn’t have what one might call an artistic temperament. He’s an engineer by trade, and he likes to tell funny anecdotes about architects and bureaucrats and the trials and tribulations of building things that such out-of-touch-with-gritty/practical-reality types have set their sights on. I don’t think he ever understood why I wanted to go to art school and be a photographer or a writer when I was good at math and could be an engineer or a scientist. Or why I got into architecture school twice and turned it down twice. I have a half-mythical uncle, my dad’s brother, who was brilliant and went to Paris still in his teens and became an architect and worked on the glass pyramid outside the Louvre—all while sporting a magnificent mustache and marrying a daughter of the French aristocracy in some fancy chateau in the countryside—but he died before I was born, and I often wish I could hear his take on things, knowing at the same time that, although he was a real person, I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve visited his grave, to me he is imaginary, he is kind of a proxy for the times when I wish my temperament was more in line with my dad’s or vice versa, and there’s no guarantee that he’d understand my life choices any better.
But anyway! My dad recently started a new job as a manager at a local power company, and he’s going to be a project leader for the construction of a new hydroelectric power plant. Today he showed me the above architectural render of the power station. I think he was proud. “You’re kind of interested in architecture, right? You should come look at this. It’s been in several foreign architecture magazines.” It’s gorgeous architecture, really. Of course, it’s not my dad’s job to design it, or even to build it, he’s in charge of making sure the guys that build it don’t fuck up. And of course he’s probably more interested in the road they’re going to have to build before they can get to the place where this currently non-existent building will house a currently not extant power station fuelled by a to-be-built tunnel to a dam in the mountain looming in the background. But still.Mar 31, 2013
Throughout my whole life I was constantly finding my place taken, perhaps because I did not look for my place where I should have done. I was apprehensive, reserved, and irritable, like all sickly people. Moreover, probably owing to excessive self-consciousness, perhaps as the result of the generally unfortunate cast of my personality, there existed between my thoughts and feelings, and the expression of those feelings and thoughts, a sort of inexplicable, irrational, and utterly insuperable barrier; and whenever I made up my mind to overcome this obstacle by force, to break down this barrier, my gestures, the expression of my face, my whole being, took on an appearance of painful constraint. I not only seemed, I positively became unnatural and affected. I was conscious of this myself, and hastened to shrink back into myself. Then a terrible commotion was set up within me. I analysed myself to the last thread, compared myself with others, recalled the slightest glances, smiles, words of the people to whom I had tried to open myself out, put the worst construction on everything, laughed vindictively at my own pretensions to ‘be like every one else,’—and suddenly, in the midst of my laughter, collapsed utterly into gloom, sank into absurd dejection, and then began again as before—went round and round, in fact, like a squirrel on its wheel. Whole days were spent in this harassing, fruitless exercise.Ivan Turgenev, Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850). Mar 25, 2013
Whiteout.Mar 11, 2013
I love it when non-meta Wikipedia articles find ways to make tangential references to Wikipedia. Wouldn’t it be funny if the above anecdote was entirely made up, thus validating itself / creating a rift in the space-time continuum?Mar 8, 2013
Hunter S. Thompson:
California, Labor Day weekend… early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levi’s roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur… The Menace is loose again, the Hell’s Angels, the hundred-carat headline, running fast and loud on the early morning freeway, low in the saddle, nobody smiles, jamming crazy through traffic and ninety miles an hour down the center stripe, missing by inches… like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter’s leg with no quarter asked and none given; show the squares some class, give em a whiff of those kicks they’ll never know…
— Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs
“Well,” I said. “All this white stuff on my sleeve is LSD.” He said nothing: Merely grabbed my arm and began sucking on it. A very gross tableau. I wondered what would happen if some Kingston Trio/young stockbroker type might wander in and catch us in the act. Fuck him, I thought. With a bit of luck, it’ll ruin his life – forever thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red Pendleton shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know.
— Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American DreamMar 7, 2013
When I was little I thought I could see air molecules, thousands of them floating along. I was disappointed to learn they were white blood cells inside my eyes. Imagine that. The boy who could see atoms. When I died, they’d say, Yeah, he was a bastard, but he had one thing going for him: he could see atoms. Or maybe, Poor guy, he had such a good life, but he could never get over those atoms.Mar 6, 2013
Sometimes when I feel extra vain I take off my glasses before making vain self-portraits.
Do you ever wish there was a pill to solve all your problems? I guess that’s the mentality that creates addicts. I read an interesting book about addiction and how to beat it. In The End of My Addiction, Olivier Ameisen, MD, contends that people become alcoholics because of “chronic dysphoria.” In other words, because they feel like shit all the time and alcohol makes them feel better. Recent research shows that there is a huge positive correlation between prior affective disorders and alcoholism. It’s not the alcohol that drives the shit-feeling, it’s the shit-feeling that drives the alcohol, and then they reinforce each other.
Being no stranger to chronic dysphoria, I can empathize. I’m not an addict, but I feel like I could easily become one. I read how Ameisen describes the way alcohol made him feel, at first—how it obliterated his crippling anxiety—and I think, “I want that, too.” If alcohol did for me what it did for Ameisen, I’m sure I’d be an alcoholic too. Believe me, I’ve given it a good try (alcohol, not alcoholism). And if I tried any other drug and it gave those same benefits, I’m sure I’d be hooked. I just haven’t found the right thing to abuse yet. Not that I want to: I simply recognize in myself the same traits which Ameisen describes leading up to his addiction.
Ameisen tried all conventional treatments, including expensive rehabs and “700 AA meetings every year.” He finds salvation in a little pill called baclofen. Specifically, very high doses of baclofen.
Baclofen is interesting to me because I have some experience with the related drug phenibut. Phenibut is beta-phenyl-gamma-aminobutyric acid (β-phenyl-GABA). GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and lots of drugs tickle its receptors: alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, methaqualone, z-drugs like Ambien, GHB. The Soviets stuck a phenyl group to the GABA molecule in order to make it cross the blood-brain barrier better. Baclofen is para-chloro-phenibut, or phenibut with one chlorine atom added to the phenyl group. Phenibut is in clinical use in Russia and sold as a supplement in the West. Baclofen, on the other hand, is a prescription drug used primarily to control muscle spasms.
Phenibut is great, at first. It hits shit-feelings on three fronts: reducing anxiety, improving mood and improving sleep. It takes a long time to come on, three or four hours, but once it does, it’s like a cloud lifts: anxieties fall away, and the world seems brighter. It’s a relief rather than a high. You don’t feel good for no reason, you simply see all the things you usually view negatively in a positive light. In social settings, it’s like having a couple beers except your breath doesn’t stink and your judgment and motor skills are not impaired. And it doesn’t sedate you, but if you want to sleep you will sleep like a baby. It’s great, but it doesn’t last. Tolerance shoots up incredibly fast, and people who have used it frequently report terrible withdrawals when they quit.
Baclofen, on the other hand, is less addictive and has been safely prescribed for chronic use in very high doses—but unlike phenibut, it’s not available legally on the internet.
You don’t want to fuck around with your GABA system. Withdrawing from GABA drugs can kill you. Withdrawing from heroin won’t kill you.
Yet this is the thing that cures Ameisen. After losing his medical practice and being well on the way to losing his life, after trying all sorts of conventional treatments, he learns about baclofen. Baclofen completely suppresses the urge to dose drugs like alcohol or cocaine in addicted lab rats. In human trials, it reduces, but does not suppress the urge. But the animal tests were done with much higher doses than the human tests. After learning that, although addiction specialists fear prescribing more than 30mg/day of baclofen, neurologists consider 300mg/day safe to treat spasms, Ameisen tells his world-renowned addiction specialists to go fuck themselves and self-prescribes high-dose baclofen. Which he can do, because apparently French doctors are allowed to order prescription meds for themselves without a prescription. (Seems absurdly abusable, but that is how it’s presented in the book.) And lo! at 270 mg, Ameisen, the seasoned alcoholic, becomes completely indifferent to alcohol. And not only that, but it does what none of his other meds have done: remove the anxiety that prompted him to drink in the first place.
I identify with the author’s anxiety issues, but he’s very dislikable. For one thing, he’s just too damn privileged and shows it off on every page. I lost count of how many sentences were of the form, “So I called my good friend, the world-renowned expert in his field, who holds the following distinctions.” One wonders how he could make friends with half the world’s medical elite while simultaneously suffering from crippling social anxiety that led to crippling alcoholism.
Here’s another part that disturbed me: “
Eating food does attenuate craving. But at that time I didn’t know how to cook for myself, and ordering in food or going out for it did not offer the quicker and much fuller relief of alcohol.” Two questions: (1) how have you managed to survive almost half a century without being able to feed yourself? And (2) how can you try everything to stop drinking, yet know that food helps prevent cravings, and still be unable or unwilling to learn? Just a couple dishes, at least?
Nevertheless, his unlikability can’t obscure his message. After writing up his own case report, outing himself to the world as an alcoholic, Ameisen urged the medical community to start clinical trials on baclofen treatment for addiction. The medical community remained uninterested. Big pharma has no interest in baclofen because the patent has expired. That’s when Ameisen started to write a book for the general public. After its release, online forums have sprouted up all about baclofen for addiction, and an anonymous donor provided a Dutch university with money for a real clinical trial.
Baclofen is an intriguing substance. It might seem odd to substitute one addiction for another, but the difference is that baclofen is nowhere near as intoxicating as alcohol, nor is it as harmful to long-term health. After all, it’s been used to treat muscle spasticity for 40 years. The sad fact is that addicts are often refused medication because they’re addicts. After all, why give an addict of one substance access to other addictive substances? So goes the logic. But perhaps these substances are more benign, and if you treat the underlying issue that led to the addiction in the first place, quitting will surely be easier.
Perhaps salvation in a pill exists after all.
Or perhaps that’s a dangerous attitude. But the thing is, it’s a tool. It doesn’t replace willpower, it augments it. Addiction, like the depressions and anxieties that frequently precede it, is a mental illness and it is grotesque and cruel to expect everyone to think their way out of it. After all, it’s the thinking apparatus that’s not in order.Mar 3, 2013
You are a sad man in the Happy Quarter. The Quarter is an architectural mood piece. The hour is perpetually golden; the air, vaguely flowery. There are many trees.
You are here to construct a situation. That’s how they put it.
You look around. Where is everyone? It is silent but for some wind chimes in the breeze. You must admit, the Quarter is very pleasant. But you didn’t get sad because of a pleasantness deficiency. And there are no people.
You start walking across the square. The streets and plazas in the Happy Quarter are not laid with cobble or brick or asphalt or concrete, they are made of grass. You take off your shoes and walk barefoot. You take off your jacket, too, and put it over your arm.
As you leave the square for one of the streets that radiate out of it, passing beneath a tall tree, there is a flicker in the corner of your eye. You look right, but there is no one. This street smells of fruit. Somewhere, a dog is barking. Tired of looking for a situation to manifest itself, you walk up to the nearest door and knock on it. Hard.
The ghost of Guy Debord answers the door. You are startled. You have never met a 20th century ghost before. His dress is so different from the ghosts you are used to.
Do come in, says the ghost of Guy Debord. I just made tea.
You walk up a staircase illuminated entirely by slanted sunlit shafts set into the walls and the ceiling. Guy Debord glides. At the top of the stairs, he takes out a key and unlocks a bright green door. Inside is a jungle of potted plants. The floor is covered in dirt. It smells like childhood.
Welcome, says Guy Debord. This is where you will live, Sad Man. This is where you will begin constructing your happy situation.
Where are all the others?
Invite the neighbors for tea, says Guy Debord. They are very nice. And then he glides out the door.
You sit down and feel sad and curious and confused and possibly happy at the same time.Feb 28, 2013
I’ve discovered an amazing poem… The first time I read it (a few hours ago), I couldn’t help locking myself in my room and masturbating as I recited it once, twice, three times, as many as ten or fifteen times, imagining Rosario, the waitress, on all fours above me, asking me to write a poem for her long-lost beloved relative or begging me to pound her on the bed with my throbbing cock.Roberto Bolaño inhabiting the mind of a male, teenaged poet in the first section of The Savage Detectives. Feb 27, 2013