Posted by: Alephwyr | October 10, 2020

Death Stranding review

Posted by: Alephwyr | April 23, 2020

Mother 3: A second look

A long time ago, I wrote some cheeky and not very amusing nonsense about Mother 3.  Having already done so, it seems I’ve been beaten to my usual niche by, of all people, myself.  So I will limit this blog post to the core observations I am able to make about the game, without any elaborate interpretation.  Spoilers follow.

  • Mother 3 is a very good game.
  • Its ending is analogous to the ending of Snowpiercer (which of course came after) and contains the same basic overtones.
  • The entire deal with the mystical egg seems underutilized, as it doesn’t seem the egg is ever actually used for its intended purpose even though the conditions that should have triggered its use are realized.
  • There is some fridge horror about the thought of an entire community of people with false memories living and dying under primitivistic conditions (or any conditions really) without knowing who they really are or what is actually true.
  • Porky, as a character that was apparently banned from time, occupies that weird twilight of villains who are essentially sorcerers in technological clothing.
  • I still don’t understand Porky as being a complete or sensible antithesis to Lucas or Tazmily.  He is just too facile of a character.
  • It is a bit convenient to have some undefined mystery problem severe enough to justify primitivism and implanted false memories as a solution.
  • It is a bit convenient to have the counterpoint to Tazmily be without any virtue of any kind.
  • The bright-eyed Rousseauian view of the past as essentially ideal is very ungrounded in reality, and I still tend to see the Magypsies and their exclusion from Tazmily life as a statement on both settler dynamics and discrimination and anti-LGBT discrimination.  I know that’s not textual, but since the actual text is intending to make an argument about what’s ideal, it’s worth noting that this presented ideal doesn’t include integration of the natives/queers.
  • Seven needles is conspicuously not eight needles in my mind, especially for a story written in Japan about a chain of islands and a primordial dragon.

Other than that, I have plenty of delusions of reference and so forth as usual.  I could easily spin that into something, but I will opt not to do so in this particular post.

Posted by: Alephwyr | September 26, 2019

Spyro 3: A Draconic Logos

Spyro 3, if it indeed has a message at all, has a much more subtle and occulted one than either of the previous two games in the trilogy.  At first glance it is the most innocuous seeming of all of the games.  However, this conceals incredible and brazen depths that I regret I am only partially able to uncover due to the subject matter not being within my normal wheelhouse.  These seem theological, rather than psychological, as in the case of the first game, or economic as in the case of the second.  I will at any rate endeavor to explore the matter to the fullest of my ability.

First the usual recap: Spyro 3 begins with the dragons asleep in a field filled with dragon eggs, which are brought to the dragon realm only once every 12 years.  This reference to the Chinese Zodiac, alongside the reference in the title (Year of the Dragon), are best understood as a kind of diversionary tactic, similar to what Yoko Taro uses in the Drakengard/Nier series by naming his enemies after occult entities and philosophers: IE, it has no real significance except to divert the attention of people unworthy of contemplating the deeper significance of the games.

At any rate, asleep in a field with eggs, along comes Bianca, a rabbit.  Operating under the direction of an evil sorceress, and with the help of “Rhynocs” (essentially just Rhinoceros furries), she steals all of the eggs and takes them to the opposite side of the world, from which we later learn that dragons either left a thousand years ago “to get some peace and quiet” or were banished from by the evil sorceress.  Hunter, who has been living with Spyro since the events of Spyro 2*, joins Spyro in searching for the eggs on the other side of the world, in the Forgotten Realms.  Spyro is aided by four creatures who he frees throughout the course of his adventures: A Kangaroo, a Bird, a Yeti, and a Monkey.  In the end Spyro defeats the sorceress and her minions, with the exception of Bianca, who converts to Spyro’s side after learning the sorceress only wanted immortality and not to restore magic to the forgotten realms via dragons (the source of all magic).  Spyro utters some lamentations after Hunter runs off with Bianca*, and the baby dragons (including female baby dragons) are all happily returned to the dragon worlds.

There are, again, multiple levels of meaning on display here.  To properly explain requires giving some background on the semiotics of some of the symbols in Spyro as well as theological history.  First, Bianca and the Rhynocs: The obvious association of Bianca with the Easter Bunny, while apparently a throwaway joke, is in fact what immediately renders Spyro 3 a theological text.  There has been a lot written about Easter’s allegedly pagan roots.  Most of this has been well-established as invalid.  The Catholic church’s willingness to “compete” with pagan holidays and customs is well known**, but the essential meaning of each holiday always remained Christian: indeed, there was never a time when a pagan holiday was truly appropriated by Catholicism in the sense that various atheists and new agers would like to claim.

However, the Easter bunny has some esoteric meanings both within the Christian milleu and outside of it that remain “alive”, and thus very relevant to our interpretation of her appearance in Spyro 3.  The most important and outstanding is her association with the Virgin Mary.  This association came, oddly enough, through a reinterpretation of the alleged hermaphroditism of the hare as was believed in commonly by the Romans.  The hare was thought to change its gender from month to month, and to be capable of reproducing without having sex.  These associations with gender will prove to be very important in and of themselves later.  The Rhynocs are also not accidental.  The Rhinoceros is a common real world candidate for the biblical “unicorn”, much as the whale is a common candidate for the “big fish” that swallowed Jonah.  These sorts of de-literalizations of the bible (though the elements in question often hail from particular translation choices rather than anything grounded) simultaneously have a secular character while at the same time establishing the bible in closer to modern “consensus reality”.  This too is very important.

Needless to say, this further grounds Bianca (meaning “white” or “pure”) as a candidate for the Virgin Mary, since virgin maidens are said to have the unique ability to tame the unicorn.  Let us look also at what the bible has to say about unicorns.

“Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow?
or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him?
Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?”—Job 39:9–12

This passage comes from God’s boast to Job when God reveals himself to him at the conclusion of his challenge.  It establishes the unicorn as an animal over which God has the unique capacity to tame, which dovetails firmly with our interpretation.  However, the Rhynocs are the enemy in the game.  Let us then look at the other major quote about unicorns in the Bible and its context.

“Draw near, O nations, to hear; O peoples, give heed! Let the earth hear, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it.  2 For the Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their hoards; he has doomed them, has given them over for slaughter. 3 Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven
shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall wither like a leaf withering on a vine, or fruit withering on a fig tree.  5 When my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens, lo, it will descend upon Edom, upon the people I have doomed to judgment.  6 The Lord has a sword; it is sated with blood, it is gorged with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams.  For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah, a great slaughter in the land of Edom.  And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with their bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”—Isaiah 34:1-7

Isaiah is, fittingly enough, said by Christians to prophecy the coming of Jesus Christ, the messiah.  However, it is worth noting that this interpretation is an imposition on the text via Christian hermeneutics.  The Old Testament, when it is known as the Torah, is said to foretell the coming of a messiah, but the Jews are still waiting for this messiah.  Interestingly, while Isaiah is all about God delivering righteous punishment to the nations, Edom in particular has special significance via Talmudic tradition.  According to this tradition, Europeans are descended from Edomites via the Romans.  The Edomites in turn are descended from Esau, the brother who lost his birthright in the old testament.

Given all of this, what is Spyro 3 saying, intentionally or unintentionally?  Two additional key details: the main antagonist, the sorceress, is female, and the structure of Spyro 1, 2, and 3 taken together concern matters of the body (ie, psychological facticity), matters of the mind (economic and social systems), and matters of the spirit.  This is deeply suggestive of gnostic symbolism.  “Femaleness” in gnostic metaphysics is of course the essence of everything weak, material, corrupt, and faithless.  Spyro 3, interestingly enough, introduces femaleness in three new places: the female sorceress, the female Bianca, and the female dragons.

It is hard to know what to make of Spyro being a dragon, or Elora being a Faun.  Dragons in Christianity have, some apocrypha notwithstanding, normally been symbols of a will unchecked by any mortification of the flesh, or fundamentally out of tune with the natural world and God’s will, fundamentally corrupted.  Fauns of course have associations with the Romans, and goat people more generally with the Greeks.  Thus Elora is in this context a natural stand in for paganism.  In the second to last cutscene of the game, a pairing between Spyro and Elora is insinuated, and another pairing between Hunter and Bianca is well established.

Dragons in Spyro 3 are said to be the source of all magick.  Of course, Christianity has two different major takes on magick.  The first, the hermetic take, is that Christ was the first magician, and that all true, high magick subsequently owes itself to him.  The second take of course is that magick is a trick played by Lucifer (generally hermeneutically interpreted as the devil) to lead souls away from God.  Various divisions between magick and miracle, high and low magick and so forth play with or combine the two.  Interestingly, Christ and Lucifer share a number of common links, first through both being known as the Morningstar, secondly through the Lapsit Exillis, a Jewel which was knocked from Lucifer’s crown and which subsequently was carved into a bowl that became the Holy Grail itself.  This is not infrequently read as a metaphor for the nature of pure intellect as self-serving and requiring temperance in order to allow its wielder to serve God and community.

Dragon wings are later revealed to grant immortality.  So, in our video game with heavy Christian esoteric significance, dragons are both the source of all magick, and consuming their bodies grants immortality.  But of course there was only one Christ, and in Spyro 3 there are many dragons.  Additionally, Christ has a very tenuous (though not trivial) connection to the dragon via Poimandres, who in Hermetic lore is associated with the World Mind and the logos.  Through the Prisca Theologia, Poimandres thus has a weak association with Christ.  Very few have ever gone so far as to claim that Poimandres and Christ are equivalent or that they correspond in any robust sense.  Poimandres is associated with reason as the logos, while Christ is associated with love as the logos, so there is some natural incongruity even despite heavily operationalized senses of both reason and love being in play.

So there is a lot going on here.  So much so that I’m unable to really unpack more than a small fraction of it.  It is clear to me that dragons in this context represent the community of Christian believers, of those restored as it were to the mystical body of Christ.  This sort of formula is essentially Catholic but offers the easiest bridge between there being many dragons and only one Christ, and is well articulated in quotes such as these:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  – Unknown author

The conflation of the mystical body of Christ with the literal body of Christ found in Spyro 3 is strange and heterodox, and my religious education is too limited to really comment on it.  But the association, by overreaching, thus becomes harder to deny rather than easier.

The sorceress, by stealing the eggs of the dragons, is literally trying to steal away the community of believers.  That this dovetails with devouring them in order to gain immortality at the expense of their lives is deeply suggestive.  From a gnostic perspective it would be easy to suppose that the sorceress thus represents the Catholic church, which through the symbolism we are uncovering would plainly here stand accused of attempting to make itself (as an institution) immortal at the expense of the eternal life of believers.  I believe this reading is too narrow.  Instead, I associate the sorceress with the devil, or even more broadly with any force that seeks to divide the Christian community against itself.  The devil, though commonly depicted as male, is genderless in most textual and mythological sources, especially when equated to the fallen angel Lucifer, as angels are genderless.  Indeed, the primary ending to the game involves the sorceress falling into a “lake of fire” (lava)***

The use of the dragon as a symbol for the messiah is also deeply Gnostic, although somewhat heterodox even within the context of Gnosticism.  The Nag Hammadi scriptures have exactly one tenuous association of a dragon with God, made possible only by a twisted sort of hermeneutics: the serpent in The Testimony of Truth is portrayed in a positive light, and via conventional Christian association through Milton with Lucifer and consequently the Dragon of Revelations, the serpent thus becomes associated with the dragon.  The dragon then becomes Christ through another turn:

‘Again it is written (Nm 21:9), “He made a serpent of bronze (and) hung it upon a pole … … (1 line unrecoverable) … which […] for the one who will gaze upon this bronze serpent, none will destroy him, and the one who will believe in this bronze serpent will be saved.” For this is Christ; those who believed in him have received life. Those who did not believe will die. ‘

Another such association, this one of the serpent directly with God, comes via Jewish mythology as recorded by The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall:

“Who art thou?” demands the Adam.

“I,” the serpent answers, “am Satan who was stoned; I am the Adversary–the Lord who is against you, the one who pleads for your destruction before the Eternal Tribunal. I was your enemy upon the day that you were formed; I have led you into temptation; I have delivered you into the hands of evil; I have maligned you; I have striven ever to achieve your undoing. I am the guardian of the Tree of Knowledge and I have sworn that none whom I can lead astray shall partake of its fruits.”

The Adam replies: “For uncounted ages have I been thy servant. In my ignorance I listened to thy words and they led me into paths of sorrow.  Thou hast placed in my mind dreams of power, and when I struggled to realize those dreams they brought me naught but pain. Thou hast sowed in me the seeds of desire, and when I lusted after the things of the flesh agony was my only recompense. Thou hast sent me false prophets and false reasoning, and when I strove to grasp the magnitude of Truth I found thy laws were false and only dismay rewarded my strivings. I am done with thee forever, O artful Spirit! I have tired of thy world of illusions. No longer will I labor in thy vineyards of iniquity. Get thee behind me, rempter, and the host of thy temptations. There is no happiness, no peace, no good, no future in the doctrines of selfishness, hate, and passion preached by thee. All these things do I cast aside. Renounced is thy rule forever!”

And the serpent makes answer: “Behold, O Adam, the nature of thy Adversary!” The serpent disappears in a blinding sunburst of radiance and in its place stands an angel resplendent in shining, golden garments with great scarlet wings that spread from one corner of the heavens to the other. Dismayed and awestruck, the Adam falls before the divine creature.  “I am the Lord who is against thee and thus accomplishes thy salvation, ” continues the voice. “Thou hast hated me, but through the ages yet to be thou shalt bless me, for I have led thee our of the sphere of the Demiurgus; I have turned thee against the illusion of worldliness; I have weaned thee of desire; I have awakened in thy soul the immortality of which I myself partake. Follow me, O Adam, for I am the Way, the Life, and the Truth!”

Gnosticism, if we are being honest, was largely a grift: an attempt by opportunists to capitalize on the religious confusions of the time by engaging in syncretism in order to try and find formulas of power over their fellow men.  But by the same token, Gnosticism was conversant with different philosophical traditions in a way that conventional Christianity was not.

The complexity of Spyro 3 hints at a similar syncretism, an engagement with multiple simultaneous religious and philosophical frameworks.  If I were more familiar with the history of Christian thought, especially regarding the Prisca Theologia, I feel I would be better able to puzzle these mysteries out.  Alas. When symbols converge in such a specific way, it is neither accidental nor impotent, though that does not always mean it was intended for a given reader.  My background is chaos magick, which in turn effects my own hermeneutics: In my formula, Christ = Serpent = Devil = Baphomet = Pan.  This in turn renders the body of Christ formula into a form of pantheism in which the totality of will constituting the world is softened by its total immersion in Christianity.  You will sometimes find mad heretics on the internet and elsewhere talking about “Christ consciousness”, which is itself a syncretic formula borrowing from the gnostic concept of gnosis and various Buddhist and Hindu concepts.  I am not sure about the validity of any of these formulas, but they become readily apparent through different lenses and combinations.

This is something of a digression though.  Let us return to those elements we have left unaddressed and uncapitalized upon.

First, the conjunction of Bianca, the sorceress, and the Rhynocs reads as commentary on European Christianity in particular.  Just what is being said is impossible for me to discern, however, the nature of games is such that the Rhynocs and the Sorceress stand defeated at the end of Spyro 3.  They stand defeated by Spyro, whose side Bianca defects to before the end of the game, as indeed is symbolically necessary.  Regardless of what is being said, it has the character of prophecy, and is deeply suggestive of a radical shift in the nature and practice of Christianity in Europe.

The second coming of Christ is located somewhere in here as well, as indeed it must be: Spyro 3 is eschatological, as is revealed by the sorceress falling into a lake of fire and the dragons all being rescued and hatching throughout the course of the game.  I will not go so far as to say that Spyro himself is Christ, however, he seems to represent the active element of the Christian community at bare minimum.  This second coming of Christ, through the syncretism with Jewish mythology and Gnostic symbolism, must be assumed to simultaneously fulfil the requirements of Jewish theology of their own messiah.

This collection of themes should not be surprising at all to any perennialist.  Over time, the true meaning of teachings are forgotten, society moves on, and a new prophet is needed to restore meaning to things.  Since Christ was the last prophet, subsequent prophets can only also be Christ.  Perennialism is indeed the secret meaning of the dragons hatching every 12 years, as well as the dragons being banished from the forgotten realms approximately 1000 years ago (a number that, applied to the real world, maps reasonably closely to the persecution of the Cathars, the last major group with gnostic elements in Christian history).  Remember that Spyro claimed that the dragons left of their own accord to “get some peace and quiet”, while Bianca claims they were banished by the sorceress.  In either case, since the dragons constitute the true community of Christians in this interpretation, the implications are fairly obvious+

Lastly, the associations involved in the pairings between Bianca and Hunter as well as Spyro and Elora.  Hunter represents the closest thing in the world to nothing, so Bianca’s elopement with him can only possibly mean anything about Bianca.  It seems to mean, quite simply, that Bianca ceases to be a virgin.  That is probably a good thing.  The virginity of Mary served a purpose in establishing the divinity of Christ.  To remain an eternal virgin is a genuinely terrible fate by most reckonings.  Meanwhile, Elora, freed of her representational schema from the previous game, now mostly seems to represent paganism.  A marriage between Christianity and Paganism is of course incoherent; but then it is Elora who insinuates herself up to Spyro, who shows no interest, for reasons that should be abundantly clear to anyone who has payed attention to either the games or my reviews thus far.  But nevertheless, it is a cordial sort of relationship, more cordial than has traditionally existed between believing communities: one in which the two can watch fireworks together to celebrate the end of a major mutual threat.

Taken altogether, both as a game and as a game trilogy, Spyro is filled with incredible depth of meaning.  I could keep expounding on it, of course, but at a certain point the intelligent and educated must be assumed to understand, and the rest must be assumed not to benefit.

 

*It is worth noting that it is Hunter who returns to Spyro’s world with Spyro rather than Elora.  Hunter, who is male, and is returning to a world that is notionally about maleness.  That Hunter later runs off with a character symbolically associated with hermaphroditism is a wonderful and subtle joke and affirmation simultaneously.

** “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” St. Boniface

This gives the typical example.

***The primary ending to the game, which will naturally be accessed by the vast majority of players, has the sorceress fall into the lava.  Of course, she is seen to extend a hand out of the lava, suggesting her survival, but this could simply refer to perennialism, a need to redefeat her periodically.  The secondary ending however, accessible only to the elite player who completes every aspect of the game, has her fall into a lake of water, suggesting baptism, hence giving Spyro 3 a universalist character: even the character who represents the principle of evil itself is purged of that metaphysical evil.

+ “I adjusted avalars portals to take me to the dragon worlds but somehow I ended up here.  Maybe my coordinate tables are out of date.

Yeah, by a thousand years.

That would explain why the book was so cheap

in this context becomes a dig at The Bible. The Cathars read the Bible, of course; this was one of the things Catholic authorities hated about them so much; so we must assume that another, perhaps new gnostic syncretism is being put forward by Spyro 3.

Posted by: Alephwyr | September 19, 2019

Spyro 2: Neoliberal (Sur)realism

Spyro 2 is a much different game from the original.  It begins with the same innocence, perhaps even to a degree that feels forced, as Spyro and his dragonfly sidekick Sparx decide to go on a vacation.  Unfortunately, at the same time a plucky collection of misfit furries decide they need to kidnap a dragon and shanghai him into service against Ripto, some sort of evil monster-sorcerer with dictatorial impulses who hails from another world.  Hijinx ensue, treasures are collected, worlds are traversed, and Ripto is defeated, restoring the world of “Avalar”.  Pretty straightforward stuff on the surface.

Spyro 2 is markedly less masculinist and homosexual than the first game, but not to a degree that forces discontinuity with that interpretation.  Spyro 2 is in fact a story about capitalism.  It accomplishes this not just through the presence of the mercenary merchant Moneybags, a character who fleeces Spyro for a sizeable portion of the treasure he collects throughout the game, but through its entire structure as a game, both ludologically and narratively.  There are many layers to this.

The first layer is the narrative.  Spyro is brought into a world against his will where he is immediately subject to the needs and demands of a besieged foreign power.  To achieve his own objective (a vacation, which we’ll see is fitting enough later), he must satisfy these needs and demands by accumulating and expending various treasures and rare items.  It is worth noting immediately that in the first Spyro game, treasure was not really a medium of exchange.  It was a totemic or symbolic collective clan property of the dragons in totality, watched over faithfully by the Peacekeeper branch of the dragon world.  It didn’t do anything except increase the glory of the dragons as a whole, much as captured treasure left at a shrine to Jupiter did for the Romans in the early days of their empire.  Even after it was stolen by the Gnorcs (or converted into Gnorcs, rather*), the closest we get to an exchange is when a balloonist asks to see the treasure, reinforcing the idea that it is valuable in a metaphysical rather than material, capitalist sense.  This is very interesting, because it demonstrates that the dragons when left to their own devices have traditional, pre-capitalist ideas about property, or at least certain classes of property.

In Spyro 2, Spyro learns that treasure can be given to Moneybags in exchange for skills, assistance, and access in various senses that mostly just lead to the accumulation of more treasure in the typical circular pattern of capitalism.  He learns that certain classes of treasure, namely orbs, can be given to a scientist/engineer to use for technical feats of various sorts, and he learns that the accumulation of talismans, essentially badges of respect or status from the various worlds he visits, allow him to unlock access to the major areas of the game.  Thus Spyro learns about property in the unique sense of capital: he literally learns about capitalism.  This much is utterly undeniable and not open to a converse interpretation of any sort.  In addition to property as capital, he also learns about social capital through the objectified medium of the talismans.

Throughout the game Spyro enters a variety of worlds which are mostly primitive and pre-capitalist in a similar vein to the dragon world.  However, an important point of distinction is that these worlds seem to lack the strong concept of communal property that the dragons have towards their treasure.  Very close to none of the characters who give you orbs place any importance on them at all.  I was worried this could be read as a metaphor for colonialist exploitation at first, but no harm seems to come from the deprivation of resources of the locals of each world.  What happens instead is like a LARPers bowdlerized pastiche of colonialism: a children’s interpretation.  It almost seems as if each world is a capitalist facsimile of pre-capitalism in this respect**

Throughout the worlds, ethnic homogeneity is well established (albeit in terms of “ethnicity” like Seahorse, Bird, Worm, Caveman, and Satyr that blend disproportionately with furry subspecies), with fault lines in various conflicts typically occurring along these strange pseudo-ethnic lines.  This again reads as imitative of a past that cannot be reclaimed within the framework of capitalism: each world has a sort of vacuum of property conceptions rather than a true pre-capitalist framework of alternate property conceptions.  Even worlds that have strong concepts of work, territory, or occupation are kind of just going through the motions.  Avalar is a collection of worlds that have forgotten capitalism, being subjected from the outside to capitalism.

Which brings us to our next layers: The characters of Hunter, Elora, the Professor, and Moneybags carry a lot of weight.  There is their literal and their indirect significance, meaning in their characters they actually represent two or three layers rather than just one.  These characters are somewhat free floating in their relationship to each other, which is what allows them to take on so much significance in so many different ways.

If treated as an organization, Elora would be the face, Hunter would be a stand-in for whatever the gamer views as the most useless element of the organization (either the CEO or the main workforce, presumably), and the Professor would be a one-person engineering department.  It is not hard to read them as being equivalent to a corporation in this respect: Elora deals with Spyro, so she is the HR department, and so it all falls into place.  Moneybags in this context is simply the Everything Else company.  Sort of like Acme in Looney Tunes.  In this reading, in addition to Spyro being a shanghaied soldier in Avalar’s army (the only soldier in fact), he is also a contracted worker being paid on a gig-by-gig basis.  The two merge pretty seamlessly in what amounts to a probably unintentionally Rothbardian symmetry of power and market.

This leads immediately to the next interpretation of their relationship: Hunter, being useless, could represent the state.  Elora could represent woke or neoliberal capital.  The Professor could represent STEM as an industry.  Finally, Moneybags could represent mercenary or unwoke capital.  The main argument for this reading is that Hunter expropriates Moneybag’s legitimate earnings at the end of the game and gives them to Spyro. Hunter is seen throughout the game to be incapable of using force competently in any context except here, against the unwoke merchant class. Moneybags is also seen to be amoral, selling bombs to Ripto at one point and occasionally slipping up and calling Spyro a sucker after a purchase.  But Elora does not care about the treasure or even the orbs, giving them all over to Spyro at the end of the game as a reward.  This seems to reflect Neoliberal Capitalism’s fixation on the maintenance of structures which produce perceived meaning and status even at the expense of the actual accumulation of capital.

In the end, Avalar becomes a kingdom that is hollowed out of all of its capital in the name of preserving its character from a foreign aggressor, when its character is a collection of hollow parodies of pre-capitalist societies embedded in a larger capitalist context.  In turn, that context enters a kind of stasis in the absence of further possibilities of capitalist exchange: Avalar becomes frozen, incapable of further transformation or growth, and thus the de-facto authorities of Avalar maintain their authority indefinitely, defined primarily by their contrast to the unfettered (IE, substantive or even just “actual”) capitalism of Moneybags, as well as the outside context threat of Ripto, who represents dictatorship, rule by force and so forth.

The three paradigms on display in Spyro are thus Authoritarianism, represented by Ripto, which is seen to be radically alien to Avalar and its subworlds, Neoliberalism, which in this context is best understood as a kind of superstructure formed in the crucible of capitalism which persists after the high waters of capitalism recede, and lastly, capitalism itself, the unfettered capitalism of Moneybags, without which the triumph of Spyro over Ripto and the liberation of Avalar is impossible but which represents a threat to the neoliberal regime even greater than Ripto by being indifferent to it, larger than it, and a force for change and growth rather than stability.  In the end, Spyro is entrusted with the treasure while Moneybags is disallowed the treasure not because Spyro earned it (he may well have), but because Spyro is unthreatening.

* At the end of the game, when Spyro goes to Dragon shores, he encounters a Gnorc who asks for what amounts to most of the treasure of Avalar just to enter and play a few cheap (and sometimes unsafe) carnival games.  Since Gnorcs are constituted of Gems according to the first game, the acquisition of Gems can be seen to aid Gnorc reproduction.  Capitalism’s indifference is thus shown again, but in a mixed context, establishing it as a force for cosmopolitanism, while at the same time showing that a traditional enemy of the dragons grows in population as a result of it and Spyro’s naivety or need for entertainment.  In the end it is his need for luxury which leads to this, for a break from the gig economy of capitalism, which originally was simply a need for novelty.  Thus the need for novelty is seen as the Pandora’s Box that opened the gate through which capitalism entered, which threatens to again undermine the traditionalism of the dragon culture by enabling its enemies.  However, since Spyro self-actualized (masculinized) in the context of a war against dragon culture’s enemies, the dragon culture is seen to be reasonably inoculated against this contingency by absorbing this into its symbolic and literal ecosystem.

** Having immersed myself in Landian theory-fiction and by extension Deleuzian ramblings about time, and having that strange disease of constant semiotic confusion, it is impossible not to comment that this reads to me as a tale about relative post-scarcity simulationism in the far future in which artificial cultures form along fault lines of politics, capitalism, and cargo-cult capitalism while attempting to reclaim ancestral meaning and merge it with modern sign and culture.

 

Posted by: Alephwyr | September 10, 2019

Spyro the Dragon: A Gay Masculinist Bildungsroman

Spyro Reignited was released on PC recently, so I snagged a copy and started playing my way through the trilogy.  I had originally planned an epic blog post encapsulating my views about all three games, but as my mind is slipping more and more over time and as I can’t know in advance whether each game will warrant thematically similar styles of investigation, I decided it is best to chunk things up into three, or at most four total blog posts.  These blog posts are liable to be much more meditative than analytical, and may seem somewhat disjointed when read back to back due to their unplanned nature.

The first thing that jumps out about the original Spyro the Dragon is how cute and childish it is.  If it weren’t for its especially polished visuals and enjoyable aesthetic qualities it could actually come across as an educational game.  It has the same sort of compactness, sparseness, or even emptiness as something like Math Blaster! or Mario Teaches Typing.  The simplicity of the game ends up dovetailing with its graphical appearance, general presentation, and even with its themes in a way that is not entirely unpleasant, but which must be assumed to be largely unintentional, an artifact of PS1 era game design.  In the context of modern gaming, the game plays like a YouTube Unity 3d Tutorial.  However, in conjunction with every other aspect of the game, this makes it feel clean, rather than merely flat.

Narratively, Spyro the Dragon is a classic coming of age story.  It explores the adolescence of a young dragon as he learns valuable lessons and asserts his abilities against the backdrop of what amounts to a bowdlerized form of terrorism.  The valuable lessons of course are 95% gameplay mechanics, and many of them come after the player already had to figure them out through exploration, trial, and error.  In order to free many dragons from their gemstone encasings (a primary objective of the game), you have to figure out new abilities on the fly just to get to where they’re located.  The dragons then give you advice or utter some quip or comment, but the advice is often an explanation of what you needed to do to free them in the first place!  The uselessness and superfluousness of the dragon wisdom contribute to the childishness of the game.  It also makes Spyro the Dragon feel like somebody just wrote down the basic skeletal constituents of a “Bildungsroman” in a generalized form, almost algebraically, perhaps on a cocktail napkin.

It is somewhat like looking at a skeleton in fact.  The game feels unfinished in a way that is reminescent of the final segments of Metal Gear Solid 5.  Unlike Metal Gear Solid 5, however, Spyro the Dragon has a much clearer concept of the essence of its genre.  The result is an unintentional exploration, not of a specific dragon’s story, so much as the highly abstracted liminal space of adolescence in general.  This degree of abstraction, combined with other aspects of the game, lends itself to a broad range of interpretations or applicability.  The game is very unlikely to truly contain them; it is basically all broth and no soup as far as that’s concerned; but it allows for them, and in interesting ways.

First the context: Spyro the Dragon is true to many dragon myths, including eastern dragon mythos, in that all the dragons are male.  However, the maleness of dragons in mythology is generally metaphysical, not literal, with dragons being principles or spirits.  A superficial similarity with angels exists, however, angels are typically considered metaphysically genderless and merely depicted as male, whereas dragons are typically considered materially genderless but metaphysically male.  The question then emerges, is Spyro the Dragon meant to be metaphysical?  It seems like a silly question to ask about a children’s game, but it is not entirely unreasonable.

The dragon realms in Spyro are divided into mostly creative forces and one Martian force: The Artisans, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, and Dream Weavers, and the Peacekeepers respectively.  I can’t immediately think of a singular example of a traditional metaphysics that corresponds to this taxonomy, but it seems broadly compatible with Jungian and Campbellian archetypes.  Combined with the sparseness of the story itself, Spyro the Dragon could easily be interpreted as a new age metaphysics using draconic imagery, exploring the liminal space of adolescence.  In this context it would be another example of an initiatory video game, much like Undertale.

However, the dragons do not seem idealized enough to be full blown forms, and in the sort of Jungian/Campbellian space they dwell in we are dealing more with psychology than full blown metaphysics.  The characters are archetypes, not essences.  Not even that: they correspond to archetypes, without themselves being archetypes, because they have individualized characteristics that lack metaphysical significance, like linguistic accents, food preferences, and cognitive deficiencies.  So while the proper approach to analyzing Spyro the Dragon may include semiotic considerations, it pertains to the domain of psychology and warrants that style of analysis, rather than a metaphysical one.

Thus their maleness cannot be metaphysical, even though it may take as its template metaphysical lore.  If their maleness is not metaphysical it must be taken as psychological metaphor (broadly reducible to the unseen material which it indexes) or material.  Thus, Spyro the Dragon takes place in a world, whether material or psychic, in which all dragons are literally male.  Further, it is canonical that dragons reproduce by using fairies, which while stereotypically feminine in presentation do not seem to engage with the dragons along sexual lines.  It is true that Spyro can receive a kiss from a fairy, but it is notable that even in this case, Spyro does not blush or indeed show any reaction to the kiss at all, maintaining an entirely platonic composure, even given the advanced graphics of Reignited.

Taken together, this is still only sufficient to prove that Spyro the dragon is androcentric.  The most obvious character of the story is still that of a young male dragon learning how to be an adult: a man, in the broadest sense.  So it is no surprise that the story is androcentric, and the absence of female dragons mostly serves to center this aspect of the story.  Certainly Spyro is not sexualized in any other sense, nor is there any sexuality present in the whole of the game that I could discern.  But the shift from metaphysical gender to literal gender results in a subtle yet unavoidable semiotic shift into queer territory.

What is very interesting about this shift is that it doesn’t have the effect of subsuming the masculinity of Spyro, either the game or the dragon, into the broader territory of queerness.  The game remains fundamentally about masculinity first, and becomes queer in a qualified way.  It does this by negotiating the transformation from “boy” to “man” through a lens that, accidentally or intentionally, uses a semiotic framework that is broad enough to have referents in general adolescence while simultaneously being overloaded in such a way that additional meaning becomes accessible when interpreted queerly.  In this respect, Spyro the Dragon is Steganographic.

The use of fairies to reproduce has obvious parallels to the way gay men sometimes use women to procreate, whether outside of marriage or through lavender marriage.  This then becomes part of the initiatory message of Spyro the Dragon.  Going further, the enemies in the game are gnorcs, which are dismissed in the opening cinematic as “ugly” (apparently the worst term of disparagement in the game).  However, the dragons themselves are often very homely.  This suggests ugliness as having a more operationalized meaning.  The enemies in the games are all gemstones that were turned into monsters, while the good guys are dragons that were turned into gemstones.  Taken together, this reads as a metaphor for the development of gaydar, albeit in a strictly non-sexual sense; in that very specific pre-sexual, even protosexual sense known to all queer people and denied systematically by straight and cisgender people.  Spyro the Dragon thus very carefully navigates the pathway from the nascent and burgeoning psychic roots of adolescent gay male perception to the full blown semiotic networks of adult gay male gaydar (the adult dragons themselves could all be dragon versions of Rocky Horror Picture Show characters).  It does so without ever breaching the inviolate innocence of youth, and thus masterfully avoids even a hint of pedophilia.

The salience of a given being clicks on or off for Spyro as he explores the space around him.  Things are constantly revealed as their opposite.  Spyro exists in a world without friends until he frees them from their initial appearances by investigation or action.  Enemies intrude on the physical and semiotic space of the dragons until they are defeated, at which point they revert to inert objects.

Spyro the Dragon is thus interpretable as a Utopian parable about gay male reproduction and psychic development, in which the masculine development of each dragon takes absolute priority over sexuality, which merely becomes a self-aligning psychic-semiotic framework embedded in the broader masculine context which grows platonically until it presumably transforms into its non-platonic form in adulthood (a morphological division made hyper clear by the fact that Spyro is quadrupedal while the adult dragons are bipedal).  It is the gay component of boy scouts minus the pederasty; in a sense, the solution to the total problem of gay self-perpetuation.  It is a gay Spartan Elysium.

In the context of our coming simulationism, it is worth noting that all reproduction will occur without gender, that there will be no gender at all in certain respects.  Spyro the Dragon easily provides a template in which a metaphysical maleness can be preserved, albeit in a self-propagating homosexual context, and with dragons.  If anyone is interested in taking this template and running with it, I would be happy to add it to the list of Dragonsphere nation proposals.

Posted by: Alephwyr | August 17, 2019

I have a Patreon now

Full disclosure: I don’t really do anything with it right now.  But I might eventually!

https://www.patreon.com/alephwyr

Posted by: Alephwyr | December 29, 2018

A Defense of Capitalism in the Present Day

I will try to keep this organized, but since it is essentially entirely unplanned I have no idea how large it might become.  I mean to touch on the following points.  I have no idea in what manner yet I will touch on them:

  • Ethology, hierarchy, and information
  • Intelligence dynamics in command and market economies
  • Organizational patterns sans traditional descriptors
  • A pragmatic analysis of power and capital from an aspirational anarcho-capitalist perspective

Ethology, hierarchy, and information

Scattershot analysis based on concepts like the Hundredth Monkey Effect and other ethological inferences already exist as a kind of hedge magick.  When I speak of ethology I am generally not referring to that dubious art of making inferences into human behavior based on animal behavior, but of observational analysis of trends and behaviors in humans which I am unable to fit into any other category.  Certainly what has no part of the human soul, or the human mind, can only be part of the human animal, so I trust that the reader will grant me the atypicality of the use of the word and understand my meaning.  There is probably some overlap between what I refer to as Ethology and Behavioral Economics, but I mean to include concepts of Darwinism and memetics in my analysis that are not strictly native to Behavioral Economics so far as I am aware.

I’m told that Edmund Burke made the point, and made it quite well, that institutions which have survived for a long time tend to have something in their favor.  I have not read Burke, and have little time for reading in the present moment, but I make note of the position as a basic premise which is simple to grant.  But let’s jump straight into the matter of how information propagates, granting that hierarchy is everywhere and is therefore the most traditional sort of institution: one that has never yet been overthrown even in the most extreme circumstances of human revolt.

There is information that propagates from the top-down, and information that propagates from the bottom-up.  Oddly, information that propagates from the center of a hierarchy outward seems to be rare, except to the extent it manages to leverage one of the other two types.  When information propagates from the bottom-up, it tends to be considered folk knowledge or folk wisdom, and carry the imprimatur of being forged in a hard crucible.  When information propagates from the top-down, it is considered authoritative: it is often tested, but in a different sense, which is to say that the very fact it came from those at the top of the hierarchy is its proof, rather than any kind of generalized survivability of the notion independently of the individual.

This would seem to make bottom-up information more scientific, except that it is not strictly speaking a product of scientific method.  Instead it is a product of process of elimination in a noisy medium, albeit one with a limited canvas.  We expect intelligence to bubble up for the most part in most human ecosystems, to varying degrees of course, and so lower class memes can only be as complex as these circumstances permit.  Higher class memes sometimes seem like they can be arbitrarily complex, often for purely ornamental or signaling purposes.  When sound lower class memes find a champion in the middle of a hierarchy, that champion often usurps or is incorporated into the lower order of the upper classes, whereas when upper class memes drift down, their largely ornamental nature is often immediately apparent and so they are not adopted and often sneered at.  The non-ornamental ones either meet with equivalent lower class knowledge in the middle, or are too complex to be filtered down properly.  While upper class memes take place in a less noisy medium, they also occur in a much larger canvas, and so the ratio of sense to nonsense (which we will define as things that correspond to some reality vs things that do not) isn’t necessarily better.  Additionally, we encounter the problem of too many possible referents once we start trying to seriously evaluate every upper class meme network at once.  We also assume (and in fact know from experience) that the lower classes are horrifically bad at understanding the environmental truths of the upper classes and vice versa.  So, there are certain exceptions and limitations to this overall ethological crucible of knowledge.

All of which is to say, information both rises and falls, and human beings rise and fall with it.  Someone who has bubbled up or fallen down through more strata is possessed of a greater range of truths, and knows how to synthesize things in a way unknown to those who have never climbed or fallen.  This knowledge is often very dark and sorcerous, so we find among such fallers and climbers many a dictator.  It has been said that revolutions are not led by the lower classes, but by disenfranchised and alienated former members of the upper classes.  When a clean canvas meets a noisy one, either great secrets reveal themselves or the mechanism itself is revealed, and with it various metagames which are semantically indifferent: the content doesn’t matter, only the mechanism.

Not having read Burke, I am certain that what Burke has right is this: that a society built from the bottom up knows how to build from the bottom up, but not how to sustain an upper class, which is all the same inevitable, while a society built from the top down knows to a certain extent how to sustain every class.  The failure mode of the latter is revolution which happens under conditions of extreme privation or despotism.  The failure mode of the former is also revolution, but it happens whenever populism finds a new nexus point, which it does perpetually due to its noisy and ignorant nature.  It is like the Roman metaphor of the stomach, as documented in Livy: The stomach doesn’t appear to do much work in comparison to the rest of the body, but it digests and disseminates.

I am a classist, but I am not a vulgar classist like many of my fellow Americans.  When the upper classes fail to act in this way, it is because they do not actually serve the functions of digesting and disseminating.  Something is broken with deeply ethological mechanisms in this case, and such a society or nation is bound to failure.  Whether through depreciation of a formerly sound upper class or through the absence of a true upper class to begin with, then determines the subsequent nature of social unrest.

Intelligence dynamics in command and market economies

It is hard to say which better incentivizes selection for intelligence.  The Soviet Union began by putting all of its scientists under military supervision, but it didn’t seem to have much trouble finding them even so.  Traditional bureaucracies like ancient China were reasonably good at selecting for intelligence, but all of the great geniuses of ancient China were mid level officials at best.  Perhaps this mid level is just where certain types of knowledge are best synthesized and nothing is truly said about intelligence at all by the number of great geniuses found here, throughout history and across economic types.  So then capitalism, in better allowing such people to rise, is better at sorting intelligence to the upper echelons of a society?  Not necessarily.

We expect command economies, with their intensely top down nature, to reward displays of nonsensical knowledge more heavily than capitalist economies, but we expect capitalist economies to reward noisy displays of knowledge more heavily than command economies: that is, the idiot who has 3/5ths of a productive meme right is right with his understanding 3/5ths of the time and gets lucky some of the rest of the time due to variance.  In a “better functioning” command economy, this person would be more consistently filtered out, and with them, the 2/5ths of the noise they bring to the upper echelons (which can be thought of as dead memetic weight at best).  In a worse functioning command economy, just as in a worse functioning capitalist economy, they may be onboarded precisely for their limited competence, both because they’re cheaper per unit of labor and because they’re easier to keep in line.  But capitalism, with its constant natural usurpations, will have a steady tide of imbeciles floating in and out of its upper ranks.  It may be the price of freedom, but it needs to be documented all the same.  Most of these people’s children will regress to the mean, but it’s not at all uncommon for idiots to become independently wealthy under capitalism.

But that is different from capitalism being bad at selecting for intelligence.  Certainly those at the top, those capable of sustaining intergenerational wealth, tend towards extreme intelligence.  But conversely, most of those with extreme intelligence will not become billionaires.  In general they will compete for status, to a degree that is actually somewhat ludicrous.  Even utter failures of intelligent people still seek status via high IQ societies, for instance, or by dominating a chosen hobby.  This is very interesting.  It does not appear to be a general quest for power, since status is often entirely divorced from any real power.  If anything it seems to be a function of “birds of a feather flocking together”.  IE, like seeks like, and the intelligent want to be around other intelligent people and establish themselves in relation to other intelligent people.

Intelligence rises in every hierarchy, even hierarchies defined by pure violence, but wealth generation seems to function as a very limited test of intelligence precisely for the reason that there are so many other, alternative tests of intelligence, and that these are more closely associated with intelligence in the mind of the average person: even apparently the average intelligent person.  The ability of an extremely wealthy person to affect policy is much greater in the modern day than the ability of the average college professor or think tank member; it is through endowments by the wealthy that think tanks even exist.  So if class is coequal to power, then market economies do not do a very good job of filtering the highest possible levels of intelligence into power.

Do command economies do better?  They appear to, if two conditions are fulfilled: first, insofar as those at the top of a command economy more likely got there through the conjunction of intelligence and force, which applies Darwinian pressure to intelligence instead of just weaker social pressure.  Second, if the upper classes are sufficiently established, IE established without an overly large degree of friction, or paranoia, or any of the other things which often limit them, they can permit the general ethological crucibles of information to function and even encourage them to do so.  At times this may even take the form of promoting market mechanisms.  And for these reasons do we always see the emergence and presence of a government even in cases where a society is otherwise very liberal.  It is an ecosystem.  The top regulates the bottom more than the bottom regulates the top, and the top is harder to replace than the bottom, not just because the bottom is effectively economically fungible, as I have written elsewhere, but for all the reasons given so far in this blog post.

A market economy is an illusion in a sense: it is just a very well established and entrenched upper echelon, so a kernel of command economy floating on a superior system of wealth generation for pragmatic reasons.  The natural state of man is not commerce, nor cooperation, it is the competitive application of information within a given purview.  People die readily for ridiculous theories; more readily than for anything else in fact.  The only reason will-to-truth is not supreme in the human animal is because sociopaths and opportunists become cognizant of its mechanics and put on imitations of it which exceed the honest in their appearances, and hence in power.

Organizational patterns sans traditional descriptors

The late Mark Fisher wrote a book called Capitalist Realism that pointed out quite astutely that modern corporations have seemingly adopted many of the dysfunctional practices of former Soviet organizations.  That is, the market seems to have done nothing to prevent what were thought to be failures entirely caused by the misalignment of incentives and so forth of command economies.  Now, corporations are not really free market institutions.  They are chartered entities which enjoy various special rights and protections.  But they are generally considered “closer to free market institutions” than the Soviet Union.  So how have they backed into failure modes thought unique to command economies?

It’s about ossification.  The crucible, the ethological pump system, the whatever you call it; it fails in corporations.  Whether this is because they are sufficiently “non-market” in some sense, is trivial to argue and equally trivial to know.  What is important is not that the invisible hand is thwarted.  What’s important is finding all the hidden variables that account for the invisible hand.  And these variables concern the effects of Darwinian pressures on not just individual humans, but on the collective species of humanity and the processes by which it acts and establishes itself as a species.

All of management, all of behavioral economics, is a cargo cult imitating deeper mechanisms thought to reside in the black box of the invisible hand, an attempt to get a system in fundamental disequilibrium to continue marrying and disseminating memes “correctly”, and capital in rough relation to this, which is to say to keep the general bubbling up of truth happening while buying out competition cheap.

So what is really happening in command vs capitalist economies?  The same things.  The same things happen everywhere, just in different proportions.  This is not to say there are no essential or important differences between command and capitalist economies, capitalism is vastly preferable, but in ethological terms they are both just hierarchies and our concern is whether these ethological hierarchies are functional or not.  The United States is on the cusp of a sudden massive swerve into statism of one kind or another.  Do you really think it will be different people in command of the fascist or communist united states than those who are in command of it now?  Not at all.  The powerful, or at least those of them who get the message, will simply take off their freedom hats and put on their order hats.  The cost of buying out dissenters will temporarily go up, and a little bit of noise in this process will eternally confuse the issue in the history books.  Simple as that.

A pragmatic analysis of power and capital from an aspirational anarcho-capitalist perspective

You can’t just buy units of force because force can simply steal money.  You also can’t steal the means of production at gunpoint because it isn’t ever some static property of some entrenched thing.  You can put a gun to someone’s head and tell them work or I’ll shoot you, but you’re probably not getting their best labor.  You can build things that have been built before, make things that have been made before, but the slave makes a poor innovator, except when bribed with status; oh yes, some people feel no contradiction, or some people love the pursuit of truth so much that they make no quarrel with slavery, but there are still some real disincentives and they slow things down a bit.

You can’t embed power in capital: that’s anarcho-capitalism.  And you can’t embed capital in power: that’s a command economy.  Of all the human systems that have ever existed, all of them have come far closer to embedding capital in power.  The type of power just changes.  Once capital constitutes its own power to a sufficient degree, the powerful camouflage themselves in capital and make like they are merchants.  Watch how fast they convert their capital to guns when they think the winds are changing, though.  Therefore, the powerful are those who have the means and the will to think of their power and to treat their power as power.  That is, power is an ever-shifting asset class comprised of everything that serves power.  Only those who both think in these terms and act in these terms are powerful.  That means that for all of history, all the would be revolutionaries of the world have been fighting shapeshifters.  There is no bourgeoisie except when it is expedient for there to be a bourgeoisie, just as there is no supreme soviet except when it is expedient for there to be a supreme soviet.

To embed power in capital seems more reasonable than a lot of things.  I would rather embed it in pure status, but I’ll ultimately settle for a kind of long term end-run:  first power within capital, then capital within status.  Then I will consider history complete.

To embed power in capital would only be possible by making capital a permanently reliable expression of power in and of itself.  More reliable than force.  And for this to be the case, everyone would have to answer to capital and no one to force.  This is impossible for humans as they exist biologically.  It may be possible for humanity as it may exist in some future state.  Good.  But until then, compromise is needed: people need to answer to capital more readily than they answer to force.  And for that to be the case, capital needs an answer to force.  And the only answer to force that doesn’t defer to it if answered back is, itself, force.  So, government.  But also rights.

Why rights?  Pragmatically.  When people forget that hierarchy is a crucible that produces the fuel that keeps the human race running, they reify the upper classes in the wrong way: in a complete way, ignorant of essential differences among them, especially under a capitalist system.  Imagine a bad stomach that, to sustain itself, takes more and more resources until the rest of the body starts to whither, to the point that the rest of the body has to take greater and greater pains to feed that stomach, and etc.  Rights reduce friction at the bottom a society, and the proportional protection of property reduces friction at the top of a society.  Simply protecting the wealthy and powerful is not enough.  The stomach dies without the body as readily as the body dies without the stomach.  You can’t chop off limbs indefinitely.  That is our present situation.  Now, the business of either curing the ailment or synthesizing a replacement is doubtlessly hard, but the only alternative is to be replaced by other organisms entirely, and absorbed into them, so it demands attention.

I propose the first place we look is the intersection of truth and human nature as they concern the dynamics of information across class barriers, and I propose we do so with an understanding of the dynamics of power in the broadest sense.

Posted by: Alephwyr | September 2, 2018

A Dragon Confronts the Terasem Movement

Malatora was somewhat shooting fish in a barrel.  In the spirit of moving on to harder targets, I now turn my meager attentions and talents to the subject of the Terasem Movement.  This is a marginally more difficult movement to vivisect, but ultimately there are many problems with it, although I must say that I am on the whole much more sympathetic to the Terasem Movement than to Malatora, even though that isn’t a difficult hurdle to clear.  Let’s get right down to it:

Addressing Terasem

 

General Impressions

There are many different components to the Terasem movement.  There’s a kind of dopey new-agey religiosity that combines less-than-fully researched physics knowledge with some Carl Sagan tropes, some general scientistic philosophical incompetence, and throws in a dash of instrumentalist reinterpretation of tradition for good measure.  Taken together the overall result is not great: Terasem lacks the ethos or justification of real science while simultaneously stripping religion of its force through its instrumentalization.  This is not a strong foundation for any sort of normative system, and most of the subsequent problems of Terasem stem from a mixture of intentional and unintentional sophistry that isn’t quite enabled by this, but certainly isn’t helped by it; it is one of the flaws which the sophistry most tries to brush under the carpet.  It’s best to describe Terasem as “Science-adjacent”.  What this means isn’t so much that it’s antithetical or exclusionary to science, and indeed many of its members seem very well-good credentialed.  But it’s not science, at all, and the use and misuse of technological terminology makes my bullshit detector explode.  It’s possible I am just not educated enough to understand certain terms and concepts, so I will leave this alone for the most part and operate as if everyone is engaged in good faith.

Besides the religious component, there are also various philosophical leitmotifs and idée fixes which are regrettable, most especially in the frequent appearance of contradiction.   I understand that a large movement can’t be entirely consistent, but the differences that are glossed over are more substantive than what is actually explicated, and I will show a few examples of this later.  I also get the impression that many of these people believe that simply defining enough terms with sufficient detail and clarity suffices to establish an argument, to solve a problem, or to make a problem disappear.  I don’t know why they think this.  I think it goes back to the scientific-adjacent attitude, because scientific statements are analytic statements, therefore surely enough analytic statements clustered together is sufficient for any purpose regardless of whether they correspond to anything, connect together in a substantive form, or even mean much of anything.  Maybe this is inspired by early Wittgenstein fetishism?  But that’s probably giving too much credit.

Lastly there is a political component, which again consists mostly of definitions and trying to establish definitions, and then a bizarre mixture of semantic and normative arguments for why these definitions should be adopted; again, without any apparent normative foundation; and roughly nothing else.  These are definition fetishists in a major way, and that already suffices to prove that most of their writing is empty or weak, but let’s try to crack things open and break them down a bit more anyway.

Philosophical issues

Since these are all over the place, my response to them will be individually, and it’s possible that few connections will be apparent.  I will respond in list form to minimize the appearance of connection, but organize the list roughly in terms of how different concepts segue into each other.

  • The strawmanning of opponents as believers in “elan vital”, followed by the subsequent demonstration of belief in elan vital

Essentially all philosophical arguments about consciousness are dismissed by a handwave in which Terasem accuse Emergentists, Dualists, and seemingly anyone who has ever put forward an argument of any complexity about consciousness at all of viewing consciousness as a kind of “special sauce” that is poured over the brain, which is obviously the source of all consciousness.  Ok.  Well, it seems uncontroversial to suggest it’s the source of consciousness, but there is still the question of how it is the source of consciousness, and dismissing any discussion of how it might be the source of consciousness with such a handwave is unproductive in the extreme.

But it’s worse than this.  This is, as far as I can tell, the official Terasem position on consciousness:

 “Consciousness is not a big problem. I think consciousness is simply what it feels like to have a cortex.”

What is it that feels in this construction?  The cortex?  Shouldn’t the second sentence then read “I think consciousness is simply what it feels like to be a cortex?”  That’s fine, but what is it about the cortex that makes it cause consciousness?  Is it the substance of the cortex?  Terasem elsewhere seem to advocate the position that what matters to consciousness is just information, and make little explicit distinction between whether they mean this statically or in its sequential operations.  But this is unhelpful as well.  If they mean statically, then it is hard to see why a book, for instance, isn’t afforded the same moral status as a human being (and absurdly, in the movie 2b, a storage device containing the “mindfile” of a major character is treated as if it has personhood, and in the same sense as the character himself).  If they mean dynamically, then various other problems emerge.

If a cortex can be constructed as a turing machine, then it can be constructed in various ways.  Not just in the sense of a modern, electrical computer, but also in terms of a water based computer, or even potentially a large collection of abacuses.  It could even be some god-awful Rube Goldberg contraption involving all of these elements, in addition to smoke signals, pigeon carriers, and american sign language exchanges between trained chimps.  If it is enough that the structure of the cortex is encoded in these operations, then consciousness should be present in some sense in all of them, but that seems plainly absurd.  So there must be something special about the human cortex, not just in the sense that it is a cortex, but in the specific form of its construction.  But this is much closer to the concept of elan vital than any emergentism.

Now, this “something special” can presumably be replicated in silicon, that’s a basic premise of the Terasem movement, so that gets us a little bit further back into philosophical territory.  But Terasem seem to think that just replicating the structure, input, output, and data of a human mind in silicon would be enough to create consciousness.  This is potentially absurd, and raises other questions: for instance, at what point does consciousness emerge as you add each of these components?  If it’s just the structure, then presumably any computer with an architecture equivalent to a cortex is already in some sense conscious whenever it performs any operations, and not just when it is in the mode of performing characteristically human operations.  Then there is the question of information processing:  If a cortex is conscious, is it conscious of the meaning of the data propagated through it in the form of computer code?  If so, at what level?  Or is it conscious in some other sense, by some as of yet unknown mapping of the physical processes of the cortex to different discrete experiences of phenomenal consciousness?  If so, the simple fact that a silicon cortex takes certain input, processes certain data perhaps in ASCII format (built up from binary) in a way dictated by assembly code (built on top of complex digital circuits), and produces certain output, tells us nothing about what the conscious experience is inside that cortex, EVEN WHEN THE BEHAVIOR OF THE SYSTEM EXACTLY IMITATES THE BEHAVIOR OF A SPECIFIC HUMAN.  And this is the biggest single problem with Terasem’s concept of consciousness as mere data processing on a specific architecture.  Consciousness may be data processing.  But that does not mean conscious experience on an architecture corresponds to data on an architecture.  To assume so is to make data into the elan vital.  And this does not, in turn, mean that consciousness is not data.  It just means that data is not consciousness.

  • The soul

There’s a lot of denigration of the concept of the soul, in the same manner as there’s a general denigration of philosophy.  But the concept of the soul has pragmatic implications regardless of any higher metaphysical questions.  In practice, the soul is whatever it is that people think is important about themselves, even when it isn’t real, isn’t yet actual, or can’t ever be actualized.  Expected value calculations and even vaguer notions of “potential” inform the concept of the soul, in such a way that a person’s future is considered a part of them that can be damaged, healed, augmented, or amputated.  As Kierkegaard put it, ‘The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.’  This could only be true if the totality of a person’s being extended across time, like a thread.  And of course this is a very classical notion, with Cletho, Lachesis, and Atropos representing the most famous example.  If string theory is true, then we are literally energy travelling down strings, and thus it’s possible to map these very metaphysical concepts and their implications to physical processes, in much the same way as it’s possible to map classical deterministic concepts to the implications of general relativity.

The soul is a very important concept because of this reason: that it refers to the contingent but persistent conditions of human existence under which a person is willing to believe in the possibilities of meaning and value.  Normally, these conditions are only contingent on life and death, but there’s no reason that contingency can’t itself be contingent on fleeting historical circumstances.  Since these conditions are contingent, it’s very important that we don’t separate people from their souls, regardless of what a soul “actually is”.

  • The irrelevance of vegetarianism in the context of eternity

There is only one kind of pain that really matters in the context of eternity, and that is the pain of separation from oneself, from substantive circumstance or possibility that one can’t construct meaning or value without, whether in absolute or strong relative terms.  I think it’s great that the Terasem movement care so much about animals.  There is rightfully a recognition that animal consciousness is on a continuum with human consciousness.  The idea of there being something substantively different between human consciousness and animal consciousness is implausible, and without a difference in substance between the two, the notion of qualitative differences between man and animal becomes less plausible in turn.  The notion of an “I-concept” or ego is sometimes put forward, but some animals have this, and some human beings do not.  Including, if we are taking people’s mystical self-accounts seriously, many high functioning human beings.  No one seriously advocates the position that it is justifiable to kill and eat Buddhists.

However, pain without lasting deprivation can be compensated trivially.  It’s just a simple utilitarian calculation of offsetting disutility with utility.  This doesn’t, of course, make disutility good or ideal.  We would prefer to do away with factory farming and other practices that harm animals, because harm is always bad.  But if we’re really talking about eternity, or at least k-large lifespans, for every living thing, then even the worst suffering of animals (including human animals) should disappear as an epsilon beneath the steadily increasing pile of utility they accrue after resurrection.  This is true in all cases except those where a being is permanently separated from something they consider essential to them, something for which they would sooner suffer forever than be deprived of.

  • The Transbemon identity argument rests on the notion that everyone wanting to be themselves is an axiom

To a certain very substantial extent I don’t want to be myself.  Argument refuted (and it shouldn’t be hard to find countless other cases: whenever we hear someone say “I wish I was never born”, this is a refutation of this position).  So this is a problem that would need to be rectified, in technical terms, to make the thing uniformly justifiable.

This calls back to the previous entry, and raises an important point.  To an extent, wanting to be yourself and not wanting to be yourself are the same exact thing in this context.  That is, the pain in question is the pain of being yourself in the permanent mode of not being yourself.  Since this is still a mode of being oneself, this can lead to what Kierkegaard calls a demonic disposition, in which one’s pain over these circumstances becomes the only affirmation of self that remains, and hence what people push into to affirm themselves.  But this is plainly disutilitarian and less than ideal.  We would prefer people to be themselves in the mode of being themselves, and so in a sense the Transbemon identity argument is refuted in practical terms while a semantic argument remains that it is correct; IE, that it is only true that some people want to be a non-extant and non-actualizable version of themselves, hence that they still want to be themselves.  But pragmatically, this is still a refutation, since Terasem think that it’s enough just to duplicate the information or facticity of a life naively.

  • No continuity of consciousness with any of the proposed technologies

This is a very simple criticism.  Terasem only promotes methods and techniques that don’t preserve continuity of consciousness.  Mind uploading, in various forms.  Cryonics.  Reconstruction from mindfiles derived from secondhand information.  Now, these may produce a person who is “the same” in terms of identity, and I see no reason to object to that.  But without continuity of consciousness, there is still death.  If the goal is to preserve the value of a person, and their ability to create value and meaning, or to preserve the identity of a person, or any number of other things, then these methods may be helpful.  They minimize the consequences of death for the universe, or for a society.  They do absolutely nothing about the consequences of death for the individual.  Which means Terasem is inherently non-individualistic in this sense, and anyone who goes in for these technologies must be the requisite uncommon combination of egoistic and selfless necessary to self-justify this.

  • Sophistry over continuity of consciousness

Everything Terasem says about the perpetuation of identity is a sophistry that tries to link identity and information with consciousness.  Consciousness is not information, or even identity.  People change identity over time, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes with discontinuities between which no identity is present.  Often this is precipitated by drugs or trauma, but it still occurs, yet we wouldn’t call people “unconscious” at any point during all of this.  Information is not consciousness.  It’s possible for consciousness to be unrepresentable in some sense.  For instance, if the brain is a turing machine, Godel’s laws apply to it.  If the encoding of the brain is incomplete in a way that doesn’t correspond to the way in which the mathematical language we use to describe it is incomplete, then there are things happening in the brain that go unrepresented.  You might say that the information is still there, but it isn’t accessible.  More fundamentally, I call back to the argument that while consciousness may be data, data isn’t consciousness.

  • Belief in ignorance as a motive for all human evil (as demonstrated in the movie 2b)

It is perhaps unfair to use an entertainment as a basis for judging a movement, but it was produced on behalf of the movement, and the argument is so crystal clear and so fallacious that it has to be addressed.  The idea that people only do wrong out of ignorance is not justified.  I will not make the customary argument against the concept from free will, since it is unlikely to mean much in this context.  It is a very classical idea, certainly, and can be found among the stoics, with Socrates, and in many other venerable places.  But I will simply state that it is empirically false.  For this we need only a single case of any potency to demonstrate.  Rather than go for a big fish like a dictator as an example, I think it suffices to point to the case of internet trolls, whose motto is often literally “For the lulz”.  It may be true that they lack a moral education, but a moral education in this sense is more a matter of conditioning than of classical lack of information.  This is not, precisely speaking, a problem of ignorance.  It is more like feral-ness.

  • “Synthesis of lots of people, result of many individuals leading to creation of one new and unique individual”

This line also came from the movie.  In the movie, the synthetic human (in Terasem speech, called a “Transbemon”) explains that this is the process by which they were created.  However, the idea also appears in the Terasem literature, so it is more representative of a concept they explicitly promote.  What exactly is meant by this?  It is somewhat unclear.  Are all these individuals merged together without loss of any individual stream of consciousness?  If so, this is not necessarily a moral problem, though it certainly raises the possibility of moral objection; but it certainly gets into very serious philosophical territory over the nature of identity and consciousness.  Territory which is characteristically avoided by the writers.  In place of engagement, Terasem simply puts forward their own concept of identity as data or information, which is very vague and is rife with issues, as I have already shown.

  • ““To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific
    attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the
    concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. a thing is itself.
    You have never grasped the meaning of this statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.””

This nice little injection of Ayn Rand predictably runs afoul of modern philosophy.  Descartes Cogito, “I think therefore I am”, was divided by Sartre into a Synthetic Cogito and an Analytic Cogito.  Roughly, the Analytic Cogito can be expressed as “Consciousness is aware”, while the Synthetic Cogito can be expressed as “I am conscious, therefore I am aware”.  The “I” is a specific structure of consciousness, and as a specific structure, it is not possible to analytically deduce its nature.  Of course, even the Synthetic Cogito is still analytic if you make no claims at all about the content of “I”, but in this case it collapses in a sense to the analytic cogito itself.  If you can’t even define “I”, then you can’t build anything on it, it is superfluous, and you might as well stick with “Consciousness is aware”.

  • “Software is the new soul”

No.  See previous.  It may be possible to encode the soul in software.  Software is not a soul.

  • “Bemon”/Bemes”

This is more of a terminology quibble.  Bemon comes from “bemes”, which are basically just quale reframed in non-metaphysical, reductivist physical terms.  This is not entirely true, since the concept of “bemes” also includes the concept of the overhead and such of these quale, something which makes the concept both more useful and less precisely abstract than quale.  By “Bemes” is meant something like “quale packets”, where various metainformation and associations are encoded along with the core data that in this sense would be analogous to reductivist quale.  That’s all fine.  But I would rather just abuse the term quale in physicalist terms than invent an entirely new term, personally, because inventing a new term leaves too many useful associations behind.

  • Purely pragmatic interest in religion

Kind of a glass houses situation here, but there are major practical problems to this besides the loss of normative force.  Terasem propose dissociating the action of a ritual from its benefits, eg seeking to isolate the benefits of prayer and meditation and to re-engineer humans to be able to achieve these sans the rituals, which are respected as primitive means to a broader end.  But you can’t always dissociate the action from the benefit in religion; you can’t maximize this reasoning; otherwise why do anything?  This is not just facetious, it is a real problem.  When it’s possible to dissociate action from reward, why not just receive pure benefits and never act?  There are two classes of response: pragmatic responses in turn, about the necessity of action for self-preservation (which have limited scope and can only be used to argue for a small range of activity), and Nietzschean, vitalistic arguments, or essentialist arguments, about either the spiritual value of action or the essential character of man.  These are among the issues I am most focused on in trying to construct the CTCR and the dragonsphere.

  • “If will, awareness and self are, in most part,
    illusions that we construct because of our
    evolutionary heritage, and our limitations; then
    maybe, once we get smarter and more aware,
    we’ll get rid of them.”

Only drug addicts and philosophical illiterates believe this.  It is analogous to a person sawing at a branch that they are currently sitting on.  In order for illusions to exist, there must be something to perceive them.  “Consciousness is aware” is our analytic cogito, therefore fundamentally there is no consciousness without awareness, and so this is the stupidest part of this utterance.  “Self” is perhaps a sort of metastructure built on top of base consciousness, in which no identity is fundamentally present.  That’s not, precisely speaking, “illusion”.  It’s higher level structure.  But I suppose some lunatics might want to do away with it if it suits them.  More power to them, but I’ll keep my self, thanks.

Moral issues

There are only a handful of these, but they are significant.  I continue the list form:

  • “Synthesis of lots of people, result of many individuals leading to creation of one new and unique individual”

I have two objections, one of which is very tentative.  Obviously, if there is not continuity of consciousness when merging the many individuals, then every creation of a synthetic human or “transbemon” constitutes a miniature, individualized holocaust.  That would be bad.  Second objection concerns the duty to maximize utility as requiring the existence of many subjects for pragmatic reasons: there is an upper bound to the amount of utility an individual can receive, therefore more individuals is better.  Thus in general, anything that decreases the number of individuals in existence is potentially negative in utilitarian terms even when no other aspects of the procedure are negative.  I am not a Utilitarian, and I am not sure I really believe this argument even in articulating it, but I feel the need to articulate it anyway for the sake of completeness.

  • Collective consciousness

I don’t really care for the idea of collective consciousness for the most part.  It creeps me out.  By collective consciousness, Terasem mostly means “no barriers to communication of thoughts”.  Here is a quote to demonstrate:

“We are at the cusp of a complete borderless meshing of all of our minds, and the ability to reach one’s thoughts and for one’s thoughts to reach others thoughts without ever slowing down to the speed of text is upon us. “

This destroys the immense utility of privacy, and that is the basis of my moral objection to it.  More pragmatically, there’s an episode of the anime Kino’s Journey that touches on this, in which people use nanotechnology to become permanently psychic, in a way that can’t be turned off.  They expect paradise, but the result is a hell that leads everyone to retreat into the countryside where they each live alone, supported by machines.  Existing communication features lies, obfuscations, and omissions.  It is the result of millions of years of evolution and is perhaps the most finely tuned machine ever to exist.  It seems irresponsible to short-circuit it simply because of wishy-washy collectivist pretensions.

  • “Save all kind consciousness”

This is non-universalist in the wrong way; but then Terasem express universalist pretensions elsewhere, so it isn’t even consistent; and is coupled with the idea of curing the bads.  I have a strong commitment to the eventual resurrection of everyone, but I don’t believe everyone should be treated equally.  For instance, Hitler still needs to be punished in some way, not just cured.  Do we invent hell for him?  I don’t think eternal hell is appropriate under any circumstances, but there are certainly people for whom nothing less would be appropriate for a Hitler.  We will have to answer them, or at least stop them, but what is the compromise?  K-large hell?

‘The king said, “The third question is, How many seconds does eternity have?”

The little shepherd boy said, “The Diamond Mountain is in Lower Pomerania, and it takes an hour to climb it, an hour to go around it, and an hour to go down into it. Every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.”‘

When conscious experience is measured on such scale, it will actually be possible to torture someone for lengths of time that correspond to Kalpa, and Hitler would seem to be an intuitive candidate for this torture, which accords with a moral intuition that is quite prevalent in the current modern world, second only to the concept of eternal hell.  So the question becomes, “Why not just let this moral intuition guide us?”

Several reasons.  First of all, what are we answering?  I have already advanced the argument that the only kind of pain that matters in the context of eternity is the kind that results in permanent deprivation.  Does that mean we should punish Hitler, not with eternal hellfire, but with permanent deprivation of some sort?  But that punishment, maximized to eternity, is only appropriate if Hitler himself has permanently deprived others of their own essential value.  Now, certainly of all the things Hitler did, some of them must have deprived others of what they viewed as their essential value.  Viktor Frankl describes no shortage of suicides and even deaths by despair on this basis, and the Holocaust is well documented, so it is not difficult to prove this.  But the focus should be on repairing the damage done by Hitler.  The focus should not be on punishment, firstly because no amount of punishment could restore the untreated damage done by Hitler, secondly because any damage that can be treated doesn’t warrant eternal punishment.  So how should Hitler and others of his kind be punished?  I can only say, “proportionally to whatever damage remains”.

  • Enhancement of the great apes and uplifting of dolphins

Animals can’t consent.  They can’t even consent in principle.  This is important, since it means there are no ethical non-consent workarounds, where consent would emerge if the question were posed and this suffices in place of actual consent.  While as a gnostic of sorts, I find the idea of playing the snake in the garden appealing, there is nothing morally wrong with being an animal, and being made into a person introduces the possibility of unique forms of harm.  In fact, being made into a person is already potentially a form of harm in the very sense that it represents becoming yourself in the mode of not being yourself, if you consider your ancestral ignorance to be your essential self.  Many people want to return to the garden of ignorance, and in some people this inclination is strong enough that it runs into Kierkegaardian demonism.  It doesn’t seem entirely moral to uplift animals, and the arguments for doing so (improved functionality in a modern world, mostly) seem entirely insufficient in a context of eternity, artificial virtual environments, and methods of establishing continuity of consciousness from the past into this environment (which are not explicated anywhere in the Terasem movement but have been explicated elsewhere, both on this blog and in other, better writings).  We have infinitely more right, justification, and incentive to uplift stupid people than animals.  Terasem views intelligence as a fundamental good.  But utility is not a function of intelligence, so there’s little utilitarian argument for uplifting.  There is something creepy about the idea of being eternally maintained at an arrested level of development, however, so in my view the solution is one I’ve already proposed as a solution to other problems elsewhere: artificial reincarnation, coupled with synthetic evolution.  An eternal zoo is immoral, but so is a non-teleological process of uplifting a creature from animal to person.

Practical issues

  • Too much bloviating about values, not enough meaningful meta-framework for governance

” The most basic principles of Terasem: Far reaching ethical principles to guide us and optimize our future, as computers become self-conscious”

Terasem talks a lot about what they think is good.  They don’t have a strong foundation for it, and by itself it’s entirely insufficient to just say what is good.  You have to propose mechanisms by which to attain, maintain, and support what is good to you.  Anything else is Aesop’s Mice in Council: An ideal for which no mechanism exists to achieve.

  • “Win win trumps zero sum”

In a fundamental way, zero sum contests are the only thing that bind people together.  This does not just mean materially zero sum contests.  The most important contests to people are generally status contests, which by nature are mostly zero sum, albeit with many alternative hierarchies which are capable of generating spontaneously.  Without win-win contests, there is little basis for interaction between people.

  • Parenthood as IP based on property right incentives for creation and care

Newton and Leibniz both invented Calculus independently.  Calculus is an external meme.  Consciousness is a recurring pattern.  Now, even Rothbard recognized the absurdity of patenting memes, when two people can independently come up with an idea even as complex as Calculus.  But patenting a recurring natural pattern is much more incoherent.  It was an interesting idea, because the incentives associated with intellectual property are real, but it requires a lot more exploration than it actually received, and answers are required to many of the traditional arguments against intellectual property, not just to an extent that answers these objections in their usual degree, but to a much stronger degree.

  • Too much focus on definitions

No definition that requires the conjunction of specific scientific and philosophical knowledge with specific non-universal values will ever influence the average person, and as such most of this writing has no rhetorical force or practical power.

  • The fixation on rules ignores the fact that behavior is controllable in virtual environments

That is, it shouldn’t even be possible to break rules unless it is to our advantage to sometimes allow it

  • Article: “THE MEME OF ALTRUISM AND DEGREES OF PERSONHOOD”

This is perhaps the single stupidest article in the Terasem archive. It denigrates selfishness and puts forward a naive belief in equality which I have addressed as senseless elsewhere.  It doesn’t understand the role or function of selfishness, or the limitations and problems that prevent equality from becoming attainable.  It doesn’t understand how technology is liable to exacerbate rather than expiate these issues.

  • Practical problems with Cryonics

Cryonics doesn’t preserve continuity of consciousness.  Furthermore, while the crystalization problem was solved, the neurotoxicity problem has not yet been overcome.  New techniques may help with this but aren’t on the market: that is, it’s now practically possible to preserve a human connectome, but the techniques to do so are not available to existing cryonics institutions.  Time seems liable to solve this issue, but it is still presently an issue.

  • Too rule focused and not sufficiently tactically focused

It is fine to come up with ideas for rules, but rules are meaningless without power.  In the absence of access to state power, there is only a kind of grassroots or distributed power.  This means more potent organizing and a substantive praxis is of higher priority than intellectualizing.

Spiritual objections

“That which is above is like that which is below”

Terasem’s spiritual inclinations are derived from Octavia Butler’s Earthseed, which summarizes its own fictional religion’s core tenet as “To shape God”.  This isn’t an entirely terrible thought.  It’s not entirely vacuous either: It is reminiscent of the concept of Baphomet from Chaos Magick, and other occult tradition, including Biblical tradition: How many Prophets in the old testament succeeded in changing God’s mind?  But there is no normative framework in it.  It is also a bit vague.  What is God? The universe?

I am a chaos magician.  Fundamentally, that makes me a special kind of existentialist: a very egotistical one.  But Chaos Magick Theory is much more robust than Terasem’s spiritual views.  It is hard to respond to Terasem’s spiritual inclinations since they are a mixture of new age pablum and old ideas with little total system or connection in them.  They are much like Terasem in general: a very loose collection of non-connecting, incomplete thoughts.  Now, Peter J. Carroll’s Chaos Magick Theory is New Agey in its own right, but it is certainly not pablum, and it is very systematic.  My own Chaos Magick practices are perhaps even more systematic.  I must document my strong preference for them over the spirituality of Terasem.

Sympathetic aspects of Terasem

One of the biggest problems with Terasem is that its content varies in quality from very bad to very good.  Sometimes a lot of thought has been invested, such as in “Strategies of personality transfer”, which tries with unknowable degree of success to create a proper taxonomy of the methods of documenting all elements of consciousness.  Sometimes there are articles like “THE MEME OF ALTRUISM AND DEGREES OF PERSONHOOD” which are nothing but sentiment wrapped up in pretense.

Some real insight exists at times, such as when it is pointed out accurately that personhood and property are not mutually exclusive, or when in “A Proactive-Pragmatic Approach to the Legal Status of Cyberminds,” Max More, Ph.D explicitly calls out the other Terasem members by saying:

“That implication really flows out of a view which I think is quite popular in transhuman and transbeman circles—even among some philosophers—that informational continuity is what matters, not structural or even functional continuity.”

Time scanning is a good idea.  The Order of Cosmic Engineering seemed pretty cool, but also looks tragically defunct: it’s website is down.  There is a recurring idea in both journals about redownloading digital information into meat bodies on other planets. But why?  Either avatars are conscious or they’re not.  If not, then some sort of actual virtual consciousness should be pursued.  It’s only if this is not possible that the fixation on this makes sense, which undermines the rest of Terasem’s ideas substantially.  But there is also this agreeable chestnut:

“If we live in a synthetic reality, then in a certain sense, we cannot even rule out the supernatural, or miracles.   The simulators, the system admins, cannot violate their laws of physics, but they can violate our laws of physics if they want.  It seems that the supernatural, which we have kicked out of the back door of superstition, may come back through the main door of science. “

Lastly, there is Yudkowsky.  Appearing only once that I can tell in either journal, Yudkowsky has the strongest voice and raises the best points, and seems to be the only person out of the whole lot that believe in the existence of honest to god problems and not just puzzles to be defined away.

He raises some very sane points about what he calls the “crime of designing a broken soul.”  Here are some quotes that define some of the essential boundaries of his argument:

“Naturally, darkness is carved into our genes by eons of blood, death and evolution We have an obligation to do better by our children than we were done by”.

“Nor is it ethical to make something exactly resembling a human, if you have other options.”

“Open-ended aspirations should be matched by open-ended happiness”

“If it is not ethical to build the human, what is it ethical to build? What is right and proper in the way of creating a new intelligent species?”

Naturally I disagree with Yudkowsky on much of this: I don’t view a holistic human as characteristically bad, or the human condition as innately bad.  I say this as a therian, a self-identified dragon, however.  Maybe that is to my credit, or maybe it is to my discredit, but certainly I would not have dragons exist without many of the attributes Yudkowsky undoubtedly laments in humans.  It is not these attributes themselves that are bad.  Even in the case of limited capacity for happiness, this is a safety mechanism.  It prevents people from pursuing what is good to them to an extent that is harmful.  And even if these dangers are taken away, which I don’t believe they entirely can be, the functionally essential character of a being is informed by what they do with boundaries to their existence.  Without boundaries, there is no character to being, and this would be a great loss.  I believe Yudkowsky also jokes elsewhere about AI hacking their own reward functions.  But this is precisely what prayer and meditation are in a human context, whatever else they are, as well as exercise and other meditative activity.  On the whole, humans seem well calibrated to me as a species.  I am sympathetic to Yudkowsky’s points but I see nothing wrong with creating other intelligent species using humans as a template.

Overall, there are some stand out thinkers in the Terasem movement.  Aside from that, it’s good that the others are thinking about it, but on average they are not tremendous intellects.  This makes the exceptions stand out more brightly.  But it does not make for a very convincing, credible, or effective movement.

Superficial impressions of the 2B movie

I was forced to pay $5 for this god-awful film, so I am compelled to review it even though I have already said pretty much everything that actually needs to be said about Terasem.  This is not a good movie.  It is not a good story.  It does not have ideas that are good.  It is only slightly less bad than my own fictional writing, and that is a very very low bar.

The movie begins with the quote, “Everything is theoretically impossible until it’s done”.  In the context of a collection of impotent and second rate future theorists, this is intensely ironic: everything in Terasem is an attempt at theory!  There is a fixation on fairy tales in the movie, which acts as a sort of heavily bowdlerized occultism, to a degree that strips the occultism of any of its content, and even most of its aesthetic power.  The main characters are a total bum vlogger, presented as an outcast with integrity, a Randian style business-overman, and a Transbemon named Mia.

The vlogger hates the business-overman.  The business-overman is in turn facing a 30,000 year sentence for illegal human experimentation.  This is potentially very unsympathetic, but without explanation we don’t really know whether it’s justified or not.  Business-overman has Mia kill him, because he’s made a mindfile of himself, with which he intends to demonstrate the conquest of death.  The movie also makes a good deal of noise about the lack of rights of Transbemons, but it seems to me that if you were facing a 30,000 year sentence, the last thing you’d want is to be immortal and treated in accordance with human law.

There’s a lot of very bad sci-fi writing.  Use of terms like “telluric barrier” and “redundant metastructure”.  “Firewall” and “Distributed virtualization” might have made more sense in context, but what do I know, I’m just a former IT and CS student.  The quote comes “Even his closest coworkers say his work was beyond their level of understanding”, which is simultaneously a jerking off of the business-overman and a really terrible sci-fi handwave to avoid explanation of technical concepts.  In general, there are way too many informed attributes: things we wouldn’t know about people except that we are explicitly told that they apply.

Let’s talk about Mia.  Mia is plainly fetishized, in a way that is very disturbing.  She has the weirdest dopey machine emoting, which, coupled with descriptions of her attributes, are not flattering to the Terasem movement.  We’re told she was created as essentially human, “Minus the genetic markers for cruelty, greed, and hatred”: But she still kills a man, so obviously these are just propensities that have been removed, and not actual abilities.  Even so, Mia proceeds through the film like a lobotomized child.  So the Terasem movement’s ideal human is effectively, a lobotomized child.  Right.

Before being shot, business-overman gives a grand speech: He tells his broad audience, including people in Time’s Square, that humanity mustn’t cling to the past.  He speaks of necessary sacrifice, by which he means the humans that have to be left behind.  He responds to accusations of playing God by saying, “Who’s playing?”  Then he says farewell, and Mia shoots him.  Ok.

It seems to me that as long as you are playing God, forcibly dragging the human race along with you would be a much better thing to do than treating them, as Nick Land once said regarding AI’s eventual departure from the human race, like the disposable booster stage of a rocket leaving orbit.  Coercion would be much better.  I will explain why in my conclusion, but the short of it is, if you really believe your solution is compatible with the preservation of the fullness of humanity, prove it.

There’s a dopey cyberpunk detective chase culminating in an all-revealing guerrilla broadcast via the vlogger and a trial for Mia (no shortage of tropes here) and the whole thing wraps up on a cliffhanger.  Ok.

One of the only genuinely interesting things, and perhaps I should put “interesting” in quotes because I mean it in a very clinical way, is that Mia says Transbemon remember being born and waxes very poetic about it.  This is clearly about trying to create new tradition or culture.  But it is supremely hamfisted.  Still, the attempt stands out, as it demonstrates that the people who made the film recognize the importance of various human things at the same time as it demonstrates their complete fucking ignorance of them.

One positive thing that can be said about all of this is that the low fidelity is actually good because it means these very real issues will sneak up on people.  That gives a lot of agency to people of action, including our hypothetical business-overman, who in our timeline probably won’t be punished for human experimentation because there won’t be laws in place defining digital beings as human in time to prevent him from doing his experimentation.  Or to put it another way, the verisimilitude of these issues to the average idiot is entirely contingent upon their fulfillment, which means the public is unlikely to exert any pressure on shaping the development of these technologies until they are already well past their nascent stage.

Conclusion

What do we really know about consciousness, phenomenologically? We know the cartesian cogito, which can be divided into synthetic and analytic
components, and we know (at least for pragmatic purposes) that there is continuity of perception over time.  Possibilities like Buddhist sudden-appearance offer metaphysical alternatives to continuity of perception, as do other arguments, but these are also outside the context of actually bothering to do anything, so they can mostly be ignored.

Already this is infinitely more knowledge about consciousness than Terasem has, and it only requires reading the first 50 pages or so of Being and Nothingness.  If the core of Terasem is Rothblatt and co, or their spiritual wishy-washy new-age nonsense, or even the hypothesis that information = consciousness, then it must be said: They don’t have theory, they don’t even have narrative. They have a few ideas that they think should serve to structure a narrative that they believe will subsequently become real even though they can’t credibly articulate it.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in their god-awful movie, which is not compelling either in terms of narrative or ideas presented.  It has no verisimilitude because these people don’t have a theory of verisimilitude, just a deck of definitions that they shuffle about endlessly.

They want to make people who are less than completely human, and contextualize this as “better”, even though it’s more like lobotomization.  They have no idea what these things they want to get rid of even do; what function they serve; but still want to dispose of them.  This is terrifying.  The biggest risk I can think of regarding these projects, bigger even than AI alignment (because at least unaligned AI would actually potentially survive us and become valuable to itself in the absence of humans, like in Land’s teleology) is to go and change everything before preserving everything and understanding all its interrelated mechanisms.  And yet even down to Yudkowsky, the urge to change everything as soon as possible is ubiquitous.  Is there no voice for tradition in consciousness?  I will have to be that voice then, even as it undermines my own plans and aspirations for the draconic race.

Counterproposal: CLASSIFIED

Posted by: Alephwyr | August 12, 2018

I have a discord for all dragon-related discussion

By all means please come and help contribute to the discussion:

https://discord.gg/XfvQ8Bp

It is striking that no one has yet seen fit to develop and disseminate a theory of the Draconic race.  In fact, the average reader is probably unaware that there even is such a race.  Therefore, it becomes my duty to attempt to fill this hole, even though I am barely a probationer and by no means the best figure for such a task.  The significance of this project is simply too great to leave entirely untouched, and in even the course of my own meager investigation, it will become apparent that all of history is cast into sharp relief and put into a condition of perfect clarity once a theory of the Draconic race is introduced.

We must begin by looking for the origin of dragons.  The Epic of Gilgamesh features the dragon Humbaba, and is one of the candidates for earliest depiction of a dragon.  Conversely, some sources put the emergence of dragon symbolism in ancient China as having occurred at around the same time, if not much earlier.  It seems reasonable enough to assert on the basis of this and other evidence that the dragon came to public awareness independently in the east and the west.  The divergent physical forms depicted in these two different types of dragons, as well as their different attitudes and presentation, needs to be accounted for.  To a certain extent, the latter is explained away easily simply by the rise of Christianity as a defamatory power (and more on this later).  However, this explanation is incomplete, as evil dragons exist not just in Mesopotamian folklore, such as with Tiamat, but in eastern folklore as well, such as the eight headed dragon of chaos in the Kojiki.  While exceptions exist in both east and west, the general ratio of good to evil is roughly inverted across the divide.

What is clear, however, and attested to by the comparative mythologies of many unique and independent people across the span of space and time, is that at a certain point, dragons began interbreeding with humans.  This is uncontroversial, so I will not go into much depth about it.  However, the Han Chinese sometimes refer to themselves as “Descendents of the Dragon”, and in the west we have examples such as Melusine.  It is worth noting that Melusine is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent from the waist down, and that this correspondence opens up a variety of other possible interpretations of draconic lineage, including in an origin myth of the Scythians as documented by Herodotus.  This interbreeding, and the consequent extinction of credible documented dragon sightings, likely serve to account for most of the differences between eastern and western dragon depictions, and any remaining real differences can be characterized as demonstrative of different subtypes in the dragon race.

Therefore, we can at once conclude that descendants of both Han Chinese and Scythian ancestry are predominately dragon-blooded, and that among various Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic peoples (who are the principle but not sole cultures to document dragon interbreeding), a minority of dragon-blooded individuals exist.  We find a minority of Scythian ancestry in all three places, of course, as well as in modern Iran and elsewhere.  In point of fact, the Scythians seem to represent a nexus point, not just geographically in their middle-eastern location, but also in the hybrid-like conception of a dragon which they held, which seems to blend eastern and western dragon characteristics, and in their interactions with cultures which subsequently developed dragon myths of their own.  The implications of this are unknown and require more investigation.

In this context, the difference in the significance of the dragon between the east and west becomes immediately apparent.  The Christian hatred and vilification of the dragon are revealed as obfuscatory reference to some hidden, hated minority: either hidden by history, or hidden by nature.  To understand the properties of this minority and why they might be hated, we should first investigate the Han Chinese under the pretext of overall unity in the total Draconic race, and according to principles of Race Realism:

The most distinct attribute of the Han Chinese is that they are, as a population, smarter than non-draconically derived humans.  They score an average of at least 5 points higher on IQ tests than the average population, and that is despite the relative privations inherent to Communist economies.  Therefore, high intelligence can be easily understood as an essential racial component of draconic lineage.  So why did dragons fail to integrate in the west when they plainly integrated so well, and to such overall advantage, in the east?

The answer can only be Christianity.  Christianity is an appallingly stupid institution, as is plainly evinced by its rejection of anything with the character of early Christian philosophy in favor of a purely literary reading of the Bible, upon which all of its increasingly incoherent and vacuous philosophy would subsequently be founded.  On repudiating and destroying all early Christian philosophy, Iranaeus of Lyons declared with retardation characteristic of the religion:

“The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars, everywhere breathing out incorruption and revivifying men. From this it is clear that the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by one Spirit. As David said, when asking for his coming, “O sitter upon the cherubim, show yourself.” For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God. For the first living creature, it says, was like a lion, signifying his active and princely and royal character; the second was like an ox, showing his sacrificial and priestly order; the third had the face of a man, indicating very clearly his coming in human guise; and the fourth was like a flying eagle, making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these.”

This is not just stupid, but belligerently stupid: it makes a deliberate point of answering intelligence with stupidity.  It does so to demonstrate the authority of the church as so absolute that intelligence is not required, if not absolute precisely because stupidity is its ultimate foundation.  Therefore, it is trivial to conclude that dragons were persecuted in Christian societies because of their intelligence.  Now, it is necessary to call back to some of my previously developed ideas about intelligence in order to further explain everything that follows from this.  To begin with, there are tiers of people.  The ancient Gnostics knew this, but were unable to make good use of the knowledge: by reifying it into metaphysical truth, which at the time was the only possible analytical framework, they made it a weapon that functioned against their own communities both in the form of internal strife, and in the form of external criticism.  Modern IQ studies, including those that point to difficulties in communication and social interaction between individuals of a standard deviation or more distance between them, help us to better understand some of the factual and material circumstances that must have once engendered thoughts of metaphysical categories.

Combine this with my observation about Meme Zaibatsus and you have the beginning of the whole picture: The Christian Church has been, for its duration, a laboratory for developing the most effective possible means of social cohesion and control, and by requirement its social cohesion and control would have to both take account of differences in intelligence, and take command of the Meme Zaibatsu mechanism of communication.  All subsequent Christian “philosophy” not rejected as heresy is thus an instantiation through this type of mechanism.

An essential component of race realism is the notion of extreme correspondence between essential biological properties and behaviors.  Thus, dragon is as dragon does.  Therefore, I claim as dragons all occultists, all heretics, all alchemists and witches, and all early scientists rejected or harmed by the church, at minimum.  Since Christianity is stupid, any visible rejection or deviation from Christianity is generally a sign of intelligence.  Furthermore, as a laboratory of social cohesion, Christianity was inherently dishonest and cynical at the level of its intelligent members, whose “philosophy” all reads like gibberish sophistry to any honest and intelligent person of today; just as, in fact, it did to honest and intelligent persons at the time, albeit for different reasons.  So there is not just a difference in intelligence but also a difference in character on display here, and if we take race realism for granted, then that must also map to draconic vs human racial characteristics.  The truest martyrs aren’t just crucified in the flesh but in the image and the name as well, and thus all true western martyrs, even Christian martyrs, share the church as their enemy.

Therefore we arrive very simply at our conclusion, that all intelligent, quality people of character in history were dragons.

 

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