Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D.

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
 
Teaching
 
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
 
Companies and Brands
 
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
 
On Google
 
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
 
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
 
7 Books
Thousands of articles
 
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
 
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
 
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
 
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
 
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
 
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
 
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

Take me to the river. Drown me in the water.  §

The story is told of a man who read religiously the best books from the best public minds offering the best advice to people who aspired, as he did, to be the best.

The books told him to eliminate from his life anyone that was toxic. He proceeded to act upon this advice, and only at length began to realize that he had only ever known toxic people and was now alone.

The books told him to discard any possessions that did not bring him joy. He proceeded to act upon this advice and at length came to realize that he now owned nothing at all.

The books told him to waste no time at any task that was not in some way in furtherance of “his passion.” He proceeded to act upon this advice only to realize, once bone-idle and consumed with inertia, that in fact he had no particular passion nor any idea what such might even be.

It was at this point, or thereabouts, that it occurred to him that all of the “best” people who had written such “best” books were in fact akin to those people encountered in public parks who, being well made up and dressed in conspicuously expensive fitness gear, do yoga loudly for the eyes and ears of whomever might happen to be walking by, and who afterward say loudly to no one in particular and at the same anyone who will listen,

“Wooo! That was an amazing session! I still don’t know whether I prefer Glacéau or Fiji but I do know that my vegan, gluten-free cupcakes are going to be a huge hit at the HRC-sponsored reiki party later on!”

Beyond this point, the story diverges into a number of different variations, each equally apocryphal.

Truth is truth, even if you think it’s facile or trite.  §

I have five posts in WordPress that were published and then unpublished again within about five minutes, aaaaaaahahahahahahaha.

Don’t you wish you could see them?

But you can’t.

That’s how life works. It’s how life works. It’s how life works when you’re like me.

They are also empirical evidence of something. Something that can’t be named. If I could name it and put it in a post, I’d have to immediately unpublish it and then it would join the list of unpublished posts.

This is how reality is twisted. No, not into a double-helix.

You are all captured. Do you feel captured? You are.

Even people like me, that aren’t captured, are captured. Blah, blah, facile stupid prose, yes, and blah.

I don’t give a shit.

Truth is truth, even if you think it’s facile or trite.

Go, go away. Forever.

FUCK YOU! AND—

Sing; song; sing; song.

Let this be the truth, in all its falsehood.

A little bit of the mist of the moment.  §

“The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies, and all the goodness in the whole world is in YOU. Attractive, isn’t it?

So, if you have a lot of anger and resentment in you anyway and you therefore enjoy abusing people, then you can pretend that you’re only doing it because these enemies of yours are such very bad persons!

And if it wasn’t for them, you’d actually be goodnatured, and courteous, and rational all the time. So, if you want to feel good, become an extremist. You can strut around, abusing people, and telling them you could eat them for breakfast and still think of yourself as a champion of the truth. A fighter for the greater good. And not the rather sad paranoid schizoid that you really are.”

— John Cleese

s/extremist/activist/g

Word to the wise.  §

Activism is immoral.

That is all.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is just fucking rant.  §

So I’m back from Victoria, as of yesterday.

I tried to write another entry while I was there, in my hotel room, the last evening. Or rather, I tried to try to write. For about three or four hours, I paced back and forth and repeatedly almost opened up a tablet or a laptop to write.

But in the end, nothing got opened and nothing got written. It was just pacing. And then it was midnight and I realized I’d better pack, and then it was 5:00 am and I was driving in silence toward the Victoria International Airport on the dark, lonely, and—early on Saturday—very rainy Patricia Bay highway.

— § —

Thing is, I don’t know if I can write any longer. There is too much to say; I’m overwhelmed. I’m overrun. Strong feelings buffet me all day about far too many topics. Hundreds per hour. Thousands per day.

I write hundreds of blog posts in my head. Words, sentences, paragraphs. Sadness, nostalgia, irritation, rage, reflection, it all washes over me all the time now, in so many ways. But you can’t just sit in front of a machine all day and type.

Or rather, you can, but that’s called a day job and it doesn’t involve blogging.

So when you finally do sit down to do something like this, you don’t even know where to start. There are so many things you’ve mentally bookmarked to say, so many topics to touch on—and more still that you know you were entirely in arms about yet have already forgotten.

Between the bewildering need to choose and the incredibly frustrating sense of having forgotten so much already over the course of the day, it’s already a feeling of failure from the first word.

Blogging has become infuriating and dissatisfying because it is invariably and inevitably an exercise in omission and disappointment these days. I hate that, yet there it is.

— § —

Nonetheless, here I am. So—some things.

On Canada. Every time I go to Canada I’m shocked by just how different it is. People are incredibly polite, which is good. But it is also marked but a subtle social totalitarianism that as an American I find grating. Oh, we have our own, to be sure.

But in Canada, you’ll earn obvious disapprobation for things as simple as walking alone down the street (you’re supposed to go places with others) or eating alone (you’re supposed to eat with others) or failing to seem sufficiently tentative to begin a sentence.

They don’t realize they’re doing it, but you can see it in their face. Invariably, when I’m in Canada, I feel vaguely like a criminal for doing simple things (say, walking alone, eating alone, and speaking directly, if politely) that I’d otherwise never think about.

On the other hand, it’s also rather clear when you re-enter the U.S. and face U.S. customs folk and so on just how difficult the U.S. must be for Canadians to navigate, in rather the same way. Even as a native U.S. citizen, returning from just a few days in Canada, it’s like hitting wall of rudeness, dismissiveness, and impatience twenty feet high.

If that’s how I feel about it, how must it be for others?

Yet I’ll take the abrupt and grating American bravado over the subtle condemnation for insufficient culturally-inflected sociability every day of the week. Naturally. Since I am after all an American.

On civil war. That said, I’m not exactly in love with the United States of America. I’ve come to have this weird relationship with my country of birth over the last decade or so.

When I was young, I was adamantly opposed to it, wanted to be and to live and to be associated with almost any other place on earth. But I don’t feel that way any longer.

I know very well—one comes to realize these things as one ages and experiences more of the world—that there’s no place else I’m fit for. Wherever else I go, I will be regarded as a foreigner—as “not one of us,” save for in the USA, where I am very clearly “one of us.” You only have one people, and for all the decades of cultural theory that have passed over bullshit bridge, you don’t get to choose it.

You frankly don’t get to choose anything about your identity in life. You are what other people say you are, and though we can dress that up all we want and try to make it illegal to say such things or to make pronouncements about what other people are and change the bathrooms and put up “inclusion” posters and take cases to the Supreme Court and blah, blah, blah, it’s all just shit and nonsense.

If people say you’re fat, you’re fat.
If people say you’re ugly, you’re ugly.
If people say you’re old, you’re old.
If people say you’re a woman, you’re a woman.
If people say you’re a man, you’re a man.
If people say you’re a saint, you’re a saint.
If people say you’re American, you’re American.

You can drone on all you want and for as many years as you want about all of the things that you “feel inside” and you can in fact sue the pants off of everybody and lead dishonest social movements with hordes of activists to get people to say other things out loud.

But in their minds, everyone knows exactly what you are. And whatever it is, you did not get to choose it, and you never will.

So I know I’m an American. I don’t have to love everything about the United States of, but I have completely accepted that whatever it is guilty of, I am also guilty of, because I am it and it is me and ’twill always be that way. So if there’s love, it’s also self-love, and if there’s loathing, it’s also self-loathing.

On civil war, take II. So we didn’t get there. You noticed. Now we may.

Thing is, everyone in the United States, and maybe even across most of the west in general, is dying for civil war. For hot, gunpowder-scented civil shooting war. People are dying for it. They are desperate to pull the trigger, itching to pull the trigger, they can’t wait to pull the trigger.

The only thing stopping everyone is a prisoner’s dilemma-style problem. If you jump the gun and shoot before the “war” arrives, you are at a tremendous disadvantage because you stand out like a sore thumb. Everyone looks around to see whether there’s a war on and because everyone is afraid to be the first to declare a war because of precisely what’s about to happen to you as the person first to declare a war, everyone decides to say that you’re nuts and you end up in jail because obviously there is no war.

But secretly more and more I think everyone knows in their gut that war is coming.

And it’s because the desire for vengeance is the single biggest driver of meaning, ambition, and politics in American society right now. We are a land of people that want revenge. Every group against some other group. There is no single group against which nobody wants revenge.

Revenge has, of course, been declared okay as a matter of intent, and we have labeled it “activism” and nervously laughed out loud as we have also said “But you can’t do it with physical violence, see.”

The problem is that one of the first things everyone seems to have agreed on once this prior decision was made was the idea that words and gestures and symbols are actual violence too. Which means that we have declared revenge to be okay, even admirable, so long as you don’t use violence to achieve it, but then declared everything under the sun to be violence.

That won’t hold. People have been promised their revenge and they’re going to get it. That’s why civil war is coming. How long. Ten years? Twenty years? Hard to say.

Where? The United States only? The United States and Great Britain? The United States and Great Britain and Western Europe? If it goes global, the times could be altogether too interesting. But it is what it is.

Nobody is going to give up on having their revenge, now that it’s been promised, just because the Rare Wise Head or two says that it could make for interesting times. That’s the sort of thing that makes people also want revenge against the Rare Wise Heads.

On time and stuff. Sometimes these days I think that everything will be okay if I just throw away at least a couple dozen things a day that I once though too important or too worthwhile to throw away.

But mostly I don’t even think that. Instead, I just think that everything will not be okay.

I am on a kind of overwhelmed autopilot in which there are too many things and too many needs and not enough time and I am not keeping up.

Plus even when you do throw things away, it doesn’t seem to do anything. Just today I’ve gone through a couple more closets and tossed all kinds of things into the trash that should probably go to a thrift store only that’s one more thing to do and who’s got time to do it, and my God some progress of some kind has to be made some times aaaagh aaagh aaaagh so let’s just toss it.

I continue to do this on a regular basis. Most of the things I throw out continue to be things that date back to before my divorce, or even before my move to Utah. How much detritus accumulates in a person’s life, year by year? Piles of it. Tons of it.

Shit tons of it.

You throw away and you throw away and you throw away and you fill cans and cans and bags and bags full and the trucks come and carry it all away and you do it week after week and still week after week you run into all of the old things, some of which make you feel nostalgic, some of which make you feel devastated or sad, some of which make you feel bitter, and all of which remind you by their age just how rapidly you are aging and how much time in life is passing—

—while you stand still trying to throw away an infinite list of items from an infinite number of nooks representing an infinite number of previous moments at which one has, not knowing where to put a perfectly-good-something something or just what to do with it—simply set it “aside” for later consideration or future application—

and so on. Time keeps marching. I am getting older. I have this feeling that in five minutes I’ll be too old to work and five minutes after that I’ll be dead and I won’t have gotten a single god damned thing done and I will have let myself and my children down.

Okay, I try not to think that way, and I also try to avoid the bitterness and the thoughts of civil war.

— § —

Am I manic? No. I don’t get manic.

Just trying to hit a couple highlights from the list of ten thousand over the last couple of days or so. So very, very much has passed across the mental projection screen, so very, very many discussions with myself culminating in a “must blog that” followed by the next 123456 thoughts…that never make it here because once you sit down it’s just too, too much and you don’t know where to begin and you know that if you do it’ll just piss you off because it’s impossible.

Which is why I’m losing the ability to blog. But whatever. More things.

— § —

On dating. Meeting people has become this thing that I dread because, I have realized, it can’t go anywhere. I don’t want a significant other. Because I won’t trust them any longer. Not in that way that so many lovesick people mean. I mean, I don’t trust them:

  • to not commit crimes.
  • to not make stupid decisions.
  • to not engage in violence.
  • to not send either themselves or myself to jail.
  • to not do crack cocaine.
  • to not assault the neighbors.
  • to not try to eat a bowl full of cockroaches.

You name it, I don’t trust them not to do it. In fact, less and less do I trust anyone not to do stupid or immoral things. It’s not just about significant others.

It’s just that significant others are people that you expect and are expected to spend time with, so when, not if, they do stupid, immoral, dangerous things, you are also saddled with it. That’s not good. Better to let the idiots out there do it far away from you, on their own.

Yes, yes, I know, this all sounds vaguely antisocial or nihilistic or whatever.

In fact, during the divorce period, in couples’ therapy, there was this whole time period during which the therapist was trying to convince me that I had spent years making my life sadder and harder by not being open to people and by mistrusting people.

The problem, of course, is empirical evidence. I cannot think of a time (forget significant others) in which I felt done right in the end by someone that I did not consider to be kin. You live and you learn, and what I have learned is that you can not and should not trust adult human beings not to either accidentally or intentionally kill, murder, or steal from you unless they are and remain kin.

On kin. Yes. Oh yes, this is an anachronistic word, a stilted word, a strange word. A word we don’t use any longer. Do you know why?

No, no, it’s not because “it’s the sort of word that only white supremacists use” or some other similar rejoinder—though the fact that many, many people in today’s world would say that about “kin” is a particularly interesting illustration of just where I’m doing.

You see, we don’t believe in kin any longer, most of us. I do, but then I know full and well that in recent years I’m going further and further off the reservation in terms of political and social thought.

Kin. Blood. Shared genes. Family. The bonds of fucking family. Sure, adoptions count, as long as we consider the adopted people TO . BE . KIN.

Why don’t people like the word? Because it implies a transcendental mutually reciprocating relationship of obligation that regard that CAN . NOT . BE . ESCAPED.

Once you are kin, you are forever kin. You can’t take it back. You can’t undo it. Not if you don’t like them. Not if they don’t like you. Not if you want to. Not if they want to. No matter what happens. Kin is an involuntary social bond.

We don’t like those. We think they’re oppression. We think only the reactionaries and the counterrevolutionaries want such things, along with “sending blacks back to the plantation and women back to the kitchen.”

To even use a term like “blood relation” now puts you in a particular box in most peoples eyes. Who cares about kin? About social bonds that can’t be escaped? About forms of family that can’t be divorced away? About blood relations? Neo-Nazis, that’s who. In the popular imagination, at least.

That’s where we are.

The very idea of a social relation that cannot be escaped as a matter of person will and fiat is now understood to be tantamount to genocide, race war, and so on. Because naturally, anyone who isn’t a Neo-Nazi wants every social relationship to be a matter of voluntarism and choice.

Which is why you can’t trust any of those bastards. Once people don’t have to be stuck with you forever, nor you with them—there is precious little incentive, when the getting gets really good, not to do whatever the fuck you want, and that’s exactly what people do.

Because they know they can go. Because they aren’t kin. Because only white supremacists and Neo-Nazis care about unbreakable family bonds and kin and blood relations.

And even what were formerly some of the strongest forms of kinship have been declared null and void as forms of true kinship. Marriage? Forget about it. Voluntary association. You can divorce. Parent and child? Oh no. You can divorce. Even if you’re biologically related.

Haven’t you heard the stupid young folk (and even some stupid older folk) saying things like, “Your family is whoever you choose them to be” in recent years? I’ll bet everyone has heard this. Because we are trying to do away with kin. Every social bond should be a matter of choice.

And as a result, everyone does exactly whateverthefuck they want. Which is why you can’t trust them. And also one more reason why everyone, everyone, everyone is out for revenge (see above).

And why in the coming years one of the axes along which a civil war will be fought, deep down underneath things, is the axis that divides those who believe in unbreakable social bonds (kinship, blood relations, family genes, clan, traditional marriage, cite the examples you want) from those you believe that all social bonds should be voluntaristic and the demand for revenge must be eliminated by eliminating its causes, which can easily be accomplished with stronger behavioral and ideological controls to ensure that everyone acts in similar ways.

Yes, there’s a whole Marxian discourse thing to do here but I won’t do it.

On decisions. But, as a result of all of this, and—as I say—the fact that I just won’t date, not going to do it, can’t trust anyone and thus can’t actually find a way to like them because they are just plain not my blood relations and I no longer believe that almost anyone is capable these days of developing new bonds of kinship in the ways in which I would trust them—all of the decisions and their consequences are mine.

And yes, I am tired.

I am tired, tired, tired, tired, tired.

I am tired of making decisions. I am tired of taking action. I am tired of being the one and only one on the hook for the decision, the action, and the consequence. Yes, I am tired of sailing this boat alone, but I don’t quite see any way out of this.

There is a weird undercurrent of bliss in what I mentioned earlier about feeling as though in five minutes I’ll be retirement age and then five minutes after that I’ll be gone—it means that maybe there isn’t so very, very much of this to have to be stoic through any longer after all.

Maybe the time will pass very quickly because maybe that is the nature of things.

Yes, that causes a tinge of sadness, particularly when I think back to the time of my youth and the things that I wanted to accomplish and the things that I wanted to experience and the things that I wanted to believe about the world, but that tinge of sadness is maybe something that everyone feels as they age.

Or maybe not, I don’t know. It’s not like I talk to people much any longer, except about business, which is the primary set of socially sanctioned conversations to have in our culture anyway.

On dating part II, or, conservatism. Funny thing, I’ve though about deciding that I will only date people if they are religious and political conservatives because then they are likely to believe in kin and in the reality of material things and not in all of this postmodern discursive bullshit (whose endless books I still have lining my bookshelves).

But I don’t believe these people actually exist.

I think everyone has been captured.

Everyone will fight the civil war.

Everyone.

So don’t trust anyone—except kin formed before the formation of kin was abolished by our elites, betters, thinkers, and activists.

One more thing for the night.

On politics. Dancing around the edges of a lot of other stuff in this post, one key thing that we need is a massive reduction in political engagement. We need far, far fewer people to care, or to vote, or to be politically engaged at all.

Yes, yes, I know, the theory was that by getting more people engaged the system would have more diverse inputs, which means better policy, and it would have more legitimacy, which meant better stability.

That hasn’t panned out.

Turns out that when you tell the plebes to get political, they don’t spent time learning about new areas of life as we thought they would in order to become politically engaged. Instead, they just say “Okaya” and do the things they already do as politics.

So when you spend years encouraging regular folks to get political, what you get is not more discussions about energy, infrastructure, monetary policy, and foreign policy.

What you get is their hairstyle discussions as politics.
Their shopping decisions as politics.
Their exploration of their heritage and relation to their racial identity as politics.
Their grievances with their ex-spouse as politics.

The result? A shift in elites to the group that we increasingly have today. Thanks to inappropriately high political engagement, there are more voters that hold votable opinions on hair as politics, shopping as politics, race and heritage as politics, and so on than holding votable opinions on—say—how we ought to update key parts of our infrastructure.

And so candidates are busy talking about how brown they are and who’s inclusive, rather than how to fix the stuff that the plebes are too uneducated to see but that they depend on far more than they depend on their “identities” and so on.

In short, the reason we have crappier and crappier candidates is that we have a crappier and crappier body of voters to drive their success by including people that just shouldn’t be included. High political engagement means wrong politics, wrong elites, bad policy, lower legitimacy, higher social conflict, and lower stability.

We desperately need many, many people to check out of politics permanently. Participation should ideally be low, basically purely self selected without prompting or social pressure—though you can’t try to reduce participation visibly or you risk legitimacy.

Basically, actively encouraging people to get involved over the last several decades was a stupid move that may just bring down the republic.

More on all of this some other time, maybe.

For now, I’ve just typed four thousand words rapidly and my hands want a break.

— § —

Oh, fall is here.

I left and it was still “late summerish.”

I came back to wind, rain, cold temperatures, and pile of leaves.

The older I get, the more I appreciate apocalyptic weather.

I continue, invariably, to hope that the strong intrusion of material reality on peoples’ lives will suddenly cause 300 million Americans to wake up to the idea that reality is a thing and that they are in fact bodies made out of meat—which requires protection and aid—and not free-floating wills merely encumbered by meat and the agency of others against whom revenge must be sought.

— § —

Some people would go back and kill Hitler.

I think I would go back and kill Descartes.

P.S. America, and West in general—you are all weak-minded. You are paper. You are smoke. You blow away with a little gentle puff. That’s why your time of dominance is over.

Invisibility cloaks are not obscure future technology.  §

I’m in Victoria on business.

It’s such a strange feeling. Other than my kids, nobody is really thinking about—or caring—where I am.

Someone wrote a letter to a blog that I read saying that as their life progressed, they felt more and more like a ghost. They attributed this to a lack of social ties.

I share their sense of things.

I’m sitting here in silence, in the humidity, charging my devices and doing nothing in particular. Autopilot, I think they call it.

It’s a way of living in modernity.

When I get back, I will pick up where I left off. Nothing will change. Other than my kids, nobody will really notice that I was gone.

I need to change some things up. I don’t want my kids to be in that position.

All I need to do is approach people and ask them to be “in my life.” When they worriedly demur, I will say: “But think of the children!”

(Yes, I used that word right. Also, I spelled it right. Yes, that is black humor. Not sure why it’s objectionable, but I had a bit of the same sense writing this. But now it’s out.)

Regrets are the sorts of things that can feel a lot like medical emergencies at times.  §

Cards on table.

Most of the time all is well, yes. Well, as well as it can be given the totality of circumstances of my life. But—but…

There are still times when life is so painful that it takes my breath swiftly away. I’d say about five percent of the time. So, a couple times every day, for twenty minutes or half an hour at a pop.

Then, pull self together. Get back on with it. Things get back to normal. And so on.

But yes, it can be hard. Very hard. Very, very hard.

— § —

What’s the pain about?

Everything. All the people that I’ve had the fortune and misfortune to love. All of the dreams that were once ahead of me and that are now in the realm of “Once, I wanted to…” Watching my children grow up in two broken homes. Knowing what lies ahead for me in the future.

Just everything.

Tennyson said “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” People often misconstrue this as being about love. I suppose at one level it could be, but of course it’s really about life. Better to have lived and lost/failed than never to have lived at all.

I don’t want to say that Tennyson was wrong, exactly.

But maybe that like all truisms, this one is just a bit too pat, and it elides a great deal.

— § —

Would I rather have never loved many of the people I’ve loved? Yes, actually, I’d rather never have loved most of them. And that’s not about the pain of the breakups. It’s about all of the things that led to them.

Would I rather have never, say, gone to college? Written books? Yes, actually, I’d rather have simply chosen a trade, joined a crew, and worked from the start with a bunch of regular guys.

Do I feel like my entire life has been a waste? No, certainly not. Not all of it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t significant chunks of it that were. And that’s not a good thing when you’re dealing with a precious substance like life.

You see, once enough things go wrong, there’s a certain genie that escapes that can never be put back into the bottle.

After enough of a certain kind of failure—the kind that amounts to a failure of good faith, a failure of promise, a failure of integrity—and make no mistake these can happen in many ways that have nothing to do with love—you stop seeing people, or yourself, or the world, in the same way ever again.

A certain level of disillusionment cynicism is good; it does no one any favors for lots of people to go about the world as naive as a warm spring morning.

But it is dangerous to have too many people understand just how bad things are, and just how faithless are the people, the world, and as a result by the conservation of momentum if nothing else, the self as well.

That’s how we get into the downward spiral we’re in as a civilization and as a species.

The one that people often say takes their breath away.

— § —

My biggest regret: listening to the wrong elders, and listening to the wrong self so very many times over the years. Making the awful idiot beginner’s mistake of conflating the recent and the wise, otherwise known as “believing in progress.”

If there’s a deep, dark heart to this post, it’s this thought:

There is no such thing as “progress.” There never has been. Run—as fast as you can—from anyone that encourages it or promises to deliver it, because what they are offering you is actually and merely torture of the most banal and terrible kind.

The things that you won’t regret are those that connect you to time immemorial or that support such a connection. Anything that delivers the “new” to you? New experience? New love? New success? New sensations? Forget it. It’s a trick—an evil trick.

When they discontinue Spectra, you pay more and bow head, because Instax is for kids.  §

It’s now too late—or, I suppose, early—to qualify as “the middle of the night” any longer.

So naturally, I’m going to write. And rather than write about any of the two dozen things I’ve thought (and sometimes sworn) about over the last couple of months without managing to post, instead I’m going to do something else.

I’m going to talk about photography.

— § —

It’s only recently that the following several things have happened:

  • I have developed enough cash flow in my career to be able to consider film photography. I’m not rich, but lots of liquidity equals flexibility.

  • The kids got Fuji Instax cameras for Christmas that turned me on to instant films in a way that I’d never been turned on before.

  • The films of The Impossible Project, given way to Polaroid Originals, have become viable.


Spectra.
© Aron Hsiao / 2019

So naturally, as soon as I get ahold of a Polaroid Spectra ProCam, Polaroid Originals announces the discontinuation of Spectra film.

What are they continuing to make? Stupid shit for influencers, who are apparently now capitalism’s chief natural resource, as everyone is making stuff just for them. In the case of Polaroid Originals, that means:

  • Rechargeable, “Stranger Things” branded 600 format cameras. Vomit.

  • Instant 600 film stock with brightly colored edges in red, blue, green, and yellow. Double vomit.

Generational warfare usually appeals to me as a matter of hating the Boomers, but as I age, it also begins to appeal to me as a matter of hating the Millennials, Gen-Ys, and Gen-Zs/Zoomers. “Influencers” are a key factor driving us toward civilizational decline and hot internecine-intercultural warfare, and they will be first against the wall when the revolution comes, where they will remain insufferable until the bitter end.

But I digress.

— § —

As I’m sitting here reading and re-reading the message announcing the end of Spectra and suggesting that those of us wanting to shoot it buy available stocks while stocks are available, I’m torn between the possibilities of:

  • Stocking up at the $3.00 a frame that it currently costs with film that will be expired and unusable in less than two years (and likely less than one).

  • Replacing my Spectra ProCam with a Fuji Instax Wide 200 or 300 camera and shooting Instax Wide instead (no, I will not shoot 600, never, ever).

  • Just throwing up my hands and going back to 35mm for film play, where things are infinitely less expensive and infinitely less precarious (but also infinitely less interesting).

  • Doing nothing at all, or maybe sticking a thermometer down my throat to evaluate my health as I consider spending $3.00 on individual shots when I have piles of perfectly good digital equipment to give me flawless 40mp+ photos for free.

The thing is, the older I get, the less appeal flawless has for me.


Instax.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Because of course flawless is what any person over 30 gradually realizes that they are not. And so to venerate the flawless and to reject the flawed is not only to venerate the other and reject the self but also to venerate only the abstract stranger and reject the intimate.

— § —

Flaws are a sore point with me because as much as I’d like to morally categorize them, just like that pat style, I can’t. Because I want to insert some boilerplate here about how we’re all flawed and that’s what makes life worth living, but of course that’s influencer bullshit.

In reality, we’re all flawed and sometimes that’s what makes life hell and in fact threatens our very survival as a species, and at times and in some cases some people and their flaws probably need to be at the very least imprisoned and more pointedly probably marched right off the end of a short plank over a deep bed of nails, needles, and schadenfreude.

But at the same time, if nobody was flawed, that would be just as bad—because perfection isn’t just totalitarian, it’s oxymoronic. The perfect simply isn’t because ontologically and phenomenologically, we’re not configured to appreciate perfection. We are, as Arendt points out, configured for natality, which is at its core a matter of risk. We are risk junkies because of course at some deep, thermodynamic level, we understand that perfection is uniform distribution is static is thermodynamic death.

Always risky action is better than even the most orderly, perfect inaction. Because we don’t like the end of time and the universe any more than we like the ends of ourselves.

So, naturally, digital photos aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They’re great, but they need to be staggered with some truly beautiful shit (the latter meant, oxymoronically, literally in a variety of figurative ways; figurative that out if you can).

— § —

Instax Wide makes a lot more rational sense than does clinging to Spectra. Semiswank camera sub-$100 brand new. Aspect ratio better. Exposure latitude greater. Contrast greater. Color saturation and accuracy greater.

And the big kicker—a sixth the price. Fifty cents a shot, rather than three bucks a shot with Polaroid.


Instax
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

Not to mention that Instax hasn’t been discontinued. And the film is proven rather than a garage workshop experiment in prints that could fade entirely in five years for all anyone knows.

There are a million and one reasons to go Instax.

And they are all negated by one reason to throw money I shouldn’t try to have at Polaroid while it’s still alive.

— § —

And that reason is that the Polaroid shots are beautifully wrong. Beautifully wrong in every way. Completely perfectly imperfect.

While the Instax shots are just… analog.

Analog is fine, as far as it goes, but if you’re not careful, it’s Instax analog is an analog of obsolescence in a way that Polaroid Originals manages not to be.

Instax looks an awful lot like what digital rather successfully replaced.

Polaroid Originals Spectra? Digital can’t replace it, because it’s playing a different game.

  • Not the affordable film game.

  • Not the durable photos game.

  • Not the easy to use game.

  • Not the influencer game.

  • Not the perfect shots game.

What game is it playing?

What indeed.

What.

— § —

You have to peer through a glass darkly, and then try to speak through it, or maybe with it stuffed in your mouth, to try to explain what’s going on with Polaroid Originals Spectra.

What game is it playing?

You see it. You know it. But can you describe it?

It’s playing the game of being: present + itself + enough + imperfectly perceptive.


Spectra
© Aron Hsiao / 2016

I want to say that this means that it’s playing the game of being engaged and opinionated, but that makes it sound rather like an influencer.

No, no, no.

It’s—

Okay, remember Rashomon?

Remember those bull sessions when you get together with your friends (young influencers, you’ll just have to take this one on faith, since you aren’t there yet) and you’re talking about memories that you made twenty or thirty years ago, and you each have a different recollection of the event that you both equally cherish, and you’re both surprised by each others’ recollections because they’re entirely foreign to you, even though they’re about a familiar event?

And this foreign-familiarity isn’t off-putting, but is rather endearing?

In fact, they enrich you, these bullrecollectionsessions in ways that are permanent and evocative of something deeper in life that you can’t articulate yet because (presumably) you aren’t on your death bed or “putting your affairs in order” or whatever?

Yes. That.

That’s what digital doesn’t do.

It’s also what Instax doesn’t do.

And it’s why I’m considering shelling out money that I don’t have and that nobody should spend for a discontinued film format that nobody knows about and that influencers don’t give two shits about.

Actually, there’s a part of me that thinks it’s worth doing just for that latter reason.

Although, that said, if “influencer doesn’t give a shit” starts becoming motivation for me buying things, I’ll be broker than I am faster than I am broke.

— § —

Spectra, I’m sad to see you fade away, day by day.

Life, I’m sad to see you fade away, day by day.

QED.

— § —

Final thought in parting.

The problem with digital is that it is uncharitable in its perfection.

It ruthlessly deprives us of the very thing that photography is meant to recall—a past.

The most fundamental values of our culture are telling—and embarrassing.  §

Self-definition.
Autonomy.
Inclusivity.
Wellness.
Safety.
Empowerment.
Justice.
Fairness.

These are the values of the West right now, in the U.S. and elsewhere. And let’s be real—they’re stupid. Vapid. Trite. Dubious and dubitable. Wilting and impotent.

Read them again. It’s high school social life elevated to the level of cultural framework and Weltanschauung. There is no room in it for heroes, great men, great moments, or battles against evils of any kind, including the evil of mediocrity.

Tragic and suffocating.

The West is unraveling because Trump is a mirror-finished iPhone and elites can’t see it.  §

The elites in the West, like the elites everywhere, since time immemorial, culturally constituted themselves as the non-plebes. “Who am I? I am a non-plebe. Who are my friends? My friends are the other non-plebes. That is what we have in common.”

This is necessary because elites, possessing vast social, geographical, and financial empires, and possessed of the proactively destructive nihilism that comes with owning everything yet finding meaning and immortality nowhere, are beset by too much individual specificity and bile to constitute themselves as a community in virtually any other way.

They’ll say this isn’t the case, but I knew them—well—and associated with them—deeply—for decades. Every little thing that rolls off the tongue or is planned into an event is a matter of distinguishing between the the “us” of the elite and the “them” of not-elite.

— § —

Independently, for the most part, enter the industrial revolution. And modernization. And then, modernity. And an unprecedented and ever-increasing level of reach and control, in the most abstract sense, for each individual endowed with the best resources (of every kind) of the times.

Those individuals so endowed, of course, being the elites.

And in true human fashion, they couldn’t resist the temptation to make use of this new ability to influence the world through technocommunicotransportautomatology in such a way as to try to remake it in the image of their own preferences, often inadvertently as a matter of deploying distinction.

Activisms and initiatives and committees and this and that and so on to “improve” things in such a way as to make the world generally safer for those of non-plebe preferences. Down with the fraternal lodges. Down with the rotary clubs. Down with the labor unions. Down with the nuclear family (not to mention the extended family). Down with even the corporate “family” and so on.

Ever more progress, ever more invention, ever more reach as a result.

— § —

Then, the final unforeseen change—the network.

For half a century the plebes found themselves less and less able to constitute identities or communities of their own. It was neither their wont nor their habitus to be intellectual about such things; for those who work and work hard and don’t expect too much of life or the world, it tends always to be a matter of intergenerational knowledge.

But now—for the plebes—”who am I?” becomes a tough question. “My father was a Boy Scout only now the Scouts aren’t an option. My father was an Elk only now the Elks aren’t an option. My father was a member of the local, but the local was dissolved. My mother was a leader in the rotary club, but the rotary club was dissolved. My mother was a homemaker but now family is frowned upon. My mother worked loyally for her company team forty years until retirement, but now I’ll switch jobs every two to five.

“Where does that leave me? Who can I be?”

Into the vacuum and to answer the question comes the network, and suddenly the elites are as visible to the plebes as the plebes always were to the elites, and two things become clear.

First, the elites define themselves as the not-plebes, in the most condescending ways, and tend to evidence a wide assortment of beliefs and cultural practices that are, though diverse, also common in their vanguardism, nontraditionalism, and general hedonism, all of which are generally regarded to be reprehensible outside elite circles and at the same time part and parcel, indeed the gritty cultural and material detail of this non-plebe identity.

Next, the one thing that the plebes still have—and can have—in common is that they are, conversely, not elites.

Voilá!

Community found.

— § —

Government is downstream of politics is downstream of culture, and the cultural reality of the present is now that across the developed world, societies are split into two groups who constitute themselves on the basis, in each case, of not being members of the opposed group.

What is that?

Precursor to civil war and the redrawing of borders. Coming to a whole bunch of societies near you during the next generation or two.

Because you can’t put the genie back into the bottle again.

This is a consumer society—elites sought it, deployed it, and now it’s here. And Brexit, or Trump, or populism, or whatever else have you—these are not “ideas” that you can “debate people out of” in some way, or “roll back” or “fight against.”

They’re a product. A product by which people are constituting their identities and communities. And people can’t be “un-sold” on products that they love. That’s not a part of the cultural milieu into whose cognitive-colonial geography they were born.

Once someone has “bought into” a product and the identity that it is, they’re not just going to stop. You can’t “unsell” people on iPhones once people get a whiff of them. Your only option, instead, is to come up with something better—an iPhone plus, or in this case, a Trump plus or a populism plus—that delivers all of the benefits that they now embrace, not least of which is identity and community—plus something else that you’d like to give them.

— § —

Is there some “populism plus” that can be pushed out into the market that people will prefer, and that somehow walks us back from all of this?

Possibly. But I doubt it.

And in any case, the elites are busy talking in high-minded terms about rolling things back and winning arguments and the traditions of democracy stretching back two thousand years.

Not a single one of them, ironically (given their otherwise generally accepted expertise in marketing and sales at grand scale), is thinking of these things as products being consumed by hungry consumers who are constituting identities through them in opposition to non-buyers (e.g. the very same elites).

So if I was a betting man, I’d bet on the eventual collapse of the West.

(N.B. I love that I’m no longer an “academic” and can just say things like this without feeling bound by the need to turn any 900 word thought into a 400 page argument complete with 100 citations. The intellectual liberation that comes with leaving the academy is surprisingly robust.)

All the self-expression and self-realization in the world can’t change what you are.  §

I have been remodeling my basement since sometime last year—October of thereabouts.

The basement had been a kind of dungeon since we’d first moved here. Dark, musty, with deep red carpet. Dim lighting. Yellow walls. Low ceilings. Too much ancient, degraded furniture. Asbestos in the ceiling that was often falling onto the floor. The sort of place, in other words, that a sane, middle class (even lower-middle-class) person didn’t want to go.

It was mainly used by Shandy, our aging pit bull, who was on his last legs then.

At some point in late October or thereabouts, I’d finally had enough, at least in part, and one night in a fit of pique I descended into the basement and started putting things into large contractor trash bags, then moving all of that old furniture out of the main room, into the adjoining bedrooms that have long been left idle and are generally not nicely habitable.

The room got emptied out.

Then, in February, once Shandy died, I decided to turn the largest room in the basement into a gym of sorts. I bought a room’s worth of padded flooring, intending to lay it down over the ancient carpet and just use the room for exercise and for punching things.

But of course if heavy breathing were to be involved, the rotting asbestos ceiling would have to come down first. Well, despite equipment, that didn’t go as smoothly as planned out the gate much equipment was purchased and much intensive work was done. And then, having done all of that over many weeks, I looked down and decided that the carpet was likely contaminated enough as a result that with ceiling now clean, the carpet would have to go, too. So, the carpet came out.

Then, with floor and ceiling out and concrete underfloor sealed off and secured, it seemed ridiculous not to paint the walls.

And so on.

A small project to move some clutter became a larger project to make a mini-gym became a full-on asbestos remediation project with HEPA equipment and head-to-toe Tyvek bunny suits and P100 full-face respiratiors and negative pressure and airlocks and on and on and on.

— § —

Until this weekend, the project had been stalled for several months.

Stalled because it was in a “clean” state. Old, formerly asbestos containing surfaces fully remediated. Airlocks and gear mostly down and stored. No chemical smells, not too much junk laying around. Air quality sensors showing everything clean, and large HEPA filtration system keeping it smelling nice. It was such a relief to have it in that state, and it’s felt so generally cheery that I’ve felt a kind of resistance to plunging the space back into a DIY nightmare.

In particular, I didn’t want to tackle the next step—the books. Yes, the walls were lined with yards and yards of books, floor to ceiling, of every possible vintage a kind, from Plato to Petrarch to Chinese dictionaries to forensics 101 to the little stack books that I wrote myself to full sets of National Geographic stretching back a decade before I was born.

All taped off behind plastic through all of that remediation work, yes.

But before then all of those hundreds (thousands?) of books had been sitting there in the room for years as the dust gathered and the asbestos ceiling fell down, piece by piece over time, and rested in bits on top of the books.

There was no chance I’d throw them out. Zero chance.

Which meant that the plastic sealing the shelving and books off from the rest of the room would have to be removed and the books themselves remediated.

All of them. One by one.

— § —

Funny thing about books, something that I learned on my vast trek through the asbestos jungle.

Books are amongst the most dangerous substances on earth.

Many of them actually contain asbestos, since it was a popular material both for enhancing structural integrity in flexible materials and for imparting fire resistance, both of these being very useful characteristics to have in places containing tons and tons of highly flammable paper in controlled semi-arid conditions, all just sitting around waiting to burn.

And it’s not just asbestos that often comes up in clouds when old books are opened—it’s silica, dust, and other forms of particulate matter that also tend to cause life-ending lung disease.

Librarians—librarians—are working in one of the most hazardous white collar fields in existence. They have death rates from COPD, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other forms of lung dysfunction that are many times higher than the general population.

To work in and around books is a heroic act; they literally put their lives at risk in order to preserve knowledge and make it available to everyone else.

I’d spent many years in and around and in love with books before learning this. And learning it has changed my relationship with them in some deep, unspecifiable way.

For those of us that read books, we also take our lives into our hands every time we crack one. There is actually real and present danger in the knowledge that we consume. It is metaphor come to life.

Or, at least, it once was—before the era of e-books and Audible took hold with sincerity.

— § —

And so it was that early today I headed back out to the home improvement store to get more Tyvek and more P100 cartridges for my respirator system, both to go along with nitrile gloves and yards and yards of one and three mil sheeting and duct tape, all for use in The Book Project.

I suited up, taped and sheeted up, got the air pressure and the HEPA running again.

I pulled the plastic sheeting on the shelving off, yard by yard, and worked off the duct tape that had already begun to degrade into sticky, uncleanable goop and got it all into contractor bags.

Heavy breath, heavy breath. The sound of oneself as Darth Vader.

And there were all the books, sitting there, dusty as ever, after all this asbestos adventure. So ironically protected all of this time from the asbestos project even as they sat there already bathed in their own time-accumulated pile of asbestos. It’s still not clear to me just what the point of sealing them off was, other than “to do things right” in a domain in which they tell you that not doing things right will lead to your death.

I had an area in the center of the room set up as a catch area with enclosable plastic sheeting of its own and I had buckets of wet wipes and the full triple-phase HEPA industrial vac with brush attachment ready to go.

And so we began.

Pick up a book. Vac the spine and all of the sides. Flip through it to release any particles. Vac every surface again. Get the cover and spine with wet wipes. Dry with shop towels. Place book on stack in holding area.

— § —

I return here to the sense of irony.

For the better part of a decade I’d lived with this basement room full of books and returned to it often to retrieve one of them, blowing off or knocking off any dust and ceiling debris that had accumulated on top of it before carrying it upstairs, not thinking about it at all.

And before that, when we lived in New York, they were on shelves that were mounted on walls that were almost certainly built with asbestos-laden drywall, next to radiator pipes whose wrapped insulation I’m almost now positive was asbestos-containing material, constantly shedding particulate matter everywhere, including on the books.

And now, here, late in the game, I’m gingerly cleaning them all off, one by one, in a highly technical hazmat environment that looks like something out of a horror movie, fully covered from head to foot in hazmat gear, breathing like a monster through a respirator and peering through steamy goggles at—

Dante
and then
Plato
and then
Proust
and then
Horkheimer and Adorno
and then
E.M. Forster
and then
Hammurabi
and then…

…each one a murderous enemy, an assassin that they say may have already killed me, or my ex-wife, or my children, or anyone else that came into contact with them.

Reality? Fiction? Who knows. The quality of information that one obtains in this age of information is different from the quality of information in years past. All information is now emotional information. Everything is now a threat to “safety,” to be handled with extreme care.

My grandfather spent an entire career in the military smoking tobacco and sanding rust and debris off of ships’ hulls with power tools wearing no protective gear whatsoever. I sat and watched over and over again as a child while my father changed the family car’s motor oil with his bare hands and old coolant ran down the driveway and then down the storm drain, never to be seen again.

I spent an entire life reading these books, before I suddenly put on the full hazmat uniform to vacuum and then wipe them down one by one with expensive, specialized equipment, hour after hour on a September Sunday.

— § —

Somewhere in the middle, I began to feel anger. The books began to be dropped on to the pile rather than gingerly stacked.

And then, somewhere after that, I began to feel rage, and there was a period of minutes during which books were being flung, hard, across the room, against newly painted walls.

It was after most of the fiction and after the books I wrote myself, somewhere around undergraduate textbooks, that the rage took hold. Forensic anthropology. Sociology. Religion and culture. Advanced German grammar. Somewhere in there.

And well beyond mere anger. But what was I angry at?

Hard to say. Hours into a project like this one, with all of the mindless tedium and the mental latitude that it thus grants, it’s difficult to know precisely what’s on one’s own mind. Like eyes, thoughts can “glaze over” with time and repetition.

It took me a dozen or two books, and in particular, seeing one of them essentially explode into loose sheets all over the floor, to arrive at that moment at which one asks oneself—

“Okay, what’s really going on here? What’s actually on my mind?”

— § —

All of the real problems that I confront in day-to-day life have a kind of brute materiality about them.

Health. Clutter. Yard. Rot. Asbestos.

Yes, money is a problem and I’d like to have more of it. And yes, in my line of work, this involves a lot of “knowledge economy labor” and so on and so forth—but at the end of the day the uses for the money, the reason to care, the precarity that drives me—is frankly and unavoidably and admittedly embodied in real stuff.

The virtual world is a strange and extensive edifice erected in the end to cope with utterly non-virtual problems, not least of which is mortality itself and everything that seeks to forestall it.

Here in my hands even were the books, the immaterial knowledge that we hold aloft with such pride and what am I doing with them? I am carrying them back and forth across the room and vacuuming little white bits of death off of them with a dirty giant machine full of miles and miles of filtration matter.

Matter.

It’s enough to make a person laugh out loud.

No, no, it’s not that the knowledge isn’t important. It’s that as a culture we’ve skewed so far in one direction that we are in effect all living a lie. We are liars, to ourselves, and to everyone else.

We are bodies. Little, soft, weak, terminal bodies. That’s what we are.

And all of the doctorates and gender changes and awards and Instagrams in the world won’t change the fact that we live as meat and will die as meat and that our happiness is bound up more than anything else with that thing that we don’t want to see about ourselves—

that we are only and just what we are, standing in our shoes or sitting on a chair, respirating and digesting other meat. And so is everyone else.

Until we make peace with that, we won’t be happy, and nothing will be better.

The enlightenment somehow set out to erase half of creation and we’ve carried on the tradition in our little epoch, imagining that God is a God of knowledge, and creation is a matter of theory, and so on.

Creation isn’t just ideas. Creation is things. Being.

For us at the very least, and for everything around us, being is a material state.

How utterly profound is that in our epoch? It almost stretches beyond our ability to conceive of such things, which says something about the era in which we live.

Descartes ought to be arrested. He is the author of much suffering.

— § —

So many books, so many indices to people.

People that wrote them. People that have read them. People that have taught them. In many cases, people that I’ve known and known well. People, in fact, like myself, once.

So many elite braniacs setting out to make the world A Better Place[TM].

And yet, for all the good they set out to do—for all the good I set out once to do—so much more good than all of them put together has been done by, for example, the little group of teachers at my local martial arts dojang who take children under their wing, teach them face-to-face to use and master their bodies and the feelings that are in fact part and parcel of those bodies.

Yes, I was tossing the books across the room because of the question that Johnny Rotten once asked.

“Do you ever feel that you’ve been cheated?”

Because for all the years I spent reading those books, a bunch of little flecks of dust sitting on top of them—dust dug right out of mountains—are infinitely more powerful. They can’t be fixed with theory or policy, only with big motors and big gears and big filters and the big movement of big amounts of air and moisture.

And because for all my degrees, it’s warping bathroom floors and leaky roof tiles and broken toes that now rule my life, day after day, and that in fact rule the lives of everyone—even those wealthy enough to pay others to hide such facts. I spent twenty-five years of my life learning things. What I didn’t learn in all that time was what bedevils me now—how to ensure that a toiled won’t leak, tidy a driveway, keep vegetable matter and mold from overtaking the foundation of a house, or keep my joints moving well.

And all the vast tide of books in my asbestos-laden library of knowledge are silent on such matters. Entirely silent on them.

— § —

Do you ever feel that you’ve been cheated?

You climb the mountain. You find the Truman Show.  §

Sometimes I have the urge to reach out personally to the other Ph.D.s and ask them what they think about things.

What’s going on…

Because Ph.D.s are supposed to have an opinion, no?

— § —

Thing is, I have one of those, too. I’ve read the books. A lot of books. An awful lot of books. And journal articles.

Did you know I had over 2,000 journal articles in my library while I was writing my dissertation?

I read them all.

Oh yes, I read them all.

I was erudite and such even before I embarked on my Ph.D.

Did a graduate degree at the University of Chicago before the New School, don’t you know.

What do I know?

Bupkis.

That’s the problem.

— § —

That urge to ask the other Ph.D.s… is misplaced.

What I’m looking for is one of: (1) enlightenment, (2) salvation.

They can grant me neither.

If they could, I’d be granting same myself.

I’m not.

— § —

It’s 2019.

Western Civilization is dying.

Ontology <-> =/= Gummi Bears.

Things are crap.

The books are all obsolete

and the people are all inadvertently, yet catastrophically, evil.

What is to be done?

— § —

What Is To Be Done?

Individual schmindividual.  §

Quick note:

Look at any online directory. Ad platform. Link exchange. Set of articles on building an online identity. Look at anything at all that has anything at all to do with online life.

What category of web properties is missing?

The category of “personal” content. The notion that an individual exists and might want to say something as an individual, as apart from products, industry vertical, community, party, etc.

Paradoxically, in this age of the transcendendental importance of individual autonomy, what we lose sight of is the quantity of the individual as apart from some binding to a larger group.

— § —

“So what’s your game, mate?”

“I don’t know, mate.”

“Your loss, mate.”

At hand is the social corollary to “dark matter” and “dark energy.” QED.  §

The hardest parts of life are the stretches in which nothing in particular is pending.

No deaths of family members, no unemployment, no cancer tests, no paid off mortgages or trips to Africa for safari, no births of children nor arrivals of new furniture sets, etc. Nothing in particular.

I suppose I might think differently if I weren’t divorced, but I am divorced, so I think what I think.

And what I think is that stretches of time in which neither crises nor victories seem to float on the air are dispiriting, at least as a divorced person. You’ve lost your partner in planning (let’s be frank, very possibly you never quite had them in the first place despite wishing you had, for those of us that are divorced) and if you’re divorced you’re likely not of school age any longer.

In short, there is a dearth of plans, of anticipation, and yes, even of fear that is difficult to bear.

It can feel as though you’re on a very long train ride to your own end times, and (this is risky to say but I’ll say it) there are times when you do that thing that all children tend to do—say to yourself (given that nobody else is listening), “are we there yet?”

— § —

I suspect that divorce is easier the younger you are. I also suspect that there are distinct psychological dimensions to it that are not to be taken lightly.

For example, though (as the crystal-wearing set, of whom I am not a member, might say) “forty is just a number,” the fact is that it is an important number. Divorced after forty has a particular flavor that is not especially pleasant, and this is not entirely a matter of personal taste.

The fact is that for others, too, the attributed identity and characteristics of an “over forty divorcée” are not at all the same as those of a “thirty-something divorcée,” despite the fact that the actual ages involved in such a comparison may be very near to one another indeed.

— § —

In short, there are a great many things that I could I suppose be productively doing, if productivity is measured in terms of simply having this rather than that, a little more rather than a little less, a little tidier rather than a little more cluttered, and so on.

But (and this is where I admit to perhaps still being in the throes of a mid-life crisis whose countours were only compounded by divorce) that sort of thing is difficult to get excited about.

After all, just a few short years ago you dreamed of changing—and of traveling—the world, and you turned down job offers from the United Nations, and you held in your hand rooms full of starry-eyed students looking to you for advice on What is To Be Done and How I Ought to Proceed in It All, and so on.

Now, you are on a long, straight, eventless train ride toward that final destination that by nature isn’t (and can’t be) an Experience of any kind for ontological reasons, and so it is that you’re hard pressed to lift a finger.

Because if all you’re doing is folding socks and pulling weeds, well hell, you have the next ten, or twenty, or thirty years to do that, and nobody’s looking anyway, damn it—so the rewards are rather small, particularly in juxtaposition to the unfortunate fact that is this particular ticket on the tracks and the wish you have (which cannot be granted) to switch to a different set of them.

— § —

I don’t know.

It’s easy to be envious of others. I try to avoid that.

It’s also easy to be jaded. I try to avoid that, too.

Or to be down on oneself. Also something to be avoided.

It often feels these days as if I’m trying to avoid things more than I’m trying to pursue things.

Hell, “feels?”

Let’s be honest—the job at hand since well before my divroce has almost entirely been about what I can avoid. How to manage life, in general, so as to avoid all of the Bad Things.

That has not changed.

I suppose that’s life in general, at least for people worth their salt. There are of course, the great majority of others who go and adopt the bad things as their own and revel in them. I’m tempted to say that’s almost the entirety of our society.

And sometimes it’s tempting to join them.

But thus far, I resist the temptation, for the most part.

— § —

I don’t know.

— § —

I’m not ashamed to say that over the last few days of monitoring developments in the Brexit affair, it’s not the actual politics that have made the largest impression on me but the figures and personalities involved.

I think John Bercow has become a minor hero of mine. I’ve just been to YouTube to watch him address the Oxford Union for an hour, and I enjoyed in very much.

Yes, this is the sort of thing that I do when I’m not working and the kids are not here, rather than—say—painting my basement, fixing my yard, or starting my own business.

— § —

I wrote in a review once that got rather good reviews in turn that the thing appreciated most about J.D. Vance’s book was that it illuminated the fact that choices matter. Even little ones. Even every day.

I think that’s also the sort of thing that Jordan Peterson has been talking about.

Perhaps it’s time that I go and read one of these people again, because I’ve arrived at that point at which I am doubting that, considered objectively, choices matter all that much at all, and as a result, I am struggling to bother to make them.

Yes, we live in a society in which once you’re past a certain age, you simply don’t matter.

No, I’m not going to become an activist about this. I think that’s as it should be, and that one of the gravest sins of the Baby Boomer generation is that they refused to Go Gently into That Good Night (and still do so, in fact).

But an intuition about what is right and proper and good on the one hand does not of necessity change the experience of living through the actual circumstances of what is right and proper and good on the other.

— § —

My time is nearly past. In another ten years it will be.

Did I do what I set out to accomplish?

No. But then I suppose (I say this now, with the benefit of a touch of the wisdom that comes with age) very few could have in my own case, and furthermore and for what it’s worth, very few do in the general case. And that’s the way it is and the way that it always has been and that, too, is right and proper.

— § —

What we need today, more than anything else, is clear-eyed truth-tellers.

I think at this point, my greatest ambition is simply to have the courage to be one of these.

From all indications thus far, it will require much more courage than I’ve managed to muster to date. And I’ve done a lot of things that (by my own standards at least) required more courage than I’ve often thought I had. Yet so it is that I must manage to travel farther still.

Wish me luck.

— § —

In the meantime, I don’t know whether to also ask that you wish me the dedication to paint some walls or that you wish me the self-possession to not care whether I do so or not as I continue to pursue the kinds of knowledge that interest me.

Uncertainty, Aron is thine other name.

There is more than hot air to conservative claims of censorship.  §

Anyone that knows me knows that I tend to read on all sides of an issue. And that I often hold unorthodox opinions on political issues in particular that straddle lines or thread needles as a result of trying to understand issues from the perspective of both sides of the “political tendency” aisle. I was pro-Gore, for example, in 2000, but at the same time pro-Bush when it came to the court cases. I voted for Obama, but later did not support Hillary, even as I also didn’t support Trump.

I’m not, that is to say, an ideologue, but rather try to understand and judge issues after seeking clarity from all sides.

Until today, I’ve not known what to think about the “social media censorship” debate. Conservatives have long claimed that they don’t get a fair shake, with progressives claiming that what’s being blocked or removed is largely hate speech. I didn’t have a strong opinion in either direction, I suppose, and continued to read arguments from both sides without having been convinced.

— § —

This week, I’ve been following the goings-on in Parliament int the U.K. regarding Brexit. The last couple of days have been particularly eventful, and I’d taken to reading hashtags on both sides of the aisle on Twitter to get a read on the perspectives on both sides from the British public.

What I got instead was an education on Twitter and social media censorship.

Pro-Brexit hashtags, including innocuous ones making no threats, showing no profanity, etc. have been simply disappearing, while the same is not true of pro-remain hashtags.

This morning, I tried to check in on several hashtags on both sides that had been seeing a large amount of activity over the last 24 hours. When it came time to look at the pro-Brexit sentiment, what I saw instead were blanks. No tweets for those hashtags. We’re talking a shift from thousands and thousands of tweets and active discussion to—nada.

I moved from the mobile client to a desktop browser session and searched again. I got a tiny handful of stale posts from several years ago. Everything more recent had disappeared. Simply gone. The pro-remain hashtags? Still incredibly active and deep.

I sat there in stunned silence for several minutes.

I don’t know whether the tweets in question have been removed, or the accounts, or neither and it’s simply that Twitter search is blocking searches for that keyword and returning no recent results. But I do know that actual work had to be done to hide these discussions, which were not hateful, not violent, not white nationalist, not racist, etc. Just politics and regular people voicing their opinions.

— § —

Where I stand on the social media censorship issue is thus evolving: it does, in fact, happen sometimes. And conservatives are right in saying that at least in some cases, it happens rather blatantly to conservatives. Interestingly, famous figures on that side of the aisle remain there and remain searchable.

This implies some amount of bad faith—the platform doesn’t want the public to realize that censorship is happening, which they surely would if very famous figures (i.e. Farage) started to disappear. No, this is a kind of stealth censorship—one that makes it look as though one side of the aisle has very little, if any, support, while making it look as if the other side of the aisle enjoys incredible popularity and support.

— § —

I don’t really know what to do with this information. I do know that I feel as though my eyes have been opened.

I had long ago changed my previously very sunny opinion about social media—the one that I’d held throughout much of my time in graduate school and as an academic. Since then, I’d come to realize that social media was much more a mixed bag, much more dubious, and much more problematic than I’d at first imagined, largely because of the way in which it changed social structure and social discourse, and because of a particular metaphysics that I’d not seen early on that appears in incompatible with certain aspects of a “good life.”

Now, I’m leaning even farther in that direction. Maybe the fiercest critics are right—rather than overselling things—in claiming that social media simply hides conservative voices, not necessarily the famous ones, but the numerous ones. Maybe that’s why the “Trump surprise” happened—maybe in fact social media is obscuring, rather than representing, the actual balance of public opinion on many issues.

No, I’m not positive. But on this issue, I am legitimately shocked. What I’ve seen over the last 24-36 hours is clear: Twitter went from showing two active sides on the Brexit issue to a state of affairs in which it appears that there’s only one engaged side on the issue.

Just. like. that.