Oversocialization: An Alternative Social Media Theory

gibbering mouther

I have seen a plethora of theories about how social media, the internet, and mass media in general is driving us insane by increasing the number of shut-ins and people who forgo real life social interaction for the sad-sack replacement of dehumanizing cyberspace. They are so common as to not be worth summing up once again here. While I certainly agree that the internet seems to have weaponized a specific type of cheap and clueless discourse that lacks depth and seems to empower the most hysterical and autistic-leaning elements of public speech at the expense of all else, I disagree on why this is with the mainstream theories that are out there.

I believe it is over-socialization, rather than under-socialization, that is the true bugbear of this problem. The internet is enabling more connectivity than ever before, and in so doing it is abolishing private space to think and reflect. This is hardly a new process-it clearly began with television-but it is being accelerated more than ever before by social media in particular. We see people’s opinions unfiltered whereas before they would either have to be teased out or would naturally come out as part of a normal conversation between people who at least sort of know each other. Cyberspace may be filled to the brim with posturing and fakeness but all of human social interaction is. It is just more on display than ever before. Everyone no matter how irrelevant can now behave as golden age of Hollywood celebrities types do…and since our society idolizes those very people it becomes a model to emulate.

None of this is really any faker than normal interaction, it is just jacked up to 11 and dosed with a big helping of agoraphobia. The true alienation is with nature and the outdoors, not with human civilization. It is humanity that is in fact being overdosed on. If people are withdrawing from social interaction in the real world it may very well be because they already have too much of it online.

So what we are seeing with the widespread panics and ever more rapidly shifting zeitgeist of cultural wars, tribalization, and the like is really what happens when we are trained to be too social. People have too many ‘friends’. They have too many people watching them and care about the approval of too many outside forces. Privacy has been abolished as a value and to tune out of the mainstream is now a freakish occurrence rather than a respectable one. A contemporary definition of a thinker is now someone who tweets approval-seeking self-marketing in a desperate bid to thrive in the gig economy. I don’t think any but the most obnoxious among us were designed to be exposed to other people so much for such a large percentage of our waking hours. We need quiet to really be with ourselves. One of the biggest turn-offs for me when I meet a new person are those who clearly cannot be alone with themselves for long stretches of time. It implies that they have little of interest going on inside save perhaps for insecurity.

How does one combat this trend of over-socialization? Well, it is easy. You don’t fully have to disconnect…but rather take a step back and realize that when you say you need ‘me time’ or whatever it is you want to call it, that this also requires that said solo time is removed from the internet, television, or anything like that. Time to oneself, when a person’s most interesting thoughts occur since they are not simply being shaped by extremely temporary trends, is key to self-cultivation. And self-cultivation is nearly impossible in an over-socialized environment. Reading full books rather than articles is a start, but I would say that getting outside and adopting physical hobbies is also a part of it. Writing, even just for practice, helps too. Exploring a city on foot can even work as people who live among high population densities are very good at tuning other people out for necessities sake-a skill perhaps needed on highly trafficked social media websites as well.

Nature is among my favorite refuges. Nothing reminds one more of how things work without pretense than physical processes and less mentally cluttered other animals. The (fictional) writing I do is often most effectively inspired by trips I take to naturally beautiful locations for hiking or whatnot. Much like the life you live in meatspace, your online life should be regulated to a level that works best for you without overloading your own personal time. Otherwise you end up like an algorithm of a person with no depth of character. A human Marvel movie constructed for mass consumption rather than actual contribution beyond immediate gratification. It is the irony of the present times that those who feel the need to be most in tune with current trends are the ones basically guaranteeing their thoughts have no staying power. These are the people who will be first to fade into irrelevance.

The first step is to realize that while humans are social animals, this too must be held in moderation along with our other instincts. To have a meaningful contribution to others in the first place one must first be able to step back and look at things from an angle different from merely going along unthinkingly with trends.

Of course, there are entire industries based around relieving and avoiding self-reflection, so we have a society that incentivizes people not to really be quiet with themselves. But even in order to see that relatively mundane observation, it requires the knowledge that you are being manipulated…and that in turn requires some sense of distance.

………………………………

One announcement regarding the future of this blog-and no, it is not related to the above post. I recently started a position where I will do a lot of foreign policy and strategic writing. Unlike my prior time at the State Department where most of what I wrote was not for public output, this one will be. So, with that being a big part of my near future I feel that is likely that the percentage of foreign policy specific topics on this blog will decrease in proportion to the other topics I like such as philosophy, history, domestic politics (of various nations), etc. When I write something particularly on topic for this blog elsewhere I will probably just link to it with a brief statement and then get to another topic.

I will not cease writing about foreign policy topics here, I am merely stating that its proportion will decrease. And even then, book reviews on that topic are almost certainly staying as is when it comes to output.

 

Two Birds, One Stone: Using Demographic Replacement to Destroy the Woke

What follows is a proposal guaranteed to displease both the woke left and the racist right…and most likely please nearly everyone else if they think about it.

green inferno

It should be beyond doubt at this point that the worst, most anti-intellectual, and loudest segments of the left and liberals alike have far more in common with right-wing reactionaries on a psychological level than they do with anyone else. This is not some lazy horseshoe theory on my part, as I have on multiple past posts made my scorn for the alt-center neoliberals quite clear. It is, however, a recognition that similar cultural, class-based, and other factors create Extreme Culture Warriors. These ECW’s are the dumbest people of left, center, and right alike and get in the way of anyone’s ability to have rational and productive conversations. This decade’s current epidemic of call-outs, scolding think pieces, and ‘canceling’ mirror the right-wing evangelical revival of the 80s, 90s, and early oughts. That one came as a reaction to the 60s and then was briefly recharged by 9/11, whereas the current one is a reaction to the 2016 election (liberal 9/11) and the failures of the Obama years to amount to much of anything. Both are entirely the wrong response to serious problems in need of addressing. Both, therefore, get in the way of finding solutions.

Both of these similar movements are also overwhelmingly demographically dominated by white people. Specifically, middle and upper-class white people.

Much as I loathe identity politics this class and ethnic overlap on widely different parts of the political compass cannot be ignored. But seeing as these ideologies often rub off on second and third-generation descendants of Asian immigrants who have mostly white friends it perhaps behooves us to refer to this faction collectively as ‘Anglo-Protestants.’ Besides, we all know that white Euro-Catholics in America are basically culturally Protestant anyway so it works. As it is, both come from the same original strain in North Atlantic history. And it is worth remembering that the whitest large city in America is Portland, Oregon. The very place the right hates the most. So if the far right got its own white ethnostate it would take about 1 generation for it to become overrun with SJWs.

What to do about this problem? Well, fortunately, present trends have already shown us some facet of the answer. Demographic Displacement. That’s right, the worst fear of the far right! This introduces a delicious irony…if the right wants to prove that they are in fact not racist than surely they will be able to commit to the destruction of ‘SJWs’ by acknowledging that the most effective way to get rid of them is to fundamentally undermine the white majority in North America. Meanwhile, on the other side of irony, both liberals and leftists of woke-persuasion will at first champion taking more Hispanic and Asian immigrants…until they begin to realize that this is swamping out their assimilationist tendencies and attempts to colonize other people’s language.  Speed is the key. If the amount of immigration is too low then the Anglo-Protestantified second and third generations will also grow up surrounded by such people and be tainted by their moralism. The only choice to combat this scourge is to smash white supremacy with numbers. Open the borders to countries with non-protestant cultures, do not open them to countries with huge strident revivalist religions of all stripes.

So, righties, if you are serious about confronting the menace of the woke its time to step up and stick it to whitey. And lefties, if you really want that super-diverse world you claim to crave its time to accept that such a world will likely bury your ideology and make your performative politics irrelevant. Because when demographics kill off Luther and Calvin, they will also kill off Richard Spencer and Lena Dunham.

But time is of the essence lest we end up with more Kamala Harris-types.

kamala deportation

 

Not Evil, Just Stupid

11-hillary-clinton-shocked.w700.h700

And in an age of near universal literacy and information access in the developed world, stupid is an evil all its own. Perhaps the greatest of all evils. This is now abundantly clear with the poorly disguised attempt to smear a veteran and sitting congresswoman as a traitorous Manchurian candidate and its hilarious response.

Despite the feverish conspiracy theories of the right, it has long been my position that Hillary Clinton, and the people who religiously tend to identify with her, are not in fact these brilliant puppet masters. As fun as it is to joke about these people being reptillian baby eaters, the truth of the matter is that while indeed the Clintons (just like the Bushes and Trumps) are monstrously corrupt, they are also remarkably stupid. Hillary in particular, who lacks the charisma and trend-reading ability to her husband, is a living embodiment not of evil but of incompetence. The network she can call out to speak on her behalf is more a patronage network of fellow incompetents than it is anything else, though that network surely does exist as we can see clearly this week,

My evidence is Mrs. Clinton’s entire record in policy. Let’s break it down.

-As First Lady she was given the opportunity to reform America’s healthcare system. Her attempts went down in history for being so undiplomatic that they failed before they even began. She also faked a southern accent during this time despite not actually being a southerner.

-Her tenure as a senator from the State of New York consisted of trying and failing to censor video games in a second wind of the prior decade’s Tipper Gore war on music. This was concurrent with her attempt to ban flag burning, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional, and her support for Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq, the biggest foreign policy blunder quite possibly in all of American history.

-She then ran her first presidential campaign in 2008. Her record specifically on Iraq doomed both her and her Republican analog, John McCain, both of whom lost to a previously unknown upstart senator who ran against that war and the people who made it. During this campaign, Hillary Clinton engaged in endless race-baiting attacks on her opponent implying something nebulously foreign about him in a precursor to Trump’s birtherism and insisting that ‘the real America’ of the midwest and south would never vote for him….for *some* reason. She then refused to concede her clear loss in the primary and hung around for a strangely long period of time. Far longer than, say, Bernie Sanders did against her in 2016. She did this, most likely, as a negotiating tactic to be Obama’s declared successor and Secretary of State.

-Upon becoming Secretary of State she quickly went on to show what a mistake the first of Obama’s corrupt bargains would end up being for any hopes of reversing Bush’s ruinous administration. She was the decisive force for convincing an undecided Obama to intervene in Libya. Now, Libya is a failed state fought over warlords that incubates terrorism, Islamic extremism, and has a burgeoning chattel slavery industry. Despite this enormous failure, Hillary pushed again for greater levels of intervention in Syria, this time on the side of outright and undisguised jihadists. Her very own emails, which her fans often deride as ‘but her emails’ to deflect from their actual contents, show that she was aware of this and still supported ‘Operation Timber Sycamore’ (which you can look up yourself as the documentation is truly enormous) anyway.

-In the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton then went on to run the most well-funded campaign in history into the ground. Everyone save Matt Taibbi preemptively called the election for Clinton. Her staff’s one original idea aside from riding celebrity accolades was to signal boost Trump over his republican challengers using their media contacts in something called ‘The Pied Piper Strategy‘, thinking he would be the easiest candidate to beat. Most likely, Hillary would have beaten nonentities like Rubio and Jeb!, but someone like Trump was always going to be more of a challenge to the ultimate insiders of the Clintons. Then, in the general election, Hillary Clinton ran what could only be described as a Romney-style campaign based on insulting voters who weren’t already in her camp, failing to campaign in the right locations, and generally ignoring the strong ground game. Plus, she had a close run with a previously little known self-described socialist from Vermont. A challenger that, despite all the post-election rhetoric from all sides, went on to deliver a greater percentage of his base to Hillary than Hillary ever did for Obama after losing to him 8 years before. Hillary then went on to promise her priorities after her inevitable coronation as ‘the removal of Assad from power’ (mentioned in literally every 2016 presidential debate in the general) and even more of the same policies of offshoring and deindustrialization that everyone outside of finance hates. Oh but don’t worry, she had some great one-liners.

-In the post-election hellscape of her failure, Hillary Clinton and her fans who treat her like she is their mother, have greatly exaggerated Russian cyber interference in American discourse in order to absolve themselves and their entire overpaid consultant class from the blame they deserve for blowing the most winnable election in history. This has unleashed a McCarthyite hysteria that has hijacked the Democratic Party, public discourse, and the media and created an opposition to Trump that looks like the republican loyalists to Bush from 2001-2008, where accusations of disloyalty and secret sympathies dog the discourse as a cover for avoiding substantive debate. This is a big reason why the Democrats of this decade became like the Republicans of last decade. Reflexively in support of military intervention, in love with intelligence agencies, and using the same model of going all out religious revival in social issues to distract their supporters from the fact that very few policies they support actually help their base in any real material way.

Into this post-Clintonian apocalypse, only Tulsi Gabbard has had the courage to stand up directly and challenge the odious legacy of this accurately stated ‘Queen of Warmongers’ and symbol of corruption. This is why her candidacy, even more than Bernie’s, is the true anti-bipartisan consensus run. You can see just by the hysterical reactions of the Beltway class to her factually accurate statements about the results of U.S. interventions in the Middle East. Yes, we did support AL Qaeda aligned groups in Syria and Libya. Hillary herself admitted to it in her emails…which is why those emails were always a scandal. Not because of how she handled them, but because of the lack of judgment on matters of policy she showed in them.

Finally, someone stands up against the insanity of our endless war state and against the neoMcCarthyite rhetoric used to defend it from both parties. The same candidate with the spine to call Trump ‘Saudi Arabia’s Bitch’ is the one who can accurately identify Hillary’s miasmic influence on American politics. it is time to throw all of these bums and their acolytes into the trash where they belong.

The fact of the matter is, Hillary Clinton is nothing but an attention-seeking and uncharismatic sociopath with no self-reflection or ability to learn. Everything she has ever touched has turned to ashes and manure. Her ability to create spectacular backfires is a welcome addition to the message-driven Gabbard campaign, as few in this country are loathed as much as Hillary Clinton is-especially by independent and anti-establishment voters. By giving her un-endorsement she has already served an unintentionally useful purpose for those who wish to bring about change. By inspiring all her servile op-ed ghouls to come out in her defense she shows who is willing to make the death rattles on behalf of a dying order and who isn’t. She is not showing her power, but her weakness. A head of a cabal she may be, but rather than pulling the levers of power this cabal spends its time sitting and sulking at a world waking up to their many failures and rank incompetence.

I would say ‘Go away Hillary,’ but I know after crawling back into her spider hole of bitter resentment and abject failure that she will only give us a few months more at most before reappearing yet again with more rot and decay than ever before.

In Praise of Indigenous People’s Day

battle-of-old-sitka

‘The Battle of Old Sitka’ by Roy Troll

If you have been following this blog for a while, you probably know I have nothing but disdain for so much of the fashionable woke causes of today. We are bombarded on a daily bases by performative virtue signalling largely sold as snake oil by grifters to the guilt-ridden white bourgeoisie and those over-eager to have passionate opinions without doing the necessary work to justify such strongly held views. No doubt today you are seeing many of those very people loudly proclaiming their inheritance to replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. Be not afraid though, broken clocks are right twice a day after all.

From the undeniable fact that the largest mass human die-off in recorded human history was due to Eurasian pathogens made short work of much of the Native American population, to the subsequent enslavement, murder, and conquest of these then-weakened communities (I maintain that direct European conquest would likely not have happened in that era save for certain coastal and island areas were it not for the full-fledged apocalypse of smallpox and company creating a literal post-apocalypse-but that is a big enough topic to be the subject of another post), the reasons for replacing a Holiday celebrated in the United States, a (future) country Columbus never set foot it, are obvious. Even leaving aside that Columbus was a grifter, fanatic, and died convinced he had found the edge of Southeast Asia despite everyone else realizing it was clearly something else which was a direct result of him believing the world was much smaller than it actually was-a fringe view even in his time- there are plenty of reasons to neither give up a holiday nor continue it in its present form.

The mass destruction of indigenous culture goes beyond the human toll. It robbed the world of art, thought, philosophy, biodiversity, and language. While I am hardly one to use ‘imperialism’ as a catch-all phrase of bad things, the specific form of Spanish and English colonialism towards the New World resulted in positively ISIS-levels of cultural vandalism where the pathologies of the present rob the future generations of Earth from its material heritage. If the conquest in hindsight seems inevitable, the mass destruction, Palmyra style, of religions and cultures surely was not as it was fueled purely by ideology. Conquistadores cared little for converts, but the people that came after them did. And from Torquemada’s ideological children to Cotton Mather’s bastards, a varied mosaic of thought was swept away for the barren and monolithic desert of Christian fanaticism. A legacy that very much infects almost everything today in contemporary North America.

But Indigenous People’s Day is not mainly a marking of the past but first and foremost a statement of the future. The Natives are still here. Despite everything many still keep their cultures as intact as reasonably possible.  They aren’t going anywhere. And of equal importance, it is about time that we who dwell in North America recognize how much they contributed to us. Half of the vegetables commonly used in cooking today in the world have a New World origin. Most spices come from Mesoamerica originally. Languages used as codes to baffle the Axis Powers and vital contributions especially welcome in our benighted postmodern age towards contemporary art still pour out from Native artists who are both cutting edge and traditional alike. Even our urban legends and modern myths increasingly adopt the fantastic creatures who were spoken of in these lands long before the Europeans came.

We might also do well by recognizing what they have still to give. There are ways of thought that would be a welcome break from the endless Alt-Protestant shrieking that almost all sides of our culture have degenerated into. No one is more suspicious of that famously ambiguous and mealy-mouthed phrase ‘decolonization’ than me, but we sure as hell could use some decolonization in our politics and philosophy on this front when it comes to anthropocentrism, economic priorities, and the dominant sects whose theology holds sway over much of the populace. So much of the intellectual legacy of Northern Europe is a stain on the thoughtful, including even in strategic culture. There are histories whose very concept of strategy remains to be explored as political theory. More on this later at some point, I promise.

Anyway, if you would like to explore something contemporary and native I recommend starting with Nechochwen:

Much Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth for Syria’s Kurds

First let me say that the YPJ/SDF is probably the most sympathetic non-state actor in the entire Syrian Civil War. Second, I will state clearly and definitely that the present Turkish government under Erdogan and the AKP is second only to that of Saudi Arabia as a force for destabilization and horror in the contemporary Middle East. There is no question that at this point Erdogan is the primary villain of Syria’s long unfolding tragedy.

That out of the way, the hysterical response to the ‘western betrayal’ of ‘the Kurds’ is utterly bizarre and hard to fathom…at least for anyone who thinks first in terms of strategy and not in emotional sentimentality. For the following reasons:

  1. Turkey was always the bigger geopolitical prize than ‘the Kurds’ (i.e. the Rojava/SDF-there is no one unified faction of Kurds) and so both the United States and Russia were always going to jockey for influence in Ankara first rather than over a thin strip of unrecognized territory in northern Syria. This has always been the case and should surprise exactly no one.
  2. The United States had better chance holding on to South Vietnam in 1975 than it ever did holding on to to Syria’s northeast. A handful of operators ostensibly helping Kurdish forces battle Islamists was just as much there to prevent Kurdish-Damascus rapprochement as for any other reason. But the Syrian government is in the region to stay and the U.S. never really could be. As it is, prompt withdrawal of American forces increases the odds of Kurdish-Syrian and Syrian government forces being able to coordinate a response to Turkey’s blatant act of invasion at the head of a force of neo-Bashi-Bazouks.
  3. If Russia acts to clip Turkey’s wings in northern Syria (one can hope though that hope is far from likely at this point) it will be easier to do so with U.S. forces gone from the immediate area as the first thing they want gone is American influence there. This is far more likely to happen than the Americans being able to hold back the Turks themselves.
  4. What is the alternative? The far left (most vocal western factions wailing about betrayal) joins forces with the neoconservative right to voice support for some kind Israel-like creation of a Kurdish state that will set off a series of regional wars requiring an endless commitment to arming and equipping Kurdish forces against all their neighbors forever? No doubt Netanyahu and the ghost of Trotsky alike gets wet at the thought.
  5. Worst of all, from my very subjective perspective, all of this has overshadowed the great news that the Saudis might be forced into a corner by the Houthis in Yemen. But the House of Saud teeters perpetually upon the brink of collapse in a way that the AKP in Turkey definitely seems not to. And if anything, taking a ‘strong line’ against a Kurdish bogeyman probably further bolsters Erdogan’s position at home.

States have permanent interests and not permanent friends. The Kurds of the Rojava/SDF themselves should and probably do know this. They would be fools if they did not. But so much of the commentary coming from across the board in the developed world have forgotten this principle. Be not surprised when the ‘betrayal of the Kurds’ is used in future interventionist rhetoric for why we need to be more involved in this war or region at large.

But arguably this sequence of tragic affairs is a direct result of NATO involvement in the Syrian Civil War in the first place. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Solutions From Hell: The Return of the Liberal John Bolton

samantha power

Bolton the War Walrus is out, and while his damage is done the world is still better off with his absence near the levers of power. But as one entrenched ghoul of a dying school of foreign policy retreats, another rises to take their place. A shinier, brighter, more urban and diplomatic version of such policies…but under the surface a similar beast nonetheless. This beast, skeletal head rearing from long sleep upon its lich-like throne, is Samantha Power.

I have no plans to read yet another establishment book endorsed by the likes of Thomas Friedman-something that would surely be regarded as the kiss of death in any sane society. You can read about it indirectly for yourself here if you wish. This is not a book review or even a commentary on her past publications, one of which I have read. No, it’s about what this book tour portends.

You see, the public is finally starting to turn against the ruinous tide of ever-expanding American military involvement abroad. It is unsustainable, it is dangerous, it creates power vacuums filled with even worse actors than the ones removed, and it fuels the refugee crisis (and thus the far right). Indeed, a strong case could be made for it being the truly decisive and quantifiable issue in the exploding Hindenburg airship levels of upset that was the 2016 election. Tulsi is back on the debate stage for the near future and Bernie and Warren are starting to make noises about coming around to many of her positions. Trump ran on some of these critiques of foreign policy though obviously most of his rhetoric was hollow. But he is president and the uber-hawk of Hillary Clinton will never grace high office again unless we start electing deadites. It is logical after continuous failures on the part of the foreign policy establishment since at least (being generous here) 2003 that a reconning is overdue. You could neither explain to the average American what they have benefited from all of this much less the average person in the countries we have destroyed.

With the stark absolutism of the right now holding the reigns of executive power incompetently it is only a matter of time that this wounded but still very influential network of operators sees a chance to re-engage the conversation for more American Exceptionalism and more operations of questionable strategic value in an upcoming Democratic administration. Naturally, self-interest as rhetoric becomes replaced with humanitarian intervention. You know, like in Libya, the intervention Samantha Power did everything she could to help bring about. The one that has re-introduced chattel slavery to North Africa and given Al Qaeda a new home base of operations between the factions of warlords scrabbling over the corpse of a nation. Obama himself was eventually rumored to lump Samantha Power into what he deemed ‘the stupid shit caucus’ though he still bears blame for letting such actors influence him. He would go on in later interviews to imply that Libya was his administration’s greatest mistake.

Power is a smart and serious academic if obviously one so beholden to the discredited doctrine of liberal hegemony. Though it is telling that even in her earlier and more earnest work the ultimate example she gives of the horrors on non-intervention is Rwanda, a country that is far better off after its war compared to where it was before than any nation of recent American intervention. I do believe that she has the smarts to know some of what she says about her time in policymaking is rhetorically embellished and, more importantly, I do think she is capable of self-reflection. This makes the apparent timing and self-hagiographic nature of her new book even more alarming. As multiple reviews of her newest work have pointed out, she barely mentions Libya, the arming of jihadists in Syria, or the Obama administration’s tacit support of Saudi Arabia’s campaigns of nation-wide extermination in Yemen. So what is going on here?

In summary: she thinks she will be national security adviser or secretary of state in a near future Democratic administration. She is putting herself out there to catch someone’s eye in either this cycle or the next.

If you are like me and opposed to the entire trend of 21rst Century American foreign policy, this cannot be allowed to happen. We already barely survived Bolton, we can’t afford the slicker and more subtle version more likely to win over undecideds on this issue. And make no mistake, despite the intentions, the results as shown time and time again are the same. Humanitarian intervention on a global scale is liberal hegemony which is, in turn, neconservative militarism and a bonanza for for-profit military contractors. Same results in increases in refugees, terrorism, right-wing nativism, and the like. It has happened to many times in recent memory alone to be worth recounting here, and worse of all to the strategist, it is not even helpful for American power projection. As I have argued before, it is, in fact, detrimental to the long term sustainability of the world position of the United States.

So pay close attention to which campaign Samantha Power, Lich of Humanitarianism, grafts her phylactery to. I would be willing to bet that Kamala Harris and Jow Biden are her top two choices. And in a universe where the bad Barney the Dinosaur impersonator Cory Booker and the absolute nonentity Beto O’Rourke actually stood a chance probably them too. If Power is there, that campaign is not worth supporting if you want real change on the foreign policy front.

And be prepared for Samantha Power to take the still-warm seat of John Bolton, if not in terms of the actual office, then in the role played in the mind’s eye of the populace. The public face of endless war.

 

Jack Vance: Science Fiction’s Trickster Against Teleology

If there is one science fiction author that Francis Fukuyama and the general neoliberal ‘thought leader’ establishment would dislike, it has to be Jack Vance. Not that I suspect such classes of people have heard of him as he wrote genre fiction with a noticeable lack of mid-life crisis-having college professors having affairs with their students to compensate for existential despair. While such literary guardians search fruitlessly for the meaning of history, Vance just comes up with a darkly comic ‘LOL’ in response.

Jack Vance was an author of immense output whose ‘golden age’ of writing occurred between the 60s and 80s (though he was active from the 40s-oughts) and who spanned numerous genres and themes. He is also, full confession, my favorite author.

moon moth jack vance comic

Image taken from a comic adaptation of ‘The Moon Moth’ by Jack Vance. Adaptation by Humayoun Ibrahim.

Though Vance’s best and arguably most famous works are his ‘Dying Earth’ series, which I cannot recommend heavily enough, right now I want to focus in particular on his science fiction space operas, which was the majority of his output. There was a succession of settings which one could argue, albeit without concrete proof, were all different time periods in the same history of a future Milky Way.

Whether one calls it the Oikumene, the Gaean Reach, or what have you, Jack Vance had a fairly consistent view of far-future space colonization in a setting of faster than light drive. Most high space settings, when they include time dilation and forgo any violation of the lightspeed barrier, often focus on how much cultures diverge from planet to planet. In faster-than-light drive settings, however, this effect is often downplayed. Not in the case of Vance. If anything, the opposite seems to occur and contact with others leads many people to intentionally differentiate themselves. What comes from this is a theme of highly bizarre alien cultures (though almost always the cultures are human in origin) which are often not isolated but in contact-especially commercial contact-with each other.

In the variety of settings across the time of Vancean Space, there usually seems to be a pleasant core region (usually centered around Earth) where living standards are high but high population densities and the monolithic nature of culture has quashed any sense of adventure or counterculture. This leads many to migrate outwards, past the bubble of First World type planets, and into a wild frontier of what habitable worlds can be found there. Cults, communities focused on professions or hobbies, and general societal rejects have then created a halo of space where they can do what they want on their various colonies, albeit with little security or stability as the inevitable rush of grifters, criminals, and space pirates follows them for these new opportunities far away from state police or military control.

Even ‘The End of History’ as it pertains to Earth and its nearby colonies is really just the impetus for starting it elsewhere. And as some stories imply (not even including the Dying Earth series) such as The Last Castle, life on the core worlds may too one day degenerate from its present bucolic nature.

Often, a typical space-bourne Vancean protagonist is someone from the core worlds who finds themselves on a secret mission or stranded by chance in some odd sector of space or planet. In these types of stories, there are often multiple cultures on each planet, with the ‘Planet of Adventure’ series going the furthest by having a world divided up into spheres of influence based on the natives and three alien species from elsewhere. The unifying factor is that all of these species have taken towards humanity as servitor races through abduction as a race easy to genetically manipulate. Each of these species then has a form of humanity modified to be their junior partners with varying results. In some the modified peoples are outright slaves, in others they eke out a semi-independent organization while presenting a deceptive face to their masters, and in others, the human-alien hybrids have actually become the dominant force over their supposed masters.

Another kind of Vancean protagonist is that of the person born and raised on these strange and faraway worlds. Often, such types experience culture shock if they go to the core worlds and we see the process mentioned above is portrayed in reverse. Since these are the characters who are more likely to face intense danger such as pirate attacks of wars between worlds, they tend to be a bit more action-oriented.  The ‘Demon Princes’ saga of novellas, my personal favorite of Vance’s science fiction, fits this setting the best. A group of criminal masterminds who once destroyed the protagonists’ home colony on a slaving raid is hunted down, Kill Bill style, by the main character. But the story is more of an excuse plot to take us on a tour of this bizarre frontier of space. Each of the big baddies have personalities that loom larger than life over their respective narratives, and each has effectively retired to use their ill-gotten gains to pursue careers as what can only be described as ‘failed artists.’ The various planets they settle on to do this also affect these post-criminal hobbies to great degrees, from an incel impotent surrounding himself with a cloned harem of his one past true love to a jilted fantasy author whose many characters have become distinct personalities jockeying for control in his own brain, to a god-complex LARPer who uses a giant land crawler bristling with weapons to terrorize a planet full of pre modern peasantry, all the strange grotesquerie of flush with success humanity is there. The galaxy for the successful gangster is like one giant Little St James Island.

A truly great and genre-bending tale is ‘The Dragon Masters,’ which is about a world were humans having once fought off a costly reptilian alien attack have now technologically degenerated into a medieval-style culture where genetically modified ‘dragons’, which are the former reptile alien captives, are now dumb beasts bred for war and ridden into battle by the knightly human class of the planet. The real twist occurs when, after this long-lived culture introduced, the old reptile aliens return for a second invasion, now riding atop giant human-modified brutes descended from those they took captive on their last raid. An epic battle of aliens riding beast-men and men riding beast-aliens ensues.

In general, Vance tends to like worlds with a rural, even pre-modern vibe. Planets where elaborate cultures of social prestige and Byzantine rules of public conduct are fascinating but often skin deep covers for the base greed and sensual drives of humanity everywhere. Haggling, negotiation, commerce, and espionage are near-constant themes be it do or die pulp adventure or sedate social climbing. The sheer amount of cultural protocol makes you wonder how many anthropologists enjoy these stories. The short ‘Moon Moth’ or ‘Languages of Pao’ are good starters on these types of themes.

But always Vance straddles a line between extremes. He never glorifies his strange cultures, showing the more insular ones in a kind of parochial light and all as a mixed bag. Neither does he glorify the safe homeworlds of humanity’s first civilizations. He is telling an aggressively values-neutral tale of both the highs and lows of cultural diversity, erring on the side of diversity being positive but also quantifying that with a strong *but not all forms of it*.

Be they alien to the culture they are exploring or natives, almost all of Vance’s space heroes are reformers in some sense. Or at least disruptive personalities. Although his most overt trickster character is in Dying Earth, you still see many lesser versions of this personality type in his science fiction. Change is good, if rough as a process. Diversity is not stasis but can and should be an unfolding process. One cannot help but kept the impression that Jack Vance, had he lived in the future of his own creation, would have spent his youth out in the frontier and only later retired to the core worlds. This was, after all, a guy whose sense of irony was so cultivated that when a publisher begged him to write a conventional space opera he responded by writing a book literally titled ‘Space Opera’…but made it about an interstellar opera company and how a variety of their shows are perceived in the different planetary cultures they go to.

But then again, there are enough protagonists of his who end up adopting a strange new planet’s culture even if their first interaction with it was hostile. As a person who was born and raised in America but often found myself more comfortable living abroad, I can certainly see this. Vance was a very well-traveled person in his early life before partial blindness and age eventually relegated him to his Oakland home before he died in 2013.

In his future, just like in ours, history will never end nor will it go inevitably in just one direction either until the human race is extinct. And even then events will still unfold, just without us. No matter how many planets we colonize, the process of repulsion, which I discussed before in more metaphysical and theoretical terms here, remains a part of the human experience.  And the various tricksters will always keep things interesting even if all we have to look forward to is entropy.

And yes, since I mentioned it enough here I am sure eventually I will make a sequel to this post specifically about the fantasy of Jack Vance such as The Dying Earth and Lyonesse.