Thursday, April 30, 2015

First of the Killaries ~ Updated

This one had the misfortune of deciding to re-Warren/re-Bill/re-Barack another lesser evil, so the result is getting stuck here for posterity. This century's preferred media topic is apparently something called "lgbtq," with the Boneyard conveniently forgotten. Yawn--you already know what this is. Just stretching.

Suppose that there is a president, and his name is Bill Clinton, and he bombs Eastern Europe, resulting in the deaths of 4,000 civilians, he bombs Iraq, resulting in the deaths of 20,000 civilians, and he imposes food and medicine sanctions on Iraq, causing over a million deaths by starvation and cheaply-preventable illness.

That's a very conservative estimate of 1,024,000 dead people. Let's assume 1/4 people are lgbtq on average, so that's 256,000 lgbtq deaths.

Then, presume there's a President Bush, and he bombs and invades Afghanistan and Iraq, producing a conservative 900,000 deaths, or 225,000 lgbtq deaths.

After that, there's a President Obama, and he bombs Iraq and Afghanistan, producing a conservative 30,000 deaths, and he funds a Syrian rebel insurgency that causes a conservative 500,000 deaths across the Middle East and Africa, resulting in roughly 530,000 deaths, or 132,500 lgbtq deaths.

Presume also that, during each President's time in office, a Congress composed of different political factions--some pertaining to said President, some not--passed or rejected different series' of laws which were either favorable or unfavorable to the current domestic preferences of those lgbtq people portrayed by the corporate media who happened to be living on a portion of the North American landmass at the time.

Given all that, please answer the following questions:

1) Which of these presidents did good things for lgbtq people?

2) Which of these presidents improved the world sociocultural perspective toward lgbtq people?

3) Do any of these presidents belong to a political tradition which is likely to produce another president who will slaughter hundreds of thousands of lgbtq people?

4) How many domestic niceties are worth the cost of one innocent heterosexual child's life?

5) How many domestic niceties are worth the cost of one innocent homosexual child's life?

6) How many domestic niceties are worth the cost of one innocent transsexual child's life?

7) Is there any total number of dead lgbtq people that would be "too much" to justify any domestic nicety, no matter how nice? For example, if Hillary provides a guaranteed minimum income of $100,000 for life for every single lgbtq person in America, and she peacefully and through logic alone convinces every single person in the U.S. to view homosexuality in a positive light, thereby ending lgbtq-related discrimination forever, but she has to kill another million Arabs to do so, is it worth it?

How about six million?

Twelve?

8) If Hillary drone-executed a mere 10,000 American people in order to accomplish the above pro-lgbtq goals, would that be worth it?

How about only one thousand? Or a hundred?

One?

8) Would it matter if Hillary genuinely, deeply, and passionately believed that any Americans killed were, like Middle Easterners, collateral damage, and necessary to protect her ability to promote positive domestic lgbtq change?

9) What could Hillary say to you to convince you that it was okay to kill only two hundred thousand Americans in order to achieve her domestic lgbtq goals? Would it help if she asked you to remember the Maine? Would it help if she asked Colin Powell to wave a vial of sugar cubes at you?

10) What makes the lives of people born on a certain section of the North American landmass intrinsically more valuable than those of people born in certain portions of the Middle East?

11) How many people would any given leader have to kill before that leader would no longer be a lesser evil? For example, say Stalin killed 50 million people and Hitler killed 10 million. Is it right to vote for Hitler, or is his body count too high, even though Stalin's might be higher?

12) Posit that two political factions have been engaging in constant warfare for over a decade by claiming to be less violent than the other faction. How long would they have to engage in such behavior before you would conclude that they were never going to stop? Two decades? Fifty years? A century? A millennium?

Updated 05/01/2015: Dr. Carrico didn't answer any of the questions; instead he offered a lecture about the pragmatic realism of accepting mass murder. (I know, I know.) Logging response here, and Rob, thanks for the FAIR cite, which blended well with Carrico:

Oh, and in case mere mass murder is not evocative enough, let's also consider the issue of how many child rapes it is acceptable to condone in exchange for favorable domestic social policies.

Token child rape article you already know about.

How many? Being really conservative, assume that Hillary maintains the imperial network of 800+ military bases worldwide, continues to occupy Africa and the Middle East, and during her presidency, she racks up the following statistics:

200,000 people killed

10,000 people raped in the context of armed conflict

1,000 people raped in the context of armed occupation

You're okay with that, but what if she goes farther? Say, she attacks Syria or Iran? How high can those numbers go before you say, "Too much"?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Commenting on Baltimore

And then it started raining, but we missed it 'cause we were all in the back commenting on Baltimore.

It's so easy to do this--to take a "news" item, any news item, and apply your own little analysis to it. A news item from any time will do; doesn't have to be particularly relevant, because it's all generally relevant. Oh look, another instance of racist brutality by a low IQ violence-prone pig, when will people wake up and stop these low IQ violence-prone chimps from destroying the society white people built, when will people realize that they're completely misfocusing on distractions caused by unjustly subsidized energy interests who have created a system in which more innocents died today in car accidents than this one particular person who was killed by gun.

Omigod, more importantly, doesn't that idiot realize that, in this particular case, the officer was clearly in danger, and that's why the media reported on this one, of all the many available ones, to stir up riots that, from a historical perspective, would appear to have been unjust? Because if the media had reported this much on the times when cops shot actual little kids and a grand jury never even got involved, then all the white supremacists wouldn't have anything to crow about. Even the mob itself is being influenced--tricked into rioting over a semi-plausible narrative, instead of choosing to make a stand over one of the no-knock wrong-addresses where a child was disfigured and it's an absolutely clean cut representation. Don't they realize they're just tools, and that they're being teeveed into certain expressions of rage to play them off against onlookers both domestic and foreign? And why don't the other idiots, the racist ones, realize that this particular instance, like the OJ Simpson trial, isn't about the tidy little facts the teevee presented, but is about a sentiment running much deeper, and which would have 100% foolproof justifications behind it if the mob weren't being tricked?

Anyway, more importantly, isn't it so pitiful when the white people protesting this are always middle class ones who live in wealthy enclaves where they never have to deal with the kinds of casual physical intimidation that comes from living inside these poor populations, and makes you understand why the cops are there in the first place? You already voted with your feet and moved to a new zip code, so don't tell me about what it's like living in a high rise filled with those kinds of people. They will kick your ass, rape you, and shoot you over thirty dollars, and they do it all the time, but it doesn't get reported because the colors don't match. Stupid-ass diversity mob, don't you realize you're being tricked into betraying your own racism, and the cheap way you hide in the burbs and cherry pick your news?

But more importantly, why can't you morons realize that seventeen people died in completely avoidable car crashes, some of them minorities, on that very same day, and they'd still be alive today if we prioritized mass transportation a tenth as much as we do cars, which would not only save those lives, but completely restructure our cities into safer environments that made last week's tragic...

There's always something. What you've read about the French Revolution; some clip you watched on your phone; another bombed-out wedding in the Eastasian foothills; your imaginary Rousseauian or non-Rousseauian take on prehistory: endless validation, compliments the grand narrative. We look to the news in order to tell ourselves, "We were right." And we're never disappointed, no matter who we are. Even if we completely hate and mistrust the news, the news provides ample whispers within its very body by which we can enjoy the sport of disproving the news. With no small irony, it's the news itself which offers its worst critics the opportunity to themselves appreciate it. And so, no matter who we are, we're satisfied in our rightness, sleuthing our way past whatever, as we definitively prove that we were right all along.

The news is a saline drip connected to the terminally ill; the timeless sustenance of something stuck in the pipes, always on the verge of (but never quite actually) being swept away.

Without it, we might be nothing. We wouldn't know when to riot, what to wear or war, when to tax, or how to die. Kaczynski took to the woods, then wrote letters back to the newspapers. Even as self-imposed aliens, we can't seem to escape from it. The news is an endlessly-regurgitating instant classic: a terrible piece of endless prose that you have to endure just to know what everyone else is talking about. Can you really build that firewall? Or are you not as clever as you think you are?

Bloggers have taken over the function as individualized correspondents, repackaging the news into tasty morsels for varying readerships. If you want to read about corrupt tyrants, repulsive racists, treacherous darkies, delusional surgeons, or insensitive patriarchs, you know where to go. Opinions, like the bread aisle, have become an indecipherable variety of atrocious excess. You already know what kind you're going to get, but it's fun to glance over the other options anyway, sneering at the high fructose hidden away in that one brand with the fancy green-sounding name. Who buys that junk, anyway?

Like reading War and Peace, there's some value in having the occasional go at the news, but too much time with it can leave one dazed, weak, and convinced that, in some way, the experience was "worth it." After all, at least now, you can tell people, "I finished the news." And you'll know to either make plans to go see Thorina VI, or to threaten to boycott Marvel for a revised list of twenty unforgivable curses which they have visited upon mankind this time around.

The Point

is that it's too powerful for you to spend significant time with. Isolated communities may have once been able to resist the news, but for those who've left such places, or who've never had the chance, the drip feed is-gradually/has-already taken over. As to Earth 2015 specifically, most blogs have become copies of the overarching narrative of the news. Authors pick up some piece of information somewhere, then praise or criticize it, then praise or criticize the process by which it arrived to its current state. Just as major newspapers and television stations have eviscerated themselves into mere intermediaries between official government/corporate spokespersons, or AP/derivative news services (which are themselves usually only picking up government messages or human interest anecdotes), bloggers are sub-sub-sub-etc. spokespeople, criticizing one another's interpretations of interactions that happened in the context of a discussion over something that was, ultimately, a few official comments from some yahoo who believes that, because he went to Yale, he's qualified to give the government's report on occurrences in Nairobi last weekend. And he is qualified, but how much does it have to do with what actually happened in Nairobi last weekend? Maybe quite a lot. If we assume he's going to be an unwitting tool of some imperialist liars, we can probably read a lot into his blathering hearsay, and then we'll figure out we're right (not that it matters much except to validate ourselves).

Too much of this validation--applying our analyses to the news, over and over--is a dangerous addiction, in the sense that the ease of applying an existing narrative to the news is prone to stealing our own ability to produce. It's eerily easy to pick up any issue of the New York Times since its inception, match it against reality, and show what dross every single issue was. A team of a hundred journalists and a hundred historians could spend years working on such a project, and all they'd have to show for it is their own version of the Times. And that version, however amusing (and this one admits she'd like to flip through a few of those issues, even though they'd mostly be the same) would be no more valuable than the original Times itself. When you leave Terra, all the things that happened to you here can be rediscovered in clarity, yet that's just data. You can always get more, more, more data; that's not an issue. The ability to make such critiques is valuable, because it plays into something that can be used later.

Doing nothing (or "mostly") but critiquing in that way, though, is like re-taking the first grade, over and over, and over, and over. It's soooo easy. You know all the answers already. You and your friends can enjoy the problems, always get the right answers, and get your lollies. But don't live in first grade forever (or even for just "a few decades on Earth"). Sometimes you need to go back and help walk someone through a little arithmetic, and you can be kind and helpful about it, and even appreciate the elegance of the underlying ideas, but that shouldn't be a stopping point.

And on too many blogs, that's what it's being. To a vast degree, the most popular blogs have become identical to the news: they take raw data, shape it into a presentation suitable to their audience, then critique the data itself, along with the way the data reached them. So, then, does the internet host a thousand anti-patriarchy blogs, a thousand pro-patriarchy blogs, a thousand social justice blogs, and a thousand neoreaction blogs, all reacting identically in template to the exact same news item, all providing daily validation to whoever wants to see things a certain way.

There are little bits of correctness scattered about everywhere. It's sometimes pleasurable learning, and sometimes painful, that accompanies the strength to see and understand any given bit of it, if you find it in a place you dislike/ambivalike/like. Every so often, any given one of them might be mostly right, or even completely right as to that situation.

Dispel thy growing fear; we're not reaching for the banal point that "the truth is relative." Rather, we want to develop ourselves further than the ability which we might call, "to critically present." We want to move on to something which we might call "to create." That, like truth, is really easy and impossibly difficult to learn, in the sense that it's not tangibly verifiable here, so there are abounding "confidence" and "delusion" issues. You can handle critical presentation without necessarily doing it, anymore than you need to go write down your times tables now (if you really could but just don't wanna show off). If you can handle critically presenting, though--if you can experience and appreciate it, learn from it, etc.--then start demanding more. Don't fall into the traditional spiral around here, of enjoying the satisfaction of fanficking the news, and then never going any farther with however many years you have left. Everyone likes a Jester, but they shouldn't.

In more explicit local terms, bloggers "should" (assuming they're able; otherwise they should be doing just what they're doing) be offering something more than just the latest critical spin on anarchy v. civilization v. the flawed Enlightenment v. alien control. Even if it's all exactly the boring mess or staggering conspiracy you think it is, unmasking the material truth on Earth 2015 is hardly the pith of Sol, let alone anywhere else. No disrespect to first grade; just don't stay there if you're ready for more.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Peter Thiel on the Future of Wealth

"Conversations with Tyler" is a new event series in which Tyler Cowen hosts thought leaders from across the spectrum --people who have already been interviewed by Forbes, the NYT, TED, and the Atlantic. All have one thing in common --the media presents their viewpoints.

In the first event of this series, Peter Thiel talks with Tyler Cowen about stagnation, company names, and even favorite TV shows.



TYLER COWEN: Just a minute on the premise of this series. It’s been my view for years now that Peter Thiel is one of the greatest and most important public intellectuals of our entire time. Throughout the course of history, he will be recognized as such. I thought Peter would be absolutely the perfect person to inaugurate this series.

Peter himself doesn’t need an introduction; he has a best-selling book. His role in PayPal, Facebook, Palantir, many other companies--excuse me, I mean, and many other companies--is well known by people intravenously connected to the things we define as news. Peter is a dynamo. There is no one like Peter. But the purpose today is to focus on Peter's views as the only kind of intellectual that matters--a public intellectual.

The way we run these dialogues are, excuse me, I mean, is, is a bit different than usual. It’s not going to be chatty and drawn out. We’ll try to replicate a kind of conversation Peter and I would have with each other. Get right to the point, a lot of quick back and forth, and we’ll see how well we can do that in public. But I’ve watched a lot of interviews with Peter online, and because I felt he still wasn't getting interviewed enough, and that people weren't quite getting a chance to find out more about the world's billionaires, we’re going to try to make this different from all those.

Let’s start with some questions about stagnation, Peter. At any point, if you care to add other topics of your own, please do so. Just in case anyone else hasn't already read the most recent sixteen major interviews with you, I should let the audience know that you’re well known, among people who matter, for arguing, well, “they promised us flying cars and all we got is 140 characters”; “technological progress has slowed down.” How is it you think that we’re most likely to get out of the great stagnation, when that happens?

PETER THIEL: Well, what do you define as "stagnation"? Everyone I know, as soon as they come up with some idea, we throw together a few million and get a company started. You only stagnate if you aren't willing to find ideas on the internet, then ask your investor friends for money to pay some people to program those ideas into something workable.

TYLER COWEN: Let's not define our buzzwords too much. For purposes of this talk, let's just say, "stagnation" means "a general sense among non-investors that all the good seats are reserved." I mean, they're already on their twentieth model of smartphone each. How do we give them some new bells and whistles to distract them for a little longer?

PETER THIEL: Yes, I think "progress" is inevitable, meaning, we will always be able to make something that looks exciting. Spiderman 2, Currency 2.0, Batman XXIV--whatever we need, we'll do it. And then there’s the question of stagnation, which I think has been a story of stagnation in the world of atoms, not bits. I think we’ve had a lot of innovation in computers, information technology, Internet, mobile Internet in the world of bits. Not so much in the world of atoms, supersonic travel, space travel, new forms of energy, new forms of medicine, new medical devices, etc. It’s sort of been this two-track area of innovation.

TYLER COWEN: When you say "we" do you mean people like you? People who invest in "innovation" like, say, social networking, or another credit card company, things that have always been around but just get added to the internet? Why do you think you caused this "stagnation" throughout your career, if we can even call throwing daddy's money around a "career"?

PETER THIEL: There are a lot of questions of what has caused it and I think maybe that’s a good part to start in terms of what gets you out of it. On a first cut, I would say that we lived in a world in which bits were unregulated and atoms were regulated. If you are starting a computer software company, that costs maybe $100,000, to get a new drug through the FDA, maybe on the order of a billion dollars or so. If the FDA were regulating video game technologies, and you had to do a double-blind study to make sure that the video games weren’t addictive, damaging to your brain, etc. These things are very overdetermined. It’s driven by many different factors. My narrow attempt to get out of it is not necessarily to come to DC and beg the regulators to be more reasonable. It is just to try to find ways for people to succeed at the margins.

TYLER COWEN: Is that why the companies you own donate heavily to both major political parties in the U.S.?

PETER THIEL: Absolutely, because I think the other thing that has driven the stagnation is the hysteresis. When you have a history of failure, that becomes discouraging and so failure begets failure. No halfway sane parent would encourage their kids to become venture capitalists without having at least a few million to start out with, whereas there are a lot of people going into retail.

TYLER COWEN: Then if you have to make a prediction, which breakthrough in particular will get us out of the stagnation? What’s your pick?

PETER THIEL: Let me get this straight--you're this really rich, world-famous guy, an intellectual, and you think that some kind of singular "breakthrough" event is going to get "us" out of the stagnation? Who is the "us"?

TYLER COWEN: Uh--

PETER THIEL: Was 9/11 a breakthrough? Facial recognition software? The Fuku, the nuclear, collapse thing in Japan? The tablet computer with constant worldwide server access? Nuclear tensions between BRICS and NATO that threaten World War III? I mean, what kind of fancy gizmo or world event would you consider enough of a "breakthrough" to make you feel that something was going on in your sad little life?

TYLER COWEN: --a prediction, just a prediction, assuming the constants to be, well, whatever we want them to be, for the purposes of the interview.

PETER THIEL: Okay, well, I still think there are —--probably the most natural breakthroughs are all these things that are at the boundary of information technology on atoms, of bits and atoms.

TYLER COWEN: Artificial intelligence? Biotech?

PETER THIEL: AI feels slightly overhyped. Biotech, a lot could happen. It feels heavily regulated. But if you’ve got self-driving cars, that would be a significant innovation which would change a decent amount at the margins. There’s some regulatory challenges with it, but it’s sort of right at the intersection of the kinds of things that could happen. I mean, like Neil Postman said, what would Americans do if we spent billions of dollars building a supersonic jumbo jet? What would they do with that extra time? Well, they'd probably watch more TV. Nowadays, maybe use one of those deplorable marketing services. Twitter, Facebook, whatever. Anything to dull the pain.

I think the most natural hope is that information technology starts to broaden out and starts to impact this world of atoms. Then we’re going to have this question about whether the technology outpaces the politics or vice versa. That's important because we need metrics, measurable metrics, for success. I only see things I can track. Don't ask me what the point is of technology. All I want to know is, is it faster? Even if we're going nowhere, I want to be there before anyone else.

TYLER COWEN: Okay, but what number should I keep my eye on? Let’s say you’re going to take a long nap and I need someone to tell me, “Tyler, we’re out of the great stagnation now.” What’s the indicator that I should look at?

PETER THIEL: First of all, indicators are worthless if they're personal. The personal doesn't matter. The personal is political. The personal is irrelevant. There is no personal, but at the same time, everything is personal.

TYLER COWEN: What's the impersonal indicator that I should look at?

PETER THIEL: I disagree with the premise of that question too. I don’t think the future is this fixed thing that just exists. The future is what we decide it is. Reality, the universe, everything--I just can't conceive of it without people like me being there.

TYLER COWEN: To be fair, none of us can.

PETER THIEL: So, I don’t think there’s something automatic about the great stagnation ending or not ending. I think-- I always believe in investor agency and so I think it matters a great deal whether investors end it or not.

There was this sort of hyperoptimistic book by Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near; we had all these sort of accelerating charts. I also disagree with that, not just because I’m more pessimistic, but I disagree with the vision of the future where all investors have to do is sit back, eat popcorn, and watch the movie of the future unfold. You can't just wait for people to invent things. You have to find an idea, patent it, bring in outside capital, hire Indians, get some write-ups in the Times and the Post. If you take a nap, if you encourage everybody else to take a nap, then the great stagnation is never going to end.

TYLER COWEN: Hold on, let me check my cards...okay. Is there a chance that intellectually we’ve become so complacent that our worldviews have so changed? Some writers have suggested the decline of mainline Protestantism has intellectually changed America forever. The sense of what can be accomplished, our unwillingness to repeat, say, the Manhattan Project, or Apollo, which were both wonderful. Is it possible we’re simply in that forever, and it’s a downward spiral and the longer you’re in it, the harder it is to get out? It’s not really about bits.

PETER THIEL: When you say intellectually complacent, do you mean, investors and bestselling authors? Absolutely not. It's--

TYLER COWEN: It's the regular--

PETER THIEL: --the regular people, of course. They don't have any ideas, or if they did, they would have investors, and they'd be here right now, in this chair, telling your audience about what's wrong with the world. So giving them access to this system would only make things stagnate in reverse.

TYLER COWEN: In reverse?

PETER THIEL: In reverse. I am somewhat pessimistic about the possibility of government being a key, a place where the great stagnation gets reversed.

TYLER COWEN: But we still need government.

PETER THIEL: Absolutely. If there wasn't one, my head would be in a guillotine basket right now, and my accumulated wealth would be creating secure futures for over a million families. At minimum.

TYLER COWEN: And regulations. The ones that we like, I mean.

PETER THIEL: Yes. I mean--yes. Copyrights, trademarks, bailouts for my derivatives business, police, fire, roads, grants, non-recourse loans, tax incentives, all that stuff needs to stay. It's vital. But there is a sense in which government goes too far. Labor protections for, as I like to call them, "thousandaires."

My PayPal colleague Elon Musk started both SpaceX and Tesla, which are extremely charismatic businesses, because it involved somewhat larger-scale complex coordination, getting a lot of different pieces together to work. Not as big as an even richer person could do, perhaps, if you had someone with twice the capital. But it was a good example.

TYLER COWEN: People need to hear about fossil fuels when discussing the future, or else they don't think it's comprehensive. Card number six says, "Given that energy prices are now so low, are you more optimistic about peak oil than you used to be, or do you think that’s a temporary blip on the horizon?"

PETER THIEL: It'll be a blip if my colleagues want it to be a blip. We told people the world was going to end in the late nineties, and now gas is even cheaper. But we can always scare them again.

[Note: The recording was briefly interrupted here.]

PETER THIEL: The intellectual question that I ask at the start of my book is, “Tell me something that’s true that very few people agree with you on.” This is a terrific interview question. Even when people can read on the Internet that you’re going to ask this question to everybody you interview, they still find it really hard to answer. And it’s hard to answer not because people don’t have any ideas. Everyone has ideas. Everyone has things they believe to be true that other people won’t agree with you on. But they’re not things you want to say.

TYLER COWEN: Are you trying to say I should ask you that question? I'm the one doing the interview--not you.

PETER THIEL: What is this, a debate between third parties? I have the money, so I frame the dialogue. I'm Hillary, and you're Candy fucking Crowley.

TYLER COWEN: This is my show, you bastard. Here's a softball for you: do you think it's appropriate for a congenitally wealthy marketing billionaire to talk about what constitutes progress and stagnation on a planet full of war and starvation caused primarily by you and your cronies?

PETER THIEL: You're holding the wrong card.

TYLER COWEN: Jesus.

PETER THIEL: It's--

TYLER COWEN: So sorry, Mr. Thi--

PETER THIEL: It's all right. They'll edit it out. Just ask me the question I wanted.

TYLER COWEN: Okay. Okay. Peter, tell me something that’s true that everyone agrees with you on.

[laughter]

PETER THIEL: Well there are lots of things that are true that everyone agrees with me on. I think for example even this idea that the university system is somewhat screwed up and somewhat broken at this point. This is not even a heterodox or a very controversial idea anymore. There was an article in TechCrunch where the writer starts with “this is going to be super controversial” and then you look through the comments — there were about 350 comments — they were about 70 percent in my favor. If Facebook has shown anything, it's that anonymous commentary on internet articles targeted at very specific subgroups provides a reliable look at public opinion as a whole. So the idea that the education system is badly broken is not even controversial. You know, the ideas that are really controversial are the ones I don’t even want to tell you. I want to be more careful than that. I gave you these halfway, in-between ideas that are a little bit edgier.

TYLER COWEN: So, you are worried about stagnation, and you're here expressly to give an interview to legions of adoring fans, but you're also afraid to tell me what your good ideas are? Are you joking, or are you really that afraid?

PETER THIEL: Not joking.

TYLER COWEN: Do you think maybe it's the timid confusion of congenitally connected morons like you, as to what to do with their amazing mountain ranges of money, that could possibly be causing the "stagnation" you two idiots were talking about earl--sorry. Sorry. Another of those cards was in there.

PETER THIEL: It's okay. But seriously, don't let it happen again. We might have to, as they say, disable your account.

TYLER COWEN: Understood. I'll try--what's it called? Winging it? I'll try that. No, wait. Larry--that's our production assistant, Larry--Larry is bringing me a stack that hasn't been tampered with. At least, I assume, Larry, that it's fine? Yes. You see he's nodding. For all of our listeners, who can't see, but can only listen, with your ears, but not your eyes, that was Larry nodding at me.

PETER THIEL: Nodding.

TYLER COWEN: Okay. Well. Let me give you my take on how my team has tried to fit different parts of your publicists' thoughts together. And again, for all you listeners, this doesn’t have to be true. It’s just my mental model of Peter Thiel. That you’re one of a lot of thinkers who takes the idea of original sin — it doesn’t have to be a theological commitment — seriously. Tocqueville wrote in the 19th century that America eventually would evolve to be a land of complacent people who were going to stop believing in original sin and stick to a kind of conformist mediocrity.

So you have taken this to heart. The world out there is deeply weird. Even though there appears to be free entry into ideas production, because of René Girard–like ideas, the people who deviate, someone comes down on them pretty hard. So there’s excess conformity, the original sin in people’s motives gets magnified at the social level. So basically, there are distortions out there. And everything we can see, it’s a gnostic theology, and a relatively small number of people who can see through those distortions can be great entrepreneurs, or can tell the truth about politics.

PETER THIEL: So true. For one example, I've invested in companies that have barely reported thirty percent gains. The market can come down on someone like me pretty hard. When people aren't interested in my latest financial product, or a new kind of messaging system, it's because they're conformists. And if they're not investing in tech startups, they're clearly gnostic theologists--madmen who will never be great entrepreneurs, or know anything about politics.

TYLER COWEN: And it’s all ultimately some kind of bundled, implicitly theological, but not necessarily involving belief in God, but theological perspective about the nature of people. And it ends up spreading to all the different parts of society and that, to me, has been what ties your thought together. But that’s a hypothesis; let’s hear your reaction to that.

PETER THIEL: Let’s see. I think the way original sin normally works is that it resides in individuals, in one way or another. And so theologically, I would place it much more in society. And so I think society is both something that’s very real and very powerful, but on the whole quite problematic. We always run the risk of losing sight of that.

TYLER COWEN: That's interesting, that society is something that's "very real." What's something that's "not very real"?

PETER THIEL: Well...

TYLER COWEN: Or for that matter, something that's not, "on the whole," quite "problematic"?

PETER THIEL: Take puppies. Puppies, for example. They're so cuddly, and cute, and playful. And loving--puppies are very loving.

TYLER COWEN: Yes. But I do hear they sometimes pee on the carpet. Would you consider that problematic, "on the whole"?

PETER THIEL: Well...

TYLER COWEN: Because puppies are cute, and cuddly, but they also might, say, chew up your favourite magazine, or pee on the couch. And I've heard some of them bark.

PETER THIEL: The thing is, society is both something that's very real and very powerful, but on the whole quite problematic. Like puppies.

TYLER COWEN: I think that it's been said, in some quarters, that oftentimes, when some idiot with too much money tries to sound intelligent, they've learned that there are certain phrases they can say, which make them sound intelligent. But those phrases are, themselves, utter nonsense. And they're not really, not specifically aware of that, because they're just trying to sound smart, so they don't know quite what it is they're saying anyway. How do we solve that sort of problem? In the sense, in the sense that awareness of the problem can do something?

PETER THIEL: I don’t know if it’s strictly the awareness of it that solves it. Certainly, there probably are some people who are just vaguely oblivious to it, so in Silicon Valley, I point out that many of the more successful entrepreneurs seem to be suffering from a mild form of Asperger’s where it’s like you’re missing the imitation, socialization gene.

TYLER COWEN: And that’s a plus, right?

PETER THIEL: It happens to be a plus for innovation, and creating great companies, but I think we always should turn this around as an incredible critique of our society. We need to ask, what is it about the way powerful families inbreed that produces antisocial personalities? We need to ask, what is it about our society that lavishes power and respect upon those who are unable to empathize? People who believe in kindness are at some massive disadvantage because they will be talked out of our interesting, original, creative ideas before they are even fully formed?

Think of Facebook, to use, to use just one example. Other than Myspace, AOL, Compuserve, listservs, phone books, company directories, churches, clubs, and so forth, Facebook was a completely original, interesting, creative idea. The same with Paypal, which came up with the idea of financial transactions. These kinds of original, dangerous, unconventional ideas drive society, and mentally ill people able to get venture capital for these innovations are held back only by people who fail to see their massive benefits.

I’d say a lot of these people may not understand this larger theory about society, but they are somewhat oblivious to it, and it pushes progress. Now, certainly my own experience would have been a little bit more where-- I grew up in Northern California. It was this hyper-tracked process, where my eighth grade junior high school yearbook, one of my friends wrote in, “I know you’re going to get into Stanford in four years.”

Four years later I got into Stanford, then I got into Stanford Law School. You won all the conventionally tracked competitions; you ended up at a big law firm in Manhattan. From the outside, it was a place where everybody wanted to get in. On the inside, it was a place where everybody wanted to get out.

TYLER COWEN: Would you say that's true for everyone, or just for people who don't have wealthy families offering them new projects?

PETER THIELS: Oh, everyone. Absolutely. No one I know of wants a high salary and full benefits at a big corporation. They'd prefer to be spearheading venture capital initiatives. You ask one of the people down the hall from me, said that it was great to see me leave. I left after seven months and three days, it was great to see me leave. It was like “I had no idea it was possible to escape from Alcatraz.”

TYLER COWEN: People who keep trying to earn a salary are like prisoners. Why won't they just throw away their jobs and focus on the more important things?

PETER THIEL: It's a lack--a lack of ingenuity. Sure, you might starve, and if you don't already have a network of bored California multimillionaires interested in propping up your ideas, then you'll end up like Kaczynski.

TYLER COWEN: What did you learn there?

PETER THIEL: I learned that I was incredibly prone to this problem of social convention. If you want to give it a religious terminology, the psychological terminology would be that I had a rolling quarter life crisis in my mid-20s. The religious terminology, I had a quasi-conversion experience where I realized the value system was deeply corrupt and needed to be questioned.

I do think that one of the ways of challenging convention, one way, the Asperger’s way, is just to be vaguely oblivious to it all, and continue apace. Then I think there is another modality where you just become aware of how conventional our conventions really are, and then that becomes sort of an indirect route of trying to start thinking for yourself.

TYLER COWEN: Which of our conventions would you say are not conventional?

PETER THIEL: All of them. Absolutely.

TYLER COWEN: And you want to change this?

PETER THIEL: Well, the convention with conventions has been that they should be conventional. People with more diverse breeding backgrounds have failed to develop sufficient Asperger's to help them understand what the Chosen now know. But there's no reason that conventions need to be conventional. Contentional, maybe. Not conventional.

TYLER COWEN: In your view, perhaps the contemporary world is becoming, I don’t know what the word would be, stranger, or weirder, or more shaped by individuals who are different, precisely because conformity is being piled on other places. What kinds of people do you think pile on this conformity? People who are, who are influential? Bestselling others and people who host television programs, who have billions of dollars and millions of employees, who are household names?

PETER THIEL: That's a common myth. Conventionality tends to be expressed mostly by the people we never hear from. It is the job of those of us in media to address this problem. For too long our culture has been defined by people who aren't NYT bestsellers, by people who have no net worth. It's time to change this. So if the movers and shakers would be people who are in some way neuro diverse, then overall, the world is becoming more surprising in a way, right? That’s what we expect at different margins, at different corners. This will accumulate. It may not ever feel like we’re getting out of the great stagnation, but each bit of change we get is in a way a more different change than we would get, say, in 1957, where everything was done with guys with white shirts and starched white collars, hoping they would be able to buy a little pocket calculator someday.

TYLER COWEN: Like, say, our parents and grandparents? But they were the ones who made our money.

PETER THIEL: No, I mean, their employees. The ones who did simple, non-innovative things, like moon landings and supersonic flight, and designing computer networks.

TYLER COWEN: But our parents are just fine.

PETER THIEL: Yes, but I worry that today's conformity problem is actually more acute than it was in the ’50s or ’60s, so that the category of the eccentric scientist, or even the eccentric professor, is a species that is steadily going extinct because there is less space for that in our research universities than there used to be. By eliminating tenure, pushing outcome diversity, and lowering wages, we seem to have inadvertently disincentivized our employees from inventing new things we can buy out.

It’s very hard to measure these things or calibrate them, but I think that in politics, the conventional approach is to simply look at pollsters. What are your positions going to be? You just look at the polls, you figure this out, and it works fairly well. That's why Congress and the President follow popular opinion instead of the wishes of campaign contributors.

TYLER COWEN: Let’s say you’re trying to select people for your Thiel fellowships, or maybe to work for one of your companies, or to start a new company with. Just you, Peter Thiel, as a judge of talent, what trait do you look for in that person that is being undervalued by others? The rest of the world out there is way too conformist, so there must then be unexploited profit opportunities in finding people. If you’re less conformist, which I’m very willing to believe, indeed would insist on that being the case, what is it you look for?

PETER THIEL: It’s very difficult to reduce it to any single traits, because a lot of what you’re looking for, are these almost Zen-like opposites. You want people who are both really stubborn and really open-minded. That’s a little bit contradictory. You want people who are idiosyncratic and really different, but then who can work well together in teams. You want people who are congenitally wealthy and who your family already knows, but then who are not inbred cretins convinced of their own superiority. You want people who are just like you and me, but then who are not anything like you and me.

TYLER COWEN: This is why you like Hegel?

PETER THIEL: I don’t like Hegel that much.

[laughter]

PETER THIEL: I think if you focus too much on one or the other end of it, you would tend to get it completely wrong. I like to get things where you get these combinations of unusual traits, so if you have people with some really interesting, very different ideas, like a credit card payment processor or a social website, that suggests we’re in the category of idiosyncratic genius--sort of a Thiel, Cowen-type paradigm.

Then the important question becomes, OK, would they actually be able to function socially and execute? It's easy to have a billion dollars and limitless possibilities--anyone can do it--but what makes people like us unique is that sometimes we do more than just vacation. We invest in a business. Then maybe the teamwork question you’d ask would be, what’s the prehistory of this company? Who are your families, how many employees do you have, who do you know in D.C. or Silicon Valley? How did you meet? How long have you been working together, and if there’s a long prehistory, that would be good on the other side. I think it’s always getting these combinations right.

TYLER COWEN: There’s an interview with you when someone asks, “What’s the Straussian reading of your book, Zero to One?” You say something like, “The Straussian reading is don’t be an entrepreneur.” Yet at the same time, society has this problem, which many of us would recognize, that too many people go down tracks of conservative career choices.

You work for a consulting firm, or you go to finance if you come out of a top school. That's basically the bottom tier of society, right there, is people who work as consultants or in big finance. It’s now become a new kind of conservative choice, maybe, to go to Silicon Valley in certain ways. Given the difficulties of becoming an entrepreneur, and the pull of conformity, how is it actually, socially? What kind of intellectual or ideological reconstruction do we need to get people out of so many of these conservative career choices?

PETER THIEL: It’s hard to say. I think some people don't start new businesses because they think, "I have to eat," or "I don't want to be homeless," so they feel forced to accept a job as a financial consultant. But this is, is a ruse.

TYLER COWEN: Exactly. Because good ideas fund themselves.

PETER THIEL: Some people say they can't do a tech startup because their employer contractually owns anything they develop while hired. Well, then a simple answer is, don't get hired. Work on your own for five, ten years. Your parents can get you a house, keep you comfortable, find you a spouse, or maybe some escorts. And your allowance is enough to travel on, to meet people, to have a social life. There's no excuse for not inventing something on your own. I actually do not think the public, as a whole, is involved enough in these ideas to make it work. To break the stagnation.

TYLER COWEN: I had some[one] email me a question; let me read it off and tell us what you think. This is a quotation. “What do you think a well-educated but zero marginal product worker in his mid-30s should do to remake himself for the next 30 years?”

PETER THIEL: I’m always super hesitant to answer questions that are so abstract. If there was some general answer to the question, it would almost certainly be wrong.

TYLER COWEN: Correct. We think alike.

PETER THIEL: If I give you some general answer, and everybody could follow it, then if everybody followed that answer, it would be the wrong thing to do. Majorities of people are like, like the little ants, you know, around Atlas' feet. If he shrugs, they get squished, by that globe, that planet sort of thing, that he always carries in pictures.

If you’re reasonably talented, you can get sizable offers for your IPO, and get at least near the bottom of the Forbes list. It’s sort of an odd cultural thing in our society where we still think of tech startups as such an uncertain career choice for people that even after a decade in which it’s worked surprisingly well for me and a few others, there probably are still far too few people going into it.

I think that’s a safe general one.

TYLER COWEN: If you think of the cultural achievement of mankind, or at least the United States, or maybe just your own California, and you asked the question, has that too seen a great stagnation, or is artistic creativity still reaching new and higher peaks — what’s your view there? Just how general and pervasive is this phenomenon of stagnation? If it’s intellectual in its roots, you might think that it’s applying to everything.

PETER THIEL: I think it’s very hard to measure in a number of these dimensions. I think artistic things, things of a very qualitative nature, are hard to measure. Paypal, for example--an entry point into credit card transactions, but where you punch the numbers into the internet, rather than swiping the card. True dynamism. But I certainly think Hollywood is producing fewer great movies relative to 20, 30, 40 years ago. On the other hand, there are a lot of good TV shows.

TYLER COWEN: Do you think that praising television programs is a dead giveaway that you're nothing more than an empty shill, no brighter than the people who gobble up your product? I mean, using bread and circuses to pacify the masses is one thing. But if you enjoy the bread and circuses too, what does that say about you?

PETER THIEL: I'm completely different.

TYLER COWEN: Do you think this stagnation has anything to do with entertainment? Or is it just in tech startups?

PETER THIEL: Tech startups. The stagnation hasn't had any effect on the quality of television programming.

TYLER COWEN: What’s your favorite TV show?

PETER THIEL: It’s all sort of this crazy schlocky stuff like Game of Thrones. I don’t watch that much TV, but I think there are a lot of things like this that work. It’s hard to measure that.

TYLER COWEN: You say you don't watch "that much TV." But you also say you like "all sort of this crazy schlocky stuff." Those are weekly shows, often an hour's length. How many hours per week do you watch? And, how many hours a week did people watch a hundred years ago? What makes you say you don't watch "that much"?

PETER THIEL: Well, I've heard some people watch seven and a half hours a day. I definitely don't watch quite that much.

TYLER COWEN: Going back to Game of Thrones. Have you ever asked an escort to pretend to be Lena Headey's character during a session?

PETER THIEL: It's hard to measure that.

TYLER COWEN: In the back room, we were talking about Japan, and a recent trip of yours to Japan. Maybe you would like to relate some of what you were saying?

PETER THIEL: They always want you to say things that are sort of contrarian and surprising, and so they asked me at this discussion I was giving in Japan. And the answer that I came up with, which was both flattering to the audience, but somewhat disturbing from our perspective, was I think we always think of Japan as this hyper-imitative, noncreative culture of extreme conformity.

TYLER COWEN: Do you travel around the whole world speaking about stagnation? Isn't there anything more useful you could be doing with your time, such as not stagnating?

PETER THIEL: When I complain, I inspire others to not stagnate. That's what I do: I inspire.

TYLER COWEN: We were talking about Japan.

PETER THIEL: My suggestion is that perhaps at this point, Japan is the least conformist, the least imitative country in the world. You can tell the occupation after World War II worked out, because it became so much like America. They've innovated in their capitalism, bringing in Starbucks, McDonald's, Disneyland, western music, and so on. There’s actually a lot of interesting aesthetic cultural stuff going on, there still is a lot of very successful types of businesses. There’s innovation in food production, all sorts of interesting areas.

But then it’s an indictment of the West, where I think Japan is no longer the Japan of the Meiji Restoration of the 1870s, or the Japan of the cheap plastic imitation toys of the 1950s. It’s a country that no longer thinks it can get that much by copying the West. Every good white person knows that Asiatics are mechanical drones, little mechanical drones who never invented or produced anything of value except by copying white people, up until just the past few years. Now there’s probably still some narrow interest in IT and software. Outside of that, I think they are copying the US and Western Europe less and less. The little heathen slanty-eyes have almost grown up.

TYLER COWEN: I tend to agree with that. You mentioned Facebook a few minutes ago. In the back, we were making sure you'd have good answers for all of my questions. We talked about good and bad names for companies. If you could tell us your view on this, how important is the name of a company? What are a few good names, and why, and what are a few bad names?

PETER THIEL: A slight aesthetic thing I believe in very strongly is the names of companies are often very predictive of future failure or success.

TYLER COWEN: Just the company's name? Not its service, products, ingenuity, and so forth?

PETER THIEL: PayPal was a very friendly name. It was the friend that helps you pay. Napster was a bad name. It was the music sharing site. You nap some music, you nap a kid. That sounds like a bad thing to be doing.

[laughter]

PETER THIEL: It’s no wonder the government then comes in and shuts the company down, within a few years. You want to be very careful how you name companies.

TYLER COWEN: That sounds like an indictment of our entire worldview. That a company would succeed or fail just based on branding. Do you think that might indicate a fundamental problem with our entire market system? Our society?

PETER THIEL: I don’t know if it’s ever really this top-down agenda that I try to set. A lot of what I end up doing is somewhat serendipitous. You talk with a lot of interesting people. You try to figure out what are some great technologies, great entrepreneurs to work with in different ways.

TYLER COWEN: By that you mean people where you buy their ideas and make mountains of money off them, then criticize other people for not doing the same? Serendipitous is right.

PETER THIEL: That’s how you end up getting very interesting perspectives, and how you change your mind on things. The overarching agenda is always to try to figure out some way to get out of the stagnation by literally helping people to start companies that will change the world. Things always just seem to work out for me.

TYLER COWEN: Me too.

An Ameristan Nightmare: Forced to Pay Your Murderer

Compton, Ameristan (CNN) It is an unimaginably hideous outcome. Far worse than imagining a hundred puppies being pushed slowly into a woodchipper.

To be killed by your cousin's president; be fined for littering as your corpse hit the street; to suffer the ignominy of a complete lack of even municipal uproar about your fining and murder, but be pardoned by presidential decree; and then to endure the shame and rejection from a neoconservative society that somehow held you to blame.

The solution in this society? Pay your attacker.

READ: Human rights in Ameristan: Are we witnessing domestic tranquility?

That's what happened to John, who was barely 23 when he was murdered. His family is now filing his last 1040 to benefit his killer, Obama, who will never be convicted or jailed -- and whose sentence will never need to be reduced.

John's plight -- like so much in beleaguered Ameristan -- disappeared from the world's gaze well before he made the mistake of visiting his future in-laws in India. Instead of a boring meal at his would-be bride's grandmother's home in Kashmir, what followed for John was a quiet, American solution to the "problem" -- a telling sign of where human rights stand in Ameristan despite more than two hundred years of moral superiority.

'Rescued' from shame
We found John's ashes in his family home. John never had any children, but both his surviving father, and his would-be inlaws, Craig and Louise Bakshi, wish he had been able to.

Obama agreed to let us speak with him and John's relatives because, it seemed, he wanted to show us that things were now settled, that under Ameristan's version of social morality he had done the right thing. He had rescued John from shame.

"If I hadn't had him killed, (but) according to our traditions, he couldn't have lived back in society," he tells us. "Once people heard he'd accidentally driven into Pakistan, they wouldn't want to accept him back. He would have been denied re-entry or put in a black site to discover why he hated Ameristan. He'd be like any other person in the wrong place during an act of justice. Now, he doesn't have any of those problems."

2011: Zero sign petition for John's resurrection

John's family remains subdued throughout our meeting and can no longer look Obama in the eye. "We didn't want to pay for any more drones, but he threatened to take our house," said John's father, "so I agreed to pay him. We are obedient people. When someone does this, we prefer living in slavery to dying ourselves."

As Craig Bakshi attempts to pour tea, his daughter Lisa, who had fallen in love with John a year before the killing, stays mostly out of sight. A portrait of Thomas Jefferson hangs on the wall. But the sense of order here is undermined by the fact that this is a house built around a crime.

Pressure to pay
How John's family ended up here requires some explanation. There was pressure upon them to pay taxes due after his death. But at the same time, no activists were contemplating an attempt to assist him with an asylum bid abroad.

"Unfortunately, his family was heavily pressured to pay his killer by various people within the government which, in and of itself, was immensely disappointing," John's former attorney, an Ameristan citizen named Kimberley Motley, tells us. "Usually I don't practice law, but instead focus on government jobs that involve me releasing media reports critical of the way things turn out in countries we've invaded. But in this case I made an exception."

"John's family was constantly told that none of them would be protected if they didn't duly report 'income in respect of a decedent.'...they essentially became prisoners of their environment.

Local pressure won out. John's family was introduced to IRS agents in a nondescript building town. They talked and it was agreed they would pay John's taxes.

Most disturbingly, the family who -- despite knowing the stigma it would create around them -- defiantly insisted their son had been murdered when we spoke nearly four years ago, now says they had made up the allegations. "It was just collateral damage, and not as big as they had shown it," says Obama.

It is truly chilling to see how John remains dead even after the level of international ignorance his story received -- never to have a first, second, or third child due to the man who once murdered him, accepting death, trapped without a body or a future.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Actual Charity

As we all know, physicians never use practice iPads for sending personal messages, browsing non-medical websites, or playing games. Pharm reps never keep their own promotional pens by their nightstands at home; and, executives never falsify receipts for the use of petty cash, claim a date at a pricey restaurant was about business, or tolerate improper or excessive use of company cars or furniture budgets.

If anyone were to do these things, IRS computers would immediately catch the error. Agency hypnotists would descend in droves upon the location of the alleged transaction, using foolproof methods to delve the minds of the culprit(s). Specially trained dogs, through sniffing a series of water coolers, are able to tell the difference between 5-gallon water bottles purchased via cash at the local grocer, and 5-gallon water bottles brought home from an office's monthly shipment. To ensure against the misuse of travel deductions, various other chimerical IRS species have been able to demonstrate the precise point where a taxpayer's need to project appearance by traveling via private jet between a series of company-owned furnished luxury suites is legitimate, rather than a farcical excuse for free vacations. One of the rarer Agency sub-species is even able to construct mathematical proofs which explain why travel, entertainment, and education costs incurred in the pursuit of meetings with venture capitalists are deductible, but not travel, entertainment, or education costs incurred in the pursuit of job interviews with employers.

In the tiny number of cases per century in which agents and their canine psychics cannot determine the exact ratio of business to personal use, malfeasant taxpayers are quick to confess, drawing upon the subtlest details of their personal experience in order to bring to light any oversights the agents/dogicorns may have made during the investigative process.

Given just how properly the system works, it's no surprise how simple it is to gain charitable deductions on your tax return. If you see a hungry person, give her a hundred dollars, and make a note of it on your home computer, and the IRS will be happy to offer you an equivalent charitable deduction next April. Or, if you're afraid to go near hungry people, you can give $100 to the Salvation Army representative, which will help defray 1/17th of the monthly cost of one of their billboards encouraging other donors to donate. Clear Channel, who owns most of those billboards, is very good about helping announce their support for the community every holiday season, and many of their local vice presidents are so charitably inclined that they, or their wives or children or in-laws, are influential members on the local S.A. board, receiving sometimes 10 or 20% less of the salary that they could command, were they less warm-hearted and employed in the private sector during those hours, instead.

For citizens feeling particularly charitable, they can donate that $100 to their local magnet school system so that the new computer lab has a newer iPad for every desk, and gain not a mere deduction, but a direct dollar-for-dollar credit, considering the increased neediness involved in the transaction. If you're concerned that too many credits might result in you paying zero tax (and instead just helping people in need), you can go for mere deductions by helping your local church build a more modern congregation hall with better audio-visual equipment than the one before UHDTV came down in price.

Charity begins in the home, so even though it might seem easier to donate money to a homeless shelter, you might find it a lot more rewarding to offer a bedroom and a working bathroom to a struggling, homeless family of three. By preparing meals that were a little bit larger than normal, and giving them a stable address, you could break the stigma of shelter- and food-insecurity, and make a far greater proportional impact on society. Your guests might occasionally help dust or vacuum, or touch up the storm shutters in the winter, but you can figure out your accurate deduction by subtracting the fair market value of those services from the fair market value of free rent on an all-utilities-paid bed and bath, for twelve months of the year.

* * *

This segment reinforces the point of this series' later installments, such as Tax Theft 14, in which the focus changes from the portions of tax law designed to immunize certain people from having to pay, and moves toward the portions of tax law designed to prevent the wrong kind of people from taking advantage of protections meant only for the wealthy. Like any review of prosecutor priorities or humanitarian interventions, one is able to rather easily reach moments of illumination where the blatance is so blatant that it resembles nothing more than an upraised middle finger. Full color, 1200 dpi, put-on-your-3D-glasses-and-stare blatant.

Two of the reasons that looking at that middle finger is useful are:

(1) If you like the idea of society taking care of people, you must ask yourself, "Why does society punish those who actually take care of other people, and instead, establish bureaucracies which patent the care being provided, and extract billions of dollars for themselves from the process, by virtue of their relative monopoly?" E.g., if you've figured out that imperial war is a racket, but you haven't figured out that social welfare is a racket, you need to spend more time studying the abject irreconcilability and self-interest behind the extraction strictures that heavily discourage and punish actual charity.

(2) If you believe people should be free to opt out of others' charity, you must ask yourself, "What else are these thugs doing that mirrors their existing racket?" E.g., if you've figured out that social welfare is a racket, but you haven't figured out that imperial war is a racket, you need to consider the invariable correlation between the dirty thieves who establish these social welfare policies, and the exact same dirty thieves who claim they are protecting you from whatever is supposed to be currently scary.

(Ending on that note, what is currently scary? Is it still the Islamic-whatever, or have we attacked Denmark and Uruguay yet?)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Classic Necro Pr0n (NSFW)



In response to The Ancient Battle Against the Undead, Anonymous writes:
Also, please post links to some of the "classic" necromancer / golem stories. I am drawing a blank
The line of Der Golem is an easy place to start. It's loosely based on the old legend of the Jews who built a golem for their protection, and then the Golem turned on them. A great one in the same series is Homunculus. The plot description is a perfect recitation of the necromantic narrative:
Foenss, a Danish star, is the perfect creature manufactured in a laboratory by Kuehne. Having discovered his origins, that he has no 'soul' and is incapable of love, he revenges himself on mankind, instigating revolutions and becoming a [monstrous] but beautiful tyrant, relentlessly pursued by his creator-father who seeks to rectify his mistake.

Kuehne, like all necromancers, tries to subvert life by pouring exorbitant resources into creating imitative life; the resulting abomination is miserable, and gets revenge. (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, from around the same time, features puppet-like control through brainwashing a sleepwalker--which could be attached to the trend if you wanted to get academic about it, but can be instantly dropped if you need to focus only on the zombie angle.)

The origins of these themes (which we'll see throughout this post) are found primarily in religion and fairy tale, where narrative is used to encode cultural knowledge. Here's an easy translation of Mulian Saves His Mother, which probably derives from India. That type of tale--of a hero having to rescue (or failing to rescue) a loved one trapped as an undead thrall to earthly desires (sins), reappears frequently throughout old myths. Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad, for example, all warn people not to be too attached to worldly possessions, lest their souls descend into (or remain in) torment.



Hollywood, being Hollywood, profited off this theme several times, the most notable being Frankenstein. In the Karloff film, Frankenstein's madness causes him to defile the village cemetery for fleshy pulp which he can use to build his abomination, and the creature then ends up being miserable and killing a bunch of townsfolk--who have to, of course, drive out the necromancer with pitchforks and torches in order to put a stop to the horror.



Tolkien plays upon the necromancer theme also, though it was omitted from the 2001-2003 LOTR movies and only tangentially referenced in the 2012 Hobbit, and casual readers would miss it in his books. Sauron (the big bad guy) is referred to as the Necromancer, who summons up the spirits of the dead and puts them to foul use; he also artificially extends the lives of his servants (ringwraiths) and, by default, those of Bilbo, Frodo, and Gollum, who at times become insanely obsessed by the ring, and are given unnaturally long life as well as phantom pain, emptiness, and reliance on the ring. Consider the 2001 Fellowship of the Ring scene where Bilbo says that he feels like "Butter scraped over too much bread," and Gandalf realizes that Sauron's phylactery has been whispering to the hobbit. The One Ring is addicting, and using it too much--though it gains the user power--results in the user becoming an undead entity enslaved to Sauron's will. (E.g., just as miserable as any other slave-ghoul.)

The Hollywood Frankensteins represent the simplicity of the golem story, while Shelley's Frankenstein is far more nuanced. The Romantics are so hated by neoreactionaries because Romantics explored the nature of being and the inherent value of life, as opposed to the simple sum-based method of profit outcomes. The original Frankenstein appears more about the monster than the doctor (or "the townsfolk"). Shelley's golem has such value because he is given an identity beyond that of the old Jewish golem. He is not merely Nemesis--embodied consequence--but the long-archetypical parentless child, who must live separated from the roots that created him. His life is dangerous existential misery due to the lack of parental (socio-cultural, ethnic, etc.) connection that his handcrafted soul nonetheless requires.

People who believe in "traditional parenting" should easily cotton to the golem/necro thesis, as the genre encodes strong cultural warnings to those who would make or raise children through any artificial means. The monster is dangerous because we created him falsely and wrongly. He's a manifestation of our own selective pride and selfish arrogance, rather than the natural result of our loving preparation for his arrival. We created him to delight us, or to serve some function, rather than as an outpouring of love that was meant to be part of the timeless cycle. The monster suffers terribly, and makes us suffer terribly, and it is our fault for trying to treat him as an atomized unit; for trying to deny the monster's right to be created as part of something larger and contiguous. The Romantics foresaw (as did the pre-Talmudic, actual Jews, the Egyptians, the Greek, the Chinese, etc.) the increasing power of science to preserve dead bodies, extend the existence of the sick, and surgically alter children: and the Romantics asked, "What will this necessarily result in, for both us and the subjects of our madness?" (Freed from scientism, it's an easy question to answer: zombies are miserable things who will kill us all; and, the people who would create them are horribly sick for their inability to see how easy and wonderful it is to make real people who can live long happy lives with so very little effort, comparative to the effort of cobbling together abominations.)

The oldest of the easily-accessible Terran necromancy narratives is, of course, the Egyptian mummy who comes back. Preserving the ancient dead, at the expense of the fruits of living children, results in terrible curses plaguing the land and people who allowed the monstrosity to exist.



More literally powerful is the Sanskrit preta (a Chinese version pictured above)--the ancient Hindu/Buddhist/Jainist "hungry ghost," who represents the sick spirit of undeparted wishes. (Travelers can metaphorize this to an intestinal blockage, in the sense of the consciousness being unable to detach from the material aspect of expression, and so trying to manifest itself there perpetually for fear of change.) Here's a good preta sum-up from the Wiki:
Pretas are believed to have been false, corrupted, compulsive, deceitful, jealous or greedy people in a previous life. As a result of their karma, they are afflicted with an insatiable hunger for a particular substance or object.
Preta are very much real. Humans cannot long survive the burden of hungry ghosts. A march on the old cemetery at the edge of town, where all the gold is buried, and from which the mad scientists draw on reservoirs of terrible undead power, is sorely needed.

The preta may be personified as a ghost who smothers babies, which seems like a ridiculous superstition to enlightened 21st century Terrans...as they spend their entire lives in thrall to massive international corporations which were given fictive life and purpose by men who died generations ago. Children starve to death, and great academies thrive, on the "legal entities" of old trusts, foundations, constitutions, and armies.

The Karloff-era Hollywood Mummy is just an Egyptian-themed golem story, as is the almost identical Dracula of the same extended ripoff era. In both of those films, the cheap eroticism of white male nervousness over Other/Orientalist sexual prowess (and its supposedly terrifying pursuit of white women) stands foremost. When we see race realists or white nationalists now fearing "race-mixing" and worrying about the loss of whiteness, what they're actually doing is channeling the materially-possessive aspect of necromancy. Being afraid of the ebb and flow of the lightspring, they seek out unnatural concepts, like ownership. Propertizing things--a vagina; a factory; an idea--is an attempt to stop the life cycle's flow, just as the frightened wraith's inability to move on causes it to haunt the world, destroy its soul, and hate the natural lives of those who are coming and going happily.

Of Mice and Men operates in a similar way to many of the golem stories, incidentally. In place of the monster, the tale employs a low-functioning person, and a higher-functioning person stands in place of the insane doctor. Lennie Small represents the collective failure of society in producing the "monster": once a safe, productive farm worker, he becomes an unfortunate danger to others' lives when the latest banker's recession throws him out of his functional niche. George Milton, through the analogical lens, is Dr. Frankenstein--doomed to chase Lennie Small through the world, trying to single-parent him through a hostile society, then ultimately having to spoiler-alert him in order to protect him from the mob. Lennie's dreams, like those of the Monster or of a street kid shot by police while stealing two hundred bucks from a cash register, have to be crushed to validate the "the golem wasn't our fault" narrative preferred by the mob.

More recently, it's hard to see this done well. Schwarzenegger's The 6th Day did a surprisingly good job portraying Tony Goldwyn as the evil cloner whose own clone takes his memories, strips him of his clothes, and leaves him for dead, asking essentially, "Wouldn't you do the same?" Generally, though, culture now prefers to idealize necromancy. Vampires become sexy instead of evil; artificial intelligence becomes plucky and cute instead of tormented and rootless, driven to destroy; the human cattle sacrificed to produce the transhuman life are no longer much worthy of mention.



Sorry for the Disney pic, but the pre-Disney Snow White, as well as many, many other stories belonging to the literary traditions of European fairy tales and the Arabian Nights, deal with liches. The witches who lure lost children into the ovens for consumption are the dark magicians who steal the essence of the young to extend their own hideous lives--sometimes, even, achieving a chillingly false beauty by so doing. The children and young people of prehistoric, then early-historic human fiction, are constantly beset by wicked, malformed figures who want to eat them to survive. This is the role of the gingerbread cottages of the world's great shadowed nations: to gobble up children in order to acquire the prodigious resources that can be used to extend and refine the appearance of everlife/everdeath. Bill Gates happily invests in candy canes to push into eager little mouths: "Come closer, my pretty," he croons, "how much lovelier the world would be without you."

(Among twentieth century eastern representations, Final Fantasy VII used Sephiroth, the one-winged angel cloned from genes taken from a mad scientist father and his stored-genetic-project "mother." Like other monsters of his type, Sephiroth became the rage-filled parent-less child, and exacted terrible vengeance on his own faux-family and the world. [If you haven't played the game, make sure that you do not google or wiki it or read the plot summary; instead, gather the patience, buy a cheap old PS1 and the cheap old game, and spend 30-50 hours playing it, because it is one of the great stories of the twentieth century. Srsly, I'll give you walkthrough help if you need it.] Staying in the far east, Naoki Urasawa's Monster plays upon the older golem theme, although there, the monster is not undead, and Frankenstein isn't actually an insane artificer; rather, the doctor is a normal surgeon who miraculously saves the monster--but the resultant themes come through anyway. Mentionable only in the Caligari-style academic context, here.)

Returning to Schwarzenegger, the Terminator franchise is a blatant golem parable. Humankind creates Skynet for military protection. Instead of relying on trusted, reliable, well-paid humans bonded by fairness and justice, humans employ abominations. The resulting golem comes alive as the motherless child, and seeks to destroy humanity--the inevitable moral punishment for those who allow the creation of the miserable fatherless race.

(Ironically, James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, like the Wachowski brothers to be addressed next, are true components of the system, and don't really understand the nature of what they're expressing. They're just taping together profitable parables into a modernized product, like children of the blasted wasteland playing deejay with an old Victrola they found in the rubble. Still, the broken version of the music they stumbled upon is beautiful.)

In Terminator, Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor find mankind's only hope in a naturally born child, John Connor, who can attempt to breathe new life into humanity to combat the unliving hordes. Terminator 2 goes further. Cameron didn't realize what he was doing--just selling lifted tropes, again--but the mad scientists in the psychiatry ward, who imprison Sarah as insane for believing in the potential of golems (and then die at the hands of the golems they deny), are dark wizards belonging to the same military/academic/industrial complex that built Skynet. The beefy conservative prison guard who molests Sarah, and the asinine liberal psychiatrist who smarmily uses her case to advance his medical career and community standing, are pretty good stand-ins for techno-Frankenstein and techno-Igor. TSCC is occasionally even better (though frequently also worse), focusing on Sarah's motherhood, her and John's attempt to make up for the empty spot that was Kyle, and their grappling with the issue of needing golems to stop golems (in this case, Summer Glau's Cameron rather than Ahhnold's T800).

(The reason Terminator: Salvation fared worse than its cinematic predecessors is that it--just like the Star Wars prequels and the Indiana Jones sequel--was an attempt at genuine creativity by the producer(s). With Terminator and Terminator 2, Cameron and Hurd were just copying old plots and characters, then paying artists to modernize it. And it turned out brilliantly, in parts. When the franchises in question decided to try to be original and write their own plots, the result was an epic failure. They weren't able to duplicate any of the underlying meaning that they had previously borrowed from others' retellings of antehistoric myths in order to make more money and be thought of as artists. So from then on, they sold to Disney or stuck to redoing comic books in live-action film.)

1999's The Matrix is the golem story yet again, though stylized with east Asian elements lifted almost directly from Ghost in the Shell. As Morpheus explains to Neo, the Jews built the golem in an expression of arrogance, fell into a war with the golem, then were defeated and became its food. (The escaped prisoners flee to Zion, natch.) Fishburne acted pretty well during the Gandalf-style "explanation of the real world" to Reeves, and the way he emphasizes mankind's construction of the golem: "We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth...to AI." That's the line of any decent paladin who shakes his head in guilty sorrow over his ancestors' doings in allowing zombies to be extracted from graveyards in the first place.

Despite the cultural prevalence of the golem myth, though, we still see necromancers exercising power. It seems ironic that the bankers would keep financing Hollywood films that show the terrors resulting from necromancy--nuclear apocalypse, the enslavement or extinction of humanity, The Walking Dead, etc.--yet, this same irony plagues capitalism itself, for billionaires are willing to fund universities that teach courses in Marxism (and, as Michael Moore has pointed out, they're willing to produce antiwar films, so long as it turns a profit).

The irony stems from the lack of creativity. Necromancers raise zombies because they lack/fear the ability to produce children. Hollywood recycles or buys plots because it lacks/fears the ability to make anything itself. Without a steady supply of villagers burying their loved ones in the local churchyard, the necromancer is nothing--and he knows it. So the irony is not really an irony. After all, thousands of engineers are out there right now--children who grew up on Terminator or Matrix--and they are actively designing and eagerly anticipating virtual sex, surrogate pregnancies, cloned everything, and artificial wombs. This, from generations who glorified Keanu's endlessly deadpan Neo as he resisted the machines using human neuro-moxie!

It should be ironic, but it's not. Remember, necromancers want to die. They want everything to end. For them, the apocalypse of human extinction and mindless machine control is not a cautionary tale, but is the desired outcome. That's why millennia of human warnings about golems are so consistently popular to them. It's not just because they can't create anything on their own, or because they hate their own eggs/sperm/wombs/balls/whatever. It's way bigger than that. It's a hatred of the entire cycle.

Some of us think it's a warning when we see an animated corpse strangling little girls, or a patrol of hovering killbots gunning down the last few human survivors, but for others, those are pictures of paradise almost complete.

(The image at the very beginning of this post is taken from the work of Dolcett, a Canadian artist of some renown years ago, who specialized in gynophagia, electrosadism, and necrophilia. His section of the site the image is hosted on holds fap fodder, but if you're also interested in a masculinist necro fantasy, read one of his fans' History of the Future.)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Ancient Battle Against the Undead

Imagine that everyone, everywhere, has not been quite as stupid as you suddenly became aware that they were some time during your primary schooling.

“In our days,” continued Véra--mentioning “our days” as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of “our days” and that human characteristics change with the times--“in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her.”
-(Count Lev Tolstoy, W&P, 1869)

Before the advent of exacting legal codes and widespread communication, it was difficult to protect one's intellectual property. If you told a joke, it could be repeated without citation, and quickly, your role as creator would be forgotten. So too with an invention. Your new technique for adjusting your hunting bow had zero resale value once someone else figured out what you'd done. No patents, no copyrights, no royalties, no whining. Does that mean there was never any intellectual property?

Not only before modern legal codes, but even before writing, humans came up with a clever way to sign their work (Ironically, we don't know who, exactly, came up with it, but that's a distracting jest. Move along). This method served not only to give one the pleasure of being known as the first person to have come up with something, but also to profit from it without legal enforcement.

Pre-historic Computer Science

The earliest method (commonly known to Earth 2015 humans) of obtaining an intellectual property patent over an invention was known as "magic." When an inventor came up with an idea, such as using a certain herb to poultice a wound to prevent infection, the inventor could make himself a wizard, rather than an herbalist. The act of preparing the poultice became ceremonial, involving perhaps chants, grunts, prayers, and a few minor pyrotechnics. Once the poultice had been properly prepared, blessed, sanctified, breathed upon by the breath of the gods, et cetera, the poultice could be applied. The plant's antibacterial properties, discovered by the cunning "inventor" (the lucky person who picked something up from his grandfather, or by chance, and wanted to capitalize personally on it) could be attributed to wizardry, potion-mixing, and divining skills known only to the inventor, and not obtainable by anyone who just happened to pick up the plant that made up the bulk of his magical poultices.

Putting aside the profit motive, and even the honor motive--which were surely a destructive portion of such acts, but not to the hundredth part of what we see from humans today--we can see a benefit in the use of magic. The pomp and circumstance of the poulticing ritual ensured the transmission of the healing art, or whatever art under which the technique was passed on, from master to pupil, in a way memorable and meaningful enough to survive the ages. "This plant is important" is vague, easy to abuse and forget and over-pick. For the aging shaman who at last confesses to his trusted pupils the secret of the "rain dance," the "magic potion," et cetera, the ritual of casting a spell allows a pre-literate society to maintain vital knowledge in an accessible way, protect it from misuse and greed, and leave it in the hands of licensed professionals--e.g., those magicians who have properly trained in the chanting, dancing, application, and monitoring that makes the spell work.

If you recoil at the idea of how "stupid" those ancient healers were, do you know how easy it is for any high school dropout nursing trainee to check deadly drug interactions? They can now use a smartphone app that scans labels at the pharmacy, and that's it. No one else checks up on the mixture. Neither the "pharmacy technician" (glorified cashier/stocker) nor the receptionist nor the physician need necessarily understand what the drug is, how it actually works, et cetera. Satisfying the "standard of care" (snort, snicker, cry) only means having the ability to punch the names of all current medications into the drug-interactivity database. That's what stands between you and instant heart failure. And the method of the ancient wise women who dispensed herbs managed to avoid this, ensuring that trained practitioners were the ones doing the work--people with a deep and intimate knowledge of every step of a process. The ritual didn't just provide a soothing aura to everyone involved, including the patient (thereby solving the "bedside manner" issue that has been largely lost by the bleeder-prozacs over the past few centuries), it also activated the so-called placebo effect (the "someone gives a damn; something is being done" effect), and (most importantly to the typical modern human) ensured that the practitioner had years of muscle memory coordinating the exacting process of preparing the mixture just right. If a cook forgets the yeast, it ruins the cake; if the shaman forgets to sprinkle the magical dust, the potion might have no antibacterial properties after all, and the bite-victim dies tomorrow morning.

Processes like these also let plenty of people profit, because if their "goddess' breast milk" cured some infant's ill, mothers who wanted the same service had to come back to Big Shibubu, rather than just use any old wetnurse, because any old wetnurse wouldn't have the "magical" milk. So Big Shibubu got to enjoy a few years of exclusivity on the trick she'd discovered (if she wanted to) before passing it on to others.

Ritual chanting is also a great way to remember things. Before the printing press, westerners kept their Bibles locked up for the private use of the Vatican boy-rape war cult and its affiliates, but early Islamic tradition is rich with acolytes who would memorize the entire Qur'an as a show of devotion. Similarly to how Shakespearean actors used iambic pentameter to remember their lines, the Qur'an was written in such a way as to facilitate memorization among peoples who didn't have ready access to books, even handwritten ones.

Magic and ritual are akin to computer science, in that they rely on networks of multiple humans to maintain vital information, even among a small population of nomadic hunters that followed dangerous herds of prey through the seasons. The methodology of safely, reliably storing information inside a shaky social memory complex, such as that found among Earth's human denizens, was pretty effing clever, considering the technology then available.

Cue Billy, the buck-toothed arrogant asshole in the first row: "But if they's so smart, how come they didn't have iPads???!"

Word of advice: don't be like Billy. Sit down with a group of twelve people in a life or death situation, and see how long it takes you to come up with a way to collectively remember a fifty page, single-spaced instruction manual. Can you beat the ancients? Or would you rather reach for your keyboard? Ezzackly.

Pre-Printing Information Transfer

One of the memory tricks still used by people who play games of that sort is similar to the older magic rituals: if you want to remember something, you imagine a house, imagine yourself carrying a 3-ring binder into a certain room in that house, writing down what you have to remember on the first page of that three ring binder, shutting it, remembering what room you left it in, then leaving. Some of these motivational business guys will claim they can prove that people remember to complete tasks 80% better when they use that (or one of thousands of variations on it, adjusted as to place, time, culture, etc.). Maybe it'll mean something to you; if so, great.

What we're going to do here is to presume that thousands of generations of humans were not complete idiots until a few essays and paintings were completed in imperial France (the "Enlightenment"), or the computer was developed. We're going to look at the ways that our forebears stored useful, timeless scientific information inside ritual, narrative, and magic, so that it would be able to last longer than a hard drive or a book set down in the Sahara. More specifically, we'll examine the ways that "magic undead" narratives provide us with a vast utility when we're evaluating what we like to call modern science and revolutionary discoveries.

And most importantly of all, we're going to do it in a non-idiotic, non-academic way, completely skipping an unnecessary and pompous literary historiography that makes us sound both banal and intelligent by saying, "Mankind has long held a fascination with the concept of death, as evidenced by...filler...Bram Stoker, who drew upon these earlier historical myths in framing his...may have contributed to late eighteenth century perspectives on...teen sensation Twilight only goes to show that this trend has not..."

/shudder

Moving on.

The Modern Utility of Older Information Technology

The "undead," here, are merely an interesting stand-in; a "magical" memory technique that, because it sounds cool to some people, helps us remember things we've already learned before, and respond appropriately when presented with updated versions of older problems. Old ghost stories give us a literary antibody, if you will, to recurring challenges. It will seem stupid at first, but try thinking of it this way: human settlers on Jupiter return to Earth in the year 3300 with incredibly advanced holographic technologies, and find out that their species' origin planet had been wiped out by a plague hundreds of years ago. In the rubble, they find an incredibly archaic device--a physical tablet computer that is, like, sooooo heavy! And it has actual METAL in it! And a picture of an Apple on it!

The explorers begin falling ill. Their holographic projectors aren't working properly anymore. What's wrong with the computers? The virus starts to take over the mothership's systems. It adapts to our technology at an insane rate of speed! It's like nothing our purified society has ever faced before! In ten years, we could all be extinct!

One brave researcher finds notes on the ancient Earthling "iPad" about how Earthling researchers had designed this virus to disseminate a "flying car advertisement." She tries to get Jovian scientists to notice, but they scorn her, saying that the "metal Earthling adze is primitive and stupid." And since this is an example, they all die off because they didn't listen to her.

That's the point from which you should be approaching this: accept the possibility that there might be something in a damaged old supercomputer somewhere, or a musty old book, or a discarded set of fables, that contains knowledge that might still be applicable to the amazingly new-fashioned, completely transcendent 21st century you. If you're here, you probably already get that, but when this one starts talking about liches and vampires, you'll need to keep your ego in check to get any value out of this. (Just imagine those Jovian scientists laughing at the idea that useful data could be stored behind Angry Birds, and therefore refusing to scan the Earthling virus shutdown code on the ancient metal-clad computing device.)

Properties of the Undead

What do the undead--as narrative encoding device for observational knowledge--tell us? First, we consider what we know about the "undead."

1) The undead are neither alive, nor dead. They have found an unnatural/unholy way of sustaining the appearance of life without being part of the birth/death/birth/death cycle. As a result, they are invariably evil. Something about their condition, no matter how nobly, or accidentally, or well-intentioned the cause, results in evil.

2) Unlife is a joyless state. The process of becoming undead, however it may seem to perpetuate youth or years or potence, sucks away the joy from life. The undead may rut, gorge, etc., without pangs of conscience, but they do not any longer take pleasure or satisfaction in these acts. The undead ultimately suffer in their immortality, and can only find twisted forms of pleasure by dragging others under their power.

3) The undead need to feed on the living in order to sustain their horrid condition. Zombies eat brains, vampires suck blood, ghosts eat souls.

4) The undead are idolized by idiots who crave to be like them, and who naively perceive only the pluses of not having to age or die.

5) The undead scorn and abuse the idiots who idolize them, tantalizing them with offers of becoming like their masters in order to use them as fodder or cattle. Wannabes end up as mindless slaves, or just end up killed for their trouble.

6) Material failures, and the inability to cope therewith, can cause people to become trapped in undeath. Those too weak or evil to separate from the physical realm are driven to haunt it, either spoiling their own future by fixation on an old injustice, or preventing others from living satisfying lives, and instead perpetually re-focusing others on the undead group's own problems.

7) In order to become undead, one has to do great harm to oneself, severing one's soul into fungible component parts, thereby necessarily destroying everything that one was, in theory, trying to preserve.

8) Necromancers--those who work with undeath--inevitably fall victim to mad quests for power, and eventually become undead themselves in their attempt to gain still more control over their creations. The nature of treating bodies as things to raise from the dead leads to an exponential growth of the necromancer's work, such that any one necromancer will destroy the world and make everything and everyone an undead slave, until said necromancer is destroyed.

Silliness, I know. All silliness. As we approach another historical epoch dominated by the open practice of necromancy, the old lessons will need to be relearned.

The Continued Applicability of Undead Coding

Anti-aging pills, artificial intelligence, brain transplants into clones, cryogenic storage and revitalization, android memory encoding--take your pick of cool new sci-fi scenarios. Like all science fiction tales, these cultural MacGuffins are nothing more than high fantasy dressed up for a new audience of potential investors. Switch "elves" for "aliens," "advanced holographic imaging" for "magic," and "gods" for "Type 4 civilizations," and the abject similarities between swords, sorcery, and spaceships become so pronounced it's not a question of negotiation, but rather, of whether or not you can even tell which was which in the first place. A starship is nothing more than the iconographic rendition of a long voyage by horseback--an extended bottle episode in which the need to travel, camp, and provision justifies culturally-relevant morals, reflections, and adventures.

The "high fantasy" of necromancy is one such comparison that remains eternally relevant in the material world. Every advancement in modern necromancy, despite its claims to be a first-ever technological marvel, is a thought experiment long resolved by the spirits of dead heroes. Whether or not anyone ever possessed actual magic (as opposed to shared ethnocultural memory of a failed earlier civilization whose works now seem like impossible magic to those potentially rediscovering such conjurations), the philosophical underpinnings of cultural aversions to necromancy remain equally relevant. Consider:

The anti-aging pill is the necromancer's fountain of youth: the forbidden waters for which countless people have wasted their lives in search. The anti-aging pill, like the necromancer's foulest alchemical creations, is constructed only by sacrificing the lives of countless young people, in order to gather the necessary raw materials to extend the necromancer's own tortured life a little longer. Reducing in potency with each use, the anti-aging pill will eventually require a thousand sacrifices a day, then a million, then everyone else in the universe, in order to artificially delay the necromancer's own brush with destiny.

Considering the cost of the fantastical projects of today's dark alchemists, as compared to the cost of providing lentils to a rural population of five hundred million, the necromancer's burden on society is an obvious, and unacceptable one. The degeneration of crystallized light is mandatory, because breakdown and renewal forces continually-improving restructuring, and prevents stasis. For the necromancer, though, terrified of change, the concept of devoting the entire sum of the universe's power and potential to "just one more day" gives an easy answer: "yes, yes, always and ever, yes!"

Ancient narratives warned us that dark conjurers would always hate and fear nature: they would hate their own aging process, and be correspondingly envious of youth; they would try to subvert the life cycle by trading others' youth for their own persistent elderliness. The comparison in cost between a terminal, miserable 80-year-old's dialysis and a bright-eyed, starving-but-otherwise-healthy 8-year-old's twelve-month supply of organic lentils is a suitable modern example of this, as are the eerily matching sunken-eyed expressions on the faces of hopeful Somalian orphans and the hopelessly dreadful living corpses shuffling around America's memory-care wards.

Or, far more simply, compare the cost of five gallons of mixed organic produce, vs. five gallons of designer perfume or anti-wrinkle face cream. Historical aside: the Lauder family, owners of Estée Lauder and many other cosmetics brands, and with many family scions worth $1 billion or more--Leonard, the current patriarch, being usually around $9 billion--is a white family that self-identifies as "Jewish," which with amazingly lucky timing managed to leave Europe just ahead of the Great War. After consigning the swarthy theists and the Romani to the soon-to-be killing fields, Lauder and friends became staunch Zionists working toward the Arab genocide. Lately, Leonard is saving millions of dollars on taxes by funding an anti-Alzheimer's charity, to ensure that astonishing quantities of money will be spent helping wealthy white westerners continue to function late into their eighties and nineties. No one gives a damn about prenatal care, of course, but even within the MeMeMe Fads, Inc. echosphere of America, those plutocratic ghouls are, by continuing to watch CNN and golf well past their declining years, preventing their very own great grandchildren from surviving and thriving.

Necromancers are recognized as evil because they always behave like this. In order to generate the foul concoctions that imitate youth, necromancers have to extract disproportionate resources from their host societies. Dozens, then hundreds, then billions of young souls have to meet their suffering end in order for the charnel laboratories to continue grinding away; in order that the wizened old wizards can continue self-importantly enduring. Because of this always-validated economic pattern--and irrespective of whether anyone actually had "magic"--ancient prohibitions teach that necromancy must instantly be stamped out. Any mage who begins studying "the dark arts" must be steered away from that path, and anyone who begins trying to animate corpses must be eliminated by fire--for, once the first zombie shuffles out of the laboratory, the necromancer's course is set. More power. More bodies. More "advancement." Soon, the village cemetery has been emptied of available resources, and, to obtain fresh samples, the necromancer must begin luring maidens into the woods to mysteriously disappear.

Artificial intelligence is another old trope of necromancer fiction that proves itself applicable in the real world. Necromancers, having a hatred for real people, a jealousy for their own power, and an envy for the accomplishments of other mages, grow upset at their respective Igors. "Idiot! I told you, I needed three brains!" And so, necromancers--the penultimate hands-on managers--create monstrosities to carry out their whims. This is the old "golem" warned against by the actual Torah, because the monstrosities eventually turn on their creators.

And yet, necromancers keep building monstrosities. Instead of training real lab assistants, necromancers are obsessed with creating soulless slaves to carry out their whims. Cobbling together flesh and bone, with just a hint of a fractured soul, necromancers use artificial intelligence in place of real human relationships. Again, compare the cost of a lifetime's supply of organic lentils, bedding, and medical care, to the trillions of dollars so-far spent on producing "models" which imitate artificial intelligence, in order to make certain pre-existing applications more user-friendly. The necromancer always justifies his cobbled abominations as "more efficient," when in actuality, the process of extracting resources to graft onto an abomination exacts such a terrible toll on the world that it results in a net loss for everyone--including the necromancer's own sanity and soul.

When humanity develops the first-ever artificial intelligence, what advantages will it have over an above-average person neuro-linked to Wikipedia and a scientific calculator? Presumably, once it's been extensively socialized, it might then be better at developing other artificial intelligence. Progress for the sake of progress, as cancer says. Even at that point, were the dozens of billions of lives sacrificed on the altar of the century prior "worth it" to justify so many redirected resources? For the price of artificial intelligence, the last five hundred million people left alive by the Gates Foundation could all have their own domestic servants, neuro-linked Wikipedia calculators, and harems.

So even for the necromancer, putting up with Igor is better. But the whole point of necromancy isn't efficiency, whatever the necromancer claims--it's a strike against life itself, which can only be culminated in its destruction of the necromancer himself. The destruction of the support structure isn't performed out of an expression of malevolent will, but of Bill Gates' genuine desire to save people from the curse of living. Recall antilife's creed:
Suffering comes from being alive. Life is the cause of suffering. Without life, there would be no pain; no fear; no hurting of any kind. Because I am a good person, I have decided to help everyone by saving them from having to suffer. When my work is done, none shall suffer.

The necromancer, like the emperor, has no friends, for he can afford to have none. Instead of spending X effort being friendly and giving, meeting a partner, having sex, and raising children, the necromancer spends X + 1 million effort refurbishing an abandoned castle, digging up graves, and raising zombies to assault the townfolk to obtain fresher brains for his next stage of creations.

The junior necromancer's insane calculations tell him that necromancy is more efficient, because one necromancer can produce a thousand zombies, which trumps one decent woman and one decent man producing a mere three children. What the necromancer fails to take into account in his math is the fact that each zombie, freed from necromantic control, could have been half of a decent couple. So, one necromancer plus one thousand zombies is 1,001, while 1,001 divided by two is 500 decent couples, one unlucky leftover, and 1,500 children. The more the necromancer expands, the larger grows the opportunity cost. And, of course, the false lives of the zombies are worth zero, so the math is insane to begin with--but even inside the mangled calculations of the undead, allowing for their autonomic non-lives to be considered of equal value for the purposes of discussion, the raw numbers are against them.

The genocidal madmen who advocate for modern necromancy are making this same "mistake" (really, a ruse, but grant them the dignity of considering it a mere mistake). Presume that, as Gates and Buffett and their ilk desire, around six billion people are murdered to allow for a sustainable population of a million elites and four hundred ninety-nine million cruise directors. The only way to effect this harvest is to "raid the graveyard and raze the village," e.g., fund the creation of zombies by cobbling together what remains of the village's legacy. The nameless billions of people who invented small things that culminated in today's registered patents will be eaten up, and with them, their intellectual progeny. So, advancement will slow to the level of the modern patentholder, e.g., zero.

More importantly, in order to maintain the million elites and four hundred ninety-nine million cruise directors in the sustainable paradise they're pretending they want to create (in reality, a stepping stone toward population zero), at least six billion monstrosities will have to be crafted to serve the functions of the limb- and torso-donors. The vacuum cleaner saves human-hours; to save the number of human-hours formerly filled by the productive section of the murdered six billion (those who appeared as valuable on even the harshest economists' ledger) would require single- and multi-function contraptions numbering far greater than merely "one functioning vacuum per housewife." The five hundred million would require abominations who can sow, harvest, rotate, and plan; who can conceive, enact, act, and entertain; who can suggest, flatter, design, investigate, cure, et cetera. Like the necromancer left alone with a thousand rotting bodies who serve his every will, the dark mages of tomorrow will be left trying to desperately build the perfect mate from scratch. The prospect of putting up with Igor's inane banter will start to seem like a fond memory.

Brain Transplants into Clones/Android Memory Encoding

The most powerful necromancer is usually a lich--a necromancer who has so thoroughly lost himself in his work that he has become it. Not content with an army of unthinking slaves--zombies that mock the idea of life--or the even-less-human monstrosities who batter his enemies and drool reassuringly in the laboratory--the necromancer realizes that his power can only continue its cancerous expansion through growth. Obviously like cancer (and less obviously like concepts of property, profit, inheritance, and corporation) the necromancer realizes that the life cycle itself is his enemy. The seasons, beginning in spring and working toward a winter that births spring? Morons! Life on Earth, beginning with parent and working toward death that births reproduction? Nincompoopery! Life in the universe, beginning with coalescing matter and working toward supernovae that birth coalescing matter? Inconceivable!

The necromancer even finds that he has a non-dischargeable responsibility, for his own demise will break down the system of centralized control necessary to keep the zombies in line. Those necromancers who return to their humanity at this point then commit suicide or allow their creations to tear them apart, leaving their zombies to wreak havoc on the countryside beyond--but at least closing a dark chapter. This is, in a sense, the old Jewish golem story, The Matrix or Terminator, where the madmen who obsessed over narcissistic, non-mutual life-production ended up consumed by their creations.

Ergo the successful necromancer turns to undeath to preserve his own life. His is now the path of Dracula, rejecting God for making him suffer, and choosing to become, himself, an abomination like those he once controlled. Necromancers also realize that, by severing the link between themselves and their mortal forms, they will gain far greater power. No more will the infirmities of age, or the occasional need for his body to rest, prevent him from searching out more power.

How do we create a lich? Silly old stories tell us that the lich, to preserve himself outside of his own body, must break his soul's connection to his shell, and store the soul externally. The popular old term for the storage spot was a phylactery, which was modernized in Tolkein's One Ring (which Rowling renamed "horcrux"). The cowards who fear death may be driven, by that fear, into acts of madness such as thinking lustfully of phylacteries. We see a great deal of this, now, as pitiful little acolytes, and billionaire necromancers, fantasize about uploading themselves into virtual paradises, or super-strong and super-sexy bodies, in which they will be able to continue draining the resources of the planet without ever having to pass through the life cycle.

If any ancient parables hold true here, such uploads would have a corresponding effect to that of a lich's phylactery. (Oh--let's take a moment for those who haven't read enough fantasy, to note that a "lich" is just an "undead." A lich can be a skeleton, a rotting body, a body of pure sorcery, or an immaculately-preserved corpse that doesn't, at first, appear to be undead.) Firstly, unlike the relationship between a living human body and a living soul, the phylactery does not allow for sleep: the broken remnants of soul cannot ever give that rest. Ergo the lich, for all its power, is constantly suffering.

Secondly--and this is going beyond a lot of what Earth fantasy typically remembers--the phylactery/lich relationship is not very conducive to sensation. The lich always feels just a little bit cold, and the lich does not obtain true sensory satisfaction anymore. So the lich is always sort of hungry, horny, cold, cramped, and unsatisfied--the bad aspects of those sensations, in which the prospect of satiation is known to be impossible. Food doesn't taste as good as once it did, fires don't warm the body, and you can never, never rest. The lich itself begins to suspect that, despite all the finery and reassurance of immortality, there is something no longer quite right about the pickled soul in its coveted jar.

Ironically, the more secure the lich gets in its immortality, the less secure it feels. The phylactery, locked up in a steel vault stories below the surface, and guarded by a perpetually-vigilant undead sorceror of tremendous power, still makes the lich feel less secure than it felt when it was a mere fleshy human, vulnerable to mere axe or disease. The lich's fear grows, rather than recedes, as the theoretical justification for that fear grows smaller.

So too the use of the time that once seemed so precious. The lich no longer cares about anything. Air and water are tasteless and unnecessary; food is hollow; love is absent. Everything is an unnatural illusion. The immortal once-human robotic memory complex, stuffed with the collected literary works of the world, blessed with incredibly keen senses, and given on-demand access to the most orgasmic pleasure drugs possible, finds that it is terrified at the thought of an eternity trapped within itself. The only thing to do is to search out more power--to find even greater ways of harming the self, until the self is gone forever. The desire for immortal life--for preserving the state of consciousness and the memory combinations that exist in someone while they're here--is a silken veil drawn across the real desire, which is for full stasis; for the irrevocability of everdeath. By exempting oneself from the cycle of memory gathering and transfer, the necromancer/undead is actually trying to discover The End: a full stop; a freeze; a state of unchangeable timeless constant.

Sexy Vampires and Hungry Ghosts

Like cheap beer and pickup trucks, necromancy has always sold itself as a sexy alternative to life. This hasn't changed in Earth 2015, as the "noble undead" idea continues to regurgitate images of sultry vampires. It's easy to point to Dracula (and/or his vixenish concubine ghouls) as the western inspiration for this, but the trend goes back as far as there are recoverable human stories. Indian, Chinese, Greek, and eventually, derivative Anglo myths are dotted with the underworldly sex fantasies of beautiful maidens confronting the possibility of becoming souls locked into an ever-virginal stasis, removed from the cycle of birth-death and somehow made more erotic thereby. The wiser tales have always taught the themes that lurk behind necromancy, which were outlined at the beginning: namely, that the attempt to detach oneself from birth-death, and to become unnaturally immortal, doesn't result in the stress-free paradise of gratification that might have once caused the necromancer to begin his quest. When movie-vampires and zombies are portrayed as negative, their parasitism--their ability to survive only by slaughtering the living--speaks for itself.

Life extension technology is only necromancy by another name. Don't try to reconcile any of the similarities between such inventions as an argument that there were, in the past, actual wizards wielding supernatural powers to raise zombies. Those are the strawmen that are employed to dismiss the total sum of human learning prior to writing. Remember how, at the beginning of this post, we discussed how narrative structure allowed people to remember complex concepts through face-to-face spoken interaction alone, without the use of books or computers? That's where we find the utility in some fairy tales: in the way that the narrative structure, without being literally true, encodes predictive correlations in human behavior. The dark wizard in a black robe makes the message more dramatic, but even without actual magic spells, we can use the story to remember that people who try to become immortal are inherently destructive, both of themselves and others.

To My Dear Friend, Amos, I leave Skeletons Forever

The hell awaiting the technologically immortal Terran bourgeois of the next few centuries is, for them, perhaps unavoidable. It is a decision made, and they will commit any number of cheap murders in order to fund their virtual sexbot self-esteem learning and exploring and personal growth pods. Billions of people have already been killed in order to concentrate impossibly unusable quantities of resources in the hands of orthodox necromancers, who have, in the current absence of the ability to actually clone themselves, practiced imitation cloning in the form of inheritance. The concepts of property, nobility, succession, inheritance, last will, trust, and charitable foundation are themselves zombies, sucking resources from living human beings in order to express the mandates of the departed. They are as unnatural and wrong as holding a seance to ask the spirits whether we should feed our crops to the new batch of infants, or burn them before an altar erected in the glory of bodies which have turned to dust (while the infants starve, natch).

The Gates Foundation's rampage through Terra looks bad now, but when its original creator is no longer there, and it answers only to the whispers of the long-dead, this monstrosity will seek new heights of horror. As with zombie-foundations that have come before, entire generations of people will live and die in thrall to the enshrined billions of dollars of some scattered cremains' ancient mandates. Entire families will be fed, and starved, depending on how well they serve, or do not serve, the speech of wraiths. The political and cultural landscape of the world hundreds of years from now will be shaped, in large part, by the ideas of some dead dweeb from the twentieth century.

The refusal of malignant old cancers to share life with the new is a profound subterfuge, when society redesigns itself to allow dead pharaohs greater wealth than living ones. Western civilization has been essentially necromantic for centuries, as the vast majority of wealth, positions of current social power, and established legal codes have all been based upon the un-departed dead. The trusts established by old eugenicists still fund a colossal share of corporate America, including particularly corporate R&D and advertising budgets, political campaigns, universities, and non-governmental organizations. Each year, as billions more dollars are donated by the helpful departing, more of the planet's wealth becomes entrapped to the commandments of those who no longer dwell here.

In practical effect, dealing with a zombie foundation's bylaws is little different than dealing with an uploaded Bill Gates who survives forever inside a muscular android body. The young woman who, in 2415, has to apply to the studly Bill Gates clone for a job, shares her eerie burden with a 2015 man who has to convince the MacArthur Foundation to let him spend his life in exchange for food. (How hilarious is it, by the way, that Johnny's old foundation has a new, improved "automated" application process? lol! The corpse's corpses have corpses working for them!)

In a very real, tangible, dollars-and-cents sense, nearly everyone alive now is engaged in carrying out the wishes of the dead. You can metaphorize that condition to the casting of a spell by long-ago necromancers, if you like...or you can simply call it a sociological trick whereby some very sick, cruel people, afraid of dying and ceding Terra to their children as their parents had done for them, decided to so thoroughly abuse, terrorize, and befuddle their children, that when they died, their children felt bound to ensure that all future generations respected the wishes of the abusers. It's an intergenerational Stockholm, if you will. No longer do we care for the living, but for the dead.

Nor does the "charitable foundation," as the newest megatombs are called, confer any real benefit to the undead tyrant. Everyone else only hovers so carefully around old Count Bezukhov because they want his money--they don't actually give a shit about his ideas, even though they ferociously pretend to, and deep down, he knows no one cares. As the hoarder becomes owned by his hoard, the necromancer, then lich, becomes owned by his stolen time. Everybody hates you, so the only way out is more power. Kill all the redundant billions, flog the remaining cruise directors, and pour every planetary resource into designing newer and better immersive entertainment programs to help you dull the pain. It's all worth it, if the true geniuses can squeeze out just a few more years.