Collective Senescence

When I learn a new song – something I do unconsciously, every time I am exposed to new music – is some other song erased in my memory to make room? No. I seem to have unlimited capacity for memorizing music, even as my memory is like a sieve elsewhere. How does my brain do that? Does it re-use existing pathways, or create ever-more byzantine new ones? I imagine my mind’s architecture as ever-expanding fractals, filling the same space with more and more curves and crevices.

The older I get, the more byzantine my mind’s labyrinth, all to store the unceasing stream of new information. Now, when I forget the name of something, I imagine the word stuck in a crevice of the fractal. When I was younger and my pathways less intricate, there weren’t enough curves and bends for words to get caught. Now they snag on every corner.

What is information? In my life, it includes experiences. Every day is different; every day impresses new memories. Do the old ones disappear? Certainly my memories are difficult to access, especially names. But I know they’re in there somewhere. I’ve had deeply stored knowledge return to consciousness when revisiting geographical places, homes I’d been in before but never thought about since. If you asked me to recall my friend’s house in San Francisco between visits, I’d have come up blank; but revisiting, I knew where everything was. I took delight in long-buried memories flooding my consciousness as I rode a bus from the airport to the Presidio two years ago. Sometimes that visit felt like walking through my own dreams, geography and symbols shaped by my lifetime of accumulated experience.

Then there is the information of stories, words, music, numbers, images: Culture. Culture is collective, a living thing like a tree or forest that grows in the soil of human minds. Cultural information is experienced through exposure – reading, listening, tasting – and stored in everyone who experiences it.

How many songs will I store in my lifetime? How to even count? Some of them are surely buried too deeply in my mind to recall at will, but they are still there. All that information embedded in our minds’ labyrinths, that we are not aware of, is what Jung called the Collective Subconscious. Like the webs of biological life on this planet, they are too vast and complex for us to comprehend. We are only aware of a tiny bit at a time.

As I age, I find comfort in routine. Every day resembling the next makes memory storage easier. A curve of the fractal is already structured to store much of the day, with only a few details to be slotted elsewhere. Too much information at once can be traumatic. Moving house is traumatic for me, having to learn a new space. Moving to a new region is more so: having to make new friends, locate new food sources, learn new roads. Moving to a new country is more traumatic still, with new regulations, currencies, bureaucracies, and, most daunting of all for an older person, new language. All of these require new memory structures, new tunnels excavated in the catacombs. A young mind, like an “uncarved block,” takes this on with relative ease. An old mind has already been carved to delicate tracery, every branch with more branches, like the fragile intricate lace of an autumn leaf. Carve more into that, and you’ll tear a hole.

Even without trauma, the mere accumulation of experience over time leads, inevitably, to structural collapse. From the outside, this may look like senility. I increasingly believe that senility is an inevitable phase of consciousness. Live long enough, you will develop dementia. At least that’s how it looks from the outside; I don’t know what dementia is like from the inside, although I’ve read some reports from writers in its early stages. Surely some of the “blocks” our experience carves are more robust than others; a crumblier material may suffer early-onset dementia, while the most solid will die of other causes before their veins of memory fractals become to fine to sustain.

But what of our collective mind? We store information collectively too, as Culture. An ever-expanding human population is one way to increase storage capacity. But consider that many of us are storing the same things: the same languages (the number of living languages is decreasing even as the population increases), same songs, same movies, same stories. This is due to media. Literacy/writing was a great early cultural storage invention, allowing far greater numbers to be exposed to the same information. The printing press increased this exposure exponentially. Then phonographs, movies, radio, and television, leading up to, of course, the Internet, the greatest information-exposure system ever created.

Many of us, like me, spend hours a day “scrolling” information online. The density of words, pictures, and sounds is…well, it’s insane. Individually, I am storing this stuff; it’s shaping my neural pathways in ways I don’t know. I may not know exactly what it’s doing, but I know it’s doing something, accelerating the rate of tunneling of my memory labyrinth, increasing the complexity of my mental fractal. If I am wasting my attention on social media, it is because there is a cost: every stupid piece of (mis)information, adds that much complexity to my neural pathways, that much fragility to the overall structure, and brings me that much closer to senility.

Likewise, collectively, we have massively increased our exposure to information. Our collective memory structure, whatever it is, is collectively growing ever-more complex.

Collectively, we are becoming senile.

Complexity is fun (beneficial, desirable) for a while, but eventually and inevitably it leads to collapse. I’m not against complexity; it’s inevitable. Culture is a life form, and all life forms die. There is no way to stop this. Death is a consequence of life; dementia is a consequence of consciousness.

 

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Notes on the Apocalypse

Many battles, much polarization; we are splitting into sides. Online especially, there is right and wrong, good and bad, the “right side of history” and the wrong. Even saying “the right side of history” implies petty, idiotic opinions are of world-altering significance.

Wokeye

The Book of Revelation is the ultimate story of Good vs. Evil, black vs. white. It’s also the ultimate revenge story. John of Patmos was a persecuted early Christian, exiled to a penal colony, expelled from society; cancelled, as we’d say today. He was righteous and angry. He had time to imagine, in elaborate detail, the comeuppance of his oppressors. Isn’t this what we all do, if we have the time? Imagine our torturers being tortured tenfold in return, in delicious detail. It is notably un-Christian. You are supposed to forgive. You are supposed to understand. You are supposed to seek peace, to love thy enemy.

Not John! John fantasizes his enemies getting stung by locusts, rained on by fire, and cast into the pit of hell. In Revelation, neither he, nor Jesus, nor God Himself have compassion for sinners. Won’t his oppressors be sorry when they see John and his ilk rise up into heaven, while they get hurt and humiliated and tortured! Haha, turnabout is fair play! John may be motivated by that, but as far as his Jesus and God are concerned, this is simply the nature of things, the arc of justice, the “history” one is on the right or wrong side of.

Revelation’s End of the World is imagined as a war. It feels like war right now. My own little battle hill, Mount Ladyfeels, feels like a war between women and misogynists, reality and fantasy, mental health and mental illness, truth and lies. But which side is which? Each end of the pole believes it has Truth on its side. I try to stay out of fights, but I’ve gotten into this one: women don’t have penises, women are female, humans cannot change sex, gender is oppressive. To the other side, this is hate speech and I’m a nazi.

Armageddon is online. Armageddon is the Last Battle, saints against sinners. No nuance whatsoever. Have a look at twitter. Every ban of a TERF is a demon cast to hell. Look at Reddit. GenderCritical permanently eliminated: 65,000 subscribers consigned to the abyss. An angel holds the key. Righteousness is triumphing over evil! Except it’s backwards. Black is white and white is black. We’re polarized like a horseshoe magnet. Which pole is which?

So things morph in Revelation. Candlesticks are stars are churches. Seven candlesticks are also a menorah, the Jewish community from which Christianity emerges, as the Child emerges from the Woman Clothed With The Sun. Seven candlesticks, seven stars, seven churches, seven eyes of the Lamb, seven heads of the Beast. Good sevens vs Bad sevens.

Good woman, the Mother, vs Bad woman, the Whore of Babylon. The women don’t fight, they merely appear as symbols for one side or the other. There’s a third woman, the Bride of the Lamb, who is a city, the New Jerusalem. Mother, Whore, and Virgin (bride), sort of like the Triple Goddess Maiden-Mother-Crone, except no Crone. I am a crone, so I wonder what happened to Her. Is She the Whore now? In Online Armageddon, older feminists are denounced and despised. Yes, maybe that’s us.

My Animated Apocalypse will also morph, like the language of John the Divine. But in the end, even black will morph into white. Throne will morph into Beast, Lamb’s eyes into dragon’s heads, up into down, heaven into hell.

How will it end?

Why do we seek stories of “the end of the world”? The world does not end. It keeps going and going. We end though. And societies end.  Someday, Civilization will end; perhaps that’s what we mean by the End of the World.

The end of the world is nothing new. The Book of Revelation has always fascinated, as people have always felt on the edge of abyss. Apocalyptic fiction continues to be written; Revelation is merely our most famous early example. This world has been ending since it was created, and it is created anew every day.

The End of the World may be an egoistic projection of us mortals, who can’t cope with the inevitability of our own deaths. If we go, our egos dictate, the World goes with us. Persecution heightens ego. When you’re a scapegoat, as John was (and as I have been), your ego is deeply wounded, along with the rest of you. It enlarges. Narcissism is a consequence of trauma. Dwelling on the End of the World is a defensive projection, to deflect the reality of death from the inflamed ego.

Civilization has never been stable, as Against the Grain by James C. Scott amply illustrates. While Civilization itself persists in various forms, individual civilizations, or societies, always fall, the individuals comprising them regrouping anew. But Civilization didn’t always exist. Humans once were bound to the rest of the natural world, without literacy or other advanced abstractions. “Everything that is created is destroyed,” say the Buddhists, so someday Civilization will go. Like Derrick Jensen, I’m rooting for this Fall, because Civilization is killing the planet.

John’s Apocalypse, though, is more the opposite: the triumph of Civilization, and the final Fall of Nature. The New Jerusalem is a city, not a forest. It is fully paved. John rapturously describes the purified metals and minerals comprising it. Nature is completely tamed; there is but one Tree, around one river that emanates from the Throne. It’s all right angles, planes and walls.

Detail from Hans Memling’s The Last Judgement,” left panel, “The Elect.” Souls step up from the Earth to the much more desirable New Jerusalem, featuring perfectly smooth planes, sharp angles, and crystalline minerals.

In my personal theology, a just End of the World would be a return to Nature: humans disappearing into a platonic abstract New Jerusalem, and the Earth, finally rid of us, recovering at last. But the world does not end. I will die, but the world will continue. The only end I will live to see is my own. Until then, my ego needs something to do, and dwelling on the Book of Revelation is it.

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Animated Crucifixion

Happy Lent season to my Christian friends! Enjoy this animated gif of Jesus nailed to a cross, in some frames squirting blood out of his hands and right nipple, occasionally collected into cups by angels.

There is so much Jesus imagery it’s like a motherlode (or should I say Fatherlode?) of gold running through our collective subconscious. I’m going mining.

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My Sex-Pozzy Memoirs

Ever wonder how I ended up in this dominatrix outfit?

My first piece for  the feminist publishing site, 4W, is up: 4w.pub/sex-pos-memoirs/ I originally wrote it by hand, in a notebook, while staying in Bydgosczc, Poland. It was hard to write, but hopefully not quite as hard to read. At an estimated 18-minute read, it’s like a novel by Internet standards.

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Social Media Discussion Questions

As I’m still (mostly) on hiatus from Twitter and Fecebook, I fantasize about having a real-life discussion group to talk about social media. Since I don’t have one, I’ll do what I always do: ask online, which is why I developed a social media dependence to begin with. Please answer as many or as few questions as you like.

  1. Have you ever changed someone else’s mind on social media? How?
  2. Have you ever gotten angry at someone on social media? Why?
  3. Do you have online friendships or relationships with people you’ve never met in real life?
  4. Has a conflict on social media affected you offline, in “real life”? How?
  5. Have you lost friendships over things said and done on social media?
  6. Have you ever been publicly shamed on social media? If so, please describe. If not, why not?
  7. Have you ever joined in a public shaming of someone else?
  8. Have you ever witnessed a social media public shaming? Did you say anything? Why or why not?
  9. Have you ever reported a tweet or post? Why? What happened?
  10. Have you ever been reported?
  11. Do you say things on social media you’re afraid to say in real life?
  12. Do you say things in real life you’re afraid to say on social media?
  13. Have you ever lied on social media? Why?
  14. Do you “like” things you don’t actually like, and refrain from “liking” things you do like? Why?
  15. Do you use social media for political activism? How?
  16. How would you stay in touch with your friends without social media?
  17. If your friends all jumped off a cliff on social media, would you do it too? (Answer: yes.)

Update: my answers are in the fifth comment below.

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