Category Archives: Missives from modernity

Algorithmic matchmaking

At first glance, the trend was as inexplicable as it was unexpected. For what seemed to be no discernable reason, hiking rates had hiked. More people than ever ventured out into the countryside to explore the nooks and crannies of nature – the mountaintops, the deep forests, the long treks only possible in wilderness conditions. Something had set all these people in motion, and no one knew what

At first, it was assumed it was the ancient allure of Nature, in all its splendor. The simplest answer usually being something akin to the truth, and all that. But when asked, hikers rarely made reference to this most natural of reasons. In fact, the responses didn’t seem to indicate any particular reason at all, on either individual or collective levels. The stated reasons were all over the place, ranging from budding but enthusiastic spirituality (which somehow did not make reference to nature), to a (seemingly very sudden) interest in exercise, to vague stories of very distant relatives once having occupied these lands. The sheer variation of flimsy responses became the subject of much speculation, before the real reason finally revealed itself by means of participatory observation

It turns out that uploading photos of oneself in outdoor situations into dating apps generated more matches than indoor equivalents. Moreover, the more outdoors the photos were, the more matches it generated. Thus, it became something of a race to the most remote locations, so as to be able to return home and tell the tale

Perhaps it could be said to be the ancient allure of Nature, after all

Relentlessly selfish altruism

“So what you are proposing is…?”

“Yes, that’s right. Free healthcare for everyone, no fuss, just go to the doctor and get it. No ifs, no buts, no pre-existing conditions, virtually no paperwork. Clean and simple”

“Isn’t this rather controversial, though?”

“There is no point beating around the bush, so we will just come out and say it. Yes, we are literal demons, whose main interaction with the moral realm is the possession of mortal bodies for the purposes of evil and/or chaos. Everyone knows this, so there is no reason to pretend otherwise”

“So, why this sudden unexpected proposal?”

“See, here’s the thing. When you are possessing a body, you get to feel everything it feels. It’s part of what makes a possession a possession. If it was only a matter of getting people to do what you want, it would be more akin to rhetoric, and for that we can simply outsource the process to other humans. No, when you possess someone you go all in, and get to experience every bruise, ache, forgotten sudden pain when walking in the wrong way, and so on and so on. Humans, as they grow older, also grow accustomed to an ever expanding repertoire of subtle pains. Jumping into it unawares, to put it simply, hurts”

“So the free healthcare…?”

“It is basically a workplace health and safety issue. By improving the general levels of health among the human population at large, we reduce the risk of suddenly possessing someone with preventable arthritis or broken bones that didn’t set right or whatever other ache people nurture over the years. Prevention is better than cure, especially if the cure is painful to undergo”

“But aren’t you worried that no one will show up to your clinics, given the risk that you will possess them?”

“There are two answers to this question. First, there are more of you than there are of us, so even if we wanted to we could not possess everyone. It’s like cars: some crash, most don’t. Second, hospitals are scary as hell, if you’ll pardon the pun. They are the least natural, most sterile environments in existence, and the possession ritual simply does not work there. You have to effort it, of course – simply calling somewhere a hospital won’t cut it – but if you bring the facility up to a certain scale, the magic simply fizzles out. It’s all germs and stethoscopes and science all the way down. Frankly, we scare our demon children by threatening to send them to these places”

“So this whole thing is actually motivated by rational, ruthless self interest?”

“Well, we are demons, after all. It just turns out that sometimes you have to think one step further to get what you want”

The job interview

“So tell us. Why did you apply for this job?”

“I am in need of money. Your advert said you needed someone to do something I can do, with the implication that I would receive money for doing it. This is the extent of my reasoning”

“So you are not excited about potential new experiences and potential to grow as a person or something like that?”

“The way I figure, a person who would genuinely be someone on the lookout for stimulating challenges that would place them in dynamic situations with prospects for personal as well as career advancement – would have already managed to do enough personal growth that stating such ambitions would be superfluous to the process of realizing them. Going through the motions of restating such sentiments would either be a disingenuous performance, or an indication that the process was still early days; neither of which is optimal. By merely stating that this is a straightforward potential employer-employee situation, on the other hand, I can move things forward to the point where we’ve established a mutual understanding of the rules of the game, and can get right to getting things done. It saves time and effort for everyone involved”

“Fuck it. You’re hired”

A programmatic response

Honored Sir

Over the last few months, we have received a considerable number of letters signed by you. While we are honored by the attention you have bestowed us and our activities, we are also ever so slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of correspondence. Responding to each and every letter on its own merits would require a substantial diversion of energy and effort, and so we have condensed the spirit of your overall messaging into a lean and efficient algorithm.

Seeing as it must take up a considerable amount of your time to compose these letters, we have no doubt that it will come as a relief to you that your input has been implemented in this lean and efficient manner. We look forward to seeing what marvelous projects you will embark on using your substantially increased cognitive surplus.

Sincerely,

The department of humanities

PS

What follows is the algorithm in its entirety, for your perusal:

10 PRINT “The humanities are bad, STEM is good”

20 GOTO 10

Rational countersurveillance

Suddenly, a mail arrived. It was from a company, detailing all the various ways they use and have been using data collected, past and present. Specifically, it detailed the ways in which this data had been collected: which vectors, which methods and, with surprising granularity, which apps. The mail also included a form contract which, when broken down to its base components, involved the following: a checkbox labelled “I approve the use of the methodologies described herein”, and a place where a signature could be conveniently written.

Reading through the list of surveillance methods, he began to notice something very irregular. For one, it went over in great detail everything gleaned about his life in personality through his smart phone usage. While on a general level he supposed this might be a good way to go about these things, it was ever so slightly compounded by the fact that he did not have a phone even remotely approaching the evolutionary tendency towards intelligence. Thus, the information gathered – and the conclusions made from it – painted a picture of a completely different person than himself. Combined with the fact that the general impression overall seemed to be so out of touch with reality as to constitute speculative fiction, he did the only rational thing he could think of:

He signed the form and sent it in.

The most secret society of them all

Since we have recently been asked about this a number of times from very different groups of people, it seems prudent to add an answer to this FAQ. The question in question is:

Why are your secret teachings – the most secret of all secret texts – for sale on Amazon and other online places of commerce?

There are many reasons for this, but the two most important reasons are logistics and the nature of epistemology in modern society. The logistical angle is quite straightforward. Passing secret texts around in secluded secrecy is quite time consuming and labor intensive, and some of our chapters found that they did little else than to find ways and means to discreetly transport things back and forth. Meanwhile, Amazon and those other stores already send packages to just about everywhere, so someone receiving yet another package is basically as mundane and ordinary as it ever could be. Basically, it means less work for us, with a slightly higher rate of anonymity for our members.

As to the nature of epistemology in modern society, it basically comes down to two things: no one believes anything anymore, and there is so much of everything that even those who believe don’t know what to believe in particular. As we learned in the early days of our movement, shouting out the revealed truth in the streets did not open the eyes and hearts of those who listened. Rather, they were quite annoyed by the whole ordeal, and wished to avoid further contact. The same principle also applies on a larger scale: the safest way to get someone to ignore what you have to say is to communicate it straightforwardly in a direct fashion. To outsiders, our teachings seem like so much mumbo-jumbo they’ve seen elsewhere, and they just can’t be bothered to care about it. Therefore, putting our teachings out there available for anyone to peruse ironically means that no one will actually make the effort to do so. Our secrets will, for all intents and purposes, remain secret.

There are other reasons, but they all more or less come back to these two main points. We hope that you are, if only ever so slightly, more enlightened by this answer.

Community service

And so it came to pass that the local municipality set out to discover exactly why its young members harbored such anti-police sentiments. Being good social scientists, they employed a wide range of methods, from interview to surveys to participant observation. It was a very large and – for purposes of efficacy – unannounced study, working so far as it could in the shadow of ordinary everyday uneventfulness. Some concerns about ethics were raised, but largely ignored due to the severity of the situation.

As the results came in, several themes emerged. Or, rather, one major theme and a few supporting side themes all relating back to the major theme. As it happened, the results all pointed towards one thing: the youths were all radicalized against the police by having one time or another – more often than not several – been beaten up for no discernable reason by these very same police officers. The study controlled for a number of other variables – communist propaganda, violent subcultures, computer games, violent subcultures using computer games as their primary recruitment tool, poverty, family relations, gender, class, and so on – but even after extensive quantitative analysis, police-initiated violence stood out as the main factor.

Of particular note is the team engaging in participatory observation, who displayed a marked increase in anti-police sentiments after having suddenly found themselves on the business end of a police raid. Whether this is a significant find or a methodological problem is an open question. They did, however, write an extended analysis of a particular incident: a youth on his way to school being suddenly beaten up by a police officer, deciding (despite the bruises) to attempt to complete the trip to school anyway, only to be beaten up by a different police officer a few minutes later.

Upon publication of the report, the local police were asked to give a comment on these findings. They did not.

Competitive cost/benefit analysis

He had a problem. Or, rather, something more akin to a nuisance. His job was to oversee the logistics of moving stuff to and fro, and a non-trivial amount of this moving happened by means of containers. Most of these containers were full, but some were not. Some were definitely not full, and incurred the administrative fee levied on containers containing less than a certain amount of stuff.

His first solution was to encourage the marketing people to up their marketing efforts. More stuff in motion meant more stuff to cram into those not-quite full containers, after all. After an unfortunate series of misunderstandings, he and the marketing folks reached a mutual understanding that there would never be a need to talk about anything at all ever again.

His second solution was more indirect. Instead of moving more of the company’s stuff, he arranged to move other people’s stuff. Specifically, he would pay them to fill the available container space where there was a risk of incurring the dreaded (and outrageously disproportionate) administrative fee. This would incur a non-zero cost, to be sure, but it would be substantially less than the fee, so the result would overall be a net positive.

To his surprise, and to the dismay of the marketing people, this turned out to be a widely popular service. Customers showed up left and right to move single items that otherwise would cost a small fortune to ship. For some thirty-odd months or so, he was the only logistical administrator to not incur a single fee, and was suitably commended for it. Profits were made, and everyone involved (except the marketing folks) liked the status quo.

Then, disaster struck.

Due to a glitch in the system, he ended up with an empty container. Due to it being a particularly busy day, he did not have time to look too closely at what cargo the company was shipping. His eyes were fully focused on the quota needed to avoid the fee, and boy did he avoid that fee. In a fit of administrative and logistical prowess never seen before or since, he managed to fill the whole container with miscellanea, and have everyone paid as per usual.

The company was not pleased at finding that it had paid twice to ship an entire container of other people’s stuff for no reason or profit whatsoever.

Time management for busy people

As per your request, what follows is a summary of the temporal status of the relevant location. It has been determined to be a stable time loop, albeit a particularly complex one. The loop is a continuous repetition of eight different timelines, one following another in a predetermined sequence. As the details are intricate to convey, this missive will contain only the barest of summation. The eight timelines are as follow:

  1. The base timeline, without any temporal alterations
  2. An altered timeline, caused by a discovery of time travel
  3. A second altered timeline, with changes motivated by medium term economic interests
  4. A third altered timeline, with changes motivated by massive ecological devastation
  5. A timeline identical to the base timeline with the exception of a single document hidden away in a remote monastery for thousands of years
  6. A fourth altered timeline, characterized by the hostile attention of extraterrestrials brought there due to temporal anomalies
  7. A fifth altered timeline, where the initial discovery of time travel was altered so as to avoid the attention of the aforementioned aliens
  8. A sixth altered timeline, wherein other extraterrestrials nevertheless noticed the temporal anomalies, but for reasons currently unknown used their proficiency in temporal matters to restore initial conditions, thus looping back to 1

Any travel to this location will find itself in either one of these timelines, depending on the time of arrival. Given the relative stability of this loop, and its marginal effects upon our interests, it is recommended that we abstain from any future interaction with or travel to this location.

As to the loss of field agent Bothan, it has been deemed an unfortunate but acceptable price to pay for this information.

To spot the mark

To the untrained eye, the graffiti tags were just visual noise. They appeared, disappeared, reappeared, ever changing, in what seemed to be a never-ending game of whack-a-mole between tagsters and property owners. For reasons unknown, the tags would keep popping up and disappearing; most people neither noticed nor cared.

For the trained eye, however, these tags told a different story. They told the current preferred locations of illicit trades, mostly in small contraband, easily hidden and easily exchanged between two persons in motion. One week, the tags indicated a particular street corner. Another week, they indicated an abandoned warehouse. Those who could read the signs knew where to go. Those who could not were none the wiser.

In particularly troubled times, the tags indicated a moving target. Being in any one spot for an extended period of time is risky, and necessity being the mother of invention, they invented. It was a difficult tag to make in a hurry, but it could be done: indicating that those interested were to hop on this particular bus at this particular stop at this particular time.

This went on for an untold number of years, out of mind – but not out of sight – of the general population. An anonymous society of secret transactions, unincorporated, but definitely leaving its marks.