Category Archives: Wtf did I just read?

Extreme peer reviewing

The book invited criticism. Both explicitly, by means of a humble invitation from its author, and on a deep, implicit level; something about it screamed that this was a thing to critique. Every page figuratively screamed that here was a “but” to be had, and that it would be a good one, should you take the time to formulate it.

Yet. Everyone who did found that, in the last moments of their due diligences, their critiques did not measure up. There was always some prior remark, some footnote, some small but crucial aspect that rendered their critical efforts moot. Though the book did cover a finite amount of things, somehow it seemed to contain an infinite amount of rebuttals to any attempt to criticize it.

This sparked quite an interest. It became an informal competition among its readers to find the one thing that could unequivocally be said to be bad – no ifs, buts or qualifiers. The race was on.

At length, in a small gathering of the minds, one particularly bright voice abrupted: “I’ve got it!” When all else failed, the voice announced, there was still a nuclear option: to proclaim that the book was, among all the other things is was, boring. Following this revelation, cheers erupted.

At that very moment, the author – for reasons quite unrelated – entered the establishment, and noted the general excitement of the room. Upon asking what was afoot, the answer was given. And then, the final blow, the one innocent utterance that so shattered hearts and minds:

“I’m glad to see you are all so excited and enthused by what I’ve written”

Recipe for new dreams

Go new places

Go to old places and see them from new angles

Meet new people

Meet old people

Do new things with old people

Do old things with new people

Revisit everything

Ask her out

Ask him out



Walk every street in your city

Do it now

State of the art invisibility

The room was crowded. Everyone in there was an expert in something, and the anticipation of what was to come was palpable. It was the final talk of the applied invisibility conference, a crossdisciplinary gathering of the best minds late stage capitalism had to offer. Scientists and engineers from every field of study were present. Years of dedicated effort had led up to this moment. The presentation that was about to start had been hyped to the moon and back – the culmination of humanities ambition to become tactically and strategically invisible.

Silence fell as the presenter entered the stage. The presenter tapped the mic, and then announced, with soft and subtle words:

“I write literary critique, with a specific focus on contemporary poetry”

The assignment

The assignment was as follows: write something. The specifics were utterly unimportant; the point was to produce discourse of sufficient quantity and coherence to qualify as a text. The one demand was that the text began and ended. That was the assignment.

Yet, as you learned more about the topic, you found that your desire to produce discourse on that topic diminished. The more you learned, the less your will to in any way share what you knew. Knowledge corresponded to despondency to such a degree that, eventually, the very thought of communicating became an abstract blank. It became a very specific form of aphasia – the thought of saying anything at all on the subject became so alien it had to be approached through elaborate frameworks which ought to indicate something, but didn’t. As knowledge accumulated, your very being turned into an avatar of indifference.

At its worst, it started to creep into communication as such. Words became meaningless, emotions faded into tenuous notions, shared understandings into unverifiable rumors. Significance vanished, and the possibility of communication with it.

Yet. The assignment had to be completed. The task done. The words worded.

Then the indifference reversed. If nothing mattered, then it didn’t matter which words were worded, and thus any arbitrary assemblage of words would make do.

Thus, you worded your salvation.

Ghost ordinances

It is common to assume that ghosts are the spiritual remains of those who are unwilling or unable to move on. Exactly where this moving on is supposed to go is unknown and in dispute, but the general assumption that some portion of the dead do not undertake the journey is widely held. The dead are supposed to go somewhere, but ghosts for whatever reason do not.

A less examined assumption about ghosts is that they are the spiritual remains of a person, whole and entire. It stands to reason that this assumption is not to be taken for granted, and that ghosts in some sense are what the dead left behind when they left. The old adage that you can’t take it with you comes back to haunt us, as it were. There is no reason to assume that the afterlife requires each and every aspect of our mortal countenance brought along. Shedding excess mortality would, when seen in this light, be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

This opens up for the possibility of unrelenting ghosts of uncured toothaches haunting unsuspecting and unlucky survivors. Which does, to be sure, reframe the common wisdom that prevention is better than cure.

The elder gods

There are gods. In general, they don’t do very much, and most of them only do one particular thing. The process of who gets to do what is rather intricate and heavy on the backstory, but it usually ends up with someone being the god of this, someone else being the god of that, and so on until you end up with the god of all other miscellaneous things that are not the domain of the other gods.

It is strongly discouraged to question why this is. For one, the aforementioned backstory will be related to you, in detail. Second, the celestial bureaucracy has had more time to sort out the finer details than you can imagine. If you have things to do and places to be, just accept the things related as given and move along.

It is assumed that the elder gods are more powerful than their newer counterparts. Knowledge is power, and knowledge is gathered by being around and doing things, which is the general activity of gods, regardless of age. Thus, having been around longer equals roughly to being more powerful, on general principle.

You already know this, of course. Hearing that the gods are angry is enough to make you quake in your boots with fear right and proper. Hearing that the Elder Gods are angry is enough to make you forget that quaking is an option, fearing that they will find out where you are by listening for your boot noises.

Hearing that the Elder Gods are angry at you in particular is bad news bears all around. Especially the Elder Gods of Bears.

However, there is a limit the power of elder gods. It is not that they themselves age and lose potency over the years – as you have seen, it’s quite the reverse. The gods are, however, made in the image of those who created them. And if we go far enough back into our ancestral history, we find gods created by ancestors who had almost, but not quite, developed a sense object permanence.

Knowledge is power, which means that your best bet is avoiding the really really old gods. If they can’t see you, they don’t know you’re there, which means they can’t be angry at you.

Even if they are old bear gods.

Repetition and difference

Economists phrase mass production in terms of “economies of scale” and “efficiency gains” and suchlike. While they may have a point in alternative ontologies, they fail to catch the essential necessity of having many non-unique things at many places at the same time. Without them, our world would end, and chaos would ensue.

In those alternative ontologies, there would be what me might call “object consistency”. That is to say, things continue to exist even if no one was actively perceiving them. An absurd notion, to be sure, but such is the nature of things that are not. You and I, for as long as we or someone else can retain the thought, know that things are not so, and that our society is based on the fact that everything looks just the same. A house is a house is a house, and as long as they all remain identical, they will remain in being.

Economists do get some things right – such that demand creates supply (how could it not, seeing that demand is a prerequisite for the thing existing on a fundamental ontological level?) – but these absurd notions have to go. They are pure speculation with no bearing on our reality, and frankly it is embarrassing to have our prestigious academy associated with these ridiculous ideas. The economists have to face reality – for the sake of all of us!

Executive reality dysfunction

You walk along the streets of your city. Everything seems to be going on as usual – the machinery of reality is grinding yet another ordinary day into being. You walk past everyday people doing everyday things in everyday outfits, thinking everyday thoughts. Nothing stands out.

Until you walk past a circle of robed and hooded chanters worshiping what appears to be a floating whale of immense proportions. It is both suspended in the air and immersed in immense quantities of water; as the chant drones on, it moves to and fro with lazy aquatic motions.

A grizzled old sea captain walks past, scoffs at the spectacle, and mumbles something about Ahab not standing for this, should he ever return. You stop to ask what he means, but before you get a word in, a song starts to play on the radio. It’s a song you have not heard for years, and it has no reason being on the radio. Ever.

It is a lo-fi parody song you and your friends recorded when you were eleven years old. You only ever saved it on one cassette tape, and you lost that one years ago. How and why it came to be played here, you will never know.

Whilst in shock over this nostalgic auditory invasion, a scent catches your eye. It reminds you intimately of your childhood, and of all the times you fell asleep thinking about how life would be when you grew up. It is a strange timeloop, you remembering you thinking about you remember you, all referencing the same temporal spot, and it floors you hard enough that it takes a while to realize that a scent caught your eye.

And with that, the experience ended. You are suddenly back in reality, among everyday people doing everyday things. Nothing in particular is going on, and no one acts as if anything in particular has happened for a very long time.

You wave at the whale, just in case, and continue on your way.

The many ways of not saying something

“I didn’t say that.”

“I didn’t not say that.”

“I didn’t not not say that.”

For every statement made, there are equal and opposite statements not made. There are also statements of varying middling oppositionality that are not made. And, to be sure, there are statements that are not not made. And not not not made.

The difference is intentional. That is to say, it has to do with intentionality. Which is easiest to see when it comes to what is actually said – the speaker intended to use those words that were indeed used. The intention to say them existed, and this intention was acted upon. Clear-cut intentionality.

Not saying something, on the other hand, is a tricky business. Mostly, the difference comes down to whether it was not said intentionally, if it was intentionally not said, or if it was unintentionally not said.

Things that are not said intentionally are usually covered by saying other things. Corporations and their PR spokespeople are good at this kind of thing – they are very definitely not saying that the recent layoffs were made in order to promote the profits of a few remote shareholders who do not even know which continent the local community is located on. They use other words. They use a lot of words that very clearly communicate that they have every intention of saying everything but that.

Intentionally not saying something is related, albeit different. In its most benevolent form, it is refraining from speaking in favor of listening to what someone else is saying. In a more cruel form, it is withholding information in some fashion. Most of the time, it is a general postponement of statement until a more suitable time can be found. There is something to be said, but not here and now.

The last kind is difficult. And obvious. It wasn’t said – whatever it is – because it never entered the mind of the speaker to say it. There never was a possible intention to say it, and thus no possible intention to not say it. It was not said, but it was also not not said.

That goes without saying.

Nuanced strategic communication

All communication happens within a context. This statement might seem obvious, but it is worth pondering it for a moment. It means that there is no such thing as communication as such, pure communication – there is always a context to it, some prior set of conditions that needs to be understood in order for the message to make sense.

Thus, we need to be aware at all times of how we present whatever it is we intend to say. The message will intrude into a context which will, inevitably, color whatever our message happens to be. We might intend to say one thing, but our actions will intend us into a social situation where we have suddenly said too much and understood nothing at all of what we just said.

This is important. Ponder it for a minute. Figure your place in things.

Keep pondering.

You’ve done the ponder? Okay. Let’s turn our attention to how we can put this to use.

One way to put it to use is to assume that others are putting it to use. Which they are, whether they know it or not. It is a fundamental part of the ability to understand social situations, and the human mind is eerily adept at picking up even the subtlest hints and acting accordingly on them. They know what’s what and who’s who, and will figure it out soon enough by just observing your moves.

I can see that you are thinking what I’m thinking. That there is possibilities to this.

That we should go to random people’s doors, bang on them with determined enthusiasm and shout the most outlandish statements, so as to kickstart this inherent ability to understand social situations. Seeing as they will assume that we are banging and shouting with an intention of getting a message across, they will immediately conjure the most elaborate backstories for our actions. We will make sense, even though we do not make sense.

I suggest the phrase “Okay! Okay! You win! I’ll sell the rubber duck factory! But only because of the kids, you hear me?!”

Happy banging!