The most philosophical arguments

He had a peculiar hobby. He liked to find philosophical disputes and trace them back to their point of origin. The longer and more bitter the dispute, the better

Needless to say, he was not popular among philosophers

Given, however, that these philosophers were on the methodological record as saying that unless something was explicit it did not count, it has to be said

The thing that gave him most enjoyment out of the whole ordeal was that, more often than not, the inciting accident was a minor gaffe that lesser minds would think very little of and promptly forget with ruthless pragmatism. Surprisingly often, these gaffes were translation errors, hastily constructed sentences which could be construed as insults, and other such linguistic unclarities. Once, it had all begun as an offer in jest to take a lift on an escalator, and proceeded from there for decades. Another time, a letter had arrived a day later than expected due to a bank holiday, prompting an all out denouncement of every thing the sender had ever said or implied. Yet another feud had begun when a philosopher took the last bagel without asking if anyone present had dibs on it. And so on. The reasons were very seldom philosophical, yet the disputes proceeded fully dressed up in formal wear

Needless to say, he was never invited to anything even remotely philosophical

Kafka does not live here

“You say your story is Kafkaesque”

“Yes”

“What makes you think it is?”

“Well, see, there is this bug that has to navigate what seems to be a routine bureaucratic errand, which turns out to be the start of a series of inexplicable events, and”

“Let me stop you right there and give you some of my impressions”

“Shoot”

“Here’s the thing. Your protagonist seems to have a firm grasp of who he is, even though he is – as you said – a bug. Moreover, the worldbuilding you do seems to indicate a stable set of circumstances whose particulars are known and relatively unchanging. Atop of that, the plot is intuitive, possible to grasp without too much in the way of close reading. It is very easy to follow along and know just exactly what is going on, and why. The antagonists – no pun intended – have clear motivations, and act on them in an understandable (albeit unfortunate) manner. Lastly, there are virtually no emotional confrontations with father figures of any kind”

“I do not understand”

“Indeed. Let’s continue this discussion with the shared understanding that this story is not, in fact, Kafkaesque. What do you see in the future of our protagonist?”

The worst curse of them all

The first impression was that it wasn’t too bad. To be sure, it would be a massive inconvenience with a distinct possibility of going horribly wrong at any point, but compared to the alternatives it seemed like getting off lightly. In the vast range of curses – going from eternal life immolated by infernal flames, to impossible ordeals including rocks and hills, to being condemned to watch the entirety of Friends one more time – this one did not stand out as worthy of nightmares. It rather seemed like a recipe from a slightly too advanced cookbook – it would be an effort, but it could be done.

The curse was thus: one morning, you would wake up to the sight of a positively massive amount of drugs that had to be gotten rid of somehow. Not in an immediate sense of the cops chasing you right there and then, but definitely in the sense of something beginning right now. A marathon rather than a sprint.

At first, solutions would spring to mind, one after another. Soon, though, they would all find themselves lacking in the face of the sheer amount of drugs. Can’t give them away fast enough (and it would draw attention); can’t dump them in the river (without running out of river); can’t use them for anything constructive (and taking them would only be counterproductive to the whole endeavor). Moreover, they take up a substantial amount of living space, so there is no living around them either (especially not when faced with the possibility of an imminent parental visit). Solutions would abound, only to be hampered by sheer overwhelming quantity.

Given time, the whole situation would become dominated by an ever-present medium-intensity anxiety. Every move would have to take into account how to get rid of this stuff, even if only as temporary stopgap measures. There are no short-term solutions, and the prospects of long-term courses of action are slim at best. Everything becomes middle-term, a mix of ad-hoc habits and a hope of these habits becoming routine. Even the biggest of mountains can be moved if chipped away at for long enough, and this particular mountain would only become easier to hide as it shrank. It was all a matter of enduring the uncertainties of middle-term pragmatic hopefulness. One batch at a time.

The curse, of course, consisted just of this very pragmatic hope. The task was not impossible, nor was it demanding once the learning curve got going. But at no point before absolute completion could it be considered an easy going; every step of the way is high-risk, where even the tiniest of mistakes could have dire consequences. Never a moment to relax or settle into just another day in the process; always potentially something.

To be sure, it was one of the worst curses out there, made worse by the difficulty of conveying just how terrible it could become –

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”

Non-inclusive yet all-encompassing writing

Theory

Foucault (1970, 1977, 1982)[1]

 

 

[1] This might seem an unorthodox theory section – consisting of only a name and three numbers which are presumably years of publication – but it makes sense if you think about it. Those who already know Foucault’s theories know them to such an extent that repeating them would only be to retread old ground, with an added risk of miscommunication due to imprecise wording and nuances lost in translation. Meanwhile, those who are not familiar are unlikely to become so through a brisk discursive walk through the highlights; again, the specter of miscommunication looms overhead. Thus, those who know already know, while those who do not know will not be enlightened.

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”

Graduation day

“It says 25. It should say 20”

The thought loomed. All attempts at distraction failed, turning into unwarranted meditations on how to make the number go down. Eventually, he simply resigned himself to the obsession and set to work

And work he did. He threw everything he had at it – algorithms, libraries, undocumented backhacks, brute forcing it through third party software just to see what happens, triple-booting virtual machines, leaving the tap water running in the kitchen sink. Still, the number remained at a steady 25, utterly unphased by all this creative destruction and unrelenting tomfoolery

But then

One night, he awoke, bolted upright, and walked straight to the computer. Nary a word was uttered in his internal monologue, just a vague but strong intuition that this one particular thing might actually work. He booted up one program, then another, then another, then had them ping-pong each other until

24

23

22

21

20

Finally

In his excitement, he forgot everything about having severe phone phobia and called someone to tell about what had happened. Not being well versed in phone etiquette, he began the call thusly:

“It says 20”

“My friend” the voice on the other end said, “you get it now. Congratulations”

Machine learning for the people

It began with a good intention. Someone, somewhere, wanted to create an autocorrect function that improved both spelling and grammar, above and beyond the makeshift implementations found traditional writing programs. After a number of false starts, it finally bore fruit, resulting in a startlingly effective piece of software that could make just about anyone appear a fully literate, articulate person in command of the written word.

At first, this increased clarity of communication across the board. Common misunderstandings decreased substantially, irritation over the intricacies of interjections and prepositions melted away, and overall both sides of written communication became that much smoother. Their, they’re and there – for a while, it was a solved problem.

But then

A few years later, a backlash emerged. Books, blog posts and other pieces of writing all started to blend together into a universal soup of common language. It was subtle at first, but when a prominent social media icon pointed out that a heartfelt recollection of young love lost read exactly the same as a summary of the fluctuations of the stock markets, it became clear as day. The algorithm did enhance legibility, but it was only ever an algorithm.

Needless to say, writers who wrote imperfect prose rose in popularity during this period. In response to this, companies providing proofreading software began to introduce small flaws in their programming, subtle enough not to be noticeable in short pieces of text, but sufficient to differentiate longer works from each other. This dynamic kept up for quite some time, with readers becoming ever more adept at pattern recognition and the programs becoming ever more subtle in their introduction of errors. Readers and writing tools, locked in an ever escalating arms race. In the end, it turned out that the quality of writing generally improved from not using any such proofreading software whatsoever.

Out of the algorithmically imposed lingua franca came a resurgence of antediluvian atavisms, such as unrelenting human editors who simply would not accept you doing less than you were capable of. Humanity, battle-scarred and not quite certain about what language even is any more, resignedly accepted this return of the once dreaded red pens.

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

A Friday 13 horoscope

Aries

Today you will get what you want. You will curse this day for years to come

Taurus

Black cats will gravitate towards you

Gemini

You will try something new, thinking “why not”, only to then become aware of the reasons in extensive and comprehensive detail

Cancer

Everything will go exactly according to plan. Beware

Leo

Due to your lack of belief in bad luck, you will not be there when your fortunes would have changed

Virgo

Cloud, the

Libra

She was here five minutes ago

Scorpio

Personal virtue will not protect you from systemic injustice; today less than ever

Sagittarius

You have one new notification

Capricorn

He will be here in five minutes

Aquarius

Sometimes, the test will focus mainly on that one thing you didn’t think you’d need to read up on. Today will test you on all those things

Pisces

The seeds of your misfortune were sown years ago. Nothing says today will be the day. But it will