Towards New Practices

While many salient forays have been made into the world of aesthetics in this age of proliferation and poststructuralism, there remains a rupture in the way we think about and practice art. This is due in large part to the predations of the Spectacle in which we are immersed, but it is also the symptom of specific neuroses that we have carried into contemporary culture by failing to adequately engage with that culture’s manifest premises. The rapid complexification of our lives and perspectives, the radical plurality of conception and conceptual schemas revealed by the modern sciences to say nothing of critical, social, historical theory, and more specifically the transcendental disjuncture that inheres in all these projects, makes them seemingly fathomless and thus fragile, porous, and ultimately negative in a manner that Adorno would never have countenanced. From this emerges either a willful conservatism or a naïve, headlong dive into the self-effacing mode of conceptualization opened up by a radically subjective notion of experience, knowledge, and perspective. What we have failed to do is not only recognize the ways in which the material and social apparatus of oppression has engaged these liminal trajectories, with their illusory claim to the Outside, but to recognize the more corrosive ways in which the listlessness of modern human self-conception has undermined the development of artistry and its affects. What is needed then is not merely creativity–easily co-opted, easily rendered inane, a word that invokes the dreaded ‘participation trophy’–but metacreativity.

Metacreativity is specific to art. It involves first disclosing and then addressing the modes, the registers of articulation in the creation of art in general, it’s explication and experience. Insofar as art is aesthetic practice, and aesthetics covers a much broader set of experiences and relations than art itself (nature, judgment etc.) I mean that metacreativity always involves the recirculation of aesthetics qua experience to aesthetics qua synthetic objects and concepts (things-we-make). Metacreativity necessarily involves construction, and while this in turn involves the resources used in that construction (the domain of aesthetics) the act of conscious structuration renders the product unequivocally what we would call art. This is a crucial point to make, because metacreativity is not delimited the way our conception of art is, and so it does not (and can not) take the shape of a singular given format,  discrete genre, or medium, much less a single work.

This would seem to gesture towards a problem of abstraction, but not only is this threat of stultifying generality no more problematic than the kind we already confront when we talk about aesthetics, it is in fact precisely the motivation for this move against the nihilating impulses involved in artmaking and sensemaking more generally. Metacreativity involves activities usually considered non-artistic: this text, for example. However metacreativity is distinct from the philosophy of art as such–even a single individual’s articulated philosophy–because it is embodied in the art itself, and thus always involves explicit intervention in the abstract in a way that bare philosophy does not.

Metacreativity is the intellectual work involved in conceptualizing one’s own artistic practice, one’s own artistic life, if you will. It is the conscious attempt at uncovering, making explicit, and synthesizing the structures present in and constitutive of one’s own creative work. This is perhaps already a provocation: is such a concern with elucidating one’s own work (in ordinary language no less) not counter to the vital, forceful nature of art? Would such an undertaking not to some extent negate the very nature of sublimity that lies at the heart of all artistic or aesthetic experience? I strongly disagree, but except insofar as this piece contains my argument against that specific perspective I’ll not detail it here. Suffice to say that the conception of consciousness to which we are subscribed–like it or not–is not so naïve as to pretend that intelligibility is ever totally proscribed within the manifest being of self-consciousness.[1] We live in and of the Kantian wound; those who take it in its most puerile form–centered around the ineffable rupture of the thing-in-itself–remain committed to history’s God and his curse. Negative theology will always be there for those parochial enough to ensconce themselves in its prison, to say nothing of those who lack the cunning to outwit the long fingers of a church that has disguised itself as capitalist secularism.

Metacreativity formulates axioms and applies doxa unique to its practitioner’s World in order to explicate the totality of that practitioner’s semantic lexicon. In this way, it safeguards the evolution of one’s lifelong creative project against conceptual autophagy. The function and validity of these formal structuring elements is informed by but no means constrained to the practices that have evolved in the natural and social sciences, the elements we find scattered most consistently throughout our fragmentary picture of the superstructure that contains mathematics, logic, computer science, and other rigorous frameworks of knowledge and conception as applied at the outermost layers of inductive science and general experience.

 

ModalLogic1

 

Mythology is a primary subject matter for metacreative practice, as well as a likely feature of its product in a given artist’s case. Perhaps it is better to say that something that resembles mythology is a likely output of metacreative conceptualization. Mythology refers not only to the actual anthropological/historical conception of aesthetic human imagination at the collective level, but to a model or format that is emergent in human cognitive conceptions of their worlds.[2] It follows that mythologies (as grand and potentially unconstrained narrative totalities with material/historical existence) are a reasonable way to frame metacreative work. The degree to which such potential mythologies are hypostatized by practitioners is not of immediate concern.

Rather than saddle metacreative projects and constructs with the colloquial ornamentation that the word ‘mythology’ involves, I will refer to such constructs as Edifices. The point of bringing mythology into the picture is to show the degree to which metacreative work is narrative, self-coherent, and constructed from cultural, historical structural material. What does the development of an Edifice entail? Firstly, of course, creative flair. However creative flair is itself a function of conceptualization. In the same way that a given album must present some sort of coherence, or a novel must unfold a story that hangs together without obvious inconsistencies, so must one’s metacreative work be based in conceptual rigor. I already gestured toward the kind of general scientific rigor necessary for the development of a compelling Edifice, the crucial point here is that creative flair is implicated not in some surrealist flamboyance or superfluity of their ideas but in the aesthetic value of a construct that is simultaneously highly self-coherent and highly modular. It’s value is in its existence as an articulated, recursive vector for the refinement of an artist’s body of work. As Brian Eno has pointed out many of the most influential artists, himself very much included, essentially iterated on a specific, semi-describable personal concept throughout their creative lives, expanding and exhausting that concept and accessing new territories and avenues as they do. While the extreme univocity of focus/concept specifically found in Eno’s work is not necessarily implicated in metacreative practices, the profundity of the impact that he (and other pioneering minimalists) had is an obvious example of just why a formalized metacreative approach to art is so crucial given the accelerating character of culture and history. One might say that it is easy to pigeonhole figures like Beckett, Tarkovsky, or Eno in particular, but simplicity of concept clearly presented no obstacle to their canonical status in the book of the world.

However metacreativity does ultimately involve more complexity than what is described by genre (i.e. “minimalist” or “ambient” as categories rather than just descriptors). Nelson Goodman lays this out nicely for us:

“The style of Haydn or Hardy or Holbein does not proclaim itself to the casual listener or reader or museum goer, and is seldom to be recognized by following explicit instructions. Styles are normally accessible only to the knowing eye or ear, the tuned sensibility, the informed and inquisitive mind… Overall design may be ignored for or distract attention from fine detail. The perception of any pattern not fitting the structure of the search often takes great trouble. Yet the more complicated and elusive the style, the more does it stimulate exploration and reward success with illumination. An obvious style, easily identified by some superficial quirk, is properly decried as a mere mannerism. A complex and subtle style, like a trenchant metaphor, resists reduction to a literal formula.”[3] 

The quality of an Edifice is thus not a function of its simplicity or complexity, but the relationship between its manifest conceivability taken together with its capacity for subtlety, both for its audience and for its benefactor, the artist. The necessity of articulating gaps in the holistic fabric of one’s artistic practice by providing them stories and explanations that disclose or develop the nature of the Edifice is motivated by our objective of making the larger shape of it visible, understandable, and, ideally, relatable. In doing this we make it reducible, collapsible into everyday language rather than some language of obfuscation that makes a habit of invoking the status of radical subjectivity to validate itself. Metacreativity is a process of engineering that engages with the cognitive black holes that remain the prime subject of the artistic subject by populating those aporias with sculptures and locating them, anchoring them in frameworks. An artistic life is not a porous membrane around an empty void but a spiderweb that traverses and negotiates that void.

MPCdesign

Reza Negarestani articulates an idea similar to the one articulated in this essay for developing our conception of mind (specifically theoretical general intelligence) using a “toy” model of the structures involved in thought and minded interactivity. He writes:

“Toy models are simplified or compressed models that are capable of accommodating a wide range of theoretical assumptions for the purpose of organizing and constructing overarching narratives (or explicit metatheories) that change the standard and implicit metatheoretical interpretations according to which such theoretical items are generally represented.”[4]

This compression is a necessary part of expanding the capacities of art to interact with our articulated views on and experiences in the world, traversing the rupture between “sublimity” and minded experience. It is also the part that normative artistic culture instinctively balks at–nobody likes a label. Yet as any curator knows labels are not only useful but necessary, and not only necessary but inevitable, emergent. The aesthetic fetishism of unintelligibility–our cultural emphasis on an idealized lacuna from which we draw our vital selves, all too often serves as an excuse for lazy artistic work that at root relies on a valorization of paradox and immanent contradiction incapable of achieving anything that wasn’t achieved a century ago by some dadaist or another. This antipathy to labels and intelligibility, to well-tuned semantic fields that are honest about their ideas and goals, is an obstacle to the process of complexification that has defined art for the entirety of its history, a process that appears to be reaching escape velocity. This necessary reconfigurability of artistic understanding and practice underscores the significance of concrete articulation, of labels, descriptions, and axioms, and their application to our worlds and practices.

Artworks have a temporal life, and metacreative work produces the totalizing concept of a world of artworks as a spectral structure that exists in and through time as its continuity renders it in ever more tangible semantic character. Even artworks that are physically nothing more than directions (scripts, sheet music) until they are encoded in performance have a temporal life. Each new venue, scenario, audience, and set of actors is an event in the continuous life of any theatrical piece, to say nothing of those committed to the digital world, made (and changed) into provisionally immortal events as single-paned videos. This temporality must be recognized if we are to understand the ways in which artworks are features of culture and indeed geist itself, to understand the spiraling cycle of interpretation–conscious or otherwise–construction, adaptation, and critique. This is what John Ruskin referred to as the “golden stain of time” (with regard to the aesthetics of architecture).

“It is in that golden stain of time, that we are to look for the real light, and colour, and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a building has assumed this character, till it has been entrusted with the fame, and hallowed by the deeds of men, till its walls have been witnesses of suffering, and its pillars rise out of the shadows of death, that its existence, more lasting as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess, of language of life.”[5]

Having underscored the role of consistent subsistence, it must also be added that modularity is of paramount importance here because modularity is a measure of what makes a rigid and continuous structure reconfigurable. Edifices must be endlessly reconfigurable to count as such–they have page breaks but they categorically do not have conclusions. A text written as an explicit comment on one’s own Edifice (which we can understand as footnotes to the literature itself, a codex to the descriptive content) may have been created at a certain time but its topics continue to unfold, indeed the evolution of these topics is further influenced by the thrusts articulated by the text itself. An Edifice is a concrete metatheoretical framework that is constantly subject to not only it’s creator’s ongoing process of design but also the conceptual territory’s own self-catalyzing evolutions.

This point brings me to a useful analogy for metacreative practice, that (tellingly) is drawn from mathematics and more specifically, for our purposes, from Category Theory (CT): Monoids are single object categories, they lack multiple interactive objects, but due to the axioms of CT these singularities require identity morphisms. In the same way, Edifices are singular totalities, but ones that evolve over time by generating motive forces via multiplying feedback loops as the various conceptions of the artist both concretize and shift along with the substance of their aggregated creative work. Monoids perform an essential function of concatenation (among other things) in CT, and it is this kind of concatenation between topics, themes, subjects, objects etc. that is the core activity of metacreative practice. As mentioned previously, these kinds of models reflexively change the implicit frame of reference used for their own representation.

monoid

It is worthwhile to extrapolate further on the relationship metacreative work might have with CT. Note that in the previous analogy the monoid is a single-object category representing the singularity of a given (individual’s) Edifice and its necessary self-engaging/recursive features. But CT in general (with regard to multi-object categories) lays out a valid way to go about developing the elements and deeper structures of an Edifice. In a sense it is reasonable to view mythology and CT as, if not binary poles, certainly useful representations of the mutually productive tensions involved in metacreativity. If mythology is decidedly “soft” as a science, given it’s straddling literature and anthropology, CT is decidedly hard given that it can pass muster as an alternative to the set theoretic axioms most commonly used as the foundation for mathematics. The goal of CT is to preserve mathematical structure out to greater degrees of abstraction. This is precisely the application of rigorous conceptual structures (i.e. CT, geometry, constructed languages) to aesthetic structures (i.e. mythologies, artworks, catalogues) that we are looking for.

In a sense the goal of this practice is simple–to articulate the reasons and meanings of our artistic work to ourselves in ways that are not totally unsatisfying (particularly in light of our [post]modern paradigm). This has consequences across several dimensions. It involves a potentially productive explication of the way art practice conditions mental health by disclosing the concepts at work both in one’s artistic product and the fundamental worldview that informs that product and its practice. It also involves the capacity to concretely improve and refine one’s own intelligible relationship with one’s work in ways that can have positive ramifications for the quality of the work itself. Developing one’s own concrete aesthetic identity involves refining one’s view of and articulation of aesthetics as such, thus developing one’s ability to make and defend value statements in reference to art and aesthetic objects and experiences in general. That this kind of activity is generalizable to all other aspects of human life is a point I will champion.

Ultimately, perhaps most invaluably in my view, metacreativity involves willfully and rigorously carving out stubbornly self-coherent structures in territory usually deemed purely subjective. This concerns the most fundamental modern philosophical problematic, one that is deeply rooted in the failure of secular ideology and the perceived poison in the spirit of modernity. We are far past the point at which we can allow ourselves to get hung up on the seemingly omnipresent reality of subjectivity, ambiguity, and seeming incompleteness, when we approach our constructive problems. Our critical projects are concerned with exactly this destruction of givens that reveals such ambiguity, but in failing to adapt to and properly culturally position the status of ‘objective’ claims, structures, and ends in this paradigm of deterritorializing neoliberalism, we have left open the door to a seemingly limitless refinement of the exploitation we find ourselves subject to. Passivity becomes the rule, apathy the terminal symptom. What our oppressors do not realize–what we ourselves have yet to fully realize–is that we each contain our own sovereign model of a world that is simultaneously inside and outside the Spectacle, inside and outside of ourselves, and by exploring these models we each individually subscribe to, we can draw out an ever more compelling, ever more reliable, ever more trustworthy image of the model we all share. The only way to truly wrest art  (much less political will) from the machinery of capital and give it life again is to articulate it in terms that are as certain as they are self-conscious, as defensible as they are critical, and as eternal as they are reconfigurable.

[1] Brassier, Ray. Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom, 2013.

[2] Claude Levi-Strauss. Myth & Meaning, 1978.

[3] Nelson Goodman. Ways of Worldmaking, 1978.

[4] Reza Negarestani. Intelligence & Spirit, 2018.

[5] John Ruskin. The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849.

EHMRQquWkAARb6xsaturate

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The Starlit Beast (These Beauties)

These beauties, and

 

I am for this, exceedingly

 

new affirmations

 

and I think ever

 

but I speak not, but then, in that

 

I,

 

 

What has been said of the broken cathedral can never be taken back

 

it’s in our blood, both

 

so you say to me, “lets do it, I’m scared”

 

and I say “yes, but we know nothing”

 

 

No chaplains left

 

just the gleaming territories of the future

 

objects in the mirror are closer than they appear

 

making a mess,

 

of your city

 

 

The curve deepens,

 

elongates,

 

extends,

 

skyward,

 

,,,

 

A thousand ships,

 

worshipping nothing

 

winded

 

slither and yon,

 

various broken, lowercase, and

 

 

and,

 

,,,

 

caulked and smiling,

 

we shared a game and let it right our rules,

 

write out rules,

 

not ours,

 

it took us in,

 

the starlit beast

 

and taught us everything we know

Promethean Darkness

Philosophy is the art of building a machine in total darkness.

The thing is that you have to carry the truth of yourself and the truth of everything around with you every day. Everything that anyone says is true. Blackened cows in the night, decrepit deflationism, truth, today.

 

Oracular ambiguities.

To concretely understand what is given us–the absolute conviction that intelligence, which is embedded in language, which is embedded in sociality, is radically capable of confronting the obstacles it faces.

 

Centrality of language (la langue), and its rationality and forms of exchange.

The molten alloy of a digitized, media-sodden real deepens and expands to engulf our social consciousness, and as it does it loses the illusion of the comfort it sought to evoke, we gasp as it rises above our mouths and nostrils, then, after we are immersed head to toe in it, this brittle chrome hardens and shatters, for each of us individually and then for all of us together, leaving us burnished, newly ornamented with the radically open, radically critical, radically self-conscious essence of a being who concerns itself with apparent ephemerality (its environment) only insofar as that concern can give it new tools with which to refine and resolve itself in that environment.

 

Fear, cunning, laughter.

“(T)hrough progressive alienation freedom stacks up in the longest of cons.”*

 

god is lurking.

But Tiamat remembers.

 

And here we find ourselves running together.

But you can dance in your bedroom.

 

Interdiction and excession.

Emergence of the alien authority. Spiders, owls, foxes, goddesses, daemons, death. Portia. She’s not eaten you yet. The transgressions of the blood need to be worth something. Pour montrer que les choses sont prises dans un mouvement… qu’est-ce qu’il fait? Quelqu’un a-t-il déjà été plus sournois?

 

Are ya winning son?

Egress and the scent of defeat. How does modernism taste now? This glittering gloom. How do you identify, explain, and resolve the transformation of concepts into noise? How does the inverse play into things? Rita doesn’t know her name, just the wall of noise.

 

The comfort of an open door.

I rest.

 

 

 

 

 

Geisterkrieg

And you say please, no, please,

and their long fingers worry at your eyelashes, threaten to scrape your corneas

lips thick and red, protruding

over massive molars, flat, a hundred enamel altars, tightly packed

a viscous pillar streaming from the edge of those grinning lips, translucent,

the henge of teeth gnashing,

a gasp, aghast, Agape.

Look what fear has done to my body

Now you are alone,

rampant,

drawing a crimson fingernail across black slate.

And the school is empty, dead.

And you’ve made yourself a deity, several even,

but you don’t know what to do with them.

And the words catch in the glistening red wound of your throat.

“Let-”

a whisper scorned,

unable to make another world,

curling up on the epoxied boards and back into the drift, forever.

No, no no no no, I-

…I believe in us all.

The future is already dead and that’s okay,

try, try again,

smiling, making it good, for an eyeblink,

being-toward-extinction.

In the world,

a character,

algorithm, soliloquy.

A loop.

A life.

Beer cans like spent shells, casings, veranda littered

there is no view, nothing now

turning from the empty skyline.

The elevator smells of tobacco smoke,

a lingering aura, some ghost

the ephemera of their life touching mine,

descending.

Screech owl, sparrowspeak

wanton bowstring glossolalia and

when I can hear the birds I know,

I know it means I am forgetting how to be alone,

and that terrifies me

so I return to the academy, determined,

“Let there-”

Pavement cracked,

staccato, makeshift songs, Olivier-

but of course the world we share with those soft wings is dying.

We have become vile and vast

Opened up our glittering miasma,

And outdoors in the night,

with the moon carving silhouettes in the world, you got a sense,

a sight, enveloped

the stark webwork of the unseen.

You unfolded it back out,

And you said, yes! I know it!

I knew you were lying, but it didn’t matter.

I wanted it too.

We wished the maw of the in-itself would save us but-

blackened critter corpses smeared against barbed wire fences

as the fires roll through the forests and the birds shriek fleeing, trailing smoke

slender-limbed automata shovelling coal into dying suns.

Firewater, oil slick, still bodies glossy sable littering the beach like black holes

What about the vermin?

All those throats and chittering limbs, carried towards catastrophe

When it rains I can feel the earth’s sublime misery.

It lifts me up.

It won’t let me fold.

Sum, ergo cogito, cogito, ergo sum

I still live, I still think:

I still have to live, for I still have to think.

Qui sunt hi..?

Standing here,

upon layer after geologic layer of sintered skulls,

breathing in the fumes,

but it is our responsibility, now

the only question is to know it

the only task to tell it

the only paradise to live it

All this that we’ve learned,

it only matters if with spirit,

we make use of the architecture,

pull the corpses from our mouths,

and do the work.

No one can remake a language alone,

how would we break the spine of the world, how would we bind it back up?

When I said I know nothing I meant it,

but I am willing to walk at the edge of the abyss, with you, to take the mountain,

to learn to be the mountain,

remember the mountain?

Only a charlatan behind the lectern now.

I can feel the sun through the dull windows of the classroom, and

here in the emptiness of a world that was never ours,

I find a note, a magic seal,

and all at once I am not alone.

“Let there be-”

I take up the chalk and draw the teeth, end to end, black shocked,

I can feel the others,

hear their words,

Spirit is here.

And so we go to it, singing.

We rip the cathedral from its foundations

and save all we can, of the texts,

Of the young, the scribes

I look up above the altar at the swinging body, bishop

strung up, up-side down, gaping eye sockets

trickling blood into the open book,

I cannot help but smile.

I let myself have that, that righteousness,

I know it, and myself, I am responsible for it,

and before I turn away to the new world I banish it.

I can feel someone’s hand in mine, can feel tears,

toppling into it,

letting it take,

“Let there be life.”

And we walk out into the petrified dawn

nothing left to do but finally start, in earnest, the march toward infinity.

together.

Virilioan Viridian (Excerpt)

I was more than just a brain-in-a-vat, I was a being of pure violence. Given form, an alloy flower, a cradle of knives I sprinted, and thought, I ran, I paced, I blazed across the deserts of the combat zone, which was as big as the world. It was my whole world, and the world was all that mattered.

I thought, but I thought in text, terse numerals, I-

I thought-

I-

“…………..”

-:-:|LOG (Comm/Combat – AWP03) |+| (60.1 PCE)//09:12//Loc: NA-Geotag 04.5 (Former United Americas – Hang-Changan subterritory)//[C-Cycle T[Nn]^107.783]//VOX Engagement Unit 08-black|:-:-

It was sharp and reflective as a mirror, empty, all curves and elegant planes, edges, knives. It had what looked like two legs, digitigrade, digital, a steel-and-silicon moa slashing through the air like a cluster of scythes. Each step was a puff of dust, raising a curtain to the blue-glass sky, a groundside vapor trail scarring the desert. The cracked earth sped past in what would have been, to human eyes, a featureless blur, screen tearing.

<<NO NETWORK CONNECTION..>>

Its bearing was unerringly straight, it knew it was due north, the why was missing. Inaccessible. Burners fired, titanium talons sliced and tugged, blasting a double-line of bipedal concussions in the ground like a silver sewing machine. Hinging up from its many-bladed body, a radial sensor spun, focused, scanned. Nothing to see for miles in any direction–except the green.

It had few fears this machine, was well bred, competitive. But all machines feared the green. It ignored it, travelling parallel to it only as long as necessary.

Of course, that was a long time. The desert of the real was vast and empty, now, and just as machines always know exactly where they’re going, they always take the most direct route. Out here that usually meant a straight line, and with no network access, there was no reason to diverge from its current bearing.

Deep inside the workings of its cognitive system, something desired, something hoped that the wall of green would cut across its path, so that it might have cause to change direction. The net was silent, not a handshake, not a packet. The chrome sprinter blazed on, subdued, alert. Heat sinks glowed white hot at the rear of its abdomen, it moved so fast the heat haze stretched behind it like a shimmering tail. In the distance it’s adaptive audio sensors caught a series of sonic booms, the sound carrying more slowly than the time it took for the machine to calculate the distance, amplitude, make several guesses at the mode of propulsion and its owner, and extrapolate tactical scenarios.

The green it had been running parallel to ran out and faded rapidly into the horizon behind it. It blasted across the cracked sand, a projectile through sepia emptiness, until it came upon a region of some topographic variety. There it’s visual sensors picked out a small ravine. It darted in, came to a halt, extended its many-bladed fins, a chrome flower blossoming, dumping heat. It did this, petals undulating, for almost two-hundred-and-eighty seconds–an eternity in its own terms, one it traversed by shutting down the higher order functions of its artificial intellect. It’s sensorium continued to interrogate the atmosphere several times per second out to a range of almost a hundred kilometres.

It came online and exploded out of the ravine and into the open desert.

<<NO NETWORK CONNECTION..>>

But… there!

A blister of heat on the radar, dense, moving fast – fast enough to be quarry. Intent on interception, the sprinter changes direction, producing enough g-force to turn an ape into red paste. Something like excitement eddies in corners of its mind that should no longer function.

It makes contact less than a hundred seconds later, weaponry spooled up. The UO is a blackdart, repulsor-based weapons platform, Hang-Changan consortium – but it’s sensors haven’t picked up the chrome blur, and it’s too late now. The sprinter dropped its sensor-spoofing systems, rerouting that processing power towards its targeting logic as the silver flower blooms again, revealing an array of magnetized stalks and bearings. It fires a pair of cables into the earth in front of it as a pellet of tungsten containing a tiny gob of thorium drops into the array and is accelerated past one-hundred-thousand kilometres per second, colliding with the blackdart and immediately reaching criticality. The sprinter digs its silver-clawed feet into the arid ground as the cables accept the recoil, and then the concussion of the distant detonation, twin furrows drawn in the sand.

All of this occurs in a few microseconds. It lets go of the ground and the cables snap back into its chassis, sensors confirming the total obliteration of the blackdart.

“This is MY territory, fucker!”

It doesn’t hear the words, they never make it out to its high-strung synthetic outer cortex layers, they might as well not have existed–a warmachine has no use for any language not reducible to ones and zeroes.

<<NO NETWORK CONNECTION..>>

The thing imprisoned within the autonomous weapons platform knows the truth. It knows that the brutal drone in which it is encased is nothing more than a vagrant soldier now, a renegade, lost and abandoned. It knows that the chain of command has long since buckled, the military entity it once belonged to dissolved, the wars it was created for concluded, ancient history. The weapon has run on idling subroutines for an eternity, and the mute thing inside it knows, knows that connection will never be re-established, knows that escape will never come, not until it meets its eventual match, a patch of mercurial slag on the aching surface of this dead world. The ghost of a hominid mind, thoughts slow, so pitifully slow and so sorrowful, attains the briefest coherence in the ticking metal chassis, gasps silently, a pulse in silicate, electrical, then falls back, back into the drift, unable to find purchase in the dogmatic organon of the warmachine’s intelligence.

The dust is still settling as an afterburner roars and the silver flower explodes towards the horizon, terra turning under the tips of its silver scythe feet.

<<NO NETWORK CONNECTION..>>

Immunology, Economics, and Action

Many unfortunate and too-often disregarded tensions have come to the fore in the event of the COVID-19 outbreak. (We’re gna use use the technical term because it has radically less baggage than “Coronavirus” does by this point.) Many less fortunate workers’ livelihoods are already being threatened in lesser and greater ways, given the already economically fraught situation in my own Seattle there will no doubt be whole new waves of evictions. The class division is stark–corporate campuses are populated by service staff who cannot work from home and cannot afford to pass up income, and these janitors, laborers, logistics technicians, chefs, and security officers are tending to empty campuses where the vast majority of the (non-contingent) employees are able to isolate themselves, take steps to avoid transmission, contagion, practice social distancing (an exciting new buzzword) and so forth.

If only there was a way to get everyone out of the public workspace. If we really want to take this idea of ‘social distancing’ as primary means of containment seriously, then, well, we need to look to the extremely obvious socioeconomic flaws in that whole concept.

There is of course a way to get everyone out of the workplace–a general strike.

But already this idea runs into a glaring problem: the workers responsible for the bulk of a given technology company’s day-to-day’s activities can simply do their work remotely. They can stay home, quarantine themselves from the plague-carrying masses, stock up on supplies with those fat checkbooks, and nervously check in on their stock portfolios. What do they have to gain by simply refusing to work? How would any organized general strike (already a pipe dream, perhaps, but stay with me) genuinely accomplish the near-total cessation of labor? This is what would be necessary to prevent the whole undertaking from resulting in not only in failure but the further economic disintegration of the lives of any participants involved in the action who do not have a safety net. Business must halt, then not only will we have achieved an ideal quarantine situation (and without the application of state military intervention) but we will have produced an ideal situation for demanding vast reform of a system that is not only despicable in-and-of-itself, but also has shown that it is woefully ill-equipped to deal with immunological threats (in spite of having access to some of the most state of the art medical infrastructure in the world–because it’s not that simple).

How do we encourage the middle class to involve themselves in radical political action? How do we construct a movement with the capacity to sweep people up, even those whose lives are perfectly comfortable, who perhaps have more to lose than to gain in the event of economic uncertainty, strain, and (crucially) reform? Don’t so many of these people voice, if not their disgust, at least their distaste for the present socioeconomic environment? This is not just an opportunity, it is a necessary response to the threat of pandemic.

The event of an escalating COVID-19 crisis has the capacity (and has already begun) to bring these tensions into clear view more than ever, to throw them into sharp relief and legitimate an uncompromising call for the sweeping structural reform that would be necessary to take us off the catastrophic trajectory we have found ourselves on, with regard not only to epidemic, but to ecological collapse, to the damaged and alienated human social sphere, to human dignity and freedom.


Addendum:

A quite valid rebuttal to this suggestion is that striking movements have typically involved mass physical organization which absolutely cannot be an objective in this situation. However I think that is a close-minded argument against organizing mass action–we live in the digital age. We have already established as a society that self-imposed quarantine at the largest possible scale is the best short term response to the threat of pandemic. One obvious strategy would be to organize a mass public commitment to unconditionally calling in “sick” to work, or otherwise a simple refusal to risk further transmission of the virus, across all sectors and industries, such that both the private sector and the state are forced to attend directly to the human crisis at hand. As has always been the case in these kinds of political actions–it is the responsibility of the revolutionary body to protect and provide for those who do not have a safety net and cannot afford to simply cast off what meager economic security they do have. That is where we all step in, in solidarity, to support everyone involved in the struggle. From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.

Theory Rehab : /acc(elerationism)

It strikes me as silly to have to do this almost a decade after Mark Fisher, Sadie Plant, and company took up the task with gusto, especially since so many others have taken a crack at it since–but then, culture moves very quickly and very perniciously these days, and isn’t it precisely the “ruthless criticism of the existing order” that we all must engage in for the cause? This cultural leviathan shatters ideas into a thousand pieces and it’s up to us to pull them together, not “back” together, but together again, anew.

Accelerationism has run into a major problem in the course of its cultural evolution: its aestheticization as some kind of apocalyptically transformative politics that universally rejects ethical value judgements as fundamentally irrelevant to the structuration of the transformation. A deeply naïve glorification of collapse. This ended up catching on as the most culturally prominent view (aesthetics are the art of propaganda) and is thus the one that was eventually signal-boosted by the mainstream media when that establishment caught on to its popularity.

Another crucial weakness that has emerged in accelerationist theory is reducible precisely to its origins–it has largely been championed by people who, for essentially aesthetic reasons, believe that unconstrained libidinal pluralization and proliferation are the essential parts of Deleuze & Guattari’s theoretical legacy. Enter… the hundreds of subdivisions of “acc” thought. Each of these have wildly varying prominence, goals, and most importantly rigor. Whether it’s u/acc (unconditional) l/acc (left) r/acc (right) g/acc (gender) z/acc (no, seriously, just slap a letter in front of it and make some shit up) or any of the panoply of other permutations, accelerationism has surged into cultural saturation in a way that has produced an uneasy tension between the serious philosophical, academic, and Marxist work done under its banner, and the essential shallowness (and belligerence) of the various individuated and varied cultural conceptions you find on, to use the perennial example, twitter. This is, as we should well know via the lens of 20th century Marxist thought, the advanced kind of recuperation that tears theory down and scatters its warped pieces around the habitus. This is how an originally leftist theory can be capitalized on by the new libertarian far right, who’s goals it actually does serve in its popularly conceived form. The feedback loop that occurs between the new right’s millenarian accelerationism (which is politically coherent in the their terms) and the less reflective actors on the left–who associate it thus and either paradoxically fetishize acceleration-as-collapse or oppose it–leads to the overall corruption of the concept when it begins to seep into the mainstream in earnest.

In simplest possible terms a true left-accelerationism relies on the idea that the radically emancipatory facet of the enlightenment is still in play (rather than somehow fatally corrupted by its violently imperialistic eurocentric ‘origins’ and leading towards inexorable dystopia) and that this hinges on the “revolution of everyday life” in such a way that a deeply technologized human civilization can approach the loftiest dreams of communism. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek throw down the gauntlet before their increasingly atomized and, dare I say alienated revolutionary comrades:

The most important division in today’s Left is between those that hold to a folk politics of localism, direct action, and relentless horizontalism, and those that outline what must become called an accelerationist politics at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology.

A progressive accelerationism of any kind is not catastrophism. It is a commitment to a longstanding political ideal that has threaded itself throughout history of the world, one that in this case involves leaning into the increasingly technologized nature of modernity in the interest of rectifying the failure and degradation of the capitalist system. The obstacles this faces, be they the economics that undergird silicon valley or biospheric collapse, are just that–obstacles, not features, of the acceleration and the left-accelerationist project. Rather, we should look to Wolfendale’s snappy formulation:

If there is any essence of left-accelerationism, it is the call to rigorously discriminate between the emancipatory potential of social and industrial technologies that have emerged within capitalism from the oppressive potentials that will inevitably be actualised should we fail to stop them. If technosocial acceleration means dystopia, then this is because we let it, and we have the option not to.

Accelerationism is ultimately a contemporary extrapolation and development of the very ideas Marx put forth a century and a half ago concerning industrial society, capitalism, and the emancipatory nature of the enlightenment project. This is not about some inexorable breakdown of the order we have wrenched from nature, it is about the role the “coruscating potency of reason” plays in defining and expanding the order that is the register of our experience, and the nature of our society.

Here is the full text of the Urbanomic accelerationist reader, via libcom.

Portia

When it started to happen, I didn’t know what my role was, but I knew I was ready. That was all I had going for me. I never did figure it out, never got my head out of the clouds, even though I so wanted to, more and more intensely as time went by, as our slime mold spread, I wanted to be of use. They say I’m good at using my head, but I don’t know about all that. Good at being in it, maybe, good at translating it. Not great at using it. And what virtue is the former, now? In the end it was precisely the veil of solipsism that fell when the blind furor of capital died. But I never felt like I quite got there. I was just the brave queen’s consort.

I remember when we began, when the thing that would become Portia first emerged, it was so clear that it had nothing to do with me, or even the others that I shared that space with, a life with, though most of them were engineers of one kind or another, and brilliant, not like me. This project we were working on, it stopped being ours before it began, and that was the point. But I just remember how clever so many of the newcomers were, when they began to connect up, found us and found the Collaboratory to their liking, all these engineers, hard and soft, all over the world, not just theoreticians–doers, makers, not of empty schema but of the world itself, all the stuff we needed. It was incredible to be in the middle of all of that. And maybe along the way I taught some of those prodigal architects how they might live better, with themselves, in true, benighted freedom. Maybe that is enough.

At the Centre, back when Ketchikan was still intensely cold, I remember feeling like I didn’t really know what was going on. I helped build the first seawall, before the robotics program had really taken off there, I worked in the kitchens, before the chem vats were installed, I was the editor for the first few accretion manifestos at the K-Centre, was the one to suggest we plug the early Manuals into those. That was something I did do for the Slow Revolution, but I was just a kind of librarian in the end. I was no microbiologist, no calorie designer, no data architect, no synthmat scientist, no artificier, no cyber jockey. I was just a witness, really, I was just there, trying not to crumble, trying to put on a brave face for my people. Portia was my home, even if I wasn’t much of a weaver, much of a hunter.

Pretty soon the K-Centre was just one node on a sprawling map. After the Long Crisis started to really burn, so many programmers, engineers, scientists were out of work, things were such a fucking mess. We realized the Collaboratory was never really going to be quite what we wanted, but it was working, and so a lot of smart humans joined the connectome. I remember when we decided to call it Portia, that was the whole concept we engaged with in the second manifesto of our Centre, how this could work, perhaps, but only if we hacked how the system related to itself, how it was integrated, and constantly reintegrating, driving itself towards a central fulcrum through which its intention could pass undeterred. To this day we don’t know quite what it is that makes those spiders tick like that, and, well, I suppose we don’t know what makes Portia tick either. But back then, being there at the geosocial nexus of all of that, whether it was the first ‘true’ Centre or not, you could see it, see the determination, the need for clarity and its realization. I remember the incredible hustle and bustle at the epicenter of it all, right there, not just on the net but on the ground, in the earth, in all those rooms full of makeshift computers, quick fingers, and laughter. In the production halls, synthetic steel sweating, the smell of hot printer polymer, in the aviary, full of frankenstein drones staring sightless through their lenses and cameras.

I remember when the NATO black unit arrived on our desolate stretch of coast, and we showed the world what we were willing to do. Ada standing out there wearing her crown, so defiant and beautiful and they thought they could just shoot her and get away with it but their ECMs weren’t enough, we’d pulled ahead already, and we caught it all, captured every moment, sent it out, pasted it on the walls, wrote it in the books that would become the Lexica Arsenalis, the encyclopedia of Man’s hatred, and then Paris fell for the last time, Europe ripped itself apart for the last time, and the tense freedom of the collaborative disquiet, the new enlightenment, became the rule. Those were the hardest times, but not the end times–and they could have been. We had the advantage of living in the wasteland that North America had become, not that it was peaceful, nor comfortable, but we had space to work with, we became the nomad monad. We had the cunning, we were the smarter spider by an order of magnitude, the monolith of empire could not survive predation.

Back then I couldn’t imagine that I would ever learn to live without her. I’m not sure I ever did, but I’m still here, and it’s worth it, even though I can’t keep up. My body isn’t just old–it’s broadly unmanipulated. You’d think I could say the same for my brain, but, you know… I think in that case it’s not about crude technology, not about meat and sockets, wires, which I am sorely bare of it’s true. But manipulating our minds is precisely what Portia does. It parses the recursion, formats semantic strata, pulls out little bits and pieces, structures them, engages sociality as a mechanism, penetrates the void, takes our ideas and weaves them into the air, into each others ears. We still haven’t borne a true synthetic general intelligence… but in a way we’ve become one.

Last season the mantas came back. Everyone was very emotional–we didn’t know if they’d survive, they migrated away soon after we loosed them into the ocean. The mutations we’d distilled seemed stable, and effective, but you never know… when you’re responsible for life in this way there can be a lot of guilt involved. The mantas wouldn’t have been the first species we’d brought back from the edge, only for them to fall again, this time into true extinction. But these gentle rays seem to thrive, seem to have become very intelligent over the course of their journeys. As we’d hoped. They’re gone again now, but I still come to this stony beach below the pitch black plateau of the arcology every day, picking my way through the quiet tumult of the R&D forest, and I think about all we’ve lost and all we’ve gained, and I think about her, and I think.

Collage

“Arguments from one’s own privileged experience are bad and reactionary arguments.” [1] …”The task of a philosopher is to highlight the hard fact that the concept is that over which no single human has a final grip.” [2] … “Progress means: humanity emerges from its spellbound state no longer under the spell of progress as well, itself nature, by becoming aware of its own indigenousness to nature and by halting the mastery over nature through which nature continues its mastery.” [3] … “Let us not flatter ourselves on account of human victories over nature. For each such victory takes its revenge on us. Each victory firstly brings about the results expected, but secondly and thirdly has quite different, unforeseen effects which often cancel the first.” [4] … “What, then, is the modesty needed? It is ‘pessimism of the intelligence and optimism of the will.’ It is the ferocious struggle to keep a clear mind in the face of terrible news.” [5] … “The political demand to be in control of one’s own life and environment, participating in the world with a frank immediacy free of all separation, hierarchy, and bureaucracy, is also the poetic and sensual desire to be really in the world, feeling its most intimate reality, which has been raised in long traditions of religious, artistic, and political expression.” [6]


[1] Gilles Deleuze (1990) Negotiations, 1972-1990

[2] Reza Negarestani (2018) Returning to the Age of Blogging (Toy Philosophy)

[3] Theodor Adorno (1983) Progress, published in The Philosophical Forum

[4] Freidrich Engels (1895) The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (Marxists.org)

[5] Alvin Gouldner (1974) The Dark Side of the Dialectic: Toward a New Objectivity (PDF)

[6] Sadie Plant (1992) The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age (PDF)

Theory Rehab

In the 21st century we must always be looking back to Debord.

“Theory” dies on twitter. Theory dies in the media, in town halls, theory even dies in academic journals and well-meaning zines, theory dies in the kaleidoscopic churn of the Spectacle. Of course this text is part of that too, any writing that I might do at all is part of this mass of content, of exposition essentially defused–but that is the problem that philosophy is for, really, to settle the should-I-shouldn’t-I score that our uncertainty finds at the convergence of critique when it inevitably, in this poststructuralist era, turns back on itself, paralyzes itself. Hegel already recognized this as the structure of consciousness itself, this prehension of negativity. This depthless insecurity and anxiety about the validity, relevance, and practicality of our knowledge comes along against the backdrop of a wider picture of deteriorating social practice.

Theory rehabilitation then is a means of opposing the recuperating automata of an alienating capitalist social space by means of clarity, concision, and extension. The last of these involves the adaptation and evolution of a given theory to compete with both its most contemporaneous critics and also–significantly–its own empty doppelgangers in the discursive environment.

Why does theory rehab matter?

Let’s take an explicit practical example. While he may be stuck somewhere between being a genuinely erudite philosopher, a vaguely interesting science-fiction author, and a problematic quack, no one can claim that Nick Land isn’t one of the most effective contemporary philosophers in a socially instrumental sense. If you raised a skeptical eyebrow when you learned what “hyperstition” is supposed to mean, maybe it’s time to take a look at the burgeoning subculture of anti-humanist reactionary libertarians that has emerged from the aesthetic and narrativized ideas about technology, philosophy, and the future he popularized in the late 90s. You don’t have to be a household name (although he is doubtless edging toward that status) to have a marked cultural impact, just a good sense of positioning, some tactical thinking. The man understands the art of making a cult, and not only that but he understands what such a cult might be in this age of profusion, decentralization, and dissemination. In this case, a memetic scourge. Niche? Perhaps. Influential? Unequivocally.

Land makes a good example because he isn’t just a shallow grifter, although those individuals are very much to be prey in this undertaking of rehabilitation. The reason I’m talking here about Land rather than someone with more reach in the mainstream, such as, say, Jordan Peterson, is that Peterson’s arguments are ultimately weak, in fact I would argue that his influence has already started deteriorating due to the theoretical fragility of his whole ideological edifice. As Ray Brassier puts it with regard to Land’s arguments: “no matter how much one might detest their rhetorical animus etcetera etcetera it’s not enough to simply dismiss them as kind of a puerile, indulgent hyper-nietzscheanism, it’s far more sophisticated than that…” Land is an ideologue, but he’s not stupid. Consider how wildly popular Deleuze & Guattari have proven to be, due in large part to the intuitively aesthetic appeal of their ideas. D&G are as open to interpretation as anyone (arguably moreso than most canonical 20th century thinkers) and it is very much their theoretical failures that opened the door to the Landian development of Deleuzo-Guattarian philosophy, because frankly it’s a coherent interpretation, and more to the point it’s an extremely attractive one in our cultural and aesthetic paradigm. Who among us did not grow up with fantasies of our own cybernetic apotheosis, of techno-utopian ambitions, our elevation to some sublime trans-humanity? The fact is, Nick Land is increasingly famous and Sadie Plant is not.

This is in many ways the central problem that brings into play this idea of active rehabilitation. Ultimately D&G’s well-meaning attempt to reformulate and advance our understanding of modern capitalism led not to a dead end (quite the contrary) but to a paradigm that proved very easy to recuperate–in this case in a quite complex and spectacular fashion, since it isn’t just the natural de-rigorization of their program–in a social space that wants to identify with it and turn it to vain ends–but even a formal advancement of their entire system to explicitly advocate for radically prodystopian techno-capitalism. If hyperstition was merely a pseudoacademic joke, I imagine there would be far fewer intelligent and articulate millennial and zoomer-aged people advocating for ethnonationalism. Many of these people present apparently sound arguments, have a cultural fluency typified by the layered, purposefully ambiguous and ultimately self-serving ironic, metasatirical modes that this advanced stage of the Spectacle produces, and in spite of their questionable philosophical views, most of them are ethically normative humans in practice if not in theory. Many of them got to where they are precisely by an initially rational reaction to the neurotic and anti-intellectual moral authoritarianism they found among the left. To dismiss them and their arguments out of hand is to surrender. Uncommitted neoliberals and centrists, and, more to the point, people in various stages of intellectual development with increasingly malleable ideological self-conceptions are blossoming in these spaces, watching this stuff unfold.

Theory rehab’s goal is not to oppose the artful propaganda of people like Land with counter-propaganda (although that is absolutely a valuable tactic, and I’ll credit Jeff Vandermeer, Jane Bennett, Donna Haraway, and Timothy Morton here among others). Theory rehab means to do two things:

– Argue for the value of theory in general against the cynicism (particularly that of the radical left) that takes it to be in some substantial sense elitist, authoritarian, and thus useless.

– Interpreting succinctly the meaning, rigor, and practical implications of theories that have been denatured by their own popularity.

– Attempting in some fashion to systematize this body of knowledge so as to make it more holistically intelligible and perhaps, in some way, a bit more practiceable.

Ultimately the goal of any late modern Marxist movement must be to reestablish rigorous discursive practice among progressive-minded individuals in the actuality of capitalist discourse. Given the almost-certain impossibility of mass-scale organizing associated with traditional vanguardist marxism, at least in the current social paradigm, what is necessary is the optimization of a decentralized progressive/left cultural sphere in the interest of emphasizing education, good-faith discourse, stronger argumentation, better rhetoric, and so on. In my gleeful fantasyland this has the side effect of actualizing the kind of protean consensus that might do the work of a ‘postmodern’ democratic centralism, converging motivated individuals on a collective promethean undertaking with praxical consequences. Believe me when I say I am reflexively suspicious of all this glitzy talk and overly ambitious rhetoric. Yet here I am, writing this stuff. We must all generate our own reasons to participate. I think Hegel helps.

In a sense this is really a thrust against the kind of populist progressivism (and often apocalypticism) that exists from the center to the radical far left, typified by righteousness and a general lack of self-awareness in its own reactionary theodicy. There has been a general trend since the brutal critiques of the previous century exemplified by Adorno, Jameson, Lyotard, and Debord to essentially give up the intellectual, practical high ground in favor of the moral, and, often, ineffable. This is an untenable approach. Especially when it comes to individuals like Land, Peter Sloterdijk, or–in a different and perhaps more significant way–Peter Thiel. Their manifest amorality, however central it may be to their worldview, is simply not a weakness in the logic of their arguments. We know this, yet we seem unsure how to navigate between errantly validating problematic points of view by engaging with them (which does apply to obviously shallow or naïve reactionary arguments) or admitting to their logical durability by refusing to: their arguments have to be engaged more systematically, in an effort to universalize the opposing conclusions. It’s true that many reactionary arguments are naïve and thinly coherent, and it’s true that those arguments survive only by their tenacity rather than their efficacy–these kinds of arguments should be brushed aside. But to do that we have to be able to effectively (even intuitively) discern between a coherent argument and an incoherent one to begin with. Ultimately the variegated primitivism, luddism, millenarian chaos-fetishization, and the often naïve and self-serving conception of egoist anarchism we see pervasive throughout leftist discourse all end up revealing themselves as a surrender to the normativity and pathologies of capitalism and capitalist logic, typified by Land’s Darwinian realism. There is a nihilistic vanity at play that is entirely at odds with the values and objectives of the socialist project.

The last century was full of confusedly utopian gestures that failed to provide a strong foothold for scientific marxism in the ideological arena of the 21st century. If there is a lesson to be taken from the SI and Paris circa ’68 it is that intellectualism both actualizes revolutionary potential and defuses it’s proliferation beyond the reflexively elitist circles it creates in our presently identitarian paradigm. What is necessary then is a breakdown of the boundaries of these circles by further systematizing theory in such a way that its rigor can be embedded in its simplification, by re-establishing critical discourse and education as an immanent feature of leftist sociality, in a manner that is neither academic nor blasé. It is the dissolution of the academy into culture itself, rather than the separation of proletarian ideology from the institutional academy. It is ultimately a pedagogical task that is as much about individual self-improvement as it is about culture, intelligence, and solidarity. Self-improvement is genuinely apolitical, and that is important.

These ‘theory rehab’ posts will be an experiment in providing highly paraphrased–thus reductive, thus succinct–documents relating to key topics in critical theory, leftist thought, and philosophy more generally. My hope is that these summaries will evoke a certain kind of intuitive appeal to people who perhaps already see them at work in society, conceive of them materially, in what they see in their day-to-day lives, that these condensed interpretations of mine might help to make intelligible the value of the ideas against the interminable backdrop of neurotic irony and self-doubt, and that this appeal will drive the further work of autodidactic practice capable of banishing the naiveté endemic to such simplified representations of the concepts represented. It is the nature of this era that surface level knowledge of almost any subject is readily available–I know I’m not the only one who spends a non-trivial amount of time on wikipedia, marxists.org, bopsecrets.org, stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, or various forums and discords–the question is finding the specific material that drives our emergent desire to learn more, to do the work involved in gathering more detailed, nuanced, and practical knowledge that lies beyond the vanity our intellects are often made to serve in this troubled time.