Prepare for a spinning forth of words — poetic enunciation, in the hope that by acting one can learn the part. I’m roused by the interpellating “you,” the hailing of me as a person in the title and preface to Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, my nerves get the best of me. We live in frightening times. But it needn’t be this way. Let us dream ourselves into a post-neurotic utopia, without foregoing the underlying continuity of experience. I worry, though, that like Eldridge Cleaver, my most persistent intellectual quality is doubt. Ishmael Reed pointed to doubt as evidence of Cleaver’s role as a “trickster.” Am I a trickster, too?
Hippie modernism was an attempt to eroticize or more broadly sensualize Western modernity. It was a project launched from within the West that drew inspiration from the cultures of native and non-Western people. Within a sensualized landscape replanted and rewilded with minimal reliance on technology, people could relax and admire the barking of dogs, the music of birds. A neighbor operating a chainsaw is all it takes, though, to disrupt the peace of this reverie. I’m reminded of Amiri Baraka’s 1964 poem “A Contract. (For the Destruction and Rebuilding of Paterson,” which begins, “Flesh, and cars, tar, dug holes beneath stone / a rude hierarchy of money, band saws cross out / music, feeling. Even speech, corrodes.” Baraka’s poem reminds us that Paterson’s modernity (like that of the rest of the country) never extended to many of its black residents. To help bear his burden — to absorb the anger forced upon him by the racism of our society — I undergo a cleansing ritual. I absorb, I reprocess, I release.
I lie awake in the middle of the night worried about initiatory paths and forces representing competing alignments. Can I trust new acquaintances, or do they wish to use me for some ulterior end? Perhaps I should read about Buddhist socialism. The current Dalai Lama, for instance, thinks of himself as “half-Marxist, half-Buddhist,” and the heterodox economist E.F. Schumacher used to advocate an approach he called “Buddhist economics.” That’s all fine and good, but waters darken once we venture into “technodelics” and emerging efforts to devise tools to alter consciousness. How do we avoid the dangers of instrumentalization under such circumstances? In lieu of an answer, I decide to pair some texts in the hope that they might speak to one another. Take Sun Ra’s “cheery poem inaugurating the new age,” combine it with the version of Amiri Baraka’s play A Black Mass that he recorded with Ra and the Myth-Science Orchestra in 1968, and add Duke Ellington’s essay “The Race for Space” and Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.”
Twenty-eighteen ends with a friend recommending Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance to the sound of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and P-Funk’s “Mothership Connection,” two powerful Afrofuturist expressions of hippie modernism. Twenty-nineteen begins with Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and the mystery of the dancing queen.
Radical disconnection from the discourse of the community, including the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community. Others tell tales about a YouTube character known as The Thrift Shop Dude. Public transportation. Something having to do with a basilisk. Fascinating conversations as reality evolves, jumps levels from one year to the next. “We’re actually on 2016, version 3,” says some dude at the party, as if each year since has been a failure to self-actualize, both for me and for the society as a whole. There’s a strange sense of stasis. I want Sarah and I to have a kid, I want us to improve our living conditions and move into a better home, I want us to pay off our debts. I also want an end to Trump and a reorganization for the better of our relations with the General Intellect. People are smart. How do I activate that intelligence in my classroom? The new year began with a reminder of my limited knowledge of dance and funk and partying (epitomized, perhaps, by my ignorant former fondness at an earlier stage in my being for the playing-to-stereotypes cash machine known as “Jungle Boogie”), only to then unfold into an allegory leading toward a choice between Christian Socialism, Democratic Socialism, and Left Accelerationism. I pulled a Bartleby and remained throughout the night a fence-sitter. When I asked the three allegorical figures, the three wise men speaking on behalf of these positions, inhabiting points on a spectrum from less to more bearded, if there was still time to choose between augmented intelligence and artificial intelligence, they shook their heads adamantly, especially the Left Accelerationist, and told me that that train had already left the station. “Empathy” appeared initially as a term around which we could agree, but the representative of Christian Socialism seemed troubled and unwilling to assent to even so modest a commons as that, worrying that it amounted to short-sighted, guilt-absolving but otherwise ineffective efforts to “put people out of their misery.” I begged pardon to consult with Sarah, only to be shoulder-rubbed gently and told by the Left Accelerationist that it was unfair to burden others with what were no more than thoughts improvised in the spur of several moments. Why do years leap like this, each moment containing infinite branching pathways toward radically incommensurate futures? The lesson, I guess, is that I remain unsatisfied with existing options, despite the clock’s advance.
Awaken, I tell myself, operate manually one’s attention, one’s focus. A vacillation persists, however, as I contemplate technology and science in their relation to nature and consciousness, the dialectic of domination and emancipation never quite arriving at a proper synthesis. ’80s and ’90s cultural studies dismissals of the Frankfurt School’s critique of the culture industry and the administered society seem ever more inadequate and naive as police-power and purchasing-power conspire to bake the planet. I’m troubled, in other words, by any Afrofuturism or cyborg feminism that allies itself with technocratic Global Business Network fantasies of artificial intelligences and space colonies.
Thought seeks an object suitable to its aims as the one who thinks departs from procedure amid distractions posed by others. How best may I advance my cause? Perhaps by listening to “Session Add” by Skee Mask — a track that evokes IDM of the kind promoted around the turn of the century by labels like Mille Plateaux.
The track puts me in mind of some relatives of mine visiting from out of state — probably because these relatives happen to be “digital natives” obsessed with the game Pokémon Go. Upon their arrival a few days ago, these relatives immediately invited me to tag along with them as they met up with fellow players IRL in order to conduct a “raid.” Because I’d never played Pokémon Go before, the relatives had to explain to me that a raid is an event where players gather in public and collaborate with one another to take down powerful “boss” characters. Intrigued by what I consider to be the as-yet-unrealized potential of augmented reality games, I assented to the invitation. I’ll play Tom Wolfe to these Pranksters, I told myself. I’ll fashion myself for an hour or so as a kind of amateur ethnographer. And so, there I was, watching as a diverse group of strangers came together in the streets, a bit like a smart mob or a local chapter of the direct action cycling group Critical Mass. Unlike the latter, however, “raids” and “community days” offer little by way of direct action’s collective pursuit of demands, given the profoundly indirect, cellphone-mediated nature of players’ interactions with one another. Minus a few references to how many times players had seen the new Avengers film, conversations at the event I witnessed revolved almost exclusively around the game itself. “How many points have you earned?,” players asked one another. “How many creatures have you captured?” This on a day when, elsewhere in the country, students were being gunned down in their classrooms by a self-described “incel,” or “involuntary celibate.” So much for new media and its promise, I thought to myself on the drive home afterwards — at which point, as if in reply, Spotify’s algorithms selected for me the old Bad Religion song, “Fuck Armageddon, This Is Hell.”
Gnostic beasts blow smoke in my face. They draw their fangs and whisper in my ear. I posit the existence both of a subliminal language and of those who speak it. I know not, however, this subliminal messenger-class’s intent. “What art thou,” I ask blindly, “friend or foe?” Friends and I must try to make the Commune into the outcome of history’s likely progression. Put utopia back on the map. Marxism needs to stop its “museum roaring with crowd of sober patrons” act. The grain of sand must become the pearl. No more molding of behavior to accord with the words of the patriarch. Dress instead to celebrate life. Become like the wild animals who, even as we converse, continue to roam the countryside. The change from good to brutish happens, though, in every child, warns Wilhelm Reich. It is here and now, in one’s inner grace, that one attains one’s godhood. No more entrapment of consciousness in identification with the as-is. Go instead for weed-supplemented walks with friends. Pass a grey-and-white cat nesting in a batch of monkey-grass. When friends and I stomp through a park amid the murky air of a purple and orange dusk, a cacophony of chirping bird-speak erupts from an evergreen, and squirrels root around in dead leaves at the base of tall, bare shadow-trees. A friend recommends I read Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s new novel Fever Dream. I direct my head toward knowledge acquisition, but nothing happens — the system’s fried. All I can picture are skies filled with slaughterbots. Autonomous drones. Makes no difference whether we’re ‘tiny house’-owning minimalists or OCD hoarders. They’ll declare open season on all of us. Tech will empower authoritarian capitalism to precision-strike its foes.