Liberation in Art but not in Your Stupid Life: 2112, Real Genius, TRON, and Ready Player One

In which art is not blamed for the problems of the world:

2112

A man in a controlled, music-less dystopia finds a guitar, learns to play, and feels joy. The priests of Syrinx who rule the system in the name of "average" (a la Harrison Bergeron) crush him. The ancients of rock who created the guitar return and liberate the system with a prog rock concert.

Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here that's as strong as life
I know that it will reach you

Don't annoy us further!
Oh, we have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the plan!

TRON

A game designer dude lives in exile above his arcade, robbed by evil AI & corporate suit. His ex and her dork boyfriend let him into the building, and he goes into the computer world, which the evil AI & corporate suit rule as well. The ancient soul of the machine gives the dork's program access and lets it play Breakout against the AI, and the game designer sacrifices himself, liberating the inner world, deleting the evil AI & firing the corporate suit, restoring the game designer to power in the real world.

Greetings, programs!

Real Genius

A too-young, too-uptight student works for an evil professor, but makes friends with other weirdo students and loosens up. The evil professor and the military trick the weirdos and make a death ray from their work. The ancient student in the closet emerges and the weirdos hack the death ray and turn the evil professor's house into popcorn.

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

Ready Player One

A boy in a crapsack world, literally in a trailer home on top of trailer homes, finds solace in ancient movies and games from a book by an ancient nerd. The corporation which rules the world and the virtual world crushes him and his friends. The ancient nerd's program runs, and gives the boy power and he liberates the virtual world and the real one.

After a long silence she asked, "So what happens now?"

Just Stories

These stories, they're just stories of their time.

2112 didn't end the "Moral Majority" or censors. The PMRC of Syrinx was founded 6 years later to destroy rock 'n roll and rap; the PMRC is gone but Tipper Gore still lives and hates, and music is still censored; remember Fuck You, by CeeLo Green? You probably only heard the censored radio version "Forget You".

TRON didn't end centralized computing, AI, or thieving corporate assholes. Today EA has ruined large gaming, and Google & Amazon make AIs that will probably kill us all.

Real Genius didn't end all CIA/military weapons. Today the babykillers have unmanned drones that can fly anywhere and assassinate anyone (and any bystanders/witnesses).

Ready Player One didn't make the real Internet a "safe space". Facebook, Twitter, or Google can still track you, filter what you see, and give Nazis access to harass you.

This is not a failing of art, it exists for fun or catharsis, and to give you coping strategies. It is not a magic spell to fix everything.

So, you can do something inspired by art; make art yourself; or, if you are completely useless, just whine unreasonably about art and be held in contempt.

TBL Has Some Regrets

"We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places … [increasing centralization of the Web] ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human."
"While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people."
"You don’t have to have any coding skills. You just have to have a heart to decide enough is enough. Get out your Magic Marker and your signboard and your broomstick. And go out on the streets."
Tim Berners-Lee, Vanity Fair

On the contrary, Tim, the World Wide Web is very human, and these are not "bugs" or "emergent": It's not a perfect crystalline utopia inhabited by rule-following robots reading RDF tags, but instead it's like an organically grown city, with a mix of lovely things and nice people, and also back alleys and skyscraper offices full of predators. There's surveillance systems everywhere because the predators wanted surveillance, paid engineers well to make them, and it's much harder to stop Internet surveillance than spray-painting a closed-circuit camera.

The Internet didn't create spies, tyrants, or marketing scumbags; the Stasi managed to spy on everyone, and they barely used the few shitty Soviet computers they had. Madison Avenue invented scumbag marketing long before they had "data" supporting their psychological manipulations. Of course now the same kind of villains at the NSA, KGB (FSV & SVR these days, same thing), and Facebook are going to use modern computer networks to spy and manipulate. A poster-board sign isn't going to convince them to stop.

"Oh gosh I just realized I've spent my life deceiving people, and that's wrong!", said absolutely no spy ever. (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is fiction)

Getting more people connected is somewhat positive and empowering for the "last billion"; although you, presumably fellow first-world libertarian/liberal/con-but-not-an-asshole-servative reader, may well not like the political and religious programming the last billion have…

But even if everyone has a computer & unfettered Internet access, it's not going to make everyone freer, they're just more entries in Facebook's databases. The only cheap mobile phones are Android, which is run by and for the benefit of Google's surveillance systems. You can release any kind of utopian decentralized system, and people will say "I want Facebook and Youtube… and what are ads?" and many will end up in it by social pressure and marketing.

Some of us do what we can to exist outside of those networks, but don't get too idealistic about it, or you end up crazy or yet another dead martyr.

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

In a short story called “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Jorge Luis Borges describes the discovery of a strange book. Written in an arcane language, the book seems to be one vol­ume of an encyclopedia of another world, intriguingly unlike the world of everyday reality. The world of the volume rapidly becomes a universal obsession: scholarly journals were de­voted to it, people begin to dress and act in ways suggested by the volume. So compelling are the glimpses of the world revealed by the volume that its reality finally crowds out our own, and the world becomes the world of Tlon.
The volume you are holding in your hands is the volume Borges had in mind.
—Michael Swaine, preface to Dr Dobb's Journal Vol 09

HP Lovecraft's Xenophobia

It occurs to me after a number of rereads (now up to "Dagon") that Ruthanna and Anne there live a callow, sunlit, happy existence, don't really know much of the world, and have never read a history book. "He was as wrong about humanity as it’s possible to be without actually believing that we’re all sessile pebbles"1: No, he was not.

World War I, which informed most of Lovecraft's despair at Human stupidity and imminent extinction, was then exceeded by World War II in every kind of atrocity, and that was exceeded by the Communist states during the Cold War and beyond. There is no depravity or horror to which Humans will not sink given power and the ability to "other" people. "Kindly, liberal, crippled, New Deal" FDR imprisoned and robbed 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment treated Black people as test animals. The KKK was still terrorizing and lynching in the South (still is, if smaller). It's still unsafe to walk or drive or stand around in Starbucks while Black in America. Immigrants and refugees are treated like unwanted vermin in every country. Humans murder each other over minor differences in skin color, birthplace, language, or what name to call some fairy tale god (or for saying it's a fairy tale). No joke, Humans blow up other Humans over cartoons of their prophet. Half of Americans voted for the Cheeto thing that squats and defecates in the White House.

Any notion that Howard's xenophobia is excessive for his time, or even now, is just delusional. He was an asshole about race, and perhaps about gender (very scant evidence, from a time when few male writers wrote women except as objects), but the distinction is that he was more literate and expressive of his bigotry, while the assholes next door just couldn't write about it coherently. If he'd been into politics, he'd have been the William Safire of his time. Somehow he found his way to the weird tale instead.

So when his narrators see the real owners of the Earth, and they're nothing like Humans, of course they flip out. What are Humans going to do when confronted with fish-frog-humanoid things, unspeaking but greater in intelligence, ancient and undying, worshipping gods (or godlike aliens) who provide true power? As in "Shadow over Innsmouth", bombing the Devil's Reef is a minimum possible freak-out. Somehow they pull back from provoking a full-out war with billions of living demigods, and the Deep Ones (being our moral superiors) are uninterested in great conquests of the land.

Howard does have characters who don't flip out at the alien, like the narrator and some other abductees in "Shadow Out of Time", but then when he's confronted with the truth of our imminent doom, he loses it.

I am extremely pessimistic about First Contact, and I expect that true AI will end very very badly for Humanity. Nobody's going to show up and say "You're totally ready to join the Federation of Nice Planets!"; we'll either meet Conquistadors, exterminators, or if we get to a lower-tech species first, victims. Ideally, alien contact would unify Humanity, but more likely every group will seek their own advantage and agenda.

As for the reread, I'm switching to publication order, then see if they or someone else has any commentary for a story. I've previously read some of ST Joshi's annotated books, but his apologies and delusions are just as annoying.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

The movie has something for everyone, a comedy tonight, but I'm actually talking about:

Blogging is sometimes very different from "social networking", and one of the key things is that there are no private conversations. On the technical side, that's basically impossible: A blog post is public, or it wouldn't show up in feed readers, search engines, or micro.blog. And even "private" messaging in Twitter or Facebook is stored in plaintext on the server, where the staff can read it for laughs or social engineering or selling you to advertisers and Russians.

In the socially stunted worlds of Twitter or Facebook, often someone posts, and the first person to respond may feel like they "own" the conversation, anyone else responding is a "rando", and the lack of proper threading makes conversation very difficult so they just hate everyone. There is, I fear, not much that can be done for many of these; they grew up feral in an innately hostile environment, and won't or can't read about how to have longer discussions. Robert's Rules of Order this is not.

Blogging is about people contributing to a public dialogue. As we had in web forums, or USENET, or college dorm halls, or actual forums going back to Rome and ancient Greece. Threading and arguments about ideas are not just OK, but encouraged, just don't hit below the belt.

You may be able to learn from USENET netiquette (somewhat old link, but anything quoting Eugene Spafford is good).

When being sarcastic, if there's any danger of misinterpretation, use a smiley. Excessive sarcasm is often counter-productive and hurts people's feelings, even when it's unintentional.
—a rule I sure don't live by

Slate Star Codex

There were more shouts and another frenzy for attention. General Washington banged his gavel. “The chair recognizes Alexander Hamilton.”

“Yo,” said Hamilton. “The institutions of our Constitution, give a clear solution to this persecution. The Revolution…”

“The chair unrecognizes Representative Hamilton, and offers the floor to anyone who does not speak in rap.”

The Freedom to Write Garbage

Nice notebooks make it hard to write, because you feel you can't write garbage in them. Cheap notebooks give you the freedom to write garbage.

I used to use a DayRunner®, but then I'd fill it with cheap lined filler paper, and fill those pages with everything, and throw them in a box when I was done; I had a Palm Pilot for scheduling, but writing long notes in it was hard. Later I got into nice big Moleskines, which I rarely used because they seemed too nice for my chaos. Then stacks of Field Notes, which I keep one in my jacket, but use grudgingly. Lately I'm back to cheap 50¢ spiral notebooks and pads, and I write all the time.

I don't use a fancy pen, either. I'm currently using a "TÜL" mechanical pencil which is semi-junky (the eraser holder is loose and pushes down, so I have to tape it in place!) but fat enough for my hand, and a Field Notes clicky ballpoint which needs a 10¢ refill soon. A box of disposable ballpoints will work just as well as your $500 handcrafted engraved gold-plated fountain pen and hand-squeezed squid ink.

None of what I write on paper is important long-term, that's what Markdown files on a computer are for. Instead, every new topic or date gets written at the top of a page, sometimes just one item on that topic. And I'll go forward thru a book until it's full, then move on to the next. Anything worth keeping gets typed in eventually.

Here's a least-embarassing page from my current notepad, tracking Animal Crossing characters because paging thru Contacts in the game is so very slow.

notebook-animal crossing

And yes, my handwriting is appalling and random-looking; no two letter forms are the same. I learned slow and perfect block lettering until I got the Palm Pilot, then Graffiti retrained me and it's been crap ever since. I learned cursive as a kid but have never used it for long writing.

It's Not Addiction

"Phones are addictive!" "Loot crates are gambling, which is addictive!" "I'm addicted to sex, drugs, and rock and roll!"
—every whiny little jerk who runs out of money

I want misuse of the word "addiction" for anything but habituating chemicals, made at least a misdemeanor, possibly a felony with mandatory sentencing and electrical behavioral modification.

We have no good word for "things that are fun, so you keep playing with them instead of doing things that are not-fun", but that's what these things are.

The same things were said about TV, especially to those of us in the MTV Generation. And about arcades, pinball machines, comic books, radio, even novels! Old boring people universally hate whatever fun thing people like today. Screw them.

MARK-13 Thursday Music

Just discovered that iTunes Store has Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990) for $9.99 in HD! Blu-Ray is out of print, DVD was a trash VHS port. Best punk rock SF apocalypse flick. "It's horrible, I love it!"

One rewatch later…

Looks even more prophetic now than when young cyberpunk Mark would watch the VHS over and over on a shitty CRT. Get used to the world of ecological disaster, locked into your apt by security systems installed by panopticon-watching perverts, terrorists with trucks smashing open buildings, people squatting & scavenging in the ruins. When a billion people near the uninhabitable equator starve and try to migrate away from global warming, you think anyone's gonna take them in? Or will we just irradiate the planet fighting wars, sterilize the mutant population, and let Google's autonomous killer robots knock us down to carrying capacity? I never believed in a future, and here it is.

… So, that went a little dark. Have a drink, a joint, a fuck, make some art, and play some cute distracting videogames to forget about the end of the world.

The soundtrack's another OOP classic, but here's the day's music based on it: