Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Preview of Speculative Reality

This tweet is a preview of an upcoming post on perception, experience and speculative reality.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Boomer Legacies: An Urbex Valentine

Video Source: Youtube.

The blog is on a break, but for Valentine's Day, see Dan Bell's urban exploration videos of the abandoned resort love nests in the Poconos, a mountain range in northeastern Pennsylvania once popular with swingers in the 1960s and 1970s. As for the abandoned heart-shaped hot tub below, one Youtuber wrote: "I was there in 75 my name is Linda, Joe are you out there , we have a daughter conceived in the hot tub .. get in touch ..lol." See Dan Bell's whole series: Forgotten Poconos: Abandoned Resorts.

Video Source: Youtube.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Away from Blog

Untitled - Dunkerque 2014. Image © Nicolas Decoopman. (Hat tip: Dylan Cuffy.)

I will be away from the blog due to other work demands until 1 May 2017. I may publish the occasional post in that period if circumstances warrant it.

Street Reflection - Dunkerque 2016. Image Source: Google +.

For more from photographer Nicolas Decoopman, go here. All photos are copyright the artist and are reproduced here non-commercially under Fair Use.

Behind the Window #35 - Lille 2016. Image Source: Google +.

Street Reflection - Dunkerque 2015. Image Source: Google +.

Street Reflection - Dunkerque 2015. Image Source: Google +.

Untitled - Dunkerque 2015. Image © Nicolas Decoopman.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Big Data's Strategic Inflection Point

Image Source: RNZ.

Collection, surveillance, analysis, prediction: there are reasons why the battle between freedom and slavery will take place on the Internet. Only in the past decade did big data enter the headlines, because the necessary hardware and storage capacity became affordable for corporations. In addition, governmental and corporate data crunching capability improved to enable what panelists at Financier Worldwide call, "curation ... of enormous data sets" and "the ability to predict when a certain business-contextual event is about to happen, and then to adjust accordingly in an automated fashion."

Few people read the fine print when they sign up for social media accounts, so they do not understand how others now own their personal identities and seek to decide their fates. Nor do they understand how the Internet of Things forms a network of physical objects around them to glean and mobilize information. From Radio New Zealand:
"I was on Facebook recently and I realised they were showing me a photo that wasn't already on my newsfeed and that I wasn't even tagged in, that had come from my camera roll."
In 2016, Edward Snowden stated that surveillance was about "social control," not terrorism. Certainly, companies such as Oracle (cloud database management), LexisNexis (legal and business risk management services), and Micron (semi-conductor solutions) confirm Snowden's narrative (see my earlier posts on this topic here, here, here and here).

Image Source: Sputnik International.

counter-surveillance movement arose to combat government and corporate intrusion. A talk from the 2016 hackers' Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany describes the problem:
"Today virtually everything we do is monitored in some way. The collection, analysis and utilization of digital information about our clicks, swipes, likes, purchases, movements, behaviors and interests have become part of everyday life. While individuals become increasingly transparent, companies take control of the recorded data."
Mozilla, developers of the Firefox browser, developed Lightbeam so you can see who is tracking you while you browse. Privacy Lab has made available online a 2016 book by Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann: Networks of Control: A Report on Corporate Surveillance, Digital Tracking, Big Data and Privacy (Hat tip and thanks: Janine Römer). The book explains how social control through big data actually works, and it is far more evil, insidious and Darwinian than one would imagine, because algorithms target individuals' socio-economic performance in life to create new kinds of discrimination. When you state what you are doing or thinking on Facebook or Twitter, when you surf the Web, when you buy things, travel, or read certain news stories, you are letting the world know how successful you are or are not, by other people's mechanized standards:
"Today, a vast landscape of partially interlinked databases has emerged which serve to characterize each one of us. Whenever we use our smartphone, a laptop, an ATM or credit card, or our ‘smart’ TV sets detailed information is transmitted about our behaviors and movements to servers, which might be located at the other end of the world. A rapidly growing number of our interactions is monitored, analyzed and assessed by a network of machines and software algorithms that are operated by companies we have rarely ever heard of. Without our knowledge and hardly with our effectively informed consent, our individual strengths and weaknesses, interests, preferences, miseries, fortunes, illnesses, successes, secrets and – most importantly – purchasing power are surveyed. If we don’t score well, we are not treated as equal to our better peers. We are categorized, excluded and sometimes invisibly observed by an obscure network of machines for potential misconduct and without having any control over such practices.

While the media and special interest groups are aware of these developments for a while now, we believe that the full degree and scale of personal data collection, use and – in particular – abuse has not been scrutinized closely enough. This is the gap we want to close with the study presented in this book."
Corporate surveillance, digital tracking, big data and privacy: How thousands of companies are profiling, categorizing, rating and affecting the lives of billions. Talk by Wolfie Christl at CCC Congress (30 December 2016). Video Source: CCC-TV. Hat tip and thanks: Janine Römer.

Thus, the debate around big data focuses on post-2013, post-Snowden ideas: privacy or anonymity; predictive marketing; social control; totalitarianism. Yet Utopia or Dystopia recognizes that big data are so superhuman in quantity that they blur reality:
"Big Data; does it actually provide us with a useful map of reality, or instead drown us in mostly useless information? ... [D]oes Big Data actually make us safer? ... [H]ow is the truth to survive in a world where seemingly any organization or person can create their own version of reality. Doesn’t the lack of transparency by corporations or the government give rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories in such an atmosphere, and isn’t it ultimately futile ... for corporations and governments to try to shape all these newly enabled voices to its liking through spin and propaganda?"
Instead of big data driving fears of exploitation and totalitarianism, this concern revives far older contests between rationality and the unknowable.

Bodies of big data are so big that they become a kind of big mind, a combined collective consciousness and collective unconscious. To account for virtual reality by known means is impossible. Academic history as we knew it, 15 years ago, cannot now be written according to traditional methods and new methods must be developed. The body of data is: (a) too vast to be processed by a human; (b) unfixed: potentially subject to infinite alteration; and (c) stored in languages and on devices which rapidly become obsolete.

The same goes for the social sciences. Try to analyze the online kekkism in the recent American election and be prepared to confront something akin to magic which will defy current theories. The great modern experiment to rationalize the world breaks down in the face of anti-rationality, hacking, and Underground cryptics, whether by anonymity and encryption, or by mysterious forms of communication, behaviour and awareness, which will surpass knowledge and understanding. Big data erode reality, and this is why the ISIS publicity bureau and magazine can promote an apocalyptic eschatology unironically in this day and age. When you are operating in an environment where X zillion bits of data are being created every second, an apocalypse seems appropriate to some, and makes more sense.

Digital Book World recently weighed the pros and cons of big data. Mathematician Cathy O'Neil - who joked that her New Year's resolutions included the plan to gain 10 pounds and start smoking, and who wrote the 2016 book, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy - warned Digital Book World that algorithms are not the rational tools they seem to be. Instead, algorithms are artifacts, the techno-dynamic features of which are correlated against human aspects, such as sales numbers and social media traction. As algorithms manipulate big data to locate desired human results, they become, in O'Neil's estimation, new kinds of laws:
"When it comes to human activities, algorithms are expected to be models of objectivity, owing to their basis in mathematical formulae and reliance on enormous quantities of measured facts about a given general population, whether students or teachers, job applicants or criminal defendants. Cathy O’Neil makes the case that real-world mathematical models are anything but objective. ... [S]he asserts that big data WMDs are opaque, unaccountable and destructive and that they essentially act as unwritten and unpublished secret laws."
Despite these warnings, on 22 August 2016, Digital Book World remained optimistic about what the Panama Papers can tell us about deep learning. The lesson is not about offshore accounts, corruption, and a meshed network of legitimate and illegitimate interests spanning the globe. The Panama Papers show, according to DBW, that big data are a gold mine for profit, right at something called big data's strategic inflection point:
"[The Panama Papers] should ... serve as a stark reminder of the hidden value sitting locked in large amounts of unstructured data, such as notes, documents and emails.

In recent years, we’ve seen businesses in many industries solve the puzzle of big data and begin to extract the insights that can accelerate innovation and grow revenue. Healthcare, finance and retail are three that immediately come to mind that are at the forefront of using big data. But that is only the beginning.

Consider this: 90 percent of the world’s data only came into existence in the last two years. With more of our lives moving online and into the cloud, this remarkable growth of data will only accelerate, offering enormous possibilities to the businesses that can navigate these massive data collections.

The Panama Papers are a roadmap. It is now possible to collect and analyze data faster than ever before through the use of unparalleled computing power and machine learning methods, such as deep learning. Unstructured data, such as the text in the posts and messages of social media that most of the world uses, emails that were leaked or subpoenaed, laboratory notes or technical documentation, represent a massive opportunity for businesses that can harness it. ...

Andy Grove, retired CEO of Intel Corp., calls this moment in potential growth a 'strategic inflection point' — the point at which two major pathways temporarily coincide — between doing business as usual, or embracing and adapting to the new."
Digital Marketing Transit Map (25 June 2013). Click to enlarge. Image Source: Gartner.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Bells and Divine Sources

Bells in Nepal. Image Source: Ampersand Travel.

Start the new year in the Himalayas, the world's greatest mountains. They are the source of epics and myths, gods and religions. Temples dot these mountains, decked by bells and visited by pilgrims and tourists. The Himalayas provide the source of the Hindus' most sacred river, the Ganges.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Productivity: The Last Domino to Fall in the Old System

In a previous post, Subliminal Slavery of the Subconscious Self, I summarized a BBC 2002 documentary, The Century of the Self, in which director Adam Curtis maintained that the mid-to-late 20th century was a time in which cause was divorced from effect, actions separated from consequences, in the name of preventing world war and genocide.

Curtis claimed that post-World War II mass culture became a giant pressure cooker experiment. The hypothesis ran that pre-World War II societies were repressed by old social values and religions. When societies became psychologically and emotionally over-repressed, they could suddenly blow and all the dark instincts of the community would surge out in racism, mass psychosis and murder. Psycho-social repression was the hypothesized cause of the Holocaust.

Image Source: Aussie Cool Story Club.

The prescribed remedy in western cultures, and later, global cultures, was to indulge the Jungian collective unconscious and mass shadow in a thousand different ways. Smaller vices were continually encouraged to give the big collective pressure cooker a way to let off steam. Celebrities came forth to personify aspects of the Freudian Id or Jungian Unconscious, in order to push those buttons in audiences. Derived from Austrian psychoanalysis, transported into American mass entertainment and mass politics, the pressure cooker slow release experiment wasn't a great idea.

A famous, early example of the 1960s' Hell-Sell technique, used in an actual Kent cigarettes ad, with explanation of the subliminal images and colours employed from a leaked advertising training manual. Part of the blurred-out message includes giant spiders mating on the girl's leg. Images Source: Whale.

As a result, as the Cold War wore on, any kind of inhibition in the name of old-fashioned social mores was condemned as social repression, an attack on liberty. Gone was the idea that norms reflected customs based in everyday life, and that norms connected people to habit, sanity, and reality. This is the kind of freedom that really enslaves people! The adoration of the libertine came at a price, because there was one place left where actions still connected to consequences.

Creation, making things, building things, was still directly related to making money. That correlation became more and more harshly enforced, more industrial, an assembly line governed by line managers, as time went on. Productivity was also unconsciously and in real terms wedded to the rise of the computer, so that we were expected to work like machines, battling against the continual threat of lack and loss. Space and time for productivity became supreme luxuries, reserved for the top few producers.

This is the logical inconsistency embedded in post-World War II global culture. Where all the other leashes were loosened, the last one, productivity, was inhumanly tightened. Normally, productivity is associated with discipline; that discipline was somewhat mitigated when other areas of life moved in parallel. But in developed countries, social limitations, personal restraints, and boundaries were erased. A lack of discipline rewarded and eased suffering in the personal realm. Meanwhile, all base survival was tied - with threats and desperation - to machine-like performance and productivity. The only place we were still connected to reality was through productivity, measured in time and money.

This paradoxical arrangement caused enormous social and cultural stresses, glossed over by blinking, flashing mass entertainment, bent on stating and restating: "It's all right. It's all right. It's all right." When, in fact, it was not all right and it did not correlate. One could not have no inhibitions on off hours, yet turn up bang on the dot on Monday to work like a robot. Or these days, turn up bang on the dot any time of the day or night, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to work like a robot, while also somehow simultaneously blowing off crazy steam in Id-dominated playgrounds.

Social theorists, political ideologues, and cultural gurus arose to reconcile the paradox and explain it away. For a time, the paradox could be cloaked, such that it offered the only ethical way to behave. Given its original historical premise, it was always presented as the only possible social structural counter-argument to racial genocide and world war. That is, workers were asked by broader culture to suppress their own souls in the name of making money or helping others to make money. But in all other respects, it was the height of right-thinking and social correctness to invert all previously-held values and to destroy self-limitations.

This post is not a conservative screed, moralizing or condemning libertinism. I merely observe that the formula was inconsistent and thus, the pattern is not sustainable. The paradox cannot hold for much longer. This must give way: the forceful over-expectation in Millennial working life, that this is the only way that cause can lead to effect, that actions can lead to consequences, that one must work oneself into the ground, second by second, to make money. While at the same time, in all other areas of life, irresponsibility and the divorce between actions and consequences prevail. One is minute-by-minute bombarded with media messages of war, disaster, chaos, and unbridled instinct. And counter to the pressure cooker experiment, our world is becoming more, not less, brutal, savage and potentially genocidal. It is a place where online beheadings and extreme porn are the norm and barely stir any profound response in the desensitized populace. Can you even remember what outrages you saw on the television or computer two weeks ago? Or what you ate for supper?

Further, as I noted in my post, Post-Apocalypse Rehab, mass media messages insist that the money you earn while acting like a robot rewards you by removing restraint in off hours. This is why we are surrounded by images of conspicuous consumption, which beg citizens to be irresponsible and disconnected from themselves and from reality in non-work areas of life. Supermodel sumptuousness and cinematic fictions of carnage create dreamlike distances from ongoing collective trauma. They allow the carnage in, so one engages, but from a quasi-safe position of cocoon-like detachment from the weirdness of living in this heaving, struggling world.

All of this must finally give way to a different way of living. The last domino to fall will be the outmoded way productivity is inflexibly correlated to money. This domino will fall in the name of consistency. You cannot train human beings to be hedonistic libertines for half a century, but deny them access to that final realm of freedom, within their own souls. Thus, in the last area where they are ordered inflexibly to be obedient, making money, they will rebel, because all other rules have been relaxed, inverted, abrogated, redefined, or overturned. The manner in which they redefine productivity and profitability may go either way: a soulful path or a libertine one.

The Internet is Ground Zero for this change. Cyberspace was supposed to broaden libertinism; it was a fantasyland, a computer playland. Cyberpunk was an extension of 1960s' and 1970s' drug culture. What a surprise, then, that after the initial wallowing in porn and LOLcat bullshit, computerland instead turned out to be a tough-as-nails Spartan training ground, which is now having radical impacts in the real world.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

World War III Projections 2: If Only She Could Talk

The best tin foil hat on the Internet. Image Source: Etsy.

If only Julian Assange's cat could talk, I mean, really talk. If she could, the poor little thing would probably go the way of Tobermory, and be sacrificed in the name of silence. She is known by fans of WikiLeaks as 'Embassy Cat' and by the mainstream press as 'James,' who seem not to have bothered to understand that she is female. If she could talk, maybe she would tell us about the worst conspiracy theory of 2016, which is the subject of this post.

Assange received the kitten, descended from European wildcatsfrom his children in May 2016. Image Source: LinkTV. The Washington Post and other outlets frowned when the cat got its own Twitter account and started quoting Shakespeare in relation to current events.

A photo posted by Embassy Cat (@embassycat) on

A photo posted by Embassy Cat (@embassycat) on
Embassy Cat with Italian Marxist theorist, Franco Berardi.

Embassy Cat with Michael Moore, June 2016. Image Source: PBS via Twitter.

Image Source: Getty Images.

Image Source: Evening Standard.

Monday, December 26, 2016

One Child Left to Come Back For

"Praying for Time" by George Michael (released 13 August 1990). Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (3 September 1990) © Columbia/Epic. Reproduced under Fair Use. George Michael died Christmas Day, 2016, aged 53, RIP.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sleepers Wake, Christmas 2016

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847) Christmas hymn: Vom Himmel hoch (1831). Video Source: Youtube.

Merry Christmas! Above, a Christmas hymn from Mendelssohn, a great 19th century admirer of Bach. See my earlier post on Mendelssohn, here. Below, Bach's cantata 140, Sleepers Wake, is properly played on the 27th Sunday after Trinity, or the last Sunday before Advent, in late November. Given the mood of Advent 2016 - gloom from the liberals, and glee, mixed with conspiratorial paranoia, from their opponents - the message of Sleepers Wake remains relevant this Christmas.

When every news headline today announces catastrophe, and people are bitterly divided over values and politics, it helps to remember what a real catastrophe is. Sleepers Wake is a much-loved piece for a very good reason, and it is not just Bach's music.

Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), a Lutheran pastor and poet, wrote the chorale upon which Bach's 1731 cantata is based. Nicolai composed the original hymn after falling ill with the plague in the late 16th century. He expected to die, as did most people in his town. Instead, he recovered.

Today, we can cure the plague - barely. It takes all the powers of modern medicine, and weeks on life support in intensive care. How miraculous would it be, then, to survive the plague in the 16th century? Imagine Nicolai, waking in amazement from the bed he thought was his death bed. He thanked God for surviving the Black Death by writing two hymns. They became known as the King and Queen of Chorales: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us, or, Sleepers Wake; 1599) and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How lovely shines the morning star; pub. 1599).

These hymns became famous, and on penning them, Nicolai entered history. Sleepers Wake has apocalyptic themes and refers to the Parable of the Ten Virgins. But all aspects around the hymn really ask: how grateful would you be, if you faced your greatest fears, the most terrible test, and survived? If you survived the scourge? Sleepers Wake says, wake up, be glad, and be ready not for doom and death, but survival and a happy life instead. If you are so inclined, thank God for it. We live in secular times, when the religious message of Christmas is muted, and the holiday has been diminished by materialism and conspicuous consumption. It was never about that. For millennia, before Christianity and after, it was about the solstice, and reaching past darkness. I will say: thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) - Cantata 140: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 (1731). Video Source: Youtube.