Have you ever seen a kombucha get moldy? Nasty, right?
Now, kombucha is kind of gross even when it goes right. It’s a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast – a SCOBY – that eats sugary tea and produces a vinegar-alcohol brew. The scoby itself is a thick meaty pancake that floats just under the surface of the tea. The yeast and bacteria do anaerobic fermentation. They don’t breathe oxygen. Mold, on the other hand, grows on the surface, exposed to the air, but its spores can circulate freely in the fluid.
In the picture above we can see the scoby, a pink gelatinous disc, with at least three types of mold growing on top. The mold isn’t directly battling the scoby. They’re competing for food, essentially trying to out-eat the opponent. It does look like the molds are eating each other in places, although that may be me anthropomorphizing a much more suble interaction that I don’t understand. But whether you like kombucha or find it revolting, it’s clear that this is not a healthy brew.
Scobys are a culture . You can culture them in petri dishes on agar, or in a jar of sweet tea. Mold is a culture, too, but not a symbiotic culture. In kombucha, the different species of bacteria and strains of yeast are all working together to produce an environment that works for them. They’re breaking down sugars into acids, but they’re not excreting toxins to kill each other, and they’re building a multistory apartment complex to hang out in.
Mold, on the other hand, floats in on the breeze and immediately starts colonizing. It doesn’t engage with the locals, it doesn’t contribute to the great project that everyone else has been working on. It just infiltrates and eats. It takes space and fills it with tacky, brightly-colored, modernist townhouses. It opens yoga studios.
This is what a culture war looks like. It’s not battlefronts, formations, artillery. It’s not siege weapons and supply chains. It’s not statecraft and secret agents.
Culture war is about spores and vectors, capture and deterritorialization. Culture is a complex, self-sustaining architecture with an infinite number of intersecting surfaces.
When cultures war, they do so in a staggering geometry of sign and signifier. Memes and memeplexes propagate, infiltrate, absorb each other. The symbiotic alliances of post-Enlightenment culture are dissolved and all identities are at odds with all others. The individual is surrounded by intersecting flows, trapped in an infinite airport where the moving walkways go all directions and appear and disappear on a ineffable schedule.
Survival in a culture war depends on your ability to create meaning . If you rely on any other entity for context and coherence, you will be misled . Whether you get your news from TV, FB, VR, or an old-fashioned broadsheet, you’re being exposed to infectious ideas and thought traps. It’s up to you to build a story out of the world, to apply critical thinking to new information, and to take action. Put skin in the game. Bet on your version of reality coming true – and if it doesn’t, change your mind . ###
The Art of Culture War, by Mike Roorganism:
Find your sugar. What excites you? What terrifies you? What electrifying thoughts does your mind return to, like a tongue to a loose tooth? Life isn’t about following your “bliss”. It’s about following the Sugar, that substance which feeds you and which might otherwise be destroyed by opposing forces, The sugar is what makes life worth living, what drives you out of your comfort zone and into the wide world.
Produce your juice. Publish or perish. Skate or die. Make the culture you want to see in the world. Write, draw, code, dance, act, protest, hustle. The alcohol secreted by yeast makes an environment that’s toxic to enemy cultures. When you make culture, when you enact your sense of Meaning into the world, you strengthen the narrative you want to live in and weaken the alternatives.
Support your symbiotes . No one is an island. A person is not a culture. We have to find our allies and support each other. All our struggles are related. Our identities intersect. We are made of all those influences we let into our lives. So seek solidarity, symbiosis, and stand for something. If the war ends with a monoculture, with one Borg-like ideological edifice, then we have all lost.
“For Warre, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known…”
– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan XIII.
By Hobbes’ criteria, the culture war is well underway. If you’re ready to put on your war goggles, here’s some further reading:
- Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture by Jay Owens
- A Quick (Battle) Field Guide to the New Culture Wars by Venkatesh Rao
- SCIOPS 01.20: Infectious Violence by, um, you know…
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