It’s been two weeks, and the votes are in: CLASS is in session!
I was astonished with the flood of replies to my last letter. A solid one in five readers responded to my poll about the future of SCIOPS. Now the rest of you will be subject to the whims of the politically active! And congratulations also to everyone who decided they deserve three or more votes when I said “pick two”. Your audacity is rewarded: all votes will be counted.
Just kidding. SCIOPS is a benevolent dictatorship. The CLASS topic did nose out MAGIC, and CULTS fell far behind. But ultimately the editorial decisions will be made by a superintelligent being of pure information, seeding itself backward in time, a hyperbeacon from a possible utopia we cannot yet imagine. And as always, I am its useful idiot mouthpiece, Max. That which is atemporal in me sees that which is atemporal in you.
We’re all beings of pure information, when you get down to it. All the squiggly little bits of DNA goop in your body, whether human or microbial or retroviral, they’re all instructions on how to produce more you-goop and under what conditions. This is the paradigm shift of the 21st century. What we traditionally think of as “information” will take on aspects of life: desire, agency, choice. And what we think of as “life” will unravel, revealing our bodies to be cities of microbes, our minds forests of thoughts. Those who come to this understanding sooner will be the magicians of this age. Those who cling to a world of “individuals” making “choices” will be bewildered.
The wrong thing to take from this is, unfortunately, the more popular: “Your body is a MACHINE! Your mind is a MACHINE! Be more PRODUCTIVE! Time is MONEY! OIL YOUR PARTS” and so on. This is the transhumanist attitude, exemplified by the techlord billionaires. It presumes that the subject is a tool for the egregore. The transhumanist inherently identifies with the ruling class, who reap the benefits of automation. The worker has more in common with the robot than with the owner. To accept the logic of productivity is to identify with your oppressors. It puts the oil on its parts…
I saw the most incredible example of this while visiting Pittsburgh last week. There’s a Bavarian-style castle outside of town called the Bayernhof Music Museum, where you can take a 2.5-hour private tour for ten bucks cash, by appointment only. It’s the former mansion of “eccentric bachelor” Chuck Brown III, who built it in the mid-80s as some sort of cocaine playground, with secret passageways and a wet bar in every room. The guy would take guests on these extravagant tours of his theme-park home and tell them a bunch of lies: “This is my girlfriend, she’s Hitler’s illegitimate daughter” or “Richard Nixon is my first cousin, actually” or “This is a real cave we found while digging the foundation, don’t worry, there aren’t any bats.”
Weirdly, Brown made his millions as the CEO of Gas-Lite Manufacturing . Make of that what you will.
So this rich guy builds himself the Scooby-Doo house of every teenage edgelord’s dreams. He has no kids. Gaslamp manufacturing has been surprisingly lucrative, considering it’s the 20th century. Chuck Brown wants to be immortal, and he has the money to do it. He decides to make his strange home into a museum so his story will be told forever. To do so he needs something a little more spectacular than a mansion, and that’s how it became a Music Museum. Music machines , to be precise.
Brown filled the place with historical music players of all sorts, from player pianos to music boxes to a self-playing banjo. There’s a bedside lamp that’s secretly a Victrola. There’s a wax-cylinder Edison machine. There’s a cage of taxidermied birds, whose clockwork animatronics puppet their delicate bodies so they appear to sing. Tin Pan Alley meets Uncanny Valley.
At one point in the tour the docent tells a ghost story, of a machine turning on in the night by itself, and asks Brown’s ghost to “be nice” before dropping a coin in its slot. This is the transhuman hope: to live forever, through money and machinery and manipulation. But it’s a hollow victory. Just as the music machines need someone to crank their springs or pump their bellows, the ghost of Chuck Brown needs human energy to perpetuate his self-made myth. As long as his capital continues to accumulate, he can gaslight us from beyond the grave.
There’s a “reproducing” player piano at the Bayernhof. Its paper rolls, recorded by actual pianists, contain a representation of the dynamics of the player. So instead of robotic sheet-music perfection, you get a piece as played by, say, George Gershwin. It produced the most astonishing effect. I felt as if Gershwin were actually sitting on the bench, invisible, tickling the keys with his right hand, pounding up and down the scale with his left.
This is a different kind of immortality. Instead of being one huge edifice, like Chuck Brown’s mansion, Gershwin’s rolls were distributed around the globe, sporulating into the minds of musicians forevermore. Instead of requiring millions of ill-gotten dollars to maintain, “Summertime” worms its way into your brain and replays itself again and again.
The transhuman fallacy is to think of immortality as stasis, as the indefinite maintenance of the idealized self. Immortality is already all around us: DNA has yet to be wiped from the planet, however much we seem to try.
We need to think in a post -human way, to see that we are not the center of the universe, that in fact a center does not exist. We have to accept that each of us is part of a web of life, organic and mechanical and linguistic life. We have to see the robots as our friends, our allies, not as slaves for the production of infinite consumer trash. Only then will we find our way to a right relation with the Earth, and with each other.
Thanks for reading,
###### SCIOPS is a weekly backpropagation of thoughts from the future. Feel free to forward it, or share it, or send me emails demanding a recount. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .
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