Friday, October 24, 2008

I've never been entirely comfortable in the world of the stone worshippers. It is a world that found it's culmination in the industrial era, where everything can be separated into constituent parts, a function of mechanism, inert matter, finding purchase, pivoting, using leverage, maintaining structural support through the force of counter-balance. Though I do not feel entirely comfortable within it, I understand it very well. I've always had a knack for engineering, how pieces fit together, why a wheel has spokes, why an undercarriage has struts. Despite this understanding I have never quite found four walls and a roof to be quite the protective structure it is meant to be. Certainly I like to be sheltered from the rain as much as the next bloke.
I've always pined for a more natural and organic world. Where edges are less sharply defined, where one shape grows from another, where water flows unimpeded by a sudden and incongruous form placed there simply to cause its flow to cease. In the ancient world we can see the rise of Rome and the culmination of stone worship. The way of life that we currently understand, where we find comfort or distress stems from ancient Rome. It is the world of coinage, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns, and a structured system. The idea of being ruled by a system as opposed to our kinship group comes from these grand Empires whose systems persist through the ages.
When Caesar conquered the Gauls he did through the use of wealth, fancy beads, wine, and other trade. Things that the Celts did not ever know they missed before they had it. The Romans used the protection of trade as a pretext for the militarization of Gaul. As trade became more established the encroachment became ever more well established.
Few stories tell the tale of the conflict between vegetable and mineral alchemy quite like the fall of Vercingetorix at the hands of Caesar. Even as the system of Caesar was replaced by the Catholic church, the nod to the conflict was put into place by the ancient Masons. Grand Cathedrals were built atop sacred groves. Supposedly the site upon which Chartres stands today, was once the sacred grove of the Carnutes, a proud Celtic tribe. Carved into Chartres stone is an homage to the vegetable alchemy that preceded it. Columns that resemble the trunks of trees and numerous floral patterns mark the stone structure.
Today the world of the Stone Worshippers is being replaced by that of those who worship information. No longer do we carve our knowledge into stone to be held for posterity. Now we save what we know within the encapsulation of electrons. Binary data holds the keys to our memories. I find a grim satisfaction in this. I am more at home here, all the while sitting within my square domicile. The stone worshippers are finally being overthrown.
Of course every faction believes that they have a monopoly on spirituality. The Neo-Pagan Hippy thinks that their love for Mother Gaia is more sacred and deep than that of the vulgar Evangelical Christian in their Boxen Mega-church. The Catholic Church still harbors resentment that it is not the premiere spiritual authority on Earth. And of course us information worshippers, we believe that we are beyond all of those luddites with their worship of crude matter in whatever form it comes in.
The Matrix for all its Hollywood ugliness is the hallmark of a new era. It recognized the change in our culture, and brought it to the forefront of the consciousness of even the least self-critical among us. It made people rethink the solidity of the stone they had always worshipped. The bare understanding of String Theory and Quantum Mechanics that permeates society makes us all question just how solide the ground we stand upon really is. For the psychonauts among us, we pretend to see green letters hiding behind every solid object. We think that we can read the code hidden just beyond the veil.
Nothing renders us as bits of information quite so succinctly as the flash mob. On your little communicator reminsicent of Star Trek, you can receive information about how you should move, how you should arrange yourself. These messages don't come from on high, they come laterally. We can choose to heed the call or not. Yet flash mobs have affected the outcome of elections in third world countries where not everyone involved even had internet in their homes. I myself participated in the organization of a crowd of thousands of revellers taken from a park in Manhattan through the subway, on a parade through Brooklyn where we were met with games and Sound Systems. I watched in my linen suit jacket and faerie wings as the police department mobilized our escort, spontaneously and out of the blue. We parties to Techno blasted from the side of an old charter bus on the pier in Red Hook Brooklyn. Then when finally the fire trucks, police boats and a chopper came to shut us down, we mobilized again and took the remaining few hundred and sought a new venue. With the power of our intelligent mob I was able to negotiate an after party venue in a local club. I direct you to take notice of the wiki article on flash mobs. It is a picture of an event coordinated by someone I know personally.
How's that for the power of information? As we navigated the world of the stone worshippers, that of our ancestors we we able to adapt to new situations as they arose. A certain power and magic was tapped. Through this technology we helped pioneer we now receive updates from the savvier of our two Presidential candidates.
Yet, I still feel trapped within the world of the stone worship. I still am a life lived, a real person, blood and bones. Aesthetically I may prefer my neurons and hormones. I may approve of the fact that DNA is a literal information system holding together proteins to build the greater structure that facillitates my existance.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why diegetics?


Di`e*ge"sis\, n. [NL., fr. Gr. ?, fr. ? to narrate; dia` through + ? to lead.] A narrative or history; a recital or relation.

Diegesis is

  1. the (fictional) world in which the situations and events narrated occur; and
  2. telling, recounting, as opposed to showing, enacting.

For a very long time I wanted to start a blog. I didn't know where to begin or to whom I wanted to write. With a word, 'diegetics', I found my voice. I have spent quite a long time examining the epistemology of perspective, and how it impacts our world. Not so much as in how it informs our worldview, but how much informs our world. When we think, we act, when we act we shape the world around us. While the world is a real and tangible thing, full of exigent circumstances that must be acknowledged, it is also mutable. We have the ability to affect our environment.

This post-modern notion is quite discomforting for many people for whom the idea of a static reality, a reality that confirms their thoughts, their beliefs, their biases, is vital to their ontological well-being.

At this moment in history, that is stripped from them, brutally, by a society that doesn't care for their notions of propriety. In this society you can be anything...supposedly.

You get to choose what role you play in the grand drama of your life. Again...supposedly. We use narrative to describe our lives, to understand history and our place within it. We craft a story where for better or worse we have chosen a role to play. Some of us are not even the protagonists in our own lives.

Diegesis refers to the flow of the story. Diegetics, as I am using it refers to the study of context. How does the thing being viewed fit into the broader context? Sometimes it doesn't, and that's when we come to an ontological crisis, where the paradigm shifts and we shift with it. Our ability to shape our world suddenly comes into question as our circumstances drag us kicking and screaming along with them.

In our world, we are beset by virtual realities, little mini worlds where we can assume another role, but it fits seemlessly within our larger role, as we devote part of the greater context to this lesser context. On occasion it is for a night, when we chat up that beautiful girl we met in the bar. Other times it is for an extended period of time, as we cultivate an online career in a Massively Multiplayer Online game.

This blog is dedicated to how our virtual worlds, the worlds inside our head come out and become our real world. When we emerged from the muck, it is possible that the voices in our head seemed to us like the voices of the ancestors, or of Gods of some kind. At some point the voices of some came to represent a greater validity than the voices of others. That leads us to where we are today.

I intend to address epistemological issues that I am exploring, but this blog is also about media, and how we use media, and how media uses us. My posts will alternate between a philosophy of the historical narrative in which we reside, and an analysis of how we present our crafted narratives to ourselves and each other. So expect the occasional pseudo-intellectual meandering, (I am crafting one now) interspersed with discussions of media, information systems and more specifically the transmedia medium in which we reside here on the internet.

Alternate Lives and Virtual Realities

Alternate lives within a life are no less real than anything else that occurs within them. To illustrate this point, I will put my thesis in contrast to this thesis eloquently stated by William S. Lind, the originator of the term, 4th Generation Warfare, which refers to war where some of the principles are non-state actors. 4G War is the natural state of an atomised culture, one where conflicting ontologies and epistemologies war with one another for supremacy in an abstract, virtual space. On occasion, these wars become phenomenological, they become real, and they wield real knives and fire real bullets. There are very few things that people tacitly agree upon more than the coherence of matter. Physical death is the final arbiter of ideological conflict. If those that believed in an idea are dead, then so is that idea.

The Discarded Image
The Discarded Image is the title of C.S. Lewis’s last book, and perhaps his best. On the surface, it is a discussion of medieval cosmology and the Ptolemaic universe. In reality it is about very much more, including the medieval refutation of the modern notion of “equality,” which decrees that people are interchangeable. That vast error lies at the heart of many of the ideologies which made the 20th century such a horror and which still gnaw at the vitals of Western civilization. Lewis recognized that on many matters, our medieval ancestors were wiser than ourselves.
This is the first place where I find myself in disagreement with Lind's thesis, and by extension Lewis's. Both of these men have had a profound impact on my worldview, and that I choose this essay is out of a great respect for what is being said, however, herein contained is the seed of Lind's virtual world. The basis for what he is saying is that in essence, the Medieval world is more real than the world in which we live today. That is not true. People who live in the real world do not drown women in order to determine whether or not they are a witch.

In the face of this possibility, or maybe probability, what indeed are individuals and families to do? I think the answer, if there is one, begins with my friend David Kline’s farm.

David Kline is an Amishman. He farms about 200 acres in Holmes County, Ohio, good land that supports a herd of forty to fifty dairy cows. He has some modern equipment, such as milking machines, but his life does not depend on any of it. In today’s world, his farm provides him a good living. In a Fourth Generation world, his farm would still provide well for him and his family.

I am not talking about “survivalism” here. The Kline farm represents much more than that. As I have said to David more than once, what he and other Amish are doing is preserving an understanding of how to live in reality for the time when all the virtual realities collapse.

Within his own wording, he gives the us the key to his virtual world. In this virtual world, the Kline farm is representative of something. It is an icon, an idol. Lind pines for a time where connection to the soil reminded us of the reality in which we live.

Virtual realities lie at the heart of Brave New World, aka the New World Order, “globalism,” “democratic capitalism” (as the neo-cons define it), etc. The bargain Brave New World offers is this: if you will only do as Marcuse advises and trade the Reality Principle for the Pleasure Principle, we will enmesh you in virtual realities that will make you happy. True, you will lose your free will, because our virtual realities will condition you to think as we want you to. But they will also give you anything and everything you want. So what if none of it is real? All that matters is that you feel happy, right now.

Here he has a point. We do trade the reality principle for the pleasure principle. Just not in the way he believes. Feeling is indicative of experience. Engineering one's feelings is the quickest path to self-delusion. The totalitarian pursuit of pleasure leads us to override the genuine experience that the feelings we are turning away from communicate to us. The feeling of experience is poignant in direct relation to it's truth. This is why pleasure seeking behavior diminishes. Wine is less sweet when gorged upon. Sex is less ecstatic when abused promiscuously. Drugs have a rate of diminishing returns, requiring a greater dosage for similar effect.

As our medieval forefathers would quickly recognize, this is Hell speaking. Hell has always loathed reality, because in reality, Christ is king. Wiser than we, the medievals were interested not in felicitas but in beautitudine – not in being happy but in being saved. Had they been given a television or a video game, they would have smelled brimstone.

William Lind's thesis is refuted by his own source material.
John 18:36
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."
So where exactly is this 'reality' of which Lind speaks? What he is saying is true, to a point. There are truths higher and more noble than the pursuit of physical pleasure, which when broken down are merely the stimulation of neural pathways. The place where he makes a mistake and where the hedonist also makes an equal but opposite mistake is that happiness is an indicator of well-being, just as fear is an indicator of danger, and pain is an indicator of damage. Placing felicitas and beatitudine as opposites is a mistake. There is no reason why being saved should not make one happy.

So while Lind has a very important lesson for us, ultimately he is wrong. The process of modern life is intrinsically tied together by virtual worlds. No longer do we live with our physical neighbors. I spend more time with the members of my corporation in Eve Online than I do with the people whose doors are next to mine in the hall.

The implication of the bible passage that I quoted says to me, if anything, that Christ was here to save us from such virtual worlds. If William Lind is still here, then he is still living in a virtual world. We are participating in the grand atomised faction war, the 4G War where the state is no longer the primary social unifier. Our Asabiya is no longer primarily dominated by state or religious affiliation. Even within our allegiance to such grand and unifying ideas there is wide division.

The problem for Lind is the same as the problem for so many Conservatives, they see the certainty of the world they wish to cultivate slipping through their grasp, and they enshrine their own perspective as though it is the only valid and true perspective, as though they have a grasp on reality that others do not. When they get together in a group, they may not be able to agree upon a suitable description for reality, but they will circle the wagons to agree that the outsider's view most certainly is not it. It is a war of virtual worlds. Lind is right, those virtual worlds cannot and will not last, but so what? We are here now, we are where we are, and if we were created in God's image, then our ability to shape our reality in accordance with our will is a divinely attributed gift.

By denying the reality of the lives that people lead, Lind does damage to the meaning of the word reality. If you devote much of your time to a virtual reality, it is your reality. While you cannot buy a loaf of bread with Eve Online's ISK, the relationship between you and the people you interact with as mediated by that currency are very real and can impact your life outside of the game's context.