Erik Satie’s Nocturnes


It is said that Satie reached the heights of his compositional abilities late in life, and I have to wholeheartedly agree. While most people are only aware of the Gymnopedies and a few other compositions by Satie, the Nocturnes are by far my different. At only 13 minutes combined length, they represent a huge leap forward in tonal composition style, breaking away from Satie’s earlier light and meditational atmosphere and embrace the melancholic and heartbreakingly sad. It’s incredible to me how sad these pieces are, like recalling a memory of a bygone era. One is immediately transported into the quiet night streets of early 20th century France, snow falling on a hill…the mental image it conjures up may differ depending on the person, but one thing is for sure, the chord structure and harmony is definitely innovative. The blog post I have linked to below says this on the subject:

“It was not without good reason that the label ‘outsider’ stuck to Satie. As of his earliest compositions he was in search of alternatives to the tonal harmony that was still the unquestioned convention when he began his training at the Paris Conservatoire (1879–87). This search runs like a red thread through all of his works, and was certainly absolutely independent of the stylistic orientation of individual works, reaching indeed, as we know, from echoes of the medieval and exotic to the then popular cabaret music.”

This last comment is particularly intriguing to me. Without going too in-depth into the harmonic style and complexity of the Nocturnes (which I am definitely not able to do with justice), I find the connection between medieval harmony and Erik Satie to be accurate just from my musically trained ear. The style in the Nocturnes, for example, has a certain gravity about it that invokes a kind of sacred atmosphere. To be more musically specific, in almost all of Satie’s pieces, the left and right hand are given almost complete independence: either the left hand is playing chords and the melody floats on top, or often there are two independent melody lines played by the left and right hands. This latter technique occurs in the Nocturnes and evokes a medieval-style chorus with interweaving melodies. I am reminded of a particular piece (not available on Youtube) that also happens to be written by a Frenchman, called Veni Creator Spiritus by Perotin- one of the earliest known composers we have a name for! Perhaps the great Satie was influenced by the chanting that could still be heard in Notre Dame Cathedral where Satie was choir master. Who knows?


The “mystery” of the infinite

As I have developed in other blog posts, the infinite is essentially boring so humanity invents ways to make it not boring. The debate of the universe being infinite vs. finite is interesting, but its probably infinite according to current cosmology. The nature in which its infinite is somewhat interesting, but to me, whether the universe is one universe in a nest of bubble universes or a infinite flat plane of universe is somewhat inconsequential. One has to be empirically correct, but philosophically it is essentially the same, but only at first glance.

The “bubble universe” or multiverse theory has one strength, as far as I can gleam- it introduces the cosmogony into the cosmology. In other words, it posits a way in which universes can be created and destroyed. Realizing that the known universe has a beginning, we can only speculate that it has an ending and is impermanent. The “bubble universe” theory has the advantage of postulating a dynamic system. The only downside I can think of is that it is almost too aesthetically pleasing and may amount to some form of anthropomorphism- in other words, its a pretty vision of what we would want Reality to look like. Can we see the beauty in an infinite expanse of nothingness or vacuum lying outside the observable universe? Its possible, but I personally would rather Reality to go on without me, for things to keep emerging and dying in an endless cycle.

The Bubble universe becomes even more probable if one consider that the Big Bang becomes not an “unexplainable event”, as Stephen Hawking was liable to believe at one point, but a causal event. Would I go so far as to “endorse” the Bubble universe/multiverse theory? I would say that it is the most attractive one currently available because it gives the universe a reason for being which is simply a matter of physics.

Let us imagine, however, a day millions of years in the future of humanity. We have discovered and proven the theory of the Bubble multiverse by seeing past the observable universe. Then we realize: what is one level above that multiverse? Is this series of bubbles in another bubble? 

You see the problem. An infinite nested series of bubbles. We are back at the same problem of infinity. The multiverse theory doesn’t solve the problem of the bubbles unless somehow that series of bubbles were finite or maybe countably infinite. What is more probable however is that this “bubbles within bubbles”, what classic Buddhist philosophy calls interpenetration and what can somewhat be mathematically described as having fractal geometry, is the nature of Reality. Reality simply goes on forever, but in a way in which patterns repeat over and over.

In my mind, we have yet to truly grasp the magnitude of infinity. By its very nature, what we are seeing as the entire observable universe is not only a tiny fraction of reality, it is an infinitesimal portion of it. No matter how big of a chunk you grab, whether it be half the universe, 6 universes, 100 billion universes, 100 billion multiverses…you get the picture.

That is why the ultimate explanation or causal picture of Reality as it is is by no means explained by the Big Bang. Am I positing a deity? No, there is no need to evoke omniscient beings and consciousnesses. Reality is as such, and its suchness is will always be tautological. It exists because it existed in the past…this created this, that created that. Try to “zoom out” and ask “well what created the whole thing?” and an answer will ultimately never be achieved. Or, by contrast, you could simply say “nothing created the whole thing, there never was nothing”. This latter answer leaves humans generally feeling like they are missing something, it feels emptywhich is why I believe its the right answer. Saying, “it just is” goes against the very metaphor of discovery which drives Western civilization and scientific knowledge. It implies that the only reason for new discoveries is utilitarian, and there is no grander teleological narrative, which is probably the case!

What is there left to discover? Everything and nothing, depending on your point of view. The multiverse leaves open some intriguing philosophical or existential possibilities. But by and large, we must recognize and confront the fact that the universe is the way it is, and our knowledge of it will not significantly change it in any way. In other words, we will be born, we will die, and the universe will continue to go. Thinking at these grand levels of cosmological scale is fun, but after awhile, you are forced epistemologically back down to earth.


The frightening, unacceptable nature of the infinite

The article linked to above covers the most plausible science of what lies beyond the observable universe. The theory is that if the theory of the inflationary universe is correct (and all evidence points to the fact that it is correct) than the universe is at least 250 times larger than what is currently observable. To begin with, the size of the observable universe is around 90 billion light years wide. That means it would take light, which moves almost exactly 300,000 km/s (kilometers, not meters) 90 billion years to traverse the diameter of the universe. To quote the article:

“Since special relativity states that nothing can move faster than a photon, many people misinterpret this to mean that the observable Universe must be 13.75 billion light years across. In fact, it is much larger. Not only has space been expanding since the big bang, but the rate of expansion has been steadily increasing due to the influence of dark energy. Since special relativity doesn’t factor in the expansion of space itself, cosmologists estimate that the oldest photons have travelled a distance of 45 billion light years since the big bang. That means that our observable Universe is on the order of 90 billion light years wide.”

Therefore, the universe is expands even faster than the speed of light, and because of that certain parts of the universe are forever beyond our light cone. Because of this, they are even beyond the realm of causal interaction- everything beyond the 90 billion light year diameter of the universe cannot interact with the observable universe except perhaps through gravity.

Let’s expand further: if the theory of the inflationary universe correct, then the universe is at least 250x larger than what is currently observable (somewhere on the order of 100 sextillion light years across). But why, then, can the universe not be infinitely large?

It seems we are faced with a contradiction. It seems impossible to empirically prove that the universe goes on forever because of physical constraints and the sheer logical fact that it would not be possible to observe an infinite distance in the first place because conceivably, one could always say “perhaps the end is still beyond that”. If it can be a priori proven from mathematical principles seems dubious at best- the debate rages on between those who say the universe is flat or curved. However, most current data favors a flat and therefore spatially infinite universe.

This idea of measuring the spatial curvature of the universe however does not take into account the fact that at some point beyond the observable horizon of the universe the curvature suddenly increases or is so close to 0 but not being 0 that it is impossible to tell. Thus the problem of infinitesimals meets the infinite.

However, the article expresses a kind of reticence to pronounce that the universe is probably infinite. It is simply “too hard to accept”- they would rather go with the title “universe could be 250 times bigger than what we can see.” For some reason, it is more shocking to say that the universe is 250 times rather than infinitely larger than expected. Somehow, infinity gets reduced to 0. How is this possible? Because infinity, as an endless repetition, is essentially boring. I’ve written about this before, but strictly speaking, humans cannot truly comprehend the infinite, and so they collapse into concepts that are seemingly opposite to it, such as nothingness. Something that is infinitely larger than something is now beyond human comparison, and therefore cannot be gawked at. What is funny is that this is even done by cosmologists.

Take this Quora answer by a mathematics professor, repeating the standard line that the number of electrons in the universe is 10^80 and therefore it is countable and finite:

If all the evidence points to an infinite universe, even though it is essentially not possible to prove otherwise, it will never be proclaimed as a fact. Why? There is still more to explore! Infinity violates the boundaries of science- it introduces the metaphysical into the mathematical. If the universe is infinite, what type of infinity is it? Countably infinite? Uncountably infinite?

These are questions that will probably never be answered, but my money is on uncountably infinite. Why? Because the “boundary” of what consider the universe isn’t actually a boundary at all. I’ve pointed out the narrow-mindedness of physicists before when it comes to theories of the universe and the most abstruse theories out there (string theory, holographic theory). There are only boundaries it seems when it comes to the human imagination (of some humans). Even I don’t believe these are insurmountable barriers to human knowledge. I do not believe, as Leonard Susskind claims, it is simply impossible to understand things like quantum physics directly or intuitively. The human brain is a finite organ in space and time, but it has the astounding ability to conceptually grasp things even beyond what is considered “normal life”.

The fundamental Buddhist insight- that what we see is not how reality truly is- is absolutely fundamentally correct. Everything we know about reality points to this, because there are simply things we cannot see- atoms, worlds far beyond our own. The structure of things, their nature, is not possible to grasp with the five senses alone- Plato and the great thinkers of the past knew that very well just from their experience- they knew there was something more to what we see. However, the Platonic vision of reality is also fundamentally limited. Concepts like nirvana or even “the universe” are also only ultimately constructs. Reality as it is is beyond at least average conceptual understanding. Where the real conceptual leap must occur is into the realm of what Buddhist philosophy calls “non-conceptual thought”, which to the rationalist mind is simply an error. Such a thing is not possible. However, if we were to gain some sort of insight into the nature of things like “uncountably infinite” we would in fact have to go beyond our normal concepts for things which operate in terms of metaphors which only apply to the here and now.

To conclude, when thinking of the idea of the uncountable, the mind encounters accepting a limit. It tries to convert the idea of uncountable to something more mundane, like “countable if given an infinite amount of time”. But this is not a correct definition of uncountable. Therefore, if we were to truly accept something of the order of “the universe is uncountably infinite” we would have to accept things like “a theory of everything is not possible”. And yet, science continues to grasp for this theory. And the question is obviously- why? Because the search for truth seems to be something inherent to humanity. Perhaps this particular strain of searching is historically contingent, but modern physics and science now desperately wants this TOE.

My theory is that the TOE stands ultimately for the purpose of science itself, its floating signifier, a signifier which is beyond the bounds of all the other signifiers. The TOE, if thought to be obtained, would not be in fact the TOE. Instead, there would be an illusory nesting egg effect- “TOEs” inside of TOEs. Ultimately, paradoxes will always plague science, as long as it continues to exist.


Imee Ooi: Dharma artist

Imee Ooi is an artist who makes songs of Buddhist mantras, sutras, and dharanis. Her music has an amazingly peaceful and pure quality. Her version of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit and Mandarin have always meant a lot to me. Sometimes it is only through things like music that we can truly understand the meaning of things like emptiness or impermanence. That is really my only access to the transcendent, through these kind of crutches. I reach back to my experiences listening to the most beautiful music and how it made me feel to understand the nature of existence, its mystery and loveliness. It is through music and art that we can access these hidden depths of consciousness, much better than mind altering drugs for instance. Sometimes you will get that understanding by yourself, sitting on a mountain, sitting by the ocean. We live in a blessed era where we can access these feelings of bliss sometimes by clicking a button. But is this too much of a good thing? I believe if used in moderation, this kind of music can be used to pacify and subdue the minds of suffering beings.

Dharma Art, art deliberately made to benefit and subdue the suffering minds of beings, is the highest art form. The Medicine Buddha in particular is for those in deep suffering. May this song be for all those who need it the most, the poor, the hungry, the sick. May your suffering be released, and may you abide forever in bliss

Reform or Revolution: Do we need a Third Party?

According to Marxist-Leninists, only direct action and hostile revolution from below can accomplish the goals of socialism (defined according to orthodox ML terms). I disregard this tactical strategy as feasible in America. Anyone who wants real change should realize that electoral politics and seizing power this way is the main way to achieve change outside of real grassroots mobilization like strike action.

But the real “reformist” debate is whether America needs a third party or not. And there is a good case to be made that America, despite the upsurge of support for progressive takeover of the Democratic Party, needs long-term to completely reform the two party system. This is because it is simply too difficult to reform the Democratic Party, with its superdelegates and ties to corporate PACs, to be reformed in a meaningful way. I believe it can be done- the Progressive Caucus is already the largest caucus in the Democratic Party. But real meaningful change in policy can only occur by completely redefining the policies of the entire party, or by taking that momentum and forming a Third Party.

There will come a time in American electoral politics where the decision to support a progressive/socialist electoral party will come. It may be 10 years, it may be 20 years, but it will come. For now, I believe the right strategy is hostile takeover of the Democratic Party. Long-term, I believe it is third party formation, regardless of potential splits of the liberal vote. Sea changes are occurring in people’s viewpoints and demographics that I believe will eventually result in complete electoral reform and the transformation of America’s electoral politics into a true parliamentary democracy with well over 3 major parties. The sooner this starts to happen the better.

Too much attention I believe is given to the tactics debate on the Left. At the end of the day, whether you as a progressive voted for the “lesser of two evils” against Trump or voted third party in 2016, or even didn’t vote out of disgust, doesn’t mean much to me, but its important that the discourse started in the first place. Far from personalizing the politics of it, one should recognize that members of the Left of all stripes were divided on this difficult question. Now, our long-term horizon in the rapidly changing face of American politics post-Bernie Sanders and post-Trump should accommodate new developments, particularly when it comes to strategic support of democratic socialist candidates.

If you count yourself as a radical Leftist, let me address you as someone who shares your commitments theoretically and politically. One should realize the historical window of opportunity that is taking place politically and tactically support democratic socialist candidates even if you believe their politics are not radical enough. This is because I believe too many people in my generation have quickly become enamored with socialism through disillusion with our system and in haste have disregarded the real possibilities for bettering people’s lives through electoral politics. A true “revolution” is under way that can only be described as unprecedented in the US: our backwards and reactionary politics are finally being challenged in a genuine movement for change. From foreign policy to universal healthcare and education, these polices are desperately needed now, not in a hypothetical future under a revolutionary government.

However, to members of the DSA and progressive movement, I believe the radical Left needs to be given greater a voice in the movement when it comes to policy. It is true that historically the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements. There is a reason to be skeptical of electoral politics when there is no public financing of elections. The policy platform of the DSA and other democratic socialist groups needs to be pushed even further left to accommodate policies such as complete redress of imperialism and the scaling back of America’s military by a huge margin. Part of the reason why no social programs like Medicare for All are able to be pursued right now is that the government’s finances are apportioned to extremely wasteful military spending.

The DSA, while it generally has a very progressive agenda, still uses vague language like “major cuts in military spending” along with rhetoric around imperialism, I have yet to find a policy document that gives a number. The fear is that using a number like this will either pidgeonhole the party into a definite number or expose them to attacks by members of the opposite side. Well, I for one, and many Americans, want a number. What about 50%? 60%? Any number you can possibly think of that is “too high” may surprise you given the exorbitant historical amount of waste in the DoD.

The domestic priorities of an organization like the DSA I believe are mostly right on the mark and have wide popular support. Things like Medicare for All are outlined in almost painstaking detail in terms of facts and figures. However, when it comes to how much we will shrink the military budget, this seems to be the “unconscious” of the democratic socialist movement. Addressing something that directly, as something that can actually be changed instead of theoretical terms like “imperialism” seem to be almost impossible. Using words like “climate change” and “transitioning to a green energy economy” seem to be equally likely nowadays, but using words like “getting rid of oil subsidies” seem to be too “wonky”. Follow the money, always follow the money.

I believe a broad combination of strategies will eventually transition the US into a modern welfare state that is on par with the rest of the developed world. We should realize the immense struggle that is ahead of us relative to much of Europe. We should also realize that there are challenges that have only just begun: the climate crisis being one of them. To those of you that currently reflexively vote Democrat, I challenge you to keep an open mind in the years ahead. “The times they are a changin’ “

The commodification of emotion and its paradoxical authenticity: An anime review

Music is the most dangerous thing on the planet. As Zizek has recognized, music can be a powerful ideological tool to mobilize armies, to inspire patriotism, but also to give hope to those who need it. It often helps people through horrible periods in their life.

This is the ending title song for the anime Attack on Titan, an “apocalyptic” show with genuine pathos and exciting plot and story development, one of the most popular anime television shows in the world that somewhat transcends the genre and approaches the level of, say, a Hiyao Miyazaki movie. And yet, it is vaguely reminiscent of corny monster movies. But there is something genuinely uncanny and unnerving about seeing building-sized cannibalistic humanoids devour the helpless population of a rural society armed only with cannons and primitive c. 18th century devices. Set it what looks like rural Bavaria or Germany, the show makes one wonder “what would I do in a situation where I fight or die? Would it take the easy path or fight for my life? Would I be strong enough?” There are some real dark turns in this show, its definitely for children.

The link above explains how Attack on Titan may explore, directly or indirectly, philosophical themes from controversial Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt, leading some to claim the show as veiled endorsement of Japanese nationalism. I believe this is a misinterpretation. What the authors of the show seeks to address are partly themes of totalitarianism and how in dire situations it may be necessary, or how a created common enemy can unite a people. I also believe the show is simply about war and death.

A world war, a war of truly total proportions, is an existential threat that requires one to choose sides, and ultimately fight for one’s life and those of others. It is through an analysis of how power intersects with ordinary people’s decisions where we realize that people who do things that are evil felt as if they had no choice, even if they had one.

This is where commodification and authenticity come into play. The primary reference here, aside from Adorno and Heidegger, is oddly The Banality of Evil. Capitalism, in all its insidious, spreads its tentacles over the globe and creates a consumer culture that is not only totalizing- it is addicting. Video game addiction. Netflix binging. Don’t tell me if you are a leftist you haven’t done it.

And why bother moralizing? It’s fun! Pieces of art that are genuinely moving, even if they are engineered by a group of smart producers and marketers, are still moving. And that’s the problem. The evils of the market are kept in place ideologically by things that make us feel good. Big Macs. Coca-Cola. Chips.

In moderation, these are things that make us feel good. And they remain problematic because, in my view, these things eventually can consume us. Consumption-based society creates a society of couch potatoes, endless consumption. It is essentially the problematic of Infinite Jest.

When we long for a simpler time, in movies, in music, we forget that elements of mass culture and consumer society improves living standards around the world. But a total takeover is ultimately catastrophic to the psychic well-being of humanity.

We need to find a balance. A Middle Way. In our own habits and collectively.

If you are a Marxist: its OK if Hollywood made you cry. It’s OK if you like Coca-Cola. But ultimately, we should embark on something that looks less like the Jetsons and looks more like…well, the way things already are (to a certain extent).

High speed rail isn’t the answer to all of our problems. But modern convenience is a luxury that many would kill for.

It’s scary to think about, but in 50 years we will look back nostalgically on the temperature. Conservation is fundamentally…conservative. We have a right to feel a sense of entitlement of preserving that forest by your house, even the air we breathe.

The heroic struggle that is before us is principally an transformative one: it is a battle against ourselves. Can we create a new way of life that saves us and the planet? Let us continue to be inspired by the art and fantasy of the age. We can continue to daydream about being our favorite heroes: perhaps that is how we will get through the coming years, and have the courage to make the tough decisions.

Difference and Repetition: John Coltrane, modal music, and the value of musical preservation

Skip in the video to 1:15, and a 40s-style big band instrumental instantly transforms into a recognizable melody you may know from “Impressions” by John Coltrane. What is most fascinating is that the lineage of this tune first passed from Miles Davis’ copying of the chord progression of the middle section of the song, and only later did Davis’ former saxophonist partially copy the melody of “Pavanne” and speed it up. In this way, one of the most recognizable standards in jazz is not only a poetic mimesis or “hard bop” version of a modal piece, but the entire basis for the modal genre is based on a simple unassuming big band tune. In this way, one realizes that, to use Deleuzian language, from an existing strata, there are deterritorializations that moves “forwards and backwards at once” as Coltrane famously said.

This is just more evidence that the cliche that “all good music is stolen” may in actuality have a huge amount of truth. There is no such thing as pure innovation, and things that ultimately seem like “gifts” from a divine or deep source, but a product simply of culture.

But what gives “Impressions” that special something, could that be the spark of something else? Maybe we will never know.

I seem to have a strange attraction to music that is lushly chordal, and sometimes the simpler and more melancholy the better. To me, the real pioneers of modal music were the ancient makers of polyphonic chant, Leonin and Perotin, in the late 1100’s!



Perhaps the most profound and numinous of all things in the world of music is the simple chord that resonates and echoes into an empty chamber. What jazz did was find the soul in the groove, in the rhythm, but perhaps modal jazz was not an innovation, but rather a reterritorialization or appropriation of the Western canon, or the harmonic tradition itself. And yes, this song by Perotin is in Dorian, just like Impressions. There is something about the Dorian mode itself, beyond what any frail human can do with it. What Coltrane did with impressions was a combination of speed, groove, and ambiance. But the essentials of beauty in music come from harmony, the realm of the sacred, while the realm of rhythm has always (in the Western tradition) been the realm of the secular. Renaissance music was essentially a combination of the bard’s dance and sacred themes, and the most ancient precursors to the jazz quartet was the roving band of minstrels (coupled with the Gospel choir, a fusion of the African dance and, again, the harmonic Western tradition).

Perhaps Miles Davis and Coltrane went back to the hymnals for inspiration? It is clear that Coltrane found new spiritual territory on A Love Supreme, with its repetitive meditative themes. But here Coltrane found an entirely new territory- the Orient, the East, which has its own sacred trance-like tradition. In jazz, inspired creativity of several disparate cultures became one. Music that touches the ineffable or sacred, despite its “all too human” origins, if it reaches excellence in the individual bodies of humans who must perform it, all of the sudden “transcends” its station. The voices of choir members suddenly are “transubstantiated”. The transcendental dimension, far from being a Platonic dimension that can be accessed by Reason, or a divine realm accessed by faith or divine providence, is simply immanently transformed into something beautiful, through the process of differentiating and being faithful to what can only be called tradition.

What is truly incredible is the remarkable human process of cultural capture and dissemination, of transmission itself. The music of the world, now that we are becoming globalized, is now being cataloged, preserved, and a new generation of musicologists born. It is our shared human heritage. Far from something that only makes culture into a museum, anthropologists and ethnomusicologists, along with regular members of society, take this shared wealth and keep it for future generations to enjoy. If it is divorced from its original context, we cannot continue to daydream and wax nostalgically about a dying past: we must do the slow and steady work of salvaging, of bringing up diamonds from the rough. So when Sonny Rollins said, when the latest John Coltrane “Lost Album” was unearthed, “its like finding a new room in the Great Pyramids”, he is not far from the truth. Rollins understands that Coltrane is part of America’s musical heritage, part of us. Without our history, our all too human, but our fascinating, noble, and beautiful history, we are nothing, we sacrifice the future.


Tales from Iceland: the savageness of nature

Finally the blog will live up to its name!

In my travels I frequently end up talking to tour guides and paying very close attention to what they say. I had an excellent guide through the Golden Circle (a circle of three important stops outside Reykjavik- Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss waterfall) whom I had an excellent conversation with. The guy’s name is Elvar (sic) on the Grayline Iceland Golden Circle classic tour. Great guy- Elvar if you are out there, you’re a good bloke! He had an extensive knowledge of Icelandic folklore and we had a great conversation about Icelandic culture, history, and folklore. Elvar expertly woves tales of the Ejill saga with the history of the drowning pool at Thingvellir, the law rock of the Alþingi, the war of the bishops, and of course- elves! Tourists to Iceland get no shortage of stories of elves.

If you go to Iceland, you have to do the Golden Circle tour, its incredible. We got to pet Icelandic horses and everything- and it wasn’t that expensive at all! Iceland is a travel gem- just don’t eat very much in Reykjavik! The prices are as gargantuan as the snow capped peaks. Go to the Bonus grocery stores if you are on a budget.

But back to the real reason I’m writing about Iceland: it’s culture. My guide very adeptly identified that religion for Icelanders is a complicated matter because they became Christian very late- around 1000 AD, and even still they retained much of their folk belief. For instance, the bishops had regular discussions about what to do in case of encountered a giant or troll!

That’s Iceland for you, still a relatively remote region of the world, despite its connection to the larger Scandinavian area. The rural areas of Iceland are very cut off- there are many small towns of less than 1000 people. There are still a few houses I saw tucked away all by themselves on the mountainside amidst vast tundra plains of rock and moss.

In this way, Iceland reminded me very much incidentally of Bhutan, another mountainous country in which they have many stories of nature spirits who inhabit the waters and rocks. If there’s anything I learned, its that Icelandic folk belief is almost “indigenous”, and certainly animist. Their connection to the earth is strong, as well as the sea, a mountainous island that is unique among the world’s landscapes and unique in its culture.

Iceland retains much of its ruggedness well into the 21st century. They’ve experienced a lot of deforestation, but most of it occurred during the first years of colonization a millennium ago. Power lines cross the otherwise empty landscape, but otherwise it is still mostly unspoiled. In this way, Iceland is not very much different from some areas of the Himalayas I encountered- the powerlines mark both with the sign of modernity, but retain much of its natural brilliancy. Let’s hope the conservation of Iceland’s natural splendor is taken as seriously by its people as its 100% renewable geothermal and hydroelectric energy. And lets hope tourism to Iceland does not explode out of proportion with what it the land is willing to bear.

The raw power of nature in Iceland is something that is still unstoppable. The volcanic activity is substantial: the largest single eruption in modern times occurred here in the 1700s, purportedly shooting lava plumes 1 km in height into the sky! Incredible. Nature here is still something feared and respected, and not just considered pretty or even worshiped as “mother earth”. No- Mother Earth truly is a bitch here! She was the mother of Þórr after all! In Iceland, waterfalls still rage, volcanoes roar, and you truly do feel the power and glory of unspoiled nature. 

See those glaciers on top of the mountain up there in the picture? They may not be there for long. Icelanders- if you truly are as connected with nature as you say you are, you must protect these natural treasures for everyone to come, especially the rightful owners of this land- yourselves! If anything, do it for selfish reasons! Nature can be savage, but now humanity can even fell the mighty glaciers that once covered this great land. 

What does it mean to deterritorialize?

“For essential reasons: the unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today through the most diverse concepts of science and of writing, is, in principle, more or less covertly yet always, determined by an historicometaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the closure. I do not say the end. The idea of science and the idea of writing—therefore also of the science of writing—is meaningful for us only in terms of an origin and within a world to which a certain concept of the sign (later I shall call it the concept of sign) and a certain concept of the relationships between speech and writing, have already been assigned.”  –Derrida, Of Grammatology

It was Deleuze and Derrida who almost simultaneously recognized that writing or code inheres in the fabric of more than modern civilization- the code of a computer, genetic code, military secret code, the code of the law, etc. etc. Is this only because linguistic signs and metaphors permeate discourse itself- language not being able to escape language- or is this ontologically actually the case? One would probably go with the former at first in non-anthropomorphic cases, but what if information itself somehow is ontologically primary in reality? Quantum information theory says as much.

By referring to genetic material as code, what do we mean? We mean there is a sequence, a series of particular entities that in one combination produce one biological or chemical product, and in another produce another. The key aspects here of code are combinations, sequences, and corresponding production. Is the key aspect of this the sequence itself, the combination? No, it is reproduction, or corresponding production. Code reproduces itself. A code is stable, as a key or cipher it remains constant so that variable productions can occur. If we continue to use DNA as a model, we should recognize here the differences between transcription, translation, and replication. Code here reproduces itself but also produces new entities by means of mirror replication or half replication. Correspondingly, a signifier refers to other signifiers in the chain of meaning, referring to the original code in a semi-autonomous but never completely redundant way. Redundancy itself eliminates or reduces the possibility for errors, for mutations in intended meaning.

As a professional copy editor, I am told by my company to eliminate redundancy, but I have found that a certain amount of redundancy fills a paper out. There is a distinct difference between “to verb” and “in order to verb”, despite it being categorized as an “inflated phrase”. Of course there can be too much redundancy- this kind of redundancy would probably be eliminated quickly by helpful “editing proteins” in DNA. But the problem is that we are always operating on several codes at once- one’s professional code, one’s ethical code, one’s personal code, one’s biological code (sometimes my code tells me to sleep instead of writing long blog posts in the middle of the night). While we are slaves to our code, our pro-gram (credit to Derrida), we are also in some sense the programmers. Perhaps what it means to be human is that we are given a certain program, namely ourselves, and it is our task to hack it as much as humanly possible without “shorting the circuit”. Perhaps this is what Foucault drove at with the “limit experience”. Perhaps this is what Deleuze truly meant by deterritorialization, with all the warnings that come attached. Deleuze always formulated deterritorialization as a decoding explicitly. One only gets out of a territory by means of a decoding of a certain flow of X.

Oh boy, have we entered into the terrain of cliches? One hears the right-wing all the time say we need to “deprogram” ourselves from liberal hogwash. Cue the Matrix metaphors about taking the red pill! Here’s the problem with a cliche- it did mean something at one point. Yes, getting out of your territory is getting out of your comfort zone. So what? Its still good advice. But think about why its your comfort zone. Perhaps you have comfort zones you haven’t discovered yet- that’s a nice thought. For instance, I have recently found a passion for chess that I never thought I would have. I at one point never thought I would be into French postmodernism, but here I am.

And so, we come full circle to the quote at the beginning of the essay. What is Derrida saying is occurring? A deterritorialization of the whole field of language. Or, more precisely, the beginning of the end of a certain era having something to do with language. What he was referring to is also called the “Death of Speech”.

Is this Death of Speech a bad thing? Death can also be a rebirth, but here we should avoid the temptation to avoid historical and dialectical cliches. No- time really is linear. A death of speech cannot be reversed. But what is Derrida even referring to? A fundamental change in the nature of human communication. This fundamental change corresponds with changes in how we perceive communication itself, and thus, in social being itself.

Welcome to the Digital Age- stay tuned for more developments!

There’s no celebration of Posthumanism here, only a diagnosis of our present predicament. A historicometaphysical epoch is determinant, after all. Try as you might, one thing is for certain- there is no escaping the present.

Is there anything new I can offer to essentially the hodgepodge of already formulated ideas? Only the drawing of relationship, only creating the map at the edges of which we find the signifier for something more, a new direction. We have our web of concepts: code, Death of Speech, deterritorialization, and the modern importance of the digital or cybernetic. This has all been explored ad nauseam by Deleuze in Societies of Control, by Derrida, but lets dive head in, shall we?

There are two aspects to consider more closely- the prediction of the development of the current historicometaphysical epoch and outlining any concepts that we appear to have missed. Deleuze has indicated that deterritorialization by way of formation of new subjectivities through creative experimentation can counteract the effect of digital societies of control. In other words, in an era filled with new cybernetic mechanisms bent on shaping one’s self to be more penetrable to capitalist exploitation and marketing, through stimuli and response control in a Pavlovian sense, Desire itself is the target of an individual’s subjectivity.

Therefore, my recommendations for future areas of “research” or personal subjectivation: if the problem for forming a truly individual subjectivity is outside stimuli that creates and forms Desire, there are two possible avenues: the “ascetic” route of personal denial and the “tantric” route of shaping and playing with one’s desires.

If we truly want to reshape the world, we don’t only need to “look in the mirror”. We need to reevaluate our (shared) individual and collective desires.

So we have come to a useful conceptual distinction: individual and collective Desire. Nothing that hasn’t been said before, but a useful one. But perhaps more originally, I have offered a distinction between an “ascetic” and “tantric” route to subjectivation, and suggested a dichotomy. I am always intrigued by the concept of “unplugging” in the modern world: going a month without TV, etc. It would be difficult for me, I admit. I think this is exactly what our world needs right now. But I also believe that there must be a libidinal substitute for any kind of ascetic denial. TV is great! So if you plan on getting rid of TV for a month- make sure you are going somewhere nice and won’t be bothered it, or are planning on reading some good books. In a society that encourages binge watching, I purposefully try to watch an episode of my favorite shows per day.

Or, you could “go to the end”- the tantric route- use Desire to eliminate desire. Binge watch until you can go without TV for a year. Watch everything you want to watch, and then get sick of it. This route is NOT for the faint of heart!

And if you are interested in collective liberation, and think me talking about binge watching won’t effect anything, that I’m “feeding into the neoliberal paradigm”, think twice: I’m one step ahead of you! In an era of atomized individuals, we have to work on ourselves first. In other words: we have to deatomize. How? Before coming together in a big chemical reaction that will shake the foundations of the earth, we have to be chemically prepared. I’m saying- if you want a revolution, a political one, it needs to start by recognizing that our current industrial way of life is in the long term completely unsustainable. And no, Zizek, it won’t all be fixed by green energy and luxury space communism.

This kind of experimentation with alternative lifestyles, particularly associated with the green movement, is quickly co-opted by the capitalist hegemony. As Zizek points out, the true alternative is a liberatory framework for society, but this isn’t only in terms of changing the nature of production. Taking down consumer society starts with taking down the DESIRE FOR CONSUMER SOCIETY.

Unfortunately, we have to recognize that despite the enormous conveniences of modern capitalist society for the First World, it has never been that way for the Third World. And we can’t avoid what’s coming.

Yes, we do have to deprogram ourselves, and fast. The ocean is rising

Why does Jordan Peterson exist- SJWs or crowdfunding?

Social Justice Warriors. SJWs. Is the term valid? As a progressive, I have an instinctive gut reaction against the “anti-SJW industry” or people like Jordan Peterson who make their living making “podcasts” or other internet drivel ranting. I swear to Buddha, I’ll drop dead before I accept cash for my opinion over the internet.

But do social justice warriors exist? Is it a caricature? I think something is developing that is far more disturbing- the SJW industry. What the liberal left and right fail to comprehend is that everything can be commodified. There is an SJW industry, a network of “passionate social justice activists” who put their opinions online for money in the name of justice, and then there are anti-feminists who…end up doing the exact same thing.

My hypothesis is that what fuels the creation of people like Jordan Peterson is not just “the internet” or “social media”. The fact that Peterson is crowdfunded by Patreon is a significant development. What does it mean?

I believe it means that the model of news/infotainment that was perfected by the cable news industry, now that it has moved online, has transformed into an infotainment “a la carte” menu, where people pick their opinion and fund it directly. In turn, people are increasingly driven to make their opinion or felt subjectivity into their career; they are programmed to commodify themselves ceaselessly. Peterson is the example of a success-story. The endless self-commodification of our culture (one could argue I’m also a victim, I’m “advertising myself” in some fashion right now) has managed to permeate discourse to the degree where speech itself, in a Deleuzian fashion, has become rotten. Meaningful speech has ceased to exist. There is always just an underlying profit motive.

If that’s not depressing enough, if discourse itself hasn’t just become one big farce, if we aren’t just talking past each other in a giant Tower of Babel (credit to Landzek at Constructive Undoing blog), then consider this:

We can now commodify things that have never been commodified before: feelings, thoughts, experiences, emotions. All virtual, all simulated, everything empty, shallow, and meaningless.

On a sidenote: crowdfunding is a byproduct of consumer capitalism, specifically of what Marx called the production of new needs, or even more specifically, the need to “fulfill your dream”. Want to become a successful rapper? Cook? Need to pay off your credit card debt? Indiegogo baby!

When you were a kid and you wouldn’t eat your peas, your mom told you there were starving kids in Africa. Millennial moms will just say “oh my poor precious baby, you don’t have to eat anything, you are my little precious angel!”

Do I believe that millennials are all completely narcissistic and entitled? No. But I do think you feed into conservative propaganda when you refuse to take your inherent First World economic privilege into account. Unless you are homeless or terminal, don’t come crying to me, we all have problems.

What created Jordan Peterson?

  1. Identity politics and a refusal to look at class as a primary determinant of life
  2. The modern “gender studies” focus on “transformative identity” which reinforces narcissistic individualism in today’s activist culture
  3. A dynamic of increasing self-promotion in modern cybercapitalism

Perhaps Zizek is right that we need to become more alienated from each other first to fix these problems.