Avatar 2: The Tides Are Against Us

by Guy Walker

The Southern Congo was once a lush jungle of overgrown canopies and its endless tendrils of ivies, every possible limb was some resplendent baronial violence towards the sun and rain, some orgiastic excrescence of tubers and outgrowths and sacs of decay and disassembly. The jungle shrieks with predatory insects through its serpentines of mist, and keeps secret the hidden homes of the mantled guereza, the de brazza’s monkey, swamp monkeys, chimpanzees, and lowland gorillas. I’ve never seen a primate in the wild, but I can imagine their strange yet familiar wisdom, always in the eyes, patiently sticking long twigs into termite mounds, or walking the forest floor on their knuckles, or repelling from limb to limb with some intuitive nimbleness, a familiar silhouette against the penumbra of sunlight overhead.

But the Congo is home to an estimated 3.4 million metric tons of cobalt (it’s surely far more than this estimate), one of the essential elements in lithium-ion batteries, which is used in every smartphone and especially electric car. You used to be able to sink your shovel into the ground and soon find the crudely black and turquoise stone of heterogenite, and refine it into cobalt, similar to the early days of finding crude oil bubbling up to the surface in Pennsylvania. But now there are mines, massively sprawling complexes of ruined earth, clambering with thousands of child slaves, unaccounted for deaths and injuries, with three-quarters of the country living on less that two-dollars a day. Who knows what the collected loss of life is for the jungle that was once there. Who knows the embattled mythic squawks now muffled in the ruined debris. It’s all for one precious element, critical to prevent the batteries in smartphones and electric cars from bursting into flames. 

But without it, we couldn’t run our modern world. We have sacrificed every former dependable instinct that’s been passed down from countless generations in exchange for the convenient use of ruining our brains, so much so that without cobalt—if all our phones simultaneously burst into flames, and we were left staring into charred rectangles that no longer allowed us to escape our naked misery—we would instantly become beasts, prowling the fearful world with clubs and hatchets, ready to kill and maim and even self-immolate without access to our favorite drug. Or perhaps, in this Malthusian catastrophe, we’d be desperate enough to advance space travel enough to take us to new distant planets, to extract all its usable minerals that only serve to prolong our shivering mortality a little longer.

Avatar: The Way of Water is about you. Its villain characters aren’t the scarred and scary renderings of humanity’s collective failings; it’s about how you and your modern-but-so-ancient appetites are destroying the world you profess to love. The first movie covered our blundering of the land and forests; so this second epic covers the oceans, in a Melvillean sprawl of triviality, how we will kill everything grand and beautiful and sentient to not die ourselves, even if that means living on a completely charred and desolate planet.

Avatar: The Way of Water is all about the tulkun, the whale-esque creatures that are hunted down for a minuscule amount of yellow liquid that is secreted from a gland at the base of their skulls. When the liquid is captured, the rest of the whale is discarded, and the ship becomes another abattoir of waste, another bestial indulgence against the chimera of death. Of course Cameron isn’t making an allegory of the past. Of course he’s not saying how whaling used to be so bad because we just used a bit of blubber to light our lanterns, or how the Chinese cut off the dorsal fin of a shark and toss out the rest of the still-living shark to sink and die a miserable death. There are still whales swimming their infinite undulating laps around the world’s oceans today that are old enough to have survived humanity’s barrage of industrial whaling two hundred years ago. And so it’s tempting to grant those whales some special lore, to say they’ve personally witnessed the hailstorm of harpoons whizzing by their heads, seen all their siblings and cousins sucked from the sea and into the sky, and lived to tell about it. Cameron is adamant that the tulkun aren’t whales. But of course they are. They hold the secret ingredients to immortality because whales are the closest things we have to an ancient sentience that is somehow more alien than our most realistic sci-fi renderings.

An immortality drug today would obviously be siphoned and hoarded with drooling greed by the richest and most powerful. It might already exist. It’s hard to imagine Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos ever dying from old age, from a normal deterioration of the bones or brain like the rest of us. After all, Theodor Adorno did say, “Very evil people cannot really be imagined dying.”But we all carry on our days as if this won’t happen to us. Stuck in traffic going back and forth from a job we’re mainly indifferent about, in and out of cafés for a midday dessert because we deserve it, at home binge watching Ted Lasso on the background as you simultaneously send some emails from your laptop as you simultaneously scroll through Instagram reels on your phone, all the while there is an invisible eldritch daemon latched to your neck like a menacing golem character, his fangs slowly pulling the life from you, and we don’t seem to notice enough or care enough to do anything different.

Cameron observes something hauntingly obvious in all of us. The more wealthy we become—whether it’s individual or collective wealth—nothing about the nature of ourselves ever changes. In the first volume of the franchise, Giovanni Ribisi’s character is still only interested in improving his golf stroke on a rolled out putting green inside their mother spaceship—there’s no excited curiosity of the outside, no thrill even for the ravenous adventure of dominating another planet. Yeah, but it’s a movie, you say. The ultra rich must have endless orgies on super yachts all day long, or at least be so occupied with maintaining their empire that they don’t have time for our trivial pastimes. But you don’t need to look further than the here and now. Elon Musk is a real man, at the helm of many enormously complex companies, and in his free time, he only troll tweets, like a pimply-faced virgin, and then he proceeds to gloat that his tweet about putting cocaine back in Coca-Cola is the most liked tweet of all time. Appetites don’t change, not for the super wealthy, not for most everyone.

There’s some horrible familiarity in all this. Elon Musk famously wants to begin colonizing other planets because we’re so expediently ruining this one. And while Tesla is slowly transitioning away from its nickel and cobalt batteries to the safer iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries, Tesla has helped transform jungles into wastelands. Avatar isn’t about Elon Musk or the Tesla company, but then again, is it? Or rather, is there some ineludible conceit of our destiny that James Cameron predicted, some pattern of despair throughout history that says if we ruin a place we’ll then sail across the horizon to find a new place to generate our wealth a little longer—before that too runs dry?

I don’t know how visual effects and computer generated imagery works. But I’ve heard from many grown adults who play video games that video games these days are almost as realistic as Avatar’s graphics. This is a problem of course, not because these grown adults seem to be perfectly fine screaming profanities into a headset, embarking on these adventures of make-believe gallantry while the world is crumbling out their window, but rather because Avatar, for all that it achieves, can only be consumed as a video game. Its failure is not necessarily its fault, but rather inherent, because it is a movie,because the cinema is consumed the way memes and video games are.

Alain Badiou wrote about this extensively. According to him, the cinema can be a unifying avenue of creative impulse, not all that different from love. Just as love can rupture the automated tedium that courses through our everyday lives, and the dull worship of banality and our siloed domesticities, good cinema has the power to highlight the extraordinary substance of everyday things we take for granted. For Badiou, cinema can be “an art grounded in the fondness of all classes, ages and peoples for an important man being doused with liquid manure by a tramp.” Nico Baumbach writes a worthwhile essay for the Los Angles Review of Books, on Badiou’s “Cinema,” in which he lays out how cinema’s truth procedure distinguishes it from the other arts, as having nothing to do with communication or entertainment. This, according to Badiou, has to do with the constitutive impurity of how cinema is made and consumed. It is impure to all non-art—all that exists outside the realm of art, all the horrible routines and indifferences of waking up and going on as usual. It has to do with how movies are experienced—Avatar is not consumed as an urgent proclamation of our destruction of the Earth, but purely as a three-hour-and-ten-minute 3-D saga of escapism, a florescent titillation of beauty and horror. It has to do with how movies are produced—they are collaborative efforts, with call times, and catering logistics, and actors and grips and best boys who have no personal interest in the motive or vision of the original author. Even if someone like Terrance Malick takes full control, and aimlessly stalks yet another couple through a tall grass prairie, as they caress the heavy hairlike fronds with their fingertips, it is already bastardized as a work of art because movies are contaminated by the genre clichés that are required in order to attract the masses to keep the machine of capital going to incentivize making more of them. 

Badiou writes again, that films with an overt agenda are naturally misled. “The oppressed peoples of the earth are not objects for the exquisite inner turmoil of European consciences.” Perhaps this is why Cameron didn’t make a movie franchise of epic proportion about the slaves in the Southern Congo mining for cobalt so we can drive Teslas, simultaneously reassuring ourselves that we are part of the solution. The planet of Pandora and the blue Na’vi people are better suited for our appetite of entertainment, rather than ramming some political guilt trip down our throats. (But still, the cobalt that is used in lithium-ion batteries isn’t necessarily what corrupts electric cars into the masturbatory hogs of pretension that they are; Tesla drivers have irrevocably replaced BMW drivers are the worst people on the road, cutting off every poor grandmother that can’t keep up with its Ludicrous Mode. There’s something hardwired into the cars themselves that attracts these kinds of people.)

Matt Christman, of Chapo Trap House, made an astute point on their “Tulkun King”episode, stating that in our crumbling world of environmental and economic collapse, driven primarily by our unwavering worship of capital, a good movie is the best we can hope for. Like it or not, there will be no proletariat revolution, he said, because we are zoo animals that would rather entertain ourselves to death than do anything to change the grotesquerie of failure we’ve made. Because, he went on to say, at least a movie like Avatar leaves you with some feeling, an ache or earnestness for something else, and not the same predictable expenditure of meme-worthy wit and nihilism and irony that modern cinema is fully consumed by. This is where Avatar succeeds most. 

The cultural role of movies like Avatar seems obvious. Our lives are dull undulating narratives, together they are concerted disappointments, like storms of rotting effluvium that wastes against forgotten shores. We huddle into crowded and stinking corrals against the ruined frontier, assuring ourselves that something better will eventually come for us. There is no new world to discover, no riveting stampedes to stomp out into the unknown and brave yourself against. There is no real danger, at least not one that makes every day that you survive a miracle. So we stare into these endless spinning pistons of hypnotized boredom, we watch superheroes flying through time and shattering some evil quantum particle to save the world. We’ve become rodents who only hit the lever to continue the drip of dopamine. Avatar’s most redeeming quality is that it’s screaming at you every frame of the movie that you and your lifestyle is ruing this planet, not Pandora, and you’re ruining it forever, beyond repair. But it can only do so much. It’s a movie after all, and it needs to entertain.

Will you manage to get out and see the movie? You look out your bedroom window. A garbage truck is reversing into a narrow alleyway, its brick walls etched away and plastered in soot and graffiti like the sordid backwash of time, pigeons crowded together on the edges of blackened parapets huddle for warmth in this forgotten strip between apartment buildings, never getting sun except for a few minutes in the low winter light when it passes between the corners of the high opposing walls. The garbage truck woke you, as it usually does on the weekend. This hangover is maybe the worst you’ve ever had, my god, you wish you had a nurse to bring you something to alleviate the splitting pain in your head. The dumpster spills out and spreads onto the street like a piñata of sanguinary gore; some friendless barefoot man dragging a blanket behind him so dirty it looks as though he was a child dragging with him his favorite blanket and just kept walking forever and dragging this worn rag of filth behind him for decades. He peers into the dumpster, scanning the top of it, lifting the occasional leaflet of crumbled degeneracy, emptying an already empty chip bag into his hand in the hope of a few comestible crumbs would fall into his ashen palm.

If you can lift yourself from the fetal position, this pathetic contortion of pale limbs, you’ll get yourself to the movies. You’ll watch Avatar: The Way of Water. You’ll sit in your recliner with your buttered popcorn and Coca-Cola (noticeably without cocaine) fizzing up and tickling your nose, your 3-D glasses reflecting the blue Na’vi warriors like two miniature television screens, two space-age scrying stones of digitized glee, staring up at the massive screen like it was a madonna of desire. The whole audience of hungover and impotent cretins, staring up with their mouths agape, hiding from the world for over three hours. You’ll consume Avatar the way you consume Marvel movies, the way you consume fast food. It will taste good. And then you’ll defecate onto the already sullied floor, and you’ll leave. And you’ll be fine again. Everything will be just fine. Do not worry.


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P-22: an epilogue of myth

by Guy Walker

P-22 is the newest predator of beauty and lore to have died on the internet. He was one of Los Angeles’ remote icons, like a totem of strangeness from the wilderness that somehow survived until now, like it was some sage-enameled Indian that staggered out of the brush to remind you of his era of antiquity before he finally dropped dead at your feet. P-22 was the mountain lion in the iconic photo you probably saw walking in front of the Hollywood sign; he famously crossed twelve lanes of traffic without incident in 2012; and then, a couple weeks ago, he was euthanized after killing a chihuahua on leash. It’s better that there’s no video of this incident, it requires the grisly bits of your imagination to paint the picture for yourself. Chihuahua owners are already the most questionable group of people, more than QAnon fanatics, more than people who trade NFT’s of sunglass-wearing apes, more than people who still eat at Arby’s into adulthood. For keeping a creature of profound ghastliness into their home, in their bed, their eyes bulging from their skulls like ulcers, their shivering cowardice of trembling bones and arthritic joints yapping at you from behind a screen door. You imagine the incident, this cretin of inbred malnutrition barking at the apex predator, and the owner screaming in unison, together a two person choir of self-immolating trauma; and the mountain lion ripping the thing from its leash, the leash hanging flaccid in empty space like when the goat was eaten by the Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park. And then the owner proceeded to snitch on the poor animal, to run and tell on him to whatever authority is in charge of killing mountain lions.

Every so often, an animal of beautiful magnitude gets killed, and if the timing is right—if there are no sufficient headlines that the public ensemble gets to swaddle over for the week—it will affect the cultural nerve and we might throw our collective muted tantrums over how much that animal meant to us and what a shame it is that they’re gone now. When Harambe was pointlessly killed after a three-year old fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, he reached memetic stardom. “Dicks out for Harambe” became an outburst of global vitriol. Eighteen thousand people wrote in the dead gorilla for president in 2016. Much sentiment on the internet was calling for the parents of the three-year-old to be killed instead.

When Cecil the lion was hunted down by a dentist in 2015, the collective outrage reached a hysterical culmination of animal worship. Walter Palmer received death threats, fake blood was smeared on the windows of his offices, and the man who clearly thought of himself as the second coming of some Hemingway short story fantasy, burgling through the tall weeds in his cargo shorts, taking his shirt off and fucking the conceit of impotence, he presumably never thought international attention would be turned to him just for some big dick trophy hunt. Many people pay large sums of money to hunt and kill prized charismatic megafauna without consequence. Why did this hunt affect such a visceral nerve? Every so often, we are reminded that the world we come from is not a simple one of machinery, and we were in fact not birthed from the spluttering valves and pistons, the charred and ashen backgrounds of a refinery that squirts out all that is innately human. When a big animal dies in the public arena, maybe it’s simply that we are reminded for a moment, however brief, that the dying light of their eyes are a distant reflection of our own. We surround every inch of ourselves with screens and noise and lights and politics and porn and alcohol, trying to drown out the calls from the wild that mocks us for all our garishness, all this convincing theater that we are building something of real importance.

Weeks ago, when reports came out that nearly 70 percent of wildlife has died off due to human activity since 1970, it made a whimper of headlines for a day or two, but didn’t culminate in any meaningful response. Every year when an updated UNPCC report comes out that says global climate is even more doomed than they calculated the year before, nothing happens. Because the lion and the gorilla are the celebrity darlings of the animal world, the unwilling mascots we roll out to the front lawn like the giant inflatable Santas for the neighborhood to see how enthusiastic we are about the holidays. A grizzly bear doing a drunken cartwheel on the basketball court. The mascot gorilla leaping off a trampoline and dunking during the halftime show. So why does a dead lion or gorilla mean more as a memetic archetype of heartache and loss than the statistic of 70 percent of wildlife loss since 1970? Stalin said something about one death being a tragedy, but a million deaths being a statistic. We want desperately to feel we are part of something larger than ourselves, to weave stories of gods that we all come from, to draw maps in the stars that dictate our personalities, to repeat the old cliché that we are in fact stardust, that the building blocks of life, known as CHNOPS (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur) are in all of us. But an animal is the closest and realest thing we have, it can look at you from an eternity, with a vague recognition that it remembers you from afar. 

Not many had heard of Cecil the lion until he was killed. Same with Harambe. But at least they had names. P-22 was just that, a letter-number combination, a peripheral icon who’s image you might have scrolled passed once or twice before you zoomed in on some woman’s ass. But in their deaths, they came to life for the first time, for a moment even, only to die fully again a second time. And only through their tabloid deaths, they are now defined into some immortal etching of time. They’re initiated as some dying-and-rising deity, like these motifs through ancient mythology that we tell as metaphors for the natural phenomenon we can’t fully come to terms with. The resurrection story is nearly ubiquitous in mythological tellings, like some echoes of the familiar that we tell ourselves to make better sense of our momentary gasp we get to have here. In Aztec mythology, there’s the Quetzcoatl, or ‘the serpent of precious feathers,’ or in another sense, ‘the wisest of men,’ who burns himself to death and resurrects as a flock of birds flying from his ashes. There’s Persephone, queen of the underworld and the goddess of spring in Greek mythology, who was the personification of the fertility and decay of the earth, vegetation that sprouts and grows and dies again. The death of Baldr, from Norse mythology, according to the Vǫluspá was only to lead to his rebirth in the new world. The dying-and-rising archetype exists everywhere, that it suggests a regenerative symbolic order. Under the gaze of a Jungian collective unconscious, he thought that these stories of death and resurrection are part of the “trans-personal symbolism,” and that these more ancient myths of death and resurrection are thematic foreshadowing of Christ. For Jung, the resurrecting deity is now a greater personality, an archetype for the collective unconscious to resurrect as an idea for future retellings and iterations. Animals like P-22 and Harambe and Cecil have been resurrected in their own ways, as abstract gods from those strange frontiers of sadness that are fading further from the horizon.

The death of P-22 is perhaps a simple one: another large lonely predator was finally ousted by our menacing world, and thrown into the death heap with all the others. How can you expect such a large and demanding animal to live peacefully amongst the cascading neons and shimmering noise of Los Angeles? Wasn’t this—I hate to use this horrible word—inevitable? Some bowhead whales have been discovered to be over 200 years old, which means they survived every army of harpoons and whale hunters in their lifetime, what seems a miracle given the scale and time. But P-22 lived here, at the edges of our world. He famously lived in Griffith Park, where aspiring actors and models heave themselves in their yoga leggings up the trails, with a pug or an affenpinscher or a Chinese crested dog prancing along, microchipped and garishly groomed like an adored idiot in a freak show, its last meal an expensive plate of organic free range pot roast blended with an assortment of veggies. These two worlds collide, the primordial and distant, the wild animal peering over the brittle ridge of weeds at our world of Teslas whizzing through gridlike corridors of asphalt and sycamore trees sprouting mathematically from their bullseye in the soil.

Lions are the mythic kings. Heracles protected his city of Nemea by killing a lion with his bare hands, and wearing his skin as a cloak. They are forever engraved as the heroes of the natural world, because they are more than myth. Euhemerism is the term used to read mythology as metaphor that has its origins based on real historical events and people. Stories are then reassembled through its retellings and embellished games of telephone, where they eventually take on new meanings that become metaphors grander and more poignant than in their real origins. Euhemerus, the Greek mythographer from the 4th century BC, claimed that Zeus was human, a dead king who’s tomb could be found somewhere on Crete. This was widely accepted by the people of Crete, the Cretans then being disregarded as atheists. I’d like to think that our resounding melancholy over the death of P-22 is because we regard him as our own fallen king, something real that all of our other made-up worth and pride is built around as a replacement.

Or, the mountain lion never existed beyond the illusory edge of its essence. He was euthanized, pressed into a clinical schedule, like a pet who’s getting too old. He wasn’t hunted down, wasn’t shot from a safe distance as he staggered through the bush. After Cecil was killed, lion hunting in Zimbabwe severely diminished, with populations rising sharply, where hunters avoided it for fear of public shaming, known as the ‘Cecil effect’. A month after the dentist killed the lion, a local hunting guide was killed by a lion, his colleagues suspecting the reason being he was afraid to shoot the lion over public backlash. P-22 is less a transcendental subject than Cecil, not merely because he doesn’t have a name, but a digit (nor because there is a semi-automatic pistol named the Walther P22) but also because in his death he wasn’t reverentially pitied for being the victim in the spectacle and shame of a killer. Someone responsible killed him, and they did it for responsible reasons—stating publicly that they killed him not because he ate a chihuahua but rather because he was suffering debilitating injuries from being hit by a car.

The lion is axiological symbolism, an icon of a more resolute metaphysical naturalism than we’re used to. Wherever a lion remains, he exists as an ontological vulnerability, resistant to our blunders and boundaries. We’ve entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, and P-22 is no longer here to protect us from our blunted fear of ourselves. He’s gone, now more metaphor than king, woven into strange and awful tributes that will eventually disappear forever. In William Blake’s famous poem, The Tyger, he questions Christian paradigms, and why a god would create both tiger and lamb:

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forest of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry.

Blake’s symmetry was once a relevant thing to consider, why a god would create such competing despair, why all his creatures would only live to kill and be killed. But we’re here now, without religion or myth, without the tyger or the lamb or the mountain lion or the gorilla. We’re naked, shivering in a tomb we built for ourselves, with a chihuahua at our side trembling and barking madly at the closed door. We rub the spot on forehead, his alien skull swelling like an orb. He’s such a good boy. Such a good boy.


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Playa Power: A Horror Story of Decadence 

by Guy Walker

Get ready world, you’ve arrived at Burning Man.

Dust devils swirl haphazardly around the rangy frontier. The white silt effluvium is so fine and prominent, it feels like pulverized air, blinding your eyes immediately as you step out from your rented RV. A vulture with one large white blind eye limps across the playa, dragging his baggy gizzard on the ground behind him. You take your first promising footstep into this new world, like a Neil Armstrong in your re-issued H&M moccasins and green grip tape over your nipples, ready to Instagram your way to nirvana.

But something immediately looks wrong. In the dusty forlorn infinity, the temporary city shimmers and hums like the nightmarish echos of Pompei, those petrified corpses who were perfectly preserved in molten ash for two thousand years. Ancient mummified castaways stir from their fetal position, two lovers embracing one another, or a boy running away from the cascading inferno, are all jolted back to life. From space, Burning Man looks like a fungal scab, a menacing ulcer of a greying crust emulsified with florescent specs of a cosmic turbulence. From the ground, the garish otherworldly architecture and fashion comes to life.

But still, you remind yourself, you’ve arrived, under the miasma of a dust-choked sky. What was once the normal sedentary loneliness of the desert, and its strange otherworldly milieu, now clamors with posh squadrons, armies of bohemian zombies. The clouds creep away sullenly, leaving the scorching sun overhead just an evil all-seeing eye. Days go by. You’ll never know how many exactly. Days are just a construct anyways. Your posse has just crawled from your kuddle puddle, leaving the cloistered air of the tent whispering with strange gasses left behind. Your best friend, Alchemy, got a tattoo of an eagle’s feather on her forearm a week ago, and now it’s infected, festering like the gurgling ponds that brought the first forms of life to earth. Then there’s Leaf, a thirty-five year old trust fund prodigy, with really great energy. He starts one of his usual bits about various conspiracy theories. Katy Perry is actually JonBenet Ramsey. Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak was a manufactured bioterrorism because of their anti-GMO policy. Pokémon Go is a government ploy to spy on our location. California’s drought is geoengineered, and you should actually water as much as you like. There’s Indigo and Bear, a polyamorous couple from Venice Beach, who carry their baby in an olive green linen wrap (Bear also uses this as a loin cloth when using his personal cryo-chamber, so he still gets the full-bodied benefit but his wife doesn’t see his cock shrunken down to a root nodule). Indigo is on a tangent from the California drought topic: ”That’s really interesting. Because I ‘water’ my plants with my mensuration—I prefer to say ‘my monthlies,’ honestly. Menstruation is so clinical, and women aren’t clinical things are we? You don’t study us in a lab do you?!—and they’re thriving!” As Bear continues nursing the baby from his teet, Indigo takes another blotter tab of acid, and proceeds to collapse to the white ashen earth, her limbs writhing with expressive freedom, her sunburnt tits now covered in the enviable desert patina. She moans and gasps for air, but only inhales the weightless sediment, choking and coughing violently until she passes out and slowly cooks down to a shriveled hunk of jerky over the remaining days. Finally, there’s Areola, a sapiosexual boho chic creature, more accoutrements of free-spiritedness than flesh. The delicate chain that used to connect her nose piercing to her ear medallion is now the size of an anchor chain, the dead weight dragging on the ground behind. Her gold and hemp bracelets have swollen into pointless heaps of jewels and rope. She murmurs something incoherent from behind the mulchpile of glittering flare.

You know something is wrong. Burning Man was supposed to be better this year. But none of the events went as planned. Every yoga session is some predictably sepulchral rehearsal of people trying to do headstands, and falling and kicking each other in the teeth and balls. You were told there were going to be lectures of varying topics—communal living, benefits of psychedelic mushrooms, nuclear energy—but now the speeches are spoken word diatribes about how the land we’re temporarily residing on is land stolen from the Paiute. Where was once a vendor giving out free vegan cupcakes sits a puppeteer’s haunted den of curdling blue frosting, and a Smerdyakov character hunched on all fours, shoveling the candied slop into his toothless mouth, his lip-smacking greed a violent masticated torrent of offense. Even the sex orgy tent, once a reliable triumph of polyphagous voyeurism, is now a shamble of coruscating gore, the edges of the tent fluttering its tattered wind flaps against the sanguinary sky, its skeleton of acacia wattles cracking into anemic splinters, dry sotols and tumbleweeds clustered at the edges of the abandoned entryway like lost artifacts from a time when things actually grew from the soil. Most of the famously garish art structures are just rotting heaps of warped lumber under the sky of a seething cauldron. 

An Andean condor lands crookedly atop the circus-tent-point of the huge shade structure, and stares directly at you. He stretches out his wings like a cormorant, and blocks out the sun, the ominous eclipsing shadow sending a cool shiver rippling across the citified badlands. You turn to Alchemy. “Wh-Wha-What’s happening?” you whisper through trembling glittered lips. “I want to go home.” She turns to you, and she too glares at you directly in the eyes. “But we are home,” she smiles, and clenches your hand harder, her talons crunching your hand into a nub of broken bones.

Someone dressed in steampunk post-apocalypse leather walks by on their thirty-foot stilts, teetering across a lifeless army of strewn bodies, looking more like a Dali painting than the typical swollen haze of fun you’re used to out here in the desert. You’ve always identified as being homefree rather than homeless, but still, you know this is not the place you were promised. You scream, and flail your arms like a child having a temper tantrum. You wake from this nightmare. Thank god. You’re in the warm dark cocoon of your bedroom, and flip the pillow over to the cool side, and flop your head back down in relief. But then, your bedroom door creaks open slightly, and you jolt up in terror.

A woman steps in, mostly naked, with half her head shaved and the other half with unwashed dreadlocks down to her ankles. She is dressed in this perverse silvery space lingerie, and tip-toes toward you with every floorboard beneath her creaking violently. She pirouettes with long pink and purple ribbons, like predatory ivies sprouting from each finger. She dances in front of you, for you, like a menacing mating ritual, trying to seduce you into her torture chamber. She smiles like a cartoon serpent, and her eyes widen, the glossy whites of her eyes shimmering with mother-of-pearl. “You’re home,” she slithers. “Welcome back.” And you smile, fading away again to sleep.


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That Taste for War

by Guy Walker

“Understand that this is not madness. It has something to do with conscience.” -Dr. Giberian, in Solaris (1972) moments before he kills himself

Americans love war. The story of America is a love story with war, a sinewed and shirtless landscape of promise. It’s a story of its endless infatuation of new frontiers of strewn bodies ripped from their limbs, armored vehicles charred into the ashen faces of hieroglyphic skeletons, little fires dotted haphazardly around the ruined countryside still billowing with black smoke. It doesn’t matter where these love stories take place—the more locations the better. In the jungles, the tendrilled ivies smother the limp bodies of good country boys, the orgiastic fecundity of life screaming with predatory insects and birds. In the deserts, the top half of a man in his light tan fatigues and shield style sunglasses drags himself across a parched eternity. In the foreign cities, the nightmarish urban chimera shimmers with the deafening chorus of explosions as if they were a good-spirited firework display.

The classic American love story is something it craves over and over again, with a quenchless appetite for conflict, for the virtues of heroism, bravery, freedom, these amorphous nameless ideas that are usually just used to justify any form of government sanctioned horror. All this is obvious. But where did the War Desire come from? Why are we enslaved to the impulses and instincts that only magnifies our inhumanness?

In 1950, Bertrand Russell gave his Nobel Prize speech on the four desires of political importance, in which he details the instincts of inextinguishable desire that separate us from the rest of the animal world. We are base creatures, wheezing our way through the filth of a biological maze, eating and sleeping and fucking our way through an embarrassingly ephemeral mortality. But since much of the developed world seems to have solved those base desires—too many days you find yourself eating a frozen pizza from your bare chest, with the blackout curtains pulled shut, nursing another excruciating hangover, swiping through the libidinal eternity on one of seven dating apps on your phone—it’s apparent we are cursed by other impulses that separate us from the frogs croaking at the edges of a rippling stream.

Russell notes that when a boa constrictor eats a meal and is satisfied, she goes to sleep, and is no longer consumed by the demands of hunger. But ours are infinite, never satisfied. Our curse is not the chronic condition of apathy, indifference, laziness, or procrastination, but the execration of conquest, the endless importunity for more. In Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel maps out the need of citizens who feel compelled to go to war, where we are confronted with a life and death charge of existing further, where the importance of recognition is the foundation of all other endeavors, including intellectual advancements that create the comforts of the modern age. We are under the influence that conquest will bring the betterment of our days, driven by the desire for more. The four desires that make up our political world, Russell declares, are Acquisitiveness, Rivalry, Vanity, and Love of Power.

To consider the American war machine through the lens of Russell’s four desires is to consider the decadence of our perversity, the hoary and grizzled beastliness that wants nothing more than to own the charred crumbs of earth over the next hill. Acquisitiveness is absurdity materialized into its spectacular emptiness. It’s the machine of capitalism dooming everything under its minatory storm cloud, possessing everyone into a trance of collecting things on top of more things, like rudimentary tinker toys representative of personal security. It’s why the sleaziest greased-up billionaires landing a helicopter on a hundred foot yacht aren’t satisfied with what they have, because someone is building a three hundred-foot yacht, and cladding themselves with a larger entourage of hotter girlfriends. And similarly why a homeless man hobbling through his seismic maze of blue tarps and tent poles and an emptied dumpster’s worth of old clothes and burrito wrappers still has to collect more, because more will ease his condition of imploding melancholy. But the truest political condition is the homeless man and the billionaire hand-in-hand on a magnified level of three hundred and thirty million people, creating another organism altogether. On a geopolitical level, Acquisitiveness is why after the formation of the thirteen colonies, the US continued to spread outward like a fungal scab, why it bought the territory of Louisiana from the French, why it invaded Mexico for what is now the American southwest, why it manufactured the idea of Manifest Destiny to justify the pillaging of native peoples, why it bought Alaska from Russia, and stole Hawaii as their own.

Rivalry seems more simple in a way. Russell states that Rivalry is a stronger desire than Acquisition, that we are intoxicated into a delirium of competition and conquest, that the barbarity is more palpable and evident in its execution.

The U.S.’s involvement in the Russo-Ukrainian War is a befouled sublimation of these four desires. There is a separate moral question as to whether and how the Americans should help Ukraine in their effort to defend themselves against Putin’s Russia. But because we can, we are easily compelled to engage in every gleeful convulsion of war that comes around, like a person who reliably invites themselves to every party and wedding and bacchanal. Of course Ukraine begged for help—the US has by far the most bloated military budget, and Russia is its most famous rival. The prelude of the apocalypse is always just around the next conflict. But the question as to why can we help—why do we consistently have the means to engage in every foreign conflict that beams our interest. It is a matter of the origins of desire. There is a cruel giddiness on part of the US to be in rivalry with Russia. Neither country got to truly flex their might during the Cold War, neither got to fire a missile that dominoed into a florescent circus of death. And it seems as if the litany of war generals suffered from an unrealized urological temptation, a dead-end in the cul-de-sac of a lover’s war. They got so close, and they tried with all their might to turn the world into a sprawling cathedral of rubble and charred earth. Russia and the United States are the two leading nuclear superpowers, but neither is yet bold or truly nihilistic enough to engage first, and so they fight through the proxy that Ukraine is. US intelligence sources have gloated to helping the Ukrainians kill Russian generals and sink Russian war ships, expecting that this halfhearted and indirect way of war is more acceptable. This approach, of killing a manufactured enemy for the sake of it, is Rivalry.

Russell continues on in his acceptance speech, noting how potent and intoxicating the desire of Vanity is in political thought. He likens it to a child who is always performing, always demanding his parents to “Look at me.” Look at me! Maybe it warrants an eye roll from time to time, but at least the “look at me!” of a child is the relatively innocent conceit of him or her trying to show the adult how capable they are of doing adult things like making their bed, or tying their shoes, or wiping their own bum. But as things usually do, it gets less palatable with age. The look at me! of a trophy wife plopped into the passenger seat of a sports car zooming around with the owner’s bald head shimmering and bobbing above the convertible doors is quantifiably more ostentatious, although presumably still not warranting any organized violence yet. We see these, and the opaque steam of regret billowing out from our heads like coal-choked smokestacks.

Vanity might at first seem unusual here to include. Maybe it’s just a little adolescent ego that hangs on to the tethers of old age. We all have some lingering symptoms of Narcissus, staring at ourselves in the bathroom mirror too long every single morning morning. But the “Look at me” of political desire isn’t the quaint innocence of Narcissus. Narcissus was a Boeotian pederastic myth of banal pedantry. To think of the Narcissus story now is to envy his sapient—although archaic—virtues. Because no one else was affected by his self-obsession but him. He was a Thespiaean hunter who merely rejected the romantic advances of others and stared into a pond his whole life. Once he died, a bunch of daffodils grew in his place. The Vanity we are cursed by is a ghoulish temptress crawling down the plank of self-consciousness on all fours, her mouth foaming with selfish delight, luring you into her black leather-stained dungeon. You are a slave. You can’t get away from her, her fangs are plunged into your throat, inscribing fate with parasitic dictation. “’Look at me’ is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart,” Russell said. A child doing a summersault in the park is an acceptable, appropriately banal act of conceit. But when the world stage of geopolitics is grossly divided into good guys and bad guys, then the pretense of vanity on a global order compels the US to swoop in on a white horse, bloated like a false prophet, the venerating cameras of its own fabricated culture industry glistening the sky with spectacle. It wants to parade in slow motion, lit only by the low stems of an ancient candelabra, saving the dogs even if it has to kill the young men.

The US knows it hasn’t fought a good war—or at least one that will stand through the reputation of time and popularity—since the Second World War. In its war in Afghanistan, it exhausted itself over twenty years, spent $2 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and famously and flamboyantly achieved nothing in the end. The Taliban took the country back in two weeks in one of the most embarrassing big budget spectacles in recent history. The Iraq War already seems like an antiquated footnote of imperial despair, a militaristic death drive that was so disoriented with the senselessness of revenge, and its wild-eyed berserker rage, that it would have invaded the local park if it could have. The Gulf War was too short—a triumphant hammer of premature ejaculation that left the US unsatisfied and wanting more, alone in the desert amongst its brumous blankets of burning oil wells. The Korean War, the forgotten war, a dramaturgy of dementia, a completely stupid and pointless slaughter. This keeps going, but the bottle of wine I’m drinking is getting low, so I can’t sustain our military failures all night. But the logic goes, maybe the Russo-Ukrainian War will serve as a redemptive force, a conflict that we can get involved with that will edge the needle back a little in our direction. We can help the underdog, the country with a former comedian as its president. 

Most of the major downtown streets in the US are unlivable ruins of depression, shellshocked corridors of queazy juxtaposition: with apogean sprawls of open casket human suffering on one bit of sidewalk, and a garish litany of graffiti-painted purple wings you can take your photo in front of as you give the peace sign on the next. You’re a cute eagle, feeding into an algorithmic demon world, floating somewhere between countless blocks of homelessness, zombies shuffling barefoot across shattered glass, and the pink florescent sprawl of a minimalist bar that serves twenty dollar simple cocktails. A nativity scene of modernity: dying families asking for your spare change, next to a linen bourgeoise army serving only expensive arugula enemas. But as Trotsky famously said, “foreign policy is an extension of home policy.” Of course none of even the basic social services provided in nearly every European country is available. If you slip up for a month or two—miss your rent because the interest on your student loans are crawling through the windows like predatory invaders, or you get your car booted because too many tickets have collected over the months because the No Parking signs are incoherent five-lined equations and there’s no reliable public transportation to get to your job that’s an hour-and-a-half away, or four miles, just across the city—you’re shoveled out onto the streets, left to rot amongst the undulating tremors of dreams turned to nightmares.

Whatever the case, it’s irrelevant to the war machine, because the military budget is a force of indiscriminate hunger, a bloated man-eating tumor that needs more bodies and more money every succeeding year. Both parties agree on this, year after year, it’s the only agreement they have across party lines. Let the people degrade further into ruin, but let us have a military that can kill with unbroken splendor. But still, the first three political desires of Acquisitiveness, Rivalry, and Vanity are not enough on their own to let a people openly suffer as the military reliably get their coffers resupplied with the most lustrous and bedazzled bombs.

Russell’s fourth desire is by far the most potent and powerful: The Love of Power. But in this example, Russell begins to falter. He makes some rather insipid distinctions between Vanity and Love of Power, stating that in Vanity, there is glory, which does not typically exist in the Love of Power. He claims that a boss will derive more satisfaction by denying his employee extra time off rather than approving it, and this proves the dangers of a Love of Power. I don’t fully agree. Or at least, this is a terrible example. Look at the behavior of children, boys mostly, when inspecting something as innocent as a row of ants. With an a priori compulsion for violence and power, unified as a single interwoven arabesque of cruelty, the children won’t just let the ants carry on their way. Either, they will build a wall as an impenetrable confusing obstruction, or they will do something more obvious, like burn the whole line of ants with a magnifying glass, commanding with the fiery bolts of Zeus blazing down on screaming villagers. The thing is, we don’t really grow out of this into adulthood—the Love of Power just transforms from playing God with helpless bugs, to flying predator drones over a real village in Yemen, and destroying it with hellfire missiles with an Xbox controller in a warehouse in Las Vegas. Our tools get better, but our targets usually remain without names or faces, as abstract as an anthill.

Deleuze and Guattari argue something similar in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, that of a “desiring unconscious”, a transcendental motive woven into the fabric of man, that comes before any knowledge or power or culture exists in any sort of relatable context. The deterritorialized flows of capitalism are in direct conjunction with the desiring machine of politics, a “plane of immanence” that has already dictated the fixations of its trajectory. You hear leftists regularly make calls to get money out of politics, as if they were two separate entities, as if politics has been slurried with the interests of too many wealthy people, and if we could only turn over Citizens United and maybe a few other similar rulings, we could reverse the trajectory of its contamination. Maybe to a degree. This is a notable aim. But money is politics. It’s an inseparable distillation of what that position of power is. In A Thousand Plateaus, the concept of the War Machine was in direct opposition to the State apparatus as a foreclosure of possibility, working in conjunction with nomadic people.

Of course, Putin fabricated false reasons for invading Ukraine. He previously claimed that Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO was the cause. This was a lie. Because, of course, the true reasons fall under the same four desires. The invasion of Ukraine has already led to incredible amounts of death and misery, the miasma of its hell billowing beyond its murky shores. But what is there to do about it? If we really feel bad for the Ukrainians, we can put their flag up in front of our house, or repost an article headline that we never actually read on social media, or donate to another war machine that will fill the pockets of someone else. The monster chews away at us, as we despair in helpless barracks.

The US is amidst a love story with war. Since its inception, the US has invaded Tripoli, Marquesas, Algiers, Cuba, Greece, the Falkland Islands, Sumatra, Fiji, Samoa, Colombia, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Japan, China, Haiti, Hawaii, Korea, Philippines, Panama, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Iran, Lebanon, Congo, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Brazil, Indonesia, and on and on. It never ends. They have around 600 military bases located oversees, unnumbered and unnamed black sites. Russia has fulfilled its similar share of invasions, stacking a totem of conquests the way frat boys stack pyramids of empty beers cans. Their involvement in Ukraine is just another drunken brutal mess.

The US should always condemn these types of invasions, and in some cases there is justification for helping militarily. But it has to begin by ending and reversing its own imperial legacy. In its darkened and smutty nightmares, the US dreams of what the world could look like: the star-spangled sky as a tapestry of blood-soaked ribbons, a finale of an everlasting sunset shining across the ruins of a pulverized city. A fourth of July marching band marching through smoldering streets littered with castaway limbs. Its foreign policy is now is domestic policy. It brought the war home. And we’re at home when we are at war.


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The Musk of Desire

by Guy Walker

Just tweeting about it isn’t enough. If you want to have any effect on the world, you have to buy the place we now communicate from. Or better yet, become the Internet itself.

Of all of Elon Musk’s brilliant ideas—colonizing a planet already conquered by desertification instead of fixing this one, mining rare minerals for his electric cars, drilling tunnels under the vast hellscape of Los Angeles’ homeless infinity so his cars can whiz around in autonomous cogs, selling flamethrowers to kids because he liked the movie Spaceballs, naming his kid X Æ A-12—buying Twitter might be his best. It’s far from a done deal, but the desire is clearly there. He very well may end up spending $44 billion on buying this ephemeral fluttering realm where humans can clamor in their own privatized monstrosity of bias.

If he’s successful, it would be akin to ironic genius, because the Internet isn’t real. It’s an invisible demon that wants to control every second of your life. Look at yourself. You used to spend your time collecting flowers and drawing cute pictures of frogs. You used to walk barefoot through streams of moss and heavy reeds. You used to fly kites and make wishes every time a ladybug flew from the tip of your finger. Now, the streams are all dried up, and you’re staring wild-eyed into a rectangle, ignoring the wild beauty out your window. The Internet is this other make-believe dimension of tremendous banality that sucks your face into a vortex of pixelated gore. It’s like one of those glow lamps on the edge of a white-picketed porch attracting the masses of mosquitos like possessed evangelists, and incinerates them like a marshmallow roasted over the atomic bomb. 

And Twitter especially. To really experience Twitter on a carnal level is to be trapped inside a casino high on mushrooms, the half-mustered musings and reactionary conspiratorial rants spinning out of control like the infinity of the rolling turbines of slot machines. Twitter itself is hell. It’s the festerings of illiterate lunatics, the desperate pleas for some ubiquitous tone of irony and pre-programmed wit, the desperation for a moment of going viral within the microcosm of their own arena. To have an account on Twitter is bad enough—to participate in this anarchic duel, to want to be a part of a conversation of drooling armies. But to want to own this public arena and its 330 million monthly active users is to suffer some advanced level of dementia.

Something terrible could happen if Musk buys the social media giant. At heart, he’s a loner and a nerd, his high-end hair plugs sprouting like fertilized weeds, his Occupy Mars shirt now just a tattered rag of failed irony. For the $44 billion he would buy this invisible universe of anger and vitriol with, he could have cleaned up all the plastic in the world’s oceans, or restored the lost jungles destroyed by agriculture, or revamped advanced nuclear energy, or given nearly every person on the planet a sheet of high-powered blotter acid and brought world peace. Instead, he will throw his great wealth at the illusory light behind the screen, to be Oz himself behind the huge curtains. But the real problem is that if he does buy it, he will finally be realized for who he is.

Part of the lore of genius is to be draped in shrouds of mystery. You tell yourself that someone is too smart to participate with our blubbering quarrels, our intense superficiality. They’re too busy being smart, thinking up equations of whatever, implementing innovative ways to save the world from our flamboyant idiocy. But when Musk involves himself in the normal exchanges on Twitter, he overexposes himself to the masses, participating in the garishness with the rest of us, pretending to know things, flexing proudly in the mirror like an eight-year-old pretending to be a bodybuilder. His tweets resemble more the mind of a Buzzfeed listicle writer, as he asks his one hundred million followers what their favorites cheeses are, or his continued support of Dogecoin, or his endless supply of 69 and 4/20 jokes. “I put the art in fart” he tweets. “Jack in the Box should do double duty as a sperm donor clinic.” “69 days after 4/20 again haha.” “Pronouns suck.” What happened? Many still consider this man the one guy who could save our species from self-imposed doom. Is he really just another shitposter who got lucky with PayPal and some enormous government grants?

In our more emotionally vulnerable moments, we sometimes remind ourselves that even the richest people aren’t happy. We tell ourselves it’s okay that we’re so depressed, so down and out, so insufferably hopeless, because the rich are probably just as miserable. Only fetishizing bigger houses and faster cars, it sometimes feels that they don’t do anything all that remarkable with their money. But more importantly, as evidenced by Musk’s ephebic scribe of fatuous witticisms, we’re reminded that the richest person in the world might actually be an eight-year-old flexing in the mirror. 

If he does buy Twitter, Musk will stare out at the world from inside the clattering machine of his corner of the Internet. From the tableau of public comments he’s made on technological plutocracy: things like AI is our greatest threat to humanity, we’re part of a simulation, we need to implant the Internet inside our own skulls, we realize how sick and nihilistic he really is. He wants to own the scroll of infinity, and see if something intelligible comes out. Twitter is much like the infinite monkey theorem, which states that a monkey randomly hammering the keys of a typewriter for an infinite period of time will eventually write every great work of literature. Under the deceptive concept of infinity, of course a monkey will write all of Shakespeare or Milton or Melville. But the chances are so incredibly rare that for the sake of good sense they are completely impossible. Even writing the word “banana” by randomly hitting the keys is less than one in fifteen billion. Twitter’s endless diatribe of hot takes is so inane and miserably idiotic, that for the sake of good sense, something intelligible is impossible.

People love to project how awful the Internet is for children, putting limits on their screen time, putting the safety filters on Youtube so it will only show them the most annoying stars that they can then mimic to their parents. All the while the adults drive at eighty miles an hour while staring hypnotically into the phone like the glowing orb of a scrying stone, texting their girlfriends furiously, watching an Instagram reel of a cute raccoon stacking wooden blocks like they were toys, tweeting angrily to politicians. The Internet is slowly rotting us into digitized beings, into actual robots ourselves.

One of Elon Musk’s stated goals of taking over Twitter is to remove the many bot accounts from the social networking app. It’s been estimated that somewhere in the range of a quarter of all Twitter accounts may be just robot code programmed to spew out inflammatory disinformation. If you think Twitter will be better without the bots, then you presuppose humans will do a better job, hammering out their opinions and stale one-liners with their greasy thumbs on every issue that comes into vogue for the day. Let’s hear three hundred million people’s opinions at the same time about how we could have pulled out of Afghanistan better; or what Will Smith’s slap meant to the black community; or what AOC’s dress meant by being at the Met Gala. It assumes humans will perform better than the robots, something he has already proven is wrong: his self-driving cars are involved in far less accidents than the cars driven by humans. The robots are already far better than us in every conceivable task. We are more incapable of ourselves than the dictation of computer code.

The only redeeming quality of Twitter is the entertainment. Its unique rapturous gore of debate is hilariousand is meant to be inefficacious and fruitless. Its natural state is as a grotesque carnival of discourse. It serves best to entertain, to watch the seriousness at which people take the opinions of others they’ll never really interact with. It’s the political pedestal of the masses, as they scream into the starless void, listening for an echo amidst the eternity of the same. The majority of politics is meant as an avocation to fill the internal skies of your own profane boredom, to pretend to believe in something, to be enraged again and again until your last breaths are spent gasping at what the Republican Congressman tweeted this time. You think about these people sometimes: those who remain slouched in a rocking chair on their front porch for decades, with a shotgun mounted on wall above them, complaining about how the world is changing too fast in the wrong direction. And you wonder if when the rocking slows for good, if they wonder what it was all for, grumbling about everything beyond the horizons, the distant thunderclaps glowing with a violent turquoise.

But Elon Musk admittedly believes in the virtual world more than the real one. His immortality is engraved in the computer code of ones and zeros. So, for him, buying Twitter and taking it private isn’t a matter of how he could better spend his money—it’s about believing in the Internet more than the pristinely flawed materiality of this one. If he does buy it, he’ll be one step closer to realizing his true goal: of becoming computer code himself. He’s said before that he wants to die on Mars, but his actions resemble something even more inhuman. He wants to be the emperor-in-exile, conducting great fortunes of absurdity from behind his digitized gates, like Mickey Mouse composing gorgeous spectacles in Fantasia.

If you tried to explain the Internet—and Twitter for that matter—to someone a couple hundred years ago—say, Walt Whitman, or James Joyce, or an original cowboy, or a Native American—they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. You would try to explain that it originated from the development of packet switching that was commissioned by the Department of Defense in the 1960’s, and now it’s the global system of interconnected computer networks, and it’s grown into the main user face that we communicate and experience the world from, whether it’s showing our relatives our newborns over Zoom, or watching pornography, or sharing photos of our salad we had for lunch, or sending vitriolic sentences to politicians. If we said all this to an old cowboy, they would only stare at us with confused fury, and hopefully carry on their way.

This is to say that you know something is wrong with the Internet’s tyranny over your own life. When your grandmother talks excitedly about a TikTok video she saw or an Instagram reel, you quietly squirm in revulsion. Not because old people aren’t cool enough to be sifting through these corners of the Internet, but because you know it’s from a demon-haunted world. 

If you’re plugged into the Internet, you never really leave it. You may set your phone down for a few minutes, but you’ll still be a somnambulant prisoner, floating through the automated verses of instinct and habit until you can step back in. You’re in it when you’re taking a shit, when driving a car, when making love, when wandering through a huge old-growth forest of hanging lichens and moss and wild mushrooms, you can’t help yourself from taking photos and editing them for the others in your social arena to see and applaud you over. You’re never only in the forest—this other dimension that we made up is tugging you, pleading you to step back in, to show it what you’ve been spending the last few minutes doing. Twitter is the mutinous calligrapher of all our collective thoughts paraphrased down to one or two lines at a time.

Elon Musk has commented before that most of us are already cyborgs to some degree—we’re just very rudimentary forms, hacking away our thoughts with our thumbs. And although while we’re never only in the forest, we’re also never only on Twitter, combing through the unintelligible infinity of various plagiarized statements. Musk wants to be entirely inside, not tickling his toes at the shores like the rest of us, but totally submerged. We are only partially cybernetic beings, and his obsession with owning Twitter comes from his desire for us to be there fully. He wants to be inside the loamy digitized womb of the Internet, an enraged king hammering at his castle. He will go mad amongst the roaring complexity of servers and thickets of circuitry. He will be alone, hopefully, screaming his signature fart jokes into the infinite void.

America: an Epilogue to Baudrillard’s Grand Tour

by Guy Walker

“Deep down, the US, with its space, its technological refinement, its bluff good conscience, even in those spaces which it opens up for simulation, is the only remaining primitive society. The fascinating thing is to travel through it as though it were the primitive society of the future, a society of complexity, hybridity, and the greatest intermingling, a ritualism that is ferocious but whose superficial diversity lends it beauty, a society inhabited by a total metasocial fact with unforeseeable consequences, whose immanence is breathtaking, yet lacking a past through which to reflect on this, and therefore fundamentally primitive…” —Baudrillard, America

“Why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?” When Sky News correspondent Mark Stone asked Ted Cruz this question, in relation to the recent massacre of schoolchildren, the senator sneered with his beady eyes, and stormed away. His salt and pepper beard now trying to cover his usual greasy cartoonish villain face with an attempt to look scholarly, like an Oxford professor who reads books. But his usual bottomless contempt for people looks more like the hooting of an altered beast. Who can blame him? This is his America.

But Cruz did retort with something that at least used to be true. He asked the reporter why people from around the world come to America. It begs a moment of consideration. I have friends from much more prosperous, safe, resplendent countries, who move here to work and begin families and raise their children. They spend years to obtain a green card. And when more children die in classrooms than police die in the line of duty, it behooves me as to why you would want to raise children here. A hundred and ten thousand people died from overdose last year. The homeless walk through the streets like zombies, covered in filth, screaming at the setting sun. There’s no affordable healthcare. California will be in complete ashes, and New York will sink.

When Baudrillard published America in 1986, it stood out as a reflective portrayal of the country’s sprawling banality juxtaposed against its vicious idiomatic splendor. He wrote about an amalgamation of culture whipped up in a chaotic, self-immolating flurry: the national anthem by Jimi Hendrix, permanent trailer parks like high-class ghettos, “giant hamburgers on the sixteen-foot-long billboard.” The extravagance of banality that, to the French philosopher, is a “luminous, geometric, incandescent immensity.” Culture as the main export, from a country of cannibalizing filth. Its “human flotsam of conviviality” as our collective consciousness, like the tremors of a school of fish or flock of birds that make it function as a single being. Our obvious loneliness marching en masse, the stereophonic hammering of a people without footing. This is what he took away from touring through the United States. He wrote of the Texan hills and the sierras of New Mexico, the sublime eternity of driving through our deserts without any finish to the frontier. His chapter on New York, although strangely childish and naive in its observations about the sound of sirens and the range of weird hairdos, remains persistently objective. “Why do people live in New York? There is no relationship between them.” It’s a childish question, but in its noblest form. Why do we live here? Or, why do we persist the conditions in which we live?

Baudrillard’s America was published three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, something that prompted the political scientist Francis Fukuyama to write his famously inept book, The End of History and the Last Man, a treatise on the universalization of Western liberal democracy, that we had progressed to the final and complete stage of political evolution, and eventually all others would follow. It seems absurd now for a self-assured intellectual to ever have thought that, let alone written four hundred pages trying to prove it, dominating the conversation of our cultural victory. Baurdrillard too wrote that “the US is utopia achieved,” that we are correct in our conviction of being the center of the world. To read America today is not all that different from watching the nostalgic reels from home videos, where there’s an innate glamorized innocence to the way we trotted around the backyard in our underwear, chasing dandelions dancing in the breeze. It’s lacking the embolism of violence that percolates through the dominant culture.

I live in Los Angeles, and we are dominated by the hegemony of homelessness. It used to be that you had to occasionally step over a homeless man sprawled out on the sidewalk, his barefoot and open porcine belly blackened with the soot of unwashed years, as you calmly ignored any consideration of if he was sleeping in the blazing summer sun, or just dead. But now, the unhampered ubiquity is inescapable, what we calmly refer to as homeless encampments, as if fifteen blocks of rancid despair were just some of the diehards leftover from a musical festival. The writer Michael Shellenberger says we should follow the Dutch’s example, and call them “open drug scenes,” because rape and arson and hard drug use are the standard issue norm, and we should not treat them all like victims of the system. I don’t entirely agree with his thesis, but it’s true that the appetizing benevolence of what we call these surrounding storms of catastrophe is propagandistically naive.

School shootings weren’t yet in vogue at the time of Baudrillard’s America. Mass shootings have taken over the arena of horror where serial killers once dominated, and mass shootings at schools have a particular volcanic tragedy. America is the only place where the routine sacrifice of children is deemed a sad but acceptable price to pay for the rightto use the weapons that do so. 

In 2003, the Bush administration banned all news coverage of coffins returning from Iraq. It was a depraved propagandistic tool to prevent any anti-militarism sentiment, a boorishly inhumane lever to not recognize the young men and women who died for nothing, who’s bodies erupted like fireworks over a landmine or when pummeled with bullets that were designed to explode when entering a body. And we weren’t even allowed to see the coffins, much less the bodies. The bullets of an AR-15 explode when they enter a body. The parents of the children who died at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde had to provide DNA samples because many of their bodies were too unrecognizable. I used to think that if Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott had to see the exploded bodies of eight year olds, they might shift their positions on gun control, but I don’t think they would. I think ideology is too strong, like some irrefutable Aristotelian epistêmê, where the freedom to own machines of massacre is obviously tantamount to the massacre of children.

Baudrillard said that America is the origin of modernity. Because colonization is the ultimate coup de théåtre, replacing all subtraction of values with heightened cosmetics, we lack all mythical authenticity that typically gives a place its cultural identity. We have lawless militarism. Our extraordinary military budget serves the police, giving much of its excess equipment to even some of the smallest departments. Some of our biggest blockbuster cinema works in conjunction with the military, known as the military-entertainment complex, contractually supervised by the Department of Defense’s Entertainment Media Unit. Navy recruitment skyrocketed 500% after the original Top Gun. Zero Dark Thirty was largely funded by the CIA, with the rather oafish “Queen of Torture,” Alfreda Scheuer, played by the red-haired temptress of Jessica Chastain. Torture is sexier with a low cut top and aviators. In Dialectic Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer’s social critique of the failure of the Enlightenment, their chapter, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” argues this point specifically, that popular culture is as manipulative of mass-scale apathy as factory-line consumer goods are. I don’t agree that it’s quite that monolithic, but movies like American Sniper are obvious cruel fetishisms of death, slaughter gaffed as glorious. Movie stars love making their proclamations in support of gun control, or how the NRA is merely an ATM for corrupting politicians, but don’t seem to bat an eye at their military-sponsored spectacles of death. The moderate abstraction of our death drive is enough for most the rest of us to swallow it gleefully.

American exceptionalism is akin to its glorification of death. Baudrillard said “America is the original version of modernity.” But he also said it “is the only remaining primitive society.” This isn’t a contradiction. It’s because we don’t have a past, no real origin story of hammering at the edifice of a slow evolution, that we are both modern and primitive. Our buildings are a crumbling chimera of rubble and stucco finish, its ideologically-fixed banality a permanence on splintered asphalt roads, as the homeless stagger like zombies between the scintillating pornography of sports cars zig-zagging between them like they were traffic cones. We are the entrails of glamour dying in a deserted paradise, the leftover ruminations of broken dreams. There’s a Lamborghini dealership down the street from me, and a half-mile long stretch of people smoking meth in their tents down the embankment from it.

American exceptionalism is the adolescent shame of your own awkward inability to do anything about anything. We can pop our beating pimples with the help of the bright lights of an expensive vanity, but we’ll still be ugly. Share a meme to your Instagram stories that your friend shared earlier (but only to your stories and not a real post, because that’s permanent and you know the memory of this school shooting will eventually fade away like all the others, and you don’t want to mess up the fine curation of your profile layout). Do MDMA with other liberals in matching wide-brimmed straw hats. Repeat impenetrable statistics about gun violence. Drink your morning matcha in your underwear on your backyard patio as the farts escape without a sound.

In America, Baudrillard wrote that “the important point is that the whole of America is preoccupied with the sect as a moral institution,”with our collective madness for a shimmering oasis of abstract and cherrypicked freedoms, where every military intervention is at least intended for good, where the accruement of material dominion and proprietorship is the real religion. To be the star-spangled whores of moral attention. And, Baudrillard continues, if we were to lose this moral perspective of ourselves, we would collapse. I think for the most part we have lost the moral perspective. Maybe there’s a few diehard aberrant patriot types who still deeply believe we are the moral vanguard of the world, but the self-examined cynicism is winning for obvious reasons. It’s always there, but the two recent mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo are routine reminders of our primitiveness, that our barbarism is now modern, that we can do what we’ve always done but this time with more efficacy. And then we can protest it behind small screens, as a Netflix show rolls into the next episode.

As Baudrillard notes, America is both utopia achieved, and a sprawling desert of deformity. We are the juxtaposition of paradise and hell wrapped into the same firework careening through the sky. But there’s no end; there’s no spectacle of a grand finale. If he wrote it today, I would like to think Baudrillard would have more to say, but this time with more evidence to our misery. But maybe he wouldn’t even write the book. Maybe the opportunity for a readable critique about America without coming across as obvious and cliché has already passed, and the fluttering examples he makes of Disneyland being paradise and Santa Barbara being paradise seem only like quaint nostalgia. Because the moral milieu of those places have also deteriorated. If we were a book, or a novel—judged by recent trajectory—we’d be pulp, collecting dust in the smoldering sun. So maybe Ted Cruz sneered at the question about our American exceptionalism being so awful because he knew it will only get worse.


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The Abortion Meeting

by Guy Walker

They wait in the knee-deep red sludge that’s quietly humming like a muffled symphony. Justice Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch all huddle inside the crowded and pregnant womb of a young woman. The claustrophobic air is pumped with a fog machine, choo-chooing red steam until it’s hard to see. The crimson, translucent glow casts a moody artificial sunset tone across their faces, as they stand around in a circle, looking solemn. Its slimy, nutrient-soaked walls dripping in the gelatinous muck. It reminds one of the same gurgling fortune that created life out of nothing, when all there was was space dust that is somehow kept glued together with gravitational pull, and life arose seemingly out of nowhere, from the gaseous vents at the bottom of the ocean, and somehow dominoed into complex self-aware lifeforms.

The nine Supreme Court Justices are hot. They’re tugging at the collars of their ridiculous gowns, wiping the sweat from their temples and brows. They’re waiting for the meeting to begin, rendering the same formal orchestration as the masked ball ritual scene in the movie Eyes Wide Shut. In fact, they’ve modeled every meeting based on that scene…or was it the other way around? Their dull and spiteful jitters in preparation to enact some demonic carnival for millions of women they’ll never know personally. A sexually repressed Clarence Thomas, whose face and overall posture has collapsed into an amoeba-like, formless glob, takes up what little light there is. His decades of cynicism was enough to kill the last of the pollinating bees during his earlier years as a lawyer for Monsanto.

Outside, there’s only horizons of asphalt and condominium complexes. Drones whiz by overhead, dropping off Amazon parcels of cat food and cordless headphones and purple curtains this time because you returned the green ones. Joe Rogan blares on the city-wide emergency loud speakers: “Look, I’m just keeping an open mind! I was on DMT once, and saw this baby crawl out of the soil and sat in my lap, and it was me!! It didn’t really look like me, but I knew it was me, you know what I mean? So when the woke mob says [he does his weak, girly liberal voice] ‘Oh, I’m pro-choice,’ what are they saying about the soil baby that’s a reflection of their own, you know? Besides, I have a sensory deprivation tank and a cold plunge!!!!” His testosterone booster injections trigger a delayed response with the gorilla coffee he drinks, and his neck veins burst, sending a spray of blood across his studio like a Jackson Pollock painting.

A jack-lifted truck drives down the empty street with an American flag waving behind. The conservatives won, and now flags are mandatory. The “Don’t Tread On Me” flags are mandated by every Republican governor. Every single house and car (which is all just tract housing and trucks with those fake bull testicles known as “truck nuts” dangling freely from the toe hitch) are issued at least one flag each, turning the low sky into a flittering arena of yellowed flotsam, the collective and intersecting butterfly-effect of their waving flags cause storms spanning from Norway to Thailand, the smoldering skies churning like cauldrons, as a tornado bursts onto the Siberian tundra with a baleful wrath, pulling up weeds and trees in huge clumps, lifting barns into a confetti of splinters. Roadkill fatalities caused from the swinging truck nuts skyrocket, hitting squirrels and raccoons and opossums square in the forehead—their evolutionary progression had started to adapt to dodge cars by freezing right under the middle of a car, but not yet realizing the fatal mistake of those huge brass nuts.

The Democrats protest all of this. To stop the storms, they march in their pink pussy hats; while some of their own self-immolating attendees protest the pink-pussy people because they say their hats are strictly pink and it implies only a white woman’s pussy is at risk, and therefore the grandmother pastime of knitting is inherently racist. College-age Republicans counter-protest in their hats, which are simply gargantuan felt testicles bobbing from side to side as they march. A buck-toothed man in oversized cargo shorts and a bulletproof vest, who walks with his feet pointed out like a ballerina’s, begins a chant: “I don’t eat pussy! And my dorm room is messy!” He pushes his bicycle helmet up above his eyebrows, so he can continue to avoid every crack in the sidewalk, in order not to break his mother’s back. Everyone in the group does this, hopping to-and-fro from one unbroken section of sidewalk to the next, creating a sort of embryonic form of goose-stepping. It’s hideous to watch. There’s even a conspiratorial faction of the right that believes the deterioration of our streets, the splintering of spiderweb cracked roads and sidewalks is an attempt from the elite to break more mother’s backs. The pro-life position, they claim, is having the full health of the mothers in their best interest. Can a mother with a broken back give birth to more babies? they ask in their meetings. The buck-toothed man’s mates continue the chant as before. Clearly, they have rehearsed this bit, as everyone knows the words without missing a beat. “A cute baby is pretty adorable! If I break my mom’s back, it would be real horrible!” They then all pull out framed photos of their mothers from their back pockets. “This is my mum! There are many like it, but this one is mine!” The featureless landscape of office buildings and condos and tract housing cul-de-sacs fills with more than the usual banal lurking contempt of its own, and the hatred becomes real. Battalions collect more forces. Everyone has their flags and their bumper stickers and their hats, as the sprawling hideous void of society materializes into a billowing storm cloud, the clattering fiefdoms beyond the city erupt in flames.

Back in the poor young woman’s womb, are the justices, shifting from side to side with impatience for the formal deliberation to begin. Amy Coney Barrett tries to force a smile while working through the maze of a rather complex Cat’s Cradle that she made for herself, but she breaks down in tears. She attempts to show Neil Gorsuch her creation, but he scowls, and then accomplishes hacking up a marble of mercurial-colored phlegm, telling the others with casual confidence that his rock hard little morsel of barf is the postmodern pearl, and they should all invest in his industrious hobby. The four-month-old developing fetus bobs over them like an illuminated orb, its gigantic size in comparison causes Roberts to faint. Under a Freudian understanding of psychosexual development of the id, Kavanaugh never developed beyond the oral stage, and so he simply sucks and licks and chews everything around him. He grabs one of Alito’s earlobes which sags like an empty canvas, and begins sucking on it like a pacifier, to which Alito admonishes: “You idiot! We’re here to look presentable. Even the Taliban have victoriously ruled that all women wear full gowns with a face covering, and all you can do is make us look like fools! Now get up, and straighten your own goddamn gown.” Alito then clears his throat as to get everyone’s attention and begin the meeting, but then this descends into a coughing fit. He gags, then wipes his eyes. “Ahem. Anyways, so happy you were all able to make it. We thought it’d be a fun treat for the viewers at home if we had this deliberation in-person. In person.” There’s a long silence, as the other justices look around aimlessly, not understanding another one of Alito’s strangely garish attempts at humor. Then, Kavanaugh finally gets it, and shrieks more than laughs, with a gaping lipless mouth. “That’s enough, Kavanuagh, quiet down,” to which Kavanaugh abruptly stops, and does the Charades game motion of zipping his lips shut. “We’re here to discuss the already infamous case, Chicks vs. The Harness of Serfdom,” Alito continues, “in which we’ll discuss such topics as When walking a woman on a leash, it’s better to have a harness around their chest than one tight collar around their neck; When ‘trimming the hedges’ or ‘mowing the lawn’, or any other libidinally suggestive garden duties, it’s your responsibility—not the State’s—to keep your mind clean. Umm, let’s see here…” he flips through some pages, squinting. “Oh right, right. Disney princesses won’t show midriff; Bellybuttons are simply that, buttons. They are not scars leftover from being in the womb, because there really is no womb; Ummmm, Now that condoms are illegal, the black market is popularizing criminals pulling them over their head like they used to with pantyhose…what should we do about that?; and lastly, and this is really my favorite, Mary Magdalene was a whore, so, do you think Jesus scored or what? Kavanaugh now presses his bellybutton with the palm of his hand over and over as if it was a buzzer in a game show, and makes the accompanying buzzer sound with his mouth. “It’s not that kind of button, you idiot!” Alito exclaims. “Why do you think it’s in the same vertical line as the buttons on a shirt? You think that’s just a coincidence? Think for once in your pathetic life.” Kavanaugh proceeds to wipe his nose with the length of his forearm. Amy Coney Barrett, being one of the few members of the ecumenical covenant, People of Praise, a parachurch community of about 1,700 members, most of whom are Catholic, and whose two founders were involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and advocate for the practice of speaking in tongues, begins screaming in gibberish. Her eyes roll to the back of her head, and her hands raise to the ceiling, shivering, groping the sordid red air. “HAIL!!!! Shabada-diddy-slim-shady…TITS ON RATTLESNAKES!!!” Her glossolalia collapsing in on itself, and she gasps for air before beginning this routine again. Breyer finally looks up from the murky sludge that makes up the ground, and asks, “My God, the poor woman’s a schizophrenic.” Alito’s eyes widen in disbelief. “Are you nuts? This is a religious experience, she’s speaking to God.” “Oh, I see,” Breyer replies. “I’ll shut up then.”

A rumbling is felt under their feet. The dark red nutrient bath curdles into a thick foam. There used to be a fountain that gurgled like a fabulous spring, and the womb would hum in its coquettish mass, pulsing around the fetus as an invisible slow-moving lightning storm. These multitudinous involuntary forces aren’t like that of a clattering machine, but rather as a unified and benign world that manifests all of life’s forms from a subterranean infinity. But suddenly, there’s a rupture in the system, and the warm liquid cocoon turns into a huge fondu sculpture splashing violently from underground tremors. The nine Justices clamor for something to hold onto, something solid, but the viscous knee-deep ground slips out from under them, and they summersault backwards, dunked head-to-toe in the coruscating muck. Their meeting is ruined, sending Alito into a psychotic diatribe, his spit-soaked exclamations about how it’s not over ’til it’s over. The developing baby rolls over them, crushing Kavanaugh mid-scream, as Thomas easily drowns under his heavy black robes. There’s a struggle afoot, but only inside, as the young woman whom they are inside of casually gets ready for bed. She dropped her toothbrush, and had bent down to pick it up. She holds her tummy, feeling it rumble gently, the baby kicking the inner wall. She smiles, and takes a deep breath as she stands back up, sending the Justices again into a huge tidal forced baptism of blood and embryonic tissues.

Finally, in bed, her husband puts his ear up to her taut and glossy stomach, mistaking the Justices’ faint whimpers for the cute rumblings of their baby. His eyes widen in excitement, as he leans his ear in closer, obsessively trying to listen, as if he were listening for morse code inside a seashell. “Baby, I can hear the baby,” the husband says. Alito croaks his last feeble cry. “America is the violent extroversion of a people in exile. I was only trying to wrangle you back to a time and place of good behavior.” And his voice fades under the gurgling in the womb.

NFTs and the Simulacra of Hell

by Guy Walker

There’s something worse than the burning of books and famous paintings, as the Nazis famously did. Because in these actions, there’s always the unavoidable revulsion of response in its popularity, through whatever libidinal temptation and payoff it promised. Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible was banned; Shakespeare’s King Lear was banned; so was Darwin’s Origin of Species; D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Ginsberg’s Howl; Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. The list is endless, and only demonstrates the resilience for knowledge and art and the unshackling of our primordial armory. In the end, the art or the science or the poetry almost always won. What’s worse than banning it or burning it is the indifferent disregard for it. If Guernica were painted today, if Moby Dick were written today, barely anyone would notice. Maybe you’d see the painting on your phone for two seconds, maybe a hundred professors would listen to a third of the book during a long car ride, but other than that any pièce de résistance will shrivel like a discarded foreskin under the gargantuan trauma and schizophrenia of a generation cursed by its own madness, by knowing they lost the world and will never get it back.

We destroyed this world, so we invented a new one. The internet isn’t real, in any real sense of the word—it’s the imaginary pixelated nebulae of an entire species, a mockery-tableau, as if it were our one and only collective magnum opus, a sprawling scroll of illiterate infinity. Whether we know it or not, we are haunted forever by the dungeons of coruscating shadows that we manufactured: the ejaculatory infinity of TikTok dances mashed together with political tantrums on Twitter, and Youtube tutorials on every conceivable topic or videos of Jordan Peterson sobbing as he talks about postmodernism, hammered together with the edifying immortality of amateur pornos and dizzyingly grotesque flip books of 2am dickpics sent through iMessage. Christopher Columbus thought the New World was in the Americas, among the terraqueous loamy horizons where rivers of gold could be made up and never realized. Look at us now—this frontier of digitized horror is beyond what the peasantry of early explorers could ever imagine.

But then again, the internet is real. Bitcoin is real in the sense that its servers demand more energy than entire countries. It exists somewhere, electrical currents surging like mycelial monstrosities gorging through entire mountain ranges of coal. So, the new craze of non-fungible tokens (NFT) are our Lascaux cave paintings of this new world—the first, already-primitive doodles of an era dominated by fraud.

Schopenhauer famously believed the only redemptive mode of the orgiastic nihilism that devours us is through art and the aesthetic experience. Faint quivers of meaning and awe can be felt in these triumphs; and although a symphony or painting is meaningless in every definitively reductive way, it still signals the titillating siren calling us to carry on. Love, for example, is a ridiculous drive made up of complex synapses surging with a supply of vasopressin and oxytocin, but we still crave it even when we know it’s just our programing. The same is for art. It may just be a single frame of mirthful diversion hanging on an eggshell Swiss Coffee wall, but you still need it. Without it, the debilitating void of a blank wall looms over you like a blizzard of realized misery reminding you that you’re not interesting enough to buy something from Ikea to fill that rectangle of space. If you told someone just a few hundred years ago that a blank wall was the equivalent of a traumatizingly banal existence, they wouldn’t know what you were talking about. NFTs are the first iteration of what you never knew you needed. 

Because the original image on a screen is the same as the jpeg or a screenshot of it, the owning of whatever the image or gif or text is, is the drama of our new dementia.

We have already bridged the gap that the screen that you’re staring at right now (and the screen at work, and at home, and in bed, staring at your phone while the tv is on and your laptop is idling by, and as you stare down at it in your car as you’re weaving in and out of traffic) is identical to the real world of loamy empiricism. Twitter is just more of a deranged form of the original chatrooms that existed when the world wide web first started. TikTok is the new Jazzercise studio, the new university classroom. NFT galleries are the new Musée du Louvre of today. And that’s not being hyperbolic.

Baudrillard’s treatise on the simulacra of our day-to-day couldn’t be more accurate in its ubiquity and its evilness. In Simulacra and Simulation, he describes the simulacrum as the total unraveling of originality into false premises. There are four stages of this. The first, rendering as a reflection of our reality. The second, a perversion or distortion of this into a fake reality. The third stage, a copy with no original. And the fourth and final stage is pure simulacrum, or, the signs and images that are totally divorced from reality itself—the rendering of something that has no original. A new truth. This is only possible in the postmodernity of Late Capitalism, where the terraqueous landmarks of the reality that has given us life evaporate under the influence of our false renderings. There’s no longer paintings of real places. And there’s no longer money that represents real value somewhere. The value is strictly perceived, and perceived in the future. And the art—if we can call it that anymore—is a formless perversion of nothing anymore. Our renderings of feigned chimera may as well rule over us. We spend more time in these strange artificial empyreans than everywhere else combined.

One of the largest NFT projects is Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), whose description on the homepage of their website is “A limited NFT collection where the token itself doubles as your membership to a swamp club for apes. The club is open! Ape with us.” It’s just a collection of thousands of individual poorly rendered apes dressed in strange clothes. It’s a deck of virtual baseball cards—that’s what all NFTs are in essence. You know the masses of devotees are the same people who ran the Pokémon Go craze—otiose nerds wandering in public and across crowded lanes of traffic like drugged pigeons, telling you through visible cloudbursts of spit, that no, you just don’t get it, it’s revolutionizing both art and finance into one!! They’re unique digital assets! These people are monstrous actually. Every article you read that describes what NFTs are compares real paintings to real NFTs. One compared DeKooning’s Interchange (which sold for $300 million) to Chris Torres’ Nyan Cat NFT ($600,000), which is one of those blockish rudimentary-pixelated renderings of a cat with a poptart for a torso, flying through the night sky, trailing a rainbow behind it. It says that the copy of these two images are the same on your screen, and therefore the originals are the same because they’re originals. They both have “original traceability.” This is incorrect. The DeKooning is clearly real, in that it was made with oil paint, on canvas, and it hangs on the wall. And the original NFT is quite literally the same thing as the copy—an amputation from the real. The simulacra is all-consuming now—a vast cosmic void that has pulled us into its control like the demonic forces in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. This is, indeed, the new flesh.

So let’s get it over with. Let the museums hasten their rot. Their transition from the démodé formality of canvas and paint and the appreciated renderings of their subjects are already giving way to the pixelated grisliness of our modernity. The museums will soon turn to fortresses of rubble, ornate ceilings ruined into spiderweb-cracked plaster, marbled columns now only partially standing like the brittle anorexia of empires. The grandest scale paintings of Thomas Cole and Frederic Church have been ripped from their frames and eaten through by moths and silverfish, and are now used as the simple dish rags and tattered ponchos for the homeless. The once famously grandiose auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s give way to the sanguinary gore of crypto bros lecturing to chicks about the blockchain.

The sun sets with a violent crimson filling the sky. The armies of NFTs have arrived at the doors of all the great artistic venues, and they’re here to revolutionize the financial world through the most childlike finger doodles. Jack Dorsey’s first tweet that he sold as an NFT for over $2.9 million summersaults down the crowding hallways of the British Museum. CryptoPunk #7523, which sold for $11.8 million, scatters its large pixelated blocks across the floor like confetti. The NFT for the World Wide Web source code ($5.43 million) digitizes the air into noxious perfumes, and the world’s last remaining rodents suffocate under the drama’s grotesquerie. Ten thousand Bored Apes enter the bombed out doors of the MET. One is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and ushanka hat, with a slice of pizza dangling from his mouth the way Clint Eastwood holds a cigarette in the old westerns. Another ape is wearing bunny ears, and has X’s over his closed eyelids. Another is clad completely in leopard print, drooling from his mouth, rubbing his genitals all over Da Vinci’s Vergine delle rocce. Strange amoeba-like creatures bounce around like gleeful villains, demanding that they want more money, or rather, they want more digital coins.

We lost the future long ago. The phytoplankton will soon disappear entirely from the ocean, starving every living thing from its oxygen. The forests are burning in the Arctic. What were once the lush dew-drenched canopies of oaks and moss and the deafening chorus of towhees and tanagers and red-capped woodpeckers, are now graveyards of split and splintered trunks and maybe a gaunt coyote sucking on a petrified dead rat. The gurgling riverbeds that swayed with overgrown green reeds are now mass graves of fossils and skeletons. So you wait for the next vacation. You buy a hologram for a wife. You buy some digital image on your phone with a made-up currency while hunched over on the toilet, taking a shit. You are the future, and you have arrived.

The Best Ladder and the Wrong Wall

by Guy Walker

The Afghanistan War was always supposed to be invisible. After the initial fanfare of our cimmerian payback following the 9/11 attacks, it hid away into the depths where it always meant to be. The Iraq War was the same. Remember the exuberant media coverage of the toppling of the Saddam statue, and the cheering children running after our Humvees. And then it all went away. It’s why Bush ordered the Pentagon to prevent all news coverage of the bodies of American troops being brought back from war. It’s why there was no draft—a draft would only popularize our natural revulsion to war, sending kids straight out of high school to bomb some sandbox of infinite hell, their pimples oozing larger than their undeveloped prefrontal lobes. It’s why much of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were outsourced to private mercenary armies like Blackwater. When former NFL player Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, it was initially covered up to look more heroic than it was. And it largely did stay invisible.

For two decades it’s been waging on quietly, like a cancer gnawing away at the throat of American decency, our reputability pulverized into the scorched earth we’ve left behind. It’s been almost entirely removed from our daily consciousness. In 2020, between NBC, ABC, and CBS, the Afghanistan war was covered for a grand total of five minutes. For the entire year. Even when The Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers,which revealed high-ranking officials knew early on that the war was not winnable, and took great efforts to mislead the public into thinking it was moving along steadily and successfully, it doesn’t seem to have made the impact the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam War. In Craig Whitlock’s newest book, The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, he details how the US government partnered with Afghanistan, funneling billions into their coffers, funding lavish palaces of excess and glee. He explains that the Afghan population didn’t see the billions of dollars we were spending as money to spread democracy, or to legitimize some form of nation building, but rather to prop up leaders with deeply corrupt and brutal histories. In many rural Afghan communities, populations saw the Taliban as preferable to the Afghan government, who shared little historically, religiously, and ethnically with the Afghan people. Even Donald Rumsfeld’s internal memos, just six months into the war, admitted that he suspected American troops would be there forever.

Maybe there’s too much other noise in the world today. Maybe our attention spans have fully rotted through. Who knows why this war has largely stayed invisible until now. The truth is, everyone will forget about this Afghanistan story—about what permanent hell we’ve punished a nation of 35 million to. You too will forget about this episode in our miserably despondent legacy—there’ll be another election, or another natural disaster, or another cat meme or TikTok video that takes your attention for a while. You’ll go to Burning Man, do some mind expanding drugs and show the world how free spirited you are; you’ll travel to Tulum, and finally forget about all this too. Down the spiraling tangents of illiteracy, a generation consumed by their own embarrassing brutality.

Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, it was Hunter S. Thompson of all people who wrote the most prescient predictions of despair, for, of all places, ESPN.com :

“Make no mistake about it: We are At War now ― with somebody ― and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”

I’ve never been to Afghanistan, and I’ve never been to war, so in one sense I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just ingesting content I consume mostly online and spill it out for another helping, another blog post, another diatribe about the nihilism of our politics. But in another sense, many of our instincts are correct. Why was Hunter Thompson—the wild drug and gun enthusiast—right, while almost none of the experts were? As is famously noted, none of the highjackers were Afghani or Iraqi. Fifteen of them were from Saudi Arabia, and it was planned and organized in Hamberg, Germany. Everyone, from Bernie Sanders to The New Yorker, supported the invasion of Afghanistan. It had unanimous support in the Senate, and only one dissenting vote in Congress, Barbara Lee.

So, most of us can be accused of not knowing what we’re talking about. But you can watch Adam Curtis’s BBC documentary, Bitter Lake, and realize we never would have won a war there, not if we spent five trillion, not if we instituted the draft, not for anything. You can watch Ben Anderson’s Vice documentary, This Is What Winning Looks Like, and realize that in 2012, when the documentary was made, it was clearly not winnable, and spending another nine years there was insane. You can read Stathis Kalyvas’s 2006 book The Logic of Violence in Civil War, and understand that the complexity of tribal conflict is beyond anything an American military can undermine and declare their own to fix. You can read James Bradford’s Poppies, Politics, and Power: Afghanistan and the Global History of Drugs and Diplomacy, and understand that it was largely drug control policy and intervention that created the Afghanistan poppy trade what it is today. In addition to, in the documentary Bitter Lake, it explains that it was American engineers in the 1950’s who built massive dams throughout the country, thus raising the water table, and bringing salt to the surface, allowing poppies to thrive in the this new soil. You can Spencer Ackerman’s Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, and map out our almost logical collective insanity of the last twenty years. Afghanistan just happened to be there, in the hazy midst of our madness.

Humans have been hammering out their quarrels in Afghanistan for at least 50,000 years, one of the oldest agrarian civilizations in the world. There’s an almost rugged transcendence in knowing our sprawling tantrums of tribal adolescences began there. It was controlled by the Medes, of the Iranic tribe, between the Nuristani and Indo-Aryan groups, until Darius the Great took over with his Persian army, establishing the Achaemenid Empire. It changed hands constantly, from Darius III to Alexander the Great, to Seleucid Empire, to the Grego-Bactrian Kingdom, leaders from Chandragupta Maurya, eventually defeated by Seleucus I Nicator. Islam only became dominate in the 7th century, a blink of an eye on an earthly cosmological scale. Before that, it was of course sects of Hinduism and Buddhism, but also myriad forms of Paganism, Zoroastrianism, and Surya worship. 

History is a funnel of distilling complexity down to our more modern brutish monotonies. We condense religion and language and wild species and tribal sects and everything else down to an abbreviated worship of banality, organizing our lives like accruements lined up neatly on a mantle. Our congratulation is being one of seven billion pawns rummaging through the wreckage. History is digested almost as a fiction, in order to convince ourselves that this ephemeral polemic of subjectivity actually matters. We are the conjugated feral beasts of someone more interesting, hammering through made-up diatribes and reality tv dramaturges of self-importance.

Religions—like that of the Zarathustra—, empires like that of the Median, bubble out of the muck of our ancestors, throwing their fits of rage for a while, until they burn out and evaporate into whatever’s next. What’s next is just marginalia. If you read the ancient history of Afghanistan, you’re tempted to accept that our cimmerian and spiteful installment of the last two decades of war is just another footnote in their sprawling episodic tapestry of turmoil. But it’s still unconvincing. Everyone seems to be up in arms about our American reputation: We pulled out too quickly, abandoning girls and women to the mercy of the Taliban. We abandoned interpreters and translators who sacrificed themselves and their families. These things are important, no doubt, and our legacy is justifiably embarrassing and brutal because of it. But by focusing only on those issues, it presumes the war was justified, and could have succeeded if we only did it differently.

In retrospect, it’s easy to be smug about our failure there. It’s been called the graveyard of empires for a reason. The British lost there in the First Anglo-Afghan War—or as the British call it, the Disaster of Afghanistan—fought between 1839 and 1842. The Soviets fought a nine year war alongside the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, eventually being defeated by the Afghan mujahideen (the precursor to Al Qaeda, and heavily funded and trained by the CIA), as well as other Shi’ite and Maoist rebel groups. Operation Cyclone was one of the most expensive covert CIA operations, lasting from 1979 to 1989, funneling $630 million to the mujahideen in 1987 alone. Reagan welcomed the Mujahideen leaders into his Oval Office in 1983, as pictured at the top of this article. The divisive partisan milieu of our body politic wants to criminalize the whole Afghanistan catastrophe as party issue. It’s Reagan’s fault, or Bush’s, or Obama’s, Trump’s, and now Biden’s pullout method. As if our collective dementia has clogged our memories all along. 

But this is not the correct thinking. The defense budget was and is the only thing both parties continue to agree on. Matt Taibbi emphasizes this in a column on his sub stack, quoting Chuck Shumer in 2018: “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request” of a $160 billion increase for 2017-2018. So who cares if our exit strategy wasn’t tidy. It’s a distraction from the real politics of war. On September 14th, 2001, Barbara Lee was the only Congressperson to vote against Afghanistan War, receiving thousands of death threats as a result of her vote. The entire war, from the beginning, was a deliberate siphoning of domestic wealth into the coffers of defense contractors and their rubble-cathedrals abroad. Since WWII, our intervention has never been good. Clinton said his biggest regret of his precedency was not intervening in Rwanda. That seems fair, but who knows what the result would have been if we did. That’s the problem with only knowing the results of our actions now, in this exact weave of reality: we have no alternative to compare it to. These types of exercises merely comprise encyclopedias of hypotheses. The state of our present-day horror, however, demonstrates a complete failure in military and political prudence.

There is a lot of talk about women and girls, and how they will now be treated under Taliban rule. Just the other day, a report came out that a Taliban leader pleaded with women to stay indoors because his men hadn’t been trained on how to treat women and girls. The Taliban just killed a pregnant policewoman. These shouldn’t be brushed off, of course. But you have to ask yourself why everyone cares all of a sudden. What about the night raids and drone strikes we conducted that killed countless innocent civilians? When U.S. and Afghan forces conducted night raids, in one remote village after another, capturing and killing whoever they deemed guilty, they turned entire villages against them in a matter of moments. Jeremy Scahill’s book and subsequent documentary Dirty Wars, covers these night raids extensively, highlighting a family celebration in a small village when American forces conducted a night raid, killing young men, pregnant women, young girls. Admiral William McRaven returned later to the village, offering the family a goat as an apology.

When the military whistleblower Daniel Hale revealed that ninety percent of deaths from drone strikes are deemed collateral damage, thus innocent civilians or noncombatants, no one seemed to care then. Or at least, it wasn’t covered on the nightly news. In fact, Daniel Hale was recently sentenced to four years in prison for leaking these classified documents. So, yes, I too fear the future for women and girls under a Taliban rule. But I’m not convinced that the nightly chorus of pundits trembling about their well-being is at all genuine. They never seemed to care before. It’s our war that we failed to stop, and it’s our war that we will all be involved in, in some way, for the rest of our lives.

Elem Kilmov’s masterpiece Come and See, which is far and away the best war film ever made, is about a boy in a Belarusian village, conscripted to join the Soviet partisan forces and fight against the Nazi German occupation. He is a bright-eyed, blonde-haired boy who thinks he’s headed out for a great adventure. But as he experiences the murderous reality, the piles of bodies surrounding him, the rape and torture and defeating bombs, he deteriorates into a withered shell of himself—an adolescence cannibalized by trauma and revolt, irreversible decay as the horror swells all around. We’re entering a new era impregnated by a similar horror. Though most of us have not seen war up close, we all are affected by the collective madness that has conquered us all. 

The young actor had to be hypnotized in order to perform the roll, as the director knew no one could realistically play someone who had seen such profane quantities of evil. This is true for the whole lot of us. Most of us can look back at our hazy origins of innocence, when swimming pools and backyard barbecues would progress without too many ripples. There’s footage of British teenagers marching off to fight WWI, believing it would be merely a patriotic duty of a couple or few weeks. And it’s sad in a way, because you know many of them will soon be crawling around the muddy, blood-filled trenches, crying for their mothers. The first twenty years of this millennium has been entirely consumed by this same ruptured innocence, a generation cursed by illiterate trauma that coats every normal interaction.

It’s always there, wherever you go. At backyard barbecues, the air is choked with knowing there’s fires in Siberia and Greece and Algeria and Canada and California, and hurricanes and floods, and it’s only going to get more histrionic and hellish as the years go on. At beach parties, when you should be relaxing, drinking a piña colada, looking at the women in bikinis from behind your sunglasses, you know this is an ephemeral and illusory frame less meaningful than a cozy dream. We spent $2 trillion—or $300 million a day, every day for twenty years—on a war that should never have been waged, shoveled off into the volcanoes of misery. It’s impossible to emphasize how much we actually wasted: how much human life we mutilated, the massive defense contracts, this twenty year machine consuming and killing everything in its wake. And then the Taliban took everything back in two fucking weeks. This ontological a priori death drive is more expansive than a singular private momentum that Freud went on about. Our death drive is wholly collective and entropic, consuming us en masse until we’re all out there in the desert together, gnawing at the last turds of existence.

Jeff Bezos Goes to Space

by Guy Walker

Jeff Bezos never came back to Earth. He can still be seen up there, if you look closely on a night with no moon—the Amazon logo like the fading stain left behind a shooting star.

When he and his younger brother boarded the New Shepard—the rocket ship made by Bezos’s space company Blue Horizon—he had no intention of coming back. This is already not a habitable enough rock to come back to; we ruined it, turned it into one of the other planets with opaque clouds of sulphuric acid. No, he ruined it. He made us buy towering monuments of plastic toys, all shipped and suffocated in that trademark rectangular bubble wrap. He made us buy those 4-in-1 inflatable pool floats that are shaped like a crocodile. He made us buy a Dyson ball vacuum; and then a miniature-sized fake one for our kids. He made us buy those hipster-chic security cameras. He made us buy the virtual assistant AI with the sexually enticing name of libidinal paralysis, Alexa. Earth used to actually be a nice place in the universe. It had swirling turquoise oceans filled with the bioluminescent octopus and sea turtles, the Glaucus Atlanticus blue sea slug, the narwhal, the ribbon eel, the frilled shark and goblin shark, and predatory whales as old as the dinosaurs. The sprawling orgiastic terrariums of moss and lichens and mushrooms that grew amongst the old growth forests all helped fill this terraqueous orb, and somehow levitated in empty space, spinning around in the benevolent circumstellar habitable zone, known as the Goldilocks zone.

When Jeff Bezos looked out from his portal window, he had no intention of coming back. The ship lifted out of the thick mass of smog like a shimmering erection slowing rising out of a witch’s stew. He cackled maniacally, still wearing his aviators, his bald head slippery with a thin coat of Vaseline. He looked down as the last armies met in the ashen rubble of an old city, its skyscrapers of bursted windows and the stained steel armory that couldn’t last long enough for a real empire. Shopping malls had been left abandoned, their plain stucco coating crumbling into a slurry of sand and kindergarten paste; their food courts invaded with king-sized rodents dragging entire pizzas into their locked away dens under the ten story parking structure that has already deteriorated into the groaning skeletons of rebar and concrete that falls apart like bread crumbs. What were once painfully dull neighborhoods of track houses that wandered through labyrinths of cul-de-sacs, where every grass lawn had at most one dainty tree supported by two wooden posts larger than the tree itself, were now barricaded training grounds for opposing armies, preparing for widespread civil war. Free two day shipping was canceled, and the militias assembled. 

As Jeff Bezos lifted off, he looked down on them all—all those humans running around desperately amongst their bombed-out cities, like crazed ants whose hill was smothered and ruined by a lonely schoolyard bully. The New Shepard left the mesosphere and almost immediately into the exosphere, as the flight commander flipped some switches, turning on the magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters and their unique plasma propulsion specially designed for exoplanet exploration, sending them hurling through the soundless arena of eternity, the distant flurries of other worlds whispering in some absurd fantasy.

Jeff Bezos left because he couldn’t stand being the richest person on the planet any longer. On this planet any longer. Even after the divorce, and giving up half of his wealth, he’s projected to be a trillionaire in his lifetime. He had to eject himself into the vast nothingness of space, into the infinity of other galaxies and stars, to find out if there’s someone wealthier. Or something wealthier. Because everyone knows that in space is where true wealth lives. Every last scrap of gold ever discovered on Earth came from a supernova explosion or from when neutron stars collide. It can’t be synthesized in chemistry. All the original gold was pulled to the center of our planet upon its formation, and so all the existing gold has come from astroid impacts. The simple truth is: Jeff Bezos is not nearly rich enough. He got rich selling books to a people that don’t read anymore. Imagine the cosmic wealth he could attain if he reached the stars—the stelliferous plumes of priceless empyrean glitter spreading a full lightyear across, as he basks in the violet enthusiasms of their clouds.

On Earth, we are boorish hicks, a singular aggregate of inbred distant cousins smashing rocks together in the sandbox of time. From the ionosphere, he realized us as a mass of ants that could be swept away and easily forgotten. But from space, he came to the final and full realization that we are the microscopic virus maggots chewing through the rotting carcass that we made the Earth to be. Jeff Bezos has said before that ever since he was five years old, he has dreamt of traveling space. He’s known since before he became Jeff Bezos. This space journey is his return home to where the gods live, amongst the astral throes of infinity. When Walt Whitman wrote about his own mortality, he wrote “If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.” Bezos wants the opposite: to be found still glimmering in that ephemeral milk stain behind a shooting star. 

Once the New Shepard fully left the gravitational pull of the Earth, Jeff Bezos unbuckled his harness, floating out from his seat and summersaulting forward out past the main cabin. The ship commander spoke into their synchronized headsets that it was against protocol doing this so early. Jeff’s brother reached out with a helpless hand. Jeff bounced around aimlessly against the ship’s walls like the digitized ball in those old pong games, the laws of physics still dictating bodies of mass in these weightless skies. His glossy circumcised head stuck out eagerly from the hugely floppy astronaut suit—it ached and pulsed with a sullen heartbeat for the coruscating grandeur of something better than himself. It wasn’t on Earth—a preposterously small pebble of dew and bacterial peasantry. And it surely wasn’t on this ship. This ship was already a claustrophobic hell of authority and the simple machinations of mankind. Bezos was destined for castles of spiraling hallucinations, the primordial gases made up of shades of crimson and vermillion we’ve never seen before. He reached the back-bottom of the ship, rumbling above the rocket boosters attached securely beneath it. He flipped open the simple plastic shield, and tightened his grip around the large red lever, hesitating for less than a moment before he made that singularly fateful twist-pull motion.

A child with an unkempt bowl cut stood on a pile of soot covered bricks that were once stacked in an order that made up his home. He looked up at the enormous night sky filled with the conflagrant disorder slowly swirling around overhead. Gunfire whizzed by his head, as the militias closed in. And all at once, the large familiar stroke of a shooting star poured from the top of the sky—a friendly logo appeared, a smiling arrow, connecting a to z, making the boy smile one last smile.