On the destruction of knowledge

We Are Winning

Original quote is from “We Are Winning,” by Flobots


In altering the message in order to adapt it to a new medium, I am drawing a connection. Twitter is one of the most powerful tools we as citizens have at our disposal to expose the corruption, hypocrisy, and hatred that characterizes our government. Communication is the most powerful weapon against oppression. A tower of Babel, a strong community for justice, can be built with this power. Revealing the truth can only ever be good when it concerns many people. Hiding the truth, by manufacturing falsehoods or by destroying the medium of truth, can only ever be an act of violence against reality itself, and against the people who experienced and valued that reality. The destruction of knowledge is always used to exert control over those who want to preserve and add to it. It is never justifiable.

This deeply held conviction of mine is partly why I adore semiotics and the researcher’s ethos. Nothing feels more exciting and fundamentally right and important to me than uncovering overlooked truths once written down and now ignored. New truths are nearly as exciting, but there isn’t such a sense of urgency there—if someone does not preserve old truths, they are liable to be forgotten and lost forever. The greatest tragedy is losing information, not because it is important in itself but because… the existence of information is important. Someone wrote it down. It was meaningful, and we can still find meaning in that. I believe that the loss of an archive is worse than the loss of human lives, because the information inside a human cannot all be preserved anyway. I mourn the burnings of great libraries not for the idea of how much further science could have gone had we had their knowledge, but for the obfuscation and warping of reality.

It is ultimately important to me to record the past, because I have so little continuity of self that there is no other way for me to remember and understand it. I can become the past of two thousand years ago as easily as the past of yesterday. Then in my mind, in my heart, nothing cannot be proven unless it has been written down. The destruction of recorded history and thought is nothing less than the destruction of reality itself. And that terrifies me, because my grip on it is sometimes so tenuous. It is important to preserve everything that happens, because otherwise, there is no past. Yes, it also enables people to seek freedom, power, and happiness, but for me these concerns are almost secondary to the incredibly personal, visceral wrongness of eliminating knowledge.

Semiotics & aesthetics are one & the same

Beauty is truth, and truth beauty.

Elegance, in design, is the principle of wasting nothing: exact sufficiency for the purpose. What I love about machines is that they have meaning and purpose. What I love about machines is the wonder of artifice accomplishing elegantly what could be–and has been–done in less efficient ways. What I love, in the end, is all about semiotics.

For me, aesthetic beauty is the highest form of beauty. I feel the same for a human body as for a railroad-laying machine. They are both elegant in their ways: biology is a marvel in that it works at all, littered with redundancies and vestiges from previous failed experiments. It is not elegant in the way that an artefact is elegant, but rather it is the end result of millions of years of trial and error. It is what works, and only what works. Elegant. Machinery is a marvel for the opposite reason: that in such an insignificant timespan as a year, a decade, a century anything could be accomplished, let alone an artefact that achieves its intended purpose? One that accomplishes its function with the elegance of no wasted part. Two sides of the same coin. One, like a Markov chain, picking up workable solutions as it goes along; the other designed holistically for maximum efficiency. My heart swells at the very thought.

But I fear, Best Beloved, that I have become somewhat incoherent, and frustrated with my own inability to say exactly what I feel. It is a bit difficult to articulate this. But this is the reason that design is so important to me. Using art as a medium to communicate is what makes it beautiful–the murmur and roar of an otherworldly choir in the engines of an aeroplane means nothing if it is simply heard and tucked away in one’s memory. Intentionally used, though, it has meaning to a story and to an individual. The sinusoidal path of a weaving arm means nothing until it consolidates one of the strongest, lightest substances in manufacturing, and piston means nothing until it is interlinked with the complex system of a combustion engine.

I still cannot explain. That’s all right; I will keep trying. Really, the point I was trying to make was this: when I said “I wanna fuck that car,” this is kind of what I meant.

Clarifications on healthy love, or, an argument against love

“Sometimes I miss you the way someone drowning remembers air.”—Tom Seibles

How romantic! I am rather against romanticism, as an aesthetic and a philosophy, and I don’t feel I did justice to it in my poem of earlier today (about an hour ago). My point is that to depend emotionally on a single person, with that obsessive, devoted, consuming love the poets like so much is unhealthy in the extreme, for both parties. It’s often held up as the highest ideal of love, two people who can’t possibly get enough of each other, and who wither apart. This would be fine, I suppose, if this could continue in stasis forever and neither of them wanted to have any other friends. But this so rarely happens; usually instead one person is obsessively desirous of the other’s time and attention, and sees it as an affront when it is not given (see: “Dislike is not a crime”). It can be seen as flattering that anyone cares so much, but it’s also emotionally draining, and extremely frustrating when one cannot spend time with other friends because of an accusation that deserved attention is being somehow stolen from the needer.

This isn’t necessarily even about abuse, depending on your definition. Emotional abuse is deliberate manipulation of others, even without the intent to hurt, and some who need manipulate their needed unconsciously. My main point is that it would be so much better to be with someone because you like them, not just because you love them. Love is what comes out of Stockholm Syndrome–it’s very hard not to love your parents, even if you dislike them, or anyone with whom you have spent a sufficient amount of time. Liking comes from kindred ways of thought, and friend chemistry or what-have-you. It’s much more personal than love. You can need anyone, and often those who need do: latch onto whoever has a strong foundation and will spend time with them.

Thus do I exhort: if you do have a need (a Need?) try to fill it with someone who genuinely likes you. Sadly, the Need often comes about because you don’t think anyone genuinely likes you. This is not true, in nearly every case. Thus do I exhort, Best Beloved: do not look for love. Look for liking, and let love alight where it may.

If your body just really wants you to have sex, I can’t help you. Maybe find someone else with the same problem? In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve never had any practical solutions to any problem that normal people have.

Meditations on healthy love

I’ve long known that love based on need will only hurt. Worse, it rots like a gangrenous wound, poisoning the body till it reaches the figurative heart. This may be poetic interpretation but I know that it’s true— it hurts to be needed ’cause it’s a chain that any decent person won’t pull too hard. You’re confined like a dog to the yard and unable to distinguish your pain from the pain of needing you and fearing that someday you’ll rise, and turn your face toward the sunset with the dawn in your eyes.

I’ve seen too many cases of need, of greed that makes another person one’s own. I’ve been that person possessed and I’ve felt the unrest that made me test that chain. I’ve seen the crater it leaves when you scoop yourself out of another person to stand on your two feet again, and I’ve seen that when you stand to look down you watch your keeper cry in the dirt, who sees you as a haloed crown over a guillotine. Don’t cut me off, don’t sever the umbilical cord, anything but leave me with my own soul and the knowledge I’m not whole, I might never be whole.

Yes, it hurts, but turn your face to the sun and find someone who loves you as you. Not as a distant star but as a body, not half a binary system that will consume all the planets around you when it implodes like you know it will. Not needed, but wanted. Not vaunted, but known for the twisted hilarious sparking wildfire you are. If need is a cold dusty moon, let your longing be the stellar fire. Let your life be full of burning stars that altogether, not each individually, light it up blue as truth, as blindness, as a mercy kill.

Don’t let yourself be taken for granted, and held for granted for years and years. You don’t fear it yet, but you will. That hold is warmer by far than sitting lonely on a stoop, but don’t stoop to that once you know you’re drowning by owning. Use the song that lives inside you to tell them they’re wrong to hide you under layers and layers of frantic tissue paper love, thinking you won’t be able to sit up.

Sit up. Find your sun, and leave the deep lake where the water whispers, things will be better someday.

Exposure Therapy, or, A Meat Romance

So close your eyes are mountain ranges
chains of radial radiant muscles so delicate.
I want to pull out your eyelashes
gather them carefully into a revolting heap
and burn them somewhere far away.
I tell you this as my skin begins to crawl.

You roll your eyes;
you do not understand. You are covered with your skin
I am covered with your skin.
I want to push my face into your hot neck but that too
is flaking slowly away, and it is held together by grease and sick warmth.
You’re meat I mutter,
not shuddering as I drag my chewed-up thumb cautiously over your jaw.
So are you you point out.
You smile and try to kiss me,
and I moan
in panic, disappointment, frustration.

I try to explain with a tongue like a swelling tumor:
You’re too good for meat. You’re not disgusting
but all of this is.
I pass my hand over all your body
with tremulous brittle-winged fingers.
You push into my touch (I hate it)
(thank you thankyou)
and murmur in a stream of warm breath:
I am my body I am
a complex system of fluids and electrics I
am not a brain alone but a biome.

You know that kind of talk gets me hot and bothered
—in a different way from before—
that’s why you do it. You want
to leave philosophy for a little while but I
I’m not exactly like that.
I inhabit my body uneasily, never sure
just what it is trying to communicate
or whether at any moment it will disintegrate into wet chunks.

That you are your body is one of the reasons I love you
even though it means I cannot separate what I love from what I hate.

Think of it as exposure therapy.
To inure yourself to me.

I hope I am never inured to you
I say fervently.
I marshal the forces of chemical insistence
and start looking for places to put my hands.

Sexuality Complaints and the Statistical Analysis of Attraction

Best Beloveds, I am often frustrated by the very concept of sexuality. It has never made sense to me in a personal capacity, and thus reason leads me to believe that I may be asexual. I do not want to be asexual! Sex is obviously very pleasant, perhaps even moreso than the memetically vaunted cake.  It saddens me to think that I will never experience such a visceral pleasure. It seems my situation is somewhat unique: I am intellectually attracted to sex (and it has a host of health benefits, too, that would be a shame to miss) but unsure if I am physically compatible with this. Thing.

Let us talk about sexuality as a whole! It has recently expanded from one type (heterosexuality, although this is after some shrinkage from when a few other types were accepted too) to several distinct types, and then to a continuum.  I like to think of it as a three-dimensional continuum–although three dimensions is no longer enough considering the variety of gender expressions that exist–with the following axes: sexual attraction to men, to women, and to people who do not fall neatly into either of those categories. I still have no idea where I fall on any of these axes. I know that sexual attraction is just one of myriad kinds of attraction, which can be seen as another n-dimensional continuum, and I have tried exhaustively (exhaustingly) to analyze how the other types of attraction work for me. I am most prone to aesthetic and intellectual attraction, and I would say that I am even less likely to experience romantic attraction than sexual if I had any idea whatsoever what romance is. Many of my friends have tried to explain romance to me at length, and given up in the face of my curious stupefaction.

Here, then, is my complaint: romance and sexuality are much too confusing, and there is no conceivable way to fix this. Nature has gifted humans with the desire to procreate and the desire to stick around and make sure the offspring don’t die, but in the messiest possible way. Evolution does things by trial and error, so humanity is stuck, for the most part, with a lot of hormones and various sloshy concoctions that send contradictory and unhelpful messages as often as not. Add to this social and familial norms and–congratulations! everyone is miserable trying to figure out the one thing they are told will make them happy.

Obviously this is an exaggeration, but can I be blamed if I am the tiniest amount bitter? I’ve seen people wrecked, people wrecking other people, and I wish it would stop. I wish I could blame someone (besides our old enemy Society) but sadly I am atheistic and have only the random distribution of past events to yell at. Here’s to a brighter future in which, perhaps, I figure out what’s going on in my pants. Cheers.

For S.

The stagnant chill of windowless grey room cannot
be favorably compared to the keen ice of night.
The while we sit the days grow stale and pass us by
and glutinous clouds drip down from a wet rotting sky.
We ask, what could I do, could I have ever done
to dodge away from their putrescent touch and fly?
We ask, is there a palace somewhere in the air
where one can drink the burnt-out stars from a dark pool

and gain what they have lost, know oneself not a fool?

The breathless claustrophobic room answers us there:
if we expect the bone-white angels to descend
and give prescience, burning blood, a new white sun,
we must acknowledge what pretense ’tis to pretend,
to say that this has never really been our end,
to tell ourselves that we are not afraid to drown.
Does burning blood coagulate, or does it run?

We wish for such an angel to come spiral down—
the while shed scintillating sun-soaked scraps of down—
to sweep across the dying grass upon the down—
and elevate us with an imaginary crown.
But when we dream this we may hear the angels cry,
discover they are naught but birds, fall down, and die.

There is a problem we have set ourselves, which goes:
how can we disprove the existence of white crows?
Although no-one has seen one we can never know
whether it has just flown too swiftly for the eye.
And so we dream of flying on an unseen wing
not knowing pestilence and wanting but to sing.

Alas, the crow’s voice isn’t commonly considered
as sweet as others of its kind—is it embittered?
Like a soft scrap of shadow, dark against the light;
although, like other birds, to those below it seems
untroubled as the turning clouds, or as in dreams,
the crow despite its wings is still held by the gale
that shields our Terra from the cold, dark, vasty night.
The crow despite its wings is always subject to
the laws of earth, the ache of burning muscles where
it lifted itself from the ground, escaped the pale
of festering malignant ignorance for air.
Its dark heart aches for such a high blistering blue.
At last we ask what we’ve been thinking all the while:
why our so-happy crow’s beak was not made to smile.

A Thought Experiment

My friend put this experiment to me a few weeks ago.

Imagine the quantum teleporter has been invented, a device that can destroy any object and recreate it exactly as it was in another location, in a very tiny fraction of a second. Imagine that you are being asked to use it, knowing that it is completely safe, and that it will preserve the electrical states of every atom well enough that your thoughts, personality, and body functions will all be the same as before.

Would you do it, Best Beloved? Would you still be you? (really, feel free to comment with an answer and your reasoning, as I find this question terribly interesting)

My friend would not, because he believes there is a nonphysical, nontransferrable something that would be missing when he reached the other side. I would use the teleporter, because I think the entire self is a product of the body. The physical stuff of the brain is wondrously labyrinthine and amazingly engineered, and knowing what I know of biology, chemistry, and electrics, I believe this is all there is. It was supposed to be a difficult question to ponder, and I think I frustrated him by being so completely sure of my answer, but if the slopping chemicals, electrical impulses, and connections in the brain do not create a person, what does? And why is the person irretrievable? This is probably a matter of the difficulty in restoring the electrical state of the entire body and the brain; the reason we laugh at Frankenstein’s monster is that we know merely shocking a corpse will not cause it to become a person. It’s much more complicated than that, and if it does not start simply, with the few, carefully monitored cells in the womb, it is impossible to get exactly right.

But I am getting a bit off track. My friend also asked me, what if the teleporter did not destroy the original? Would you consider both physically identical (at least for a moment) copies ‘you?’ There was a corollary involving personalities backed up on computer networks, each running stimuli identical to the flesh original, to expand on the point of the exercise. And I? I say that if the programs cannot tell themselves apart from you, they are functionally (if not actually) you. The teleporter copy, however, soon receives different stimuli and by the time you meet it, it will be an extremely similar person who you will probably hate (we, as a species of hypocrites, hate nothing more than our own defects in others).

I cannot quite communicate the sense of what I mean, but I hope it carries enough meaning to be interesting for you to think about, Best Beloved.

Two Poems

A Binary Rhyme

A speck of dust in H-less night
On black satin flecked with light
See by clouding unimpaired
Watch electrons jump downstairs

Tiny bitwise speck of know
Add to others, watch it grow
Find the whole of whole within
Electron fjord inside a pin


Fugue in Silence

the blinking eye makes a quiet, moist clicking
noise is nonintuitive and unexpected
when you sit each day all day in a soft numbing humming
stultifyingly and warmly arrhythmic, atmospheric
if only in the sense that it replaces air

or would you rather inhale arpeggios that throw themselves into the walls
draw into your lungs an étudinous glutiny of chords
glutinous mutiny
of your ears in being told to breathe
how much of a chord will diffuse through the skin
muffled cacophony created by the vibrational harmonics of each dying cell
like ripples smashing at high speed into circles and circles of themselves
running rings

in silence, over and over
repeating distorting until it runs back over itself
fugue in silence

Dislike is not a crime

A few days ago my friend expressed great frustration to me at their ex’s unwillingness to talk to them, and their inability to do anything to mitigate this. I have been used to express sympathy for this plight, but for whatever reason, in this particular case I was unable to do so. Perhaps it is because I have experienced this from the other side–I have been extremely unwilling to interact with certain others because they make me uncomfortable, or because I do not like them. I have been terse, I have ignored, but I have never let vitriol escape my lips. This is not rudeness, but politeness to myself and others (for would it not be less polite to tell them to piss off?). My friend, however, complained that the object of their continued affections did not talk to them except by outside initiation. To me, this seems an absurdly privileged view, as it assumes that having attention paid to one is a right.

I wonder, Best Beloved, whether you have noticed the recent–or ancient, as it may be–trend of martyrdom as impressive and laudable. Suffering is particularly in fashion right now; we glamorize the mentally ill, the poor, those incapable of helping themselves, and most especially those who put others before themselves to their own detriment. This has become so deeply ingrained that we criticize those people who value their own happiness as paramount instead of making themselves available for use by others. I am one of those people, and it frustrates me endlessly that one is often forced by convention to associate (closely even, at times) with people one dislikes, else risk being labelled ‘toxic,’ ‘bitch,’ or simply bearing the full emotional brunt of someone else’s unhappiness.

Dislike is not a crime. Others’ perception of my dislike of them as a heinous insult is flattering, to be sure (how much they care about my opinions!) but I have no obligation to like anyone, nor to put myself in their way if that will decrease my happiness significantly. As I am somewhat angry, allow me to reiterate: nobody has the right to your time unless you have made a contract to give it to them. Nobody has to right to receive conversation, support, or favor from you. Human interaction is a privilege to be earned, not a natural right.