Cosmic Anthropology 101

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on the native culture of self-aware science-fictional citizens, with Bruce Sterling

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Think atemporally and act in the moment.

Write the manifestos, but write them with an expiration date.

So you’re a self-aware science-fictional citizen in a post-cyberpunk, post-Snowden, hypermediated, ecologically collapsing world.

Everybody says nobody reads, but it’s a meme and it got 100000 Likes on Facebook, and a subreddit dedicated to it, and is the subject of an incomprehensible sequence of reblogs on tumblr where everybody is inserting references and making call-outs to their friends and various communities and there’s several flavours of satirical twitter accounts dedicated to the subject and a noonereads_ebooks account and…

Still you struggle to effectively express yourself. To find your voice. To develop an audience for your work.

Maybe what you need right now is to watch a good old-fashioned cyberpunk rank from the master, Bruce Sterling. That’s completely self-aware and meta and deconstructing itself and providing a historical context for its very existence and offering lessons to its small lecture room full of partially attentive humans that are constantly itching to check their black mirrors for any missed notifications, and whoever comes to watch the recording.

Like, what’s your medium now? Is it Medium? Isn’t that just a content platform though? Should you build a bot instead maybe? Or just sell out and write semi-subversive, super hip advertising copy. Or design fiction. And what’s the difference between those two; like really???

So sit back for a full dose of theory and maybe it will clear things up a bit. But if you’re scanning through this, unsure whether to invest time in a long watch, here’s the meat at the end pulled out for you… a chunk just big enough to make you want to go back and watch the full video… which I’ve ripped out and uploaded to SoundCloud because it’s 100x quicker than transcribing it, and being a -inhale- self-aware science-fictional citizen of the no longer new media everyday postcyberpunk hypermediated condition -exhale- means being familiar and conversant and quietly capable with more than just word processing software, it’s being able to use an interlocking set of multimedia editing tools to generate snazzy, shareable blog content. That’s if the title was link-baity enough to make you click through in the first place.

Alright, that’s enough eye ball kicks and of the now, soon to be past their use-by-date references. I’m cyber ghostin’, baby.

Adventures in Extinction Aesthetic Writing

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Time for another update on all things Dark Extropian and Extinction Culture related. On being self-aware citizens of the science-fictional condition in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction.

Whilst continuing to explore aspects of the Dark Extropian philosophy on the (De)Extinction Club newsletter and related Extinction Aesthetic cultural criticism at Daily Grail, I have just recently extended into the area of travel writing over at Roads & Kingdoms.

MAD MAX : GROUND ZERO [Roads & Kingdoms]

As an American, Wayne’s vision of Australia was shaped by watching the Mad Max movies as a boy. As for me, I’ve developed an ever-growing interest in works about “Zones of Alienation” (places where reality begins to break down). Books like Roadside Picnic, written by the Strugatsky brothers, about the aftermath of an extra-terrestrial event. The brothers prophesized places like the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and give a name to the people that explore the forbidden lands: Stalkers.

The focus of our trip is just such a journey into a genuine nuclear wasteland. We refer to our coming adventure into the Woomera Prohibited Area as a trip into “the Zone.” We kit ourselves out as if we were a Stalker in Chernobyl: a mix of mostly cosmetic military-surplus gear and some crucial protective equipment.

Nightmares of the Future: The Climatological Horror of Life in FORTITUDE [Daily Grail]

FORTITUDE is a British psychological thriller TV series that just concluded its first season. It presents as a straight-forward murder mystery, combining elements of classic British crime drama and the new, popular sub-genre of Nordic Noir; calling attention to that second element by featuring Sofie Gråbøl – from UR Nordic Noir, The Killing (Forbrydelsen)– as the Governor of the town that gives its name to this series. Proving the popularity of this type of television, it aired simultaneously in the UK and US, Canada and shortly thereafter in Australia and New Zealand. It is also full of demons.

This is a show about people haunted by their inescapable past and a town slowly infected by the new face of an ancient evil. And these are the aspects I am going to examine in this review. As the show concludes, the who-dunnit aspect becomes immaterial, but the why and the how of it are more than just a cleverly constructed plot device, they’re a metaphor for the future of humanity and the planet.

One of the good readers of Daily Grail put me onto an even more recent Nordic Noir series, Jordskott, which continues the theme of nature rebelling against man in the midst of the Anthropocene. Another landscape haunted by demons. Climatological Horror seems to be growing as another part of the Extinction Aesthetic Zeitgeist.  ITV have just picked it up to air in the UK, describing it thusly:

Jordskott is set deep in the ancient forests of Sweden. Seven years after the disappearance of her daughter Josefine, police investigator Eva Thörnblad is still trying to cope with the grief of her loss. Even though her daughter was said to have drowned, Eva knows in her heart that someone had taken her child on that fatal day by the Silverhöjd lake. So when a young boy goes missing in the same forest of Silverhöjd, Eva returns to delve into the dark mystery that haunts her.  As she is drawn into the investigation she learns that that there is a much deeper and darker force in operation but how far is she willing to go to protect the one she loves?

Expect to hear more about this show soon.

Meanwhile, writing the piece for Roads & Kingdoms – not to mention the adventure it documents! – has put the idea of Extinction Aesthetic-flavoured travel firmly on my mind this past week. I started a new category on the (De)Extinction Club blog to hold my further research notes into that: Extinction Aesthetic Travelogue. Take a look there and you’ll find a growing library of clippings of first-person accounts of journeys into and data about the areas of the Earth scarred by nuclear testing or other industrial activities. These are Sacrifice Zones as places of pilgrimage to contemplate the raw face of the Anthropocene. It’s made me think a lot about the difference between travelling and tourism. I’ve backpacked across Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East so far – travel I count as being a more engaging, authentic experience than mediated tourism.

Standing alone at Emu Fields just a few weeks ago was immensely more powerful than being in the throng outside Hiroshima’s blast site when I was there in 2009. This exists on a spectrum though.

Disaster tourism includes open days at the Trinity Site, now a major event attracting over 5,000 people, and into Chernobyl itself. Though the rough’n’ready tour operators you find in Kiev look to be a long way from polished operators like Contiki etcAnd there’s still genuine Stalkers going into that Zone, like bionerd23 who’s mixing documenting her adventures there with an increasing amount of citizen journalism.

Lastly, looking forwards to the planning of future adventures to document for the internet – and who or what ever comes to find these archives in the distant times ahead – I’ve set up a Patreon account. You can read my pitch there, but the basic idea is to build a fund to draw upon to do an even better, more amply resourced, job at future Extinction Aesthetic writing projects. It’s called Dark Extropian Musings and becoming a Patron there will now get you advance access to my newsletter, podcasts and Dark Extropian Reports. Not to mention a behind-the-scenes look at their construction, and the chance to be in the audience for future podcast interviews.

So head on over if you want to join my actual cult.

Looking for the Exit at Some Bleak Circus

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This is Warren Ellis’ closing talk from Future Everything 2015:

This part (about 14mins in, which I have transcribed for you) is a eulogy for tech conferences that generate more tech conferences presented at the closing of a conference that’s being saying the future is now for twenty years, and design fiction written within a silo, seemingly read only by other design fiction writers as they write the next one. Describing, as he calls it, “The Atemporal Space at the end of Post Modernism”:

All these dead circuses. The radioactive fairgrounds in our wake. The New York’s World Fairs that were left to rot until the money was found to polish them up into memorials for dead futures. Is that what we do? We pitch our tents and we do our little clown shows and then we take off up the road, to the next town ahead. Leaving our science-fictional debris on the blasted dirt to poison the minds of future generations like the alien litter in Stalker and Roadside Picnic.

Flying cars rusting out like Saturn V rockets propped up as road kill talismans at Kennedy, leaking toxins into the soil. Jetpacks oozing fuel from cracks in their tanks and poisoning the grass. Three ring Moon bases crumbling in the solar wind. Bird shit in the time machines. Big fat rats scavenging broken packs of food capsules. Best before date of 1971. A Westinghouse Robot Smoking Companion vintage of 1931 slumped up against a tree, yellow tinged fingers still twitching for a cigarette. Vines growing through a busted cyberspace deck. The shreds of inflatable furniture designed for the space hospitals of 1955. Lizards perched atop a weather control cannon. Atomic batteries mouldering inside the grips of laser pistols abandoned in the weeds.

http://fuckyeahdarkextropian.tumblr.com/post/110737884990/it-wasnt-meant-to-end-like-this-yuri-shwedoff

If you are amongst the congregation receptive to Warren’s words (and I can’t help notice the setting of the Future Everything conference in that video) you’ll also want to order Normal: A Novel, where he chews over the problems, and consequences, of prediction within the science-fictional condition we call everyday-reality:

There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.

For both types, if you’re good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it’s something you can’t do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the “abyss gaze” takes hold there’s only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.

Especially if, like me, you’re trying to figure out just how to make the most effective use of every breath we have left on this dying planet. Planning a jailbreak.

Which is why I’m taking the time to write this, and think through it all. What are the things worth saying, doing, reading, travelling to… and who are the best travelling companions? Design fiction is useful to prototype solutions in public to pressing problems. Conferences are a great way to get a set of keen minds in the same room, on the same timezone, on the same wavelength.

But I also can’t help hear the opening words of that other cyberpunk elder, Bruce Sterling, in his recent closing remarks to SXSW Interactive, as is traditional:

 

This is the cyberpunk futurepresent and everything is BRANDED. Corporate colonisation is ubiquitous.

It seems like there’s nothing out there but the bleak circus. The only escape is inside the manufactured reality of the latest video game:

Because no one in the West actually wants to see their home town end up being somewhere like the Ukraine or Syria today, the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, or whatever comes next. Even the very, very, very few that run off to join ISIS are called Jihadi Tourists.

But climate chaos doesn’t obey the lines humans draw on a map. Our great legacy is as agents of the Sixth Mass Extinction. What does that mean? What do we do with that knowledge, that burden?

At least we still have the internet, for now. Even as the clamps tighten everywhere, to different degrees, through different means. As twitter, and social media in general, is get ever more mediated – intrusive ads omnipresent – your own thoughts collected, “trended” and repackaged back to you.

But there’s a reason everyone’s doing newsletters, keeping the podcast thing going, holding little private salons when someone comes to town. Mechanisms of direct communication and experience still exist. As Gordon White of RUNESOUP said when I interviewed him, ‘just keep moving further up the beach’.

So we end by echoing Ellis echoing McKenna echoing Leary in the great call to FIND THE OTHERS!!!

Roll your own culture! Build yourselves a spaceship, chart a course to a constellation of your own choosing, of your own making. But make it real, make it mean something.

Worst case, let’s make fresh ruins and strange artefacts for future visiting races to marvel and wonder at.

Let the jetpack future turn to dust, instead of trying to summon it again and again, like a djinn in the desert winds. Find new forms to capture the sensawunda. Magic up objects that will help us dream our way through the nexus of our nightmarish present.

That’s my Dark Extropian vision, and that’s what I’m going with, for now.