Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Torture Methods (prose poem)

[trigger warning: somewhat graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and torture. seriously, do not read if you are sensitive to these topics. poem is after the break; seriously, do not read on if you are easily triggered by such topics. hopefully this is one of the last things i will ever have to write about this; do not take it as anything other than a self-exorcism of sorts]

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

No, it's you who hurt my feelings

[epistemic status: i'm basing my assumptions on how human psychology in general works on a general assumption that in certain situations others feel the same way i feel]

One of the more interesting phenomena of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US has been that of the anti-lockdown protests being largely a conservative phenomenon. Both evolutionary and social psychologists have found that conservatism is correlated with higher levels of disgust and pathogen avoidance (although recent research has also cast doubt on those findings). It's commonly accepted that purity, health, and strength are classically right-wing preoccupations (indeed, if you're a certain sort, seeing the words "purity, health, and strength" together might make you bristle). Which makes the American conservative response to the lockdowns—one of open hostility and defiance—puzzling.

In terms of class, the conservative "rank-and-file" tend to be the small-town middle-class petty-bourgeoisie types. So from a materialist perspective, we might say this: the lockdown violates specific privileges that the petit-bourgeoisie treasures. The haute bourgeoisie has nothing but privilege; indeed, even in a period of intensifying class conflict, economic crisis, and declining profitability, the richest still got richer. Meanwhile, the position of the petit-bourgeoisie is inherently precarious; they have a few privileges that the rest of the population don't enjoy, but they can be lost at any point if a crisis occurs or if a personal calamity strikes. And one of these privileges is the ability to be served what one wants at a minimal cost to oneself. (This explains the whole "Karen" thing that popped up earlier this year: the class mentality of "I'm a respectable member of society, I deserve to get my way, I'm relatively confident that authority figures are going to side with me" is what the meme was initially about, before it branched off to be about a whole bunch of other things)

So, from this perspective, the conservative right mobilising against the lockdowns is actually not that surprising. The American conservative movement will compromise on its values of liberty when issues of security penetrate deeper, and it will eagerly abandon its obsession with cleanliness and order if class privilege is on the line. Marx:

We speak of two interests of the bourgeoisie, for large landed property, despite its feudal coquetry and pride of race, has been rendered thoroughly bourgeois by the development of modern society. Thus the Tories in England long imagined that they were enthusiastic about monarchy, the church, and the beauties of the old English Constitution, until the day of danger wrung from them the confession that they are enthusiastic only about ground rent.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, chapter 3

But there's another psychological dimension to it that I don't feel has been adequately explored from any angle. Look at videos of conservative antimaskers confronting people going about their daily lives—they're not hard to find—and notice some commonalities. 

Notice how other than the invocation of "freedom" (a floating signifier if there ever was one), their attitude towards the possibility of them getting sick by going maskless is at the very least blasé. They take it for granted that COVID-19 is largely a hoax, or at least overhyped, and as such do not consider it a personal threat to themselves. They conceive it only as a potential threat to others, and one that those others are exaggerating in importance anyway. And this is why they react to others wearing masks and urging general mask-wearing in the way they do.

(there's also something to be said here about how contemporary right-wing conspiracy theories insist that, instead of the conspiracy covering up how bad everything actually is, the conspiracy actually wants to cover up how fine and dandy everything is. but)

This sort of thing has been going on within the right wing for years now. If I was Eric Berne, I'd identify it as a psychological game, and I'd title it "Are You Triggered Yet, Libs?" after the ubiquitous utterance many conservatives, right-libertarians, and far-right weirdos make after doing something intended to embarrass people of a liberal or left-wing persuasion. It might be fun here to talk a bit about how there's a sort of culture of cruelty on the right, but actually it wouldn't, because as a left-winger I already know that pretty well, and honestly the left and centre are often pretty cruel in their own ways, and besides it's much more interesting to me to explore why there's a culture of cruelty than simply the fact that there is one.

Ahem. So. "Are You Triggered Yet, Libs?", if we're going the transactional analysis route, involves two or more parties. One being the Conservative, and the other being the Lib. The Conservative says something that seems, to them, to be indisputable truth, but which offends or irritates the Lib in some fashion. For instance, the statement, "There are only two genders." In response, the Lib might get mildly offended or irritated—this is called Triggering. If the Lib is Triggered, the Conservative wins.

This has played out in high profile numerous times over the past several years. Frequently, the people doing the "triggering" are campus conservatives and right-wing politainers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, or Charlie Kirk and his strange little outfit Turning Point USA. Recently, the meaning of the term "triggering" has become a bit stretched in response to demand: for instance, when some Turning Point USA members decided a few years ago to set up a playpen and dress up as babies complete with pacifiers and diapers in order to make fun of the perceived infantile nature of college safe spaces, they were greeted not just by liberals and leftists but by other conservatives and right-wingers with amusement and mockery. The libs were laughing at them for dressing up in diapers in order to prove a very strange point—therefore, the libs laughing at them were actually nervously laughing, and they were triggered! N—nail...nailed it.

Anyway I said that's not the thing that interests me so much. What's the motive here? Obviously the point is to discredit "the left", however broadly defined. The point is to depict the left as overly sensitive, thin-skinned, unable to take fair criticism, looking for things to be offended at, censorious, and weak. These are generally viewed as bad things to be, and obviously there are plenty of right-wing people with these—wait a second. Do you notice something strange about that list of descriptors? Like, obviously they're not specifically political, but that's what's so intriguing. How do these play out in a nonpolitical situation?

Imagine you're at a small party, or some sort of gathering of friends and acquaintances. Conversation is going well. You make a basically innocuous joke about short people, something about how they're always standing on their tiptoes to see things and you have a weird urge to pat them on the head when they do that. All well and good, everyone laughs. Except after the crowd disperses and you go for refreshments, one of the people attending who's about 5'2" walks up to you and says, "Hey, I'm sorry to bother, but that joke kinda hurt my feelings a bit there."

If I were in that situation—figuratively speaking, I have been, and I'd hazard to guess most people have—I'd feel wounded. Probably justifiably so: to be told that upsets my feelings of normality. Up until this point, I'd believed that something like this joke truly would be innocuous, that if it caused any offence, it'd be minor. But now I am forced to confront the fact that I am responsible for a living, breathing person being hurt by what I said, that what fits in my own sense of normality can in fact be harmful to others.

If you're like me, you basically have two options there, and you have conflicting impulses to do either. The first is to say, "I'm sorry, that was wrong of me and I won't do it again." The second is to say, "You're being thin-skinned; it's just a joke, and you're the one with the problem if you're offended." Both of these have their own particular reasons and consequences. If you take the first option, you're restoring a sense of good faith, helping them feel less hurt, but it comes at the cost of binding yourself to limit the way you express yourself in the future and agreeing to change your sense of normality. If you take the second option, you're making it clear to that person that you are not apologetic, potentially compromising your relationships with other people, but you are also defending your own sense of normality, restoring a sense that the order you perceived to be the case is the case.

And here is where I must take a detour into discussion of Virtue. If you've known me for a while, you might know that one of my minor pet obsessions for a while has been The Virtues. This is because I routinely observe people online and afk behaving in very stupid and unpleasant ways that would easily be avoided if more people took the time to become aware of and attempt to cultivate the classical virtues. The ancients of various cultures understood virtue to consist in the moderation between two extremes. Taoism takes moderation as one of its Three Jewels; the temple of Apollo at Delphi bore the inscription "μηδὲν ἄγαν"—nothing in excess; Islam emphasises wasaṭiyyah (وسطية), the Golden Mean; Buddhism emphasises the Middle Way—you get the picture. All extremes are vices, and often people do not realise that the exact opposite of a vice they despise is yet another vice: often it's the case that someone is annoyed with others' licentiousness and self-indulgence, and in reaction becomes insensible, and perhaps someone else is annoyed with that person's insensibility, and resolves to become licentious as a counter. Very worryingly often, someone observes others' vanity and boastfulness, and in turn becomes pusillanimous and overly modest.

So this has strong implications for the subject matter of this post: neither one of the responses I outlined is universally correct in all occasions. Quite often, the person offended is in the right, and you are not, so it's right to simply apologise, take the L, change your habits, and move on. But sometimes the offended is being oversensitive, and in that case it's necessary to gently but firmly inform them of this fact. This is difficult for many people, because it requires discretion, and many people are tired and simply want hard and fast rules to apply in every situation. Discretion might be too much mental work. Left-wing spaces are full of injunctions to simply apologise when someone says they're offended by something you said; this is an overcorrection against the dominant cultural sensibility of general boorishness toward those who have less cultural power. But it's an overcorrection nonetheless. You stumble and offend someone every once in a while, but you simply remember the rule that You Have To Sincerely Apologise If Someone Is Offended and oh shit now you've cultivated obsequiousness. Which is a vice. Congratulations...?

But as much as I'd love to go on a rant about the Unvirtuous Left, this post is about the Unvirtuous Right. And as easy as the typical left response of obsequiousness is, it's not psychologically satisfying in the way the typical right-wing response is. The typical right-wing response is, of course, to apply a hard and fast rule that if someone is offended, it's their fault. And, if you've been paying attention, you'll notice that this is at least equally, if not more, pathological than the converse response.

What's the draw of this response? Simply put, it guards your feelings by creating a justification for your behaviour. If applied universally, it absolves you of ever having to consider the possibility that you did something wrong—if their feelings are only hurt because they can't take a joke, because they're too sensitive, there's no need for me to worry about my sense of right and wrong or my idea of normality. That's kind of liberating in a way. Indeed, it's part of the reason that right-wing commentators have been able to, at least to themselves, paint themselves as "the new punk rock". The classic image of the right-wing was, as Scott Alexander pointed out, Mrs. Grundy. For a while there the primary form of liberalism was tits-'n'-beer liberalism: if you remember the brief early period of "anti-SJW culture" which relied on a general comparison between the woke position and censorious social conservatism, that was effectively the last gasp of that form of cultural liberalism. And that comparison wasn't entirely without merit: the liberal Tipper Gore and the conservative Parents' Television Council both categorised things like "promotion of homosexuality" and "excessive violence" alongside racism and misogyny as societal ills to be avoided. But as liberalism started to absorb its own "woke" critiques, for good and ill, it started to marginalise its tits-'n'-beer variety. So tits-'n'-beer was, somehow, absorbed by the right. Literally:


But, as I mentioned, this creates its own problems. That liberating feeling of never having to adjust your sense of normality in response to claims of offence simultaneously leads to strained relationships with others. And it creates a sort of strange perspective on harm: over time, more and more varieties of interpersonal harm become wrapped up in the "offence" banner. For a lot of people who drift to crude conservatism, they feel like they don't have their lives under control. Take rolling coal, for instance: the impulse behind it is a simple "fuck you" to anyone perceived as trying to control via offence. Even if it's not especially harmful in the context of most vehicles relying on fossil fuels, it's still a pretty easy way to symbolically rub your middle finger in someone's face when you don't really have any other way to exercise personal power.

And that's a pretty compelling feeling. Destroying things and acting ridiculously to "trigger the libs" isn't actually about actually making the liberals angry and afraid, it's about proving to yourself that you don't owe anyone anything. And that's the actual spiritual danger of it: it moves on from being a safeguard against feeling wounded by challenges to your sense of ethical normality to a safeguard against having to confront any ethical challenges whatsoever. (Lest I be accused of being partisan for the left here, I want to emphasise that the categorical left response I mentioned earlier, of apologising at all mentions of offence, is a shortcut to this same safeguard against ethics, since it just shifts the burden of having any ethical positions at all to others.)

So at some point, the actual categories of harm stop being relevant. As I mentioned at the beginning, antimaskers don't seem to regard COVID-19 as a potential threat to themselves. But that's the only threat they'll mention when they're pressed on it. The standard argument I've heard from them is something like "I'll decide for myself what risks I'll take, there's no reason for the government to tell me how I have to keep myself safe." Which is a pretty compelling argument, or would be if there was only incidental danger to others associated with wearing a mask. But that's not the reason why there's a degree of wrongness to going without a mask: the problem is, of course, that other people can be harmed if you don't wear a mask. In discussions I've had with antimaskers, their response to this is simply winding back to the original argument with different phrasing and emphasis, and some claims about how the lethality rate is much lower than claimed.

Why doesn't the danger to others factor in here? There's a category error here, I think. Say I've already been trained on the rule of "claims of offence = other person's problem". If you're telling me, "You're putting other people at risk by going out like normal without a mask," there's a good chance I'm not hearing you as saying "You are very potentially about to spread a crippling disease causing intense pain to anyone you might come in contact with," but as saying "You're hurting my feelings by going without a mask, because masklessness offends me." I've already committed myself to saying, "No, actually it's you who's hurting my feelings by telling me how I have to behave around you." The thought that I could be exposing myself to searing pain and lasting lung and heart problems doesn't factor in, and therefore neither does the thought that I could be exposing other people to this sort of thing. If I'm not actively punching people in the face or killing them, then I'm not hurting them at all, and fuck you for trying to make me feel like I am.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Thoughts before The Intuition of Haruhi Suzumiya

I.

A tweet:

II.

I want to expand on this a bit.

There's a decent hypothesis floating around the Internet that Tanigawa wrote the Haruhi Suzumiya series as an embellished version of his own high school experiences, although written in such a way as to make the characters more archetypal. The setting is somewhat suburban, and the description of the locale is very clearly based on the places he grew up. The events are a mix of simple life and fantasy: what high school kid hasn't mythologised their friendships, imagined that their highs and lows, their triumphs and tragedies have fantastical depth to them?


III.

A lot of attention is paid, especially in the later novels, to the fact that the characters are growing up. Unlike a manga such as Azumanga Daioh, though, which ran in real time, such that someone who began reading it from the beginning as a first-year would effectively graduate alongside the characters, Haruhi Suzumiya is splayed out over now 17 years—Haruhi herself would be 33 this year. Hold that thought in your head.

Much of the series is the dialectic between, on the one hand, Kyon's desire to live normally and not stand out at all, and on the other, Haruhi's desire to live an extraordinary, outstanding life. Of course, to the age range it's targeted at, these are extremely familiar desires; ones that more often than not coexist in the same person.

And one of its greatest strengths is that neither of these desires are ever fully satisfied: Kyon keeps finding himself unwillingly dragged into situations of life and death, where the fate of the world depends on his actions, while Haruhi, oblivious to her own power, is forced to live a relatively normal high school life, and compensates by overloading herself and her club members with (comparatively mundane) excitement.

I suspect this is familiar too. A very (un)lucky few people ever live a truly average life; something always comes up to preempt it, whether it's a death or a birth, a crisis or an adventure. And yet everyone is deeply familiar with the experience of having their grander dreams and stranger schemes foiled and trampled into the dust. That's the way we all go.

Further, the emphasis on the passage of time complicates this. The characters start to look back on their old activities, all the adventures and pain and joy they had just a year ago, and realise they can't recreate that. It's in the past, whether they like it or not, and the "feel" of it can't be created anew. And meanwhile, a brand new cast of characters show up, and several new kinds of situations occur, and the mixture of these with the existing cast and their memories introduces us to ever-larger and more complex dramas. Everything is changing. Slowly, but nonetheless.


IV.

At this point it should be obvious that the series is trying to speak to its readers. One might look at it and extract a sort of trite moral about the necessity and beneficence of change, but considering the utterly strange and alien nature of several of the new characters, as well as the fact that Sasaki, who is practically a second centre of gravity for the last couple of novels, is someone from both Kyon's and Haruhi's pasts, this seems unlikely.

(Quick spoiler warning for the last uhhh three Haruhi Suzumiya novels here, also later for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya)

The new characters are immediately established as a threat to the SOS Brigade. They have a cohesive agenda, and from the perspective of the main protagonists, it's malevolent. Yet it's very interesting how they're written: their motives are simultaneously incomprehensibly other and (yet) thoroughly understandable. Just as Koizumi, Mikuru, and Yuki are dedicated to the preservation of the world by keeping Haruhi entertained, so Kyouko, Fujiwara, and Kuyou are dedicated to the preservation of the world by sacrificing Haruhi and transferring her powers to Sasaki.

And yet it's their erratic behaviour, willingness to sacrifice, and general hostility toward the SOS Brigade that cements them as a threat. Kuyou in particular is characterised as a person who, like Yuki, is basically alien, yet her relationship with humanity is so fundamentally other, even in comparison to Yuki's, that she takes on eldritch qualities.

At the same time they're dealing with these newcomers, the SOS Brigade is struggling with trying to recruit new members to carry it on, as Haruhi realises their graduation is coming sooner than they thought. The pressures introduced by these new forces make Kyon debate whether to reveal to Haruhi that he's "John Smith".

Importantly, the mantra of "three years ago" changes to "four years ago".

Why is this so important? "Three years ago" signifies the beginning of the story temporally, and the beginning of the world of the series spatially. The time loop created in "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody" effectively creates the world. It signifies many things, and is used both casually and impactfully throughout the series. In the first place, it's literally the first major event in the series' timeline. Again, it's a reference to the passing of time, and has some universal connotations: how many people, especially young people, are in situations where they can recall that they can trace much of their present lives to a handful of seemingly insignificant events from a few years ago?


V.

But one of the most important things it signifies, albeit indirectly, is the message Haruhi was trying to send that Tanabata night:


"I am here." If Haruhi Suzumiya revolves plotwise around the fantastic results of that message, then it thematically revolves around that message itself.

When you stop to consider it, Haruhi is at her core a very lonely person. At a young age, she came to see her total insignificance in the world, how in a huge crowd, she was indistinguishable. How in a country of millions, a planet of billions, a universe teeming with life, she was nothing more than a short-lived speck. Her whole life has been an attempt to fight off the implications of this existence, to give herself a role in such a petrifying life. If she comes across as narcissistic, it's because she kind of is. She's utterly terrified by the possibility she will die without recognition, and she ruthlessly dedicates every second of her life to staving this off. Outwardly, she's larger than life; inwardly, she's small and terrified of the fact she was born at all.

Speaking of which, do you ever notice how there are never any depicted parents, and extremely few adults in general, throughout this series? If there wasn't occasional reference to them, you'd be justified in thinking that this is a world where children just pop into being of their own volition. This is one of the things that's most attractive about it, to me at least: more fundamental than Haruhi's powers, more basic than the presence of the paranormal and the necessary masquerade disguising it, the core law of this series is individuation. Every single aspect of this series is dedicated to who the characters are in and for themselves, and for their chosen relationships. It avoids preëstablished necessity as often as possible; the necessity of the series is almost entirely determined by the characters' own selves and actions.

Underneath it all, underneath all the enjoyment and excitement, the characters feel real pain. Their interpersonal relationships are often strained, and it's not uncommon for them to overstep each other's bounds. That one scene in The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya is a perfect example of this: Haruhi's actions toward Mikuru are obviously hurtful and indefensible, but Kyon's reaction, though emotionally justified, is unwise and just creates more potential trouble. As the series goes on, things that were played for laughs in earlier instalments—things like Haruhi's harassment of Mikuru, Yuki's detachment from humanity, Kyon's moral and personal struggle with his role in Haruhi's entourage—all get treated more seriously. The hurt that they feel is made more concrete.

And yet, the series insists, this does not negate the enjoyment. Just as the joy doesn't negate the pain, the pain doesn't negate the joy; to pull them apart would butcher the essence. And it's illustrated in one of the most incredible scenes in film that I can remember:


This is the ultimate message of the series; this is what it's trying to tell its readers. Read between the lines here.

Back in that world you rejected, Haruhi is just some stuck-up girl. And Miss Asahina is just some cutesy moe character. Koizumi is just a normal high schooler. And Nagato is just a super-shy bookworm. Well, most of the time, anyway. But if she heard some stupid joke, I bet she'd laugh. And then she'd blush. And as she got older, her heart would open up a little more every day. You never know. She might've been like that. But you had to go and throw away a normal life by hitting that button. Why is that?

Why is that? Because in the context of the show, this isn't a normal life; it's a parody of normality. It's a frozen world where everyone is reduced to one thing, where the possibility of conflict is practically nonexistent. And without conflict, there is no growth. It's a dead world. What's special about the world that Kyon chose to return to is that it's real. Kyon isn't—you aren't facing agony and hardship because your world is filled with aliens, espers, and time travellers; you're facing agony precisely because your life isn't normal, because no one's life ever is. And yet, paradoxically, it's also the banality of it that drives many people figuratively—and Kyon literally—to try to create worlds where everything is "normal", to try to eliminate conflict from their lives, to embrace stasis and what is often called "peace".


VI.

This is what the series is saying: this is impossible. More of an anomaly than time travel, more of a fantasy than ESP, more of a futility than humanoid aliens. And you might ask, then why is it that The Disappearance leads us to grieve over the alternate Yuki? Why is "Yasashii Boukyaku" written to reduce people to tears? And it's very simple: it's about change and loss in general. The film wants you to think very carefully about this, and process your feelings fully. It's saying that trying to impose this stasis is perverse, but it's also perverse to take the fact of constant change as a reason not to care. That's the mistake Yuki sees herself making: when she resets the world, she doesn't make the choice for herself, she offloads it onto Kyon. She's been taking a passive attitude to the world around her, accepting her "role" as an all-powerful cleanup hitter, only being involved to the bare minimum of what's needed of her. This is safe for her, but even then it's exhausting. It's only after Kyon decides once and for all that he wants the "old" world back that both of them understand that this is a destructive way of being.

And so the series encourages them, and us, to grieve. Not for the loss of stasis, but that stasis never truly existed in the first place. It at once affirms that it is right to feel sad that everything must plod on in the storm of history, and denies that this is a reason to give up and sink back. I promised myself that I wasn't going to say these words, but: mono no aware.

So Haruhi Suzumiya is about you, as you experience it. The memories that the characters make, which become their driving force throughout, are meant as parallel to the memories you make as you live in the world. Their games are supposed to be your games; their pain and joy are supposed to be yours; the terror they feel at their existence is supposed to be your terror. It's meant, in a way, to be something you look back on fondly, because its whole story is something the creator and the characters are to look back on fondly.

There's something nostalgic about the whole series, and much has been written of the idea of toxic nostalgia in the present day. People are always pining for a bygone past and the idylls of their childhoods. Sometimes this can be dangerous; the return to an idealised past is the hallmark of reaction, and many people use the fact they'll never recover their allegedly happiest days as a reason to give up and retreat. Nagaru Tanigawa has written something opposite to that: in the series, it's the memories the characters make and cherish that give them the reason to keep going on, and in the real world, it hopes that your memories of it help give you a reason to go forward.


It fell from the sky
with all the wishes still on it.
Maybe they were just a bit too heavy for a single star?

As I thought, something's wrong;
the you in my heart has vanished.
Can I even say that I really remember?

STOP!

The past is one's own;
naturally, I wouldn't want to trade mine away to anyone.

That's because...

It was a birthday to us—
the time our meeting was born
was when we had our first dream.
"What should we do?" and worrying about it.
Even though now we can laugh thinking back on it,
why am I crying over it?

Harmony for you, harmony once more.
Let's just dream our dreams together.

I'll do it somehow, facing forward—
hey! The clues behind you are escaping!
So catch 'em right away! I'm connected to you!
That incident is your footprints...

...I've already forgotten it. I'll search for you!

Monday, 13 July 2020

Mask

"See? I'm fine." He moved to pull the mask from his face, and someone yawned with a bored expression on her face. She didn't particularly care that some rich political fuck was demonstrating his narcissistic delusion that he was immune to the virus through force of will, and neither did a lot of the other people attending the assembly that day. No one really gave a shit, other than that it was an interesting spectacle. Same as all politics. Same as everything involving the rich.

He grabbed the flaps of the mask, the little loops that went around his ears, and removed them. The mask didn't fall off. The mask stayed on. Someone must have put an adhesive on it as a prank. All right, several people in the audience thought, this is getting interesting.

He pulled at it further, and said, "You see, this is supposed to happen." Bewilderment. He was supposed to receive this prank mask? The contours of the game had changed. Instead of some depressed insomniac staffer who'd be fired and probably beaten by cops later that day and evicted later that week gluing his mask to his face as a last act of pathetic resistance against forces she had no hope of fighting against, was he somehow in league with some idiot frat boy nephew of one of his campaign donors to play this as a prank on the voting public at large? Likelier reality is that he was trying to play this off that way so that even though the liberal stations would devote several hours to him gluing the mask to his face by accident now the conservative stations would be able to devote several more hours to explaining to them how he was actually pulling a pretty king move by pranking them all into thinking he's developed brain damage or something. Pretty great, huh?

He pulled at it more, and a couple grunts came out of his throat. He grabbed the loops a little harder and pulled harder. Several people at this point noticed tears coming out of his eyes. A couple people in attendance laughed, because he was known for laughing at other people in situations like this where they were crying because something abjectly humiliating had happened to them in the public eye. Several more people in attendance became uncomfortable, because really, what the fuck was going on? No one had any idea what to make of it. The laughter that remained grew less and less sure of itself. Some of the people remaining silent laughed themselves, involuntarily, not because they found the situation funny but because they were watching a 67-year-old man known for boasting of his sexual and physical prowess struggling to remove a simple surgical mask from his face and that was honestly kinda sad.

He yanked harder and gave a guttural shriek that reverberated throughout the auditorium. Some blood dripped from his cheek. The discomfort gave way to concern. No one but him screamed, but various people stifled the urge to. He pulled further, some sort of wet sticky ripping sound coming through the mic, squeezing its way out of the PA system. Was this supposed to happen?

The mask came off. He held it in front of his face and lowered it. The first thing people noticed was the worms. Thousands of them, in various colours, all wriggling from his lower face. Some looked more like snakes than insects. And they didn't appear to be an infestation or anything. They looked like a natural part of his face, just waiting to emerge from beneath his first layer of skin.

Still, no one screamed. Not even when he opened his mouth to say, "As I told you, I'm fine," and a combination of blood and what looked like green-tinted vomit leaked out of what appeared, at one time, to be his mouth, which was now oddly triangular in shape. Not even when his obvious cough—still hadn't quite beaten the virus—produced globs of shit that crawled away with legs that appeared and disappeared seemingly at random.

Was this the ultimate result of the virus...? the girl who had yawned wondered, now gazing with an interested expression on her face. I'd heard some crazy shit about it, some shit about mutations, but y'know, that was all things insane people said. Is this what its final stage looks like?

"I heard that," he said, glancing at her momentarily. "No, I'm not telepathic, I just have better hearing than your average American. Part of what makes me so fit." He said that with a chill in his voice. "You were talking to yourself a bit there. You're a leftist, right? Leftists are crazy like that."

The girl blushed slightly, but imperceptibly, even to him.

"Nah, I'm just an honest politician. All the people in Albany are liars and crooks, just like in Washington. No one gives a crap about the average American, but I do. I give a crap about you to let you know what we're like, you see. This is just what happens after a while in business, y'see? You do enough coke, you pay the right guys to bomb a couple countries, you fuck a couple 11-year-olds just for the thrill. Come on, haven't we all done that?"

Most people stayed silent. This one construction middle manager identifiable by his "Construction Workers 4 Branton" shirt got up and said, "I mean, who among us hasn't done something a little wrong in order to blow off some steam?" to which one lady and a guy several seats away from her wanted to shout "What the fuck, not me" but were too utterly shocked to ultimately do so.

"Look," he said, "you spend enough time in power and money, no matter what, this happens. The rich and famous, y'know, they have this kind of bacteria, I dunno what the hell, but suddenly after attending the same dinner parties and orgies and wine and cheese get-togethers you contract it or something, and then it's all the pressure that causes it to, what's the word? Metastatise, or something like that. It metastasises and you get this, after that weird combo feeling, where you're on top of the world but you also wanna ralph, this sort of change in your body. Makes you feel numb as hell and your emotions more intense all at the same time."

A middle-aged lady stood up. "Even President Jacobs?"

"Oh believe me, even Jacobs. Might've infected him myself back in twenty-thirteen. Back when he was just a governor of this fine state, which he totally wrecked and drove into the ground, by the way. Really, everyone you see in power. Doesn't matter what they claim to believe or anything. Really, these little wormy things—my doctor tells me they secrete some kind of hormone or whatever that they haven't ever seen before. It creates a sixth basic emotion. That's what all the Democrats and Republicans really believe in."

At this point the girl who yawned and her friend the row behind her began exchanging confused text messages, so as not to be overheard. The friend had wanted to ask what this emotion felt like, but the girl replied, "i don't think that wd work lol / he's basically saying its totally out of the realm of normal experience / like how do u communicate what the color green looks like / u cant / same w emotion / if someone cant feel sadness howre u ever gna explain to them how it feels[,]" to which the friend replied, "Yeah you're right / Honestly tho this is so weird / Like how we're able to have this convo just kinda talking almost normally even tho whatever the fuck is happening."

He concluded his speech, "Really, you're not gonna get anything different out of any other politician. Same shit, different day. But I'm not gonna lie to you. I can fix the economy, easy. I can get rid of the immigrants, no problem. They're all gonna lie and say they can't. They're gonna lie and say that illegal aliens matter more than our own citizens, that moochers matter more than hard-working Americans. But how can you trust them on that, when they won't even admit to the face worms or the prostitutes? You can trust me, I'm the only one being honest about that, and that's a biggie, so you gotta trust me to be honest about the other things."

The girl and her friend went home. She considered that she'd rather have a liar who can implement good policies than a marginally honest politician with shit ideas. They replied that this was the kind of choice that an abusive partner forces a victim to take, that the only rational response was to burn their whole shit down. She thought maybe yeah, but it'd probably cause needless suffering. But maybe as a last resort.

Fifteen years later, the girl texted her friend again. They didn't respond; they had died years prior from dehydration. Lived in one of the dry states. The girl knew that. The world population had been drastically reduced by war, famine, plague, flooding, and fire, and still, they had died due to health care and water rationing. The government scientists, which had half the planet under military occupation, concurred that the current population was still above the optimal amount, which they determined as around 500,000,000, for the world to keep existing with enough labour to keep the economy going without unnecessarily burdening it, and recommended sterilisation of the lazy and infirm in order to ensure optimal performance. President Branton, and all others like him, were exempt.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

What can we learn about coronavirus from other cultures?

Currently the world is stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been wreaking havoc, causing schools to shut down, precipitating mass layoffs at various workplaces, and stymieing the efforts of Western politicians to deal with it and its consequences. It has affected millions on a personal level, even if not by direct contact with it: the other week, I was scheduled to ship up to Boston to see my boyfriend again, but the day before I was to head off, his school changed its policy on visitations and barred all external visitors for fear of the virus. At the same time, multiple states have only just now started to implement executive orders and other laws meant to curb the virus by enforcing limited social engagement, which has been shown to be a major risk factor in its spread.

Italy has been dealing with hundreds of deaths a day, adding up to a total of thousands, which is ever-increasing. The strain put on the medical system in some of the central regions is such that it has only exacerbated the spread of the virus, and doctors and nurses are working overtime trying to process the influx of new patients. Due to the crowded conditions of the hospitals and limited resources, doctors have often been forced to choose between who gets treatment, weighing multiple lives against each other—the beloved grandfather of advanced age or the young man who shows promise in his career? These are choices that no one ever wants to make even once in their lives, and yet Italian professionals have been forced to make them every day.

The American response to the virus and its economic consequences has been incoherent and disorganised. First it was denied as a major problem, then recognised and practically ignored, then recognised as a serious threat, and only now are lawmakers and administrators scrambling both to implement policy and to find someone to blame—usually China, for lying about it, evidently equivocating between the fact that Wuhan initially lied to the Chinese central government about the virus and the falsehood that the Chinese central government falsified information about it. In the United States so far, most of the response has been on a local and state level, as is to be expected in a federal system, with some states (such as New York) often being singled out as models for others, including the federal government, to follow.

The federal response has been underwhelming. Test kits were delayed and delayed until now, nearing the end of March, when the White House says 27 million of them will be sent out. Treatment appears to be underfunded and, as usual, fiscal conservatives have been urging the populace to respond to the virus by simply pulling up their bootstraps and taking responsibility for their own health, ignoring, as they do, that a public crisis cannot generally be solved by uncoordinated individual action. The government has strongly recommended that individuals wash their hands often and practise social distancing and, in the case of symptoms, self-quarantine, which is likely the best advice for this pandemic (or any similar pandemic).

Meanwhile, the social and economic repercussions of the virus are beginning to manifest. Various celebrities have complained of boredom from the isolation, while self-described NEETs and hikikomori have had no trouble adjusting to the changes (given that they already spend most of their time indoors and avoiding others), and many people are taking up hobbies or enjoying video games such as the new Animal Crossing or taking advantage of the proliferation of streaming services to watch movies and television for days. On the economic side, an already-looming crisis and recession is being exacerbated by the effects of the virus, including reduction of hours, in some places 20% of the workforce being laid off in a short time, and increases of unemployment filings from a few hundred per day to several thousands, as well as the terrifying phenomenon of some workers (even those in nonessential jobs!) being forced to continue working as normal despite the risk and often in spite of manifest illness. (From a proper economic standpoint this will absolutely cause an immense downturn, as the reduction in labour necessitates a reduction in value, and thus in profits.)

As for solutions to these economic problems, a number of proposals have been raised, from the aforementioned bootstrapping to the creation of jobs that do not necessitate travel or group contact to emergency basic income. At first, the last of these was dismissed as somewhat of a fringe idea, a hobbyhorse of particular people who see the crisis as a way to enact it. But it's gained traction, and at first Mitt Romney (of all people) was proposing a thousand dollars a month, and now the Trump administration is proposing a basic income that effectively excludes most of those who need it most and is at best a glorified tax rebate. This was answered in a brilliant proposal by Representative Rashida Tlaib, who has introduced a bill into the House that replaces the administration plan with one that makes its basic income truly universal by ensuring every adult receives a special debit card preloaded with $2,000.00 and refilled with an additional $1,000.00 each month, to be financed by the ingenious mechanism of directing the U.S. Mint to press two platinum coins, each worth one trillion dollars, and having the Federal Reserve buy these coins at face value, to be owned by it permanently, thus getting around complicated issues of debt and inflation. Still, whether this proposal will be adopted or not is still to be seen, and the usual suspects are likely to attempt to stall it at every opportunity.

Meanwhile the East Asian states, including China, as well as states such as Cuba, have managed to largely contain the virus already, implementing vital policies early, treating it with the appropriate level of seriousness, and avoiding further time- and cost-intensive emergency measures by engaging in preventative measures. Indeed, in order to demonstrate how seriously they have taken it, China ordered two new hospitals to be built in Wuhan in order to treat those infected, which were constructed and finished in just over a week. Which raises a serious question: why is this necessary attitude seemingly so lacking or late in the West?

On these occasions it may be helpful to consider the example of groups like the Dabaraeans, or in their dialect 𐡣𐡰𐡡𐡴𐡩𐡠, Daʿbaraya, a small religious group in West Asia whose central belief is that everything has already happened, and as such we are living in the past, ever-waiting to live in the glorious present. The present is held to be a time without time, in which an individual lives for the sake of living, unconcerned by trivial things and free of all worry. The past, meanwhile, is understood as a time for preparing, into which one is born with 𐡠𐡣𐡴𐡠, idara, unfinished business, which must be attended to if one is to live in the present. A form of metempsychosis, or eternal recurrence, is upheld by this school, in which one who dies with idara must relive their life in a similar but not identical form, with only the business that one left unfinished at one's death, and if it is finished by one's death, one's life recurs again, but in the present.

The Dabaraeans' ritual customs are distinctive. Their most holy day is 𐡩𐡥𐡬𐡠 𐡢𐡬𐡴𐡶𐡠, Yuma Gamerta, which is similar to the Jewish Yom Kippur; the primary difference lies in that in addition to repentance and forgiveness, the whole community unites in order to do work for one another, that everyone has less idara at the end of the day. Lesser feasts are also celebrated; fasting is usually not practised strictly, as it is considered paramount to be of strong mind and body in order to complete one's business. Special homes are constructed for the elderly and the sick, as well as those who are otherwise burdened, and it is considered a 𐡧𐡥𐡴𐡳𐡮, a ḥorqan (that is, in Jewish parlance, a mitzvah), to work at these homes, in order to help the burdened to rid themselves of idara sooner.

One is initiated into the Dabaraean religion by means of a special ceremony. The neophyte, usually at the age of 11, is brought before the local elders, at least one of whom must have rid themself of idara. The neophyte is given unleavened bread, made from only flour, salt, and water, and told to eat: "This is your idara. Every crumb must be finished, or your past will hold you for as long as you live." The neophyte is then baptised in a river and told, "This water has flowed, and now [idyom, "the relative present"] you have tasted Now [ideya, "the absolute present"]." Thus the neophyte becomes an initiate, and is told to hereafter meditate on the name of 𐡴𐡡𐡥𐡮𐡠 𐡣𐡠𐡣𐡩𐡠, Rabbuna d-Ideya, the Master of the Present, the highest title of God.

The Dabaraean origin myth is striking in its beauty. It is held that Rabbuna d-Ideya once lived in the past, and that He, too, was bound by idara. However, with a single stroke, He dissipated it all, by "throwing" creation into being, reflecting the content of His own self. But because it reflected this content, the possibility of idara also manifested in creation. The first three recurrences of the world were wholly present, with the First Human content with existence. Yet in the fourth, the First Human started to long for something new, something they could not yet define, and was split in twain, becoming the First Man and the First Woman. They populated the world, and the two subsequent recurrences repeated the struggles of their descendants, none of them ever attaining the present, none of them completing their idara. But in the seventh recurrence, the angel Uriel appeared before the people and told them that six recurrences had gone before them, and soon would come the great 𐡪𐡥𐡶𐡴𐡠 (Kawitra), or Noon, a twelfth recurrence after which all could find a way to finish their idara. It is held that we are living in the 𐡡𐡶𐡴𐡪𐡥𐡶𐡴𐡠 (Barkawitra), or Afternoon, in which each of us has the capacity to awaken to the present. One day, it is written, the last person left in the past will finish their idara, and the past will finally dissolve, leaving the present the only reality.

The religion of the Dabaraeans seems to have originated in the 2nd century B.C., amidst the turbulence of the Hellenistic world, but how precisely it formed is a matter of debate. What is certain is that it has a long and troubled history: it was regarded as a foreign cult by the Greeks and Romans, but thought too Greek and Roman by the Jews and Zoroastrians; when Christianity arose, it was deemed a variant of the Gnostic heresy and denounced by all quarters; by the Manichaeans, it was seen as a strange and confused variant of their own religion; with the ascendancy of Islam, it was alternately protected as a Sabian subgroup and suppressed as a heresy. It is alleged, though they did not and do not proselytise, that certain orders of Crusaders became acquainted with the religion in their conquests and converted in secret, influencing European history and philosophy, with John Philoponus and Henry of Ghent often rumoured to be "crypto-Dabaraeans". Some esoteric scholars even suggest that an Aoristic Order, derived from the Dabaraean doctrine, quietly emerged in the 12th century, concealed for nearly a millennium, and has influenced the course of world history since then, particularly via influence on certain modern theories of physics and counting members such as the writers of fantastical fiction Jorge Luis Borges and H. G. Wells. This theory has, of course, filtered into the lunatic fringe, as they are often mixed up with alleged conspiratorial organisations such as the Illuminati or the Committee of Three Hundred, accused of wishing to "immanentise the eschaton", which would hardly be appropriate, since the eschaton for the Dabaraeans is already immanent; it is simply that we are not immanent. In any case, save for various coincidental ideas and marks such as the "Alpha and Omega" device or the alleged slogans iucunda memoria est praeteritorum malorum, lifted from Cicero, and vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit, from the Oracle at Delphi (whom, coincidentally, the Dabaraeans view as a prophet, in the same way Christians viewed the Sibyls as truly inspired).

Perhaps the thing we can best learn from these devout and industrious people is that we must ensure that what needs to be taken care of is done, and only then can we enjoy the bounty that has been set out for us. To paraphrase one of their parables: if one sets a banquet, but the food is undercooked and the table cluttered and dirty, then one cannot enjoy it much at all. One must cook thoroughly, with not a bit left cold, and one must clean deeply, with not a spot left untouched, before the pleasures of the banquet can be enjoyed. I might say that the leaders both great and small of this country could stand to learn from this, but to do so would be to dilute a truth that speaks to something higher. For I have seen the glory of the unmanifest Present, and I have much work to do. And it may be true that part of that work has to do with this pandemic, but simply opining about it lets my tasks pile up, waiting to be dealt with. And perhaps you, too, dearest reader, could stand to finish the business you've been putting off, perhaps by playing idle games or by working jobs and projects that do not express your innermost urge or by denying your heart to the satisfaction of others. Perhaps it is time to deal with your idara before you curse your fate. Α∴Ω∴

Monday, 16 March 2020

The spontaneously recovered memory and the madeleine

A couple weeks ago I was made aware of something I've been meaning to write about for some time, but have forgotten to until today. That thing is the "forgot-it-all-along" effect. This is an absolutely fascinating topic, and one with personal bearing to me, for obvious reasons.

It's been about 10 months since I published the article "please (don't) hit record" at my main site. In that article, I mentioned the topics of repressed and suppressed memories of sexual abuse, since I initially reported my being a victim of CSAM production as a case of repressed (or suppressed), then spontaneously recovered, memory. In the paragraphs dealing with repressed and suppressed memories, I linked to this study, which demonstrates that spontaneously recovered memories are often as accurate as continuous memories, while induced recovered memories (e.g., memories "recovered" through therapy) tend to be inaccurate. It's already known and accepted that many induced recovered memories actually originate as suggestions accidentally implanted by therapists, with a famous study showing that it's not terribly difficult to suggest a memory which a patient then believes is genuine. This is the generally understood explanation for the daycare sexual abuse panic of the '80s (a panic that, regrettably, may have actually led to a lot of legitimate sexual abuse cases going unnoticed due to being categorised alongside wild and false claims).

However, as I mentioned, a few weeks ago I came across a study with an utterly fascinating claim: that some people who report spontaneously recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse never actually forgot, but simply failed to remember previous instances of remembering it. The paper's introduction has this utterly incredible part:
Partly with the aim of fostering this middle-ground perspective, Schooler and his coworkers (e.g., Schooler, Ambadar, & Bendiksen, 1997; Shobe & Schooler, 2001) described several case studies of individuals who experienced the ‘‘discovery’’ of apparently long-forgotten memories of abuse. Of particular interest in the current context are two cases in which the partners of the women who reported full-blown recovered-memory experiences said that the women had talked about the abuse before they had the memory-recovery experience. In both cases, the women seemed to be surprised to hear that they had talked about the abuse prior to their recovered-memory experiences. Schooler et al. proposed that these cases illustrated a ‘‘forgot it all along’’ (FIA) phenomenon, which at its core entails the underestimation of prior recollections of past events.
The study goes on, using two experiments to measure the ability of certain groups to recall having recalled things. Each experiment had a group of people with spontaneously recovered memories of sexual abuse, a group of people with continuous memories of sexual abuse, and a control group of people who were not abused. The first experiment had the subjects do a word pair recall task (e.g., pairs like hand-PALM are flashed, and then they are shown cues such as hand-P--M only and asked to input the missing two letters), and then asked them later if they believed they had correctly recalled the pairs. The second experiment was a bit more complex: it presented the subjects with cue phrases about common childhood experiences, such as going to the dentist or being home alone, and asked them to, with either a positive or negative framing, give an open-ended autobiographical report about that experience; after the first test, two subsequent tests, each two months apart, asked them to recall the same events, but with the emotional framing changed on half of them, and the third test further asked them to judge how well they had recalled the events on the previous test.

And in both experiments, those who reported recovered CSA memories were more likely than anyone else to say that they had not recalled correctly, even when they did.

Another study revises this theory, using different experiments, more based on contextual information and changes in context, in order to investigate the idea that there is something different about the way information is recalled in a recovered-memory experience that makes one forget prior experiences of recalling the same information. Experiment 1 here uses a cued-recall test similar to the one in Geraerts et al., with each target word being a homograph—for instance, "palm" in the sense of both "hand" and "tree", with the study seeing them used in one context (e.g., "hand-PALM") and the tests having them shown either in the same context or in a different context; participants were dramatically more likely to forget having recalled the target words correctly in the first test if the second text used cues relating to the other context, but an alternative explanation offered is that using the other-context cue on the first test simply makes recall less likely all around. Meanwhile, Experiment 2 manipulates context on both the first and second test, in order to discern between the "forgot-it-all-along" explanation and the alternative explanation, and once again, the participants were more likely to forget having recalled targets correctly if the contexts had been manipulated. Experiment 3, instead of changing between two different meanings of the same word ("palm" as in "tree" and "hand"), changes between contexts but not meanings ("palm" as in "hand" only, but in two different contexts), with cues being whole sentences (e.g., "he swatted the fly using the p*** of his hand" in one context, "the fortune teller traced the lifeline on the p*** of his hand" in another); again, participants were more likely to forget having recalled targets correctly if they had studied with one context and been cued with another. Experiment 4 completely eliminates one potential objection—that subjects, instead of basing their judgements of prior recollection on whether they had remembered the target word in the first test, based their judgements on whether they recalled seeing the first test's cue in the second test—by turning the first test into a free recall test instead of a cued recall test, and yet again, the participants were more likely to forget having recalled targets if the contexts had changed.

So this study identifies a potential mechanism for how the forgot-it-all-along effect could work: for someone remembering a particular experience in a new context, it may simply feel as though this is the first time they had remembered it at all. The authors note that
instances of prior recollection may be difficult to recall as distinct episodes because cues for those prior recollections will also be cues (and perhaps better cues) for memories of the initial event itself; this may limit revival of the memory information for the prior recollection through cue overload, or produce blended ecphoric products in which the information from prior recollections is experienced as part of the recollection of the event itself (indeed, this may be an important part of the way rehearsal works). If cuing conditions selectively favor revival of one or more prior instances of recollection over revival of the event itself, that memory information may be mistaken as a memory of a perceptual experience (i.e., the individual thinks she or he is remembering an actual experience but is really reviving memories of prior recollections of that experience rather than memories of the event itself); in other cases in which cuing conditions selectively favor revival of memories of prior instances of recollection, the individual may mistakenly judge that she or he never experienced the event in question but rather had only thought about or imagined experiencing it.
So what does this all mean? For me, it's a relief. Considering my own recovered-memory experience further, I've realised that I have had prior episodes of recall for years prior to that experience—in 2010 when I was questioning my sexual orientation, in 2012 after watching Alfred's Playhouse for the first time. 2014 was not the first time that I recalled being sexually abused, but rather was a new context for me to consider it in. It's a relief, knowing that I'm not insane, that I'm not making it up, that my brain didn't simply fabricate the whole story. That what I'm telling is the truth, and that my pain has a reason.

And, further, it's simply a fascinating and overlooked development in the area of memory research. That the brain can forget having recalled a piece of information before if it's recalled again in a new context is something that is deeply interesting, and it raises new questions as to how the processes of remembering and forgetting work. It brings to mind Proust's madeleine—one has to wonder whether the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea is truly what brought Aunt Leonie and Combray to the narrator's mind, or if its taste simply provided a new context, one which perhaps prevented his recall of other memories of remembering.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

The Great Satan

In the late '60s, Richard Nixon developed and implemented the "madman theory" of international relations, based on his observation of Eisenhower's handling of the Korean War, with precedent in Machiavelli's admonition in his Discourses on Livy that "at times it is a very wise thing to simulate madness". He would project an image of insanity and instability to scare his adversaries in the Communist Bloc into backing down and avoiding provocation, as when you have an enemy with nuclear weapons and he is angry as hell at you, any wrong move can result in your immediate annihilation. Nixon used this strategy often, but he combined it with the idea that if the Communists would just back down and come to the table he'd calm down himself and cease to lay his twitching finger on the button.

As of the time of my writing this, it has been an hour and a half since Donald Trump announced that the US military has fifty-two Iranian cultural and strategic sites targeted for destruction. The number fifty-two is symbolic: between 4 November 1979, after the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran by a group of pro-Khomeini college students, and 20 January 1981, the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage in said embassy. (There are allegations that the Reagan campaign paid off the Iranian government to keep the hostages until the inauguration in order to damage incumbent Jimmy Carter's reputation before the election. Personally, I believe these allegations, but that is a topic for another time.)

The difference between Trump and Nixon in this regard is that Nixon, as mentioned, would return to a seeming sanity upon the lowering of tensions. Trump has not ceased his threats nor de-escalated them. His primary objective in foreign policy seems to be the constant destabilisation of every territory not under the dominion of the US empire. Far from his promises of isolationism, this is the insanity of the Bush administration on steroids.

It should go without saying that the destruction of cultural sites is a terrorist tactic and a war crime. In fact, it is such a terrorist tactic that it was one of the favourites of DAESH, who became infamous for smashing Buddha statues, destroying Christian icons, burning manuscripts, blowing up mosques, and generally annihilating all beauty and history that stood before them. DAESH, of course, had a Wahhabi fascist agenda that included the wholesale cultural and physical genocide of all religions and ethnicities, including Muslims, that did not agree with their narrow and bloodthirsty interpretation of Islam. This is why they raped, murdered, and enslaved Yezidi and Assyrian people en masse. It should be noted that cultural genocide often precedes or accompanies the physical destruction of people. Lemkin noted in his incomplete "Introduction to the Study of Genocide":
Frazer who is generally considered to be the father of modern anthropology was aware of a sociological fact: that all human beings have so-called derived needs which are just as necessary to their existence as the basic physiological needs. These needs find expression in social institutions or, to use an anthropological term, the culture ethos. If the culture of a group is violently undermined, the group itself disintegrates and its members must either become absorbed in other cultures which is a wasteful and painful process or succumb to personal disorganization and, perhaps, physical destruction. Malinovsky [sic], the founder of the functional school in anthropology, regards culture as having three interdependent dimensions: a material base, social ties, and symbolic acts. He believes that no definite line of demarcation can be drawn between form and function. According to this view it is clear that the destruction of cultural symbols is genocide, because it implies the destruction of their function and thus menaces the existence of the social group which exists by virtue of its common culture.
Have you ever seen Persian architecture? There is almost nothing like it. Its basic principle is the symbolism of humanity entering into communication with Heaven; it accomplishes this by grand symmetries, the use of perfect circles and squares, elaborate mathematical designs, and stunning colours. The Sassanid Empire pioneered the use of immense domes that, after the Muslim conquest, became a defining feature of nearly all Islamic architecture. Various empires designed entire cities around circles and squares, incorporating buildings and gardens in elaborate schemes. The diversity of the architecture is shown in the fact that there are six separate styles of classical Persian architecture, spanning millennia. The buildings in ancient Persepolis influenced architecture throughout the world for centuries, and even today architectural techniques pioneered by Persian and Iranian architects long ago are praised and used widely.

Go and look up photographs of Persian mosques, temples, and palaces. Many of these buildings have withstood Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, the Mongols, and countless other conquerors and wars. Many of them are used today and actively maintained. Others are preserved simply because of their majesty and inestimable cultural value.

Now imagine them annihilated in an instant by American bombs due to the fanatical and sadistic desire of a small cult of warmongers and apocalypticists to see Iran brought to its knees and its people subjugated to their empire. Imagine the ruins of Persepolis blown to dust, the Sheikh Lotfolla Mosque vaporised, the Naghsh-e Jahan Square reduced to a pile of rubble. Imagine the human lives that will undoubtedly be lost in the blasts. All in the name of petty revenge.

This is what is at stake. Look again at the interior of the dome of the Sheikh Lotfolla Mosque. A monument to the glory of God, designed to bring the eye of any human being entering it toward heaven. The windows are precisely designed to bring in light. To walk through the mosque is to symbolically ascend from the darkness and sadness of a fallen world to the light and peace and life of God. The United States government, under the Trump administration, is threatening to destroy this. To do so would be to symbolically annihilate the bridge between humanity and God. I can think of no more appropriate title for anyone who would dream of such an act than "the Great Satan".

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The most important decade in my life *so far*

You can't really disentangle the personal, the political, and the cosmic-spiritual. This is something I've learned from experience and integrated into all of my art: I do not treat them as fully separate subjects. We live under the real or total subsumption of capital; this makes our very unconscious, that most personal and intimate of things, a political topic. Few people can afford not to pay attention to politics anymore. I caught a Fox segment a week or two ago where the hosts were discussing a poll that lists many Democrats as having the political climate as one of their top worries, and using it to demonstrate that the Democrats are largely what we on the left would call professional-managerial class (PMC), detached from the experience of everyday folk and with the luxury of caring about politics. This is likely true to some extent, but it's also true that the hosts were using that fact to cover up the other possibility that a not-insubstantial portion of disenfranchised people are worried about their benefits or their jobs or their likelihood to be deported—all heavily political topics.

The defining moment of this decade has been the return of the repressed that has been occurring since it was halfway through. History, presumed dead since 1991, has again reared its head. As various pundits, writers, and hacks have spent the past few years fuming about, the post-Cold War consensus has effectively collapsed. One of the most popular Democratic candidates among the PMC, Pete Buttigieg, has as his great unspoken campaign promise a return to the relative peace and simplicity of 2009. A return to an America where international games of electoral meddling and the eruption of deep politics seemed laughable and nigh-impossible, where our military adventures seemed righteous and well-managed, where the orders of cruelty that our government carries out are signed off with a sigh and not gleeful abandon.

Bluntly, this is a fantasy. We have already invited an authoritarian nationalist into the presidency, one who has made as much use of the bloated, monstrous executive power he was handed by decades of buildup of the military-industrial complex under both parties as he could. We cannot simply pretend that if that power was handed over to a capable manager, that lurking disease would go away. As we have learned by the very election of Trump, the repressed always returns in a worse form than ever.

I began this decade with a dead dog, a Rottweiler named Herb; he'd provided me with joy and comfort for the past six years of my life, and in the summer, he was dead. No more playing basketball with him, nothing of that sort. I dragged him down the stairs on an old sheet, scaring my cat, Rose, along the way, out into the gorgeous yard covered in trees and grass and overgrowth, out into the nether-regions of the yard where the line between garden and forest started to become blurred, and laid him down on a patch of dirt. Later that day I found out that the downstairs neighbours, with whom we'd had an often unpleasant relationship, had decided to bury him out of sympathy for us. The sunlight filtered gorgeously through the trees that late afternoon. That was not the first nor the last time I'd think that.

In the autumn I was an 11-year-old attending Catholic school. I had been sexually exploited for child pornography only four years prior. I was awkward and privately hypersexual. It took me about a year before I realised that staring at people and telling them they were pretty or handsome wasn't exactly a good way to make a connection and was actually creepy. At the same time I was undergoing a religious crisis. I had no clue what to believe, as the Catholic doctrine that was presented to me there was liberal in comparison to what I had grown up believing and I was flitting between embracing a progressive sort of Anglo-Catholicism or reacting by going deeper into Protestant fundamentalism. I experienced my first hallucinations around this time as well: the Theotokos telling me not to pray to her, to stay away from Catholicism. My political beliefs too fluctuated between libertarianism, social democracy, and conservatism; at one point I was a monarchist, at another an ancap, at another a left-liberal.

Around when I turned 12, I decided to become a neo-Zoroastrian, embracing the form of the religion advocated by the Zarathushtrian Assembly. I read the entire Gathas; I can still recite the Ashem Vohu by heart. At the same time, I decided to get into chaos magic (or, as one might wish to spell it, qha'osz ma'jyyqkh). I remember at the school I went to around this time, a school for gifted students with autism, ADHD, and executive dysfunction, one of the teachers warned me not to fool around with magic, as it is a powerful force. I brushed it off. Soon after performing a few rituals, including opening at least one Vortex that I have not closed since and scrawling Ellis wherever I went, I began experiencing major synchronicities. These continued to some extent after I became a scientistic Reddit atheist and started watching people like The Amazing Atheist, although I wrote off chaos magic as largely psychodrama.

In the autumn of 2011 my great-grandfather died. I'd not known him well, as he'd developed problems communicating toward the end of his life. But I'd appreciated him greatly, and he became a more and more important figure to me in the months after his death. He had been an inventor, creating his own appliances and devices to use around the house and working as an engineer for a then-large company. He was also a commanding thinker; perhaps he was inclined to crankery, but he was genuine, always seeking out transdisciplinary problems and solutions, effortlessly combining theology, physics, philosophy, jurisprudence, electronics, linguistics, and whatever else intrigued him. On the night he died, I was making Discordian "pope cards" and handing them to anyone who would take them. I'd brought my laptop and, to keep myself busy, was playing The Cat and the Coup, a free art game about the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh (something I was to learn some of my other ancestors had had a hand in). I went home, but my grandmother stayed with him and called home to announce his death. I was sad, but not in the way that one is sad when someone dies before their prime; I was sad that I'd never gotten to know him, that my other family members had lost someone they'd loved dearly. I began to feel that I should follow in his footsteps.

A few times those years the heat and electricity in our house switched off and we had to stay at my great-grandmother's house for the night. One time my grandmother drove me home to check if the heat and electricity worked, and as I stepped out of the car, I noticed how the sunlight filtered gorgeously through the trees that late afternoon. I went inside and played Brain Salad Surgery on the computer as a first test, then went outside and told her the coast is clear. She nodded and went back to get my mother from my great-grandmother's house.

(there are oh so many memories i wish i could explore here but there is oh so little precious time and they are fading oh so rapidly)

Around this period I became seriously committed to Marxism for the first time, although I also badly misinterpreted it. I was an Orthodox Marxist (or so I saw myself) and genuinely liked people like the Platypus Affiliated Society. I still had not shaken off the Zionism I grew up with, though, although I was beginning to question how decent a state Israel truly was. I had started 2012 hoping Ron Paul would win (antiwar politics were my first serious politics) and ended up endorsing Jill Stein, which as we all know led to her victory, as the crucial "angie" endorsement is the most important thing a politician needs to win.

Much of that year, although I was still seriously depressed and had barely started processing my trauma, was relatively blissful. Some very important things happened that year.

First, I turned 13 and was able to set up Facebook (and decided to set up Tumblr). This allowed me to connect with one of my first real friends, a gay furry who, like me, was very into linguistics. Prior to that, all I had was 4chan and Twitter. I remember using a big blue bucket (which I still have!) turned upside down as a table for my laptop and chatting into the night about phonology, current events, memes, and sexuality.

Speaking of which: second, I realised my sexuality. I started wondering if I was bicurious and soon, after looking at a whole bunch of yaoi on Gelbooru and wishing alternately that I looked like and that I could kiss Len Kagamine, I decided I was bisexual. No joke: some of my first heroes in this regard were Gore Vidal, Glenn Greenwald, and Oscar Wilde.

Third, I saw a whole bunch of anime. I remember waking up early, going down to the local doughnut store, buying myself a doughnut, and going back home to eat it and rewatch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya many days. Most of what I'd watched was stuff like Pani Poni and YuruYuri, largely slice-of-life stuff. After that I decided to watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica, first denying to myself that it'd become a horror-tragedy, then accepting it, then becoming devoted to it; in fact, I credit it with helping me to appreciate tragedy and the beauty in dark things.

Fourth, I watched Alfred's Playhouse.

On the same setup I used to browse Facebook for the first time, I was looking at TV Tropes pages about animation. I was vaguely interested in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, but was never really able to get that into it; I had seen the PONY.MOV series and the first episode and not much else. I was eating toast with sunflower seed butter, looking at episodes of Dan Vs. online and reading the "Nightmare Fuel" subcategories when I came across the mention of an online animation called Alfred's Playhouse, said to be one of the scariest things online.

So I went a-hunting for it, and found a YouTube link and a Newgrounds link. Wanting to be able to pause it in case it turned into a screamer, I chose the YouTube link. I sat through the first part, and plenty of stuff startled me, which would normally have put me off it, but I was intrigued. The annotation, now lost, on the video was my first introduction to the concept of trigger warnings. The animation itself seemed to be a mixture of "random" humour, shock, and genuine terror. I had no idea what to make of it, so I watched the next part.

Part 2 nauseated me: the "Littles" scene may be one of the most disgusting and disturbing things ever animated, while the self-harm scene is not only disgusting and disturbing but extraordinarily depressing. The juxtaposition of the graphic and sensitive nature of the content with the trappings of cuteness and lightness made the effect of horror reach a fever pitch. At this point I wanted to know more both about this character and about the person who made it. So after a break and some more sunflower seed butter toast, I watched the final part.

Part 3 was incredible. The shock, gross-out, and "random" elements of the series transitioned smoothly into psychological drama of stunning depth, likening a mind subjected to trauma to a totalitarian dictatorship.
That thing there? That is you. That cannot handle reality. Nobody will ever love that.
After watching it I had a mild flashback. I'd already had memories intrude on my mind when relatives had told me months prior that people only ever become bisexual or homosexual due to sexual abuse, and felt forced to choose between confessing to these memories or confessing my sexuality (eventually choosing the latter). But now I had a stronger awareness of them. Now they started becoming clearer. And I reacted the only way I knew how: by suppressing them.

But the repressed (or, in this case, the suppressed), as I've mentioned, always returns.

Later that year, after a few trips to New York by myself to events with the second private school I attended (one of which involved seeing a descendant of Harry Truman apologise to Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors for the bombings, another of which involved me not being able to get back to Grand Central for hours due to an attempted bombing at the Federal Reserve and getting a copy of the Madoka Magica manga instead), and after a long night of watching a playthrough of Saya no Uta and getting seriously depressed, and after weeks of mounting stress, the teacher driving me to school that morning called and yelled at my parents, and I started crying and decided not to go that day. I was out of school for the rest of the term.

I began 2013 with a trip to a family friend's in Boston. There I watched the second half of Steins;Gate, of which I'd seen the first half a few months prior, along with Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (I was very into mad scientists). For the few months after that I sat in my underwear eating homemade nachos for a few months and reading through the entirety of Homestuck, a web serial that would come to define the next few years of my life. I had been putting it off for a while, and finally decided to go through with reading it. After a couple months I met my first true group of online friends through a local Homestuck fan group. I felt glad and happy to be included.

That year, my friend, the priest at the local church, whose youth group I'd attended quite a bit for the past few years, left to go to another church. One of the staples of my preadolescence was gone; I didn't help at any more charity events with them, I fell out of contact with a lot of people there, and soon that was the last I'd seen of that church, given that today the church barely exists.

Over the course of that spring and summer I was bombarded with synchronicities from my previous practice of chaos magic. Slowly my quasi-logical positivist shell began to crack. At some point I could no longer deny the reality of magic. I watched π and several David Lynch films. I watched Videodrome and became ever more depressed. I started to develop delusional thought patterns. Mild, but present.

At some point in May I came out as genderfluid, then gravitated heavily toward the "female" side of the spectrum. It felt good to embrace that aspect. I began calling myself Eva; my nickname on Skype for the longest time was "Eva Unit-01". My friends were supportive and happy for me; I felt accepted, but various other factors got in the way of me appreciating that.

I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion and wrestled with it obsessively for a long time, believing that Instrumentality was a noble goal. I strongly believed I needed to utterly annihilate my ego and expounded on the evils of self and the virtues of selflessness online. I started taking huge quantities of drugs, cutting myself, performing magical blood rituals, and destroying things I loved, all to try to destroy my self. I figured that if I completely annihilated the person known as "Eva", I'd stop being distinct from bare being and have access to a transcendental reason unclouded by personal biases and a universal love uninhibited by individual preference.

I embarked on various creative projects, none of which came to fruition. One of them, Rose the Cat, I had planned for years, ever since I was about 9 years old. It evolved over the years from a simple idea of a game about a cat to a wish-fulfilment comic I created when I was 11 (and promptly stopped when I started reading about Chris-chan and realised unpleasant parallels, although I guess I could be forgiven as I was 11 years old), and finally became a satirical story I wanted to expand to as many media (games, comics, light novels, animation, etc.) as possible about Rose (who was in this incarnation a chaotic neutral lesbian cat) and her "owner" Dave (a theoretical physicist and bioengineer, precisely the jobs I'd wanted to have when I was 6 years old). A huge portion of my initial manuscript was devoted to a horror sequence that now reads as effectively an unconscious vent of my sexual trauma. It is indeed quite disturbing to read, but not for the reasons I had intended.

In June Edward Snowden publicised the first NSA leaks. They confirmed what I had suspected all along: that the government had been spying on us and that we were sliding toward authoritarianism. I knew that the power of the executive had been expanded dramatically, but I knew that Obama was likely not going to abuse it tremendously. I was highly critical of him and his foreign policy, but I wasn't going to start thinking of him as an out-and-out dictator. I did know however that it would be only a matter of time before a true reactionary, someone with fascistic tendencies, would come out and abuse that power.

Simultaneously I discovered Tumblr callout blogs. I was vaguely aware of and sympathetic to feminism already, but when I discovered these I was simultaneously alienated and intrigued by them. I decided that this style of "social justice warrior"ism was not to my taste, but I became very aware of intersectional feminism, albeit in the distorted liberalised form Tumblr usually offered in those days. I was frustrated that it seemed to lack class analysis, being largely unaware of its origins, and decided to incorporate somewhat of a class analysis myself, although I had no idea how to integrate it well. I had already argued a lot on a site called SodaHead with insane right-wing boomers for lefty positions but now I was being exposed to a form of left-wing politics that seemed completely alien to the usual positions offered.

In autumn I started high school. Early on in history class I was assigned an essay about the Renaissance; I took a contrarian Marxist position that it was largely an elite movement that helped to prepare the conditions for capitalism and aced it. Here I also met another group of friends, many of whom were into Homestuck, most of whom were left-liberal feminists. Already my worst personality traits started to show. I was often annoying afk and didn't understand social communication at all. I had poor boundaries and didn't know how to express myself normally. This started to take a slight toll.

Afk I never got super close to anyone. Online I was still often hypersexual and this made people around me deeply uncomfortable. This was wrong of me, to put it very, very lightly, and it took me a while to really grok that. It often took me a long time to understand when a joke had gone too far as well, and this also led to me hurting the feelings of people I considered my friends without realising until it was too late.

I talked to a therapist and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, with generalised anxiety disorder, with ADHD, with OCD, and finally with posttraumatic stress disorder with psychotic features. I strained to think why I had that. Perhaps it was the neighbours burning down their house for the insurance money when I was 3. Yeah, that was it.

My home life was an absolute mess. A lot of alcohol was involved. I would hear fighting and screaming and flee to my room or to the stairs.  There I'd tell my friends or post things to Tumblr about it. Most of the time they had no idea how to help.

This was not entirely uncommon during my childhood either, but here it had reached an unlivable intensity. Once I heard a relative get up yelling, and some slamming. Another relative, who was crying and yelling, suddenly went quiet. A few seconds later and they were coughing and gasping for air. After the former relative went to their room and slammed the door, I went and checked on the latter relative and asked them if they'd been choked. They silently nodded and burst into tears.

The next day I went to school and made one of the biggest mistakes in my life. I went to the person I'd believed to be the therapist and told her that there'd been violence in my home. Soon there was an agent from the Department of Children and Families talking to me. I talked to her for a bit and asked if there was any way we could do family therapy, because I loved them and didn't want them to be punished. She assured me it could happen.

Soon we were getting home visits from DCF, which upset me. The initial agent was replaced with Yodna, someone I slowly grew to hate. My relatives hated her as well. I was still attending therapy but was missing school a lot due to illness and worsening mental state. I enjoyed going to the mall, which was right next to where the therapy building was. I played Danganronpa after having seen the anime previously. I played Persona 4 and liked it quite a bit, but never got to finish it. In December adopted a dog, an English Mastiff, whom I named Tifa, after the character in Final Fantasy VII, a game I was strongly enjoying at the time. When I posted the first photos of her at home, a friend commented "SICK HORSE", which he followed up with an explanation that this was his way of saying "nice dog".

In November or so I went to the hospital for suicidal ideation. I spent a few nights there, in a clinical, controlled, completely unsexualised environment, and noticed my mental health improve drastically. I was somewhat bored by the lack of Internet access and whatnot, but I was strangely happy. It didn't take me long to realise that the total sexlessness of the place was comforting to me, but like with my PTSD diagnosis, I had no clue why. I figured it was just that sex made me depressed.

(There I played a game for fun. I'd watch CNN and then come up with a bogus "conspiracy theory" intended to link all the stories of the day together. I'd also pace around and come up with ideas for using geoengineering to offset and mitigate global warming. Overall the stay was relatively pleasant.)

In April 2014 I went to see Noah. I liked it a lot; the relative I attended with was divided. My relatives were getting aggressive with DCF, which was an extraordinarily stupid move, as it only agitated them more.

Then, on the fourth of May, a few DCF agents, led by Yodna, backed by armed cops, took me from my home.

I tried to resist at first. I said I wouldn't go. I had a plan to lock myself in the dog cage with Tifa and camping out there until they went away. (I didn't do that.) I protested and cried until my relatives said I should go and that they'd get me back in a few days. So I packed as much as I could in some bags and walked outside. As I walked to the car, the sunlight filtered gorgeously through the trees that late afternoon.

I spent the night at a foster home. It was relatively nice, although I felt very little sense of privacy. I communicated with my relatives via Facebook on my PlayStation Vita. The next day I went to school and immediately went to the library, where I spent most of the day, unable to concentrate on classes or anything. I talked to one of my friends, a libertarian, when the day was out and told him how I had been kidnapped by the state; my ride was late. I was thinking of making a run for it, escaping back home by my own choice, but stupidly I waited and got in.

Then I did the next-best thing I could. I told Yodna I was feeling suicidal and needed to go to a hospital. As soon as I got there I was assigned a bed. Yodna tried to console me, but some techs had to pull her back from me when she tried to touch me and I told her that I hated her, that she'd ruined my life, and that the law was the only thing preventing me from killing her.

I hoped the stay would be similar to my first stay. At first it was, with the additional bonus of Internet access through my Vita. I watched a classical music performance (I think) on PBS. But then I was taken to another hospital, to Yale-New Haven, where there was no Internet access, nor was there privacy. This would be my first of four stays in a mental hospital that year.

There were some nice people there at least. Most of them I've lost contact with and wish I hadn't. There was a very nice and funny girl who was younger than me and had been committed for doing MDMA for two weeks straight and trying to run away from home. There was a girl who, in appearance, personality, and demeanour, looked exactly how you'd expect a zombie hunter to look. (She admired Sarah Palin for her stress on the importance of the family. I strongly disagreed but I couldn't help but understand.) There was a very large boy, let's call him "Quentin", who loved the Joker and cycled between a calm, jokey attitude and outbursts of anger. At one point they were serving pie in the common room, but he was in his room on time-out. The nurses were trying to tell Quentin he couldn't eat the pie, but like a lion he pushed them out of the way, screamed "I WANT MY FUCKING PIE," punched the Plexiglas door window in, opened the door, took a piece of pie, pushed more nurses to the side, and went back to his room to eat it.

There I also met a couple of people I'd know for a while. One was my first partner. They were very pleasant, an extremely good artist, and we bonded over a common love of Danganronpa and other things. I felt comfortable enough around them to tell them I'm trans and tell them about my delusions and hallucinations (at times without realising they were merely hallucinations). Our relationship only lasted a couple months but it ended amicably and we've been in touch ever since.

In between stays at Yale-New Haven I was at a foster home in Bridgeport. There I had a nice room and was taking Gabapentin but I could not visit my family. I helped the foster family around the house but found it very difficult to adjust. I'd go to respite with a guy who volunteered to take respite kids and built computers in his spare time; he was extremely nice, I watched science fiction movies with him and I wish I'd gotten his name. The foster mother I was staying with though wasn't always so pleasant, and she had respite kids of her own, who were extraordinarily sweet, but she'd beat them. Over time I became more and more angry at her for beating them, and I'd had a plan in my mind to hurt her to get back at her before I decided to simply go to the hospital again.

At that home I had a mild flashback one night. I started to read about child sexual abuse and its aftereffects on my PlayStation Vita, and my flashback worsened. I remembered clearly someone bending me over, fondling me. After weeping slightly, I told my friends and family about what had happened. They expressed their sympathy for me.

After my second stay at Yale-New Haven, I went to a very nice group home in Greenwich: beautifully decorated, nice garden, everything.. There I volunteered for charity and was able to live relatively openly as a trans person. I found the atmosphere mostly relaxing and respectful and pleasant. There were however one or two people who'd touch my thighs in very uncomfortable ways, and this grated on me very badly, giving me more flashbacks. I regret it, but one night I was having a flashback and I jabbed my Epi-Pen into my thigh. I said to call 911. I went to the hospital, where my relatives accompanied me, and I explained how I was being sexually harassed (although in retrospect, that seems like an exaggeration). So my mother intervened to get me taken to Four Winds, which she had remembered from her stay as a very pleasant mental hospital.

I arrived and it was not pleasant at all. It was being used as effectively an overflow catcher for the juvenile "justice" system: if an incident of youth violence had been convincingly demonstrated to be due to mental issues, rather than trying to fix any underlying issues in the community, it would simply be pathologised and the perpetrator sent off to the hospital. The facility was also heavily gender-segregated, which was very unhelpful for my identity issues. Still I'd wear a skirt and act all gay despite a few of the kids there being quite homophobic. One time there was a bisexual guy who showed up and he was angry at everything; for some reason I especially pissed him off. He told me he wanted to slap me, so I decided to let him slap me. It wasn't too bad, although it definitely freaked out a lot of the other people.

Another kid there was this extremely large guy, we'll call him "Juan". He was a huge Bobby Shmurda fan and would go around reciting the lyrics to "Hot N***a" as well as improvising his own: "I got bars for days / I smoke hella blaze." One time a very flamboyant gay kid came in, let's call him "Jay", and I became his servant and he became my queen. I'd carry around his "robes" (blankets and sheets) for him and bring him snacks. One time as I was trying to bring him something Juan blocked my way and said, "You can't go in there!" I replied with, "Yeah?" He said, "He's gay!" "Yeah, and?" "He wants to take your butt!" "And??" At this Juan walked away and said "Whatever, I'm not getting involved in this."

(There was also a boy with a slight speech impediment and blonde hair who was kind of cute, and a girl with a slight speech impediment and blonde hair done in a very French hairstyle who was also kind of cute. They started dating, which was very cute.)

Beginning here my relatives began visiting me as often as they could and bringing me books. I eventually developed a gigantic bookshelf, largely science fiction and nonfiction as well as a few thrillers when the doctors decided to put me on three separate antipsychotics and I became agitated. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and C-PTSD and when the APRN put me on the antipsychotics and denied me anxiolytics I became very resentful of her.

After a couple months I was allowed to start attending an outpatient programme for most of the day while still remaining in inpatient because DCF couldn't figure out where the hell to place me. Two episodes stuck with me here. There was a person who was very quiet and had a silly sense of humour (taking small oyster crackers and referring to them as "little breads") who told me they were otherkin and that the word "God" triggered them; I'd apologise every time I said "oh my God" and they'd say "thank you, it's okay". And there was a girl who broke down crying whenever someone started tapping on the chair because her uncle had sexually abused her and would tap on her door whenever he would come into her room.

I remember toward the end of my stay there I was out playing softball with some of the kids, bonding with a girl there, and the sunlight filtered gorgeously through the trees that late afternoon.

Around September they transferred me to the Children's Center in Hamden. I soon learned this was a terrible place. Many of the staff didn't care at all about the kids in their care. I remember one, let's call her "Jane", was just openly callous and would bully this mentally disabled kid, "Tom", for no reason until he cried. I began hanging out with him just to make sure that he was away from her and couldn't be bullied. On the opposite end of the spectrum was "Nathan", a guy with a huge bushy beard who liked System of a Down and cared about all the kids in his care a lot. I quickly started hanging around him as much as possible.

I hated it at the Children's Center, although my relatives would bring me books, apizza (there's a great place, Olde Worlde Brick Oven, that must be tried), and Foxon Park soda every opportunity they had to visit. I got very into Greg Egan, Isaac Asimov, and Kurt Vonnegut at this point, and regrettably also read the whole Harry Potter series (my relatives had chilled out somewhat by this point and decided that neither Harry Potter nor Pokémon were satanic). On Christmas Eve, they required us to attend a pageant, which I was extraordinarily bored by. I stepped out with my relatives for a break, but a staff member came to tell us that we had to stay in. I started panicking and stepped out of the car, at which point I lost my mind and started telling everyone I was a god, and that they were worthless insects, and threatened suicide and banged my head on the pavement. No one did anything until one of my relatives called 911 on her cell phone. I went back to Yale-New Haven for a day, where at first I caused trouble by telling everyone I was a diagnosed psychopath but then calmed down considerably and started getting along with the people there.

I went back to the Children's Center and my parents brought me my presents: a children's book by Russell Brand, a couple more books and little toys, and a copy of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, which I played every day and which helped me tremendously through the rest of my stay. I developed a new resolve to survive. I'd tried to kill myself a few times in the Children's Center, but finally I decided to affirm life. Even if I was in hell, even if it looked like years before I could get out, I still would not give up trying to live. When I went to the library and was allowed computer use I downloaded music onto my Vita. I'd talk to my friends and download Muse, Radiohead, and the ending themes of both Danganronpa games. And slowly I built a will to survive.

I started attending events with the kids and staff more. Once I went to the Barnes & Noble and picked up Disinfo's Book of Lies, a whole book of occult info. I came across some names there I wouldn't stop seeing: Julius Evola, Boyd Rice, Tracy Twyman.

I found out I could spend hours with Nathan and with "Ash", a former Marine-turned-antiwar libertarian who loved Edward Snowden and who preferred "Ash" to his given name because it sounded nicer. Ash told me how he hated the military and joined the Marines to try to mitigate any damage it caused. He told me how he hated the Children's Center and worked there to ensure that the nice kids weren't destroyed by it. He told me how he'd gone to college at Quinnipiac and studied under a Catholic professor who'd taught him just war theory. He recounted how the professor had listed criteria for a just war: that the cause and intention is just, that force be used fairly and as a last resort, that the party waging war must be a legitimate authority, and that the war must be reasonably winnable. He objected on the last point, citing the Jewish ghetto uprisings under the Nazis as examples of wars that were absolutely just, but which were absolutely unwinnable. The professor couldn't answer that. That has stuck with me for years. Defiance of the inevitable is the highest virtue.

During my computer time I'd check RationalWiki's "What Is Going On in..." sections for the news. There'd be multiple references to something called GamerGate, which I struggled to figure out what it was. This would turn out to be very important later.

During these last few months, I got a siddur, because the Kabbalah seemed to hold the key to the world. And I also got a tallit and a kippah. And I decided to try Jewish prayer, and I continued until I was firmly convinced of Judaism rather than Thelema. And one night, I turned to the back of the siddur and came across this poem by Judy Chicago:
And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind

And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another's will

And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many

And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance

And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old

And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life's creatures

And then everywhere will be called Eden once again
I read that aloud and broke down into tears, and I felt the Shechinah comfort me, with Her hands upon my shoulders.

After a few more months, in the spring I got to visit my house briefly a couple times with Ash. It had been cleaned up nicely and my room looked gorgeous and cosy and quaint. I wished I could stay but I decided to go back and wait to be released. The sunlight filtered gorgeously through the trees that late afternoon.

Finally, on 23 April 2015, my 16th birthday, I was released and went home. I immediately took up smoking again, deciding that I wasn't going to let the state make me quit. Anything I wanted to do, I'd do of my own volition, on my own time. I didn't know it yet, but I would come to need the nicotine. I was in the midst of a psychotic episode caused by stress.

I did a few magical rituals and became convinced I had four goddesses living in my head who'd talk to me. They explained a Philip K. Dick-style Gnostic revelation to me, using language similar to the Law of One or the Ra Material. At the same time, I went online and found that the rules of the Internet had completely changed over the year that I'd been gone. People were more tense. Tumblr was fucking insane. I didn't know entirely what had happened, so I decided to do some digging on GamerGate because I still hadn't figured out what it was.

I started going to another school for troubled kids and made a few friends there. I loved it at first but soon soured on it when it became clear a lot of the problems I'd already had with various schools still existed there. Still, through that school I made new friends and reconnected with a friend I'd met years and years prior and hadn't thought I'd see again.

But that summer I alienated many of my friends by being an asshole to them. One of my friends didn't like a particular word, and I rambled to them about how this was no time to complain about petty shit like that because Israel is currently ethnically cleansing Palestine and there is an active fascist movement organising right now and it wasn't their place anyway because they're not transfem and I am, and they rightly pointed out that I was being really shitty to them, so I decided to run away and unfriend a whole bunch of people. It took me months before I fully apologised and I still feel guilty about not just being shitty to them but running away after that.

That autumn my family got evicted from our house of around 12 years. I packed as much as I could and left, but it wasn't enough. We lost most of our possessions. We went to the only place we had: my great-grandmother's house. As we drove away, the sunlight filtered gorgeously through the trees in the late afternoon. That night, I downloaded "Iris" by Salyu—the ending theme to Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box—and Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" to my Vita, and I listened to them over and over and cried. And cried.

We stayed with her for a month, and during that time I went on 8chan and discovered /leftypol/ and /fringe/. These two boards would influence my life for the next few years. Through /fringe/ I discovered Montalk, a site which seemed to confirm the "revelations" I'd been receiving, and plunged deeper into esotericism, exacerbating my psychosis. Through /leftypol/, I gained more exposure to left-wing ideas and started watching videos by Bat'ko and Xexizy. I also started participating in Leftbook and Weird Facebook more.

Two things I found out about around that time seemed to influence my next two years heavily. First I found out about the "Sonic for Real Justice" blog, which seemed to just confirm to me how insane Tumblr was at the time. And then I caught wind of the Zamii070 situation, which struck me as deranged and cruel. I started participating in support groups for her, "anti-SJW pro-SJ" communities, etc.. I was incensed enough at it that I started to detach myself from feminism in general, moved slightly to the right.

Soon a family friend took us in. We were provided bedrooms and food and all we needed. It was very gracious and I'm still thankful for it.

But in December I tried to kill myself. I looked up the LD50 for aspirin and swallowed twice that amount. Then I watched television with my family for a bit in the living room and went to bed. I fell asleep, sure that I'd never wake up again.

Instead, a few hours later, I opened my eyes. I wondered if I'd gone to Hell. My life flopped before my eyes like a flaccid penis, a whole film running in front of me in blips. I saw my whole life, from birth to death, and how it impacted other people's lives, and how other people's lives impacted mine. I saw how those other people's lives impacted and were impacted by other people's lives, until I'd seen every life in history, and the whole history of Tellus. And then it zoomed out, showing me, like the Total Perspective Vortex, my place on Tellus, and Tellus' place in the Solar System, and the Solar System's place in Orion's Arm, and Orion's Arm's place in the Milky Way, and the Milky Way's place in the Local Group, and the Local Group's place in the Virgo Supercluster, and the Virgo Supercluster's place in the Laniakea Supercluster, and the Laniakea Supercluster's place in the Universe. And I saw the whole Universe from the Big Bang to its heat death. And I saw the reflection of the Light of Tabor, the Ein Sof Ohr, and felt an indescribable, terrifying, comforting sense of Love, with a capital L. There was Something that loved me, and It reached out to prevent me from dying. Repeatedly. Because It has a purpose for me in the world. And that is beautiful and wonderful and majestic and fucking terrifying.

Soon after that I got a phrase stuck in my head: The idols have been cast down and rent. I wanted to make music, but I wasn't sure how I'd do it. I'd rescued my guitar from my house, but I didn't know how to play it. I'd wanted to make rock and metal, but I didn't have an electric guitar, so that was mostly out of the question. But I'd come across the Wikipedia page for neofolk, and I decided to look into it more closely. I recognised two of the band names on its list: Current 93 and Death in June. Death in June's aesthetics scared me at first, and I already recognised Current 93 from David Tibet's work with Psychic TV and Genesis P-Orridge, and I recognised the title Thunder Perfect Mind from the Gnostic poem it was named after, and I liked the sound of the song title "Rosy Star Tears from Heaven", so I dove right in and listened to it on YouTube. It freaked me out at first, and that meant I loved it.

Soon I was listening through their discography, and soon I dove into Death in June as well. It provided a soundtrack to my confusion, depression, and occult mania that year. I started to get into more New Age and conspiracy stuff and made a few friends in that community. I hated Stefan Molyneux so I started a podcast with one of them as sort of a counter to his podcast. In the vein of "Montalk", I took on the handle of "Gnostiquette", partly inspired by Mouravieff's series Gnosis.

At the same time I was drifting apart from my previous friend group and becoming closer friends with a couple of libertarians who I'd assumed at first to be merely lolicons but turned out to be open pedophiles. Through them I also met a guy, a demsoc, who at first tentatively shared their scepticism of feminism. They persuaded me to listen more to people like Sargon of Akkad and Jordan Peterson and other "anti-SJW" types. I was also getting more active on Twitter, with a very confused politics: I was an anti-SJW reptilian conspiracy environmentalist who loved Bernie Sanders and at first reviled Trump. But then I came across Emily Youcis' account and became mutuals with her. She became a big fan of Milo Yiannopoulos, and against my better judgement, so did I. She started supporting Trump, and with much hesitation, I started thinking, hey, perhaps he's not that bad, on certain issues he is fairly socially liberal. The libertarians I'd met were similarly inclined, although still very sceptical of his immigration policy (as I also was), and themselves moved further to the right.

I started ranting on Facebook about "Zionist Anglo-Israelist conspiracies", alienating my friends even further. I burned bridges. I was fully in the throes of psychosis and no one really knew it. I believed that reptilians had been gangstalking me. I believed I was in contact with entities from higher densities all the time. I believed I was under special surveillance by the deep state.

Slowly I became less enchanted of the New Age ideas I was possessed of and became a more "earthly" conspiracy theorist. I started hanging around the Corbett Report group because they seemed like the most trustworthy and least antisemitic or racist of the bunch. My podcast was one of the five or so channels on BitChute.

In July I moved into my current house, a seafront place with a gas stove. There I developed more ideas for my music and learned more guitar; I'd started practising by playing Death in June and Current 93 songs on it. I designed the first few covers for my album and tried to work on how it would be arranged.

After the election I became much more suspicious of the views I'd developed up to that point. I started moving slowly more left-wing again; I came across r/badphilosophy and noticed how the "sceptics" and "anti-SJWs" I'd been following were frauds. I still hadn't fully shaken them though. My psychotic episode was simmering down, and I started to become aware of how it was, in point of fact, a psychotic episode.

In December I came across the account of someone called Polyphemus, which led me to someone named Gabriel Amadej. I found both of them extremely funny and interesting and followed them. 2017 rolled around and I was becoming more and more intrigued by the left-wing people I had come across. People like Hbomberguy and ContraPoints and Chapo Trap House seemed to represent a new form of left-wing politics that was fun and strange and intoxicating (and a bit scary to someone like me who'd been convinced of "anti-SJW" bullshit for so long). I finally left behind my "anti-SJW" brain rot when Sargon of Akkad responded to Richard Spencer being punched with a bunch of whining and started screaming "fuck you Bernie" after Bernie Sanders had pledged to fight Trump on Inauguration Day.

At around the same time, I cut off one of the libertarians I'd been hanging out with for posting censored child sexual abuse material to Facebook, which had given me a flashback. I was starting to become very irritated by the other one, as he was responding more and more with bullshit when I pressed him on his beliefs. After a proxy debate where my demsoc friend and I spent hours trying to get him to give a straight answer on the Rothbard quotation defending deliberate child starvation, with him just repeatedly saying, "That wouldn't happen in a free market," I finally blocked him and moved on.

Just prior to that I'd had a bizarre dream which felt like an etheric abduction by tall grey aliens. In my words:
They were trying to tell me that they loved me as they felt me all over and it was really unnerving, frightening, and disgusting. I could feel them sizing up my etheric body and trying to sap energy from the right points; I've been practising energy cultivation techniques for a while now, trying to balance the pressures of getting into a new (and better!) school with meditative practice.

After a couple of minutes of being under etheric attack, I noticed a light right outside the craft. The light pried the door open and sort of reached to me. I was able to reach back, and it pulled me away.

Here's one of the most interesting parts: I entered into a lucid dream immediately afterward. My immediate thought when I woke up was "astral recuperation programme". I was being shown examples of attack and vectors of attack. I was shown a Weird Facebook acquaintance who hasn't posted anything in a couple of days get in the middle of some nasty shit and she ended up slicing her neck. (She's still reacting to things posted to her timeline; thank God.) I noticed the same craft in the sky. I was shown through rooms filled with emotionally-charged objects for my friends and myself as well as strangers. I was shown these rooms rotting, accumulating filth, falling apart at different points in time...Weird Time Shit, as Andrew Hussie would put it. There were some weird things like a parade of grade-schoolers wearing Homestuck costumes toward the end. I don't know how to interpret that.

The "programme", I guess, was incomplete when I woke up. I'm wondering what the next step is.

It really feels like Ahrimanic and Luciferic forces are trying to make their influence felt.

In any case, I'm still a bit freaked out, but I'm recovering from the shock pretty well. I guess I have to thank my Holy Guardian Angel (or someone like that).
I'd transferred to another school, back to the school for autistic/ADHD/executive dysfunction students I'd attended when I was 12. It had changed a lot since I first went there, and I wasn't really able to make much progress, recover lost credits, or make new friends there, although most of my teachers were lovely and I enjoyed Japanese class quite a bit.

My dog Tifa died in the spring. We took her to the vet after she was unable to get up from the floor and had become incontinent; she'd had a tumour that wasn't detected for the longest time, and we finally opted to have her put down to spare her more pain.

Summer came and I was finished with high school, although I didn't really "graduate". I'd made a bunch of friends on Twitter and was in the process of discovering new politics. Over the past year I'd moved away from New Age beliefs for the most part and was trying to synthesise a form of Welsh paganism, but in mid-2017, after finding more and more discrepancies between the system presented in Mouravieff's Gnosis and any form of paganism, I decided to contact the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America and become a Christian again.

I ended the year surrounded by several new friends, with a new group chat I could talk in at any time. One of my friends told me that she appreciates vulnerability in music, so one day I tried writing a song about my sexual abuse. I made several false starts before writing down the line "I dreamt about a young December" and, trancelike, proceeding to write down the entire song. I was stunned. I recorded it right away, twice. I took the latter recording and recorded myself listening to it. I cried. I kept that recording almost as-is.

The next year came around and with it came some tumult. There were huge wars on Left Twitter about paganism and reading theory, and I decided to defend my friends. Through that I met some new friends as well as a couple of enemies. Then, shortly after my 19th birthday, I released my first album, recorded entirely when I was 18, The Idols Have Been Cast Down and Rent. Around that point I also got into my first serious relationship after inviting a friend to my house, one that ended relatively amicably, but in which I was pretty shitty and underappreciative to my partner.

Much of that year was a blur. Halfway through it, I met another group of friends, many of whom were already part of my prior group of friends. Somewhat later, I became friends with Keffie and her sphere, and soon all three friend groups started moving more and more close. Since that point I've stayed reasonably close with most of those people.

I was also finally chrismated and received into the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America, and although I haven't had much of a chance to attend the Liturgy due to distance and family illness, I've been planning to as soon as I get the chance.

I entered into another relationship that year as well, and it seemed utterly perfect at first. We seemed to be perfect matches, we seemed to share most of our views, we seemed to share history, we seemed to share esoteric knowledge of books and films and games and online curiosities.

But I ended the year getting more and more depressed. When this year rolled in, I had to reevaluate a lot of my existing friendships and relationships, and I had to work on how I approached my life heavily. The New Year caused a lot of trouble, with people attacking my friends and various interpersonal problems. My relationship soon turned toxic; I began to be more and more irritated by my partner's treatment of me, they tried to manipulate me and use me as an object more and more, and finally in May I had to tell them that we had to reevaluate it. They began accusing me of seeing everything through a skewed perspective, seeing manipulation where there was none, seeing their reasonable angry outbursts at me as unjustified berating, seeing their reasonable debates as toxic belligerence, and so on. It was only after one of my other very close friends tried to defend me and my now ex-partner attacked her that I decided to block them and move on.

I started a relationship with a friend named Alex. She challenged me a lot, and while we're not quite in a relationship now, because of her I gained self-respect. I reconnected with an old friend with whom my friendship had soured previously. I began putting out more music. I began writing more songs and practising music more, learning new techniques, learning more stuff in general. I decided to commit to learning at least one new language. I decided to study linguistics, my primary interest aside from music, more seriously, and I'm currently preparing to go to university with linguistics as my major.

And I had another major flashback earlier this year, one that caused me to affirm one of my worst suspicions: that I was recorded, sexually exploited for profit. This knowledge, however, has helped me recover even better, for now I am relatively secure in my understanding of how the abuse I received has shaped me, and I know now how I can combat and move past my worst tendencies.

In May we got kittens, black Maine Coons, named St. George and the Dragon. In recent months they've grown to be huge, and soon they'll be in larger. In October one of my friends invited me to his place, and after reviewing the cost of transportation, I accepted. I visited him twice; once in November, once this month. I tried new things visiting him. I saw movies with him, I played music for him. (I also hugged him. A lot.) We're closer than ever now and I couldn't be happier.

This month I also found out that I still have markers for Lyme disease and began undergoing treatment. I've taken a too-long break from it, but I'm planning to resume as soon as I feel ready.

What could be a better story? There's a clear structure to my decade: I started out unhappy but mostly okay, I went through some of the worst possible times in my life, and I am closing the decade happier and a better person. I have big plans for this strange new decade. I have no clue what it will bring, and I'm still not done thinking about this decade. (I was planning to expand more on culture and politics, but ah well, I'm running out of time to finish this.)

I started out in a deep fog, unknowing of what was to come, and soon fell into a pit of slime and mud. But I climbed out, and I've been climbing further. I do not know when I shall reach the highest peak, but it's got to be around here somewhere—

It's the beginning, right!?
Like how beauty illuminates the dark,
you and I are on the middle of an adventure.

In the somber sky, the blood-red moon flickers like a bird that lost its way home.
You’re like a cat yowling crazily yet secretly for its friends in a remote alley.

What are you looking at with a hollow gaze through the window, while hugging your knees?
The mirage of a love that slipped past you wasn’t a wave of emotions or an afterimage.

How long are you going to stay there? The love that you let go of will never return.

Take in the boundless azure sky and show me your unblemished heart.
Catch all of those nonstop moments for how fleeting they are.
Oh angel, take a breath and aim for the heavens once more;
strip off your tattered wings and go do as you like.

I lost that feeling of being in love
and tried to ask somebody.
You said with a sigh,
"How much will love cost?"

[...]

Days are scattered
like the broken sun.

My first memories have disappeared.
Where did they want to go?

You were called a bullshitter,
your wings of freedom are still closed and shut.
Ever free, if you awaken
and pierce through this night, could you fly towards freedom?

ever free, where are we free? ever free