GABlog

November 13, 2018

Hostages, Proxies, and Moles

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:40 pm

One extremely important contribution made by the alt-right and neo-reaction has been the enormous enrichment of the vocabulary we have available for studying social actors and actions. Neo-reaction has retrieved the ancient (caste) distinction between soldiers, priests and merchants; the alt-right has put nations and races back on the agenda, and has also contributed a rich conceptualization of socio-sexual hierarchies, the most fully developed I know of being Vox Day’s (Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, Omegas, Sigmas). Both tendencies have brought back “thick” understandings of male-female differences. Liberalism flattens everyone out into “citizens,” which is perhaps a further development of the absolutist monarchs’ flattening of everyone into “subjects.” Of course, liberalism has seen its own efflorescence of group designations: capitalist, worker, middle class, new middle class, salaried vs. wage earners, plus professional classifications and, of course, all the political differentiations. But the liberal designations just “happen”—we notice them as statistical distributions after the fact, and they have nothing to do with decisions made or founding events. No obligations follow from any of them. Even the supposedly freely chosen political identities turn out to be almost completely grounded in some combination of economic, ethnic, gender, regional, familial status. (Tell me your race or ethnicity, whether or not you are married with children, or hope to be at an early age, and I’m already ¾ of the way towards guessing what you “believe” about most “issues” with a pretty high degree of accuracy.)

The socio-sexual hierarchies may present themselves pretty clearly and consistently in high school, where what differentiation there is almost directly elicits varying dominance tendencies among males and conformist tendencies among females, and no one is really responsible for much, but in the adult world such hierarchies are mediated by the professions, or the disciplines. What makes one an alpha on Wall Street will not gain one the same respect in a scientific community, as an author in the world of publishing, or on a neighborhood watch committee. It would be very interesting to do a longitudinal study tracing men’s (in particular) position in dominance hierarchies throughout their lives, and across the various activities they participate in—no doubt there would be quite a bit of continuity, but high school reunions must hold some surprises. So, it seems that the caste-like differentiations, which follow very directly from what one would have to do in assembling a team, must be the foundational ones. The socio-sexual hierarchies, then, would to some extent determine whether one becomes a soldier, priest or merchant, but would then primarily show up within those groupings. Of course, we need not assume that these specific castes themselves are the last word—it’s just that this points in the direction of the needed inquiry. What we are looking for in such group differentiations is resistance to the equalization pushed by turnover at the center. Ultimately, we would want grammatical definitions—that is, one’s “vocation” would be identified through one’s relation to ostensives, imperatives, interrogatives and declaratives. Most obviously, if one’s greatest aptitude is to obey imperatives, one is a soldier; to issue imperatives, an officer, ultimately a ruler (the alpha among officers). Beyond that it will get more complex.

It is belonging to a team that makes sense of qualitative “identities.” Teams have captains, and most team sports have more central figures, the one who controls the ball or initiates the action. Liberalism can’t do much with such an approach, because a team needs to be very clear about qualifications and roles. Imagine a wide receiver insisting on the “right” to play fullback. But if social orders are teams (really, teams within teams), what’s the game? It’s easy to get tripped up on that question, because it implies the existence of some external, “Archimedean” point from which one could “choose” among different games, different ways of “winning.” But we can always ask the questioner what game he’s playing in asking the question. Or what leverage within some other game he expects from that move. We’re always immersed in games, that is, and all we can do is solicit and elicit new moves within them. The new moves might eventually become new games. Of course, someone will come up to you and say “life is serious!” or “look at what’s happening—this is no game!” To “gamify” such moves is then an important act of deferral: yes, I can see there is real danger, people might get hurt, maybe they’re getting hurt, there’s no time to lose—still, though, the more we place people in clear-cut roles where they can show what they are made of, the more we find the right measures of tacit and explicit cooperation; in other words, the more team-like we are, the better we’ll handle the emergency. (And then the alphas, betas, gammas, etc., will step up, or step down, or step off in their own ways.)

But there’s still something missing in all this. What happens once the team is exposed to disruptions? This must happen even if only for internal reasons, such as the team’s own successes, and the new problems they generate, and the team’s need to replenish and reproduce itself. At each point along the way, there might be reasons to question decisions made by the captain, decisions with no clear precedent. Exacerbating such potential pitfalls is the reliance of one team upon many other teams. A government is essentially a team mediating between other teams. Sometimes a government is like a referee; sometimes it is more like the major leagues recruiting from the minors; sometimes it has to lead a team of teams against some insubordinate team. Insofar as it is like a referee, which is the case insofar as it runs a justice system, any lapses will be a signal to the players to enter the government team and tip the scale in their favor. So, now we have antagonisms between teams, and members of one team infiltrating other teams. Teams will aggregate into mega-teams. This creates more possible resentments that could be leveraged within one team on behalf of another.

In the midst of the many stresses placed on a team, the coherence of the team will depend upon how highly it values its members. I mean “value” in a very literal sense: what will the team spend or risk to protect a particular member? We could think of a spectrum of possibilities here, where at one end is a team in which all the members are interchangeable and easily replaced; at the other end, not only is each player highly specialized and impossible to replace, but the set of relations built among team members could not be restored if one of the members is removed. In any complex society, there will be more of the former type than the latter, but the kind of complex society you have will be determined by which type of team sets the tone. A centered social order will depend on irreplaceables, and will want more of them; a decentered order, or one with a rapid turnover at the center, will want more interchangeables. Liberalism is essentially a process of pulverizing irreplaceables into interchangeables. In fact, that’s how you get all those new “statistical” identities in the first place.

Irreplaceables are high value targets. That is, they are very useful as hostages. The centrality of hostage taking in honor societies cannot be overestimated. Hostages are involved in the most mundane practices. Diplomatic intercourse in ancient kingdoms required an exchange of high value hostages. In honor societies, hostages are highly priced because they signify the value of the patriarch—if a hostage is not returned, the capability of the captain to protect his team is compromised, and seen to be compromised. This means everyone is ultimately a hostage, or just waiting to be one. The reason why a patriarch will feel compelled to kill a dishonored daughter is because her dishonor—even if she was raped, which only means she was allowed to be in an unprotected position where that was possible—shames him as protector. She was a hostage, even if this didn’t become explicit until she was dishonored. Post-honor teams consider their members irreplaceable because the team performs some essential function, but no team, and certainly no team of teams, i.e., no government, can ever be once and for all post-honor (and irreplaceability in functional terms is always relative and diminishing). Why is it an issue when a single American is held hostage by some terrorist group, when 50,000 people, or however many, are killed in automobile accidents every year, etc.? Because the investment in redeeming the hostage is a marker of the coherence of the team.

So, “hostage” is an “identity” that must be added to or supplement soldier, priest, merchant, and alpha, beta, and so on. We are all hostages in potentia, to all of the different teams we are members of. The flip side of being a hostage is that you, as an individual, can shame the group through your actions, which is a way of offering yourself up as a hostage to other teams. The captain is then faced with the choice of redeeming you as a hostage (“he is one of ours, after all, you’ll have to come and take him”) or expelling him (letting the other team do with him what they will). The first approach, all things being equal, implies a hostile relation to other teams, while the second approach implies a willingness to police within your own borders in the interest of mutual amity. Hostage taking is central to political warfare today. Each side attacks someone on the other side for doing or saying something that can be framed as shameful, presumably for some audience not directly implicated in either team (or, an audience made up of members of the team insofar as they are also members of other teams). You then dare the other team to protect the hostage or cut him loose. Protecting him means you put more members out on a limb, and they may be taken hostage; but cutting him loose may encourage more hostage taking as well.

It seems to me that hostage taking is closely related to the use of “proxies,” which is such a crucial concept in Moldbuggian neo-absolutism. The high uses the low as proxies against the middle. Let’s see if the concept of hostage taking can enrich our understanding of the process. To activate a proxy, you need a group, or a team. In order to turn the team into a proxy, you need to interfere with its exchange system—and exchange systems within groups work primarily on the gift and honor model. Members of that team get humiliated by members of another team. This lowers their value on the team—if they are humiliated enough, it’s not worth it trying to redeem them. The way to leverage the team as a proxy is to elevate the value of the humiliated members, to redeem them as hostages by making their humiliation shameful, not for the team to whch they belong, but for the team from which the humiliators come. This can only be done by the “highs,” i.e., an external and more powerful group which has, for example, the means of publicizing instances of humiliation and framing them as shameful, pressuring the team to repudiate them, that is, refuse to pay ransom in added scrutiny of the team. It even becomes possible to induce members of the targeted “middle” group to offer themselves as hostages, by allowing their value to be determined by the team from which the humiliated come, which really means determined by those with the spotlight to shine on (or turn away from) all of these doings. The humiliated ones then acquire the highest value, which they can leverage within their team and on behalf of their team. Within this economy, the interchangeables become irreplaceables.

Much of this is clearly outside of the control of any individual, but the best way to lessen one’s chance of being reduced to the option of becoming a low value hostage or puppetized proxy is to become a mole. A mole on behalf of the center. Every discipline employs a kind of cover; even its normal members are under cover, which is to say playing a role, wearing a costume, etc. Deferral is itself mole-like—you set aside your desires and resentments, which means you act as someone who has redeemed oneself from proclivities that make it easy to take you hostage (and would also make you a dispensable hostage). You make yourself a higher value hostage by hiding your value in making yourself irreplaceable to those who would protect you but interchangeable for those who would take you. As a mole for the center, you find signs of irreplaceability behind signs of interchangeability.

The most obvious example of “molarity” is leftist entryism, whereby a traditional institution is infiltrated and transformed into a progressive front. This describes pretty much every institution in the contemporary world. This kind of entryism involves leveraging the institution’s rules against itself. The institution has rules that implement some higher, meta-rules (academic freedom in the name of the search for truth); but the rules exclude (that’s not really “academic” work), so the meta-rules can be invoked to subvert the rules (your definition of “academic” excludes new, path-breaking inquiry). In enough cases the charge will be plausible enough, and sometimes even true, so as to confer the benefit of the doubt on new attacks. In the end, “academic” is given a new meaning. In hostage-taking terms, what happens here, at least in the initial stages, is that the activist/entrepreneur takes some member of the team hostage, while simultaneously offering herself up as a hostage. The team member (who has been “critiqued”) can be demoted in some way, while the entrant can be expelled. It’s a long game, a trial and error process—over time, if the game is played right, enough prominent team members get demoted and enough entryists are redeemed. At a certain point the entryists are in, and can dispense with the pretense of playing by the old rules, at least for internal transactions—for external messaging, it might be necessary to keep up the pretense indefinitely.

Centerist molarity replaces the meta-rules with infra-rules. Never, ever, conduct battles on the terrain of the meta-rules, however tempting it may be to defend the cause of truth, justice, freedom, beauty, God, the good. These are all central words, so the point is not that they should or could be forgotten or expunged—they just can’t be the object of a direct contest. Molarity on behalf of the center constructs practices that externalize the practices of the team you join. You show them what they’re actually doing in a way they may not exactly appreciate, but that at least some will find revelatory and compelling. You offer them ways of being more competent by showing how their reliance on some skewed version of a meta-rule interferes with some practice they’re trying to construct. This is actually a way of deferring hostage taking—you try and make everyone more irreplaceable, and you try to make the team itself more irreplaceable for as many other teams as possible. You work on producing interchangeable means of making more irreplaceables. Of course, this ends up making us all emissaries, which is to say self-delivered hostages of each other.

November 6, 2018

Crowding Out the Political

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:19 am

The best way to replace the liberal order would be one modeled on the paradox of identity. We all know this one: you have, e.g., a ship, and you replace one plank, and then another breaks so you replace that one. And so on. At what point is it no longer the “same” ship? Of course, this paradox is meant to examine our assumptions regarding “identity.” So, it’s still the same ship insofar as it’s still called the S.S. Minnow. Is it more the same ship if the material used to replace it part by part is closer to the original (the same kind of wood, or wood from the same stock)? (What if the ship looks so different that people refuse to call it the Minnow, or laugh when the owner does so?) If it ceases to be the same, at what point does this happen? The 378thplank? The 517th? Why, exactly? Such boundary questions occur across the board—when does a hill become a mountain (the “heap paradox”)? We have to name or nominate things but the things are not obliged to conform to our labels. Such paradoxes can become sterile academic exercises, but they can become very interesting when how to call a thing implicates interests and elicits conflicts.

So, when would a liberal order no longer be a liberal order? The ideal would be for the question not to be asked too widely until the answer was already “now.” After all, the assumption that all political intentions be widely telegraphed and explicitly stated is itself a liberal one that liberalism itself never abides by. No one is under any obligation to openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their aims, their views, their tendencies, and meet the fairy tale of authoritarianism with a manifesto of the party itself. It may be better to replace one plank at a time, and at the same time stockpile nicely prepared wood and devise some better names for various institutions, offices and practices, names perhaps to be used informally, satirically at first (memed into existence) but eventually to be “baptized” once the existing names are laughed out of existence. Where there is now liberal, let there be authority. If we itemize all the various elements of the existing order that are specifically liberal, approach them analytically, that is, break them down into their elements, we can identify where leverage lies. For example, does it make more sense to try and eliminate elections, or to render their results as irrelevant as possible (in which case they may continue but become vestigial)? How relevant are their results now? What gets decided byelections? What gets decided throughthe electoral process? What does the electoral process allow to be decided behind the scenes? How does the electoral process nevertheless shape what is behind the scenes so as to advantage some power centers over others? The point is to determine how the democratic system undermines authority, chains of command, competence, discipline and tradition, and to interfere with that process, to make it a less promising (more compromised) vehicle for those who benefit from, empower themselves through, higher levels of anarchy and chaos. The proper institutional “fix” will follow, more as a coup de grace than an apocalyptic triumph.

In other words, we crowd out the political. By “political,” I mean the assumption that nothing can be done without stimulating opposition. If someone wants to do something X way, we can’t proceed until we’ve heard from someone who wants to do it Y way. If no one actually wants to argue for Y, we must conjure it into existence. If you’re thinking politically, you see, e.g., a Congressional district where the incumbent regularly gathers 80% of the vote and stays in office for 40 years, and you think, not “these people must agree on most important things, must be happy with those who represent them, must get along quite well, and probably don’t think politics should consume their lives”; no, you think “this is awful, authoritarian, totalitarian, conformist—these people are not genuinely being represented because a false consensus is being imposed upon them.” So, the goal is to turn the 80/20 district into a 51/49 one. How do you do that? Find small disagreements, about things people don’t consider that important, and turn them into big disagreements about issues of existential survival. Political entrepreneurs will ply the margins and figure out exactly where is the particular arrangement of antagonisms that will get them to 51%. This is pretty much all that politics is comprised of, which is why so much of it is patently fake, especially the part about politicians promising to set aside the politics and cross over the aisle to get things done. Even worse, the process covers for and enables the very institutional dysfunctions that produce it—there’s nothing that can’t be politicized, which benefits those who are best at deploying their current market share and access to political leverage to further pulverize power and gather up its bits.

The 80/20 to 51/49 example is useful because it helps us to see exactly what kinds of attitudes, ideas and behaviors we would have to crowd out to marginalize and eventually eliminate the political. I think that some of my recent discussions of morality, ethics and aesthetics will help us in theorizing or modeling practices that identify, counter and disable those attitudes, ideas and behaviors. Ethics involves the maintenance of some discipline or practice asthatdiscipline or practice—what makes “medicine” medicine, what makes “chess” chess, what makes “governing” governing? There’s an ethics of conversation—what makes this conversation the conversation that it is, and what is involved in sustaining it? The way we speak about ethical questions is in terms of the difference or oscillation between the meaning of an act for the actor and its meaning for fellow participants and/or spectators and/or “clients.” If I’m teaching a class, would other teachers recognize what I’m doing as “teaching a class” or does it seem to them something else, like, say, therapy, activism, or performance? What about the students, and then those assessing students (say in other classes for which mine was a prerequisite)? Genuine teaching should produce genuine students who recognize it as such, and assessment practices should be generated by the effect or impact aimed by a genuine pedagogy, but, of course, all these elements of the practice can be out of alignment with each other, and various “inputs” (unprepared students, market-derived assessment criteria, etc.) can make them even more misaligned. In that case, “ethics” concerns realigning these elements of the practice or discipline, and that entails retrieving its origin, as a practice created in the midst of other practices so as to elicit and produce certain capacities that couldn’t be acquired otherwise.

If ethics is centered upon some good to be obtained, morality defers another kind of centering—the violent centering involved in sacrificial practices. A sacrifice is an attempt to influence a deity by offering some exchange; we don’t think we engage in such practices anymore, but we do. Some sacrificial practices seem innocuous enough, maybe even elevating—promising God, for example, that if he gets you out of this jam, that you’ll treat your kids better, or stop drinking, or whatever (something God presumably wants you to do)—as long as you keep the promise, of course. But if you think such exchanges can make things good with God, you will see your practices as accumulating such objects of potential exchange. Everything and everyone is a potential object of exchange. When there is a crisis, which is to say when “everything” seems to be at stake, your inclination will be to seek out the most valuable object of exchange, so as to ensure the crisis is relieved. Along with your fellow sacrificial participants you will choose whomever seems most misaligned with the system as the most likely cause of the crisis and therefore the most suitable sacrifice, and you will project onto that sacrificial victim the actions and motivations needed to justify his expulsion.

So, morality involves first of all refusing and resisting such practices. The more moral one is, the more moral some community is, the more it identifies markers and tendencies towards sacrificial practices, and replaces those tendencies with other practices aimed at determining which intentional practices lead to which results and which habits lead to which intentional practices. The causes of the crisis are therefore located within the community, within its mimetic desires and rivalries, and institutions and norms are established so as to discover those rivalries as early and defer them as quickly and decisively as possible. These institutions are therefore the ones in which ethics becomes the central question—this is the case even for seemingly amoral practices, like those of science and medicine. Once we realize that some form of defilement or ritual transgression is not the cause of the disease, we are free to inquire into what the causes actually are. Once we stop looking for the ways God has marked out evil doers through some kind of disability or abnormality, we can take responsibility for determining what counts as evildoing and constructing procedures for proving and punishing it. And as we get better at tracing webs of human intention and causality, the we can respond to misfortunes suffered as a result of no action of the victim with kindness rather than horror. At the same time, it is in ethical breakdowns that moral questions become immediate and urgent: when we know longer know what counts as “law,” “justice,” “health,” “knowledge,” and so on, we find ourselves in unresolvable conflicts that lead us to lapse into sacrificial practices. It is here that politics finds its point of entry and, really, its entire reason for being. Working towards the proper articulation of ethics and morality gives politics less and less to do. To put it another way, the political entrepreneur tries to turn every moral and ethical question into a political one, that is, one to be “solved” by generating a whirlpool of conflict around it (the permanent conflict is, in fact, the solution for the political actor); a counter-politics works on reversing this and distilling all political conflicts back into moral and ethical questions, in the event of which the specifically political component will vanish, and so, often, will the “problem” itself.

We do need the “imagination,” or aesthetics, for such practices. Aesthetics, for Gans, is the oscillation, on the originary scene, between the sign and the object: the form of the sign directs the scenic participant’s attention to the transfigured central object; the object, re-appearing as the object of desire, and therefore desacralized, sends the participant’s attention back to the “well-formed” sign. In this way we come to expect formal “frames” for attending to, using and consuming objects. It seems to me we need to see this momentary oscillation as a scene within the scene, or event within the event: a potential and imagined event in which a “figure” appears as both vulnerable and threatening, both complete in itself and “omni-referential.” It is through aesthetic representations—not necessarily “art”—that we can see preliminary lapse in ethics within normal and apparently ethical practices, or the immoral intentions, ends, or even implications in the most upright practices. So, I have proposed thinking about the aesthetic as a kind of “originary satire.” Think about how someone looks when we see him simultaneously at his most vulnerable and most threatening—the image is inevitably grotesque. I’ve stumbled here upon the thesis that, aesthetically speaking, the grotesque precedes the beautiful and the sublime. I would defend that by saying that the grotesque gives us the human on the scene as the sign, while the beautiful and the sublime transfer the aesthetic representation to the center and invest it with divinity, which is to say desirability, internal symmetry and unapproachability. The beautiful and sublime are, of course, immensely valuable human acquisitions, but if we want to see when and where we are at our worst in thinking we’re at our best, or where our desires and resentments are cloaked in the most beautiful and sublime forms, we need originary satire. I’ll conclude with the grandiose and perhaps grotesque claim that only originary satire can hold the entire moral and ethical order together. Not to mention that it best stymies all political rhetoric—all divisive claims cloaked in the treacly preaching of edifying unification around principles defined and controlled by the rhetorician himself—and therefore most aggressively crowds out the political.

October 30, 2018

The Rhetoric of Mastery: An Inquiry into Silence and Irony

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:35 am

Ian Dennis, in his GA-informed book, Lord Byron and the History of Desire, concludes by countering an assertion from George Soros that we can have a market economy but not a market society. Dennis contends, that, no, it’s market all the way down. He is working within the very expansive notion of the “market” I have also explored in recent posts, in which any presentation of any possibility to any set of competing desires can be termed a “market.” It is a position that overlaps considerably with von Mises praxeology, and is deeply rooted in the history of GA—as reflected, for example, in Eric Gans’s analysis of the liberal democratic political system as a kind of political market “superstructured” over the economic market, serving to express (and hopefully defuse) the very resentments generated by that economic market. (The question of whether we would not then need a third market, to “absorb” the “surplus” resentments generated by the political market is not at all a frivolous one.)

Thought experiments to test the limits of a particular concept are useful: in this case, the experiment would be whether there is any human activity that we could consider market-resistant or immune, again, in this broader sense of the market. (So, for example, seemingly easy answers like “love,” let’s say parental love, are not so easy—once children have “access” to a range of other affections, from friends, teachers, fellow boy and girl scouts, not to mention celebrities, etc., are not parents put on the “affection market” with all of these? Don’t we often speak of parents “competing” for their children’s affection, often by entering other markets so as to buy them objects of desire?) In other words, we have to work on a definitional or axiomatic, rather than empirical, level, here. Is there any human practice that can be situated outside of the desire for desire?

If we follow Dennis’s argument, the parallel question within discourse would be, is there anything, any imaginable individual or action, that is not vulnerable to irony? Dennis’s book is an extremely illuminating study of Byron’s poetry, starting with his early “heroic,” proto-nietzschean poses early in his career. Following Gans’s understanding of Romanticism, Dennis situates the origin of this aesthetic mode in Rousseau’s self-description as “[t]he most sociable and the most loving of humans [who] has been banished from their midst by unanimous agreement.” The one utterly rejected by society must in turn liberate himself from society, by eliminating all his desires for recognition from others. This would entail liberating oneself from mimesis—imagine composing an inventory of all your desires and identifying each one’s roots in some mimetic relation to another, and then setting about extirpating all those desires or reconstructing them so their dependence upon others has been eliminated. All the words you might use to define this stance—“strength,” “independence,” “defiance,” “spontaneity,” and so on—all betray their dependence on some distinction from weakness, dependency, conformity, etc. Even more, your stance could only be meaningful if you staged it for others—you could hardly embody heroic independence locked in your bedroom—thereby rendering yourself dependent on an audience. To be free from the desire of others (in both senses—your desires for others, and their desire’s effect on you) would be to be free from irony—everything you say would coincide completely with what you mean. But nothing could be more ironic than claiming such a stance, which would in fact lead to every single word you utter having unintended double meanings.

Dennis follows Byron’s gradual recognition of the ironies of his early stance, ironies exacerbated by the fact that his early poems made him a “celebrity,” and hence an intense focus of desire and resentment. In his masterpiece, Don Juan, Byron deploys his own ironic insights into his own history and position within the “history of desire” in order to deconstruct all claims to unmediated desire, which comes down to all claims to be free of the “market” (again, in the sense stipulated above). Dennis shows Byron demonstrating how even the most outrageous injustices and oppressions (like slavery) are ultimately situated within their own “markets,” bringing revolutionary and victimary claims (heavily dependent upon assumptions of authenticity and sincerity) within the scope of the irony we all need in order to navigate, both successfully and ethically, the universal market. That, in fact, is Byron’s essentially pedagogical project: to teach his readers how to act on the market, where all traditional conceptions, like “honor,” “hierarchy” and “authority,” as well as all the modern ones bidding to replace it, like “freedom,” “equality,” and “fraternity,” are “marketized,” attempts to gain oneself a market “share,” or a “brand.” I want to insist that within the inclusive notion of the market we are working with here, this approach can’t be denounced as “cynical,” because there’s no non-cynical exterior against which it could be measured. In a world where we are all “internal mediators,” the ethical position is to acknowledge desire and mimetic dependencies, and to keep generating new and non-violent ways of having those desires recognized and shared by others. A self-ironized stance on a comprehensive market in which we seek alliances/make deals with others is the only way of accomplishing that.

I don’t think I have to disagree with any of this; I just can point out that it only applies to the declarative order. If you try to issue ostensives and imperatives ironically, they are no longer ostensives and imperatives. Dennis points out that irony is the contrary “of what Gans speaks of as a ‘rhetoric of mastery,’ the most potent expression of which must be silence” (216). The most potent or authentic rhetoric of mastery is silence because only in that way are the master’s words and therefore intentions made invulnerable to the repetitions, inevitably ironic, and therefore subversive, of his underlings. This really brings us to the crux of the issue, and the logic of the ironizing position is itself potent. Even if the ruler speaks only in clear, crisp, directly implementable commands, he still has to issue those commands. If he were genuinely master, his subjects would be constituted by his intentions, in which case they would not even need to be uttered. The full deconstructive logic should be faced: to issue a command is to allude to the possibility of its violation, or, for that matter, unintended parody. We would be back to a market in which the ruler places his own desires on the marketplace, i.e., democracy.

We’re all familiar with the phenomenon whereby the subjects of a king who is perceived to be acting wrongly exempt the king from all responsibility, which is then placed upon his advisors. Peasant protest movements in Russia, for example, would plead with the Czar to undo what his evil advisors had done, obviously without his knowledge and consent. We see the same thing with supporters of President Trump, who see him constantly betrayed by his RINO advisors. For a liberal, this faith that the ruler cannot possibly have willed wrongful acts seems delusional and craven, but it’s really exactly the right attitude—although it would be even more right if silence regarding the ruler’s knowledge and motives were extended to all acts carried out in his name. The ruler’s silence—and even if the ruler is seen explicitly commanding the “wrongful” acts, there is the silence of his refusal to entertain complaints and demands is “echoed” by the silence of his subjects. As soon as the space of silence is violated, irony does seep in and corrupt the chain of command. The only responsible response to those who do violate it must include, along with whatever is actually said and done, a kind of dumbness, which “echoes” the refusal of the “rhetoric of mastery” to entertain complaints and demands, and which we may have to allow to be taken for stupidity. After the command comes silence, and then we see whether marginalization of irony by the silent obedience to the command means that it was, in fact, the rhetoric of mastery.

Nothing that isn’t repeated has actually happened. Repetition can include mimicry, response, reference, recording, translation, allusion, reordering of patterns as a result of the event, among other possibilities. The sign needed to be repeated on the originary scene, and all of subsequent human culture is a series of attempts to repeat the orginary scene, starting with the first ritual. The imperative was originally a mistaken repetition of an ostensive, and the imperative became the imperative through an ostensive repetition—Gans, in his discussion of the emergence of the imperative in The Origin of Languagerefers to the operating room, where the doctor’s request is repeated by the nurse’s acknowledgement: “scalpel—scalpel.” What comes between the event and its repetition, which also means what comes “within” the event, or between the event and itself, is silence—a silence that is a kind of faithful awaiting, an imperative-ostensive oscillation. But this space within the event can be prolonged by a silence that is willing to give resentments more time to reveal themselves—the one who breaks the silence takes the risk of becoming subject to irony, and the one who maintains silence takes the risk of attracting the resentment of those who want the scene closed. But that’s just a way of raising one’s own value, isn’t it? Maybe, but when does the item go up for sale? Simultaneously attracting and repelling resentment anticipates the accrual of value beyond all possible exchanges. At a certain point one has shaped enough of reality to pre-select and pre-repel the resentments—those resentments then give way to silent acceptance of and resentment toward challenges to the center. And a value beyond all exchanges isn’t exactly “value” anymore; the asymmetrical exchanges engaged in are too extended in time to have measurable value. Of course, this recapitulates the emergence of the Big Man, but what in a market society excludes that possibility? Ironically, only the state, but if we presuppose a scenario in which the state become simply another player on the market, or gets chopped and divvied up by the largest market players (and in a market society, why wouldn’t that happen?), what is unimaginable about some of the more silent “masters” across various crucial institutions being brought under a single head that seems least likely countenance a fire sale when the (political) market is undergoing a mimetic crisis, i.e., crash? Byron started as an individual and remained one, but what if masters of deferral had to seek out yet greater masters to resist following the more mimetically addicted rushing to the bargain basement?

The vaster and more inclusive the market, the more it is suffused with the rhetoric of mastery, silence. Let’s grant that the market penetrates into every nook and cranny of the social order, even the most sacred: the soldier who sacrifices himself for the homeland has “bought into” an image of heroism and is putting his embodiment of that image on the market for future buyers, those who will value that gesture over some other (the soldier piles up his symbolic rewards in anticipation); the priest who baptizes is “advertising” a particular version of Christ, for those who place a value on their souls above other values. We can resist such “sacrilegious” descriptions of such events in the name of an inherited vocabulary, but that resistance can itself be ironized as another move on the market. A step in the other direction, toward an acknowledgement of ironizing marketing discourse and ethics, would be to note that the more self-reflexively aware you are of your own self-marketing the more you presuppose the protection from one embodiment of the rhetoric of mastery that can only be granted by another embodiment—to put it more crudely, you acquiesce in a protection racket, or you act as if there might be a trustworthy authority. You can only sell or buy that which will be there an instant later so as to be possessed or enjoyed. The more that presence and availability can be guaranteed, the more stable the value, and the more intelligent the market calculations. But the more you are buyer or seller, the less you can guarantee it. But the one who has been busy self-immunizing from resentment by attracting it can.

You can buy security, as the radical libertarians would have it; indeed, you can redefine the king as a paid for enforcer. But what guarantees the king will stay bought? Competition with other prospective kings, right? But the king to whom you have actually sold out possesses the apparatuses of kingship (which includes, among other things, lots of able and loyal men)—how much is that worth? Maybe you can’t afford it. Maybe the new king you’d like to hire has done his own risk analysis and will decline. The king who would willingly turn over all the controls (which, therefore, he presumably maintains competently) to the competitor who has underbid him is perhaps the king you don’t want to replace. Why would the king, who maybe now you want to keep, be so willing? Whatever it is, it’s hard to put a price on it; it’s hard to see how irony gets a handle on it. It may be the kind of thing about which it is best to remain silent.

October 23, 2018

What are We Talking About When We Talk About the Market?

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:01 am

It may be possible that no one really likes “the market.” Eric Gans identifies as the “constituent hypocrisy” of Romanticism that the romantic stance is predicated upon resistance to the market in the name of an irreducible individual distinctiveness, while this distinctiveness is precisely what enables the romantic artist to circulate in the market. The analysis applies to contemporary marketing just as acutely, as the method of marketing is to sell identities that liberate the consumer from the judgments of others, that is, of the market. But anti-marketism characterizes producers no less than consumers: not producer really wants to compete; if it was up to the producer, he would secure a complete monopoly, along with absolute control of the supply chain comprising the production of the goods or services produced. The advocate of the free market will say that this is precisely the point: the market compels everyone to recognize an impersonal structure indifferent to his desires and resentments, and hence to accept a sociality to which his individuality must be subordinated. The fact that it is impersonal is a key selling point: market advocacy is an argument for authority in the absence of, and to the deliberate exclusion of, any personal, responsible authority. This leads to the assumption that the market is something one might “resist” or “oppose”; as well as to the complementary realization that such resistance is always already futile since it will just produce another commodity. Which, of course, keeps the market going.

The more you’re ensconced within economic networks, the less you talk about markets—then, it is a case of preserving existing relationships with suppliers and distributors, R & D, planning PR and advertising campaigns, securing reliable politicians, and so on. It is the outsider who engages in market talk, hoping to pry open those networks and get plugged into them. So, if market talk represents a demand for obedience to an impersonal authority, it also, paradoxically, represents the demand that that impersonal authority be turned into a vehicle of power for the marginalized. On one level, there’s no contradiction: the more impervious to influence the authority it is, the more useful it is to sway it to your side; but, of course, sooner or later it becomes evident that the authority was never impersonal in the first place, and it’s just a question of getting your influence peddling installed before the claims to neutrality, objectivity, stability and so on lose their market value. It turns out the market was always already just a big ol’ romantic itself, one big center of resistance to authority. Even the Man wants to fight the Man.

So, if hating the market is just a trick for drawing you into the vortex on the consumer side, and loving the market is trick for getting into it on the producer side, perhaps a moderate “like” for the market provides a better approach. In this case, it will no longer be “the market.” If someone makes or does something very well, that person knows it, and so do other people who are trying to do that thing or something similar. But when the question is asked, in general, what is done well, what is worth owning or having done, the answer comes back: the market decides. Whether the expert is judging or the market is deciding, there is a circularity here: the expert is the expert because he knows what the best is, but if he tries to explain it to the non-expert, he can’t do so convincingly. The non-expert might prefer lesser wares, and resist attempts to refine his taste so he can appreciate the better product. Meanwhile, on what grounds could one appeal the verdict of the market? To say that the market was “wrong” seems almost like a category error.

David Graeber is definitely right that many, if not most, jobs in the advanced capitalist economy are bullshit jobs, even if his explanation (conspicuous entouragement by the managerial class) only covers a small part of it. Somehow, the market seems OK with that. There may not be enough genuine productive labor for the population anymore, but that’s not really the market’s problem either. But the more you are good at your job, and consider it important, and want others capable of judging to share in the fruits of your labors, the more you want a smart market, with no extraneous interests coming between your exercising your discipline and finding those willing to join it. Also, the more you are committed to your discipline, the less you want to worry about power, and the less you want everyone else worried about power, because clearly exercised power is the constant that allows you to focus on your own work. And, the less you will talk about “the market,” although you may talk about systemic failures to produce subjects commensurate to the goods and services you’re able to supply them. Of course, you might be wrong: plenty of people think they’re the best who really aren’t. Here, we have to rely upon intellectual and practical traditions, and those genuinely interested in serving some center to act as judges and “checks” on subjective claims. It is those who talk most about “the market” who want power and want to influence power.

Only power that plans on being around for a long time can encourage the development of networks of disciplinary networks that will in turn set the tone for markets, i.e., broader spheres of distribution mediated by money. Revolutionary governments will just burn up networks. Liberal governments resting upon a high level of civilization can be more patient, because they can always find ways to exploit new scientific and technological developments, but only until intra-elite struggles require the deployment of proxies leading to proxy arms races between the contending elites. The predictability of governance is already recognized as a contributor to economic value, even if this can’t be calculated, but we can be more precise about which form of government is itself most interested in predictability and reliability and which model of subjectivity such governments will posit as representative of their rule. It was, at one time, plausible to argue that liberal governments were the most interested in a coherent legal framework, because the legitimacy of their rule rested directly on protecting contracts and generating wealth. That claim is becoming less and less plausible, but it will still remain for disciplined government to demonstrate that it can be such a guarantor.

There is a familiar (but I have no idea how common) pattern whereby a new leadership, brought in to save a failing enterprise or institution, or to carry out an important project, selects a team, either of marginalized employees or those brought in from the outside, and sets them to work outside of the normal rules of functioning of the institution. This is called “skunkworks.” The alternative to liberal and democratic governance is governance by skunkworks. On the model of Thomas Kuhn’s distinction between “normal” and “revolutionary” science, we would distinguish between the normal, rule-governed operations of a company or institutions, and government by skunkworks which, ideally would always be held in reserve and never used. An executive ready, and known to be ready, to resort to skunkworks, would never have to. The model citizen or subject would be the potential skunkworker, and educational institutions would be constructed so as to single out potential skunkworkers for various fields.

“The market” is also really government by skunkworks, to the extent that it exists. A social order with no potential skunkworkers, with no executives willing to shake up organizations and no disciplinary networks they could draw upon to do so, would be an utterly stagnant and parasitic one. Markets are fields of overlapping disciplinary spaces. My hypothesis here is that we can measure the economic efficiency and long term viability of a socio-economic order (or any company or institution) by the qualitative presence of skunkworkers. This couldn’t be measured, in part because you can’t know it exists until you try to mobilize it. But I’m not interested in a new form of economic calculation; I’m interested in the development of public modes of thought and argumentation capable of swaying elites, and those who sway elites. And the best argument for post-liberal and post-democratic, or absolutist, government, would be singling out where skunkworkers are necessary, where they are present, and what interferes with their greater qualitative presence. Focusing on the skunkworker elicits images of the executive ready and willing to use them. All of the criticisms we might make of liberalism, progressivism, and egalitarianism can be reframed as identifying efforts to stifle skunkworks.

The skunkworker ethics would introduce differentiations across the board. The more focused an inquiry gets, the more directly a discipline’s concepts generate imperatives, the more precise the measuring instruments get, the larger the consequences that follow from small differences. We would have a vast field of overlapping disciplines, some of which inquire into the consequences and implications of other disciplines. A discovery in chemistry is taken up by a pharmaceutical discipline; the development of new medicines must be integrated into the practices of doctors and hospitals, and perhaps by city planners in managing public hygiene. The causality might work in the other direction: new forms of travel or work leading to new studies into stress or muscular wear and tear, and from there into genetics. Everyone is to be brought into some disciplinary space—even if some practices start as make work programs, just following the imperative to articulate all subjects into disciplines (which itself would be a discipline), there really always is something that can be done on the periphery of some other discipline. As McLuhan suggested, it might be worth it to pay people to learn things.

Of course, the process of production of the scientists and those entering all the other disciplines, i.e., education, is also a discipline; but that means the overall integration of the disciplines must be thought through in organizing the education process, which means that the human sciences, whatever they might come to look like, focused on moral, ethical and aesthetic problems, service, survey and oversee the entire disciplinary field all at the same time. (The religions I would consider human sciences, as they are inquiries into the sacred, or the permanent center.) I think that what I have called “centered ordinality” should be the organizing assumption of the human sciences: there’s always someone at the center, and the way to be at the center is to carry on the work of your predecessors at the center and leave things better than you found them for your successors there; those who follow centrality create little “eddies” of centrality in its wake.

Of course, I have left the central economic issue, the one “the market” is supposed to resolve, out of the discussion so far: the allocation of resources. Even with a group of very likeminded workers, who are in agreement regarding the final goal and the division of labor amongst them, there are very likely going to disagreements over how to use the available resources. If we’re building a house, should we spend a bit more for the superior brick, or a bit less so we can install better windows? There’s no obvious answer to such questions, even for the most expert. But there’s no objection to the answer the free marketer would give: if you’re building the house for someone else, let the buyer decide. Or, if your company’s brand is that you don’t skimp on brick, then those who agree with you regarding housebuilding priorities will hire you. It may very well be that not enough people consider top-notch brick to be more important than the most up-to-date windows, and you will have to change your brand, accept a smaller market niche, or take up another profession. There will be all kinds of “interfaces” where the market rules in the sense a liberal economist means. It may be that majority, even the vast majority, of transactions take place at such interfaces.

The real question is whether we can imagine a social order in which “disciplinary production,” even if numerically inferior to mass production, nevertheless sets the tone for the latter. That is a social order where the skunkworker option is always open. It’s very likely that a strict monetary policy, deflationary rather than inflationary, sharply privileging saving over lending, would be necessary here. “The market” would be authoritative, but not in the impersonal sense the liberal wants; rather, it would part of a broader human authority directing economic activity toward social ends. We already have fairly obviously examples even in a capitalist order, like tariffs, safety and building codes, aesthetic constraints, like preserving a particular view or the compatibility of housing styles. We know from libertarian economists like Thomas Sowell that such regulations invariably serve vested interests, which is to say the interests of those able to access some portion of state power. (Environmental regulations in wealthy areas make new development prohibitively expensive, thereby increasing the property values of the already wealthy, etc. Such examples could be multiplied endlessly.) But this is a problem of decentered and distributed, rather than hierarchical and concentric, authority. The economic order I am describing presupposes a competent central authority that, regardless of its precise nature, spends like a royal household and a modernizing state, that is, on residences, office buildings, entertainment complexes, parks and gardens, etc., as well as constantly upkept infrastructure—and spends on the best, setting the tone for production and consumption all the way down the line.

October 16, 2018

Puppets and Probes

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:27 am

A few years ago, I saw someone with a T-shirt that had nothing but the words “Us vs. Them” on it. It seemed both meaningful and meaningless, so I gave it some thought. Us vs. Them is, first of all, the most abstract form of all group conflicts, from the perspective of one of the parties (both of the parties). So, it’s the way everyone in every conflict sees things, but it’s also the way no one, in any conflict, sees things: no one would engage an enemy if it was just “the enemy”—the enmity has to have some “content” to it. So, the T-shirt was satirical—when you’re immersed in some struggle, this is the way you see things, even if you can’t see that you see them that way. It makes a kind of Girardian point regarding the way in which sustained struggle creates increasing symmetry between the combatants. But at the same time, in claiming a kind of satiric or ironic stance, the T-shirt creates a division, between those capable of this insight from mimetic theory, and those blind to it. The T-shirt is mocking its viewer. So it reinstates an “Us vs. Them,” and it does so on the purely formal level of the abstract antagonism itself. But one final observation is necessary: the T-shirt, or its wearer, in reinstating this division, is itself a target of the irony, which means that all of us enter the Us vs. Them frame, i.e., are subject to mimetic desire, and all of us need to have others snap us out of it by mirroring back to us in a “barer,” more formal way, our display of that mimetic attitude; and each of us has to do it for others.

This art object (why not?) is exemplary of the aesthetic. That, ultimately, is what the aesthetic is, and what art does: exhibit our resentments back to us in such a way that we can inspect and distance ourselves from them. Eric Gans locates the origin of the aesthetic on the originary scene, in the oscillation between the sign and the object on the part of each of the participants on the scene. The sign (the gesture of aborted appropriation) directs one’s attention to the desirable object at the center, but now the object is just an object, once it is no longer mediated by the sign, so the attention goes back to the sign, and so on. This consolidates the sign as an acceptable, albeit temporary, proxy for the object: it is “beautiful,” or at the very least well-formed. I think what is involved here is the creation of a potential scene within the scene: if one participant is “judging” the sign, he must be doing so under the assumption that everyone else on the scene could turn to the sign and do the same. On this scene, the sign will be judged either acceptable (well-formed) or unacceptable (unformed). In the former case, the object is approached symmetrically by all on the scene; in the latter case, the sign may work, but all approach in a state of heightened suspicion (the unaesthetic life is possible, but is a lesser life). The aesthetic on the scene, in the form of one of one’s fellow “signers,” is the entire body presenting as a more or less perfect balance between self-disarmament and deterrence. In this balance we see reflected our own resentments, and the means of curtailing them.

Within every scene, then, that is, every human event or happening, there is a potential aesthetic scene wherein we are able to withdraw somewhat and take in the signs of the scene—rather than trying to push oneself forward as a center, one can inspect the potential centrality of others. The origin of art, as distinct from ritual (where the aesthetic was always surely a contributing element), involves taking some such marginal figure and placing it at a “prepared” center. Gans sees the classical aesthetic exemplified by ancient Greek tragedy as the “degree zero” of art. Art has human figures at the center, replacing the deities of mythology, and the figures initially placed at the center are unquestionably important within the human scene. The significance of the scene is taken for granted, and so the scene itself is not represented. But it’s also the case that on this scene the artist is invested with an authority modeled on that of the Big Man who usurps the ritual scene. In classical art, the artist is fully invested in and identifies with the authority of the community. The scene of art is a supplement or direct replacement of the ritual scene, with the art object or happening at the center and the audience at the periphery. The art scene, then, enacts an oscillation between itself and the center, as a site of distribution and modeling of needed practices. So, all art works within, that is, imitates, and displaces some discourse on the center—ritual, myth, prayer, public discussion, interactions in the royal court or, in the modern age, the disciplines scientific, pedagogical, bureaucratic, journalistic, etc., along with privatized modes of self-regulation like diaries and letters.

Aesthetic history is determined by the ways in which the scene of aesthetic representation is represented within the art work or event itself; or, we could say, the way the potential or virtual scene within the scene is represented. The artist governs the art scene from its center; as such he represents a “bit” of social authority, which also means he mimics and draws upon some other authority. There is therefore a boundary between the art scene and other disciplinary scenes and between center of the art scene and its periphery (between art and audience). On one side, we can imagine maximal differentiation between the art scene and the other disciplines, along with maximal investment of artistic authority in that differentiation; on the other side, the art scene tends to dissolve the boundaries and become an aesthetic difference within the other disciplinary scenes—in the most extreme case, the artist’s authority is diffused amongst other disciplinary authorities as an aesthetic dimension “vibrating” within them. Post-classical art, which is to say art that purports to oppose the social center, has itself oscillated between these possibilities. I will say that the latter, dissolvent, diffusive tendency is most likely to win out, and should win out, because it leads the artist to be reintegrated into communal authority. I would see, then, the furthest unfolding of aesthetic possibility to be the establishment of the oscillation between the actual scene and the potential scene within the actual or world scene itself: the introduction of “switches” into everyday life that just barely upset our expectations (expectations being a concoction of desires and resentments “streaming” on the screen of the world) and so “read” them back to use in the course of our lives. The power of the artist in maintaining the boundary between art and spectator, that is, is already too crude and impossible to credit: we know too much about what goes into the production, placement, and valuation of any work. Aesthetic experience has to include that knowledge and show us how we keep nevertheless forgetting it. Much like that “Us vs. Them” T-shirt.

The origin of aesthetics, then, is the participant on the scene imagining a potential scene focused on a fellow “signer.” That fellow signer guarantees, to a greater or lesser extent, the significance of the central object. The more the signer presents himself, or is presented on the imagined scene of the viewer, as all sign, and nothing but sign, that is, as a complete and unequivocal model of deferral, the more certain the guarantee. That is the origin of “beauty,” even if naturally desirable objects become the more readily available models of beauty in works of art. But being all sign and nothing but sign is temporary, because it depends upon the specific desire being deferred. The “artist,” or revealer of the aesthetic scene, must transform that static sign into a model for recognizing, responding to and generating aesthetic scenes. For this purpose, the static all sign and nothing but sign, which will, or always already has, become embedded in the habits of the group, must be turned into a kind of anti-model. All art begins, that is, with the exhaustion of a previous aesthetic tradition; any art begins by accelerating and accentuating that exhaustion. The same goes for the everyday aesthetics found in our “styles,” whether of dress, speech, gesture, or any mode of interaction. Something is made meaningful by distinguishing it from something that has lost its meaning (it would be equally true to say that things lose their meaning when we distinguish it from something we now find meaningful).

A good way to think about something that has taken the path from maximally meaningful to meaningless is as a puppet whose strings we have just seen. A moment ago, it was to all appearances alive, conscious, spontaneous and intentional; now, it’s dangling and jerked around by unseen hands. (I’m continuing a line of inquiry from my “Signing Up” post, only now suggesting more strongly that there is a satiric element of all aesthetics and art, an element that always highlights the difference in some repetition.) In this way aesthetics erects a potential scene within some scene we are immersed in, the complete meaningfulness of which we have taken for granted. The aesthetic scene begins by showing us that we conferred rather than simply recognized the apparent meaning on the scene, and once we realize we’re doing that, we can do it no longer—we’re the puppets, just as much as the objects we’ve been taking too literally. Any art, even the most traditional and classic, must do this insofar as it wrenches us from our ordinary forms of attention in order to initiate us into a more transcendent or “presentified” one.

In allowing our attention to thus be unraveled and rewoven, we enter the potential scene actualized by the aesthetic object or event. It’s more accurate to say that we send, or delegate, a part of us to attend the scene. This is a more specialized and attentive part of oneself, a more disciplinary self. One “peels” it off, so to speak, as a form of oneself that moves more freely among representations than we normally can or do. We can call it a “probe” we send out. It’s the part of us we train to notice small details or unremarked similarities; to poke into crevices or embed a figure in a vast tableau; to look at something as a point in time stretching backward and forward millennia, or as something that came together miraculously at that moment. As aesthetic beings, we oscillate between being puppets dangled by and probes on behalf of the center. Puppets, or in a modern version, perhaps, robots (or crash dummies, or NPCs), can be very instructive—like small children can do, they show us what we look like considered as purely mimetic animals. We need to see that in order to initiate a counter-mimesis, one that remembers the “joints” now operating mechanically as composed and integral to gestures.

Now, we peel off and set free the probe, which examines things from inside the puppet, and the probe itself becomes puppet and peels off another probe, and so on. It’s puppets and probes all the way down. But the probes come home—you can think of them as layers of narration. Like in self-reflexive fiction, the narrator enters the story, and doubles as character and narrator—the telling of the story and the story itself interfere with each other. We can’t set a theoretical limit to scenes within scenes, to the mise en abyme, or vorticism, but there are always practical, which is to say ethical and moral limits. The narrative structure of beginning, middle and end can generally be relied upon to set the limits (which some artists will want to defy—and they may succeed). You enter the scene you have constructed, you act within it, and you exit it as the one who was both always outside and constructed it and also constructed it out of your experience within it. This should all be easy to understand today, when everyone on Twitter gets drawn into narratives of their own creation, via impersonation and pseudonymous agency, trying to craft the stories (“time-lines”) that are crafting them.

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