The Physical World Is The Only World We Have
If we walk off the cliff with the maniacs, off the cliff we go.
Mother Earth, I love you.
Mother Earth, I love you.
Mother Earth, I love you.
I don’t know what else I have
It is very hard for me to write this.
It’s hard because a part of me is scared of sticking out and wants to hide, hoping that somebody smarter and braver than me will fix this world, while I watch. It’s hard because I hate arguments, and I like to keep my private opinions to myself while maintaining a pleasant, non-abrasive presence and fighting my clean, safe, clearly defined public battles in a separate battle space. It’s hard because I can't find meaningful enough words to say to anyone whose fear is real, and I don’t believe that any argument or even undeniable facts have ever convinced anyone who had not already been ready to investigate reality head on.
But I am even more scared of dying a coward. I was very sick, and I came out of it more honest and much hungrier for life and joy.
My mind keeps coming back to a disturbing thought: What if people in the early Nazi Germany also closed their eyes and ears, while their brains were unable to process the dark reality? What if the representatives of their educated class kept saying, “Oh no, stop with the conspiracy, listen to the experts, your rumors are simply ridiculous!” until the darkness settled in and became the only normal thing that was allowed to be, and then the senses succumbed to it? What if this is happening again, on a larger scale?
What if my voice was given to me so that I could speak? And what if I don’t speak, I will live and die in shame as I will be complicit in what the future generations will know as a long era of heavy, joyless darkness? What if I don’t need the permission to speak because the respectable deranged who are trying to steal the natural world from us are not going to give me the permission—drowning us in paid for “expert opinion” until there is no more life in anyone’s eyes—and I need to give permission to myself? What if I need to do it now?
For years, as an artist and a curious person with an academic background, I have been keeping my finger on the pulse, observing the trends, connecting the dots, and forewarning my friends that based on my observations and logic, our civilization was heading in a bleak and dangerous direction. My gut was telling me that we were making a habit- and fatigue-based collective choice to mute our innate instincts and outsource our thinking and decision-making to the algorithm (literal or figurative) and its corrupt representatives—who are far less competent, sane, or well-intended than what we give them credit for.
The dire situation I was observing was exacerbated and simultaneously masked by extreme fragmentation. Every small fragment of the slippery trajectory could be explained and justified in clean and respectable terms—and it was—but if you put all the small pieces together and looked at the big picture, the big picture was undoubtedly of bleak, all-seeing, dignity-defying, nature-stomping technological fascism.
While it was still a conversation over a glass of wine, it was almost titillating, like oh wow, how interesting and strange, we’ll see what happens.
And OMG holy fuck … is it what we see?
The news looks insane, some of my friends are mourning loved ones who passed away in overwhelmed hospitals, the borders are closed, the global food supply chain is in a free fall, the physical world is deemed “non-essential” (despite the fact that it’s the only world we have, however good or bad), it’s barely legal to hug a friend, the ED of the prestigious World Health Organization says out of his actual mouth that they “need to go and look in families to find those people who may be sick and remove them” (yes I’ve check the official transcript), physical contact is scary, sex is impossible, the future is uncertain, technology is here to replace the world as we know it, and no one really knows what’s going on. And somehow, this is actually happening on my home planet, in my lifetime, and I am not dreaming.
What’s even darker and harder to think about is the overall psychoeconomic framework that is being pushed forward to save us from the virus has been in the works for years if not decades: written about, funded (see this brilliant video by the environmental activist Vandana Shiva), discussed by state power players, and presented at TED talks. The pandemic is undoubtedly hurting us terribly—and that is tragic and painful—but the Manifest Destiny-like technological fascism staring in our faces and requiring that we denounce the physical world and do everything through digital interfaces until the physical world is fully pre-equipped with senors and monitoring devices—is not a caring reaction to the pandemic. It’s a preexisting, almost religious blueprint that has its emotional roots in the centuries-old missionary confrontation with nature. It is an ideology that competes in its maniacal madness with colonial pursuits, Hitler, and Great Inquisition—all of which, by the way, were based on "fine" reasoning that sounded perfectly sensible to many at the time.
The planet will survive anything we do. But we may end up suffering terribly, if we even live. Bottom line: The physical world is only one we have. Technology managed by people whose hearts are a mess, is not going to save us. We already have more technology than what our bodies can handle. It is eating up our brain space and our planet. If we hush our hearts and only listen to our computer-like brains, if we walk off the cliff with the maniacs, off the cliff we go.
When the pandemic became big news in March, I didn’t think it would last. Then I became addicted to Twitter and freaked out, worrying about my hand hygiene and total uncertainty of everything at the same time. Then I got sick. Then unbearably sicker. Then I recovered. And in the process of dealing with sickness, something cleared up inside of me. When I was overtaken by pain, I lost my tolerance for the spectacle and for the lying bastards who sell meaningless noise to us, as they suck our energy. Regardless of where we are in life and where we live, we are children of nature, not cyborgs. It is from our connection to nature and to each other—including tactile connection—that we get our strength and joy. What our psychotic, scared leaders are trying to do—whatever the proclaimed intention—is to break our spirits by disconnecting us from the life force itself (which by the way is not unprecedented as this was how the Europeans tried to “conquer” the indigenous).
I am not dreaming. Something terrible is happening to us, and it is not a drill. It is very complex and very trivial. It is imminent and cumulative. Every small fragment of the disaster can be explained in a respectable way, but the big picture is terrifying. We’ve given up our senses and our ancient instincts, but our leaders have no heads. We are not in good hands. We are shackled to a broken algorithm. We are on our own, and the sooner we realize it, the better our chance of surviving.
FACTS, POSSIBILITIES, LOGIC, AND LOGISTICS
Before I get to facts and logistics, I want to say what inspired me (this) and to make one crucial philosophical statement: This crisis made it abundantly clear that our world is a lot closer to the corrupt and violent middle ages than it is to a tech utopian paradise—and that the effect of continuing to believe in the rosy algorithmic myth (maintained by people who are literally insane) could actually kill us.
Now, let me go over some of the logistical things I’ve thought about over the past couple of months. These are my thoughts as of this second, based on what I have read, observed, and experienced recently and over the years.
The virus origin
For obvious reasons, I have no way of knowing where the virus came from. It could have come from anywhere: the market, the lab, whatever. Frustratingly, the respectable news has long stopped to even pretend to speak truth to power, being instead a dealer of curated emotional experiences. So I may never know the truth (and I am fine with it, I pick my battles). Did it come from a lab like some “conspiracy theories” suggest? All I know is that various scientists were working on exactly that (i.e. here, here, here)—and in Hollywood movies, such experiences never end well—but did it actually happen in real life? I most certainly have no idea.
What is a virus, anyway?
Another surprising uncertainty is the definition of a virus. Up until three weeks ago, I assumed that the scientists have long figured it out, and that my fifth grade biology textbook had the correct and final answer. But as I dug deeper, I was humbly reminded of the fact that true science is in a flux, that researches don’t understand the human body or the universe perfectly well, that medical protocols are based on “good enough for now” arbitrary conventions, and that even today, not all scientists agree on the virus theory (some doctors argue that the recent groundbreaking research on exosomes offers an alternative explanation), on specific viruses (see the inventor of the PCR technique used in virus testing and a Nobel laureate, Kary Mullis, go at it), or even on the widely accepted methods of diagnostics. Very prominent scientists argue with each other about fundamental concepts and call each other names—and we, laymen, cannot possibly figure it out, and have to operate on faith. Science evolves, sometimes the laughing stock hypothesis of today becomes the genius discovery of tomorrow—and sometimes it doesn’t. We can only wonder.
Yet, having gone down the layman virology rabbit hole, I was reminded not only of the fact that nature is a great mystery, and but also of the fact that the shiny temple of science is a busy marketplace (of ideas and of money). Having grown up around doctors and medical research, I was not particularly shocked to discover traces of intricate politics and great corruption in American science—but I was none the less reinforced in my understanding that we entrust our lives to the medical procedures based on winning scientific concepts—and sometimes we are lucky and it works great—but in reality, victory in science is about relationships, personal power, and money as much as it is about understanding nature or serving a higher purpose. There is no algorithmic safe space with final answers except the one we create in our head to explain the world to ourselves in words that we understand. We have to deal with it.
Can we trust the algorithm?
Data’s rotten, Tests are toast. News is sullen, Coast to coast. Feudal darkness Here and now! To the masters Peasants bow. Facts are fiction, Love is screen. Gossip’s trending, Trends are mean. Hear, hear, Where's the joy? Ask Alexa. She’ll annoy.
Years ago, Nicholas Carr raised an alarm about the impact of automation on our ability to make good decisions. His worry was based on the fact that as we outsource our logic and our decision-making processes to computers and procedures, our natural ability to make good decisions will atrophy, much like unused muscles—with potentially devastating consequences. Furthermore, as legal frameworks form around the automated processes, even the most experienced and creative human beings will be forced to go against their senses and their hard-earned professional experience in situations that are less than trivial. Seems like his predictions are coming true quickly.
1. Neil Ferguson’s Imperial College model has been “credited with prompting the government to impose the lockdown.” In a saner world in which human beings are in touch with their senses, a model is just a model, a game. It is observations and life experience that dictate actions, not so much a black box computer model. In case of Ferguson though, relying on his models is especially puzzling since his past models have been drastically off. In 2002, he predicted that as many as 150,000 people could die from the mad cow disease. And in 2005, he predicted that 200,000,000 people could die from the bird flu. So what then, given his record, inspired very important adults from the World Health Organization and various governments to take his COVID-19 model seriously and choose to turn life on Earth upside down in a completely unprecedented way? Incompetence? Fear? Something else? Another thing I don’t know.
2. Like any other New Yorker reading the news, I was heartbroken by the reports from the hospitals where the resources were lacking, and doctors and nurses were working around the clock, and yet people were dying. First, it turned out that the lack of much sought after ventilators—in the richest country in the world—was due to corporate corruption. Then one New York’s ICU doctor posted a YouTube video suggesting that ventilators seemed to be causing more harm then good, and that the protocols used by the doctors to treat COVID patients did not seem to fit. His act of courage broke the ice and inspired an honest conversation in the medical community. Shortly after, this New York Times article came out. It seemed like the things started moving in a better direction—but one fact mentioned there made me scream: for an entire month, helping the patients who had difficulty breathing into positions that made breathing easier was not a part of the protocol, so the doctors weren’t doing that, instead sedating them and putting them on ventilators, while on their backs—and the patients were mostly dying from it. When read it, I was terrified: that was the face of a man-killing algorithm, wrapped in an ordinary, everyday wrapper. If you have ever had a loved one in a hospital and if you had to fight against robotic and sometimes counter-intuitive procedures—every step of the way, for the fear of your loved one’s life—you know exactly the feeling of terror I am talking about. Helplessness.
UPDATE: It may still be logistically difficult to get away from the existing ventilator protocols, although alternative treatments have been very promising.
3. The tests—a very significant part of the puzzle—have allegedly been very unreliable, with a lot of false negatives and false positives. Whether it can be explained by the contaminated labs or not, I don't know. But I do know that Google managed to quickly insert itself into the situation and opportunistically collect a ton of people's health data, something they have been trying to do for a long time to train their AI.
There has also been an account of testing negatively multiple times in a row while having symptoms, then testing positively.
Even Snopes, which in itself is a blackbox fact checker that cannot be trusted blindly, states that tests are unreliable—which begs the peasant question: what is the point of testing if the probability of error is so high? It reminds me of trust of the mysterious object from Space Odyssey. We throw around words like "science" or "data" but the devil is always in the detail of the black box.
The antibody tests that came out more recently (reliable? not reliable? don't ask me!) show that a lot more people than previously thought have had the virus and recovered (New York, California). I was very happy to see those reports because it means that the virus is less dangerous than initially thought. After I saw the New York study, I officially stopped freaking out. I can't control the entire world but I can control my choices and pick the ones that make the most internal sense.
4. The overall stats have been all over the place, too. (I think we are starting to see a trend.) First off, if the tests were inaccurate (at least initially), then the data from that time period is trash, there is no way around it. Allegedly the mortality data has been inaccurate as well. On the one hand, many cases in the U.S. at least were registered as COVID semi-arbitrarily for a variety of reasons (from CDC guidelines to allegedly financial incentives pushed for by hospital administrators.... and let's not forget the corner stone, the tests themselves!). On the other hand, there has been a report of a great number of people dying for unknown reasons in different countries. There is no way one can interpret the latter in a definitive way, by I think it's not illogical to assume that extreme stress levels due to fear and uncertainty, disruption of life, and lack of treatment for other conditions (either because hospitals stopped accepting them or because people were too scared to go to the hospital), could have contributed to the tragic situation. What I have noticed in that study is that Sweden, the country that did not have a lockdown (and hence the least disruption of community ties), had the lowest relative increase. I don't know if it means anything but it's there.
Pain is all I feel. Muzzle on, Feelings off. Muzzle off, Feelings on. Outside, Moving my hips Like it's spring.
There's lots more to say about the data, and the daily updates, and the ongoing conversation about treatments, and the rumors, and the guesses. But what's straight in my face is two things: one is that there is an aggressively "correct" narrative that comes with a whip and a moral judgement (which historically has never been a sign of good political intentions or a positive human outcome), and the other is that we are all losing our minds. I've noticed it in myself, as much as I am resisting it. I am starting to feel suspicious of other people, as if they are somehow "dirty" (while they feel the same way about me, I am sure).
The latter really concerns me the most because I know that long-term stress is very effective in turning off human ability to think straight—I've been there before and I know how it works from the inside. Once we've been battered for a long enough time, our sensory patterns will be damaged sufficiently, and we'll be so exhausted and hungry for any semblance of joy that we'll accept anything to be allowed to do basic things in the world. To breathe. To laugh. To be a little bit alive. To be a little bit free, no matter how short the digital leash. We are like frogs in a pot of water that is warming up. We are getting used to it.
Now, I am not afraid of the plague like I was before. My sanity requires, well, sanity, and the numbers and perspectives of a few outspoken scientists (however dissenting) warrant caution but not a total interruption of life. But even more importantly than the subjective call for sanity is the objective fact that the physical world is the only one we have, and we simply can't avoid it and replace it with screens. They are now talking about seasonality, about not going back to "normal" until 2022.... so are we now going to freeze for another two years? Can you imagine what's going to happen to our brains, our bodies, and our lives?
And I am not even going into the question of the economy because it is obvious to my senses that what is happening behind the scenes is a major restructuring of the market. The power players don't care about the tiny spots of blood where the little guys were. We are nothing but cells in an excel spreadsheet. They have a lot at stake, our very damaged messiahs.
OUR VERY DAMAGED MESSIAHS
Citizens are Enemies of the state Or children. Rulers are Crazy parents Or slaves To $. Television has long gone dark But the lips keep moving. Somebody’s helpless hand Etching the hashtag sign In the poisoned sand...
Unfortunately, regardless of the origin of this epidemic and of the ratio between randomness, accident, incompetence and bad intentions, we are at a major crossroads, and I am positive that time to be fully human—not cyborg—is now.
In the words of King James I who notoriously said, “By God’s visitation, reigned a wonderful plague,” the aspiring managers of humanity (i.e. human beings whose job descriptions and bank accounts allow them to make high-level decisions that have a global impact) are using the crisis to attempt forcing a bleak and dangerous world upon us. There is nothing conspiratorial about the fact that some human beings are addicted to power while simultaneously insane: it’s been this way for centuries, and it is their insanity that helped them climb to the top. Throughout history, we’ve had cruel and destructive religious and political leaders, inquisition, slavery, wars on the indigenous, eugenics, GULAG, labor camps—and every time, there was some respectable theory explaining and justifying atrocities in terms of “inevitable progress” and “public good.”
And now? The technology has grown powerful. Everything is done on a global scale, at the expense of local sovereignty—for systems management’s sake and for systems managers' peace of mind. Independent and local solutions are consistently described as undesirable in reports (I've personally read) from various important people meetings. Since the planet is finite and there is no other place to expand into, the physics-defying infinite expansion economic model of the past few centuries is about to fall on its head. It seems logical that the people who are used to being in control are trying to save their place on top of the food chain in an economic model that is barely holding together. There are so many of us—and only one, clearly finite, planet. The power addicts are worried that there’s not enough for them and that, God forbid, without total control and monitoring of everything and everybody they won’t be able to stay in charge—and that people may dare interact with nature directly and benefit from all the good things she has to offer without giving them a fat cut.
Addiction to power is an addiction. If you know anything about addiction, people who suffer from it don’t always act rationally and can often be self-destructive. That what we are dealing with—very scared addicts who have a lot of money and influence.
There is also nothing conspiratorial about the fact that for years now, there has been much talk about “the future” and many a big meeting in which our fellow human beings—scared of losing their power— have been planning for a world in which, first and foremost, they remain in control, whatever it takes. In that world, things are run by interconnected computers—as people are not very trustworthy—and every animate or inanimate object has a digital interface that sends data to the mothership (coincidentally, after I started writing the article, I stumbled upon this reporting, which made me want to vomit). In that world, shamelessly misnamed “sustainable agriculture” looks like climate.com or any other AgTech framework in which not the farmers but the software owned by large corporations decide what to grow and how to grow it. In that world, soil and seeds (2017, 2016, 2015) need to be purchased from sudden owners of nature, and food is grown in a lab—again, something that is not accessible to the small guy. In that world, everything is wirelessly connected and tracked, and living beings are equipped with sensors, “for their own good,” and nudged by AI, 24/7.
I don’t want to live like this. Living like this is not life. I don't want any nanoparticles in my bloodstream, I don't want the cells of my body to be bombarded by excessive electromagnetic pollution, I don't want AI to know mood or my heart rate, and I don't want to report to the mothership if I had an orgasm. Not now, not down the line, never.
We are being rapidly “guided” toward an unbearably painful state in which we are spiritually eaten into, where the sole purpose of being alive is performing a mechanical function, where joy is constantly interrupted unless it is a monetized activity that only mimics joy and leaves you unsatisfied, where being sedated is almost desirable because it is the only thing that temporarily stops the feeling that something is horribly, horribly wrong.
This is not a drill.
It is happening.
Small farmers are reporting being pushed out of the game as I am typing this, under the pretext of the pandemic lockdown (historic context). Once this is over and we have a new world, guess who is going to volunteer to “save” the world from hunger—it is going to be all the familiar faces speaking on behalf of AgTech.
Education is moved online.
Medicine is moved online.
It is now being done in the name of safety but it's been a strategic goal of the tech surveillance apparatus for years.
The physical world is being cancelled (until allegedly the moment in time when our deranged overlords stick sensors in everything and everybody, and sign off on the world, proclaiming it as relatively safe). Which at this point is very much a fairy tale because the world will never be completely safe.
We are being rapidly “guided” toward an unbearably painful state in which we are spiritually eaten into, where the sole purpose of being alive is performing a mechanical function, where joy is constantly interrupted unless it is a monetized activity that only mimics joy but doesn’t actually deliver it, where being sedated is almost desirable because it is the only thing that temporarily stops the feeling that something is horribly, horribly wrong.
There is no savior coming.