Home > anthropology, computation, consciousness, philosophy, society > Blue Roses, Blue Pills, and the Significance of the Imposter

Blue Roses, Blue Pills, and the Significance of the Imposter

blue roses photos and wallpaper

What makes that which is authentic more significant than that which is fake or ‘false’? Why do proprietary qualities carry more significance than generic qualities? Commonality vs uniqueness is a theme which I come back to again and again. Even in this dichotomy of common vs unique, there is a mathematical meaning which portrays uniqueness as simply a common property of counting one out of many, and there is a qualitative sense of ‘unique’ being novel and unprecedented.

The notion of authenticity seems to carry a certain intensity all by itself. Like consciousness, authenticity can be understood on the one hand to be almost painfully self-evident. What does it really mean though, for someone or something to be original? To be absolutely novel in some sense?

The Western mindset tends toward extremism when considering issues of propriety. The significance of ownership is exaggerated, but ownership as an abstraction – generic ownership. Under Western commercialism, rights to own and control others are protected vigilantly, as long as that ownership and control is free from personal qualities.

The thing which makes a State more powerful than a Chiefdom is the same thing which makes the Western approach so invested in property rather than people. In a Chiefdom, every time the chief dies, the civilization is thrown into turmoil. In a State, no one person or group of people personifies the society, they are instead public officials holding public office for a limited time. Political parties and ideologies can linger indefinitely, policies can become permanent, but individual people flow through it as materially important, yet ultimately disposable resources.

The metaphysical and social implications of this shift from the personal to the impersonal are profound. The metaphysical implications can be modeled mathematically as a shift from the cardinal to the ordinal. In a Chiefdom, rule is carried out by specific individuals, so cardinality is the underlying character. In a State, ordinality is emphasized, because government has become more of a super-human function. It’s an ongoing sequential process, and the members within it (temporarily) are motivated by their own ambitions as they would be as part of a Chiefdom, but they are also motivated to defend the collective investment in the permanence of the hierarchy.

At the same time, cardinality can apply to the State, and ordinality would apply to a Chiefdom (or gang). The state imposes cardinality – mass producing and mass controlling through counting systems. Identification numbers are produced and recorded. Individuals under a State are no longer addressed as persons individually but as members of a demographic class within their databases. Lawbreaker, head of household, homeowner, student, etc. This information is never explicitly woven into a personal portrait of the living, laughing, loving person themselves, but rather is retained as skeletal evidence of activities. Addresses, family names, employment history, driver’s license, dental records. It is essential for control that identity be validated – but only in form, not in content. The personality of the consumer-citizen (consumiten?) is irrelevant, to an almost impossible degree – yet some ghost of conscience compels an appearance of sentiment to the contrary.

World War II, which really should be understood as the second half of the single war for control of human civilization on a global level for the first time, was a narrative about embodied mechanization and depersonalization. The narrative we got in the West was that Fascism, Communism, and Nazism were totalitarian ideologies of depersonalization. The threat was of authentic personhood eclipsed permanently by a ruthlessly impersonal agenda. Different forms of distilled Statehood, three diffracted shadow projections of the same underlying social order transitioning into cold automatism The mania for refining and isolating active ingredients in the 20th century, from DNA to LSD to quantum, ran into unexpected trouble when it was applied to humanity. Racist theories and eugenics, Social Darwinism, massive ethnic cleanses and purges. Were we unconsciously looking for our absent personhood, our authenticity which was sold to the collective, or rather, to the immortal un-collective? Did we project some kind of phantom limb of our evacuated self into the public world, hiding in matter, bodies, blood, and heredity?

So what is authenticity? What is an imposter? Does a blue rose become less important if it is dyed blue rather than if it grew that way? Why should it make a difference? (we tell ourselves, with our Westernized intellect, that it shouldn’t). If you never found out that the rose was ‘only’ dyed blue, would  you be wrong for enjoying it as if it were genuine? Why would you feel fooled if you found out that you were wrong about it being genuine but feel good if you found out that you were wrong about it being ‘fake’.

Who is fake? Who is phoney? Who is sold out? (does anyone still call anyone a ‘sell out’ anymore, or are we now pretty comfortable with the idea that there is nobody left who would not happily sell out if they only had the chance?) These are terms of accusation, of righteous judgment against those who have become enemies of authenticity – who have forsaken humanity itself for some ‘mere’ social-political advantage.

There is a dialectic between pride and shame which connects the fake and the genuine, with that good feeling of finding the latter and the disgust and loss of discovering the former. The irony is that the fake is always perpetrated without shame, or with shame concealed, but the genuine is often filled with shame and vulnerability…that’s somehow part of what makes it genuine. It’s authority comes from within our own personal participation, not from indirect knowledge, not from the impersonal un-collective of the Market-state.

Where do we go now that both the personal and impersonal approaches have been found fatally flawed? Can we regain what has been lost, or is it too late? Does it even matter anymore? If mass media is any indication, we have begun not only to accept the imposter, but we have elevated its significance to the highest. What is an actor or a model if not a kind of template, a vessel for ideal personal qualities made impersonal? It is to be celebrated for acting like yourself, or being a character – a proprietary character, made generic by mass distribution of  their likeness. Branded celebrity. A currency of deferred personalization – vanity as commodity. Perhaps in the long run, this was the killer app that the Nazis and the Russians and the Japanese didn’t have. The promiscuous use of mass media to reflect back super-saturated simulations of personhood to the depersonalized subjects of the Market-state.

More than nuclear weapons, it was Hollywood, and Mickey Mouse, and Levi’s and Coca Cola which won the world. Nuclear memes. Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. This process too has now become ultra-automated. The problem with the celebrity machine was that it depended on individual persons. Even though they could be disposed of and recycled, it was not until reality TV and the new generation of talent shows that the power to make fame was openly elevated above celebrity itself. Fame is seen to be increasingly elected democratically, but at the same time, understood to be a fully commercial enterprise, controlled by an elite. The solution to the problem of overcoming our rejection of the imposter has been a combination of (1) suppressing the authentic; (2) conditioning the acceptance of the inauthentic, and most importantly, (3) obscuring the difference between the two.

I’m not blaming anyone for this, as much as I might like to. I’m not a Marxist or Libertarian, and I’m not advocating a return to an idealized pre-State Anarchy (though all of those are tempting in their own ways). I’m not anti-Capitalist per-se, but Capitalism is one of the names we use to refer to some of the most pervasive effects of this post-Enlightenment pendulum swing towards quantitative supremacy. I see this arc of human history, lurching back from the collapse of the West’s version of qualitative supremacy in the wake of the Dark Ages, as a natural, if not inevitable oscillation. I can’t completely accept it, since the extremes are so awful for so long, but then again, maybe it has always been awful. Objectively, it would seem that our contemporary First World ennui is a walk in the park compared to any other large group in history – or is that part of the mythology of modernism?

It seems to me that the darkness of the contemporary world is more total, more asphyxiating than any which could be conceived of in history, but it also seems like it’s probably not that bad for most people, most of the time. Utopia or Oblivion – that’s what Buckminster Fuller said. Is it true though anymore, or is that a utopian dream as well? Is the singularity just one more co-opted meme of super-signification? Is it a false light at the end of the sold-out tunnel? An imposter for the resurrection? Is technology the Blue Pill? I guess if that’s true, having an Occidental spirituality which safely elevates the disowned authentic self into a science fiction is a big improvement over having it spill out as a compulsion for racial purity. A utopia driven by technology at least doesn’t require an impossible alignment of human values forever. Maybe this Blue Pill is as Red as it gets?

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  1. May 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Reblogged this on Bluxome Street Post.

  2. June 1, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Reblogged this on LoungeTalkRadio and commented:
    Impressive post! 🙂

  3. Alethea Eason
    June 2, 2013 at 10:42 am

    WWI and WWII, one war. Great idea.

    • June 2, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks! It’s funny because I think that they were called World Wars because they involved all of the major players in ‘the world’, but no it seems unintentionally apt as the war ‘for’ the world.

  4. PhiGuy110
    June 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Can you comment more on the idea of the “Singularity.” Do you take stock in this concept or is it itself a culture chimera? Even if true, is it to be desired? And if it’s not true, what’s the alternative? It seems like our predictions for the future are oscillating between two radical poles: singulairty or stagnation. Either humanity is about to break free from its past in a radical existential discontinuity, or we’ve reached a saturation point, Fukuyama’a the End of History, where even our scientific advances confer less and less change to our basic condition as people. You could argue that physics has long since jumped the shark, left the domain of empiricism entirely, and is now in the business of purely conceptual model building. (Not too much you can do with string theory in the actual 3-D world.) On the other hand, our conscious experience of the world DOES seem to be changing rapidly as the memes worm their way into our heads with ever increasing rapidity. The iPhone does seem like it’s as radical a change to culture as the television or car…but is it? Is there really value being added? Does the computerized future really bring with it a possibility of radical transcendence?

    I think those people teleologically inclined tend to support the idea of the singularity and see in it a connection to deep universal dynamics. This also requires an appreciation of intelligence as something more than mere random adaptation…a phenomenon that is connected to what the universe IS and will be. Those without such teleological impulses doubt the singularity and emphasize the stagnation. The world will get better, (imagine Western Europe around the globe) and lives will get longer…but only up to a point. Growth, population growth, even science will stall. It will be the end of human “progress” as we’ve picked all the low hanging fruit.

    (I leave out the third option of total social collapse and de-evolution as not really that serious a possibility.)

    Where do you stand?

    • June 17, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      I have always been a technophile, and see technology is the only realistic possibility for a viable human future. Having said that though, what kinds of technology we develop will make all of the difference. In looking at future human habitats, the two most plausible kinds of developments seem to be along the lines of permacultures and techno-arcologies. I could see a world where suburbs become more rural and self-sufficient and urban centers become more artificial. Sort of a Middle-Earth up front, Dubai-Vegas party in the back kind of thing. That may be more of my personal preference. For the reality, I’m more inclined to consider the warnings of peak Oil people like James Howard Kuntsler. It seems to me that in all likelihood it is actually too late to retool our civilization to make a graceful transition, and that most people will not be enjoying any kind of singularity.

      I am on board with the spirit of the singularity, but in real terms, I don’t see that Moore’s Law is fulfilling the promise that we think it implies. Even though raw processing power does continue to grow, the bloating of inefficiency in software has kept pace with it. The experience of using computers has improved remarkably in some ways in the last 30 years, but stagnated in others, and disappointed in others. If my 10 year old self could see the reality of what technology was available in 2013, I think that he would have been pretty depressed. We’ve basically got a larger, prettier version of a BBS community from 1981, but with spam and ads. I don’t see anything especially promising about this huge repository of gossip and porn, certainly nothing which will replace the loss of the standard of living purchased by manufacturing and industry. Maybe we’ll have a massive biotech/nanotech boom which will really change everything, or maybe there will be some other energy wildcard (take your pick…new cold fusion, bio-solar, flywheels…) that we will be able to turn to.

      It seems like it has always been the wildcards which changed everything. I remember even at the dawn of the internet, people still did not see it coming. They were talking about interactive television, and a lot of people were anticipating some kind of fusion of computer-telephone-TV, but even though people were already using email, the WWW as not even on the radar yet. For that reason alone my guess is that the Singularity is more pipe dream than practical reality. I think that our approach to AI would have to be changed fundamentally to achieve programs which provide overunity feedback loops of intelligence.I hope I’m wrong about that, but if we really are facing Buckminster Fuller’s Utopia or Oblivion dilemma, it is going to take some pretty miraculous events to put us on the Utopia track. If I’m going to be optimistic, it would be based more on the miraculous serendipity factor than the inevitable progress of existing tools. If there were a Singularity, I would guess that the fruits of it will only be available for some, and while less developed areas might leapfrog a few steps, it is not clear that the majority of the world will see a great improvement in their quality of life.

  5. PhiGuy110
    June 17, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    What about the long-term potential of technology though? Since you’re not a believer in true AI, what will be the future of technology and sense? Do you think that “ultimately” there is some kind of technological bottleneck humans have to go through to “evolve” or does our species really kind of plateau here?

    • June 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      I think that we will be better off extending our own nervous system technologically. It may not even require implants. Once we understand more about perception and meaning I think it should translate into giving us more powerful tools to evolve in a transhumanist sense. Something like time travel or omniscience could be achieved by technologically tapping into non-human ranges of awareness. I am as anxious to go beyond the monkey body as anyone, but I think that if we will get to do that we will have to have a deep understanding of how consciousness relates to physics and biology, not just a logical picture of how data can be made to simulate the output of consciousness. The plateau has more to do with population and politics. As long as our priorities continue to focus on developing trivial conveniences rather than global scale innovations, it seems like it will be slow going.

  6. PhiGuy110
    June 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks!

  1. October 1, 2013 at 9:33 pm
  2. January 25, 2016 at 6:18 pm

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