On Realism

notes & aphorisms

“The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.” — Ivan Illich

If I had a title for the present moment, it would be “The Bearable Lightness of Being”—an epochal break, a historical transition, that has figured out a way to apply Novocain to the subject in advance, to prepare for Its arrival with sedatives.

The grid—despite early concerns—never really shut off during the pandemic; the institutions of republican government never failed and flags were never taken down; the industrial food system didn’t collapse (though food prices went up); transportation still works; and so on. History, where is thy sting?


The sting—the typical moment when the barbarians cross the borders when the empire breaks down, when the old order collapses—has been evenly distributed, fractalized,  and thus concealed; the shift-sting has taken place within: experience has become purely digital and cognitive. We are no longer able to witness History because it happens within and because we actually produce it ourselves: history as digital hallucination.


The submissive ill-liberalism of modern people is predicated on the assumption that we cannot rule ourselves, that we are personally powerless and indeed very weak. Ill-liberalism—insofar as it gradually cripples our capacity to respond to stressors—is a self-fulfilling ideology.


The outcome of living in a permanent state of crisis: you can’t tear yourself away from the screen, the stream, the scroll; you feel bound up with the vascular system of a larger organism—less like a person and more like a cell in someone else’s blood stream.


Take a soil sample from the people around you. These are not the same human beings you knew in 2019 or 2010 or 2000; there is a regression, a narrowing, a slouching towards dystopic passivity (and cruelty). The 2021 Human is entirely a creature of discourse, of narrative, of media—a parrot, a squawker—talking the ruling class’s talking-points into existence; the 2021 Human cannot distinguish between truth and lies—only sanctioned and unsanctioned.


The most offensive thing you can do to a relentless self-promoter is actually ask to see their work.


Sartre’s law: bad faith drives out good.


Shaffer’s law: Salieris drive out Mozarts.


A shallow reader is someone who can talk about a great book, but hasn’t—and can’t—internalize its lessons. Imagine reading Cervantes, Dostoyevsky, Joyce, Proust, Kafka and coming out less sane, less humane, less capable of truth; you haven’t really read at all in that case.

A book that does not shape you is just a prop—a dead item on your bookshelf, a useless factoid in your brain.


All poorly kept secrets are just confessions of guilt mislabeled and placed on the wrong shelf.


There’s a deep discomfort with discussing alternatives, with reflecting on what has been lost, and what continues to be lost. Without knowing it, many of us have become implicit existential accelerationists—willing to see how fast and how far we can push the digital-human hybrid, convinced there is no turning back (and that attempts to turn back just makes one sad).


Something terrible happens when words are divorced from their consequences: life becomes fiction, and fiction becomes irrelevant. So-called ‘auto-fiction’ is a symptom of the atrophy of life itself—the scripted quality that has modern life gradually acquired.


Contemporary culture-engineers—I won’t call them artists or writers—seem to exist in order to tacitly approve of and justify the Present Age (and its power structures and centers), providing nominal leftist critiques along the way to conceal their deep complicity with the ever-evolving New Normal.


My own soil sample shows me that anyone with any hint of critical intelligence is likely to be an object of gossip, or its logical extension—cancellation. The merely clever are really in charge, performing the role of surveillance state at their local level (the bar or party or rooftop or gallery or club or restaurant or office). Averageness, tepidness, is the implicit mandate of the intelligent society.


Beware the fast-talker with influence and book deal or cushy magazine job at the bar: they are plain clothes officers, looking for thought crimes, eager to eliminate competition for whatever tiny slice of social cache they have acquired.


Beware the general appearance of post-Covid society: it is covertly anti-convivial, anti-erotic, and anti-social (for the most part).