The Blah Blah Blah

a vaguely aesthetic letter

I find it extraordinarily difficult to write—or read or think or play chess—without dipping occasionally (frequently) into the Internet; even with a flip phone, even with a typewriter, a record player—even with all the accoutrements of analog life—the presence of a laptop in my apartment is enough to threaten the sanctity of my inner-life.

At this point, it doesn’t seem reasonable to accept or reject this state of affairs—anymore than it’s acceptable to accept or reject pollution; technology is woven into the texture of living. We didn’t ask for the Smart Screen in our lives, but the Smart Screen is there—giving and receiving feedback, taking and learning from the information we’ve been trained to lovingly feed it.

We’re fish hauled up each morning in a giant trawler; we’re caught in the algo-net.

Lockdowns and self-imposed quarantines (Stockholm syndrome writ large) have sped up a process that started several decades ago—sped up the evolution (or devolution) of human consciousness. You wake up; you join the buzzing hive of commentary somewhere, checking up on stocks or sports or political backwash—happily accepting your dose of infotainment, of serotonin.

The real story of Covid is how it has brought a terrible future to bear on the present: most of us our now concretely disembodied, isolated, and anxious—permanently multi-tasking and fretting. Covid catalyzed disparate digital modes, fusing them into a Total Experience: The Shelter-In-Place Lifestyle.

Amazon for an interesting new book (and everything else)! Chewy for your dog! Tinder for your genital pleasure! Robinhood for some innocent stock speculation! Coinbase for some innocent crypto speculation! Draftkings to place a bet and relax on a Friday night! And of course—Zoom for that annoying thing called your job!

The inward processes that form the Self—formerly known as the Soul—have been fucked by spiritual endocrine disruptors; we can’t grow into individuals anymore. We’ve become semi-automated [-]dividuals, trying to find coherence amidst often conflicting—or simply pointless—digital signals.

No intelligent person does not feel neurotic guilt over not only the waste, but the violent sacrifice, of time. It’s hard to tell if you’re failing to make the best out of your culture, or if there is no best to make. Psychic disturbance is the rule, not the exception. The permanent state of exception we now live in politically mirrors the perpetual state of exception we experience internally.

I don’t think we’re even really consciously aware of our boundless craving for disruption and deregulation—of our exception hunger. I don’t think we realize how much we want scary things to happen politically, or for our favorite team to lose, or for someone to say something offensive or stupid on social media. We take all this crap for granted; it’s the junk food in the fridge.

Now—sickness is health (not incidentally the philosophy of wokeness). The dynamic processes of the mind in the App Age are all structurally related (or related to the same structural failure): we can’t form higher order thoughts strong enough to heal ourselves or change ourselves; we can’t summon the Will. The Will has flown the coop.

Anxiety is so foundational, plays such a essential role in our lives, that it is now basic: it is the substance out of which we are formed; we can’t recognize ourselves without it. We experience the anxiety of influence over the influence of anxiety; it seems all our best thoughts are formed by what constantly jostles our nervous system.

Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, and Blake make more sense to me than my Twitter feed. It’s 1810 redux—only this time, the dark Satanic mills are firmly implanted in the mind.

Or to give another, more contemporary example, we’re all Jep at the end of La Grande Bellezza, looking for “splashes of beauty amidst the blah blah blah…”