Grey Days

Rapper Jay-Z released his final album, The Black Album, in 2003. Or it was supposed to be his final album, he has since released five more solo studio albums. As part of his grand exit from the music industry, amongst other types of extravagant promotions, he released an a capella version of his album to encourage people to remix the music. Artists and DJs complied, producing a profusion of mash-up albums, using music from numerous artists and genres to create new backing tracks to Jay-Z’s vocals.[1]

The most popular of these mash-ups, by far, was Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album, which took music from The Beatle’s White Album to back the vocals. The music label which owned The Beatle’s recordings took exception to the use and widespread sharing of the music, and EMI Group moved to protect their copyrighted material, though they were ultimately unsuccessful in suppressing the album after a campaign to download and share the music in defiance of the law.

The Grey Album’s release and popularity was a victory for freedom of artistry over restrictive corporate copyright laws, it caused a boom in mash-ups, and it was another tremor in the earthquake of technological changes to culture and commerce. Mash-ups became a fad, as many people thought it was at the time, though they have maintained some persistence, but rarely as pop-music again. Music labels were not going to give up their control over their music, however.

In a war, any front made too formidable with fortifications and forces will be bypassed in favor of a weaker point of attack, the fortification of irrepressible artist independence was too popular for it to be attacked and repressed head-on, so it was bypassed. The battle over The Grey Album is a look into the past and reveals how early responses to the revolutions of the internet economy preceded more sophisticated tactics by corporations to maintain their profits – it reveals the incredible success of their shifts in tactics as well. Rap music, because of how the tracks are produced, is a prescient example of the struggle between entrenched corporate interests and innovators.

Hip-hop music was born from the process of sampling – of taking portions of other songs to create new music – and grew from a small niche to a mainstay of pop music. Though there are still artists innovating in that medium, rap music was abducted into corporate processes for income and content-generation long ago. This happens in almost every modern entertainment and content-based subculture now. As explained in this article: innovators are followed by fans, who are followed by “sociopaths” who exploit the creations of innovators for monetary or other types of gain. A corporation is a good example of these sociopaths (a comparison others have made before) and the “geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths” pattern holds true for any potentially lucrative activity.

So when a corporation, like EMI Group, wants to protect their business model against future innovation, what do they do? They use the laws and regulations designed to protect property ownership. EMI’s particular legal tool against The Grey Album was copyright law, which is (philosophically) designed to encourage innovation by allowing creators to make money from their original productions, though the laws are sometimes used to create moats protecting corporations’ profitable domains.

Of course, copyright laws are hard to enforce if you’re confronting large portions of the population breaking the law as happened in the aftermath of the release of The Grey Album. The great victory for the common people was won in an act of civil disobedience dubbed “Grey Tuesday,” after the dissemination of the cease-and-desist letters by EMI. Here, there was a clear hero (the artists, the people!) and a clear villain.

Corporations are the enemy, the villain, for almost every public grouping in some way. In vulgar political terms, the left hates corporations because of their exploitation of labor and the environment while the right hates corporations for their faux-woke sensibilities and support for liberals. In the more fluid political terms of the moment, populists hate corporations because they own all the political power, while libertarians hate corporations because they are rentiers swelling their margins from government largesse. Corporations and our reactions toward them are close to the core of our political divisiveness.

I used to worry about the politicization of everything, but now I think the transformation has happened to society, not politics. Everything is gamified and sorted by algorithms. It is this dominance, over our dopamine and over our attention, that are driving social changes. We look at – no, we consume – content which produces strong emotions and induces chemical rewards to flood our neurons. The corporations which we hate when viewed through the lenses of our political polarization are, at the least, enabling those very processes of polarization and atomization by driving our engagement and influencing our behavior. This convoluted, self-consuming process is important for more than one reason, and the difference between corporate responses to threatening innovation in 2004 and 2021 display these reasons quite clearly.

So what happened to EMI’s strategy in 2004? They pursued no legal action after the cease-and-desist letters and after they lost the Battle of Grey Tuesday. The likely explanations are that they did not want to suffer any public backlash, or they realized that the exposure was good for them. Since the currency of consumer products is attention, it makes sense that more of it, even if in violation of copyright laws, is a good thing – now even more true because of the network effects of social media.

Control of digital assets is best pursued by other means, by shifting strategy to more favorable ground. Convenience and ease are more effective at controlling the behavior of the masses than lawsuits. Making it difficult to rip tracks from an album, or download them off the internet, compiling a giant database of music and making it searchable, making individuals safe from potential legal action and downloading viruses – all are more impactful than suing people to make them stop sharing something on the internet. Spotify has done more to protect copyright for music labels than the destruction of Napster (while gathering-up income as a mediator between customers and their music libraries).

And what happened to innovation in music will happen to innovation in other areas. Legal crudeness, the use of a blunt weapon to bludgeon opponents, is ineffective against mass disobedience, but providing a service to people can pay dividends. Besides new(ish) formats for dissemination of music, territory unoptimized for corporate profit includes cryptocurrencies and NFT’s. Innovation is alive and well, side by side with risk and complexity.

Music can now go viral on TikTok, or still through Youtube or SoundCloud – with a song or artist’s popularity generated through social media engagement. Artists were able to promote themselves with the advent of social media in a way that was unfiltered and genuine, and many still are. One method from music labels to control this cyberspace is to snatch and sign artists as they’re becoming popular, gaining part of their future cash flows by providing them with the operations and convenience of huge capital-backing. Another way corporations co-opt this process of social media virality is through astroturfing (a play on the idea of “grassroots” engagement – it is buzz made to look like genuine popular engagement, but that is seeded by corporations). Astroturfing is being laundered through social media influencers for a variety of reasons now, to protect corporations or to protect corrupt governments. When someone expresses wonderment that conspiracy theories spread so easily online, someone should remind them that the viral posts from their favorite influencer, or the trending hashtags and topics, may be indistinguishable from organic narratives. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

DeFi (decentralized finance), operated through blockchains and cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, offer a bevy of financial products that were, just recently, only available through large (and hated) financial institutions. Products like loans with no credit checks, high-yield instruments, and financial rewards for supporting exchanges and programs are all at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection. Cryptocurrencies and the (apparently) wild speculation associated with them will eventually get regulated and co-opted. Here again, regulation is a powerful tool, but even more powerful is the centralized convenience provided by the simplification and aggregation offered by exchanges and other centralized middlemen. DeFi profits and control of investor behavior will belong to a Spotify of cryptocurrencies.

A boon to photographers, painters, and musicians is the invention and blooming popularity of NFT’s (derivatives of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and DeFi) – another method whereby artists and creators and innovators can get paid directly for their work, bypassing centralized organizations and other corporate middlemen. NFT’s will be fully incorporated into any corporate content-producer’s digital strategies, truly independent artists will only exist on the margins while benefits from this medium will accrue to mostly large corporations. Even now, music labels all have NFT-teams to try and capitalize off of the nascent movement.

One thing to notice here: the cycle is speeding-up – the turnaround from independent art-forms and innovation to commoditization and monetization is rapid. Of course, this is offset by the pace of innovation enabled by interconnectivity. But in the war of the people vs. the corporations, the people are fighting on both sides.

The only way the corporations win is from the common assent of the masses. Maybe corporations are the villains, but they are aided and abetted by citizens in their villainy. Every examination of mass, internet-enabled phenomena must account for the fact that people are more easily herded than they are extorted – especially by entities unable to use the direct force of violence, only its subsidiaries. The State has a monopoly on violence, and the mechanism governing that use of violence is the law. Corporations can only borrow the tools of government, not wield the powers themselves, therefore corporate persuasion is much more effective than trying to use government tools without government force.

Whether it is rap music, the stock market, or novel types of computer coding, there are always innovators who create and teach but are then pushed out by entrepreneurs and those seeking profit. Corporations exist to make money. Their goal is not the betterment of society, it’s to act in their own interests, and if that happens in service to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, then great. If not? Too bad. There is a tension between art and problem-solving and profit which plagues our vision more than ever, giving society the veneer of falsity. Why do people flock to meme stocks, or Dogecoin, or Youtube mumble-rappers? Because they are pure expressions of something untouched by the sterile, robotic hands of big business. Novelty and authenticity are rightly prized, but too often we get the form and not the substance. There is a crisis of credibility for corporations – but they will continue to pursue profit through controlling their landscape. So next time you read about a short squeeze in the market and someone says, “it’s the 99% against the 1%,” remember that it’s true, just not in the way people think it is.

Control through co-option. Control through convenience. Bundling as a strategy of centralization. These are the weapons of corporate control. Everyone as the vindicator of their own rights is a burdensome philosophy and independence is hard. Fixing the problems of legal and technical difficulties and the diffusion and irregularity of sources in music, is a recurring-revenue business model that is popular with consumers. Fixing these difficulties is the future for much of our entertainment options, and no civil disobedience will stop it, because people will protest in one tab and stream their content from a tech giant in another.[2]


[1] My personal favorite, The Argyle Album, can be downloaded here: http://www.100dbs.com/production/argyle/

[2] This post (and most of my posts, honestly) was heavily influenced by the writing at Epsilon Theory, particularly this post: https://www.epsilontheory.com/in-praise-of-bitcoin/

PIE and a Polish King in France

What a beautiful view of a time and place that exists now only in its outward forms, bereft of the culture and society from which it was birthed. It has not vanished with time, however, and serves still as a pleasing monument and testament to human ingenuity and artistic sense.

These photos are of Place Stanislas in the city of Nancy, France. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is considered an outstanding example of 18th Century architecture which combined practical and aesthetic concerns.

How did a small city in France come to be an outstanding example of 18th Century architecture? With the help of a Polish King of course.

A Polish King (anglicized as Stanislaus I), a man crowned twice as King; actually, a man elected leader and called King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – who was elected through bribery and intimidation at the behest of a foreign power, and deposed twice, and, per agreement, who spent the last several decades of his life as the Duke of Lorraine, a province in Eastern France, the provincial capital of which was Nancy, who had a very interesting life (Oh, and his daughter married Louis XV). He commissioned this great architectural work after he settled down, far away from the politics of Poland.

We make the mistake of viewing the past in the same way we view the laws of physics, as if it were immutable and stable across all time-periods. Observations of history that incline toward conceiving of the past as a more primitive version of our current reality (as having stable nation-states, far-reaching bureaucracies, and social safety nets) dislocate the events of the past from their causes. This is a fairly well-known idea that I’ve heard called “alienation from the past.”[1] Life has changed so much we cannot conceive of the motivations of people before the Industrial Revolution. The vagaries of European institutions in the age of intertwined royalism make the structures of diplomatic and international life dissimilar to our own; a naïve look into history will not suffice for explanation, but we have another way available to us to examine the past and the present: through statistical analysis.

Unfortunately there are other errors that bedevil this type of analysis (which avoids the first error of not realizing our own alienation from the past) including believing that all things are quantifiable and the manifold confusions often arising from the use of statistics. For instance, you may be able to say: “humanity spent 40% of its existence at war in the pre-modern period, and only 20% since the Enlightenment” (numbers completely made-up by me). This is a snapshot, not a trend. There is no reason to believe that these statistical facts would actually mean anything or tell us a story – but such stats may often be thought of as confirming a trend. Statistics and mathematical immutability deceive us because we will often make up a story if we are only provided with scattered facts, or we will look at the numbers and forget to connect them to the real world. All bonds of cause and effect are severed when we aggregate and taxonomize mass data. But before we look more deeply into this problem, lets briefly look at why it is the case that those bonds are severed by going back, by going way back.

A delightfully corpulent-seeming Stanislaus.

Time was born only at the Big Bang, before that, there was no time, or in any case, it was a thing unknowable. If the Universe ends in heat death, everything ceasing to move, then time becomes meaningless as it stretches into a uniform infinity. Space and time are linked and therefore time and motion are inseparable.

“Alright Einstein, thanks for the physics lesson, so what?”

So, what happens when you create an infinite and indelible universe inside of the one which we physically inhabit? How many people foresaw that we were going to build an entire parallel universe inside computer networks? Every technological revolution is tied to time, most of them have been involved in shortening latency and friction in some way, reducing the amount of time to spread complex information via the printing press, for example. The digital world disrupts our relationship with time in a novel way, and this starts to disrupt perceptions of cause and effect. Time can now be measured in zeptoseconds, an incomprehensibly small unit of division, and in our digitized existence in its immediacy (or near immediacy) there is no practical distinction between the immediate and the near future.

There is research that suggests being online distorts our personal relationship to time. But if we look deeper than this, we can see that this time disruption, though not formal (we are still capable of discerning cause and effect) can lead to gross misperceptions of the world. In the name of objectivity, we abandon common sense. There is no statistical way to explain, for example, a Polish King becoming the premier architectural patron of France. If that sounds too silly, or too obvious, or abstract, it is easy to find a case closer to home.

The NYTimes recently ran an article about a poll[2] which they say showed that 15% of Americans believe in QAnon. Setting aside any personal opinions about the The New York Times or QAnon, or any other political or pseudo-political affiliations, polling in this manner and extrapolating from it are terrible ways to interrogate the world. People are not discrete mathematical concepts, and neither are beliefs. What defines someone as “believing” in QAnon? Can they believe part of the theory, or perhaps agree with its general aims while not believing literally? Can we trust self-report as an accurate measure of belief which will lead to action? Most importantly, this tells us nothing about how the movement develops, how the beliefs manifest, or how it spreads from one person to another. Using statistics to create a taxonomy crams the world into simplified structures created by the statistical analysis itself. This is a fundamental problem of our world-building in cyberspace as well. The internet being full of generated simulacra creates a version of reality that our minds can enter and our bodies cannot, forcing us into the close-ended worlds of videogames and the formats of social media platforms. It is easy to click a link (as easy as it is to answer a poll question), and the ease distorts perceptions of preferences.

Another example of this phenomenon of statistical taxonomy being misleading is back-testing strategies in financial markets. Computational power and data allow for hypothetical implementation of trading strategies in previous time periods. These will always produce naïve results, as the assumptions that the data are the same – that the data is representing the same things over time – is incorrect. There was no VIX in 1929, we can only try to imagine or construct one, and therefore a volatility-strategy could not exist then as it exists now. Imagining and constructing the VIX for Great Depression may be possible and useful in some manner, but not in using it to calculate a profit and loss of a strategy.

Also, symptomatic of our strange new lives: there is the perfection available in the online world. Everything is measurable and we can smooth the rough edges, just as we can enter a video game world with mind but not body. You can gauge your popularity with your follower count, your avatar doesn’t have the slight hunch in your neck or your asymmetrical eyes, your conversation can be thought out beforehand making your wit evident and concealing your nervousness. And yet here we remain stuck in our imperfect bodies, unsure of our place in the world, unable to indulge the human obsession with taxonomy and platonic forms. There is no more mystery to be found on earth in the average life. Everything is instant, and everything is indelible. Our thoughts, experiences, and knowledge were once almost entirely our own. Our internal lives and external events were accessible to us through memory, or through an eyewitness account, or etched in writing, or attested to by a stray photograph or other recording in more recent years – and the first three of these accounts are of dubious veracity (see Catiline and Cicero). Now, vast troves of our thinking and doing are no longer subject to the entombment of “calumniating time.” Go talk to someone who was “canceled” for a foolish remark from their teenage years to see how this can have negative social impacts that were not considered before. Ask a question on Google, and someone has asked it before us (we have everyone’s experiences to learn from, and yet so often, none that relate to the question we asked). A perfect record of past events lends itself to misleading taxonomies and analyses, another example of mass data being similar to a paucity of data.

There is a non-mathematical way to engage in taxonomy which helps to allay these numerous false perceptions arising from distortions of time in cyberspace, and thereby to reconstruct the past and build the present. This can be learned from how linguists build proto-languages. They do this through what is called the “Comparative Method,” developed and used specifically for discovering pre-historical parent languages, it involves careful analysis of similar words and grammar from different languages and the known evolution of sound changes to build common ancestor-words. It is a method of careful observation and comparison, leading to such breakthroughs as the fable of The Sheep and the Horses:

“A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: ‘My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses.’ The horses said: ‘Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool.’ Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.”

Breakthrough? This little story may not mean much since it is here typed in English, but the fable originally was written in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) by a German linguist named August Schleicher in the 19th Century (click the link above on “fable” and they have the two stories spoken in PIE). PIE is the first language constructed from the comparative method and is the presumed progenitor of the Romance languages, Germanic languages, Indian languages, Slavic languages and more. Using the comparative method does not set out a series of facts, but rather provides evidence of relationships which must be analyzed in a human way, taking into account information that is not strictly numerical. Such analysis requires a deep interpretation that takes into account factors outside of the quantifiable realm.

If you want to understand QAnon (for instance), where it comes from and how it spreads, one can deconstruct the individual beliefs and try to explain the commonalities between its various interlocking theories and who is promoting those theories. It is a case where logic works better than statistical taxonomy, which tells someone little about the nature of reality and much about the abstracted, simplified forms we derive from it. Despite my depressing condemnations of the impacts of the internet and computation and social media, there is reason for optimism regarding how we examine the past. Computational methods open vistas of undiscovered knowledge and unbiased, creative interpretations. If we use our computational abilities and data in a constructive way, as a tool, as something that can help us rather than control us, we can be aided immeasurably.

The great contradiction at the heart of our information systems[3] is that they are part of us, our species, while also being utterly separate from our biological functions. Our systems of language, of code, our description of the laws and powers of the universe with mathematics, our art – all are real transmissions of information through time. And they are no less real than DNA we carry and pass on in our bodies:

“Our dataome looks like a distinct, although entirely symbiotic (even endosymbiotic), phenomenon. Homo sapiens arguably only exists as a truly unique species because of our coevolution with a wealth of externalized information; starting from languages held only in neuronal structures through many generations, to our tools and abstractions on pottery and cave walls, all the way to today’s online world.”

In order to understand things: their origins, and where they might go and why they exist, there is no substitute for chronicling the progressive evolution of causation that travels out of the past, through the present, and into the future. Cyberspace generally, and statistical analysis specifically, sever these normal progressions of ideas and beliefs from their environments and their antecedents. If we want to understand a Polish King who reigns as a Duke in France, or why a social movement roars through a community like an uncontrolled fire, we might do well to think again of Schleicher’s Fable, which serves as both a narrative (a form much more likely to explain human behaviors than a statistical analysis) and an examination of a hypothetical language. The method of construction for the language is logical, but not mathematical. It is a simulacrum of the real thing but is not a perfectible abstraction. Perhaps sometimes, if we wish to make sense of reality, it is beneficial to bring the past to the present, instead of projecting ourselves backwards into the past.


[1] I wish I had a citation for this phrase as I’m using it here, but I can’t find anything on the internet.

[2] An oft-used catalyst for stories for newspapers, “creating” news where there is none, but that’s a different post – also, the NYTimes article I’m citing here has some woeful editorial problems that are nakedly biased, but that’s also a different post.

[3] The author of the article I linked (and the quote) calls it the “dataome” – like a biome. There are a lot of interesting implications here for what we consider to be life.

Note: the first two images in the slideshow were taken by Nicolas Cornet, the final one of the square in daylight by Berthold Werner.

Hope and Revelation

And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Revelation 20:2-4

The word millenarianism, the belief in a Utopia brought about through revolutionary action, comes from the above religious prophecy promising a thousand-year reign of God on Earth in the Book of Revelation. Appearing to be prominent in times of technological and intellectual advancement coinciding with economic or political hardship, millenarian movements often manifest as fanatical and cult-like groups. And there are two which have developed distinction in recent years. The first is the global movement to prevent climate change, and the other is the global movement to replace fiat currencies with Bitcoin.

Society is groping in the dark toward new animating principles, in the United States especially, trying to conjure a structure which will fit the individual into the collective. Beyond the principles of democracy, human rights, race, and materialist ideology which so moved and integrated people in the past, there is nothing which appears on the horizon, over the next hill, in the future to bind us together. Instead of bliss and harmony and hope, all we seem to be able to elicit are dystopias, visions of the horrors of dull, governmental complexity and corruption and the destruction of the most basic facets of nature. It may be that Bitcoin and climate change tell us more about ourselves and how we feel about our societies than they do about the course of events in the future.

These two new millenarian movements of climate change-activism and Bitcoin-advocacy are concerned with forestalling doom and ushering in a rejuvenated Utopia, and both are moving into direct conflict with one another. This conflict was painted vividly recently in the nearest thing we have to the symbolic temple of our society: the financial markets.

The sudden drop in price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies last week (5/19) was attended by a series of negative-seeming news events. Here, I should interrupt myself to say: it is a prudent practice to refrain from stating what directly caused such a sell-off, and who can say how it will be remembered, as people will write a history with knowledge of subsequent events.[1] Regardless, there was a sell-off with several negative news stories that coincided or immediately preceded the sell-off, including a Bitcoin ban in China and the previous month’s explosion in the price of other cryptocurrencies – thereby potentially threatening the perceived ability of Bitcoin to continue to lead the cryptocurrency market. More noteworthy than these other news stories was an Elon Musk (CEO of the electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla) tweet stating that Tesla was no longer accepting Bitcoin to purchase their vehicles because of the negative impact Bitcoin has on climate change. I think what happened is that Tesla and Musk realized that “climate change” was a more powerful narrative than “Bitcoin.”

Tesla is an interesting case of the intersection between the two narrative groupings. Musk insinuated himself into cryptocurrency debates by commenting on them, by having his company purchase Bitcoin, and by announcing he would allow cars to be purchased with Bitcoin. By doing this Musk partially ties his company to cryptocurrency and Bitcoin in public consciousness. To a large extent, Tesla also relies on the goodwill of people who support his electric vehicle company because of its positive impact on climate change for its continuing success in its actual stated enterprise. Tesla, therefore, becomes a perfect natural experiment to observe a contest between these two movements as they diverge.

The latest round of the “Bitcoin vs. Climate Change” argument was initiated from an important and respected source: a University of Cambridge study showing how much energy BTC mining was consuming compared to entire countries – publicized on Feb. 10th, 2021. The Bitcoin-advocacy community has responded with a host of statements and writings seeking to debunk this idea (a veritable flood, perhaps a recognition of the potency of the climate change challenge).

The “BTC is driving climate change” argument (whether legitimate or not) is much more potent than some people realized. Younger people, especially, are concerned about the future of the planet – it’s a huge narrative vulnerability for almost any institution anywhere in the so-called developed world that refuses to acknowledge the problem of climate change. Just today, May 26th, the board of oil company ExxonMobil was shaken-up by activist investors who want the company to take bolder action against climate change – a stunning development.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

I used to dismiss the power of the climate change argument simply because I could not see the point in worrying about it. Maybe it’s too late to stop? Maybe we’re wrong? And what can I do anyway?

What an enormous mistake for understanding the times!

Eco-anxiety,” the fear that the future of life on earth is imperiled, is the opposite side of the coin of Utopianism – a fear of impending doom. And it is apparently a common enough problem to be addressed by the American Psychological Association. Uncertainty about the future seems to be the main fear (and again, uncertainty about the financial future drives Bitcoin-advocacy as well) animating people to take strong actions, and it also motivates unshakeable beliefs. Fear is also exploitable.

All this uncertainty manifests itself differently in different places, depending on local concerns, but one commonality is that nothing much seems to ever get done for either movement, despite promises and pronouncements by governments and institutions. This suggests to me that the passions surrounding the two movements are more important than the stated goals, that they are more useful as hammers for those who can try to wield them than as actual policy objectives. But there are practical considerations for this immobility as well.

An aspect of climate change that causes difficulty for its advocates in changing the apparent course of action is its geographical asymmetry. Populations in Europe and America are worried about global warming, not so in the countries still struggling with substantial poverty or who feel themselves in unequal competition with those wealthier nations. This also offers an interesting parallel with Bitcoin. While there may not be much use in America now for Bitcoin, there is certainly use for it in places with despotic regimes and collapsing economies.

Along with nothing much being done about climate change or in changing the global financial system, vagueness is a feature of claims about climate change and Bitcoin, making them useful as rhetoric. Climate change, because it’s so amorphous and so abstract and so unknown while also being potentially world-ending, is an excellent vector of attack against almost anything, on almost any timeline. There is certainty, a solidity, in saying that world can reduce carbon emissions to zero at some point in the future, if only we take common sense actions now! Bitcoin is inherently vague as all claims about it lie in the future and with few practical uses now. Cryptocurrencies are themselves abstractions, suitable for pure speculation. They are gold-like in that there is not much real, tangible value – and yet, what both gold and cryptocurrencies have in common is the illusion of safety and permanence in an unsafe and impermanent world. The price of Bitcoin has appreciated substantially over time, but it is no closer to being used as an alternative to fiat currencies than it was 10 years ago. The similarities don’t stop there either.

Both movements call for the erasure of the self while seeming to offer independence. Bitcoin promises a good life for all through collective action and mass adoption while touting the individual liberty of anonymity and permissionless structures. Climate change activists call for global reduction and eventual elimination of fossil fuel use but emphasize the importance of individual decision-making in creating this new energy regime – through vegetarianism or riding a bike to work instead of driving a car, for example. Independence of thought can be impaired by fear and hope. Those wonderful inborn, and ductile, traits, which are so stretchable and manipulatable, present themselves most powerfully in periods of upheaval and corruption – and now the cultish aspects of millenarianism show themselves. Self-denial and self-punishment are themes that reach deep into the past of our societies, they have just taken a different form.

Flagellants, who mortified their flesh by whipping their backs as a sign of penance, came to prominence during a crisis of faith in Medieval Europe. This crisis was of the corruption of the clergy of the Catholic Church, and to a lesser extent, secular authorities. Among the innumerable revolts and wars that bloodied the fields and dirt roads of Europe were a substantial number of uprisings of impoverished and oppressed peasants, encouraged by recalcitrant, mystic, and often excommunicated clergy rebelling against the decayed, hollow forms of institutions like the Church.

Millenarianism used to concern religious matters, with economic considerations being secondary to the zeal for penance and the ecstasy of revelation. Now we have two prominent millenarian movements whose primary concerns are the ecology of the planet and the monetary base of governments; is there any clearer indication that we’ve traded God for mammon?

Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;

Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore!

What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,

But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:

Man never is, but always to be blest:

The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Essay on Man, Epistle I, by Alexander Pope

We must make our own justice on Earth, no power is going to do it for us. This desire for justice, something forever lacking to some extent, is a powerful mover and motivator of social movements. This search for justice and an associated organizing principle for society has inspired these two excited millenarian movements (or cults, as I’ve called them elsewhere): one for justice in environmental matters – the climate change movement, and the other for justice in economic and governmental matters – the Bitcoin-advocacy movement.

Climate change is winning the battle for minds versus Bitcoin, and while there may be mundane reasons for this, that it is was taught as a problem to children in schools for instance, there may be more powerful forces at work. I am not suggesting that climate change activists are wrong, or that Bitcoin advocates are right, or any conceivable combination of such claims. What I am suggesting is that the climate change narrative currently threatening Bitcoin’s prominence contains similar beliefs and springs from similar concerns as the cryptocurrency movement, and that the fears generated from climate change reach deeper into our minds than the fears of economic dislocation.

In our faithless society people hunger for mystical and spiritual nourishment. A void of meaning must be filled to dull ravening nihilism, and desire for the lost simplicity, abundance, and beauty of nature can be fulfilling.

Hope is only sustainable if the object of that hope never comes to fruition. The greater the struggle for the mass-adoption of Bitcoin and the greater the struggle to implement climate change-preventing technologies and policies, the greater the appeal of both of these millenarian movements and the greater the danger that they will be manipulated to ends not intended by their advocates. It is incumbent on us to be skeptical: Utopia is always over the next hill, but never appears after the climb.


[1] A fun fact, on Oct. 24th, 1929  – “Black Thursday,” remembered as the beginning of the 1929 stock market crash, the market only ended down about 2% from its open.

Brief Candle

There is reality which we cannot see, smell, taste, hear, or touch, and while we know this intimately, we don’t often think about it. Social connections, emotions, and behaviors all influence people in profound ways, yet we only perceive them through their effects. To discuss and influence these intangible structures and networks we use metaphors, and metaphors make the intangible tangible. Through the transformative process of mental association of two disparate things that is metaphor, people can begin to build reality. Without such processes and abilities, life is merely a “…tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

The sun doesn’t rise in the morning[1], a hawk is killed by a small owl, horses eat one another.[2] These are the unnatural portents arising from the murder of Scotland’s King by Macbeth in Shakespeare’s great tragedy. Macbeth is a Scottish lord who is visited by the ethereal, witch-like “Weird Sisters” and told he will become the King, along with several other prophecies and opaque statements. He becomes obsessed with the idea, kills the King of Scotland, Duncan, to usurp the throne, and starts murdering any potential opposition as he becomes a tyrant. Eventually he is killed, fooled by the equivocation of the witches who were speaking figurative half-truths which Macbeth interpreted literally.

The play is full of metaphors made literal, and those manifestations of guilty conscience, the dead rising from their graves and appearing as ghosts for example, are inversions of the natural order (too numerous to list here, the play is full, end-to-end, of inversions of language and unnatural events and behavior) which occur until Macbeth is killed. One facet of the play is an interrogation of Macbeth’s psychological state. He is a brave man, depicted as a loyal war hero, devoted to his wife and his friends. So how did he fall into tragedy?

One of the intriguing mysteries of Macbeth’s behavior is in noting how he precipitated the very things he feared, actions known as a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Was Macbeth always going to kill Duncan, was he always a murderer and a tyrant, or did the suggestion from the Weird Sisters lead him to those acts?

As Macbeth’s beliefs lead him to action, so do all our beliefs lead us to action. How we think about the world influences what the world becomes, and great revolutions in thought precipitate great revolutions in action. How we think of ourselves and our society can constrain us in ways we never intended, sometimes leading us to the very outcomes we sought to avoid, or guiding us to a false interpretation of the unseen powers we navigate.

Pity” By William Blake – Tate Britain [1], Public Domain – This is a literal interpretation of a striking metaphor used in Macbeth, Act I, Scene VII “And pity, like a naked new-born babe, striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubin, horsed upon the sightless couriers of the air, shall blow the horrid deed in every eye that tears shall drown the wind.”

Once we had only the dictates of nature to tell us when to wake and when to sleep, when to store food, and when to plant crops. These still exist, we can’t escape our biology, but layered on top of these fundamental structures of life are the technologies which have come to define whole epochs in history and much of our lives.

Think about the number of mundanities that give us structure and define our thinking. These inventions that were once miracles are now just paving stones which we walk on, heedless. The tyranny of the ticking clock, the glare of artificial light, the comforts of on-demand heat and air-conditioning – our circumstances change our perception of the world, even if we are inured to the presence of these technologies.

Something as complex as society and culture could never be described directly – if we want to try and analyze it has to be done with a simplified framework and metaphors. Brilliant thinkers and artists used metaphors to describe the invisible structures of society and they filtered down to the mass of people and influenced how they thought about the world. The metaphors used to describe our societies have shaped our societies.

Plato described the city-state as a ship – the metaphor becoming generalized as the “ship of state.” In this extended, didactic metaphor Plato describes the populace as incompetent and volatile sailors who cannot steer the ship because of their own ignorance. This is a description he uses to bolster his argument that the rulers of a city-state should be wise “Philosopher-Kings.” This is an unmistakably anti-democratic sentiment, anathema to our current sensibilities, though perfectly in keeping with centuries of thought. It is, perhaps, a case of self-fulfilling prophecy: the learned Philosopher-King which Plato believes should be the ruler of a city-state is justified in his dictatorial control by the foolishness and ignorance of the populace, but this conception of government was a convenient excuse for despotism. Despotism being the de facto state of government for generations, it is instructive to observe the influence of Plato on political thought for over a thousand years. This demonstrates how powerful one idea, one metaphor, one person can be on our history. But thought did not remain completely stagnant. As Antiquity rotted and gave way to the Middle Ages, a scholarship of strict logic and theology dominated matters of intellectual discourse.

Fortune’s Wheel” provided by the British Library from its digital collections. Catalogue entry: Royal MS 18 D II- Illustrated catalogue

Medieval political and social thought was often concerned with divine order and the interplay between fate and random chance. All people were subject to the inevitability and inscrutability of Fortune’s Wheel. Fortune’s Wheel was an ancient trope, the idea being a man (or mankind) was strapped to a wheel which brought people to high stations or low stations randomly (or to a position fixed by fate).[3] Befitting the static society of Western Europe, the image is one of a world beyond control, where bad things and good things happen at chance. How much did this conception of the world, taught in religious and secular instruction, impact the thoughts of people then living? The institutions of Medieval Europe were rigid and punitively hierarchical and it is conceivable that these systems were partly sustained by the general Medieval belief in a society and life as fated and out of any individual’s control. Advances in technology and ideas were both necessary before society was unstuck.

Frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan,” by Abraham Bosse

Sharing a sorrowful kinship with Plato’s “Republic” as a book which people only read excerpts from in college, is Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan.” But we don’t even have to go as far as reading an excerpt, this book we can judge from its cover (the sword-wielding giant in the image above). This metaphor of society and government as a single body, a single person composed of many people, perhaps mirrors the advances in medical science and new knowledge of human anatomy in the 17th Century. It also introduces a greater idea of reciprocity – a body cannot function without a head (executive authority), but it also can’t function without arms and legs (the citizenry). This idea of the social compact would help lead to an explosive reimagining of society in the Enlightenment that would end up severing quite a few heads. Other Revolutions were seeded during the Enlightenment as well though, ones that were technological in nature.

Influential metaphors are also used to describe other complicated, invisible networks, like Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” in his description of the economy. This metaphor is inescapable when reading or learning about financial markets and economics, or some flavors of politics – its imagery woven into our collective metaphorical vocabulary. Defenses of capitalism lean heavily on this unseen force, conjuring an image of each person, working selfishly, benefitting the whole of society.[4] Smith used the phrase in relating that counterintuitive insight that is foundational to the modes of modern prosperity:

“By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”[5]

This metaphor has helped bolster arguments of Laissez-Faire economics and his work was a weapon used to help free Europe from the oppressive Medieval tenets of Feudalism. Once written, such brilliant formulations won’t adhere to the original intent of their creator, and Smith’s metaphor is often used as a rhetorical hammer to justify behavior that is destructive to society. This metaphor has become overused and polemicized, and lost its initial boldness. Somewhat later than its publication in the late 18th Century, Smith’s incredible achievement in describing a superior method of economics and entrepreneurship was sometimes wielded to fetter the workers which he sought to free.

As the Industrial Revolution steamed forward, there were deep inequalities, social upheavals, and conflicts between different sectors of society and between man and machine. Intellectual forces were mustered against inequities of the invisible hands of Capitalism and found an insurgent champion to lead their rebellion in Karl Marx. In his monumentally lengthy writing in his major work, “Capital,” Marx discussed the power of the machine in the relationship of capital to labor, using a metaphor to codify that relation:

“The automaton, as capital, and because it is capital, is endowed, in the person of the capitalist, with intelligence and will; it is therefore animated by the longing to reduce to a minimum the resistance offered by that repellent yet elastic natural barrier, man.”

The machines themselves are mustered against the poor worker. And later in the same chapter, he writes about the laborer becoming an automaton under the influence of modern machinery:

“In handicrafts and manufacture, the workman makes use of a tool, in the factory, the machine makes use of him. There the movements of the instrument of labour proceed from him, here it is the movements of the machine that he must follow. In manufacture the workmen are parts of a living mechanism. In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism independent of the workman, who becomes its mere living appendage.”

Man as a machine is powerful imagery – one that reinforces the idea of the inhumanity and cruelty of industrialized Capitalism. Well, what has happened here? The forward thrust of technology placed efficiency as the peak aim of industrialized Capitalism, bringing about the further devaluation of common labor just as Marx feared. It is reasonable to suggest that the more a worker thinks of themselves as a worker, or as the slave of a machine, the more likely they are to place themselves into the Marxist mindset. Here we have again an articulation and framing of thought leading to action.

In recent years, our metaphors have changed more rapidly as technology has changed, and fragmented as our social lives have fragmented. The same powers of self-persuasion in the self-fulfilling prophecy does not though.

Writing about these metaphors as self-fulfilling prophecies and misleading representations of reality is not an idle, academic exercise. They can have concrete, real consequences that impact us now. Take the concept of inflation, something much on the mind of economists, investors, and politicians these last few months (or few centuries depending on how closely you follow debates about monetary policy). The most recent period of sustained inflation in America is called the “Great Inflation” by economists, and it lasted from the mid 1960’s to the early 1980’s. Economic investigations focus on the causes of its rise and fall while looking for explanations and possible policy errors. One hypothesis is that tolerance of inflation led to inflation occurring. Perceiving an abstract phenomenon incorrectly by conceiving a complex process as a mechanical process can cause people to misjudge the world. In a piece of analysis from the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research):

“The willingness of policymakers to accept high inflation is also a feature of the monetary neglect hypothesis advanced in Hetzel (1998, 2008), Nelson and Nikolov (2004), and Nelson (2005a). In this story, monetary policymakers appear unwilling to push for a disinflation once inflation starts because they doubt the effectiveness of monetary policy to tackle inflation relative to alternative policies. The story emphasizes the role of nonmonetary explanations of inflation, such as the belief that inflation can be a purely cost-push phenomenon. The prevalence of such beliefs is thus identified as culprit for the neglect toward achieving price stability. Disinflation started once the dominance of such beliefs receded. Tolerance for inflation and an aversion to the monetary policy actions needed to end it is also at the heart of political explanations of the Great Inflation.”

That is not to say that this is the definitive or holistic interpretation of the Great Inflation, it is one of many potential explanations, but the idea is that reducing a complex process to a few set, mechanical inputs – the result of a misinterpretation born from a metaphor – will always guide us away from a clear picture of reality. Increasing complexity and recognition of complexity along with the age of computational power have moved people into realms of new metaphors.

Software and hardware metaphors are prevalent – especially popular is the idea that if we tweak regulations and incentives then we can define the contours, the operating systems, of society.[6] This is an apt metaphor because it acknowledges the complexity of the world of ideas, but it falls short in that it is still mechanical and linear.

In addition to these common “computer/software” metaphors, there is another metaphor coming into prevalence that is closer to an actual, direct scientific analysis. This is the idea of “emergence,” which is a property of complex systems. In scientific disciplines, emergence is the concept that collective behavior from a combination or group is different from the behavior of the constituent parts – the group can have different properties from the individual, even if all the individuals are the roughly the same. This metaphor and idea takes us back to nature, and, as if we were strapped onto Fortune’s Wheel, we have come full circle.

I think these metaphors and their impacts on our lives are the water in which we swim, we don’t notice them much, and we use them as a matter of ease and habit. If you start at the beginning and count, I believe every single paragraph in this post contains a metaphor, including the previous sentence. And if you pay attention, you’ll probably find that every conversation you have and every written communication you produce contains numerous metaphors. Metaphors are essential to describe and navigate the world, but they also can have their pitfalls. We should be careful not to let them constrict us or shape our actions to the ends we wished to avoid. We could end up like Macbeth, cursing:

“I pull in resolution and begin

To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend

That lies like truth.”[7]


[1] There is an interesting idea of metaphor as used in philosopher David Hume’s “problem of induction.” Basically, we take as proof of causation the mere association of two things, even though this doesn’t actually prove causality. One of the examples he uses is the insistence that we know the sun will rise tomorrow just because of the repeated observation that it will rise.

[2] Macbeth, Act II, Scene IV

[3] https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/about-money/fortunes-wheel – a fantastic article about the shifting meanings of Fortune over time.

[4] The opposite would be something that comes up every time there is a disaster: “the tragedy of the commons.” When people rush to buy gasoline or toilet paper, it is beneficial for each person to be early and to hoard, but it hurts society as this creates shortages.

[5] The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II, paragraph IX 

[6] I would cite something specific here, but type in the phrase “society as an operating system” into Google and look at the number of articles.

[7] Macbeth, Act V, Scene V

A Red Harvest without Context

A week ago my library card expired, so I went down to my local library to get it renewed. On my way out I noticed that they were selling old, unpopular books for a dollar. Going through the shelves, I noticed a collection of the novels of Dashiell Hammett. Hammett is the author of “The Maltese Falcon,” made into an eponymous, early, and iconic film noir starring Humphrey Bogart as tough private eye Sam Spade. I bought the collection of novels and started reading it as soon as I got home. I was about halfway through the first novel, “Red Harvest” when I was shocked by a line of dialogue by the nameless protagonist, known as the “Continental Op”:

“If I don’t get away soon I’ll go blood-simple like the natives.”[1]

The line refers to the protagonist’s growing enjoyment of murder and mayhem. The reason this struck me is because the first movie made by the filmmaking team of Ethan and Joel Coen (known colloquially as the Coen Brothers) is named “Blood Simple.” I thought nothing of the title of the movie at the time I originally saw it because the main antagonist of the film utters the phrase. It was not just this movie that I was excited by in connection with “Red Harvest” though. It was another Coen Brother’s film, “Miller’s Crossing,” that sparked a revelation. I realized that the plot of “Miller’s Crossing” is very similar to “Red Harvest.” The Coen Brothers’ cinematic art is in dialogue, not just with other films, but with these novels. I never would have known this if I hadn’t picked up this book in the library on a whim, because I had to go there to renew my library card.

This story brings to my mind the value of context in constructing a foundation of useful meaning on which action can then be built, and the ability of that meaning to shelter us from the confusion of randomness. Random chance is a force which dominates so much of our lives, so much of our universe, and all human endeavor is opposed to the entropy of reality – all meaning is predicated on rejecting randomness.

When I see a Coen Brothers’ movie now, I can place it into the context of hard-boiled detective pulp fiction, allowing me to appreciate the tone and mood of the film in a different aspect than I had previously, maybe even to understand its themes and ideas better. Without this context I am reliant on sources of perceived authority to make interpretations of information or data for me, or I am prone to make an error of interpretation if I persist in examining information myself.

I’ve written about loss of context in history and now I want to talk about loss of context in our culture. Without knowing the origins and history of an idea, the idea itself loses meaning. This happens with words, phrases, and symbols as well, some words are used almost exclusively as a metaphor, and over time, we lose the metaphor and just have the word itself. A prominent example is the “save” icon on computers, it is still a floppy disk, younger users of computers may not even know what that is. When this happens, it is easy to abuse words, to lack rigor and meaning when making claims, to provide false or biased interpretations of events. In this manner, having a glut of information and data is the same as having none at all, because analysis is reduced to mere interpretation. Without the ability or knowledge to interpret mass data ourselves, it can be easy to accept the analysis of others – whatever their agenda may be. Consequences of losing connection with the past in our cultural and social context are that it aids the conflation of entertainment with knowledge and conflation of randomness with patterns. Loss of context also makes meta-references easier, driving out discussion and evolution of ideas and replacing them with tribalist anger. Stereotypes and scapegoats are creatures born from intellectual haze and are killed by nuance, but there is a lot of money and power to be made from stereotypes and scapegoats.

Our new data regime has led to an evolution in public cultural and political commentators giving rise to a newer species fitted to the environment: the independent culture warrior. This is not the old peddler of conservative or liberal values, but a person filling in the cracks. These independent culture warriors can attach their personal brand to some specific aspect of the cultural zeitgeist, and therefore tap into the audiences of online cults and tribes. One political example is the new populist politician, ostensibly a Republican or Democrat, but equally opposed to the GOP and DNC. Trump is the obvious example here, someone who was able to claim, and dominate, the brand of the GOP while rejecting broad swathes of the party platform. “Make America Great Again” is a nostalgic, context-less example of disconnection from any historical meaning. When was America Great, and what were the attributes of a Great America? These questions are too vague to answer.

There is the press critic – explicitly and almost exclusively attacking the homogeneity and bias of the large, national mainstream media. Joe Rogan and Glenn Greenwald are both flavors of this species, often invoking claims of bias in the media to connect themselves with populist movements. They have developed a niche that is beyond the stale forms of “left” and “right” politics and connect with feelings of paranoia and alienation toward powerful, established institutions. Complexity in the arena of media and government allow critiques to thrive which characterize a varied industry as uniform and allow the listener or reader to conflate a specific act with a general disposition. Without context, a criticism of a specific piece of writing by a specific journalist can come to represent an entire and monolithic entity.

In a different realm exists the new business mogul – people who were once motivational speakers are now FIRE bloggers, career-growth hackers, and anodyne futurists. Finance and economics are a ripe area for such spread in that they involve large amounts of measurable data that can be interpreted different ways with and without context and it’s an area which is salient to almost everyone. People can spend a lot of time traversing ground that was already mapped by someone else. After the GME short squeeze at the beginning of the year, a r/WSB-adjacent subreddit called r/GME dedicated to pumping GME stock specifically became popular — the subreddit reminded me of something: the posts on it are a direct parallel to the conspiratorial ravings of the defunct QAnon subreddits and white-male-grievance subreddits. Financial plumbing is esoteric and complex, about which narratives without knowledge can be easily consumed. None of these examples of people or ideas which thrive on loss of context should be read as implying that these interpretations are always “wrong,” just that they are not providing the whole story.

A little learning is a dang’rous thing
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.[2]

The best antidotes to being victimized from lack of context is skepticism and to try and do the hard of work of actually learning things. Skepticism is useful in that we should try and be careful not to believe something just because someone said it, try to spot “arguments from authority.” Just because someone is presented as an expert, it does not mean they’re right. Learning things, well, that should be obvious why it should help, but is not easy. After all, at the beginning of this post I related how I lacked the context that would help me understand some films more accurately, and I did not know what I did not know. Learning some background on a subject, especially one that is divisive, can go a long way toward seeing through attempts to steer you toward ignorance. These antidotes may seem trite, and an example of something that is “easy to say and hard to do,” but that doesn’t mean that they’re out of reach for most people with effort. Without these bulwarks against manipulation and confusion, the urge for simplicity and authority can lead people down potentially destructive paths.

Ceaseless cultural and political division of the populace into discrete units will lead people deeper into digital dungeons. The diffusion of society into cults spreads to any area where there is complexity and large amounts of data. The spread of contextless information and how it changes the worldview of people who have more contact with society in the digital world than the real world draws some people into a delusional fantasy. Delusion is a key facet of the psychology of addiction, and the symptoms of submitting to context-less belief-systems can cause harm to society. Social media is itself addicting, as many forms of overwhelming abundance are, and context-less belief will come to be seen as a form of that addiction eventually – a “Media Consumption Disorder.” Right now there is political capital (and often financial capital) generated by protecting the notions of the deluded in both of the political power centers and in the crevices inhabited by the politically independent. And who watches the watchmen? Who decides what is a delusion and what is appropriate? I do not have an easy answer, but, like other medical conditions, I think it will be largely defined by magnitude of deviation from the status quo and harm to self and others.

Currently, the reaction of authority which does not benefit from online cultism and virality is the equivalent of the “War on Drugs.” They are seeking remedies in prohibition and punitive restrictions through means of censorship and breaking up the digital cartels of big tech and social media corporations. This will probably be ineffective and damaging to those subjected to those measures. Harm-reduction will probably become a more effective method of controlling digital outbursts.

There will be action and reaction regarding the rise of context-less information and social media addiction and ecosystems and ideologies will develop according to their own flow and logic, hurried along by unpredictable events. The future is dominated by the seeming randomness that only context can dispel, but as we sink deeper into media bubbles and infinite tides of data, we may all have to stop our savaging of meaning or go “blood-simple” in the process.


[1] Hammett, Dashiell. “Red Harvest.” Five Complete Novels, by Dashiell Hammett, Avenel, 1980. (pg. 102).

[2] Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism. The “Pierian Spring” is a reference to a spring supposedly at the base of Mt. Olympus where the Muses sometimes loitered. Here it functions as a metaphor for a source of inspiration or knowledge.