Future Histories and Other Fragments

-a dispatch from the grief process

Addenda to my last post Somatic Experience of Grief:

The body isn’t a thing, it’s a situation; it’s our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project.

—Simone de Beauvoir.

Just ran into this quote today. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

This is a post of diverse fragments written over the past few days. Next posts will be a little more coherent perhaps.

Thinking today about future histories (and other really abstract sorts of things).

When we have plans with someone and they die, our future dies with them in a way.

File:Lever.svgThis is qualitatively different than with those with whom we have a long past, like grandparents or parents. With them we have a past history.

The situations are weighted differently. The present is the fulcrum and in envisioning linear time that fulcrum moves and the weights change. Sometimes it goes off balance when the weights shift suddenly. Grief is in part trying to shift things around so some equilibrium is re-established. Til the next time. Hence we have terms in our language like “burden of grief”

Of course these pasts and futures are projections from the present. They are irreducibly entangled with the past, present and future of everyone else. There’s an awful lot of variables there. Incalculable.

We live a life of probability. What do you place your bets on?

We make calculations on a continual basis as to what shows promise as being relatively stable. We discuss things with others so as to align our trajectories and construct a plausible future plan. We base that on knowledge that we have gained through experience, our own or that of others we trust. Trust is an issue in this as well.

In the paper Formalizing Negotiations Using Logic Programming–that’s a PDF–the authors outline ways to address some issues in negotiations using methods from logic. They cover two examples, one regarding disinformation and the other regarding bullshit—they actually call it bullshit too. [See my afterward on this post regarding what bullshit is.] It’s a very advanced paper and I don’t understand a lot of it right now. But some things are fairly clear. There are a lot of variables involved as I mentioned. We can figure these out right from the start. There are also a lot we can’t. As the authors note:

..a negotiation between real-life agents involves reasoning with incomplete information, preferences, goal changes, multiple issues and dishonesty.

These are kind of nebulous or fuzzy variables that we can’t really predict or rely on in any kind of definitive way. Most of life involves these kinds of things. We can never have ALL of the information we need to make a decision. We can’t know everyone’s preferences for everything all the time. We can’t control people changing their minds about what they want to do. We also can’t tell all the time if a person is dealing in good faith or not, or if they may even be fooling themselves about some things.

Beyond that we can’t account for the influence of outside or unknown factors or even know what they might be most of the time. No one expects to have heart failure in their sleep or to get struck by lightning or get a disease or suddenly lose their job to downsizing or conversely, to win a lottery or meet someone they will love or solve some great mystery that has plagued humanity or similar things. You can’t plan for any of that.

This probability stuff is way more complicated than we often realize.

Consider a fairly innocuous example. We see a concert advertised and decide we’d like to attend. The time between seeing this advertisement and actually attending the concert is a fairly complex one full of decisions and actions all based on probabilities.

Let me outline it in something like an algorithmic format but I don’t want to make a flow chart right now so you’ll have to settle for the construction I’m making—but it could be flowcharted.

Notes first: I’ll just use a simple if-then kind of construction. (there are also timing factors here-some primary conditions have to be accomplished before others can be processed) (there are also sub conditions that have to be met before the primary conditions listed can be met—I’ve put those in <> brackets behind rather than make a giant bunch of nested statements)

If <I want to attend the concert>


  • check that time of concert does not conflict with other engagements or obligations <further conditions #1> <further conditions #1 include: calendar is available, all appointments have been recorded fully and correctly, etc.>
  • a willing companion who <further conditions #2> <further conditions #2 include: is friendly, is available, can afford it, isn’t ill at the time, wants to attend, etc>
  • tickets for self and companion <further conditions #3> <further conditions #3 include: availability of tickets, money to buy them, means of transportation to pick them up, etc>
  • etc. [I didn’t feel like breaking down the whole thing and it would probably be more boring for anyone reading this if I did]

These are all interdependent conditions. That’s what I mean by probability.

It’s a nice day to start again.
There is nothin’ fair in this world
There is nothin’ safe in this world
And there’s nothin’ sure in this world
And there’s nothin’ pure in this world
Look for something left in this world
Start again

~Billy Idol, White Wedding

-a philosophical fragment

While I was writing this post I stopped for a bit and stumbled upon an interesting article. It’s not all that relevant to the post but this part has some terms I find interesting. You don’t need to know who Norbert Weiner, Sadie Plant or Nick Land are, but if you do then you’ll get the <scholarship bonus! FTW!>

The term “cyberpositive” was a twist on Norbert Wierner’s ideas of “negative feedback” (homeostasis), and “positive feedback” (runaway tendencies, vicious circles). Where the conservative Wiener valorized “negative feedback”, Plant/Land re-positivized positive feedback–specifically,: the tendency of market forces to generate disorder and destabilise control structures.

~from RENEGADE ACADEMIA: THE Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, director’s cut of unpublished feature for Lingua Franca, 1999; short remix appeared in Springerin, 2000 by Simon Reynolds

OK I don’t really have the energy to deal with this right now (getting some negative feedback in Weiner’s cybernetic sense of the word). I’ll just keep it in here for future reference so I can come back to it in another post. In short though, Nick Land is an “accelerationist” guy. I don’t care for his philosophy. Accelerationism is an awful lot like the popular “lean in” notions that are going around presently. If you read Ranciere you know about dromology and it’s relationship to militarism and fascism. Accelerationism, even from the radical left point of view, (I don’t really know how that’s possible anyways except by misreading or distorting Trotsky or Lenin), is not good news IMO. But that’s a very long discussion.

I’ve decided I want to learn more about how formal logic and logic notation works. (but I don’t want to hang out with the “Less Wrong” people (if you know who they are then good for you) as their slavering over all things Bayesian is a little hard to take. I’ve wanted to delve a little deeper into logic for some time but was busy with other things. Now? What the fuck else do I have to do?

I’m going to start with this. From here.

[Also recommended H. G. Frankfurt. 2005. On Bullshit. Princeton Univ. Press. -there’s PDFs of it available in the usual places.]

Here’s some things about logical notation that I’ve found upon a very cursory search:

I think it helps to already understand Boolean logic etc (probably you do too even if you don’t know what it’s called. It’s when you use things like OR, AND or NOT when you are querying a database for example.) Here’s things about that. How Boolean Logic Works, Boolean algebra Also if you’ve ever made a Venn diagram (the kind with the overlapping circles) that is a Boolean sort of representation.

It would certainly make my blog posts, including this one, shorter. I may have to make a key at the top if I ever use this in a blog post. It would be kind of fun. Like that time I did those e-prime posts [here and here]. I also wonder if some of the Buddhist propositions could be written like this. I see it as a system that interconnects as a unified whole and I think that could be expressed, the internal logic of it anyways. (I suspect a certain amount of tautology would be involved—not the bad kind of tautology but the better kind.lol.) Kind of an advanced project for sure but it would be interesting to map it out.

Also all the notation symbols for the logic stuff are available in Unicode which means one doesn’t have to hunt for special symbol fonts or insert images or some other ridiculous workaround.

Maybe I’ll look for a MOOC on introductions to this subject. Or maybe Khan Academy has something. You’d think so.

[Here’s a weird thing. I wrote the above, then on Twitter about 2 hours later this was posted. Logic: Language and Information 1. It’s on Coursera. Not exactly what I was looking for but a start. Clearly it will be some time before Principia Mathematica makes any sense to me tho. lol.]

Relationships geography examined in tweets.

I did not know how to reach him,
where to catch up with him.
It is such a secret place,
the land of tears.

~ Antoine de Saint- Exupéry

A New Dystopia

I have just finished reading And Still the Earth by Brazilian writer Ignácio de Loyola Brandão.


If you thought 1984 and Brave New World was scary, here’s a dystopia that updates all of that. Interesting since it was written in 1981. The book summary:

Welcome to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the not too distant future. Water is scarce, garbage clogs the city, movement is restricted, and the System–sinister, omnipotent, secret–rules its subjects’ every moment and thought. Here, middle-aged Souza lives a meaningless life in a world where the future is doomed and all memory of the past is forbidden. A classic novel of "dystopia," looking back to Orwell’s 1984 and forward to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, And Still the Earth stands with Loyola Brandao’s Zero as one of the author’s greatest, and darkest, achievements.

Brandao’s work Zero was banned in Brazil and his subsequent works have caused a great deal of stir.

Here are some of the summaries and comments provided by Goodreads reviewers:

…this dystopia seems all too credible in many countries. the bleakness, the environmental hell, the meaningless routine life gradually becoming more and more restricted by ‘the system’, the loss of anything like a civic society, the corruption, the endless propaganda, the removal of any sense of history- it is not an error the protagonist is a former history prof- and the way this oppressive and unquestioned, nameless, authoritarian ‘system’, comes to take over even the least freedom of what parts of the city you can visit, what days you must consume (even if you do not want to), what time what bus you take, what side of the sidewalk you walk…this is a portrait from sidewalk level of an ordinary man who has the misfortune of knowing of a better past… [thegift]

The world, as usual in a dystopia, has gone to shit. What is surprising is that this book, which was written in the early ’80s, imagines a total environmental collapse. Brazil has cut down it’s rain forest and now has "one of the wonders of the world," The Great Amazon Desert. Heat pockets are so intense that people burn to ashes if caught in one. Pharmaceuticals and multinationals have poisoned generations, and The System (and governments that proceeded it) have created blunder upon blunder. The Rich hide in massively walled cities, while everyone literally dies of lack of water and food. [Troy]

Plagued by water shortages and rationing, constant heat waves and unnatural heat pockets (where if you get pushed into, you’re incinerated) that develop wherever they please, overflowing debris and garbage, and synthetic food, this São Paulo is definitely not the place to be. Stuck in the overpopulated state of hyper-surveillance is a disgruntled and apathetic former history teacher named Souza, who gave up the resistance a long time to slum it like everyone else, trudging back and forth between his stuffy apartment and his mindless job, waiting for certain death. One day however, he finds a hole in his hand that makes him more like the people stuck in the danger zones outside of the city than his partially sedated neighbours, and all hell breaks loose….And Still The Earth is definitely an extreme example of what blatant apathy towards what the government is doing can be come, but it is still an example….The planet is warming up and the forests in Brasil are being cut down. Now we have synthetic meat, a project that is supposedly geared towards alleviating the meat shortage. [leslie nikole]

I devoured this book, even reading some parts twice because they were eerily familiar. Prescient, as overused as that word is, describes it so well.

One doesn’t need a qualification in sociology or anything else to appreciate the novel or to identify with the characters in it nor to recognize the strands of oppression that were beginning in the 1980s under Thatcher-Reagan and are starting to reach fruition now.

It’s also a psychological study of a man who, because of the circumstances of his society, finds himself, formerly comfortable and bourgeois, pushed to the margins before he begins to realize what has been happening. The undoing of society is also his undoing. This juxtaposition of the individual and the collective and their mutual influence is superbly demonstrated in the novel.

Perhaps why I find this book so compelling is because of the non-fiction and academic stuff that has my attention now. I’ve put some of that at the end of this piece.

Material that discusses the topics in the novel.

Here are some resources (videos, texts) that discuss some of the sociological things going on in the novel from a real world perspective.

The Logics of Expulsion: Permanent Crisis, Land Grabbing and Surveillance Saskia Sassen, professor of sociology at Columbia University, New York, visiting professor at the London School of Economics, author of "The Global City" is interviewed in the video. She discusses the global trends of people not only being dispossessed but actively expelled from the economic system and ownership such as the mortgage crisis, the financialization of the global economy which allows the finance paradigm to invade every area of life, the appearance of tent cities in developed nations as a social sign of the development of predatory formations and assemblages, the superstructure of surveillance mechanisms to oversee these advanced capitalist processes, the monoculture of globalization, loss of local community and financialization as a form of economic violence. Well worth the 35 minutes it takes to view the video.

That same professor, Saskia Sassen, has another longer video, Expulsions: The Fifth Circle of Hell, on the same topics. Here is an overview [via Synthetic Zero blog]:

“In the last two decades there has been a sharp growth in the numbers of people that have been ‘expelled’, numbers far larger than the newly ‘incorporated’ middle classes of countries such as India and China. She uses the term ‘expulsion’ to describe a diversity of conditions: the growing numbers of the abjectly poor, of the displaced in poor countries who are warehoused in formal and informal refugee camps, of the minoritized and persecuted in rich countries who are warehoused in prisons, of workers whose bodies are destroyed on the job and rendered useless at far too young an age, able-bodied surplus populations warehoused in ghettoes and slums. One major trend is the repositioning of what had been framed as sovereign territory, a complex conditions, into land for sale on the global market — land in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Central Asia and in Latin America to be bought by rich investors and rich governments to grow food, to access underground water tables, and to access minerals and metals. Prof Sassen’s argument is that these diverse and many other kindred developments amount to a logic of expulsion, signalling a deeper systemic transformation in advanced capitalism, one documented in bits and pieces but not quite narrated as an overarching dynamic that is taking us into a new phase of global capitalism.”

Here is the video:


There is too much in professor Sassen’s work, the effects of which are presented and presaged in the novel, to ennumerate here.

Whistle While You Work (For Nothing): Positive Affect as Coercive Strategy – The Case of Workfarethe role of  psychological coercion, notably through the imposition of positive affect, in UK Government workfare programmes. There has been little or no debate about the recruitment of psychology/psychologists into monitoring,  modifying and/or punishing  people who claim social security benefits. This silence raises important ethical questions, including about the relationship of psychology to the medical humanities.” This is a scary development. Not only are people supposed to work for no wages while they’re on earned benefits they are supposed to enjoy it. It reminds me of the parts in the novel where people go to “Alleviation Centers” for psychological and emotional relief from the stress The System is putting on them. [I want to do a blog post about this aspect of advanced capitalism because it ties into much Zizek has written about current practices of Buddhism and of McMindfulness as collaboration with capitalism that merely seeks to make people comfortable in their oppression and doesn’t challenge the context in which they are being practiced. That’s one upcoming thesis I’m developing.

Communique from the Committee for the Liberation of Autonomous Amusement: on the question of labor The Deterritorial Investigations Unit blog contains interesting commentary on a lot of current topics. In this particular “Communique”, which is one of a series of “Communiques”, discusses the necessity of labor as we know it.