Friday, February 28, 2014

Chatter chatter chatter

Energy is the basis of all things. But not all things are created equal - not all things demand the same amount of energy to happen. And, to drive this point further, the same things do not demand the same amount of energy to happen for all people. Some people can do certain things with a lack of effort, while others have to struggle their hearts out in order to make that very same thing happen.

Energy is not a universal currency, as it were.

This applies very much to communication. Some people can communicate rather effortlessly, going on and on and on in a state of constant chattering about this and that. Others have to make the effortial equivalent of climbing a hill to say just the one thing. Not to mention two things.

Communication is not a universal constant, as it were.

This is important to keep in mind, as you will run into people who have to effort to communicate. You will run into them at a regular basis, and you will most likely misunderstand their energy requirements for something else. In benign cases, you'll take it for a certain ponderousness, a tendency to think that one extra second before speaking. In other cases, you'll take it for rudeness slowness (with a negative connotation). Or something else, for better or worse.

It's not what they're saying. It's how much they have to effort in order to say it.

As it were.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Discourse ethics is the default mode of the surveilled

There is a subtle aura of elitism around the notion of "discourse ethics". It connotes a style savvy, distanced author consciously choosing the proper words based on a clearly set of categories, who puts her conscience on the line making sure that each and every little dot gets to where it is supposed to be. Needless to say, this implies a certain measure of efforting on the part of the author.

This is not helped by the fact that the word "ethics" is usually reserved for occasions when someone has done something wrong, and would improve the situation by doing something else.

What puts people off isn't the notion of working hard to make a good text happen. Efforting is not the issue. What's putting people off is that subtle feeling of elitism - the feeling of being judged, under scrutiny, watched, questioned. Worst of all, of being criticized.

Not being good enough.

The disciplining of one's own writing really doesn't have anything to do with what one is writing. It goes beyond that, takes a step back. Forces you to think: am I a person that could and would write such words as those that are currently in this draft? No matter what these words are - pure trolling or the next declaration of human rights, it's all the same. The question is as eternal as it is troubling, and it is the question of self-identity. It won't budge until the text is released to the world, and not even then that eternal doubt lets go.

Who am I? What can I say - what can say me? Am I to be found in that, in this gathering of hastily selected words?

Alienation is the name of this game.

The same thing happens whenever we confront any kind of documentation regarding ourselves. On the one hand, it is definitely us - it has our name on it, there's a younger version of us on the pictures, we remember the things described, we got the scars. On the other hand, it is everything but us. The documentation leaves out crucial details, lacks context, misses points, puts things in a wrong light. We know more than the thing being described, and we know we know.

No one looks good on their passport photos.

The most frightening thing about mass surveillance is not the demand to effort a good appearance. At times, it is even a fun break to do it properly, for such formal/disciplined occasions as weddings and suchlikes. The most frightening thing about mass surveillance is the demand to always look good - both physically and discursively. Both in the eyes of the CCTV cameras and in the eyes of the oversight committee.

You know that feeling of being judged, under scrutiny, watched, questioned? The fear that you, at any moment, can be called to answer for yourself? The fear to, in some unspecified way, not being good enough?

In a surveilled society, this feeling is the default mode.

A good author can turn this into an art form, a hard-earned virtue. The discourse of the visible - the visible discourse - is not a punishment, but a possibility. This spotlight belongs to the stage, rather than the prison.

For us mere mortals, though, it is a life sentence. We will never be good (enough), the story bearing our names will never be a flattering read. What's described is not us, but a lesser version of ourselves, a thing created from criteria and categories we know nothing about. The surveillance photos never capture our good sides, and the surveillance records are always a short step from being labeled "criminal". Work too hard, too little, too average - everything can and will be documented. And judged. And, if judged to be not good enough, punished.

What's virtuous in a human is a sin in a slave. And we modern slaves have overthrown our chains of steel, only to replace them with chains of paper. Discourse ethics is the default mode of the surveilled.

Ihre Papiere, Bitte.

Originally published March 29, 2011

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Communicating change

Today, I ate at a burger joint. Today was, apparently, also the first day that they served fancy coffee. Not just regular old coffee, mind, but fancy coffee, with faux Italian names and whatnot  Which, to be sure, is a change, and a change that needs to be communicated to the customers. For many reasons - the least not being to sell those coffees to these customers.

So. Communication happened. In the form of an explanatory folder strategically placed on the tables, containing an explanatory text. Which began talking about coffee, and then transitioned into talking about burgers.

This, at first, confused me. Then the gears started ticking. What was the aim of this communication? What fictional sender needed to be discursively constructed in order to make this communication work? What's the main theme of this place?

Burgers. The whole place was about burgers. Burger joints do burgers. The central theme is burgers.


It makes sense for them to talk about burgers. Especially when communicating change. They have a core value, and they're sticking to it. And they're now doing fancy coffee, too, in addition to this.

It is, in one word, brilliant. There is change, and there is a firm understanding that nothing will change. Those in favor will nod in favor, and those in unfavor will get the message that they're safe in ignoring the new fad.

There is, to be sure, rhetoric in all things. Even when things change.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stupidity by association

There are people out there who argue against feminism.

This, in and of itself, is not a strange thing. Make any kind of speech act at all, and someone will inevitably find a way to argue against it. Even if you are God almighty accompanied by all the angels singing the Hymn of Truth, there will inevitably be someone. It's going to happen, so don't fret it.

The strange thing about people arguing against feminism is that they, for whatever reason, don't just settle for arguing. They could say "hey, I've read your argument, and there are some points I happen to disagree with, and here's why". They could say that. That would be a reasonable thing to say. And, to be sure, the polite thing to say.

Instead, it goes something like this:


Which, allcaps aside, is the strangest thing to say. It goes way beyond the needs of the argument - it in effect takes us right back to the nineteenth century when it comes to social sciences. Which, all in all, is slightly overkill.

You may or may not be familiar with Occams razor. In this case, it's not so much a razor as a full blown ultradeluxe electrorazor 5000, with all the extra trimming features added. The result is not only the removal of those things that are deemed superfluous to the argument, but of all the things useful in understanding this society we live in. Sociology, political science, psychology - all thrown overboard in the effort to show that Feminism Is Wrong. Feminists use it, and therefore it is Wrong too.

I can't help but be constantly flabbergasted by the enthusiasm behind this reduction to absurdity. Feminism is wrong - and therefore we can't know anything about how large scale societal systems works. Feminism is wrong - and therefore there is no such thing as critique of power dynamics within institutions. Feminism is wrong - and therefore writers like Proust can't tell us anything about how humans work.

Go go antifeminists. Stay strong.

Friday, February 14, 2014

More, longer skies

I have this peculiar tradition. Every Valentine's day, I start up a new blog, regardless of whether I need one or not. Which means two things. One: this is the second anniversary of this here blog you're reading right now (party mode!). Two: there is indeed a new blog out there, and you can find the three first posts by pressing this here link:

More longer friend, can you see that sky?

I'll leave it up to you to figure out what the overall gist of this new thing is. What you probably won't be able to figure out (nor have any reason to, should you be among the 99.9% of everyone that doesn't read Swedish) is that the visual theme is an homage to this vast expanse of gray blogitude that turns five today. (There are translations, though.)

Gray is the new, and old, black.

The aim of this tradition is, as is the aim of any proper modernist tradition, to be anti-tradition. To get new things in motion, to get unstuck from the thousand ruts that is the things we tend to do, and to nudge the default. Not in any particular direction, mind. Just in general.


To the days beyond this one which are still perfect. Whatever they may be.
I'll see you there.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sustainability for the immediate future

There's much talk about making our society sustainable. While this is all well and good, we might want to take it one step further, and ask ourselves: is our society survivable?

Let's review the facts:

The air is slowly turning unbreathable
The food we eat is postprocessed beyond health and nourishment
Our social relations are toxic
Our social values dictate that only those who subjugate themselves to the labor market are deemed to live
The prevailing educational paradigm is to beat new thoughts out of you
Profit trumps ecology
Your right to live ends where monetization begins

Oh my.

Seems we have ways to go, still.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rhetoric in all things: laundry edition

There is a sticker on one of the machines that adorn our laundry room. It says "minors are prohibited to use this machine".

If you do any kind of digging on this prohibition, though, you'll soon find that the reason for this prohibition isn't any given law, rule or ordinance. You'll also find that there are plenty of minors who, despite the sticker, use the machine to their laundried content, without anyone giving it a second thought.

What gives?

In order to understand this, we must look at this prohibition as a speech act rather than as a regulation. It is not there to say "minors are not allowed to use this thing". Rather, it is there to say "hey, look, we told everyone that minors can't use this thing, and yet they did it anyway. It's out of our hands."

So what is on the surface a prohibition, is actually the opposite: a legal disclaimer.

Rhetoric in all things.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The zombie bots have arrived

The zombies are loose! The apocalypse finally happened! We are living past the end times, and our fellow humans are trying to eat our brains!

...or, well, not quite yet. But the zombie bots are loose on Twitter, and they are legion. As in, hundreds upon hundreds of them, chainfollowing people like so many cigarettes.


Money, mostly.

Somehow, someone got the bright idea that their next viral marketing stunt would be to create zounds of zombie twitter accounts, and have them all floodfollow selected persons at the same time. Not one, not two, not three, but hundreds of them. All at the same time, all at once, to simulate the authentic zombie experience.

Subtle. Not.

It's about as subtle as walking up to strangers on the subway employing very threatening body language, to create a tense situation where violence seems to be imminent, and then break out in an enthusiastic "aha! fooled ya! Watch our special on domestic abuse we're sending later this week!".

They did just that. In no uncertain terms.

The zombie bots have arrived. In force. And in great numbers.

As this is a marketing move, the only thing to do is to act like good customers and let them know that we've received the message. And that we no longer are nor will be their customers in any capacity ever again.

The zombie bots have arrived. And as everyone who's ever watched a zombie movie where the word "viral" is used, there is only one appropriate strategy to use when the time has come:

 Scorched earth.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I heard you like true things

You don't have to agree with everything you hear.

Most likely, you don't agree with everything you hear. (If you do, become very, very worried.) Most likely, you also stop listening when you hear something you don't agree with. Since you don't agree with it. As a famous burner of libraries once said:

The books either agree with the truth, and are thus useless, or they don't, and are thus both useless and dangerous.

You might be able to spot a flaw in this line of reasoning. Don't you have to know the truth before being able to discern between it and the untrue, and isn't the reading of true books a way of finding out what this truth looks like?

This is so.

You don't have to agree with everything you hear. Most likely, you don't. But it is also more than likely that you don't listen to those things you don't agree with, by virtue of not agreeing with them. Like the burner of libraries, you're torching the truth along with the untruth, and all that's left is the ashes of words unheard.

You don't have to agree with everything you hear. But you'll be richer for having listened to it.

Default feelings

People have emotional baselines. Default feelings. Blueprints for all feelings to come.

Usually, these are based on feelings past.

This is not to say that there's determinism at work here. But you can understand a person very well if you manage to empathize with their emotional defaults. The places to where they go when they are not going anywhere in particular. The equilibrium awaiting perturbation.


There is no one default feeling. There's always a bunch of them, being more or less present at any given moment. Some might be frequent, others rare, but they are.

Some of my most frequent are based on being outdoors alone under an overcast sky, not quite rainy but all the more melancholy for it. Not just the one time, but many times, many ages: as a small kid, exploring the oversized mountain behind our equally oversized house; as a slightly less small kid, walking to the nearby village without telling anyone; as a school kid, not quite wanting to be social during recess; as a highschooler, deliberately getting off the bus at the wrong station in order to establish a good long distance between me and home; recently, deliberately trying to get lost in this city in order to find new places.

There is no one default feeling. But some are more frequent than others.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Frank Klepacki is a genius

In my perpetual attempt to educate the world, there's an awful lot of room for play. Because of this, I'm able to write a blog post titled "Frank Klepacki is a genius", and then proceed with using this title to make visible a certain point of view. Just because.

There are many ways to react to the statement that the venerable Frank is a genius. One of the less obvious ways is to ask what it means that the one making such a statement makes such a statement at this very moment. Of all the possible things this person could say - of all the things this person might be expected to say - zhe says this one particular thing at this particular time. Of all the thousands of dormant modalities that exists latently in their discursive subjective position - pardon. Why this particular thing, why in this space, why at this time?

If this was a dialogue, we might be experiencing one of those uncomfortable silences, or an attempt to take the conversation in another direction, or an attempt to not say anything at all, or maybe even an answer to the unvoiced question of what we're (at least one of us) thinking about. Alas, this is a blog post, and it doesn't seem to be an answer to just about anything, so it would seem that there's no particular reason for this to be said at this particular moment. Frank hasn't been mentioned anywhere before in this space, isn't exactly the kind of celebrity that can be mentioned without a particular reason, and is on the whole a very unexpected name to drop. Foucault, Derrida, even Cixous would be more expected at this juncture, but - Klepacki?

Why? What's the motive of this statement, and what's the situation for this rhetorics?

And how come the author chose just the fourth of February as the date for this statementing? Why not the third or the fifth? Of all the dates and times - in the middle of the night, mind! - available for stating, why this one? What made the author spot this spot with this x factor?

Why did the author pick this one moment among the literally millions of other moments? Why is now better than any other time that ever was and will be?

And what is said? That Frank Klepacki is a genius? Why is this important to say, of all the things that could have been said? Is Frank's status as a genius under attack? Is it well established, but on its way to be forgotten? Is it what potential readers wants to read? Is there some sort of informal Sword of Damocles in the air, punishing the author should this not be said?

What is the real motive behind stating that Frank is a genius?


After this wordy verbal bombardment of questions, you might be wondering what the point of it all might be. Assuming that you just read the wordy verbal bombardment of questions you just read, I can safely say this: just because. Just because these are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself before reading something someone else writes. There's always an infinite amount of other things they could have written instead of what they actually wrote, and there's thus ample reasons to think about the reasons they chose to write that instead of everything/anything else. Important reasons.

It's given by the situation that people write what they write - and thus, we'll have to take it upon ourselves to try to understand the situation in question before answering it.  And, indeed, before answering anything about the writ, not in the least the writ itself. If the writ is in itself a response to someone else, then we'd want to know who this person is, what this person is (that subtle distinction), why they are in communication - what is this situation, and why are they saying things at all?

Given time, it's also given that people write what they write when they write it - and thus, we'll have to take it upon ourselves to understand the zeitgeist when our time comes. If it's, for examples, an anniversary, a communal mourning for a recently departed, a competition, or simply many people talking about the same thing at the same time - then it follows that people tag along. They may or may not know what they're doing, but they sure do think long and hard about what to write when they write, and it's seldom a mere coincidence that people write the things they write at the time they write them.

And, at last: what is written? Mayhaps a seemingly banal question after all this, but - well. Zhe could have written literally anything else that is possible to write. Something in the author's mind made what was actually written more important than all other possible writings, and whatever this is, it's important to mind it.

This may or may not go without saying, but people don't just say things at random. At least not when they put intent into it. With intent comes reasons - reasons for writing, for the timing of the writing and the writing of the writing. And if we mind these reasons, the intent for writing will become clearer to us - even if the words won't tell us.


I have now committed the sin of writing the same blog post twice. In the same post. One might ask why I bothered to do it twice, when once would have done the trick. -

Apparently, I didn't think once was enough. And should you now ask the question of intent, I'd say that this whole endeavor is an attempt to make your relating (not your relationship, mind - you're the subject of this reading) to the written word that much more subtle than it was before reading. When you read it the first time, you might have nodded in noncommittal agreement; when you read it the second time, you probably wondered why we weren't making any progress; and now, this third time, I'm suspecting you'll want to hit me with something in retaliation for hitting you upon the head with the same thing over and over again.

Such are the ways of sophist teaching.

If you are in any communication at all with other people, you're using rhetoric. At all times. And thus, I thought that this time would be the best of all times to teach you about that which is rhetorical analysis - without bothering with all the words and definitions and stuffs.

If I succeeded? Now there's an open question, which requires its own analysis to be answered. I will, though, end with this one short statement:

Frank Klepacki is a genius.

Originally published June 24, 2010