The Lexwerks

Modern Love 4: Hey Cupid, it’s not OK.

“Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” –Wash, Firefly

Online dating site OKCupid recently demonstrated the gap between trust and consent as they defended Facebook’s sociological experimentation by describing some of the ways that they betray their users’ trust in ways that were totally consistent with their vague terms of service. Tim Carmody addresses this in terms of production and representation, emphasis added:

“I don’t care if you think someone making a dating profile is a frivolous thing. Somebody made that. They thought the company hosting it could be trusted to present it honestly. They were wrong.”

But the most surprising revelation to me was the Experiment #3, where OKCupid essentially says that in order to prove their matching algorithm works, they released a bug on their site that should get things exactly wrong. So the thing we expect from OKCupid — that they’ll recommend reasonably compatible people to meet? — yeah, they intentionally tried to botch that in a nigh-inexplicably unprofessional way. They say A/B testing, Tim says “being an asshole.” They say scientific rigor, I say actively callous disregard for the people who use their service, vindicated exclusively by the possibility that everybody involved should know that it’s all bullshit anyway.

Really, we know better than to trust what people say about themselves when they’re self-representing. Dr. Bell reports her associates at Cornell University claim that online dating profiles have — statistically speaking — about 100% chance of containing falsehood. And while Dr. Bell is generally correct in her assertion that

“If 100% of people are lying, it’s really easy to factor that in, right? You just factor in that all that data is invalid, or all that data is faintly problematic. It’s much more complicated when only some people lie in a data set.”

the problem is that simply factoring in the “faintly problematic” doesn’t enhance trust. It instead gets us used to trusting other people less on the expectation that they’re going to misrepresent themselves. But beyond that, our own misrepresentations indicate that we either believe everybody else is either easily duped by common deceptions, or is too jaded to be fooled by common deceptions, or is so shallow that they require common deceptions to have any interest in factual information. The problem isn’t just what it says about us or what it says about them, it’s what it says about how intend to relate to them.

The “intend to relate” becomes a problem when the abstract intention becomes self-deception. Here’s a hypothetical how: start with a dubiously-founded belief (“Men like football”) that doesn’t associate with the status quo (“I don’t like football”) and then claim that the belief will guide your actions (“But I’d watch the game with my man”) running exactly contrary to cultivated habitual behaviors and what we generally know about humans. Then put the claim into your profile (“I’ll watch the game with you”) and it’ll grow into a source of conflict later: “You said you wanted to watch the game with me!” “I really just wanted to spend time with you!” — the passive consent to watch the game was trustfully misinterpreted as actually wanting to watch the game.

But if it’s all bullshit anyway, what’s wrong with OKCupid acting like, well, its users? After all, “The worst thing could have happened [with the OkCupid testing] is people send a few more messages, and maybe you went on a date you didn’t like” claims Rey Junco. But Michael O. Church points out that “Most people aren’t broken, but broken people go on orders of magnitude more dates than everyone else, which is why most peoples’ dating histories have a disproportionate representation of horror stories, losers, and weirdos.” And if we parse the event as a “Bad Date,” we’re getting into the terminology that prostitutes use to describe clients that engage in behaviors that the prostitutes absolutely do not consent to.

But that’s just my claim and I’m actively avoiding Bad Dates. Let’s hear from people without this defense mechanism by staring into the depths of crawling chaos called Tinder: “You’ll hate it,” a girlfriend said. “It’s all 25-year-olds looking to hook up. I mean, that’s why I’m on it, but I am 25.” — a claim that seems to be backed up by the stunning depravity of @tinderfessions. But the very next thing I hear about Tinder from a source not-so-primed is “And Then My Tinder Date Pulled Out a Gun” which doesn’t violate any legal lines of consent, but throws down a big red flag on Do Not Trust That Person.

This is why web sites like OKCupid get blanket consent up front: so that they’ve got your prior passive/submissive “clicked okay” action to defend themselves when you realize you don’t trust them to not abuse their power. “Carries a gun to a party?!!” asks a blog commenter, but “Dude, they invited me to the party,” would be heat-packer’s response that blithely ignores the issue of social and interpersonal norms he disregarded.

Similarly: in Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Prince Charming defends a love-’em-and-leave-’em seduction by observing that he’s Prince Charming, not Prince Sincere. He got her (legal brightline) consent and promptly betrayed her trust.

So it seems to me that while young people are wrapped up in the discourse of consent, they’re being distracted from the a priori issue of how much they trust the other person. This may be because trust is generally on the decline or because we’re supersaturated with litigiousness or because our ongoing tribalistic curricular focus on “Stranger Danger” is belied by the actual statistics of familial abuse, I don’t know. What I do know is that express consent for sex is like a BDSM safeword: it’s not going to help you if you can’t trust the people you’re with to respect your limitations. Trust is the a priori issue; consent is the post hoc bright line that separates offense from weak justification when things turn bad. You may trust them to not bring a gun to the party, but not consenting to their packing heat isn’t going to be an issue until you’ve realized they’re packing heat. But beyond distracting from the a priori issue of trust, I’m concerned that the focus on consent is merely the latest euphemistic obfuscation of sex within sexuality, and that the passive/submissive history of the term encodes self-repression into the “sexually liberated” people who fixate upon consent.

If you’re familiar with Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, you probably know where this is going — but before we go there, if you’re up for a 90-minute diversion, here’s a lecture by Michael Kimmel at Dartmouth. I regard most of his analysis as shallow bullshit overly focused on frat-house behavior which ironically entrenches the aberrant behavior it describes (I’m with Foucault) if it even survives the 90 minutes without him contradicting his earlier claims and/or ignoring a larger context such as:

By the time men reach college, RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] explains, “most students have been exposed to 18 years of prevention messages, in one form or another.” … So efforts to address rape need to focus on the very small portion of the population that “has proven itself immune to years of prevention messages.”

And I can at least halfway confirm this because Laurie Anderson’s message of “if she’s drunk or high, there’s no informed consent” is what I was told 18 years ago when I showed up at my University. I don’t know how long the message was around before that point, but the message has not changed and a full generation of discourse has not solved — and that’s by design: sociologists have to keep their paychecks coming, right?

One of Kimmel’s observations that does seem truthy to me runs counter to the discourse of Anderson’s ilk: college students “hooking up” will often hook up while drunk. The claim is that inebriation is a common-if-not-normal state for this behavior. And the point behind it is to increase one’s capacity for consent by decreasing their capacity for social embarrassment. (Ms. Cosslett puts this assertion in context of the narrowing British/American cultural divide: “Likewise, while the Americans see the classic “are u out?” fishing text as evidence of shallow promiscuity, we see it as a convenient way of minimising social embarrassment by ensuring both parties are too drunk to attempt a conversation capable of, let’s face it, shattering the illusion whose maintenance is so essential for successful coitus.”) Kimmel glosses this point, moving right on to the gendered norms of pleasure — before being promptly oblivious on the point of procuring a new partner which requires overcoming fear of social embarrassment: Novelty of Experience, not to run a choreographed routine where your partner’s hypothetical/alleged qualities frankly do not matter. (Again, my claim: trust is the a priori issue, consent is the CYA brightline.)

But the assertion from Kimmel that I do appreciate (as I generally like Joseph Campbell’s work) is the question of ritual — which seems out of place, but bear with me. See, most ritual initiations and associated rites of manhood used to be overseen by the older and wiser men: they would take the boys and induct them into manhood through whatever traditional (and, to our minds, often strange and horrifying) process they had cultivated — that’s Campbell. Glancing to Victor Turner’s From Ritual to Theatre, it may occur to us that the term “hazing” applies to the metaphoric haze that covers the identity of the initiate during the time of trial when they are no longer an outsider but are also not yet an insider. Regardless, the point that Kimmel makes that I do like is this: the older and wiser men do not oversee these rituals in modern times — they are associated with the larger corporate institution and, in order to protect the institution from liability, will look and walk away from the ritual — effectively leaving the ritual performance to be done to naive X-year-olds by naive X+2-year-olds. Thus, the rituals of manhood that used to have a symbolic layer of trusting the men to confirm that we were like them is degraded to somewhere between cargo culting and Lord of the Flies where the jackasses who harassed and bullied us throughout our youth now demand our consent to harass and bully us some more. The point here is that the lack of higher level trust as embodied by the older and wiser mentoring figures abdicating their authoritative positions (that the public school system absolutely drubs into students they should trust) cascades into a wider decay of trust: we can’t trust the people we were taught to trust because they’re wandering off; instead we should trust these people who are being horrible to us because… At this point I don’t know; I wasn’t in a frat and wouldn’t have put up with the abuse “necessary” to join anyway.

Point is: when people with authority passively condone abusive behavior, people will mistrust authority on account of its irresponsibility but not learn how to distinguish who they should or shouldn’t trust instead.

So that’s the schism between trust and consent. But — besides it being a legal brightline — how did our discourse get moved to consent? This is where we get into The History of Sexuality.

In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault looks at discourse on modern sexual behaviors as an un-repressed taboo. Adults don’t like talking to kids about sex because kids are both byproducts of sex and objects of ambivalence (joy and woe, hope and fear) with a quantitatively negative skew (confinement and expense), and explaining that to kids reflects badly on everybody involved. Beyond that, “The sexual act is not an evil; it manifests a permanent focus of possible ills” and adults do not trust children — or even necessarily themselves — to handle any ills encountered therein. But more critically, compared to other pleasures, sexual pleasure was “ontologically or qualitatively inferior — for several reasons: it was common to animals and men (and thus did not constitute a specifically human trait); it was mixed with privation and suffering (in contrast to the pleasures of sight and hearing); it depended on the body and its necessities and it was aimed at restoring the organism to its state prior to need.” If you doubt this, just go spend 2 minutes reading @tinderfessions. While this level of critical thinking may not occur to all breeding humans of the sort Nietzsche denigrates when he writes “And just look at these men: their eye saith it — they know nothing better on earth than to lie with a woman,” it is generally true that parents hope for their children to surpass them (if just a little bit) and a premature focus on base animal pleasures seems incompatible with an aspirational agenda. As such, we minimize the overt role of sexuality in society, passing it on as a taboo with a thousand euphemisms: “What is peculiar to modern societies, in fact, is not that they consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret.” This is seen today where the word “consent” is substituted in for “sex,” such that sex-positive discourse becomes very permissive but doesn’t actually have any sex anymore: when we actually say “oral sex,” we’re talking “blah-blah-blah-jobs.” (Per above: if you actually want to have sex, then you need to be too drunk for discourse.)

The possible ills which sex is the focus of have some limited overt points (disease and pregnancy), but the transitive nature of relationships is a concern as well. Buddhist literature advises celibacy on the grounds of not becoming attached to transitive things such as other people, and certainly not their physical beauty. This contrasts with the style of the modern libertine nee pick-up artist who attempts to maintain disconnection by hooking up with everybody; their particular skill is the manufacture of consent. While celibacy seeks to avoid risk, licentiousness seeks to mitigate risk (to the self) through ongoing engagement with risk. But the libertine is callous — an intentional and practiced callousness, no less — towards the objects of their fleeting affection. Their practice is in being charming, not sincere. While one may consent to a libertine having sex with them, the inequality in relationship between self and sexuality will result in the bulk of the emotional risk falling on more-sensitive (non-libertine) person. This is both the basis and conclusion of the ugly truth: “The person who cares less has all the power. Nobody wants to be the one who’s more interested.” Just because simply giving consent leaves a person in a relatively passive position doesn’t mean they care less; they may just care slower — and be left caring after their more-active partner has moved on. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As a verb, consent means “give permission for something to happen” which is different from actually making something happen. There is a set passivity in the word, possibly a bit of Greek heritage. See, per Foucault’s research, the Greeks didn’t actually talk about sex much but they did agree that Real Men should be decisive and aggressive and have sex with submissive things — things like women, slaves, and boys. (“All that is quite disgusting!” says Foucault in retrospect.) The increase of rights for the submissive things as came up with Rome increases the focus on their consent without mitigating the penetration-oriented Real Man masculinity of the Greeks. And consent was even an issue for the Greeks with particular regards to men having sex with boys on the grounds that the boys shouldn’t be too submissive since they’re supposed to be growing up to be men. This sets up a temporal conflict: “What was hard for Athenians to accept — and this is the feeling that Aeschines tries to play upon in the speech against Timarchus — was not that they might be governed by someone who loved boys, or who as a youth was loved by a man; but that they might come under the authority of a leader who once identified with the [submissive] role of pleasure object for others.” To put it another way, the mutually consenting, mutually passive-submissive adults are all effectively treated (and told to treat each other) like the little boys of ancient Greece. Which is perhaps better than being a slave, but doesn’t do much unwind the disgusting Real Man masculinity of antiquity from modernity.

On a related note, the advice to Greek boys was similar to “romance” options in certain modern role-playing games: accumulate gifts and tokens of affection while resisting the Real Man’s sexual advances before ultimately submitting to them. Put another way: it’s good to play hard to get, but not to the point where you don’t get got. So from the Greek boys we see tones of the modern and internally-conflicted virgin-slut standard applied to women, and also encounter an early objectifying form of “gifts are given, consent is manufactured, sex is achieved” that is wholly incompatible to treating other people like, well, Other People.

Quandary: the other people who are most accessible are also the people most likely to be interested in you as an object or maybe an experience but not as a person (even if you are both sober). Recall that “Most people aren’t broken, but broken people go on orders of magnitude more dates than everyone else, which is why most peoples’ dating histories have a disproportionate representation of horror stories, losers, and weirdos.” And there’s only so many of them that you can encounter before you’re likely to become one of them (I have no idea what that number is, but it’s likely a fraction of Dunbar’s Number) because looking back you’ll be unable discuss who you are without relating your position to the losers and weirdos you are not, and looking forward you’ll be predictively avoiding the losers and weirdos based not on who anybody actually is but rather on your increasingly overzealous capacity for pattern recognition. (Really, even writing this it’s difficult to not refer to The Evil Exes.)

Getting to that point is not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re really that much of an individual, then you may not have enough time in your life to go seek out somebody who is both as individual as but also actually compatible with you — and all the time you spend doing that is time not spent cultivating yourself. After he wrote The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault was asked: “Do you still think that understanding sexuality is central for understanding who we are?” To which he replied “I must confess that I am much more interested in problems about techniques of the self and things like that rather than sex… sex is boring.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement for the work he’d done, and rather antithetical to what anybody talking about sex is willing to say about it. But is it wrong? Recall that sexual pleasure is “ontologically or qualitatively inferior [being] common to animals and men (and thus [not] a specifically human trait),” meaning that it evolutionarily predates the frontal cortex. Here’s a few words on that:

The frontal cortex is the most recently evolved part of the human brain. It’s where the sensible mature stuff happens: long-term planning, executive function, impulse control, and emotional regulation. It’s what makes you do the right thing when it’s the harder thing to do. But its neurons are not fully wired up until your mid-20s.

So what this means is that the age of consent is generally too low for meaningful consent, but nobody (Laurie Anderson?) really wants to address that because the evolutionary instincts lurking in the id pre-date the frontal cortex. Sexual pleasure shoves your ego out of the way and gets you back in touch with what every single one of your ancestors did to result in your existence, with our modern notion of consent being the new anomaly in that chain of events instead of the historical norm. Intoxication can help start the ego-shoving process. And while some people may claim the liminal experience allows them to feel the universe in the process, most people just like a good-but-inconsequential fucking (with personal proclivities undiscovered save in the unpredictable novelty of the process) as they have evolved to do. There’s nothing special about it in the abstract: animal pleasure weighs against “a permanent focus of possible ills” that subjects people to the “horror stories, losers, and weirdos” of their species.

The alternative is that the people posting to @tinderfessions, building on the base discourse of sexuality with its roots in confession and exposition, are all in the process of discovering some Great Secret of Life.

I do not believe that for a moment. It seems more likely to me that @tinderfessions exists merely to provide Jud Apatow with enough material to keep Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler indefinitely and inexplicably employed. Thus I side with Foucault: sex is boring.

That likely comes off as being “sex-negative,” which isn’t the intent: I’m railing against the sexuality-empowering focus on sex which is anomalous within the past couple of centuries. As far as I’m concerned, a relationship composed of mutual love, trust, and aspiration is likely to also involve a lot of sex as well and that’s great. (Heck, relationships that aren’t so well composed may also involve a lot of sex too — 6.9 billion people got here somehow, right?) But it seems to me like our aspirations are being flattened by the deployment of bio-power, our development of interpersonal trust is being stunted by impersonal institution-oriented behaviors, and the pursuit of sexual gratification is being subverted by technomediaries that are actively participating both in the deployment of bio-power and the decay of interpersonal trust.

In short: OKCupid’s behavior is not okay, and my time will be better spent continuing to improve myself (regardless of whether or not I cross paths with a lady who is both interested and interesting) rather than participating in the impersonal power structure of modern sexuality.


Boyhood: Patterns Over People

“Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and police to see that our papers are in order.” — Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge

The movie Boyhood is a tragedy in the sense that things happen — or refrain from happening — pretty much exactly like you would expect them to. And, as with real life, nothing happens rather often. Characters play fleeting parts in large societal patterns like the gawkwardness of entering a new classroom at school or the cringeworthy vapid blatherings of adolescents (forcing the uncomfortable realization of “Oh my God, did I really sound like that? I did, didn’t I?” to linger over the course of an hour) up-to and inclusive-of describing college as just another step in a prescribed path of life, or in tighter and somewhat inexplicable personal patterns: as a student, the behavioral psychologist gets involved with her professor and it doesn’t end well; as a professor, the behavioral psychologist gets involved with her student and it doesn’t end well… but shouldn’t a behavioral psychologist of all people avoid repeating behavioral patterns like that? I would expect so, but the pattern of humanity trumps the individual humans in this film and so it goes. A mid-range of subtle patterns runs the course of the film, from the boy being named after his father to the sister’s prime boyfriend being filmed at angles to make him look like the dad and the boy’s prime girlfriend having eyes very similar to the mom.

Generally speaking, the patterns play to what everybody knows, focusing predominantly on the mundane. There is a shortage of dramatic violence done to the boy: no broken bones, no criminal charges filed against him, no great conflict for him to overcome, no acquiring of supernatural powers which he has to reconcile to some philosophy he’s read — indeed, I’m not able to remember his actually reading anything despite the academic proclivities of his mom (or even writing necessarily-bad poetry as I and my teenage peer group did). This is a feature that works against the character as individual: he — in accordance to what we expect of the modern blank-slated adolescent — has neither clearly defined aspirations nor a particular capacity for reflection, either of which would make him threatening to the power of the pattern. The only substantial reflection in the film seems to come from the dad, but even then it lags by about a year to avoid threatening the power of the pattern. It was the power of the pattern that ensured the fairly-well-involved dad’s utter non-involvement when the mom fled from a violently abusive alcoholic and lived like a refugee with… I don’t even know who they were living with, I don’t think we’d seen them before. But any intervention from dad would’ve shaken up the pattern of the kids staying with their mom as everybody knows they do. The narrative untruth of this is on display as the alcoholic’s kids, but their missing mom isn’t mentioned; the film blips blithely past this at 24 frames per second.

And so the ongoing subservience of character to pattern has a certain juggernaut brutality to it. It’s enough to make one want to rebel against narrative authority, to yell “No, stop, just stop and think!” at the screen — but they won’t: the film goes drubbing on its numbing moments extending to sedated years, not unlike life itself… as Everybody Knows.

There’s a more pernicious effect to what Everybody Knows: it can make you forget your lived experience by convincing you that you can’t really remember what you did or witnessed because Everybody Knows that whatever you remember simply doesn’t happen, ergo it couldn’t have happened.

For example, everybody knows that nerds and cheerleaders don’t mix. Except I dated a cheerleader. And everybody knows that cheerleaders are vapid and non-intellectual. Except a different cheerleader-friend who went on to get her master’s degree, thus being better-educated than I (technically) am. And jocks bully nerds. Except that I was defended by jocks more often than I was attacked by them — it was the listless and directionless kids that were randomly threatening towards me. And you have to work hard to get anywhere. Unless you’re trying to be a great programmer in which case you’re going to be gifted with virtues of laziness, impatience, and hubris as I was. And if you want to program computers, you have to get a degree in computer science. Except my degree is in Public Relations (ironic; I can’t stand The Public) and Nicole Sullivan got her degree in Economics and Jen Myers dropped out — but is in the process of going back now that she’s a world-traveled professional.

I suspect we all relied more on serendipitous luck than we’d ever advise anybody else to, but the point is that the patterns Everybody Knows are not all-powerful in our lives: it is our ability to actively defy the patterns that convey dignity onto our humanity, and it is our ability to choose that adds moral dimension to our existence.

But the patterns are useful shortcuts for our brain; they help us set expectations and figure out where to spend our limited time. The almost 3-hour run-time of Boyhood covered less than .01% of the 12 years it was filmed over, but leaves us comfortably feeling like we didn’t miss anything too terribly important: we spent enough time with him.

Similarly, people could look at me and see some aging single white male hoodie-wearing computer-programming reclusive misanthrope who professionally does things they don’t understand and don’t care about and so go get on with their lives. And that’d be fine — presumably they’ve got better things to do than worry about me: I’ll be fine. But for the record:

  • Just in the past week, roughly 350,000 people per day directly used my work without realizing it was mine.
  • I’ve competed in speech and debate at the national level both in High School and College.
  • I was married for almost a decade to somebody I told my dad I wasn’t going to marry because… well, Everybody Knows you’re supposed to get married. Patterns are brutal.
  • Since getting divorced I’ve gained 20 lbs of muscle and am no longer dangerously underweight — though getting clothes that fit is still difficult.
  • And now I’m a member of the Barista Guild of America because Nobody Knows why I’d do that.
  • I roast coffee in my garage — just a bit, just for myself, my parents, and my masseuse, and… anybody who asks for some, really.
  • I volunteer as a debate coach for other people’s High School kids and helped get 12 to nationals in 5 years.
  • I wrote a book to counterpoint what Everybody Knows about the literature commonly used in High School curriculum.
  • I started a non-profit scholarship foundation specifically for kids who can think about what they want from a college education instead of just conforming to a pattern.
  • See, I figured “As an individual I’m out-earning most households; I should be more philanthropic” and didn’t want to just give vague donations to United Way as I had been.
  • I’ve donated money to Republicans, but more to Democrats, but even more to the Mayday.US SuperPAC, which advocates for candidates who commit to legislating against SuperPACs.
  • I don’t read — for example — Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. I read books like Thus Spake Zarathrustra and Discipline and Punish instead.
  • I am a child of the clergy via my mother. So were Nietzsche and Jung, via their dads.
  • I’ve been diving on the Great Barrier Reef, surfing in Sydney, and stayed up until dawn snogging with a friendly goth lady in Brisbane. I love Australia.
  • My greatest worry about travel is finding things to eat as I’ve developed allergies to way too many things. I am confident, however, that Costa Rica has food I can eat.
  • I sometimes bake cookies for my friends. I sometimes mail cookies to my Grandmother.
  • And I speak from experience when I say that being stung by a Portuguese Man-of-War isn’t so bad; it’s the sunburn you get while recovering on the beach that lingers.

All of that is true. Very little of it is probably relevant to you. So please don’t feel that you have to ask who I am. But don’t expect me to not change.


On Appreciation

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” –Jesus, Matthew 13:57

A while back, I was judging high schoolers debating over modern threats to the United States. And one of the girls brought up the economic risk of another nation — like China — being able to dump a whole lot of our debt on the open market while we’re trying to borrow more money from the open market (which could result in a freeze of government transactions and subsequent currency failure). I was keen on that line of argumentation so later that day I mentioned to the student that a threat of debt-dumping was used by the United States to force the UK out of the Suez Crisis, ergo her argument had historical precedent. She did not thank me for this information. Instead, she thought about what I told her and then — with the particular petulance practiced by teenage girls — asked, “Why can’t you be my debate partner?”

A different girl, a different debate: she managed to drag her opponents off of their case and into the evolutionary potential of sharks and cows. My commentary on the ballot extended this line of analysis into the amusingly absurd — for science! — while noting that it was a cunning distraction from her more-relevant attacks on the dubious claims of her opponents. It was light and fun — especially for a bunch of novices — and I left it at that. But after she got the ballot, her friends said they had to restrain her from enthusiastically hugging me as hugging judges is probably bad form. Still, her initial response was to be unabashedly grateful for the validation of her analytical skills.

The second girl was a rare display of actual gratitude: I made her feel good about her capabilities in a general way such that she was quite glad that I’d been there listening for the duration of the debate despite having no clue as to who I was or how I’d gotten there. But the first girl was actually appreciative of the advice: when she thought about what I told her, she realized the value of what I said, and how it worked with the ideas she already had, and her unusual verbal response distinctly indicated that she’d ingrained the idea into her thinking on the subject. This is the difference between gratitude and appreciation: gratitude is thankfulness from a position of ignorance, appreciation is thankfulness due to understanding.

It is easy to toss off insincere gratitude: kids these days are quite practiced at saying “thank you for [whatever]” in a tone that implies “person who, as a morally free agent, can presumably do whatever you want, ergo your behavior is merely indicative of your autonomy and does not create an obligation on my part.” (This is presumably still an advance for politeness over my generation when, given the latter partial-truth, we skipped the former entirely.) But when a person starts feeling actual gratitude, they should also feel a bit uncomfortable with the ignorance involved. It is the fine difference between the polite “This is great coffee” and drinking it, and “This is great coffee — where did you get it?” to relieve the ignorance of mere gratitude and move into a fuller appreciation of the situation. Conversely, the lack of follow-up shows a lack of appreciation.

This isn’t to say that gratitude is bad. Sometimes I just want to seem totally magical, and evoking the “I don’t know how” aspect of gratitude in other people makes me feel magical. Sometimes there’s no way for something to be fully appreciated, so we just let it go and enjoy what appears to be magic. Gratitude for specialization is a necessary aspect of capitalism: we should be thankful for what other people have cultivated competence in that is offered to us as a service.

But I’m usually more interested in appreciation. I want what I have to offer to be picked up by people who can turn it into something more valuable. This is another part of specialization within capitalism: by focusing on my core work, I leave room for other people to have their core work, too. Tim O’Reilly has a very simple mantra: create more value than you capture. Appreciation is when people take the value you explicitly left for them and make something of it for themselves.

With this in mind it is entirely possible to have people that are eternally grateful to you, but also fail to appreciate you. And the problem isn’t a lack of gratitude for your work, but a lack of change: they accept what is offered, but ignorantly refuse to capitalize on it. And while it would be vaingloriously naive to expect full and consistent appreciation, accepting chronic gratitude from people who should instead be realizing their aspirations by your efforts is Sisyphean self-abuse. It would almost be better to serve people who stupidly don’t understand in the ongoing hope that maybe they’ll suddenly Get It and be able to appreciate the work being done because gratitude is a trap: it externalizes and compartmentalizes the service offered to preclude further consideration.

When people get used to being grateful for what you do, they’re less likely to ever appreciate what you’re offering them.


CX: Miscalculating Risk

Here’s a paired response you can hold on to for when an opponent claims that the infinite magnitude of a wildly improbable extinction risk means that it must be acted on:

Our opponents have claimed that the magnitude of an extinction risk is infinite and therefore we should take action to avoid it no matter how unlikely it is to happen. We’ve got two responses: first, mathematical abuse of the concept of infinite leads to absurdity and second that extinction risks aren’t even infinite.

First, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Douglas Adams demonstrates how the notion of “infinite” breaks mathematical logic:

The Universe — some information to help you live in it:
1. AREA: Infinite
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy offers this definition of the word “Infinite.”
Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real “wow, that’s big,” time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we’re trying to get across here.

2: IMPORTS: None.
It is impossible to import things into an infinite area, there being no outside to import things in from.

3: EXPORTS: None.
See Imports.

4: POPULATION: None.
It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this is follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

So, according to Adams, since nobody — inclusive of our opponents — are statistically real we don’t have to try to save them. Or, for a more simple analytic, our opponents’ abuse of the notion of “infinite risk” makes all risks — plausible and otherwise — functionally equivalent and if they can’t solve for every way you can think of to die — like “rampaging herd of zombie wombats” — then they’ve got no actual solvency and should lose, RFD: rampaging herd of zombie wombats.

But secondly, extinction really isn’t all that bad. Earth has gone through several mass extinctions. Wikipedia summarizes (ref 3/23/2014):

In a landmark paper published in 1982, Jack Sepkoski and David M. Raup identified five mass extinctions. They were originally identified as outliers to a general trend of decreasing extinction rates during the Phanerozoic,[4] but as more stringent statistical tests have been applied to the accumulating data, the “Big Five” cannot be so clearly defined, but rather appear to represent the largest (or some of the largest) of a relatively smooth continuum of extinction events.[4]

  1. Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event (End Cretaceous, K-T extinction, or K-Pg extinction): 66 Ma at the Cretaceous.Maastrichtian-Paleogene.Danian transition interval.[5] The K–T event is now officially called the Cretaceous–Paleogene (or K–Pg) extinction event in place of Cretaceous-Tertiary. About 17% of all families, 50% of all genera[6] and 75% of all species became extinct.[7] In the seas it reduced the percentage of sessile animals to about 33%. The majority of non-avian dinosaurs became extinct during that time.[8] The boundary event was severe with a significant amount of variability in the rate of extinction between and among different clades. Mammals and birds emerged as dominant land vertebrates in the age of new life.
  2. Triassic–Jurassic extinction event (End Triassic): 200 Ma at the Triassic-Jurassic transition. About 23% of all families, 48% of all genera (20% of marine families and 55% of marine genera) and 70% to 75% of all species went extinct.[6] Most non-dinosaurian archosaurs, most therapsids, and most of the large amphibians were eliminated, leaving dinosaurs with little terrestrial competition. Non-dinosaurian archosaurs continued to dominate aquatic environments, while non-archosaurian diapsids continued to dominate marine environments. The Temnospondyl lineage of large amphibians also survived until the Cretaceous in Australia (e.g., Koolasuchus).
  3. Permian–Triassic extinction event (End Permian): 251 Ma at the Permian-Triassic transition. Earth’s largest extinction killed 57% of all families, 83% of all genera and 90% to 96% of all species.[6] (53% of marine families, 84% of marine genera, about 96% of all marine species and an estimated 70% of land species, including insects.[9] The evidence of plants is less clear, but new taxa became dominant after the extinction.[10] The “Great Dying” had enormous evolutionary significance: on land, it ended the primacy of mammal-like reptiles. The recovery of vertebrates took 30 million years,[11] but the vacant niches created the opportunity for archosaurs to become ascendant. In the seas, the percentage of animals that were sessile dropped from 67% to 50%. The whole late Permian was a difficult time for at least marine life, even before the “Great Dying”.
  4. Late Devonian extinction: 375–360 Ma near the Devonian-Carboniferous transition. At the end of the Frasnian Age in the later part(s) of the Devonian Period, a prolonged series of extinctions eliminated about 19% of all families, 50% of all genera[6] and 70% of all species.[citation needed] This extinction event lasted perhaps as long as 20 M[illion years]a, and there is evidence for a series of extinction pulses within this period.
  5. Ordovician–Silurian extinction event (End Ordovician or O-S): 450–440 Ma at the Ordovician-Silurian transition. Two events occurred that killed off 27% of all families, 57% of all genera and 60% to 70% of all species.[6] Together they are ranked by many scientists as the second largest of the five major extinctions in Earth’s history in terms of percentage of genera that went extinct.

Despite the popularization of these five events, there is no fine line separating them from other extinction events; indeed, using different methods of calculating an extinction’s impact can lead to other events featuring in the top five.[12]

None of these extinction events actually killed everything and all of them together helped make it possible for us to be here today. Point is that extinction is hardly the infinite risk they’ve hyperbolized it to so don’t trust their self-serving ability to assess risk or make a cost-benefit analysis, and even if extinction were just that bad the variety of ways to die that they can’t solve for means that there’s not a logical reason to vote for them.

Cut card here.

At this point, you may want to run a Politics of Fear critique on your opponents’ rhetoric claiming that their irrational hyperbolic fear-mongering makes them bad people whose policy suggestions should always be considered doubtful. Hold their infinite claim, indict them on it, refuse to trust any different evidence that they offer. Extend it with something like “Our opponents have clearly demonstrated that they can’t even cherry-pick good evidence to make their point so why should we trust any of the evidence they present? Dismiss the remainder of their position with prejudice and we can be done here” if you think your judge is tired and annoyed enough to want to be done with the round, doubly so if you’ve given them an independent voter for your side.

If your opponents beg and plead on 1% chance of solvency, then run a counterplan of sending them to a Gambler’s Anonymous 12-step program because if solvency is unlikely then they need to come back with a better plan, not foolishly squander time and resources on a plan they admit is unlikely to work. (Note: this applies to chance of solvency, not partial solvency. I’m a big fan of partial solvency if it’s honestly admitted, which is usually isn’t, because a great many teenagers prefer melodrama to nuance — and that’s really the root cause on why I’m writing this, isn’t it?)

Please note that the one thing you can’t do here is say the word “infinite” in any other context, like “infinite prep time” on a block of idiotic stock topicality cards that end with “fairness and education” that you shouldn’t be reading anyway. Doing so is a double turn on the absurdity indict and will either get it or you dropped, and rightly so: if you can’t bother to think about what you’re saying, then what makes you think the judge should bother thinking about it either?

Additionally, please be aware that the universe is not simply infinite; scientists estimate that there are up to 1082 particles in it from which all stars and planets and whatnot gets constructed. The purpose of the Adams (1980) card is to prove that math concepts can be abused, not actually prove anything about the universe, thus even if your opponents can disprove the astrophysics of it, the math is still technically as plausible as anything they might claim.


CX: The Judges Hear

One of the crucial disconnects between policy debaters and the ability to win a ballot is how much time they spend staring at the copy of the case they’re presented with and how much prep they did for it beforehand. See, the judge doesn’t usually do that: we’re going to listen to a case as it is presented, and then listen to how it is opposed, and only rarely call for evidence because the big picture for the judge is trying to quickly return a reasonable decision to tab on the possibility that the tournament might run on time.

Error #1: Answering a card that didn’t get read. For example, neg knows that judge hates terminal impacts and thus has a variety of “terminal impacts make us dumb” critiques lined up and ready to go. But the aff also knows that the judge hates terminal impacts and thus their point short with people being unhappy instead of going all the way to dead. The judge, listening to the case, hears that people are unhappy. The neg team, reading the case, reads that people are unhappy and then dead. The neg team then stands up and responds to the terminal impacts which sounds incoherent to the judge. That’s several minutes of time totally wasted and probably a loss of speaker points to go with it. The obvious advice here is that somebody on the neg team should be listening more and reading less.

Additionally, I don’t know if this is allowed or not — it would certainly be cruel to the readers — but the aff might stuff a bunch of random unlinked and unread cards in their case to skew the split between what the judge hears and what the neg is insisting on reading. (It’s kind of like what the CIA did to their oversight committee…)

See, one of the odd habits that we’ve gotten into is full presentation of evidence. It used to be that evidence was provided on-request when the opposing team wanted to confirm or deny what they thought they heard in it, in the same way judges can call for evidence at the end of the round. The optional nature of this exchange is why the act of transferring evidence (via flash drive anymore) comes out of prep time: if, historically, your papers weren’t ordered enough to hand over evidence instantly on demand, then you suffered for it — hence the habit of just laying down the copy of the case as it was read, which then evolved into the habitual file transfer without realizing that it wasn’t absolutely obligatory.

Error #1.5: Reading a full block of cards because it’s there despite other things patch-worked into your position. For example, if you’re reading a critique about how speculative modeling to produce evidence is inhumane and destroys empathy, you probably shouldn’t also read a solvency attack talking about how hard it is to implement the plan because of the profusion and confusion of the very human people that you suddenly don’t want to empathize with. If you’re not doing the work of figuring out exactly what you want your judge to believe, if you’re not actually listening to your arguments all the way through, if you can’t tailor your position to match itself (never mind the proclivities of the judge), then on what crumbling ground is the judge supposed to side with you? Point is that you’re better off cutting a point short than actively contradicting one of your stronger arguments.

Error #2: Not challenging a sourcing gap. This comes up a lot with plans that call on existing political action or political trade-off disadvantages: one team will cite some document or policy, make a lot of claims about it, but then not have a copy of it to show that their links to advantages are even remotely valid — usually they’re just PR hype ridiculously amplified by Red Bulled teenagers.

For example, there was a plan a while back to, roughly, “Improve relations with China and do what they suggested in some document.” The assumption was that “what they suggested in some document” bore the stock issue of topicality… but the affirmative didn’t actually have a copy of that document, so how could the negatively reasonably cross-examine it to find the downsides, or if it even really affirmed the resolution? After all, if China wanted us to go stick a fish in our ear, there could be disadvantages to that, and if that’s all they wanted then the plan wouldn’t have even affirmed the resolution. (In that case, the negative meekly accepted the non-evidenced claim that the affirmative was topical, ran a weak disadvantage that granted topicality, and lost.)

Error #2.5: Taking responsibility for a sourcing gap. This one is rare, but I saw it just the other day: one team had cards cut down for reading coherency, which can be just fine. Their opponents said “we know those cards and their cuts are mis-representative,” which is a pretty serious accusation. So I call for the cards at the end of the round: the cut card from the one side and the whole card as the opposition claimed to know it. Except neither team actually had the whole card… so I couldn’t possibly agree with the claim that the card was wrongly cut, and thus not agree with the opponents. After all, even if one side had a badly cut card backing up a claim, the other side had no card backing up their counter-claim.

The alternative approach: if you find yourself up against mis-cut evidence that you can’t provide the original copy of, cross-examine like this: “This card appears to be substantially abridged. Can you provide us the original full text so we can make sure that it says what you’re claiming it said?” If your opponent does have the full card, then — tah-dah — you have the full card and can try to hit them with it. If your opponent doesn’t have the full card, then call it in your next speech: “Our opponents can’t provide the full text of this evidence which is a dereliction of their responsibility to evidence-based argumentation, and without it their abridgment of it is really nothing more than an unsubstantiated analytic and you should prefer our more-complete opposed evidence.” Do not put yourself in a position where you’re taking responsibility for evidence you can’t lay your hands on.

Error #3: Over-prepping on an author. For example, if your opponent cites evidence from a paper but then neglects to reach the same conclusions as the author of the paper, it may not be in your best interest to directly attack them for not wholly agreeing with their author. Academics often trade too heavily on the brand-value of their name and reputation rather than actually having a clue as to what they’re talking about. Chomsky, Fromm, Adshade, Kurzweil, Miller — they tend to be speculation-heavy in their writing and far outside any realm of personally demonstrated expertise. To this end, a reasonable degree of separation from the author is healthy and necessary to promote independent analytical thought.

That said, you can still attack the author and possibly the evidence.

First, to attack the author, you need to have a clear example of the author being a total lunatic while still on-topic. For example, if you’ve got a card from the author that appears to finalize their thinking on the subject at hand with “tear down civilization and kill all celiacs,” that’s a pretty strong indict against their author’s immediate trustworthiness and it shows where that kind of thinking leads. But second, and more-valuably, if your card is the direct same-article/book conclusion of your opponent’s card then you go on to observe: “even if our opponents are legitimately drawing a different conclusion than their batshit crazy author did, we need to consider that the batshit crazy author presented the evidence to make their case for batshit craziness in the same way as our opponents are trying to turn it for their point. We should be very skeptical of this evidence because of how it was originally used and demand corroboration from a source that doesn’t want to tear down civilization and kill all celiacs.”

Now, I previously mentioned that you have to keep the author on-topic. There’s a reason for this, and it’s because if a judge has seen you in the same policy-debating context a couple of times, they’ll remember the intellectually inept and batshit crazy ways you’ve lost their ballots in the past and hold it against you in the same way you’re pulling random garbage against authors instead of sticking on topic. For example, I recently saw a debate where one of the students had previously claimed to have proven that aliens will kill us with gravity guns while the other side had previously claimed that wishing upon a star was functionally a legitimate policy position for purposes of debate — both sides have improved since those particular debates, but the point is that going totally Open Season on authors makes you as competitors vulnerable as well (especially if you’re trying to indict one of the author’s favorite judges that they actually know far more about than you do).

Error #3.5: Failing to explain how a card-kill alters the flow of the debate. It only takes an additional few seconds, but be sure to point out to the judge all of the points on the flow that depended on evidence that you’ve hopefully eliminated: “This severs their link-story on the first advantage right in the middle of it, and they also reference this same article in their third advantage — so that’s two advantages that they can’t really claim anymore.” When we put it that way, you can see that your attack on evidence was a defensive move that merely negates a chunk of their offense. Like a critique, you should always follow it up with an attack to give the judge an independent reason to vote for you and not just against the other team.* But this also ensures that the judge’s flow — which, while authoritative, is not necessarily accurate at all — will reflect the impact of the loss of that card/author on the debate.

* The easiest way to get this reason is simply cost of plan: “They want to blow $X million on a plan that they’re misrepresenting the advantages of; that’s going to be a waste of money and lead to public blowback — we’re better off skipping it and doing nothing.”


CX: Breaking Baudrillard

I have previously recommended use of a hyperreality critique as a useful way to break down a barrage of horribly fabricated bullshit. Given how much of high school and suburban teenage life lends itself to being horribly fabricated bullshit, I can understand why a hyperreality K is popular among teenagers. And, to be fair, a judge may want to vote for that K simply so they can disregard horribly fabricated bullshit that other teenagers have introduced into the round — like “Nuke war will break out when the economy collapses because we don’t repeal a 15-year-old law that scoffs at trademarks on Cuban rum.” But even given that there’s a problem with the hyperreality critique that goes back to its source.

First issue: what is and is wrong with hyperreality? As far as I can tell on just a quick reading, when given something to treat as a fact — like the fiated plan in a policy debate round — the multiple speculative chains of events (models) that might flow from that fact and are also regarded as fact (but strangely weightless — like multiple extinction scenarios in a debate round) form a hyperreality where everything is predicted such that nothing is not foreseen and thus ostensibly controlled and yet almost none of it is ever true and the prevalence of noise over signal drowns out any meaning in what is true as well as the possibility of any emergent value in reality. Or, to simplify, when everything is thought of in advance then reality becomes deterministic with the future being a mere fact that neutralizes the value of the now with the loss of meaningful choice.

I think Baudrillard is what might happen if Nietzsche, Hegel, and Rousseau were mashed into the same brain and forced too watch too much television.

Second issue: why is it bad to use in debate? Because Baudrillard says that all of America is consumed by hyperreality, and this was 30 years ago before the Internet was popular. This actually gives the affirmative two responses: 1) No Alt (obviously) but also 2) the duration and comprehensiveness of hyperreality makes the policy debate exercise actually more-real in that it’s likely engaging in the same hyperreality as “actual” policymakers do. The unreality is introduced when a dead French nihilist is called upon to grumble meaninglessly (emergent meaning is eradicated within the hyperreality) about the whole process. And that means that 2a) the K should be disregarded as meaningless and weightless or — if the K is novel and surprising — 2b) then it’s proof that the claims of hyperreality are overblown and thus the K is non-credible.

Here’s Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation claiming that all of America is already hyperreal, so there’s no alt possible:

Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America that is Disneyland (a bit like prisons are there to hide that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, that is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and the order of simulation… The imaginary of Disneyland is neither true nor false, it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of the real in the opposite camp. Whence the debility of this imaginary, its infantile degeneration. This world wants to be childish in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the “real” world, and to conceal the fact that true childishness is everywhere — that it is that of the adults themselves who come here to act the child in order to foster illusions as to their real childishness.

Or we can explain what Baudrillard is whining about like this:

But Baudrillard goes on to say

I am a nihilist… I observe, I accept, I assume, I analyze the second revolution, that of the twentieth century, that of postmodernity, which is the immense process of the destruction of meaning, equal to the earlier destruction of appearances. He who strikes with meaning is killed by meaning… The dialectic stage, the critical stage is empty. There is no more stage. There is no therapy of meaning or therapy through meaning: therapy itself is part of the generalized process of indifferentiation… The stage of analysis has become uncertain, aleatory: theories float (in fact, nihilism is impossible, because it is still a desperate but determined theory, an imaginary of the end, a weltanschauung of catastrophe).

Yes, Baudrillard just double-turned himself and should be voted out of the round right there, but let’s go a bit further…

Analysis is itself perhaps the decisive element of the immense process of the freezing over of meaning. The surplus of meaning that theories bring, their competition at the level of meaning is completely secondary in relation to their coalition in the glacial and four-tiered operation of dissection and transparency. One must be conscious that, no matter how the analysis proceeds, it proceeds toward the freezing over of meaning, it assists in the precession of simulacra and of indifferent forms. The desert grows.

I recoil from the gross irresponsibility that this anti-analytical stance maintains. H Richard Niebuhr advocates for ongoing analysis within reality as a precondition of goodness and rightness in his book The Responsible Self:

[W]e may say that purposiveness seeks to answer the question: “What shall I do?” by raising as the previous question: “What is my goal, ideal, or telos?” Deontology tries to answer the moral query by asking, first of all: “What is the law and what is the first law of my life?” Responsibility, however, proceeds in every moment of decision and choice to inquire: “What is going on?” If we use value terms then the differences among the three approaches may be indicated by the terms the good, the right, and the fitting; for teleology is concerned always with the highest good to which it subordinates the right; consistent deontology is concerned with the right, no matter what may happen to our goods; but for the ethics of responsibility the fitting action, the one that fits into a total interaction as response and as anticipation of further response, is alone conducive to the good and alone is right.

But we don’t have to be good or right; the way meaning is killed in hyperreality is by it being anticipated and neutralized by preclusive structures of discipline — and this goes back to the line of discipline Foucault was looking at in Discipline and Punish, where a commander exerted some capriciousness over soldiers or workers until the actions of the soldiers or workers were functionally an extension of the commander’s will. Extensive analysis within hyperreality allows the order of the commander to change from “you will do this” to “I don’t care what you do so long as it’s this” to “I don’t care what you do because I’ve ensured that you can’t do anything I don’t want you to.” That’s how modern power has evolved and also how your iPad works and also why the judge should disregard the hyperreality K on the grounds that you prepped for it since the anticipation kills the meaning according to the K.

But not according to Camus who — in The Rebel – observes the myth of Prometheus, shackled and punished for all eternity as he calls out “No misfortune can fall upon me that I have not myself already foreseen.” The Promethean myth affirms the value of foresight to secure the intended meaning of an action even when, especially when an act of sacrifice is required. It is only when your intent is precluded by somebody else’s superior analysis and control that its meaning is lost. Perversely, this is exactly what I love to see in a debate round and why a hyperreality K should be ultimately quite good for whoever it gets used against.

On a tangent, going back to Baudrillard and Foucault and how wrong Baudrillard was, Baudrillard claimed that the Panopticon lost its power with the arrival of reality TV. Only he was wrong because he was staring at the wrong model: the mere viewers of televisions have no power to pass meaningful judgment over what they saw on television (as doctors do over patients or wardens over prisoners). No, the power was in the hands of the producers who, through the disciplined response of their audience, had the power to put the shows out there and judge the reaction of their audience; the movie Network should have shown Baudrillard that. His error is obvious: power doesn’t flow from the many against the few — that’s mere force, usually chaotic. Power is focused and directed, always flowing from the few (those that command) to the many (those that obey).

Anyway.

Previously I mentioned that Baudrilliard sounded kind of like Nietzsche, but what would Niezsche say about that? Well, in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche explains that

there may even be puritanical fanatics of conscience, who prefer to put their last trust in a sure nothing, rather than in an uncertain something. But that is Nihilism, and the sign of a despairing, mortally wearied soul, notwithstanding the courageous bearing such a virtue may display. It seems, however, to be otherwise with stronger and livelier thinkers who are still eager for life.

And in Thus Spake Zarathrustra he goes on to say

To many men life is a failure; a poison-worm gnaweth at their heart. Then let them see to it that their dying is all the more a success.

But there’s a chapter in Thus Spake Zarathrustra that may better show the connection between Baudrillard and Nietzsche, so I’m going to include almost the whole thing here. It ends with one of the greatest things Nietzsche ever wrote.

Thus slowly wandering through many peoples and diverse cities, did Zarathustra return by round-about roads to his mountains and his cave. And behold, thereby came he unawares also to the gate of the GREAT CITY. Here, however, a foaming fool, with extended hands, sprang forward to him and stood in his way. It was the same fool whom the people called “the ape of Zarathustra:” for he had learned from him something of the expression and modulation of language, and perhaps liked also to borrow from the store of his wisdom. And the fool talked thus to Zarathustra:

“O Zarathustra, here is the great city: here hast thou nothing to seek and everything to lose. Why wouldst thou wade through this mire? Have pity upon thy foot! Spit rather on the gate of the city, and—turn back! Here is the hell for anchorites’ thoughts: here are great thoughts seethed alive and boiled small. Here do all great sentiments decay: here may only rattle-boned sensations rattle! … Seest thou not the souls hanging like limp dirty rags?—And they make newspapers also out of these rags! Hearest thou not how spirit hath here become a verbal game? Loathsome verbal swill doth it vomit forth!—And they make newspapers also out of this verbal swill. They hound one another, and know not whither! They inflame one another, and know not why! They tinkle with their pinchbeck, they jingle with their gold. They are cold, and seek warmth from distilled waters: they are inflamed, and seek coolness from frozen spirits; they are all sick and sore through public opinion. … But the moon still revolveth around all that is earthly: so revolveth also the prince around what is earthliest of all—that, however, is the gold of the shopman. The God of the Hosts of war is not the God of the golden bar; the prince proposeth, but the shopman—disposeth! By all that is luminous and strong and good in thee, O Zarathustra! Spit on this city of shopmen and return back! Here floweth all blood putridly and tepidly and frothily through all veins: spit on the great city, which is the great slum where all the scum frotheth together! … Spit on the great city and turn back!”

Here, however, did Zarathustra interrupt the foaming fool, and shut his mouth.

“Stop this at once!” called out Zarathustra, “long have your speech and species disgusted me! Why did you live so long by the swamp, turning into a toad? Aren’t your own veins flowing with tainted, frothy swamp-blood when you have learned to croak and revile like this? Why didn’t you go into the forest? Or why didn’t you till the ground? Is the sea not full of green islands? I despise thy contempt; and when you warned me — why didn’t you warn yourself? … your foolish prattle injures ME, even when you are right! And even if Zarathustra’s word WERE a hundred times justified, you would ever—DO wrong with my word!” Thus spake Zarathustra.

Then did he look on the great city and sighed, and was long silent. At last he spake thus:

“I loathe also this great city, and not only this fool. Here and there— there is nothing to better, nothing to worsen. Woe to this great city!—And I would that I already saw the pillar of fire in which it will be consumed! For such pillars of fire must precede the great noontide. But this hath its time and its own fate.— This precept, however, give I unto thee, in parting, thou fool: Where one can no longer love, there should one—PASS BY!

Thus spake Zarathustra, and passed by the fool and the great city.

But to sum up the answers to a hyperreality K: If we take it seriously, there’s no alt to it so it can’t weigh for either side unless we’re unprepared for it in which case it’s unexpected and thus shown to be false by its novelty or we are prepared for it and risk nothing by conceding its factual status thus depriving it of meaning with either of those scenarios turning it, as a rhetorical artifact, back on the other team and while all advantages and disadvantages in the round may be weightless, our opponents are cognitively dragged down by the K they now wear around their neck; ergo vote for us since only our reasoning can still stand up straight.