Culture: Gothic Complexity

I’m not certain as to the accuracy of the visual Goth genealogy and network of influence represented above but it is interesting to note that members of any subculture or fantasists for any specific genre of participatory cultural emulation (or simulation) tend to immerse themselves in the history and folklore of that to which they seek to belong and that they wilfully or unwittingly assist to self-propagate. The logic of functional relationship, lifestyle and participatory cultural systems of value and aesthetic production always find themselves defined in regards to the “host” culture within which they are encapsulated; here – subculture stands by its own lore and assertion in some aspirational sense “outside” the mainstream and yet is as tightly bound to, by and through the normative methods and logic of inscription, role, purpose and relational ideation as is any other person, group, clique or (other) sub-culture within this self-propelling and self-referential dynamical whirlpool of generative metamorphosis and evolution.

To stand against a system, ideology or cultural value system is also (and inevitably, irrevocably) to be defined by that thing, if inversely, and for this reason alone it is apparent that there is no “beyond” or “outside” a culture or society. All action, reference and ideation is of an internally-extensible nature. Under any authentic holistic or global systems analysis the very first assumption, axiom and consideration must always have to be that all action, thought, value-generation, reference, productivity, commerce, signification or concept is fundamentally and inextricably either within that cultural system or acts as functional assertion of the ongoing and open-ended internal extensibility of that system. Indeed, all possible paths and actions or choices are fundamentally encapsulated and directly or indirectly defined by the broader cultural context and social or economic world within which the subculture exists; there exists a certain self-warping field and matrix of possibility and action.

It is a salient feature of sub- and counter-cultures that the more rigorously they seek to extract themselves from the logic and value systems from which they profess to feel so deeply alienated, the more overtly and extravagantly do they mark, brand and identify themselves as “separate” and “unique”. It represents something of an irony that this cultural “rubber banding” and increasingly vigorous self-definition at the notional periphery of normative social or cultural value systems indicates that the more a person seeks to extract themselves from the cultural center, the more they are drawn back into it; as though this is a fundamental logical gravitational field and irreducible, inescapable systemic and distributed or non-local self-referential and self-labelling process. A person may not choose from the more probable or central and normative choice but they will choose and in this act of individuation they have become a part of the logic of taxonomy and categorisation which perpetually seeks to know through labelling and to expand through the growing pool of all possible entities and references.

What is most interesting about all this is not that it is all in essence as though some perspectival wizardry of spatial curvature fabricated by M.C. Escher and rendered into a culturally relativistic logic, although this is (and remains) both instructive and interesting. The fascinating component to all of this is that it illustrates one of the central, key components of cultural systems: their primary purpose is also their primary method.

Cultural systems are constantly undergoing metamorphosis and change and it is in the “edge-cases” of subcultural replication and evolutionary development that we can most clearly (and perhaps rapidly or easily) identify that:

• First, a subculture represents a test-algorithm and virtual machine running within the host environment and operating system of the predominant method of individuation (i.e. culture) of any specific time and place – a notion of location and moment perhaps complicated somewhat by the distributed sense of presence and shared identity now available and manifest due to globally-networked information and communications systems.

• Second, that the process of self-labelling and adoptive methods of logic and self-reference provide insight back into the whole cultural process as a bundled suite of values, beliefs, labels and references – essentially that this is a system that is in many different ways and upon many congruent contours perpetually mapping itself back onto itself; inscribing narrative upon narrative and glyph upon glyph, symbolic language upon symbolic language and logic upon logic.

In the overall recombinatory choices and selections made by individuals from those available pre-existing choices and combinations of referential elements, entities, concepts and objects – the cultural system as a whole is effectively self-propagating itself. Some patterns persist and others fade away, perhaps to be reintroduced from memory or artefact at a later time or to disappear into obscurity forever, available only through the technologies and efforts of future archaeologists and motley analysts but then, too, to be reintroduced in some sense back into that pool and whole of all available reference, choice and action. Those patterns of reference, artefact and behaviour which survive the (self-)selection tests of cultural evolution then proceed to become part of the pool of resources and artefacts from which further recombination, reconstellation and reconfiguration might be composed.

There is much to be said about all of this but the central axis of this conceptual wheel is that of elementary self-reference and recursive self-propagation. The cultural system is itself only doing what physical, material and organic systems also do (perhaps unsurprisingly as it is merely a higher-order abstraction of the same energy and information flows). There exists a gravitational center to all of this. That center is precisely that what is being self-replicated is at base the process of self-replication itself; such self-accelerating biases become pronounced at ambiguous yet broadly definable thresholds of cultural and technological mass-density such ad thst moment of accelerated change in which we currently exist. The mental image here is subtle (and complex) but is somewhat as of a graph or representation of a logarithmic curve or exponential acceleration which, by some internal logical necessity, is dragging its own frame of reference and axes into another (or additional) perpendicular axis and dimension; a dimension defined by the arc of that very same contour and curvature. This is a concept which sounds more nebulous than it actually is but finds itself very poorly articulated in language and linear narrative.

Cultural metamorphosis, individuation and splitting or (an almost genetic and cultural species) variation exists on this enigmatic spiral of procedural self-replication of self-replication. The propulsion and driving impetus behind all of this is a kind of implicit logical necessity (self-)contained within the concept of holistic and global systems-theoretic analyses of culture, of time and of place; there is a subtle principle attempting to percolate (and self-propagate !) through all of this. Representing a non-linear process of process eventually becomes difficult to articulate within the boundaries of linear narrative; I should have to revisit this all again at some later time.

Choice and Illusion

Do our choices choose us ? Objectivity and assertions of unique individuation as free will are clearly attractive but beyond an aspiration to embodied narratives of separate or subjective control, our contexts and cultures inform every personal choice and affectation in profound ways. Consider the ecological vacuums of sociological context which compel any one of us into decisions and postures we may never have imagined. Consider also that the primacy of subjectivity and free will may only really possess a certain limited, faulty claim to ascendance and for all our aspirations towards singularity and closure, we remain fundamentally unbounded and existentially unravelling as unconsciously-motivated automatons encapsulated by a thin patina of subjective choice and from which we derive our various fictions of self.

Individuality

Individuality is that method by which pre-existing components of culture and communication are reassembled within a single mind and expressed outwardly through behaviour and material self-expression as an affirmation and validation of self-existence. Counter-intuitively (or perhaps ironically) – individuality is often expressed in ways which require the anchoring of that aggregate self upon shared notions of self-identity and cultural presence; while any specific configuration, instance or collection of ideas, concepts and behaviours may be unique to a specific person – the vast majority of those clustered contents of personality are borrowed from a shared world of identity and self-expression. We might choose what to incorporate within our selves, to some extent, and while this remains an effectively creative act – we rarely choose what that menu of options actually consists of – these taxonomies are mostly pre-existing in the world beyond our physical and mental being. (Creativity itself is often simply the recombination of existing concepts into new and novel, useful configurations and constellations.)

That central orb of internalised concepts and ideas which, having been formed in your infancy through foundationally reflexive psychological processes (i.e. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_stage), becomes a central point around which you will spend your life in constant free-fall. The difference and distance between your experienced, lived (fractured, discontinuous, messy, confusing) self and that internalised, idealised (whole, logical, well-ordered, intelligible) self is mandatory to play this game of self. You require the constant approach (orbit) towards that ideal self without ever being able to attain it because the psychological dissonance and friction we experience in asymptotic approach to that wholeness is the precursor and constitutive psychological “space” which allows for the possibility of any other elements in this dynamic symmetry. You can not ever actually attain that whole self because you are always already only a entity who’s existence is defined and made possible as in directed aspiration towards that self – the purpose of you is to be oriented in this way towards your own, internalised self-image. (This dynamic and symmetry or pattern could also be used to explain cultural identities – if there were no explanatory bridge from self to world in this, it would hardly be very compelling as an explanatory framework.)

This is a distributed and omnipresent psychological dynamic which surfaces through diverse channels and vectors of displacement and activity. Being aware of this elementary interior turbulence, friction and discontinuity (between lived self and idealised self) is useful as it allows us to intuitively develop understanding of the reasons (and fallacies) by which we all often pursue our desires and through which we are all also do very often and easily manipulated by others and externally motivated influence.

To be an in-divid-ual, undivided, an atomic and irreducable entity is, paradoxically, always already to be divided within (or as against) one’s own self.

Product

We are all (under one specific kind of analysis) simply products of one sort or another. The output of processes, cultural practices and normative existential, economic or otherwise socially-constructed and (shared) commercial imperatives. We are all really just being forced through a filter (of perception – of adopted or attributed value generation), a meat-grinder which produces tokens and measurements of symbolic, cultural and psychological value.

The free act might be purely (at least superficially and as measured or perceived among many other things) to reassemble those components and assemblages of meaning and value in an act of self-assertion which allows you to become both the product of your own activity and for your own consumption.

Be your own product.

#KnowYourProduct

You have Free Will

Yes.  We are fundamentally free and in at least two different ways.

At the social and cultural (or psychological) level – we do not determine the choices from which we choose but are free to choose from within the available spectrum of all possible available decisions. We are also free to recombine existing choices, ideas, concepts into new possibilities and this creative recombination is how the possibility space internally grows and expands, gathers complexity and notional mass-density. At a global (i.e. “holistic”) systems-theoretical level, this is essentially a self-gravitating and accelerating mass of reference and blossoming internal complexity – incomplete and under constant metamorphosis.

At a more fundamental (i.e. physical reality) level, what if *all* possibilities exist ? That is – there might exist some vast and incomprehensibly complex possibility space in which *all* possibilities, all timelines exist. Not so much a multiverse in which choices or possible branching points in physical reality indicate a splitting of the Universe into divergent, historically related-realities but rather one single vast (infinite ?) multidimensional manifold in which *all* possibilities *actually do exist* within the one Cosmological entity or process; itself stupendously complex but also organically continuous, constitutive of reality and the “physical” Universe. Does it matter that it might be a concept which turns out to be potentially unprovable as that possible constellation and state of possibility space/s in which it can never be proved is also one of the possible states of the branching Yggdrasil-like tree of all possible worlds ?

Bad Decisions

The interminable drudgery of many a predictable dramatic narrative has found itself gratefully resuscitated by the poor choices made by a leading character.  In a world so enamoured by the fictional parables of heroism and success delivered en masse to our households and smart-phones by the proliferating vectors of mass media and information over-saturation, the volitional poverty of our hapless heroes constitutes a relief from the unrelenting chorus of aspirational perfection, personality renovation and lifestyle self-improvement we must endlessly endure.  These moments where the screenwriter’s ascription of a perennial poverty of choice to their primary character (or characters) serve a variety of functions above the mere fleshing-out of a dull spot in the dramatic process or as a source of new and otherwise improbable plot twists.

Beyond delivering us the modern equivalent of those ancient mythologies in which the Gods were divine mirrors for the earthbound litany of human failure and emotional turmoil, the fallible hero is also the somewhat less-than-perfect anchor upon which another (perhaps less obvious) archetype rests.  A lesser known, or at least unacknowledged, aspect of historical development and change is the role that poor thinking and terrible decisions have played in the onwards march of historical progress.

Much intellectual capital is invested in the notion that human beings are perfectly rational actors and each on their own social and economic life’s individual stage.  Beyond pure generalisation or wishful caricature, it is a rare individual indeed who can be shown to always and in every circumstance choose the most sensible and beneficial choices from the wide menu available to them.  There are vast taxonomies of equations and behavioural attributions to which we are all expected to conform when seen through the filter of an economist’s analysis but, as is readily apparent, this idealised person hardly resembles real human beings to any significant degree.

In sum total, the personal errors of choice and fallible reasoning of every single human being would have to multiply to such an astounding level of complexity as to make social and economic reality somewhat less predictable than is the weather (and for similar reasons of measurement where the numbers of dynamic factors and variables are beyond count).  This would leave us with nothing more than relatively insubstantial generalisations with which to portray the world and the people within it.  It is a source of great potential error and negative consequence to be unable to distinguish an effective difference between the loose caricatures with which we communicate and the actual immensely complex realities of society, politics, economics, the environment and human history.  This equivocation is however exactly what is done by some persons fundamentally lacking in conceptual sophistication and unable to conceive that these simplistic crayon-drawings with which we communicate or seek to politically influence, these are not actually the same as the reality to which we are referring.

It may of course in many cases be true that this categorical mistake of misidentification between the caricature and the reality can be portrayed with influence to sway opinion and swing a public debate one way or another.  The self-conscious use of error spans a spectrum from cunning ideological ploy through to unwitting buffoonery.  Where a political figure themselves may not possess the intelligence to even comprehend their own error we find ourselves staring down the loaded double-barrel threat of historically disastrous mistakes.  When an individual (or group of individuals at varying scales) finds themselves at a particular nexus or meeting point of coincident factors which may have a significant historical resonance and consequence, we may find ourselves witness to an unwitting entry into the ledger and unwritten historical document which is represented by the Great Mistakes of History.

Great mistakes are rarely recognised by those who commit them or at least they remain as unacknowledged errors so heavily steeped in ideology and vehement, retrospective self-justification that they become potentially obscured in regards to culpability or the attribution of responsibility.  These errors proliferate in this current world to an extent that they have almost become the status quo, a normative thread of unfortunate choices and even more unfortunate events.  The power of poor decisions to shape history is only dwarfed by the potentially seminal importance of tragedy and catastrophe (through its deep resonance and affective causal cascades across cultures) to drive historical change and progress.  Poor decisions, actions and speech at the macroscopic scale are only different from the aggregated errors of our daily lives by a matter of degree.  Good decisions and benevolent acts seem always to be muffled by the chorus of terrible choices that are made.  Decisions, both good and bad, are indelibly inked in time and like the bell which having been rung can not be un-struck, we just have to learn to live with them.

Choices-fork-in-the-road3

Culture Vulture: Cannibalising Reality

More thoughts bubbling up as some kind of cathartic aspiration to quell the ongoing discomfort of what is, at the time of writing, another brutal and oppressive heatwave here.  President Trump is a part of this text and is as relevant here as in the US.  The emergence of a truly Global and interconnected culture has led to truly Global and interdependent consequences.

It occurs to me that, in a world where nothing can be guaranteed to be true, where political expediency or sheer information volumes have created an environment in which a notional truth might just as well be selected based upon the extent to which it supports an ideological bias as it may be selected on the grounds of a falsifiable basis in fact, and the degree to which supporting narratives (however outlandish) already exist or can be conjured into a supporting role – in a world such as this where fiction and falsity have become indistinguishable from fact for a not insignificant proportion of the media and mass communications consumer market, where everything can be false – everything can also simultaneously be true.

I have expressed an opinion elsewhere that what may appear to be the independent activity of conscious volition and subjective free will expressed through or as a person’s actions and thoughts may really in some measure be predominantly just an expression of a broader, emergent pattern or dynamic symmetry in the collective resonant field represented by culture and communication.  A person often believes that they express a unique or individual self and identity in their thoughts, words and actions and in one concrete sense they do – they creatively reconcatenate the narratives and symbolic value-laden probabilities represented by the world in which they exist, from which they emerge.  However, in another (just as concrete) sense, no one ever truly creates – they re-create, recombine, stitch together, juxtapose and rewrite their narratives, their meanings and their aspirational teleologies.

Human beings in the broader cultural (and historical ?) sense are choice machines, decision engines, recombining their narratives and attributed (not even necessarily fully understood) meanings in ways which enervate the dynamic field of culture and communication from which these choices emerge as possibilities; choice, recombination and creative meaning-making selection are drawn from within the available range of possible or probable decisions, wishes, affectations or ideologically-charged affiliations.  Culture and communication provide us with a spectrum of choice, we provide action or energy to the cultural and communication systems through our active decision making.  The world we live in thus becomes looped back upon itself – systems theoretically speaking: the system represented by the individual enervates, provides energy to the environment from which choice and its meanings are extracted and this topologically forms a simultaneously closed (logical) and open (unpredictable) recursive loop, enabling the individual to respire choices and decisions.

The most interesting thing about the instalment of “US Democracy, Trump Edition” pseudo-political Operating System has not been in the perhaps predictable plutocratic turn of what was successfully marketed to the “mass”  (3 in 10 Americans voted for Trump) dissatisfaction of the disenfranchised as a return to some fictional narrative past which never actually existed.  The most interesting thing about this peculiar historical moment in US history is that the fertile informational, cultural and communications systems preconditions which have come to exist and in which the election of a blustering populist with no political or diplomatic experience to the highest political (and arguably the most sensitive diplomatic) role in the leading Democracy of the West.  Pari passu the emergence of this allegedly apolitical politician, who in reality has handed over control of the administrative destiny of vast swathes of the US population to a mixed salad of aggressive conservatives and spectacularly unprepared portfolio incompatibles, we can also witness a decrying of truth, fact and of science.

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The constant denialism of facts and truths evident in Trump inner-circle media relations is merely the enthroning of a particular kind of self-serving and unremittingly wilful ignorance which has been floating around for some time.  If Trump aligns himself with Alex Jones and everything that Infowars brings with it, it doesn’t really matter if Trump actually believes that particular conspiratorial dribble masquerading as truth, nor does it matter if the mutual alignment and support is for both of their own political or commercial expediencies.  What matters is that the most senior and mature governmental role in what is arguably the leading global democracy (yes – in spite of all its internal inconsistencies the US still represents the benchmark in this) has been handed over to insensitive, immature, and potentially unwitting personnel.  There is little doubt the extent to which Stephen Bannon is pulling strings in all of this.  There can also be little doubt that there are many powerful Republican players waiting in the wings for Trump to screw things up and for them to assume the reigns of power.

The emergence of populists and their authoritarian kin appears to occur most acutely, acute in the sense one may speak of a pandemic or other epidemiological occurrence, at times of elevated national and international stress, friction and insecurity.  Ironically, the emergence of populist nationalist movements very often prefigures and creates the preconditions for an insecurity and anxiety-ridden national identity.  Trump and Bannon are, among other miscreants haunting the West Wing, no less embedded within and emergent products of the larger field of culture and communication that we are all engaged with.  Their “creative” acts of narrative reconcatenation resemble less the ongoing perennially and recursively incomplete march of progress and historical development, they are more closely akin to cannibals greedily feasting upon the bleached bones of justice, undiscriminating equity and the rational pursuit of freedom.

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In a world where everything can be false and true at the same time (is this not where we are heading ?), any assertion whatsoever can be questioned or championed.  If a political player has risen to power on the basis of falsity, innuendo and rumour – it is probably not surprising that they should see these ploys everywhere being used against them.  Even when assertions they make may be true, they will likely be considered false and the greatest cost of all to any politician here is that of becoming enmeshed in their own web – even if they had something valuable or genuinely constructive to say or do, they can not escape the gravity of their own triumphant empowering of Doubt and Alternate Facts.