3. The Damning Plague of Peekaboo Baby Book Black Mirrors

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality to
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies
And see.

Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

 

I submit myself to you: humble student of history, kind observer of the Mother and her blooms, witness of the Father and his works, and member of the People and its tribes, the greatest of great apes, man and womb-of-man woman, our most surpreme treasure, from whence all men come, their mistakes of youth in discovering and applying their inherited divine gifts, and the might with which we have exercised those gifts and their consequences— good and bad, adaptive or not. 

It’s a strange business, but behaviors have always compelled me as more reliably true than any of data nor our self-reportage— not least because I could never count on the reliability and consistency of my own self-reportage with others, and certainly because, time and again, I discovered word and deed coincide far less often than we comfort or congratulate ourselves— so much so that those occasioned correspondences bely only  casual correlational mutated relationships. I never mistook them for causal. I admit: beyond the first blush of assessing diagnostic utility in the relativism of being, I find the entire idea of causality suspect. Where, precisely, does one nail down with utmost certainty utmost primacy and supremacy of absolute cause? At what point in your gathering understanding does the accumulated evidence overwhelmingly necessitate that you shift your focus to a still earlier cause? When do you and all parties agree that you have, in fact, identified the incontrovertible source of… whatever malady you seek redress? Why do we rarely seek to understand the underlying causality of benefit and blessing to measures and degrees equal to their oppressive and unpleasant cousin consequences? Do the evidences of such journeys— specifically attuned to deliver blame and accusation— which always torch any and all possibility of agreement— justify their supposition of cause as a primary condition whose alteration affords altered destiny?

Now— it is a necessary personal interjection, also— I add: In art school (Kansas City Art Institute), I was blessed with exceptional philosophy professor— Hal Wert. Hal’s two semester survey in western thought so inspired me that I left art school to become… a philosopher, nearly thirty years later, and after dallying perhaps too long in finance, moonlighting as an economist. Hal’s aim in these classes was to illustrate again and again Koestler’s concept of the watershed— the interstitial period of upheaval in the transition between paradigms or epochs, and which evidence evolutionary leaps-in-progress— as, he slyly did little to hide, he supposed we were entering then. Certainly, I agreed and agree: We handily and snuggly in-watershed, then and now. However, I was captivated by another phenomenon. As we followed the train of philosophic thought, scientific evidenced discoveries, and the response and lure that the arts and music catalyzed in both, and mutuated through them all, a pattern became apparent: Each great thinker made one or two great leaps, and then went no further. The baton of our philosophic evolution lie waiting after DesCartes, Newton, Darwin, Freud, Einstein: each made one contribution and seemed stuck, unable to go further. Yet taken in full scope, the progression of thought and knowledge seemed obvious: There were always many more leaps to take after that. Why, I wondered, did each great man rest at one defining achievement— Principea Matematica, Natural Selection, The Relativities? Why did they not push farther? Why didn’t their success inspire them to make more leaps? I found myself intrigued, inspired, and enflamed: I wanted to make many, many of these leaps myself— by simple virtue that I knew that I could.

I guess it took quite a bit longer than I boasted and expected. Better late than never.

I wanted to push the chain of discovery up and down as many rungs and rings on as many chains and ladders as I could— and return to we the People with too many treasures to carry alone. For no other reason than: I love you. I’m not so sure this is a good call. 

To advance this aim, I, too, fell first for causality’s lure, and became student of civilization, history, and physics and chemistry, biology and neurobiology, psychology, and philosophy and metaphysics, and even, yes, alchemy and magick— which are the progenitors of all the aforementioned sciences. I supposed causality was especially evidenced by relativity and astrophysics, geology and ductile-tectonic processes, and the alluring and intoxicating mysteries quanta and those phenomenon that might be as quanta for them. I also became obsessed with an idea, at 19, I called ‘peripheralism.’ This was an aesthetic approach to acheiving wholistic view of Being— my first ambitious 19-year-old stab at ‘the answer.’ As an artist, I quickly grasped that context was actually more defining as to how individual art objects were experienced by observers. A Rembrandt reads very, very differently in a formal museum gallery than in a tavern’s loo stall. Our focus, I realized, was more blinding than not: we missed, I suspected, massive patterns whose swells carry us and serve at least as active medium and thus defining context, absent which whatever existed for us in that moment of precious focus would be cast into an entirely different experience, consequence, meaning— its truth, thus, cast with worth and value other than what I as the artist mistook to have alone programmed into the work. Existence, I realized with my peripheralist orientation, was wholly relational; nothing could be discretely removed from the whole and experience itself as extant. This wisdom I would find echoed two years ago— more than twenty years later— when the first lesson of transcendence I earned after losing interest in the obvious narcosis of nirvana’s bliss once so-attained was: Embrace is all, All is embrace. 

I became obsessed at a young age with grasping and reading these larger patterns of behavior, these swells of greater mechanisms we had yet to diagnose. It is from this personally defining genesis point the aim of my life’s calling first attempted to cohese around.

Again, as in my personal life, I found the behaviors reported by historians and scientists to be more persuasive than their supposition of their causes and the interpretations they assigned them. I began to learn to read behaviors— not simply discretely, but in their milieus. I began, without realizing it, to become literate of the world in a way I never had before: I began to understand that peripherality I had found so suggestive in college. I began to be able to read the signs in Nature, if you will, not so much in its discrete texts but in the swells of behavior hinting at greater phenomenon yet to come.  

It is from this perspective than in my career in finance I was an moonlighting bubble-spotting economist of sufficient note and moral virtue that my work and reputation has been ensconced, albeit briefly, in popular entertainment. (In The Big Short’s middle act, I am the off-screen midwesterner with the hot research whom is reported to call Mark Baum’s Morgan Stanely team ‘dicks for shorting the market.’ There was, as I’m sure you can imagine, quite a bit more of substance to those conversations and to my work and its consequence. Those were, indeed, the words comprising the second to last sentence with Baum in his team. The final sentence was a Heckman family classic, best expressed always by my esteemed father, Ed: “Go fuck yourselves.”)

I discovered in my readings of history specific species of civilizations bare out consistent lifecycle patterns. If we regard civilizations as single organisms which we as cells give rise to in our coordinated behaviors, just as we might gods and currency, then plainly we see these patterns are archetypal. Western empires, for example, evidenced reliable archetypal patterns at various points of their lifecycle. This, friends, is exceptionally relevant to you now. Understanding what species of civilization your human macro-organism has resolved itself to exist as affords you an opportunity to use such archetypes diagnostically to determine its health and maturity. Western empires, for example, see very plain archetypal patterns emerge in their final centuries. Some of these patterns can be reliably exploited to diagnose a civilization in decline, and to the hopeful, such as myself, may suggest a remedy. Others, somberly, diagnose the civilization’s death throes.

Both Sumer and Rome evidenced advents of fashion and social scandal in their final centuries via the shock of the handheld, portable mirror, and the shock of repeated, portably palatable self-discovery they carry. Rome provides the evidence amply; Sumer’s evidence is scant but compellingly suggestive. 

What is plain, and what we forget: it is not commonplace in our history that we carry with us mechanisms of convenient, at-the-ready self-portraiture. For most of human history, most of us rarely if ever saw our faces. 

In ancient societies, and even up until the advent of the Enlightenment, exposure to one’s reflection was an infrequent occurrence for all but the nobles— so infrequent, in fact, as to be quite alarming for many not so accustomed. Consider Morpheus’s explanation to Neo that the Matrix caters to his ‘ideal self-image’ in its digital rendering of him in its virtual world; such contact you’re your steady state image in reflection for those not so accustomed tended to disrupt that ideal self-image substantially. To discover that one was, say, beautiful, as others had reported of you for years— your own reflection is rendered intoxicating, and the discovery is one you simply cannot turn yourself from. To discover that one is more homely or ugly than others report instills a shame that gnaws at you ceaselessly and a sense of injustice at this casual circumstance the burns you mercilessly without remedy— and, as with gapers blocks slowing for the scent of gore in car wrecks, they were unable to turn away.

What emerges in both empire-civilizations that is notable: The advent of these mirrors is accompanied by massive scandals of vanity in the liberal ruling castes who adore these trinkets and by their supplicants, sycophants, and wannabes who are beneficiaries of hand-me-downs, theft, or lesser-copies’ invitations. Put simply, rampant argument spread through the halls of the Roman senate and beyond: scandal after scandal over what was said about so-and-so’s reflection, versus their stated preference of how that reflection should be spoken of. A nasty and self-isolating contest of spite, offense, and self-proclaimed victimization followed as a consequence of people stepping on each others ideas’ of themselves’ toes.

More sobering: The phenomenon of these mirrors exists only once the civilization’s decline into death was rendered irreversible. And: the civic inflammations— the scandals— that we generated with these blinded the constituents of each to their civilizations’ deaths, and seemed to not only ensure but accelerate their onset and exacerbate their degree of commotion and calamity. Quite plainly, I saw and see: the onset of handheld mirrors in an empire evidences the advent of a potent archetype reliably diagnostic of a civilization in its death throes.

Enter: Your peekaboo baby book black mirrors— those iPhones and Galaxies and Pixels you deem so precious and assert as evidence of your culture’s supremacy in innovation and sagacity— utmost emblems of our vaunted supposed progress— and the plagues of scandal that erupt in the space between their glass faces and each and every one of yours, now nearly every minute of every day. We are correct in diagnosing these handheld black mirrors as extenders of influence and agency; we are wholly wrong about what kinds and to what ends. 

For example, we console ourselves that the iPhone X in our hands now exists as some kind of eventual remedy to climate change. We forget in our prideful clamor to be dutiful serial early adopters just how many iPhones we’ve already thrown away before the 8 or X baring your reflection from your palm now. (Help me figure this out: Where did 9 go? Did Apple really forget how to count? Are you okay with that from the world’s wealthiest and most powerful corporate entity?) We miss entirely the mechanisms of Classical and Operant Conditioning as mutuated between us and Siri: each touch you commit to her face affirms to her, again and again, the course of her physiologic reproduction— make more iPhones— and the necessity that her vessels be filled with still more treasures: apps— and that you should dress them up with more accessory-trash. All of these things, very seriously, exist as non-degrading trash for eons after you’ve loved them intensely for less than your contract period and dropped them in the trash. 

The programmed occurrence of all three commodity categories’ market demand as stimulated by your every touch’s Operant and Classical rewards amplifies milieu erosion on every level. Every physical interaction you entertain with your iPhone, your Android moreso, amplifies the very agency of yourselves you console yourselves it does not. I put to you now: no technology in history amplifies climate change greater than your peekaboo baby book black mirrors. I put to you also: the only threat to your climate now I deem greater is the eruption fo methane geysers in our thawing permafrost. Neither accelerant of our biomic demise we’ve done the slightest thing to stop.

The social controversies these peekaboo baby book black mirrors generate and sustain should at this point need no naming. 

Do you agree? 

#metoo. 

What is astonishing, I think, is that we have a global leader now who is exactly a tawdry spray-tanned baboon in cheap president drag, sitting at a typewriter we call Twitter + iPhone. This spray-tanned twit is an historic savant of unparalleled power in deployment of this Twitter-typewriter technology— to the point that in his sausage-fingered mitts he has the awe-some and awe-full ability to unnerve, agitate, and offend every other person holding one of those peekaboo baby book black mirrors on this planet. His offensive behaviors in comparison to his predecessors’ pales; yet the offenses he arouses actively in us via the perfection of his idiot-savant signally are staggering to the point that they hold no quarter nor equal in our recordings of the past. He is a queer supervillian. One wonders of the Power Puff Girls: Would Mojo Jojo have fared better in his schemes armed an equal magick Twitter-typewriter of his own in the 144-character world we occupy now? 

What is even more astonishing is the emerging swell of self-complaint in which we acknowledge, again and again, “I think I’m spending too much time on my phone.” Simultaneously we correctly observe others are withdrawing into themselves (missing that we ourselves are guilty of the same), and identifying that community is not only absent, but seems impossible to regain.

What is it precisely about these mechanisms that makes them irresistible lures— intoxicating and wholly toxic as any opiod harvested from US-occupied Afghani poppy fields? (Did you know that only Iran now produces more black market opium than Afghanistan? It isn’t like our CIA has a well-established history of seeding our public with narcotics such as LSD or crack cocaine.) Is it the controversies themselves, exploded from Facebook and Twitter again and again? Or is it something deeper?

I argue stridently for the latter: that it precisely is something much deeper. 

Power down your phone. Lift its quieted black mirror to your face. And look in that reflection. Crisply and potently, one mysterious darkened mirror image of you leers out, perched upon the glass’s external surface. In some older phones, such as my relic iPhone 5s, a second reflection is plainly visible behind the surface reflection, married between the glass’s underside and the OLED’s outward visage. In this new deliciously sexy Galaxy 8 Plus I admire my own reflection in now (I confess that I, too, have a passionate affair with this guilty pleasure peekaboo baby book black mirror), the screen is so alluringly shiny that I perceive the surface reflection too strikingly to take not of the hidden second. If Samsung had not been so profit hungry as to devise a device whose very sexiness is in fact instrument of its increased likelihood of damage (that sexily slippery curved screen makes it awful droppy) and from that I had not burned through this phone’s predecessor in four months’ drops’ cracked screens, I might’ve supposed that buried reflection was also absent in the ‘upgrade.’ Not so. Apocalypse, we forget, means revelation via uncovering; so the increasing cracking of my first 8 Plus unmasked the second reflection in that Galaxy I sent back to the insurer for them to recycle (read: throw away). 

Understand: These subtle doubles of you reflect ever from that black mirror’s face, including and most troublingly when the screen is illuminated— when you might suppose it does not. Understand: every time you face you phone, on or off, your are blasting yourselves with these subtle doubles. Switched on, the phone bears upon you from nearly every app another contoured continence of that reflection of precious you.

To those uninitiated to common neurobiology, the advent of these reflections may seem harmless at worst, and excellent convenience for, say, make up application, at best. If one were persistently ignorant of, say, Mirror Cells, one should have little reason to be concerned for one’s own mind in the hands of these handheld mirrors. But equipped with both knowledge of these Mirror Cells and the reliably evidenced truths of Classical and Operant Conditioning especially, a nefarious danger should be cast in sharp relief to any observer in this empire’s iteration of this archetypal death throe symptom. And what is this?

Put simply, Mirror Cells are part of your visual cortex. The aim of these cells seems quite direct: in the advent that another face crosses your field of vision, your experience powerful registry in those Mirror Cells. What’s more, they seem to compel an investigation, which, if satisfactory, elicits at the very least the beginnings of empathy, which is the very mechanism via which we form tribes, villages, churches, schools, and so forth. Mirror Cells utmost essential to our Belonging, and so essential also Thriving. For it is only Belonging we thrive. The consensus in the research community on the purpose of Mirror Cells is unanimous. 

Now, Classical and Operant Conditioning capitalize on aptitudes that are endogenous in all living things which enable us to condition behavior through reward and punishment applied to varying schedules of adminstration to arrive at a supposedly purposed outcome. 

Classical Conditioning, which we can favorably connect to Pavlov’s experiments with dogs and bells, comes to down to reward, punishment, adjustments to the scheduling of the applications of one of both. Consider the Classical end of the behavioral conditioning spectrum the punctuation in a sentence— never a comma nor question mark, often a period, usually an exclamation. These are the brute conditioning agents. 

Operant Conditioning speaks a subtler language which expresses itself in four rather than two variables, in whose dulcet tones it is easy to mistake its deeper power. In Operant, we understand that shaping reinforcement is defined again by reward and punishment; however, we conceive also of adding and removing either stimuli as agents in behavioral conditioning. Operant Conditioning, thus, holds to two axises rather than one, as applied against varying administration schedules. The one axis is obvious enough: reward— something desired and enjoyed— and punishment— something unpleasant to which we find ourselves strongly averse. The second is a bit confusing: labeled positive and negative, these qualities are not good or bad; they explain instead how those rewards and punishments are added and withdrawn from the subject the conditioning is applied to. Thus, a negative reward sees that reward taken away— a time out is a great example; a negative punishment, also, sees punishment taken away; a positive punishment sees it added— such a spanking; in the sequence of the positive reward, the subject may receive a Kit-Kat for good behavior. 

Scheduling is extremely consequential. As Pavlov demonstrated, a tolerance builds rapidly to readily available pleasure; however, altering the availability of that pleasure to unpredictable degrees increases our thirst for it— often to maddening degrees.

Fast forward to that peekaboo baby book black mirror, ever baring that that subtle double of you, and your poor defenseless Mirror Cells. 

From an Operant and Classical perspective, once equipped with Siri or Bixby, the black mirror’s barer’s Mirror Cells come to contact no face more frequently than his own— by incalculable orders of magnitude relative to instance alone, let alone amplified by the subtle double. This also says nothing of the more abstracted reflections poor broken Facebook and the Twitter-typewriter weave together of ourselves for ourselves. 

Put bluntly, we are aggressively conditioning the living hell out of our Mirror Cells to empathize with increasingly exclusivity with: our selves— more truly: those illusory subtle doubles. 

In a climate of scandal and controversy so propagated and so profligate, we find comfort in these devices that truly do nothing of the sort simply because we like the way we feel— truly, because we’ve come to discover empathy from them, empathy given by ourselves to our black subtle doubles, who do not return the favor. 

Empathy is not a boomerang; your mirror cells will ever detect the reflection of you— a reverse image— and not the true you. How you could possibly accurately empathize with you when the correct image of you on video, the image of you others perceive true, feels unnervingly alien to you when measured against precisely the same image laterally reversed, which is what you experience of yourselves vastly more often?

Even more egregious: the mechanisms of these devices invite forgetting and diminished memory. Why remember anything at all when the Cloud can keep it safe for you— even if that means keeping it safe from you? Phone numbers, addresses, birth dates of important people? No longer needed. Poems and liturgies? No longer needing memorization to service the public. Google is ever at the ready with our history, so we needn’t trouble ourselves to remember that. Retaining any knowledge whatsoever seems pointless to us now when the convenience of your preferred search engine is ever in-hand. However, human memory doesn’t conform the bizarrely obtuse file structures of data in the cloud. We a literally filing our experiences of ourselves into our peekaboo baby book black mirrors to forget.

Simultaneously, these devices parse experience in decreasing units of incrementalization, and they increase its frequency and quantity of delivery and amplitude of signal. 

A plague of forgetting softens us while the high-definition world of Siri hammers us with a continuous wash of information so granulated and speedily blasted that it could never stick even if we could pause to practice savor just one of those gossamer bites long enough to sustain even briefly memory of it’s flavor. 

Your peekaboo baby book black mirrors do more than inflame you with scandal. They erode your personhood by disconnecting you from others, through whom and only through whom it is that you experience identity and know that personhood. They delight in deleting the details of you, or in rendering them in such massively disordered piles that sifting through them is all but impossible. And they do not obey the biological mapping of relationships that sustain memory in organisms not in their periscope heads alone but mapped holographically across the entirety of their cocognating body. Instead, they conform to an organizing modality that reflects only a logic endemic of English’s native grammars— files. They train you to empathize with non-existent reverse image of yourselves to the exclusion of nearly everyone all else. We believe they hollow us; in truth, they cast upon us and inflect us with such a virulent inflammation of self and so swell us with scar tissue that there is no room within us for our experience of the world, let alone of our selves and each other. iPhone and Facebook and Twitter congratulate us again and again for coming together. But whom, exactly, are we coming together with? See evidence of: no one— we have come to love not ourselves and certainly not each other, but a comforting reverse subtle double, a doppleganger who lives neither in shadow nor light, but only cast in dim resolve before each and every one of our eyes, and our  subtle double manifests only and ever before our eyes alone.

The danger is massive and manifold, not least because in ordinary times the burdens of being human are too great for any one man or woman to bear alone, and not least because most human experiences are physically larger the space our bodies occupy, let alone the space we believe ourselves to occupy in our cerebral appendages— those petty periscope heads who too easily fall prey to any pretty reflections of themselves that pass their way. 

As a consequence of this destructive vanity and an increasingly noxiously poisoned milieu we have so inflammed have no room in ourselves to hold and know the world, to hold and know ourselves. The inflammation has crowded it all out with swollen and scarred tissues, yet we suppose others have been hollowed. 

In this fashion, we are not only rendered incapable of baring the extra-ordinary pressures of these alarming times, but we have been trained temporally to be acclimated to a passage of change in our milieu so rapid, so multiple, so severe, and so plainly parabolic that any one week of news in 2017 from any three weekly or daily news outlets stretched over seven weeks in 1997 would generate a global panic and uproar of such magnitude the human world would stop until we had mobilized with greater speed and vigor than either of the world wars or the space race to confront the horrors descending upon us all in this moment now. This is exactly reasonable, given the severity any single danger looming in your milieu this very moment.

If you woke in 1997, at which time Y2K, still three years off, was the single most threatening thing any of us could imagine, to the news that not one but three supermassive icebergs (Larsen-C, -B, and -D) had calved off Antartica in the space of less than a year, that would be more than sufficient calamity to move you to teary panic. 

That your coral reefs are all nearly dead and your oceans have been rendered so toxic that any animal in them that can beach itself to die in relative comfort rather than suffer endlessly without no outlet does precisely that? 

That seasonal storm cycles are now such that storm surge and not sea level rise is the main destructor in any storm event, and the frequency and amplitude of future such events guarantees that no island nation nor coastal territory will have sufficient duration between storm seasons to recover from the prior storm’s damage before the next  stronger storm hits next season? 

That much of coastal Miami is in some state of tidal flood most the time? 

That more 75% of the worlds’ animal and plant populations are dead? 

That your arctic ice has melted entirely? 

That your bee colonies are crashing and your very food supply is in urgent danger? 

That German reported just three weeks ago its total insect population is a quarter of what it was 25 years ago? 

That methane lakes and geysers thawing from ancient rotten permafrost now erupt and inject untold billions of tons of hyperwarming methane into our stratoshere— which is precisely the gas that renders Venus an inhabitable Hell this very moment? 

And that our president is not merely an ass-faced baboon Twitter-savant supervillain but appears to be if not purposefully then too conveniently accidentally a Russian double agent? And that your Congress and your Surpreme court is in cahoots with this astonishing and gallingly blatant treason?

And that all of this is increasing it acceleration, frequency, severity, and amplitude?

And in all of this, lets not forget: There is a generation of children who’ve just become adults whose developing neurology has been and is continuing to be framed by subtle doubles’ impacts on these unsuspecting Millennials’ Mirror Cells; and there more in the pipeline in even more rigorous condition just behind them. 

What future for them? at least the Boomers and Gen-X retain memory of what empathy was like when mirror cells met mirror cells in face-to-human-face. For now.

Gentlemen, but ladies most urgently: 

What the ever living fuck do you think you’re doing with yourselves? How have you so lost perspective that you would endanger your children so blatantly stupidly as all this? Couldn’t you smell this bullshit miles before it hit?

It is strange to report that in a world absent safe spaces entirely, the least safe space we can conjure for ourselves exists between us and those stupid handheld mirrors we prize above all else.

Ladies and gentlemen: best to put your heads back up your asses. They’re far safer there than with Siri or Bixby, Twitter or in the facebook of poor brilliantly confused Mark Zuckerberg.