Claudia Comte, HAHAHA, Installation view Bex & Arts, Bex, Switzerland, 2014 – please note the motocross rider in the back

At a recent rationalist gathering, someone I don’t know very well looked at my outfit and told me, in utter seriousness, “if I dressed like you, I would be undeniably evil.” He changed the topic a moment later, but I proceeded to think about this comment for the next few weeks. It would be hypocritical to be angry about it, because he was correct: the way I look deliberately connotes at least otherness, if not deviance depending on the audience. It is, however, rare for someone to call it outright.

I have to thank the schlocky murder-erotica TV drama Hannibal for bringing me the phrase “ethics become aesthetics” (a condensed version of a theory put forth in Susan Sontag’s On Style). Inexorably, the way one looks is tied to the way one constructs their worldview. How much can you judge about how someone moves through the world, without ever talking to them? Who are they performing for? What is it they care about? What do they want you to know?

In my case, I took great care to weaponize my appearance. I have what could be characterized as an actively dangerous aesthetic. Lots of black, harsh angles, militaristic connotations. I don’t characterize myself as evil, but I’m happy to look it, in that I actively don’t want to look good.  I think it should be important to establish yourself as someone who exists outside of the prevailing moral dogma. This should be something people know about you from the start. In the era of fake news, cancel culture (groan) and a guilty-until-proven-innocent structure of discourse, is important not to be an easy mark.

This is the guide for why you should want to look evil.

The most common morality systems are faulty.

I used to be close with someone who could be called an ineffective altruist. They were nationally recognized for their charitable work, which was driven by a solemn religiosity. They were also so hung up on the idea of repairing the world, of playing the long game, that they came to regard the people around them as collateral damage. They could absolutely demoralize you and then say, “I’m doing this for the greater good.” This was a person I later cast in a space opera as the planet-destroying villain, driven by delusions of godlike justice. It was very easy to think, if this is what goodness is, I don’t want to be good. I started thinking that morally it would be better to be the kind of person they would despise.

Around this time I was also attending a middling Jesuit university with squeaky-clean facade. I quickly found myself entirely uncomfortable with Catholics – the wheeling and dealing of sin and confession; the  professors brazenly shoehorning their own faith into their coursework; the trite pro-LGBTQ signage around campus at odds with the deacon who banned gay marriage in the chapel, convinced that the local archdiocese would pull their support and disrupt the university’s cash flow; the useless storefront of Campus Psychological Services, which redirected you to the priests stationed in the dorms as counsel. Guilt and secrecy were the backbones of the culture. Many of the students wore matching necklaces from spiritual retreats; the whole thing was culty. So I set myself up as someone unrecruitable, someone who could never be one of ‘those people’. I acquired a leather jacket, got more piercings, all the ’80s movie trappings of someone who doesn’t care what you think, man. It might have made me moderately obnoxious (I once got suckered into a trip to the chapel wearing a t-shirt that said HELL IS SO HOT RIGHT NOW) but it also made me a lightning rod for discourse in my classes because I was the de facto contrarian. People expected my opinions to be novel, which made my work better. It was productive.

The moral here is that it’s effective to cast yourself as someone who isn’t playing by the rules. Quite literally wearing your ethics on your sleeve can do a lot of the legwork in saying I am not like you, I don’t believe what you believe, and can more accurately set the tone for the interactions you want to be having in these morally-governed spaces.

Much of what we think of as morality is just play-acting.

One malady of late capitalism is that none of us want to look like we’re doing too little. Public performance has always been an aspect of morality (think self-flagellating monks, or Victorians in their funerary black), and the demands of looking like a morally upstanding citizen today are painstakingly specific. The information age has given us a cornucopia of choices regarding who we are allowed to be in society, but we cherrypick certain behaviors to put our best foot forward. Just a sampling: wear a smile, even when there is nothing to smile about, because you need to look and sound authentic (happiness is of course taken to be the default authentic state). Sit up straight, even when exhausted; maybe get a standing desk so you can lord your able-bodiedness over your peers. You may talk to your officemates about certain preapproved topics when allowed time to be lax (definitely don’t mention that it feels like the world is ending), but don’t be too lax. Perform self-care, but not too much. Repost the correct current events to your newsfeed so everyone can know you did your part by raising awareness. Always be aware, but stay optimistic, like someone who doesn’t read the news. Do meatless Mondays. Make a show of riding your bike. Act like your small acts save the world, even though a handful of people with more power than you can dream of are actively trying to kill it. These rituals are distracting, exhausting virtue signaling. They barely do anything for the net good of the planet other than telegraphing please like me to your immediate peers. They are not the kind of actions that, when everyone does them, will make a difference; they are bare-minimum nods to environmentalism that don’t change the fact that the people at the top of the heap won’t do anything that matters in time to fix the state of this planet (also your affinity for quinoa is decimating indigenous populations in South America).

I’m not saying we should all give up. I’m saying that many of the behaviors we partake in to increase our social worth are inefficiencies, and it is possible to care deeply about justice without constructing a shell of empty symbols to do it. The mask can slip off with little consequence. Speedrunning the impractical parts of these social contracts may at worst lead to some meaningless name-calling about being uncaring. It is worthwhile to construct yourself as the kind of person who doesn’t care about these things, who has convictions that exist outside of hollow late capitalist ethics. To save yourself some energy, look like someone who wants to bring down the system, not like someone who wants to earn a gold star from it.

Any system that defines good and evil as inexorable, all-or-nothing states of being is not a just system.

Hell was the worst idea humans ever had. Hell makes everything a moral imperative – you’re either 100% saved or 100% damned, no matter how complicated the human experience. Even in secular circles, this sort of thinking is carried out in paradigms like cancel culture, in which a community decides to cast members out based on often small infractions which are then extrapolated into rigid judgments about the person’s character as a whole.

I participate in some social justice work. It was never an active decision to do so; it felt like a reflex, like some primordial decision-making structure told me I had to do it. I help edit a list of known offenders within a certain community, people prone to abuses of power or coercive business practices. It is left up to the readers to decide whether they can handle working with the people documented on the list. Some mistake the existence of a list like this as evidence of rampant cancel culture, and assume me to be its figurehead, but my only goal to make sure instances of abuse are documented in a field that has no formal accountability. The list doesn’t tell anyone who they should shun. But if someone wants to based on information provided in the list, that is their choice.

In working on a project like this, embracing underhandedness is necessary. The list is effective because it acts as a proverbial anvil hovering over the heads of people who do deplorable things, and embracing the role of a villain made dealing with these tough subjects tolerable. There is a vicious kind of joy in singling out what makes a person dangerous, and then documenting it dispassionately, like a hunter hanging a game trophy. Being a threat can be thrilling. Power can be balanced swiftly and gracefully from afar, if the need arises.

Being a villain, however, requires being an outsider. I have had opportunities parlay this project into restorative justice, to become a compassionate advocate instead of a slightly rude fly on the wall, and it was always imperative that I decline these. The list works because it doesn’t provide any definitive judgments. The moment I take a stand for the goodness of certain people over others, presuming the innocence of some but not others, the whole endeavor becomes moot. It would cease to be an unbiased instrument of justice and would instead be a popularity contest. It only functions if my personal judgments are entirely out of the picture, if I maintain a moral otherness as someone on the outside of the system looking in.

On looking vs. being:

I’ll admit that I went through about five separate drafts of this essay because I didn’t want to come off as an absolute asshole. Some of the ideas here are what I would typify as “dark side theologies” (and I’m sure there’s a real term for this that I don’t know): ideas that immediately threaten group security by reducing rule adherence. Or, more simply: ideas that would make me an absolute misanthrope depending on context. To round this out and to rescue my ego, I’d like to loop back around to the comment that started this screed off, with my emphasis: “if I dressed like you, I would be undeniably evil.” The sentence structure seems to indicate that while I only look like I should be evil, there is some ineffable factor that keeps me from actually being evil (something that the person who said this doesn’t seem to think he has). This conversation happened in a place where I clearly look like an iconoclast, but where ethically, I don’t seem to be one. I’m happy to interpret this as reinforcement that what you appear to be isn’t what you are.


Untitled, Hajime Sorayama & Daniel Arsham for 2GTokyo, 2019

I am obligated as both a musician and a very pessimistic futurist to write about the Twitter fight that musicians Grimes and Zola Jesus had recently. This snippet of drama is so tailor-made for me that in another world I’d have thought it was spat out by an algorithm designed to generate entertainment based on the contents of my brain.

I’d recommend looking through the tweets compiled in the Sterogum article linked above if you’re not familiar with this particular slab of fresh beef. To provide a brief summary, noted Elon Musk paramour Grimes posited that flesh-and-blood musicians would soon be obsolete in the face of music-making AI, and Zola Jesus retorted that to so glibly speak of one’s own redundancy, one must be sure that they will be sheltered by the technocratic elite when this Kurzweilian singularity eventually occurs.

I agree with Zola Jesus’ assessment here – it is a callous thing for a musician, especially one who is also intimately familiar with grueling tours and the pervasive poverty among creatives, to say that the end of not only the music industry but the end of relevant human creativity is is simply an interesting diversion along the way to some techno-utopia where humankind will live blissfully amongst the technologies that will also put it out to pasture. However, callousness isn’t what I’m concerned with here.

On a personal level, I’ve been worried about Grimes for a while.

A friend of mine, another cultural critic, has a theory that Grimes has been conceptualizing herself as the protagonist of an imagined ’90s anime. She’s the heroine who crawls into the maw of danger, in this case the laps of the elite, with the intention of staging a revolution against the forces of evil from the inside out. She’s Utena, and Usagi, and every other chipper young woman with colorful hair who was called upon by prophecy to lead humanity into a world of light. However, somewhere along the way she lost the thread. The belly of the beast became a safe enclave. Protected by power and influence, removed from the drudgery of her origins, she decided to save herself instead of everyone else, and now exists as a novelty for her compatriot-captors, a whimsical thing who reads Sun Tzu (likely at their behest – I know the type of book that gets recommended at parties hosted by people in that community) and makes a music video about it only semi-ironically. She knows she has followed a point-for-point villain origin story, and builds this into her mythology. She brands herself as a product of big tech, with Musk at the center. She assumes his logos, she calls him her creator. She is soaking up their ideologies and parroting their rhetoric. When she says “I’m not dying on a hill, just having a good time” followed by “Seems weird to withhold ideas, and even weirder that suggesting potential futures can cause so much rage” she is gaslighting in the way they do, implying that everyone who hasn’t drank their particular flavor of Kool-Aid is small-minded, that they hasn’t yet left Plato’s cave. She is using the same patronizing language that a troll on r/askphilosophy would use to explain why he is smarter and more enlightened than you, a tactic which is designed to provoke rage, thus rendering you “irrational” and deserving of scorn if you take the bait. She might as well have just written “triggered”.

And yet, I feel for her. When I was introduced to rationalism it made me feel powerful and clever too, like I had entered some agora of true knowledge, unencumbered by the virtue signaling of the left, that would reveal the secrets of the future to me as well. I spent a month absorbing their texts like a sponge and then the next one wringing myself out and discarding the irrelevant or harmful ideas. R/sneerclub was helpful for targeting toxic ideologies, and I relied on the the works of James Hillman and the guidance of a local occultist to keep my wits about me. Importantly, I made sure to do these things in isolation. I only started hanging out in the actual rationalist community once I was sure I had mastered the language and understood the discourse, and had studied the damage that could be done from eating it up wholesale. Grimes’ assessments lack ideological nuance and discipline purity. She sounds like someone who is in the thick of it, parroting things she heard at the last meetup because they sound cool and provocative, dog-whistling the accelerationists and the Dark Enlightenment in the process, which, as we all read recently, is a dangerous game to play. But if cozying up to them nets her more power, more influence, more safety? Win-win.

In I Wear The Black Hat, author Chuck Klosterman provided the most functional definition of villainy I’ve seen recently, wherein he states that a villain is the person who, in the face of an atrocity, knows the most but cares the least. Grimes meets the criteria here. She is on the inside, with access to resources most musicians can only dream of, and trade secrets that could damn large swaths of the tech industry. It is rather unrealistic to expect her to share those resources – after all, this isn’t actually an anime, and we don’t actually do socialism like that. However, her blatant indulgences, her “scientific” talking points that bulldoze not just her former contemporaries but all human ingenuity itself, her wet dream vision of the apocalypse – that’s textbook. That’s character acting.

I recently finished Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts, a novella about a generation ship that has been traveling through uncharted space for eons, with a powerful AI at its helm. Its cargo is a crew of humans the size of a small city, a mere half-dozen of whom are spun out of suspended animation every few millenia to aid the AI with wormhole navigation. The crew members wonder why the AI would ever need them, and it is tacitly decided that human creativity, or even just impulsivity, cannot be replicated even by the most advanced artificial entities. A human’s knack for novel decision-making might be the only thing that ensures the ship’s survival, and the survival of the last remnants of the human race slumbering within its hull. I much prefer this sort of speculative future to one that disregards human agency, whimsy and unpredictability, writing off what makes us unique as irrelevant. We are messy animals, and geniuses, and I still have some hope for a future where we can stare down the barrel of AI supremacy and say “betcha can’t do this.”


Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 9.12.15 PM.png
Dead Space, Finbarr Fallon

When I was in high school I was in a band with a scene queen. She had feathered hair and a bedroom full of Hello Kitty merchandise. She would listen to Mindless Self Indulgence in the car. Every week when I would show up to practice, her earlobes would be stretched yet larger. I was not cool enough to be active on MySpace, but I had no doubt that she was hugely popular there. Our guitarist was in love with her, and I was in love with him. I wanted to be her more than I wanted to be myself. I braided a blue extension into my hair and amassed a collection of Day-Glo American Apparel t-shirts in the hopes that maybe some of her magic would transfer to me if I classed myself as part of the same cargo cult.

This year, when I discovered what egirls are, I felt the exact same feeling I had about the drummer. An incandescent envy that other people were allowed to make a career out of being decorative and childlike, while I was clearly cut from a different material that had to grow up quickly and excel in school and work. But what concern does a twenty[REDACTED] year-old have with the teenagers who populate TikTok? Only that those teenagers look exactly like the teenagers I was jealous of when I was a teenager myself.

Everything old is seemingly new again. It only took ten years for the exact visual lexicon of MySpace-era decora-punk to come back into fashion. The sideswept bangs and Sharpie eyeliner are very much still in effect, as are the low-res selfies cluttered with glittering gifs. The difference is that this time, they’re entirely divorced from the images we painstakingly crafted on our parents’ Gateway desktops. Instagram lets you imitate the exact aesthetic of 2006 in an easy menu format, complete with glitchy, artifacted gifs to select from. Similarly, the glossy, futuristic aesthetics of the Y2K era have resurfaced and peaked a mere decade and a half after their genesis. Pop stars dress like shiny aliens again. We’re even getting an utterly improbable Matrix sequel (good luck with the whole redpill thing these days).

The thing about aesthetics that originated online is that it feels like they never truly die. They are omnipresences to us. If everything functions as it should, the internet acts as a cultural archive where nothing is forgotten as long as the servers stay running (of course, we know what happens when they don’t – and even then, the news cycle is so quick and enough of the archive is squirreled away in other corners of the internet that it doesn’t register as much of a loss). In this space, the artistic and cultural movements that found homes online endlessly sample each other in referential feedback loops, creating shorter and shorter recursive cycles of trends that capitalize on the nostalgias of recent history. Unless there is such a time where we enter a “great ravine” (à la Liu Cixin) that forces us to reckon with a loss of digital media altogether, I would posit that internet-based design movements will become so recycled and self-referential that we may well hit a wall, or an “end of historicity” – an eternal present of quasi-ironic self-sampling in which the broad descriptor of ‘internet culture’ is the whole of the culture itself, and the same nostalgia can pine for both 30 years ago and one week ago.

To see how we got here, it may be helpful to look at vaporwave, which functions both a musical genre and an aesthetic sensibility. The origins of vaporwave are arguably cemented in the mall culture of the early 1990s, particularly the blandly soothing consumerism of piped-in smooth jazz and frozen yogurt shops.  However, new generations of vaporwave composers, often in their teens, have very few malls of this style left to reference, as most have been buried under a few layers of remodels or have closed down altogether. These new composers have constructed a nostalgia removed from any physical basis, one which is only rooted in online archives and has taken on a cyberpunk-lite flavor in relation to its current surroundings. At this point in time, the music and graphics being produced by this subculture have very little to do with the actual sights and sounds of the era it purports to reference (note the anachronistic Greco-Roman busts and Arizona Iced Tea cans that dominate the imagery nowadays) and more to do with a nostalgia for only aesthetic precursors within the genre.

The thing about nostalgia for dead places is that it has to segue into a nostalgia for dead internet ecosystems, being that public spaces are increasingly just transitions between instances of being online. The aforementioned egirl is a mishmash of early Tumblr and MySpace tropes. Vaporwave aesthetics are closer kin to Geocities than they are to the actual, physical consumer spaces of the 1990s. However, our app ecosystem is much more stable than the ones that spawned these aesthetic subgroups. Interfaces are flat, minimal and uncustomizable, or users simply don’t see a need to customize them even if the option is available (I recently made a Tumblr post about how the website’s HTML themes have been largely forgotten by its users, and it racked up a solid 60,000 notes in agreement – on a similar note, when was the last time you saw one of your friends update their Facebook cover image?). As a whole, our current ecosystem is a series of clean, white spaces where content lives, but the space itself does not serve as content. To denote coolness or knowingness, users reference the aesthetics of past networks, as if to say “I was there.” In ten years, I imagine it will be difficult to find someone nostalgic for the aesthetics of 20-aughts Twitter or Facebook, because notably there aren’t any. The nostalgia will be for earlier design tropes, recycled in meme form to become present ones.

It is worth noting that I don’t see this culture-blending as a bad thing, but I do see it as the future of design. In my imagining, the only thing that could pull the plug on these recursions is a force strong enough to yank large swaths of humanity offline altogether. It could be electrical grids collapsing due to solar storms, pervasive wildfires, a failure of undersea fiber optics, or a worldwide shutdown due to political unrest or nuclear devastation. It could even be backlash against Singularity accelerationists should they somehow gain control of the zeitgeist. Whatever the case may be, in the 21st century, I don’t think that offline gets to be cool again. I think for it to be relevant, it has to be inevitable. In the end, I keep coming back to just two options for the aesthetics of the future: utopia, everything existing all at once, in perpetuity – or dystopia, mass deletion, a forced shutdown.


Boy there is just a whole lot going on here

I spend a lot of time looking at apartments for rent in my area. The architecture interests me, and looking for listings that are in my price point is perversely satisfying. I have no intention of moving at the moment, but in a city where dumpy older buildings like mine are often sold out from under their tenants, it’s good to have my eye on a few exit strategies anyway.

However, there is an issue. Specifically, in the newer studio builds, something seems to be missing.

I call this carpet design ‘the snail trail’

Where are all the fucking closets?

Look, I know this is a standard tradeoff of studio living, but when you look at the history of architecture in Seattle it’s pretty obvious that something has changed. The studios from the 1910s and 1920s have closets, some so big I know people who opt to use them as bedrooms. Builds from the 1930s-1960s have big, beautiful built-ins. I’m in a 1980s building right now, and while the storage is impractical (the water heater lives in my closet), it does exist. But from then on, the storage starts disappearing.

I was talking about this with someone at a party, and they told me that per most zoning ordinances, any room that is classified as a bedroom must have a closet. I haven’t really been able to corroborate this in Seattle’s zoning code, but it makes sense that since a studio apartment is more of an all-in-one deal, you don’t technically have to zone for a closet at all (I recently saw a studio listing with the one-room floor plan divided into areas labeled ‘rest’, ‘relaxation’ and ‘relief’ as opposed to the less abstract concepts of bedroom, living room and bathroom). A closetless apartment is also going to be a cheaper and more space-efficient build. So, if you’re a greedy developer, you can line up all of your identical one-room apartments like shoeboxes on a shelf, without having to worry about purchasing doors or altering the floor plan so the closet entrance sits flush with the wall. This is disappointing behavior from a developer, but lazy builds are not at all surprising in a rapidly gentrifying city with a housing shortage.

However, there is definitely a more insidious explanation than cost-cutting.

Seattle used to be a city built for families. Most of the land here is zoned for single-family homes. Then the tech boom happened, and the local economy became almost entirely dependent on young contract workers at the local tech companies, specifically Amazon. These workers are wooed into the city with competitive salaries and subsidized moving costs, spend a year or so at their positions, and then move out of Seattle when their contracts are up (this has also created a booming market for secondhand, barely used West Elm furniture – insert joke about trickle-down economics here). This influx of new residents has resulted in a construction boom in the areas surrounding Amazon’s downtown hub.

The working conditions at Amazon are, of course, not great. Morale is low and recidivism is high. In fact, the company relies on a high turnover rate to keep their spending in line. So, what is the easiest way of getting a large subsection of the population to continually leave their jobs? Make sure they’re never allowed to get comfortable, at work or at home. Make them feel like they are constantly struggling to eke out a stable existence, and they will go of their own volition.

Let’s create a hypothetical tech worker. Jason, 29, is a white college graduate who has recently moved to Seattle from Iowa for a dev gig. He works in one of the new office towers in South Lake Union, which has an open floor plan that requires hotdesking. Each day, Jason shows up early so he doesn’t have to jockey for space with the other devs. It is loud in the office, and someone is always glancing at your screen or eavesdropping on your phone calls. What looked like a breezy agora in the architectural renderings is more of a cattle pen, where cramped, impersonal conditions and sensory overload are the norm.

After a long day of work in the code mines of South Lake Union, Jason returns to his Capitol Hill studio. He only has a minifridge, and the stove is in a shared common area, so he’ll probably just order in. He would love to cook, but he doesn’t have enough space to store food or cookware (Facebook keeps pushing him ads for Soylent, suggesting that he can optimize eating out of his life altogether). In fact, he doesn’t have enough space to store much of anything. By necessity his wardrobe has become minimal, consisting of t-shirts and packable windbreakers. He had a dresser but it took up too much space in his kitchen area. He got rid of his car when he moved to the city, because his building does not offer parking, and street parking is near impossible to find. He got rid of a lot of his leisure items too, as things like snowboards or guitars just aren’t priorities when there is nowhere to put them. Jared would like to feel as if he has a life outside of his job, but there is nowhere to put a life outside of his job. His existence is optimized for staring at screens in tight, shared spaces and utilizing the gig economy to rush-deliver his few creature comforts. If he meets a girl before his contract is up, he dreams of splitting the lease on one of those stately brick one-bedrooms. He might even jump the gun on an imperfect relationship just to do it. Otherwise, he’s worried he’ll get stuck living in what is essentially the company dorm until he leaves the city altogether.

Yes, this is slightly dramatized. It’s also entirely likely.

The battle for fair housing in Seattle has been a long and brutal one. Outdated single-family zoning means that the majority of land in the city can’t be used for high-density builds. The areas that can accommodate new apartments are typically in commercial districts with transportation hubs, and many complain that all the new, cheaply-produced buildings have destroyed the historical character of their districts. In addition, many of these new buildings are financed by hedge funds and shadow investors (once even caught blackmailing the city council!), which has lead not only to the drudgery of identical, unergonomic microapartments that stifle the growth and security of their residents by design, but also to some legal corner cutting. The great irony is that many of these new units sit vacant because the rent is simply too high. This is how investments work in Seattle now – these buildings will be decent liquid assets, and in about 40  years when they have depreciated just enough to be worthless they will be sold, razed and redeveloped again. They are built just long enough to store money, not to provide stable housing on which to build the future of the city.

I’ve been thinking about the apartment a friend of mine once rented in a sparkling, much-lauded LEED-certified building. It was maybe 75 square feet at most, clearly not the legally required 150. There was enough room for two stools and a foam pad that would get leaned against the wall during the daytime. The floor plan was a series of tight, zigzagging corners that opened into a 5’x5′ room, which indicated that this unit was likely sandwiched into the negative space between two regular-sized, humane units. It was clearly illegal, and also a steal. And in 50 years it will probably be gone.



Kevin Lucbert, Méditation #3, 2019

I fired my therapist. I have been informed that because I am a Capricorn, I describe my life as a series of business transactions. I did not cancel my next appointment. I fired her. I dismissed her from her post.

The reason for the firing is as follows: I had just finished telling her a wild story. It wasn’t a heartbreaking story, or a story that would make you concerned for my wellbeing. It was the kind of story you might divulge to someone in a hushed voice as you lean over your drinks conspiratorially, a can you believe this shit?? kind of story. When I finished, she paused, as she often would, and then asked, “have you considered killing yourself?” Before I could splutter much more than a hearty “NO?” she pulled out her day planner and did the sigh-and-resettle-in-her-seat which invariably means: session over. See you in two weeks.

I never expected this therapist to be great. I had opted for a sliding-scale plan that paired me with someone with a fresh PhD and unpolished skills. Her neutral expression was like gazing into the blank eyes of a sheep. She often hit me with long, police interrogator pauses to get me to volunteer more information, even though I’m a forthcoming patient (I have a blog; I’m not exactly the reticent type). None of this was ideal, but I wanted a therapist more as a sounding board than an analyst so I was willing to let it slide. But this question about suicidality felt like she might as well have hit me with her car. Not only was it completely tone-deaf, it also hinted at a dangerous precedent.

What do we do with the millennial who doesn’t have a death wish?

The timing of her question was telling. Suicidality didn’t come up significantly in my intake interview (in fact, I’m sure I must have said that I don’t experience suicidal thoughts), nor did it come up in any of my previous sessions, which had spanned several months. No, instead it came up when I talked about something larger than life, something full of baffling but salacious details. The message, then, was “situations that you do not understand – situations that seem bigger than you and that are functioning on precepts that you have not internalized – should make you want to die.” That message in that moment might be a trigger. If I was someone more impressionable I might then wonder, is something wrong with me that this doesn’t make me want to die? Should I learn to want to die?

I don’t have any big inspirational thoughts about not wanting to die. I’m just not the type. I’m plenty sad, but I’m also hardheaded, and I live with a chronic health condition that gives my self-preservation instinct a solid boost. My father and his siblings are like this too, so much so that I’ve joked about how Too Stubborn To Die should be the family crest. One of my primary motivations might be spite.

But look, I get it! Millennials are depressed. That’s the joke! We make the shitposts! We have student loan debt! We’ve bankrupted ourselves on avocados and Juul pods and it’s all a very tired routine. If you’re looking at memes alone, of course it’s going to look like we’re all in the midst of some mass psychogenic dysphoria. But clearly, my ex-therapist wasn’t looking at memes alone. She was speaking to millennials all day, as the clientele at this office were overwhelmingly young and queer. I’m sure a significant number of her other patients do deal with suicidal ideation. But for the ones that don’t, I believe that she was leaning so hard into the Millennial As Archetype that those of us who didn’t fit her pattern of young-gay-wants-to-die were seen as aberrant. I suspect that if I continued those sessions, she would have no idea how to treat me. Clearly, her burning need to ask that question in that moment signaled that, despite many sessions, she still had no working metric for my average emotional state, and never would.

The hold music at this office was the Mii channel music, which I suppose is telling. Appeal to your clientele. Speak their language. Fit their mold. I didn’t book a session with another therapist there for lack of motivation, but I have idly wondered if they are running some kind of millennial suicidality industrial complex back there. Welcome to therapy! Want to die! No? We can fix that! Please come up with a list of reasons you’d like to die by your next session, and we’ll get to work… Jokes aside, even if it’s not the entire staff, even if it’s just one therapist seeing a handful of clients, the damage is done. It’s not analysis. It’s just wholesale stereotyping and it’s doing the entire field a disservice.


“Hyperobjects…refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans. A hyperobject could be a black hole. A hyperobject could be the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador, or the Florida Everglades. A hyperobject could be the biosphere, or the Solar System. A hyperobject could be the sum total of all the nuclear materials on Earth…

“According to hyperobjects themselves, who seem to act a little bit like the gigantic boot at the end of the Monty Python credits, outer space is a figment of our imagination: we are always inside an object.” – Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World by Timothy Morton

The word ‘blog’ makes me cringe. That wide-open baby bird’s mouth of an O, with consonants big enough to choke on. It’s unbridled pre-recession internet twee, from the era that brought you other unpleasant collections of plosives like ‘dongle’. It also seems like a tired ecosystem, relegated to groan-inducing retrospectives about teenagers roleplaying vampires and suburban mothers running casual pyramid schemes for Tupperware. Remember when Facebook tried to make their blogging framework, called Notes, an integral part of the site’s infrastructure but then subsequently buried them when they realized blogging was out? In an age where everyone and no one is an influencer, and everyone and no one has something important to say as long as it fits into a screenshot of a tweet, the blog is an internet dinosaur.

Blogging also makes me cringe because at one point in time I utterly failed to realize how it could trap me in a network of bullshit that I would be unable to remove myself from.

Per Timothy Morton, we are always inside an object.

I gave blogging a go when I was in my early 20s, and was hanging out in subcultural spaces that employed rigidly codified visual tropes as social currency. Interactions were encoded in your clothing, your haircut. As much as I enjoyed the idea of belonging to a community, my failure to adhere to certain visual expectations, particularly regarding gender roles, could earn me subtle social punishments from the in-group. So I decided to write about it. Filtering groupthink in cultural spaces through psychology and symbology frameworks seemed like a useful thing to do. Moreover, I was young and trying to cultivate my aesthetics for the first time. I thought I would throw up a few outfit posts, talk about presentation and sense of self, and learn how I wanted to be seen by the world.

Shockingly, putting your face on the internet while simultaneously intellectualizing a profoundly anti-intellectual subculture is an easy way to make people very angry with you.

Predictably, the hate poured in. It came from around the world and also from people I most likely knew. They crept through my social media accounts, digging up morsels that inexorably proved how much of an attention whore, a poser, and a crazy bitch I was. I closed down the blog, and put IP trackers on everything else. For years after that, one of those IP addresses would refresh my Tumblr a couple of times a day, waiting for me to do something damning. Even now, when I’m engaging in some pointless online debate, as one does, someone from that era will often step in and say: “We remember you. You’re a vain hypocrite and nothing you say can be trusted.”

In the years since, I’ve made a point of not having very much to say. The internet is an organism that has little short-term memory but endless cold storage (something I’ll be writing about later on), and to navigate it I made myself into a safe commodity, a crowd-pleaser. I’ve barely written anything and I’ve gotten bored. And now it’s 2019, the world is going to hell, and anyone who uses the internet is inexorably webbed into hundreds of interlocking networks of influence and confluence, all of them complicit in the end of the world. So, I thought, I might as well have something to say about it. My goal is to keep this space as a running catalog of Anthropocene design movements, social engineering and communication trends. I may also review an occasional album or book, if it’s on-theme.

It’s not that deep! I can hear you thinking. But that’s the thing. Nothing is deep on its own, but it’s all a part of some other immensity.

The internet barely qualifies as a hyperobject, given its relatively recent invention and a need for upkeep that relies entirely on human infrastructure. However, I like to think that it qualifies on a tiny, controlled scale, sort of like a hyperobject you can keep in a petri dish. In here, I’m just one blip in a huge expanse. Maybe I’ll enrich my little patch. Maybe I’ll get stuck in some other firestorm, but at least there’s some security in knowing that it will never be as big as the one we’re already engulfed in.

“Perhaps this is the most fundamental issue—hyperobjects seem to force something on us, something that affects some core ideas of what it means to exist, what Earth is, what society is.”