Author Archives: Arran James

While politics and ethics get debated someone somewhere is going ahead with gene editing. Personally, re-reading Huxley’s dystopia recently- it seemed better than this dystopia. From the Washington Post:


“We could be on the cusp of a new era in human history,” Nobel laureate David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology said Tuesday, in opening the international summit to examine what he called “deep and disturbing questions.”

“The overriding question is when, if ever, would we want to use gene editing to change human inheritance?” Baltimore said.

That question gained urgency after Chinese researchers made the first attempt at altering genes in human embryos, a laboratory experiment that didn’t work well but did raise the prospect of one day modifying genes in a way that goes far beyond helping one sick person. The process could also pass those alterations on to future generations.


You are trapped in a horrific video game, crawling with bloodthirsty ghouls. There is no way out.

When you reach the final level, the boss monster will eat you alive: GAME OVER.

It’s your move.

Many people reject Buddhist Tantra in favor of Consensus Buddhism, or modernized Theravada or Zen, because those seem realistic. These modernist Buddhisms sweep under the rug all the monsters, miracles, demons and deities of the Pali and Mahayana scriptures. Buddhism is supposed to be rational, scientific, and pragmatic.

Tantra, by contrast, seems incurably infested with magical superstitions.

I take the opposite view. Tantra is brutally realistic—because reality is brutal. It is Sutra (non-tantric Buddhism) that is a fantasy.

Sutra promises the path beyond all suffering. If you do everything right, you can escape this vale of tears into Neverland Nirvana.

Now there is a magical superstition. That fantasy runs far deeper…

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In terms of politics climate change trumps everything else. It should be our primary concern if we want to survive or live with any kind of comfort*. Therefore all design oriented thought and praxis should be oriented to survival. S&W’s book Inventing The Future is pretty dismissive of survival but that seems to be a problem of scale and tone.

In conversations I have seen people agreeing they suspect that Black Panther style “survival until the revolution” counts as a strategy of invention. I discussed this in relation to sociotechnical hegemony and the Panther’s medical activism in a recent post. What marks the difference between “mere survival” and “survival until”? The temporal dimension: the dimension of hope. This is what the left lives on.

That said survival writ large can be the only reason for a perspective capable of joining localities together in a distributed and responsive way such that would allow for an adaptive and agonist strategy of invention. Invention viewed through the lens of the catastrophic becomes a salvagepunk in which there is no pragmatic difference.  Something like S&W’s strategic vision maybe the only one capable of allowing any kin of survival. There is no necessity to any of this.

The real problem is this lack of necessity. This is why it’s politics rather than physics. For instance: they describe a Spainish town as a “communist utopia”. The utopian dimension is entirely internal and depends upon several externalities driven by capitalism. It is a communist society of luxury and equality with freedom within the city limits but that nonetheless depends upon supply chains, resources, logistical networks and material infrastructures of global capitalism.

This massively distributed network of networks is marked with all those bad things that trouble the liberal progressive mind and rouse the socialist and communist to struggle. Except inside the city walls.

My suspicion is that were I one of the inhabitants of this city and I were faced with the call to generate “socialism beyond the walls” I would say:

nah, you’re alright. I’ve got it good.

This communist utopia would thus be empty of communist. The inhabitants, with their comfort and security, might even resemble those of us who have a modicum of comfort. And there is no really compelling argument I can think of that would drive the denizens to think to temporal and spatial scale, except maybe climate change. The trouble is that the motivational power of appeals to climate change are weak right now. Although I’ve read that in coming decades Spain’s olive groves and vineyards may be in jeopardy.

But faced with existential risk I can always hunker down into the local. I really appreciate the work S&W have done in Inventing The Future. But it all comes down to the motivational problem: why should anyone care? Climate change and the existential risk it poses is curiously the one thing they don’t really discuss. This is also something to be fixed “after the revolution”.

I tend to go with the more pessimistic thoughts on the likely outcome of all of this. I think one of the reasons we see ISIS emerge at the same time as we see the neoreactionaries emerge is because they both know something the left doesn’t: in times of extreme crisis and dissolution order and stability become more motivating as they  (seem to) promise higher chances of survival. This is why I’m willing to guess our future might well be the return of (resilient) city states even while I insist regional bodies like the EU are required to ameliorate climate change.

Large scale bodies offer the promise of better coordination across localities and scales to maximize our capacity for action beyond our immediate potencies, a Spinozan-Deleuzian promise S&W refer to as synthetic freedom. This thought might be a symptom of the affliction of hope though- a vestigial illusion of leftism. Maybe when shit gets really bad the same could be achieved to weather the very worst through the deployment of a Confederation of Panarchist Independent Municipalities. A dystopian Bolo-‘Bolo** with umpteen internally socialist-progressive cities, and just as many monarchies or theocracies.

This would be an urban future of the city states that survive. And undoubtedly many would survive. At root then there might be a new political reflexivity being born that circumvents deliberative processes of cognition to sneak in under the radar: we’re already fucked.

The emphasis on the indigenous would thus signify the creeping sense of the inevitable disintegration of global orders, with the possible exception of those markets that pre-exist capitalism.

The peculiarity of this is that it invites the idea that indigeneity has a value wherever its found. The same reflex is shared across the political distribution from the radical left to the re-emergent reactions.

* I never assume that this is what we want. It might be what we say we want but this doesn’t mean its what we actually want. I take it this needs no elaboration.

**This text, at once utopian and pragmatic, local whilst globally aware, may be ripe for a revival of interest. It is a long time since I read it and I no longer have a version of the text to hand so I rely on a reviewer:

This is no dropout project. Rather, the local communities upon which it is founded are contingent upon global flows of information, labour, and materials. Similarly Bolo’Bolo exhibits an unflinching dedication to the present, to beginning from where we are, that differentiates it from many other utopian works.

Much of P M’s plan, therefore, concerns salvage, reclamation, reinvention, and transformation of this world full of stuff that we made (albeit as fruits of an exploitative relationship). It is an adaptive rather than a palimpsest approach. It is not, though, a project of reform or assimilation. Rather it is a revolutionary work with due attention paid to the means by which capitalism might be abolished.

This post is in response to Edmund Berger’s nested reply on a previous thread.

I have delayed writing anything up on Inventing the Future. This hasn’t stopped me writing a bunch of short responses. These have mostly launched on Facebook but I thought I’d stick a thought on S&W’s leftism, the indigenous, colonialism, and the potential death of the left here.

In discursive deployments of indigenous people we can see the updating of an old trope. They are the new third world. They are those who a subset of white western leftists want to save and also be saved by. The revolution will come, when it comes, from the indigenous people’s self-defence of their traditional lifeworld. For instance Sophie Lewis and Dave Bell write that

so many Indigenous and pre-colonial practices, identities, sexualities and cosmologies with liberatory potential have been destroyed in the name of universalism; and whilst these are acknowledged with the claim that there are non-European forms of ‘reason’, ‘science’, ‘progress’ and ‘freedom’ (p. 77), we are not convinced that these decidedly European terms are the most suitable labels for them.

We can’t go back. The point of nihilism is that it is an absolute wave of dissolution. The attempts to make simple returns to traditional societies are bound to fail. Despite that there are examples of virulent hybrid modernist traditionalism in existence right now. These are repetitions of traditional societies that attempt to overcome the anomie and evacuations their life worlds have endured at the expense of western modernism whilst allying themselves with that same modernism. A number of commentators have suggested that ISIS is a modernist movement. We could say that it is a modernist attempt to summon a hyperstitional medieval. From this perspective ISIS becomes a hybrid traditionalist modernism.

Critics who suggest that seeing ISIS as either modernist or medieval as resting on simplistic dichotomies rest assured: the point I am making is less that it is one or the other but that it is a social chimera. While I may be expanding the idea of hyperstitional strategies beyond the idea that they must not code for dogma, I think we can see ISIS as hyperstitional through to its core. It is an artificial memetic loop that has brought itself into being through the use of post-spectacular media manipulation as much as by the deployment of real life militants. It’s war has been on the ground in reality but it has always been an augmented reality, and it has been in people’s heads by way of a media augmented reality. Even the actual Islamic State- the Caliphate- exists more as a hyper-real phantasy than it does a functional traditionalist society. It is still being born.

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There is a post is doing the rounds. It’s got lots of very clever observations on refugees. It begins with Arendt and moves through other philosophers before ending with the author’s own feelings on the subject. And this is it. Philosophical argument, or the appeal to the same, amounts to justifying our feelings. If we’re talking about exile we could say that philosophical thought at its worst is little more than the hypercognitivist exile from feeling. We forget what we feel and rely too heavily on what we can think.

The problem is we can think all kinds of things. And of course we can feel all kinds of ways too. This is the reason we split thought and feeling, cognition and affect, reason and passion, and pretend they are of totally different kinds. In the end they are neural and somatic information states. But I am drifting from the theme of the refugee. If I open with talk of another post it isn’t to dismiss it. I am not and could not write that piece. Maybe I shouldn’t write anything. It is a compulsion with me. If I don’t write I don’t know what I think. I want to talk to you. That’s all. Preamble done I can begin to speak. I feel I must apologise for speaking. I am not allowed.

We talk about a refugee crisis and about refugees. We talk about “the refugee”. These are names. They are not bodies. And we need those names so that we can speak of refugees without having to speak of this or that particular refugee. We talk of spectral things: abstractions that aren’t entirely abstract but which lack bodies of their own. We talk about language. Can the exile, the refugee, find a home in poetry or in a language? This is where our conceptual language let’s us down. The refugee is a category and not a person. A category can find a home in poem and comes from language. This isn’t a refugee or an exile at all. This dwelling on language as if that were something primordial or prior constitutes nothing so much as a home-coming for the category of the refugee.

The refugee always belongs to a language and crosses through the gaps and ruptures between languages. The same for the exile who is even more at home with not being at home in the language of the other. The exile is also always there in the place where he is and is not. The problem with supplanting the refugee with the exile is that the exile has already supplanted the refugee. Here I am in this place where I was born but where I am not at home. Here you come from over there which is already an interior at a distance of over here; here you are in the place where you are not at home. We are not at home. We are both exiled in place and time.

I am a communist in this place where we are not at home. I am a nostalgic nationalist where we are not at home. I am a pragmatist where we are not at home. I am a schizophrenic and a journalist. What are you who comes from over there? What are you who comes from over there to this place where I am not at home? You could be the agent who shows me there was never any home to wish for; or, in a terrible everyday tragedy, you might be the over there over here who makes here more there than home.

In one way of thinking we are all lost together. Swirling amid one another we are all exiles. And I like this idea. I like the cosmopolitan idea of being from nowhere. Existentially homeless each of us drifts around the others and forms temporary moments of connection where we understand with a shared affect a shared gesture a shared momentary lapse of judgement and the laughter a disposition or somatic language whose only home is in our ancestral deep historical womb. I like the idea that we are all cosmic flotsam. I think this is true, for what it’s worth. Here we are as fading ephemera together in a place as inhospitable as anywhere.

Except the problem is no one can really tolerate this idea. In the end it is terrifying. We cling to structures that carve out sense. We look for patterns to call meaningful. We identify like with like and unlike with danger and disgust. We get better. We get less vicious and more inclusive. I am evidence enough. What I miss of my home is the way London is awash with hundreds of languages and a constantly mutating slang that I grew up inside. But I was never at home in that slang or in any of those languages. Who does an exile talk to? Even those with the same words as her do not speak the same language. Exile is a purified anomie. It is a false comfort to pretend that being alone with others who are alone constitutes some kind of weird homecoming.

And the real problem, the problem of those who know their home only once some outside has crossed the threshold, the problem of this particular intolerance, the problem of the terrified – and who eventually is invulnerable to terror?- is the problem that comes in white vans and black cabs and talk radios and suits and ties and brown shirts. It is useless to pretend. It is the very problem of exile that causes these bodies to huddle around broken abstractions and raise them even higher up. Pure Bunker Abstractions: nation, family, religion………HOME.

It is the exile who dreams of home. It is the exile who dreams of violence. The exile forms coalitions against death and these may be open coalitions of cosmic flotsam, or the closed cocoons of a fading familiarity.

What community is this? This excluded and contested term. A sub-philosophical quotation: Albert Camus, The Exile and the Kingdom, too obvious perhaps:

Men who share the same rooms, soldiers or prisoners, develop a strange alliance as if, having cast off their armour with their clothing, they fraternized every evening, over and above their differences, in the ancient community of dream and fatigue.

A basic humanity. A humanity of dreamers who nightly fall side-by-side to sleep; hallucinaters, vivid day-dreamers, nightmare victims. Those going alone through exhaustion. Those trudging. Those crossing borders as much as the border guards. The flotsam of Westphalia. A humanity of emotion enmeshed in a psychopathic order. What good is a poem without bread? This is a vulgar thought unworthy of philosophy. In Camus’ story we have Daru’s identification with the prisoners. What good is that?

But it is true: the category of the refugee is redundant. The order that it belongs inside is crumbling, collapsing, being hollowed out. At the same time the order it belongs to being fought over, as progressive forces seek to capture it and turn it into a platform for better things. Beneath the category what comes through? An action. A practice. A series of practices. These are bodies surviving. First and foremost they survive by fleeing through exit and by forcing an entry and refusing to leave.

There is in fact no such thing as a refugee and there is no refugee crisis. There are bodies struggling to exist thrown up against the limits of nations and their citizens. It is a naked meeting of those who have fled from there to arrive here with those who have remained here because the others did not intrude. Those who are surviving are those who are fleeing an those who are fleeing are those who are arriving. They arrive without arriving caught in a space between exit and entrance. They are held in a suspended realm. What else can be said? That they are sick and that they are dying.

This is what it comes to: the sick and the dying and those who do not want to be sick or to die. Those who are exposed and those who believe as long as the others are exposed they are not exposed.Between these two groups and their supporters what can there be in terms of a language each could call home? What use is it to speak of exile? It is, as it has always been, the citizen against the barbarian terrified of the fragility of the walls.

To refuse internment at the borders of Europe; to want more for your children than charity; to risk everything by crossing seas and land borders – these are all political acts. The newcomer and the migrant are a constitutive force.

A constitutive force is also a force for dissolution, for the acceleration of the breaking down of stability and familiarity, of the known coordinates. The one who arrives from over there doesn’t leave things standing as they were. For some this is a good thing. It bring a destructive force like a forest fire that gives room for new growth. For others it just burns homes down.

I will never forget being in London back in the early 2000s in a pizzeria seeing a man canvassing in a local by-election. An independent on an anti-immigrant tip this black man gave out fliers in an Iraqi owned and operated pizza shop in an area historically Irish but at that point becoming Somalian. I looked on as the son of migrants while this man whose parents must have been migrants castigated about Muslims to Muslims in a Muslim business. This is the face of today’s “refugee crisis” in which we speak of language as a home, or else else of shared joy, or an open space created by difference. Meagre things. Empty things. Artefacts of survival.

The body that dies on the border between inside and outside is a weapon. A constitutive force or a destructive force but never itself. The refugee is the site of the border between two worlds. The fled and the fleeing. The dying and the not really living. The escaping and the exile. She is a weapon and a site that cleaves the world in two. She dies first as herself as she is reborn as a battlefield the size and shape of a human being.

So there are my not very clever observations to add to the clever ones. I am not a refugee and I do not work with refugees and I have known surprisingly few refugees given where I have lived. There is nothing to legitimate my speaking. There is nothing.

There is no refugee. There are dying bodies. There are dying bodies and there are the ones who look away. And there are those who look on all but powerless who try to survive knowing.

At McKamey Manor, people pay to be kidnapped, bound, masked, slapped, stomped on and held under water over an eight-hour ‘tour’. But unlike other ‘extreme haunts’ of the same variety, here there’s no safe word to make it stop

Pathologies of affluence or the terrifying freedom of a “controlled” exposure to vulnerability? There is a third option to considers, in the idea of this presenting a total doomer vision of the future you can experience in the present. At one point the guy behind this extreme haunt, although what it has to do with haunting in the ghostly sense is anyone’s guess, tells us that this is “survival horror boot camp”. The customers of his tortures get to experience the worst imaginable aspects of the future we’re so often promised: it is a collapsetarian Disneyworld. (What did Baudrillard say about Disneyworld?)

This ghoulish genius is a former navy man who will likely have had experience of survival horror in his training and/or deployment. Is the haunting his own? He talks about being a movie director using his cinematic eye to produce a real life theatrical performance. It isn’t real, he insists, even as the torture, drowning, choking, stomping, the terror and the violence is all real. Is it unreal to him because it is a staged re-enactment of some post-traumatic vision? And he claims that although it isn’t real it is an experience of the real he aims for. He uses cinema’s irrealism in the real world to generate an real experience- at least in terms of the emotions. He says we are too numb and his horrors produce the real terror we’re looking for.

And driving it all? People watching videos of the violence and claiming it isn’t real enough, that it doesn’t go far enough. And the hell house has to respond, the lunatic mind of the man behind it has to bring his traumatic hallucinations ever further into the materiality of flesh and blood. The very people who are symptomatic of the emotional numbness the haunted house is supposed to correct but for whom it instead only drives them on: all the terrible images of liveleak made just for them, and with the promise of a grim vision of participation. A terrible feedback loop of seductive horror.

This is a community exchanging places in one another’s insanities. Sadists and masochists who have no idea where their limits are, people caught between the flashbacks of a possibility damaged fighter-cum-director, who resembles a genuinely Ballardian kind of psychotic genius offering violence as therapy, and the post-catastrophic violences rehearsed in The Walking Dead and insane-psycho-slasher-family movies like the Hills Have Eyes.

“This is a live theatrical performance,” says McKamey, who majored in theatre studies before joining the navy. “It’s not real. If people were really hurt we’d be shut down. It’s smoke and mirrors.”

And here is the ultimate appeal: the harms inflicted cannot be real because there is no other stepping in to declare them real, no agency outside of and transcedental to the situation that can arbitrate and decide. This isn’t an invocation of god but it is an invocation of some stable force that would be capable of assuming the responsibility of the regulation of reality. But in the tortured worlds of those who live through it is it so simple as to say that this is the repetition of a trauma beyond McKamey’s or his clients? Is it too trite to say that once again these people symptoms of nihilism?

Mightn’t it be hat McKamey’s insane therapeutics is actually a more or less conscious attempt to dwell where it is impossible to dwell. He is designing an environment of the worst for his clients so that they might be able to affirm even that, even their own pain and horror. They move into the depths of an abyss necessarily delivered by human hands. They attempt to breathe in a zone of drowning. They attempt to extract pleasure from total abjection.

It isn’t my idea of fun, but as I sit here with a black eye and the lingering effects of a concussion, I have to wonder whether this isn’t a bizarre kind of therapy of exposure to and attenuation of an anticipated malevolent reality. These are our darkest bearers of the idea of survivalism. The first blood drawn by the idea of Fight Clubs, of stripping back all this civilisation bullshit, and of getting into the primal zones of our animality; is this the therapy enacted here? Perhaps McKamey is offering the world’s first dramaturgical exorcism of mind’s haunted by the catastrophic world. After all, the entire point as he McKamey understands it is the production of cortisol and adrenalin and activation of the primeval survival mechanisms that have propelled our species this far.

“Every year it’s got more crazy, more aggressive. We wouldn’t be infamous if we weren’t able to deliver the product.”

Which is?

A sly grin. “100% fear. We’re good at it. We’re the best at it.”

In an age of free floating anxiety disarticulated from the specific content of our post-traumatic subjectivity and an increasingly pre-traumatic anticipatory stress, the horror house is selling concrete objects, real tortures and abuses, that might ultimately serve as justifications for that anxiety. The horror of the real becomes the real of horror and we are finally relieved of the burden living within the noxious air of a nameless lurking dread; although the poisoned miasma does not clear, these survivalists, or those who can go all the way, are able at last to breathe.