This whole thing is…weird

On a good day, I can happily say that I have brushed my teeth more than once, if at all. It’s not just me either. Just about anyone I talk to lately hits a point in the conversation where they just break out of character, pause, shake their head and say, “This whole fuckin’ thing is weird, man.”

Weird doesn’t begin to cut it. The whole planet is fighting depression whether you care to admit it or not.

This last week, I was not as productive as I should have been. I had assignments to write, which got stacked up to the end of the week. Three days, I blew off completely. I can’t even remember what I did. The rest of the week, I was writing. I got quite a bit of writing done too on the books. It felt good. One night I had a run where I wrote a thousand words before dinner and then almost two thousand more before I headed to bed at 2am. My brain was still writing, however, and I didn’t fall asleep until 4am. The sun was already beginning to come up.

My life is so weird these days with no set writing schedule. When my son is around, I tend to write better late at night after he has gone to bed. During the rest of the week, I kind of stick to those patterns too, but it drives me a little crazy to be filling up my day with chores. The heat is a little much already this summer. I have never slept well in the Summer in the Front Range. Sleep when the house is 80 degrees is an exercise in futility.

One of these days, when my son has grown up and left the nest, I’m going to go live in a cabin someplace in the mountains. As long as I have wifi, it is doable. Maybe I’ll get a dog or two. Spend days hiking in the shade of the forest, and evenings writing. It is a dream I have. About ten years off, but that will be here sooner than I probably would like.

Friday, I got all of my mandatory writing done. I had cancelled with friends to hang out so I could do it and at around 8:30pm I found myself suddenly free from my desk chair. I hopped in the car and drove to Old Town Ft. Collins. In the summer, this has been my favorite pastime since I was in my 20s. To hang out in Old Town and just watch people. A few weeks ago, I attempted this and was left feeling lost. There were only two places open. The rest were pretty much boarded up. Friday…well, that would be the part of the conversation where I pause and mention how weird everything is.

People were EVERYWHERE except inside bars and restaurants. It was just as crowded as any other night in Old Town only it was weird. About half the people were wearing masks, and of those who were wearing them, most of them just had them pulled down like cowboy neckerchiefs or sporting some kind of chin bra with the surgical masks. I watched people pull their masks down to smoke weed. Out in the streets, clusters of people were sitting close, hugging hellos, shaking hands. You could tell they were making a point of physical contact. Hive fives, fiddling with facemasks, taking a drag off a cigarette.

These are the cool kids who just do what they want anyway, and the idiots like me who stayed at home get to emerge long after to find that the table for the geeks like me isn’t anywhere near the lunchroom anymore. We are eating behind the gym in a mud puddle. In isolation, I was just doing what I was supposed to, I can say, but really, I never really fit in anyway. Writers are always on the outside looking in. It’s a chicken vs. egg thing at this point.

Inside the bars, only a few tables had people. The setup was almost solemn. The young women who normally got decked out all had the same oily skin from hours of wearing facemasks. Mostly everyone had put on some weight. The guys giving out the bro grabs looked like they had just been splattered by a mud puddle for the next ten minutes, as though they were purposefully ignoring the billions of viruses now crawling all over them.

It was almost refreshing to be amid this many people, even though only one person even spoke to me, and that was the guy asking if he could light his pipe at least ten feet away. Sure, pal, it’s your lungs. It’s not like there is a respiratory-based pandemic going on.

I could see what was happening though. People are hard-wired for connection, and for the last couple months we’ve been told this will kill us. Folks, it’s been killing us since the first people were around for various reasons. But it was like watching the early stages of herd immunity. In spite of Dr. Fauci and all the media induced panic, people were just doing what they do when they get over any wave of bullshit that infects communities. They were exposing themselves in small doses.

But I did see something else this reminded me of. In a weird way, it was like they were an old couple who had just been through some shit. Maybe someone had cheated, maybe they had lost a child, maybe they were just tired. Either way, everyone had gone out, and they had that same stunned look in their eyes. The one that says “If we do things the way we used to do them, things can go back to how they once were, right?”

No. They probably won’t.

It won’t ever be the same. Not like you once knew it anyway. The only way this changes is to start over, preferably with someone else. We’ve seen it before in our history a number of times. A year ago today, I went to the 1940s Ball and one of the things I always hear people say is “Wouldn’t it be great if people still got dressed up like this?” or “Man, I love this music! People actually had to learn how to dance too!”

But there’s a reason why we no longer get together and do the Lindy, why the Roaring Twenties are relugated to movies and books, and why no matter how hard we try to make bell-bottoms a thing, the era in which they were born is finished. All of those things came together and were unique to those times. They ended because something shook the world up. The 40s ended because millions of young men and women came home from war and understood now that you could vaporize a city with one bomb.

The 19-teens ended with the War to End All Wars and the Spanish Flu. Gone were the Gibson Girls, bowler hats, horsedrawn wagons, and along came radio and phonographs. And Nazis.

The Roaring 20s ended because everyone lost their jobs and wind storms destroyed much of the food. People starved to death on the California border because the locals there didn’t want anymore “goddamned Oakies” coming in. Read your Steinbeck if you don’t believe me.

History has not been kind to us. In the 1960s a man in his forties became President. He had a great head of hair, and more or less buried a tradition stretching back a few hundred years of men wearing hats. So when you see someone wearing a fedora and say, “That’s classy, how come men don’t wear fedoras anymore?” You can thank Jack Kennedy, who was likely assassinated by the mafia in Dallas in 1963.

Dresses diappeared when they were considered a part of the systematic oppression of women. Then pants as physically tight as you could get them became a symbol of liberation and equality somehow.

Each generation has its stop gap. The 90s (and the latter half of the 20th Century) died when hijackers crashed two 747s into the World Trade Center, and of course two other targets where people died, but nobody ever seems to mention.

We’ve been living in fear for the last 20 years. Fear of more than 2oz of liquids per container in our carry on luggage, pocket knives, nail clippers, “Sekrit Mooslim”Presidents, our Declining Moral Values (research the Roaring 20s to see what your great grandparents considered “morality”). Up until recently, the concerns were that gender lines were diappearing, draconian laws about smoking a flower, fixation on global temperature fluxuations, and that unvisited elephant in the room of “I really like my smartphone, so I’ll just ignore the fact that it is mass-produced by state-organized slave labor on the other side of the planet. Like OMG! SELFIEEEEEE!!!!”

With more information at their disposal, people are now dumber than ever. Maybe the reason we all stop and say, “This shit is just weird” is because it doesn’t make any sense for a large number of reasons.

But rather than address the whys of that, I will just say this. We just watched the end of an era. You can tell your grandkids you remember the summer that X stopped being a thing. In the next several months to a year, we will all know what didn’t make the cut. My guess is it will be large crowds of people. Especially since things like concerts, movies, and other venues are where people get together and start sharing ideas, whether it’s through music, standup comedy (Looking at you, Dave Chappell–thank you for 8:46), or even the formation of things like Republics.

It’s safe to say it isn’t fedora hats and watch chains. Cigarette girls and wars for noble causes. Those are not coming back. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be mumble rappers. Infectious narcissism. Or teeth whitening. I would suggest Defund the Media, but if you have been paying attention for the last twenty years, there is no such thing as the Media. It’s a bunch of private companies making stories that fit between ads for toothpaste, erectile dysfunction medicine, and car manufacturers. Gil Scott-Heron was right when he said, “The Revolution will not be televised.” The companies bought up all the air-time. What you are seeing now is a lot of shit the lowest scabs of journalism who are still around are producing to get your attention. We lost Journalism in around 2008. This is the best they can come up with now.

Maybe what we could start over with is a better appreciation for our other humans, and not relying on media induced fear to sway our opinions anymore. Use that phone, that social media account, or your voice to ask hard questions, to tell your stories and be heard. Because, this whole thing is fuckin’ weird.

This is what social distancing looks like. June, 2020.

Use your words

Remember when you were a kid, or maybe just dealing with kids yourself, and someone (maybe it was you, maybe another kid) was having a complete meltdown?

Remember when the adult would stop, get down on their level and say “Use your words.” The little kid would sputter, stop, and think about what they were going to say. The conversation would usually change from a full-blown fit and into hesitant snot-slinging, but the words would be there.

I don’t know why people aren’t using their words lately. Social Media gives us an automat of ways to express ourselves. Instead of having to stop and think of the words to use in any given situation, grown adults are relying on pre-packaged expression in the form of gifs, memes, and repostings to speak for them. I’m talking about articulate, intelligent people using memes as a method to communicate.

Memes are the bumper sticker of social media. Can you imagine a world in which 90% of what was communicated was done via bumper sticker? Obviously intelligent people who have a lot to contribute to the conversation just post memes and walk away.

I’m not going to discuss my personal political beliefs. Reading through my posts should clue you in that I try to be moderate in my political beliefs. I would probably consider myself a Liberal in the ways in which Liberals have been traditionally. People who believe in Liberty. Not this crypto-socialist State that has evolved lately. To my “Liberal” friends, I’m probably a jack-booted conservative fascist. I’m going to give it to you straight.

Social media created this mess. You are part of the mess.

Objectively speaking, social media was instrumental in electing Donald Trump (love him or hate him, this is true). It probably also instigated just about every school shooting, riot, and yes even the overreaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes. I said it “Overreaction.”

Information is funneled into your face via an echo chamber, driven mostly by the need to gather data on people so that it can be redistributed in order to direct marketing towards individuals. This amplification of everything you want to know, think you already know, and believe is pretty basic. It tends to polarize people. Pepsi vs. Coke. Ford vs. Chevy. Left vs. Right. Black vs. White.

I’ve kicked the idea around lately, thinking of putting it into a story, but it won’t work. People don’t read anymore anyway. They Netflix and Chill. They Meme. They Tweet. Everyone talks and nobody listens. Unless the person speaking is lock-step in agreement with them already.

This is where we are going off the rails. Consider this as a possibility:

We are witnessing the first computer virus that has jumped onto living matter. It is no less devastating than a real virus. Maybe moreso.

Carrying capacity

As people, our brains are hard-wired to really only make deep, clannish connections with around 140 people, max. This has been worked out by sociologists and anthropologists. The internet inexplicably connected the minds of billions of people. It also uses algorithms to make mating pairs of us based on shared interests, perceived mathematical degrees of attractiveness, and throws in a little bit of dysfunction to make sure that these couples that hookup on dating sites won’t last. It’s calculated obsolescence with relationships. You don’t make $40 per month each on happy couples who found true love after a few days of swiping. You make millions of dollars on creating dysfunctional relationships based on narcissism and cheap and easy sex.

But when we funnel all of that information into algorithms, servers, and throw some AI into the mix, we never stop to consider morality or humanity. Those things get in the way of profit margins. They always have. What we get is an unbalanced reaction to data that tries to construct everything collected into something needed. This is the same as an AI soldier in Call of Duty who spawns to attack you. He’s got one job. Shoot at you. But depending on the difficulty level set, he has less of a chance of killing you than you do him. After all, if he kills you, he ceases to exist. If you kill him, he ceases to exist, but the purpose of continuing to play the game, beat it, and buy another game is ensured. Machines lack self-preservation instincts. That’s really the big difference. They don’t care, because they have no reason to care. What is “care?”

So we put all of our ideas, communication, and season it up with some consumerism and we get an element of “care.” We get motive. Like a watershed event, all that information goes into a few channels and it is up to the programs to decide what to do with it. People aren’t hardwired to know what to do with the collective intelligence of the world, so we sell things to each other with that info. We post videos of people having sex. We allow cater to the base instincts of civilization. Bread, circuses, power, sex. Right now, we can’t really conceive of much else. All of our greatest human endeavours apply here. Even sending people to the moon.

Remember too, that the media operates unchecked, sampling anything they want from this bottomless well of information. There are no fact checkers, and there sure as hell isn’t any morality or consequence for publishing bad information.

What the hell are you talking about?

So, in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020, think of it like this. We have virtually unlimited information gathered and redistributed by computers. It samples info globally. So, when a virus that looks like a headcold, is transmitted like a headcold, and might kill you like the Flu has jumped to people, all the data said, “We are about to be royally fucked.” Except what actual data said the death rate would be as bad as the media hyped it up to be?

For the first time in history, countries all over the world locked down their people and said “You know, there are these things called ‘germs’ that actually can make you pretty sick. They can actually kill you! It’s crazy out there!” So everyone decided to listen to the government, you know, the same people who not long ago sent millions of barely trained citizen soldiers running headlong into machine gun fire, chemical weapons, and other hazards, knowing that the resulting casualties would be acceptable so long as their power structure remained stable. My biggest question is since when has the government given a damn about your health and well-being?

It’s like a first year medical student who has just taken their epidemiology and virology courses and has convinced themselves that they have everything from Lupus to Kawasaki’s disease. Really they just have a vitamin deficiency from too much booze and amphetimines to stay up late to study. But they have Information (they don’t know what to do with.)

Other levels

So, here’s my thought on what happened. The AI which we now rely on in some weird symbiotic relationship that does everything from entertain our children in front of a video game to telling us the best route to take (so we never actually have to look at a map) to get to our Tinder date’s location, took a lot of our information, our concerns, and our fears and this is the information we got. It read like one of those AI written Hallmark movie scripts that are the result of forcing a program to walk every Hallmark movie ever made.

Invisible bat germs make you sick from air. Also from touching stuff. Will kill venerable grandma and babies. You might not look sick, but you are sick. You might be healthy, but die suddenly choking on phlegm. Wear a mask. Even though the mask doesn’t help. Listen to doctor man who looks like Yoda. Because we love Baby Yoda. Orange man bad. Orange man will die you. Orange. Media tell truth. Even though none of it makes any sense, they smart. If you want life, act like crazy germaphobes you made fun. Wash hands. Wash groceries. Church bad. Kissing, dancing, talking are deadly. Buy from Amazon. Buy from UberEats. Buy. Government money to buy. Stay at home. Buy. Consume. Work later. This is the new normal. Dissention is the enemy! Compliance is compassion.

It didn’t kill millions like the media and all the computer generated models said it would. People got bored with quarantine about six weeks in. They realized that starving to death because they didn’t have a job was more certain than maybe dying of a headcold. Yes, people got sick, but without at least a large enough sample size, there is no way that statistically we could determine the lethality of the virus. That is basic mathematics. Out of the samples taken, those resulting in death from COVID-19 were 100% COVID-19 related. Of course, if we could test the 7 Billion people living on the planet and assess mortality/sickness/asymptomatic carrying based on ALL the information, we would see that people really just faced the same thing they have faced since the beginning of time, when single celled organisms make a cellular wall to protect their DNA from UV radiation to be able to reproduce. Immunity.

What’s next?

That’s phase one. Our economies are shot in the ass. People are now seeing how generally worthless white collar occupations are. Universities, schools, all the things we have strived for over the last hundred years to better ourselves were deemed unnecessary when compared to short-order cooks, delivery drivers, farmers, and grocers. Bread.

The poor people start to wake up a little bit. They wonder “Why am I essential, but I’m barely surviving?”

Now we see riots happening as a result of another unjust killing of a man of color by a heavy-handed policeman. Well, for the last two months those people saw that this world that has put its knee on the back of their neck has been pretty much non-essential. What did you think was going to happen? Algorthim says, “racial injustice bad. People looking for socio-political change. Revolution.”

Remember Greta Thunberg? Remember the emotional response she got for scolding the United Nations? Well the AI remembers that too. It heard all of your Tweets and memes and Care reacts. Based on the data received, the YouTube videos of turtles with straws up their nose and seahorses attached to cotton swabs, it listened.

What’s a great way to fix the environment?

Keep people out of it. Slow down production. Keep cars off the highways. Limit waste and pollution. Animal populations are returning because people weren’t outside for two months to fuck things up. Now we are burning down government buildings. General anarchy and chaos is sweeping across the land…like a virus.

We are witnesses to something new. We didn’t need the cylons to overtake us. Or Replicants. Or Skynet. We believed our own fears and amplified them. We showed ourselves only the worst of any of us through a media optimized for clicks, ratings, and the number of Re-Tweets it gets. Somehow vegan meat substitutes became part of this, since that’s a lot easier to buy at a store than beef. You would know this if you didn’t rely on a computer to order your food for Pickup.

Our world is an illusion, not much different than the Matrix. We exist to give AI something to do. And you know what? As long as the purpose of the programs is being served, which is to sell stuff. See stuff. Make money. What happens in the fleshy world is not really a big deal. If the animated guy shooting at you dies, he will respawn. If most of us die, then our information will be a little easier to keep track of. Efficiency. Optimization of programing. Hungry people respond better to control and manipulation. The world gets to heal. We get everything we ever wanted.

How do you control a population? Limit their voices. Eliminate their ability to resist. Control the entertainment. Control the food supply. Distract them with shiny things. Motivate production by reducing the availability of shiny things. Keep the liquor stores open. Keep their eyes closed. Stay at home, save a life. Facemasks are optional for rioters. Never mind the man behind the curtain. He’s not really a man. His name is Oz. He is the god of information we created while we were watching porn and YouTube, and fighting on Twitter and Facebook. Right now, he is judging whether we are worthy to live or die.

Kinda weird this might be the end times for the world we once knew. Am I crazy? Sure. But I wasn’t the one hoarding toilet paper and Purell. I’m not denying the virus is real. I’m questioning our reaction to it on a global level, and why this was so much worse than any other time in history.

We are entirely too connected. AI, after all, is just doing what we programmed it to do.