Planning a tour, would you like me to visit you?

I have received just enough speaking invitations to announce that I'm pretty much embarking on a DIY book tour. Basically how punk bands do it: no agents, no rules, no frills. Would you like my wife and I to visit your town, for me to give a talk? For normal organizations, I would have normal expectations regarding financial stuff; but if you're just a random person, please do reach out and let's see what we can do. Email me at jstnmrphy [at] gmail [dot] com.

Here is a list, roughly in chronological order of my expected visitation, of places where I currently have at least one formal invitation of some kind or another. If you're anywhere in between these places (basically anywhere in Europe or the USA), and would like me to pass through, please let me know!

I'm not sure I'm going to make all of these, though I'd like to. This is why I'm asking if there's anyone else out there who'd like me to pass through their town: the more spots, the more likely I can connect these dots...

If you're on another side of the world I could still come, but then I'd definitely need travel costs covered.

London - March 1 - Location TBA
Southampton - March 4 - University of Southampton (I know, right?)
London - March 10 - Location TBA
Utrecht, Netherlands - March - Location TBA
NYC - March/April/May - Location TBA
Chicago - March/April/May - BridgeUSA @ University of Chicago
Salt Lake City - March/April/May - Location TBA
Portland - March/April/May - Location TBA
Gainesville - May/June - Location TBA

Let me know if you live anywhere near these places and would like for us to pass through. Or maybe you're on tour and you'd like for us to join you, that would be cool. I'm pretty much as free as I could possibly be at the moment, and we do want to have kids and settle sooner than later, so for the next few months there's no proposal too crazy I won't consider it!

Explaining Who Gets to Speak at Universities

I recently received the following question from a journalist (paraphrased): "Universities host many Islamist extremists as speakers, but they order comedians performing on campus to not offend transgender sensibilities. Could you comment on this double standard in light of your own experience?"

Here is what I wrote in response. I don't have precise research or data to back up every claim here, to be clear, but this is how I currently see the matter.

People imagine there is some sophisticated explanation for all of this, but the best explanation is probably the most simple and classic one, to be honest. I think it's almost all about money, specifically liability. Right-wingers criticize academic administrators for being “cultural Marxists,” but this gives administrators way too much credit. Academic administrators have no principles, they are just untrained business people trying to keep government money flowing into their glorified real estate businesses (which happen to have some classrooms tacked on). Islamic extremists are allowed to talk because they’re afraid of the financial implications of getting labeled racist; comedians are not allowed to joke about gender because they’re afraid of getting labeled sexist. Meanwhile, academics have to focus on customer satisfaction — that is, placating students — because results on the National Student Survey affect the university’s income in the following year.

To be perfectly frank, right now higher education in the UK is suffering from multiple, severe crises: Appallingly low morale across academic staff (too nervous to express it publicly); criminally overpaid and outright incompetent Vice-Chancellors; the suffocation of intellectual
life by extraordinary quantities of meaningless paperwork and performance metrics; increasing awareness that teaching does not actually work; Soviet-Union-levels of collective delusion in the form of polite euphemisms to describe every obviously unsustainable problem. And all of this at a time when digital technologies are replacing nearly all traditional institutions with sleek, cheap, easy-to-use platforms? There is an unspeakable but widespread sense that the higher education system cannot last much longer, but people want to keep their jobs. So many administrators will just say and do whatever is going to keep the money flowing until tomorrow.

People get confused about the weird academic politics of who is, or is not, allowed to speak, but that’s because people assume there is some social or political principle at work. If you think there is any principle other than money, you’re going to be really confused for a long time, because the reality is that academic administrators are just straws in the wind. They’ll allow today what they’ll ban tomorrow, and vice versa, depending on whatever they think will protect their financial interests.

On that note, are you a current or former academic with a personal story on this front? I have a new little experiment called AcademiaLeaks, where anyone can anonymously submit their craziest stories from the ivory tower. You might not be able to tell them, but I can! Submit a story here.

Deleuze, Cybernetics, Evolution, Academics

Alexander Galloway thinks that Deleuze sees cybernetics as an enemy, or even the enemy:

Such a strange little text, this 'Postscript on Control Societies.'... The complaint is articulated in terms of control, communication, and the 'harshest confinement' wrought by 'the new monster' of information society... So why not call Deleuze's adversary by its true name: the enemy is cybernetics...

I find this intriguing because I've never thought this at all. As the Postscript suggests, contemporary societies operate through cybernetic control processes, i.e. distributed feedback processes. Today, political oppression is cybernetic, in this sense. But in the Deleuzo-Guattarian perspective, as far as I can see, liberation will also be cybernetic. As Erinaceous points out on /r/CriticalTheory:

Guattari loved cybernetics. He was heavily influenced by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela who were second generation cyberneticians. [A Thousand Plateaus] is also loaded with references to early Chaos Theory which comes out of cybernetics... What bothered both Deleuze and Guattari was the idea of centralization and control...

So which is it? Here is a kind of meta-theory, which I think clarifies the Deleuzo-Guattarian perspective on cybernetics and also why people will disagree about it.

At the root of the confusion here is that theoretical models of empirical reality do not have normative charges, unless you subscribe to a strong version of social constructivism. If you're a social constructivist — if you believe that objective reality is downstream of language — then holding and abiding by a theory can be good or bad. Whether it's accurate or useful hardly matters, because it's the theory-holding that determines reality.

I do not know Galloway's work very well, but on this point, we can see that he is a strong social constructivist, simply because he thinks a theory (cybernetics) can be bad (an enemy).

I reject this view. In my view, objective realities exist outside of language, and human projects succeed only to the degree they abide by reality (though our projects can change reality, they can only do so if they abide by it). Therefore, empirical and normative "goodness" are perfectly aligned, necessarily. To the degree a theoretical model accurately fits the data of the world, it is good. That's that. If you would like to foment collective liberation, your only chance is to embrace the truest possible theories of reality, more radically than status quo institutions embrace them, and act on them with more fidelity than status quo institutions act on them. This is the vision of revolutionary politics held here at Other Life, and chief among our teachers were Deleuze and Guattari.

Deleuze and Guattari were not social constructivists in the way that has become fashionable since the 1990s. This is the reason Galloway's take feels off, and why so much Deleuze scholarship feels like it's from a different planet than the one Deleuze inhabited: Deleuze did not subscribe to a strong social constructivism, but most academic theorists today do, whether it be with deep personal sincerity or merely out of social/disciplinary necessity.

If cybernetics provides a useful model of empirical realities, then state-of-the-art political regimes will rule their subjects in a fashion consistent with its principles. Any successful project of liberation would use tactics equally consistent with its principles, if not more so. Cybernetics cannot be an enemy, unless you think it's bad to be right, and you actually have no interest or incentives to make a revolutionary project succeed — and here we see the problem. If you're an academic theorist in the humanities today, you generally think that the will-to-be-correct is an ethically dubious drive to dominate. It is now essentially the raison d'être of humanities academics to raise normative objections to the truest available theories. (All theories are false, technically, but "true" here just means optimally consistent with the data.) Reality is brutal, therefore the truest theories are the most brutal, therefore the highest-status work in the humanities will be that which makes the truest theories look as ugly as possible.

Evolution is another example. Traditional Christians once seemed stupid and backward for their horrified opposition to the implications of evolutionary theory. Today, academics in the humanities seem smart and sophisticated for their horrified opposition to the implications of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary psych is sexist and racist, machine learning and AI are sexist and racist, everything that works becomes an enemy.

Cybernetics and evolution name basic principles of reality, and they help to explain our oppression as well as our flourishing. These concepts help to explain why capitalism is so hard to overthrow, but they also explain how we heat our homes (the thermostat being a classic textbook example of a cybernetic device). Humans flourish through technoscience as intelligence instantiated, and we try politically to contain the anti-social implications of technoscientific reality-penetration, but capitalism is what happens when intelligence escapes its last political box and starts replicating until we eventually become the objects of its manipulation. We started with the idea that we’d buy and sell things to advance our interests, leveraging the cybernetic price system like we leverage the thermostat to keep our house’s temperature in equilibrium. Before we knew it, the price system evolved new types of people that better suited its interests, and now we are so many thermostats in the service of capitalism.

There is still, in principle, the possibility of generating systemic liberation dynamics via cyberpositive tactics. The big questions of the late 21st century, however, will be: Can the human desire for liberation dynamics beyond capitalist exploitation pass the empirical bottleneck of intelligence takeoff, given the brutally unforgiving requirements involved, and can the intelligent pass the bottleneck of destructive hordes who fear they cannot pass the bottleneck of intelligence takeoff?

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliant Production Model

In 1836, when his Twitter profile still showed nothing but some obscure username and the face of a Roman statue, Ralph Waldo Emerson published a badass blog post called Nature. The day before he clicked "post," he setup a private chat forum called the Transcendentalist, which he hosted on a web service called Discord. He was only a mediocre Harvard graduate recently resigned from his position as minister of Boston's Second Church. He resigned from that role a few years earlier, in 1832, to begin a new career in livestreaming. Back then they called it lecturing.

To this day, most people still don't realize that lecturing is a career you can begin whenever you feel like it, despite having no past accomplishments, no published books, no agent, and no institutional affiliation. Emerson had some haters who said he'd never pull it off; to them he said, "Hold my beer, normies!" And with that he shared a link to his Nature post on Twitter and let's just say it got a lot of retweets. A year later he gave a private livestream to the Phi Beta Kappa society, an address we now know as The American Scholar.

In The American Scholar, one of Emerson's basic messages was this: "You're all a bunch of degenerate sheeple who spend too much time on bureaucratic nonsense. If you wish to be an intellectual, you are accountable to nobody but the clear blue sky, so quit being such a big bunch of pussies and get after it. Oh and party at my house in Concord!"

From there, he was off to the races and never looked back. He would spend the rest of his life doing public lectures, converting these lectures to written essays, and then selling books, which were typically just collections of his essays.

Hat tip to Jonathan Havercroft for reminding me about the Emerson production model. The Portable Emerson contains all of the works mentioned, as well as a nice short biography.

On Being Fired (How Academia Got Pwned 12)

This is the twelfth post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. This will probably become a book. If you'd like to hear about that when it happens, be sure to subscribe. In fact, now that I'm living out of a backpack and I have received a few invitations, a book tour seems to be spontaneously self-organizing. If you'd like for me to come through your area, please let me know and I'll see what we can do.


[The numbering below does not reflect any formal order or logic. It's just to indicate the relatively stand-alone nature of each item, and the somewhat random chronology in which they came to me.]

1. Many theorists say that social reality is splintering, but how many theorists gamble their life on this claim?

2. Different types of people see predictably different streams of media, have predictably different interpretations of objective facts, and repeat what they learn in predictably different ways, with predictably different consequences, in predictably different subspaces of society. One of the most significant categorical differences among individuals, in this regard, is the difference between those who genuinely search the data of the world for an increasingly true understanding, versus those who scan the data of the world looking for rewards.

3. When one's grasp of these predictable differences reaches a certain threshold, it becomes possible to tell one story — honestly and clearly, with no irony or gimmicks — while also producing systematically different interpretations in different heads. To admit this reality, and to choose one's words accordingly, is not cynicism or dishonesty, but classical oration with digital sophistication. There is dishonesty in speaking to the world as if every person will receive every message in the same way, or at all.

4. There are three different audiences in the theatre of my life. My first audience is composed of the people in my personal life, to whom I have obligations I consider just and binding. Call it Level 1. The second is composed of the people who read my blog and watch my videos and hangout in my server; I've heard it called the Murphyverse, let's call it Level 2. The third are all the normies of the world who happen to have some vague and distant interest in me and my affairs. For instance, other academics aware of my work but also the random person who read one of the Daily Mail headlines about me. These people are Level 3. Who sees what, when, and where, and how they interpret it, differs vastly but predictably. Having observed this closely throughout my protracted 4-month controversy, I now possess a highly granular communications infrastructure. To give you just one concrete example, if I say something significant in the 46th minute of a generically titled Youtube video, it will only ever become known in Level 2, and quite quickly by nearly everyone in Level 2. (Unless it's something scandalous, which always has the possibility of getting picked up by Level 3).

5. I've labeled the Levels to reflect the rank ordering of my ethical obligations, as far as I can see them. There is rarely a defensible reason to make any significant life decision with any respect to Level 3. These people could not care less about you, first of all, and any lifestyle at all dependent on the vicissitudes of Level 3 is worse than fragile. For a real intellectual, it is nothing short of doom. One should generally be as icy as possible toward Level 3, which is composed mostly of idiots following idiots. Level 2 is like extended family, you must love them and give them your all, but also keep enough distance that you don't spread yourself too thin. Level 1 deserves the most undivided and unconditional care. When life becomes complicated and priorities are difficult to sort, truly good and honorable people generally use the simple algorithm of deferring to Level 1.

6. Warhol was wrong about the future, when he predicted that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. In the words of Momus, "In the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people." In 1953, of the American families that owned a TV, about 72% of them watched I Love Lucy at its highest point. That was about 44 million viewers. By one estimate, a popular episode of The Joe Rogan Experience might reach 190 million people, or 12% of the English speaking world (and that's with unlimited playbacks on multiple devices at any time). Therefore, what's impressive and significant about one of the world's biggest podcasts is not how many people watch and listen, but how few. Outside of a few particular occupational or social milieus, there is no location in the English speaking world where you can assume anyone in your Level 1 has watched or heard any particular episode, or even knows anything about the show. What's most interesting about famous people today is that nobody has ever heard of them.

7. To constitute an intellectual life necessarily involves strategic navigation of the meme pool, and yet optimizing for memetic reproduction per se is to betray the intellectual vocation. There is nothing sinister or superficial about memetic fitness; any intellectual you admire enjoyed memetic fitness, by definition, because you learned about them in the first place. Given the utter domination of the memetic landscape by the coarsest players today (marketers, essentially), the very possibility of a non-sinister and non-superficial intellectual life in the 21st century hinges on real intellectuals comprehending the memetic landscape (and risking themselves on this comprehension). The global terrain of the meme pool, divided into increasingly shallow but porous pockets, is increasingly complicated and opaque. The function that should be optimized by a true 21st century intellectual has not yet been established, but assuming you can talk to everyone equally is certain to be a losing strategy.

8. Political correctness has become sufficiently suffocating that, strangely enough, getting fired from prestige institutions has become a badge of honor, and a credible signal of noteworthiness. If you find yourself in trouble, there is a good case to be made that getting fired is the preferred exit mode, in part because it provides a catapult into higher pockets of Level 3. "Dude, you could get on Joe Rogan." But as we've already noted, Level 3 should be the lowest priority for any good person with a long-term intellectual agenda.

9. The flattening of the broadcast-based, central prestige hierarchy into a bewildering quantity of smaller pyramids (with larger absolute numbers given population growth and global delivery) is accelerating. The hundreds of speaking and writing people roughly at Joe-Rogan-level are the fruit of a previous stage of splintering. Divide the Tom Brokaw personality (a generic broadcaster optimized for a captive, mass audience) into a few hundred sub-personalities specialized in different traits and interests, and you'll get a few hundred personalities who are still rich and influential, although their audiences are smaller percentage-wise than Tom Brokaw's.

10. To compete in a meme pool characterized by accelerating segmentation, therefore, one cannot aim for what is currently adaptive (which guarantees you'll be a day late and a dollar short). It seems to me that a promising rule of thumb, consistent with the informal case study data available at this time, is for intellectuals to jump as far ahead as they can into the most precise and obscure depths of their own genuinely motivating curiosities, passions, and temperamental strengths, while escaping as recklessly as possible every occupational and social constraint on these depths. The high-brow intellectual is obviously a different type than most of the writers/speakers currently at the top, no doubt, but the trick is to infer what the intellectual equivalent of the prevailing players would look like. What we do know is that Joe Rogan did not become the Joe Rogan Experience by trying to earn an interview with Tom Brokaw or by trying to be the next Tom Brokaw, he became the Joe Rogan Experience by doing the weird non-lucrative things he liked to do, doing them intensely forever, and then getting selected in a stochastic distributed search process (a market). In 2019, if your goal is to get on Joe Rogan or be the next Joe Rogan, the only guaranteed outcome is that you certainly won't be the intellectual equivalent of Joe Rogan in 2040. When the world's biggest symbol-producers have audiences of only 10,000 people, those winning symbol-producers will be a huge set of people who, in 2019, were maximally disengaged from mimetic rivalry and building out as effectively as possible their even weirder mix of ideas, interests, and aesthetics.

11. Mainstream media can only report on events. I can report non-events.

12. I successfully avoided being fired by the University of Southampton on Wednesday. To this day, I have never once been disciplined, or even warned, for any problematic behavior as an academic. I managed to secure an additional 3 months of pay, which I would not have received had I been fired, and I did not have to sign any non-disclosure agreement whatsoever. To anyone who asks, I can provide a short and sweet account of myself, with my chin held high. I am quite pleased.

13. As the author of this non-event, I am spared the obligation of any social campaigning. No lawyers, no calls from journalists, no pressure toward personal image maintenance, no crying for pity donations. For Level 1, a short and honest message. For Level 2, all the juicy details, reflections, and observations. And for Level 3: nothing. They'll either forget, or guess the ending (probably incorrectly). Except those floating around Level 3 interested enough to hear me out, patiently and openly, which means I've converted them to Level 2. If that's you, thanks for reading this far, and welcome to the Murphyverse. I would be stunned if any Daily Mail journalist could find a lede buried this deeply, though nothing is impossible.

With the conclusion of this long preface, now the real story will begin. My next posts will build out a section of the book I would like to call 12 Rules for Ruining Your Life (To Get a Better One).

Dominatrix E-Girl Christians (Christlover2000)

Christlover2000 is one half of the podcast Girls Chat. You can find them at patreon.com/girlschat.

This conversation was first recorded as a livestream on Youtube. Big thanks to all the financial contributors who help to keep this running.

You can download this episode or subscribe to the podcast here.

Stay up to date on all my projects around the web. No spam, don't worry.

This site participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. The Privacy Policy can be found here. The content of this website is licensed under a CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTION 4.0 INTERNATIONAL LICENSE.

rss-square linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram