Obligate Dramatic Irony

The thing about sci-fi is that there’s stuff we can’t write anymore, and not (just) in the PC culture wars sense.

In the 50s, before we reached a local maximum on robotics, we had stories about smart houses and ambulatory robot assistants.

In the 60s and 70s when we had no clue what the conditions were like on other planets, we had stories about sirens on Titan and planets that were ripe for human colonization because the atmosphere on them are by default earth-like.

In the 80s and 90s, when we had no fucking idea what this internet thing would be capable of, we had stories about metaverses and uber-powerful hackers.

Of course we can still write stuff about, like, civilizations on Jupiter or whatever, but when we do, we must do so through a filter/layer/film of something that we can call “obligate dramatic irony”. We now know for certain that the other planets in our solar system are devoid of intelligent humanoid life, so it gets that much harder to suspend your disbelief (a thing that takes work), and so the threshold for how cool a premise needs to be to use the scenario gets elevated. 1

Sci-fi pushes at the frontiers of current science for inspiration, and I think this is rad! This lessens the work needed to suspend your disbelief, increases the wonder and delight because of a thrumming background sense of plausibility, and it’s not like our current understandings of science is not conducive to a wealth of new and fucking awesome premises in SF 2.

The flip-side is just that previous frontiers are now largely blocked, and unblocked only through a self-consciously retro aesthetic (or something more clever), if writing, and a layer of obligate dramatic irony, if reading.

Anyways, this is probably something that’s already been talked about by McLuhan or DFW or the assholes who talk about hauntology/disenchantment or whatever. Please email me the key phrase to google if you know.

  1. Jupiter Ascending is elevated and cool. stfu[]
  2. not to mention the movies!!![]

Ways a phone is like a dæmon

With apologies to Philip Pullman.

  • It’s an extension of me – my phone and I are part of the same entity that make up my thoughts/perspectives/habits
  • Despite the fact that it’s part of me, I can still “talk” to it (i.e. get new insights and perspectives from it through interacting with it)- it’s a part of my soul, but separate enough for that
  • Everyone has one that is close by them at all times, and our structures are now built to accommodate them (charging ports at malls! QR code menus at restaurants!)
  • If mine is more than 6 ft away from me I get separation anxiety
  • If I am to be permanently separated from a smartphone I will probably end up catatonic with depression for life (this one is maybe a joek)
  • I can talk to another person in person, and I can use my phone to communicate to their phone, but using another person’s phone seems viscerally wrong/taboo – I would never pick up a random phone and start playing around with it at a party. Strange phones emit a strong Do Not Touch field. I would even hesitate to move a strange phone from a couch to a table to sit on the couch.
  • It feels slightly less wrong when it’s a close friend or lover, but it still feels like an invasion of privacy (touching another person’s daemon is reserved for basically only immediate family and lovers, and even so, very rarely)
  • One wrong interaction with someone else’s phone can destroy your relationship with them entirely
  • I did the most intimate thing I could do with my girlfriend recently – we exchanged phone PINs, and all our login info for all of our accounts. We now own a piece of each other’s souls.

Thoughts brought to you by the fact that a close friend of mine borrowed my phone to call their grandma 2 weeks ago since their phone died; I felt many unexpectedly strong emotions about this.

This is how we become eloi

This is an interesting tiktok that the algorithms gave to me today.

A transcript is available on the next page, or you can click here.

If one alcoholic drink early in pregnancy is enough to cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), then probably something like >80% of all humans throughout history has had it.

Of course, a correlation to nature or tradition doesn’t imply goodness. Most people throughout history had malnutrition too, and it should be self-evident that our efforts towards eradicating malnutrition globally is unequivocally moral.

Still, it’s always interesting to me when something that used to be the default is now pathologized. In case you were curious, in the west, we didn’t realize that alcohol could lead to birth defects until the 70s, and presumably those who were pregnant weren’t taking much care to drink less before that.

(I want to note that the debate around drinking during pregnancy isn’t settled, even now. In the comments of the tiktok you see people complain about all their relatives or posters they see online that insist on continuing to drink while pregnant. But I’m pretty sure I know which side is going to win out in the long run.)

In the future we might see other sorts of features becoming classified as “birth defects” and pathologized. It’s not hard to imagine the construction of something called Fetal Adiposal Spectrum Disorder and an industry around it for treating people whose mothers were obese during their pregnancies. Or Fetal Stress Spectrum Disorder for people whose mothers were overly stressed. Maybe a Fetal Toxoplasmosis Spectrum Disorder. The list goes on.

Or maybe before we get to that point, we’ll realize that pregnancy is something best left to the experts or artificial wombs and that it’s barbaric to do it ourselves. It’ll become as taboo to carry your own child as it is to care for your own dead without the use of some professional mortuary service.

After that realization, how long is it going to be before we realize that having childrearing defaulting to bioparents is unethical and children should all be reared by an expert centralized body? There are a million ways to fuck up a child. And have you seen the abuse stats? In the US, in 2015, 15% of children and youth aged 0–17 years old underwent maltreatment by a caregiver, with 5% undergoing physical assault. Surely we can do better than this.

Perhaps one day there will be a study that says that the effects of child abuse costs the government ten trillion dollars a year 1 , and maybe in time that study will be used to justify the collection of all children by the state (except for the children of the very rich, who seem to always be exempt from these kinds of things).

The Scream by Kent Monkman
Like this but it’ll be ethical this time guys we promise (“The Scream”, Kent Monkman 2017)

One way to look at all this (the correct one, I think) is to say that we are trading in toxic and outdated traditions for better practices that benefit us all.

I was born after we started making these tradeoffs, and every trade that we’ve already done seems more than reasonable. I benefit from them, too. I take birth control, I appreciate living in a society that doesn’t ostracize me for my non-mainstream religious beliefs (I’m not religious), and I’m certainly not going to resist a cultural opposition to pregnant people drinking.

Still, I hesitate when looking at the tradeoffs that I see looming on the horizon. My heart illogically wants to draw the line in the sand, for us to progress to here and no further. But there’s no real argument to make for that.

  1. Actually, it turns out that someone had already written that paper. The annual economic burden was $2 trillion.[]

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