Lots of people hate cliffhangers, especially in TV shows since you have to wait a week, or a whole year for the next season to find out what happens. It’s just a natural expression of irritation. Because it works on the premise of baiting: you withdraw something in order to produce a desire.

The Leftovers does something, and does it systematically, that is far worse from my point of view. After a good first episode that was well contextualized and grounded what is supposed to come next in the season, we got a second episode that summarizes everything that is bad in this show. A number of plot points and vague hints that ultimately lead to nothing at all. You get away with your hands empty and a sense of frustration since you put some effort watching and trying to understand an hour of television, but nothing of value came out of it, if not the remote hope it will make sense later on. That it is building up to something hopefully worthwhile. But that, and this is the point, right now isn’t worthwhile at all.

But that’s not the worst offender. What’s worse than a cliffhanger is to end the episode with a decontextualized scene with new characters doing “mysterious” things. Or rather characters that you’ve never seen before, in a place you’ve never seen before, doing stuff that none of them cares to explain (in this specific case we know “what” and its immediate reason, but we don’t know why and how). In the case of cliffhangers at least you do get what happens, you just want to know how it *continues*. Instead in this “worst case scenario” you end up watching scenes with no context, no explanations, not even true hints, and often fueled just by trolling. Just to provide dumb misdirection so that the show can keep its air of fake mystery and surprise.

Add to this the fact that the screenplay now jumps in time, but of course without telling you when. Purposefully so you understand LESS.

It’s not that they are telling a complex story or going for some ambitious construction that requires the various layers. They are simply using every artificial device they can just to make it as opaque as possible.

Six episodes are left.

I’ve just watched the first episode of season three, but these ideas have lingered with me since the ending of season 2. Although that was just two weeks ago, for me.

Is it possible to crack the code?

This is the question. Whether or not this season will deliver answers, or just more questions.

From a random article, the first that popped up:

I’d be surprised if we got real answers. In fact, I think it would be antithetical to The Leftovers’ whole point, which is that in life we don’t really get answers. If the show were to give us any, it would run against its own grain.

And of course Lindelof, because of Lindelof I’m gonna talk:

Tom, myself and our incredible team of writers and producers put tremendous care into designing those seasons as novels unto themselves…with beginnings, middles and ends. As we finished our most recent season, it became clear to us that the series as a whole was following the same model…and with our beginning and middle complete, the most exciting thing for us as storytellers would be to bring The Leftovers to a definitive end. And by ‘definitive,’ we mean ‘wildly ambiguous but hopefully mega-emotional,’ as all things related to this show are destined to be.

Waiting for the season (and show) finale would be too easy, though. And those two quotes already tell us we aren’t likely going to get a whole lot. Promising that an ending is going to be ambiguous isn’t that good of a promise. It’s like: nope, you are getting more character drama to empathize with, but no actual answer about the mystery that supposedly sustains it all.

Do you think that’s enough for me? Nope. There’s a million of TV shows that exploit empathy and offer various levels of character drama, and very few that do “mystery”, or even better transcendental stuff, and do it well.

Part of the fun, as with Westworld, is to expose the writers, know what they are writing about, understand where it comes from, and anticipate where it is going. And if the show is stingy with answers, well, I’ll provide them.

I of course waited at least the first episode to propose my interpretation. I just wanted a glimpse of where it was heading. Would it wrong-foot me? For me the season 2’s beginning was pure trolling and very frustrating to watch. This new episode instead still had a certain amount of trolling, but it was fun and clever. The show starts strong this time, it’s LOST+++ once again. A great episode. And it also fooled me for a while and confused me, made me doubt my conclusions. But that confusion was due mainly to myself because I cannot recognize faces well (or remember names). So when there was that scene with John and Laurie running that scam, I thought John wasn’t John but the original guy that was doing the same thing in season 2, and that the show tried to sell as ‘legit’. Was the show in season 3 debunking that same feature that it sustained in season 2? Is it some form of “retcon”? Nope, because we aren’t looking at the same guy, as I thought. This is John and Laurie.

That turns on itself and becomes a confirmation of what I thought before. It’s classic Leftovers’ trolling + misdirection. Remember season 2? It starts on the same note, repeating pattern: Laurie and Tommy run a scam by imitating the hug-giving guy. A guy that, once again, the previous season (1) tried to validate. The pattern is to validate something in unambiguous way (deal with me, even if you are now thinking it was actually ambiguous), and then come later with a different take where the same thing is turned ambiguous. So you get doubts. Was it the real deal or is it just more baseless superstition?

This is the fucking theme. Look down at other posts where I write about The Leftovers. The question is always whether or not this is superstition. And if it’s real, how the hell does it work? What is going on? Why people disappeared? Why strange stuff does happen in Miracle town? And so on. What are the rules here? How are they built? And, if you look at it meta-fictionally, what where the writers thinking and what are they trying to achieve?

You can read some of my own analysis in the other posts, but here I arrive to my own conclusion and interpretation. To make this whole thing “fit”, into some kind of overall plan. Because, as I wrote, up to the end of season 2 the show didn’t provide anything that could be effectively used to “crack the code”. It’s generous with character drama, but stingy when it deals with mystery. You don’t have much to work with (same as The OA).

And then, the show explicitly trolls you. You say you don’t understand, and the show shoves you the defying sign “you understand.”

UNDERSTAND WHAT?

Take this, again from the previously linked article (I don’t even need to put effort to seek relevant material, because everything ends up relevant here):

This story is, in other words, The Leftovers in miniature: a seemingly endless cycle of faith, pain, and determination to keep going even when your experience in the world is screaming into your face that everything you’ve ever known might be completely pointless.

The story, it seems to say, is about DOUBT. Or unflinching faith, despite reality keeps kicking you. To actually make you doubt.

That’s already the “solution” for me. Because that description doesn’t fit AT ALL with The Leftovers. This is not a correct description of the show.

Leading onward is this interview with Lindelof. Jump to 35:30:

I’m drawn to these ideas that have supernatural underpinnings or, in some cases, overtones because the challenge to ground them is that much greater. But the show has a supernatural conceit, it was written by someone who’s never dealt with the supernatural before, Tom Perrotta. He wrote a “genre” book but, you know… whenever I’ll pitch something in the room Tom will say, “that’s too weird, man.” And I’ll go… (intensity rises) This was your idea! You started it! 140 million people disappearing with no explanation. THAT’S weird. …And he’ll go (dismissively) “Yeah, but this is too weird.” And most of the times he’s right.

When I heard that I thought ‘I knew, that’s exactly the roles I bet they’d have in that writing room’.

You see, The Leftovers existed as a completed book. It was a complete story that Tom Perrotta wrote. For the TV adaptation Lindelof was brought in. They made a deliberate choice there. Lindelof didn’t simply adapt the story for TV format, he did fucking CHANGE it. The first season of the show IS the book, it’s actually a faithful adaptation, too. But the reason why we’re onto season 3 is because Lindelof brought a complete new layer to the story. A layer that doesn’t belong, supposedly, to the book. It’s a brand new take, a new level. The TV show is a new story that is the product of the interaction of Tom Perrotta and Lindelof. It’s a new story, the way Lindelof would write it.

As far as I know, Tom Perrotta’s book only has that supernatural “premise”, but nothing else happens in the course of the book, and the book ends without hinting at more supernatural stuff. Supernatural stuff that is instead far more pervasive and stated explicitly in The Leftovers, the TV show.

As you see from the interaction above, Lindelof would come up with more supernatural ideas, and Perrotta would try to tune them down, saying they don’t ring true to him. Lindelof pushes, Perrotta pulls. Lindelof says ‘most of the times he’s right’. And that implies the opposite: that sometime Lindelof won the tug of war. And so that the show would embrace that supernatural element.

It’s so clear to me, because of what I wrote in my previous posts to “frame” the problem. The split between the character drama and the mystery that causes it.

You see, for Lindelof, and correctly, that little supernatural gap, the disappearance of millions of people, wasn’t just a tiny glitch that immediately closed without leaving a trail. It was a DOOR. Lindelof wedged his metaphorical foot in that door, to keep it open.

The Leftovers, the TV show, describes a credible world, similar to ours, but where supernatural shit does happen. This is the actual solution. As I mentioned above, the show tries to make you doubt of something that the show itself validated previously. But this is an inverted pattern, because what is authoritative is the first validation. Whereas the following doubt is misdirection. A way for the show to hide its ghostly hand, so that the magic trick can work.

It still is a thought experiment, of course. A creative endeavor, of course. But this is how we build it. The rules of THIS (fictional) world. The Leftovers describes a mirror world. Through the looking glass. Remember that scene in The OA, with the mirror in the last episode? The Leftovers is wholly contained beyond that threshold. The world and characters we see in The Leftovers are convincing, they seem like us. So we draw parallels, or recognize parts of us. But the world of The Leftovers is not ours. It’s, as Lindelof states, a “weird” world where people can magically disappear. Where supernatural stuff DOES happen, sometimes. It’s a world similar to ours, with the small caveat that superstition is fucking ‘legit’. Not always, because in The Leftovers’ world human beings can still scam each other, but whether it is god, magical hugs, divination or predestination, sometimes it is. The moment the supernatural gap opens, with the original premise, is the moment the door is kicked open too. Lindelof picked up Perrotta’s story and said that the little glitch is gonna have consequences. He pushed that premise all the way. We moved into mirror-land, where weird shit does happen without any possible rational explanation.

The “magic hugs” in season 1 were working. We later see Nora have some kind of recurrence, the show trying to push back these magic hugs into ambiguity, but Nora is still a different person and she continues to be that even in the following season (the crippling trauma doesn’t come back). That lapse we saw can be explained in various ways. The magic hugs did work, the show made a statement then it tried to partially hide it, but look closer and you’ll see that the initial statement stays true. It’s misdirection, not contradiction. The same as in the middle of season 2 Laurie convincingly persuades Kevin he’s having delusions. This is convincing for us because her arguments are arguments that would be solid, in our world. But you know where the story leads. And you see in this episode as well, when Kevin is confronted inside the church with the evidence of something that cannot be explained going on. And again this first episode, showing/suggesting that the handprint-divination thing is also an hoax. But was it really? Nope, because this is just John and Laurie using the internet, whereas season 2 showed us that the guy who did the legit hand-reading knew stuff that just he isn’t in the position to know, internet or not. Stuff that we get to know through a flashback, and a flashback is an authoritative device. It’s structure. The pattern is inverted because the mirrored world is specular: if in our world skepticism brings us closer to truth, in this mirror world skepticism might take you away from it. But just ‘might’, because sometimes superstition is artificial and human-made as in our world. It’s even more ambiguous.

(but then, if Lidelof aligned everything perfectly, we would get something too linear and easy to see through. So the show has fun with some blatant trolling, as in this episode with the “canine conspiracy”. Not all superstition is automatically true. Delusions still exist in The Leftovers’ world. Not all of them are, just some. The show is just playing with you, deliberately exploiting ambiguity so that you lose track of what’s possibly true and what isn’t. So that the show can then surprise and catch you off guard more easily. They have produced a context where superstition can be true AND easily disguised. It’s an extremely powerful tool for a writer.)

We end up with two worlds. One the mirror of the other. The mirror world of the TV show is a “written” world. It’s determined by a god/author who infuses that world with… purpose. It’s a meaning-full world where everything exists for a reason. And because this world is written, the rules are coherent. Responsibility is onto an external agent. This world has to have a direction. It’s a world where superstition can be real, where people lives have meaning and purpose. Where coincidences happen because someone wrote them that way for a reason. And because of these artificial features, the mirror world is specular to ours, where we struggle to find meaning, direction. Where, this time correctly, we’re stuck in a “seemingly endless cycle of faith, pain, and determination to keep going”, because in our case the world we live in is… silent. We don’t get any answer.

Not even a hint.

I decided to keep this separate to write a few comments on what I think the show does right with its metaphysics.

The premise convinced and surprised me. I knew that it was about these people suddenly vanishing, but I was surprised that the show didn’t do any “dressing” of the event itself. People just disappeared. It’s the “purity” of the event that is so powerful. If in other mystery stories something happens that produces a change, here what’s important is that the event happens once and never again. And it happens without actual direct consequences. The event happens without links to anything else. It’s not simply unexplained, but it is unexplainable because it’s not connected to anything else. There is no “whoosh”, there is not weird alignment of planets, or ominous prophecies, or sudden blackout, or a storm, or eclipse or whatever. It’s just a one time glitch. The gap opens and closes so quickly. It doesn’t even “happen” because it’s not a phenomenon. It’s not something that is consequence of something that happens. It’s the absence of an “event”. A touch so fast and so light that was not perceived.

That’s why it is interesting and solid: what happens if our belief system collapses? That’s what the event is about. We believe and exist on the premise of an objective external world. On the fact our experience is “stable” and we can rely on it. That’s why the show then enjoys to play with a character that has an “unstable” experience. But that’s personal experience, you can be crazy. What if factual reality stops being stable, for everyone? This is The Leftovers.

How do you answer the event?

The show is solid because it’s up to humanity to give answer. And they try. How can you answer the event? Through science, through statistics, through correlation, through belief, religion, or through superstition. The show examines all these variations in their detail, because as I said the purpose is to use the event as a lens, to understand how human beings live their life and how they work. In the absence of an objective world, endless possibilities open.

When you unseat science, because science has to rely on a stable external world, what is left is raw. It is purer. It’s not anymore a sporadic case of someone becoming unhinged, it’s all humanity that becomes unhinged. It’s a form of freedom. The world becomes open, truly free. Yet nothing actually changed, on the outside. The world was unaffected, untouched.

WYSIATI. What You See Is All There Is.

Here it becomes the opposite. The dark side of the moon: What You Don’t See Is All There Is.

The world is unchanged by the event, but it’s the end of the world. Apocalypse. The world has ended. Eschatology, rapture. What this means is that the world is internal.

As constructivism would say, the external world is a projection of what’s inside. And what’s inside is what you cannot see, but is all there is. People are missing. Absence. The show examines how absence becomes more powerful than what is there. That 2% becomes more important than the 98% that is left. What’s missing manipulates what remains, it conditions and transforms the world. It’s a shaper of things. The shape given by what is not there.

The “light touch” gives the story its power. If something else also happened, it would immediately create a pattern. Two points that make a line, a connection. And examining that connection would lead to a direction, a way to lay the foundation of another belief. Metaphysics, the premise to build a new world. But because instead this doesn’t happen, because there’s nothing left outside to pick up, all that is “externalized” becomes all that is inside. And what’s inside is, often, trauma. And trauma is catastrophic, fundamentally reshaping everything in dramatic ways. In the maximum freedom, the characterization becomes the only cage. Unfiltered, it becomes pure and raw. Because there’s no other way to go than deep inside.

After the momentary obsession over Arrival I was looking for something equally compelling and bold. I found The Leftovers, that creates a neat link going from Westworld, through The Man in the High Castle, and especially The OA. I’d say The Leftovers is an interesting mix between LOST and The OA. I probably won’t write anything that is really a spoiler in the sense of events and plot, but I’m going to write about the overall structure of the two seasons.

This was a good time to watch a show like The Leftovers. The main reason is that two seasons are complete and in two weeks the third one begins. It’s the final season, so this story is going to have a definitive conclusion. It’s done, it will come. And it will come soon, since it’s just 8 episodes, so this June it will all be wrapped up. This is/was NOT a show that you want to watch while it is ongoing.

The Leftovers is essentially a mystery show. It should lead to some sort of revelation, or twist. So this makes it a show that relies on a good finale, a good finale that justifies what comes before. That infuses some meaning, that offers some answers. That escalates towards something that is meaningful, hopefully even revelatory or transcendental. But is The Leftovers really about this?

When I wrote about The OA I said that it was a deliberate “leap of faith”. Nothing is explained there, it’s a bridge that spans a darkness. A Bugs Bunny that keeps on walking on thin air, just as long he doesn’t look down. The OA was a show that asked you to Believe. The Leftovers instead is less directly meta-narrative, it doesn’t stare you back in the face. It’s not the abyss. But it still deals directly with the theme of “faith”. And because it focuses primarily on this, it does a much better and profound job compared to something more ephemeral like The OA. This means The Leftovers is not a mystery show as I said. It’s instead a character study, and an excellent one.

What happens when 2% of the population disappears? Without a reason. One second they are there, the next they are gone. Nothing else is changed. It’s a “what if” scenario. An hypothesis. But when you make this sort of mental experiment you create a split. On one side, The Leftovers’ side, you imagine how people react, how the world deals with an unprecedented event. “Arrival” is similar: what happens if aliens suddenly appear, visible to all of us? How humanity deals with them? So, The Leftovers becomes a character study, the “event” (of people vanishing at once) is purely an excuse to examine what happens to people when they go through this type of unprecedented stress. How their mind adapts when something upsets a balance that was believed immutable. But this is one side of the split. The other side requires that you give a reason to why this happened. “Arrival” requires you to imagine who these aliens actually are and what they want. The event of people vanishing requires the writers of the show to take some kind of stance toward it. Why did it actually happen? How? So the split. You want to examine what happens, using an impossible event like a “lens”, to observe through it. But you also want to imagine a context that makes that lens possible. Consistent with what you are imagining. Not just magic, but rules. Metaphysics.

This split is a constant in all similar “mystery” stories. Just these days there’s a resurgence of interest for Stephen King’s IT, because the trailer for the movie(s) just came out. IT too had to deal directly with this split. The core of the story is another “what if” scenario: what happens if there’s something truly evil living in the heart of a town? How people change, how this town is transformed along its history. For me, the interesting part is that Stephen King didn’t wave it away, he didn’t retreat, he didn’t pull the hand. Not only he writes the (excellent) character study, but he also faces the other side of the split: he will tell you how that “evil” ended up in the town, where it came from and what it actually is. The author commits to something. It’s not just “magic”. And in just an handful of pages you get explicit answers. Well, these answers kind of suck. IT’s metaphysics stays afloat without an actual foundation. It’s kind of bullshit and not rooted into something true or profound. It’s weak, just not really good at all. But I do appreciate that the author still committed to it instead of fleeing from it. The author was brave enough to laid the substance bare, to be judged. IT’s still excellent for everything it does, the metaphysics suck, but it was still “brave”.

So what’s the strategy for The Leftovers? When I started watching the first few episodes I commented saying that it was “getting the metaphysics right”. I meant it doesn’t step out of the line. It takes its bold premise (people that vanished) and handled it properly. The context the show creates is 100% valid and solid. The character study that follows is not simply “credible”, but powerful because it goes right at the core. Absolutely nothing changes in the world, but EVERYTHING changes for the people. The event, even if actually small and circumscribed, is catastrophic. It’s the end of the world. And this because the authors do get it. They understand that the SUBSTANCE of the show, and the substance of experience for all of us, is not a “fact”, but the way we perceive and believe in a world. The way we believe in reality, the way we create and narrate experience, and identity. The event itself is so negligible because just a few people disappeared, but the fact of the possibility of this kind of event UNDERMINES REALITY ITSELF. It undermines experience and rationalization.

I’d say most of season 1 goes along with superb writing, characterization that is well done, deep, and that respects that basic premise. It shows something new, and it does it properly. The show is kind of slow, and sometimes a bit dull. But it is “inspired”, and has true depth. Episodes 3 and 6 are close to masterpieces.

I’m still talking of one side of the split, the character study done through the lens of an impossible event. The character study is excellent and worthwhile. It goes in depth on the nature and consequence of belief. It’s powerful. And the fact that the event is framed like that, closed in that single moment and completely empty of real consequence or purpose, makes me say they handled it the best way possible. The show is faithful to its premise. But this also means the show closes itself to the other side of the split: it says nothing.

But is The Leftovers really saying nothing about what actually happened and why? Quite the opposite. I only glanced at the wiki about the novel form of the story, and it’s possible that this description applies there. That the book doesn’t answer in any way the mystery of the story. The show is different, though. It is made absolutely explicit already during the first season the fact that something “magical” is going on.

This caught my attention. The story here is built in a way that could have completely avoided the supernatural aspect. Weird shit that happens, in a show with similar premises, could be eventually explained away. When you go deep in the study of how “belief” works you arrive to the natural conclusion that people are deeply delusional. And the show does that. It shows how people would rather believe what’s convenient and reassuring rather than what’s “true”. Perception and reality, and perception altered by belief. It’s a true story, and because this show does a good job, it goes deep and “truthfully” into this. But it also does something else, and it does it deliberately. It’s not a misstep, it’s purposeful.

If on one side you have the context to explain it all as a delusion, on the other side the show actively refuses this “easy”, more straightforward way out, to state something. And what it states, unambiguously, is that weird magical shit is actually going on. Weird magical shit that isn’t going to be explained logically. The authors did go there, decided to go there even if this kind of show could have been solid and worthwhile regardless. It could have been closed neatly, but it didn’t. The weirdness lingers and it is put there, explicitly, so that it demands an answer. The authors decided to straddle very dangerous territory.

I can also say that after two full seasons absolutely NOTHING has been answered or revealed about the nature of this side of the split. Do I trust the writers that an answer will come in the final season? Hell no. I would be a fool for trusting Lindelof. But I’m still curious because the show didn’t need to go there, but decided to. I want to go see. At times the writing is so inspired it almost borders a transcendental level. It happened far more rarely in the second season, but I’m in.

The weird shit is too deeply rooted now. Ok, so you’re committing to this. How far are you taking this? Waiting for instructions.

Like LOST, from meta-fiction to metaphysics, fully embracing it.

All of this was tolerable because I could watch all of it at once. I do not envy those who had to wait week after week. That’s insanity for a show like this. The Leftovers is PURE TROLLING. When in the second half of the first season the episodes started to be uneven, I made a chart mostly as a joke. It looked like season 1 was doomed to collapse into shit. I had no idea at that point. The first half of the season was so solid and well written, then it started to slip into dangerous territory. It could have gone either way. You can see how it goes down for episode 9, and that started a trend. The episode itself isn’t complete shit, but it’s the first hint of how far the trolling is going to be pushed. The structure is like this: they end episode 8 with a cliffhanger, so you have to wait a week biting nails, desperately wanting to see what happens. And what happens? That episode 9 is entirely a flashback, and also 100% useless, adding absolutely nothing worthwhile to the story. Purely filler. Torolololol. Now you have to wait another week. But eventually the finale was good, sort of. It was dramatic, but it was weak in substance. It didn’t say anything meaningful and didn’t add anything worthwhile.

So I began season 2. Imagine waiting a fucking year for that. Because the first episode is UNBELIEVABLE. See me giving it a “2” on that chart. So you’ve waited a year to see what happens in that story? Enjoy a whole episode wasted to introduce new characters you never saw before and about who you don’t give a shit, doing things you don’t give a shit, including “artsy” sequences accompanied by just music that are 100% useless and actively, deliberately irritating and infuriating. Where the fuck is the story and characters I care about? Why are you wasting my time? Why the whole episode is gone and I don’t give a shit about anything you’ve shown me? But hey, here 5 minutes at the end with the characters you actually know about. Like, a cameo. So you go right into episode 2, because episode 1 was just more troll. And what you get? A damned flashback episode again! It goes back to the characters we know and care about, but it’s another full episode that covers just the gap and that ends at the same spot of where the first episode ended, without furthering the story one inch. And episode 3? TROLOLOLOL! Episode 3 goes back to ANOTHER set of characters to tell you what happened to them in the meantime. So, you have to wait until episode FOUR to see any shit actually fucking happening. All mixed with a bad habit of starting episodes with loud music and scenes out of context with unknown people doing unexplained stuff for 5 or 10 minutes before any kind of plot actually happens. Just to irritate you more.

I watched it all at once and I STILL wanted to punch Lindelof in the face (I wouldn’t punch him in the face, of course, but oh boy I have all the rights to imagine doing that, because he deserves it). It’s a fucking troll of a show. It doesn’t respect you in any way. As a serial it’s just an exercise in pure irritation. …And then it eventually find itself again to rebuild a story and lead toward a new finale. But you know what happens with episode 8 and 9? Symmetrical trolling! Episode 8 of course ends with a big cliffhanger, and episode 9 once again moves to a completely different story. Trolololol again. But my rating stays high because episode 9 ends with its own cliffhanger, surpassing the previous and honestly surprising me. I didn’t expect anything like that. Season 2 finale is more inspired than the first, and it works better as a culmination. It has some more substance, some moments that ring true and that make me forgive the other moments that are there just to be exploited for their dramatic force. Around minute 45 I was sure the episode was over (and already good), but then I checked and there were still another 25 minutes before the end. That was just a surprise. This “second ending” was also good, full of meta-fiction, and done well.

We wait for season 3, now. I’m now in the flock along with everyone else, waiting for Lindelof to troll all of us some more. It’s just 8 fucking episodes, though. You have less space to play your pranks. I don’t trust you but I’m going to follow.

Where are you taking me? I don’t understand. (You understand.)

The reason why I wrote so much about Arrival is because it mirrors exactly the same stuff I’ll discuss here. Same patterns, same category of problems, just different contexts we paint those themes onto.

Remember how we were all taught to toss out teleological thinking—the idea that there is a purpose or design to existence? We have all been taught that Darwin upended that idea. Mr. Dennett argues for another perspective. “Darwin didn’t extinguish teleology: he naturalized it.”

The teleological hypothesis is the one that created the basis for Arrival. But that quote comes from this article (it’s WSJ, it uses a paywall, so to bypass it and read it fully you have to use this link):
https://www.wsj.com/articles/daniel-dennett-explains-it-all-1486149888

That’s Michael Gazzaniga reviewing Daniel Dennett’s latest book, but because they come from a fairly similar school of thought Gazzaniga doesn’t have much to criticize. In fact in the (awful) comments someone says something I find hilarious:

This reviewer doesn’t seem to critically engage the author at any point. A critical review doesn’t have to be entirely negative. But when nothing is challenged how is this a review that engages the subject?

The reason why I kept thinking about Arrival is that I keep banging my head at trying to understand if there’s a different perspective. At least something that can be considered plausible, like a different way to frame the problem. Maybe there is something I’m missing, and that’s exactly why Arrival engages me. I wrote so much not to explain that Arrival is bullshit, but to go deep into every perspective to carefully check if there were “gaps”. I write as a way to analyze. To see if there is actually something, in a kind of open ended way.

This “other” perspective is represented by Thomas Nagel. He does believe in a different way of looking at the problem. And Sean Carroll challenges his perspective here:
http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/08/22/mind-and-cosmos/

But as with Arrival, I’m not too quick to dismiss, and keep looking out for something that resembles something with some value. And here we have a much longer review of Dennett’s book, written by Thomas Nagel… But that you cannot read fully because it’s behind a paywall:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/03/09/is-consciousness-an-illusion-dennett-evolution/

I did read it fully, though. It’s quite long, across three pages, but only a couple of small paragraphs have something interesting to say that actually challenges Dennett’s point of view. I’ll quote those, as the rest of the long article is just a description of the book’s content and thesis.

The first hint of disagreement is something quite common and that I categorize as a simple misrepresentation:

In keeping with his general view of manifest image, Dennett holds that consciousness is not part of reality in the way the brain is. Rather, it is a particularly salient and convincing user-illusion, an illusion that it is indispensable in our dealings with one another and in monitoring and managing ourselves, but an illusion nonetheless.

You may as well ask how consciousness can be an illusion, since every illusion is itself a conscious experience – an appearance that doesn’t correspond to reality. So it cannot appear to me that I am conscious though I am not: as Descartes famously observed, the reality of my own consciousness is the one thing I cannot be deluded about.

Nagel describes all this as a view that is “unnatural”. Because this view challenges what we intuitively feel as consciousness. And the concrete feeling of something that cannot be considered an “illusion”.

This is a common position. Thinking that all these books about “consciousness” just point at unexplained illusions, and so do not explain anything at all. But it is a misrepresentation. Bakker’s own Blind Brain Theory, or the weaker versions, don’t simply point to an illusion to just call it “illusion”. Because they are materialist positions, they need to explain WHY and HOW the illusion appears.

An illusion is not something that doesn’t exist. An illusion is a visual phenomenon (for example), so made of matter, that you have to physically describe to explain why it appears like that. It exists, but it is motivated in a way that is revealed as false. It’s not a negation of the existence of the phenomenon, it’s a negation of the way we explained it. What you saw wasn’t a “ghost”, it was just a trick of the light that bounced in that mirror and produced that effect. The image was REAL, but you interpreted it incorrectly.

Those theories of consciousness DO explain how consciousness works. They do explain why it “feels” like that, they explain the boundaries. It’s true they aren’t “complete” theories because we haven’t reached the point where we can artificially create a consciousness, but that’s because the problem is extremely complex. But we do know, or have plausible hypothesis, that describe how it works. They describe HOW that illusion works and WHY it feels like it feels. We’ve been there. We have a perfectly functioning hypothesis.

Consciousness the way it appears to us IS reality. But our intuitive model of it is simply incorrect because it relies on incomplete information. It’s not the “experience” of consciousness that is wrong, it’s our intuitive explanation we make for it. It’s the common belief of what consciousness is to be wrong. Or the belief that our intuitive explanation is sufficient.

And yes, we trade an incomplete, intuitive model for a scientific, non-intuitive but still a lot more accurate model. Current science cannot explain everything, but it can explain MORE.

Dennett asks us to turn our backs to what is glaringly obvious – that in consciousness we are immediately aware of real subjective experiences of color, flavor, sound, touch, etc. that cannot be fully described in neural terms even though they have a neural cause (or perhaps have neural as well as experiential aspects). And he asks us to do this because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with the scientific materialism that in his view sets the outer bounds of reality. He is, in Aristotle’s words, “maintaining a thesis at all costs.”

This goes with this other part:

There is no reason to go through such mental contortions in the name of science. The spectacular progress of the physical sciences since the seventeenth century was made possible by the exclusion of the mental from their purview. To say that there is more to reality than physics can account for is not a piece of mysticism: it is an acknowledgement that we are nowhere near a theory of everything, and that science will have to expand to accommodate facts of a kind fundamentally different from those that physics is designed to explain. It should not disturb us that this may have radical consequences, especially for Dennett’s favorite natural science, biology: the theory of evolution, which in its current form is a purely physical theory, may have to incorporate nonphysical factors to account for consciousness, if consciousness is not, as he thinks, an illusion. Materialism remains a widespread view, but science does not progress by tailoring the data to fit a prevailing theory.

Firstly, “science will have to expand to accommodate facts of a kind fundamentally different from those that physics is designed to explain”, this is quite a bold claim, and entirely illogical. Science MIGHT have to expand, not “will have to”, unless Nagel can see the future as the aliens in Arrival. If you are going to propose an hypothesis at least make it clear it’s not some kind of absolute claim of faith.

Nagel’s thesis is: since science doesn’t have a theory of everything then it means we need new ways of thinking that go beyond physics. But this is a conclusive statement that is very far from being actually conclusive. It’s a classic “god of the gaps”.

Let’s break down the various options:
We don’t have a complete description of reality, we only have various approximate models that work in their own specific applications, but no “theory of everything” that unifies all of that into something complete and cohesive.
Therefore:
1- There might be more to physics. Since we don’t know.
2- Physics, itself being incomplete right now, might as well lead to a theory of everything, eventually (or get as close as possible).

Both of these remain open. Neither Nagel nor Dennett can prove the falsity of the other. But it’s obvious that the argument Nagel used is flawed. Just because we *currently* can’t explain everything doesn’t mean that an explanation doesn’t exist. We’re trying to predict what we’re going to find and the only true, honest answer is: we don’t know. Both those options are open and viable. We have no way of closing one or the other.

But of course we can make our own predictions, trying to explain why one hypothesis is for us more valid or more plausible than the other. We will lean toward one or the other until we can make more conclusive observations.

That’s why Nagel’s perspective seems so fraudulent to me. It’s presented illogically. The arguments that should convince one to prefer that perspective are very bad ones. When he says “there is no reason to go through such mental contortions in the name of science” it’s as if he chastises science for being too overly complex and challenge intuitive notions. All the big discoveries deeply changed human worldviews. We’ve gone through deep revolutions. And we were able to achieve that BECAUSE we challenged what was taken for granted.

In fact, Nagel’s own thesis would require an ever bolder stance to challenge the prevailing notion, so it seems logical. But the point is: the argument Nagel uses against Dennett’s thesis hits both ways. Dennett’s thesis is described as “mental contortion”, so it challenges intuitive experience, whereas Nagel’s thesis challenges what we currently know about science and physics. But while Dennett’s stance is justified as we’re trying to understand ourselves while within our own boundaries (which is a naturally hard if not impossible task), Nagel’s stance simply relies on the unjustified belief that the world is built in accord with human necessity (that it sticks to what we intuitively feel as true).

As if: we should take for granted that the world is built to be understood by the human mind.

This is purely anti-scientific. This idea that the universe exists *for* us, and so has to comply to our desires. This is the contrary of science: to actually challenge beliefs. To prove the world defies us constantly, doesn’t comply, and it’s not at our service. Science is a tool to find truth specifically because most of the times what we hope is right is revealed as wrong. Science challenges simplicity and intuition, you have to study. It doesn’t come easy.

But you can also twist this argument back, and say that Nagel’s position also requires us to challenge our views at an even deeper level. That’s correct, but let’s keep these arguments straight. Saying that Dennett’s stance is invalid because it challenges intuition or because physics is not complete is quite a ridiculous argument. And at least science continues to point in Dennett’s direction. It’s not a conclusive statement, but we make progress. On the other side when you decide to leave the path you’ve taken you have to provide good motivations to do so. And this is where Nagel’s argument is weak the most: it evokes an alternative without any idea about what it actually might be. Again, Nagel might be right, but he’s making a very poor case to prove that option can be fruitful. As if we’re deciding between “making good progress on one side, but still very far from coming out”, and “I’m bored digging there, we should try something else although I have no idea what”. To persuade people to look elsewhere you need to provide something more tangible than mere skepticism at where we’re currently looking. Otherwise you’re just exploiting the fact that since we don’t know everything, there’s space to ride the common human misconceptions until they last.

And this is where I quote Sean Carroll that I linked above:

Either matter obeys the laws of physics, or physics is wrong. And if you want us to take seriously the possibility that it’s wrong, you better have at least some tentative ideas about what would be a better theory.

Of course, Nagel has no such theory, which he cheerfully admits. That’s for the scientists to come up with! He’s just a philosopher, he says.

Which is why, at the end, his position isn’t very interesting. (Because he doesn’t have anything like a compelling alternative theory, not because he’s a philosopher.) He advocates overthrowing things that are precisely defined, extremely robust, and impressively well-tested (the known laws of physics, natural selection) on the basis of ideas that are rather vague and much less well-supported (a conviction that consciousness can’t be explained physically, a demand for intelligibility, moral realism). If someone puts forward even a rough sketch of how a new teleological view of reality might actually work, including how it affects the known laws of physics, that might be very interesting. I don’t think the prospects are very bright.

Nagel is a “god of the gaps” philosopher, the one who does his dance while others are busy working. As long science doesn’t explain everything there will always be someone who claims science MIGHT be wrong.

And yes, science might be wrong. So what?

I tried to defeat it, I was defeated instead.

I still feel defeated, especially my pride as a reader since I missed so much in that original story while being absolutely certain there wasn’t more to it. I was extremely arrogant and I have no excuse for that.

But my mind doesn’t know it’s alright to lose, and so keeps tying anyway.

It became obvious that the movie didn’t really add anything. The original story already had time travel, it was just well hidden. The movie simply took those parts and pushed them in the front, made them explicit. It was all already there. Wow.

My suspicion, but remember I’ve already been defeated utterly, is that Ted Chiang actually dug deep into this idea and understood that the scenario lead directly to time travel and resulting paradoxes. He knew that if he went there he would have undermined the concept itself. He could have used time travel explicitly as in the movie, but it would have been dishonest. It seems to me as a deliberate restraint due to the awareness the concept itself was flawed. A choice to not go too far. But maybe the story in the movie can then work better if you accept that her choice was free choice, outside any restraint. Instead of the attempt in the short story to juggle both the deterministic aspect and free will. That was clumsy.

This suspicion can find a confirmation in the story itself.

The existence of free will meant that we couldn’t know the future. And we knew free will existed because we had direct experience of it. Volition was an intrinsic part of consciousness.

Or was it? What if the experience of knowing the future changed a person? What if it evoked a sense of urgency, a sense of obligation to act precisely as she knew she would?


The heptapods are neither free nor bound as we understand those concepts; they don’t act according to their will, nor are they helpless automatons. What distinguishes the heptapods’ mode of awareness is not just that their actions coincide with history’s events; it is also that their motives coincide with history’s purposes. They act to create the future, to enact chronology.

Freedom isn’t an illusion; it’s perfectly real in the context of sequential consciousness. Within the context of simultaneous consciousness, freedom is not meaningful, but neither is coercion; it’s simply a different context, no more or less valid than the other. It’s like that famous optical illusion, the drawing of either an elegant young woman, face turned away from the viewer, or a wart-nosed crone, chin tucked down on her chest. There’s no “correct” interpretation; both are equally valid. But you can’t see both at the same time.

Similarly, knowledge of the future was incompatible with free will. What made it possible for me to exercise freedom of choice also made it impossible for me to know the future.


Now that I know the future, I would never act contrary to that future, including telling others what I know: those who know the future don’t talk about it. Those who’ve read the Book of Ages never admit to it.

That last part appears very telegraphed to me. Blatant.

It’s a kind of secrecy originating from the fact that exposition of that knowledge makes the trick too obvious. The magician would get exposed.

I remember an article written by Niklas Luhmann where he analyzed the evolution of human communication, and explained the case of ancient tribes that worshiped some bones as sacred, used for rites and cure certain ailments. Only a selected, small number of initiates could get close to those bones. Luhmann described this as a “repression of communication”. You couldn’t “go see” these sacred bones, because meaning (and power) was acquired by UNSEEING. If everyone could see those bones, they would quickly realize what they were: just normal bones.

Here we have a scenario that looks similar. Imagine if, instead of stating that she isn’t going to tell anyone, she publicly tells the world. You can expect she’s going to be tested.

Imagine this scenario. You and the scientist who claims she can see the future, sitting one in front of the other.

You: So you’re the one. But since I believe in science, I’m going to put you though a test, so that you can prove me that what you’re saying is indeed true. So, what is the next word I’m going to say?
Her: Well, of course I know that. The next word you’re going to say is: ‘salad’.
You: SPINACH! FUCKING SPINACH!

That’s a typical paradox, and it works perfectly to underline the illogicality of the basic thesis: being able to see the future in a context where time is fixed (that’s the original story scenario).

My own way to deal with that fixes the paradox. My hypothesis acknowledges Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and says that a deterministic account is only possible when outside the system. The complete description of a system cannot exist inside the system because it recursively needs to account for itself. Concretely, this means that whenever the woman who can see the future tells the other guy the word she knows he’s going to say, the guy will merely end up saying a different word, and she would be wrong. This is what happens.

Is this surprising? Nope, the woman can indeed see the future (that’s the premise, and it needs to be valid, obviously). The universe is indeed deterministic. Yet she’s wrong. Why she’s wrong? Because the moment she answers, and she’s inside the system, she obligatorily introduces new information that wasn’t part of the system. And the rule says that every time a system receives new information, the system changes. It means that whenever she speaks (introduces information that shouldn’t be available) she causes the system to take a different course.

The rule wants that if you can see the future, and you are inside the system, the future follows your whims. It cannot stay fixed, because it’s new information. That paradox embeds the reflexive property, and so is modified by it. If we say that determinism and time-as-a-solid are likely properties of the universe we live in, we also have to admit this hypothesis cannot be verified because it relies on a proof that is “out of bounds”. Or, it’s the property of the “screen”, of the dome that walls our experience. This isn’t even a religious claim. You can imagine there’s an outside (so a religious perspective), or you can imagine it all came together spontaneously following the rules of physics, but the properties of the system are still the same.

We live in a world where truth has been walled off.

You may even say, intuitively, that in the example above whatever she says you will say, you will say. Because she knows, and so you won’t be able to change that. But you just have to think about it. That would mean that, as observed, that event would be interpreted as: she can make people say whatever she wants against their will. Because in the end it’s just a system, without agency. You tell the woman that she’ll have to say what the guy says, then instruct the guy so that he has to say everything but what the woman has just said.

Imagine just a computer program that asks the woman to press on a keyboard the number that is going to appear on screen. Then code the program so that it takes that number and adds +1 to it and then displays that. She’ll never be able to predict that.

Or, imagine the example above and put another guy behind a screen, observing the other two, making sure he too can see the future. We’d have a scenario where the woman says “salad”, the guy replies “spinach”, but the other guy observing the process would reliably answer “spinach”, because he can see the future and, because he doesn’t interact with the process itself, the process doesn’t change and fulfills the prophecy.

What does this tell me about Ted Chiang’s story? That the rule “those who know the future don’t talk about it” is just a convenient screen that is put there to defuse the paradox. It’s a way to wall off the inner paradox so that the story holds. It’s a trick. A manipulation. But as I said in the original article, by doing that you also wall off the actual truths that govern this system. A “paradox” is just the sign that a problem has been structured in a flawed way. That there was a mistake in our model of the world. If we simply hold up that model, we cling to something that naturally deceives, and that will only muddy the waters and prevent an actual understanding.

And one last observation to put a definitive crack into the story’s frame: is Ted Chiang also postulating that mind and body are indeed separated and that thoughts are “magical”? Think about it. If thoughts, your mind activity, is just about more physics, the same particles that build the rest of the universe, then the time travel we see in both the movie and the original story seems just about information moving back and forth. If experience becomes “simultaneous” then it means you experience every moment in the same moment. Your thoughts go across the whole spectrum. But if your thoughts are free from the chains of time, and your thoughts are just “more particles”, wouldn’t that also mean that all “matter” exists in a simultaneous way, and so that you could not only transfer information, but also OBJECTS (and everything else)?

But of course that’s just the explicit sign that the thesis requires the “mind” to be “somewhere else”. The mind, outside time, observes reality as fixed, and, by then moving an “avatar” within that reality it operates as we do when we move a character within a computer game. We rely on a double, and a scheme where the system has an inside and an outside. That is exactly how I intuitively imagined the aliens in the original story: experiencing in their “external” mind reality as simultaneous. But that means two scenarios are possible within that model: either they can control their avatars, or, as the story seemed to imply, they merely observe passively.

If they observe passively (“enacting chronology”): this opens a paradox because having an external mind that passively observes cannot explain how these aliens would behave. They need some kind of mind. If the observing mind “does nothing”, than this observing mind just doesn’t actually exists. It doesn’t manifests within the world (and the reason why this hypothesis cannot work). If it doesn’t manifest then it simply mean no time travel is possible, no manifestation at all. So no “alien writing” and no simultaneous experience either. From inside the system we have no mean to determine there’s a mind outside that observes passively.

If instead they observe “actively”, and so are in control, this brings back up to those examples I made. Interacting with a deterministic system produces new information within that system, which allows time travel. We actually fixed the problem of matter being simultaneous too, because we decided that the operating minds do their job from outside the system (again, exactly as in a videogame), but we fall back in the case where interaction produces change. Still accordingly to the physics of that system (how the game is coded) but being able to replay it endlessly and so being able to explore all the permutations that the system allows.

What happens to that woman within this scenario? That the woman appears as an NPC. She follows her coded AI. Then when aliens arrive, they unlock her, as if a player takes control of that NPC. A mind “outside” the system beings controlling that “avatar”. And that enables that avatar to produce change in the system, and so changing the “future”. Exactly as we’ve seen. But again, the conclusion is that time always changes when an external agent interacts with the system.

Time travel is possible. The future can be changed. And because you can try every possible alternative world, picking the very best you can achieve, this invalidates at once both the original story and the movie.

P.S.
All the examples above are variants of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and its more basic form, The Liar’s Paradox.

I am writing about this. I am writing about this because it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and because it’s an universal iceberg: the system of communication is collapsing.

The internet. The sensational something everyone tries to define but that stays ephemeral. Either coated in sensationalism, or banality. I think instead it’s just a system of communication, and a system that has had its variables tweaked. But it’s the same system we had since the dawn of consciousness. It is now starting to collapse simply because it’s being put under unprecedented stress.

I have a slight political view on this, but you can remove this specific subjective interpretation and my argument still holds. But I’m going to start there. I do believe that capitalism, the underlying system of society we all live under in the modern world, is inherently hypocritical: it works because it’s self serving, and it works because it continuously legitimates itself through hypocrisy. Or: a fully egoistical system that feeds itself at the expense of everything else. And while self-preservation can be seen as legitimate, the consequence is that all this capitalism system proactively does is: legitimate itself. Justify itself and egoism.

To do just that, the system feeds directly on hypocrisy: those who have, have the right to that privilege. The system continuously grinds to legitimate that tenet. But because we all, no one excluded, live within that system, we all end up just introjecting that hypocrisy in some measure. It’s necessary to be able to live. We all live on the premise of hypocrisy. It’s the foundation of the society we live in and we are all “guilty” of furthering that. Of participating to the system so that the system survives as it is.

That’s where we are today: on the brink of what likely is decadence. But whatever the prediction you can make on how it will turn out, the fact is that the internet has made communication more fluid than ever. In doing that, the overall system has been put under unprecedented stress. As Niklas Luhmann explains well, the system of communication always has to deal with a degree of uncertainty. A message can be either right or wrong. True or false. If a statement had a perfect probability of being right and being wrong, communication would stop. Because we would never be able to decide for one or the other. We would drown into ambiguity. That’s why we are embedded in a culture of “values”. A compass. In order to create paths of “meaning” within all that uncertainty. Decide what is right and what is wrong when communication is perfectly fluid.

Because we live in capitalism, and because capitalism brings the fundamental hypocrisy, we cannot anymore understand if a message is honest or it’s just being used for personal gain. Cynically. We are constantly tripping on ambiguity: what you just said was true or you’re just trying to deceive me for your own ends. Was it a joke or you mean it. Form and substance. Is Pewdiepie joking about Jews or he’s hiding a truer barbed intention within that joke. Do we trust the face of a message or we look through at the darkness that hides behind.

Notice how the attacks to Pewdiepie relied on taking a message out of context. What “context” is, is merely an amount of information used to increase the signal. It is used to reduced the ambiguity. In the case of Pwediepie’s jokes, the joke itself relies on the ambiguity. Even a “pun” relies on the ambiguity of its meaning. Context is then used so you have more information to strengthen an interpretation rather than another, to keep the ambiguity while providing a signal to then interpret it correctly. You hear the joke, experience a moment of disorientation, but then acknowledge it wasn’t serious. Crisis averted, he didn’t truly “mean it”. But if you take the joke out of context, so remove the context that proves the joke is a joke, the result is that the joke becomes a STATEMENT.

If so many focus on the problem of anonymity on the internet, it is because again of the issues of the system. Knowing who’s speaking provides information to remove the ambiguity in a message. Anonymity on the internet is another element making information more fluid: only the message remains. The message can be either true or wrong. Useful or useless.

The case of Pewdiepie joking about Jews works along the lines of computer games being accused of legitimating violence. Do I take the violence in a game like GTA as a statement or as a joke. As a message that is real or as a message that is clearly fictional. Joke or truth. Fiction or real. It’s still about ambiguity embedded in the message, and so the impossibility to control the subjectivity on the receiving end. The message is GOING TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD, because who sent the message (like Pewdiepie) couldn’t control the amount of awareness about said message on the receiving end. Was a message an insult, or I was clearly joking and didn’t mean to offend? Should I apologize because I sent the wrong message, or should you apologize because you carelessly misunderstood it on your own end? Or maybe the joke was the hypocrisy I used to hide what I intended as an insult, but I didn’t want to give you the evidence to accuse me of that insult so that I could get away with it?

The way I personally feel when faced of all these issues about misrepresentation of women in games, movies or books, violence, religion or racism, “Social Justice Warriors” versus free speech extremists… is that I just don’t know. They all look like paradoxes to me. I don’t know what is right from what is wrong. I don’t know how to take them. The amount of ambiguity is too high. I don’t have rules that are clear enough to separate all of that into clear black and white. And the only way I personally know to deal with that is to trench down into pure analysis. Drop every form of prejudices and instinct and just proceed with cold, technical analysis of every argument until I can arrive at a definitive conclusion. But I know it’s just my way, and a lot of people instead legitimately decide to rely on emotion, or on what they perceive is common sense. But I am radically incompatible with that, because my problem is with ambiguity of a message, and if you answer that through emotion or common sense, those are the REIGNS of ambiguity. It’s the danger zone. The problem of communication can only be solved by more communication. By more analysis. Going deep down. Writing a wall of text no one will ever read because no one has time or care to. We need to move to make the money we need, and we need to truncate any lengthy argument and find a quick way to deal with it because survival depends on time.

Some employ a behavioral approach: walling off certain areas of communication: “there are certain things you shall not joke about”. Which, contrasted with my analytical approach, creates a negative situation: how should I decide whereas something is correct or wrong if you walled it off through prejudice? Through this behavioral approach communication is controlled, so the degree of uncertainty in the message decreases dramatically, but this has been rightfully compared to censorship, and censorship is a top-down form of control: I decide whether you can speak about something or not. It’s a case of “who watches the watchmen”. Or: if this communication has been ruled unquestionable, how can I decide whether it was done legitimately or not?

The consequence of walling off communication through this behavioral approach (and common tendency) is that ambiguity is reduced on one side, while making unquestioned power arise. And when unquestioned power is that which decides, it means we lose any way to understand whether something is right or wrong. We’re just completely at the whim of the dark. The unknown we walled off.

This is why this struggle with SJW on one side and free speech extremists on the other is going to continue. It’s the natural struggle of a communication system. The ebbs and flows going from the need to keep the system fluid and across the whole spectrum, and the need to keep uncertainty low so that there can still be an amount of order in it. As we know, fascism prizes on order, and that’s why, when things are seen radically, these discussions lead to discussions about free speech and censorship. We are just oscillating between the two extremes and opposite needs of a system of communication. Between order and chaos. Signal and noise. Certainty and ambiguity.

One wonders what this episode about Pewdiepie and the blatant misrepresentation of him tells us about the mainstream media. I guess many see it as the proof mainstream media just follow their own agenda and you cannot trust them in any way. I have a more moderate way of seeing this. I think journalists are just normal human beings that specialize. If a journalist follows politics for many, many years you can somewhat count on him being competent about that. And of course when you hear someone’s opinion about something he’s not competent about, it’s likely that this opinion will show many limits. What we’ve seen in this specific case is not that the Wall Street Journal is garbage, but merely that it dealt with a specific topic it has no actual competence to understand and write about. It happens so frequently when mainstream media talk about technology or science. Those journalists are just human beings, they stepped out of what they understand and made a mess.

On the other side there’s also another level to this. It’s about pure “strategy”. Pewdiepie might believe his message is 100% correct and legitimate, and it is, but it is that in an ideal world where that message is also perfectly received. The system of communication, again. He’s sure the message is “just” because he fully knows the intention behind it and made that intention clear. But we live within an imperfect world where communication constantly fails. You send a message that after being sent is liable of being greatly misunderstood, or even deliberately misunderstood and used with malice. Because we navigate and intimately know this world, we have the responsibility not just of a moral superiority that guarantees us the good conscience of the message sent, but also of the obligation to foresee those unintended consequences. Or at least try. But I don’t think Pewdiepie did anything wrong on this, either.

He put ambiguity under the spotlight and proved we don’t have appropriate means to deal with it. The system is collapsing and we have no safeguards beside fascism itself. If anything, Pewdiepie’s video helped to warn about its resurgence under NEW forms. Forms that we do not see and that are already around us. Fascism is the answer to a world we are too retrograde to face. The preservation of a privilege that has been challenged.