Thanks to some good questions in last night's livestream, I managed to give a relatively concentrated hour of talking, with a surprisingly high signal/noise ratio (relative to my average, which isn't saying much). With more than one machine-learning tool and a couple hours of editing, it's now searchable for future purposes. I took my liberties with it, because why not, but only here and there. It's very verbose, sorry. I've limited and committed myself to a one-hour livestream every Thursday at 9pm UK / 4pm Eastern / 1pm Pacific. If you want to talk about any of these things, feel free to follow up with me then/there.
"Why are you not naked?"
That is a very, very good question now that being naked is very righteous and quite normal thing to do for professors trying to make a point they believe in. I don't know why I'm not naked. Well, actually, I do, because, as soon as I saw that lecture — there was recently a Cambridge lecturer, a passionate Remainer in the Brexit debate, she's very troubled by the prospect of Brexit and she gave a public lecture or performance let's say: yeah performance is the right word, to show the world why Brexit is a risky bad idea and she was butt-ass naked. I honestly think it's fantastic, I think it's so great.
The first thing I thought when I watched that is, I should totally do something naked. Why would I not? I've actually always had a passion for doing things naked, like passion is maybe too significant of a word, but I've always had a tendency to get naked, when I was younger. At pool parties and stuff like that, I was always the guy skinny-dipping and shit, it's just fun right? And when I saw her I was like, this is social license. I could totally do this, and no one could say anything to me if I were to do a lecture naked or make some kind of video naked. I could write whatever political message I want on me. That was definitely the immediate thought that entered my mind and actually I started getting really excited. This shows that this is an honorable, righteous thing that is lauded and impressive for an academic to do. I immediately thought to do it, and I mean who knows what the future holds, but the reason I didn't do it, like today — like right when I got that idea, because usually when I get crazy ideas, I do them right when I get them or else It's not gonna happen, but who knows what will happen? — the reason I didn't do it is because here's the thing: nobody wants to see a man naked. I'm not that old yet and I'm in shape and I'm fit, so I think I'm relatively good-looking naked. However, I'm still a 32 year old man and just nobody wants to see even a fairly good-looking and svelte 32-year-old man naked. Of course, there's a small number of people who maybe do, but on the whole, when you see a man naked on The Internet, it's just... It's just horrifying, whereas when you see a naked woman on a stage, it's just not that crazy. Not even that shocking. I mean, you open up Instagram and you see it all over the place. If you look at Tumblr or Instagram, it's naked women all over the place. It's actually quite normal to the average person, even if you have no interest in porn or don't sign up for any type of, you know, sexual types of things...
What's interesting is that academia is now entering trash-tier media spectacle. I think that's hilarious and awesome. Fast forward ten years, neo-China arrives from the future, and the average academic is a young woman who gets half of her academic salary from thirst-trapping on Instagram or something like this. This [Cambridge woman] is basically like the avant-garde that's heading towards that. I think it's started. It all starts with a fifty-year old senior fellow at Cambridge! You wait and see the deluge of sexualized academics, especially academic women, coming out in the next several years. Mark my words. This will be one of my predictions. I don't make a lot of predictions because I think generally predicting the future is a fool's errand, but I definitely think that there is a long-term dynamic — nowadays, that means like a couple decades, but — I think there's a more or less long-term dynamic in which the prestige institutions and fields are, basically due to ineluctable market pressures... The prestige fields that, once upon a time prided themselves on their anti-vulgarity are basically being torn asunder by competitive necessities to make themselves increasingly vulgar. You know, it's just like cursing in the classroom. I can remember when I first started teaching as a PhD student, it was still pretty edgy. I was like that. I was like the edgy young lecturer to sometimes say a curse word. Nowadays, it's so normal, just drop a little curse word here and there, because it's like everyone wants to connect with the youth, who seem to care less and less about their classes. Market realities of living in a contemporary hyper-digital, hyper-capitalist society are forcing the anti-vulgarity traditions to start trafficking in vulgarity. If my other intuitions are right, that academia will be increasingly chopped up into, well, what is basically the gig economy... A lot of stuff I'm experimenting with is kind of that. Just breaking things up into their component parts and selling them directly to people on large, open marketplaces. Basically, if my intuition is right, then it would follow that the kind of sexual marketing component that is always available in any domain would also find its own little specialization...
You could totally imagine, for instance, if there's an academic thats, let's say, every way comparable to me in my terms of my research output, my level in academia whatever, but she's an attractive woman? Like if I was an attractive woman, and I wanted to make this kind of transition out of academia that I'm currently making, while wanting to maintain a serious intellectual life and a long-term research agenda, but I have to come up with different ways to make an income? Hell yeah I would do basically different types of thirst-trapping — more or less like soft sex work... If I were to do 'gay for pay' to sustain my intellectual life, that would be seriously looked down upon. Even people who accept me and love me, you know they would really feel like, "Damn Justin, that's really low, damn." If you're a woman and you do that, there's still some stigma for sure, I'm not denying that, but people immediately get it, there are now very soft, normalized ways of doing it that don't strike people as scandalous. Even just the "influencer economy," and all of that, it's the really low level of whoring yourself out, even just being a model is whoring yourself out and there's always been a tradition for that that's always kind of accepted and normalized and, in fact, admired. So yeah if I was a woman academic and I was hot, I would totally. I'm surprised you don't see more of it, but I think you will, especially after people like this Cambridge lecturer, when people with a lot of cultural capital at esteemed institutions start breaking down the vulgarity barriers...
Brenton says I am basically describing Aella. I do not know Aella, but I have seen her around. She seems cool. I do remember looking at her blog. She seems smart and legit and has written interesting stuff... I guess what Brenton is getting at is she's also attractive. I guess her idea is that... Well, any woman who's attractive, it's just part of the the value proposition that they're offering the world, and this is true for men too. It's almost inescapable yeah, so all the power to her. She's probably out ahead of something that you're gonna see more and more of. Resistance is futile, never resist things, "never object" says Deleuze, never object. That doesn't necessarily mean you should throw yourself headlong into any trend uncritically and unethically, though, not at all.
"What long-form articles do I have planned?"
The big candidate on that list that I'm starting to focus on now is all of my code for data analysis stuff, specifically R code for political science. I'm addicted to exploratory data analyses. Just random stuff like "I wonder if the relationship between leftism and abortion support is changing since 1976?" What I've often known over the past five years as an academic, you never have enough fucking time. If you get carried away, you might spend two hours on something random and you have all these analyses on a topic of interest, but to turn that into a published research article takes a very, very long time. Like months really. Even just to turn it into a blog post, let's say to do it right, make everything look nice and write it up, let's say that takes 4 hours. Well, that's a long fucking time that you can't really justify when you're doing a serious career like academia and there are certain things you have to prioritize... So I've done all of these exploratory analyses. I have all of this code and all these graphs and different types of half-baked looks at things, and it's just sitting there on my computer. I can give you one script and then you open it up on your computer and it will download some random political science data set. Let's say like the General Social Survey or something, it'll download it for you, clean all of the variables, then make a bunch of graphs and run some models and extract results, like all of that is embedded in the code so there are a lot of people who don't actually know how to do that, and they don't even need to learn how to do that. But if they're just good enough to use computers, I can basically make all of that code and value available to people. So I don't know what I'm gonna do with it, but that's just one example. I'll also be able to get blog posts out of that and write stuff up and and and remember all the stuff I've looked into, trying to make sense out of it all.
On Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethinc for Beginners (2002)
I wanted to tell you a little bit about this book because a lot of people would not think that this is in my library and I think a lot of people look down on this kind of tradition or lineage or tendency. I was flipping through it and I was like, there are some good lines in here... I think it's somewhat underrated. It's basically radical left, very anarchist... I think you'd call it insurrectionary anarchist. That's what I would call it anyway, definitely with communist undertones, strong egalitarianism, of course, but really the defining characteristic of this insurrectionary anarchism here is, it's romantic, vitalistic. You know the kind of bourgeois ideology of "live in the moment?". It's kind of like the militant anarchist version of that. Listen to your body. You know that the current organization of society is bad - you just know it - you feel it. Everyone hates their jobs, and everyone knows it, and they're all these lies that society is built on, and everyone knows it so just, fuck it man! If you want to steal from a grocery store, you're not stealing from a grocery store, you're liberating those products from the grocery store. Finding the inner truth of your uncaged animal being, and this is true and good, and morality is just a bourgeois system that's been evolved to keep the masses down. It's very DIY culture, zine culture, like fuck copyright! You get a hint of Guy Debord and the Situationists. People watch too much TV and they're on screens too much. They were kind of saying this before it was cool.
This is what the insurrectionary anarchist tradition gets right. Most currently existing capitalist and bureaucratic institutions, they have in fact evolved to keep you compliant and to suck the life out of you for their own profit to reproduce themselves. Anything that says that, and forcefully reminds you of that, is good. Put your experiences and your immediate affect and energies as a kind of primary and initial data point for building out theories of the world and especially making decisions about what you should or should not do. This is different from naïve sheepish automatism of constant System 1 reactiveness, by the way.
Where I tend to part ways with this it's often in a very secular-atheistic "God is dead" kind of way. Like all of morality is bullshit, there are no rules, there's only the small band of revolutionaries shoplifting and living in communes and stuff. I got a lot of love for that... I think a lot of these people just assume that norms and ethics will emerge and that a small community living radically and romantically in this kind of anti-capitalist, communistic fashion will just self-organize or self-enforce norms and an ethics but that generally tends not to happen and that's a major problem, and there are reasons for that. But that's not really sexy, you don't write gripping manifestos with that stuff and to me that's where religion comes in. I believe capitalism is fundamentally an unjust, lying, exploitative set of institutions and you do have to say fuck this, I'm gonna break whatever rules I need to perform fully and express fully the vital processes that you know damn well are being tortured. It's not a contradiction to also say there are deep and long-standing truths and structures that it would behoove us to respect because they're true and because they are there, whether we like them or not. I think you're you really fuck yourself over if you throw out the baby of religion with the bathwater of all the fake bullshit rules of contingent human affairs.
"Do you believe that, on the third day, Christ rose again, in accordance with the scriptures?"
That is a really good question, and I told you that I'm open to questions here and I'm not going to dodge them. This is the kind of question I struggle with the most right now: the parts of the Christian catechism that explicitly state something that, to a rational scientific person, you simply can't believe. I'm a social scientist, I'm well trained in scientific method. Rationality is the only tool we have for making correct inferences about the empirical world. There's no proof that resurrections have ever happened, or ever could happen. If you're a rational scientific person, you simply can't believe that such a thing happened.
The other half is this... I am not convinced that the Christian person has to affirm belief in such events in this naïve empirical sense. I affirm rationality is the only tool for making inferences about the empirical world, and that's absolute, but making inferences about the empirical world does not exhaust what language can do. And that is an undeniable empirical reality in its own right. You have to understand that all of these ideas we have today about the empirical reality of an event and the way that we can separate empirical "real-world" events from our desires and longings and hopes and artistic invention and our interests in the social community, etc., is all very new. We have this capacity to put empirical statements in a particular way and with certain criteria: the criteria of scientific rationality, but back then they didn't have that! So what it means to write in a book that "Jesus rose from the dead" is just simply not an empirical statement in the sense that we think of empirical statements. I mean that's just undeniable. They didn't have the conceptual tools and the the mental routines that we have! That's really, really important.
Today we say, "If you're a Christian, then by definition you believe X, where X is also by definition something that every half-educated person knows to be empirically impossible." Thus religion gets defined as idiotic, but tautologies are also anathema to proper scientific method! That's a perfectly fine bit of algebra, but you can't test its mapping on the empirical world without a falsifiable hypothesis (which it is not). So this is just a little trap, with no scientific purchase on what you think or do with a religious tenet such as the resurrection. The meaning of that statement as it was written in the Bible, at the time it was written in the Bible, makes a lot of sense. You can say that, and you can also say everything I said about my scientific diagnosis, that I do not believe a physical resurrection has ever occurred in history. Empirical reality is something we only learned how to do after they wrote that shit down! So that's where I come down on it.
"So what did they mean by it?"
Well, first of all, I would say a lot of the scripture is really densely concentrated so it's a really efficient encoding of multiple things. It's like the first hyperlinked document, if you look at like Bible Hub. It's supposed to encode all of this stuff about life and how you should how you should think and behave and the history of the world, and it's relatively short for what it's trying to encode, so clearly in an evolutionary process where this stuff is iterated over time, it's gonna get increasingly dense and concentrated. So that's one thing, I don't think that's a cop-out. I think that's the truth of what this historical evolved document is.
I think they're definitely trying to say something about the weird, well, miraculous property of truth-telling as unstoppable. There were Ancient Cynics in the area around Jesus and it's quite likely that Jesus had some concrete exposure to Cynics in the lineage of someone like Diogenes. And if you go back to that time, you know Diogenes, a radically militant kind of truth-speaker who organizes his entire life around talking shit as aggressively as possible, basically... One way to read Christianity is that this Jesus guy and his cronies, they're learning from this.
One of the discoveries encoded in Christianity is that there is something very weird and peculiar about the truth, which is that nobody can stop it. You just can't, it's there and there's no amount of social conformity or political pressure or force that is going to stop the truth from becoming true producing its effects on the world. The resurrection encodes this. If you align yourself with the truth - and here I'm gonna start sounding like Jordan Peterson just because he's closer to this than anyone else right now — if you just try to say what you think is true at all times as fully as possible — and that's basically a Christian injunction — if you do that, you will win, you don't know exactly when or how and why you're gonna win and that's why it's kind of irrational and miraculous, that's what makes it religious.
In fact, rationally everything tends to look like telling the truth too extremely is doomed to lose. That is because our society really does run on lies; they might even kill you, they might even fucking crucify you, they might even literally kill you and yet, still, it's worth it, somehow. The truth that you try to live by is going to actually ripple out even more, the more they try to suppress you. I just think there is a basic truth in that. I'd even say that's amenable to empirical demonstration. If the truth is true, because it's something hard-coded into the nature of things, then it makes sense that reality would snap back no matter what we say. It makes sense that that would be unstoppable. In other words, the truth will always be resurrected. The person who aligns themselves with the truth will always be resurrected. The resurrection of Christ is an encoding of that. If your entire message, everything you stood for, everything you believed in... If they kill you, but everything you've ever said and done lives on? Is that not as legitimate and real and empirical a resurrection as if your physical body appeared in the air one day? Like, that's just dumb! [In caveman voice:] "So you mean like his body, like his skin, came out of the tomb and was in the air? Like I could touch his skin in the air? Whoa." Today we laugh at this straw-man of Christianity, but in fact we're truly stupid for interpreting the question in this way.
I don't think any smart Christians in human history ever really believed that the resurrection was a physical thing. You have to be an overeducated, hyper-scientific, modern person to be stupid enough to interpret the question in that way. There are many other things you can do with language, so I think the resurrection is a deep encoding of the seemingly miraculous property of the truth that makes it unstoppable, that makes it rise again, no matter what anyone tries to do to bury it. After Christ, there's this insane blossoming that takes over thousands and thousands of bodies across continents. In some non-trivial sense, like all of the Christian people, whose lives and attitudes and behaviors and are rooted in the Christ cult, that's a far more real and physical resurrection than having your body lifted in the air one fine day. It's literally a more empirical fulfillment of the statement than the naïve imputed notion. So sure, I do believe that on the third day Jesus was resurrected, I think it makes perfect sense and it's perfectly consistent with a modern, rational, educated scientific perspective on the world.