Hi there! ٩(๑❛ᴗ❛๑)۶

My name is Yoann, I go by “yo252yo“, and I do all kind of things that I want to see in the world because nobody else will make them, at the junction of art, philosophy, computer science and pop culture:

This is ultimately a blog, so feel free to keep scrolling for updates in reverse chronological order as blogs tend to do. Oh and also there’s my CV somewhere too.



Here’s the index of my productions, cause this is starting to get messy:

My games

I’m on https://yo252yo.itch.io/

I also have a presskit for some reason!

My tools

See github for now

Picture book

Short stories / flash fiction

present in $self:

Very old stuff in french

Marx’s post-marxist theory of bullshit jobs

Usually, the (shit)posts on this blog are non-rigorous ideas dumps that I consider “food for thoughts” more than anything else, but for once I want to gather a few specific pointers from Marx because I keep searching for them and it’s driving me crazy. That being said I’m still not a Marx scholar and there’s so much I have yet to read.

Labour is the start, not the end

I’m mostly interested in doing a cross-reading of Marx and Baudrillard, focusing on where they agree instead of where they potentially diverge, because I believe they have a lot in common when it comes to the direction in which capitalism is headed.

Marxism is often criticized because of his emphasis on labour value. It is certainly a valid criticism, though it was probably a pertinent analysis during his lifetime. But I believe Marx’s work contains hints of going above and beyond this concept. Incidentally, I was told that he had plans to address and develop this in the third volume of Capital (let me know if you know more!).

I want to look at the crumbs that hint at where he would have been going, especially through the concept of commodity fetishism, which goes in a direction quite opposed to labour value (and somewhat Baudrillardian). What’s interesting to me is that although Marx stipulates that the origin of value derives from labour, he does notice a trend towards empty simulations.

Paperclip Maximization

Marx famously highlights the tendency of capital to continuously grow and demand more and more. Some people (more than I initially realized) have drawn a parallel between the textbook case of a rogue super-AI “paperclip maximizer” and capitalism. The starting point for this article was the vague remembrance of Marx himself talking about this unstoppable cancerous maximization.

The purpose of capitalist production, however, is self-expansion of capital, i.e., appropriation of surplus-labour, production of surplus-value, of profit.

Capital Vol. III Part III Chapter 15. Exposition of the Internal Contradictions of the Law

He even points out to speculation as a core mechanism of this expansion.

The rate of self-expansion of the total capital, or the rate of profit, being the goad of capitalist production (just as self-expansion of capital is its only purpose), its fall checks the formation of new independent capitals (…). It breeds over-production, speculation, crises, and surplus-capital alongside surplus-population.

Capital Vol. III Part III Chapter 15. Exposition of the Internal Contradictions of the Law

That comes into play naturally because a smart decentralized maximizer system will exploit any opportunity it finds to the fullest following a revenue over investment analysis. Speculation is a trade of empty air that can bring revenue for very little (or none) investment. And it’s not bounded in the same way labour is.

The speculative side of Capital

Marx talks a lot about speculation and the trade of empty promises through the notion of fictitious capital, which qualifies floating money without concrete anchor point used to gamble and speculate in stock markets.

The greater portion of banker’s capital is, therefore, purely fictitious and (…) it should not be forgotten that the money-value of the capital represented by this paper in the safes of the banker is itself fictitious

Capital Vol. III Part V Chapter 29. Component Parts of Bank Capital

Gambling in the stock market is not the only way for capitalism to create value out of nothing, though. It also excels at manufacturing demand and creating needs where there was none before. Marx writes about this in the form of imaginary appetites:

The extension of products and needs becomes a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites.

Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844

The fetishism of money

In this world of make-belief, humans then become not the goal, but the means through which this maximizer system operates. It takes a life of its own, and its goals take priority over human ones. Capital becoming its own end is echoed in the concept of fetishism.

Here the products of the human (…) appear as independent figures endowed with a life of their own and standing in a relation to one another and to people. (…) This I call the fetishism which clings to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities and which is therefore inseparable from commodity-production.

The Value-Form, Appendix to the 1st German edition of Capital, Volume 1, 1867

Marx highlights that it is an eminently social manifestation (dare I say “ideology” ?).

This Fetishism of commodities has its origin, as the foregoing analysis has already shown, in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them.


The specifics of the fodder for this maximization process do not matter, as long as they contribute to the process.

In interest-bearing capital, therefore, this automatic fetish, self-expanding value, money generating money, are brought out in their pure state and in this form it no longer bears the birth-marks of its origin. The social relation is consummated in the relation of a thing, of money, to itself. Instead of the actual transformation of money into capital, we see here only form without content.

Capital Vol. III Part V Chapter 24. Externalization of the Relations of Capital in the Form of Interest-Bearing Capital

Form without content… Doesn’t it sound Baudrillardian? The culmination of this empty and ambivalent form, its total incarnation, is the ultimate commodity, the universal equivalent, the meta-fetish, value incarnate: money.

On the other hand, interest-bearing capital is the perfect fetish.  It is capital in its finished form—as such representing the unity of the production process and the circulation process

Theories of Surplus Value, Marx 1861-3 Addenda. Revenue and its Sources. Vulgar Political Economy

The relations of capital assume their most externalised and most fetish-like form in interest-bearing capital.

Capital Vol. III Part V Chapter 24. Externalization of the Relations of Capital in the Form of Interest-Bearing Capital

Capital, even fictitious, becomes the core of the ideology, the ultimate signifier, the ontological and teleological foundation of a society.

Petit objet de consommation

In fact, in “Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe” (that I’ve read to prepare this essay), Baudrillard already makes the link between consumer object of economics and objet petit a of desire of psychoanalysis.

Seule la psychanalyse est sortie de ce cercle vicieux, en rattachant le fétichisme à une structure perverse, laquelle serait peut-être au fond de tout désir.

“Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe”

He gets pretty upset at Marx because, to him, there is no such thing as “non-fetish”. Only the form and appearances ever mattered to begin with.

Il apparaît alors que le « fétichisme de la marchandise » s’interprète, non plus selon la dramaturgie paléo-marxiste, comme (…) une force qui reviendrait hanter l’individu, coupé du produit de son travail, (…) mais bien comme la fascination (ambivalente) d’une forme (logique de la marchandise ou système de la valeur d’échange)

“Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe”

His main point of contention is that the concept of “use value” is already filled with implicit capitalist ideology, that there is no such thing as a need that is not socially mediated. To him, in a capitalist system, all apetites are more or less imaginary.

Marx dit en substance : « La production ne produit pas seulement des biens, elle produit aussi des hommes pour les consommer, et les besoins correspondants. » Proposition détournée le plus souvent dans le sens simpliste de la « manipulation des besoins » et de la dénonciation des « besoins artificiels ». Il faut voir que ce que produit le système de la marchandise dans sa forme générale, c’est le concept même de besoin constitutif de la structure même de l’individu

“Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe”

But he himself acknowledges that this is not in opposition to Marx’s worldview, but rather its logical conclusion pushed even further.

C’est ici que joue l’idéalisme marxiste, c’est ici qu’il faut être plus logique que Marx lui-même, dans son propre sens, plus radical : la valeur d’usage, l’utilité elle-même, tout comme l’équivalence abstraite des marchandises, est un rapport social fétichisé.

“Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe”

My gut feeling is that Baudrillard is just a few steps ahead of Marx on a not-so-dissimilar path. Maybe the path’s starting point as labour value was indeed always an illusion, and maybe not, but I do feel that the two thinkers come together about the destination.

Very late stage capitalism

So where did Marx see this path going? What did he think the outcome of these trends was going to be? He famously wrongly (as of yet) predicted the unavoidable uprising of the proletariat and the end of capitalism under its own contradictions (thwarted by the hard work of the CIA, probably xD).

But in a way, despite his attachment to the notion of labour, even he foresaw the famous development illustrated by Baudrillard, the move away from concrete and meaningful towards speculative and simulative, which ends up dominating everything:

But it is evident that with the development of the productive power of labour, and thus of production on a large scale: 1) the markets expand and become more distant from the place of production; 2) credits must, therefore, be prolonged; 3) the speculative element must thus more and more dominate the transactions. 

Capital Vol. III Part V Chapter 30. Money-Capital and Real Capital. I.

It’s almost foretelling a future of pure imaginary speculation completely decorrelated from labour. That is the same conclusion reached by Baudrillard who observes that there is no more value in things.

Il n’y a plus de scène de la marchandise : il n’y en a plus que la forme obscène et vide. Et la publicité est l’illustration de cette forme saturée et vide.

“Simulacres et simulation”

In a future (present?) where meaning is dead, only appearances and their (speculative) simulacra matter anymore.

Il n’y a plus d’espoir pour le sens. Et sans doute est-ce bien ainsi : le sens est mortel. Mais ce sur quoi il
a imposé son règne éphémère, ce qu’il a pensé liquider pour imposer le règne des Lumières, les apparences, elles, sont immortelles, invulnérables au nihilisme même du sens ou du non-sens.
C’est là où commence la séduction.

“Simulacres et simulation”

The price of information

I want to mention briefly here an interesting perspective that I got while reading Kurzweil: the trend of production cost. As things become easier and easier to produce, they get cheaper. Eventually, in an age where 3D printers manipulate molecules, matter becomes interchangeable. The value of a product will not be so much in the actual particules composing it but rather in the information that describes how to make it.

This is perhaps the strongest defense of the move of capitalism towards a service-based society and an information-centric economy. But is it really what’s been going on?

Bullshit jobs

There’s a case to be made that our society has moved further and further away from concrete value into imaginary speculation. More and more human time is dedicated to busy-work, empty talks of hot-air and other bullshit jobs, to use the term consecrated by David Graeber.

Baudrillard concurs with this vision whose best portrayal remains for many the movie Office Space.

Il en est de même du travail. L’étincelle de la production, la violence de ses enjeux n’existent plus. Tout le monde produit encore, et de plus en plus, mais subtilement le travail est devenu autre chose : un besoin
(comme l’envisageait idéalement Marx mais pas du tout dans le même sens), l’objet d’une « demande » sociale, comme le loisir, auquel il s’équivaut dans le dispatching général de la vie. (..) le scénario de travail
est là pour cacher que le réel de travail, le réel de production, a disparu.

“Simulacres et simulation”

Bullshit jobs and busy work proliferate as a distraction, to counterbalance and overcompensate the disappearance of meaning. And more hot air begets more hot air.

The IT crowd

One domain where this is especially clear is information technology. Although some of the work in technologies is undoubtedly useful, there is a clear trend of “keeping oneself busy” by constantly reiterating on the design of your favorite products for no reason at all.

This article is already pretty long, so I’ll keep examples to a minimum. I’m sure you have encountered plenty already in your life: features get added, removed and added again, apps split and merge, brands go through endless cycles of redesigns and rebranding, everyone makes their own version of the same thing… Every bug fix introduces two new bugs… Games are now services… When’s the last time you’ve seen a software that was actually finished?

Some of it is doubtless legitimate security arm’s race, but that doesn’t account for everything. Truly, we could not have dreamt of a better vessel than software and apps for busywork. I bet 99% of the code written in 2013 was already replaced 5 years after.

This resonates with mankind’s natural taste for nostalgia and familiarity, most notably in the videogame industry. Scores of companies make the exact same product hundreds of times. Cycles of remakes are shortening, companies are releasing the same game over and over again… Do we really need yet another Final Fantasy 7 game, or Marvel movie? How does it even feel to be working on these? What percentage of jobs are really essential? I wish a fraction of this energy went into making products standard and backward compatible instead 😦

A great reset

And yet, people cling to work as the main core of their identity, as if they had any meaning. Capitalism does, after all, need the anguish of unemployment to thrive. This anguish has now turned into psychosis, with everyone talking about the great reset, a fairytale in which migrants steal people’s precious jobs and ways of life. It’s killing me that ironically, in a weird distortion of this ludicrous fiction, AIs are actually coming to replace people’s jobs and ways of life.

But are most jobs even worth saving to begin with? There’s no shortage of calls for a new society, where humans would be freed from work and would stop defining themselves through their jobs. As for me, I keep looking at the incredible cost (human effort, political risks, environmental…) of keeping this intricate system of bullshit and illusions alive, and I can’t help but wonder if this energy might be better spent…

But I also know that meaning is extremely important to human life and political polls show clearly how adverse to change humanity is. So as much as I would like to overthrow capitalism and found our own meaning making system, I think that might not be entirely realistic. What might be, though, is to embrace bulllshit work, and give one to everyone, so that they can feel accomplished while AI takes over what actually matters. That’s probably where we’re headed, TBH. But then, please, let’s maybe leave a way out of this system for the people who don’t want to be defined by work.

The price of ignorance

– So… is any of this true?

The voice of the Corporate Extreme Orchestrator was stern but not judgemental. Everyone around the round table was looking down, exchanging occasional awkward glances. It was apparent that nobody wanted to take the floor. 

In the center, a holographic display projected the news article that had brought them all to this emergency council. Of course, they had all already read it beforehand.

In an attempt to resolve the standstill, the CEO turned towards the Lead Infrastructure Synergist:

– From a purely technical perspective, does any of it stand up to scrutiny?

The LIS looked at their notes, visibly embarrassed but well prepared.

– I actually took it upon myself to review the literature and the history of our company since its creation. At the very least, our core mission to make humans do what machines can’t is based on indisputable truth. It’s mathematically proven that humans can solve NP-hard problems. I have here a copy of the 2016 research paper about the board game Hanabi, and the following—

– What’s NP-hard? interrupted the Brand Optimization Designer.

– Oh, sorry. It means that it’s an extremely difficult problem to solve with algorithms. This is all theoretical mathematical stuff, I won’t bore you with the details. I also double checked, and the problems we feed our employees are indeed of this category.

– So there’s objectif proof that humans can do things that artificial intelligence can’t ? asked the Global Relations Planner. Then it means that the article is obviously lying!

– It’s not that simple! NP-hard means it’s very difficult, not impossible. There’s never been any evidence that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence can’t outperform humans at those tasks. We can’t claim with absolute certainty that our assignments couldn’t be done by an AI…

– So we cannot certify the basic guarantee we make to our employees that they’ll never be automated away? That’s our whole mission statement!

An embarrassed silence fell back on the table as everyone withdrew into their own thoughts. The CEO took back the lead of the conversation:

– What about our finances? The article claims we’re backed by the “wealthy elite to keep the masses busy so they don’t revolt”. That could be our angle. Is there any fact to counter this?

– I’m afraid not, replied the Financial Solutions Coordinator. We’re a publicly traded company, our investments come from a wide variety of sources. Some of them are rich. We can’t guess their motives.

After a quick pause for thought, the CEO came back with a different approach:

– Maybe we should focus on instrumentalisation? Can we somehow prove that the solutions that our employees come up with are actually put to use in the real world instead of some AI generated ones? That would show that we’re not… “making up fake useless tasks in a grotesque empty circus full of hot air”. Yikes, the language of that thing…

They read the last part straight from the floating article. The Senior Operations Facilitator’s response was hesitant:

– Actually, it’s pretty hard to assess anything of the sort for sure. We work for external partners, we can’t exactly audit what they do internally with our solutions. 

The CEO restrained a swear and rose their voice:

– Is there nobody in this flipping company that actually knows for sure what it is that we do? 

– We do distribute and solve NP hard problems with human employees. That much is indisputable.

The enthusiastic Human Interactions Supervisor took the chance to pile up:

– I did some analyses of my own and I can confirm that the advance of AI has rendered most careers obsolete and automated. About 60% of the pre-AI era jobs have already disappeared. Think of what this kind of massive unemployment would have done to mankind if there weren’t companies like us to counterbalance! People need meaning in their lives. Professions are at the very heart of everyone’s identity! It’s the purpose of so many lives! If it weren’t for us—

– But see, that’s exactly the point! If the problems we solve are fabricated puzzles with no real use like the article claims, what kind of self-fulfillment can you get out of that?

– Well, maybe if they don’t know…

– It’s too late for that, though. The story is out.

A wave of gloom washed over the table. The enraged CEO fumed:

– So we’re going to be destroyed by a measly article, and we’re literally unable to know if it’s even true or not?

– It’s obviously a pile of nonsense made up by a wannabe journalist!

– Does it matter when we can’t refute any of it?

Nobody dared answer. Fortunately, a buzzing from the communication system interrupted the heavy silence. The Automated Secretarial System’s perfectly optimized voice announced:

– I have the Union Liaison Delegate here to see you, they say it’s urgent.

Executives exchanged worried glances, but the CEO was resigned:

– This was bound to happen. Might as well get it over with. Let them in.

A few moments later, the ULD stormed into the meeting space. The CEO greeted them warmly:

– My dear ULD—

But the newcomer interrupted the introduction with a wave of hand.

– Let’s cut to the chase!

– I know, I know… Let me tell you how sorry we are—

The ULD cut them off again:

– That’s not what I’m here to talk about. I can guess that you’re probably in the middle of a storm, you’re trying to stay afloat, but whatever you do, don’t make any rash decisions.

– Pardon?

The ULD explained:

– You should really consider what your employees are thinking.

– I think we know pretty well how they feel…

– And I think you’re mistaken. Ever since the article came out, we’ve been getting non-stop calls from them. 

– Of course.

– But they do not go the way you might think. They all pretty much say the same thing. They’re not angry, they’re just worried about losing their jobs. They’re all begging you to keep the company open.

– Even if it does nothing?

– No matter what, replied the ULD. 

The CEO pondered the implications.

– I’m not sure we can afford it, though. Our investors are pulling out as we speak. Nobody wants to be associated with a PR disaster…

The ULD clearly had a prepared answer to this:

– There’s more. The employees also had some ideas about that.

– Oh really? Tell me more, we could use a miracle solution.

– We can pay. 

Executives exchanged inquisitive looks. 

– What do you mean?

– The employees are willing to pay themselves.

– What?

– Almost all the employees we talked to offered to contribute to keep the company afloat. They all said that there’s no other hope for them when the job market is dominated by AI. They’re ready to do whatever it takes.

– I don’t understand… Isn’t making money the whole point of a job? Why give it away?

– Apparently, it’s more than that. And it’s worth paying for.

– How would that even work? Would they be their own clients?

The executives started spitballing proposals and evaluating the details. Slowly, the dark atmosphere receded and the room came to life in effervescence. Brainstorms were where their entrepreneurial talents really shone.

– The logistics are easy, employees could purchase some of the solutions through some sort of anonymous shell corporation. 

– It would probably be best to not tell them outright who they’re working for. Maybe we can add extra steps in the loop…

– Who says it’s not already happening anyway. After all, if we can’t prove anything…

– We should create new companies ASAP!

– Wouldn’t it be more efficient to use already existing ones? We could invest.

– See! Now we’re talking! We can figure it out as we go!

– Isn’t this just hemorrhaging money? 

– I’m sure some of our investors won’t back out!

– How about a lottery? Pay to apply, winner gets a job.

– Wait, maybe we could get in contact with the government! Surely they can recognize “purpose” as an important public resource and give us state subsidies!

– They could create a “tax on meaning”!

The rush of suggestions lasted for a while, and many proposals were written down. Their world had been torn upside down, but optimism was back in an uncanny twist of fate. They would find a way out. In the end, it would only require minor tweaks to their business model.

When the tension faded, a tacit agreement had been built. They were united in unquestioning collaboration. There was a moment of silence where everyone interiorized the commitment they had implicitly taken. Finally, a timid voice broke the stillness:

– So… what now?

– Well… Business as usual.

The singularity is meta

Kurzweil’s law

It may come as a shock, but I’ve only recently started reading Ray Kurzweil‘s the Singularity is near (I guess I got enough Kurzweil from interviews and articles ^^). And even if this book is starting to show its age (to the point where Kurzweil is writing a new opus) it is still giving me enough food for thoughts.

A core pillar of Kurzweil’s thinking is the law of accelerating returns, an extension of Moore’s law stipulating that it’s not simply that computer chips are getting smaller, it’s that we can store more and more information, which allows him to extend this model to the invention of the printing press and even writing itself. To sum up, the density/complexity of information follows an exponential trend. The tools we build help us make better tools faster at an ever accelerating rate.

The book more or less opens by outlining how this evolution follows, according to Kurzweil, 6 epochs:

The replicator timeline

This picture rightfully echoes the evolution of replicators presented by Richard Dawkins in the Selfish Gene. He does not give a similar schema that I can recall, but he does underline game-changing transformations around the production and selection of information.

A brief combination and summary would look like this:

  • Molecules organize atoms, information is in their pattenrs
  • Cells organize molecules (bundling information)
  • Sexual reproduction allows for better selection of information as is stored on DNA through living beings
  • The apparition of brains allows for ideas, stored as neural patterns: selection can happen within the life span of an individual, results can be passed through generation more efficiently
  • Culture allows the formation of societies (groups of brain) and create a new level of competition for information
  • At this point, information is mostly in the form of ideas, which is what Dawkins called memes
  • Writing allows lossless temporal transmission of information making the selection process more efficient
  • Printing makes writing much more scalable and reliable
  • Technology keeps increasing the transfer speed of information: steam engine, railroads, telegraph, telephone, radio, automobile, planes are all substantial improvements that won orders of magnitude
  • Digitalization increases these gains even further and makes redundancy trivial
  • Internet speeds up connectedness and communication between all existing individuals.
  • <<< you are here
  • ???

As I write this, I realize that this progression is an entanglement of speed, connectivity, reliability and density improvements. It’s not as if we have a linear succession of better and better substrates. After all, writing set us back to storing information on molecules formations. Instead, substrates coexist and help each other increase informational bandwidth. Organization and optimality seem to also play a role here.

I struggle to find a single nice quantity to encapsulate all this progress, but I don’t really think we actually need one (Shannon entropy and Kolmogorov complexity are good candidate that Kurzweil actually hovers around but I am not expert enough to conclude). That being said, this acceleration is shaped by natural selection, so whatever it is, it seems to be what the universe is optimizing for, and therefore The Answer (the cultural singularity ?).

Time and relative dimension

You might have guessed, but what I’m the most curious about is what comes next. One thing that seems pretty clear is that time itself is accelerating. Science now progresses in a decade as much as it used to in a century, and following this trend it might go even faster. It makes sense, in a way. Denser information is space better optimized, faster speed is time more optimized.

I like to think that you can notice this speedup everywhere, from computation speed to the pace of human life. And pretty soon, you’ll be able to see it very literally in simulated beings. The individual’s time is getting faster. But from their point of view, it’s probably the norm, right? Maybe it just means that everything else is getting slower… Yet even if I do think I consume information at a relatively high level of meta (and youtube at speed x2 XD), time doesn’t really slow down when I stop during a countryside retreat… Curious…

Aggregation and meta

I do think there’s an aspect of this timeline that did not get enough thoughts, though, and that’s the level of meta. It seems that we often see the repeating pattern of “information carriers of an epoch organize themselves to bring up the complexity from intra-carrier to inter-carrier: atoms formed molecules, cells formed organisms, individuals formed tribes, tribes formed culture/technologies…

There seems to be a clear trend of aggregating complexity into larger and larger entities that encompass the previous ones to form a new meta-substrate for information. The storage medium of an epoch becomes, in a way, the building block of the next. The gains are obvious: by working at the higher level, you do gain an order of magnitude.

Life of transhumans and meta-humans

Kurzweil is a humanist, and places human beings at the center of his reflection. In his view, the future is about man merging with machines into an enhanced transhuman at the center of this information explosion. But this falls prey to the very thing he criticizes: this is a linear projection based on man that forgets the exponential nature of the process.

Maybe, in order to properly think “exponentially”, we should think about what lies after, at the “next aggregation level“, if you will. There is absolutely no reason for humans to be an end point. Most likely, we are just a stepping stone, like single cell organisms before us. Maybe humans are just the building blocks of the next level, the atoms to the next molecule, the proteins to the next DNA… If so, what could it be like?

We’re of course venturing into the unimaginable here, since it’s near impossible to understand something so radically smarter than ourselves. For an atom, the concept of an animal is beyond comprehension. Our scale is all we’ll ever see. From the point of view of humans, the future might very well be the technological utopia that Kurzweil dreams of. After all, our cells are happily living their little lives.

Universes’ next top entity

Each jump on the complexity scale seems to be accompanied with a change of what the basic (ontological? ethical?) “entity” is. Our cells are all functional, and might even be conscious for all we know, yet our elementary unit of consideration is the human individual (of course, because that’s what we are). So… what is the next one going to be?

We can intuit a little bit what lies beyond by extrapolating from past trends. It does seem that the “jump” to the higher level is centered around the interactions and aggregations of the entities of this level. So we’re looking for something that aggregates humans and emerges from their patterns.

Could humans be the neurons of a bigger China brain? And could it be that it’s already there, but we don’t see it from our meta level?

The age of memes

My immediate reaction is to follow Dawkins and posit memes as the next level of evolution. It is true that ideas use crowds of humans to spread, and are “bigger” than the people carrying them. I do like this idea, but I’m not exactly sure that memes leverage the structure of connections between individuals and could really be considered aggregative.

A compromise might be the kind of memes that constitute a population. Concepts defined by a group of people. Countries come to mind, but more recently it seems clear that corporations have taken this kind of role. They are entities that organize humans like atoms organized into molecules. They exist and thrive through human collaboration and interaction.

This does end up creating a whole new level of complexity than their individual components. I’ve always harbored a kind of fascination for this level of aggregation. The liberal economy is an incredible decentralized computation algorithm, incorporating so much information. Could it be a meta-human conversation, or a meta-human entity even? Could there be something that it’s like to be Google or Facebook? I do want to believe 🙂

The line between companies and individuals is especially getting blurred nowadays. With companies acting on social networks as individuals, sophisticated advertisement or humans turning into patreon-backed personal brands, the picture has never been muddier. Not to mention the rise of avatars like vTubers… Human created characters are swarming the real world and making their own ontology.

The end of human history

One reason I wanted to write this article is because I think this brings a new light to Mark Fisher’s concept of capitalist realism. Maybe this really is the end of history, and capitalism really is its final form. For humans, that is. Maybe the age of mankind is over, and it’s time for a higher level entity to be the basic block of consideration. Welcome to the age of corporations, to the marketplace of ideas, or whatever…

That also comes with an interesting perspective on the global disempowerement of humans (much lamented by Ted Kaczynski and co). Looking around at neoliberal capitalism, it does seem that humans have very little actual political power and that the status quo will go on with a tremendous inertia. One example of this is the climate crisis which seems to garner the concern of a majority of humans (at least in educated populations) but very little actually gets done.

Maybe humans are just not in charge anymore. Maybe we’re just subservient to the will of higher order beings. Maybe the healthiest thing to do is to follow stoic philosophy and accept our role as a cell, instead of grieving the lack of impact of our illusory self supposedly acting out of its own nonexistent free will.

Of course this is pretty scary, and historically submission to higher powers has not turned out very well to say the least, from religions to slavery and totalitarian regimes. One could make the case that there is natural selection at the meta-level of memes, so the current and future high order entities are “better” than the ones in the past, but that brings little comfort….

Human go, human star

Not only is it worrisome, this outlook is also pretty uncool. Ideas, companies, countries have been around for a while. I was looking for an insight a bit more… spectacular, more fitting of the Singularity. That’s when I noticed more recent higher order entities that could make all the difference.

What if we were not talking about aggregating thousands of humans, but instead billions? Present and past. Enters contemporary AI.

Entities like GPT have literally read and digested unfathomable corpora. They incorporate the very cutting edge of human genius not only in their conception but also in their training sets. Their aggregation techniques are currently pretty simple, but they are a lot more meaningful than the random chance that brought about companies and countries.

One might reply that AIs are not really autonomous, but that’s not entirely right. First of all, it is bound to change, but second of all, this type of meta-entity and the previous ones are not mutually exclusive. We can already see companies, countries and massive AIs coexist in a sort of symbiosis. Think of YouTube, for example. And from one point of view, Kurzweil may be right in saying that they serve us. But ultimately, we also serve them by feeding (train) and constituting (make) them…

So what does it feel like to be GPT or YouTube? Maybe they’re not advanced enough to have experience quite yet, but once it comes we should expect AIs to have experience as different from ours as ours is from cells. And that’s likely something we cannot intuit.

What to conclude of all that? Totalitarian regimes were pretty bad, but maybe AI will be better? At the very least, it seems that I could take comfort from the fact that it’s kinda out of my hands and I can’t mess things up too much. Maybe the game is played at a whole other level now. And maybe all I can do is do my part a little cell, and if I’m lucky I’ll get to see from a very confined perspective the world shattering products of our new meta gods.

Minecraft the metaworld

I wanted to jolt down a few thoughts I’ve been having about the game that I’ve been into lately, Eco by Strange Loop Games, while waiting for a chance to put all that stuff in my podcast XD. It’s in early access and it’s interestingly self-defined as “educational game”.

Not the dolphin

The pitch is pretty simple: it’s kinda like Minecraft, but in 30 days a meteor will crash and destroy your planet. So you have to develop anti-meteor laser before that. And there’s a twist: you can only be specialized in very few things, so you need to collaborate with other people in order to advance society.

Meanwhile, the game provides pretty thourough simulation of ecology, so you can actually pollute your way to doom before the impact. To mitigate that, the game allows players to self-organize economies and governements in order to orchestrate collaboration.

I think you can see straight away why this micro simulation of a society is pretty interesting to understand the real world. Its limited scope and minecraft style makes it way more “fun” and accessible than something like Eve online.

Ancestor simulations

But there is a trick. There is a hidden meta-game. Eco is extremely flexible, so you can tweak the collaboration parameters and even remove the meteor completely. So your experience is going to vary a lot depending on which server you join. Which is incidentaly a great way to run many simulations of societies.

And here’s the kicker: the vast majority of servers don’t survive more than a few days. It’s pretty ironic that the game is called Eco, because I feel like it’s pretty rare to reach the point where you have to deal with ecology. Instead, I feel like the game is a lot more focused around economy. The goal of the meta-game becomes to build (or find) a sustainable server (society).

Admittedly making a sustainable server is going to be harder than in real life because in the game it’s pretty easy for a player to follow their novely bias and jump ship to another server. But maybe we could still learn something in the process?

How civilisations die

Low collaboration environments die out because the interactivity part of a multiplayer game is pretty important to keep people engaged. They feel like playing Minecraft in my corner so I quickly gravitated away from those.

High collaboration environements are more interesting. Typically they will revolve around some sort of implementation of a capitalist market where currency is the way for every specialized individual to standardize exchange value. The game does support multiple currencies, but I’ve yet to see a server that uses this and survives XD

If you don’t have some kind of system against vertical integration, monopolies emerge quickly. If you do, you build super strong dependency links between the players. Either way, your system is very vulnerable to perturbations.

A player not playing for a few days can cause a penury of whatever they’re producing, which impacts all the productions chains and ends up paralyzing the economy. Some people are too impatient and move on to other thing, causing a ripple effect and the society halts to a grind.

Players all have different rythms (which mirrors a little bit how people IRL have different capacities), but I’ve been very impressed by the amount of time people dedicate to the game. The meteor does offer a pretty good incentive to go fast, but the competition in the capitalist market is also a very strong catalyst. This all aligns to create an accelerating race to progress. Until it all crashes, of course.

How to make capitalism work

The lesson here is that capitalism is very efficient and pretty fun, and according by the number of people who confirmed that this game is addictive, it does play perfectly into human nature. But it’s a tricky beast and requires very narrow margin of conditions to operate correctly.

Whatever conclusions you may draw, it is very interesting to see these simulation at work. Inflation is a lot more tangible when it happens over a few days. It seems to me that economies tend to work better with a universal basic income to help casual players catch up and with protections against vertical integration to prevent monopolies and dynamize the economy.

My favorite server is called SoftCoreGaming (discord link) and seems to manage to create a sustainable environment by making strong government interventions to keep the rythm slow and friendly. It has a great player base and you should join us!

How to make the metaverse work

Admittedly this is all pretty handwavy, and I don’t know if the sample size of servers I’ve tried and of their population is enough to draw clear conclusions. But the question that came to my mind, and the one that brought me to write this little dump, is of course a meta one: what prevents my server from turning into the “real world” style feudal capitalism? Or more precisely, what incentivizes the admins of my server to penalize themselves with restrictions to keep the server healthy? And can we have the same IRL?

The meta-incentives to build a healthy sustainable system is usually survival, but IRL that happens on scale way shorter than the span of times the system deals with. Avoiding popular revolt is also a pretty good incentive, but that places the bar pretty low.

In Eco, the incentive to make the server sustainable comes from its very nature as a game. You want to make it enjoyable, because people don’t have to be here, they could do anything else instead. Ironically, this is exacerbated by the meta-competition between all servers. You have a strong incentive to try and make a great server, because players have so many other ways to spend their time.

At the core of this phenomenon, players time and enjoyment exist in a completely different level of meta reality, and you cant really have exchanges between the two realities. It’s almost as if you have a completely separate meta-market enforcing the alignment of the primary market.

It’s something I’ve already thought and written about. It appears that to prevent “pollution” from the primary market, you want the meta-market to be isolated. The ontological barrier between a game and the real world is impenetrable.

But the real world is ontologically closed. You cannot log off and go to another world. There is very little money cannot have an influence on. It can help you save time and provide recreation. Democracy and politics cannot function properly as a safeguard for alignment because they are heavily influenced by it.

I’m therefore left to wonder if there is another way we could build a meta-currency that we could isolate from money. I’m thinking along the lines of blockchain or entropy, but it seems pretty doomed, because there’s only a single ontological reality we care about. And the whole NFT fiasco is making a strong case that whatever new reality we can come up with gets co-opted very quickly… But if we ever nail that, and maybe only then, we could make capitalism great again? Or will that only happen when the simulation theory is proven true?

Ramblings about Baudrillard, Lacan, Godel and metaethics of my game

So I was… relaxing and thinking about my game, in particular the fact that I have a Baudrillardian and a Lacanian ending, to try to figure out which is the real ending and/or if they could/should be merged in a single takeaway directive line.

Here is a dump of my stream of consciousness thought process because I thought it might be somewhat interesting.

The self is a simulation

The self is necessarily a simulation in the Baudrillard sense because it’s a representation (at the very least a self representation). In fact anything that exists conceptually (i.e. is talked about) necessarily requires a definition and therefore boundaries and representation, which creates a simulation.

The story is the ontological grounding of existence

You exist as a self because you’re being conceived of as such, be it only by yourself. Therefore you only exist because there’s a story about yourself. The story is the ontological grounding of your existence.

The story does not need a narrator, you’re enough as a narrator. So you’re always already in a Baudrillardian simulation trap by virtue of being self reflexive.

Every story has gaps

Every story necessarily has gaps because it is by definition a framed representation of reality, leaving out what’s not in the frame. Even memory and self-narration presuppose necessarily an editorial work.

In the same way, any ideology necessarily has gaps and holes. It’s also notably a direct consequence of the Godel theorem, but we’ll come back to that near the end.

Parallels between Lacan and Baudrillard

Lacan is focused on the self, Baudrillard is focused on reality itself, simulation and representations. Where they meet is simple: the story of the self.

Lacan tells us that there is no Big Other, Baudrillard tells us that there is no fundamental level, everything is simulation, we could never conclude that we are on the essential ontological level. 

For the story of the self, it means that there is no canonical authorial source. They both stipulate that there is no author, or rather if you want to consider the self as an author, there is no reader whose validation would make the story “canon”. In a sense, the main takeaway is “the story of the self is necessarily non canon”.

Prescriptive conclusions

This is all well and good, but what do the theories tell us about what we should do?

  • Lacan = love your lack, fuck the big other its an illusion
  • Baudrillard = fuck the law, its arbitrary, you need to do a revolution and overthrow the system by denying its fundamental ontology because it could just as well be smoke and mirrors. 

They join in an injunction to negate the ontological foundation (the law for Baudrillard, the self/lack for Lacan). I.e. “reconsider your implicit assumptions”.

Lacanian/Baudrillard societal project

To translate this into a societal project, it would be that people need to accept their lacanian lack so that they can conceive and think reality on a healthy basis (the healthy basis being there is no big other, no absolute truth, uncertainty and illusions are permanent and necessary). That way we can start building a society rationally and integrate uncertainty, and more generally integrate the insights of Baudrillard.

In that sense, the joint meaning of the two theories is: “if everyone got psychoanalysed, the world would be a little better”, which could be constructed as the ultimate message of the game.

So the endings of the game articulate in that order: 

  1. Accept your lack, because it’s the goal and necessary means for
  2. Building the world on healthier bases, by a revolution or even in order to drag it through gradual improvement.

Metaethics of collectivism vs individuality

It’s interesting to note that this betrays an implicit assumption that the betterment of self is in service for the betterment of the world, where a more humanist person would posit that the betterment of the world should be in service of the self. 

It is in a way a metaethical arbitrary axiom, but what I’m wondering here is, one level of meta remote, is this distinction between self and world is really a good framework to ground our metaethical considerations (after all it’s pretty arbitrary to cut and hierarchise those two concepts).

It’s tempting to say that this duality is as arbitrary as any ethical norm, but in fact there is something that gives it more weight than any arbitrary duality. This framework is the necessary and natural direct consequence of my nature as a human being, and more generally as a thinking self, because the thinking self is necessarily constituted by definition as a self in opposition of the world. So the very existence of a self brings with it the duality of self vs world as the base of metametaethical questioning. 

That being said, any further response would be arbitrary.

Metaethical considerations of simulation theory

Does this assume an arbitrary ethical mapping to layers of simulation, implying that the base level is always “better”? Baudrillard probably thinks so but that might be an abusive jump. Would it be rationally justified? 

It would be arbitrary, like all ethical framework, but arbitrary does not mean irrational.

There does not seem to be anything as such which could give the base level of baudrillardian simulation a superior ethical consideration. 

But the point has never been to “return to the real” anyway, it’s simply to understand that our ontology is arbitrary, which does not mean bad, but certainly does not make it good. 

What this means for the game

The fact that “other systems could be worse” is not a rational argument in favor of not trying out other systems in an attempt to get better. The crux is a hidden assumption on the space of possible states, i.e. are the other possible systems more often better or worse than ours? That’s the core of the right wing/left wing political debates, where right wing posit that its mostly negative and left wing posits that its mostly positive.

Am I therefore so far up my own ass that I’m justifying through pompous philosophy a pretty basic left-wing thesis that “the world could be better”? It is more or less what the thesis boils down on the prescriptif and teleological side, but it’s reductionary to consider the game just by its teleological thesis. What the game brings is way more complete because it does not only suggest a moral ideal but also a rational methodology to tend towards it.

This grounds the game ethically, Q.E.D.

Rationally grounding ethical frameworks

So in order to decide “what” is better we need ethics, in order to do this right and see how we decide what is better we need metaethics, and I’m wondering how to do that right, so we would need metametaethics?

But every level of meta consideration will run into the same problems: there is no absolute, everything is arbitrary, so there is no objective grounding possible for a framework at level N. That being said, even without an objective rational grounding for the “good” of a framework, the framework can still work as a means to make more good. It’ll just neve ever be provable.

The infinite hole of meta considerations

Trying to ground your thinking in an objective meta framework, you always end up going one level deeper in meta consideration, which brings to mind Zeno’s paradox and Lewis Carrol’s Achiles and the Turtle short story. 

Maybe I love this paradox because you can see there is a fundamental whole in reality, or at least in rationality, which rationally wants to ground itself but necessarily will never ever be able to do so.

That also clearly echoes the Lacanian lack. 

But does this hole in rationality matter? It might just be a meaningless detail without real importance on your thinking framework. But this question is precisely what’s in the hole, and will necessarily remain without answer. We will never be able to tell how bad the hole is, so the Lacanian attitude to accept your lack seems to be the best rational answer.

Godel theorem applied to metaethics

Actually, it’s a proven mathematical theorem that is going to be true no matter what, which is pretty impressive if you ask me. Godel’s incompleteness theorem proves that you cannot ground at meta level N a framework in a satisfactory way in the language of the level N and you need to posit axioms of level N+1 as arbitrary postulates.

On the one hand, it’s fairly obvious and trivial to say that you cannot ground an ethical framework in the same level of meta-considerations, so is it even worth mentioning Godel? But on the other hand, it does prove that those discussions will necessarily never conclude, and in that way it makes metaethics a doomed field because it’s rationally proven that no conclusion can ever truly be reached.

That being said, as I mentioned before, this is not a valid argument to say that “we should not try to do better”, we can always try to do better, but we won’t ever be able to prove it. I wonder if that’s just a retelling of this article, or if we should throw in a Kierkegaardian leap of faith…

How meta is like entropy

Since every time you think about something you add a layer of meta, it only increases. Any reaction to a situation, be it speech or ignorance, is nonetheless a reaction, so it adds a layer of meta. Any second, more and more layers of meta pile up that way, coating the world more and more and I’m sometimes suffocating under the weight of the infinitely growing amount of layers of meta. We can see clearly an analogy with entropy here.

It’s pretty clear that if you try to do things right, rationally and objectively, you necessarily fall into an abyss of recursive layers of meta. In a way, it makes the Godel theorem the absolute level of meta and the final closure of the universe beyond which we can never go.

Don’t buy it, be it

I like to write a little something to remember each milestone in the evolution of my thinking. Today I want to commemorate my reading of Alex Mazey’s Sad Boy Aesthetics. I’m an avid fan of Baudrillard, so when I saw Alex’s essay on Genshin Impact and Baudrillard, it immediately spoke to my heart.

Sad Boy Aesthetics: Mazey, Alex: 9781913642532: Amazon.com: Books

Previously, on Baudrillard

Let me try to give a short simplified summary of the whole deal, but considering how Baudrillard theories are important and relevant nowadays, I invite you to expand with your own research! Please forgive me for the lack of rigor and loose terminology ^^

The TLDR is that neoliberal capitalism co-opts everything (and in particular, rebellious movements), and turns it into profitable commodities (i.e. Che Guevara T-shirts). In this way, it loses its depth and subversive meaning. In the end, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy (a simulacrum) and nothing is real and meaningful (think of the whole post-truth era thing).

Nothing is sacred anymore, everything is for sale. Meaningful/holy things are tokenized into marketable commodities. This culminates in an era of replica and images, where appearances are all that matters. Baudrillard seems to conclude that this loss of depth (i.e. aestheticization) may be the worst part of this process, in a famous line that Alex quoted somewhere:

It is often said that the West’s great undertaking is the commercialization of the whole world, the hitching of the fate of everything to the fate of the commodity. That great undertaking will turn out rather to have been the aestheticization of the whole world — its cosmopolitan spectacularization, its transformation into images, its semiological organization”.

Amazon.com: Funko Pop! The Vote - Bernie Sanders Vinyl Figure : Toys & Games

Genshin ideology

That’s the core of Alex’s essay on Genshin, by the way, as Genshin’s world offers a pale defanged copy (simulacrum) of all the cultures of the real world that inspires it (european for Mondstadt, chinese for Liyue, japanese for Inazuma…).

This should come as no surprise tbh, since Genshin is the product of a company founded out of love for the Japanese contemporary culture, which is a true post-modern powerhouse of turning sacred into simulated commodities. Forget giant robots fighting biblical concepts, the common rage nowadays is to gamble your money to get a chance of getting a digital representation of some God turned singer idol… It doesn’t get more Baudrillard than this.

Summon Simulator | Fate Grand Order Wiki - GamePress

But playing Genshin, I couldn’t help but notice that no matter how simulated your objects are, you cannot help but carry around an ideology. Like a good old american settler, the protagonist of the game goes over the world, literally destabilizing political institutions everywhere through the usual western-way-of-life-individualistic-feel-good-you-can-succeed-if-you-believe-disney story. So while it is true that nothing is sacred anymore and everything is up for negotiation, it seems that there is one thing that remains a holy absolute: the aestheticization process itself.

There’s no fighting this relentless march, it cannot be defanged. That being said, it’s another beast altogether: it’s not a sacred that comes from belief, but rather an ad hoc empirical conclusion. Is a God that continues its work regardless of belief still a god?

No way out

The invincibility of the phagocyting process of neoliberal capitalism is enough to make anyone despair. It does seem that there is no practical way out. What can you even do to escape an all-encompassing cancerous system?

Emo politics

That’s where Sad Boy Aesthetics comes in. I confess I bought it because seeing the meme aesthetics, combined with “sad boy”, Baudrillard and Wittgenstein intrigued me. I found out by reading it that it was actually a commentary on emo rap, of which I know next to nothing about. But Alex’s pretty thorough analysis taught me a lot, and in particular I noticed for the first time the political dimension of the emo movement.

Emo is about, let’s face it, whining. But maybe the “antidote” to the commodification of everything can be found precisely in the sincerity of the expression of self suffering. Especially if you know that nobody really wants to hear emo poems. Maybe in a world where nothing actually matters, a serious honest expression of feelings, devoid of irony and mercantilization, could be the one authentic act to transcend the omnipresent commodification, cringy as it may be. Dare I call it art? Could its lack of political engagement constitute precisely the strongest engagement there is?

Of course an easy counterargument would be that emo can and has been co-opted by the system and turned into yet another profit machine. But I do find that perspective intriguing. And most emo poetry probably just ended up in the oblivion of the depths of the web anyway.

Lust tint my world

This blog is all about making original weird parallels, and Alex got to the one between Baudrillard and Genshin first, so I want to submit to you the case of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The songs are on my playlist fairly frequently, so when I last listened to Rose tint my world (which I usually don’t like that much), I started connecting this trail of thoughts to the ending (and the message) of the famous cross-media experience.

In this big explosion of joy where everyone gets fulfillment after their tribulations, Rocky admits that “Now the only thing I’ve come to trust Is an orgasmic rush of lust“. It echoes Janet’s point about Frank that “His lust is so sincere“. In a chaotic world, Frank’s sincere lust is the beacon that guides everyone to enlightenment.

J'ai testé une séance du “Rocky Horror Picture Show” au Studio Galande

The RHPS is basically the story of how this authenticity comes to transcend Frank and Janet’s static system of beliefs. Maybe one of the reasons for its lasting success is this celebration of authenticity.

Shitpost padding

I don’t have much more to say about this but it feels like I should talk more about the movie so let’s indulge a good old fashion BS-commentary:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show...Brad and Janet | Rocky horror picture, Rocky  horror picture show costume, Rocky horror picture show

It’s obvious that Brad and Janett represent “stuck up normies”. But going further, it’s nice to see that they too are basically imperialistic invaders trying to commodify and use Frank into a marketable utility (“Can we use your phone?“). Note that one of the first thing that happen to them is they get stripped: all appearances, tokens and commodities removed.

Meanwhile Frank, like a sexy Baudrillard trying to get our attention, literally creates simulacra, copies over copies of men. He shows us the dangers and pitfalls of the simulacrum cycle: Eddie and then Rocky are less and less human. This process removes the heart of our humanity! We become nothing more than… dare I say flesh, meat, food!

RHPS Caps - The Rocky Horror Picture Show Image (2156671) - Fanpop

The whole structure of the film itself draws attention to Baudrillard theories: self-references, opening song, the narrator… It simulates the codes of a B movie very consciously. It is after all the B movie adaptation of a musical parody of B movies. This could be seen as a critique of the lack of depth of formulaic movies the industry is moving towards. At the late night picture show, nowadays, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy of a marvel.

Rocky Horror Picture Show: The Movies And References Behind Science Fiction Double  Feature - Den of Geek

The theme of nostalgia and time passing (Time Warp) through the movie shows us how much worse off and impoverished society is by this trend. Sacred symbols and rituals have lost their meaning and disappeared: Whatever happened to saturday night? Whatever happened to Fay Way? This is highlighted by the very conclusion of the show, whose very grammatical structure is destroyed by this relentless force, leaving us lost in time, lost in space, and meaning….

Maybe the most important lesson is that Frank’s solution to escape the market’s grip comes at a high price: he has to live as an outcast, shunned both by American and Transylvanian society. Really, “it’s not easy having a good time“.

The market for self expression and authenticity

Now this isn’t the be-all-end-all of this reflection. I do appreciate the political (system-defying) dimension of authenticity, and how it could take different forms, be it suffering in emo poetry or lust in the Rocky Horror. But it must also be noticed that authenticity (not coincidentally) is also more and more at the core of the commodification process itself. Gigantic booming industries like Twitch, YouTube or Instagram are running on the promise (or rather appearance) of authentic parasocial relationships.

It’s a fine line to thread between embracing your true self authentically like RHPS recommends, and self-expression through overconsumption like capitalism encourages and requires. I guess what this means is that we need to be wary and careful. Though I guess, ultimately, a truly sincere self-expression is probably completely blind and unconscious of this tradeoff xD. So be yourself like nobody is watching. Maybe it will still serve neoliberal capitalism’s tentacular interests. They’re impossible to destroy. But maybe there’s no better way to fuck capitalism than through authentic uncalculated acts of love.

10 Things You Didn't Know About ROCKY - Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

Estimating anime difficulty from subtitles

Hi! I have a lot of other things to do so as procrastination I suppose I did a little analysis. I’m learning Japanese by watching raw anime and writing down what I don’t know, so I have a pretty great dataset of what anime did I find actually hard vs easy. For best experience, I’d like to watch them by increasing level of difficulty, but it’s hard to figure out the difficulty before actually watching :/

I had looked at a glance at using subtitles files to do that: the idea was that the bigger the subtitles files, the more text and therefore difficult text there would be, and therefore the hardest it would be to understand. But a quick glance seemed to show no correlation between subs size and difficulty.

So today I thought it wouldnt be too hard to write a little script that goes over subtitles in a folder, remove all junk boilerplate and count the kanjis. The script is here. The upside of this is that I can remove the .srt or .ass boilerplate, but also look at the text to see if it has difficult kanjis.

Without further ado, this is the average kanji distribution per subtitle file for 10 anime annotated with my expert ground truth:

And on a log scale:

So… this doesnt look very helpful. The result of this analysis is a complete failure. JLPT kanji level doesn’t correlate with anime difficulty. But maybe I can pick myself a list of kanjis that are correlated with difficult anime (like military vocabulary, this always gets me). I guess ideally I’d assign a weight to each kanji by machine learning but this requires more effort that im willing to do. If you know a dead easy way to do that, though, I’m interested


Madokapital records

The thing about masterpieces in art is that you can keep going into them and get new things all the time. And Puella Magi Madoka Magica is definitely one of these works.

Meguca - YouTube

Just let Madoka die already

The current diffusion of Magia Record (part 2 at the time of writing), in addition to reminding us that Shaft can still create some really beautiful animation despite pretty much everybody having left the company, is not without its lot of controversies.

After all, it’s a pale copy of a copy, an adaptation of a spinoff mobile game (a mere simulacrum if you wanna get Baudrillard about it). No wonder that people are calling “cash grab”. The original inspiration for this article was the “Let Madoka Die Already” plea from OTAQUEST.

Indeed, it’s pretty fair to lament that the Madoka franchise keeps getting exploited for profit. After sequel movies that the writers hadn’t planned (which ended up pretty interesting, still, in their own deconstructive ways), the franchise has grown into a pretty lucrative trademark of pachinkos and gatcha mobile games (financial cooptation doesn’t get less subtle than that).

Spotted Madoka and Kyubey in Tokyo last month: MadokaMagica

And now the writers are called back for a new movie on the horizon. I understand how it can seem bleak. It’s like Madoka is trapped in an endless cycle of exploitation, getting more and more extracted out of her without any hope of escape… Oh wait…

Do you want to make a contract

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that, but this development opened my eyes to the fact that the show is a pretty perfect analogy for capitalism. Take Kyuubey. He provides a service in exchange for a price, all tied up in a neat little contract. Of course, he hunts for where he can make the biggest profit (get the most entropy), and to that end, he fulfills optimally the demand (he realizes wishes).

As a good free market would, it fills demand and extracts surplus value out of the transaction wherever it can be found. Just like capitalism, he will fulfil any and all demand! It’s ironic that his extraction is saving the universe while ours is killing the planet, but that’s beyond the point. Seen through that lens, the show has a lot to offer as areas of reflections!

Manufacturing demand

Let’s start at the very beginning. The main series is basically a story of marketing. At first, everything’s just fine and everyone is happy. But this won’t stand for Kyuubey, who notices the prospect of immense profit in Madoka. He therefore does the only rational thing: he dedicates his whole energy to try to tempt Madoka into wanting more.

Being content is the enemy of capitalism. If you’re not purchasing, you’re dead weight. With his injunction to consume, and his relentless campaign for Madoka to make a wish, Kyuubey creates a demand where there was none before. His harassment is as intense as the many notifications fighting over your attention you receive on your phone every day. Can you spot examples of artificially manufactured demand in the real world? Jeez, I wonder…

And the lesson here is that he eventually wears her down. Marketing really works, you guys. There’s other things really on point here, like the importance of the social aspect in marketing for instance (all your friends are doing it, why don’t you?). In the end, even the fucking messiah cannot resist the power of advertisement. I guess that means be careful and forgiving?

Be careful what you wish for

A point that really interests me here is the content of the wish. Kyuubey is incredibly honest about what he delivers. In fact, more honest than most current companies and advertisements. He gives you what you want, what he promised, the content of your wish. Isn’t that pretty much the motto of capitalism?

Where Madoka excels is specifically at showcasing the dark side of this. There’s no trick in the wishes, they’re executed verbatim. But it turns out that we’re pretty bad at knowing what we want and what the consequences of our desires might be. It’s also uncommon for our desires to actually be what we wish we would/could want (extrapolated volition). What we want is rarely what we really really want, and certainly not what we need. This gap is the core of the alignment problem of the market btw…

Nowhere is that clearer than in the series, where all the wishes, when carried out, pretty much cause more suffering and destruction than good. Maybe your overconsuming hedonistic lifestyle just causes you depression down the line…

Enlightened consent

This is closely tied to the problem of imperfect information. Maybe we’d make better choices if we knew exactly how we feel in detail, or how things would turn out. But here’s the thing: this doesn’t make you consume, rather the opposite. So the market’s incentives are to push you in the other direction. It’s in its interest to mislead you as much as it can get away with. Information gap is a source of surplus value to be harvested. It’s a little bit what Kyuubey gathers, in a way.

A lot of people are (ofc unfairly) mad at Kyuubey because they feel like the “real price” is hidden. Admittedly, deception can help the market derive more value. But it’s not necessary: there’s inherent computational limitations. The real price cannot be known. It’s impossible to understand all the complexities and ramifications of the market’s behavior. Just try to track down the ultimate moral cost of your latest purchase.

Maybe the girls in the show don’t realize that the contract is “too good to be true”, that their consumption cultivates a system where children are continuously sacrificed. But we can wonder what would change if they did. When Madoka makes her choice, she’s fully aware of the implications… We know full well that our system is killing the planet and causing terrible consequences. When you buy an iPhone, on some level you know there’s blood on your hands. But we are remarkably willing to act as if we didn’t and persevere in a doomed system. Zizek has a lot to say about this better than I could 🙂

I’m talking about 59’40

Privatize the magical girl sector already

It could be said that Kyuubey is a good example of objectivism: pushing the liberal market to its logical conclusion and being as exploitative as he can get away with. The magical girl contracts are as honest as the ones in Bioshock (i.e. showing clearly the need for any sort of legislation better than I could ^^).

“Cows, pigs, and chickens have a much higher rate of survival in captivity, more than they would in the wild. So you see, the relationship is mutually beneficial for both parties.”

Now I don’t want to go too deep into that subject because as the Ayn Rand foundation so cutely puts it themselves, they just want to be selfish, whereas Kyuubey actually wants to save the universe, so that’s kind of the opposite and the similarity stops short. I guess in the end Kyuubey is closer to Adam Smith…

Magical girl flexibilization

Another interesting point is that the battle of the magical girls against the witches happens entirely unbeknownst to the population. The magical girls are the only ones aware of this cycle of suffering. As soon as they learn about it, they are doomed to suffer from this knowledge. They have to live everyday knowing how bad things are out there. Awareness of the system brings nothing but despair and suffering. You can’t escape or destroy it. No wonder why reflections about the inescapability of capitalist realism often end up in suicide

Paradoxically, as if to further mock this powerlessness, capitalism and the magical girl system both heavily emphasis individuality. This is a weight the girls have to carry largely alone. Nobody, not even each other, can absolve them from the individual responsibility of their choice. The system even puts them in competition with each other in war of everyone against everyone (see Kyouko). This radical individualism pushes the view that the system is morally neutral.

8 Kyoko Sakura Quotes Madoka Magica Fans Won't Forget

As Mark Fisher points out, making mental health an individual responsibility/pathology distracts and negates its systemic components and roots. How else can you react when the system simultaneously screams at you that you’re responsible for everything but that everything is irremediably bad?

Like in the world of magical girls, the ones who confront the system all end up in the darkness. They might rebel at first, but their idealistic children’s souls (gems) get corrupted by the system and end up cynical. There’s no better metaphor for it than the transformation of a hopeful magical girl into a bitter crony witch. Should I count the number of people who were activists in their early years and ended up bitter and disillusioned?

The politics of walpurgis

Maybe Madoka can help us make sense of our situation. For starters, it may be very straightforward, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that in the two shows, just like in real life, oppressive systems are powered first and foremost by fear. The menace of Walpurgis night forces Madoka’s hand, the cruel fate of the witches provides the impetus for Magius in Magia record. I wonder what’s on TV tonight…

Pure ideology

Can the show help us figure out what to do when you’re stuck in a toxic and seemingly invincible system? As with any good ideological system, it really seems that there’s no way out… 

The Hegelian perspective often showcased in Ikuhara work is to transcend the system, through love and compassion. But Madoka shows that things are not as easy…

For starters, “follow your heart” is pretty much the core of capitalist ideology. Kyuubey realizes the wish dearest to your heart. You fight to protect your loved ones… Love has already been co opted by the system and made into one of its strongest pillars (what better engine to spark consumption? You’re not gonna be the one who doesn’t give them a present for their birthday, you monster?).

But it goes deeper than that in the show. Every time love is on the table, it ends up counter productive. The love of Homura for Madoka condemns her and creates a mountain out of a molehill. Sayaka’s love drives her straight to despair… Could it be mirroring the dangers of empathy, which push you into emotional reactive thinking and make you lose sight of the bigger picture? You can’t take down an ideological behemoth with narrow thinking. But can you take it down at all?

Meta exploitation

When Madoka wishes for the end of the exploitative system, another system, perhaps less barbaric but still, takes its place. We already know that Magius’ efforts won’t succeed, since they take place before the end of the series. No matter how smart or outside the box you are, it seems that some systems of oppression just cannot be toppled.

I love it when art and reality mingle. The exploitation in real life of the Madoka brand mirroring the exploitation of the character in universe is like candy to me. But maybe what it shows us is that like Madoka, who will surely wane and be replaced by another brand, the end of any bad system is another bad system. But maybe this one could be slightly less bad… And through an infinity of efforts and iterations, we may yet drag ourselves out of the labyrinth of the witches…

Endless learning

It is the height of summer. I’m still struggling with learning Japanese, slow and steady, probably forever… But I’m also learning a lot about language learning itself, and it’s no secret that repetition is an important part of the process. And what better example to study than Haruhi Suzumiya’s Endless Eight (for people who don’t know, it’s a series of 8 episode displaying more or less the same events and it’s one of the greatest piece of art in anime history).

When I study Japanese, I write down how many new words I encounter, and how much of the dialog I understand for each episode (one per day). The structure of Endless Eight is a great source to showcase how much repetition helps with understanding.

As an extra datapoint, I’ve also revisited the same episode (6th, so that it’s in the “middle”) to see how much the learning sticks/how fast I forget after a week, month, 3 and 6 months (of continuous unrelated learning practice).

I don’t think this is solid enough to conclude anything, but it displays nicely how repetition yields diminishing return with stronger benefits at the start and how learning fades but a core does stick. I don’t think I was trying to get anything else out of this other than a pretty graph xD

The parable of the two brothers

Lately I’ve been reading things I wrote a long long time ago, and I came across this little bit that I thought was really fun so I thought I’d upload it. It’s from long ago so it’s in french, sry ^^’

Grand Livre de Pa Pandir, Partie 3, Chapitre 7, Séquence 13, Verset 19, Alinea 29, Sous-chapitre 23, Section 17, Petit-tiret 11. Parabole des deux frères.

Il était à cette époque bénie un souverain pieux qui avait deux fils, Abraham et Théodore. Le hasard voulut que leurs femmes portent leurs enfants en même temps, et qu’elles donnent naissance à un héritier le même jour. Comme il n’était pas rare à cette époque, toutes deux moururent en donnant la vie. Le fils d’Abraham se nommait Isaac, celui de Théodore s’appelait Ismael. Ce curieux hasard provoquait des querelles pour la succession au trône. Chaque frère revendiquait la couronne pour son propre fils.

A cette époque, l’influence de Pa Pandir semblait diminuer parmi les hommes. Ceux-ci commençaient à s’égarer dans le péché et le vice. La corruption gagnait leurs coeurs. Pa Pandir, se désolant des luttes pour la direction du Royaume, confia à un ange la tache d’aller trouver les deux frères. Il s’adressa à eux en ces mots.

« Humains, votre Dieu tout puissant est déçu de votre comportement pitoyable. Il semble que la foi se fasse rare dans votre empire décadent. Craignez, mortels, le courroux du Dieu unique ! Si la foi brûle en votre coeur pur, si vous êtes encore assez pieux, ces saintes paroles sauront vous toucher. Pour prouver votre foi, Pa Pandir exige que vous sacrifiez chacun votre unique descendant, en haut de la colline. »

« Nous vous en supplions, prenez-nous à leur place… » s’écrièrent-ils, bouleversés.

« Pa Pandir a parlé… »

Sur ces mots, l’ange laissa les deux frères à leurs sombres pensées. Ils étaient tout deux très attachés à leurs uniques fils, et il était pour eux hors de question de les sacrifier. Ils devaient faire face à un cruel dilemme. Tout deux pleurèrent de désespoir, ne sachant comment agir. On leur retirait la chose la plus précieuse qu’ils avaient, tout ce qu’ils leur restait de leurs défuntes épouses.

Ils passèrent toute la soirée en privé avec leurs enfants, réfléchissant à ce cruel coup du sort. Le lendemain matin, ils avaient tout deux fait leur choix. Ils montèrent tout deux sur la colline. Abraham portait dans ses bras son fils Isaac, mais Théodore avait subtilisé un nourrisson à une famille du peuple, espérant que le subterfuge marcherait. Bien entendu, il prétendit être triste, pendant que son frère gravissait en larmes le tertre. Chaque pas était plus douloureux pour lui.

Ils arrivèrent sur les lieux du sacrifice. Abraham serra une dernière fois son fils dans ses bras, tandis que son frère embrassait l’enfant d’une autre famille. Les cris des nourrissons se répercutèrent en écho, et l’on entendit bientôt plus que ça. Théodore prit conscience qu’il serait tout de même difficile de tuer un être innocent, si pur, même s’il n’était pas de son sang. Ce pauvre enfant se verrait retirer la vie avant même d’en avoir joui. Mais Pa Pandir était formel.

Quelques instants plus tard, les deux frères poussaient un cri commun de douleur alors que le sang de leurs nourrissons rougissait l’herbe sous leurs pieds. Un ange leur apparut et leur parla en ces mots :

« Abraham, ton coeur est pur. Toi qui croyait avoir sacrifié ton fils, soit soulagé car il n’est pas mort. Tu n’as sacrifié qu’un enfant de paysan. Sois béni, et rentre vite chez toi, ton héritier t’y attend. »

« Quant à toi, Théodore, tu as cru qu’un si vil subterfuge pourrait duper Pa Pandir ? Tu étais persuadé avoir tué un enfant du peuple, et préservé le tien ? Et bien, pleure maintenant, car c’est ta chair en lambeaux que tu tiens dans les mains. »

Abraham, criant de joie, dévala la colline, tandis que son frère poussa un hurlement de désespoir et s’effondra sur le sol. Isaac fut le successeur du Roi, et le saint Royaume retrouva la paix et la grâce. Les regards s’étaient tournés vers une seconde fresque, qui représentait les deux nourrissons éventrés sur le sol herbeux, Théodore qui pleurait à leur chevet, et Abraham qui partait en sautant de joie. Un ange lui adressait un sourire bienveillant.

Mes chers frères, les voies de Pa Pandir sont impénétrables. Certains doivent périr, d’autres vivent. Des choix difficiles doivent êtres faits. Mais ne quittez jamais votre foi. Rappelez-vous que c’est elle qui vous guidera vers le droit chemin. C’est elle qui vous amènera dans la grâce de Pa Pandir. Ne doutez pas, et vous trouverez la lumière.