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

Cheers

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.

Gifmaker

Did you know its actually super easy to make gifs from videos in python? Long story short I’m making gifs now. I’ll share the script as soon as I can be bothered to do it in a way that hides my tumblr API keys, because I auto-upload them to tumblr.

Oops

Thoughts and prayers

So I wanted to apply to a few art competitions, and the Wells Art Contemporary drew my attention because of its amazing setting (the Wells Cathedral). This is a dream place for any kind of conceptual art because you’re already working with centuries of connotations and expectations that you get from the get go as your raw material.

The bit about the art manifesto

I will do a proper manifesto later, but I wanted to jolt down the technical process I’m going through here. The basic concept is a reflection around the ontology of reality. Once upon a time, people looked at gods not only for source of morality, but as the ontological entity that imbued life with meaning and in some way warranted the consistency and order of the world.

With the “death of god” heralded by Nietzsche, humans lost all of this. At first glance, you may worry about the loss of absolute moral values, but it goes far deeper than that: it’s the loss of ontological structure. No wonder that analyses tie the totalitarism movements of the 20th century as a reaction to this.

Nowadays, the thing that took the place of God as source of ontological structure seems to be the economy, which organizes pretty much all of life in an increasingly globalized world. Furthermore, its efficient decentralized decision mechanism are truly a sight of wonder, whose complexity aggregates all the wisdom of mankind. Yet, it cannot be comprehended in its entirety by a single person, elevating it to a mystical position of unfathomability.

These are the many deep parallels I wanted to explore with the “Thoughts and prayers” project by establishing a “Church of Neoliberal Capitalist Realism”. In this art project, it was important for me to have it be a participatory living piece, engaging the viewers on their own terms, literally reaching into their daily lives. It was important for me that the art piece blends in innocuously and almost unconsciously with the fabric of the spectators lives, much like religion did in other time periods.

This is why I ended up publishing the project as a facebook and twitter pages, because that’s where people actually direct their attention, time, and interactions (much like they did with churches and prayers). In fact, this social network aspect adds a whole dimension to the project centered around the shallowness, speed, and outrage-focus of these platforms, which is probably why I’ll end up submitting a QR code to this image to the exhibition.

The bit about machine learning

But enough about the pretentious artsy considerations: the reason why I wanted to write this article down was to cement somewhere some of the technical challenges and solutions I faced. The piece really came to life when I decided to try to use Machine Learning (GPT-2) to merge the Bible and Marx’s Capital. On the final pages, I’ve decided to split the AI generated text by presenting it as scriptures (i.e. numbered) as opposed to what I’d write myself.

You may remember that I quite enjoy using GPT to produce new content in a specific style, which is what gave me the idea in the first place. But the main challenge was that GPT does not deal very well with heterogeneous training sets. In particular, the Bible and Marx’s Capital have very little words in common, so the output would often be one or the other (you can think of them as distinct connected components in the semantic graph).

The way I solved this was to build a bridge myself between these two corpora. I took the Bible and applied a bunch of word substitutions to bring its language closer to the one from the Capital. I worked with the most frequent words of both texts in priority, but I also threw in some terms that seemed important to the current economic context. The substitution would not always make perfect sense, but the fact that it all goes into GPT to be regurgitated later makes these mistakes pretty irrelevant (GPT can correct some, but anyway the output of GPT is always pretty trashy).

I do very little modifications to the output of machine learning (it is, after all, the holy word), and even when it comes out vaguely nonsensical I guess it serves as a nice reflection of the nonsensical commands the technocratic economy sometimes dictates to humans.

And that’s how you get the main content of those publication feed. I’ve automated it so that it keeps posting regularly, and made the twitter randomly follow a few users who tweet about market efficiency, in order to bring the gospel to its most fervent zealots. It seems like a natural step ^^

Anyway this was all good fun but now I need to figure out how I’m going to turn that into an installation proposal for museums. Cheers.

The game of life on a planet

Work realized for the Social Art Award 2021 “New Greening”: submission link.

It is hosted at http://yo252yo.com:9090/ for now. I won’t host it forever but it will remain forever accessible on github.

Technology, and AI in particular, are at the core of our hopeful prospects to manage and recover from the current climate crisis. But it is ultimately just a tool that is in the hand of humankind. This social art exhibition is the perfect moment to remember that our New Greening will have to be for everyone and by everyone. For even if there are macro forces at play, they are inextricably tied to individual responsibility.

This interactive experience, hosted at http://yo252yo.com:9090/, showcases this interplay of forces with an aesthetic inspired by Conway’s Game of Life. This infinitely blooming virtual tree is sensitive to its environment: the more demand (eyeballs) placed on it, the darker the surroundings, and it may even wither. Are you ready to sacrifice your chance at the spectacle so that others may see it? Can the crowd find an equilibrium to allow for a lasting responsible growth?