Another Stinking Asteroid
Rule 34 and The Boredom of Reality
It’s been a while, friends. A lot has been going on, and I have been pulled away from this too many times. I am now working with my creative collaborator to try and stay on track for twice monthly posts, at the risk that not every piece will be well-baked. I appreciate your patience. God bless America.
A long time ago, someone beat me to the very astute observation that an infinite number of monkeys, typing on an infinite number of keyboards, will not produce Hamlet.
They will produce internet comments on news articles.
I don’t know who said it first, but suffice to say, it was not me and I wish it were. But no, I am just one of those monkeys banging away at a keyboard, publishing this on the very internet I am setting about to partially indict.
Sure, the internet has its positives. The profoundly corrupt and evil monsters of our time would not go to such lengths to try and dominate it, if it were not such a danger to them. But in most cases, there are no conspiracies or agendas at work in these keys that push content (but not necessarily information) into the hive-mind while we schlubs work, sleep, or stare at the stars. No, what we are mostly doing is adding new layers to the ever-expanding burrito of lunacy that is modern human reality. And while we add mass to this burrito, and calories and cholesterol besides, we very seldom add any sustenance. And in this miracle of a world we live in, we are so bombarded by stimuli that coherent thought is, in and of itself, a jejune enterprise.
The internet proves that luxury time is bored time, and the more AI takes over, the less we will have to do except twit one another. And in this model, reality itself becomes boring, for when you encounter reality, you can very seldom do much of anything with it. After all, you can visit the Grand Canyon, and say you have been to the Grand Canyon, and even take a hike through the Grand Canyon. But it is a temporary sensation.
The internet is the carnival ride we spend eight or more hours a day on. Or, to put it another way, some physicists argue we all live in a giant simulation, and we truly do - we simulate that via the internet which we are not doing in real life. In real, life, we are just sitting there, slapping fingers against keys.
And while this has not resulted in a cure for cancer, it has resulted in Rule 34 being pretty spot-on.
Rule 34 is the notion that - in so many words:
“If it exists, there is porn of it.”
Yes, I did type in random celebrity names, as well as those of fictional characters, and what I found depressed yet amused me. But rather than make this article interesting by researching and providing links to some of the most amusing examples of this, I would like to become an academic for a moment, and take a look at one of those words in Rule 34:
I don’t think we realize how much we have come to see existence itself as a commodity. We see new things as modules tacked on to our computer program; the world getting more crowded, not larger. For my younger readers, you can see this firsthand when strange or surprising news, or a weird item, causes a friend of yours to say, “Well. That exists.”
And there is something to be said for this reaction. Imagine if you found out that, the entire time you have been alive, a man named Norbell McDurgslap lived in your house, and just happened to never be in the same room as you. You would find this information notable, and perhaps unpleasant. And this is essentially what other animals do to humankind all the time. There are creatures out there, right now, sharing your Earth, much to your surprise.
Case in point? Here are just some of the absurd creatures crawling about right now on this planet. For some of my readers, one or all of them will be ‘new’:
The Panda Ant, so named because it looks like a panda;
The Venezuelan Poodle Moth (no explanation needed);
The Blue Dragon, a type of sea slug that clearly glided in from Hollywood;
The Sea Pig, which there is no point in trying to explain;
Of course, these are obscure creatures. They are insects, which people avoid like the plague (unless someone tells them to wear masks?) or they live at the bottom of the sea or God has taken the trouble to do something else very Norbell McDurgslap-esque to them, and therefore it is largely moot that they exist but you don’t know about them.
But how about this fellow? The Pink Fairy Armadillo? Did God get bored, and declare, “You know, what we really need is a creature that looks like a rat escaping prison by dressing as the back half of a lobster?” I don’t know, and if I do ever get to meet God, I am not even sure this will be the subject of my first question. But it is very real, and it has been doing whatever it does every second of every day, for every minute you have ever lived.
That’s the funny thing about the world. For such a big place, it is mercilessly finite. All the lost ruins in jungles buried deep in the Amazon? If we simply linked hands and processed down the continent, we would find all of them. There is nothing between them and us but air, distance, and finite things (rocks, trees, dirt, water).
But of course, we are not going to link hands to do any of that. It might involve us having to link hands with someone who disagrees with us on something, and then we would break the most evil spell the internet has so far cast on us: the ability to make reality itself an abstract and concrete thing to be moved in and out of as you see fit.
These things share our Earth, but now - more than ever - they do not share our reality, such as it is. They are out there, but we neither want nor need them in here. And the more we learn about, the less room we have for real people with real problems we cannot solve.
But for fictional absurdity, we have a seemingly bottomless pit. For Harry Potter, for the characters for Game of Thrones, for the folks from whatever movie is coming next. Hell, right now, you can find a story online that involves James Bond teaming up with Pinocchio. Actually, let me correct myself. You can find multiple stories that involve James Bond teaming up with Pinocchio.
These fictional realities are safe realities. We can see the angles, we can deal with the maneuvering, and we can believe we would do better in those worlds, forgetting that if we were actually there, we would not have access to all the inside information we get as readers. But this is inconvenient, so we cut, we dice, we chop, and we curate, until one day we simply decide Pinocchio and James Bond can work together in the same universe because we say so, we worked all day and damn we are tired and just need a break.
Multiple stories about Pinocchio and James Bond. So what are the chances that you can find a news article that supports your dislike of a major political figure?
Recognize these arrows and spear heads?
They are some of the actual weapons that killed King Leonidas and the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. You know, the battle they took such pains to faithfully capture in the film 300. These weapons are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece. It’s one thing to read about them or think about them or revel in the myth. It’s another thing to actually stand there and see them sitting around, filthy and decayed - the actual weapons.
Somewhere back in history, some Persian guys sat down and made these, and then they walked or rode ships all the way to Greece to fling them at people, and the end result is that we got classic moments in cinema like this:
Whatever will the people of 10,000 AD do with our Transformers and Harry Potter fan fiction?
And this, what the hell is its story?
Ah yes. That’s the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Not a film version of the iceberg, no. The actual iceberg the actual boat hit. Just a big chunk of ice floating around like a jerk in the ocean, living on now as a photograph whether it likes it or not. When you see it, it can be tricky to parse. After all, we have seen the iceberg in movies, and in our heads, but - now we have seen the actual iceberg. Somehow, reality feels fascinating and unapproachable, but very, very finite.
And the list can go on and on.
You can watch a hundred movies about Napoleon. Or you can look at this actual piece of armor from a soldier who met his Waterloo at Waterloo?
You can read or watch movies about Charlemagne, or you can take a look at his actual sword. A sword that many of us, incidentally, might pass over in an antique store.
Or the actual chariot that King Tut - the real King Tut - actually rode around in. We have it. Here it is. But when you are faced with it, your mind wants to interpret it, place it in context, create a story - create a reality that is, incidentally, not a reality…because the actual reality was insufficient.
Real things, not movie props. Sitting in museums, where only a small portion of the population knows or cares about them. And why not? Museums are about preservation, as well as education. It is not their job to turn every artifact into a carnival and a half. They ask you to bring a sense of wonder to the experience, and perhaps a sense of wonder is hard to bring when you just sat in a chair and fought mutant spiders on an asteroid in outer space. (Deep Rock Galactic. Awesome video game. Check it out.)
Another Stinking Comet
So where am I going with all of this? Well, in a recent (ha!) article, I had said that everyone would line up to get into the Matrix, but I have to revise that statement. The Matrix would never do. It is a shared experience.
We don’t live in a world of illusion. We live in a world of billions of illusions, each of which is impossible to reconcile. To support these illusions, we pretend reality itself is a commodity to be accepted or rejected; bought and sold. If we need the country to vote for a candidate in a landslide, because we are so frail and fragile that we can only assume the other side is evil; and the country does not follow our lead; then it must be that one of two things must be the case. Either something is wrong with the country and/or the data; or something is wrong with us.
And we know what wins that battle, almost every time. Something can’t be wrong with us. We have done alright despite the system being stacked against us. Hell, we would be billionaires, if anyone would just listen to us and give us a chance.
“How does that fix our roads and bridges?”
I will ask my friends this question from time to time in political conversations. I ask it because most folks know and care so little about politics that they don’t have the first clue how any of the practical things works.
And why should they? Political messaging is not about this topic. It doesn’t win over any hearts. It gets into questions of taxes, government spending, union workers in cozy jobs, and on, and on, and on. It gets into deep, unsolvable areas of headache-inducing pushing and pulling that only patience and compromise can get us through.
But no one can compromise anymore, because nothing is real. Reality is offensive. Reality is a trigger. Reality is the wrong kind of sauce on the complex burrito we’ve had to construct, just to stay sane, when anyone and everyone on Earth can now leap into your reality just by slapping their fingers against a keyboard somewhere else on Earth. That is so much of the problem for so many people. It’s hard to be a big fish in a little pond, when the bowl is suddenly dropped in the ocean.
I was discussing this last week with a friend of mine. He was talking sadly about how government-funded space travel will lose its luster against the brash actions of corporate space privateers like Elon Musk. Who wants to root for the complex, nuanced operation that is there to benefit all of us, when we can watch a billionaire make himself richer? Its the closest we can get to the world of The Avengers that we see on our movie screens and want, want, want? Our lives are short, and someone will invent a miracle pill to handle all of this cancer and environmental nonsense later on anyway. But maybe, just maybe, if we let a billionaire become a superhero, the rest of us will get to try on his jetpack before we die.
Another stinking asteroid
A few weeks ago, a human-created spacecraft touched down on an asteroid and collected samples from it. This is not the first time in history a spacecraft has visited a minor planet, asteroid, or comet.
Hell, we have visited the comet Tempel 1 with three different spacecraft, and one of them even left a crater in the damned thing. We’ve also sent spacecraft to land on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko; and on the asteroids 25143 Itokawa and 101955 Bennu.
But so what? We landed on “another stinking asteroid.” This is how a friend of mine put it when she heard the news. “We landed on another stinking asteroid but meanwhile we haven’t fixed our policing.” Big whoop about the stars if we have not cured every societal ill, biological complaint, and metaphysical torture of the human soul. And, as she pointed out, she’s seen ships land on planets a billion times, thanks to Star Wars and Star Trek and the like.
When I pointed out that those things never actually happened, she said that we have experienced them so they might as well have happened.
Tonight, I plan on going to sleep and dreaming I have beaten Michael Phelps in a swimming contest; Tom Daley in a diving contest; Christian Yelich in a home-run hitting contest; Tiger Woods in a round of golf; and Lebron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaq in a 1-on-3 basketball game.
When I wake up, I expect my medals.