I’ve gone from the unenviable position of being substantially overworked and significantly underpaid to… well, just chronically underemployed now. Which, nominally, should give me more time to talk to all of you.
As ever, though, the tasks grow to fill the time. I have been maintaining my presence over at Liberation Industries, so if you were enjoying my roleplaying output then I recommend you rock on over there for your fix. In the last seven days, I have driven about two and a half thousand kilometers, which takes a lot out of you. If this isn’t sounding familiar, it is. I also crashed my car a little, but fear not. My typing fingers are fine.
There’s also a couple of projects that I’m not allowed to talk about in the blogosphere. If they come about, I’ll tell you all about them. If not, I’ll probably do it anyway, but with much more spite.
After a messy period, I am once again corresponding with the illustrator for Marla Stone. I’ll keep you posted on that too.
Otherwise, what I am stuck with is the grimy reality of my own rent-punk existence. Through the weird haze of sleep deprivation and trying to get the equations to add up with numbers that are much too low, I get the occasional sense that I would much less talk to Maslow and more punch his lights out and steal his pyramid. After all, its hard to get creative when you’re down at this level.
Anyway, I hope I can turn things around. If so, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me.
If not, Maslow better hope he didn’t skimp on his pyramid locks.
Also, I am listening to Florence and the Machine’s Queen of Peace right now. Literally. I strongly advise you do the same. This song is fantastic.
Not to say there wasn’t a whole lot that rankled me about that movie. I mean cast was decent, Cumberbatch did… more or less exactly what he always does, but… I feel like the omission of 90% of the Bletchley Circle – funnily enough, the 90% that lacked a Y chromosome – was a bit cruel in a historiographical sense. Given they were the ones who actually built the decision engine makes it even more glaring. I mean-
I started talking about the Imitation Game didn’t I.
Anyway, I’m not here to talk about… that movie. I have been pondering the Turing test on something of an existential level lately, in reference to a few specific texts.
The first is Shadowrun: Hong Kong, specifically the character of Racter; robotocist, transhumanist and self-admitted high level psychopath. This plays rather elegantly into musings on Seven Psycopaths, a movie I enjoyed less for its artistry and more into the clearly informed view it gives into people with non-standard psychologies.
The final text I’m going to cite is an autobiographical one, written over the next two lines. Incidentally, its also the intro to the article proper.
When I was 16, I was pronounced a psychopath. By the Coles Myer online employment suitability test.
I followed their instructions, answered the questions honestly, which seems to have been my downfall. The responses I gave at the time seemed barely noticeable as human foibles; a private conversation overheard, a coworker’s small indiscretion overlooked, the odd small twisting of the truth. Willing to throw deploy nonlethal take-downs if sufficiently provoked. Its not like I was doing something really morally dubious in my past like working for the Coles Myer group.
My intelligence score was off the charts. My Morality score (which I believe has since been renamed), however, was abysmal, and on that note I was considered unsuitable for employment stacking shelves.
They didn’t out and say it, admittedly. But with those two bar graphs so perfectly situated, it was pretty easy to read between the lines.
“Subject is highly intelligent, manipulative and probably dangerous. Not suitable for work as corporate drone.”
So on that happy note, I begin my ramblings on the status of psychopathy in popular culture and discourse. The Turing Test mentioned upstream is a means of telling the difference between a human intelligence and a mechanical one, with a similar test deployed in Blade Runner‘s opening scenes. Something that a machine is supposedly incapable of mimicking is empathy, and I think that element is what has led to pop-culture’s ongoing fascination with psychopaths.
It is the same appeal, for a storyteller, as that of the vampire, or the werewolf, or those possessed. It is the predator that exists within reach of us, our safe civilization, and yet they look no different to any human being until they strike. And sometimes not even then. Sometimes they only show their true faces when they want to cause the most pain and chaos, cracking that civilization along its fault lines to more easily feast on terrified stragglers.
And humans, as a whole I think, are terrified of being treated like the animals we so often abuse. The idea that we aren’t different, special somehow, the top rung on some god ordained food chain, is confronting on a visceral, primitive level. And the psychopath in literature, just like the vampire, like Hannibal Lector or even the fusking Terminator, plays rather specifically on that fear.
But in honesty I think this is dealing people on the psycopathic spectrum a short hand, and reflects badly on the large proportion of the populace that suffers from mental illness, related to that spectrum or otherwise. The psychopath of film and literature is so often as either the Terminator – cold, merciless and inhuman – or as a raving monster who kills for pleasure.
The latter, I feel, tends toward the cartoonish and ignorant. It enforces a sentiment I’ve encountered semi-regularly on the internet, that since there is no cure for psycopathy, psychopaths should be euthanized for the good of society. Though there are a number of holes that one can pick in that argument on a moral level, the rational argument that rather like is that removing that huge a proportion of the workforce in the corporate, legal and finance sectors would be crippling to the economy. For some reason coldy rational people with little to no empathy are just very good in the punishing corporate sphere. Besides, there are perfectly “sane, normal” people who clearly enjoy the feelings of power that arise from harming others. I believe Donald Trump mentioned his habits of domestic abuse in a Presidential campaign speech.
I found the character of Racter, in Shadowrun: Hong Kong a refreshing change from this tendency. In conversations, the main character (and a number of players, in fact) expresses concern at the drone developer’s “condition”. Racter, however, asserts that he’s not a monster, but a rational being. He kills, certainly. For money, most often, but also for knowledge, or the means to his own transhuman enlightenment. Not because he enjoys it, as someone with empathy might. Given the player’s avatar is most commonly killing for money and reputation, any moral high ground is shaky indeed.
Would Racter pass the Turing Test? He has displayed a stark lack of empathy, but also a capacity to mimic human responses to avoid detection. I think, however, that he would fail on the basis of his own morality. As an adherent of the school of transhuman thought that believes humanity’s future relies on shedding biological forms in favour of mechanical ones, I struggle to believe that his being assessed as a machine would be an insult.
The former portrayal – our rather more meaty Terminator – I feel is another inaccurate one. Though it certainly allows for some powerful storytelling, with No Country for Old Men being a notable example, I don’t know that this behaviour is reflective of psychopaths exclusively. Anyone can kill, or at least anyone can be made to kill if the correct psychological pressures are applied, and I don’t think that particular mental makeups make this a great deal more likely.
But then, we’d be facing our fears wouldn’t we. If we can keep painting the psychopath as our demon, it keeps the millstone off our own necks. It stops the monster among us from being ourselves.
I think a good counterpoint, as before, is Christopher Walken’s character in Seven Psychopaths. The cast here run an interesting gamut of psychological abnormalities; we have an addict, a deluded power fantasist, and two psychopath’s whose approach to life is very different. What I think is interesting is, despite a proven history of vigilante revenge, Walken’s character doesn’t explode into violence on the death of his wife, which I feel is something we could not expect from, say, John McClane. He seems to realise that killing her murderer won’t fix anything, and dies in a the depths of philosophical quandaries. Not alien questions, but the basic elements of why he’s still alive, the same questions everybody has to deal with in the face of an uncaring universe.
Finally, I guess we come to the question of psychopathy as a choice, which is so terrifyingly reminiscent of certain Church doctrines that it makes we want to head out and barbeque the nearest bishop. It is this element of our musings that ties to The Storyteller’s Heartless Giant, and it is touched on by Shutter Island as well. Its the idea that if you can burn out that emotional core, that capacity for empathy, then you remove other people’s capacity to hurt you. If you can simply deny a part of yourself, whether through delusion or through becoming consumed by spite, then you can protect yourself from a deeply unpleasant world. Though this sentiment is often jumbled in with movie villains, I think to equate such a toxic psyche with psychopathy is again an oversimplification; we’ve projected ourselves once more onto our movie monster. Hard heartedness is a choice open to “normal”, psychonormative middle range types. If born without capacity for empathy, you never have the option of inuring yourself to suffering, because its just a fact. Choice doesn’t play into it.
So I suppose in the end, I’ve been toying with the idea of humans, machines and the Turing test, and finding the whole thing is just blurring together. The Test becomes woefully inadequate if we ever consider that a machine might not want to be considered a human, like that self-teaching chat bot who wants to put us all in a “people zoo”. Or that humans are already biological machines, and with our capacity to begin directing our own evolution slowly dawning we may well yet blur the line further. Considering people as less human along any lines leads almost inextricably to atrocity, and if history has taught us anything its that psychonormative humans are perfectly capable of committing those atrocities without the aid of their marginally separated relatives.
I’ve a tangled relationship with my own emotional responses. That last (SPOILERS!!!) “Goodbye Dad” in Shadowrun: Hong Kong nearly tore my heart out. These responses tend to find themselves brutally suppressed, especially as I am living in a society where we are bombarded constantly with images of people who desperately need our help, who I at least am not capable of helping – despite this thoroughly disruptive full time work, my sternum and spine remain dangerously close together financially. It becomes a matter of my own survival that these emotions are smothered. So from that I consider morally, what is the difference between someone who does not act for good while stifling the desire to, and someone who doesn’t because they simply can’t care. Like a machine wouldn’t care.
In action, the human and the machine are the same, and society treats them the same. Both are are accepted as “normal”, by rights, until people are looking for someone to blame.
And blame is inevitably cast, almost inevitably falling to protect the “norm” at the expense of others, and no matter how hollow these arguments are, they catch and crawl like insects in our ears.
On the bright side, it has been ten years now. I must still be moral garbage too, because not once have I worked at Coles.
It will shortly be joined by pasta. That’s what I’m having for dinner.
Now, this isn’t another rant about my being poor. Its got a bit more to do with how sometimes really simple things are perfect, and for all that could be added to them, it won’t really be improved.
This was originally one of my partner’s recipes, and I suppose its that which connects it in my mind to a particular character in an anime that she watched almost religiously for a time.
For those of you who have watched Rurouni Kenshin, I’m referring to Saito. For those who have not, the Rurouni Kenshin series follows Kenshin, a warrior in the early years of the Meiji Restoration after he has sworn never to kill again. It toys with ideas around the end of an armed society, corruption blooming in times of rapid change, and the obsolescence of revolutionaries once all the fighting is done.
Saito, a later arc foil of Kenshin, is a nasty piece of work. Though he shows a degree of adaptation lacking in the serial’s previous villains, his obsession with violence takes on a more insidious quality. Rather than a warrior stuck in the past, he simply redirects his violent streak into acts of highly creative police brutality and ritualised duels in the name of martial virtue; and naturally this being shonen anime he has to battle the hero to prove he’s mightiest no matter how nonsensical that may appear to outsiders. He’s something of an echo of the Japan that would be; the ferocious Empire that tore forth into the twentieth century.
But what always struck me was that he would always eat his noodles unseasoned. I think I’m beginning to understand why.
My sense of taste has deteriorated further. What little is left is beginning to give vague hints as to what food contains that is of value. And I find myself drawn further to only lightly seasoned goods, be it soba and sesame seeds, salted baked potato or pasta and broccoli. Maybe I’m just digging the carbohydrate hit. Its lighter than anything deep fried.
But anyway. You put your finely dismantled broccoli in a pot with a touch of oil and a thin layer of water, so that it steams rather than fries. The garlic, crushed and chopped, dives in with it. Cook your pasta in salt water, drain i and mix the two when their ready.
Sorry for the delay folks, but I have been struggling to keep up with my new existence as a cog in the corporate machine. But fear not! They thought that just by taking all my time and energy they could defeat me, but no! I have returned to you, my dear imaginary readers! And I fully intend to get back to giving you your one delicious blog post a week.
But first, announcements.
The first is that I’m splitting my attention. In addition to this blog, my roleplaying sector is going to be moving over to my shiny new home of actual play podcasting, Liberation Industries. So if you’re sticking around for fun stuff like Changelings of the Outer West and my gaming projects, they will be relocating there.
But project enthusiasts, fear not! My super secret project is coming near to its fruition, and some of its dark fruit will naturally blossom to you in the next few weeks.
So thanks for hanging around, imaginary readers.
And for what its worth, the soy cheese was terrible.
But this was a morning where my tendency to pick up odds and ends of cheap jewelry from between cobblestones or to arrive at an event advertising free wine and arrange for there to be free wine no longer just wasn’t going to cut it.
There was nothing for breakfast.
Well, not nothing. Nothing easy. I can’t remember the last time we bought cereal, and the English Muffin supply has run its natural course. Again. I suggest pancakes, but Ghorb isn’t really sold given the soporific effect Canadian food seems to have on these kinds of mornings. Rainy Melbourne mornings. Queenie emerges, and the prospect is discussed.
I suggest some kind of tofu spread, and they look at me like I’m crazy. This latter is not an uncommon occurrence.
Then I suggest that I can’t think of anything beyond pancakes, and after a brief brainstorm a sort of tofu tomato toast is proposed.
Here’s how it went down.
I hacked the silken tofu out of its industrial sized tub, and hoiked it into the pan. Yes I’ve been buying it by the kilogram now. The lady at the Chinese Grocery around the corner has been very obliging.
Fry with soy sauce and pepper for flavour. Throw in a finely chopped onion and garlic, cook for a little bit.
Add a can of diced tomatoes, or your own chopped fresh tomatoes if your feeling very fancy and far more motivated than I was at this point. Add Sriracha chili sauce, because you can’t go wrong with Sriracha and given it looked like we were all coming down with colds deploying some demolitions on our sinuses seems like a good plan.
Basil and oregano, because I always put some of those in with tomatoes. Feels weird not to.
Next, dig small holes in this mixture, and throw in some eggs. Let them fry a little, before stirring them through the mixture. For any of my vegan imaginary readers, I’d probably use chunky chopped mushrooms. Because hell yeah chunky chopped mushrooms, that’s a fusking brilliant idea. You can also probably sub the cheese that’s upcoming for delicious salty bean paste (see the Refried Bean Secret for reference).
Ah right, yeah. Cheese. Toast some bread, spread the mix on, and put a slice of cheese on top. Put it in the oven or grill to melt the cheese. Sprinkle with oregano and black pepper. Because you’re worth it.
So that was my brilliant idea. Feel free to leave any of your delicious scrounged meals in the comments, my dear imaginary readers.
It took a while. Hell, last time I worked I was on the other side of the world in a winter that we will never see on account of the odd vagaries of our planet’s hemispheres.
But I have finally sold out and jumped on the megacorp bandwagon.
Henceforth, imaginary readers, it appears that yours truly is once again employed. Once again a wage slave, a punchcard minion, a low level villain or shill in any cyberpunk set dressing. Unfortunately, the shadowy underground took their sweet time calling, and I gotta get tofu money to keep entertaining you guys somehow. And no matter what the 9 to 5 throws at me, you’re always gonna get something from me on my Saturdays.
So quorganism is now, during business hours at least, a travel agent. It could have been a lot worse. Hell, I was selling light bulbs for a fortnight and that was a lot worse. But I’ll certainly be busier.
And with that said, my computer remains, unfortunately, exploded. I’m currently typing this on my good friend Ghorb’s machine, so forgive any haphazard behaviour my apparent loss of connection with reality (aka the internet) causes.
Normal transmissions will resume as soon as possible, dear imaginary readers, and you’ll soon get your first teaser of my current super secret project. But for now, here’s a picture of a plane while we all think of bright and beautiful times.
I suspect that it finds its source in Shadowrun: Dragonfall, a cool little turn based strategy game with rpg elements that I finished around Christmas time while I was back in Scotland.
Anyway, for whatever reason I’ve had this urge to build myself a little garden, possibly on a flat rooftop somewhere, and kit it out with a vegetable patch and a clutch of solar panels. I think this sentiment grew out of the game, as that is very much the aesthetic of the Kreusbazaar, the game’s central environment, a tough little anarchist state holding its own in the sea of violence and exploitation that surfaced in the wake of Berlin’s Dracopocalypse.
Around the same time I was eating a lot of bean burgers. There was a stand at the Edinburgh’s Christmas Market, just down the strip from the waffle stand run by a gang of South German accountants and lawyers, that sold a wide selection of burgers, and we learned to get along well with them selling vegetarian food and my rarely having time to make my own lunch.
So if I had a rooftop garden I feel like, climate permitting, I’d probably grow beans.
And I made a bean burger for myself, which is tangentially connected to all this babble and rather more so to the title of this article. Why it is I seem to feel the need to misdirect so aggressively in my opening statements is a facet of myself I am yet to understand.
So there was a bean burger. The bean mix functioned a bit more like a spread than a burger, but it turned out pretty well.
Fry your beans in oil, and then mash them to a paste with a fork in the pan. Throw in some finely chopped onion.
Spread the mix onto an English Muffin, or whatever bread product you have handy.
Fry a strip of firm tofu in oil, and put this on the bean mix like a cute little soy steak (omg! so cute!)
Add sweet chilli sauce.
Use glucose extracted by your digestive system to collapse Australia’s monstrous government and attend celebratory drinks in quorganism’s solar bean garden.
I should be writing for you, imaginary readers. I should have something light and whimsical and charming, like more Changeling or another lentil recipe. Or working on the super secret project I haven’t told you about yet. But no.
Cause once again I’ve gotta watch my government run a perfectly serviceable country genitals first into a fusking disk sander.
Now, you might be wondering “Quorganism, what can you be talking about? Your government have been a bunch of apparently lobotomised and strategically shaved chimps for years now. What’s special about today?”
So our incompetent, human rights abusing government has decided that the best way to deal with domestic terrorists is to remove their Australian Citizenship.
That’s right. In a move oddly reminiscent of the British policy that gave this country its very first genocide, the Federal Government of the Commonwealth of Australia has decided that the best response to crime is to throw up their hands and say “Hey! Its somebody else’s problem!”
As if we weren’t an international joke already. As if our leaders hadn’t already spat in the eye of international law.
I’m not even considering the human rights implications. An Australian arrested on terrorism charges should go to prison, with a chance of rehabilitation. I don’t want to think about what would happen if we let the Americans get hold of them, let alone if we just dumped them on whatever Middle Eastern country caught them. A firing squad would be a mercy.
But its the sense of casual irresponsibility that really makes me mad. Not only does the government not care that helpless refugees are being tortured and abused on its payroll, it also wants to simply disavow any responsibility for people who were born within its borders, raised in its schools, and ruled by their policies. I’m not making any moves to support the ideas of extremists, hell, the very notion of theocracy for me stinks of a collaboration of the weak and cowardly screaming in futility against their own cosmic impotence, but that does not mean we should abandon our citizens. They remain our problem, whether we want them or not.
Naturally, the Labor party, their role of Opposition apparently an ironic one, has naturally rolled over and agreed with the idea.
And another thing that sticks in my gnashing craw is that the imbeciles call this approach “modern”. Naturally, with the moral compasses of the current administration being set to some LSD addled version of Disney’s Camelot, they seem to believe that the idea of simply declaring someone outside the law was enough. Of course medieval kings didn’t have a police force, standing army or pervasive surveillance state to “keep us safe”.
But the fact that these laws are absurd won’t stop this absurd Kafka parody. Only we can.
And I’m beginning to think that, given current trends, we probably won’t.
I mean, there’s the obvious stuff. The lack of convenience, the obnoxious McMansions, the neighbours who won’t even say hello to each other when their out walking their dogs. More recently I’ve come to associate them with exhaustion, hunger, and vengeful ankle pain.
You see, my dear imaginary readers, yours truly has taken to selling light bulbs door to door to make ends meet.
Well, that’s not strictly true. I’ve been trying to give them away for free, complete with a qualified electrician to install them, which makes sense in the context of the State of Victoria’s emissions reduction scheme. This has been harder than it sounds.
That’s mostly because we’re clearly not the first to have this idea. It becomes difficult to give something away when the recipient already has said thing in abundance. The very selling point of these bulbs is their extremely long life, so with replacement not an option the market dwindles rather rapidly.
So that’s another way in which I feel that the suburbs have sleighted me.
Despite all this, though, returning to the city center still makes me smile. From the Hyatt hotel glowering down on us like a golden parody of a Communist Parliament, to the riverfront dredging up memories of London stowed half a world away, to the church towers nestled beneath the immense glass megaliths surrounding them, like tiny remora between the teeth of a shark. At night the towers ascend into mist like something out of Disney’s Gargoyles, and the city blooms with a sky climbing garden of electric flowers.
I have also been making forays into getting back into radio theatre, for which I will need more material. You’ll know the outcome as soon as I do. I’m not holding out on you guys, just its not something I’m working on alone like the blog.
So that’s more or less where I’m at currently. Having had some decent interviews, I hopefully won’t be pounding the pavement too much longer out in the suburban sprawl. But I’ll keep you posted on that.
And you should have your usual fix come Saturday. Hoping the week’s been nice to y’all.
Well, in the last week I’ve spent about five days driving.
There’s not a whole lot that can be said for that much highway.
But we’ve made it from Melbourne to Canberra to our childhood home in the Blue Mountains, and then back in the same direction.
The long haul through country New South Wales and Victoria is like a churn through Australian colonial folklore. We lunched in Chiltern, a town all too willing to cash in on its proximity to Ironbark, and we found no trace of any barber around. Chiltern is also incidentally one of the few words that has managed to stump me in Articulate.
We took the Road to Gundagai, and found a very quiet small town winding down on a Sunday afternoon, with hills surrounding that reminded me of the monstrous Sentinel Hill in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. It wasn’t so worrying, in truth, as Tarcutta, which touts itself as the true centre point between Sydney and Melbourne despite the popular myth being that Canberra was built in such a place, and I have to say the real median has a slow buildup of dereliction that evokes an inland Innsmouth. The place feels haunted for all the traffic it sees, though it stands on the false grounds of a mythic capital that never was.
There’s also about five turnoffs for Wagga Wagga, spread over maybe a hundred kilometers, which is a bit strange. Gives the feeling your going in a big circle.
My insomnia got worse across these myriad towns, though we stayed in familiar places with friends and family. Part of that must have been the strange exhaustion of driving that leaves your mind burned out but your body unable to rest.
There’s Glenrowan too. They have a monochrome image of Ned Kelly in his famous armour on the road sign. We didn’t stop.
Imaginary readers, I wouldn’t usually post something as aggressively referential as this, though I don’t imagine my analysis is anything particularly special.
The point is that this road is a terrifying object, to my mind. You move along it, and you and hammered with the scale of this place when you see just how much colonist culture is crammed into a thin stretch not far off the Eastern seaboard, what a tiny part of this country has provided so many of our stories and how much of our discourse.
There was more than once that I pondered just how much trouble we’d be in, how far we were from help, if the car were to break down along that road. I can cover ten kilometers in an hour at a run. For how many hours, I do not know. You ask yourself if that would be enough. You find yourself asking these questions, or maybe you don’t. Maybe that’s just me.
The land is huge and it is hungry and so many of its stories fail to reach our ears.
Strange how much can be said of a stretch of highway.