Death Happens

This is an essay which has basically been a long time coming, not that I ever actually planned to write it, only, it has always been in the background and a recent experience solidified it as perhaps one of the most important ideas which structures my thought.

I don’t think about death and suffering all the time and it’s certainly not infiltrating my thought all that regularly, at least as far as I’m aware. But recently I had the – supposedly – unfortunate experience of seeing a loved one in those true last moments, the last few hours where the human body has quite literally nothing to do but clutch at an attempt of existence, and once a person hits this point, the reality of that ‘person’, their ego, their I, anything that can be considered to be of their character completely fades away and you’re left with mere flesh.

For the majority of people and for modernity in general this is, a priori,  a bad moment, there is quite simply no framing wherein this can ever be considered a possible/potential good etc. However, that’s not really what people mean when they think like this, is it? When people say things like ‘Oh it was awful’ what they’re really addressing is their own begrudging acknowledgement of a state which is perpetually hidden by them and for them. That is to say, death and suffering are always hidden, reconfigured and reworked in such a way that they are seen not as definite parts of life, but mistakes of civilization. Ok, so far this is a slight repetition of my previous essay on immortality, however, that essay dealt with what modernity does with death with respect to your will, the rest of this essay will be on what you can do with death and suffering in the face of modernity’s cold hard calculating machinic unconscious.

It pains my younger-self to say this, but I’m certainly heading towards a more vitalist philosophy (reading the work of Ludwig Klages acted as the catalyst), and yet, I don’t think that vitalism has to be of any cliché form, or of any stereotypical hippie-love-of-live vector, in fact, I’d argue that one can be a ‘machinic-vitalist’ or a ‘cosmic-vitalist’. That is – and forgive me is there’s already theorizations closer to this idea – a vitalism which is accepting of death and suffering as part of its own vivid ecstasy. Georges Bataille gets close with his philosophy of limit experience, Nick Land strays towards machines and neglects our reality, Deleuze & Guattari are too focused on economics, Cioran and Ligotti get caught up in their own bleaker-than-thou bias; we need a reversion of vitalism in which it eats itself. That is, death and suffering become a force for good.

Hold up, I’m not promoting death and suffering for their own sake, I’m not saying that one should get pleasure, comfort or positivity from the pain of another, I’m not endorsing any form of violence or torture here. What I am doing however is becoming accepting of the cosmos in a way which doesn’t succumb to the pitfalls of Lovecraftian-bellowing from the madhouse, nor become so utterly positive it stinks of ignorance; I am theorizing of a vitalism which accepts its own return to Zero. Death and suffering as part of the whole system. Sure, this is absolutely nothing new…but then, there’s nothing new under the sun, right?

This is an immanentization of death and suffering into modernity. Modernity is here to stay, and utilizing one’s finite energy trying to get rid of it or destroy is a serious waste of life, you’ll understand very little if you spend your entire life destroying X so you can arrive at some abstract Y; the grass is always greener etc. Death happens. Death happens and spending your energy trying to stop both its material and mental reality is not only an exhaustion, but it’s a maddening exhaustion which will lead you nowhere. The underlying idea of modernity is that everything can be fixed either by some form of technological innovation or by some form of societal tolerance, and guess what, death is the thing which can never be stopped. Modernity finds in death an idea so abhorrent that it ignores its existence all-together, and what is it that modernity finds? Modernity finds within death something which truly does what modernity wants to do, control everything. The only thing outside the constraint of death is nothingness, and once death has come, the concept of nothingness can no longer be.

What can we learn from death? When one is ill, or when one is hurt, or when one is falling apart, these experiences teach us just how much we’ve become accustomed to a certain way of thinking and being. One’s first thought when they have a fever, or when a new ailment alters their course of life is to attempt, with all their might, a return to a presupposed state or normalcy. This is how I should feel and how my body should be and any alteration from that is a mistake of cosmic programming, well guess what? Heraclitus’ river isn’t just something you step into every second of every day, but it’s also the current and circuitry of your own blood. You can’t avoid change because you’re of change.

When I looked at my loved one, I saw the loved one had gone, I didn’t know where, but it didn’t feel awful. What was awful was seeing some-thing plugged into the life-support machine that is modernity, existence for its own sake; modernity disallows existence its right to pass into the next stage both willingly and in a contently manner, modernity clings to life as if it always belonged solely to modernity itself. I saw blood, gasping, unconsciousness, entropy, croaking, struggling and mortality all within a single moment, and yet I saw nothing of the vitalism which had once possessed them, for such a vitalism would have nothing to do with such modernistic and civilizational ignorance of cosmic reality.

And yet, what can one think when they find themselves within such an event in time? Modern man would bleat, pray, whine, ignore, repress, suppress, suffocate and reason everything in front of him, he would make a leap of faith towards the idea that modernity would eventually save him from such a fate, even if his might be more pleasant. But what if one sits and looks and senses. What if one takes their time, accepts the reality, acknowledges this as part of the cycle, as part of the river, and goes about their day with that in mind? I’m not saying do not feel or mourn, I’m not saying ignore the event that is death; I am saying that the way in which one understands and reacts to death will ultimately affect how they react and enact their life; if death is denied, then life is too.

‘Everything you’re currently experiencing will die’ is another way of saying that ‘everything you’re currently experiencing is still here’, enjoy it, partake in it, and experience it with everything you’ve got.

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Immortality is More Profitable

“People, like civilizations, are mortal, and no matter how much money and technology gets poured into the task of keeping either one alive, sooner or later it won’t be enough.” – John Michael Greer, The Strategy of Salvage.

Once again, I’m going to alter the Greerean civilization angle towards one of personal sovereignty. Mortality is our reality, in all things. This is the truth that even the most Rousseau-hardened optimists have trouble accepting. People, states, families, heritages, traditions, fads and ideas are all mortal, they will all end. Unfortunately, we live within a system which finds this truth abhorrent for the fact it goes against everything it stands for. Ending, stagnation and stopping, there is nothing more troublesome to modernity and runaway capitalism than this. And so, wherever you look, you will find pitiful attempts at immortality…whatever the cost.

At risk of acting like modernity itself, I actually see this as an argument and reality regarding energy. There comes a point within all existences in which the energy ceases in its ability to be converted into life by the existence itself, the requirement henceforth then – if one wishes to keep that existence ‘alive’ – is an external source of energy, which acts as a life-line, or existence support machine. I am thoroughly of the opinion that if an existence can no longer support itself, it should be left to peacefully fade away…for modernity, this is the wrong opinion.

We see these life/existence-support-machines everywhere, but we’re just taught to understand them as ‘the way things are’, the underlying message we are taught is that death is the worst of all outcomes, worse, in fact, than suffering. And that life should be maintained, even to the detriment of its own quality, even if by keeping it going it has a net-negative regarding quality.

Dying businesses get personal credit injections, dying trades get government subsidies, dying ideas get infected with nostalgic wills, dying traditions get riddled with parasitic clones, dying fads get their ironic rebirth and dying people are disallowed their reality entirely. We simply cannot allow death. We cannot allow it to appear, we cannot allow it to be seen and most of all, we cannot allow it to become a reality. Within modernity, death and suffering are not seen as outcomes of an unjust cosmos, but as accidents of a failed civilization; civilization as an idea has become synonymous with the eradication of pain and conclusion, there’s no money to be made from something which ceases to have an output.

But this idea of death is reliant on one’s definition of life, for there to be an antagonist or opposite, one needs the affirmation, the protagonist. The main character here is life, the idea of life. How ‘life’ is defined differs from person to person, and yet I imagine that there is a relatively accepted opinion that life is still living when one can actually do it; to live is an action. Modernity doesn’t see it this way. To modernity the subjective reality of ‘being alive’ is a matter of chemistry, politics and economics.

Modernity strips life of all its vitality and essence, one is reduced to chemistry in the manner of being monitored via various medication and intakes and blood tests, one is reduced to politics by way of being understood as a statistic in relation to various micro and macro political spaces, and, of course, one is reduced to an economic being by way of understanding that once one dies, they can no longer produce or consume, or more importantly, pay. 

Say what you like about the Deleuzoguattarian notion of machination, that we’re all just units which produce and consume, but it’s certainly the correct reading with regard to civilizational systems and underlying control mechanisms. One is understood, societally, simply as potential for economic input or output. The reason one is kept alive far beyond the point wherein all real life has left, is because if one is still chemically alive, then one is still economically life, and has the potential to create profit for some or other societal abstraction.

Unfortunately, the reason why these life-support systems seem so abhorrent to us, to the extent of causing a gut reaction of disgust, is because the living human finally seen to exist on the plane of existence they always existed upon, the plane of entropy and negentropy. When resource shortages interact with rising maintenance costs what one gets is a form of collapse. Now, we’re talking about a shortage of life itself, a shortage of pure being, which in turn is replaced by machinic appendages and tools, external aesthetic machinations of life which stand in for natural organs. This process is usually slow and steady, until one day, one is faced with their beloved all but gone, except for the process of breathing, maintained by various branded medical apparatus.

This is because immortality is more profitable; dying? How dare you! A dignified death is the gift of a dignified society. One where the definitions of life, death and suffering remain with those who truly partake in them and have not fallen into the hands of abstractions which don’t. There is nothing modernity is more hates more than something which not only wants to end, but wishes to choose when to do so. When something or someone says ‘I’ve had enough, I no longer want the drugs, I’ve had a good run…’, that isn’t seen by modernity as a separate agency making its will conscious, but is seen as a potential loss of control.

In Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, Judge Holden – who for lack of a thorough analysis represents death, the devil and unforgivable entropy – states this: “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.” Of course, for the Judge, as with modernity, the reverse is also true, that which dies without my knowledge dies without my consent. Modernity is Judge Holden forcefully cramming pills, splints and needles into you until the last iota of your life force has been drained.

It is a crime to die of one’s own choice, whether or not your life is over is not your choice, but the choice of that which defines what both life and death are, and for that we rely on something entirely undead.

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The Myth of Progress

There have been thousands of essays just like this one, but I never got around to writing my own, so here it is. Guess what, progress is…strange. The very concept of progress now is – as mentioned in my Free Floating Power essay – a signifier without a true object or concept of signification. Let’s look at some definitions:

1. Forward or onward movement towards a destination.
2. Development towards an improved or more advanced condition.

So if we’re to take the first definition here as our starting point, then we first need to question our destination. If we’re progressing then we must be progressing somewhere, right? Well, I can’t say for sure whether we’re going anywhere because it’s relatively difficult to see who or what it is that’s actually pulling our strings. With that said, without any clear destination progress, advancement and improvement are pretty much impossible. If you have no quantifiable metric to go off of (within the socio-industrial framework) then you can be doing practically anything and call it progress. If we tell ourselves that we need to get to a state of X, or we need to invent or build Y, then we have enough data to correctly assess whether or not we’re progressing. But once the entire concept of progressing is understood in relation to a rather loose assemblage of sociological and political tolerances and statements, well then we’re at the whim of conjecture, and whoever can askew the facts in the most innovative way is the winner.

This leads me to the second definition – development towards an improved or more advanced condition – firstly one has to ask, an improved or more advanced condition for whom? And within what context is advancement understood. The first word there, ‘improved’, is the most precarious in this context. Improved means entirely different things for different people, this much is obvious. But another difficulty with ‘improved’ is that for many improvement isn’t synonymous with advancement in technological culture or abstract social freedoms. For some people a return to tradition would be an improvement, for some people the singularity would be an improvement and for others the levelling of all industry would be improvement, and once all these viewpoints are all flattened onto the plane of progress one understands that it’s nothing but impossible to have a unified conception of progress. The same applies for the idea of an ‘advanced condition’, one assumes that this is theorized in relation to an advancement in technology and potential for social freedoms once again, that there is, in the oh-so mystical future, an abstract state of society which we’re lunging towards.

If this is the case, that we’re heading towards a sort of collective subconscious future which we all apparently implicitly understand is the correct thing to head towards, then what we’re venturing into is a fiction, and as such, will be – more or less – extremely alike the past, if not a mirror image with a different aesthetic. For whatever is understood as our future can only be understood in terms relative to what has been, the entire notion of progress rests on a linearity of thought which excludes and actively shuns innovation. Innovation is the greatest enemy of progress, because it could potentially allow us to move away from the notion of progress altogether.

It’s a case of questioning once again, and because progress implies some form of action (advancement, progressing, moving-towards etc.) then further questions arise. Where are we progressing to? What are we progressing towards? Who is progressing? Why do we want to progress? And on and on they go, questions which will never find an answer because the concept of progression is so malleable and plastic that it exists solely as a form to be used by the highest bidder. So, my own definition of progress: Progress means whatever those with power want it to mean; progress means whatever those in control of history want it to mean. The victors write the history books, but they do so in such a way as to define progress, and unfortunately, our history books are rife with unbridled technological and industrial optimism, unquestioned notions of freedom and abhorrence of exit. Which ties one into an unforgiving abstraction, the target of which is whatever is happens to be that day.

How can we call it a myth then? Well, let’s go back to good ol’ definitions:


1. A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.

Now, progress is far from traditional, in fact, it has basically nothing to do with tradition in the sense that it only uses tradition to reach its own aim, as opposed to being tradition itself. It is most definitely a story, perhaps the earliest of stories, the one we’ve always told ourselves. Progress is the story in which the narrator is always correct, and everything the narrator has done is correct, and – most importantly – where the narrator is going is definitely the correct direction. It is the story with regards to one handing over their responsibility and action to an elusive abstraction. Sure, we tell ourselves lots and lots of stories in everyday life “I’ll do it later because X”, “I can’t do that now because Y”, “I always wanted to do Z but…” and on and on they go, but the overarching story which trumps all of these is the story of progress, the unconscious idea that even if individual things don’t get done, it doesn’t matter because we’re chugging along nicely anyway, a few mistakes, lacunae and occlusions don’t matter, because we’re always progressing.

What’s left to say of progress other than nothing, it doesn’t exist, except in extremely limited cases where there’s a clear metric and secure personal or collective context, but even then it can become flimsy quite quickly. Handing over your ideals to progress is giving up all personal sovereignty for the comfort of a controlled abstraction, and it’s not always easy to see who or what is doing the controlling.

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Free Floating Power

Within semiotics there is the concept of the ‘floating signifier’ or ‘free floating signifier’. The concept designates a signifier which doesn’t have a referent, or, in simple terms, in designates a word which doesn’t point towards any clear object, structure or form. It’s a little tricky to explain exactly how they come across in day-to-day life, but it’s my belief that we use them more and more, both as a way to quickly explain something, but more importantly as a way to abstain from understanding and responsibility.

Postmodernism is a clear one, we’re not entirely sure what the ‘hell’ postmodernism means anymore and it seems pretty clear that no one actually wants to go read the postmodernists to find out, hell, who even are the postmodernists anymore. The meaning of that word, ‘postmodernism’, has such a floating meaning that it can – and has – been used to explain and describe the most drifting symptoms of culture and society. Usually used in a derogatory manner, postmodernism means everything from the death of idealism to the reason there’s TikTok, and yet, such a vision is so vast and fleeting that it deems the signifier itself almost useless. Yet, it does retain a use; it becomes a word of pure power.

We hear these floating signifiers almost daily without ever questioning them, the recent Coronavirus pandemic has been rife with them, and yet, no one pays a moment’s notice to what it is they’re agreeing or disagreeing with. An empty, floating signifier takes over their potential for authentic opinion.  ‘Scientist’ or ‘science’ is the clearest one being thrown around at the moment. “The scientists have said X” or “The scientists have agreed upon Y.” We hear these sentences almost daily on the news, in the papers and on social media, and people trust them just because of their inclusion of a certain signifier, and yet no one ever takes a moment to think if there’s anything behind the signifier.

What are we buying into when we accept these terms without ever thinking about them? Let’s take ‘scientist’ as a clear example. Someone states that “The scientists agree on X”. What we’re accepting here is a free-floating signifier deciding what is correct or incorrect with regards to our health and our lives. No one asks which scientists, or what these scientists’ aims are, or whether or not we actually asked them in the first place, everyone simply agrees, subconsciously, that a decision has been made.

What we’re looking at then is a complete abstraction, we’re looking at people handing over all possible agencies and responsibility to a floating abstraction which can mean anything anyone wants. For some ‘scientist’ might mean security, others authority and others it might mean intelligence, either way, we’re handing over our own decision and opinion to an empty signifier. Simple steps can be made by news outlets and mainstream media to rectify this semiotic atrocity, by adding in where the scientists work and who they work for would direct the signifier towards something more solid, and yet they don’t, why is this?

These floating signifiers are useful for when wants to insert their opinion about something without having to own up to any consequences, or even explain why they have that opinion. Blaming everything on X is an age-old human trait and this is its latest form. What if the ‘scientists’ are wrong? It doesn’t matter because we never knew who they were anyway. The signifier was free-floating, it never latched onto anything stable, so there’s nothing there to agree or disagree with, only a nothingness to soak up resentment, bitterness and an irresponsible nature. My direction here is once again towards personal responsibility. I don’t care about mainstream media abstaining from responsibility; in fact, I don’t massively care about mainstream media at all. But one’s own thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are something to be consistently kept in check – ‘Do I actually believe that?’, ‘Do I actually agree with that?’ or – in the case of the news – ‘Has this person actually said anything at all, anything worthy of my attention?’

Because when you really think about the sentence ‘The scientists have agreed on X’, you realize that it actually means very little without any stable signifiers to connect to. For me, it’s simple; people accept these empty statements as a way to avoid thinking. It is – once again – a way for men and women to hand over their responsibility to the masses, the herd, the ‘they’.  ‘Well, looks like they’ve got it sorted!’, ‘We can always rely on them scientists!’ or my personal favorite ‘Ah, they’ll think of something…’ Is there any clearer sentence showing how easily man hands over his agency to the collective?

Once that agency is handed over, people no longer have to think, worry or partake in something which is affecting their lives. Once they’ve accepted the floating signifier everything is ok again, everything is back to normal. But you must think, you must ponder and criticize these empty assessments and analyses of things which are affecting you. Don’t let another sculpt what it is you believe, do or say simply by assuming that normalcy and general agreement is correct. Usually within the agreement of the ‘they’ there is actually little agreement, the only thing they agree on is that change is bad, and what is now should and shall be forever and any who think otherwise are silly.

When one thinks back over what a figure of authority told them there is almost always a reliance on a floating signifier, some presumed meaning smeared onto nothingness which vindicates the rest of their rhetoric.  Once you question that first step, the rest of the stairway quickly crumbles under the weight of ignorance, apathy and confusion.

“See, there’s X then Y then Z! That’s simply how it is!”

“But I’m not sure about X? What does X even mean?”

You won’t make any friends this way; people don’t like anything to be questioned, especially the foundations. But what’s more important, gaining popularity through agreement with empty falsehoods, or thinking for oneself?

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