Can a crowd become wise?

The episode of the adulterous woman [John 8.3-11] is one of the rare successes Jesus had in his dealings with a crowd. This success brings out by contrast his many failures and especially, of course, the role of the crowd in his own death.”– René Girard, “I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning”, p. 59 (thanks to my friend David L. Dusenbury for the quote).

UPDATE: At the invitation of Phlexible Philosophy‘s editor-in-chief, Hamza King, I have reformulated this blog post into an essay for their newsletter. To read it, you need to first subscribe to Phlexible Philosophy (don’t worry, it’s free!) by clicking here:

What’s the gist? In my view, whereas individuals as they mature tend to become wiser, in the sense of thinking about the world in less black and white terms, collectives — whether audiences, nations, empires, republics, etc. — seem to go in the opposite direction, becoming more reductionist and violent with age.

I think this phenomenon is on full display today, especially in mature democracies. Advanced electorates that were once sophisticated are becoming almost blissfully hyper-partisan, as though they feel themselves released from needing to consider viewpoints other than their own. I explore four possible philosophical explanations for why collective intellectually and emotionally decay over time, including ideas from Gustave Le Bon and Ibn Khaldun.

Once you have subscribed, you can either leave a comment below or DM me on Twitter (@schwartztronica) and I will provide you the password. I would love to know your thoughts and critical comments, as I am considering to turn this into a full-fledged academic article in the future. Thank you for reading!

When civilization is the main character

I am writing a series of blog posts about The Walking Dead. In Part I, I revisited the troubled Scott Gimple era of the television show. In Part II, I explored what I consider to be the show’s long-awaited embrace of the zombie’s roots in horror B movies. Now in Part III, I will discuss who I think is the true “main character” of the series, both the comic books and the television show, viz., civilization itself. Future installments may focus on the Whisperers, the role of skills and unlocked capacities in the post-apocalypse, and/or working out the philosophical basis of a civilization as main character.

When I first read the news that Rick’s actor, Andrew Lincoln, would be departing The Walking Dead, it seemed to me that this was the narrative head shot to a show that had been shambling on for a while. It is something of a natural law of storytelling that unless the loss of a main character is elemental to the story’s overarching plot or moral — as in the case of Ned’s death in the first season of Game of Thrones — shows that undergo such a massive change tend not to prosper in the aftermath. And on the surface, Rick did indeed seem so key to this story, both symbolically and in terms of the relationship with us, the audience. He was the small town sheriff turned post-apocalyptic Solon, the symbolic lawgiver; no other character really could suffice as protagonist, not even Daryl, the perennial fan favorite.

Yet, in my opinion, it seems much like the unnatural “walkers” at the center of the show’s story, The Walking Dead has broken this natural law of storytelling. Rick’s kidnapping by a mysterious helicopter certainly felt like a loss, as not only did Lincoln bring gravitas to every scene he was in, but the character was so compelling. Yet, it also felt like a necessary change. The question is why, and I think the answer is that Rick all along had overshadowed the true main character of both the comic book and television series. That main character has been civilization itself.

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Finding salvation in the horror B movie

I am writing a series of blog posts about The Walking Dead. In Part I, I revisited the troubled Scott Gimple era of the television show. Part II concerns the show’s embrace of the zombie’s roots in horror B movies. Part III will concern who I think is the true main character of the series.

Gimple still presides over the broader fictional universe of The Walking Dead, and as with his time running the main show, the results are not for everyone. Fear the Walking Dead, for example, has evolved into a kind of post-apocalyptic Kung Fu, but Morgan clearly has psychiatric issues that Caine did not, and Morihei Ueshiba’s Art of Peace is failing to work as a form of therapy. The philosophy horror also seems to be in full swing, including monologues, but at least they are now being delivered by characters who themselves are genuinely horrific, such as the serial killer Teddy. As for World Beyond, the overarching menace of the Civic Republic, the planned new shows and films, the jury is still out on whether all of these will congeal into a coherent franchise.

One thing that has happened during this recent phase of the universe has been an embrace of the zombie’s roots in the aesthetics of horror B movies – and in my opinion, the results have been excellent. Fear is indisputably the strongest in this arena, but the main show under Kang has also done very well since the introduction of the Whisperers. This has been an interesting evolution for the franchise, because both the original comic book series and the main show long seemed ambivalent about their inheritance from George Romero.

Why the ambivalence? I think it is not as simple as the erroneous interpretation one sometimes find that The Walking Dead wanted to be a survival drama that happened to have zombies. That was never true, for the zombie had always been the series’ central symbol and plot mechanic. Nevertheless, it was surprising to me that, pretty much until The Walking Dead’s Wilson and Fear‘s hurricane and radioactive zombies, there were not more imaginative scenarios. This seemed unjustifiable not only in terms of the zombie genre, but also in terms of the show’s aspirant realism. After all, would there not be an increased likelihood of more extreme and exotic situations after so many years into the apocalypse? I think what seemed like ambivalence was actually a storytelling strategy that focused heavily on the psychological dimension at the expense of the aesthetic dimension. Consequently, the audience came to know much more about the inner world of this apocalypse than its outer world. That is now no longer the case, not only because of the franchise building we are witnessing, but also because of the embrace of the horror B movie aesthetic.

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Philosophical horror and the Walking Dead

I am writing a series of blog posts about The Walking Dead. Part I concerns a revisit to the troubled Scott Gimple era of the television show. Part II will concern the show’s recent embrace of the horror B movie aesthetic, and Part III will concern who I think is the true main character of the series.

While crunching on my dissertation this past summer, I have caught up on The Walking Dead. Like many fans of the show, I grew frustrated with the seventh season and quit during the eighth. The extremified depiction of Negan, the comic book source material’s most compelling character, and the death of Carl, arguably the soul of the story, signified for me an inexcusable decline in storytelling that, while never consistent during the show’s run, had inexorably began to decay during the inchoate sixth season. An old friend, though, prevailed on me to give the show another chance, and I must say, not only have I been surprised by the improved quality since Angela Kang took over showrunning duties from Scott Gimple, but I am enjoying the show more than I did even in its heyday. And as surprising as this may sound, I think this is because the show has become both more genuinely horrific and more genuinely philosophical under Kang’s stewardship.

However, before I can get into what I think the Kang era has so far gotten right, I need to explore why the Gimple era seemed to go so wrong, and whether this ill reputation is entirely fair. In brief, I think the negative reactions aroused by the seventh and eighth seasons were indeed merited, but specifically with respect to the execution. What Gimple and his team were trying to do, however, was both worthwhile and necessary by that point in the show’s evolution.

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Decay and Adolescence

This has been a strange summer in Kyrgyzstan. The Alatoo region is normally dry and dusty, June straight through September. Instead, everyday has been sweaty and stormy. Months of these indecisive days, thermometers and barometers soaring and plummeting and soaring again. I have always been sensitive to sudden changes in weather. Like my mind, my body seems to crave routine: give me relentless heat, but let it be relentless.

Perhaps, though, the fractured climate expresses the character of our epoch. I mean more than the Covid-19 pandemic, or the Trumpian political upheavals of the past few years. As a faith community keenly interested in the unification of humanity and the achievement of, in our view, a divine civilization, fellow Baha’is and I have been discussing at length about the nature of the sense of crisis that seems to pervade the very earth itself. I have also been discussing with a conservative Christian friend, and of course, putting the question to myself, as well. What follows here are my thoughts.

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The Unthinkable Law

Considering Kyrgyzstan’s deeply perplexing new law on “manipulating information”, just passed by the parliament and awaiting ratification from the president — you can read about it (in English) here, and (in Russian) here, as well as the kinds of important and inconvenient journalism it may stifle in the future here — a philosophical thought experiment occurs to me. Imagine a country whose parliament passes a law that makes it illegal to think about the law. What will become of this unthinkable law and its nation?

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Return to Averroes

Some of my readers might like to know where exactly I am during the coronavirus pandemic. Last academic year, I was back in Leuven, as a guest researcher with the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) research unit. I have been back in Bishkek this academic year, now as a visiting scholar at the Central Asian Studies Institute (CASI). What may be a little confusing is that I am still affiliated with COSIC as a guest researcher. My affiliation with both institutions is on the basis of my project with Dr. Rebekah Overdorf in Lausanne and the Civic Initiative for Internet Policy (CIIP) that combines machine learning and investigative journalism to research campaigns of sockpuppets (a breed of fake account) in Kyrgyzstan.

So, I am here in Bishkek with my wife, watching on the one hand the chaos unspool in my homeland as my people persist in the folly that an unfettered free market will save them, on the other hand how the authorities here in Kyrgyzstan have responded with a reach that has exceeded their grasp, and perhaps may even be exploiting it for ill gain. It has been a deeply symbolic Naw-Ruz, the wheel of history digging deep into the mud and forcefully driving our species into what could very well be a new era. Within the microcosmic confines of my own life, as I do not have an office and often work from my home, my modus vivendi has not been so dramatically overthrown as many others’. Still, there have been a lot of changes, and during this time I have turned for solace, perhaps surprisingly, not to the scriptures of my religion, the Baha’i Faith, but to an old philosophical mentor, perhaps even ancestor of a sort, Averroes.

In particular, I am reading his Long Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima, Richard C. Taylor’s translation. I know Richard personally, as he was a kind of co-supervisor on my Master’s thesis about Averroes’s On The Harmony of Religions and Philosophy, also known as the Decisive Treatise. Now that I am 38 and have much more philosophical experience beneath the belt, I can more fully appreciate why Thomas Aquinas and other Medievals called him the Commentato”. And, naturally, it has gotten me to thinking about Averroes again …

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Burying my lede

A few days ago, I gave a lecture at the American University of Central Asia to a class of freshmen journalism students about the tripartite structure of storytelling. Storytelling of all kinds, whether myth or narrative, academic essays or news-reports. A pattern runs through history, from cave paintings in Sulawesi drawn in the dim light of a nighttime campfire, to the holograms twinkling in the light of some yet-discovered star. Stories are told in a sequence of three steps, as if on a path that only the storyteller can see: lede, body, tail. Perennially, archetypally, three.

How can we know what to put in the lede? one astute student asked. How to start, in other words? I proposed that, where for the philosopher, and also for the mystic, the Socratic injunction has always been to know thyself, for the journalist, the injunction has always been to know thy audience. Know what they would be curious to know, and even better, know what they need to know. Enter into their collective mind, see the world through their eyes, and the new and, more keenly, the news-worthy, will reveal itself to you.

Plan and prepare though I may in advance, as a journalist, a philosopher or an educator, in the moment of reporting, reflecting or teaching, I tend to obey the hints of intuition. Improvising, with those students I suddenly chose not to start with the tripartite structure of storytelling in-itself, surprising both them and myself. Instead, I started with telling a story. The story of storytelling.

Specifically, I started with the first stories: myth, folklore, legend. I invoked the Kyrgyz people’s Arthurian legend, Manas, asking not how the tale started, but how exactly it ended. There was confusion. With his death, right? asked one, anticipating a trick answer from me, the foreigner. No, with his son and grandson, Semetei and Seitek, offered another — father, son, grandson, three parts again, I silently noted to myself. Another mused, Perhaps it continues to this day, with us, the Kyrgyz people. All very good interpretations, I informed them.

And could you tell me how a news-report ends? My question is answered with bemusement. Have you noticed how a news-report often seems to have no true end? Yes, they had indeed noticed: sometimes, it peters out; other times, it abruptly stops. But what did it mean? Perhaps it reflects life, one student remarked.

The news-report as world, to paraphrase Marilyn French. The shaman’s fingers, pressing a coal shard against the stone wall, draw the outline of a hunter thrusting an intuitive spear at his prey: see the end in the beginning, per Baháʼu’lláh, even if the end is obscured in the shadow cast by the campfire light. By the time the students and I came to the lede, body and tail as such, the pattern had already shown itself without yet revealing itself.

Yet, it was no longer clear to me how the lesson itself would end — what would be my point exactly, other than, of course, to impart to them the knowledge of the tripartite structure of storytelling? I ask myself the same question here, as I write this blog post. And again, intuition hints and prods. Defy the wisdom of editors past, it whispers. Bury your lede. Start not from the cradle, but instead from the grave.

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To let out the light


Ten years ago, I joined the Baha’i Faith. It’s peculiar, our human sense of time. A decade is a passing thought for a tree, hardly a pebble fall for a mountain, and a drop of nothingness in the vastness of the universe. Yet, as much as it is an eon for a human being, at the moment of counting it is also so so brief, a flicker of intense experience and meaning.

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Philosophy of Information


“Information-as-Persuasion and Radicalization” is a phenomenological approach to the philosophy of information and how this is potentially relevant for understanding narratives used for countering violent extremism (CVE).

My idea is similar to Claude Lefort’s use of the traditional philosophical distinction between politics and the political as-such: rather than look at the myriad ways that either content or methods of delivery may be persuasive, instead take a step “lower down” and see that information as such is a form of persuasion  — or put another way, to propose that the underlying unity of the aspects of information is actually what we attribute to the aspects themselves, and hence they owe their character to this essence.

I gave the presentation at the second annual Central Asia Security Forum in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan at the invitation of the Civic Initiative for Internet Policy. My audience included representatives of intergovernmental and national governmental organizations, civil society and a handful of local national security types. I suspect that I primarily succeeded in mystifying them!

Totemism and Panopticon

Intelligence ≠ Journalism, Spies ≠ Journalists — an extremely important formula, one that I fear is increasingly being forgotten in our present era. Via, I have published my unfinished behemoth academic presentation-cum-paper, “Totemism and Panopticon: A Tentative Comparative Philosophical Ethnography of Journalism and Intelligence Using Wikileaks as a Case Study“. I have the ambition to sooner or later (preferably sooner) convert it into an article or book — with strength worthy of Poseidon, transform this sprawling octopus of 70 PowerPoint slides into a disciplined kraken of a monograph. To do that, I need critical feedback, both friendly and unfriendly, from fellow journalists and philosophers, professionals in intelligence work, and WikiLeaks supporters (not detractors, as I myself am now become a detractor and need continued exposure to the “opposing side”).

The truth is I have decided to publish this presentation now because I feel it is long overdue that I draw a strong line between my original support for WikiLeaks and my present extreme wariness, if not opposition, to Julian Assange et al. I considered coming out already back in 2016, but I found that I had nothing really cogent to say beyond simply that I felt what had been done was wrong. That changed by the summer of 2017, when I began working on this presentation. What finally prompted me to bring this presentation out from the Ivory Tower and more into the public domain were terrible experiences this past academic year at my employer, the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek (AUCA), Kyrgyzstan (a bit more about that below). I wanted to find words to describe my sense of our wretched zeitgeist, until I realized that I already had the words, more or less, in the form of this presentation.

I am not a “big deal” in the sense of being an intellectual influencer, trendsetter, what-have-you. Nonetheless, I expect at least some skepticism or scorn from those who were always against WikiLeaks, and some anger and feeling of betrayal from those who always and resolutely support it. To them: as recorded in my round-up post, “Working the WikiLeaks Beat“, from the beginning I tried to take an inquisitive and critical look at WikiLeaks. Even as far back as July 2010, I had concerns:

[W]hat I worry about is the extent to which WikiLeaks is willing to make soldiers, civilians […] collateral damage in its war against inaccuracy and falsity. That’s a question not only the journalist in me, but the philosopher too, would like to put to Assange et al one day…

Moreover, as an intellectual I reserve the right to change my mind, so I have exercised this right about WikiLeaks, especially in light of my maturation as a journalist and academic, coupled with my own encounters with intelligence professionals. And who knows? Perhaps one day I will change my mind again about WikiLeaks; certainly, as much as I have become convinced of the importance and, indeed, the inevitability of intelligence, I remain deeply worried about the extent to which it violates privacy, in my homeland and globally. In my religion, the Baha’i Faith, backbiting is seen as one of the greatest evils; when intelligence loses sight of its true purpose and morphs into a grossly industrialized form of backbiting, all of civilization suffers.

Indeed, there is a terrible paradox at the heart of our present era, a dialectic between privacy and publicity, secrecy and transparency; and at the heart of this dilemma are intelligence and journalism, which in a surprisingly enormous number of ways are kindred professions. In both my work and my philosophical and spiritual reflections, I have come to understand how secrecy and transparency are double-sided — they can be divine or diabolical. The Baha’i Faith actually champions both the need for discretion and secrecy and the need for exposure and publicity; in our Writings, we find God speaking in both languages, invoking the ethics of both principles, lionizing and condemning them depending upon the situation. There is a transcendental standard at play, according to which in one moment secrecy may be the right and transparency the wrong, and in the next the reverse.

These days, when I try to translate this standard into the professional terms of journalism, I think back to two of WikiLeaks’ biggest “mega-leaks” nine years ago, namely, their publication of the diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world and the military cables from American soldiers in Afghanistan.

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A meeting between old friends

WhatsApp Image 2017-11-18 at 11.32.46

Yesterday (Saturday, 18 November) I had the great pleasure of participating in the annual World Goodwill seminar held by the Lucis Trust‘s London branch. [30.11.2017: The whole seminar can be watched by clicking here; my presentation here; the panel discussion with Dr. Andreas de Bruin and Deborah Ravetz here. | 22.11.2017: I have uploaded a PDF copy of my PowerPoint presentation here.] For those from yesterday’s audience who may be stopping by this space to read some of my previous work, especially on the issue of spirituality and journalism, two notes for you:

The first note is that, alas, I have not been able to keep this space properly updated in recent years, and perhaps to the chagrin of some of you my most recent post was on something quite worldly: an online video game! (My first Master’s degree was in history, and I have gotten involved in FreeCiv Web, an online massively multiplayer role-playing game that involves historical simulation. So it goes!)

Nonetheless, the second note is that this space does contain some of the initial reflections that ultimately led me down the path of researching “philosophy of journalism”. My thoughts on the matter have evolved quite a lot since these, but if you want to read them, click here. If you might be interested in the broader assortment of ruminations and whatnot herein, click here to go to the “Virgil” section of this space, which has more information about what you can find.

World Goodwill

For those among my readers who are unfamiliar with the Lucis Trust, it is the fiduciary trust for publishing the works of Alica Bailey. Within the broader modern-day esoteric/occultist movement, Lucis Trust historically originates in Theosophy, and alongside the Theosophical Society it serves as something of the intellectual core of the New Age, hence it is one of the old guards of an important contemporary spiritual movement. The invitation to participate came out of the blue, and considering the Lucis Trust’s status, perhaps not within the mainstream but certainly within many other walks of life, it was quite an honor.

I was one of three presenters, the others being Dr. Andreas de Bruin who researches mindfulness and meditation within the institutional context of higher education, and Deborah Ravetz, who in academic terms can be understood as an artist engaging in forms of art-based existential therapy or logotherapy. Andreas is doing interesting and rigorous academic work down in Munich and the results of his studies will soon be available via the Mind and Life Institute. Deborah is remarkably eloquent and if I had to sum up her presentation, it would be with the Baha’i Writings: each of us really needs to see things with our own eyes, hear things with our own ears.

My presentation, entitled, “Mirror of the World: The Spiritual Quest of the Journalist”, is derived from my ongoing doctoral research into the phenomenology of news-writing. The gist of my presentation is that the notion of the “Impartial Spectator”, or Objectivity generally-speaking, operates for journalists a lot like the divine does for religious believers, and indeed one can even compare the journalist’s quest as a mystical imitation of the divine. I need to do some tweaking to the PowerPoint, but I will soon make it publicly available here and on the Lucis Trust website.

In all honesty, I found the World Goodwill seminar, including the discussions with the audience, substantive not to mention uplifting, far more so than, well, two major international academic conferences I participated in this past academic year. I also felt there was more of an exchange, not only between the three of us presenting, but with the audience as well as the staff of the Lucis Trust. On the one hand, the seminar was comparable to the recent academic conferences in terms of audience size but much smaller in terms of presenters. On the other hand, I feel that there was not only a lot more sincerity and, yes, good will in the event than what one may find in academic conferences in general, but also much more intellectual rigor.

A meeting long overdue…?

I just want to close this post with this observation: for us Baha’is, the Theosophical Society actually occupies a special place in our history, as Abdu’l-Baha during his momentous travels across the West from 1910 to 1913 gave some of his most important speeches to Theosophists, the most well-known of which were to those in Paris and here in London. Both their movement and ours have evolved immensely in the century since these original encounters, but it really felt like a meeting between old friends who were out of touch for far too long.

Considering the fact that, like Abdu’l-Baha, I had come to the event from the East (He from Acre, myself from Bishkek), the archetypal nature of this meeting between old friends is… well, it’s interesting, to say the least. I am not trying to elevate myself to the level of Abdu’l-Baha of course; rather, it feels as though I had been, what? — chosen? permitted? — to engage in some kind of deep pattern, and for this I am truly grateful.

Making a Barbarian World

It has been a long time since I last blogged, and there’s a lot to talk about: my entrance into academia as a full-time lecturer at the American University of Central Asia, my marriage, my ongoing PhD, the growing clarity of my philosophical interests — “philosophical” for me being both academic-intellectual and spiritual-psychological, even spiritual-therapeutic — not to mention my interests’ evolving focus and scope. However, my first post in a long time will not be about these things, and it will even constitute a thematic break in the sense that what I want to post about right now is, well, very un-spiritual!

This post is intended to indulge in a hobby, namely, strategy gaming and the possibilities for tinkering (see this old 2010 post, “Checkmate by Checkers”, for example). In this particular case, the game is FreeCiv, the online fan-made version of Sid Meier’s Civilization history simulation franchise. This past summer, I have been playing the role of Saruman with the Orcs, experimenting with the game’s Barbarians. Here is my potentially crazy idea: it is possible to “social engineer” the Barbarian AI without any tinkering to the ruleset using the default settings of the average online easy-mode game. Furthermore, it may even be possible using such social engineering to establish a “Barbarian World”, i.e., a play scenario in which the Barbarian AI has seized control of all of the major civilizations and production centers, relegating the human and AI players to the margins, from which they will need to find a way to fight their way back to power.

This, then, is a love-letter post by one fan to other fans, although it is also part of a growing historical fascination of mine for social engineering, of which post-Soviet Central Asia is arguably (and controversially) a potential prime example in real-world history (and more about which I will hopefully be writing about in this space and elsewhere in the future). So, without further ado, what follows are my “mad scientist notes” about the progress I have thus far made in my experiment. The intention is that this will not be the final post. The experiment will be ongoing, so I will try to provide updates with screen-caps whenever possible. I now have a career, a family and fitness to attend to, so if this post attracts an audience, be forewarned that there may be long gaps in time between reporting. That said, if anyone would like to “carry on my (ig)noble work” (*ahem) please do!

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Wait for the wheel (IV): Downward is heavenward


“And through it all she seems secure that downward is heavenward…”

-“Afternoon With The Axolotls” by Hum

It was a late July night just beneath the mountains around Karakol, and my insides were grinding with food poisoning. My skin seeped with hot sweat while my arms and legs shivered as though I had been bathed in freezing snow, and my skull thundered. My Kyrgyz compatriots first force-fed me modern medicine and then gave me a large dose of ancient shamanism. They laid me down in the törof a yurt, wrapped me in shïrdak rugs, and lifting my head, had me drink an entire chainik of green tea. Then all save one, their baqshï, the shaman, exited.

A middle-aged man with a gravely voice, weathered skin, and deep eyes, he leaned over me and, gripping my hands and gently compressing my forehead, began to chant a prayer in Kyrgyz. He invoked the name of the Kyrgyz nation’s ancestor-leader, Manas, and he called upon the cosmos and the divine creator Himself. I remember feeling somehow both inside and outside my pain, almost as though it were a kind of searing pleasure, an embodiedness so intense that I was disembodied. Most of all, I remember feeling cared for. Western medicine can often be so sterile, heartless; this ancient method, by contrast, was so warm, attentive. And it was sublime. I managed to whisper, “Sonun” — “Beautiful” — to my chanting compatriot. I could sense him smile in reply, and he gently rubbed my forehead. I thought to myself, If I die, this is a wonderful way to leave this world.

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“The Truth doesn’t want to be proven; it wants to be believed.”
— Katarina Gritzer

Not long ago, I returned from walking the Camino de Santiago. Like most pilgrims, I started from Saint Jean Pied-de-Port on Halloween, end finished at Finisterre on 6 December. Although a writer by profession, I find myself at a loss for words to not only describe the outward journey, but to express the inward one, as well.

Continue reading “Ultreïa”

On the edge of the mesh

A “professional n00b“: that’s how I introduced myself at the OHM2013 convention last year, and ever since that’s how I’ve taken to introducing myself whenever I encounter a gosu. My hacktivist colleagues tell me that I’m being too hard on myself, since I do have a determination to learn (albeit in fits and starts, time and money permitting). However, I do actually see it as something good, since it’s people like me who have an interest in cutting through the technical arcana of engineers in order to bring important digital and technical tools to journalists, entrepreneurs, and the general public.

My life as a professional n00b began in the summer of 2011, shortly after the mysterious explosion of Abadan in Turkmenistan. I was approached by some, let’s call them helpful folks, who wanted to know whether mesh networking, or “meshing” for short, would be a useful way to circumvent surveillance and censorship in the country. Oh boy.

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Крещенские морозы

The post-Soviet states have entered a sort of season within a season, called “Крещенские морозы” (Kreshchenskiye morozy), the “christening frost”. Devout Russian Christians perform a baptismal rite during this period, carving crosses into frozen lakes and rivers into which they plunge themselves. And indeed, the whole interior of Eurasia seems to have been bathed in cold white.

I don’t hide from the fact that I’m very much an amateur photographer. Nonetheless, I try to push my limited aptitudes for the sake of something rather, let’s say “concretely abstract”: to simultaneously reveal to my audience and understand for myself how the world is philosophically communicative. Significance is everywhere; deeper, higher meaning is encoded within the very empirical flesh of the universe. And insofar that humanity represents a universe within a universe, studying the interaction between the natural and the artificial can be particularly illuminating.

I’m inspired by cinematographers like Sean Bobbit and Vadim Yusov, who (depending on the film, of course) have a remarkable ability to simply dwell upon an image, giving it time to communicate various complexities to the viewer. Of course, I’ve nothing of the artistic skill or technological resources to come anywhere near their work, but I nonetheless like to emulate them in my own shoddy way. From what I’ve learned so far, a lot of the key to their success is simply knowing how to frame a shot, acquire perspective, and allow things to be.

I suppose in the image I find the patience for contemplation that, ironically, I haven’t been able or willing to find in academic philosophy. Perhaps it’s because academic philosophy, for all its desire to be contemplative, too often dissolves into contention and competition, of puffed-up (usually male) egos needing to crush phantom-opponents to demonstrate their superiority. But all the arcana and feigned transcendence really just hides an animalism infecting one of the most human of endeavors. And I suppose that having been confronted with it — not to mention having read way too much French phenomenology and having worked too many years as a worldly journalist — I instinctively want to invert the reaction: I want the world to be the space of my contemplation, not the nether realm of bodiless, riskless ideas.

Anyway, because I find Bishkek to be particularly provocative in this regard, I’ve made it my training ground of sorts. My first stab was back in August/September 2011, with my photo-essay “Bishkek in Ruins“, which I hope to follow up with a new series in the next month or so (also exploring the concept of “ruination”, but from a different angle).

So, here are a few videos and photographs which could perhaps be boiled down to “the sights and sounds of a very interesting de-industrial/re-naturalizing/post-communist/trans-ideological/Slavo-Turko-Mongolic metropol in the grips of a rather sloppily wet winter”, given with my little initial comments to give a sense of the living, dying, mutating Bishkek that I see… [I’ve re-edited this post and removed two paragraphs, which I want to use in a later reflection; best to focus here. So, please click “Continue Reading” to see the photographs.] Continue reading “Крещенские морозы”

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