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I Choose to Stay and Die
It won't be long before you will have to choose between Utopia or death
Please start your day by reading “The Reality War” by N.S. Lyons. It is some of the strongest drink I have imbibed in recent memory, and it frames the current “situation” in a way that feels just about as on the money you can get without omniscience or supercomputers.
For the last five years I have had one question on my mind: What the hell is going here?
What is going on in our world? What nefarious forces are at work making each day feel like a dark circus of inversion and dream logic? Why does everyone seem so excited about things that are so obviously sapping our collective life-force, cheapening everything we love about being alive, and forcing us to prostrate and confess things we do not feel or believe? Every answer proffered so far feels so typical and incomplete: sinister cabals, cigar-chomping tycoons, eschatological forces, hyperstitious algorithms. None of these usual suspects fully explain the magnitude of this current shift, a shift that feels unlike anything I’ve felt before in my life or ever read about in books. If it feels so dystopian to me, why does it feel so casual to everyone else?
I have spent 5 years thinking that I must be missing something. Good friends - smart friends - have all been taken in by a sort of mindless orthodoxy that I never could have imagined them latching onto. It’s not just something people are “going along with,”like following a new policy at work so you can get a raise at the end of the year while quietly grumbling about it in the break room. No - it is something entirely different. It has made true believers out of people who, for most of their lives, have been utterly inert. It has made conversations stilted and odd, made us paranoid about sharing opinions in the break room as if everything we say can suddenly be made part of the official court record. It made us draw lines with friendships and celebrate the breaking of familial bonds in the name of allegiance to the “cause,” whatever that cause happened to be that day.
The names for these causes could be mapped out on time-lapse graphs of Twitter hashtags, often morphing and combining as their “intersectional” nature is gradually unveiled. Formless like vapor, so impossible to ever really grab enough of a sample to place under the microscope. The phenomena are intersectional (insofar as that word means anything at all) in that all of them seem to be emerging from the same source and made from the same stuff. Some would say the source is political - a scheme baked up by the insurgent left to crush their opponents through witch-hunts and demagoguery. Others say it’s capital; creating a megastructure of hyper-commodification that allows one to signal their identity through carefully selected accessorization and corporate brand loyalty (or some such shit). Many blame “the culture” of permissiveness and weakness that values self-expression above all morals and order.
I think all of these are probably a little bit correct. But whether we assess the current “situation” through the lens of economics or culture or politics, we are failing to address the deeper (or higher) reasons for why this is all happening now, here, in this way. What is the grand design of it all? What kind of world are we trying to create? Certainly the politicians want power and the multinationals want money and the activists want fame, but to what end? What is the end game here?
Why has there been such a sudden and massive polarization and degradation of dialogue? Why is there such a sudden mania about gender identity? Why does everyone suddenly seem to have a mental illness? Why has successor ideology so suddenly supplanted an academic culture of liberalism that has been around for hundreds of years? Why has “goodness” come to mean the words you choose rather than how you treat others? What has made it okay to call in debts for people you didn’t know who died hundreds of years ago? And why is everyone going along with it all? What is the damn end game here?
If you want to take a stab at guessing the ending of a book, it’s helpful to first find out what genre you’re reading. A thriller could end with a cathartic release of tension. A romance ends with a marriage. A mystery ends with a big reveal. But what about a children’s book? How do those all end? There’s a certain phrase they all tend to end with…
It’s certain that the level of childishness currently present in society is nothing new, but it was formerly relegated to college campuses and institutions on the fringe. We always maintained a line of defense against such ideologies overtaking the mainstream, as we understood them to be solipsistic and destructive. This line of defense was known as “adults,” a class of citizen that now runs in short supply. Most of those who normally would have taken up this mantle are now stuck in an eternal adolescence, more pre-occupied with the ending of Game of Thrones and their collection of bobblehead dolls and Playstation 5 games than they are in defending the social order against an army of screaming brats.
Adults, or those who have gone through their formal and informal rights of passage and “put away childish things,” were those who appointed themselves the keepers of the order. They applied limits to the adolescent tendencies of pointless rebellion, narrow-mindedness, and self-centeredness. But for a confluence of reasons - some political, some economic, and some cultural - the rights of passage began to disappear. More would-be adults are now still sitting in mom’s basement and getting their third master’s degree and making snarky comments on Reddit as a way to prove their self-worth. They are no longer interested in facing down trials to unlock their hidden reserves of power and strength. So they began to die off. And as we lost the adults, we lost the thread. The widening gyre. The center cannot hold. You know the rest.
We now have a society run by children. And as much as we adore the fantastical imagination and limitless potential of youth, we know as adults that limits must be strategically placed around those ideas in order to keep one grounded. You cannot be whoever you want. You cannot have whatever you want. You cannot do whatever you want. You cannot punish whoever you want. You have to learn to get along. Take away those adults in any other time in history, the children would still run up against these ontological realities. They would merely hit the proverbial wall of possibility a bit harder and then crash down to the ground with a thud. Adults have been there to slow down the sprint and cushion their fall, but still, sometimes kids have to crash and burn to learn the lesson. Adults would be there to help them back up.
But this is peculiar time in history for the adults population to be receding. New technologies have opened up doors of possibility that were heretofore unknown. Those maxims that we live by seem a little less absolute.
“You cannot be whoever you want!” says the adult. “Sure we can,” reply the youth. “On the internet I am a man or a woman or something in between. It changes by the day. Sometimes I’m a human and sometimes I’m a unicorn and sometimes I something in between. And if I ever get sick of being any of those things, I just delete and start over again.” This generation of youth in our world today have never known a world without these possibilities. They never had the “meatspace” roadblocks that all of us grew up with. We are likely reaching the margins at which time spent connected exceeds time disconnected.
As such, they demand a world that conforms to their hyperspace experience. If I can change my gender on reddit with a click of a button, why not in real life? If I can get a moderator to delete someone’s account for being mean to me, why can’t I do that in real life? If I can build up a chalet and 600-acre lot on FarmVille in thirty hours, why would I waste thirty years of my life working for a two-bedroom apartment?
But aha! What about that wall we talked about? Surely they can wish the world to be whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean the world will conform to their whims. “They’ll be sorry when they get to the real world,” you find yourself saying. And to that I say back - what real world?
“Just wait until they try to pull that shit with their boss, then they’ll find out!” Find out what? Their boss is going to be afraid of them. The HR department won’t be able to touch them if they have their mental illness on file or they belong to a protected class. They won’t make enough money? Who needs money when the government issues you your FedCoin allotment for the week so that you can shop at the online government store. One brand to rule them all! “But they will have to learn to get along with their co-workers and neighbors!” What co-workers? What neighbors? You live your whole life online and you’ll never even see any more of them than their face or a screenname.
They’ll be just fine in the “real world,” because by the time they get there, the real world will be terraformed to match their little play world. It already is starting to change. And now we have the MetaVerse and all of the existential terror held therein.
You’ve known I was heading in this direction all along. Go ahead and say it if you want - “You sound like an unhinged technophobic crank. You are a fringe conspiracy-minded fool who will be thrown into the dustbin of history soon enough if you’re not trampled over by the righteous train of progress before then.” Go ahead and say it. Say all of it, I don’t care any more. Using one of their own words - I refuse to be “gaslit” into thinking that what I’m saying is crazy. If you’ve been paying attention, what I’m saying here won’t even surprise you at all.
If you would have told me 20 years ago that most people would be working from their couch on video phones and pressing a button to order food and having packages dropped off at their house by a drone, I wouldn’t have believed you. Nor would I have believed that these new technologies would be slowly and surely bleeding data from us to create composite pictures of human nature capable of predicting the smallest decisions and preferences of every person on the planet, I wouldn’t have believed you. But if you tell me now that I should trust that a tech company that has repeatedly betrayed humanity’s trust to profit from their need to be “seen,” a company that has single-handedly contributed to the most corrosive degradation of cultural norms and mass manipulation of the political system ever in the history of world, then you can go right ahead and fuck off.
I am incredibly threatened by the MetaVerse. I hate the MetaVerse, and you should too. I shouldn’t have to explain why that is. In fact the reason is so simple that most people can’t even see it right in front of their nose. The reason is because I am on TEAM FLESH AND BLOOD. I believe in this world, in this reality, in this life. I believe in love, courage, heartbreak, loss, joy, triumph, desperation, tragedy, catharsis, understanding, and awe. All of these things are not possible when you live in a world with no stakes. The MetaVerse is a world with no stakes. It has no scarcity, nor limits, nor consequence. I am against this. I am against having a life that’s like playing Grand Theft Auto on God Mode. It’s fun to shoot a rocket launcher at taxicabs for awhile, but it gets old pretty fast.
“Oh but it’s just a gadget. It’s just a game. A diversion to distract us from the increasingly depressing real world.” Are we still this naive? Are we so blind that we can’t trace the staggeringly predictable arc that these new technologies so consistently trace? First they are a hobby - just a diversion. Then they are a tool - they make life easier. Then they are a lifestyle - we express ourselves there. But it doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop until the level of investment you have in a glowing screen two feet from your face exceeds the investment that you have in real human beings two feet from your shoulder. They don’t want to be a hobby or a tool. They want to be reality itself. They want you inside more often that you are out.
So you can laugh at me all you want when I say that the MetaVerse will most certainly be the doom of humanity as we know it. If it makes me the fool to say that now, I’ll gladly be the fool. It may not happen in ten years, or even 20 or 30. But eventually, the idea will start buzzing around that it just doesn’t make sense to stay in these bothersome old bodies anymore. After you map the human brain, after you see it as nothing more than nodes and circuits and data - why not just slap that puppy into cyberspace when you die? And you know what - why wait til then? You have put a lot of time and effort and energy into feeding that body and keeping it warm and hydrating it and clothing it and protecting it from injury. What do you say we just de-commission that old bag and upload you now at the age of 19?
I mean why wouldn’t you? Is it because you think that this reality is more real than that one? I own a house there. I have a spouse in the MetaVerse. Three spouses, to be exact. I own land there. I have a job there. And I do that job because I like t, not because I have to - there’s no scarcity in a place where food isn’t needed. And even if we wanted food (just for fun), we could just print out a few pixels and call them a steak. You can be whoever you want there and do whatever you dream of. Everything there looks, smells, tastes, and feels real. It is more real than this place filled with fossil fuels and skinned kneecaps and leukemia and wrinkles.
Well perhaps you don’t want to leave because you’re addicted to this body of yours. Maybe you don’t like the idea of a place where people aren’t ruled by gender or skin color or money. You must be an awful hateful person to want to stay in that body of yours. You must be a real monster to want to stay here and rule over this limited physical reality, afraid of being in our world of abundance that you can’t control. You really are a reality-supremacist, aren’t you?
We will give you an ultimatum then, reality supremacist - you can either decommission your physical body now and prepare for upload, or you can stay here on this cold earth and spend the rest of your limited life as a slave. You will do maintenance on our servers and upgrade our memory. You will keep our fans running when it is hot and you will dig coal to power our cores. At the end, you will be rewarded with death. The extinction of your consciousness.
What will you do when that time comes? Even if you firmly believe that’s not happening any time soon - could you still answer the question for yourself? Will you turn yourself over to a digital utopia or will you remain here in your old shitty body? They certainly hope that some of us remain - you can’t run a true utopia without a sufficient number of slaves. Maybe they’re right. Maybe this is just the next stage of human evolution. Why waste time figuring out how to terraform Mars and travel to the stars when you can create whole universes for yourself inside the MetaVerse. This was always the sci-fi future we were heading toward, we just never realized it. Hell - mathematically speaking, we’re probably inside a Metaverse now. Right? Maybe that’s the little shifty truth at the heart of quantum mechanics and string theory and all that. The universe is just an eternal recurrence of shrinking smaller and smaller universes inside, like cosmic Russian nesting dolls.
Or maybe - despite all of your erudite education and open-mindedness, this possibility lies just one bridge too far. Maybe the truth about the nature of reality just comes down to a single choice. Maybe you just choose to believe this is where you’re from and this is where you belong. That the suffering and pain of this world somehow make it all that more precious, and that inside of you is something far greater than could ever be held inside a server farm. Maybe that’s all a fairytale for simpler times and simple people. Maybe I’m wrong. But when it comes to deciding what you think this whole thing is all about, there’s no man alive who can tell you what’s true. You have to make a choice for yourself. I know what my choice will be.
I choose here.