Category Archives: Social Theory

cultural fracking / “indie sleaze”

Nothing is more eyerollingly contemptible than someone else’s nostalgia, for the very obvious reason that—d’uh—there were better things to be nostalgic about when I was young.

The above, for the avoidance of doubt, is meant to be read as deeply ironic, but there’s also an element of truth to it. This has become very apparent over the last week or so, with the tidal surge of the ‘indie sleaze’ concept gurgling up through the cultural sewer system.

I’m going to assume you already know what I’m talking about, here, because I’m a writer and theorist with a blog and not a news site; if you’re not aware of the ‘indie sleaze’ memeplex, then the article at tQ I’m about to cite heavily will probably explain it sufficiently for you to get what I’m on about. But I hazard that if you’re not yet aware of it, you’ll likely not care much for having been made aware of it, at least in the specifics; you might find the abstract points I make below to be of interest, but then again, you might not. Caveat emptor, innit.)

(ETA: have just noticed that the URL for that tQ piece includes the phrase “Mandela effect“, but the article doesn’t mention it by name at all; I wonder what, if anything, got left on the cutting-room floor?)

So, yes—Daniel Dylan Wray comes in early in his piece with an observation that’s older than either of us:

Nostalgia and the 20-year cycle are common in music. It’s no big surprise that a bunch of people pushing 40 start getting a bit warm and mushy remembering when they were 23 and full of pills and Red Stripe while listening to Soulwax. It’s human nature. It’s nice to remember good times with old friends.

(It’s a mark of my being that little bit older still than Wray that the mention of Soulwax makes me feel less warm-and-mushy and more decline-and-fall… because I recall Soulwax as a vaguely interesting band who threw it all away by spearheading that immensely tedious yet undeniably popular mash-ups phenomenon. And so it goes.)

But anyway, to put it in a capsule, ‘indie sleaze’ is a label suddenly being used to gather and package curated images and vibes (but, crucially, very little actual music) associated with the Noughties indie boom. According to Wray,

… there appears to be little else going on other than some people wallowing in the past while trying to convince themselves that it, or maybe even them, possesses some sort of contemporary relevance. As though if one keeps saying that something is happening enough times then it will eventually become true. It feels like the signs of a creeping millennial midlife crisis. Some of the stuff being posted under the indie sleaze hashtag already indicates a seemingly inevitable generational shift into ‘it was better back in my day’ territory. The next generation of Weller haircut mods or acid house dads are now seemingly upon us.

Well, quite. “Same as it ever was,” to quote a band from the generation before mine, that said generation quoted at me relentlessly; this is not a new thing. Wray consults an academic specialist in nostalgia to get some insight, or at least some side-sight, on this thing.

“There’s two ways of looking at it,” Routledge tells me. “The cynical way is that these are totally distorted memories. The more positive side is that as humans it’s really important to have a story arc, a narrative. It is kind of like filmmaking and the reality of the past is like the raw footage. Well, that doesn’t make for a good movie. What makes a good movie is when you go in there and you find the pieces that you think tell the story you want to tell. So I don’t think it’s total fiction, that footage is there right? But where it becomes more creative, and more imaginative, is how we make editing decisions.”

My bold, there, to highlight what is probably a fairly obvious point, in order that I can deliberately overstate it in a way I’ve done before: all narrative is curation. Yes, literally all narrative, making no distinction by media, or even between fiction and non-fiction: telling a story is about reducing the huge volume of stuff and events in the world (imagined or real) to a coherent and curated selection that thereby imposes meaning on a a volume too vast for our meaning-making capacity to handle.

It is thus very much in that spirit that I will note that Bill Gibson concretised Routledge’s metaphor in the maguffin of the very pertinently-titled Pattern Recognition… which, just to compound the synchronicity, is a cultural phenomenon roughly contemporaneous with the raw material from which the ‘indie sleaze’ aesthetic is being lashed together. Which brings us neatly to:

The whole thing just feels like such a weird, tenuous, desperate grasp for something that isn’t there. A bit of a front. One that people are using to mask the reality that the music they like, or make, has been deeply out of fashion for some time and are jumping on an opportunity to convince themselves its back.

What’s really odd about it is just how immediately people have swallowed it up and digested it without question. “It’s fascinating,” says Routledge of it all. “I wonder if it becomes like a self fulfilling prophecy? Like the buzz just makes it come back? Like a viral marketing campaign.”

The claim of the upper paragraph there is, I think, a bit of generational sour grapes on Wray’s part—and I say that without meaning to judge him harshly for it, because my identifying it as such is totally a function of remembering a number of times when I’ve felt exactly the same about some cultural thing-of-the-moment. Nonetheless, I think that assumptions of bad faith of this type are best not left unquestioned… and Routledge’s response starts getting to the meat of what I think this is really about. He continues:

Why has it taken such hold? (At the time of writing fresh articles are still appearing daily from major titles.) And why now? “I’ve looked at this in the context of music, film and fashion,” says Routledge. “And it’s around this age, late 30s and early 40s, that this generation gets the reins of power over culture. What I mean by that is: who’s calling the shots at the film studio, who is the editor of the magazine? That’s when these people are in charge. Obviously they’re not in charge of the bottom up organic cultural movement but they’re in charge of the discussion of it. So I think that’s part of the cycle – who gets to decide what gets the green light.”

Routledge is half-right here, I would argue, in that yes, the age cohort he’s describing is dominating the discourse on the topic, but not because they’re “in charge” of anything. Rather, it’s because the algorithmic systems have surfaced a connection between that cohort’s perfectly natural nostalgia, the “raw footage” of the era in question, and—crucially—an audience which might be formed into a viable (if momentary) market. A market for what, though—new music? Fashion? Hot-take articles? All of these, and none of them; a market for attention, first and foremost. This is an emergent phenomenon in which no one—not even those who have programmed the algorithms that underpin (what remains of) the web and social media—is truly in control of. Those algos identify and amplify tiny seismic quivers of attention, just like an amplifier amplifies the tiny signal from a guitar pick-up… and that guitar pick-up then catches a bit of the amplified signal and sends it back round again, and then, well, you all know where this metaphor goes (particularly if you’ve ever had the misfortune to hear me play guitar).

The question of the temporality—the twenty-year cycle—is interesting, but that predates the internet by a long distance, so I think we can ascribe that to the nostalgia circuit that Routledge is talking about, something that existed in earlier, less gain-y iterations of the cultural amplification system. (Sorry, but I’m doubling down on the guitar feedback metaphor, partly because it’s apropos to the particularities of the story, but mostly because it’s the illustration of runaway positive feedback that’s most easily identifiable to the largest number of people without having to get into Systems Theory 101.) What’s unusual here, if anything is unusual, is the rapidity of the response (so, the gain of the amplifier) and the shallowness of the source material (so, the low level of the signal, which correlates to the sensitivity of the pick-up).

Wray gets this, or almost gets it, I think, but then pivots away from the deeper implications:

Obviously this whole thing is ridiculous and seems to be little more than an exercise in SEO. Which is fine as fashion and trends are supposed to be ridiculous from time-to-time, and the era of so-called indie sleaze certainly was. Whatever happens in the fashion world with indie sleaze (and I’m sure it will continue to be a thing while the right people are claiming it is a thing) remains separate to the discussion in question here because you can’t consciously replicate a youth culture movement, even if you want to. They are, in essence, born from the very pure and potent power of naivety.

Yes, it is exactly an exercise in SEO, but the point is that there’s no real causal chain, no one who can really be said to have started the exercise—not even the person who started the ‘indie sleaze’ aesthetic curation process. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of such aesthetics being curated all over the place right at this very moment; it’s only when the attentional pick-up passes over one particular string, vibrating away in the seething quantum void of culture, that the sound gets heard, and the sympathetic resonances start up.

Now, sure, the movement of the pick-up—or rather pick-ups, because there are many agents doing this sort of work, some for money, some for pleasure, some for a mix of both—is directed to some extent. And also, sure, the question of whether the resulting note is sweet enough (or fuzzy enough, or whatever) to appeal to enough attentional agents that the pick-up is held in place for long enough for the note to ring out, that’s a function of cohort nostalgia, as Routledge notes above… but I think it may also be a function of the neophilia of another, younger cohort. Because while there’s some money to be made out of selling people’s youth back to them all over again, there’s not enough to really sustain that note over time; for that sustain, you need to use the nostalgia circuit as the pre-amp, and then shove that boosted signal through the power-amp that can drive the speaker cabinet. And the power-amp is, and always has been (since the 1950s, at a guess, though possibly before) the hunger among young people for some alternative to what’s already on offer in the culture surrounding them. That’s what the Noughties indie boom was at the time; it’s what the various things-called-indie around the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s were (which is to say, the sounds of the 60s rehashed for a generation who had only heard the banal and bowdlerised stuff successfully recuperated by capital in the intervening years).

It is, in short, what friend-of-the-show Jay Springett calls cultural fracking… and much like its namesake, it is driven by a deep imperative of extraction in a system which, for all its uncritical worship of the notion of “innovation”, struggles to actually do anything new at all. All it can do is amplify a signal it stumbles upon. But because the gain of the resulting amplification has become so high, and the sensitivity of the pick-ups so refined, and the number of people trying to make a buck by waving the pick-up around in hope of finding the Next Big Thing has become so vast, there’s hardly any space for a new and genuinely novel signal to develop. So it’s new bottles for old wine, over and over again.

(This, incidentally, is one part of my enduring beef with the notion of “innovation niches” in transition studies; the observation that novelty emerges from niches is almost tautological in its obviousness, but the assumption that novelty might therefore be “fostered” by seeking out niches and “managing” them is business ontology at its very finest, and also serves to ensure that no niche is left alone long enough for any substantive novelty to develop.)

Ugh… I felt sure when I started this post I had a more substantive point to make, but it seems my argument is basically “OMG u guiz this is capitalism plus infrastructure!!!1”. Which is at least consistent, I guess? So regular readers (those who haven’t long since clicked away elsewhere) may like to think of this as a case-study, which will perhaps be referred to (and made better use of) at some later juncture.

(Alternatively, you may prefer to put it down to procrastinatory displacement activity while working from home on a day of astonishingly foul weather. These two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.)

this addiction can be overcome

On the one hand, it’s nice to see the theory’n’philosophy crowd come out swinging for “disruption”:

In order to resist disruption it is not enough to demonstrate that its benefits are based on shaky evidence. […] While these analyses are useful to debunk the illusion that innovation is always an improvement, they do not modify the widespread enthusiasm for it. “Exaggerated claims for disruption,” as Mark C. Taylor points out, “usually result from a failure of memory, which is symptomatic of a preoccupation with the present in a culture addicted to speed.”

This addiction can be overcome by thinking through longer stretches of time. It requires practices that reexamine our existential narratives, such as politics, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, though each of these contemplative fields faces disruptive forces of its own in, respectively, populist pronouncements delivered through Twitter, over-prescription of drugs, and scientistic analytic thought that displaces existential questions […]

It should not come as a surprise, as Stiegler points out, that disruption was “announced and foreshadowed not just by Adorno and Horkheimer as the ‘new kind of barbarism’, but by Martin Heidegger as the ‘end of philosophy’, by Maurice Blanchot as the advent of ‘impersonal forces’, by Jacques Derrida as ‘monstrosity’, and, before all of these, by Nietzsche as nihilism.” If disruption is the culmination of these events we must pursue these authors’ experimental responses, which called for different conceptual platforms where existence can continue to strive.

On the other hand, where were y’all five, ten, twenty years ago? Hell, forty years ago—he may have used a different conceptual language, and have come from a fairly liberal standpoint, but even Langdon Winner was making this point while I was still at primary school. And then there’s the OG media ecology mob, of a similar vintage, whose best work is only now being returned to, like long-forgotten letters from Cassandra stashed away for years under the bed in an old cigar-box… though there we can perhaps blame the utopian (mis)readings of McLuhan that accompanied the early internet, I dunno.

Ah well—better late than never. Not like my own apostasy isn’t a form of atonement, eh?

ecosystems are not factories / the tyranny of scale

Just a quick one today (in case yesterday’s table-thumpin’ epic gave you the fear), and it’s a call-back supplementary to an earlier squib about the fetish for “scaling up” in, well, everything.

The case in hand here is food production, and perhaps it’s the case where the argument is made most easily.

Scalability as a value derives from an industrial way of thinking: that the best solutions are those that can be replicated and implemented widely, and that uniformity breeds efficiency and productivity. This may work in a factory, but ecosystems are not factories. Ecosystem productivity derives not from uniformity but from diversity, flexibility and change. Accordingly, these, not scalability, are the traits that are key to success for the most exciting food systems innovations.

I think most folk with even the slightest idea about the concept of ecosystem understand this point—or perhaps I just hope so? Anyway, the logic continues thusly:

Rather than asking whether a practice “scales” — whether it works if adopted everywhere — we ought to instead ask whether a practice works in and for specific people and places, and whether it can align with or enhance existing culturally valued practices and systems in other places. “Is this approach in harmony with the people and other living things in this region?” “Does it work with or against the goals and needs here?” And so on.

Obvious, right? OK, so now extend that logic to the vast majority of other human practices, and fold in the extent to which those practices are already massively shaped by the environment in which they are performed, as well as by a long historical succession of meanings and values associated with the telos of said practice (which is to say, the end to which the practice is the means). This was part of my point yesterday, the main reason you can’t just hope to change the way people do things by telling them a “better” way, or selling them a better gadget: both the gadgets enrolled in the doing of a thing, and the better-or-worseness of the particularity of the performance as seen by the performer, are massively contingent and heterogeneous, even within relatively small geographical areas.

Now, this wasn’t always the case: there was a relative local homogeneity of practices in pre-industrial peoples, and that homogeneity was shaped by exactly the necessity of its reliance upon the particularities of the local ecosystem. There’s no going back to that, even if it were something to aspire to (and I’m not sure it would be, even leaving aside the alarming adjacency of ecofascism to that sort of thinking), because the fetish for scale has long since tangled most of us up in ecosystems far from where we ourselves actually are in space. This is the magic of metasystemic infrastructure, the way in which it has released (some of) us from the boundness-to-one-place that came with the sedentary grain-state… but it is also the reason that infrastructure is a collective prosthesis in whose absence we would probably die quite quickly. Turns out you can’t build a space-suit using only what’s available in your back yard.

So there’s no way to turn back the clock to a time before scaling… but equally, the scaling-up dogma (which is another ideological plank of the economic memeplex discussed yesterday) is a dead end; as Loring suggests above, it implicitly treats the world as a factory, and monopoly (and monoculture) as victory condition.

As I often say, the way out is through. Surfacing, critiquing and stamping out dogmas such as “does it scale?” and “unleashing latent desire” has to be a part of that through-going, I think… and on the basis of some field-work visits made in the last few weeks, plus Loring’s comments above, I find myself wondering whether—as hippy-dippy as it admittedly sounds, in a culture where scale and capital-S Science are dominant deities of the pantheon—close contact with agriculture and cultivation might be the easiest way to make these admittedly abstract ideas tangible and immediate to people.

design, marketing, and manipulation as ideological imperative

I seem to be linking Cennydd Bowles a lot lately, but why would one not? So here’s a nice, short injunction from the man himself, off the back of his having thrown out the question “when does design become manipulation?”, and being real unsettled by the answers he got:

Design influences. It persuades. But if it manipulates, something’s wrong. The difference isn’t just semantic; it’s moral. A manipulative designer abuses their power and strips people of their agency, reducing them to mere pawns. I see almost no circumstances in which that’s ethically acceptable.

So if you think all design is manipulation, please stop designing.

I think I’m pretty much on the same page as Bowles, here, though I think—as last time, when he was asking tech sector folk to show epistemic humility—there’s a structural issue going un(der)examined. Pose it as a question: why might so many designers, and/or people who know (or presume to know) what design is about, think it’s mostly a matter of manipulation? Because manipulation is what most designers who get a job with the label ‘designer’ on it will be paid to do, which in turn means that most courses meant to turn out people with qualifications as designers will (if they want to hit their employability metrics for the course!) be teaching them, implicitly or explicitly, that design is mostly about manipulation.

Now, some of this may be down to the nuance between manipulation and Bowles’s preferred terms, influence and persuade. I mean, I think of myself as very much A Words Guy, but I’d struggle to delineate the difference in those terms without writing at considerable length; this is always the challenge when it comes to values. Bowles’s tell-your-spouse-what-you-did-today technique, elsewhere in that post, is admirably efficient at highlighting the distinction as it manifests in our perception of meaning, but doesn’t delineate that distinction. I suspect Bowles might say it shouldn’t need delineating. And I would agree, it shouldn’t—but perhaps, in this less than ideal world, it does.

But why is that? Well, because of those structural forces I mentioned, which result in people with earnestly-held good intentions thinking in ways that ensure the continuation of the thing they think they’re trying to combat. Here’s another example, via friend-of-the-show Andrew Curry; if asking designers where influence ends and manipulation begins results in contortions and confusions, then what happens when a marketing guy wants to use marketing to solve climate change issues?

Well, what happens is the marketing guy—with the instinctive judo move that presumably comes from spending a great deal of your time trying to convince C-suite suits to fork over another tranche of consulting fees—will reframe the problem as being located in the firm’s customers rather than the firm itself. This is, of course, the classic neoliberal move of individualising responsibility for systemic failings—but, to be clear, it is coming from what I am going to assume is a sincere and genuine wish to reduce emissions.

The next step, though, is the clincher, because it’s the same one that informs most attempts at climate policymaking:

… marketers should stop focussing on their clients’ businesses and focus on their customers’ instead. They should, in short, start creating narratives about changing behaviour rather than moments of consumption.

Why is this the clincher? Because it’s a behaviourist model of human agency; it’s our old fictional friend homo economicus, just waiting to be given the right information, narrative or ‘nudge’ (as specified by various mutations of the long-since-discredited by nonetheless seemingly unkillable Information Deficit Model) that will ‘change’ their ‘behaviour’, which is somehow simultaneously rational (because neoclassical economics, and all that stems from it, insists on the rationality of the economic actor), woefully uninformed, and easily changed.

It is also, as anyone who has read (for example) their Elizabeth Shove, utterly wrong. The reasons people do the things that they do in the hugely variable and particular ways they do them has very little to do with simple utility-maximising decision-making, and a great deal to do with context.

I could go on about the social practice model of human agency for hours, but I’m already drifting away from my point, which is this: the consumptive behaviours which Mr Marketer here wants to change were indeed shaped by marketing in times past, but assuming that merely pointing that behaviourist model at a different behaviour will be sufficient to reverse it is naive at best. Because the problem is not the behaviours of the consumers, or even (if you want to get all Uncle-Karl’s-Volume-1 about it) the scheming avarice of cartoon capitalists, but rather the complete and unquestioning immersion of both within an economic model that valourises, nay necessitates, the externalisation of costs.

This guy uses McDonalds as an example, and wonders why they don’t reduce their footprint by, say, somehow discouraging people going to the drive-thru in a gas-guzzler SUV. Why don’t they take more responsibility for their customers’ chunk of the emissions of the business?

First off it’s hard to calculate […] it is hard to track what customers and end users are really doing. These things are hard to measure.

To reiterate, again: this guy is sincere, I’m sure of it. I expect he’s even a nice guy. I wish him no ill. (Hell, he even notes that the Measurement Problem doesn’t seem to be at all insurmountable when it comes to targeting advertisements, or fine-tuning supply-chains for cost reductions.) But nonetheless, his conception of human agency—which is the foundation of his industry (Adam Curtis got you covered on that stuff), as well as the econo-political ideological keystone of the world in which we all live—means he can’t come up with a better list of things for marketers and their clients to do than this:

The next generation of marketers working on sustainability are moving beyond doomist thinking (yes, we’re in very, very deep trouble, now what are you going to do about it?) to an obsession with delivering genuine change.

  • Less shaping the narrative, more shaping behaviour.

  • Less ‘sustainability theatre’ workshops, more testing MSP (Minimal Sustainable Product).

  • Less internal focus and a lot more customer centricity.

  • Less risk management, more business model innovation.

  • Less reporting that reassures investors, more accurate measurement and responsibility for carbon being emitted.

In closing, we must do all we can to decouple growth from carbon emissions and unlearn the worst excesses of consumption behaviour. We need to 1) educate, 2) regulate and we need to 3) activate.

I’m starting by activating customers, unleashing the latent desire in all of us to reduce our carbon footprints through what we buy (or don’t buy), the choices we make and the habits we form.

I mean, that last line, there; as if “unleashing latent desire” (which, historically, has meant fabricating desires wholesale) isn’t exactly what got us in to this mess! Or the ‘graph above: decouple growth from carbon emissions? Sure, OK, that sounds like a nice idea, so we’ll set aside the historical fact that growth, as we understand that term in both the vernacular or the more specific economic sense, is entirely predicated on the emission of carbon, and we’ll look at your three steps to success and—oops, shit, stalled at number one, it’s the Information Deficit Hypothesis once again! Because if you think of people as programmable economic robots, that’s always where you start, that’s where marketing has always started, it literally cannot start from any other model, and that’s why trying to market your way to a carbon-free future is like trying to drink yourself sober.

Andrew Curry gets it, in his commentary on the above (my emphasis):

Of course, the problem with a lot of this is that meaningfully reducing emissions involves reducing consumption, especially by the most affluent. And even with business model innovation, it’s hard to maintain growth or increase profitability while reducing consumption. Marketers don’t get paid for doing that. The incentive systems are all wrong.

And that, in a very digressive blog-ranty way, is my attempt to explain why it is that so many designers think that design is basically manipulation: because most design is done in the ultimate service of capital accumulation, and as such it has failed if it does not maximise consumption. Doesn’t mean designers are bad people. Doesn’t even mean that marketers are bad people (though I can see the ghost of Bill Hicks raising an eyebrow at me). It means that the assumptions of neoclassical economics are so deeply embedded in every structure of our society that we can’t think outside of them… and it’s those assumptions, among which is the vital principle of increasing profit through the externalisation of costs, whether financial or otherwise, that have resulted in our treating the planet like a combination of cornucopian replicator and bottomless rubbish-pit.

I mean, sure, I would like it if we could get designers to think about what they’re doing, and whether they’re being manipulative rather than persuasive or influential, and to choose the latter over the former. That is a good goal! The problem is, if you did it really well, you’d end up with a bunch of designers finding themselves out of work (whether by choice, or through an inability to find morally acceptable gigs), and them being replaced by folk whose somewhat more straitened circumstances would—quite understandably!—make them less likely to undertake such reflections, and less likely still to act upon them.

Does that mean that it’s not worth having the discussions that Bowles and others are trying to have, here? Not at all. Any more fundamental change to the our ontological conception of the world and our relation to it is going to require a lot of that sort of reflection, and not just in the fields of design and marketing. But it’s that more fundamental change that we have to have as the utopian horizon of any and all such conversations, because otherwise we’re just twiddling with placebo dials (to use a design term).

Whatever label you choose to put on the tangle of systems-of-systems in which we are enmeshed, you have to start from the understanding that it is incredibly good at recuperating the many critiques directed at it. This ability is in no small part down to the magic of marketing, and of its more knowingly unethical siblings PR and ‘reputation management’; it really is stories all the way down. But another important element is, I suspect, the homo economicus model, and the individualisation of responsibility which it enables. While that model dominates, designer’s gonna design to manipulate (because the user could always choose not to follow the dark patterns, right?) and marketer’s gonna unleash those latent desires (because what could be wrong about making a profit from fulfilling the sense of lack you went to so much effort to engender in someone, right?) and ecomodernist’s gonna keep claiming that we can somehow, if we just innovate real hard while clicking the heels of the Ruby Slippers together, have growth without fossil fuels (because growth is an utterly unquestionable Good Thing, the rotten beam to which every other plank in this disintegrating raft is tied with twine and good intentions, and only some sort of primitivist lunatic who hated the less fortunate would not want growth, right?). They will do this because, on their planet—which is, to be clear, yours and my planet too, to a lesser or greater extent—these are completely rational and (crucially) moral things to do.

The problem is, that planet bears significant non-similarities to the one on which we happen to actually be living. The cognitive dissonance of that increasingly obvious disconnect is starting to get pretty serious; but as Latour has noted, no amount of recourse to capital-S Science and its supposed rationalities—which were originally sourced, long before the actual sciences got the names by which we know them, from none other nascent discipline than economics—can back us out of the alley into which they have already driven us.

So by all means, let’s highlight the distinction between manipulation and persuasion, between “behaviour modification” and treating people as sentient beings in webs of relationships, and all that other stuff—but let’s see that as the start of the process, not the end. Treating the symptoms will not cure the underlying malady.

And so the last word goes to Edward Abbey:

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

an immaterial objection

Via L M Sacasas, an interview by Evan Selinger with David Chalmers, who appears to be analytical philosophy’s current useful idiot from the POV of the tech scene.

Does that seem harsh, whether on analytical philosophy in general or Chalmers in particular? Well, given said discipline prides itself on a rigour that the filthy continentals supposedly abjure, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after this line from the final paragraph:

One big difference between VR and physical reality is that material goods in VR are abundant.

I don’t know where to even start with such a monumentally stupid and contradictory statement.

But while it’s tempting to laugh and roll our eyes at these people, they are not marginal cranks. This, as Sacasas points out, is what a lot of the most wealthy and powerful people in the world actually believe, as an article of faith; “transhumanism is the default eschatology of the modern technological project”, and that should worry anyone who doesn’t see Ready Player One as a utopian document.