Station to Station

Prescient. Warm.

Also all those resonances from having thought about nearly the exact same macro-changes to music (history of genres and popular music, impact of technology and economics) for Dr. Don’s class, a class which in turn sparked further explorations into culture and communication and semiotics (see my excessive tag-list).

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News from Mars

I saw the news about Umpqua a few hours ago. I did a quick search for news reports and posted one on Facebook. One of the first few comments I received linked to the 4chan thread on the channel /r9k/ that the shooter had allegedly been posting on just minutes before the shooting. Activity on the thread was high, with some commenters egging the OP on (OP: original poster) to follow through on his plan. The Daily Mail’s report on the thread in question highlights some representative posts, and provides some broader context on 4chan and its community (if you can call it that; anonymity is the norm) of users.

Something that isn’t as easily presented through representative posts, however, is the discursive frame1 that many of the participants in the thread adopt2 (or at least acknowledge). I was trying to get a sense of it while reading through the thread (an unpleasant experience), so I figured I might as well write down what I’ve figured out so far. Also it’s almost completely new to me (something I’m somewhat glad to be able to say).

1. ‘so long, space robots’

The OP signs off his initial post this way. This is a reference to the 4chan channel (/r9k/ stands for ROBOT9001).

Another prominent term in the thread is ‘normie’, which UD defines thus:

‘1. A person who does not have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorders, PTSD, depression or any similar mental disability. “Normie” is a reference to those who are a part of the mainstream culture; the 97% of the population who do not have a mental illness.’

I think the above is a rather narrow definition, and that the sense of it probably expands, in the context of /r9k/, to all non-participants in the /r9k/ subculture. It would also serve as a term to exclude, for instance, commenters who do not demonstrate that they subscribe to the ‘right’ set of norms, including communicative norms (e.g. familiarity with certain memes and fluency in employing them).

But overall we see that the identity that the ‘space robots’ are attempting to normalize, is to be the antithesis of the ‘normies’. It’s about experiencing solidarity by being non-normal (a familiar enough pattern in fandom culture), but in this context it seems ramping it up from non-normal to anti-normal is imagined to demonstrate one’s credentials as a member of the in-group more emphatically.

2. ‘beta’, ‘beta uprising’

While the alien-normie dichotomy probably isn’t going to be picked up on in the ensuing media commentary, the beta-alpha one probably is, because of the existing popular interest in MRA stuff (Wiki).

The basic idea is that alpha-males get the lion’s share of society’s rewards (e.g. female attention, most often; but also social rewards more generally like economic rewards), at the expense of beta-males who, by virtue of being less aggressive and less willing to exploit others, get a lesser share, but who nevertheless continue to participate in society and keep it going, by passively accepting those unfair terms.

The solidarity project here is advanced by self-identifying ‘betas’.

So I read a term like ‘beta uprising’ and there are echoes of, say, Marxist rhetoric, but overall it’s a rather twisted reinterpretation of the critique of power more generally (which we see in Marxist ideology, but is also part of feminism, anarchism, etc.).

3.  ‘Chad’, ‘Chads and Stacies’ 

Basically the antagonists. The generic male/female names stand for generic, ‘normie’ people. ‘Chad’ (rather than ‘Chads and Stacies’) is referred to much more often in the thread, because Chads (‘asshole jocks’) are basically the bane of beta experience. I’m inferring, but I would say Chads need not necessarily be alphas; they just happen to behave in ways that self-identifying betas find antogonizing.

4. ‘edgy’, ‘edgelord’

There is a popular sense of ‘edgy’ that means something like ‘challenging to societal norms, in a somewhat dark way’ (paraphrasing the top UD definition). The sense of ‘edgy’ is somewhat more specific in this subculture, however. The UD definitions for ‘edgelord‘ capture this quite well:

1: ‘A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers.’
2: ‘Fedora tipping, fat fuck that spends his life on anime cartoon message boards being a worthless pile of shit. Nobody likes this guy but he acts like he doesn’t care. He’s a pathetic, lost kissless virgin that should just kill himself.’

So the higher-voted definition is a lot less inflammatory (quite successfully provides a veneer of academic objectivity on this interpretation of the employment of the term in the discourse), and the second definition is a lot closer to the tone of the thread I was reading – but more importantly I think there’s a layer of irony that the person supplying the second definition is aware of. I read it as a space robot speaking with the voice of a Chad – so basically as much self-hate as hate.

*

I’m just going to list some quick thoughts.

  1. In this discursive community, we see solidarity can be expressed by performing alienation. This does not mean we should assume all speakers think of themselves as alienated (though some certainly appear to).
  2. The dark side of this interpretation? Like the example of a group of dudes acting rowdy even when there are no chicks around, it’s like practising for the real performance. I see /r9k/ as the virtual space where the playing-out of the character of the space robot happens. For most users a basic premise is that this is a virtual performance (indeed necessarily a virtual performance, otherwise how could one be alienated?) and not a real performance. Yet the edges of these realities do bleed.
  3. In all this, there is irony – but irony with a manic, involuted quality.

1. By ‘discursive frame’, I mean something like ‘cognitive schemas or structures shape the way individuals perceive and represent reality’ (article in the Encyclopedia of Case Study Research).
2. I say ‘adopt’ because there is an extent to which we can think of frames as being selected by a speaker on a particular communicative occasion.

Finding Singa: Principles of Singaporean ‘exceptionalism’

In recent years the idea of a Singaporean exceptionalism has been raised by those who make the argument that for Singapore to continue being what it has been, being  ‘exceptional’ is a necessity and not an option. The meaning ‘exceptional’ takes on in those contexts tends to be in terms of the achievement of distinct national economic capabilities.

Between the first and second steps, there’s something of a gap. The first step, that Singapore needs to continue being Singapore to remain Singapore, is a truism. What the second step does is to specify conditions and interpose criteria. I don’t wish to go too far into discussing the technical economic/social/geographical/historical details, but the two main discourses this second step draws from include the discourse of national vulnerability, as well as the discourse of the primacy of economic concerns.

Yesterday I was in a discussion where two participants took issue with what they saw as whiney or ‘escapist’ Singaporeans, whom they criticized as responding to a perceived economic pressure in non-constructive ways (futile complaining & leaving the country, respectively). Their suggestion was for ‘escapists’ to be more realistic about economic pressures and dig in their heels, and for complainers to reduce their expectations about their income level if they wanted to enjoy more free time

While neither were irrational suggestions, I had serious points of disagreement with each. Regarding the first, I said that rather than regard Singaporeans as being escapist if they truly believe that the economic pressures are too great and decide to leave, wouldn’t it be more rational to conclude that they made a good choice? As for the second, it contained that argument that economic pressure is more perceived than real, and can be opted out from; while this is true at the level of the individual, I think it is fair to say that Singaporean society as a whole would not (perhaps cannot) endorse this choice.

In my assessment economic pressure is an inherent feature of Singaporean society as it currently exists. As long as Singaporeans continue to seek what they currently seek (a certain ‘quality of life’), pressure will be the status quo.

I happen to prefer not to deny that what I see Singaporeans seeking is worth seeking, but this is something anyone with an opinion is free to disagree with. What I think is an undeniable feature of the situation is the exceptional consensus (or perhaps habitus) that has developed, and that has persisted. I think this is something we could fairly term a Singaporean exceptionalism.

How I opted to describe this attitude of Singaporean exceptionalism was as a decision matrix, one with a unique mix of factors. The curious thing about this decision matrix is that, when applied to the question of whether to ‘do Singapore’ or not, it will always generate the same solution. (Or at least it must do so for enough people to sustain a viable population.) The kind of economic aspiration that is the norm now, can be thought of as some subset of relevant factors.

According to this logic I think it becomes easier to understand how some individuals will come to the point of decision that their priorities are incompatible with what is on offer, and that this decision need not be something to lament or regret over much. At the same time we can see how some individuals will decide that their priorities may not be an entirely comfortable match but that there remain compelling reasons to continue with the status quo.

One of the other things I like about this description of Singaporean exceptionalism is that it contains the possibility of out-Singapore-ing Singapore. We could theoretically apply this matrix to search for something somewhere that is worth ‘doing’. The thing we find might be something we can emulate and perhaps eventually integrate. Perhaps it might be something that shows us where we have fallen short of our own standards.

As for the sustainability of this way-of-being, it rests squarely on the extent to which the matrix can be improved and adapted while having it continue to serve its users. It calls for the kind of resilience built on flexibility and creative destruction. It calls for knowing ourselves and being true to it, while trying to outdo ourselves and recognizing where we may be outdone.

Chock Full of Notions

This article has been making the rounds a lot on FB. It seems like a lot of nonsense into which one may read a lot of sense. Some thoughts about this mess of nonsense and sensibilities:

  1. “It’s a performance” applies to anything. “Authenticity” is not the opposite of performance, but is also performed – it is, after all, a concept which by definition is only visible in performance.
  2. “Act like a dude but look like a supermodel” expresses a false dichotomy. These 2 dimensions may indeed be the dimensions that society values the most, and it may also be true that for most people progress in these 2 dimensions are a trade-off, while for JLaw it is such that there is less of a trade-off. But there are many other possible dimensions of value one could imagine, and so to count ‘cool’ as measured along these two dimensions is obviously a set-up to say either: (A) don’t envy JLaw, (B) don’t worship ‘cool’, or (C) fuck society for setting these two dimensions up. All of which are valid, and allow you to read what you please. But all of which are smarmy as hell.