Have you ever met a Zoé?
Quite simply, a Zoé is a Francophilic Asian girl.
I’ve met about four prime examples of a Zoé during my life. There are normally a few telltale signs.
First, 99% of all Zoés (the China variety, though there are many also in Korea and Japan) live in Shanghai as it’s the only place that can sustain a Zoé with her need for superficial French things. They will flock around the French Concession and spend copious amounts of time taking selfies of themselves with glasses of red wine and French tarts (just photos, they can’t actually stand the taste). If an art exhibition featuring a French artist is in town they will wander around the exhibition making statements with the occasional pretentious French word dropped into their Chinese. “我觉得今天的展览 tres magnifique!”
The Zoé will begin to fill her life with things that represent an ideal of France. Her favourite music becomes the soundtrack of the film Amelie or perhaps French-Japanese jazz singer Lisa Ono. Of course she will never watch anything which paints a less than idyllic view of France, like La Haine for instance. Gradually the French-loving manifests in dress and voice. Zoé will begin to drop the h’s from her words so that others are greeted with a bizarre “Ni ‘ao” every time she says hello. She will start wearing ridiculous hats like little pastel green berets or bizarre monstrosities with feathers stuck in.
The Zoé will continue her rosy embrace of all things French until one of two end conclusions naturally happen:
- Zoé lands herself a French boyfriend. Typically these can be bagged at classes at the Alliance Francais or hanging around fancy Shanghai restaurants. Zoé will be ecstatic at having her own Frenchman, but will be inevitably heartbroken when the Frenchman’s unfaithful ways result in him announcing one day that he has another girl pregnant. Zoé will then realise she’s 28, start speaking normally again and marry a guy from Ji’nan who may or may not have finished college.
Zoé will actually GO to Paris and receive the most existential shock she has ever received in her life. Far from being the Paris she imagined of whimsical pixie-haired girls riding bicycles and mime artists playing accordions, she will discover that Paris is in fact a huge and quite dirty city full of dog shit, smelly trains, and – quelle horreur! – lots and lots of black and Arab people. Paris Syndrome is real, mes amis. Zoé will attempt to keep her illusions intact by confining herself to Montmartre and taking selfies in cafes but will finally admit the truth when mugged outside the Moulin Rouge. Then it’s just a taxi back to Charles de Gaulle airport and a final farewell to la vie belle.
Fun fact: you can have great fun with Zoé by catching her out on her pretentiousness. When Zoé states that she loves French jazz, just simply ask her “Name me a French jazz singer who isn’t Edith Piaf.” The loss of face is delightful.
The Zoé has no German-loving equivalent.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.
Quick quiz: what do the following six things have in common?
Clockwise from top-left they are: Brad Pitt, Cuntbook, the memory of June 4th, Winnie the Pooh, Party Members and The Big Bang Theory.
If you had guessed that they were all mediocre symbols of a decadent civilisation in irreversible moral decline, you would have been right (except the June 4th which admittedly can be a mixed bag. I had a very pleasant day-trip to Dorset once on June 4th 2009).
However, the real answer I’m looking for is that they are all banned in China.
Yep, Party Members seems to have joined that long and ever-growing illustrious list just like probably anybody with tits and a fanny in Hollywood joins the list of Harvey Weinstein’s victims.
According to my publisher Camphor Press, copies of Party Members don’t seem to be getting past customs in China anymore, so are advising any China-based readers to buy the digital version instead. This comes with the added bonus of not only being cheaper, but you’ll also be able to put your foot through your Kindle and send me the bill if you get angry while reading it.
Apologies to all of you who were planning on reading it with Brad Pitt on June 4th while dressed as Winnie the Pooh and then posting it on Facebook in your favourite “Books and Big Big Bang Theory” chat group. You’ll have to find a whore on WeChat instead. Apparently that’s still legal.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.
There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes at Meursault HQ recently – and I don’t mean getting raped by Harvey Weinstein. Tired of short little shitposts about panda jokes or Stephen King, I’ve been attempting to create something of more substance again, something I haven’t done since Party Members was shat out into this world last year.
Possessing the attention span of an ADHD-diagnosed gnat I find it difficult to concentrate on just one thing at a time, so I’m foolishly trying to spin three plates right now which will no doubt result in three small stool samples rather than one big steaming pile of crap.
Here’s what I am working on right now when not putting food on the table or trying to understand the idiosyncrasies of the French language (yes, another futile project I have undertaken is to try and get my French back up to acceptable standards which is pretty pointless really when we are dealing with a language that feels the need to imbue chairs with a gender).
The Flock of Ba-Hui
For reasons that will become clear in the next part, I was searching the internet one day for something to satisfy my hunger for anything Lovecraftian. I’d been wondering for some time if anybody out there had combined my two interests of Lovecraftian cosmic horror and China – and I’m not talking about the Cruel Empire of the Tsan-Chan. To my delight I stumbled across the blog of one “Akira” – a mysterious entity who I was already connected to on Twitter. Akira has a lot of similar interests to myself – accelerationism, Sinofuturism, Ted Kaczynski – and basically all the other dark things I rarely mention on this piss-taking blog. Akira had discovered a wonderful Chinese language story set in the Cthulhu Mythos on a Chinese creative writing site called The Ring of Wonder and had begun the task of translating this beast into English. The density of the language makes it a particular fucker to translate so I volunteered my services; thus condemning myself to many long nights spent hunched over teeny tiny Chinese characters. My eyesight is now screwed but it was worth it.
The translation is almost complete and interested readers can see the published work so far over at Akira’s site. I’ll be posting updates here on its progress. The picture at the top of the page should give some clues as to what exactly is The Flock of Ba-Hui, but anybody who appreciates grand Lovecraftian horror will love it. Don’t read it with the lights off.
The kind-of-but-not-really sequel to Party Members
I won’t reveal too much at this stage as I have no idea how long this will take me to complete, but I have begun work on a kind-of sequel to Party Members. Except it isn’t really. Yet it kinda is. It’s hard to describe. It probably won’t result in a full-length novel, and it’s also a straight-up horror rather than the dark comedy that was Party Members.
Working title is either The Shadow over Kezhankou or The Milk Factory depending on how I feel on any given day. The former title should provide clues to any Lovecraft fans out there as to what the story is about, though don’t expect any fish people. These Deep Ones are a different breed entirely.
The Adventures of Tim Budong
And finally, in the tradition of the light-hearted “and finally” moments that used to end news broadcasts in the UK, something a bit fluffier. I’ve been messing around with the Twine engine and have outlined a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style game about a naive young English teacher who just arrives in China. I’ll probably never finish this, but if I did you can expect lots of this type of thing:
It’s Friday morning and the Foreign Liaison Officer at Happy Giraffe School suddenly announces that you will need to work over the weekend because the bastard son of a fuerdai scumbag needs to cram for his exams.
- Happily agree as you believe in helping the future generations of China in their quest to stand up and integrate with the world?
- Knock back the emergency bottle of erguotou that you keep in your drawer for such occasions and make a mental note to go for a happy-ending massage once this is all over?
- Burn down the school and everyone in it?
Wow, thinking about it, maybe I should make The Adventures of Tim Budong my priority after all.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.
One day, and to great excitement around the globe, Beijing Zoo’s world famous panda bear Chi-Chi gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. The panda’s son quickly became the star attraction of the zoo, but due to exposure to foreign journalism, soon picked up evil western habits and converted to Catholicism. Every Sunday, the panda’s son would attend morning Mass, and he would always say grace before every bamboo meal.
The Catholic baby panda settled into life in Beijing Zoo, but there was one thing that still confused the head zookeeper. Everyday, groups of school-children would gather around the panda’s enclosure and sit for hours in complete silence. Unable to fathom why the children appeared to be listening so intently to the panda, the zookeeper finally asked one of the children.
“Excuse me little boy,” asked the zookeeper, “Why do you and your friends come and sit by the panda everyday in complete silence?”
“We’re waiting for him to tell us a story,” replied the child.
The zookeeper was puzzled. “A story? Why do you think he’s going to tell you a story?”
“Well,” said the child, “Everybody knows that he is the Han’s Christian Panda-Son of Beijing Zoo.”
If that was too long for you, how about:
Did you hear about the zoo in Henan Province that only had one dog?
It’s a shih-tzu.
What is Bono’s Chinese Zodiac Sign?
As many of you are no doubt aware, most writers and journalists of note now come to me first when they want help on their stories.
Legendary horror writer Stephen “I’ve written more books than I’ve read” King is no exception, and recently submitted to me his draft for a China-based horror story. He’s been enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity recently with not one, but two, films based on his books out in the cinema right now (It and The Dark Tower). Good for him. I’ve always thought Stephen was a structurally sound writer, despite pumping out some absolutely awful shit during the 80s and 90s. Yes, you don’t see film versions based on his stories about a killer pair of wind-up teeth (Chattery Teeth) or a haunted laundry press (The Mangler, oh shit, they did make a film of that). I haven’t seen the new version of It yet, but I’m very curious to know if it includes the scene at the end where six eleven year old boys take it in turns to gangbang an eleven year old girl. Oh yes.
Anyway, Steve’s keen to have a crack at the China market. All that bourbon and cocaine doesn’t pay for itself, you know. So, without further ado, I am proud to present an exclusive excerpt from King’s upcoming China-based epic: The Knocking.
It was one of those hot summer nights that reminds one of misspent adolescent evenings spent in the back of your old man’s Chevrolet trying to finger Nancy-Jo, the red-haired chick from next door. The heat pushed one down like a drunk and horny divorcee from the outer laying regions of Bangor, Maine. Stuart Rex, part-time writer and full-time dreamer, lay on his sticky bed, lighting up another Camel cigarette and sucking up the sweet cancery goodness. Ahh, it sure was good to be a smoker.
The electric fan’s blades swept from side to side like chainsaws, and Stuart thought about his upcoming novel. He had gathered a lot of material since arriving in China, and he knew some major award was going to come out of this. The horrific traffic accident he had witnessed, the sinister smiles of the made-up ladies in the barber shops, the massive shit someone had taken on his doorstep… Stuart was here to learn about man’s inhumanity to man. And then hopefully make a TV mini series out of it.
Without warning, there was a knock at the door. Not the usual rat-a-tat-tat of a girl guide selling cookies, but the mad demented constant knocking of a serial killer. Reaching for another smooth Camel cigarette, Stuart decided to ignore it. He had long ago learnt that answering the door in China brings little reward, and he had already had three neighbours this week claiming to “collect the water fees”. Enough was enough. He was not answering that door.
But the knocking did not stop. Again and again with no pause, the dreadful knocking persisted to resonate around the house. Who knocks like that? What mental sickness could drive somebody to knock on a door for so hard and so long even when it was obvious nobody was going to answer.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. It was like an unfunny never-ending joke. Each knock tore into Stuart’s head like a rusty screwdriver. He knew he was going to have to answer the door if he was ever going to make the knocking stop. However, as he made his way towards the slightly slanted door (was it smirking at him?), each terrible knock weakened him and he fell to the floor covering his ears. Why was this person knocking on the door so hard? Why did bad things have to happen to good people?
As if things could not get any worse; his mobile phone began to ring. But the phone was in another room and Stuart did not have the strength to go and retrieve it. He knew that the ringing would never end either. Incessantly, the knocking of the door and the ringing of the phone intermingled and combined into an eternal aural inferno. It would never end. Stuart knew it would never end. If he could only find the strength to just crawl towards the door and tell the person to go away. But the noise, the inhuman noise…
Somewhere, in the house next door, a neighbour plugged in a drill…
Or is it?
Or is IT?
Or IS it?
OR is it?
OR IS IT?
Yes. Yes it is.
(With apologies to Lovecraft)
A cloudy dull day alone in my study,
Flames from the fire were singing me to sleep,
As oblivion’s hand started to hold me,
I suddenly saw the place where gods go to die.
Some forgotten sad recess of the human mind,
A cavern built from memories, pillars of hope,
The stone floor surfaced from primitive fear,
All around: lifeless husks of the stars in the sky.
First, spread around collapsed white columns,
Those Titans of Olympus, the glories of Rome,
Each had fallen from their cloudy thrones,
Killed by daggers of change and a sword of Republic.
Poseidon, trident rusted and bent,
Only the seaweed around him with any life,
Even the King of them all, great Zeus himself,
Had been struck by his father Chronos’ scythe.
By his side lay Athena also now gone,
As lovely in death as she was in life,
Time waits for nothing, especially for gods,
It had conquered them all in one mighty swing.
A smell of sand and perfumed scents,
Sweet coolness of a great roaring river,
Shadows cast from faraway dusty statues,
And the gods of Egypt rose up from the Nile.
Pale and white from years in the water,
The eyes of the gods were all open pearls,
Osiris, Seth, Isis and all,
Floating away out of man’s mind.
Where was their immortality now?
The powers which terrified men into slaves,
All gone, including the Sun-God Ra,
His body the lifeless shell of a scarab-beetle.
I continued through this graveyard of faith,
Light breezes carried the laments of the dead,
So many names, so many ideas,
Blown away like so many autumn leaves.
“Freya,” whispered the breeze, “Freya, Freya.”
“Ishtar” and “Zoroaster”, who are they now?
Only ruins and wrecks and footnotes in books,
That’s all that is left of them now.
Many-armed Shiva looked down at me,
Speared on the peak of a Himalayan rock,
Flames of ignorance burned in his hair,
Brahman beside sleeping forever.
And here were the gods of the frozen north,
Norse giants killed by their final Ragnarok,
Thor who could make all of Heaven shudder,
Here just food for the vultures of progress.
From a dead black tree hanged the god Odin,
His one-eye pecked out by the hungry ravens,
All I could see was decay and decay,
The gods of old had all gone away.
Past Quetzalcoatl on his altar of blood,
Past Buddha stretched out under his now fallen tree,
Past the untended remains of a million temples,
A cross was on fire on the peak of a hill.
For here, full of men’s skulls who thought this was truth,
Was the one who had killed so many of his elder brothers,
Who thought himself so great that he became so bright,
Overshadowing the other stars in the sky.
And yet even this one who claimed no peer,
Once so high and glorious, the only god,
Had fallen down like all the rest,
His cross becoming a pile of dust.
So I sat and watched the history of man,
These burning flames, this blowing ash,
Thinking of all the life which made this,
Thinking of all the death which made this.
Yet suddenly a noise, a scream from afar,
Earth shook and bodies arose,
Eyes layered in silt opened with force,
And the dead gods of old woke up once more.
They came to me, screaming with pain,
Pointing their skeletal fingers at my body,
They gathered around my horrified form,
In one voice they spoke, with angry red eyes.
“You and your kind did this to us,
Created us from your own shallow fears,
Born from your minds, raised by your faith,
You made us your kings but also your slaves.
“Worshipping, revering, showering with praise,
Pleading with us for fruitless gains,
At times it was love, at times it was hate,
We were your joy and we were your pain.
“But your kind is fickle, your lives are too short,
You tire of us and treat us like toys,
Once weary of our undemanding love,
You throw us aside and search for another.
“Man is the god, the only one truth,
Creating us gods and killing us too,
At the mercy of whims and farcical needs,
We suffer and die and speak nevermore.
“And you, wretched man, continue to blame,
Placing your disastrous errors on us,
Killing and slaughtering in our forgotten names,
Spouting your own worthiness and bile.
“Damn you mankind for making us all,
Just beasts to carry your foolish mistakes,
Sullying us to keep your petty lives clean,
Confining us to this cavern of death.”
They cried in their thousands, a terrible sound,
Man’s dreams deteriorated into this dark scene,
I ran away from this broken hope,
Running towards the comforting darkness.
Here was the greatest god of them all,
Not belonging to man to create or destroy,
Everywhere, just nothing to see,
Infinity’s void will always be here.
But the world despises being ignored,
And reality (so-called) pushed itself in,
The emptiness fled with man’s sad gods too,
Man’s vivid dream appeared once again.
Back in my study of unsettling warmth,
I thought of the gods in their eternal prison,
Confined to death due to the folly of man,
How they must long for that darkness.
Yes. That Ted Kaczynski.
Theodore John Kaczynski (born May 22, 1942), also known as the Unabomber, is an American mathematician, anarchist and domestic terrorist. A mathematical prodigy, he abandoned a promising academic career in 1969, then between 1978 and 1995 killed 3 people, and injured 23 others, in a nationwide mail bombing campaign that targeted people involved with modern technology. In conjunction with the bombing campaign, he issued a wide-ranging social critique opposing industrialization and advancing a nature-centered form of anarchism…
In 1971, he moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water in Lincoln, Montana, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills in an attempt to become self-sufficient. In 1978, after witnessing the destruction of the wild land surrounding his cabin, he concluded that living in nature was untenable and began his bombing campaign. In 1995, Kaczynski sent a letter to The New York Times and promised to “desist from terrorism” if the Times or The Washington Post published his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, in which he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom and dignity by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization…
Kaczynski was the target of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) longest and costliest investigation. Before his identity was known, the FBI used the title “UNABOM” (UNiversity & Airline BOMber) to refer to his case, which resulted in the media calling him the Unabomber. The FBI (as well as Attorney General Janet Reno) pushed for the publication of Kaczynski’s manifesto, which led to his sister-in-law, and then his brother, recognizing Kaczynski’s style of writing and beliefs from the manifesto, and tipping off the FBI. After his arrest in 1996, Kaczynski tried unsuccessfully to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers because they wanted to plead insanity in order to avoid the death penalty, as Kaczynski did not believe he was insane. On January 22, 1998, when it became clear that his trial would entail national television exposure, the court entered a plea agreement, under which Kaczynski pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole at ADX Florence, where he remains as of 2017.
I was contacted by the publishers of Ted Kaczynski’s latest treatise Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How after writing a short but positive review of the original 1995 manifesto Industrial Society and Its Future on the website Goodreads. They offered me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Naturally, I was eager to take up their offer.
Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How is an astonishing and, in my opinion, important attempt at analysing and outlining the root causes of modern society’s ills and the potential end result of where advances in technology may take us. A work like Anti-Tech Revolution is not easily reviewed. Since this is not a work of literature it cannot be reviewed based on its narrative flow and style. We must examine ourselves before approaching a political manifesto. Fundamentally, how positive one receives the message contained within Anti-Tech Revolution will very much depend on one’s own pre-existing values and opinions. Kaczynski does an excellent job in outlining what he sees as the situation of our current malaise, but admits himself that certain audiences are more receptive to certain ideas than others and it is a wasteful use of time to try to convince an audience that will never accept the book’s basic premise. It is no use handing a copy of Marx’s Communist Manifesto to a confirmed Libertarian and expecting an overnight conversion to Socialism. So it is with Anti-Tech Revolution. How much you will agree with Kaczynski’s conclusions is most probably already determined before you even open the book.
It is also an unescapable truth that an audience cannot separate the author from the work, no matter how predisposed they may be to his views. The fact of the matter is that Ted Kaczynski did carry out a campaign of domestic terrorism that injured 23 people and killed 3 others. It is also a fact that Ted Kaczynski pleaded guilty and is currently serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole. Is it moral to review a book written by such a person? How you answer that question will very much depend on your own pre-existing sympathies and value system.
I do not normally discuss politics on either this blog or on my related social media feeds. Regular readers will know that apart from the occasional book review I normally confine myself to satire and parody. However, in the interests of disclosure, I will state that I am not unsympathetic to the views of Ted Kaczynski and we both share similar views on phenomena like globalisation, centralisation, bureaucracy, technology and “leftism” (as Kaczynski described his view of the origins and psychology behind mainstream liberal thought in his original Industrial Society and Its Future). That statement alone will also automatically inform any reader on how much their own view of Anti-Tech Revolution might or might not align with mine.
My first thought on reading Anti-Tech Revolution was it quickly becomes apparent that the author’s current incarceration has quite the influence on the sources gathered by Kaczynski to outline his point of view. Jailed and presumably severely limited in access to the internet, Kaczynski’s sources largely come from whatever resources he has access to in his prison library (the Encyclopaedia Britannica is referenced frequently) and assistance he has obtained from his large number of outside correspondents. This has a profound influence over the book’s structure in both positive and negative ways. Millennials may not realise that scholarly books were once written without the aid of the internet and that it was once frequent to quote books from five, fifty, one hundred and even two thousand years ago. This reliance on older sources is quite refreshing to the modern reader and gives the book a wandering style not dissimilar to that of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s when the author makes frequent detours into classical or medieval philosophy and history. It also emphasises that many of the arguments and fears covered by Kaczynski are not confined to our digital age: the consequences of rapid technological progress have been known since ancient times. However, it is admittedly a weakness of a book that discusses technology to be so outdated on recent trends in technology itself (though it does reinforce the argument that technological progress is accelerating faster and faster). The smartphone revolution has passed Kaczynski by while he has been confined to a prison cell; likewise other recent advances are conspicuously absent.
As the title suggests, Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How is neatly divided into the “why” and “how” of Kaczynski’s worldview. The book is divided into the following four chapters, with several appendices included at the end:
Part One: The Development of a Society Can Never Be Subject to Rational Human Control
Part Two: Why the Technological System Will Destroy Itself
Part Three: How to Transform a Society: Errors to Avoid
Part Four: Strategic Guidelines for an Anti-Tech Movement
Parts One and Two cover the “why” of what Kaczynski perceives as the reasons for modern society’s problems and why it needs to be destroyed. Parts Three and Four get into detail on “how” to do so. Here I shall outline each section in more detail.
The first part – The Development of a Society Can Never Be Subject to Rational Human Control – is the book’s most accessible. The reader doesn’t have to subscribe to the author’s anti-tech views to understand and agree with the arguments contained within. This is a very rational argument, but one that does need constant emphasising as its lesson does seem to be forgotten again and again by socialists, fascists, utopians, bureaucrats and all others who keep repeating the same mistake. No society can be controlled 100% by a central authority, and no central authority can forecast with 100% accuracy the direction the future will take. The development of human society, because it is composed of those strange irrational creatures called humans, can never be forced to completely follow a model concocted by some central planning theorist. Again, there are many echoes of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s works on randomness and probability – more than once I wondered if Taleb was aware of Kaczynski’s writing.
Initially, it seems strange for a book dedicated to technology to devote its first section to the fallacies of economists and political theorists, but the logic soon becomes clear. Kaczynski is providing background on the human forces that have given rise to our growing use and dependence on technology. On the one hand we have competing groups throughout history who use technology to gain short-term advantages over their rivals in the eternal scramble for access to resources without consideration to the long-term consequences (though Kaczynski makes the excellent point that this is inescapable: any group that thinks too long-term will inevitably be wiped out by their more short-term thinking neighbours. A good argument as to why China’s current relentless growth may succeed but doom us all in the process). On the other hand, we have central planners who advance technology in an attempt to further control society and make accurate predictions to its future. Kaczynski argues that this is impossible. To even predict with total accuracy what would happen across the entire world in just the next sixty minutes would require an impossible amount of calculations.
We then move onto Part Two: Why the Technological System Will Destroy Itself. This section will be more familiar to readers of Kaczynski’s original manifesto and follows similar themes of self-propagating systems, accelerationism and environmental destruction. Great detail is given in this section – much more detail than can be covered in a mere review – but suffice to say, Kaczynski does not share the same views of people like Ray Kurzweil and other technologists who believe we are heading for a post-Singularity utopia where an all-knowing Artificial Intelligence will advance eternally and transform us into digital immortals. No. Though Kaczynski is unable and unwilling to give a timeline, his very forceful argument is that technology can only continue to accelerate, and we are accelerating to our inevitable ruin. The global spread of the technological system over our now tightly interconnected world means such ruin will also be global (perhaps little pockets like Bhutan may survive; Bhutan incidentally resembling probably the closest real-life example of how Kaczynski views a more sustainable society).
Anti-Tech Revolution doesn’t delve into how technology and “leftism” progress forward together as the original manifesto Industrial Society and Its Future did, but the undertone is there. Shanghai-based accelerationist Nick Land has repeatedly alluded to the metaphor of an increasingly inter-connected, tech-dominated, left-leaning world that has slowly but unstoppably grown through the course of history as something akin to an out-of-control Lovecraftian monster (although Land appears to want the monster to succeed). Fellow neo-reactionary Mencius Moldbug has also coined the succinct epitaph: “Chthulhu may swim slowly, but he always swims left.”
The question is: if the technological system is fated to inevitably destroy itself (and us with it), why does Kaczynski wish to bring about its destruction and why bother writing a manifesto explaining how to do so? His argument is simple. It is better to destroy the system now rather than later. Destruction of the world’s technology would be devastating and involve death for a large percentage of the global population, but it will be nothing compared to the total destruction that awaits us when technology is even more advanced and our resources even more depleted.
With that argument, Kaczynski launches into the “how” of his revolution. Parts Three and Four discuss a strategy to create an anti-tech movement and outlines the errors to avoid. Anybody who has ever read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals will know what to expect in these two sections; Kaczynski himself acknowledges his debt to this book, though he shares zero common ground with Alinsky’s objectives. Many references are made to historical revolutions (the Bolsheviks, Mao, Irish nationalists) and a few short-term and long-term strategies are presented as possible options for anyone who seriously wishes to take Kaczynski’s argument to their logical end. Like the chapter on human irrationality, a reader doesn’t have to share Kaczynski’s worldview to appreciate the detail and thoroughness of his arguments. Incarceration has obviously given the Unabomber time to consider every angle possible, and the steps on how to organise a community are food-for-thought for daily life, not just when organising the downfall of technological civilisation.
Inevitably, the “how” of the book is weaker than the “why” since the “how” is more conjecture than arguments based on empirical evidence. There are a small number of times when it also seems to descend into something akin to Live Action Role Playing, but these few and far between.
Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How was probably one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in the last ten years. It was the first time since university that I actually read through a book with a pen and paper to take notes. There are a handful of books that after reading them have left a deep and lasting imprint on my mind and political outlook – Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, Taleb’s Antifragility – and Anti-Tech Revolution will join them on that list. This isn’t the work of a psychotic nutjob: all of Kaczynski’s arguments are backed up with empirical evidence and his writing is both intelligent and highly logical. I can see the truth of what Kaczynski is trying to tell us, though I am personally unable to follow the logic all the way to its conclusion. Who exactly is going to carry out his anti-tech revolution and bring down everything modern society is based upon? Certainly not me. I will be the first to admit that if anybody succeeded in enacting Kaczynski’s grand plan than myself and my family will be amongst the first to be wiped out. Rootless, atomised within urban society, unable to survive without the accoutrements of modern technology and lacking the support network of someone in a more traditional way of life: I and everybody I hold dear would be dead within weeks of a large-scale takedown of the internet, an electromagnetic pulse, blowing up our energy sources or any of the other possibilities that Kaczynski outlines. That’s if the destruction of the technological system didn’t cause a nuclear meltdown or war that wiped me out first. I may be sympathetic to the views of Ted Kaczynski, but I have too much skin in the game to wish to see his vision succeed. Despite this, I agree with his conclusions on where we are heading – and it terrifies me. Culture wars and skirmishes between the alt-left and conservatives are just mere paraphernalia to what is really going on.
Since Reddit user u/pomegranate2012 enlightened me that DTF in Fempat-ese actually means Din Tai Fung, I’ve now come to the shocking realisation that none of the abbreviations I’ve seen fempats use actually mean what I thought they meant.
After consulting with a “dating expert” who specialises in cross-cultural relationships and had worked for the Global Times for a whole 3 days before relocating to Thailand, I am now privileged to share with you the true meanings behind the secret fempat codewords they use on Tinder / Craigslist / Scrawled in pumpkin spice on the back of a Starbucks napkin.
If you are aware of anymore, please share.
ASL? : Any Spiced Lattes?
BJ : Burger Joint
BBBJ : Big Brand Burger Joint
BI : Will drink baijiu
BDSM : Bring Dumplings Stupid Man
BBW : Average fempat weight
DF : Diet Free
DDF : Diet and Diabetes Free
DTF : Din Tai Fung / Dumplings Taste Fabulous
DOB : Days Outside Beijing
FWB : Friends With Baozi
GSOH : Good at Sucking Off Hapas
JBY : Just Be Yuge
LDR : Like a Dumpy Rainy
LGBT : Let’s Go Buy Tacos
LTR : Lifetime Risk
MBA : Married But Asianwomanstolemyhusband
MWC : Made to Work in China
NBM : Never Bought Mons
NSA : No Schoolteachers Allowed
NSSA : No Sex Since America
STR8 : Stroke Tim’s Rigid ji8
SWS : Sex Within Shanghai
TDH : Tall Dark and Hei
TEFL : Take me Element Fresh for Lunch
TLC : Tim Loving Cumslut
W4M : Woman for Mutumbo
W4W : Woman for Workvisa
The works of Isham Cook will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Isham, by his own account, appears to be an American former-academic now based in China whose range of interests cover everything from massage, coffee and the old canal system of Beijing. I described his collection of short stories The Exact Unknown as “a voice outside the stereotypes” and one of the rare works on China written with “such truth, wit and honesty”. After reading his short stories, I went on to read his other works that I also reviewed for the viewing public. My favourite remains At The Teahouse Cafe: a wonderful collection of thoughts and ruminations on all things China with an insight that could only come from somebody who has been in the country for over two decades. Massage and the Writer took the same idea of having a compilation of related essays, but took the theme of massage rather than China. Again I found it to be insightful, thought-provoking and smoothly written. Finally, I found Isham’s experimental novel Lust and Philosophy to be challenging and intellectually stimulating, though I appear to be more in the minority in that view. Other reviews on Amazon described it as “rape literature” with one reviewer – Lloyd Lofthouse – even claiming “it is obvious that Isham is mentally damaged”.
So it was with great anticipation that I cracked open Isham’s latest work: American Rococo. Like At The Teahouse Cafe this is a collection of essays that have previously been featured on Isham’s blog, but this time he directs his observant eye to American society rather than China’s. Well, at least that is what I was expecting from the book’s title and the first few chapters. The name American Rococo conjured up images of a series of cutting essays on the current situation and trends within the United States – an occidental companion to his China-focused At The Teahouse Cafe. A 21st century equivalent of Dickens’ American Notes. Instead, American Rococo seems to have no overarching theme other than Isham’s own personal interests which is perhaps the greatest weakness of the book. Much more so than his previous work, your mileage will vary considerably depending on how interesting you find the topics that Isham decides to cover.
And what a range a topics there are! The erudite Mr Cook seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge on religion, Japanese theatre, Elizabethan chamber music and the roots of the English language. When my interests coincided with the author’s I raced through the pages eager to understand his conclusions and memorise any tidbits of information that had previously escaped me. His descriptions of life in South London during Shakespeare’s time were engrossing and I caught myself nodding along to his literary theories on Kafka. In fact, I will be forever mindful of American Rococo for introducing me to the idea that Kafka’s unfinished novels are better novels for the precise fact that they are unfinished. The idea of an unfinished novel that strays outside the narrative and never reaches its final destination had never occured to me as a perfect vehicle for the themes of helplessness and oppressive bureaucracy that Kafka obsesses over.
There is nothing wrong with a series of unrelated essays. As the author highlighted in his correspondence with me, the idea of centering a book of essays around a theme is a fairly recent phenomenon in contemporary publishing. Essays by Montaigne, Bacon, Emerson and others were never thematically unified. The same holds true with fiction. One of my most treasured books is a collection of all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s non-Sherlock short stories. The stories range from tales of colonial derring-do, proto-science fiction, medicine and that dreadful time when Conan Doyle began dabbling in Spiritualism. The whole point is the style, the quality of the writing, and if the essays maintain a singular world view.
However, I am only human – and I’m sure that most of the other readers of American Rococo are too. Quite simply, there were several chapters where I just did not share the same interest as the author. The articles that interested me will be completely different to those that may interest any other reader, but it is inevitable with a myriad of topics that each individual will find their own hits and misses. I had to skim-read through the (to me) long, dry and boring essays on the intricacies of lute craftsmanship in the Middle Ages or rather scholarly paragraphs on clause differences between old English and Danish that should remain in the debating halls of a university English Language department. There is also a tendency within the author to slip occasionally into the dry style of academic writing. It is obvious that Isham – self-publishing under his own Magic Theatre label and not beholden to the whims of big media – writes primarily for himself rather than for a defined audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as genius stems from the individual rather than committee, but it does mean that appreciation of his writing depends greatly on your own interest in his chosen topics.
Review over? Is that all? Well, if American Rococo was just a collection of essays on music and literature, I would probably draw the review to a conclusion right now. Yet amidst the ink spilled on Philip Glass and Beowulf, there are other essays which are more focused on Isham’s personal philosophy rather than dissections of music and literature. It is these essays that provoked my strongest reactions to the book, and not always in a positive way.
A picture forms of Isham Cook after reading even just two or three sentences from any of his books. Libertine, sexually open, promiscuous, obsessive… in fact the author himself did a decent job of outlining some of these qualities in his semi-autobiographical novel Lust and Philosophy. Isham regularly recounts his joy in delving into the fleshy pleasures of life. He delights in the excessive, the sensuous and the extravagant. The title of the book American Rococo takes its name from the titular essay where Isham expands on his love of American excessiveness. To him, the rolling curves of the obese are beautiful, not disgusting. The inflated gibberish of street graffiti eye-catching rather than an eye-sore. Isham is a true child of his generation. In several chapters he promotes the wonders and delights of drug use and free love. His embrace of free love, wild extravagance, LSD trips and happy communal living seems firmly rooted in the 1960s and 70s which is when I presume Isham went through his formative years.
This utopian vision is repeated time and time again with an evangelical fervour worthy of the Christians and modern Atheists that he dissects in his chapter on modern atheism. To the libertine author, it is not enough that atheists have discarded traditional conservative beliefs when they still cling to “outdated” concepts like monogamy. To Isham, monogamy is a religion that in his position of Prophet must be destroyed and replaced with free love if we are ever to move forward as a species.
I use the word “Prophet” deliberately. I’m an advocate of Fourth Turning theory and when reading American Rococo found it very much to fit within the thinking of what The Fourth Turning described as a “Prophet” mentality. To those unfamiliar with The Fourth Turning, it was a landmark work written in the late 1990s by William Strauss and Neil Howe where they linked historical change to generational change that repeats itself in a never-ending cycle. Within their theory, certain time periods correspond almost to the seasons of the year: typically history is a cycle of Crisis (war, famine, revolution), a “High” (the post-war peace when society operates on shared principals and vision), Awakening (when a younger generation who are unaware of the horrors of war begin to rebel against the conformity of a peaceful but uniform society), Unravelling (when society begins to break down, institutions are attacked and become weak, individualism is strong) and back to Crisis. The mood and values of the generations born within those different times correspond accordingly.
With his mantra of free love and LSD for all, Isham epitomises the “Prophet” mindset of those born within the “awakening” time of the 60s and 70s. The Prophet sees it upon themselves to destroy the old establishment and create a new society based on new values. You can see this in the mentality of most baby boomers and their unparalleled success of completely transforming society in their image over the last sixty or so years. In his final essay – Advanced Love – Isham describes how he has stood at the front of the classroom in the image of the Prophet exhorting his students to embrace polyamory and communal living as his so-called most “advanced” form of love. Reading this part I wondered if Isham realised he came across just as evangelical as those Christian teachers who arrive in China and try to surreptitiously convert their students over to Jesus by sprinkling Bible quotes into their lesson plan.
I agree with a lot of what Isham Cook has to say. I also enjoy freedom and liberty and actually agree with almost all of his conclusions on the progression of society… it is the results that I disagree with. As a member of a younger generation than Isham’s, I have seen the end destination of many of his utopian beliefs. For his “American Rococo”, generations afterwards must suffer an “American Hangover”. After the Prophets have completed their great task of destroying the old, there is nothing left for the following generation but to wander through the ruins like nomads.
During the writing of this review, I exchanged some emails with Isham about his views on polyamory. In one email he writes:
[On polyamory]… this word is not to be confused with polygamy, polygyny or polyandry. I have no interest in traditional polygyny, still practiced by some Mormons in the US, in parts of Africa and the Middle East, etc. — the keeping of more than one wife, not always with their full consent. That’s a kind of slavery and is deplorable and sexist. Polyamory is simply the freedom to let people choose how they wish to organize a family and under what terms. This could be triads (2 males/1 female or 2 females/1 male), dual couples, or group or communal families. Children could be raised in common or raised exclusively by their biological parents. Sexual sharing may be allowed or not. There are no top-down rules. Each family unit decides their own rules and what kind of relationships they are willing to entertain with others. Ideally, there is no oppression, coercion, brainwashing or cult-like behavior.
I’m actually familiar with polyamory and aware of the distinctions between polyamory, polygamy and polyandry. However, I do not share Isham’s rosy view of its benefits. In my opinion, polyamory cannot and does not work in practice because of basic human nature. Both genders are naturally promiscuous but in different ways. Whereas a male will wish to copulate with as many different females as possible (since sperm is plentiful in comparison to eggs), females are more likely to gravitate towards the higher status males, even if that means sharing access and child paternity with the alpha male with other women in a kind of quasi concubinage. This is called hypergamy, and there are very good biological reasons why it exists. If you were a cavewoman in more primitive times it made sense to bear the children of the male with access to the most resources. One astonishing statistic is that before the dawn of civilisation, seventeen women reproduced for every one man.
Hence, it is my belief that the nature of hypergamy means that the ideal of polyamory will always devolve into the more nightmarish reality of polygamy. Isham writes (emphasis mine): “Ideally, there is no oppression, coercion, brainwashing or cult-like behaviour.” For me, that is the killer. The ideal may be freedom, but look at any social circle, structure, organisation or company that you have encountered in real life. The inevitable result is always hierarchy and power plays. If the group is lucky it just dissolves when the members gradually exit, if not the end result is normally conflict.
Destroying traditional family structures doesn’t result in a hippy communal paradise; it results in atomised and rootless individuals and a society drowning in anomie (the same atomised individuals that Isham describes in his essay on Airbnb hosts). Taking responsibility from biological parents for their children’s’ upbringing doesn’t result in everybody helping each other out at the top of Plato’s ladder of love; it results in broken homes and state intervention. Isham argues for a polyamorous society; my rebuttal would be to look at polyamorous societies throughout history and really see how successful they are. They went extinct. I can agree that monogamy is a kind of religion and a kind of female enslavement, but it’s equally a kind of male enslavement. It’s the promise of a wife to call one’s own and the chance to spread one’s genes into the next generation that is the basis of all true civilisation. Polyamory does not end in a loving free-for-all; female hypergamy ensures that it results in a small number of alpha males with large concubines and armies of disenfranchised men underneath. That’s not utopia, that’s a slave society. At times I wondered how much Isham really understands about the nature of women, despite the considerable amount of time he devotes to them. To put it in even blunter and cruder terms, there was more than one moment when I wanted to throw the book into the bin and I caught myself muttering “it was people like you who fucked up the world.”
(Note: if any reader wishes to read something which also discusses polyamory but comes to similar negative conclusions as the ones I have raised here, I would recommend any of Michel Houellebecq’s books)
If the preceding paragraph sounds angry and disdainful – you’re right. I did experience those feelings constantly throughout the essays where Isham expands on his utopian vision. However, let’s not let my opposition to Isham’s views colour a potential reader’s opinion of American Rococo. There is much to like here and I would still recommend it to anybody interested in good writing and intellectual debate. Just look at the passion it has invoked in me while writing the above paragraphs. As I noted in one of my previous reviews of Isham’s books, the role of a true teacher is to provoke reactions within his students and guide them into thoughts and viewpoints that they may not have considered before. In this, Isham succeeds once again. The two or three essays discussing his polyamorist ideal have probably given me more to ponder than anything else I’ve read this year.
So, go and read American Rococo. You’ll learn a few things that you didn’t know before on a wide range of topics that may even engage a new found passion within you. It will also challenge your notions of freedom and independence. I disagreed with nearly everything Isham had to say, but I had a great time doing so. Unlimited freedom has consequences. Unlimited freedom has a price. In the case of American Rococo, that price is about $10 if you buy direct from Amazon.