R. A. Hettinga on 24 Oct 2000 21:32:12 -0000

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<nettime> Gort in granny-shades (was Re: Al Gore goes cypherpunk?)

[To: Digital Bearer Settlement List <dbs@philodox.com>]

--- begin forwarded text

Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 10:14:38 -0400
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>,
        Cypherpunks <cypherpunks@cyberpass.net>, dcsb@ai.mit.edu
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>
Subject: Gort in granny-shades (was Re: Al Gore goes cypherpunk?)
Sender: bounce-dcsb@reservoir.com
Reply-To: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>


At 2:08 AM -0400 on 10/24/00, Declan McCullagh wrote that Albert, "Gort"
Gore, Jr., (a robot who would destroy the world to save it :-)) told the
Rolling Stone:

> I loved The Matrix.

Innumeracy is as innumeracy does, I guess. And, unlike another, and
equally fictional, moron with a better clue about how the world works,
"Gort's" liking the Keanu Reeves neo-Platonist adolescent-hacker power
fantasy The Matrix is paradoxically, but utterly, consistent with his
currently-closet Luddist Socialism.

For some reason, the very cartoon physics which made it popular was the
main thing which bugged me most about The Matrix, as it does in a lot of
other movies these days.

Ships and weaponry in movie or television space opera whoosh by, as if
there were really sound in space. To me, at least, that's just the tip of
a towering iceberg of modern scientific and mathematical ignorance. Just
like the premise of the movie itself, it might seem otherwise, but "The
Matrix" is actually a classic example of this kind of mental noise.

I understand the urge to make up something familiar to convey to the
audience a sense of speed, or size, or whatever, and, since most of us
have no direct experience of what things in space "sound" like anyway,
movie directors can get away with it at our expense. It certainly seems
harmless enough.

Nonetheless, this kind of lazy physical shorthand is exactly the wrong
urge in the face of our actual possession of so many actual *facts* about
space itself, or anything else in math and science. Facts that get
misrepresented all the time in the movies and on television, and which
perpetuate our own ignorance about them.

The result, especially in something proporting to be *science* fiction, is
nothing short of propaganda, when you think about it enough. Like Edward
Tufte's famous "Pravada charts" -- found frequently on the front page of
their famous eponym, charts containing no scale and just an arrow graphing
something, usually something immeasurable, up and to the right -- lots of
modern celluloid "science" fiction actually perpetuates the really awful
transfer-priced government educations most of us got the hands of the
modern nation-state.

To me, these misrepresentations of mathematics and science are exactly in
the same intellectual league as the statist, cheerfully communist,
paradises found in Star Trek, or Norman Spinrad, or Iain Banks' "Culture"
novels. All of which I watch and read anyway -- just like I've seen "The
Day the Earth Stood Still", containing Gort, a robot who would destroy the
world to save it -- but all of which are just as ignorant of economics as
a whooshing starship is of physics.

And, of course, it is our very mis-education at the hands of those very
Marx-inspired statists that causes us to demand, or at least accept, that
kind of thing from the people who sell us our entertainment in the first
place. The result works out rather nicely to keep us just as ignorant of
reality as Neo, The Matrix's Gen-Y protagonist, ever was. Of course, like
in the Matrix, where humans *couldn't* handle reality anyway, so they
deserved what they got, some would say we deserve our own modern
ignorance, preferring cartoon physics, and cartoon economics, to the real

So, even though The Matrix's very premise -- that life as we know it is
actually a Road-Runner cartoon in disguise, that because The Matrix *is*
pseudospace, that the rules of physics *didn't* apply, that it's actually
*okay* to have "physical cartoons" there, of all places -- even though
that premise is, paradoxically, consistent with my trashing of the
prevailing innumeracy and ignorance in movies and television somehow, all
of that still didn't keep the movie from really getting up my nose.

And, what I think finally did it for me wasn't the movie's depiction of
the pseudoreality of the matrix itself, really. It was watching The
Matrix's increasingly stupid Saturday-morning cartoon depiction of what
"reality" *really* was that eventually drove me up the wall and almost out
of the theater. Here we were, looking at the same old "revolutionary"
neo-feudal response to a thoroughly feudal ultimate-surveillance society
living *above* the sewers: Che Guevarra meets William Gibson, all depicted
with deliberately cheezier CGIs to make it *less* "real" than the Matrix
itself. Sheesh.

So, ultimately, I suspect that the real reason that the libertarians and
crypto-anarchists I like to hang out with on the net rave about The Matrix
so much is because Neo gets to blow away so many cops, and in such
exquisite detail. Quake with better graphics. And, like Quake, what would
normally be considered murder in the "real" world doesn't "matter" so
much, because the cops are not "real", not actual human beings. They're
just software.

Maybe, frankly, that's also why Albert, "Gort", Gore, Jr., a
died-in-the-hairshirt man-the-barracades Mailerian Crypto-Communist
disguised in a blue suit, white shirt, red tie, and, more recently, a
Ronald Reagan pomade -- when he's not disguised as a earth-toned
plaid-shirted pseudo-Gomer, or something else -- liked The Matrix so much.
He's just as much an ideologue as my friends and I are, and he
objectifies, and categorizes :-), his enemies as much as we do.

In his heart of hearts, "Gort" sees himself as Neo: donning his Virtual
Armani and titanium framed granny-shades every day in a never-ending fight
smash the forces of the Evil Capitalist Matrix.

Just wait, Al, until the financial cryptography of bearer transactions
teaches "capitalism", a Marxist name for what normal people should call
"economics", Al, to our very machines themselves.

Profit and loss on the device level. You ain't seen *nothing* yet, Komrade
"Gort". Klaatu Baruda Nicktoe, indeed.

In the meantime, the Matrix's supposedly masterful special effects, its
apparent main attraction, were, for the most part, pedestrian, and could
have been found in any music video -- or even commercial -- of the time.
Proof, to me anyway, that movies, and other filmed/taped media, will
continue to fall behind the technical curve in a world of emerging,
instantaneously-available, and, eventually, real-time programmable,
geodesic media. Sooner or later, things like internet games, and,
eventually, real-time immersive multi-role fantasy -- the *real* Matrix --
will relegate recorded film and video to the same status that painting,
or, better, grand opera now has: nice, even pretty impressive once in a
while, but too expensive, much less predictable and formulaic, to be
useful for anybody's actual entertainment.

Finally, the movie's preachy metaphysics was wheezing so badly -- in a
Kung-Fu-in-mirrorshades, "Listen to the Stones, Grasshopper", sense --
that it needed Albuterol just to breathe.

That's probably because its entire premise, frankly, was so ancient even
its dust was heat-dead. As old and tired as Plato's cave, and, given that
both the Matrix itself, and the world proporting to be "real", had all the
implicit political repression and hierarchical social-stratification that
Plato himself wanted in his own _Republic_, it's no surprise that Albert
"Gort" Gore, Jr., a product of a private all-boys Epsicopalian education,
cured in marijuana-smoked socialism until college graduation and military
decommision, super-glued to 1980's born-again Baptist evangelicalism,
composted in "environmental" pseudoscience, and grafted onto the largest
cleptocracy this side of the Iron Curtain, liked it so very much.

As a much better philosopher, Bertrand Russell, noted once, communism
("Socialism", "Environmentalism", "Consumerism", whatever) is just really
feudalism, after all.

Enough, already, Al.

Gore: Klaatu Baruda Nicktoe!


R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA

"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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