The Geometry of Near

by rthieme on July 15, 2004

It’s nobody’s fault. Honest. It’s just how it is.

The future came earlier than expected. They kicked it around for years but never knew what they had. By the time they realized what it was, it was already broken. Broken open, I should say. Even then, looking at the pieces of the egg and wondering where the bird had flown, they didn’t know how to say what it was. The words they might have used had broken too.

Now it’s too late. The future is past.

It was too far. They can’t see far. They can only see near.

Me and my friends, we see far, but we see near, too. It’s linking near and far in fractal spirals that makes a multi-dimensional parallax view, providing perspective. It’s not that we have better brains than our Moms and Pops, but hey, we were created in the image of the net and we know it. They live it, everybody has to live it now, but they still don’t know it.

2843929113_dd9c7ec1ffLook at my Mom and Pop on a Thursday night in the family room. You’ll see what I mean.

They are sitting in front of the big screen digital television set watching a sitcom. The program is “Friends.” Mom calls the six kids, the six young people excuse me, “our friends.” They’ve been watching the show for years and know the characters better than any of the neighbors. The only reason they know the neighbors at all is because I programmed a scanner to pick up their calls. At first they said, how terrible, don’t you do that. Then they said, what did she say? Did she really say that? Then they left it on, listening to cell calls from all over the city, drug deals (“I’m at the ATM, come get your stuff”), sex chat (“I’m sitting at your desk, my feet on the edge, touching myself”), trivia mostly, and once in a while the life of a house down the street broadcasting itself through a baby monitor.

The way they reacted to that, the discovery that walls aren’t walls anymore, reminded me of a night when I told some kids it was time to feed a live mouse to Kurtz, my boa constrictor. Oh, how horrible! they cried. Oh, I can’t watch! Then they lined up at the tank, setting up folding chairs to be sure they could see the mouse trembling, the sudden strike, the big squeeze. They gaped as the hingeless jaw dropped and Kurtz swallowed the dead mouse. They waited for the tip of its tail to disappear into his mouth before getting up saying yuuuchhh! That’s gross!

People in the neighborhood only became real to Mom and Pop when I made them digital, don’t you see, when I put them on reality radio. Only when I turned the neighbors into sitcom characters did Mom and Pop have a clue. When they hacked the system in other words.

That’s what hacking is, see. It’s not hunching over your glowing monitor in your bedroom at three in the morning cackling like Beavus or Butthead while you break into a bank account – although sometimes it is that too – it’s more of a trip into the tunnels into the sewers into the walls where the wires run and the pipes and you can see how things work. It’s hitting a wall and figuring out how to move through it. How to become invisible, how to use magic. How to cut the knot, solve the puzzle, move to the next level of the game. It’s seeing how shit we dump relates to people who think they don’t dump shit and live as if. It’s seeing how it all fits together.

“Our friends.” Said as if she means it. I mean, is that pathetic or what?

The theme music is too loud as they sink down in overstuffed chairs and turn the volume even higher with a remote I had to program so they could use it. Their lives seldom deviate more than a few inches from the family room. Put the point of a compass down on the set and you can draw a little circle that circumscribes their lives. Everything they know is inside that circle. Two dimensions, flat on its back.

The geometry of near.

Those are my friends, Mom says with a laugh for the umpteenth time. The commercial dissolves and expectations settle onto the family room like the rustling wings of twilight. The acting is always overdone, they mug and posture too much, the laugh tracks are too loud. The characters say three, maybe four hundred words in half an hour, barely enough to hand in to an English teacher on a theme, but more than enough to build a tiny world like a doll’s friends_season_one_cast1house inside a million heads. Those scripted words and intentional gestures sketch out the walls of houses, the edges of suburban lots, the city limits of their lives, all inside their heads. Hypnotized, they stare at the screen for hours, downloading near vistas, thinking they have a clue.

In family rooms all over the world, drapes closed and lights low, people sit there scratching while they watch, most eat or drink something, and some masturbate. Some get off on Rachel, some Monica. Gays like Joey. Bloat-fetishists go for Chandler. I don’t know who gets off on Ross. I do know, though, that all over the world there are rooms smelling of pizza, beer and semen. Some clean up the food they spill before the show is over and some leave it. Some come into a napkin and ball it up and put it on a table until a commercial but some take it straight to the garbage and wash their hands on the way back. Funny. They beat off to a fantasy character as sketchy as a cartoon but wash their hands before coming back from the commercial. After sitting there for all those hours, they ought to wash out their souls with soap, not their hands.

Everybody masturbates, actually. That’s what it means to watch these shows. People get off on a fantasy and pretend the emptiness fills them up so they do it again. And again.

Who writes these scripts, anyway? People who have lost their souls, obviously. These people have no self. They put it down somewhere then forgot where they put it. They are seriously diminished humans.

But hey, this is not a rant about people who sell their souls. That’s true of everybody who lives in a world of simulations and doesn’t know it. Those who know it are masters, their hands on the switches that control the flow of energy and information. Those gates create or negate meaning, modify or deny. Me and my friends we control the flow. The difference is all in the knowing and knowing how.

But that’s not what we were fighting about. We were fighting about real things.

I just read an army paper some colonel wrote critiquing the army for thinking backwards. Thinking hierarchically, he said, thinking in terms of mechanistic warfare. The writer self-styling himself a modern insightful thinker, Net-man, an apostle of netcentric warfare, a disciple of the digerati.

It’s always colonels, right? trying to get noticed. The wisdom of the seminar room. Talk about masturbation. They write for the same journals they read, it’s one big circle jerk. They never call each other on their shit, that’s the deal, not on the real stuff, but they can’t fool us all the time. Just some of the people some.

It’s funny, see, the colonel talks about hierarchies and nets but this guy’s obviously Hierarchy Man, he lives in a pyramid, he can’t help it. He has the fervor of a convert who suddenly saw the blinding light, saw that he had been living in the near, but all he can do is add on, not transform. An extra bedroom, a new bathroom, is not a new floorplan. The guy is excited, sure, he had a vision that blew his mind, but he thought that meant he could live there and he can’t. Seeing may be believing but that’s about all. The future is past, like I said. The evidence is guys like that writing stuff like that. Those of us who have lived here all of our lives, who never lived anywhere else, we can see that. He’s a mummy inside a pyramid looking out through a chink in a sealed tomb. That’s why we laugh, because he can’t see himself trailing bandages through the dusty corridors. New converts always look funny to people who live on the distant shore where they just arrived, shipwrecked sailors ecstatic to feel the sand under their feet. They think it’s bedrock but it’s quicksand..

Here’s an example. Go downstairs and go into the kitchen where another television set records the President’s speech. (I had to show them how to do that too.)

When we watch it together later, I point out that it’s not really the president, not really a person, it’s only an image in pixels, a digital head speeching in rcbushthat strange jerky way he has so when you try to connect, you can’t. You think you get the beat but then there’s a pause, then a quick beat makes you stumble trying to synchronize. It’s how his brain misfires, I think. I think he did that doing drugs, maybe drinking. He was in and out of rehab and who the hell knows what he did to himself. Of course the Clintons did coke and all kinds of shit. Anyway he is talking to people who are eating and drinking and masturbating, not even knowing it, hands alive and mobile in their pockets, getting off on his projected power and authority. He talks about “our country” and I laugh. Pop shoots me a glare because he doesn’t have a clue. Pop thinks he lives in a country. Because the prez keeps saying “our country” and “this nation” and shit like that. But countries are over. Countries ended long ago. This president or his dad made money from oil or wherever else they put money to make money. Millions of it, more than enough to keep the whole family in office for generations. They have this veneer of patricians but their hands are dripping with blood. His grand-dad too, look it up. They taught evil people how to torture, kill, terrorize, but they wear this patrician veneer and drip with self- righteousness, always talking about religion. It is so dishonorable. Yet this semi-literate lamer, this poser, we honor, his father the chief of the secret police, his brother running his own state, this brain-damaged man who can’t connect with himself or anyone else, his words spastic like bad animation out of synch with that smug smirk, this man we honor? Give me a fucking break.

Anyway, he isn’t really there, it’s all pixels, that’s the point. The same people who made “Friends” and made that mythical neighborhood bar and made that mythical house on the mythical prairie created him too out of whole cloth. So people sit there and scratch, eat drink and masturbate, getting off on the unseen artifice of it all. And these people they have made, these people who project power, they all have their own armies, see, they have their own security forces, their own intelligence networks. They have to because countries ended and they realized that those who are like countries, forgive me, like countries used to be, now must act like countries used to act. They have their own banks and they even have their own simulated countries. Some Arabs bought Afghanistan, the Russian mafia bought Sierra Leone, they own Israel too, can I say that without being called an anti-Semite? These people in their clouds of power allow countries to pretend to exist and download simulations of countries into the heads of masturbating scratchers because it works better to have zombies. So people who think they live in countries can relate to what they think are countries inside their heads. Zombies thinking they are “citizens of countries” because they can’t think anything else, because they live inside the walls of the doll’s house in their heads. “I am a citizen of this country,” says the zombie, feeling safe and snug inside a non-existent house in the non-space of his programmed brain. All right then, where is it? The zombie says here, there, pointing to the air like grandma after surgery pointed to hallucinations, telling them to get her a glass of water, telling them to sit down and stop making her nervous. It’s all dribble-glass stuff, zombies in Newtonian space that ended long ago; they stare through the glass at the quantum cloud-cuckoo land the rest of us live in, calling it the future. Mistaking space for time the way that colonel inside his pyramid thinks he’s net-man.

People who live in clouds of power live behind tall walls, taller than you can imagine. We never really see what’s behind those walls. Zombies never climb those walls because of the private armies. Their “security forces” would have a zombie locked up in a heartbeat if he tried.

On the network when we take over thousands of machines and load trojans letting them sit there until we are ready to use them in a massive attack, we ana1997110106call them zombies. The zombies are unaware what is happening to them. We bring them to life and they rise from their graves and march. Those are our clouds of power, tit for tat. Mastering the masters.

Meanwhile Moms and Pops sit in their chairs not knowing that trojans are being downloaded into their brains. The code is elegant, tight, fast. Between the medium in which the code is embedded and the television or network that turns it into illusions of real people, real situations, the sleight of hand is so elegant, enticing bird-like Moms and Pops into digital cages. Then when they move the cages, the birds move too. They give the birds enough room to flap their wings so they think they’re free.

Or look at the bigger picture. Imagine a country with borders drawn in black. Then imagine a mouth blowing a pink bubble and the bubble bursting obliterating borders and then there’s a pink cloud instead of the little wooden shapes of states or countries they used to play with when they were kids. Bubblegum splatters all over the world creating cloud-places that have no names. They are place markers until names are invented. These are the shapes kids play with now, internalizing the difference.

Try telling that to zombies, though. They sit there listening as sitcoms and so-called reality shows and faux news put them into a deep sleep. Images of unreality filter into their brains and define their lives. Tiny images, seen near, seem big. Seem almost lifelike. Inside these miniature worlds, Moms and Pops believe they are far-seeing, thinking they think. Because they are told that near is far and little is big and so it is.

That’s what the fight was about. It wasn’t personal. It’s just that we see how silly it is, the way they think, what they think is real. It’s not personal! Honest!

When I was twelve I ran a line out to the telephone cable behind the house. I listened to the neighbors talk mostly about nothing until the telephone company and a cop dropped by. I pleaded stupidity and youth and Pop gave me a talk and I nodded and said yeah, right, never again. Those were the good old days when hacking and phreaking were novelties and penalties for kids were a slap on the wrist.

My favorite telephone sitcom was “The Chiropractor’s Wife.” That woman she lived around the corner and lowered the narrowness bar beyond belief. You bc898tsee her on the street with her kids or walking that damned huge dog of theirs, you wouldn’t know it. She looked normal. On good days she looked good even with her blonde hair down on her shoulders, smiling hello. Still, she raised oblivious to the level of an art form.

I guess she was terrified. Her life consisted of barely coping with two kids who were four and six I think and serving on a committee or two at school like for making decorations for a Halloween party. Other than that, near as I could tell, she talked to her mother and made dinner for the pseudo-doc. Talked to her mother every day, sometimes for hours.

The conversation was often interrupted by long pauses. Well, the wife would say. Then her mother would say, well. Then there might be silence for twenty seconds. I am not exaggerating, I clocked it. Twenty-four seconds was their personal best. That might not sound like much but in a telephone conversation, it’s eternity. Then they would go back over the same territory. They were like prisoners walking back and forth in a shared cell, saying the same things over and over. I guess it was mostly the need to talk no matter what, drawing the same circles on a little pad of paper. I imagined the wife making those circles on a doodle pad in different colors and that’s when I realized that people around me lived by a different geometry entirely. How the landscape looks is determined by how you measure distance. How far to the horizon. That’s when I began to invent theorems for a geometry of near.

Example.

Here in Wolf Cove there is the absolute silence of shuttered life. The only noise we hear is traffic from the freeway far over the trees. We have lots of trees, ravines, some little lakes. That’s what it is, trees and ravines and houses among the trees. That sound of distant traffic is like holding a seashell up to your ear. It’s the closest we come to having an ocean. No one can park on the street so a car that parks is suspect. The cops know everyone by sight so anyone different is stopped. The point I am making is, Wolf Cove encloses trees and lakes and houses with gates of silence, making it seem safe, but in fact it has the opposite effect. It creates fear that is bone deep. It’s like a gated community with real iron gates and a rent-a-cop. It makes people inside afraid of what’s outside so no one wants to leave. It’s like we built an electric fence like the kinds that keep dogs inside except we’re the dogs.

One day there was a carjacking at a mall ten miles away. Two guys did it who looked like someone called central casting and said hey, send us a couple of mean-looking carjacker types. They held a gun on a gray lady driving a Lexus and left her hysterical in the parking lot. I knew the telephone sitcom was bound to be good so I listened in on the wife and her hold-me mother.

They talked for more than two hours, the wife saying how afraid she was she wouldn’t get decorations done for the Halloween party at the school. She almost cried a couple of times, she was that close to breaking, just taking care of a couple of kids and making streamers and a pumpkin pie. But every now and again she said how afraid she was they’d take her SUV at gunpoint next time she went shopping. The television had done its job of keeping her frightened, downloading images of terrified victims morning noon and night. Fear makes people manageable.

Finally the wife said, maybe we ought to move. I couldn’t believe my ears. I mean, she lived in Wolf Cove inside an electric fence, so where the hell would she go? Her fears loomed in shadows on the screen of the world like ghosts and ghouls at that Halloween party. Everywhere she looked, she saw danger. Wherever there was a door instead of a wall, she felt a draft, an icy chill, imagining it opening. She got out of bed and checked the locks when everyone else was asleep. Once she had to go get something on the other side of town and you would have thought she was going to the moon. She went over the route on a map with her mother. Did she turn here? Or here? She had a cell phone fully charged – she checked it twice – and a full tank of gas, just in case. Just in case of what? So I wasn’t surprised when she said after the carjack that maybe they ought to move to Port Harbor, ten miles north. Then her mother said, well. Then the wife said well and then there was silence. I think I held my breath, sitting in my bedroom listening through headphones. Then her mother said, well, you would still have to shop somewhere.

Oh, the wife said. I hadn’t thought of that.

The geometry of near.

So many people live inside those little circles, more here than most places. I live on the net, I live online, I live out there. I keep the bedroom door shut but the mindspace I inhabit is the whole world.

When I was eleven I found channels where I learned so much just listening. I kept my mouth shut until I knew who was who, who was a lamer shooting off his mouth and who had a clue. Then somebody asked a question I knew and I answered politely and they let me in. I wasn’t a lurker any longer, but I took it easy, asking questions but not too many. I stayed up late at Border’s and other midnight bookstores, aisles cluttered with open O’Reilly books, figuring oreilly_booksout what I could before I asked. You have to do the homework and you have to show respect. Once they let me in, I helped guys on rungs below. I was pretty good at certain systems, certain kinds of PBX, and posted voice mail trophies that were a hoot. Some came from huge companies that couldn’t secure their ass with a cork. The clips gave the lie to their PR, showing what bullshit it was. So everybody on the channel knew but had the good sense not to say, not let anybody know. That would be like leaning over a banister and asking the Feds to fuck us please in the ass.

So I learned how to live on the grid. I mapped it inside my head, constantly recreating images of the flows, shadows in my brain creating a shadow self at the same time. The shadow self became my self except I could see it and knew how to use it.

It wasn’t hacking the little systems, don’t you see, the boxes or the telephones, it was the Big System with a capital B and a capital S. Hacking a system means hacking the mind that makes it. It’s not just code, it’s the coder. The code is a shadow of the coder’s mind. That’s what you’re hacking. You see how code relates to the coder, shit, you understand everything.

Anyway, Mom and Pop were talking one night and Mom said she had seen the Bradley’s out on their patio. They were staring down at the old bricks, thinking about redoing it. It meant rearranging shrubs and maybe putting it some flowers and ground cover. It sounded like big deal, the way they talked about it, making this little change sound like the Russian Revolution. It was like the time the Adams built a breakfast nook, you would have thought they had terraformed a planet.

So Mom said to Virginia Bradley, how long have you been in this house now? as long as we have? Oh no, Virginia said. We’ve been here thirteen years. Oh, Mom said We’ve been fifteen. But then, Virginia said, we only moved from a block away. Mom said, Oh? I didn’t know that. Virginia said, yes, we lived in that little white house on the corner the one with the green shutters for seventeen years. Mom said, I didn’t know that. Not only that, Virgina said with a little laugh, but Rick, that was her husband, Rick grew up around the corner. You know that ranch where his mother lives? Mom said, the one where the sign says Bradley? I didn’t realize (only neighbors thirteen years) that was his mother. Yes, he grew up in that house, then when we got married we moved to the white house with the green shutters and thirteen years ago when Stonesifers moved to the lakes then we moved here.

The heart enclosed in apprehension becomes so frightened of its own journey, of knowing itself, that it draws the spiral more and more tightly, fencing itself in. Eventually the maze leads nowhere. This village with its winding lanes and gas lamps for all its faux charm was designed by a peasant culture afraid of strangers, afraid of change, a half-human heart with its own unique geometry.

Yep, you guessed it. The geometry of near.

Hypnosis does an effective job of Disneylanding the loneliness of people who live near. Sometimes that loneliness leaks out into their lives and that, really, was what the fighting was about.

Some business group asked Pop to give a dinner speech. They asked him over a year ago, so he had it on the calendar all that time. He really looked forward to it, we could tell by the time he spent getting ready. He even practiced his delivery. They told Pop to expect a few hundred people but when he showed up with all his slides, there were only twenty-three.

I am so sorry, said Merriwether Prattleblather or whoever asked him to speak. It never occurred to any of us when we scheduled your talk that this would be of all things the last episode of Jerry Seinfeld.

Pop got a bit of a clue that night. He was pretty dejected but he knew why. These are people, he said, who have known each other for years. This meeting is an opportunity to spend time with real friends. But they preferred to spend the night with people who are not only not real, but don’t even make sense or connect to anything real. They would rather passively download digital images, he said, using my language without realizing it, than interact with real human beings.

So Pop had half a clue and I got excited, that doesn’t happen every night, so I jumped in, wanting to rip to the next level and show how it all connects from Walter Lippmann to Eddie Bernays to Joseph Goebells, news PR and propaganda one and the same. That got Pop angry. It undermined that doll’s house in his head, I can see now. The walls would collapse if he looked so he can’t look. Besides, he had to put his frustration somewhere and I was safe. Naturally I became quite incensed at the intensity of his commitment to being clueless. Christ, Pop, I shouted, they stole your history. You haven’t got a clue because everything real was hidden. Some of the nodes are real but the way they relate is disguised in lies. He shouts back that I don’t know what I’m talking about. The second world war was real, he says, hitting the table, not knowing how nuts he looks. Oh yeah? Then what about Enigma? Before they disclosed it, you thought totally differently about everything in that war. You had to, Pop! Context is content and that’s what they hide, making everything look different. It’s all in the points of reference. They’ve done that with everything for fifty years. It’s like multispectral camouflage that I read about in space, fake platforms intended to look real. Nothing gets through, nothing bounces back. You live in a hall or more like a hologram of mirrors, Pop, can’t you see that?

We both kept shouting and sooner or later I figured fuck it and went to my room which is fine with me because I would rather live in the real world than the Night of the Living Dead down there.

I know why Pop can’t let himself know. I understand. Particularly at his age, you can’t face the emptiness of it all unless you know how to fill it again, preferably with something real. Knowing you know how to do that makes it bearable like looking at snakes on Medusa’s head in a mirror. It keeps you from turning to stone.

Me and my friends we don’t want to turn to stone ever. Not ever. Maybe it’s all infinite regress inside our heads, nobody knows. But playing the game at least keeps you flexible. It’s like yoga for the soul.

moma-03When do I like it best? That’s easy. Four in the morning. I love it then. There’s this painting by Rousseau of a lion and a gypsy and the world asleep in a frieze that never wakes up. That’s what it feels like, four in the morning, online. The illusory world is asleep, shut up like a clam, I turn on the computer and the fan turns into white noise. The noise is the sound of the sea against the seawall of our lives. The monitor flickers alight like a window opening and I climb through.

It’s all in the symbols, see, managing the symbols. That makes the difference between half an illusion and a whole one. Do you use them or do they use you? If they use you, do you know it, do you see it, and do you use them back? Who’s in charge here? Are you constantly taking back control from symbols that would sweep you up in a flood? Are you conscious of how you collude because brains are built to collude so you know and know that you know and can take back power? Then you have a chance, see, even if the hall of mirrors never shows a real reflection. Then we have a chance to get to the next level of the game if only that and that does seem to be the point.

Me and my friends we prefer the geometry of far. This bedroom is a node in a network trans-planetary or trans-lunar at any rate, an intersection of lines in a grid that we navigate at lightspeed. This is soul-work, this symbol-manipulating machinery fused with our souls, we live cyborg style, wired to each other. The information we exchange is energy bootstrapping itself to a higher level of abstraction.

Some nights you drop down into this incredible place and disappear. Something happens. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like you drop down into this place where most of your life is lived except most of the time you don’t notice. This time, somehow you go there and know it. Instead of thinking leaning forward from the top of your head its like lines of electromagnetic energy showing iron filings radiating out from the base of your skull. Information comes and goes from the base of your brain, goes in all directions. Time dilates and you use a different set of points of reference, near and far at the same time.

It’s a matter of wanting to go, I think, then going. Otherwise you turn into the chiropractor’s wife. I want to see up close the difference that makes the difference but once I go there, “I” dissolves like countries disappeared and whatever is left inhabits clouds of power that have no names. It’s better than sex, yes, better.

So anyway, the point is, yes, I was laughing but not at him, exactly. You can tell him that. It was nothing personal. It just looked so funny watching someone express the truth that they didn’t know. The truth of a future they’ll never inhabit. It’s like his mind was bouncing off a wall, you see what I mean? So I apologize, okay? You can tell him that. I understand what it must be like, coming to the end of your life and realizing how it’s all been deception. When it’s too late to do anything about it.

Now if it’s all right with you, I just want a few minutes with my friends. I just want to go where we don’t need to be always explaining everything, where everybody understands.

Okay? And would you mind closing the door, please, as you leave?door-handle-instal-010

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