ID Musics: Autumnal Melancholy III + IV
Crusty doom metal, Cure bootlegs, goth dub, and Zen anarchist poetry as refutations of longtermism
start listening to ID Music 20221021 here, or scroll down for download links, streams, and setlists
cw: There is brief mention of the poet Lew Welch’s probable suicide
This year’s Autumnal Melancholy seriesdidn’t start out as a reaction to the emergent ideology of “longtermism,” but as the strange and sinister philosophy’s profile grew over the course of the month, it served as a useful foil. The Autumnal Melancholy series isn’t too far removed from our usual weekly fare, but there is more of a focus on celebrating our finite nature in harmony with the Northern Hemisphere’s season of rot and ruination. This is not what longtermism is about.
Longtermism falls under a very broad category of supposedly “new” ideas that propose often counterintuitive solutions to contemporary problems. In this way it’s part of a long history of Silicon Valley intellectualism where “there is no absolute moral evil that cannot be playfully reframed on irrelevant grounds as a net historical good.”
I am happy to refer you to the work of philosopher Émile P. Torres for a more thorough analysis of effective altruism and longtermism in both its moderate and radical configurations. Torres does an excellent – and often very entertaining! – job of criticizing longtermism on ethical and political grounds in their writing, on podcastinterviews, and in running commentary on Twitter. As they write in “What the Sam Bankman-Fried debacle can teach us about ‘longtermism’”:
[Radical longtermism] combines what can only be described as a techno-utopian vision of the future, in which humanity creates astronomical amounts of value by colonizing space and simulating vast numbers of digital people, with a broadly utilitarian mode of moral reasoning. Over and over again throughout history, the combination of these two ingredients — utopianism and the belief that ends justify the means — has been disastrous.
My thoughts on the matter are from my usual slop-style Zen perspective, but Torres’ writing helped me to feel more confident about my gut-level reaction to longtermism’s bad vibes. Confirming that the vibes are bad is important for me, as the vibes often feel bad when I can’t figure out what’s going on, or when the conversation stops making sense. But as with crypto-fascist metal bands or fascist crypto maga bros, sometimes the conversation is confusing because there’s something else going on.
In this case, it’s that radical longtermism’s wacky ideas about “what we owe the future” are, as Torres repeatedly argues, a distraction from what wealthy and powerful individual organizations owe “the now.” And not the long now, but the only now there is: the “now” now that’s happening right now. One can get caught up in the intentionally convoluted and counterintuitive argument that by making lots of money by doing ethically questionable or downright evil work and then giving that money to charity is the most effective way to do the most good. Or you can fall back on Douglas Rushkoff’s one-line refutationof this type of thinking:
“If you’re not doing it in the moment, you’re not doing it.”
The Autumnal Melancholy series of broadcasts is about an acceptance of death as an essential part of being alive. Like so many other supposedly new philosophies and ideas, longtermism and the ideas in its orbit are attempts to reject death. This includes the usually probably very racist pronatalism of Silicon Valley d*ckheads like Elon Musk, as well as the less sinister but still not helpful concern about extending “the light of [human] consciousness” beyond Earth.
As another commentator on a more controversial podcastrecently observed, “this is all part of the same phenomenon of the wealthy becoming able to detach themselves completely from any structures [capable] of disciplining them, from any value beyond their specific mind. That’s why they want to be immortal, literally like the life extension guys. Or they want to have a zillion kids ‘cause they think their genes are going to be pan-spermic and re-colonize the entire galaxy. That’s it. It’s the same as the apocalyptic religious drive. All of it is a fear of death. Which is what happens when you have no consciousness of anyone outside yourself. Nobody else but you is real. And that is how these people live. It’s increasingly how we’re all being bred to live. But because of them being where they are, and the lives they live … the profound disconnection that defines every moment of their life … they are completely detached.”
Effective altruism and its descendent concepts are more or less the antithesis of my Zen practice. As always, these are things that I’ve taken from Zen that work for me: your mileage may vary. But at best these ideas rely on the hope that doing amoral, unethical, or downright evil deeds now can lead to less suffering in the far future. And like many skeptics, I believe that most people in the effective altruism community are looking to rationalize their wildly disproportionate and wholly undeserved amounts of wealth and power. “Hope is part of the problem,” as David Golumbia wrote about crypto – long before crypto revealed its innately fascist roots and then collapsed like everyone who wasn’t in on the grift predicted.
But even more importantly than that, effective altruism, life extension, and pronatalism are – as the aforementioned commentator rightly observed – about trying to avoid death. This is where we return – once again – to Lewis Richmond and his restatement of Buddhism’s traditional Three Marks of Existence:
I don’t think I would have expressed the truth of suffering as “you are not alone” before my illnesses, but now I find that talking about it that way gets at something important. The fact that we all suffer means we are all in the same boat, and that’s what allows us to feel compassion.
To strive toward the impossible goal of separating oneself from death is to deny one’s connection to humanity, and to everything else in the universe. To suggest that you don’t suffer like everyone else is to deny your connection, and to deny compassion. These ideas are all deeply imbued with the sort of binary thinking that gives rise to suffering in the first place. It is the opposite of Richmond’s concise mantra that “Everything is connected; nothing lasts; you are not alone.”
It is “I am separate; I can last forever; I am alone.”
start listening to ID Music 20221028 here, or scroll down for download links, streams, and setlists
That’s why I return to Gary Snyder’s “They Are Listening” every year for the Autumnal Melancholy series.
As the crickets' soft autumn hum is to us,
so are we to the trees.
As are they to the rocks and the hills.
The poem’s backstory only gives it added weight. This is transcribed from a 2011 interview with Snyder from Wisconsin Public Radio, as archived by Modern American Poetry:
Somebody gave this the title 'They are listening," I didn't title it initially. So the poet who disappeared and committed suicide, I mean probably [committed suicide], Lew Welch and I were sitting by a campfire one night in summer up in my place in the mountains, back in the early '70s. And taking our time, chatting with each other and not saying much. And then he said to me, "Gary do you think the trees pay any attention to the human beings?" And I said gee, Lou, I'm not sure. What are you driving at? And he said "us human beings we're just passing through." So I took that little thing which I loved and made a little poem of three stages ... of time scale.
“And we forget that,” the interviewer replies. “I mean we so often think that we are somehow [the] central story of this world, and maybe we're just a blip.”
This year I got hung up on Snyder’s aside that his friend who titled the poem disappeared and “probably committed suicide.” After a little digging, I found this explanation in Ring of Bone, a collection of Welch’s poetry:
Despite his burgeoning success, Welch's bouts with depression and heavy drinking continued. After the breakup of another relationship in 1971 Welch returned to the mountains. On May 23, 1971, Gary Snyder went up to Welch's campsite and found a suicide note in Welch's truck. Despite an extensive search, Welch's body was never recovered.
As terribly sad as this story is, it’s a bittersweet embodiment of the ideas in Snyder’s poem. Maybe there is no story, and it’s all just a blip. We are all just passing through: the hills, rocks, trees, and crickets. Or as fellow anarchist Ursula K Le Guin put it in The Lathe of Heaven: “The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means.”
Thank you as always for reading, listening, lurking, sharing, subscribing for free, subscribing for money, and even for unsubscribing if these emails aren’t your thing. It’s easy for me to forget this when I’ve spiraled down into the darkness: Your being here is one of the most important reasons that I’m here too. I’m fine now, but you know how it goes.
blessing up and blessing down
If you know anyone who might find value or otherwise enjoy some aspect of Void Contemplation Tactics, please pass it along. It means a lot to me!
My reach is limited on social media, which I’m increasingly convinced is a good thing. As Dōgen's teacher told him, “You don't have to collect many people like clouds. Having many fake practitioners is inferior to having a few genuine practitioners. Choose a small number of true persons of the way and become friends with them.”
ID Music 20221021 – Autumnal Melancholy III
North America's Gnarliest Mix for recognizing that we're all just passing through
For this third installment in our annual Autumnal Melancholy series, we step into the goth/crust overlap, a downpression filled with the glistening loam and wet wet mud that is our home. We'll hear more ritualistic backcountry ambience from Common Eider King Eider, along with songs about frozen tears, empty eyes, rotten leaves, eternal frost, excavated filth from dimensional incarnations, and other reactions to suffering and grief. More vintage Live Cure too.
Gary Snyder continues to keep us company with a counterpoint to the abominations of longtermism: "us human beings, we're just passing through." This archived version is an extended mix exclusive to newsletter subscribers and anyone else who finds it online!
artist – work
Common Eider, King Eider - Sinew Stretched Over Crumbling Bone
Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Am I Demon?
Winter - Eternal Frost
Mother of Graves - The Emptiness of Eyes
Vallenfyre - Splinters
Paradise Lost - Mortals Watch the Day
Agrimonia - Leaves Fall Rotten
Sempiternal Dusk - Excavated Filth from Dimensional Incarnations
Katatonia - Day
The Cure - Faith (Tübingen, DE 19810610)
Common Eider, King Eider - As The Spirits Watch Over Us, We Reciprocate
☸️ Gary Snyder - "They Are Listening"
ID Music 20221028 – Autumnal Melancholy IV
North America's Gnarliest Mix of crickets, trees, rocks, and hills
For this final installment in the 2022 Autumnal Melancholy series, we'll hear an hour of dubwise goth vibrations, unsettling downer folk, bucolic dungeon synth, and saprophytic ambience from Keith Hudson, Unwound, and several different Liz Harris projects. I have some good news if you are like me and and forgot the This Mortal Coil did some amazing dub-informed goth stuff. Plus there’s a long-promised surprise guest appearance (spoilers in the setlist FYI). This one's really good! It’s heavy but mostly existentially.
Gary Snyder joins us one last time with a reading of "They Are Listening," our annual reminder that we're all just passing through, and that shared impermanence is what gives rise to compassion. We'll also find time for more vintage Cure, this time from October 1985 in Cleveland Ohio. This archived version is also an extended mix exclusive to newsletter subscribers and anyone else who finds it online!
artist – work
This Mortal Coil - Thais (Bird of Paradise)
Holy Tongue - Rivers Cannot Wash it Away
Keith Hudson - Darkest Night
Circuit Rider - How Long
timber rattle - bound take
Unwound - Below the Salt
Grouper - I'm Clean Now
Slow Walkers - Wake (edit)
The Cure - A Forest (19851022 Cleveland)
Til Det Bergens Skyggene - Til Det Bergens Skyggene
Boards of Canada - Cold Earth
Cinderella - Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)
☸️ Gary Snyder - "They Are Listening"
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You can find the 2021 series here:
The 2022 series starts here:
Once again pointing to Aaaron Timms’ “How to Become an Intellectual in Silicon Valley”
Tech Won’t Save Us is such a wonderful and surprisingly cheerful critique of the creepy sides of tech-utopianism and other terrible things happening in Silicon Valley and online in general
I remain on the bird site for the time being although my suggestion remains that – as with death metal, The Walking Dead, and additive-free 100% agave tequilas – if you’re not already involved, best to keep it that way. Feel free to DM to follow my locked account if you want to read the notes for future Void Contemplation Tactics newsletters broken into 180-character nuggets.
As heard on the TrueAnon podcast and previously quoted in our previous Autumnal Melancholy issue of Void Contemplation Tactics:
I enjoy Chapo Trap House but as my partner – a lifelong Howard Stern listener – often reminds me, these crude comedy entertainment entities do not ask for our defense, evangelization, or 100% agreement. The commentator in question is Matt Christman, around the 48-minute mark on episode 682 - “Longspermism”:
To quote from Paradise Lost – one of the extraordinarily melodramatic gothic doom metal bands featured on this series of ID Musics – “faith divides us – death unites us.”
We are once again pointing to Lewis Richmond in Tricycle: tricycle.org/magazine/authentic-life/