The Future Is Disgusting
(This is a draft chapter from my first book, currently under construction. Learn more, and help me make it to the finish line, at Patreon.com/MichaelGarfield.)
I have this habit with my partner of saying something cute is “gross.”
I don’t like that I do it; it’s hipster nonsense; irony is played out, but I do it anyway because I’m of a generation and a demographic that avoids the vulnerability of being dominated by a kitten.
Like, we love it and we hate it — or, she loves it, and I hate it, and I hate that I “hate” it, and so on forever in a hall of Jewish mirrors. It’s neurosis. I have read about “attachment theory” and I recognize “ambivalent” behavior.
(Now, it’s also true that “I” am sometimes also cognizant of how “I” am an interference pattern that appears when junior brain motifs compete for glucose and assemble continuity from constant overwhelming input, to extract a simple story that explains it all. So take this with a grain of salt.)
The point is that I’ve taken to declaring cute things are “disgusting,” “foul,” “unspeakable,” and most of all “gross.” That’s the pretext.
I forgot this was an inside joke. I played a concert and in between songs, when I had to tune and rant, I said some words about how all of us are turning into wizards, witches, and whatever as technology eliminates the gap between ideas and manifest creations. How we have to check ourselves and take a look at what we want and why, because it easily could go the way of ayahuasca shamans in the Amazon, just tagging one another with our psychic darts and constant management of grudges and the power games that come when we can fake recordings of each other and destroy our group reality (at least, more rapidly, on average, than we can agree, and thus repair the damage — quicker to disseminate a hoax than to debunk it).
So, a fellow in the audience came up to me when I was done, and said how he appreciated what I’d said up there – how nuts it is to think about how easy it will be one day to make things just by thinking them.
And I said, “Gross.” As in, I nodded in agreement, gave the widened eyes of affirmation, and expected humorous acknowledgement that some things, though transcendent in their boundary-relaxing, are indeed gross: thoughts of writing DNA like poetry and body as the living script of inspiration, iterating Godmind constantly unspooling and inventing, rediscovering itself in forms that totally trans-form within the generations, speciation miniaturized within what moderns would have called “a single lifetime,” flesh illuminated, self-aware, beyond the simple dyads and their dead-end logic, runaway reaction of a million burning eyes unfolding, growing to observe itself from every angle, mist of tiny branches, always making love.
Is that not gross? I keep thinking of the petty things we’ll do to one another as we master engineering genomes, and communicate in biohacks.
We’re past the age of drawing dicks on someone’s face when they’re asleep. now, if they fall asleep with shoes on at your place, you nick them with a retrovirus on the cheek that grows a dick. We’ll all have nanobots we have to screen with parallel immune defender nanobots that team up with our T-cells and can literally eat that dick before it happens.
You’ll know when someone’s payment didn’t make it through because they’ll have all kinds of logos, trial-basis mods, and memory “enhancements” that they didn’t order. We’ll be carriers, the lot of us, and interracial romance in between inoculated cityfolk and wild-type humanity results in cancers, prank “extensions,” telepathic implants leaking data back to who knows…it’s enough to keep two populations separate, and to star-cross lovers who don’t share an anti-virus update schedule. Gross, indeed.
It’s hard enough for people to adjust to tentacles and shit at work. Now, we’ve been gamers for a while now, for generations, and we’re all accustomed to the avatar-as-pseudonym-and-masquerade of multiple identities that fork out and articulate a total person. Cosplay ate the world as imitation was democratized and any of us could be anyone convincingly enough to make it meaningful (if not believable).
To remix totally new spectra of expression into speech by sampling or straight forging someone else’s voice? Or several in a row, or all at once? To be a choir of recognizable identities to get a point across, suggesting rhymes in history, establishing now as a movement in a larger movement in the Song Too Big To Hear? Yeah, we got used to LARPing. It became the everyday. Like, you have no idea. But this all makes me feel conservative.
The future’s more disgusting every time I think about it. Yeah, the present’s gross if you’re a centenarian: the septum piercings and the butt plugs and the biometric data stored on phones; the first three-parent children born to married gays, etc. It used to be the case that nobody was forced to actually live through so much change, so I forgive my elders their completely reasonable future shock: my grandpa’s choice to never set up email, and his stubborn (or just possibly invisible, and therefore permanent) mid-Century beliefs about drugs, women, music, and so on.
But I already feel like I am out of date at thirty-three, imagining into a future in which my own kids communicate subvocal silent messages through temporary neck tattoos that read the muscles of their throats and sext through light-field images projected on their retinas across encrypted mesh networks.
And I don’t even notice, cuz I’m busy testing artificial antibodies on the CRISPR gene drive that transformed my skin into a checkerboard, and/or distracted by the neural-lace-conducted orgasms my wife keeps tweeting me as a reward for helping out at work this week. I’m furious with her about it, but she thinks it’s funny, so I’m pulling up the documents that show a legal precedent for nonconsensual erotic pleasure as a violation of the standard smart contract between two or more intimate adults — half joking, and half serious, as in, “Don’t test me, or — OOOH! — I’ll take this — OHHH! — all the way to — OH MY GOD!” Not fun.
These visions keep me up at night. I guess that I’m old-fashioned, cuz who doesn’t love more orgasms? But just cuz always craving sugar helped us in our prehistoric life does not mean that convenience stores are good for us; and satisfying every base desire only scatters us into degenerate and hungry ghosts; and when the day comes I can think a climax into somebody a thousand miles away, how am I going to stop myself?
After all — let’s face it — I was probably, if not the one responsible, then alpha testing, that new “grow-a-dick” brand overnight erogenous expansion kit. I’m not a Luddite; I prefer to keep it wetware if I can, don’t trust the wireless transmissions, flesh is messy but at least you won’t irradiate your junk this way. (Remind me how they talked me into Neural Lace, again?)
In 2017, we’re all congratulating one another on our sensitivity to gender politics, religion, race, etc., but we have not seen anything yet. Have a problem with designer babies? You’re no better than the 1900s European man afraid some African, with jazz and marihuana, would entrap your wife. “But how will we compete against them?” Why must we compete at all? It’s not like mutants’ gonna take our jobs. We’re all just universal basic income sucklers getting played by automated ecosystems; we’re in this together, doesn’t matter if you’re ten- or twenty-fingered, if you fly, or what. Wyoming was the first state in America to give its women voting power, cuz they otherwise did not have numbers necessary for induction as a state; and likewise, our initial xenophobia will probably subside so we can claim “humanity” and solidarity against Team Robot.
That said, let’s not breeze past the most awkward office decade ever — there is TONS of gross in there: “Please keep this helmet on while at your desk to optimize your flow state with transcranial magnetic stimulation,” forced enlightenment as triage in the growing entropy of workplace time sucked into Facebook and a Cambrian Explosion of evolving, ever-smarter traps for our attention. As machines become more lifelike, we become mechanical — the only way to live together, and a consequence of coexistence, á la “Pets who look exactly like their owners.”
So, expect compulsory RFID implants for automatic micropayments, proteomics-tailored vitamins to optimize efficiency, and mind-linked working groups that move as one across a Bluetooth network, less the synchrony of Lawrence Whelk’s aquatic dancers, more the chilling unison of drone armadas puppeteering personnel. In Capitalist post-America, MACHINE drives YOU! And that means being, partially, the dude with gills who works across from you. You’d better get real used to merfolk, fast.
This planet doesn’t have much room for racists anymore — except, of course, among the countless dropouts living in their atavistic villages, invisible to the economy, their 3D printed homes and solar-powered modesty more Amish every day when held up to the kind of living meat house I designed to be my legal guardian as soon as it’s online — a house that stores my data exhalations as a copy of me, runs me faster than I run myself, and tells me why I would regret one path against another, eats the air and shits my dinner, brews me beer and psychedelics in a bubbling alcove, calls me by my secret name. That shit is gross.
The part of me anticipating this is also really pumped about rewiring the homunculus to code erotic mirror-touch sensations into me for when I see somebody touch their elbow. That is, there’s a million novel kinks to come, and maybe that outweighs the sheer revulsion of abandoning our clean, hygienic modern lives in favor of a world in which an algorithm offers you an IT relocation like you are a fecal transplant for the necessary helmet-wearing shitwork in the Deep Web’s lower colon…
Another way the future’s gross: consider, for a moment, finding out that you’re a simulation. This goes one of two ways: either you’re okay with it, or you are not. Most likely, you’re okay with it, because you were selected as the side-load made from multiple successive brain (and later, body) scans, a fossil so precise it has a heartbeat, scintillating, of a person or a group of people who were cool with waking up to find their body and, in fact, their whole reality is crunched on sleek black silent shining drives arranged in layered flowers, radiating clear and boiling heat — not human forms in pods, tube-violated but prepared for disengagement; but a single monolith, a solid state device, a matter hologram arranging q-bits by the tonne. There isn’t any getting out of matrices like that — there’s no way to become not-flower, save by fully owning flower-dom, becoming a black hole, and wresting free some weight of server space to simulate a different universe. You couldn’t get away, but that’s okay to you.
Of course, the future will be gross because the future is (although in ways that we find hard to accurately guess) just more of what’s already true. And so we amplify the present in our speculative fictions, and they ultimately tell us more about ourselves than they say anything important of “tomorrow.” But it’s also true that some of us are sensitive to subtle emanations of events that haven’t happened yet, and prophesy cannot be isolated cleanly from prediction.
All of this just leads to chicken/egg conundrums, like the bicycle that travels back in time to lead to the invention of the uninvented and eternal bicycle, or whether the discovery of Utahraptor during post-production of Jurassic Park meant Steven Spielberg really sent a “chrononaut” to the Cretaceous Period to plant a fossil validating his decision to revise Velociraptor as a man-sized beast instead of killer turkey:
Really: are discoveries discovered, or created? If created, then we have a very intimate relationship with facts, far more so than the dry and distant body-mind duality of revolutionary France and most of science over the last couple hundred years. If thoughts — collectively, at least — can aggregate to steer the timeline into likelier realities; if each of us is running as a node in some vast, not-exactly-democratic computation of the world; then there is no such thing as hygiene, cuz forget it: there is no “in here” to guard against infected undesirable potentials, no immune defense against your karma. If you are entangled on the quantum level with the rest of everything, then all of us are implicated in an epidemic of becoming; fundamentalists are right and sin’s original, cuz all of us have quantum cooties, as there’s only one thing happening, and good luck trying to detach yourself from anything, no matter how bizarrely other.
Even if we aren’t swept up into some all-embracing Eschaton that unifies all beings in a Cosmic Internet to wake up as the Mind of God, our boundaries are all already deeply doubtful. So I can guarantee you (waves at crystal ball) that the future will be gross, because the present’s gross. There’s no getting off the planet to escape into some liberated sterile vision of utopia: that spaceship will be necessarily alive with germs, because we need them; even scanning human beings into a computer doesn’t free us from the noble truth of bugs and viruses and constant upkeep in the face of entropy. We all decay, in one way or another, further challenging “hand-sanitizer mind” and other-such soon-pathological pastimes of modern people stuck believing there is such a thing as finally and truly clean.
The brain of a koala has no folds; those things are dumb, and humans with our many-folded brains much smarter, so projecting on this line of reasoning it’s safe, I think, to say the future’s folded in upon itself a lot, and folding brings things into contact with each other — things like plutocrats and homeless people, tantric sex and Bluetooth butt plugs, public/private, aliens and lovers. It will likely be a primary concern of those be-tentacled, brain-chipped, half-living-in-the-cloud descendants of ours, this accelerating issue of hygienic living in a world where everything is hackable.
We’ll all grow (metaphorical, at least at first) new sets of eyes to watch our back doors, and we will obsess about them, like my dad who spends vacations checking in on his live video security feeds of his empty house. Oh good, it’s still there! Gotta have that sweet, sweet agency to feel like we have any say at all about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. No, we’re all one thing that suffers from an auto-immune problem, God allergic to itself, a dog that snarls at its own leg, a parasite excited to set up inside its own intestines.
You had best believe the future isn’t getting any cleaner; it might seem that way in certain places, though as we devise new strategies for sorting matter, like A/C and home air purifiers that just outboard entropy. All fingers plugging leaks.
The future that I want, the only future I believe worth living in, is full of love — and love is all about relaxing boundaries. Erupting into our Italian gardens, smashing manicured taxonomies, and popping our extropian illusions of a better life beyond constraints, love is the greatest trickster that reveals distinctions in imagined unity and unifies apparent opposites, to hell with definitions; it is time for you to learn.
And that ensures the future will be positively gross, because as every set of paired antitheses resolves within the immanent-transcendent whole appearing as the herald of another era, nemeses are written into myth together; warring faiths combine their efforts to create economies; and everything you loathe today is indispensably a part of who you are, in truth, and who you could become if you survive and live receptive to the gnarly lessons of reflection offered up to you by love.
Someday all you hate will lose its charge within a greater truth — which, in a way, is even worse than knowing it will just persist. No: it becomes a part of you, and therefore worthy of your love; you learn to dig the things you feared; your brain adapts to shifting norms; we really are remarkable in our plasticity, and you’ll regard you-reading-now as hopelessly naïve, and small, and understandable, for all your ignorances are enshrined and glow within as relics of the origin of that more terrible and beautiful, awake and all-embracing thing you are.
A timeline long enough might bring us all together, cop and criminal, to fold within as saints within cupolas of the all-cathedral we become — but that’s precisely Borg enough to gross most living humans out completely. And they aren’t wrong — Lucifer is all about that unity, erotic transformation, liberation from the prison of the body and biography, all-wanting, all-consuming. Asking for this cosmic love to manifest in time requires sacrificing everything dear.
But wait. Back up. Because it all sounds overwhelming, but in practice these invasions, miracles, transgressions come to culture as seduction, as convenience, as entertainment. All of this is motivated by a pure-enough desire: the urge to merge; the drive for intimacy; longing; romance. Fiber optic cables stretch across the ocean floor like reaching tentacles, desiring a connection. Satellites spray into orbit just like coral launching sperm beneath the Full Moon, all of Earth a reef in Sagan’s “Cosmic Ocean.” Every new-model phone is faster, higher-bandwidth, because language doesn’t cut it; we would like to really “Reach Out And Touch Someone.”
The only way that’s going to happen is by actually happening, a congress of anatomy and not just copied/integrated data sets. We will not trade the flesh for the empyrean completely, cuz the flesh is higher resolution. Matter matters. It’s agape: yearning to embrace it all. It’s tantric, stretching until map and territory overlap completely, sync, and disappear into each other, the mysterious terrain of our entirely embodied consciousness transcendent nonetheless. It Just Makes Sense!
To know, to be, to love the world entirely — that core eroticism’s fundamental to all entities that reproduce with sex. Delicious otherness? The Best! So why would we not try to take this to its logical conclusion and tilt history towards being everyone in bed? Both lovers knowing both sides of the mess.
The tools that let us feel (key word, exciting epicurean desire, restoring sensuous delight to the position of prime motivator for the evolutionary process, every mating act an act of agency, experienced) — those tools will charge with magical significance to the extent they let us out of our own self-constructed selves, the envelope or Hell or temple of our isolation, and connect. This really all boils down to that same need to share — a sunset or a peach, a great idea, a bed — and phones just do not do this (well enough) yet.