Dennis Goodwin + Writing + Art

Death-as-a-Technology

by Dennis Goodwin

Among all the n-dimensional terrains of scales a civilization can traverse, one deeply entangled with all the others but relatively unremarked upon is the scale from possibility to impossibility.

The material capability of society can be moving in any direction, but the perception of possibility to impossibility is not necessarily correlated. Many societies believed in possibilities outside their material capability, but ours seems to have impossibility inside material abundance.

But implicit in this is the assumption that possibility and material capability are correlated at all—are they? We tend to have a filthy habit of trusting technology to enact societal change, when the social adoption of, and adaptation to, such technology significantly lags its invention; the pace of technology accelerates but our brains are still operating on the same efficiency of gray matter as always.

Then is there an inverse function relating material progress to psychological impossibility? Does material progress subvert all possibility infrastructure into its own perpetuation?

That void between the outer bounds of material progress and the limits of possibility is the necrocracy: the consensus of the institutional organs controlling the material realm that they cannot fail or die, no matter whether or not they still serve the original purpose of their existence. Its political magic is to bend its inhabitants into being willing and unwilling necromancers suspending its animation.

The necrocracy is defined by the rot of immortal institutions, the worship of symbols, distributed capitulation, weaponization of dissent, performative absurdity, high costs of defection, and progressive historiography (things could only be this way!). It meshes as well with capitalist democracy as feudal theocracy. Its primary policy is not control, which it has given up long ago, but stasis. The necrocracy survives on the manufacture of impossibility.

If the necrocratic negative space between material progress and possibility lends its distinctive taste to our present timefeel, should not the human spirit continually be at work expanding the limits of possibility? What is the psychology necessary to living in our present, and if we evidently don’t possess it, how might we obtain it?

The primary technology deployed by nature to encourage possibility is death. In a necrocracy, death is unthinkable. All intellectual thought bred by its institutions will justify death’s abolition. Of course, for individuals, death still persists: players come and go, but the game is eternal. But it is that individual, lonely death that is hidden as much as possible in hospitals, nursing homes, funeral parlors, euphemisms, narratives of progress. But if you are going to abolish death you need to invent its humane replacement. We need other societal mechanisms to simulate death and creative rebirth.

This is Death-as-a-Technology (DaaT). How can we extract the beneficial outcomes of death without its density, its finality? How can the limits of our existence inspire us to divine tools for replacing them? How can we rapture all players into games themselves?

A modest proposal for a new DaaT is the self-detonating organization (S-DO). The S-DO has a goal. It could be quantifiable or qualifiable, but fundamentally should be falsifiable: there is an obvious condition under which it fails. Time may be a simple such condition. If it reaches its goal, it’s disbanded. If it doesn’t reach its goal, it’s disbanded. The members of the S-DO are free to reaffiliate but should avoid having exactly the same goal. The goal in its formulation should be specific enough not to be repeatable. The details aren’t terribly important, as there may be many interpretations of S-DO, as long as they indeed self-detonate.

Like the suicide bomber or the self-immolating priest, the S-DO solidifies lingering ambiguity into an event, a seizure of the means of the present. And rather than losing information, it crystallizes it into its record of ritual death and birth. Such explosions contrast with the eventlessness of the necrocracy: like SSRIs that suppress ejaculation, revolutions are dispersed into the futile thrusting of crises.

Each DaaT should not be a utopian rescoping of society in the style of so many 20th century failures, but rather a basic building block of a new life that can act as catalysts to form more utopian situations. Perhaps we may mint a utopian chemistry, joyful with both innocence and terror.

The S-DO should revive the spirit of those who first formed libraries, universities, joint stock corporations, those who eked out a meaningful existence under various historical necrocracies. Such a secular system may possess something spiritually in common with sunset laws, pixel farming, negative income tax, baby bonds, blogging, Sci-Hub, garden design, terraforming, Patreon, maverick funds, mutual aid societies, refactoring, Substack, plastic-eating bacteria, carbon vacuums, coral reefs, unaccredited schools, maintenance and mutualism. There is no need for complete destruction; the DaaT is a healthy addition to the intellectual biome, re-kickstarting the process of evolution. The point of the DaaT contra the necrocracy is not its death, but the fact that it can be born at all.

Time is the virus. It is the unit of accumulation, spamming copies of itself far beyond the day it reaches stable symbiosis with its host. The collapse of time and space into a singular concept more often sacrifices the terra incognita of space for the linear clockwork of time. Time is in fact quite spacious. It is, to borrow a brilliant coinage from sports, an events arena: the hypersurface of simultaneity. The past was its own present and the future will be too. We are children in our time.

September 2020