Tech philosopher, thinker and cultural provocateur Ken “R.U. Sirous” Goffman considers the necessity of the Trickster in the march toward the Singularity.
Once home, I decided to finally watch I’m Still Here — the Casey Affleck film documenting Joaquin Phoenix’ supposed attempt to leave behind his acting career to become a rap star. Fat; with long uncombed hair and scraggly beard, dressed like a particularly disheveled street person — throughout the film, Phoenix, along with some of his “handlers,” displays a full repertoire of coarse, vulgar, moronic human behaviors as he tries to pursue his new career. He also appears in onstage performances, rapping… badly. Various media commentators suspect that it’s a hoax, but Phoenix remains in character. He puts Ben Stiller — trying to get Phoenix to consider a script — through the ringer. He acts pathetic and nuts in a famous Letterman appearance. He’s trying to get Sean Combs to produce a rap album for him.
Watching this film — unsure myself whether the whole thing was a bit of Andy Kaufman-like performance art; a genuine descent into madness; or both (I was leaning towards both) — and seeing how the various players tried to navigate how to respond given that they were experiencing the same uncertainty that I was — I was struck by the wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels multiple strange loopy character of the thing that I was not only witnessing but participating in by being engaged in confusion. And I was struck by how many layers of uncertainly could emerge out of very stupid behaviors — behaviors, incidentally, that would likely hold little interest to a proper singularitarian; and all of it done for absolutely no rational purpose other than to fuck with people’s heads. For what? To improve them? To teach them something? No. Just to see what happens.
The apex of this entertaining goof is reached when Phoenix and a Partner-In-Trick get a meeting with Sean “Puffy” Combs at his studio. As Phoenix plays some terrible homemade rap recordings for him, we get to watch Combs try to navigate his way through the thicket of possibilities:
1: that he’s being fucked with
2: that Phoenix — acting like a desperately crazed but sincere rap lover — might be earnest and might need help.
3: that Phoenix might have enough money to pay him well to produce his train wreck of a rap career.
4: that the camera is recording him in a situation in which he has no clue as to how to respond and how to maintain his very non-ironic, one dimensional, cool, public persona.
Combs’ face and body language show his utter bafflement in this situation — his codes have been so scrambled that they could never be decrypted because there’s nothing there. He’s been blown into empty space, unable to respond to the stimuli at hand; but still he maintains a slightly gruff but agreeable facade.
Finally, we see Phoenix wandering in an apparent daze through some woods and then diving into a lake. At the end, we see him swimming underwater. In context, after this layer cake of weird loops and inappropriate dumb behaviors, the moment is evocative. Evocative of what exactly? Nothing, exactly. Just evocative.
As I prepared for sleep, I suddenly realized I couldn’t really remember a fucking thing I heard at the Singularity Summit. Funny thing… I don’t even think the movie is all that good.
I’ve been sort of playing around with the concept — “Steal This Singularity” — for several months now. Prior to attending Singularity Summit 2012, I was thinking about it in political terms. Letting “singularity” represent, essentially, a buzz word for a future radically transformed by technology, my “Steal This Singularity” notion was simply that the transhuman future should not be dominated by big capital and/or authoritarian government; and that — contrary to the reassurances of many glib futurists — this requires some intentionality, both in terms of programming and activism. The technology doesn’t insure this by its very nature. And the current general trend in this regard is not positive, but extremely ambiguous at best. But I’ll save that for another essay.