When I look out upon the landscape of internet thought, and everything around me seems to make perfect sense while simultaneously being perfectly confusing to the people I’m talking to, I get frustrated. If you’re just now encountering the sensemaking crisis as it pertains to the Covid-19 Ivermectin argument, or the masks argument, or MAGA, or Wokeness, or QAnon, or similar, you don’t have the appropriate priors to make sense of that particular space because you don’t realize it’s happening in all spaces simultaneously. Let’s try and get you up to date.
The HWFO analysis toolkit leans heavily on understanding how clickbait outrage porn media incentives create false pictures of the world in our virtual spaces. But this is just one element of the fabric of the tapestry of 21st century society. The emergent patterns in the fabric are even more important to understand because these emergent patterns are what impact our actual lives. To understand these, we’re going to coin a new (to us) term, tie this term back to prior writing and media appearances, and forge ahead with a clearer picture of this new reality in which we find ourselves.
We begin this thought experiment with something we all use ubiquitously.
When I was a kid, every new driver learned how to use a road atlas. Kids These Days (get off my lawn!) have never even seen a road atlas, but they were essential for life in the 1990s and prior. They look like this.
Everyone had a local road atlas under the passenger seat of their car, and a wad of state road maps they’d picked up at Interstate Welcome Centers crammed under their driver’s seat. With these tools, and occasional scraps of paper with hand scrawled directions like ancient Sumerian spell scrolls, you could get anywhere you needed to go. Smartphones nuked these. Google now does all this navigation for us. But the impact on our brains of the smartphones nuking the road atlas isn’t often discussed, even though it’s such a pervasive thing that it has affected almost every single person of any age bracket in the entire country.
I’m a civil engineer. Part of my job is literally making maps. And not even I use a road atlas anymore. My phone does it for me. When I moved in October of last year, I used my phone to navigate everywhere, and one curious thing I discovered was I didn’t know any of the street names around my new home for months. It’s been over a year, and I still probably only know four or five street names. I can’t even speak intelligently with my neighbors about where stores and such are because I still haven’t learned the names of the streets. Google has completely dried up that portion of my brain that used to be dedicated to automobile navigation. I have outsourced a portion of my very thought processes themselves to my phone. Let’s say that sentence again to be very clear.
I have outsourced a portion of my very thought processes themselves to my phone.
It would be the height of arrogance to think that this region of my mental capacity, road navigation, was the only portion of my thought processes affected by the smartphone. And it would be even more ignorant to presume that some people in the country haven’t outsourced even more of their thought processes to their phones than I have.
We’ve spent a lot of time on HWFO talking about how “cultures” are fundamentally nested layers of behavioral indoctrination scripts which guide groups of people into similar behaviors. They’re road maps of what constitutes appropriate behavior. The Bible, the Koran, the Boy Scout Handbook, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and The Constitution are road atlases, but they’re not the only ones. When you attend a traditional southern cotillion class to learn dancing and etiquette, this is a road map. Grade school is a road map. Youth sports are a road map. Disney movies are a road map. Mix these all up and you have a mental map of appropriate behavior, the fundamentals of a culture. Traditionally these didn’t change very often, and when they did change, they changed on the time scale of an occasional Council of Nicea, a foreign genocidal invasion, or at most a new column from Mrs. Manners.
We’re building a hell of a lot of roads these days, and anyone going by the 1990s road navigation method would have to get an updated road atlas every few years. One of the greatest advantages of Google Maps is that it updates on the feed, so quickly in fact it can tell you where the accidents, traffic jams, and cops are. This feed update mechanism is simply too useful to live without. What we’re seeing with 21st century cultures, is that the culture portions of our brains have also been outsourced to the smartphone, and the cultures are updating as fast as Google Maps is. Google Maps is updated based on data about reality. Cultures, being purely social constructs, are not.
The fundamental requisite property of any successful culture is that it wars with other cultures to rub them out and propagate itself within the net available white space within the brains of mankind. If it did not have that fundamental requisite property, it would have been rubbed out by now by other cultures that did. This may transpire at sword point, or by mass institutional rape, or by hijacking a prior culture virally and overwriting it, or by meticulously replacing teachers within the education system, or by infiltrating the censorship department at Twitter. Innumerable vectors exist for cultural propagation, and each vector must by its very nature overwrite, replace, and destroy an opposing culture. The Kulturkampf is immemorial and perpetual, but prior phases of it were still marked by one relatively fixed culture attempting to rub out another relatively fixed culture. And humans are not the actors in this war. Humans are the tools of the culture, not the other way around. We are merely the weapons, wielded by an entity that exists at a level of abstraction one level up from us.
In a podcast about the nature of the emergent Woke Religion, Jim Rutt and I discussed a concept he and some of his closer thinkers call a “memespace entity.” A bundle of indoctrinated beliefs that propagates through the new universe we call the internet. These cultural seeds, mind viruses, avatars of groupthink, arise from likeminded thinkers connecting virtually and expanding upon them. Like a snowflake, they form around a nucleus, and like an avalanche they wipe out everything downhill of them. A group of people meditating on a concept gives rise to an avatar of that concept which then controls them as its tool. The Pope does not control Christianity, it controls him.
This is an egregore.
The concept of the “egregore” traces its roots back to eastern and western occultism, the Book of Enoch, the Rosicrucians, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Cultists. Magic users. When a group of like-minded people come together and their group behavior gives rise to an entity of higher order than they, a conceptual demon materializes and wields the group to do the demon’s bidding. I knew a fellow a while back named Al, who was deep into the Ordo Templi Orientis, a modern offshoot of Aleister Crowley’s Order of the Golden Dawn. When Al spoke of demons he spoke in these terms. He considered the modern American criminal justice system to be a demon. I lost touch with Al a few years back. I would describe him as at least half crazy, but his insights were profound.
I have never, nor will I ever, participate in the occult, because I consider it to be either so inconsequential as to be a waste of time, or so consequential that it’s infinitely dangerous. But it occurs to me that in these virtual spaces all of mankind is participating in it. Unwittingly.
Our mental model of the world is based on our sensorium. The smartphones are absorbing our lives, transferring our experiences inside them. The smartphone users outsource the ‘morality’ portion of their brains to their phones. The world inside the smartphone is crafted by media feeds tailored to create clickbait outrage porn because that’s what pays the bills. The outrage porn builds a platform for culture war. The fertile culture war soil creates space for egregores. The egregores assume control of the smartphone addicts, using them as NPC tools to propagate themselves. The egregores constantly evolve to combat each other because they can update themselves on the feed. The Kurzweil Singularity has already happened, and you’re already a cog in it.
And nobody’s noticed, because we’re all just neurons in the artificial neural network we created, and call “social media.”
Now you’re up to date.
Apply the lesson to anything going on that doesn’t make sense to you, and your understanding of it will become crystal clear.
I've definitely reflected on how the phone/map has caused me to become generally less oriented. I lived in LA for 25 years and started my time there using one of the road atlases (the local there was called the Thomas Guide). You definitely learned where things were. You had to. I moved to a new city 7 years ago, post smartphone. Not only do I not know the streets, but I don't even know most of the neighborhoods and suburbs around this city. And that's after 7 year. About the only thing I can find without the phone is the grocery store, the airport and work, haha.
Another thing we've forgotten is phone numbers. When I was a kid, you'd memorize at least 100 or so. Now, I couldn't even tell you my kids' phone numbers. The only ones I still remember are some of the pre-smartphone numbers, even the one at our house growing up. Strange how those things become imprinted.
But, I do no social media. A comments section like this is as close as I get. Well, this and Discord, haha.
I'm reading this in late March of 2023, the day, incidentally that Donald Trump was indicated for some as-yet to be revealed crime against humanity, like paying a stripper to keep her mouth and her legs shut. We have entered the undiscovered country, and here be dragons. Anyone under 45 is particularly susceptible to the dangers of the world described in this piece. Those of us who still refer to, or even prefer, the old ways of knowing have been inoculated against these dangers and dragons, but inevitably we will die out. Hopefully those who have come after us won't hasten the process. Thanks for a thoughtful piece.