The scenarios of ecstasy

I.

I heard the other day there were no deaths that could be reliably attributed either to merciless sea bandit Edward Teach, the Blackbeard, or to his crew. His key weapons were instead his fearsome countenance and aura, the nauseating smells and the trembling death-flag of the ship, the noise made by his screaming shipmates and their crude explosives and with time the reputation accrued as a laughing death sentence that set his own beard on fire to prove himself invincible. In other words, Blackbeard operated not by production (by making something appear, namely death and horror) but by seduction — by alluding to an infinite violence that can never be fully realized but nonetheless marshals and effects his quability conditions.

True or not, it’s a good story. Variations of this formula have been long been taught in military schools, from the Winged Hussars of king Bathory to the “inverse urban geometry” of Shimon Naveh. Cruder or heavier methods of warfare (guerillas, the Nagasaki bombing) might appear to have aspects of this, but they work at a lower (quable) level. The key point of a strategy of seduction is not shock or surprise, but throwing the enemy’s tempo out of time, thus making space for your timing  (kairos). More simply put, the point is not that the enemy is overpowered, but that he’s made void. This is how Blackbeard (according to the story) realized (a technical term that means “brought from reality”; too many things are technical terms) his plunder, his chrematistics: by making his victims flee their ships without resistance.

Of course, there had to be something to Blackbeard — this scenario of infinite unrealizable violence doesn’t work if the pirate is actually three suburban kids stacked up inside a trenchcoat. The likelier hypothesis is that the violent existential style of Edward Teach gradually but not linearly rolls him down to piracy seas and shortly after crowns him captain. It’s also likely that there’s a much more delicate balance of power in a pirate ship than in the average farming kingdom, and that Teach stands out for his management skills and for the fear that he strikes in the hearts of men. Blackbeard is then not just captain Edward but a full conspiracy to evoke infinite violence and acquire infinite wealth.

Also: maybe the story isn’t true. This is why the Situation, ambient conditions, axiologies, tempo and kairos are all needed.

II.

Chronos/kyklos/kairos are awkward words; they also have some alternate connotations that collectors of Greek antiquities may bug me about. Kyklos finds a good translation in tempo;  kairos has to do with opportuneness and appropriateness and  “belongingness” — it’s about timing and weather fit for battle. Chronos should be “time”, plainly — which brings the same problem we have with words like “situation”, whose civilian meaning correlates but doesn’t really explain the technical stuff we’re trying to code in SATPLAN. When appropriate (i.e. when kairos, weather permit) we’ll try to use the symbolic term dt.

In short: time flows, tempo clicks, timing happens.

There’s a risk that I’m going to make discussion in parts II and III extremely confusing. I apologize in advance, and note that the blog has had ebbs and flows of intelligibility — maybe we come back to this later in a sweeter version.

Blackbeard is not like any one of us writing or reading this — even for Somali pirates, his Situation is uncognizable. His exploits were so long ago that they don’t even appear in sequence; he effectively appears frozen in one “click” of tempo. Everything is blurry enough that we can see the elbow marks of axiology and only the elbow marks of axiology. But if I want to sit here and weave a tale of infinite riches and expect the reader to believe me, the questions of time and timing/weather become unavoidable. Static value and ecstatic (ek-static, sitting besides itself) axiology are scenarios.

In movies there often are these college dudes smirking with desire while watching two girls who are making out. As per the axioms of desire, what the dudes want is nowhere to be found, it is the objet petit a. Whatever subsymbolic stuff runs through their fantasy isn’t of this timing-weather. There’s no opportunity to join in, only scopophiliac enjoyment in a tempo that’s in sync with the tempo of the apparent object of desire. More wholesomely, often patches of the situation are so “in sync” — so many things whose tempo seems to be synchronous, one with the dt, that the observer may as well feel as if they’re in a music video. More commonly the contrary effect is obtained by listening to music; enough of an openness to the tempo of the Situation and you’ll see the clouds move to what’s on your headphones.

[A magic formula: the Situation is a rhythmic pattern of clicking.]

That, patient readers, is desire and tempoValue and time is harder to analyze; I keep barking that we need to stay abstract, stay on top of the trees not to get lost in the woods, but on its own axiology (not general axiology, which by means of being the most valuable of all axiologies is the general axiology; but then it is an axiology: specific, just impossible to reach) is too generic a concept to Cartesian-multiply. Examples are needed — fierce pirates, homoerotic maidens, Capital.

III.

Many people like to find mysticism in Capital; looking at the mighty works of the Jedi, they theorize midchlorians. But as it turns out, a full metaphysics of Capital-up-to-kairos  has long been available.

Maybe this is an unfamiliar sentence structure;  allow Wikipedia to unroll it for you: “A statement is true up to a condition if the establishment of that condition is the only impediment to the truth of the statement”. A full metaphysics of Capital would be available if the only ambient time conditions were time and tempo. Up to kairos, all captains of Spanish galleons in 1480-1580 were close to infinitely rich. Un-suspend the weather and most ships sink.

But theory is about suspending things, right?

Up to tempo, Capital is the quantitative effect of the force of interest, whose metaphysics is a mathematical theory, fully finalized by Euler, Lagrange and Laplace roughly from 1745 to 1785. This is how metaphysics works at its best: not precluding every thing that has happened before, but surfacing at the precise moment the world-scenario it’s supposed to describe emerges.

Within the scenario of capital, value is very simply a real number (a point in the infinite, infinitely dense number line going from -\infty to \infty. There’s loss of generality in this reductive move, but not so much — in any axiology except the very small ones, some things are more valuable than others; and while there usually are many dimensions to value, in the scenario of capital we imagine they have been sorted out by the social process that enacts large axiologies.

We can therefore theorize value (possibly the value of the whole universe, or a mutual fund; or both, mereology is weird) into the indefinitely long term. This theory could be called anything, but just in case you want to follow along with Wikipedia, we’ll be calling it f. That theory is a function (or assignment or map etc) f\colon dt \mapsto f(dt); it endows each instant of time with a value, effectively writing a full history of the future.

Associated with f(dt) is F(ds), its Laplace transform or “net present value” in MBA-speak. The Laplace transform is not a function of time, but of a relative rate between the future and the present. The higher this rate, the less we value the distance future and more the present. This could imply, for example, not being willing to take a loss in the short term to make more later. For a while I used to insist on Nick Land’s comment sections that to understand Capital he had to read Damodaran on Valuation, a practical manual on these matters. For casual readers, I should just point to professor Damodaran’s website. We’re eventually going to need a lot of his stuff in the implementation stages of general axiology.

Un-suspending tempo is uncomplicated. In the real world Capital is clicky — I can’t loan you money for 0.03 seconds, in usual contract structures interest accrues monthly or yearly. As long as everything clicks in sync, you can use the Laplace transform just fine; otherwise you can use Excel spreadsheets, like every peasant. Time, tempo and Riemann integration: the mystery of Capital, ladies and gentlemen! Up to kairos, of course.

IV.

The Laplace transform is a good example of something that’s far more abstract than what the application requires. For real-valued interest rates, the interpretation of the Laplace transform is (exactly) moneylike; for complex-valued interest rates with nonzero imaginary parts, it allows for theorizing about structures-over-time that oscillate with rate over envelopes that collapse or explode. These do not have moneylike interpretations, but are indicative of how un-moneylike relationships between value and time can be, even under the hackneyed scenario of Capital-up-to-kairos. For a while, there was a lot of hope by good-natured men such as F.A. Hayek that the scenario of markets (the synchronization/orchestration of supply-logistics and demand-axiologistics) somehow translated to the scenario of Capital, where the interest rates would be the “price of capital” for a marginal unit of flow-time dt. Yet the abundant evidence of time-inconsistent behavior in humans should say something about the Darwinian quability of force-of-interest. It does: time consistency implies the Laplace transform.

The technical literature on time inconsistency has accomplished a lot of what technical literatures are prone to accomplishing, but hasn’t allowed for the idea that time is inconsistent. The fact that different cultures synchronize to common tempos differently (not only how long after 3PM is “late”, but what’s the value-over-time structure within that structure of indifference) is proof enough that the common tempo is as much a cultural construction as the common writing system. Which implies: tempo is an object of large axiologies. How do we construct a theory of large-axiology-value over endogenous tempo? How do we reform a country’s pension system? There’s a lot to go through.

So how were we even able to hold up Capital for discussion for so many paragraphs? Primarily thanks to godmen like Euler and Laplace, but also because we allowed Capital to be an ecstatic scenario rather than a real social (and therefore large-axiological) phenomenon. The college dudes from the movie situation with pastiche homoeroticism know this — they’re not in any kind of psychoanalytic denial about the nature of their desire — they merely enact a structural scenario of ecstatic desire (but rarely an ecstatic scenario). Desire for what? Objet petit a, get with the program.

To borrow from Slavoj Zizek: an analogy can be drawn between the object cause of desire and the plastic trinket inside a Kinder’s Surprise Egg. To believers in a clean delineation between subjectivity and objectivity, the goal of eating a Kinder egg is getting to the middle and enjoying the toy hidden in it. But (Zizek presents this as an ethical program but in my view is a higher order structural affair having to do with diplomacy between axiologies) the token trinket is precisely that – a token – ie an excuse for eating the chocolate. Similarly the point of having been defeated by Blackbeard is not that he could have harmed you, but that you were scared.

If we could obtain the permission to sample the audio of Zizek’s Slavic-inflected phrase “in a perverse way” in Slavic accent, we would continue, musically – in sync. In a perverse way, we do not thirst for the fruits of capital intensification — not even in the ultimate form of the Singularity (which is infinity-for-free). In a perverse way, we invite acceleration (the future, sooner) because we desire to be giddy in the process and court the chance of finding kairos. Even the girls who, in a perverse way, kiss each other for attention are not the point of the male gaze’s interest.

The end goal of any such scenario is not satisfaction — the point is ecstasy, ie to having been there. That’s what an ecstatic scenario is: a type of seduction, attached to a type of chrematistics, attached to a sequence of increasing axiologies. In general axiology ecstasy is finally true.

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