Incongruities II: The Zuckercurse
You cannot enhance your world by denying unalterable reality upon which it is based. The Metaverse is a denial, not an enhancement, of the world.
Welcome back to The World of Yesterday on Substack. Last week, I posted a polemic against political correctness on Medium: ‘Political Correctness is a False Virtue’. Today’s Substack essay is a continuation on the concept I introduced as incongruities in a previous post entitled, ‘Incongruities I: Doing Without Having Done, Having Done Without Doing’:
In Part I, I defined an incongruity as an emerging or emergent discontinuity in a long-standing multi-component pattern and argued that we should be the most sensitive to the incongruities that contain the potential for significant negative consequences. I made the specific claim that one of these incongruities is a newfound incompatibility we are collectively experiencing in the relationship between our minds and bodies. I further maintained that this incongruity is at least partly to blame for the spiritual malaise that contributes so strongly to our modern meaning crisis.
The focus of our discussion today will be one source and accelerator of the incongruity in question, which is the Metaverse, especially as imagined and forwarded by Meta and Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg’s Metaverse is an example of the sort of invasive modern technology that actively separates the long-held unity between our minds and bodies, fragments ourselves by forcing them to a new place in relation to one another: more apart than they ever have been before. The conception and functioning of the so-called Zuckercurse is a direct and perspicuous illustration of how a separation between our minds and bodies begins and widens, as well as the possible hazards that materialize in consequence.
I write this essay awash in the confidence of a sort of knowledge allowed by the insight that reveals itself only through complete ignorance towards the inner workings of the Metaverse. For, I don’t even know what the Metaverse is, I don’t know how the Metaverse works, how it is accessed, built, maintained, repaired, monitored, etc. And, really, I explicitly don’t want to know, because I am able to, on account of my detachment, monitor and describe its effects. I don’t want to venture too far into the trees lest I stop seeing the forest. So while I might not know what the Metaverse is, I have a pretty good idea of what it stands to do to us.
What I know is this: up until very recently, the internet has been the semi-Metaverse. What I know is this: to participate in the Metaverse you must renounce your placement in the real world for as long as you are in the Metaverse for. What I know is this: to participate in the Metaverse is to participate fully. The Metaverse requires a degree of complete participation that the pre-existing internet did not. In this way, the Metaverse requires an effective split between the mind and body because the mind is isolated in its experience. On the Metaverse, your body is not your body anymore, its projection into your experience is fully accomplished through your mind. The body is replaced with an avatar that is meant to represent your body but has no material relation to it. The Metaverse exists on an intentional severance between the mind and body under the banner of complete immersion.
However, the body nevertheless participates through its exclusion. The body just does not simply ‘turn off’ - it acts instead as a silent witness that stores its painful confession for future delivery. After some time, the mind becomes exhausted by screen. Indeed, it has been very busy, and in turn asks the body to accept its desired rest. The body is forced to accept the mind’s command, but does so with a fervent unwillingness. The body demands answers, for not having done anything, it is eager to do something, to fulfill its functions and to expend the energy it has stored. The body has sat in a chair for as long as the mind has been in the Metaverse; the fingers are tired, the back is strained, the eyes feel funny, but no muscle has been used, no ground has been traversed, and no dirt has run through its fingers. Nothing that the mind has done has actually been done by the body. A discomfort emerges through the established discrepancy, and both body and mind yearn for the alliance that has been severed. But the method of communication is indirect and takes forms such as the feelings of meaninglessness, insignificance, aimlessness. For, we have tried to escape the world we nevertheless participates in. It is a false escape, but it is a false escape that is not without consequences.
Harmonies and Disharmonies
The ancient myths were designed to harmonize the mind and the body. The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things that the body does not want. The myths and rites were means of putting the mind in accord with the body and the way of life in accord with the way that nature dictates.
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Incongruities in general, and the separation between mind and body that occurs through such activities like participating in the Metaverse in particular, signal the abruption in naturally occurring harmonies. When we ‘de-harmonize’ what was previously in harmony, sometimes, like in jazz, the new sounds work (why not all incongruities are automatically negative) and sometimes the new song is no good at all (why some incongruities turn out to be negative). When we rearrange the relationship between of our minds and bodies, when we participate chiefly in a knock-off world that is not our own, we are really attempting to remix the order of nature. Except—the results are in—the rearrangement is not so much an attempted remixing as a debasing (for nature cannot be remixed), and a debasing that, in only being able to affect such a small part of the whole while leaving so much untouched, sounds like a scratchy mark on top of a grand symphony that fades into the background. The attempted remixing unpleasantly separates the elements of the symphony, the body from the mind, the horns from the strings. Engaging in the Metaverse is enjoying the short-lived process of remixing and then living with the longer lasting consequences. For the effects of the Metaverse, by the internal movements it has forced us to undergo through our involvement with it, never ceases to be felt. We are Icarus, for a moment, then Icarus for a more crucial moment still - we fly close to the sun for a moment, and fall, and are fallen for longer.
I am reading, that is, fighting to perceive words and ideas I feel to be true in Albert Camus’s The Rebel. One hard-fought conclusion Camus reaches is summarized as follows, “The only original rule of life today: to learn to live and to die, and, in order to be a man, to refuse to be a god.” There is too much about participating in the Metaverse, in creating and acting in an entire artificial world, that is like playing God. As we have learned throughout history, when we try to play God, God turns around and plays us.
Or perhaps we are like Phrygian soldier depicted in the painting at the top of the essay, ‘Ajax in the Grave’ by Jacob Wilhelm Mechau who dares to threaten Ajax only after he is seemingly dead and buried. When the Trojan hero unexpectedly shouts back at him, the soldier jumps away in shock, his dishonourable attempt to cheat the order of nature having been thwarted. The story teaches us that nature doesn’t die, that it can neither be suppressed nor surpassed. Just like how when we engage in the Metaverse we try to remix nature—though only end up remixing ourselves to ill effect—the Phrygian soldier, attempting to jeer Ajax for personal entertainment, only serves to have himself shouted after.
We are looking at the our world that we have placed under the thumb of technology, and foolishly believing that we have surpassed it, erroneously laughing at its folly, its limitation, its finality. The real world we think we have left—like the Phyrgian soldier thought of Ajax—has not really left. No matter the fleeting appearance, our minds have not left our bodies and our bodies have not left our minds. Further, trying to separate them only leads to distress for the simple reason that they cannot be separated. Seeking to leave our world, taunt our world, only makes our world shout right back at us. And the shout isn’t a mere sound; our world shouts back at us in the form of metaphysical pain, because our minds and bodies, though going somewhere else, never actually leave it. We anger our world by trying to surpass it. It is not surpassed, and we are thrown under.
Technology is usually invented to solve a problem. I don’t doubt Meta is trying to solve a problem that its predecessor Facebook and other social media sites have helped to create by attempting to inject more meaning into our lives through offering us experiences and access to emotion that would otherwise not be possible. Meta’s solution to the meaning crisis it is already somewhat responsible for is to double-down and encourage the Metaverse, to not only have us accept but to further buy in to the deterioration and ignorance towards the physical world, to incite you to participate in a world that doesn’t exist.
The Metaverse is escapist technology that offers no escape. Remember where your head rests at night, for it is not on a server. There is no pillow to sleep on in the Metaverse; you can live online, but you cannot sleep there. You can be online, but you cannot exist online. We all belong to the real world, whether to our known benefit or unknown peril. If we are always on, we never gain the pleasure at being off. Technology has even come for sleep, allowing tech access to both the conscious and unconscious. But access to more information must be a great thing, some are quick to argue, who then flip proudly through sleep charts and automatically created sleep cycles. In truth, they have acquired knowledge of their sleeping habits at a great cost.
Everyone should strive for the infinite, but castles in the Metaverse are not castles in the air, they are imaginary castles in an imaginary sky. The Metaverse’s sky is not our own, as much as we like travel in it. For one, we are made of A, C, G, and T not 0s and 1s like the Metaverse and computers. The idea of castles in the sky is there is a real way to the ground that you can establish through your own being - that the path to imagination is delicately carved through the hard stone of reality. The soul does not participate in the Metaverse, by fully participating in the Metaverse we are forced to play a false god who is not happy nor fulfilled in either place. The Metaverse painfully fragments our mind and bodies from one another, and even worse, separates us from the nature we nonetheless a part of.
On (Not) Being Online
Let us venture further into the popular conception of ‘being online’, since the Metaverse is really a superimposition of being online. When most internet users are online today they are offline too. One of the worst aspects of smartphones is distraction, but it is one of the best things too because it means we at least cannot be fully consumed. In other words, the digital and analog worlds are forced to mix.
In comparison, the Metaverse has no such failsafe because it is purely digital. It is impossible to be distracted in the Metaverse because there is no other world that co-exists with it. At the moment, we can see light sliding across the window creating different shapes on the walls behind our one, two, three, four computer screens and monitors. Theoretically, the light from the outside world can be accessed, even temporarily and we can easily take a moment to look at the window. Not so with VR and the Metaverse, for the immersion is full and the effect is total.
On this point, I am in agreement with Angela Li, who explains that being online is great until it means not being in the real world. I suppose I’m not meaning to raise a white flag on technology as much as a red flag to the place we give it in our lives. We used to be online and in the real world. It was possible to log off, it was possible to sign out, it was possible to definitively turn it off. Now, based on what the increasing nature of being online means, we have made a choice to not do so. To be online demands more and more every day, month, year.
While I think it is all too much and too fast, it is not lost on me that I wouldn’t even be talking about Angela’s tweet, or even writing on Substack in the first place, if I wasn’t online. But if being online used to be like taking a one hour hike a few days a week, the hike now 18 hours, 360 days a year and it makes us think, is the hike now the base activity and not the outing? Is the hike now the norm, and the rest actually the offset action? We hike more than we rest and we are all exhausted, even though we aren’t really doing anything too exerting. But that is the thing: if you want to be online, if you want to understand the online space and keep up to date with technology, you have no choice but to be on these hikes that demand more and more. There wasn’t an 18 hour hike added, it simply replaced the one hour hike. Meanwhile, when we return from hiking we have less and less to come back to. Is this not what it is like to ‘be online’? Is being online not a never-ending hike? The technological trip has become the destination but we have left all our things behind.
If you need battery on your phone to show people what you’ve done, then you really haven’t done anything. Technology is a tool and not a reality more real than your own. It certainly can be more than a tool, but it becomes more powerful than that at your peril. If you wish to engage in the virtual world, make the virtual belong to you also, do not allow yourself to belong to the virtual world. Of course, you, sole individual ,are not more powerful than the tides of technology, you are but a grain of sand on the beach it washes over. But that subset is yours, and may that forever be the case. Technology should be the party being used, not us. The battery level of your phone should not be equivalent to the battery level of your mind.
Overall, I’m appalled at the Metaverse and those that advocate for its virtue, though not perhaps as much as our apparent obsession with it. I don’t blame those creating it, I blame those who are treating false gods as gods, and the are thrilled to inhabit an illusory, false reality. And yet, I don’t completely blame them either, for our current reality certainly feels wanting for escape. But there is a better way: everything you could ever want exists not on Meta’s servers, or any servers for that matter, but on top of the ground beneath your feet.
Our world is sacred enough, never sacred enough, too sacred, all too sacred. And if it isn’t, devote yourself to making it so. Yes, the sin of the Metaverse is less sinful than the sin of our desire and openness to sin. Instead, let us give attention to the search, the seizing, the never seizing, the chasing, the closeness, the distance, the securing of the sacred, through which we will only accomplish making the sacred, even if we don’t find what we were initially looking for.
Nothing that ever happens in the Metaverse—a denial of reality, according to our bodies—will ever really exist. In the near future, how long after we wake up will we put on a VR headset? Or will we even need to put one on, or will we be already sleeping with one on? Perhaps we will adorn a VR headset that reproduces the stars in the night sky, from which you we are only separated already by a protective roof.
Endings and Beginnings
In Part I, I explained the concept of incongruities and made reference to one such incongruity: the changing relationship between mind and body. In Part II, I argued that the Metaverse was one mechanism through which mind and body is being fragmented and discussed various effects of this fragmentation.
I leave you with this: Live in the real world. Acknowledge the real world. Value the real world. And your real life will begin to value you.
That’s all for today. Next week is a book review of The Stalin Front by Gert Ledig. Thanks as always.
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