The Upside Of Imperial Continuity

The Upside Of Imperial Continuity

The Cadogan Gallery is behind the windows above Charles Darwin’s head at the top of the staircase

My head leans closer to the glass case.

These are Charles Darwin’s actual pigeons. He raised them. Each one a little chaobomb lobbed at an outdated narrative. They are displayed next to a first edition On The Origin Of The Species.

I stand back up and look through the stained-glass windows of the new Treasures exhibit in the Cadogan Gallery back across the cavernous, cathedral-like main hall of the Natural History Museum.

This place is a literal temple to the cohesion of vision. It’s like a Steampunk Borg Cube. (Which one of you will now make for me.)

My parents have arrived on the same day as the tail end of the Beast from the East. Bless those British meteorologists. Anywhere else in the world and this would be called “winter”.

London is frozen solid and I don’t want to risk their old people legs on the icy ground -especially as my mother the psychonaut could fall over under water- so we go back to the Natural History Museum as it’s indoors and near my house.

We’ve been here quite a few times and the thing about the Natural History Museum is that, actually, it’s a bit shit.

A lot of the exhibits are quite tired. For instance, one that is close to my own heart, the taxidermed wallaby, I’m pretty sure must have been sent over by Governor Phillip himself. I would be surprised if it didn’t predate the federation of the colonies.

The less-trafficked corners of the museum exemplify that absurd Middle Class obsession with the exact meaning and status of objects that is kept alive today by the good people of Tunbridge Wells and the more moribund corners of the Golden Dawn.

But you don’t go to the Natural History Museum for the exhibits. Oh my, no. You go for the building.

There are few structures on earth that so confidently display the convictions of their own worldview. (The Pentagon, maybe?) Even St Peter’s Basilica in Rome shows more humility.

From its intricate, unyielding facade to the sweeping symmetry of the main hall there can be little doubt that there is one way and one way only to see the world and its denizens… Victoria’s way. The obvious comparisons to a cathedral are deliberate: the canon is set in stone. The Victorians had the story of life and the universe pretty much locked down… all that was needed was a few diligent men (no laydeez) to fill in the finer details, pin some butterflies to a board and stuff a few more weird marsupials into cabinets. The whole building is a map of a fixed universe.

Chaos magic is inevitably concerned with change but change is not a rejection of continuity. It is an understanding of what moves and what doesn’t. From Saint Taleb:

Tonight I will be meeting friends in a restaurant (tavernas have existed for at least 25 centuries). I will be walking there wearing shoes hardly different from those worn 5,300 years ago by the mummified man discovered in a glacier in the Austrian Alps. At the restaurant, I will be using silverware, a Mesopotamian technology, which qualifies as a “killer application” given what it allows me to do to the leg of lamb, such as tear it apart while sparing my fingers from burns. I will be drinking wine, a liquid that has been in use for at least six millennia. The wine will be poured into glasses, an innovation claimed by my Lebanese compatriots to come from their Phoenician ancestors, and if you disagree about the source, we can say that glass objects have been sold by them as trinkets for at least twenty-nine hundred years. After the main course, I will have a somewhat younger technology, artisanal cheese, paying higher prices for those that have not changed in their preparation for several centuries.

Had someone in 1950 predicted such a minor gathering, he would have imagined something quite different. So, thank God, I will not be dressed in a shiny synthetic space-style suit, consuming nutritionally optimized pills while communicating with my dinner peers by means of screens. The dinner partners, in turn, will be expelling airborne germs on my face, as they will not be located in remote human colonies across the galaxy. The food will be prepared using a very archaic technology (fire), with the aid of kitchen tools and implements that have not changed since the Romans (except in the quality of some of the metals used). I will be sitting on an (at least) three-thousand-year-old device commonly known as the chair (which will be, if anything, less ornate that its majestic Egyptian ancestor). And I will be not be repairing to the restaurant with the aid of a flying motorcycle. I will be walking or, if late, using a cab from a century-old technology, driven by an immigrant—immigrants were driving cabs in Paris a century ago (Russian aristocrats), same as in Berlin and Stockholm (Iraqis and Kurdish refugees), Washington, D.C. (Ethiopian postdoc students), Los Angeles (musically oriented Armenians), and New York (multinationals) today.

Continuity isn’t the absence of change, it is simply a much slower rate of it. Taleb’s cutlery will change. Take a long enough view and our hands will change. (There is already evidence we are evolving pointier fingers thanks to so many electronic devices.) The tech will follow.

So it would appear that, as ever, the devil is in the details.

Like so many cornerstones of London’s psychogeography, the Natural History Museum owes its existence to a collection of bizarre bric-a-brac accrued by a mysterious wizard.

Dinosaurs were invented here in this building. They were given their name right here, kicking off more than a century of digging and fastidious categorisation. Now they have feathers and bright colours and a vocabulary approaching that of a dolphin… like a fossilised gay pride parade. Think about that… a weird little collection of wizardly items conjured the dinosaurs into being.

Dominant worldviews only look insurmountable if you fail to see them as camouflage. Ontological change is more often an act of subversion rather than open war. The existence of psi effects is snuck into the materialist paradigm. Like boiling the apocryphal frog, the trick is to do it slow enough that the animal doesn’t notice.

This is the upside of imperial continuity. Consider the spate of AAT movies over the last couple of years, their auspicious timing and the trailer for the latest Superman reboot.

“My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?”

It’s amazing the things you can hide in plain sight.


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  1. 2

    As a matter of fact I’m re-reading it right now. Forgot how accurate Billy’s first vision of a squid god really is. You could pathwork that shit. I go in and out on Mieville. Having not read all his stuff, this is my favourite by a considerable margin.

    (And I’m guessing you mean Antifragile? Yeah me too… that fucker wrote the chaos book I was genuinely never going to get around to writing. Load off my mind. :) )

  2. 6
    Miguel Antonio Cortés Muñoz

    It is possible to find the good in victorian values, they promote trust among people. Imagine for a moment if there was rampant nihilism everywhere, we would be terrified and it would be too difficult to cope. Our psyche needs something to hold on to and that is known as tradition.

    We enjoy thinking we have evolved a lot as a culture and even dare to ridicule our forefathers customs, but the fact is we are essentially the same. And this can be a good thing, because it breeds confidence. It could be a good idea for philosophers to develop a posmodern theory of puritanism and how it can help society function correctly (if they have not done so already).
    Miguel Antonio Cortés Muñoz´s last blog post ..Writing a Blog

  3. 7
    Lance Foster

    I haven’t read “Antifragile” but I saw his interview on (I think) Zakaria’s GPS. I wasn’t able to discern how “antifragility” was substantively different than “resilience.” Just a new catch-word? In fact, Greer (I think) covered the importance of resilience over efficiency many months ago.

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