f About Andrew Howald

The persistence of physical vanity is probably hardwired. There's no advantage to seeing yourself as rotting flesh.

It's impossible to endure as a bureaucrat (and we're all bureaucrats now) without some type of Romance of the Bureaucrat: a glamorized specialized knowledge; intrigues of office politics or crushes; sexy coding, some high-tech gloss; a belief that one is helping humanity. Beyond whatever degree of reality to these daydreams, what stands out in the end in a solid block of one's life – three or four decades – given over to Tedium.

After decades of variations on the theme of "zombie apocalypse" – and with all of us now absorbed in a "virtual reality" which we carry stumblingly in our own hands – one can't help but tweak Obama's famous proclamation: We are the zombies we were waiting for.

Prepperism: a permutation of chiliastic Christianity; the apocalypse, with junk; a fantasy to justify one's obsession with cars and guns; grease monkey Christianity.

One encounters everywhere these days the sophistication of casual diagnosis. So-and-so is on the spectrum. Well, isn't everyone on the spectrum? Isn't that indeed the very idea of a spectrum ? Relatively few of us may be infrared or ultraviolet, but we must be somewhere, no? Moreover, most of us are probably in differing places on the spectrum according to differing circumstances. The remark is generally meaningless, except as an expression of perceived distance between the sage diagnostician and the object.

The more an event is recounted, the more purely fictional it becomes. Beware the old chestnuts – they are the self-defining, self-delimiting myths.

The term fundamental, as used by physicists, is a pushpin in the infinite.

The grotesque energy of a gossip comes of desperate cluelessness. A chicken pecking amid the flailing chaff, forever missing the kernel.

Our car disease and our gun disease are inextricable, at a level even more basic than the ethos, according to which the more cars and guns you have, the freer of an American you are. They are at root one and the same monkey mind obsession with mechanics.

To people delirious enough to employ such drivel, lifestylism comes down to whatever behaviors they themselves can't be bothered with. The idea that millions of people changing their behavior might change the world is simply lacking in radical analysis (really, to borrow Tom Wolfe's term, radical chic). People tossing lifestylism at others will usually be found to be the familiar old firearm fetishists. Nothing can be serious unless it poses in black and holds a gun.

One of the most amusing clichés – as well as, apparently, most unkillable – has to be the dustbin of history. There is of course no dustbin of history. More like the recycle bin of history. Or better still, the boutique thrift store of history. Nothing is too atrocious or stupid to be brought out again.

Bourgeois: rarely used in any structural, much less Marxist, sense; tends to mean (vaguely) like one's parents – a conveniently moving target from generation to generation, of course.

Each generation thinks it invented irony. When was a curlicue mustache not ironic? But of course the dead don't need irony. The dead are unironic.

Software programmer: one of an increasing number of occupations where placement on the income spectrum is commensurate with placement on the autism spectrum.

Old grouch: someone who has come to realize the value of his time.

Dirty old man: someone over fifty who gets an erection.

Billionaires: 1) visionaries delivering delirious news about gadgets and globalization; 2) ancien regime of the next Terror.

The next Terror: the first streaming event in history to garner a billion likes. (True "billionaires" at last!)

One might reasonably use the word "radical" in reference to gardening – a "radical" approach to dandelions, for example. Beyond that the word seems a shallow presumption at best, a fraud at worst. Who has ever gotten to the root of anything? Use of the substantive seems particularly ridiculous. Someone who believes, for example, that if we get rid of capitalism there'll be no more greedy assholes – or that if we all eat vegan organic nobody will get cancer – is not "a radical" but a simpleton.

It takes a special obtuseness or self-importance to arrive at middle age still enveloped in the delusion that people listen to each other.

What's pathetic, or tragic, is the ease with which people seem to forget that a program providing a simulacrum of human interaction doesn't know they exist. In fact, it doesn't know "exist." Most of the web blather conflating various kinds of artificial intelligence with consciousness is essentially the same as a five-year-old's thinking about a favorite teddy bear.

Gossip is a particularly vulgar kind of mythology, but rooted in the same fundamental ignorance. Nobody knows anybody.

There's no such thing as trivia, it's simply the product of perverse perspective. Nothing is trivial in context, anything can be made to seem trivial by removal from context.

Tinian: one of the Mariana Islands. Superfortress: name of the B-29 bomber. Boeing: manufacturer of the Superfortress. Enola Gay: the nickname of a particular Superfortress. August 6, 1945: the date the Enola Gay took off from Tinian. Etc.

The pursuit of trivia per se, trivia as an end in itself, is diseased. It's like (computer analogies for mind are drivel, but considering the target audience let us say) deliberately fragmenting your hard drive.

Some of us may find the notion of instantiating consciousness problematic, but the word instantiation has such computational, doctoral, sacerdotal authority we can only bow our heads in silence.

We are always ready to see other people's behavior as determined. That's just who he is – same collection of bad habits. We ourselves of course wake up each day full of a sense of free agency and possibility.

When you hear the phrase "late-stage capitalism" you know you're in the presence of, not simply a formidable intellectual, but an entire congregation of them.

Visionaries of "uploaded consciousness" should take some time to ponder what consciousness would amount to outside the stream; that is, without sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, proprioception, kinesthesia, face, limbs, genitals, flutter of adrenaline, course of hormones.

Of course, as their first response, these purported materialists clinging to their eternal souls will say that the above litany is all a matter of chemicals, replicable anywhere (in a box, say).

But who or what will produce this simulacrum of input for you, this synthetic sensorium? Is that consciousness?

If no input but rather the retrieval of past experiences, who or what determines what to retrieve? Do "you" without smell or sound or other sensory trigger in the flow of space-time retrieve by random function a memory of a walk down Broadway in the rain in 1989? Do you retrieve it ten thousand times? Ten billion times? Does the memory change? And is this retrieval of memories – data, I guess you would say – consciousness?

Not that civilization isn't grateful for the enormous gift. Why, it's you. In a box.

Einstein said that after fifty years of pondering and study he was not one bit closer to understanding quanta. Richard Feynman said: "Nobody understands quantum mechanics." And then there's Niels Bohr: "Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real." But to most, the fact that an abyss lies at the bottom of our knowledge doesn't matter, so long as things are sufficiently manipulable to allow for faster computer processors.

There are some precise definitions of scientism out there, but this will be adequate to most situations: the vague, lazy notion that science is going to answer all our questions – is in fact (in a more acute form of the delirium) just on the verge of doing so.

The rigorous validation and painstaking self-correction we call science, and the willingness to accept what it can establish about our world and to act accordingly, is a matter of basic responsibility. It is not an evasion of wonder or terror, but a careful response to those elemental apprehensions.

Twitter: an inkling of terror that you are alone in the universe; a technological placebo for same.

Within fifty years autism will have disappeared as a diagnosis, because what is culturally pervasive and accepted cannot, by the DSM's own criteria, be deemed a "disorder." The present (if any vestige of the present were somehow to escape obliteration) would diagnose the future as on the severe end of the autism spectrum.

An excessive fondness for puns is a form – one might say a strategy – of not listening. The obsessive punner repeatedly latches onto the vehicle to disrupt the tenor. The underlying desire is to short-circuit communication and bring focus back to the performer (as the punner fancies himself). The punner in other words is constantly pleading, in manifold tedious ways: love me, love me, love me.

The essential trick of a gossip: "I'm telling you these things because you're part of my INNER CIRCLE. I certainly would never subject you to the same treatment (the minute you walk out the door)." The innumerable dupes who fall for this deserve more pity than scorn. But what about the partner or spouse of this sort of schizoid personality?

An attention to what is called etiquette (the "proper" thing to do in specific situations, when to excuse oneself, when to send a card, etc.) is often accompanied by general tone-deafness. That is the amusing spectacle presented by "proper" people: they can come out with the most cunty garbage and not even know it.

Imagine Baudelaire's voyageurs returning, not from across the ocean, but from the distant future. Would they be any less likely to say: Nous nous sommes souvent ennuyés, comme ici (we were often bored, just like here)?

But technological progress blinds us to our essential condition. We cannot not think that we are going somewhere.

Very few people can put down one religion without picking up another, usually unconsciously.

When Marx states that capitalism is a necessary step in the sure and certain dialectic of History, he resembles Milton justifying God's ways to man. Why is there suffering in the world? Why is there capitalism? It's all part of the plan.

To evolve does not mean to improve. It means to adapt.

To evolve does not even necessarily mean to grow more complex. For example, if homo sapiens manages to turn the planet into a toxic, radioactive soup – such that the most efficient means of sustenance is a sort of protoplasmic osmosis – in such circumstances the possession of a fancy, highly ramified brainstem will not be adaptive. It will go away. We will go away.

Yet evolution to most people today seems to mean improvement, almost in some kind of moral sense. Serious evolutionary scientists may decry this as a "teleological fallacy" or a "meliorist fallacy" but to no avail.

Faith is tenacious, and evolution is the unexamined faith of our day.

The person constantly in awe of the latest technology, covetous of the latest devices and delighted at what he sees as "evolutionary" and "transformational"– lives in a sort of perpetual New Year's Eve, drunk on an illusory sense of connection. But the fool ends up as we all do eventually: sober and alone.

It would be difficult to find a phrase more compact of danger and delirious stupidity than: "the evolution of human consciousness."

Most people derive comfort from the trappings of religion. A Buddhist is unencumbered; a “Buddhist” has a fat man in his garden.

Oh look, it must be religious: It s written in bogus Jacobean English, with a smattering of hobbyhorse Greek.

Aleister Crowley learned only three things at Cambridge University: Greek, Latin, and buggery. But these three ingredients were sufficient for him to form a religion.

Simply to be alone requires deliberate acts of sabotage.

To love someone is to begin to grasp their peculiar form of isolation.

A dislike of poetry will most commonly resolve itself to a single impediment: the insistence that poetry make sense (the way prose or everyday speech makes sense). Thus the dreary philistine refrain: "I'm sorry, I just don't get poetry, I just don't understand it." To which the best response is probably: "Well, why don't you shut up and stop trying?"

One who believes in the translatability of poetry will often assert, by way of support, that any given idea can be expressed in any given language. True enough. And thus we glimpse the ghastly vulgarity of the speaker: for what does poetry have to do with ideas?

That poetry is concerned with the beautiful is perhaps the most annoying misconception of all.

Most people want poetry to make sense, though of course they have no such requirement for song. With poetry they suspect some kind of trick or fraud – whereas they are happy to sing the sublimest nonsense.

Academia, as a profession, resembles hemophilia: it runs in pale, inbred families.

Sentimentality, particularly of the drunken, affectionate variety, often strikes one as an attempt to make up, quickly in one lump sum of debased currency, for a life of grudging stinginess.

Most speech is phatic rather than emphatic. It merely eases our way past each other. Even when intended to convey meaning it will usually be taken as contentless sociability. It is a sort of current that carries us along, in the door and back out again, into marriage and back out again, etc.

Phatic versus emphatic speech are terms of prurient linguists (generally a dreary lot who rarely care for poetry).

The polite lay term for emphatic speech is: an indiscretion.

The clearer and more unrelenting the diagnosis, the more inevitable a cure. (Thus T.S. Eliot's view on the value of Baudelaire.) Of course, a clear and unrelenting diagnosis is easily disregarded as cynicism.

When it comes to suicide, our minds tend to veer away from – or bluntly to deny – two terrible things: the tonnage of suffering, and the courage. Suicide is more easily summed up as pathology, or explained away as due to specific events.

I was sick, and gentle. Waking one morning with renewed contempt, I knew that health had returned. Contempt is one of the core vitalities.

The prospect of a new friend is qualified by circumspection, uncertainty; whereas the prospect of a new enemy engages the emotions directly. There's nothing lustier than the prospect of a new enemy.

Our failure to listen to one another is the main source of comedy and tragedy both. It s really just a question of mood how we regard it at any given moment. Usually we are happy to see it as comic, but now and then our vitality fails and we see it suddenly, and unbearably, in the latter light.

Much science fiction is merely junky, and comes from a need for reassurance. Reassurance regarding, not the survival of the species, but rather the continuation, ad infinitum, of technology. The devices must never lose their luster; they must continue to dazzle, forever.

A person called, in the common parlance, passive aggressive has essentially taken a coward's stance with respect to evil. It would be preferable by far – and in the long run actually less grotesque – to stab such a person in the eye with a fork, rather than step into his sad & dreary labyrinth.

A character in Hesse's Damian asserts that a writer isn't concerned with what he has written, only with what he is writing, and then only as a means. What is written is nothing but a hoof print a spoor indicating where a mind has wandered on its way to somewhere else.

You will have realized by now that you are not on the trail of big game here. Rather: a small thinking animal.

There are many varieties and denominations of foolishness, but this is the ultimate: to blab your escape plans, or conspire with fellow inmates.

This was found carved on the wall of an empty cell: Each engineers his own escape.