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Virtual Nations in the Simulation

I’m using “simulation” in place of “The Matrix”, having recently seen a Youtube explaining why the famous contemporary philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, did not think so highly of that movie, even though it paid tribute to his philosophy.

The movie-makers were offering him a way to cash in and further build his reputation that way. He declined. That’s the version I was given. True?

My own path has included encounters with “virtualization” that involve simulation as well.

What’s remarkable about the simulation” (as a concept) is we’ve had that since classical times, in the form of “the microcosm”. Lets connect to Peter Sloterdijk’s writings at this juncture.

Baudrillard’s beef was precisely that Plato’s Cave was deceptive, at least as a guide to our own time, as it shows us from outside that the shadow play watchers are unaware of what’s really real. You wouldn’t have that point of view in a real matrix, like ours. We don’t get out of Universe.

In my case, “virtualization” was used in the sense that has come down to us as VirtualBox today. One gets the illusion of controlling an entire computer, whereas the actual topology may be something different.

In the mainframe context, the distinction may be easier to make, as clearly we had a time-sharing environment and could all see the big boxes in the basement, doing our collective bidding. Yet the operating system could make it look like (simulate, virtualize) an experience of private access to what looked like an entire computer, complete with storage and input/output peripherals.

I would jump between computer courses and Woodrow Wilson School courses (at Princeton) pursuing my strong point as a student of international affairs, as students called that arena of history, still unfolding and perpetually renarrated (revised).

My brush with postmodernism was not negligible, as Dr. Richard Rorty was interpreting some of those trends to we the undergrads. However I did not get around to reading Baudrillard a whole bunch, and so could be considered rather ignorant for someone who espouses philosophy. My professors were not of the type painted by the Jordan Peterson brush, to my recollection, though we were expected to take in some Habermas, Marx, Adorno.

In my own defense, I’ve done quite a bit to address these gaping holes in my knowledge in the decades since (I was in the Princeton class of 1980), especially since the advent of Youtube, by which means I’ve caught up on a lot of Rorty tapes too. I’m enjoying going back over the authors I’d read (e.g. Alan Watts) but hadn’t heard or seen much, this being an age before podcasts.

Might Baudrillard’s resistance to joining The Matrix team be reflected in the many ways a francophone population was to take offense from EuroDisney, of anglophone heritage? Was it a clash of subcultures? I’d be up for learning people’s views. Feel free to work in Marcuse.

I’m going to change subjects now and talk some about what I did read and continue teaching to this day, but with an eye to reconnecting to The Matrix at the end.

I’m continuing a branch of American Transcendentalist philosophy that meshes well with an idea of “telos” still current in many cults, both occult (esoteric) and mainstream. Teilhard de Chardin has been on my reading list a lot. However I never developed a taste for Intelligent Design as a movement.

Per my own Youtube channel, I tend to use “cult” not in the pejorative (the tense of an insult) but more as a neutral, abbreviated form of “subculture”. We all drink a kind of kool-aid. The devil is in the details. I’ve been thinking in terms of subcultures since eighth grade, thanks to one of my main teachers, a sociologist named Fred Craden. He introduced us to all those concepts.

The way I picture our facilities, as a school with dots around the globe, signifying institutions or campuses, is on a Dymaxion Map. That should give you a searchable clue about the philosopher I’m talking about, when I mention American Transcendentalism, which originally emerged from New England.

Moving on, back to Woodrow Wilson School and my teaching job soon after, I had reason to be attuned to the situation in Tibet, what had been going on in those territories. That history was part of my course readings, including the rescue of the Dalai Lama.

Later, my father, a planner, took a position with the Ministry of Education in Bhutan. That assignment would come after I joined them (my parents) in Bangladesh, and helped them pull up stakes. The future was often a big unknown in our family. Quakers wait expectantly for a way to open.

As you can tell from my story, I’ve bounced around the world quite a bit, and so I’ve encountered what I’ll call “diaspora nations” of people who strongly identify as ethnicities, but don’t really have a large contiguous landmass to call their own. Many Americans have been dispossessed of concrete nationhood, despite the semi-sovereignties known as reservations.

We’ve all heard of the Kurds a lot recently. But you don’t get a pole and flag at the United Nations that easily.

Nations will lose track of your nationality and before you know it, you’ve fallen through the cracks as a refugee and don’t even have a terminal in which to take refuge (I’m alluding to a movie, The Terminal, with Tom Hanks).

Given my interest in computers, virtual machines, simulated mainframes, developed at Princeton (philosophers attracted to engineering is not a new phenomenon), I got to thinking of Tibet especially as a kind of virtual nation, one that frames the world and includes it.

Empires come to see themselves this same way, as that which divides the world, into itself and what’s other. But so do we all see through frames. A virtual nation is a frame of mind, but more than that, it may have a presence in cyberspace along with so-called “brick and mortar” assets.

Picking another nation, I’ve been rethinking Zionism from within as acknowledging Planet Earth is God given, as was semi-revealed to us during the Tower of Babel episode.

Humanity thought God was “up” and planned to erect a perpendicular. God wanted us to see “up” was really “out” in an omnidirectional divergence of directions, away from a spherical surface, convexly enclosing our Promised Land. In disrupting our groupthink (the children of Noah all thought the same way) he restored our ability to disperse around the world, thereby to discover its ultimately spherical shape.

So if the whole earth is Israel and our teleological direction towards liberation from whatever Egypt, from whatever constrains us to repeat the past (beyond pull date, in a stale and phony fashion), then what shall we, the inclusive we, do about it? How might we become less maladapted?

I’d call that question a “query”, now donning a Quaker hat (possibly a black Stetson) as I do on my Youtubes. Queries stay open-ended, as potential sources of fresh answers.

Back to simulations and virtualizations, in the sense of shared thought bubbles, group minds, subcultures: tourism sometimes gives us alternative bubbles to savor, but then tourism may take place from home, through reading, through viewing… the issue is one of curriculum, of technology, of ergonomics, and the degree of acceleration one finds comfortable and/or tolerable.

We get set in our ways when those appear to be working. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just we need to keep exercising our capacity to remain open minded. Use it or lose it. An open and awake mind is what many a discipline seeks to cultivate.

The latest player with virtual nationhood is the global business, which doesn’t have to mean a giant conglomerate. Some offices in Portland may have counterparts in Europe | Russia | the Orient, and yet the number of faculty (I’ll call it), all told, is not the signature big number of a Disney or Hilton.

Hong Kong Disney ran into its own problems, nor am I up to date on what all those are. I watched a lot of Defunctland on Youtube.

Youtube may sometimes give me the illusion of omniscience, if I assume there’s an up to date report on everything, and a powerful search feature. I’ll overestimate what that gives me. I’ll be stuck behind a media barricade, one of those blackout devices, and not even know it.

I’ll be in The Matrix. See you there.

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