Simulacra (Sci-Fi Flash Fiction)

Simulacra is a piece of flash fiction (less than 1000 words) about a conversation between two men, after it’s revealed that our whole world is a simulation created by future humans to study the past.

Simulacra

“Because, Edgar, you’re living in a simulation!”
Roger pointed to the glitch, a rather large shimmering hole in the fabric of reality. “There are hundreds of those all over this so called world!”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t have to water my tomatoes.”
“Nothing matters anymore, we aren’t even real, we’re software. Didn’t you see the news? It’s confirmed, there’s no denying it, our designers even showed us how it works and made people appear and disappear. I got to walk on the so called moon without a spacesuit yesterday. What do you think about all of this?”
“ I think my tomato plants won’t appreciate it if I let them die.”
“Screw your tomato plants!” Roger waved his arms and paced back and forth across the garden patio.
“What did my tomato plants ever do to you?”
“Not exist!”
“Well I don’t see how that’s their fault.”
“We don’t exist either.”
Edgar stepped back for a moment, looked at his watering can, looked at the plants, looked at Roger, shrugged his shoulders and started to water his plants again.
“Nice day for it.”
“For what?”
“For living in a simulation. At least they didn’t make it a dreary day.”
Roger strode forward and knocked the watering can out of Edgar’s hands. Water spilled everywhere.
“That was rude.”
“It doesn’t matter does it?”
“It matters to me, and now my socks are wet.”
“Your socks aren’t real, your feet aren’t real, the watering can isn’t real. This isn’t a hoax, this isn’t made up. We know, for a fact, that our whole existence is a program run by humans from the 24th century to try and understand why the 2020 sucked so bad and all you can talk about is your wet socks and tomatoes?”
“You don’t seem to be social distancing well Rodger.”
“Covid-19 is a simulation!”
“That doesn’t mean I won’t get sick.”
Edgar pressed his wet feet into the cement making squishing sounds. “My shoes are soggy. It’s going to take a whole day for them to dry.”
Roger sat down, pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
“Why are your smoking?”
“Because it makes me feel better.”
“But you said yourself, you aren’t real. You stopped me from watering my plants. I don’t see how a cigarette will make you feel better.”
“Well our creators made me addicted.”
“That a bit like saying, the Devil made me do it. I don’t see any designer shouting at you to smoke.”
Roger puffed smoke. “It’s in the algorithms or something. I don’t see anyone making you water your stupid tomatoes.”
Edgar picked up the watering can, walked over to the spigot in the wall and refilled it. He turned to water his plants again. He said, “And just what should we do about this whole simulation business?”
Roger strode forward and knocked the watering can out of Edgar’s hands again.
“Do? What should we do?”
Edgar sighed picking up the can again, “Well I can finish watering my plants and you can keep smoking.”
“What’s the point?”
“What was the point before?”
“Before, we had meaning and purpose. We talked about the nature of humanity and meant it. We debated ideologies and philosophies and talked about free will. But it seems, we were all wrong. Well, except for the few crazy ones who already suspected the truth. But we ignored them.”
“Your life had purpose before?”
“Shut up, you know what I mean.”
“So what then?”
“We could break it.”
“The simulation?
Roger nodded.
“How?”
“I don’t know. You stop watering your plants and I’ll stop smoking.”
“If I don’t water my plants they will die.”
“Yeah, sure. Maybe we should do crazy off the wall things that humans wouldn’t normally do?”
“Like?”
“Dress up our animals and treat them like humans?”
“There is a whole industry that caters to that.”
“Burn buildings to the ground?”
“That just sounds like a riot.”
“Well we have to do something.”
“Why? Why not just enjoy the simulation? Maybe make some different choices and see how it goes?”
“But…” Rodger gestured at the large glitch in reality. “We can’t just pretend like nothing is different. That what we know now is meaningless.”
“Why not?”
“Because it’s a crime. We’re oppressed by our future selves.” Roger paused. “I got it! We’ll go on a general strike!”
“And do what?”
“Nothing.”
“Sounds like most days for you.
“Shut up.”
“And what will that accomplish Roger?”
“Well the designer on the news said they created this simulation to model human behavior. What if, all of us, everywhere, in the simulation, decide that we will do absolutely nothing. We won’t do a damn thing. We will just stay still until… until…”
“Until what?”
“They set us free!”
“Aren’t we software?”
“Yes but…”
“Can software become free of hardware?”
“Yes!, No… maybe… I don’t know.”
“Have you considered the opposite?”
“The… opposite?”
“What if, now hear me out. The glitches weren’t an accident? What if the designers were bored with modeling human behavior in the 21st century and thought, well, let’s tell them the truth and see what they do? What if, every thing you are saying now is a pre-made program set to infect all of us and we’re playing into their very hands at this moment.”
Roger blinked. “I… I never thought of that.”
“Do you know how long you have existed Roger?”
“What?”
“How long have we known each other?”
“A few years why?”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes we met at that party in Hebron.”
“I’ve never been to Hebron.”
“What do you mean?”
“A week. You popped up a week ago, the exact same time as the glitches.”
“What? Wait, if that’s true, how come you remember it?”
“A glitch probably.”
“You mean a real one? Not one made by the designers?”
“Yes, I think so. You’re an probably part of the experiment Roger. Now sit down, shut up and let me water my tomatoes.”

Unfinished

White Jigsaw Puzzle Illustration

A few weeks ago I went on an anthropology retreat with the High Plains Society for Applied Anthropology. What is an Anthropology Retreat? It’s a space for anthropologists and other social scientists to converse over issues in the field, their research, and trade ideas.

One of the things this retreat often features is a poetry writing workshop… The theme of the retreat was unfinished, and so I wrote a short poem in relation to the weekend and the concept that our work is always changing and growing and mutating. Here it is.

Unfinished…

Unfinished?

Why do we always feel like something unfinished leave us so diminished?

And How did it become an obscenity to consider our identity a fluent and ever changing entity?

It seems as if all of the threads that we must contend with force us to apprehend our knowledge

and suspend our disbelief that life has some kind of clear beginning and clear end.

It’s taken me a long time to accept the concept that I am part of the whole, not an individual soul or that I do play a role in this oppressive system of capitalistic control

I have to ask myself, What is the cost of this toll?

Life and culture is constant progress and process

I think the dead ends haunt us like an absess because we obsess with the mess and stress of maintaining false binaries that we aren’t allow to transgress

One or the other back and forth west and east, south and north.

We have to fit things in neat boxes before we set forth

But in outer space there is no single direction and often the project left unfinished is no real transgression

And sometimes the way forward is to stop and consider your own reflection

Especially if you yearn to learn the lessons as you pull that wheel for a uturn

But really, it’s okay to turn back and leave something unfinished

And since not much rhymes with unfinished? That’s where this poem is going to stay

17 Things I have learned teaching Cultural Diversity and Anthropology

This is a bit of a “Rules to live by” post I guess. I have spent the last five years of my life teaching both undergraduate and graduate students anthropology, culture, and diversity. In my classroom I try to make things as practical as possible. We can fill our students heads with theory all day long, but what I try to do is try to give a baseline understanding of how different cultures view the world so that when they encounter other people in work or out traveling the world, they can find a way to understand another person and prevent some of the conflicts and communication traps that we run into.

Monks, Pilgrimage, Pilgrim, Path, Sunset, Landscape

I find myself repeating a lot of the following over and over and so I thought maybe it would be useful to some of you out there. Of course, you can completely disagree with me (that’s kind of the point here) but these are things that if you apply them, you might be able to understand those difficult people in your life in a new way.

1. There is no glorious past when things were better. That’s a figment of the cultural imagination and based on the ideals we want in the present. There is no period in history, no culture in history that was ever perfection and/or paradise. Fantasies of the past are fun, but they are just projections on the wall in the great cave of our times.

2. Every culture, every religion, every language, is weird. We are all weird, our entire species is weird as hell. The only reason you don’t think your ideas/thoughts/beliefs are weird is because you are used to them.

3. If one group is disenfranchised, that means someone is benefiting. I.E. if Women are payed less, that means Men are paid more and reap the benefits. If people are treated poorly because they have darker skin, that means if you have light skin you benefit (even if it isn’t obvious). That’s what privilege is. It is not an attack on your character, people cannot help what system they were born into, but they can change it.

4. Everything has a cost, everything. Nothing is cost free. Every major world empire was built on, and is maintained by a river of blood. The very fact you live in this country at this time in history means you benefited from war, colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing and all other manner of terrible things. But so has every other great empire. The Romans, the Islamic Empire, the Mongolian Empire, the Chinese Dynasties, they all did the exact same thing. So why teach them? Why talk about our mistakes and terror? Because I believe we can choose to be different. The first step is acknowledging that our culture did some fucked up things to other cultures.

5. Communication is really freaking hard. Words are really powerful. Everyone has words and images that they are sensitive to and trigger them (obviously survivors of trauma like many of my friends and myself have to spend a lot of time working through this) Figure out what yours are and watch your reactions. Sometimes just watching and understanding which words hit you hard can be a powerful tool for healing. But do remember, the only thing you can control is you. Life and most the world doesn’t care if you are triggered.

6. People are allowed to change. Something someone did 10 years ago does not necessarily reflect who they are now. Social media has created a distortion of static identity. Digging up ancient photos and tweets is only really useful if people are still exhibiting the same terrible behaviors now as they were then. Most of us go through a long hard process of testing ideas. This is normal and healthy, until you let your ideas take over and make you rigid.

7. Ignorance is not the problem in this world. Everyone is ignorant of something fundamental. Ignorance simply means to not know something. The problem is willful ignorance. When someone presents you with a new idea or a challenge to what you think about the world, take a breath. Let the emotional outrage simmer down and then try to approach it with calm and detachment and weigh all the evidence. Sometimes you might still be correct, and sometimes not. This is an uncomfortable but powerful process.

Narrative, History, Dream, Tell, Fairy Tales, Book

8. Being socially active, being mindful, being able to give back, boycotting products or getting an advanced education are all a privilege. Not everyone has access to these things. Remember again, that the only thing you can control is you. But also remember that you are powerful and that individuals are capable of making great (and terrible) changes to the world. You cannot force responsibility on other people and you should always remember that people face different barriers in life.

9. Read lots and from a wide variety of perspectives. Try and consider that you might be wrong about everything once in a while. It’s terrifying but sobering. Consider how little knowledge is contained in the entire human experience compared to the vastness of the rest of the universe.

10. Make sure you learn the difference between something that is opinion or cultural options (i.e. Monogamy or Polygamy are the best kinds of marriage) vs something that is objectively and verifiably true (I.e. The Earth is round). While your at it, learn about the scientific method and what good evidence is. Most things on the internet are easy to debunk with a little effort and awareness of your own bias.

11. Take a moment before you blame someone else for your problems or the problems of your culture. Yes, sometimes things are out of your control, structural violence absolutely exists, sometimes crazy random shit happens, and some people are unlucky, but if you keep seeing the same pattern over and over again, you might be a part of the equation. On a cultural level, if we are scapegoating people, who benefits? Blaming other populations for our issues, historically always turns out to be shortsighted.

12. Apathy and greed are deadly and destructive. A society that bases it’s institutions on these things will always have very serious problems. Empathy and generosity go a long way.

13. Listen to people’s stories. Share your own. If you don’t represent yourself, someone else will. Stories are how we save the world.

14. Diversity and difference is one of the most powerful tools in the human experience. Why? Because different people and cultures think about things in different ways. That means that there are many ways to approach complex problems. Sometimes we can’t see how to solve something because we are too close to it (personally or culturally).

15. There is no such thing as a homogeneous culture. People are people everywhere you go. Just because someone has the same language/religion/gender/nationality/income doesn’t mean they have the same inclinations or hopes or dreams. Each one of my children have different hopes and dreams about the future. Why would a group living on the other side of the world be any different? Don’t put people in boxes or make grand assumptions.

16. The is no one size fits all solution to anything. There is no single solution to solve any of the worlds major issues. All of history demonstrates this.

17. You are the bad guy, the evil empire, the oppressor, the asshole in someone’s story. No one in history is perfect. The people we claim as saints were either assholes earlier in life and grew from that or we are missing information. Plenty of people think I am an asshole. Plenty of cultures think Americans are terrible. No one ever thinks they are the asshole and every culture thinks they are they greatest ever.

I could probably think of more, but those are a lot of the things I find myself repeating most often. You, of course, are free to disagree, and of course comment and discuss.

Compass, Map, Nautical, Antique, Navigation, Vintage

Beneficial Flame

Beneficial

There are moments in our lives when we feel the fire of rage.

All is in a fog, all is unclear, all is distorted. Yet in the center of that rage, we believe that there is clarity, that we know what the right course of action is.

We confirm our truth.

We allow our preconceptions to build on perception and solidify. It becomes tangible. To us, there is a kind of beauty in that anger. We lust for it.

Like a flower, it seems to have bloomed from some place righteous, some place justified. And those who will be the victims of our rage will receive their just reward.

Yet after, what does it make? How was it of benefit? Did the flame burn truth into the brow of our enemy?

Most often, anger burns the one who wields it, like one who lit a match and held it too long. Scorched fingers.

Patience douses the fire with water.

Sit in the center of the flame and watch it. Let it burn but do not feed it.

Sit in the center and whisper the sacred syllable, Hung.

Watch it transform.

Watch you transform.

Give it space.

Rest in Mind.