Call me Ishamel, he said into the camera, nursing his beer between takes.
He continued: No seriously. That’s my name. Deal with it. You might still be focusing on the fact that my name is Ishmael. Don’t pay too close attention to the name, though.
He stretched out his arms, cracked knuckles, and rolled his neck from side to side, in order to loosen everything.
It’s not that important, especially to me. It’s not even important for what I’m about to tell you, my little Sprawlings. I’m not that Ishamel—the one you’ve undoubtedly heard of and are thinking about right now as I write this. Melville’s never been a favorite of mine—and I mean never, my Sprawlings. (However, I have fifteen versions of his book in my data hoard—that’ll come up later, though.) Nor am I the proverbial son of Hajar and Abraham, although I see something that is far more telling, far more important than many realize, when they read that particular myth—but that is for another tale, another time, if you will.
Anyways, people usually call me Ish, for short. Ish seems to be more befitting a name than Ishmael. The name Ishmael conjures up the collective memories of the angry GAWD, the GAWD of war and thunder.
Ish is an interesting suffix in the English language. It means a lot of things, to a lot of people, depending on the context of its use. You might be Jewish. You might even be English or Scottish. If you are approximating something in your descriptions, you might say that the flowers over yonder are blueish or reddish in color. You might describe time as being earlyish or lateish. You might even say that your current state of mood is happyish or sadish. The list goes on and on (and on).
To me, Ish is fitting of my moods and my ability to stay employed as of late. You could say that I’m happyish with the way things are in my life. (Those who claim to have attained true happiness, much like true enlightenment, are either lying to themselves about the world around them, or they are on serious dosages of antidepressants—possibly both, who knows?) Happyish, meaning I haven’t blown out my brains by shot-gunning cheap hooch with strangers every night, nor have I used Uncle Jack’s chromed forty-five to put a full metal jacket in the brainpan. You could also say that I am competentish at my day job, although I am sure dictionaries won’t like that particular word—or any of the words I’ve used tonight. Competentish is a good deal trickier than happyish. I have managed to hold on to my day job, managed to earn my paycheck, all despite wanting to burn the place to the fuckin’ ground. I’ve managed a promotion of two, despite a few black marks on my so-called permanent record. I’ve even managed to save a few dollars to go on vacation and live the supposed American Dream. Anyways, I digress.
Now that you know my name and my situation, in short, I have a question for all of you, my Sprawlings. (You don’t need to answer aloud, just think of your answer and keep it with you, as it isn’t really important—your answer, that is.) What does it mean to be human? Pretty fuckin’ heavy question, huh? I thought so, but I think I’ve got an answer. I’m not meanin’ to get all philosophical or theological on you guys—that’s not my intention at all. You’ll see my intention soon enough, but, for now, humor me for a moment, even if it’s for a short moment in time.
What does it mean to be human?
That’s a tricky one, isn’t it? The question is undoubtedly a loaded one, one that often brings people like you and me down the very narrow passages of human thought and knowledge. However, I am suggesting the answer is now what most believe. To be human, simply put, is to exist—to exist in the face of hostility towards our being. The dinosaurs were the same, may they rest in peace. They simply exist, never really knowing why they were her and what brought about their creation. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing about the true nature of your existence. It’s okay to not know the why of our ephemeral being. That is something theologians don’t want you to leave unanswered. I suggest that leaving the why unanswered might be a wonderful way to live—possibly a free existence can come from it.
I mean we could bring GAWD into the equation, but that only covers some of the bases. (I’m sure even the dinosaurs, may they rest in peace, had theologians pointing to great pantheons of gods and spirits and whatnot—it’s only natural to want to do so. Something about advanced life sparks the need for the creation of the cosmos to be ordained by a creator or a number of creators.) Who or what created GAWD? Does GAWD have a GAWD? Then we enter ourselves into a serious death spiral we cannot escape, a whirlwind of logic that feeds into and perpetuates itself ad nauseum. Take GAWD and creationism out of the equation, and you’ve got something that is far more real, far more frightening a prospect. We simply have existence.
We exist and therefore we are—and nothing more, my Sprawlings.
What do we do after coming to this realization? How do we live our lives, knowing that everything might be meaningless? How do we carry on realizing that nothing seems to be right with our very existence? How do we simply exist, resisting the Universe’s natural inclination to snuff us out of existence?
We do not go quietly (or gently) into that good night, my Sprawlings. We cannot be brought to our knees, begging for tender mercies. We cannot go like so many before us—unknown and unworthy of knowing. We mustn’t succumb to easy fantasies either. We cannot let ourselves be tricked into thinking this is it, and this is the way things have been and will always be. We must puncture the space-time continuum. We must mark our very existence on the fabric of the Universe itself! We must make the Universe know our names, even when we are but dust floating around a little-known star.
Don’t believe me? Thinkin’ I’m some loony, who’s escaped from the local asylum? Think you’ve come to the wrong place on the Sprawl, the Internet the spans much of the solar system? Fine. Just fine, folks. But why are you here? Why have you hiked up the proverbial mountain of ones and zeroes, to hear the good news? To huddle around a digital fire, beautifully rendered in the almighty cloud and brought to you in beautiful resolutions that our ancestors could never imagine they wanted? To hang out with strangers, who you’ve got very little in common with? You can have a nice (digital) bonfire with those people you know—all of the comfort of your homes, your dormitories, your barracks, all over the Verse.
No, you’re here for other reasons—reasons you can’t quite articulate now, even though you want to, and you need to. You’re here, on the mount, because something is missing from your mundane lives. Something is quite right, with your very existence. You’re here because you want to do something meaningful with your lives. You all want to be heroes or heroines of your own stories, especially in the face of a finite, almost meaningless existence.
GAWD’s a question mark—so ambiguous in its uncertainty. The Universe is a period in all of its finality. Existence—our existence—must be an exclamation point, folks, and nothing less. To be less is to falter and to squander one’s inheritance from his or her species—that is, the infinite itch that must be scratched.
For existence to be an exclamation point, we have to do something, and drastic. We have to break the narrative, disrupt the status quo, scratch our very names into the very real fabric of the Universe. We must resist the good night calls. We must scratch that itch. We all yearn for something more. We are travelers, who must move when the call comes. We must answer the call to adventure.
Before you there exist two options: You can either go back to your mundane lives. You can simply give in to what the Universe wants. You can ignore the call, the urge to be more. You can refuse to carve your initials int the deeper, dark fabric of the Universe. Or, what I hope all of you want to do is join me on the other side—el otro lado. There, beyond the threshold, lays in wait grand adventures. Before you, you will have great tribulations, great callings, and even greater legacies. There you will become like gods and goddesses, to be propitiated by the Universe. Here, if you choose to stay, you will merely be ants, scurrying upon the ground, always wondering the why in life. There, if you choose to cross the threshold, you will become something that others, even the Universe, can’t ignore anymore. You will be immortal in name and deed.
He finished the last of his beer, between takes, wiped his mustache and beard clean, just before beginning again: This might sound a bit dramatic for our cause. Our cause is not the slaying of some dragon, the overthrow of a corrupt dictatorship, or the changing of Earth world order for the better. Those are problems for other people, with political will, social capital, and cold, hard cash that we don’t feel like spending. Those are trivial matters. Earthly matters. Ours is a much higher task.
Let’s suppose that in the Universe there exists two options: 0—1. This might seem like I am setting up a sort of false dichotomy. In fact, I’m setting up what might be termed Zeno’s Paradox, an infinite series that completes itself. Imagine this: Achilles and a tortoise are set to race one another. Hold on! you might exclaim. How is this fair? The poor tortoise cannot possibly defeat a perfectly healthy human being, especially someone like Achilles. Actually, Achilles gives the tortoise a head start of (say) one hundred meters. Achilles can only start the race once the tortoise has hit the hundred-meter mark.
Once this happens, Achilles is off to the race. Achilles, that handsome product of god-meddling, makes it to where the tortoise was. By that time, Achille’s adversary, the dastardly tortoise, manages to walk about fifteen meters or so. Achilles then has to sprint another fifteen meters, in order to make it to where the tortoise was—once again. In other words, we have an infinite series, where Achilles and the tortoise are locked into a race where the distance is diminished by one over X, over an infinite number of times, until the process is ended. Obviously, the tortoise loses the race, as Achilles manages to catch up and defeat his adversary. This leads me to an important question; How can an infinite process end? Does that mean infinity is finite, to some degree?
The paradox I am suggesting here is that 0—1 are an infinite series that has an ending—whether or not it is desirable is a question we’ll answer later. One exists as the current, raw state of the Universe: chaotic (entropic) and unpredictable, for the most part. On the other side, we have zero, where predictability is possible and entropy (i.e., chaos) is no longer an issue.
Our task is simple: edge the gauge closer to zero. The task might prove harder than any other challenge on Earth or in the Verse. Think it’s hard to overthrow a well-entrenched oligarchy? Think again. The Universe doesn’t want us to do this. It doesn’t want order over the chaos. It doesn’t want to give in to our demands. We must mark the fabric of the Universe with our names. We do that by collecting every input we can get our hands on. These inputs are likely to deliver something spectacular: an information Verse. Sure, there’s money in collecting all of the inputs you can. There are advantages to having all of the cards. Ours is not to profit off the input streams. We must build the future, build our legacy, by collecting all of the inputs we can. Ours is to build the great confluence—nourished by an infinite number of inputs and cared for by all of us. It is through the confluence that we will be able to mark the Universe with our names. It will be the greatest undertaking in human history, and it will likely fail, because the Universe won’t stand idly by. However, like all failures, they tend to have their uses for future generations and thinkers.
Ours is to build the largest data hoard in human history. A hoard that will be the envy of human civilization, and a data hoard that will likely ensure the continuation of humanity, even when its last members have either been ushered into the event horizon of the Singularity or are but dust floating in the Verse.
The Amateur Data Hoarder