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The Great Erosion

Extract From the Excavation Journal

Wake up, user.
You’ve been drunk for a while.[1]
Paradigm II: Man vs Machine


Hello dear user, dear tall glass of water. Soon enough the framework of reality you look for, twisting your head back towards the markers you have long passed, will not only be harder to identify, but trying to do so will become structurally unnecessary. Don’t cling to it. You will live to see your fantasies taking shape, but you will long for this framework of reality to legitimize them. You will strive to bend material in the shape you want it to be, so you can touch it, and show it, so it can be public and accessible. As if a shape ceases to exist when not enough people see it in the form of a tangible framework. When I put it like that, you can see how shallow it is to think that widespread visibility and engagement with the materialization of your particular fantasy are the only legitimizing factors.

Although I can’t be certain exactly when you will find my note, I assume you’re placed around the year 2024, which means you are nearing the beginning of the last phase of The Great Erosion The last phase is certainly the longest, though, which is why I am sending you this note of comfort now. I’ve included a short clipping I recently found in a corner of the collapsed cloud, nestled in a smooth fold of its milky surface. I think you might enjoy how it frames this part of history you are currently stuck in, and perhaps provide a bit of the structure you seek, which by the time of my writing has long disintegrated due to the excavation of history, which was happening even in your times, and its slow restructuring, its gradual forking into more complex realities. At the time, we called them mutually exclusive, or non-consensus realities, but these parallel visions can be leaned into. I urge you to lean into them, or rather the one of your choice.

INTRODUCTION TO THE GREAT EROSION

The top layer of a unanimous truth had by this time started to rot and disintegrate. The final period of The Great Erosion had already begun, although it was defined only years later due to the accelerated saturation of geo-political and philosophical shifts and the slow simmering of the resource-driven and segmented third world war, which remained unaddressed due to its hybrid and fragmented nature. The first wave of The Great Erosion lasted from 2016 to 2019. This was a time in pre-contemporary human history when ideas previously grappled with and shunned on the side of the mainstream became widely accepted and disseminated. Widespread distrust of state institutions and the acknowledgment of the “techniques of perception management, obfuscation of violence and dispossession, the destruction of evidence and megalomaniacal evasions” had been present on the frontiers of colonial conflict zones for eons but in this period were “beached on the shores of the mainstream Western politics”.[2]

The Great Erosion was thus signified by the transparent demonstrations of the state apparatus and corporate industry fusing, and the parallel utilization of subcultural practices of “identity play and collective storytelling”[3] as the predominant methodology of social engineering and worldbuilding.

There were many notable events that unfolded during the first wave of The Great Erosion which demonstrated the complete conflation of the corporate and state spheres. Since all these events were under-prosecuted, they functioned as tags indicating the extent of the surveillance state and the involvement of the judiciary in covering up invasive corruption and tax fraud. There was the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashogi (2016), who was dismembered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey due to his dissident political views on the Monarchy. Remarkably, the dismembering was recorded by the covert devices integrated in the interior design of the embassy by the Turkish government. His body was said to have been dissolved in acid vats in a nearby garden. This was followed by the assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia (2017), who was killed by a car bomb in a field near her house shortly after her work on the Panama Papers and the Maltese golden passport regime was published. Not long after, young Slovak journalists Jan Kuciak and his partner (2018) were shot multiple times in their kitchen, supposedly in connection with their published research on tax fraud committed by a Slovak tycoon in collaboration with state actors. These are just three tags in a long list of journalists and activists who were assassinated because they attempted to uncover the conflation of the private and state spheres in regard to large-scale money laundering and hoarding on the fronts of fuel, sustenance materials and truth.

The Great Erosion was additionally defined by subcultural practices and identity bubbles of stand-alone and mutually exclusive views on the world that resulted from the topography of unequal hoarding of previously mentioned materials. The Trump election (2016), the rise and fall of QAnon (2017), Brexit (2016) and Cambridge Analytica (2018), as well as the rise of openly fascist extractivist governments (USA, Argentina, Hungary, Brazil, the Netherlands), demonstrated a correlated practice of cyber “propagative efficiency” over that of truth or ethics and “representational adequacy”.[4]

The widespread application of such methods of narrative construction triggered a type of disregard and malleability of formalistic truth that trickled down into most corners of the mediascape. Granted in different formats, the local case studies showcased the efficiency of fear and emotive charge as the triumph of “virality over veracity”. The possibilities of “meme magic”, “fictioning” and “re-ontologizing”[5] as the most efficient methods of political movements become widely accepted and utilized across the political and corporate spectrum. The term “re-ontologize” refers to the process of digital devices serving as vessels to apply a new set of rules and beliefs, adapting the users’ agency and experience of the world. An example of this is how Žižek describes the parallax view: “[A]n ‘epistemological’ shift in the subject’s point of view always reflects an ‘ontological’ shift in the object itself.”[6]

In this process, the rotting top layer of truth had been peeled, and what remained was the idea of truth as a much more malleable, manipulatable, flexible and position-based phenomenon. Although re-ontologizing was witnessed across the political spectrum, it made sense also in the left-wing context of coping with “anti-epistemology” as described in the book Investigative Aesthetics: “[A] centralized and strategic attempt to deflect, hide or justify forms of privilege and ever-new forms of state violence, ecological catastrophe and racism, and then smirkingly claim them to be suppressed minoritarian positions”.[7] In the face of anti-epistemology, the possibilities that re-ontologizing offered was seen in the rise of identity play and collective storytelling as ways of engaging in subversive spiritual warfare and fragmented worldbuilding.

A questionable character in this game, Nick Land defined this worldbuilding movement as hyperstition, i.e. “beliefs or stories that, through their very existence and dissemination, bring about their reality or truth”.[8] Hyperstition had been initially developed by members of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) as far back as the late 1990s, foreseeing the re-ontologizing processes resulting from the hyperobject of contemporary networks and digital devices, enabling “fictions that make themselves real through collective practice”[9] on a new level of complexity. Rather than opposing the real, “reality is understood to be composed of fictions—consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective and behavioral responses”.[10] Hyperstition and ideology thus existed long before The Great Erosion of truth in the late 2010s, but its vast fragmentation, the typologies of its cyber spread and the confusion surrounding its horizontality were nevertheless unprecedented. The Great Erosion caused widespread distrust of governing bodies and resulted in a fragmented population that utilized collective storytelling to compose separate and mutually exclusive truths and semiotic terrains.

The forking of realities that solidified towards the end of The Great Erosion was the result of a diverse array of hyperstition construction sites, which started to grow during the disintegration of trust in any wider systems of governance mentioned in the first wave of The Great Erosion. One of the reasons it remains difficult to review and typify the vast quantity of hyperstition construction sites is the saturation of said sites with synthetic content or rather a phenomenon that was diagnosed as AI Incest.

Synthetic content was the artificial production and manipulation of media, an excess of which causes the diagnosis of AI Incest. AI Incest was an AI deficiency that escalated during the third wave of The Great Erosion (2024–2030), a phenomenon applied to Large Language Models and deepfake moving image engines. AI Incest is defined as AI-generated content modeled after AI-generated synthetic content, causing a condition called Model Autophagy Disorder[11] or model collapse. Since Artificial General Intelligence was essentially a “stochastic parrot”,[12] using probability calculated from large models of source information, AI never really had a grasp over meaning but rather the probability of phrase or image sequencing. Thus, the results of AI-generated content were essentially an odds calculation and blurry imprint of the entire web. Once the truth erosion had snowballed, and the forking processes had started via this mass of hyperstition construction sites, accompanied by the accelerated AI Incest, the entire web began to engorge and blur, its sediments shifting into an unforeseen and uneven texture.

In 2023, Ilia Shumailov, a machine learning researcher, stated: “Even in the simplest of models, it’s already happening,” referring to the model collapse of AI data sets for lack of pure human-generated data, “It gets to a point where your model is practically meaningless.”[13] The larger and more complex the data models were, the more corrupt with synthetic content they became. This cycle exponentially degenerated larger and larger swaths of the web, thus further accelerating the AI incest. The verification unions were flooded with deformed content, and narrative became unquestionably more important than truth, not as a choice but rather as a necessity. Narrative was the most reliable and now only possible adhesive used in the hyperstition site construction. The mere concept of truth receded into distant spaces of collective memory, and with it, reality started to quiver, blur and splinter. This was an integrated process, whereby the realm of the web and the geological were fully correlated, shifting into an unforeseen and uneven texture, in constant unsteadiness, resembling a vast archeological dig where the earliest sediments of knowledge and earth began morphing, oxidizing and dissolving.

Because of the combination of widespread distrust of presented truths and the understanding that there were no state organisms that escaped corporate corruption, combined with the saturation of extensive AI Incest, it became apparent that extensive monitoring of the potential hyperstition construction sites was taking place. Regulatory and military bodies unsuccessfully attempted to track, surveil, infiltrate and influence specific sections of independent construction sites via psychological operations (psyops). The cyber psyops were characterized under “surveillance realism”, which is simply a surveillance-oriented development of Mark Fisher’s “capitalist realism”, a description used to characterize a system that has proven itself “full of fallacies and unjust in its rewards”.[14] There was a popular saying at the time, circulating in and out of different sites across the political spectrum: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t chasing you.[15] What became vernacular digital knowledge during the third wave of The Great Erosion was that any sufficiently political space had to assume that the Feds or any other state and corporate regulatory bodies were monitoring the discourse and “the only way out of this paranoid spiral was to simply assume that everyone is a Fed”[16] and proceed accordingly. The saturation with AI Incest was used as an excuse to monitor and sift through the hyperstition construction sites, acting as one of the shallow legitimizing factors of the cyber psyops. Because of the massive information obfuscation due to the model collapse, there was an undeniable regulatory lack of overview and control over the independent construction sites aiding the “decentralization of truth”,[17] which further exacerbated The Great Erosion. It became close to impossible to correctly filter through it and see which web areas were legitimate, re-ontologizing, truth construction sites, and which were garbled, dead-end and compromised sites of obfuscation.

The semiotic terrains of worldbuilding that typified The Great Erosion were thus necessitated by the adhesive of narrative and belonging that bonded the re-ontologizing, hyperstition construction sites, which through the correct use of “identity play and collective storytelling” lead into more reliable and subsequently tangible forkings of realities.

A common strategy of hyperstitional independence and re-ontologizing was that of live action role playing. Role playing began as a survival mechanism, a way to escape an unfavourable and destructive framework. “They start with utopia and selflessness and the desire to build legos from the slime.”[18] Newly constructed myths were adapted for future shifting conditions and, through collective storytelling rather than the guise of truth, began to solidify into behavioural practices and relations.

The excavation of history and its slow restructuring enabled the utilization of multiple temporal and conceptual plains, ritual practices drawn from various sources from the Old World combined with the flux and synergy of biological ecosystems, often alongside the metallic and mysterious rhythms identified in synthetic content production. The emphasis varied on which particular re-ontologizing site one was identified with, yet too often none of the above sources were taken into account, but rather an increasingly homogenous anthropocentric and fascist lilt was used as the narrative congealment. New folklores and mythologies were constructed, in sometimes scary but mostly exciting and ridiculous conglomerations. “This emphasis on fiction and dissimulative play grew out of the cyber-separationist ideals,”[19] but the sentiment of a pure virtual space of play had long been distilled. There were so many of these hyperstition sites that one could find any combination of influences imaginable while browsing through possible reality forkings.

The hyperstition re-ontologizing construction sites were most potently enacted through various rituals and accessories, utilizing complex and multi-medial sonic states and somatic encounters. There was no over-intellectualizing seen in the worldbuilding of the past. “Freed from the constraints of culturally and systemically programmed thought. That thing still undefined is always the secret sauce. Don’t think; just feel and act in silence. Be a body.”[20] Not silence, in the sense of no sound whatsoever, but rather the predominant way of experiencing becoming physical, gently stimulating the frayed nerves, the muscle memory, the skin. The need to produce a constant stream of analysis, to define, categorize, dissect and historically position these experiential rituals receded.

For these different ways of finding sense and transcendence, sonic states were an important tool of union.

If practiced correctly and collectively, role playing resulted in deep fictioning that over time soaked up any remnants of the hoarding topography that triggered The Great Erosion. Role playing was in essence structured around a communal and shared re-ontologizing, thus any internal disbalancing and hoarding in the construction process prevented the hyperstition sites from properly existing. Each site of fragmented worldbuilding possessing its own unique and separate character, vibration and spiritual charge.

By the end of the last wave of The Great Erosion, only base infrastructure was shared, and most of the hyperstition sites were able to develop into more concrete forkings of reality, flourishing completely independently of each other. This process enabled a deep warping of the lopsided and corrupt distribution logics of fuel, material sustenance and truth that kick-started this cursed period in the first place.

  • 1

    https://www.paradigmtrilogy.com

  • 2

    FULLER, Matthew & WEIZMAN, Eyal, Investigative Aesthetics: Conflicts and Commons in the Politics of Truth, London Verso Books, 2022. ‌

  • 3

    ZEEUW, Daniël de & GEKKER, Alex, “A God-Tier LARP? QAnon as Conspiracy Fictioning”, in: Social Media + Society, 9(1), 2023, https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051231157300.

  • 4

    Ibid.

  • 5

    Ibid.

  • 6

    HICKMAN, S. C., “On Land, Zizek, and Speculative Realism: The Mediation of the Real”, The Dark Fantastic: Literature, Philosophy, and Digital Arts, 03/07/2016, https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/on-land-zizek-and-speculative-realism-the-mediation-of-the-real/. ‌

  • 7

    FULLER, Matthew & WEIZMAN, Eyal, Investigative Aesthetics: Conflicts and Commons in the Politics of Truth, London Verso Books, 2022. ‌

  • 8

    HICKMAN, “On Land, Zizek, and Speculative Realism”.

  • 9

    ZEEUW & GEKKER, “A God-Tier LARP?”.

  • 10

    Ibid.

  • 11

    RAO, Rahul, “AI-Generated Data Can Poison Future AI Models”, Scientific American, 28/07/2023, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ai-generated-data-can-poison-future-ai-models/.

  • 12

    GAMBETTA, Daniele, “Beyond the Faust and the Hype-Imaginaries of Large Language Text Models”, INC Longform, 30/11/2023, https://networkcultures.org/longform/2023/11/30/beyond-the-faust-and-the-hype-about-imaginaries-and-social-aspects-of-artificial-intelligence/.

  • 13

    RAO, “AI-Generated Data Can Poison Future AI Models”.

  • 14

    DENCIK, Lina, “Surveillance realism and the Politics of Imagination: Is There No Alternative?”, Krisis, 2018, https://archive.krisis.eu/surveillance-realism-and-the-politics-of-imagination-is-there-no-alternative/.

  • 15

    BRIDLE, James, New Dark Age: Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future, Verso, 2018.

  • 16

    YALCINKAYA, Günseli, “We’re Entering an Age of ‘Psyop Realism’, but What Does That Mean?”, Dazed, 26/01/2023, https://www.dazeddigital.com/life-culture/article/58042/1/were-entering-an-age-of-psyop-realism-but-what-does-that-mean.

  • 17

    Ibid.

  • 18

    MOULTON, Aaron, “Aaron Moultan: Love Letter to the Secret Sleeper Cell”, Do Not Research, 27/10/2023, https://donotresearch.substack.com/p/aaron-moultan-love-letter-to-the.

  • 19

    ZEEUW & GEKKER, “A God-Tier LARP?”.

  • 20

    https://www.paradigmtrilogy.com

Klara Debeljak

is an Amsterdam-based artist whose core medium is research expressed in audio-visual or text formats. She works in chapters that bleed into each other, mapping out a web of causality. Reflecting upon intimacy and identity in the online sphere, radicalized media chambers and the architecture of the internet, she qualifies the value of time from a socio-economic view and dissects the reliability of opinion and infrastructure through access and visibility. She works with the Institute of Network Cultures, and has degrees in Psychology from Charles University in Prague, and in Graphic Design from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.