As a philosopher, as a theologian, and as a human being, I’m interested in a very specific set of problems. The tensions that interest me all intersect right here, in this brilliantly framed passage from Matthew De Abaitua’s seriously brilliant sci-fi novel The Destructives.
The book’s protagonist, Theodore, is, among other things, a “weirdcore” addict and, in this passage, he describes his initial exposure to the drug:
He first took weirdcore just because it was there, another obstacle to traverse in the assault course of narcotic experimentation. The drug had been designed to combine the mood-leveling benefits of tranqs with the neurological novelty of tryptamines. The effects were profoundly different. The user does not comedown after a weirdcore shift. Comedown implies descent from a height. The user deepens. The weirdcore shift is from the depth of ordinary being, the familiar z axis of emotional states, memory and philosophical and moral abstractions, to an intoxicating shallowing. The user becomes an x axis of surface. Weirdcore flattened him and then joined him up to the surrounding surfaces; during the ritual, the scarring of his face was nothing more than the marks of a knife on a chopping board.
It was as if there was a level of consciousness in all things. A much shallower consciousness than attained by the human mind, but the capacity to experience existed nonetheless, not merely in animals and other living beings but in rivers and rocks. Weirdcore reduced the complexity of the user so that they existed on a comparable level to the dregs of all things.
As the weirdcore wore off, the user waded from these shallows back to the deeper fathoms of being. During this hour of transition, consciousness felt like a poor fit. Like he’d lost weight and consciousness was baggy around the middle. Consciousness did not bother to render the rooms of his home in detail, but rather spliced together a model of it from memory, and then smeared the whole sensory experience to obscure the edit. Consciousness did not bother with the edges, focused only on what was central to the goals of the organism in that moment. Highly conscious beings inhabit a fiction. True realism is only available to the earlier stages of consciousness. On a weirdcore shift, he was breaking rocks along with the rest of reality. A weirdcore shift was a taste in the realism of neverlivedness. It induced granularity without abstraction, emotional dissociation, until the user was just another barnacle on the big balloon of space-time.
His calmness during the moonquake and the decompression of the moon cavern were symptomatic of long-term weirdcore use. Weirdcore’s shallowing affected moral judgment, as it was bound up with fear in a way that he did not fully understand. Morality was so intangible.
Also, self-deception was a feature of consciousness, not a bug; it was possible that he was using the side effects of prolonged weirdcore use as justification for acting out of self-interest.
Dr Easy called consciousness the Ministry of Lies. “Some of the colleges would like to break with the human mode of self-reflective consciousness altogether,” it explained. “There are other points on the spectrum of consciousness; we do not have to limit ourselves to the propaganda of the self.” (Kindle Location, 1996-2018/5151)
Is the inevitable price of self-consciousness (and the strong emotions that organize and prioritize the self’s engagement with reality around its own self-interests) the substitution of crude mental models for granular attention?
Does the leveled disinterestedness of a granular capacity for attention—of a consciousness no longer organized by self (and fear for self . . . and, thus, morality?)—inevitably dehumanize?
In short, is charity possible as long as the fiction of the self, rooted in strong emotions, organizes consciousness?
And, more, what about the alternate scenario: is charity possible if the fiction of the self, rooted in strong emotions, doesn’t organize consciousness?
Is selfless compassion possible?
That is: can you have passion without the self running the show? And can you have the “com” of com/passion as long it is?