A page from the manuscript of Dean Kyte’s forthcoming book, “Letter to My Niece”.
A page from the manuscript of Dean Kyte’s forthcoming book, Letter to My Niece. Listen to Dean read the page below.

What’s Melbourne like to live in at the moment? Grim, Jack. Very grim.

The world’s most liveable city has descended into something like the Mexican hell that Jim Thompson describes at the end of The Getaway: once you’re in the gulag, baby, there ain’t no way of getting out.

Except via the wooden kimono.

It was a little less than three months ago that I announced to you that long-term parking during Lockdown 1.0 had not been wasted time for yours truly. In this post, I announced that, besides having time to pen 27,000 words of commentary on the Coronavirus crisis, I had had time to write five complete drafts of a 6,000-7,000-word book on same for my seven-year-old niece.

Well, today I can announce that another massive step towards publishing this book has been accomplished: During Lockdown 2.0, I’ve had time to completely edit the audiobook version of my next book, recorded while I was ‘on parole’ between incarcerations.

You can listen to a sample of the audiobook above.

I am also pleased to announce the title of my forthcoming book: Letter to My Niece: Reflections during Lockdown on COVID, Technology, and the Next Generation’s Future.

It took me nearly 66 hours to research and write five complete drafts of this letter in which I attempt to explain the Coronavirus situation to my little niece; discuss the rôle I think that technology—particularly artificial intelligence—will play in her future; set forth some principles for moral comportment which I hope will serve her in times of existential uncertainty; and try to impart to her some spiritual message of hope, despite the darkness I foresee.

It was, as I said in the post where I discussed the process of writing this letter, an unexpectedly emotional experience for me. There were times when tears were streaming down my face as I penned the final, handwritten draft of the 31-page letter to her.

When I finished writing the letter on June 2, stay-at-home restrictions in Victoria were tentatively easing: we were at the end of our first week of post-lockdown liberty, although I, in a fever of literary activity, had still not left my little room at The Miami Hotel in West Melbourne.

I had my first housesit in two months scheduled for two days later in Bacchus Marsh, and I was determined the finish the manuscript before booking to Bacchus, so I could record the audiobook whilst there.

I said it took me nearly 66 hours to research and write the book from end to end. Well, to give you some comparison, it took me 5 ½ hours to record it and 48 ½ hours to edit it—a total of 54 hours.

In other words, it took me nearly as much time to record and edit what I wrote as it took me to write it.

But if you had told me at the beginning of June that five weeks later, after a brief flirtation with freedom, Melbourne would be slammed back in the slammer, and I would be editing—for weeks on end—the audio version of what I had written in the same little cell where I wrote it for weeks on end, I would hope, Señor, that you are—how you say?—loco.

No estás loco.

Copying the mail of chatter from states to the north and west of us, I doubt that anybody outside Victoria can really appreciate how dark the last two months have been for us—especially for those of us here in Melbourne.

We’re in a Stasi state: we’ve been jailed by our government for their incompetence during Lockdown #1.

When I announced the completion of Letter to My Niece to you in June, I said that I felt privileged to be a writer during the first lockdown, that the process of writing a book by hand for my little niece under such circumstances had felt like a reconnection with my ancient avocation: As the greatest minds have passed the lessons of their experience down to us by hand, their words surviving wars, pandemics and other catastrophes, so I was passing on a few sign posts gleaned from my own experience to the next generation.

But in Lockdown #2, there have been nights when I have sat in the little hotel room I am obliged by law not to leave and have literally cried at the unbelievable and escalating horror of Soviet-style repression I am ‘privileged’ to live through and bear witness to as a writer.

When I hear the horrendous tales of people’s despair in Melbourne during this second lockdown, I don’t feel privileged to be a writer, I feel fortunate.

I feel fortunate to have spent 37 years of life honing the mastercraft of focusing one’s mind and directing it, day after day, towards the realization of a distant goal: the translation of abstract thought into crystallized words on paper.

But for honing the mastercraft of focusing my mind and striving each day of this second incarceration to create—and re-create—the words I wrote three months ago in Letter to My Niece as an audiobook, I might easily be one of the heart-breaking number of people in Melbourne who, imprisoned by the Government, have ended their empty days in despair.

As I argued in this post, in understanding the situation here in Melbourne which precipitated a second lockdown, you cannot underestimate the rôle that boredom, that ennui, that a society of the spectacle suddenly relieved of all its levers of distraction played in metastasizing the discontent Melburnians feel with the Andrews Government.

A vacuum was created―and into lives and minds made suddenly empty, the Devil can find plenty of work to fill idle hands.

Fortunately, as a writer, I have work that occupies both mind and hands, and as much of an unendurable grind as I found it to edit 5 ½ hours of my own voice down to 67 minutes and 12 seconds, to turn up each day and winnow four more minutes of audio out of three hours’ work was as satisfying as that feeling a writer gets when the unenvisageable end of his book is finally glimmering on the horizon.

Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t the pleasure of hearing my own voice for three hours a day that kept my bird up!

No, it was a repetition of the effect I had experienced in writing the words during Lockdown #1.

It happens very, very rarely, but occasionally I write words that move me to tears, and being as merciless a critic of my own work as I am, when that all too rare event happens, I know the words are good.

Getting no words of hope from the Premier, I got them from myself.

When I recorded the voice track at Bacchus, I wasn’t aiming for anything except to get through what I knew would be an all-day slog of reading as efficiently as possible.

But when, several weeks later, I began to assemble and edit the raw tracks on the timeline and cobble together ‘perfect takes’ of each sentence, much as, when writing my books, I edit my sentences down to their final, ‘perfect’ form, I was astonished to hear something in my voice I was too exhausted to notice as I was recording it.

As I edited the voice track, I was occasionally moved to tears to hear my message to my little niece delivered with an intensity, and a sincerity, and a sternness of conviction we don’t often hear from so-called ‘leaders’, and other public speakers, today.

There isn’t a parental—let alone a paternal—bone in my body, and yet I was surprised to hear an almost ‘fatherly’ tone of intense, stern conviction—as of a man setting forth an uncompromising vision with the rectitude of absolute candour—in my voice, a tone which I hardly recognized as my own.

In keeping with the bespoke æsthetic of Letter to My Niece, it was important to me that my little niece should not only be able to read my words to her in my own hand, but that she should be able to hear my voice speaking the message of hope I had written to her.

The number of times I’ve spoken to her on the telephone could be counted on less than five fingers, so she has no knowledge of who her uncle is, what kind of character that man has, or what he believes in. The audiobook, as a kind of ‘read-along’ accompaniment to the text, was intended to give her as bespoke a reading experience and as intimate an introduction to her uncle as it’s possible for so intimate a medium for communicating thought to give.

So, having got through the grind of editing the audiobook, I’m up to the design and layout phase of my Artisanal Desktop Publishing process. I hope to be able to post one more update on my progress, giving you a glimpse of what I envision for the handwritten manuscript in book form, before I officially release Letter to My Niece in the Dean Kyte Bookstore.

I can hardly wait to add a fresh product to the Bookstore, but as I tell my clients, the working of writing and publishing is ‘a work of many days’, and wait I must—at least for a few more days yet.

Have you checked out my Bookstore lately? It’s undergoing a renovation and revamp, and I’m very pleased with how it’s progressing.

I’ve added new internal product pages for four out of five of my books, as at the time of this post. If you click on Flowers Red and Black, Brazen Gifts for Gold, Things we do for Love, or Follow Me, My Lovely…, you will be taken directly to internal pages for these books, where you can now preview them online in their available formats, hear and watch me read excerpts, and order copies from me directly.

I’ve also instituted a new ‘custom order’ service, so each product page has a contact form whereby you can inquire with me directly about bespoke orders.

If you have any special requests, such as that you would like me to write a specific, personalised message when I sign and dedicate the book to you, or if you would like to purchase a number of books as gifts and want me to take care of distribution on your behalf, you can drop me a line via these contact forms and I can negotiate a custom deal with you, bespoke to your needs.

You will find me very willing to accommodate you as best I can. Particularly if you know someone down here who could use the company of a good book, I’ll go out of my way to write an encouraging dedication and prepare a thoughtful package for them.

Self-portrait of Dean Kyte.
In captivity:  Self-portrait of Dean Kyte, locked down in his West Melbourne hotel room.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
— W.B. Yeats,
“The Second Coming”

 

Your Melbourne Flâneur has been conspicuously quiet the past few weeks, despite events in Melbourne which demand urgent comment and analysis.

The reason for the buttoned-up bouche is very simple: I’ve been trying to keep the little barque of my small business afloat—in spite of the unconscionable economic vandalism being visited upon Victoria from week to week by Daniel Andrews and his government.

So I may as well throw in a plug for myself at the start.  If you’ve been following my critiques of the Coronavirus situation with interest, you might also be interested in the personal services I can provide to you.  If you’re a creative writer and you’re seeking to self-publish a thoroughly bespoke book, my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service is probably the ticket for you.  I can bring the same critical scrutiny to editing your work as I’ve brought to analysing the Coronavirus crisis.

And while I aim to be unfailingly courteous and considerate of my clients’ feelings in framing my criticisms, as you know by now if you have followed me this far in my critique, I don’t pull any punches, so if there are weaknesses in your writing, you can trust me to tell you so, and I will also suggest some strategies, techniques and approaches to strengthen your message so it lands well with your intended audience.

My special skill is providing what I call ‘content strategy’ to my clients: I can counsel you on how to logically organize your writing at its deepest level so as to ensure maximal comprehension on the part of your readers.

Of course, it would be a much more pleasant experience for both of us to work together face-to-face, but that’s not an option at the moment.  Nevertheless, we can get a good rap going over Zoom, so if you’re further afield than Melbourne—parbleu! if you happen to be overseas, even—there’s no obstacle to us working together remotely as we edit, design and lay out your book.

Visit the Contact page to get in touch with me or to book a consultation.

All right, enough with the word from our sponsors.  Let’s unbottle the tough talk.

So in my last post on the Coronavirus, I made some predictions that rapidly proved to be prescient.  Principally, I said that the next frontier in the battle about the deadly reality of this invisible belief would be fought over masks, and I noted that Victorian premier Daniel Andrews—while not making the wearing of face coverings compulsory in Melbourne at that time—had strongly lent the colour of his support to them, which suggested an imminent move towards mandating masks.

A week later, the Premier announced that you could not put your snoot outside your door in Melbourne without a muzzle over it, under pain of a $200 fine.

There are times I hate being right, particularly when it comes to my occupational talent for reading the characters of people and predicting what they will do.

Mr. Andrews couldn’t win a hand in a poker game: he telegraphs his tells a week in advance of his play.

I was sincerely hoping he would not prove me right because I knew what it would mean for his character, and for the consequential state of play of this crisis in Victoria.

It would mean that the Premier was not capable of strategic thinking, merely tactical, and that he was prepared to risk plunging not just Melbourne or Victoria but the whole country into a Hobbesian state of nature for the sake of one ill-defined goal on the health dimension.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was a political philosopher who lived through the English Civil War.  He observed to what a spectacular extent civil society can break down into a naked competition for individual power and resources.  Hobbes defined this condition as ‘the state of nature’—a multi-polar environment of mutual fear and distrust in which individuals leverage whatever tools, tactics and strategies of violence they have at their disposal to extractively centralize power and resources to themselves in a zero-sum game.

In his book Leviathan (1651), Hobbes described this state of nature as a ‘war of every man against every man’, and he said that the life of the individual in the state of nature would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’

The zero-sum dynamics which underwrite our Faustian civilization in decline tend necessarily to drive us towards a Hobbesian state of nature: the fallacy of infinite derivatives in a world of finite resources must eventually lead to a societal collapse as our civilizational Ponzi scheme folds under its own unsustainable exponent.

You can’t keep Hoovering resources up to the top of the pyramid without the foundations collapsing under the weight.  And when that happens, alienated individuals start taking resources for themselves.

If you want to see what a state of nature might look like, take a glance across the pond at Portland and Seattle: the looting and rioting in those cities should be read as a cautionary tale of the civilizational collapse humanity is courting.

We’ve been slowly sliding towards the abyss of an all-out war of all against all for a very long time.  But it took the Coronavirus to expose just how weak the veneer of civility—and civilization—is in Western society.

Way back in March I raised the alarm with you in my first post on the Coronavirus, stating unequivocally that a global systems collapse had been triggered by the pandemic which would cascade through the economic system, through the political system, and ultimately through the geopolitical system.

I would propose that the more a civilization in its late period of senescent decadence tends towards a Hobbesian state of nature, the more one sees a quality I would call ‘mediocrity’ emerge—not only in the macro-character of its social and political institutions, but in the micro-character of the people who comprise them.

More specifically, in the descent towards a Hobbesian state of nature, we begin to more conspicuously notice in failing institutions such as governments the progressive emergence of individuals who are adept at playing the Hobbesian zero-sum power game of resource centralization and extraction from the commons.

Indeed, in the Hobbesian state of nature, I would argue, these mediocre individuals are naturally selected for by the mediocre conditions of the system.

In other words, mediocre individuals whose only genius is the tactical animal cunning which enables an organism to more or less optimally negotiate a salience landscape of risks and rewards in a state of nature begin to populate social and political institutions with increasing conspicuousness.

In the Western Anglosphere, for instance, it is hardly controversial to notice that the leaders of the four major English-speaking democracies—Mr. Trump in the United States, Mr. Johnson in Great Britain, Mr. Trudeau in Canada, and Mr. Morrison here in Australia—are all men who, prior to entering political life, had careers in the public sphere involving pretence, mendacity, deception or dissimulation—qualities which, if we were not living in conditions of an escalating state of nature, would have disqualified them for public office.

As an entrepreneur, Mr. Trump was an unashamed con man.  Mr. Johnson debased the profession of journalism with his lies.  Mr. Morrison had a career in ‘marketing’, and Mr. Trudeau was, of all things, a drama teacher.

In the Hobbesian state of nature, a capacity to pretend, to deceive, to dissemble, dissimulate or outright lie with bravura is not a political liability but a positive asset—for in a multi-polar environment of mutual distrust, in order to maximize one’s personal resources, one must be able to forge alliances of a temporary and contingent nature with other actors.

There are some resources which cannot be extracted from powerful rivals by main force but which require the subtle dissimulation of allyship in order for one to gain access to them.  These men at the apices of the pyramids of power in their respective countries are currently the most adept exemplars of the socially pathological phenomenon I call ‘mediocrity’.

Daniel Andrews is also a mediocre person.

But as, when I apply the word ‘mediocre’ to somebody, I mean it as a term of art which describes the integral quality of their character, its capacity under pressure, not as an insulting epithet, it would be as well to provide a technical definition of mediocrity, of the maladaptive, pathological traits which I believe the mediocre person typically possesses in the state of nature where he or she thrives—for the state of nature is the ‘ecological niche’ of the mediocre person.

In essence, my definition of the mediocre person is a conflation of Spengler’s Megalopolitan man and Flaubert’s bourgeois.  Spengler describes the pathology of this human phenomenon in The Decline of the West, while Flaubert, in Madame Bovary and in Bouvard et Pécuchet, illustrates the character of the mediocre person in action.

The mediocre person is a creature of the city in a civilization’s senescent period of decline, and as, in our Faustian Western civilization, the Megalopolis of ‘the City’ is now the World Wide Web, a global caliphate that is everywhere, we are all creatures of the city, and therefore more or less mediocre.

I’ll leave it to Spengler to describe the mediocre late-City man:  ‘They are the market-place loungers of Alexandria and Rome, the newspaper-readers of our own corresponding time; the “educated” man who then and now makes a cult of intellectual mediocrity and a church of advertisement; the man of the theatres and places of amusement, of sport and “best-sellers”.’

It’s perhaps worth noticing that in that short sentence, Spengler identifies all the métiers practiced by the four conspicuous examples of political mediocrity I identified above—journalism (Mr. Johnson), advertising (Mr. Morrison), theatre (Mr. Trudeau) and sport and other places of amusement, such as casinos, wrestling and television (Mr. Trump).

In its feminine manifestation, the mediocre person is Emma Bovary, indefatigably fatigued with ennui, and hence the constant victim of fashion.  And in its masculine form, the mediocre person is la Bovary’s nemesis, the progressive, pragmatically materialist pharmacist M. Homais, whom Flaubert later reprised as his two hapless copy-clerks, Bouvard and Pécuchet.

Flaubert, in his pathological hatred for his own class, the bourgeoisie, delineates the essential qualities of the mediocre person, whom Spengler defines as ‘small and shrewd’, amply possessed of the animal cunning of the trading class.  Let us not forget that the etymology of the word ‘mediocre’ stems in part from the Latin medius—‘of middle degree, quality or rank.’

The mediocre person, by Flaubert’s lights, is eminently ‘middle-class’.

And the thing about the mediocre person is that he is not unintelligent.  You don’t get very far in the game of mercantile resource centralization and extraction if you don’t have an edge of intelligence over your competitors.  But I consider this form of ‘tactical’ intelligence to be ‘mere animal cunning’, the application of the predatory instinct to the social realm which is the human equivalent to the pure state of nature.

This form of predatory intelligence is purely middle of the range.  The life of the bourgeois, citified person is entirely geared towards the goal of maximal personal resource centralization and extraction from the commons, and his education system is necessarily geared towards facilitating this practical end.

But intelligence is really an index of one’s problem-solving faculties.  It’s true that ‘making a living’ in the social realm, extracting the resources from it that supports one’s life, is as much a demonstration of the human capacity to solve problems as the tactics and techniques that other organisms have evolved to extract resources from their environments.

But at the human level of intelligence, there are higher order problems to be solved than merely extracting the resources that one needs to make a living—particularly when the problems are of a species-wide, existential nature.

The most conspicuous aspect of the mediocre person is what Spengler calls his ‘intellectual mediocrity’, his relatively modest cognitive capacity to perform these higher order mental operations of abstract problem solving.

The mediocre person is narrowly educated to be ‘fit for purpose’ in the economic domain of resource extraction, but he is conspicuously poor in his capacity to perform sovereign sensemaking.  Thus, he is the continual prey of ideological possession: the mediocre person doesn’t have ideas of his own; ideas have him.  He is their spokesperson.

This is the ‘deindividuated memetic possession’ I spoke of in an earlier post on the Coronavirus as being a characteristic of low internal individualism, the deprecation of individual freedom of thought in favour of individual freedom of action.

And it was this characterological flaw of the bourgeoisie that Flaubert mercilessly satirized at the end of his life with his Dictionnaire des idées reçues, recognizing that mediocre people imbibe their ideas from the air exhaled by those around them.

I would submit that, en revanche, genuine intelligence is a capacity to handle complexity at a sufficiently high level of resolution; to tease all the relevant variables of a problem apart, like the strands of a great tapestry; to hold them separate yet relative in their dynamic relations with one another for as long as possible as one negotiates a solution which strategically balances these variables.

Except in the STEM fields, where we have scientists working tirelessly to discover a vaccine for the Coronavirus, that kind of intelligence, that kind of strategic thinking does not appear to be in very great supply to us in negotiating the aspects of this crisis which touch most directly on people—on the social, political and economic variables of this problem.

The short-term, tactical response of mediocre leaders such as Daniel Andrews is more to throw oneself bodily on the brake of one dimension—the health aspect of this crisis—and say, ‘Well, we will sort out all the long-term damage done on the other dimensions after we have got numbers under control.’

Yet it’s precisely that approach of looking to tactically solve one salient variable in the short term by ignoring, delaying or commuting the long-term strategic solution of tangential variables which has weakened our entangled global systems to the point of civilizational collapse.

The sensemaking capacities of our socio-political institutions—including governments—are found wanting in this crisis, and in Victoria, from day to day new evidence emerges—despite the Government’s efforts to keep mum—that both the institutions responsible for the state’s response to the Coronavirus and the individuals who comprise them are mediocre thinkers—tacticians whose short-term problem-solving skills backfired in the long term.

One of the major problems for collective sensemaking in negotiating the incomputable number of variables associated with our existential crises lies in the realization that democratized universal education—the Western model of mercantile education for narrow economic purpose—has failed our civilization.

We have three generations of the most educated human beings in history currently alive, and their pieces of parchment ostensibly credential these people as the most intelligent cohort of human beings who have ever lived at any one time in history.

But education is a Hobbesian resource extraction game too.  In the civilizational Ponzi scheme of infinite derivatives extracted from finite resources, democratized education is another numbers game:  You’ve got to get a lot of suckers through the doors of the universities; soak the value out of them; pass them (since that is what they’re paying you for in exchange for the exorbitant debt you’re saddling them with); and credential them—no matter how mediocre the quality of their thought.

And because, in the Western model of mercantile education for narrow economic purpose, universities are the gateways to the professions, you don’t have to follow this Ponzi logic many steps along the chain before you realize the dire consequences for collective sensemaking in all the institutions we depend upon for a civilized life—from law, to banking, to media, to education, and to public policy.

As the Peter Principle famously predicts, everyone in a Scientific Managerial hierarchy rises to a position just beyond the level of his competence.

But in this competitive landscape of personal advancement, the capability to rise to an ultimate position of hierarchical eminence which is beyond one’s sensemaking capacity to properly serve in represents one’s optimal capacity to fraudulently extract resources from the economy and centralize them to oneself.

And when all our institutions are populated by people who are not well-placed to serve our collective sensemaking and problem-solving needs, but are excellently placed to serve their own private interests, we are primed for a Hobbesian state of nature to ensue under conditions of common existential crisis and civilizational collapse.

Public life in these periods when the cultural paradigm is in decline attracts only mediocre people—short-term tactical thinkers like Mr. Andrews in Victoria, and Messrs. Trump, Johnson, Trudeau, Morrison et al. on the world stage.  It doesn’t attract the long-term strategic thinkers, for ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.’

Spengler, co-opting the name given to that sanguinary epoch of ancient Chinese history, calls the Hobbesian state of nature in which mediocre individuals vie for political power the Period of Contending States.  He says: ‘In the degree in which the nations cease to be politically in “condition,” in that degree possibilities open up for the energetic private person who means to be politically creative, who will have power at any price, and who as a phenomenon of force becomes the Destiny of an entire people…. [W]e have now the accident of great fact-men.  The accident of their rise brings a weak people … to the peak of events overnight, and the accident of their death … can immediately plunge a world from personally secured order into chaos.’

Tactical thinking is about maximizing short-term benefits by negotiating a salience landscape of long-term costs.  Like a pinball glancing off an array of scoring targets, you negotiate a chancy path through this valley of consequential hazards which involves trying to maximize your current resources in the hopes that you will have enough of them at your disposal to eventually deal with the long-terms costs you are ignoring, delaying, or commuting.

The worst leaders are those who are the most brilliant at tactics, for, as Mr. Trump demonstrates, their agile, impulsive responsiveness to the random windfalls of chance in a rapidly evolving situation is often in temperamental contrast to the skill of predictively calculating long-term consequences and orienting micro-actions towards macro-goals.

It’s the difference between playing checkers and go.

Like all the so-called ‘leaders’ of our time, Daniel Andrews, by the evidence of his decisions, amply demonstrates that he is not capable of strategic thinking, the balanced negotiation of short-term costs to ensure the achievement of a long-term goal, because he is, like all the so-called ‘leaders’ of our time, a mediocre person.

The evidence of his decisions demonstrates that he has risen to a position beyond the level of his sensemaking competence, but not beyond the level of his capacity to play the Hobbesian social game for fun and profit.

The quality of Mr. Andrews’ thought is mediocre.  His manipulation of the ‘algebra of thought’—human language—to express his tactical calculations is mediocre.

Strategic leadership, the capacity to inspire social coherence by virally communicating a vivid, memetic sense of the situation which can be shared by a population, cannot emerge from tactical mediocrity in conditions of existential crisis.

Statesmen are poets in their thinking and speech: they communicate ‘the big picture’ so that the population can share their strategic vision and get behind it.

In the late period of civilizational decline, however, the politicians who emerge to seize power are small and mean prosateurs—eminently bourgeois in their mediocre thinking and speech.

Mr. Andrews cannot bring the Victorian people together behind a shared sense of what the Coronavirus situation is and what it means because, in his own mediocrity of thought and expression, he himself lacks the strategic capacity to visualize the landscape of salient hazards thrown up by the lurgy at a sufficiently high level of resolution and predictively calculate alternate pathways through it.

The aim of strategy in this situation is to find a pathway which balances the endurance of acceptable costs by the population on all relevant dimensions—not merely the health variable—so as to maximize the long-term benefits for the society from the short-term costs of their temporary distress.

The decisions that the Premier has made on the social, political and economic dimensions of this problem have the hollow, panicky ring of tactics about them rather the solid, reassuring ring of strategy.

Mr. Andrews’ government has lost its legitimacy as a prescriptive authority.  The authoritarian, Scientific Managerial approach the Premier has taken to this networkcentric problem—the dictates on mandatory masks, the escalation of repressive restrictions, the imposition of draconian curfews—is evidence that, due to his mediocrity as thinker, speaker, and leader, Mr. Andrews’ has, as I predicted at the end of my last post, lost the capacity to inspire endogenous compliance by Melburnians.

When you take an authoritarian, hierarchical Scientific Management approach to a networkcentric problem, you only attempt to impose more overt control on the problem when it is already clear that you have lost it.

Take, for instance, the issue of masks.

It’s well-known that transmission of the Coronavirus is not principally a function of whether one’s face is uncovered or not: transmission is principally a function of human mobility.  Hence the justification for repressive stay-at-home measures and social distancing.

So to anyone studying the science, when the Premier mandated the wearing of masks in Melbourne on 22 July, three weeks into the Stage 3 lockdown when everyone ought properly to have been at home, he was making the tacit admission that the Government had lost control of social distancing, had lost its monopoly on violence to restrict the movement of its citizens, and had therefore lost its legitimacy as a prescriptive authority.

Melburnians were refusing to keep apart from one another by staying at home.  In effect, when he mandated the compulsory wearing of masks in public, the Premier, having lost control of the people, was throwing up his hands and saying: ‘If you insist on breaking the rules by going outside and mingling, at least wear a mask while you’re doing it.’

There are calls for Mr. Andrews to resign, but in my view, that too is an example of short-term tactical thinking.

There is nothing to be strategically gained, as far as I can tell, from removing Mr. Andrews now:  Despite the revelations of his thoroughgoing incompetence, no challenger has stepped forward who demonstrates that he has a better familiarity with this crisis as it is relevant to Victoria at the macro-level than the Premier has acquired in the past five months, so it makes no sense to change horses mid-race.

The Premier must seek to undo the damage he has done.

Moreover, in the Hobbesian state of nature into which we are entering, you have more to fear in the long term from the person who demonstrates a more exquisite degree of mediocrity by dispatching the present incumbent in a coup than from the incumbent himself.

But if our democracy endures to another election, Mr. Andrews will have to step aside from the leadership of his party.  Unless he can tactically capitalize upon some extraordinary and inconceivable stroke of good fortune which entirely cancels out the record of his incompetence in this crisis and puts his reputation with the electorate into surplus, he is unsalvageably tainted and a political liability to his party.

They can’t retain political hold of resources with Lurch at the helm.

But whoever follows Daniel Andrews as premier, from whatever side of politics he or she comes, the odds are six, two and even that his successor will be of even more mediocre character than the Chairman of the Hoard himself.

Better put your seatbelt on.  There’s turbulence up ahead.

Charles_Ponzi
The talented Mr. Ponzi: Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), dapper dandy and absolute scoundrel.

In 2017, I worked with my good friend Paul Forest on a submission he was preparing for the Global Challenges Foundation.  Through their New Shape Prize, the foundation was seeking ideas to reform global governance in order to ameliorate potential future threats to humanity.

You can read the paper that we wrote together here.

A document that we referenced significantly in framing our response was the Global Challenges Foundation’s own white paper, 12 Risks that threaten human civilisation: The case for a new risk category (2015).  The paper is the first report to explore a class of risks to human civilization ‘that for all practical purposes can be called infinite.’

The twelve risks which the authors explore in the report include the usual suspects, such as climate change, nuclear war, bad global governance and financial systems collapse.  They also include such ‘sci-fi’ scenarios as asteroid impacts, supervolcanic eruptions, and the threats to humanity posed by artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.

And then there is the threat posed by global pandemics such as Coronavirus.

The authors found that in most financial assessments of risk, these twelve infinite-impact scenarios were rarely considered for two reasons.  On the one hand, they are so low in probability that their inclusion in forecasting would unduly unbalance calculations of risk.  On the other hand, if any one of these low-probability risks were to eventuate, their ultimate impact on human society would be incalculable.

But the problem is, that in many circumstances, if any one of these twelve infinite-impact risks were triggered, it would likely have a ‘knock-on’ effect, triggering other infinite-impact risks which would further compound an incalculably devastating scenario.

I think we begin to see this knock-on effect taking place with Coronavirus.  What began as a health crisis is now metastasizing into a financial crisis which could easily trigger a global systems collapse—in addition to killing significant swathes of the global population.

I do not think it is at all controversial to posit the view that the systems we currently rely upon as a global population—political, economic, educational, environmental—are not fit to withstand the common challenges we face.  These are ‘legacy systems’ which are not adapted to withstand the conditions of novel complexity and rapid rates of change that are now our ‘new normal’.

In the case of our global financial system, it is clear that, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, a necessary opportunity to reform a legacy system which had demonstrated the limits of turbulence it could withstand was lost.

It is also clear that much of the political and civil unrest which has metastasized in western democracies post-2008 may be traced to the institutional inertia inherent in one complex system—the politico-regulatory—making insufficient efforts to reform another complex system—the financial—with its own institutional inertia.

The mounting civil unrest manifesting in the body-politic of western democracies is the consequence, in large part, of an inchoate sense in ordinary people that the currency which lubricates civil exchange in society, decoupled from a material standard, is fundamentally bankrupt, and that the political and financial systems have conspired in a thoroughly extractive fiscal policy to vacuum out all remaining value.

Whatever the truth of this popular intuition, the politico-regulatory system which governs us finds itself in an uncomfortable position: having thoroughly eroded the trust of the populace it governs through its institutional inertia, its inability, and even unwillingness, to effect reform in the financial system, it now demands the people’s trust when another infinite-impact risk threatens in the public health system—one which will likely spill over into the financial system with more globally devastating results than we experienced in 2008.

Indeed, at the most immediately visible financial level, that of the everyday civil exchange of currency for goods, we begin to see how the public incivility which has progressively mounted since 2008, being accepted by the body-politic more or less as a ‘new behavioural normal’ in a world where all our systems are revealing their unfitness for present conditions, has begun to manifest itself as a breakdown in social order.

The instances of ‘panic buying’ in supermarkets and online profiteering reveal the fear of missing out—and the greed it rapidly metastasizes into—which underwrites the zero-sum dynamic of competition in capitalism.  In 2008, this zero-sum dynamic saw all the chips on the table accrue to the crooks of the financial system, while the little man was left bereft, feeling betrayed by the political regulators who were elected to defend his interests.

It’s easy to feel some measure of sympathy for these ordinary people, whose civility has been so eroded by the betrayal of civilized systems meant to safeguard the social order, and who act barbarically in supermarket aisles, possessed by a financial ‘panic’.

The last time this happened to these ordinary people, twelve years ago, their fear of missing out was justified.  One can understand why they would want to buy up all the stock of quotidian things it is in their financial power to acquire when the ‘Masters of the Universe’, who have exponentially more means at their disposal, could easily stockpile and profiteer for themselves, sucking the last penny out of these ordinary people.  Again.

For some years I’ve had an interest in the con game.  If you’re a student of human psychology (and of course, if you’re a writer, you ought to be), few fields of study reveal the immutable laws of social dynamics in more pronounced relief than the confidence game.

Having intuited that we now live in the fraudulent world of the ‘long con’, a world of ‘fakeness’ and kayfabery, of screens and surfaces upon which the counterfeit of life doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to be ‘believable’ by some sucker somewhere, I should have been less shocked to recently hear economist Eric Weinstein give the elegant articulation to what I had sensed and ought, with my interest in the classic con game, to have been able to define for myself: our global financial system is a global Ponzi scheme.

When the currency of civil exchange is decoupled from a material standard for which it can be redeemed, you introduce nice conditions for a Ponzi (or pyramid) scheme to take root.  I do not necessarily mean to suggest a return to the gold standard; rather, more abstractly, I am suggesting that the numerical, monetary value I demand of you must be attached to a commensurate value, whether in the form of a tangible good or intangible service, which you agree is exactly equivalent.

In wealthy western democracies, where a trend towards an ‘imaginary mathematics’ of value demanded decoupled from actual value provided began to take root in the 1970’s, the conditions for a society-wide pyramid scheme of extractive value-taking was established.  And with less and less new entrants (read: marks) into the pyramid available at the national level, the scheme had to be exported and globalized in order to remain viable.

Hence the blowback, in 2008, of ‘toxic derivatives’ and other insane feats of financial imagination based on a principle of extracting real monetary value from fictitious values decoupled from a material standard for which they could be redeemed.

I am sure I am not alone in noticing that in our extractive western ‘service economies’ (which are conspicuous in their lack, for the most part, of producing goods to which a real material value is equivalently attached) that the price demanded for common goods like bread and milk is far above the actual value which the consumer gets out of them.

Moreover, at the other end of the spectrum, in the service sector, we have institutions of higher education which extract monetary value from students in exchange for worthless credentials, ‘mortgaging’ future earnings which these institutions know are impossible for students to realize under the zero-sum dynamics of a mature pyramid scheme, and landlords who charge exorbitant rents for four walls and a roof simply because a desperate market will bear the value demanded.

Whether in the case of small goods or large services, the value of what is actually being provided is significantly less than the extractive value being demanded.

When you consider that the policy of extractive value under a competitive, zero-sum dynamic extends equally to small things in our society as to large, you can see how, under infinite-impact conditions, trivial items like hand sanitiser can easily command prices of ten or twenty times the real value which the consumer can obtain from them.

The infinite-impact risk of Coronavirus has exposed the infinite-impact risk of a global systems collapse which is immanently embedded in the competitive, zero-sum dynamic of our global financial system, based as it is on a principle of extractive value-taking radically decoupled from equivalent value-giving.

In my own life, the panic and sudden contraction of the market has immediately exposed me to risk on both the health and the financial fronts.

As some of you know, I housesit as a means of lowering my personal overhead.  Under the extractive conditions of our economy, I simply can’t afford to pay rent.  In exchange for a place to stay, I look after people’s homes and pets while they are away.

While I rarely get anything out of it in the way of money, I like housesitting because the value proposition is equivalent on both sides: I render a valuable service to homeowners for a given period of time, and for that given period I can live in some comfort.

Although, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, I’m technically a homeless person, housesitting is usually a pretty nice way to be homeless—when Coronavirus doesn’t create a double panic, causing people to cancel their travel plans at the last minute and the market for available housesits to suddenly contract.

So at the moment, I really am homeless, with no safe-haven where I can sequester myself in order to preserve my health.  Instead, I’m spinning my wheels at the dingy hostel I usually only bunk down at for a night or two between sits.

But (as you may infer from the extensiveness of the economic argument I have made in the foregoing) I am almost less concerned about my health than the immediate economic impact that Coronavirus is having upon my circumstances.

The non-financial value-exchange market of housesitting is a nice analogue for the sudden contraction we are beginning to see in our global financial markets.  When you’re aware of the number, gravity and cumulative likelihood of infinite-impact risks which threaten human civilization, you are prepared to accept that this global pandemic will, in all probability, trigger a global financial downturn at least equal to, but probably greater than the one we experienced in 2008.

Our global pyramid scheme of extractive value-taking barely withstood that turbulence, without the presence of a second infinite-impact risk to compound it.

It’s clear that a competitive, zero-sum dynamic of extractive value-taking radically decoupled from value-giving is not serving humanity well in the face of a class of risks which can cause both the total extinction of our species and our planet, and completely collapse the social order and infrastructure we depend upon for a civilized life.

Under such circumstances of crisis, it becomes clear that, in order to restore confidence in a marketplace where trust has been thoroughly eroded by the extractive assumptions of zero-sum competition, the risks we collectively face become an opportunity to reform our global financial system by recoupling the value that we ask of others to the value we are prepared to offer them.

Lately, in these times of crisis and panic, I’ve been re-reading David Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man (1997).  It’s not a well-written book by any means, but it’s one of the few I carry everywhere in my suitcase.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of what it is to be ‘a man’—which is almost more a vocation, an ideal standard of conduct to aspire to, than a biological condition of what you’re packing in your pocket.

Truth-telling, the integral alignment of thoughts, words and deeds, firmness of will, determination in purpose, decisiveness in action—these are just some of the virtues which Deida attributes to the ‘superior man’, the person who embodies the ideal standard of the masculine principle.

A superior man does not withdraw or close in upon himself in times of crisis such as those we are experiencing, says Deida.  He maintains an open heart in the face of grave challenge and continues to offer his fullest gift—the unique value which only he can provide—to others, living at what Deida calls his ‘real edge—his place of fear.

‘Your edge,’ Deida says, ‘is where you stop short, or where you compromise your fullest gift, and, instead, cater to your fears.’

I know I haven’t been playing my real edge lately, giving fully of the unique value I can provide to others with my gift for words.  The double risk to health and wealth which Coronavirus poses is an existential opportunity to do my small part in the reform of how we do business with each other, providing commensurate value of service in exchange for monetary value.

For confidence to be restored in a market where extractive value-taking has thoroughly eroded public confidence, leadership—the masculine virtue sine qua non—needs to be shown by individuals who don’t buy into the fraudulent zero-sum assumptions of our legacy economic system.

These individuals will demonstrate leadership in their own small fields of expertise—the places where they can give their fullest gifts to others—and they will, in their personal economic conduct, make earnest efforts to recouple the value they demand in trade to the actual value they provide to others.

In one of his homilies, Deida invites you to describe your edge with respect to your career, and if I’m honest with you, at the moment, my edge of fear is this:

Finding myself temporarily homeless and with no immediate way to protect my health, my small business based on providing my gifts as a writer, editor and desktop publisher to other small businesspeople, to academics, and to other writers and creatives is so fragile that it could easily fold up under present economic conditions by the end of the month, and I would be on the street and without a cent.

Equally, I fear that, if I offer my true gift in the open-hearted way that Deida prescribes, what I offer, under the prevailing extractive economic assumptions, won’t be valued by others—that I will meet a wall of silent indifference which leads to the street.

That’s my edge right now, and as Deida says, there’s nothing dishonourable about admitting your fear as a man—provided you’re prepared to lean into your edge of fear and play it.  ‘… [A] fearful man who still leans into his fear, living at his edge and putting his gift out there, is more trustworthy and more inspirational than a fearful man who hangs back in the comfort zone….’

If I learned anything from my days of doing Daygame, the golden lesson is this:  When things are not are not going well for you in life, your first order of business should be to see where and how you can offer value to others.  Nourish your existing relationships by pre-emptively offering value, and seek to form new relationships by pre-emptively offering value.

So this is my offer of value to you, dear readers:  I’m in pretty desperate need for ready cash to get myself into a safe environment and stabilize my business during this contraction of confidence.  And I’m prepared to offer you value for value.

Times are going to be tough for us all during this downturn, but narratives will still need to be skilfully told, and images will still need to be manicured and managed.

Do you require bespoke writing, editing, graphic design and desktop publishing services?  Do you know somebody who does?  I would sincerely appreciate any introductions and recommendations you can offer, either in the comments below, or via my Contact form.

During this period of financial contraction, I’m going to be lowering my rates to take better account of the real financial circumstances in which clients—old and new—find themselves.  So if you’re new to my Bespoke Document Tailoring and Artisanal Desktop Publishing services, this is an opportunity for you to experience the genuine value I seek to provide businesspeople, academics, and other writers and creatives by giving my fullest gifts to them, with some absorption of the risk on my side.

In any event, if you are genuinely sincere in wanting to work with me and provide value for value on your side, you will find me very willing to negotiate an appropriate service which is optimal to your budget, no matter how modest.

If you would like to experience the difference of working intimately with a wordsmith who is determined to provide you with equivalent value in service to the price we ultimately negotiate, one who will take on your concerns as his own, I invite you to contact me directly by calling (+61) 0423 296 927, or by filling in this Contact form.

And yes, I’m very open to working with overseas clients.  One of the few advantages of the Coronavirus situation is that it facilitates remote collaboration, and with the decline in the Australian dollar, if you’re based in the States, Canada, Britain, Europe or New Zealand, it’s a very advantageous time for you to explore how I can bring value to your business, academic, or creative writing via online collaboration.

This has been a long and very different post from the ones you usually expect of me, dear readers.  I obviously felt some trepidation about speaking so baldly about my own situation, but I felt even more trepidation about setting forth a long and complex intuition about the political and economic state of the world at the moment.

You’ve seen a very different side of me from your ebullient Melbourne Flâneur who waxes lyrical on flânerie and art.  l hope this very different kind of post has brought value to you in your own evolving perspectives on the crises we are facing, and I look forward to engaging with your thoughts and intuitions in the comments below.

They say that every person has a book in her—a painful state of affairs which, if you happen to be a writer, often feels like nursing a mental gallstone.

I’m working on my sixth book, and believe me, the process of writing and self-publishing your own books does not getting any easier after the first one.  It doesn’t get any easier after the fifth, even.

But, as I say in today’s video, what sustains you through the years is the knowledge that, if you persevere, a day will come when you can literally hold your thoughts in your hands.

There’s a certain magic—which I can only equate with holding your newborn child—in the sensation of being able to weigh your words in your hands when you at last see your thoughts, the lightest and most ethereal of things, crystallized in a beautifully bound book.

I’m dreaming of that day with my next book, my sixth mental child, but maybe you are dreaming of experiencing the soul-deep satisfaction of giving birth to your first one.

You’re nursing the book within yourself and you would like to get it out.  Maybe you even write in secret, but you dare not knight yourself with the holy title of ‘writer’.  For you, writing is a hobby, and you feel shy about even sharing the fact that you are ‘writing a book’ with family and friends:—for everyone knows how hard it is to write a book, and you know that, behind their polite smiles of encouragement, your nearest and dearest are doubtful of your staying power.

As I say in the video above, writing and publishing a book is like ‘climbing a mental Everest’, and most of the time that you are climbing it, you still feel as though you are pottering around base camp.

The writing life is more than simply putting words on a page—and what if the words you do manage to put down are no good?

Probably the better part of writing is not writing at all but dealing with rejection—the rejection we make of our own bad writing; the slighting sneers with which our grand ambitions to write a book are greeted by family and friends; the politely deprecating rejection slips which dismiss our entire efforts.

Paradoxically, writing is a rather introverted activity, and yet it is one of the most self-exposing activities an introvert can perform—and therefore one of the most fraught with potential rejection.

But despite its introverted nature, there’s a certain ‘performative’ aspect to writing.  Indeed, being a published ‘author’ is the performative side of a writer’s life.

Your book is the stage upon which you enact all the parts, so it’s perfectly reasonable that you should feel a little ‘stage fright’ when you turn up to the blank page.  If you’re feeling ‘writer’s block’, it’s simply the writer’s stage fright, the dread of giving a bad performance.

Fortunately, self-publishing allows you the greatest latitude to control your stage and your performance.  In the video I state my earnest belief, which has attended me since my earliest days as a writer, to wit:—that the book (to borrow Richard Wagner’s term) should be the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’—‘the total work of art’ of its author.

To continue the Wagner analogy, self-publishing allows you the scope to make your book your Bayreuth—not just a stage, but a whole theatre devoted to you, one in which you can control every aspect of the production.

But the problem with having such scope for total control is that most writers don’t have the requisite skills to handle it well.  Despite its venerability, the printed book is still the most technically complex analogue knowledge technology humanity has ever produced.  As any writer who sets sail on the hazardous seas of self-publishing for the first time will attest, the number of things you have to consider, the number of choices you have to make when publishing your own book is intimidating.

There’s the editing and revising and proofreading, the layout and formatting of the text and illustrations, graphic design and typesetting.  Dealing with the vexing issue of the cover alone will take you almost as long as writing the book—and is just as important as the words behind it.

Indeed, the two categories of problem which the virgin authorpreneur typically faces may be filed under two heads: ‘words’ and ‘images’.

As an Associate Member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), I can handle the words, bien entendu.  But what makes the Artisanal Desktop Publishing service I provide to my clients original is the instinct I have for the visual, for the ‘readability’—(as important as the legibility of the words on the page)—associated with good graphic design.

It would seem in life that one is either more orientated towards words or towards images, but rarely are the two combined.  Yet the ability to think about a book visually, in terms of its graphic and material design, is key to the successful communication of its ostensible content—your writing—to the reader.

As I explain in this video, I’ve been making books since I was a little boy.  It’s what I always wanted to do, so it’s perhaps natural that I should be able to think in both dimensions.  And certainly sharing your work in a supportive environment with an editor who is not just a fellow writer, but is someone who understands the total process of self-publishing your book thanks to long experience of his own, gives you confidence that all aspects of your performance will ultimately do you justice.

I’ve been to the summit of that mental Everest five times now, and I’m slogging my way up the slope for a sixth pass.  As a genuine introvert and someone with a reputation for being a ‘perfectionist’ when it comes to grinding out diamond-cut words, what I find the most ‘performative’ aspect of being a writer is releasing my inner Flaubert momentarily, swallowing my stage fright and allowing you to see inside my Artisanal Desktop Publishing process in some of my videos.

In Brisbane and at Docklands I shared with you a couple of excerpts from my current work in progress, words which are less than perfect by comparison to future versions of same I may share with you in revised drafts.  But I think it’s interesting as a document, particularly in the video format, to see how those impalpable and ethereal things, words, evolve into a plastic object you can hold and weigh in your hand.  I plan to bring you a third instalment shortly, exposing yet another sin-tillating aspect of the erotic (mis)adventure I’ve been tantalizing you with.

What do you think?  Do you find it hard to share what you are working on?  Do you feel as though you will never get to the summit?  Or are you looking forward expectantly to the day when you can finally hold your thoughts in your hand?

I look forward to hearing how you’re going with your own writing in the comments below.

As I explain in today’s video, the metaphor I use to describe my approach to providing document preparation services is that of the bespoke tailor.

On first view, you might ask what making a suit of clothes could possibly have in common with writing, editing, proofreading, and designing documentation for clients as diverse as small businesspeople, academics, and my fellow writers.

But I beg your indulgence, for the bow I draw is not long: like all good metaphors, with un po’ di immaginazione, one skips lightly over the dissimilarities between tailoring and writing to see how one clothes a person’s body, the other his spirit.

The basis of the bespoke tradition in English and Italian tailoring is that article which is thoroughly handmade by craftsmen—cutters, tailors and finishers—each of whom is a master at his respective handicraft.

And when you master a handicraft which requires uncommon skill and manual dexterity, and which demands uncommonly fine cognitive judgments in the field of specialty, you bring to the industrial craft the kind of originality in thinking and execution which elevates artisanry to artistry.

There’s a reason why we call fine writers ‘wordsmiths’, for there’s a sense in that term (as in other manual handicrafts which share the ‘-smith’ suffix) of the writer as crafting, forging or setting a substance as hard, durable and delicate as gold.  Each word is an interlocking link in the delicate chain of a sentence, stanza or strophe, which nevertheless endures as a petrified thought.

As I say in the video, writing is a ‘whole-brain activity’.  It is not localized to a particular region of the brain.  As Robert M. Kaplan explains in The Exceptional Brain and How It Changed the World (2011), the frontal lobes deal with the organization and redaction of ideas, while the temporal lobes manage the comprehension of words and their meanings.  The emotional limbic system, one of the oldest parts of the brain, is the source of inspiration, while the cerebral cortex drives the motor response of our hands as we write.

So you can see that writing is not a simple or easy activity, and to do it at the wordsmith level requires a long apprenticeship in co-ordinating brain, eye and hand such as the one which the cutters, tailors and finishers who make a suit by hand undergo.

And indeed, as you can see in the video, I write by hand.  I draw my Montblanc fountain pen across the page as though I were stitching the basting thread through my first essay at my client’s document.  Then too, I touch-type, a cognitive activity of pianistic skill, playing the keyboard of my old manual typewriter fortissimo as I pound out the second draft.

‘Why not write on a computer?’ you ask.  That would be like a bespoke tailor sneaking his client’s garment through a sewing machine.

One only gets to be a ‘wordsmith’ by learning one’s craft and doing the work ‘by hand’.  Just as a tailor learns to sculpt fabric into an ensemble which will complement his client through the long apprenticeship of co-ordinating eye, hand and brain, so the writer hones that crucial ‘feeling for language’, the arrangement of words and how they ‘hang together’ in a client’s document, by actually writing, co-ordinating all the parts of the brain in the physical act of placing words artfully on the page.

Moreover, my clients (like the bespoke tailor’s) appreciate the precision and attention to detail which is the natural consequence of the ‘handcrafted approach’ I take to preparing their documents.

When you ‘go bespoke’, what you’re paying for is ultimately an experience, one that has been precisely tailored to you, your needs and preferences.  And when an experience has been so intimately fitted to you, what you actually experience is a sense of satisfaction that you would not otherwise get from a generic offering.

Whether I’m collaborating with a small businessperson on a strategic document, editing a doctoral thesis, or collaborating with another writer on a creative project, when I rent out my brain to a client, it seems to give the client a ‘thrill’ to work with an artist rather than a corporate writer, someone who brings a bit of brio and temperament to their concerns, flourishing a pen over a page rather than drearily tapping onto a screen a bottom-of-the-drawer idea they drafted for someone else.

Whatever the project, no matter how utilitarian, the client always seems to feel as though he or she is getting a ‘masterpiece’ in exchange for his or her patronage.

It’s very gratifying for a client to actually feel as though he or she has been ‘heard’ by someone who understands words so well that he can even hear what the client hasn’t the words to say.

And it’s just as gratifying for the client to physically see his or her idea, that impalpable substance which is just as malleable, and yet can be just as hard and enduring as gold when transmuted into words, ‘taking shape’ on a page.

The tailor too takes a flat fabric and sculpts his client’s shape out of it, giving unique body to two-dimensional material.  Tailors feel a sense of humble pride to see their masterpieces ‘walk out the door’, given life by the client, the last and most essential element in their art.

For in some fundamental sense, bespoke is a duet.  It is in the intimate collaboration between a classically-trained virtuoso guiding a savant who cannot read a line of music, but one who can make some very interesting sounds, that the peculiar nature of the art resides.  But if the client is in some sense the tailor’s ‘instrument’, the tailor is equally the client’s: each expresses himself through the other.

When I tailor a document for a client, the thing which is always expressed to me at each successive fitting is the ‘pleasure’ and ‘enjoyment’ the client experiences at the process, seeing his or her ideas being progressively expressed through me, becoming clearer every time we meet to take up and let out the document.

The client’s ‘art’, as muse and patron, is to be ringside at the consummate performance of the professional, watching me wield my pen—for then I become the client’s pen, a ‘living’ pen, the fusion of the tool that writes, the hand that forms the words calligraphically, the eye that sees and judges, and the brain that makes poetry of ideas.

This is Bespoke Document Tailoring, the art of writing and editing documentation the human way.  If you are a small businessperson, academic or creative writer and would like to learn how I can help you specifically to craft a mail of words which clothes your thought as closely as a bespoke suit, I have a number of free brochures on my Personal Services page which you are most welcome to download.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think there is still a place in this world of technology for the human touch—in manual production as well as service rôles?  Is it still necessary for human beings to cultivate a sense of ‘craft’, particularly with respect to intellectual technologies like writing long-hand?

I look forward to reading your comments and responding to you below.

The Skipping Girl, Abbotsford, photographed by Dean Kyte.
The Skipping Girl, Abbotsford.  Shot on Ilford XP2 Super 400 film.

One of the icons that Melbourne is known for is “The Skipping Girl”, Australia’s first animated neon sign, which formerly advertised the Skipping Girl Vinegar brand.

From the Art Deco rooftop of a converted factory in Victoria street, Abbotsford, she jumps rope over 16,000 times per night, and one of the most romantic things to do in Melbourne at night is to take the route 12 or 109 trams to Victoria Gardens and watch this 84-year-old icon repeat her nightly performance.

An icon is an image, a symbol which substitutes for an absent other whose spirit is supposed to reside in the icon, animating it, and receiving the adoration which would otherwise go directly to the sacred personage, if they were present.

It’s interesting, therefore, to reflect that the Skipping Girl, who was once the icon associated with a brand of vinegar which is no longer manufactured, has become the genius loci of Melbourne.  But when I took the ‘flânograph’ above with my vintage Pentax K1000, she did not represent for me so much a symbol of ‘old Melbourne’ which had disappeared, but someone who had disappeared, an absent other I will always associate with the Skipping Girl.

As I explain in the video below, the first time I encountered the Skipping Girl, I was stepping off the 109 tram with a Dutch girl I had picked up eight hours earlier.  We were about to go upstairs to her apartment, across the road in Richmond, and make love.

When I saw that neon icon beating time against the night, it was like seeing an X on a treasure map: this icon of Melbourne would always be, for me, a perpetual monument to a personal conquest, marking the spot of my greatest victory in Daygame.

In his essay “The Poetic Experience of Townscape and Landscape” (1982), documentary filmmaker Patrick Keiller describes the flâneur as a literary motif signifying two types of experience.  Following Schiller’s distinction between the naïve and sentimental poet, I think we can summarize Keiller’s two types of flâneur as likewise being ‘naïve’ and ‘sentimental’.

The ‘naïve flâneur’ is more like the classical, nineteenth-century dandy conceived by Baudelaire.  As Keiller says, he ‘takes the city as his salon’.  He’s a romantic adventurer—a Daygamer, in essence—whose ‘chance encounters are largely with people’ rather than with those architectural citizens of a city, buildings and monuments.  Whatever dreamlike quality there is in the encounter between this flâneur and the city derives from ‘his surrender to the randomness of urban life.’

The ‘sentimental flâneur’, en revanche, is a solitary dériveur who drifts through the city as though it were a petrified dream, experiencing the ‘long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens’ which renders the banal street marvellous.  As Keiller says, this flâneur ‘may meet others, he may fall passionately in love, but this is not his motive, it merely enhances his experience by enabling it to be shared.’

As a Melbourne flâneur, I have always felt like a synthesis of these two figures, but tending more towards the latter.  I can ‘do’ Daygame, I can take adventitious advantage of the randomness of urban life to seize a romantic encounter; but, being a genuine introvert, I am more constitutionally inclined towards solitary drifting through the externalized ‘Forms’ of my thought which streets, parks, statues, monuments and buildings seem to symbolize for me.

Keiller cites Surrealist poet Louis Aragon, who, in Le paysan de Paris (1926), describes this paradoxical sensation of seeming to experience the platonic forms of things embodied in the constitutive elements of the city.

‘The way I saw it,’ Aragon writes, ‘an object became transfigured: it took on neither the allegorical aspect nor the character of the symbol, it did not so much manifest an idea as constitute that very idea.  Thus it extended deeply into the world’s mass…’

For Aragon, this sensation was a presentiment of ‘a feeling for nature’, but it would be more specific to say that it was a feeling for the ambiguity of urban nature.

‘I acquired the habit of constantly referring the whole matter to the judgement of a kind of frisson which guaranteed the soundness of this tricky operation,’ Aragon writes.

This ‘frisson’, as Keiller observes, is not dissimilar from that feeling of ‘rightness’ a photographer intuitively senses immediately before he presses the shutter release button.  This sensation is the moment when a swatch of street cuts itself out of the banal tableau of urban nature and quadrates itself in the abstract frame of a mental viewfinder as an ‘image’, as something marvellously photogenic.

The sentimental flâneur, Keiller contends, carries a camera to record these marvellous transfigurations.  But, sentimental soul that I am, when I went back to photograph the Skipping Girl, nearly a year after my conquest of the Dutch girl, I was not photographing the Skipping Girl and her miraculous transformation of the night.

I was attempting to photograph the absence of the Dutch girl, for whom she was an icon.

In his book with Jean Mohr, Another Way of Telling: A Possible Theory of Photography (1982), John Berger writes that ‘[b]etween the moment recorded and the present moment of looking at the photograph, there is an abyss.’  It is an abyss of absence, of ambiguity, which carries with it ‘a shock of discontinuity’.

‘The ambiguity of a photograph does not reside within the instant of the event photographed,’ Berger writes.  ‘The ambiguity arises out of that discontinuity which gives rise to … [t]he abyss between the moment recorded and the moment of looking.’

In my ‘flânograph’ of the Skipping Girl, that abyss was doubled:—for there would be an abyss between the moment of looking at the developed photograph and the moment I was now recording, just as there was, for me, an abyss between the moment I was recording and the moment the photograph was intended to record, some ten months earlier.

As a writer, I have long played with the idle idea (impossible to realize) of writing a book completely without words.  The flânograph of the Skipping Girl was one of a series of photographs I took with my battered Pentax for a ‘picture book’ I intended to compose for my little niece, a wordless collection of black and white images of things and places I had encountered in my flâneries, and which, in their silent ambiguity, might give a child an ineffable, inenarrable sense of the life of an uncle she had never met.

Was there an enduring, impalpable resonance of the unseen, unknown and unknowable event sensible, apprehensible by the viewer of the photograph of the Skipping Girl, démeublé of its ostensible subject, the Dutch girl?  Could the feeling—menacing; enigmatic; melancholy—of this particular square of urban nature—what we might call ‘the Spleen of Melbourne’—‘speak for itself’, eloquently and without words?

These were the questions I wanted answers to.  And like Eugène Atget, of whom Walter Benjamin said that he photographed the empty streets of Paris as though they were ‘scenes of crime’, I went back and photographed the scenes of my Melburnian conquests—the Skipping Girl, a sodden Windsor place, a certain tree in the Carlton Gardens—now eerily empty of myself and the lovers of a moment who had left mortal wounds in my heart.

This feeling for the menacing, enigmatic, melancholy ambiguity of urban nature which precedes the click of the shutter; this ineffable, inenarrable frisson is what I call ‘flânography’, and it’s something other than photography—something more than merely ‘writing with light’.

It’s a sensitivity to the absent, the invisible, the unspeakable.  It’s the poetic cry of the silent image which establishes historical evidence of the ‘baffling crime’ which is the  personal ‘situation of our time’, and which the asphalt jungle gives colour and cover to.

If there is a ‘noirishness’ in the flânograph of the Skipping Girl, it is because, when I look back on my brief encounter with the Dutch girl over that abyss of ambiguity which it records, I feel (as I do after all my amours) like the victim of a ‘baffling crime’ at the hands of a femme fatale.

Like a consummate con artist who gets his pocket picked, I gamed her and ended up getting gamed by her.

When writing with light starts to become ‘poetic’ instead of merely prosaic; when the weak intentionality that a photographer possesses to express himself through a box is leveraged to the maximum, such that the urban landscape is transfigured and transformed into an image that is personally expressionistic, then photography starts to become ‘flânography’.

If you are a photographer and would like to explore how I can provide you with bespoke assistance in sensitively curating your work into an artisanal-quality book through provision of my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I invite you to download this brochure, or to contact me directly.

At the beginning of North by Northwest (1959), Mad Man Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) famously reminds his secretary that ‘in the world of advertising there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration….’

The most common confusion I find myself addressing when I meet prospective clients looking to engage my personal services is defining the difference between copywriting and writing what I call ‘strategic documentation’ for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.

It’s essentially the difference between telling a truth that your readers can hear and telling them an ‘expedient exaggeration’.

Language is a tool designed to represent reality via a common abstract symbology—a code, if you will.  When we communicate in business, it’s important that the message we transmit is the same message that our clients, investors and other stakeholders receive, for a misinterpretation of the code can be costly.

The problem with marketing is that it’s a corruption of the fundamental function of human language.  Whether you call it an outright ‘lie’ or an ‘exaggeration’ which expediently facilitates your short-term financial goals, the effect is the same: in seeking to manipulate language to create an impression of your product or service which is not strictly and accurately tied to the referent, marketing does a violence to human language which breaks trust.

If we want to continue doing business with people in the long term, we need to continually affirm our truthfulness, honesty, and trustworthiness—in short, our reliability—in our written communications with them.

But we have all had the experience of writing a memo to a difficult colleague who is hell-bent on pursuing an idée fixe, or a proposal to an investor we desperately want to impress.  We seek to express and explain our truth to the reader as honestly as possible, and yet we can’t derail the difficult colleague from his costly plan or persuade the investor we are sure would be the perfect partner for our enterprise.

Our words meet resistance.  It’s as though the other party cannot ‘hear’ the truth.

This is what I mean when I say that my Bespoke Document Tailoring service involves writing, editing and proofreading ‘strategic documentation’ for small businesspeople and individual entrepreneurs; for it involves telling the truth in a way that your audience can ‘hear’.

The strategy is empathy.  Mirror neurons facilitate our written communications by giving us access to the common code of human language and allowing us to empathically ‘picture’ in our minds what a writer is trying to say in these abstract symbols scratched on a page.

But the problem, as Professor Steven Pinker observes, is that most people—even experts in their own professions—find it tedious and difficult to logically organize their ideas on the page from the point of view of the person who will ultimately read their words.

To put it bluntly, they’re lacking in the strategy of empathy.

Empathy for your reader is the fundamental difference between manipulating language so as to create an expedient impression of your product or service in his or her mind, and manipulating language so that the person you are seeking to persuade can hear the truth of your proposition and agree that the solution you are offering is a good one.

If you want to get your needs met in business, you better be prepared to offer value truthfully in a way that meets the needs of the people you are seeking to convince.  Finding the beautiful synthesis between your concerns and theirs and stating it eloquently, reverse-engineering your argument so that it falls out logically from the point of view of your reader, is core to the strategy of empathy.

As you can see, the preparation of ‘strategic documentation’ goes far deeper than copywriting—and, indeed, is diametrically opposed to it.

When you tell the truth about your product or service in a way that your audience can hear, the old alchemy of marketing, trying to massage ‘features’ into ‘benefits’ by some linguistic sleight of hand, is revealed for what it is—an ‘expedient exaggeration’.

If you are in Melbourne and surrounds and you’re not sure how to frame your message in a way that your reader can hear and agree with, I invite you to contact me for a private measure, or download a free brochure to find out more about how I can assist your small business with my Bespoke Document Tailoring service.

Atlante, Colonial Bank of Australia, University of Melbourne, photographed by Dean Kyte.
Atlante, University of Melbourne, Parkville.  Shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 film.  Shutter speed: 1000.  Aperture: f.6.  Focal range: 3.75 metres.

One punishing summer day in January, I ‘flânographed’ this Atlas in my anklings about town as a Melbourne flâneur.  One of a pair of Telamons who formerly held up the portal of the Colonial Bank of Australia, he now graces the doorway of an underground bicycle garage at the University of Melbourne.

An appropriate place for him to struggle with his eternal burden, perhaps.

As I said in this post, I most often describe the art of writing as being ‘sculptural’ or ‘architectural’, and often a writer feels like this fellow, trying to balance an elaborate structure of thought on the top of his head.

For an academic writer such as the Masters student or PhD candidate, the sense of ‘oppression’, of being weighed down by the burden of this elaborate architecture of thought you are trying to build in words can give you the haunted, worried expression this Atlas wears.

Atlante, University of Melbourne, photographed by Dean Kyte.

Many students arrive at the Masters—or even the PhD—level lacking confidence in their ability to write essays, reports and theses to an academic standard.  And the sense of anxiety is doubled if your first language isn’t English.

In 2005, Wendy Larcombe, Anthony McCosker, and Kieran O’Loughlin conducted a study at the University of Melbourne.  They wanted to know whether providing a ‘thesis-writing circle’ to doctoral students from both native English-speaking and non-native English-speaking backgrounds had any effect on the students’ confidence and abilities as academic writers.

Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin published the results of their study in the Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice in 2007, and if you’re a postgrad struggling with the burden of preparing a research thesis, their article makes for encouraging reading.

Two problems typically confront postgrads: the development of their skills as academic writers, and the development of their confidence.

As Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin found, both doctoral candidates and their supervisors generally perceive the academic skills support services provided by universities to be ‘too generic’.

As a student at the postgraduate level, you require editorial support that is specific to your discipline.  The writing advice and strategies offered by your editor must be bespoke to your needs, framed within the intellectual context and discourse of your discipline, and relevant to the concept you are trying to express in your thesis.

But students arrive at the postgraduate level with different editing skills and editing needs.

Editing the writing of students is something that supervisors don’t always feel is their ‘rôle’.  When they do correct spelling mistakes or faulty syntax in draft chapters without providing explanation or instruction, students can feel ‘demoralized’ by the implicit negative judgment of their work, according to Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin.

A crucial part of developing your skills as an academic writer involves developing your confidence.  Having a ‘writing facilitator’ who is independent of your supervisor, one who provides editorial advice tailored to your discipline and to your specific sticking points as a writer, improves both your ability and your confidence.

Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin found that being able to discuss what you are working on with another writer who offers supportive, positive feedback grows your confidence as an academic writer.  Being tutored in the craft of writing by a professional who is able to intelligently discuss your thesis with you helps you to develop the practical skills of writing in a way which is relevant and specific to your discipline.

With my Bespoke Document Tailoring service, I offer postgraduate students in Melbourne a bespoke and personal approach to copyediting and proofreading their theses.

As a professional writer, my specialty is the logical architecture of written language, the organization of ideas at their deepest level so as to ensure maximal comprehension by your readers.

As an Associate Member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), I’m bound by a Code of Ethics, so I can’t help you to cheat, but as a writing facilitator, I can provide independent editorial support which is specific to your discipline and which complements the structural advice you’re receiving from your doctoral supervisor.

If you’re interested in working with a professional writer who can help you to find your own unique style on the page, tutoring you in the development of your voice, I invite you to contact me, or to download a free brochure describing how I can help you with your Bespoke Document Tailoring needs.

A question I am often asked is, ‘What is a flâneur?’  As I explain in today’s video, a flâneur is a kind of ‘Parisian idler’.

Flâner (the French verbal infinitive from which the noun is derived) means both to stroll, saunter, walk or wander more or less aimlessly, and to loaf, laze, or lounge about.  The ambulatory motion of the former would seem to preclude the stasis of the latter:—how does one walk and sit at the same time?

This paradox is merely the foundation of a complex structure of irreconcilable logical paradoxes which comprise the ludic enterprise of flânerie and constitute the characteristics of the flâneur.

The question then follows, what is it like to be a Melbourne flâneur?  If to be a flâneur is to be a Parisian idler, then to be a Parisian idler in Melbourne would seem to add one paradox de trop to the complex character of the flâneur.

Pas du tout.

I find a lot of similarities between Melbourne and Paris.  People often ask if Melbourne is like Europe.  The answer is yes.  Of all the Australian capitals, Melbourne has the strongest ties to Europe, and despite its fraternal links to Greece and Italy, there seems to me to be an unmistakable soupçon parisien to its arcades and laneways, its bars and cafés, such that I sometimes think of Melbourne as being ‘Paris-on-the-Yarra’.

Key to Melbourne’s Parisian flavour is its walkability.  It is, like Paris, a remarkably ‘walkable’ city: you can go very far on foot, and to be a flâneur you must be prepared to travel Melbourne without a car.

Fortunately, its famous tram network (the most extensive in the world) serves roughly an analogous rôle to the Paris Métro, being thoroughly integrated into the peculiar character of the city and the fabric of its streets.

This means that if you get tired of walking in Melbourne, you don’t have to go too far to find the nearest tram stop!

The reason why the flâneur is necessarily a pedestrian is because the pace of idle observation is measured by the foot.  In his essay Le peintre de la vie moderne (1863), Charles Baudelaire defines the flâneur as a ‘passionate observer’ whose home lies in the crowd; as a ‘mirror’ large as the crowd itself; as ‘a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness’ which reflects its movements.

In fine, the flâneur is an instrument of observation which reflects the colourful spectacles it observes in two ways: both matter-of-factly, as a mirror reflects actuality, and interpretatively, as a thoughtful subject who reflects upon what he sees.

You can see why the observational avocation of the flâneur might be an amusing exercise for someone whose vocation it is to be a writer: the writer’s desire to transcribe the external details of reality with the rigorous exactitude of a piece of recording equipment finds its playful analogue in his detectival attempts to divine the hidden causes and motivations behind the riddle of events observed obliquely, en passant.

The art of writing is essentially the art of thinking, and there must necessarily be objects upon which the writer may reflect if he is to express his thoughts articulately.  To wander dreamily through a beautiful city like Paris or Melbourne is, for a writer, both physical and mental exercise: it allows him scope to play with objects in the landscape, practising his powers of observation and description as he reflects them and reflects upon them in articulations he makes to himself.

‘To feel and to think’, to satisfy the desires associated with such abstract work, to cultivate the ideal of masculine beauty about their persons, this, for Baudelaire, is the sole profession of the dandy, whom he conflates with the flâneur, that ‘prince who revels in his incognito everywhere he goes.’

Indeed, there must always be something of the dandy about the flâneur.  Among his many paradoxes, this slumming spy who loves ‘to be in the midst of the crowd and yet hidden from it’ is very much a ‘man of fashion’ in the classic sense, like an heir-apparent travelling in a foreign country under an assumed name, with nothing but the unmistakable marks of his elegance to betray his royal birth.

You cannot be a flâneur pur-sang and not have more than a soupçon of the dandy about you.  Precision of observation does not extend to external objects before it takes account of the correctness of one’s own comportment.

It is perhaps surprising to notice how many great writers, whose idle profession of feeling and thinking takes place in the ‘backstage’ of life, away from the observation of others, such that these spies are rarely the cynosure of all eyes, have nevertheless a touch of the dandy about them, a concern for dapper deportment.

An orderly mind is best expressed by orderly dress.  And it is rare to find a writer who expresses himself on the page with unusual stylistic panache and who does not also possess some exquisite sprezzatura in his personal style.

Elegant writing, like elegant suiting, is the mastery of convention and the transcendence of strict limitations which define the correctness of expression.

With my Bespoke Document Tailoring service, I can help you to write elegant business documentation which is bespoke to your needs.  If you want your documentation to reflect a bespoke image, to possess that æsthetic difference, the piquant je-ne-sais-quoi of exotic quality, why not collaborate with a writer who brings the keen perception and care for detail of the flâneur to your concerns?

I invite you to contact me to arrange a measure.  And if you enjoyed this article, or if it aroused ideas of your own you would like to share with me, I would love to hear your thoughts on the flâneur in the comments below.

Do you crave the personal, intimate experience of curling up with a good book?  How much does the tactility of a book, the pleasure you get from turning its pages, wafting their peculiar perfume, add to the intimacy of hearing its author’s voice whispering in your ear?

How much more connected do you feel to the author when you see his signature on the flyleaf and a personalised message to you in his handwriting?  This book—your personal copy—has passed directly from his hands to yours.

Suppose you knew, moreover, that, in addition to all this, not just the words you are savouring, but the very book you are holding—right down to the choice of the fonts, format and layout—was the effort of one mind and one pair of hands:—How much more intimate and authentic would the experience of enjoying that book be?

Well, when you purchase a book by Dean Kyte, you experience this additional frisson—the delicious knowledge that you are purchasing an ‘artisanal book’ directly from its author, one that comes with an implicit guarantee of ‘artistic authenticity’.

As a writer, my approach has always been to work by hand: as I explain in the video above, I not only write my books by hand, but in my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I transform the self-publishing process into a handcrafted one—the craft of making books.

It’s as close as you can get to owning a ‘bespoke’ book, since I do all the work by hand, and there is only one imagination, one pair of eyes, and one pair of hands doing all the work associated with writing, illustrating, designing and publishing the book you hold in yours.

When something is ‘bespoke’, it’s made for one person alone.  Our richest reading experiences feel like this:—it’s as though the writer is crafting a bespoke experience for you alone, fashioning a rich article which clothes your vision to such an extent that when you look up from the page, for a moment you seem to see the world within yourself draped over the world without.

Why is the artisanal approach so important for me as a writer?  Books have always been luxury items.  For centuries, bookcraft was artisanal production, whether the book was a Medieval manuscript illuminated by monks or a Japanese scroll calligraphed by a scholar.

Writers are the noblest mastercraftsmen in that they fashion two objects simultaneously: an abstract æsthetic object, such as a novel or a poem, which also has a tangible, æsthetically pleasing form which human beings have enjoyed for centuries.  Books are perfectly designed to hold words the way a vase holds water.

If you’re a Melbourne writer who wants to know how to publish your own book in an æsthetically pleasing way, I can give you the benefit of my experience, bespoke to your needs, with my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service.

And if you’re a reader anywhere who wants to experience just how intimate the relationship between an author and a reader can be, I invite you to browse my Bookstore or check out my profile on Blurb.