You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

February 18, 2006

Welcome To The Monkeysphere

Thanks to Hairy Figment for bringing to my attention David Wong's Pointless Waste of Time. How had I missed this before?

So far I've particularly enjoyed "Inside the Monkeysphere": way or another we all have limits to our sphere of monkey concern. It's simply the way our brains are built. We each have a certain circle of people who we think of as people. Usually it's our own friends and family and neighbors and classmates and coworkers (or at least the ones in your department) and church or suicide cult.

This is literally the reason society doesn't work quite right. The people who exist outside that core group of a few dozen people are not people to us. They're sort of one-dimensional bit characters.

Remember the first time, as a kid, you met one of your school teachers outside the classroom? Maybe you saw old Miss Puckerson at Taco Bell picking up and eating a whole Taco Salad with her bare hands? Or you saw your principal walking out of a dildo shop?

Do you remember that surreal feeling you had when you saw these people actually had lives outside the classroom? I mean, they're teachers.

I really must insist you read it all.

I also recommend "John Dies at the End." It's one of the best examples I've even seen of the subterranean connection between horror and le funnie.

Posted at February 18, 2006 02:28 PM | TrackBack

You're welcome.

Posted by: hf at February 18, 2006 03:59 PM


I really appreciate it. Please tell me if there are other parts about the internet you feel I'm missing.


Yeah, I cringed at that part too. And I think eventually David Wong will evolve enough to cringe at it himself. But the rest more than makes up for it.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at February 19, 2006 11:10 AM

I'm as fond of abstractions like this as the next monkey, but when they dont make any damn sense, as with

That the company is, in reality, nothing but a group of people

...well, they don't make any sense.

I think we can expand our embrace of others' humanity to the point where we care equally for suffering of people we don't know who aren't 'neighbors' as for those who are.

That family, friends and even 'acquaintences' acheive a higher level of command over our sympathies may be unavoidable, I really don't know. But I very much doubt that it has as much to do with why "society doesn't work" as the author seems to.

Some fundamental choices we make I think are more important. One is the conflation of humanity with corporations, an official part of our dogma. The conflation of humanity with nations is another. I think these are far more pernicious in their influence than the limited reach of our 'monkeyspheres.' YMMV.

Posted by: Erstwhile at February 19, 2006 01:58 PM

Quantum suffering, like quantum theology, is a devilish difficult concept to grasp, but if the race is to survive, we really must learn to be able to hurt for others as we do for ourselves - and to translate that hurt into corrective action to salvage what remains of our humanity - removing the corporate persona as co-equal with that of the human might be a promising first step.

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at February 19, 2006 03:37 PM

Jesus B. Ochoa--

there is no way the race will survive another five hundred years. I've read far too much on nuclear weaponry and environmental devastation to be optimistic.

This is an ultradevilishly difficult concept to grasp, I'll grant. I call it "quintum theology."

Posted by: Sully at February 19, 2006 03:57 PM

Hi hf,

It's the 'nothing' I object to. The corporation is, in the reality we live every day, officially a person, not a group of persons. It is an individual, immortal. This immortal person is also an automaton, with a single, legally enforcable goal: it must maximize the profit to its owners.

The suggestion that 'the company is, in reality, nothing but a group of people' is happy talk, hiding much ugliness. The statement's purpose is propagandistic. The left is to put its weapons down: "don't attack the corporation, for you are attacking real people, don't you see."

To see the corporation as constituted of people (or of behaviours of people) is 'strictly' to subscribe to a mythology promoted by corporations. In fact, the corporation has no use whatever for any of its supposed 'constituents' and jettisons them as it sees fit, always intending to outlast them, and employing them only to the extent that it values the fruits of their labor on its behalf more highly than the costs of their wages.

You'll really have to point out where there's any 'conspiracy' in this, as I fail to see it. I think it's all from the textbooks, no?

Finally, the death of the corporation would not bar free groups of people from engaging in mutual, socially beneficial activities, vitiating the mythological argument on its behalf.

Posted by: Erstwhile at February 21, 2006 09:47 AM

Again, did you stop before getting to the following text?

Now, the cold truth is my Bin Laden is just as desperately in need of a bullet to the skull as the raving four-color caricature on some redneck's T-shirt. The key to understanding people like him, though, is realizing that we are the caricature on his T-shirt.

I meant the part about conspiracy more generally, not as a reference to you.

Posted by: hf at February 21, 2006 05:41 PM

Yup, I got there. That's the part immediately preceding the equation of dirty-burger-serving and unresponsive-government -- they both happen for the same reason: diners and citizens are not in the Monkeyspheres of waiters and politicians, respectively.

There's nothing like a theory that seems to explain everything (and then warns us to beware of oversimplification!). Prolly an explanation in there for why I don't think the theory's worth much, too, huh?

Being that I am a disagreeable sort by nature, I disagree with the equation in this section. Or maybe not disagree so much as find it distracting.

I'm more interested in the functioning of the government than in my fast-food restaurant. (Is that because My Monkeysphere is touched more by the one than the other??? And yes, I am just this sarcastic with my family and friends -- it's not because I don't know you.) So I find the 'explanation' that pols 'don't really see me,' same as the kid at the burger shack doesn't, to be, well, wanting.

I am more inclined to interpret both the restaurant and government examples in a way that presumes that each is functioning correctly, or 'as intended' -- and that we need to ask "what's the real function" rather than ask "why isn't it working?"

In terms of the grand question the Monkeysphere theory wants to answer, which I have perhaps misunderstood as "why is society so flawed?," I'd ask, "why is society organized this way, rather than some other?" Cui bono?

Posted by: Erstwhile at February 22, 2006 11:08 AM

No, more like this: 'The Monkeysphere' is not a theory. 'The Monkeysphere' is solipsism in a reflective dress. It's an excuse. 'The Monkeysphere' provides a ground to claim that all action is inherently self-interested ("You're claiming to act for the benefit of people you don't even know? Tosh! You're just working to aggrandize yourself or get credit within your own limited sphere; effectively the same thing").

To what extent can it be claimed that 'The Monkeysphere' leads us to conclusions? What is the conclusion of its 'analysis' of the food worker and the politician: "Even Gandhi most likely has hotel rooms and dead hookers in his past." At last, we have a rigorous tool for understanding our world...


OK, the real conclusion was: "No thought is given to the real human unhappiness being spread by doing it [one's 'job'] shittily." That's just as helpful (aka useless and distracting, or worse) as the Gandhi formulation.

If that wasn't clear, I'd simply say, "What part of the fact that, for many jobs, doing them well causes real human unhappiness don't you get?"

If it's simply that by 'doing the job well' we mean doing the job in a way that accords due consideration to the world outside your 'Monkeysphere,' then I'd say you've changed the definition of the job.

For example, by my reading of MonkeyTheoretical analysis, the man who holds the job of President of the USA can be criticised for his failure to do the job well, which would mean his failing to properly respect the lives of those in the world outside his Monkeysphere. Super. Except for the fact that MonkeyTheory lays this failure in the limitation of the President's mind -- he's not capable of working outside his Monkeysphere. Bzzzt! Wrong. Far from simple inability, it's part of his job description that he not do so. There are constraints on his action that are not explained by MonkeyTheory. MonkeyTheory would suggest we need a new job description. OK. But rather than seeing this as 'everything leading back to MonkeyTheory' I'd see it as 'taking MonkeyTheory seriously leads you back into the real world.'

Posted by: Erstwhile at February 22, 2006 04:03 PM