I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
There’s never a time when you wish you could seamlessly control an entire population more than during a public crisis. Criticizing other people can become an obsession when there’s one common goal in place with high stakes. While a lot is said about the social nature and herd-mentality of humans, we don’t naturally act cohesively like a flock of birds or a swarm of bees. The cohesion we lack has been the study of SI — swarm intelligence — for three decades.
Swarm intelligence is the phenomenon of informed decision-making that occurs on a group level. It gets its name from the fascinating ability of honeybees to swarm, which is the term for when they send out a bunch of scout bees to find a new home near water, protected from the cold and rain, and out of reach from predators. No single bee decides where everyone’s moving to; the entire hive pools their thinking abilities to choose the best new home. Birds, ants, and microbes all benefit from swarm intelligence but humans, well, the connotation of “hive mind” says enough.
By Dane Eisenbart
The boids project was one of the earliest models for swarm intelligence. It’s also the best-named project (bird-oid objects = boids). The boids follow some basic swarm intelligence tenets: don’t crowd your flockmates and steer yourself in the same direction as your flockmates. These rules had the boids flying like real birds, which is all a parent could want for their boid. Here’s a weirdly satisfying video illustrating the principles that guide boids and real-world swarm intelligence because everything’s closed and you're stuck at home so why not watch boids for a few minutes?
As anyone that’s walked in a crowded mall can attest, people do not move like boids. We may come to decisions in groups by voting but this is the ruling of the majority, not cohesive decision-making that averages each member’s wisdom into one collective wisdom that all follow.
So no, our desire for a unified, swarm-like response to crises is not yet an option and no amount of hating your flockmate will help (criticism — another very un-swarm-like behavior). Instead, we can take a lesson from the boids and remember that there are some occasions where pooling our intelligence with others can yield more good than acting as individuals alone could (except for group projects in school, which have always been a crime).
A worldwide catastrophe might seem like the perfect opportunity to leave ideology behind, but you’ve likely noticed the opposite. Instead, the pandemic has become a magic wand, transforming every aspect of the disaster into the perfect vessel for proving how right your cousin on Facebook who hasn’t read a book in 5 years was all along.
In times of overbearing ideologies, it’s best to turn towards the ideology-hunter himself, Slavoj Žižek. If you aren’t still clinging to fantasies of a return to normalcy, you’ve felt the shift that’s rippled through our world. A pandemic of this size has been looming for decades; the preparation would’ve required a preemptive shift, but as most revolutionary changes go, we only jump once we feel the fire at our feet.
Žižek argues that covid-19 is not just a virus but also a catalyst, one for a world shift that requires acknowledging our interdependence with other people and countries:
“We are caught in a triple crisis: medical (the epidemic itself), economic (which will hit hard whatever the outcome of the epidemic), plus (not to underestimate) mental health – the basic coordinates of the lives of millions and millions are disintegrating, and the change will affect everything, from flying to holidays to everyday bodily contacts.”
Have we entered a new world of no return or will we, lovers of all things predictable, carve out a nest of familiarity among the ruins and desperately return to a pre-pandemic world at the expense of preparation once again?
This is the question Žižek asks us and whatever future we find ourselves in, I hope it’s one still filled with the sound of Žižek’s characteristic sniffling…and so on and so on.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.