The Sonsdottirians by Arnauld Baxter
Arnauld is a writer and office-slave from Dundee. He won the first annual Tay Prize for his story Revananche, and is currently writing a novel while sending more than sixty emails a day. The Sonsdottirians can also be read at his site arnbax.weebly.com, which we encourage you to check out
Truth was given up—by the good guys, I mean—around the new year. It was attributed to a user named EinarSonsdottir. I am Einar. Or was.
Kinda: we are many. I haven't been on the internet for months, but others have taken my place. They are me, now. That sounds pretentious and annoying, but you'll see.##
It was the summer after Long Island flooded. A Deleuzian was taking about extimacy and rhizomes. An engineer, sitting behind him, was ostentatiously mocking-smilingly listening. The room was full of sunlight on the wane and smelled like Redbull. A guy was vaping in the corner.
—This is about the history of the world as we know it
So began my roommate and partner—in this venture, at least then—Charles. We were standing at the top of the room, waiting for the fifteen or so people to quieten down. We were in front of a large window on the fourth floor in a building near the centre of the UT Austin campus. Through the window I could see the state Capitol, the snipers which apparently patrol its upper levels 24/7 almost visibly invisible, casting their presence over downtown.
That got few people's attention, and Charles smiled shyly, eyes specks behind massive glasses, white skin against black hair, and continued from what was obviously a script in his mind:
—Now that that's got your attention...
They continued talking, so I looked around for a black- or white- board marker to bang against something, but couldn't find anything and so just said:
—Ekksscuuuuuuuuse me. Excuuuse me.
I'm used to dealing with these people. I'm a lecturer. Or maybe not a lecturer; I'm to a lecturer what a cook is to a chef. And one of the things that is just guaranteed to get people's attention is noise. It disorients them. And actually disorientation was why we were assembled.
—Actually, y'know, see
They were looking at me now, probably wondering who this old lady was who shouting at them. The vaper looked out the window, nonchalantly.
—that, the way I got your attention by shouting, that's why we're here. But I'm gonna let Charles do the talking...but let me just say, this is all about disorientation, right, Charles?
Charles smiled tightly and nervously, and whispered yes, as if he didn't want the word to imprint on his mind and obscure the script there waiting.
—So thanks for coming. Baudrill
I winced. I think I winced already even at the first syllable, maybe even at the plosion of the 'b'. I told him not to do any of that pomo shit. The engineers, nurses and the one lawyer, there was no way they were going for that.
—ard's theory of the precession of the simulacra posits the inversion of the traditional problematic of the relation of thought of the world to that world considered in and of itself.
He'd obviously gone off script: nobody could intentionally say the sentence he just said. The engineer had his phone out and the vaper looked intrigued. This was precisely the opposite of the distribution of attention I wanted. I butted in:
—Eh, maybe, Charles, not everyone here has the same...background. So maybe we could try maybe, as we discussed, keep it simple.
He looked at me lost, so I stood up and turned to the room and began:
—So there are I guess theoretical underpinnings to this, but the reason we've called you here—and really, thanks again for coming—it's basically because each of you controls forums with relatively large and politically mixed readership, but you are also, personally, so I understand, you have some very real problems with where this country is headed, and the state of the political discourse…
Engineer was looking suspiciously; vaper was looking suspiciously; Deleuzian was looking suspiciously. Charles, having stood watching me for a moment, sat down.—And the problem people call post-truth politics. And we, basically, Charles and I have a proposal for you. The sort of dialectic we see playing out isn't working: the fake news sites lie, and we, some of us, correct the lies, maybe initially with amusement but now with despair, and nothing happens. People believe lies. And it's damaging...
I got the sense that hostility was maybe slightly waning; after all, this was the reason they were here.
—But we have a response: a modest proposal. So do maybe any of you guys know Einar Sonsdottir? You might not have heard of him, but I'm guessing you will have heard of Guy Adamson? Well, we can let you in on a secret, Einar Sonsdottir is one of the people Adamson is talking about. And Guy slash Einar's idea is earth salting. You know this?
Some of them nodded, but a reasonable portion of the room--the people less likely to be conversant with leftist ideas--remained dull of eye.
—Earth salting is the idea that the way to defeat the politics of falsity can only be with more falsity...we salt the earth of social media and online news, so that it becomes completely incoherent.
His analysis, well personally I don't get all of it, it appeals to philosophy and decision theory…but the idea is that you can't defeat falsity with falsity, because we're dealing with people who work in coherence rather than correspondence...these people's beliefs don't correspond to reality, but they are at least roughly speaking coherent: they receive all this fake news that tells a roughly coherent picture: America's bad because of immigrants, in essence. We can't defeat that by pointing out its falsity; they won't believe it. So we have to undermine it another way, by making their beliefs incoherent.
So here is the idea. What I would like is if some of you could help with the designing of fake news websites, ones which copy the style of other fake news sites. But with different stories. And we want stories like, so this is maybe a bit controversial. We want stories that are going to lessen support from his base, for him. And that means we're gonna have to say some things...so, you saw the thing he said about the Irish plague last week. Well, what we need to do is not put out fake stories bigging up the Irish...because his base will just take it that's liberal BS, we need to have stories like he's really best friends with an Irish person, or like look at these photos from St Patricks Day, and we can just photoshop something, or like I don’t know, he’s going to name his next child Clover McNamara…so his supporters read that and they don’t know what to think, does he secretly love the Irish?
—But that's horrible!
A voice, high and gender-neutral and with feeling, came from a corner of the room.
—Wait, wait, let me finish then we can talk horror...
Now they were all listening.
—But the crucial thing, the really crucial thing is that they have to think this is coming from their sources, their people. So it has to be very positive pieces which hide/don't hide the negative stuff, like sort of sneak it in, incidentally....and so the thought is, these people just won't know what to believe, the misinformation they get pro-him will be counteracted by the misinformation they get contra-him, and it'll sort of even out. Think of the worst things you can think of, from their point of view, and say them.
Falsity can only be beaten with falsity.....uh so that's what Adamson is arguing, and that's what Sonsdottir is doing. If you look at his twitter feed, you'll see this. And that's what we, following him, should do...like we can be a local chapter of Sonsdottirians.
I paused. I hadn’t intended to say anything so my last sentence didn’t have a nice end-of-speech cadence. But I continued:
—So maybe we can return to...
—I think you misunderstand what Sonsdottir is going for. His stance is a satiric gesture...you overlook he called his plan ‘a modest proposal’...the solution lies in education, in getting people to have the discernment to avoid these fake news sites, in actually reaching out and teaching people, not in further epistemically depriving these already deprived people. And…
You could tell his chest was swelling with feeling: he was moved by his own rhetoric. I'm really good at smiling, so I smiled right at him, although in my head I was trying to think of the mechanics of the jerking-off gesture, which I'd never done but which was the appropriate response, I felt. It was like, pulling up a tie repeatedly, right? But I've never put on a tie, either. Maybe making a cocktail. But again, never made a cocktail.
—...for the foundations of society.
I'd missed most of what he said, but didn't think it mattered. I replied:
—Well firstly, whether or not Sonsdottir was being satirical or not's not something I can comment on, but like we don't have to fawn over him, he could have thought it was a not-serious idea but been wrong...and second, this truth stuff, well it's bullshit. We're post truth. We, the good guys, just gotta catch up. Facebook's made it clear they're gonna do fuck all any time soon. And we don't have time.
The nerdier people were nodding, and I took that as a very good sign.
—Point is, people are suffering, people are suffering because of this fake news. We need to fight it. Lofty ideas is all well and good. But people are hurting. We can't just let that happen.##
Some more nods. But now the person who had previously spoken up spoke up again. The soft voice this time revealed itself as clearly male, but I still couldn’t pin-point it, until I saw a slight man peeking around a bigger guy in front of him, with a grey face that looked like it had previously been very spotty, and vivid blue eyes.
—It's immoral. We can't stoop to their level.
And that in turn got approving nods.
—Lookit, I don't know what to say to that. We have to stoop to their level, that's what it looks like, if we're going to do anything.
—You're essentially saying to add more prejudice, homophobia, racism, and so on, right?
—Nah you are, you're saying we should say things like 'look at this, the president has a Irish friend, how awful', 'look he's got a gay son, that's dreadful', right? That sort of thing. That's homophobic and racist. That'll just add to the dangerous people's list of grievances. More people could get hurt. That's bad.
—...Ok, good, thanks. That's a good point. What that means is we need to be careful...maybe, I don't know maybe Sonsdottir slash Adamson isn't clear as I… he should be, but....so we need to make sure that that doesn't happen. It needs to be real incidental. Not like fan-flaming...flame-fanning I mean. But something like this: ‘The president today announced a plan to blablabla, helping him in this project will be’ and then we'd add some Irish guy's name, ‘a prominent businessman from Dublin. He said he was very happy to be working with Mr O’Flaherty’...So like, there's no hatred there. But there is confusion. People now think: so wait, is he pro or anti Irish?...the point is, we can really play down the racism if we get control, or at least partial control over it. It may stink, we may hate to do this, but I really think this could help. What do you think? Does that help?
The person sort of nodded discontentedly, like maybe. Another person took over:
—But we supply valuable information. Salting the earth...what's going to happen, how are people gonna get legit information?
—Yes, you do. But that's precisely the problem, I'm afraid. Really, I mean, I know this is a big ask. Essentially we have to kill the internet as a source of information. It's just because sites like you legitimize the internet as a source of information that we have all these problems. Because--I know you know this--the good sites and the bad sites look the same. It's really, it's an extreme problem. And requires an extreme solution...The only way to defeat post-truth politics is by embracing it, and not seeking truth but seeking better falsehoods, falsehoods that will help us, prevent the hatred. I mean, let's not fuck around. It may be already too late but another term of this president will mean we truly, like, non-negotiably are fucked, climate wise. And the hate...the attacks, it's crucial. You guys know this.
[The story continues ... (n.b.'Arnauld Baxter' doesn't exist, and the beginning of this story is an unpublished one by the creator of this site. It's purely for illustrative purposes, to show how stories will be formatted.]