aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 33: The Doors Of Perception

May 13, 2017
Ensenada, Mexico

Bizarre surrealist painter Salvador Dali once said: “I do not do drugs. I am drugs.” He was being silly. He wasn’t drugs. He was Salvador Dali.

The men rowing out on little boats heavy with building supplies for Not A Metaphor? They were drugs.

Ana watched them lazily, her head resting against the green mast. The three men were in their cabin, and the place was crowded and sweaty. She’d told James that Amoxiel would be out here watching her, so where was the danger? Their first mate had reluctantly agreed.

Ensenada looked like any other quiet harbor town. The people coming aboard looked like any other people. Maybe a little sleepier, their pupils a little wider. But she knew the truth. They weren’t people. They were drugs. Even if there were people in Ensenada – which she doubted – they wouldn’t be sent for something important like this.

James had rowed ashore alone when the sun rose. Amoxiel and the Captain had watched him very carefully as he landed on a dock, found an Ensenadan man, and started talking to him. They couldn’t hear what he was saying, but they didn’t care. They were looking for one thing – did the Ensenadan feed or inject James with any material? As best they could tell, they didn’t. James rowed back to Not A Metaphor, and the crew let him back on. He seemed normal. But he would seem normal, no matter what happened.

Simeon came on deck and sat beside her. “Ever been to Mexico before, Ana?”

“No,” she said. “I’ve seen druggies, though. You?”

“Once,” he said. “In the nineties. On business. And then a little tourism afterwards. Mexico City. Veracruz. And Teotihuacan. With its giant pyramids, standing all solemn and huge in a row.”

“Solomon wise,” corrected Ana. “Goliath huge.”


“Sorry! It’s a game I used to play, with a friend. Unintentional Biblical pun corrections. It’s…kind of compulsive now.” An awkward silence, which she tried to fill. “What is your business, anyway?”

“You don’t know?” He seemed genuinely surprised.

Then, as the first of the druggies came aboard, enlightenment struck. “You’re Simeon Azore! From Bareketh!”

It was so obvious. The face she was looking at, minus ten years and with darker hair, could have been the face she’d seen in various magazines and TV news shows. The face behind Bareketh Capital and an early-level investor in Countenance and half of the most successful theonomics. A stakeholder in every company she had protested in the last ten years. “But…but you’re terrible!” Then she recoiled. “Sorry! Um! Also…compulsive, I guess. I didn’t mean to…”

One of the druggies introduced himself to James as Ivan Colero, a naval repair technician in the Mexican navy. They’d paid well, he said, very well, and they’d gotten themselves the best. The Drug Lord knew that they needed to be on their way quickly, and he and his men would just need a day, maybe less. They could work quickly. Impossibly quickly.

“Let me guess,” said Simeon, “you’re one of those people who can give entire speeches about how the theonomics are ruining everything.”

“Uh,” said Ana.

“Go on,” said Simeon. “Get it out.”

“Um,” said Ana.

“I can already tell we’re both going to be miserable until you’ve said your speech, so just get it out.”

“Uh…my cousin is better at this, but…um…God is born free but everywhere is in chains. The Names, our birthright as children of God possessing the Divine Spark, are patented as if they were especially clever designs for widgets, then whored out to buy yachts for billionaires.”

“Mmmm,” interrupted Simeon, “I didn’t buy this ship. Just booked passage on it. Give me some credit for self-restraint.”

“The Fertile Name brings forth grain from the earth, speeding the growth of crops by nearly half. Children in Ethiopia starve to death, and Ethiopian farmers cannot use the Fertile Name to grow the corn that would save them. Why not? Because Serpens holds the patent and demands $800 up front from any farmer who wants to take advantage of it. The Purifying Name instantly kills eighteen species of harmful bacteria, including two that are resistant to all but the most toxic antibiotics. But two-thirds of American hospitals have no one licensed to use the Purifying Name. Why not? Because they can’t afford the licensing fees demanded by Gogmagog.”

The druggies began to hammer on the red mast. Ana spoke louder so she could hear herself above the noise.

“In the old days, we told ourselves that poverty was a fact of life. That there wasn’t enough food or medicine or clothing or housing to go around. Then it was true. Now it is false. To feed the hungry and shelter the homeless no longer requires scarce resources. It requires only a word. A word that the entire international system of governance – corporations, politicians, UNSONG – has united to prevent the needy from ever obtaining. 86% of known Names are held by seven corporations. The largest, Serpens, has total assets of $174 million…no, sorry..billion…I told you my cousin is better at this. The smallest of the seven, ELeshon, has total assets of $33 billion. Serpens’ CEO, Cate Ilyov, has a net worth of $600 million, houses in the California Republic, Texas, and Virginia state, and her own private 12-seater jet.

“Meanwhile, not only does she employ some of the finest kabbalists in the world to hide the Fertile Name behind klipot, but if some enterprising mind breaks through the encryption and sends the plaintext Name to those starving Ethiopians, she will call up UNSONG, call upon whatever treaties we have with Ethiopia, and get everyone who saw the Name put in jail for life. Because if people who can’t give Cate Ilyov $800 for a bigger jet try to feed themselves, they are, our government tells us, a Threat To Our Way Of Life.

“Since our foundation before the sky cracked, Unitarians have worked on one founding principle: that nobody, no religion or corporation or government, nobody has a monopoly on God. We demand that the klipot be broken, that all known nondestructive Names of God be placed in the public domain and made freely available to all, and that UNSONG be disbanded and its resources diverted to something useful, like fighting the demons. And as long as that demand isn’t met, we’ll do it ourselves. Break whatever klipot we can, spread the Names to anyone who wants to hear them, and stay a step ahead of the law.

“The third commandment says ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; the Lord will not take guiltless He who takes His name in vain’. I don’t know when Judgment Day is coming, but you have to admit the fabric of reality hasn’t been holding up very well lately. And if God does show up and ask us how we’ve been using His holy Names that He has given to us, I’d rather we as a civilization be able to answer that we used them to feed the poor, heal the sick, and shelter the homeless. Not that we used them to buy multimillionaire Cate Ilyov a bigger jet. Because that seems about as in vain as it’s possible to get.”

“Seven out of ten,” said Simeon.

“What?” Ana asked.

“Seven out of ten. It wasn’t bad. But I’ve heard better ones. You should have heard what my nephew used to say. Also, Countenance pushed ahead of Serpens three months ago. I feel personally slighted that you still call them the biggest.”

But he was smiling as he said it.

“But why? You know the arguments? Fine! So how can you just sit there and keep doing it?”

“You think of this through some kind of romantic David-and-Goliath lens, where all you need to do is break up the evil corporations and…”

“…why not? You’re gigantic, you’re evil, and you crush anyone who tries to stand against you! I would say you’re going three for three, Goliath-wise! So why shouldn’t I…”

“…Goliath huge. Solomon wise.”

“What?” Then, “What?” Ana was some strange and discombulated combination of taken aback and mortally offended. Some people had billions of dollars. Other people were good at puns. For somebody to have both seemed unfair, unnatural. She was left speechless.

“Ever hear of Chesterton’s fence?” asked Simeon.

“Yeah. The story of a guy who sees a fence in a field, gets angry that it’s blocking his movement, and tears it down. Then he gets gored by a bull that the fence was protecting him from. It’s supposed to mean that you shouldn’t get rid of a system until you’re sure you know why it’s there.”

“Ever think of applying Chesterton’s fence to the theonomics? Or UNSONG?”

“‘Rich people want more money’ seems like sufficient explanation for a system dedicated to giving rich people money.”

“You know the Comet King helped found UNSONG?”

“Even the Comet King makes mistakes.”


“You’re going to say the same thing you people always say. If we didn’t make sure that the people who discovered Names got obscene profits, there’d be no incentive to discover Names, all the sweatshops would close, and then we wouldn’t have the magic we need to treat diseases or run the railroads. But people have done plenty of basic science research for centuries without those incentives, and I would rather get Names a little bit slower but have them available to everyone than – ”

“Forget curing diseases. That’s a red herring. You want to know why we need UNSONG and the theonomics? Look around.”

The workers toiled away at the red mast, laboring just a little too methodically to be natural. They did not take drugs. They were drugs. So were almost ninety-nine percent of the Mexican and Central American population, all the way down to the Darien Gap. So might the Untied States have been, if things had gone a little differently.

People had been using peyote since the Olmecs. Nobody knows what the Olmecs made of it, but when Europeans showed up in the area they wrote about how the cactus buttons produced an intense trancelike state with funny dancing colors and occasional hallucinations of a plantlike humanoid figure. Always the same humanoid figure; the early hippies called him “the green man”, which is just as well since the Aztec name was Pipiltzintzintli and probably hard to pronounce when you’re high. But the sightings were rare; in those days Uriel’s machine was still strong, and there were only a few chinks in its protection, and hippies would laugh about the weird green man they saw and not pay it any more attention.

Then the sky cracked, and peyote changed. It stopped giving an intense trancelike state. It stopped giving hallucinations. It started doing other things. People would eat the flesh of the cactus and they would speak of events happening far away, or gain new talents. A user who was not a doctor would diagnose and treat diseases; a user who was not an engineer would design a bridge. A user in Tijuana could tell her family what was happening to her sister in Veracruz a continent away. When the peyote wore off, in ten hours’ time, all they could remember was a feeling of supreme confidence and self-assuredness, like everything had been planned out and it was all going according to plan.

Peyote began to spread. Buttons would turn up on street corners in Mexico City and at gang meetings in Los Angeles. It was safe, it was cheap, it gave you new talents, it made you feel good. By the mid-1980s, some estimates suggested that ten percent of the Mexican population used it regularly or semi-regularly.

In May 1984, a group of psychiatrists noted a new side effect of peyote: a tendency to buy and stockpile very large amounts of it. There was nothing weird about addicts having a stash; what was weird was that it was only on peyote that they bought peyote. The complex behavior of going to their dealer and buying more buttons seemed to be…a side effect of the chemical? Addicts interviewed while they weren’t high said they didn’t need that much, it seemed weird, but they guessed they would keep it or something because it wasn’t worth throwing it out.

In August 1984, a second survey found that the average user had stashed several large crates of peyote buttons in hidden places, two or three years’ supply even if they took it every day. Dealers were forever running short; growers were working around the clock.

On November 1, 1984, every peyote user in Mexico simultaneously started digging into their stashes and offering it to their friends. First for free. Then with an offer that they would pay to have their friends take peyote. Then upping their offer. Thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands. As soon as a friend was high, the addict was moving on to another friend – and the first friend was accumulating their own stash and seeking out a friend of their own.

This went on for hours before the police noticed anything amiss, by which time about fifteen percent of the population of Mexico was high. The news started to spread. Something is wrong. Don’t take peyote. Stay in your houses. Lock the doors.

Imagine. You’re a young Mexican guy, been clean your whole life. You hear something’s up, you get inside, lock the doors, barricade yourself in your bedroom. A phone call. It’s your mother. She was coming to visit you. Now she’s at the door, a bunch of addicts right behind her. Let her in right now. So you peep out the door. There’s your mother. You let her in as quick as you can, lock the door behind you. Oh thank God, she tells you. You have no idea what’s going on out there. I’m starving. Do you have any food? Of course you have food. So she makes herself something, then she offers some to you. All this barricading has made you hungry. You take a big bite. You start to feel a little weird. “What was in the…” you ask. “Only what is in me, and what will be in all of us,” she tells you. A few minutes later, you’re driving her to your brother’s house so she can try the same trick.

Within twenty-four hours, two-thirds of the population of Mexico was high on peyote. And there was enough stockpiled in most areas to keep them all dosed twice a day for the next three months.

The Drug Lord – call him the Green Man, Pipiltzintzintli, whatever – didn’t wait. His many avatars and appendages stopped all their unproductive work – reading, watching TV, political activism – and started cultivating peyote cactus across every spare acre of land in Central America. Using data from the minds of millions of farmers and thousands of agricultural biologists, he directed the bodies under his control flawlessly, perfectly, so that billions of cacti started to spring up from Panama City to the Rio Grande and beyond. Like clockwork, twice a day, each of the millions of addicted people take another dose of cactus.

Of course everyone freaks out. This is the mid-eighties, so America is back in business as the Untied States under Ronald Reagan. They shift their entire military to Texas and California. Everywhere within two hundred miles of the Mexican border is a giant mess, addicts fighting non-addicts. The military tries to get involved in the fighting. The Comet King yells at them and tells Reagan to burn all the cactus plantations north of the Rio Grande, then guard the border. Reagan takes the hint. The supply of peyote mostly dries up, and twelve hours later the addicts come down, become individual humans again, ask what the hell happened to them.

The threat isn’t remotely under control. There are still a couple addicts north of the border, surviving off their own small basement plantations. And Mexico is starting to industrialize really heavily – like, more heavily than any country has ever industrialized in all of history. Turns out communism works just fine when there are no individuals. The two countries start to prepare for war.

In 1986, Mexican troops cross the Rio Grande, and the Drug War begins. By this point, the Untied States has started to get some kabbalistic Names. The appendages of the Drug Lord can’t speak Names, something about not working off individual souls anymore, so the US has the tech advantage. On the other hand, the Drug Lord is a single being with ninety million perfectly cooperating bodies and an inhuman level of industrial base, plus anyone he can convince to take a peyote button starts fighting for his side. The battles are fierce, but the Mexicans slowly begin to advance.

The Comet King asks someone to get him a peyote button. He sits in his fortress in Cheyenne Mountain and swallows a piece of cactus. Two hours later, the Mexican forces retreat back towards the Rio Grande.

Mexico deteriorates, addicts fighting those who had spontaneously become non-addicted. The Drug Lord retreats to small villages and goes underground, while a couple of dazed politicians dust themselves off and start to re-form a normal government.

The Comet King doesn’t explain. The Comet King never explains. Some sort of spiritual combat? Some successful negotiation?

An old man in Arizona who’d been high on peyote during the war told the newspapers he had felt it happen, that he’d been in the Drug Lord’s mind at the time. When the Comet King had taken peyote, the Drug Lord had felt a feeling of supreme confidence and self-assuredness, like everything had been planned out and it was all going according to plan. He’d realized what was in store for him, if he didn’t expel the foreign influence from his mind right away. He pled, begged, for the Comet King not to take another button.

In Soviet Russia, drugs get addicted to you.

But now the Comet King was dead, and the Drug Lord had reasserted himself. Most of the Mexican cities and lowlands had fallen a second time. And so old men with dilated pupils rebuilt their ship for cash. Some said the Other King had signed an alliance with the Drug Lord, and that when the last remnants of Royal Colorado were destroyed they would sweep across the Southwest, destroying all in their path. Others said the Drug Lord hated the Other King but feared him. In any case there was peace, of a sort.

The workmen finished their task. Three men with dilated pupils went back onto their rowboat and went away.

James sighed with relief as the last addict left the ship. People were too smart to take the Drug voluntarily nowadays, and he’d checked them for any weapons they could use to overpower anyone, but any contact with Mexico was still creepy, and they were glad to be done with it.

“Uriel’s machine is deteriorating,” Simeon told Ana. “When it finally falls apart, it’s going to loose a lot of things that look at humans as the bottom of the food chain. The Drug Lord. Thamiel. Other things. Older things. Technology won’t save us then. The only thing that can save us is Names. Lots and lots of Names. We beat the Drug Lord back with Names, but not well, and now we don’t have the Comet King on our side. When the last screw falls out of that machine, I want us armed with as many Names as we can get. Cate Ilyov buys private jets because Cate Ilyov is an idiot. Me, I’m sinking all Countenance’s profits back into Countenance. And a few other projects besides. Not because I’m not selfish. I am. I’m selfish enough to be scared. For me. For my family.”

The dinner bell rang.

“Join me for dinner?” asked Simeon.

“I’ll…I’ll have to think,” said Ana. “You’re not getting out of this one this easily.”

Simeon was already gone.

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217 Responses to Chapter 33: The Doors Of Perception

  1. Anonymous says:

    He’d realized what was in store for him, if he didn’t expel the foreign influence from his mind right away.

    I guess it should have been “would have realized”.

    • jms says:

      Nah, “he had realized” seems fine. It’s not a “he would have… if” but rather, “He realized that if he didn’t expel the foreign influence from his mind right away then bad things would happen”

  2. Moloch says:

    Pipiltzintzintli Sounds like Moloch if it was an actual being.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      What? The Green Man is silently coordinating a giant army. Assuming you mean Moloch in the SSC sense rather than in the ancient sense, that’s not Moloch-like at all.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Moloch is the personification of coordination failure and races to the bottom. Individual failure to go without peyote caused the crisis, and Mexico is a society that sacrificed what it valued most to better compete with and subsume outsiders.

        • Soumynona says:

          Coordination failure requires choosing to defect. Mexico had no idea what was happening until it was too late. They didn’t throw their children into the furnace. They let their children play in the park (full of peyote cacti, perhaps) and were shocked when a trapdoor to a fiery pit opened under them.

    • Aran says:

      “I won’t factor the number until you sacrifice your children.”

    • LPSP says:

      I think everyone involved in Moloch has to be miserable, yet trapped by their selfish incentives for it to count. Everyone on the Green Man is so happy and fulfilled that it’s not a Moloch. It’s more of an O2-deprivation Tyranid Hive Mind hybrid, where you feel euphoric and don’t realise you’re suffocating/becoming a limb of some large alien organism. Thamiel remains an effective Moloch.

      (on a non-chapter relevant note, I watched Fargo recently. Lorne Malvo is perhaps the clearest-cut minor Moloch I’ve ever seen in tv and movies)

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Pipiltzintzintli is The Blight from The Fire Upon The Deep.

  3. grort says:

    I’m not buying Simeon’s argument. A good monopolist sets the price at just barely enough that people still buy the Name. The prices Ana describes are more than that: they’re so much that most people can’t afford the name, which means the theonomics are not getting money from those people.

    There should be people in Ethiopia who will recite the Fertile Name for you, as many times as you want. And in exchange, you give them whatever money you’ve got — or, if you haven’t got money, you work in the theonomic sweatshops, searching for Names, until you do have that money. (Why are these sweatshops in California, of all places? Why haven’t they been outsourced to third-world countries?)

    Two-thirds of hospitals can’t afford the fees for the Purifying Name. We know how to solve this problem: we use salesmen, we use a complex system of discounts so everybody pays a different price which is always exactly what they can afford to pay. Colleges do this and call it “financial aid”. I’m pretty sure some of the more expensive software packages are licensed like this. Theonomics should do it too.


    I have a dark suspicion that the real reason Unsong restricts the use of Names is that they have side effects. Maybe Names draw on the Divine Light, hastening the end of the world. Maybe Names alter the singer’s consciousness in weird ways. Maybe Names grow weaker in proportion to how often they’re sung.

    Or maybe it’s all secretly run by Thamiel — it was the Comet King’s idea originally but Thamiel has perverted it beyond what it was intended for.

    But if Unsong were restricting the use of Names just so that theonomics could make money, they’d be doing a better job of making money for the theonomics.

    • DanielLC says:

      Discriminatory pricing is easier said than done. If you take whatever people afford, they have no incentive to afford much. How high they set the price depends on the demand curve. If the demand is inversely proportional to the price, they get the same amount of money regardless. If the demand falls just a little slower, they’re best off with a really high price.

      Still, I’d expect the company that has the fertile name would buy all the farms or something.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        The point about taking everything people can afford stands, although starvation is a pretty powerful motivator.

        Regarding buying the farms, if theonomics aren’t using massive Names sweatshops in poor countries, something is weird. I suspect this is something Scott has ignored because he needs the protagonist to be a highly-educated US resident who works in a sweatshop.

        Your point about demand curves is wrong because price discrimination is not actually very hard, especially when you’re selling a service. You might not manage first-degree price discrimination (personalised pricing – although a standard example of this is third-world markets where the seller knows every buyer intimately), but you can certainly manage second-degree (quantity and quality menus) and third-degree (group profiling). As grort said, there’s no reason not to have agents who will recite the Fertile Name over a field for a fee, since there’s no way for an American farmer to fake being an Ethiopian one, and the fee does not have to be linear in the acreage and soil quality.

        I would guess that using Names hastens the apocalypse, but people aren’t using them the way I would expect if that were true (namely, making it illegal to use any but the most socially important nones, such as the Motive and Purifying Names).

        • Maybe third-world sweatshops have bad security and nobody wants Thamiel to get the Names.

          OTOH, maybe Thamiel has infiltrated the theonomics establishment.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I don’t think that makes any sense. Klipot do get broken, and Thamiel presumably can’t use Names anyway (any more than angels can).

          • Okay maybe some other evil entity (the nature of which is classified Top Secret) will get the Names…

          • Wait a moment… If the sweatshops run on placebomancy, then their efficiency will be improved if the people in charge act like storybook mustache-twirling businessmen.

          • LPSP says:

            My epileptic trees-tier guess – Yaldabaoth.

            Also the idea of Snidely Whiplash factory magnates and Charles Dickens-tier employer-monsters made me laugh – that said, there is a theme of the one kind-hearted business leader whose employees love him or her and manage to thwart their heartless competitors. But usually the leader has to die terribly and be just succeeded in a hair’s breadth by their plucky working class ward, which is probably too much of a constant setback for a stable business practice. Better to be moustache-twirling, puppy-kicking and reliably in power.

        • The coment king says:

          International communication is a bit more difficult in unsongverse – it might be really hard to build secure, internet-connected sweatshops in Africa (you do need to have sufficient control to prevent your workers from running off with new names). And other places like HJDE may be too xenophobic.

        • boris says:

          We’ve seen what a breakdown in communications there has been merely in the Untied States. It may not be possible to effectively outsource.

    • Blue says:

      Ana is probably as ill-informed as a real world hippie complaining about patents crushing the third world. In both cases, there are probably discounts and aid, but deprivation still persists, even if she doesn’t know the exact numbers correctly.

    • LPSP says:

      ” Maybe Names draw on the Divine Light, hastening the end of the world. . . Maybe Names grow weaker in proportion to how often they’re sung.”

      I’m betting my money on this outcome. If everyone invokes the invisibility name all at once, we’d all just be vaguely translucent. We’re taxing too much of the system’s resources, and eventually there can be a big crash – specifically Chokmah will shatter in qliphoth.

    • The coment king says:

      Yeah. When we really need urgent scientific advancement we didn’t do it like that (see the Manhattan project).
      OTOH, Simeon isn’t an all-knowing wise man (It sounds like TCK was, but UNSONG and theonomics got a lot different since his time, with Malia Ngo’s changes). He is, however, a smart and charismatic businessman with an interest in convincing both others and himself that he’s a good guy who knows what he’s doing. He’s great at making persuasive arguments, but that’s part of his job.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Why are these sweatshops in California, of all places? Why haven’t they been outsourced to third-world countries?

      I think they need a degree of academic training to pronounce the syllables correctly.

    • The coment king says:

      Also, there’s the issue of employing most of the brilliant kabbalists to construct klipot rather than search for new names, for which he doesn’t even come up with a counterargument.

      • Yossarian says:

        From what I’ve figured out from the story so far, you don’t really need actual brilliant kabbalists to do that. One talented kabbalist (like Ana) might be able to wiggle a Name out of the previously unconsidered texts once in a rare while, but a sweatshop will get Names cheaper and faster, so the actual educated kabbalists are now stuck doing things like klipotting up the already known names.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          a sweatshop will get Names cheaper and faster

          That’s just because kabbalists have already hugely restricted the field of possible Names among the space of all sequences of Hebrew letters. See Chapter 1.

          • Sean says:

            Maybe all the low hanging fruit have already been plucked.

            The returns on investment for kabbalist research might have been exceeded by the sweatshop

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Keep in mind we have no idea what kind of horrible problems the UNSONG-verse third world has, but judging by the fate of the American Midwest it’s probably not a place you choose to set up shop. And if you send a name-saying to Ethiopia, then saying the name is free but transportation and security are not.

  4. Sniffnoy says:

    Huh. That’s a pretty different set of theonomics than we saw back in Chapter 5. Wonder what real-world companies these are referencing, if any?

  5. Sniffnoy says:

    It’s a transliteration, who cares if it’s spelled consistently? 😛

  6. Anonymous says:

    So… given that theonomics companies are the software industry and the Unitarians are the open-source movement, what is peyote in this allegory?

    Because Simeon Azore looks like…

    Peter Andreas Thiel (/ˈtiːl/; born October 11, 1967) is a German-American entrepreneur, venture capitalist and hedge fund manager. Thiel co-founded PayPal with Max Levchin and Elon Musk and served as its CEO. He also co-founded Palantir, of which he is chairman. He was the first outside investor in Facebook, the popular social-networking site, with a 10.2% stake acquired in 2004 for $500,000, and sits on the company’s board of directors.

    Palantíri (or singular Palantír) also known as Seeing-stones, the Seven Stones, and the Seven Seeing-stones were spherical stone objects used for the purpose of communication in Middle-earth and beyond.

    [Bareketh] is evidently derived from a Hebrew root, often used for lightning; and also translated glittering; and designates a stone of a flashing redness.

      • dsotm says:

        So the subtext here would be big pharma trying to ban competition from ‘natural’ active substances as well as ‘third-world’ competition of generics.

    • “Palantir” doesn’t mean “glittering” in any language, and I don’t think there’s any evidence that the palantiri glitter.

      • Anonymous says:

        Am I then supposed to look at the “lightning” meaning, connect it to the scientist who worked on those, and conclude that Simeon Azore is Elon Musk? Because that would be somewhat disappointing. (Also, I don’t recall Musk having anything to do with “Countenance”.)

        Thiel still seems like the best fit. Especially in a chapter where he’s talking about defending the Untied States from Mexicans, and we know whom Thiel supports who has a lot to say about that.

        • Susebron says:

          It’s Mark Zuckerburg. Countenance is Facebook.

          • fubarobfusco says:

            “Azore” sounds like azúcar which is Spanish for “sugar” (German Zucker).

            The Azores are mountainous (German Berg) volcanic islands … which actually get their name from a species of bird, not from sugar.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Except Azore didn’t found and doesn’t run Countenance… or does he? He talks about what he does with the profits. It’s a little unclear and I’m wondering if this is, like, a minor continuity flub or something.

          • I’m thinking of him as a majority (or at least very big) shareholder who is neither founder nor runner.

    • dsotm says:

      Also I don’t know where the author got ‘flashing redness’ from, Bareket in Hebrew is identified as Emerald

      • dsotm says:

        Ok apparently that’s not unambiguous and has been identified with almost every gemstone out there including ruby,
        But emeralds are green, drug lord is green, the ship’s mast is apparently green ? so I’m favoring that one.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I’m pretty surethere’s more than one mast and this is the green one. Presumably the green sail is attached to it.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      My own notes on Bareketh and Simeon Azore:

      Bareketh isn’t a theonomic but rather some investment firm. Sound-alike makes me think of Berkshire Hathaway but that seems unlikely.

      What about the Bareket itself? It’s one of the stones on the priestly breastplate (which also contains the Urim and the Thummim!), whose name just means “shimmering” but is often considered to be an emerald. Ignoring the question of what stone it is, which may be difficult, it’s third in the first row. Going by the illustrations on Wikipedia, it has the name of Levi inscribed on it. (Although given that Levi is not always considered a tribe, I imagine there must be interpretations where it has, say, Judah on it instead.)

      Meanwhile “Simeon” could be interpreted as the tribe name (rather than the New Testament associations that were being made earlier) — which goes on the second stone in the first row, the Pitdah.

      Obviously, these two together are pointing towards the first stone in the first row, the Odem, a red stone, associated with Reuben.

      …OK, yeah, I have no idea. And I have no idea what to make of “Azore” other than that it makes me think of Dinosaur Comics. 😛

    • Pentrose says:

      IN this analogy peyote would be facebook and other social networks, or possibly those damn games that try and get you to convince everyone you know to sign up.

    • Empiricist says:

      Russian Credit card scammers, Nigerian Prince spammers and the windows support center that call you up: all acting on your gullibility and willingness to trust in their innocence

    • MugaSofer says:

      I assumed the Green Man was a superintelligent personification of, y’know, actual drugs. It’s a classic Evil Ghandi problem.

      • anon says:

        A what problem?

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Old thought experiment from Less Wrong. I can’t find the original reference at the moment. If you’re Gandhi, and you’re offered a pill that will cause you want to murder people, obviously you refuse. If you are building an artificial Gandhi, one basic test of it is to make sure that it too would refuse.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            More than that. There’s a version with pills that make you one percentage point more willing to murder that illustrates that you need a decision theory that can cope with incremental changes to your utility function.

            If you’d become 38% willing to murder in exchange for $38000, but not 39% willing in exchange for $39000, you ought to have a decision theory such that you’ll stop accepting 1pp pills in exchange for $1000 after taking 38 of them. Either you need precommitment to not take the 39th pill or you need to stop taking pills before reaching 38. (An alternative analogy is building a drinker that will stop buying drinks on reaching the number chosen when sober, rather than trusting the drunk self to choose.)

            The model-your-future-choices part is very hard in practice because the real world is very complicated and Vinge’s Law requires that a self-improving mind cannot reliably know the decisions made by its future self (much the same way you can know that Deep Blue wins chess matches, but you can’t predict which moves it will make without being at least as good at chess).

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Oh, heh — I was pointed to that “singularity” page, but since it’s mostly a page of links and failed to actually read the text. Which is apparently the original source.

      • Anonymous says:

        But drugs have nothing to do with the software industry…

        The whole peyote arc seems to be an argument in favour of keeping kabbalistic research proprietary and against common ownership of Names, i.e. the goals of the Unitarians (or at least Simeon puts it as such). Since we have already established that the latter are an allegory of the FOSS movement, I am wondering how far this metaphor goes, and whether there’s a legitimate criticism of FOSS to be made here, or the Gebstadterian company names are there just for the sake of flavour/silly in-jokes.

        On one hand, our host has already written something arguing against open software development (though only in a rather narrow sub-discipline thereof). On the other hand, given that the previous version of this chapter had theonomics named completely differently, I figure it’s probably the latter.

      • Anonymous says:

        The moderation queue here is frustrating sometimes.

  7. I thought it used to be spelt “klipot”.

    That looks like it’s intentional. I won’t be surprised if at some point Scott changes all the earlier references to klipot to use the new spelling.

  8. dsomt says:

    but it didn’t care

    – should be we didn’t care / it didn’t matter ?

    Also the drug lord sounds like samyazaz found something that works better than beer

    • Sniffnoy says:

      This doesn’t really seem like Samyazaz…

    • dsotm says:

      Why not – using psychoactive substances to deliver knowledge and skill to people and get them to rapidly industrialize.
      Also the mesoamerican pyramids are more zigurat-like

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The ziggurat bit is a good point! Otherwise though I thought it doesn’t seem like Samyazaz because, well, it’s too efficient. And whatever the Drug Lord is up to, it doesn’t seem to involve building more ziggurats, or other monuments; that seems to be purely an ancient thing. Samyazaz just doesn’t seem as competent or fearsome as this. He cowers before Thamiel, he’s not really sure how to motivate humans, he totally mispredicts pyramids vs ziggurats… (Also, if it were Samyazaz, why would the Comet King not mention this?) Not to mention, Samyazaz wants to be “on top” — he wants people to bow before him and acknowledge him as leader. He doesn’t want to be in control to accomplish something or just because he likes being in control; he’s a status-seeker. Silently directing millions of human bodies doesn’t really fit into that. Like I said, it’s too efficient.

        • dsotm says:

          He’s allowed to update his architectural vision, he seems to cower before the Comet King when feeling threatened and the problem of motivating humans was apparently solved.

          And Mexico is starting to industrialize really heavily

          And he might be a status seeker but not necessarily an overt power-seeker, more like ego-driven for accomplishment for its own sake – he didn’t make himself king in the Mesopotamia episode but rather the king’s zigurats minister.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            And he might be a status seeker but not necessarily an overt power-seeker, more like ego-driven for accomplishment for its own sake – he didn’t make himself king in the Mesopotamia episode but rather the king’s zigurats minister.

            I think that’s really just a misreading of his character. (It also ignore the fact that if that were true, he should be building lots of pyramids now, when his control is far stronger than in the past.) Here are some relevant bits from Chapter 20:

            They reached the top of the Great Stair and the highest tier of the ziggurat. Highest tier of the ziggurat so far, Samyazaz corrected himself. There was still a lot of room for improvement. Three men in loincloths stood on the west edge of the platform, staring at the afternoon sky. Samyazaz took a whip from his belt and cracked it in the air, startling them.

            “I’m not paying you to lollygag!” he shouted. He hoped the slaves appreciated his sense of humor.

            Yes, he likes lording over people.

            But slowly, grudgingly, the slaves got back to work. They feared him. Of course they did. Even Ut-Naparash feared him. He was Samyazaz, the Bringer of Forbidden Knowledge. Not that that was so hard when “copper and tin go together to make bronze” is Forbidden Knowledge. Heck, eighty years ago the king’s daughter had been sad because her lips weren’t rosy enough, and fellow forbidden-knowledge-bringer Gadiriel had suggested she crush some red rocks into a pigment and then paint it on herself, and people were still talking about this and worrying it would lead to everyone turning into sex-crazed maniacs.

            Notice the focus on them fearing him, and how he sets himself up as the grandiose “Bringer of Forbidden Knowledge”.

            “No. Nope. No way,” said Samyazaz. “Things are going really well here. I’ve got a wife and kids. Twenty wives, actually, fifty kids. No way I’m going back there. Absolutely not.”

            “I like ziggurats! You know, humans are different from angels, in that they have this weird long thing here” – Samyazaz pointed at his crotch – “and I felt bad about not having one of those. But if I build big enough ziggurats, then I feel better about myself!”

            Samyazaz seems very much to go for “human pleasures” — beer, sex, social status. He doesn’t build things just because he likes building them, he does it to demonstrate his own greatness. He could use any epithet for his words of power, but he makes himself known as “the mighty one”. He seems to have very much followed the path Sataniel laid out (not that he was probably present to hear about it):

            “Imagine,” said Sataniel. “We could descend onto the Earth, and rule over Men. We could make them call us gods, and worship us with prayer and sacrifice. We could lay with the most beautiful of the daughters of men, and have mighty children whose footsteps make the Behemoth flee in terror. We could enslave humans, and make them build us vast palaces of gold and chalcedony, and never give another thought to God at all.”

            That’s the sort of angel Samyazaz is. This isn’t him.

          • dsotm says:

            Well it doesn’t get more lording-over-men when you can effectively control them as drones – I still don’t see that having them fear him was a prime goal of his rather than the best means he had at the time to ensure their servitude. As for sex – well, drugs lords are not known for being in lack of it.
            Anyway I guess we’ll see.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            As for sex – well, drugs lords are not known for being in lack of it.

            …the Drug Lord doesn’t have a body.

            Well it doesn’t get more lording-over-men when you can effectively control them as drones

            No, that’s actually entirely opposed to that goal! This is like, Emperor Palpatine vs. Joruus C’baoth, if you’ve read the Thrawn Trilogy.

        • dsotm says:

          I haven’t, but like I said I don’t think Samyazaz’s ambitions are imperial in nature, think more of a hedonistic paper-clip-maximiser expecting others to be really impressed by his prodigious paperclip output and it’s efficiency.

          • dsotm says:

            as for not having a body, he can probably slip into one on demand just like Gadiriel’s ‘costumes’

    • Deiseach says:

      There’s the Green Man in European folklore.

  9. M says:

    coming board => coming aboard?

  10. Emma says:

    >I didn’t buy this ship. Just booked passage it.

    on it

  11. Sniffnoy says:

    Something I notice Ana doesn’t say: “But The Comet King knew the Explicit Name itself, and it wasn’t able to save us. How will lesser names manage to do so?”

    Also, still no book-end on this chapter!

      • Anonymous says:

        END OF BOOK II

        • Ah.

          Look, I know the past few chapters have been a bit dull. I’m setting them up as dominos for a really cool book ending conclusion. You’re not going to get an end to this book until everything has had a chance to get completely crazy at least as much as Aaron’s escape from UNSONG at the end of Book 1.

          I have one more expository chapter planned for next Sunday, and then everything will start getting interesting.

          • Blue says:

            I like the expository chapters, FWIW.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            I also like the expository chapters, possibly more than the exciting ones.

          • Jai says:

            +1 for exposition.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yes, I am not complaining about it being too slow! I also like the expository chapters. I’m just worried about the later books getting squeezed. 😛 But then, I don’t know what you have planned there. Maybe book 5 will be two chapters long for all I know!

          • Sly says:

            Adding onto the train of those that enjoy exposition.

          • I think I’ve selected for you guys by driving off all the others 😛

          • Ninmesara says:

            -1 for exposition (especially things unrelated to theonomics) and +1 to action (and Aaron), even though I know I am going agains the garin here 🙂

          • LPSP says:

            Man, there’s nothing dull about these recent chapters. I’m always quietly in awe of the worldbuilding you put into this series. Every chapter is another revelation. It’s very satisfying reading. No matter what criticisms I or others make, never change the pacing of this story; it’s a godsend.

          • Empiricist says:

            +1 exposition. I prefer to lurk, but I’m getting a tad bit annoyed with all the complaining.

            We all know you can weave a hell of a tale, and your doing it weekly with a lot of “not-coinceidences” that take a not trivial amount of work, don’t hurry.

            I’m glad to sit back and see where it goes, and trust you’ll deliver when the story is right for you to deliver.

          • Angstrom says:

            Thanks for this – I can enjoy the exposition a lot more when I can feel it building up to an imminent convergence, rather than wandering in a desert for forty chapters and forty interludes. Especially when you’ve dropped enough clues that we can start to anticipate and piece together the end of the book … I very much believe the “we’re going to see the founding of UNSONG at the mideast peace conference” theory, and I’m very excited to see why.

          • Angstrom says:

            Also I’m very excited to see the state of the Middle East! There has been zero talk of Israel this whole book!

          • teucer says:

            +1 for enough fun exposition to grok the storyline.

            I like the action chapters better. I wouldn’t if you didn’t explain the world they’re in, though, and you make those explanations fun (if IMO often less fun than the action) so i don’t mind needing them.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      Presumably Shem HaMephorash comes with a price TCK isn’t willing to pay. My suspicion is that it’s the seed of Adam Kadmon and has no function beyond creating universes. Speaking it won’t help in any situation preferable to restarting the universe.

      I think that people probably don’t think about issues like that because it’s uncomfortable. The prospect of Thamiel winning is too much for people to face, so they ignore it and hope it will come after they’re dead and (of course) safely in Heaven, or believe that Uriel will fix the machine, or whatever.

      • lumatic says:

        I had a guess that god is basically evil or at least indifferent, and the “broken things” (humans, Uriel) are the source of good stuff.

        I don’t think it really fits the facts, but I still think there might be something in it.

        • lumatic says:

          Making the connection explicit: Shem HaMephorash does something like remake the universe according to god’s image. Basically what you said.

        • LPSP says:

          Uriel seems to be less broken than the other arch-angels by that definition. He was just poddling about with random math puzzles while they were glorying in God’s goodness, and were more baffled and horrified by Sataniel’s call to selfishness and wanton cruelty than Uriel’s dry response.

          • Walter says:

            Well, a sports team’s enemies are the other team. Thamiel and co. agreed on most important matters with them, disagreed on the big one. Angels are cops, Thamiel is a robber, Uriel is a dynamiter. He is a much worse enemy to the angels than Thamiel.

          • LPSP says:

            That’s an interesting and tricky line of thought. God wants a good game, and Uriel is a spoilsport for shutting it down. Forbidding emotion at all is the real evil; like mixing all seven colours (plus the three special ones you only see in heaven) into grey.

      • Anonymous says:

        What if the Shem HaMephorash just failed to work, just like the Vital Name?

      • j20r says:

        There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

        There is another theory mentioned, which states that this has already happened.

  12. grort says:

    Members of the Drug Lord can’t use Names, so it’s possible to prove that one isn’t on the Drug by demonstrating the use of a Name. Are there any Names that are so well-known (and not copyrighted) that anyone would know them?

    I mean, presumably most people know not to speak the Tetragrammaton because that would kill them. Are there any others?

  13. Anaxagoras says:

    Wait, but even if your only goal is amassing as much magic as possible to fight to save humanity against the monsters, shouldn’t you still want to prevent starving Ethiopian children? After all, if they die, they can’t grow up to work in Name-finding sweatshops. Conceivably you’d condition access to certain things on working on theonomics (either in a sweatshop or as a researcher), but still, it seems tremendously wasteful to not have all those people helping you.

    Plus, I don’t see how this is a case of Chesterton’s Fence, so much as a straightforward tradeoff.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Yeah, Chesteron’s Fence is more about, like, old evolved traditions, without conscious correct reasoning behind them, rather than institutions that were set up very deliberately.

    • Blue says:

      Sure and if your goal is to code and engineer your way to the singularity as soon as possible, educating Ethiopian children and encouraging population growth so you can have even more coders makes more sense than hiring programmers with SF standards of living.

      Turns out that’s not how humans actually implement their plans.

      • Anonymous says:

        Coding even the simplest, most unsophisticated app (okay, maybe more sophisticated than I Am Rich) takes some skill with abstract, analytical thought beyond basic literacy. Reading a random string that a computer gave you doesn’t.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        Sure, but besides what Anonymous says, most real life organizations aren’t trying to engineer their way towards the singularity. And besides, I don’t read Simeon’s motivation as singularity-seeking so much as war-winning, and there’s absolutely lots of precedent of people using every resource available to them to do so, including treating people much better than they ordinarily would be inclined to.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Look up efficiency wages. Paying people more than subsistence is a good idea, even when you’re talking about unskilled manual labourers.

        Also look up where the majority of English-speaking world-class young math talents live, and bear in mind that getting poor children to world-class standards is a problem major governments can’t solve; that a researcher who becomes useful two years before the Singularity is much less useful than one who does thirty years of work; that trying to bring the Singularity forward is genocidally stupid; and that even if it wasn’t, nobody knows how to build a superintelligence and throwing more programmers at the problem doesn’t seem to speed up progress much.

    • Walter says:

      I think Simeon is just looking to score here, not actually reasoning out loud. He lives his life his way for the obvious reasons, and he’s built a quick story for good looking hippy chicks he runs across.

  14. Lux Sola says:

    Yeah, Simeon’s argument doesn’t hold water.

    Yes, it is good to optimize toward having as much names as possible in your arsenal to fight the End of Days, but UNSONG is definitely not optimizing for that. They’re optimizing for corporate profits.

    • Alex Godofsky says:

      The question isn’t what UNSONG is optimizing for; the question is what the Comet King was optimizing for. His optimization is constrained by needing to create a system that could sustain and perpetuate itself long enough even without his active interference and support.

  15. Anders Sandberg says:

    Reagan’s War on Drugs in the Unsong world has a somewhat better motivation than in the actual world. I wonder about the eventual success, though.

  16. LHC says:

    We got our universal love earlier, now we’ve got our cactus person.

    I’ve got to wonder if there’s any connection between the Drug Lord and Wall Drug. Two unrelated things with “drug” in the name just seems a bit… coincidental.

    I think that the analogy here is to the role tech companies have in preventing a bad strong AI takeoff. Which is both a valid point to make in theory and clearly not what tech companies are optimizing for.

    • “We got our universal love earlier, now we’ve got our cactus person.”

      This and “Cactus Person” are two sides of exploring the question “Why aren’t hallucinogenic machine elves consequentialist?”. The answer here is “Oh god oh god oh god, don’t say that, they might hear you.”

      • teucer says:

        I’m not sure they aren’t, but they’re almost certainly not competent rationalists (and probably aren’t usually trying). This makes them less effective consequentialists than one might hope/fear.

      • That… is a fascinating question! I’ll, uh, ask next time I take ayahuasca. (Mescaline cactus hasn’t yet catalyzed that kind of anthropomorphic interface, in my experience.)*

        For what it’s worth, most of the ayahuasca community folks I’ve met are probably deontologists — asking “But… why?” about various aspects of rituals is not a super popular question. But I’m not at all sure that hallucinated entities are necessarily the same way…

        Oh also! Drug geek grumps: Wouldn’t it make more sense for their pupils to be *dilated*? Also peyote grows WAY slower than Trichocereus sp. Slowly enough that it’s a conservation issue.

        *Disclaimer: I’m in Peru; ayahuasca and San Pedro cactus are legal and considered a cultural patrimony.

        • beanemachine says:

          Yup. Normally the pupils dilate. I’m wondering if this is deliberate — some kind of indication that the user is not longer in control of their trip.

  17. Chrysophylax says:

    “When it finally falls apart, it’s going to loose a lot of things that look at humans as the bottom of the food chain. The Drug Lord. Thamiel. Other things. Older things.”

    Older than Thamiel? That adds a little more evidence that Thamiel is an ascended human, possibly Cain and Abel. Even so, there can’t be many things older than him. I’m not sure what’s bad enough to make a situation involving an unconstrained Thamiel materially worse.

    Of course, Simeon might mean “older than the sky cracking”, may have no idea of the origins of Thamiel and Pipiltzintzintil, and may be being dramatic for rhetorical effect.

    • 75th says:

      possibly Cain and Abel.

      Would Abel be punished so severely as to be made into the Devil’s second, silently screaming head? Maybe the second head is the Mark of Cain, and maybe it *looks* like Abel, but isn’t actually him?

      (Jewish lore may have more to say on Cain and Abel, I have only the modern Protestant Christian background on the OT)

      ((I need to come up with a much briefer way of making that disclaimer. Or just set a keyboard shortcut to paste it))

  18. onomaphobe says:

    “the the peyote”
    “United States” when I think you mean “Untied States”

    • teucer says:

      “United States” when I think you mean “Untied States”

      I’ve been hoping for an instance of this to show up in one of these threads, just once.

  19. I’m reminded of “Let’s Be Frank” by Brian W. Aldiss.

  20. holomanga says:

    Crazy theodicy theory: the Comet King needed worthy opponents, and placebomancy did the rest.

    • Yossarian says:

      That’s straight up from Worm, and that’s why the Comet King was depressed after meeting Metatron. He probably asked the theodicy question and that was the reply.
      “…you needed worthy opponents…”

      • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

        Wow, that is hella depressing.

      • Soumynona says:

        If Comet King is Eidolon, then Drug Lord is Khepri. Thamiel will be defeated by having replicas of the corpse of his girlfriend thrown at him.

        • Yossarian says:

          If we continue the Worm-Unsong comparison, then Thamiel is too obvious of a villain to be the real Big Bad – he is probably an Endbringer, or someone like Jack Slash (with him being so devious, wouldn’t be surprised). The real Big Bad would have to be Metatron or the G-D himself.

        • Yossarian says:

          Then G-D will be defeated by piles of replicas of Mary’s corpses. That comes closest to a known G-D’s biblical girlfriend

  21. Svalbardcaretaker says:

    FWIW this elaborate description of Drug Lords takeover was much much scarier than The Broadcast. Well done.

    • Thamiel just wants to torture you. The Drug Lord wants to eat your soul.

      • Walter says:

        More “borrow your body”, I’d say.

        • Peter says:

          Yeah. In the The Broadcast thread someone compared Thamiel to a paperclip maximiser, and the consensus was that that wasn’t right; Thamiel cares about your well-being, he just cares about it in the wrong direction. The Drug Lord seems a lot closer to the mark – the part of you that makes you you is a mere inconvenience to him, to be discarded or forced aside, the rest of you (possibly not atoms by now?) can be put to use. It’s sadism vs callous indifference.

        • MugaSofer says:

          The description seems to indicate that subsumed individuals remain aware, they just find themselves suddenly possessed (heh) of new skills and motivations.

          That could be an illusion, but given the Drug Lord also seems to have massively superhuman multitasking abilities (and no other forms of superintelligence,) I suspect he’s suborning human minds rather than bypassing them completely.

  22. Quite Likely says:

    Psssh, still a terrible argument. It’s not that hard to fund research without resorting to these sorts of tactics. The government can invest the necessary billions. We built the atom bomb with public money, we can find name research sweatshops.

    • That’s assuming the government is trustworthy.

      Even when the government is trustworthy about X, it is sufficiently untrustworthy about other matters to produce conspiracy theories.

      If nuclear research had been privately funded, nuclear energy might have run into less opposition.

  23. Daniel says:

    The sweatshops do need a larger mental capacity than simple recitation though. I read it as the computer saying it faster than syllable by syllable. Implying you would need advanced melory processes to do it for the.longer Names.

  24. sotmd says:

    Ok uh this is not super important but would it be too much an imposition to get content warnings on more UNSONG chapters? IIRC there was one on the Broadcast one.

    I do much better when I control the situations in which I read about drugs. Then again it’s possible the many statings of “these people were drugs” before the full-on explanation should have alerted me to the danger.

  25. Joe says:

    So, from the Mexicans point of view, this version of the War On Drugs was literally fought as a war while on drugs. Unsong never fails to make me smile.

  26. Ninmesara says:

    In my opinion, it’s great to be back to the theonomic corporations and the divine names after so many chapters of Commet King messianic stuff! Unfortunately, apparently most of the chapter was actually about psychadelic/mythical stuff, but well, I got my theonomics fix ;).

    I have two questions about this chapter:

    – Where does exactly the sentence “In Soviet Russia, drugs get addicted to you.” fit? Does it mean that the Drug Lord was afraid of becoming addicted to the Comet King? If so, where is the soviet part? Is it just a thin excuse to slip a “Russian reversal” into Unsong? I guess we have already one about the demons being afraid of the Russians, but I’m not sure.

    – There is this talk about the names being precious technology against demons and “older things” in a universe where technology stops working, but the “technology” of the names seemed incapable of stopping both the army of Mexican zombies and the army of the of the dead in the battle against the Other King. If this is to be true, then Scott should show us the American army crushing the opposition with names of fire and war, and the best we’ve had was a rabbi crushing the demon hordes in NYC, a battle in which the demons were caught by surprise. This idea would be much more credible if the US army were to be shown fighting a successful battle agains someone without the help from the Comet King… On the other hand this talk of self defense might be just Simeon making up excuses for the behavior of the theonomic companies.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      > Does it mean that the Drug Lord was afraid of becoming addicted to the Comet King?


      > If so, where is the soviet part? Is it just a thin excuse to slip a “Russian reversal” into Unsong?

      It’s called a joke. Ana does lots of them, and this chapter is from her perspective.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Ok, I guess I was expecting something a little deeper. If this is the case, I’d prefer something like “in Rio Grande/Mexico, drugs get addicted to you”, instead of taking the Sacred Name of the Motherland in vain.

    • Cinz says:

      Note that the peyote hive-mind is explicitly compared to Communism, just a few paragraphs before the Russian reversal. In Ana’s words: “Turns out communism works just fine when there are no individuals.” So, referring to the Drug Lord / Mexico as Soviet Russia seems apt.

  27. Roman Davis says:

    Current theodicy headcannon: The universe is a power source for some sort, and of the big story drivers (evil, the battle between good and evil, names, hell) is the it’s primary catalyst. I. e., we are powering Rick’s, I mean God’s car.

    The Comet King found out, and realized God would shut down the universe if hell stopped supplying it with power.

    • LPSP says:

      Or in other words, hell is just a catalyst for that vibrant human toil we call emotion. God eats the stuff. Doesn’t matter if it’s happiness or disgust, anger or fear, shock or sadness, it’s satisfying for him to use.

      Just like when we watch tv, all the different emotions that flash across the screen are satisfying. But if it was just one emotion, it would be boring and, y’know, *inert*. God needs to keep his car moving.

      • Walter says:

        My theory is the universe is like a button that God wears. It’s shiny if its inhabitants are virtuous. It is not otherwise, and might be polished when God gets around to it.

  28. not_a_linguist says:

    The part about the Comet King taking peyote seems to be reminiscent of Granny Weatherwax being bitten by vampires in Carpe Jugulum.

  29. R Flaum says:

    If seeing into the Comet King’s mind gives an impression that everything has been planned out and is going according to plan, that makes me suspect that the Comet King’s death is part of some sort of long plan he had going, and not a defeat at all.

    • Peter says:

      I’d been thinking for a while that TCK’s death at the hands of TOK seemed a bit Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m glad to know it’s not just me.

  30. Tina C. Beniac says:

    It’s begun to seem as though this series is (in addition to being an exploration of some premises he’s been kicking around for years) Scott’s opportunity to construct circumstances that would justify some of the usually-objectionable positions in the U.S. political landscape.

    What would justify, beyond any question, large-scale coordinated piracy against an industry? Well, what if the data being protected by I.P. law were discovered, rather than invented? And what if they were literally gifts from God to humanity?

    What what necessitate the establishment of a monarchy in a post-Enlightenment world? Can we construct the kind of chaotic circumstances that would require such a leader–and a leader worthy of such circumstances?

    What would justify the kind of single-minded profit-seeking that eschews calls to improve the lot of the poor? What sort of moonshot would it take to balance the scales in the direction of disregarding the collective suffering of the poor, even from a perfectly Utilitarian perspective?

    Phrases like “War on Poverty” and “War on Drugs” are silly hyperbole to whip up support and fervor. But what if it weren’t? What sort of war would be rightly called the “War on Drugs”?

    (Also, on a separate note, I can’t help but wonder if, given Simeon’s motivation, it wouldn’t be a better use of his resources to, say, buy out large tracts of land in Ethiopia, license the Fertile Name from Gogmagog, and then trade food directly for namespace-searching recitation of potential Names.)

  31. Quixote says:

    I liked this chapter a lot. The drug war backstory was very well done and I have great appreciation for throw away “in Russia Y Xes you” jokes.

  32. beanemachine says:

    People on hallucinogens (peyote included) tend to have dilated pupils — not constricted. I can’t tell if this is deliberate signalling by Scott (who, I’m pretty sure, is a doctor) or if it’s a mistake.

    Anyway, great chapter as always.

  33. If Names can only be used by individuals and if WiFi has the same effect on computers that peyote has on humans then that might explain why the MacBook could not run Lull.

    OTOH, Aaron thought he had disabled the Internet connections. OTGH, it’s possible to think you’ve disabled the Internet connections but be mistaken.

  34. Sammy says:

    What’s the point of the 12 seater jet if aircraft don’t work?

    • LPSP says:

      Status signalling. I mean, any old plank of wood will get you places with the Ascending and Motive names, but why not do it with style? AND tradition! Jet crafts are a thing of the past, so therefore they have retro-chic.

      • Why would they need the California Zephyr?

        Hmmm… Maybe the Ascending Name can only be used by human beings and the Motive Name can only be used on otherwise inanimate objects.

        So if an Ensouled ship used the Ascending Name and then used the Mistral Name to call the jet stream…

    • MugaSofer says:

      A twelve-seater seems pretty small for a multibillionaire trying to show off. It’s probably redesigned to run using a half-dozen hyperexpensive names constantly chanted by monks in the back.

  35. Anon says:

    the Drug Lord can’t speak Names, something about not working off individual souls anymore

    So the Drug Lord has a Collective Soul? And is a spiritual entity allowed to manifest on Earth after the sky cracked?

    Whoah, Heaven let your light shine down.

  36. neo says:

    I have to say, I have a hard time believing that everything is really holding together as well as it seems.

    We’ve seen the Midwest turn into some sort of memetic black hole. We’ve seen Mexico be assimilated by the Borg. We’ve seen the States become Untied, with at least three separate and powerful individuals vying for control. And that’s just North and Central America.

    Unless Names make everything far easier than we’ve seen, the world should be falling apart by now — and yet nobody seems to have trouble getting food or water or shelter.


    • LPSP says:

      Well, kabbalah has become an extremely well-funded and lucrative crux of the education industry, effectively filling the slot that advanced tech has in real life. I’d imagine the proliferation of highly educated kabbalists with licensed klipot-encrypted names across the world would have something of an effect on living standards.

  37. Quixote says:

    Prediction. The climatic end of this book involves the founding of unsong. We’ve seen a lot of the comet King and we’ve seen a lot of different kinds of bad guys. The two are related in some way and we are about to find out.

  38. I just realized that in the universe the RFRA would not have gotten passed.

  39. Stib says:

    The dinner bell rang.

    “Join me for dinner?” asked Simeon.

    “I’ll…I’ll have to think,” said Ana. “You’re not getting out of this one this easily.”

    Simeon was already gone.

    Is it just me or does this sound kind of ominous after the stuff about people getting fed peyote through food?

  40. Quixote says:

    Oh man. Is today gonna be the day Unsong misses an update…?

  41. R Flaum says:

    Wait. Didn’t the Comet King know every name already? What does he gain out of founding UNSONG, then?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Scott said this is an understandable mistake from a sentence in Unsong (“gazed upon the Kabahlah bare”), which was included mainly because it sounded cool. He doesn’t actually know every name, and neither does Sohu or, for that matter, anyone else.

  42. Timothy Scriven says:

    Is anyone else around here not convinced by Chesterton’s fence style arguments? Yes old institutions might have purposes, but it seems to me the more relevant point is institutions favour the interests of those who designed the parameters of the institutions, and those who are of the same class as those people.

    • Timothy Scriven says:

      I mean obviously I’m not saying anything new here, it’s a conversation starter, nothing more. But to elaborate a bit, I think there are really two fundamental meta arguments about institutional structure and they point in different directions. The Chesterton argument and the argument I outlined above. Both are, a priori, quite strong. It’s a matter of which you think pulls more weight.

      I’ve read a lot of history, economics, anthropology etc. etc. and the vibe I almost always get is that game rigging is what we should be more afraid of than Chesterton’s fence considerations, yet the rationalist community seems to talk about Chesterton’s fence a lot more in relation to institutions.

  43. Andrew M says:

    Simeon’s argument is primarily an argument for the importance of developing Names. This could then be used to support an argument for the theonomics and UNSONG, on the basis that developing names on a large scale involves a massive amount of drudgery, no one would do it on that scale if they weren’t paid, and no one would pay them if they weren’t making a profit from the results. But the Vital Name means that all that is no longer true; it gives a new way to develop names without the disadvantages of the old one. An UNSONG motivated by the kind of thinking Simeon puts forward should welcome it rather than trying to suppress it.

  44. Irrevenant says:

    I’m probably missing something but on the face of it Simeon’s argument doesn’t seem to make much sense and I’m not sure why Ana is troubled by it. If the goal is to arm humanity with names so they stand a chance against inhuman threats, how does it make sense to restrict the number of humans who have access to them? When the Drug Lord or the Other King or Thamiel’s Horde invade, surely we want as many humans to know Names as possible.

    If the argument is that it serves as greater incentive for corporations to conduct research into names? That logic debatably works for something like pharmaceutical development which requires extensive upfront capital investment, but not for something like Names that anyone with a little skill (or even none at all) can potentially work on.

    Even the original reason for UNSONG – to prevent gangsters having access to names – has been shown to be flawed. The siege of New York demonstrated (pun semi-intended) that, when it comes to facing down inhuman evil, even gangsters are on the side of humanity.

  45. hikuri says:

    This chapter probably just killed this for me, I don’t think I’ll keep reading. That “Drug Lord Peyote” crap is dumb, more than slightly racist, and deeply offensive.

    Peyote is a sacred plant. You should not write about things you are ignorant of.

    • Masked_Discombobulator says:

      In fairness, this story also plays exciting games with the foundational beliefs of Judaism and Christianity, many of which are also sacred to loads and loads of people.

      Jewish religious beliefs turn out to be objectively true but in a weird way that seems to deprive the actual Jews of most of their ‘special-ness’ aside from the part where they have a head start in figuring out mechanics that govern how the world works, mechanics anyone else can use just as well as they can so far as I can determine.

      Christian religious beliefs get tap-danced all over. Christ wasn’t the Messiah in this story. Thamiel is blatantly not the Christian concept of the Devil, he’s a prosecuting attorney subroutine built directly into God, a paperclip-maximizer whose paperclip happens to be ‘damnation.’

      I agree that the way it treats peyote is disrespectful of religious beliefs within which peyote is sacred… but if you have a fully general objection to disrespect of other people’s religious beliefs, I have no idea how you got to Chapter 33 of this story.

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