What the heck is this blog about, anyhow?
If you’re anything like me, the world you live in feels increasingly alien every day. Evolutionary novelty is one factor – not only the advanced technologies that suffuse our cultural environment, but especially their unexpected consequences: hyperpalatable food leading to obesity; automobiles resulting in rush hour traffic jams; social media turning human minds into the neurotic pseudopods of immaterial egregores; online dating replacing romance with the anomie of hook-ups and loneliness. Beyond the merely technical aspects there are the psychosocial, the blind madness that seems to have gripped a world that has become obsessed with quantification, regulation, permits, planning, risk management ... wherever we go, we find ourselves in the same homogenized safe space, an open air prison of timid conformity and inflexible rule-following, which always seems to leave us less safe, less secure, and less sure of ourselves and our world with every tightening of the ratchet of control.
This is not the world our souls expect or desire, and it becomes less that world, it seems, with every day that passes.
The lockdowns, especially, were a rupture point. Almost overnight one world ended, and we were plunged into another, much worse world. Our society dissolved as though it had been dipped in acid.
I started this blog almost exactly one year ago, making this a traditional moment to pause and reflect.
At the time I was full of an almost incoherent rage at what we’d been through. Weeks that had turned into years of mask mandates, locked businesses, vaccine mandates, travel restrictions. In the months before I’d been fighting with an employer that was determined to shove an unwanted needle in my arm, a constant back and forth, on-again off-again struggle with ever-shifting justifications and deadlines, with the ever-present threat of being summarily disemployed should some faceless panel of anonymous bureaucrats decide against me. I’d watched my employer force those needles into the arms of its student-customers with even less regard for their rights than they showed to mine, after it had milked them for full tuition fees for Zoom school, leaving the students despondent and angry. Meanwhile travel mandates meant I was essentially trapped, unable to visit my home country should I enter, unable to re-enter the country I was living in should I leave. As all this was happening I was watching the woke cordyceps sprout its fruiting bodies throughout the academic world, converting it from a barely tolerable environment to one I found absolutely toxic at an existential psychic level.
And so I started writing.
My first essay was The DIEing Academy, which became the part of an ongoing series in which I’ve done my best to explore the factors leading to the degeneration of university system into a convent for cat ladies:
As regular readers of this blog will know, that’s only one of the many topics I write about. Most Substackers will identify a niche for themselves, and largely confine themselves to writing about a specific topic, becoming The AI Guy, the Data-Driven Sex Work Girl, the Music Man, and so on. This is of course very good advice, because readers like consistency. Therefore I ignored it, and make a point of writing about something different in every post. Partly that’s to keep myself from getting bored by being boxed into a category; partly it’s to keep my readers from getting bored; and partly it’s related to the underlying philosophy that I’m trying to communicate by implication as much as explication.
So what exactly is it that I’m trying to do with Postcards From Barsoom? What’s the point of this project? Am I writing about politics? Culture? Science? Academia? History? Literature? Artificial intelligence? Technology? Consciousness? Religion? Conspiracy theory?
Over the last year, I’ve written 78 essays, covering all of these topics and more. They tend to be on the long side, admittedly – assuming an average length of around 2000 words (which is probably an underestimate), that’s around 156,000 words or roughly the length of a reasonably thick book. If I was an indie novelist and had put that same effort into self-publishing on Amazon I’d have five short novels by now (although they’d probably be utter shit).
While I didn’t start Postcards From Barsoom with any particular plan in mind, I think the overarching theme that has emerged over the last year is really quite simple, if maybe too ambitious: exploring this bizarre and often horrific Clown World that we’ve found ourselves in, trying to understand how we got here, and most importantly, figure out how we can escape. Planet Pennywise has many faces with which it torments us, and the Longhouse has many rooms within which its myriad tortures are performed; to spend all my time in one room, looking at one face, would be to mistake the part for the whole.
At the risk of retrojecting an ex post facto explanation onto an aesthetic choice that emerged quite spontaneously from the murk of my subconscious, this theme of exploration of and escape from a demented world was perhaps prefigured in my choice of pseudonym and blog title. Much as I enjoy the post-ironic puns that suffuse the noms de guerre of Frog Twitter, I am absolutely terrible at puns, so instead I just reached for a fictional character that I felt was sufficiently obscure that it wouldn’t seem overly egotistical1. Of course I could just write under my own name but I have reasons for not wanting to do that.
No real thought went into the choice; it was pure whimsy and I just ran with it. I’ve a deep affection for the Barsoom novels, of course, which I first read to unwind while completing my doctoral studies several years ago. Its innocent vision of a vibrant but dying Martian world with soaring faerie cities, superscientific tekhne indistinguishable from magic, egg-laying alien princesses, and brutal green barbarians has always stood in stark contrast in my mind with the dead wastes that our robotic probes revealed, a symbol for the tendency of the harsh disappointment of the actual to shatter the dreaming visions of the unrealized possible ... and therefore representative of all of the disappointments of post-modernity, the great malaise of stalled progress in which we live.
Burroughs’ Barsoom novels are one of the oldest examples of isekai – the Japanese name, literally translated as ‘otherworld’, for the genre in which someone from our world somehow enters an entirely alien world, which they must explore and come to understand as complete novices. This echoes my feeling – shared, I think, by many of you – that the world into which we have been dumped is an entirely foreign domain that we don’t at all understand.
There are other ways I could riff on the isekai theme – the two worlds perceived by the different hemispheres of the brain, one integrated, vital, embodied, moving, and mythic, the other mechanical, abstract, motionless, and logical-formal, and my conviction that it is only by re-centering the former (without sacrificing the latter) that we can repair this godforsaken realm ... and my sense that some few of us are here, now, to try and effect just this rebalancing in society’s consciousness. Then there’s Substack itself, which has become a refreshing alternative realm from an Internet grown insipid with pointless, endless bickering ... trolling seems like a category error in the comments section, and over the course of my journey here I’ve encountered many wonderful, wise, and talented new friends. But this meta-post has already gone on long enough.
Since new readers might not have seen them, I’ll end this retrospective with a selection of some of my most popular essays from the last year. Perhaps you’ll find something you enjoy.
If you’re already a paid supporter of Postcards From Barsoom, you have my deepest and most heartfelt gratitude. Your support makes my writing possible. If you enjoyed this essay, or you’ve enjoyed previous essays, and you have the resources to do so, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription. If you take out a paid sub, you might even develop superpowers. What is certain, however, is that a paid sub gets you in to Deimos Station.
First ‘Big’ Post
Truth Hurts was the first essay to get a bit of attention. It’s basic point is that physical pain tolerance is likely related to the ability to overcome cognitive dissonance in the face of novel information, and that our society’s focus on comfort has likely made us intellectually flaccid as a result:
By far my most-viewed essay was a multivariate analysis of why, in my opinion, the United States is very poorly situated to prevail should the new cold war with the multipolar alliance go hot:
This is probably my favourite essay, in which I look at the clash of worldviews occasioned by the Spanish conquest of Meso-America, and the surprising parallels between the materialist philosophy of the Aztecs and the materialist philosophy that displaced the religious outlook animating the Conquistadores:
This one is fairly recent, and kicked off an animated discussion between many of my Substack friends spanning multiple blogs:
The most-liked essay was Tonic Masculinity, mentioned just above. After that, the next most-liked post was Lay Down and Let It Rot, in which I look at the various structural and ideological factors that are leading youth across the developed world – yes even in China – to simply ... stop working....
Global Tantalus is one of my more poetic pieces, in which I suggest that projects such as the UN’s 2030 Sustainability Goals or the WEF’s Great Reset are unlikely to be completed, and that the pathocrats animating these initiatives are either at or very near the zenith of their power.
I defined ‘controversy’ as the ratio of comments to likes, and Warlord of the North won by a country mile, I think mostly because I suggested that birth control pills should be illegal and trafficking in opiods should be dealt with via summary execution. Overall though it was a fun piece to write, a bit of fictionalized LARPing as a framing device for some (in my opinion, fairly common sense) policy suggestions.
These didn’t hit the quantitative ‘top’ lists, but they’re dear to my heart regardless, so screw statistics, I’m sharing them anyhow.
Safety Last is a take-down of the stultifying ‘safety first’ culture that has squeezed life and joy out of the world:
Useless Eaters turns the elite description of the humans they think will be replaced with automation on its head, to ask who’s really not worth the resources they consume:
And finally, Just Look Up is my love-letter to space exploration and development, which is absolutely crucial to escape the Malthusian trap the elite’s are determined to trap us in:
In between writing on Substack you can find me on Twitter @martianwyrdlord, and I’m also pretty active at Telegrams From Barsoom
Although maybe not as obscure as I’d thought, given how many people have reacted with ‘that’s one of my favourite fantasy series!’