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[49.0] phonemes for schmucks
on meaningless bluechip lineages
I realized that everyone became a wanderer after they were born. After they touch the ground for the first time and utter their first cry, they have difficulty finding a proper identity for themselves. They spend their whole lives trying to determine their own identity. In the end, their identity concept is only shadows that reflected their fantasies… A name is given to a person by others. You get used to it when you are very young, and then begin to think that it really is your own name. In reality, it is just a bunch of meaningless phonemes. If newborn babies are named after great people from history, they never actually become those people themselves. On the contrary, their bodies will carry the names of those who lived a thousand years ago, and those names include with them the linguistic system, numerologies, and orders of those whose names they have received. As a thinker who lived several thousand years ago in India said, one body’s senses and the thoughts inside it are not enough to create a self. If it were a self, it would surely totally belong to a person. But a person cannot totally control their body or every change inside their body. If a disease suddenly appears, you don’t even know which part of your body is diseased. So how can you call yourself a self? No matter what people call me, I just accept that small number of sounds that people use to represent my identity, and I just try to know who I am based on that generally known name. But I can’t even know this. Since I am also human, I am forced to accept the concept of identity that others manufacture for me. I am forced to prevent myself from being confused with others. Yet, at this moment, it seemed as though I had suddenly vanished or that perhaps I had not yet been born.
– The Backstreets, Perhat Tursun
The butterflies knew that they were but brief guests in this world, scattered about like moonbeams on sand. In six or seven days it’d all be over for them. From beginning to end, they’d survive twelve days at the most.
But they also knew this: that it was they who spread messages of trust throughout the world, generation upon generation. As when they took the pollen from flowers and carried it to spread in other places, where they helped flowers sprout and blossom and disperse their fragrance. It’s the same when they listen to stories—they enjoy the essence of a tale, gather it like stardust, and scatter it in the sands so that even after they leave, the stories will grow and blossom and spread their perfume. So what if we ourselves have died? Our roles as messengers never will.
– Tomb of Sand, Geetanjali Shree [yes I’m quoting this book again; sue me!]
Names are weird, right? Like, why are you Brad, Anna, Karan, Karen, Karoline, etc, etc? A relatively unique label affixed to every person, which—for most—the subject played no role creating (as Uyghur author Perhat Tursun writes in his triiiiippy novel about the city of Xinjiang). A ritual of utmost significance conferring the least agency.
For much of human history, names carried the greatest material and social potential. Think of Othello, for whom reputation was “the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.” The part of you intertwined with and inseparable from your baptism, christening; ~*eternal like Christ*~, the only component of your being that can outlive you. Passed on through fame or infamy. (Or by having all your descendants have the same name but that’s so derivative; yawn.)
Names are imbued with far less significance today, I would venture, because of their attachment to intentionally ephemeral ventures. Corporate ones in particular. Self-proclaimed marketing oracles assemble their focus groups to arrive at a pseudo-collective conclusion on what to name a thing and what slogan to affix to it. The thing gets named—often totally divorced from its actual use, like Volkswagen’s bizarre “Touareg” moment or Apple’s obsession with Californian geography—and the focus group disintegrates. No one is left to notice when the corporation rebrands or changes the idea they want to evoke, allowing names to come and go almost as fleetingly as Geetanjali Shree’s storytelling butterflies, but lack any substance or moral or message to impart through contact or ether.
Here’s a visual from CBInsights showing what they deem the 250 most important startups working in financial technology. How many of these do you actually know? And how many of them still exist today in this higher-interest-rate environment? Also lol hi FTX in the bottom-right corner! How many others have rebranded themselves in an effort to remain relevant and torque their revenue streams?
By reciting the onslaught of brands and their litany of supposed “USPs” (“unique selling points”), insiders can use language to name the lay of the land without questioning its existential significance. And, at the same time, these names are largely interchangeable while also being detached from any lineage (think about Perhat Tursun’s on-point ramblings about phonemes) or connotation. Like, cool, you can tell me PayPal’s competitors, but what are they doing and what does their work mean for finance and global development and the threat of societal collapse? (Is your credit card rewards startup really “disrupting” anything??) Giving off fantasy football enthusiast vibes where you can be really good at spewing little stats to seem in the know and talented at what you do—but ultimately you’re not playing football and football is a dangerous sport I think should be abolished lol. A little like spitting scripture, for that matter: taking snippets and being able to name drop without thinking about the Weight of the Word.
Save for FTX, most of these companies will come and go without you batting an eye. Not that you need to know all of them or pen a dirge, but these names don’t matter the same way other corporate institutions—grocery stores, arts & crafts outlets, places with things in them—develop public acknowledgment by providing created and physical things for us to remember them by. As the means of production shifts to extraction and concepts (like crypto), the substance sustaining them—and that sustains our remembrance of them—is as easily disappeared as a web domain change; being called something new and zippier and therefore inconsequential.
Divine Innovation is a somewhat cheeky newsletter on spirituality and technology. Published once every three weeks, it’s written by Adam Willems and edited by Vanessa Rae Haughton. Find the full archive here.