Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nutritional and Agricultural Realities of Veganism

Note: This is an excerpt from a post I posted on the Anarchoprimitivism subreddit with some important corrections. You can find the original thread here.

For veganism to not negatively impact your health due to poverty of important nutrients such as certain vitamins (K2, B12, protein, fatty acids), you have to rely on plant foods that 1) aren't really possible to amass in quantity solely from foraging and 2) that require additional processing in order to obtain the necessary nutrients. I'll take each point in detail.
1) Most plant foods (fruit, tubers, roots, various aerial parts like stalks, shoots, and leaves) are quite poor in protein and fatty acids, and, depending on the climate, only seasonally available. Plant foods that are relatively richer in these nutrients, such as the seeds (which include nuts, beans, legumes, etc.), are either impractical to gather in sufficient quantities to adequately satisfy nutritional requirements in humans or are otherwise impractical to process--i.e., you may have tons of acorns or walnuts, but it is extremely labor-intensive to extract the edible portions of the food. In the case of acorns, the tannins need to be leeched from the acorns first before the acorns are pounded into flour. In the case of walnuts, one Native American method was to crush all the nuts and boil everything until the meat floated and the shells sank to the bottom of the pot. This would take hours (gather, crush in batches, boil in batches, strain, repeat), as opposed to just snatching a few blackberries along the path. As a supplement to a diet that includes animal foods, it may be reasonable to boil walnuts once in a while to add variety. As a staple, though, you'd be rather tied to this method of preparation for lack of alternative sources of nutrition. What's more, many plant foods (including walnuts) contain "anti-nutrients" such as phytic and oxalic acid that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. These can be reduced by extended cooking and/or soaking methods, or by germination. All require extra time and effort. Animal foods generally do not contain anti-nutrients.
In general, it is less efficient to derive certain nutrients from plants than it is from other foods, including animal foods. The point about anti-nutrients notwithstanding, many nutrients touted in plant foods actually don't exist in an immediately bioavailable form, or are less efficiently absorbed. For example, most people associate carrots with providing loads of Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. However, getting Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene turns out to be 1/12th as efficient as getting it in the form of retinol from animal sources. By weight, beef liver has about three times as much retinol as carrots have of beta-carotene, which means that it is about thirty-six times less efficient to derive Vitamin A from eating just carrots than it is from eating just beef liver. Another example would be the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA) found in abundance in flax seeds. ALA is one of three omega-3 essential fatty acids, the other two being the more important eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosohexaenoic acid (DHA), the most crucial of the three. Although humans can synthesize EPA and DHA from ALA such as found in flax seeds, the efficiency of either conversion is only at a few percent. In animal foods like pastured animals and wild oily fish, DHA and EPA are readily available for absorption and doesn't require any conversion. This makes sense because components from animals are more easily recognized and easily repurposed in our own animal bodies since they are more or less going to be applied to similar purposes from one animal to the next. The calcium in cow's milk or in bones can be very easily repurposed for your own bones--the calcium in broccoli, not as much (again, partly due to anti-nutrients). Add to this extra step in metabolizing nutrients from plant foods the fact that digestion of plant foods is less efficient than animal foods, and it starts to become apparent that relying on plants to supply the majority of one's nutritional needs is not a choice strategy from a pure survival viewpoint. For example, it is relatively common to find undigested plant foods in the stool of someone with weak digestion, but it's relatively unheard of to find undigested muscle fibers from a chicken in the same person's stool.
Other staples that vegans typically depend on, like legumes, aren't available in sufficient quantities in the wild to even sustain a small population of humans. Thus, these plants need to be domesticated in order for the vegan strategy to possibly work. In modern veganism, for example, soy is an important source of protein and there has yet to be a suitable substitute for it. This leads me to the second point.
2) Because of the high amounts of anti-nutrients in some raw plant foods, particularly those valued by vegans as substitutes for meat-based protein, many agricultural cultures have learned to ferment or otherwise process certain foods in order to reduce or eliminate anti-nutrients and make other nutrients available. Taking the example of soy again, East Asian cultures have a long tradition of fermenting the bean into soy sauce, natto, miso, and tempeh. Of these four fermented soy products, only natto provides Vitamin K2, a nutrient critical for bone health and proper blood coagulation that is generally not found outside of animal and fermented plant foods. Fermentation of certain plant foods (but not soy) also makes Vitamin B12, a critical nutrient generally only found in animal foods, available. Fermentation, however, requires well-controlled conditions in order to work properly, which implies sedentarism and a degree of technical sophistication. While some hunter-gatherers do consume fermented foods, these foods aren't generally the product of sophisticated techniques, but rather of just letting foods (like meat) spoil or finding food already in the process of fermentation.
Another major processing method that basically can only exist under sedentary agricultural conditions include pretty much all grains, as these foods a) can't be gathered in sufficient quantities in the wild to be worthwhile and thus need to be grown in large quantities and cared for accordingly b) require threshing, hulling, winnowing, and milling before they are edible, which are only practically achievable through various specialized tools and machines c) as grain harvests are seasonal, require suitable storage conditions that will keep the grains dry and free from pests, again implying sedentarism.
Probably the closest analogue to modern veganism is found in the East Asian Buddhist vegetarian traditions, which, because dairy foods were not consumed in these cultures, relied more heavily on the versatility of the soy bean, leading to the innovation of many unique and iconic vegan foods such as the aforementioned soy products as well as tofu. An imitation meat made from wheat gluten also exists and is part of traditional East Asian Buddhists' diets. It can be said that modern veganism owes much to East Asian Buddhism, and, as with modern veganism, East Asian Buddhism owes much to vast fields of soy beans, none of which the monks cared for themselves. East Asian Buddhist monks were not traditionally very physically robust or even healthy. They generally consumed one meal a day. They did not have to be healthy in the same sense that people who, say, farmed for a living needed to be healthy. Since monks didn't devote any time to growing or cooking their own food (they needed that time to study sutras and perform religious functions), East Asian Buddhism doesn't really qualify as a sustainable culture. They feed off of the labor of others, the same as any other organized religion. I've heard that Buddhists were originally prohibited from growing their own food, since this would entail tilling the soil, which results in the death of soil-dwelling animals. Generally, pre-modern monks got fed strictly off of the donations of faithful villagers. Thus, the case of East Asian Buddhism doesn't really apply as an example of a fully vegan culture, since monks basically did nothing directly to feed themselves, and the farming culture that supported the monks certainly was not vegan.
In conclusion, an exclusively plant-based diet (including bacteria and fungi), because of the difficulty inherent in procuring the nutrition that humans require to remain reasonably healthy, absolutely requires advanced agricultural knowledge, capability, and labor. Again, to my knowledge there are no pre-modern vegan cultures, most likely because such a diet is inefficient, unhealthy, and impractical.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Scientific vs. Magical Thinking

The text below is from a personal communication with a friend in a slightly revised form. It comes out of a discussion regarding the role of science in opposing industrial civilization and whether or not a connection to nature requires magical thinking.

I believe scientific thinking requires the ability to accurately record and preserve data. Of course, the human mind and, in a broader sense, human cultures are well-suited for storing certain kinds and amounts of data, which is how individuals and societies compile, organize, and summarize learned information about the world. However, it seems that cultures without written language always necessarily resort to mnemonic devices such as myths, parables, legends, songs, poems, and other aspects of oral tradition in order to preserve and pass down knowledge, and this method always entailed simplification, distortion, and elision simply because it was not practical to memorize and represent information "literally". Things were better conveyed and memorized (and were more entertaining around a campfire) if they were represented using basic archetypical symbolism, a sort of shorthand. Thus people could learn what was poisonous, when was the best time to catch a certain kind of fish, and so on from myths, which of course would typically be couched in magical terms. Magical thinking is an efficient way for pre-literate humans to condense and convey tomes-worth of empirically-gleaned information. If you have writing, you can start to reduce the dependence on magical causation because you can write down and refer back to more objective, precise, and accurate information. No scientific papers need to rhyme, and most don't readily roll off the tongue. Their primary advantage is that they can convey information symbolically without having to resort to a mnemonic shorthand, but it's probably impossible for most people to memorize even a few scientific papers replete with data tables and graphs word for word. If we do away with things like cloud servers, thumb drives, the internet, places to store hard drives and books, and even access to writing in general, then it seems to me that science would be severely limited to what could be remembered solely in the brains of the people in any given society, and there would be no safeguards against "data corruption", i.e., a regression into magical thinking for the sake of improving ease of memorization of scientific facts at the expense of accuracy. This can happen very quickly, as any interruption in formal schooling for even as briefly  as a generation can plunge a social group back toward near-illiteracy. Science presupposes constant upkeep. I personally have no problem with a slide back toward magical thinking (more magical thinking means less ability of humans to actually impact their environment), but if we lean on science as a means to the end of abolishing industry, we will then have to make an exception for things that allow for scientific thinking to not devolve back to magical thinking before we've accomplished said goal. In other words, in order to use science to take down industry, which I agree is a very good goal, we have to not really take down all of industry because science depends on industry to a very large extent. Again, I don't just mean microscopes and satellites, things that are obviously the products of industrial activity, but mostly just recording and storing accurate data. If you feel that it's okay to sacrifice some accuracy and precision and to just stick to the basic outlines of some scientific theory, then I feel that you're already veering back toward magical thinking, because I think by definition anything that isn't strictly scientific is to at least some degree faith-based or magical. Correlation will again start to be interpreted as causation in the natural world, and magical thinking is all about correlation. You would essentially be doing the same thing that those anti-vaccine or anti-GMO people are doing, because they are also using a form of magical thinking. This is why I said it's like a catch-22--the necessity of keeping science viable presupposes some degree of industry, so how to get rid of one by using the other? Perhaps it's possible that science will become less important as industry starts to flag, but it could just as easily be that one of the first things to go in the struggle against industry is science, precisely because of how dependent accurate science is on things like the internet and an international community of scientists able to share information freely. It might be that attacking industry would just take away science as a viable tool to use against industry, which is more or less my feeling right now, and that ignorant pseudo-scientific fanaticism might end up leading the charge anyway. You're right that that sort of movement doesn't really have much staying power, but unfortunately that might be the default mode of humans sans civilized science, and maybe the irrational passion of such a movement or number of movements could still have a significant role to play against industry--the Gothic barbarians sacking the edifice of Roman civilization, as it were. 

I know you distinguish between several types of science, and I may very well be conflating the different types, but I don't think I know of any way to reconcile any notion of science with a lack of writing and libraries, physical or otherwise. I still feel that it's preferable for the world to just devolve back to magical thinking rather than take a risk using science as a tool against industry, which could backfire as I argued above. Magical thinking in and of itself can be a threat to industry (which is why the left hates such so-called "ignorance" and pushes science in its education) if sufficient numbers of the population subscribe to it. Take the anti-vaccination controversy as an example. The scientific and medical communities in the US are appalled and deeply concerned about the anti-vaccination trend because it poses a serious public health threat that could ultimately contribute to a destabilization of the economy and national security. These are both things that I wouldn't mind seeing, not to mention a reduction in population and productivity. Industry is necessary to prevent huge outbreaks of disease in densely populated areas, and to accept the invasiveness of industry requires training in scientific thought, otherwise you'll just say fuck off don't touch my kids, Jesus or Allah or whatever other magical notion will protect them. In this example, magical thinking would be quite helpful in undermining the stability of industry.

As far as connecting with nature, I do believe that a magical or mystical mindset is necessary and probably also a default state of most children prior to civilized education. For example, it's not as though the native Hawaiians were on the verge of dying off from lack of knowing how to get food and medicine before Europeans visited them, this despite the fact that Hawaiian culture was pre-scientific and based on a magical religion in which various deities had to be appeased in order for certain things, like gathering potent medicine or food, could be achieved. Now, worshiping gods probably had little to no real world effect, thus it was unscientific, but it did encourage a certain kind of relationship with nature--that is, you had to ask for something before you take it, as though nature were full of other people who happened to be fruit trees and medicinal roots and fish. You don't just take stuff from other people because they'll get angry, so you ask. This tends to discourage things like clear-cutting and overfishing. From a scientific point of view, you don't have to ask anything that isn't human for anything you want. It might destroy a mountain to mine all its ore, but the mountain will never get mad at you, and the animals and plants won't ever take revenge. A scientific person knows better than to believe otherwise. This is why he can do such things. I like the inhibitory effect of magical thinking on such destructive activity. However, there's another point here. Those who study the natural world utilizing a scientific framework, even though they may genuinely love the natural world, are always distanced from it because of the subject-object relationship that underwrites any scientific enterprise. So for example, if I love my friends and want to understand them better, I don't tap all their phones and hack their emails and keep detailed dossiers on their activities, nor do I breed them or dissect them. I could learn a lot from doing so, but then they're not my friends, they're objects of study, and I miss out on an actual friendship with them. If I don't know better then I could easily mistake study for communion, but they are decidedly different things, at least to me. There are things about my friends that they will never reveal to me, and it's important that I don't attempt to find those things out. If I want something from them, I have to ask permission and reciprocate. I have to respect their autonomy in order for our friendship to be real--they're whole people, not things for me to dissect. Taking such an approach for a study of nature, however, would be decidedly unscientific. In this sense, science helps contribute to a psychopathic attitude toward nature. One definition of psychopathy is the belief that no one else is real and therefore does not qualify for the same considerations that the psychopath reserves for himself. The materialistic, non-mystical, science-based worldview also treats the natural world as basically uninhabited by any sentience worthy of consideration, so it's okay to stake your claim and milk it all dry. This kind of worldview could not exist prior to science because magical thinking was the only game in town. Science, of course, is critical for developing sophisticated technology, and the ability to manipulate the world at even the subatomic level certainly goes a long way toward reinforcing the subject-object relationship and consequent psychopathy. This is why I believe that a mystical orientation toward the world and an acceptance of the fundamental inscrutability of the natural world (hence magic) is necessary in order to live in connection to nature without utterly destroying her. It's also very lonely to not attribute a magical intelligence to the natural environment, which I feel is an under-appreciated source of mental illness in modern societies and leads to a need to "fill the void" with our own civilized likeness.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Three Short Theses on Violence

I. Primitivists need to jettison non-violence as an ideal. Hunter-gatherer cultures are too varied with respect to violence to safely form any generalizations. As a general rule, it seems that forager groups who live in large territories, are highly mobile, or enjoy relative isolation such as the Hadza are less prone to violence whereas foragers who live in close proximity, such as the Asmat cannibals of New Guinea famous for eating Michael Rockefeller, tend to be more warlike. Archaeologist Lawrence H. Keeley attempts to vindicate civilization in his book War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage with evidence of pervasive prehistoric violence in both agricultural and forager societies. (While I have not yet read the book, I have no doubt that he has plenty of legitimate evidence of hunter-gatherer violence, though how pre-civilized inter-human violence that mostly left nature intact is less desirable than a peaceful civilization that will unambiguously ruin the planet for a majority of life forms is less clear). From the book's Wikipedia entry (notes in brackets are my own):
One half of the people found in a Nubian cemetery dating to as early as 12,000 years ago had died of violence. The Yellowknives tribe in Canada was effectively obliterated by massacres committed by Dogrib Indians, and disappeared from history shortly thereafter [Note: Not really. The Yellowknives, while suffering massive losses, did not actually "disappear" from history; a small number of survivors continue to live on in Canada]. Similar massacres occurred among the Eskimos, the Crow Indians, and countless others [Note: Yellowknives, Dogrib, Eskimo/Inuits and Crow were all pre-contact hunter-gatherers]. These mass killings occurred well before any contact with the West. In Arnhem Land in northern Australia, a study of warfare among the Australian Aboriginal Murngin people in the late-19th century found that over a 20-year period no less than 200 out of 800 men, or 25% of all adult males, had been killed in inter-tribal warfare [Note: All of Australia's indigenous peoples were hunter-gatherers prior to European contact].
Then there is the intra-group violence of many, many forager cultures, such as virtually all of the Aborigines of Australia (PDF):
The particularly high level of violence against women was a feature of pre-contact Aboriginal Australia. First contact explorers and colonists noted with distress the terrible scars and bruises that marked the women due to the frequent brutality of their menfolk. Sutton and Kimm point to Stephen Webb's palaeopathology studies which verify that violence against Aboriginal women was prevalent for thousands of years right across the mainland continent. Webb analysed 'trauma using 6,241 adult post-cranial bone samples and 1,409 cranial samples from prehistoric remains derived from all major regions of Australia except Tasmania'. He found that female cranial injuries, of a kind indicating 'deliberate aggression', were more frequent than male cranial injuries.
Such violence is attested in forager groups' own myths and stories. They are not ashamed of it but rather derive a significant part of their identity from it. Violence is always interpreted through the lens of culture. Often, harming those from an outside group is tolerated or even encouraged, whereas violence against one's own is sometimes frowned upon, but sometimes also tolerated. Receiving violence is usually inversely weighted: violence that comes from outside one's group is a greater concern than violence from within the group. We don't need to force the ideal of non-violence onto forager identity. Nature does not judge violence and seems satisfied to let many interactions within her realm be defined by intense brutality. Certainly few non-domesticated life forms are strangers to violence. If we want to live with nature--that is, if we want to survive for the long term on this planet--then we should relearn to accept violence and cultivate the maturity that all forager groups exhibit when confronted with struggle, death, abuse, and disease, rather than imposing artificial ideals like justice, equality, non-violence, etc., that, frankly, arise chiefly from the civilized mindset as foils to wildness. Only when we learn to be satisfied with the Dao of nature and stop judging its finely tuned systems of violence and death will the urge to create a "better" world using technical means be curbed and our planet be spared.

II. There is no way to live on this planet without participating in violence. Violence is a big part of the Dao of nature. Life sustains life, but death also sustains life. It is true that most life forms show an aversion to death, but this by no means indicates that death is somehow wrong. Life's calibrations reference a bigger picture. Take human reproduction as an example. Say fifty million sperm cells vie for a single egg all at once. All fifty million desire to reach that egg, but typically there are at least 49,999,999 that simply die without ever accomplishing their goal. If each sperm were not completely driven to fertilize an egg, or if there were fewer sperm and therefore less "competition", the egg may not get fertilized. If every sperm could fulfill its desire and fertilize its own egg, the world would be comically overpopulated (even more so than it is today). The way the Dao has prescribed it, it is necessary for the majority of sperm to die in ignominy in order for life to continue the way it is supposed to. Not everyone gets what he or she wants, and that's the way we should want it to be. Likewise, most "higher order" life forms like mammals and birds have above a 50% die off rate before offspring reach reproductive age. This includes non-domesticated humans, which is why hunter-gatherer life expectancy calculations used to be so low. Nature counts on that percentage in its designs. To nature, 50% is by no means high. Since our lives depend on unencumbered wilderness, we need to learn to embrace facts like higher infant mortality. Anything else is just fighting against nature, and that would undermine any anti-tech critique, as the only thing that lies outside of nature would be the artifice achievable only via technical means.

III. Those who choose not to eat animals believing that they are reducing suffering delude themselves, though their intentions may well be noble. While it may be possible to survive strictly off of gathered wild plant and fungal foods (though I highly doubt it), one would surely be, at the least, severely malnourished, as nutrients such as protein, fat, and several vitamins are not easily obtained outside of animal sources. Plants in general tend to be very poor in protein, with the exception of legumes and some grains, which, of course, cannot be gathered in adequate quantities in the wild and therefore presuppose agriculture. I'm sure it's not necessary here to go over how agriculture harms the planet, let alone the animals that vegans and vegetarians claim to be sparing. I can't say the same kind of harm would arise from natural predation relationships, including humans hunting animals, and a strong case can be made that ecosystems actually depend on animals killing other animals. To judge predation negatively as violence is rather absurd. Of all the possible ways of obtaining food on this planet, hunting and gathering leave the most nature intact, even when that hunting results in extensive species extinctions. In the worst case scenario, hunters who have hunted all possible game into extinction will themselves soon perish or else learn to be less profligate in their harvesting, allowing for a quicker rehabilitation of the ecosystem as much more nature will have been left intact compared to what a failed agricultural society leaves in its wake. Low tech hunting and gathering are still the lightest way to tread on this planet, and one of the many reasons why civilization is inherently problematic is because it can by no means accommodate this lifestyle. Take civilization as a given and we are left with only bad choices: large-scale suffering of conventionally-raised food animals, impractical and often unaffordable "ethically raised" animals, vegetarian and vegan diets that must make up for nutritional deficiencies by relying on ecologically-destabilizing agriculture, and genetically-modified crops and animals.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Ghost of Technology Future: A Review of Black Mirror

Note: The following review was originally published by FC Journal, which is now defunct, so I've reproduced the review here.

The British science fiction television series Black Mirror draws from a tradition defined by genre paragons like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, shows that attempt to articulate and explore what Freud termed ‘the uncanny’— that which is at once familiar and yet strange, a paradox that defines the modern condition. However, whereas past tales of the uncanny resort to invoking extraterrestrial forces or elements of the supernatural, Black Mirror represents an important realization: when you’ve got advanced technology, the notion of the supernatural becomes redundant. Through three seasons of blisteringly clever hour-long episodes, series creator and main writer Charlie Brooker delivers a trenchant satire of modern technology. While each episode tells a different and unrelated story with a different cast, the theme of the technological uncanny looms large throughout. The technology depicted in the series, much like the technology of our own world, estranges people from their own reality, generating uncanny situations like reliving the same day again and again or encountering the doppelganger of a deceased loved one. Sharp, original, often harrowing, and unexpectedly haunting, Black Mirror excels at revealing the implacable foreignness that dwells at the heart of even our most pedestrian technological contrivances.

In contrast to what one might expect from typical science fiction, each episode of Black Mirror portrays hypothetical technology that, far from being a revelation, is largely just a modest extrapolation of our own current epidemic of smart phones, social networking services, and wearable gadgets into the very near future. It’s science fiction, but only just barely. A service that generates the textual and vocal likeness of a deceased loved one based on his internet activity during life (S2:E1 “Be Right Back”) is science fiction only in the technical details. The ability of technology to produce a reasonably accurate psychological profile of a person with decades’ worth of hourly status updates, tweets, and Google searches is already upon us. A machine that induces memory loss (S2:E2 “White Bear”), a surgically-implanted and neurologically-wired device that records everything you see and hear via your eyes and ears (S1:E3 “The Entire History of You”), a society that operates as a social network incarnate (S1:E2 “Fifteen Million Merits”)—the hypothetical scenarios featured in each episode directly reference tech that either already exists or else would probably not be surprising to see in a few years’ time, and this helps to make some of the episodes seem remarkably realistic and believable.

The narratives are facilitated by able and affecting performances from a high profile roster of British and American actors, including Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Rory Kinnear (The Imitation Game), Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger), Rafe Spall (Life of Pi), Jessica Brown Findley (Downton Abbey), and Jon Hamm (Mad Men). However, some of the finest moments on the show come from actors that may be less familiar to American audiences, including Jodie Whittaker as Ffion, who struggles to convince her husband that not all truth can be found in the apparent objectivity of a recorded past, and Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, a young man trapped in a screen-based society that interacts chiefly through social network avatars and crass advertisements. As each episode consists of mostly different casts, it’s not possible here to do full justice to each and every superlative performance, so suffice it to say that the performances throughout the series are consistently convincing, robust, and deliberate in a way that makes the characters and stories feel thoroughly real even in the midst of the most absurd or fantastical scenarios, which speaks to the competence of the episodes’ directors as much as to the talent of the actors. The series’ cinematography and visual effects succeed in framing and accentuating the performances and help color each scene with an additional layer of emotional resonance—the bleary morning following a sleepless night of obsessing over a video clip, the garish glow of a cartoon celebrity advertisement lighting up a urine-soaked underpass, the creeping claustrophobia of a snowed-in house—resulting in an atmosphere of near pitch-perfect malaise. Each story often instills a sense of ethical or even existential disquiet that will linger for hours, days, or, if one isn’t too distracted, even weeks. This was the case for this reviewer, who found it difficult to watch several episodes in a row, needing a day or two in between viewings to digest and recover. A sort of cognitive vertigo takes hold as the mind struggles to reconcile the many moral conundrums left open at the end of each episode. The tech that defines the lives of the characters in these episodes, much like the tech that surrounds us in the real world, mitigates even the most intimate aspects of life—sex, death, memory—and, in facilitating their experiences, reduces their humanity to spectacle and entertainment. It is impossible not to feel this degradation as a palpable weight on the soul after each viewing.

As such, the series is decidedly bleak, offering virtually no suggestions for solving the problems it raises, and this might count as its chief deficiency. Perhaps it has no answers, or perhaps it is implying that there can be no answer to the problem of technology, only resignation. Thus we watch as characters resign themselves to their defeat and humiliation, endure perpetual torment or even acquiesce and convert. Black Mirror doesn’t seem interested in asking how we got to where we are or where we seem to be headed, and so doesn’t seem to quite count as cautionary tale or allegory. Rather, the show seems content to simply reflect back at us the true bleakness of the technological world that entraps us without speculating on what we could or should do, a wake-up call as opposed to a battle plan. Part of what makes Black Mirror an exceptional series is its insistence on approaching the subject matter unequivocally, without the apologism that is typical even of dystopian science fiction that may level some half-hearted critique at technology. Thus it avoids the usual pitfalls that cause lesser sci-fi tales to end up undermining their own themes when they inevitably try to salvage technology, rehabilitated or otherwise somehow pardoned, from where it really belongs—oblivion. Black Mirror combines compelling narrative, incisive wit, and cerebral cinematography to articulate technology’s inherent duplicity in a laudable and sorely needed effort to reawaken us to the progress that encroaches upon all facets of our lives. In this, the series hopefully represents the beginning of a shift in industrial society’s attitude toward technology as embodied in our fiction—a move away from the glorification and worship of machines that characterizes the majority of science fiction and a much needed step toward a skepticism and apprehension of the techno-industrial enterprise. Black Mirror provides us a reflection more faithful than most, unadulterated by your typical propaganda and contrived happy endings, so that we might manage to pull out the wiring in our brains for a moment and take a clear look at ourselves for the first time in a long time.