Ian Patrick Badtrousers

A case of programming circlejerk in metamodernism

Lol no generics.

I’ve mentioned the /r/programmingcirlejerk subreddit in some of my previous writing, for all the different kind of reasons, but first and foremost, because it intrigues me so deeply. Being a contributor to open source software for a long time makes me knowledgeable to herein paint a picture of how incredibly self-centered community of code monkeys, empowereed by higher education and whatnot can in fact, feel—and care—very strongly whilst making attempts at preserving the shaky facade of a personal identity they individually wish to exhibit.

But first you have to understand how humour is structured on Reddit.

It’s present everywhere, of course, but there are layers to it. For example, consider any phenomena, such as guitar, personal finance, or programming. Provided it’s widespread enough, somewhere you can find a subreddit with a sweet spot for that particular subject, e.g. /r/guitar, /r/personalfinance, or /r/programming. The original subreddit doesn’t offer much unfortunately. You could say that within the framework of Reddit value system, the original subreddits are perhaps too normal, to the point the system doesn’t allow them to host any meaningful discussion whatsoever.

Naturally, when not sufficiently satisfied with orthodoxy, we move to irony. Hence you can find the numerous /r/Humour and /r/Memes subreddits, populated with irony, considerately packed into countless memes of varying quality. The logic, by which said subreddits function, is not different in the slightest from the one of the value hierarchy otherwise prevalent on Reddit. The humorous subreddits are not as mainstream as their original counterparts, so effects this value hierarchy has on them are perceived as less, but admittedly there’s nothing inherently interesting about this. Then comes the infamous /r/circlejerk, and this one does change everything.

Group thinking is essential to cirlejerking, an act of jerking in a circle. When applied to online communities, cirlejerk attempts to fit into a single word the very concept of echo chambers, characteristic to Reddit communities. The interpretation is ironic, of course. Members of /r/circlejerk attempt to ridicule, and in certain sense, denounce the distasteful group thinking. The usual group-oriented value system is therefore abondoned, and the new, deeply individualistic is installed in its place. Nobody seems to be able to clearly articulate what it really is, but it’s not much a problem for me. I came to understand this as natural reaction of the self, which would otherwise be lost in decoherence, if it weren’t for the power of the Web, which amplified it and made possible for this incredibly lightweight art form of imitation not simply possible, but also accessible for the many. Instead of competing in whoever does a better job at appealing to the masses, it’s proposed we pretend there are no masses and compete in whoever is funnier in their critique. I think this is an absolutely incredible idea, because comedy is in itself very substantial, e.g. it’s very hard to stay entertaining across a long period of time, when it requires of you to consistently produce on-point critique of current discourse. Streamlining the collective comedic potential in this individualistic fashion might work just well enough to exploit karma and construct an illusion that discourse exists in the different value system. The intellectual liberation quality of circlejerk has this clear postmodern feel.

Now, the /r/programmingcirclejerk subreddit is the primary interest of this essay, mirroring Vermeulen and Akker1, so let’s stick to that. The subreddit follows what they colloquially refer to as New School jerk style: 1. The best satire is original sources; 2. Links are better than imitations.2 This is very good! Handsome and faceless, my imagination roams. Programming circlejerk is only 29,856 scallywags, to compare it with the original cirlejerk, now consisting of more than 386k scallywags total. This makes it a relatively niche forum, but significant in its own right. The content is very good and apart from lazy Go jokes, far from saturated, it has been quite good for a long time, long before the place approached 30k in numbers. What’s puzzling, though, is the recent trend to disown irony altogether; giving way to urge arguably very contradictory to the spirit of jerking itself.

So we see more and more messages the like of

Seriously though, you should listen to my opinion regarding this outrage,
as merely staying faceless is no longer sufficiently satisfying to my ego.


import unjerk

Haha very funny, but SERIOUSLY THOUGH, poster has a point... I mean, what
old fart don't do webscale these days anyway? It's 2019, after all.

Thankfully, we are at the point somebody will often kindly ask them not to be “unironic.”

But why does it happen in the first place? What pushes circlejerkers, people who detest mainstream discourse, to use completely self-centered forums “in themselves,” as means of sincere expression, when the point of such forums is explicitly to sacrifice sincerity in favour of creating a unique critical environment? One could say the place is burnt, and no longer dandy; oldfags often make this point, but I think there’s little merit to it, apart from lazy ego-soothing reasoning, which only works for an ever-narrowing group of them old faggots. What if there’s more to it than it seems? I would argue that what we now see is a meta-reaction, as-in reaction to a reaction, to the discussed phenomena itself. You would expect to see this in environments overly saturated with critique, so maybe this is indeed the case. But why now? Thirty thousand people is far from a lot, we shouldn’t be observing this, it seems.

Evidently, the imaginary pendulum swings the other way now, temporarily rendering sarcasm obsolete. This is a normal process, but the rate of its acceleration begs for more attention. What’s good of that? Man I hate it when discussing oscillation in metamodernism, people assume it’s a stateless process. As-if there’s an invisible hand that influences our perception, but doesn’t act upon it; maybe it makes sense for somebody, but for me it doesn’t. Each swing the state is changed and it is movement that is characterised by our perception, which changes along with the state as we learn.

What we see is likely a full-blown search for identity, by the way of approximation towards certain desirable behaviour.

You know what they say? Big corporations are very similar to neural networks in how they operate. Properly understanding this meta-reaction should prove rudimentary in serving users with products they need, being best-equipped to adapt for change, and I’m sure many other positive things. What’s interesting about the current swing? I believe, this time around we are about to realise what privacy means for us. New applications and informations spaces would have to follow manifests like Privacy by design3 increasingly moreso, until data is thought of as sovereign entity in the public consciousnesses. Not to mention previous swings, some of which were indeed partially influenced by issues of privacy, it always takes some time for forefront academic research to achieve utility, just so it happened with anynonymous ad-hoc group signatures4 (2004), or protocols for blocking anonymous misbehaving users without trusted 3rd party5 (2007). If this is not cutting-edge enough for you, you should find interesting recent constructs in zero-knowledge proofs and stuff like that.

Eyede (Eyede is Your Ephemeral Device) is an ephemeral identity database, which I had been building over at Aletheia Labs for quite some time now. It’s a glorified key registry, but instead of rigid identities, fully or partially controlled by authority, it relies on ephemeral, temporary “masks”, brought to you by twisted Edwards curves. You can pass certain features from one mask to the other, without a trace; this is made possible by anonymous signing over ad-hoc mask groups: as long as one can find themselves in some group, they can use their participating mask to sign off the fact that they belong to this group onto the other, completely unrelated mask. Any valid Ed25519 scalar can be a mask, so there’s plenty of room for everyone, masks can be created and managed offline, and there is no central authority capable of seizing them. Go to Veritas and apply for an account to get early experience of what is arguably the future of online identity management.

Hopefully, technologies like Eyede could potentially help people to sustain more control over their online persona in this crazy alienated world. With respect to /r/programmingcirclejerk, for the time being it will remain a decent place to quickly digest whatever is happening in the current programming discourse, but it’s no longer purely a vessel for satire, but something much more than that. Metamodernism is transforming circlejerk into a new art form and this is beautiful.


Published: Monday, 23 Dec 2019

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