Hyperstition in Scotland


Just before Christmas the wonderful American writer Joan Didion died, aged 87. In her seminal collection of essays, The White Album (1979), she wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It was the opening sentence. As 2021 ends and 2022 begins what stories do we Scots tell ourselves about Scotland? What narratives can we believe about ourselves that are not steeped in wishful thinking, sentimentality or even superstition? How can we live in the coming years with the world growing ever more unstable? How can we be optimistic?

It is a difficult task because we live in an age of lies. What matters about a statement now is not whether it is true, but what its effect is. Our wishful thinking (our optimism), sentimentality and superstition can be fused in our multi-format, multi-media, on-line world into a new kind of noun: hyperstition. A hyperstition is a fiction that makes itself real and makes itself true because enough people believe in it. Hyperstition in Scotland comes in many forms. The crucial part of a hyperstition is that it must be believable. Not necessarily by everyone but by enough to create a margin of doubt, however small. It also helps if the hyperstition feeds into the audience’s weakness by telling them what they want to hear. It is what the British media do every day. It is how they strip us of our optimism. It is how they feed our cringe.

Hyperstition is probably why the Holyrood Government have not published a proposed constitution for an independent Scotland. They are terrified that the British media will rip holes in it. But without a written constitution how can the Scottish people garner the confidence to move forward into their new future? The UK does not have a written constitution, other than what the government of the day say it is, so therefore nepotism, corruption and the mis-use of power go unchecked. As Dr Elliot Bulmer puts it,

“One of the functions of a constitution is to preserve the distinction between the State and the Government of the day. It ensures that the Government, although it can set policy, can do so only within certain institutional rules. Without a constitution, that distinction is blurred.” (The National, 19.12.21)

We have seen throughout the on-going coronavirus pandemic just how blurred these distinctions are. The Tory government have used the fear of Covid to create a Tory State on the sly. They have appointed Tory loyalists to key state positions within the civil service, the police, the judiciary, the media (the BBC), Ofcom, the Electoral Commission, the Boundaries Commission and so on. At the same time they have attacked the Human Rights Act, have restricted the right to protest and increased the powers of the police to stop and search innocent people and to strip people of whom they disapprove of their citizenship. This is not a government but a regime. It relays its messages to the people through hyperstition.

Debt Myths

For example we are told repeatedly that Scotland cannot afford to become an independent country. In the same breath we are told that the Government debt must be repaid. This is the hyperstition that a nation is like a family household with a finite budget. This is not so. A country with its own currency and central bank, which is monetarily sovereignty, spends first and taxes later. How a government spends its money is another thing and this Conservative government continually makes the wrong choices, at the expense of the majority, in order to bolster the interests of their friends, allies and paymasters. So government debt has become the Grey Man of Beinn Mac Duibh, a hyperstition used to scare off all truth seekers. The gilts and bonds which governments call debt are in fact savings accounts which yield interest. A monetarily sovereign government can always pay the interest on these bonds because it is the monopoly issuer of its own currency, so it will never default. To undo the hyperstition for yourself go to Modern Money Scotland and strip away the fear.

Union Myths

We are also told that the trade union movement is hostile to Scottish independence. While it is true that those unions still affiliated to the Labour Party backed Better Together in 2014 the reality now is that Unite have officially cut their political funding of the Labour Party and although they are still affiliated to Labour they now seek to back parties and causes which best serve the interests of their members, such as Scottish democracy. Since 2004 the RMT have consistently backed Scottish independence but most significantly the Communications Workers Union (CWU), which backed the No campaign in 2014, has now come out in support of the democratic right of the Scottish Parliament to hold an independence referendum and also the democratic right of the Scottish people to determine their own future. To get beyond the hyperstition you can keep abreast of further positive union developments with the Trades Unionists For Independence here.

Political parties and trades unions are all part of our community. Our community is our gift to ourselves. Our culture is our communal civilisation and the expression of that activity is to be found in art. One of the functions of art is “to glean the unsaid off the palpable”, as the poet Seamus Heaney once put it. If you do not understand the culture of your own country you are like a person standing with their face pressed right up against a wall. Your head is sore and you see nothing. Poets lift us above the wall and allow us to see the peopled strath of the future.

Governments are generally frightened of what poets say. They usually deal with their fear by pretending to ignore what poets say. Or they exile them or kill them. But in this surveillance age nothing is truly ignored. An exiled poet can still access the internet. And killing poets has repeatedly proven to be bad PR. Simply put, the poet has a licence. It is given to them by society and that licence is what the state is wary of because the state did not grant it. The poet has imagination unbound: it is the imagination of the community. The state does not have imagination: it has perimeters and boundaries. They implement control. Poets, however, activate mythology and no government can deal with or tolerate that. Poets warp time and space. They are products of the past who visit us from the future. A government, a state, is rooted in the permanent temporality of its own contradictions.

Literature Myths

To counter that overly idealised view there is always the hyperstition that (somehow) literature in Scotland is thriving. You could argue that it is: in as much as a lot of people are writing. Not so many reading. You could argue that it is not thriving: that publishing (poetry, at least) is a guerrilla activity and that there are depressingly few publishers in the country with any resources or distribution networks at all. The reality is that for many writers, when it comes to literature in Scotland, the ceiling is so low you can’t stand up or you bang your head – you have to crawl in order to move forwards. When you have the good fortune to publish a book you simultaneously ascend and sink into an intense obscurity. Jejune literary prizes and crime fiction do not a national literature make. Such a potential entity bubbles below the surface of the hyperstition like volcanic mud.

The situation Scotland finds herself in, culturally, politically and constitutionally, makes it incumbent on Scottish poets, as Seamus Heaney sets it out,

“To define and interpret the present by bringing it into significant relationship with the past. This places daunting pressures and responsibilities on anyone who would risk the name of poet.” (“Feeling Into Words”, 1974)

The hyperstition runs that poetry is indifferent to politics and ineffectual in a world of suffering and injustice. But no poet worth the title has ever accepted such constraints. These indeed are confusing times so the poet must embrace the confusion and forge the necessary language by which to manufacture the freedom of utterance, knowing all the while that what awaits is the loneliness, the inevitable exile and possible death of the truth teller.

What consoles a poet is the belief, premonition or aisling that the contemporary political establishment has not long to survive and that the job of the bard is to help create in advance of this demise a more generous social atmosphere and tradition for Scottish culture. A culture which has to become, as a result, a significant note in the symphony of the broader culture of the world. We have to be both good neighbours and good players.

So it is that Scottish poets must claim Scotland as their own, for as the Czech poet Miroslav Holub put it, “The right name is the first step towards the truth that makes things things, and us us.” It is the first step out of the maze of hyperstition. It is Ariadne’s red thread. But all of this comes with a warning: Scotland’s poets cannot have it both ways. They cannot look back on the experience of the past with either rancour or wistfulness because if they do they betray that experience and will create nothing of lasting value as a result. But neither can they dismiss their history by ignoring it because however much you try it will not go away. You cannot obliterate history. We have to walk out into the open ground of the future with cultural confidence. The Government of Scotland should heed the warning that because they are in power they cannot ignore culture because when they fall from power (as they inevitably will) they will find that they have no culture, only their self-created hyperstition that it was all about economics. That will be their elegy and their epitaph.

By being brave and formally ambitious Scotland’s poets will remain faithful to our historical experience. Our speech may be local but our search for truth, our poem, is universal.

One of the ongoing disappointments generated by devolution is that instead of fighting to find a way for the country to exist all the SNP currently can do is manage economic decline from the fact they receive an ever-shrinking handout from the UK. It is also argued that instead of futilely posturing in Westminster they should be attacking the system, with a view to breaking out of it, rather than looking forward to sitting smugly within it with 56 MP’s, as has been predicted as a result come the next General Election.

What actual good would that amount of London based parliamentarians do us?

It would be better to leave the Tories and Labour to wallow in their unthought through fantasies and paranoias, their global hyperstition, about Russia and China. We require our democratically elected representatives working for the people, in Edinburgh, putting Scotland’s interest first. That is what history demands they do. The present UK administration is sinking into authoritarianism because of gossamer regulation, increasing incompetence and spiralling corruption. There is no moral buoyancy left in Westminster so it is sinking in sleaze and the sooner the Scots politicians ship out the better. The institution cannot be reformed. In the UK Parliament may be sovereign but it is moribund, atrophied and as good as dead. At the head of the Tory State sits the monarchy. Once revered these “wee bit German lairdies” ancient, grotesque, vampirical, venal, beyond redemption and doomed. In Scotland they represent the cancerous landed class whose interests and holdings of wealth must be transferred to the people if our new society is to emerge in any good health at all. The hyperstition about this is that if we alter the way land is owned it will “frighten the horses” of the establishment. The fact is that Scottish democracy terrifies them anyway because numerically they have so little input into it.

Joan Didion, in her essay “Discovery” (New York Review of Books, 1984) writes about the novelist V.S Naipaul hearing a story, whilst in West Africa, about one African who had saved himself from a whipping by converting himself into pure energy. She writes,

“There was for Naipaul something profoundly unsettling in this: what the European might have interpreted—what Naipaul himself might have interpreted—as a mythology of power invented by people who had no power, the illusion of triumph as an accommodation to slavery, persisted here on the west coast of Africa among people who were no longer powerless, people who had moved out of their colonial period into an approximate social miracle and who seemed to be living without noticeable cost in both the tribal and modern worlds. It was impossible to discount the presence of the modern; it was equally impossible to ignore the presence of the magical. What could be seen and heard in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro was, Naipaul seemed finally to suggest, something that could be described but not finally interpreted, not judged, and this was for him a different way of looking, a narrative in itself.”

Oh that we Scots could move out from our colonial period, as both colonisers and colonised, into our “social miracle” and convert ourselves into pure energy.

One thing we can surely hope for in 2022 is that it will bring us twelve months closer to new Scottish republic. We have no time left for wishful thinking or for the manipulations of state-sponsored hyperstition which benefits the self-entitled and the uber-rich. If the SNP Government do not understand this, if they do not listen to their poets or implement the desire of the people for self-determination, then they will find that the Scottish electorate will have no time left for them either. That will be a story worth telling.

©George Gunn 2021

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Comments (22)

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  1. Antoine Bisset says:

    The SNP clique is not working for independence but for themselves. They have power. They revel in it. They are above the law as they make the law unopposed and appoint the law officers. Fifty-odd MPs and 60-odd MSPs could constitute a quorum of democratically elected representatives who could vote to secede with a 2/3 majority. Such a vote would be legal according to the UN Charter. That opportunity came in the past and was not taken. Independence is not a goal, it is a slogan to give power and control to a regime.

  2. Colin Kirkwood says:

    I like this, George. Thanks for it. I love the phrase: “to see the peopled strath of the future”.

  3. GordonD says:

    Yes, but….
    George Gunn’s article contains its own wishfull thinking and myth making with the inclusion of Modern Monetary Theory as a slight of hand magical solution to the economic challenges if an independent Scotland.
    MMT is increasingly popular for leftist reformers as it appears to offer a simple route to permanent full employment via a technological/managerial government regulation of capitalism. MMT is an offshoot of Keynesianism that relies on the assumptions that government spending can make up for a decrease in private spending (investment and consumption); and secondly that, until there is full employment, there are no barriers to financing this by creating money rather than borrowing or issuing bonds. Both of these claims are questionable (See Michael Roberts https://salvage.zone/articles/the-modern-monetary-trick/).
    With MMT there is no need to address the realities of capitalism: class struggle and profitability of capital as the drivers of growth. Instead all that’s required is converting policy makers to the ‘right’ ideas. It would be prudent not to make Scottish Independence reliant on such magical solutions.

    1. Jacob Bonnari says:

      This is an excellent article and there’s a lot to think about. One hopes that the MSP and MP of the SNP read it and dwell on its messages.

      I’m not going to get into a deep economic discussion, but money is created directly by the govt (central bank) and those it gives a banking licence to.

      The value of that money is a function of confidence, a very subjective and abstract thing to measure.

      If the Scottish people and our european neighbours have confidence in the economy of a future independent Scotland then we will be okay.

      That no one in the SNP has researched and built a case for an economy that the Scottish people can have confidence in provides the evidence that they’re more interested in performative posturing than developing a free and independent nation.

      1. David B says:

        Jacob – is that all assuming we have our own central bank and currency, and don’t use the GBP or Euro?

    2. Paddy Farrington says:

      I very much agree with your comments, Gordon. Added to which, telling people that an independent Scotland with its own currency will be able to print whatever money it needs to fund public expenditure will convince no-one. On the contrary, it will convince many to stay with the Union.

      Renowned economist Professor John Kay recently gave a talk about currency issues (including a highly critical appendix on MMT). His paper may be found here: https://www.johnkay.com/2021/12/08/currency-options-for-an-independent-scotland/.

  4. Mons Meg says:


    ‘Hyperstition’ is a neologism that was coined by a collective of renegade academics, the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), at Warwick University in 1995. They coined it to name the evolutionary process by which, according to them, the cultural content of late capitalism comes and goes.

    ‘Hyperstition’ is similar to Richard Dawkins’ earlier memetic metaphor for cultural transmission. Unlike memetics, however, which Dawkins applies universally to all cultural content in history, ‘hyperstition’ applies specifically to the content of our apocalyptic postmodern ‘phase out’ or ‘meltdown’ culture of late capitalism; that is, to content that both creates and gives voice to our millennial conviction that ‘the end is nigh’, ‘the sky is falling’, ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned’, &etc.


    According to the theorists of the CCRU, once it’s ‘uploaded’ into the ‘cultural mainframe’, our ‘end times’ content engenders positive feedback cycles. Whether it’s couched as religious mystery teaching or as scientific truth or as party-political polemics, that content acts as a catalyst that engenders further anxieties about the future, which in turn generate further eschatological content, which in its turn engenders still further anxiety, and so on, and so on, ‘in ever-widening gyres’.

    As one of the CCRU’s leading theorists, Nick Land, explained in an email to me: “capitalism incarnates hyperstitional dynamics at an unprecedented and unsurpassable level of intensity, turning mere ‘speculation’ into an effective world-historical force”. The trauma and fear engendered by its successive ‘makeovers’ serve to further empower that speculation and feed the virus-like evolution of the hyperstitional process.


    In Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature (2001), the historian, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, writes: “Popular anxieties about the uncertainties of the future procured by rapid change are not merely the issue of ignorance. Rather they are symptoms of a world in the grip of ‘future shock’.”

    Armesto is here alluding to Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book, Future Shock. In his book, Toffler claims that postwar society has been undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to what he calls a ‘super-industrial society’ (what we would later call a ‘post-industrial’ or ‘postmodern’ society).

    Toffler argues that the accelerated rate of technological and social change that drives this revolution has overwhelmed people, leaving them ‘future shocked’; that is, disconnected and suffering from shattering stress and disorientation. In his discussion of the components of this ‘shock’, Toffler also coined (alongside others that have since entered the currency of our popular discourse) the term ‘information overload’.

    According to CCRU theorists, ‘future shock’ is one of the mechanisms through which hyperstition works to bring about our current culture of apocalypse and the anxieties that culture both, at the same time, cultivates and feeds from. Those who find the accelerated rate of technological and social change in late capitalism unbearable not only expect that experience to become uncontainable; they also work to make it so by feeding it with their paranoia. Once started, hyperstition thus spreads ‘impredictably’, like a virus; that is, with unpredictable effects. Land likens hyperstition to “chinese puzzle boxes, opening to unfold to reveal numerous ‘sorcerous’ interventions in the world of history.”.


    Hyperstition abolishes truth. Whether a belief is true or not ceases to matter; what matters is the transmutation of ‘fictions’ into beliefs, of the stories we tell ourselves into dispositions to act in certain ways. ‘Truth’ becomes nothing more than what is good in the way of belief or ‘desirable behavioural dispositions’.

    In the process of hyperstition, belief ceases to be passive and purely reactive in the way that truth-discovery has traditionally been conceived. In the process of hyperstition, belief functions in a way that’s closer to ‘hype’ than to traditional religious or scientific ‘belief’. Hype actually makes things happen. Belief as hype becomes an active power, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

    According to Land, “Hyperstitions by their very existence function causally to bring about their own reality. The hyperstitional object is no mere figment or ‘social construction’ but it is in a very real way ‘conjured’ into being by the approach taken to it.”

    As Armesto points out in Civilizations: “illusions [or ‘falsehoods’] – if people believe in them – change the course of history [and become retrospectively ‘true’].”


    The concept of hyperstition subscribes to what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, term ‘schizoanalysis’.

    Unlike conventional philosophy, with its predilection for Platonic-fascist top-down solutions, schizoanalysis avoids seeing cultural artefacts as static. Rather, it sees them as ‘diagrams’ of mind-maps’, which are ‘additive’ rather than ‘substitutive’ and ‘immanent’ rather than ‘transcendent’ in their conception, and which are continually being ‘improvised’ and ‘reimprovised’ through functional complexes of currents, switches, and loops. These ‘mind-maps’ aren’t (in the Platonic-fascist scheme of things) representations of a fixed pre-existent reality; they are rather exploration devices of the kind made by engineers, artists, and even junkies to ‘map-out’ new cognitive territories.

    ‘Schizoanalysis’ denotes a technique that can be used to explore and craft novel directions for culture in ‘the inchoate flux of deterritorialised energy’ that has been released by the cultural overdrive of meltdown of late capitalist society. That technique is itself hyperstitional insofar as it deploys exploratory ‘fictions’ or cultural content that function to speed things up and bring about the very condition of apocalypse.


    The CCRU coined the term ‘K- tactics’ to characterise the use of schizoanalysis as a form of activism in the culture of late capitalism in which the activist herself is inextricably enmeshed or (in schizoanalytic terms) ‘embodied’.

    Land again: “K-tactics is not a matter of building the future, but dismantling the past.” Symptomatic of a type of cultural illness induced by future shock, the hyperstitional ‘infection’ brings about that which is most feared; a world spiralling out of control. The task of the ’hyperstitional cyberneticist,’ according to Land, is to ‘close the circuit’ by detecting and disclosing ‘the influence of the future on its past’.

    Exulting in late capitalism’s permanent ‘crisis mode’, the hyperstional cyberneticist works to accelerate the culture of chaos and dissolution by invoking its irrational and monstrous forces of chaos and dissolution themselves; for example, by invoking the traditional and deep-rooted constitutive metaphor of the ‘end times’; that is, of the inevitable annihilation that awaits all things when their historical time runs out.

    Just as particular species or ecosystems flourish and die, so do human cultures. What feels from our everyday late capitalist perspective like catastrophic change is really anastrophe: not the past coming apart, but the future coming together.


    Scotland, as we all know, is the navel of the universe which we Scots never tire of contemplating.

    From the everyday perspective of late capitalism, Scotland (as a cultural artefact of late capitalism) is in meltdown. Why? Because its prophets keep telling us so, stoking the anxieties that feed that meltdown and turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Independence is presented as the great messianic hope that (like Brexit, Trump, Thunberg, Putin, the return to ‘true’ religious/moral fundamentals) will arrest the meltdown. Once we ‘take back control’, we’ll be able to guide ourselves – and the world, given our soft power and exceptionalism – back onto the strait and narrow.

    Well, ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky!

    The world is f*ck*d. Late capitalism is deconstructing and our culture of apocalypse is the self-fulfilling prophecy of that deconstruction. We shouldn’t delude ourselves that it’s salvageable. All we can do is live each day as if the end were nigh and, by this ‘hype’, turn the catastrophe of late capitalism Janus-like into the coming together of a post-capitalist future.

    Here’s to a happy new year!

  5. florian albert says:

    ‘A monetarily sovereign government . . . will never default’

    If it is as simple as that, why did Alex Salmond not go down that road in 2014 and why is Nicola Sturgeon equally unwilling to do so in 2021 ?

    Is it not the case that this hypothetical ‘monetarily sovereign government’ might well discover that its currency was unwanted beyond its own borders – and not much wanted within them ?

    1. Mons Meg says:

      And if we rejoined the EU (which is one of the things that the SNP is promising it will give us in return for voting ‘Yes’ to Independence), wouldn’t we have to cede much of our monetary sovereignty to the European Central Bank?

      Also, isn’t monetary sovereignty a bit of a myth? Monetary sovereignty requires that a government doesn’t borrow in any currency other than its own. The only government in the world that can always buy everything the country needs in its own currency, and therefore never needs to borrow in another currency, is the United States. Most global trade – in oil, gas, raw materials for industrial production, and basic foodstuffs like wheat – is conducted in US dollars. This is why monetary sovereignty is sometimes called America’s ‘privilège exorbitant’.

      1. BSA says:

        So What ? What does all this endless contrary self indulgence have to do with baling out of a vicious and degenerate state and its slave economy.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Nothing. It has rather to do with whether or not some future Scotland might enjoy monetary sovereignty.

          1. BSA says:

            Hardly. It was rubbishing Scotland’s monetary options using a straw man argument about monetary sovereignty and the not at all typical USA to do so. The SNP ‘giving us’ the bogeyman of the European Central Bank was also less than constructive, given the various currencies scattered round the continent. Bella’s stuff generally reflects the fact that we are in something fairly close to a fight for survival and it’s disappointing to see it interrupted by the kind of stuff you can get any day on the BBC (radio only).

          2. “Bella’s stuff generally reflects the fact that we are in something fairly close to a fight for survival and it’s disappointing to see it interrupted by the kind of stuff you can get any day on the BBC (radio only).”

            How do you mean BSA?

          3. Mons Meg says:

            I appreciate the hyperstition that ‘we are in something close to a fight for survival’ and that we can only avoid the coming apocalypse by dissolving the UK. But the fact remains that some nationalists (e.g. George in his article above) are promising us monetary sovereignty, which is something they can’t deliver.

            Yes, the Scottish government could issue its own currency like ‘the various currencies scattered round the continent’, but it would still be dependent in its economic decision-making on the US dollar, over which it has no control.

            I repeat: most global trade – in oil, gas, raw materials for industrial production, and basic foodstuffs like wheat – is conducted in US dollars; this is why monetary sovereignty is the ‘privilège exorbitant’ of the US.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    This completely unsubstantiated conflation of poets with ‘truth-tellers’ is utterly at odds with the picture painted in Frances Stonor Saunders’ book Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War. Even before I started it, I was vaguely aware that English poet Stephen Spender was in the pay of the CIA/MI6.
    But there is much more to it than that. Poets were not only paid a living wage by the secret services during the Cold War, but lavishly entertained (especially the trusted elite), and some seemed more than happy to nominate fascists for awards. Few poets are popular enough to sustain their profession by their wordcraft, so look to their patronage. If poets were truthtellers, they should start with their own confessions and a close and self-critical view of their own profession. And there’s only so much ‘truth’ you can dig out from navel fluff. Why poets should have more important insights than, say, scientists or whistleblowers or frontline professionals or users of cutting edge technology is beyond my ken. And surely reputation is simply a noose round the windpipe of soothsaying? How closely these poets guard their (commercially exploitable) ‘truths’ with their slapped-on © symbols.

    An interesting perspective is provided by Assassins’ Creed: Unity, the installment of the contested-history game series set around the French Revolution of 1789 onwards. During the game, you can unlock various songs (by renovating social clubs), and get a little potted history of each, which traces their development as sung by groups, formations or larger crowds, harnessing the potential of many authors, many refinements, adaptations and possibly serendipitous copying errors. And of course poets of revolution might simply be anonymous for self-preservation. Rather than ‘truths’, these were often calls to action, accusations and mockery. But I guess the day after Independence, some poets will be scrambling sans dignity to slap their imprint on popular works, and rewriting their personal histories to suit the fashion of the day.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      To be fair, I don’t think George is saying that poets are ‘truth-tellers’ in the sense of uttering statements whose descriptions somehow correspond to how things are disposed apart from and independent of our comprehension of them. I think he’s seeking cognitive justice for an alternative paradigm of ‘truth’, whereby poetry coins the metaphors that shape our subsequent comprehension of the world and its disposition and thus makes truth-telling possible.

      Plato opposed the poets in his Republic precisely because he wanted to establish a régime in which those truth-making metaphors were independently ‘real’ and therefore fixed, authoritative, and unchallengeable (‘absolute’), rather than merely man-made (‘historical’). In his article, George uses ‘hyperstition’ to characterise the process by which a whole range of anti-independence myths are transmuted (in Platonic-fascist fashion) into fixed, authoritative, and unchallengeable ‘realities’.

      What cracks me up is that the metaphor of ‘hyperstition’ can also be used to characterise the process by which a whole range of pro-independence myths are likewise transmuted (in Platonic-fascist fashion) into fixed, authoritative ‘realities’, with each side claiming absolute status for its own particular ‘reality’ in the competition for our votes.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Mons Meg, Plato’s anti-science groupthink hierarchy is a doomed project based on allegedly-noble lies. But Plato’s cave metaphor realistically portrays artists as illusionists.

        If you are talking about axioms, the latest Reith Lecture raises the question of how you instruct a naive and possibly unembodied artificial intelligence (humans have biological priming from genetics, development and a body in which to experience the world and draw inferences from, generally available role models, and social mind-building — ‘it takes a village…’). Stuart Russell, explaining the view of intelligence as the capacity of working out the means to given ends, notes:
        “the work of von Neumann and Morgenstern on an axiomatic basis for rationality, published in 1944”
        I don’t see how poets have any special role in axiom formulation and dissemination. For example, as a body of work, Aesop’s fables are poetically ambiguous, as apparently conflicting morals can be drawn from separate, less-ambiguous stories. And that is (apparently) just one writer (or editor). It would be absurd and likely delusional to claim that poets could arrive on a consensus on truth.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          I’m not talking about axioms. Didn’t you see that I said that poets coin METAPHORS (‘the metaphors that shape our subsequent comprehension of the world and its disposition and thus makes truth-telling possible’)?

          I don’t see how poets have any special role in axiom formulation and dissemination either, let alone in telling the truths that derive from those axioms or assumptions.

          (BTW: your claim that ‘Plato’s cave metaphor realistically portrays…’ is literally nonsensical. The very thing that makes a metaphor ‘a metaphor’ is that it doesn’t portray realistically but portrays figuratively. Metaphor is a type of analogy; only, where other types of analogy identify two different things as similar in some objective respect, a metaphor claims a comparison where there mightn’t be such an objective similarity or likeness but only an imaginary one. It’s then up to the listener to create meaning out of – or ‘comprehend’ – this comparison.

          All meaning/comprehension is created by way of metaphorical comparison and differentiation, which is why the truth of any statement depends on – among other things – the metaphors that by their comparisons and differentiations make meaningful to us the reality to which that statement ostensibly refers.)

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @ Mons Meg, Plato’s cave uses the metaphors of darkness and illusion to represent the difficulties of people in perceiving underlying truths about their existence (or the problem of knowledge). It realistically represents caves as dark places, and realistically represents artists as illusionists. As Wikipedia puts it:
            “The fire, or human-made light, and the puppets, used to make shadows, are done by the artists. Plato, however, indicates that the fire is also the political doctrine that is taught in a nation state. The artists use light and shadows to teach the dominant doctrines of a time and place.”
            Some poets do produce axioms, either overt (as in Aesop’s fables) or implied by metaphor (as in Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale, which I treat in the comments of Britain at War).

            Incidentally, although not mentioned in the first two episodes of this year’s Reith Lectures, the axiomatic attempt to produce general artificial intelligence (usefully) failed although it was the dominant school of thought in research centres like MIT for decades. This has fallen out of favour compared with embodied robotics and biology-mimicking approaches like neural networks. This suggests that even if poets had produced axiomatic lessons, these are not the main influences on the development of human intelligence.

            In my view, poetry (there are few grounds to divide humans into poets and non-poets) has a potential to challenge axioms by providing counter-examples. But that is about questioning and challenging, not about truth-telling.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            ‘Plato’s cave uses the metaphors of darkness and illusion to represent the difficulties of people in perceiving underlying truths about their existence (or the problem of knowledge). It realistically represents caves as dark places, and realistically represents artists as illusionists.’

            Nope, this is just plain wrong. Metaphors don’t represent anything; that’s just not how they work.

            But poets can and do challenge the established metaphors (clichés) by which we habitually shape our understanding of the world and how we accordingly relate to that world. They do so by exploding those clichés and coining fresh metaphors. They don’t ‘tell truths’ or ‘posit axioms’ – at least, not in their capacity as poets.

            It’s this subversive character of poetry – its very capacity to undermine the truths and meanings established by its ruling class – that made the poets so unwelcome in Plato’s authoritarian republic.

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Mons Meg, you wrote:
            “Nope, this is just plain wrong. Metaphors don’t represent anything; that’s just not how they work.”
            The Oxford Learners Dictionaries might be a useful place for you to start, with the example:
            “He uses the metaphor of fire to represent hatred.”

            So you agree that it is baloney to describe poets as truth tellers then? So why defend the article?

            Perhaps the poem that lodges most strongly in my mind from childhood is “For mash, get Smash!”, partly for the amusing robots, but also of course for the implied lie that Smash was superior to mashed potatoes (I remember a disagreeable, lumpy texture, little nutritional value and a vaguely unpleasant aftertaste that made Smash even less appetising than centralised dinners school mashed potato). Advertising poetry is a whole class stuffed with lies.

            Another poetic rendition from those days was Crackerjack’s riff on “The boy stood on the burning deck…”, a misrepresentation common to poetic mockeries.

            Or from assembly “The rich man in his castle / The poor man at his gate / God made them, high or lowly / And ordered their estate.”: religious poetry is another class rank with lies. And that particular example was a whole creationist fantasy. Poets are scarcely much more use than theologians, whose only use that I have discovered is starting religious wars. If we are treated to nuclear armageddon, we will have theologians to thank.

            Or hagiography, not the saintly bio but its later meaning as fawning praise, which sickly craft has been practised by British poet laureates whose royal flattery is merely a continuation of ancient poetic patronage, which includes bardic kiss-ups to clan chiefery.

            How much poetic chaff would you estimate we would have to slough through before finding some worthwhile kernel? And even then, how would we recognise or verify it? Poems rarely come with footnote references, or a version history with corrections, or a glossary to eliminate ambiguities over word definitions. As for clichés, poets copy other poets more than the public there, I would guess. So much so that yet more poets mock these copying poets (as Shakespeare did to poets who copied Plutarch).

            Rather than the article’s histrionic fear of poets being done to death for their truth-telling, they tend to be safely tucked up in bed when others are being dawn-raided. Sure, lots of Instapoets get death threats, but that’s because some deranged people are enraged by how (allegedly) crap their poetry is, not because it reveals uncomfortable truths. Try being an investigative journalist or a nature defender or a climate scientist and find out what heat feels like.

          4. Mons Meg says:

            Whoever wrote that entry in that dictionary is just plain wrong: metaphors don’t represent things; they configure our understanding.

            Yes, I disagree with the association of poetry with ‘truth-telling’ as faithful representation or accurate communication of pre-existent information, let alone of morally or politically correct information. Again, that’s just not what poiesis is. Poiesis is any activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before; in the case of language, new configurations or ways of seeing things. (See, e.g., Plato’s discussion of ‘eros’ in his Symposium and ‘the demiurge’ in his Timaeus.)

            I wasn’t defending George’s article; in my flyte, I was subjecting that article to immanent criticism by bringing out the irony implicit in his use of the term ‘hyperstition’. I agree with George to the extent that he holds that poetry has a critical role to play in the remaking of ‘Scotland’; I don’t agree with what George himself calls ‘that overly idealised view’ of what that role is.

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