Article about Itself



As soon as I learned about recursion, I naturally began looking for ways to harm the innocent with it. Things that act on themselves can do so destructively, which makes them appealing, since they tend to go away and leave us alone. Suicide clubs are out for the moment, partly because I’m saving them for last, but in any case suicide is rather blunt. Modern minimalism suggests that people and devices that end their own existences are possibly less wasteful, and therefore less interesting, than those which render themselves either futile or pointless. A story might begin “There’s no reason to read this”; a device conceived along similar lines might be a lawnmower that poisons the grass on first use, or a nuclear weapon which emits a smell so pleasing that it renders the deploying nation entirely pacifist.

Bertrand Russell was worried about things like “the class of all classes that are not members of themselves”—is it a member of itself? But one can be confused without being in class. This self-referent sentence, for example, fails to express its own meaning. Futility alone, however, is futile. It is pretentious futility that draws us. A laser light show using invisible, infrared colors is merely a dreadful escalation in our nation’s sad dependence on foreign geothermal power; if the show invisibly explains why it is invisible, however, the non-viewers’ frustration is delightfully increased.

Certain elaborate physical devices acquire the je ne sais quoi, et je ne le crois pas to enter the Anatheon of autoextinguishment. There is the airplane that dispatches heat-seeking missiles — backwards. The jackhammer that pneumatically destroys its own compressor. The gas tank made out of frozen gas. Godel, a brilliant mathematician, showed that you can’t really do math, and Russell showed that if you try anyway, you end up as a solipsist. Solipsists, by the way, are uninteresting, but suicidal solipsists have promise.

Organizations begin with structure, but may lose it, especially if they try. Is the Organization of Self-Defeating Organizations self-defeating? Not necessarily, but certainly not as elegantly as the Children for Retroactive Parental Chastity or the Foundation Opposing Leaving the House. I have not seen a newsletter from the Activists against Communication recently, possibly because it’s distributed by the Luddite Computer Network.

Hypothetical self-destructive concepts, lacking existence, have the virtue of not requiring actual annihilation, which can ruin the walls. One day there will be a photocopier which, if someone tries to treat it as such, will turn into an apricot, and then back into a photocopier when it’s nearly ripe. What about a brassiere that can’t contain anything because it’s too busy exaggerating how many hooks it has? A radio that sends signals begging for radiative annihilation? I wonder whether a sentence that causes the immediate death of its own author