Feb 05 2012

The Wizard Way of Bro Science: Racking Steel and Getting Shredded in the Pursuit of the More-Than-Human



About six months before turning thirty, I had one of those moments where you realize “damn, I gotta get my shit together.”

Devastated from a cycle of working twenty-hour days for months, all of that time spent at the computer — , like some freakish latter-day Jeremy Bentham — I was unable to properly climb the stairs without getting completely winded. I’d spent almost eight months unable to get out of bed. You know how it is: You feel like your mind is a machine made for shifting the building blocks of matter around with the power of the Internets and you get to it to the exclusion of all else. Unfortunately, the price is steep.

And so I decided to embrace my antithesis. To meld with the Other. To transcend high school Manicheanism and unify all opposites.

I decided to become a Bro. I decided to join the gym and get jacked. It had to be done. And, so entering upon the Path of the Bro, through that door that had been locked and barred for me all my life by my own blind prejudice and delusive belief in a mind/body split, I found it to be not only well-lit and maintained by all manner of helpful and cheery Bros but also to be a path of human development more demanding, more continually life-affirming and potentially even more satisfying than many of the higher consciousness change techniques I had immersed myself in while in my twenties.

Enough with the endless RSS feeds, the “I just had Red Bull to eat today,” the Assangemode… Here was my new grimoire:! Here was my new god: Zyzz! (More on this later.)

Cracking the Bro Code

To enter the path, I began with a few months of severing my bad habits. I switched to only pure unprocessed food and cut the chemicals out of my diet. Then I humbled myself before the Pylons of Brodom. I joined the gym, signed up for about thirty personal training sessions, and got the basics down. For the first three weeks, I couldn’t even do the simplest exercises without having to sit down about three times a session feeling like I was going to pass out. It was totally weak. There I sat, with a girl who weighed about a hundred pounds smirking at my out-of-shape ass. I did about a month of this, interspersed with daily hour-long cardio sessions to shock my system back into realizing it existed and that I would be needing it. Soon I wasn’t near-fainting or feeling like a scarecrow. I felt… damn… I felt fucking excellent.

From there I shifted into bodybuilding. I calculated how many calories I was burning a day, and then maxed out my macronutrients to the point where I was consuming more than I was burning — in my case about 3,500 calories a day. Daunting, especially as a vegetarian—but with a few trips to Costco and Trader Joe’s, I actually found that my new diet could be cheaper and easier than what I’d been getting before. A cup of Trader Joe’s instant steel-cut oats with two tablespoons of honey? Costs about forty to fifty cents and gives you 800 calories of slow-burning carbs and protein with no fat, and cuts out your heart disease risk to boot. A can of kidney beans from Costco when bought in bulk? About a dollar, and another 850 calories of carbs, protein and no fat. Dig it. Throw in a good low-fat protein powder, some veggies and fruit, and eight glasses of water a day and you’re good to go, and don’t even have to cook your meals or deal with looking around for places to eat every day. Hacked!

Then I hit the weights. After four months of working out four to five times a week for an hour each, favoring compound exercises and free weights, I’d put on twenty pounds, in a good way. Now, I felt, I could see the path for the first time. I’d only taken a few steps on it. I was still just barely past the starting line. But I was on the path.

There I was, an out-of-place geek in the place I’d been trying to avoid with all my willpower since I talked my junior high school into letting me out of gym class so that I could sit in the library reading H. P. Lovecraft and Frank Herbert. A latecomer to the party, but a sincere one.

And there, all around me, were all the freaky people. Bros, juicers and lugheads of all ages. Beast-women who looked like they could savage you in three seconds and take your carotid artery as a prize. Ungodly Hot Girls and their professional killer boyfriends. Friendly personal trainers. New Year’s resolution cardio warriors. And they were all kind of cool, I realized as soon as I got over my initial disorientation. They were all there to push their personal limits in a supportive environment, one big congregation in the Flesh Temple. What could be better?

After my initial four months, the Bros signaled that their conscious hive mind had noticed my continual presence, dedication and growth with a simple gesture: While doing concentration curls one day while that show The Big Bang played silently on the gym TVs, a huge powerlifter on my right said, simply, “Only nerds like this show, huh?”

Wait, I realized. Waaaaiit… he just said that like he was talking about people who aren’t me.

It was like the proverbial Diamond Bullet to the Forehead.

Some Considerations on Bro Transhumanism

Once you start really getting into this stuff, you find yourself in a maze of data that you’d need a Master’s in exercise physiology and the chemistry knowledge of the average Pfizer grunt to comprehend. What to eat. When to eat. How to manipulate anabolic and catabolic states. Bulking and cutting. Endless supplements to sort through. Sleep habits. And then we get into the realm of Bro Science, a mix of legitimate physiology knowledge and superstition that produces dubious body hacks like:

“Drink a ton of dextrose with your post-workout protein and creatine shake to spike your insulin and help your muscles absorb it.”

“If you do tons of squats and deadlifts it will release extra testosterone that will help your arms grow.”

Or even oddities like the infamous GOMAD diet—GOMAD standing for Gallon of Milk a Day, which has you doing heavy compound lifting while carrying around crates of whole milk to chug all day long.

How much of it is real and how much isn’t? It’s anybody’s guess. To find out, you’re going to have to do your own testing, and you’re going to have to machete through the overgrown thicket of online bodybuilder sites populated largely by teenagers looking to turn themselves into Hulk Hogan by prom.

After researching supplements for a while, I settled on the basics: high quality whey protein with a dextrose chaser, slow-burning casein protein to drink before bed to absorb while sleeping, a weightlifter-oriented multivitamin, DHA and EPA-inclusive flax oil, and creatine (a nitrogenous organic acid which naturally occurs in muscle and which you get from eating meat; if you supplement with it, it tends to put on muscle mass pretty quick by adding water weight. Opinions are divided on it, but I decided to cycle it since I’m a vegetarian and not getting it in my diet).

There’s all kinds of crazy gear beyond that: BCAAs (branch-chain amino acids) to boost muscle growth (if your protein’s good it’ll have enough BCAAs anyway); L-Glutamine to aid recovery (should also be in your protein if it’s good); ZMA (Zinc Magnesium Aspartate) to aid sleep and recovery; pre-workout Nitric Oxide boosters; Beta Alanine; HMA; thermogenics; various weird creatine modifications; waxy maize, glycomaize, maltrodextrin and other instant carbs; and on and on. Most of this stuff is overpriced and dubious. (Pro-tip: Never go to GNC to buy supplements. Those guys make commission and will run sales game on you to try to get you to buy obscenely priced placebo supplements full of fake-sounding chemicals that might as well be powdered unicorn horn. For my money, the best deals on supplements are all on Amazon. I mostly buy the stuff put out by Optimum Nutrition; they make top-reviewed, reliable gear.)

Beyond that, of course, there’s steroids and human growth hormone. That stuff fucks you up and you can spot the dudes on it pretty easily. Example: Changing in the locker room, I watched a jacked guy with bloodshot eyes and a beady-sweaty forehead maniacally staring at himself in the mirror while slowly and precisely pulling every hair out of his chin with a pair of tweezers. An hour later, after my workout, he was still at it. Hmmm… in retrospect, that might have been crystal. But you get the idea.

The more I found my way into the strange world of bodybuilding, the more I was exposed to the online bodybuilding subculture, a dedicated pod of transhumanists if I’ve ever seen one, who devote daily physical and mental effort to pushing the limits of the human form, consistently obsessing over how they can overcome the barriers of time, genetics and aging to reach a physical perfection that they may have been told was impossible for them to aspire to every day of their lives until they decided to ignore all that and go for it.

The Bros have been at this for a long time, steadily working out the physical hacks it takes to turn a normal Joe into one of those guys from 300. These guys, and girls, obsessively pursue the transcendence of the flesh through the flesh, like the reverse of Indian fakirs. It is a religion, a path through and beyond the confines of human, a path to an inhuman pinnacle of godly aesthetic glory that will look really good with a spray tan.

And if bodybuilding is a religion, it has a god: Zyzz, a personality so prominent and crucial that he deserves his own section.

How Do I Unlock Zyzzmode Brah?

Aziz Sergeyevich Shavershian, or Zyzz to his countless fans, was an aesthetically-oriented Australian Russian bodybuilder who went from a stick-bundle teenager to a shredded orange perfection of the male form in the short space of four years, and then proceeded to go shirtless to a lot of clubs and Australian music festivals with his Aesthetics Crew bros and pick up girls in quantities that mere mortals can only dream of, becoming a national celebrity in the process. Along with his brother Said Shavershian (a.k.a. Chestbrah), he also spent a lot of time on 4chan’s /fit/ forum, where he was revered as the aspirational archetype by every single weightlifter on that board. Last August, at the age of 22, shortly after Chestbrah was arrested for possession of anabolic steroids, Zyzz collapsed and died in a sauna in Bangkok. His death has been attributed to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.

Already a hero of the subculture, Zyzz has now ascended to the status of a minor god, a benevolent force that looks down over the striving /fit/izens and encourages them to push out just one more rep, so that the girls will be ‘mirin and the other bros will be jelly, his trademarked spiked hair and mirrored aviator sunglasses surrounding a glowing, magnanimous smile.

For the younger generation, Zyzz is a symbol of human aspiration; for concerned parents and sundry authority figures, he is a symbol of the growing dangers of steroid abuse and of social pressure on teenage boys to meet appearance standards that can be just as unrealistic and damaging as the expectations on teenage girls, often leading to eating disorders (manorexia) and body dysmorphic disorder. But the revelation that Zyzz was “bicycling” (Zyzz and Chestbrah’s slang for cycling anabolic steroids) has seemingly done little to tarnish his posthumous reputation. (One poster I just saw on /fit/ has this to say about Zyzz: “R.I.P. Bro you died for our sins. Every scoop of whey is in your name.”)

He is, perhaps, an evolutionary marker, one of those oft-cited “outliers” who point a way forward for self-willed human change.

Eat Right, Sleep Well, Train Hard

Am I an inhuman jacked monster yet? No, I’m just a mere beginner, still figuring it all out. But in a few months I’ve deeply shifted my personality profile, listening to hard dance music (?!?) instead of the same old eighties post-punk records, and rearranged my mental outlook from seeing life as something that is happening to me and instead into something I’m aggressively surmounting through self-discipline, a mindset that has spilled over into and improved every other area of my life, even if I hit the bed so tired I’m almost unable to move every night. In a world of vagueness and open-ended tasks,  racking steel at the gym gives me the satisfaction of a win every day, something that I can say I did right and did for myself.

Tripping hard and straight into the dense matter of the physical world is a weird ride, brah. But it’s a great one.

And I know that maybe, just maybe, somewhere up there… Zyzz is smiling on me.

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible.

Jun 23 2011

I Am A Mechanical Man: Robocops & Robowars


“Now, to some extent, we’re all Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop.”

Some movies ought to be left alone. Not because they’re no longer relevant… but because they’re too relevant. Jose Padiliha’s planned 2013 reboot of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 masterwork Robocop is one such transgression of cinematic and historical decency. In 1987, Robocop was science fiction. Now, it’s the nightly news. One wonders what a Robocop reboot would have to say about a world that’s now a lot closer to the original movie than we might like to admit

Robocop was a profoundly humanist film. It was Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s satire of American corporate culture, as he would later parody American imperialism with Starship Troopers — though the point of both movies was largely lost on American audiences easily distracted by the tongue-in-cheek hyperviolence. It was about Detroit as a microcosm of America. It was about American industry — both blue and white collar — becoming outmoded. It was about an Alvin Toffler Third Wave world in which cops, criminals and governments alike are just branches of corporations; corporations that fuel inner city chaos and wars of imperial expansion in order to keep the bottom line up. Robocop was about a world only slightly less commodified than our own — as tagged by the film’s running catch phrase, “I’d buy that for a dollar!”

Set in an exaggerated version of the Reagan/Thatcher era, much of the film’s narrative fascination came from observing a corporate, cybernetic police state, considered to be a science fiction parody of the then-current political climate, but science fiction nonetheless. A quarter century and two Bushes later, this is no longer the case.

Now, to some extent, we’re all Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop. Though we may not be physically grafted to machines (yet), we are welded to them in every other possible way, fused to them in consciousness, dependent on them not only to support or enhance almost every part of our existences but also to uphold an increasingly restrictive social order. We live in a corporate military state in which wars are conducted by robotics, in which Predator drones patrol our far-off imperial holdings and we patrol ourselves through the voluntary surveillance system called Facebook.

We are completely enmeshed and interwoven with technology, both as consumer and producer — reduced to being subjects of the narrative of “high tech” in which there is no longer a split between human and machine, but rather a split between “human machine” and “machine machine,” like the split between Robocop and his nemesis, the ED209 walking tank. Now humanity is not something that maintains opposition to “machine” but something that is performed within the context of “machine.” Some machines are considered human (for instance, Apple products) and some are not (Microsoft products), and we are only ever as human as the electronic experiences we choose to consume. Our social identities are subsets of these machines — a carefully cultivated Google trail; a mask worn within the mainframe.

Now, the corporatized police of Robocop seem prophetically accurate — quaint even. In a 2009 TED talk, the Brookings Institution’s P. W. Singer revealed that there are 5,300 unmanned air drones and 12,000 unmanned ground systems currently deployed in the Middle East by the United States military. These numbers are projected to skyrocket in coming years — by 2015, more than half of the army will be robotic. And that’s only the U.S. — 43 countries are currently working on military robots.

The soldier of the near future will look a lot like Robocop — consider DARPA and Raytheon’s combat exoskeleton prototypes. The ED209 isn’t that different from U.S. military robots already in development or deployment like the BigDog rough-terrain robot, much publicized on the Internet, as well as lesser-known tank or pack robots like the ACER, MATILDA, TALON, MARV and MAUD, and many others. Or Japanese company Sakakibara Kikai’s Landwalker, which looks pretty much exactly like ED209. ED209’s short-circuit from the beginning of the film, when it accidentally kills a corporate lackey. This, too, is now something that has occurred. In his TED talk, Singer describes a South African anti-aircraft cannon that had a “software glitch” and killed nine soldiers. Singer calls this “unmanned slaughter,” conducted by machines that are unable to comprehend the idea of “war crime.” Even ED209 squeals like a recognizable form of life when vanquished. However, Predator and Reaper drones are completely silent, providing no warning before they strike.

We have robots in the air — unmanned drones; the newly completed Anubis assassination micro-drone. We have robots in space — the recently launched, classified X-37B plane. And we have a whole host of other current or projected future weapons seemingly culled from 1980s science fiction films — spiderweb armor, liquid armor, invisibility cloaks, drones made to look like insects.

These are not merely efficient, emotionless killing machines. They are also instruments of psychological terror. They are the new face of the Panopticon— as Jeremy Bentham once examined (to the great detriment of everybody ever since, as it has become the model that our culture is to some extent based on), those who are made to think they are being watched are just as controlled as those that actually are being watched.

“We have them thinking that we can track them anywhere,” a former top CIA operations official recently told the Washington Post, referring to the psychological tactic of leading Taliban to believe that tracking devices for Predator drones could be everywhere and in anything. “That we’ve got devices in their cars, their houses, everywhere. They’re so afraid to stay in their houses at night they’re digging foxholes to sleep in.”

These machines are the implements of casual genocide. They are antithetical to human life, a betrayal of humanity, as they are a way to further remove the act of killing from anything that might be able to find remorse in doing so. Indeed, no one will even be able to find any meaning at all, even flat-out hatred, which would still be a human emotional response. Robotic war will be war conducted by spreadsheets. And, ultimately, such machines will hold no allegiance to any country, as they will be quickly copied by or even sold to the highest bidder.

This is where questions must be raised about the responsibility and power not only of arms manufacturers and their comrades, but also of science fiction writers and directors. Over the preceding decades, we have fetishized the machine. Art has concerned itself with the shock of new technology; with the process of becoming cybernetic. Artists have become spectators at the surgery, providing running commentary as we wait to see whether our culture will accept or reject its implants. Yet artists are more than just observers, reporters, and commentators. They are also creators. The narrative of robotic war, begun in science fiction and made real by defense contracts, might be seen, from a certain angle, as the progression of a single thing manifesting over time. Though art may be the play-acting of an idea, it can also, to some extent, be the testing of an idea — and if successful in its simulation of reality, can all too easily become reality.

On the other hand, counter-narratives to “technological progress” prove just as appalling.  The complete rejection of science represented by the Sarah Palins of the world is almost inconceivably brutal dehumanization — a complete subjugation to a reactionary, patriarchal, anti-woman, anti-human “god” — every bit as frightening as the narrative of cyborg hypercapitalism.

In A Cyborg Manifesto (1991), Donna Haraway wrote, “From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defense, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies in a masculinist orgy of war… From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints. The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point.”

What would the real cybernetic shock be now? The grafting of more machine parts into our lives or the grafting of more human parts? Our lives are almost unthinkable without Internet connections, or without the oil brought home for us by the machines of war. To withdraw from either would be a far more potentially fatal shock to the system than the implantation of actual wetware cybernetics. An augmented reality optical chip, for instance, would only help facilitate our current condition, and would likely become socially enforced within certain economic brackets, just as smart phones were.

Can we create a non-alienated cybernetic world? Can we even begin to conceive of what that would look like? We can’t undo the past, but we can change the script of the future before it is acted out. Perhaps the challenge lies is finding new narratives that, instead of reacting against high technology, effectively reorient it towards serving human life — and humane values — instead of destroying them.

The Luddite back-to-the-land ethos of the early environmental movement has given way in recent decades to a vision of a more integrated future. Our most viable version of a livable future is the Green Cyborg in which technology and humanity meet halfway and start caretaking rather than dominating the Earth’s natural resources. This should be framed not as a return to neolithic, matriarchal values but as a forward synthesis of industrial technology and holistic thinking. This requires a simple shift in perspective from observing the world as a jumble of disconnected parts to observing it as an integrated system in which each part affects every other. It is a shift from seeing the world as parts in competition with each other to seeing it as parts striving for an emergent state of co-operative efficiency.

A liveable future lies not in a wholesale rejection of the cyborg process of becoming welded to high technology, but in remembering that we are already cyborgs — that we are already inseparably connected not only to each other, but to everything on the planet, including even the worst parts of postindustrial society and its byproducts and side-effects.

The challenges of this century will be cyborg ones. They will be challenges of synthesis — of discovering how to achieve balance within systems. We will work to establish an ever-evolving cybernetic balance within a frontierless, privacy-free, boundary-free, pluralistic world. This is not a New Age band-aid in which the easy answer is to simply realize that we are all one. Realizing that we are all parts of a single system is only the first step in effectively coping with and implementing that realization — work that may require more time than we have, yet which we must accomplish nonetheless. It is nothing less than the firm establishment and protection of our humanity and humaneness against all affronts to it; nothing less than remembering that we must use our tools properly lest we be used by them.

Robocop can’t be remade because it’s no longer the story of one comic book hero — it’s the story of all of us, left scratching our heads after the operation, struggling to integrate, hoping to one day remember what life was once like, left with the daily task of making sense and meaning of a mechanized world from which the only escape is that which we build from the scrapheap.