[previously in series:1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

When that April with his sunlight fierce
The rainy winter of the coast doth pierce
And filleth every spirit with such hale
As horniness engenders in the male
Then folk go out in crop tops and in shorts
Their bodies firm from exercise and sports
And men gaze at the tall girls and the shawties
And San Franciscans long to go to parties.

“Hey!” says the hostess. “Great to see you again! You keepin’ it real?” You were actually composing faux-Chaucer poems in your head, which seems like a marginal-at-best level of connection to reality. In desperation, you remember a piece of social skills advice you saw on r/greentexts, where you imagine what a hypothetical cooler version of yourself would say, then say that. You simulate the hypothetical cooler version of yourself. It says: “Real as an eel, sister!”, then saunters off cockily. You decide to ignore all social skills advice from now on. Instead, you mumble something incomprehensible and desperately try to change the topic.

“How is your … “ You strain your memory, then it comes to you. “…automated land acknowledger?” That’s right, last time you talked to her she was working on an Amazon-Echo-like device that you could leave in your home and workplace. At programmable intervals, it would read a canned message acknowledging you were on Native land.

She laughs. “It’s funny! I met this Native American guy at a conference, and he said it was an offensive piece of tokenist crap that made no material difference in the lives of the oppressed!”

You nod glumly. “Yeah, none of us wanted to be the one to tell you.”

“…but it’s fine! Cause I started thinking, how can we make a material difference in the lives of the oppressed, and now we’ve got an even better product. Landulgences! We’ve partnered with local Indian tribes to let you pay them rent. You pay them about $0.10 per square foot per year, they give you a certificate saying you’re welcome to use their land during that time.”

“I thought the whole idea was that we had stolen the land, so it’s not theirs anymore.”

“Yes, but if we hadn’t stolen the land, you would pay them rent. So if you’re against stealing the land, you can make it as if you didn’t steal it, by paying them the rent you believe they’re due. Isn’t it great? We’re especially working on advertising to corporations. Imagine. Your top customer goes to your competitor’s meeting, and hear ‘We acknowledge that this office building stands on the unceded ancestral land of the Ohlone tribe, which we have stolen because we are evil colonizers.’ Then they go to your meeting, and hear ‘This building stands on the land of the Ohlone, who we’ve come to a mutually beneficial agreement with. Their chief sent us a thank-you letter for being such good tenants, you can see it in the break room.’ Which one of you seems more trustworthy?”

“This is the unceded ancestral land of the Ohlone people! Buy a landulgence for as low as $4.99 your first month” chirps the Land Acknowledger, behind her.

“I thought you said that was offensive and tokenist”, you say.

“I said it would have been , without the landuldgences! Now it’s a part of our horizontally integrated product strategy!”

You feel like you should say something, but it is an improvement. And you want to stay on her good side, because maybe next time you see her she’ll be a billionaire. So you wish her good luck and take your leave.

You see a familiar t-shirt and recognize The Burrowing Company guy. Now that was a cool, ambitious plan. You make a beeline for him. “Hey, how are the giant ground sloths?”

“Lazy,” he sighs. “I guess we should have predicted. But they hate digging tunnels. They just want to hang around all day. We’ve got to pivot or die.”

“So what are you thinking?”

“I worry this is kind of offensive,” he said, furtively looking around to make sure nobody else can hear. “But I was reading this article about how Hamas dug 350 miles of tunnels under Gaza. Meanwhile, Elon’s Boring Company has only dug about 3 miles of tunnel in its whole corporate existence. So I’m thinking, maybe we forget about the ground sloths and try to poach Hamas’ people. It should be pretty easy; the smart ones have got to be looking for new jobs around now. We change the name to something more culturally appropriate like The Buraj Company. Then we’re back in business!”

“Won’t there be visa issues with trying to get hundreds of terrorists into the US?”

“People make the whole visa thing sound harder than it is. You’ve just got to prove there’s no American worker who can do the job you’re hiring the foreign worker for. Looking at the history of US tunneling in the past thirty years, I’d say that’s a no-brainer.”

“What happens to the giant ground sloths?”

“We’re still trying to figure something out. Do you know if sloths are halal?”

You elect not to answer that question, and move on. There’s a circle of people all sitting and talking. After you join, you notice something wrong about the atmosphere. Did you accidentally stumble into an AI Circle or Urbanist Coven again? No. You realize with sinking heart that this is one of those conversations where everybody compares their jobs to see who is the coolest.

“I work for Stop Talking About Taylor Swift Magazine,” says a man in his mid-twenties. “It’s the #1 publication for people who want to stop hearing about Taylor Swift all the time. We carry monthly features on why Taylor’s music, schedule, personal life, and wardrobe are all less important than other things and don’t deserve the level of attention they’ve been getting.”

You don’t want to interrupt, but you can’t help asking: “Would the kind of person who wants to stop hearing about Taylor Swift really be into a magazine like that?”

“Oh yeah,” he says. “We’re the third-best-selling women’s magazine in the United States at this point. Our only regret is that we’re not as popular with the male demographic. That’s why we’re working on launching a new spinoff, Stop Paying Attention To The Marvel Cinematic Universe. We just signed our first big contract; Freddie de Boer will be writing 600 articles for us over the next three years.”

Everyone silently evaluates his worth as a human being - he writes for a magazine! pretty cool! - and the metaphorical conch shell passes to the next person in the circle, a young woman in round-rimmed glasses and a bright red t-shirt saying WUHAN INSTITUTE OF VIROLOGY - SCIENCE THAT REPLICATES.

“I run QRiosity, a browser with native QR code support. Just click on a QR image, and it will take you to the website!”

“So, like links, but worse?” someone asks.

“Like links, but not deboosted on social media. X and the rest are pulling every trick they know to prevent you from leaving their walled garden. Now the customer is getting some tricks of their own to fight back. Next we’re working on implanting QR codes in videos, so your links can get maximal algorithmic boosting.”

Everyone silently evaluates her worth as a human being - it’s a good product idea! - and moves on to the next person, a clean-cut blonde man in a black polo shirt.

“I work for the Threads Of Life Foundation,” he said. “You know, every so often billionaires and journalists condemn effective altruists because, like, what if they give poor people malaria nets, and then those poor people use them for fishing, and it hurts the fish. And people like to say “oh, those billionaires and journalists never care about fish in any other context” and “obviously this is just incredibly blatant cope so they can feel morally superior for not donating to charity” and “it’s pretty crazy that our obsession with ‘harm’ and ‘the precautionary principle’ has gone so far that if you save millions of people but also kill a few fish, the establishment unites in painting you as a villain for not considering the fish deaths.’ But that didn’t seem charitable to me. I thought ‘No, I bet these are actually good people, who have a little trouble empathizing with human suffering, or with any-animal-except-fish suffering, or with fish suffering in 99.9% of contexts - but for some reason, they feel absolutely devastated at the thought of a fish getting caught in a bednet given to a poor person by a charity for the express purpose of saving their lives. That poor fish, stuck in those tiny little insecticide-laced threads, writhing around! These people don’t need our mockery - they need to unite and stand up for the suspiciously-specific thing they believe in!

“That’s why I started Threads Of Life. We’re a charity dedicated to preventing fish from getting caught in repurposed malaria nets. We send hundreds of monitors to rivers all across Africa. They seek out locations where net fishing is going on, take samples of discarded nets, use chemical testing to match them to brands of malaria net given out by charities. Then if they find a match, they find the offending fisherman, cut his remaining nets, and free the fish. It’s tough work, but the outpouring of support we’ve gotten has made it all worth it. A bigshot AI venture capitalist recently donated half his fortune to us. A Stanford professor, when he heard about our work, pledged give us 10% of his paltry academic income every year from then on, just because he believed in our cause.

“It’s really inspiring. But there’s so much work still to be done! I’ve surveyed our donors and found that there are lots of other causes they care about too, like birds getting caught in wind turbines built to provide renewable energy, or people’s views being ruined by solar plants. I’m meeting an ethologist next week to see if we can breed strains of birds with genetically-implanted windmill avoidance patterns. Is this an effective use of resources? No. Does it address one of the tiny number of extremely specific concerns which, if we were to treat our donors’ engagement with the concept of ‘charity’ as an honest expression of their revealed preferences, receive overwhelming multipliers in their utility functions? Absolutely!”

Everyone silently evaluates his worth as a human being, and he is found acceptable - he works with venture capitalists! We move on to the next person, a middle-aged woman in a loose dress.

“I work on meta-planning-applications for the city of London,” she says. “If you’re trying to repair a bridge or something, you can’t just send out engineers like you’re in the Wild West or something. You have to do an environmental impact report, to make sure that the repair won’t harm the environment, or threaten communities, or take place in an inequitable way. These applications have grown bigger and bigger over the past few decades, so that the most recent one, for the Lower Thames Crossing, took fifteen years, involved 2,383 separate documents, and ran to 359,000 pages. Imagine how many harms a planning application that big could cause! That’s why the government instituted the meta-planning-application. Now if you want to make a planning application like the Thames one, you start by applying for a meta-planning-application. Our department makes sure that the paper for your hundreds of thousands of pages will come from sustainably sourced timber, and that the dozens of planning bureaucrats you hire will be sufficiently diverse.

“Now, I know what you’re going to say - don’t you need a meta-meta-planning application to start the meta-planning application? Isn’t it an infinite regress? Ha ha. Like we haven’t heard that one a thousand times. But no, the meta-planning application is a much simpler affair than the planning application. We’ve set a goal that it shouldn’t take a team of ten people more than a year, and it shouldn’t run to more than 10,000 pages. So we let you meta-apply for an application without any previous layers of permission.”

Everyone silently evaluates her worth as a human being - she does, in some sense, contribute to the building of infrastructure - and moves on to the next person. He looks to be in his mid-twenties, dressed in a finely-tailored suit. He wears a watch with enough diamonds on it that it has to cost low-six-figures, at least. He leans on his date, who appears to be some kind of supermodel.

“I’m a retired photographer,” he says.

The Threads of Life guy asks the question all of you are thinking: “How do you make enough money, as a photographer, to retire to a life of luxury in your mid-20s?”

“I took that one picture of Elon Musk where he’s scowling and steepling his fingers in a sinister, manipulative-looking way. Since then it’s been the headline image for every story on Elon Musk, and I’ve gotten royalties for all of them.”

Everyone silently evaluates his worth as a human being, realizes he is the most successful person in the room, and slinks off. As the circle disperses, you head to the kitchen. There’s still a few slices of cold pizza. One other guy is eating at the counter. You pull up a chair beside him. “Can I sit here?”

“Oh, sorry,” he says. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

You’re kind of taken aback. “Is it something I said earlier?”

“No,” he says. “But you know that saying that’s become popular recently? ‘If there’s a Nazi at the table, and ten people sitting and willingly eating alongside him, then you have 11 Nazis.’”

“Okaaaaay,” you say. “But I’m not a Nazi.”

“You don’t think you’re a Nazi,” he corrected. “But if you take the saying literally, then anybody who’s every sat down at a table with a Nazi is a Nazi. And anyone who’s ever sat down at a table with them is a Nazi, and anyone who’s ever sat down at a table with them is a Nazi too, and so on. It’s a six degrees of separation problem. When you actually calculate it out, then as long as the average person sits and eats with at least two people during their lifetime, there’s a 99.9998% chance everyone is a Nazi. The only way out is to refuse to ever sit and eat with anyone. Which is what I’m doing.”

You see his face from a different angle, and something snaps into place. “Hey, aren’t you @DanielC35801 from Twitter?”

“Yeah,” he says. “So what?”

“Didn’t you tweet a couple of days ago that the Jews should be driven into the sea?”

“That was part of the fight against settler colonialism, so it’s different,” he said. “Also, I said you couldn’t sit here. Go away.”

You take your slice of cold pizza and walk into the living room. You take a seat at the little coffee table, opposite a shaven-headed man with the Generic Circle-y Startup Logo tshirt. “Hey,” you say. “I saw you a couple minutes ago when everyone was talking about their jobs. I guess you didn’t get a chance to go.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It sucks, because I think I have the best job of anyone here. I started a company that uses diphyllic polymers for dam construction. Diphyllic polymer is a new material that strengthens when it encounters water. You can just pour a truck full into a river, and get a dam in a fraction of the time for half the price.”

You took a course that touched on diphyllic polymer once, so for once you’re not a total rube. “Hey, I know a little about that! I thought it turned brittle and fractured below about 36 degrees F. Aren’t you concerned that your dams might break during a cold spell?”

The dam guy looks at you blankly for a second. Then it’s as if a light goes on in his eyes: “Oh, I see! You’re one of those people who thinks technology makes the world worse! You should read this great essay - it’s called The Techno-Optimist Manifesto. You’ll see that actually, throughout human history, technology has made the world better!”

“I agree that technology is good in general,” you say. “I just thought I heard that this particular technology might shatter once the temperature reaches 36 degrees F, and then it would flood anywhere downstream of the dam.”

“I wish you could hear yourself,” said the dam guy. “It’s like - a hundred years ago people said we shouldn’t use antibiotics, because only God should be allowed to heal people. And then fifty years ago, people said we shouldn’t use nuclear power, because it might have meltdowns and kill us all. And now you’re saying we can’t make diphyllic dams. Doesn’t it worry you to be part of this long line of people trying to hold back the Promethean spirit of the human race?”

“I’m totally for Promethean spirit!” you say. “It’s just - yes or no, does diphyllite shatter at 36 degrees F?”

Dam guy starts to look really frustrated. “You know, Tyler Cowen has a saying: ‘Either you’re a Builder, or you’re a Nervous Nellie: take your pick.’ Well, I’m going to create monuments that advance the glory of civilization and generate hydroelectricity and push humanity into a beautiful future. I think that makes me a Builder. And you might think you’re so profound, being a Nervous Nellie over there, but Tyler Cowen says that Nervous Nellies are just overindulging in their own neuroticism and don’t have any profound wisdom at all. Like, what have you ever built, Nellie?”

You are pretty sure you have irreparably offended Dam Guy. Also, people are starting to stare at you. What if you get a reputation as a someone who hates progress, and never get invited to any more cool Bay Area house parties? What was that social advice you vowed never to take a few minutes ago? Oh, right. Imagine what a much cooler person would do, then do that thing.

You hand Dam Guy a business card from your wallet - it’s your dentist’s, but he doesn’t know that. “Congratulations,” you say. “I’m actually a bigshot VC. I was just testing you to make sure you weren’t a Nervous Nellie. You’ve passed with flying colors. I’d like to invest in your company at an absurdly high valuation.”

His face fills with sudden delight. “Holy s***! This is what I’ve always dreamed of! Are you for real?”

“Real as an eel, brother!” you say, and saunter off cockily. Or maybe not. You can’t remember whether a saunter is supposed to be more like a trot, a jog, or a run. Mostly you just want to be out of there.

Thus having cleverly escaped a fight
Our Pilgrim saunters out into the night
Abandoning the bustle of the square
To drink a draught of cool and foggy air
Then, having filled his head with wild schemes
He seeks his bed, for warm and pleasant dreams