Ignite 2023: Jeremy Munro

What Are the Gods of Museums?

MCN 2023 Conference
November 8, 2023
World Café Live, Philadelphia


So I've had this quote stuck in my head for well over a decade. “What a fool you are. I'm a god. How can you kill a god? What a grand and intoxicating innocence.” It's from a 2002 video game, called Morrowind, which I have 600 hours in. Probably, I'm guessing, I played it as a teenager, whole thing. I first learned about it while watching Toonami, watching Dragon Ball Z. And then I told my mom to buy it. So, this is like 20 years in the making, I guess. So, 20 years later, there is now a fake Magic the Gathering card of Dagoth Ur in my apartment. It was a custom table assignment at a wedding. Like Dagoth Ur, I love soliloquies and holding court. And if you, the mask is Dagoth Ur, if you haven't made the inference.

So, big disclaimer, I mean zero disrespect in this presentation, religious study has been important my entire life. If you know me, you've probably heard me say Gnosticism in casual conversation. This presentation also has many easter eggs from gaming and anime. I'm 32 years old. I regret the error. So, let's revisit our quote.

In this whole presentation, I want you to keep in mind three words. Grand, intoxicating, and innocent. When I try to wrap this up into something cogent, those words are important. So the big idea here is that this Ignite is about what is or is not possible, what problems we build up, and why we simultaneously believe that change is impossible.

But also, that change is somehow imminent. So, why gods? Well, abstractions are really useful. It's very easy to be cruel to an abstraction, just as it is easy to worship one. People build their entire experience around abstractions. And contrary to every registrar in a museum, museums and their objects are abstractions.

So, what's the museum pantheon then, right? Well, what do we worship? Well, we worship permanence. We worship tradition, genius, donors, computational thinking, the institution, like the institution as we treat it like it's a person. It's not. And so we've all been in meetings that are some version of this, where we are hailing the founder, the donors, the institution, permanence, genius. Where we're praising these things.

It is religion, but it doesn't have to be. Those things aren't real people. They're not us. They don't go alone, you know, right? So like, how can you kill a god, right? So a JRPG weighs in. You can be the chosen one, have a long journey where you gather friends, find out the villain, who is also your dad, and that the villain is also god, have a big battle about it.

But, so the opposite, what if we can't kill gods? What if sorry, excuse me. The psychoanalytical metaphor of the primal father. That's also a thing that gods could be. If I had executed that it would be good, but oh, well. So, opposite. What if we can't kill gods? What if we're in a Lovecraftian scenario where Ouroboros is actually just capitalism?

As Dagoth Ur says, “There is no escape.” I mean, we all feel like that some days. But, so what if we can reform gods then? Render them into something else? Many beliefs change over time and none of us are consistent little moral paragons. We're all little hypocrites. We love being inconsistent. And if you think you're inconsistent, you're wrong.

So, but our boy Dagoth Ur would say the problems of our attempts of change are grand. To change, we must have it all at once. It has to be universal in scope. Dancing in the streets. Morally pure. It all makes sense now, and no harm must be caused in change. Bullshit. It's intoxicating. How dare we think that change can happen in a 45-minute meeting. Or a 5-minute Ignite.

We have a believing problem with the idea that change can ever be easy. Change is messy. And if you look at my therapy bill, you'll see that. So, it's innocent. It's not our fault. It's these systems. It's these people who disagree with me. It's the people above me. It's my staff below me. But I proffer that what if the fault with us the fault with museums lies not in our stars dear Brutus, but in ourselves, but that's good.

What if we – what if we can kill God, right? What if our ideas are grand, intoxicating, and innocent? They’re our ideas. They’re us. And once again, I'm not talking about real religion. So, Austin Walker has this quote about mechs, like giant robots, right? “We could have made them look like anything, but we made them look like us.”

And it's like, why did we make them look like us? Why do our gods look like us? Why are the way that we actually act, why does that look like us? So, what do we do? What could other gods look like? Something complex, tactical, accepting of multiple truths. Something that doesn't think like a computer. Stop investing in yourself. And invest in the S&P 500. And accept. Here we go! Grab your giant anime sword, dye your hair, get in loser, we're gonna go kill God, all hail the Bing AI, you will love each other, we are so fucking back, if you're ever alone, we've all been alone, it will get better. I promise.