Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bounties of Liberty: A Rant by Rashad the Cackler

Rashad, also known as the Cackler, is an old homeless man who has wandered North America for decades and is notorious for his stream of diatribes on a wide range of subjects. He appears in my novel God Decays. This is the second in a series of his collected works of dark prose poetry, which his acolytes across the continent record for posterity.
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I was sleeping on an airport bench and was rudely awoken by a wall-mounted television screen playing a CNN interview with an American politician. I had to scramble to avoid being infected by the politico’s anticommunication and hit my head as I rolled off the bench. What a cruel joke the mob plays on itself by electing cynics to office and then standing by to degrade itself as it watches the farce play out on the news! As if anyone with much more power than you is worth listening to even for a moment; as if he’d level with you, telling you what you need or deserve to know, instead of taking advantage of your weakness. The pundits and journalists feed off politicians like vampires: they’re content to betray their journalistic principles as long as they can be physically near the powers and principalities, to imbibe their inhuman energies, the officeholder’s sociopathy converting into the reporter’s pretense of savviness. It’s a game for the courtiers to play with the crowd that needs to forget its child emperor is running around with no clothes on. Are you one of the ignorant sheeple, fast asleep in your collective psychosis? If you are, you’ll flock to your TV or your Facebook page for the political news, to hear the latest empty sound bite from one of the monsters in charge. If instead you’re a savvy member of the corporate media, who has the stomach for a degree of cynicism that can only fall short of the politician’s, you’ll fawn over the monsters to earn your paycheck, but you’ll pride yourself on being different from the mob. You know better than the gullible viewers; you’re privy to the dreadful secret of democracy. You’ll send out obnoxious signals to the viewers that even though you’re in league with the inhuman demagogues, providing the platform for them to degrade the public discourse with their doubletalk, sophistry, pandering, platitudes, fake statistics, and spins, you’re halfway as cynical as the leaders and so naturally you’re not personally buying any part of what they’re saying. You see through it all and can pick it apart with your insider analysis. You keep it real to enlighten the viewer, so you can face yourself in the mirror and pretend that you’re performing a service for the good of democracy, that a functioning free society is worth having, in which case the voters must be kept informed. So you inform them as much as your limited cynicism will allow. You peel back the curtain only part of the way, because if you could see the whole truth you’d be as crooked as the elected officials. You’d be a player like them, a predator competing for power with your share of dark energy and attracting know-nothing followers in the petty betrayals that pass for honourable conflicts between the emasculated, civilized leaders of a democracy. Instead, you’re a functionary, a useful idiot whose outsized ego the leaders know how to stroke so that you sell the viewers out in spite of yourself as you bend to your masters’ will, lobbing them softball questions instead of shutting down the matrix. Where do politicians go to learn how to speak like a politician? Is there a secret school somewhere hidden from the rest of the world, like Hogwarts? Where do the ambitious snakes learn how to conceal the depth of their misanthropy? What textbook instructs them how to pretend to uphold the ideals of America’s noble lies, to seem like selfless statesmen who respect their constituents? And how toxic and soulless must our leaders nevertheless be for their contempt to spill out in spite of all those self-defenses! What discipline they must have to endure the fraud of making public statements to millions of people, each of whom they despise, to flatter the masses even as the vacuity or dishonesty of their rhetoric reveals that they are, of course, just traitors. There’s no such secret Machiavellian Institute. The predators are born among us. They’re mainly the popular alpha male bullies in high school, the ones who get all the girls and whose rich parents who gift them all the toys, the elites driven to join the impotent student council not by anything as insipid as love for the school, but by their contempt for the majority that never shows any interest in leadership. Their extracurricular activities are so many bogus displays of a well-rounded character, so many disguises for the little psychopaths as they begin to take their first steps across the backs of their inferiors. They fudge their résumé, filling it with bureaucratic business-speak that sounds like it was written by a robot not programmed for human warm-heartedness. And they use their good looks and psycho charisma to fail upward until they’re in position to test the strength of their resentment in an election for high office. If they can prove they secretly hate the other citizens more than their rival parasites can, they’re awarded with the power of that office. And so their journey to the dark side is complete. And all the while the voters cling to the lies spewed by these charlatans—not because they have any interest in policies and not even because they respect their elected representative. No, the political theater provides the masses only infotainment and an excuse to feel like they, too, are discharging their obligations as free citizens. They’re riveted by the fake political scandals that the corporate media thrives on, because superficial political conflict can play out like a slow-motion disaster movie or a wrestling match, which the consumers are trained to favour. But these free citizens are engaged and informed all year round, because they’ve decided to shoot themselves in the foot whenever they listen to what the politicians and corporate media tell them, instead of running for the exits at the first sign of their disinformation. For anyone of good will to voluntarily listen to a single sentence spoken in public by a politician is to commit a crime against humanity. It’s not a question of thinking critically about your sources of information. Merely being there at the receiving end of the politico’s inhumanity is bad enough; merely participating in the charade is dehumanizing. Nothing of value is ever learned from hearing a single word spoken by a politician in the post-television era, since none of that creature’s words is even remembered or is worth remembering. That’s because the inhuman leaders never say anything! Their crafty pseudo-statements cancel each other out like matter and antimatter, leaving only the vague impression that a VIP has just been there on the screen but has since vanished as soon as the viewer becomes bored and changes the channel. What lingers isn’t useful info or a political promise offered in good faith, but the pretense that the democratic society is peaceful and high-minded. See how the leaders are no blood-thirsty tyrants but are suit-wearing, well-spoken men and women, trustworthy professionals who have the public’s best interest at heart! After all, they subject themselves to interrogations by a ferocious press, don’t they? And they don’t storm out of the room or have the interviewer arrested when pressed on some unpleasant subject. No, they merely tame the interviewers, stroking their egos by giving them access to the dark powers that be in the first place; they exploit the fact that American journalism is a business owned by multinationals that profit not from subversive investigations but from infotainment; and they merely ignore any wayward question that slips through the cracks, running out the clock until the next block of ads, with their trusty talking points. Thus together, the politicos, courtiers, and neopeasants preserve the illusion of a functioning, inoffensive democracy. This is the cost of advancing from an old-fashioned tyranny to a free society. We’re free from oppression so we can be ourselves, even as we’ve been degraded so none of us deserves to live; we’re free to speak our mind, even as we have no idea what ought to be said; we’re free to go wherever we want, even as the fraud of our civilization has rendered all places absurd. Wake me when it’s time to vote, won’t you? So I can smear feces all over the ballot.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wisdom, Horror, and the Folly of Secular Humanism

In a 2010 conversation about science and society, Stephen Colbert asked Neil deGrasse Tyson if knowledge is always good, if it’s always better to know or if we might sometimes be better off left in ignorance. Colbert brought up the classic case of Oedipus, who clawed his eyes out when faced with the ghastly truth that he had accidentally killed his father and married his mother. In effect, Tyson defended secular humanism, answering that it’s always better to know, because knowledge is empowering and allows us to improve our circumstances. He pointed out that at perhaps every stage of technological development, naysayers insisted we should be content with what we have and should stop exploring the unknown, and yet applying the next great discovery revolutionized society and made sweeping improvements that we now take for granted, such as electricity, computers, and medical treatments.

“Is knowledge always a good thing?” Colbert asked him (at around the ten minute mark of the video).

“I have to say yes,” said Tyson, “because it empowers you to react and possibly even to do something about it...”

Later in the discussion, Colbert asked Tyson about the dangers of certain technologies, such as nuclear weapons, and Tyson replied that politicians and society at large are responsible for how we apply scientific knowledge. We can’t hold scientists alone responsible for the wisdom we may lack collectively, if we choose to destroy ourselves with the power that science provides us.

Corruption by Technoscientific Supremacy

What Tyson says there about technological progress and the difference between empirical knowledge and wisdom is indisputable. But neither Colbert nor Tyson considered in their exchange that scientific objectivity and technological progress might themselves negatively impact our capacity for wisdom. The optimistic presumption is that our personalities and values will progress along with our technology, so that at some point we’ll find ourselves in something like the heroic future of Star Trek. But whereas a secular humanist like Tyson will lambaste anti-intellectuals for their religious fantasies that hold back scientific and technological advances, he’ll depart from the realism that’s needed to control nature in those ways, when he presupposes that there should be no limit on our empirical knowledge or power. In principle, if we weren’t easily corruptible primates, there might be no drawback to learning all we can about how natural processes work. But because our kind is infamous for letting even fifteen minutes of fame go to our head and for the flat-out psychopathy that coincides with our immense concentrations of power, as in boardrooms, palaces, and governments across the world, Tyson’s nonchalance should give us pause.

When Tyson blames the dangers of weapons of mass destruction on politicians and society as a whole, for misusing the power of scientific theories, he’s assuming that science and technology are socially neutral, that they can be used for good or for ill depending only on the accidental identity of their users. If you hand nuclear weapons to religious terrorists, they’ll swiftly destroy the planet, but if you keep them safe in the arsenals of Western neoliberals, those weapons will secure a global détente based on rational fear of mutually assured destruction. Indeed, there are cultural differences that affect how technologies are used and which devices are invented in the first place. But the presumption that our knowledge and our tools are neutral, that they don’t even shape the artificial environments to which we must adapt ourselves is a vacuous meme. The point shouldn’t be the postmodern one that knowledge is itself a tool or a social construct that has only subjective merits. Instead, the point is that an extreme concentration of knowledge and of technological applications amounts to an amassing of power which inevitably distorts the informed culture and corrupts those who consider themselves modern and advanced.

For example, the world-famous arrogance and anti-intellectualism of at least half of all Americans might seem paradoxical at first glance. After all, the United States is a world-leader in science and technology, and that depth of understanding might have humbled Americans with an appreciation of the fragility of life in a universe the sublime magnificence of which is matched only by its mindless neutrality towards each of us. Instead of being sobered by the implications of their country’s scientific mastery, however, Americans are notoriously xenophobic and jingoistic. The reason, of course, is that American science has made the United States relatively wealthy as a whole, which has allowed Americans to build a superpowerful military force that preserves American economic privileges by having meddled in the affairs of most other countries since the end of WWII. Militarism thus seeped into American culture to such an extent that the virtual religion of American football is made to feel sacred by the presence of the American military in patriotic ceremonies at football games. And far from relishing its understanding of nature, at least half of the American population prefers fundamentalist religion and a cheap conspiratorial worldview to suit the whims of its beloved right-wing demagogues. Again, this American global leadership, which could not have been established without American scientific dominance and technological innovations, had the unintended effect of making most Americans incurious and self-obsessed. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

World’s Religious Leaders Pray for President Trump’s Comeuppance, to Restore God's Good Name

Dateline: CALCUTTA—Religious leaders all over the world are praying for Donald Trump’s comeuppance.

These leaders believe that President Trump’s flaunting of his psychopathic narcissism is lamentable not just because his mental condition threatens the neoliberal world order with a humiliating downfall, but because Mr. Trump has “yet to feel the wrath of God’s moral order,” as Bishop Sean O’Malley said in an interview with Jesus Freak Magazine.

Bishop O’Malley was himself demoted from his position as Archbishop of Boston, after he was caught molesting young teenagers in his diocese.

“I sinned and received my comeuppance,” said the bishop. “I felt a foretaste of God’s wrath when the people of Boston discovered my shameful secret. I lost my job as archbishop and must now learn to be content with being just a bishop. The job title sounds much cooler with an ‘arch’ in front of it.

“But the point is that President Trump hasn’t yet suffered at all for his wickedness. On the contrary, for decades he’s been rewarded with women, wealth, fame, and political power, all of which makes God look bad and maybe even nonexistent.

“We pray that Donald Trump has the capacity to suffer and that God won’t allow him to pass away without first restoring the good name of Creation by punishing the dickens out of that troll.”

The fear not just in Bishop O’Malley’s diocese but in churches and temples all across the world is that President Trump is mocking God by getting away with his flagrant assaults against good taste.

“A young bully isn’t supposed to keep bullying and acting like a spoiled child throughout his whole life, until he’s over seventy and still going strong as a hideous stain on the honour of humankind,” said Swami Rudra Bhandari. “Somewhere along the line the world is supposed to punish him until he’s forced to correct his behaviour. The world is always watching and teaching us to free ourselves from the prison of ignorance.

“But President Trump’s continued success represents a miracle of evil. It’s as if there were no moral order and all spirituality were a fraud. Spiritual beings across the land cannot let this affront to our dignity stand. We don’t wish to keep living if the gods permit Trump to make a mockery of enlightenment. So we pray for Trump to learn the error of his ways, to see his true form in the mirror of purified consciousness. We pray for his comeuppance.”

Zen master Genzo Hayashi struggled to maintain his composure after learning of President Trump’s inhuman exploits, from the daily news.

“I was taken aback,” he said. “Such stunning ignorance usually destroys itself in a frenzy of foolishness. For him to revel in his psychological deformity and yet to fail upwards, reaching such spectacular heights of wealth and power—for that dreadful creature to become a billionaire and president of the American empire—is a stunning revelation.

“Either the world’s religions are missing a big piece of the puzzle or Donald Trump is facing comeuppance of an order of magnitude the world has never seen. We pray that the karmic forces have only been storing up their vengeance against Trump’s monstrosity, and that when he’s faced with the moral consequences of his disgraceful actions, and suffers greatly, he won’t take the whole planet down with him.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jimmy Fallon Slobbers over Guests while Serial Killer Stabs his Audience to Death

Dateline: NEW YORK CITY—Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, played softball with his guests while a serial killer crept through the studio, killing the members of the live audience one by one as they applauded the antics of the family-friendly host and comedian.

Grinning ear to ear, Mr. Fallon greeted his first guest, actress Skinny Diva, by licking her feet as she walked to her chair. Living up to his reputation for being a toady, he then squatted atop his desk, listening intently as she sadly related that she was feeling under the weather.

“But when you sneeze,” Mr. Fallon replied, “I’ll bet the snot that flies out of your nose is just stupendous! It must be the slimiest, greenest mucus on the eastern seaboard. Can we get a close-up of her nostrils? Sneeze once for us, Skinny!”

Mr. Fallon giggled as she obliged, spraying his face with thick, chunky phlegm. Fallon shuddered with pleasure and said, “I love your mucus.”

He then handed her a kid’s baseball glove and lobbed a softball into her lap.

“Even when she doesn’t catch the ball,” he said to the audience, “she’s a national treasure. Did you see how the ball just bounced off her thigh and came to rest in her lap? Just wonderful! That’s the best coming to rest of a softball I’ve ever seen. And I say that having played softball with each and every one of my guests. Give her another hand, ladies and gentlemen! I don’t think she feels special enough.”

Hidden cameras later revealed that while the pair gently tossed the softball back and forth, a notorious serial killer, dressed in black, stalked the audience members as he crawled between the rows of seated young men and women while they were transfixed by Mr. Fallon’s comedy stylings.

One by one, the victims’ heads slumped forward as the killer hacked and slashed the audience members to death, their screams lost in the raucous applause and laughter filling the studio.

The second guest, actress Cutesy Starlet, presented Fallon with a small, plain rock.

“My God,” he said as he examined the rock, “I love this, I absolutely love it. And I love your nail polish and the skin crease in your armpit and the shadow your body casts on the chair. This rock, though, is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, because it’s what you brought to my show.”

“I found it in my backyard,” she replied. “And that’s all I want to say tonight.”

Mr. Fallon beamed with glee as he held the rock to his chest. “This is the greatest day of my life,” he said. “I’m so happy right now. I’ve never been this happy before,” he assured his audience, “unless you count a moment ago or a few moments before that moment.

“Isn’t she the greatest human being alive?” he asked the audience, many of whom were by that point bloody corpses. “She’s actually giving me this common rock. Can you believe what a hero she is?”

His grin briefly faltered when he apparently thought he might be alienating his audience, but he reassured them by saying, “But isn’t she also perfectly normal and just like all you viewers at home? Isn’t she just average and unthreatening and not at all one of the richest one percent like me? Give her another round of applause!”

“I didn’t say I’m giving you the rock,” she pointed out. “I just brought it for everyone to look at.”

Mr. Fallon broke out the softball to liven up the five minutes during which he and his guest stared joyfully at the rock on his desk.

Meanwhile, the killer slew the remaining fans in the audience before escaping through a back door.

At a press conference held the next day, Jimmy Fallon invited the killer to be a guest on his show.

“From what I saw of your handiwork from the hidden camera footage,” he said in an open statement to the killer, “I can tell you’re highly skilled with a blade. I love the way you sawed off those limbs. I’d just beg you to lay your knife on my desk so I could drool over it. I’m already peeing a little from anticipation.” 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Documentary examines Movie Star’s Reluctance to Play God

Dateline: CANNES—A behind-the-scenes documentary about the life of world-renowned actor Johnny Hazitall has perplexed viewers, as experts in the film scramble to explain how anyone worshipped by hundreds of millions of fans could be so ungrateful as to avoid the pitfalls of celebrity.

On the silver screen Mr. Hazitall has appeared in dramas as well as comedic and action roles, and is mobbed by adoring fans wherever he goes.

One scene of the critical documentary, entitled “Poor Mr. Hazitall,” now screening at the Cannes Film Festival, shows the actor in disguise in a New York subway station. When he was recognized by an eagle-eyed fan who alerted the other bystanders to his presence like a deranged informant from The Body Snatchers, pointing and mouth agape, a mob gathered around the actor.

Women screamed and wept with joy. Many women and some men peeled off their pants and underwear and bent over backward, forming row upon row, often going as far as to miss their subway train as they begged for Johnny to penetrate them on the spot.   

Men in the subway tunnel tussled to determine who could best serve the famous actor as his beta male, shoving and berating each other to attract Mr. Hazitall’s attention. They emptied their wallets and hurled money at him, shouting, “Take the rest of my money! You deserve it more than I do.”

When Johnny accidentally looked at one young man in the eyes, the fan promptly threw himself in front of an oncoming subway train, dying instantly and presumably in ecstasy.

An elderly woman got hold of a goat despite the rarity of farm animals in downtown New York. She screeched in tongues, cut the animal’s throat, covered her face and arms with its blood, and begged for Mr. Hazitall to forgive her sins.

Throughout these savage displays of idol worship, Johnny Hazitall appeared bored. Not even a smirk of narcissistic glee cracked his face as he wended his way through the crowd. Each of the fans he touched as he made his escape shuddered like a Pentecostal Christian touched by a pompous televangelist. “We’ll die for you, Johnny!” they shouted. “Tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”

In an interview for the documentary, Johnny Hazitall admitted to have been merely annoyed by that mob.

Half of the film is devoted to the attempts of sociologists, pop culture critics, and even theologians to make sense of Mr. Hazitall’s strange nonchalance.

“Johnny is a unique case in the annals of stardom, as far as I can tell,” said one expert. “The traditional route is for celebrities—and really for anyone with way too much wealth and power—to inevitably betray the public trust. When you’re worshipped as a god, naturally you’re supposed to let everyone down because there are no real gods and you’re just a dumb mortal, after all. So you’re supposed to let the power go to your head and start acting like a jackass. Your corruption then provides an excuse for the crowd to crucify you as a pretender to the crown.

“As James Frazer explains in The Golden Bough, that’s the primary religious pattern. We worship only to tear down our idols when they disappoint us. That’s what the ancients did with their kings, and it’s what we’re supposed to do with our gurus, dictators, banksters, and all our celebrities. That’s the point of The National Inquirer and of the celebrity gossip shows and websites.  

“It’s in our social contract, if anyone even bothered to read it. Millions of people prop up a primate who’s like a bug fast approaching the cosmic windshield as far as the universe is concerned. But the fans worship the celebrity, treating him like a god while secretly resenting him and yearning to tear him down, only to renew the cycle with the next fad.

“And the celebrity is supposed to play ball, not act all coy and self-pitying when worshiped, but to be a good little god and let everyone down with his petty scandals of drug abuse, anti-Semitic tirades, adultery, wife beating and the like. What else are the power elites’ narcissism and primitive social dominance instincts for but to remind us that our religious impulse is mentally retarded, that the world is absurd and life is a joke?”

When asked in the documentary film about his thoughts on fame, Mr. Hazitall said, “Fame is silly. I don’t know why anyone would think so little of themselves that they’d look up to anyone, especially me. I’m an actor. I lie for a living. I’m a complete phony, like all actors. The fans seem to feed off of lies.”

The interviewer then reminded Mr. Hazitall that he does, after all, live the good life, that he’s a multimillionaire with numerous mansions, a collection of sports cars, and a harem of models at his disposal. He wears the best clothes and takes a dozen vacations a year at exotic resorts.

“If it’s a lie that you deserve to be worshiped,” said the interviewer, “it’s a pretty convincing one. You live much more like a god than most people. So can you really blame your fans for idolizing you? You’re one of the few apparent gods around, what with a real one nowhere to be found.”

“Like almost everyone who’s ever lived, if I walked down the street, no one would care. If I died suddenly on the sidewalk, most people would pass on by, because I mean nothing to them. But for you it’s the exact opposite: hundreds of millions of people would gladly kill everyone else just to be near you, for you to acknowledge that they exist.

“In light of that, shouldn’t you dig deep and find the courage to dumbfound your fans with signs of your vanity and derangement from being always at the center of attention? Don’t you owe them an excuse to dispose of you so they can commence the hunt for the next big distraction?”

“Yes, life is easier for me in all the material ways,” answered Mr. Hazitall. “I appreciate my fans for enjoying my movies. But I lie only to earn a living. That doesn’t mean I have to turn my whole life into some giant fiction.”

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Does Everyone Deserve Democracy?

Under President George W. Bush, the neoconservatives became infamous for attempting to export liberal democracy to the Muslim world. They used the 911 terrorist attacks as a pretext for invading Iraq, eliminating Saddam Hussein’s regime, and installing a pliable democracy. Instead of respecting liberal principles which had no historical basis in the Middle East, the elected government under Al-Maliki was beholden to certain religious tribes; Transparency International called Iraq’s government the most corrupt regime in the Middle East; and far from serving as a beacon of freedom as the neoconservatives had hoped, there’s been a global backlash against liberal democracy and a rise of neo-fascists in Europe and the United States.

The Complementarity of Culture and Government

Those developments raise some interesting questions. Is democracy for everyone or do cultural differences provide for a better or a worse fit for certain political systems? What sort of culture and thus what sort of people would be ideal for democracy? The modern basis for democracy derives from the Enlightenment philosophy of humanism. Humanists turned inward to determine how the human nature of Europeans could put an end to their Dark Age and recapture the greatness they found to have existed in ancient Greece and Rome. In particular, these humanists posited the power of reason to liberate a person from natural hardships as well as from repressive institutions such as a monarchy or the Catholic Church. Democracy as rule by the majority conformed to the scientific, egalitarian value of sharing knowledge and power. The assumption was that a ruling cabal of elites in which political power is concentrated is inevitably corrupted by its privileges, and so those elites end up exploiting the majority and holding back technological progress that would otherwise improve living standards for the majority. Thus, the modern plan was to posit human rights, educate the people, and equip them to fulfill their potential to rationally determine their future.

The new world of North America was settled largely by religious extremists who wanted to escape persecution in Europe, and by those searching for gold. Neither motive was a flawless expression of the Enlightenment ideals. Although religious extremists such as the Puritans wouldn’t succeed in forming a theocracy in the United States, the capitalist impulse displayed in the gold rush distorted the burgeoning American democracy early on by ensuring that the nation would protect free enterprise at all costs. The extreme Protestants would be able to worship as they wished, but only under liberal constraints, which meant their faith could never come to fruition in the New World until God chose to reveal himself fully and end all things. Until those End Times, the ruling ideology in the US would be secular, because the government would have to be neutral on religious matters, to guarantee the rights of those practicing opposing religions.

All by itself, though, capitalism, the amoral maximizing of profit has arguably rendered American democracy dysfunctional, and that’s because the economic system shapes the culture at large. So while the United States may once have been relatively well-suited to democratic rule, because of the prevailing Enlightenment values of egalitarianism and thus of maintaining a healthy middle class, cultures change—even if the political system won’t adjust. American egalitarianism eventually led to the abolition of slavery and to the recognition of women and minorities as equal in personhood to white males. Mind you, capitalism, too, likely had a hand in the American transition from having an economy based on a slave trade to having an industrialized one dependent on a workforce of wage slaves. The latter cost less overall than the former, so there were amoral reasons for ending the old kind of slavery. Still, the founding documents of the US and even the Greco-Roman architecture of its government buildings attest to the Enlightenment philosophy which has made most Americans proud to think of their country as democratic. For long stretches of the twentieth century, during the New Deal and American global hegemony after WWII, the American middle class prospered, although African-Americans and women were often still not treated as full persons.  

In any case, those decades of egalitarian prosperity were exceptions to the rule, as implied by Kurt Anderson’s book, Fantasyland: How America went Haywire: a 500-Year History and by Morris Berman’s Why America Failed. As Anderson says, “Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the last half-century, Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation, small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us.” The two sources of this dubious American ethos, which appears to have metastasized in the frauds of Trumpism, are religious extremism and capitalism. The impact of Christian ignorance, irrationality, and demonization is obvious, but capitalism too thrives on fantasy. As Berman says, America was from its infancy a nation of “hustlers.” Once a minimal level of civilization is achieved, in that the masses have secured the necessities for their survival, the capitalist must turn to selling items that are at best only wanted, including every conceivable variety of bogus merchandise that’s thinly-disguised trash. To profit under those unseemly conditions, the capitalist resorts to fantasy and fallacy in advertising her products, to drum up interest. This explains everything from the sale of snake-oil, to the cigarette industry which for years hid the nasty facts of nicotine addiction. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Eldritch Revelations: Our Imminent Doom

[In his published monograph, Eldritch Revelations, the psychiatrist of the infamous Jurgen Schulz wrote that only short fragments of Schulz’s philosophical journal survived his escape from Borsa Castle. But after the psychiatrist’s mysterious death shortly after publication, longer fragments were discovered in his office, locked in a drawer. Here is another of those longer fragments, which the publisher has had recently translated.]
* * *
Lord Irony presides over the decay of God’s undying corpse, the cosmos. Irony is the exquisite subversion of what we intend by what there really is. As such, irony is the aesthetic counterpart of the background microwave radiation that testifies everywhere to the so-called Big Bang, at which primordial point almighty God’s supernatural oneness transmogrified into the evolving manifold of nature to end his mad king’s insanity. There will always be irony as long as the will to live can mean nothing to all that’s beyond that will, to the lifeless particles and forces or to the universe at large. Irony therefore dictates that the more ultimate truth we uncover, the greater our embarrassment, and the first embarrassment is that no elaborate cogitations and experiments are needed for us to learn the existential truth, because that truth hides in plain sight. We turn this way and that, labouring to gain perspective on what was plainly before us all along.

For example, the life plan of our species isn’t whispered to saints by angels, nor is it encoded in any ancient religious text. Instead, our destiny is foretold in the cycle through which each average individual passes, from the magic of childhood innocence, to the arrogance of the adult busybody, to the return to the child’s helplessness in old age senility. For tens of thousands of years, in the Paleolithic Era, humans had no conception of the world’s inhumanity, since in their comparative powerlessness and overflowing imagination they were animists who projected spirits and values onto everything around them. The hunters and gatherers were preyed on by beasts and had no historical memory to guide them, there’s being the longest Dark Age. Every particular child is likewise dwarfed by adults who have all the power, and is filled with fear and wonder at the unknown, which burdens she sublimates with playful personifications. As the child grows and acquires a personal identity in the form of memories which always include experiences of disappointment, so too a tribe, a civilization, or our whole species accumulates a sense of its collective identity, and the group’s members struggle to preserve their self-esteem in part by justifying their pride in the group to which they belong. Thus, adults work long hours and this productivity is diverting if not progressive, allowing most individuals to ride out their mature period of having maximum autonomy, without any thought of suicide despite their having landed since birth in a world of natural horrors. In the same way, populations distinguish themselves with their cultural achievements, and our civilizational and global efforts expanded human knowledge, especially after each individual’s loss of childhood innocence was inevitably mirrored by the irreversible gain of objectivity in the Scientific Revolution, which led to the Industrial Revolution and to the rise of the neoliberal monoculture.  

By losing command over her critical faculties, however, the elderly individual regains the child’s blissful ignorance and so can circumvent the terror of her imminent death with childish nonchalance. The child can’t fathom the existential importance of the billions of years prior to her birth, during which time she was nothing, just as the average elderly person, whose mental acuity isn’t what it once was, is spared the humiliation of being able to ponder the billions of years in the future during which her every particle will be scattered to the four corners of the earth. Granted, this pattern was obscured because prior to medical and social advances, many adults died prematurely. Now, though, retirement homes overflow with the elderly just as kindergartens are noisy with children; both are segregated from the world of ego-driven, middle-aged adults, because the irrationality of children and of the old-aged makes a mockery of the adult’s self-mastery.

As to the terminal stage of our species, technological progress is showing not that we’re entering an age of even more daring expansion, as in the infancy of a science-fictional galactic empire, but that we’ve already lapsed into the indignities of our collective decrepitude. Technological power addicts and infantilizes the mob, bent as it is on endless, self-destructive consumption and for which the inscrutable inner workings of machines are perfectly magical. Thus, the so-called Age of Reason re-establishes Stone Age animism—except that our collective folly isn’t as inevitable as a child’s, since the child can’t know any better; we, rather, have millennia of historical memories at our disposal. Such collective experience only establishes the irony that while we late modernists have the potential to endure with wisdom, our fate has been sealed by mindless hyperdimensional cycles and as our mutual senility sets in and we’re poised to self-destruct after a flurry of high-tech disgraces that consume our higher self and calling even as we seek to consume the planet, we face the demise of our kind.

The child’s boundless imagination, which might have spoiled her by imprisoning her in a dream world, instead carries the seed that devastates her innocence by providing the hypotheses she tests with her experience, thus enabling her to control her life, and so the power of her emerging ego corrupts and disillusions her as she ages. The adult’s Faustian pride which seeks everlasting life is in turn undermined by the very natural world which she’d tamed with her technoscientific mastery, and so she succumbs to old age and expires. In the same way, irony is collectively maximized as the innocence of animistic hunter gatherers set the stage for our shared arrogance and corruption as we became apex predators and dominated the planet in the Anthropocene Age, and as our so-called modern diversions signify only our chronological advancement unto our imminent extinction, not any spiritual or ethical progress. At the zenith of our power, when we seem most like gods, with an internet brimming with knowledge and with myriad tools at our disposal, that’s when Lord Irony must strike us down. Thus, the very attributes which seem to ennoble us—our autonomy, knowledge, and power—are instead the instruments of our destruction.

We know we’ve entered our terminal phase when the alleged adults in charge are asleep at the switch, when our hard-won understanding of how the world works is squandered by governments and when our machines run amok and destroy us with a thousand unintended consequences. Just as the individual adult must succumb to old age and die, our species, like all others, must be extinguished. We clever hominids have a uniquely rich inner life, and so the human individual can serve as a microcosm. Our populations as wholes recapitulate the stages of the average individual’s development, because the herds emerge in cultural forms which extend the mind of each individual who identifies with the group to maintain her self-esteem. Thus, the very traits that define us are currently in the process of ending our reign—especially our creativity, arrogance, and narrow-minded reason. Our technological accretions are the cancer cells that can unseat us many times over. How else could a uniquely mighty and ambitious species, that seems to have conquered the planet and beaten Mother Nature into submission, join all the other species in death except by killing itself with maximal irony?