[sepoy notes: A tip from a CM reader led me to Stargates in Iraq. Feeling inadequate to the task, I called a few favors and farangi is here to tell us the story.]
How I Learned to Stop Worrying–about Humanity, Ganesh, Bill Moyers, Foreign Policy, and The Strange Life of Robert Anton Wilson–and Love the Apocalypse.
Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of The Future.
The men who hold high places/Must be the ones to start/To mould a new reality/Closer to the heart.
Rush, Closer to the Heart.
I. You’re probably a blasphemer and almost certainly full of horse-shit.
The United States’ legal system operates on the adversarial principle. This means that the Court and jury do not root for any party to a lawsuit–not the prosecutor, not the defense, not any witness, nobody. They listen to all sides; everyone gets a chance to climb into the witness stand and make his case–point being that every party has an interest in covering his arse, and that makes him most likely to dish hard against other parties in the suit. As Don Corleone so wisely told: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Your enemies will tell you the truth, or at least tell the truth on you to somebody else.
Along with other formative experiences, training in the adversarial approach has ruined me for good scholarly behavior, especially with regard to paying obeisance to orthodoxy. I want all the information on a subject before deciding what I think of it. Worse yet, I trust my own generalized guerilla agnosticism, or at least the awareness of my own expansive capacities for self-delusion, denial and bias1, to help me sort it all out.
As a community college professor, nobody expects me to be “doing scholarship,” so I also have the luxury of not giving a damn about my reputation among the distinguished peer reviewers at The Big Boffo Prestigious University Journal of Fashionable Notions About Things That Interest Only The Five of Us Waiting for the Waitress to Bring Beer.
As well noted in these august pages, I am skeptical of skeptics, doubt doubt, and make little distinction between the New York Times and the now defunct, alas, Weekly World News. Note well that I would slap the NYT, not bolster the WWN: Jayson Blair could as easily have been writing about Bat-Boy; Blair’s writing, so beloved before its exposure as fraud, was no more “truthful,” than interviews with The Airborne Nocturnal Juvenus, but is fouler for its pretense to truth, and the Times is foulest for building a culture where Blair could flourish. The News would’ve fired the bastard within a week as a purple-prose hack.
Moreover, I have worked in Public Relations, and have seen from the inside what we all suspect rightly, and know in our hearts, as true. Our “media” consists of hired bullshit. Many journalists are lazy, venal poseurs with one eye on the camera and another glazed with erotic drunkenness caused by proximity to power. They’re too stupid to call a press release on its stank, too vain to admit they’re too misundereducated to understand art criticism, history, or economics, and they’re too cowed to look properly upon politicians and authorities, which is to say down.2
I also teach. Chomsky. To Freshmen. At a Community College. In the Midwest. One might suppose my students either wouldn’t get Chomsky, or his arguments, or they would, out of God-Fearing Hannity Heartland Conservatism, reject him as a “Conspiracy Theorist,”3 and thus feel entitled to ignore every damn thing he writes. They don’t.
As always, they surprise me with reminders of the essential common-sensical core of my people: one student, a weary CNC operator returning to participate in a 2+2 program with a local private liberal arts school so he can enter the management track at his shop, responded to the foreword of Manufacturing Consent with a glistening riposte:
“I’m forty-two years old. I know what a shit sandwich tastes like.”
But do we? One of Chomsky’s famous “five filters” is the reliance on official sources to exclusion of contradicting information from laymen, who are either witnesses, cranks, subject-matter vigilantes, a combination of two of the three, or all of them at once. As the media has evolved in the past twenty years from silly, decentralized and local to dangerous, hierarchical and global, the Official Sources filter has become the only source for many so-called “journalists.” In Bill Moyers’ masterful press-kabob Buying the War, Walter Pincus lays it out for us:
WALTER PINCUS:More and more, in the media, become, I think, common carriers of administration statements, and critics of the administration. And we’ve sort of given up being independent on our own. We used to do at the Post something called truth squading –President would make a speech. We used to do it with Ronald Reagan the first five or six months because he would make so many– factual errors, particularly in his press conference. And after– two or three weeks of it– the public at large, would say, “Why don’t you leave the man alone? He’s trying to be honest. He makes mistakes. So what?” and we stopped doing it.
BILL MOYERS: You stopped being the truth squad.
WALTER PINCUS: We stopped truth squading every sort of press conference, or truth squading. And we left it then — to the democrats. In other words, it’s up to the democrats to catch people, not us.
BILL MOYERS: So if the democrats challenged– a statement from the president, you could– quote both sides.
WALTER PINCUS: We then quote– both sides. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Now, that’s called objectivity by many standards isn’t it?
WALTER PINCUS: Well, that’s– objectivity if you think there are only two sides. and if you’re not interested in– the facts. And the facts are separate from, you know, what one side says about the other.
So let’s ask ourselves: do regimes lie? Do they lie about important things? Or, better, when don’t they? And here we have the fourth estate essentially abdicating its role as designated crap-spotter, to the crap-flingers, if they give it over to anyone at all. And we have a public conditioned to look to the press for “objective” coverage of the events about which a citizenry ought to be well informed. And we have an astonishingly powerful meme that prevents many citizens from being suspicious of any official malfeasance, or from saying anything about it if they are sharp enough to suspect something amiss. Those wackjobs who remain are either my hero Thomas Pynchon or are so marginalized that they give up trying to parse the noise completely, and assume that everything “official” is bogus. But that leaves a void. And we know what nature abhors.
The wars of the 20th century were over economics. For now, those disputes are dormant. The “market” has taken the role of god, semantically; while that parallel stands, we shall all worship at one Church. But the wars of the 21st are and will be about the nature of reality and the autonomy of the human soul.
We stand at a critical juncture where the people best suited to guide our affairs are without any information about what our affairs actually are, while they are at the same time quite sure they hold a God-like, omniscient point-of-view, the truth of which is proven by their comfortable reward for parroting dogmas to the people who developed the dogmas in the first place. Blasphemers, all of us, and for the same reasons we mock God with our sureness, we are also full of malarkey. We claim all and have nothing.
The people mentioned above who are paying attention are often in no position to influence affairs, for reasons of economics, education or access to power’s levers; if they are influential, they usually don’t remain so for long, once they’ve shown evidence of having awakened. Dying for want of a story, they’re developing a narrative of their own. The new story does not yet challenge structures of power, but then new narratives tend to rise quickly, and subsume their predecessors in great, sudden waves. Jacobins, Christians, Communists, oh my!
The Bush regime’s given reasons for its actions are so utterly insipid that we are, as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart put it so aptly, forced to assume they are functionally retarded as a group, or they are so evil they would rather appear stupid than explain themselves in public. The secrecy and skullduggery of these men, whose power grows more ossified and absolute by the hour, is unprecedented. Like cats, they act and cover. Information is their enemy, sunlight is a poison, and the public is a herd to be managed. It is good, ultimately to suffer such decadent times; we can only suppose that something will follow–and it will perhaps be good–the collapse indicated by our rollicking politics, our rotten financial market, and the dishonest apprehensions that govern our lives. We should hearken, smiling, to the death cry of the American elite’s lazy habits of mind. I know I will.
In that spirit, this essay will examine the rotted husk of the prevailing Western anti-narrative, which has been rushed to hospice by George W. Bush, and his handlers. We shall survey the fundamentalism and group-think shackling the pampered self-indulgent generation which owns our discourse, which promised and failed to shed illusions and think for itself. We will touch upon transhumanism, black magick, Hindu gods, Moore’s Law, nano-tech, ancient myths, Iraqi antiquities, French literary theory, and American Foreign Policy. We shall discuss disparate, fantastic threads of thought that seem to be weaving themselves into something substantial, and I will try to frighten you with what that something substantial implies. Finally, I hope to make an argument advocating a new way of treating information that comports with what seems, to this humble correspondent, the changes coming upon us that may alter the way we view ourselves so fundamentally that the name of a new genus ought to be coined.4
Of course, feel free to return to our regularly scheduled programming:
Look! Something shiny! Did you hear Owen Wilson got wide and tried to off himself? Democrats do it too, and worse; I mean, what about Bill Clinton! I think that one guy’s gay. Nothing to see here. [my humps my humps my humps my lovely lady lumps]. Hillary will save us. Yes, but why waste your vote on someone who can’t win? Mearsheimer vs. Foxman: Fight of the Century. The Market! The Market! [photo of gender-ambiguous buttocks, smooth & firm]. The hockey-stick graph. What are you, paranoid? [I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free]. Threat Level: Pink. I don’t believe conspiracy theories. [blond girl, holding shopping bags, wearing blackout sunglasses; in debt to her eyeballs, helping the “economy”: I don’t really know what…did you call it…hayfever corpus is?] They’re colluding. [Liberal: said with a sneer]. Fight them there so we don’t fight them here. Osama. Saddam. Try Carl’s Jr.’s new Super-Breading–all the carbs, none of the nutrition! Ossada. Maddam. Ossaddam. Racists oppose illegal immigration! WMD. Liberation. Preemption. Homophobe. [this call will be monitored for your]. Tonight, on The O’Reilly Factor…———
- i.e., if you think you’re crazy, you’re probably pretty sane. it’s the folks who think they’re normal, or sane, you have to keep an eye on. [↩]
- Apologies to Mencken. [↩]
- his phrase is a hypnotic meme which should be translated as: “Move along, nothing to see here.” It also serves to cue fear in those of us with something to lose in this culture, warning that investigation into the contents of the subject argument will lead to ritual ostracism, loss of prestige, and professional “shunning.” Never mind most of the time, a cursory examination of the subject argument would disallow any fantastic claims; the intended and quite effective function of the hypnosis is to prevent such examination in the first place, which is surely a more more dangerous trend than suffering fools gladly, and benefits no one except assholes with something to hide. [↩]
- No Morlock jokes, please. [↩]