Image Source: Archillect.
Some readers may have noticed a shift in attitudes, mood and consciousness since the summer. Several people have commented to me that they feel as though this year was split down the middle. The first half was what you thought reality was, and the second half is what reality really is. The evidence is anecdotal, but I explain that common feeling in terms of piling technological change upon global change, until what we experience does a somersault and collapses over upon itself to become something else. It is as though we became addicted in the first fifteen years of the 21st century to eradicating the 20th century. And now, after all the hammer blows, we are finally succeeding.
The 2nd century BCE Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra blown up by ISIL in July or August 2015. Image Source: Wiki.
Not so fast - the 20th century dies hard. Every attempt to erase its history promises a return of its worst excesses. Holocaust denial, 9/11 denial, this denial, that denial. This summer, ISIS beheaded Palmyra's lead archaeologist and blew up temples in Palmyra's ruins. You can see lists of cultural heritage sites destroyed by ISIS here, here and here. These sites were the pride of 20th century archaeologists and represented the common history of humanity:
- Palmyra (Syria), established 2000 BCE
- Mar Elian Monastery (Syria), founded 5th century AD
- Apamea (Syria), established 300 BCE
- Dura-Europos (Syria), established 200 BCE
- Mari (Syria), established 2900 BCE
- Hatra (Iraq), established 3rd or 2nd century BCE
- Nineveh (Iraq), founded circa 6000 BCE
- Mosul Museums and Libraries, Churches and Monasteries, and Mosques (Iraq)
- Mosque of the Prophet Yunus / Jonah (Iraq)
- Shia Mosques near Kirkuk
- St. George's Monastery, Mosul (Iraq)
- Numerous Christian Churches and sites, mainly of the Chaldean Catholic denomination (Iraq and Syria)
- Hujja Shia Mosque, Diyala (Iraq)
- Nimrud (Iraq), founded 1250 BCE
- Khorsabad (Iraq), established 706 BCE
- Mar Behnam Monastery (Iraq), established 4th century AD
- Imam Dur Mausoleum, Shia shrine (Iraq)
Machinations in international affairs are an odd form of denial, too. However the dominoes fall, no Realpolitik truth about ISIS brings anyone closer to preparing for the hardcore reality ISIS is conceiving, the one in which, following bloodshed across the Levant, they blow up the Egyptian pyramids, assassinate the Pope, and destroy the Vatican in Rome. ISIS plans to take over India by 2020 in an effort to spark a world war. One commenter below a Times of India report did not believe a word of it. Why would ISIS invade India? "They are planning to wash clothes haha."
The new media men. Image Source: Business Insider.
The ISIS reality - in which beheadings are the norm and most of Syria flees the ISIS advance, while ISIS fighters cross the Sinai Peninsula, other ISIS groups close in on Jordan and Lebanon, and the Saudis build a giant anti-ISIS wall along their border with Iraq - brings 20th century lessons back to the table. The question is not where ISIS came from, who funded them, or who can destroy or control them. The question is: what is ISIS? The Islamic State is bigger than the great power politics out of which it grows. ISIS turns the post-apocalypse into a pre-apocalypse. Their colourful armageddon includes a baby cyclops Antichrist and a Jesus who will supposedly resurrect to help them fight Israel, although the story ignores bits of Islamic prophecy they do not like. So - they are not as doctrinaire as all that. ISIS fighters represent something larger than an internal Islamic Sunni revolution. The medium is the message: their mythological doomsday brand is a perfect commodity to go viral in the market of global communications. What is ISIS? The Islamic State's media men are anti-history pioneers, who explore how far they can go, now that history - at least in the virtual realm - is dead. The Islamic State fills the gaps between the state-centric real world and virtual anti-statism.
Technology and the Internet allow any history to be rewritten, erased or disbelieved, and in the resulting environment, anyone can do anything. There are no limits. Pro-ISIS Websites dismiss reports of ISIS atrocities as online fakes. Malleable history initiates a power game around the creation of reality and enables a resurgence of violence. Malleable history awakens the shadow self in human nature.
Image Source: Archillect.
In an environment of fluid data, Holocaust denial is rampant. The post-World War II order was founded on the intention to prevent another Holocaust from ever happening. To overturn that order, the Holocaust would have to be denied and Holocaust conditions revived. Make no mistake, deniers: you know and acknowledge that the Holocaust historically occurred because it remains your template for radical action. When the Nazis wrote the handbook, they began with the eradication of history. They won over German citizens on the back of radically revised history. They burned books and destroyed art; they erased whatever did not fit their picture of reality. They built a propaganda machine and held mass rituals to change popular opinion about accepted facts and traditions. They sculpted the German past to create their desired future. They created new facts out of 'historic' non-facts. The denial of history, replaced with fake Doppelgänger histories, provided a mental cushion for violence.
The Nazis' rise to power and the Holocaust also partly depended upon trust in human decency; no one believed that things could get as bad as they did. Even those who experienced the Holocaust first hand could barely process it as a historical fact. Survivors lamented: it happened, how did it happen, did it happen. Their cognitive dissonance confirmed that the rational human community is a rickety house built over acts of savagery. It is hard to believe authentic history when it records how terrible people can be.
Today, those conditions repeat. Millennial truthers and critics deny history, especially the history of the Holocaust. Erasing history is simpler than facing it. It is easier to deny the Holocaust, dismiss its importance, recapture it to suit certain opinions, and explain it away with conspiracy theories, than it is to live in the cold, post-Holocaust reality. Above the currents of mass psychology, this is done because on the Internet, it is possible.
In the post-2008 atmosphere, there is also disbelief. It is easier to repeat the delusion of pre-Holocaust scapegoating and indulge in anti-Semitic myths than it is to accept how catastrophic the Holocaust was. Then as now, myths blame Jewish bankers' domination of world governments; the worst Millennial conspiracy theories contend that Jewish bankers initiated the Holocaust to start building their 'New World Order' and 'One World Government' after 9/11. It is harder to acknowledge the facts, stripped of conspiratorial rumour, that the technological revolution transformed the productive capacity and financial behaviour of developed economies, sparking successive downturns during periods of adjustment. The Protocols myth about Jewish banking interests reflects fears of an evolving world economy and integrated global society, enabled not by said interests, but by a miraculous expansion in computing power.
The authentic, sordid history is not so easily explained and directly affects every individual now alive. At the start of the Holocaust, Jews climbed into trucks marked with the Red Cross, thinking they would be treated as refugees, and those trucks were genocidal gas vans. Today, if you were a refugee escaping a war zone, and you saw a truck with a Red Cross sign on it, would you not instinctively trust it? I would. But because of World War II events and the new Millennium's global communications, most people second-guess everything they see, and only trust what they want to believe. Trust in opinion, combined with lack of trust in authentic history, is now normal because our world is founded on propaganda and atrocities.
The new Millennium nurses a growing darkness in its heart alongside a willingness to bend the truth with new media in ways that would make Stalin blush. Malleable history is the real trend, not the 'discoveries' that the Holocaust or moon landing never happened, that 9/11 was an inside job, or that Hillary Clinton supposedly created ISIS. When I see historic facts denied to bolster 'real' truths, I see that the medium is the message. Technology enabled a gnostic hunger for 'real' truths as a channel for Millennial confusion, anger, blame, and irresponsibility, which resolve themselves in a manipulation of information until the querent finds his or her comfort zone.
A smaller symptom of that mentality is evident in professional services which remove inconvenient people from old personal photographs. From Mike Hicks at the University of Minnesota:
Despite the danger, people and powers will not step back from fabricating history or accusing their opponents of fabrication. In this liminal historical environment, the more you change the past to suit yourself, the more comfort and power you acquire, and the less afraid you are. Information wars are battles to define and control a future mainstream perspective. Truthers are vulnerable to radical reappraisals of 20th century history because they don't want to learn the 20th century's lesson that we must regard that century's horrors squarely, and not turn them into vehicles for identity construction in our changing times.www.digital-restoration.com provide the service of removing unwanted persons from photographs. Want to find a way to keep great pictures, without those people you would rather forget? Why not have us digitally remove those unwanted items from your photographs? This is how www.digital-restoration.com explains its services. Friends and family members can be removed from photographs to create the desired effect. ... Reviewing these manipulations, it is clear that there is a market for removing girlfriends, boyfriends, family members and others from personal photographs. Is this right or wrong? Does owning a photograph give the owner the right to manipulate it in any way? Removing a person from a picture is very self-deceptive. It is equivalent to lying to oneself about the past, and constructing fake pictures to "prove" a lie. When it comes to governments using this technique to shape public opinion or to increase their power, what comes to mind is corruption and the problem is more political than social. However, when a person is digitally removed from a family photo, as requested by another family member, the problem is a social one.
Hypnosis draws viewers into the ruins of Nazi Germany. Prologue from notorious director Lars von Trier's Zentropa aka Europa (1991). Video Source: Youtube.
To regard 20th century history squarely is to have an intimate connection with its horrors. No one wants to do that. The writer Jasun Horsley has likened social participation to "the grammar of living." An accurate history is part of that grammar. When opinion hijacks the human narrative to reshape reality in the name of 'real truth' agendas, that grammar breaks down to inflame cult mentalities. Hyper-rationalization of 'real truths' ends in delusion. The disconnection from reality (ironically to defend some purported 'truer history') paves the way for violence, and sparks a mass psychological chain reaction:
In a January 2015 piece entitled The Extinction of Reality, Horsley reviewed the Ridley Scott film The Counsellor (2013), about the Mexican drug trade. In this example, Horsley argued similarly that Scott portrayed our current reality as too terrible for many to bear. The film implied that the western love of recreational drugs is founded in gore, crime, horror and slavery. The film also depicted drug kingpins as ultra-rich, a source of anxiety for the new Millennium's disappearing middle classes. The film's dark capitalism stripped once-accepted values of meaning. The post-apocalypse was evident in The Counsellor, as it is everywhere in ads, music, cinema, news and other pop cultural media which keep us entertained.[French historian] René Girard has pointed out that, in liminal states—stateless states, nations stripped of sovereignty—mimetic violence rapidly escalates. There’s a conundrum here: imitation is necessary for socialization—the creation of a socialized self and the adopting of language—to occur. And where imitation and socialization starts to break down, liminality (lack of structure) increases and the collective and individual sense of identity begins to falter. At this point, mimesis kicks in with renewed fury, both boosted and distorted by the anxiety of social incoherence and identity loss. The society that is breaking down is at risk of accelerating that breakdown in a mad, mimetically violent dash to try and restore order (Nazi Germany again being a handy template for watching the process in action).Once institutions and group arrangements begin to break down, once the social cohesion begins to erode, people no longer know how to behave. In confusion, they look for charismatic leaders, “false ceremony masters,” to guide them. Distress and confusion (panic) combines with the attempt to imitate what others are doing to relieve the tension. This is commonly known as mass hysteria. Since the greatest danger of this kind of lynch mob situation is that the members will turn on each other, the essential thing becomes to find a common object on which to release all that pent-up fear and rage. Enter the scapegoat.
All the ruined and murdered people of today's accurate histories replay their dystopic terror on our televisions and computer screens. Therefore, and worst of all, the film cleverly offers a harsher truth. The liberating drug of choice is not cocaine, meth, heroin or some chemical synthetic. The drug is news infotainment, the ISIS beheading video, the Putin UN speech, or the 'real truths' we find on the Internet, all injected back into grimdark pop culture entertainment. We do not want to accept we are addicted to stories of the world's supreme cruelties, because if we are diverted or entertained by the horror, if we make up theories about it that make us into alt-history authorities, we are one step removed from it, and surely it cannot then consume us.
Horsley contended that Scott's fictionalized, but accurate, vision of the Mexican post-apocalypse was so awful that it was difficult for viewers to digest. Critics panned the film because they could not get their heads around it. Horsley also noticed in the critics' distance a curious, 'not me' syndrome:
Horsley measured the film's value in terms of its insistence on real events we want to glamorize, but also ignore. The drug culture, oddly associated with rebellion, pleasure, enlightenment and liberty, rests on carnage: people who 'disappeared' in Mexico's drug war numbered over 26,000 under Felipe Calderó's presidency between 2006 and 2012. Horsley noted that the city where the film is situated, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, is known as the "capital of murdered women." It is a place where nearly four hundred women have been kidnapped from the streets into prostitution over the past twenty years. They were enslaved, raped and murdered, their bodies abandoned in the desert.When Westray (Brad Pitt) warns the counselor not to imagine there’s anything these people (Mexican drug cartels) aren't capable of, it’s the emphasis on this fact ... that’s the real horror. ... [It is] something that the film plays upon: we want to believe the worst about human depravity. The idea of people acting without any moral compass or checks or bounds is weirdly attractive to us because it’s so horrifying. But also the reverse: it’s horrifying because it’s attractive. In a world where everything is permitted, the only possible defence is to tell ourselves that none of it is true, that nothing is. That’s ironic detachment. ...As a vision of evil The Counselor is completely persuasive. Its depiction of soullessness as eerily sumptuous, even sickly erotic, of moral incoherence as the driving force behind civilization, makes it almost Lovecraftian. With its relentless, seductive insistence on horror as the soul of the plot, it may be the first truly postmodern horror film. ...On the other hand, the film does offer a dim ray of hope ... a possible way through the unremitting darkness that follows “the extinction of all reality.” At the start of the film, the diamond dealer (Bruno Ganz) assures the counselor (Michael Fassbender) that “At our noblest we announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity our lives.” Jefe (Rubén Blades) tells the counselor the story of the poet A[ntonio] Machado, who only became a poet after his beloved died prematurely. “I’m not going to become a poet,” the counselor replies grimly. Jefe assures him it wouldn’t help him if he did, yet the point has been made. The reference to the despised, buried philosopher’s stone which reveals the true nature of all our plans indicates that there is a treasure to be found, once all hope and meaning — “all reality” — has been cruelly and irrevocably extinguished.The Counselor ... [is] about a soul-deep corruption that’s reflected by social, political realities, by historical facts. ... Ironic detachment is the way most sophisticated people keep from being overwhelmed by existential horror and moral revulsion as the facts of life unfold around them. Ironic detachment ... [allows] us to feel like we’re being exposed to life’s brutal, bleak realities (violence, corruption, drug addiction, disease, poverty, insanity, and moral collapse) without ever having to feel the brunt of them. This creates a seen-it-all superiority and cynicism that’s at the same time naive, because it magically locates all the horror outside of our own direct experience, on the other side of a movie, TV, or Ipod screen. The entertained, meanwhile, enjoy the luxurious detachment of the consumer lifestyle that’s been assembled for them, by and through and as a result of all that corruption being miraculously recycled as entertainment.
Still from The Counsellor (2013) in which the Counsellor, played by Michael Fassbender, walks through a rally for the disappeared. Image Source: Roger Ebert.
The Holocaust crossed lines - as did the World War II Japanese Manchurian concentration camp Unit 731, as did the Rwandan genocide, as does the Mexican drug trade, as does ISIS - and confirmed that any imaginable violence can and will happen. There are no limits. There is no place far away enough from the epicentre of depravity. It is that capacity for limitless hatred and violence, that dark night of the soul of humanity tied personally and immediately to each and every one of us, which is so frightening and inescapable.
The truthers are right about one thing: radical jihadism is intimately connected to the post-Holocaust, post-apocalyptic mentality of the west. But truthers misjudge how the two phenomena connect: all the horrors are related, built upon one another, through a transgressive human addiction that continues to grow and evolve. This is an anti-horror addiction to horror. That experience depends on a quasi-factual perspective that allows armchair citizens to view the post-apocalypse at an ironic distance through political infotainment or new media entertainment. Horror is mediated through the lenses of new media. Addiction to a one-degree separation from horror will not save us from horror.
U.S. Senate candidate sacrificed a goat and drank its blood. American politics 2015, guys. http://t.co/nhaXN4Esp3 pic.twitter.com/ZUZVHUZyMq— Boing Boing (@BoingBoing) October 6, 2015
There are no limits, post-apocalypse. But post-apocalpytic horror does not have to become the norm. There are alternatives. New media addicts need to sober up. Despite the moral and existential confusion, the Internet's shadow selves, the abuse of history - despite all the bones in the foundations - the picture is not one of complete nihilism. At one point, I recall talking to another blogger, and we could not get over how awful the new Millennium has been so far. I attribute this to a toxic combination of world conflicts, hatched from deepening globalization, combined with the surge of new media and technologies. Abuses of media and information build a passive, delusional comfort drawn from endless, low grade dystopia. We do not have to accept this status quo, just because the Internet drip-feed told us so. New media have bent collective perception, so that people are simultaneously desensitized and over-sensitized, and constantly seek an emotional comfort zone in selected information about reality.
Big data. The above information is outdated. 3.2 billion people are currently connected to the Internet. In global economics, the priority now is to connect the remaining 4 billion, regardless of the social or cultural consequences. Image Source: Ronald van Loon.
Go to rehab: reality does not have to boil down into one big Youtube ad. The world does not have to be a place where the Peeple startup makes good business sense. It does not have to be a place where your greatest fears become reality. Those who cross all boundaries operate inside the realm of fear and disinformation. 2016 does not have to become the new 1936.
Dear whoever gave Peeple five million dollars Mean Girls on dvd is like five dollars & would've already taught you that this is a bad idea.— Andrew Ferguson (@warandpeace) September 30, 2015
In The Counsellor, Ridley Scott hinted that the only way to deal with the world's real monsters was to find authenticity through art. The technological revolution in global communications could birth a renaissance, rather than World War III; but for that to happen, mass inertia would have to change. Entertainment and infotainment are hypnotic drugs which bring war ever closer, by feeding a collective addiction to anti-history and distrust, masquerading as real truth. These narcotic representations oppose art as an acceptance of authentic reality. I do not think everyone realizes that we have a choice between the two.
Still from The Counsellor (2013). Image Source: The Quietus.
Other posts on the destruction of Iraqi and Syrian ruins are here, here, here and here.
See all my posts on Ghosts.
Check out other blogs observing the Countdown to Hallowe'en!
ADDENDUM (29 May 2016): On 28 May 2016, BBC interviewed author Roberto Saviano on his work which confirms that the City of London is a centre for money laundering of Mexican drug money and the Italian mafia. Thus, the wealth and lifestyles of the City rest on violence and crime discussed in the following posts:
- Post-Apocalypse Rehab (6 October 2015)
- Quasi Morto (29 December 2015)
- Mysteries of Things to Come (30 December 2015)
- Stains on the Heartland (18 March 2016)
- Quid Pro Quo (3 April 2016)
BBC interview with Roberto Saviano (28 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.