TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Metafiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Metafiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Interstellar Hystery


"This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar asteroid: `Oumuamua. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i. Subsequent observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that it was travelling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. `Oumuamua seems to be a dark red highly-elongated metallic or rocky object, about 400 metres long, and is unlike anything normally found in the Solar System." Image Source: ESO/M. Kornmesser; image published 20 November 2017.

Since the end of October, astronomers have been buzzing about the first ever observed interstellar visitor to our solar system. Jointly confirmed by ten observatories as it was momentarily captured by the gravity of our sun, this asteroid has arrived from elsewhere in our galaxy. The International Astronomical Union has now given this rock a name, 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua - pronunciation here). The name is a Hawaiian word meaning “a messenger from afar arriving first.” The asteroid was spotted on 19 October 2017 by Robert Weryk with the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) telescope at the University of Hawaii.

Video Source: Guardian.

What struck me, looking at its path, is how strict and staid the average person's view still is of the cosmos. That is, on the unconscious level, our view of reality is shaped by the order and predictability of our tiny solar system - sun plus planets on a plane, the night sky punctuated by familiar constellations. The visit of 'Oumuamua is a reminder of the scope of space and its unpredictability. Of course, thousands of these interstellar objects regularly enter our system, and our limited knowledge of them is symptomatic of our level of science and technology, rather than their absence.

"A/2017 U1 is probably of interstellar origin. This NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech diagram shows its path of travel from above the plane of our solar system, around the sun and past earth at 44 kilometres per second. It was closest to the sun on Sept. 9." Image Source: NASA JPL/Caltech via Weather Network.

"This diagram shows asteroid 'Oumuamua's path through the solar system. An analysis of its path shows that it is coming from the direction of where the star Vega is now, although Vega would not have been at that location millions of years ago. Now that it is leaving, it is headed for the constellation Pegasus. A new report, written using observations made using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, is now providing even more information about this asteroid." Image Source: ESO/K. Meech et al. via Weather Network.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2017: This Is Real


"Ever wonder what you would do if you were kidnapped? This Is Real simulates a group abduction at a warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn." Image Source: Jessica Lehrman/NYT.

On 26 October 2016, the NYT reported on scary haunts organized for those seeking a fear-filled time on Hallowe'en. The most intriguingly unhealthy of their selection was This Is Real, a warehouse event in the neighbourhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York City, where you can pay actors to treat you like a brutalized hostage in a psycho-torture film. [Although, in an update at the bottom of this post, the creators of the event corrected me on Twitter to say that they don't actually torture the patrons. They hire actors to pretend to torture each other, and then they chase the patrons through a Saw-like warehouse maze.]

Friday, October 6, 2017

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2017: Dark Ambient and Dark Web Tales



There are new horror genres appearing online, in which the fear factor depends on blurring the line between the virtual and real. It makes the raven girl on the subway, above, oddly reassuring: at least she is honest about how gothic things are these days.

Potion Shop Sounds | Apothecary Ambience | 45 Minutes (24 June 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Over the past few years, ambient horror soundtracks have appeared on Youtube, which are unsettling because they add a cinematic video game quality to daily work at the desk. Some people listen to them to get to sleep, like the 6-hour Quiet Rusty Sewer Ambient Noise River.

Aaron Dykes at Truthstream Media explains the power of music - related to the frequency at which the eardrums vibrate - and particularly the discordant Locrian mode. From Bridget Mermikides: "From at least the early 18th century this tritone was described as Diabolus in Musica (the Devil in music)." The Secret Power Music Holds Over You (30 August 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Locrian Mode example. Sample Source: Wiki.

Locrian Mode example: Björk's Army of Me (1995). Sample Source: Wiki.

The new horror music is non-music, made up of cinematic sound effects tracks. There is a spectrum of how scary these recordings are; they range (at the top) from vague background noise to (lower down) demonic atmospherics.

Haunted Halloween Mansion Fireplace with Thunder, Rain and Howling Wind (24 October 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

HAUNTED FOREST Scary Sounds of Ghosts in the Darkness 2 HOURS (12 March 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Gathering Darkness - Scary Noises in a Haunted House - 2 Hours (2 May 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Amazing SCARY 3D Holophonic Sound (21 August 2013). Video Source: Youtube.

Another example of horror found in the blurring between the virtual and the real is evident in a new genre of online horror story-telling, an offshoot of creepypastas, which explores the Dark Web. The Dark Web is reputed to be a place where anything goes, outside police jurisdictions, in a No Man's Land of international anonymity. Many Darknet communities are devoted to whistle-blowing, hacking, politics, drugs, crime, and hidden news.

By contrast, the Clearnet is the main, indexed Internet with which everyone is familiar. Clearnet lists of Dark Websites from 2015 to 2017 are here, here, here, here, and here - but don't click on links in those lists or surf further without a Tor browser and a VPN. A May 2017 Motherboard report gave a link to a list of every possible site on the Dark Web, that is, 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176 sites, or just over one septillion Dark Websites beyond the reach of Google. That number directly contradicts Wired's 2015 estimate that there were over a billion sites on the Clear Web and 7,000 to 30,000 Dark Websites. You can see the total number of indexed Clear Websites counted in real time at Internet Live Stats.

Interactive livestream horror. Deep Web Horror Story - Why I Left The Deep Web by TASDiablo (21 May 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Friday, August 25, 2017

In Millennial Eyes 8: Poland, the European Union, and the Game of Thrones


Image Source: Ancient Origins.

The blog is on a break, but I am happy to announce that I have been invited to submit pieces to Vocal Media. Today's post continues my discussion on fake news. Please click below to read it:

Fake news and legends of a lost empire: Why Polish nationalists and the European Union leaders are like The Game of Thrones
This piece explains why false, fictional or quasi-historical narratives become powerful in changing times, in spite of their flawed factuality or rationality.

The post concerns a secret history of a Polish empire, bolstered by fake maps and false or exaggerated contemporary documents. You can see Ancient Origins defend that alt-history, based on medieval chronicles, here.

The blog where I found this Turboslav vision of Europe faithfully reproduces the anti-Masonic, anti-Illuminati, anti-Semitic, New Age, health-food, anti-vaccine, extra-terrestrial, populist, neo-Nazi conspiracy theories which are so familiar on alt-sites on the Internet now.

When discussing history, most Websites of this type leave accepted scholarly history more or less intact. But they offer an additional 'insider's' history we don't know. This is a gnostic view - like the one described in my post on the alt-history of Quebec and the French Revolution - which adds enough information to break through to a new level of 'privileged' awareness.

An altered perspective is one thing; but this lost Polish empire is another matter. It transports today's believer into a completely different Europe. That is why it is too simplistic to assume that nationalists are motivated only by racism. They actually inhabit another reality. It is through this lens that we must understand their quarrels with EU leaders.


See all my posts on Millennial views of past events.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Twin Peaks Returns


Twin Peaks was full of occult imagery, signifying a battle between the forces of Jupiter (positive) and Saturn (malefic). My comment on the symbols in this scene is here. Image Source: The Dissolve.

David Lynch's and Mark Frost's acclaimed series Twin Peaks, which changed television in two seasons in 1990 and 1991, returns on 21 May 2017. The original series, and the 1992 prequel film, was a mystery about a murdered American homecoming queen, Laura Palmer. It unraveled in the second season into soap opera surrealism after Lynch stepped away from the project. But the first season was a landmark moment in popular entertainment and is widely considered one of the best television series ever made. It inspired many other ground-breaking series. My comments below the jump contain spoilers, so if you haven't yet seen the original series and want to, read no further until you have done so.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stargate Tweets, Mysteries and Rumours


A Stargate? Image Source: Twitter / iReport/CNN.

At present, there is a very strange dis/information eruption on Twitter, coming from a single account, KibBitzLaw. Whoever is running this account is mingling a giant conspiracy theory with current affairs at breakneck pace (hat tip: The Outer Light). This person is threatening top level officials with information leaks of the most outlandish kind. WikiLeaks is mentioned, as is Chelsea / Bradley Manning. The Tweeter also apparently visited 4chan today, archived here, and stated: "This is not a joke." Tonight's tweets were dedicated to Seth Rich, the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer.


There are weirdos all over the Internet, so one more ranting conspiracy theorist should not matter. The only problem is that this account - which was created in March, 2009 - for some time had, as its first and only follower, former president Barack Obama. The account was previously followed by members of the mainstream media and Democrats running for Congress. It lay quiet for some time, with some tweets during the US election in 2016, and suddenly exploded with activity this month. The account was mentioned today (14 May 2017) on Reddit, here.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Preview of Speculative Reality



This tweet is a preview of an upcoming post on perception, experience and speculative reality.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2016: The Slender Man, An Internet Monster


A Slender Man Hallowe'en costume (2012). Image Source: imgur via Twisted Sifter.

On the Internet, a Web-based horror folklore is called a 'creepypasta.' Among creepypastas, the creepiest of all is the Slender Man. Slender Man is a monster invented in 2009 on the 'create paranormal imagesphotoshop thread at the site Something Awful; he is a Millennial spectre, invented by Eric Knudsen (pseud. Victor Surge) to give the Web a virtual haunter of children and young teens. Know Your Meme:
"Slender Man (a.k.a Slenderman) is a mythical creature often depicted as a tall, thin figure wearing a black suit and a blank face. According to the legend, he can stretch or shorten his arms at will and has tentacle-like appendages protruding from his back. Depending on the interpretations of the myth, the creature may cause memory loss, insomnia, paranoia, coughing fits (nicknamed 'slendersickness'), photograph/video distortions and can teleport at will. The urban legend has inspired fan arts, fictional creepypastas and a mockumentary series in the style of the 1999 indie horror film Blair Witch Project. As the character has grown in popularity, he’s gained a number of other nicknames including The Operator, Der Großmann, Mr. Slim, The Administrator, Daddy LongLegs, Mr. Thin, The Tall Man, The Thin Man and Slendy."
In the evidential narrative style of X-FilesBlair Witch Project, and RinguKnudsen added to his Slender Man photographs, and in forum posts began to create false 'true story' cases on the thread. These details put fake historical meat on Slender's bones; other contributors added scraps to the fake casebook:
  • “We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…” – 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.
  • One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
  • 5/24/95**1994: Wilks Estate. One subject reported nothing out of the ordinary before taking photograph. Lower stairs area was said to be very dark. Subject states that after the camera flash she heard a sound like a watermelon being *unable to understand subject*.
  • 5/25/93**Subject unable to recall events after manor power failure. Unable to question other two identified subjects. Camera and film acquired from Gloria Cready, current resident of Woodview Mental Hospital and Psychological Rehabilitation Clinic. Film mostly uncontaminated despite mass of blood and human tissue present on camera. No positive ID on anomalous tall and slender subject. Facial blur caused by possible contamination.
  • 6/7/93**Early digital analysis indicates tall subject may have no eyes. Anomalies, previously thought to be film errors and flash artifacts, now thought to be appendages.
  • 6/10/93**Final identified subject reported missing along with other thirty-three patients and staff of Woodview Mental Hospital and Psychological Rehabilitation Clinic south wing.
  • 6/18/93**Further inquiry to cease immediately. (see report No.3339-2)
  • This first photo was given to me by my uncle, a police officer who was part of the investigation trying to find nine missing teens who had gone camping in the local mountains six years ago. It was developed from a disposable camera found at the campsite. None of the missing teens have ever been found, and all their possessions were still at the campsite. He was pretty drunk and shaken up when he gave me this, and made me promise I'd never show anyone else.
  • The second photo is of an elementary school fire in 1978. No official cause was ever found. Seven students and a teacher became trapped and died before firefighters could respond. Many of the students and teachers from the time have a history of anxiety disorders and panic attacks, even those who weren't at the school on that day. At least one has since committed suicide, and several others legally changed their names once they reached adulthood and have disappeared.
  • **Alert**Alert**Deployment Request**ANTI-S WALKER UNIT to deploy to --Wichita--Kansas--
  • Steinmen Woods**Both subjects were hunting in the Steinmen woods four hours before sundown. Surviving subject states that while hunting both men grew uneasy as fog levels rapidly increased. A constant murmuring sound accompanied by a low hum eventually became apparent to the two men an hour after the fog increased. An object falling out of tree stuck one of the men in the left shoulder causing him to discharge his weapon. Object said to be the body of a man of unknown age. It was very precisely dissected, with major internal organs still contained within the rib cage in what looked to be clear bags. Surviving subject placed organ bag within backpack. Attack followed several minutes later after a "low children's laugh, like a giggle". Surviving subject ran until he reached his vehicle. Subject then drove to assumed safety. Backpack destroyed. Surviving subject is classified as a B7 witness. B7 witness to be placed in quarantine "Blind Box" until resolution.
  • 2007:Investigation team discovered twenty-two bodies of both genders and various ages impaled on broken tree branches in a radiating circle pattern with chest mutilation as often noted with Slender Man. Upon confirmation, lead investigator ********* called for an immediate evacuation of investigation team at 1700 hours. Bodies first discovered at 1100 hours. Deadline for safe evacuation of team with only viewed physical evidence of Slender Man approximately 1730. Lost contact of team at 1725. Safety procedures fell well within established protocols. Reason for abnormality is unknown. Second team recovered camera equipment one week later. Slender Man safety procedures require this incident's physical photographic evidence to be disposed of by no later than 10/20. I honestly don't get what half this poo poo means. I'm done with this Slender Man stuff. It's starting to make me uneasy. It's like reading the GBS ghost story threads before I go to bed. Why do I have to look at this stuff while it's super late? Luckily, my friend is coming over.
Everyone chatting in the Something Awful forum agreed that Knudsen had created something frightening and original, a big monster begging for a bigger story. One commenter thought Slender Man reminded him (or her) of the scary (and true) 1959 Dyatlov Pass incident in Russia. Another wrote:
"Slender Man would make a pretty nice horror novel in the lines of House of Leaves. Essentially, make the novel a collection of witness statements, newspaper clippings, pictures, drawings, articles discussing evidence for an against the slender man and, to tie it all neatly together, a few stories of people who want to track the slender man, unravel the mystery, [a]nd the kicker would be the last 20 or so pages would be missing, with only scraps of paper left, arranged as logically as possible, just excerpts, words, rips, ink stains, etc."
Another said, "Slender Man is scaring the crap out of me for some reason." Others thought that Slender Man would be great subject for a movie. When you go back and read the forum thread now, you can see how the Internet can be a hotbed of genuine creativity, as it was supposed to be. This was folklore, generated in a brand new way. The Something Awful forum offered a new narrative form, an organic, virtual reality story-telling standing on the shoulders of oral tradition, fairy tales, urban legends, spiritual mythologies, religious texts, and ghost stories. That, in itself, is fascinating and culturally significant. Scholars of mythology have deemed Slender Man to be an authentic example of digital folklore: he is open-sourced, communally-created, variable in form, and audience-response-driven. Commentators have since remarked that Slender Man's appeal exploits the fears of the Digital era:
"Shira Chess describes the Slender Man as a metaphor for 'helplessness, power differentials, and anonymous forces.' Peck sees parallels between the Slender Man and common anxieties about the digital age, such as feelings of constant connectedness and unknown third-party observation. Similarly, Tye Van Horn, a writer for The Elm, has suggested that the Slender Man represents modern fear of the unknown; in an age flooded with information, people have become so inured to ignorance that they now fear what they cannot understand. Troy Wagner, the creator of Marble Hornets, ascribes the terror of the Slender Man to its malleability; people can shape it into whatever frightens them most. Tina Marie Boyer noted that 'The Slender man is a prohibitive monster, but the cultural boundaries he guards are not clear. Victims do not know when they have violated or crossed them.'"
This faux-real authenticity, as the directors of the 2016 Blair Witch sequel will tell you, is extremely hard for artists to achieve; sometimes a fable's original power only strikes full force in a particular time and place. This happened with Slender Man. What the Something Awful forum members did not reckon on was that Slender Man would inspire a real horror in real life.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2016: Urbex in Your Mind


Dan Bell explores an abandoned house, site of a tragic 1983 crime in Randallstown, Maryland, USA, when Craig Johnson decapitated his baby son, possibly while under the influence of drugs. (Video published 8 May 2015.) Video Source: Youtube.

For today, see some videos from American urban explorer Dan Bell, who visits abandoned properties and films them with camerawork and subtle editing reminiscent of horror movies. He is not a ghost hunter or paranormal believer; his interest merges the artistic with the historic to create unnerving video experiences on his Youtube channels (here and here). Beyond urban exploration, he could be an aspiring feature film director with an uncanny knack for locating disturbing places.

Above, a house outside Baltimore, site of a 1983 Christmas Day beheading of a child by a father. Some Youtubers dismiss Dan Bell's work as sensationalist; some like his added effects, including music from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). All commenters debated whether the evil of the 1983 crime remained in the building; part of the Youtube experience involves their collaborative reactions:
  • "Here's what I found and Researched on the man named Steven Craig Johnson the Drug addict. A Baltimore-area man, who police say thought his son was Jesus Christ and had to die for the sins of the world, was denied bail Monday after being charged with first-degree murder in the decapitation of his 14-month-old boy.Baltimore County police said Stephen Johnson, 28, was charged with first-degree murder and held at police headquarters in Towson."
  • "Creepy music and a house slowly falling into ruin does NOT make a house evil. Sheesh. The PCP caused the man to hallucinate that his son was Jesus, and for whatever his drug-addled mind thought, the son wound up dead at the hand's of his own father. That was HUMAN EVIL ... not some house. PCP is evil!"
  • "You miss the point here. Dan Bells videos are his art and he obviously likes to bring horror movie elements to his videos. Its his point of view and a genre he has chosen. Its totally irrelevant weather the house truly is evil or not."
  • "Stories like this destroy the real estate market. Not Dan's fault. I'm glad that history leaks. I rent-to-own an apartment and when I had tile installed the tile company told me the place is contaminated. I got out of the contract. Two people were murdered in the bedroom and the carpet foam had blood in it. Now I know the patched up holes weren't picture holes. They were bullet holes."
  • "Both my parents died in our family home. They were in their 90's, on hospice and died peacefully. We did not have to declare it, nor did it ever occur to us that we should. The people who bought the house after a company bought the house seemed to get upset when I went over there and took them a framed artist's drawing of the house that I had had done for Daddy for Father's Day one year. I'm not sure how it came up in the conversation but I gave the man and his daughter a little history of the house. It was built by my grandfather for my grandmother, then she died and my parents bought it from him and they lived in it for almost their entire 71 year marriage. The man seemed shaken up that my parents died IN the house, so I wish I hadn't told him, but it's not like there was a murder. However, not long after that, the house disappeared. I asked the neighbors and they said a crane woke them up one morning and by noon, the house was gone. There doesn't even look like a house was ever even there. Very sad. I would have loved to have lived there, but I couldn't afford to buy out my sister's half."
  • "Another problem with this type of places is that when something like that happened in there (murder, witchcraft, playing with ouija), they're usually haunted, I had to move out of a house because of that shit."
  • "I wouldn't say its so much evil I would call it a complete wreck but the one odd thing that stood out to me if anyone else caught it. This house is in complete ruins with what looks like a brand new energy star hot water heater in the basement and the paint is still glossy while everything else is severely weathered. I don't think the house is as evil as the water heater."
  • "All those flies are a classic sign that the house is demon possessed. It's very dark and oppressive atmosphere. It's damp negative lowly energy. And it's perfectly clear that something is very very wrong. It takes a brave person to go into a place such as this, because it's facing our inner fears. A film or documentary would be interesting. Did any one hear voices on this footage? or were they part of the musical background? Thanks for sharing."

Occupant's keepsake, occult prop, or message from a previous visitor? The curious note next to remnants of a woman's dress, found in the Johnson closet, reads: "About luck thats good for us. I don’t know what made thy house evil, I only know that thee begs thy help of whatever within here can help with. Undo." Image Source: Dan Bell via BlumHouse.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lost Cities: Zerzura


Image Source: Kickstarter.

For today, see a trailer for a film currently raising production funds on Kickstarter, Zerzura, a 'Sahara Acid Western.' Zerzura (زرزورة) was a legendary oasis city in the Sahara Desert west of the Nile, located in Egypt or Libya. In the 20th century, real searches for this mythical centre focussed on the northern Gilf Kebir and inspired the 1992 novel and 1996 film The English Patient. Some oases were indeed discovered, but these efforts folded into Second World War espionage and British special ops work in North Africa. You can read about that here and here.

Image Source: Tribe Expeditions.


Zerzura is a place of Bedouin myth, supposedly guarded by djinn or 'black giants,' who may have been the Toubou people. Zerzura was also mentioned in the mystic 15th century Arabic manuscript, Kitab al Kanuz, a medieval manual for Egyptian treasure hunters. In the 1960s, the story received a bizarre new treatment from unconfirmed sources, although Wiki's summary suggests that the 1960s' account below embroiders upon the records of the medieval scribes of an emir in Benghazi, Libya. Ask Why:
"In 1969, Emile Schurmacher, a journalist interested in mysteries, explained that the Muslim legend of Zerzura was that, began with a caravan in 1481 AD, wending its way across the desert from the Nile to the oases of Kharga and Darkhla when it was engulfed by an unusually severe sandstorm. Instead of blowing out in a couple of days, this storm lasted over a week and by the time it settled, the caravan, humans and camels, had died of suffocation. Only one man, a camel driver called Hamid Keila shook himself from the shelter of his dead camel and looked upon a plain of sand with just a few bulges and oddments of fabric emerging from beneath it. The caravan had been obliterated.

We know this because months later Hamid Keila turned up in poor shape in Benghazi on the Mediterranean and was able to tell an astonishing tale which was recorded by the Emir’s scribes.

The camel driver had climbed the escarpment to get a view of the desert and see whether any oases were accessible. The sandstorm had changed the familiar landmarks and he recognised nothing. He struggled along the scarp hoping that he would get his bearings. Lacking water he was becoming delerious when he was found by a group of men the like of whom he had never seen before. They were tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed. What is more, they carried straight swords not scimitars.

Quizzed by the Emir, the camel driver related his story confidently enough but he always seemed uneasy and rather shifty. The strange men came from a city in the desert called Zerzura where they took the half-dead Keila and treated him with kindness. The citadel was well watered with springs, and vines and palms sprouted. Access was by a wadi that ran between two mountains and from it a road proceeded into the gates of the city, which was walled. Above the gate was a carved bird of unusual appearance and the houses within were white in the sun. Water was plentiful and pools and springs were used by slim light-skinned women and their children for washing and bathing, and the dwellings were richly furnished.

The people of Zerzura, or El Suri, spoke Arabic but with many peculiar words that the camel driver could not understand until they were carefully explained. The strange people were evidently not Muslim because the women were unveiled and Hamid Keila saw no mosque and heard no muzzein. The Emir asked the camel driver how he came to be in Benghazi and again looking uncomfortable he said he escaped one moonless night when he had regained his strength, and after a difficult journey north had arrived in the city. The Emir was puzzled and wondered why it was necessary to escape unless he was being held a prisoner. The camel driver was shifty and could not explain why his story was inconsistent, his rescuers having been declared to be kind. The Emir ordered his guards to search the unfortunate man and they discovered in his robes a huge flawless ruby set in a gold ring.

Asked how he had obtained the stone, the camel driver could not answer and the Emir judged that he had stolen it from people who, although apparently infidels, had shown him great kindness. The Emir ordered the unfortunate man to be taken into the desert again and to have his hands cut off. And so he was.

The ring and ruby came into the possession of King Idris of Libya and has been examined by several experts who vouch for its immense value. More important, they declare it to be of European workmanship of about the twelfth century, a date that could link the ring and the apparently Teutonic Arabs with the crusades and the possibility that knights who had got lost in the desert had gone native and survived in their remote idyll. Some parties of crusaders did get lost on the way out to the Holy Land or back from it."
Several Websites claim that the ruby ring was inherited by Libya's King Idris (1889-1983). Perhaps in 1969 it fell to Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011). Given that there are no obvious modern sources on this ring, it is likely that the ring and the city from which it came are legends, begging for further exploitation. For example, the tale of lost crusaders taking up residence in the Middle East is popular with today's New Age spiritualists; the myth feeds the Millennial folkloric obsession with pre-Islamic Middle Eastern religions. Some New Age theorists project the story back thousands of years to ancient and classical times, and claim that Atlantean, proto-Irish or proto-Celtic northmen, possibly Druids, traveled to Egypt and influenced its old dynasties. Some Masonic speculations claim that the Druids and ancient Egyptians shared the same beliefs and rituals. These variants should be considered as 20th and early 21st century branches of folklore. The Zerzura story inspired a German-Austrian-Swiss video game in 2012, the Lost Chronicles of Zerzura.

The producers of this 2017 film, Zerzura, correctly describe their work as ethnofiction, an improvised ethnographic docufiction, which blends docudramas with fable:
"Zerzura is a feature length film shot in the Sahara desert. Mixing folktales and documentary, the film follows a young man from in Niger who leaves home in search of an enchanted oasis. His journey leads him into a surreal vision of the Sahara, crossing paths with djinn, bandits, gold seekers, and migrants. A folktale transposed onto an acid western, the film is a collaborative fiction, written and developed with a Tuareg cast, and shot in and around Agadez, Niger.

Over the past decades, Agadez has reestablished itself as a hub of movement across the desert. Migrants throughout the continent stop here on their perilous trek North, bound for mythic cities in Europe. Tales of gold in the desert abound, and men sell their houses for gold detectors. Young Tuareg leave home to seek their fortune in the fractured Libyan state. As people leave, stories return, becoming folklore, apocryphal and wildly exaggerated versions of truth.

In the style of 'ethnofiction' proposed by Jean Rouch, Zerzura is a window into Saharan dreams and imagination, a folktale about the universal drive to search for something that we know is likely false and unwavering faith in the face of realism. In an American-Tuareg production, a script written and developed collaboratively and largely improvised performances, the film plays with mutual exoticism to create a trans-cultural fiction. Zerzura asks 'what we are looking for in the desert, and what do we meet in these empty places?'"
See all my posts on Lost Cities.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Triumphs and the Frauds


Orson Welles (1915-1985). Image Source: Indiewire.

Years ago, I concluded that changing one's name artificially is a hex sign. Someone has built a fake reality for themselves around a fake identity, an alter ego. Of course, that depends on the circumstances; and now, alter egos and icon names are everywhere on the Internet. The original question concerned what is fake and what is real when it comes to building reputation through a public persona. In those pre-Internet days, a fake name propelled a figure forward to become more real and credible than the original person, for all the wrong reasons.

In 1974, Orson Welles made a documentary - his last completed major work - about disinformation and the agency it gives to fake people. His film, F for Fake, concerns a notorious Hungarian art forger, Elmyr de Hory (1906-1976), who sold hundreds of fake copies of paintings by master artists, authenticated by art experts, to top galleries and museums. The film also focuses on the forger's biographer, Clifford Irving. Irving made his name by writing a fake biography of Howard Hughes, which was completely fabricated and for which Irving spent nearly two years in prison.

Peter Bogdanovich describes F for Fake. Video Source: Youtube.

Welles encountered these characters in Ibiza, Spain. As he tried to get to the bottom of this story, the director confirmed how impossible it was to unravel liars' lies. Over time, their fabrications gained credibility and authority, based on reputations, cultivated layer by layer, over decades in exclusive social settings. In another short from the same period, set inside a fake private gentlemen's club in London, he poked fun at class and wealth as sources of enduring historical and social authority. He thought it comical that those who acquire higher levels of class and wealth gain historical weight, no matter what their true value. And in F for Fake, he found that when liars move in these temporally-weighted circles, first to lie, then to 'come clean' and tell the 'truth' (even if they never really do), they gain even more false authenticity.

De Hory's art forgeries reflected that, because art masterpieces are part of wealthy settings. Great art is considered to be durable, a lasting testament; it has more temporal weight than wealth. Artworks are luxury items which allow collectors to augment their wealth and class status, to build identity through assertions of taste. With art ownership, collectors associate the constructed longevity of their identities with the longevity of the artwork. Today's art world has responded to this market by seeking new 'great master' prodigies, who must produce more 'great works' for a nouveau 'ageless canon.' New billionaires buy new 'masterwork' art pieces, and the billionaires and the art artificially inflate each other's perceived lasting value. In Welles's terms, they are all fakes. One painter in his film shrugged: "The fakes are as good as the real ones, and there is a market and there's a demand [for them]." Welles set out to resolve how money, fame, power and time were wrongly connected in people's minds.

F for Fake provoked introspection, since Welles was reminded of his own fake 1938 War of the Worlds radio drama performance about a Martian invasion, which people believed was real. F for Fake was further reminiscent of the film which made Welles's name at age 26, Citizen Kane, a fictional history of the character Charles Foster Kane, newspaper-magnate-turned-presidential-candidate. Kane was modeled on the real media tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. The last section of F for Fake includes some autobiographical asides, after which Welles deliberately transformed the documentary into a faux-documentary, starring his girlfriend at the time, Oja Kodar. He confessed in the last few minutes of the film that he had created a 'film forgery.' "Art," he said, "is a lie that makes us realize the truth." You can watch F for Fake here, while the link lasts.

To quote a reviewer: "So if you're keeping track, F for Fake is a fake documentary, about a fake artist, being described by a fake writer, and framed by a self-described fake super genius person." It is a difficult, scattered film, now dated, and was poorly received by critics. Others defend it, especially because the film hinged on a single scene of crystal clear truth. American media psychologist James Herndon deemed one clip (below) from F for Fake to be "the profoundest moment in all of cinema." In it, Welles suggested that every expression of genius, identity, or creativity is limited and fleeting. The director approached Chartres cathedral in France as the silent testimony of anonymous artists, whose greatness will transcend the mortal condition only for a few centuries or millennia. Any attempt at creativity, no matter how beautiful, masterful, or fraudulent, constitutes a futile effort to overcome death.


Top, from Citizen Kane, fictional Kane, running for president. The real man on whom Kane was based never ran for president, but was elected to the House of Representatives and made unsuccessful bids to become Mayor of New York City (1905 and 1909), Governor of New York (1906), and Lieutenant Governor of New York (1910). Hearst had to settle for manipulating politics through his newspapers. Images Source: Everything You Hate.

Welles as Kane in Xanadu, the fictional depiction of Hearst's San Simeon castle. Image Source: The Latest.

The real Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, USA, built 1919 to 1947, is a monument to a megalomaniac ego seeking permanence; it is stocked with exotic animals, priceless art objects, and imported historical buildings. It is a national and California historical landmark. Image Source: Wiki.

The Gothic study and library in Hearst Castle. Image Source: Inside Inside.

The outdoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle features an actual ancient Roman temple which Hearst bought in Europe and imported to California. Image Source: Wiki.

As a comment on the futile quest for immortality, F for Fake was anti-master, anti-author, anti-expert, anti-wealth, anti-fabrication, but pro-authenticity. This film, Welles's last, is filled with the wreckage of Citizen Kane, with Chartres standing in as the universal artist's palace, confronting the billionaire's estate Xanadu, based on the real Hearst estate San Simeon. This time, Welles played Charles Foster Kane again, only 'for real.' Now, Welles was the supposedly rich man, riding on his reputation, clinging to his baubles and pretty young girls, knowing it was all bullshit; he distrusted hangers-on and friends who had also arrived at the top by dubious means. In his heart, he was haunted by the possibility that not a single thing he had done was worth anything. He wondered if his own work, already a rip-off, would be ripped off; maybe people would only know and recognize derivative Wellesian products, made by other people. With nothing left but his battered art, Welles sought sanctuary in the palace of Chartres. Where Chartres was a house of triumph, San Simeon was a monument to fraud.

Chartres clip from F for Fake (1974). Video Source: Youtube.

Welles was sure of one thing. When it comes to lasting greatness, the ego must die and all its pathetic trappings must go. The ego, aware that it will die and that wealth, fame, and reasonable accomplishments are insufficient builders of immortality, makes one last ditch, explosive effort to leave its permanent mark. Welles wanted to find something irreducible and moral beneath that. Surrounded by frauds and liars, the only integrity he could imagine was a confessional, of stating the truth that he was a fraud too. But coming clean with the truth was also an act of trickery, and so Welles was left with another layer of subterfuge. He concluded that, of all the areas in life in which one built credibility and reputation, only a creative endeavour - no matter how embattled - might come close to liberating humans from this disastrous loop of projected myth, believable lies, and hierarchies of liars.

Although art immersed the artist in falsehoods with its fake depictions of reality, when artists produced something like Chartres cathedral, the result was a fleeting reflection of eternity. This became true only when the art object was stripped of any pretension toward ego, reputation, projected value, collectable wealth, authority, control, or greatness. And for those who tried to buy, or falsely create, fake ageless identities associated with that final truth, F for Fake asserted that no matter how wealthy you are, you cannot buy time, and you cannot buy your place in history.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Awaken the Amnesiacs 4: The New Millennium's Gothic Moment


BBC Four's show, The Art of Gothic: Britain's Midnight Hour (6 November 2014) explained how the 18th and 19th century explosion of science and industry inspired a Gothic counter-movement, a critical moral debate on the implications of unbridled rationalism. The BBC show highlighted the English painting, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), which portrayed the Gothic fear of scientists' experiments. Rationalists' destruction of spiritual concerns created horror. In the painting, the scientist is slowly pumping air out of a bell jar, in which a bird (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) is trapped. The scientist is suffocating the bird to demonstrate its dependence on oxygen. Image Source: Wiki.

The Awaken the Amnesiacs series on this blog explains why and how the human interaction with high technology is taking on spiritual dimensions. In today's post, I discuss the Gothic moment at which undue rationalism carries within itself the seeds of its own undoing. The rational, when overindulged, becomes anti-rational.

Any undertaking, done in the name of 'cutting edge change' will involve a confident, progressive agent. It is easy to criticize our forebears for their blind spots, and more difficult to see our own. In an earlier post, The Night of First Ages, I quoted an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) in the 2005 King Kong screenplay. The characters in King Kong are on a voyage to make a movie on a remote island. On the way, Jimmy, the ship's boy, reads Heart of Darkness, narrated by Conrad's protagonist, Charles Marlow. Marlow is on a journey to find an ivory trader, Kurtz, on the Congo River. Jimmy asks: "Why does Marlow keep going up the river? Why doesn't he turn back?"

The Heart of Darkness scene from King Kong (2005) © Universal Pictures depicts the wall between ego and id, or between the conscious-rational and unconscious-anti-rational parts of the human mind. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

The ship's first mate remarks that Marlow keeps searching for Kurtz, without realizing how deep he is getting into the dark side of human nature, because Marlow believes he is civilized. 'Civilized' characters like Marlow and Kurtz are amnesiacs, who think their own savagery is no longer a threat, something from a long lost, bygone era of sticks and stones. In their hubris, they unconsciously become more savage as they push forward as self-appointed bearers of 'progress': "We could not understand because we were too far ... and could not remember ... because we were traveling in the night of first ages ... of those ages that are gone ... leaving hardly a sign, and no memories. We are accustomed to look ... upon the shackled form of a conquered monster ... but there ... there you could look at a thing monstrous and free."

Jimmy realizes, "It's not an adventure story ... is it Mr. Hayes?" To which the first mate responds, "No Jimmy, it's not." The nested novel-to-movie-to-film metafiction in King Kong should be a message to its audience; as is the metahistorical fact that Heart of Darkness was based on a true story and the character Kurtz was based on a real person. The metafiction and metahistory of Heart of Darkness, embedded inside King Kong, reveal our amnesia. In blindly pursuing the singularity, why don't we turn back? Why don't we see that the history of the new Millennium is not an adventure story? It is because we expect the monster inside ourselves to be shackled. On the Internet and in research labs, the monster is not shackled.

Scientists and technologists have reached a Gothic moment because there is a gap between their practice and the way they are perceived in mass media as progressive actors. When they work with the scientific method, they live with uncertainty. They test hypotheses which, if proven, are accepted until falsified or refined. At the same time, we live in a period when a cult of secular rationalism has supplanted mass religions to furnish the prevailing story of global civilization. Scientific method and rationality are equated with humanism, enlightenment, advanced education, and hyper-progress. Scientists and technologists occupy exalted social positions as perceived experts. In this capacity, they are less cautious. They are little aware that when they become public gurus or market their findings with mythical labels, they tap into that part of secular rationalism that functions like a religion, rather than a considered quantification of reality.

Despite recent triumphs and headlines, there are signs of amnesia among today's scientists, technologists, and technophiles. They press ahead as experts and progressive actors, even when their impact on society starts to become surreal, or when their followers become cultish. They do not stop to reconsider their position, even when, as I put it in this post, "a nearly-unstoppable faith in, and optimism about, rampant technology" gives rise to "a heart-tearing soul-sickness which emerges from that intermingling of the virtual and the real."

Scientists are frank about how much they do not and cannot know. The Guardian: "It is perhaps a sign of the health of modern science that the harbingers of so much doubt have met with such acclaim." The current situation is serious: physicists have reached the analytical limits of scientific inquiry for two reasons. They discovered that they can only observe and measure the tiny part of the universe which absorbs light radiation. When they do measure that tiny portion, they have confirmed that they change it at the sub-atomic level. We can only see a tiny portion of reality, and we change that reality when we look at it. Together, these issues trap us in a self-referential bubble of perception.

When physicists determined that 96 per cent of the universe is unobservable and exists in the forms of dark matter and dark energy, scientists at CERN and other labs set out to breach those limits. Particle physicists, who deal with measurable knowns, stand at the edge of the methodological line, with a high point being their 4 July 2012 discovery of the Higgs Boson or 'God particle.' In 2012, Russia Today interviewed Aleksey Filippenko, an astrophysicist and Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, who admitted that the 'God particle' raised more questions than answers:
"Let me start by saying that I am going to discuss the universe only from the perspective of a scientist, from an intellectual perspective. I am not going to be talking about whether there is spiritual God or a personal God or a purpose to the universe – these are questions that scientists can’t address. My own belief is that once you have the laws of physics the universe just keeps going on its own. And it could even be that the laws of physics are all that you need in order to get the universe to start from the very beginning – the “Big Bang”. ...

The Higgs boson helps to complete what is called the Standard Model of particle physics. There is a way we have to try to understand – electrons and quarks and neutrino and other kinds of particles. And Higgs boson was kind of a missing piece of the puzzle. Which, if it were not there, would mean that we would have to kind of start over. But the fact that it appears to have been found completes our picture of the Standard Model of particle physics. That is not to say that we understand everything. We don’t yet understand how gravity fits in with particle physics. Other than the fact that gravity pulls particles together. We also do not understand things like dark energy. The universe seems to be filled with a dark energy that is expanding the universe faster and faster – I helped to discover that. And the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics was given to the team leaders last year for that discovery.

So, we don’t understand the dark energy. There is also something called dark matter. It may or may not be some kind of fundamental particles that could be part of the Standard Model – we don’t yet understand. The Higgs boson is a very important discovery. But it does not solve all the questions that remain in physics. But it is a very important discovery. In a sense, it would have been more exciting as a scientist to me if it were not there because it would mean that we were not correct in our view of the universe. The surprises are more fun than the expected discoveries. ...

I don’t think scientists will ever truly understand creation because I don’t think we will know where the laws of physics came from. But given a universe, given a universe can arise I think some day we may well understand dark energy and dark matter and the other constituents of the universe. We only discovered dark energy 14 years ago – the accelerating expansion of the universe. So it is no surprise that we don’t yet fully understand dark energy. Dark matter was only conceived a few decades ago. So again, we don’t yet fully know what dark matter is. But we have not been investigating it for very long. I mean, in hundreds of years who knows what we will know. We might have a full inventory of what is in the universe and how everything behaves. So we will know a lot. But we won’t quite know why it all happened and why there is something other than nothing.

Why are there any mathematical laws of physics rather than just nothing at all? I don’t know whether we will ever understand that. Scientists are only well-aware of 4 per cent of the universe – that is, we understand pretty well the nature of 4 per cent of the universe. The stuff that is made of atoms. Ninety-six per cent of the universe is made out of dark matter and dark energy. And although we know they are present we don’t know what their detailed properties are or why they are there. Or what exactly is going on."
On the other side of the line stand theoretical physicists, who deal with unmeasurable unknowns using mathematics. Astrophysicists stand, somewhat unhappily, on both sides of the line. A 2011 book by Richard Panek, The 4 Per Cent Universe, emphasized that scientific measurements begin to break down at dark energy and dark matter. The conventional wisdom is that as discoveries, knowledge, and tools improve, the scientific method will expand and continue. But this underestimates the problem of scientific methodological analyses - and for researchers in all disciplines who use them. It is not just a question of having insufficient tools to measure and quantify reality. It is a question of not being able to comprehend the findings. The Smithsonian: "'We have a complete inventory of the universe,' Sean Carroll, a California Institute of Technology cosmologist, has said, 'and it makes no sense.'"

Apollo 18 (2011) faux found footage movie explained why 'we've never gone back to the moon.' The film was a huge box office hit. The real reasons for canceled Apollo missions were political, technical and funding challenges. Image Source: Movie Blogger.

Just as physicists hit a wall, big science stumbled elsewhere as well. In one generation, the space age promised and failed to produce space station cities, moon pod villages, and colonists on Mars. Lunar settlements remain technical concepts, and China's 2013 landerYutu, made the first soft landing on the moon since 1976. On the Internet, lunar exploration has become the dismal stuff of conspiracy theory and cinematic legend. Nor did the atomic age solve the energy crisis, or bring us cold fusion. Instead, it vomited up the radioactive fallout of nuclear disasters and inexplicable dark matter. Geneticists were supposed to cure cancer and the common cold, not produce human-animal hybrid chimeras which scare the public. These generalizations do not account for the realities of research and funding; but they explain why mass sympathy and confidence in big science waned over the past generation.

Another day at Boston Dynamics. Image Source: RAND Corporation.

Where big science stumbled, big tech was supposed to bail us out. In the public mind, if not in reality, the torch passed in the 1990s from big science to big technology. Over the past fifteen years, interest shifted from space exploration and cosmology - to computers, gadgets and the Internet. Technologists promised transhumanism, posthumanism, artificial intelligence, and the Singularity. This was why 'singularity' became the evangelical buzzword of technophiles between 2003 and 2012, and remains fashionable with its own cluster of personalities. Silicon Valley became one of the most powerful places on earth. High tech would launch us exponentially toward a gnostic, mind-opening, theophanic moment of transcendence.

Enter the computer programmers, designers and engineers. We would remake ourselves on the clock, rework our societies and the whole world, and finally efficiently manage resources. The Internet, conceived by the scientists at CERN, was rationalistic in its construction. Unfortunately, it is anti-rational in its execution; it exploits users' unconscious impulses and forms a giant collective mind. We did not get a robot-supported Valhalla. Instead, we got 9-million-hit Roomba cat videos, cyber-bullies, social-media-supported home invasions, remote-controlled brain-to-brain interfaces, and Boston Dynamics cheerfully preparing its Second Variety military hardware for World War III. The technological revolution began to give way to the surveillance revolution.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Boomer Legacies: Mysteries of Things to Come


Jugend (1916) by Julius Diez (1870-1957). Reblogged from The Pictorial Arts (Hat tip: T. Buchanan).

In yesterday's post, I described the ideas behind Roberto Saviano's accounts of crime and the drug trade. According to Saviano in ZeroZeroZero, cocaine use has overrun western societies:
"The guy sitting next to you on the train uses cocaine, he took it to get himself going this morning; or the driver of the bus you’re taking home, he wants to put in some overtime without feeling the cramps in his neck. The people closest to you use coke. If it’s not your mother or father, if it’s not your brother, then it’s your son. And if your son doesn’t use it, your boss does. Or your boss’s secretary, but only on Saturdays, just for fun. And if your boss doesn’t, his wife does, to let herself go. And if not his wife, then his lover—he gives her cocaine instead of earrings, in place of diamonds. And if they don’t, the truck driver delivering tons of coffee to cafés around town does; he wouldn’t be able to hack those long hours on the road without it. And if he doesn’t, the nurse who’s changing your grandfather’s catheter does. Coke makes everything seem so much easier, even the night shift. And if she doesn’t, the painter redoing your girlfriend’s room does; he was just curious at first but wound up deep in debt. The people who use cocaine are right here, right next to you. The police officer who’s about to pull you over has been snorting for years, and everyone knows it, and they write anonymous letters to his chief hoping he’ll be suspended before he screws up big time. Or the surgeon who’s just waking up and will soon operate on your aunt. Cocaine helps him cut open six people a day. Or your divorce lawyer. Or the judge presiding over your lawsuit; he doesn’t consider it a vice, though, just a little boost, a way to get more out of life. The cashier who hands you the lottery ticket you hope is going to change your life. The carpenter who’s installing the cabinets that cost you a month’s salary. Or the workman who came to put together the IKEA closet you couldn’t figure out how to assemble on your own. If not him, then the manager of your condo building who is just about to buzz you. Or your electrician, the one who’s in your bedroom right now, moving the outlets. The singer you are listening to to unwind, the parish priest you’re going to talk to about finally getting confirmed because your grandson’s getting baptized, and he’s amazed you’ve put it off for so long. The waiters who will work the wedding you’re going to next Saturday; they wouldn’t be able to last on their feet all that time if they didn’t. If not them, then the town councillor who just approved the new pedestrian zones, and who gets his coke free in exchange for favors. The parking lot attendant who’s happy now only when he’s high. The architect who renovated your vacation home, the mailman who just delivered your new ATM card. If not them, then the woman at the call center who asks “How may I help you?” in that shrill, happy voice, the same for every caller, thanks to the white powder. If not her, your professor’s research assistant—coke makes him nervous. Or the physiotherapist who’s trying to get your knee working right. Coke makes him more sociable. The forward who just scored, spoiling the bet you were winning right up until the final minutes of the game. The prostitute you go to on your way home, when you just can’t take it anymore and need to vent. She does it so she won’t have to see whoever is on top or under or behind her anymore. The gigolo you treated yourself to for your fiftieth birthday. You did it together. Coke makes him feel really macho. The sparring partner you train with in the ring, to lose weight. And if he doesn’t, your daughter’s riding instructor does, and so does your wife’s psychologist. Your husband’s best friend uses it, the one who’s been hitting on you for years but whom you’ve never liked. And if he doesn’t, then your school principal does. Along with the janitor. And the real estate agent, who’s late, just when you finally managed to find time to see the apartment. The security guard uses it, the one who still combs his hair over his bald spot, even though guys all shave their heads these days. And if he doesn’t, the notary you hope you never have to go back to, he does it to avoid thinking about the alimony he has to pay his ex-wives. And if he doesn’t, the taxi driver does; he curses the traffic but then goes all happy again. If not him, the engineer you have to invite over for dinner because he might help you get a leg up in your career. The policeman who’s giving you a ticket, sweating profusely even though it’s winter. The squeegee man with hollow eyes, who borrows money to buy it, or that kid stuffing flyers under windshield wipers, five at a time. The politician who promised you a commercial license, the one you and your family voted into office, and who is always nervous. The professor who failed you on your exam. Or the oncologist you’re going to see; everybody says he’s the best, so you’re hoping he can save you. He feels omnipotent when he sniffs cocaine. Or the gynecologist who nearly forgets to throw away his cigarette before going in to examine your wife, who has just gone into labor. Your brother-in-law, who’s never in a good mood, or your daughter’s boyfriend, who always is. If not them, then the fishmonger, who proudly displays a swordfish, or the gas station attendant who spills gas on your car. He sniffs to feel young again but can’t even put the pump away correctly anymore. Or the family doctor you’ve known for years and who lets you cut the line because you always know just the right thing to give him at Christmas. The doorman of your building uses it, and if he doesn’t, then your kids’ tutor does, your nephew’s piano teacher, the costume designer for the play you’re going to see tonight, the vet who takes care of your cat. The mayor who invited you over for dinner recently. The contractor who built your house, the author whose book you’ve been reading before falling asleep, the anchorwoman on the evening news. But if, after you think about it, you’re still convinced none of these people could possibly snort cocaine, you’re either blind or you’re lying. Or the one who uses it is you."
Cocaine is a vice and vanity but it fills other gaps in western culture. Self-medication enables addicts to cope with deeper problems. Drugs are signposts pointing to the subliminal world. Cocaine is popular in western countries because it papers over the cracks for people driven to the breaking point. It enables people to force themselves forward in environments which are already locked in overdrive, no matter what the cost, no matter what their spiritual heartbreak or moral dislocation. Some parts of daily life are identical to what they were thirty years ago, but in the areas touched by connected technology, the cultural and social impact is almost unimaginable. As I suggested, there is a reason for this desperate need to keep up. If you do not change in a hyper-changing society, you die.

In this post, I commented that ever since the 1960s, death is not an option. The Baby Boomer revolutionary creed was anti-militaristic and pro-youth-forever. The Boomers adored eastern faiths, but a Buddhist might find they diverged from any eastern path. With their marketing, lifestyles and values, the Boomers taught us to abhor death, because death entails the destruction of the ego and the continued survival of the soul. This is unimaginable in a materialist society ruled by egotists. In their true hearts, the last thing the members of the Me Generation wanted was to preside over a mechanistic order of crushing egotism, but that is the outcome of their collective efforts.

One may ask why. Why did the Baby Boomers develop such a confused message of holistic social healing, in societies now dominated by hostile materialist egotism? Initially, the Boomers promoted youth, pacifism and liberalism. This is a mantra against death. Their avoidance of death ended up promoting the ego, thereby sponsoring the social ills and totalitarian self-promotion which plague western societies now in mass media, politics, entertainment, workplaces and the economy. Western cultures are on the run from death; which is why westerners (and many non-westerners) now worship fast-paced change. We must change more and more; we must go faster and faster; we must work ourselves to death, but we must not die. A rest or pause would entail contemplation of that which pursues us - and that is very difficult to do.

It is difficult because most people alive today arrived during or after the worst blood-letting of the 20th century occurred. Imagine the last century's hemoclysm as a grotesque journey into humanity's dark night of the soul, in which some 180 million people died in armed conflicts. Historian Eric Hobsbawm put the number at 187 million people who were "killed or allowed to die by human decision" in the "short century" between 1914 and 1991. And scholar Milton Leitenberg, citing Hobsbawm, places the number higher, at 231 million people who died in wars and conflicts in the entire century. That makes the 20th century the bloodiest in history. It would be accurate to see the ideological solutions of the Boomers and succeeding generations not as solutions, but as masks to hide the collective shock after the bloodbath, and a desperate, reflexive need to contain further bloodshed at all costs - even, ironically, through the propagation of small wars to let off steam, but not have the whole system blow. Liberal democracy hides the west's survivors' mentality. In that aftermath, add a layer of glittering technology to spread blind hope in peace and connectivity, and you have the current state of affairs.

Since the turn of the new Millennium, no shiny technology, and certainly no drug, can conceal or suppress the enduring darkness in the human soul. To shake off utopian denial and face death in western cultures squarely and honestly, as author Roberto Saviano struggles to do, takes courage and a different set of values than those promoted forty-five years ago. And contrary to what conservative pundits would say, we do not know what those new values are. For Saviano, it starts with the courage to recognize the ugliness in human nature, not with ideological formulas, but with honesty about 'real' reality.

It calls for a frank acknowledgement of the survivors' mentality, because we will exist between apocalypses, and not just after them, if we do not. In the movie, Silent Fall (1994), Liv Tyler's character remarks that in their grief, survivors no longer want to know or show themselves as they truly are. They inhabit a purgatorial state of quasi morto, or near death:
"I figured out something about death. It's contagious. I know that sounds crazy, but it's like when people you love die, you feel like you should have died too. And you don't want anybody to know that you survived. No one."
Survivors deny the reality of their own existences because they feel guilty that they are still alive, when others have died in their stead. To live on a mountain of skulls is to want to disappear. It is easier to dream of peace than it is to be fully conscious after one's whole civilization has undergone near-total obliteration. Virtual reality well suits the sleepwalker's state of denial and the authoritarian mechanisms do and will quietly follow. If we are all survivors who have denied our true natures, who are we really? As the old year dies, the question of how to find the time to become fully conscious of 'real' reality has never been more important.

The Sleepwalker (1907) by Julius Diez. Reblogged from The Pictorial Arts.

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:

BBC interview with Roberto Saviano (28 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.