Friday, March 27, 2015

The Society of the Spectacle

It's hard to believe Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was first published in the 60s. Consider the world we live in today: a world of social media, where the mediated space is on equal footing with our lived experience. In fact, the virtual seems positioned to entirely replace the material in the course of history, a point at which we can truly say would be the end of history.

Now, these quotations, directly from the text:

In a world that is truly topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.
The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than "that which appears is good, that which is good appears."
The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having to appearing, from which all actual "having" must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function.
The spectacle is the existing order's uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.
... The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of spectacular relations conceals the fact that they are relations among classes: a second nature...seems to dominate our environment. If the spectacle, taken in the limited sense of "mass media" which are its most glaring superficial manifestation seems to invade society as mere equipment, this equipment is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total self movement. If the social needs of the epoch in which such techniques are developed can only be satisfied through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact among men can no longer take place except through the intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication, it is because this "communication" is essentially unilateral. 
We need not call to mind the PR debacle of Facebook "emotionally manipulating" its users. This is, after all, nothing but the type of marketing manipulation all companies attempt, with varying degrees of success. No. It is the much more casual way that these technologies integrate with our lives that bears the most consideration. It is the business of these platforms to set themselves up as the intermediary, the go-between when you engage anyone in this "topsy-turvy" world.

More anecdotally, (and prosaically), it has been somewhat disturbing to me of late that the few times I've left my Facebook account, many people have ceased contact. When I returned, caving into what has increasingly felt like a Stockholm Syndrome like situations, the refrain was "I'm happy you're back, now we can talk to you again." The virtual is increasingly the world in which we exist in, socially. What then is the fleshy present? The mechanism of mediation is increasingly the "lived world."
To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessity. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep. 
Couched in the sort of "pomo speak" that seems to be less in vogue these days, it's not likely to be a top seller anytime soon. The tone almost strikes one as the bullet points read off through a bullhorn at a rally by a chain-smoking Frenchman with a megaphone. There are countless ways that we can critique, interrogate, and ultimately narrate technology. Whether it is our salvation or damnation is almost a literary conceit. But that makes this particular critique no less lucid, or downright prescient.

Next up I'm going to start looking into how Situationism influenced Debord's work. And dig back at the anarchist primitive movement that was fire-bombed in Philadelphia. I'll report back what thoughts seem worth sharing.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

The 404 Attacks: Project Monarch

I was at the high school dance. Waste of an evening. I mean, I wouldn't have even considered going to something like this. It was embarrassing. But I knew she'd be there. I spent the whole night wishing I could get closer to her. Excuses to brush by, to look just a moment more. I didn't want to be creepy. I want to be her friend.

And then the song started. You know the one. "You spin me right round baby, right round." Cheesy shit but we can all dance ironically. That makes it safer somehow.

Yeah I, I got to know your name. Well and I, could trace your private number baby. Amber. That was her name. Different hair color every week it seemed. Different piercings and tattoos. Same eyes. Nothing could change them. I wanted to.

So I stood in the corner. Gibberish numbers were bouncing around in my head, blocking everything else out. They seemed to come from the music but compound themselves, a feedback loop of infinite proportions. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ... She turned to look at me when the words "Watch out, here I come" seemed to blow the eardrums out of my cheap skull. 21, 34... ACTIVATE LEVEL 5.

Something horrible happened. A snake slithered through my intestines and wrapped its coils like a vice-around my brain, and it squeezed, squeezed, squeezed. The juices in my pineal gland squirted all over my shoes. I fell to the ground. Everyone around me looked on in terror, but the music kept playing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Backfire Effect

You think your beliefs are informed by facts. Yet, research is demonstrating facts couldn't matter less...
Science and fiction once imagined the future in which you now live. Books and films and graphic novels of yore featured cyberpunks surfing data streams and personal communicators joining a chorus of beeps and tones all around you. Short stories and late-night pocket-protected gabfests portended a time when the combined knowledge and artistic output of your entire species would be instantly available at your command, and billions of human lives would be connected and visible to all who wished to be seen.
So, here you are, in the future surrounded by computers which can deliver to you just about every fact humans know, the instructions for any task, the steps to any skill, the explanation for every single thing your species has figured out so far. This once imaginary place is now your daily life.
So, if the future we were promised is now here, why isn’t it the ultimate triumph of science and reason? Why don’t you live in a social and political technotopia, an empirical nirvana, an Asgard of analytical thought minus the jumpsuits and neon headbands where the truth is known to all?
Among the many biases and delusions in between you and your microprocessor-rich, skinny-jeaned Arcadia is a great big psychological beast called the backfire effect. It’s always been there, meddling with the way you and your ancestors understood the world, but the Internet unchained its potential, elevated its expression, and you’ve been none the wiser for years.
The backfire effect is constantly shaping your beliefs and memory, keeping you consistently leaning one way or the other through a process psychologists call biased assimilation. Decades of research into a variety of cognitive biases shows you tend to see the world through thick, horn-rimmed glasses forged of belief and smudged with attitudes and ideologies. When scientists had people watch Bob Dole debate Bill Clinton in 1996, they found supporters before the debate tended to believe their preferred candidate won. In 2000, when psychologists studied Clinton lovers and haters throughout the Lewinsky scandal, they found Clinton lovers tended to see Lewinsky as an untrustworthy homewrecker and found it difficult to believe Clinton lied under oath. The haters, of course, felt quite the opposite. Flash forward to 2011, and you have Fox News and MSNBC battling for cable journalism territory, both promising a viewpoint which will never challenge the beliefs of a certain portion of the audience. Biased assimilation guaranteed.

The Backfire Effect

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Monday, March 23, 2015

Peter and Paul: Lost in the Wonderland

Most of us see life as a period we spend wading through morasses of daily challenges just so that, one day, if we’re lucky, we might retire in the never-never land we refer to as heaven, and spend the rest of eternity doing absolutely nothing but basking in the eternal light of G
In order to make such a dismal prospect achievable, we’d created a God in our own image, and endowed Him, or possibly Her, with an abundance of very, very noble attributes. The alternate permanent residence is the exact opposite of this prospect, yet equally as dismal.
Because they are both based on the assumption that eternal dolce far niente, known to us as “sweet doing nothing”, which due to their proximity to the Vatican the Italians had brought to near-perfection, is the way to be.
It is.
And it is a reward.
For a day. A week. Maybe two weeks. But Eternity? Any definition of hell would be preferable.
Peter and Paul: Lost in the Wonderland: Most of us see life as a period we spend wading through morasses of daily challenges just so that, one day, if we’re lucky...

A valuable, very necessary post for all those of us struggling to cope with unrewarded creative output!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Congress

The real meat of this narrative hangs on an old but incredibly fruitful frame: is an artist's work or their persona ultimately of value? The pop-cult of personality certainly points in the direction of the mask. She is offered the opportunity to sell the mask to Miramount studios, and go on her merry way. Live her life, but never act in anything ever again. They own the mask.

Robin Wright acts in her own narrative gonzomentary,
and does it with the gravitas of a fallen angel.

This film sets up an incredibly tight first act, and then veers in an entirely unexpected, psychedelic direction from there.

As at-times interesting and surreal as the rest of the movie is, it could've been done in a way that was more consistent with where the movie seemed to be going, although that course change isn't so joyfully pointless as Tarantino's Dusk Till Dawn. Vampires and crotch cannons don't suddenly appear in the middle of a crime drama. Rather, you're dropped into the middle of Waking Life, with a bit more Matrix revolutionary zeal and a bit less philosophical speculation.

Might consistency have bit deeper and bled a bit longer? Maybe. That depends on your tastes.

But whatever flavor suits you, this film hearkens to a time, now lost to the haze of distant memory, when movies sought to make us question our culture, and our place in it. (I think it might have been the late 90s.)

Pop-art often employs repetition of the mask or container. (Think Warhol.) The Congress, in its way, can be considered a part of this tradition. In a movie that seeks to analyze an industry that functions only by cannibalizing itself, and doing so often off the flesh of its talent, the only tools available are a pastiche of what has come before. This is a sense in which The Congress is deeply postmodern, in a more than passing sense.

Its inveigh against Hollywood uses self-referential bricolage as a device for their own deconstruction. Tropes from nearly every genre available to Hollywood are used toward that end. Pointillism, bricolage, etc. are only useful devices to the extent that they relate back to a single thread. In this case, that thread is not a single narrative, not plot or resolution, but the theme of alter-ego as product. The alter-ego as icon, as obsession, as the lure painted over the heavens when the Gods of old will no longer do.

How much can you drill down into a single theme, how many fourth walls can you break, before the sublime turns into the redundant?

That line is seriously tested through the final act, but not, I think, ultimately broken.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Steiner's Philosophy and an Alternate View of Spiritual Context
Goetheanum by rosmary
Rudolf Steiner is a largely forgotten thinker in virtually all circles of Western philosophy. Even many in esoteric circles who know the names Crowley or Blavatsky often fail to recognize his name. Despite this, Steiner’s influence is felt today in Waldorf schools, biodynamic farming, social finance, and prisoner outreach, and his school of anthroposophical thought is still debated and taught in Rosicrucian style organizations like the Anthroposophical Society in America. I was first introduced to Steiner through Gary Lachman’s excellent book, Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work, which detailed the life and work of Steiner in such a way as to be easily approachable. Lachman’s recommendations included Robert McDermott’s The Essential Steiner (later updated as The New Essential Steiner), and there were enough similarities between my own personal philosophy and Steiner’s, that it was an easy purchase to further devour this great thinker’s expansive writing.

Steiner had a great impact on me personally because of his views on geometry and other mathematics are pure, and his insistence that any spiritual belief or experience could be met with the same scrutiny with which the hard sciences were met—essentially, Steiner believed that scientific inquiry could penetrate the spiritual. Steiner’s refusal to tell his readers/listeners to take things on blind faith, and his insistence on additional inquiry, made him different amongst his esoteric peers—less a guru and more an advisor. On a philosophical level, he was well-verse with the great German philosophers, and even upon disagreeing with others, took it upon himself to diligently argue from another’s perspective in order to better understand their point of view. His writings in support of Nietzsche (for Nietzsche’s daughter) are case in point for this. Steiner wasn’t searching for followers. His goal was the pursuit of knowledge; something that can be appreciated, whether you agree with his more esoteric philosophy or think they are just outlandish.

Steiner understood the principles of evolution as they were during his time. The difference was that he applied evolutionary principles to the spiritual as well as the physical—even spiritual entities such angels. Everything evolved. Although scientists don't assume that evolution "ceases" they also don't seem to contemplate whether the consciousness of today is the same as the consciousness of older times, or at the very least, it isn't something that is highly contemplated when examining historical context. So, for example, when we examine the literature of ancient cultures, we take a lot of what those cultures say to mean literally how they said it, but their descriptions have been written within their own consciousness, and their consciousness could have been quite different back then.

Steiner talks about the positioning of the astral body (which also evolves) through the evolution of the human being to show how insight into the spiritual has changed, but he's quick to note that stories and statements made that seem far-fetched for our physical reality are likely to be glimpses of the spiritual world that those individuals could still see, and most importantly, interpret. Many today look upon ancient cultures and think that they believed what they did because they weren't "as smart as us," but we really don't know "what" they truly believed. Steiner also makes the comment that older cultures believed these spiritual things because they weren't that far removed from ancestors that could see directly into the spiritual, and some of their own people still could. He gives them the benefit of the doubt, whereas modern science and history assumes them often ignorant, misled, or not as culturally evolved.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

The Conspiracy Against the Human RaceThe Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Years of meditating and reading books on philosophy, psychology, years of lucid dreams and night terrors, do not make a person unique. But it is singularly unique to find what feels like your own thoughts reflected back at you when you didn't pen them. As I read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, I had a strange feeling, as if deja vu and vertigo had somehow been blended together. Had I read this before, if I hadn't written it?

Yet that disturbing familiarity regards an utterly useless process. Reading or writing about philosophy has long had a negative connotation in the United States, thanks to a long anti-intellectual culture in some corners. But here the useless, and indeed the negative, have an absolutely finality that have nothing to do with anti-intellectualism. This is ontological uselessness, the nightmare of being.

Ligotti's core thesis  the self as we know it is a contrivance of evolution, self consciousness an accident. To be deceived into thinking we are a self, that's the situation we find ourselves in, without hope of reprieve or reprisal. Of course, he isn't the first pessimist to set pen to paper, but he is the first to do so starkly, with such uncompromising clarity, without back pedaling or that ultimate cop out, the happy ending, “it was all a dream.”

There is a certain intentional irony here, as indeed our waking lives are a type of dream, and the self we grant some sense of ultimate reality is nothing other than a character in that dream. But to the extent anything is real, that dream character's suffering is legitimate.

Our choice as he sees it is simple — self deception, or insanity. He shows us the basis of horror, rooted not in the supernatural beyond, but much closer to home. It stares back at us in the mirror. The supernatural in a sense gives us a glimpse of our own uncanny ghoulishness, without requiring identification with the absolute truth of the matter. We can close the book, and shake off that chill, for after all, it was just a story.

But this is not merely a thought experiment. It isn't satirical hyperbole, like A Modest Proposal. There is no hope or happy ending to soften the blow. Because the game of life is all fixed anyway, it couldn't matter less if you deceive yourself and write this book off as pessimistic belly aching. Whatever it takes to get you through another day, and prop up the illusion that you are a self in the first place.

Although some may argue about what constitutes “serious philosophy”  as Ligotti himself says, he eschews the circuitous argumentation that generally grants a work that unapproachable aura of seriousness  I would argue that this book belongs within any introductory study of nihilism and even post-modernism. To do so I'd like to demonstrate what I mean. Those purely interested in The Conspiracy Against The Human Race may as well stop here, but I believe this claim demands a little context and backtracking. You'll forgive me if I need to broaden the scope to come back to task.


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