Dr. Elizabeth Knapp: Poetry & Baudrillard The Poet

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On this week’s show, I was joined by Dr. Elizabeth Knapp of Hood College in Frederick, Maryland (faculty page). I learned of her only a few days ago, upon seizing on the idea that Baudrillard is, properly speaking, a poet, a not a philosopher as such. Searching for “Baudrillard is a poet,” I stumbled on Dr. Knapp’s new collection, Requiem With an Amulet in its Beak, which has won the fittingly named Jean Feldman Poetry Prize for 2019. Her poems reference Baudrillard directly and indirectly, consciously and (perhaps) in some other way. As an example, here is

My Brain is Mad for Baudrillard

Today, I read of scientists’ warnings
about the potential dangers of sex
robots and thought of you. Some blame
the rise of right-wing populism
on postmodern windbags like you, holed
up in your university office, giving head
to your shadow. But Jean, you were right—
we are living in the desert of the real,
where signs metastasize like cancer cells,
and who hasn’t felt the Foucauldian
grip around her wrists, her ankles?
Even desire a simulacrum of itself.
I drowned in you as if in a frozen lake,
but either I or the lake was dreaming.

We tackle some of the themes from this poem, and more, as we discuss Jean Baudrillard’s prophetic and poetic prose, and the place of poetry in our discursively hectic world.

Rick and Morty Season 4 Premier Part 2: Minutes 5 – End of Act 1

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We see another Rick awoken from stasis, due to the death of Rick (C-137?). This has to do with operation “Phoenix,” Phoenixes of course rise from the ashes, I think I saw someone say this is a R&M reference. The awakened Rick is confused, saying “I axed this protocol.” Hence the origin of this system of regenerating Ricks is mysterious. Following from the plot/brand armor discussion, we know some new Rick will always appear because this is Rick & Morty. It would be truly avant-garde to have an episode with no Rick, which I don’t think has been done. But would they do it? Would it still be Rick and Morty? No. So, ‘till now, there’s always some way Rick is still in the picture.

Another Rick shows up demanding to know what’s going on. Rick says that he cancelled his regeneration process “two seasons” ago, so he thinks his backup got rerouted into this universe. This is how the fascist multiverse begins. Is it that in all other worlds Rick has long since been a fascist? It’s also a classic “mumbo jumbo” science explanation for what was always going to happen anyway (see above), and it’s also a fourth-wall break where Rick refers to the time as two seasons ago. Rick is basically Deadpool at this point.

The other Rick says “it’s annoying to have to ask, but you are down with fascist dystopias, right?” This is an odd question. First, the other Rick says “it’s annoying to have to ask,” as though most people would agree fascist dystopias are good, but a small yet persistent minority refuses to see it. This is obviously counter to our world, where (apparently) most people are not cool with fascist dystopias. Yet in a way we already live in a fascist dystopia, and people defend our current system all the time. So, in a way, this scene is a commentary on the fact that we consider our own point of view “common sense,” even if we are a fascist or some other “radical.” Yet the same bias exists for the “centrist,” the “moderate” whose opinion is taken as given to be the bedrock of the acceptable. How is the center molded? By bureaucracies analogous to a fascist or collectivist dictatorship! Therefore, in a way we are all little Eichmanns, ready to allow others to die and be ridiculed forever, and viewing it as a neutral opinion.

Next, in the statement, the other Rick calls it a fascist dystopia. Why would he call it a dystopia if he thinks it is a good thing, that we should be “down” with? This is an odd phrasing, since dystopias have a negative connotation. Perhaps this has something to do with the knowing taking up of the mantle of Evil. Why does the Dark Side call itself the Dark Side? Why does the Injustice League call itself that? This links up with Baudrillard’s point that power simply assumes the critique of itself, the Bank ad “I’m interested in your money!” epitomizing this phenomenon. By stealing critique, power leaves nothing to its former critics, and as Debord says it is impossible to show that you are laughing at power, since all mockery of power is accounted for and turned inward into raw material for the production of misery. In context, it could also imply that this Rick more recently turned into a fascist, since he is calling a fascist dystopia by what he might have called it before.

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Cut to a picture of Rick with a black guy with the caption “Thanks for sterilizing China!” and it looks like it may be signed by Mitt Romney. In this timeline, did Mitt Romney become black? Rick is also wearing Nazi-type regalia, showing that race purity and domination have made a full comeback (along with, you know, sterilizing billions of people. This is also a reference to the new conflict between the West and China, which is starting to frame all political discussion; it acknowledges that the West has committed atrocities against China in the past and is an aggressive operator, as opposed to the “West = Democratic, China = Authoritarian” propaganda which is incessantly shoved down our throats. The idea of Mitt Romney becoming black inside of a world where America embraces Nazism underscores the possibility of a multicultural fascism, an eventuality which is undertheorized in political discourse. Things like “political correctness” can easily be appropriated for fascist activity, which seems for the moment like the 2nd worst eventuality, though in practice the center-right fascism of Trump and the center-left fascism of the establishment democrats are simply moving toward each other. Most “progressive” and “populist” discourses feed into this narrative as well, as fundamental things like the constitution and private property are not questioned hard enough, fast enough to prevent the sweeping pincer movement of physical force and subtle indoctrination.

Other Rick says Rick’s yes was pretty liberal with a Y. Does this mean lyberal? Libyral? It also shows that such totalitarian ideologies require not only compliance, but enthusiasm, and punish lack of enthusiasm. In reality, the logic is always that the subject is not loyal enough, and that power can punish and bully us around because we are always already guilty. That is why we must challenge the logic of the law. Fascist Morty comes in, and Rick tries to convince his that he is the real fascist, and that other Rick is a socialist imposter. Does this imply Rick is a socialist, or was that just the group he went to for fascist Morty to hate? Fascist Morty kills other Rick, saying that he was “too political” and that he wants to have classic Rick and Morty adventures.

This shows the simple desire for entertainment without bothering with politics. Yet politics is involved in the groundwork for any simple ludic activity, such as going on adventures. It’s clear that there is some kind of interdimensional government which keeps track of things, and without which all of Morty’s families might be killed, or something like that. This is how in our world, many people don’t like politics, but it’s clear that someone has to do something because things like climate change are coming. This just goes to show that we have to make politics more fun and fun more political. The wealthy are already doing this: shooting games being used for Army marketing, propaganda at football games, etc. All AV media entertainment is straight propaganda for the system most of the time.

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Does R&M fall into this category? It flirts with the distinction, with Rick’s highest sage moments coming in times of indifference. Perhaps fun is necessary for the law just as the law is necessary for fun. Rick is fine with the plan, but fascist Morty points the gun and says “you will go where I want you to go!” Again, Rick is trapped by an inferior mind, and fascist Morty, while considering other Rick “too political,” is himself hungry for power and domination, which we recall is a sign of the lack of intelligence, from Baudrillard’s Agony of Power. Rick never dominates for domination’s sake, but for an instrumental purpose which is connected with some higher function, even if that higher function is just pleasing his hedonism, since he is the great Rick so his pleasure is “worth it.” Like a Buddhist enlightened person, he gathers no karma so he can do whatever. Fascist Morty is an idiot in comparison, since he is constraining a more intelligent being for a simplistic and childish purpose.

Cut to Morty at school, where many iteration of holographic Rick are protesting him as he walks to class, chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, not cloning your grandpa has got to go.” This is again parodying “social justice warriors” and those who protest against things perceived as morally unacceptable. For one, it is striking how this one chant form is always used. As someone who has been in protests, it’s remarkable how uncreative the chants can be. Perhaps this is a tactic seeded in by “leaders” who are trying to derail the movements? The signs have wordplay similar to slogans from our world. “We see through you,” is an appropriation of a slight which holographic people may receive, or a difference between them and “real” people. An analogue might be “we see you” directed toward intelligence agencies, which “see us” all by soaking up our online data. Also: “We’re here, we’re sheer” is a clear twist on “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” which was obviously used by queer demonstrators to try to normalize queerness in society.

Holographic Rick associates Morty not doing what he wants with injustice against him, which is entitled, since Morty doesn’t disparage the hologram or use derogatory language, but instead doesn’t want to clone Rick because he is oriented toward his fantasy of death. Morty doesn’t have a good reason not to clone Rick, but that doesn’t make it unjust not to listen to holographic Rick. Thus, it’s a comment on how those protesting for social justice may just be weaponizing those concepts in order to get their way. On the other hand, it’s not like holographic Rick is derailing some actually good plan. Morty is obsessed with death. Similarly, people who argue on the basis of justice, even if in bad faith, are arguing with a society which is obsessed with death, obsessed with knowing how it will all turn out. Perhaps we just dream of painlessly merging into the machine. Whatever it is, it shows that the normal world is pathological as well, and that thoughts of sex and death are always right below the surface.

The pot smoking holographic Rick takes a while to snap back into holographic Rick. Obligatory pot joke. Why is pot so ubiquitous? Why is it so even when it is federally illegal?

Morty reveals that he’s going for a death with Jessica, but when she approaches it becomes less certain. So, Morty runs away. This goes to show that feelings about the future can bring us great comfort, but when we go to implement them, everything goes haywire. Therefore, we sit back, and our aspirations are mere compensatory fantasies which help keep us locked in a programmed state. Holographic Rick tells him to throw the stone away, stop thinking of death, and talk to whoever he wants. This also shows a lack of self-awareness on Rick’s part.

First, telling someone to stop thinking about something is impossible, showing that Rick deals with his problems through repression, which is also unwise. This is outlined in ironic process theory. Next, he says to simply do what “you want,” which is not a simple thing. It is not easy to know what one wants, and confusing mere impulses with deep desires can lead one astray. It seems Rick follows his impulses and represses deeper metacognition, yet he is so intelligent that he functions well, working around his repressed trauma through distracting schemes.

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Morty says holographic Rick sounds like real Rick, to which holographic Rick responds “you’re better than that language.” This is another way of seeming to be benevolent, telling people that they have a higher status than they think, but in order to control. Rick responds “I’m not better than shit, Jack,” which shows that Morty feels reduced at the moment, which is why he’s obsessed with the Crystal, but also that moralistic argument is easily defeated by a simple dismissal of the value system attached to it. Values are arbitrary in a way, so any moralistic emotional coercion can simply be dealt with by machine guns or such.

Cut to Phoenix Rick and Fascist Morty in a spaceship with that gear guy who Rick messed up last season (gears still in mouth), and fascist Morty tells Rick not to do meta-commentary, but to simply enjoy the “classic adventure.” Fascist Morty is in indeed fascist by wanting things to be like ideal of the past. In reality, we know Rick has always done such meta-commentary. In addition, Fascist Morty is himself doing metacommentary. This is just how fascists often have commitments outside their “official positions,” as does everyone. We have contradictory values, and often egocentric ones. Fascist Morty doesn’t want Rick to do meta-commentary, but he wants to do his own in order to impose his desire for a simple adventure.

Phoenix Rick has a good line, which it “it would help to say anything except what you don’t want,” which shows the challenge to people who are so negative or reactionary: whether that means viewing “cultural Marxism” or the “multicultural communist left” as the fundamental evil, or else “racist sexist white supremacist cis patriarchy” or some such agglomeration. We each feel entitled to getting our own way, even though this means strong-arming others who then do not get their way.

Fascist Morty says he like Meseeks, so Rick has Mr. Meseekses come out and kill Fascist Morty, who fires his gun to defend himself, leading to everyone being sucked out and Phoenix Rick dying. Rick says “kill this Nazi prick,” so we know that Rick doesn’t like Nazism. Perhaps more because it is dumb than because of moral reasons? I think this could be important. Rick could also just reflect US political values, in which case anti-Nazism is simply a façade to act like the US is not also a totalitarian dystopia.

Another Rick is regenerated as a shrimp of some kind. It seems that there are other worlds where a Rick evolved from a shrimp or something? Yet it still evolved toward “Rickness,” which could be a metaphor in our timeline for some transcultural state achievable by many different kinds of entities in different timelines, again possibly similar to a Nirvana type concept. Shrimp Morty comes in, asking if other Shrimp Rick is making clones, but both Ricks are united in shouting him down. It seems they get along. This is “the way of the world” for Rick, where he berates Morty because he’s an idiot and feels no guilt for doing so.

They talk about how Phoenix Shrimp Rick is ape-descended, yet the house is exactly the same. Again, the same mental structure which these being evolved into will arrange its domicile in the same way. Other Shrimp Rick says “that’s such a mindfuck” casually, as the show rubs in the fact that it deals with an extended multiverse that is never explained. This reflects how that is the case in reality, and the story is never really grounded all the way. Things just happen to work out sometimes, which is just as absurd as this plot point in its own way.

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Baudrillard:

In its hegemonic function, power is a virtual configuration that metabolizes any element to serve its own purposes. It could be made of countless intelligent particles, but its opaque juncture would not change. It is like a body that changes its cells constantly while remaining the same. Soon, every molecule of the American nation will have come from somewhere else, as if by transfusion. America will be Black, Indian, Hispanic, and Puerto Rican while remaining America. It will be all the more mythically American in that it will no longer be “authentically’ American. And all the more fundamentalist in that it will no longer have a foundation (even though it never had one, since even the Founding Fathers came from somewhere else). And all the more bigoted in that it will have become, in fact, multiracial and multicultural. And all the more imperialist in that it will be led by the descendants of slaves. That is the subtle and unassailable logic of power; it cannot be changed.

Phoenix Shrimp Rick says he’s happy Other Shrimp Rick isn’t a fascist, but Other Shrimp Rick is a fascist. Cut to Phoenix Shrimp Rick running down the street screaming “damn, when did this shit become the default?” before being chased down and killed by fascist shrimp. Firstly, red, white, and black are the oldest three colors, therefore it’s no accident that the flags are the same. It’s the two colors with the highest contrast (white/black), plus red which is the color of blood and so symbolically central in our lives.

Second, social systems rely on in-group/out-group functioning to work, and with the development of more and more powerful technology, social discrimination becomes for wide reaching, psychologically precise in its damage, targeted, and the dominant biases in society come to be expressed as part of a totalitarian bureaucracy which uses the technological means at its disposal to centralize control and crush all dissent. This can happen in any social group, not just “conservative ones,” since any social group can become conservative by simply reinforcing its own principles into the ground.

Morty is at school still following the Crystal. The math teacher gives him an “A in confidence” because Morty draws gibberish on the board. This goes to show that Morty has found a powerful new form of identity, his attachment to his death, which allows him not to worry about violating this or that social norm. The math teacher will show up later, being eaten by the well-adjusted Wasp Family.

Morty struts down the hallways, when a bully says he will kill him, referencing the Coco movie in another ham-handed corporate plug (to go along with the Amazon plug). Morty says the bully should just go with the flow, nice and Zen. Yet in reality that’s not what Morty is doing, since Zen would proceed for letting go of some fantasy of death, instead of perversely taking great pleasure from a fantasy and blocking the world out. The Death Crystal is like an ideology, which gives Morty a superficial sense of self yet which he is entirely enslaved to.

The bully bangs his head on a locker, giving himself head trauma. Perhaps the message is that Morty is out of touch, just speaking platitudes instead of seeing what this individual needed to hear. Triggered by trauma, perhaps from people telling him to “chill out” while emotionally neglecting or abusing him, the bully begins to self-harm and becomes violent. This shows that ideology, while it gives us a sense of purpose and safety, can lead us astray by leading us to have simplistic readings of situations and of our possible engagements with them. The bully says “you will die tomorrow. It’s what bullies call a fait accompli.” This is a joke because most bullies are anti-intellectual, so they wouldn’t say that. Also just a direct literary term reference.

Holographic Rick is eating fried chicken, saying Morty got himself into a “lick” of trouble, referencing the “finger lickin’ good” slogan, another shameless corporate plug. Morty asks why holographic Rick eats food that isn’t real, and holographic Rick asks why it’s not real? Because it has no nutrients. Holographic Rick points out that what Morty eats is not what he considers food to himself, showing that applying the norms of the “abnormal” to the normal gives a similar view. Then holographic Rick suggest they respect each other, continually poking at the social problem of how to get along when there are radically different experiences involved.

To give an example, our current universities are set up very poorly to help motivate students and help them excel. Why? Because schools try to get children to be what the “experts” say they should be, instead of allowing for more input to come from children themselves, and having respect for the fact that established value systems may be incorrect, and thus that radical challenges to all forms of thought, and respect for the development of all cultural forms, ought to be encouraged by everyone, especially because our diminished standard for others may one day be applied to ourselves.

Morty finds a secret safe in Rick’s lab, and uses the Crystal to unlock it. Holographic Rick says that while Real Rick is the epitome of “bloated flesh privilege,” he’s right that it’s better to live in the moment. This insight, again, is core to Buddhism and other mystical philosophies, which point out that sequential time doesn’t really exist.

Holographic Rick says “oh, just because I can’t interact with solid matter means you can just walk all over me,” which has multiple interpretations. 1) It’s an obvious statement; yes that is the case, since Holographic Rick can’t stop Morty from doing anything. 2) This is analogous to our world, where the powerful do what they can and the weak “suffer what they must” (Thucydides). 3) This invocation is questionable, since in our world the weak can interact with the world. 4) Maybe it means the “real world” is out of reach for non-elites, such that we can interact with the world, but can’t really hope to change it. 5) Yet maybe this isn’t true, and the dispossessed actually have much more power than they think, making “you’re only one person” nothing but a slogan of the system designed to make people defeatist instead of inspired. Morty loads up with weapons.

Teddy Bear Phoenix Rick wakes up from suspension, finds out he’s in a fascist world from a German speaking fascist Teddy Bear Rick, and commits suicide. This is a joke, in context, which is not making light of real suicide since this Rick knows he will come back. It could be a metaphor for not talking to people you disagree with, since you just “suicide” the conversation instead of hashing it out. We have to hash it out eventually, or get the end run on the “fascist dystopia” default option.

End of Act I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rick and Morty Season 4 Premiere Full Analysis Part 1: The First 5 Minutes

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Rick and Morty Season 4 Premiere: Full Scene-by-Scene Analysis

The show opens around the dinner table, a scene which often recurs, being a stereotype of the family, the nuclear family. A portrait of Snowball is on the wall. As is typical in this day and age, one of the members of the family is on their phone. Summer points out that Morty is on his phone, adopting the policing attitude of adults.

Jerry says sharing might help, and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Beth scolds Summer not to shame Morty, yet labels him as a creepy perverted stalker. Beth is the arch-judger, who reserves for her right to criticize the children. Summer takes glee at Beth insulting Morty.

Morty shows what he’s looking at: a picture of Jessica taking a selfie at her grandmother’s funeral. The necklace is from “Margaritaville,” but is also right where her breasts are. The caption says “Bye Grandma!” This overly ludic perspective on death shows how we are getting to the point where nothing is serious.

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Jerry says the Rick should be trying to destroy the reality principle of the conversation, to which Rick responds with an automated reply: he has somehow set himself up to be doing other things inside his mind, while an automated system makes his body eat and give token responses. He says he has it “so he can spend time with his family,” pointing out that often the family feels like an arbitrary grouping of people who don’t understand each other or know what to say to each other, so it’s easier to go on “autopilot” and just “get through it.” Beth makes a remark trying to buttress the idea of a nice time with family, to which Rick gives another automated response, showing that he is beyond this level of conversation.

Rick gets up, saying he’s done eating and making his Amazon wish list, one of the many stock corporate references in Rick and Morty. This serves to show that the show is just another corporate vehicle, but also has as many levels of irony as you’d like to impute on it. Rick, the super genius, shops on Amazon like us, or he simply uses this example of a trivial, conformist activity as a way of expressing how little he cares for interaction with the family. He uses it as an example of something that they perhaps value, but save for another time. He interrupts the time and place of the family dinner by being elsewhere, doing busywork.

Rick grabs Morty, but is stopped and is told to follow the new protocol: he has to ask Morty if he wants to go on the adventure. This is a fait accompli, since Morty wants to go on the adventure. Morty says thank you for asking, in a very ham-handed and inauthentic exchange which shows that simplistic efforts to resolve tension are just stage plays. He makes a dramatic gesture with his hank, which Rick unceremoniously yanks once again.

Summer says Jessica looks good in the photo, and that perhaps grief flushes your cheeks. This shows that everything is being funneled into how to present ourselves well, even the passing of someone in the family. Consistent theme of the breakdown of family ties in the face of media saturation and technological development (social media and Rick’s technical genius and the world is opens making his family boring to him, not to mention their misguided anger at him). Summer offers Jerry more syrup, to which Beth says not to try to make her father die to get a funeral selfie. This juxtaposition shows the creeping notion of death within all our technological gadgets.

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Intro Song

One standard scene where Rick leaves Morty to die. Death is dealt with in a vague, metaphysical and cartoonish way on the show. Then Rick flies to a planet which is a bulbous head of Morty with more Morty heads and tentacles coming out of it. This juxtaposition shows how Morty is sometimes aggrandized, and sometimes sacrificed on the show. Then a weird humanoid/robot hybrid appears. A muscled debonair man punches Rick, then a giant Morty rises from the ocean to terrorize some pink aliens. Rick goes to shoot a two-headed Goose, and then the standard Cthulu-esque monster following the disc-UFO craft shot which typically ends the intro. Allusion to HP Lovecraft, which R&M emulates by continually dissolving the contour of reality, questioning and overturning the reality principle, and leaving much to the viewer’s imagination.

Act I

Rick is flying fast and hard because he is pissed. Rick says that he resents having to ask Morty to do dangerous things, and says it’s a slippery slope. This is ironic, since Morty’s life is in question, yet, Rick is afraid of slippery slopes which will limit his genius. He holds others responsible for helping his express his gift, and ultimately preys on the family since they have an emotional bond to him (expressed in his multiple assertions of domination over the show). At the end of Season 3, Rick was hamstrung, but his resentment at this state of affairs is bubbling over, explosively. Rick sarcastically asks Morty to mine crystals, showing how often commands are presented as questions.

Rick explains Death Crystals tell you how you will die. Morty sees multiple ways he could die: getting his head ripped off by an elevator, being poisoned at a party, getting splashed with chemicals by a passing car, a fall, a random explosion. Morty thinks he will die many times, but Rick explains that how one dies continually changes, since we change our future through our actions. This conceit does not jive with a determinist universe, unless the Death Crystal presents not how you really will die, which is apparently one thing (what if something never died? What would the Crystal show then?), but rather something else, which keeps changing with your actions. Possible deaths for Rick are also presented: being torn in half by a cat monster, being eaten by a giant alien spider, being killed by an agglomeration of Morty heads, the same chemical splash from the car, and then being shot while mining this moment, which takes up all the “screens.”

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Rick says Crystal poachers are the lowest form of life, using universe as piggy bank. Morty asks what they are, then, since Rick does the same thing. “We’re Rick and Morty,” he explains, calling out the plot armor which main characters of shows receive, and the assumption that they are important or doing important things, or knowledgeable. Rick feels justified in plundering the universe because hell, he has his own show! Rick ties the self to the brand, but even someone outside a brand has the similar view: surely I can drive drunk, I’m a good driver. Everyone thinks this. Perhaps our brains give us a form of “plot armor.” I read for our brains, they think death is something that happens to other people only.

Rick says the real use of the Crystals is to show when the enemy is reloading. Rick has a practical purpose for the gems, while Morty takes very seriously the idea of dying a good death, and is worried about dying so that he wants to consult the Crystals for guidance. Rick says certain death certain death… uncertain death! And knows that he is unlikely to die from getting killing in that moment. It’s an odd and simplistic use of the Crystal- why don’t they fire in a barrage so not all of them are reloading at the same time? I’m not a soldier but I think that’s a thing.

Rick shows how quickly we can waver from thinking one thing is out “certain fate,” and how there is nothing we can do about it, then feeling completely differently and intervening confidently in the world. He wears the stone over his third eye, so it’s kind of like the stone lets you sense your connection with death the way a master of meditation might. Imagine a monk who has a “sixth sense” for knowing when someone is approaching. That’s basically what Rick has. After killing the attackers, Rick issues a simple command, safe in having established his power. Morty puts a Crystal in his pocket.

Morty points this whole thing out and asks if Rick just uses these to kill fights, to which Rick says no, that people who seek to avoid death are already dead, and that they’re also rich. This shows why he is not attached to the images of the Crystal the way Morty is: he is not attached to the idea of remaining alive, because he is aware of the non-fundamentality of this realm. Perhaps he is able to store his consciousness in some other place, or beyond space, and therefore death is not a real risk for him. Again, this is something a monk may achieve in an analog fashion.

Yet Rick is still using the Crystals for a different purpose: to make money. He says he wants to “spend his life” with their money. Money is the central object of desire. Rick is talking about money as a companion, and about spending life like currency; what do you choose to do with your time? Further,  so why is Rick’s instrumental mentality and more justified than those rich people’s? Because he’s Rick, of “Rick and Morty.” Rick knows the show knows they can kill this Rick and replace him with another Rick and people will still watch “Rick and Morty.” This speaks to the subsumption of everything into branding and advertising, which Rick and Morty simultaneously revels in, mocks, and is indifferent toward.

All of a sudden Morty sees himself dying with Jessica by his side, saying “I love you, Morty.” He stumbles toward the ship, beginning what he will do this episode: awkwardly starting to do things such that the image he sees from the crystal keeps being him dying with Jessica. Note this is also an image of Jessica, not the sexy image from before, but one also associated with death. This represents Jessica as love object, who makes death okay. Relationships have taken on the role of the church in making it “okay” to die, since we are so worried about it. We fantasize about how it “will” happen, which allows us to function.

They crash, and Rick is killed. Morty is concerned, but is reassured when he sees his death is unchanged. The image of a “good death” is enough to help him get over Rick dying. Is Morty cut off from real life in general, or is he bewitched by the Crystal, or does he just really not care that much for Rick?

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A ghostly version of Rick appears, which is revealed to be an automated hologram, which is trying to get Morty to clone Rick. He says “real Rick” in quotation marks, because this hologram has a chip on his shoulder from being “not real.” He considers “reality” to be a privilege, which he calls “density privilege.” It’s “holophobic” to assume the holographic Rick is not real. This is a parody of social justice type people, but this kind of discourse has been taken up by all sides as discourse, funneled into advertising, has funneling into adversity overcome, of course caused by others, leading to the formation of a victim-identity-industrial complex, which services the psychological “needs” of those who seek simple recognition or a sense of entitlement in existing.

Holographic Rick makes fun of this, saying Morty should do Rick a solid, “problematic wordplay aside,” since using “solid” in this implies solidity is good, which holographic Rick thinks is offense. He’s wink-wink about the whole thing, showing that he still has Rick’s meta-comedic edge, but he’s seriously annoyed be people acting like he’s not real. In this way, we makes a good victim example, since he is not a member of any group that “real humans” are in. In most stories, the focus is on what kind of person is on display. Here, it’s still Rick, but it’s also not a person the way we normally think about ourselves. This helps us consider the situation of grievances and language use outside of a given context (sex/race/etc.), in which we may have emotionally charged commitments which bias our cognitive-affective response.

Morty doesn’t insert the tissue sample into the clone compiler, and instead embraces the Death Crystal. Holographic Rick tries to guilt Morty into doing it by saying that he should remember that not everyone can pick things up, again emphasizing his holographic status. He says it is Morty’s right to be guided by the Crystal, but what he is saying is trying to coerce Morty morally into doing what he wants. This is a play on social justice progressives, but it is also a veiled indictment of the moralism around the state and corporations as well. The state and corporations take up the tone of “we’re not saying you have to be at home at 9, but we’d really appreciate it if you would,” which just serves to moralize what is fundamentally an inhuman enterprise. The real, asshole Rick programmed this hologram to be nice so that people would do what it wanted more effectively. It’s not “real,” so it can’t force anyone to do anything, but it can use moral coercion to get its way. This reflects moral discourse framed as the only thing available to the weak. Yet then we must question why the weak are construed as weak, and whether there are not other things which could be done, other powers which we can manifest. Holographic Rick says “I’m willing to accept that you’re doing this is you’re willing to accept that you need to stop,” emphasizing the above analysis. It is a rhetorical exchange framed as a trade but which simply results in holographic Rick getting his way. It’s clear that political rhetoric is a key theme of the show, which of course it has tackled prior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK Boomer, Climate, Totalitarian Surveillance & The Speaking Broadly Research Project

On this week’s show, I talk headlines: the OK boomer meme. I reference a 25 year old politician who responds to criticism with “OK Boomer,” talk about the escalating climate crisis, and talk about the quickly moving front of corporate Orwellian totalitarianism.

In the second half, I articulate my research project, which has us exploring culture, innovating with expression, and plumbing the depths of intergenerational trauma.

The Bearer of Bad News: Greta Thunberg and Social Revolution

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Greta Thunberg has recently burst onto the world stage as the champion of the climate movement. With some justifiable rage, she seeks to organize the world’s young people, and listening adults, to combat the threat to everyone’s way of life posed by climate change, and the stubborn inaction of entrenched economic, political, and military interests on this most urgent and universal of problems. Before addressing the substance of Thunberg’s activity, it’s important to look at core ways in which she is read or “interpellated” by her worldwide audience.

While celebrity culture is a trap in an of itself, people have become notable and deemed worthy of emulation and interpretation since time immemorial. Cultures are made by visionaries who show what is possible and invite others to join them. Such figures attract much attention, empty flattery as well as misguided hatred. In this, it is Thunberg’s courage as much as anything else which makes her exemplary. In considering dominant narrative frames surrounding her, we can help crystallize focus on her particular impact and resonance as a political and cultural figure.

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  1. Childhood

Pieces have already been written about the complexity of political readings of Thunberg arising from her age. Diana Georgescu explains:

The polarization [Thunberg engenders] is not down so much to political divide. Rather, the split in opinion is due to our deep-seated belief that childhood is an age of innocence and being dependent on adults, a time that aligns with the private, not the public and political sphere. Before the 1800s few adults held this view: it only gained acceptance with the rise of the middle-class in the nineteenth century.

With these words, we see that Thunberg is challenging much more than environmental policy, understood in the narrow sense of meteorological change. Thunberg is challenging norms of how people are supposed to engage in society. Of course, there have been child activists before—Malala comes to mind—but also, notably, child workers, from factory workers to child entertainers like Shirley Temple. Thunberg is different, in rallying for a cause which is truly global in scope, and complex in its appeal. The climate movement is an economic movement, calling attention to the imminent breakdown of our economic system; it is also a moral movement, issuing a challenge to those with influence, big or small, to act in the way that is right and not the way that is easy (for the moment); it is also a spiritual and cultural movement, exploring the ways in which people can interact with the world and other people.

In this, Thunberg has stepped out of the role of children which has increasingly become the role of adults as well: sit down, shut up, and listen to what the teacher tells you. Whether the teacher is at a school, in the courtroom, on TV, or in office, the time has come for all of us to put our childishness aside. The enthocentric view of childhood which has predominated is being destroyed by the obliteration of any protection of the private from the public. Climate change is coming for us personally, and so each person can become attuned to its challenge.

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  1. Asperger’s

Thunberg is also notable for embodying non-normative cognition in the form of Asperger’s syndrome. Those with this syndrome, such as Benjamin Banneker (pictured above), have been characterized to

typically have delayed access or no access to this phenomenon of human communication and share a problem that is called mind-blindness. Since interpersonal communication is approximately 65% nonverbal, you can quickly see that not being able to formulate a theory of mind leaves these individuals at a distinct disadvantage in relationship with others because the behavior of other people does not make sense to them.

It may seem counterintuitive that someone who lacks some of the normative foundations of empathy would lead a global movement for environmental justice. Yet the mystery dissolves when we think of how much in our environment is actually not trying to influence us for the better. How many things in life is it better to miss out on? Further, we see in Thunberg a change in the logic of the activist, especially the privileged activist. Instead of being inspired by the pain of others, this new activist starts with the self and its complexity, and moves into the social domain because the social is related to the self. This form of engagement is more authentic, since it leaves aside in its grounding the question of “looking right” to others or letting passion be overcome by politeness. Climate change is a problem because we are all worried about it; Thunberg was so worried she stopped going to school. Everyone should stop doing everything they can until we figure out this problem, not for other generations or the Third World, but because the ecological, metabolic disconnect in our society is tearing each of us apart, this instant. In this way we see that simpleminded critiques of Thunberg for “this focus away from personal responsibility” are misguided; far from blaming only corporations and governments for the problem of climate change, Thunberg is furious with the complacent people of the world who are allowing this to happen and not forcing the issue to solve this pressing economic, ecological, and psychological issue.

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  1. Conspiracy Theories

The most detailed conspiracy of the many surrounding Thunberg is the idea that she is really an actress, Estella Renee. This theory mirrors the idea that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an actress. We see here how political paranoia and art are intermingled, a long-running theme in Western, and indeed world, culture:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

These lines from Shakespeare iterate the poetic truth that we are all actors, that all of life is a play-act in some sense. This poetic truth resonates in the way that people account for anomalous social events by characterizing them as phony, in the literal sense that witnesses to a mass shooting may be “crisis actors” merely playing the role of traumatized bystander. In a way, all this is logical. Governments regularly intervene by staging “set-pieces” to corral public attention and opinion; Donald Trump would then be the greatest crisis actor of all time, as he has raised the aesthetization of politics to the highest level yet seen.

Back to Thunberg. Her movement for the climate fits neatly into paranoia surrounding Agenda 21. Proponents of such thinking may hold “that Agenda 21, a 23-year-old non-binding UN resolution that suggests ways for governments and NGOs to promote sustainable development, is the linchpin in a plot to subjugate humanity under an eco-totalitarian regime,” or other symbolically equivalent theories. From this perspective, ecological activism is “concern trolling” initiated by shadowy government operatives and fallen for by simpleminded liberal virtue signalers. Fundamentally, it matters not from this perspective whether Thunberg is herself “in on the game,” or one of those duped. Either way, he activity is accounted for within the logic of “traditional society vs. communist, collectivist innovators” which has become the dominant narrative in world discourse.

 

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Underneath it All

All this to say that Greta Thunberg clearly represents the forefront of social entrepreneurship at this time, and that her meteoric rise and dynamic sustained presence on the world stage represents an invitation to all of us to follow in her footsteps. Not only in the service of her project, but our own. We must take heed of Thunberg’s youth, and see that advanced societies have domesticated their populations so as to make them infantile. Now, even children are called to action by a world situation that requires the attention of each one of us. We should see in Thunberg’s challenge to childhood the invitation to challenge our own childishness. In Thunberg’s condition, Asperger’s, we should see one aspect of what is important now: truly valuing our selves and being able to “shut the world out.” Only in this way can we meet our own challenge in the world, and find the intrinsic motivation to change our way of life. Finally, in the conspiracy theories surrounding Thunberg, we should see how we are all susceptible to reading situations in a way which confirms our own pet theories, and how this tendency tends to dismiss or defame anyone who rises above to live according to a higher challenge, and disseminate that sense of personal overcoming to the whole world.

Thunberg is the Joan of Arc of the 21st century. Already, in the past two years she has dramatically impact global culture by helping to normalize a new role for children, and indeed for all people. In a word, Thunberg possesses assertiveness, a boldness she has honed and is in complete communion with. I mean not to reduce Thunberg to her age or cognitive mode, but rather to show that aspects of her experience likely helped her to find her passion and articulate it. Hence, we should feel no guilt about “tuning out” the world for a time, surrounding ourselves with our passions and comforts. Only in this way will we find the personal resonance, leading to dramatic social intervention, this historical moment requires of us.

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Hegemony of Hypocrisy: Aspiring to Democracy in United States & China

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By Adam Wadley & Colin Hill

The ancient proverb “The Enemy of my Enemy is My Friend” ignores the stark reality that most conflicts are not between heroes and villains but two or more asymmetrically odious villains. As much as we love to watch underdogs take on the big bad, most of the time in global politics we are forced to watch the New York Yankees play the New England Patriots in an insufferable game that can be best described as the unholy marriage between celebrity golf and amateur cricket. So it goes with Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) and United States, iterating a meme war ongoing since time immemorial.

When Hong Kongers began to protest against their treatment by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), it was natural for them to appeal to Western governments and publics for moral, political, and financial support. After all, Hong Kong wants democracy, it wants a system like the West…! Right? In fact, to the extent that the movement in Hong Kong stands for the spirit of freedom, it cannot be given aid in its expression by Western powers or peoples, because the idea of freedom has died in the West. This is not to say that China is undeserving of challenge; China remains locked in the same cold global civil war waged since 1945, and it, like all powers, must be confronted in order to force the issue of misguided bureaucratic meddling.

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Too often, we think that our job in interpreting the news is to figure out who is “more right,” and go all out in supporting our champions and answering for their inconsistencies. Rather, thinking must continue in a methodical procession, a dialogue of arguments, counter-arguments, and counter-counter-arguments that continues until we can make sense of our reality (or die trying). At the ordinary of political thought, we see that Hong Kong wants democracy, that United States claims to have democracy, and that the West is assembling the firing squad to crucify China on human rights. The first impulse of millions of Americans is to side against China, but crucially with United States. Our next response might be to defend China from Western criticism, making a metacognitive choice that the normal interpretation is wrong because United States is the aggressor in the situation. Thinkers, we must go further! It is necessary to engage in meta-metacognition to see that simple-mindedly agreeing or disagreeing with the dominant opinion is foolish.

At this level, we can see that United States claims to stand for democracy, and that many people believe it. At the same time, United States is the empires of public relations. For over 100 years, it has poured ungodly wealth into the project of molding its people’s minds in the most efficacious manner. By this time, the populace is so simple-minded that many are shocked to discover that just because you say you are something doesn’t mean you are it. This is an example of something that a pre-spectacular mind would grasp intuitively, but which has been lost in generalized childishness.

This is all to say that someone’s true motives can be something other than what they say they are, and that our own motivations can remain a mystery even to ourselves. It is not necessary to have one’s papers in order before one speaks to power, yet when one’s blind spots are pointed out it is proper to accept the revision, and not double down on dreary dreams of dogmatism. This is a plea not to drop criticism of China due to Western hypocrisy, but to reform Western hypocrisy if we are to have any hope of assisting the Hong Kongers, like David facing down a much larger and more powerful enemy. Indeed, most likely the project of instituting democracy for the first time will involve simultaneous engagement at a global level.

My fellow Americans, what is our station? We Americans, with our precious rights, solemn oaths to country and constitution: our littered trail of bloody corpses on the road to freedom. United States has responded to movements for increased democracy with political assassinations and systematic persecution, forced electroshock therapy and solitary confinement. The deaths of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK Jr., and RFK showed that America is a land of bloodletting of those who challenge the ruling military junta. And all this in a 5-year period! From the start, United States has operated as an oligarchical military junta, with violence directed outward in every direction to maintain the fantasy of tranquility and freedom within. The “freedom” of United States is unmasked by the misery and desperation of its people.

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Those in United States are not able to see China in a disinterested manner due to the inculcation of vulgar anti-communism in the American public. This is an example of how Western dogmatism holds even the West back: in seeking protect property rights, allegedly the most sacred rite in the world, the West has endeavored to teach its children and even leaders foolish stories of the simple superiority of our system. Any wise ruler, or citizen, of any land, must consider all the ways it is possible to fall into error. To establish blinders for thought, “Communism is Evil,” is to murder the mind, and, in fact, doom the nation. No blinded nation has yet won a lasting victory.

The Red Scares in United States following the Russian revolution betray the bad conscience of the American elite. They know that they preserve human misery for personal profit; and not even absolute but relative profit. Our entire system is set up to worship the objective virtue—property—at the expense of anything timeless or sublime, simple or dignified. We see it in the non-stop glorification of the military police on monopoly propaganda outlets known as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, in the drive to consume more and more of what is not worth eating, and feel less and less of all worth sensing. The Red Scares were great crimes, which cut down the noble and sensitive few who may have helped avert the tragedy of the last century.

This is not to say that a satisfactory communist vision has yet been articulated. Instead, it is to say that the conversation is not settled, and those who reinforce their cognitive biases with wealth and capital make themselves no more right. Illusion must give way, and cannot be forever sustained; in fact, we already have the critical mass of those uncomfortable and questioning which is the raw material of the moment. To fashion something like democracy, it is merely necessary to see the true target: not just China, Iran, or those other objectionable governments who also happen to be official enemies of the resident junta, but rather the entrenched weaponry, ignorance, and drive to control which is present in mankind.

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Among us all—United States, China, and their respective publics—we constitute the Hegemony of Hypocrisy.

Group Hypocrisy
United States Government Claims to support democracy, is military junta
People’s Republic of China Claims to fight oppression; is a totalitarian bureaucracy
United States Public Claim to support democracy, accept servitude and ignorance and serve interests of junta by denouncing official enemies
Hong Kongers Claim to want democracy, but really just pay lip service to get support from the West, don’t question injustice internal to Hong Kong

 

With the talk of China’s genocide against the Uyghurs, we should note that United States treatment of its internally colonized so called black population also constitutes genocide. Enforced poverty, brutalization by internal colonial enforcers known as police, and sequestration in solitary confinement, all on the basis that “this is simply how things are.” Property relations do not simply “exist,” they are political conventions that we can challenge. The Western public has lost the stomach to acknowledge that we are, on the whole, completely subservient to a military and corporate elite which is blundering us all into extermination.

This intervention is made to try and prevent the descent into simpleminded jingoism and support for the establishment which have been the trap laid for Americans dozens of times over the years, and into which we ‘til now have ever fallen. Luckily for we Hum(a)ns, the future need not resemble the past, and we may yet dream of a better mode of life, as yet unarticulated, but eagerly waiting.

November 3, 2019

 

THIS IS HALLOWEEN: Driven to Social Revolution by the News

On this show, I plan to talk about world events and wind up laying down some of my philosophy of history and get sidetracked in a million nuances and side-plots. That’s the beauty of improvisational radio! I dub this the year of “World Revolution,” following Wallerstein’s analysis of 1986 as such in his essay “1968, Revolution in the world-system. I look at the bubbling conflicts in Hong Kong, with the Uighurs, and in Chile, and discuss why revolution hasn’t broken out in United States. A learned listener calls in and we discuss the slave trade and indigenous people in South America at length. I remain ignorant about many things, but I don’t claim to speak definitively on them, either.

I’m starting an open-source think tank, if you want to get involved message me at speakingbroadlyshow@gmail.com, or anywhere else, and describe your interest and/or skills

“The Project”: Open Source Think Tank, Outlook on History, Transposing Conlict into Cultural Challenge

On this improvised recording, I brainstorm my idea for an open source think tank and possible research questions. I wind up talking a lot about my philosophy of life, the world, history, cultural anthropology, and much more. Not much jargon, just straight dope ideas. If you would like to join my research project, send me an email at SpeakingBroadlyShow@gmail.com or DM me. Talk about your research interests or what you think you can bring to the project. Also getting into providing affective/cognitive support for those struggling with circumstances and making a change. Hmu to get involved

 

 

Dr. Peter Lindsay on “The Craft of University Teaching”

Dr. Peter Lindsay is a professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Georgia State University. He joins me to discuss his new book, “The Craft of University Teaching,” available from the University of Toronto Press as well as from Amazon.

Dr. Lindsay and I discuss the importance of getting students (or anyone we are engaging with) to be motivated to learn more about the subject, not simply to fill their heads with what we want them to think. We talk about the persona that a professor puts on to teach, and more dynamics that go into making a good classroom. I think that Dr. Lindsay’s ideas apply to our attempts to educate each other as well, and so their relevance extends far beyond the classroom into daily questions of motivation and conversational strategy.