Everyone’s making analyses of Joker, so I guess I have to also! Here’s 80 minutes of a deep dive into Joker and the first few pages of Baudrillard’s Carnival and Cannibal. It’s just the beginning, but I already get into the themes of whiteness, childhood and intergenerational trauma, world history, and aesthetics. Whew! More to come, sometime, but until then this insomniac recording will have to tide you over.
Note: I edited this to make to make it louder, but I don’t know how to remove the distortion so this is as loud as it can comfortably go. Hope you can hear it. I will be going over all of this again in the time to come
On this episode, I deliver the second part of my theory on abolition as it brings together “identity politics” in its highest forms, the movements to abolish race and gender. I show how these movements lead naturally, if uneasily, to the Marxist project of proletarian self-abolition, whereby the proletariat destroys itself, and all other classes, it its coming to exist for itself as a class.
This paradoxical notion leads us to Nagarjuna, who 1500 years before Marx was already working through the problem of mounting a global movement of awakening (Bodhicitta or the Buddhist project of eliminating suffering in all sentient beings) while not believing in categories. Nagarjuna was an early anti-essentialist and also shows there is nothing European about questioning essentialism.
Lastly, we turn to Baudrillard for his own views on abolition (of the distinction between life and death), and his own blend of imminent uptopianism. True revolutionaries “speak of the world as non-separated,” and these sense informs all transpolitical activity.
Stay tuned! Next week I’ll be interviewing Dr. Peter Lindsay of GSU, and I’m sure we will have another episode soon on this abolition business.
I’m going solo this week to share with you the fruits of a book I got at the Radical Book Fair: “What Is Gender Nihilism?” I draw on essays by “Nihilist Women,” Monique Witting, Noel Ignatiev, Laboria Cuboniks, and more as I delve into gender nihilism, which means the denial that gender is a properly existent entity. The effects of its perception are not denied.
This opens the conversation onto gender abolition, which immediately brings along race abolition and tends toward class abolition. Thus, we have great cause to discuss abolishing whiteness, abolishing gender, and how they fit into the proletarian project of self-negation.
This is only part one, because next week we have a couple more essays from the reader to get to, and then citations by Marx, Debord, Baudrillard, and Nagarjuna to round out the analysis. Because we are not just satisfied with funneling identity politics into Marxism; it remains to be seen how Marxism is an identity politics and remains to be transformed by an encounter with Buddhism (Nagarjuna) and Baudrillard.
My theory hinges around the idea of the unity of mystification and clarification, the unity of the worlds of symbolic exchange and scientific rationality. This is the endpoint I seek to reach.
The poverty of clarification
We can never capture the world in certain terms because the world is fundamentally ineffable; as such, there is no objective world in the sense that the world is, properly speaking, not an object for us.
As such, we can label the secret the set of salient “facts” which escape our perception due to the limitations of our own perspective.
The Secret encapsulates what would be called one’s “true nature” if such a thing could be an object.
The Secret concerns an alternately vague and foundational sense of complicity and antagonism which is not universal but transversal.
The glory of mystification
Mystification is valorized due to the veneration of skepticism. We seek to induce the state of the suspension of judgment because it is the most apt response to the challenge of the world.
The suspension of judgment is not an end, but a beginning.
Mystification takes places when given terms are destabilized.
When we encounter a math problem, 2 apples plus 4 apples, we expect to get something denominated in apples at the end. Our understanding of apples didn’t change the entire time.
Meanwhile, when we pursue critical activity, our object of study vanishes into its parts, or regional/global flows which constitute or determine it.
This insight gains its greatest traction when applied to the human faculty of reason itself, at which point reason defeats itself and we enter into the post-rational age.
After the inauguration of the greater game, which takes as given the mysteriousness of the world and the arbitrariness of communication, there begins a relentless competition of whimsical metaphors.
We have forgotten the game of specifying reality, of wondering who we really are. Instead we wonder how much of ourselves we can forget, and in what delicious ways we might provoke ourselves, our companions, our enemies, and the world.
Forgetting rationalism’s petty frame of the individual, we once again directly encounter the world as our symbolic challenger. It is the world that did this to us, that just had to go and exist. The world did this to everyone else too, so that you can almost feel bad for them; but that would require moving one’s focus for one moment from the challenge the world presents to oneself.
Mystification as Clarification
Certainly, we must hold that skepticism is the most logical doctrine to uphold, and the one which is most faithful to sensuous experience. Still, the highest form of expression must be silence.
Any symbols related to one’s understanding can only be understood as fingers which are close to the moon, or look just like the moon, etc. No symbol is the moon, is the ineffable substrate.
Hence, we are “reduced” to silence, in reality seeing for the first time a world beyond breath, beyond rhythm in its timelessness; and knowing, for lack of a better term, that we ourselves can be in no way delimited from this timeless silence.
We are already bored with the divine silence. There is a reason we have created the world, to forget ourselves, to forget the divine silence.
This is the spiritual analogue to Terror management theory, which says that people respond with anxiety when reminded of their death. Well, so too do people rankle at their immortality, in their communion with the divine which ensures that they are already set up with the spirit in the sky, that all of life may as well be in all good fun, a whimsy to pass the eternal moment.
We reject the silence because we are attached to seemingly determinate forms, in ways that are not immediately conquerable; for example, we are seemingly trapped in our corporeal vessels, only to see what must happen to us when we die. Yet since we cannot wake up from being in our bodies, we identify with our experience. Hence, we hate to break away from whatever passing forms have caught our fancy (meaning not just media images but psychological frameworks of self), since we have given ourselves over completely to this world. We fear that to be divine silence is to be nothing, which it is.
If something like skepticism is right, then it is a clearer way of looking at the world than conventional science, and has greater explanatory power, and all the metrics which scientists might value. It also musters the power to create the highest theory of all kinds, being able to dissolve all antagonisms into the root impasse of reason. In this way, the new skepticism will usher in a new era of theory, as positively pre-historic concepts such as linear time will be cleared away, and the ground made bare for the next phase of the skeptical project.
We have reasoned in a circle, defining Mystification as that which makes things less clear, but which in the end must make them clearer, if only because things are themselves unclear—Bigfoot isblurry.
The statement “things are unclear” sums up this contradiction, which hinges on the functioning of the word “unclear.” Is unclear a quality that a thing can have, or is it a status of qualities, so that to say things are unclear is not really to say that they are anything in particular.
Perhaps we can go further and clarify the problem by positing that things are “clearly unclear.” What can this mean? In this case, it is a discernable and verifiable fact that things are inscrutable and unverifiable.
So, if we want to say that the world is unclear, such that it is unreasonable to conceive of oneself as knowing or even believing anything, then the status of the clarity of this statement is called into question. What can it mean?
Mystification also clarifies by directly opening the door from science onto the metaphysical landscape of Nagarjuna, Nietzsche and Baudrillard. In this way, contemporary discourse is referred to a set of discourses which must overcome it.
Scientific discourse is itself an inadequate response to skepticism. It posits a mishmash of verificationism, vulgar empiricism, Platonism, and fallibilism in order to feel secure in its set of statements which are never contradicted in experience.
Science must take the world as given, it cannot give an inch when it comes to our certainty of an objective world, despite the fact that the science on the matter is, in fact, muddled. This betrays the fact that faith in science is the weakness of the age; as such, the weakness of science must allow for a new faith of the age.
The charm of science derives from its more intelligent participants, those who are able to retain intellectual humility and courage; most, like those in all fields, have succumbed to dogmatism. These sages proclaim that science opens up new mysteries for humankind.
A further charm of science is its predication as a field where statements need not be true, nor thought to be true, in order to have practical effect. In this sense, science is the highest form of poetry, since many a rogue may have wished to destroy a city at one instant, but only the US army finally accomplished it at Hiroshima. This special effect was accomplished in the same way as any ballad, for scientific theories are not presumed correct; they are simply trusted until they fail.
The fact that science works so well is an indication that we are on to something in our investigation of the cosmos, but also that the cosmos is on to us.
Yet as soon as we realize that the most ontologically pure discourse, science, is really simply a matter of poetry and ritual as all else, the weight of this statement is itself deflated. Science has been cast as what is reasonable, the straightjacket which the mad artist seeks to escape. Now, the artist finds the scientist inside his head, and the scientist finds himself in the world. What is so special about the flights of fancy found in poetry if science partakes of the same register?
The emptiness of emptiness. We have shown that science is empty, it is a paper tiger. For science is contingent on events, it awaits the appearance of the world, and tries to summon the primal forces of nature, as at CERN. Science waits for the world to appear, and then studies it. Hence all scientific knowledge is provisional, as no serious scientist can contradict radical new evidence, if plausible, with the credo “But it contradicts our theories!”
Yet the emptiness of science is also empty, which another way of saying that it is full of Gods as is all else. As such, it too is a fertile field of inquiry for the sage. Above all, we must do away with the allergy to radically other symbolic forms which all cultural milieus possess. Hence the direct thrust into the heart of the matter, and the need to confront each person with the radically indeterminate state of the world.
The object of mystical science is to respond to the challenge of the world. The challenge of the world is incarnation, the tying of awareness to a physical body and the attendant mysteries of identity and morality. Hence, all activity is directed toward responding to this challenge.
Response to the challenge of the world has to do with operating under the given terms of incarnation in ways which destructure the predominant modes of signification present in society.
There is no sense of vilification of society. We are fundamentally disinterested in matters of justice and dignity. What matters is that there is no drive toward anything except benevolence, as we seek to befriend all others in order to further our sense of the mystery.
The challenge has to do with what is set before us. This is obviously open to interpretation, and this is where a subjective sense of what is important enters. We all choose our own starting place, and this is an important method of individuation.
Responding to the challenge has to do with destabilizing the terms of the challenge. If I feel I am challenged as a person with a dysfunctional society, then how can I return serve and challenge my own sense of self or concept of society in order to move forward, or at least to move, relative to the problem space?
Hence mystical science looks a lot like normal science. It is simply that statements which imply certainty are heavily policed and denigrated as incorrect and arrogant assertions.
In addition, mystical science, through cognitive science, pursues the complete assimilation of philosophy and theory to the field of inquiry of science proper. All pretensions of “hard” sciences must melt into the quantum ether, and will be met in the middle by a social studies which will in the next years grow considerably more sophisticated and intricate.
On this week’s episode, I’m joined by Chris Gabriel of the Meme Analysis YouTube channel. In his work, he applies the theory of Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, and William S Burroughs, among others, to the study of memes and their import for today’s “society.”
We dive into Ultra-Instinct Shaggy, the role of 4chan in meme culture, and tips and tricks for those looking to become meme lords, or at least gain a foothold into this uproarious and fascinating aspect of modern society,
On this week’s show, we are lucky enough to have Zummi come back and try to explain the relevance of the arcane knowledge which is part of the r/SorceryOfTheSpectacle research paradigm, and how even everyday people can find an inroad into this deep dive on symbolism, language, technology, and politics.
A caller calls in to say that Zummi was “excellent,” and talked about her own practice of “self-parenting.” The upshot of Zummi’s analysis is that whatever task we have in front of us, we will be held back by our relationship to language and concepts as long as we aren’t aware of the long history that got us to the present age of hyper-specific terminology. He explains how this change to “voidal” language (which can be grasped by thinking about the relatively recent invention of the concept of zero) is part of the origin of the relentless internal monologue that we all experience, even if we are too ashamed or afraid to share this experience.
So, if you’re trying to understand what all the talk these days about narratives and frameworks is all about, or if you’re wondering how to take the arcane madness in your mind and be able to talk about it in meatspace, this conversation will hopefully be a great resource!
On this episode, I pull in Zummi from r/SorceryOfTheSpectacle (on Reddit) to talk about the SotS research project. Get your dictionary ready, because Zummi will get into a very interesting, if dense and hard to parse analysis of the evolution of human communication, and the relevance for a magical/anthropological/Buddhist orientation toward the world.
Note: Zummi used profanity a couple of times, and the vocabulary is challenging. This was just the first collaboration between us, but I think there will be much more to come!
My hour-long interview with Dr. Guy McPherson, where we talk about abrupt climate change, the near certainty of human extinction, and how to behave rightly knowing that all this is coming to an end: Planetary Hospice. Callers also submit their opinions and questions for Dr. McPherson
At the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the people who killed Sharon Tate in our timeline instead decide to attack Rick Dalton, who was the star of a Western they saw from an early age. This ends poorly for the “hippy” family members, who are brutally killed by Brad Pitt and his dog. Rick cleans up with the flamethrower we saw him use at the beginning of the movie to burn up Hitler. The whole thing is executed in a way that feels good for the boys: Cliff Booth is wounded, but heroic, having done the heavy lifting (as usual) for Leo, who was floating in a pool for most of the incident. Dalton, meanwhile, is invited up the hill to Sharon Tate’s house, who in this timeline has not been killed (yet?) and whose company Rick revels in as the film ends, lingering on the mystery of what could happen in this house, with people who are dead in our timeline, now spared, and Rick, whose career and personal fortune has been resurrected. Cliff’s fate is uncertain, but we assume he will be well cared for.
So, are we to assume that Tarantino wants us to feel great about the boys? Is this movie a vindication of Hollywood, and the images it has inscribed into the minds of Americans from an early age for nearly one hundred years? In other words, is the film squarely on the side of Rick and Cliff as opposed to the Family members? If we are willing to read the film sympathetically to the family, the final fight scene is a brutal extermination. Each attacker faces complete humiliation, excruciating pain, and prolonged agonizing death. Meanwhile, this is the scene that finally delivers on the audience’s expectation for obscene violence from the Tarantino flick.
Why would we want to be sympathetic to the family? In our timeline, those people brutally murdered Sharon Tate and her entourage, also torturing those killed in the way that the assailants die in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. They died horrific, agonizing deaths; it was an atrocity. Yet just as we can see that this attack, though disproportionate, had its share of justice—by seeing that the “benign” social forces constitutive of Tate et. al.’s fame themselves were in league with darkness and depravity—so to can we see that the hippies in the movie are punished justly, but disproportionately. They are properly punished for what they did not do in the film, but for that which the people who the characters represent did in real life. These actions did not happen in the film, since the killing of Tate et. al. was diverted through the hippies’ choice to attack Dalton.
What if the hippies had a point?
Next, consider other aspects of the film. Pussycat, the hippy woman who gets a ride from Cliff to the Spahn Ranch, makes a remark about the Vietnam war as Cliff listens to a report on the radio about nearby murders. She is justifying the murderous behavior of her group by referencing the murderous nature of the United States government in murdering millions of people overseas. Cliff is dismissive of this point. Earlier in the movie, there is radio reporting about the Vietnam war, which is noticeable; to be alive while that war was ongoing: both incredibly immoral and incredibly unsuccessful. Here we have on display that Western Hero writ large: the war machine. If the US is the Sheriff, the military apparatus is the pistol, what carves the hero’s way through the tough and uncivilized wilderness.
And where did that instinct lead us, as shown in the film? The tough guy, macho fighter mentality, as typified by Cliff’s incredibly violent killing which supplies the bulk of the action at the end of the movie, lead to a country which was dominated by people who knew they had incredible power but lacked the wisdom to use it effectively. Their policies failed not only on moral grounds, but on their own grounds. It’s not really about “the hippies didn’t deserve it,” just like it’s not really about how Sharon Tate didn’t “deserve” what happened to her. No one really deserves anything; the question is why what happens is what happens. Hence, the question must be: why did the members of the Family become murderous maniacs? And what was the real impact of violent television programming for the American public in the post-WWII period? These are deeply ambiguous questions, the raising of which undermines the reading that Rick and Cliff are “good guy” type heroes. If they’re not that, what are they?
Rick is a striver. He had a known quantity as a TV star, and sacrificed it to shoot higher. He failed, but at the end of the movie he’s higher than ever, as an audience with Sharon Tate is liable to be life-changing for him. Meanwhile, Cliff is lackadaisical and is content to revel in his easy relationship with Rick; perhaps their arrangement will even continue as Rick moves on. Or perhaps Cliff’s injury will prevent him from being a stunt double. It’s unclear what will happen to Cliff, but it seems like he’ll be fine. Rick is very invested in how high he can climb, and is hard on himself for not performing as well as he can. This is because he wants to work out of where he is, to get back to being the leading character and killing other guest star bad guys.
A Tale as Old as Time
We can boil down much of Western culture to this presentation of Good Guys who take on puppet Bad Guys who can never really win. Glorification of heroes of course goes back a long way. This is mirrored in the wrestling terms Face and Heel. The Western man, the white man, is the Face of the system, while all others are cast as different versions of the heel. In this case, we have the hippies, who are a sort of traitor or thought criminal. Hippies are not down for the program in supporting the war effort, and undermine confidence in the military. They corrode public norms and threaten to entice young people into being different and bad. Hippies are associated with communism, and act as a kind of fifth column for the Soviet Union in the United States. Since they are potentially attractive to even the inner circle of power, the children of the powerful, they are especially dangerous.
Yet in this film, the hippies are set up as the Big Bad only to be unceremoniously eviscerated, stomped, thrown against the mantlepiece, gored by a ferocious dog, and burned with a flamethrower. Similarly, the hippies were set up as the Heel, or the Heavy in the stage act of the late 60s, and were a dominant force culturally with bands like the Beatles and the Doors displaying a clear rebellious and counter-cultural form of expression. We can read the hippy movement as the Heel in a different way: not as a true threat to the power structure, but as a threat to any movement against the power structure. Hippy culture is a double agent: not a force for radical change that can creep into the halls of power, but a honey pot, a simplistic anti-systemic movement to attract those who began to question the system and distract them from meaningful organization by popularizing drugs, sexual fetishes, and other diversions. We can see the complicity between hippy culture and corporate profit seeking easily when we consider how many “classic” songs have been used to sell this or that execrable product.
Seen from this critical perspective, the movie portrays two bad guys fighting it out: the movie star and his buddy, who typify the stupid arrogance of Western men in their standing in for their blundering civilizational power; and on the other hand, the misguided rebels, so lost in their enmeshment in mediatized images that they resort to brutal killing of the person, the image of society. For the hippies, Dalton is guilty because in him the system builds up in violent force and puts its most brutal crimes on display for all to see. The Western man sacrifices everything—his property, his honor, his family—to defend the corporation, the body of the Church of Western Whiteness. This image can take a different form for different European men, but there is a family resemblance of those who can fool themselves into thinking they are the best and having the imprudence to try and set the whole world in their favor, rewriting everything in accord to the measure of their success. The failure of the hippies, meanwhile, is that they try to translate their discontent into violence, even though they explicitly say right beforehand that the system itself taught them to be violent. What does it say about the audience, except to underline the tragedy that we watch such gaudy spectacles of violence instead of engaging somehow more directly with the violence present in our lives?
For if the hippies are misguided and vicious, and those in the movies are vapid and destructive, at least they are out there, doing something worth watching. Or so it would seem from our having watched the movie, and this being seriously considered as a work of art. If hippies murdering movie stars is the wrong way to fight the spectacle, what is the right way? It certainly is not what I, and what many other people are mainly doing right now: actively wallowing in the signs of our own discrimination and trauma (culture of “victimhood” increasingly present everywhere, even among the powerful). Everywhere we have simply turned our suffering into distracting and time-consuming diversion, accelerating the cycles of repetition which trauma has conditioned us into expressing.
At least Cliff is willing to smoke the acid cigarette; at least Rick is willing to walk up the hill and see what’s going on. Meanwhile, the hippies had it right to question the logic of the system, and seriously think about the implications of an all-powerful system with a faulty steering mechanism. Each side has part of the truth, and to me it seems that the point is to bring all this together. The problem is that it requires a two-fold sacrifice, either half of which seems highly unlikely:
Sacrifice of victims of the shade of moral superiority; recognition of the moral neutrality of the crimes perpetrated up until now.
Sacrifice on the part of the ruling classes of their property rights.
Both of these are required to set a new ground floor for human culture. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that we more forward, and hence the macho man must discover that in order to survive, he’s got to recognize all others as equals. Likewise, for the weak, who must see that the powerful are not categorically different devils, but are rather also human, molded by the same harsh school all humans have lived in.
As regards Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the upshot is that Rick and Cliff are not “bad guys” or “good guys,” but rather relatable and lucky members of a caste (movie actors/stunt men) within a caste (white men) who are caught up in a swirl of cultural and military forces they do not understand. Meanwhile, the hippies are obviously not considered heroes but they are not really villains either: they are the shadow of the dominant order, the cruelty and violence that get turned on anyone and everyone once the corrupting nature of our culture has fully taken hold in a vulnerable person.
We might be most inclined to compare the Family to those who murder others in mass shootings these days. Once Upon a Time can be read as a mass-shooting flick, where those who want to inflict a massacre are themselves massacred. Here, the lesson is the same: we, the people who are baffled and horrified by mass shootings, correspond to Rick and Cliff in the movie. We don’t understand how anyone could do that, but we’re caught up in the violence in ways we don’t understand. Meanwhile, the hippies correspond to those who have seen the abject despair and horror at the end of the road for our culture, and who experience the emotional and material events that can drive people to question their own life and wish to end others’. We may wish to affirm both sides, or else negate them: how can we bring together the activity and affability of Rick and Cliff with the critical perspective and rebellious spirit of the hippies? Or, how can we avoid the boorishness and complicity of Rick and Cliff along with the simplemindedness and pathetic nature of the Family?
All this of course pertains only to the dynamic between the hippies and the two male figures in the movie, and there’s a lot I didn’t get into. Yet I think I have shown that the film is an interesting document for reading our current moment of a faltering of Western morale, the rise again of communism and anticommunism, and the advent of mass shootings and violent actions of all kinds. The Manson crimes shown in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were an early but clearly related incident in a society at war with itself. That same war is still ongoing, with Tarantino become the king of counterfactual revenge movies. In the end, what are we reveling in, and what are we questioning? There seems to be an opening for a new heroism, one which is able to thread the needle between carelessness boldness, willingness to sacrifice and tender guile. Obviously, this endeavor is immediately beset by the problem that “hero” is itself now a contested word. It lies to us to pick up the pieces of our fragmented mythology and try to craft a new chapter of the story of the world.