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This Things I Believe Show Notes

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The New Paradigm

This things I believe (Homer the Heretic). Back in the lab.

Terms: Cognition (Recognition), social cognition, cognitive schema, affective science.

Call-ins add to science

  1. Extended Lifespan, Transhumanism, Exploration of Space
    1. Objections:
      1. Fetishizing Life
      2. Human worth holding on to
  • Space Exploration is just like colonization
  1. Network of Archives of cultural and intellectual history, including your life
    1. This show saved in the archives forever
    2. Call-in enrich Neptunian life in 2075
  2. Not based on a moral objection to history
    1. Points:
      1. Moral positions are standpoint-centric and thus there cannot be a system which prescribes action in all events.
      2. Much moral argument opens up questions of contingency and necessity which are unanswerable
  • Even people who agree on moral points, broadly speaking, will find it difficult to work together if they do not systematize their thought to an extent, for example seizing on a few key concepts which help delimit one’s position from other notable positions.
  1. Objections:
    1. Doesn’t take injustice seriously
  2. Complete Physics and Avoid the Heat Death of the Universe
    1. Metaphor: we don’t even know what the biggest physical challenges are.
      1. We are like an individual becoming an adult, just realizing how we can use our powers
      2. Our goal is to set up a home which can make it so individuals can live as long as they want, and we can explore in physical peace the nature of the universe
  • Leads to a situation of constant paradigm shifts. Each person is a paradigm shift as their genius is brought to the table, the potlach, of science and society.
  1. Antagonism toward power, combined with a knowledge of Secret Complicity
    1. While it is helpful to speak as though enemies exist, in reality the pure existence of the other can never be simply taken for granted
      1. It could always be a ruse, of the other, or of something else which makes the other appear (ad campaign, simulation, God).
    2. No reason to fear power; my own position, I am obviously complicit with the power structure, and in my opinion it’s clear I don’t mean I simple anti-Americanism or anti-Elite sentiment.
      1. I am deeply sympathetic to the Elite, which is a very controversial position but one which I think moves the ball forward. Ignatiev (died): withholding the truth is no part of love.
      2. Hence it is important to see why things which are supposed to help are interpreted as threats (trying to get people to see past attachment to private property).
        1. What in the receiver makes them misinterpret help as a threat?
        2. What in the sender means a threat in the giving on help?
      3. Paradigm Shifts: The Movie
        1. We are at the beginning of the next big phase, and what we do now will set the tone for a long time to come.
          1. We can still make the world a relatively chill place to live
          2. What are the obstacles to that world? What are the epistemological obstacles to knowing how to build that world?
        2. Cognitive Microeconomics: the individual thinker, a crude metaphor
          1. Knowledge is like money, you can choose what to do with it, and you have to work to get it
          2. It’s all about seeing what the next big thing will be, and when something which has gotten popular is past its prime
            1. Curve of investors, early buy-ins, bubble, etc.
            2. This just keeps happening
  • The most valuable mental state is not a set state, that is, a set body of knowledge, but rather is more like a disposition or attitude toward the world:
    1. Intellectual humility
      1. Knowing that you don’t know everything. People tell me I’m smart and sometimes I believe them, but I don’t know anything about Swahili culture. The things which we don’t know about, which “escape us” are vitally important, hence we never really know what we’re talking about.
      2. The fact that people can find what we say interesting is a very satisfying sort of joke or comedy of semblances. I am not an expert, but a poet.
    2. Intellectual courage
      1. Not being afraid to let go on concepts and step out into a new way of thinking.
      2. This usually happens by following a train of thought to its end.
    3. Emotional humility
      1. Knowing that we have emotions like pride, hangups, insecurities, etc., which can affect our actions
        1. eg being able to admit that you were rude because you got emotional, being able to acknowledge that and reform your behavior, show contrition
      2. Helps paper over the emotional flare ups which are inevitable and which can derail intellectual/emotional intimacy
    4. Emotional courage
      1. Facing the challenge of being overwhelmed in the world and being willing to embrace one’s vulnerability
        1. Me making comments on my psyche that could be used against me, eg
        2. Taking a chance by sharing an idea, a feeling, which may be rejected. Even when we do things properly, success is not guaranteed. Therefore picking ourselves up is a big skill, and summoning ourselves to try again more so.
  • Then doing it: high-stakes situations. High-wire act. Threading a needle in the middle of warzone.
  1. Spiritual confidence
    1. We are here, you are part of everything, nothing can do anything to you or make anything stick because we are entirely over and above all the limited concepts we have
      1. You’ll die, no one cares, you’re a loser, etc.; doesn’t matter. If you are here, you are God, you are part of nature and everything you do, to the extent we make choices (which is a topic of debate), is helping decide the fate of the world
      2. Never knowing how influential something could be, doesn’t manifest in the moment but that doesn’t mean you aren’t striking a chord in the divine, the social, the world, reality, the big conversation, etc.
    2. Spiritual humility
      1. Knowing that personal greatness can only be rooted in a different form of greatness, which we are not causing
        1. If the Source is the alpha and omega of the world, and confidence is seeing us as being able to get to the omega, humility is knowing that we can only do so because of the alpha (what came before)
        2. Acknowledging with our soul [everything which escapes us] (Baudrillard)
      2. What does this look like?
        1. Doing the wrong thing the right way: harm mitigation inside of pathology.
        2. Becoming a better version of what you already are
          1. Core values: learn how to focus on them
          2. Be able to decide what your priorities are
  • Specializing in something which you are interested in, and seeking out how it can be important in making the world a better place
    1. Cultural expression, including “colonizer” cultures.
      1. Will create conflict, but we have to figure out how we can each be honored on a consistent basis
    2. Skills: what will be important in terms of technological development? What will stay the same? IE for now, massage makes sense. Eventually, we may not have bodies, but by the time we solve that problem, you’ll have time to learn a new trade
  1. Establishing a “new self” which you think of yourself as moving to, which is not a rigidly defined thing but just a sense of when you are lapsing back into old behaviors (which may never completely go away, and are in a way beautiful parts of our personality btw), and when you are “being your better self.”
  1. Establishing diplomatic relations with other people on the same journey
  2. Talking to people who are wanting to stay where they are now, and see it as you making them change instead of the world just changing and any identity having to keep pace with paradigm shifts
  3. The politics of the future: finding missed connections, attacking the weaknesses of domination systems, and keeping in mind the most important goal of preventing extinction / cognitive universalism or cognitive homogeneity.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Towards a Baudrillardian Transversal Science

Recent theory on 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.

  1. The poverty of clarification
    1. 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.
    2. As such, we can label the secret the set of salient “facts” which escape our perception due to the limitations of our own perspective.
    3. The Secret encapsulates what would be called one’s “true nature” if such a thing could be an object.
    4. The Secret concerns an alternately vague and foundational sense of complicity and antagonism which is not universal but transversal.
  2. The glory of mystification
    1. 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.
      1. The suspension of judgment is not an end, but a beginning.
    2. Mystification takes places when given terms are destabilized.
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
  1. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  2. Mystification as Clarification
    1. 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.
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. 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.
    1. 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 is blurry.
    2. 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  1. 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.
    1. 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.
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. 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?
      4. 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.
      5. 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.

Ambivalence with the Western Hero: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Hippies, and Action Stars

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[Spoiler alert for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood]

Are Rick and Cliff good guys?

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.

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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.

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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.

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Breakout

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.