October 15th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Cultural Paranoia - Part IV b

"Who reigns? There was the Heaven and Earth at first,
      And Light and Love; then Saturn, from whose throne
      Time fell, an envious shadow..."
               - Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

The idea that all of Creation is also a great Fall, that time itself is an error, that Heimarmene, Cosmic Fate, is "our sleep, our exile, our anxiety, and above all our ignorance" and that the truth of gnosis, true spiritual knowledge, begins with the negation of Time is at the center of the great Gnostic Valentinian's thought and scriptures. Philip K. Dick in his Exegesis: "We appear to be memory coils (DNA carriers capable of experience) in a computer-like thinking system which, although we have correctly recorded and stored thousands of years of experiential information, and each of us possesses somewhat different deposits from all the other life forms, there is a malfunction - a failure - of memory-retrieval."

Thomas Ligotti, Prince of the Macabre, starts from the basic premise that "Existence equals nightmare", that we must realize in the end that "Horror is more real than we are". Is this not the basic premise of all conspiracy theory? Isn't it based upon a quest to uncover the secret plots carried on below the facade of our day to day lives? Isn't a preoccupation with fear, enslavement, death, and horror behind all the masks of evil that conspiracy theorists see in the world today? And, for better or worse, isn't the gnostic gospels with their demonizing of the universe and its maker a central motif within most of the populist imagination both left and right? Ligotti reminds us that there "will come a day for each of us - and then for all of us - when the future will be done with. Until then, humanity will acclimate itself to every new horror that comes knocking, as it has done from the very beginning (p. 228, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race)."

John Twelve Hawks in his recent The Fourth Realm Trilogy , The Traveler (2005), The Dark River (2007), and The Golden City (2009) defines a world enslaved within a "Vast Machine" a virtual world of media, celebrity, and entertainment that caters to our every whim and guides our every desire, channels our behavior, and turns us into willing accomplices in a surveillance prison without outlet. In his final book he lets one of the hacker resistance heroes deliver a message to every computer screen in the world:

“Some of you have seen the future clearly. For these people, it feels as if we are trapped in a gigantic mall, frightened but hiding our fear, trudging from store to store carrying objects purchased for some reason – now forgotten….

“When people believe they have no real power, their only choice becomes what to consume. Our society’s constant emphasis on buying things has nothing to do with the loss of morality. We feel powerful when we buy something, so we are easily manipulated to buy more.

“I’ve spoken about freedom throughout this message, but for many of us the word has lost its meaning. The faces on the television use the word freedom as the justification for war and the expansion of the Vast Machine. The word ʻfreedom’ is used to sell airplane tickets and lawn mowers.

“The Vast Machine carries us toward a world where free thought and the expression of those thoughts becomes difficult – and, sometimes, impossible. And the politics of fear gives our leaders the justification for more control….

“Some of us have had enough of fear and manipulation. In the next few days, we will appear in the chambers of power and in the street. Join us. Stand with us. Who speaks for freedom?” visit his website...

Sounding like a rebel with a cause John Twelve Hawkes, whose real name is hidden behind a mask, voices many of the basic motifs within all conspiracy theories: the enslavement of masses within an oligarchic tyranny, an inverted democracy, a realm of false hopes and consumer dreams that are in fact the horror of our post-modern apathy.

In many ways his vision of the "Vast Machine" reminds me of Derrick Jensen's vision in Welcome to the Machine which is about "the eradication of cultural difference, its sacrifice on the altar of the one true way, on the altar of the centralization of perception, the conversion of a multiplicity of moralities all dependent on location and circumstance to one morality based on the precepts of the ever-expanding machine, the surrender of individual perception (as through writing and through the conversion of that and other arts to consumables) to predigested perceptions, ideas, and values imposed by external authorities who with all their hearts—or what’s left of them—believe in, and who benefit by, the centralization of power. Ultimately, then, the story of this civilization is the story of the reduction of the world’s tapestry of stories to only one story, the best story, the real story, the most advanced story, the most developed story, the story of the power and the glory that is Western Civilization." read more... 

In a recent interview he spoke of our modern industrial world as a 'death camp' with us as inmates who are trying to save as much of the planet as we can, and we do all this without ever questioning "the entire death camp mentality. Of course I have an interest in saving whatever wild places we can and I have an interest in stopping whatever atrocious I can but that is not sufficient. What I simply want to do is not try and make things a tiny bit better for the inmates of the camp I want to destroy the whole concentration camp. I want to destroy the whole death camp." read more... 

In the same interview he speaks of our personal responsibility for this mechworld:

"I love the word 'responsibility' because responsibility originally comes from the root: to give and return. The question is, To whom am I giving in return? Ultimately of course everything is coming from the land so that's what I have to get back to. I have to give and return. I think of that a lot in turns of loyalty. It's like who are I writing for? Ultimately who are I going to be responsible to? That's a question everyone needs to ask."

Murray Rothbard, the famed libertarian once said:

""It is also important for the State to inculcate in its subjects an aversion to any outcropping of what is now called 'a conspiracy theory of history.' For a search for 'conspiracies,' as misguided as the results often are, means a search for motives, and an attribution of individual responsibility for the historical misdeeds of ruling elites. If, however, any tyranny or venality, or aggressive war imposed by the State was brought about not by particular State rulers but by mysterious and arcane 'social forces,' or by the imperfect state of the world -- or if, in some way, everyone was guilty -- then there is no point in anyone's becoming indignant or rising up against such misdeeds. Furthermore, a discrediting of 'conspiracy theories' will make the subjects more likely to believe the 'general welfare' reasons that are invariably put forth by the modern State for engaging in aggressive actions." 

Philosophical Divigation: Postlude One

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
VALIS (1979)

The search for a healthy understanding of reality and the quest for a viable freedom within the socio-cultural and political matrix join hands in conspiracy theory. The place of the individual rights and protections in a world where there is no overarching religious, social, political, or scientific authority that can be trusted is the foundation for most conspiracists. Central to the grand superconspiracy myth underlying all the singular conspiracies is the idea of  hidden power(s), a ruling oligarchy of Elites shaping both our social and political fates on the planet. In the next section I will outline many of the basic components of this grand matrix of myths, fictions, histories, and rantings that have come to be recognized in mainstream conspiracy theory over the past fifty to sixty years. Interweaving both philosophical and novelistic literature as part of a parallax view. Slavoj Zizek defines it as:

"The common definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply "subjective," due to the fact that the same object which exists "out there" is seen from two different stations, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently "mediated," so that an "epistemological" shift in the subject's point of view always reflects an "ontological" shift in the object itself. Or, to put it in Lacanese, the subject's gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its "blind spot," that which is "in the object more than object itself," the point from which the object itself returns the gaze."

Ioan P. Couliano spoke of Ideal Objects as being systems operating in a logical dimension, systems that are "fractalic in nature, that is, they tend to produce solutions ad infinitum according to (simple) production rules(The Tree of Gnosis)." The idea that ideas are passed on not through channels of influence, but through a form of 'cognitive transmission' where 'principles are communicated, even in the elusive and allusive modes, from human mind to human mind, where they continue to word according to specific patterns of the human mind.' He felt that certain Ideal Objects of thought in the mind were hard-wired into the human mind, working 'according to the logical paths accessible to all of us and still unchanged for perhaps sixty thousand years.' Because of this innate function within the mind Couliano, like Freud, before him, as well as many anthropologists, held the idea that communities of people respond to phenomena in similar ways; that their responses can be categorized within a set of delimited number of responses. This combinatorial view of the mind as being shaped by deterministic patterns also takes into account the fractalic, complexity that can be generated from this 'simple production of rules'. Couliano's ideas coalesce with Noam Chomsky's cognitive representation of the mind. For both there is a 'systematicity underlying cognitive phenomena and this systematicity is, in theory at least, amenable to abstract specification.'

All this leads to Couliano's fascination with Game Theory, for him an ideal object is the sum total of all possible states of play of the 'game'. To simplify this as an interpretive tool he put for the idea in The Tree of Gnosis concerning religious dualisms, that a "dualistic view of humanity's place in the universe has only a certain number of possible intellectual outcomes or viewpoints, all of which may be manifested over time, yet, because of the changing morphology of such arguments over time, they will not always be recognized as being part of the same 'dualism object'.

I came across a passage in Couliano's Eros and Magic in the Renaissance that helped solidify this quest for Ideal Objects. In it he relates the story of Giordano Bruno's involvement in writing a book of poems that dealt with metaphysical rather than natural love. In one poem in particular he tells the old story of hunter Actaeon who came upon the goddess, Diana, in a pool and was turned into a Stag for his trouble and then devoured by his on dogs. Couliano's commentary of this poem concerning the allegorical interpretation of the dogs:

" The dogs are divided into mastifffs and greyhounds, which is not at all accidental. The mastiffs represent the subject's will; the greyhounds, discursive intellect, the dianoia. The game, pursued by hunter and dogs, represents "the intelligential kinds of ideal concepts which are occult, pursued by few people, captured by still fewer, and not available to all who seek it." (p. 74)

So one can infer that the Ideal Objects that Couliano speaks of are the hidden concepts some higher dimensional awareness (intelligential). Within the thought of Couliano and Zizek we begin to see a formulation of the parallax view in which the cognitive underpinnings of both mind and reality can be systematically apprehended in an Ideal Object; an occultation, or letting down of the intelligential awareness. For as Couliano states it we are caught in a web of false consciousness, our minds trapped in an illusory sensorium, and because of the limits of our intellect that we cannot recieve information from the higher dimensional matrix that surrounds us on all sides; instead we are given shadows, phantasms forced on us from the intelligential world: a form of knowledge that is both pneumatic (spiritual thought), and indirect.

Couliano goes on to clarify this pneumatic intelligible knowledge:

"In the sensory world, man is condemned to acquire knowledge only through phantasms. On the other hand, Bruno's great original approach, which pertained to the intelligible world, gains knowledge without the intermediary of phantasms, facie ad faciem (i.e., fact to face), without requiring spiritual mediation between body and soul, since man only lives in and through the soul." (p. 76)

All this implies that we are trapped in a world of illusions, our senses closed off and controlled by a set of filters that blind us to the truth of the intelligential world. Couliano allegorizing Bruno's poem about Actaeon and the goddess, Diana, would have us believe that to reach a true understanding of reality we must all go through a rite of passage:

"The contemplation of the nude goddess is tantamount to the death of Actaeon: he loses all the attributes of the human condition- sociability, sensibility, and phantasy. But death is only the terrible side of an initiation, of a rite of passage toward the subject's intellectual state. This is marked by direct knowledge of the intelligential world, transcending public opinion, sensory information, and pneumatic phantasmagoria". (p.76)

In his introduction to Eros and Magic Couliano that masses of men and women are manipulated by networks of power, by magicians who like their Renaissance precursors are both psychoanalysts and prophets, directors of public relations, propagandists, spies, politicians, censors, media moguls, and publicity agents extraordinaire. The startling conclusion to this interpretive fact is that even the most advanced historian "with knowledge, however unpretentious, of different worldviews, the scientific system, technology, and the institutions of any of the great civilizations of the past must sooner or later reach the disturbing conclusion that all networks of ideas or collective (or individual) "programs" are equally valid and, consequently, that the concept of the linear progress of mankind is essentially false (p. xxi)."

As a heuristic tool and interpretive strategy I will be applying this as a device for understanding conspiracy theory and its unique contribution to furthering our awareness of the vast system of forces that encompasses us in its web of deceit. Which leads us by circumlocution to the virtual paranoia of that great film trilogy, The Matrix.