An article recently published on the Adbusters site, American Psychosis, by Chris Hedges, has been widely shared and has apparently struck a chord with many readers. After reading it, I can see why, though my own feelings about it are ambivalent.
A Few Thoughts About Adbusters Itself
I used to occasionally buy Adbusters -the print publication- and found it interesting and thought provoking. At the same time, I was struck by the paradox of having to pay $7 for a magazine that purports to be about exposing and undermining the capitalist system. I’m not sure what the current newsstand price is, but I see from their website that an annual subscription costs $45 per year for 6 issues, which comes to a little over $7 per issue. While the magazine is well designed, and it no doubt costs a lot to publish, it’s also true that readers who have that kind of disposable income to spend on a magazine nowadays aren’t in too much economic distress.
This may seem like a digression, but not necessarily. The point is that the main audience for AdBusters and most of those who participate in discussions about modern American capitalism are doing so from the position of insiders rather than outsiders. This doesn’t refute their point of view, but it suggests that they are people who are bored by or who feel intellectually superior to the masses rather than those who are truly victimized by the system.
A Diatribe Against Modern American Capitalism
Unless you are part of that (quasi-mythical?) demographic who mindlessly embraces reality TV, junk food, Walmart and American foreign policy, your instincts (like mine) are probably going to tell you that this article is on target in many ways. It taps into a strong aesthetic and moral inclination to react with distaste at the vulgarity, superficiality and materialism of modern culture. Before I start to regurgitate what Chris Hedges is saying, I should back up a few steps.
Hedges is picking on some very obvious targets in this article and making some very broad generalizations. The problem with this kind of process is that it tends to lead to lazy thinking and a tendency to view the world in a narrow, prejudiced manner.
Seeing the Fnords
If you’re not familiar with fnords, it’s an expression coined by Robert Anton Wilson and used in the underground classic The Illuminatus Trilogy. The word doesn’t have a precise meaning, but it indicates a form of deceptive propaganda hidden in messages. In the novel, awakened individuals were able to “see the fnords” when reading newspapers. I would suggest that you also need this ability when reading radical and countercultural propaganda such as the American Psychosis article.
I am not going to deconstruct this article paragraph by paragraph, but consider just one example of what I consider to be over-generalized thinking and propaganda. Hedges compares the behavior of corporate bankers to ruthless contestants on reality shows who will do anything to get ahead. This, apparently, is symptomatic of our whole culture as we now believe that the objective is to get ahead or become rich and famous at any cost. As Hedges puts it,
“Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.”
Except, is this really true?
My understanding of “seeing the fnords” is to critically examine every word and idea and look for places where the writer or speaker is lulling us into an ideological trance of some kind.
Popular Culture: It’s Not That Simple
I am hardly an expert on reality TV. At the moment I don’t even own a television and only watch programs on sites owned by capitalist scum like Netflix and Hulu. But I’ve watched enough samples of reality TV as well as browsed enough online stories and comments to get a general idea of what it’s all about. And while I can see how one could conclude that it’s all about greed, selfishness and dog-eat-dog -especially when you have shows with names like Survivor- it’s really a lot more complex.
What I observe in modern culture today is a confusing potpourri of contradictory values, emotions and behaviors. I see greed, jealousy, family values, sentimentality, altruism, kindness, ambition, lust, selfishness and the team spirit all being exhibited and abandoned in turn (or, more accurately, at random). Is this a sign of a healthy culture? Perhaps not. But it’s not quite as simple as the Chris Hedges of the world portray it.
I invite you to look at popular culture -reality shows, regular programs (dramas, comedies, action), movies, music and so forth with the objective eyes of a social psychologist or anthropologist. Try to identify the particular emotions and values being portrayed at any given moment.
You can find almost anything you look for. For example, on a typical reality show, you will indeed see the ruthless and manipulative characters getting ahead. But you will also notice that the other characters, and most of the audience despises rather than admires these characters. Perhaps they also secretly admire their ambition, but this is where it all gets more complex. The point is, these shows are not simply putting the greediest and most selfish people on a pedestal.
Reality vs Illusion and the Sin of Magical Thinking
Another thing that Hedges despises about our culture is the presence of “magical thinking,” or the belief that having a positive attitude can negate the reality of tangible problems. This is typical of the materialist Old Left point of view (not materialist as pro-capitalist, but in the Marxist sense of dialectical materialism ). We are supposed to embrace the hard truth of “reality” and not escape into the corrupt bourgeois world of romantic illusions. To quote Hedges once again,
“…mass culture continues to assure us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultural retreat into illusion, whether peddled by positive psychologists, by Hollywood or by Christian preachers, is magical thinking.”
What, however, is Hedges and others who share this view, suggesting as an alternative? That we focus entirely on injustice and what’s wrong with the world? I understand that this is coming from the traditional radical perspective that advocates rising up in righteous anger and overthrowing the corrupt system. I can totally understand these sentiments, but at the same time, it’s hard to see how coming out against miracles, inner strength and having faith in ourselves is subversive to the causes of freedom and justice.
Indeed, if you look at the most successful resistance campaigns in recent history, such as those organized by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., (as well as the recently deceased Nelson Mandela), they were grounded in faith and a belief in self-empowerment. Granted, these movements were not advocating individualism or capitalism, but neither were they about the kind of austere, anti-spiritual intellectualism displayed in this article. Again, things are complex and the answer is probably not going to be found in simply embracing or condemning Theory X or Y.
I would maintain that despite its poor reputation in intellectual circles that magical thinking is, overall, a good thing. It frees us from the tyranny of believing in a static, inevitable reality. Notice where Hedges courageous commitment to “reality” leads him –to a place of unbridled pessimism. His final, depressing line, is “The goal will become the ability to endure.”
One could say that Hedges is following in the noble tradition of radicals such as George Orwell, who paints a completely dismal picture of the future, supposedly as a cautionary measure. The problem, however, is that doing such a skillful job of illustrating how miserable things are, and how much worse they will soon become, is that it’s all too easy to start to really believe it. We may start off saying, “If we don’t change our course, then all is lost,” and end up only repeating the “all is lost” part.
A Quantum, Postmodern Way to Look at Popular Culture
There are many ways to view or respond to popular culture. We can simply lap it up without questioning or analyzing it. We can attack it from the radical perspective of someone like Chris Hedges. We can take an even darker, more conspiratorial view and imagine who is really behind it all -perhaps the Illuminati or negative ETs who want to enslave humanity. I propose, however, that there is another alternative still -to look at it from a perspective that might be called quantum, postmodern or multidimensional.
As noted, what’s really distinctive about contemporary culture is the often contradictory number of values it seems to present. This goes beyond reality TV, of course, and includes our whole confusing global culture. The internet itself is both a metaphor for this and an example of it. There’s no way to define what the internet stands for, as you can find everything on it, from mindless consumerism to racism to anarchism to new age channeling to anything else you can imagine.
How does postmodernism fit into this mix? While there are many ways to interprets postmodernism, one of its basic tenets is that everything comes down to interpretation and subjectivity. This can be criticized as an amoral or pointless way to look at life, but it can also be seen as a freedom from dogma or the need to interpret anything in a specific manner.
While some object to the use of the word “quantum” in modern new age parlance, I believe that the discoveries of quantum physics are indeed relevant to our culture as well as to our physical world. The idea that particles exist as potentialities that can express themselves in a multitude of ways is a perfect metaphor for human freedom. It’s similar to what the existentialists, in their own language, were saying a century ago. There is also the “quantum” truth that the observer influences the behavior of a particle.
The belief that there is not one, but many parallel worlds is something that many quantum physicists (as well as philosophers and mystics) believe. The Many Worlds Theory, for example, supposes that an entire world may exist for every possibility. This is another potentially liberating idea, one that frees us from having a single, unalterable destiny.
When we apply some of the notions of postmodernism and quantum physics to culture, we realize that we aren’t locked into seeing things in a particular way. We are free to watch what we want, buy what we want or to boycott all of it if we prefer. Yet it’s not an all or nothing proposition -unless we choose to embrace “all of it” (if that’s even possible) or “none of it” (equally difficult nowadays).
We also don’t have to use things -whether objects or cultural products such as TV shows, movies or songs- in the way the creator or producer intended. We can remake and reinterpret them. So even if there is a sinister conspiracy behind something, there is always the possibility of subverting it for a completely different end.
This type of thinking is what I originally found interesting about AdBusters -the way someone could take an insipid advertisement and subvert it. Banksy has become famous for doing such things on a large scale. As an aside, it is perhaps instructive to note that even Banksy has appeared to have “sold out” recently.
Like AdBusters itself, it seems to be almost impossible to effectively subvert the capitalist machine without becoming a part of it. This may be telling us something important about the nature of reality, and how it simply doesn’t support rigid ideologies in the long run.
Perhaps the lesson we can learn from it all is that it is up to us to take away the lessons and values from popular culture (and everything else) that we choose. We can also chose to focus upon that which brings us the most meaning, happiness, value or coherence. You can do this almost everywhere now. Even the audience for the most banal reality show can choose to root for the nicest character or the meanest. Of course, we also have the option of not watching the show at all.
It may very well turn out that, in the final analysis, that what is known as magical thinking turns out to be the most practical. If the alternative is a world where all we can hope for is to endure, I certainly hope that this is the case.
This past Halloween, the media was full of stories of people, both celebrities and everyday people, who managed to provoke outrage with their choice of costumes. There was Julianne Hough with her blackface costume. Then there were a pair of outrageous costume faux pas that went viral online. One was a depiction of a Boston Marathon bombing victim. The other, from England, was two women dressing up as the Twin Towers, complete with fire, planes and falling bodies.
To help keep people in line, Salon.com even published a list of the 10 Most Offensive Halloween Costumes Ever. This articles was full of self-righteous warnings about what constitutes poor taste or a politically incorrect costume.
For a long time, it was mainly conservative, religious types who objected to the pagan, occult or supposedly satanic connotations of Halloween. Now the liberals and moderates are out in full force cracking down on insensitivity and tastelessness. Except some of the people objecting the loudest aren’t actually moderates, liberals or conservatives -they are foaming-at-the-mouth crackpots, looking for a target at which to spit their venom.
As a recent article on Opposing Views points out, the woman who portrayed the Boston Bombing victim has not only been harshly criticized, she has received death threats and people threatening to rape her. What is going on here? While the fact that some of these critics are unbalanced does not automatically discredit all of them, to me it suggests something fundamental about the nature of moral outrage. I’m talking specifically about outrage expressed towards relatively harmless, symbolic issues here, not actual violence or terrorism.
Some people have a sick sense of humor, and no doubt certain costumes cross the line when it comes to good taste and sensitivity. If people are offended by this kind of behavior, they have every right to express their opinions. Yet the kind of outbursts we have seen against these costumes seems way out of proportion to the behavior.
It seems that there is a whole subculture of moral outrage nowadays, whose denizens lie in wait for the next transgression so they can pounce. Moral outrage, whether it’s expressed by religious fundamentalists, liberal ideologues or simply highly sensitive types of no particular political persuasion seems to be a kind of catharsis for some people. It gives them an excuse to vent and to express a sense of superiority.
The person who expresses moral outrage is implicitly holding him or herself above the transgressor/sinner. It’s as though people living in a pristine Utopia have been invaded by barbarians and are shocked that such primitive types exist. People who are prone to outbursts of moral outrage also tend to make dramatic statements such as “What is the world coming to?” or “There’s no hope for humanity if…”
If there is any point at all to this rant, it’s that moral outrage -at least when directed against something as ultimately trivial as a Halloween costume- is melodramatic and misguided. It also implies a climate of intolerance where nothing must be done that risks offending anybody. By this criteria, controversial works of art of any kind could be banned.
In a way, expressions of tastelessness and moral outrage feed upon each other. Let’s face it -if you wear a costume that mocks large scale tragedies, you must be seeking attention on some level. Similarly, without such incidents, those who find catharsis in publicly condemning their moral inferiors would have to direct their frustrations elsewhere.
In conclusion, it’s not my intention to defend or attack anyone’s choice of Halloween costume. Nor do I think that a costume qualifies as a political statement or a moral point of view. They are simply attempts to have a good time, even if this sometimes means showing a lack of sensitivity for public mores. If such costumes don’t contribute to the betterment of society, neither does moral outrage condemning them.
This article was inspired by a story I recently read on the Disinformation.com site. I often wonder about the meaning of that site’s name -is there a kind of double-irony involved there?
This article was exploring the possibility that psychedelics guru Terrence McKenna had ties to the CIA. Supposedly, he actually revealed this publicly at one point. This is actually part of a much larger theory -that the whole counterculture was/is part of a plot to usher in the New World Order.
This is a big topic in conspiracy circles. There is a fairly popular theory that the entire counterculture of the 1960s, including music (such as The Beatles and Grateful Dead), drugs and the sexual revolution -i.e. Sex, Drugs & Rock’n Roll- were only subversive on the surface. In reality (so the theory goes), they were part of a sinister plot to undermine family values, rational thinking and political activism.
You can find several variations on this theory if you search. The milder version is the one held by some ideological left-wing activists. From their perspective, the part of the counterculture that advocated “Turn on, tune in, drop out” undermined the potential for real change, even revolution. So it’s not much of a jump to consider that maybe this was deliberately plotted.
The more extreme version of this theory comes from more hardcore, and often right-wing conspiracy circles. Since these folks often have traditional religious beliefs, it’s especially easy for them to equate countercultural values with the satanic New World Order or Illuminati.
These days, of course, the conspiracy movement has gotten murkier. This means there are many people who don’t fit neatly into the left or right camp. Overall, there is more of a libertarian bias, which makes sense in a movement that is fighting against a one world dictatorship.
Timothy Leary is often mentioned in this context, as someone with establishment and possibly intelligence connections. The same with Albert Hoffmann, the supposed creator of LSD. I say “supposed” because this is disputed, especially by researchers such as Jon Irvin, who I will be talking about shortly.
Terrence McKenna is often seen as Timothy Leary’s successor. While Leary focused mainly on LSD, McKenna’s interests were more in the areas of mushrooms, DMT and other plant medicines used in shamanistic rituals.
Jon Irvin is one of the leading proponents of the “Counterculture is an MKULTRA Plot” theory. I was not very familiar with his work until very recently. In fact, after reading the aforementioned article, I listened to an interview of his for the first time.
I must say that I was not impressed.
Irvin strikes me as a dogmatic and manipulative person who employs some sophistical logical devices to try to prove some dubious points. He is apparently big on the guilt by association tactic. He gives readers and listeners long lists of names and documents, which sound authoritative if you don’t pay close attention. Yet many of his assertions are based on only loose associations between people and events.
For example, the writer Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception) is implicated as a member of a sinister cabal largely because of his ancestry. His grandfather Thomas Huxley was a strong advocate of Darwinism and his (Aldous’) brother Julian was a scientist who was involved in the Eugenics movement, which of course influenced Hitler.
Jon Irvin accuses Huxley and others of using underhanded tactics associated with
Fabian socialism. In his view, one of the tricks of this movement is to say one thing and do another.
Thus, Eisenhower’s oft-quoted speech where he warns of the dangers of the military industrial complex can be seen as a trick to warn people about what he actually supports. Similarly, Huxley’s supposedly cautionary tale Brave New World is really a sneaky way of telling the world what is coming, like it or not. Similar charges have been brought against Orwell regarding 1984.
The problem with this type of thinking is that it makes it easy to implicate anyone and impossible to discern who is sincere. It also raises the question of why someone like Huxley would write a satirical novel about a future he supposedly welcomes with open arms. Isn’t it just as likely (or more so) that due to his family and social connections he was well aware of some of these plots but was skeptical of them? According to Irvin, however, to have any association with the bad guys mean you must be one of them.
The Counterculture (and Psychedelics) as an Illuminati Plot
Rather than attempt to unravel all of the murky evidence regarding this theory, it might be more instructive to ask how much sense it makes. Overall, the argument is very similar to those made by The John Birch Society and other right wing groups regarding communism in the mid-20th Century (and a little earlier).
The imposition of a New World Order, so the argument goes, will be easier if traditional values are destroyed. Thus, the conspiracy promotes things like sexual freedom, homosexuality, feminism and other “anti-family” values.
Along the same lines, drugs interfere with critical thinking and make people passive. This makes it easier to control them, and discourages real dissent and opposition. The music and movie industries do their part by promoting this agenda as well. In addition to promoting these nefarious values they also supposedly inject popular entertainment with all kinds of satanic and Illuminati symbolism.
The ultimate goal is a world government where an all-powerful elite rule over a subjugated population of serfs. This is why alleged collaborators like Terrence McKenna are pushing for an “Archaic Revival.” While naive followers see this as a primitive utopia, the real truth is that it will be a dystopia where society devolves into tyranny, poverty and serfdom.
Flaws With the Theory
That, in a nutshell, is the theory. If you are conspiracy minded, it seems plausible enough. Yet it has many holes in it. Consider, for example, the notion that Huxley’s Brave New World was a blueprint for the future (rather than a satire and warning).
One of the main themes of that novel was that the masses were kept in state of perpetual yet mindless bliss. This was accomplished through genetic engineering, popular culture and a drug called Soma.
Yet the Soma in this novel is not portrayed as a psychedelic type drug, but more like Prozac -something to take the edges off one’s mood. Certainly not something that altered consciousness or produced spiritual experiences.
Aside from his famous dystopian novel, Huxley also wrote Island, which was closer to a utopian novel (though this ideal society was destroyed at the end because the rest of the world was too warlike). In this novel, people do take psychedelic mushrooms and live balanced and spiritual lives.
If we look at the counterculture and more recent alternative movements, we see that there is backlash against mindless pop culture and the type of drugs prescribed by the psychiatric and medical establishment. In other words, there is nothing “Brave New Worldish” about it. If you want to see a more recent satirical portrayal of this mentality, watch the movie The Stepford Wives (two versions were made, one in the 60s and one more recently).
People who equate the counterculture and movements such as the “archaic revival” with passivity don’t really understand what’s going on. Consider events such as the annual Burning Man festival, or any number of similar festivals held throughout the world. These are extremely vibrant and diverse events. If it has a common theme, however, it’s one of freedom, artistic expression and resistance to authority and conformity. Furthermore, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of attendees are fans of Terrence McKenna.
Similar things could be said for the participants in movements such as Occupy Wall Street. While it’s very likely that all alternative movements are infiltrated and, to some degree co-opted by the establishment, that’s not the same thing as saying that they were created by the establishment as part of a carefully planned strategy.
Do critics like Jan Irvin really believe that modern day anarchists, festival attendees, trance dancers, shamans and the like will make ideal subjects for the New World Order? I think that those who adhere to this type of conspiracy theory are out of touch with the real counterculture.
Extreme “Reason” and Unfounded Conspiracy Theories
If you listen to Irvin, you can tell he’s an extreme left-brained intellectual. In fact he explicitly promotes a rationalist agenda in the form of a cult like dogma called Trivium. This is one of those classical and tradition-worshipping systems that supposedly teaches you how to think and reason without making the kind of errors made by the deluded masses.
This kind of worship of reason is reminiscent of Ayn Rand -someone who I admire in some ways (she helped to launch the modern libertarian movement) but who was extremely dogmatic and intolerant of dissent.
It’s easy for hardcore rationalists to develop theories that are based on ideas rather than experience. So they develop elaborate theories that spring from a web of dubious connections. One of the strange consequences of attempting to live solely by reason is that it can take you into the realm of unreason -into paranoia, dogmatism and intolerance.
This does not apply to everyone who believes in any so-called conspiracy theories -only those who adhere to extremely broad and unfounded conspiracy theories. This is an important distinction. For example, you can believe that the JFK assassination or 9-11 was a conspiracy. Leaving aside the truth or falsity of these theories, they are fairly specific. They each deal with a single event.
On the other hand, when you start believing in conspiracy theories that deal in broad generalizations, you risk falling into true paranoia in the worst sense of that word. The problem is, terms such as “counterculture” and “new age movement” are broad and imprecise. So if you start believing that “they” are behind all of it, your conspiracy has no limits or defining parameters. If The Beatles are part of it, why not that guy playing folk songs at the local cafe? That innocent looking couple who run the yoga studio down the block?
Why Psychedelics Don’t Help the NWO Agenda
There is plenty of evidence that the CIA has been involved in experimenting with drugs such as LSD. Nor would it surprise me if they tried to to use any possible leverage against counterculture figures such as Terrence McKenna. This isn’t the same thing, however, as saying that psychedelics are fundamentally a part of the NWO or Illuminati agenda.
People like Irvin, with their purely left-brained and theoretical focus, see the world in simplistic terms and paint with a very broad brush. They don’t see a difference between the passivity-inducing stupor of many prescription drugs and the mind expanding potential of psychedelics.
When we look at the ancient and global history of mind altering substances, it seems unlikely that they could be used to serve a narrow and authoritarian agenda. This isn’t to say that these substances are intrinsically positive. They are a doorway to other realities, which can have either positive or negative consequences, depending on the intentions of the user.
Today, for example, we are hearing about shamans (or fake shamans) taking advantage of ayahuasca tourists in South America. This, however, doesn’t discredit the many positive and transcendental experiences of many users of this plant.
Consider the internet, which was originally conceived as a tool for the military. While it’s still being used for the purposes of spreading false information and spying on users, it’s also the primary means of communicating alternative messages. It would be very easy, though, to “prove” that the internet is the tool of (pick one) Satan, the Illuminati or the Military Industrial Complex. To some extent, it probably is -but it’s also so much more.
It’s similar when we look at popular culture, such as music and movies. I don’t doubt that some successful artists are, directly or indirectly, influenced by sinister forces. There is some interesting research concerning the effect of different music scales on consciousness. Similarly, the violent lyrics of many rap songs could indeed serve the agenda of those wanting to spread chaos and militarization.
Yet to see the entire phenomenon of modern music as part of a conspiracy is taking it much too far. There is simply too much diversity out there, much of it explicitly pro-freedom and in favor of individual sovereignty.
Synchronicity and Conspiracy
I believe that many conspiracy theories are true, or at least contain a grain of truth. The problem with many hardcore conspiracy types, though, is that they don’t take into account the synchronistic nature of the universe. Since everything is ultimately connected, it’s always possible to connect the dots between any individuals, events or phenomena.
The principle of “six degrees of separation” also applies here. When you are talking about well known and highly connected people (such as Aldous Huxley), this is quickly reduced to one or two degrees. This lack of separation doesn’t automatically imply collusion or even agreement, though.
Another thing to remember is that the forces of conspiracy will naturally be motivated to infiltrate and co-opt any movement that poses a threat to its dominance.
This means we can assume that a certain percentage of people in any alternative movement, whether cultural or political are plants or agent provocateurs. Others will be tempted to sell out, either for wealth or because they are vulnerable in some way. In some cases, they may have committed a “crime” or were possibly even framed for one.
Does Terrence McKenna fall into one of these categories? I have no idea, though I’m quite skeptical. My guess is that even if he was somehow under their control, he was at heart a subversive who was ultimately on the side of freedom and enlightenment. I have a similar view of an even more controversial character, Aleister Crowley (who is also often identified as being part of a conspiracy).
But this discussion really goes far beyond the issue of whether a particular person was or wasn’t “compromised” in some way. How many of us aren’t, when it comes down to it? I’m not talking about being recruited by the Illuminati now, but simply having to compromise to survive in society. The point is, most people are a complex mixture of qualities and behaviors.
Mind Control and the Counterculture: Some Final Thoughts
If we see the universe as a single entity split into (possibly infinite) individual components, each possessing its own intelligence, then we don’t really have to worry about things like mind control or an all-powerful totalitarian state -at least in the long run.
The natural tendency of consciousness is towards freedom, evolution and expansion. Along the way, there is the counter-tendency that is suppressive, anti-evolutionary and reactionary. Looking at the big picture, even this can be seen as part of the greater expansion and evolution.
The problem with taking the conspiracy mindset too far is that you can start to see the reactionary principle as primary rather than secondary. “They” are seen as behind every movement, theory and action. Like in 1984, even the apparent resistance is always the state in disguise.
I prefer to see it the opposite way. Freedom and evolution are primary; the suppression of these are just temporary setbacks along the way. Some of the conspiracies are surely real enough, but they are ultimately no more than growing pains that slow down inevitable progress now and then.
A recent news article -Mysterious Sea Monster Discovered in Spain is Identified illustrates the questionable nature of much conventional and scientific “knowledge.”
The headline suggests that this “sea monster” was “identified.” If you read the article, however, you find out that no one really knows WTF it was! Even the experts who guessed that it was a shark couldn’t say what species. One still maintained that it might be an oarfish.
There is a strong compulsion to “know” things in the modern world. The whole realm of definitions and categories, which goes back to Aristotle, often masks the limits of knowledge.
In psychology, for example, it’s common to observe certain symptoms or behavior, label it as a disorder and stick it in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Does this mean the “disorder” is understood? Not usually. There are countless so-called disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia that have lots of definitions, accompanying symptoms and sub-categories. Yet no one knows what causes them.
More to the point, the whole paradigm of DSM implies a mythical, dubious standard of normality. What is normal, and is this really the state of perfection we should all be striving for? And what does this have to do with sea monsters and sharks?
Only that our technical definitions, whether in the physical or social sciences, are only words and symbols and don’t necessarily connote understanding.
Television networks and movie producers typically test audience reactions using tools such as pilots, movie trailers and surveys. Based on responses, they decide which scripts, characters and endings to release. Suppose that what we call the news and history are handled in a similar way?
Rather than having a single explanation of events, those who control events have several versions. They can release tentative versions in the media and gauge public reaction.
For example, in the recent Boston Marathon bombing, the following story was released about a Saudi man being questioned:
This is all very tentative, however. It remains to be seen whether this person will be blamed for the event. While we might take the straightforward explanation that it all depends on whether evidence implicates him, is it not just as likely that they are still trying to decide how to play the event?
Those who get their information from the alternative or “conspiracy” media should be aware that so-called conspiracy theories could also be included in releasing these “scripts.” They might orchestrate a few contradictory explanations for the same event, all of them fabricated.
This theory can also be applied to events such as the JFK assassination, 9/11 and other large scale events. You end up with so many conflicting theories that at some point they all end up sounding equally plausible or implausible.
How, then, do we know what is “true?” There’s no simple answer. Does this mean that the only reasonable reaction is total paranoia? Not necessarily. One can just as easily take the position of detached agnosticism –remaining skeptical and open to multiple possibilities without claiming to know the absolute truth.
A good lesson in this type of thinking can be found in the underground classic, The Illuminatus Trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. This book is equal parts serious social commentary and tongue-in-cheek satire. In a world where almost nothing is certain, you have to maintain a sense of humor as well as a healthy dose of skepticism.
TED Blog Discussion on Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake
The current controversy between TED and Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake is interesting, but not very surprising if you’re familiar how the mainstream paradigm operates.
TED has become a trendy and popular forum for modern intellectuals, academics, artists and others to discuss various issues and theories. I’ve only watched a tiny portion of the TED Talks. It’s already become a franchise, with new talks being broadcast almost every single day. I have found some TED Talks to be quite thought provoking and have even linked to some of them on this blog.
One thing that becomes clear with so many TED Talks -you are going to have a wide diversity of opinions. So it might seem strange that suddenly two talks are singled out for “censorship.” Yet if you consider what both Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake represent, it’s rather predictable.
Both are on the cutting edge of what can be called (depending on your viewpoint) alternative science, the new age movement, fringe science or even pseudoscience (the latter term was actually used when TED took down their videos).
Graham Hancock has long been associated with alternative archeology, with books like Fingerprints of the Gods that re-examine conventional ideas about the origin of the pyramids and other ancient structures. More recently, he has become even more controversial with blog posts and videos discussing ayhuasca and other psychedelics.
Rupert Sheldrake, meanwhile, is best known for his theory of morphogenic fields, where he postulates a field of energy that cannot be measured by scientific instruments. His most recent book, The Science Delusion, discusses the 10 myths of the modern, materialistic paradigm. The very title of this book should give you an idea of how well it was received by the scientific establishment! The book was given a tamer title in the U.S. -Science Set Free.
People like Hancock and Sheldrake are the very epitome of what dogmatic atheists and materialists want to stamp out. So it’s no wonder that there was a public outcry when these controversial guys were allowed to speak at TED.
What I find most amusing is the way TED is behaving in the typical manner of a large, frightened bureaucracy that desperately wants to maintain its credibility and respectability (and funding, no doubt).
First they created a special forum for “special” types of talks like those given by Hancock and Sheldrake -TedxWhitechapel. This, however, wasn’t enough for some of the fundamentalists (of the materialist variety) out there, so TED went on to remove the videos of these talks. They also published a strongly worded criticism of the talks, labeling them “pseudoscience.”
This, in turn, provoked a backlash on the part of the alternative community, who decried this as censorship on TED’s part. So TED subsequently crossed out the statements condemning the two provocateurs! This is really quite amusing to see on their blog. It seems like something that might occur on a high school newspaper. Yet it shows what a bureaucratic entity TED has quickly become.
What I take from all this is that you have to take all large institutions with a healthy grain of salt. As soon as something reaches a certain size and level of popularity, it becomes vulnerable to the kind of conservative, wishy-washy behavior we’re seeing with TED.
I wouldn’t be so quick to use the “censorship” label. TED is a private entity and has the right to post/publish/sponsor whatever it wants. Censorship means that certain content is prohibited by law. I admire both Hancock and Sheldrake, but I wouldn’t say they have a “right” to be broadcast by TED.
I also would hesitate to condemn TED too broadly. There are thousands and thousands of TED Talks, representing a rather broad spectrum of ideas. I do think there is an overall tendency towards being gung ho regarding mainstream science and technology, but so what?
I tend to be a little skeptical towards these views (which are often motivated by financial factors), but that doesn’t mean they should be condemned overall. TED Talks are usually interesting and thought-provoking. What should be avoided is to view TED as an elite forum that broadcasts nothing but truth and brilliance.
In the final analysis, TED is just another channel out of thousands. Just like it’s reckless to condemn TV, “Hollywood,” or “the music industry” -as though every single product of these institutions were completely homogenous- so we can’t hold every lecturer at TED responsible for the doings of its board of directors (or whoever reigns at the top of the organization).
Institutions of all kinds are basically illusory. This includes nation states, corporations and organizations. Statements or beliefs about them are necessarily going to be slanted and distorted. So it really doesn’t make sense to worship or condemn them with too much enthusiasm. Best not to take them so seriously.
Hopefully, all this controversy will be good for both Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake. It should bring their ideas to the attention of more people. For this, we can thank TED, whether that was their intention or not.
Rupert Sheldrake is one of the most brilliant scientific minds of our times, though many people haven’t heard of him. His best known theory is concerning morphic fields, the belief that there are powerful but invisible fields that influence matter and energy.
Sheldrake uses this concept to explain many unusual phenomena, including telepathy. He claims that animals use these fields when they do things like find their way home hundreds of miles away (we often hear about dogs and cats doing this). Even birds’ ability to navigate is difficult to explain by conventional theories.
In his latest book, The Science Delusion (also called Science Set Free in some editions), he examines and criticizes some of the most widely held assumptions of modern science. He is not anti-science, only against the dogmatic materialism that has been dominant in the sciences in recent decades.
In this video at a TED Talk, Sheldrake gives a brief summary of this book.
A month after the Sandy Hook shootings, and there is an escalating media war going on. “Conspiracy” videos have quickly gone viral. Below is one of the most popular of them – The Sandy Hook Shooting -Fully Exposed.
It’s interesting how quickly skepticism formed over this event. The 9/11 conspiracy theories, while appearing soon after the event, took years to become widespread. Today, however, there are more and more people who are (understandably) skeptical about everything the government, media and other “authorities” tell us.
Today, Yahoo News prominently featured this supposed debunking of Sandy Hook conspiracy theories.
What’s interesting about this article is that its main focus is on psychoanalyzing the mentality of conspiracy theorists. This is the usual tactic taken by the establishment. It uses psychological theories to explain why certain people think in a certain way. This implicitly labels this group of people as pathological.
Granted, the article does mention a few specific issues brought up by the conspiracy theorists and attempts to discredit them. I’m not going to attempt to unravel this complex Sandy Hook issue here -right now I’m more interested in the overall dynamic that takes place and the way the media discusses and labels so-called conspiracy theorists.
Arguably, the very way the social sciences are set up encourages this type of thinking. Terms like “abnormal psychology,” “personality disorder,” “deviance” and other such terms marginalize and attempt to diagnose anyone who doesn’t conform to mainstream thinking, beliefs and behavior.
The author of this article, Benjamin Radford, is an editor for a publication called Skeptical Inquirer, a well known rationalist journal that often debunks the paranormal, supernatural and anything that veers from accepted scientific dogma.
The implication is that we should be skeptical of everything that hasn’t been given the establishment’s stamp of approval. Yet what about skepticism regarding what authorities tell us?
If you follow the logic of such articles, you would conclude that a mentally healthy, and socially responsible person would simply assume that what politicians, police, journalists and other authorities tell us is true. Is this really a rational, scientific or skeptical attitude?
How often has it been demonstrated that authorities lie to protect their own interests or promote a certain agenda? Examples of lies told by governments, leaders, corporations, the media and other institutions are everywhere.
The point here is not that the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists are right. I haven’t yet studied this issue enough to make up my mind. The point is to be alert to people trying to intimidate you into thinking a certain way and to reject simplistic labels, even if they sound scientific.
One of the most radical results of the U.S. presidential election, which had nothing to do with either Obama or Romney, was the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.
Marijuana is clinically classified as an hallucinogen, placing in in the spectrum of psychedelic drugs like LSD which are widely associated with 1960s American counterculture. However, their uses date back to antiquity and many cultures continue to use mind-altering substances in shamanic ceremonies today. In the western world, the introduction of psychedelics into popular culture represented a real threat to the established way of life and efforts were made to stamp them out.
This is ironic considering that these are nonaddictive substances that have caused far fewer medical, psychological or societal problems than alcohol, cigarettes, prescription pills and many other readily available legal drugs. Over the last few decades, LSD and other psychedelics have become less associated with evil and insanity but remain marginalized. And recently, there have been signs that research is being considered more seriously on this topic.
While we’ve had people like Terrence McKenna (who died in 2000) contribute a great deal to our understanding of human consciousness and the potential role of psychedelics in our evolution, on the whole these efforts have been confined to the outer fringes of society.
For example, Dr. Rick Strassman has been doing some clinical research on the effects of DMT on people. The documentary The Spirit Molecule gives some fascinating and hopeful insights into what this substance can unlock in our minds.
MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, has long been associated with the rave culture that began in the 80s. However, there is also evidence that MDMA can be effective at treating depression. See: MDMA and Depression.
One modern current researcher on psychedelics is Krystle Cole, author of the book Lysergic, which describes her experiences working in an LSD lab from 2000 to 2003 that was eventually raided and shut down by the feds federal government. She also runs an website, NeuroSoup, which has links to many videos and other resources that educate the public on psychedelics and related topics.
What follows is a short interview I conducted with Krystle (pictured above with some of her art).
LC – Have you noticed any change in public perception regarding psychedelics since you first got involved with them? Are people more open and tolerant to using such substances for therapeutic reasons or even recreational use? Do you think, for example, that recent steps towards marijuana legalization (however limited) may eventually extend to psychedelics?
KC -Yes. I believe there has been a change in public perception regarding psychedelics over the past 10-12 years. I think that academics and researchers are becoming more willing to look at the medical potential of hallucinogens. For example, MDMA in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder and ibogaine in the treatment of substance abuse disorders. Nevertheless, I think most mainstream folks still believe that hallucinogens are “bad drugs” alongside heroin and cocaine. Obviously, this is not the case.
I do think that the recent cannabis legalization in Colorado and Washington are a step in the right direction when it comes to drug law reform. And, technically, cannabis is classified as a hallucinogen. Since this hallucinogen has been re-legalized for some of us, I hope that other naturally growing hallucinogens like psilocybin mushrooms will eventually be re-legalized as well.
LC – What do you see as the most significant uses and benefits of psychedelics in the future? Do you think they have the potential to transform society in a fundamental way? Help people overcome psychological problems?
KC -As I mentioned before, I think that MDMA has real potential in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. I also believe that ibogaine and ayahuasca may be useful in the treatment of certain substance abuse disorders. Beyond these medical uses, I believe that the most significant benefit of psychedelics in the future will be their ability to assist in personal growth.
LC – Which substances, plants or “drugs” do you see as most promising for bringing about positive transformation in individuals and/or society? DMT and ayahuasca, for example, have shown promise in helping to cure addictions and helping people reach higher states of awareness. Are there any less known substances you would like to call attention to?
KC -I think that the substances with the most promise are already widely known, for example MDMA, DMT, LSD, ibogaine, and psilocybin. The newer hallucinogens, which are considered to be research chemicals, may also potentially be useful. That said, more research is needed in order to understand the positive effects and the negative effects attributed to the use of these newer substances.
This is an interview with Poof (as he calls himself) on coming changes in the world. There is more information about this interview on American Kabuki.
There is so much information out there in the alternative media that it’s hard to know what to believe. I like Poof because he’s always positive and solution oriented.