This week’s links and readings add up to an exceptionally rich and varied smorgasbord. Topics include: planetary environmental Armageddon plus other modes of doom, along with the American psychology of denial regarding the true direness of our present situation; the authentic rise of an American totalitarian state along the lines of Nuremberg; the egregiously overlooked (by formal policymakers and pundits) role of religion as a causative and formative factor in world affairs; Facebook’s Promethean desire to reshape the world and suck up all of its money with our collective personal data; the manipulation of our neurochemical responses by modern technology and advertising to induce maximum addiction; our perpetual state of chronic enslavement to clock time; a call to end the insanity of “maximum productivity” and build a more human and humane economy; a blessedly clear-sighted graduation speech that tells kids they’re not at all special; a defense of the value — not just aesthetic but political — of formally correct English; examinations of the cultural influences on Prometheus, the American gothic legacy of Ray Bradbury, and the exquisite horror of fairy tales; and a wonderful explanation of why reading Robert Anton Wilson is actually good for you.
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Earth may be near a tipping point, scientists warn
Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2012
Teaser: A group of scientists warns that population growth, climate change and environmental damage are pushing Earth toward calamitous and irreversible changes.
[NOTE: The paper this article talks about created quite a buzz throughout the news media during the past week. Also see, for instance, “Earth Could Reach Devastating Ecological Tipping Point by 2025” (Slate), “Is Earth Nearing an Environmental ‘Tipping Point’?” (Scientific American), and “Earth Is Headed for Disaster, Interdisciplinary Team of Scientist Concludes” (The Chronicle of Higher Education). And remember that the same era that saw the publication of the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth, referenced below, also saw an explosion of future-dystopian science fiction books and films, as in, to name one notable example, Soylent Green. The ecological-apocalyptic imagination has now been activated again, only this time we may actually be living through, and looking ahead toward the full realization and manifestation of, the existential reality of it all.]
A group of international scientists is sounding a global alarm, warning that population growth, climate change and environmental destruction are pushing Earth toward calamitous — and irreversible — biological changes. In a paper published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature, 22 researchers from a variety of fields liken the human impact to global events eons ago that caused mass extinctions, permanently altering Earth’s biosphere. “Humans are now forcing another such transition, with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” wrote the authors, who are from the U.S., Europe, Canada and South America. If current trends continue — exploding global population, rapidly rising temperatures and the clearance of more than 40% of Earth’s surface for urban development or agriculture — the planet could reach a tipping point, they say. “The net effects of what we’re causing could actually be equivalent to an asteroid striking the Earth in a worst-case scenario,” the paper’s lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, said in an interview. “I don’t want to sound like Armageddon. I think the point to be made is that if we just ignore all the warning signs of how we’re changing the Earth, the scenario of losses of biodiversity — 75% or more — is not an outlandish scenario at all”…Forty years ago, the Club of Rome think tank caused a stir when it argued that there were limits to world growth. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich, now a professor of population studies at Stanford University, warned of the dangers of overpopulation in his book “The Population Bomb.” “This is what scientists saw in the ’60s and ’70s,” said Mikael Fortelius, a professor of evolutionary paleontology at the University of Helsinki in Finland and one of the paper’s authors. “We’ve never been quite sure when it would happen. We’re there now.”
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The Way The World Ends: Goo Invasions, EMP Strikes, and Other Doomsday Scenarios
Matthew Stern, Mother Board, January 11, 2010
Pretty much anyone who tried to get a flight heading out of New York over the holidays has experienced the unsettling realization that society’s infrastructure is a single, paltry snow storm (or an unscreened passenger) away from complete collapse…Whether or not you believe that modern humanity is doomed to destroy itself or if you’re still holding out hope (and notwithstanding a shit load of bad pop science) it’s undeniable that decades of futuristic innovation has helped make the multitude of ways that we could possibly annihilate everything are far more exciting than ever before. And we haven’t even built a real-life Death Star yet. In the wake of a decade that made those happy-go-lucky, relatively affluent ‘90s seem as quaint as a duck-and-cover drill, here’s a fun list of ways that the human race could conceivably engineer its own demise — not with a whimper, but with a bang (or a series of bangs). [The author goes on to discuss, with no small amount of snarky humor, the “gray goo” scenario of a planetary nanobot swarm, the destruction of the power grid and all digital data by an electromagnetic pulse, the putative possibility that the Large Hadron Collider will produce a world-destroying black hole, the overthrow of humanity by machines guided by self-aware artificial intelligence, and environmental catastrophe caused by our own blundering ineptitude, as in bee die-off.]
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How Our Disinterest in ‘The Environment’ Signals the End of Nature
Christopher Mims, Mother Board, June 7, 2012
We’re currently witnessing the ascension of an ecosystem that cannot survive without the intercession of technology…[A]ny attempt to talk about the 21st century without acknowledging that every living thing on the planet will be altered by humans is intellectually bankrupt…In a very real sense, we are going to have to replace the components of our planetary life support system that we have killed off — or else face extinction…Broadly, we have two competing visions for the future, both of which I find improbable, so I’ll offer a third. The first vision is one of global ecosystem collapse, peak energy, die-off of a significant portion of the human race, etc. Call it the Dark Green vision — a sort of secular doomsday. The second vision of the future, the popularity of which seems directly proportional to just how dire our situation appears to be, is the optimistic notion that innovation will save the day, and that economic growth will continue forever. It can be definitively demonstrated that this notion is a fantasy, if only its proponents would do the math. The reality falls somewhere between these two extremes. The doomsday scenario may be more plausible than a techno-utopian future, but the Dark Greens underestimate both humanity’s will to survive and the fact that there are more people on the planet innovating now than ever before. It won’t be easy to get past the long sunset of oil and the desertification of some of the most agriculturally productive parts of the planet, but it’s probably not impossible, either…[W]e’re going to so degrade the environment on which we depend that we’re going to have to devote an ever-increasing percentage of our inventive capacity to merely staying alive. In a hundred years, the biggest industries will all be devoted to the cybernetic enhancement of the planet itself.
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The Parting of the Ways
John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report, June 13, 2012
[A] series of news items over the last week or so have me worried. No, it’s not the latest news about methane plumes in the Arctic Ocean; it’s not the current round of economic idiocy from Europe…[I]t’s not the death struggle between two failed ideologies that’s frozen Washington DC into utter political paralysis at a time when avoiding hard questions any longer may well put the survival of the nation at risk. No, quite the contrary: it’s the rising chorus of voices, from all across the political and cultural spectrum, insisting that everything really is all right and that any suggestion to the contrary ought to be shouted down as quickly as possible…The question is how people will react to the increasing disconfirmation of the myth of progress. Some, I am relieved to say, have bitten the bullet, accepted the fact that progress was a temporary condition made possible by extravagant and unsustainable exploitation of the Earth’s fossil fuel reserves, and begun to grapple with the challenges and possibilities of a future where progress no longer takes place and contraction and regression are the rule…[But] I suspect…that the refusal to recognize and deal with the end of progress will become a massive social force in the decade or so ahead of us, and that the great divide in American society during those years will not be the one between left and right, or between rich and poor, but between those who have accepted history’s verdict on our fantasy of perpetual progress, on the one hand, and those who cling to the fantasy despite all disconfirmations, on the other. Since refusing to recognize the fact of decline is a good way to get clobbered over the head by one or another of that fact’s manifestations — a point that the inhabitants of coastal North Carolina are likely to find out the hard way one of these days — those who choose the path of denial may be in for a very rough road indeed.
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Slouching Towards Nuremberg
Morris Berman, Dark Ages America, May 9, 2012
[NOTE: This is a TOC-type condensation of Morris’ points in this long essay, plus some text excerpts. Read carefully. This is important. The full essay has copious commentary for each point. I’m especially riveted by the final one, for obvious reasons.]
Strange things are happening in the United States these days, and every day seems to bring additional scary news. The similarity to the erosion of civil liberties in Germany during the 1930s is a bit too close for comfort. Many will regard this statement as hyperbole, and, to some extent, it is. But let’s take a close look at what is going on before we dismiss the comparison out of hand.
- The creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to intimidate anyone for virtually anything
- The persecution of whistleblowers, protesters, and dissenters
- The dramatic expansion of the surveillance of American citizens on the part of the National Security Agency (NSA)
- The corruption of the judicial system by means of show trials of Muslim activists
- The construction of political detention centers, also known as Communication Management Units (CMU’s)
- The shredding of the Bill of Rights by means of the National Defense Authorization Act
- Future scenarios: The “disappearing” of intellectual critics of the U.S. government?
Anyone is a potential terrorist now; anyone can be persecuted, prosecuted, and in effect, destroyed. Democracy is only possible if dissent is not only permitted, but also respected. This too is finished. What does this mean for someone such as myself?, is something I lay awake nights thinking about. I have published three books, and half a collection of essays, showing where we have gone wrong, predicting our eventual collapse — indeed, this repression is part of that collapse — and arguing that the U.S. no longer has a moral compass; that it is spiritually bankrupt…[A]s the definition of terrorism widens in this country, what is to prevent the creation of a category known as “intellectual terrorism” from arising, and putting folks like myself in that category? What is to prevent the government from calling such activity a clear and present danger to national security…Is the following scenario completely paranoid? Five or ten years down the line, as I fly into the DFW Airport en route to giving a lecture somewhere, or simply visiting friends, I am suddenly surrounded by government agents, whisked off to a holding cell, and eventually sent to Guantanamo. Nobody knows what happened to me, and I’m not allowed to phone anyone…When a country puts laws such as torture or indefinite detention or arbitrary assassination on the books, sooner or later it will use these legal instruments…Everybody becomes an enemy; no one is safe any longer. And so I believe that I, and you, really do have reason to worry. Somewhere along the line, God stopped blessing America. We are not marching to Pretoria; rather, we are slouching towards Nurember
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Blurring the boundaries
Timothy Samuel Shah, The Immanent Frame, June 5, 2012
[NOTE: This piece is an excerpt from the introduction to Rethinking Religion and World Affairs (2012). It makes a hugely important point, and not just about the myopia of policymakers and international strategists regarding religion’s role in world affairs but about basic human realities.]
Religion, which was supposed to have been permanently sidelined by secularization, suddenly appeared to be at the center of world affairs [after 9/11]. Seemingly without warning, faith had transgressed the neat boundaries that organized the thinking and planning of our best and brightest policy makers, policy analysts, and scholars. Religious believers were supposed to stay confined to one side of the boundary that sealed private faith off from global public affairs — a boundary that separated the irrational from the rational, the mystical from the purposeful. However, guided by an astonishing combination of zealous faith and coolly calculating rationality, September 11 showed that organized religious believers could act with purpose, power, and public consequence. And we — not only America, but the whole world of professional policy-making and analysis — were unprepared. As Robert Keohane, a leading international relations scholar, had the humility to admit shortly afterward: “The attacks of September 11 reveal that all mainstream theories of world politics are relentlessly secular with respect to motivation. They ignore the impact of religion, despite the fact that world-shaking political movements have so often been fueled by religious fervor. None of them takes very seriously the human desire to dominate or to hate — both so strong in history and in classical realist thought”…Much classical thinking and practice in world affairs is…a form of border patrol. It is concerned with policing and strengthening the fence between two worlds [of public life and religious life]…The result of this stringent and one-way boundary maintenance has been the long-standing exclusion of religion and religious actors from the systematic study of world politics in general and international relations in particular. This has created a paradoxical situation: religion has become one of the most influential factors in world affairs in the last generation but remains one of the least examined factors in the professional study and practice of world affairs.
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What Facebook Knows
Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review, July/August 2012
Teaser: The company’s social scientists are hunting for insights about human behavior. What they find could give Facebook new ways to cash in on our data — and remake our view of society.
[E]ven as Facebook has embedded itself into modern life, it hasn’t actually done that much with what it knows about us. Now that the company has gone public, the pressure to develop new sources of profit is likely to force it to do more with its hoard of information. That stash of data looms like an oversize shadow over what today is a modest online advertising business, worrying privacy-conscious Web users and rivals such as Google. Everyone has a feeling that this unprecedented resource will yield something big, but nobody knows quite what. Heading Facebook’s effort to figure out what can be learned from all our data is Cameron Marlow, a tall 35-year-old who until recently sat a few feet away from Zuckerberg. The group Marlow runs has escaped the public attention that dogs Facebook’s founders and the more headline-grabbing features of its business. Known internally as the Data Science Team, it is a kind of Bell Labs for the social-networking age. The group has 12 researchers — but is expected to double in size this year. They apply math, programming skills, and social science to mine our data for insights that they hope will advance Facebook’s business and social science at large. Whereas other analysts at the company focus on information related to specific online activities, Marlow’s team can swim in practically the entire ocean of personal data that Facebook maintains. Of all the people at Facebook, perhaps even including the company’s leaders, these researchers have the best chance of discovering what can really be learned when so much personal information is compiled in one place…”This is the first time the world has seen this scale and quality of data about human communication,” Marlow says with a characteristically serious gaze before breaking into a smile at the thought of what he can do with the data. For one thing, Marlow is confident that exploring this resource will revolutionize the scientific understanding of why people behave as they do. His team can also help Facebook influence our social behavior for its own benefit and that of its advertisers. This work may even help Facebook invent entirely new ways to make money…Whatever happens, he says, the primary goal of his team is to support the well-being of the people who provide Facebook with their data, using it to make the service smarter. Along the way, he says, he and his colleagues will advance humanity’s understanding of itself. That echoes Zuckerberg’s often doubted but seemingly genuine belief that Facebook’s job is to improve how the world communicates. Just don’t ask yet exactly what that will entail. “It’s hard to predict where we’ll go, because we’re at the very early stages of this science,” says Marlow. “The number of potential things that we could ask of Facebook’s data is enormous.”
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Age of the Addict
Damian Thompson, The Spectator, May 26, 2012
Teaser: The march of technology is filling the world with dangerous pleasures.
When future generations look back at the early 21st century, they may well decide that its political turmoil — the collapse of the euro, the spread of Islam, the rise of China — pales into insignificance next to a far more important development: a fundamental change in the relationship between human beings and their social environment. This was the moment in history, they may conclude, when our species mastered the art of manipulating its brain chemistry to produce intense bursts of short-term pleasure. As a result, billions of people began to have more fun than their minds and bodies could handle — and developed insidious, life-sapping addictions…That’s the problem with technology: it’s increasingly adept at producing surges of dopamine and other feelgood brain chemicals but also morally neutral. This is as true of, say, pharmaceuticals as it is of computers…It’s a miserable prospect: a world so dangerously seductive that, unless we listen to our inner Nancy Reagan telling us to ‘just say no’, it will ruin our brain chemistry, our internal organs or our sex lives…There’s no obvious solution to the globalisation of addiction, but it’s not unreasonable to locate its roots in a particular spiritual malaise. One way of looking at addiction is to see it as the progressive replacement of people by things. Not only do we obsess over the things we buy, but we mediate many of our friendships via an operating system bought with a debit card. And when we do meet, it’s often in an environment that’s been meticulously engineered to alter our moods. This degree of temptation is new to human beings and it’s intensifying all the time. Like alcoholics taking our first sip of the evening, we have no idea where we will end up — and we don’t really care.
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A Hasty Report from a Tearing Hurry
Raymond Tallis, Philosophy Now, May/June 2012
Teaser: Raymond Tallis has a measured response to numbered seconds.
While all beings (pebbles, trees, monkeys etc) are in some sense ‘in’ time — immersed or perhaps dissolved in it — we humans are alone in timing what happens — including (or especially) timing what happens to our very lives. We portion time into days, and number days, and parts of days, and know that our days are numbered…[W]e must not forget what an amazing, and deeply puzzling, activity ‘timing’ is. And its consequences are immeasurable. It transforms social life into a multitude of intermeshing ensembles harmonised by timepieces…The living rhythms spelt out in our breathing, our walking and our beating hearts, are overridden by something totally different, symbolised by the way the watch we consult with fast-beating heart clasps our wrist, seeming to strangle our pulse. We dance to a rhythm of the shared day, of the common world, of the universe, that’s imposed and embraced: it is ours and not ours. This is not all bad, of course. Our lives are vastly enriched by keeping track of the time, and we are collectively and individually empowered by co-ordination…[But] There are other less heart-warming instances of the consequences of temporal orchestration….The synchronies which enhance our ability to realise our collective power and knowledge…make it possible to hurt each other with appallingly enhanced efficiency. As time gets further from subjective experience, goes further from our beating hearts, heartlessness may install itself in the heart of our world…W]e might spare a little time to think how we might rescue ourselves from the machinery of clocks — while still, of course, honouring our responsibilities in an increasingly closely clocked human world, and being duly respectful of what we ‘timers’ have achieved. Thinking about the mystery of time; of timing; and yes, of the body of knowledge that is physics, all seemingly transilluminating the material world, may be a place to start.
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Let’s Be Less Productive
Tim Jackson, The New York Times, May 26, 2012
HAS the pursuit of labor productivity reached its limit?
Productivity — the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy — is often viewed as the engine of progress in modern capitalist economies. Output is everything. Time is money…[W]e’ve become so conditioned by the language of efficiency. But there are sectors of the economy where chasing productivity growth doesn’t make sense at all. Certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention. The caring professions are a good example: medicine, social work, education…[T]he time spent by these professions directly improves the quality of our lives. Making them more and more efficient is not, after a certain point, actually desirable. What sense does it make to ask our teachers to teach ever bigger classes? Our doctors to treat more and more patients per hour?…The care and concern of one human being for another is a peculiar “commodity.” It can’t be stockpiled. It becomes degraded through trade. It isn’t delivered by machines. Its quality rests entirely on the attention paid by one person to another. Even to speak of reducing the time involved is to misunderstand its value…Care is not the only profession deserving renewed attention as a source of economic employment. Craft is another…The same is true of the cultural sector: it is the time spent practicing, rehearsing and performing that gives music, for instance, its enduring appeal…The endemic modern tendency to streamline or phase out such professions highlights the lunacy at the heart of the growth-obsessed, resource-intensive consumer economy. Low productivity is seen as a disease. A whole set of activities that could provide meaningful work and contribute valuable services to the community are denigrated because they involve employing people to work with devotion, patience and attention. But people often achieve a greater sense of well-being and fulfillment, both as producers and consumers of such activities, than they ever do in the time-poor, materialistic supermarket economy in which most of our lives are spent.
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David McCullough, Wellesley High School English Teacher, Tells Graduates: ‘You’re Not Special’
The Huffington Post, June 7, 2012
[NOTE: This graduation speech went viral last week. Fortunately.]
Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough [in Wellesley, Massachusetts] may try to avoid clichés like the plague, but his unconventional message in his faculty speech to the Class of 2012 raised numerous eyebrows last Friday. Instead of lauding the achievements of the graduating class — a popular tactic among commencement speakers — McCullough took the opportunity to remind the Wellesley, Ma. seniors that selflessness is the best personal quality to possess, and that “the sweetest joys of life … come only with the recognition that you’re not special, because everyone is.”
Partial transcript: You are not special. You are not exceptional. Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you…you’re nothing special…It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune…one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School…where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.
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The revolutionary potential of the Queen’s English
Brndan O’Neill, Spiked, June 7, 2012
Teaser: It isn’t only old farts who should stand up for standard English. So should those of us who want to understand the world, and change it.
That even higher-education practitioners no longer feel comfortable correcting bad spelling and spasticated grammar speaks volumes about today’s cult of relativism. Apparently there is no proper way to write or spell, just endless variations of word-use that are all equally valid. Or perhaps vapid (that’s my variant spelling of valid, so don’t judge). Today’s discomfort with standard language is summed up in the slurs that have been invented to attack those who defend it: they are always ‘spelling fascists’ or ‘grammar police’ who, in the words of The Times (!), are leading a ‘pedants’ revolt’ against txtspeak…[I]n order to engage with society, with its public life and politics, you need to fully understand its language. You need to know that the sentence you just read contained a split infinitive, and that some people frown upon those while others think they are okay. You need to know how words are spelt and how they should be arranged in order to achieve both clarity and clout; you need to know what punctuation is for; you need to know what is the best way to write things down in order for them to be understood by the maximum number (not amount) of people. When it comes to language, the rule is that the more you know the rules, the more you can play around with them and twist them for effect, if you like. But you need to know the rules. And it is this knowing of the rules that is called into question these days, by people who think we should stop telling 19-year-old muppets at university that they have spelt things wrong and who even think it’s problematic to say: ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ When people doll up declining linguistic standards as ‘cultural diversity’, they’re really making a virtue out of dumbness, turning illiteracy into just a variant form of literacy…The refusal to uphold a standard language is really a refusal to be universal. It is the promotion of parochialism at the expense of public engagement, and introversion over expanding one’s horizons. I want to speak the Queen’s English not because I want to be like the Queen, but because I want to get rid of her, and to make numerous other changes to the society we live in, and I recognise that the starting point to that is that we are able to understand each other and engage with each other. There is revolutionary potential in having everyone adhere to the same linguistic rules; there is only the dead end of division and parish-pump platitudes in the promotion of a linguistic free-for-all in which eevn spleling doens’t matetr.
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Decoding the Cultural Influences in ‘Prometheus,’ from Lovecraft to ‘Halo’
Govindini Murty, The Atlantic, June 11, 2012
Teaser: A guide to the literary, artistic, and political tropes alluded to in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster .
[NOTE: This feature blew me away with its depth and comprehensiveness. It features detailed notes on classical mythology, Milton, Blake, Lovecraft, Giger, ancient art from various cultures, von Däniken, classic science fiction and horror films, Faust, Halo, and Joseph Wright’s 1766 painting A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery.]
Set in the year 2093, the film depicts the crewmembers of the spaceship Prometheus as they journey to a distant moon to search for the origins of humanity. The team is led by scientist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a Christian believer who has discovered a series of ancient pictograms convincing her that the moon is home to mysterious “Engineers” who created the human species. Shaw is accompanied on her vision quest by a robot with ambiguous intentions played by Michael Fassbender, an icy corporate executive played by Charlize Theron, and a crew of scientists and technicians. Once they arrive on the moon, they find a mysterious dome-shaped structure that contains horrifying forces with the potential to destroy humanity. The striking images Ridley Scott devises for Prometheus reference everything from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. Scott also expands on the original Alien universe by creating a distinctly English mythology informed by Milton’s Paradise Lost and the symbolic drawings of William Blake. The following guide unveils the cultural mysteries of Prometheus. (Warning: these slides contain plot spoilers.)
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Grimmly Fiendish: The Horror in Fairy Tales
Karina Wilson, LitReactor, June 1, 2012
Fairy tales are horror stories at heart, not fantasy action adventures. They function on a deep psychological level, tapping into our primal selves. From the too-fluffy Twilightesque romanticisation of Red Riding Hood to the “Die, Witch!” machismo of the upcoming Hansel and Gretel: Witch-Hunters, the recent rash of Hollywood fairy tales seems sadly one-dimensional in comparison. These movies are designed for throwaway afternoon viewing, rather than representing a complex narrative experience that can be enjoyed again and again, from generation to generation…By exorcising the horror from fairy tales, are we doing children any favors? By redefining fairy tales as happy clappy Disney adaptations, or glossy sword-and-sorcery action adventures that emphasize strength over cunning, we may be depriving the young audience of the really important parts…For a child, the basic human predicament is terrifying…[Throughout history] Understanding came from fear. Wisdom was found in dark places…Children over the aeons have made no objections to the macabre details: the cannibalism, the bloodshed, the amputations, the kidnappings, the murders, or the red-hot iron torture devices. The more monstrous the threat, the more grotesque the punishment, the easier the lesson was to understand and remember. Grimm’s Fairy Tales is the original atrocity exhibition. Flipping through the pages, even the most seasoned horror maven might find the stuff of nightmares among the cruelty and gore…The best horror stories function in the same way as fairy tales, confronting the reader with “the basic human predicament”, and offering “new dimensions” that lie beyond normal adult experience. When we read horror, we’re tapping into the things that fairy tales taught us, re-experiencing the powerlessness of a child. When adolescents embrace a slasher movie, they’re accessing the same pleasures of the text they enjoyed in infancy. As readers and writers, particularly within the horror genre, we owe fairy tales a huge debt.
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Margaret Atwood on Ray Bradbury: the tale-teller who tapped into the gothic core of America
Margaret Atwood, Guardian, June 8, 2012
Teaser: Ray Bradbury, who died this week, was celebrated as a giant of science fiction, but his books defy classification. What accounts for his remarkable scope and influence?
My own view is that, in his best work, Bradbury sinks a taproot right down into the deep, dark, Gothic core of America. It’s no accident that he was descended from Mary Bradbury, convicted as a witch in 1692, during the notorious Salem witchcraft trials, for, among other things, assuming the form of a blue boar…Ray Bradbury saw his writing as a way of living on after his death, and it will certainly perform that service. But then there’s Bradbury as a person. All who knew Bradbury testify to his generosity towards others. His imagination had a dark side, and he used that dark twin and its nightmares in his work; but to the waking world he presented a combination of eager, wonder-filled boy and kindly uncle, and that was just as real. In an age of writing classes, he was self-taught; in an age of spin, his was an authentic voice, straight from the heartland; in an age of groomed images, he was a natural.
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Thoughts on Conspiracy Gnosticism: Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminatus!
Edgar Garcia, Hydra Magazine, June 7, 2012
Teaser: RAW food is good for your mind, Edgar Garcia explains why.
[NOTE: This celebration of RAW is excellent. And dead-on in its explanation of how reading him can truly change you. Not just move you, not just entertain you, not just intellectually dazzle and encyclopedically (and psychedelically) educate you, but authentically transform you on a deep level. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.]
Some things are good for you. [One] author that I’ve been trying to get people to take a bite at is Robert Anton Wilson. The most thrilling conspiracy minded author next to Philip K. Dick, he is also the more legible writer of altered consciousness next to James Joyce. For readers who struggled with Finnegans Wake and left it behind but felt something powerful lurking inside it — Wilson is the mid century author who brings that elusive force to the fore…His most celebrated work (co-written with Robert Shea), The Illuminatus! Trilogy, is, on the one hand, a frazzling drug-, sex- and magic-laden dive through a bevy of minds uncovering ancient secret society conspiracies reaching back to Atlantis; it moves midsentence across time, space and minds, including most notably the minds of a squirrel and a dolphin. And, on the other hand, the book is sluggish and heavily digressive—it sinks into and out of points and events which are later revealed to be meaningless then meaningful again then meaningless, and so on. It is the preeminent psychedelic novel and a foundational text in the Discordian (non-) belief system…But why read it? After speaking to friends who have read the tome (my version is 815 pages), I found that there was an odd consensus that the book had somehow altered our consciousness, in a way that was extremely difficult to describe. “Guerrilla ontology,” writes Wilson, “the basic technique of all my books. Ontology is the study of being; the guerrilla approach is to so mix the elements of each book that the reader must decide on each page, ‘How much of this is real and how much is a put-on?’ This literary technique seems justified by the accelerated acceleration of new knowledge, new theories, new inventions, and new possibilities in our time, since any ‘reality’ map we can form is probably obsolete by the time it reaches print.” To beat the plastic disposability of contemporary intellectual life (products designed after a certain time to fail), Wilson developed a literary technique to train the mind in radical skepticism and likewise to expand the mind’s horizon of possibility in a legitimate and permanent way. As exciting as its wilderness of conspiracies is to me, the real substance of the book is its rangy apprehension of alternative models of literacy. It’s a hypnotizing book about de-hypnotizing reading practices — read it and you’ll know what I mean. You might even begin to see the fnords.