Category Archives: Government & Politics

Teeming Links – July 9, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The presiding reflection for today’s offering of recommended and necessary reading and viewing comes from British novelist and essayist Tim Parks, who elicits an important truth about the silence that so many of us seek, or say we think we seek, amid a culture of clamor:

Arguably, when we have a perception of being tormented by noise, a lot of that noise is actually in our heads — the interminable fizz of anxious thoughts or the self-regarding monologue that for much of the time constitutes our consciousness. And it’s a noise in constant interaction with modern methods of so-called communication: the internet, the mobile phone, Google glasses. Our objection to noise in the outer world, very often, is that it makes it harder to focus on the buzz we produce for ourselves in our inner world.

. . . Our desire for silence often has more to do with an inner silence than an outer. Or a combination of the two. Noise provokes our anger, or at least an engagement, and prevents inner silence. But absence of noise exposes us to the loud voice in our heads. This voice is constitutive of what we call self. If we want it to fall silent, aren’t we yearning for the end of self? For death, perhaps. So talk about silence becomes talk about consciousness, the nature of selfhood, and the modern dilemma in general: the desire to invest in the self and the desire for the end of the self.

. . . What silence and meditation leaves us wondering, after we stand up, unexpectedly refreshed and well-disposed after an hour of stillness and silence, is whether there isn’t something deeply perverse in this culture of ours, even in its greatest achievements in narrative and art. So much of what we read, even when it is great entertainment, is deeply unhelpful.

— Tim Parks, “Inner peace,” Aeon, July 26, 2013

* * *

Taken (The New Yorker)
Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?

Big Banks Conspiracy is Destroying America (Paul B. Farrell for Marketwatch)
How market manipulation is now standard policy as all banks have become Goldman wannabes. “Goldman Sachs has become just another second-stringer in the new global Big Banks Conspiracy as capitalism appears about to self-destruct Adam Smith’s ideal and trigger the third major market crash of the 21st century, followed by a collapse of the economy, driving America and the world deep into a new Great Depression. Be prepared.”

“Organic stories” (The New Inquiry)
Thoughts inspired by Facebook’s recent tweak of its News Feed algorithm. “Facebook is like a television that monitors to see how much you are laughing and changes the channel if it decides you aren’t laughing hard enough. It hopes to engrain in users the idea that if your response to something isn’t recordable, it doesn’t exist, because for Facebook, that is true. Your pleasure is its product, what it wants to sell to marketers, so if you don’t evince it, you are a worthless user wasting Facebook’s server space. In the world according to Facebook, emotional interiority doesn’t exist.”

Arthur Machen’s Stories: What Nightmares Are Made Of (The Wall Street Journal)
“Machen’s fiction calls not for debunking but for the willing suspension of disbelief.”

henry-fuseli-the-nightmare-1781Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination (Tate)
“Gothic Nightmares explores the work of Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) and William Blake (1757–1827) in the context of the Gothic — the taste for fantastic and supernatural themes which dominated British culture from around 1770 to 1830. Featuring over 120 works by these artists and their contemporaries, the exhibition creates a vivid image of a period of cultural turmoil and daring artistic invention.”

We all have dreaming minds, and we are all capable of being terrified (Tate Etc.)
A conversation between novelists Patrick McGrath and Louise Welsh, held in conjunction with the above-linked Tate exhibit, about horror, gothicism, Fuseli’s “Nightmare,” and the way the dark-dreaming mind has given rise to a genre that has attracted writers, filmmakers, musicians and artists across the centuries.”

‘Angel’ priest visits Missouri accident scene (USA Today)
A pointedly Fortean or Harpurian (think Daimonic Reality) incident that has achieved shocking media prominence in the past couple of days. “Emergency workers and community members in eastern Missouri are not sure what to make of a mystery priest who showed up at a critical accident scene Sunday morning and whose prayer seemed to change life-threatening events for the positive. . . . Even odder, the black-garbed priest does not appear in any of the nearly 70 photos of the scene of the accident in which a 19-year-old girl almost died.”

 

 

Teeming Links – July 30, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To preface today’s offering of recommended and required reading, here’s a not-so-idle speculation from Damien Walter about the momentous fact of our collective cultural obsession with losing ourselves in the ever more immersive fantasy worlds that digital technology has enabled for us:

I am a writer and critic of fantasy, and for most of my life I have been an escapist. Born in 1977, the year in which Star Wars brought cinematic escapism to new heights, I have seen TV screens grow from blurry analogue boxes to high-definition wide-screens the size of walls. I played my first video game on a rubber-keyed Sinclair ZX Spectrum and have followed the upgrade path through Mega Drive, PlayStation, Xbox and high-powered gaming PCs that lodged supercomputers inside households across the developed world. I have watched the symbolic language of fantasy — of dragons, androids, magic rings, warp drives, haunted houses, robot uprisings, zombie armageddons and the rest — shift from the guilty pleasure of geeks and outcasts to become the diet of mainstream culture.

And I am not alone. I’m emblematic of an entire generation who might, when our history is written, be remembered first and foremost for our exodus into digital fantasy. . . . Immersion has . . . become the mantra of modern escapist fantasy, and the creation of seamless secondary worlds its mission. We hunger for an escape so complete it borders on oblivion: the total eradication of self and reality beneath a superimposed fantasy. . . . We’re embarking on a daring social experiment: the immersion of an entire generation into digitally generated escapist fantasies of unprecedented depth and complexity. And the most remarkable aspect of this potential revolution is how little consideration we are giving it.

— Damien Walter, “The Great Escape,” Aeon, July 12, 2013

* * *

This_Town_by_Mark_LeibovichA Confederacy of Lunches (The New York Times)
Christopher Buckley reviews Mark Leibovich’s This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital. “Not to ruin it for you, but: if you already hate Washington, you’re going to hate it a whole lot more after reading Mark Leibovich’s takedown of the creatures who infest our nation’s capital and rule our destinies.”

Who Are We At War With? That’s Classified (Pro Publica)President Obama has repeatedly said the U.S. is targeting Al Qaeda and “associated forces.” But the government won’t say who those forces are.

Halliburton pleads guilty to destroying Gulf oil spill evidence (Reuters)
The government said the guilty plea is the third by a company over the spill, and requires the world’s second-largest oilfield services company to pay a maximum $200,000 statutory fine.

Feds tell Web firms to turn over user account passwords (CNET)
Secret demands mark escalation in Internet surveillance by the federal government through gaining access to user passwords, which are typically stored in encrypted form.

The Charitable-Industrial Complex (The New York Times)
“As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back.’ It’s what I would call ‘conscience laundering’ — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.”

The hour of anthropology may have struck (Toronto Star)
“The strength of anthropology at the moment comes when it turns its eye to our own society as just another tribe or collection of humans trying to make symbolic sense of their experience. We start looking like just another weird bunch of human creatures trying to make sense of their odd predicament, like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes when he finally gets it.”

The MOOC Racket (Slate)
Widespread online-only higher ed will be disastrous for students — and most professors.

E-book vs. P-book (The New Yorker)
On the persistence of the paper codex book in an age when so many are predicting its demise. “For many people, as a number of studies show, reading is a genuinely tactile experience — how a book feels and looks has a material impact on how we feel about reading. This isn’t necessarily Luddism or nostalgia. The truth is that the book is an exceptionally good piece of technology.”

Thank You, Barnes and Noble (The New Yorker)
Michael Aggers on the literary and intellectual joy that B&N brought to his teen years in a small Pennsylvania town. “It was as if a small liberal-arts college had been plunked down into a farm field. . . . I’ll be rooting for you, Barnes & Noble, however you reinvent yourself. I’ve come to see that, despite your flaws, you were a suburban beacon of knowledge, history, and community — noble indeed.”

Creative differences (Financial Times)
Three great film directors — Orson Welles, Nicolas Roeg, and Roman Polanski — offer a glimpse into the complex life and work of the auteur. “Today’s directors are less monstrous, and altogether more respectful of the tiresome fact that cinema is a collaborative art form. Put it down to sharper accountants, blander movie stars, infernally complex technological demands. It is more difficult than ever to be a legend in your own lunchtime, and that’s a shame.”

The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema (The New York Review of Books)
A brilliant essay — deeply informed by an expansive knowledge of history and art, and written by none other than Martin Scorsese — on the signal importance of become literate in the visual language of cinema at a time when we’re awash in a sea of images all around us.

Enlightenment Engineer (Wired)
Meditation and mindfulness are the new rage in Silicon Valley. And it’s not just about inner peace — it’s about getting ahead.

Ecstatic_Healing_by_Margaret_De_WysSpirit Possession Here and Now (Reality Sandwich)
Interview with Margaret De Wys, author of the recently published Ecstatic Healing: A Journey into the Shamanic World of Spirit Possession and Miraculous Medicine. “My acceptance of possession turned out to be my spiritual path. That was my choice and it wasn’t an easy one.”

Mysterious Hum Driving People Crazy Around the World (LiveScience)
It’s known as the Hum, a steady, droning sound that’s heard in places as disparate as Taos, N.M.; Bristol, England; and Largs, Scotland. But what causes the Hum, and why it only affects a small percentage of the population in certain areas, remain a mystery, despite a number of scientific investigations.

Psi in the News – July 17, 2013 (Reality Sandwich)
The latest installment of David Metcalfe’s ongoing roundup of parapsychologically-oriented links. Exceptionally rich.

Jimmy Carter speaks out on NSA scandal and more: “America has no functioning democracy”

I just caught wind of this, and I find it to be entirely worth bringing to the attention of anybody who hasn’t heard about it. In a word: wow.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is so concerned about the NSA spying scandal that he thinks it has essentially resulted in a suspension of American democracy. “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy,” he said at an event in Atlanta on Tuesday sponsored by the Atlantik Bruecke, a private nonprofit association working to further the German-U.S. relationship.

. . . Carter’s remarks didn’t appear in the American mainstream press but were reported from Atlanta by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, whose Washington correspondent Gregor Peter Schmitz said on Twitter he was present at the event. The story doesn’t appear in the English-language section of the Spiegel website and is only available in German.

MORE: Jimmy Carter: US “has no functioning democracy”

The piece is at Salon. It also says Schmitz wrote in his Der Spiegel piece that Carter expressed deep pessimism about the overall state of global affairs, saying he sees “no reason to be optimistic at this time” and citing Egypt’s new military dictatorship as an example. Carter also mentioned the influence of Internet technology and social media on current events, and said that while these things have had some positive effects, such as the Arab Spring uprisings, the NSA scandal counters and endangers any positive developments “as major U.S. Internet platforms such as Google or Facebook lose credibility worldwide.”

Note that Carter also recently talked to CNN about Edward Snowden’s NSA whistle-blowing activity and said, “He’s obviously violated the laws of America, for which he’s responsible, but I think the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far. I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial.”

Amen, anyone? Carter was always an anomaly among American presidents. Now he’s increasingly an anomaly among American ex-presidents.

Teeming Links – July 19, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Locking Out the Voices of Dissent (Truthdig)
Chris Hedges on how the security and surveillance state, after crushing the Occupy movement and eradicating its encampments, has mounted a relentless and largely clandestine campaign to deny public space to any group or movement that might spawn another popular uprising.

Tomorrow’s Surveillance: Everyone, Everywhere, All the Time (TechCrunch)
What civil libertarians should be worried about isn’t online snooping and wiretapping. It’s the surveillance that’s already becoming pervasive, if not ubiquitous, throughout the real, physical world. It’s a government that knows where you are at all times, and has an indelible record of everywhere you’ve ever been, and everything you’ve ever done in any public space.

NSA scandal delivers record numbers of internet users to DuckDuckGo (The Guardian)
Gabriel Weinberg, founder of search engine with zero tracking, credits Prism revelations with prompting huge rise in traffic

DHS warns employees not to read leaked NSA information (The Washington Post)
The Department of Homeland Security has warned its employees that the government may penalize them for opening a Washington Post article containing a classified slide that shows how the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international communications.

The Social-Media Bubble Is Quietly Deflating (Bloomberg Businessweek)
New buzzwords have arrived: Big data and cloud companies are grabbing the imaginations of venture capitalists.

Thank You For Using The Internet! We Regret To Inform You That Your Free Trial Has Expired. (BuzzFeed)
The internet got us hopelessly addicted, all for free. Now we’re coming to terms with paying for it all.

Meat industry doesn’t want to tell you where your meat comes from (Grist)
Eight meat and livestock groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal court in Washington Monday, July, 9, 2013, to block implementation of a new labeling rule that requires meat labels to detail where animals grown for meat were born, raised and slaughtered.

Global survey: Majority feel corruption has worsened, think governments can’t fix it (CBS News)
The protests that have raged globally in the past few months, from Turkey to Brazil, to the ongoing turmoil in Egypt, have appeared to share a common root: a widespread feeling of government mismanagement and cronyism.

Don’t Call Them Superheroes: An Interview With Zero and Dark Guardian of the New York Initiative (Disinformation)
They’re real-life “superheroes” trained in martial arts and parkour. They don’t wear bright superhero costumes or pose for photos with tourists. They live in no-frills apartments filled with exercise equipment and go out “on patrol.” And they’re setting up branches all over America.

The Glory of the Commons (Washington Monthly)
Jonathan Rowe’s brilliant posthumous meditation on the shared, non-commercialized realms of life that sustain us.

Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary: Sleep is a standing affront to capitalism (New Statesman)
When hungry digital companies measure success in “eyeballs” is sleep the last remaining zone of dissidence, of anti-productivity and even of solidarity?

“World’s oldest calendar” discovered in Scottish field (BBC News)
“Our excavations revealed a fascinating glimpse into the cultural lives of people some 10,000 years ago — and now this latest discovery further enriches our understanding of their relationship with time and the heavens.”

Army admits helicopters buzzed town in Washington state (USA Today)
The Army apologizes for an unannounced chopper training mission over a town in Washington state.

Army apologizes for copters that ‘terrorized’ Port Angeles (Peninsula Daily News)
Army special-operations helicopters on a training exercise buzzed the Port Angeles area late Thursday night in an episode that the mayor says “terrorized my city.” Dozens of alarmed residents called police to ask what was going on and said the noise and lights panicked horses and other livestock. Residents said they were awakened from their sleep, and that spotlights stabbed down from the low-flying helicopters into their backyards.

Rupert Sheldrake and Jill Purce: Liberating Minds and Voices (Extraenvironmentalist)
In this talk Rupert Sheldrake and Jill Purce discuss the dogma of scientific materialism and the shaky foundations on which they are based. Jill demonstrates resonance with her voice and through leading the group with chants. Rupert discusses resonance and what its implications are for the scientific worldview.

“In Praise of Shadows”: Morris Berman’s acceptance speech for the 2013 Neil Postman Award

Last month the Media Ecology Association presented this year’s Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity to Morris Berman, whose work I have referenced so many times here at The Teeming Brain that he’s practically an honorary member of the Teem at this point.

Berman was invited to give an acceptance speech at the MEA’s annual convention on June 22, and he was told that he could speak on any topic of his choice. He ended up delivering a talk that effectively summarizes the overall present shape and tone of his well-known dire but, at root, deeply hopeful diagnosis of America’s malaise, decline, and death. (That’s “hopeful” in the very long view, mind you, not in any sense of holding out a hope that we might forestall or reverse America’s Spenglerian, Roman Empire-esque march into wholesale cultural collapse.)

The talk is titled “In Praise of Shadows,” and Berman’s delivery of it at the MEA convention was recorded. Here’s the video, which in addition to the speech itself includes a half-hour Q & A. It’s all wonderful stuff, and I highly recommend it. Below the video are a couple of choice excerpts that are well worth a few minutes’ quiet reading and meditation.

What American . . . doesn’t buy into the American Dream? Why do soup kitchens and tent cities across the United States fly the American flag above them, in a strange parody of patriotism? As John Steinbeck put it many years ago, in the U.S. the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” And as I argue in Why America Failed, the goal of the settlers on the North American continent, as far back as the late sixteenth century, has been capital accumulation — “the pursuit of happiness,” as Thomas Jefferson subsequently called it. . . . Rich or poor, nearly every American wants to be rich, and in fact sees this as the purpose of life. In this sense, we have the purest democracy in the history of the world, because ideologically speaking, the American government and the American people are on the same page. To quote Calvin Coolidge, “The business of America is business.” Hustling is what America has always been about.

This is why our elected leaders have a vacant quality about them. After all, the American Dream is about a world without limits, about always having More. But More is not a spiritual path, nor is it a philosophy of life. It has no content at all, and this why, when you look into the eyes of an Obama or a Clinton or a Hillary Clinton — probably our next president — you see not merely nothing, but a kind of terrifying nothingness. Unfortunately, this vacant look characterizes a lot of the American population as well: the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, as the medieval alchemists were fond of saying. Once again, this is evidence of a pure democracy: nobodies elect nobodies to office, and then everyone wonders “what went wrong.”

. . . As the consumer society, and the American Dream, continue to disintegrate, many will experience a severe crisis of meaning, inasmuch as prior to the crunch, meaning was to be found in the latest technological gadget or piece of software or brand of lip gloss. I see lots of nervous breakdowns on the horizon. But as one droll observer once put it, the trick is to convert a nervous breakdown into a nervous breakthrough. After all, twentieth-century life offered human beings in the West, at least, a set number of master narratives — communism, fascism, and consumerism, primarily — so that they might be able to avoid that most terrifying of all questions: Who am I? As the I Ching tells us, crisis means danger plus opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great to discover that one was more than one’s career, for example, or one’s car? That opportunity is going to present itself, sooner or later. For many, it already has.

FULL TEXT OF SPEECH: “In Praise of Shadows” by Morris Berman

Teeming Links – July 12, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week, a change in format: The Teeming Brain’s long-running “Recommended Reading” series will henceforth be titled “Teeming Links.” It will also shift to a streamlined format that does away with the former practice of including extensive excerpts and publication information from the linked items. I want to curate and share lots of fascinating, valuable, troubling, and sometimes necessary news, essays, videos, podcasts, and other things with you, and with multiple competing responsibilities and commitments continuing to mount in my life, this is one way to further facilitate that.

So, without further ado, here’s today’s entry:

NSA PRISM: George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is flying off the shelves (UPI)
“1984” book sales skyrocket following NSA surveillance scandal — sales rise 7000 percent.

Bilderberg Group? No conspiracy, just the most influential group in the world (The Telegraph)
Conspiracy theorists claim it is a shadow world government. Former leading members tell the Telegraph it was the most useful meeting they ever went to and it was crucial in forming the European Union. Today (June 6, 2013), the Bilderberg Group meets in Britain.

Tired of helping the CIA? Quit Facebook, Venezuela minister urges (Reuters)

‘Quit Google, Facebook’ suggests tech expert as surveillance scandal deepens (Wired)

Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender’s secret life as a Mossad and the CIA agent revealed (Independent.ie)

The Masters of Deception (Paul Levy for Reality Sandwich)
If we don’t understand that our current world crisis has its roots within and is an expression of the human psyche, and instead become entranced into believing that the many problems we face as a species have a concrete, objective and extra-psychic origin, we are doomed to unconsciously repeat and continually re-create endless suffering and destruction in more and more amplified form, as if we are having a recurring nightmare.

The Greatest Epidemic Sickness Known to Humanity (Paul Levy for Reality Sandwich)
Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a disease of civilization, or lack thereof. The wetiko virus is the root cause of the inhumanity in human nature, or shall we say, our seemingly inhuman nature. This “psychic virus,” a “bug” in “the system,” in-forms and animates the madness of so-called civilization, which, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop feeds the madness within ourselves.

An intriguing consciousness theory, but skeptics want evidence (NBC News)
The idea that consciousness arises from quantum mechanical phenomena in the brain is intriguing, yet lacks evidence, scientists say.

Our Undue Focus on Long Life (The Atlantic)
Americans are living longer but not necessarily better.

“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control (Salon)
SWAT teams raiding poker games and trying to stop underage drinking? Overwhelming paramilitary force is on the rise.

Strange Sightings in New Milford: Extraterrestrial or Not? (Litchfield County Times, Connecticut)
“Eight eye witnesses saw a caravan of unidentifiable flying vehicles in the Northville corridor of Litchfield County over Route 202,” they wrote in an e-mail to The Litchfield County Times.

Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches (The New York Times)
The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.

America’s post 9/11 surveillance state: Orwell mets Kafka in the Long Emergency

Here in the midst of the still-building storm and scandal over the revelations about PRISM — referring (in case you’ve recently been living under a rock or sunk in a coma) to “the system the NSA uses to gain access to the private communications of users of nine popular Internet services” — journalist and social media specialist Jared Keller offers these sobering and, to my mind, utterly necessary reflections on the equally troubling revelation that many Americans are deeply complacent about the whole thing:

Despite days of headlines about the American surveillance state and government invasions of privacy (and a huge spike in sales of George Orwell’s 1984 on Amazon), Americans seem to have accepted the scope and reach of the post-9/11 surveillance state into their lives as necessary.

. . . Why are Americans so comfortable with the surveillance state? It’s likely that this acceptance goes hand-in-hand with an acceptance of the reality of modern terrorism.

. . . The threat of terror in our cities, immediately after 9/11, was paralyzing. Now, despite the horror of the bombings in Boston and the attacks that have been thwarted by counterterrorism efforts in the years since 9/11 (like Najibullah Zazi’s 2009 plot to detonate explosives on the New York subway), terrorism seems to have become more accepted as a modern geopolitical phenomenon, a fixture in the background of our daily lives.

. . . . [I]f terrorism and the resulting surveillance state have become accepted features of American public life (which, according to the latest polls, they have), then the apparatus the government deploys to adjudicate and prosecute our war on terror should become normalized in our existing legal regime. The Patriot Act and National Emergencies Acts that provide the legal basis for the modern surveillance state were supposed to be temporary “emergencies,” but with their continued re-authorization by Presidents Bush and Obama, they have become the norm.

— Jared Keller, “Why Don’t Americans Seems to Care about Government Surveillance?Pacific Standard, June 12, 2013

Keller goes on to point out the really deep impact of these things on our collective circumstance here in the U.S.A.:

We are lurching from emergency to emergency, living in a permanent state of exception. Margot Kaminski, executive director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, puts it nicely in The Atlantic: “Foreign intelligence is the exception that has swallowed the Fourth Amendment whole.” This, I think, is the most significant impact of Snowden’s leak: not necessarily to expose wrongdoing in the legal sense (since the sweeping dragnet of Prism and the NSA’s monitoring of Verizon’s phone records are technically legal) but to take the abstract legal concepts outlined under our emergency constitution and translate them into a political reality in the minds of the American populace.

“I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in,” Snowden told The Guardian. “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” The Pew/Washington Post poll may indicate that people are comfortable with swapping liberty for security, but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable with an unaccountable, totally opaque, Kafka-esque security apparatus that falls in the legal gray area of our ongoing state of exception.

By way of context, I ask you to recall what our old Teeming Brain friend James Howard Kunstler said, and said very loudly, in his best-selling book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, which was published way back in the prehistoric mists of 2005. Writing in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and witnessing the craziness all around him, Kunstler prophesied thus:

It has been very hard for Americans — lost in dark raptures of nonstop infotainment, recreational shopping and compulsive motoring — to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in our technological society. Even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, America is still sleepwalking into the future. I call this coming time the Long Emergency. . . . [W]e are entering a historical period of potentially great instability, turbulence and hardship.

Or actually that particular passage comes from a 2005 article by Kunstler in Rolling Stone, likewise titled “The Long Emergency.” Kunstler’s main focus in that article and his book was not terrorism or surveillance but the seismic shaking of industrial civilization’s foundations by the dawning of the age of scarcity for cheap and easy fossil fuels (a development that isn’t belied but confirmed by all of the recent talk about the “new oil bonanza,” which is the result of massive investments in the kind of galactically complex and far out alternative oil extraction maneuvers that were formerly inconceivable because they were unnecessary). But his “Long Emergency” characterization still clearly encompassed terrorism and the growth of a massive surveillance state in America and elsewhere to complement the massive geopolitical conflicts and at-home unpleasantness stemming from oil-fueled imperial ambitions.

Again, Kunstler said those things eight years ago. And he was hardly alone. In other words, it’s as our transformation here in America into an Orwellian and Kafka-esque surveillance state where the all-consuming desire to snoop and fully crucify the notion of privacy is driven by the reality of our “lurching from emergency to emergency, living in a permanent state of exception” — it’s as if this transformation is unfolding according to a well-foreseen plan. Just like, say, the financial and economic collapse of 2008, which was foreseen by Kunstler and others but pshawed by the talking heads who were supposed to represent authoritative and trustworthy mainstream wisdom. These authorities, we were told, offered a bulwark of sanity and sensibleness against the kooks who said the entire economy of not just America but Europe and elsewhere was all a big, crazy, scary, evanescent hallucination that was primed to pop like a soap bubble.

But pop it did. And living in the Long Emergency we are. All bets are still off, just as they were several years ago when the meaning of common sense shifted to something we’re still trying to figure out. Only now we’re doing it while being tracked, recorded, and analyzed every step of the way.

Conspiracy theories are a mythologization of capitalism

Dollar_All_Seeing_Eye

From an essay published on May 21 at The New Inquiry and bearing the teaser line “Just because we can hear the black helicopters doesn’t mean they don’t exist”:

The modern conspiracy theory is a mythologization of capitalism. That humanity writhes in the grip of a power alien to itself is so palpable that the expression of this reality assumes countless forms in the popular imagination, permeating pop culture, politics, and the persecution anxieties of our booming psychiatric industry. Films like The Adjustment Bureau and television programs like Burn Notice capture the zeitgeist with the laughable simplicity of its most trite tropes, trench coats and all. The novels of Dan Brown append cheap noir to rich cultural pseudo-histories in order to make them more entertaining. The wildly popular television program Ancient Aliens became a cash cow for the History (!) Channel by attributing the greatest historical achievements of scientific discovery and collective activity to little green neo-Calvinist deities from outer space. And never mind the “9/11 Truth Movement” and the shocking contention by some of its leading ideologues that the Federal Emergency Management Agency could organize a poker game, let alone a secret network of underground internment camps in which Art Bell and Alex Jones will soon argue over the top bunk.

In all these expressions, which blur entertainment and information in a manner consistent with the present cultural imaginary, human or extraterrestrial agents are depicted as consciously directing world events behind the backs of those who live them. Though countless colorful theories fall under the umbrella of “New World Order,” and this canon has enjoyed a febrile explosion since the election of the suspiciously other Barack Obama, their basic structure is largely universal. Most importantly, any good conspiracy theory proceeds from empirical premises which are manifestly true. In the vein of Dan Brown, stray facts are woven into vast interconnected webs by tenuous strings of causality and barbaric modus ponens proofs. Historical and social phenomena which are in fact intimately intertwined by the total social relation of capital are instead linked superficially by cheap literary devices.

. . . The irony of the increasing rationalization of society toward some mythic equilibrium is the intensification of paroxysm, of violent crisis, of catastrophe on a heightening scale which it has ensured. The crises inherent in the capitalist cycle now grip the entire planet, leaving destitution in the wake of periodic booms, leaving entire regions to starve, evacuating capital from entire cities and letting them rot while the local ruling class throws up their hands. In the major developed countries, the transition from hulking welfare state apparatuses to militarized police forces maintaining order indicates the increasingly reactionary tendency of states, faced with simply containing the results of a disordered market by brute force, rather than even pretending to curb the causes of destitution and hopelessness among the poor.

When market “experts” discussing the flow of capital sound like meteorologists groping to account for the weather, this is not a coincidence, nor are they’re being disingenuous. Chaos rules the day, though it is backed by the forces of “law and order,” a “hybrid monster” as the bald man remarked, the former referring to legal statutes aimed at responding to crime, and the latter aimed at extra-legal (and often illegal) intervention preventing hypothetical crimes and generally molding the social terrain. The chaos underlying modern life and the scrupulous social order which protects and enforces it appears as a vast global intrigue against those who reproduce it with their daily work. And in a way, it is.

In short, somebody would have to be bat shit crazy not to develop a conspiracy theory about the centralized interconnectivity of these conditions.

More: “I Want to Believe

 

Original “All-Seeing Eye” image by de:Benutzer:Verwüstung [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Pentagon claims domestic authority “to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances”

Is it just me, or is this profoundly disturbing?

No, it’s not just me.

From the Long Island Press, May 14:

The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects offered the nation a window into the stunning military-style capabilities of our local law enforcement agencies. For the past 30 years, police departments throughout the United States have benefitted from the government’s largesse in the form of military weaponry and training, incentives offered in the ongoing “War on Drugs.” For the average citizen watching events such as the intense pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers on television, it would be difficult to discern between fully outfitted police SWAT teams and the military.

The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.

The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule:

Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.

Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”

. . . [T]he relatively few instances that federal troops have been deployed for domestic support have produced a wide range of results. Situations have included responding to natural disasters and protecting demonstrators during the Civil Rights era to, disastrously, the Kent State student massacre and the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee. Michael German, senior policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noted in a 2009 Daily Kos article that, “there is no doubt that the military is very good at many things. But recent history shows that restraint in their new-found domestic role is not one of them.”

. . . [A] DoD official even referred to the Boston bombing suspects manhunt saying, “Like most major police departments, if you didn’t know they were a police department you would think they were the military.” According to this official there has purposely been a “large transfer of technology so that the military doesn’t have to get involved.” Moreover, he says the military has learned from past events, such as the siege at Waco, where ATF officials mishandled military equipment. “We have transferred the technology so we don’t have to loan it,” he states.

But if the transfer of military training and technology has been so thorough, it boggles the imagination as to what kind of disturbance would be so overwhelming that it would require the suspension of centuries-old law and precedent to grant military complete authority on the ground. The DoD official admits not being able to “envision that happening,” adding, “but I’m not a Hollywood screenwriter.”

. . . As we witnessed during the Boston bombing manhunt, it’s already difficult to discern between military and police. In the future it might be impossible, because there may be no difference.

More: “U.S. Military ‘Power Grab’ Goes into Effect

ADDENDUM (posted one hour after the above):

Be sure to pay attention to the part of the article, which I didn’t quote above, where a U.S. defense official who “declined to be named” said, “The authorization has been around over 100 years; it’s not a new authority. It’s been there but it hasn’t been exercised. This is a carryover of domestic policy.” And indeed, you can poke around and find the same wording going back quite some time in the same regulation. But the current situation represents a rewording with “subtle changes,” as the Long Island Press journalist notes. The effort to make these changes goes back several months, at least to February; see the note about it published last month by the FAS Project on Government Secrecy.

And, you know, one might be inclined to regard it as an overreaction to think/feel that this is really disturbing, and one might be inclined to accept the soothing reassurance of that unnamed defense official, IF it weren’t for the fact that last year’s flap over the revised NDAA and its authorization of the federal government to imprison anybody, including American citizens, indefinitely without trial hadn’t emerged as really and truly a crisis, with a lawsuit over it being brought against the government by a group of journalists led by Chris Hedges, whose fairly legendary reputation precedes him.

We seem to be smack-dab in the middle of an “all bets are off” stage of American history, where fears and concerns formerly framed as the province of fringe-dwellers and conspiracy-nuts are repeatedly shown to be really and truly justified, as in — to name just one prominent example — the flat-out demolition of the U.S. economy while all of the talking heads representing the mainstream financial and economic ideology continued to talk soothing nonsense.

Recommended Reading 40

In this installment: A report on the new type of futurism that’s being spearheaded by highly regarded scientists and scholars for the purpose of studying the reality and scope of existential threats to human survival. The triumph of fear as a central motivating reality in contemporary geopolitics. The global plague of feral pigs. Renowned author George Saunders on what the Internet is doing to his brain. How writers pursue their passions for other activities as a means of inflaming and enriching their creative authorial inspiration. Why the real-world “bestiary” of extraordinary life forms on earth rivals or exceeds the wildest imaginings of fantastists. The Gothic as a “sublime contagion” compelling us to explore boundaries and transgression. Read the rest of this entry