A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Have you seen the fnords? Better yet, have you driven any lately?

At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte asked:

What made the scales fall from your eyes? When did you start to lose your trust in the mainstream media?

This is my attempted response. For some reason, it got trapped in "moderation," twice despite drastic editing. I have no idea why.

It came on kind of gradual for me. Even before I left my reactionary home, I started reading old Doonesburys in the community college library; that and a, um, liberal dose of science fiction sort of opened the way. Already by my first election, 1984, I was embarrassed to vote Republican and voted Democratic instead.

A critical moment in self-criticism came when I was arguing with women in Dabney House at Caltech about proposals to revise the language of the Caltech student government bylaws to eliminate sexist terms; eventually I said, “look, if you are really worried as women that the use of words like “he” and “him” are going to seriously be interpreted to bar you from office, why not just put one clause at the beginning of the bylaws that stipulates the pronouns are generic for both sexes and leave the rest alone?” It belatedly dawned on my that I had just proposed a version of the ERA.

But all this was just groundwork; even reading the Illuminatus! trilogy just seemed amusing until I finally saw the fnords myself.

I think it was summer 1985. At the time, the newspapers were full of anger at the Japanese for alleged sharp trading–chip dumping, that sort of thing. And, apparently just entirely by random coincidence, in the lifestyle section there was some article about how mean and nasty and intolerant of foriegners the Japanese allegedly were.
I saw the pattern, and I saw that I was not meant to see the pattern.

After that, it was painfully obvious to me that the media moved in fads and feeding frenzies; that one season we were supposed to be terrified of drugs, the next of day care centers, then it would be terrorism season for a while, then AIDS. And it seemed to go deeper than just that the media were incredibly shallow and stupid and given to fads; the fear du jour pointed to falling in lockstep behind a political agenda.

Addendum: naturally there was more to it than that, but this was the cleavage factor and moment. The more I think about it, the more important my interpretation of Robert Anton Wilson and Richard Shea's Illuminatus! seems. But while I did fool around with magick, Tarot, and stuff like that under its inspiration I pretty much always stuck to "secular Illuminism." That is, I understood it first and primarily and persistently as a materialist sort of proclamation, that fed into a basically Marxist way of looking for systematic patterns and how these operate to sustain a social system.

Thus by the mid-80's I was starting to listen to radical critiques, including heartfelt personal ones from people I knew regarding sex (and its demonization) and drugs (ditto). Weekly news magazines asking questions like "Are Drugs the Enemy?" on their covers pretty well hit one over the head with their tendentiousness. Then while the Iran/Contra scandal broke I was listening to Pacifica radio, which led to reading Noam Chomsky (his old stuff mostly, on Vietnam, but I got started with a radio interview in which he pointed out that the USS Stark had actually been attacked by an Iraqi missile in the Persian gulf, yet the USA escalated its hostility to Iraq's enemy, Iran). The stage was set for my eventual discovery that reading Marx directly was much more rewarding that letting his alleged ideas filter through more modern interpretations.

Long before theory caught up, though, I knew from repeated personal observations that our media systematically distorts information to project a world-view at odds with reality, but servicable to elite national interests.

I find that certain concepts in Illuminatus! that have nothing to do with any New Agy mysticism are very servicable to me still. There is the SNAFU Principle, “True communication is possible only between equals, because inferiors are more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors pleasant lies than for telling the truth.” And the general critique of authoritarianism of course explains the "fnord" practice of hammering in buzzwords and stereotyped stimuli to elicit standard responses in lieu of critical thought and responsible action. In a world where real democracy and a meaningfully free society remain unrealized ideals at best, it would be Utopian indeed to expect the mainstream media to be a clear channel to truth.


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