"The bigger you build the bonfire, the more darkness is revealed."
- Terence McKenna
Apocalypsopolis, book one
Civilization Will Eat Itself, Superweed 1-4, best of
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December 5. A few tangents from last week's big post. In this subreddit thread I was asked to say more about the "dangerous uprising in human psychology," and one comment says it better, with historical examples of "transition from democracy to authoritarianism based on a groundswell of popular support."
The next comment says that "Trump's presidency is shaping up to be just another mediocre republican kleptocracy," and I tend to agree, but it reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where a guy is puzzling over a piano stool that has just crashed harmlessly on the pavement, not noticing that he's about to be crushed by the piano. My point is, if there is a global popular trend toward authoritarian politics, Trump may not be the apex of that trend, or even a trigger, just a mild early warning.
Elsewhere in the same thread is a discussion of how different styles of raising kids can lead to different political systems decades later. This is a huge and complex subject, and I don't know if the extreme adult management of kids' activities over the last 20 years is going to lead to a more suffocating society, or a rebellion against that. Also I don't know how much that trend is limited to America, which brings me to this comment by a reader who felt the same as me, and tried some of the same things with the same failures...
That all changed though when I moved from the U.S. to Europe. I moved to Germany a few years ago with modest savings, learned the language, started studying philosophy (which is what I currently do, and it doesn't cost me a thing), and got a job teaching English (which is basically off the charts bearable compared to all other jobs I've had).
None of this required any serious form of luck. ANYONE could do this. What stops Americans from doing this, in my experience, is that they don't really think it's real, or they believe whatever crazy ideas about Europe they've picked up from American inculturation. I suppose it would also be hard for any sci-fi dystopian hero to believe that all they have to do to escape is catch a plane.
Before moving here and spending some time, the modern condition seemed completely insane. But what I discovered is that what I was experiencing wasn't actually "the modern condition". Instead, what I found completely insane was American culture -- something I still take to be completely insane. When I go back now though, I see it from outside. It's sort of just like some crazy theme park.
December 1. I wanted to post this yesterday but it wasn't quite ready. Moving from the political back to the personal, I should start by saying that I don't know the fine distinctions between "neoreactionary", "dark enlightenment", and "alt-right", and I don't much care. I see those as different flavors of the same dangerous uprising in human psychology, which is influenced by older people with more power, but its core of energy is in young males who have probably spent a lot of time on 4chan.
So thanks Wes for tracking down this deleted blog post where one of these guys shows rare introspection. I normally wouldn't post something that the author deleted, but this is a valuable window into the personal psychology of cultural collapse.
I realized that I wasn't able to ground myself in either the world I grew up in or the world I was to be a part of. I lost the ability to want to 'help people', to 'be successful', or to 'have meaningful experiences'. I began to view all concepts, beliefs, values, ideas, words, feelings, emotions, thoughts, actions, relationships, as equally arbitrary.
Formerly warm, trusting, empathetic, and affectionate relationships suddenly felt cold, artificial, cynical, and pathetic. Socializing in groups of close friends used to give me a narcotic/anxiolytic high not unlike benzodiazepines + a small amount of cocaine, but now the experience felt somehow menacing, inauspicious, and draining.
Welcome to my world. I mean, there's stuff in the full post I don't relate to, but all those things he has lost, I barely had in the first place. My first day of kindergarten felt "menacing, inauspicious, and draining," as did the rest of my time in schools, jobs, even most parties.
I've never felt grounded in any aspect of modern society. Belonging is not something I've lost, but something I've never experienced -- except that some music makes me feel like I belong in a luminous world outside the walls of this one. Like a sci-fi dimension shifter stuck in a Kafka hellworld, I try to remain cheerful and keep trying different stuff, but I'm not sure if there's something I'm supposed to be doing here or if it's just a big accident.
Teachers always got frustrated that I was smart but not interested in anything they were teaching. In college the few papers I actually enjoyed writing were punished by my lowest grades. I traveled around America by car, train, bus, and hitchhiking, but didn't find any place that felt any better. I visited multiple back-to-the-land communities, I tried homesteading, I thought total technological collapse would be a good thing, and now I think those are all false escapes.
So I understand why young people are drawn to forbidden politics and chaos. But why the right wing? To me, the right is all about flags and uniforms, which I find repulsive. These people think they're Nietzschean heroes, but in a movie they'd all be the buddy character -- they haven't given up enough on belonging. The recent left thinks individualism has gone too far, but I think it hasn't gone far enough. It's like when something dies, it breaks down into toxic molecules before it breaks down into soil and air and water.
My latest utopian vision, which is probably still inadequate, is to use automation and a guaranteed basic income to gradually universalize dropout culture. One percent, then ten percent, and finally nearly one hundred percent of humans will just putter around all day following their peculiar obsessions, as long as they don't interfere with others doing the same, and eventually these atomized individuals will reconnect into a new living polyculture.
November 30. Going early this week into fun stuff, I just made a post on a reddit music thread, listing some psych/stoner/krautrock/space jams. I think OP was looking for tight focus on consensus-defined genres, and I gave him the loose edges of my own hybrid genre. Without the full list for context, it would be hard to hear what some of the tracks have in common.
I've been obsessed lately with making playlists. The above is not a playlist because the songs don't flow into each other or form a narrative, which takes a lot of really enjoyable work. Right now I'm trying to integrate my favorite band with my latest discovery, Lora Logic. It's funny, when you first hear an album in an unfamiliar style, it all sounds the same, but over more listens it resolves itself into the lame songs and the great songs, and right now I think Lora Logic's best song is Martian Man, which fits well with Big Blood's Destin Rain.
I'm always looking for great songs by classic rock artists that are never played on the radio, and readers have sent me a bunch, but the other day I heard Leigh Ann playing this in the other room and was like "What IS that?" If you're older than me you probably already know it, but it's new to me: Alice Cooper - Hello Hooray. In the same category: The Doors - My Wild Love and Blue Oyster Cult - Astronomy.
New subject, funny subreddit: Scottish People Twitter.
November 28. With all this buzz about the alt-right, last week on the subreddit there was a piece trying to define an "alt-left", but this comment goes through it point by point and explains why it's more right than left. If I defined an alt-left, it would explicitly take no position on race, or on racially charged subjects like immigration.
You could say that's easy for me to say as a white guy, but in my experience, nobody is more obsessed with race than self-identified whites. I don't even identify as white. I mean, I check the "white" box on bureaucratic forms, but if I listed a hundred things that define who I am, "likes rhythms that emphasize the one-beat" would be in the top twenty and white wouldn't even make the list.
The core of my alt-left definition would be economics. Libertarians want a "level playing field" but I want a playing field slanted so hard that trying to turn a lot of money into more money would be like climbing a mountain, and being content with just enough money for basic dignity and comfort would be like coasting downhill on a bicycle.
Related: a new essay from Aeon magazine, What if jobs are not the solution but the problem?
November 23. Over on my misc page I have a few Thanksgiving recipes, and I've just developed a recipe for unsweetened fresh cranberry sauce. You need a food processor or a powerful blender, and then it's a pound of berries, two apples peeled and chopped, and a cup of tart cherry juice. For the big meal I plan to wait until Friday morning and try to find a $50 turkey marked down to $10.
Of the three books I mentioned a week ago, the one that keeps pulling me back is suprisingly the most difficult: Ellen Chen's translation and dense commentary on the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 52.3 has a line that perfectly applies to recreational drugs: "Use the bright light but return to the dim light."
November 21. Posting will probably be light this week. Thanks Gabriel for this link, The Court of Values and the Bureau of Boringness. A lot of people have noticed a problem with democracy: that ordinary voters focus on what the candidates symbolically represent, and don't know or care about how the government works. The author's solution is to divide government into two branches, one where boring nerds set actual policy, and one where "outrageous charismatic buffoons" argue about values.
November 18. More fun stuff for the weekend. In this absurd man-on-the-street interview, a guy says that Trump will raise Atlantis by completing the system of German idealism. I found the video on the Sorcery of the Spectacle subreddit, which... I don't even know what it's about.
On the self-improvement front: Do you ever catch yourself doing something that's supposed to be purely for fun, but you're not having fun anymore, just continuing to do it out of habit? I'm working on noticing that more often and more quickly, and this completely painless practice has raised my happiness baseline.
I also noticed something about meditation. I've seen it described as watching a stormy sea, and trying to still the waves so you can see to the bottom. But the waves are not in the "sea" -- the waves are in the watcher. Now I finally understand the value of observing the breath. I remember a metaphor about a guy who tames a demon by giving it a curly hair and telling it to make the hair straight, so the demon just runs its fingers over the hair again and again and can't do anything else. When you can focus your attention finely enough, observing the breath is exactly like that, because you're no longer observing a whole breath but running your attention carefully along it.
By the way, I never budget time for meditation -- I just budget plenty of time for sleeping, and whenever I can't sleep, I repeatedly still my thoughts and follow my breath. Either I succeed in putting in meditation practice, or I succeed in sleeping.
And more music. Lora Logic was a minor figure in the British post-punk scene in the late 70's and early 80's. Personally I find her jumpy rhythms almost unbearable, but her music is raw, complex, and inspired, and it needs a bigger audience. If you only listen to one song, try Brute Fury.
November 16. I'm tired of politics. We've all chosen our positions for emotional reasons we're not even half aware of, and then we argue over tacked-on rationalizations. The smartest people are the stupidest, because their rationalizations are the most inpenetrable, so nothing can break through to the level where the real action is.
I haven't read many books lately, but now I'm trying to start again with three books, all of which I've read or started reading before: The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings by John Keel, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and Ellen Chen's Tao Te Ching.
Moving on to fun stuff... how cool is it that the Oakland Raiders are good again? Their quarterback, Derek Carr, had an older brother who flopped in the NFL because he couldn't perform under pressure. Watching this unfold on TV was so painful for Derek that he was motivated to become one of the best quarterbacks at making throws under pressure. Last week the Raiders dominated the defending champions, and one of their linemen made this awesome quote: "We ran the same running play ten times in a row. We kept wearing them down with double teams. They knew it was coming. It didn't matter. That's when you take somebody's will."
Last week I linked to my favorite songs page, but I want to call out one song that I'm especially into lately, from 2002, Broken Social Scene - Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl. It's like the twee Stairway to Heaven.
November 14. Over on the subreddit there's an interesting discussion of why I have so many alt-right readers. Sometimes they annoy me and I want them to go away, but where there's annoyance, there's always an opportunity for learning.
Anyway I have more to say about the election. If you watch UFC, you know that everyone talks trash before the fight, and during the fight they hit each other, and then after the fight they embrace. Donald Trump understands better than I do that politics works the same way. For the general election I thought he would reinvent himself as a lovable moderate, and instead he doubled down on being dark and divisive -- and it worked! Then, the moment he was declared the winner, he suddenly pivoted to making peace and bringing America together. So I'm wondering, how much of Evil Trump was a performance? What's under that scary clown mask?
I barely considered the possibility that Trump would turn out to be basically the same as every other president. I said he'd be a great ceremonial president, but I might have underestimated how much the presidency is already ceremonial. When the whole Bush family endorsed Hillary, I was sure the oligarchy feared Trump. Now I think we all fell for a deep con.
Imagine you're the secret ruler of an America that's been hollowed out. All the power is in the cities now, and the peasants want a revolution. But there's nothing you can do for them. The manufacturing jobs are lost forever to automation, the immigrants will keep coming in, old-time white culture is dying -- but you still need those people to work at Walmart and maintain the infrastructure, and they have a lot of guns.
So you let them have their messiah, a big city billionaire who talks the language of the rural working class, and he pulls a shocking upset. Urban liberals are genuinely horrified -- they don't even know they're part of the show. A guy waves a confederate flag over a sign saying "Accept it, you lost," and he doesn't even see the irony. And Trump does his best. He gets eight years, because the charismatic ones always do, and he gets a few symbolic victories. But on a deeper level the world continues on its inscrutable path, and Trump serves to pacify the right just as Obama pacified the left.
I don't really believe in sinister rulers who consciously planned exactly whatever happens, and that we make a better world by overthrowing them. I really believe the weirder thing I said last week: that our subconscious minds go deep, and they're connected down there on a scale we haven't imagined. And if you want to get out of the audience and join the circus, the locked door is inside you.
November 11. Taking a break from politics for music. Tuesday night I slipped in a YouTube link, but now I want to link to it explictly, because this classic punk song from 1982 is exactly how America feels to me right now: Fear - Let's Have A War. Related article: Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.
I've been having some email conversations about the occult nature of Trump's win. (It would take several books to explain what "occult" even means.) So it's stunning, but not surprising, that the next celebrity to die was Leonard Cohen, because there's some weird, dark stuff around him. If you have a couple hours, it's covered in this crazy two-part podcast from last year, The Liminalist 31.5: The Guerrilla in the Room. My favorite Leonard Cohen song is Teachers.
Believe it or not, my main project over the last week was putting together music playlists. I've been wanting to merge the songs of my favorite band, Big Blood, with songs by other artists, especially my second favorite band, Hawkwind. Yesterday I finished the core list, 13 songs over 72 minutes [update: now 21 songs and almost two hours], starting with folk and getting increasingly heavy. It's at the top of my favorite songs page.
November 9. After sleeping on it and hearing some reactions, I have a new story: Trump's victory is the 9/11 of the American left. The Tarot card for both events is The Tower, a sudden shocking catastrophe in which something that appears secure is brought down. Also both events were centered around New York City, and both events had a much milder precedent: the 1993 bombing, and Bush's victory over Al Gore.
In both 2000 and 2016 (and 1980) Republicans nominated a gunslinger, a candidate with great political instincts who inspired the base and didn't care about his own flaws. In both of those years (and 2004) Democrats nominated an uptight, awkward moderate who tried to avoid the appearance of having any flaws, but the result was that smaller flaws got magnified, voters were apathetic, and the Republican won. And in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012, when Republicans nominated a dignified moderate, they lost. The only reason Bush Sr won in 1988 was that Dukakis was even more of a dweeb.
Remember in 2004 when Howard Dean lost the Democratic primaries after making that weird scream? Compare that to the ten thousand worse things Donald Trump has done in front of a microphone. My point is not that Trump is bad but that this is what a winning attitude looks like. Dean was loose and impulsive and raw in a way that general election voters actually like -- but Democratic primary voters fear it.
The American left has been on its back foot since the 1980's, and I'm not sure why. My guess is that in the decades before 1980, they were so successful working within the system that they lost the skill and confidence to work outside the system. You need that confidence to not be afraid to lose, and you need to be fearless before you can nominate and stand behind a flawed candidate.
This is a dark night of the soul for a lot of Americans, but it's also an opportunity for us to organize in new ways and reinvent ourselves politically. Last night I mentioned disassociating from society, but that allows us to reassociate in ways we might not have imagined.
November 8, late. Shit just got real. A few notes...
If you're unhappy about this, just disassociate. You're not a part of this nation, this culture, this planet, just some kind of alien visiting to observe and have a good time. This attitude is both a cause and an effect of social collapse. A comment from earlier today: "I kind of hope this is the last election, however it turns out."
I do not trust voters to say why they really voted for Trump, or even to know why. I think there's a lot going on subconsciously (see below).
I think everyone who voted for Trump would have voted for him anyway, even if James Comey hadn't resurrected the email scandal at the last minute. But the FBI director was clearly angling to be a close ally of President Trump, and I expect him to be important over the next few years.
On the left, the big winner is Bernie Sanders, who would have won a lot of the votes that Hillary couldn't win. When will the Democratic party stop being afraid of popular excitement? Is it too late?
If Trump wants to prove he can cut through red tape and get shit done, while making even liberals happy, he should start by abolishing daylight savings time. Seriously, why is it so hard to make such a simple change that everyone agrees with? If we can't even do that, how can we hope to make bigger changes?
If Hillary had won, I was going to mention conspiracy theories that Trump's whole plan was to throw the election to the Dems, or that he wanted to remain an outsider populist without having to prove anything, or that his whole candidacy was a distraction. We can throw those away now, as well as the idea that the oligarchy controls the whole thing.
But I have a new grand conspiracy theory (thanks to marijuana, which won big in this election). Did you ever get in a totally baffling conflict, and years later you looked back and discovered a subconscious level on which it all made sense? So there's an example of one single link where the subconscious mind is in control and the conscious mind is just along for the ride. What if these links can form networks? What if they form a global subconscious civilization that is secretly running everything? Never mind the Reptilians -- the enemy is within.
November 2. This election is getting bizarre. As scandals go, Hillary Clinton's email thing is chicken feed, and it does not begin to explain Trump's surge in the polls over the last week. It's like those people were going to vote for Trump all along and as the election gets closer they'll take a smaller and smaller excuse. And why has Trump fallen in the polls when he's been most in the public eye, right after the conventions and debates? He's like that thing you do that you hate and you always promise yourself you'll never do it again, but then as it fades in your memory it becomes more and more attractive.
I see Trump as a correction, bringing together two things that have grown too far apart. On the one hand is how our civilization really works, a vast and inhuman network that is best managed by competent and dispassionate technocrats. On the other hand is the show, the public perception of how it works, that it's all about the personalities of human "leaders", like the tribal leaders of our ancestral memory, and if your life sucks then we just need someone strong and decisive to straighten those folks out.
I appreciate Trump as a performer, and I agree with his instinct that the political show has become a farce and deserves to be played like a farce. But if he actually becomes president, people will learn in the most painful way that their primal view of politics is bullshit, that you can't fix your computer by getting the most confident person to smack it with a hammer.