Friday, October 13, 2017

Jimmy Fallon Slobbers on Guests while Serial Killer Stabs his Audience to Death

Dateline: NEW YORK CITY—Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, played softball with his guests while a serial killer crept through the studio, killing the members of the live audience one by one as they applauded the antics of the family-friendly host and comedian.

Grinning ear to ear, Mr. Fallon greeted his first guest, actress Skinny Diva, by licking her feet as she walked to her chair. Living up to his reputation for being a toady, he then squatted atop his desk, listening intently as she sadly related that she was feeling under the weather.

“But when you sneeze,” Mr. Fallon replied, “I’ll bet the snot that flies out of your nose is just stupendous! It must be the slimiest, greenest mucus on the eastern seaboard. Can we get a close-up of her nostrils? Sneeze once for us, Skinny!”

Mr. Fallon giggled as she obliged, spraying his face with thick, chunky phlegm. Fallon shuddered with pleasure and said, “I love your mucus.”

He then handed her a kid’s baseball glove and lobbed a softball into her lap.

“Even when she doesn’t catch the ball,” he said to the audience, “she’s a national treasure. Did you see how the ball just bounced offer her thigh and came to rest in her lap? Just wonderful! That’s the best coming to rest of a softball I’ve ever seen. And I say that having played softball with each and every one of my guests. Give her another hand, ladies and gentlemen! I don’t think she feels special enough.”

Hidden cameras later revealed that while the pair gently tossed the softball back and forth, a notorious serial killer, dressed in black, stalked the audience members as he crawled between the rows of seated young men and women while they were transfixed by Mr. Fallon’s comedy stylings.

One by one, the victims’ heads slumped forward as the killer hacked and slashed the audience members to death, their screams lost in the raucous applause and laughter filling the studio.

The second guest, actress Cutesy Starlet, presented Fallon with a small, plain rock.

“My God,” he said as he examined the rock, “I love this, I absolutely love it. And I love your nail polish and the skin crease in your armpit and the shadow your body casts on the chair. This rock, though, is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, because it’s what you brought to my show.”

“I found it in my backyard,” she replied. “And that’s all I want to say tonight.”

Mr. Fallon beamed with glee as he held the rock to his chest. “This is the greatest day of my life,” he said. “I’m so happy right now. I’ve never been this happy before,” he assured his audience, “unless you count a moment ago or a few moments before that moment.

“Isn’t she the greatest human being alive?” he asked the audience, many of whom were by that point bloody corpses. “She’s actually giving me this common rock. Can you believe what a hero she is?”

His grin briefly faltered when he apparently thought he might be alienating his audience, but he reassured them by saying, “But isn’t she also perfectly normal and just like all you viewers at home? Isn’t she just average and unthreatening and not at all one of the richest one percent like me? Give her another round of applause!”

“I didn’t say I’m giving you the rock,” she pointed out. “I just brought it for everyone to look at.”

Mr. Fallon broke out the softball to liven up the five minutes during which he and his guest stared joyfully at the rock on his desk.

Meanwhile, the killer slew the remaining fans in the audience before escaping through a back door.

At a press conference held the next day, Jimmy Fallon invited the killer to be a guest on his show.

“From what I saw of your handiwork from the hidden camera footage,” he said in an open statement to the killer, “I can tell you’re highly skilled with a blade. I love the way you sawed off those limbs. I’d just beg you to lay your knife on my desk so I could drool over it. I’m already peeing a little from anticipation.” 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Documentary examines Movie Star’s Reluctance to Play God

Dateline: CANNES—A behind-the-scenes documentary about the life of world-renowned actor Johnny Hazitall has perplexed viewers, as experts in the film scramble to explain how anyone worshipped by hundreds of millions of fans could be so ungrateful as to avoid the pitfalls of celebrity.

On the silver screen Mr. Hazitall has appeared in dramas as well as comedic and action roles, and is mobbed by adoring fans wherever he goes.

One scene of the critical documentary, entitled “Poor Mr. Hazitall,” now screening at the Cannes Film Festival, shows the actor in disguise in a New York subway station. When he was recognized by an eagle-eyed fan who alerted the other bystanders to his presence like a deranged informant from The Body Snatchers, pointing and mouth agape, a mob gathered around the actor.

Women screamed and wept with joy. Many women and some men peeled off their pants and underwear and bent over backward, forming row upon row, often going as far as to miss their subway train as they begged for Johnny to penetrate them on the spot.   

Men in the subway tunnel tussled to determine who could best serve the famous actor as his beta male, shoving and berating each other to attract Mr. Hazitall’s attention. They emptied their wallets and hurled money at him, shouting, “Take the rest of my money! You deserve it more than I do.”

When Johnny accidentally looked at one young man in the eyes, the fan promptly threw himself in front of an oncoming subway train, dying instantly and presumably in ecstasy.

An elderly woman got hold of a goat despite the rarity of farm animals in downtown New York. She screeched in tongues, cut the animal’s throat, covered her face and arms with its blood, and begged for Mr. Hazitall to forgive her sins.

Throughout these savage displays of idol worship, Johnny Hazitall appeared bored. Not even a smirk of narcissistic glee cracked his face as he wended his way through the crowd. Each of the fans he touched as he made his escape shuddered like a Pentecostal Christian touched by a pompous televangelist. “We’ll die for you, Johnny!” they shouted. “Tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”

In an interview for the documentary, Johnny Hazitall admitted to have been merely annoyed by that mob.

Half of the film is devoted to the attempts of sociologists, pop culture critics, and even theologians to make sense of Mr. Hazitall’s strange nonchalance.

“Johnny is a unique case in the annals of stardom, as far as I can tell,” said one expert. “The traditional route is for celebrities—and really for anyone with way too much wealth and power—to inevitably betray the public trust. When you’re worshipped as a god, naturally you’re supposed to let everyone down because there are no real gods and you’re just a dumb mortal, after all. So you’re supposed to let the power go to your head and start acting like a jackass. Your corruption then provides an excuse for the crowd to crucify you as a pretender to the crown.

“As James Frazer explains in The Golden Bough, that’s the primary religious pattern. We worship only to tear down our idols when they disappoint us. That’s what the ancients did with their kings, and it’s what we’re supposed to do with our gurus, dictators, banksters, and all our celebrities. That’s the point of The National Inquirer and of the celebrity gossip shows and websites.  

“It’s in our social contract, if anyone even bothered to read it. Millions of people prop up a primate who’s like a bug fast approaching the cosmic windshield as far as the universe is concerned. But the fans worship the celebrity, treating him like a god while secretly resenting him and yearning to tear him down, only to renew the cycle with the next fad.

“And the celebrity is supposed to play ball, not act all coy and self-pitying when worshiped, but to be a good little god and let everyone down with his petty scandals of drug abuse, anti-Semitic tirades, adultery, wife beating and the like. What else are the power elites’ narcissism and primitive social dominance instincts for but to remind us that our religious impulse is mentally retarded, that the world is absurd and life is a joke?”

When asked in the documentary film about his thoughts on fame, Mr. Hazitall said, “Fame is silly. I don’t know why anyone would think so little of themselves that they’d look up to anyone, especially me. I’m an actor. I lie for a living. I’m a complete phony, like all actors. The fans seem to feed off of lies.”

The interviewer then reminded Mr. Hazitall that he does, after all, live the good life, that he’s a multimillionaire with numerous mansions, a collection of sports cars, and a harem of models at his disposal. He wears the best clothes and takes a dozen vacations a year at exotic resorts.

“If it’s a lie that you deserve to be worshiped,” said the interviewer, “it’s a pretty convincing one. You live much more like a god than most people. So can you really blame your fans for idolizing you? You’re one of the few apparent gods around, what with a real one nowhere to be found.”

“Like almost everyone who’s ever lived, if I walked down the street, no one would care. If I died suddenly on the sidewalk, most people would pass on by, because I mean nothing to them. But for you it’s the exact opposite: hundreds of millions of people would gladly kill everyone else just to be near you, for you to acknowledge that they exist.

“In light of that, shouldn’t you dig deep and find the courage to dumbfound your fans with signs of your vanity and derangement from being always at the center of attention? Don’t you owe them an excuse to dispose of you so they can commence the hunt for the next big distraction?”

“Yes, life is easier for me in all the material ways,” answered Mr. Hazitall. “I appreciate my fans for enjoying my movies. But I lie only to earn a living. That doesn’t mean I have to turn my whole life into some giant fiction.”

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Does Everyone Deserve Democracy?

Under President George W. Bush, the neoconservatives became infamous for attempting to export liberal democracy to the Muslim world. They used the 911 terrorist attacks as a pretext for invading Iraq, eliminating Saddam Hussein’s regime, and installing a pliable democracy. Instead of respecting liberal principles which had no historical basis in the Middle East, the elected government under Al-Maliki was beholden to certain religious tribes; Transparency International called Iraq’s government the most corrupt regime in the Middle East; and far from serving as a beacon of freedom as the neoconservatives had hoped, there’s been a global backlash against liberal democracy and a rise of neo-fascists in Europe and the United States.

The Complementarity of Culture and Government

Those developments raise some interesting questions. Is democracy for everyone or do cultural differences provide for a better or a worse fit for certain political systems? What sort of culture and thus what sort of people would be ideal for democracy? The modern basis for democracy derives from the Enlightenment philosophy of humanism. Humanists turned inward to determine how the human nature of Europeans could put an end to their Dark Age and recapture the greatness they found to have existed in ancient Greece and Rome. In particular, these humanists posited the power of reason to liberate a person from natural hardships as well as from repressive institutions such as a monarchy or the Catholic Church. Democracy as rule by the majority conformed to the scientific, egalitarian value of sharing knowledge and power. The assumption was that a ruling cabal of elites in which political power is concentrated is inevitably corrupted by its privileges, and so those elites end up exploiting the majority and holding back technological progress that would otherwise improve living standards for the majority. Thus, the modern plan was to posit human rights, educate the people, and equip them to fulfill their potential to rationally determine their future.

The new world of North America was settled largely by religious extremists who wanted to escape persecution in Europe, and by those searching for gold. Neither motive was a flawless expression of the Enlightenment ideals. Although religious extremists such as the Puritans wouldn’t succeed in forming a theocracy in the United States, the capitalist impulse displayed in the gold rush distorted the burgeoning American democracy early on by ensuring that the nation would protect free enterprise at all costs. The extreme Protestants would be able to worship as they wished, but only under liberal constraints, which meant their faith could never come to fruition in the New World until God chose to reveal himself fully and end all things. Until those End Times, the ruling ideology in the US would be secular, because the government would have to be neutral on religious matters, to guarantee the rights of those practicing opposing religions.

All by itself, though, capitalism, the amoral maximizing of profit has arguably rendered American democracy dysfunctional, and that’s because the economic system shapes the culture at large. So while the United States may once have been relatively well-suited to democratic rule, because of the prevailing Enlightenment values of egalitarianism and thus of maintaining a healthy middle class, cultures change—even if the political system won’t adjust. American egalitarianism eventually led to the abolition of slavery and to the recognition of women and minorities as equal in personhood to white males. Mind you, capitalism, too, likely had a hand in the American transition from having an economy based on a slave trade to having an industrialized one dependent on a workforce of wage slaves. The latter cost less overall than the former, so there were amoral reasons for ending the old kind of slavery. Still, the founding documents of the US and even the Greco-Roman architecture of its government buildings attest to the Enlightenment philosophy which has made most Americans proud to think of their country as democratic. For long stretches of the twentieth century, during the New Deal and American global hegemony after WWII, the American middle class prospered, although African-Americans and women were often still not treated as full persons.  

In any case, those decades of egalitarian prosperity were exceptions to the rule, as implied by Kurt Anderson’s book, Fantasyland: How America went Haywire: a 500-Year History and by Morris Berman’s Why America Failed. As Anderson says, “Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the last half-century, Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation, small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us.” The two sources of this dubious American ethos, which appears to have metastasized in the frauds of Trumpism, are religious extremism and capitalism. The impact of Christian ignorance, irrationality, and demonization is obvious, but capitalism too thrives on fantasy. As Berman says, America was from its infancy a nation of “hustlers.” Once a minimal level of civilization is achieved, in that the masses have secured the necessities for their survival, the capitalist must turn to selling items that are at best only wanted, including every conceivable variety of bogus merchandise that’s thinly-disguised trash. To profit under those unseemly conditions, the capitalist resorts to fantasy and fallacy in advertising her products, to drum up interest. This explains everything from the sale of snake-oil, to the cigarette industry which for years hid the nasty facts of nicotine addiction. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Eldritch Revelations: Our Imminent Doom

[In his published monograph, Eldritch Revelations, the psychiatrist of the infamous Jurgen Schulz wrote that only short fragments of Schulz’s philosophical journal survived his escape from Borsa Castle. But after the psychiatrist’s mysterious death shortly after publication, longer fragments were discovered in his office, locked in a drawer. Here is another of those longer fragments, which the publisher has had recently translated.]
* * *
Lord Irony presides over the decay of God’s undying corpse, the cosmos. Irony is the exquisite subversion of what we intend by what there really is. As such, irony is the aesthetic counterpart of the background microwave radiation that testifies everywhere to the so-called Big Bang, at which primordial point almighty God’s supernatural oneness transmogrified into the evolving manifold of nature to end his mad king’s insanity. There will always be irony as long as the will to live can mean nothing to all that’s beyond that will, to the lifeless particles and forces or to the universe at large. Irony therefore dictates that the more ultimate truth we uncover, the greater our embarrassment, and the first embarrassment is that no elaborate cogitations and experiments are needed for us to learn the existential truth, because that truth hides in plain sight. We turn this way and that, labouring to gain perspective on what was plainly before us all along.

For example, the life plan of our species isn’t whispered to saints by angels, nor is it encoded in any ancient religious text. Instead, our destiny is foretold in the cycle through which each average individual passes, from the magic of childhood innocence, to the arrogance of the adult busybody, to the return to the child’s helplessness in old age senility. For tens of thousands of years, in the Paleolithic Era, humans had no conception of the world’s inhumanity, since in their comparative powerlessness and overflowing imagination they were animists who projected spirits and values onto everything around them. The hunters and gatherers were preyed on by beasts and had no historical memory to guide them, there’s being the longest Dark Age. Every particular child is likewise dwarfed by adults who have all the power, and is filled with fear and wonder at the unknown, which burdens she sublimates with playful personifications. As the child grows and acquires a personal identity in the form of memories which always include experiences of disappointment, so too a tribe, a civilization, or our whole species accumulates a sense of its collective identity, and the group’s members struggle to preserve their self-esteem in part by justifying their pride in the group to which they belong. Thus, adults work long hours and this productivity is diverting if not progressive, allowing most individuals to ride out their mature period of having maximum autonomy, without any thought of suicide despite their having landed since birth in a world of natural horrors. In the same way, populations distinguish themselves with their cultural achievements, and our civilizational and global efforts expanded human knowledge, especially after each individual’s loss of childhood innocence was inevitably mirrored by the irreversible gain of objectivity in the Scientific Revolution, which led to the Industrial Revolution and to the rise of the neoliberal monoculture.  

By losing command over her critical faculties, however, the elderly individual regains the child’s blissful ignorance and so can circumvent the terror of her imminent death with childish nonchalance. The child can’t fathom the existential importance of the billions of years prior to her birth, during which time she was nothing, just as the average elderly person, whose mental acuity isn’t what it once was, is spared the humiliation of being able to ponder the billions of years in the future during which her every particle will be scattered to the four corners of the earth. Granted, this pattern was obscured because prior to medical and social advances, many adults died prematurely. Now, though, retirement homes overflow with the elderly just as kindergartens are noisy with children; both are segregated from the world of ego-driven, middle-aged adults, because the irrationality of children and of the old-aged makes a mockery of the adult’s self-mastery.

As to the terminal stage of our species, technological progress is showing not that we’re entering an age of even more daring expansion, as in the infancy of a science-fictional galactic empire, but that we’ve already lapsed into the indignities of our collective decrepitude. Technological power addicts and infantilizes the mob, bent as it is on endless, self-destructive consumption and for which the inscrutable inner workings of machines are perfectly magical. Thus, the so-called Age of Reason re-establishes Stone Age animism—except that our collective folly isn’t as inevitable as a child’s, since the child can’t know any better; we, rather, have millennia of historical memories at our disposal. Such collective experience only establishes the irony that while we late modernists have the potential to endure with wisdom, our fate has been sealed by mindless hyperdimensional cycles and as our mutual senility sets in and we’re poised to self-destruct after a flurry of high-tech disgraces that consume our higher self and calling even as we seek to consume the planet, we face the demise of our kind.

The child’s boundless imagination, which might have spoiled her by imprisoning her in a dream world, instead carries the seed that devastates her innocence by providing the hypotheses she tests with her experience, thus enabling her to control her life, and so the power of her emerging ego corrupts and disillusions her as she ages. The adult’s Faustian pride which seeks everlasting life is in turn undermined by the very natural world which she’d tamed with her technoscientific mastery, and so she succumbs to old age and expires. In the same way, irony is collectively maximized as the innocence of animistic hunter gatherers set the stage for our shared arrogance and corruption as we became apex predators and dominated the planet in the Anthropocene Age, and as our so-called modern diversions signify only our chronological advancement unto our imminent extinction, not any spiritual or ethical progress. At the zenith of our power, when we seem most like gods, with an internet brimming with knowledge and with myriad tools at our disposal, that’s when Lord Irony must strike us down. Thus, the very attributes which seem to ennoble us—our autonomy, knowledge, and power—are instead the instruments of our destruction.

We know we’ve entered our terminal phase when the alleged adults in charge are asleep at the switch, when our hard-won understanding of how the world works is squandered by governments and when our machines run amok and destroy us with a thousand unintended consequences. Just as the individual adult must succumb to old age and die, our species, like all others, must be extinguished. We clever hominids have a uniquely rich inner life, and so the human individual can serve as a microcosm. Our populations as wholes recapitulate the stages of the average individual’s development, because the herds emerge in cultural forms which extend the mind of each individual who identifies with the group to maintain her self-esteem. Thus, the very traits that define us are currently in the process of ending our reign—especially our creativity, arrogance, and narrow-minded reason. Our technological accretions are the cancer cells that can unseat us many times over. How else could a uniquely mighty and ambitious species, that seems to have conquered the planet and beaten Mother Nature into submission, join all the other species in death except by killing itself with maximal irony? 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Uglies on the Outskirts scheme to lure Beauties away from Big Cities

Dateline: TORONTO—A team of physically unappealing people based in the outskirts of large cities across North America has hatched a plot to lure the beautiful and handsome elites away from their lairs at the heart of the downtown areas.

Team Quasimodo’s leader, Quasimodo Sanchez, a misshapen short man with wildly asymmetric facial features, staged a press conference to explain his intentions, but offered only the cryptic remark, “We found out about their crystals. Soon the crystals will be ours and the beauties with long legs and shapely breasts will have to journey across the wrong side of the tracks so we can spy on their hotness more often.”

Sanchez had long expressed frustration on his blog that the layout of every major city in North America, with respect to the distribution of the physically attractive and unattractive parts of the populations, conforms to the same quantifiable pattern: the closer you are to approaching the downtown core, the higher the percentage of visually stunning persons, while the outskirts of town are cursed with housing the rump end of the homely masses.

Jinghua Bai, a city planner, offered the standard explanation of why the healthier, more attractive citizens tend to congregate in the most developed parts of the city, such as the banking districts or the areas with the finest hotels and restaurants. According to her, “the hunks and hotties are simply able to follow the money.” By contrast, those who are obese or otherwise visually unappealing are left to languish in the hinterlands.

“If you drive from a suburb or a farmland to the downtown core of a big city like New York, Los Angeles, or Toronto,” said Ms. Bai, “you leave behind the uglies and their backward ways and approach the heavenly dwellings of the most beautiful and healthy people on earth. That’s always the way, because the beauties can leverage their sexually attractive qualities to secure the important jobs which are stationed in the big city where all the action is. And the more money you have, the more you can spend on your appearance, so there’s a snowball effect.”

However, Herman Grosse, a conspiracy researcher at Esoteric Magazine, suspects there’s a deeper reason for the unequal distribution of beauties and uglies. 

“There are rumours,” said Grosse, “of large, ancient alien crystals passed in secret from one generation of hotties to the next, crystals which emit energies that nourish the body and soul. These crystals are said to be jealously guarded and housed in penthouses or bank vaults.”

But the power of these crystals is limited, so as you approach the extent of their range, the number of unlovely or unsightly abominations rises. The result is a clear demarcation between “the geographical regions of health, beauty, and handsomeness, on the one hand, and of the lurching horde of deformities or plain-faced nobodies, on the other.”

Grosse, who lives in a lower-middleclass suburb of Toronto, counts himself among the ranks of uglies, but cautions that Team Quasimodo’s efforts might be premature.

“If Quasimodo has found the crystals,” he said, “and if they can capture them and transport them to the outskirts, presumably there would be a mass exodus of hunks and hotties, like moths following a flame. The downtown cores would become barren wastelands and the uglies in the sticks and boonies would suddenly find themselves with a bounty of eye candy.

“The question, then, would be whether the Plain Janes and Joe Schmoes of the world could control the crystals long enough to rejuvenate their physical form, to bless themselves with exquisite bone structure, taut bellies, or a full head of hair. Otherwise, gentrification would set in and the aesthetically unequal urban zones would reestablish themselves.

“The uglies would once again find themselves on the outs.” 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Why all we do is Art for Sages

What is enlightenment? It’s the transition from being distracted, deluded, or ignorant about the ultimate questions in life, to attaining insight into what is truly happening at each moment. Is such knowledge always beneficial? No, because the existential truth is humiliating and bewildering. The ultimate truth for me intersects with philosophical naturalism, countercultural mysticism (dark pantheism), and existentialism. Those who are fittest to understand the world are thereby hindered from succeeding in conventional terms. Science isn’t enough for that understanding, nor is atheism, nor liberalism, nor pessimism. The ultimate truth as I’ve come to understand it is monstrous and to grasp it is to become a monster. Ultimate knowledge is for sociopathic alphas or for loser omegas whose outsider status gives them objectivity and thus intellectual access to deep patterns, but also the drive to understand the world in the first place, as compensation for their suffering. By contrast, living in contentment is for sheep, for the human mob whose members only barely deserve to be distinguished by their individuality because while their personal development may be illuminating, their inner life is shallow.

The human herd excels by deferring to conventional wisdom about how life should be lived, by creating a family and by working hard or capitalizing on social connections. The herd is emotionally fulfilled but for the most part cognitively impoverished; at least, the more time is devoted to introverted reflection and intellectual exploration, the harder it is to succeed in the popular sense, to take sex, family, or work seriously. This is because instead of enlightening anyone, exoteric wisdom in postindustrial societies is meant to perpetuate the species and the plutocratic social structures. Specifically, family is obviously needed to protect the members of the next generation in their childhood phase, while productivity maximizes the profit that currently flows almost exclusively to the upper ten percent, and especially to the top one percent of the population, in the United States. The affluent class’s neoliberal emphasis on individual liberty, on taking advantage of your freedom by pursuing hobbies to find yourself is likewise a smokescreen protecting the imperative to consume, which fuels this dishonest way of life. Far from helping to find yourself, collecting possessions and experiences renders you all the more empty by comparison, because that lifestyle prevents you from developing the higher-order thoughts which constitute an autonomous self. As for the late-modern professionals and aristocrats who prey on the herd, they don’t subscribe to social conventions: they have extramarital affairs galore and their wealth enables them to retreat to bubble worlds which operate at their beck and call to complement their godlike self-image. They, too, are social outsiders and so are afforded the chance to understand how the real world works, but their power deprives them of the conscience and empathy needed to use their insights wisely.

Cults and Cultures as Escapes from Reality

Let’s consider, then, two other ways of escaping unenlightened herd life, besides becoming a predatory oligarch or a marginalized loser. One is to flee to a guru’s cult. Indeed, off and on for a few years I’ve lurked on the YouTube channel of a young Canadian woman who went from a Star Seed New Ager to a Christian to a devotee of a guru. She lives with him now in an ashram in Bangalore, India. Have a look at this video in which Millennials from Vancouver, Germany, Russia, East Africa, Malaysia and elsewhere attest to the wonders of life with that guru, at “Inner Awakening.” Many of these recruits credit the internet for presenting them with the opportunity to flee the drudgery of postindustrial life. They seem overjoyed and profess to have been granted magical powers by their swami, whom they worship as a living incarnation of God. The temptation to join such a cult is the same as the one that drew the hippies to their communes, which is also the temptation that compels theists to imagine the effortless pleasures of paradise in the afterlife. This is the temptation to hope that somehow rewards are possible even without labour, which requires the audacity to trust in that which is proverbially too good to be true. In the case of Inner Awakening, the initiates pay several thousand dollars and surrender their personal freedom to participate in the nearly month-long starter program in which they effectively consent to be brainwashed as they bow to the authority of a presumed enlightened master who promises to supply them with all the answers they could hope for. Everyone in their new family loves them unconditionally and their guru stands in for a transcendent deity, so they have their heaven on Earth. The peace of liberating themselves from the burden of maintaining their former status in the capitalistic rat race is evidently worth the prices they pay. These outsiders believe they’re enlightened while the critics and everyone else who is unaware of this form of Hinduism are spiritually asleep.

Another option is to embrace the evil of Scientology. Scientology is the ingenious and triumphant worldwide cult founded in 1954 by the American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. The moral and empirical cases against this cult are perfectly complete. Dozens upon dozens of high-ranking Scientologists, including the leader’s father, have publicly condemned the so-called Church of Scientology, providing detailed accounts of its criminal or antisocial practices. You can watch their testimonies in the film Going Clear or in Leah Remini’s series on A&E. The hidden wisdom of Scientology, which was supposed to be available only to members who’ve spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to attain elite OT status within the organization, have instead been leaked and made available for years on the internet. South Park mocked the sci-fi, theological mashup concocted by Hubbard and involving an alien Xenu and disembodied spirits, passenger planes and a volcano. But Hubbard was in fact ingenious in how he designed his cult to fulfill the late-modern longing for a scientific religion, modernity notwithstanding. Scientology bastardizes old religious ideas but provides them a veneer of coolness and plausibility with its sci-fi scenarios and pseudoscientific treatment of mental health issues. Scientologists want technology not just to amuse them with distracting toys, but to “clear” their minds of sin and suffering. Their “church” replaces Buddhism’s regimen of meditation and asceticism with pseudo-therapeutic E-Meter readings and subservience to a dictator named David Miscavige. Like the Inner Awakening dupes, Scientologists seem happy—until many flee the oppressive cult even at the cost of being barred from seeing their Scientologist family members. The members often grow up in the cult and are then prohibited from learning that their alleged religion is just a business and a con, or else they’ve been brainwashed into rationalizing their decision to keep supporting the “church.” They believe Scientology is a humanitarian enterprise that’s saving the planet, whereas the organization is plainly a fraud from top to bottom.

The exoteric case against these escapes, then, is clear. From the standpoint of secular humanistic norms, these cults are—almost by definition—divorced from reality. In the first case, the radicals are outcasts who don’t want to work for a living, but they escape poverty and homelessness by joining a cult where they find bogus or obscure answers for everything. In the second, they’re suckers who’ve succeeded in secular terms—Scientologists typically have families and access at least to tens of thousands of dollars in credit—but they crave the kind of power and adventure that transhumanists promise, so they’re victimized by a modernist cult. We’re dealing, therefore, with drop-outs who are desperate for a face-saving solution to their lack of belonging in the real world of the global monoculture, or with weirdo seekers who voluntarily marginalize themselves. Either way, their fake spirituality is condemnable on empirical, moral, and legal grounds.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Do Americans deserve Visionary Movies? A Review of Darren Aronofsky’s film "Mother!"

Darren Aronofsky’s film mother! is a fascinating and insightful allegory of the relationship between creator and muse, especially as this relationship might exist on the cosmic scale. You wouldn’t know this, though, from some of the movie's negative reviews. The obliviousness or moral cowardice of those critics and the dismal opening-weekend showing at the film's box office prove why American cinema is virtually dead and why most Americans wouldn’t deserve its revival.

Be warned that spoilers for mother! follow.

The negative reviews tend not even to mention, let alone discuss or criticize what the film is about. They attack Aronofsky for making unusual artistic choices and for the movie’s alleged tediousness and obscurity. Of course, if you don’t understand something or you pretend that you don’t understand it to excuse yourself from thinking, you’ll be bored with it. Unfortunately for those reviewers, there’s no excuse for not understanding the essence of mother! Some of the film’s details are mysterious and open to interpretation, but the film's last two minutes reveal the identities of the two unnamed main characters, which clarifies all the major scenes of the movie, if you hadn’t already figured them out. Javier Bardem’s character is God, or more specifically the masculine aspect of divinity associated with Yahweh, while Jennifer Lawrence’s is his co-creating muse, a feminine Gaia-like deity whose eternal love for Bardem’s character allows him to indulge himself in an endless boom-and-bust cycle of cosmic creations. (I’ll call Bardem’s character "the Creator," since he’s unnamed in the film except for when he says at the end “I am I,” which is equivalent to saying “I am that I am,” as Yahweh says in Exodus.) Lawrence’s character, which I’ll name "the Muse," is called his “inspiration” or “muse” five or ten times throughout the movie. At the movie’s end, both of those characters are the sole survivors of a house that burns down all around them. He is unscathed while she is reduced to a blackened and mangled corpse that is somehow still alive. This indicates that the two are supernatural beings. He removes the heart from her chest, which he squeezes to form a large crystal. That crystal is the symbol of her unconditional love for him, and he uses that crystal's power to magically rebuild the house, the house being the symbol of our planet.

So by the movie’s end, it’s perfectly clear we’re dealing with a god and goddess and thus with a religious allegory of some sort. Yet here are just some of the movie critics whose reviews don’t spare a single sentence about the movie’s theological subject matter: Anthony Lane, Rex Reed, Glenn Lovell, Leonard Maltin, Dwight Brown, James Berardinelli. That’s just the entire list of the negative reviews currently on the first page of the film's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not just that they ignore what the movie’s about, perhaps so as not to spoil the surprise for the reader; no, these reviews claim that the movie itself is unclear. Lane, for example, explicitly denies that religion is Aronofksy’s subject matter, writing, “Unlike Buñuel, Aronofsky is not making sport of religion. He is plundering it for images of wrath and apocalypse…” (my emphasis). Reed, the ever empty-headed, abusive, error-prone “critic” writes, “This delusional freak show is two hours of pretentious twaddle that tackles religion, paranoia, lust, rebellion, and a thirst for blood in a circus of grotesque debauchery to prove that being a woman requires emotional sacrifice and physical agony at the cost of everything else in life, including life itself. That may or may not be what Aronofsky had in mind, but it comes as close to a logical interpretation as any of the other lunk-headed ideas I’ve read or heard.” And Berardinelli writes, “There are so many bizarre images that the movie becomes a kind-of cinematic Rorschach test – it can be whatever you want it to be.”

Mind you, because there’s no excuse for not understanding what the movie is primarily about, we must ask why the negative reviewers have pretended not to get it. The answer is just as clear as the movie’s themes: Aronofsky is indeed criticizing conventional Judeo-Christian theology. The main point of the movie is that the Creator betrays his Muse because henot Adam or Evesuccumbs to a temptation, the temptation to be worshipped by his created beings. It’s God who falls from grace, God who is corrupted and who thus creates a fallen world that self-destructs when the Muse has finally had enough of the Creator’s treachery and abuse of her. This is, in short, a Gnostic, “heretical” portrayal of the nature of creation. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Manjaws: A Rant by Rashad the Cackler

Rashad, also known as the Cackler, is an old homeless man who has wandered North America for decades and is notorious for his stream of diatribes on a wide range of subjects. He appears in my novel God Decays. This is the first in a series of his collected works of dark prose poetry, which his acolytes across the continent record for posterity.
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The other day I was watching TV through a store window and I saw another female news anchor with manjaws. Do you know what those are? They’re square jaws. Lantern jaws. The kind you would have seen on William Wallace as he sliced off the limbs of the English. Or the kind that were clenched by a marauding Neanderthal, sweaty, hairy and bloodied from carnage on the plains of Africa, way back in the mists of time. Maybe he’d singlehandedly slain a Saber-toothed tiger but then he was magically transported to our era and he decides not to hunt us down but to read us the evening news that there was another stabbing or a car pileup—only, surprise! The macho champion of men whose jawline is so square you’d drop everything just to follow him into battle—because all men with weak jawlines are cowards who would double-cross you at the first opportunity—anyway, surprise: the dude is a chick. You were anticipating the face of the News Corporation to be the quintessence of masculinity, to reassure you that men still rule, so your country is stable and there’s nothing to fear, no confusing realignment of power on the horizon. But they’ve replaced that face with a woman’s, and just to rub it in they’ve picked the one-in-a-million Wonder Woman who boasts the manjaws of Richard the Lionheart or Genghis Khan. They sent out ads saying, “We at the TV News Monopoly are looking for a female news reader with a masculine jawline to infuriate our male viewers, to signal to them that yes, the old rules still apply, everyone still associates strength and gravitas with that archetypal symbol of masculinity—only, women can be man-like. If you have such anomalous manjaws, call us right away and we’ll hire you on the spot.” It’s all a sham, though, because women aren’t really taking over and most women can’t be man-like, no matter how hard they try. Almost all the world’s multimillionaires and billionaires are men, and it’s the same with the corporate titans and political leaders. Men still rule the world and do you want to know why? It’s because someone’s got to run the place right into the ground, and it’s certainly not going to be women. You think women are sociopathic enough to make the hard choice of picking our bloodthirsty, barbaric species above all others? Are women going to disgrace themselves like the wealthy douchebags who spend their money on golden toilets and sprawling palaces—which no one has ever worked hard enough in all of human history to have actually earned—and then to look at themselves in the mirror and smile, knowing that a billion people are starving? No, only men can rule, because leaders have to be assholes. Running your corporation, your country, your species into the ground, never taking responsibility, and bringing everyone else down with you—that’s a man’s job! But now it’s fashionable to flatter women that they can be as monstrous as men, because everything has to be equal, right? Well, where are all the female movie villains? Which evil vixen was ever as bad-ass as Darth flipping Vader? Last time I checked, Dracula, the mummy, the werewolf, and Frankenstein and his monster were all men. Which little lady was ever as straight-up demonic as Hitler or Stalin? Get the hell out of here with your right to equality! No one’s as cruel or as clueless as human males. We’ve earned that title and the right to rule after our thousands of years of slaughtering in the names of fictitious gods. We males have done the legwork of enslaving or exterminating almost all the animal species on land—thank you very much! So we don’t need women’s backseat driving on how to let power go to our heads. Least of all do we need them pretending they can do all this dirty work with no disastrous input from men. Let’s just see what happens, shall we? After only a few decades of feminist rulers, I’d wager the ecosystem might even be saved from ruin—and they’d call that “leadership”! So watch Ms. Manjaws sitting there with her porn starlet’s hairdo and her caked-on makeup and those huge honking manly jaws! Just watch her attempt to be as vapid and perfunctory at her job as the male news readers of old. Watch her take down that seven-figure salary for a monkey’s labour, and just see if she can squander it as rapidly as a man would. We should all be curious to learn if she can shamelessly carry around a trophy boy toy in her middle age, like an alpha male would. That’s the problem with late modernity: our symbols no longer mean anything and no one can trust in our myths anymore. She may have the jawline of a killer, but her heart’s not in it. No one’s fooling me! I’d follow her into battle only if I knew for certain she’d lead us right smack into the maw of crushing defeat, albeit with great, sanctimonious speeches, tall tales of derring-do, and bullshit mythic symbols of our noble enterprise. Until women can prove they can destroy the planet with the best of them, the only women I want to see on TV should be content with baby-weak jawlines. Manjaws are for the brutes whose thankless task is to destroy the planet, the brutes women love best. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill?

You might have thought that Donald Trump, the current president of the United States, is mentally ill and obviously so. You might even have thought you had the medical name of his affliction handy: “malignant narcissism,” the name of the disorder that combines psychopathy with narcissism. But Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the definition of “narcissism” in the DSM, the Bible of American psychiatry, wants you to know you’d be wrong. As he writes in his book, Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump, Frances thinks it’s clear that while Trump may be a horrendous person, he doesn’t have any mental illness. This is why Frances says he declined a TV producer’s invitation to provide a psychiatric diagnosis of Trump’s mental condition, during the 2016 presidential campaign. Frances declined because he “saw no evidence that Trump had a mental disorder.” Plus, he was barred from conjecturing in that manner by the “useful ethics policy” of the American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater rule. Psychiatrists, he says, have “no right to use professional credentials to medicalize their political beef” with a politician.  

I’ll return to the Goldwater rule at the end. Why, though, does Frances think Trump has no mental illness? Here’s his answer:
Trump’s amateur diagnosticians have all made the same fundamental error. They correctly note that the disorder’s defining features [of narcissism] fit him like a glove…But they fail to recognize that being a world-class narcissist doesn’t make Trump mentally ill. Crucial to the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the requirement that the behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment. Otherwise, many, if not most, politicians (and almost all celebrities) might qualify. Trump is a man who causes great distress in others but shows no signs himself of experiencing great distress. His behaviors, however outrageous and objectionable, consistently reap him fame, fortune, women, and now political power—he has been generously rewarded for his Trumpism, not impaired by it.
That answer should astonish you. Nearly every line of it must be dissected to grasp the extent of Frances’ audacity.

Allen Frances
It’s true that a mental condition should negatively impact the prospective patient before it can be called a disorder. Doctors still take something like the Hippocratic Oath to heart; they want to first do no harm to the patient. Thus, if a person shows no signs of distress, the doctor has no overriding reason to intervene, since doing so might cause more harm than good. Only if the patient is clearly suffering can the doctor feel assured that even if the treatment should fail or cause some additional discomfort, as it frequently does, the risk is worth it to have the chance of relieving the initial suffering. Moreover, impairment is considered a precondition of having a mental disorder, because psychiatry is scientistic and so the psychiatrist would prefer not to descend to the free-for-all level of dabbling in normative reflections on what should count as mental health, that being a mere philosophical question. Thus, the psychiatrist borrows her professional values from society at large and so she defines “disorder” in terms of dysfunction. A disorder causes impairment which prevents the individual from functioning normally in society. That’s what society cares about—the extent to which members fit in and don’t interfere with its norms—and so that’s how the psychiatrist skirts the philosophical questions about the ideals of human excellence.

Note that both of these factors have to do with the profession of psychiatry, not with the potential patient’s inherent mental condition. The psychiatrist sees herself as heroic and her profession as scientific, and that’s why she thinks of mental disorders partly in consequentialist terms. Frances concedes that Trump’s mental condition appears to be narcissistic. That is, Trump has all the disorder’s inherent defining features; moreover, it’s obvious that he has them, because his is a severe, putrefied case. But those features have the wrong effects, says Frances. This means merely that there’s no cause for medical alarm in Trump’s case. Trump is flourishing, so medically intervening in his life would violate the doctor’s oath to do no harm, and Trump functions well in society, so society wouldn’t take the brunt of the normative assessment, given that the psychiatrist sees herself as dealing only with hardnosed, quantitative matters.

Granting all of this, then, it’s still misleading to say, with Frances, that Trump hasn’t any mental disorder, when what Frances really means is that Trump’s palpable narcissism has anomalous results which don’t happen to call for medical remedy. To say that Trump isn’t mentally disordered, for the above reasons, is to speak about psychiatry not Trump. As soon as we turn to what’s intrinsic to Trump, to a study of how his mind operates, regardless of how society happens to receive him, we’re led to conclude that Trump walks and quacks like a duck. If having all the internal components of malignant narcissism doesn’t make for a mental disorder, because psychiatry refuses to get involved if there’s no distress or impairment, and mental disorders go only where psychiatrists have no fear to tread, that amounts to a mere semantic difference. Just say that Trump has a grotesque mental condition, equivalent to the set of all the intrinsic features of malignant narcissism, but not that he has a mental disorder (because psychiatrists don’t want to get involved in Trump’s particular case).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Evil Industries Imitates Scientology at Trial over Fraud

Dateline: NEW YORK CITY—Unveiling his legal team’s strategy at NY State Supreme Court, Lance Hyrdgun, lead defense lawyer for the retail firm Evil Industries, which is being sued by the Justice Department for fraud, said that the defendant “operates well within the boundaries established in the name of evil by Scientology, a malevolent cult which is evidently just fine and dandy in America.” 

“Nothing in this nation is currently more evil than Scientology,” said Mr. Hyrdgun in his opening statement. “Just as some comedians push the envelope for free speech, Scientology shows all profit-maximizing businesspeople how to scam the public and get away scot-free. So watch us do the same.”

According to the defense team, Evil Industries has imitated Scientology’s corporate structure and brand, which allow Scientology to get away with murder.

“Scientologists are allowed to rampage across the face of the earth like a pack of demons straight out of hell,” said Evil Industries VP Brenda Heartless on the witness stand. “This is because that corporation calls itself a religion. They thus pay no taxes and hide behind both the modern deference to science and America’s lame taboo against criticizing religion. It’s brilliant what that heinous organization has done.”

Ms. Heartless added, “Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard ripped off Sumerian astrotheology, Gnosticism, and the Jain interpretation of karma, put a sci-fi spin on them and pretended his plain-as-day cult of personality is actually a science to rival psychiatry, complete with technology that can solve all your personal problems and even give you superpowers.

“Meanwhile, you’ve given over the cult hundreds of thousands of your dollars, had your access to the internet removed, and been physically abused at the Sea Org or denied access to your parents and siblings because the cult has condemned them as heretics. Maybe you even end up killing yourself when you realize you’ve wasted decades of your life on Scientologist nonsense. But it’s all perfectly legal, thanks to the genius of that con.”

The defense team contends that Evil Industries likewise operates as a religion: the religion of Business.

“If Scientology can make a religion out of using bogus technology to make you happy,” said Mr. Hyrdgun, “Evil Industries can make one out of selling schlock to satisfy ignorant consumers’ weakness for impulse purchases. The blueprint laid out by Scientology is ingenious: you just pick your wide-as-can-be aspect of human life and make a religion that corners the market on it, by inventing some nonsensical jargon, pseudo-theological balderdash, and creepy religious branding. Then you’re legally entitled in the freedom-loving USA to set up a tyrannical business empire that funnels millions of dollars from the desperate and exploited masses to the grossly-cynical managers.”

Roderick Moustache-Twiddler, CEO of Evil Industries and Chairman of the Board of the Evil Business Center, took the witness stand to counter the prosecutor’s case for fraud, saying, “The government has no case. Does the Justice Department think fraud is always illegal? It isn’t, not if it’s done in the name of a religion. Sure, we at Evil Industries sell insect goo as fancy cheese, and goat piss as white wine. So what?

“In 1993 the IRS bowed to pressure, saving Scientology from bankruptcy by allowing that malevolent organization to call itself a religion. Any old business now can follow suit just by dressing up its nefarious activities in the trappings of a church. Again, fraud is okay in the USA if it’s done in the guise of a religion! But religions are a dime a dozen now, so you all can kiss my Texan ass!”

Asked why his organization is called “Evil Industries,” Mr. Moustache-Twiddler said, “We call ourselves evil, because that’s what’s at the heart of capitalism. We’re as selfish as can be to make a quick buck. We don’t exchange goods that are equally valuable, as in bartering. No, we maximize profit, which is possible only by lying and conning, by committing fraud. So fraud is essential to sales and thus to capitalism, but it’s illegal in business because of feel-good foolishness about how if everyone’s as selfish and ruthless as possible, an invisible hand will make everything alright in the end. Competition will make everyone happy even as the wickedness that’s unleashed destroys the planet.

“We admit we’re evil, but we follow the lead of the demons over at the Church of Scientology, so we’re all good.”

At a press conference, the American president commented on the trial. “Businesses don’t have to be evil and religions don’t have to be villainous cults,” said the president.

When asked why Scientology is allowed to operate within the United States, without being leveled to the ground by a hydrogen bomb blast, the president said, “We can’t be expected to annihilate every form of evil that takes root. You take the good with the bad.”  

Legal insiders expect Evil Industries to prevail at trial.