Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Prophets of Woe

Woe to men, for you shall be replaced by machines and shall lose your manhood.

Woe to women, for you shall have no men to shelter and comfort you in the wasteland to come.

Woe to children, for their cuteness promotes their self-love, and they lack the reason to see that love is a puppet string.

Woe to consumers, for you’ve sucked the earth almost dry.

Woe to advertisers, for you’ve made an art of deception and manipulation, and are cursed to wander as cynics in a herd of dupes. 

Woe to movers and shakers, for you’ve moved to outer space, making aliens of yourselves, and have shaken the peasants from their slumber, endangering your material foundations to which they tend.

Woe to environmentalists, for you love wild animals that wouldn’t hesitate to eat you for breakfast.

Woe to Americans, for your time has nearly come to join the legions of peasants in other lands whom you’ve squeezed and exploited since the end of the Second World War.

And woe to anti-Americans, for your sanctimonious rage betrays the ugly American within you.

Woe to liberals, for there’s no longer faith in your worn-out myths, and you’ve become scholastics idling until the next renaissance.

Woe to conservatives, for your talk of old-fashioned utopia is a smokescreen for a return to the primitive state wherein the dominators succumb to the temptations of godhood, are swiftly corrupted by their power, and drag their slaves down with them.

Woe to you professional philosophers, for your title is an oxymoron: a lover of knowledge must cower in angst rather than adjust to the horrors of nature to make of philosophy an academic field of study for charlatans, pseudoscientists, and bored young transients in colleges that have turned into mere businesses.

Woe to the gods, for they’ve failed to grace us with their existence.

Woe to monotheists, for you have poor taste in fiction.

Woe to optimists, for you dishonour the multitudes that have fallen.

Woe to pessimists, for you waste your life in grief.

Woe to Hollywood, for your creativity is as bankrupt as that of the Chinese market you seek to plunder with remakes and superheroic trivialities, which market is a giant, ravenous copying machine.

Woe to the computer, for digitization drains the value from that which is encoded, and the internet and the smartphone erase the humanity from their addicted users.

Woe to pornography, for it proves that sex is a ridiculous spectacle.

Woe to sex, for its pleasures must be kept secret to preserve the sophisticate’s illusion of superiority.

Woe to the large, for it is comprised of myriad small things and is at their mercy.

Woe to the small, for it is confined within the behemoth and is blind to the latter’s grandeur.

Woe unto the earth, for once it has killed off the wise apes, there shall be none to cry foul at its monstrosity.

And woe to dabblers in prophecy who pilfer the language of the fictional Jesus, which has become a cliché.

Is there anything worth saying in a world that has lost the ears to hear? Has the prophet still a reason to step atop his stump to be heard above the rabble’s noise? Is prophecy even possible in such a new-fangled wilderness? Prophecy, the inspired telling of deep, subversive truths, is for those seeking knowledge, but knowledge itself has become old-fashioned. The great loves now are for power and entertainment.

Postindustrial Westerners are divided into those who know science and those who don’t but who use its applications. Physicists are the scientists who identify what things ultimately are, and most no longer pretend to understand their theories, since physics is mainly a tool for tinkering with the machine of the military-industrial-entertainment complex that is our high-tech civilization. Having dispensed with metaphysics along with religious myths, after the positivist purification early last century, physicists usually see themselves as calculators, adjusting their equations to spit out useful predictions. But since understanding requires myths that resonate with intuitions and emotions, and scientists are professionally objective, the world that’s been reduced to physical properties has thereby been deprived of sense or meaning. Life for the technoscientist who idolizes physics and who prizes personal integrity is thus necessarily absurd.

As for the multitude of ignoramuses, they’re content to be entertained since they’re untroubled by the Faustian impulse to strive to learn the inhuman truth and thus to condemn themselves to unhappiness.

For those two reasons, the aspiring prophet is irrelevant. The ultimate secrets of existence might be recorded somewhere and would be lost in an avalanche of cat videos on the internet or in a polluted sea of unreadable scientific or philosophical journal articles. We no longer want to know the ultimate truth, and perhaps the world has thereby spared us by releasing us from that Faustian curse. Or perhaps we do unconsciously understand our predicament, and we lack merely the counterproductive inclination to obsess over a mental disorder—the love of knowledge—for which there’s no cure.

Why, then, do outsiders continue to harangue the masses for following conventions or for failing to fulfill their potential? Why criticize society, biting the hand that feeds you? Why does the wolf howl at the moon? Prophets were once widely believed to have divine authority, when the masses were more desperate for answers, thanks to the absence of a middle class under the ancient theocratic regimes. In modern secular societies, ranting is at best an art form, an expression of tolerated madness. Just as alcohol and nicotine are sanctioned by capitalism, modern art used to function as a pseudoreligion that distracted secularists from contemplating the calamity of God’s metaphorical death.

However, art in that sense is itself dead, having been slain by scientism, postmodern cynicism, and shallow consumerism. Art has been commodified or been reduced to claptrap for scholastic liberals who need to gossip around the water cooler to pretend they have something elevated to live for, something besides their animal pleasures of food, sex, possessions, and the like. We enslave and eat animals on a holocaust basis, so we can’t ourselves be mere animals—not without our incurring an experience of life-altering horror. Rather than having much impact, then, even the most visionary secular rants and prophetic speculations, such as those disguised in popular novels and movies, are soon lost in the data glut. None originating within the last century will be read centuries from now in a new Bible for naturalists. Again, this is partly because (1) technology alters society at such breakneck speed and on so many levels, (2) our attention span is shortened by our need to multitask to keep up with computers, and (3) our post-religious focus on nature is detrimental to any interest in morality or in how society ought to be changed, that we must content ourselves with being passive spectators as society transforms with no one at the helm.

But there’s another reason for the persistence of dark philosophical reflections on the state of popular culture. The majority of so-called humans is, and has always been, spiritually inferior to an elite assortment of horrified outsiders. When, therefore, that which is popular oozes into the mental space of an ethically superior being, that purer individual is bound to feel disgusted, and if that pollution is virtually omnipresent, as it is in the Western monoculture, the elite soul may lash out, not in the hope of changing anything but just to express reactionary contempt. His or her rants are the verbal equivalent of sneering.

Moreover, the capacity for intellectual condemnation must be exercised or it will atrophy. The Buddhist will say that that critical faculty should indeed go to waste, because it’s one of the ego’s illusions. Alas, the power of technoscience has put a premium on reason, not on direct experience. Scientists have taught us not to trust our intuitions, however comforting they may be. Thus, the self is no illusion since it’s a natural construct, and if nature is generally an illusion, words have no meaning and Buddhism is a game. If the only goal is to end suffering for the sake of inner peace, the Buddhist can have no objection to a drug-induced coma or to suicide. In any case, there’s no such thing as immediate experience; all experience is interpretive, since it’s processed by the brain and by the mind’s representations.

A display of disgust, then, may be more or less useless or even counterproductive, but the difference between the philosophically-ignorant masses and the enlightened few is real, not imaginary. The mob’s adoration of conmen and strongmen, while it ostracizes the genuine spiritual elite is historically obvious. The social dynamics of forming dominance hierarchies that celebrate amoral power as a means of maintaining social stability, while demoting deviants to omega status are manifest. So maintaining that differences in social control are insignificant, because all egos are equally impermanent is a sad strategy for preserving a semblance of inner tranquility. Moreover, it’s far from obvious that equanimity should be the supreme response to nature’s monstrosity. A lobotomy could just as easily create inner peace. Indeed, Buddhism fails to contend with the possibility of nature’s heroic undoing of itself via human enlightenment.   

“Woe unto the world,” says the outsider. That is the outsider’s function, to be cast out and to report back from the fringes. How does the shiny, happy world appear from the outer darkness? Like a sinister joke. Few know they should be laughing, because few have an inkling of the ultimate question. The joke that’s on all of us is that irony rules over all things in the absence of any human-centered ideal. When we think we’re socially progressing, we’re adopting a self-destructive ideology (secular humanism) that enables us to perpetrate our greatest atrocities so that we come to embody nature’s inhumanity. Most of what we do in our artificial oases backfires, since we must compromise in adapting to the norms of civilization. The greater the population, the lower the cultural standards and this mass production of mediocrity saps the strength of the spiritual elite.  

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