The Consciousness Revolution

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By Graham Hancock

Source: Reality Sandwich

The following is excerpted from The Divine Spark: Psychedelics, Consciousness, and the Birth of Civilization, edited by Graham Hancock (Disinformation Books, April 2015).

Consciousness is one of the great mysteries of science—perhaps the greatest mystery. We all know we have it, when we think, when we dream, when we savor tastes and aromas, when we hear a great symphony, when we fall in love, and it is surely the most intimate, the most sapient, the most personal part of ourselves. Yet no one can really claim to have understood and explained it completely. There’s no doubt it’s associated with the brain in some way, but the nature of that association is far from clear. In particular, how do these three pounds of material stuff inside our skulls allow us to have experiences?

Professor David Chalmers of the Australian National University has dubbed this the “hard problem” of consciousness, but many scientists, partic­ularly those (still in the majority) who are philosophically inclined to believe that all phenomena can be reduced to material interactions, deny that any problem exists. To them, it seems self-evident that physical processes within the stuff of the brain produce consciousness rather in the way that a genera­tor produces electricity—i.e., consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” of brain activity. And they see it as equally obvious that there cannot be such things as conscious survival of death or out-of-body experiences since both con­sciousness and experience are confined to the brain and must die when the brain dies.

Yet other scientists with equally impressive credentials are not so sure and are increasingly willing to consider a very different analogy—namely that the relationship of consciousness to the brain may be less like the rela­tionship of the generator to the electricity it produces and more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set. In that case, when the TV set is destroyed—dead—the signal still continues. Nothing in the present state of knowledge of neuroscience rules this revolutionary possibility out. True, if you damage certain areas of the brain, certain areas of consciousness are compromised, but this does not prove that those areas of the brain generate the relevant areas of consciousness. If you were to damage certain areas of your TV set, the picture would deteriorate or vanish but the TV signal would remain intact.

We are, in other words, confronted by at least as much mystery as fact around the subject of consciousness, and this being the case, we should remember that what seems obvious and self-evident to one generation may not seem at all obvious or self-evident to the next. For hundreds of years, it was obvious and self-evident to the greatest human minds that the Sun moved around the Earth—one need only look to the sky, they said, to see the truth of this proposition. Indeed, those who maintained the revolutionary view that the Earth moved around the Sun faced the Inquisition and death by burning at the stake. Yet as it turned out, the revolutionaries were right and orthodoxy was terribly, ridiculously wrong.

The same may well prove to be true with the mystery of consciousness. Yes, it does seem obvious and self-evident that the brain produces it (the generator analogy), but this is a deduction from incomplete data and cat­egorically not yet an established and irrefutable fact. New discoveries may force materialist science to rescind this theory in favor of something more like the TV analogy in which the brain comes to be understood as a trans­ceiver rather than as a generator of consciousness and in which conscious­ness is recognized as fundamentally “nonlocal” in nature—perhaps even as one of the basic driving forces of the universe. At the very least, we should withhold judgment on this “hard problem” until more evidence is in and view with suspicion those who hold dogmatic and ideological views about the nature of consciousness.

It’s at this point that the whole seemingly academic issue becomes intensely political and current because modern technological society ideal­izes and is monopolistically focused on only one state of consciousness—the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness that makes us efficient pro­ducers and consumers of material goods and services. At the same time, our society seeks to police and control a wide range of other “altered” states of consciousness on the basis of the unproven proposition that consciousness is generated by the brain.

I refer here to the so-called “war on drugs” which is really better under­stood as a war on consciousness and which maintains, supposedly in the interests of society, that we as adults do not have the right or maturity to make sovereign decisions about our own consciousness and about the states of consciousness we wish to explore and embrace. This extraordinary impo­sition on adult cognitive liberty is justified by the idea that our brain activity, disturbed by drugs, will adversely impact our behavior toward others. Yet anyone who pauses to think seriously for even a moment must realize that we already have adequate laws that govern adverse behavior toward others and that the real purpose of the “war on drugs” must therefore be to bear down on consciousness itself.

Confirmation that this is so came from the last British Labour govern­ment. It declared that its drug policy would be based on scientific evidence, yet in 2009 it sacked Professor David Nutt, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, for stating the simple statistical fact that cannabis is less dangerous (in terms of measured “harms”) than tobacco and alcohol and that ecstasy is less dangerous than horse riding. Clearly what was at play here were ideological issues of great importance to the powers that be. And this is an ideology that sticks stubbornly in place regardless of changes in the complexion of the government of the day. The present Conservative-Liberal coalition remains just as adamant in its enforcement of the so-called war on drugs as its Labour predecessor and continues, in the name of this “war,” to pour public money—our money—into large, armed, drug-enforcement bureaucracies which are entitled to break down our doors at dead of night, invade our homes, ruin our reputations, and put us behind bars.

All of this, we have been persuaded, is in our own interests. Yet if we as adults are not free to make sovereign decisions—right or wrong—about our own consciousness, that most intimate, that most sapient, that most personal part of ourselves, then in what useful sense can we be said to be free at all? And how are we to begin to take real and meaningful responsibility for all the other aspects of our lives when our governments seek to disenfranchise us from this most fundamental of all human rights and responsibilities?

In this connection, it is interesting to note that our society has no objec­tion to altering consciousness per se. On the contrary, many consciousness-altering drugs, such as Prozac, Seroxat, Ritalin, and alcohol are either mas­sively overprescribed or freely available today, and they make huge fortunes for their manufacturers but remain entirely legal despite causing obvious harms. Could this be because such legal drugs do not alter consciousness in ways that threaten the monopolistic dominance of the alert problem-solving state of consciousness, while a good number of illegal drugs, such as canna­bis, LSD, DMT, and psilocybin, do?

There is a revolution in the making here, and what is at stake transcends the case for cognitive liberty as an essential and inalienable adult human right. If it turns out that the brain is not a generator but a transceiver of consciousness, then we must consider some little-known scientific research that points to a seemingly outlandish possibility, namely that a particular category of illegal drugs, the hallucinogens such as LSD, DMT, and psilo­cybin, may alter the receiver wavelength of the brain and allow us to gain contact with intelligent nonmaterial entities, “light beings,” “spirits,” “machine elves” (as Terence McKenna called them)—perhaps even the inhabitants of other dimensions. This possibility is regarded as plain fact by shamans in hunter-gatherer societies who for thousands of years made use of visionary plants and fungi to enter and interact with what they construed as the “spirit world.” Intriguingly, it was also specifically envisaged by Dr. Rick Strass­man, professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, following his groundbreaking research with human volunteers and DMT carried out in the 1990s—a project that produced findings with shattering implications for our understanding of the nature of reality. For further information on Strass­man’s revolutionary work, see his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule.

Posted in Drug War, culture, consciousness, society, Social Control, Science, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saturday Matinee: Mr. Freedom

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“Mr. Freedom” (1969) is a surreal polemic directed by William Klein skewering patriotism, imperialism and cold war scare-mongering by chronicling the idiotic exploits of an all-American superhero. What it lacks in plot and subtle acting it makes up for in audacious visuals and sadly still relevant yet deserving political jabs. The film is also notable for it’s soundtrack and cameo appearance by the great Serge Gainsbourg.

Posted in Art, culture, Empire, Film, Humor, Saturday Matinee, Video, war | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Battlefield America: The War on the American People

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By John W. Whitehead

Source: The Rutherford Institute

“A government which will turn its tanks upon its people, for any reason, is a government with a taste of blood and a thirst for power and must either be smartly rebuked, or blindly obeyed in deadly fear.”—John Salter

We have entered into a particularly dismal chapter in the American narrative, one that shifts us from a swashbuckling tale of adventure into a bone-chilling horror story.

As I document in my new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, “we the people” have now come full circle, from being held captive by the British police state to being held captive by the American police state. In between, we have charted a course from revolutionaries fighting for our independence and a free people establishing a new nation to pioneers and explorers, braving the wilderness and expanding into new territories.

Where we went wrong, however, was in allowing ourselves to become enthralled with and then held hostage by a military empire in bondage to a corporate state (the very definition of fascism). No longer would America hold the moral high ground as a champion of freedom and human rights. Instead, in the pursuit of profit, our overlords succumbed to greed, took pleasure in inflicting pain, exported torture, and imported the machinery of war, transforming the American landscape into a battlefield, complete with military personnel, tactics and weaponry.

To our dismay, we now find ourselves scrambling for a foothold as our once rock-solid constitutional foundation crumbles beneath us. And no longer can we rely on the president, Congress, the courts, or the police to protect us from wrongdoing.

Indeed, they have come to embody all that is wrong with America.

For instance, how does a man who is relatively healthy when taken into custody by police lapse into a coma and die while under their supervision? What kind of twisted logic allows a police officer to use a police car to run down an American citizen and justifies it in the name of permissible deadly force? And what country are we living in where the police can beat, shoot, choke, taser and tackle American citizens, all with the protection of the courts?

Certainly, the Constitution’s safeguards against police abuse means nothing when government agents can crash through your door, terrorize your children, shoot your dogs, and jail you on any number of trumped of charges, and you have little say in the matter. For instance, San Diego police, responding to a domestic disturbance call on a Sunday morning, showed up at the wrong address, only to shoot the homeowner’s 6-year-old service dog in the head.

Rubbing salt in the wound, it’s often the unlucky victim of excessive police force who ends up being charged with wrongdoing. Although 16-year-old Thai Gurule was charged with resisting arrest and strangling and assaulting police officers, a circuit judge found that it was actually the three officers who unlawfully stopped, tackled, punched, kneed, tasered and yanked his hair who were at fault. Thankfully, bystander cell phone videos undermined police accounts, which were described as “works of fiction.”

Not even our children are being spared the blowback from a growing police presence. As one juvenile court judge noted in testimony to Congress, although having police on public school campuses did not make the schools any safer, it did result in large numbers of students being arrested for misdemeanors such as school fights and disorderly conduct. One 11-year-old autistic Virginia student was charged with disorderly conduct and felony assault after kicking a trashcan and resisting a police officer’s attempt to handcuff him. A 14-year-old student was tasered by police, suspended and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and trespassing after he failed to obey a teacher’s order to be the last student to exit the classroom.

There is no end to the government’s unmitigated gall in riding roughshod over the rights of the citizenry, whether in matters of excessive police powers, militarized police, domestic training drills, SWAT team raids, surveillance, property rights, overcriminalization, roadside strip searches, profit-driven fines and prison sentences, etc.

The president can now direct the military to detain, arrest and secretly execute American citizens. These are the powers of an imperial dictator, not an elected official bound by the rule of law. For the time being, Barack Obama wears the executioner’s robe, but you can rest assured that this mantle will be worn by whomever occupies the Oval Office in the future.

A representative government means nothing when the average citizen has little to no access to their elected officials, while corporate lobbyists enjoy a revolving door relationship with everyone from the President on down. Indeed, while members of Congress hardly work for the taxpayer, they work hard at being wooed by corporations, which spend more to lobby our elected representatives than we spend on their collective salaries. For that matter, getting elected is no longer the high point it used to be. As one congressman noted, for many elected officials, “Congress is no longer a destination but a journey… [to a] more lucrative job as a K Street lobbyist… It’s become routine to see members of Congress drop their seat in Congress like a hot rock when a particularly lush vacancy opens up.”

As for the courts, they have long since ceased being courts of justice. Instead, they have become courts of order, largely marching in lockstep with the government’s dictates, all the while helping to increase the largesse of government coffers. It’s called for-profit justice, and it runs the gamut of all manner of financial incentives in which the courts become cash cows for communities looking to make an extra buck. As journalist Chris Albin-Lackey details, “They deploy a crushing array of fines, court costs, and other fees to harvest revenues from minor offenders that these communities cannot or do not want to raise through taxation.” In this way, says Albin-Lackey, “A resident of Montgomery, Alabama who commits a simple noise violation faces only a $20 fine—but also a whopping $257 in court costs and user fees should they seek to have their day in court.”

As for the rest—the schools, the churches, private businesses, service providers, nonprofits and your fellow citizens—many are also marching in lockstep with the police state. This is what is commonly referred to as community policing. After all, the police can’t be everywhere. So how do you police a nation when your population outnumbers your army of soldiers? How do you carry out surveillance on a nation when there aren’t enough cameras, let alone viewers, to monitor every square inch of the country 24/7? How do you not only track but analyze the transactions, interactions and movements of every person within the United States? The answer is simpler than it seems: You persuade the citizenry to be your eyes and ears.

It’s a brilliant ploy, with the added bonus that while the citizenry remains focused on and distrustful of each other, they’re incapable of focusing on more definable threats that fall closer to home—namely, the government and its militarized police. In this way, we’re seeing a rise in the incidence of Americans being reported for growing vegetables in their front yard, keeping chickens in their back yard, letting their kids walk to the playground alone, and voicing anti-government sentiments. For example, after Shona Banda’s son defended the use of medical marijuana during a presentation at school, school officials alerted the police and social services, and the 11-year-old was interrogated, taken into custody by social workers, had his home raided by police and his mother arrested.

Now it may be that we have nothing to worry about. Perhaps the government really does have our best interests at heart. Perhaps covert domestic military training drills such as Jade Helm really are just benign exercises to make sure our military is prepared for any contingency. As the Washington Post describes the operation:

The mission is vast both geographically and strategically: Elite service members from all four branches of the U.S. military will launch an operation this summer in which they will operate covertly among the U.S. public and travel from state to state in military aircraft. Texas, Utah and a section of southern California are labeled as hostile territory, and New Mexico isn’t much friendlier.

Now I don’t believe in worrying over nothing, but it’s safe to say that the government has not exactly shown itself to be friendly in recent years, nor have its agents shown themselves to be cognizant of the fact that they are civilians who answer to the citizenry, rather than the other way around.

Whether or not the government plans to impose some form of martial law in the future remains to be seen, but there can be no denying that we’re being accustomed to life in a military state. The malls may be open for business, the baseball stadiums may be packed, and the news anchors may be twittering nonsense about the latest celebrity foofa, but those are just distractions from what is really taking place: the transformation of America into a war zone.

Trust me, if it looks like a battlefield (armored tanks on the streets, militarized police in metro stations, surveillance cameras everywhere), sounds like a battlefield (SWAT team raids nightly, sound cannons to break up large assemblies of citizens), and acts like a battlefield (police shooting first and asking questions later, intimidation tactics, and involuntary detentions), it’s a battlefield.

Indeed, what happened in Ocala, Florida, is a good metaphor for what’s happening across the country: Sheriff’s deputies, dressed in special ops uniforms and riding in an armored tank on a public road, pulled a 23-year-old man over and issued a warning violation to him after he gave them the finger. The man, Lucas Jewell, defended his actions as a free speech expression of his distaste for militarized police.

Translation: “We the people” are being hijacked on the highway by government agents with little knowledge of or regard for the Constitution, who are hyped up on the power of their badge, outfitted for war, eager for combat, and taking a joy ride—on taxpayer time and money—in a military tank that has no business being on American soil.

Rest assured, unless we slam on the brakes, this runaway tank will soon be charting a new course through terrain that bears no resemblance to land of our forefathers, where freedom meant more than just the freedom to exist and consume what the corporate powers dish out.

Rod Serling, one of my longtime heroes and the creator of The Twilight Zone, understood all too well the danger of turning a blind eye to evil in our midst, the “things that scream for a response.” As Serling warned, “if we don’t listen to that scream – and if we don’t respond to it – we may well wind up sitting amidst our own rubble, looking for the truck that hit us – or the bomb that pulverized us. Get the license number of whatever it was that destroyed the dream. And I think we will find that the vehicle was registered in our own name.”

If you haven’t managed to read the writing on the wall yet, the war has begun.

Posted in civil liberties, conditioning, culture, Empire, History, Law, police state, Social Control, society, State Crime, war, war on terror | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Way to Go Vladimir

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Putin Gobsmacks Uncle Sam … Again

By Mike Whitney

Source: Information Clearing House

Here’s the scoop: Two days before the swaggering Sec-Def touched down in Germany, Gazprom announced that it was putting the finishing touches on a massive deal that would double the amount of Russian gas flowing to Germany via a second Nord Stream pipeline. The shocking announcement made it look like the clueless Carter had no idea what was going on and that his efforts to isolate Russia were a complete flop. And, make no mistake; the deal is huge, big enough to change the geopolitical calculus of the entire region. Robert Morley explains what’s going on in a recent article at The Trumpet:

“Once this pipeline is finished, almost all of Eastern Europe can be completely cut out of the gas picture. There will be no need for any gas to transit through Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Belarus, Hungary or Slovakia.” (Gazprom’s Dangerous New Nord Stream Gas Pipeline to Germany, The Trumpet)

Yep, Ukraine is out and Germany’s in, which means that Washington’s plan to extend US hegemony by driving a wedge between Russia and Europe is down the plughole.

Judo expert Putin has done it again; he waited until the eleventh hour to pull the rug out from under the blustery Carter, and now he’s sitting back enjoying the show. Is it any wonder why Carter’s been running around Europe with his hair on fire? Here’s more from the same article:

“Think of the huge leverage this will give Russia…..Germany may not have much in the way of natural resources of its own, but with Russia’s help, it is becoming an energy hub of Europe! Increasing quantities of Russian gas are flowing through Germany before being distributed to countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Britain. In this way Germany leverages the power of Russia. Western Europe also is becoming dependent on Germany for gas supplies too…

Don’t let the current conflict in Ukraine cloud what is happening. Germany and Russia have a history of secret cooperation—even when headline conflict appears to indicate otherwise. That Germany and Russia would push through such a deal when the West is supposedly sanctioning Russia for its actions in Ukraine speaks volumes.” (“Gazprom’s Dangerous New Nord Stream Gas Pipeline to Germany”, The Trumpet)

Talk about sour grapes! The author would like you believe that US motives in Europe are pure as the driven snow, but are they? Is Washington really afraid of Russian aggression or are they trying desperately to keep the unipolar model intact by separating Germany and Russia? Isn’t that what the sanctions are all about? STRATFOR CEO George Friedman summed up it up perfectly in a recent speech he gave at The Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs. He said:

“The primordial interest of the United States, over which for centuries we have fought wars–the First, the Second and Cold Wars–has been the relationship between Germany and Russia, because united there, they’re the only force that could threaten us. And to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Bingo. This is Washington’s strategy in a nutshell, preventing German industry from linking up with Russia’s vast natural resources. That’s the lethal combo that will lead to an integrated Eurasian free trade zone that will dwarf US GDP and put an end to the empire. So don’t believe the baloney about “Russian aggression”. What Washington really cares about is an economic rival that could leave it in the dust. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen when Germany becomes Moscow’s biggest gas station.

Naturally, the Gazprom news left Carter in a bit of a crabby mood, which may explain why he’s been dragging himself from one Capital to the next issuing terse warnings to Putin while promising NATO more weapons, more troops, more joint-maneuvers, and more missiles. And for what? To stop the Cossacks from sweeping across the Steppe and into Baltics? Be serious. Putin’s not going to invade Europe. He wants their business, that’s all. Like we’ve been saying from the beginning; Putin just wants to makes some dough. He wants to pull his economy out of recession, and, yes, beef up Gazprom’s profits. Is there a problem with that?

Nope. In fact, that’s the way the US used to do things, y’know, before they decided it was easier to just blow up stuff and steal whatever they could.

But all this whining about Putin is ridiculous, don’t you think? So he sells gas to Europe. So what? Get over it. No one likes a whiner.

The US did everything in its power to sabotage South Stream, and they succeeded too. Score one for Team USA. But did they really think it would end there? Did they really think that that Putin would just fold his tent and go home for a good cry? Did they really think he was going to walk away from his biggest trading partner and move on to China?

Of course not. Any fool could have seen this coming, so why was the Pentagon caught flatfooted? Don’t they have anyone on the payroll who can figure out stuff like this or are they too busy with their damn wargames? And why is Carter talking about tanks and missiles systems when US trade reps should be looking for ways to cut a deal? Isn’t that the way capitalism is supposed to work or has the US degenerated to the point where it has to incinerate anyone it can’t compete with? It’s pathetic! Here’s a clip from Carter in Europe:

“One of [Putin’s] stated views is a longing for the past and that’s where we have a different perspective on the world and even on Russia’s future, Carter said. “We’d like to see us all moving forward, Europe moving forward, and that does not seem to be his stated perspective.”

C’mon, Carter. Can’t you just man-up and admit the US can’t compete anymore so you’ve decided to start a war instead. Is that so hard to say?

Of course Carter has made every effort to sweep the Gazprom story under the rug and pretend that nothing has happened, but anyone who follows these things can figure it out. The fact is, he got his clock-cleaned by Putin, and not just once either. There was another bombshell on Wednesday that just added a little icing to the cake. Check this out from Oil Price.com:

“Russia’s state-run gas company Gazprom says it has taken a step toward building the Turkish Stream pipeline by securing permission from Ankara to begin surveying waters of the Black Sea for the offshore leg of the project…..Alexander Novak, Russia’s energy minister, says he expects Ankara and Moscow will sign an agreement to build Turkish Stream by the end of June.” (Controversial Gazprom Pipeline Clears Hurdle, Oil Price)

That’s what you call the double whammy! Now Putin’s going to be pumping gas into Europe from both directions leaving Uncle Sam out in the cold. Can you feel those Russian pincers starting to tighten around Europe? Now you can understand why Carter’s been running around Europe with his knickers in a twist; it’s because his glorious divide and conquer strategy just exploded in his face. His only option now is to scrap Plan A altogether and go back to drawing board. What a freaking disaster.

There’s another story that broke during Carter’s euro-junket that’s also worth mentioning. This is from Bloomberg:

“Ukraine will miss a bond coupon payment in July, setting off a default on about $19 billion of debt, as a standoff with creditors shows no sign of abating, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc…

Ukraine is giving creditors a few weeks to accept a proposal that includes a 40 percent writedown to principal before it imposes a debt moratorium, a person familiar with the talks said on June 19.

“Ukraine will not make the July 24 coupon payment and, as a result, will enter into default at that point,” Matheny said of his base-case scenario in the report. “We do not expect the ad hoc committee to accept Ukraine’s latest restructuring proposal.” (Goldman Sees Ukraine Default in July as Debt Standoff Holds, Bloomberg)

Ukraine is busted, are you kidding me? The country that was so critical to US plans for luring Putin into a Vietnam-type quagmire, is headed for bankruptcy? So all that work was for nothing–toppling the government, arming the Nazis, fomenting a civil war, incinerating buildings full of civilians in Odessa, shooting down commercial airliners, and plunging the state into Somalia-like chaotic abyss? It was all just a big miscalculation, a boo-boo; is that it?

Can you see why the United States can’t be trusted as “the guarantor of global security”? Washington destroys everything it touches with its wrecking ball foreign policy; Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria. Now it’s destroyed Ukraine. Who’ll be next?

Putin has done us all a favor by throwing a wrench in Washington’s plans and helping to bring the era of imperial overreach to a swift and merciful end. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Way to go, Vladimir.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

Posted in culture, Empire, Energy, Financial Crisis, Geopolitics, History, society, State Crime, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Movie Every Screwed Millennial Should Watch

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By Arthur Chu

Source: Alternet

Jennifer Phang’s indie science fiction film “Advantageous,” a darling of 2015’s Sundance, came to Netflix Instant Streaming earlier this week. If you’re a millennial, you have Netflix. If you’re an un- or underemployed millennial, you have time. Every un- or underemployed millennial needs to see this movie.

We live in a renaissance of science fiction film and TV and “geek” culture in general — the accelerating pace of technological change thanks to Moore’s Law makes it hard to deny we’re living in “the future,” we’re all part-machine-part-human for practical purposes now, no one can guess what element of science fiction is next to become science fact, blah blah blah.

You’ve heard that song and dance before. They use it to sell everything from splashy popcorn blockbusters with robot villains to artsy thinky indie dramas with robot antiheroes.

But “Advantageous” is the first science fiction film I’ve seen that really grasps something I think is core to the experience of us young people who are on the bleeding edge of the troubling trend of Machines Taking Our Jobs Away.

And the core theme of the film that makes it so important is also the one that I worry will scare a lot of its audience away. Because this is a science fiction film but not an action film — there’s no violence, no gunplay. There’s no heroes or villains, precious little of good-vs-evil conflict. There’s no pulsing electronic backbeat and even though there’s smartphones and holograms, there’s not that much visible technology, no one tapping madly at keyboards while incomprehensible lines of green text scroll down the monitor.

Which makes sense, actually. These are all things we imagined would happen in “the future” of the 2010s back in the 1980s. The fears that defined the genre we call “cyberpunk” that set the tone for dark, dystopian futures for a generation were 1980s fears — fears of street gang violence, fears of nuclear war, fears of the drug trade. An adult in the 1980s, imagining a member of my generation, imagined someone doing designer drugs at raves, casually gunning people down in the street and hacking into the mainframe to trick China into launching their ICBMs.

We don’t do a lot of that. In fact, the least fortunate of our Lost Generation of millennials don’t do a lot of anything.

What “Advantageous” is that other science fiction films aren’t is quiet.

That’s my experience of being an unemployed millennial in the 2000s. Long stretches of unnerving silence. Being one of a handful of unlucky young people walking aimlessly around in the middle of the day when civilized people are at work. Failing to make eye contact with each other or speak because we’ve forgotten how to have in-person conversations. Turning to social media or aimless Web surfing to fill the long stretches of emptiness, of boredom.

I’ve joked, darkly, that the worst thing about being unemployed isn’t not having any money but not having anything to do.

And to a large extent that’s what “Advantageous” is about. Yes, the eerily empty streets our characters walk through might be a result of the film’s limited budget — but it also makes sense within the film’s setting. All the buildings are empty; all the stores are closed. Homeless people wander the parks and sleep in the bushes and stare numbly into the distance. (At one point the characters try to walk into a restaurant only to find that it’s been boarded up and the owner, sitting inside, ignores them. They treat this as a normal, everyday occurrence.)

We’re told that the world is in the grip of a tech-driven economic recession. There’s no jobs for anyone — anything the small elite of wealthy customers need done, they can get a machine to do for them better than any human can. Our protagonist, Gwen, is a spokesmodel for a cosmetics — essentially an eye-candy job.

Even though she mentions having gone to grad school and hoping to go into teaching, there’s no jobs out there for teachers now that people can get any information they want from machines. The only job out there for a flesh-and-blood human who’s not already rich is a job that involves looking pretty and smiling at rich people to try to sway their opinions, and it’s a job she’s lucky to get and devastated to lose.

(Every college-educated millennial who’s ended up taking a position in sales because it was the only thing on offer ought to be feeling a familiar twinge right now.)

The film gets a lot of mileage out of taking all-too-familiar scenes from the 2009 recession and exaggerating them just enough to make them fully dystopian. Anyone who’s dealt with the infuriating process of being forced to apply for jobs through poorly-designed automated Web forms will feel Gwen’s pain as she argues with a recruiter telling her her résumé has been “red flagged” and she slowly realizes, as the recruiter’s voice on the phone devolves into ELIZA-like nonsense responses, that she can’t get a job because she’s talking to a poorly-programmed machine that’s taken someone else’s job.

Anyone who’s felt the intense pressure of the college-application arms race will sigh at Gwen’s daughter, Jules — who appears to be 11 or 12 but talks, reads and writes at the college level — calmly telling her mother about a journal article she read describing how her generation’s high-pressure lifestyle means she’s likely to become infertile by her 20s.

Jules needs a $10,000 deposit to get into an exclusive summer camp in order to get into an exclusive prep school. Without those credentials, she’s unlikely to get a job — any job — at all. Her genius-level abilities are barely enough to get her foot in the door, and without connections and credentials and money, she’ll never be able to walk through it.

It sounds like an exaggeration, if you personally haven’t witnessed a Facebook feed filled with top-ranked students from top-ranked schools with thousands of dollars of student loan debt clawing and trampling each other to get minimum-wage call center work.

And Gwen’s response to the impossible situation of trying to secure a future for her daughter when she doesn’t even have an income anymore isn’t to pick up a gun and start shooting anyone. The long scenes of her sitting in brooding silence while racking her brains for a solution are, in fact, punctuated by explosions going off in the far distance, part of a hopeless war against the government by unnamed “rebel forces” — but those explosions are oddly silent, oddly peaceful, and they never feel completely real.

It feels like the warlike shouting and chanting from Zuccotti Park that most of us sat at home and watched on TV — a revolution I now feel happened mainly because our generation felt the essential frustration, the essential wrongness of the actual soundtrack of the recession, an eerie passive silence, and some of us tried to force some noise into the silence just to fill it up.

But it didn’t work, because there was no victory condition, no enemy to defeat, no Death Star to blow up. In retrospect the protests feel as futile as the quiet clouds of smoke in the “Advantageous” skyline. You can’t blow up an entire world, an entire economic system; you can’t beg it for mercy or shout moral imprecations at it either. Break things, throw things, scream things — at the end of the day you still don’t have a job.

I think on some level we’ve always understood this. I think on some level we’re silent because the damage done to us was done through silence — no one beat us up or assaulted us or stole anything from us. All that happened was the phone didn’t ring, the email never came, the poorly designed Web form spat out an automated “You will be contacted shortly” that was a lie.

“Advantageous” is a quiet film, and a pretty one. The city Gwen and Jules’ cramped apartment exists in is gorgeous and clean. When we do hear music, it’s not pulsing techno or anarchic punk but a street musician plying his trade, playing beautiful classical pieces on the violin — perhaps he got a degree from Juilliard only to end up as destitute as Gwen.

The gritty slums of the cyberpunk milieu purported to be about a world where technology was grinding down humanity but what they really showed was a world where humans could still strike back at things — could graffiti the walls, shatter the windows, shoot pockmarks into billboards, and the property owners couldn’t keep up with the damage. Vandalism is, at the very least, a sign of human activity — a sign that someone out there is still doing something.

The eerie Disney cleanness of Gwen’s city’s streets — the way the damage caused by the rebel bombings causes no one any concern and is seemingly fully repaired overnight — is a sign of a world where the things have won and the people have given up.

That, for me, was the worst thing about the recession — seeing shiny storefronts and clean-swept streets and all the trappings of a thriving economy — but none of us participating in it. The recovery from our recession was a so-called “jobless recovery” — still plenty of stuff being made, still plenty of money, in the hands of increasingly few people, to buy things with. The economy of things is doing fine, and always has been. It’s only the economy of people that collapsed.

The anger that comes from feeling oppressed, exploited, used — that’s one thing. The weary, quiet frustration from feeling ignored, forgotten, useless — that’s something different.

There are other themes in “Advantageous.” It’s mentioned that women have borne the brunt of this recession because, a suited executive bluntly tells Gwen, people fear the social disruptions frustrated men might cause more than they fear frustrated women —something that rings eerily true in the past few years, where a handful of men who feel left behind by the modern world are increasingly willing to channel their grievances into extremist ideologies and trying to puncture our generation’s silence with escalating acts of violence.

Gwen, a highly intelligent woman who’s been reduced to making a living solely off her looks, is being replaced by her employer because they want a younger and more “universal” look for their brand. Gwen is portrayed by Jacqueline Kim, an Asian-American actress who turned 50 this year and who co-wrote the script for “Advantageous” — it’s hard not to see this plot point as reflecting Kim’s real career.

And then there’s the climactic decision Gwen must make, whether to take advantage of a “cosmetic procedure” that involves uploading her mind into a more youthful, racially-ambiguous body. While it’s far from a unique conceit, in the context of this film the idea of reducing people, especially women, into commodities, where technology makes our identity mutable and economics makes it negotiable, takes on extra resonance.

We live in a world where cheap and plentiful technology has made us cheap — the market for human labor is glutted. There’s too many of us out there, we’re too easily replaceable, almost none of us are specifically needed for anything. As a result, just to survive — just to avoid being irrelevant — we give away more of ourselves than we have in generations, selling our timeour privacyour rights just for a chance not to be left behind.

How much further will it go, “Advantageous” asks. How much less needed can people get, as the things get smarter and shinier and more efficient? How much more will you have to give away, if they ask you to — your body? Your mind? Your soul?

The film doesn’t give any easy answers. But that’s the question we all need to be asking.

Arthur Chu is an actor, comedian and blogger.

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Two for Tuesday

L7

Body Count

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America’s Mania for Positive Thinking and Denial of Reality Will Be Our Downfall

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The ridiculous positivism, the belief that we are headed toward some glorious future, defies reality.

By Chris Hedges

Source: Alternet

The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.

The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right. It is a mania that obscures reality even as global capitalism disintegrates and the ecosystem unravels, potentially dooming us all.

The 19th century theorist Louis-Auguste Blanqui, unlike nearly all of his contemporaries, dismissed the belief, central to Karl Marx, that human history is a linear progression toward equality and greater morality. He warned that this absurd positivism is the lie perpetrated by oppressors: “All atrocities of the victor, the long series of his attacks are coldly transformed into constant, inevitable evolution, like that of nature. … But the sequence of human things is not inevitable like that of the universe. It can be changed at any moment.” He foresaw that scientific and technological advancement, rather than being a harbinger of progress, could be “a terrible weapon in the hands of Capital against Work and Thought.” And in a day when few others did so, he decried the despoiling of the natural world. “The axe fells, nobody replants. There is no concern for the future’s ill health.”

“Humanity,” Blanqui wrote, “is never stationary. It advances or goes backwards. Its progressive march leads it to equality. Its regressive march goes back through every stage of privilege to human slavery, the final word of the right to property.” Further, he wrote, “I am not amongst those who claim that progress can be taken for granted, that humanity cannot go backwards.”

Blanqui understood that history has long periods of cultural barrenness and brutal repression. The fall of the Roman Empire, for example, led to misery throughout Europe during the Dark Ages, roughly from the sixth through the 13th centuries. There was a loss of technical knowledge (one prominent example being how to build and maintain aqueducts), and a cultural and intellectual impoverishment led to a vast historical amnesia that blotted out the greatest thinkers and artists of the classical world. None of this loss was regained until the 14th century when Europe saw the beginning of the Renaissance, a development made possible largely by the cultural flourishing of Islam, which through translating Aristotle into Arabic and other intellectual accomplishments kept alive the knowledge and wisdom of the past. The Dark Ages were marked by arbitrary rule, incessant wars, insecurity, anarchy and terror. And I see nothing to prevent the rise of a new Dark Age if we do not abolish the corporate state. Indeed, the longer the corporate state holds power the more likely a new Dark Age becomes. To trust in some mythical force called progress to save us is to become passive before corporate power. The people alone can defy these forces. And fate and history do not ensure our victory.

Blanqui tasted history’s tragic reverses. He took part in a series of French revolts, including an attempted armed insurrection in May 1839, the 1848 uprising and the Paris Commune—a socialist uprising that controlled France’s capital from March 18 until May 28 in 1871. Workers in cities such as Marseilles and Lyon attempted but failed to organize similar communes before the Paris Commune was militarily crushed.

The blundering history of the human race is always given coherence by power elites and their courtiers in the press and academia who endow it with a meaning and coherence it lacks. They need to manufacture national myths to hide the greed, violence and stupidity that characterize the march of most human societies. For the United States, refusal to confront the crisis of climate change and our endless and costly wars in the Middle East are but two examples of the follies that propel us toward catastrophe.

Wisdom is not knowledge. Knowledge deals with the particular and the actual. Knowledge is the domain of science and technology. Wisdom is about transcendence. Wisdom allows us to see and accept reality, no matter how bleak that reality may be. It is only through wisdom that we are able to cope with the messiness and absurdity of life. Wisdom is about detachment. Once wisdom is achieved, the idea of moral progress is obliterated. Wisdom throughout the ages is a constant. Did Shakespeare supersede Sophocles? Is Homer inferior to Dante? Does the Book of Ecclesiastes not have the same deep powers of observation about life that Samuel Beckett offers? Systems of power fear and seek to silence those who achieve wisdom, which is what the war by corporate forces against the humanities and art is about. Wisdom, because it sees through the facade, is a threat to power. It exposes the lies and ideologies that power uses to maintain its privilege and its warped ideology of progress.

Knowledge does not lead to wisdom. Knowledge is more often a tool for repression. Knowledge, through the careful selection and manipulation of facts, gives a false unity to reality. It creates a fictitious collective memory and narrative. It manufactures abstract concepts of honor, glory, heroism, duty and destiny that buttress the power of the state, feed the disease of nationalism and call for blind obedience in the name of patriotism. It allows human beings to explain the advances and reverses in human achievement and morality, as well as the process of birth and decay in the natural world, as parts of a vast movement forward in time. The collective enthusiasm for manufactured national and personal narratives, which is a form of self-exaltation, blots out reality. The myths we create that foster a fictitious hope and false sense of superiority are celebrations of ourselves. They mock wisdom. And they keep us passive.

Wisdom connects us with forces that cannot be measured empirically and that are outside the confines of the rational world. To be wise is to pay homage to beauty, truth, grief, the brevity of life, our own mortality, love and the absurdity and mystery of existence. It is, in short, to honor the sacred. Those who remain trapped in the dogmas perpetuated by technology and knowledge, who believe in the inevitability of human progress, are idiot savants.

“Self-awareness is as much a disability as a power,” the philosopher John Gray writes. “The most accomplished pianist is not the one who is most aware of her movements when she plays. The best craftsman may not know how he works. Very often we are at our most skillful when we are least self-aware. That may be why many cultures have sought to disrupt or diminish self-conscious awareness. In Japan, archers are taught that they will hit the target only when they no longer think of it—or themselves.”

Artists and philosophers, who expose the mercurial undercurrents of the subconscious, allow us to face an unvarnished truth. Works of art and philosophy informed by the intuitive, unarticulated meanderings of the human psyche transcend those constructed by the plodding conscious mind. The freeing potency of visceral memories does not arrive through the intellect. These memories are impervious to rational control. And they alone lead to wisdom.

Those with power have always manipulated reality and created ideologies defined as progress to justify systems of exploitation. Monarchs and religious authorities did this in the Middle Ages. Today this is done by the high priests of modernity—the technocrats, scholars, scientists, politicians, journalists and economists. They deform reality. They foster the myth of preordained inevitability and pure rationality. But such knowledge—which dominates our universities—is anti-thought. It precludes all alternatives. It is used to end discussion. It is designed to give to the forces of science or the free market or globalization a veneer of rational discourse, to persuade us to place our faith in these forces and trust our fate to them. These forces, the experts assure us, are as unalterable as nature. They will lead us forward. To question them is heresy.

The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, in his 1942 novella “Chess Story,” chronicles the arcane specializations that have created technocrats unable to question the systems they serve, as well as a society that foolishly reveres them. Mirko Czentovic, the world chess champion, represents the technocrat. His mental energy is invested solely in the 64 squares of the chessboard. Apart from the game, he is a dolt, a monomaniac like all monomaniacs, who “burrow like termites into their own particular material to construct, in miniature, a strange and utterly individual image of the world.” When Czentovic “senses an educated person he crawls into his shell. That way no one will ever be able to boast of having heard him say something stupid or of having plumbed the depths of his seemingly boundless ignorance.”

An Austrian lawyer known as Dr. B, whom the Gestapo had held for many months in solitary confinement, challenges Czentovic to a game of chess. During his confinement, the lawyer’s only reading material was a chess manual, which he memorized. He reconstructed games in his head. Forced by his captivity to replicate the single-minded obsession of the technocrat Czentovic, Dr. B too became trapped inside a specialized world, and, unlike Czentovic, he became insane temporarily as he focused on a tiny, specialized piece of human activity. When he challenges the chess champion, his insanity returns.

Zweig, who mourned for the broad liberal culture of educated Europe swallowed up by fascism and modern bureaucracy, warns of the absurdity and danger of a planet run by technocrats. For him, the rise of the Industrial Age and the industrial man and woman is a terrifying metamorphosis in the relationship of human beings to the world. As specialists and bureaucrats, human beings become tools, able to make systems of exploitation and even terror function efficiently without the slightest sense of personal responsibility or understanding. They retreat into the arcane language of all specialists, to mask what they are doing and give to their work a sanitized, clinical veneer.

This is Hannah Arendt’s central point in “Eichmann in Jerusalem.” Technocratic human beings are spiritually dead. They are capable of anything, no matter how heinous, because they do not reflect upon or question the ultimate goal. “The longer one listened to him,” Arendt writes of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann on trial, “the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and presence of others, and hence against reality as such.”

Zweig, horrified by a world run by technocrats, committed suicide with his wife in 1942. He knew that from then on, the Czentovics would be exalted in the service of state and corporate monstrosities.

Resistance, as Alexander Berkman points out, is first about learning to speak differently and abandoning the vocabulary of the “rational” technocrats who rule. Once we discover new words and ideas through which to perceive and explain reality, we free ourselves from neoliberal capitalism, which functions, as Walter Benjamin knew, like a state religion. Resistance will take place outside the boundaries of popular culture and academia, where the deadening weight of the dominant ideology curtails creativity and independent thought.

As global capitalism disintegrates, the heresy our corporate masters fear is gaining currency. But that heresy will not be effective until it is divorced from the mania for hope that is an essential part of corporate indoctrination. The ridiculous positivism, the belief that we are headed toward some glorious future, defies reality. Hope, in this sense, is a form of disempowerment.

There is nothing inevitable about human existence except birth and death. There are no forces, whether divine or technical, that will guarantee us a better future. When we give up false hopes, when we see human nature and history for what they are, when we accept that progress is not preordained, then we can act with an urgency and passion that comprehends the grim possibilities ahead.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, writes a regular column for Truthdig every Monday. Hedges’ most recent book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”

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Freedom Rider: U.S. Pushes Russia Towards War

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By Margaret Kimberly

Source: Black Agenda Report

The United States has intervened in too many countries without paying a high enough price.”

This columnist recently said that “Russia Wins” in its handling of America’s attempt to eviscerate its influence and its economy. At the time those words were written Secretary of State John Kerry met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia. The meeting appeared to be an admission that the imperial power grab was not working out as Washington hoped. Among other things, Kerry was concerned that the Ukrainian tail was starting to wag the American dog.

In a public statement he warned Ukrainian president Poroshenko, who threatened to retake Crimea and the Donbass. “We would strongly urge him to think twice not to engage in that kind of activity, that that would put Minsk [accords] in serious jeopardy. And we would be very, very concerned about what the consequences of that kind of action at this time may be.” Barack Obama promptly tossed Kerry under the bus upon his return home.

Kerry’s subordinate Victoria Nuland and the United Nations ambassador Samantha Power repeated the very words that Kerry warned against and contradicted everything he said. Power went to Kiev to sing the praises of the Ukrainians in person. She didn’t have to mention Kerry by name, her presence alone said that he and any talk of diplomacy were on the outs. Of course the meeting between Kerry and Putin had to have been approved by president Obama, but just one month later it appears to have been a figment of the world’s imagination.

Russia has every right to arm its own territory.”

In the battle to stay on top of the world and remain in control of it, Washington inevitably lurches back and forth in its policy decision making. Now they and their scribes in corporate media have settled back into comfortable territory, simultaneously vilifying the Russian government and endlessly repeating anti-Russian propaganda.

A recent New York Times editorial with the grandiose title, “The Fantasy Mr. Putin is Selling,” claimed that president Putin has a “willingness to brandish nuclear weapons.” There was no mention of America’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2002. Not content to tell one lie the Times then criticized Putin for “aggressive behavior, including pouring troops and weapons into Kaliningrad, a Russian city located between NATO members Lithuania and Poland.” Of course, Russia has every right to arm its own territory. The Times also neglected to mention that the American military are positioning weapons and holding training exercises in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and the Baltic states that border Russia. It seems that those provocations are not deemed worthy of mention.

The New York Times and its counterparts always play this role. They cozy up to president Obama as they have with all his predecessors and support any and all of their mischief. Far from being a voice of information for the public, they do the bidding of the powerful and are accessories to their crimes.

Antagonizing Russia is riskier than paying jihadists to take over Libya.”

The Obama administration is in the process of killing the Minsk accords which were shepherded by France and Germany. This is the only process which can defang the beast, and that is why it is being sabotaged. The United States has intervened in too many countries without paying a high enough price. It is like a serial criminal who remains at large and thus thinks of himself as invincible. This county is responsible for carnage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria and that is the list of victims only since 2001.

One has to ask where and when the straw will break the camel’s back. American military power has allowed it to run rough shod over humanity, but antagonizing Russia is riskier than paying jihadists to take over Libya.

Not only does the United States have the most and the biggest guns but it has the corporate media at its disposal, parroting every word as if they were gospel truth. Americans who think of themselves as well informed will be in for a shock if Moldova turns out to be the flash point for open warfare that was instigated by their government.

Russia will never be beholden to America.”

Everyone knows that an assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 pushed the world into war. In 2015 the signs are ominous that something terrible may happen because of an incident in Transnistria or Donetsk or some other locale Americans know nothing about.

The process of marginalizing Russia began as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed. While the Warsaw Pact disbanded, NATO grew at Russia’s expense. But Russia will never be beholden to America. There is no puppet they can place in the Kremlin. These fantasies have put the world on the brink.

Obama and his friends in NATO may not want to start a war but they may get one all the same. Of course the president is concerned about his legacy. He ought to be. If he continues as he has done since 2009, his legacy may be that he was head inmate in the asylum when the last war began.

 

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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