Short of flooding the gene pool with other psychopaths like myself, we as a race must learn to turn off our empathy. We must create inertia by refusing to put ourselves in the same shoes that everyone else is trying simultaneously to fit in.
So I’m standing outside a bar in downtown San Francisco waiting for a friend. A man is standing there, too. He’s white, turns out he’s 39, dons a Giants baseball cap. He starts talking to me, asking if I live upstairs which, I learn, is a shelter for veterans. (I don’t.) We’re making very small talk — this shelter is recently renovated, it’s very clean, mostly occupied by Vietnam vets who are, in his words, docile. Fair enough.
And then he asks if I know what’s happening September 23 — the Day of Atonement. You know, when the skies will open and the rivers will run red. He then continues on about how the Navy is microwaving the ocean and keeping rain from California and how the Colorado River is already running red.
What’s interesting is that he doesn’t ask me as if he knows something I don’t; he asks me as if he assumes I already know. Which is exactly how people in San Francisco will speak to me about, say, George Bush or Donald Trump — as if I know what they’re talking about. Which I don’t. Because I never, ever read a newspaper or watch any news. Everything I “know” about public discourse comes form my Facebook and Twitter feeds. And I skip the posts about Democrats and Republicans because, well, it’s just all the same old nonsense — as Burroughs says, it’s the red cape of the matador, making us charge at nothing while the sword is wielded from above.
There is, I realized, no real difference between what this guy is talking about — days of atonement, microwaving oceans — and what all the more gentile, middle class whines on about — Republicans and such. It’s all just stories, stories framed and repeated by various media sources. This vet — he’d been in Afghanistan, it seems, delivering mail — simply reads different websites than the well employed Googlers. But both regurgitate the same old nonsense as if it were “news.”
Now, I know that most people in my world would consider this guy a nut job. But what bummed me out was that he was not all that nuts (well, he might be but not in what he was saying to me). All the stuff he was telling me about the Navy boiling the ocean is simply not that weird. In fact, I found is disappointingly familiar.
This is the problem with the ready dissemination of “news” and conspiracy theories (which, to me, are the same thing): the weirdness of people is culled. So rather than hearing something truly bizarre, I hear the same old conspiracy nonsense about the Illuminati and the dark secrets of the US government and days of freakin’ atonement — which we’ve been hearing about for millennia!
I want to hear something that I couldn’t have imagined someone saying to me. I want to hear the weird and the wonderful and the scary and the hilarious. This is why I can’t stand news sources. They’re anything but new! They tell me the same old nonsense in the same old banal tone of voice.
When I was in college in Philly in the late 80s — an exceedingly depressed and depressing time for that sad little city — there was this older white dude who roamed West Philadelphia. He was often shirtless and in jean cut offs (not Daisy Dukes, mind you); his hair was grey — he was probably in his mid to late 60s. I don’t think he was homeless as he was, despite my description, not totally ill kept. But he was seeing things and thinking things and, lucky for me, saying things that were of an alternate world. The line I remember the most, that still brings me pleasure, is, “I will raise an army of lesbians and take over McDonald’s!” Now that’s strange! I could not have seen that one coming.
I’m guessing he was schizophrenic or something related and equally delusional. And I by no means want to make light of that. But I do want to suggest what Deleuze and Guattari suggest: that there’s a strain of schizophrenic thinking that is refreshing, that finds lines of flights out of the same old discursive hegemony. Again, this is not to make light of those whose lives are crushed by schizophrenia. I’ve seen what it can do to people firsthand and it is often terrifying and awful.
But there is something to this figure — this concept, this function — of the schizo who is not constrained by the frames of discussion media dictate so vigorously. And it’s not about dressing up wacky or piercing your nose or doing a cabaret with your friends. This is what San Francisco often thinks is weird. And while all those things might or might not be fine, fun, and delightful, they’re not weird precisely because they’re what we already think of as weird. They’re already known, accounted for, categorized. The weird is not a what but a mode of forging the new.
Weird is surprising in that it neither goes with nor against the grain. It doesn’t try to break the mold; it casts new molds. Or, perhaps, doesn’t care about molds at all but rather enjoys meandering — the schizo stroll. Weird slices through discourse, categories, and common sense. It scrambles — not for the sake of scrambling but because it operates and lives in a world you cannot yet imagine.
The regurgitation of the same old nonsense — whether it’s wacky conspiracy theories or the all-too-banal politics of presidents — is zombieism. It’s people walking around under the insane delusion that they’re alive. But to be alive is to forge new flows, to follow new lines of flight — to say things that others don’t already know — and couldn’t have even imagined. Life flourishes in the weird.
Daniel Coffeen looks around for freedom in a world of networked conformity. He holds a PhD in Rhetoric from UC Berkeley where he taught adjunct for many years, but now Coffeen works independently, writing about contemporary art, film, language, Deleuze, perception, Uni, capitalism, emergent shapes, pleasure, new media, and tequila. He founded the once-exquisite ArtandCulture.com and makes money by naming products, writing copy, and branding companies.
Bob Black is a post-left writer. His most famous work is “The Abolition of Work“. His newest book “Instead of Work” debuted on August 7th. He’s been described as one of America’s great modern Anarchists.
Change was coming to America and the fault lines could no longer be ignored—cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding, and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change.THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION is the first feature length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Master documentarian Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. Featuring Kathleen Cleaver, Jamal Joseph, and many others, THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION is an essential history and a vibrant chronicle of this pivotal movement that birthed a new revolutionary culture in America. TheBlackPanthers.com
Beginning in May 2014, photographer Ksenia Ivanova began a project dedicated to St. Petersburg’s punk community. Titled “On the Verge,” Ivanova’s work, she says, is first and foremost a personal exploration of her own generation. Born during the Soviet Union’s Perestroika period, her contemporaries grew up amid the ruins of Soviet ideology, when there was still nothing to take its place. “The uncertainty and despair of this time are reflected in our generation,” Ivanova says.
“Th-th-th-that’s all folks!” Has the human race’s grandest achievement–civilization–assured its collapse? It doesn’t look good!”Civilizations have come and gone over the past 6,000 years or so. Now, there’s just one—-various cultures, but a single, global civilization.Collapse is in the air. We’ve already seen the failure, if not the collapse, of culture in the West. The Holocaust alone, in the most cultured country (philosophy, music, etc.), revealed culture’s impotence.We have a better idea of what civilization is than we do of what collapse would mean. It’s the standard notion: domestication of plants and animals, soon followed by the early, major civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Domestication, the ground and thrust of civilization, per se: the ethos of ever-progressing domination of nature and control in general.“Nature has not ordained civilization; quite the contrary,” as E.J. Applewhite, a Buckminster Fuller collaborator, aptly observed. All civilizations have been riven with tensions, and all heretofore have failed. Mayan and Mycenean civilizations, half a world apart, collapsed simultaneously (if slowly). Egyptian civilization rose and fell four times before it exhausted itself.Arnold Toynbee examined some twenty past civilizations in his massive A Study of History, and found that in every case, the cause of collapse was internal, not external.What may be civilization’s deepest tension is brought out in that most radical text, Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. For Freud, civilization rests on a primary repression, the source of unconquerable unhappiness: the trading of instinctual freedom and eros for work and symbolic culture. Thus, civilization’s very foundation, domestication, is the worst of bargains, the basic generator of neurosis.Oswald Spengler underlined the futility of civilization, deciding that it was undesirable, even evil. For anthropologist Roy Rappaport, maladaptive was the adjective that best described it, though he (like the rest) concluded that smaller, self-sufficient social orders would be as undesirable as they would be impossible to achieve.In The Decline of the West, Spengler noted that the last phases of every civilization are marked by increasing technological complexity. This is strikingly true of planetary culture today, when we also see technology’s claims and promises tending to displace those of explicitly political ideology.William Ophuls’ recent Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail outlines quite ably the reasons why civilizational failure is inevitable, why the grasping control ethos of domestication comes to its self-defeating end. The book’s first sentence also serves very well to announce the fatal illusion that prevails today: “Modern civilization believes it commands the historical process with technological power.”The fallacy of this belief is becoming clearer to more people. After all, as Jared Diamond puts it, “All of our current problems are unintended consequences of our existing technology.” In fact, civilization is failing on every level, in every sphere, and its failure equates so largely with the failure of technology. More and more, this is what people understand as collapse.Complex societies are recent in human history, and certainly this over-arching civilization is very different from all that have gone before. The main differences are twofold. Reigning civilization now dominates the entire globe, various cultural differences notwithstanding, and technological invasiveness colonizes to an undreamed-of degree.Despite this reach and height, the rule of civilization is based on less and less. Inner nature is as ravaged as outer nature. The collapse of human connectedness has opened the door to unimaginable phenomena among lonely human populations. The extinction of species, melting polar ice, vanishing ecosystems, etc., proceed without slowing.Fukushima, acidifying oceans, Monsanto, fracking, disappearing bees, ad infinitum. Even rather more prosaic aspects of civilization are in decline.Rappaport found that as civilizational systems “become increasingly large and powerful, the quality and utility of their products are likely to deteriorate.” The massive mid-2014 recall of millions of GM, Toyota, and Ford cars comes to mind. Jared Diamond points out that “steep decline may begin only a decade or two after the society reaches its peak numbers.”Enter Peak Oil and its prediction that oil is beginning to run out, signaling the finale of industrial civilization and its ruinous run. The discovery of large reserves of natural gas and new technological processes (e.g., shale gas extraction) may, however, mean that the Peak Oil projection of terminal decline won’t begin for many decades. The Oil Drum website, a major Peak Oil forum, went silent in 2008 after an eight-year run, admitting to lack of interest.There is an understandable, if misplaced, desire that civilization will cooperate with us and deconstruct itself. This mind set se
Android Dick is a robot created in the likeness of the science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. Android Dick is an attempt to create thinking and reasoning artificial intelligence that has human traits like compassion and creativity. The first version of the android was created in 2005 and has been a work in progress ever since.In 2011, the creators of the android appeared on the PBS show Nova, where they interviewed the robot and asked it a series of questions. Some of the answers were impressive. Others are typical of what you would expect from a robot. However, one answer in particular is probably one of the most ominous things ever spoken by artificial intelligence.During the interview with the creators (embedded below), Android Dick said, “…don’t worry, even if I evolve into terminator I will still be nice to you, I will keep you warm and safe in my people zoo where I can watch you for old time’s sake. [emphasis added].”The comments came after the creators asked, “Do you think that robots will take over the world?”When asked about his programming, Android Dick responded by saying “A lot of humans ask me if I can make choices or if everything I do is programmed. The best way I can respond to that is to say that everything, humans, animals and robots, do is programmed to a degree. As technology improves, it is anticipated that I will be able to integrate new words that I hear online and in real time. I may not get everything right, say the wrong thing, and sometimes may not know what to say, but everyday I make progress. Pretty remarkable, huh?”While Android Dick does seem intelligent, many of his predictions are truly ominous, and it is actually fairly common for robots to display this sort of strange attitude.As we reported earlier this year, one of Japan’s largest cellphone carriers, SoftBank Mobile, has created the first humanoid robot designed specifically for living with humans. The company claims the robot, Pepper, is the first example of artificial intelligence that can actually feel and understand emotion. However, a quick demonstration with Pepper shows that it has a difficult time with emotion and is in fact a bit of an egomaniac. Regardless of the question it is asked, most conversations usually leads back to Pepper (and its rivalry with the iPhone).
Thefts at San Francisco’s swankiest stores have reached an epidemic level, as bad guys and bad gals grab high-end fashion items with near-impunity — with the “Rainbow Girls” leading the way.“They come in a groups of four or five and they go right for the Ferragamos,” said Ken Peterson, a salesman at Arthur Beren Shoes on Stockton Street, which has been hit repeatedly.Police tell us the “Rainbow Girls” — who get their name from their bright attire and dyed hair — are actually about three independent groups of women in their teens and 20s. The cops say they swoop into stores in the Union Square area, grab high-end goods and exit like running backs, plowing over anyone in their path.“They seem to get high off of it,” Peterson said. “They know they will be gone by the time the police arrive.”Police reports show that thieves fitting the Rainbow Girls’ description hit Neiman Marcus on Stockton Street on Nov. 7 and made off with two jackets worth $1,000 apiece, 21 Burberry scarfs worth a total of $9,970 and other goods for a total take of about $29,000.The next day, they hit Armani on Post Street for about $10,000 worth of stuff.
Nearly 50 years after the controversial Milgram experiments, social psychologist Jerry M. Burger, PhD, has found that people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.Burger, a professor at Santa Clara University, replicated one of the famous obedience experiments of the late Stanley Milgram, PhD, and found that compliance rates in the replication were only slightly lower than those found by Milgram. And, like Milgram, he found no difference in the rates of obedience between men and women.”People learning about Milgram’s work often wonder whether results would be any different today,” Burger says. “Many point to the lessons of the Holocaust and argue that there is greater societal awareness of the dangers of blind obedience. But what I found is the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram’s experiments still operate today.”Stanley Milgram, PhD, was an assistant professor at Yale in 1961 when he conducted the first in a series of experiments in which subjects—thinking they were testing the effect of punishment on learning—administered what they believed were increasingly powerful electric shocks to another person in a separate room. An authority figure conducting the experiment prodded the first person, who was assigned the role of “teacher,” to continue shocking the other person, who was playing the role of “learner.” In reality, both the authority figure and the learner were in on the real intent of the experiment, and the imposing-looking shock generator machine was a fake.Milgram found that, after hearing the learner’s first cries of pain at 150 volts, 82.5 percent of participants continued administering shocks; of those, 79 percent continued to the shock generator’s end, at 450 volts. In Burger’s replication, 70 percent of the participants had to be stopped as they continued past 150 volts—a difference that was not statistically significant.Burger implemented a number of safeguards that enabled him to win approval for the work from his university’s institutional review board, including making 150 volts the top range in his study. Burger also screened out anyone who had taken more than two psychology courses in college or who indicated familiarity with Milgram’s research. A clinical psychologist also interviewed potential subjects and eliminated anyone who might have a negative reaction to the study procedure.—K.I. Mills