Throwing rocks at the mountain.
Random rants and reflections from a life in progress.
Having spent a great deal of the past 30 years being derisory towards Post-Modernism I am lately finding myself somewhat in sympathy with some of the preoccupations. The extreme view is of course ludicrous – everything isn’t text and the universe persistently continues regardless of activities on this minuscule dot on a dot on dot that we inhabit. There are general laws operating independently of anything we have to say or do. Significantly it is increasingly becoming obvious that more is going on than we currently have any notion in regards to these general laws. Increasingly it seems understanding is beyond our particular mental tool set. We evolved to eat, procreate and die. Intelligence is an accidental by product of our evolutionary path and it has been shaped by hundreds of thousands of generations of creatures with a very limited intellectual horizon indeed. Why we suddenly went down a path that suddenly invented civilization and the scientific method is one of humankind’s greatest mysteries.
I get the sneaking and undeniable feeling that 21st century westernized bits of this civilisation are becoming increasingly styled by the dead hand of Philip K Dick. Not that Dick as a ‘sci fi prophet’ (ugh). Science Fiction writers are notoriously bad at prediction. Can you think of a single early SF story with mobile phones, PCs or the Internet? They were big on ubiquitous flying cars, Martians, Moon Colonies, ESP and conveyor-belt pavements. What makes the 21st Century Dick-ensian (sorry) is the tone and atmosphere. The style of his quirky details glitters everywhere.
Eerily Dick are our consumer driven sub-cultures like the ‘New Age’ with its gimcrack ‘alternative medicines’ and pseudo spirituality. Amongst the members of our school population you will find kids who identify as a ‘Brony’. They are members of an internet based teenage/young adult sub-culture central to which is a set of toy ponies made for little girls and advertised through the medium of a tv cartoon series. These cartoons have become the philosophical underpinnings of a credo centred on friendship and loyalty and other positive life messages. A type of concept that could have been lifted straight out of a number of Philip Dick Novels
On the main stream – Shopping Malls with their surreal over abundance and faux choice seem straight out of a dark Dick psychotic episode. It is all very ‘Perky Pat’.
Just like many of Dick’s characters we all seem to be immersed in a collective hallucination. Omni-present is the continuous dumbing down of the media, education and political discourse.
The recent media circus surrounding Tony Abbot’s leadership is a case in point. It wasn’t the content of the policies that were under the question. It was the undeniable fact that the people of Australia had elected a mentally unstable buffoon as Prime Minister because they had looked no further than the short term greed motivated, fear driven, slogans created for his election by advertising agencies. Now after the gormless moron has been swept into the dust bin of history we are being convinced that something important has changed. This appears to be just because Malcolm Turnbull has a good taste in ties and can open his mouth for other reasons than just to change feet. The policies that underpinned Tony Abbott’s leadership are exactly the same as those under pinning Malcolm Turnbull. Australians are being fed a few short term crumbs with one hand while the country is being sold wholesale to the highest bidder by the other. This would, of course, hold equally true for the ALP if they were in office.
The explosive increase in the prescribing of anti-depressive drugs with their slightly psychotic alienated disengagement with externalities is a common theme in Dick’s worlds. Corporations, freed from social restraint by their global positioning, on the one hand develop these drugs to curb curiosity and concern and on the other market goods to glut the third chimpanzees insatiable appetite for novelty, alcohol, sugar, salt and fat. Largely undoing progress made in universal education and general public health. Fortunes are being made in consumer media products that gain greater and greater monolithic controls of our life choices, while at the same time trivialising them. The medical profession and the pharmaceutical companies are heavily investing in geriatrics, a guaranteed market, where deteriorating minds and barely functioning obese bodies are kept heavily drugged and alive for as long as possible. At the same time sports and other outdoor activities are being presented as spectator activities associated with advertising for alcohol and fast food.
Generally the members of our society live in small 2 to 4 member isolated family units in environmentally toxic oversized, dead-locked, bolted and security scanned dwellings. When they leave, they leave in sealed wheeled boxes and either attend work in a cubicle with a computer screen or go shopping in ‘shopping malls’ with identical shops and products to every other shopping mall in the country. Shops are now ‘self-serve’ with, what staff there are, often ignorant of the stock for sale. We are being conditioned to be unskilled, ignorant, solitary, afraid and neurotic. We are being conditioned to be more easily controlled.
As the postmodern deconstructualists would have is believe it is actually mostly about language. It is how we phrase questions, the accuracy of the words we use to describe things, ideas and feelings where in lies any hope that our society has of emerging from its current funk. It is how we deconstruct that which vexes and challenges us that is the key. Consider the ‘refugee crises. This is looming large and a lot of people are frightened, threatened and dead. There is no stand-alone ‘refugees crisis’, it is an effect of the superannuation crisis – where more or less wealth, educated individuals are prepared to, either through ignorance or greed, invest their money in arms manufacturers. They do this so they can visit Bali or Paris when they retire. If people actually applied the notions they have of humanitarian, cooperative and moral behaviour to what they are actually doing then most of our world problems would cease to exist. People applaud a development deal because it creates jobs. But what jobs at what cost? Nazi death camps created jobs. It is the language we use that defines us. The weight we apply to certain words and concepts. I have a friend who has had two strokes and a triple bypass operation who says he can’t retire because he couldn’t pay the mortgage on a gigantic suburban house. Do you get the inherent contradictions in that situation? I will remind you here that the word ‘mortgage’ is a Latin word for death-pledge.
It is becoming clear that a great deal of what we do and are (same thing?) exists only in the language we use to think about or discus it. Not the more obvious concepts within philosophy or theology but the world view that frames these ideas. What does the Christian inquisitions, pogroms and witch hunts, the Mayan and Inca wholesale daily violent human sacrifices and the biblical Old Testament story of Isaac tell us about the human religious impulse? The wholesale violent destruction of individual humans is a universal religious activity regardless of what ever tenants are espoused.
One of the functions of language seems to be to allow society to function unaware of contradictions like this. Words and ideas create chains of associations inside separate quarantined phase spaces creating distinctions between various sets of ideas and beliefs. The shift to the larger phase space that contains all of them, revealing them to be fundamentally identical, is not made. The contradictions within a religion (ie the disparity between the hating of Southern Baptists and the notion of a god of love) are seen as misunderstandings or heresies within a religion rather than expressions of what religion is. The relationships between concepts can be revealed or hidden depending on the use of language.
We all seem to be living in something like the deconstructed world of Philip K Dick. We don’t experience the world linearly like a graph we experience it as a field in which definitions are emergent as we examine finer and finer grain of detail or change the locus of our focus. As has often been said ‘common sense’ while indisputably common is rarely sensible. The human brain has evolved with the ability to contain unremarked whole structures of mutually contradictory ideas and systems. People can believe that The Earth was created in seven days with the Sun being created on day four. People can believe that someone like Karl Marx is able to fully explain and systemize the mechanisms of our human culture while being part of it. Violence is perpetrated based on the notion, that in some way, one football team is inherently better than another. So when you read something or hear someone speaking and you find yourself nodding in agreement – stop. Examine the chain of assumptions underlying your agreement with the statement and the statement itself and very carefully examine the words being employed.
Philip Dick wrote dozens of novels and short stories at a frantic pace, often under the influence of many multicolour pills, in an effort to support the alimony of three ex-wives. He died young. We seem to be living in his world. A sobering thought.