Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: The Wound Becomes the Womb

Another collaborative dialogue with Phil Rockstroh.

PR: Kenn, this question haunts me: Is it still possible, amid constant inundation by the mass and social media simulacrum, for literature, poetry or a music to rouse the heart and foment rebellion against one’s complicity in what amounts to a bondage of sensibility? Naturally, we are given to outrage but, for the most part, it is directed, if we are honest, at our own sense of powerlessness against the mind-stupefying roil of events.

The decimated fauna and flora of the earth are not dying a natural death; the living things of the planet are in the process of being fatally wounded by abuse. As, all the while, all pervasive — therefore invasive — culture of electronic distractions negates apprehension, connection, and communion with the breathing moment. The things of the world that sustain us, body and soul, are dying from both abuse and neglect. Enervated by a sense of emptiness, we seek palliative relieve in manic distractions. We are retailed visual piffle, comprised of celebrity culture and media hype. A contrivance of media-borne mirages — a shell game deploying electronic phantasmagoria, usurping the mind, waylaying desire into precincts of capitalist exploitation — a clip joint shakedown operation.

There is a dopehouse quality to capitalism-inflicted insularity. All too many have been transformed into ghosts of empty appetite. By being estranged from larger orders of our souls and the soul of the world (anima mundi), the citizens of consumer imperium have been rendered down to manic, mindless spirits — death-besotted spirits susceptible to the ersatz eros of fascist spectacle. A toxic red tide of MAGA hats rise and agitate a sea of inert souls. A death cult of economic elite sacrifice flesh before an alter of an insatiable god — an incorporeal deity manifested as protean formations of electrons — an invisible god yet oceanic in its quality of obliterating empathetic imagination in a drowning tide of impersonal craving.

Cyber Addiction by Paco Afromonkey Puente

An animal-in-a-cage restlessness is inherent to capitalist modernity. An aura of boredom, fraught with free-floating, nebulous angst, is a constant presence. Historically, there is always the danger of bourgeoisie restlessness and chronic discontent transforming into the sickness of the collective soul known as fascism. Unnerving to witness: Fascism, with its insistence on tangible verities and aggrandisement of action, becomes a desperate attempt to experience freedom by means of a literalizing of death.

Freud averred suicide is an urge to homicide turned inward.  A pandemic of suicide is plaguing the US working class. James Hillman averred, after much study and contemplation on the subject (an early analysand of his committed suicide) when one turns to suicide, the individual is attempting to kill a psychical complex – not oneself. The misapprehension arrives by being afflicted with the phenomenon R. D. Laing termed the False Self and Friedrich Engels termed capitalist false consciousness.

Engels ascribed the process to the phenomenon as the self value system of the capitalist ruling class becoming internalised by the working class, and contact pathos of exposure to the economic elite’s Cult of Success mythos and concomitant mode of mind and modus operandi bristling with manic compensation — to wit, the striving, obsessive, winged, grounding-bereft, split off half of despair. Yet an individual cannot remain airborne, mortals that we are, ad infinitum.

The manic Spirit, enthralled and intoxicated by its own scintillating glow, by compulsion, ascends while the Soul, by nature, makes chthonic descents. Rilke compared the Orphic impulse to a tree — whose roots reach into the singing loam of the earth as its branches are played like the strings of a lyre by the winds of spirit. The Dead must be engaged, their laments acknowledged, or their beckoning will grow into the overpowering admonition of a Death Drive.

Walker Percy limned the psychical landscape thus:

“Death in the form of death genes shall not prevail over me, for death genes are one thing but it is something else to name the death genes an d know them and stand over against them and dare them. I am different from my death genes and therefore not subject to them. My father had the same death genes but he feared them and did not name them and thought he could roar out old Route 66 and stay ahead of them or grab me and be pals or play Brahms and keep them, the death genes, happy, so he fell prey to them.” — Percy, Walker, excerpt from The Second Coming

The capitalist paradigm is held in the thrall of its inherent death genes. By ecocide or economic collapse (events that will cause the system to reveal its true countenance i.e., fascism) — or by nuclear annihilation, capitalists will succumb to their internalised Thanatopic admonitions. In short, there must come an economic/socio/cultural sea change or the beckoning of the Dead to join them in endless song will prove too potent to resist.

Ecocide by Carlita Shaw

KO:  I have been thinking about the absurdity of this age and its delusional mythos a lot lately, Phil. What does it mean to succeed on an increasingly brutal, unequal, unjust and dying world? To attain the hollow grandeur and lucre promised by capitalist mythology? This is an age of stark contradiction where the vaunted and self-insulated “captains of industry” reside within a fragile bubble of a new gilded age. All around us countless species of our biosphere shriek in agony. Ancient forests are felled in a nanosecond. Sprawling coral reefs are bleached to a white, enduring death within days or terribly sullied by damaged oil tankers. And all around us the working class are getting poorer and their population is growing. The rich are getting richer, and fewer. Yet the spectacle continues and grows ever more absurd, more disconnected from reality. And I cannot help think that this is what the ruling class wishes. After all, they have no idea how to fix our collective predicament without dismantling the economic, political and social order that produced and perpetuates it.

When I see the pervasive influence and concurrent numbness induced by the holograms of social media and the surveillance state I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. These projections on the wall, holograms of reality, are ubiquitous. Everyone has a portable cave handy, carrying them in pockets or purses.

Internet Storm by Tomasz Czerwinski

Screens that alert us to the projected shadows. The things we are told are important. The spectacle. But most of the contents are meaningless images that reinforce depravity, as well as alienation and emptiness. A deceitful mirror that informs us on how we should look, or think, or act. And to never question the order itself. And the insidious sway of this over our consciousness is by design, whether intentional or not, because it emanates from the halls of capital. So then our minds are colonized by the most powerful and moneyed colonizers in all of human history. Yet most of us have difficulty understanding where our agency is curtailed. And this is understandable, because the labyrinth is opaque.

Guy Debord had the prescience to understand this power and how it worked before the age of the internet or social media:  “Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.”   This is how social media maintains itself and perpetuates a false reality. Social media, through the manipulation of the brains neurochemicals has created a stranglehold on scores of people. Thus, the person who has it withheld may experience anxiety or even panic, a kind of withdrawal.

But this is a sort of mania defines the capitalist order itself. And so this order has a pernicious effect on every one of us because the world is, with few exceptions, under the domination of capitalism and the “imperial” court who benefits from it.

PR: Kenn, a question, then a poetic digression, of which the latter is political, but not in an overt manner.

How does one spend the fleeting hours of this finite life? Is it possible to escape being held in the thrall of internalised colonisation, a psyche-shackling phenomenon that usurps the days of one’s existence? We are confronted by systemic economic control, inherent to the capitalist order, over both the quality and criteria of one’s existence that hijacks the day, renders barren the womb of the earth’s oceans and seas, and scours away by light pollution the stars. An economic order, conceived for the exclusive benefit of a loose-knit, yet unified by their mutual cupidity, clutch of capitalist ghouls. Hyperbole? Do these ghouls not live off of the flesh of the earth and devour the hours of the lives of the powerless multitudes held in servitude to their insatiable greed?

One cannot reclaim what has been lost to time. One cannot conscript coffin dust in the service of eros. Materialism, both economic and philosophical, have wrought a wasteland, of both landscape and mindscape. Yet the breathing moment resounds with birth cries. The archetype of the redeemer god (examples include, Tammuz; Osirus; Dionysus; Orpheus; Jesus Christ; Attis; Mithras; Horus; Krishna; Persephone) exists in the human psyche — we are held, gripped and grappled, undone, and restored by agencies that are not going to be expelled by materialist credo. Archetypal criteria will hold profound influence over the lives of humanity — all as, by reflex, literalism borne of materialist dogma will leave all too many cold and alienated. To wit, the least important — even irrelevant and counterproductive — question is, whether or not the gods are literal figures because, in regard to the human psyche, Mundus Imaginalis is reality.

How does the archetype of the redeemer god relate to the human psyche and the death swoon of the capitalist order?

When the season of a systemic structure that determines the mode of being of individuals languishing within the decaying system has passed, it is crucial that moribund perceptions of oneself and how one regards the world are pruned away. Applying the lexicon of Mundus Imaginalis, one is confronted with the early spring agonies (“April is the cruelest month”) of Dionysus or, as is the case with Persephone, an autumnal descent into the underworld — there, like a brooding seed, it is possible for the psyche to dream a new psychical order — thus novel societal arrangements — into existence. For example, a drunk’s dismally circumscribed by his bondage to the bottle existence can be broken by a rearrangement of the psyche; thereby, his life is broadened and deepened by ceasing an habitual reliance on alcohol previously utilised to mitigate the stressors of the day and torments of past trauma.

Path to Shambhala by Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)

Widespread consumer addiction is a form of collective, negative enchantment. Sanity insists, the spell must be broken. Yet the God of Reason’s admonitions do not prove propitious in a struggle against addiction because its verities are drowned out by the cultural cacophony of a commodified madhouse, whereby Mundus Imaginalis has taken the form of a 24/7, consciousness devouring, mass and social media-borne phantasmagoria. Conversely, trauma and concomitant neurotic compulsions that haunt the mind and paralyse the eros of modernity can be transformed by artistic engagement. The wound becomes the womb thereby birthing novelty. The grail, at last, at the lips of the languishing, near-death, couch potato king restores the land.

Languishing in middle age, from the reality of his imagination, Dante Alighieri became lost in a dark woods, his path blocked on one side by a hungry she-wolf and on the other by a threatening leopard. But a pagan poet arrives on scene, Virgil, protagonist of the Aeneas, a witness to the folly that was the Trojan War and consequential destruction of Troy. Only by passing through the black, iron-wrought gates of Hell, bearing the admonition, ““Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (“Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”) and, later in the epic poem, only after he, led by Virgil, must pass across the loins of Satan in the frozen Ninth Circle would Dante be granted a glimpse, upon entering Purgatory, of Beatrice’s transformative beauty framed in the spheres of Paradise.

The quality of lostness is the redeemer god’s dominion, the baffling terrain on which we are stranded at capitalist eon’s end.  Thus I have made a home in being lost.

But the question persists, how does one spend one’s days?

KO: Time is perhaps, as Einstein once averred, an illusion. And yet we experience it. We sense its passing and not just by numbers, but by what we truly sense. With each new wrinkle on the face, each new diminished ability, each child passing through years of development into adult bodies. So we pass the time, so to speak, regardless of whether we are intentionally doing it. But to live mindful of this is the challenge. And I am loath to use that term given the nauseating manner in which it has been twisted in order to justify each new demoralizing and diminishing assault by the lords of Capital on the working class. But this era demands a new kind of mindfulness, one which turns everything on its head.

I remember wandering through the catacombs of Paris several years ago and marveling at the ancient artistry of this underground necropolis. Here was a place built for the dead. A place not to be seen by the masses. Yet now the masses tromp through its’ dusty passages daily, snapping selfies and posting check-ins. Now many modern artists have made graffiti masterpieces in some of the unused tunnels. And so your mention of art and “the wound becomes the womb” made me think of this for some reason. And I think it is the association of art with death, because death, and its constant looming over all who are mortal, is the regisseur of artistic expression.

Modern graffiti art in the Catacombs of Paris

The Redemption in this age must come, as it always has, from radical artists, poets, writers, mystics and philosophers, because they are the most radically dangerous to the order itself. Their resistance to conformity, racism, militarism, the commodification of nature, and blind, rapacious consumerism, presents the greatest challenge to a hegemony which cannot expunge the reality of its destructive nature. It can no longer hide the carnage. As Yemen endures carpet bombing and a manufactured famine and Kashmir and Gaza resist an engineered genocide, refugees flee their homelands in Syria, Honduras and Myanmar, as countless species succumb to habitat loss and pollution, and as the Bahamas lie in ruins from climate changed, angry skies and rainforests in the Amazon, Angola and Australia unnaturally burn to ash, we are all witness to the trajectory of unfettered capitalist, militarism, and industrial exploits. Indigenous peoples on every continent face the brunt of this, of course. But we are all indigenous to this besieged earth. We are born of its loam and kin to every breathing species that crawls, slithers, burrows in it or that flies above it.

So at this eon’s end, as you say, I think we are called to bear witness as we traverse its bitter, blood drenched killing fields. But also to tread with care and with arms locked in solidarity with others who have been cast off, devalued by the imaginary calculus of capital. Those on the margins of empire. Those disappeared or assigned annihilation because of the imaginary borders in which they live, or their dearth of societal status or material wealth, or whom they spend their lives with and love, or their caste, gender, skin pigment, religious affiliations or individual peculiarities. And to reignite a reverence and kinship with the myriad of species outside our own. Those that have been commodified and reduced to barcodes.

To be lost with the lost. I think this is our species last, best hope for redemption.

 

Title artwork for this piece is a colourized version of the Flammarion wood engraving. The artist is unknown but it became popular after it appeared in Camille Flammarion’s book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”) in 1888. It is often associated with both the scientific and mystical or mythic quests for wisdom and knowledge.

 

Apartheid has Always Been the Plan

What do wealthy capitalists do in response to the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation or a biosphere teetering on the edge of collapse? Why they build enormous, fortified bunkers deep underground, of course. Here they can live like the descendants of the mammals that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous and early Paleocene around 65 to 100 million years ago. The long deceased necrolestes patagonensis, whose shockingly appropriate meaning for this comparison is “grave robber,” are the descendants of the cronopio who narrowly escaped the dinosaurs’ fate by burrowing deep under the earth’s soil.

But these modern day mammals will apparently live in far greater luxury than these furry predecessors when the planet suffers from the next cataclysmic event. Several of these soon to be denizens of the lavish underworld are showcased in a recent article by Julie Turkewitz in the New York Times entitled “A Boom Time for the Bunker Business and Doomsday Capitalists.” And their lairs, while devoid of anything remotely tasteful, are bedecked in the latest technological conveniences and comforts, including movie theatres, swimming pools and yoga studios. What would it feel like to be doing a hatha stretch beneath a deadened world?

These kinds of news items often make a joke out of our collective predicament. After all, most of us understand that wealth does not beget intelligence or a sense of decency. But the existential crisis we are all facing is not funny. Climate change induced ecological collapse and the ever present threat of nuclear devastation or even annihilation loom ever large. The latter issue recently came to the fore following a disastrous accident in the Russian Federation involving a nuclear fueled missile test. Several scientists were killed, many others suffered from radiation poisoning, and an entire area has been closed off due to fallout contamination. This event, exacerbated by the Trump administration’s threatened abandonment of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, has stoked fears of a renewed and emboldened arms race.

But it is pollution and climate change and their concomitant degradation of the world’s ecosystem’s which pose the greatest threat because they are multilayered issues involving transnational corporations, the global finance sector, governments, and the military industrial complex; and they are unfolding in a way that often gets overlooked. This is a problem that terrifyingly translates into existing systems of class, power and wealth disparity. A recent report by Philip Alston, the UN Special rapporteur on poverty and human rights, underscored these inequities. He warned:

“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer. The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex.”

But let’s not be silly here. Apartheid has always been the plan. Separate housing. Separate education. Separate infrastructure. Separate education. Separate justice. Separate environment. And when it comes to the unfolding climate catastrophe we can see how this plays out in a variety of places. In the US, Australia and in Europe, the wealthy easily rebuild their damaged or destroyed mansions when they are burned to ash by raging wildfires or inundated in floods. In India, millionaires and their families are able to escape the sweltering heat in air-conditioned high rises and on palatial, sprawling estates. And in places like Indonesia, the wealthy just move an entire city. As the capital Jakarta sinks in the mud beneath a rising sea, the elite are planning to move to a new one in Borneo.

Jakarta is, by many accounts, a textbook example of a burgeoning system of economic apartheid with the vast majority of its inhabitants living below the global poverty index level. It would be exceedingly naïve to believe that the Indonesian ruling class, which is mired in corruption, reactionary religious and political ideologies, caste discrimination, and a fascism born of decades of US backed brutality, would relocate its poor to the new city. No, they will likely be the first to be abandoned.

And the new location is not some “land without a people” as the colonial myth so often goes. Borneo is home to the indigenous Dayak people, with many diverse communities and languages. Seeing how the country has colonized and mistreated indigenous Papuans for decades leaves little hope to how it will treat the native Dayak. The island also has some of the last tracts of undisturbed rainforest in a country with an extremely poor environmental record. Critically endangered orangutans and sun bears cling to a precarious existence here thanks to mining and massive palm oil deforestation. The orangutans may have only 10 years left according to some reports.

The remaining forests will undoubtedly be cleared, their timber sold to the US, EU, Australia and China, and the land will be developed by and for the elites. Shopping malls, golf courses and exclusive housing complexes will be cordoned off from the rest of the island’s inhabitants with elaborate surveillance and security systems protecting them. Pollution, which has plagued Jakarta thanks to unregulated industries and lack of infrastructure, will now defile a new place in the heart of Borneo’s rainforest.

But Indonesia does not exist in a vacuum. It belongs to the “global south,” that designated sacrifice zone by the elite of far more wealthier nations. The elite who use the World Bank and other agencies of control to maintain a deeply feudalistic system of concentrated wealth and power. Who greenwash our environmental crisis. Who meet in boardrooms or on the driving range, who go to the same fundraisers, weddings and dinner parties, and who dwell in posh homes in London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore or Zurich. And to a lesser extent Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Riyadh, Taipei or Beijing. The elite who meet in Biarritz and who cast crumbs to their lesser pawns who do their bidding in looting their nation’s resources and keeping dissent at bay. Who soothe their moribund consciences by throwing paltry funds at world problems and calamities. These elite jet off to wherever they please on this rapidly warming sphere protected by the ill-gotten gains of their amassed fortune. In other words: legalized plunder.

The global economic arrangement is nothing more than organized crime. The imposition of the will of the wealthy over the poor and working classes through violent repression. Indeed, they have the military industrial complex and the surveillance state as their greatest leverage against the masses. Enforcers of the “interests of capital.” And in an age of constant existential angst, this leverage is turning out to be good business.

The burning of the Amazon rainforest or the melting ice sheets of Greenland present an opportunity either for exploitation of resources or for the commodification of nature itself, greenwashed as “protecting the rainforest” by privatizing it. After all, more forests around the world are felled, fouled or cleared by corporations and the military than by individual farmers or ranchers. Therefore, any New Green Deal, if it does not address the military industrial complex and its relation to the protection of capital, or is not thoroughly vetted and written by the poor, the working class, environmental activists and indigenous peoples, will only serve to save capitalism, albeit for a short time and for the very few, from the maw of its own insatiable greed. It will be a Ponzi scheme of privatization designed by the corporate, neoliberal ghouls and marketing strategists who helped create the problems in the first place.

To be sure, if this arrangement is allowed to persist, apartheid is the future they have in store for us all. In truth, it always has been this way. One which is militarized and surveilled, filled with private roads, security walls, and gated communities. Where spectacle reigns and the jet set and celebrities are lauded endlessly by their corporate owned media. Where displaced peoples fleeing for their lives are demonized and rounded up. Where their children are torn from their arms, caged and denied soap or even an assuring embrace by jackbooted officers. One where the right to food and clean water is considered a privilege. Where documents control who gets to live and who dies. Where the working poor are denied their ancestral homes or rendered invisible. One where endangered species are considered expendable, where ancient forests are razed and rivers are used as dumping grounds for industry and the military. This is the world that exists now in places the global north seldom hears of or even gives a second thought.

The global ruling class has no plan to address or mitigate our existential crisis sans the status quo of capitalist plunder. They see no options outside of the preservation of this arrangement, either through distraction or the exploitation of fear, or in escaping its enormous human and ecological cost altogether. Apartheid, separation from us, the “dirty, unwashed masses of humanity,” has always been their way, ethos, and plan. So with this in mind, we can only hope that they will do us all a favor and scurry into one of those high priced bunkers in the ground a little earlier than planned.

Kenn Orphan   2019

  • Title art is Unequal Scenes by photographer Johnny Miller.

The War on Indigenous Peoples is a War on the Biosphere Itself

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.” – E.O. Wilson 

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” –Cree Proverb

“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.” – Michael Parenti, Against Empire

This month Brazil’s most populous city, Sao Paulo, was plunged into darkness in the middle of the afternoon. Raging fires in the Amazon, the proverbial lungs of the planet, cast acrid clouds of black smoke over the city. But this was no natural phenomenon. This was a crime scene, and the victims include indigenous peoples and the living biosphere itself.

The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been lauded by the world’s “democracies” and capitalist rags like the Wall Street Journal, has ramped up the assault on these biodiverse regions and their inhabitants. And he has accelerated genocide against Brazil’s indigenous peoples for the profit of multinational corporations. In recent days attacks have been stepped up by militarized police forces who will use any force necessary to “evict” indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. These evictions, or ethnic cleansing campaigns, include violence, intimidation, and the burning of villages and farms.

Bolsonaro, backed by a cadre of evangelical fanatics, racists, homophobes, and an entrenched military junta, is now dismantling any remaining protections for the besieged ecosystems and communities of the country. He has emboldened loggers, ranchers and mining interests with his fascist rhetoric, many of whom have threatened indigenous peoples with violence. For instance, in Amapá state, gold miners stabbed an indigenous leader to death in a protected reserve. Other reports of attacks are mounting, as are the environmental costs. In fact, deforestation increased by 67% in the first seven months of this year with 2,255 square kilometers of the Amazon was lost in July alone. And Brazil’s space agency documented at least 73,000 wildfires, an 83% jump from last year.

There has been enormous pushback against the onslaught. Protestors flooded the streets of three major cities and indigenous women blocked entry to the Health Ministry in Brasília, many more have joined to protest Bolsonaro’s policies of marginalization, destruction and annihilation. But the mainstream media has been largely silent about these demonstrations, choosing instead to focus on places like Hong Kong, a center of global commerce. While those protests are impressive, they pose no real threat to the forces of capital. Indigenous protests do.

The assault on indigenous peoples is a war on the biosphere itself. The ruling class in Brazil, as in every other colonized region of the planet, see their existence as an obstacle and nuisance to their wealth accumulation. That they will sit behind gilded gates atop a mountain of rotting corpses and fossilized species is of no concern to them. Greed is their drug and their god. They will exploit everything, from the Arctic to the Amazon, with no limits. And angry skies, heatwaves, floods, droughts and a rapidly changing climate system will not convince them of their madness. They will use demoralization, distraction and, when that fails, violence to suppress dissent and continue their status quo destruction. But their remorseless pillage will not proceed without a fight. Indigenous people, especially indigenous women, are rising up against it. Their courage should inspire us because this should be understood as a war that we will all be swept up into whether we like it or not. The question is, will we choose the right side.

Kenn Orphan   2019

 

The Dead Letter Office Of Capitalist Imperium: A Poverty Of Mundus Imaginalis

The latest in a series of collaborative dialogues with poet, lyricist and philosopher Phil Rockstroh.

PR: What has been of greater service to humanity, the dark vision of humanity, limned in satire, by Jonathan Swift or the positivity-rancid homilies of corporate church of self-actualization? What is more propitious to the psyche, a descent into the underworld by Orphic imagination or the Icarusian dazzle on Instagram or the narcissistic intoxication induced by gazing upon one’s image reproduced by a thousand retweets on Twitter?

Lorca advised, listen to the beating heart of the monster of the world. Dante Alighieri described that he, upon his first glimpse of Beatrice, experienced the sensation of love in his pulse — a hymnal of the heart ensouling every cell of his body. He and his pagan guide Virgil, the waters of the Lethe frozen by the frigid winds produced by the fanning of Satan’s leather wings, managed to escape from the last, lowest circle of the Inferno by crossing Satan’s musk-plangent groin and hirsute thighs.

“When the poet lives his hell, it is no longer possible for the common man to escape it.” — Excerpt from, The Time of the Assassins, a study of Rimbaud, by Henry Miller

One must learn to navigate darkness — hear the lamentation of the dead — because, unless their stories are acknowledge — they unseen and unheard — direct fate. Shelter cannot be found in the sky while imprecatory winds direct one’s course. A million dead Indians steer the US Empire towards shattering shoals of reality.

A poetic view of existence, in short, worldview informed by the insight — imagination is reality — insists one that embrace the sorrow arriving at the end of things. The times have bestowed on us a shuffle to the graveside of the capitalist epoch, and, we, like members of a New Orleans-style, second line, funeral procession, must allow our hearts to be saturated by sorrowful songs. Yet when the service is complete, the march away from the boneyard should shake the air with the ebullient noise borne of insistent brass.

KO: Imagination is the fuel of life. It is what drives us toward creation. The interplay between the energies of our bodies, our internal organs, and the outer world that we call nature. But in its absence destruction becomes the dominant narrative. This is the song of our times. A kind of dirge full of dissonant chords. And yet imagining has been hollowed out by the specters of capital. It reinforces a kind of manic depressive facsimile of imagination in order to condition conformity and compliance with authoritarianism. And the result is obvious. Addiction plagues thousands. Addiction to opioids, to guns, to food, to entertainment (binge watching, etc), to sex. All those things with the exception of guns are essential to the human story. They are part of the creation myth, so to speak, and in a glorious way.

But I have been thinking of the era in terms of hungry ghosts. The world is brimming with them thanks to centuries of colonial occupation, rampant consumerism and systemic violence. How many walk this terrain with an emptiness caused by the violence of our times? The forgotten survivors of the Empire’s endless wars. The lost beings who get cast aside after each tragedy. Somehow, Western society has managed to shutter them up behind great psychic walls. This can only be accomplished by mass psychosis. By an enforced amnesia that is conditioned over time.

PR: Henry Corbin, the renowned French theologian, philosopher and professor of Islamic Studies, instructs one to be attentive to “the world of the Image, the mundus imaginalis.”

Depression is full spectrum imagining. The psyche’s attention is invaded and held in the thrall of the Underworld populated by shuffling shades and a countenance revealing the cold, black iron tears of Hades. Judeo-Christian monotheism — in its psyche-circumscribing worship of a single, distance-from-the-“sinful”-earth sky-daddy — desiccates the image-rich soil of the human imagination by banishment of the diverse, and often at odds, gods of the pantheon.

With depression, as is the case with extremis states of consciousness, the gods banished from the denuded pantheon return, with a vengeance. For example, opioids bestow the warmth and protection of the womb of the Great Mother. The drug’s effect is the embrace of lost paradise…thus, like the lilies of the field, where, as long as the effect of the drug remains active, therein exists neither toiling nor weeping.

In regard to entertainment, Dionysus, as the classical Greeks intuited, was the patron god of theatre. In the Classical Age, theatrical attendance was mandated for Greek citizenry. Comedy and tragedy were not vehicles of escape but of soul-making (the fate of the House of Agamemnon is scarcely the stuff of escapist fare). In the case of guns, the smitten have entered the dominion of Ares/Mars. Regarding human sexuality, the Puritan/Culture simply cannot abide the vicissitudes attendant to contact with the psychical agency of Aphrodite and her son Eros. It is as if beauty is more terrifying to the Christian imagination than war. Thus Aphrodite is held in the perpetual embrace of her backdoor lover, Ares. What James Hillman, regarding US militarist imperium, termed, “a terrible love of war.”

But this is crucial: One cannot approach the Puritan/Calvinist imagination and avoid a mindscape of shame. Chronic and pummeling shame, deployed by the authoritarian culture as a boot on the neck of the working class of the nation. Yet: Shame is an intriguing psychical phenomenon. Transformed, it carries a sublime quality — but, opposite in the manner that authoritarian types and their families, societal systems and institutions deem useful insofar as deploying its depression-inflicting aspect, for the purpose of maintaining control over a potentially restive citizenry.

In the precincts of the ancient Greek’s version of mundus imaginalis: The wood nymph Dryope, experienced mortification at the sight of the offspring of her carnal union with Hermes, the god Pan. She was repulsed by her son’s goat-like features and the sight of his hirsute form inflicted her with a sense of shame. She went to the seat of the gods on Mount Olympus, and attempted to abandon Pan there. Yet upon the sight of the goat God, the Olympians evinced delight. The gods and goddesses formed a panorama around him and their glee regarding his comic form transformed shame (the gods are shameless) into pure joy — withal, acceptance of what the ego will, by compulsion, attempt to shunt from sight…bestows the release from the bondage of self.

In short, accept and revel in the musky, animal body within the pantheon of the psyche. One is only as sick as one’s secrets. As a general rule, the most shameful acts we commit are an attempt to avoid feelings of shame. Moreover, the genius of our animal body allows us to commune with the delights of earthly life. It is for this reason the Puritan/Calvinist imagination detest the body and views animals as lowly, only fit for exploitation.

Pan’s power arrives from the transformation of the shame experienced by the apprehension of one’s inadequacies into delight. The act evokes the laughter of the god’s thereby allowing one to fleetingly experience the glories of things immortal. We humans will never ascend to Olympus but we can know a sense of immortal delight by the act of glorying in our imperfections. Withal, Pan’s arrival in the collective psyche can bring a pandemic of panic or a panorama of delight.

KO: Yes, and it is this divorce of the body and the experiences of having a body from the mind that fascinates me so much about Western society as it is today. And it explains the current order of transactions which countenances horrifying atrocities against the “other,” the foreigner, the immigrant, the “insurgent,” the dissident. If one cannot experience the body as the experience along with the intellect there is a disconnect which becomes pathological. It is how the full scale destruction of the living earth with the excuse that it is “good of the economy” can be tolerated or even celebrated instead of it being looked at as an absurd joke.

 

The economy of the psyche or soul cannot ever be factored into this equation unless it takes on some kind of false consumerist ethos. And it sounds strange. In the West most would never think they have been conditioned to separate their consciousness from their bodies, but it is evident in many ways. The illusions is in the corporate doublespeak of advertising which relentlessly hammers the notion of the body’s imperfection or in how it must be or present itself in order to feel acceptance or pleasure in this world. And that this can never be achieved represents a rather insidious sadism.

This is a sort of cultural conditioning and it serves a purpose. It reinforces conformity to a system, an ethos. And the less we question it, the more our minds and souls atrophy. After all, this is a system is designed to manufacture hungry ghosts. Empty shells with no capacity, no depth, forever roaming the deathscape of consumer capitalism with artificial and insatiable desires for meaningless things. Enslaved to numbered papers, pixelated screens and Gregorian clocks. If more people took time to ask these questions of themselves and of society perhaps things might be turned on their head. The supposed “order” of things, the accepted injustices, prejudices, endless wars, cruelties, ecocide, mindless consumption, inequities and banalities, might be questioned and perhaps even jettisoned.

I think the answer at this point lies in some kind of embrace of sorrow. Grief is the beast we need. It teaches us to cherish and to remember and to preserve. It manifests most fiercely in our body, in how it reacts, how it suppresses and also how it acknowledges it. But it is a beast that demands our attention. When we deny its lamentation it comes to us by other means. Addictions, obsessions, nightmares, anxieties, depression, aggression, dis-ease. It inserts itself through the very fabric of our being and, if ignored, will devour our souls whole. And this has a ripple effect on the whole society. The maladies we see growing become projections of this unmet grief.

As the ice caps melt and plastic brims in our seas, as mad leaders jostle for a piece of the rotted capitalist cake, as more species fade into a distant memory and the Arctic burns, as the waters become fouled or dry up, as homeless shantytowns grow and nuclear arsenals burst, as jackbooted fascists suit up, corporations engorge themselves on misery, and authoritarian dictators join hands, our questions have taken on a new collective urgency.

PR: To paraphrase Rilke: All human beings have a letter written inside their heart and if you don’t live the life your heart yearns to live, you won’t be allowed to read this letter before you die … Thus, influenced by the dictum, imagination is reality,  one might infer: There exist, across the land, dead-letter offices, vast and cavernous, where our mail awaits, unopened and unread.

Thus one of the prevailing miseries of our era is: The denizens of the late capitalist/consumer paradigm have agendas — as opposed to lives.

We must begin to grasp the unsettling knowledge that the things we, as a people, inflict upon the world — we will inflict upon ourselves. Withal, the imperative to grieve. It follows: We dwell on this question: When so many external and internal forces work to thwart, degrade, and destroy our essential selves — hence the world — what agency can help to restore us?

Therefore, imagination being reality, I’m calling you out — the hidden side of our collective character — right here, right now. Show us who you are: reveal to us your blank face, in all its banal symmetry and finally, and at long last — give us an accounting of yourself.

I’m not naive. I realize you feel you’re under no obligation to do so. You feel no more need to explain your actions than does Death itself.

Although you have many faces, deep down, we know who you are: You’re a clean-shaven lobbyist, a sharp-elbow careerist, a public relations expert, a land-decimating real estate developer, a rent-inflating landlord, a cunning advertising executive, a weapons designing technocrat, a pentagon planner — you’re the jerk-rocket driving the SUV who is perpetually tailing my ass in traffic, you’re my blank-faced, next-door neighbor, lacquering his hybrid lawn in insoluble pesticides. — In short, you’re all the quotidian and respectable — therefore — highly deceptive faces of Death. You are the bland, murder’s countenance of empire.

How do I reach you — by what means can I beseech you to cease the madness?

You name the place where I can confront you: On a thronging sidewalk on Fifth Avenue, during evening rush, as we’re brushed and buffeted by the squalid grace of crowds. Perhaps, you might take the bar stool next to mine and speak too loudly in my ear, jabbing my chest with your bony index finger to punctuate the pointless palaver of your self-justifying lies. How about: Let’s take a cross-country drive, you and I, and see the fever dream of our sick nation unfurl before us through the dusty windshield of a grasshopper green, 1975 AMC Gremlin … so that we might have time to talk this all through.

Because, I want you to realize this: There are hidden reservoirs of hope within us: reservoirs as boundless as the reach of your ruthlessness. These waters are as deep and potent as you are, at present, shallow and shameless. Yet, they’re inaccessible to you — as long as you insist your drink of choice will continue to be oil and blood, mixed with the runoff of melting Arctic glaciers.

What you do not know is this: From these inner reservoirs emerge rivers of renewal that run between all of those who turn away from the dry, dead landscape of your lies.

Streams of inspiration and renewal silently flow between those who have glimpsed this: That each generation must struggle against the soulless seekers of absolute power, that each era is a wasteland, that every person learns life is unfair, yet the waters of imagination remain — thus one’s tongue need not wither to cynical dust.

Empires rise and fall, but imagination remains, flowing through time and place, bearing all things to the sea and back again, perpetually returning, bringing new life to the dry, dead land, slaking our thirst, cleansing our wounds, delivering to us the strength to make and remake the world anew, and, at day’s end, lulling us to restful sleep to the timeless cadences of its ceaseless currents.

KO: Your mention of Rilke makes me think of a verse in the Upanishads which reads: “The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not.” There is a resonance here with what Rilke reveals about this inner terrain. This exploration spans human history and geography, from the Jewish and Christian mystics, to Islamic poets, to Buddhist pilgrims and Aboriginal seers who grappled with the dreaming world. And yet how many of us are merely pantomiming our way through this life? How many are participating in a kabuki presentation without searching the layers for meaning?

We need to call out more, as you did. Call out the order that is structuring our lives into meaninglessness. Which robs us of our labor and enslaves us to its shallow ethos. The order that is reducing societies to rubble via drone strikes or sullying life-sustaining water with petroleum products and glyphosate. That is driving the living earth and all who inhabit it toward their untimely demise. Yet, it has become all too common in western thought for people to shun the most fundamental of questions. The questions that peal back the layers of life and existence. This is often because to do so often means inviting ridicule.

 

The pesky questions that reveal our imaginative souls are considered a “waste of time” to the current order of consumer-driven mania, or a thing that toddlers, freshmen philosophy students and old sages do because they supposedly have “nothing better to do.” It is derided as “New Age” nonsense, ironically ignoring that these are the oldest of questions. They are left to the priests, and the clerics, and psychiatrists who too often chide us for thinking too much, for feeling to deeply, or for daring to touch the face of God without their assistance. And who often offer a prayer or a drug to numb that sense of awe we have a birthright to.

And this thing about agendas instead of life also resonates with the attendant, yet unmet, sorrow of our times. Because we know, in a geologic sense, that our moment here is but a blip on the proverbial screen. Yet we possess within us the eternal. A connection to the earth of which we are born which is everlasting. This era of the brutal empire, a system of enslavement, wishes nothing more than to stamp out this awareness from the consciousness of every sentient being. And to replace it with a barcode. Our resistance begins when we no longer parrot the lies of those lovers of absolute power and avarice. When it becomes a song of the dirt and sky and water and sun and all things that actually make us live. And the questions are passages to greater actualization. They deepen us. And maybe that is why those with the most to lose don’t like them being asked in the first place.

PR: Rarely, do we acknowledge the dread simmering at the periphery of our sense of awareness. We allow others their denial and we expect the same in return. It seems as though, at some point, our facade would shatter to shards…that we would turn to friends and strangers alike and sob, “are you not terrified too?”

Therefore, we must keep the conservation going.

Crackpot realist types who bandy dismissive declarations such as, “that is just mere talk. And words amount to nothing.”

Regardless of the opinions of those indoctrinated by Calvinist cum capitalist conditioning, talk is action. Talk is eros. Deeply depressed people lose both their eros and their voice. Books and poems speak. The problem is, all too many of the working class and the poor have been bullied by the capitalist order into believing that we have no voice.

The voice gives rise to the inner self, of the mind and heart, and provides agency towards action and gives context to experience. The crackpot realist’s notion that conversation is a lesser function of humanity amounts to soul-defying inanity, a product of the Puritan Ethic, a coda for slaves. Words are the handmaiden of action and experience.

Talk is audio architecture and dance. In the mythos of the garden of Eden, the loquacious serpent bestowed the key to defiance against the despotic sky god. Words are winged yet speak from the bones of the earth. Denied of words, we lose our humanity, then our souls.

As the poet composes verse, the verse composes the poet.

by Kenn Orphan and Phil Rockstroh

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh.

  • Title artwork for this piece is Prismes électriques (1914), oil on canvas, by Sonia Delaunay, Musée National d’Art Moderne

Grief is the Beast We Need

“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.” ― Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately. About the beings whom I have encountered or have touched me on my sojourn. And the many who have departed from my presence leaving an absence, an emptiness. I’ve lost several friends and family over the years, a few more recently. And one thing I have learned about grief, especially after having the enormous privilege of working with the terminally ill in hospice for many years, is that it is a beast we can never tame. We can only try to live with it, often uncomfortably, and respect its mercurial nature. And yet our grief is also meant to take us deeper. Deeper into the experience and mystery of love and life itself.

It has become all too common in western thought for people to shun the most fundamental of questions. This is often because to do so often means inviting ridicule. These pesky questions are considered a “waste of time” or a thing that toddlers, freshmen philosophy students and old sages do because they supposedly have “nothing better to do.” It is derided as “New Age” nonsense, ironically ignoring that these are the oldest of questions. They are left to the priests, and the clerics, and psychiatrists who too often chide us for thinking too much, for feeling to deeply, or for daring to touch the face of God without their assistance. And who often offer a prayer or a drug to numb that sense of awe we have a birthright to.

There is a verse in the Upanishads which reads: “The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not.” This understanding of the nature of our multiverse is nothing new. It can be found throughout history and spans spiritual and philosophical paths, from the Jewish and Christian mystics, to Islamic poets, to Buddhist pilgrims and Aboriginal seers who grappled with the dreaming world. And yet how many of us are merely pantomiming our way through this life? How many are participating in a kabuki presentation without searching the layers for meaning?

This is a sort of cultural conditioning and it serves a purpose. It reinforces conformity to a system, an ethos. And the less we question, the more our souls atrophy. After all, this is a system is designed to manufacture hungry ghosts. Empty shells with no capacity, no depth, forever roaming the deathscape of consumer capitalism with artificial and insatiable desires for meaningless things. Enslaved to numbered papers, pixelated screens and Gregorian clocks. If more people took time to ask these questions of themselves and of society perhaps things might be turned on their head. The supposed “order” of things, the accepted injustices, prejudices, endless wars, cruelties, ecocide, mindless consumption, inequities and banalities, might be questioned and perhaps even jettisoned.

Grief is the beast we need. It teaches us to cherish and to remember and to preserve. It shows us how to love and be loved and to find the courage to do both without hesitation. And it is a beast that demands our attention. When we deny its lamentation it comes to us by other means. Addictions, obsessions, nightmares, anxieties, depression, aggression, dis-ease. It inserts itself through the very fabric of our being and, if ignored, will devour our souls whole.

As the ice caps melt and plastic brims in our seas, as mad leaders jostle for a piece of the rotted capitalist cake, as more species fade into a distant memory and the Arctic burns, as the waters become fouled or dry up, as homeless shantytowns grow and nuclear arsenals burst, as jackbooted fascists suit up, corporations engorge themselves on misery, and authoritarian dictators join hands, our questions have taken on a new collective urgency. They signal our willingness, or not, to participate in the story of us. And it is an existential one.

So, before the movie ends, shouldn’t we ask the questions? Might that not be the greatest use of our time yet? There may not be any definitive answers. Perhaps only a silence. But getting an answer may not be what is important here at all. The questions are passages for greater understanding. They deepen us. And maybe that is why those with the most to lose don’t like them being asked in the first place.

Kenn Orphan   2019

*Title painting is one I did several years ago entitled “Just Before Dawn.”

 

Fires in Arctic Ice; Exposed on the Mountains of the Heart: “I would burn my right hand in a slow fire to change the future.”

It is my honour to present another collaborative dialogue with poet, lyricist and philosopher Phil Rockstroh.

PR: Recently, the temperature in Paris rose to 108.7 F (42.6 C) surpassing the previous record by 4 F (2.2 C) set on July 28, 1947 of 104.7 F (40.4 C).

Shortly thereafter, during an email exchange with an old friend, a prominent (if the term prominent can still be applied to the professionally marginalised and culturally obscure field of psychoanalysis) Jungian analyst, I addressed this question: Do you still insist my dread pertaining to atmospherically trapped, humankind-generated greenhouse gas emissions are a, veiled in metaphor, longing for human warmth — the stuff of consulting room pathos expressed, in Jungian patois, as Puer aeternus’ (in latin, eternal boy) displaced pothos? Or I was/am highly sensitive to the earth’s (a living entity’s) suffering and I was/am psychically streaming the lament of an aspect of the pantheistic mind of the godhead (i.e., archetypal reality)? Withal, Pan would be apt to rise in the form of panic. According to Greek myth, the gods of the Olympian pantheon are amused and humanity enlivened by Pan’s earthly musks and randy proclivities. But, in our atomised time, Arcana is transubstantiated into a pixel arcade of empty sensation. The breath of the living earth has been shunted from experience thus one hyperventilates…mortified by a subliminal apprehension of the dehumanising, abysmal nature of the medium.

When the weather conditions of the planet churn in humankind inflicted chaos, what is the concomitant effect on the psychical weather systems of individuals? What essences are dispatched from the Great Soul of the implicate order to artists? For example, the canvases of Bruegel the Elder, liming in the language of dreams, the clash of status quo Catholicism and the sectarian shit-storm evoked by the Protestant Reformation? Or Jung dropping to his knees and crawling, heaving with nausea, at his first glimpse of Cubism and his intuitive understanding of the psychological violence, intimated by the art movement, manifested under the soul-defying criteria of Machine Age modernity and mechanistic-based militarism?

The criteria of our wounding and wounded age should be operatic in scale; instead, we are bombarded with the petty minded prattle of mass and social media pikers.

KO: I was thinking about the fires in the Arctic a lot lately. Wildfires that are indeed wild, but have little to do with the natural cycles of this ancient orb. A human induced fever that has led to an all out inferno which erupts each summer with more intensity than the last. And I, too, was talking to an old friend, only she is a climate scientist. She lamented to me her feelings of despair, overwhelming at times. And then we see Paris and across Europe temperatures spiking into unbearable heights. And in the southern hemisphere floods are ravaging the poorest communities.

This is the environmental crisis we are hearing about continuously these days. And it is real and existential. Yet along with this crisis comes the crisis of capital, and the fear that the ruling class is feeling these days. Terror, actually. They understand this arrangement, all of it, is untenable for long term survival of the species (and countless other species as well) yet they are compelled to salvage the arrangement, not our existence. And this sort of madness infects our very psyche, because it is indicative of a kind of slavery. Slavery to a system that has doom and death woven into its fabric. And all the while the slavery is accompanied by emojis and memes. It is a slavery enforced by the ubiquitous screen, yet so few would recognize it as such. Guy Debord would have, but most would likely scoff at the very notion of it.

I know you have written a lot about dreams and so, in this age of existential angst, I’ve been thinking a lot about them too. In my insomnia wrought nights I have found myself longing for them, but when I sleep I am often haunted by their shadows and shades. The living world seeps into my consciousness and sullies it with the flotsam of unmet desires, frustrations and the disquiet of our collective predicament as a species. But then there are moments where a disconnect from the miasma of the conscious world occurs. I find myself in a sort of “dreamtime” as Australian Aboriginal peoples described so eloquently. A place where creation itself is the eternal moment. But everything has been colonized in our age, even dreams to some extent. That colonization is reflected in addictions and obsessions, and in the social maladies that haunt modern society. And it can be seen in the collective madness of ignoring the maelstrom on the horizon.

PR: The founder of the post-Jungian, Archetypal School of Psychology, James Hillman, provides insight on the situation:

“A crisis is very important, Freud and Jung both had creative breakdowns. I’m in favor of destruction, aggression, hating things. Not bearing things anymore. We think the breakdown comes because our life is in bad shape. But maybe the ideas cause the disorder. Something tries to break through and causes the disorder.”

Kenn, because you made reference to my writing involving dreams. In particular, my musing on the manner, within dreamscapes, the personal is often merged with the collective thus dreams are a viable and accessible realm wherein crises are dramatically limned in imagistic thus metaphoric form, I will elaborate on the subject by applying the poetic lexicon of dreams themselves:

In my dreams, the living and the dead, human and animal, mingle, even merge. A departed friend has transmogrified into a Jack Russell, endowed with the wings of a pelican. Another into an emerald and sapphire, non-venomous constrictor snake that coiled around my left arm transmitting throbbing energy throughout my body.

Other times, we engage in everyday discourse. One friend proffers this advice to me:

“Listen to music by artists archived within yours and my memory and has been neglected.”

Another seemed annoyed at being waylaid into my dream dominion, “I have a garden to cultivate,” he groused. “it is nothing like yours.”

In my dream cosmos, my father’s rage has not subsided. Our fights and our fragile, ad hoc alliances proceed as when he blazed in his orphan’s fury through the waking world. Seven years ago, in the late a.m. hours of late May night, he exhaled his last morphine-hobbled breath. Earlier in the day, his last words to me, as he gazed out the door that opened to a garden outside his hospice room, were “Ah. There is a zoo outside of here. Beautiful.”

Animated by the libation of animal spirits, my dead arrive and depart. Yet: The last Black Rhinoceros has been delivered into extinction. The oceans of the planet, womb of us all, are rapidly dying. Rainforests are burning to ash. Day and night, the predations of Auschwitz are inflicted within vast, industrial slaughter houses. Animal spirits rise within the soul-defying and defanged confines of late modernity as panic attacks and shooting sprees.

It seems as if the dead transmigrating my dreams arrive freighted with the knowledge of our collective folly. What is my place in the realm of parched earth and burning sky? Is lamentation all that remains as the last honest song of humankind?

“Exposed on the mountains of the heart. / See, how small there, see: the last hamlet of words, and higher, and still so small, a last homestead of feeling.” — Uncollected Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke

Song of ashes; building percussion of dry bones. Yet, in my dreams, the rain caresses the fecund earth and animal spirits seem undaunted by their dismal fate. My father’s unflagging animus causes me to awaken; my hands balled into fists. The tautly drawn skin over my knuckles reflects the sheen of mid-morning light.

Father, you have bequeath me with rage. Yet, as the moments after waking pass, the fury becomes a dissipating vapour in the vastness of the day.

In the poetic lexicon of it all: Both the awe-ful and awe-some collide. I navigate the numinous debris field of my life — a gliding mess of conflicted love for the world.

KO: In reading your words I could’t help but be reminded of the Bhagavad Gita and the verse:

“I am the beginning, middle, and end of creation. Among animals I am the lion; among birds, the eagle Garuda. I am Prahlada, born among the demons, and of all that measures, I am time. I am death, which overcomes all, and the source of all beings still to be born. Just remember that I am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of my being. Behold, Arjuna, a million divine forms, with an infinite variety of color and shape. Behold the gods of the natural world, and many more wonders never revealed before. Behold the entire cosmos turning within my body, and the other things you desire to see.

I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world.”

Carl Jung is said to written notes toward the end of his life about a “final catastrophe,” and I think of that more and more these days. Here, we stand at the precipice of catastrophe, the casting of our shadows, projected on to the world with such a carelessness.  And it connects to this desire for the end, a latent longing for destruction so that things can somehow be renewed, much like the mythology around end times eschatology. But it can be seen in environmental movements too. An acceptance of the end of the living biosphere with no grasp of its eons. No appreciation of its power. That we countenance such a thing is breathtaking. I commiserate with this on a deep level. It speaks to my angst, especially since I was raised in the tradition of Christian eschatology and in seeing what we are, in fact, doing to the web of life on which we rely and of which we are a part of.

I’ve thought a lot, too, about the paintings by Henry Fuseli. The Nightmare, and related paintings, done in the 18th century. And although there is a strong sexual component to them, I think there is more. It speaks to an angst about creation and destruction, and how in sleep we are vulnerable to it all. And in the Dreamtime, as they say, I find myself narrowly escaping catastrophe. Cityscapes are enfolded by the wilds. The wild lands are entwined with concrete structures. And all collide in some cataclysm. A sort of Big Bang or creation story that involves death and rebirth. And in my waking hours I have often pored over scientific papers concerning climate change, habitat loss, and species extinction. I see the destruction happening like a slow moving avalanche, swallowing up hectare after hectare. And oceans coastlines brimming with plastic. So it stands to reason why any of us would feel the impulse of letting go of it all. Of a chance, however remote or undeserved, of rebirth. But the terror of such a thing should stop us all in our tracks.

PR: A yearning exists to find comfort, difficult as it is, confronted by the largely anonymous societal arrangements of the age. Angst, as you noted, Kenn, pummels when one gazes at current vectors of our aeon of industrial/consumer capitalist modernity. Depression’s downward pull, impersonal as gravity, either renders one helpless with misery or dispatches one to ground level. The option of manic flights of distraction are no longer in the realm of the possible. A spirit of habitual evasion has met the embrace of the indomitable soul of the earth.

At this point in our atomised time, dialog is crucial. Not a superficial exchange of snarky memes, nor the soul-defying banality of emoticon generalisations, nor corporate era “self help,” “motivational” platitudes, nor the truncated prose and poetry-devoid and often testy “conversational style” of screen addicted (non)life. Discourses that manage to be, simultaneously, manic and inert.

“I would burn my right hand in a slow fire
To change the future … I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.” — Excerpted from Rearmament, Robinson Jeffers.

Our lives are diminished by the culture of exploitation. We feel tiny when we stand before the enormity of the monstrous system — but we are not small enough yet to envelop and tear the beast to shreds like coursing legions of army ants.

When considering the fate of the besieged earth, we feel immersed in an encompassing darkness — yet not deeply enough to make the dark our ally.

We are not gods nor angels; therefore, we cannot drown the enemies of life in a torrent of rage-borne tears. Yet we can drown our own complicity insofar as their odious doings.

I have been broken by the system. The hall of infinity mirrors of my mind has been shattered to shards….yet, through it all, now reflects numinous light. My verdant heart, once deracinated in sterile paradise, now opens, in my better moments, into the freedom of air.

I cannot bring a single soul with me there. Or can I?

If it is possible, if you have followed me here, know this: To destroy the earth, is to destroy one’s soul. We emerged from the ocean so that plankton can praise the fiery filaments and the cosmos can know its children thus realise itself.

We are no more alone than is the totality of the multiverse. Thus we need never be wanting for companionship.

Keep the conversation going.

“For look, the whole is infinitely newer
than a cable or a high apartment house.
The stars keep blazing with an ancient fire
and all the more recent fires will fade out.

Not even the largest, strongest of transmissions
can turn the wheels from what will be.
Across the moment, aeons speak with aeons.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus

– by Kenn Orphan and Phil Rockstroh, July  2019

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh

Title piece is “The Triumph of Death” (1562) by Pieter Bruegel.

 

On the Mockery of Elitists and Fools, a Musing

Recently, I had a “delightful” back and forth on social media with a “conservative gay activist” who happens to be a friend of a friend. Now, this designation might seem an oxymoron, but my guess is that it is some deeply confused, self-hating white guy lobbying passionately to force queer people like me back into the closet. But these “activists” apparently exist. It turned out, however that he is (or was) also the VP of the Log Cabin Republicans in a city I used to call home. Now, the Log Cabin organization should not be confused with any delightful memory of maple syrup and pancakes as the name might imply, think: cult for the deeply self-loathing LGBT person, yet irretrievably lost soul of white bestowed capitalist privilege.

It should go without saying that things didn’t go very well (who saw that coming?). And I admit that I wasn’t exactly “civil” myself. Although, in the Age of Trump civility isn’t really en vogue. Of course this can be traced back far before that orange-tinged dung beetle back-footed his gold plated turd ball on to the world stage, but he has certainly emboldened the trend in spades. And I must say that civility is overrated when it comes from a place of apologism or capitulation to barbarism.

I think he (the log cabin fellow) really took umbrage with me being thoroughly unimpressed with the self-professed fact that he has done interviews on Fox News and even CNN and MSNBC. He felt the need to insert these “credentials” after saying I wasn’t worth talking to because I didn’t know anything. Of course, these “interviews” are essentially on those shows that people in airports or auto shop waiting rooms are forced to watch when their mobile phones die. The scores of shows produced by American corporate media that trot out a seemingly endless parade of empty-headed vacuum sacks in suits in order to fill their copious screen space, in lieu of actually reporting the news or addressing the plight of human beings or the planet, or having any one on with a truly radical vision outside the status quo. And since his entire Facebook and Twitter feeds were festooned with racist imagery (showing Ilhan Omar as a snake, etc.) and other assorted memes of a similar nature, it really diminished any elitism he was trying to impart to me, a being of lower societal status.

After saying I wrote about the plight of indigenous peoples, against racism, and the struggle of all working people, and the planet, and against war, he understood that I was not the typical binary political foe he was used to. I am not a liberal or a Democrat. He then accused me of being (gasp) a communist! Of course I immediately thanked him, explained to him that I was actually more of an anarcho-socialist yet undefined, but that some of my best friends were, in fact, communists. As you can imagine, it all went downhill from there.

We didn’t have time to get into any of this between exchanging insults (of which I regret on my part), and things devolved into him posting inane memes akin to the “libtard” pejorative, but I’m certain he would have been equally horrified that I think ICE and the border patrol are today’s version of an American gestapo, or that the US military uses LGBT rights to whitewash war crimes, or that I support Palestinian rights, or that I not only believe in human caused climate change but that capitalism is the main driver, or that I think far right fascism is one of the greatest threats to humanity, and that it is rising around the world, and especially within the US and in his own beloved party.

It ended on a rather chilling note. He thanked me for revealing my political inclinations and said “we are going to win in 2020 and make our way permanent for all time.” Now, one can interpret that many ways, but in today’s climate it was quite clear. With rising fascism we can only hope that more people of conscience will call out what they see before their very eyes. After that he told me that he took a screen capture of our conversation and posted it on his wall so that his friends could have a good laugh at my idiocy. At that point I had no choice but to block him.

And that brings me to the point of this short and hopefully somewhat humorous musing. I may have not chosen my words wisely, but this is a time of rising barbarism, and it often comes with the veneer of “civility” or pretension. These privileged elitists often get spots on nightly news shows and other mediums. They attend well heeled fundraisers. And they have a measure of societal power and influence. So then with all this in mind, the mockery from such elitists, fools, fascists and other assorted brutes should be considered far more preferable to their admiration. In fact, mockery is a powerful and even moral tool, but only when it is used by the oppressed against oppressors. Anything else is merely the makings of a lynch mob.

Kenn Orphan   2019

 

Landscape of Anguish and Palliatives: Predation, Addiction and LOL Emoticons in the Age of Late Stage Capitalism

This is a collaborative dialogue with poet, lyricist and philosopher Phil Rockstroh.

Kenn, I’ve noticed in your pieces you explore the topic of the myriad and perpetual degradations that capitalism inflicts on the powerless. Thus given the unfolding of recent events e.g., the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein, I’m curious as to your response to my (initial) take on the matter. Withal, the hyper-commodification of the bodies of young women is part and parcel of the economic dynamic of late stage capitalism whereby the earth is degraded to the point of global-wide ecocide and cities are rendered into vanilla cupcake zones of nada by hyper-gentrification.

To wit, Jeffrey Epstein is a predator and the same proclivities are evinced by his klavern of creepopathic friends e.g., Clinton, Trump, Dershowitz et. al.  Predation is the modus operandi of the ruling class. As noted, feelings of entitlement towards the bodies of young women — their beings reduced to objects of commodification — are part and parcel of a worldview which rationalises an entitlement to the (finite) resources of planet earth and the capital generated by the labor of lower economic orders. The domination-driven mindset of Jeffery Epstein was formed in and enabled by a elitist order that imprisons the economically powerless within the inescapable confines of late stage capitalism. In short, almost every human being in the world other than a (minuscule-in-number) minority of High End predators.

Why do we, the powerless, tolerate the abuse? Economic coercion. Display defiance towards the abuse and one risks being dispatched to the capitalist order’s gulag archipelago —  the capitalist version i.e., homelessness, into which precincts are cast those who cannot psychically abide, for various reasons, the predation inherent to the system. Also, the police serve as strong arm muscle for the ruling elite. The cops serve as a Praetorian guard of the predatory class.

Jeffrey Epstein’s modus operandi is emblematic of the system as a whole. The planet itself is perpetually violated and is suffering, in a manner most hideous, from the current arrangements of power. The arrest, conviction, and imprisoning of Epstein, and, if you allow me to indulge in a wish fulfilment jag of imaginative flight —  similar fates are foisted on Clinton, Trump, Dershowitz et. al., — would prove gratifying schadenfreude but unless the system that enables and greatly rewards Epstein’s predator breed is dismantled then merely one head of the hydra has been decapitated. The rapacious beast will live on until it is stabbed in its dark heart and its bones bleach in the sun of a new era.

KO: Epstein provides us a glimpse into the depravity of the ruling class, one which is obviously above the law even though he himself might now face some consequences. But the ruling class itself is full of Epstein models and prototypes. The sexual aspect of this whole thing cannot be understated either. America is a place of stark contradictions when it comes to sex and sexuality. On the one hand, there is the commodification of sex as you mention. It is everywhere. But on the other, a persistent strain of puritanism still shadows everything. And it is a place where even radical movements for human liberation are co-opted by bourgeois and reactionary institutions. Pride parades are an example of this. Along with banks and corporations, there are police contingents marching and USAF flyovers. The spirit of Stonewall be damned.

But I think the Epstein affair is emblematic of the death knell of late capitalism in many ways. Being a system designed wholly on the ruthless predation of the weak, vulnerable, or disadvantaged, capitalism cannot operate any other way. But its predation includes the living biosphere that we all depend on, so its fait accompli is written all over this as well. We can only hope that our species will not meet its end as a result. And with Trump’s unhinged saber rattling added, that hope quickly fades.

PR:  A great amount of news and pixel is expended on questions such as: Does Trump desire war or does Trump desire peace? Is Trump a racist or does he simply play one on TV with the agenda of agitating the limbic systems of his racist base? Is Trump a blithering imbecile, completely over his tangerine-tinged, combover-thatched head, or is he engaging in a cunning ploy intended to cause his opponents to underestimate him?

Fact is: Trump is about one thing and one thing only: His malignant ego being provided with perpetual narcissistic supply. Trump is a malignant narcissist, with psychopathic leanings e.g. his ungovernable impulse to grope (which he boasted about and was caught on audio tape) and his imprisoning children in concentration camps. His rival, in the last US presidential election cycle, HRC was also a narcissist with psychopathic proclivities but her persona is artic cold while Trump’s pulses with fuckwitted intemperance and cringe-inducing crassness. Hillary’s arctic aura causes people’s blood to run cold. But this is crucial: Both are human vessels that catalyse the Second Law Of Thermodynamics — a force of hypertrophy that arrives at the end of empires in the form of craven, clueless leaders.

As above, so below, in regard to the empire’s citizenry. Withal, a recent poll reveals the psychopathic tendencies of the general US public — to wit, more than a third of whom desire to have North Korea reduced to radioactive cinders by a nuclear weapons strike. (Do these vicious sub-cretins not realise such an attack would also decimate South Korea and nearby Japan and parts of China, and the radioactive emissions would travel across the planet, including reaching the US, by the conveyance of atmospheric currents?)

Flat out, creepy, huh…when, in public, a significant number of the people surrounding you, on a daily basis, are bughouse crazy. They possess the self-awareness of a bag of hair. Their regard for consequences, even catastrophic ones, is on par with that of a spree killer. These everyday psychopaths would kill millions with the casual intent of applying a LOL emoticon on social media. It causes my flesh to crawl to even write about it. Yet Beauty exists in the vastness and intricacies of creation. The dream-plangent human heart, a microcosm of the macrocosm, is redolent of both Loves fragrances and the sublimity of Horror. Poets term the phenomenon: a terrible beauty.

How does one trudge through the day and sink into restorative rest at night? There does not exist an answer on a provisional basis. Instead, become the question itself, Rainer Maria Rilke advised, and futurity will brood within you like a dreaming seed. The green fuse of the dream itself will crack open the kernel of your old understandings. Providentially, there was never an answer. The question itself only circumscribes the possibilities of life lived amid shifting, earthly criteria under a novelty-engendering sky.

KO: One thing you wrote really stands out in my mind as terrifyingly timely. “These everyday psychopaths would kill millions with the casual intent of applying a LOL emoticon on social media.” This is the landscape we are navigating these days. Where decisions that determine life and death are dominated by mercurial dopamine rewards offered by social media posts. It makes sense then that Trump, an addict if there ever was one, is so tethered to Twitter as a means of carrying out his daily duties. But the public and mass media are an equal part of this arrangement.

And so it leaves the rest of us to grapple with our existential moment. The angst and restlessness that accompanies the minutiae of our daily life and its transactions. How our dreams are interrupted by cannot be understated. It makes me think of other moments in history. Moments where the knowledge of atrocity or outright fascist brutality was widespread, but the sense of apathy or powerlessness was in equal measure.

Climate change, a biosphere in peril and under constant assault, militarism, rising fascism, and, as you make clear, the specter of nuclear annihilation. All of this convergence of very bad and very final things comes at a time when so many in the West are perpetually trapped within a prism of binary thinking. Trump is so emblematic of ‘in your face’ sadism that so many forget the cold banality of Clinton and the rest of that elite coterie of cruelty.

And yet here we are, with the newest brand of Democratic Party corporate, war-lusting clones trotted out on stage as if they were a viable alternative to the walking dumpster fire that is Trump. And that there few mass movements against the overarching system is important to note. There is only atomized outraged instead of a groundswell of rage against the entire monstrosity that is the American Empire.

PR: Late capitalists are dopamine merchants. Whether the addictive criteria involves consumerism and its even more meretricious scion, social media, the reward systems are hijacked. The dopehouse lie of the mind prevails: “Just one more hit and I’m out of here. I have this under control”…yet dawn arrives…then morning yields to afternoon…

The economic elite possess a classic form of the affliction, albeit in the cosmology of the capitalist epoch, their cupidity and avarice are deemed not only virtues but the best and only possible monads to create social constructs and to seed culture. In regard to addiction, I prefer the term from depth psychology “Complex” as opposed to “Disease.” With this caveat: Unless the latter term is appropriated, for example, in the Jungian sense i.e., the gods [i.e., higher (and lower) psychical powers] have become diseases. Among the distortions of the mind concomitant to addiction: an addict mistakes the Complex — a response that was once helpful in bestowing feelings of “ease and comfort” thereby mitigating feelings of trauma and attendant angst and despair, but has grown into a dynamic of destruction.

As the self-justifying illusions that enable the Complex intensify, the tangible world — of sensation and consequence — seem as veritable as vapour. As a rule, addiction is an attempt to apply palliative measures to psychical based wounds. Thus if day to day experiences of late capitalist modernity unfold as a landscape of angst and despair borne of the humiliations inherent to being viewed as a soulless, anonymous flesh machine who has been relegated to existing as merely an economic entity, an atomised being…alone, powerless, devoid of voice…therefore, even a contemporary, “normal,” seemingly adjusted social media habituate becomes, as is the case with all addicts, lost in a wilderness of inhuman, archetypical impulses…that possess a single-minded objective: escape overwhelming feelings of anxiety and despair by getting high, even it the sky must burn, the oceans roil with methane gases, and the biodiversity of the earth suffers the fate of a drunk’s liver and brain cells. Withal, we, in our sober moments, stand mortified as the same process is destroying the ability of the planet to sustain human life by means of capitalism inflicted, worldwide ecocide.

KO:  It’s true, there is an addiction to the screen in this age. The absence of it produces a sort of anxiety akin to withdrawal. It is of no wonder really that the orange buffoon in the Oval Office is addicted to Twitter (and most likely Aderall). But it goes to all levels. War is conducted by the Empire mostly via screens. People and entire villages are reduced to ash from the click of some armchair warrior miles away. But capitalism is essentially slavery. And it coerces its slaves with violence, fear and addiction. The portable screen is the newest manifestation of this kind of psychic tyranny.

What I’ve found fascinating is that I’ve read a few articles on how the uber wealthy are now shunning their screens. It is considered lowbrow. Elite schools are jettisoning laptops for face to face encounters. Even executives brag of how they are “inaccessible” via email or texting for much of their day. But they can afford to do this, of course. It is the working class and, to a large extent, bourgeoisie who are tethered to their screens. And I cannot help but wonder how this all plays into conformity, constant fear and the surveillance state. In one sense, we are kept up to date on our dire state, but in another we are driven to a state of constant fear by the enormity of it all and how supposedly powerless we are to fight back.

PR:  We are drawn to screen life — or a facsimile of life offered thereof — because social media evokes a simulacrum of participation mystique. We long for the musk and fury of worldly engagement — i.e., eros — with life itself. But in this atomised epoch — an existence devoid of the public square and ridden with angst involving face to face encounters (created simply by a lack of practice) — the socially isolated citizenry of the late capitalist epoch are suffering from, on both a personal and collective basis, acute eros-deficiency.  “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”  Eric Hoffer’s insight reveals why screen (faux) life is addictive. One feels as if human-to-human communion — a connection with the everyday sublime is imminent but the connection never arrives…yet one is compelled to double down.

Thus we have careened into a dangerous psychical terrain: the means capitalist modernity gives rise to a fascist proclivity for mind-usurping, sensation-base spectacle and concomitant immersion in the eros (including the blood-lust variety) of the mob (a palliative for the citizenry’s collective, acute eros-deficiency). Withal, the phenomenon in play at Trump rallies that are teeming with Brownshirt prototypes in crocs. This threat, seethed by Trump, is axiomatic of the form:

“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad…” Among the manifestations of fascist signifying and modus operandi: 1) Use of police/military power to intimidate and if need be to crush opposition (as Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with local police departments, inflicted on the Occupy Wall Street movement — to wit, US fascism is not restricted to Trump). 2) “Bikers for Trump”: Deployment of violent Brownshirt-type thuggery. 3) Worship of strength and a revulsion to perceived weakness (Trump’s display of military hardware on the Forth Of July and his time-warping, jingoist farrago of a speech. 4) Beliefs of victimisation at the hands of internal groups and violent and/or contagion-bearing outsider mandating a need for a cordon sanitaire to protect the homeland, even to the point of justifying calls and acts of violence and the existence of containment facilities caging foreign interlopers.

Fascist citadels of the mind serve as protection against internalised shame and fears of vulnerability. Fascism, always, lies coiled beneath the surface of capitalist modernity and its sham democracies. Trump is an accelerant of fascism; he is not the cause. Trump may have been born rich but he knows, deep down, the illusion of success and confidence he displays is a hollow gambit deployed to protect himself from the truth that without his father’s wealth Trump, in the best case scenario, would have risen to the level of assistant manager of an exurb Applebees, and been fired for acts of sexual harassment.

The Tangerine-tinged Tub Of Toxic Goo’s fascist tendencies are a compensation for internalised shame borne of a sense of inadequacy…that threaten to overwhelm his fragile ego structure.  In short, he is the man of the capitalist zeitgeist.

KO:  Yes, on the psychical level we all long for that connection. For participation in the theater of life. And so then Trump fits perfectly into this milieu. He is emblematic of the spectacle, albeit in a dull and brutish way. But the Trump phenomenon represents where capitalism inevitably ends up. Wealth doesn’t beget grace, or wit, or intelligence, or compassion. And we have seen similar scenarios play out over the 20th century around the world in different societies.

Capitalism’s deal with the bourgeoisie leads inevitably to some kind of fascist authoritarianism in a bid to maintain a privilege that was never fair or sustainable to begin with. It’s a sort of Faustian bargain, although in this case it is not for some increase in knowledge or even power necessarily, but for maintaining ones class status despite the inequities or outright barbarity that arrangement engenders for countless other people or for the living planet itself. And the faux opposition always serves to act as a bulwark against any meaningful political agency. It maintains the sham.

But now we are in a rather unique circumstance, and increasingly so. The planet’s systems are being rapidly degraded by the forces of capital and their military powers. And there is always the threat of nuclear annihilation via mishap or even tweet. So this is an existential moment, so to speak. And I’m not even sure how Marx or Engels would grapple with where we are at today.

PR:  Marx and Engels insight involved Industrial Age capitalism but what insights would the Marxist philosophers have posited in regard to the endless, social media-borne piffle mongering and the Medium’s panopticon-level corporate surveillance — and the attendant shallowness and fragility of the infrastructure of neoliberalism’s constructed-of eggshells economic/cultural/societal architecture? The phenomenon is mirrored in the psychical architecture of the epoxied-to-screens citizenry and their concomitant attention spans that are as tenuous as the power grid and food supply infrastructure of late capitalist modernity.

All too many have fallen prey to a con artists’ scam — a cultural lie of the mind — as durable as gossamer, as sincere as the promises of a pimp, as reliable as a blackmarket timepiece. The ground is not solid; the foundation of the system is ridden with rot; the greenhouse gas inundated waters of the earth’s oceans and seas are rising; the political class are grotesques resembling the visions — not as limned by Marx or Engels — but of Jonathan Swift, Gogol, and Otto Dix.

The question is…not how long can this go on…but how have we allowed it to go on as long as we have?

~ Kenn Orphan and Phil Rockstroh   July, 2019

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh

Stranger Things, Stranger Times

To say we live in extraordinarily strange times is perhaps the ultimate understatement. Strange times indeed, and terrifying as well. Rising global fascism, the continued threat of nuclear war, an imperiled biosphere and a climate that is rapidly heating up. In the US it is even more apparent. There are concentration camps on the southern US border where children are being separated from their parents. Children are being forced to share lice combs and told to drink toilet water. Several have died. People arrested for leaving out water for dehydrated immigrants in the desert. Jackbooted raids are being threatened against undocumented people by President Trump as institutions like ICE reveal a staggering level of racism and blatant fascism. The orange hued megalomaniac in the Oval Office routinely tweets racist screeds or threatens the annihilation of millions of people, from Iran to North Korea. The US military is engaged in several wars of imperialism abroad. And homeless encampments in and around US cities are exploding.

But to watch American mass media one might feel they are in a parallel universe. Case in point, the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I will confess that I do enjoy watching many series on Netflix, including this particular one, mostly for their entertainment value. And I have a bit of an addiction to pop culture. But when I watched the recent third season I was astonished by the level of blatant American propaganda on display, without even a morsel of ambiguity.

If you haven’t watched the previous seasons or this one, don’t worry. I won’t spoil the ending. But the series generally revolves around a group of kids in suburban middle America in the 1980s. They become swept up in a whirlwind of events involving the US Department of Energy, secret government experiments and a dark power that threatens to destroy everything in the world we know. The entire set and character development is steeped in 80’s kitsch, but it deserves credit for its fast pace, special effects and endearing characters; and there have been some truly remarkable moments of humanity in relation to the struggles of a young and psychokinetically talented girl named Eleven, “El” for short, in earlier seasons.

But in this last season the nefarious machinations of Department of Energy and other US agencies have been jettisoned to focus on the “evil Russians.” No, really. They actually use the term “evil Russians” several times throughout the show. That, along with “Soviet scum.” Now, anyone who has studied American mass media understands how Hollywood has long parroted the talking points of the US ruling establishment and the Pentagon. Russophobia has always been a common plotline. But this is a time where #Russiagate has flooded the consciousness of the American liberal bourgeoisie. Anyone who expresses doubts about the extent of Russian meddling in US electoral politics, even if they are staunchly opposed to the fascism of Donald Trump as I am, are often branded as “Russian bots” or on the Kremlin’s payroll. Pundits like Rachel Maddow and many in the Democratic Party establishment have devoted themselves to the #Russiagate narrative 24/7. So this is not merely done in a vacuum. It plays neatly into American reactionary politics.

In fact, many productions to this day have active CIA, DHS and DoD agents sitting on their sets in advisory roles, and US military hardware has been made readily available for those studios and productions who follow the script, so to speak. So the dialogue of Stranger Things should not come as a surprise. But there are other examples. One scientist, Alexei, expresses a desire to become an American scientist after seeing the “evil” of his government. And an enormous Soviet base, for instance, built deep in the bedrock beneath a shopping mall in the small Indiana town of Hawkins. The silliness of this aside, the fact that the USSR was at the beginning of an economic death spiral at the time is one issue, but the Soviet operatives here are given an almost supernatural physical strength in most cases.

Now of course none of this is to defend the anti-democratic leanings, human rights violations, attacks on journalists, political opponents or LGBTQ people, atrocities, militarism or war crimes of the former USSR or of the current Russian Federation under Putin; but it is to say that US propaganda is alive and well in mass media. And there is a nationalistic impulse for collective amnesia when it comes to the US role in toppling democratically elected governments (Chile, Iran, Honduras, etc), gross anti-democratic and authoritarian atrocities (the internment of Japanese Americans, Red Scare and Jim Crow for three glaring 20th century examples), or enormous war crimes (the nuking of civilians in Japan, carpet bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Libya, etc.), or crimes against humanity (see Marshall Islands nuke testing, Tuskegee experiments, COINTELPRO, etc.) committed by the American government and military. This rebranded propaganda appears to have resurfaced for a new generation.

In addition to the obvious Russophobia there is another component of the plot in Stranger Things that is striking for the current age. An evil “Mind Flayer” from the dark world of the “Upside Down” takes over the minds and wills of various townspeople. With the backdrop of a “communist menace” various conclusions can be drawn about American Red Scare and its fearmongering about collectivism.  Think: Invasion of the Body Snatchers redux. But one character, a little precocious black girl named Erica Sinclair, makes several pronouncements on the virtues of capitalism. She proclaims at one point: “know what I love more about this country? Capitalism. Do you know what capitalism means? It means this is free market system. which means people get paid for their services, depending on how valuable their contributions are.”

Now little Erica can be forgiven for her ignorance, but the reality for millions of other black kids in 1980s America (or before and since for that matter) was far less forgiving. This was an era marked by Reagan’s ruthless neoliberal order, a “trickle-down” economy that never managed to trickle any material benefits to working class black and brown people, let alone working class whites. And the show never touches on any of the rampant racism at play in the 1980s either; although it includes a palpable identity politics drenched, au courant, bourgeois-based, sexist conscious component of the #MeToo variety.

But the producers of Stranger Things, brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, are the real culprits here. Their net worth is reported to be around $12 million each, so they have certainly benefited from that “free market” capitalism Erica boasts about. One wonders if they notice the mega shantytowns on their way to the studio each day. The ones that are burgeoning throughout California and around the country. I doubt many of them would share Erica’s enthusiasm for the current economic order.

The third season of Stranger Things encapsulates the angst of the American bourgeoisie today. Its appeal to a nostalgia is seen in the excess emphasis on sentimentality and kitsch; and there is a nod of acceptance of authoritarianism in the liberties taken by police chief Jim Hopper, or “Hop,” where his abuses are portrayed humorously. And this at a time where police brutality is off the charts. Its conformity is evident in the constant promotion of corporate products, consumerism and the dominant shopping mall milieu. Nationalism and jingoism are predominant with the US military and 4th of July symbolism playing a key role in the defeat of evil. And there is an ever present fear of an “other” who threatens everything America supposedly stands for: individualism, liberty and shopping, of course.

The American bourgeoisie is in an existential crisis. It is overworked, in perpetual fear of debt or bankruptcy due to healthcare costs, mortgage and rent, education and the costs of daily living. Its privileged status stands threatened by the natural trajectory of capitalism toward gross economic inequity, avarice fueled corruption, the capriciousness of a sadistic “free market,” rising fascism, militarism and an imperiled biosphere that stands to topple the entire house of cards. The so-called “opposition” to the tyrant in the White House has been playing a game of appeasement and focusing on outside “threats” like Russia, instead of tackling the real enemy: the American ruling class establishment. But mass media is incapable of reflecting this reality. To do so, it would need to examine American history accurately, honestly, and with humility, and face the truth about the past and the current untenable arrangement. And that would undoubtedly be the strangest thing of all.

 

Kenn Orphan   2019

We Know

Perhaps you can commiserate. For the past few weeks I’ve felt an aching in my chest; an angst I cannot escape. The darkening skies of an ever besieged biosphere aside, the specter of rising fascism undoubtedly looms large now, and war, a global war, now seems inevitable. It’s true that the saber rattling has been going on for some time. And the bombs have never really stopped falling. The last leader of the American Empire dropped over 26,000 of them in his last year alone.

But then, last week, the current bloated tweeting emperor called forth his bombers into the sky and, at a moment’s notice, called them back. A war that would ignite a region already smoldering from decades of imperial assaults was halted in midair. But the effect of terror had been accomplished. Billions of people now hold their breath as he casually promises to obliterate millions of people if “anything” American is harmed. Is an unmanned drone worth millions of human lives? We may find out if the Empire thinks so.

And then there are the camps. Those camps on the southern border of the Empire. It is unfathomable for any person of conscience to ignore the horror unfolding there. It requires a forfeiture of one’s soul. Children screaming for their mothers, the mothers whose arms they were ruthlessly torn from. Clothing caked with mucus. Lying on cold, concrete floors, with foil sheets as blankets. Abandoned children mothering other abandoned children. Caged. Alone. Terrified. And the guards screaming at the children who didn’t follow their instructions. Who didn’t share the lice combs they were told to share. And the children who have been adopted out to other families, or who died of exposure and preventable diseases.  Succumbing to dehydration in a harsh desert because people have been imprisoned by the Empire for leaving out water.

Queer people locked in solitary confinement, for being queer. Pregnant women shackled to beds as they give birth. And yet some liberals balk at the use of the words “concentration camps” for being too strong. History has words that describe those liberals too, and they aren’t flattering.

Far from homes ravaged by violence, these human beings seek refuge. Escaping a violence visited upon them from the same empire they now seek refuge within. And when they arrive, they are met with another kind of violence. A dehumanizing, organized terror. One which begins with being called animals, or rapists, or criminals. An infestation. Sound familiar? Chilling? It should be.

And yet many of us are still chided by conservatives and liberals alike for daring to bring up atrocities of the past. We dare not violate Godwin’s Law. That no go zone in internet chat rooms and social media sites that eschews comparisons of today’s crimes to that of Nazi Germany. But now even Godwin, the author of that meme, is having second thoughts. So with that rebuke jettisoned, my mind goes back to reading about respectable German families having picnics outside concentration camps in the 1930s. The slow churn of trains full of human cargo, stained by blood, vomit and fear, rumbling by them on fields of grass. The smoke of burning flesh punctuating the summer sky. And how those families knew. They knew. And yet they ate, and drank cold riesling, and sang familiar songs, as the fumes of death drifted by.

I often wonder what it took to develop that kind of callousness. I am wondering less and less these days. After all, these places didn’t start as death camps. “Arbeit macht frei.” Liberation was always promised. It was just not the kind anyone wanted. And steadily, with careful planning, an ideology of hate became a bureaucracy of death. The machinery of extermination that started with entire groups of people being labeled as “vermin.” A cancer. An infestation. Alien to those who supposedly belonged. And dehumanization led to mass deportation, which led to internment. And internment led to atrocity.

Atrocity is the product of apathy. The bastard child of a complacent public. It is a wickedness that builds within a society so insidiously that it becomes embedded in its daily transactions and the language itself. And it often induces a kind of paralysis. A normalcy bias. So I have also been thinking a lot about a woman I met years ago when I worked in hospice. She survived the Holocaust, but she was haunted every single day by the memory of watching her father being thrown into an open fire in front of her. He was trying to protect his young daughter from the groping hands of the SS. But her role was to be that of a “comfort woman.” And for that they ripped her up inside with a broken bottle. “You’ll never have children now,” the SS guard laughed. And he was correct.

She wasn’t Jewish. She wasn’t political. She was a child. In fact, she was German, through and through. A devout Catholic. But she and her family weren’t spared. She saw her neighbors demonized, persecuted and dragged away one by one, family by family. Frozen as the tide of terror arose around them. Jews, Roma, homosexuals, communists. But then they came for her family.

Decades have passed since that time and yet more camps have come and gone around the world. More open air prisons. More mass round ups and deportations. More death squads. More killing fields. Indonesia, Chile, Congo, Guatemala, Gaza, Syria, Yemen. And in each case well meaning, respectable people have watched the horror unfold. Watched their neighbors be bombed. Watched the death squads terrorize. Some have applauded it, some have even participated in it or brought picnics to the carnage like those German families decades ago.

To be sure, there are too many killing fields to count. Too many rotting corpses. But they must be counted. Each of them. Because each one of them count. And because again, fascism rises. Out of the ashes of mountains of bodies. It rises. And the camps are back too. And so are the attack dogs. And the barbed wire. And the guards. And they are all within the empire itself.

There is a signal we are given from the blood soaked pages of history. A Cassandra ignored now as in days past. The soft, warm loam of the earth eventually gives up her dead, and they speak to us. The most powerful empire the world has ever known is now global in scale. Its belligerent and suffocating tendrils reach everywhere. And it has become the most powerful menace to all who call this planet home. It courts our extinction via the wanton destruction of the biosphere and nuclear annihilation; and its sadistic disregard for today’s immigrant children on its home soil is the same it holds for the children in Iran, or North Korea, or for all children of the future for that matter. After all, it doesn’t think of any of them as its children to begin with, and it knows no other course to take. But you and I have no excuse. Now we know.

We know.

Kenn Orphan    2019