Monthly Archives: July 2019

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: and at FaceBook:

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: and at FaceBook:

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