The Awful Grace Of Nightmares In A Soulless Dayscape: Midnight Train To The End Of Empire

A conversation between Phil Rockstroh and Kenn Orphan.

KO: Phil, I know you and I have talked about the psyche, especially in relation to western thought and its apparent anathema to anything non-reductionist. And I was wondering about your thoughts regarding apparent sectarian divides in the struggling left. The psyche, or soul, is regarded as a two dimensional shadow puppet these days. The sham consumerist trope of “mindfulness” is bandied about often in bourgeois circles as a way of numbing the soul to the deathscape of late capitalism. And I have found myself wandering in a desert of empty memes on the subject. Can you elaborate on what you are referring to when talking about the psychic need/dearth in western culture?

PR: First, dreams emanate from a unique, living sphere of being. The phenomenon is defined by its animated quality (withal, animated from the root word anima i.e., Latin for soul). Dreams arrive plangent with undiluted emotion (not empty motion — but meaningful, engaged and connected to the breathing moment e-motion). Unlike our alienated era, dreams are freighted in Dionysian drama and, unlike the prefab, ad hoc, shoddily constructed, soul-defying, Big Box store/Tyvek-choked, architecture of so much of the capitalist nadascape, dreams arrive imbued with a life-vivifying, deepening aesthetic.

Dreams break the bonds of time, space, gravity, perspective, law, and taboos thus allow one to move beyond egocentric, ossified, even cherished — and what are misapprehended as defining concepts of oneself and of the waking world.

But it is crucial to approach the imagistic limning of the psyche by means of the psyche’s own lexicon:

“[Our] dayworld style of thinking—literal realities, natural comparisons, contrary opposites, processional steps—[…] must be set aside in order to pursue the dream into its home territory. There thinking moves in images, resemblances, correspondences. To go in this direction, we must sever the link with the dayworld, foregoing all ideas that originate there—translation, reclamation, compensation. We must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn.”  — James Hillman

Dreams can be viewed as practice sessions, as a form of rehearsal, thereby allowing one to move — in the manner dreams comport themselves — i.e., apprehending the world in an aesthetic sense — to wit, a mode of mind that evinces greater flexibility, is open to novelty, and is willing to engaged waking experience in a bolder, even rebellious fashion. All of which are crucial as we negotiate the life-negating, daylight criteria imposed by the capitalist epoch.

KO: Carl Jung believed dreams were the language of the subconscious, the part of our mind or psyche that guides our actions, feelings and ultimately our behaviour, but the reason they are so problematic to us is that they speak in a symbolic manner, a language we are unfamiliar with. I often think about that in relation to the culture of the West, a culture so driven by literal meanings and rational explanations that it eclipses the nuanced complexity of being.

Has this mania for concrete materialism caused our current alienation from nature? Is it where the West and indigenous cultures diverge?

I was wondering your thoughts on that, especially given our collective state in ecological and climate catastrophe, rampant militarism, the rise of fascism and a sort of new conformity of our times, or groupthink, especially in relation to social media.

PR: First a caveat: While Freud appropriated the term subconscious, Jung asserted the term unconscious served as a more apt description of the phenomenon. Jung averred that ego awareness, although the state of being subsumes the realm of the unconscious during daylight activities, the primary was not more powerful nor superior to the latter. In fact, the unconscious, in particular when denied a role in the life of both individuals and cultures, was prone to create havoc. Jung warned,  “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

In the view of James Hillman, ego consciousness is one of many constellations of fantasies within a psychical cosmos of fantasies.

Do you know this quote of Jung’s — perhaps his most famous? “The Gods have become diseases.” Full quote: “We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal specters, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed today by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”

Dreams, the realm wherein the psyche displays herself in an unfiltered state thus is animated by the living lexicon of the soul, are image-rich, non-linear and polytheistic in nature. Therein, one is more likely to come upon Persephone in descent or Orpheus rising than the ossified logos of the true believers of Yahweh whose mythos places their unapproachable and fearsome sky-daddy as dwelling in the distant, unreachable blazing blue yonder.

“[W]hen the world is dead: ego psychology is inevitable, for the patient must find ways to connect the psyche of dream and feeling to the dead world so as to reanimate it.” –James Hillman, “The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World,” Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Hillman has averred, “the psyche upsets us” [by us he was referring to the US public]. Hence, he alluded to the reasons contemporary political movements are bereft of an effective means to resist the capitalist/consumer culture — a culture wherein the soul is avoided by means of manic flights from deepening engagement. In short, if the suffering of the exploited earth — plus how our lives are degraded in the same manner — was taken into account and into the suffering heart of individuals, an uprising would proceed in short order.

There is, for example, a toxic credulity at play within the mind’s of those who believe capitalists will solve the Climate Crisis — to wit, a crisis created by capitalism. Withal, capitalism exists and its modus operandi’s singular agenda is to sluice obscene amounts of capital into the already bloated coffers of planet eating ghouls (a sickness of Kronos/Saturn) who couldn’t give a rodent’s rectum about safeguarding your psyche and the earth’s biosphere from destruction from capitalism i.e., their craven selves.

The collective imagination of the US — or lack thereof — does not recognise the psyche, in fact, worse, are unaware of the existence of the phenomenon. The situation is disastrous for the psyche, because the psyche, with its uncanny, imagistic lexicon and its confounding multiplicity, is the means one views oneself and regards and reacts to the outer world. As a result, the US American mind lacks an understanding in regard to the ways their individual psyche is immersed in the currents of the collective unconscious of US empire and, as a result, are bereft of the agency to resist capitalist despotism and the ghoulish system’s gluttonous mania to feed off the body of the planet.

Capitalist operatives are adept at smothering anti-capitalist movements in their crib — when the movement’s denizens are toddling, swooning in magical thinking, through Candyland. A question: How deeply are activists willing to delve into the dark, wounded, unsavoury precincts of the soul? How else could one prepare oneself to wage an effective resistance?

KO: Phil, your quote from Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” makes me think more deeply about the dreaming world we all too often compartmentalize into a sub-category of routine in the West. It has become another thing to control, dominate and suppress. Thus the arrival of more and more “sleep aids.” I think it is fascinating, for instance, that one of the most popular sleep aid today is Ambien, which is a sedative-hypnotic drug. So the impulse is both to be attracted to the unconscious and to suppress it.

So then it stands to reason that the deathscape of late capitalism we see stretching before us seems undaunted by our efforts to halt it. It is, as Jung stated, a thing we call fate. And this is, of course, supreme hubris because there is no fate involved here. It is all a sort of unconscious construction.

When I think of dreams I think about a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And I think this encapsulates the hubris I mentioned. Philosophies and theologies of all stripes have made vainglorious attempts to explain our world without an ounce of awe, wonder or humility. And this is what capitalism is all about. To dominate and consume as if all that exists, exists for the strongest human to control and manipulate, and eliminate via neglect to deliberate destruction, that which has been deemed to hold no value. The reduction of that can be consumed or that can amass dollar value via a barcode designation.

And so when I think about dreams I cannot help but think about ghosts. Ghosts have always figured large in my world. I think this is because I feel that they are the shadows of our psyche. They, like other archetypal figures, represent our lost aspirations both as individuals and as a species.  In many indigenous societies it is the ghost who guides us toward emancipation and actualization, not the angel.  This is because every one of us can identify with a ghost. Few of us have the piety or inherent detachment necessary to make us an angel.  In mythology ghosts can never attain angelic or demonic status. They live outside the rhythm of life like dissonant chords, condemned to only remember loss. And it is in this very quality that we see ourselves reflected.

To those of us who live near to nature the idea of ghosts is far from fantasy. The concept is neither childish, nor macabre.  We commune with our ghosts and respect them. They are the embodiment of our lost dreams and elusive joy, and only haunt those who misinterpret their messages. They have no malice, only longing.

PR: Kenn, do you remember this quote from Secretary of State Colin Powell, from around 2003, to a Saudi interviewer in the London-based publication Asharq Al-Awsat in which Powell declared? “They’re a wonderful medication-not medication. How would you call it? They’re called Ambien, which is very good. … Everybody here [i.e., in Washington’s political elite circles] uses Ambien.”

Yet from Aeschylus:

“And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Dreams summon forth what has been buried for the sake of expedience and for the purpose of navigating the exigencies of the day without being engulfed by nighttime’s phantasms. True, Kenn, we, in the US, are in manic flight and down fistfuls of meds to avoid being confronted by realms of ghosts. Colin Powell, a key figure in covering up the My Lai massacre and whose prevaricating testimony was crucial insofar as constructing the web of lies that rationalised the invasion and occupation of Iraq, must be plagued by tormenting, Dickensian night spirits that make Scrooge’s chain-dragging shades seem like participants at a plush animal cosplay convention.

The American field of dreams is a mass grave of genocide-dispatched Indians, worked-to-death African slaves and labouring class Whites. The true national anthem is a dirge composed of imprecatory prayers of the starved and slaughtered. It should not be a mystery as to why US Americans are plagued by sleeplessness; why the citizenry refuses to ride the midnight train bound for all points into The Western Lands known as Death’s twin kingdom. After belief system buffeting encounters with the keening ghosts of the nation’s collective past, only a psychopath could continue justify cosigning the blood-built status quo. Withal, I suspect this is what underpins Trump’s late night Twitter-mania. Why, I suspect, his narcissism-brittle ego attempts to ward-off sleep and the perchance to dream.


KO: I was not aware of that quote by Colin Powell, but it is telling indeed. And it brings me back to the concept of ghosts in that regard. The ghosts of America’s global massacres still roam. They have no glorious tombs in which to repose, unlike the the craven cadavers who are endlessly lauded and celebrated in American media. No wreath clad monuments grace the dusty graves who were slaughtered and forgotten by these so called titans. The ones whose end was met in the killing fields of Honduras, and Guatemala, and Chile, and Panama, and Palestine, and Iraq, and Syria, and Yemen, and Somalia, and Laos, and Vietnam, and Indonesia, and beyond from a brutality paid for in full by the US taxpayer are rendered invisible. Yet their ghosts still haunt their killers. And a hypnotic trance-like sleep cannot save their souls from the justified rage of their victims.

And their descendants, those who slave at sweatshops in Bangladesh for multinational clothing corporations, or who pick pesticide-laden vegetables in fields in Central America for Big Agra, or are kept from leaping to their deaths in slave towers in China that furnish computer software giants their products, are living examples of the hypocrisy of the global economic and political arrangement that allowed for all of this carnage. How many other ghosts haunt this world besieged by capitalist barbarity? How many of a species not our own?

So Phil, my grief these days is for those forgotten. Those whose memory is deemed unimportant. But perhaps therein lies our path out. This is the narrative of the craven cadavers who use Ambien to numb their guilt besot souls in the darkness of night, and Aderall in the day to maintain a sort of manic madness. The ghosts have a story we should heed. We should be telling their story, singing it with unashamed fullness, as a rebuke and torch.

PR: Dreams teem with multiplicity; they limn the soul’s dark, absurd, tragic, unsavoury, transgressive aspects.

Dreams demand you acknowledge the living, mystery-resonant cosmology within you, in stark contrast to the Calvinist/Puritan insistence that what dwells within the individual is sinful and evil —while the shadow persona of Calvinist/Puritan imagination — a material reductionist worldview — reduces inner life to mechanistic functions and the world to dead, dreamless parts. The next step: The things of the world are deemed only fit for exploitation. And feral things — living things (even entire landscapes) that cannot be tamed or commodified are expendable or can be destroyed or killed outright.

Conversely, dreams — untamable phenomenon dispatched from ungovernable landscapes of the psyche — shake the foundations of waking life assumptions. Dreams do not respect the amiable tyrannies of the corporate era’s inviolable comfort zones. Even in the consulting room and, in particular, in the facile annals of pop psychology, a misguided approach reigns by which an attempt is made to tame the feral, ineffable imagery of dreams by over-interpretation.

One’s dreams are the Marx Brothers to the ego’s High Society’s swells, or Hitchcock’s birds to everyday, familial evils and accepted, societal corruption or David Cronenberg’s mind invading parasites. Or in a more contemporary tale in which movies arrive as collective, waking dreams: The character, Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who transforms into the Joker, could be viewed as a case of archetypal possession brought on by the dehumanizing elements of parental neglect and psychological and physical abuse, traumas mirrored in the dehumanizing, psychical violence inherent to capitalism. Envisage the name of “Fleck.” The name brings to mind a condition of insignificance, but also that Fleck’s human side is but a mere fleck buffeted by the raging winds of an unadulterated — thus untamable — archetype. And the phenomenon is mirrored by the clown mask donning mob possessed by what Carl Jung averred came to pass when the gods arrive as diseases thus as, “curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”

Thus we should regard dream images, in particular disturbing ones, as being freighted with the potential to expand and deepen one’s ability to interact with the baffling nature of the world, or better yet to gain the wherewithal to endure and to disrupt the status quo of a soul-defying, earth-decimating order.

Yet dreams insist, we ourselves are diminished by pat, comforting explanations for the confounding criteria of the psyche: While it is true dreams deliver one to Olympian summits and across the chthonic currents of underworld rivers, over-interpretation of dreams can circumscribe one to the first person singular despotism of explaining what is unexplainable i.e., oneself. This is why, in the madhouse of the psyche, do not pace the sunlit dayroom but seek out the locked ward wherein are hidden from view the hopeless cases. What better approach can be appropriated for navigating the madness of the world?

Kenn Orphan is a writer, artist, antiwar and anti-capitalist activist, hospice social worker and radical nature lover living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He may be reached at

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: and at

*Title art piece is The Dream by Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, 1883

*First photograph is Everywhere and Nowhere, by Kenn Orphan

*Second piece is Saturn Devouring his Son, by Francisco Goya, 1819-1823

*Third piece is Ivan the Terrible and the Souls of his Victims, by Mikhail Clodt, 1870

*Fourth is a photograph of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam by American troops.


A Guardian of the Forest: Remembering Paulo Paulino Guajajara

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, an Indigenous protector of the Amazon rainforest, was murdered by illegal loggers Friday of last week. He is one of at least 135 Indigenous people murdered in the Amazon over this last year alone. Five centuries ago there were an estimated ten million Indigenous people living in the Amazonian Rainforest. Now, there are less than 200,000 thanks to European colonization and corporate plunder. And they continue to face annihilation today.

Since Jair Bolsonaro took office as president of Brazil the violence against these communities, as well as a concerted effort to decimate one of the most unique and important ecosystems on the planet, has accelerated. Bolsonaro, who has openly celebrated the country’s fascist past where scores were tortured and disappeared, has vowed to open the rainforest up even further to agribusiness, logging and mining.

If Bolsonaro succeeds it will likely lead to a genocide of the indigenous communities that live there and signal a truly terrifying turn for the planet’s biosphere. But he is not alone in this crime. Several banks and corporations profit handsomely from the destruction of the rainforest, including JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Cargill-Soy, Stop and Shop, WalMart, Costco, and Leclerc.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, who was also known as Lobo or “wolf” in Spanish, was a member of Guardians of the Forest. They began in 2012 with a mission to protect their community and an even more vulnerable Indigenous group who lives in voluntary isolation in a constitutionally protected territory of forest known as the Araribóia. But it has been cut off from the rest of the Amazon rainforest due to massive deforestation and it is often targeted by illegal loggers. Time after time the Guajajara have requested protection from the Brazilian government. They have received none.

Lobo’s murder is being mourned deeply this week. Indeed, all who care deeply about justice and our imperiled biosphere are mourning. He is survived by one son. May he rest in peace.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, ¡Presente!

The Language of Erasure

“Home” by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”


Last month UK authorities came across a gruesome scene. Thirty-nine bodies were discovered in a freight truck in Essex. Most of these unfortunate souls originally came from Vietnam and were abandoned to die an agonizing, suffocating death alone; the alleged victims of human trafficking. It is not the first time that this has happened. In 2015 Austrian officials found seventy-one bodies in a truck lorry outside Vienna. And in 2000, the bodies of fifty-eight Chinese people were found in a container in Kent.

Many of the victims in the recent episode in Essex were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces of Vietnam, a region hit with disastrous policies of financial austerity and a monumental human caused environmental catastrophe in 2016, the worst in Vietnam’s history. Over 125 miles of coastline was sullied and marine life decimated in a toxic chemical spill from a steel plant. Those most severely impacted by the disaster have received little to no compensation for livelihoods that have been lost, and protest to this corporate and government malfeasance has been brutally crushed. Indeed, the tale of the burgeoning, global refugee crisis is one inextricably linked to deliberate policies of neoliberal-style economic disenfranchisement, corporate or military caused environmental devastation, militarized state surveillance and repression of dissent, and accelerating climate change related disasters.

Around the world millions of desperate people are facing near impossible challenges. Increasing drought and flood seasons have made it ever more difficult to grow food in many regions. Intense heat and fires have devastated ecosystems and the communities that depend upon them for survival. Others face violence from the state or from criminal gangs. More live under intolerable economic conditions. These people will do whatever they can for themselves and their families to survive. They will do what any human being would do when faced with catastrophe. They will flee.

In fact, according to a recent report by the UN, refugees have been increasing globally at a rate that outpaces world population growth. And last month a study from Nature Communications released its findings in this regard. It warned that rising seas will flood scores of coastal cities and communities, putting at least 300 million people at risk. Most of these people reside in what is referred to as the global south, and will have to eventually relocate for basic quality of life and even survival. But thanks to apathy, a dearth of planning and deliberate belligerence from world governments, they will face enormous obstacles and violent repression as they do. We know this because today hundreds of millions of people traverse near intolerable landscapes and tumultuous seas each year, attempting to escape famine, war, criminal violence, drought, and ecological disasters. Most have little choice but to entrust shady third parties to make their perilous sojourn. Many spend their life savings. Many traverse cold, wild oceans and fiercely hot deserts. Many die as a result. And almost all face uncertain futures if they reach their intended destination.

One sea, the Mediterranean, has become an ocean of despair in the first two decades of this century. Taking to the cold and raucous waters, many embark on a journey to a better life in shoddy boats or rafts. Thousands have perished. And the risk they take is not only in regard to environmental conditions. Several European nations have criminalized their desperate attempt for survival. And those who decide to assist these drowning people are subject to the most draconian of penalties. German ship captain Pia Klemp faces 20 years in prison for rescuing at least 14 thousand refugees from a horrifying death at sea. And it isn’t only in Europe. Scott Warren of No More Deaths, was charged with three felonies for leaving water, food and other provisions in the unforgiving Sonoran Desert for immigrants. Each year hundreds of people perish there too while attempting to make it to the north.

But the greatest irony of our times is that the global north has become the primary destination for refugees. The vast majority of the world who are suffering the consequences of Western military interventions, corporate economic exploitation and pollution, and climate change fueled catastrophe are fleeing to the main source of these maladies. So it comes as little surprise that there has been a subtle shift in the language around this issue.

You may have noticed at this point that I prefer to use the term refugee rather than migrant. This is because the word migrant infers that these human beings chose to embark on perilous journeys because it is their way of life. An integral part of who they are. It is not. The vast majority of refugees have been displaced from regions they have traditionally called home. Places they have a history in. Communities, ecosystems and economies which have been drastically altered or destroyed thanks to powers beyond their control. The powers of capital. Politicians, the military, the corporate media and even some NGOs and think tanks have chosen the word “migrant,” and this is not by accident.

When we hear the word migrant we often associate it with migratory birds or mammals. It is only recently that we have come to associate it with human beings. The insidious logic is simple: if you are a people without a permanent home or land, you are not a people who have a right to be someplace else. You are permanently transitory. And this has been the same argument made against many indigenous and nomadic peoples who have ancestral lands they traverse throughout the seasons of a year, but no city they reside in year round. It is also a term that is almost exclusively used to describe people of color. And it is a terminology with a purpose: erasure.

When people are deliberately dispossessed of their ancestral homelands they must be rendered permanently homeless. They must be cast in a light of obfuscation. That is, the causes of their dispossession must be obscured. There can be no discussion of belligerent foreign policy or corporate plunder from the global north. No talk of the decades of subversion of democracy movements or democratically elected governments by the West. No truth telling when it comes to who is the biggest contributor to climate change, who has the biggest carbon footprint, or who has polluted and raped the planet the most.

Even when refugees are talked about in relatively sympathetic language, there is obfuscation. “They are fleeing dictatorship, or crime and drug gangs in their own country,” it often goes. But it generally stops there. No discussion of the legacy of colonialism or imperialism. So in this light, the language around the term “migrant” becomes very important. Dehumanization, even when subtle, is still dehumanization. A migrant isn’t someone forcibly removed or displaced from their home. It is a personal choice. They are migrating, just like birds or caribou. It’s natural. They do not garnish lasting sympathy or even solidarity because, as the term suggests, they won’t be here or anywhere long enough for us to care too deeply. They will not form communal bonds with us. They will move on. In short, they are not us.

So then when a society tolerates children being forcibly removed from their parent’s arms and placed in squalid cages without even the kindness of human touch or embrace, or the prosecution of people who try to save fellow human beings from drowning in the sea or dying of thirst or exposure in the desert, we should take a long, hard look at the language being used. The term “migrant” is not as loathsome as Donald Trump’s association of immigrants and refugees with rapists or criminals. It is not as hideous as far right politicians and some media personalities calling them cockroaches, or a cancer, or “infiltrators.” But perhaps that is what makes the term even more dangerous. It has become an acceptable term even though it obscures the causes of why these people are moving in the first place. It denies the culpability of the global north in their plight and ignores their right as fellow human beings to seek a better life by subtly erasing their humanity. And when any dehumanization becomes acceptable, the path toward atrocity becomes ever wider.

Kenn Orphan   November 2019

The Myth of the Scandal Free Presidency




an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.


It was to be expected. The miserableness of Trump and his overt racism, nationalism, misogyny, cruelty and belligerence would come to eclipse the crimes of other (let’s say all) former US presidents. I saw it after Bill Clinton left office. His conservative policies and war crimes became footnotes. I saw it with the way establishment liberals loved on the portrait painting grandpa, George W. Bush. Never mind that he was the architect of the war against Iraq, an orchestrated bloodbath based solely on lies which killed, maimed and displaced millions of people and decimated an entire region. And I see it again regarding Barack Obama. He is being lauded now for having a “presidency without scandals.” Memes and smug laughter are making the rounds regarding his only supposed scandals: wearing a tan suit and a bicycle helmet. So perhaps what is at issue here is how Americans define scandal.


Under Obama, the American Empire expanded its war machine against seven nations. It supported a rightwing coup in Honduras which led to thousands of deaths, including that of indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceras. As president he persecuted scores of government whistleblowers and deported more people than any other US president. He dropped over 26,000 bombs in his last year alone and became adept at the use of drones, killing a US teenager abroad and a grandmother picking okra in her field while her grandchildren watched. He joined NATO in decimating Libya, turning it into a haven for a modern day slave trade and a flashpoint for the migration crisis. He pushed water sullying and climate change exacerbating natural gas (fracking) around the world and unleashed the biggest fossil fuel expansion in history. He even boasted that he made the US a leader in oil production, opening up at least ten million acres of public land to fossil fuel companies while expanding offshore drilling. He bailed out Wall Street criminals while pardoning Bush era torturers. He led a brutal crackdown on protestors in Occupy across the country and the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.


But these things don’t seem to matter to the American bourgeoisie. It is par for the course in governing the US and its foreign policy. It is considered pragmatic leadership and so these pesky details do not cause “general public outrage.” What really matters is optics. This is what the spectacle demands. It is a state that thrives on imagery for imagery’s sake. Therefore, only sexual dalliances or crooked business dealings count, the latter not counting nearly as much since puritanism still runs cold in the veins of the culture. But nothing Obama did was “impeachable.” In fact, he did what every other US president did before him and none of that was impeachable either. So one must ask questions which are generally forbidden in the mainstream. The ones which defy the ruling political class narrative.


That the ruling institutions and their guiding documents do not consider separating children from their parents and putting them in cages, or constructing concentration camps, or selling arms to countries engaged in genocide or apartheid or ethnic cleansing, or bombing nations to smithereens, acquiescing to the demands of the planet killing fossil fuel industry, or supporting rightwing coups against democratically elected governments, or gutting environmental regulations, or attacking labor unions, or cutting economic aid and demonizing the homeless impeachable should cause any person of conscience to at least pause. So we must ask why that is?


Arundhati Roy observed: “People spend so much time mocking Trump or waiting for him to be impeached. And the danger with that kind of obsession with a single person is that you don’t see the system that produced him.” So here we are again. Waiting for impeachment. That the loathsome creature that currently haunts the bloodstained walls of the Oval Office deserves to be dethroned is self-evident. And watching him lash out and call for civil war because of it should demonstrate how unhinged he actually is. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that any of this will alter the machinations of the ruling establishment in the least. Outright corruption, unbridled militarism, ecocide, war crimes. All of this has become normalized to such an extent that they barely register an eyebrow raise in the corporate media or among pundits and talking heads.


So while it is obvious that Trump is a vicious criminal, it should be equally obvious that he emerged from a cesspit of vicious criminality. A system designed to produce oligarchs without conscience. The real scandal is that too many have become inured to it. And by doing so, they assure that the status quo, no matter how rotted it is, will be maintained for as long as possible. So when someone says a president never had a scandal, I must wonder how that person defines the term and how they understand history. Because in an age of normalized corruption, that word loses all meaning when it is uttered from the halls of power.


Kenn Orphan   2019



One Warm Day in September: the Climate Strike and its Meaning for Activism

Friday was a beautiful fall day. The air was crisp and the sun was hot as I marched with friends and around 10,000 Nova Scotians who understand that we, as a species, are in deep trouble. Catastrophic climate change, which I have been writing about for years, stands to threaten our species, as well as every other species on earth, with extinction. This is not hyperbole, it is based on the current scientific consensus. But on that day indigenous, people of colour, people of all faiths and none, families, the elderly, working people, LGBTQ. All of us put aside any differences and came together.

The most wonderful moment for me was the prayer song by Miꞌkmaq women. For several moments the massive crowd was silent, simply raising a clenched fist in the air in solidarity and in defiance of the global economic and political order that has brought us to this point. To the edge of the cliff.

Among the speakers was Darlene Gilbert, a Mi’kmaq grandmother who was arrested for protecting the water from the polluter of Alton Gas. She also courageously confronted Justin Trudeau about his abysmal environmental policies, treatment of First Nations in Canada, and support of pipelines and the cancerous, visible from space, lesion on the face of the planet, the Alberta Tar Sands. Her daughter also spoke with passion about her cultural and sacred heritage of protecting the earth. Every indigenous person I have ever met understands that climate change is real because it is altering, in terrible ways, the ecosystems they revere and depend on.

But what struck me most was to see and hear thousands of young people. To witness their anger at a system that has robbed them, and the global south, of any meaningful future. Many spoke of the short lives they have been granted thanks to a biosphere under attack for the profit of a few. Some decried militarism and colonialism of the poorest nations on the planet. But all of them were present because they understood, on some level, that this is a collective, existential crisis.

In the past I had moments of skepticism. I still do. Not for these young people. Not for the millions of people who gathered in cities around the world to express their anger, but for the corporate, political and military institutions and financial interests who have been trying to greenwash their crimes since the first Earth Day. The ones who see our climate crisis as an opportunity to save capitalism from itself. The tragic thing about this skepticism, though, is that it can often lead to cynicism. A belief that everyone is either out for themselves, or being duped by those who are only out for themselves. And this misanthropic impulse only encourages inaction and apathy.

We can see some of this in the manner Greta Thunberg has been treated. I have read and heard incredibly vile things about the teenager, mostly from the far right, but sadly some coming from people on the left. There is an odd obsession with her, and this has the effect of eclipsing a much broader movement that is beyond the NGOs and corporate greenwashers.  And so it says a lot about our political moment. Many of the people I’ve seen with the most vitriol do not seem to be engaging with anyone else in the movement. They aren’t out on the streets listening to the young or to indigenous peoples who are on the front lines of a war against the biosphere. They are more concerned that Greta Thunberg may be fronting for financial interests rather than understanding that scores of people are actively attempting to shift this narrative against capitalism.

Now, the left can and should be critical of the forces of capital which seek to co-opt any movement for social, economic or environmental justice. I have expressed this in the past and will continue to do so with the hope that people like Greta or the millions of other young activists around the world, will understand these forces and thwart their influence. And we should continue to have the needed conversation with everyone involved in the movement. We should demand an end to imperialism, racism, colonialism, militarism and war, because they are all major contributors to ecological devastation and climate change, as well as enormously destructive to civil liberties and whole societies. But if we fail to engage in a manner that builds solidarity, all of our criticism will merely become talking points for the far right. A successful divide and conquer tactic. And if that happens, everyone, including our fragile and failing biosphere, will lose.

Kenn Orphan   2019

*Note: I will not tolerate cynical or disparaging remarks. I am in no mood to wade into the cesspit of misanthropy and cynicism I see unfolding, especially in social media. I have already analyzed and written tons on this subject. Just search this blog or google it for evidence of that. There is no need to “educate” me or others right now. Be forewarned that they will be deleted, so if you are inclined to do so simply scroll on by.

Veritable Uprising or it’s The (Faux) Real Thing™: Greta and Climate Activism in a Wilderness of Projections

A conversation between Phil Rockstroh and Kenn Orphan.

PR: Kenn, recently, this observation of mine provoked a measure of ire:  Street demonstrations, even large ones, are apropos of nothing as long as they are manifested as de facto state sanctioned protests. A march proceeds, chants are cast into indifferent air, speechifying comes to pass by the usual gasbags then the assembled head home and carry on as usual. Conversely, a strike means job walk-offs — until the strikers demands are met — not walking out and walking back in the next day.

These are not revolutionary activities or even a political movement. Capitalist colonisation has been internalised to such a saturating degree that demonstrations are, in the neoliberal era, designed to be toothless and non-threatening in regard to the structures of capitalist power. Conversely, a strike translates to stopping the flow of capital — otherwise it amounts to enabling business as usual.

KO: It seems that the colonization of consciousness in Western society has become completely seamless that here, in 2019, most of us have been conditioned to accept a modified and sanitized version of dissent. For several years there have been faux forms of dissent, manufactured and peddled by the corporate and political and military/intelligent/surveillance establishments that serve as valves for the public’s general feelings of unease or sense of injustice. Many are focused on youth. How many remember Kony 2012? These are forms of acceptable dissent to the status quo ruling class and even act to suit their goals. Of course climate change and the environment are broader issues that reach beyond that kind of thing, but the same actors are at play in their manipulation.

But this is because there is a real fear, reinforced by example, of how powerful disruptive protest can be. Throwing a wrench into the gears actually gets attention and action. It also shows how brutal and ruthless the current order is against anyone who stands against the status quo in this manner. Occupy and Standing Rock are a couple of those examples. A flood of violence and intimidation washed over those uprisings. So with that in mind, there is a conformity to how many people in so-called Western democracies behave when it comes to protesting power today. And certainly this is what the ruling class wishes. Accepted discourse and dissent within the designated boundaries. There have been a flurry of laws since those protests that seek to criminalize dissent and maintain these boundaries, even branding certain activities or associations as terrorism.

The Mouvement des Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vest Movement, in contrast to today’s climate demonstrations reveal how the neoliberal state treats those who dissent in a way that upends power structures. I am not referring to Yellow Vests in Canada or some other places which have taken on a racist, fascistic or xenophobic character, but in France where working people took to the streets, walked out of jobs, and shut down the machinery of society. It was met with breathtaking violence by Macron’s government, and scant mass media coverage. So without a doubt, when people confront actual power structures they will be met with the aggressive repression of the state, not be escorted and protected by police because they got the right permits for free speech zones on the weekends. And their struggle will not get put in glossy photos on the cover of corporate owned magazines.

So now we come to the demonstrations surrounding climate change taking place in cities around the world. Most of these are coordinated, many have NGO support, and all of them are impressive, but very little is disrupted in a way that causes any meaningful discomfort to the forces of capital. Not yet, anyway. There is an incredible interest among the public, which is very encouraging, and young activists are increasingly aware of the corporate manipulations and machinations. There are even some indications that groups like Extinction Rebellion are reaching out to workers, but it remains to be seen how this will unfold, especially since there are some questionable financial backers of this loose knit organization.

What I find troubling, though, is that there is this a demand from many in these demonstrations for governments to “do something.” Which is extraordinary given that it is these very governments, at the behest of the corporations and the military industrial complex who run them, who have caused our crisis to begin with. For instance, little is said to address the enormous military footprint. The US military alone uses 4,600,000,000 gallons of oil every single year. It pollutes the oceans without any consequences and uses sonar that harms sea mammals and fish, this is not to mention the the tremendous human and environmental costs of endless war. And as these climate demonstrations are taking place, the American war machine is ramping up to defend Saudi oil fields. So if there are no demands for the dismantling of this planet killing institution then it will end up a sham.

But without a doubt, Phil, I think the strikes and demonstrations are a starting place for many young people. And it is inspiring to see millions gather in protest, from Nairobi to London to New York to Bangkok. And it is equally encouraging to see more young people wholly reject “green” capitalism and corporate capitalist language like the pseudo “net zero” as opposed to zero carbon emissions. Hopefully they are prepared for the inevitable backlash and repression once they begin to truly disrupt or impede the machinery of capitalism itself, which is now entering its most brutal and final stage.

Solidarity is key to this since no one person can take on this murderous behemoth on their own. The best place to look for wisdom in this regard are indigenous communities, past and present. To look to the global south where environmental activists are being silenced, disappeared and murdered for their dissent.

PR: After the socio-political uprisings of the 1960s, the advertising industry — the capitalist propaganda factory of archetype usurpers — was in crisis. The dark magicians of the trade had sold status consciousness, conformity through fear, and Id lived out by means of consumerism — notions challenged by the non-conformist to social conventions (except their own), anti-materialist creed of the counterculture. The practiced dissemblers of the profession were desperate to retail a novel form of waking dreams, and they settled on retailing hippie harmony and the inherent longing for paradise humans carry within.

Thus we come to the root of the problem for all too many activists responding to the Climate Crisis including  Greta Thunberg, who has become a celebrity thus a vessel for projections, both slanderous and hagiographic. The Greta phenomenon, by its nature provokes, emotional responses from climate denialists (and rightwing soreheads in general) freaked out by a smart, passionate young woman and from those on the left driven by a compulsion to provide paternal protection to her due to her child-like appearance and aura of innocence.

First off, slander inflicted upon her is reprehensible. Her sincerity should not be questioned. Her right to demand a viable future for herself and her fellow young people of the suffering planet is unassailable. What should be avoided are psychological projections upon her, a sixteen year old, whose diminutive, physical stature and open, guileless visage evoke projections of concretised archetypal resonance e.g., the Divine Child arrived on the sin-sullied earth as redeemer figure.

What should be requested of her, to avoid the taint of, inadvertently, playing the role of marketing icon for greed-headed, Davos denizens, who, it is claimed, are deploying the kid, in her toxic naivety, in a high-end, greenwashing bait-and-switch advertising roll out for what the captains of faux green industry have branded, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” — a venture designed to co-opt vehemence for the fate of the earth into adherence to for-profit schemes contrived to circumscribe responses to the Climate Crisis within capitalist models.

To avoid the accusation, Greta should shun tête-à-têtes with the Bono, Dicaprio, Obama et. al. klavern of greenwasher glamour tools and be induced to begin promulgating the fact that the people who are destroying the biosphere of the planet have names and addresses.

Up to the present, she has followed a vague and wonky storyline — thus she has not, as of yet, been considered a threat to capitalist power and has been regarded by the powerful as being relegated to the role of Climate Muppet; hence, she has been provided wide exposure in the capitalist media. To wit, the observation has been posited, if she presented a threat to the status quo of capitalist imperium and the US military (the latter is a major contributor to global wide pollution and the Climate Crisis) she would have remained in obscurity.

This is crucial: Marketing machinations work. Moreover, all too often, self-termed progressives —  the two-legged, smug-ass buffer zone between capitalist power and radical, anti-capitalist movements — have proven themselves prone to swallow whole and internalised even the most cynical PR campaigns (they went round-heeled for Barack Obama, AKA President Fracky von Drone and have  acted as apologists for “humanitarian” bombing campaigns and so-called colour revolutions).

By the evidence, as noted above, Greta is sincere in her intentions. She is alarmed by the Climate Crisis and aims to do good. Yet her naive intentions matter little in the larger scheme of things. What should be avoided: Greta’s presence on the global stage being exploited by capitalist greenwashing profiteers in retailing a (sham) world-changing, “new paradigm,” in the same manner, albeit more sophisticated, as was rolled out by the capitalist dream hijackers in the 1970s when they schemed to usurp antiwar, anti-racism sentiment by means of campaigns similar to the ones that could be contrived for Greta. Here is the most memorable (naive ideology baited and switched to corporate profiteering) campaign of the era:

KO: Greenwashing efforts are undoubtedly in full swing, Phil. Corporations and the military establishment understand very well that the environmental and climate devastation that they have caused is coming full circle. They know full well that as a civilization we have reached a point of no return in regard to species extinction, the collapse of ecosystems, catastrophic climate change and the attendant destabilization of the current political and economic arrangement. And they have been working feverishly to change their brand. While it is easy to point out the willful obtuseness of outright climate change deniers like the bloated orange in chief Trump, it is less easy to parse out the greenwashers.

So then we should be wary that a faux “movement” may be manufactured on the backs of real movements that have sought to upend that political and economic arrangement. And without a doubt, they see Greta Thunberg as the perfect icon for this movement because she presents a genuine, passionate concern for our fate and that of the next generation; but her presence, thus far, is non-threatening to the powers of capital and the military establishment. Perhaps this will change over time as she does identify herself as independent.

That she has rightfully called out the wealthy and powerful for their apathy and other faults is to be lauded, but there are powerful forces who merely wish to rebrand capitalism and create, as you said, a Fourth Industrial Revolution. One which will end up amplifying the damage through its continued privatization and commodification of nature. And they will not touch the military industrial state because it serves to protect capital.

Now, without a doubt, Greta is a remarkable young person; and I think she really fears for the future of this planet, its ecosystems and for her generation. Her words are powerful and she makes things plain about our dire predicament. She wants to make a real difference, and I think that is possible. I celebrate that tenacity and the people she has inspired. And the vitriol, bullying and slander spewed at her by the far right and by repugnant characters like Dinesh D’Souza who compared her to Nazis is utterly reprehensible and should be condemned.

But there is an iconography happening in many quarters that often has the troubling effect of muting our analytical senses. In Paris, for instance, demonstrators lifted a painting of Greta in the style of a medieval icon of a saint with a halo. And this speaks to a sort of spiritual desperation at play, especially as we see ecosystems being mercilessly assaulted, exploited and failing. And among the bourgeoisie it manifests in these kinds of ways.

We should examine this further because, indeed, there is a realization that our collective situation requires a massive paradigm shift which is, in a myriad of ways, psychically transformative. Indigenous societies have long understood this, but have been mostly ignored or have had their sacred beliefs culturally appropriated to conform to the narrative of white, bourgeois, “New Age” consumer society. But all that has been turned on its head in this age of ecological devastation.

And it is this very quality that has been seized upon by the wraiths of capitalism. Those rotting cadavers in suits who are in the business of marketing to save their status and wealth. This is evident in the fact that they have put Greta on the cover of magazines like Time, GQ and Vogue. It is why she gets interviews with Christiane Amanpour. It is why she is seen in photo ops with the fossil fuel, fracking, drone-loving and polluter friendly President Barack Obama, who merely wants to promote his foundation. None of this is to say she agrees with these powerful actors or entities, but they do not view her as a threat as of yet. On the contrary, they see her either as a ratings boost or an asset to their personal aspirations.

Indigenous activists of similar age do not get this kind of treatment because of a legacy of colonial racism and because indigenous peoples are on the frontlines of the war of capital against their homes and the planet itself. Artemisa Xakriabá of Brazil, for example, is relatively unknown in mass media circles. But her message is even more pointed and powerful as she speaks directly about policies of genocide and violence against her people, the Amazon rainforest where she lives, and the biosphere as a whole.

But if Greta dares tell the truth about capitalism and the military industrial complex and its primary role in accelerating climate change and the degradation of the biosphere she will likely be silenced or rendered invisible like Malala Yousafzai. After Malala condemned Obama’s murderous foreign policies and drone strikes and said she was a socialist she was largely disappeared by the corporate media. This was because she no longer represented an image of the benevolent empire and presented the public with the reality of that empire’s avarice fueled belligerence.

To be sure, it is my sincere hope that Greta will see past the ambitions and machinations of those who seek to co-opt her message. I hope she sees through the ruse that their interest is only in saving capitalism and maintaining the militaristic, unjust global order, not in protecting the environment or other species, or addressing climate change, or in the poorest of the earth, or even the next generation; and that they cynically use the intoxication of celebrity to water down passionate activism and funnel it toward status quo banality.

The promising thing is that while her family has some measure of privilege in the cultural and intellectual class in Sweden, I don’t think she cares much for celebrity and I think her heart is in the right place. But naivety in this regard can be quite dangerous too. These interests are moneyed and well connected. And the consensus they need relies on a public that acquiesces to their desires and values. A public that has been conditioned to respond, emulate and even celebrate the brutal precepts of capitalism and the authoritarianism of the ruling elite. In time and with insight and experience perhaps she will be able to thwart such manipulations.

PR: Thus the citizenry of capitalist dictatorships of wealth, wherein the economic elite own mass media and control the political class, the debate is framed in a narrow manner — to wit, anticapitalist perspectives are excluded yet the illusion of a contrapuntal dynamic is in play but the reality, outside of the empty-headed, highly circumscribed fury of it all, moneyed interests will have prevailed, in this case, the agendas of greenwashing grifters.

The Greta phenomenon should prove less than complicated to suss out, from a leftist perspective, with the exception of those whose approach and perceptions are gripped by magical thinking and/or a host of the kind of saviour projections that arrive in psychical constellation — and are concretised— around the archetype of the Divine Child.

Suggestion: follow the money and whom or what will benefit from her presence in the public sphere i.e., the suffering biosphere of the planet or Davos-type denizens who are rolling out a for-profit agenda they have branded, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” It evinces dangerous naivety to believe that oppressors and exploiters will be moved to empathy by being informed of the suffering experienced by those they oppress and exploit. The power to profit from oppression and exploitation must be neutralised. Moreover, the capitalist overclass, history reveals, do not surrender an inch without a brutal struggle by organised countervailing forces and never will be moved to surrender power by pleas to a conscience that they do not possess.

There is the banality of evil and then there is the evil of banality, and the mode of perspective defines the capitalist controlled thus intrinsically narrow parameters of mainstream discourse.  Result: A worldview persists that reduces earth, sky, psyche, even language to inanimate phenomenon only viable as monetised transactions. The worldview provoked a sacred vehemence in Lorca when he observed what he regarded as the commodified deathscape of New York City:

“I attack all those persons/ who know nothing of the other half,/ the half who cannot be saved,/ who raise their cement mountains/ in which the hearts of the small/ animals no one thinks of are beating.” — Federico García Lorca, excerpt: New York (Office and Attack)

Yet through it all, one has a choice, a choice all but banished from the commodified mind: One can glimpse the numinous in the architectural wonders of a termite cathedral or a constellation of coral reef — or a line of Joycean prose. The mind can be a garbage barge or a cathedral spire; a snort of mindless dismissal or an aria so damn beautiful it haunts heaven. Or one’s consciousness can be taken in by the capitalist-confined debate between equally cynical climate denialists and greenwashing profiteers as the soul becomes desiccated and the mind is churned to spittle…as the world’s oceans die, the Arctic burns, and exquisite things disappear forever.

Kenn Orphan is a writer, artist, antiwar and anti-capitalist activist, hospice social worker and radical nature lover living in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: and at

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: and at Facebook:

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