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Monday, July 25, 2022

Prometheus Rising exercise and discussion group, Episode 91, Chapter 17

By Apuleius Charlton
Special guest blogger 

I am not an O/optimist and I can't relate to a lot of this chapter. Before Wilson, one of my august teachers was Voltaire, who envisioned a better world but didn't trust mankind's baser instincts to make it so. That old attitude has set deep within my bones. I have noted, along with other writers, that part of what makes reading this book bittersweet is that many of its predictions are incorrect, and that is more glaringly clear in this chapter than any other we've covered in recent memory. 

Two parts stood out to me in particular. Let me begin with: "The average Man or Woman of 1997 will be as obsolete in 2007 as a medieval serf is now." We could get into the ways that this prediction is both true and untrue, but I don't think there was as much difference between the world of 1997 and 2007 as there would be if we compared 2007 and 2017. While we could measure some advances in automation and technology between the late nineties and the later aughts, I am more interested in cultural differences.

I have been saying this since 2016 or so; while a time traveler from 2007 to 1997 could relate information that would make sense in the context of that past, a time traveler from 2017 to 2007 would have a much harder time communicating how life has changed in the intervening decade. The world began to vaporize somewhere around Obama's second term. Everything began changing so rapidly that previously unthinkable movements became reality which became policy. Threats thought long dead reared their ugly heads, flinging the bilge of our culture's undertow over witnesses. Concepts which would have been laughable in the late-twentieth or in the dawning of the twenty-first became deadly serious. The world is changing. 

That isn't anything new, but it is changing at such an ungainly pace that, even if it is for the best, it resembles nothing so much more as festering and collapse. Towards the end of his essay "Is It O.K. to Be a Luddite?," Thomas Pynchon states: "It may be only a new form of the perennial Luddite ambivalence about machines, or it may be that the deepest Luddite hope of miracle has now come to reside in the computer's ability to get the right data to those whom the data will do the most good. With the proper deployment of budget and computer time, we will cure cancer, save ourselves from nuclear extinction, grow food for everybody, detoxify the results of industrial greed gone berserk -- realize all the wistful pipe dreams of our days." I disagree violently with the prediction that our information technology has allowed "the right data to those whom the data will do the most good," because so far it simply isn't true. Desirable progress is still achingly slow, useful technology and resources hoarded and mismanaged by fools and foes of the rest of the race (the so-called "wealthy" and "powerful" in case I'm not clear) and moreover, the Internet has allowed the wrong data to get to the wrong people. Perhaps this is just my pessimism and these are but the birth pangs of a new and better era; after all, I think most historians would point out that periods of transition are characterized by chaos and destabilization. But we aren't stabilizing. 

Things are demonstrably worse in the United States since the beginning of 2022 e.v.; we have witnessed the unfathomable rise of evangelical fascism in America, which shows no signs of deceleration, and while we suffer from the very clear and present dangers of global warming, nothing (or not enough which is about as useful) is being done to mitigate it and reform the power structures that have allowed this issue, and again I say this issue of clear and present danger, to become seemingly intractable. The foundations of our society are being mangled and perverted in front of our eyes and it seems to this observer that we are powerless. The group of powerful people who are supposed to act as a counterspell to this tide of pro-stupidity and maliciousness are hobbled by their own investments in this rotting haul and are usually busy dithering over issues that couldn't be less important. Perhaps the world where progress was supposed to happen also depended on realizing that old paradigms cannot stay in place, and we have failed to act on that in a meaningful way. 

And this brings me to the second passage, where Bob heaps a little scorn on my attitude from beyond the grave: "Our human world is so information-rich (coherent) that it is almost certain to 'collapse' into even higher coherence, not into chaos and self-destruction," and further "A note to confirmed pessimists: Prigogine's analysis is based on probability-theory and, hence, is not certain. Thus, if you have found these lyrical pages unduly alarming, take comfort in the thought that, although human success is highly probable, there is still a small chance that we can blow ourselves up or that your favorite apocalyptic scenarios might still occur, despite the general trend toward higher coherence and higher intelligence." And here I sit, unconvinced of any "higher coherence" emerging recently and thus condemned as a foul, brooding pessimist whose dearest wish is the fulfillment of my dire prophecies. Alas. 

If you go onto the Internet, check out our modern forums of social gathering, look at the pages of the our newscorps and how they can't agree on foundational facts (also, what is considered a news source), see what good higher education is doing for most people and believe that this is "coherence," well...I might be able to interest you in joining a great business opportunity, so please get in touch and grab that checkbook! 

I'm more than willing to hope and trust that there is a probability that humanity will strive on as we always have and that tomorrow will be better than today...I'm just not counting on it anytime within the next decade(s). Progress is neither inexorable, nor is it inevitable. Human culture, government and economics are not evolutionary processes, no matter how much we project that onto those structures. Please world, prove me wrong. 


Oz Fritz said...

Toward the end of the last Hilaritas podcast Phil Farber brings up Crowley's prediction that Civilization will enter another period of Dark Ages. In the Maybe Day extras video with Mike Gathers and Eric Wagner discussing The Tale of the Tribe, Eric mentions that Israel Regardie justified his publishing the Golden Dawn rituals and secrets to get the info out far and wide so it might have a chance of surviving periods of rampant instability and destruction. This touches upon and aligns with the subject of my recent essay Arcing For to Carry Me Home. Someone else I know, someone prescient, has also predicted a long period of darkness.

By my reckoning, we began entering these Dark Ages about 6 months before 9/11/2001. I no longer subscribe to Utopian realities happening on a collective scale anytime soon, but do find myself inclined to optimism on a personal scale. It seems a useful survival mechanism. The end of Cosmic Trigger I made a deep imprint on me still in effect. I don't feel optimistic all the time, sometimes still entertain worry and anxiety even though I don't find those two mongrel parasites particularly entertaining. I look after a CAT, a direct descendent and ascendent of Bast. Also C (see)+ A (ALP)+ T (Teth = Horus; Tau = Cross)= "see the Rosy Cross."

I regard RAW's predictions not in the Platonic/Aristotelian domain of True or False, but rather in the domain of Sense. See my latest Deleuze video, The 11th Series of Nonsense which I hope to post within a few days.

I highly recommend Pynchon's Against the Day for a survival manual through transitional times. Finally starting to reread it. Also recommend my book Robert Anton Wilson, Thomas Pynchon, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce and the Plane of Immanence which I intend to write and publish within 10 or 11 years, Goddess willing. I continue to make copious notes for that project. May the force be with you.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

This seems too dark to me. Let me try to make the case for RAW-style optimism.
I think there are instances in which the Internet allows "the right data to those whom the data will do the most good.”
If, for example, you look at COVID-19 vaccination figures from the CDC,
Older people are more likely to be vaccinated than younger people. It is the older people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, and I think it is likely that at least some older people did research on the Internet to determine that they should get vaccinated.
It seems to be that if you focus on U.S. politics, it is easy to become pessimistic; if you focus on technology, it is less easy. The rapid development of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 was a big technological breakthrough.
The existence of this blog – and the people I have met through it – is another example of the positive role of the Internet. The Internet has made it much easier for members of small groups, i.e. devoted Robert Anton Wilson fans, to find each other.
Here is an article about how Texas has tripled its solar capacity in one year:
Obviously, Texas is not a left-wing state, but technology makes progress possible in unlikely places.

Oz Fritz said...

Great point about the vaccine breakthrough, Tom. I can think of other good news, with the strong possibility of a real Climate Change bill going through being the most significant.

There appeared a breakthrough in holding high level American criminal politicians accountable with the Congressional testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson recently. In the aforementioned video, Eric makes the connection with Kerouac and Beat inspiration Neal Cassady which makes SENSE to me in a Joycean, dream logic kind of way. Cassady also directly patched into the West Coast hippie adventure as driver for Kesey and the Merry Prankster's bus Further on their journeys on the road.

I personally hope Crowley et al. proved wrong about the new, long Dark Ages. I agree with others about the World of humans currently going through the territory of Chapel Perilous.

The page after the table of contents in Against the Day has a quote by itself from Thelonious Monk, "It's always night or we wouldn't need the light."

The page after that has a small stamp or seal of some kind like what you get when purchasing a blank book at a Japanese monastery - the monk puts a stamp in it. Only Pynchon's stamp doesn't look Japanese at all. His appears uniquely stylized. Inside a circle you see an unidentifiable (to me) script arching at the top and bottom of the circle. In the center we find a shape that could remind one of a flower, or a small mountain range of three peaks. In the center of that we see a small, caveman-like drawing of a lion floating over what I take as a rhizome when viewed through a magnifying glass.

When you combine and reverse the end of Monk's quote with the lion drawing on the page following, you get Lion of Light, RAW's title for his proposed Crowley bio as told in Starseed Signals.

Notice TP gets the opening quote from a jazz musician. When Monk plays music, he produces sense.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I should point out that RAW does admit that dark ages are possible, although he generally tries to be optimistic. In the GAIA essay cited in Thursday's post, he writes, "The 'Fall of Rome' indicates clearly that the vector here analyzed does not function as a upward curve in time. The Dark Ages plunged the world back into barbarism, while the Orient, or parts of it, retained a few remarkably high civilizations ..." (page 76 of the paperback of "Beyond Chaos and Beyond."

Rarebit Fiend said...

@ Oz&Tom: I also hope that Crowley, the doomsayers and I are wrong. I am still unconvinced of any societal optimism, the world isn't doing a lot better than the United States and it isn't hubris to say that US politics affect everyone. Even after Tom's well argued point about technology, I still have a much dimmer view of the situation because of whose hands it lays in. But I'm not trying to divest anyone of the optimism, merely point out that it isn't just self-defeatism to be distressed by the state of the world.

You've brought up the Thelonious Monk quote on another post of mine, Oz, and if I didn't address it, I meant to. I haven't read Against the Day since high school but it seems like it is high time for a reread. I imagine I'll take more out of it now than I did then. I remember it took a month to read and I was ashamed of reading stamina was much better back then. I also used to reward myself for finishing a longer Pynchon works by reading a Waugh comedy afterwards...old quirks.

Tom, I'm sure we'll discuss this when we see each other in a couple weeks.

Spookah said...

Apuleius, you left out the follow-up to the part you quoted: “nothing in this book is an attempt to prevent the really resolute misery-addicts from continuing their pursuit of frustration and failure.”
I admittedly laughed hard there since to be honest I took it for myself, a bit. RAW’s optimism is something that I greatly admire, but still fail to make my own. Even if many things look like they aren’t getting any better around us, I sure am not doing myself a favor by ruminating over it. Always room for personal improvement, and in this case as Oz said, “it seems a useful survival mechanism.”

On a different note, on p.250 we can read that “it is easier to lead two children through a department store than twenty children.” Here I see a seeming contradiction with RAW attempts to get the reader to adopt several reality-tunnels for try-outs. Indeed, supporting only one might appear easy enough, even if we accept that it might have many blind spots. But entertaining a virtually unlimited number of reality-tunnels might very well bring about confusion, mental instability, or Eris forbid, even personality-splits.

At the same time, “the more complex the system, the greater is its instability.” Which reminds me of the bureaucratic nightmares of Kafka, who was mentioned in the previous chapter. In this lengthy collection of talks, Erik Davis weaves together in a masterful way the Gnostics, Existentialism, Kafka, and much more:
Another guide for the metaprogrammer, perhaps.

“Instability is not always bad: in fact, it is absolutely necessary for evolution to occur”, and also “McLuhan’s intuition that many seeming symptoms of breakdown are actually harbingers of breakthrough.” I guess herein lies the source of our much needed optimism towards a brighter future, or a golden dawn if you wish (I hate that this name has been taken over by the far right in Greece…)

Besides, “any organized system […] exists in dynamic tension between entropy and negentropy, between chaos and information.” Sounds to me like Prigogine has set a mathematical foundation for Discordianism. One might also read this through a political lenses as a plea for an anarchism of some sort.

Finally, I wish to share with everyone that I recently discovered the 1998 indie kinda comedy Detention. It works as a satire of the school system, and seems to be bringing to the screen the PR chapter 10 “How to brain-wash friends and robotize people”. Patty Hearst gets name-dropped, and the main character’s first name is Wilson. The teachers around here might want to give it a fnord.

(Should Against the Day be next in line for a reading group?)

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Tom- I should add that for all my antipathy towards the Internet, using it has been a good thing for me. It allowed me to find this blog, which has turned me on to a lot of good shit and eventually led to meeting my wife.

@Spookah- I didn't have any Machiavellian motive, promise. And an Against the Day reading group would be Formidable.