Monthly Archives: May 2017

From Silicone Implants to Silicon Humanoids: The Body Must Die


by Guy Walker

It’s always the same shameful exposition: standing completely naked in front of a full-length mirror, self-criticizing every lifeless pouch weighed down by gravity. If not that, there’s an extra piece of baggy skin somewhere that hangs like a kite begging for the wind. If not that, your legs are too scrawny; or your lips aren’t plump enough; or your lower-back-to-buttocks ratio isn’t what it should be. We’ve all done it—staring at ourselves in our full bleakness, wishing we had it another way.

But these peripheral fixes are mere trifles. Hacking open a woman’s chest and stuffing it with water balloons, or trimming down an obtuse nose with a metal file doesn’t suffice as a satisfactory remedy to our quaint ephemerality. Our agreed upon commitment to resent our own bodies is driven by far more than the fluttering vanity for a better figure—we’re trapped in a decomposing suit of meat, a slow entropic nightmare drawing out over many decades. A few bright years perhaps, but the window between crawling on all fours in a diaper full of your own excrement and being pushed in a wheel chair in the same embarrassing condition is excruciatingly short. In the grand scheme of things, we’re here for a few seconds and then all drop dead like flies.

Humans have always been at war with their own bodies. We want our fittest most enviable qualities to carry into the future, selfishly imprinting ourselves in as many offspring as possible. Plutarch told stories of the Spartans tossing their unhealthy babies off the mountain—a practice that was presumably meant to heighten and preserve their genetic fortitude. This is, perhaps, a display of antiqued animalism, like an unwarranted human sacrifice without the gods to accept their gifts—babies flailing and crying as they somersault down the hill, smashing into rocks as they go. It’s the human version of a mother bird eating her weakest chick. Ancient Greeks and Romans were known to leave sick infants on manure heaps, sometimes being rescued by others and turned into slaves. We like to think that things have changed, that our proud domesticity has evolved enough to care for the destitute and disadvantaged—but the 2,000 year history of female infanticide in China that still continues today is evidence that the brute is still there, that we can do the unimaginable just for the right set of genitals.

For a while, it seemed like religion’s fault. It’s always wanted to turn the human into some sort of sexless troglodyte, inhibiting the body of its most carnal features until all that’s left is a stinking abstract form of functioning organs, everything wrapped up in a colorless gown. When Catholic nuns—and virtually all women in Saudi Arabia—cover themselves from head to toe, they presumably wish to purify the body’s total libidinal sense. It’s intended as a visible sign of getting closer to their god—a display of ornate sterility, like a peacock who jumped in a bog because it was afraid of its great color. Many Orthodox Jewish married women cover their hair with a wig or half-wig (a sheitel) in order to conform to the religion’s standards of modesty. Cover yourselves, or be damned!

Female genital mutilation is clearly the result of a desperate phobia of pleasure (98% of Muslim women from Indonesia have been hacked at, 93 % of Muslim women from Malaysia, and 98% of all women from Somalia, just to name a few). Masturbation in males was long thought to have caused blindness, mental illness, and epilepsy; and circumcision was the popularized remedy, now postured under the guise of just better hygiene. John Harvey Kellogg, a Christian fundamentalist, created Corn Flakes as an anti-masturbatory breakfast cereal, also advocating for pint-sized yogurt enemas to clean the gut, consequently purifying the soul. Religion has done everything to destroy the human body in some sempiternal quest of holiness, driven by the belief that the body is inherently filthy.

The once prominent religion, Christian Science, declared that there is no body at all, that the material existence is mere illusion, and we should simply ignore growths on the body, symptoms of disease, even death itself. Because you don’t even die—you pass on, presumably to higher worthier frontiers. Nearly every ancient religion seems to have had human sacrifice as a necessary theater of gore in order to appease their gods. Even Christianity is based on the human sacrifice of one man: he had to be crucified for the sins of unwedded orgasms and envying our neighbor’s ass.

But maybe it’s not religion that is innately anti-human. Our war with ourselves has modified through the ages—it has reshaped itself to every cultural and moral custom since monkeys threw feces at each other, and now conforms to the acceleration of scientific and technological advancement. There are those who still pierce their faces with blunt sticks, or stack their necks with thick golden rings because for some reason or another they must manipulate what they were born with; the forefront of modern science basically does the same thing—people naturally indulge in the technologies available to them.

Embryo selection through in vitro fertilization (IVF) is of course the expensively high-tech way to avoid tossing our ugly crippled newborns off the mountain. From what is available from a woman’s supply of eggs, parents can curate their child to their preferred gender, eye and hair color, even selecting the “most intelligent” embryo. But this is only from what is available. Maybe one’s entire gene pool is shit.

So when a new technology called CRISPR-Cas9 emerged in 2013, everything changed. We could now begin the quest of the gods, not curating what was already available, but engineering something entirely new. The Cas-9 protein has been used as a genome editing tool, in which an unfavorable section of DNA sequence can be cut out and replaced with a more desirable section. It’s through this permanent modification of genes within organisms that we can hypothetically build superhuman immune systems, completely eliminate disease and malformities, and finally sculpt man with features from Homeric epics. CRISPR is avant-garde eugenics—it’ll be for parents who want superior babies, no different than when the Nazi’s attempted to manufacture a racially pure race in their hospitals.

For now, CRISPR has only been used to edit animal genetics: researchers have removed malaria from mosquitos, treated muscular dystrophy in mice, modified pig organs to be safer for transplantation into humans. But even now, this research seems pedestrian and passé in the shadow of what we know is possible. An all-knowing übermensch is marching on the horizon, chanting with genius and prose—man will finally achieve his god not through ancient myth and sacrifice, but through scientific excellence, turning us shit-tossing monkeys into computerized cyborgs.

But the allure of genetically reengineering human embryos is here. Once this technology is deemed safe enough, parents will swarm the editing rooms in hospitals (or just laboratories), curating their soon-to-be babies to be a blend of Mozart and Tom Brady, or Marilyn Monroe and Simone de Beauvoir. Every Little League sporting event has a squad of dads at the edge of the playing grounds, their eyes raging and cynical, their mouths frothing like wild dogs, yelling at their sons to play better ball. Soon these same dads will be hovering behind doctors, yelling at them to max out their son’s gene sequence of athleticism. And the levels of excellence will so quickly surpass anything any human has ever achieved. Of course only the richest will be able to afford these “designer babies”, consequently widening the wealth and opportunity gaps to unimaginable levels, impossible ever to recover from.

In our fury of anticipation of CRISPR’s potential, we have already begun the dramatization of where we’re headed. The ultra-fustian HBO series, Westworld, about a vacation retreat in the near future that’s populated entirely with Wild West humanoids, in which wealthy human clients pay to rape and kill anyone they choose without consequence, is a moderately fun thought experiment. Most of it seems possible. The morbid titillation of living out our Grand Theft Auto dreams would be too much for us war-crazed humans to resist—the theatrics would be too great; the ornate bloodshed would be too glorious.

The series begins simply enough: a train of new clients—who are as excited as a gaggle of frat boys headed to their first toga party—arrive in a dusty nondescript town, every detail of which has been tailored to the predictable look of every other Hollywood depiction of the Wild West. After they drink their whiskey and kill their prostitutes, they return to their boring lives back home, in the real world, plodding along on a treadmill at the end of a cul-de-sac. As viewers, of course, we don’t see that part—nobody wants to watch their own tedious lives laid out in front of them. What we see is the dramatized bloodshed, and then the repair, and then the evolution of artificial intelligence take over. Whenever a humanoid is injured or killed during a session of rampaging tourists, they are taken into laboratories and repaired by technicians, reprogrammed and erased of all the horrific memories for the next round of torture. A humanoid’s level of aggression, compassion, hostility, and so forth can be controlled with simple dials on an iPad, allowing a Westworld engineer to easily manipulate how he or she wants a character to behave. It’s little different from the Nexus-6 brain units in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in which androids can modulate any one of “fourteen basic reaction-postures” and are more intelligent than most of the humans left on earth. In Philip K. Dick’s classic dystopian novel, the robots harness their power and fight back against the humans, who are now a threat to their survival. In the HBO series, they do the same. One of the main characters, a humanoid prostitute, eventually controls her own character dials, giving her abilities her fellow characters don’t. From there, it’s all runaway chaos.

As devouring consumers of these types of shows, we’re programmed to want nothing more: three billion years of evolution and all we want to do is watch robot hookers running wild with guns as we grab another handful of Fritos. But it’s not hard to see the bridge between the CRISPR technology being used to enhance characteristics in embryos and these angry self-controlling AI bots who will do anything to control their own settings. The acceleration of this technology is compounding on itself. Look at video games. When Pong was released in 1972 as the first ever video game, it was radically advanced, capturing the obsession of every runny-nosed kid at the time. It’s only been a few decades since, and we’re already battling other players from around the world in three-dimensional high definition virtual universes.

But this already goes well beyond video games. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on an implantable chip for U.S. soldiers that will connect their brains to death-obsessed computers, consequently turning boys into military cyborgs. It’s what President Obama referred to in 2014 during a White House manufacturing innovation event when he chummily quipped, “we’re building Iron Man.” It’s easy to see where this could go. Previously, police departments have been equipped with the Pentagon’s excess—an overflow of MRAPs and grenade launchers have been used to deter protestors after a black kid gets shot and killed by the police. It doesn’t seem far out to imagine a time when cyborgs—or full on androids—police our streets, lurking in and out of alleyways, suspicious of anything that moves.

Maybe that’s where we always wanted to be: anywhere but this carnal Eden of humans wrapped in nothing but leaves. The religious want to drift amongst the heavens, whipping up clouds behind them as they smile for the rest of eternity. The futurists want to be cyborgs with superhuman strength, nostalgically reenacting their unlived pasts with gun-wielding prostitutes in the desert. We’re stuck too much in the past and the make-believe, while at the same time catapulting ourselves into a future that cannot host something that is committed to destroying itself. Religion never fixed our basic human anxieties, and CRISPR won’t either. It’s one thing for Donald Trump to go giddily insane when Mack Trucks pull onto the White House lawn, as he hoists himself up onto his high chair, blowing the horn and screaming like a chubby toddler with chocolate frosting around his mouth who just got a new toy truck. Just imagine when he gets ahold of DARPA’s Iron Man. He’ll stomp the world, holding the thing like a G.I. Joe action figure, wreaking havoc on us like we’re a city of ants.

“It’s a disaster, a total disaster,” he’ll say, looking upon the rubble of death. “Oh, I did this. Just incredible. Good work everybody, this is incredible.”

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We Worship Trump: How Religion Consumes Everything

Members of the clergy lay hands and pray over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights

by Guy Walker

Trump fatigue is already here. It’s the same Trump-only mania that began a couple of years ago—a never-ending misadventure of savagery and paranoia, a circus act of cannibalism that wants to popularize itself out on the streets. Even if we tried to avoid to him, he’d still interrupt everything, popping up his head of fried chicken meat onto the screen of your regular television shows, or into your bedroom, or in the office beside the water cooler. He’d find a way to disrupt every pondering sentiment, every moment of love and privacy, the name TRUMP branded permanently on every newborn’s forehead. Last week it was James Comey and the Russian connection; next week it will be something even more bastardly and profane.

In a way, it’s amusing. The pack of beasts rummaging inside the White House then try to pretend in front of the cameras that there is order and function within their walls. It’s like farm animals trying to look innocent after ransacking a house, tables smashed and couches torn apart, their snouts all covered in cake crumbs. But when you consider the consequences of their enacted policy, the comedy quickly wears off: the loss of healthcare for millions, mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug users, runaway climate change and environmental collapse, the rise of a theocratic state in which everyone has to follow some form of Christian Sharia Law.

With the sheer amount of shrieking profanity coming from Donald Trump and his administration, the last point—that of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy administering the rule of law—is particularly concerning because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Trump rests on a bed of nails with every new blunder, scandal, and insult dulling the seriousness of his prior ones. So he avoids the critics as much as possible, and instead goes wherever he is liked so he can continue to gloat about his victory in November. It is in this where he finds his most loyal base in the evangelical Christian community.

Over the weekend, Trump gave his first commencement speech as president, at Liberty University, his scabby cheeks shaking violently as he spoke to the group of graduates looking up at him with devout bellicism, their golden tassels furious with conservative juvenescence. Many of the 50,000 or so attendees gripped their Make America Great Again hats in their laps or under their gowns with a simple tribalistic fervor. These hats and their piousness are, of course, ideological totems, part of a phenomenon that is comparable to high school football fans in a quaint dusty town with nothing but their parades of bright body paint and dull battle cries. God! Trump! USA!—they’re all synonyms of each other—prideful apish grunts from animals who toss their fresh turds at anyone who doesn’t repeat the same chorus.

This is the same Liberty University that teaches young Earth creationism in its biology courses. It’s rumored that the dinosaur bones in its on-campus museum are labeled as being 3,000 years old. So as an institution of alternative facts, Liberty is surely the most appropriate university to host Trump—as long as what’s said sounds conservative, it’s right and should be made gospel. In a 2015 convocation speech, the president of the school, Jerry Falwell Jr., encouraged his students to carry more guns on campus, advocating that the more beer-drinking 20-year-olds with loaded guns under their belts, the safer and more secure their educational experience would be.

For as much as Donald Trump is mocked for his blustering style of speech, he knows how to speak to his audience. At Liberty, it was all about God: “When the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked ‘Our Creator’ four times. Because in America, we don’t worship government, we worship God.” The crowd proceeded to roar with approval, their glossed-over eyes affirming that religiosity dictates over everything, that their fabulous puppeteer booms his way from chugging smoke machines as we collapse to our knees, weeping with enthusiasm. The government is just a bureaucratic obstacle, they say, a rusting machine of sin that needs only to be dismantled and overcome.

His statement doesn’t provoke the shock and enormity that it usually would if it was said by a normal politician. Instead, we sigh despondently—almost indifferently now. In a few more days, we won’t even remember this speech—it will join the drunken blur of ineptitude along with everything else, the mounding scandals and investigations taking precedence over a little talk of God. If Trump were a tenth as blundering as he is now, this statement might seem worse—there would be more time to be offended, more energy and daylight to oppose the dictums of theocracy. Instead, he continues almost unnoticed. He reasoned that because the Founding Fathers invoked “Our Creator” four times, American currency is inscribed with “In God We Trust”, and why school children obediently quip “one nation, under God” every morning, their little fingers placed perfectly over their hearts, repeating it day after day until it’s burned in their memories forever.

This, of course, is incorrect. These adages were inserted in their designated places during the “religious revival” of the 1950’s. It was the time of the Red Scare, when the Cold War slogan “better dead than red” was repeated ad nauseam, assuring the West it was better to burn up in a nuclear blast, melting off the faces of children, than live under a communistic society. But it wasn’t just communism itself that was the enemy. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed the United States should oppose the Soviet Union not because of their oppressive manipulation of communism, but rather because it was an atheist state—their leaders were godless and therefore malevolent, like vulgar troglodytes shoving their sinfulness upon the world, their parades just armies of red-cloaked brutes that were irredeemable because they had abandoned the one true faith. But the Founding Fathers were forcibly opposed to any institutionalization of religion, noting the separation of church and state in the First Amendment to the Constitution, as well as declaring that “no religious Test as a Qualification to any Office” in Article Six. And the original Pledge of Allegiance—written in 1892 by socialist Francis Bellamy—read “one nation indivisible,” as a heartening paean of bringing together the many individual states in secular unity.

Trump’s commencement speech is already old. But its reception at Liberty University is a reminder why he won 81% of the white evangelical vote in the presidential election. His charisma—however grotesque and illiterate it may be—is inescapable, like a cult leader who will inevitably convince at least some of his supporters to follow him to their graves. There’s something luridly infallible about the thundering orange beast: he surely isn’t religious himself, but offers the same impossible promises like they were ideological aperitifs, little morsels of doctrine to be consumed quickly and regularly. He’s as carnivorous as a David Koresh or a Jim Jones—just a few steps away from the great plunge.

Religion is always discussed culturally: if you’re born in a heavily Christian populated area, chances are your parents also subscribe to the faith and will raise you accordingly; or if you drew a different straw at birth and were shoved into a Muslim dominant country instead, the same pattern would occur. Our gods are malleable according to the patch of dirt we are born on; and the faith persists on through innumerable aspects of the surrounding culture. That’s why according to new analysis at the Pew Research Center, 78% of white evangelical Protestants approve of Trump’s first one hundred days. For them, there’s nothing chaotic or borderline treasonous about Trump’s possible collusion with the Russians—it’s run-of-the-mill politics, and the rest of the country is unpatriotic if they don’t support him. At a recent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, Richard Spencer and his sickly tribe of white nationalists were heard chanting “Russia is our friend!” in some sort of last ditch effort to embrace the enemy. It just shows how strong the power of belief can be when someone has fully invested themselves in a movement. Everyone’s favorite cult to shit on, Scientology, is emblematic of this phenomenon: when Scientologists have invested all their money, and sacrificed their social and professional lives for the sake of L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi, self-help wizardry, and then learn that Lord Xenu, dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, planted billions of his people in volcanoes 75 million years ago, it’s somewhat understandable that many adherents of the religion are now too immersed to be able to suddenly retract decades of reinforced belief. Trump Mania is much the same. The enthusiasm for him during the primaries and general election was often so fanatic that many will never recover; likely, it’s not that they won’t admit that they fucked up, but rather that they can’t, not even to themselves.

When Trump signed an executive order that allowed churches to more freely participate in future political campaigns and not lose their tax exemption, he likely did so at the suggestion of one of his closest aides—Jeff Sessions, or Mike Pence, or some other greased-up toad waiting in the shadows. And with the word “impeachment” fluttering around more and more, we begin to wonder what things would look like under a Pence presidency, full of gay conversion therapy and chainmail mittens, public flogging for every boner.

At this point, there is very little that will surprise the world about the American political arena. Shaved rodents high on steroids are scribing our last remaining rights into law. There’s no use in predicting anything anymore—polls are useless and preemptive, a castration of the undercurrents of America. But one thing is certain: Christian fundamentalism within the Republican Party is in its most opportune time.

For now, he’s still there, shuffling around his huge barren stage, dusting himself with a heavy compound, the lights overhead glimmering against his silky eyes. Confetti pours from the sky for years; crowds chant Trump! Trump! Trump! for decades longer. The orange beast leans in a little closer, and opens his mouth still stained with a wet residual paste: “In America, we don’t worship the government,” he says at last, “we worship Trump.”