The Words We Utter Beneath This New Flesh

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by Guy Walker

Tumbling through black space, naked and shivering, I grope awkwardly at the aimless hologramic fog. Something is terribly wrong here. The sky is littered with digitized two-dimensional sparkles; bouncing hearts and doggy noses and ears gone astray, they scatter across the empty void like tumbleweeds; erratic and gruesome gifs bob and float like plumes of glitter. I soon realize these are only the mockings of stars—not light from millions of years away through their boiling tumors of nuclear fusion, but immediate and shallow, outlined with a crude magic marker. The doggy noses are fat and not cute, and mimicking a huge ass with a ribbon of warts on top. This is awful. I look up—or wherever up seems to be from my dispassioned and boorish summersault—and see two thick thumbs the size of skyscrapers tap and swipe randomly, smearing grease like a slug across some invisible barrier. Then, a jolt. And suddenly my formless arena is engulfed with an incomprehensible horror of Youtube makeup tutorials and high definition porn and presidential campaign ads and tsunamis of indecipherable Reddit posts. The entirety of the internet floods over me in the flash of a few minutes, a DMT-like cascade of an entire species’ desperation pleading to be heard.

To feel the gravitational weight of anything, my entire conception is ravaged by a global pandemic. I wake, but the clear distinction between the hallucination of dream and this fleshy terrain here and now is unclear. A cold wind howls outside, rattling my weighted single-pane window, a stale feverish condensation dripping on the inside glass from behind the curtains. Finally, I emerge from my room for the first time in months, perhaps years, realizing that this solitary confinement has been self-imposed all this time. I open my phone. Nothing. A dreary haze waits ahead outside, as two English robins bathe themselves in the birdbath. But all of a sudden one of the birds flickers with television static and vanishes. But static comes from electromagnetic waves from supernova explosions, or the sun, which makes this hallucination all the more confusing. Oh god, I remember that all my exes hate me, and I deserve most of it. Probably all of it. What the hell. I’ll go back to bed. A new season of Earth Planet is out, advertised as extremely bingeworthy.

This is much better. Our sense of nature’s operative machinery is perplexed by another outlandish documentary blockbuster, narrated by a crumbling erudite Englishman.You watch a tiger clamp into the neck of a gazelle at the bank of a river. The HD pictures sold to us as being sharper than real life—the thirty-thousand frames per second capturing every single water droplet mirroring the scenic barbarism on its glossy spheres. Don’t go outside—this is better than real life. Don’t let your children turn over stones and prod curiously at grubs and earwigs—teach them Pokémon Go, where they can chase illusory toy monsters into oncoming traffic or changing rooms at the mall, the hopping neon fragments titillating the masses the way a porch light does for all the country moths. How could we have possibly strayed this far? The coastal redwoods drenched in moss and chandeliers of a dew-soaked spider’s web, and the underground mycelial circuitry that entangles young vulnerable saplings in with the many-century-old torso of healthy forest—this is meant to serve our self-hating narcissism in some way, surely.

I’ve never had a difficult time of tending to the punctuated throes of social responsibility. Most of us are hallmarks of highly educated insouciance, witnessing our major natural habitats burn to a few last smoldering remnants, or the oceans churn and bake into reservoirs of plastic debris. There’s a spray-tanned gameshow host with severe brain damage running my country, tossing bundles of dynamite into the gears of international diplomacy. I’ll watch this all happen through my phone, my neck propped up by three pillows and molding itself into a permanent swollen nodule and double chin. I’ll wake up with all the lights on, an expensive cocktail glass spilled across the goose feather duvet, my willowy legs naturally awkward as they stick out of my Christmas underwear like two pointless roots. My eyes are starting to hold a permanent festering squint, unattractive and more serious by the day as they register the bohemian death drive of our species. I switch on my camera’s selfie mode, and study the slow rot passing across my face. Magnified enough, our skin is an abandoned agricultural field, spoiled of its terraqueous innocence with poisons and perfumes like they were crop-dusters.

There’s no use in trying to deny the neon spectacle just waiting there in its quiet rectangular blackness. It’s there, in your hand now, but when it’s not, it’s waiting, whispering from its depths for you to pick it up again and stuff yourself with the mildest intoxication yet again, your bloated edges spilling out onto the floor. You’ll do this, on average, one hundred and fifty times today. That’s about once every six minutes, if you’re awake for sixteen hours a day. I remember reading Guns, Germs, and Steel many years ago, where Jared Diamond quoted research that stated the average American household watches seven hours of television a day. Published in 1997, we’ve come a long way.

David Foster Wallace wrote endlessly about being raised by television. He would lead his own tv watching marathons, getting drunk and high as he obsessed over his own hypnosis of the thing, the shampoo commercials and applause-track sitcoms and real-crime dramas all blurring together into a mass rotating circus act. The marijuana binges in Infinite Jest are clearly autobiographical; the years that Hal Incandenza wades through have been replaced by sponsored advertisements—Year of the Whopper, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar. You can imagine Wallace, stoned out of his mind, slouched in an antique loveseat torn along the seams, watching hours of grainy television, suddenly jolted by the epiphany that this orgiastic circus of commercials will eventually manifest into a dystopic branding of everything, even the Gregorian calendar. His short story, “My Apprentice” is about the swirling anxieties of a fictional female celebrity entering David Letterman’s formidable arena. “Little Expressionless Animals”, a short story in his 1989 collection Girl With Curious Hair, uses Jeopardy! as the platform to write a tale of lesbian romance. For Wallace, television was the new and compulsory chamber around which our dramas are told. Tolstoy used the ballroom or the battlefield; Melville, the sea; Hemingway, the African plains; Beckett, indeterminate locales in Ireland, or perhaps just the rambling mind; where virtually every other writer used the obvious landmarks of this miserable sodden frontier, Wallace knew there was no more frontier to be had. The illuminated screen is where we are born now. It’s where we copulate, argue, fall in love, and apparently now where we declare war.

In a 1996 interview with Charlie Rose, Wallace said he was “raised to view television as, more or less, my main artistic snorkel.” It’s what bonds us as humans, like a monotheistic tribe of bland rituals, our coruscating angst impressed beneath the fuzzy glow. At the time of the interview, the television set had long taken the position of the fireplace as the centerpiece of a home—the fireplace, of which, was always intended less as a device to heat the home, and more to mimic our ancestral storytelling origins—to gather the family around, in their holiday-themed onesies, sipping hot cocoa with both hands, dissembling their semi-glossed happiness into feigned resistance.

Chomsky said something about the television show being the filler that stations jammed within the real programming—the advertisements. Whatever real meat is in a hotdog. Television, Netflix, Instagram, Twitter, fucking TikTok—this is what we do. It’s the interface in which the flowering stink of spring is fully realized. We still have to occasionally make our brief little forays into the shallows of the outside world—afraid and vulnerable, glancing at others from behind our sunglasses, with the same obvious terror advertised across our face that a dog has when taking a shit on a crowded sidewalk, knowing full well we are now prey. Or when we go get drunk with friends, the conversation is often about what we watch when back in our curtain-drawn dens, with the insufferable veneer of any of it being artistically beneficial. This isn’t a cynical move. We just don’t have conversations to the maintained stature as in My Dinner With Andre. Our enviable dramas are on the other side of the screen. And today, we have the means to puppeteer ourselves as some clumsily drawn hero—we’ve become our own miniaturized Lawrence of Arabia’s on wherever our localized online universe exists.

The great French literary titan, Louise Ferdinand Céline, understood well that of all our drooling spluttering orifices, the mouth was the most unredeemable and profane. “When you stop to examine the way in which words are formed and uttered,” he wrote, “our sentences are hard put to survive the disaster of their slobbery origins. The mechanical effort of conversation is nastier and more complicated than defecation.” Everybody knows this, whether they realize it or not; it’s why most people prefer to send text messages than listen to each other speak on the phone. It’s why the laughing-crying emoji was awarded Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year a few years back. The belching profundity of the mouth suffers more through its chronic aching and throbbing, through the discolored leakage of so much exclaimed barbarism. We are perspiring with libidinal fatigue—better to lay in bed with our head supported by a gallery of pillows, with an episode of Golden Girls playing on the telly, and hammer something barely coherent with our thumbs. Better to sit hunched over on the toilet until your legs fall asleep, the pigment from your turds long ago leaking into the toilet water like a rotten teabag. (I receive a text from my boss: “lmk if da shit gatorade , coo? Honey pot too chill.” Fo sho. I got you, boo.) You sit at a series of missed traffic light on the Sunset strip with forty cars behind you, every one of them staring down at their phones—these pulsating factories of imprisoned aurora—doing that selfie-wheel-of-fortune thing, looking cute or ironically disappointed when they find out what Disney princess they are, or what squiggle they are, or what insect they are, or what hole they are. Whatever. Plato’s cave got a renovation. We throw pebbles at jetliners thirty-thousand feet high. We sell pictures of our feet on the internet to pay off student loans.

Two other writers joined Wallace in his interview with Charlie Rose: Jonathan Franzen and Mark Leyner, both of whom are sad Cimmerian men, but not in any desirable way, not in the way Wallace was. They are awful writers. And solemn men who write about trite things are openly denying their grotesque and balmy impotence. That’s what makes suicide so heartbreaking: those who should, never do, and those who do, never should. They complained together that the ubiquity of television has eaten away at the role of their timid fortune. They are writers, you see, painfully straining to articulate the psychic mess of being awake in a world of romance and betrayal and loss—and they have taken up the noble task of peppering their stories with relatable women and men, where allegorical lessons can be learned along the way. And it’s not fair, you see, that the screen has robbed them of their prophecy.

It’s not difficult to see where this is headed. This isn’t a cynical move that judges the degradation of the mind into illuminated bits of data, the maze of pneumatic tubes whizzing in and out of the atomic hard drive. Quite the opposite. We are being unified into a complete whole, gradually being sucked back into the other side of the screen, where the lyricism of our conversational prose spills from our mouths like expensive fondue. And glossy men in capes and suits conquer smoke-filled arenas like it was an expensive game of laser tag. The conspired fortitude of our heroes overcoming conflict—we will finally be together.

….Long live the new flesh. David Cronenberg’s 1983 classic Videodrome delivered it best. “The television screen,” a mysterious television operator, played by Brian O’Blivion, tells us through another television framed within our own television, “is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain.” He was right, and I guess still is, but the artful horror of today is far more advanced than a simple television screen. And yet, at over three-and-a-half decades old, the film hits the important marks of technological morphology that we’re dealing with today. By the visual consumption of a plotless television show featuring torture porn and eventual murder, our hero, played by James Woods, gradually transforms into the pulsating machines behind the screen. His hand holding a gun transfigures into a grotesque mass of flesh and gun, unified together into a viscous mess of veins and entrails. His stomach opens up as a vaginal wound, gripping onto video cassettes, guns, and hands, like a cannibalizing anemone. And finally, he gets sucked back into the television screen where he belonged all this time. Where we have all belonged all this time. “You’re reality is already half hallucination.” This is indeed the new flesh, an embryonic culmination of ones and zeroes colliding into a red-stained chamber of gore and ecstasy.

I was infected by the transcendental optimism of Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman at a young age. And I still want to follow their direction. But take the naiveté of Henry Thoreau, for example. He was forever enamored with the soft hymns of the country, and wrote about how we are all born with the same impulses of exploring the outdoors, observable by whatever unwavering spur of children to explore caves and climb trees; and adulthood is merely the ruinous hangover we suffer through, wandering around stupidly, gorging ourselves on expensive dinners, shooing away an ever-expanding list of annoying disturbances, like a cow using its tail to bat away the flies from her eyes. But look at any child today. They are hunched over and commanding the screen like a master conductor. They know home is inside there, somewhere, and they’re trying to figure it out, the secret exchange of passwords to get back in. We were never meant to climb trees and explore caves. Thoreau naively anticipated a Rousseauian-branded return to the unique barbarism of walking on all fours. We are manifesting Voltaire’s Enlightenment. We’ll find a door to the other side.

This is it. We are Nature’s victorious ejaculation, the fermented glob on the crest of a sulphuric pit that has somehow crawled its way into these molds of human flesh. We have committed ourselves to lives that are the equivalent of accosting strangers on the street, shoving our walnut and goat cheese salad directly under their face, asking them for comment. Maybe Wallace and Cronenberg saw it coming, that we would all be self-quarantined in our studio apartments, hunched over our own miniaturized television screens, our eyes bloodshot and eventually rotting. But maybe they were too shrouded by the swirling delirium of the present day to see where it was all headed. Thirty or forty years from now, we won’t be reading Walden from a moss-covered boulder in the evening sun. We won’t be scouring the footnotes in Infinite Jest next to our naked lover. Whatever it is, it’ll be far more fragmented and cloistered than this doggy-eared frenzy here.


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When Kings Become Cartoons

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Before his death, a distinctly outlined orange sun sets behind President Xi Jinping, his ears flopping forward like a toddler’s mittens, his tiny red shirt riding up and sticking into the damp fold of flesh between his belly and his tits. He’s not wearing any pants. He never has; but there appears to be just a smooth golden fuzz where his genitals are supposed to be. The smoldering cartoon audience seems unimpressed, so he makes a wimpish attempt to cheer them up, the kind only the doodle of a bear’s gruesome acumen can muster. “Nobody,” he softly exclaims to the benevolent hues of green, and the many other countryside animals of opaque neons, “nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.”

It didn’t take long after images of Winnie the Pooh were banned in China because of his uncanny resemblance to their human leader, for other rulers of other countries to preemptively ban their self-declared animated body doubles.

Amid whizzing gunfire between the rocky throats of canyon, and across some indistinct expanse of desert where Syrian rebels bounce along in their military-retrofitted pickup trucks, the roads just rotted into boiling moats of asphalt and debris, not much other life exists. Perhaps a lizard or two, gasping under the shade of pulverized rubble and rebar; perhaps a lone mushroom, plunging upward in the center of an abandoned city, displaying the phallic victory of nature and her promised resilience. The bombed-out cavern of world echoes the muffled cries from babies, their mothers sifting through the spread-out hunks of concrete with antiqued gold miners pans. This part of the Middle East somehow turned into an awful proxy war, the final realization of Mad Max, with Turkey now invading northern Syria, completing the last orgy of death before the upper atmosphere converts permanently to sulphuric farts, and tendril-strings of superbugs rain down into our cereal bowls of gruel.

But there’s important issues to discuss. And so Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Erdoğan convene in a dark alley, the walls fortified with garlands of rusted barbed wire and shards of glass. A distant organ player has passed out with his head fallen on three keys out of tune that only produces an excruciating barely audible dog whistle. It’s not peace talks their discussing. It’s not a plan to pull millions out from the charred misery. It’s both an allied and adversarial pact to ban all images of their closest cartoon doppelgängers.

Assad asks sheepishly if they agree to ban Mister Geppetto, Pinocchio’s father. “Oh, and both Super Mario Brothers. They all haunt me, and I’m not even Italian.” The others nod their heads as if this were obvious. Putin demands they agree to ban Porky the Pig. But he won’t even say his name. “Ze pinky,” he says over and over, as the other two make hundreds of random guesses until they finally stumble upon the correct answer, and Putin just closes his eyes slowly, and exhales silently. Erdoğan writes his on a piece of paper, and passes it to them. It reads, “Angelica Pickles, from Rugrats.” Putin and Assad grunt with amusement, the closest thing they’ve come to laughter since Assad dropped nerve gas in Damascus, killing hundreds of his own people. The beams of morning span the horizon as the rapid gunfire draws nearer, and the teeming nostalgia for the wild life becomes unbearable.

Then there’s Donald Trump. He sits hunched over in the Situation Room, the hump of his neck sprouting meaty beds of bleach-blonde hair, his earlobes flopping like sails in the windless sea, the glossy sheen of the lacquered oak table reflecting like a private bowling lane. He leans over the smooth reflecting wood, mimicking Narcissus staring into the still pond, trying to decipher his own resemblance. His pointed and sculpted tufts of eyebrows whipped into miniature waves, his scalded marshmallow face bubbling with hapless glee, crusted mounds of oatmeal coated the edges of his flared nostrils. And the awful trademarked hair woven into a spider’s Halloween thicket, with buzzards and carrion feasting on scraps of flesh inside somewhere. He wouldn’t give the trolls what they wanted. The casino-loser peasantry who only wanted to make him look bad, to subtract from his coruscating flex that swelled like the blood-packed erection of an Aryan wet dream. He would turn the task on its head, and make the people willfully not disperse the images of cartoon’s masculine heroes like Simba from The Lion King, Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, John Smith from Pocahontas. “Etc.,” he wrote at the end.

What purpose is there for any effective resistance? In the 2016 election, it was initially reported that 11,000 people voted for Harambe, the dead gorilla. Although later proven an exaggeration (these types of votes are never actually tallied), Mickey Mouse is famous for being a favorite protest vote each election cycle. But the famed authoritarians of the modern world know better than to call it a protest vote amongst themselves. The literal manifestation of a cartoon hellworld is upon us, the squeaking and yapping laughter of episodic delirium, simply drawn animals with drooping snouts and eyeballs the size of frisbees, mocking its citizenry who are trapped in an overly saturated nightmare, running between a maze of galloping pianos the size of a city block, rugs heaving into tidal waves that are only trying to toss us by the bum into an empty flower vase the relative size of a skyscraper, so amidst this profane and formulaic squalor, some likable fanged beast can snatch us up by the tail and drop us into his mouth whole.

In the end, in a last ditch effort to bring peace, President Xi Jinping staggers aimlessly under his Winnie-the-Pooh costume. He came to the bombed-out streets of Hong Kong to greet throngs of protestors, clouds of lethal tear gas drifting low in their multi-colored sherbet flavors, another attempt to convince the kids that tear gas is fun and flavorful. All of the protestors were waving banners of their honey-loving god, riding the tops of huge automated floats of Tigger and Piglet and others. If he could actually become the buoyant and lighthearted protagonist of the celebrated bedtime story, maybe he could settle their unrest once and for all. At least, that is what he thought, stupidly. Because they weren’t here to protest the Chinese judicial system, or its encroaching mangled edifice of legislated doom; rather, they wanted the impostor to unzip himself, to step out from his sweaty and awkward disguise.

“Ooo whooo,” Xi Jinping muttered with fake jubilance from behind his Pooh costume, patting his belly of stained and rotten polyester fur. It was of no use. The throngs pressed in, beating him with sticks, pulling him from that panoply of failed innocence, naked and hog-tied by comic irony, his plump adorability now backfired without any chance of its reversal. Before everything went pitch-black and silent forever, before he could feel his gurgling lungs get drowned by the slow motion stomping of boots, a pure white butterfly balanced delicately on his wet nose, opening and closing its wings in the serene beauty of a cartoon. And Trump and the others gathered round, their makeup and costumes half finished, peering down at his limp body wasted away in the mud.

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The Last Temptation of Empire

Westward the course of empire take its way;
The four first acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day;
Time’s noblest offspring is the last
-George Berkeley

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What role do the arts actually play? The Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, David Mamet, thinks it’s all just for entertainment, which is fine, he says—the kids need a good puppet show to scream and cackle at. The cannibalizing weight of the world strangles us; the tropical depressions swirl like miniaturized cyclones inside. There’s nothing wrong with teasing ourselves with the beautiful and profane. Writer-director, Paul Schrader, sees it differently: the arts are tools no different than a hammer and saw, to build some edifying totem that tells us about ourselves. He wrote Taxi Driver as a story about a man colonized by loneliness in order for Schrader himself not to become that man. And it clearly struck a nerve with the public. The audience of 1976 didn’t crowd around that film with evangelical fanfare because it was simply a well-executed puppet show, only serving us piecemeal entertainment. But who’s to say where the sustained reverence comes from—is it just a necessary and immanent thing to proclaim to everyone that you saw, and you “absolutely loved it!”, no different from posting artfully stained selfies in front of The Starry Night and gloating confessions about how moved it you? You may as well accost every stranger you can on the street, gushing about Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup cans, saying you saw them once…and they’re a-mazing!

Schrader and Mamet agree on this: the arts haven’t changed, but the audience has. Schrader’s 2017 environmental-noir film, First Reformed, received comparable critical accolades to Taxi Driver, and is almost mandatorily a more important film, but it came and went, failing to constitute a wider dialogue about faith and environmental stewardship. I happened to read Mamet’s Theatre before sitting down to write this, in which he states that when he was in acting school in New York more than fifty years ago, there were seventy-two new Broadway plays produced. Half of the forty-three plays in 2009—when he wrote the book—were revivals. Most of the modern art museums today are filled with the abstract expressionists of the 1950’s rather than any new, crusading work that fundamentally changes how we see the world.

I have asked myself this innumerable times as a painter—in the lonely, alcohol-soaked hours of the night, hunched in front the twisted splinters of an easel: what am I actually painting for? Should there be a cultural, topical relevancy, or does all anyone want is glorified hotel art? An expensive ejaculation smeared in the confines of a framed rectangle, arranged so guests can gawk at, eat their rotten cheese, letting the chihuahua lick their hand. Picasso’s Guernica inserted itself into the real world, where war, starvation, rape, general hell exists. But what does one do today, without achieving only inevitable triteness, or just being ignored? Thomas Cole painted The Course of Empire, a five-painting-series on the cyclical propensity for the rise and fall of civilizations, a masterpiece of millenarian form, foreboding the circus of bile and cruelty. It should be studied, and painted again a thousand times.

The timescale represented in the five paintings span over many centuries, perhaps millennia. They’re also single flashes over the course of a day—the rising of the morning sun in the first painting, The Savage State, where man consists of just a few subjects in an otherwise verdant, all-consuming landscape. The sun draws higher in The Arcadian or Pastoral State, where boat-building and the herding of sheep frequent a scene that is still dominated by nature. The third frame, The Consummation of Empire, at high noon, is a towering broadcast with obvious resemblance to Greek and Roman civilizations. All the human achievement collapses in Destruction, where a statue of a headless soldier careens forward with a broken shield. The city around him is burning; women are being brutalized and raped; men killed; and somehow, a child’s toy boat forcibly sunk. The day finally settles into the dreary cycle of return, as the full moon sinks back under the horizon in the last of the series, Desolation. The tangled ivies and clumping herds of trees are finally swallowing man’s phallic landmarks to himself; his bridges and temples how just crumbling relics, mere mineral deposits for mosses and lichens to slowly suck on. Birds have returned, nesting atop the lone column standing in the foreground.

Of course we have our own markers today—this week, this month, this presidency—that make the series seem like a relevant scrying stone. Yes, of course, Donald Trump is what is causing the collapse of our sacred American system, is the guttural temptation, like a pavlovian scapegoat that we can blame all our degeneracies one. But it’s always been. Thomas Cole was responding to Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party carrying out their Manifest Destiny and its slaughter of the so-called savage state. Our corrupted history, our original sin. The innumerable frames not included between The Arcadian or Pastoral State and The Consummation of Empire also necessarily include these same scenes that are shown in Destruction. An American empire built on the backs of slaves, corralling the natives into ever-tightening, sordid paddocks of spoiled land. And Thomas Cole was surely aware of this. The cyclical theory of history spins into rapidly dizzying circles the more you look at history, the more localized and personal you trace the origins of wealth and plunder.

It’s everywhere. Of the five mass extinctions on this earth (most ecologists say we’re causing the sixth), between seventy-five and ninety-five percent of life was wiped out during each one—a near return to the origins of biological life, like a cosmic intervention that decides it’s going to start all over again and try something completely different. This time, we humans are roleplaying the astroid or the sun flare or the unstoppable plague. We have always sort of fetishized the end of the world, building billion dollar cinematic franchises to pawn off a bleak garbage munching future as something to look forward to. A romanticized version of roughened heroes battling their way through fields of angry holograms, limping pigeons, general anarchy.

The Course of Empire was created between 1833 and 1836, a time of seemingly relative innocence compared to our present-day frat party of an existence, the spongey, vomit-soaked legacy of our privileged upbringing, the mess of humanity more resembling the binary fission of some mutant cannibalizing bacteria. Today, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have repositioned the Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight (the nearest to self-annihilation it’s ever been, including this same time, positioned in 1953). It’s been maintained since 1947, when a devastating nuclear exchange was the only global threat possible to take place. Now, it includes climate change, and the innumerable threats that it includes, from decades-long drought, to flooding of major cities, to wars over dwindling resources, to billionaires clutching onto power with private armies, to the release of zombie viruses thawing in the permafrost. Clearly none of this was a concern when Thomas Cole created his series. The time of Cole was Walt Whitman and Henry Thoreau—a splendorous dance of garlands, a big gay festival of erudition. It’s not what we typically think of as fodder of forewarning to our self-destruction. Nevertheless, he was aware that our death drive merely took different forms, that it doesn’t matter how we kill ourselves, because we’ll always be thinking of new, more inventive ways to do it.

Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, and his most recent, Enlightenment Now, make the case that life in general is vastly improving over the course of our domain—that our pessimism about ourselves is more generally a self-indulgent fad. It’s cooler to pontificate some Nietzchean quip of how we’re all fucked as you smoke an American Spirit cigarette you rolled all by yourself, than to look at the encyclopedic data of why things are actually improving, why poverty, violent crime, rape, war, domestic violence, have all declined dramatically over time. And yet, still, clearly we are fucked. The consummation of misery as a ubiquitous norm may have improved; but the extent of our death drive has drowned out these superficial improvements. Killing the ecological backbone necessary for our survival—the bugs and weird bacteria in the jungle—is far more creative, psychoanalytically, than the direct slaughter of each other. War by machete still happens of course, but our death drive has evolved to outwit these antiquated ways, like a horror of mist and function that turns these hellish moth-eaten tweeds to dust.

What is happening in The Consummation of Empire that leads inevitably to the swirling chaos and misery depicted in the next panel, Destruction? Nothing is out of the ordinary: a velvet-robed king is ushered across the bridge by an enormous flock of supporters; an opulent fountain spurts its excess. Children play in its shores, splashing, pushing toy boats. Unbeknownst to them, disaster looms. It will all morph into an inferno of self-destruction, as if we are administering, perhaps unwittingly, the cyclical theory of history through periodic extinctions and new beginnings.

And here, today, at least from my vantage point, nothing is out of the ordinary. The scientific consensus may be that we have triumphantly fucked ourselves for good, but there’s nothing obvious, nothing experientially that demonstrates it such. I’m drinking a foamy latte in a sunny outdoor patio, as every other wannabe prophet of cool writes their screenplays around me. A generation raised by pornstars singing karaoke; the slow drip of dopamine easing everything to a gradual acceptance. I’m headed to surf at Malibu once I finish this piece; herds of others are performing their iterations of the same. And yet, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity stated that up to 150 species are lost every day. An ecological genocide that makes Rwanda look acquiescent, every single day; and most of us who are privileged enough to choose not to notice carry on with a passive awareness at best, our dicks shoved in some glory hole of philosophic pretension.

Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, published fifteen years before the first of Cole’s Empire paintings, famously depicted man’s will to life as the source of all our suffering. The possession of more things serves only as the representation of happiness, and quenches the Will ephemerally, this momentary escape soon evaporating like a fart on the windy ocean shores. The insatiable Will makes Destruction and Desolation inevitable. Schopenhauer thought that man’s dismissal of any reasonable stewardship of nature was a guarantor of our general moral collapse.

If Cole painted his series today, it would be ignored. Schopenauer would be ignored. Because First Reformed was ignored, the mass of attention given to the masturbatory ennui of A Star is Born and Bohemian fucking Rhapsody. Schrader strongly believes we are beyond saving ourselves, that we’ve catapulted passed every tipping point, and there’s no turning it back the other way. But he still makes films. He may be a bitter, angry doomsdayer, but he still lectures on filmmaking, teaching young storytellers how to be better, more effective in their craft. David Mamet believes everything is fine, and we should just carry more guns and let Israel conquer the entire Middle East, but he still writes drama, dosing the world with magnified versions of ourselves. That’s all we can hope to do—as an audience, to pay a little more attention, for attention’s sake; and as artists, to lash whatever wands we have, to let the world putter through us, and see what we can make of it.

A Future Squatting Amongst Stars

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by Guy Walker

Like a resurrected god emerging from cobwebs and gold, the tottering heroisms that only existed as lore are then redressed in the milky fog, conspiring with pigs, their buckled snorts are now for everyone to sing like prophecy.

The future is a cruel vampish remark of ourselves, either too self-complimentary of our abilities, or too elaborate in its cynicism that it’s somehow made exciting. The real monomania of man is straddling time as it hurls towards some far more theatrical hellworld, like Major King Kong riding the bomb towards global annihilation in Dr. Strangelove. We devour any new hypothesis about what the future will look like. Most are grim: men cloaked in shredded ponchos sifting through the ashen garbage of a bomb-blasted city; an all-consuming eyeball watching its slave-citizens exert their last breaths in some menial chore, when they open the mail, how much sugar they spoon into their government-regulated coffee, rationing bathroom breaks into paranoid gasps under a permanent gray sky. It’s no longer called “going to the bathroom”; instead, it’s just squatting in the minefield, shitting poisoned gumdrops into gofer holes, ducking under the propellers of crowded drone highways. Or, we envisage paradise: glowing diodes scaled in pink flesh, the libidinal Turing test coaxing millions of penises upward like miniaturized dancing tube men you see outside gas stations. Our willingness to submit ourselves to the fantasy of being controlled by AI sex demons is enough to fund clinical research into the ubiquity of our madness, a race gorging itself on a five million gallon tub of popcorn, swimming in bubble baths of Diet Coke, the half-chewed corpse of our animal selves left to die in the expanding sun.

There’s never stories of a flourishing utopia where citizens enjoy fortunes of wine and gold-leafed genitals. It’s not because stories need conflict to be deserving of telling, but rather because we all know the future is already haunted by our collective stain. “Utopia,” of course, originally translates as “nowhere” or “no place” from the Greek and Latin. The term was coined by Thomas More for a book in 1516, about an imaginary island that could never realistically exist. Because humanity is a marching band of rabies and excrement, parading our predestined death drive for everything to touch.

The Earth isn’t enough for us. We were never really meant to stay here after all, we tell ourselves. We have to expand up and out into the cosmic arena, the future suddenly become the present.

Isaac Asimov penned a piece thirty-five years ago for The Star, predicting what the world would look like today in 2019, the same timeframe from when Orwell wrote 1984, in 1949. Another pointless stream of musings by a science fiction writer, perhaps, electing himself as another voice in the orgiastic industry of fortunetellers hunched over their gleaming orbuculums. His mangled and teased sideburns curling every which way, like human velcro strips, antennas that were meant to signal his way back to the alien ship he wanted so desperately to exist. You can almost picture him, not stroking his chin like true learned men do, but rubbing the furry islands on his cheeks, one set of pointed fingers in each nest, so as to think doubly hard.

The essay is short and yet somehow achieves a grander more bestial form of tedium. He makes brief nods that the burdens of overpopulation and pollution would be “strenuous,” and at worst, “painful” to overcome, but after what amounted to a woefully self-evident position that anyone who paid any attention to the course of current events could come up with, he roared on to what you’d expect only a sci-fi writer gorging on his most reasonable conceits would write. By 2019, he predicted, we’ll have vast space colonization efforts under way, expanding solar power stations on other planets and microwaving unlimited amounts of solar energy back to Earth. An “international force” will be mining the moon and taking it to “places in space” in order to manufacture the soil into the structures we’ll then send into orbit around the Earth.

The gloating vagueness of what new undetermined spacecraft will be manufactured from the ashen rubble on the moon only illustrates that people like Asimov never really had a plan to begin with. It’s just getting closer to resembling the Jetsons without thinking what it’s all for.

Computers will revolutionize the education system, he continued, and therefore, “Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” His predictions were more optimistic than nearly anyone else who scribed their tellings, more than the self-assumptive powers of George Orwell who stated 1984 was a warning if we weren’t careful. More than Aldous Huxley who thought we’d degenerate because we enjoyed sex too much. Asimov wrote over 500 books, and around 90,000 letters, an expulsion of mostly awful fantasies exceeded only by the likes of L. Ron Hubbard. If you write that much, you are simply ravenous, your nostrils dilating like a bulls, your retinas clogged with surfaced arteries, beads of sweat squeezing through every pore. When hearing of Kerouac’s writing style, Truman Capote commented, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” But Asimov didn’t even type; he leaned over stacks of paper that were spread out randomly and stuck his fist down his throat, waterfalls of words spilling haphazardly onto the pages, books less sensical than Jack Torrance just repeating the same sentence over and over ten thousand times in The Shining.

There is something obviously maniacal and self-loathing in our proclivities for some undetermined future. And Asimov may be an easy example of the boyish fatuity to leave this plane of banality in exchange for something much more colorful and exciting, but Elon Musk wants the same thing—he just goes about it in more adept ways. Carl Sagan wanted the same. Stephen Hawking. All those who indulge in altered states of consciousness are doing the same thing. Consuming highly powerful psychedelics like DMT isn’t really about any spiritual endeavor; it’s about rocketing yourself to the ninth dimension in an instant just because you can, because eating ramen and driving to work and jerking off to the same dreary image of a bleached asshole, and everything else is the same fist-clenching tedium we’ve been forever trying to escape.

Our economy on Earth relies on people continuing to buy meaningless shit, selling advertisements on Youtube for underwater headphones, while you wait for a video to load of a raccoon playing with a Made-In-China plastic toy. It’s too crowded here, with the voluntary onslaught of linoleum and styrofoam and dog hotels and signs pointing every direction at once. Outer space is the frozen empty void, Arena Todestrieb where human-engineered ballast phalluses cartwheel for two hundred years, the whole crew cryogenically frozen, as the distant whirring and periodic beeps sink away into a deathless midnight; and they’re doing this simply because this is the new frontier.

We speak of frontier enthusiastically, in the way our dead incest-advocate great great grandparents spoke of Manifest Destiny, that it was justified and foreordained. Even the eminent sun-tendrilled poet Walt Whitman, who wrote at length of the indelible handsomeness of nature and her things, pardoned the chugging pogrom of the natural world in his Pioneers! O Pioneers!, one of the most celebrated iconic poems of the American West: We primeval forests felling, We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within, We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving, Pioneers! O pioneers! We can’t help but plunder the untouched edges of the world, until the American West is finally completed as it was always meant to be, into one gargantuan neon shopping mall, the florescent tube lights buzzing off the polished floors like marble, runny-nosed children stretching their fingers out for another ice cream, the whole mad slippery empire swallowing up the moon, and then Mars, and then forever beyond.

Mars One is a private Dutch company of four people, pledging to colonize Mars by the 2030’s, turning the whole red-stained circus into the ultimate reality show, literally. They’re planning to send regular folk up there, so they can shuffle around like penguins on the deserted planet, seeing how long they can survive before the lonely mania sets in, before they start ripping their spacesuits off and running into the frozen landscape, naked and free at last. It has been broadly criticized as a suicide mission by the aerospace industry; and yet still, the proposed mission recruited interest from more than 200,000 people, all knowing it’s self-described as a one-way trip, just so their Real World vacation can be filmed and beamed back to Earth for our viewing pleasure. It’s the ultimate death drive. Our collective vanity perspiring into a dribbling goo, so that we were on some television sets for a few hours.

Even though SpaceX rejected Mars One’s proposal to be a part of their mission, Elon Musk also wants to die on Mars. He’s certain this planet isn’t big enough for him. The dull terraqueous hubris of nature isn’t even enough to tickle the poets—the spindly greenery suitable only for animals and peasants who still succumb to their sublunary programming. When Musk first steps off the grated ramp, and sinks his feet into the bloodshot soil, he will laugh, having successfully left one dead planet for another. It doesn’t matter what happens next—how many steps he takes like a stumbling newborn, where and how he finally falls, hugging a rock, gasping his last breaths. The point is it’ll be a return to nothingness—the whole mission a huge success in returning the human species to the rest of the dumb impartial emptiness of the universe, to the infinity of nothingness, turning back the evolutionary clock on ourselves, until before we were apes, before the first fish and microbes, before the first squiggling turds of existence, until all that’s left of us is a fading stain across the glittering mosaic of the cosmos.

There is a very real possibility we are the most intelligent and technologically advanced beings in the universe. Even though 80-100% of stars are predicted to have planets orbiting them, and an approximate 20% of those planets are thought to be in the Goldilocks zone, where life is prone to take place, there is no built-in impassioned drive towards intelligent life. With the innumerable elemental factors in place, we don’t know the odds of life going from slime on the warming shores to space-whizzing humans, but that number could be so low that we’re the only ones for now. And yet we’ve persisted in replacing the death of God with the absolute conviction that aliens visit us on a regular basis. My otherwise intelligent colleague was just recently convinced aliens put us all here, and is controlling us by having us invent smartphones for our own distraction—not all that different a theory from the Scientologists. The so-called New Atheists—Dawkins, Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, et al.—miscalculated their burden to convince the masses to abandon their silly creeds. The challenge wasn’t that we wouldn’t know where to get our morals from, but that we would then select from the library of daydreams to replace them instead of fostering the sterility of empiricism. Even amongst a serious scientific community, programs like Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are endearing iterations of our failure to be alone, our trembling fear of the dark.

But our collective fixation to leave this cannibalizing orgy and begin anew somewhere else was no worse depicted than in the 2014 epic Interstellar, a convulsive meltdown of narrative in which humanity must scramble to discover and colonize a new planet before being ravaged by an unexplained error in our crop yields. We are yanked from this planet with still many signs of life, the diversity of biomes great enough to guarantee nature’s resiliency, and travel through other dimensions, looking to settle on another dead ice rock. It doesn’t follow a sensical narrative because nearly the entire genre of futuristic sci-fi doesn’t follow standard cogency. And here we are, in real life, trying to mimic sci-fi’s worst aspects, pursuing technological feats “because we can,” because we’ve seen Kubrick’s flying bone turn into a space shuttle too many times, and we construct that as our toolmaking destiny, still masturbating our collective selves to the perceived nobility in JFK’s quip of going to the moon because “it is hard.”

In our temptation to draw out some picture of the future we either fear or hope for, we do best when at the very least we stay on this planet. The future is never epic when it is arrived upon; it’s the fantasy of it that entices us again and again to spend our time and money consuming it like a porno vision of tomorrow.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was directly inspired by 1984, even though Gilliam admitted he never read the book. The concept of dystopia is attractive enough; the details will fill themselves in after the fact. It’s tempting to compare the whole lot of futuristic books and films and the like, and idolize the most accurate and likely, the thought being with enough guesses eventually someone will get it right. And Brazil is probably the most rigorous and faultless in regard to its social aspects, at least for the time. It’s stylized humor is not actually humor and not actually stylized, but just a form of observant note taking; the most absurd accounts now looking more like accurate depictions of our present-day ennui. In Brazil, the rich stretch their faces tight with saran wrap and wear leopard-printed high-heels on their heads; we inject our asses with a toxic clotting fluid, and lay in tinfoil sleeping bags binge watching other sci-fi possibilities, imagining ourselves on another frozen rocky frontier, through another dimension, far more lonely than this one here.

We already lost the future. Now, all that’s left to fix is the present, or what we have left of it. Climate change, nuclear annihilation, never-before-seen inequality, more and more military-clad despots who sneer like baboons with opposing jeweled grills—these realities won’t go away with never-ending prophecies and productions. They won’t go away if we try to get away, to other deserts on other planets. The real life strata of decay will follow us like a shadow, until we fix it here amongst ourselves, on this lonely island bobbing in empty space.

Jordan Peterson and the Last 12 Commandments

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by Guy Walker

In the end, Jordan Peterson tore his own flesh off until he was just a sobbing human scab, warning the world of a postmodernist nightmare in which everyone had shitty posture and didn’t pet the neighborhood cats.

Nobody knows what Jordan Peterson wants. His sad enthusiasm for pedantry seems to be all that he’s capable of—his strange and gruesome moanings are like that of a schizophrenic homeless man screaming endlessly about the color of the paint used in an alleyway. “It’s not scarlet!! It’s a deep vermillion!!!” It’s just this that makes him seem so useful—he is so tirelessly eager to talk about mysticism and Bible stories and peoples’ preferred pronouns, that some people actually pay attention for a while, more just to see if the Toronto-based professor will collapse in a self-made reservoir of tears, or if he’ll explain a pumpkin’s sexual proclivities. He tours from under the gleaming shamble of academic superstardom, as mobs of college-age males gather to see him speak; his mighty edifice of reason and purpose—the very reason his name erupted into the mainstream—is his refusal to ever mention non-binary pronouns, things like ‘zim’ and ’zir’ instead of ‘him’ and ‘her.’ And a storm of grotesque and frolicsome self-flagellation ensued, everyone protesting everyone else

But it’s his recently published book that has finally blueprinted a path of self-help for intelligent people, not the parading outrageous eulogies and feel-good confidence that everyone else corrals around. The Tony Robbins types. The sociopathic calmness of Wayne Dyer. The fanatical grandfather approach of Zig Ziglar. Peterson’s book is 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Its initial burst sold well, perhaps enough to ignite its own cultural revolution, a steaming courtship of suited-up bros hustling to get laid like real men, their pomaded hair-dos gone solid with bacon grease, their long noodle fingers reaching out like a Tim Burton animation figure, reaching for anything, reaching to pet every cat they can get their hands on (Rule #12), reaching to cover their mouths so they don’t bother children skateboarding (Rule #11), reaching to clean their room (Rule #6).

Cleaning your room is a contrarian dangerous act—this is actually what Peterson argues—because it’s going to upset your other filthy plebeian family members. They will resent your aristocratic order, resist against your clean dishes because clean dishes are shiny ornaments defying the laws of decay—the universe is a driving rod spiraling out of control, with supernovas of dirty bed linens and used condoms exploding with entropic infinity.  Entropy says that dogs’ natural state is defecating on the street, cracks in the asphalt burst into forests. It says every window eventually smashes into a million little pieces, instead of the other way around—instead of the sandy beaches magically forming themselves into polished rectangles. It can take years of labor and a lifetime of money to build yourself a house, but only minutes to destroy it in a fire. The fetid extravagance and overall weariness of the world would swell into mountains of feces summiting over the roofs of houses, and canopies of morning glories would suffocate the tallest buildings; the extraordinary granite faces of El Capitan will turn to helpless farts of dust taken away by the winds. Cleaning your room is the great defiant act for young white men in the early twenty-first century; it’s the ostended philosopher’s cry that has made all too real Nietzche’s Will to Power. The compounding evolution of history’s great thinkers and influencers have climaxed with the enunciation of Rule #1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back, and the rest follows.

Jordan Peterson is only trying to make this world more orderly. When he comes, clasping the metal bathroom handle with his delicate bone-peaked fingers, he screams something indecipherable about Carl Jung being a god. He doesn’t ejaculate across the backside of the upturned toilet seat; rather, he floods himself into a funnel, which diverts everything neatly into a mason jar—a clean organized system of Monday to Sunday bathroom vessels, stacking them in chronological order, and shipping them down the Euphrates. On weekends, he heads to the desert with a broom and goats pulling a cart of human chattel, sweeping the dirt into perfectly symmetrical cone piles, instructing his men to organize the granules from smallest to largest, and from shade to hue. He goose steps loudly into toy stores in the middle of the day and constructs all the puzzles in the most brazen defiant manner, afterwards laying the cardboard sceneries out side-by-side. “Get your store in order, Bucko,” he croaks, leaving with a few more greased-up men than before, the kind who see Patrick Bateman in American Psycho as a heartrending icon, a misunderstood hero of sorts.

Always tell the truth; or, at least, never tell a lie. Rule number whatever. It doesn’t matter anymore. Jordan Peterson has triumphantly binded the most sordid avenues in plastic wrap, the animality and bivouacs of sweat are now sterilized packages of saltine crackers. People line the glistening streets, waving a million kekistani flags, tossing handfuls of rice at the sun, asking Peterson what he will do next, now that his cheese-guzzling victory for meagerness has spread everywhere, now that skateboarders can do synchronized kick flips, now that the once terraqueous throes of the outdoors have been turned into a cathedral of cruel lividity. There’s nothing interesting anymore. The whores have become Youtube personalities, doing makeup tutorials to become Pepe the Frog. The jazz players are teaching basic chords to three-year-olds, vowing no further refittings of their once popular improvisations. The beggars and schizophrenics have bundled their pubes into charity hair depositories; they wear three-piece suits, and host Bible study groups. Everyone quit school, and just watches Jordan Peterson videos on the Internet, because “education is so easy now.”

It’s very clear where this is all headed. Jordan Peterson has corralled an army, men of coruscating morality have strapped themselves to two-by-fours to keep their backs straight. They are forever panicked about the spread of postmodernism, unclear of what it actually is, occasionally sobbing into brutal fits and extended months of anorexia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—author of The Gulag Archipelago—is the only other author they know, and they repeat the name over and over, like men with a single and severe mention in their turrets. The intellectual Mount Everest has finally been summited by a pristine masculinity, a polished thousand-foot cock standing perfectly straight in the storm of diversity. Jordan Peterson stands atop of the violet shiny bald head, his stance spread wide, the brittle gusts of wind billowing his long coattails, the crooked pulsing veins zig-zagging down like bolts of lightning, and the final and extraordinary explosion of cum rocketing Jordan Peterson to the stars.


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The Future of Desire

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by Guy Walker

What actually did happen to the sexual revolution? It wasn’t long after one of Freud’s most noteworthy students, Wilhelm Reich, landed on New York’s squalid shores in August of 1939, that the generation of prurience and free love was born. His most noteworthy invention and physical contribution apart from his writings now seems like an artifact of dereliction, some shambled box from an abandoned carnival: the Orgone Energy Accumulator. It looks like a boarded up telephone booth, an unexciting trunk turned on its side that you were supposed to sit in and wait to receive the brilliant and spontaneous orgasms it provided.

Sex from some obscure unknown realm has long been a preferred subject of science fiction. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a bounty hunter Phil Resch (a phonetic cousin of the Austrian psychoanalyst), who works for a fictitious police agency, and could be another android, remarks to Deckard with a tone of austere advice, “If it’s love toward a woman or an android imitation, it’s sex.” The reader is propelled into the obvious: how does it actually feel to be in a storm of eroticism with a robot?

Blade Runner 2049 offered another installment of this fantasy. Our hero’s girlfriend, Joi, is a three-dimensional hologram resembling an evolutionary masterpiece; you can watch the movie in what is seemingly another layer of 3-D, gaping up at her seductive digitization swaying into the bedroom, your mouth hanging open stupidly, staring up at the huge screen with your flimsy paper sunglasses. Joi’s character is a reincarnation of a character we know well.

In the 1956 French drama, …And God Created Woman, Juliette, the subliminally catastrophic temptress played by Brigitte Bardot, believed “the future was invented only to spoil the present.” Sixty years later, it’s the present that wants to spoil the future—it wants to give it all up for us, tell us of the trenchant nihilism ahead, popularize the ultimate ghosts of technology. In the film, she lays around naked, walks everywhere barefoot, undisturbed by the male forces and societal norms around her, causing a moral panic amongst those nearest her. The men in the film conclude she “was made to destroy men,” as they try to repel the inevitable gravity of her enchantment.

The destruction of man by the strange and impossible intrigue of the woman is a common theme now. Hollywood is smitten with this fantasy. How will people, you know, “do it”, in the future? Spike Jones’s 2014 dystopic interlude, Her, brought the same titillating futurism conceptualized in the bedroom to the big screen. The envisioned communing between Theodore and the computer operating system, Samantha, was little more than a banal exclamation that mimicked the snorts and grunts of pleasure. It was phone sex, mildly elaborated, only for the sake of the pronouncement of orgasm, leaving the fluids, sweat, bullwhips, fuzzy handcuffs, and every other physical attributor of touch, in question and out of the picture.

Ex Machina notioned that the most beautiful women of the future will be an invasive species of silicon chips molded in our most alluring fashion—they’ll be prowling amongst us, like a digitized playmate who could calmly and regularly beat the Kasparovs of chess, and then lock them in a cellar until they rot. There’s nothing more thrilling than taking someone home from the bar who might turn out to have a survival glitch that would necessarily have to kill you to succeed. BDSM for existentialists; the abstract fetishizing would turn a whole generation into a sex-themed Russian roulette game.

Or there’s HBO’s Westworld series, which featured robot prostitutes that would kill their way to freedom. Thus far, our popularized interest in artificial intelligence goes as far as what sort of envious bloom their reproductive organs will look like, how lusting and lifelike the interplay could and should be. Especially the women. Movie producers and audiences alike don’t desire the other possibility in quite the same way. There’s something deeply unsettling about their male counterparts that would only be used for sex—their dangling rubberized testicles waving in the dusty anarchy of the wild west, their smutty reprogrammable libido under spasms of defect, wreaking havoc on innocent female victims who only wanted a bit of cathartic delight.

It’s clear what’s happening. When Lacan famously announced “there is no sexual relation,” he wasn’t attempting a contrarian view of desire without features. He was iterating how we split ourselves up in the act of sex, between “its being and its semblance, between itself and that paper tiger it shows to the other.” In this, as in a combative death drive, we either give or receive a mask, “a thrown-off skin,” in order to protect our real being.

We’re never really alone with our sexual partners. There’s always a deep fantasy or weirdly-cloaked fetish lingering in the shadows, hammering away at our heads in varying degrees of distraction. In the strange and extraordinary partnership of cultural totems, Slavoj Žižek was commissioned by Abercrombie & Fitch to write for their 2003 Back to School Quarterly, where he quipped his bursting tic-filled remarks on youth and sex, the capitalized large font spread across a glossy overlay of two boys and a girl completely naked, barely of age, carousing in green fields, the sun’s yolk spilled across the whole verdant jouissance like a pagan dream: “The only successful sexual relationship occurs when the fantasies of the two partners overlap. If the man fantasizes that making love is like riding a bike and the woman wants to be penetrated by a stud, then what truly goes on when they make love is that a horse is riding a bike…With a fantasy like that, who needs a personality?”

A horse riding a bicycle is as real as Ryan Gosling passing his dick across and into the flickering static of his girlfriend, both of which are only barely less real than an undisturbed sexual communion between two people. There’s nothing remarkably novel about Hollywood’s attempts to realistically imagine the future of bodily desire. A robot’s vagina is not the exemplary nexus of modern art, not some avant-garde interpretation of Freudian psychoanalytics. But some productions have imagined a sort of post-Oedipal world, in which man creates his maker, fucks her, and then is gruesomely slain by her.

What Ex Machina and Westworld achieve is they thrust the viewer outside the obvious torments of being killed by the glamorous female lead, and they allow you to imagine the daily benign thrill of the technicians themselves, and what it must be like for them to pick and prod and quietly sculpt women of our yearning. As viewers, we know the architects of these humanoids had to at some point kneel down and masterfully sculpt the deep swelling crevasse of her reproductive organ, the realism of her sensuality more essential than any other appendage or feature. The absurd bald mounds on Barbie dolls, like they were long-legged congenital eunuchs disguised in aprons and wigs, no longer suffice for the pornographic obsessions of the modern age.

The cinema is now our most easily digested form of suggestive enterprise. We bring the whole circus of crime and drama and comedy and romance and war into our bedrooms, our gawping voyeurism permanently attached to our laptop screens. But it’s always been like this. The preferred art forms from before quietly distilled the same libidinal hankering as multi-million dollar productions filmed in front of green screens do today. What happens when Picasso or Lucian Freud paints one of their women? Are they not attempting to garner a lusciousness of dimension of the female form they never managed to see themselves? They spent countless painstaking hours leaning over their huge canvases, trying to improve on mere replication, detailing the dimpled flesh and overgrown pubic forests like things of undocumented mystery. They composed these scenes, arranged their women in candid moments of trembling bliss, and hyper-realized the overflowing smooth flesh of women as the givers of all life. The title of the painting above is “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” the model’s actual job title. The words give a humanness, a normalcy to the shapeless spill of tit over the edge of the couch, as if this could be every moderately heavy woman walking down the street. We are pressed with the overwhelming gravity of who we really are, the unflattering reality of ourselves as a gruesome patchwork of anuses and other spluttering holes, all held together with this dying membrane of sweat and pores and hair, the festering wounds of age slowly eating away at us.

What’s next, beyond each fantasy, is another. Most of us spend our days slouched in some form or another, our necks sloped like a cow grazing her fields, staring at a screen. We tap away at it endlessly, as if it will eventually do something, fetishizing the swirling blots of color, a whole universe encased in Snapchat doggy ears and nose. When you watch porn on your computer or phone, you’re signaling one half of a holographic sex doll—an illusory, yet very real, pleasure. There’s a brothel in Germany that’s already gotten rid of all the prostitutes—all the real humans, that is—and instead offers their clients a lineup of lifelike sex dolls. We’re almost there. It’s the same fantasy played out in different forms—different brands of the same product within today’s culture industry. Adorno and Horkheimer illuminated in their philosophical monument, Dialectic of Enlightenment, that the “culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises.” It usually ends in flaccid regret. Instead of the high definition fantasy playing out in front of us, we end with a white pool of mucous in a dirty sock. “The promise,” they continue, “which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory.” But it’s voluntary. We pay $17 to see someone else play out our fantasies of what the future will look like.

It could have been an interesting storyline in Blade Runner 2049, between K and his holographic girlfriend—where their moments of affection and confidentiality really lead to, what they would have done about having children, arguments around infidelity and if it’s really considered cheating. But the filmmakers never went there. That particular subplot ended in masturbatory ennui, a close indifference about the future of our relationships. Again and again, we’ll watch these films on our own screens, the clutching voyeurism of survival fluttering across the backlit rectangles, the colorful blobs of other humans superimposed. But the end is always the same. The credits roll and the screen goes black, and we’re left staring at our dark naked reflection in the glass.


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The Faux Patriot Phenomenon

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by Guy Walker

On a dank fetid afternoon in the middle of August, as the sweltering torridity encouraged record-breaking fires to spread even further across the American frontier, Donald Trump emerged for a group of journalists, their questions frantic, as if each one were trying to clammer over the another. His skin was more opaque than usual, like a mangled sun-roasted apricot, a glob of hellish torture that housed his gleaming white blocks of teeth. He kept his lips pulled back in order to show off his teeth like a prey trying to scare off its enemy, and answered questions about the racial-infused violence that occurred just days prior, famously uttering there “were very fine people” amongst the Klansmen, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis that stormed through Charlottesville.

It was a simple seditionary remark, another snort of his trademark grandiose ignorance, the kind he exhibited when denying he knew who David Duke was while initially running his presidential primary campaign.

Fast forward a little more than a month, when Trump is speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. His skin is softer; he’s surrounded by his unwavering compatriots peering up at their charismatic hero; he’s more at ease, and therefore even more reckless in speech, encouraging the firing of any athlete who kneels during the national anthem. “You’re FIRED!” he screams, as the crowd roars with approval, a deluge of blood rushing to his emaciated genitals.

Responses to Trump’s more treacherous remarks incite the usual bursts of outrage like they were little anger-filled ejaculations glazing the screens of countless blogs and social media platforms. Likewise, it positions any number of Trump whisperers to pontificate on what he really meant, as they condemn the media for always listening to him incorrectly. But it’s not an issue of Donald Trump as master villain or gilded hero; it’s the present manifestation of tribalism gone mad.

In The Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno and his accompanying authors posited a theory on the phenomenon of the authoritarian figure, including the unwavering patriotism of the masses that contribute to his manifestation. The authoritarian figure himself is the result of a Freudian developmental model, a sexually impulsive, insecure man, catapulting with outward hostility in order to overcome his shortcomings. With overwhelming impulses from the id (disorganized instinctual drives), and an incapable mediator of reason—known as the ego—the authoritarian shoves his way to power like a desperate and lonely drunk finally grabbing an old pumpkin to fuck. Hideous perhaps, but nevertheless inevitable.

Something analogous to the Napoleon complex, Adorno et al. considered that men pursuing roles of acute power and severity tended to be atoning for their bestial malformities. It seems plausible enough—a glitch in the mass outcropping of humans is bound to eventually take the form of a vainglorious sasquatch every now and then. It’s more the hysteria of support around him that is interesting—why do blundering fools such as Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler corral such aberrant loyalty? They were grotesque figures, considered buffoons before accessing power. It’s only because patriotism is more magnetic than any god. As Adorno et al. described, “patriotism…involves blind attachment to certain national cultural values, uncritical conformity with the prevailing group way, and rejection of other nations as outgroups.” It is the blind patriotism that is so fascistic—chauvinism, by its nature, is a fetid and truculent enterprise that only manifests from a long-exaggerated tribalism, when we smashed rocks and bones to establish survival over other threatening groups.

As long as we’re still human, we’ll likely never fully outgrow our tribalism. It was a survival mechanism that worked too well. Now, we clutch maniacally only onto what we know, fearing the other shaded men outside. We hate the neighboring middle school in town, then the other high schools in the league, then sports teams or religions that differ from our own—we’re seven billion tribesmen standing with crooked cheeseheads and smeared body paint, stammering why our paddock of dirt is better than theirs. What makes it far more beastly and hideous today than when our ancestors hunched on all fours, grunting and tossing their feces, is we moderns should know better. We’re the momentary products of a 200,000-year enlightenment—one would expect us to be a little more astute of our prevailing commonalities.

But there’s reason for this lingering stupidity. English essayist, Samuel Johnson famously announced that “patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel.” Patriotism works like an impenetrable edifice of one’s identity, an ideological safe space for anti-intellectuals. The more illiberal corners of the political left have been justly blamed for calling anyone they disagree with a racist or a bigot—they apply it so haphazardly that when they finally do meet a legitimate racist, the term is no longer effective; similarly, many conservatives call their opponents un-American, as if this were the towering lord of all insults. It is difficult to recover from if a politician is deemed un-American—they’re now on the defensive, having to prove that in fact they are a proud member of this relatively new land.

The Patriot Act of 2001, by its very name, challenged anyone opposed to the act as the antithesis of patriotism. It didn’t matter what the contents of the act were—indefinite detentions of immigrants, the searching of telephone and financial records without a court order, the searching of a home or property without the consent of the owner or occupant. The Patriot Act passed 98 to 1 in the Senate, the only dissenting vote coming from Russ Feingold from Wisconsin, saying its provisions violated the civil liberties of citizens.

Blind patriotism is nothing new, and its tempting to think this is just one more manifestation of our cyclical human deformity, with all its baseless love for the stars and stripes. But it’s not. The patriotism of today is far more contrived than it is blind. There’s a bombasity and overachieving loudness to American patriotism today that makes it all seem so fraudulent and miserable. Men stomping around in head-to-toe camo with semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders, women proudly flaunting their bulging muffin-tops cinched tight with America-themed body armor, red trucks lifted to the height of houses, babies drinking breast milk from Big Gulp mugs while simultaneously punching commies—American patriotism is a fashion statement no more sophisticated than girls wearing garlands and John Lennon glasses at Coachella. It’s a shitty Halloween costume that countless Americans wear everyday. The faux patriotism of today comes out of a desperate overcompensation of life-without-meaning—they wave only the symbols of those ideals without propagating the ideals themselves.

As of 2013, 94 percent of all imported American flags came from China. Polyester showered with carcinogens. But it still works. The meaningless piece of cloth still triggers something deeply primordial in good patrioteers, like a bull who sees a red bed sheet and starts blowing steam from his nostrils. It makes the authoritarian personality that much more serious.

The monumental pettiness surrounding the national anthem debate essentially ends with the contents of the anthem itself. The entirety of “The Star-Spangled Banner” reads more like whorish pedantry, the abecedarian rhymes of which cheapen all polemics about nation and virtue. Written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, only the first verse has been extracted and used for our arduously long ceremonies preceding every major sporting event. Given that the first verse is still dragged through exaggerated undulations, minute after minute, like a glittered masturbatory spectacle in front of forty thousand exhausted beer-bloated fans, perhaps no one dare add a second verse. Adding even one more verse would compromise the attention spans for the rest of the night. Or, perhaps it was to hide the overtly racist rhymes near the end of the third verse:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Francis Scott Key was referring to something specifically annoying to him. In response to the Americans trying to hijack Canadian territory from the British Empire, the British recruited entire families of slaves, training the men to form their own regiment known as the Colonial Marines, assuring they would not return any of them to their former American owners. Not only was it an invitation to escape a life of shackles and routine whippings and sexual humiliation, but a chance to fight against the ideological perversity that enslaved them in the first place, to openly antagonize the ubiquitary of systemic despotism. Anyone in their right mind would take the British up on their offer. Francis Scott Key—a slaveowner himself—held this against slaves, scribing his paeans of death for the opportunistic men with darker skin than his.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave” is now a meaningless phrase that still triggers the most frenzied ravenous excitement. We humans are animals that attach overbearing emotions onto words. When Trump tweets “Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag” as reason for why professional athletes should be forced to stand during the national anthem, he’s serving a word salad of patriotic idioms that his base will recognize as their own. Every major word in the sentence ignites a shallow sense of pride and purpose; it assures arousal without providing any real meaning.

The word “patriot”, for example, wasn’t always used to describe the illustrious bravado of camo-obsessed Americans as it is today. Liddell & Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon) wrote that patriotes was “applied to barbarians who had only a common [fatherland].” It was a term used for derisive mockery, defined in Samuel Johnson’s fourth edition of his Dictionary as “a factious disturber of the government.”

The American journalist John Thomas Flynn wrote about it in his As We Go Marching in 1944, a time when even the most ardent American patriotism may have seemed justified: “[W]hen fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund…it will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism.” This is where we are today—the gilded dawn of fascism, when men and women march gladly into their weaponized barbarism. Flynn said “when fascism comes,” not “if,” as if it’s an entropic inevitability, as if we humans will invariably create dystopia in our pursuit of utopia.

The cult hero is the representative of this phenomenon, hoisted on his high stage, lamenting about why non-patriots are destroying the country. Trump managed to corral 81 percent of the white evangelical vote without noticeably understanding any Christian practice himself. Similarly, he successfully branded himself as the patriotic choice without having any history in serving the country. When he famously mocked John McCain for getting captured and tortured for five years in Vietnam, or snubbed the Pakastani-American parents of Army captain Humayun Khan, or announced on Twitter that transgender soldiers would not longer be allowed to serve in the military, he became the incarnate celebration of the faux patriot. We’re amidst the self-destruction of reason, a gloating dystopic tribunal of normalities. The world is a cube; sea cucumbers are just slimy cucumbers; and it’s patriotic to loathe and belittle true patriots.

Trump had five deferments during the Vietnam draft, one of which was for heel spurs—calcium buildup in the heel that can oftentimes be treated through stretching exercises. In an interview with the New York Times in July of 2016, he said “I had a doctor that gave me a letter—a very strong letter on the heels.” He never produced a copy of the letter, nor could he remember the doctor’s name; but it doesn’t matter because it was categorically the most patriotic thing he could have done. He was patriotic not to pay his taxes. He was patriotic whenever he grabbed a rogue pussy. He was patriotic under every golden shower, lathering his mangled genitals in the noxious suds. And if hard evidence does reveal that he purposefully colluded with Russia, Trump’s loyalists will not waver—the magnetism of the cult hero is fixed permanently.

This self-styled faux patriotism erodes away only through reason alone, as the demagoguery and supreme brutishness is slowly replaced with a more humane understanding of ourselves, until we fully abandon what Bertrand Russell called the “willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”


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The Sad Truth About White Nationalism

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by Guy Walker

Vice News probably covered it best. In their 22-minute segment on the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, they begin with the night prior. At the University of Virginia, a group of what looks like predominately young white men have equipped themselves with tiki torches that would normally line the entryway of a New Age cocaine party in Laurel Canyon. This is almost all someone needs to see in order to understand the anxious virility of America’s most ardent hate groups. They’re more caricatures of hate, bulking their shoulders out, adorning themselves with fashionable anger like they watched too many grainy t.v. reenactments of mobs marching into town to burn witches. It seems put on, overly contrived—after all, political anger is trending these days, like an emotional hashtag many are trying to embody. But toughness mostly died out with cowboy movies and the dawn of social media. Gangster rappers today star in family comedies, or at the very best, have inconclusive Twitter feuds with other rappers. White revolutionists don’t actually engage in any meaningful revolution—they buy tiki torches in bulk from Home Depot and grimace for the cameras to see, hoping their march, too, will go viral.

White nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKK members—they have preferred names they identify by, little different from the sexless liberals who want to be named by their preferred non-binary pronouns. You can imagine them stuffing their mother’s warm meatloaf in their underwear just out of boredom, or tying an earthworm in a complicated knot and calling it stupid for not untying itself. They’re the type of aspiring ogres who get ketamine enemas, drink a case of Natty Ice just with the boys, and talk about chicks and fags. Because, they are the most superior race, marching to reunify the New World as the proper land to spread their Vitamin D deficient skin, like they’re a race of milky cum ejaculating across the frontier. Nostalgia for Manifest Destiny, a cheapened romance about how cool your symbolism is.

For a minute, you think none of this actually real—the European colonialists enslaved Africans to build their homes and estates, they massacred the natives, they forced the Chinese to build the railroads, they stole an enormous portion of Mexico in the Mexican-American War, they elected a literal fascist. And they’re feeling at risk of becoming minorities. But it’s clear nobody is here to think historically and rationally. They just want to chant. The group marched towards the site of the statue of Confederate superstar Robert E. Lee, chanting things like “Jews will not replace us,” “Blood and soil,” and other hoggish self-immolating phrases.

At the site of the statue, there are counter protestors surrounding Robert E. Lee, as if, counter to all conceivable logic, they were the ones trying to protect the Confederate general. There is a back-and-forth of the two teams chanting Black Lives Matter! and White Lives Matter! at each other, like the shittiest rap battle ever, with only a three-word sentence they yell over and over. It’s the adult equivalent of booger-encrusted toddlers squabbling over which color crayon they like most in the crayon box. No, turquoise is prettier! Yes, we are horribly stupid beasts, gathering like armies of swine because it’s easier than engaging in meaningful conversation.

If the white nationalists had only read their Foucault they would have known that power is not obtained by ‘episodic’ and ‘sovereign’ acts of hostile coercion, but rather that power pervades society altogether, like an invisible and inevitable force of knowledge and truth. We’re engaging in little more than deadly food fights while the cafeteria itself is closing in. In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the French postmodernist compares the violent public torture of Robert-François Damiens for attempting to assassinate King Louis XV,  and the strictly enforced routines of prison inmates in the early 19th century. Foucault’s point is that the structural disciplines found in prisons, schools, hospitals, and military barracks are for the continuing subjection of all members of society. While the obvious public display of violence carried out by the state over its persons has subsided into an almost indetectable form, our subjection has calcified to the point of society as a whole is now far easier to coerce.

Where Foucault goes wrong is he illustrates power as a deep state enterprise, a consciously Orwellian command of design. It’s not. It’s far more Huxlian, in that apathy is self-imposed, and thus our petty squabbles erupt out of stupidity. In Brave New World, the World State is built by its worship of Henry Ford. The homogeneity and predictability of our lives are like that of the assembly line: we demand the cheap production and consumption of things. Books become meaningless. Soma, an opioid-like substance, is the stuff for the masses. Aldous Huxley’s grim novel takes place in AD 2540 (or 632 AF, for After Ford), but the picture today is already eerily similar: the commands of routine, our daily banalities—these have prevented us from a second Enlightenment, from the restless curiosities that elevate our inquiries for truth.

In the Vice News episode of the white nationalist rally (some have called it a ‘planned race riot’), the reporter interviews leading figures in the alt-right community, as well as overt racists and neo-Nazis. They sound paranoid, demonic, everything you’d expect from men with faces like stapled-back scrotums, who carry several concealed guns on them at any given time. It follows the car slamming into counter demonstrators, killing one and injuring twenty others; and the drearily amusing press conference the following day by Unite The Right’s organizer Jason Kessler: he was punched, chased through an overgrown clump of daffodils, and tackled by a woman, before being protected and escorted to safety by police. The most poignant moment was when in the protection of police, Kessler told a news reporter that the police were the reason things got violent, that they are the ones to blame. He was literally in their arms, hugged with protection from the State, criticizing them for not doing their jobs.

This is clearly just the beginning, something that has the potential to escalate into a full-out race war. The following rally planned is to be held at Texas A&M on September 11th, organized by alt-right meme-champ Richard Spencer. It was immediately canceled by A&M, but it will still undoubtedly happen. White nationalism isn’t some fart of anger that will dissipate after a bit of time; it’s not like the tepid protests of the Occupy movement that quickly died off, everyone returning home to watch porn on their iPads. It’s a deeply resolute ideology that only functions in a slavishly illiterate society.

Yes, the resurgence of white pride is partly bred and inspired by Trump—his encouragement for violence during his campaign rallies, his political legacy beginning with the Birtherism around President Obama, his defense of Klansmen and neo-Nazis during Tuesday’s address to the press—but he’s some blundering fool who’s proud he’s never finished a book. The phenomenon of Trump is testament to our solecistic era and the regression of human intellect. I’m sure Make America Great Again insinuates Make America White Again for some of his supporters, and perhaps for many who attended in support of the Unite The Right rally. But in our Huxlian world, the phrase completes the entirety of its substance. The vocabulary of thought has been reduced to three and four word chants.

White Lives Matter! was the most predictable reaction to Black Lives Matter. It’s an alliance of boorishness that says wait, what about us. Yes, it’s stupidly adolescent, but the dimming of the mind turns us back into tribal brutes who beat in the heads of the other colored team. Blame it on the opioid crisis, blame it on a weakened education system, blame it on religion’s hostility to scientific literacy, blame it on reaction to the terrible ideology of Islam, or the obsession of political correctness on the left—there’s many reasons for America’s resurgence of fatuity, and hence white nationalism, and its deep commitment to apathy of reason. Under Foucauldian analysis, we’re committing ourselves to being pawns of petty squabble under a power system of subjection and coercion. The capitalism of mass production turns us into predictable consumers.

While the press is scrambling to criticize the President for saying “many sides” were violent, instead of the “white nationalists,” as if this was the great fuckup that was going to finally due him in, or by enabling the neo-Nazis who marched to defend the statue of Robert E. Lee while chanting their hatred of Jews, the love of spectacle and outrage hardens its citizens into reliable consumers of political quarreling. It’s what Aldous Huxley shoved against, encouraging a more tempered nuanced literacy that might bring a second, much-needed Enlightenment.


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How Trump Rallies are America’s Last Circus

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by Guy Walker

Donald Trump is still campaigning to be president. He’d rather assure his last dreary-eyed supporters that his “Promises Made” are “Promises Kept”—as huge banners read at his rallies—than actually try to understand the complexities of tax code or health care reform.

Trump’s rallies have always had this same desperate tone, like a house party for high school dropouts who managed to beat the nerds in World of Warcraft. From the beginning, it was only about the rallies—a Trump-frenzied gala where he could stand over everybody and flail his arms and ramble on unintelligibly. If it wasn’t about him, then there was no point in going. In February of last year, Trump didn’t attend the Conservative Political Action Conference because it was rumored that around 300 attendees were going to walk out if he came to the stage. This time, he was the star.

And now he didn’t go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner because he didn’t want to sit as a Muslim comedian stood, because he knew he would be publicly caricatured as a human pumpkin, a lasso-twirling madman who doesn’t know what he’s doing. He didn’t want to face the press because they don’t howl his name with smeared American flags painted on their chests; they don’t shove their newborns in his face, demanding that he autograph their little bald heads. The Correspondents’ Dinner was a black tie event, not the usual pageantry of red hats. Besides, Trump was in need of another hurrah, one more orgiastic blowout of nationwide tailgate parties.

Celebrating his 100th day in office, naturally, he wanted a party.  And, per usual, his speech wasn’t about anything other than why his party was better than the one in Washington he refused to go to.

“A large group of Hollywood actors” he retorts, pausing for the expected boos and sneers from people who unanimously forgot their conservative hero Ronald Reagan starred in such movies as Tugboat Annie Sails Again and Bedtime for Bonzo, “and Washington media,” he continued, pausing again, “are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital.” A girl can be seen in the background, looking around, booing because others boo, waving her thumb down in unison with everyone else, like a crowd waving the same gesture at a Roman gladiator about to make the kill.

This is normal and expected. During his campaign rallies, he didn’t wait for hired security to drag protestors out—he instructed his fans to “knock the crap out” of them. “I promise you,” he said, “I will pay for the legal fees.”

And now he might have to. During a 2016 campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky, 75-year-old Alvin Bamberger shoved a black female protestor repeatedly, pushing her through the crowd. He was still wearing his Korean War regalia, his barracks cap as crisp and white as a burger flipper’s hat at In-N-Out, his shirt as stiff as cardboard. The woman is now suing Bamberger for assault; and he, in return, is suing Trump for his “urging and inspiration” to shove the woman. In other words, Bamberger is claiming to be a victim of ideological kidnapping—he’s just a slobbering troglodyte anesthetized under Stockholm syndrome. It’s the same helplessness that Patty Hearst claimed when she was supposedly brainwashed by the Symbionese Liberation Army, consequently robbing banks and later described as “a low-IQ, low-affect zombie” by clinical psychologist Dr. Margaret Singer.

How many more—and how soon—will admit under the open scabby firmament that they too are low-IQ zombies, barely literate, mesmerized by an orange mad clown with anemic circles around his eyes, blubbering upon his high stage about how rich he is? He currently has around a forty percent approval rating, which is notably high given how sloppy and thunderous his psychopathy is. More than anything, it illustrates the strength of Trump’s cult of personality—the more demonic and perverse he becomes, the more devout his followers are. In the preface to the psychoanalytic masterwork Anti-Oedipus, Michel Foucault refers to man’s innate lust for fascism—and not an external political fascism, but the inexorable fascism within us all that causes us to “desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.” It’s why Trump’s comment during the campaign about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing a single supporter is so true. Man loves a good despot, and he will do anything he can to touch even the fringes of his garments.

This isn’t even a metaphor. Remember the viral Youtube video from September 2015 when Trump’s “spiritual counselor” Paula White, and some twenty other ministers all laid their hands on Trump, praying for his victory. At some point during the blessing, a messianic Jewish rabbi groped his face, like some hideous reenactment of Hook when the little black boy identifies the Robin Williams character as Peter Pan. There you are, Donny! There he is, the deep-fried Michelin Man who has now returned their prayers by allowing churches to meddle with future elections. But it’s more than Trump himself—it’s the true power of ideology we see at work, the stalwart allegiance that is especially emblematic of the GOP.

We can scoff at countries like North Korea for deifying Kim Il-Sung, when its citizens still hang pictures of the founding supreme leader in every room of their house, when his body is perfectly preserved and embalmed for public viewing, when a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl drowned trying to save a picture of him (and posthumously given an award for her efforts). But the apotheosis of Donald Trump is equally lurid and dangerous: because he seems to represent everything anti-Obama, many of his supporters will tumultuously follow him down into the fetid depths of depravity, like a Jim Jones or David Koresh character, the facts of his insanity perhaps not yet obvious or intelligible.

The eagerness for political cannibalization of the left, on the other hand, is the other extreme of how an ideology fetishizes in destroying itself. The recent wave of protests on university campuses that have succeeded in preventing speakers with different points of view isn’t driven by anything even mildly virtuous; it’s a wave of politically correct moral panic that suffers by its own impotence. When Stephen Colbert made a joke about Trump’s mouth only being good for Putin’s cock holster, the hashtag #FireColbert immediately began trending on Twitter—self-described American nationalist, Mike Cernovich, and his sickly band of puttering cretins began fuming behind their keyboards that the late night show host should lose his job for making a dick joke about King Pussy Grabber. They knew the hysterical left would take the bait—and they did. Colbert won’t actually get fired, but it’s emblematic of a key difference between the inordinately generalization of “left” and “right” ideologies, in how each treats their television hosts: Colbert simply made us imagine two rotting dictators blow each other, whereas Bill O’Reilly had to actually sexually assault many women to finally be let go. It’s a race for political suicide, but Trump and his marching cavalry of liver-spotted perverts are leading the way.

This image reminds us of General George Custer. An overt racist who had a knack for killing natives during the American Indian Wars, it was Custer’s cavalier nescience that finally did him in. He finished last in his class at West Point, and relished as a media personality; but it was his overconfident superiority complex that caused him to stroll into an Indian encampment in the Montana Territory, assuming he would easily round up or kill all two thousand natives. He was outnumbered and overpowered, and his unprepared invasion resulted in him and his entire 7th Cavalry Regiment being killed—the event now commonly known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”

We didn’t need a 100 days to know if Trump could competently govern a nation of 320 million people—we already grimly knew it would be this disastrous. But there’s more than a thousand days of this nightmarish acid trip left, and the only hope is how many more of his followers will pull back hard on his reins the way Alvin Bamberger is now doing. Whether or not there’s any habitable world left after Trump is gone, it will be determined by how many followed him into his own Last Stand, or if he was finally abandoned, left alone in the woods waving his jelly-soaked arms at the buzzing sky, yelling “Follow me this way! It’ll be so great. Believe me, believe me.”


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From Silicone Implants to Silicon Humanoids: The Body Must Die

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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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