Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the paranoid method for gnostic historians

Paranoia is not, of course, the delusion that you have enemies; it is the delusion that your enemies have developed a vast and hostile system in which to trap you. It is this notion of the systematicity of entrapment which makes paranoia the methodology of choice for the Gnostic historian.

I am reminded of our current lack of paranoia by a post I read at voyou desoeuvre about the tv series, Mad Men. As my television is a dead little monad as far as tv waves are concerned, I haven’t seen that show – although it sounds like I should rent the dvds. The sixties advertising culture fascinated the tv sitcom writers at the time – I believe the husband in Bewitched, for instance, is an adman; and if he wasn’t, I know there were other admen on other long cancelled tv shows that continue to broadcast carcinogenically deep in my brain cells – and it is surprising, thinking about it, that this high concept hasn’t been mined for nostalgia before.

My paranoia about our present lack of paranoia targetted this graf:

“The crucial scene comes when Don Draper drops in on his bohemian mistress and argues with her beatnik friends, who tell him that the adverts he creates are merely lies. Don’s response, that “there is no big lie, there is no system,” is quite correct. Advertising doesn’t simply lie about the world, on the contrary, as Don’s practice throughout the show makes clear, it tells, or rather constructs, a particular sort of truth, a kind of dream image of capitalism.”

Voyou Dee goes on to put this into the vernacular of Zizek:

“Žižek argues that contemporary capitalism is not based around demanding that subjects conform to a specific identity, but rather demanding that they answer the question, “what do you want?”


All of this is rather shocking, although I guess it shouldn’t be. The beatniks were of course right on the money. Zizek’s argument reproduces the neo-classical one made against Galbraith’s analysis of advertising in The Affluent Society – want, in this view, is a concept about nature, and we proceed from there to our options. This is why, for the neo-classicals, advertisements don’t skew the efficient markets. Galbraith, on the other hand, claimed that did, and that advertisements were part of a system of planned obsolescence – that there wasn’t a true ontological distance between the ad, the system of production, and the consumer side.

However, the issue is deeper than that. Gnostic history is Sunday history – you can’t turn to any one tome for it. You fossick it out of your idle reading matter. But let’s go through a few big lies – systematic lies – produced by the father of lies during the Cold War.

The first, of course, was the configuration of the forces of nuclear destruction themselves. Eisenhower has long ago become a grandfatherly figure, or a moderate Republican, one of the great presidents, etc. We know, though, since James Bamford’s Body of Secrets he revealed that even before the U-2s, Eisenhower had often had SAC penetrate Soviet air space in formations that were designed to look like an attack – in order to sample the Soviet defense response. When the U-2 crashed in 1960, the tip of the iceberg of what the U.S. had been doing over Soviet airspace was revealed, but just the tip. This is Bamford:

“On March 21, 1956, a group of RB-47 reconnaissance bombers took off for target locations within Russia. Almost daily over the next seven weeks, between eight and ten bombers launched, refueled over the North Pole, and continued south across the Russian border to their assigned locations.

They flew in teams of two. One RB-47H ferret would pinpoint and eavesdrop on radar, air bases, and missile installations. Nearby, an RB-47E photoreconnaissance plane would gather imagery. Their assignments included overflying such sensitive locations as Novaya Zemlya, the banana-shaped island where Russia carried out its most secret atomic tests. From moment of takeoff to moment of landing, absolute radio silence was required, even during the occasional chase by a MiG. "One word on the radio, and all missions for the day had to abort," said Brigadier General William Meng, one of the officers who ran the penetration operation. "But that never happened; not one mission was ever recalled."

As in a Fourth of July fireworks display, the most spectacular mission was saved for the end. On May 6, they began the single most daring air operation of the Cold War, a "massed overflight" of Soviet territory. The point was to cover a great deal of territory, quickly. Six armed RB-47E aircraft, flying abreast, crossed the North Pole and penetrated Russian airspace in broad daylight, as if on a nuclear bombing run. They entered above Ambarchik in western Siberia, then turned eastward, collecting valuable intelligence as they passed over key Russian air bases and launch sites on their way toward Anadyr on the Bering Strait. Nearly a dozen hours after it began, the massed overflight ended when the spy planes touched down at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.”


This hairtrigger behavior was exactly the kind of thing that could easily have launched a nuclear war. Mad men aptly names the people who designed it – the President and the chiefs of staff. It wasn't revealed until 2002.

All the President's men were further involved in our second big lie, the above ground testing of atom bombs (and, it is believed by some, the occasional thermonuclear device). This did not only poison the ground in Nevada – rather, it poisoned our belief in establishment science. The AEC, for thirty years, maintained that the fallout from these tests was small, manageable, and harmless. We now know that it was worldwide, out of control, and, fatal. Here’s your map of cesium levels for those of you into the whole mutation thing. From the study of just one of the thousands of isotopes contained in the fallout, iodine 131. The NCI’s Congressionally ordered survey concluded this:

“… we evaluated the risks of thyroid cancer from that exposure and estimated that about 49,000 fallout-related cases might occur in the United States, almost all of them among persons who were under age 20 at some time during the period 1951-57, with 95-percent uncertainty limits of 11,300 and 212,000. The estimated risk may be compared with some 400,000 lifetime thyroid cancers expected in the same population in the absence of any fallout exposure.”

The Gnostic historian, avoiding the Zizek, would be well advised to consult a whole other literature. Start with the fantastic photo book plus interviews, America Ground Zero, by Carole Gallagher, who dug up my favorite government description of the citizenry of this country of ours: “the low use segment of the population.” Then dig up the Plutonium Files, about the 4,000 people who, unbeknownst to themselves, were the low use lucky duckies used in experiments financed by the Gov back in the days when capitalism, ever dreamy, was asking – “what do you want?” That capitalism! Quite a joker.

You can follow the path of cancer – which is the secret sharer of advertising in the 20th century – through many a merry big lie in the Cold War days. While the AEC was assuring everyone that an atom blast was just a big cherrybomb, deep in the bowels of the establishment there was a freakout in the late 50s, when the Van Allen belt was discovered – because some speculated that between the U.S. and Russia, we might have fucked the pooch. We might just have released a poison in the population we couldn’t even deal with. To find out how widespread were the effects, as Patrick Tierney shows in Darkness in Eldorado, many a grant was made to anthropologists and health care researchers to take blood samples of isolated populations, which is how Napoleon Chagnon first found himself sampling Yamomami blood in the sixties – which then went into work showing the natural violence of the tribe, thus fitting nicely into the Manichean code of the Cold War – which was a war against “perfectionism” as well as a war against communism. I prefer to follow the cancer trail to Bill Brandt’s brilliant book, The Cigarette Century, which is about much more than cigarettes. There was a bleak war to be fought and won in the fifties against the Public Health/Socialist science of Richard Doll, whose epidemiological study showed the link between lung cancer and cigarettes. Notice, here, how “big” functions – it goes from the atmosphere to the individual lung. Brandt’s account is the account of the merger of science, advertising, commerce, and media. The cigarette companies devised the way the politics in America, and increasingly elsewhere, are fought out – with pseudo-issues and outrage, in a press that is oriented to the false equivalence of fairness and truth. The cigarette companies bought enough big names in cancer research who, for one reason or another, were invested in cancer not having an environmental cause. And by pumping the “doubts” about cigarettes, and making a cig souroundsound out of tv, the companies managed an amazing feat – the number of people smoking cigs after the discovery that they were linked to cancer almost doubled in the next two decades.

Of course, Zizek might brilliantly deduce that these people wanted cancer. The death drive, you see. Others, however, might point out that when cigarettes ceased being advertised in the time honored saturation manner, the wanting went out of the industry, and use declined. Amazing!

I could go into much, much more Gnostic detail. I could write a book! The point however is that when your philosophy converges with that of a spokesman for the ad industry, you’ve probably fucked up somewhere in the chain of your deductions. A dream industry - that is, after all, an advertising phrase. AKA, a lie.

There is no dream industry.

33 comments:

northanger said...

i'm having trouble developing this conspiracy theory. there are 3 considerations: 1) it's totally ridiculous, 2) i can't share it with someone & get feedback that's also related to 3) i can't even google it.

roger said...

So, what part are you having trouble with North?

northanger said...

don't you read?

2) i can't share it with someone & get feedback

voyou said...

It seems to me that the problem with the idea that advertising is a system of lies is that it isn't paranoid enough. The hippie idea is, roughly, that we have certain natural and true desires, and advertising lies to us and implants within us false desires.

The truly paranoid position is that the very things we take to be true and natural are in fact constructions built from, among other things, the dreamwork of the advertising industry. This isn't to say that advertising has no power, but that this power doesn't come primarily from straightforward lies.

I'll have to check out "The Cigarette Century," but I don't think cigarettes are a counter-example - as I understand it, there was a long period of time when basically everyone knew that cigarettes caused cancer, but cigarette advertising was successful despite this. And, again as far as I understand it, the advertising wasn't primarily aimed at persuading people that cigarettes didn't cause cancer (that is, lying) but persuading people to smoke despite the fact that cigarettes cause cancer.

northanger said...

i smoke because i believed the hype.

roger said...

Why can't you share it with someone? I thought it was the googling part.

Voyou, I think that is a pretty strong misreading of 60s culture. From 58, I believe,from when Galbraith published Affluent society, which was a best seller, through Vance Packard's book on advertising up to the Selling of Richard Nixon, in 1969, there was a strong and sophisticated pop critique of advertising. It was about the construction of desire.

The back to nature idea about wants doesn't seem to me to be contradicted by the notion of the dream - which is a natural, organic part of sleep. To speak of the dreamwork of capitalism is to attribute to a system certain unconscious organic features which, I think, aren't really that different from your image of the hippie.

As for cigarettes - surely you must have noticed this ridiculous thing called a filter?

The idea that ads are a dream, or that advertising just asks what we want, seems to have a much less materialist basis than the hippy/boho idea of the big lie, for which, of course, there was so much evidence in the cold war culture of the sixties that, well, the left revived in the West.

northanger said...

{sigh}

1) it's totally ridiculous

roger said...

North, don't tell me you are hanging around with a buncha lunkheads who are uninterested in the totally ridiculous!! You need, obviously, to wake them oult of their square slumbers! And of course to warble this lovely ditty:
Impossible! For a plain something pumpkin to become a golden carriage!
Impossible, for a something something girl to become a queen by marriage
Impossible! Things are happening every day!

northanger said...

roger, stop being me for a minute & get serious. please, i have a serious problem here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muXyYpDstr0

northanger said...

i mean, it's the stroke of midnight & i'm looking at a fat rat with whiskers and his brother.

roger said...

North North North - this is what I'm talking about:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp36mndvp4M
And no, that is not a rat, your majesty.

northanger said...

roger, are following this conversation at all? i got that part (btw, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyXVaaazr8g)

read the script dammit & catch up!

northanger said...

my problem's incredibly dealing with the paranoid. for once i'm on topic!

roger said...

North, your last link gave me hives - I couldn't watch that whole thing. Nowwww what are you talking about, this paranoia thing?
And by the way, have you ever thought about your fortune in casing fallout horoscopes? Anybody born up to 61 or 62 in the U.S. probably fell under the fall out umbrella on some day. My fave guy has just the thing! http://www.amazon.com/U-S-Atlas-Nuclear-Fallout-Vol/dp/1881043118

roger said...

That's it. I'm folding up my little editing toolkit for tonight. The last sentence I tinkered on was -

"Use a clean power source with an overall harmonic distortion < 1.25% and < 0.1% for higher harmonics from H11 – H39."

A triumph!

northanger said...

"the.paranoid.method.for.gnostic.historians"

roger you're a big help explaining this method. (but the Rodgers & Hammerstein bit was pretty ok! hives?! that's classic shit)

northanger said...

AQ 899 = AUSTIN PRECEDENT UNDER THE THEORY OF STARE DECISIS = THE U.S. ATLAS OF NUCLEAR FALLOUT VOL I : TOTAL FALLOUT.

roger said...

North, how can you expect me to explain my explanation? I leave that, ho ho ho, to posterity! {big blaze of trumpets here, me, dressed, oddly enough, like Mae West, being born out of theater by men in tuxedos and brill cremed hair singing "If I die on the Russian shore..."}

northanger said...

be honest roger, you can't explain your explanation.

you're a lot of help, this is serious.

roger said...

Try me tomorrow. What is it that has to be explained, anyway? It was pretty clear. You suppress information that, like, endangers the entire population of the country. Or you create false disputes about information that you know is true. Or you simply deny information that is vital for people to know. The you in these cases - the executive branch, the AEC, the cigarette industry, and I could go on - relied on a new media, tv, and saturation advertising to create attitudes. They wanted attitudes, they didn't give a fuck about what people wanted. Once you have created the right orientation to the world, people will self censor.
So, there's the bare bones of the thing. Paranoia comes in because the implantation of this system, the second reality, was vulnerable to first reality. I can deny that the atom blast caused your kid;s leukemia, but after your child, and the one down the block and the one down the block get leukemia - leukemia here being the reality principle in spades - I have to create other strategies. And there is a reality that works for the man - the release of toxins, even in a cigarette, is not like being poisoned by a big dose of arsenic - it is cumulative, over a long period of timel. Thirty, forty years. Who remembers the things you were told thirty, forty years ago?
Do you remember a special headline when Bamford's book came out, Eisenhower threated to destroy the world? Of course not. Old news is no news.
THus, the paranoid's night sweats. The reality he or she experiences is not a common, a community reality. That reality is defined by a present in the control of the paranoid's enemy.
So there you go. Q.e.d. or something.

northanger said...

AQ 317 = THE FLAW IN AUSTIN = HILLARY: THE MOVIE.

traxus4420 said...

great post -

i haven't seen mad men yet either - i've decided i'll rent the dvds if you do it first and tell me what you think.

here's some public programming, swine flu circa 1976:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9mh9f_swine-flu-1976-propaganda_webcam

borrowing its techniques from private industry, of course. the picture this 60 minutes mini-doc paints is that of a system that WILL trap you, sooner or later, because everyone in charge has basically checked out.

seems to me if draper's argument silenced the hippies it's because he did what any good sales pitch or analytic session is supposed to do -- address the customer/client 'on their level' -- so one idea of nature is made 'really' to refer to another. which is to say it's lies all the way down.

voyou said...

"advertising just asks what we want"

Oh, I certainly don't think that; but, on the other hand, I don't think it's right to say that advertising just tells us what we want, either. "Construction of desire" is right, but I wanted to differentiate that from "imposition of desire," which is what the hippies in that scene are proposing.

roger said...

Traxus, thanks. Although I wouldn't depend upon me for your ace Madmen coverage! I select my points where I enter the world of pop culture, cause I am a goof in that world - as Lee Harvey Oswald said in another context, I'm a patsy. With a channel changer.

Voyou, I guess there are two things that disturbed me in general about the Zizek quote and the analysis of the boho crowd. One is this: to get a critical distance from the system - and indeed, I think the Cold war was a war of systems, as was its culture - I don't see any reason not to use the concepts that come to hand. Nature is one of them - a good, solid out, from Thoreau's time. This is all about timing, no? Let Hegel's crack about Kant wanting to learn to swim before he got in the water - the formula for boho intervention is, first, find some way of releasing your ideas into the wild. And in the sixties and seventies, they did just that. Much conceptual art, for instance, sprang from the idea that advertising was using images to lie.

I went to a show at the National Woman's Museum in D.C. a few years ago. Big show, about feminist art from the sixties and seventies. I was amazed by how much more interesting on every level this stuff was, because the key was: get out in the wild. And so this was work that did anything to serve that purpose. Wild, of course, goes back to wilderness - but the wilderness, as we all know from our Benjamin, comes back as the modernist trope for the city.

The second thing is - there is a price to pay for the critical moment. The moment in which one sees through the naivete of the boho - you might call this the naivete of the sophisticate. Which is, if everything is a sale, so that nothing is a sale - no big lie out there, just giving the people what they want - then the next step is an infinitely ironic conformity.

roger said...

"how much more interesting on every level this stuff was" - than the usual collections I go to see are - I meant. Like.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o542YKTrnZg&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-0_6Wz9I2A&feature=related

Amie

roger said...

Depardieu was so cute back then!

northanger said...

Depardieu looks like a big puppy.


AQ 477 = IF I DIE ON THE RUSSIAN SHORE = CINDERELLA'S 'SORTIERARBEIT'.

AQ 276 = SORTIERARBEIT = ARDWISUR ANAHID.

AQ 317 = LADY OF THE WATERS = LEMURIAN TIME WAR.

roger said...

North, I was thinking that if there were any vacancies, I'd like to apply for a place as a technopriest of sexuality, please.

northanger said...

god roger, read the damn script! you're the high technopriest of sexuality.

geez.

AQ 215 = ANGELIC INDEX = SPACE-SAVING.

AQ 778 = MEASURE OF GOOD FORTUNE, OR CELESTIAL FAVOUR = SUM PRODUCED BY POSITIVE DECADENCE OUTCOMES.

northanger said...

AQ 443 = VAGINAL PROBE TRANSDUCER = TORTUGUERO MONUMENT 6.

AQ 2515 = EVIDENCE SUGGESTS THAT THE VAGINAL WALL IS SUBJECTED TO EXTRINSIC FORCES AT REST, WHICH INTENSIFY IN MAGNITUDE DURING VOLUNTARY CONTRACTION = AND IN THE MIDST IS A WINGED DISK OF SOME EXTREMELY DELICATE, TRANSLUCENT SUBSTANCE, ON WHICH IS WRITTEN IN THE "DAGGER" ALPHABET: TORSION IS INIQUITY.

AQ 415 = TORSION IS INIQUITY = THEORY OF RELATIVITY.

AQ 1335 = THE PRAGUE ESPRIT DE SPINOZA AND EINSTEIN'S INCEPTION OF GENERAL RELATIVITY = BEYOND A TWISTED KNOB OF RED SILK AT THE TOP, WHERE THE MANDARIN BUTTON IS WORN.

AQ 2101 = BY IMPLICITLY OR EXPLICITLY COMPARING LIGHT TO A CLOTH, THESE POEMS SHOW THAT ILLUMINATION ITSELF CAN BE STRIPPED AWAY (p187, Form, Cycle, Infinity) = CANCER 2° AN ALERT AND EAGER INDIVIDUAL RESTS UPON A MAGIC CARPET, OBSERVING A VAST LEVEL VISTA OVER WHICH HE HOVERS MOTIONLESS = THE ARI REVEALED THE MYSTERIES OF ATZILUT, EVEN REACHING TO THE UNIVERSES OF THE INFINITE, WHICH ARE "BONDS, DOTS, AND STRIPES" (p209, Meditation & Kabbalah).

AQ 584 = GOLDEN AGE OF GENERAL RELATIVITY (1960-1975) = HIGH TECHNOPRIEST OF SEXUALITY.

northanger said...

AQ 1659 = WHAT IN HUMAN LIFE CAN SEEM VAST TO THE ONE WHO KNOWS ETERNITY AND THE EXPANSE OF THE WHOLE WORLD? = A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS ON THE ILLUMINATI, REVISIONIST HISTORY AND SUPPRESSED TECHNOLOGIES.

AQ 1639 = IN MOST MAGICKAL SYSTEMS THE NEOPHYTE WORKS PRIMARILY OFF THE QABALISTIC SPHERE OF MALKUTH (AQ-442 DANGERS OF BEING A NEOPHYTE, AQ-442 TYPVS ORBIS TERRARVM {AQ-348 ORBIS MEDIOLOGICUS}).

AQ 1877 = QVID EI POTEST VIDERI MAGNVM IN REBVS HVMANIS, CVI AETERNITAS OMNIS TOTIVSQVE MVNDI NOTA SIT MAGNITVDO = THE GREAT LADY ANAHIT, …THE BENEFACTRESS OF THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE, MOTHER OF ALL KNOWLEDGE, DAUGHTER OF THE GREAT ARAMAZD.

northanger said...

AQ-215 BIND NOTHING! || another AQ-778

AQ 523 = TESTS OF GENERAL RELATIVITY = APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE = DELTA RETICULUM RHOMBOIDALIS = THE FORTH-SHADOWING OF THE AEON.

AQ 1929 = FOUR STANDARD TESTS: GRAVITATIONAL REDSHIFT, PERIHELION SHIFT, ELECTROMAGNETIC-WAVE DEFLECTION, RADAR TIME-DELAY = A SOLITARY CAMEL CROSSES THE DESERT WITH HIS RIDER; HE IS INDIFFERENT TO THE HAZARDS OF STORM AND LACK OF SUPPLIES (AQ-296 GEOGRAPHIC SPREAD, AQ-296 QUATTRO DI SPADE) = HIS FRONT RECALLS THE DEER, BUT HIS FEET THE ELEPHANT, HIS TAIL THE BOAR, HIS VOICE THE COW, AND HIS BODY REVEALS THE HORSE = IN 1945, AFTER THE END OF ANTONESCU'S REGIME AND WORLD WAR II, HE WAS THE RECIPIENT OF A LETTER FROM HIS FRIEND EUGÈNE IONESCO = LIKE ALL HYPERSTITIONAL PRACTICES, KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS COMES PERILOUSLY CLOSE (AT BEST) TO SYSTEMATIC LYING = ONE AND TWO, LO THE SUPERIOR NUMBERS OF WHOM IT IS SAID, ONE, ONE, ONE, THREE ONES, AND THIS IS THE MYSTERY OF PSALMS 62:11.

AQ 478 = UNICORN OF THE MINCHIATE DECK = THE EFFICIENCY OF THE VEDETTE.