VIGNETTES FROM THE BIZARRE AND ONGOING EFFORT TO CONVINCE US WE DON’T EXIST (which doesn’t stop Them from trying to sell us i-phones, does it?): an essay
“After all, there must be reasons why the CIA and the Department of Defence field-commissioned all those cultural commissars and behavioral scientists. The definition of reality belongs, in this age, not to the free-lance speculators but to the subtle infra-structure snoops and Heisenbergian reality-definers.”— Sol Yurick, Evergreen Review, 1969
(Before the essay begins, an aside: just the other day, an old friend, visiting from the USA*, brought up the heavily-memed notion, over breakfast in a hippie cafe, of the possibility that “this is all just a simulation”. To which I replied: “Paul, you have an inner life. Simulations can’t. There’s your proof you exist.”)
I commented somewhere, on something, early in the year and now I receive regular updates from something calling itself The Institute of Art and Ideas. This is their latest update:
(Oh look, all of their courses are available online, to everyone, for free.)
Considering the fact that you and I interact with dozens, if not hundreds (thousands?) of precision-tooled devices/artifacts every day, artifacts that could not be designed and manufactured (and thereafter function correctly) if “our perceptions failed to map onto reality,” the proposition suggested by this update is demonstrable nonsense.
Clearly, there are quite a few people out there whose “perceptions fail to map onto reality” but this update was not aimed at Schizophrenics; this update is suggesting the possibility that our standard array of human sensory equipment is a very poor fit to the environment (the inhabitable world) that we rely on our senses to interpret. But, again: were that true, there would be no mass-produced running shoes or an internet to market them with or a system called email capable of sending quasi-philosophical nonsense to our inboxes. Our senses are feeding us remarkably accurate info within a generous range of the bandwidths of electromagnetic, and acoustic, and chemical energy available; we’d all already be dead were this not the case; we wouldn’t have made it out of the jungle if our ancestors’ perceptions had “failed to map onto reality” because each and everyone of them would have been nothing more viable than tender jackal meat. Our senses we can trust; it’s the updates from the IAI that we can’t.
Which highlights, in my opinion, the problem of “philosophical” discourse as we know it (no rigor) as it meets Mass Media (the informational function of which is far outstripped by its power to distribute propaganda): it’s Twaddle with a Sinister Agenda. Not sure about you but I prefer the Twaddle I consume to be innocently useless in both intent and effect and the IAI’s twaddle is neither. But why is the IAI broadcasting sinister twaddle at all? What’s in it for them?
To figure out the IAI’s agenda, one must merely think like an effete, high-camp mastermind-baddie from an epic, save-the-world spy film of the 1960s.
Think, now: what would Dr. No want…?
If I wanted to infect a few generations of college sophomores with enough doubt regarding their own rights and needs and responsibilities, I would erode their basic sense of Self by undermining the Reality anchoring it. I would undermine their basic senses of Right and Wrong as inculcated during childhood. My aim in doing so would be to turn the electorate into a docile and malleable receptacle… a valley of blank slates, written-on-and-erased-and-re-written at will… open primarily to any message broadcast on a medium powerful enough to drown out and override competing messages, rendering the brute engineering fact of Power more important to the validity of any message than its inherent Logic or Factuality or Justice. Thereby gaining control over the External and Internal Spaces of our hypothetical valley of blank slates. Aka our children, children’s children and so on.
Well it’s a little distressing that although the high-camp baddies are not only Real (that word again) but out there in droves… the cinematic heroes who always saved the world, from the baddies, in those high-camp movies, are merely fantasies. James Bond, in real life, is merely another tool of the Baddies themselves.
One must come to the disturbing conclusion that positive outcomes are by orders of magnitude less plausible than their opposite numbers… (for structural reasons?). Does that not impute a certain intrinsic chaos (or “KAOS”) to Evil… and, in contrast, order (or exquisite organization) to Goodness, pointing to the fact that chaos is the vastly more common (natural) condition? It’s much easier to knock over a Ming Vase than make one or even glue one back together after it’s smashed, yes? But that equation won’t fly (the Nazis were all about Order, after all). Evil is as well-ordered in its aims and goals as anything can be, often. So why are Evil Conspiracies so much more likely than Benevolent Action on a Grand Scale? Are Benevolent Actions on a Grand Scale preempted by Evil… at the moment… because Evil is in charge… at the moment?
I suspect so.
Even worse: the Evil Conspirators are convinced they’re doing Good.
Not for US, of course, but for Humanity in the abstract. Beware the shadowy, powerful figures who think of Humanity in the abstract. To summon Faulkner: they’re not only not averse to the notion sacrificing old women in exchange for Ode on a Grecian Urn (you know Faulkner said that during Ayn Rand’s heyday, right?)…** they delight in the possibility of doing so. Metaphorically speaking we’re all Old Ladies… aka, eggs for the making of the triumphalist omelet. Speaking of cracks…
(and is any supposedly inspirational apothegm as sinister as Mr. Cohen’s***, as referenced below?)…
“The Institute of Art and Ideas is an arts organisation founded in 2008 in London. Its programming includes the world’s largest philosophy and music festival, HowTheLightGetsIn and the online channel IAI TV, where talks, debates and articles by leading thinkers can be accessed for free, under the slogan “Changing How The World Thinks.”
The IAI’s festival HowTheLightGetsIn is held in Hay-on-Wye in May and in London at Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, in September. The IAI is led by its founding director, the British post-realist philosopher and former broadcaster Hilary Lawson.”
IAI Player is an online channel where the debates and talks curated by the IAI are released and made available online. Speakers include Nobel Prize winners like economist Paul Krugman, physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft, public intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Steven Pinker, and political figures and journalists like Owen Jones, Helen Lewis, Diane Abbott, Liz Truss.
In September 2016 the videos had received in excess of 670,000 views, reaching over 1,000,000 people each year. Hilary Lawson in an interview in 2014:
“One of the things we’re up to is breaking down the idea of philosophy as being the sort of thing that is undertaken only by a specialist and is impenetrable. Not to say laughable, frankly. And I think when we started – I founded the Institute of Art and Ideas seven years ago, two years before the first HowTheLightGetsIn – that was indeed the only way people thought about philosophy. But every human being, in a way, is a philosopher. Because that’s what it is to be human. You wonder about life. You wonder about what you’re doing. You wonder about where you’re going. You wonder: “What the hell’s going on”‘.
What the Hell, indeed.
Who is this Hilary Lawson?
I’m curious because while “every human being, in a way, is a philosopher,” every human isn’t able to afford paying the appearance fees of Chomsky, Krugman and Pinker, et al. Also, I can’t help having noted, in my thus-far-pretty-long-life, that the only “philosophers” I’ve ever noticed getting Media Coverage, or connections, of any kind, are usually types like Bernard “Israel Should Be Praised For Its Liberalism” Henri Levy, Slavoj “Confusing, Impotence-Inducing Distraction” Zizek or Francis “End of History Because NeoCons Win” Fukuyama serving the agendas (specific or general) of the media-owners, or regimes, sponsoring their appearances.
Wiki tells us Hilary is a “British post-realist philosopher and former broadcaster” who “Alongside his philosophical writing […] pursued a media career. Within a few years he had created his own prime time television series Where There’s Life with a weekly UK audience in excess of ten million.” Yes, sounds like something a post-Realist philosopher would get up to. Clearly not a spook of some kind with hidden backing, directed by a hidden agenda.
“In the late 1980s he founded the production company TVF Media which made documentary and current affairs programming, including Channel 4’s flagship international current affairs programme, The World This Week. Hilary Lawson was editor of the programme which ran weekly between 1987 and 1991. The programme predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the war in Yugoslavia and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.”
The predictive powers of those post-Realist philosophers are impressive, no? Someone needs to hook this guy up with some Western Intelligence agency or other, eh? Oh, wait.
Here’s another one but I’ll drop it as a horrifying screenshot (and a link) and leave it at that. Anyone enjoying the luxury of being an Extraterrestrial while reading this should get a chuckle:
Okay, maybe now we need something to lighten things up a little…
*Speaking of Reality: when I came to pick them up at their Guest House (in a slightly bleak part of town I never visit), Paul’s Wife, an otherwise delightful and intelligent woman, redirected my efforts to take them on a Walking Tour of the city I’ve known for 30 years in order to take ME on a tour of a dingy corner of a city’s she’s known for five days, leading us (with my bemused sneer) through a grim little park she considered somehow phenomenal (because it features a pond? Bitch, there are dozens of such parks in this town) and from there to another common-as-lint-in-Berlin thing she thought was a magical discovery of her very own: a private communal garden with quaint little sheds on its individual plots… there are lots of those here because many bourgeois Germans live in flats, not houses, so the gardening urge is satisfied on weekends in fenced-in lilliputian quasi-suburbs of tomato plants and wildflowers. Up and down the narrow aisles of one of these sad colonies we traipsed and then my American friends, using their Google Maps or Siri or whatever, got us lost… until I eye-rollingly intervened, finally, and got us on a bus (they tried to contact an Über-type car but no signal) and right back to their Guest House after 90 minutes of their Clueless American Take-Charge-ism, Gawd love ’em! Well at least nobody died.
**”The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.”
Shakespeare’s (Marlowe’s) oeuvre, perhaps. But that one poem? Or any particular book by Willie Faulkner? Worth any healthy old lady’s life? Nah. I’d have taken the remark more seriously if Willie Faulkner had been an Old Lady himself when he boozily emitted it.
*** The possible (rather sinister) provenance of Leonard’s line about cracks being how the light gets in:
If the human race survives, future men will, I suspect, look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable age of Darkness. They will presumably be able to savor the irony of the situation with more amusement than we can extract from it. The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call “schizophrenia” was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.
R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience, p. 107