Transe8

The Netflix series, Sense8, creation of Lana and Lilly Wachowski (formerly the Wachowski siblings, formerly the Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix) is certainly sensual. The eight characters in the Homo (Sapiens) Sensorium ‘cluster’ spend their time eating, drinking, taking drugs, fighting, crying, peeing, smoking, overlooking stunning panoramas, bleeding, lighting incense, playing music, almost getting killed – and, yes, an inordinate amount of time kissing and copulating. The alternation of boom and bust, tension and release, is the standard addiction strategy designed to up ratings. And I bet they’re really high. The budget certainly is.

Netflix seems to have a formula for its most popular shows and it goes something like this:

Mildly-marginalised able-bodied Middle-American White girl beats all the boys and the blonde Complete Bitch with the aid of her three less in-the-frame friends: Black (with European features)/ East Asian; gay/ trans; fat/ disabled.

The formula enables middle-class White female viewers, and those who “identify” with them, to see themselves as courageous and progressive – while completely ignoring their privilege – by blaming everything on men of any ethnicity (and any White woman they feel is even more privileged in terms of beauty or wealth). Onscreen, there’s typically a lot of the protagonist going “who, me?” while taking out her closely-typed Oscar acceptance speech.

The formula isn’t closely followed in Sense8 because there are (supposedly) 8 protagonists, all are able-bodied and attractive, and the representation is slightly more varied:

 M/ F/ M-FWhite US/ N. EuropeanHispanicEast AsianSouth AsianBlack African
CapheusM    X
KalaF   X 
LitoM X   
NomiM-FX    
Riley FX    
SunF  X  
WillMX    
WolfgangMX    

Will is the aspiring son of a Polish Chicago cop and an all-American boy (unsurprisingly, spending much of Series 2 incapacitated and crying); Nomi walks into Californian loft conversions as if she’s very used to them, and is fluent in techspeak, so these are the two characters White American audiences are obviously supposed to relate to. Russian-German crime family bad boy Wolfgang and Icelandic druggie DJ Riley are their European equivalents. Spanish-Mexican Lito (Netflix has a huge market in Latin America) fulfils three functions: the White northern audiences can feel smug about their society being less homophobic than his; he turns all the orgies bisexual (or ‘pansexual’, as the kids will say); his battle for acceptance in family and society is convenient for Nomi to bandwaggon onto. Sun is a very cool Korean but, like the other characters of colour, her qualities (martial arts, emotional reserve, filial piety and big business) are stereotypical. So Indian Kala, likewise, spends her time shopping, feasting on curries and going to the Hindu temple. Kenyan Capheus (poor, dutiful son, battling to get HIV drugs) is more complex but the moment when that is revealed is when Nomi speaks through him.

And that is exactly my first problem with this otherwise highly-entertaining and lavish show. As well as the White characters having complex character traits not linked to their ethnicity, unlike the others, the globalist perspective feels more like colonialism. This isn’t only true in the writing. The very engaging Aml Ameen was replaced for Season 2 by Tony Onwumere, apparently because the former had ‘creative differences’ with the Wachowskis over the script. I can understand. While the first ‘get-together’ was stylish, the repetitions are not and the scene in the ocean shows there are much more creative ways of illustrating the joy of shared empathy. The portrayal of a White M-F middle-class American speaking through a poor Black Kenyan about courage and justice is chilling – especially when it often appears that Nomi (truncated Naomi for the anime-obsessed) is the mouthpiece for the Wachowskis. Sometimes this ventriloquism is very apparent indeed, as when a bisexual Black Kenyan woman states that she falls in love “with the person not the genitals” – a phrase infamously used by entryist White transvestites.

As for the topic itself. Non-local perception, usually categorised as clairvoyance, clairaudience and clairsentience, is not the quirky remit of fortune-tellers and Spiritualist mediums but has a body of rigorous research conducted and published by The Society for Psychical Research as well as various governments, including the US and (then) USSR, since the late 19th century. More popularly, it is very familiar among rural traditional cultures (including my own where it is known as Second Sight) and anecdotal evidence demonstrates that many mothers, especially, have experienced unexplained knowledge of the emotional state of their children. The combination of all three abilities is unusual and the possession of another’s body is mentioned only in sinister cults. It is this combination of the familiar and the uncanny that I explore in my own series of mystery stories which have an empathetic protagonist in Bruno Benedetti.

My second problem is related to this topic. Empathy just isn’t like that. It’s not a closed circuit, and exclusive club. The empathetic heart opens to humanity and, yes, boundaries can certainly be a challenge and one can get emotionally overwhelmed but it’s not just some kind of embodied Zoom chat with designated participants. I’m not claiming to have the same ability as that portrayed in this series. Like many people, I’ve experienced a milder form of empathy and spoken to various audiences about these phenomena that I believe to be very common, though some people are more sensitive than others, but this kind of communal selfishness is unheard of.

My third problem is deeper. Anyone not still bewitched by mainstream media knows that the current global panic – with its massive profits for big tech, big data and big pharma – is planned to head toward the 4th Industrial Revolution and a future of Human data-harvesting for AI, eugenicist population reduction, constant surveillance and cybernetic transhumanism. When Nomi & Co. speak disparagingly of our species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and hint that their, superior, species will inherit the Earth, I can’t help wondering if I’m really hearing the voice of the Wachowskis – talking about how their dream of transgender people controlling the means of human reproduction. And wiping out the competition more effectively than a meteor.  

Red-haired young woman with laptop and global data stream of text and images

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his image Internet and Multimedia Sharing into the Public Domain.

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Peau noire, masques blancs [Black skin, white masks]

The story of Black rioters burning down a historic church near the White House – like many stories – isn’t true. According to CBS News, citing The Washington Post:

A fire broke out late Sunday night in the basement of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., the city’s fire department said.

The flames were quickly put out by firefighters who arrived with a police escort and apparently didn’t cause any significant damage, The Washington Post reports. It wasn’t clear how the fire started.

It did seem strange to me that a demographic of renowned churchgoers would torch a temple of the God whose prophetic word is on the lips of so many of their civil rights leaders. Then again, it isn’t clear how these protests turned into riots either. And who the instigators are. And why some of them are apparently wearing earpieces – as even rightwing jocks admit.

Since Jean Baudrillard’s 1991 deconstruction of the Gulf War, it has been clear to critical thinkers that we are living in what the murdered dissident Rumanian professor Ioan Culianu called “the Magician State”. Culiano contrasts this with “the Police State”, where might is right and everyone is in lockdown (I’m paraphrasing).

The lynching (let’s call it what it was) of George Floyd and of so many young Black men by White men in America is as much a physical reality as the killing of countless Arab civilians in the Middle East Oil Wars – which Baudrillard never denied but Big Oil does at least in terms of motivation (isn’t it interesting that there’s a mention of Venezuela?) – and that lynching was clearly was carried out by US police.

However the key difference between the Police State and the Magician State is that the former runs on physical power and the latter on symbolic power. The instruments of lethal power utilised by the former State are the bodies of its agents (badged or not) and their ropes, knives, injections, gas and guns. The latter State uses the microphone and the camera. That’s the State we’re in.

Because the Magician State absorbs the events of the Police State the way a spider sooks up (good Scots phrase) a fly. The meaning, the value of an event gets distorted. Spiders spin. Police police. Magicians? They manipulate all the media at their disposal – and when they have a lot of disposable income, that’s a lot of media power!

When Dr Frantz Fanon wrote Peau noire, masques blancs [Black skin, white masks] in 1952 he used his professional psychiatric experience of treating both the African colonised and the European coloniser in French Algeria, as well as his personal experience of growing up Black in French Martinique. He describes treating the tortured and the torturers – and his insights into the psychopathology of racism are still valuable today.

Part of this pathology is the deep-seated fear that many White men have for Black men, a fear fed by ignorance, suspicion, envy and desire. The Black response is similar as both relate not to each other’s reality but to the mental projections of the other constantly reinforced by the racist culture. Each wishes to appropriate the power of the other but whereas such Black men want White men to accept them, such White men want to overpower them – or to be overpowered. This is a part of Fanon’s critique that is heavily censored today – as are his remarks about Black women “raising the colour” (anyone who doesn’t know about that doesn’t know much about the Black Americas). It’s not cool to say that anyone desires either (as comments from White people, of both sexes, make clear).

Developed during modern European colonialism, and instrumental in projecting images to cast the colonisation of Africa, Asia and the Americas in a good light, the proliferation of the magic lantern show was a significant step in the installation of the Magician State. Not only could the envious White public eagerly read of the exploits of daring White “explorers” (trespassers) of “undiscovered” lands – now they could assuage their desire to see it all for themselves! It was also useful in mesmerising Black people about the merits of their great White “saviours” – and the deference they were due.

Fanon’s controversial genius was to diagnose that, whereas the Black men he describes were driven by their colonised super-ego, the pathologically racist White men he treated were driven by their colonising id. It’s not enough to simply dismiss this insight as outdated or patronising or homophobic. Early psychoanalysis in general and Freud in particular are certainly problematic in terms of their many heterosexist assumptions but, even as imagery, the controlling voice of ambition and the compelling voice of forbidden desire may be at work in the psyche.

And who knows if the defining quality of the Magician State is not to make visible the unseen. Perhaps White men lynch Black men not only in the vain attempt to extinguish their own psychic shadow but also because, letting hate into their hearts through the door of fear, they have opened themselves to the ancient and baleful influence about which all true good prophets have warned.

The desire of Black men to be accepted by White men, and the desire of White men to overpower them, are not equivalent. The former may have facilitated the rise to highest office of the first Black president; the latter, clearly, compelled a sworn guardian of the law to stoop to publicly lynching a Black citizen.

Black people don’t burn down churches. Not when they have sat in them, Sunday after Sunday, listening to these words:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

May George Floyd, and all other Black men lynched by White men, rest in peace and rise in glory. May their names be remembered and the names of their killers blotted out. May we White men attempt the hard emotional labour of knowing ourselves so that we STOP allowing our basest instincts to control our actions, with lethal effect.

Amen

face-of-a-man

Thanks to Piotr Siedlecki for releasing his image Face of a Man into the Public Domain.

 

How to Survive an Apocalypse

7 lessons about relationships, resistance and resilience in crisis are really useful for us to learn right now. Perhaps you watched Jessica Alba superbly cast as the courageous and compassionate Max Guevara in Dark Angel in 2000. Maybe you saw any of the more recent post-apocalyptic films or TV series or read one of the classic dystopian stories: Brave New World or 1984. You might be a history buff and know about the Allied Resistance to the Nazis, the Underground Railroad freeing enslaved Black Americans – or even way back to the early Christians surviving persecution in the Roman Catacombs. What can we learn from our past and our imagination?

  1. Compassion Right now, Big Brother is telling you to be afraid and to look out for yourself. Resistance consists in consideration of others too. When you stop selfishly panicking, you become aware that IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU! Others are suffering, physically and mentally. What about them? Just turning your attention to others will help you CALM DOWN and start thinking clearly.
  2. Courage Dystopia is founded on fear. Some people are naturally brave but courage is a decision. Make that decision. Living in fear is no fun and makes no sense. Life is a risk and then you die. Face it. As Bob Marley said: Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights – and for the rights of others.
  3. Creativity Panic shuts down the brain. Creativity opens it. Don’t reach for your phone (for more bad news) as soon as you wake up; reach for your notebook and record your dreams – write or draw what’s in your mind. Dreamtime is free time. Big Brother can’t control you there. Dream a new reality. Restart your arts and crafts, get out into the garden and dig for victory. The technocrats are pushing us into a digital economy based on biodata recorded by a skin tattoo of quantum dots (I’m not making this up, you know). LETS (local exchange and trading systems) and freecycling are two creative ways to unplug from that Matrix.
  4. Critical thinking When your mind is free, and you’re not acting like an obedient child or a docile servant, you’re able to weigh up evidence of what’s really going on. To get to that stage, you’re going to have to deprogramme from all the state and pharmaceutical propaganda that’s occupying your mind. That’s hard. But it’s worth it. Do you want to think your own thoughts or have them chosen for you?
  5. Informal and covert communication Students of church history will recognise the current spy-and-snitch neighbourhood culture from Calvin’s theocratic Geneva; secular historians need only look back at the McCarthy era of political and moral paranoia in the USA or the Stasi secret police informers on the lives of others in the GDR; and everyone should know about the witchcraze where everyone with a grudge against any women (or men) could simply accuse them and their condemnation was assured. Now we have all the added surveillance and reporting of thoughtcrime on anti-social media. So be careful what you say, how you say it and to whom. You can’t trust everyone. Big Brother is watching you.
  6. Mutual aid Not one-sided charity, mutual aid is one of the three core values of anarchism. The other two are love and spontaneity. That’s a lesson I learned doing fieldwork for an ethnography on a back-to-nature political community up the Pyrenees. Everyone can do something. They may need a little more support but a job shared is far more fulfilling for all.
  7. Real relationships Online shopping and porn (which is just more shopping) and mindless anti-social chit chat have absolutely nothing to do with real relationships. But Big Brother really loves it when you do either. Because, when you’re in cyberspace, you’re under surveillance. And that, and the digital economy, is the whole point of all of this. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s hiding in plain sight. Get off the desktop, the laptop, the tablet and the phone. It’s an addiction. TALK TO REAL PEOPLE! MEET UP! Stop swapping socialising for screentime. It’s fake and, if that’s all you’re doing, so are you. Wake up!

The virus that’s currently paralysing human society didn’t escape from a lab, it wasn’t released during military games and it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with bats or some poor pangolin! It’s a glitch in the system of human thought that goes back to Socrates and – because of a coincidence of globalised technology and government preparedness plans – has only now taken such devastating control. It’s the same glitch responsible for the AIDS panic but if you’re not Black, a recipient of blood transfusions or a gay man you might not have noticed.

Now that’s you’ve noticed, you have two alternatives:

A. Submit to fear – and give up control over your own body and every one of your human rights

B. Resist – and live life as fully and as well as possible

Big Brother is watching you. Which option are you going to choose?

virus

Thanks to Kai Stachowiak for releasing his image Virus into the Public Domain.

How to keep your head when someone around you is losing theirs and blaming it on you

This post is inspired by a friend who asked me how to deal with another who is currently experiencing addiction to alcohol. Although my suggestions focus specifically on that situation, they may be valuable in others. Firstly, please note that my suggestions are neither for coping with (i.e. denying, ignoring or blotting out) the addictive behaviour nor for fixing the person who is addicted. They are for people who find themselves having to be around or having to deal with people experiencing addiction. By ‘deal with’ I mean involved in some kind of voluntary interaction that has nothing to do with the substance or process to which this person is addicted. If the interaction is not voluntary, on both parts, my best suggestion is to leave the vicinity (whether in physical or virtual space) immediately. All that ground-clearing done, let’s proceed.

My life-coaching is based on my doctoral thesis, a reading of the work of Dr M. Pirsig, and I see alchemy as harmonious amelioration (improvement) on all levels of well-being. Let’s take them one by one (I use my own nomenclature and also suggest there may be a level superior to the intellectual, which Pirsig does not).

PHYSICAL SURROUNDINGS – depending on the way alcohol affects the body, a person experiencing addiction to alcohol may cause disruption in your home/ car/ office/ school/ church/ in a shop or a café/ on public transport. Some of this disruption may be in the form of misplacement of objects, breakages or theft; some may lead to situations raising concerns regarding health and safety.

Reading the fictional exploits (now televised) of a vicar in the Church of England I was struck by the lack of ability or willingness to physically limit the marauding of various drunken people who continually staked their claims to the personal space of ‘the Rev.’ and to the sacred space of the church. And then set about destroying it. This kind of abuse of friendship/ professional courtesy is unacceptable and any kind of thinking that justifies it, supposedly based on compassion, is only contributing to the deprivation of agency of the person experiencing addiction. In other words, holding such people responsible for their actions and physically preventing them carrying out acts of destruction is an acknowledgement of their continuing human dignity – no matter how that dignity has been degraded by their addiction.

So sometimes you might find yourself refusing to allow someone entry into a property which is yours or for which you are responsible; or refusing to enter a public building with this person. You may find yourself suggesting a meeting in a park and blandly stating, “I’m asking you to meet me there because I have concerns about the damage to property you may cause elsewhere”.

HEALTH – Focus on your own body, not that of the person experiencing addiction. If you are well fed and watered, warm or cool enough, suitably clothed and rested, if you have easy access to toilet facilities and also are assured of freedom from bodily harm from this person, then you have a better chance of feeling grounded enough to deal with them. If you are close to this person emotionally, check out your physical safety with someone who is not. You may not be the best judge of that. Ensure that you also have the means to swiftly and effectively leave the vicinity of this person, should the need arise.

SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS – As you may responsibly limit access to physical spaces, so you may limit access to family, friends, partners, dependents, colleagues and acquaintances. I know of cases where young children, while suffering no physical harm or being in danger of such, have been traumatised by being around drunken adults whom their parents have allowed into the family home (e.g. to sober up) in mistaken acts of kindness. You may have taken all necessary precautions to remain grounded when someone is attempting to bend you out of shape but that doesn’t mean that anyone else you happen to know or bump into is similarly prepared. You don’t have the right to inflict potentially abusive people onto others without warning and preparation.

Both for HEALTH and for SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS, you may decide that a limitation of time is helpful. Being around people experiencing addictions can be physically and emotionally draining. If, for example, you need to get a joint project done with such a person, then realise that it may be more prudent to divide the task into lots of mini-projects to be done in a few hours rather than a major one with a due date a few weeks hence. Think how many extended refreshment breaks may interfere with a vague schedule! Paying in advance is probably not a good idea whereas prompt payment for each small job done (or an agreed credit system which factors in quality and promptness of completion) may be useful.

Yau Chui Wah (2009) ‘Enhancing Self-Efficacy in a Strengths Perspective’ [in Ethan J. Kerr & Owen E. Gibson (Eds) Substance Abuse: New Research, New York: Nova Science, pp. 155-169] underlines the efficacy on the road to sobriety of valuing any success that people experiencing addiction have. So breaking off all social contact may not be the most helpful thing to do. Herbert Fingarette (1988) Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease [Berkeley, California: University of California] finds that labelling people as ‘addicts’ or ‘alcoholics’ firstly ignores the spectrum of addictive behaviour, which we all move along, and secondly reduces the agency of people experiencing addiction by seeing them only as chemical or biological complexes.

The dignity of the human being includes INTELLECTUAL GOALS and it is not unknown for very intelligent people to experience addiction. Patronising such people can only be counter-effective. They may in fact be capable and willing to read about their condition, once they pass through the stage of denial. However, the best way to keep grounded when dealing with someone experiencing addiction is not to suggest ways for them to effect their cure but rather to treat them with the human dignity which their behaviour endangers. This includes respect for their intellectual ability, which may be otherwise unimpaired. Sadly, it may not. Alcohol does destroy brain cells and even when the intellect seems to be functioning normally, there may be wildly impractical schemes or pervasive paranoia. So is advisable to exercise prudence regarding the intellectual components of any joint project.

Finally, like all human beings, this person searches for meaning. This may involve SPIRITUAL OR PHILOSOPHICAL VALUES. The addictive behaviour may be an unhelpful part of the search. Just because ecological tribes have retained the wisdom to embark on shamanistic journeys aided by herbal hallucinogenics, it does not follow that post-industrial culture can cope with these drugs. And yet the search itself is valid. Part of the frenzy of drinking may be a rejection of the emptiness of materialistic consumer culture and of the roles it requires that we play. That emptiness may not be filled simply by frequent attendance of church services or yoga classes. There may be deep questions about the life of a person experiencing addiction that are being avoided.

None of this is your concern. Everyone searches for meaning somehow. Not all of us destroy ourselves and others in the process. These suggestions may help you to understand someone in this situation. But mostly they are to suggest how to keep your head when someone around you is losing theirs and blaming it on you.

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