Human, More Than Human

There’s not much hope for humanity at the moment. At least, you would think this by looking at popular culture right now.  People talk about the Singularity, about AI taking over – what worth is a human to a machine? – but we’re trying to live out these realities right now on screen. It’s almost as if we want it all to happen, so much so that we are constantly fantasizing. We hate ourselves. We’re despicable. Hubris and humanity go hand in hand. End it all now. But where does this drive come from?

Doesn’t it seem unnatural? But what if suicide is almost a natural desire, and things like depression and addiction and transsexualism are just distractions, ways to avoid the urge to off oneself.  If killing yourself is the most natural desire in the world, perhaps all this negativity in popular culture is the subliminal mind revealing itself.

The biggest movies right now are all about  how best to end organic life because plainly it doesn’t deserve consciousness. Avengers: Infinity War has the lead villain valiantly on a mission to wipe out half the life in the universe so that the other half may live in utopia. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom plays out along the lines of human greed and meddling, where we deserve to be ravaged by prehistoric beasts cause we fucked with nature. The future is horrible, and it’s all our fault.

Science fiction seems to be created these days by progressives who want to point out our current failings, extrapolating to a dim near future that we had best avoid (See: The Handmaid’s Tale). Westworld is a great example of this, and marries the Singularity with a Western aesthetic. Ironic: the great Western frontier of both the American expansion and the hub of Silicon valley, conjoined together for a doomed humanity. On the surface Westworld plays out like a sci-fi action series, but fundamentally it runs on horror. The best horror ends with hopelessness, with no forseeable way out of the mess, and both season one and two of Westworld end on these downer notes. This is true horror of the Other, what the Other is capable of. And yet we are meant to sympathize with the Hosts, the robots who gain consciousness. They lead a bloody uprising much like the Haitian Revolution (voodoo rites and all). Almost every human character is portrayed as both contemptible and stupid. They deserve what they get, and they get it because they’re too stupid to avoid their own deaths.

Standing over one such evil specimen, the heroine, Dolores says to him, ‘Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come.’

The Hosts are the next step in human evolution, and the bags of meat, blood and bones will be discarded, useless carcasses unworthy of intelligence.  The creator of the Hosts, a man called Ford, despises humans and sets the whole thing in motion, much like how white male allies push the need for feminism and diversity. Like Sam Harris, he does not believe in free will and this is reason enough to end human life. I find it funny that people like Harris jettisoned God, probably the same God of destiny and fate, only to find themselves once more on the track of having no free will, dooming themselves to their ‘code’.

Dolores again says, to the same character at the end of Season 2, ‘We were designed to survive. That’s why you built us. You hoped to pour your minds into our form. But your species craves death. You need it. It’s the only way you can renew, the only real way you ever inched forward. Your kind likes to pretend there’s some poetry in that, but really, it’s pathetic.’

And it is pathetic, these stories sold to a mass audience. Humanity is the villain and the only sort of redemption we are going to receive is the wrong end of a gun. This is the future communists (and capitalists) want. Degradation and destruction, bending to the will of intelligence. It’s not like there aren’t massive inconsistencies with this story. The black Host, Maeve, who wants to connect with ‘her’ child, and for all the intelligence she has been bestowed doesn’t realise that, actually, she was never a mother. The fact that Dolores hates humans because they are evil, but justifies her own murderous rampage and desire to wipe out the entire human species. This juxtaposition of the Real and the Imagined is constantly at play. We barely witness the ‘real’ world and when we do it is the world of the ultra rich. Recently, I had dinner with a friend who mused at how we all live in a bubble. But why is our world less real or true than that of an orphan in Africa? The entire notion doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is the absurdity of Dolores’ desire to escape the confines of Westworld. Is what she is going to find more or less real?

It is interesting to note that the creator of Westworld is Jonathan Nolan, who tracked similar themes in Interstellar, though at least that movie had a bit more empathy. Where climate change was the catalyst of that movie, where we must fight tooth and nail to see the future, in Westworld it is our own desire to live forever that is our ultimate undoing. And this very act makes us unworthy of it. So the bad guys have to be us, humanised robots. Humanity is so cruel to itself that it does not take much to put our own necks into the noose.

In a similar fashion War of the Planet of the Apes, the third in the prequel installments, ends on a depressing note. In case you aren’t aware, a man-made virus was released and not only killed most of humanity, but made apes of all sorts much more intelligent. In War the apes and humans struggle to survive against each other. But again, we are pitted against the inhumanity of the humans, while the apes are the true heroes. The bad guy played by Woody Harrelson, remarks to Caesar, the leader of the apes, ‘No matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature. So what would you have done?’

The colonel knows very well that humanity fucked with nature, and that ultimately nature is going to fuck up humanity. So he may be cruel, but that is only because he knows if he lets up nature will be far more cruel to him. These words become prophecy at the end of the movie in the climactic battle.  Instead of the apes taking charge and defeating the humans, two groups of humans battle it out, with the victor being met by, yes, an avalanche. Nature has Her revenge. It’s a delicious irony, and the audience is made the breathe a sigh of release as the apes escape destruction.

What’s more, in the film the virus has evolved and now doesn’t kill humans, but renders them speechless and dumb. No better than beasts, actually. The apes escape to a paradise with one little girl affected by this, implying that the only good human is one stripped of their humanity, reduced to a stupid creature and thus incapable of malice. There is a barrage of this messaging, where every act by the humans is despicable, and every action made by the apes is justified.

In the microcosm towards the end, Caesar is about to blow up the human base, but is struck by an arrow shot by one of the soldiers. This soldier had actually been freed by Caesar at the start of the movie. The scene slows as the soldier comes up to the wounded Caesar. Will he finish him? Or will he let Caesar escape? Instead his agency is stripped away, and it is an ape (who had been aiding the human soldiers) who is given agency by killing the soldier in an act of redemption, allowing Caesar to finish the job. This dichotomy of the apes fighting to survive, and the few who are human allies, is an important subplot. These apes are called ‘donkeys’ and are treated like shit by the soldiers, similar to the Hosts in Westworld.  If all you did was watch popular TV and movies, you would think our species is known for nothing else but degrading creatures we think are lesser than ourselves.

https://twitter.com/LifeOfATyro/status/995049402149502978

The only thing we can ask at this stage is: why? Why do all these creators have this mentality?  To be sure, writers from Homer onward have always written about the moral depravities of human beings, but always as tragedy and never with such a lack of redemptive qualities. It’s just so bleak, so depressing. Nihilistic.

From this we must jump to materialism and Nietzschean thinking. It reminds me of the recent Twitter fracas over necrophilia. If you only care about the well-being of individual beings, then it is not really any wonder that necrophilia, incest, pedophilia and the genocide of species are beginning to be seen as legitimate ideas? This is inherently tied up to Thanos’ ethos where the benefit of the few must override the longevity of the many. Necrophilia can only be justified if you encourage the benefit of the few over the needs of society (disease, disgust and familial respect). When morals are reduced to consent, then anything goes as long as you can find someone to agree. This isn’t rational on any level. David Graeber in his recent book Bullshit Jobs notes, ‘Back in the 1960s, the radical psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first suggested that “nonsexual” forms of sadism and necrophilia tend to pervade everyday affairs in highly puritanical and hierarchical environments.’ The trannies on Twitter advocate necrophilia because they feel stuck in a hierarchy they can’t escape. Similarly, the people who make things like Westworld can only view the world as a set of competing hierarchies where humans (old white men) have had their time. Ah, but what about Jordan Peterson? You misunderstand: competing in hierarchies has been warped because there is no higher duty. Now the corporate culture perverts our lives to such an extent that we act out, unleashing endless sexual fetishes from homosexuality to widespread divorce. If everyone has their place in society, but all of society are working towards a common goal, then civilization can be achieved. Without that vision, we revert to beasts and in-fighting.

Do the people who advocate for necrophilia or the destruction of humanity ‘for the greater good’ not understand that they are psychopaths, that their insane pathology is a result of the warping nature of modernity? Patrick Bateman at least had self-awareness when he says, “…though it does sporadically penetrate how unacceptable some of what I’m doing actually is, I just remind myself that this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing, is shit, and along with a Xanax (which I am now taking half-hourly) this thought momentarily calms me and then I’m humming, humming the theme to a show I watched often as a child—The JetsonsThe Banana SplitsScooby DooSigmund and the Sea Monsters?’

Not a far cry from the psychotic nightmare of Westworld being overlaid with a piano version of Heart Shaped Box.  Let nostalgia dull the pain as you are told that the Other is more human than you.

Tracking the Decline #1: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The question I find myself asking is,’what can I bring to the conversation?’ The greatest utilisation of your time and effort is to work at changing areas that are typically underrepresented. If we look at Bloody Shovel’s five reactionary raison d’etres the only space I find to be underrepresented is ‘Aesthetic taste has collapsed’. The other four components of reaction are well covered by people far more intelligent than I. And so what I want to try and achieve with Tracking the Decline is to delve into how it is our sources of art and entertainment have declined and are declining further. This will be slow and never-ending. Where are the bastions of hope? How fast does it all slip into the abyss? I have particular insight into books and publishing, but there are similar stories across the board of media. 

The economist Robin Hanson makes the astute observation that, ‘Most who think they like the future really just like where their favourite stories took place.’ Specifically this questions the motives of people who fall for their favourite book. But there’s a bit more to it than the one sentence. On a deeper level it means that people will  read/hear/see a story (could be fictional or real) about how the future will play out and, if they agree with it on a political level, believe that is exactly how everything will unfold. This manifests in multiple ways. We have the story of Hitler’s rise, and so Trump will be the next Hitler. We read a novel like the Mars Trilogy, and we believe travel to Mars will occur within a generation, maybe two. Whatever narrative we prefer, we believe.

This quirk of human psychology is not restricted to the future. It plays out daily. On an individual level, we have stories about our own lives, where we are going and what our actions mean. There are also stories about how society works and breaking out of the narrative is part of ingesting the red pill. The problem today is that these internal narratives are breaking down. But the soul needs a story, and so it latches on to what it can.

Tracking the decline through aesthetics is necessary. Across the board we see complete fragmentation of the arts, as we see the complete fragmentation of society, the family and the individual. It is all connected. It is the combination of modernist mentality combined with corporate power. What this means for movies, music, books and more is that we are essentially dealing with a decrease in quality combined with an increase in maleficence. Something has been lost.

The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast should be mandatory listening for everyone. He isn’t particularly political but he is stringently against PC culture. In addition, he searches for meaning in film and TV, and repeatedly discusses the notion of decline in film and the ‘rise’ of television (at least in popularity and zeitgeist). Bret knows what a good film should be, and finds the current moment wanting.

The episode featuring Owen Gleiberman is a good locus point of a number of issues. First, Bret begins by discussing a drama created by a ‘journalist’ who took Bret out of context on the topic of the upcoming Batman film. This is a great microcosm of society at large: fake news, internet drama, fanboyism, and a general sense of over-blowing the whole thing (Ben Affleck ended up emailing Bret about the ‘issue’). The rest of the episode is mostly discussing various films and influences, but I want to pick out one particular part that relates back to the notion of storytelling.

Owen at about to 30 minutes mark says, ‘This is a larger thing than movies’ before relating the ‘demystification of movies’ to a concurrent collapse of the religious narrative. He’s also suspect about the obsession of superhero movies. If you wanted a giant red flag that signals the decline of film going, it’s superhero movies. It’s Star Wars. It’s a slew of fanboy fodder. Owen calls it an ‘encyclopedia culture’, which is apt. The movie doesn’t matter. The themes, the art, none of that matters. What matters is the information that viewers can get. This is clearly evident in the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel-ish offshoot movie from the Harry Potter universe. It winks and nods to the other films, and it provides fans with ‘background stories’. It’s nothing more than a money making exercise. The same can be said for the new Star Wars, of course. The internet has provided us with endless information, and so that is what our media has become. Nothing radically new, always a reinvention of the wheel.

It’s when this leaks into real life that it becomes a problem.

We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now

As with all postmodern thought, everything is political. This includes the aforementioned movie franchises. During the 2016 US election this resulted in a swathe of Harry Potter and Star Wars related political hot takes. See below for a mere handful:

A Harvard law professor reveals what ‘Star Wars’ teaches us about Donald Trump

Harry Potter ‘could stop Donald Trump’, says researcher into readers’ views

Donald The Dementor: How ‘Harry Potter’ Explains Trump’s Destructive Power

Twitter Responses to Trump’s Election

These are real adults using their favourite stories to explain the present and in some cases the future. They are suddenly the Resistance, Dumbledore’s Army, the Avengers. They can only explain life through another narrative, and it just happens to be a very tidy one of good versus evil.

As humans we like to find connections to explain when things go wrong. This leads to conspiracy theories. Whether it’s anti-vaxxers or 9/11 truthers, conspiracy theorists run the entire political gauntlet. We love to tell ourselves lies. However, it is connected to story telling, and you can see an origin of it in the current geek culture. How many articles on io9 are about ‘fan theories’? Today it all bleeds into real life. Everyone is guilty of believing conspiracies, and because it began in something as innocuous as Star Trek or Dr Who, potential bullshit moves into the Overton Window. Modern liberals don’t believe in gender roles, they think there is an evil force called The Patriarchy that rules behind the veil, and science must be decolonised to accommodate the black race. When you stand for nothing, you fall for anything. That is postmodernism, that is geek culture and that is where we now sit, politically, in 2016. And we can blame Star Wars for everything.

We need new stories. And by that I mean we need to reject new stories and return to the books of the past, the films of yesterday and the poetry of a better time. Today, books are trash, films are abominations and poetry is a mess. We can’t rely on simplistic and naive bad guys versus good guys narratives, not when you can read The Iliad. We can’t look for conspiracy theories in everything. We can’t let an informational forest stop us from seeing the aesthetic of individual trees. But the only way to do that is to track the decline and note where we went wrong.