Showing posts with label Alan Moore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alan Moore. Show all posts

Psychic Survival Strategies on Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio

This is one of my favorite podcast appearances. Miguel Connor is a great conversationalist with a wide range of interests and we both spent a lot of time preparing for this talk. The general outline covers politics, pop culture and Gnosticism, but as good conversations do we cover a lot of bases in-between.

Here's Miguel's show notes for this episode:
Gnostic philosophy has greatly influenced many alternative movements in their search for individual freedom, from secret societies to enlightenment thinkers to iconic artists of modernity. But can Gnosticism assist in modern politics? It can indeed, especially since the Gnostic speculations of what forces rule the systems of the cosmos have come true, reflected on material society and its existentialist morass of alienated humanity. We delve into these speculations and attempt to find solutions within the mystic ideas of ancient heresies.
If you enjoy this talk, please head over to Aeon Byte to hear more. Miguel has had an impressive roster of guests on his show and his archives are well worth your time and your financial support.


POSTSCRIPT: When you're finished with this, head over to Hidden Experience and check out Mike Clelland's talk at Exopolitics UK on Owls and Synchronicity.

Comics are Magick: Double Edge

 Strangely enough, this installment is kind of a sequel to "Daddy and the Pie," only it was published 5 years before by a different company (in The Witching Hour #12) and was written by a different writer. It was illustrated by Alex Toth though, and concerned the fate of a young man who once had an all-powerful magical talisman when he was a boy.

This story is as loud and violent as "Daddy" was quiet and pastoral. But it too is a meditation on morality and the choices we make in our lives. It's also one of the earliest comic book stories I remember reading- my uncle picked it up at Marvin's Pharmacy after church and left it in a box in my grandmother's house thereafter. I re-read a number of times over the years, along with any number of classic Silver Age comics.

The Witching Hour #12 was important for another reason, however- it was where I first encountered the work of Jack Kirby, in the form of this DC house ad. Having read the bloodless funny animal comics my mother bought for me, this was like a revelation from the gods. It all seemed so cosmic, so exotic, so cool.

It would be ages before I actually read those particular comics, and not a single one lived up to what I imagined they'd be like (or the other Kirby books I read in the interim) but it certainly hit me exactly at the right time and set me on a path that I'd follow forever after.

But "Double Edge" had an impact too. It was one of those stories that tuned into the pervasive occult ambiance of the early 70s that so many of my favorite popcult artifacts do, at the same time it obviously pays tribute to Doctor Strange. And in a strange way it anticipates Harry Potter.

I couldn't say it better myself, so I let Alan do so...

Alan Moore didn't introduce magic and occultism to comics- he merely re-introduced them. I cut my teeth on that stuff back in the 70s, all in color for two dimes, or a quarter. Not to mention UFOs, conspiracy theory, the paranormal, psychedelia and all the rest, all down at my local newsstand. What I wouldn't give for a time machine...

Before Watchmen: A Dissenting View

The big tempest in the tiny teapot of the comic book world is DC's new Before Watchmen program, which has press-ganged some of the biggest names in comics to create mini-series based on the stars of the original Watchmen maxi-series from 1986. Given that the paperback collection of Watchmen still sells thousands of copies every year (it's the Dark Side of the Moon of the funnybook ghetto), such a move was inevitable.

DC tried for years to get writer Alan Moore and artist David Gibbons to do their own sequel, but Moore felt cheated by a clause in his contract that guaranteed the rights to the book would return to him after the book went out of print, seeing that it's still obviously very much in print, more than a quarter-century later.

But in DC's defense, the contract was written during the creator-cuddly Jeanette Kahn/Dick Giordano regime (if someone told me that Kahn herself gave all her freelancers backrubs when they dropped by, I wouldn't fall over in shock) and given the realities of the market back then --and Moore's cultish appeal-- there was no reason to expect that A., Watchmen would be anything but just another (floppy-based) cult hit for Moore and B., would ever be part of the industry's aggressive bookstore program, because such a thing didn't really exist at the time.

But the real issue is that Alan Moore doesn't want anyone to adapt his work. This doesn't just apply to comics; he's always good for an extraordinarily articulate anti-Hollywood screed (and an actual curse often thrown in for seasoning) whenever someone decides to adapt one of his comics, as they did with From Hell, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and indeed, Watchmen itself (which I much prefer to the comic).

That's what the real issue is here-- it's about Alan Moore the auteur, the great bard who elevated the lowly comic book from utter disrepute. Before Watchmen is like painting a Groucho mask on the Mona Lisa.

There's only one problem: Alan Moore's oeuvre is one of the most nakedly derivative bodies of work I can think of for an artist of his stature.

Now, let's be absolutely clear: I love Alan Moore's comic book work. I do think he's one of the greatest writers in the history of the medium. I think his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books are hands-down the greatest comic book works in the superhero/fantasy-adventure medium, and are easily the rival of the best fantasy novels as well. He may not be as prolific as he once was, but he's still got it; 1969 wasn't the best entry in the series but it kicks the shit out of anything else out there.

But let me hand it over to J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5 creator and comic book superstar) who had this to say in The Hollywood Reporter:
The perception that these characters shouldn't be touched by anyone other than Alan is both absolutely understandable and deeply flawed. As good as these characters are – and they are very good indeed – one could make the argument, based on durability and recognition, that Superman is the greatest comics character ever created. But I don't hear Alan or anyone else suggesting that no one other than Shuster and Siegel should have been allowed to write Superman. Certainly Alan himself did this when he was brought on to write Swamp Thing, a seminal comics character created by Len Wein.
Leaving aside the fact that the Watchmen characters were variations on pre-existing characters created for the Charlton Comics universe, it should be pointed out that Alan has spent most of the last decade writing very good stories about characters created by other writers, including Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz), Wendy (from Peter Pan), as well as Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jeyll and Hyde, and Professor Moriarty (used in the successful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

I think one loses a little of the moral high ground to say, "I can write characters created by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Frank Baum, but it's wrong for anyone else to write my characters."
I'd throw in Simon and Kirby (First American is a blatant Fightin' American clone), Will Eisner (Greyshirt=The Spirit), and Jack Cole (Splash Brannigan=Plastic Man). There's also the fact that Tom Strong is a blatant Doc Savage clone and Promethea is obviously Moore's take on Wonder Woman (Moore doesn't even bother to hide that her nemesis the Painted Doll is the Joker).

Then there are all the Lovecraft rewrites, including the X-Files/Lovecraft fanfic of The Courtyard and Neonomicon. Now, Moore might be able to justify all of these "tributes" by pointing out that the authors he's rewriting are long dead, but what about the alive-and-well Chris Carter?

Doggett and Scully search for Muld...oh, wait.

It's blatantly obvious that the (tall, thin, dark-haired) FBI agent "Aldo Sax"who specializes in the "Twilight Zone" cases in The Courtyard is Mulder  (Sax Aldo=Fox Mulder) and the (sexy, skeptical, strawberry-blonde, pictured wearing a ginger wig in case you didn't get the hint) agent who is sent to find out what sent him over the deep end in Neonomicon is Scully.

Do you think Carter appreciates having his characters portrayed as a virulent racist and an inept sex addict (who ends up being repeatedly raped by one of the Lovecraftian aliens), respectively?

Now don't get me wrong: I enjoyed these books quite a bit but I didn't complain when reviewers dismissed Neonomicon as an X-rated X-Files parody. But what it confirms is a long-established pattern of Moore taking the work of other writers and using it as a template; a basis for which he can project his own interpretations of the characters. There's nothing wrong with that per se, especially in the hands of a writer as ingenious and prodigiously creative as Moore. It's a tradition that goes back a very long way.

But if Carter might not appreciate Moore's Mulder and Scully, what would L. Frank Baum, J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll make of The Lost Girls, which Moore proudly labels as pornography? Of course, it's a toss-up with Carroll but I would say that authors have the right not to have their pre-adolescent characters recreated as sex-mad harlots, whether they were alive or dead.

I won't pretend for a second that Moore's gives two shits about what I think, but he's pissing a lot of fans off, even if the elites continue to toe his line.

But given the rising skeptic/atheist virus that is sucking all of the creativity out of Geekdom, you would think Moore would want to fly the flag more responsibly, not only for heretical thinking but for the concept of a strong and autonomous creator, something that is dying away in genre entertainment.

I get the very strong impression Moore doesn't care about any of that, though. He's always seen comics fandom the way you or I would see dogshit on our shoes. If they all see ritual magicians as total cranks because of Moore's actions, it's all the same to him.

But in many ways Before Watchmen is a troubling symptom of the collapse of creativity in what should be a raging hothouse for ideas.
Comics are so cheap to produce and the Internet has made them accessible to a larger audience than ever before, but a generation that has been so aggressively socialized as the Millennials (with some brave and notable exceptions, mind) seem absolutely terrified to make its own mark. They're perfectly content to remain consumers, since producing something like Watchmen means you have to step away from the herd and break the rules, something very few of them are willing to risk.

DC held out for a long time out of respect for (if nothing else) Moore's reputation, but with the bookstore market in tatters and nothing like Watchmen, Dark Knight or Sandman in the pipeline, they have no choice but to tap the well once again. I don't expect any of these books to have anything like the same impact but they'll do well if they avoid another Dark Knight Strikes Again debacle.

But Fandom loves its costless self-righteous outrage, so anytime a creator and a publisher come to blows, you know whose side they'll take. I have no dog in this fight, other than the fact that I think Moore's behavior is reinforcing some negative stereotypes that have done tremendous damage to the cause of creativity in pop culture.

But then again, maybe it's much too late to worry about that anymore.

Pop (Culture) Has Eaten Itself

A look at the 2011 top 20 grossing films in the US should send bolts of terror down the spine of any Hollywood mogul.

The number one film was a Harry Potter sequel, the last in the series. Number two was a Transformers sequel everyone agreed signaled the death knell of the franchise. Twilight, another franchise that's ending, was number three.

Going down the list you have a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (based on a theme park ride), the fifth Fast and Furious film, a Mission: Impossible sequel (a franchise from the 1960s), a Sherlock Holmes film (created over a century ago) a Planet of the Apes reboot, three movies based on Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics from the early 60s, a couple comedies, a drama, a Smurfs film (another ancient franchise), some kiddie flicks (including Puss in Boots, based on an old fairy tale) and God help us all- an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

Given that nearly all of these films could have been made almost fifty years ago, it's more than safe to assume there is an absolute drought of creativity in Tinseltown, which is merely a microcosm of the drought in creativity in the larger culture. A look at what's been released so far in 2012 is even more depressing, a list of mostly forgettable castoffs with only two films having broken that crucial $100m mark.

We keep hearing how massively huge and awesome Geek culture is, but the numbers don't bear it out. Sure, nearly all of these movies have some tangential connection to Geek culture but more importantly they appeal to chronological children, and taking your kids to the movies is one of the few (marginally) affordable sources of entertainment available to families these days.

Hollywood tried marketing a film solely for the mythical Geek market, and spent a fortune on production and promotion doing so.

The film was called Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a cute little romp based on a popular series of graphic novels. They pulled out all the stops on this one, spending upwards of $85,000,000 on production and who knows how much on promotion (you couldn't turn on SyFy or Cartoon Network in 2010 without being hammered by ads for the film).

Let's be conservative and say they spent thirty million dollars on promotion- that's an investment of $115M on a film that grossed $48M worldwide ($30M US, $18M int'l) and did a paltry $15M on DVD. Given that the exhibitors and the retailers get half and there are always random legal fees to worry about, this film needed to hit the $250M mark to break even (being conservative, again) and barely grossed a quarter of that. Ouch.

Then there's this:
"John Carter" is now officially a flop of galactic proportions.
The Walt Disney Co. said Monday that it expects to book a loss of $200 million on the movie in the quarter through March. That ranks it among Hollywood's all-time biggest money-losers.

Directed by Pixar's Andrew Stanton, the 3-D effects-laden movie about a Civil War veteran transplanted to Mars was already headed to the "Red Ink Planet," according to Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz. Yet he expected a write-down of about half that size.
I haven't seen the film yet (I want to), but several people on the Secret Sun Facebook group have and really liked it. Critical opinion doesn't mean jack anymore since sites like Rotten Tomatoes include movie bloggers that literally have no readers in their aggregate scores, but Harry Knowles seemed to love the film and other critics did as well.

My theory on the backlash to this film has less to do with the quality of what's on the screen and what it represents; a pre-postmodern America of the pulps and the frontier, an America of possibility that's lost to us now. John Carter, Warlord of Mars is definitely not a postmodern superhero, and can't be revised to postmodernity the way Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes was.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars is also an unwelcome reminder of an America in which mystically-minded creators like Edgar Rice Burroughs actually created-- you know, had actual frickin' ideas.

An America where movies weren't built around god-damned board games:
Battleship director Peter Berg has a rather amusing way of acknowledging the skepticism about a movie based on a Hasbro board game: ”It didn’t lend itself to the most logical interpretation for a film.” But at the panel for Battleship at WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., Berg seemed determined to convince the crowd that there is in fact a strong movie tucked inside a game that consists of calling out coordinates to try to sink your buddy’s ships. Joined by costars Brooklyn Decker and Alexander Skarsgård, Berg pointed out that when you do end up hitting one of those plastic ships, you and your friend are “trying to kill each other as mercilessly as possible,” and that indeed does make for a compelling story.
Or of constant rebootings of tired, dated franchises:
Michael Bay Responds to Outrage Over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Plot Changes

“Fans need to take a breath, and chill. They have not read the script…Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back story. Relax, we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place. We are just building a richer world. When you see this movie, kids are going to believe, one day, that these turtles actually do exist when [we] are done with this movie.”

Then there's TV, the great hope for auteurs and science fiction and fantasy fans.

With the success of Lost (and the critical success of Battlestar Galactica) networks trotted out a parade of series meant to recapture that lightning in a bottle-- Flash Forward, Invasion, The Event-- but most of them failed. The most recent attempt- ABC's The River, seems destined to follow suit.

Nerds will lecture you until the cows come home as to how Fringe is superior in every way to The X-Files, but Fringe is limping to its death at a time (its fourth season) when The X-Files was romping, and garners ratings (just above a dismal one-share) only a fraction of TXF at it's lowest, final-season ebb.

Fox seems reluctant to announce its cancellation because its already catastrophic ratings would collapse to Dollhouse levels, but when your showrunner is talking doing a "fifth season" as a comic book, you know which way the wind is blowing:
Though the producers have previously said they hope to wrap up as much as possible in the fourth season finale if the network pulls the plug, producer Jeff Pinkner says the writers would also put out a one-off comic book to wrap up the rest of the lingering storylines.

"It would be really elaborate, and we would go to town on it and make sure that everything you needed to understand about the show would be in that and pay off that way," he said. "That's our backup plan."
SyFy-- which is to science fiction what MTV is to music today-- recently put the kibosh on a new Battlestar Galactica series, after unceremoniously slaying BSG prequel Caprica. Ringer-- starring geek goddess Sarah Michelle Gellar-- is limping to cancellation, and most of the geek-friendly CW lineup (Vampire Diaries, Nikita) struggles to hit a one-share. Fox killed Spielberg's Terra Nova (though Netflix is talking about picking it and The River up, at much lower fees, surely) and JJ Abrams' Alcatraz and a Napoleon Dynamite cartoon are not the sure-things they should have been.

We'll leave aside the dismal spectacle of pop music because it's been so terrible for so long that I really have to wonder about people who can still be bothered to get upset about it. What I'm hearing on Top 40 radio sounds like an endless late 80s tape-loop, so much so that I'm almost expecting Exposé, T'Pau and Taylor Dayne to be reanimated any minute now.

It does seem that the sickening Nicki Minaj and Madonna spectacles earlier this year aside, quasi-occultism in pop seems to be on the way out, and none too soon. The only thing worse than actually seeing it all was the ridiculous hysteria it engendered.

Comics-- which should be a beehive of pure, unbridled creative madness-- are puttering along, catering largely to an audience of middle-age men (superhero comics) and a much smaller audience of hipster creator/readers (indie comics).

The big headline on industry site ICV2 was that February's sales were up over Feb. 2011, an impressive feat until you see how frickin' flat-out disastrous 2011 figures were. DC's recent reboot rules the Top 10, but that's simply a 90s vintage makeover of a late 50s makeover of early 40s superheroes. An endless nostalgia loop.

Having been involved in fandom since the mid 70s, I can say that I've never seen the ideal of true creativity have a lower cache in comics than it does today.

Sure, all these wacked Kirby concepts we look at here took a good 20 years or so for the rest of fandom to warm up to, but even then you had your mystic madmen like Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, your Robert Crumb's and your Richard Corben's and your Doug Moench's, your hippie phreaks spiking the funnybook punchbowl with four-color blotter.

In the 80s and 90s you had your British Invasion which gave us mystic madmen Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. I doubt any of these guys would get their feet in the door the way things are going. The readers simply wouldn't tolerate it.

With Borders gone, graphic novels aren't as welcome in the more conservative environs of stores like Barnes and Noble. A look at what's selling at B& doesn't fill my heart with hope- most of the graphic novels in their top 1000 are Walking Dead volumes, whose success is surely fired by the overwhelming success of the AMC series. But Walking Dead is not a series that most people associate with comics, it's just a George Romero knockoff.

Well-crafted, but I mean, come on. Pay the guy royalties already.

And no matter how hard the sociologists apologize, the zombie meme is a warning sign. It's a symptom of surrender, of collapse. I wonder if zombie stories-- or something like them-- were popular in late-period Rome.

What all of this is symptomatic of is the process of Disenchantment. This, in the end, is a conscious process. And for all of the brave talk about science, rationalism and reason, Disenchantment is an auto-destructive process for societies. History teaches us nothing else.

I'm hearing how successful the Skeptics and Atheists have been in recruiting geeks to their cause, and so the concomitant withering of creativity in Geek culture in the past ten years makes perfect sense: the repetition and remakes, the superficiality, the so-called "hard science" which exists only on paper and probably always will, the imposition of identity politics which repel most readers outside of the incessantly fractious in-groups.

Because true creativity is neither rational nor scientific, as Alan Moore will tell you and as our immersions into Kirby's weird worlds have proven.

Even though Lovecraft and Roddenberry gave lip service to science and rationality, it seems mostly politically motivated (Lovecraft's aristocratic loathing of the superstitious masses he saw in Red Hook and Roddenberry's Hollywood-liberal loathing of his Southern Baptist roots) or perhaps even a kind of protective totem, a lifeline to pull them back in from deep, chthonic realms both men traveled to in their imaginations.

True rationalists write forgettable hard sci-fi crap that no one reads anymore; authors like Asimov, Niven, Bova, Clarke. Guys whose brave predictions of our future have yet to come to pass and probably never will.

So, to approach creativity with the rational mind is profoundly irrational.

Of course I've been here before, most recently looking at Fringe's implosion. Given the quasi-rationalist mindset currently in vogue in Geekdom (which is driven by its need to be seen as intellectually superior without doing any actual science), it's no surprise that Fringe was used as a hammer to bash the mystical X-Files. But the problem is that weird science is usually purely theoretical science, and as such is hard to build gripping drama around:
Simply put, I don't believe any of the science in Fringe. Having followed the press releases of the theoretical science special interests (including DARPA) for the past three decades I've seen a lot of stuff that exists on paper and nowhere else and probably always will. In its admittedly righteous struggle against religious fascism, Science has oversold itself to credulous journalists, and in many ways Silicon Valley has done the same.

What's more, the omnipresence of Massive Dynamics and its subsidiaries tells the truth about science and technology-- it's the almost exclusive province of the rich and powerful.

And as such it offers very little to the rest of us, aside from more surveillance, more disease blowback, more tech-driven redundancy and internet-enabled unfair competition.
And I've talked about how MythBusters and the Skeptic (sic) movement (the JREF is the big player in this game, co-founded by the recently convicted Dayvi Pena, aka Jose Alvarez aka "Carlos"- watch this space for more on that story and any news pertaining to related criminal and civil action against Pena, Randi and the JREF) is creating a kind of pissy, reactive reductionism in fans that is directly antithetical to the attitudes of the creators of their favorite franchises.

Licking government boots is the ultimate Skepdick sacrament

It's all a kind of armoring, a retreat to the cold comforts of reduction for its own sake. It's a profound form of cowardice, and as time goes on, and this armoring fails to deal with the psychological dysfunction that used to be channeled into creativity, we'll see a lot of meltdowns in public, like the jerk on Mythbusters, Penn Jillette, the Amazing Atheist and much much more.

But the damage will be done to the culture first- the bed will be shat in:
I can't help but notice how bitter and angry so many of our skeptic friends are, and how all that rage addiction ends up carving ruts into their faces. Since I'm such a fan of myth-building I couldn't help but notice how often that walrus-looking chap on MythBusters looks like he's about to stroke-out from stoking his raging rage-on.

I also can't help but notice how the virtual armor so many people wear online seems to be oxidizing into a virtual iron maiden, with all of the "EPIC FAIL" snotiness and the post-irony we see.

I also can't help but notice how all of this reduction-worship is playing havoc on geek culture, which is stuck in an endless rut of remakes, revamps and reboots. A lot of this is down to the elephantitis (or Elephantiasis for the smarty pants set) plaguing the media monopolies, but a lot of is simply down to the atrophying of the mental muscles that enable the suspension of disbelief.
Ironically, given the mania for "science", or the fetishization of a Humanist religious ideal people refer to as "science" (true science can be as visionary and mystic as art, as Newton, Tesla and Crick taught us), the absolute parade of sludge that we're seeing in pop culture is the direct result of the imposition of scientistic principles on the creative process.

You want science? Look at what's playing on your radio or at your local multiplex. There's your "science," rationalists- in our pop culture. Own it. You made it. Take a bow.

Your average blockbuster movie is created by committees who consult sales charts and graphs and scientifically-designed test surveys, which they use to endlessly bombard the creatives with revisions. Most big-budget production exists in a totally digital environment, with actors reduced to puppets hitting marks in sterile green-screen rooms under the thumbs of dictatorial technocrat directors.

All of it is is test-marketed according to scientistic principles in front of sample audiences who are required to fill out excruciating, scientifically-designed questionnaires, which are then fed back into the system for the requisite changes. Even the production of most comedies and dramas are as spontaneous as the construction of a lawn mower.

That no one loves most of this stuff is a given. Hardly anyone remembers most of these films after a few months. Sure, there are exceptions, but in most cases- Harry Potter, the better superhero movies, Twilight-- the creative DNA has been imported from literary sources, and based in the vision of a single (irrational) creator.

What you're hearing on the radio might as well be created by guys in lab coats- it's almost completely electronic. Even the vocals are becoming increasingly robotic with the use of Auto-Tune. "Artists" are interchangeable, aside from a handful of superstars or genuine talents whose voices can't be simulated by technology. Yet.

So come on, science nerds; you own the Top 40. It was made for you. Hell, it's all made by you- by people who view the world as a dumb, mindless machine meant to be screwed to death, the same way you do. The same way you really do, when you're not trying to impress some pink-haired feminist with some environmentalist patter you heard that the ladies like.

Much keener minds than my own have wrestled with all of this, particularly Max Weber:
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the 'disenchantment of the world.' Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental, nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissimo, that something is pulsating that corresponds to the prophetic pneuma, which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together.

If one tries intellectually to construe new religions without a new and genuine prophecy, then, in an inner sense, something similar will result, but with still worse effects. And academic prophecy, finally, will create only fanatical sects but never a genuine community.

"The Disenchantment of Modern Life" by Max Weber
Although "Science" is waved about like a religion today, science is simply a tool. It's an elaborate system of measurement. And there are sciences that exist that are valid even if not recognized by pedantic pedagogues like James Randi.

Spot the difference

What we are actually seeing is the emergence of an atheist religion. It's nothing new and it's not a religion with a great track record for self-replication. What the Randi's and the Schirmer's and the Dawkins' won't tell you is that atheism and skepticism were all the rage during the decline period of Ancient Rome, and schools of thought like the Cynics and the Stoics offered a similar philosophy as well.

If you want to scare the shit out of yourself, read up on Ancient Rome, particularly the late Imperial period. It will be like looking in a mirror. Everything this country is going through today, they went through. This is one of the reasons that I argue that History is cyclical and not linear.

But the comfortable cosmopolitans of the Roman Empire were not stupid; I'd say most were smarter than the average American. You even had slaves with high degrees of education. And they too embraced reason and atheism as the hallmarks of a modern cilivized Roman.

They became obsessed with fitness and business and pleasure. And birthrates plummeted far below replacement rate among these fine, educated souls. Not so among the superstitious masses. Their religious leaders used demographics as a weapon and realized that they would one day overwhelm their refined rivals by force of sheer numbers. And, of course, they did.

Atheists and freethinkers ended up being burned at the stake for the next thousand years or so after Rome became a totalitarian theocracy and science, art, technology and medicine utterly collapsed until the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the old gods of Europe awoke from their slumber once again.

For all of the brave talk about the inevitable march to an atheist, rationalist future the numbers again fail to bear all of that out. Read this bit of number-crunching, from an atheist blog:
Atheist Decline in Recent Past and Near Future

In the last few decades atheists have been a rapidly declining percentage of world population. They are now 2.5% of world population. Agnostics and those who are indifferent to religion are also a somewhat more slowly declining percentage of the world's population, they are now 11.5%.

There are two factors. First, the end of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the loss of faith in communism elsewhere, particularly China. Atheists and non-religious people are overwhelmingly concentrated in communist countries. About two thirds of the world's atheist population is in China.

Second, religious people have far higher birth rates.
For the future the low birth rates among the more radical atheists and anti-religious people, and the agnostic and religiously indifferent will tend to lower their percentage in the population. There also maybe a vast decrease in the atheist and non-religious population as communism continues to lose its grip in China.
So if you believe in science and reason than you have to acknowledge the fact that this reductionist, atheist mindset has been a death-knell for cultures, going back thousands of years now.

The science has been done, people. Atheism is the religion of the graveyard. And now the same patterns are repeating themselves, as predicted. The canary in the coalmine is our pop culture, the last thing that Americans did better than anyone else.

While the Religious Right was taking over local governments and school boards,
the shills at Skeptical Inquirer were screaming about Loch Ness and astrology

Why someone wants to subscribe to what is ultimately the religion of the cubicle, no matter how cheap an ego fix it gives you, I have no idea. All of the skeptics and atheists talk tough now when the Religious Right are in relative decline, but spent their time worrying about palm readers and flying saucers when the Moral Majority were taking over tens of thousands of school boards, township committees, state legislatures and all of the rest.

In other words, they're just a bunch of cowards and shills. Or in some cases, something much, much worse. More on all that in the next Secret War Against the New Age post.

There is another way- an excluded middle between self-annihilating scientism and mindless fundamentalism. Between formless urbanism and airless tribalism. The problem is that you have to work at it, you have to struggle. You have to overcome the perfectly human need for self-worship and operating within limited comfort zones.

And if you're like me and believe-- no, live-- the concept of the microcosm and macrocosm, then you realize the same principles apply to everything you do, and that everything is a creative act.

So, in other words, our pop culture sucks because our culture sucks. And it sucks because we're focused on the wrong things, and we mistake self-aggrandizement for self-actualization. We've been sold a bill of goods, only the goods were routed to China and now we're stuck with the bill. We're all trapped on the same ride, the only difference is that some of us realize it.

I work very hard to keep this blog focused on its original mandate. This post may be a bit of root canal, and a lot of it might have been said before, but I'll keep saying it until I feel like enough people are listening. There are a lot of hopeful signs, and a lot of people are waking up.

But there is a tendency among some in the excluded middle to throw up one's hands and take the easy way out and fall in line with either side of the dichotomy. I see that as nothing short of treason, if not suicide.

Those people will never accept you, no matter how many of your old friends you turn against, or how many of your old beliefs you disavow. They'll always laugh at you behind your back. They'll always see you as stained, defective, stupid, no matter how far you bend over for them.

Keep fighting, because it's the weirdos and the outcasts who have made things happen, who have moved things forward. Sure, the System loves to appropriate countercultures and subcultures, and now they're doing it with the Geeks. But they do at their own peril. True creativity can't abide by all of that, ultimately it will stop negotiating. And the Golden Goose will be cooked. And we're seeing just how catastrophic that can be, as creativity withers away in the cultural conversation.

But the means to create viable art and culture have never been more available and the means to distribute it have never been more democratized. The question is the will to create it, and yes, to appreciate it.

Breaking through the endless static of 2012 will be the challenge. Having something meaningful and compelling to say and the talent to say it in an interesting way will be the way to meet that challenge.

The Exegesis: The Path of Tension

A new member at the Secret Sun FB group recently asked what all of the excitement was about. He scanned the page but couldn't get a lock on it. I told him the following:
The Secret Sun is kind of like the Internet Island of Misfit Toys. It's for all the people who can't pretend they haven't peeked under the reality curtain once or twice. It's for people who don't fit into all of the thought-replacement modalities out there.
Indeed, a lot of people on the group have said they felt like they didn't fit in anywhere until they read this blog or joined the group. I have a feeling there are a lot of people lurking out there who feel the way I and the others do, but who stay in the shadows. Maybe there are a lot of people in other circles or other groups who feel out of place there. People who are part of the "Excluded Middle," the free thinkers who don't subscribe to the false dichotomies prescribed by lazy editors and television producers.

When I was a kid the hippie subculture had created an interesting space for people who loved sci-fi and comics but were also interested in extreme possibilities and the frontiers of consciousness. Mainstream fandom tends to a sour, skeptical pose these days, which is mostly a reaction to the religious reich's poisoning of American society over the past 30 years. Rebuilding that space is very much a top priority for me with The Secret Sun.

The best and most resonant sci-fi is also the most mystical-- and that includes Star Trek, Roddenberry's insincere protestations aside. As we've seen nearly all of the top sci-fi franchises are up to their Spock-ears in ancient astronaut theory, entheogenology and other, similar thought crimes. None of this has anything to do with religion as the term is understood, since it functions to displace religion and replace it with something more intimate and subversive. More useful, as well.

The other issue I want to address is how our stories are going to evolve away from an increasingly limiting and compromised mass media, and move towards targeted media. The economics of movie-making are leaving less and less room for stories that challenge the audience or question the assumptions of mainstream society.

What that will do by necessity is move away from the hyper-literalism and computer graphics and move towards modes in which the audience needs to do more of the work: books, comics, maybe even radio theater. I see this as a major net positive (and already we're seeing a major backlash against 3D filmmaking). There's no reason to believe that VR would be any different, even if the amount of labor involved in true virtual reality was remotely cost-effective.

Right now people are very much "in the world" as it were, as the economical struggles are taking up a lot of attention. That's not a bad thing. But these kind of struggles have always necessitated a fictional response, and that's something that is still to come. I hope people will realize the power of imaginative fiction to writ these issues large and help to better define them. What we're seeing now may well signal a shift in consciousness, another event that also tends to inspire great speculative fiction.

As it did with Philip K. Dick, who was very much tapped into the counterculture of the 60s and much more so the 70s. Dick's work speaks to the grim, defeated mindset of the post-Aquarian malaise, and offered new worlds for the counterculture to explore. Read this...

There is SF because the human brain craves sensory and intellectual stimulation before anything else, and the eccentric view provides unlimited stimulation, the eccentric view and the invented world. It is written because the human mind naturally creates, and in creating the world of an SF story the ultimate in human imagination is brought into use; thus SF is an ultimate product of and for the human mind. The function of SF psychologically is to cut the reader loose from the actual world that he inhabits; it deconstructs time, space, reality.
Those who read it probably have difficulty adjusting to their world, for whatever reason; they may be ahead of it in terms of their perceptions and concepts or they may simply be neurotic, or they may have an abundance of imagination. Basically, they enjoy abstract thought. Also, they have a sense of the magic of science: science viewed not as utilitarian but as explorative. -- Philip K. Dick
Walter Russell Mead has also thrown down the gauntlet and challenged sci-fi writers to plug into what is going on in the world in their storytelling. Great sci-fi isn't only about identity politics or tribalist fantasies.

"Taken as a whole, the field of science fiction today is where most of the most interesting thought about human society can be found. At a time when many academics have become almost willfully obscure, political science is increasingly dominated by arcane and uninspiring theories and in which a fog of political correctness makes some forms of (badly needed) debate and exploration off limits, science fiction has stepped forward to fill the gap.
The biggest single task facing the United States today is the unleashing of our social imagination. We are locked into twentieth century institutions and twentieth century habits of mind. -- Walter Russell Mead
A lot of what I've done on this blog is show how when these kinds of stories are informed by a worldview that transcends reductionist materialism, they tend to bleed outside of the fantasy realm and plug into the world in remarkable ways, most often through the mechanics of Synchronicity. Here is a potent example that some of you might have read about:
Saul-Paul Sirag, Vice-President of Jack Sarfatti's Physics/Consciousness Research Group, has his own weird tales to tell. Once, while involved in the Uri Geller investigation, Sirag took LSD to see if in that altered consciousness he could perceive the alleged extraterrestrial behind Geller. What Sirag saw was the head of a hawk, which astonished him, since Geller had never described the entity as a hawk.
Six months later, this image appeared on the January 1974 cover of Sirag's favorite sci-fi magazine, Analog, illustrating a story called "The Horus Errand" (Synchronicity #1). A year later, Dr. Andrija Puharich, not knowing of Sirag's experience, claimed that Geller's extraterrestrial ally had often appeared to him as a hawk, which he nicknamed "Horus" (Synchronicity #2).
Later, Sirag discovered that the face on the Analog cover was that of Ray Stanford, a Texas psychic, who also claimed mysterious experiences with Geller and a hawk (Synchronicity #3). Oddest of all, Kelly Freas, the artist who had drawn the cover, had never met Stanford and was not using his face consciously.-- Excerpted from Tekgnostics, original story recounted in Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger
Finally, here's the Master Mage himself explaining the true power of work that plugs into the deep streams of consciousness and becomes its own kind of magic:
"I feel that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art & writing are merely forms of entertainment...they're not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being, that can change a society.
They are seen as simple 'entertainment', things with which we can fill 20 minutes, half an hour, while we are waiting to die. It is NOT the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience want; if the audience knew what they needed, they wouldn't be the audience, they would be artists. It is the job of the artists to give the audience what they need." -- ALAN MOORE
All of this is not just for the benefit of aspiring creators out there. It's also for the readers, for the audience. An informed and engaged audience is every bit as important as the artist is. This is a two-way street, and the goal is to raise our own consciousness and then work to do so with others.

It's not as easy as those who subscribe to the various theistic and atheistic religious modalities. It's a middle path- a path of tension, a path of negotiation. It's not for the weak of heart or the weak of soul. But it's a vital part of a truly evolved culture and has been lost. We fail to regain it at our own peril.

Talkin' Heroes and Horus on Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio

It's been a while since I talked Spandex, but Miguel Conner invited me onto Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio for a talk on superheroes and the esoteric realms. This one's a stormer and I think you'll enjoy it even if you're not a comic or superhero fan. Here's the pitch:
Comic books have fascinated and inspired people of all ages for generations. Yet few know that, like Pulp Fiction, its heroes and themes were heavily influenced by the Occult revival of the 19th century; and that its esoteric undertones continue to this day, especially with the runic touch of such openly magician-artists as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Jack Kirby, Neil Gaiman and many more.

To wit, instead of looking at the past to old gods, mythological heroes, and arcane saviors, comic books secretly bring these luminaries and place them in modern times to deal with modern problems. And often timeless problems. We take a journey from the genesis of comic books, its evolution and that of its mystic protagonists, to our age where their heretical message is more influential than ever because of movies and video games.

Could the solution to so many of our spiritual and material problems be right in front of us, dressed in spandex? And we inspect for Gnostic themes in comic books.
Astral Guest-- Chris Knowles, author of Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes and The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll.

The Re-Enchantment Dialogues, Part One

Images from Promethea by Alan Moore and JH Williams.

For most of 2011, I've used The Secret Sun as a venue for in-depth essays and historical treatises. I've been sweating blood on these pieces, either struggling to form inchoate theories into readable pieces or wading through reams of data trying to connect the dots on topics that have been well covered in several other places, but not in the context that I tackled them here. Basically what I've been doing for the past year here is journalism, though not quite as technically rigorous as I'd have done for print (footnotes, references, indices, etc).

At the same time I've had all kinds of thoughts flying through my head, obviously influenced by what is happening out there in the real world but also in my interior life as well. And what I see out there is a crisis of courage, of vision and of possibility.

I started off this year exploring the frontiers of magical thinking-- not the kind of thinking that replaces rigor and sweat, but the kind that augments it. Which means that elusive x-factor that kicks in once you've dotted all the i's and crossed all of the t's.

This kind of magical thinking-- the more common definition of magical thinking is just plain old craziness in my view-- is needed now more than ever. I think what is happening to the economy and the culture has to do with a collapse of confidence, brought on by all kinds of bad habits that I still don't really understand the genesis of, never mind the appeal.

My most recent post dealt with William Gibson and his Cyberpunk novels, the so-called 'Sprawl' and 'Bridge' trilogies. The latter seems to have predicted the world as it is in 2011, though a lot of people saw these books as unduly pessimistic when they were released back in the go-go Nineties.

Kevin Kelly and the rest of the Silicon Valley hope merchants predicted the good times were a permanent entitlement, but it was all so much software salesmanship. Not even-- more like upgrade salesmanship, and I'm sure most of you out there realize how pointless most upgrades ultimately are.

I'm concerned with software as well, but software in question is the shareware that came in a bundle along with our birthday suits. I think if we step back and look at the topics we discuss here-- synchronicity, symbolism, the various mytharcs of life, parapolitics and the paranormal-- as code, we'll be able to begin then to reprogram our own OS using that code as part of an ongoing, open-source OS reprogramming project.

Meaning that if we choose to, we can incorporate all of this memetic code the way it was intended to be used back when the first brick was baked in Sumer-- as the means to inspire ourselves and those around us and make our world a better place to live.

As tortured as this metaphor is, it's also useful in that it allows to step back for a moment and look at how the code works and what are its results. Since all of this is ultimately ephemeral and subjective, the only criteria we have available to us are the results.

Having traveled around the Sun forty-five times now I feel as if I have a reasonable degree of experience observing how different philosophic operating systems work by having seen their results.

I've seen how a lot of OS's are like meth-- they feel great the first few times you try them but eventually you end up grinding your teeth into stumps and picking your scabs until they end up drying into disfiguring scars.

And memetic crystal meth is awful popular these days, thanks to an endless media stream that rewards sensationalism and spoiled brat behavior. I can't help but notice how bitter and angry so many of our skeptic friends are, and how all that rage addiction ends up carving ruts into their faces. Since I'm such a fan of myth-building I couldn't help but notice how often that walrus-looking chap on MythBusters looks like he's about to stroke-out from stoking his raging rage-on.

I also can't help but notice how the virtual armor so many people wear online seems to be oxidizing into a virtual iron maiden, with all of the "EPIC FAIL" snotiness and the post-irony we see.

I also can't help but notice how all of this reduction-worship is playing havoc on geek culture, which is stuck in an endless rut of remakes, revamps and reboots. A lot of this is down to the elephantitis (or Elephantiasis for the smarty pants set) plaguing the media monopolies, but a lot of is simply down to the atrophying of the mental muscles that enable the suspension of disbelief.

The dream industry is suffering from a supply- and a demand-side crisis-- the need to feed the media monopoly beast has alienated so many of us from the concept of entertainment itself, and the current generation of fandom have been criminally incompetent custodians of our pop culture legacy. "Hot young novelist" seems to be an anachronism these days, along with "original screenplay" and "revolutionary new musical genre."

Now, everyone will tell me about the economy and the wars and so on and so forth, but the Great Depression of the 30s was a veritable hothouse of creativity and innovation, and the bloody High Renaissance compared with today.

No, there's a much deeper disease at work. It has to do the fact that nihilism and narcissism have been the new national pastimes. The mass production economy and the mass media have been radically distorting influences and the rise of Fundamentalist religion has led to polarization of the body politic.

That's self-evident to most of you out but the point is that fixing this mess and beginning the re-enchantment process all starts with dialogue. It all starts with someone saying, "hey, we need to make magic happen again because this effing world is intolerable without it," and hopefully that thought will eventually go viral.

So when the spirit moves me I'll be dropping random thoughts and half-formed concepts on you out there in the hopes that at some point one of them will stick.
Please feel free to drop in whatever is on your mind in the comments section, whether it's Aristotelian-grade or otherwise. I'm sure I'll be posting on other topics as well but I'm opening the floor for whatever is on my mind or yours.

Sometimes you have to just throw whatever you got at the wall and see what sticks. Hopefully that will lead us back to enchantment. Why? Because no sane person really wants to live scientifically, they simply did magic wrong and became disenchanted with it. But saying you believe in "science" and "reason" is like saying you believe in tape measures and staple guns. Those things are just tools. Transcendence is the only thing worth pursuing in this life.

In the end it's like this- I know where we are and I know where I'd like to be- I just don't quite know how to get there. And I'd like as many people to make the trip with me. So if you have something you think might help, lay it on us. And stay tuned for more rambling and fumbling in the dark, random thoughts and impulses posted at ungodly hours with no discernible rhyme or reason than the tireless pursuit of magical possibility.

The Year of Thinking Magically

The Vision of Hermes Trismegistus, Johfra Bosschart, 1985

The Mindscape of Alan Moore has insinuated itself into my own mindscape the past few days. It got me to thinking about magic, what it is and what it isn't, as well as magical thinking.

Now I know magical thinking gets a very bad rap, but I think that maybe that's a question of semantics. Magical thinking is generally defined as a kind of "Hail Mary" approach to life - cross your fingers, throw caution to the wind and hope for the best. We see this in the media all of the time, particularly as it applies to politics, specifically the politics of resource allocation.

Now, for some strange reason I have this weird visual in my head of Alan Moore punching through someone's chest, tearing out their still-beating heart and burying his teeth into the bloody mess. This is pure allegory, mind you; it stems from the fact that A., Moore is notorious for not suffering fools gladly, and B., he looks exactly like Rasputin (which inevitably sets me to thinking about the demonic Rasputin of the early Hellboy comics). So the visual usually arises when I picture some idiot waltzing up to Moore and saying something so incredibly stupid as to awaken some atavistic impulse, hence the whole heart-eating bit. I think Moore would probably be flattered by all of this, but you can never really tell.

The reason I bring it up is that I picture this whole scenario when some idiot (say, your average "skeptic" type) confronts Moore and blithely dismisses his magical work as some air-headed New Age floofery. Because Moore exemplifies what I see as the best example of magical thinking, which means to throw one's self so completely into one's work that every possible avenue of approach has to be explored, even the magical ones.

It's about putting all of the balls in play, not just the ones that polite society will respond to with the obligatory "delicious, delicious, oh, how boring." Because in present-day cultural, academic and science studies circles the aim is to bore, to stultify, to anesthetize, to ensure that the boat remains unrocked on placid, stagnant waters.

Moore is a born boat-rocker, which is why he's interesting and all of his critics are so boring. He's a born feeding-hand biter, he's a born shit-stirrer. He threw himself into magic because in his post-Watchmen fallow period (fallow being a relative term- Moore's fallow period is another's hyperactive period) he couldn't explain the miracle of creativity according to the dreary cultural Marxist paradigm that was so dominant in English cultural circles.

I don't know if he's said as much, but that paradigm was a eulogy for Western culture, not a rebirth. It so marginalized cultural studies that we're looking at a situation now where the future of the Humanities in the university system is by no means assured. You can't help but wonder if that was the plan all along.

Sticking a fork in the eye of his jaded and ennui-plagued contemporaries, Moore decided instead to pursue the study of ritual magic and symbol systems, which bore fruit in his Jack the Ripper fable, From Hell. That signaled a remarkable burst of energy that gave us America's Best Comics, a reconstruction of the occult foundations of the superhero mythos. The jewel in ABC's crown was League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I see as the greatest superhero narrative ever written, even if the movie version sucked (Moore delights in placing curses on all of the movie adaptations of his work, because he specifically writes stories that can only work as comics).

But Moore didn't use magic as a substitute for back-breaking labor (he puts more work into a single script than your typical "decompressed" comics writer puts in in an entire year), magic was the mortar for the bricks that he spent his life learning how to put exactly into place through trial and error. In fact, it's been my experience that that's how magic works- it's the coagulant that takes the results of all your sweat and labor and makes it whole.

This ties back in a strange way to the ancient Mysteries- your typical Johnny Skepticpants would look at the mindlessly hedonistic Dionysians as the magical thinkers when in fact it was the studious Hermeticists who were the real McCoy. They understood that magic is the result of very hard work, otherwise everyone would understand it and it would no longer be magical.

Same goes with the things we look at here- understanding the collision of symbol and synchronicity only takes flight after a long period of hard work. Part of that work is discernment, learning to discriminate between what is meaningful and what is trivial.

It also means learning how to play your own devil's advocate- if a sync isn't truly meaningful it's usually be a waste of energy pursuing it. Never mind that it can make you look like an idiot trying to explain it. That's hard enough with the real business - in my experience powerful syncs usually induce a "Mudd's Women" kind of neural meltdown in the skeptical mind, which is inevitably followed by anger and ridicule.

I bring it up because symbol and synchronicity should be at the center of any variety of magical thinking worth its salt. That's the way it's always been- Hermes was understood to be present when a particularly fruitful sync occurred. But I hope to impart that the bricklaying aspect of it cannot be overlooked, which extends to your life. History is filled with the wreckage of magicians- even great ones- who didn't realize that taking out the trash and balancing the checkbook was part of the process as well.

Magic is the crown of the arts, but in the olden days wearing the crown meant bearing much heavier burdens than your subjects. One Roman emperor whose name escapes me at the moment said that anyone conspiring to take his place should be pardoned on grounds of insanity. We don't live in a magical realm, we live in a shitty, miserable, unmagical realm that can only be sporadically redeemed when true magic occurs.

Understanding the more ethereal arts can greatly enrich your life, particularly in your creative work (funnily enough, this article popped up on The Daily Grail while I was mulling over this essay) but it's no substitute for dotting your i's and crossing your t's, as too many people think. These arts also call for a tremendous amount of sacrifice and hardship, which can often be only slightly more tolerable than living in a dead and cold universe in which magic is absent.

Everyone knows magic exists, we just have different names for it, and different understanding of its mechanics. It may seem in dreadfully short supply these days, in which the Archons and their works are in the ascendancy. But everything is cyclical, nothing is linear. Things rise and then fall. That's one of the most important revelations that magical thinking led me to.

Last night as I was doing the boring work of dragging up the recycling, I heard a blue heron flying overhead. It was dark and foggy, so the bird was invisible. But the sound it made -more like a weird, hollow bark than a bird sound - reverberated through the cold. The heron's bark whispered strange and ineffable things to me, something about the dawn of time and the enormity of it all. This all happened shortly after I began thinking about this essay and it struck me as pure magic, given the rich and powerful symbolism invested in that magnificent creature.

What it all means (if anything) I'm not sure, but it's absolutely the reason this essay was written rather than sinking back into my mindscape like any hundreds of others. Take that for what it's worth.