Thursday, July 07, 2016

Expanding Your Vision

I was driving around with my daughter the other day and listening to the top 40 radio station with her. And each and every song I heard was like a flashback, usually to the late 80s or early 90s. 

As each song played I pointed out where the piano changes came from (say, from every 80s House music song ever) or where the drum beats came from (say, early 90s hip-hop) or where the chord progression was stolen from, not to mention how much of the vocals were in fact completely digitally processed (Auto-Tune makes me seasick, still).

It's not supposed to be like this. I'm supposed to be out of touch and today's pop music is supposed to be alien and unfamiliar to me, but it was all too familiar. I'd heard it all before, every bit of it.

Is this why sales of recorded music are at an all-time low? 

I read that Beyonce's new album sold a million copies, all told. Like it was a big deal. Not 5 years ago that would have been a crushing disappointment. An embarrassment. Not anymore.

This is where people chime in about streaming but streaming ain't paying the bills. Musicians and songwriters are up in arms over the pittance they receive from streaming and if they can't cover basic costs they'll find something else to do. Even ostensibly-successful ones. Some of us said so all along but were dismissed as alarmists. And here we are.

And I would argue that streaming is a vote of no-confidence in the music. You love it, you want to own it.

Similarly, the movie charts are filled with sequels and remakes and just plain old ripoffs and they wonder why ticket sales are dropping. The sequel to Finding Nemo is a hit, but the sequel to Independence Day is a disaster. And everything else hovers somewhere between, but closer to the latter than the former.

Print book sales were up last year but e-book sales were way down, leading the market to an overall loss. Another major chain went Chapter 11 (Hastings) and Barnes and Noble reported a major loss for 2016. You may have noticed that merchandising takes up more and more floor space at their stores and now they're talking about putting restaurants and bars in some locations. Not a sign of rude health for the book market.

Cable TV providers are all experiencing subscriber losses as people cut the cords and drop TV service. You can see the reason for this- digital cable is a blizzard of redundant stations, locked stations, and crap stations, all of which make the few good ones nearly impossible to find.

Even allowing for market correction in response to saturation, these are not the symptoms of a healthy culture. Social fragmentation is making it nearly impossible to mass-market anything anymore, which becomes a major problem when you're investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a feature film.

But there's also an economic issue at work here.

Main Street America still hasn't recovered from the Great Recession, in fact it's still raging in many parts of the country. Heroin has become an epidemic all across America, cutting across ethnic and class divisions. College graduates face a shrinking marketplace and ballooning debt. But you surely knew all this already, didn't you?

It's hard to think of an instance in today's economy where the scales aren't tipped, the dice aren't loaded, the game isn't rigged. 

But something else is missing: vision. It's disturbing to think that the three biggest pop culture phenomena I could think of these past few years were The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. They might all be fine television but I doubt they're inspiring too many people to break out of the rut we seem to be stuck in.

Where's the vision?

Some might then object that there's no resisting the technocrats and their social engineering agendas but I wonder. I wonder how much of that is just the Big Psych-Out, in which the war is lost before the battle is ever joined. It makes me wonder about how people seem to play a part that's been written for them, and fall into the Hegelian Dialect by default.


It's at points like this I seriously start to wonder about our species and our place in this environment. We seem to have all the tools to carve out comfortable little niches for ourselves but this ability isn't quite adaptive as it seems. 

Societies seem to reach a peak of technological and cultural advancement before imploding. That's basically what history is. Don't ask me why but there's something inherently anti-adaptive about higher intelligence and advanced civilization. It's a raging contradiction, but the record speaks for itself.

It's a process I became keenly aware of while reading about the Sumerians and the Babylonians. The Sumerians rose, declined, and gave way to the Akkadians, who simply repeated the process themselves. 

Then came the Babylonians.

Babylon was once the greatest city on Earth- the Greek historian Herodotus was dumbstruck by its size, scope and technological prowess. A little over a century later it was a backwater, its population moved en masse to another city after constant internecine warfare among Alexander's generals.

You see this in microcosm in families, when you'll have a figure make a great fortune that is frittered away by idiot grandchildren, most often on drugs and fast living, before the line eventually dies out. An addiction to the lifestyle of the idle rich has toppled dynasties since we crawled out of the caves. 

And today people are looking at the Birth-School-Work-Death cycle of modern Capitalism and thinking there's got to be another way. There may be, but it's going to require two things: vision and really hard work. I think the Technocratic agenda is going to show itself to be another in a long line of false utopias, in fact I think it's falling apart already. But it's not going down without taking a lot of victims with it.


It boils down to this: I can't control what they do, but if I'm lucky I can control what I do. This is why I'm grateful Mitch Horowitz is talking up positive thinking so hard, and putting it back in an magical, spirit-based context. The fact is that we're bombarded with negative thinking all day long (as opposed to critical thinking, and people often confuse the two), in fact it's an integral part of that technocratic agenda I mentioned before. Making you feel defeated is an important part of an opponent's strategy.

I don't think vision starts with the group, I think it starts with the individual. In fact I think the reason why so much of pop culture is failing is because it's groupcentric and lacks the power of an individual voice. It all feels committee-driven, focus group-driven, devoid of vision. Devoid of magic.

It's going to continue to fail unless it gets off this road, and that applies to the groupthink that we see so much of today as well. We're already past the fatigue point with that.

If you need a good dose of vision, I'd like to recommend Gordon White's book The Chaos Protocols, which is full of practical and practicable ways to expand your vision and improve your personal circumstances.

I think we're in an interesting situation, one that reminds me of a period in the 20th Century when young people had dropped the ball and left it up to older weirdos to keep the home fires burning. When you had old bohemians (and Theosophists and Rosicrucians, even) keeping it real until the tides came back in. 

An interesting model to consider as you work on your own vision of vision.