Brian George, Baby, black sun, butterfly and bindu over New York, photogram, 2004
This essay is intended to be viewed as a kind of political/ cosmological landscape; I do not write about politics, as such, and have little interest in advocating a particular position. On the one hand, there has never been an election since 1972 in which I have not voted. For me, politics is the "art of the possible" — as reductive as this seems. On the other hand, my imagination must have room to move, and I believe that the future is — even now — being created far outside of the framework of contemporary debate.
I will, when all is said and done, most probably be voting for Obama — unless he is challenged by a more courageous Democrat in 2012. But this will be only one scene out of one act of a play that is being performed at the forefront of a microscopic stage — lit by arc lights that switch on and off — behind which stagehands move throughout the wings and passageways and catwalks of an inconceivably large theatre.
Full disclosure: During the last election season I was a Hillary supporter, and was none too pleased by the way Obama treated his opponent. Since he took the oath of office, I have been pleasantly surprised by his sense of presidential bearing. For the most part, however, he has followed the course — the course of happy-face "corporatism," tweaked now and then by timid lip-service to ideals — that I foresaw in 2008.
In 2000, before the Supreme Court handed the election to George Bush, and the media chimed in to proclaim that the coronation was "inevitable," I had the sense that I was watching a kind of time-lapse train wreck — whose first casualties would be unspeakable, and whose ring of disaster would continue to expand. In 2008, this sense of almost physical dread once again took over. Still, it is not for me to judge, since there is no way to determine what is actually going on, and the president, too, may be no more than a bystander.
He is the headlight that illuminates a prescribed cone on the tracks. It is not a job that I would wish upon anyone — not even my worst enemy, or a god.
Once, on the dark horizon, a light no bigger than a pinhead had appeared. That light called memories, like a force-field, from the past.
Mile after mile, past the freight-yards of abandoned factories, past the Quonset huts of those who dream of a new Ice Age, past hermetically sealed databanks and armed compounds of the superrich, past the silos where a way of life was murdered: the light from the horizon grew steadily larger as it came. It had promised to be all things to all people. Until, in the final act, the light that spilled from the pinhead was enormous — but it had no power to turn left or right.
Resources are finite, energy is not free — not yet! — and the USA should no longer be regarded as a "commonwealth." It is a soon-to-be post-industrial wasteland, still leaking plumes of smoke from its oil rigs, dump sites, and reactors, in which seeds have now been bioengineered to yield only one year's grain, not more — in a frontal assault against the past 4.5 billion years of evolution — and that is ripe for plunder by the top one percent of investors. It is the plaything of a network of oligarchs who do not need any government — as they have been, for three decades at the least, a law unto themselves. The supposed "New World Order" is a stage-set, made from cardboard, and as disposable as any other.
Obama, as the shadow inside of a cone of light that was once projected by an ancient pinhead, is perhaps even more of an image than an actor — even now. His options are limited, but he does possess one form of potentially catalytic power: the power of the Bully Pulpit. He can speak, and then later on do what he says — and not the opposite, so that, as the Mongols in the time of Genghis Khan said, "His word is iron."
Such iron words may yet allow him to forge a weapon for the Kali Yuga.
He has the power to speak honestly, to stand up for what he believes (whatever that might be), to fight — not only when it is practical, but also against overwhelming odds — to take the initiative in framing every issue, and to then sell his vision to the American public.
At a time of converging crises, he could use this power far more effectively than he does.
Brian George, Irradiated smokestack, solarized print from x-rayed negative, 2004
Below — in sections three and five — you will find two comments that are connected with the posting of my essay "Four Scouts to the New World." The first comment is from "Reality Sandwich" forum for the essay, just before the election of President Obama in 2008, and the second is a reflection on why I chose to re-post it on "Modern Mythology," just after the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent atomic disaster in Japan in 2011.
In 2008, I could not help but wonder: How is it possible for so many well intentioned people to not see that Barack Obama is just another actor — a kinder and gentler apologist for Wall Street and closet advocate for the Military-Industrial Complex — onto whom a part of the American public had projected its own dreams?
Do the crowds at an Obama rally not know that they are intoxicated — with an energy more appropriate to a televangelist's studio — or see the glazed eyes of other members of the crowd, or hear that they are chanting to give birth to a savior? Why do his supporters not pause to notice that he has no actual record, that he went out of his way to be absent for key votes in Illinois? Do they not hear when he speaks in glowing terms of Reagan, or see that, on those few occasions that he does speak truth to power, it is only so that he can substitute speech for action? As with the wave of a magician's hand, an incandescent city has appeared upon a hill.
It is now 2011, and I cannot help but wonder: How is it possible that, in the 1960s, GE didn't realize that there might be earthquakes in an earthquake zone, and went full-speed ahead to build a chain of atomic power plants on a fault line? Since then, why has no one stopped to think that an earthquake might knock out both the power plants and the backup systems, and why were the spent fuel-rods stored underneath the plants?
Then too, when radiation levels of 1000 millisieverts per hour have been detected 50 miles from the Fukushima plant — i.e., four times the maximum safe level of exposure — why have people only been evacuated throughout a radius of 20 miles? So far as I understand it, this is just the level that is judged to be safe per hour.
As Kurt Nimmo points out, "A year has 365 days, a day has 24 hours; multiply 365 by 24, you get 8760." And finally, if you multiply 1000 by 8760, you get 8,760, 000 times the normal dose per year. If the total projected yearly dose is not yet so astronomical, neither could it be regarded as anywhere close to safe. The exact figures could be debated, and keep changing hour by hour and depending on the source of information — but you get the general idea.
And so, we must ask: Could the Japanese government be driven by an agenda beyond that of the well being of its citizens — an agenda of which even the key actors may, at best, be only partially aware? On what ring of an interdimensional theatre are the benches on which the audience for the current play is seated — calmly staring out of eyes that do not close, and with their thumbs poised to flip up or down?
To ask these questions is not to assign blame — whether to the overly idealistic supporters of Obama, or to Obama himself, who probably has far less actual power than we think, or to the brightest of the brightest in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and on through to the present decade, who failed to anticipate and then prepare for a disaster that was 100% predictable, and certainly not to bureaucrats without backbones. No, I am pointing to these things in order to highlight their peculiarity.
"Life is a dream," wrote Renaissance playwright Lope de la Vega, and a host of other writers and philosophers. A four-syllable sentence — as simple as an add slogan. For years, I had assumed that this was a metaphor — an accurate one, yes, but no more than a figure of speech. No such luck! As I look out over the derelict empire that is now the USA, and beyond that at the world — at the bizarre sense of unreality that prevents us from clearly seeing or confronting even the most urgent challenges — I often feel, quite literally, that I am looking out over a dream.
The more familiar a peculiarity in our world view is, the less we tend to see it. Our capacity to be blind to the facts beneath our noses has, for me, now taken on an aspect of the supernatural. It is possible that we are being swept — for better or for worse-towards a collective near-death experience. If we are paralyzed in the face of the large-scale clockwork of the time-cycle, it is possible that this presents us with a kind of initiatory test: We must find a way to act without being able to move.
Brian George, Child looking at globe, photo, 2004
Okantomi-you wrote, "It is pretty clear that your tongue is planted firmly in your cheek, but were you inspired somewhat prosaically by those 'little red book' waving Maoists of the late 60s and their latter-day wanabees? Were you maybe also casting an eye about over the political landscape of the last several years as you formulated this imaginary epic? The 'revolutionary purity' of the carefully chosen scouts is creepily reminiscent of a current 'perpetual revolution' in the making."
Yes, events that we thought long and safely past have a way of circling around and reemerging — with all of their elements subtly rearranged. But who can tell if we are seeing the same thing in a somewhat different form or a different thing in a somewhat similar form? My head spins as I examine the most recent crop of slogans. For example: "Change We Can Believe In." "Yes We Can." "Our Time for Change." "'Change' versus 'More of the Same.'" "Stand for Change." "We are the change we've been looking for." "Change can't happen without you." "A leader who can deliver change." "It's about Time. It's about Change."
And yet all of this is somehow contrary to the magical power of the word. The word can also kill, and perhaps all of this talk about change is designed, as I have said, to lead us in a circle. Then again, we must also ask: Are those who believe themselves to be leading us in a circle also pawns in a projected mass-hallucination, from which the living — upon pain of death — are no longer allowed to exit?
For the exit always seems to be somewhere else. Signs point to a multitude of sharp turns in a labyrinth — a centrifugal one-which, as it spins, stretches far beyond the edge of the known world. The true exit is no different than the entrance, and opens out beyond the circuit of the stars. Or, in other words, to a place no bigger and no smaller than one atom.
A friend said yesterday that "Four Scouts" reminded him of some utopian literature that he had read, without quite fitting into that category. You speculate that my "tongue is planted firmly in (my) cheek," and ask if "Four Scouts" should be read as a critique of current politics. A second friend asked why I couldn't speak more directly about the issues that I raise.
All of these statements point to a mode of argument that is complex in its movements, a kind of verbal capoeira, which attacks by indirection, and presents a different face to every reader.
As in Mesoamerican myth, an act of creation is simultaneously an act of destruction. I set up a vision to knock it down, not in favor of skeptical reductionism, but from the vantage point of a larger and even stranger reality.
As a child who flirted with concepts of revolutionary violence in the latter days of the counterculture, and who, luckily, did not act on the more extreme of his views, I have ever since been cautious about being swept away by enthusiasm. Bad eyesight can be contagious. Enemies are not obstacles to be eliminated, and means have a way of turning into ends. It is important for us to embody at each moment the end we would pursue.
The main character in "Four Scouts" is not me, but rather someone who resembles me in certain respects — who plays a doctor on the screen of hyperspace. The Earth is at a crossroads and he and his planning group have some big decisions to make. As the ocean redraws the outlines of each coast, as the oil rigs stop pumping, and, on the highways of every country in the world, the trucks just stop where they are, as families move out of houses and into cardboard boxes, as opened hydrants take the place of showers, as street fights serve as substitutes for Nautilus machines and rusted bridges take the place of gyms, as stupor becomes the new normal, as a wave throws even the largest of nuclear reactors all over the place like toys, as the sky cracks like an egg, and everything is far brighter than it should be, before turning black: The suspicion begins to dawn on a few misfits here and there that the status quo has, perhaps, been suspended, and that the laws of nature may be the next to go.
Data rich but memory poor, the time scheduled for the post-industrial shadow play is up, and they must find a way to transplant the past eight thousand years of civilization.
The main character is critical of the illusions of others, but he has his own tendencies to blindness and grandiosity. At times, the reader is entitled to wonder if this character is going a bit crazy. He is not. He is only giving free rein to the forces that he and the rest of the planning group must constellate. As solar flares knock satellites from their orbits and the continents begin to tilt, they must reach a consensus on what four scouts will be sent to a new planet-a planet far distant from but in most ways an exact duplicate of the Earth.
Once there — I thought as I was writing — having been deposited in a last gasp of technology, would it even be possible to determine that such a voyage had occurred? So too: Had this happened once before, in some long forgotten age, or an infinite number of times? I saw planet after planet, each the almost exact image of its predecessor, stretching back into the fullness of one point.
Almost natural giant works pointed to their counterparts on a stage set that preceded the Big Bang. There, sitting in concentric rings around the fire — the bird tribes to the left and the snake tribes to the right — we once spoke of the transparent cities we would build. We then argued over the proper number of dimensions in the ocean. How long would each take to dig? It was difficult to determine, as was the number of throats it would be necessary to cut.
The approach that I take in this exploration comes more out of vision than ideology. I do feel that we are under a kind of ultimatum to imagine and then put into practice new ways of interacting with each other and the world. I am not, however, naively utopian, any more than I am trapped by the use of modernist irony, or by post-modern strategies of appropriation. "The I is Other." Irrevocably. The Fates may play a joke on us — as in the past — at which they will laugh. We do not know what the day will bring, or what the arc of the story is that we must follow to the end. It is also necessary to sleep.
Most utopian projects are corrupted, early on, by an unacknowledged shadow element; love's practitioners are driven by the shards of past creations, from behind. My goal is to consciously incorporate this element into the very structure of the vision. "We should learn from the skeletons that the gods keep locked in their closets." The movement here is twofold: I do mean to present a radical vision of the future; on the other hand, I also want to subvert the militant concern for purity and the absolutism that can follow the intoxication of a visionary experience.
The tone of "Four Scouts" might best be described as "polyphonic"; many frames of reference intersect within the language of the essay, whose form functions as a kind of interdimensional stadium. The terms of each contradiction in my nature are encouraged to compete for dominance. Any goals, however, must be moderated by the principle of uncertainty. As I have said: "The one year plan will fall by the wayside." "Species will devolve, allowing the new gods to play."
The last survivor is a non-Darwinian.
Brian George, Girl underwater with turtles, photograph, 2004
At Fukushima, in his almost non-protective suit, a volunteer from the cleanup crew surveys the uncertain outcome of his work. As the representative of an industry that I hate, he is one out of a long list of potential enemies — and yet. My attitude is little more than a mechanistic program. He is one of the "Fukushima 50," who, as he struggles to prevent a total meltdown of the fuel rods, will sleep on a blanket on the concrete floor, and will almost certainly die. His hands are clean, as are those of any servant of a cause.
He did not intend to send free energy in a cloud that with its glow would power the factories of the Northwest USA, there to prompt a boom in sunglasses, and to circulate throughout the udders of each cow. If only in terms of the logic of the Hypersphere, each cause can then be made to correspond to an effect. Beam technology from a lab in the Northwest USA can then be bounced from a great height down to Libya — in the latest of anti-terrorist experiments.
There, even as we speak, a fault-line has just started to crack open. And from there, after being dropped on chutes, droids will transmit geothermal data to the engineers who dream about a pipeline to Afghanistan-an archeological relic, dead from the word "go."
The five media conglomerates have decided to join forces. Their goal: To preserve our Way of Life. There is no reason for the phrase "military contractor" to be used. Nor will there be "collateral damage." It is perhaps no one group's fault that the time-cycle is indifferent to our safety and our comfort. Learning nothing from their experience in the Gulf, a small oversight by BP on an offshore rig will soon turn the Atlantic black.
Brian George, Aeonic theatre, photogram, 2004
In "The Real," Parmenides said, "And thus it remains constant in one place; for hard necessity keeps it in the bonds of the limit that holds it fast on every side. Wherefore it is not permitted to what is to be infinite; for it is in need of nothing, while, if it were infinite, it would stand in need of everything…
"Since then, it has a furthest limit, it is complete on every side, like the mass of a primordial sphere, equally poised from the center point in every direction; for it cannot be greater or smaller in one place than another." –Adapted from a translation by John Burnet
"Four Scouts to the New World" was written several years ago, but I have chosen to re-post it now because of its connection to the crisis — i.e., the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent near nuclear meltdown — that is unfolding in Japan. One of the central themes of the essay is that any and all "perfect systems" have an innate tendency to self-destruct. The Tao Te Ching says, "The greatest perfection seems imperfect," and "That which approaches perfection will soon end."
People tend to use the words "tragedy" and "disaster" as if they were interchangeable; they are not. A "disaster" is an event that appears to happen by itself, that is thrust upon us from the external world — although this may or may not ultimately be so. A "tragedy," on the other hand, is an event that directs us to reexamine and to probe the highly peculiar nature of human action in the world. The key point is that the actor has done nothing wrong.
It is sad, then — if each actor is free to act as badly as he wants — that I am somehow disallowed from hating all of my enemies! And after I worked hard for so many years to perfect my occult point of view. In the end, my perspective is no better and no worse than yours.
Although faceless, perhaps GE executives from the 1960s are the true and unsung heroes of the story, for it was they who built the atomic plant at Fukushima — without which our general state of anxiety would have no point of focus. Conversely, although billions no doubt recognize his face, we should not assume that Obama's role is of any great importance — not yet. Time will tell, as will we. There are no bad parts, only actors who are not prepared to take advantage of the moment, and who have not probed deep enough.
If the actor is to cultivate an other-than-human viewpoint, he must first confront the origin of his fear. Death calls the actor towards his own face in the mirror, at the same time that it warns him to immediately stay put.
There are those who feel the energy of unknown eyes on their backs, and attribute all sorts of motives to this interest. Conspiracy theories multiply like new strains of bacteria. The main characters are ill at ease. They would like to account for this sense of being watched. They wait for some objective explanation of why stagehands have been granted so much power. If we ask who is in charge of moving scenery around, we will find that there is no way to even begin to count the candidates — nor does it matter much.
It is difficult enough to determine what we ourselves should do next, and to remember how we have acted in the past. Why, for example, when we used our tongues to dismember the first gods, did we put this spotlight here and that shadow over there?
From one point the whole of the rest of space expanded. Quite oddly, it does not grow any larger than it was, nor, in principle, can it. Thus the splitting of one atom can destroy the Pacific Rim. One actor can speak truth to power — against overwhelming odds, and even at the cost of his defeat — and thus forge a weapon for the Kali Yuga. Thus great oaks grow from acorns, as cities spring from an antediluvian bird's nest — now a crater — and one fertilized egg can repopulate a world.
At the edge of space, as I have said, in a manner of speaking sit the 8-armed and the 12-armed "Aeons," those living libraries, who have seen this all before. They have seen it both backwards and forwards, and experienced it from the outside in as well as from the inside out. It is a puzzle why they hang on each small gesture of the actor — and yet, breathlessly, they do.
A crisis has arrived, which demands that the actor act; in order to do so he must choose between two equally impossible alternatives. We are left with no choice but to empathize with the actor — for any choice that he/she makes will be simultaneously both right and wrong. The daily bureaucratic and scientific and political business of the world may be little more than the slow-motion clockwork that gives form to this tragic arc.
If the actor could view his projections from all of 360 degrees, it might be possible — for some period of time, and only just — to keep his actions in alignment with the whole.
If he launches a pet project — whether an essay called "Four Scouts to the New World," or a boat made from the bones of gods, or a genetically engineered species, or a form of government, or a chain of nuclear reactors — he will tend to see it in a positive light. To act well, he must keep his focus; it is natural that he should block out any dissonant information. But reality is always vaster and more unpredictable than we think.
New posts every 2-3 days on my blog Masks of Origin