Friday, December 27, 2013

OZYMANDIAS


Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias (1818)
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.




Horace Smith's Ozymandias (1818) written in friendly competition with the above -

IN Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.



Note:  Ozymandias is part of the throne name of Rameses II, the Egyptian king of c1350 BCE.  A huge fragment of a granite statue carved in his honor, acquired for the British Museum in 1816, must have been the inspiration for these two poems, for the inscription on the base translates as  

King of Kings am I, Ozymandias. If anyone should like to know my grandeur and reach of stature, let him surpass any of my achievements. 

Woody Allen should take heart from this. In both his Stardust Memories and To Rome with Love he refers to "Ozymandias melancholia", defining this as the realisation that all one's art will be forgotten.  On the contrary, these two poems remind us that art far outlives the other human vanities in whose praise it is so often exercised.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

JUST MINCHIN (on Opinion, Agreement, and Rhetoric)


In a performance linked here, of which an animated version was sent to me provocatively by a couple of minchievous friends, Tim Minchin argues entertainingly that reality is evidence-based. By evidence I take him to mean that which exists independently of ourselves and our opinions, and whose objective existence can be verified; something which all right-minded people accept, but which is carelessly ignored by deluded Creationists, pseudo-scientific astrologers, predatory faith healers, sloppy thinkers like the character Storm in the narrative… and of course me. Minchin makes his case engagingly, with a clever, salty, rhyming monologue, a domestic setting, and (most importantly) an enthusiastic audience. Here it is.


Persuasive?  Undoubtedly.  Objective? Surely not!  My friends, Mr. Minchin’s argument, or at least his art, has no clothes! He is the unabashed refutation of everything he so cleverly professes to believe. Not to be labeled an airhead like Storm, I must now attempt to refute him, and it's with the art of persuasion - which Minchin employs so well - that I must begin.


And let’s start at the very beginning. The ancient Greeks, you will recall, had a word for this art - rhetoric - and there was a then-popular school of philosophy, the Sophists, who practiced it. Socrates seems to have really had it in for these guys, managing to give sophistry a bad name that's stuck to it ever since.  Plato has him arguing that the art of persuasion is hollow, concerned with form rather than substance, the province of the confidence trickster and the charlatan,  whose wily way with words could convince even the erudite back then that black was white – surely the very antithesis of truth.  

That the Sophists got away with their sophistry, we may now say, was because there was as yet no discipline of science, no methodology to categorically tell you what was what. Myth had the weight of fact, and the world was essentially magical. Protagoras consequently was having little difficulty persuading his listeners that Man was "the measure of all things". Of underlying structure nothing was known. All was surface appeal. In such a world slick talk could get you far, and just as people today will pay handsomely for a good scientific education, so people back then paid big bucks to the likes of Protagoras and Gorgias to teach them the art of persuasion. Someone clearly had to put his foot down.


Enter Plato and a nascent science - the looming certainty of an objective world, in which up would henceforth be up, and down down; the world of mass, energy, and velocity; a world not of whatever you want, but of hard facts, in stark and unyielding opposition to mushy, passionate, willful, insubordinate you. You would henceforth be, like the fallen Adam and Eve, separate from Creation - a viewpoint from which it could all be measured, to be sure, but the measuring of which put you - the fickle and unmeasurable measurer - permanently in your place, subordinate to the real world you measured. As Minchin disingenuously puts it, "I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant bit of carbon."  Minchin? As if!  

But let’s stick with the Sophists just a bit longer.  In Plato’s Phaedrus Socrates places them eighth in a social hierarchy of nine; one rung above the hated tyrants. Elsewhere he calls rhetoric a “knack”, a trick, and not an art at all. Now the Greek word for art was techne – from which we get our technology. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge to practical ends. The operation of science in the real world was, at least to the Greeks, an art. To put science on a firm footing the art of the Sophists had to be excised from our collective consciousness.  Minchin may trumpet the positive results of that appalling lobotomy, but the negative repercussions of the resulting philosophy – that of pure objectivity, with nothing to balance it - are coming back to bite us.


Sophism hadn't always been in such bad graces. On the contrary, it had begun promisingly enough with the concept of arete.  Arete is usually translated as virtue, but this wimpy word mostly reflects the decline of the Sophists’ popularity in the age of Plato. A far better translation is excellence. The Sophists were originally in pursuit of all-round excellence: the man who could write and recite poetry, tell a good tale, excel in sports, display skill in horsemanship and exhibit prowess and bravery in battle. Rhetoric was a part of that discipline, all of which flowed naturally from a life far from superficial and false, but rather one that was by the standards of those days true, a life lived from the heart, the source of all that was Good, which, in pre-Socratic Greece, was the source of everything. 


Socrates, according to Plato, turned all that on its head. He called reason, truth and knowledge objective realities, placing them above mere senses, appearance, and opinion, which he considered relative truths. That hierarchy is with us still. Today the only context in which we hear the word rhetoric is in association with the pejorative epithet empty. Rhetoric - thanks to Socrates and, especially, that obsessive classifier, Aristotle - is still associated with baseless passion and bombast, the kind of shallow persuasion that appeals to the ignorant, stirring the emotions, but lacking substance; with a thick coating of surface appeal, but void of underlying structure: empty rhetoric.


Minchin’s Storm narrative, however, is blatantly rhetorical. What, therefore, one has to ask, is rhetoric still doing in our enlightened age? You may point out that this is art, and so he’s free to say what he likes – to entertain us is enough. But surely this would be to capitulate to the Platonic objection that art is mere decoration, and rhetoric a cheap trick to dress nonsense up as knowledge.  Minchin’s isn’t a circus act, or art for art’s sake. He’s defending “reality” against a felt threat: the re-encroachment of wishy-washy subjectivity. This is art in the service of its Platonic master, materialist science.  


Is the long-discredited, non-art of rhetoric then justified if used in support of truth, of the “facts”? Is there after all good rhetoric as well as bad? Is this, if you like, a case of “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”?  This, as it turns out, is exactly correct, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


There is a difference, let us admit, between intellectual and pre-intellectual ignorance.  While the former might be called a lack of familiarity with the facts (whatever they may be), the latter fails altogether to acknowledge the validity of what contradicts its will.  This, however, turns out to be more a quantitative than a qualitative difference; willful ignorance and encyclopedic knowledge are on a sliding scale, and the latter can be as blind as the former when its cherished beliefs are threatened.


“Science” says Minchin “adjusts its views based on what’s observed.” Though true, this needs qualification. What scientists observe is conditioned by what scientists already believe. What we see is already driven by our predisposition to see it. There is an infinite amount of evidence available on every issue. We select what we look at based on our interest. We ignore whatever at present lacks value to us. The mere accumulation of raw data is in itself meaningless. Supposed scientific neutrality will not yield interpretation. On the contrary, neutrality leaves things as they are. It does not select. It does not take sides. The truly disinterested observer, if such a person existed, would make no sense of anything. 


“Faith denies observation to preserve belief,” he continues.  That science doesn’t also involve faith is a highly contentious issue, but here goes: to the extent that it’s based on assumptions it, too, is base on faith. The laws of physics are supposedly the bedrock of reality, yet no testable theory has yet been devised to explain them, and the subject is therefore, predictably, off-limits. The speed of light has been accepted as an immutable law, yet for years now it has been observed to change. However, scientists routinely and often deliberately ignore observed results such as this when they spoil the elegance of their own previously existing theories: when plotting a curve through data points any irregularity in the data points is judged random variation and ignored. Different beliefs – whether scientific or otherwise – lead to a different selection of facts. When it’s our own selection we call it objective; when it’s the other guy, we call it cherry-picking. 


So what’s going on here? Rhetoric is alive and well, because it remains the essential signpost of shared feeling pointing us in the direction of the accepted truth, in the present case bolstering our common sense by dignifying it with the popular label “objectivity”. Without persuasion we would be collectively rudderless, each wandering off on his own, unique course, unable to communicate with anyone else. Facts (what’s observed) do not speak for themselves. They are - always - what we make of them. Left to our own devices different people, scientists included, would make (note that word) different sense out of the data of experience. The result would be a veritable Tower of Babel. 


What Minchin calls self-evident and objective is a level of shared belief of sufficient duration that we no longer question it. ('Duration', 'durability', and 'endure' all come from the Indo-European root dru, from which we also get the word true. The truth is such not because it’s objective, but because in our experience it lasts, or – in the case of science and technology - works.)
 

In Minchin’s Storm argument what do we know – absolutely, irrefutably, objectively – that mere opinion holders don’t? He disses Storm’s contention that knowledge is mere opinion by suggesting that she try exiting her 2nd floor apartment through the window.  Even she, we instantly recognize, will hesitate, and we in turn leap readily to the conclusion that this proves the objectivity of knowledge. But we can equally argue that it remains Storm’s opinion that it would be foolhardy to leap from her second floor window.  She did not need to pass O-level Physics to appreciate this!  And nor, for that matter, did we. Why are fifty or even a thousand consenting opinions more objective than one? They aren’t.  They just make their agreed “object” seem more likely. The strength of the argument is in the numbers. We are powerfully persuaded by virtue of our participation in a group consensus. This is itself not objective evidence, but it’s the best thing we’ve got, and, mostly, it does the job.  


Minchin uses another rhetorical device: while his own ridicule passes unchallenged and even approved of, he has Storm, the outsider, the minority, rashly denigrate the value of knowledge by saying that it’s “merely” opinion.  He then contrasts “mere” opinion with what the majority believes, and of course garners a roar of righteous indignation from the crowd against this presumptuous airhead. How dare she belittle general knowledge? Our outrage is an expression of majority beliefs sincerely held, but whether and to what degree these correspond to an objective reality is literally anyone’s guess.  That part we have always to take on trust. What we believe, whether based on hearsay or experience, is still opinion, despite our numerical and moral superiority, because no matter how confidently we posit the existence of an external Truth corresponding to our collective beliefs, it can only be corroborated through the same collective agreement, and in no other way. 


People fall down; they walk into walls. After the painful fact they conjure up theories – about hardness, density, gravity, etc - that systematize these experiences. Other people test these theories and pronounce them workable, or not. Schools are created, to pass on this received collective wisdom. Later, institutions have to be built to deal with the increasing complexity of these created systems, which coalesce and interlock into larger and larger entities. Experts are now required, not just to understand them, but to tell people what to believe.  Enter the world of authority: “The real world is far too complicated for the man in the street to comprehend.”  In the minefield of moral strictures that in the past came to bind a subject-directed world, that authority was religion, organized under a single, unquestioned leader (whether Emperor, Pope, or Mohammed). Today, in the flatland of objectivity that Minchin avowedly worships, it’s science, nominally organized by a bureaucracy, and the bigger the better.


And then of course there’s Minchin’s command of language. Gorgias (a Sophist contemporary of Protagoras) paid particular attention to the sounds of words, which, like poetry, could captivate an audience. He, in opposition to Plato, called rhetoric the king of all the sciences(!) and his legendary powers of persuasion had an almost preternatural effect on his listeners. He was apparently capable (rather like Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony), of persuading them to any course of action. Similarly, and despite our far greater sophistication, we marvel at Minchin's virtuosity. His retentive mind enables him to make a wider array of mental connections than we, his admiring audience, are probably capable of. We therefore feel privileged to swim in this generous verbal pond. He has created a reality we're inadequate to challenge.  We are, in a word, mesmerized.

Thus is established his authority; a sturdy platform from which – not unlike, say, the late Christopher Hitchens - he can fire almost at will. The stage, lighting, and seating in the auditorium are physical enhancements of that authority, his audiences rendered more willing, more eager participants thereby. The stage is set!  We swallow his words as audiences two and a half millennia ago swallowed those of Gorgias; as did even the followers of Jim Jones.  We happily follow this Pied Piper down the path he creates, as we willingly make the same connections. It's a joyride of collective affirmation. 


We trust our authorities because we count them more knowledgeable than ourselves, and because they are on our side. That is our dual faith. If they were fallible, or not on our side, how would we know?  “Trust, but verify” was a catchy slogan of George H. W. Bush, but trust is by definition where the buck stops, as far as our quest for truth is concerned.  Beyond a certain point in any investigation we deem it unnecessary, or impossible to go. At that point, we say, the truth is “self evident”.  What we may mean by this is that we have reached the landmined border of our belief system. Beyond that perimeter we dare not step, for fear of the moral damage our beliefs might then suffer. 


Speaking of flatland, what if Minchin and the majority had agreed that the world was flat, but Storm believed otherwise?  How would the lonely Storm have fared then? I think we can predict with some certainty that the result would be exactly the same – “Why don’t you try walking off the edge of the Earth, Storm?!” followed by general derision, followed by ostracism, followed by Storm again treated like the Mad Hatter, and confined metaphorically to a tea cup. From the superiority of our current experience we confidently label those flatlanders ignorant, but they were pointing to what was then irrefutable fact, just as we are today.  


But surely real science works differently; for one thing more methodically. The results prove it.  Back at the start Socratic dialogue introduced critique, the precursor of the scientific peer review. Dialogue put “mere” opinion to the test of logic:

Protagoras: Truth is relative. It is only a matter of opinion.

Socrates: You mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?

Protagoras: Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Truth is subjective.

Socrates: Do you really mean that? That my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion?

Protagoras: Indeed I do.

Socrates: My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you, Mr. Protagoras, are absolutely in error. Since this is my opinion, then you must grant that it is true according to your philosophy.

Protagoras: You are quite correct, Socrates.



One in the eye for the Sophists? Minchin and my minchievous friends might like to think so, but what Socrates has exposed here is not actually a falsehood, but a paradox. The position of Socrates, that truth is independent of all observers, remains true for Socrates; and the position of Protagoras, that each viewpoint makes truth relative to the observer, remains true for Protagoras. The latter does not grant that the former is absolutely correct, only that he is "quite", i.e. relatively, correct. The two views therefore remain opposed to each other, with neither logically able to claim ascendancy. Dialogue alone is insufficient to establish truth in the face of persistent disagreement between the two parties concerned over their interpretation of the evidence.

How do they break this deadlock? Naturally, they must call in a third party - the tie-breaker in all questions from the selection of the next Nobel Prize winner to the existence of the Higgs boson; from 9/11 to global warming. Whichever side the third party now takes will gain the upper hand. If there are more voters and the vote is deadlocked then the question (whatever it is) will remain open - one of those unsolved conundrums that keep academics in gainful employment. If, however, a clear preponderance of voters can be persuaded - by appeals to experience, or authority, or common sense, or  money, or prestige, or patriotism, or duty, or self-preservation (not, however, to the bare facts, for it is their interpretation that is at issue) - to take one side then the question will be considered largely "solved". The minority will be ridiculed as fringe crackpots who stick stubbornly to outmoded ideas. With ridicule will come opprobrium. Their research funding will be reduced, then, if they remain unrepentant, stopped. No longer bringing credit to the institution they represent, their peers, concerned for their own reputations, will now be reluctant to review their work. Unpublishable, they will remain unhired, and sink into academic oblivion. In precisely this fashion is the accumulating, onward flow of knowledge perpetuated.  And it works!  It just isn’t objective.


This familiar chain of events brings unwanted attention to another Sophist contention: might is right.  Again, the materialists are outraged at this heresy, and again the outcome of the debate is a paradox: the majority loudly protests that might is not right, it’s “truth” that has prevailed, while of course the downtrodden minority insists (though not quite so audibly) that it is, and it hasn’t!

Socrates showed not that the Sophists were particularly stupid (he admitted at his trial that his dialogues made everyone uncomfortable), but that we are all caught by thought itself in an endless series of such paradoxes: absolute versus relative truth, free will versus determinism, value vs objectivity, mind vs matter, waves vs particles.  The Platonists saw paradox as a proof of sophist falsehood.  Today it remains anathema to materialist science, though familiar to quantum physics - an inescapable outcome of the thinking process; a process necessitating the positing of an external world independent from the thinker, a process itself called into being largely in response to the limitations and consequent excesses of its more ancient antithesis, sophism. By switching the focus of attention from the subject to the object Platonic philosophy merely exchanged one problem – the fantasy world of untrammelled ego - for another - the unbridled expansion of logic into the illogical.

But the ego is still with us, pulling the strings, though hidden now behind a curtain of rational denial.  Minchin points out that - 

Alternative medicine that’s been proved to work is called medicine.”

and

Every mystery ever solved turned out to be not magic.” 

I think Arthur Schopenhauer said it best:

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

At the ridiculous phase no-one can yet tell what will become fact.  Please think about that a moment.  It often takes an outsider to point mankind in a new direction, and that’s where every true discovery takes us.  The mainstream has dug itself a deep channel, and a great deal of effort, pain, and sometimes even martyrdom may be needed to redirect it. Though more subtle in its methods than the Inquisition, the path of scientific progress has been marked at every turn by the ridicule and vilification of those of its pioneering practitioners who strayed too far from the orthodoxy of the Establishment.  The victims of the Inquisition knew what they were up against.  We, for the most part, do not: there is an almost universal belief among scientists whose work is ignored that, if their colleagues would only look at the evidence, their work would be vindicated.  This belief rests on precisely the kind of misunderstanding about the nature of truth and the way it is arrived at that I have been taking about here.  Facts do not speak for themselves.  Evidence is not like ripe fruit, waiting to be plucked.  Its configuration is dictated by the predispositions of the person looking at it.  If you are not predisposed to see it, you won’t.


Minchin himself asks a question at the end of his tirade which threatens to undermine his entire argument  -

Isn’t this enough? This unfathomable universe?  

Now, I feel, we’re getting near the crux of the matter.  If this universe is, after all, “unfathomable”, what potentials might it not contain?  What, in the final analysis, is the difference between mystery and magic?  The creativity of which Minchin is such an outstanding exponent is universally acknowledged to come from we know not where.  Great ideas just “pop into our heads”.  Afterwards we may rationalize their origins, but at the moment they occur they have the quality of magic.


There is a reason for this that lies beyond logic.   It is that creativity arises in the mind before the subjects and objects over which the West has battled for two and a half millennia.  Creativity is to be found neither in the subject, nor in any object.  It precedes all thought of subjects and objects, because it precedes all thought.   We are creative when we forget ourselves.  Minchin at his keyboard, or the scientist staring intently at or through his instruments , is in a state of absorbtion.  He is not concerned with himself, and from this may have arisen the misconception that he was in some sense “being objective”,  but he is, more accurately,  simply absent.  At the moment of creation neither subject nor object is anywhere to be found.  Both have coalesced into an indivisible, single thing.  The same occurs in the actor, the swordsman, the tennis champion, the lover. 


The act of creation brings forth the world of subjects (me) and objects (the world I observe). Within the creative fountainhead the paradoxes that arose with thought are temporarily laid to rest. I and my world are seen as identical, and all opposites are reconciled. Inside is also outside. Impenetrable darkness  becomes blinding light.  And perhaps  Shroedinger’s cat is both alive and dead, and both tortoise and rabbit win the race. 


And Minchin is at one and the same time an insignificant scrap of carbon, and the center of his admiring universe. Doubtless tongue-in-cheek, he calls his life “unimportant”.  A professed belief in objectivity demands this of him, because “the center” can only refer to something measurable, like the center of the Milky Way galaxy. According to this view the Earth is very insignificant indeed, and Tim Minchin less significant still.  But Tim doesn’t really believe this, and nor does anyone else.  My life is important!  Every sentient being operates from that unshakable premise.  The Sophists knew it.  But Minchin, like Plato, while himself living by the same precepts of excellence, dangerously denounces the importance of the individual from the pulpit he has himself built in order to share his unique views. 


Fun-loving, creative tightrope walker though he is, the gifted Mr. Minchin represents, for me, the tip of a very large and dangerous iceberg, most of whose deadly mass lies hidden beneath a placid surface of unexamined assumptions. He scoffs at the “cheap, man-made myths” of religion, but the myth of objectivity with which he would replace them is entirely bereft of meaning of any kind. This myth (I’m beginning to sound like Storm!) is dehumanizing humanity, and denuding the planet.  “Don’t blame science,” you say? The wanton and insatiably greedy tampering that modern technology enables is part-and-parcel of its hidden hubris; pretending an absence of the ego that continues to drive us forward.  The morally unaccountable cleverness of science has turned our mother Earth into a playground for genetic engineers, and a mere commodity for multinational corporations. Our Machiavellian masters, in their age-old quest for absolute power, and with the means now apparently within their grasp, are working all-out to control our food supply, our weather, and our minds.


In conclusion, without the participation of the observer there is nothing to observe. Our universe, far from being an objective flatland, is entirely moral and arises only in and through the act of observation - more properly, participation.  The universe of which you are empirically the center is a quality event, forever unfolding.  You are inescapably the measure (if you prefer, measurer) of all things.  But no man is an island.  The agreement essential to social cohesion requires that some things be one way and not another. Agreeing to disagree merely shelves the dispute. The very demand for agreement underscores – no, proves - the objective neutrality of everything; nothing whatever of value can be deduced objectively.  We all see - we all value - the world differently. The causes of global warming, for example, are not arbitrary, but until we agree what they are they remain in limbo; in potential, as a quantum physicist would say. Having agreed, if we later decide they are something else, what then of the so-called “objective” facts we previously believed?  Thy will simply disappear, like the ephemera they are; as did the “fact” that the Earth was once flat.



And here’s a bonus for making it to the end of this post - 


Pablo

Thursday, May 2, 2013

SECRECY, CONSPIRACY, AND LIES



I have chiefly had men's views confided to me privately. Some of the biggest men in the U.S., in the field of commerce and manufacturing, are afraid of something. They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so subtle, so watchful, so interlocked, so complete, so pervasive, that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.
     The New Freedom. Woodrow Wilson, 1913

There are a number of controversial issues - 9/11, and the existence of extra terrestrials prominent among them – about which all doubts (to judge from our derisive dismissal of those who disagree with the official position) have been satisfactorily laid to rest.  

About 9/11 we have been prompted by our authorities not to believe “conspiracy theories”.  They have explained to us that the hijacking of the four planes on 9/11 was carried out by 19 Arab Muslim fanatics armed with box cutters, and that not to believe this reflects the need to find simple solutions to otherwise incomprehensible acts in a world too complex for the man in the street to understand. We have been similarly assured that there is no evidence whatever to support a belief in the existence of extra terrestrial intelligence; mold on Mars, maybe, but non-human intelligence; so far none detected; anywhere.  The highest intelligences in the known universe reside right here on Earth, in the shape of our politicians and senior decision makers. We bolster these reassuring denials with our own confident assertion about large conspiracies that “Nothing as big as that could be hidden!”  End of discussion.


I want to take a few moments to examine these two assumptions – that our authorities are trustworthy, and that large truths cannot be hidden. They turn out to be intimately related. To do this I’m going to have to quote extensively from the highest authorities I can find. There’s no point in me trying to tackle this topic myself – who will believe me? Who but the authorities themselves have the – well, the authority to convince the public that they can’t be trusted?


But right away I think you see the problem. If someone in authority confesses that he is untrustworthy, how can he be telling the truth? His very position in our society refutes it. Will we not rather tend to admire him for his candor; or even his modesty? Will we not rather continue to trust our authorities for the very reason they themselves give: that we cannot afford not to trust them? Implicit in our trust is the prayerful belief, as innocent as that of a child in the grip of a pedophile, that they must be on our side. Oh no! Don’t talk to me about checks and balances, the free press! They’re all – those that matter - bought, blackmailed, intimidated, and compromised. The voices that can speak out are permitted because they can’t be heard. Safely confined to “zones of free speech” they can be pointed to as proof that democracy exists. So, we’re in a double bind here, a kind of Catch 22. Those that can speak truth to power lack the authority to be believed, while those that have sufficient credibility can for that very reason speak freely of their treachery, knowing we cannot afford to believe them. And so, I suspect, it has always been.


But anyway, here goes – 
We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.
William Casey, CIA Director (from first staff meeting, 1981)
Did you get that? You did? The hell you did! If you did, nine tenths of this blog needn’t have been written! Go back and read it again… twice!... Ok. On we go –  

In most of its operations, the CIA is by definition a conspiracy, using covert actions and secret plans, many of which are of the most unsavory kind. What are covert operations if not conspiracies? At the same time, the CIA is an institution, a structural part of the national security state. In sum, the agency is an institutionalized conspiracy.  [Emphasis mine - PH]  
http://www.theprogressivemind.info/?p=22849" The JFK Assassination II: conspiracy phobia on the left", Michael Parenti, 1996, with commentary at the above link.
And,
Deception is a state of mind, and the mind of the State. 
James Angleton, Head of CIA Counter Intelligence, 1954-75
Is this beginning to sound a bit Orwellian to you? Don’t worry, you’re in good company: 
I never would have agreed to the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency back in forty-seven if I had known it would become the American Gestapo.”  
That’s right, Gestapo. And that was President Harry Truman. Still not with the program? That’s totally understandable,
The individual is handicapped by coming face-to-face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists.
J. Edgar Hoover, ex-FBI director (referring in this case to the conspiracy to create the New World Order). 
And of course to hide every big conspiracy from the trusting public there must be a big lie, about which - 
…there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie…. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. [Emphasis mine - PH]
Adolph Hitler , Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X, translated by James Murphy
If the first assumption – that our authorities are trustworthy – is erroneous, then so, surely, is the second. For it follows, as night follows day, that if you cannot trust your authorities, then in all the matters over which you have given them that authority you are in the dark. To put it another way, if whistle blowers could expose the treachery of our leaders with impunity, there’d very quickly be no treachery left to expose. 

But isn’t that exactly what we believe? Annie Machon, an ex-operative of MI5, Britain’s equivalent of the FBI, has tried to shake us out of our complacent naivety. She and David Shay, then both MI5 agents, blew the whistle on MI5 and MI6 after uncovering false flag operations they funded and in which entirely innocent bystanders were killed. "False flag operations are perfectly normal,” she tells us matter-of-factly, in the interview (linked here). “This is what intelligence agencies do."  The killing of innocent bystanders, however, was illegal under British law.  This in turn presented David and Annie with a dilemma –


MI5 is supposed to protect national security… They are a law unto themselves. There is no real oversight in the UK at all. If you work for the agencies and you witness crime there is nowhere you can turn to to report that crime apart from the head of the agency... There is no accountability.   ... They are working for the interests of the Establishment... of which they are a part...


How are we to believe this? If you are British it flies in the face of much that you have been brought up to hold dear. So, who is lying here? Is it the British government and its intelligence community, or is it this lone woman? Annie Machon continues -


The price we paid [as whistleblowers] was very high. If you work for a corporation you have certain protections under the law. If you are a whistleblower from MI5 or MI6 you are the criminal, because there is a piece of law called the Official Secrets Act, and if you speak to anyone, ever, about your work, then you've broken that. There is no defense under law. So even if you are reporting murder on the part of the spies you are the criminal, and not the murderers. It's that simple.

It gets worse. Unable to take their tale to their superiors in MI5, they tried to break it to the newspapers. In this way they hoped both to gain some protection from the retribution that was sure to follow, as well as the publicity necessary if the British Secret Services were to be brought to heel.  In attempting this Annie and David discovered


The media have become part of the Establishment, the system. They're no longer part of the Fourth Estate, holding the system to account.


Moreover -


I-Ops [MI5's Information Operations department] is designed to deliberately manipulate the media in the UK; where they plant fake stories, and where they spin stories, and where they massage stories that they want to control. So there are official mechanisms for manipulating the mainstream media in the UK... It's something we all need to be aware of: quite how controlled the media is - by the spies, as well as by the governments.

In attempting to blow the whistle on very grave wrongdoing Annie and David put themselves on the wrong side of the Establishment; that is to say, outside the mainstream, and the realm of authority within whose closely-guarded borders you and I are comfortably confined. Their voices therefore cannot be heard where it matters, in the mainstream press. But since their voices can be heard where it doesn’t matter, the illusion of freedom is preserved.

Awakening to the huge political transformation evolving in the wake of 9/11 an attempt was made recently by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Dana Priest to map – literally - the extent of government secrecy in America. In her words “There was something out there that was not there before 9/11, and it was growing.”  In the trailer (linked here) to the one hour PBS Frontline expose Top Secret America, she claims that “close to 500 organizations and 2000 contracting companies” in the United States are engaged in “top secret work… There are close to a million people who are living in this different world.” Marcus Brauchli, Executive Editor of the Washington Post, adds that there are17,000 locations, 1,300 government entities, 3,666 private sector entities, 1,200 government agencies” thus engaged.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in view of the subject matter, the trailer to Top Secret America promised more than the documentary finally delivered. Said one disappointed viewer of the latter,


I've waited for this documentary for well over a year now, and I was STUNNED by what I saw tonight when it finally aired. It was a complete SNOWJOB. Frontline spent less than 5 minutes talking about the massive domestic intelligence machine spying on Americans since 2001. They used old material from previous documentaries on Iraq and Afghanistan as filler for the other 55 minutes.     

Darn it! Foiled again! 

In an address at the Drone Summit in 2012 author and journalist Jeremy Scahill, commenting on the fate of whistle blowers in the U.S., echoed the words of Annie Machon in the UK -


The application of the Espionage Act - unprecedented, record-setting - to go after whom? People who blew the whistle on Bush Era crimes. Those who participated in the warrantless, illegal tapping of US Citizens can walk around as free citizens - unless they blow the whistle on it.

Then, you're going to be prosecuted, then they're going to ruin your life. Then, they're going to knock down your door, and snatch you and threaten you; take you and try to put you on trial. As John Kyriakou, the former CIA agent did, if you talk about water-boarding, they will go after you
[Kyriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison on January 25, 2013].

If you DO the water-boarding, you get to write a book, like Jose Rodriguez, who destroyed the CIA interrogation tapes and is running around bragging about it - and we're going to have to see him all over this country while he pimps his book - and he's on 60 Minutes tomorrow night.

So, we live in an upside down society, where the people that orchestrate these policies; that are torturing people, that are using robotic warfare to kill people based on "pattern of life" and not evidence that they've been involved in any crime or act of terrorism, whatsoever - those people, who are engaged in these activities, they're going to retire with the pensions. But those people who blow the whistle on it are going to have to fear for their liberty, every day that they walk around.

It's chilling what it's done. We already had a totally pliant media culture in this country - the White house Sycophant Association is having their dinner tonight. With few exceptions, that's what it is. These White House Correspondents that sit there, correspond whatever the agenda is, in the White House and they serve as conveyor belts for the lies and the propaganda of whoever happens to be up at that podium. 
       Author and journalist Jeremy Scahill, speaking at the Drone Summit, April 28, 2012.

So, what is the American government so busy working on that it doesn’t want even its own public to find out?  I’ve already talked quite a bit about 9/11, the most audacious false flag operation in America’s history, of which the repercussions still continue, but I’ve not yet tackled extra terrestrials. I did mention them back at the start of this post, so why don’t we take a look at them?  

Just this week, as it happens, a three-day Citizens’ Hearing on Disclosure was conducted in Washington DC on this very subject. Not a blip in the mainstream media about this, of course – these guys are all crackpots, after all. Still, if appearances are anything to go by they’re a great deal saner than, and at least as intelligent as, our politicians. The purpose of this hearing was to tear away the cloak of secrecy which has smothered the UFO phenomenon for the last sixty-five years, by first compiling massive professional witness testimony (linked below), and then bringing together live witnesses to testify at the hearing itself – from which another documentary film is planned to be made and distributed. 

I myself have seen a flying saucer, so I am receptive to their testimony. But, experts and professionals though they are in their various fields, they do not have the imprimatur of our authorities, so you may be less inclined to believe them.

Nevertheless the two-part compendium of testimony linked below, primarily by professional military personnel, is the most devastating proof of alien contact with our planet – short of actually seeing ETs yourself - that I have ever come across. Here’s Part 1.


As the second part gets under way the testimony builds… and builds. At approximately minute 40 Dr. Steven M. Greer gets into the matter of secrecy and – what I have not touched on – compartmentalization, or the principle of the need to know, which makes such massive secrecy possible. He who is at the top sees everything. At successively lower tiers of the information pyramid you are privy to less and less. And then of course there’s the Official Secrets Act. Here’s Part 2.

After the Citizens Hearing on Disclosure ended I scanned the web for any acknowledgement from the mainstream media, and - wonder of wonders! - there was one mention, by none other than the Washington Post. I had cancelled my subscription to that propaganda outlet several years ago, but I clicked on it, and here it is.

Yes, as far as our mainstream media are concerned, evidence and testimony be damned, it's still crackpots chasing little, green, bug-eyed monsters. William Colby would be pleased. However, I have seldom, if ever, seen such a unanimous chorus of protest as this carelessly contemptuous reviewer generated in the Comments section. Maybe the tide is turning. 
  
Pablo

PS Since writing the above I've come across more examples of the punishment of whistle blowers. Here's the harrowing experience of Julia Davis, ex-employee of the Department of Homeland Security.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

SCOFFERS



No man is an island; we’re all connected.

We’re all social beings, and ridicule, that repulsive attractor, is what holds us together whenever we threaten to break ranks, and escape from the herd, or worse, attempt to lead it in a new direction.  Its use immediately establishes, or reinforces, a hierarchy: it confers superiority on the dispenser by the assumed right to be rude, and thereby tells the humble recipient what he is supposed to believe. It is an entirely unscientific, gut-level, socially acquired and directed behavior, aimed at corralling the uninitiated, or misguided, into the fold of correct (i.e. group) belief of whatever kind.

In his Full Comment in the Canadian National Post a while back1  Jonathan Kay quoted controversial New Age lecturer David Icke -

We are like droplets of water in an ocean of … awareness. We are ‘individual’ at one level of perception, but still part of the infinite whole. More than that, we are the infinite whole, just as a droplet is the ocean and the ocean is the droplet.

I find myself in considerable accord with this, but Kay was approaching it from a different perspective. “Icke has written 16 books, and most of them are full of meandering New Age rhapsodies such as this,” he intoned. The word ‘meandering’ instantly warned me, like a rap over the knuckles, that I was backing the wrong horse, that my beliefs were incorrect. Absent that pejorative term I might well have continued heedlessly in my error. Kay continued - 

Men such as Icke epitomize what I call the “Cosmic Voyager” — the hippie earth child of the eight-part typology I have developed in my research of conspiracy theorists. In broad terms, the Cosmic Voyager resembles what University of York cult expert Colin Campbell called a “seeker” — a spiritual omnivore perpetually spiraling out toward the margins of Western cultural and political life.

Notice how the warning flags marking the borders of heretical belief continued to litter the reader’s path – ‘hippie earth child’, ‘conspiracy theorists’, ‘cult’ -  and alongside them the pointers to correct belief – ‘eight-part typology’, ‘research’, ‘University… expert’.  Without these clues this would be just another, dry, academic anthropological study. It is not. This is propaganda.

The Cosmic Voyager often will follow eccentric food regimens, dabble in Eastern religious doctrines and exhibit a pronounced suspicion of conventional medicine. His conspiracism flows naturally from the instinctive sense that the world around us is not what it seems; and that we are all bound together by some kind of unseen natural life force that is being suppressed or degraded by the guardians of our materialistic society. 

Again, but for the ridicule (‘eccentric’, ’ dabble’, ‘conspiracism’,’instinctive’, ‘some kind of’) I would find this description quite appealing. But Kay's message is clear - he is saying that because the likes of David Icke espouse beliefs so contrary to those we all surely must share (on pain of being labeled ridiculous), it stands to reason that they are borderline insane.  Indeed, put like that, the accusation seems irrefutable, so accustomed are we to still being told – in this supposedly enlightened age - what we may and may not believe.

But what, one is mischievously tempted to ask, is Kay’s own mythology? What unquestioned and ultimately irrational beliefs drive him, or is his position that of theideal observer-without-a-viewpoint? 

Surely what Kay is defending is, loosely, the viewpoint of the mainstream, which he assumes to be by that very fact self-evidently sound and reasonable. The Cosmic Voyager’s mythology, on the other hand, says Kay, is “vague and labile”. 

Central to the Cosmic Voyager’s worldview is the fictional reconstruction of human history. 

Really? Why is the Cosmic Voyager’s interpretation of history so especially ‘fictional’? Is conventional history in some superior sense more ‘factual’? If so, then presumably all historical revision is in error.  Yes, it is at this point that I feel my own critical faculties start to react. We are not, apparently, to question those pieces of received, historical construction (I am not even to name them) that have been cordoned off from factual examination by the people whom Kay represents, namely the guardians of our beliefs. Freedom of speech only applies to topics that won’t rock the big boats. 

Well, ok, so what else is new? My God is better than your God, and if you don’t believe in my God, then you are a heretic. We won't burn you at the stake, we'll just ostracize you.  

Significant in this self-congratulatory circus are the kinds of followers Kay attracts. They strongly resemble subscribers to the Skeptic Magazine of Michael Shermer, and the followers of Richard Dawkins (one of whose blogs had to be temporarily closed down, so vitriolic had become the ridicule piled by his faithful followers on the heads of non-believers). One of Kay's followers dismisses Icke and his followers as “evangelicals”, with a contemptuous “They are all equally loonie” (sic), while another defender of mainstream belief opines that “A worrying number of people believe in 'energy' and 'vibration' and some sort of 'interconnectedness' between us all”.  Interconnectedness? Perish the thought!  A third wonders, nostalgically, “what is 'sane' any longer?”

Oh, the reassuring blanket of received wisdom! As these young minds take their first, faltering baby-steps let no-one move the furniture around!   

“Facts”, Kay would I think say, are immutable, solid, and enduring. They “speak for themselves”. It is this well-worn article of faith which gives the lowly, but indispensable scoffer his right to ridicule.  Implicit in this saying is the belief that there is just one right way of seeing things – our way. There is no room for interpretation. The real, factual world is ‘out there’, and we see it correctly. Consequently anyone who offers analternative interpretation is wrong, and deserves our ridicule.


The inherent self-contradiction of this position is lost on the scoffer, because “contradiction” is not in his vocabulary. Let me briefly explain:  childish though it may often seem, ridicule happens to be socially necessary. This is so because, despite all belief to the contrary, knowledge is not acquired "objectively".  There is nothing intrinsically meaningful in the world of undigested facts.  Their meaning is put there by the act of living.  Consequently there is an infinite number of possible theories to account for the phenomena that constitute our world.  But society couldn’t survive if everyone was allowed to believe what he wanted. We’d begalloping wildly off in all directions. Communication would be impossible. 

Groups and societies are defined, precisely, by the beliefs they share2. Since every phenomenon has an unprovably large number of possible explanations it is impossible to arrive at the “correct” interpretation rationally without artificially creating a frame of reference to contain it. The frame of reference provides the internal consistency that rationality requires. Facts have no rational explanation independent of the frames of reference we apply to them. They cannot meaningfully exist alone, because if all belief is shorn away then – as Gertrude Stein famously said on her deathbed – “a rose is a rose is a rose”. This is the mystical experience of isness, as Meister Eckhart called it, and as David Icke suggests in his books.  But the purposelessness of the universe – the fact that everything is its own justification – is the last thing our consumer society wants to know about as it battles, neck craning towards the future, to compete for the world’s rapidly vanishing resources. Thus arises the need for ridicule, our social guidepost, to tell us “This way, idiot!  Are you one of us, or not?”  

And right there’s your contradiction. Facts don’t speak for themselves; they have to be interpreted; to have words put into their mouths. If language were truly ‘objective’, that is, purged of all affective signposts, far from becoming self-explanatory, it would lose all meaning, and the herd – i.e. society - wouldn’t know which way to turn. ‘Facts’ are not self-evident.  The very need for ridicule proves it, even as it also proves that we are all connected!

Pablo

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1. “Full Comment”,  National Post, May 11, 2011

2. “Multiculturalism” is therefore also a self-contradiction.