Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster has been attacked!

Alarming news!  After I released Robert's dour Thanksgiving message (next post), I walked into the desert night and thought I saw a strange comet, which then appeared to be an airplane.  As I watched the descending light I received a frantic telepathic message, accompanied with lots of static and some interference that sounded like muffled yelling.  Finally I made out Robert's "voice" (thoughts have distinctive qualities, as voices do), screaming (a high intensity thought) something like, "They're attacking me...fellow gilas...bastards!"  

There followed a terrible sound of anguish, and I feared Robert was no more.  But it turned out he had done the damage to one of his attackers, giving Robert a short respite and time to clarify his message:

"Harry, we’re in trouble!  Gilas are able to group together for common cause on rare occasions when it's necessary.  We haven't done it since the end of the last ice age, when we had to make some decisions.  In reaction to encroaching human civilization, we've grouped together again into something humans might call a ‘council.’  The council has factions, and one of them believes that my relationship with you, my willingness to engage telepathically, my public sharing of the gila's internal world- that these things are endangering all gilas, so that humans, upon learning of another sentient species on the planet, will reenact their historic role of ensuring its extinction."

"Jesus, Robert!"

"As usual, Harry, with the bon mot.  If I may continue, the anti-human faction has plotted to abduct me so that I can no longer communicate with you or any humans."

"Shit."

"Again, Harry, the human facility with language is astonishing."

"I mean, damn...what will you do?  What should I do?"

"There's more, and I'm learning it as we speak...oh my!"

"What?"

It's really true that when the gods want to punish us they grant our wishes.  I admit I've longed for release from the dreadful constriction of this post-election time, when everyone's mind is confined in a probability box where all is potential, nothing is realized.  I've yearned to be released from the box, to unfurl my compressed emotions, not knowing if they will deliver unbridled ecstasy, warm joy, bemused contempt, indifference, confusion, rage or despair.  I knew that Robert was about to open the box.

"A forceful gila," Harry continued, "whom I'll call Butch, organized the attempted hit on me.  Butch tells his followers that humans with their volatility and apparent suicidal tendencies have become an imminent threat to the gila species, and that I am a traitor.  He has organized telepathic attacks on America, as the closest human target, over your holiday season."

"Oh my god!  What kind of attacks?"

"Hallucinations, not unlike your 'fake news.'  The few stray gila thoughts I've intercepted indicate they intend to stimulate discord between people who are close, so that someone might be talking to a family member or friend and suddenly be filled with fury and resentment towards them.  If this happens, people should remove themselves from the scene, breathe deeply for a few minutes and rise above it.  

Robert's thoughts ceased, and I waited breathlessly.  

Robert resumed his report: "Harry, thank god I can hack through Butch's firewall...he's communicating with your MIC...."

"What!"

"Yes, your Military Industrial Complex.  Isn't that the theoretical entity you've been writing about?"

"It's not theoretical, any more than the gun lobby is theoretical."

"Ok, well the gila monster nation, if I may call it that, has contacted your MIC...they are communicating at this moment."

"Can you pick-up any of it?"

"Just bits.  The TU is very interested in the gila method of sowing discord.  The gilas want to conduct an action tomorrow, using the holiday...they argue that humans will be unsuspecting and vulnerable, many travelling far from home...the MIC responds that high profile attacks on Thanksgiving would incite too much emotion, too much blood-lust for their current timetable."

"Hold on Robert!  What sort of alliance is this?  What can a bunch of gila monsters offer the MIC?  And what does Butch suppose the MIC can do for gilas?"

"Believe me, I'd like to know that too! Part of it has to do with gilas' telepathic abilities, which the MIC would like to develop in humans, for military purposes.  What do you think your MIC ultimately wants?"

I answered, "The MIC seeks to betray the middle and lower socio-economic classes because they will not fit into the automated, jobless and bioengineered society to come.  The superannuated humans are to be led into a global conflict in which they will be preoccupied with staying alive, and thus not able to complain that the new human race, which historian Yuval Harrari calls Homo Deus, will not include them.  But I'm wondering what the gila monsters hope to get from this alliance."

"Harry, you and your readers will have to wait for answers until I can infiltrate further.  Meanwhile…I'm picking up a consensus...the gilas have agreed to a low profile with tomorrow's telepathic disruptions, and the MIC agrees to some of Butch's ideas (e.g. at selected homes, just as the turkey is being carved, the carver and all the guests will hallucinate that the turkey becomes a living gila monster who grins and says, 'Who's human now?').  Though the MIC will benefit from general confusion and mayhem spread by gilas, it reserves the big blow-ups for itself.  Harry, you and I are in the same boat, each fighting for the soul of his species!"







Monday, November 21, 2016

Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster's Thanksgiving message: "I'm thankful for my rock"


Forward by Harry the Human 

My companion, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster, has been learning about the American custom of Thanksgiving from our media, and he asked me about thankfulness, which he understands is the central concept of the holiday.  The media presentations and my response prompted him to write the piece below, which I submit without prejudgment, thankful that our planet still harbors sentient life forms other than our own.  Happy Thanksgiving!  Harry the Human


Thanksgiving message from Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster

Greetings human race!  Thanks once again for permitting me to observe and comment upon your customs.  I've been following the American holiday of Thanksgiving for a few years, and this one in particular has a poignant quality, in my view, as you appear unsure what to be grateful for.

Of course, the holiday is designed for just such an environment, in which there is scant evidence of a beneficent providence showering you with gifts.  The mythic event in your history that engendered Thanksgiving was a situation of dire need and emergency, in which your founding explorers faced a nightmarish reality: their dependence on indigenous cultures, which they knew even then, subconsciously perhaps, could never accommodate the founders' ultimate need to supplant them.

In the current case, your presidential election, just before Thanksgiving, jolted you with its unprecedented message of national meaninglessness and uncertainty.  Not only do many of you doubt the definition of your nation that you were taught as children, you face the ascendency of a hostile military establishment and complicit media that seek to lure you into destruction and death.  

But, as noted, it's the right time for Thanksgiving, when there is little in the external world to be thankful for, so you look to your immediate world and are thankful for your family, your friends, your life, and hopefully, if you have one, the inner world of your mind.

What a contrast with the life of a blessed species like gila "monsters"!  We don't distinguish between "luck," which is random and fickle, and our lives, which tend to be constant (barring our occasional consumption by coyotes). Harry plans to take me to his friend Doug's Thanksgiving dinner, where I expect to be showcased like the oddity I am.  That's fine with me- I'll enjoy adding to my ongoing study of your species- but if the assembled guests, per your custom, demand to know what I'm thankful for, I will reply (to those receptive to telepathy), "I am thankful for the rock I habitually sit on."

I expect the immediate response will be, "Oh, the poor humble creature!  While we are thankful for family and HBO and material gifts of all sorts, this animal is thankful for his rock!"  And secretly they will think, "I'm thankful I'm not a gila monster, a species so impoverished it lifts a clawed foot in praise of the raw, cheap earth!"

Of course if anyone's interested, I'll explain that a gila's "rock" is more than a rock- it's the central turf of an entire life, a life where the environment fits the organism.  That is something no human can be thankful for.  The very mass-produced table you sit at, the tormented animals you eat, the combined jumble of wires, wood, concrete and cacophony of your extended habitats - so complex and far removed from the planet that you might as well already be colonizing Mars- plus the chaos you now face as you discover that your social contract, once again, is dangerously out of date: these are tricky elements to be thankful for.  Would you be thankful, I wonder, if you knew what it feels like to be me sitting on my rock?

The adults may not understand, but human children present will have the insight born of the vestigial memory of "sitting on your rock."  Watch children play in designated areas, where artificial "rocks," territorial projections, are the center of play, as the children reenact eons of competition for what you would now call a "safe space," where you are free to exist as you are.  The children's endless competition for these spaces suggests the endless human search for them, and the elusive quality of success.

If anyone asks, I'll tell the assembled guests that sitting on a rock of one's own is the ultimate expression of the gila's ascendency, involving qualities suggested by human terms like, "success," "enlightenment," "self-realization," etc.   I'll try to keep in mind that it would be rude and cruel to overly tout our safe-space rocks, since humans generally are bereft of them.  You have been scouring and tearing the earth apart for millions of years in search of rocks, since you lost your safe space in the forest, when you were animals.  The Thanksgiving dinner itself is now your rock, your safe space, which is why adults, who better understand the human world, always announce their thankfulness for family, while the primitive youngsters talk about presents and money spent.

You have a character from your inventive Dr. Seuss named "the Grinch," who befouls one of your major religious observances- that commemorating the birth of your creator god's son (who is later tortured to death, a baffling twist from a gila's perspective).   Must I be your Grinch for Thanksgiving?  I don't relish the role.  I want to be an honest cross-species ambassador, delivering assistance and goodwill.  I really do.  But, well, honesty is not easy.  Especially now.

I hope our gracious hosts on Thursday will permit me to raise my glass (in a figurative sense) to toast the future of humanity, when it will rise from its current troubled and confused state to take its place on rocks of wisdom scattered through the cosmos, now vacant and awaiting new arrivals.

 Thankfully, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster






Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mediacracy

Robert caught me unawares towards midnight, on my return from the Cinemark at Antelope Valley Mall where I had watched Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet (wonderful), courtesy of the British National Theater Live ("live" meaning pre-recorded before a living audience).  You can imagine my preoccupied state after three hours of lines like, 

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

Stumbling up the rock strewn path to my door, wondering if my words would go to heaven, I heard the distinctive clicking sound of Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster, whose talents and relative sociability have allowed me to make him famous.  How much money have I made off Robert?  Story of my life: none.

"Hey, Harry the Human, can I have your autograph?" he hissed from under the front steps, where he had apparently been awaiting my return.

"What's up, Robert?," I called down to the darkness in front of my feet, feigning, a bit, my joy at seeing him (he could be exhausting), "I just watched Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Are you familiar with it?"  Robert spends hours a day behind the Lancaster Public Library, telepathically scanning great quantities of human culture.

"I am indeed," replied Robert.  "Shakespeare is unique, I find."

"I agree, but how do you find him unique?" I asked, suppressing a yawn and trying to be polite.

"As a gila monster I find all your artists unique, but Shakespeare is the only modern author to attach himself to power, I mean to actual powerful people."

"Like Elizabeth I and James I."

"Yes.  The remarkable thing is that these monarchs enjoyed the display of the chaotic interior of the ambitious mind, along with its propensity for self-destruction."

Robert was obviously in a talkative mood.  "For a lizard you sure have a big vocabulary," I ventured, suddenly longing for the silence of my kitchen.

"If you were one inch long," Robert mused, "I would probably eat you."

I stood for a moment, looking up at the blazing full moon, supposedly a super-moon for being so close to the earth.  Signs, always signs.

"Sorry, Robert, I'm tired."

"Well, I just wanted to inform you of an epiphany I had after several hours of listening to news programs."  [Robert can telepathically tune-in to our broadcasts]

"What, that they're biased?"

"You are lacking a word, a word for ‘rule by media.’"

I considered this, and found that Robert was correct; we have no such word.

Robert continued, "To remedy this, I coined a new meaning for a refashioned old word, mediocre, to add to the existing terms for human hegemony that are suffixed with 'archy' and 'acy' (e.g. democracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, autocracy) and came up with 'mediacracy' for 'rule by media.'  The modern use of ‘media’ did not exist when you invented the Greek and Latin terms for types of government, so you let the natural phonemic contender for rule by propaganda, 'mediocre,' get captured by its root 'medius,' meaning 'middle,' as in 'people who are dull and stupid because they are in the exact middle of human qualities,' which, when you think about it, is a sad commentary on your species."

I was not in the mood: "Robert, I'm going to enter my house now and think about Hamlet.  Your new word is interesting, perhaps tomorrow...."

"You hominid dope!  I'm telling you that this lack of word is affecting your political discourse."

Letting off a deep sigh, "Ok...how is that?"

"Your entire window on government is provided only by your media.  Unless you travel to Washington and take a guided tour of Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House, you can't see by yourself what you're voting for."

"Yes, ok."

"Harry, you only see and hear what the media offers you, with the words they offer.  People are furious with government for being a plutocracy, an oligarchy, an autocracy. That's what you learn from the media, but it's pretty clear that people are fuming at the media as much as at government, though that is not reported.  It's the media that has screwed up everyone's perceptions, inducing you to believe that racial hatred is rampant everywhere in the country, when it's not, and that Americans can't talk to each other when they disagree, which they can.  Your species is about to go to war in Syria and North Korea because your media informs you that this is normal and logical, and is already happening anyway.  Surprise: it's not normal and logical."  

I stared again at the blazing moon.  "Yeah, so what am I supposed to do about it?  For one thing, how do you prove that the media controls what we think.  Most people think they think what they think because they think it."

Robert slowly shook his wrinkled head.  "Harry, you are getting more eloquent by the day.  Must be my influence.  All you have to do is point out that there are never scandals or exposes about news anchors and reporters. They apparently never steal or commit sexual indiscretions or take bribes or report the news to suit someone.  When was the last time you read about a reprehensible journalist or reporter?  Are they not as pure as the driven snow?"

I looked at Robert for a moment, nodded in acceptance, opened my door, walked in, closed the door, sat on the squishy couch and pondered:

A knavish speech sleeps in a fool's ear.



   

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Westworld's clash of narratives evokes America's world

Westworld, the fascinating HBO series based loosely on the Michael Crichton novel, is turning out to be an allegory of the current American condition.  

[The following Westworld synopsis contains no spoilers beyond the basic plot revealed in the early episodes] Westworld takes place in the near future, when Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotic science reach the point where robots can pass the Turing test (named for AI pioneer Alan Turing) which measures a robot's ability to convince a human that it, the robot, is human.  "Westworld" is the name of a Wild West themed adult amusement park in which the "hosts" are robots who can pass the Turing test, both intellectually and physically, so that the paying, human guests can converse with the hosts, have realistic sex with them, fall in love with them or satisfy sadistic impulses by abusing them.

Many human specialists and technicians run Westworld. The job of some is to write and coordinate "narratives," storylines introduced by hosts to the human guests, such as quests for capturing or killing notorious outlaws and collecting a bounty, or mixing it up with prostitutes and/or desperadoes in the brothel saloon. Among the narrative specialists, however, are unknown actors who introduce unauthorized narratives without running these narratives by their colleagues, so that both the guests and hosts start to find themselves in confusing cross-narrative collisions.  Spoilers would be involved in speculating on identities, or the nature and purpose of the unauthorized narratives, but the parallel of this theme with the clash of narratives in today's American society, after last week's presidential election, is striking.

We can start with Hillary Clinton's official narrative, in which she is a humanitarian, a fighter for women's rights, a seeker of peace, a champion of the low wage earner. This narrative clashed with alternative narratives in which Clinton's efforts on behalf of women center mainly on her own quest to be the first female president; she is a warmonger who voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq; she panders to Wall Street, making hundreds of millions in speaking fees for telling bankers she opposes regulation.  Wikileaks and FBI Director James Comey correspond to the alternative narrative writers in Westworld.

Trump's narrative dissonance is appearing only now, in his victory.  His narrative during the campaign depicted him as a renegade, a political outsider, a non-compromiser who, as president, would shake up Washington on behalf of the unheard masses.  There were attempts by the Clinton side to negate this narrative with information about Trump's mistreatment of women, the disabled, Trump employees and others, but they failed to stop the momentum of Trump's compelling narrative.

That narrative's cognitive dissonance first appeared last week when President-elect Trump sat down with outgoing President Obama in humble fashion, both men saying nice things about each other and pledging to work together.  In Trump's campaign narrative, adhered to by millions, Obama was an unregenerate villain: a traitor, a liar, a criminal.  In one pro-forma moment that narrative disappeared, negated by Trump as he accepted the realities of an office holder.  His narrative revisions have already spread to policy.  He now praises and accepts key provisions of Obamacare in statements that would have cost him the election one week ago.  Regarding the thousands of people in the streets protesting his win, whom he would have labeled paid thugs in the campaign, he now says he "loves" their "passion for our great country."  We don't know yet about his immigration policies, but it's a safe bet he won't build a wall paid for by Mexico, or send "dreamers" south in the wholesale fashion he promised.  Likewise for banning all Muslim immigrants.  As far as his transition team and hosts of advisors, the spots are filling up fast with Washington insiders.

The American population is thus faced with a post-election environment in which nothing in either campaign is as it seemed, as it was advertised.  The status quo appears to have survived pretty much intact, after an election that appeared revolutionary but was ultimately no more revolutionary than a staged event in Westworld.

One test of Trump's real narrative will come when America endures its next terrorist attack.  Trump claimed in the campaign that he had a plan to get rid of ISIS.  If this is true, it may put him in opposition to the inner workings of our Military Industrial Complex (MIC), which needs either ISIS or another credible enemy to distract us from, among other things, the confusion of our narratives.  There is precedent for MIC manipulation of our wars in the U.S./Afghan war against the Taliban.  Ignored stories in the New Yorker Magazine (see next post) reveal that the CIA secretly supported the Taliban, directing it with bribes where and when to attack, and of course the Taliban continues to exist.  If the MIC does not want to destroy ISIS yet- before we're set with a new enemy- will Trump play along, reprising Obama policy by bombing Iraq and Syria and assassinating ISIS leaders, only to encounter ISIS again and again, not unlike our War on Drugs which touts similar warlike victories against drug organizations, while not impeding those organizations in a significant manner?  Or will there be something genuine about Trump, an actual distaste for deceptive manipulation of America's wars?

The latter outcome seems unlikely, to put it mildly.  One thing is clear: whoever can come up with a unified, credible narrative will win America.  Whether this narrative addresses the realities of a rapidly evolving humanity, or just shunts all of us into a single highly focused beam of war hysteria, remains to be seen.