9/11 was a Psych-Ops Coming of Age Party

This is the only post about 9/11.  I promise.

So by now you might already suspect that I’m wearing a hat made of tinfoil and about to tell you that ‘That’s just what they want.  They want you to think I am a paranoid freak.’

Perhaps it will placate your fears if I tell you that this post is really about mindfulness. That means the art of simply being aware of the present moment and what is unfolding within us at each moment without judging it.  And context, which mindfulness leads towards like the river leads to the sea.

Now put the tinfoil hats back on because only with mindfulness can we even begin to  inoculate ourselves from  the tampering with our subconscious that has become the art form of the modern state. I’m not just talking about propaganda here, but the infinite and varied, the subtle and often very unsubtle ways that governments and media sustain a Faustian pact with its people. “We’ll help you maintain the illusion of democracy and human rights, and therefore the conceit of a safe and certain world to which you are adding value through your labour and into which you can proudly raise your children; as long as you don’t question too closely the reality”.

It’s a pact we make every time we consume a mass produced product from an international corporation. There’s the illusion of choice; the slight of hand that makes consuming something made in the millions appear to confirm our individuality.  And through purchasing a particular product we find comfort in belonging to a certain economic or social group without the commitment or solidarity a true sense of belonging engenders.

So our brains are well programmed at eating shit and tasting wholesomeness, just to enable us to swallow. And when we gag on the lies that underpin our society it’s often labelled a mental health issue. That we have this gag reflex at all is surely a sign that there is a basic sanity which we can imagine, even if we have never experienced it.

Watching the trial of psychopathic killer Anders Breivik I recognised how his cold logic has an internal consistency which without context could be a form of sanity. And don’t we do the same every day in small ways? When we stand back and notice the basic insanity of the prevailing operating paradigm of our modern world isn’t there a desperate willingness to forsake context in order to continue the pretence of sanity?  For how long will people stop buying prawns from Asda now they know they are processed by slaves? Well, they’re not labelled fair trade are they, so that’s OK.

We might chastise our sorry conscience for not doing more, but the brain’s function is to create a cohesive picture of reality in which to live – a master story, if you like. We do the same as Breivik.  We incorporate atrocities committed in our name into a structure of logic around which we can comfortably manoeuvre and balance our sense of morality and normality in order to function. Justification is ALWAYS after the act and we are either busy justifying to ourselves our place in the world, or escaping from it through the ubiquitous drugs both chemical and electronic.

A perfect and significant example of this mass self-delusion is what happened on the 11th of September 2001. Having been standing on the top of World Trade Centre 1 in June of 2001 I had a pretty good notion of how big these structures were. So when I witnessed their collapse on the TV screen three months later, which on the small screen could not give an adequate impression of their vast scale, it just looked wrong. Like a seven foot quarterback falling dead from someone blowing smoke in their eyes.

The perpetrators are acutely aware of the neurological loopholes in the human brain of which they can take advantage. The brain links the most easily available, not the most probable cause to an effect – i.e. the jets striking the towers. This is a cognitive illusion created by what economist Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 – the fast intuitive automatic processes of the subconscious mind, outpacing System 2, the reasoning slow thinking mind. This System 2 operates in the more recently evolved parts of the brain which seek to find the ‘why’ of invisible causes. This faculty is what makes us human and which has led to our supremacy on the planet by leading us to develop science, technology and advanced language processing to communicate the ‘why’ of everything.

As Naomi Wolf has written, shock and awe suppresses or disables System 2, so for those who were most aware of the size of WTO and who were present to their destruction, System 1 would have naturally taken over and constructed the most available cause, a cause that became more and more available as the media fed us the master story over the following hours and days and months and years.

Primo Levi reported that in Auschwitz the prevailing attitude of those who sought to retain their humanity was not horror but curiosity. The Why? of System 2 was struggling to contextualise the horror. This project continued for survivors like Levi after the war, and he eventually took his own life perhaps because in the end such a task was too enormous in a post-modernist world.

The ‘Why’ of 9/11 is a continuing project with scientists, pilots, architects and engineers as well as whistleblowers from the security apparatus of America fighting for the truth of what really happen, or at least making clear that the Bush administration and all governments since have lied to  everyone. That it is framed as a marginal and insignificant project – at best an academic exercise at worst the preserve of lunatic conspiracy theory fringe, indicates how successful a pschy-ops operation it was and continues to be. And this is what convinces me that the oppressors at the moment have the winning hand and why governments everywhere realise that they can write the script as long as it has enough gripping drama to seduce us from participating in any other way but vicariously.

This is politics as soap opera and while the literati  in previous times would have led the charge of outrage and uproar, now they dither in the maze of post-modernism, where everything is just a theory.  It is simply not good enough to label the ashes of 9/11 a site of critical discourse.  The truth here is too important.

The other factor that gives governments the upper hand is the scale of the lie.  What would it mean to integrate a new reality into our master story about 9/11?  Would we care to recognise ourselves as a people kept dumb and under the control of a morally corrupt global corporate oligarchy that is bent on destroying civil liberties, the environment and anything that stands between them and the power to produce a short term profit.  Or would we prefer to continue to believe in ourselves as free agents in a world governed for the most part by institutions, companies and governments who have our interests at heart? Of course the convenient, comfortable most available conclusion is the latter, in particular because it demands nothing from us but our freedom and, for our own personal sanity, a safe distance from stopping a moment and letting ourselves be pulled towards context.

RD Laing showed that our belief in the infallibility of our parents, tragically so when they are abusive, is what leads to insanity, and writ large the same chemistry constructs our society. Only in society we can all concur to be insane together and dance our way into oblivion rather than risk being the ones consigned to the various caricatures of the outsider and eliminated or ridiculed.

We simply can’t imagine that such a large amount of people could conceive and execute such an evil plan as to kill thousands of their own people in order justify killing hundreds of thousands more and enslaving billions. Ironically, it is empathy thanks to our mirror neurones that sustains this self-delusion. Our ability to believe that two 111 story buildings can collapse into their own footprint at free fall speed 45 minutes after they are hit by a planes, and a 42 story building (WTO 7) can collapse 7 hours later by itself, just because it is in the vicinity of those building  is the same flight of fantasy, the same suspension of disbelief that requires us to believe that we might win the lottery when there is a 14 million to 1 chance that we will.

Our brain thinks of such large numbers in abstract forms, it cannot actually grasp the size of this number, or the scale of these building. But then someone has to win the lottery, and that someone could be me…and I see people who look just like me winning…mirror neurones…so I can feel how it could be. By the same token, I cannot conceive of so many people being so evil and corrupt as to commit such crimes or want to enslave people just for money and power…it just sounds too much like fiction…some crazy conspiracy theory…or something from history!

Perhaps it would be useful to deconstruct the psychology that would make it possible for a large amount of people to be part of such a heinous crime. Psychologist Dan Ariely has found that the flexibility in our  ethical room to manoeuvre…the extent to which we are willing to be dishonest, is related to how much we think we can get away with it both in society and in our own conscience.  Now imagine a triangle at the base of which minor corruption, incompetence and self-service is culturally acceptable in order to achieve the goals of the organisation. Those in the management layer above can justify to themselves a larger area of acceptable infringement of conventional mores. The higher you go up the triangle the more flexible the morality.   Until at the very top the masters can move in whichever direction they want without disturbing their conscience. Power in such structures is denoted by an inversely proportionate formula between your capacity for wrongdoing and accountability. Under such circumstances those with a conscience are whittled out by default because reporting misdoings up the line of management leads not to correction but to threats or eventual expulsion to the whistleblower, precisely because they are not the right material to work in the organisation. See Sibel Edmonds book Classified Woman for a vivid description of how this works.

I took the Staten Island Ferry in 2001.  And as the distance from the dock increased the scale of the twin towers became awesomely clearer.  Likewise, when you orient towards context the scale of our society’s insanity and the lie that allows it to survive can be overwhelming.

The Black and White of Grey Matter

stairsPut yourself in a position of power.  The kind of power – wealth, political or religious office or public adoration, that gives you influence over very many people.  For most of us it is difficult to make the imaginative leap to do this, so distant is the prospect.  A crude analogy might be to imagine you are playing poker against a table of players and you have in front of you an inexhaustible mountain of chips; or you are about to play a game of chess against an opponent who has one king and only pawns on his side of the board while you also have one king and the rest are queens.  It can be a very pleasing sensation, a kind of blessed spaciousness – having this expansiveness to maneuver, to obliterate any opposition, and to offer your largess in whichever way that humours you.

How will you behave?  Will you share your power or protect it at any cost?  Will you relate to those around you as equals only less fortunate as you at this particular moment in time or see yourself as somehow special and deserving and others as weaklings?  Will you use your power to inspire or oppress?  It appears from recent scientific research that this will partly be decided by the structure of your brain!

Neuroscience research is discovering that people with right and left leaning political affiliations have different brains! Neuroimaging has found that  ‘greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern’. It seems patently obvious that ‘Conservatives’ are neurologically less capable of assimilating change or accommodating diversity. Now it seems that this is because their brains are structured to recognize and react to threat, rather than to initiate empathetic response. If further evidence is needed look how Republicans consider a Democratic government as much a threat to America as its foreign enemies and will go to any length to unseat them from power; and how Cameron’s government lead with a natural arrogance and unashamed abuse of protocol or mandate in order to feed our common resources piece by piece to their plutocratic backers.

Biological determinism is a traditionally right wing response to justify its attitude to immigration and to social problems and it would be a justice poetic in the extreme if they were able to apply it to themselves so that those who were missing the necessary gray matter to deal with ambivalence and contrasting views should be disqualified from positions of power in democratic society – because obviously these brains are a hardware incompatible with the software of true democracy.   Luckily, there is more and more evidence for neural plasticity, so all is not lost.  Nurture can rewire the brain if society lets it.  And this is the crunch.

Evolution teaches us that biology shapes destiny, and more than any other species humans have developed a sophisticated and strange feedback loop called self-consciousness (a theatre in the mind) which can try things out in an imaginary space before committing to action.  In the Theatre of the Oppressed, instead of this feedback loop being a private affair, we can expand and externalize the loop to a group of people – maximizing the learning potential and if conducted within an ethical dimension, hotthousing evolution in a way that can bring about a society with far more equality, justice and peace than the one we have currently.  It is the capacity for theatre which allows us to simulate several possible scenarios and choose the most auspicious.  When we do this alone, the auspiciousness is individualistic, when we do it as a group it is not only communitarian but, I hypothesize, stimulates the anterior cingulate generating more mirror neurons and creating a brain thet is more likely to ensure the future of the human species.

But counter to this movement is the entrenched locus of world control that demonstrates almost unanimously a behaviour moderated more by their reptilian brain – a hair trigger amygdala.  It is this brain model throughout history that has wrestled power from those who truly care about others and who have continuously failed to react to the threat from others because their nature is to accommodate, negotiate differences and with hopeless optimism, compromise their ideals for the greater good.  David Icke is right in one way – the reptiles have taken over the world!

We are therefore confronted with a dilemma which is not new and has been faced with most grace in the last century by Gandhi, Mandela and Luther King.  Like Penrose Stairs the regressive force of the right seem truly insurmountable and our memories are too short to remember we have been this way before many many times.  The liberal optimism that, despite everything, we are making progress is a symptom of this forgetfulness and a sop to our conscience.  Democracy, women’s rights, free speech, workers rights, universal free health care and education are diminishing in front of our eyes in the supposedly most civilized societies.

We need to start asking what are the specialized adaptive properties that advantages the left wing brain over the right wing brain?  I’m not talking here about more sensitivity to others and the environment, more caring, more networking capacity, more intelligent information processing.  These factors are harnessed and manipulated so readily by the ‘reptile brain’ whom we try to integrate into our society and end up creating the ‘feeling tone’ of threat and insecurity that necessitates their rule.  I’m talking about theatre – it is the natural domain of neural plasticity and left brain dynamics.  We need to appropriate the theatre of operations and expose the comedy and tragedy of right brain thinking on a massive scale, not in some academic way, not on some fringe but with an army of artists and activists leading a revolution of the imagination.  We have the tools, now we just need to cut the strings to our amygdala which reptilian society uses to control us and start rewiring society in accordance with the pluralistic, equanimous and empathetic properties of the evolved brain.

A Thneed is a fine something that Everyone Needs

thneed

There’s an old Sufi saying that Hell is where you receive everything you want. Well how about the prospect of a shiny new, sweet smelling hell where you receive everything you think you want, because that thought has been implanted in your unconscious by the neuroscientists who have been paid to market the product that’s suddenly caught your eye. It’s a closed loop and a done deal for the market driven world in which we live and it’s already happening –

Why Marketing minds have turned their heads to mind-reading by Hannah Kuchler in the Financial Times 12th April 2010

Hmm…I feel like I want to eat bread…woo…that thing there looks a bit like bread…or like my favourite thing…I don’t know…it’s just talking to me somehow…in fact, I must have it. What’s it called?…a thneed! Nice name…what’s it for? Doesn’t matter, I have the strangest intuition that it’s going to solve all my problems. I feel it in my bones, this thneed is so me. And, wow, it’s so much cheaper than I expected. How on earth do they make it for that price? They must be so good and honest and beneficent in heart and mind these people who make thneeds, they are practically giving them away. Such God like charity. Oh! Look at that, I’ve bought it already in some kind of swoon. Ah! Well, I trust my impulse.

Of course, subliminal marketing and manipulation of mass desires has been with us for some time. Sigmund Fraud’s nephew, Edward Bernays developed what we now call public relations in the 20’s using his uncle’s theories of subliminal desires. He commented once that he would have called it Propaganda but the Russians had a trademark on that name. Check out Adam Curtis’ excellent documentary – ‘The Century of the Self’ about Bernays. In fact, check out any Adam Curtis documentary. They expose the thinkers and their theories behind the world views of our world leaders.

Only now, with the recent advances in neuroscience brought about in part by the technology that allows us to see the brain as it is thinking, the brainwashers are really getting a handle on their art. Take, for instance, the selective awareness test, that video on youtube that catches us out and makes us laugh with surprise at how stupid we are…well, I met one of the scientist behind it and he’s funded very well to explore how to place product adverts not moon-walking bears in the edge of our attention, so that it slips through to our unconscious from where it can sow the seeds of our innermost desires.

Like I said, this is not a new front. We who are involved in Theatre of the Oppressed have been fighting the oppression of implanted desires through social conditioning but the enemy have a new armoury and if we are not to become salivating zombie consumers then we need to advance our technology of resistance. The irony is that the technology exists and is at least 2500 years old. It is Mindfulness – the core component of Buddhism, and it is a resistance through acceptance…only by accepting unconditionally and without judgement what is happening at the moment, in our bodies and in our environment can we sensitise our awareness of ourselves to catch the moment before the impulse turns to action. But it will demand continual practice because those thneeds have us surrounded.

The Hills are Alive with Football Fans

You can fly here for a penny before tax, baggage costs, booking fee etc. It’s in the European Union and its capital was one of the cultural powerhouses of the 18th Century Enlightenment. And yet the papers here are advising half its population to either leave or stay indoors for fear of violence from invading hordes. The police predict high casualties in this section of its society, and the hospitals are on full alert and reassure in the press that they are prepared for the onslaught. The country is Austria, the invading army are football fans from across Europe and the group being warned that they will be targeted are women.

Already the global focus of psychoanalysis as a nation, after a discovery made in a cellar, Freuds and Hitlers fatherland is in the throes of a healing crisis as it prepares to co-host Euro 2008 with its wealthier neighbour, Switzerland. All manner of strange and revealing home truths are emerging in media pronouncements and in decisions made by the state: in particular in the deep south province of Carinthia (Kaernten) governed by Joerg Haider.

Klagenfurt, the provinces capital, is to host three games in its purpose built 70 million euro stadium: (the first is Germany vs Poland on June 8th) before reducing the stadium capacity at a cost of another 20 million euro . The city has remained largely unchanged from becoming a Ryanair destination. Most tourists hotfoot to Trieste on the Mediterranean coast, an hours journey to the south west, or to lakeside resorts dotted along the banks of the Woerthersee: the nearby 19km long lake surrounded by pine forested peaks.

It is in forested peaks to the south of here, that mark the border with Slovenia, that partisans supported by allied forces controlled an autonomous region until the winter of 1942: a small island of resistance right in the middle of the Third Reich. A minority of Slovene speaking Austrians remain here, quietly simmering from 53 years of what a shrink might call classic displacement behaviour by those who embraced fascism: some being members of their own families. The past is best not talked about here, and a generation plead the proverbial Fifth Amendment under the guise of moving forward. Whether forward is the direction Austria is heading is severely in question this week as preparations for hosting the Euro 2008 reveal deep seated attitudes towards women that would shock the most misogynist midfielder.

If at all possible women should go on vacation is the advice of the security experts, reported in Kleine Zeitung on 29th May. In a related article the paper reports that police expect about 20 women to be raped and more than a 100 assaulted every day of the tournament. Further recommendations include carrying rape alarms at all times for women living near the stadiums. On the same page an article explains how the mayor has banned a local womens group from distributing leaflets during the tournament about the trafficking of women and children into prostitution. The region is one of the most lucrative destinations for traffickers in Europe, and prostitution is openly advertised. While the mayor has banned an advert against domestic abuse he has sanctioned a huge hoarding that welcomes arrivals at the airport advertising a thinly disguised brothel.

The Fritzel case is becoming emblematic for many Austrians of this disconnect between how people present themselves here and how they actually are. The Catholic Bishop of Klagenfurt lives with four women. Joerg Haider is photographed clubbing with underage boys or with someone wearing a neo-Nazi t-shirt. No one resigns and nothing changes. Impunity is assured as it was for the war generation: when Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill meeting in Moscow in 1943 declared Austria to be a victim of the war, not a perpetrator.

For Gudrun Blohberger from the group the Catholic Womens Movement this is predictable. This is why, sitting on thousands of printed flyers she has not been allowed to distribute, she is encouraging women to mount their own resistance to this campaign by police and state to frighten them into staying indoors. Do not be surprised, should you bother to follow the tournament sans UK team, to see groups of women mingling in the crowd wearing t-shirts with I am not for sale written on them and holding placards with &but a hug is for free, or I’ll take a vacation when I fucking want to and placards with and welcome to MY city or even I will not stay in the cellar and placards with &the sunshine is for all of us.

Perhaps Austria, in the end, is a victim of Germany in the same way younger or weaker siblings often carry the suppressed emotions of the family unit. Here the wounds from fascist crimes, without airing, still seep a deep undercurrent of fetid ideology that is hinted at by the flags that flutter together from car windows, German and Austrian together. Oh what could have been!