Wednesday, July 26, 2006
“Consciousness is the phenomenon whereby the universe’s very existence is made known.” Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind, 1989 (1).
I had this peculiar sensation a few mornings ago. I woke up and first thing it was like light bursting into me from the outside, while, at the same time, my consciousness was bursting out into the world from the inside. I felt strangely connected to the moment and, through that, to the whole universe.
It only lasted for a second. After that I wanted to go back to sleep again.
That’s the trouble with consciousness: it’s a purely temporary phenomenon, not to say, exceptionally tiring.
The question is: where does consciousness come from? Does it come from the brain, as some modern scientists would have us believe? In some cases they even go so far as to say that they can locate the exact place - the exact set of cells in the exact part of the brain - where consciousness supposedly resides. (Turn right at the frontal lobe, left at the pituitary gland, and it’s first on your left.)
This is patently false. Take away my brain and you may well take away my consciousness (at least for the moment) but you don’t take away ALL consciousness.
The guy who has just removed my brain remains conscious, for example. He’s standing there looking down at this pulsing splodge of blood-smeared grey porridge in his hands, wondering what on Earth he did that for?
So, while a particular brand of reductionist science would like us to believe that the brain is a consciousness-generator, it could be also argued that it is just as much a consciousness-receiver.
Maybe it’s a two-way transmitter/receiver like a sophisticated version of one of those walkie-talkies the army uses. The question then has to be: where are the Headquarters?
We would have to be a very vain species indeed to assert that we are the only forms of consciousness in the universe. Vain, isolated and stupid. Which, it has to be admitted, is a fairly good description of most of the human race for most of the time.
My answer to this is to say that consciousness could be like gravity or light or time or matter. That is, it is one of the properties of the universe that came into being when the universe was born.
In the beginning was consciousness.
Which brings up another question: namely, where does consciousness go when we are asleep? It still exists, it’s just that we are no longer conscious of it. The brain is still generating images, and our dreaming selves are still ourselves even though we are no longer awake.
Modern psychology refers to this as the Unconscious, which is like defining something by something it is not. It is not conscious. It‘s a bit like answering the question, “what kind of tree is that?” by saying, “it is not a carrot.”
Later Mr Freud came up with another term. He called it the Id, which means “it” in German. In other words, his answer to the question, “what is the unconscious” is to say, “it is it,” which is almost as meaningless.
Which leaves us with a final question: does the world exist, as such, without a mind to perceive it?
That was the gist of Bishop Berkeley’s (2) famous question about the branch falling off a tree in a forest when no one is watching. How can we know it ever happened?
In order to disagree with Bishop Berkeley’s theory about the non-existence of matter, Dr. Johnson (3) kicked a stone and said, “I refute it thus!”
Roger Penrose’s theory (as quoted above) seems to suggest something different. The universe only exists, he implies, in order to be perceived by us.
Which is a bit like saying that that stone that Dr. Johnson kicked only existed in order to refute Bishop Berkeley.
It’s a pity we can’t ask the stone.
I guess I’m like most people on this planet.
I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes.
I was thinking about this a while ago. “It’s a pity life doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” I thought. And than it struck me. It does.
I’d just remembered something: a dream I’d had when I was in my teens. I won’t go into the details here except to say that, as I understood it later, it contained all the instructions I needed to get the best out of my life at that time. The fact that I didn’t pay heed, and continued to go about things in all the wrong ways is neither here nor there. Having an internal instruction manual doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to use it.
Actually the term “instruction manual” isn’t quite right. It’s more like the “Help” menu on your computer, meaning that it is part of the software, rather than an actual, physical book.
It is the sense, residing deep in your unconscious, of what your purpose is, which comes out in your dreams.
Sometimes the dream-instruction can seem a little obscure, but when you take time to think about it, it always make sense.
Like the time, in my early twenties, when I was wondering what to do with my life. I had a dream in which someone gave me a copy of Dr. Johnson’s dictionary, and I looked up the word “lapidary”.
A lapidary is someone who polishes gemstones. I am a stone: CJ Stone. I was being told to polish myself by reading the dictionary, in preparation for my life as a writer. The fact that it wasn’t just any old dictionary, but Dr. Johnson’s famed and immortal dictionary - the first definitive English dictionary - implies that the instruction came from some very deep and venerable place. From Dr. Johnson no less.
As a child, in fact, I had always been fascinated by dreams. Dreams were like stories in which I was the hero. Adventure tales, resonant with emotion and implied meaning, strange and yet familiar, they seemed like commentaries on my life, as if another part of me was whispering its reassuring presence from behind the veil of ordinary reality. I dreamt of a door inside a tunnel inside a cave, behind which lay the world of the dinosaurs. But that tunnel, that cave, that door seemed so reassuringly like home to me: as if they were all part of the geography of my soul.
I’ve heard it said that there is nothing more boring than listening to other people’s dreams. That may be true, but there is nothing more important, surely, than listening to your own, because where else do they come from but from your soul?
It’s imperative that you provide your own interpretation, however. No one else can do this for you. A dream is a feeling translated into images. It is a mood. You cannot find its meaning in a dictionary (not even Dr. Johnson's Dictionary). It’s what the images mean to you that matters. Mr. Freud cannot interpret it to you. Neither can I. The images are from your own life, for you and you alone. Only you can know what they mean.
Actually, I’m always sceptical when people give me that line about other people’s dreams being boring. If this were true then it would invalidate most of the work of psychoanalysis, not to speak of the Bible, many myths and fairy tales, as well as a large percentage of the world’s greatest literature. It’s just one of those defensive postures people adopt whenever they are faced with something that is a little too real. They pretend to yawn as they look the other way.
Chuang Chou said that he dreamed he was a butterfly and forgot he was Chou. He said, “I do not know whether it was Chou dreaming he was a butterfly, or the butterfly dreaming it was Chou.”
And, indeed, this is the truth. In a dream you forget the world of everyday reality, and enter a different realm. And who can say, really, which of the realms is the true one? Perhaps both of them are.
As for me: one day I dreamt that I was high up in the sky looking down at the toy town world below, riding on the back of a swan with a girl I knew at school, and the feeling was like exhilaration, like joy, like every pleasure you can name. And then it was as if my heart was caught on a wave of air as it reached out in front of me to a place high up on a mountain where a secret trail led to a crystalline rock, glistening with light in the fractured air. And then there was that feeling again, that this was me: this was my life, my place, my heart, and no one could ever take it away from me.
That dream, that place, that feeling, has called out to me ever since, as the place where my destiny lies.
Over the years it has been a recurring dream. One day I dreamt I was in my home town of Birmingham, amid all the industrial rubble and decay, and I saw my mountain glowering over the scene, hazy in the distance, calling out to me.
Another time I dreamed I was in a pub, and everyone was chattering in a foreign language, and I saw my mountain out of the window.
Finally I found myself in the lowlands on the way to the mountain, but I was diverted by the lure of bright lights and entertainment in what appeared to be a retro '70s discotheque, and then I was attacked by beings with bags over their heads on which were scrawled the crude depiction of faces. I called these beings the Un-men, and I knew that I was lost in the world of unreality.
I’ve not dreamed about the mountain since, but I’ve thought about it, often.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Sunday, July 16, 2006
I’ve been reading a lot about crop circles lately.
I can’t say I’ve ever been that interested in them before. So you get circles in cereals. So what? I saw a circle in my porridge once, where the boiling liquid made a bubble and popped.
However, crop circles are much, much more mysterious than this. I have it on good authority.
My friend Steve, who I’ve written about before, and who now lives in Tenerife, used to be very interested in crop circles. That was many years ago. He used to collect all kinds of arcane information to do with alien abductions and all the rest, and had a massive on-going correspondence with a whole galaxy of strange individuals with a penchant for this kind of stuff.
As a consequence he heard many explanations for the cause of crop circles: that they are created using Tesla technology, as fractals, as codes for DNA, by using scalar waves, as messages from inter-dimensional and/or interstellar beings, as a secret conspiracy by the Illuminati, Reptilian aliens, or the New World Order (tick as appropriate) to divert the masses from the reality of the presence of aliens at the highest level of government. All of which sounds like the plot out of some ultra-paranoid science fiction fantasy to me, like the Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.
I’m trying to remember whether the Illuminatus Trilogy had crop circles in it or not. I don’t think so. I don’t think crop circles had been invented when that book was first printed.
One of the most common beliefs is that crop circles represent secret messages being passed on to us by alien races, which seems a little odd. I mean, if alien races wanted to contact us, why on earth would they choose rape seed oil and wheat fields as their medium? Why not just go on the telly? They could take out an advert. “Hi, we’re the alien races.” It would be a lot easier than faffing about in fields late at night just to surprise some farmer or a flock of sheep in the morning.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine. “Why don‘t they go on the telly?” I said. “But they did,” she said. “They got David Icke to do it for them.”
(The difference between Robert Anton Wilson and David Icke, by the way, is that Robert Anton Wilson has a sense of humour.)
These days crop circles come in all shapes and sizes and - it has to be admitted - can be very beautiful. Lots of complex, intertwining geometrical designs, Celtic knots, stars, stars-within-stars, or infinitely complex mathematical or biological structures like the Mandelbrot set, the Julia set or the code for DNA. Very startling. Very peculiar. Very strange.
In the old days they were just circles. There’s nothing complex about a circle. Anyone can make a circle: with a rope and a plank of wood, or with a flying saucer. Either will do.
There seems to be three distinct schools of thought in the crop circle fraternity, each with its own subdivisions. Loosely these are the conspiracy theorists, the scientists, and the hoaxers, subdivided into the conspiracy theorists who believe in hoaxers and the ones who don’t, the scientists who believe in hoaxers and the ones who don’t and the hoaxers themselves, who don‘t believe in anybody.
At first it seems as much of a mystery why anyone would want to make a crop circle as a hoax, as it does why aliens would want to make one for any other reason. Then you check out the hoaxers and you find that they’ve become very famous through the process, and are now making crop-designs by commission for the international corporations. They’ve done themselves a great favour while muddying the waters a little. Now conspiracy theorists can say that hoaxers are part of the conspiracy, which satisfies just about everyone.
Scientists talk of electro-magnetic phenomena and plasma vortexes, while conspiracy theorists talk of aliens and space-time inter-dimensional vortexes. At least they’re both agreed on the vortexes.
Which gives me a good slogan for that advert the alien races should take out on the telly. “Hi, we’re the alien races, and we come to you in a vortex.”
Hoaxers talk of “cognitive dissonance” and “art” and are even more difficult to follow. Why can’t these people write in English, that’s what I want to know? So you’ve made some fake crop circles and you’ve got up everyone’s noses. Good on you. Now go home and pat yourself on the back, and stop waffling on about it. At least you made the Daily Mail.
The conspiracy theorists, by the way, don’t like to be called conspiracy theorists. They like to be called cerealogists.
There have been some very heated meetings between the cerealogists and the hoaxers. These two groups really don’t like each other. The hoaxers have proved - yes, proved - that some circles can be faked. But they’ve not proved anything other than that.
Meanwhile the latest scientific estimate is that maybe 80% of crop circles are hoaxes, which - startlingly - still leaves 20% that are not.
According to Dr. Eltjo H. Haselhoff, Ph.D., former employee of Los Alamos National Laboratories, crop circles are created by balls of light. Dr. Haselhoff has had his findings published in the scientific journal Physiologia Plantarum, so it must be true. Anyone called Dr. Eltjo H. Haselhoff is obviously a scientist. You can’t argue with a name like that.
So it’s yah-boo to the hoaxers and its yah-boo to the sceptics. As to what these balls of light might be up to, that’s another question. Some things are a mystery, and we‘ll leave it at that.
I’m sure you’ve seen that advert on the TV.
There’s a car full of people driving through a misty landscape to a muffled soundtrack. Then the car emerges above the clouds into clear mountain air. The roof goes back, the sun comes out, a woman shakes her hair, everyone smiles, the treble goes up on the soundtrack, and a weird-looking cipher appears on the top of the screen, which then rotates ninety degrees so that we can read it.
“FEEL” it says boldly, followed by the company slogan. “Volvo. For Life.”
It’s a clever advert. It creates a string of powerful associations, to do with mountains, fresh air, clarity and sunlight. It makes feeling better a matter of owning a car. Even so, I wonder how many people have gone out and spent £26,225 on a new Volvo because of it.
You’d have to be pretty dumb to buy a brand new car because you liked the advert.
Which makes you wonder why Volvo bothered to make the advert in the first place. Who knows how much it cost? Several million at least. Add to that the other billions spent by rival car manufacturers advertising their wares and you are left with a puzzle.
In the entire history of TV advertising, how many cars do you think have been sold directly on the back of TV adverts? Logic would suggest: not that many.
People who spend money on new cars will most likely concentrate on technical matters, such as mileage, acceleration, the number of seats and what they can afford. After that they may think about styling and colour. Such is the conventional wisdom. It is only after this that the unconscious effects of the associative connections in the advert may play a residual part.
So why advertise cars on TV at all?
The people who make these adverts are not stupid. The car manufacturers who pay for them are not laying out significant amounts of cash as an act of charity. They know precisely what they are doing.
Chances are, if you ask anyone if they are influenced by advertising, they will say that they are not.
I can remember being influenced by an advert once. It was for Budweiser beer. I developed an immediate overwhelming thirst, went over the road to the off-license and bought a four pack of Kronenburg.
Guess what was on special offer? So much for the effectiveness of advertising.
What is actually happening, I suspect, is much, much more subtle than this. In a fiercely competitive market, it is precisely those unconscious associations that have the final say. You don’t go out and buy a brand new car on the back of a TV advert, but deep-down the associations stay with you. Freedom. Sunlight. Mountain air. Cars.
Researchers have worked out that we absorb up to ten thousand advertising images in any one day.
Ten Thousand Days, one hundred million images.
It’s like a form of hypnosis. Constant reinforcement of the underlying message.
The cumulative effects are not to do with the specific products, but with the culture as a whole. The imperative is to “buy, buy, buy.”
Buy, buy, buy, one hundred million times. Buy, even though we know we are killing the planet.
It’s no wonder our world is in such a mess.
Now what was the name of that car again?
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
There is a political phenomenon known as “blowback”. It represents the unintended consequences of foreign policy actions. For example, the United States and Great Britain overthrew a functioning democracy in Iran in 1953. Then, after years of extreme repression under the Western-backed Shah, the Iranian people finally rose up and installed an Islamic regime fundamentally hostile to the West.
We are living with the consequences to this day.
A similar process is going on in Afghanistan right now.
Afghanistan was always a wild and a lawless country, and there have been numerous attempts over the centuries to tame it. The British had a go in the 19th century. So did the Russians more recently.
In the years of the Russian occupation the West supported al-Qaeda and the narco-trafficking Afghan warlords. After the Soviet withdrawal we allowed that poor, dry, opium-ridden country to go back to its lawless ways.
The Afghans have been fighting each other for over thirty years. The irony here is that it was the Taliban who finally brought order and peace to the land in the mid nineties. It was the Taliban who stopped the heroin trade.
Now we are fighting the Taliban again, heroin is on the rise, and British troops are being killed in some obscure corner of the world that most of us never even knew existed. How many of you had heard of Helmand Province before the latest troop deployments?
It is worth asking who the Taliban are. On film they look like some ragged ghostly army haunting the dusty mountain wildernesses between Afghanistan and Pakistan, like vengeful warriors from a medieval past.
Well I can tell you EXACTLY who the they are. They are not ghosts. They have a history. They are the orphaned sons of thirty years of the Afghan wars, brought up in the madrassa schools of Pakistan, funded by our great “ally” Saudi Arabia.
The Taliban are oppressive to women because they have never known women. They have never known mothers or aunts or sisters. They have had a peculiar, violent, repressive form of Islam whipped into them for endless years. That’s how they grew up. In other words, this is an army made up almost entirely of abused children.
This is what I mean by “blowback”. The Taliban are the unintended result of Western foreign policy, the creation of those two Islamic allies in the war on terror, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and of years of shameful neglect. We allowed them to fight our wars for us during the Cold War era, taking on the might of the Soviet Empire, and then left them to rot.
Tell me: why should we expect them to be grateful now?
Saturday, July 08, 2006
A Night In December.
I first came across the Hypostasis of the Archons in December last year. I can’t tell you the date, but I can tell you something very distinctive about the day. It was the day that the Christmas tree lights were switched on in our town.
It was a bad day for me. I had a hangover. I was nervy and frazzled and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Instead I sat on my computer all day reading obscure political and religious texts, mainly about the various sects that occupy Iraq. It’s one of my particular fascinations. Why did the Americans invade Iraq? Yes, because of the oil, but also - so I thought, speculatively - because Iraq contains the key to an understanding of the true meaning and origins of Christianity.
The Mandaeans (who I’ve mentioned before in this blog) are followers of John the Baptist. They are also a Gnostic sect. This makes the Mandaean religion both a confirmation and a refutation of Christianity at the same time. A confirmation because they represent an independent source which acknowledges a real history behind the myths of Christianity. A refutation because they are Gnostic, which implies that John the Baptist was Gnostic, which implies that, at its source, and in its original form, Christianity was Gnostic too, which makes Orthodoxy the heretical form, contrary to conventional wisdom.
Well, that was the sort of thing I was thinking about while reading these odd texts.
I’ll put some of the references at the bottom of the page.
I was also, as the day was wearing on, starting to drink again, to get rid of that horrible hangover of mine.
This was because I was planning to cover the Christmas-tree lights turning-on ceremony for our local paper, and I knew I needed some “Dutch Courage” to face the world and all its false Christmas jollity today. There’s nothing so nerve-wracking for a frazzled man with a hangover than another man in a bright red suit and a false beard going “ho ho ho” at him.
It was about ten minutes before I was due to go out - and already half-sozzled - that I came across the Hypostasis of the Archons.
Now I knew about the Gnostic texts, of course. I’d read the Gospel of Thomas, and one or two others, most of which I’d found so obscure as to appear almost nonsensical. And I recognised the title straight away, but I’d not read it before.
Those first two or three paragraphs just seared into me with the force of what seemed like a pre-ordained knowledge.
I read “their chief is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, ‘It is I who am God; there is none apart from me,” and “knew” that this was George W Bush. Or if not this man exactly, then the office that he holds, the office of the President of the United States. Or if not this office exactly, then some other office of supreme power, whether Pope or King or Newspaper Proprietor or Chairman of a large multi-national corporation. Or if not these offices exactly, then the residue of repression and control they deposit in each individual and in the political, the psychological and the economic world that they “own”.
I printed off a copy, grabbed my jacket, and went out into the wild December night.
Now a funny thing was happening in our town that night. There were two Christmas-tree light turning-on ceremonies.
Two Christmas trees. Two sets of lights. Two celebrity guests to throw the switches. Two Santas. Two contrasting renditions of ancient and modern Christmas carols.
God rest ye merry gentlemen played by a jolly brass band at one end of the town, and I wish it could be Christmas every day by Wizzard on a CD player at the other.
Middle class at one end. Working class at the other. White collar. Blue collar. Upmarket. Down market. Suburban. Trailer trash.
This is a town at war with itself.
Following is the report I filed on the two ceremonies for our local paper, The Whitstable Times, Thursday 22nd December 2005.
Going against the flow gets you used-tyre dip.Such is my dedication to the cause of this column that I attempted to go to both Christmas-tree light turning-on ceremonies in Whitstable. I ended up seeing neither.
Trouble was I arrived from the wrong direction. I live at the bottom end of town. Hence Starvation Point is nearer for me. Once I’d arrived and looked it over, seen the Santa and heard the brass band playing Christmas Carols (a maudlin sound to my ears), I realized I had no interest in it.
There was no one I recognised, and anyway I wasn’t sure I wanted to hang around overhearing conversations about house prices and share portfolios, so I hot-footed it up to the other end. At this point I felt decidedly like I was going against the tide. Everyone else was heading in the opposite direction: down town instead of up.
I remembered that old hippy phrase - “go with the flow” - and a certain inspired reply I heard once.
The only thing that goes with the flow is a dead fish.
So, being distinctly hormonal, and having a huge thirst, I carried on in my salmon-like quest, leaping the emotional rapids of the High Street and Oxford Street, to reach my original spawning grounds, the Labour Club.
As we all know, Whitstable is getting more and more like an illustration from an old Marxist text these days. It’s working class versus middle class, proletariat versus the bourgeoisie, Shepherd Neame versus Chardonnay. And never the twain shall meet.
Chavs of North Kent unite! You have nothing to lose but a bunch of ridiculously overpriced restaurants.
So this is where the proletariat were gathered: outside All Tyres and Wheels on Belmont Road wearing tinsel tiaras and eating mince pies. They were also selling sea-food cocktail that tasted like rubber marinated in Old Spice. That’s how the All Tyres and Wheels man gets rid of his used tyres. He turns them into sea-food cocktail.
It was noticeable that most of the Labour Councillors were at this end. I saw Peter H, Wes McL and John W. You wonder if they were here voluntarily, or whether they were forced to show loyalty regardless of their preferences. The Labour Club is a cruel mistress.
I suspect that Julia S would have been down the other end, it being more to her taste. Down there they were eating smoked salmon canapes no doubt, while up here we were munching on Tesco value super-cheap cold sausage rolls with used-tyre dip. Yum yum.
I needed a drink. Went into the Labour Club, downed two pints in succession, and consequently missed the lights-turning-on-ceremony here too.
After that I saw someone who looked like our esteemed editor, John N. He had some kind of a device in his ear. It was disguised as a hands-free set for a mobile phone, in order not to attract suspicion, but I can reveal its true purpose now. The figure I saw was not John N at all, but a robotic clone of John N being telepathically controlled from Times Central by a huge alien Artificial Intelligence supercomputer called “The Hypostasis of the Archons”.
You didn’t know that the Whitstable Times is actually part of an alien conspiracy to take over the world did you?
You heard it here first......
You’ll see that I managed to mention the Hypostasis of the Archons. This has to be a first. I think I must be the only reporter EVER, in the entire history of the world, to use the term “the Hypostasis of the Archons” in his local newspaper and get away with it.
Not that anyone in our town knew what on earth I was talking about. It was a joke that fell on deaf ears.
It was like typing it into my mobile phone. No one but me had any idea what it meant. It was for me and me alone.
The rest of the night passed off fairly peaceably. I met up with two old friends of mine at the Labour Club (Gladys and Mary), we drank some beer, we went for an Indian meal, and I read the Hypostasis of the Archons.
They must have thought I was mad.
I kept reading bits of it out.
“Look at this, look at this,” I’d say, and read out one of the lines.
I’m eating a Chicken Jalfrezi, drinking Indian Lager, and reading from an obscure 2nd century Christian text.
I thought it was the most fantastical thing I’d ever read. Half a re-telling of the Genesis myth, and half like some crazy, ironic, mad science fiction fantasy story, like Kurt Vonnegut on a religious bender.
That image of my editor being controlled by a giant artificial intelligence super-computer kind of fits with the atmosphere of the text. That’s sort of what it is saying. It’s about how our world is controlled, not only on a physical level, but on a psychic level too, by “the Archons”, the rulers or powers of our world. It’s about how our minds and our very definitions of reality are being manipulated. It’s about what that hoary Old Testament Prophet of the modern era, Karl Marx, called False Consciousness or Alienation. It’s about how all the lies get into our heads and then appear as thoughts which we think we have thought, but which are actually implanted into us by some alien process owned and controlled by someone else.
There was one interesting incident. There was a guy sitting at a table nearby I recognised. He’s a local big-wig in our community, reputed to be an arms dealer. Certainly he’s ex-army, and with all the bearing (and the sideburns) to make it obvious. Officer class. He looks like he is expecting a salute.
In the early days of the anti-war movement, after 9/11 but before the invasion of Afghanistan, he was my ideological contestant.
And after that too, during the invasion of Iraq. And on, through the occupation, to the present day.
The anti-war group used to meet in the Labour Club, which, of course, is run, partly, for the benefit of the Labour Party, some members of which had supported the war (not all of them, to their credit).
My friend the arms-dealer was one of these. New Labour through and through, which is to say, not really Labour Party at all. Actually he was too right wing even for the Labour Party, who had sacked him eventually. He would have been more at home in George Bush’s Republican Party amongst the neo-cons.
But - give him his due - we had organised a public debate on the issue and this man had stood by his beliefs and come before us, to stand up for his point of view. He’d taken a lot of flak. That took courage.
So, anyway, there I am, fork full of Jalfrezi before my mouth, Hypostasis of the Archons open in front of me, when I spotted our war-supporting compatriot.
I won’t name him. We’ll call him Gordon.
“Hi, Gordon,” I said. “You still selling weapons of mass destruction?”
He sort of spluttered over his meal.
He said, “no, but if I was, I’d be selling them to the good guys.” And then he said - I kid you not - “I’m glad we invaded Iraq, to find out that they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise we wouldn’t have known would we?”
It was my turn to splutter.
“Whaaaat? Did I hear you right? Did you just say it’s a good job we invaded Iraq otherwise we wouldn’t have known they never had weapons of mass destruction?”
“That’s right,” he said, defiantly.
It was the craziest justification for the war I’d ever heard in my life. Mass murder to find out that what were never there in the first place really weren’t there.
Isn’t that what Hans Blix was there to find out? Did they really have to blow up half a nation and kill countless thousand kids for that? All that grief. All that pain. All that loss. Loved ones. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, all dead or shredded. Mangled bodies in the dust. Depleted uranium. Cluster bombs. A mountain of corpses.
It’s not funny of course, but I couldn’t help but laugh. I have what you might call a heightened sense of irony.
“Gordon,” I said, “I could have told you that a long, long time ago, and then we wouldn’t have had to have gone through all this pain would we?”
It was, I could see, a practised answer. When you know you’ve been in the wrong it’s hard to admit. When you know you’ve been in the wrong about something as serious as the justification for a war the only thing you can do is to bluff it out. It’s what Tony Blair has been doing for a long time now. It’s what my less-than-innocent friend Gordon was doing right now. Bluffing it. Putting a spin on it. Putting on an act. Trying out an argument to see if it made sense.
It didn’t of course. But he had to try.
The argument went on all night until we realised that the whole of the restaurant were listening in.
Someone said, “well we agree with everything you say. We all just wish you’d shut up saying it, that’s all.”
But the waiters, who were Bangladeshi, gave us a shot of spirits each for free.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
The reason I typed “The Hypostasis of the Archons” into my mobile phone to send to my ex was that she had asked me about Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code.
I’d said that Dan Brown was sort of onto a half-truth in his book. Not that Jesus ever married Mary Magdalene (there’s no indication of that anywhere in the literature) but that the feminine has been systematically exorcised from Christianity over the centuries and that certain forgotten forms of the religion (such as the one given voice in the various texts contained within the suppressed Nag Hammadi library) were much more sympathetic to the notion of a female form in the deity.
This is clear in The Hypostasis of the Archons, where the feminine side of the deity is given a name, as Pistis Sophia.
In my last entry about the Hypostasis of the Archons I said that when I’d first read the text on the internet a kind of shiver of recognition went through my whole body. This happened several times, in fact. Firstly when I read the line in the first paragraph - “our contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness” (which I understood to be a declaration of empathy for the plight of suffering humanity) - and then again when I read the line in the second paragraph - “Their chief is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, ‘It is I who am God; there is none apart from me.’”
I must say, my first thought at this point was, “George W Bush”, and I laughed out loud.
It was the line about power and ignorance and arrogance that made me think that.
What it actually recognises is a relationship of power, which is currently personified in the figure of the so-called Leader of the Free World. At the time of the writing of the book it would have meant the Roman Emperor, who was worshipped as a god.
The Archons are the ruling economic and political elites and also the powers of darkness that they worship. In the modern world we would refer to these as “market-forces”.
I was also simultaneously aware that this figure - the blind chief Samael - represented a corresponding psychological construct, creator of a false world: the ego. Or not the ego as such (which is simply a self-protective and focussed aspect of the mind) but a particular destructive, possessive form of the ego - the ego as property - which claims to own all it sees, and which diminishes the world in the process.
Thus the Hypostasis of the Archons is a psycho-political narrative of immense contemporary significance.
The Roman world - the world that it was born from - is mirrored by our own world.
Many of the things that we would recognise in our own world - bureaucracy, patronage, class, relations of dominance and subjugation, even Big Brother in the form of the gladiatorial games (including the cult of celebrity) - all of this began in those times.
The Romans were much like us.
They were as cynical, as lazy, as inclined to “taking the easy way out”, as morbid, as stupid, and as spiritually confined as we are.
At the same time, they were as sophisticated, as industrious, as committed, as humane, as bright and as potentially free as us.
There was as much relative misery in their world as in ours. There was less misery as a whole - despite slavery - because there were less of them to be made miserable. But the levels of abuse and exploitation were similar. The misery of the slave in Roman times was generally no worse than the misery of the wage-slave in many parts of the world today.
They were also, unlike us, exclusively organic, so there was comparatively less damage being done. For example: they were not burning fossil fuels at anywhere near the level that we do.
Nevertheless, within the limitations of their technology (limitations of scope, but not of kind) the Romans were committing huge, often irreparable, damage.
In a sense, our world represents the triumph of the Roman world over the many other kinds of world that existed at the time... the triumph of Roman consciousness over the many other kinds of consciousness. George Bush inherits the political mantle perhaps - he and his ilk - but the rest of us are burdened (or indoctrinated) by the psychological inheritance.
Samael, the god of the blind, represents the eyes with which we now view our world, that is, blindly, in ignorance.
Karl Marx had a good word for this process. He called it ideology. Samael represents the ideology of the power and ignorance and arrogance of the military-economic machine that dominates our outer world and which we subsequently internalise as self-repression.
Thus he creates a false world. “His thoughts became blind. And, having expelled his power - that is, the blasphemy he had spoken - he pursued it down to chaos and the abyss, his mother, at the instigation of Pistis Sophia. And she established each of his offspring in conformity with its power - after the pattern of the realms that are above, for by starting from the invisible world the visible world was invented.”
The third time I had the shiver of recognition came with the following words: “As incorruptibility looked down into the region of the waters, her image appeared in the waters; and the authorities of the darkness became enamoured of her. But they could not lay hold of that image, which had appeared to them in the waters, because of their weakness - since beings that merely possess a soul cannot lay hold of those that possess a spirit - for they were from below, while it was from above. This is the reason why ‘incorruptibility looked down into the region (etc.)’: so that, by the father's will, she might bring the entirety into union with the light.”
It was the image of the goddess reflected in the waters that caused a resonance in me. The goddess as “incorruptibility”. The idea of the “authorities of the darkness” becoming enamoured of her, but being unable to lay hold of her. They fail to lay hold of her firstly because they are looking in the wrong place. (What they are looking at is merely a reflection.) But secondly, because she is the image of incorruptibility and cannot, therefore be “laid hold of”. She is beyond objectification. She is beyond property. She is beyond measure. She is beyond price.
I could see the image at the time. Indeed, I can see it now. And I could see the blind, false god, jealous of her truth, reaching out to touch her shimmering image in the dark waters.
This image sent a message to me, from a past that is not as long ago as we like to imagine, about the true nature of our world, as a reflection of another world. Sometimes, even, I can sense that other world - not so far away - as a world of immense, intense almost unbearable beauty; as a world of true kindness; as a world of friends, not strangers; as a world where the exploitation of class has never existed; as a world which glows with its own inner light, where the works of art and nature are forever intertwined in an elaborately playful dance of sheer delight. The naturalising of the human. The humanising of nature. Where there is no longer a “them” and “us”, nor a “me” and an “it”. Just you and I, I and thou, the world and its lover. For ever and ever. Amen.
You never knew I was a priest, did you?
You all know by now that I take a particular attitude to drugs. You know that I think that cannabis should be legal, and that heroin should be treated as a medical rather than a criminal problem. Different drugs have their different purposes, and most of them are the by-products of nature in any case. The idea that we should spend our time legislating against what grows from the earth seems to me to be the height of insanity.
But there’s one other drug that I want to talk about: alcohol.
In The Spiritual Super Market.
I had this dream once. The whole of the human race was marching up the hill towards enlightenment. I was there too, elbow-to-elbow, amid the general throng. There was a sense of elation and bustling expectation.
Then, as we were nearing the top I began to notice all these little scenes.
Two people were sitting in the dust by the path comparing hands and feet.
“Look,” one of them was saying, with child-like wonder, “we have fingers. And toes.”
And they giggled.