Monday, January 28, 2008

Empire on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown II

People are crazy and times are strange - Bob Dylan

[Not done yet; I'll try to wrap it up tonight.]

Times Are Strange

Crazy people see things. Most everyone who's not crazy knows that. You'll likely remember than when it's your turn to see something, and be circumspect about to whom you tell it.

People have been seeing things in America since it was known by other names and hosted other nations. In the early 15th Century, in present-day New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, the first wave of Spain's explorer-conquerors were reportedly astonished to find indigenous people with apparent preemptive knowledge of Roman Catholicism, who had even crafted their own crosses and rosaries. The Europeans were told that a pale figure known locally as the "Blue Lady," had appeared to them many times in recent years, floating above the ground in an azure haze, preaching a foreign faith in their own language. When friars carried the story back to Spain in 1635 it was received with interest by the Inquisition, which was just then trying an abbess named Maria de Jesus Agreda.

About a dozen years earlier, after having put on on the blue habit of the Franciscan order, Maria Agreda had begun experiencing ecstatic visions and "raptures," and told her cloistered sisters tales of her more than 500 out-of-body travels to a distant land where she preached to "savages." She eventually wrote a book detailing her spiritual journeys, and she soon came to the attention of the heresy-hunting Inquisition. The story of the "Blue Lady," and the rapidity with which the Spanish were able to pacify and baptize the inhabitants of the lands she had visited, earned Sister Maria both an acquittal and a place in the court of King Philip. Regardless of the century, secular power always stands ready to recruit magicians, miracle workers and devils to its side.

Maria Agreda's etheric adventures and xenoglossia were understood by both the native North Americans and Spanish Catholics as religious events (the only question for the Inquisition was whether they were divine or infernal). Four hundred years later, what once could be called only either miraculous or fraudulent may be regarded as perhaps another category of the merely human.

Similar to Maria Agreda's recruitment by King Philip and John Dee by Queen Elizabeth, Robert Monroe's astral navigations were weaponized by the Pentagon, which schooled itself in his Virginia institute for bilocation. In Journeys Out of the Body, he writes of "raising himself out of the physical" and whoring about on the astral plane, eventually having "sex" - a "giddy electrical-type shock" - with with a female friend who, the next week, volunteered the information that she had had an erotic dream about Monroe the same night, in which he had given her "a detailed physical examination." In 16th Century Spain Monroe would have been called an incubus, and he would have been burned alive.

Robert Bruce describes witnessing his nephew Matt's first real-time OBE in his book Astral Dynamics, during a two-week visit coaching the boy on projection.

A few days before he was due to leave, while meditating late at night, I clearly saw Matt's projected real-time double float through the wall and come into the room I was sitting in. He waved cheerfully at me and I slowly waved back at him, without breaking my entranced state - no mean feat in itself - immensely pleased that Matt had finally managed to get out of his body. Matt floated about the room, seemingly having some difficulty with movement and directional control, but apparently thoroughly enjoying himself. He soon floated out of my sight and that was the last I saw of him that night.

Bruce writes that the next morning, Matt "vividly remembered" floating through the wall, seeing his uncle sitting below and the two waving at each other. And if we can believe his account, the fact that Bruce himself was in an altered state would have heightened his receptivity to seeing things, which makes me wonder whether the "Blue Lady" first manifested herself among entranced shamans.

Which returns me to America's ongoing manic episode. Which is the greater crazy: to see things, or to pretend that you don't?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Empire on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown I

People are crazy and times are strange - Bob Dylan

People are crazy

I've been thinking a lot this week about last week's leaked internal memo from Associated Press. Frank Baker, AP's LA assistant bureau chief, issued the directive that "Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal." I've been thinking how right and how proper this is.

What should US cable news be doing, other than leading the hour with live updates from Britney Spears' custody hearing? Put another way, what does US cable news do better that it should be doing instead? The answer, my answer, is nothing. It's perfectly tuned by the lords of the manor to service the land of genetically modified bread and circuses. What has it ever demonstrated to justify a higher expectation?

But the failed expectations are not the media's alone. Most responsibility rests with the broken subjects of America's broken media. Does Clinton versus Obama really merit more attention and sober analysis than Spears versus Federline? I don't see why it should. One pair speak of "change," and the other of mood swings, but it's the same, leveled spectacle.

Did the Clinton team hack the New Hampshire vote? Bradblog makes its usual strong case for electoral fraud, but I'm finding it hard to get my indignant mojo working. Because here's the thing: even when the system works as advertised it contemptuously defrauds and disenfranchises citizens who take their politics like detached spectators. Obama and Clinton are two contenders in a fight club of closed ranks and consensus brutality with interchangeable corners. The outcome of this contest for advancement upon our lives - American lives and everyone else with a seat at the arena - will mean just as much as who wins the Super Bowl or the Oscar, should we have any emotional investment in the outcome of those contests. Because the only change to be registered will be how we feel about it. That's supposed to be enough, and it's been that way long enough that for many, it is.

Most everyone loves a good breakdown. At least ever since breakdowns have become public spectacle, and we can revel in celebrities' madness at physical and emotional distance. But even if we're so emotionally removed from the circus that we don't care whether the fallen idol is a danger to herself, we still care should she become a harm to others. So we're relieved when Britney loses visitation rights, so her crazy train can keep chugging along without running over her children. Unfortunately, there's no court that can slap the wrists America's already slashed, whose own breakdown would be far more entertaining with a restraining order.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Where do we go now but nowhere?

one more doomed time and without much hope
going round and around to nowhere - Nick Cave

The genius of the Christian Hell isn't the suffering; it's the suffering in perpetuity.

Most faiths that incorporate into their theologies a place of punishment make it a way station where the souls can be purged of wickedness or impurities or bad karma before they can resume their progress, not a place of torment for the eternally damned. In such underworld afterlifes, the suffering may be great but it has an end and a rehabilitative purpose. In the Christian Hell, the suffering is without end and wholly punitive. Think of it as differing philosophies of incarceration. If nobody gets out of here alive, nobody gets out of there dead or alive.

I can't help it. Hell is what I think about when I think about the Iowa Caucuses. When I think of Hillary or Obama and Mitt or Huck I see only Titanic's deck chairs being rearranged on the bottom of the ocean. The familiar vain hope of another election cycle has turned desperate and evangelical, as though Hell were still only where we might end up, Ron Paul forbid. And Paul's millenarians, who regard him as America's latest last chance, keep doomsday watch against the blue helmets and detention camps of some imagined mongrel-socialist "New World Order." But that's to miss the more profound disorder, and the passing of each tipping point that locks us into its deeper circles.

It could have been another inside joke of the archly ironic universal mind that found Arlen Specter in Rawalpindi when Benazir Bhutto was struck down by her own magic bullet. If nothing else it does have good comic timing, but we've all seen its routine before and heard all the punchlines. Ever since the Roman Republic cut down the Gracchi brothers you'd think the assassination of another patrician reformer should cease to astonish, and perhaps at last it has. We've been living this hell long enough we should expect it, as Bhutto herself almost certainly did.

Our dying oceans incubate slime and bloom strange with jellyfish, North America's birds are disappearing on the order of tens of millions, and amphibians the world over are tumbling to extinction. It's 2008, the "Year of the Frog" to "generate public awareness and understanding of the amphibian extinction crisis which represents the greatest species conservation challenge in the history of humanity." But to too many, 2008 will be a triumph of sorts simply because Bush and Cheney will be out of office by its end. "Change" and "Hope" are great vote multipliers, but to imagine that merely outlasting a term limit could be something like a victory is to misunderstand the meaning of public office in a deep criminal state, and to misapprehend our intractable circumstance whose closest analogy may be damnation.