Nobody Expects New(sletter) [Trenchant Edges]
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes, 33 seconds. Contains 2111 words
Welcome back to the Trenchant Edges, a newsletter that’s getting a schedule again.
Because I cannot be trusted with no deadlines.
We’re gonna be a Tuesday/Thursday deal. For now, both will be noonish normally.
Lol, I’ve already fucked that up but while I started writing this I had some interesting employment options open up so that’s probably worthwhile.
Whatever. Y’all don’t even know when I’m supposed to be sending these yet.
Today’s gonna be a bit short because I wanna introduce a couple of our ongoing topics but I also have to get to the first of my three events today in a half hour.
So let’s cut to the chase.
Rising Fascism and The American Neo-Volkish Movement
Over the past few years, I’ve been spending more and more time focusing on the far right as I see them drive more and more politics.
Last year I wrote this piece on the myth of gun confiscation on this very newsletter a few pieces on Qanon, and on right-wing propaganda to test the waters here.
In the past, I’ve been hesitant about writing about politics for weird personal reasons that don’t really make sense to me now.
A podcast I really like, Moxy O’Brien’s Come and See made the point in one of their episodes that the rise of modern far right politics comes downstream of a lot of cultural weirdness we’ve discussed.
And that much of this resembles the cultic milieu of the late 19th century-early 20th-century German Volkish movement. Which was a broad ethnonational cultural movement uniting a mess of ideas around a newly nationalist ideal of the German people, or Volk.
A recent, excellent, video by Innuendo Studios on Youtube goes into a lot of the game theory of how the worst people involved in our modern variation mainstream its ideas.
It’s not an accident the biggest talking head on television, Tucker Carlson, has made a bunch of hay out of UFOs and also White Genocide conspiracies.
Goes back to the Cultic Milieu and to a surprising degree our old friend Helena Blavatsky.
We’ll get more into this over the next few weeks.
The CCRU and Is This Hauntology?
Spoiler: Probably not
In 1995, the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit was formed at Warwick University in England. It was a kind of cultural theory think tank synthesizing ideas not unlike our own: Weird fiction, critical theory, postmarxism, occultism, and cybernetics.
In truth, I barely know anything from the CCRU itself. I’ve only really read two of its members: Mark Fisher, who we’ll get to, and Nick Land.
Land’s writing synthesizes, well, a lot of weird shit I’ve synthesized. Applying a kind of Lovecraftian Cosmic horror slash demonology to the logic of capitalism empowered by information technology.
But where I look at the grotesque cyberparasite on human thriving and think, “Yeah, that’s gotta go” Nick figures it can’t really be stopped so the best anyone can do is make it happen faster.
Ah, accelerationism. Not a thing we’ve discussed but it’s kind of the worst ideology.
Basically, it goes, “We can’t have good things until the system we’re under dies, so we should seek to bring about its collapse as soon as possible.” If folks want me to go deeper into it, I can but it mostly seems like people cheerleading fascism just because it’s different.
As if Fascism has some kind of track record of turning into a better system.
But anyway, Land’s a big interesting weirdo and he was fairly influential in the Dark Enlightenment/Neo-Reactionary movements that fed the pre-Trump Alt-Right before dissipating into mere Trump Support.
Well, or just open support for fascism.
Turns out the galaxy brains over in those spaces didn’t actually have any new ideas afterall.
Which sort of brings us to Mark Fisher, who was one of Land’s students at the CCRU and who wrote a number of influential essays that still haunt *rimshot* left wing politics today.
The two most important of those are Exiting the Vampire Castle, about the institutional capture of left wing politics by performative NGO professional etiquettes built around idealist notions of identity politics. The only way out is to build a kind of anti-identitarian class solidarity. The other important work is Capitalist Realism which is best summed up with a quote from Ursula Le Guinn.
Put another way: After the fall of the Soviet Union, Neoliberal Capitalism reigns supreme and it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
Fisher uses a lot of now dated pop culture references to make his point and uses the word Hauntology quite a bit.
Granted, some of Mark’s taste is fantastic. Really, listen to this whole album 20 years on and it’s still a banger. Even if it’s now a cliche among Fisher’s fans.
Unfortunately, his long struggle with depression ended with suicide before he could finish his work on the concept of Acid Communism. Which should give some hint of why I became interested in his work in the first place.
This, finally, brings us to Hauntology.
Coined by famously obscure writer Jaques Derrida in the 1993 collection Spectres of Marx, Hauntology is a word that seems almost designed to be misunderstood. Because of how cool it sounds and how obscure its meaning seems, it gets thrown around in lots of different spaces without much sense.
The working definition I like best, from futurist podcaster Alice Caldwell-Kelly goes something like this: Hauntology is the study of the remains of potential futures left untaken.
So our image starting this section isn’t Hauntology because it’s mere nostalgia. The wish for an idealized past that didn’t really happen.
By contrast, Hauntology is about the wreckage of futures that died before they could be realized. The specter of communism haunted Europe in the 19th century long before the threat of the USSR did. And after the USSR’s fall, it goes back to potential.
A more concrete example might be whatever remains of the LA’s streetcar system, a hint of a future not dependant on Detroit engines and oil closed by… well, you’ll just have to look into that yourself.
I was interested in the term and tried to parse it because I wondered if what I was doing here was, in fact, Hauntology.
Mostly I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not, but I want to explore the field a bit here and see if we can’t find some lost gems.
My own project is less about nostalgia and more about excavating building materials from the collapsed ruins of dead ideologies so new and better dreams can be built in the sky.
Maybe we’ll find out it was Hauntology after all.
Or maybe that’s just the friends we made along the way.
This brings us to our final topic.
Skinner Boxes, Mind Control, and Mental Health
I really hate the discourse around brainwashing.
It’s a weird mix of toxic myths, orientalist gibberish, and con artist grifting, all mostly drowning out a very real discourse about the ways our choices & desires can be cultivated, primed, conditioned, shamed, incentivized, and manipulated.
I think any discussion of the subject needs to take into account context that almost always gets left out in subjects like MK Ultra or totalizing government propaganda.
First, the core building block to most of it is Rhetoric. Speaking persuasively. This is a 2500-year-old art developed in Greece (other cultures developed their own traditions, but I’m not well read with them at all).
Modernity then gave us our first real demonstration of how scale and testing built more and more emotionally compelling messages in the late 19th century with Yellow Journalism.
WW1 and 2 transferred those techniques into state-run techniques of warfare.
It’s not just about lying, but about knowing how and when to lie and what to lie about.
This is the beginning of the propaganda machine analyzed by Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufactured Consent: Broadcast media creating nationwide shared experiences for whole generations at once.
At the same time we had several interlinking discoveries: BF Skinner’s Behaviorism finding Operant Conditioning, the logic of gambling addiction, and modern medical hypnotism from psychiatrists like Milton Erikson.
Operant conditioning taught us how to generate addictive behavior: Only rewarding a behavior sometimes.
And the tool Skinner used to verify this is called Total Environmental Control by today’s government-trained torturers: the Skinner box. A box empty of stimulation except for what the experimenters are testing.
Today the skinner box is more or less the fundamental model of web design. By carefully arranging design elements, on desktop or mobile, web developers optimize their click-through metrics.
All this time advertisers have slowly built up their own bag of tricks, most notably in Direct Response marketing, the earliest precursor to targeted internet ads. You’d mail out 5000 letters and the number of sales you got would tell you if the copy was any good.
Again, a skinner box approach came in here and increasingly sophisticated ideas about how to target a message became predominant by the 1990s.
All this is kind of a meat and potatoes approach to mind control. It’s not really mind control unless there aren’t alternatives and unless dissent is actively suppressed.
Hypnosis occupies a weird place in all of this as it’s clearly not nothing, but also its efficacy is still considered broadly dubious by much of the scientific community. There’s clearly *something* there, but how much of it is a consensual game and how much is “programming” is hard to figure out.
Personally, I’ve had minor success with hypnotism for little things but not for much else. The claims of what hypnotism can do are about as extreme as they’ve ever been.
But it bridges the gap into conspiracy land quite well.
During the Korean war, the US public was shocked at the number of POWs who gave public anti-American speeches and testified to doing war crimes. A very normal reaction by some of the public was to assume that Korean scientists had figured out how to reprogram the human mind.
The thought that those damn dirty commies had mastered mind control set our beloved ruling class into fits of manic spending. And so we got Operation Bluebird and Artichoke leading into MK-Ultra and the intelligence community just kind of spreading its influence over all levels of the American professional class.
Totally normal country things, y’all.
We’ll go into the controversy over hypnosis-recovered memories, the differences between soft and hard conditioning, and probably some torture-related history facts.
From where I currently am sitting: Hard mind control isn’t really possible in any kind of reliable way. You can traumatize people and kind of point them in a direction (like Sirhan Sirhan, allegedly), but mostly you just get traumatized people. Who aren’t exactly reliable.
I don’t want to get too into MK-Ultra because I feel like most of the reliable parts of it have been picked over pretty well and the rest is speculation. And speaking of speculation we’ll go into Operation Monarch, MK-Ultra’s alleged successor.
There’s, uh, a lot to cover as you can see. Because while “Programming” people isn’t really possible, you can certainly stack the deck for what choices they make. This kind of influence comes out in a huge variety of ways from Wayfinding in public spaces, Casinos, gaslighting, suppressing information, and many others.
If you train people to reject things reflexively it can be very difficult for them to uncover and assess that possibility.
All of this takes a pretty serious toll on the human mind, body, and soul.
Makes it hella difficult to develop any kind of functional orientation to the actual world because of all the hired bullshit.
And that’s before you add in predispositions for poor mental health.
So, uh, whew, that’s kind of a lifetime of stuff to unpack.
Let’s take a deep breath.
In h a l e
just a little longer
and e x h a l e
alright, I feel better.
Hope you do as well.
So that’s a glimpse of where we’ll be going for the next few months.
I wanna go back to our motto, borrowed from McLuhan: “There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.”
Seeing and seizing alternatives requires intelligence, creativity, and so often a hearty tolerance for risk.
But that’s the fun of being alive I guess.
See you soon.
Oh yeah, subscriptions are also on sale and you should buy one. lol.
And let me know what you think of the topics and if you have any questions. That’ll let me focus what order we tackle stuff.