The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH, or Ritman Library) in Amsterdam has been a very important institution for research into hermetic philosophy and related currents, particularly early modern Rosicrucianism and alchemy, for decades. In a dramatic and very unsettling turn of events, the library’s existence as we know it is now being threatened. It is all very unclear what will happen, but there is no doubt that spreading the word and creating attention around the developments is the least we can do to try and influence things in the best possible direction – to save the library, the staff, and its national heritage collection of manuscripts and printed books.
For more information or to sign the petition click here
There’s also a blog dedicated to saving the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica
I don’t generally like to talk about NASA press conferences before they happen because I don’t want to promote baseless rumor-mongering. In this case, though, I feel I have to write something to prevent speculation! Here’s the scoop: NASA released the news that a press conference will be held on Thursday at 14:00 ET, saying that the conference will “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”
That, of course, set everyone speculating. The very popular news site Kottke.org actually has a decent line of evidence on the topic of the conference, though a sensational headline of “Has NASA discovered extraterrestrial life?” Gawker has a post up about this as well, and social networks like reddit have a lot of people talking, too. Other examples abound.
So what’s the press conference about? I don’t know, to be honest, beyond what’s in the announcement. The scientists on the panel are interesting, including noted astrobiologists and geologists who work on solar system objects like Mars and Titan. So this is most likely going to be something about conditions on another moon or planet conducive for life.
Of course, the speculation is that NASA will announce the discovery for life. Maybe. I can’t rule that out, but it seems really unlikely; I don’t think they would announce it in this way. It would’ve been under tighter wraps, or one thing. It’s more likely they’ve found a new way life can exist and that evidence for these conditions exists on other worlds. But without more info, I won’t speculate any farther than that.
Nassim Taleb has cautioned readers about making predictions for years, but now he’s making a few of his own. Taleb wrote for The Economist: “Paradoxically, one can make long-term predictions on the basis of the prevalence of forecasting errors.” In other words, Taleb believes that all contemporary systems that rely on faulty forecasting methods will fail. From this, he makes a few predictions (and some I’m not sure are really based on this thesis).
The following predictions are from Taleb’s The World in 2036 article for The Economist:
Nation-States Will Be Replaced by City-States
Taleb argues that nation-states will be only “cosmetically alive” due to the problems inherent in centralization, especially central banking. He expects future currencies to be pegged to something non-government controlled, like gold, and for city-states to takeover the functional role of government.
I actually mostly agree with this, except the gold standard (I don’t think it’s ever coming back). I’ve changed my mind since The Death of the Nation State? Renegade Futurist Round Table, but I’ll go into that in a future article. I don’t think the end of nation-states will be due to fiscal imprudence or “centralization” – I think they’re being hollowed out by corruption. I think the equivalent of city-states will be dominant in most of the world (it may already be happening in Asia), but “mega-regions” will be the dominant paradigm in the United States.
Large, “Debt-Laden” Companies Listed on Exchanges Will Be Gone
I have a hard time believing this. Not because I believe the current corporate system makes sense, but because these institutions have so much power. Agribusiness, finance, the car industry, the defense industry and the airline industry all exist by extorting money from the US public via the government. It doesn’t matter how unsustainable their exoteric business models are, exploitation is a time-honored business model. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, sadly. If they do fall, it will be due to interference from foreign cartels from countries like Russia.
Most Technologies Older Than 25 Years Will Still Be Around
I’m not sure how Taleb is predicting this, as it doesn’t seem to be based on any forecasting method. Taleb mentions cars, planes, bicycles, voice-only telephones, espresso machines and wall-to-wall book shelves as examples of things that will still be around. All are safe bets, except the voice-only phone. Video-conferencing will be so compelling that I expect a nearly all hold-outs who still have feature-less phones or even landlines will end up upgrading over the next 25 years.
What technologies younger than 25 will go away? Chris Anderson is gunning for the Web, of course. And the web is something that could surely mutate into something else or be replaced entirely in another 25 years time. SMS would be my best guess for the current hot technology that will die.
The World Will Face Global Pandemics, Both Biological and Electronic in Nature
Another one I can’t see deriving from faulty forecasting. Both seem like highly probable, conservative bets. Society has gotten extremely good at averting pandemics. It does seem like it’s only a matter of time until something slips past this international patchwork of containment. But, remarkably, a global pandemic seems “likely” and not “inevitable.”
A malware pandemic, Conficker not withstanding, is also less likely than it seems. Apple’s iOS puts more control into vendors hands, and Microsoft wants to ban infected computers from the Internet. More government control over ISPs, more security-as-a-service vendors being able to detect infected systems, and less user-control over machines = less overall risk of malware pandemics (NOT necessarily a reduced risk of cybercrime, but of “viral” infection).
Religion Will See a Revival
Once more, I don’t understand how Taleb is predicting this by identifying faulty forecasting methods. Religion has been around for about as long as humanity, though, so it’s a safe bet to expect it to still be with us in 2036. But a revival? Who knows?
Earleywine and his colleagues studied 57 users, 30 male and 27 female. Half were given material to read suggesting that marijuana damages the brain; the other half read a research summary suggesting that the drug had no long-term negative cognitive effects. Then, all participants were asked to take cognitive tests after abstaining from marijuana for at least one day. (More on Time.com: See photos of cannabis conventions)
There was a marked difference in results — interestingly, between men and women. Men who got the negative information about marijuana performed worse than men who didn’t, but the women who were faced with stereotype threat actually scored better on tests of verbal skills and memory than women who weren’t given negative information.
I was out of state when this happened, otherwise I probably would have covered this sooner. As usual, Glenn Greenwald delivers the goods:
It may very well be that the FBI successfully and within legal limits arrested a dangerous criminal intent on carrying out a serious Terrorist plot that would have killed many innocent people, in which case they deserve praise. Court-approved surveillance and use of undercover agents to infiltrate terrorist plots are legitimate tactics when used in accordance with the law.
But it may also just as easily be the case that the FBI — as they’ve done many times in the past — found some very young, impressionable, disaffected, hapless, aimless, inept loner; created a plot it then persuaded/manipulated/entrapped him to join, essentially turning him into a Terrorist; and then patted itself on the back once it arrested him for having thwarted a “Terrorist plot” which, from start to finish, was entirely the FBI’s own concoction. Having stopped a plot which it itself manufactured, the FBI then publicly touts — and an uncritical media amplifies — its “success” to the world, thus proving both that domestic Terrorism from Muslims is a serious threat and the Government’s vast surveillance powers — current and future new ones — are necessary. […]
We hear the same exact thing over and over and over from accused Terrorists — that they are attempting to carry out plots in retaliation for past and ongoing American violence against Muslim civilians and to deter such future acts. Here we find one of the great mysteries in American political culture: that the U.S. Government dispatches its military all over the world — invading, occupying, and bombing multiple Muslim countries — torturing them, imprisoning them without charges, shooting them up at checkpoints, sending remote-controlled drones to explode their homes, imposing sanctions that starve hundreds of thousands of children to death — and Americans are then baffled when some Muslims — an amazingly small percentage — harbor anger and vengeance toward them and want to return the violence. And here we also find the greatest myth in American political discourse: that engaging in all of that military aggression somehow constitutes Staying Safe and combating Terrorism — rather than doing more than any single other cause to provoke, sustain and fuel Terrorism.
Salon: The FBI successfully thwarts its own Terrorist plot
It’s entirely reasonable to assume that the FBI agent’s recording gear malfunctioned or that someone made an honest mistake in configuring the equipment, as anyone who has worked with recording gear can tell you. But from a strictly legal standpoint, it seems like that should be a big strike against the FBI. Unlike Greenwald, I’m not a lawyer, though, so I don’t know.
From what little I know about the case, it does seem that Mohamud was motivated to commit violence. But the specific plot and access to weapons was furnished by the FBI. Even taking the FBI at its word, its difficult to see Mohamud as a great threat on his own. Still, it’s clear that there are some angry people in this country willing to do violence to our citizens, and as Greenwald points out, there’s relatively little discussion as to why. Regular readers of this blog know that I’m no friend to Islam, but it’s clearer every day that US foreign policy is a bigger driver for terrorism than religion.
Update: My friend Johnny Brainwash has taken a look at the affidavit and has a post on it:
The specific notion of a car bomb was Mohamud’s, but he had no clue how to go about it. Not a single operational detail would have happened without the FBI. He did buy some of the bomb components, sure, but with money and a shopping list provided by the feds. He also provided some Google Maps images and a disguise, both also at the request of undercover agents. Beyond that, he couldn’t even get to Portland if the FBI didn’t give him a ride.
This alleged plot, like nearly every alleged jihadi plot in the US, amounts to nearly nothing. Not that the kid is blameless or should get off scot-free, but he wasn’t much of a threat. Not compared to people who have committed genuine terrorist acts on American soil in the last couple of years, and certainly not enough to justify the feramongering that has gotten an added boost out of this. The story isn’t “OMG America under attack!!1!” It’s more like “look, another dumbass with fantasies of jihad- at least this one didn’t set his nuts on fire.”
He adds in the comments:
I don’t necessarily ascribe such specific intent to individual FBI’ers, or to the agency as a whole. It’s their job to catch criminals, and their budgets and prestige depend on it, so they’re going to catch them even if it takes some wishful thinking to create them. I think lots of law enforcement types, like lots of other folks, buy into the narrative of terrorists lurking under every bed, and so they don’t always realize when they’re going overboard.
I think others of them probably do realize, though.
I’m sort of leery of ascribing intent these days, preferring to describe observed behavior. Remarkable how it untangles things sometimes.
Erik Davis has been covering fringe spiritual movements, underground music and subcultures for magazines like Wired, Arthur and Spin for the past two decades. He’s probably best known for books his books TechGnosis and Visionary State. He’s currently a contributor to several publications, including Reality Sandwich and HiLobrow. His web site is here and you can follow him on Twitter here.
Erik’s latest book, Nomad Codes, is a collection of several of his articles and essays. It can be purchased from its publisher YETI or from Amazon. I talked with Erik about the new book, the changing American spiritual landscape, and why he’s now pursuing academia.
Klint Finley: Over the last few years, while writing the essays that comprise this book, have you seen any significant shift in American spirituality? Has much changed since the publication of TekGnosis?
Erik Davis: Spirituality is always changing, because “spirituality” itself is almost defined by its informality, at least in contrast to those more organized movements we call “religion.” And even religions are always changing. Since the 1990s, there have been some intriguing developments, some cool, some odd.
One has been the extraordinary popularity of yoga, and what makes yoga particularly interesting is that it bridges between spirituality and a purely secular world of exercise and keeping fit. People don’t go to yoga for gurus like they did in the 70s — it’s about the “practice.” That shows some healthy pragmatism in some ways, but it also represents how easily spirituality gets commodified in America. I mean, yoga is pretty cheap when you boil it down–you on a mat on a floor. And yet it has become a whole industry.
Yeah, the brouhaha over Bikram yoga really exemplifies that.
Then there’s the 2012 thing, which has really grown tremendously, right on schedule. I have been tracking that for years, a combination of archaic dreaming and very contemporary apocalypticism. I knew some folks in British Columbia that all decided to adopt the 13 moon calendar for a while, and they lived their lives partly in that alternate calendrical frame. Pretty outside stuff! Then a year ago, my sister, who is not a freak by any stretch of the imagination, started talking about 2012 and what it meant. That represents quite a shift. Even Christian fundamentalists are talking 2012 these days. Everyone on the bandwagon!
Where does the title of the book, Nomad Codes, come from?
For me the phrase Nomad Codes really captures something about the 1990s culture that really influenced me and most of the writing in the book, even the later stuff. In some ways, we never leave our home-base cultural framework. In the early 1990s, there was a tremendous sense of novelty and possibility–the Internet was opening up, electronic music, a revived psychedelic culture, even “Twin Peaks” on the TV seemed to confirm that reality itself was warping. That sense of warp was captured by the figure of the nomad–slipping beyond the established narratives and institutions, not trying to root himself anywhere, flowing between the cracks. But all this stuff was happening in the context of an exploding media and particularly digital culture. So codes were, and are, everywhere. The world we perceive is partly dependent on our codes–not just our ethical codes, but the codes of perception and experience we use to program our engagement with reality.
Goa sunset, photo by Koshy Koshy
Do you have a favorite story from the book? One that you’re particularly proud of?
There’s a number of pieces that come out of really amazing trips and explorations I’ve one on. “Sampling Paradise” was about going to Goa in India in 1994 to hunt down the origins of raves; it was just when Psy-Trance was starting to leak into the west, and I went to some amazing parties. But the craziest time was my visit to Burma, which I write about at length. At the end of the piece, I am drunkenly dancing with a cute transvestite spirit-medium whose gaudy outfit was stuffed with currency. My wife was there at the time and she found it all hilarious.
I don’t have a copy of the book yet, so I don’t know if “Technopagans” and/or “Songs in the Key of F12” are included, but I wanted to tell you that those two article were formative for me.
Well thanks. They both nearly made the cut, but not quite. “Technopagans” was too long, and a little dated, and some of the ideas were repeated elsewhere. And not a lot of the music writing made it in, other than a profile of Sun City Girls and a long piece on Lee Scratch Perry. Maybe I should have given more thought to “Songs” though! That was a fun time to write about electronic music. I am curious though: how did they influence you?
I read “Technopagans” in 2000 just as I was starting to learn about chaos magic, and the way the article related it to tech culture kind of gave me the push I needed to jump in and start doing it.
I read “Songs in the Key of F12” around the time it came out, and it planted the seeds that eventually lead me to become a laptop musician myself – though it was years after reading it. I guess, like “Technopagans,” it told me “This is something YOU can do.”
That’s great. That’s why I love writing about subcultures: I get drawn toward things I want or attract me, and then I try to communicate the attraction and the appeal, even if I don’t end up becoming a chaos magician or a laptop musician myself.
Here’s a question someone on Twitter just asked me to ask you: Have you faced any challenges as an independent scholar outside the university system?
Well its funny you should ask. I have faced some challenges, and the unfortunate fact is that, in terms of getting paid, the challenges have only gotten larger the more established in my career I have become. I came of age as a writer at a time when I was lucky enough to be able to live off interesting magazine work–I got paid for the Goa piece by Details magazine, all expense paid trip and a good fee, even though they never ran the story. That world is gone, at least for someone with my interests, which have only gotten farther off the beaten track as far as the “mainstream” goes. Which is why I have decided to cross the great divide and enter the academy. I am at a religious studies program at Rice that specializes in magic, mysticism, and the esoteric tradition. I still like to think of myself as an independent scholar though, cause I am just doing what I want to do!
In a round-table on the impact of the Internet on writing, you said “I find the internet-driven pressure to make pieces short, data-dense, and crisply opinionated — as opposed to thoughtful, multi-perspectival, and lyrical — rather oppressive, leading to a certain kind of superficial smugness as well as general submission to the forces of reference over reflection.” Since then, Slate has reportedly found long-form pieces on its site to be the among the most popular. Have you seen any shift back towards a demand for longer form work?
Well that’s wonderful news. I have certainly gotten great reactions from the half-dozen longish-form pieces I have written for HiLobrow this last year or so. They werent super-long, but they were dense and careful and reflective. I think the interest for this kind of stuff probably never went away but the editors and the people designing magazine and online templates went for the short stuff. I will be a happy camper if the pendulum swings back.
What are your favorite publications, print or otherwise?
Online I rove; I rarely return to the same place as if it were a magazine. Print is more conducive to a regular relationship, in my experience. I love Fortean Times, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have a subscription. Marvels and Wonders every issue. Coming to school I kind of went on a magazine diet though, so I am not reading the journals I normally do, from the annoying/enjoyable New Yorker to the occasional issues of Plazm. My parents just got me a subscription to The Economist, which is great because I don’t usually read that much news online, so it keeps me more “current”–whatever that means. But I like it because they write intelligently about this insane, totally fucked up world and somehow manage to seem chipper about it all.
Erik lecturing at Palenque Norte camp at Burning Man in 2003
And what’s next for you? Are you working on another full-length popular audience book, or are you completely focused on academia now?
I have always written some stuff that had an academic twist–I’ve hard articles in almost half a dozen university press books. So I will be emphasizing that side of the equation while still doing as much online and magazine work as possible. I’ve also been doing the Expanding Mind net radio show on the Progressive Radio Network for a year and a half, and will continue to do that. It’s great because I have to push myself to discover new and interesting people–or to remember all the interesting people who have crossed my path, and bring ’em on and find out what they’re doing now. I love that conversational style. I am also working on an collection of Philip K. Dick’s writings from the Exegesis which is really fun.
Do you have any parting words before we sign-off?
Keep your minds open!
Mind blowing research that indicates that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and multiple sclerosis could be caused by a retrovirus and triggered by other infections such as toxoplasmosis:
The facts of schizophrenia are so peculiar, in fact, that they have led Torrey and a growing number of other scientists to abandon the traditional explanations of the disease and embrace a startling alternative. Schizophrenia, they say, does not begin as a psychological disease. Schizophrenia begins with an infection.
The idea has sparked skepticism, but after decades of hunting, Torrey and his colleagues think they have finally found the infectious agent. […]
After eight years of research, Perron finally completed his retrovirus’s gene sequence. What he found on that day in 1997 no one could have predicted; it instantly explained why so many others had failed before him. We imagine viruses as mariners, sailing from person to person across oceans of saliva, snot, or semen—but Perron’s bug was a homebody. It lives permanently in the human body at the very deepest level: inside our DNA. After years slaving away in a biohazard lab, Perron realized that everyone already carried the virus that causes multiple sclerosis. […]
Through this research, a rough account is emerging of how HERV-W could trigger diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and MS. Although the body works hard to keep its ERVs under tight control, infections around the time of birth destabilize this tense standoff. Scribbled onto the marker board in Yolken’s office is a list of infections that are now known to awaken HERV-W—including herpes, toxoplasma, cytomegalovirus, and a dozen others. The HERV-W viruses that pour into the newborn’s blood and brain fluid during these infections contain proteins that may enrage the infant immune system. White blood cells vomit forth inflammatory molecules called cytokines, attracting more immune cells like riot police to a prison break. The scene turns toxic.
Discover Magazine: The Insanity Virus
Previously: Virus Behind Insanity?
Humanity is a virus. Literally
The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease
Photo by Micah Baldwin
The signal always gets distorted, degraded…and more popular every time. Dumb is accessible, people like dumb. They like aliens, they like Satanist bad guys, and they like to buy products that signify their secret knowledge. It’s hard to exaggerate how hollowed out the Conspiratainment Complex has become in 2010. Conspiracy Theory is literally being taught to Americans on a chalkboard now. Remote Viewing has gone from a classified project to a mini-industry of competing DVD training packages. Even Tila Tequila is tracking the Illuminati’s every move these days. This is an emerging demographic and it’s going to be extremely important in the next decade. […]
Today, these competing meta-narratives are blending into a Conspiratainment mainstream, where the largest possible audience meets the lowest common denominator. Roswell is an article of faith, JFK is holy scripture, and 9/11 is the wedge issue and the litmus test. The Apollo 11 mission exists in a Schroedinger-style quantum state where it simultaneously did and did not land on the moon, although the priesthood agrees there was a cover-up, either way.
Skilluminati: The Conspiratainment Complex
A few years ago, I wrote an article about contemporary subcultures and made the case that the 9/11 Truth movement was a legitimate subculture. Although it was already being productized in the form of DVDs, books and merchandise, I didn’t think it was something that would be appropriated by the mainstream. And though 9/11 still hasn’t been appropriated by the mainstream, thanks to the likes of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, conspiracy theory is more mainstream than ever.
This reminds me of a quote Justin posted on Facebook a while back. I can’t find the specific entry, but I think it was from a 9/11 Truther. It went something like this “Conspiracy theory has never hurt anyone, but the Obama administration has.”
Don’t think for a second I’m letting Obama and company off the hook for their targeted assassinations, Afghan war escalation, etc. But I’m calling bullshit on the “conspiracy theory never hurt anyone” line.
It would be disingenuous to say The Protocols of the Elders of Zion caused the Holocaust, but it did contribute to the antisemitism and paranoia during the first half of the 20th century that enabled WWI and the holocaust. That’s a pretty serious amount of blood on the hands of a conspiracy theory.
And to take a more recent example that didn’t lead to deaths, take a look at the Satanic Panic that resulted in the incarceration of many innocent people – including The West Memphis Three, who remain in prison to this day.
It’s these very issues that lead me to begin distancing myself from conspiracy theory after the second EsoZone. Once I’d hoped that conspiracy theory could enlightening, a way to break down rigid thinking and foster skepticism and critical thinking (as Robert Anton Wilsons’s writings on conspiracy theory had done for me). These days I’m cynical about that prospect (see here and here) of conspiracy theory opening people’s minds. Instead of breaking down “consensus reality,” conspiracy theory has been entrenching many people deeper into their own “reality tunnels.” Before I thought, at the very least, conspiracy theory could be entertaining. It just doesn’t seem funny to me any more.
Meanwhile, as Justin writes:
Conspiracy theory tends towards monolithic explanations, attributing far too much power to far too few people. Political Science assumes the existence of hundreds of co-existing and conflicting conspiracies in any group of over thousand people.
Most real, successful conspiracies are mundane and barely covert: consider the Council for National Policy, an invitation-only Evangelical Conservative influence network with a membership list so powerful it defies belief. What happens when you get Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft into the same room? Throw in Oliver North, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jesse “33°” Helms, James Dobson, and big money sponsors like Richard DeVos, Holland Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife and Nelson Baker Hunt.
Another interesting example is the Family, a Christian theocratic conspiracy, which I’ve covered quite a bit here. The Family tries to keep a low profile, but not exactly a secret. Yet, I could find only one reference to the Family on Alex Jones’s InfoWars – naturally, an article about the possibility that the Family may have helped finance 9/11. Here is a real and well-documented modern conspiracy. Where’s the outrage from conspiracy circles? (To his credit, Jones did have Jeff Sharlet on his show.) I could find no references to the Council for National Policy on InfoWars.
That, I’m afraid, is the sad state of conspiracy theory. Real conspiracies play out before our very eyes, while too many very smart people clutch at straws.