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The Long, Cold Winter of the New American Century

It snowed here on Monday night and Tuesday morning. I saw it whirling in my headlights just as I drove into town, en route back from an extended weekend spend looping through central Pennsylvania. It was just a dusting, a half inch or less, but it's been cold enough since that it's still hanging on, mid-morning on Wednesday. Wednesday, November 11, 2004, in western NY state.

It's getting colder, earlier, here, it seems; two years ago we got substantial snow on Halloween that stuck on the ground for several days. I spent a week in Iceland, two weeks ago, and it was barely colder there than here the whole time. The last three winters here in Rochester have been brutally, abnormally cold and heavy. In the depth of last winter, I would drive to work early and alone and in the pitch dark, in near-zero-Fahrenheit cold, with clouds of fine, powdery snow snaking wildly in the cone of my headlights. I'd have to dig out my car to get it out of my parking space in the morning, and usually had to dig thorugh to get it back in at night.

It's not that bad, yet, but I'm tempted to blame it on global warming. Which is on my mind often, but more so today thanks to a friend pointing me to the new, slightly overdue climate report [PDF] just released by the Arctic Council.

Priorities: How does anything as small as religion, terrorism, or political partisanship matter when you're in the process of changing the physical world in ways that our civilization won't be able to deal with? Answer: It matters because we allow political expediencies to define something that we describe as "reality", when what we really mean is "worldview".

Calling it "reality" makes a position seem so much more forceful, so much more resolute. But "Reality," to quote the late P. K. Dick, "is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away." We've learned in the modern west that we can use science to divine some knowledge of those things that don't go away. Yet faced with some of that knowledge, many forces in power reject them as a "reality" they don't choose to "privilege". How ironic -- how "neat" -- that critics of "political correctness" should use the tools that enabled it to enforce their own reality distortion field.

And how ironic that these privileged classes who are busily extracting wealth as the clock winds down are turning themselves into the class of humans most likely to survive. It's actually a great case-study for the non-deterministic nature of evolution: That a class of actors with an ethos that revolves around denying reality are the most likely to survive the real global consequences of their own errors.


â??Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesnâ??t go away.â?
â?? VALIS (1979)

Interesting you bring up Philip K. Dick, escoles. Reality that â??doesnâ??t go awayâ? for P. K. Dick involved a worldview that recognized the physical world as a reality, but held the idea that viewing this changing world as the only reality would be an illusion.

Dickâ??s Gnosticism was characterized by a fundamental split between the mundane world and the spiritual world, where the course of oneâ??s life was an obsessional desire to bridge the gap between the two. ["Philip K. Dick" by Richard Behrens and Allen B. Ruch]

Two years ago Jay Kinney wrote about â??The Political Gnosis of Philip K. Dickâ?:

The recently released Spielberg film, Minority Report, returns to directly dipping from PKDâ??s deep well of inspiration, and despite the inevitably Spielbergian ending, succeeds in evoking one of Dickâ??s favourite themes: how does one elude the suffocation of an encroaching police state? In Minority Report, this trope takes the form of the local Department of Precrime in Washington D.C., which has succeeded in eliminating murders by arresting and incarcerating the perpetrators before they commit their crimes. This is accomplished by drawing on the abilities of three precogs (for precognitives), who have the involuntary talent of seeing into the near future and glimpsing the murders-to-be in progress. As the film unfolds, in the year 2054, a national referendum is about to occur on whether to expand precrime prevention to a national policy.

Given the recent moves by the Bush Administration in the US to indefinitely detain those who have committed no crimes, but who may have planned to, the timeliness of Minority Report is almost uncanny. Dickâ??s original short story appeared in 1956, and the script for the film was written well in advance of the shock of 9/11. But somehow, Dickâ??s intuitions of precrime enforcement have been brought to the big screen at just the moment when their analog is being enacted in real life. PKD, who died in 1982, would savour the irony, were he still with us.

Dick might also not savor Bushâ??s Lysenkoism,... Bushâ??s egocentric (in the name of his personal god) perversion of science that would make fodder for Gnostic writings conveying the flawed demiurgic forces rampant in this world. The ancient Gnostics were not just pie-in-the-sky mystics. Their path included a rational, experiential element, as well as a nonrational element, that most likely would not be at odds with the critical approach of respectable modern science regarding our physical universe. Their â??godâ? was indeed not a god in the traditional sense. It wasnâ??t even an â??it,â? but rather represented an ultimate â??unknown,â? ineffable, infinite. Even though I do not at all share Jay Kinneyâ??s very broad brush when describing â??manyâ? Gnosticisms (most scholars do not consider the Cathars to be Gnostic, for instance), I do respect his understanding of Gnosis as a process:

Philip K. Dickâ??s gnosis, Iâ??d suggest, was of this partial sort: troubling, compelling, ambiguous, and as political as it was spiritual.


But in a metaphorical, and even archetypal, manner, PKDâ??s gnosis did unveil a politico-spiritual reality that is increasingly relevant to us, twenty years after his death. â??The Empire never ended,â? wrote Dick, and who would argue with that, as we watch the reigning Superpower rattling its sabres at its minions and designated foes. The cultural collossi of the media conglomerates and Hollywood have spun a dreamlike fog that subsumes the past and future into an everlasting present of novelty and distraction. An effort to merely think clearly, free of clichés, cant, and consumables, takes a heroic effort, akin to dodging the Archons at every turn.

Another thought, escoles -- It could be that if indeed those â??actors with an ethos that revolves around denying reality are the most likely to survive the real global consequences of their own errors,â? they might be unaware of any representative beauty of this universe and in fact could be merely helping to refashion their own already existing prison.

"...they might be unaware of any representative beauty of this universe and in fact could be merely helping to refashion their own already existing prison."

I think that's called something like... ummmm... "poetic justice".

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