In April 2016, the world was rocked by news of the death of Prince Rogers Nelson. One of music’s - or more correctly, modern culture’s - biggest ever stars, Prince was a man of small stature whose shadow of influence was mind-boggling large. Immediate musical tributes from fellow 80s icon Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, country star Chris Stapleton, the cast of the hit musical Hamilton, and many others were testament to the respect the man and his music were held in.
For much of the public, Prince was a ‘star’; a hell of a performer who they might have seen playing guitar and piano in different music videos. What most musicians knew, however, was that Prince was - beyond his singing, his dancing, his band-leading skills, and his audio production talents - a skilled instrumentalist of the highest order, on not only the guitar and piano, but drums, bass guitar and more. Indeed, it is difficult for anybody who hasn’t played each particular instrument to truly appreciate how good he actually was.
It is silly to have debates about “was Prince a better guitarist than Clapton” or whoever - there are many ways to value a musician’s skill, whether it’s technical, historical knowledge, talent at improvising, or ability to play ‘for the song’ (among others). Let’s just say that Prince’s live band (on record, he often played all the instruments himself) was filled with musicians of the highest calibre - and if Prince ‘blind’-auditioned for each of the parts of his own band, he would probably have got all of the gigs based purely on his skill on guitar, bass, keyboard and drums.
The almost supernatural array of talents that Prince possessed are enough to have made many wonder as to how anyone could have assembled such a formidable skill-set - remembering that much of it was already fully formed at the time of his debut album, in his teens (go back and listen to his debut album For You, with tracks such as “Just as Long as We’re Together” sounding like an extremely tight band of talented musicians - but it’s all him).
Most accounts of Prince’s life put his skill set down to the twin factors of being a ‘functional orphan’ - he was largely abandoned by each of his parents in turn, and so is said to have spent much of his time playing music - who nevertheless inherited from those parents some serious musical acumen (his father was a jazz pianist, and his mother a singer). His unfortunate family situation - along with his extremely short stature (Prince only stood 5’2”) - are also claimed to have made him absolutely driven to prove himself to the world.
But could there have been an additional factor at work?
A Prodigious Musical Talent
Many people are musically talented. Many also become extremely proficient at their chosen instrument at a young age. However, Prince’s abilities, excelling on multiple instruments, verge on the spooky - the type of talent that gives rise to ‘down at the crossroads’ mythologies. He mastered a variety of instruments rapidly in his youth, to the point of being able to play all of the instruments on his debut album while still in his teens.
With his estate in confusion following his tragic passing, and his legendary control of material being posted online at least temporarily on hold, YouTube has been flooded with video examples of his wonderful talent (though how long they will remain is another question). Here are just a few isolated examples, among many: ... Read More »
Intermediatism and the Study of Religion
by Jack Hunter
Over the course of four groundbreaking books published between 1919-1932,1 Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) meticulously presented thousands of accounts of anomalous events that he found documented in scientific journals, newspapers and books at the New York Public Library and the British Museum. In conducting his wide-ranging textual excavations, Fort uncovered impossible numbers of extraordinary reports of fish and frogs falling from the sky, poltergeists wreaking havoc on unexpecting families, spontaneous human combustion, unidentified flying objects, levitations of people and things, mysterious disappearances, apparitions, and so on.2
All of these strange events, according to Fort, had been brushed under the carpet by mainstream science,3 indeed his books were deliberately intended as an out-and-out affront to the scientific establishment, and in particular to the idea that science has essentially ‘sorted it all out’ already. Fort was not at all convinced by this, and his collections of ‘Damned Facts,’ as he called them, served as evidence in support of his suspicions and speculations. Fort obsessively catalogued these ‘Damned Facts’ on small pieces of card, which he stored in hundreds of shoe boxes in his New York apartment, ready to be unleashed in the wild processions of his books.4
Fort’s books would go on to become classics of ‘paranormal’ literature, and inspired others to employ a similarly ‘Fortean’ approach in their own work, notably including writers such as John A. Keel (1930-2009), Colin Wilson (1931-2013), Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), and Jacques Vallée, amongst others (some of whose work is discussed in later chapters ofDamned Facts). Fort’s books and approach were also the inspiration behind the founding of the famous magazine Fortean Times, which, since it was first published in 1973, has helped to keep Fort’s eclectic legacy alive.5
The original goal of Damned Facts was to explore what a Fortean approach to the study of religion might look like, with all of its associated anomalous events and enigmatic experiences. The book, however, became something much more diverse. The contributors to Damned Facts each offer their own unique perspectives and insights, and take us to places that we might not immediately associate with ‘religion.’ With this eclecticism in mind, then, what I would like to do in this introduction is to give a basic overview of some of Fort’s philosophical speculations on the nature of science, religion and reality more generally, and then to outline some of my own ideas concerning what a Fortean approach to religion might entail.
Throughout all of his published works on the anomalous, Fort employed a philosophy that he called ‘Intermediatism,’ the basic tenet of which suggests ‘that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal,’ and ‘that all phenomena are approximations in one way between realness and unrealness,’6 a kind of ontological indeterminacy. He writes:
...in general metaphysical terms, our expression is that, like a purgatory, all that is commonly called ‘existence,’ which we call Intermediateness, is quasi-existence, neither real nor unreal, but the expression of attempt to become real...7
Through the lens of this ontologically agnostic perspective, in which all phenomena take place somewhere along a spectrum between the real and the unreal, Fort was able to explore some exceedingly strange territory, unearthing phenomena that mainstream science had either refused to comment on or had rejected outright. In the process, Fort (often half-jokingly) postulated some intriguing hypotheses to account for his damned data, including, for example, the frightening idea that human beings are, in some undefined way, ‘property,’ and the equally bizarre notion of a ‘Super-Sargasso Sea,’ a mysterious place to which objects are teleported.8 Fort, however, often immediately contradicted and discredited his own theories, and is famous for announcing that: ‘I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written. I cannot accept that the products of minds are subject-matter for beliefs.’9 His agnosticism extended even to his own theories and ideas.
By approaching all phenomena as equally real/unreal, from the common-place and everyday to the most exceptional and far-out, Fort was essentially proposing a Monistic metaphysics, according to which all events, in all their varied manifestations, are, in some sense, fundamentally connected to one another. All are part of the same process of ‘becoming real,’ of moving toward ‘positiveness,’ and all give equal insight into the ‘underlying oneness.’10 Fort suggests that this oneness might best be thought of as a living system, perhaps as a cosmic ‘organism,’ maybe even possessing some form of purposive intelligence and agency.11 This idea was later taken up by John Keel, who suggests the possibility that ‘the earth is really a living ... Read More »
Much like the first post that initiated this “Nightmares of the Future” series, Deconstructing TRANSCENDENCE, this third movie in the Divergent series isn't a great film – which is disappointing, because I actually quite enjoyed the first two much more than other instances of the now well-established post-apocalyptic young adult film genre. We're talking about The Hunger Games of course, and stuff like The 5th Wave and Maze Runner too. The key point the film really serves to make is how played out that genre actually is now, at least its current form. Anyone looking to quickly cash in on it has probably missed the boat by now.
Yet what Allegiant is absolutely perfect for is to serve as an elaboration of the concepts core to the idea of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy that I've been developing - that the Elite are in the process of leaving behind a ruined planet and building their long dreamed of technocratic paradise on the Red Planet (or elsewhere). The film brings that all home; to Earth. It's a rather banal realisation of what actually lies ahead for this planet and its denizens in a century or two, if nothing changes course. For that reason, I have zero hesitation in spoilering the absolute shit out of this film to demonstrate just how this is the case.
Just watch the trailer: it's Fury Road meets Tomorrowland.
Perhaps you remember when I wrote about Fury Road's trailer here, asking of its world:
Is there another instance of humanity across the ocean, that has kept the high tech life of those that came before intact, but are dealing with their own set of uniquely horrifying problems? What is the geography of the end of the world?”
Mad Max : Fury Road slots disturbingly well into this filmic universe.
Immortan Joe could easily be made to work as a cult leader field-testing mind control techniques for the secret technocratic rulers of Earth, hidden away in their shielded, camouflaged cities, invisible tentacles of control reaching into every crevasse.
In the Plutocratic Exit Strategy series I have been sketching the idea a Technocratic Elite in the process of fleeing to Mars from an Earth whose ruined they've benefited from, establishing utopic technocratic colonies there. In the film Tomorrowland they've long been retreating to a parallel dimension to build their perfect world [Spoiler: it didn't go too well]. In Allegiant, it's shown they never left. They just holed up, and let the world burn. That's vastly simplifying it, so allow me to unpack it all now, point by point.
It's New Atlantis at the end of the World
In the 17th Century, Francis Bacon wrote a novel called New Atlantis that depicted his ideal vision of a technocratic community, hidden away on a remote island. He didn't actually finish writing it before he died; it was published posthumously in its incomplete form and has arguably served as inspiration for much of the Technocratic Elite since. The community of New Atlantis were free to pursue their scientific pursuits absent from interference from the masses, and its members would periodically walk amongst the Earth in disguise, gathering new knowledge to bring back. It's literally the prototype for a Breakaway Civilisation, as others have noted recently, and Allegiant might be its most perfect realisation yet.
As the above trailer shows, what the Divergent series' heroine, Beatrice 'Tris' Prior and her companions, discover upon escaping from the post-apocalyptic nightmare of a ruined Chicago is a shielded, highly technology advanced outpost for a technocratic civilisation. The brutal world she's known has just been an experiment overseen from without by these New Atlanteans. Worse, her nightmarish reality has been serving as an entertainment program for its citizens, who've been able to watch the entire drama of her life unfold like they're all ants in some glass colony. The post-apocalyptic Chicagoans are greeted as reality TV show stars by its inhabitants. That perspective on the life and death struggles of the bulk of humanity is a perfect rendering of how the Elite views the rest of the world. Like ants.
Or cattle. And as Tris quickly learns, she's been exactly that: the product of a breeding program.
The Technocrats are Eugenicists
On arrival at the technocratic output established in the old O'Hare Airport, Pris is informed she is the first 'Pure' to be back-bred from the 'Damaged' that are the bulk of humanity now.
For undivulged reasons in the film – maybe they're elaborated on in the books? - the blame for the breaking of the world is put on a period of time where the emergence of a genetically-engineered humanity went disastrously wrong. Some kind of transhuman civil war took place as people started modifying their children, resulting in not just the world being broken, but the bulk of humanity too. They're all termed 'Damaged', and are treated as sub-human; fit only to be experimented on; or, as we'll see later, otherwise interfered with.
The technocratic solution is to back-breed humanity to its original state, using experimental setups like the walled city of Chicago.
Now, anyone paying attention to the current science on the subject knows is total rubbish. Humanity has been in a constant state of evolution, and if anything is a mutant species; the result of cross breading between multiple hominid lineages. We're finding traces of ... Read More »