Before 2021 ended I had the chance to watch Netflix’s Don’t Look Up and was simultaneously entertained, outraged and moved by it. Comparisons to Doctor Strangelove are definitely in order, since this dark comedy centered around the premise of a killer asteroid heading toward Earth –and the disastrous response from both elected officials and media personalities– so perfectly captures the banality of modern culture in the XXIst century, you quickly forget it is supposed to be a satire.
But perhaps the reason this movie impacted me in such a deep and personal way, is because I’ve been thinking along the same lines for a long, looong time. In fact, I even came up with a similar premise for an essay I wrote as far back as May of 2013 for the (now defunct) Intrepid magazine run by Scotty Roberts. The only difference is that in my hypothetical scenario, NASA and president Obama announced the cometary impact with many years in advance, instead of the narrow 6-month window handled by Don’t Look Up; a plot gimmick which allowed the filmmakers to speed up the narrative, but which arguably fails to capture the frustration of climatologists who have been warning us for DECADES about the catastrophic consequences in our collective decision to negate the reality of climate change –the main purpose behind this movie in the first place.
Which is why I decided to share that old essay here on The Daily Grail, in the hope that you will not only appreciate this nostalgic glance through the rearview mirror –despite the cringe I feel while judging at my old writing style, alongside the amazement of how much I got right (keep in mind this was written on a time before Donald Trump had seriously entered the political arena, and social media hadn’t become as ubiquitous)– but also share my frustration on how little things have changed –and when they do, it’s often for the worse…
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
~George Orwell, 1984
“And era can be considered over when its basic illusions have been exhausted.”
Our modern civilization seems to be perpetually plagued by the dangers provoked due to the scarcity of precious natural resources. Since the early 2000s articles in the media have been warning us about ‘Peak Oil’, ‘Peak Energy’ & ‘Peak Water’. Heck, there’s even fears about ‘Peak Helium’! which I’m sure keeps clowns & carnival managers awake at nights.
But the crisis that worries me the most is the shortage of an even more precious commodity: Trust.
That we live in the age of Peak Trust has become patently clear by the events that have shocked the world this year. When I first came across the news about the giant fireball on Russia last February*, I was amazed to read a significant percentage of their population did not believe the ‘official’ meteor explanation! the favored alternative explanations ranged from an Amerikinsky weapons test, a UFO or a even a message from the Big-G himself –’cause you know how Jehovah liked to go all Roland Emmerich in the Ancient Testament.
I don’t think it’s too preposterous to explain this current Russian distrust on official channels by looking into the past, understanding it as the logical outcome of the way the Kremlin manipulated the news with propaganda during the Soviet era. Let’s just keep in mind that George Orwell based his landmark novel 1984 in the Stalinist regime of 1948.
On the other side of the pond, things are no better by any stretch of the imagination. The continuous streaks of domestic violence plaguing the United States –Aurora, Connecticut, Newtown, Boston– have triggered a reflex reaction of distrust in mainstream media. In the case of the Boston bombings, more people were consulting the live Tweet feeds than paying attention to the sponsored talking heads on the 24/7 news channels.
‘Conspiracy theory’ has become both a slandering label in America, as well as a commercial brand selling all sorts of products customized to any kind of taste or sensibility. “Tell me your favorite conspiracy theory, and I’ll tell YOU your political affiliation” is one of my mottos –and just so you know, it’s copyrighted, k?
Again looking into the past to try to find a clue about the present, many people would agree that JFK’s assassination constituted a traumatic ‘loss of innocence’ for the American people, when the Baby Boomer generation realized it was no longer possible to trust implicitly in everything the government said, the way their parents used to do when America was fighting the evil powers of the Axis. And not long after that came Vietnam & Watergate, and the toothpaste was squeezed out of the tube.
On my side of the border we also find quite a lot of mistrust in government institutions. One of the most prominent political figures in the Mexican landscape is a man named Andres Manuel López Obrador, who has carved his career out of denouncing endless conspiracies against him. Every time he loses an election the man cries foul & demands a recount!**
But like Russia & the USA, Mexicans have also suffered our own growing pains. There was the Tlatelolco massacre of ’68, a wound that refuses to heal because those responsible were never tried & prosecuted. And if rumors of election fraud are so easy to believe, it’s because such practices were standard procedure for many decades.
Peak Trust is a global problem. Make no mistake about it.
So we’re living in an age where the public perception in government officials is at an ultimate low, where common citizens view financial institutions as white-collared thieves, and the hierarchy of churches as a band of hypocritical accomplices of pederasts.
Ah, but we still have Science, right? that immaculate ivory tower of uncompromising quest for the Truth! Unfortunately that tower is not without a few skeletons buried beneath its foundations. Case in point: The Cigarette Controversy.
“The tobacco companies knew and for most part accepted the evidence that cigarette smoking was a cause of cancer by the late 1950s.
The documents also reveal that the tobacco companies helped manufacture the smoking controversy by funding scientific research that was intended to obfuscate and prolong the debate about smoking and health”
As noble as its goals may be, Science is conducted by scientists, who are not above corruptibility. Global warming & the Antivaxxing movement are excellent examples of just how rampant the distrust in Science is now ingrained in a substantial part of the population.
But Nature abhors a vacuum, and that’s equally true for human nature; and the vacuum of trust in official institutions is easily filled by hawkers & peddlers of fear-mongering –I need not name them, everybody knows who they are***.
And so it seems not a week goes by that a new scandal erupts, and this regularity causes a rather peculiar numbing effect in our minds. It’s like the abuse of profanity in someone’s vocabulary: repeating F*#K so many times deprives the word of its intended potency.
But here’s the thing: That numbness is a potential threat. Like the proverbial frog that instinctively jumps out of a boiling pot of water, but will stay in the pot if the temperature is slowly increased, I view our getting used to expect the worst out of those in power as a pathological behavior. How could a civilization be able to properly function and adapt to new threats without a modicum of confidence in the scaffolding of its social structure?
If you see politicians as nothing but crooks and liars, where’s the incentive to follow their orders? If you think of your physician as a pill-peddler at the service of Big Pharma, why would you trust his diagnosis and follow his recipe? So the distrust is translated into stagnation and the waste of precious time.
Either we snap out of it, or we’re destined to end up as frog soup.
Let’s illustrate this with a hypothetical scenario: Suppose next month president Obama called for a press conference, announcing the detection of a massive asteroid heading towards our planet. The impact, according to NASA scientists & confirmed by top astronomers around the world, was calculated for the year 2027. That would give us less than 14 years to coordinate an urgent international effort in order to launch an emergency program, so that we wouldn’t face the same fate of the dinosaurs.
I guarantee you that after 10 years of such an announcement, the emergency program would have made very little progress, because by then the public opinion would still be divided due to those denouncing the asteroid threat as a complete fabrication. And even the support of the United Nations would only help exacerbate the claims of those accusing the ‘defense asteroid program’ as a smokescreen campaign — I do believe the proper term is ‘false flag attack.’
Lying. A trait so common in men it’s even brought up in the Genesis tale, when Cain feigns not knowing where his brother is after he rearranged Abel’s skull with an ass jawbone. But looking away of religious interpretation, believe it or not there are scientific theories suggesting it’s our bullshitting nature one of the crucial factors to our species’ vertiginous evolution. Studies with chimpanzees have proven our hairy cousins have a limited capacity to detect deception, because lying & cheating is an advantageous way to form coalitions, find food & mating. Other scientists suggest we’re constantly studying the facial features of those around us, trying to read their Po-po-poker face**** & call their bluff.
We pair sentience with deception. Don’t believe me? Think of the ultimate trial for Artificial Intelligence:theTuringtest. The objective of the test is to see whether a computer program can successfully deceive you to believe you’re chatting with another person. Leave it to a scientist worried with masking his true sexual orientation to come up with such a trial…
Does that mean lying is common in ALL societies? Not necessarily. In hunter-gathering groups, lying carries a heavy penalty, since it may endanger the survival of the entire group. These groups tend to be more egalitarian than the hierarchical we live in, and perhaps this fosters an appreciation for Truth, and the avoidance of deception –at least among the members of the same clan/group.
But with increased numbers so to increase the chance to deceive your neighbor & getting away with it. I remember that scene in Spielberg’s film Amistad, when Baldwin (McCounaghey) is trying to explain to Cinque they need to retry the case again, even after they won. Cinque’s response is very telling:
Joseph Cinque: [in Mende] What kind of a place is this where you almost mean what you say? Where laws almost work? How can you live like that?
Indeed, how can we?
But the fact is that in our society we not only put up with deception, we recognize it as a tool to climb the social ladder –The better you are lying, the faster your career will advance. And it takes a very peculiar personality to make a successful liar: a natural charisma mixed with a high level of intelligence, coupled with a necessary lack of empathy for the person or persons you’re deceiving. People who show all these characteristics are easily recognizable by psychiatrists: they call them psychopaths.
The loonies are running the asylum, my friends. They always have been.
Because even though deception might have been an advantageous trait among our primate ancestors, like the rest of our violent proclivities so too we must find a way to rein to our lying impulses. We must realize that level of bullshit has raised so high we’re soon gonna drown on it, and that deception might pose a serious threat to our future.
Consider the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most people think of that film as a Sci-Fi story in which a computer goes crazy, but almost everyone overlooks the reason why HAL goes bonkers: it’s heuristic programming couldn’t cope with its orders to withhold the information about the monolith discovered on the Moon from its human colleagues, which provokes a sort of cybernetic paranoia. When David Bowman & Frank Poole find out HAL lied about the antenna’s malfunction, how did they choose to respond? By LYING to Hal & go hiding on one of the pods with the sound off so they can scheme its disconnection! Lies upon lies upon lies.
Or if you find 2001 to dry & intellectual for you, what about one of the greatest Sci-Fi spoofs of all times: Galaxy Quest!
So how do we go about getting rid of the bullshit? Do we attempt the ‘evangelization’ approach favored by the so-called ‘Skeptic’ groups? IMO that has the exact opposite result, because the more you ridicule and mock a certain viewpoint, the more resistance you will engender among the same people you’re trying to convince –what we might call the ‘LA LA LA I can’t hear you!’ effect.
So ironically, all those pundits and pop scientists denouncing the insanity of the Mayan doomsday last year, probably helped promote it even more!
Speaking about 2012, I must confess that one of my favorite ‘doomsday scenarios’ –mind you, NOT because I was expecting it to happen, but because it was a fun idea to consider– was that on that fateful day of Dec. 21st we would all wake up, get out of bed, have breakfast & go to our works, and suddenly we’d realize that everybody became telepathic! A major solar flare would have excited the human pineal gland & activate a dormant capacity in our brains or whatever.
Think of it: if everybody could read each other’s minds, it would truly be the end of the world as we know it! Spouses would know their other half was cheating on them, employers would learn what their employees REALLY thought about them… Politicians would run to a cliff like a band of neurotic lemmings, closely followed by the Wall Street stock brokers.
Pure, absolute chaos. See why it’s such a fun scenario?
Alas, Dec 21st came and went, and our little peccadilloes remain secure in the safebox of our minds. Is telepathy even possible, one could ask? In his first book Jadoo, John Keel narrates his encounter with at least 2 ascetic masters–one in India, the other in Nepal– who seemed to have the capacity to read his thoughts. An accomplishment reached after a lifetime of mental training and spiritual discipline, they explained to the young adventurer.
Could we find a way to ‘mimic’ telepathy, using our modern technology? I believe we’re halfway there, whether we want it or not, thanks to the disruptive power of the Internet and social networks***** –which is perhaps the veiled drive behind our governments’ obsession with the regulation of online communications.
With all this in the works, perhaps it’s not unlikely to predict that Deception has its days numbered. But a new question arises: are we ready to live in a world without lies, no matter how brutal it could be to be deprived of comfy delusions & false assumptions?
Would the eradication of Deception be what frightens us the most about the so-called Singularity? With the veil of lies, might we be also casting away that which we identify as the Human condition?
Are we sure we can handle the Truth?
Will the Truth set us free?
F*#k if I know, y’all! All I know is… I’m tired of the taste of bullshit.
(**): As an update to this essay, in 2018 López Obrador became president of Mexico, and during his first three years of office he has mounted attacks on NGOs, independent institutions and the free press on a daily basis. He even has a weekly show on his morning conferences dedicated to discredit ‘fake news’. Now who does that remind you of??
(***): More than 8 years later, many of those names are still around, and new ones have joined in thanks to social media and podcasting.
(****): Apologies for that 😅
(*****): While Elon Musk’s Neuralink may indeed bring us closer to real mind-to-mind communication, one could argue that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram already provide ample information into the thoughts of billions of human beings.