We live in an age of extraordinary access. Where knowledge floods though myriad portals to create a seemingly infinite pool of possibility. But while it’s almost a cliché to dismiss our contemporary reality as intrinsically shallow and hark back to the simplicities of a golden age, it is important to stop and consider the implications of how our templates of reality actually work. Are they designed to increase our efficiency as mechanical beings or to wring every last fragment of experience out of our lives?
Humans create systems. The history of our development is punctuated by attempts to manage our environment and the construction of logical matrices to understand and harness the world around us. But while those systems have proved spectacularly effective on many levels, they have also served to divorce us from the fundamental rhythms of life.
Take three core examples – alphabets, time and money. Alphabets by their very nature are a form of coding – a semantic formula that we use in an abstract cognitive space to filter all our expressions and understandings of reality though. With organic associations like onomatopoeia subsumed in the cold codes of the alphabet, we learned to represent every aspect of the physical and psychological world by arranging symbols that had no underlying relationship with the essence of ‘things’.
Time – a uniquely human construct – not only developed a linear narrative to our existence that allowed us to make sense our lives in the three dimensions of past, present and future, but commodified them into mathematical, economic units.
And money – that broadened the scope and possibilities of the barter economy in stunning fashion but rapidly became a commodity in its own right rather than a means of exchange.
These systems allowed us to fortify our ivory towers of progress and add abstract layers to the natural world. Western culture in particular took this baton and accelerated away into precision measurement and financial complexity yoked to an ever decreasing symbiosis with nature. That self generated algorithm went freebase during the industrial revolution, and the twentieth century saw this evolutionary crack smoking double up with a massive injection of technological steroids. And so here we are – masters of coding and pattern recognition. But masters of reality?
Human consciousness – on a surface ‘ego’ level at least has become astonishingly adept at manipulating reality through the prism of abstract codes. We can process vast quantities of data on a minute by minute basis. But just how much does processed data translate to raw experience? Does our computational power give any more depth or beauty to our experience or does it actually diminish it?
On an average day online we will see thousands of profoundly special pieces of art, knowledge, music, photography, creativity and socio-political insight. But as someone’s latest painting or a band’s latest track snakes its way down our news feed, we see it, we appreciate it – we instantly pick out quality and beauty, register it , file it, process it and move on. But if twenty years ago we might contemplate a painting and immerse ourselves in it – now our brain instantly edits it into a highlights reel. Are we becoming more shallow or are we are allowing our evolution to be dictated by a model of ‘progress’ that views such developments as a desirable uptick in ‘efficiency’?
None of this is leading towards a Luddite indictment of technology. Nothing is that simple. Technology is a wonderfully kaleidoscopic thread in the fabric of reality and against all the odds has allowed systems, like the internet, to buck the trends of centralization and corporatism that the mercantile vision of the world have brought us to. Open source dynamics drove a new democratisation of power and voice in the virtual arena as control structures were subverted, yet saturation, surveillance and exponentially diminishing attention spans are but a flipside away. A paradox in a hall of mirrors.
In the late 60’s a fascinating strand opened up in quantum physics where parallels were drawn between the cutting edge of science and the age old tenets of Eastern spirituality. As the psychedelic revolution unleashed new portraits of reality’s elusive face, scientists attempted to break free from linear ideas of progress and unite reality in a new yin/yang model where ultra modern and primordial danced in fluid union. It was never a question of whether Lao Tzu could have run a particle accelerator, but an intriguing vision of technology and ancient wisdom feeding back into one another.
Can we take the best from the breakneck digital world around us while living those windows onto wonder through an analogue headspace. Not allow our experiences to be broken down into the mathematics of binary code. Not endlessly resample reality into a compressed picture of that experience, but to soak up every last intangible drop. Can we break creativity out from its current role as something to be consumed and reassert it as a portal to the sublime? Or are we irredeemably addicted to the dopamine hits of the quickening.
If we want to cast off the mechanical strictures that Western ‘progress’ has imprisoned us within – if we want to experience life on a level that represents full spectrum engagement, should we not temper our thirst for information with a deeper, slower, more perma form of culture? Bringing the two poles of information and experience together into something that actually produces a current could be the real challenge of our volatile age. Otherwise we may well be conditioning ourselves into high functioning robots.
Evolution and human experience cannot be viewed as a linear process any more than they can be seen as purely cyclical. Perhaps the most accurate visual metaphor for how our human experience works best is the spiral – iterating outwards into new territory while turning back through archetypal truths and eternal bedrocks of wisdom – charting vivid new horizons while always orbiting our core. Ultimately, experience is all we really have on this mortal coil – it is the essence of our existence, and sacrificing that on the altar of quantity and quantification must surely be a woeful betrayal of life’s potential. Bankrupted by an embarrassment of riches.
Can we hack our way through the jungle of saturated data and coded complexities to wire the best of those worlds through natural rhythms and heightened sensitivity into a genuinely progressive hybrid? Can we hack a new circuit of consciousness?
Rabbit by Smug One
Unzipping Reality by Martin Ron
Mechanical Clock – Eric Freitas
First published LSD Magazine Issue 10 – Inception
Thanks to Douglas Rushkoff – our conversation inspired this piece
A reflection on the interplay between control and chaos through the prism of a shut down illegal rave. The soundtrack for this article is at the end 😉
Picture the scene. Massive fuck off warehouse in South London and I mean massive. You could have resurrected Britain’s manufacturing sector in there and still had room left over for Boris Johnson’s ego. Proper gaff and a sublime venue. So we’re in there setting up – the sound system is in place and we’re now rigging all the lights (I say we – I am in fact having a quiet drink and offering moral support) when suddenly 3 of the Met’s finest come strolling into the middle of it all. Beautifully surreal I can tell you – they usually don’t turn up until it’s too late, the place is rammed and we have the upper hand in negotiations. You rarely catch a glimpse of Sierra Oscar inside the rave until the next morning when it’s thinned out or unless they’ve scored themselves a JCB and removed their identification. But there they were, looking suitably awkward in the halogens, a tad confused, and with only about 50 people in the area setting up, this did not bode well. They were as surprised as us for 3 helmeted plods do not a raid make. So what were they doing there?
Well some total imbecile had left the one of the doors wide open and they had just wandered in on patrol. They left just as quickly but we knew we were bang in trouble. They were off to assist their careers in a northerly direction and us into the back of a riot van. Now this was only the second or third party I’d been involved in since coming back to the UK and it was full blown London urban, so the usual practice of a meeting point in some supermarket car park and then a convoy piling in all at once to secure the venue with overwhelming numbers wasn’t on the cards. Instead, we just released the address on the phone lines and waited for people to turn up in their own time.
In fact, we had a good few hundred people in the venue before the inevitable happened. Enter the Police Commander of Lewisham who had obviously been rousted reluctantly out of his bed. And his entourage. As soon as a senior officer puts his credibility on the line by making a personal appearance, they simply cannot be seen to back down, so this was going to be a fraught negotiation process. A phalanx of vans was reversing into a line blocking the entry points and it seemed that even at midnight, the Commander had some serious resources. Probably called in half of South London because there is of course no violent crime on a Saturday night and thus people dancing was the major security priority.
The year was 2000 and there was no political endgame for us. This really was just a party, and not a fight to establish our rights or a new social consciousness, so there was only so far we were prepared to go – getting battered and losing all the equipment was definitely far too far. Been there, fucking loved it, but not there now. But still, caving immediately was unthinkable. After years in Europe negotiating with senior officials by blending 3 respectful words in their language with broken English, florid signage and trustworthy smiles, it was going to be interesting to take on a good old sarky English copper.
Police negotiation is, I confess, something I always secretly quite enjoyed. It’s all about being the reasonable face of something that instinctively frightens them and that they simply do not understand. If you can be sober, smiley, helpful, responsible, respectful but quietly insistent that there will be no stopping the party, you’re halfway there. And always skillfully turn them so they can’t see the inevitable ‘hardcore’ shouting Fuck Off You Pigs and discussing the merits of bacon at raucous length. Fear is the driving force of almost all over reactions, and diffusing that is the key to a mutually beneficial resolution with the authorities.
And fuck me were we reasonable. Positively fucking saintly. Representatives from the UN should have been taking notes. But our new friend the Commander seemed remarkably impervious to our charms and still less our logic. He was however, prepared to have a bit of a pavement debate about it all. It was clearly illegal. unlicensed and all the rest of it, but what with not far off a thousand inside and the police lines groaning with eager ravers, we were now in a situation. Surely our Metropolitan companion could be persuaded that it was in his interest to let the party go ahead – contained, safe and without thousands of people who’d now missed the last train pouring out onto the streets of Lewisham. I mean honestly – you’ve got thousands of people laden with alcohol and drugs and with their spirits up. Where would you rather have them – in one space all night then going their separate ways tired and happy in the morning – or rioting in the streets?
‘Who is your security firm’ he asked. Funny – I’d never been asked that question in any other country.
‘You’re looking at them’ we replied with a comforting, you can count on us officer – we’re actually very similar – some of our best friends are policeman – if only we’d met in different circumstances – kind of grin.
He did the maths. Thousands of people. Drugs. Booze. Music. No security.
It was almost as if that in itself decided it for him rather than any legal, licensing or noise questions. I couldn’t help feeling if we’d had a gang of skinheads in black bomber jackets, he might have taken a different line. To a policeman’s logic, if there was no ‘official’ controlling force, the inevitable result would be utter carnage. I could see him having visions of murders, rapes, stabbings, muggings and a swift defrocking of himself as senior officer after being crucified in the tabloids.
It goes to so many questions in philosophy and psychology. Is the human instinctively ‘good’ or ‘bad’ if left to his own devices? What came first – crime or law? Having been involved in illegal raves with crowds in the tens of thousands for many a year, I had learnt this incredibly inspiring lesson. Amongst those thousands you’ll have bad boys, muggers, gangsters, the whole roll call of darkness whipped into a heaving mass of loved up humanity. And almost never…….ever……any trouble. And yet you go to a 300 person capacity club with a moody security firm on the door and you’ll have a stabbing, 3 bottlings, a load of shit drugs sold, dealers ripped off and so on. A mini crime wave – regular as clockwork in towns up and down the country.
What is it about so many clubs that their security think that credibility rests on being large, menacing and unpleasant. Well partly because they’re mostly run by gangland firms. But conventional logic would have us believe that official security acts both as a deterrent to crime and as it’s solution. The same conventions would insist that the absence of security can only result in a criminal orgy of Hogarthian caricature and that an authority vacuum releases the ugliest inevitabilities of the human condition. The evidence I’ve seen in my life proves precisely the contrary. Attitude begets attitude. Put unsmiling authority there and people will go up against it. Inevitably
But strip it all down to bare humanity, lose the bomber jacket barrier, make everyone responsible for themselves and whoever happens to be next to them, and the results are extraordinary. Human beings step up, they take up the mantle and there is barely a sniff of trouble. Any incidents that do crop up are quietly handled by a family of strangers united by their environment. A community. The abrogation of responsibility away from the self and from the community to an external structure or ‘force’ seems a counter intuitive social dynamic – and certainly not one that encourages autonomous communities. Now the E’s definitely helped foster this spirit and the mindset of the kind of people who go to raves in the first place is certainly a factor, but the organic beauty of reclaiming people’s freedom and watching them honour it with loving responsibility is one of the most inspiring sights I have ever witnessed.
All lost on the Commander of course.
Well. We lost that argument. There were 80 arrests where they would have been none, the TSG beat the living shit out of anyone they could find after Commander Plod gave the go ahead. Vehicles were vandalized, windows were smashed in frustration, Everybody lost….
This is not an argument for the dissolution for the legal system – merely a series of observations on the tensions between ‘society’ and ‘community’. And it’s important to question how and why we are taught to underestimate and fear humanity. A Randian subtext sees self interest as the only rational barometer of human behaviour and has built the framework of a society on the expectation of selfishness and the fear of humanity unbound. Perhaps it is little wonder that control structures stay in place so successfully if we all accept that as a starting point.
First published – LSD Magazine – Issue 2 – Booting off the Doors
Ballerina image by Doublespace
Abandoned warehouse by Jamie Link
Thoughts on the alphabet’s role in shaping human perception and the evolution of society
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
Language and the written word are a defining foundation of society. Communication led to collaboration which led to productivity which led to invention which led to knowledge which perhaps one day will lead to wisdom. We would be lost without the written word; it lies at the core of what it is to be human and yet we scarcely stop to question the patterns, the effects and the meanings behind the orgy of words poured out into the stratosphere.
The written word evolved through two distinct strains, both of which sought to frame communicative verbal language in the most logical terms. These roughly break down into conceptual and mathematical. The conceptual uses ‘onomatopoeic’ images such as hieroglyphics and Chinese style characters to convey meaning and concepts in their entirety while the mathematical invented an entirely artificial code, or alphabet. This series of abstract symbols could be used as ingredients in a wider formula of digital language where the order of the code equated to its meaning.
We in the West are immersed in the mathematical, and use letters to construct words on a daily basis without even considering that we are using algebra to express human action and emotion. That it works as communication and documentation is indisputable, but if we probe deeper into the ramifications of representing reality through pure mathematics, we begin to uncover some intriguing questions.
Most of us will be familiar with the ‘Left Brain, Right Brain’ dichotomy where the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for linear reasoning, mathematical structure and the evolution of ‘logical function’ while the right hemisphere is associated with intuition, spirituality, imagery and holistic perception. This conflicted unity is represented throughout cultural history through symbolism like yin and yang, Gaia and Jupiter; male and female. And while no individual can operate purely on one side of the brain, individuals and whole cultures can be defined through which of the hemispheres is dominant – at least metaphorically.
The right brain is usually symbolised by female iconography, for example Mother Earth, while the left brain is almost inevitably manifested in masculinity, male gods and patriarchal societies. With many of the earliest documented belief systems indicating a tendency toward the holistic, at some point a shift occurred that saw the female infused view of the world usurped by the brutal patriarchy that most of our blood stained history chronicles. Within that conquest of the female by the male, the matriarchal by the patriarchal, the right brain by the left brain, we find the development of the formulaic alphabet playing a subversive role.
There is a compelling argument to be made that as language moved from imagery representing concept to an abstract formula super imposed on reality, the analytical, ‘male’ element of consciousness and culture began its ascendancy. The alphabet’s linear code broke the connection between representation and reality and saw a critical schism take root between mankind and an intuitive understanding of the world around him.
As the linear alphabet began to take hold, humanity effectively began an evolutionary process where brain function and the nervous system were shaped by rationalism. Humans use different neural pathways and different areas of the brain to interpret pictograms than they do the alphabet. The dominance of one leads to a self fulfilling prophecy as those pathways come to the fore in both the understanding and communication of reality. The methods we use to define the world around us actively shape our perception of it.
Developing societies began to retreat behind an almost synthetic construct of reality where language and writing became a purely human code with no discernible relationship with the world it was describing.
Holistic, ‘feminine’ forms of expression and figurative methods of representation were ousted by the literal and the formulaic. The advent of the written alphabet saw a new generation of male deities sweep across the ancient world wreaking havoc in their wake and slowly eroding the rights, the role and the respect of the female, both in human and symbolic form. The very nature of the code’s complexities excluded almost all from literacy, as people could no longer look at a character on the wall and understand what it described by its appearance alone.
Thus, a closed elite of the literate was created, and as the great religions began to establish themselves, it rapidly became apparent that only such institutions could afford to educate their own scribes in the alphabet, while the average peasant was bound to the land for food, and the landowner interested only in warmongering and profit.
Slowly but surely, the patriarchal religions developed a monopoly on literacy, and consequently on truth. If you were an illiterate peasant, ‘truth’ and ‘God’s Word’ would only ever be communicated through the filter of an all too human member of the clergy. Such extraordinary power embodied in fallible men and powerful institutions inevitably led to extraordinary abuses.
Many of us have wondered how on earth the scriptures – be they Bible, Koran or Torah were warped into such oppressive instruments of patriarchy. There’s very little Jesus or Mohammed said that most of us would disagree with – even taking into account the context of contemporary custom. So many institutionalized positions of religion are directly at odds with the original scriptures – and one of the principle reasons is that for well over a thousand years, the power structure had an unfettered ability to manufacture truth without fear of question – as literacy was a fortified sacristy. For centuries in Europe, translating the Bible into the vernacular and out of Latin was deemed heresy, punishable by death, and the Reformation, for all its homicidal zeal, was rooted in the injustice of Catholicism’s strongarm monopoly on truth.
Thus reading, writing and thereby truth remained firmly in the hands of a masculine cabal that taught only the strictest adherence to the approved word and had a disturbing propensity toward slaughtering those whose leant towards a more holistic outlook. Even the Virgin Mary who is worshipped again and again in Christian iconography is stripped of all feminine qualities and reduced to a chaste vehicle for a male god. Mary Magdalene is only accepted in mainstream Christianity once she has truly repented of her sexuality, and the cults that sprang up worshipping her in her own right were swiftly put to the doctrinal sword. The Cathars, who in 12th Century France developed a far more feminine and gnostic version of Christianity that traced its roots back to the dualism of pagan Mithraism, were the first Christians a formal crusade was sent against, lest their dangerously non conformist world view leak into a wider dialogue.
Even when the visual arts began their ascent into propagandist glory during the Early Renaissance, they used an inflexible language of composition and colour, reducing painting to a linear formula that artists had to work subtly and subversively to infuse with any true depth. In the Islamic world where figurative art had been put to the patriarchal sword of the Hadiths, the alphabet itself became a visual art as calligraphy sanctified the the written word alongside geometry in the pantheon of sacred beauty. Our thought processes themselves, even at their most subconscious, are so often framed in the abstract formulas that the patriarchal alphabet imposed on intuitive reality.
None of this is to question the sublime lyrical beauty of the written word or its ability to whisper delicate nuance or tumultuous emotion. One cannot discount the finite nature of the pictogram and the multiplicity of meaning bestowed by multiples of 26. These are merely thoughts on evolutionary consciousness and how alphabets shaped human history and social characteristics. It is arguable that on a subliminal level, charting reality in our own code rather than in nature’s symbols has slowly detached us from the rhythms of the natural world.
It is however an interesting contribution to questions concerning patriarchy and the historical role of women in society. If one accepts the dualism that underpins almost all archetype, it is more than clear that male and female have long been in imbalance. It goes deeper than issues like the status of women and into behavioral patterns and systems of perception – pathways in our brain that interpret reality through imperceptible prisms.
There are myriad channels in our history that evolutionary currents flowed through, and while the development of the alphabet was but one, while religions and beliefs and social norms may come and go, writing is so inexorably bound up with our human experience that it is impossible to analyse its impact without that analysis passing through the prism of its own subject. Now there’s a fucking irony 😉
BLACK AND RED CALLIGRAPHY – SHAHRZAD GHAFFARI
CHURCH IMAGE – TREY RATCLIFF
CALIGRAFFITI – EL SEED
FINAL IMAGE – RETNA
Musings on the impact of an adversarial legal system on social dynamics
I don’t know about you, but in my less self aware moments, I’ve often fancied myself as a crusading defence lawyer. Passionately believing in the underdog when all the resources of the state or nefarious corporation are stacked against them. Wading through the murky layers of conspiracy. And finally, delivering a slice of inspirational oratory to pierce the preconceptions of the jury and wrest justice from the jaws of iniquity.
It’s a deeply seductive ideal, forged in the primal quest for truth and the complex human relationship with morality. And yet if we examine the nature of the systems we have developed to preserve justice and champion truth, we can hear the echoes resonate through the wider structures of our society.
There is a reason why courtroom dramas are so prevalent on British and American television and in Hollywood, but so under-represented in the cultural fabric of mainland Europe – the adversarial system. They play directly into the dualist nature of archetypal art – the eternal struggle between good and evil – with the law as a theatre of war where the bullets are honeyed words and the uniforms are cut from an altogether richer cloth. But the principle remains much the same – the adversarial system casts defence and prosecution in the role of warriors, each with a mission to destroy the credibility of the other and sweep the zero sum prize.
Lawyers speak of their record in terms of wins and losses and words like battle, struggle, victory and defeat are the very essence of legal chambers. Indeed many historians argue that our current legal system is a direct descendant of trial by combat where physical prowess (touched by the hand of God naturally) was the ultimate arbiter of truth. And if law and justice are the cornerstones of fairness in our society, what does the violently competitive nature within our legal system say about us?
If we look beyond the courts and into the patterns of modern civilisation for the legacy of adversarial systems, they swiftly sharpen into focus. Political systems instantly spring to mind, and without much of a leap, the entire essence of capitalism and competitive markets roll into view alongside advertising and the media.
Truth as usual, is the first casualty. It is neither the job of prosecuting counsel nor defence counsel to tell the truth. One may end up telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth by accident or default, but neither obligation nor incentive to do so forms part of any legal brief. Quite the opposite in fact. It is all about the story, the manipulation of facts to tell that story and the convincing delivery of that story to the exclusion of any mitigating facts or tiresomely contradictory testimony. Huge swathes of the media skew news to an agenda in a very similar fashion.
The prosecution seeks to paint a defendant, whose potential innocence is of no concern to them, as a villain who has no place within our society, using every tool and trick available to present that narrative to a court. Consequently a defendant with an unfortunate appearance, a chequered history or ill equipped to assist in his own defence often falls victim to the subtext of so many prosecution cases – that this person is not like us. Evidence is very often thin despite everything CSI has to offer and again and again, conviction boils down to vague circumstance and an instinctive dislike for the person in the dock
The defence are no better. The bottom line is that the vast majority of people brought to trial are guilty of the crime they committed and whether their counsel knows this explicitly or implicitly, it is his job to tailor every available thread to a story of saintly misfortune. Defence lawyers will cut ever deeper scars into victims giving evidence. They badger and discredit citizens who have taken a stand against the criminals terrorising them. They use sarcasm and contemptuous implication to impugn the motives and morality of witnesses and throw suspicion onto innocents to raise the spectre of reasonable doubt.
And doing any less would be viewed as a breach of legal ethics and curtail a career before you can say ‘Objection’. The sole mission of the ‘officers of the court’ is to present their version in the most convincing terms possible – making sure to pander to the prejudices of the jury and to accepted conventions of normalcy. I know I always wore a suit to court.
The parallels with the advertising industry are the next to emerge from the mists of metaphor. There are some lightweight safeguards in place to prevent outright lies, but the fundamentals are almost identical. Advertisers mould and manipulate ‘facts’ and statistics to fit the story they are telling about their product, making wild claims and subliminal suggestions in order to convince the public of their urgent need to go out and purchase. One product whips up an orgy of pseudo science while another dangles breathless testimony from ecstatic customers. The judge is the regulator and the jury are the viewing public.
Just as in a courtroom, objective truth is subsumed by shades of subjectivity and facts are nakedly relative. We are flying as blind as a traditional trial jury, fumbling through the spin and ultimately settling on the story that best complements our existing view of ourselves and the world. But is there anything actually wrong with any of this?
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Winston Churchill
He’s got a point. And not just about political democracy either. Surely the public are the best judge, or at any rate the worst judge apart from every other. Surely the public can make the best decision on which product to buy after being given the best spiel that the competing manufacturers have to offer. Are the public not the best judge of the rights and wrongs of a news story after listening to the right wing rantings of Fox News and the liberal librettos of Democracy Now?
I suppose that the problem is that this mythically impartial public doesn’t actually exist and that no-one will watch both the news channels mentioned above unless they are watching one for ‘truth’ and the other to wind themselves up. We don’t actually make balanced decisions on much, but instinctively side with whoever or whatever sells our world view back to us with the most verve. To strip people of that right would be to infantilise them and concentrate power in the hands of a few select individuals. And that is always dangerous.
In France and across most of Europe where modern law is underpinned by the Napoleonic Code, the system of justice is known as the inquisitorial system. Juries are rare and the vast majority of cases are decided by a bench of judges. Lawyers are still in play, but often the judges themselves will question witnesses. The idea of course being that these judges are fair and impartial, well versed in the minutiae of the law, long in the tooth enough to see through a good blag and the best arbiters of truth. Involving the public can only sully proceedings.
Fine. Makes sense. Apart from the fact that most judges are old white men who are just as prejudiced as anyone else, albeit with better groomed and more polished biases. The inquisitorial system has its own flaws, though it does cut out much of the bitter rancour and grandstanding of our adversarial format, but the question is less about which is ‘the best’, but how the growth of society around these frameworks has influenced their character and evolution.
The adversarial system is…well…adversarial. Or to use another word…competitive. Now anyone following the outpourings of recriminations over the financial crisis will have noticed the sharp divide between the European and Anglo Saxon models. The French and Germans waxed apoplectic about the savage market capitalism of the UK and US. From their avowed perspective, laissez faire economics tore down the global economy through its greed and lack of social conscience. Within the arena of unfettered capitalism, competition and ruthlessness are all and vast profits are the gilded reward.
Goldman Sachs – long famed as the world’s most successful investment bank was left fleetingly red faced a couple of years ago when emails by banker ‘Fabulous’ Fabrice Tourre were leaked. They showed him boasting of unloading worthless trades onto ‘widows and orphans’ and admitting he didn’t really understand the complexities of the securities he was trading. All very ‘Wolf of Wall Street.’
Despite the (worryingly brief) furore, one can’t help but feel that the real problem for his bosses was not so much him thinking it, but committing the cardinal sin of getting caught. The infamously bankrupt Royal Bank of Scotland was similarly fuming at Goldman for selling them a billion dollars worth of nothing that contributed to their spectacular heist on the public purse. It’s them – those fucking bankers – string em up and burn their Ferarris.
The problem of course, especially with RBS, is what the bloody hell were they doing buying a billion dollars of hot air anyway. As far as these bankers are concerned, they offered people a deal by massaging the buyers lust for profit and if they accepted it and got burnt – that was their problem. It’s not the sellers fault. Just as it’s not the defence lawyers fault if he gets his client off with a stirring tale only for him to murder again. The public is the jury, the buyer is the jury, and if you cast off outrage and emotion, it becomes all too clear that the bankers didn’t actually do much wrong within the parameters of an adversarial system.
The responsibility of informed consent is thus placed on an uninformed public. It was up to you to research the investments I pitched and not just take my word for it. If you swallowed my story and missed the 6 volume small print – then that’s all fair and above board. And there you have the adversarial system in a nutshell.
The Europeans claim to be appalled by this logic even as they cautiously edge toward it. Competing sides need to be refereed properly but we have yet to find a set of obliging Solomons who can be trusted to make impartial decisions in the public interest. Who guards the guardians when there’s more than enough directorships to go round ? Who really has the slightest faith in that bunch of ‘yah boo sucks to you’ children yelling at each other across the green benches in Westminster? Or yet another monochrome ‘committee’ buried in the vaults of Brussels?
The American system of government – designed so painstakingly to provide checks and balances on each of the three branches – has effectively stopped functioning thanks to the pathological need of each side to outdo the other. Zealotry, antagonism and tribal alliances have seen the breakdown of the dialectic, where ‘synthesis’ is put to the sword of vested interest and thesis and antithesis refuse to give an inch.
How the fuck did we end up in a situation where politics in a modern society breaks down to two sides rather than a proportionally represented patchwork of different interests? Even if a proportional system was to result in multi polar dithering and indecision as its critics claim, can it really be less effective than perpetual war between two parties? The status quo has managed to disengage, disillusion and disenfranchise at least a third of the electorate through limited spectrum representation and the tub thumping nihilism of adversarial discourse.
The competitive, first past the post system leaves little room for balance or compromise. It plays out like an adversarial courtroom dynamic; each party rubbishing the other while spinning their own highly dubious lines till they’re blue (or red) in the face. By the time one has witnessed the extraordinarily unconvincing synthetics of a political campaign, it is difficult to imagine these flimsy mediocrities regulating anything more important than a gas bottle.
If we examine ‘Anglo Saxon’ society and analyze the degree to which competition is the dynamo of progress while truth is a malleable concept, we start to understand everything from the nature of capitalism to cultural imperialism. Your culture tells you to wear traditional dress and be a farmer, mine tells you to eat McDonalds and wear jeans. But mine is shinier and better presented so you become yet another acolyte of the Western Dream. It’s all about the sales pitch, all about presentation, and ultimately all about winning. It is the adversarial system writ large.
It is worth pausing to consider what effect living within such systems has on our core humanity and how they subconsciously shape our world view. The latent effect of anchoring our search for truth in cutthroat rivalry rather than unity and shared purpose. The jury may still be out on which is the least worst framework to run a society by, but can we be anything but intrinsically corrupted by a system of competition and falsehood so insidious that it has touched the darkest recesses of our identity. When truth itself is defined in adversarial terms, is it any wonder the world works as it does.
by Cyrus Bozorgmehr
Painted bodies image by Adam Martinakis
Blind Justice image by Jared Kubicki
Flying Saws image by Damian Ortega
Mechanical heads by Kazuhiko Nakamura
Graffiti by Does Loveletters
Love / Hate by Andrew Zig Leipzig
Edited version of an article first published in LSD Magazine Issue 5 – Coming of Age
A little poem on the banality of banking
I’m Chief Exec of a bailed out wreck
Pensions fuelling my private jet
Suits hand tailored in Savile Row
And a bakery stocked with watermarked dough
My early years were a tad misspent
That embarrassing episode with a boy called Rent
But soon enough I regained focus
Honed some financial hocus pocus
But talent was never my greatest strength
Though I had a moistened tongue of staggering length
Instinct would guide me to a prosperous licking
And a certain satisfaction in a downward kicking
I rose through the ranks in the investment banks
Always careful to protect my flanks
And before I knew it I was head of desk
Gambling abstract amounts downright grotesque
Yet somehow we not only stayed afloat
But I ended up with a 100 foot boat
No one really questioned my work
And initially I thought that was a peculiar quirk
Yet soon I realised that was just a perk
Quaffed down vintage with a practised smirk
The financial world between you and me
Always remained a mystery
But the times were good in our gilded hood
And no one else really understood
There was a protective layer to prevent a care
Our affected flair deflected too close a glare
With scrutiny drunk on cash galore
Someone got too close and began to explore
We filmed them with an obliging whore
Showed their boss and they were out the door
As the markets continued their unlikely soar
Spending money became quite a chore
We honoured ourselves in epicurean style
Roared at such lascivious guile
And for all the world we were convinced
Even if the odd whistle blower occasionally winced
That this was truly for the greater good
Philanthropists indeed – only we could
And that unwashed scum who preached restraint
Rancid jealousy and endless complaint
Knew nothing of the modern way
And clearly snacked at the wrong buffet
And just before the numbers tanked
And we all got so spectacularly spanked
I left the world of banks behind
To master a business of another kind
Now I knew fuck all but did that matter?
Let’s face it, no, but I had the patter
But just before the golden shake
The bank begged me back with a hefty stake
The old CEO, the crafty snake
Had grasped the scale of institutional mistake
Now he needed someone to take the fall
While he parked his yacht off a coral atoll
And who fit the bill but jolly old me
Short on brains but ordered a fine Chablis
And off he went the polished crook
Leaving me firmly on the public hook
And when the scandal broke and the safe was bare
I realised grimly I should resort to prayer
The lynch mob loomed, ignominious disgrace
But the Treasury steamed in at breakneck pace
Too big to fail, we could take them down
Couldn’t cut us loose and let us drown
So while I took a barrage of flack
Behind the scenes I received a hefty whack
Of liquid cash and gilt edged bonds
Enough to fill a few duck ponds
And in six months time you’ll forget my name
A brief notoriety but what a gain
And if you call me evil you don’t understand
Never did anything officially underhand
Don’t blame me – I just went for the ride
Feel a little something for the queues outside
No mastermind me but mediocre
Somehow won this game of poker
But there’s a system there that corrupts at source
Never used force but no remorse
Profits and power will always be at core
With the ignorant masses to mind the store
And you might well say it’s a cabal perverse
I’d argue it’s an all too human curse
First Published in LSD Magazine Issue 5 – Coming of Age
Image of a Chen Wenling sculpture
Written as a reflection on the ephemeral and the transient nature of street art for LSD Magazine. Couldn’t resist having a post on transience christening a very ‘self’ website 😉
Is there any such thing in this world as eternal truth? Well religion would certainly have us believe that there are a set of unchanging pillars – moral, physical and metaphysical – that cannot and should not be altered. But we live in a world of relativity. Existence is defined in relation to context and morality is set in fluid terms that individuals and societies shape in their own image. Permanence itself is a dying ideal. As heaven, hell and the eternal diminish in ideological power and the perpetual motion of matter ignites questions in our minds, we are left to reflect on a shifting set of truths on the tides of perpetual flux. To what degree should art reflect that and to what degree should it seek to defy it?
Despite the millions paid by daft collectors to cling onto immortality both for themselves and the art that nourishes their ego, it is questionable whether art’s very originators sought permanence or ephemeral expression. The artists behind cave paintings may be astonished to know that their reflections of Stone Age life have survived into the present day and are not only appreciated for their beauty, but for their insights into a world long buried by the relentless march of history. Yet the original force behind the art was the capture of a moment in time, a hunting scene, a depiction of spirit deities invested with contemporary meaning but fundamentally alien to the generations that succeeded it. Some of the greatest works of Renaissance art attempt to illuminate the eternal truths of God’s glory, but even they are bound into a moment by the architecture, dress and humanist style that defined their age. Styles change, subject matters lose relevance and the erosive toll of time will eventually reduce even the Mona Lisa to dust.
Graffiti and street art are by their very nature, a transient truth. Baptised by concrete, they harness the power of the street – the rush of caning it, burning it, running it, stunning it, and channel them into a fierce crucible of creativity. It’s a sorry truth that its lifeblood is now being lovingly corrupted by the trendy clink of Martinis and the bullshit of the Zeitgeist. The irony is of course that as fashion, money and parasites enter the equation, their entire emphasis is on memorialising transience into a commodity. Money within art is tied inexorably to longevity – the appreciation of value over time. One might argue that the absurd paradox of attaching price and permanence to an intrinsically transient medium is indeed a piece of art in itself. But you know – fuck em.. Underground and the street are states of mind – a headspace crackling with visual electricity and rolling on a subconscious beat that nothing external can touch or seek to recapture. Some art may indeed strive for eternity and the pieces that achieve it are truly magical. But what of that flash of fleeting feeling.
Today’s overwhelming flood of creativity mirrors an exponential burst of interconnection, technology, and access to inspiration. And somehow it’s nakedness, its implicit impermanence is key. The most beautiful work imaginable could be tagged over by some swaggering muppet the very next day, or washed into oblivion by a council. And isn’t that the greatest art of all, sacrificing the intrinsic drive for immortality for a piercing metaphor that highlights the transience both of human creation and the truths they seek to unleash. The music that we hear and surrender to on a dancefloor is, at its purest, the the dissolution of the ego and a flood of emotion that no amount of hearing the recording the next day can ever hope to attain. Art is about experience, whether reflecting it or generating it and those transcendental moments of living that constitute our lives, the few glimpses of inspired consciousness sprinkled across our all too mortal lives. Isn’t that the real eternal truth?
First Published – LSD Magazine Issue 3 – Weapons of Mass Creation
Hand sculpture by Jonty Hurwitz
Bottom image by Jakob Wagner