Sunday, April 17, 2011


The title of this post derives from the 2008 studio album by the Swedish death/prog/experimental metal band Meshuggah. This highly unique and esoteric outfit is certainly worthy of an article on this blog, but that shall not be forth coming today. Instead, I'm going to do something a little different in this post from the normal research oriented work and go for more of an editorial blog.

Still, obZen is an apt title for the theme of this piece. According to Tomas Haake, the octopus-armed drummer and chief lyricists of Meshuggah, the title of their most recent album is a play on the words obscene and zen. Ob also happens to be the Latin word for 'anti.' This phrase was coined by Haake to describe the harmony man has found in destruction. From an exclaim interview with Haake:

"It’s a play on words between obscene and Zen. Also, 'ob' means 'anti' in Latin. The artwork suggests that the human species seems to have found its Zen in bloodshed and warfare, and that’s what the title suggests."

Haake's notion of 'obZen' seems to aptly describe the plight of the common man in the United States of 2011. Based on countless conversations I've had with assorted individuals over the past few months, there's a general sense of overwhelming anger beneath the surface of our society in which confrontation is the only release many can find. An incident that happened to a friend of mine this past weekend perfectly illustrates what I'm getting at. For the sake of this piece we'll refer to this friend of mine as 'Manos.'

Manos was in Orlando a few weekends back, taking in an 80s thrash band at one of the nicer venues out there. He was attending the concert with two other individuals, a brother and a sister, that are about a decade older than Manos (whose about 30). The show is going great until the sister runs into an ex-boyfriend from several years back. The ex starts harassing her at which point she asks Manos (who's simply a friend to her) to take her back to her hotel so she can get away from the ex.

As Manos and the brother and sister leave the club and walk into downtown Orlando the ex rushes up behind them and hits Manos in the back of the head as hard as he can. As Manos spins around, the ex attempts to cut his throat open with a knife.

Mercifully the blade only scratches his throat and Manos is able to promptly recover and disarm the ex. He then  proceeds to pummel him until the police arrive and put a stop to the brawl. Manos is now in an awkward situation in which, if he asks the cops to arrest the guy that just attempted to kill him, he himself will probably be charged with assault and battery and drunk and disorderly. Needless to say, when the cops provide the opportunity for Manos and his attacker to walk away, he pounces on it.

This incident represents the latest in a long line of increasingly violent confrontations I or my friends have experienced over the past year or so. In most cases these confrontations are over issues every bit as petty, if not more so, than what almost got Manos' throat cut. For instance, I was driving my car through my neighborhood a month or two back at the exact speed limit. One of my neighbors came flying up behind and started riding my ass bumper to bumper through our little subdivision. Finally we came to my driveway and I started to break so I could make the turn. Just as I start going into it the yuppie cuts into the other lane and flies beside of me, missing the the edge of my car by inches before speeding away.

Am I missing something? Is driving under 50mph in a residential area now considered bad etiquette?

As interesting as driving is becoming, it still can't hold a candle to the utter loss of reality within the realm of 'politics' and other 'serious' topics that come in day to day conversations. I was on the phone a few days ago with a family member listening to yet another in a long line of rants about food stamps and unemployment and how essentially all evil in the country could be linked to the fact that individuals are drinking and smoking in bars while being on the dole -Somehow, this was our great obstacle to a return to financial stability, or some such shit.

I casually brought up a piece I had recently read on the the cost of occupying Iraq:

"The cost of these wars is enormous.  The U.S. media, being good servants for the government, only reports the out-of-pocket or current cost of the wars, which is only about one-third of the real cost. The current cost leaves out the cost of life-long care for the wounded and maimed, the cost of life-long military pensions of those who fought in the wars, the replacement costs of the destroyed equipment, the opportunity cost of the resources wasted in war, and other costs. The true cost of America’s illegal Iraq invasion, which was based entirely on lies, fabrications and deceptions, is at least $3,000 billion according to economist Joseph Stiglitz and budget expert Linda Bilmes...

"To put it bluntly, the $3 trillion cost of the Iraq war, as computed by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, is 20% of the size of the U.S. economy in 2010. In other words, the Iraq war alone cost Americans one-fifth of the year’s gross domestic product.  Instead of investing the resources, which would have produced income and jobs growth and solvency for state and local governments, the U.S. government wasted the equivalent of 20% of the production of the economy in 2010 in blowing up infrastructure and people in foreign lands.  The U.S. government spent a huge sum of money committing war crimes, while millions of Americans were thrown out of their jobs and foreclosed out of their homes."

I suggested to this family member that $3 trillion a year dedicated to liquidating Arabs and making Iraq safe for foreign oil companies was probably a far greater tragedy, to say nothing of a drain on domestic resources, than our food stamp program. This family member simply responded that food stamps were also a tragedy.

ObZen strikes again in one those 'clarity-in-the-killing' moments, I suppose. It would of course be very pleasing to me if this world view only existed in my family, but its going both mainstream and 'underground.' With the rise of the 'Truther' and Tea Party movements, however, a kind of battle cry against the so-called 'sheeple' is becoming more commonplace.

That many 'awakened' Americans chose rage against the sleeping masses is not surprising. I myself, when first delving into the whole conspiracy culture, was also seduced by these notions. Like most Americans, I had been hardwired with the concept of personal responsibility and the notion that anything else is simply a cop out.  But I continued researching and I stumbled upon certain things. An early concept that had particular effect on my way of thinking was that of 'total propaganda', as defined by the philosopher Jacques Ellul. Ellul believed that in modern society every aspect of the mass media had to be geared toward propaganda, or it would not be effective.

"Propaganda must be total. The propagandist must utilize all of the technical means at his disposal -the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, door-to-door canvassing. Modern propaganda must utilize all of these media. There is no propaganda as long as one makes use, in sporadic fashion and at random, of a newspaper article here, a poster or a radio program there, organizes a few meetings and lectures, writes a few slogans on walls; that is not propaganda. Each usable medium has its own particular way of penetration -specific, but at the same time localized and limited; by itself it cannot attack the individual, break down his resistance, make his decisions for him...

"It is a matter of reaching and encircling the whole man and all men, Propaganda tries to surround man by all possible routes, in the realm of feelings as well as ideas, by playing on his will or on his needs, through his conscious and his unconscious, assailing him in both his private and his public life. It furnishes him with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides immediate incentives to action."
(Propaganda, pgs. 9-11)

Americans have been living in a state of total propaganda, or psychological warfare, since at least WWII.

"The phrase 'psychological warfare' is reported to have first entered English in 1941 as a translated mutation of the Nazi term Weltanschauungskrieg (literally, worldview warfare), meaning the purportedly scientific application of propaganda, terror, and state pressure as a means of securing an ideological victory over one's enemies. William 'Wild Bill' Donovan, then director of the newly established U.S. intelligence agency Office of Strategic Services (OSS), viewed an understanding of Nazi psychological tactics as a vital source of ideas for 'Americanized' versions of many of the same stratagems. Use of the new term quickly became widespread throughout the U.S. intelligence community. For Donovan psychological warfare was destined to become a full arm of the U.S. military, equal in status to the army, navy, and air force...

"These projects helped define U.S. social science and mass communications studies long after the war had drawn to a close. Virtually all of the scientific community that was to emerge during the 1950s as leaders in the field of mass communication research spent the war years performing applied studies on U.S. and foreign propaganda. Allied troop morale, public opinion (both domestic and international), clandestine OSS operations, or the then emerging techniques of deriving useful intelligence from analysis of newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and postal censorship intercepts."
(The Science of Coercion, Christopher Simpson, pgs. 24-25)
The OSS was of course one of the predecessors to the CIA, in addition to several other intelligence programs. Wild Bill Donovan had been a Wall Street lawyer before taking over America's chief intelligence outfit during WWII. This would establish a firm relationship between the intelligence community, the mass media, and academia that still exists to this day. Just consider the sway of the Army's Psychological Warfare Division from WWII in the post-War years:

"At the Army's Psychological Warfare Division, some prominent staffers were William S Paley (CBS), C.D. Jackson (Time/Life), W. Phillips Davison (RAND and Columbia), Sul Padover (New School for Social Research), John W Riley (Rutgers), Morris Janowitz (Institut fur Sozialforschung and University of Michigan), Daniel Lerner (MIT and Stanford), Edward Shils (University of Chicago), and New York attorney Murray Gurfein (later co-author with Janowitz), among others. Of these, Davison, Padover, Janowitz, and Gurfein were OSS officers assigned to the Psychological Warfare Division to make use of their expertise in communication and German social psychology."
(ibid, pg. 27)

Note that William Paley, the actual founder of the CBS TV station, was a 'former' psychological warfare officer. This is how much of our 'independent' media rolls. More information on America's mass conditioning can be found here.

The effects of these practices have likely been devastating to the mind of the average American.
"To be alienated means to be someone other (alienus) than oneself; it can also mean to belong to someone else. In a more profound sense, it means to be deprived of one's self, to be subjected to, or even identified with, someone else. That is definitely the effect of propaganda. Propaganda strips the individual, robs him of part of himself, and makes him live an alien and artificial life, to such an extent that he becomes another person and obeys impulses foreign to him. He obeys someone else."
(Propaganda, Jacques Ellul, pg. 169)

So what does all of this have to do with a jealous ex, tailgating, obZen, and general misplaced political rage? Everything.

I myself do not believe that most human beings are naturally confrontational. It has taken decades of conditioning and billions of dollars in research to achieve this magical state in which individuals are more likely to kill one and other over a parking spot at Wal Mart rather than opposing the American Empire that bleeds the working people of this nation like the parasite that it is. So the next time you're tailgating an individual over some slight in traffic, think about where this impulse is coming from. Is not being able to speed really something worth putting your life and other's at risk over?

To my mind the greatest tragedy about our obZen state is that it is effectively killing a crucial part of our humanity, and that is empathy. Societies tend to rise and fall based upon the ability of the individuals within them to band together in times of crisis. Clearly, this is not happening in America of the 21st century. Worse, the greatest proponents of social Darwinism amongst the plebs seem to be the same individuals that consider themselves to be 'awakened.' The thing is, if you've truly acquired real knowledge, yet are simply remaining in the shadows and waiting for your fellow Americans to 'get what's coming', then you're arguably even more morally bankrupt than the Cryptocracy. At least they have some kind of ideology. The average 'Truther' or Tea Bagger seems to have nothing but spite, largely directed at other normal Americans rather than at TPTB.

So, what shall it be? ObZen or empathy? I have seen the former and it leads only to pitiful attempted murders, and cowardly politicking. I hope more people will begin to realize this. Otherwise we'll continue to play out the sceniro depicted in the Who classic "Won't Get Fooled Again" until our end:
"We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song"

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