It's that time again kids. For this subscribers episode I've brought in two guests to discuss the highly influential and overlooked counterculture of the 1980s. Both are returning. They are musician and author Samuel Vandiver of the experimental electronica/folk outfit Corwin Trails; and writer, researcher, and activist Edmund Berger, author of Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present and the forthcoming Acceleration: Utopia Currents from Dada to the CCRU.
For those of you who have heard my prior shows with Ed on postmodernism and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, then you know this man is well versed on all things underground. But Sam is especially qualified: He was the neighbor and friend of legendary Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey. Through his relationship with Adam, Sam acquired an unique, insider perspective on many of the figures up for discussion.
If you like your Farm's philosophical, this is the one for you. We begin with an epic discussion of the infamous French thinker Georges Bataille and his heavy influence on 80s counterculture. Sam provides specific insights into the influence that Bataille had on Parfrey and his early efforts. From there, we go into a rundown of Situationism and how this lineage continued into the 1980s through the efforts of figures such as Bob Black.
The mid-point of our discussion revolves around two curious currents from the 1980s: the Neoism and the Abraxas Foundation. Ed traces the tangled history of the former, including it's most recent ties to QAnon. Sam tackles the complex history of Abraxas and it's successors in the alt-right. To wrap up, we engage in a fascinating discuss over whether the legendary figure of James Shelby Downard was a "hyperstition' crafted by Parfrey, Michael A. Hoffman II, and company.
These are just a few of the highlights in what is a wide ranging conversation that traces the underground currents of the West from the interwar years to present. As always, I hope you guys enjoy. Ed and Sam are the latest guests in an ever growing collection of exclusive content in our subscriber's section. Other guests include Diana Walsh-Pasulka, Richard B. Spence, Christopher Knowles, Douglas Valentine, Adam Gorightly, Greg Bishop, Walter Bosley, David Metcalfe, Neil Sanders, and J. Michael "Doctor Future" Bennett.
Strange Days, Stranger Realities
There's no question that the COVID lockdowns of 2020 fundamentally altered our society and that the changes are still ongoing. By now, I'm sure many of you are aware of some of the more nefarious plans being telegraphed by the neo-liberal order in bright, neon skylights. These are the obvious stakes from the lockdowns.
But are there potentially even more subversive undercurrents brewing that have completely flown under the radar? I for one certainly think so, least of all because in an era of total Accelerationism in the legacy media, it's easy for things to fall by the wayside. Especially if they seem weird or trivial. Often times, that is exactly the type of stuff the upends social order. You never see it coming until it's too late.
So, what stands out to me? Chiefly, the developments in the ongoing symbiosis of magic and mysticism on the one hand, and the Internet on the other. Of course, the merger of the magical with the digital is nothing new at this point. Just grab that old copy of TechGnosis or Cyberia you probably still have in a closet somewhere if you don't believe me. In between Utopian musings that often seem hysterically dated in 2021, that likes of Erik Davis and Douglas Rushkoff are able to make some very compelling arguments for the close relationship between metaphysics and tech. During the late 1980s, while working on a new edition for her legendary Drawing Dawn the Moon, Margot Adler conducted an informal survey among the growing neo-pagan community concerning their occupations. She found that a staggering amount of them worked in the computer industry.
So, the ghosts have clearly been in the machine for awhile now. But this time, it's different. Seriously.
2020 gave new meaning to the phrase "captive audience." Those few lonely souls who had not yet embraced streaming circa 2019 learned too during the following year. But there's only so much binge watching a human being can embark upon. Something else was needed and this led to some creative solutions.
One of the most remarked upon is the Randonautica app. Fittingly, it's creators have cited chaos theory and Debord's "theory of the derive" as inspirations. The app grew out of bot utilized in fringe sciences group on Telegram in 2019. By July 2020, the Atlantic was hailing it the "App of the Summer." Essentially, Randonautica promises on-demand synchronicity. The user focuses their intention on what type of experience they wish to have, then the app generates a coordinate and provides the user with directions.
Often times the results are mundane. I personally used the app for Thanksgiving 2020. I made four separate attempts with the app, two for adventures within walking distance, and two in the car. I wasn't able to make it to any of the destinations, which is a common complaint among users. Sometimes coordinates are given in the middle of a lake or another body of water, for instance. In my case, all the coordinates were on private property. As I live in a rural area of West Virginia, seeing my Randonautica adventure through to it's conclusion probably would have been a good way of getting shot.
A few adventures were more "successful." The one that really put Randonautica on the map was the discovery of two dead bodies in suitcase at a site the app's users were directed to. Specifically, it was a TikTok video recounting this adventure that really raised aware about Randonautica. Soon, a flurry of such videos on TikTok, often utilizing scores from horror films, followed. Living out The Blair Witch Project has never been easier.
The Metaphysics of TikToc
2020 was a big year for TikToc. The Chinese company was hailed as one of the fastest growing brands of the year. Elsewhere, former President Donald J. Trump raised a stink about banning TikToc in the fall of 2020, only to relent hours before the ban was supposed to go into effect. No doubt any number of factors played into the Orange One's brief war with TikToc during his failed presidential bid. The China angle is an obvious one. There's also the corporate angle: Trump, true to form, was able to procure a cut in TikTok for Wal-Mart and Oracle prior to the ban going live. No doubt a piece of the action made corporate America more favorably disposed.
But there's no question TikToc has become a force. Consider: a video posted on March 26, 2021 turned a Missouri ghost town into a tourist attraction in a matter of days. Certainly the geopolitical implications are staggering, but I'm more fascinated by the ability of TikToc users to re-enchant the burned out corners of the decaying America empire with videos such as this and the ones derived from Randonautica.
Which brings us to one of the really strange aspects of TikToc in 2020. It's called "reality shifting." Utilizing elements of lucid dreaming and deep meditation, reality shift purports to take Gen Z into another world. "Shifters" start the process by scripting out their desired reality. It's not uncommon for fictional universes derived from the likes of Harry Potter or Avatar to be invoked. Shifters are instructed to plot out as much of their desired reality, including how they will appear and their interactions with other characters in these scripts.
From there, Shifters work on controlling their sleeping habits. Reality-shifting is supposedly most effective during an R.E.M. state. To activate the shift, a combination of affirmation/countdown can be used, or the "staircase method." Some kids have even employed subliminal messaging in music to induce the shift.
All of this is quite fascinating on a number of levels. There are precedents, of course. Some have pointed to the "otherkin" and related communities. Otherkin, roughly speaking, are "people who believe and live as if they are partly other-than-human, for example, part-dragon, unicorn, vampire, angel, fae or other mythological or supernatural creature" (Fiction, Invention, and Hyper-reality, Cusack, 40). A parallel has been drawn between a specific subsection of Otherkin and the Shifters, namely the "soulbonders" of the prior decade:
".... Soulbonders form 'full-blown interpersonal relationship(s)' with 'other-than-human' entities, who may be fictional...Mrs Sephiroth and Sephirothslave, two women who were the avowed lovers of Sephiroth, a character from the videogame Final Fantasy, and... the phenomena of 'Snapists' (or SnapeWives), three women (Rose, Conchita and Tonya) who believe themselves to be in intimate sexual relationships with Severus Snape from the Harry Potter novels and films... of two intriguing phenomena that now seem to have ended..."
(Carol Cusack, "Otherkin and Therianthropy communities..." in Fiction, Invention, and Hyper-reality, 45)
The "SnapeWives" are especially interesting in light of the rampant use of Harry Potter among the Shifters. Given with the day-to-day realities of the post-lockdown world, it's understandable that many Gen Zs would want to escape to Hogwarts. But there are some even darker undercurrents at play than Draco Malfoy.
Vice reports that another recent TikTok fetish is known as "The Gateway," which is drawn from declassified CIA documents. It should be noted, however, that these documents did not originate from the CIA, but the Pentagon. The CIA was merely reviewing in this case.
The concept of "The Gateway" was actually developed by New Age guru Robert Monroe. Essentially, Monroe alleged that his techniques could induce an out-of-body experience (OBE) in which consciousness would breakthrough the confines of space and time. There, the past, present, and the future could all be observed at once.
A big part of Monroe's method involved the process of "Hemi-Synch." Binaural beats were used to synch the two hemispheres of the brain. In other words, it also uses audio cues to induce an "enhanced" sleep state. Monroe took these techniques and established the Monroe Institute around instructing guests how to achieve "The Gateway" with them.
During the 1980s, when they legendary General Albert Stubblebine headed the US Army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), Monroe and his institute became a big deal. It was common for the military's remote viewers, along with other characters such as Colonel John Alexander, to make use of Monroe's good offices. CIA was less impressed. In Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigation Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis, Annie Jacobsen notes that the CIA concluded: "Altered states make the brain unstable... and can have effects similar to hallucinogens" (pg. 291). The CIA also recommended that the Army disengage from it's relationship with the Monroe Institute as at best their methods would produce "more noise than signal" for remote viewers.
Obviously, there are some similarities between "The Gateway" and reality shifters. This point hasn't been lost on the Shifters themselves. But if the CIA's assessment is correct, psychosis may be a real potential fall out from "The Gateway." Which begs the question about the long-term effects of "shifting" on Generation Z.
If you've been following this blog or my podcast of late, you're probably aware of the emphasis I've put on the breakdown of consensus reality. Generally, I've explored this through the prism of alternate reality games or QAnon. Nominally, the mysticism of TikTok is far more benign. As was noted above, I fully grok the need of teenagers to escape our current reality. Further, Gen Z is merely continuing an ongoing process prior generations have already embraced. Christopher Partridge dubbed it the "Re-Enchantment of the West," the return of magical thinking to day to day life.
Partridge argued that the process of re-enchantment had begun in earnest during the 1960s counterculture. But it was during the '90s cyberculture and the rise of the Internet that things really took off. On the one hand, it was easier for fellow eccentrics to find one and other than ever. But on the other hand, it made spirituality even more personalized. With all of human knowledge now available at one's fingertips, the need to submit to a congregation or master was less than ever.
ARGs were very much a part of this tradition of re-enchantment. They sought to bring a little bit of wonder into mundane experiences of day-to-day life. But in 2021, the mundane of the days gone past seems more and more like a utopia. And as QAnon demonstrates, a new generation of ARGs have continued this re-enchanting process (if you don't think this is a part of QAnon, consider this recent podcast), but in a far darker form.
In this context, we would do well to keep an eye on the enchantment of TikTok. The reality shifting phenomena in particular seems to come with some major red flags. Beyond the disturbing implications of teenagers embracing declassified CIA documents as a form of rebellion, of course. And with that, I shall sign off for now. As always, stay tuned till next time dear reader.