Sunday, May 15, 2011
"The Age of Stupidity: Cultural Life in The Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era Vol 1" I.C. Faraway et al
It was like being present at the birth of a new civilization, as the ruins of the old world rose from the sands in which it had been buried for thousands of years.
In spite of the fact that the causes and results of the Great Cataclysm of three thousand years ago have been well studied, the Pre Cataclysmic Era remains a mystery due to the eradication of the sources. All evidence, all records of the PC Era, were more or less wiped clean by the Cataclysm, as is well known. Until 20 years ago, when Faraway stumbled upon the remains of an ancient 'library' in the Central Desert. Although this astonishing and fortuitous discovery attracted little attention at the time, it will probably be regarded in future ages as the most important discovery of our Era.
Faraway, in his introduction to the ip, describes the 'library'. It was stored in a vast square building, completely buried by the sands. The 'books', as we know they were called, were arranged in orderly rows, on racks, connected by wires into a loose network. Each one was about 6 feet tall and three feet wide, made of black steel and open at the back for the wiring. Most of them were in pristine condition. The building had been protected from the Cataclysm by the sand. It is suspected that there were more 'libraries' of this kind with more 'books' in other places, and we think these 'libraries' were all connected to each other by means of cables running under the ground. Inside the 'books' we found data, stored on extremely primitive electronic devices, some of them damaged beyond reading, but most of them still recoverable.
Professor Faraway and his team of researchers then spent the next 20 years retrieving the information stored on the discs, deciphering it, transcribing it, and piecing it together to build up the completest picture of the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era available. The results are astonishing. Faraway divides the ip into four broad sections, each dealing with an aspect of the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era, painting as complete a picture as is now possible of the Ancients.
Faraway's designation of the IPC Era as 'The Age of Stupidity' is based, he says, on historical precedent. It appears from what we can make out that at some point in the very distant past, there was an Age of Enlightenment, then an Age of Reason, then came the Age of Stupidity. The record for these first two Ages is very scant indeed, as most of the evidence discovered in the 'library' pertained only to the most recent Age. Only very dim traces of the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment survive in the detritus of the Age of Stupidity, explains Faraway.
Faraway defines Stupidity as the inability of humans to understand the interconnectedness of things, a blindness as to the results of actions, an inability to connect previous causes with results, an inability to recognise that which is staring them in the face, and a deliberate espousal of ignorance. Faraway warns that this is a concept difficult to understand in our age, when everything is known, and we are all connected and always follow our own best interests. It was the deliberate elevation of Stupidity to new heights which was the chief characteristic of the Age, and which marked it out as different from the Ages which had preceded it, notes Faraway.
Stupidity in Politics
The ip begins with a description of the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era's political scene. Faraway describes something which the Ancients called 'democracy'. This seems to have been the illusion that political power was invested in the hands of the people; that they could exercise this power by periodically electing 'presentatives', as they were called, and that these 'presentatives' were beholden to the will of the people. It seems that Meruhca, in those days called 'America', (a more lovely and euphonius name than the current label, which always seems to me to have something of the veruca about it) was ruled by two parties, and that government consisted in maintaining the 5 Illusions of Freedom: Free Speech, a Free Press, Free Healthcare, Free Education and Free Markets. In spite of huge amounts of unequivocal evidence to the contrary that the world was run by a powerful and secretive clique, the myth of 'democracy' and the 5 Illusions persisted, in large part actively perpetuated by this clique. 'Democracy', amazingly, was regarded by the Ancients as the most perfect form of government. It's hard for us now living under The Multinational to appreciate this profound historical gap, and some degree of historical imagination is required.
Faraway's thesis is that the secretive ruling clique, consisting of bankers, royalty, heads of the arms industry and commerce, and something called the 'Vatican', the purpose of which is still unclear, manipulated the broad mass of the people by cultural means in two areas: education and mass consumer culture. It's in these activities and the evidence that they left behind that the general and specific effects of Stupidity can be most easily traced.
Stupidity in Academia
Faraway shows how Stupidity is reflected in the growing prevalence in the historical record of the words 'elitism', and 'anti-elitism'. Apparently, IPC man believed that all forms of advanced knowledge were suspect, that experts were not to be trusted, that any form of intellectual or artistic pursuit that did not immediately appeal to the broad masses and which was not instantly and easily assimilable was actively discouraged, stamped upon, and ultimately destroyed.
For an example of this process, the ip traces the decline of the universities, archaic precursors to our own Univercity, citing passages from the data in which 'academics', as they were known, decry the study of any 'elitist' subjects (literature, science, philosophy, economics, history, nuclear physics etc) produced by Dead While Males in favour of more popular and less intellectually challenging subjects such as Alive Brown, Black or Yellow People Studies, Marketing and Sales Techniques, and a strange subject known as 'Theology', which Faraway admits to not fully being able to delineate from the available evidence.
The content of these courses, as far as we are able to make out, was determined by the perceived disadvantage of the subject. A complicated ranking system known as 'the quota' was employed. Those writers and thinkers (the Ancients used the term differently from how we do) who were disadvantaged in terms of their social backgrounds, skin colour, physical ability, sexual orientation, geographical location, accent, taste and income were given precedence over writers and thinkers who showed more objective quality markers such as originality of thought or expression. It seems that the Ancients were not able to distinguish between knowledge and information, and this lead in part to their downfall. As Faraway puts it: The imbalance in the criteria for inclusion in these studies had a negative effect on education and the dissemination and creation of knowledge. The study of trivia instead of real knowledge separated Immediate Pre Cataclysmic man from his history and cultural roots and devalued both them and him. At the same time, this elevation of Stupidity made it more difficult for Immediate Pre Cataclysmic peoples to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes which led eventually to the Cataclysm itself. Grim words of warning there.
The pursuit of egalitarianism, driven by the myth of 'democracy' and the hostility towards real knowledge, became unbalanced in the Age of Stupidity. Everyone could buy a phd, which meant that the qualification became meaningless as a marker of knowledge. Faraway cites phd titles submitted towards the end of the period (establishing a clear chronology in the Pre Cataclysmic Era is problematic) and they perhaps more than anything clinch his argument for the prevalence of Stupidity in academia:
The Spirituality of Snowboarding
Judgement of Unpleasantness and Pleasantness as a Function of Expansive and Restrictive Responses
An Attribution Theory Analysis of Attitude Change in a Forced Compliance Paradigm
The Influence of Blue Collar Life and Upward Mobility Aspirations on the use of Elaborated Speech Code in Written Speech
Connecting selves : relationship, identity and reflexivity on the ’frontline’ in a New Zealand call centre
The nature of reward, and the modification of reward contingencies, in emotion-based learning
Naturally, what was happening in the universities, had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the education system, which, towards the end of the Age, became little more than a means for the inculcation of Stupidity in the very young.
The Culture of Stupidity
In the Age of Stupidity, culture was not something which elevated the broad mass of the people, inspiring them to transcendence, independence and spiritual enrichment, but was instead dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Culture was expected to bend down towards the people, rather than the people expected to reach up towards culture. These expectations had an adverse effect on both people and culture. It appears from the evidence that the people themselves participated vociferously in this process, against their ultimate best interests (an element of Faraway's definition of Stupidity, as we have seen), as it turned out.
In keeping with the myth of 'democracy', the mere right to voice an opinion was regarded as more important than the responsibility to ensure that an opinion was informed, thoughtful and not marred by Stupidity. In his zestful enjoyment of his rights, IPC man seems to have been unembarrassed by the Stupidity of his opinions. Great energy, and reams of disc space were devoted to arguments calling for the right of free speech, the right to voice an opinion. The opinions expressed, however, once those rights had been secured, seem, at least from our vantage point, to have been mostly the output of idiots.
One of the chief characteristics of the culture of the Age of Stupidity was the easy availability of content produced by people and put out on something called the 'Internet', or 'World Wide Web ', which, according to Faraway, seems to have been a prehistoric form of the Infraweb, one which was accessed by 'electronic books' rather than the Bainwaved Information Stream of today. Everyone had a 'face book' or a 'blog' or an 'itube' account, and the views of anyone with access to these were taken as seriously as the views of experts or scientists, or those long immersed in a specialist field. Instead of the Information Packages lovingly produced by the Certified Experts in the Historical Research Department of The Multinational and disseminated on the Infraweb by means of BIS, the 'Internet' was a free-for-all, a place where anybody could create anything at any time; a place where the 'democratic' ethos was most vibrant, but also a place where Stupidity was most in evidence. The technology itself was clunky in a 'steam- and- string' kind of way (the 'Web' was accessed by a crude device called the 'youphone' which everyone carried on their person!), but miraculously, it seems to have worked. There was no overseeing control, a thought which must seem horrible to the HR Department of The Multinational.
One of the key cultural activities of the Age of Stupidity was something called 'advertising'. This requires some explanation. Rather than the central planning, production and distribution of goods and services that we enjoy today, Immediate Pre Cataclysmic societies laboured under the Illusion of the Free Market. This meant that commercial activity was spread out amongst a host of different companies, some of them engaged in production, some in distribution and so on. This key structural feature necessitated 'competition', in which one company had to compete for the attention of the people with another. This was done by means of the cultural activity of 'advertising'. In this activity, vast resources were devoted to the creation and dissemination of art designed to persuade people to choose one company's products, and not another's. Apparently, this was done by means of a magic substance called 'money', which Faraway will examine in more detail in a subsequent volume: Daily Life in the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era.
All households were equipped with a number of electronic devices called 'TV's or 'radios', the purpose of which was purely and simply to disseminate 'advertising'. 'Advertising' appears to have been endemic on the 'Internet', and indeed there is evidence to suppose that many of the 'sites' on the 'Web' were designed purely for 'advertising' purposes in mind, including the ubiquitous 'face book'. Personal electronic devices called 'cellphones' and 'youpads' were also developed purposefully in order to deliver 'advertising' to people on the move. In their interactions with their friends and associates, the Ancients spent a great deal of time talking about the 'adverts' they had been exposed to, and there was even an annual prize, the Noble Peace Prize for Literature, which was awarded to the best slogan. Faraway cites the slogan "I'm lovin' it", which was used by a burger company called 'Ronald McReagan's' and which won the prize three years in a row towards the end of the Age of Stupidity. The quality of the 'adverts', from what I can make out from the examples included in the ip, seems to have been amazingly crude. Some of them even feature a person holding the product and smiling and telling the most blatant, unequivocal lies about it. Scenes were staged, situations were faked, and data concerning the product was fabricated out of thin air and presented as reality.
Amazingly, Immediate Pre Cataclysmic man tolerated, and even perhaps enjoyed this constant barrage of untruth at all hours of the day and night, in all places, and as an accompaniment to even the most intimate and private of acts, for Faraway can find no evidence of attempts to restrict or curtail it, which he says is testament to the power of the Illusions of the Free Market and Free Speech. According to Faraway, this 'advertising' was very successful. Evidence exists testifying to the enormous persuasive power of 'advertising' as people acquired thousands of utterly useless objects for which there could be no conceivable need. In fact, the activity of 'advertising' seems to have become a structural feature of Immediate Pre Cataclysmic society, perhaps even its defining feature.
Faraway makes a strong case that it, perhaps more than anything else, contributed to the events which led to the Cataclysm, as the planet was laid waste by companies competing to make ever more useless and unnecessary products to satisfy the demands of 'advertising'. Faraway argues that cultural life was stultified by this main activity, and that the Ancients were dehumanised by it. Happiness was equated with acquisitiveness; needs were confused with wants; inner fulfilment was believed to be reside in social status; and there was an overwhelming expectation of instant gratification whatever the cost. The average citizen in the Age of Stupidity seems to have been little more than an alimentary canal with an underused brain and overused reproductive organs attached, as Faraway puts it perhaps somewhat sharply.
Faraway has also discovered evidence that the overwhelming presence of 'advertising' in the culture of the Age of Stupidity, as well as the forms it took, was a deliberate strategy by the ruling clique to pacify and render the populace supine in order to minimise dissent or revolt. Certainly, in comparison with the culture of our own times, the culture of the Age of Stupidity would appear to be impoverished.
The Language of Stupidity, and the Stupidity of Language
One of the most interesting sections of the ip are those in which Faraway reports his discoveries on the use of language in the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era. One of the ways in which Stupidity permeated the tenor of the Age was in its language, and in its views about language. Then, as now the language of global culture was English, but it was an English that is far removed from the language of today. The Age of Stupidity seems to have been an era in which there was very little enjoyment of or respect for language for its own sake, an idea which may seem repellent to today's audience.
The Ancients had an imperfect understanding of the connection between syntax and cognition. Certainly, compared to our understanding, the Ancients knew very little about language or about the brain. It's a wonder that they achieved what they did. Immediate Pre Cataclysmic man believed that the best kind of language was the most simple. The 'face book' evidence from the 'Internet' in particular shows an extremely impoverished use of language, with much of it appearing to have been produced by simpletons.
Faraway has uncovered evidence of style guides, popular grammars, rule sheets and media files which reveal, amazingly, that the dumbing down of language was a deliberate choice. This had an unfortunate effect on IPC man's ability to think. With the simplification of syntax came the simplification of thought; with the simplification of thought came the inability to produce complex syntax; which in turn created an inability to produce complex thought. In addition there was a strange taboo against adjectives, metaphors or specialist terms (this latter was part of the general denigration of specialist knowledge we looked at earlier). The result of this was a general shrinking of the average vocabulary. By the end of the Age, Faraway notes, most citizens only used about 150 words on a regular basis. The writing machines which people used included a thing called a 'grammar checker', which automatically 'corrected' (censored) complex syntax or idiosyncratic language, and shortened long sentences. Even well-educated people (such that there were) eventually began to believe that the 'grammar checkers' were correct. In this way, the ruling clique (who produced the writing machines) ensured a uniform standard of Stupidity on everyone, stifling the ability for independent thought and original expression.
In one of the most interesting examples included in the ip is a media file of a 'TV show' (as the Ancients called the extended 'adverts' they endured on this technological device) in which a famous professor called Stanley Fish is being interviewed about something he is trying to sell. The interviewer asks him: "What is it about good writing that makes it good?" The professor answers: "I like plain writing." The interviewer lets this gross distortion pass unremarked; he does not correct the professor and ask him to answer the actual question put to him, but nods as the professor confuses his personal opinion about what kind of writing he likes with what makes good writing generally. The citizens of the Age of Stupidity were incapable of thinking in precise subtleties of distinction because their language and their views about language simply did not permit them to. An apotheosis of Stupidity was reached when a man called Little Bush, who appears from his language-use to have been a mental defective, was 'elected' as President of the World.
Stupidity triumphed over common sense as IPC man willingly abandoned his most precious human attribute in favour of a kind of intellectual laziness everywhere present in the evidence. This, Faraway explains, accounts for the astonishing gullibility of the Ancients, the readiness with which they accepted bizarre doctrines, such as the 5 Illusions of Freedom, the ease with which they submitted to political control and the extent to which they were unaware of their mental slavery, all defining characteristics of the Age of Stupidity.
20 years in the making, Faraway's ip is a monumental achievement casting light on the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era, bringing forth a civilisation once thought irretrievably lost, and enhancing immeasurably our understanding of our history. Faraway's ip will form the basis of a new series from the Univercity: Studies in the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era. Vol 2 will cover religious life, Vol 3 daily life and vol 4 dissent in the Immediate Pre Cataclysmic Era. The completed series will no doubt prove seminal for a whole new field of Pre Cataclysmic studies, as future scholars unearth more supporting or contradictory evidence from Faraway's library, or reinterpret Faraway's evidence in different ways. However, no thoughtful person viewing this ip can avoid the following reflections.
It is surely one of the ironic accidents of history that the contents of the library Faraway discovered focussed heavily on the Age of Stupidity just prior to the Great Cataclysm, and that it contained very little information on even earlier ages, which still remain shrouded in impenetrable darkness. The huge barrier of the Age of Stupidity lies across our view of the whole of human history, blocking from our sight the great achievements of the Ages which came before it. As Faraway puts it: It is perhaps the tragedy of the Ancients - and a betrayal of their mission to humanity- that their culture of Stupidity inevitably obscured the more intelligent cultures of the past from the eyes of a more intelligent future. To be sure, there are traces in the record of great cultural achievements preceding the Age of Stupidity; we can glimpse ghosts in the data, faintly luminous names such as Johann Shakespeare Joyce, William Dickens, Emily Elliot, James Bourne, the Count of Monte Cristo, Christ Marx and Princess Britney Gaga. But, until such time as other libraries under the sands are discovered, our inadequate knowledge of the shadowy figures which lie behind these names must remain just that.