Horror-Tober VII: Zombies / Walking Dead

Written by Alexander Greco

October 25, 2020

“They just want to calm your fraying nerves

They just want to be your comforters

They just want to clear your aching head

They just want to calm your fraying nerves

They just want to be your comforters

They just want to wake the walking dead

The walking dead”

Mark Lenover, “The Walking Dead”

The Analysis that Became a Rant or The Little Article that Could

It might have been the pot, it might have been the acid, or it might have been the mushrooms, but I remember at some point in my nebulous collection of psychedelic adventures, zombies finally made sense. I figured them out.

I don’t like the word “zombie” though. “Living dead” is getting better—it’s a nice oxymoron. “Walking dead” though… they got it right with that name.

See, “Zombie” is too abstract—it’s not connected with anything tangible, it’s just a funny sounding name that we associate with mindless, autonomic bodies brought back to life.

“Living dead” is better because it hits closer to home. We have deeper associations with the words “living” and “dead”—they mean more to us than “zombie” ever will. But, there’s something wrong with the name.

“Walking dead” on the other hand hits it out of the park. It just nails it. Why?

It does the same thing that “living dead” does—it anchors the name and the idea of the creature into something more tangible than “zombie”­—but then “living dead” goes wrong with the “living” part, because we instinctually know that part of the name is a cheap gimmick.

It’s clever, for sure, but we know the zombies aren’t “living”. “Living” for us as humans is something natural. We associate it with “the lights being on”, with a “soul” in the body, maybe even a ghost in the shell (wink, wink). And so, we look at the dead body moving on its own, and we know that it’s not “dead” in the normal sense, but we also know it’s definitely not “living” in any sense.

But, “walking dead”, that name works. You don’t have to think about walking at all in order to do it. You can literally walk in your sleep, it’s so easy and mindless to do. Walking is just your body moving in a pre-programmed way and it literally takes no effort at all—just try thinking about how you actually walk, I’ll bet you don’t even know how walking works.

“Walking dead” implies something that’s just robotic, mechanical, thoughtless or instinctual. It basically calls zombies objects capable of moving (and eating, of course). There’s nothing there. The body moves, but it moves like silt moves in a riverbed, or how snow falls from tree limbs or rocks fall down slopes—there is no thought: it’s purely mechanical.

That term, “walking dead”, removes any sense of agency, animacy, life or consciousness from the zombies: they’re corpses that move; they’re objects that walk.

But, what does this mean symbolically?

What are the walking dead?

They’re mindless people-shaped objects that incessantly consume anything and everything around them.

They’re the hungry, unthinking corpses that stalk the few conscious survivors of the undeath plague in herds.

They’re the masses of thoughtless, mechanical animals made of rotting flesh and decayed nerves.

They’re the shambling costumer, the bottomless, indebted consumer, the TV mind-slaves;  they’re the drones, the sellouts, the zealous recruiters of self-dissolution; they’re the frenzied finger-pointers, the inquisitors refusing to look in the mirror, the self-anointed priests of popular opinions.

They’re the walking dead: they’re programmed, they lack self-reflection, they lack the ability to judge their own actions or beliefs, and they lack an understanding of where they’re beliefs and behaviors even stemmed from—more importantly, they even lack a desire to understand.

This idea—this symbol—reflects so succinctly the collective behavior of “the masses”. It’s the idea of herds of people who lack self-reflection or any deeper level of consciousness (perhaps the lack consciousness altogether) and who act on basic instinct and primordial, emotional drives.

So what is the point of the zombie or zombie survival flick?

I began this article with a quote from one of the greatest unknown lyricists, Mark Lenover. Here’s a quote from one of the greatest known lyricists:

“Run desire, run, sexual being
Run him like a blade to and through the heart
No conscience, one motive
Cater to the hollow”


“Screaming feed me, here
Fill me up, again
And temporarily pacify this hungering”

Maynard James Keenan & Billy Howerdel, “The Hollow”

The zombie narrative reflects humanity’s social reality in that a vast majority of the population is turned “off”—the lights aren’t on, no one’s home, some thoughtless machine is pulling levers behind the scenes—while a small minority of people are survivors.

Perhaps the plague, virus, disease, etc. is society itself—the pressure of millions of people-shaped objects wanting to turn you into one of them—wanting to consume you and degrade you to their mindless level. Perhaps it’s culture, or a specific kind of culture which infects people, or maybe it’s a natural symptom of a society.

So, what about the survivors? Who are they?

What do they represent?

They’re the people fighting to survive the thrall of society or culture—the people who fall prey and become another walking dead are those who give in to apathy, lethargy or self-destruction; or they fall prey to some trauma—physical, social or psychological; or they are overwhelmed by the herd and succumb to the swarming mob of people-shaped meat-objects.

And why do the walking dead wish to feast on other humans? Specifically, the flesh of humans who are still alive? Why are they unable to or have no desire to sustain themselves off dead or undead human flesh?

Because people have no desire to kill and consume other people who are already a part of the herd: we have no desire to transform people who are already transformed, and nothing can be gained from consuming what we already are.

The people who survive the gauntlet of society and culture become targets for zealous conformists and mindless consumers. People don’t “consume” products created by people similar to them, people from the same socio-economic class as them, or people from that they’ve conformed to/with—the people who create the things we consume aren’t like the pepole consuming their goods.

The people who remain original, the people who remain conscious, the people who remain alive and passionate: these are the people the masses wish to feast on.

The herds of walking dead feast on Disney, Walmart, Amazon and others—and while the living may still use these companies, they do not “feast” on them, they are not consumers in the same sense.

The “herd-minded” consumer consumes to blindly satiate an instinctual hunger; the living, thinking individuals understand their actions, and they “consume” to fulfill a conscious, understood necessity, or to aid in assisting some goal.

So there are two elements to this: a hatred of life—an anti-life (an unlife)—driving people-shaped objects to destroy life; and then there is an absolute desire to consume that life. It is a hunger or desire to obtain something, which results in the destruction of the desired thing.

And the emotional kicker to this all is the endless nihilism and suffering of hope.

Those who survive remain conscious, remain thinking, calculating, rationalizing agents—they remain alive—and yet their life is infinitely more difficult because of this. They remain alive and conscious only to be conscious for their own unending peril, pain and hardship. So why continue? Why go on?

Why go on—why struggle so hard against the smothering night and the bitter cold—when one can just let go, become a part of the herd?

Why struggle against something that seems so inevitable? Why wage an impossible war? Why stand against the ocean of mindless walkers?

What is it that is so important about life that people are capable of weathering the most violent storms in order to maintain life—to keep the fire lit, and to carry and pass the torch into the lightless chaos of tomorrow?

The possibility of something better and the hope for a cure: the hope for an end to the infinite dark.

This is what ever zombie narrative inevitably teases us with, and this is what life teases us with: what if, one day, we could end all this pain?

What if, one day, we could cure the walking dead, restore humanity and restore a society into one that loves life and living? What if we could cure the disease of anti-life and mindless consumption?

That’s what keeps us watching, and that’s what keeps the fire lit.

“And these words changing nothing as your body remains
And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next
And our memories defeat us, and I’ll end this duress
But does anyone notice? But does anyone care?
And if I had the guts to put this to your head
But does anything matter if you’re already dead?
And should I be shocked now, by the last thing you said?
Before I pull this trigger, your eyes vacant and stained
And in saying you loved me made things harder, at best
And these words changing nothing as your body remains
And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next
But does anyone notice there’s a corpse in this bed?”

My Chemical Romance, “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”

Conclusion: Episode/Issue #1 of The Walking Dead

A good story reflects reality.

A good symbol reflects a deeper, more complex truth about reality that a literal description cannot.

Zombies, living dead, walking dead: a society moving in herds, which no longer cares for life nor its continuation, and seeks its annihilation and assimilation through mindless consumption.

The Survivors: the ones who rage against the herds of people-shaped objects.

A good narrative speaks in a language of symbols, characters, events and associations.

In the first issue of The Walking Dead comic series and in the first episode of the show, the protagonist, Rick Grimes—a protector and upholder of law, and thereby a protector and upholder of culture and society—is shot and put into a coma. He wakes up in a hospital to find the world in shambles.

He is weak and barely alive. The previously orderly, clean and sensible world he lived in has become a ruined hellscape, devoid of life. He finds that society has been overrun by the Walking Dead, and then finds that a small number of people are still alive.

He then begins protecting these people, these individuals, and upholding life itself.

Rick himself “dies” and returns to life—he goes to the abyss, the place of chaos and darkness, common mythological trope—and returns to the “overworld” or the “normal” world.

Here, we can take a literal interpretation of the story: he wakes up after an actual zombie apocalypse.

Or, we can take a symbolic interpretation of the story: he wakes up to see the world for what it really is.

He wakes up and realizes his own weakness and vulnerability; he wakes up and realizes how important life and consciousness really are; he wakes up and devotes his life to protecting and leading people, not dictates of society.

Perhaps Rick didn’t wake up and see a transformed reality; perhaps Rick woke up transformed and saw reality.

Horror-Tober Part I: Vampires

Written by Alexander Greco

October 7, 2020

“And if they get me and the sun goes down into the ground

“And if they get me take this spike to my heart and

“And if they get me and the sun goes down

“And if they get me take this spike and

“You put the spike in my heart”

My Chemical Romance, “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”

As a quick forewarning, some of this analysis and the things I talk about are pretty rapid-fire and probably should be elaborated or explained more, but I wanted to shorten many of the points here. If you want to learn more about some of these things, you can check it out for yourself, or reach out to me with any questions and whatnot.

Introduction

Vampires need very little introduction, but here we go.

Vampires have become something that borders on memey at this point, but vampires as a Dawkinsian meme (the immaterial, “idea-gene” or evolving idea) have a long evolutionary history—starting with folklore, developing into the classic Dracula-vampire, and then finally committing a slow suicide with a glittery stake in the 2000’s and 2010’s.

Concepts of vampires or of things similar to vampires have appeared across cultures throughout history, beginning with ancient stories such as the Indian Vetalas and Pisaca; the Babylonian/Assyrian and Hebrew Lilitu and Lilith, respectively; and a slew of Greek monsters: the Empusae, Lamia, Stirges and Gello.

Many of these creatures, as well as other similar tales throughout the world, are not strictly “vampires”, but they bear similarities to the modern concept of the vampire (nocturnal, blood-sucking/flesh-eating, demonic, undead/undying, odd rules around their behaviors). These ancient creatures in particular may have given rise to the modern “Draculian” (yes, I just made up a new word) or Gothic Vampire.

Accounts of this more modern concept of a vampire arose from the Medieval Period to the 18th Century (the century where a widespread fear of vampires began to crystallize and bloom across Europe). There were Hebrew, Norse and British accounts of undead or vampiric entities, such as revenants and draugrs, and then in the 18th century, when European populations began using the term “vampire”, vampires became the object of hysteria.

Similar in many ways to the witch-hunts that spread across Europe and North America, the notion of vampires became an object of fear, paranoia, hate and morbid scholarship. The “18th-Century Vampire Controversy” was a generation-long marathon of grave-desecration, hysteric accusations, and the tail-end of pre-modern superstitious-hysteria (though, I’d say the underlying psychological/psychic structure persists to this day).

One interesting note here is that this Vampire scare flared parallel to the Age of Enlightenment, a tangent that I probably won’t bring up much beyond this, or will simply forget to bring up, but an interesting corollary to the analysis.

Why was it that both witch-hunts and vampire-scares coincided with progressive philosophic movements?

Why is it that such ancient, superstitious cleansing-hysterias emerged in tandem to socio-cultural and cognitive leaps forward?

Why have we, at such dramatic cultural turning points such as the 60’s, 80’s and 00’s, faced similar witch-hunts and vampire-hysterias?

And why do we now, in such a strange and tumultuous politico-cultural shift of contemporary history, do we seem to be face similar superstitious hysterias?

This 18th century vampire evolved into the Bram Stoker Dracula of 1897—another curious example of society/culture/media that roughly coincided with Nietzsche’s famous proclamation, “God is Dead”.

From out of the dying light of Romanticism, Dracula—named after Vlad III, Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula (I may talk about him more, I haven’t decided yet)—evolved through the 19th century into suave villains and anti-heroes (excluding Nosferatu, who was less-than-suave). After Bella Lugosi and pulp fiction, there came waves of comic book and genre-fiction renditions of vampires who all played as variations of the Gothic/Dracula vampire, peaking with thee ’92 Bram Stoker’s Dracula film before its new, contemporary variations (one might say the Post-Modern vampire).

And with this relatively brief but relatively whole history of vampires, I will examine the core psycho-symbolic meaningfulness of vampires.

I want to use this to analyze the modern depictions of vampires in an almost historic study of its evolution and bring this all in to a contemporary analysis of culture and society using this initial analysis, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that without a hyper-extended article.

So, I may do this in the future.

For this analysis, there are three crucial “modes” of the ancient, classical and post-classical/early modern vampire narrative I wish to examine:

  1. Vampire as Feminine Demon
  2. Vampire as Indifferent Entity
  3. Vampire as Masculine Aristocrat

And, for those already jumping on this “controversial analysis”, this has nothing to do with value claims about actual gender/sex, rather the mytho-narrative symbolism of these fragmented archetypes. This is all aimed at a symbolic mythological analysis, not a material, cultural or philosophical analysis of sex or gender.

Analysis of Vampires

I’ll first roughly define each of these sub-archetypes and give a mythological/historic relation/foundation to each of them, then delve into each. As a fun little note here, these three archetypes I think may still be present, at least partially, in modern culture, arts and narrative, but it’s safe to say they’ve both splintered and evolved into more sub-archetypes.

However.

The actual “psychological archetypes” (since we’ve already entered the realm of Jung here) are most certainly still alive and well in our culture, sleeping in tombs or ruling from dark castles.

First, we have to examine vampirism at its foundation. Vampirism, roughly speaking, relates to an undead, undying or demonic/infernal force that parasitizes “normal” humanity. Vampirism relates to death, but it also relates to undeath (either something dead returning to life, or something immortal) which preys upon life.

Vampirism more particular relates to either consuming flesh or blood, and so can be seen as siphoning a life force or siphoning “what makes us ‘us’” as a source of sustenance. Vampirism also relates to the nocturnal, which is what we cannot see, what lurks in “the dark”, or what comes out in times or places of “dark”.

Vampirism is often treated in a disease-like manner. It can either kill others, or it can be spread to others who then become new nodes of Vampirism.

Vampirism also relates to immortality, but usually is more specific to the ability to consume the “life force” of others in order to maintain or continue its own life.

This can be seen in a number of ways:

– Something which we suppress, either in our own selves or in our conception of reality / Something parasitic or destructive in ourselves which we actively decide not to acknowledge, or something external to us that we do not acknowledge.

– Something we regress to, or something that the state of society, state of nature or state of being regresses to in moments or periods of weakness or “death” / Some state of behavior or being that emerges as we as individuals or we as a collective revert into a less humane state of being.

– Some eternal and recurrent force, or some “undying” force—or an aging force that maintains itself beyond death—which preys upon, parasitizes or infects the contemporary culture or youthful population.

Now, for the promised controversial analysis.

Vampire as Feminine Demon refers to the “Lilithian” vampire—the darker elements of Hecatean feminine-mythology. Really, this archetype goes down to one of the deepest roots of mythology: the feminine archetype of Mother Nature. More particularly, this relates the negative aspect of the Mother Nature archetype: Nature as cruel consumer and destroyer, as opposed to Nature as loving creator and nurturer.

Examples in Modern Culture: Antichrist (I would argue); Blair Witch Project (also arguable); Jennifer’s Body (there aren’t many great examples, guys); A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (but not really); Let the Right One In (kinda)

Vampire as Indifferent Entity is sort of an off-shoot of the Lilithian vampire. Where the Lilithian vampire may be seen as the more divine (divine meaning “of-higher-being”, not necessarily in a positive or negative sense) conscious progenitor, source or monarch of vampirism, the Indifferent Entity is more like an amoral child or creation of the source-being. This Indifferent Entity is like an animal, a more unconscious being driven by instinct, and closer to an unthinking, mechanical object than a conscious, moral agent.

Examples in Modern Culture: Stakeland, 30 Days of Night, I Am Legend

Vampire as Masculine Aristocrat is closer to the more traditional conception of vampire. This is the Draculian vampire, ranging from Nosferatu to Dracula to Edward Cullen (brace yourselves, Twilight fans, it’s only just begun). The Masculine Aristocrat vampire relates to the patriarchal sense of masculine—the twin brother of Mother Nature—as the archetype of “Father Society”. Just as the Lilithian vampire represents the negative aspect of Mother Nature, the Draculian vampire represents a negative aspect of society—the manipulative, bureaucratic, parasitic aspect of society.

Examples in Modern Culture: Bram Stokers Dracula, the Underworld series, the Twilight series (Edward’s a pedophile, accept this fact)

The first analysis will be of the “Vampire as Feminine Demon”. And here, with feminine, I will repeat:

I do not mean the modern contextual meaning of “feminine as effeminate” or “feminine as female biological sex”, or even “feminine as cultural gender”. I mean “feminine as mythological ‘Mother-archetype’” and it has nothing to do with actual sex/gender. Thank you for your time.

With this, we look at the concept of a vampire as the Hebrew Lilith, which arose from the Babylonian Lilitu. Lilith has often been associated with Satan, and in some traditions, Lilith couples with Samael, who, in some ways, can be considered as an initial conception of Satan (Samael being “Ha-Satan”, the accuser, seducer and destroyer).

However, focusing more on Lilitu, Lilitu was a Babylonian “female night demon” who consumed the blood of infants for sustenance. A similar Hebrew demon, the estries, were nocturnal predators who consumed the blood of their victims for sustenance. And then we have the Greek Lamia and Stirges, which feasted on the blood of children and adults (Lamia more particularly on children).

This historic “Lilitu” meme generalizes to a nocturnal, blood-feasting predator, which often preys on children or infants. Here, I think one concept becomes blindingly clear: the negative Mother archetype.

The Mother archetype, as previously stated, is the archetype of Mother Nature, which is both protective, nurturant and procreative, but also cruel, preying and destructive. Mother Nature is that which creates life, and mother nature is that which consumes life. These Lilitu and Lilitu-esque demons are female entities which consume the life-force of individuals, and often the life-force of children (one could say that all individuals, youthful or mature, are children).

So, this ancient proto-vampire, the Lilithian vampire, is an aspect of Mother Nature. The Lilithian vampire might have been a personification of the fear of child mortality/morbidity—the fear of predators, the fear of disease, the fear of fatal injury, the fear of one’s child suddenly going missing when they’re out of sight (in the dark).

This fear could also be seen as a Mother’s fear of her own part to play in the potential destruction of their child. This might be reflective or symbolic of two things. The first, the mother’s own incompetence or the mother’s own malevolence. Perhaps the fear manifested here is that it is the Mother’s fault through their inadequacies that their child either dies or matures into an unsuccessful or even malignant individual.

The second might be an aspect of another negative aspect of the Mother archetype: the Oedipal Mother. This is the archetypal maternal force which is overbearing, overprotective, smothering, and even manipulative and parasitic.

The Oedipal Mother (archetypically speaking, though perhaps literally speaking) keeps their children, particularly their sons, from going out into the world and exploring. They keep their sons at home, where they fulfill the role of their father (sometimes only superficially, sometimes behaviorally, sometimes to a Freudian/Oedipal extreme). This relationship is manipulative, as the mother must coerce, or at the very least be an enabler, the child/son into remaining at home and fulfilling the role of the father, in exchange for continued protection and “nurturing”. The relationship is parasitic, as the mother essentially ruins the child’s life by smothering them, keeping them from maturing and keeping them from living a fulfilled, satisfying life in order to satisfy her own needs.

These are a bit of a stretch. They fit the “vampiric mold”, though it may be difficult to prove that Lilith/Lilitu and their corollary mythological monsters are in fact symbolic of this (but it’s still fun to think about).

The next part of the analysis is the “Vampire as Indifferent Entity”. This one, I will be honest, interests me the least, so I will be quick with this one. However, these happen to be the types of vampires in three of the only good vampire flics in the last couple decades (30 Days of Night, I Am Legend, Stakeland).

These are the animalistic, zombie-like vampires—the mindless, raving, depraved animals. Now, these might be represented at times as semi-autonomous people, or at the very least may outwardly appear as being normal humans, but are far more animalistically autonomous than they are moral agents.

And I think that’s the key here: these are parasitic entities without moral agency.

But, at the same time, it could be argued that a vampire, especially the traditional Draculian concept of a vampire, is without moral agency, since they have a sort of addictive “ball-and-chain”. They cannot escape their necessity to consume blood.

And so, we might look at this Indifferent Entity as being the baseline for vampirism, or the core mode of vampirism—a revelatory vision of vampirism beneath the faux aesthetic put on vampires. At the core of both feminine and masculine modes of vampirism, there is this mindless hunger—this animal instinct to feed.

Perhaps this vision of the Indifferent Entity is the masculine/feminine modes stripped of all external pretense and power—the animal without the divine/demonic powers or omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence of nature; and the animal without the structures and powers afforded by culture and society.

It is a parasitic animal, and perhaps all animals, humans included, are these indifferent, parasitic entities, stripped of all aesthetic and power and pretense.

Finally, there is the “Vampire as Masculine Aristocrat”. This relates to, as previously mentioned, the Patriarchal Father archetype, and the negative Patriarchal archetype: the Tyrannical King. With the Father archetype, there are the positive elements or aspects: protection, order, meaningfulness, a place in society, tradition and so forth. But, there are also the negative aspects: tyranny, conformity, stagnation, immobile and unfair hierarchies, inability to adapt.

However, one aspect of the negative Patriarchal archetype I think is often overlooked is it’s parasitic and manipulative nature. Now, this might be because the elements of tyranny are often regarded in terms of brute force and reigns of fear. However, this is not a nuanced perspective on Tyranny. Some of the most disturbing aspects of tyranny are the manipulative and parasitic aspects of it.

Take for example bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are monolithic hyper-complexes of rules and regulations, filled with a five-dimensional labyrinth of legalities, jargon, hierarchies, departments, divisions, forms, contracts, signatures, waiting lists and so forth. Bureaucracies are unquestionable and impenetrable. Unless you know the infinite in’s and out’s of a bureaucracy, you are at their mercy, and you cannot battle them except on their own terms.

In order to overcome the labyrinth, you must first enter the labyrinth, and we have all committed and signed ourselves over to a bureaucracy from the moment we enter a society. From the moment we enroll in school, from the moment we become an active agent in the legal system, a rational agent in the economy, or a consumer, employee, car-owner, etc., we have entered the labyrinth of a pre-constructed bureaucracy. And at that point, you are subject to a multitude of fines, legal requirements, insurances, non-disclosures, liability forms and so on.

Perhaps this is Dracula’s castle.

And then, you are subject to the sway of society (I would recommend Camus’ The Stranger, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and the dystopian diad, 1984 and Brave New World in order to get a fuller scope of this).

You are under the sway of conformity, and the lure of advertisements, and the pull of envy and resentment and ego and uncertainty and the schizophrenia of modernity.

You are gaslit by everyone around you, your conceptions of reality are constantly questioned and attacked (which may be good in some circumstances), and you’re either with us or against us—with a multiplicity of reasons why (with a multitude of sub-labyrinths and Kafka-traps that trigger your determined “otherness-hood”)—and you’re an enemy because you’re not a patriot, or you’re an enemy because you are, or an enemy because you’re neutral, or you’re an enemy because you’re not, or you’re an enemy because you’re as independent and individualistic as possible, or you’re an enemy because you’re part of the herd—and then, on top of it, everyone finds every way they can to make you all of these things at once, and then in the end, who are you anyway? so just follow the herd, but be your own person, but be the person we want you to be, until we’re done with you.

And this is the psychosis of modernity, and this this is the charm and trap of Dracula.

You need a job. Go get one, and now you’re trapped.

You need an education. Go get one, and now you’re trapped.

You need to buy a thing. Go get one, and now you’re trapped.

Okay, let’s sound it out together.
Pe-do-phi-le

And powers on all sides are trying to convince you of five things at once, and you succumb, and now you’re a warm, comatose body they can siphon blood off of.

And thenTHEN—there is Dracula as the aging noble who seduces, entraps and parasitizes the youth (Dracula seducing the virgin into being his bride and prey). This is the key element of understanding the Draculian vampire.

The Dracula-vampire is an entity which is immortal, but it can only continue its immortality by drinking the blood of the youth.

It is a parasite which exists only to manipulate new generations in order to siphon their life-force from them. These are the decade and even centuries-old institutions which have been created by prior generations for their benefit. While these in some ways may offer some benefit for those entrapped (just as Dracula offers a home, a purpose and pleasure for his brides), the vast majority of the benefits go to the Draculian institutions.

These are colleges and student loans. These are Big Pharma and Big Oil. These are monolithic retail stores. These will soon be the monolithic social media and online retail stores. These are all the institutions created with benefits for the many and the small, but with tremendous and corrupted benefits for the few and the big.

And, no, I’m not a Marxist or a Socialist. No, no, no. But, fuck man. Some days.

Some days.

A Sudden Stop and Conclusion

There’s so much more I wanted to discuss with this analysis, but the analysis is already long, and there’s so much more I have to say—so much more that I’m not sure I can comfortably articulate in a sane manner.

There may be a part 2 to this at some point, or another standalone article to discuss more of this article, but I do think that this is a good place to stop for now.

I want to say here that I think the analysis I’ve started has opened up a sort of psycho-symbolic-social-critique can of worms. These are complicated topics, and the three symbols I’ve dredged up from the concept of vampires are incredibly deep and complex symbols/ideas and parts of our society and widespread, cultural mythos.

Unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of “begging the question” in this analysis, where I’ve mentioned a lot of things that want to be brought into a sort of practical moral conversation, but would be compounding cans of worms if I did right now.

So, I will say this here as well:

This isn’t intended necessarily to make any social or moral value claims, even though it kind of did make a few. It’s intended to analyze vampires as a symbol (and this was written somewhat manically over the course of a couple days, so cut me some slack). And it’s meant to be fun.

I think this is a strong though in parts somewhat shaky analysis of the core aspects of the vampire symbol:

  • The relationship of vampires or proto-vampiric-entities and the negative aspects of Nature
  • The animalistic vampirism present in life and nature as a mechanical, unconscious agent
  • The now-traditional aristocratic vampirism of social institutions

But these are each complex topics, and the implications to a broader moral and social conversation become even more complex [Xander is currently still realizing the deep end of the pool he dove into was actually the Ocean].

Do I think anything bad of Nature? No! Do I think anything bad of the occult? No! Do I think anything bad of women? Only a few.

Do I think anything bad about animals? No! Do I think anything bad about the masses? That’s a loaded question. Do I think anything bad about being an unconscious, mechanical agent in a moral system? Well, yes, I do, actually.

Do I think anything bad about older people/generations? Next question. Do I think anything bad about social institutions? That’s a complicated question. Do I want to burn down all institutions? No, but I do want change.

Do I think the world governments are secretly run by Alex-Jonesian psychic-pedophile-vampires? Maybe. The jury’s out.

But, this is all beside the point.

Here’s what vampires are. Here’s what I believe them to represent. Here’s a foundation for how we can begin discussing the symbolism of said vampires.

I didn’t get to drive a stake through Twilight’s heart, but goddamn, I wanted to.

Hopefully in the future I can work out these ideas a bit more, maybe give myself more time to organize my thoughts, but for now, I’ll have to put this bad boy back in its coffin. Next up, I will analyze Eraserhead, and I think this will be a much more sober analysis. Thank you for reading, and have a spooky October.

“I Kicked That Fucker into the Creek!”: An Analysis of The Blair Witch Project; OR How The Blair Witch Project is Secretly Genius

Written by Alexander Greco

August 31, 2020

The Blair Witch Project, one of a number of the 90’s death throes, has become something of a meme. It’s a low-budget horror flic written by film students in the 90’s: it was filmed in 8 days, the entire script was improvised with almost no retakes, 80% of the movie is three people walking through the woods, and we never actually see the “villain” of the film (the mysterious Blair Witch). The Blair Witch Project has often been epitomized as the quintessential cheap, shitty, b-horror film. However, a less cynical and more appreciative mind might find this film to be quite enjoyable, and possibly even far more intelligent and intelligently created than it’s ever been given credit.

While I could spend this article exploring why The Blair Witch Project is an example of impressive cinematographic ingenuity on the part of its amateur cast and crew, and how it influenced countless films after its release, this has been discussed at length in the 21 years since Blair Witch’s release. What I’d rather talk about is the overlooked genius of the film that I doubt anyone has ever realized—possibly not even by the creators. The horror of The Blair Witch Project is being lost in the wilderness, stalked by unknown, unseen forces, with no map to help you return home—the genius of The Blair Witch Project is that this horror reflects one of the underlying horrors of modernity.

I was conceived and born smack-dab in the middle of the 90’s (~June 1995 – March 1996). The first birthday I remember was my third birthday, which would have been in 1999 (which would have been 3 months before The Blair Witch Project was released). I also remember my fourth birthday in March 2000, my fifth birthday in March 2001, and the collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001.

It would be over a decade before I realized the 9-11 attacks were precipitated in part by the military actions of the US during the decade I had been born. It would be almost another decade later before I would really appreciate that the events that had precipitated 9-11 were precipitated by a vast number of prior events, which had been precipitated by an even vaster number of prior events, which had been precipitated by a nearly infinite gulf of prior history, which all create a continuum of history that resulted in our current state of society and reality, along which 9-11 happened.

The 90’s were something like a pivot point, both culturally and historically. Long-held traditions were, for many, little more than a joke at this point. A sense of Nationalism had in large part been disintegrated in America and across the world—a phenomenon that seemed to have begun post-WW2 and, in America, after the death of JFK and the rise of Hippie, Punk and other underground movements.

By the time of the 90’s, so little was genuine anymore—if it ever had been. Everything was cartoons and sitcoms, everything was commercial breaks and advertisements, everything was playing pretend, ignoring foreign wars, ignoring drug epidemics, ignoring government and economic corruption. Or, conversely, everything was Rage Against the Machine, but there was only Rage and the Machine, and no Against: no action. Now, even Zach de la Rocha has sold out, with “the Machine” providing him a net worth of 30 million dollars, despite still “Raging” about the broken system to sold-out shows.

So few things by the 90’s were genuine—no genuine wars, no genuine political movements, no genuine arts—and the things that were “genuine”, like the Grunge movement, were, with some exception, hopelessly cynical. This was because the only things that could be genuine, other than, perhaps, science, were the cynical things that shed light on the disingenuous nature of contemporary humanity.

No one really knew who they were anymore. As individuals, and as a society—possibly even as a species. Then, in 2001, 9-11 happened. The world watched in quiet shock as the World Trade Center collapsed in the middle of New York City—the crown jewel of America—and we still don’t know what this event even means for us.

We’re still living in the post 9-11 era, still stumbling from the aftershocks of that massive quake. We can’t agree on whether or not the resulting war was justified or even worth the effort. We can’t agree on the motivations of the aggressors and their allies. We can’t even agree on whether or not our own government was involved in the attacks of 9-11.

And now, we live in a world that seems entirely disingenuous, beyond what it was before. With social media, with ideological tribalism, with all facets of information and sense-making from all angles coming into question and under attack, with the inability to agree on the facts and “facts” of reality, we can’t even agree on what reality is. Who among us even can tell what reality is anymore?

We can’t agree on a common narrative. We can’t agree on what our various narratives even mean or signify. We can’t agree on what is meaningful, what is moral, what is true—or even what it means for something to be true, or if it is even possible for something to be “true” (whatever “true” might mean).

We are living in a chaotic time, with existential threats standing all around us like specters at a deathbed, and we’ve lost all ability to even understand what is happening. We don’t know what is going on around us, we don’t know who we are, and we don’t know where we are.

And this brings us back to The Blair Witch Project.

Blair Witch was developed throughout the 90’s and released right at the end of the decade, in ’99.

The entire movie was filmed as if it was an amateur documentary—a mockumentary, or a pretend documentary. It depicts three individuals—Heather Donahue (Heather), Michael C. Williams (Mike), and Joshua Leonard (Josh)—going to the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch. After interviewing a variety of townsfolk, the trio embarks into the woods north of the town, where the Blair Witch is said to live.

As a quick aside, the names of the three characters are actually the names of the real-life (“real-life”) actors who play these characters.

Intending to stay in the woods overnight and return to civilization the next day, the trio ends up getting lost in the woods. While lost in the woods, they find strange things, such as piles of stones in a small clearing and sculptures or perhaps totems made from branches and vines that are hanging in trees. At night, they hear strange sounds coming from the woods and are even attacked at one point while trying to sleep in their tent.

In the end, Josh goes missing, and then Heather and Mike find an abandoned house, where they presumably meet their demise (though their demise is not seen).

Ironically, the best shot of the map in the entire movie is when Mike is holding it.

Throughout the movie, Heather relies on a map to guide them through the forest, though Mike does not trust Heather’s navigation skills, and Mike does not trust the map itself. However, Heather wakes up one morning to find that the map is missing. Josh blames Heather for losing the map, and Heather questions whether or not Josh or Mike took the map as a joke. We later find out that Mike actually took the map and essentially destroyed it, laughing as he tells Josh and Heather:

“…I kicked that fucking map into the creek yesterday. It was useless! I kicked that fucker into the creek!”

Heather and Josh are rightfully indignant, and the movie from this point on takes on a markedly nihilistic and dread-filled tone. At this point, they are lost in the forest, they are being stalked by unknown forces in an uncivilized pocket of nature, and they have no map to return home.

And this is both the central horror and the central theme of the story.

Blindly wandering through the wilderness, stalked by unknown, unknowable forces beyond our control, without any useful form of navigation.

Now, there is one more important aspect of the movie that must be brought to light here: the filming of the movie itself.

The entire film, as I mentioned earlier, is supposed to be shot as if it were a documentary, giving it a Gonzo style of film (meaning the one filming the movie is also an actor, and the fact that the film is being shot is an element of the film itself). The entire film is shot from cameras the characters/actors are holding, which is constantly made obvious or relevant by the character referencing or interacting with their film equipment.

While this is important, obviously, to the horror of the movie—giving the movie it’s “real” quality, where the horror is that the movie is supposed to a depiction of reality—it is even more important to the underlying themes of the movie.

The film we watch is not in fact reality, it is a representation of reality, and it is a filtered representation of reality. This is made explicit in the film when Josh tells Heather:

“I see why you like this video camera so much. […] It’s not quite reality. […] No, but it’s totally like a filtered reality, man. It’s like you can pretend everything’s not quite the way it is.”

Now, we can begin breaking down some of the major components of the film: the map, the wilderness, the camera and the witch.

The map that Heather uses is their symbolic representation of reality. The map is not reality, but it is a symbolic depiction of reality, signifying the geography of reality, that is used to navigate that reality.

That reality is the wilderness, and the wilderness is symbolic of the true nature of the world we exist in: the world in-and-of-itself, as it is outside of our representation. If you look at a cellphone, you see the cellphone as what your brain decides it is. The cellphone is an object—an incredibly complex object—designed, primarily (or at least initially) to communicate with other people who have an object that can communicate with your object. That is our “map” of the cellphone. However, a cellphone is also an object made out of plastic, metal, glass and other materials, arranged by humans in a specific pattern to achieve its desired outcome.

However, these components of a cellphone are things that are only signified by our words, which have an agreed upon definition. These material components are only known to us as they are (these materials as such) in an incomplete way through science, or through Empiricism. We can never completely understand, know, perceive, etc. these material components because we can only experience them as external stimuli that have been filtered through our knowledge structures and our personal, subjective experience (more complexly, through our neurological structures, but we won’t get into that).

The wilderness is this primary reality—the true, actual reality that we exist within, but that we can only partially experience and imperfectly represent.

And this brings us to the cameras used in the film. These cameras are our knowledge structures and our subjective experience. They are the lens, the filter, and the mechanism by which we perceive reality. The camera is both our neurological mechanism representing reality—our imperfect capabilities of perceiving the wilderness we live in—and it is the knowledge structure of our society—the camera literally being an invention of modern humans.

Finally, the Blair Witch her/itself. The Blair Witch is a bit more complicated. Mythologically, we can connect the Witch to the Occult, most commonly thought of as Pagan or Satanic practices (though “Satanic” is usually a reactionary description of witchcraft). More deeply, the Witch can be connected to Nature—a priestess of the wilderness. She is the invoker of Nature, of the Wild, of the ambivalence of reality—both one who can heal and one who can curse, one who invokes the growth and life of nature and the destruction and cruelty of nature, and one who lives outside the scope and structure of civilization.

If we combine these two—Nature, or the wilderness and the occult—we get a “clearer” picture of the Blair Witch. “Occult” actually means “hidden” or “secretive”—that which is esoteric, unknown or unknowable. “Occult” practices were not “Satanic” practices, as they are often represented, but in fact practices meant to invoke “hidden” forces or discover “secret” knowledge. But the Blair Witch is also an entity which lives in the depths of the wilderness, far removed from society, who exists within and as a part of the forces of the unknown that we fear and cannot understand.

She might in fact be a symbol of this wilderness—a personified representation or manifestation of the wilderness.

We never see the Blair Witch: she is in fact the Occult—the unseen, the elusive, the hidden, the unknown and unknowable. She cannot be represented by our cameras—our subjective experience and our cultural knowledge structures.

To summarize these:

The map is the representation of reality.

The wilderness is that reality (reality in and of itself).

The camera is the lens of knowledge structures and subjective experience we view reality through.

The Blair Witch is the personified embodiment of the wilderness, or the personified embodiment of that which cannot be truly seen or understood.

Now, to bring these together.

On the surface, The Blair Witch Project is about three film students attempting to investigate the Blair Witch, and end up getting lost in the wilderness after their map is destroyed. They are stalked and eventually killed (presumably, we don’t know actually know) by the very thing they are investigating, the Blair Witch.

However, if we take the deeper analysis of the various aspects of the film, The Blair Witch Project is about individuals attempting to understand and represent the wilderness of reality in and of itself. While exploring the depths of reality, they find that their representation of reality does not adequately describe the world they live in. Their representation of reality is destroyed, and the three try to escape the reality they no longer understand and return to a reality they do understand. However, they ultimately meet their demise by the forces of the unknown and unknowable.

This demise could represent a few things. The death of these three individuals might be the death of their knowledge structures. They perceived reality with their pre-created representation of it (their map), and this representation was destroyed. As they attempted to flee the wilderness of reality and the overwhelming horrors of existing in a reality they don’t understand, they inevitably were lost inside this wilderness and could not return to the society they once existed in. They themselves might not have died physically, but the framework they represented the world with collapsed, and so it was impossible now to escape the wilderness of reality.

Now, to bring this back to the actual state of society as it is now and as it was when this film was created, I’m going to tie in the postmodern philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, and his book, Simulacra and Simulation.

Now, postmodernism is a somewhat controversial collection of philosophies, and I myself have a few issues with some of the tenants of these philosophies, but they raise a number or important issues about humanity and the knowledge structures of humanity that are certainly worth discussing. These issues may even be at the core, or at least a portion of the core, of the current predicaments of society.

The central tensions of Postmodernism could be characterized as a criticism of our representation of reality—though there is admittedly quite a lot of nuance in the Postmodernist philosophies and one ought to simplify Postmodernism with caution. Since our beliefs and how we act within reality and society is determined by our representation of reality, Postmodernism is also a criticism of our beliefs and our actions.

Jean Baudrillard’s primary contention in Simulacra and Simulation follows this core concept of criticizing how we represent reality.

The first two paragraphs of Simulacra and Simulation go as follows:

“If once we were able to view the Borges fable in which the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up covering the territory exactly (the decline of the Empire witnesses the fraying of this map, little by little, and its fall into ruins, though some shreds are still discernible in the deserts – the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction testifying to a pride equal to the Empire and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, a bit as the double ends by being confused with the real through aging) – as the most beautiful allegory of simulation, this fable has now come full circle for us, and possesses nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.

“Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory, and if one must return to the fable, today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself.”

Now, in the text following this, Baudrillard immediately contradicts everything he just says, adding to the opacity of Baudrillard’s writing, and means that quoting Baudrillard and referencing his work can be a bit perilous, but this quote will do.

To simplify what Baudrillard is saying here, we have a socially/culturally “agreed-upon” representation of reality (the map), and the map represents what we believe to be reality (the territory). Now, as what we believe to be reality erodes (the territory), so too does our representation of reality (the map). What we are left with is the “The desert of the real itself”, which parallels the wilderness of Blair Witch.

Baudrillard goes on throughout his book to use his metaphor of the desert-territory-map to analyze and critique a number of things, including (put simply) the disingenuous state of “reality” as the map and territory—leaving the desert as a blank, ungraspable truth beneath the map and territory.

However, here I would say that the Blair Witch’s forest—the wilderness—is a better representation of “the real itself”. The “real” is not an empty, desolate void, but an incredibly complex and dense tangle of existence. The problem of contending with “the real” is not that it is an empty wasteland, but, quite the opposite, that it is an infinitely complex landscape of objects, information, perceptions, interpretations, morals and decisions.

While Baudrillard simplifies the reality that exists beneath, or perhaps outside, our representation of reality, Blair Witch shows us this reality for all of its infinite complexity.

Nonetheless, the parallel metaphors paired together give us, ironically, an accurate representation of our current state of being.

This is the state of reality we find ourselves in today—the state, you could say, that was in the process of either being created or destroyed by the time the 90’s rolled around.

Currently, we are all blindly stumbling through a wilderness. The territory we reside within is crumbling, and, with it, so too crumbles our map. We do not understand and cannot adequately represent reality, and so our actions are all either ignorant fumblings or self-destructive collapsings.

Blair Witch can be seen as a commentary on this state of reality.

There is a major ambiguity in Blair Witch that is important to explore here.

The trio seemed to be lost in the woods even before Mike “kicked that fucker into the creek”. Despite Heather reassuring Mike and Josh that she could read the map, and that she knew exactly where they were and where they were going, the three of them couldn’t find their way out of the woods, even while Heather possessed the map.

The three different characters each had their own beliefs as to why they were lost. Heather thought they were lost because they lost the map. Josh thought they were lost because he didn’t think Heather knew how to read the map. Mike thought they were lost because the map itself was inherently useless or flawed.

So, following the three different beliefs of the three different characters, we as a society might be in our current state of confusion for three different reasons:

– We’ve lost the map / Our representation of reality is accurate and decipherable, but it was destroyed

– We are incapable of deciphering the map / Our representation of reality is accurate, but it cannot be deciphered

– We never had an accurate map to begin with / Our representation of reality was never accurate to begin with, so, rather than attempt deciphering it, the map ought to be destroyed

Whose interpretation of the situation is correct?

These interpretations and the question of which one is correct can be transferred to our current state of society and our current relationship with reality.

Do we / Did we have an accurate map of reality, but our map is being destroyed, and this is how we arrived at where we now are?

This would be a nihilism aimed at the actions of fellow humans.

Is our map of reality accurate, but the map is impossible to decipher by us, and so we cannot agree on what the map depicts?

This would be a nihilism aimed at the ignorance of fellow humans.

Is our map actually inaccurate, and so any attempt at contending with reality using our representation is inevitably worthless?

This would be a nihilism aimed at the nature of humanity and the state of reality itself.

And lets look at how the characters of Blair Witch were “picked off” throughout the end of the movie, in the order that these events happened.

First, Josh went missing. His voice could still be heard in the wilderness, and Heather and Mike still tried to save him, but he couldn’t be found, and the search for Josh inevitably led to the demise of both Heather and Mike.

We didn’t lose faith in humanity’s ability to contend with reality, but we lost faith in our ability to comprehend reality.

Second, Heather finds Mike staring into the corner of the room. Mike went to the basement of reality, to the darkest pit of the witch’s lair (to the darkest pit of the unknown and unknowable), hoping that salvation was still possible even without a map, and succumbed to a motionless apathy.

We stopped believing that it was in fact possible to contend with reality.

Finally, Heather drops the camera she is holding (her entire subjective experience/knowledge structure falls) and the movie ends. Heather finds that she has lost both Josh and Mike to the Blair Witch, and, in her presumed demise, lets go of all attempts to perceive or even experience reality (self-destruction, possibly to the point of suicide).

We stopped believing in humanity itself.

2 years, 7 months and 20 days after The Blair Witch Project was released at the ’99 Sundance Film Festival, the whole world, my 5-year-old self included, watched the Twin Towers fall.

Almost 10 years after 9-11, we still can’t agree on why it happened, we still can’t agree what happened that day, we still can’t agree how we should have reacted to what happened, and we still can’t agree on the state of reality as it was and as it is now.

Who are our enemies? Who are our allies? Where are we? What is our civilization? Why are we where we are right now? What do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it?

With our map destroyed, how do we move on?

With our faith in our knowledge, our perception, our structures and even our fellow humans crumbling in our hands, what do we do next?

The only thing I can say we do is salvage what we still have—which I would say is quite a lot more than what many people suspect—reinvigorate and reconstruct our knowledge structures and our social systems, and regain faith in humanity.

Perhaps it is good for portions of our structures and systems to be torn down, but, with them, there is much that ought not to be torn down, and in the wake of these structures’ collapse, there must be better, stronger, truer, more genuine structures that are erected.

We have to create better maps—maps that do accurately represent the reality we live in; we have to grow as people, as individuals—so that we can create these better maps, interpret these maps and act appropriately by these maps; and we have to maintain our faith in fellow humans—maintain faith that we can understand reality, that we can trust other people, and that there is a way out of the wilderness.

There is nothing else we can do, except stumble into our own self-destruction and be devoured by the wilderness manifested by our actions and our disintegrating humanity.

We can emerge from this wilderness alive.

The Blair Witch Project may go down as a b-movie horror flic that grossed an impressively large amount of money and inspired two decades of b-movie horror flics in its wake.

However, I think Blair Witch represents a deep aspect of the society it emerged from, and ought to be remembered as such.

Not only should it be remembered as a film that quite profoundly represents one of the many horrors of modernity, how it represents this ought to be remembered.

Someone who excels at their given craft can engineer beautiful, thought-provoking creations with that craft.

Someone who can take their craft to the next level can use the aspects of their creations, in-and-of-themselves, to communicate meaning.

With a writer like James Joyce, meaning is not only conveyed with the plot and characters, but meaning is also conveyed with sentence structure, paragraph placement and with language itself (rather than the meanings of specific words used in that language). With the abstract movements of modern art, the elements of art are broken down to their constituent elements (color, tone, form, shape, line, etc.), and these elements are the focus or the subject of the art, rather than the elements that create the focus or subject.

With film, David Lynch might be the most well-known example of someone who can make the elements of cinematography themselves to communicate meaning. It isn’t only that the camera angle helps the subject of the film communicate meaning, or that the words of the dialogue are all that is communicating meaning, or even that the events of the movie contribute only to the meaning derived from plot and character arc. All of these elements in a David Lynch film not only help the subjects of the film communicate meaning, but the elements themselves are meaningful and communicate meaning.

With The Blair Witch Project, while much of the meaning is communicated in what is being communicated through the subject of the film—three students lost in the woods, stalked by an unknown and unknowable force—meaning is also communicated in how the subject is depicted to us. It isn’t just the tribulations of three people trying to survive in and escape from the woods, it’s that we see these tribulations through the lenses of their perceptions and knowledge structures.

The documentary intended to investigate and depict the legend—the narrative or modern representation—of the Blair Witch devolves into the last record of three people’s lives. The representation of the film begins as an attempt at objectivity—investigative journalism or documentarianism—with this lens of modern society and civilization, but the documentary falls apart and gives way to fear, dread and hopelessness.

The lens of modernity gives way to the survival of humanity amidst the wilderness of reality.

Remember this movie not as a strange novelty that emerged at the tail end of the 20th century, but as a misunderstood representation of the historic pivoting we currently find ourselves stumbling through.

How to Turn Children Into School Shooters

The Stories of Seung-Hui Cho, Nikolas Cruz, and Adam Lanza

Written By Alexander Greco

May 15, 2019

Spread me open, sticking to my pointy ribs

Are all your infants in abortion cribs?

I was born into this, everything turns to shit

The boy that you loved is the man that you fear.”

– Marylin Manson

I suppose it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. I don’t condone murder at all—I’d consider myself a pacifist. What I’m about to talk about does not excuse the actions of these mass shooters. Killing = bad. Killing children = worse. The point of this article is to identify a problem, and analyze it. May being “Mental Health Awareness Month”, I decided to talk about one of the greatest mental health issues our nation faces.

School shooters.

Which, in something of a political non-sequitur (in my opinion), has become embroiled in the gun rights debate. I think one of the major failures of Liberals (“my” people) in recent years was taking these school shootings (taking mass shootings in general) and turning it into a gun-control issue, rather than a mental-health issue. There are a few exceptions to the “mental health argument”—there’s several shooters who had no signs of mental illness—but it’s hard to say someone isn’t mentally ill when they decide to kill large numbers of innocent people.

I think part of the problem is in how we define mental illness, and part of the problem is in how we think of mental illness. Depression, for example, isn’t as simple as feeling sad all the time. Depression effects the internal logic of your cognition. Depression changes your decision-making, your sleeping and eating habits, your immune system, the levels of hormones in your body, and the emotional triggers in your brain.

Anxiety isn’t just a matter of feeling nervous all the time. Anxiety raises levels of cortisol, which affects a wide range of things across your physiology and psychology. Your flight-or-flight system is more likely to be triggered (meaning, your body might release adrenaline simply from making eye-contact), and your body simultaneously exhausts itself with the task of vigilance, while also preparing for starvation, homelessness, and sleeplessness.

Aggression—which is actually, in part, a symptom of anxiety (the “fight” portion of fight-or-flight)—is typically linked to testosterone. Aggression is accentuated by testosterone, but it’s more complicated. People with high levels of both testosterone and serotonin are extroverted, confident, and outgoing. People with high levels of testosterone and cortisol are the exact opposite. They constantly feel threatened by those around them, they become anti-social, and their fight-or-flight instinct starts firing off more frequently.

These things aren’t so simple to begin with—depression, anxiety, and hyper-vigilance (anxiety-driven aggression) are enough for someone to snap. They become even less simple when you combine them with ADHD, OCD, Autism, Schizophrenia, different dysphoric or dissociative disorders, and learning disabilities. They become even less simple when you combine them with feelings of envy, resentment, nihilism, low self-esteem, or with social isolation, little to no outlets for emotions, trauma,

In addition, all these things lower an individual’s ability to think rationally. The fight-or-flight instinct can effectively shut off the rational part of your brain (meaning you all but lose control of your actions), and sustained depression and anxiety (essentially, sustained stress-levels) can lower your IQ.

To begin understanding these mass shooters, we have to begin understanding how the mind works. We have to understand the environmental factors, the genetic factors, and the neurological factors that go into someone behaving like this. And, we have to understand that any of us could have done this.

If we truly want to understand why one person could shoot up a school full of children, we really have to begin by understanding one thing. That person is us. We’re no better. They are you and I; those shooters could have been us—any of us.

Any of us are capable of the same emotions those shooters were capable of. Any of us are capable of thinking the same thoughts as those shooters. Any of us are capable of pulling a trigger. It could have been any of us born into the lives of these shooters. It could have been any of us born with the same mental conditions as these shooters. It could have been any of us who were pushed, and pushed, and pushed, and pushed until we snapped.

We like to pretend that wouldn’t have been us, we like to denounce school shooters as monsters, and we like to place all of our own hatred onto the most disturbed members of our population, but we fail to realize that person is us.

We fail to realize that any of us could have done this, and we fail to realize that we are all contributing to the degradation of these shooters. We demonize the lowest among us, when we don’t even look to see how we’ve spawned these demons. We fail to see how we contribute to the loneliness and isolation of our plagued society. We fail to see how we contribute to the insecurity and the self-loathing that runs rampant through our youth. We spend too much time wallowing in our own petty grievances to bear the consideration of someone else’s confusion, frustration, and loathing.

And all those petty grievances that blind us to the lives of others, those grievances bear the same contempt for life, society and existence that urged Seung-Hui Cho, Nikolas Cruz, and Adam Lanza into murdering fellow classmates, high school students, and small children.

The key to turning a child into a mass shooter is to isolate them in their own small box of anxieties, fears, and hatreds. The key is to forget they exist, except for the brief moments we spend kicking them back into the cogs of the Machine. They key is to treat the child like a dog you feed a few times a day, that you kick or swat when it acts up. And, like all neglected dogs that go rabid or feral, one day you’ll have to put that animal down, shrug your shoulders, and say, “There was nothing else I could do.”

Virginia Tech

Seung-Hui Cho was born in South Korea, and immigrated with his family to the US when he was 8 years old. On the surface, Cho was the model child of an immigrant family, coming to America to live a happy, prosperous life. Cho was quite intelligent from a young age, and, after graduating high school, went to Virginia Tech to study Business Information Technology. He might have become another Gary Vee, Andrew Yang, or Steve Aoki. However, it was here, at Virginia Tech, that Cho killed 32 people, and wounded 17 others.

Seung-Hui Cho

Cho’s family noticed that there was something off about Cho at an early age. Though he was well-behaved as a child, he was incredibly shy and hardly talked. His grandparents noticed that Cho would not make eye contact, and were worried about him. In middle school, Cho was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, selective mutism, and major depressive disorder. Member’s of Cho’s family believed that he might have been Autistic.

At an early age, Cho resented the members of his Christian church, resented affluent families, and resented his parents for raising him to be religious. Throughout middle school and high school, Cho had difficulty making friends, likely due to his condition(s). He was placed in special ed, was brought to speech therapy lessons, and was given medications for. However, nothing seemed to help Cho in any long-term way.

When Cho went to college at Virginia Tech, he received little to no therapy or psychiatric help, and was frequently reported for odd behavior by students and faculty. Cho’s roommates complained about strange behaviors, such as writing on the walls of Cho’s room, or taking pictures of the other roommates at night. Cho began referring to himself as “Question Mark” while talking to roommates, or when introducing himself to girls.

Cho was removed from a poetry class because his teacher found Cho to be “mean” and “menacing”, and called his writing “intimidating”. Another teacher noted that Cho was intelligent, though awkward and insecure, but also found Cho to be obnoxious and arrogant. This teacher was also concerned with Cho’s writing, and felt that Cho was incredibly angry. Despite many members of the faculty and staff knowing about Cho’s behavior, little was done to intervene.

Cho also reportedly stalked a number of female students at the college. Cho made contact with several women, who he then tried to meet in real life, but each time was sent away, or was reported to the authorities. At one point, Cho wrote a Shakespeare quote on a board outside a girl’s room. After this, he was given a warning from campus security, and never bothered anyone else.

During his senior year at Virginia Tech, after ceasing to go to classes, or study, or do much else than write and ride his bike, Cho legally purchased two handguns. A month after this purchase, he began his shooting spree that ended the lives of 32 people. Cho took his own life before he was apprehended.

I think the problem with Cho is that no one took the time to listen to what he actually had to say.

It wasn’t even that he had anything particularly controversial to say. He didn’t like religion. He didn’t like rich people. He didn’t seem to like anyone, and he probably didn’t think anyone liked him.

Cho had difficulties to begin with. It’s unclear whether or not the early onset of his depression and anxiety was triggered by some event, or if it had biological origins. However, it does seem to be that his social difficulties and speech difficulties were biological or neurological. Some have ruled out that Cho actually had autism, but the diagnosis fits like a glove. Among the symptoms and signs of autism are speech disorders, social disorders, emotional disorders, and the inability to connect or empathize with others. People with autism can have difficulty controlling emotions, which can lead to violent outbursts (though people with autism are not inherently violent), and they are predisposed to psychotic episodes.

Cho was obviously highly intelligent from a young age, and was likely highly-aware of his surroundings, the people he made contact with and the events of his life, but did not know how to handle any of these things. He did not know how to communicate with others—and this may have been wholly caused by a neurological “error” in his brain. Cho might not have been able to rationalize events of his life, or rationalize his own behavior, or his brain might have been over-rational. He might have had too much going on in his mind at once, and might have been overwhelmed by reality.

This coupled with emotional difficulties—both the inability to cope with emotion, or the inability to control his emotions—would have led to erratic behavior on Cho’s part.

As Cho grew older, as he entered adolescence, his entire body-chemistry would have begun to change. Along with this, Cho would have to contend with heightened levels of testosterone, and a newfound sexuality. This might have been too much for Cho. Not only would he have had difficulty with his own changing psyche, Cho would have had immense difficulty with the changes of his fellow classmates.

Cho couldn’t connect with children his age before adolescence, but, with this onset, he would not know what to think of others, or how to interact with others. A single human being, for Cho, would be a complex system that his brain struggled to rationalize.

Once Cho began attending Virginia Tech, he would no longer have the support of his family and therapists, and his isolation would only grow. With little to no social skills, his attempts at friendship and romance would quickly falter. With little to no awareness or support for his condition from the faculty and staff, Cho’s mental condition would fester, and Cho would be punished for emotions, thoughts and behaviors he had little control over.

His only outlet would have been the poetry and other things he wrote, but these were also rejected by those around him.

With no clear path in life, with no friends, with no romantic relationships, and with no support, mentoring or counselling, Cho’s isolated hatred would consume his mind. In the year leading up to the Virginia Tech shooting, Cho’s mother contacted the minister of a church in Virginia, seeking help for Cho. Members of the church claimed Cho was possessed by a demon. However, the church was not quick enough in their efforts to save Cho’s immortal soul.

Parkland

Nikolas Cruz was adopted at birth, along with his brother, Zachary. His mother, Brenda Woodard, was a violent, homeless drug addict. Nikolas’s adoptive parents were affluent Florida-retirees, who indulged Nikolas and Zachary with a large house, an impressive playground, and video games. He was raised as a Catholic, and was generally well-loved by his adoptive family.

Nikolas Cruz

By age 3, Cruz was found to have developmental delays. He would later be diagnosed with OCD, ADHD, depression, and emotional behavioral disability. Cruz was medicated for all of these. It is also possible that Cruz had autism, and Cruz may have experienced some form of hallucinations. Cruz’s IQ was below average, and likely ranged from 70-90.

When Cruz was 5, he was alone with his adoptive father at home, and watched his father die of cardiac arrest. Throughout his early childhood and adolescence, Cruz would be in and out of various schools, including special-ed and adult-ed programs. Cruz was bullied throughout his life, even by his brother, Zachary, and his brother’s friends.

As a teen, Cruz became fascinated with guns—which his adoptive mother purchased for him. He began showing signs of a disturbed psyche at school, at home, and on social media. He had several violent outbursts at home, some of which included threatening his family with guns. He drew Swastikas and other hate symbols on his backpack and notebooks, and frequently used racial and ethnic slurs. On Instagram, he posted pictures of him with guns—sometimes holding the guns to his head—and spoke about committing violent acts.

A very Thomspon-esque picture of the little destroyer.

Cruz did poorly throughout school. He failed many of his classes, and had difficulty making friends. His primary goal in late adolescence was to get his GED, and enlist in the army. Shortly before he shot up his former high school, Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, FL, Cruz’s mother died. He moved from house to house, living with different friends and family friends, and continued trying to get his GED.

On February 14, 2018, Cruz told his friend’s mother—who he’d been living with at the time—that he wanted to go fishing that day. Instead, he went to Stoneman Douglas High School, where he murdered 17 people and injured 17 more.

It’s honestly unclear what Cruz’s motive was, or if he had a clear motive. Cruz’s life seemed to be looking up for him at the time, despite his mother’s death (which may have been a trigger for a psychotic episode). Cruz was employed, was doing well in his classes at the time (which included Junior ROTC), and seemed to be living rather happily at a friend’s house.

His friend’s considered Cruz to be well-behaved and polite. They said they saw no signs of this coming, despite knowing about his history. They even let Cruz keep his guns in their house, and felt safe around him. They even went as far as to say they were proud of Cruz, his accomplishments in school and JROTC, and his ability to stay employed.

It’s possible there is a single trigger that set Cruz off, but there’s no evidence of one. If there was a trigger, it wouldn’t have had to be a major one. Cruz had emotional difficulties throughout his life, which included angry outbursts and violence. Cruz had difficulty managing his own behavior, and likely had difficulty rationalizing right from wrong, or understanding what was socially acceptable (though I’m sure he knew murder was not socially acceptable).

As someone who was frequently bullied, and experienced clinical anxiety and depression from an early age, Cruz likely felt threatened by the world around him. He was likely a very insecure child, who may have acted violently as a sort of self-defense mechanism. There’s no way of knowing what went on in the Cruz household, and no way of knowing what went on inside of Cruz’s head.

Cruz would have had difficulty acting rationally in different situations, and might not have had the cognitive capabilities to think about his actions, or think about long-term goals and long-term consequences. Cruz may have gone to Stoneman Douglas on a complete whim. He may have been going to fetch his fishing pole, and saw his gun-safe. He may have received a message on Instagram, Facebook, or wherever else the day of or the days preceding the shooting.

However, Cruz was not so cognitively disabled that he would have no understanding of his actions. Cruz was smart and sane enough to have known what he was doing, and would have had the wherewithal to make the plan—though it was likely a haphazard plan. He wouldn’t have had the same understanding that a typical adult would have, but Cruz was at least intelligent enough that he most certainly would have received his GED and graduated from the JROTC before enlisting in the army.

Nikolas Cruz is a gray area. In videos of him, he seems to grasp what is happening, but only up to a certain level. He has some control over his behavior and emotions, but had a far smaller threshold than most people. This combined with the fact that he was in a constant state of anxiety (at the very least, a precursor to fight-or-flight) meant that anything could have triggered him at any moment.

All of this coupled with the minimal support he received from schools, his permissive parenting, and whatever pre-natal factors that may have affected him (considering his mother was a homeless drug addict) led to him killing 17 people. The drugs didn’t seem to help. Few people seemed to like Nikolas. And fewer people were willing to help him.

You’re free to call Nikolas a monster, if you’d like. However, just as monstrous was the life he was born into, his biology, his neurology, and the people and places he came into contact with.

Sandy Hook

Adam Lanza was diagnosed with developmental problems at 3. He had difficulty with communication skills and socialization, in addition to sensory disabilities. In elementary school, Lanza was diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder. At the age of 13, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, and then obsessive-compulsive disorder at 14. Not only did Lanza have difficulty communicating and socializing, but he also had crippling anxiety and repetitive behaviors. On top of this, Lanza’s father believed his son had undiagnosed Schizophrenia.

Adam Lanza
And, no, there wasn’t a better picture.

He had few friends throughout his life, with the exception of friends he met online (namely friends he met on World of Warcraft). Lanza was overstimulated at school, and had difficulty coping with other classmates, walking from class to class, and doing schoolwork. Teachers considered him to be both intelligent and strange. He was a highly uncomfortable student, and once had an anxiety attack that was so bad he had to be hospitalized.

Other than failed attempts at medication and therapy, Lanza received little help for his conditions. In late adolescence, he developed anorexia, and at the time of his death—when he shot himself at Sandy Hook Elementary school—he was malnourished to the point that he had endured brain damage and major physical deterioration. He spent most of his time playing World of Warcraft, with his windows blacked out so no light got in.

Lanza’s mother had been planning on moving shortly before the Sandy Hook incident, and the anxiety of leaving his home may have set Lanza off. Lanza killed his mother with one of her own guns, then went to Sandy Hook Elementary, where he killed 20 six and seven year-olds, and 6 teachers. Then Lanza committed suicide.

Did Cho, Cruz and Lanza kill because of their mental illness?

No.

However, their mental illnesses provide insight into why they committed these atrocities.

All three individuals had issues communicating with others. They had no real way to express themselves, had no real friends they could trust or share their problems with, and they all experienced deep pain and suffering.

All three had a deep hatred of life. Seung hated his religious upbringing, he hated the students he went to school with, and hated the teachers who reported him to the authorities. Cruz showed hatred towards other races and ethnicities, hatred toward other classmates, and hatred toward what few friends and family members he had. Lanza hated his mother, hated school, hated society, and hated life in general.

They were all in pain. None of them fit into society. None of them were able to connect with anyone else. None of them found anything in life they loved doing. None of them had an outlet for their thoughts or emotions. None of them had any way to ease their pain, other than retreating into isolation, retreating into a dark silence.

Life was worthless. Life was going nowhere. Life was falling apart all around them. There was no substance to their existence, no meaning to their existence, and nothing comforting about their existence.

Each of them thought the world had abandoned them. Each of them had been lost in life. Each of them had wondered far away from society. Each of them was struggling in their own way to find their way back, but none of them could.

No one listened to them, but they all wanted to be heard, and their messages are clear.

“You sadistic snobs. I may be nothing but a piece of dogshit. You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul, and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.”

  • Seung-Hui Cho

“I’ve had enough being told what to do and when to do. Telling me I’m an idiot and a dumbass. In real life, you’re all the dumbass. You’re all stupid and brainwashed. Today is the day. The day that it all begins. The day of my massacre shall begin. All the kids in school will run in fear and hide. From the wrath of my power they will know who I am.”

  • Nikolas Cruz

“I carry profound hurt—I’ll go ballistic and transfer it onto you.”

  • Adam Lanza

This hurt stems from our society.

This hurt stems from our inability to understand each other.

This hurt stems from our inability to deeply connect with other human beings, and try to put others before us.

This hurt stems from our inability to tear down the walls we put up, and reach out to other humans.

This hurt stems from our inability to understand ourselves, to understand why we are the way we are, and understand why others are the way they are.

This hurt stems from the drudgery of modern life, the blank stares of passersby, and the monotony of a materialistic world.

Ironically, these things embody what made Cho, Cruz and Lanza monsters. They did nothing but continuously build up walls around them that could not be scaled. They had no understanding or control of their own emotions and behaviors, and had no understanding of other people’s emotions and behaviors.

Their lives were chaos. Their lives were endless anxiety. Their lives were hell, and outside their doors were all the people they felt eternally threatened by. They despised the meaninglessness of a materialist society, and could find nothing worthwhile to live for.

We’re all so quick to demonize these people, but it was we who abandoned them, it was we who turned them into who they became, and it was we who named them “monsters”.

If we do not change—if we do not understand the darkness in our own psyche—then we will become the monsters.

These three children did not crawl out from some unnamable void, they crawled out of our public schools and our suburban homes. They weren’t listening to demons, they were listening to the television. They are not monsters, they are us.

What sort of people would we be if our lives were more meaningful?

What sort of people would we be if we strived to understand each other?

What sort of people would we be if we could understand ourselves?

The War of Information

By Alexander Greco

April 15, 2019

Humanity has entered a new era, the Age of Information. With this new age, many believe we are facing new kind of war. Some say we’ve entered a Culture War, or a War of Ideologies. Others say we’ve entered a War of Information. I’m inclined to believe we’ve entered both wars, and that these wars are actually interwoven with each other.

 “Us vs. Them” mentality of war is becoming less and less about regional or national sets of individuals—the French vs. the Spanish, or British vs. Americans—and more about conflicts between Ideologies throughout the world. Instead of our “tribes” being determined by region or nationality, they are determined by shared personal beliefs, moral foundations, and social norms.

The current culture “battles” are being fought over what a person should think, how a person should think, and how we should behave. Orwell and Huxley may not have gotten the precise details of our present struggles right (though some details are alarmingly pre-cognizant), but the core conflict of 1984 and Brave New World are almost spot-on:

Psycho-Social Conflict, and Control of Ideas and Behaviors.

These battles are being waged all over the place, in a variety of social, institutional and industrial sectors. However, the frontlines of these wars appear to form on the Internet.

The Internet is where the majority of people receive most of their news, entertainment, and other media. The Internet also acts as a cultural and political hub for millions of people on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Online, we are exposed to more information, more personal beliefs, and more cultures than any human ever has been before.

Many thought that with this sort of cultural diffusion, we would see less global tribalism. This has been true in some ways. Musicians from Japan can connect with musicians from France. Sports fans in Brazil can talk shit with sports fans from Spain. Bloggers from America can converse with artists from Serbia. In many ways, the Internet has brought people together.

However, the Internet has also fractionated into innumerable echo chambers. Democrats typically socialize with other Democrats online, and Republicans with other Republicans—both camps are usually disparaging the other. Anarcho-Communists and Neo-Marxists join the same chat groups, where they discuss how terrible Capitalism is. Open-border and closed-border supporters only interact with each other when they’re looking to trade blows.

While this has remained relatively innocuous for quite some time, there have been growing tensions between these Internet tribes (yes, I think “tribes” is the best word for this).  These ideological tensions have been growing in the time leading up to the 2016 presidential elections, and has been growing ever since.

While much of the conflict has been right vs. left, there’s also been conflicts between:

  • Religion vs. Atheism/Agnosticism
  • Western Values vs. Radical/Fundamentalist Islamic Values
  • Classical Liberals and Progressives vs. Neo-Liberals and Neo-Progressives

In addition, over the last couple decades we’ve seen the emergence or re-emergence of politico-cultural groups such as:

  • Antifa
  • ISIS
  • The Alt-Right (strictly referring to groups such as Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists)
  • LGBT Rights Movements
  • The New Atheists
  • The Skeptics
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Anonymous
  • Neo or Lite Conservatism
  • The Muslim Brotherhood
  • Fourth-Wave Feminism
  • Proud Boys
  • The “Red-Pillers”
  • The “Woke”
  • The Intellectual Dark Web
  • Intersectional Postmodernists
  • Neo-Marxism

Some of these groups have pretty reputable motivations and members. Some of these groups are a mixed or neutral batch. Some of these groups flirt with dangerous Ideologies and motivations.

And many of these groups, including the traditional political and cultural groups, are at odds with each other. Some of them have already physically harassed people, committed acts of vandalism, or have committed violent assaults on others. Some politico-cultural groups across the world, such as ISIS, have committed horrific acts of violence against fellow humans.

And, to further complicate the matter, this has all also become wrapped up in government regulations and Social Media policies. To further complicate the matter, this has all become wrapped up in a conversation about Freedom of Speech, Public Goods vs. Private Companies, and government intervention or the lack thereof. To further complicate this, we have to deal with bad actors, fake accounts, bots, and biased (left and right) news outlets.

This is what forms the War of Information—the censorship, demonetization and regulation of speech, expression, and personal belief.

The War of Ideologies, or the Culture War, and the War of Information are two sides of the same coin. One is the tension between various political or cultural factions, and the other is the censorship or promotion of different political or cultural beliefs.

To explain this all better, I want to explain these two “Wars”—these two social battlegrounds—separately.

The War of Ideologies

There are many types of Ideologies, many spectrums across each Ideology, and many intersections of Ideologies:

  • Political
    • Democratic
    • Republican
    • Libertarian
    • Progressive
    • Centrist
    • Classic Liberal
    • Traditional Conservative
    • Neo-Liberalism
    • Neo-Conservatism
    • Marxist
    • Identitarian
  • Cultural
    • Family Heritage
    • Regional
    • National
    • Global
    • Cosmopolitan
    • Traditional
    • Religious
    • Ethnic
    • Art/Media
    • Pop Culture
    • Counter Culture
  • Economic
    • Laissez-Faire
    • Libertarian
    • Conservative
    • Liberal
    • Social Free Market
    • Socialism
    • Communism

And then, everyone has their own, personal ideology, which is an intersection of various Ideologies, mixed with their own personal beliefs and morals.

Part of what has happened in the Age of Information is a Crisis of Identity. People are struggling to be an individual in this strange new world, and, at the same time, are struggling to feel as though they’re part of a group.

When people come in contact with each other, and they identify with different and conflicting Ideological groups—or different Ideological Tribes—they attack each other. This can be as innocuous as members of one Facebook group going after another, but it can escalate to protests and riots between two Ideological Tribes.

While I could write pages and pages about the debates and social wars happening online, the point is that there are large numbers of different Ideologies that are currently conflicting with each other online, in college campuses, and in mainstream media.

I’ve compiled a short list of various debates and commentaries on these social tensions here. So as not to be politically biased, I listed individuals with beliefs that range from hard left, to centrist, to hard right. The point is not to highlight any particular political views, but illustrate that a wide variety of political voices are concerned with censorship.

While most of these conflicts occur in debates, commentary and online discourse, the conflict extends outside online media into legislation. This is where the War of Ideologies connects back to the War of Information.

Why?

Because Ideologies are how we process and express information. Ideologies are a set of beliefs, morals and perspectives we use to get by in life and make decisions, and many fear that politically-based censorship can silence people with dissenting beliefs.

With platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Patreon or Paypal having the ability to demonetize, suspend or ban accounts for expressing certain views, many people have begun to worry that political lobbying could result in people being censored from public discourse because of their personal beliefs.

This is only made worse by the sheer amount of content that is put out on the internet, the sheer amount of different opinions and beliefs on the internet, and the sheer amount of misinformation and bad actors.

At the same time that companies and political groups might be censoring and suppressing speech, it is becoming more and more difficult to trust information from media outlets—even large, mainstream outlets. The result is a frantic, chaotic marsh of clashing beliefs and muddied facts.

The foundation of this “War” comes down to:

  • Freedom of Speech vs. Censorship

And

  • The Deterioration of Society’s “Sense-Making Apparatus”

Freedom of Speech vs. Censorship

This debate comes down to a conversation about what can and cannot be said on Social Media and on Mass/Mainstream Media. It’s a conversation over political correctness and free, open discourse. It’s also a conversation over who is allowed to talk.

For example, who is allowed to have a voice on Twitter? Should someone be banned for life if they have a political opinion that isn’t PC? Should Neo-Nazi’s be allowed on Twitter? Should ISIS and other Muslim Fundamentalists be allowed on Twitter? How about this, should someone who questions the motivations of Muslim Fundamentalists be allowed on Twitter? Or, should someone who questions the actions and motivations of Black Lives Matters be allowed a Social Media platform?

A current controversy on Twitter revolves around people being banned for “dead-naming” and “mis-gendering” trans individuals.[1]

One example of this controversy is a woman named Megan Murphy, a lesbian and a Feminist activist, was banned for saying, “men aren’t women” on Twitter.[2] Personal beliefs aside, this shouldn’t be such a controversial statement that someone could be permanently banned from Twitter, a massively popular platform for public discourse.

Who is allowed to speak?

Who is allowed to voice their opinion?

And what opinions should be allowed on Social Media, versus what opinions should be censored on Social Media?

In addition, online mobs (left and right) have called for the de-platforming or de-monetization of individuals, and online mobs (left and right) have also harassed individuals through emails, through social media, or through published content.[3]

Many liberals and conservatives alike—from Progressive college professors[4], to Independent/Neutral investigative journalists[5], to Fox News Reporters[6]—have pushed back against this. Not only have they pushed back against the Social Media companies, but they‘ve pushed back against the media outlets who support this censorial action, as well as political figures and activist movements who call for censorship.

And this doesn’t even go into things like Russian Troll Farms[7], or Wiki-Leaks and the recent arrest of Julian Assange[8], or the fact that Facebook is selling its users’ meta-data to large corporations.[9]

While these things are all a part of the problem, the biggest problem is that it’s hard to know what the hell is going on right now. The biggest problem is that we can’t agree on our problems, we can’t agree on facts, and we can’t agree on where to even begin solving our problems.

Amidst all this online chaos—amidst this strange new world we’ve entered—we’re in a period of time where so much is happening across the world that it’s difficult to know what we should do about anything.

We’ve become a disassociated people, with widely varying personal narratives that help us get through our days, and we’ve entered one of the most chaotic points in human history.

No one can even seem to agree on basic facts regarding global and national events. We hardly trust our governments. We hardly agree on who is an enemy and who is not. We hardly agree on what our problems are, or how we can solve these problems.

If no one can agree on what is happening, then that means no one can agree on what we should do to fix our problems. This is the dissolution of our Sense-Making Apparatus.

Our collective Sense-Making no longer works. We have too much going on, we have too many competing narratives, and we have too many competing sources of information.

There is a spectrum of people in the 9-11 conversation, ranging from people who outright dismiss the idea, to people convinced the government staged 9-11.

We can’t seem to decide what should be done about the violence and instability in the Middle-East, or what the true cause of the violence and instability even is.

Half the nation is split on the legitimacy of our current president. Some people absolutely love Trump (like, love the guy). Some people are neutral. Others hate Trump (really, really hate him).

And, to top it all off, there are people right now who think the Earth is flat.

People are going crazy. People cannot agree on a common narrative, on common problems, or on common goals. People can’t even agree on basic facts.

And it’s not just the United States. This is happening throughout the world. There’s social and national instability in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle-East. Practically everywhere, we’re destabilizing everywhere, and so much of it has to do with our Sense-Making Apparatus—our common agreement on facts, on problems and on goals.

And this failure of our collective Sense-Making Apparatus only makes the War of Ideologies, or the Culture War, worse, because it’s a war of competing ideas, competing goals and competing perceptions.

So, what is the result of this?

There is a huge divide now between the left and the right, but there are also divides within the left and the right, and there are fringe, radical groups who have begun to rise in power.

We see movements and organizations such as Antifa, or the Anti-Fascism group, which took violent action against Free-Speech activists at UC Berkley. Antifa, categorized as a far-left activism group, has also clashed with the Proud Boys, categorized as a far-right activism group.

In Charlottesville, we saw a clash between white-supremacy advocates and civil rights protestors, which escalated into a car being rammed into the protestors.

Identitarian-Leftist movements across school campuses have led to massive protests, campus violence, and the targeted harassment of professors and speakers.

Ben Shapiro, a moderate Conservative journalist, faced massive and relatively violent protests when he spoke at UC Berkley.[10] Despite being Jewish, Shapiro has been called a Nazi and White Supremacist by his left-wing adversaries.

Evergreen State professor, Bret Weinstein (pronounced like Einstein) was protested, harassed and forced to leave the University after questioning Identitarian policies on his campus.[11]

Jordan Peterson, a professor from the University of Toronto, has been widely criticized and harassed for protesting similar Identitarian policies at his campus, arguing that they infringed on Free Speech.[12] Jordan Peterson, despite being a highly knowledgeable and outspoken critic of fascism and communism in the 20th Century, has been labelled an “Alt-Right Fascist” by far-left radical groups.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are fragmenting societies and governments throughout Europe, and certainly throughout the Middle-East. There are escalating political movements on the right and on the left throughout the world, much like the ones we’re seeing in America. There’s still corruption in our governments, dictatorships oppressing their people, and wars being fought. We still don’t know what to do about the Middle-East. We still don’t know what to do about North Korea. We still don’t know what to do about Russia, or China, or AI, or Global Warming, or poverty, or anything.

It’s all insanity right now, and I’m not sure where any of this is going.

There’s talk about Civil Wars in the US right now—and there’s actual Civil Wars going on in other parts of the world—and people have been talking about World War 3 since 9-11 happened. If things continue spiraling out of control, something will eventually snap.

If we want to avoid that, we have to come to some sort of understanding with each other, and we have to fix our Sense-Making Apparatus.

We have to shift into rational discussions about our problems.

We have to find common ground, isolate our most prevalent problems, and search for common goals.

And we have to end this War of Information. We have to create institutions we can trust. We have to find sources of news and information we can rely upon, and safeguard them from misinformation. We have to form a government that has the nation’s interests in mind.

But.

If we can’t trust our institutions, then we’ll have to start taking our own lives into our hands. If there aren’t any reliable media outlets, then we’ll have to start searching for the truth ourselves. If we can’t elect officials who have our best interests in mind, then we have to elect ourselves, as citizens of our cities, states and nations, to help bring changes we need to society.

We have to step out of this frenzy of opinions, information, and misinformation we’ve become accustomed to, and figure out what actually matters. We have to see eye-to-eye with people we might not agree with, so we can work to solve our biggest problems. And we have to put everything back into a more common, rational perspective, so we can work towards a better future.


[1] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2018/11/27/18113344/twitter-trans-user-hateful-content-misgendering-deadnaming-ban

[2] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/writer-sues-twitter-over-ban-for-mocking-transgender-people-11549946725

[3] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nationalreview.com/2018/11/social-media-elitists-mobs-killed-dream-of-digital-egalitarianism/amp/

[4] https://www.campusreform.org/?ID-11020

[5] https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-03-5/twitter-baised-against-conservatives-thats-fact-tim-pool-destroys-twitter-ceo

[6] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.foxnews.com/opinion/facebook-doesnt-really-believe-in-free-speech-what-they-believe-in-and-actively-practice-is-censorship.amp

[7] https://www.vox.com/2018/10/19/17990946/twitter-russian-bots-election-tampering

[8] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/world/europe/julian-assange-wikileaks-ecuador-embassy.amp.html

[9] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.techrepublic.com/google-amp/article/facebook-data-privacy-scandal-a-cheat-sheet/

[10] https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2017/09/14/us/berkely-ben-shapiro-speech/index.html

[11] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bret_Weinstein

[12] https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-s-So-Dangerous-About/242256