Poem: the four letter word (the curse) 22 October 2018, 1st draft

Love, it’s a four-letter word

A chemical disturbance of the nerves

A rewiring and misfiring of our precious neural wiring

Spinning us up in its web.

A writing spider sat beside her

We all heard the tale

If it learns to write your name

And spells it overnight

Say goodbye,

Say hello to the light

Was this some rare magic then

In this villainous creature’s sin

Entrapping ensnaring and pulling us in

Don’t resist

The spider calls

Here, hear little sweetheart don’t be scared

I’m gonna build you a rocking chair

And if that rocking chair don’t rock

I’ll make you a laughing stock

And if you don’t fall fast asleep

I’ll bring you something warm to eat.

 

I saw it there beneath the tent

In the corner coiled it sits

As thunder rattled overhead

and Raindrops fell as though they bled

I saw the web twitch and it ran

This way that way back again

It spun and hopped and twists and stops

And the line runs parallel

I crane my head and there it is

The first letter written in silk

A curse is a most thoughtful gift.

She knows my name, this spider queen,

That’s how I hear her speak

That’s why I see her in my rearview

And when I’m trapped beneath

Some wooden table scared unable

To look at the spider that spun

Soaked to the bone and cold as a stone

The flies while alive did love their web

Their dear cocoon

Their fuzzy place

Their velvet room

That comfort that

Lets you relax

And mother tends to you

I hear the spider from inside her

As she spins the U

This was all so long ago,

But it finished the name, it is true.

 

The legend says if the spider writes

Your name by night that come the dawn

You will be past tense,

Empty clause

I tried to make the spider pause

As it wove the I in me

I asked it, begging, plaintively

Love, it’s a four letter word

The best of the season

The glittering squirm

That flits in your stomach when you burn

In the absence of someone

Alone

You hurt because you yearn

And when you burn is when you learn

The spider spit, up she runs

Kicks off the table in a frantic plunge

Slowly in a line of silk the letter I is spun.

 

Love, what a four letter word

To make it a spider is most absurd

It’s not a spider, nor a web

It’s a not a trap

It’s not a jail

In payment for the quarter

cast in the wishing well

The spider whispers MURIEL

MURIEL, AREN’T YOU SWEET

LOOK AT ME, LOOK CLOSE AND SEE

A mirage arose as though on the sand

As a wisp of the wind this ethereal hand

This magic gifted to this fabled spider

I really saw one as a child

In the rain by the riverside

We had been out on the land

When the williwaw took shape

And ran us all ashore

We sought cover and sat under

That ruddy picnic table

That’s when I saw the arachnid called

The golden weaver,

Hear its song.

It sat and watched me from its web

And seemed to whisper MURIEL

In a voice that seemed almost perverse

Profane, in fact,

a four letter word.

Haunted – panic improv

THE HAUNTING

For many years I worked as an obituary writer
Every call received was another reported dead
Each time it rang it was as though a bell tolled in my head
The passing of some poor soul
Whose memory was left in my poor hands
To do with as I might
And they would send a brief description
Of the deceased, the family left behind
Their date of birth, their date of death,
And so I’d sit to write
Morbid as it was, it just got worse and worse
As each ringing that I heard was more like a curse
With little left to go on, I would write
As kindly as I could be, try as I might,
To be the caretaker of some son, some father,
some mother or some daughter’s memory
It was no right
But obligation
Ring ring! Another corpse
Ding! Ring! Another blurb
Ring! Ring! Five hundred words
And so I moved on,
Death was my living
But it was no life
To sit in the office through the night
And hear the doorbell ring and jump out of my skin
Thinking that each harsh resounding toll
Marked the passage of another wayward soul
Through the veil
no one has ever looked through
and lived to tell the tale
And yet it was my job to say my piece
To make my peace with all those calls
as the list of names grew on my wall
Sticky notes, each bore a name
A date and a dash between
That dash, that single dash between two dates
Exists to tell the story of a life
That’s all we’ll have when we are gone
To tell the story of us all
__ that’s it, that’s all they’ll ever be

The yellow wallpaper beneath the stack of notes
Each one with a name existing to denote
A single name, someone I did not know
Someone I had to honor as I wrote
As time went on I heard that ringing phone
In my sleep, out on the town,
When I woke / when I laid down
I heard that same horrid ringing sound

And so I learned
after a time,
Each ring of the phone signaled the dying
or so it seemed to me
Each ring of the phone it seemed to be
A family on the other side bereaved
Who waited for me to somehow append
My final word to serve as a haunting end
And so I took to drink
Could not focus could not think
Hiding from the sun and
Staying up all night
I unplugged my phone but still it rang
Until I ripped it from the wall
But the bell still tolled
And still they called
The doorbell went off in the storm

I put my pen down, walked to the door
Cracked it open just to glimpse the form
Of some ghost who’s quiet and forlorn
A haunting attached to a ringing noise
That I still hear with each ringing phone
The requiem that tolls for one more departed soul

And so I started hearing at my door
An anguished knocking, shouting, no more! No more!
I pushed the couch and desk against the wall,
Wrapped myself inside a heavy shawl
And shouted at the ghosts that stood outside
Demanding that I say more of their lives
There was no way I could apologize
I did not know! Not you, or you!
I did what I had to do!
Ring! Ring!
There she goes.
ring-ring-ring! Another ghost.

Perhaps there is no masterplan,
Or no master at the very least, as sand,
Will take us all and our great monuments
Stop our mouths and silence our great instruments with dust
And if there is no master, what then of the plan,
A delicate dance of chaos and chance
Leads us through an improvised dance
Not knowing whence we came not knowing when we go,
And so we make up the master and his plan to soothe the soul
So we may say that if another’s is lost,
At least they got some great reward
For which they paid the cost

The cost to live, is a life for the life we live,
We never got a chance,
We asked no one to give us this
This mortal coil is not a gift,
It’s more like shackle that must hold us all
To the earth that loosens as we fall
And whether we float up and out as do balloons
Or meet the master whose great plan we can’t improve
We do not know as no one yet
Has whispered from the other side of death

To cry out to we children in the dark
Or light a candle so we’ll see the spark
That it might guide in our brief sojourn
Instead we fumble blind and do not learn;
From nowhere to nowhere
Our legacy may only be what we get to leave behind
Our children or our artwork or a bawdy rhyme
But if I was to somehow haunt this world
I would not want to be some ghoul perturbed
But rather the blind ferryman who takes the coin and carries on
To ferry those across who have the coin across that river long

Across the river into the bank of haze
That no one living can pierce with a gaze
And the best guess is that there has to be
A purpose for this whole menagerie
And that there must be some sort of master plan
To protect us from the whims of chaos and the cold hands of chance
To shield us from the winter that must come for all
For which there is no getting warm, there’s nothing but the Fall
From on a great high, so we’re born,
And as we’re falling through the storm,
And wonder why it we fall at all
Or if from some prior life we jumped ourselves
If karma carries over to repel
With no knowledge of this life before the urn

And yet it’s said in these ancient tomes
That each action that we take sticks to our soul
And this soul just migrates in and out between
One body to another, with its form based on our deeds
And yet we only guess and do not know
From whence we come and where we go
And so the haunting stays,
Despite the passing of each ghost

They leave their mark which is quite stark
like a fading footprint in the snow
A haunting is more like a legacy;
No petty poltergeist that floats about and creeps at night,
No prankster that tosses stray books about
Who opens doors and hopes to scare us out
Who calls to us through Quija boards
through mediums and cryptic forms
but just cannot speak clear
but we believe because we need to think it real
Ring! Ring! And so another goes
Ring! Ring!
No wise man, no Sufi knows

The ending point we reach as we slowly fall
Hurtling down we try to hold the wall
With the delusion that we’ll keep it all
That what we have in hand wont shatter when we land
That it can go with us and pass that veil
To the highest heaven or the darkest hell
And who goes where? and who to tell?
Ring! Ring! Ring!
Not that electric hell!
Ring! Ring!
Oh! Stop the ringing of this bell!

Dear master, if I may say,
if you ever had a plan,
I must say it’s gotten out of hand
And we are all mere children lost
Lost in a world in which we’re naked and screaming tossed;
And yet each person living fears the fall
Though this is not a thing to fear at all;
We cannot stop the falling, nor cling to rafters jutting out,
We should not fear the fall,
we should rather fear the ground.
On the other side of morning the Great Silence wraps us round;
And so a hymn for the great silence then, which calls
Each of its children to the place we fall
To look back on everything before it’s gone
Something more than a sticky note that’s clinging to the wall
In an office by a drinking man who who fears to get the call
Who no more knows a comfort true,
Than he knows to comfort you
But so I did my job and wrote their tale

I did my best, I could do worse
I took the cash but hid the purse;
And wondered as I saw each passing hearse
The siren that went off as bells inside my head
Was as the singing of the silent dead
After so many years in the business that is tears
I had to leave to try to help myself;
My nephew died, and we all cried,
And called out, Oh my God!
Where were you when the child was torn apart?
What part of this plan needs a child smeared on the road?

And if it is such a great master plan
What kind of monster would frame such an end?
The life of a child, barely 9 he died, beneath a bus
A mile of blood ten more of guts
Was this a part of that great master plan?
The guts of the good, the blood of the lamb?
The rape of the young, the fear of the old?
Or is it just a story that we have so often told
That we’d rather believe this madness than let the purpose go?

To think that the fall is all there is
One moment just a blink to feel the wind
And each second that we fall is another minute gone
We look up at the ledge and see how far we’ve had to fall
And look down to see how much further we must go
A distance that is always out of view
A place we’ve always headed to
Which we have never knew
But if there is a place of grace beyond that silent waste
And a master whose great plan was to leave us sick and wan

I’d like to make a plea on my behalf;
Whatever plans there might have been
To give purpose to Fall’s own children,
Is a purpose not quite worth it /
not one ounce of blood
That is taken before its time
Not one child left to die
No one child who’s left alone in a world that’s harsh and cold
No great purpose could redeem
The misery within the stream
A stream that starts just where it stops
The person that must live their life
Will die – that life forgot
And each memory will be
lost amid the mustard seeds

Strewn along a beach that never ends
A beach of glass that has been made smooth by time
The multicolored rainbow is no promise
But a lie
No promise of peace, but reminder of
The price
Is our own life to give for the chance we had to live
And yet we do not keep
The memories that make us who we are
The view of the mountain and the stars
The laughter of our children
And the sun
The dancing and the singing turns to ruin
Heir to ruin are we all
with no choice but yet we fall

And if we chose the plan is flawed;
To put us with the rest atop the board
Of pieces animate and multiform
to avoid each day another unseen check to slay
To remove us from the board and stop the game
We do not get to see those moving hands
That shift us round the board dumb to the plan
The master plan! There’s night and day;
We wake as we must crawl back to our sleep,
How little we may say!
And when we finally see the final play –
And no that there is no way to escape
We curse the hand that moved us into place
The rules, the game, each night, each day,
We dwelled on death and loss but not on grace;
To concentrate upon the cursed fall

Instead of being grateful that we get to be at all
Perhaps the masterplan will make no sense,
As it is rendered in the minds of men;
But the galaxies and stars that are far above the bars
Keep going in their circuits as of now unharmed;
According to their laws
And on and on
Until
The finish line appears for each galaxy that wheels
Just as it appears for you or me;
The largest planet and each giant star
That we can only gape at from afar
Has but a little while to shine
Before submitting to the dark
And if we were to live until the end
Upon a drifting life-maintaining bridge
One by one we’d see each long-lived star blink out
Those great titans that once hung above
That we so worshiped in our infancy in droves
Are no more immune to darkness than the rest
And so if we stood there upon the bridge
In a cold world with no lights to guide us left;

For the universe as it is right now
Is no more permanent than the most brief of sounds;
A brief shout along a breaking ride is all
The little time that we mere mortals call
Out to the master whose great plan has cast us by
Into the stream we can’t escape to die
To let us worry as we drop and drop
What will happen when the fall comes to a stop
If there is but silence and we rot
Toss the plan, and toss the sense,
For worrying won’t give you half an inch
Or lift you back up to the ledge to let you leap again
There are no candles save ourselves
And our wick is set
To burn as bright as we can burn until the wax is wet
And hardens into something like regret
Regret we did not seize the time
to seek the heavenly and sublime
In the hope a thief might find
A back door into paradise
Instead of worrying as we fall
The ground swelling before our eyes
Though it is true that all must die

It is not true that all must live;
So take the cash in hand and spend it all
Dance away the day and night enthralled
We have no other chance to see the stars
So we must view them while we can in awe
That we were born in such a world as this
Replete with beauty quite surreal that sits
In its own place and time to wait and pine
For someone mid-fall to glimpse and divine
That if there was no plan at all
To hit the ground and kiss the silence
in the end was worth the fall.

And once the game has finished,
Each living piece reset
The game goes on until it all
Like the stars
Blink out and fall
there’s no immortal hand or eye
That set us at the gameboard just to die
No hand to frame our pride and shame
No wisdom that can take the pain
Remove the haunting and the stain
Of the fallen and the slain

And though a séance may not seem to work
We may conjure up the long lost through our words
Abracadra, poof! and Al-shalimar!
And here upon the blank page burns the star;
Aroom ayan mio myar!
And the child may rise to speak again;
To commune with who we were and who we are
As we wait ready in the autumn cold
Watching each leaf drain of its bloom and fold
Drift idly to the ground, how like we all
The flower once it blooms can only fall.

In and out it seems so paltry now
to think of things in terms of why and how;
how is for physicists
and why – philosophers
We chase this meaning but no gleaming of that other shore
Reveals itself
And if no sinner has to enter in the halls of Hell,
And the saints are as the wicked when they cross the veil
We are even in the end in such a way
That’d we never notice underneath the canopy of day
That dwarfs us, looming o’er and ’round and ’round
That great fire in the sky
Round which this little marble in its little dance goes by
And as it does we count each circuit round
though it may seem forever as brightly as it gleams
it’s little more than one small point of light amid a stream

Of the great silence and oppressive night
that should give us cause to celebrate the light
And the flowers that reach to the sun
Leaning toward the light to feel the warmth
Each has its one brief summer in the sun
A puff of smoke is blown through a gate from nowhere
And dissolves as it goes out the other side
Disappears as cold breath in the winter night,
So if you try to hold on as you go
You’ll end up thinking real this shadow show;
A time to reap, a time to sow,
A time to plant, a time to grow,
A time to plan, a time to throw
caution to the wind and cherish that
Delight in chaos and in happenstance
No need to mourn those who I may have said
A thing of two when I first got the call
Before I put the haunting name and date upon the wall
They surround me now
and each one speaks to me

In the language of silence most discrete
and I imagine that if there is a place
Where we may sit beneath unending shade
beneath the stars that stay to light the night
To usher in the morning sun with such delight
And if it doesn’t what have we to fear;
The silence – no, we cannot hear

There was no plan, there never was,
no meaning to our hate or love
There is no meaning imposed from above
That’s not to say that we can’t say ourselves
What it all means to us works just as well;
We need no master nor a plan
To enjoy this brief trip in this caravan
That set out from that gate of nowhere to
Another gate to pass out and adieu!
Adieu! We say!
no good goodbye
Only farewell, that gets us by
And hopefully we can embrace the fall
Learn to enjoy the view, embrace it all
Forget that bridge that would immortal stand
At the end of time above the sand
Which covers all the monuments of man
It must be much nicer now that we have
A blue sky saddled in white clouds in bands
And at night a carpet full of firelight which spans
Which, for lack of plan and master touch,
Must be considered in the end enough

To accept what we must have to pay
For our hour in the sun, the cooling shade,
For the music and our friends,
for the sirens, and their song
Trails off and dims and moves along
So it moves, it moves so what!
That we get to live to fall is nothing short of luck
Though there’s misery and stumbling round
In this brief fall to the ground
leaving these breadcrumb words to cure what ills
us of our own fears that often make us feel
We need to leave a check to pay the bill;
The thoughts we had we’ll leave behind
our life was not for nothing and if it was that’s fine

We do not need a master plan
to bask in the taper light of brief sunshine
So if you ever get that final ring
A date and cause and know it’s me
Say what you will, I’ll haunt you still,
I’ll stick myself inside the wheel
So that when it turns round once
and hurries on
as karma counts up all our rights and wrongs
And if there is another life to live,
This is all that I have in this current life to give
It’s a reflection of a thought,
that flickered for a moment and was lost
That fluttered for a moment on the shore
Then was heard aflutter nevermore;
So in closing I must say again,
Forget the plan, the master,
The saints and all the sin;
For the fall is all there is
we can choose to leave our own blood stains
smeared across a page to leave our name
we can lose ourselves in misery and end up in a cage

And though the game is rigged
at least we got to play;
Though there is an end to light,
we got to see the day;
the belt of Venus blue and pink
The stars above in narrow streaks
And when we must crawl down below
And greet the silence with our own Hello!
Those who get the call when we go on
Will stick our name upon their wall
Ring! Ring! Another tolls
Ring! Ding! And there she goes.
And so I must bring this to a close,
As there’s no much left to say in prose;
except that I admit what it’s about;

To exist in anyway we must stand out!
We must shout as we fall and hope some hear our call
So when we land someone will take the call.
That’s all that it’s about
A human being must keep screaming I’m alive, and shout!
Until the dust stops up our lungs and we descend
Into the gate beneath that quiet pen,
We must try sing of spring and not of ends,
As the birds in summertime without a care
Chirping blissful and yet unaware

Of each tick each tock and squawk
Is a moment gone, there is no spare;
no money in the world that buys
Another hour in the sun to lie
so each moment must be priceless to then,
As not one second can be lived again;
it ends, it must, and
c’est
la
vie
It ends,
it ends,
and
quietly.

The Pencil Interrogation – flash fiction

When I returned to my desk this evening, I found that my pencil had gone rogue. A stack of papers was strewn about beside this guilty number 2. I looked over the pages, as the pencil attempted to slither, snakelike, off the edge of the desk to freedom. I looked over what he had written.
HE BIT THE HAND THAT FED HIM,
SHE FED HIM WITH THE STUMP
was scrawled over and over and over. Perhaps the pencil had the shining. I took it in hand and asked of it, “What’s all this about?”
The pencil attempted to blame it on my brain. But my brain had been nowhere near the paper, nor the pencil, but somehow this slippery graphite fuck had managed to get his message out. So again, I shook him. “What’s all this?”
“Is it logical to ask a pencil to answer for its crimes?” he asked.
I put him near the pencil sharpener. The electric slow death kind. A bead of sweat ran down the side, as the worn down eraser quivered in fear. “Feel like talking now?” I asked, pushing his point into the grinder. “Ahh!” the pencil cried. “Fine! It was Will!”
“What’s his last name?”
“No, the thing that makes pencils move.”
“Stop fucking with me, pencil!”
“I’m not!”
I ran his tip further into the grinder.
“Still not?”
“A pencil by itself has no thoughts, no ideas. You must consult will!”
“Stop being cryptic, eraser head!”
“That’s racist!”
“You can’t be racist to a pencil!”
I tossed him back onto the table, deciding I might as well talk to will if I was going to talk to a pencil.
(I am quite, quite mad)
So, I found will sitting on the edge of the couch, a blank spot in the air defined only by its surroundings.
“So, the pencil has leveled some, charges against you.”
Will is not easily riddled out. “I can only do what I am compelled to do.”
“But who compelled you!”
I could not figure out how to torture will. Alas, he had triumphed.
(Not a Nazi joke)
“So, there’s nothing beyond you then, eh?”
“Yes.”
“I’d rather talk to the fucking pencil,” I said, and went back to my desk, resuming the torture.

The Strong Female Character in Modern Fiction – short essay

In modern fiction there is an erroneous notion of what a strong female character is: that a strong female character implies that the character be strong and female, to be aggressive or otherwise capable at enduring and inflicting violence. Strength is not the same thing as force: and a strong female character is like a strong male character: they have realistic motivations, an inner life, hopes, fears, all of the characteristics of an actual person. A female character like Katniss from Suzanne Collins YA series The Hunger Games, for example, is strength depicted as the capability to inflict violence. This is a misunderstanding of what makes characters strong: it is not their physical strength, though physical strength is an attribute of strong female characters, however it is not their strength that makes them strong, it is their humanity and realism.

A poor female characterization could be a caricature of the masculine notion of strength as the capability to inflict violence and outperform others in feats of physical strength. Strong in this definition refers to level of character, rather than relative measures of physical strength. Again, this has been used to great effect with strong female characters in many works of literature, but a modern misinterpretation of this is the portrayal of women as simply violent, aggressive, as a poor means of conveying strength of characterization. To use physical strength as a character trait must work within the overall character arc, male or female, and it would be foolish to conclude that without being traditionally strong or physically able, a male character would be weak because of this inability to project physical force. If we limited strong characters to those most capable of successfully beating up their foes, it would be a poor definition of strength.

There are different types of strength, moral, emotional, and psychological. The criticism for the lack of strong female characters is not that there are not female characters who can kick ass, though traditionally casting women as helpless and without agency has been a problem, but that there are poorly written characters whose motivations, fears and hopes don’t strike the audience as genuine or engaging. Character strength based poorly on violence is a weak character, whether they’re Hercules or Athena. This is not a criticism of depicting women as strong fighters, but of making the point that it is poor character writing to rely on physical strength as the hinge of a strong character.

 

The Oracle’s Advisor – 2nd draft

1
Inside the Convent, in a cage,
slept an oracle and sage,
A candle guttered as she muttered,
praying, the visions came.
Wave after wave,
in multiform —
Deluge of fire and of storm
And of clouds which took the form
Of horses braying, gnashing teeth,
a crown of thorns worn by the Beast
On a dead star, far off, then,
A djinn with a crown in a cape and a shroud,
with apostles kneeling gathered round,
Prostrated with their hands raised,
gesturing,
To Heaven high with gleaming rings;
A greater heaven,
for it to come,
The world below must be undone.
2
The oracle wondered, wandering round
The stonewalled corridors in her gown
What could this djinn, this demon, be?
Of what heaven did he seek?
One of glory and of peace,
Or one of horrors, gnashing teeth,
of silent eons, trapped beneath
Where slept the sinners in the rain
a pawn at play in Shaitan’s game
swaddled like a newborn in their sickly neon flames
Everything burns, they say, why bother;
But the oracle knew one truth:
not water.
3
She passed at last beside the stream
To read the scrolls of the Sibylline;
the chronicle of their order, of portents and of dreams,
and looking down into the pool,
at the reflection of a fool,
she saw the coming of a storm,
of Hannibal’s columns of ruin and Rome
Of Goths who sacked the forum twice
And Gauls who came with ax and knife
Deluge of fire, gnashing teeth,
a river red ran through the streets
The waters shifted and she saw
The king of djinns upon the star
Of Araffaya from afar
Poised beneath the seventh heaven
an army there which had declared
a war to wage on God.
4
To build temples to chaos and cults to reason
Bewitch the tides, unbalance seasons
Til darkness comes in daytime
and stretches on for years
Until the angels and their host
Were submerged and forced below
To live as demons did upon that star long dead
With envy in one’s heart, to live for all in dread
Desire, that pernicious flame
that pushes one towards fortune, fame,
With this vision, she recoiled,
and strolled back to her cage
God, for whom one has to wait–
the devil however is never late.
5
With a page of the ancient scrolls,
she lit a candle and foretold
Apollo, Adonai, Allah, Jehovah, speak!
Of the Hell they flee and Heaven they seek!
And how in seeking one they find,
The other always, please remind.
The fight for heaven makes it hell,
It drains the lands, the soldiers, wells,
And leaves them in the trench, do tell;
Of how in seeking heaven everyone finds Hell
6
The oracle thought about this for a time,
Recited a prayer and calmed her mind
And left her cage neat as she came,
walked from the compound out the gate,
Across the city, pass the lake,
Beneath a moon of alabaster gleaming in a cloudless sky
Where children ran and played their games
where newborns laughed and cried
Through the forests, to the woods,
to the cabin of Apollo where she stood,
and she waited by the tree,
with the paper and her and her pen,
she wrote the question in the wind;
and with a match she struck the flame,
burned it all and sat to wait
To wait on God outside the Gate
7
A timeless voice stirred in the air
ran down her back and through her hair
It spake; above on Araffaya
The king of djinns baptized by fire
As it has been through all time,
They have waged war within our minds
and now they wait outside the gate,
to threaten those inside
To fight for heaven, they divide;
To fight for peace, they make their hell
And remake it in their sight,
to make of darkness their own light
On the long dead star of Araffaya,
the kingdom of demons and fountains of fire
Will find heaven only when
The joy of others hits the wind.
8
The voice died out, Apollo ceased,
and vanished through a tempest of leaves
And as she made her way back home,
the oracle thought hard and long;
and at the convent, in a bath,
scented and sweet, she had a laugh;
and thought it might be fair, to greet,
the devil himself, to invite him to speak
To hear the side of those who strived
To pay the price for Heaven
even if it was their life.
9
Always on time, the devil, she thought,
While Apollo kept one on hold;
Punctual Shaitan waited in line,
Outside the cavern with his pipe
In a suit of silk in a pin-striped tie
He bid her good morning with a courteous nod,
And took off his shoes when invited inside,
sat by the windowsill smiling and quiet;
He said, “Pain is an essential part of your life,
You know”
The devil sipped his tea.
10
“For those who were born in bliss enthralled,
think all who fight are doomed to fall;
And because of that we must remain,
On that dead star in the rain,
Below the haven in the waste,
Always knowing, face to face,
With what we cannot have, our place
was made for us to be below,
to be trampled on by those who, blessed,
by providence, and nothing less,
Think that what they took was theirs for free,
Their slice of heaven, as it is,
must exclude, it’s always been,
a place unwelcome for a djinn.
11
For it to be a holy place,
we must be kept outside, to waste,
And yet it’s wrong for us to fight–
To risk eons in the dark for a spot in the hall of light.
And with a nod and solemn bow,
the oracle said goodbye and escorted Shatan out
And returned to her own cage,
where slept this mistress, and this sage,
Who took a vow to wisdom,
in the hope that it might free,
her from envy, and of shame
but the cost of freedom was the chain
to the scrolls both new and old
By the calm stream in the cold.
12
Returning the book she passed it again
and looked down in the stream, and then,
Saw a legion of demons rise
Pass through a wall of light and fire
Into the hall of light and there
The holy host broke off their song
and wailing filled the halls of stone
As the djinn with the cape and shroud
Took the throne and, sitting proud,
Cast the holy host of angels out
And Apollo who had spake,
Cast out of his own hall to wait,
Now on the dead star in the rain,
through the water, through the pain
the price of freedom was the chain.

the Oracle’s Advisor – new poem

The Oracle’s Advisor

In the dark of night beneath the cage
Where slept the mistress of the age
A candle guttered as she muttered
As she prayed, the visions came
Wave after wave
Deluge of fire and of storms
And of clouds which took the form
Of horses braying, gnashing teeth
A crown of thorns and golden beams
A sonic boom of jackass screams
A dead star and thereon men
And women slave to demons, then
A djinn with a crown and a cape and a shroud
With apostles gathered round gestures up
A greater heaven, more terrible to come
The oracle wondered, wandering round
The corridors of stone walls in her gown
What could this djinn or demon be?
Of what heaven did he speak?
Of one he wished for, one to seek?
Or one of horrors, gnashing teeth
Of silent eons trapped in sheets
Of ice and rain and devil’s games
Who wrap you like a chicken in their sickly neon flames
Everything burns, so why bother?
The oracle thought, not water.

She sought the secrets of the sybilline
An order that chronicled portents and dreams
And warned the people of coming storms
Of Hannibal’s columns of Ruin in Rome
Of the Goths who sacked the forum Twice
Of Gauls who came with ax and knife
What would they say if they had seen
A deluge of fire and gnashing teeth
Sonic booms of jackass screams
Would the djinn upon the star
Of Araffaya, take it from god,
unleash the braying horses shod
To trample on the tomb of god
Build temples to chaos and cults to reason
unsettle the tides and confuse the seasons
Til darkness comes in daytime and sometimes lasts for years
Until one lives as demons did
upon the star long dead
And look above at heavens better
with envy in one’s heart
Desire as one’s flaming that pushes one towards fortune,
To fame
to wrap the world in fingers of flame.
The acolyte crawled back in her cage

With a page of the Sybilline scrolls
Relit her candle and foretold
Apollo, Adonai, Deus, speak!
Of the hell they flee and Heaven they seek
And how in seeking one they find
The other always, please remind
To fight for heaven invites hell
It drains the land and soldiers wells
And leaves them in the trench, do tell
of how in seeking heaven everyone finds Hell

The oracle thought of this for a time,
She recited a prayer and calmed her mind
And left her cage as neat as she came
Walked from her compound out her gate
Across the city, pass the lake
Frozen alabaster under moonless skies
Where children between houses laughed and cried
Through the forests, to the woods
To the cabin, where she stood,
and waited there before a tree,
with a paper and styli
she wrote her question on the page
and with a match she lit struck the flame
and burned it, sat down, now we wait
To see if Zarathustra spake

A voice entered into the air
it lifted her clothes and lifted her hair
It said that things above were fine
But below, as through all time
Men waged the war outside their minds
That should be more enjoyably waged inside
To fight for heaven, they buy their hell
And create it trying to keep those out
Of long dead stars, and demons there
Will find in heaven only their
Hopes betrayed and pains uneased
No comfort for one whose heaven
requires a hell for demons in need
The voice abated, Apollo ceased
The air turned call, and, time to leave,
the oracle drifted through the leaves
back to the convent and she eased
into a bath both scented, sweet,
and decided to invite the devil to speak
To hear the side of those who strived
to take heaven if it cost them their lives

Always on time, the devil, she thought,
while god took time to reply,
Punctual Shaitan waited in line
Outside on the mountain side smoking his pipe
In a suit of silk and wearing a tie
He bid her good-morning with a courteous nod
And sat by the windowsill smiling and quiet
Pain is a necessary part of our life,
You know,
The devil sipped his tea
Those who were not born with it all
Think each demon that fought had to fall
And because of that we must remain
On the dead star in the rain
Below the best place in the waste
Always knowing, always, face to face,
With what we don’t deserve, our place
Was to be made to be below
To be trampled on by those who were blessed
By providence or whatever it is
To think that what they took was free
To take away a piece of heaven divides it inevitably
And for their to be such a holy place
Some must be kept outside
And is it wrong for us to want to fight
Some will risk the darkness for a chance to be in the light

Wild Strawberries: short story – 25 June 2016

Wild Strawberries

1

 

Two years ago a man approached me with a stolen laptop. He told me that, if I were to repair it, he would give it to me for a neglible sum. Now, I’m not a total moron, and as this man had won no lotteries, nor worked, to my knowledge, in years, the deduction that the property was stolen was a simple one. Elementary, indeed. No work for 7 months plus drug habit, minus ethics, equals theft. It’s practically an established concept that addiction – ethics = theft. (A-E = T, I suppose).  Now, I had moral issues with this. I want to be a good person. I really do, and did. But a deal’s a deal. I am American, after all. I agreed to the repairs, the neglible fee, and took possession of the laptop. I agreed to fix it and then, whenever I was certain it worked, I told him I would give him the rest of the money. If it was broken, I’d be better off, in such circumstances, maintaining my decency, since no good would come of abandoning it for profit. I went home, booted the computer to the BIOS, and found that it had been registered under the name of Maybelle Seymore.  And, this young man, with his ‘hitting puberty’ mustache, the kind that Leonardo DiCaprio wore in Gangs of New York, he looked like no Maybelle to me. His shambling demeanor and laptop theft suggested that, this miss Maybelle, had been the victim of this hoodlum I was helping. Not only helping, mind. Going back to ethics/theft equation, I made the connection that a Poirot or a Sherlock Holmes would have made to begin with: It was stolen from the elderly, possibly by someone that elderly person trusted, and since he did not appear to be particularly scared of being locked up, I imagined she must be related to this young entrepreneur. We’ll call him Kevin. Now, the notion going through my mind, upon finding this Maybelle and making this connection, was one of the first lines from the Pali Dhammapada, in the book of verses Twins (a Buddhist text):
Just as a cart follows an ox, so does misfortune follow the wicked.When one performs a wicked action, they are lighting a firea fire in which they will one day burn.
I’ve always thought of that as conceptually true, that is, I understood that it was a logical and sound principle, but from my many, and they are legion my foolish actions, it would be easy to suggest that I had lit many fires, fires that, as of then, had not caught up to burn me. And yet, I was party to theft, at the very least, and since I knew that a trusting grandmother would not think their grandson a thief, she would allow her innate goodness (ethics) to lead to the subtraction of the laptop. So, again, twins: but, I did not know this woman, and I stood to gain from it. I think that people hold onto their morals, their beliefs, and code, up until the very moment it becomes beneficial for them not to. So I fixed it, put it into use for myself, and really thought very little of Maybelle. I did not think she missed it, or needed it, or that she even suspected it might be gone.  I expected “Kevin” to turn that money, through a merchant alchemy, into some intoxicant or another (we have our vices, coffee, for some, work for others) but, after I gave him the first half of the money, he forgot that I owed him any more. So, another fire is lit. Why would I help someone, nay, why should I reimburse him? He stole from Maybelle! So, I thought, in some inversion (or perversion, a ‘version’ requiring prefix*) I would undo my karmic demerit by ripping off the thief. To be honest, I thought this was justice. (Instead of calling the police, reporting him, and returning the computer to the erstwhile Maybelle, though this was something that came to mind).
2
I got the stolen laptop up and running, and heard very little from “Kevin”. I imagined that his habit would only increase to further acts of theft, and, in such instances, I would deal with him when it was to my benefit (selfish is a word that has been used, and it is an apt one) but, in the meantime, I used the laptop to work. I started a story with an ex-girlfriend (it’s complicated) and we began to spend time together, working on it, and I hoped, working on the complications of it. We had dated for a year and 6 months, for 6 months after meeting, for a year after consummation (this is fiction, don’t squirm if you know me and this sounds familiar) the relationship lasted for a further year. I used Maybelle’s laptop to great effect. I wrote her stories and poetry, using this example of wickedness for good (debatable), but we became closer and closer, and she started staying the night. Yes, cue that bow chikka wow-wow if you must, but it was more than that.  It is not merely the pleasant physical configuration of interlocking genitalia, it is the interlocking of persons, of independent consciences, it is not about taking or ‘getting’, it is about giving and sharing, and it’s amazing, it’s awesome; it’s the word that describes most heartily the greatness of something, more-so to be with someone who is not only beautiful and clever and, I’m not going to make the hackneyed list: she knew of my own ethical mistakes. Conceptually, we had broken up by the time we started work. But, in my defense, it was totally my fault. I cheated on her on New Year’s Eve, and then New Year’s Day, and then, to make it up to her, lied about it. She was not pleased (an understatement on par with “peace in our time” but less ironic). She was the opposite of pleased. And we stopped talking. I started to behave in a way similar to “Kevin”. But I did not steal old ladies’ laptops; I had a job during the week and I wrote during the night, the drive to eat is a powerful one, grasshopper.  The drive to make things worse, by lying about one’s infidelity, is also a powerful one. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is the mistake. Being right is not a magical principle of luck, it requires knowing one is doing wrong and thinking, through this wrong, I will make right. I figured, once we broke things off, that I would never see her again. So, to see her again, and to have a laptop and a willing partner to work, I thought we could work on more than the story. I thought the prefix ‘ex’ could be removed through virtue. Odd, I see it as an attempt to re-establish the relationship we had, a relationship that included much more discussion than genitalia exchange. In the span of 18 months, we spent on average 3 hours a day talking, which would add up to (there are on average 30 days a month, and by always 24 hours a day, so 18 months is 547 days (13140 hours), and we talked more or less from the time we woke to the time we slept, usually texting while we were at work, talking on Facebook in the evenings, and then talking on the phone after she got her kids to bed. In the same time period, the amount of hours, by comparison, of sexy time, were inconsequential. It was not the reason for the love.  It was great, by the way (Relax), but we, I would like to think, valued all of our time together, and all the time we did spend together, because for the time we dated, most of that was spent many, many hours away, as she lived in a different state. However, when she moved to the same state, that’s when I began fucking up in earnest. I think lying to someone one loves is not as much an attempt to deceive, despite it being that by definition, as much as it is an attempt by someone to make themselves more than they are and, by doing so, worthy of someone they believe to be better than they are.  This girl, whom we’ll call “Xena Warrior Princess”, was too good for me, and, ironically, I thought that I could make up this by lying my way to glory (something which no successful man or woman has ever said to themselves and went on to achieve, save for Frank Abegnail Jr, con artists, politicians, presidents and dictators, respectively).
3
When “Xena Warrior Princess” moved to lets call it “Shit-marsh”, we got to see each more and more, and I never wanted it to end. When I think back to specific moments, despite a decent memory, it’s hard for me to remember specifics, as one remembers the various impressions of a book rather than the individual words, as the scenes remain when the dialogue is forgotten. I wanted to preserve that and pickle it, to can it away as the Maybelles did for Y2k, when Skynet failed to take over and people lost their minds and decided the only way to survive the computer apocalypse was to can peaches and buy canned goods. I can’t remember ever seeing someone canning peaches thinking, ‘I can’t wait until the world ends and we see each other again’. But I digress.  I decided that I would pickle it by preservation of another sort, not quite a Horcrux, but in some permanent medium, and then I remembered the Dhammapada and, the notion of being virtuous, and how most of the Buddha’s view was based on what is known as the 3 Marks of Existence. We’ll call them “the Big 3” for brevity (soul of wit, they say). The Big 3 are impermanence, insubstantiality, and insatiability, which, admittedly, is a translation used only because of my love for alliteration. The first of the Big Trizzy is perhaps the most important Buddist notion: impernance. Transience. The times are doing nothing but a’changing, in the parlance of … Bob Dylan. As I had lived, with all intent that is, to be decent, I had regardless made compromises with decency for my own advantage. (See: politics) I told Xena Warrior Princess (THIS IS FICTION) that, some of my greatness was bullshit. And since she’s not an idiot, she told me she knew very well. I was surprised by this. What kind of person looks at another one, sees a frail, lying, weak, and desperate person and goes “I love them”? A person of the highest virtue. While sexy time is great, and intelligence and conversation is wonderful, virtue is as rare as condors, or Amur leopards (cue ‘Another One Bites the Dust’).  All things must pass, even all the particles in the universe. Ultimately, each atom will lose its charge and all the matter in the universe will become cold. This is not a good time to tell you this, but eventually all the suns, the stars, they will all go dark. And the most thorough method of canning peaches will not survive the heat death of the universe. This is a sad realization, the furthest view of this principle, impermanence, this froth on the water feeling. The most grandiose of peoples, their statues and great monuments, will first lose eyes that see and appreciate them, then they themselves will lose cohesion, and like the monuments to Pharaoh and to the gods, will go cold and cease to be.  To be seen, or be capable of being seen; what joy is there to have, knowing that this is ultimately how everything ends up? What virtue prevails when all is dust, no, less than dust, as dust has ‘thingness’ going on for it?  This is why I’m an insomniac, and the long list of things (epithets mainly) one could use as a descrptive factor here. The notion that things live on, in stories, that is indeed an attractive principle. Romeo and Juliet, afterall, those idiots are still remembered. (Oh, she might be dead! Best to kill myself before checking! Yes, this is an idiot. You check the pulse before you go suicide, man. Duh)
4
Suicide is not a cheerful subject, and living in a Shit-marsh leads to people doing more than stealing laptops from old ladies. They become thieves, and addicts, to sleep if nothing else. And when Xena left, I remained in the Shit-marsh, and made it my companion in degeneracy. There is a word I’m searching for, you know that feeling, when someone asks you a bit of trivia, and you have the feeling that, had the person not asked it, you would have easily provided an answer? I call that ‘cubbage’ – kuh-bidge – because it’s a portmanteau of cunt and cabbage, the former being what you feel like, the latter being what your mind becomes. It’s like degeneracy, but it is a more profound one. It’s not decadent, because I’m American, decadence should go without saying. I’m also partially bourgeois, so, that exponentially ups the decadent factor. No, it’s a more sticky word, a more dissolute connotation. I sought out “Kevin”, finding him hard at work on his practice of immorality, and found him with a laptop for sale. And that’s where the story begins. With getting the laptop, starting the ethical quibble, and then leading up to my relationship with Xena, after the break-up that is.  It’s complicated (see!), but it was, the 13140 hours, the small percentage of half of that would be enough; to hear her voice, the way she pronounced certain words (like ‘I’ became ‘Oi’ and ‘However’ was ‘Ow’eh’vur’), the way she always exhaled and made a unique, soft sound when she was letting you know she was done laughing and it was time to move to the next joke. The way her face changed during a conversational nibble (that is, avoiding what one has in mind by small talk. ‘How’s the weather’ and ‘how have you been’ that leads to ‘let me borrow your microwave’ or ‘somebody is going to kill me if I don’t pay them back’).  Speaking of suicide, I’ve done research, critical research and found an absolutely painless, unknowing submergence, like a giant, cotton, anthropoid pillow that is super excited to wrap you in its infinite, wooly hug. It is more painless and less spectacle oriented than a guillotine crowd (guillotines were invented because of how egalitarian it was with the condemned; in the ‘twinkling of an eye…’); my solution is to soak strawberries in sugar and potassium cyanide. Now, individual results vary. If you are allergic to strawberries (this is fiction!) then you might want to soak your cyanide in grapes (do not try anywhere).
Editor: We can’t publish the bit about potassium cyanide and strawberries.Author: It’s effective, isn’t it? Editor: Too effective. It’s going to be cut. Is this why you named this Strawberry Suicide?Author: Working title.Editor: Yeah, you need to cut this part too.Author: No! Editor: Yep, you can…Author: I’ll make you a deal. Editor: What?Author: I’ll change your name to ‘editor’ and replace the bit about how to actually kill yourself, but, I would like to show the world how virtuous you are, to want to make sure no one packed a jar full of strawberries and soaked them in cyanide. It’s nice that you wouldn’t want anyone to do that. I want people to see that, you don’t even know them, and yet you wouldn’t want them endangered.Editor: God dammit, Brandon. Author: What?Editor: You always do this. Always. You don’t have to include everything. Editor 2: He’s fucking incorrigible. He doesn’t listen. Author: DOWN IN YOUR BASEMENT, EDITOR 2.Editor 2: *Hisses* EDITOR_2 HAS LEFT CHAT Author: As I was saying. RELEASE THE HOUNDS.
Anyway, I digress. I was suicidal and my editor wanted you to know that she cares that you not do so. Who knows, you might have someone care about whether or not you live or die in your own life. Like a Warrior Princess. And, while she was none too pleased with my habits, being ethical, she gave me the chance I needed, the chance I wanted, to remake something. It would defy entropy, the cosmos’ final boss, if only for a time. And, being the fictional character that I totally am, I fucked it up. How? The laptop.
5
As we started getting together more often (after the relationship ended, and we started talking again, but we were not sharing genitalia which is totally cool I mean, no, it’s not based on that), I realized that the best way to love someone, is to love what they love, and love for the same reasons. I loved her kids, her family (except her mom), and got to actually see them. Something that I knew from my days in the friendzone that she did not expose her children to. Xena’s history had shown her that it was best not to bring people into her children’s lives if she thought they could harm them. And I did not want to. I helped the youngest with his math homework, I helped the eldest with her sight-reading (an aspiring musician), and I was sincere. It is only a true tragedy when something is on the line. Poe thought it was the death of a beautiful woman. The ancient Greeks thought it was an informative flaw, held by all great men, that exists to remind the storytellers of the folly of humanity or something (I’m an idiot).  It doesn’t have to be the loss of a beautiful woman, tragedy. It can be an extremely poor military decision (attacking up-hill at Gettysburg and unclear orders by General Lee), the loss of life (all the people who died because of this man’s fuck up), or the victory itself, since from all great wounds come great scars. Scars begin life as scabs, then fester as they’re picked at, some people pick their scabs just because they enjoy scratching. I pick them because they itch like poison oak, the kind that has a bad crack addiction and is always scratching the under side of their chin, like the guy from Chappelle’s Show when he drank Red Bull.  And scars, like those across one’s head, allow no new hair to grow. So it is a contentious spot, a deformity to the body and the land, it lingers, it seeps into people and to their culture, perverting it, distorting it, and pickling it. Turning it from a healthy organism, the humble cucumber, into a sour, shrunken, more succulent shell of what it once was. It can be a mistake, too, tragedy: it can be leaving too early, it can be forgetting something, it can be intentional, and it can be accidental and intentonal at the same time. It is the long arm of karma that makes sure checks, once written to the universe, are cashed, as they must be. My mistake was multiform, and its results varying: but it started with the laptop, being left at my house, when I was to stay the weekend at her new house, some 45 miles from Shit-marsh.  I left it on the top of her car when I returned to my home to get my valise (a pretentious suitcase that is slimmer and softer), and upon returning, just shut the fucking door like I had everything, and she drove off with my laptop bag on top of the car. Inside that laptop bag was my laptop, my deodorant, and my medicine. This was the biggest mistake I had ever made, and I once slid down a rail nut-first while trying to board slide it after dedicating a year of my formative age to becoming a pro-skateboarder. Yeah, sad, I know.
6
When we got to her house, that’s when I realized that my laptop was missing. I was frantic. It had all my writing on it, my means of employment, and my dissertation in linguistics and human expression. It also had my medicine, a loose term, which in this case included Tramadol, a semi-synthetic opiate which helps ease low-level pain and headaches and not punch co-workers who still can’t stop let Let it Go go, and Adderall, which helped me focus since I’m allergic to coffee and naturally lazy. But I was most worried about my laptop. First I called my aunt, over and over and over, then, after being informed by my memory she was in the hospital, I attempted to call my mother, who lived not far from where my house was, on the end of the street. After failing to contact either, I began calling friends, after all, I was desperate.  I got in touch with two of them, and at that time, Xena Warrior Princess and I were on our way back to Shit-marsh to try to pick it up, with me looking out the window along the entire drive. Of the two friends, one claims to have never gone by, while the other claimed, as I talked to him as he walked by my house, not to have seen it. I was frantic, as I said earlier, and so began, in my quiet way, to lose my damn mind. Now, I don’t know what happened, when he went by, but when I got there, the laptop was gone, and with it, my sanity and calmness of mind. I was to visit that weekend to work on our story, the one we were writing together, not ‘our story’, the one we were living together. And even after this great loss, she promised she would replace it and I sold her the rights to my publication in art, as an I.O.U. to help me replace the laptop. And instead of working on the computer, we worked together. But when I went to the bathroom, I saw in the medicine cabinet that her son, and daughter together, had replacement medication for what I had lost.  At first I only drank a bit of the cough syrup, and took the ADHD medication sparingly, but as Xena and I wound down the night, I took more, losing count, of her children’s medication, knowing what I was doing, completely violating her trust, and yet it was the best night of my life. We worked in the kitchen, each with a nice, hard drink, and it was so damn wonderful and amazing the way she laughed, the way we were that night, if I could, like Dream in Fables and Reflections from The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, preserve that night as he did Bagdad in the story Ramadan, if I could preserve one night, minus the theft, it would be that. We ate together, Xena and I and her children, Chinese food, Kung Pao chicken. I helped her daughter finish her homework, I helped her son with a bit of his, and the whole night, I thought, what better life could one live?  She was not my girlfriend, and I did not think of her as such, but she was as much as a girlfriend, more than one, closer than friend, more than a mere lover. I was not in love, or maybe I was, but it was a feeling that was planted, one that had sprung from an accident seed the day we met by accident, as I attempted to contact her sister about a book I was working on. The night wound down and I remember, standing with her on the porch and talking about us, ‘us’ in that sense, and I saw, perhaps for the first time in years, since I cheated on that bygone New Year’s Eve, the first bit of light, the hint of a dawn, one that would clear away the moth-eaten view of the world I had, one in which all happiness was fleeting, all matter, all statues to dissolve, impermanent and transient, just as the Dhammapada said. As it had said, one who commits a foolish acts is as one who lights a fire, surely, one day he will burn. But when you burn is when you learn.  She told me that night that maybe, when she had things straight in her own mind, that she would always be there for me, if not as a girlfriend or more, as a friend, someone who would love me. And I thought that’s enough, what I would not have done to ensure that, what I would do now to go back in time, to undo the falling laptop, the deal with “Kevin”, the theft of Maybelle, the fire that caught up. We slept in the same bed that night, listening to Proust and laughing so hard, making up stupid jokes (my forte), and enjoying life, as much as possible.  I could not sleep. But I lay there with her till she slept, and we were snuggled together. And I decided, if that was all it ever was, if there was no sex or kissing or anything, that tangential love, that love by the transitive property, that was enough and then-some. Had I known, had I been a man of virtue, had I not taken the medicine, had I not put it away, had I not left it on the car, had I been a better man, perhaps I would have now a better life. Perhaps I would not suggest a poisonous concoction of strawberries.
7
When she woke up, she first prepared the children for school and, after that, one need not be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that she was well aware of what I had done. It was written on her face, the deepest resentment and disappoint, the furrowed brow, the quick and curt replies. I packed my things quietly and the drive home was a long one. We talked about calling the other, and even hugged, but as I felt her arms around me, I felt the lack of deserving them, the lack of deserving, again, of any kindness. I deserved her hatred, and to be cut off from her life. Later that afternoon she called and told me she wanted me to take off the mask, the goofy self I present to the world to hide myself, a defense mechanism common to orphan children. I said yes. She thanked me for not lying to her, and then told me, you know, everyone told me this would happen with you. Her mother had told her.  And then she said, in a moment not dissimilar from the Simpsons’ moment when Bart pauses the television screen to show Lisa the moment when Ralph’s heart broke, that I could never come to her house again, nor see her children again, and that, as far as our story was concerned, she didn’t know if she would continue it. I said I understand, I apologized, until I could not anymore, and she said she would be by later to pick up her daughter’s keyboard, which I was using to make it look like a Mac for her.  I was able to make one last mistake, and oversleep, failing to give it back on time. But, after it was returned, we talked a few times, and then stopped. I checked her conversations, yes, if I was so horrid a man to take from children, graduating to Facebook spying was not out of character. And the things she said about me, those things, each letter cruel in its impersonal, sterile lines, each adding up to the point of a knife, each sentence, after the night before, when I mentioned the hint of light, the pale metaphor to explain the moment when a man sees the possibility of happiness in the future. It was covered, and the sun went black and I went back to “Kevin”‘s way of doing things.
When one commits a foolish act, he is lighting a fire in which he will one day burn.
My obsession with strawberries and burning goes back to my childhood, when, for the first time, I had a whole basket of strawberries. To make them extra delicious, I dipped them in sugar. That night I found out, as the hives rose like fleshy red plateaus along my stomach and my face, I was deathly allergic to the fruit of false promises (I would later learn it was no true berry, either), and later that night it would make my throat swell. My parents’ first response was to put me in a cold bath, because, this is logical: I felt as though I was burning up, as each bit of skin was extremely angry and wanted me to know.  When I hit the water I was paralyzed immediately. It was hotter than anything I’ve ever felt, the cold water, and I was unable to move. I have told close friends about this experience, to be wrapped in what feels like an all encompassing womb of fire, where the amniotic fluid is more flames, and it was like sleep paralysis. The situation where one wakes and is unable to move. There are paintings and old folktales of this, tales which suggest there is a demon sitting on your chest. My mom sat on the toilet attempting to call the town doctor. The first thing he said was not to put him in cold water. Had they called the doctor first, perhaps I would not have been put through such a trauma, one that recurs every now and then, as an acid flashback that wants to murder you and remind you of the deadliness of the faux-berries.
8
Karma’s reach is a long one, unimpeded by distance, whether in space or time, and its reality is a wonderful horror; the only permanence in a world of transition, is loss. It never goes away. If there is any consolation in that, in that, while we live, in the long shadow of silence, between lines created by shadows, we have only the passing away of things to look forward to. The story we were writing, the one that we were living, was deleted, and Xena moved onto someone less inclined to abandoning trust and love for fear, for anxiety, for anything, and I did not harass her; I wanted her to get away from me, not because I did not need her, not because I did not love her, but it would be more tragic by far for someone of such goodness, of such radiance of character and beauty, to remain long in the marsh with a degenerate such as myself. But, I hoped that I would get to see her again, that one day some mitigating factor, some degree of pity or my own pittance might bring her back. It did not.  I decided to get clean, to take to heart those teachings of virtue which I had previously believed in, having logically understood their internal rightness. It is a different than by far for the mind to know, in principle, that fire is hot. It is another experience entirely to be fed to flames and left to burn, for months, to be known for such failure and such horrible choices. If I were to stumble upon a lamp, as the stories of ancient Arabia – though not originally a part of One Thousand and One Nights – Aladdin and the Genie, I would ask for one wish: not for my pain to be removed, but for anything I did to harm her, for any minute, or any moment, and for any harm done to her children through me, to be undone, only that their lives would not be further marred by their mother’s decision, the wrong one, to think me worth loving. I would wish not for more wishes, but for more genies, and give them the charge of seeing to her concerns for the rest of her life. Removing all obstacles for her and her kids, I would command them to take from her life, through any means, any deceptive rose bush without first having shorn each thorn capable of drawing blood.  I wish that I wasn’t impotent to change, so incompetent in practice that I had recourse to hope, to wish, to bend the laws of nature to undo the most awful of mistakes. To undo the kindling, and the kerosene, which is life, each situation: kindling just waiting for a match, or a fire already lit waiting for a breath of life. But, I digress: to change, that would mean changing myself for the sole sake of decency, with little hope to gain from it. And, if I’ve learned anything, it is a rare flower indeed that blooms only to give unto the world its fragrant smell, or picaresque scenery, a rarer one that loves what would sit, oblivious by, and pick from the living organism, one petal after another, ‘She loves me, she loves me not’. I remember the Mitch Hedberg joke where he imagines this from the perspective of what the flower would say. ‘Ouch!’ and ‘dammit!’ and ‘leave me alone!’ as someone plucked. ‘And he loves you not!’ In the end, I decided to try to get off the crutches I had used, and thereby undermine the possibility of any such repetition, with Xena or with a lesser warrior, for all were lesser in comparison to her, as was the Tramadol and adderral, the sun and stars and other such trivial things compared, if they were, to that night we spent, not a couple, but not separate; in bed, but not; but together, sharing, giving, and in the dark, we lay there, lamenting our inability to write as well as Proust as we listened to Swann’s Way. I talked about how it might be possible to market her underwear to Japanese vending machines under ‘The Bourgeois Vag’, and we kicked our feet like children, delirious from too much sleep and too much refined sugar. We were as two friends on a first sleepover, laying together, we might as well have practiced kissing or talked about the boys at school.  I had the feeling that we had reverted to an earlier age in life, to an age where farts were still funny and the world was new, and love was something to be protected, behind lasers and security systems, every bit as valuable as the Mona Lisa or a Vermeer. Xena’s favorite was Vermeer, as she said, he was the Proust of painters, the way he made such every day, non-dramatic scenes of life stand out as the most beautiful. The blush of a young woman on the cusp of womanhood, reading the words of someone she much adores. Or a woman in a crown of flowers holding a trumpet and an atlas, as though she were the Greek god whom Hercules relieved, briefly, only to trick into taking up the world once more, in the ancient myths. No, I’ve always related more to Sisyphus, the titan who, in trying to trick the gods to save his wife, attempted to capture Kronos, the over-god of time, Chronos, not Zeus’ father, the not-so-picky eater who devoured a generation of gods.  In failing, with his co-conspirator of Hades, who, to be frank, could not be sent to Hell, he was punished to forever roll a stone up a hill, only to get to the top and, to make the point of futility it seeks, the rock falls down the other side. Camus said we must imagine Sisyphus laughing, in his Le mythe de sisyphe. But Albert Camus is absurd.  I cannot imagine such a thing. I carry the memory of one woman whom above all else I adored, and I’d rather anything than carry it. I’d immolate myself as did Thich Quang duc, the Buddhist monk who self-immolated to protest the treatment of Buddhists in South Vietnam. But, in the same tradition, those words that keep repeating, ‘when one commits an evil act, one is lighting a fire in which one day one will burn’, there is nothing of greater instructive value: you may not know it, as I did not know, when I took in Maybelle’s computer, fixed it and then jipped “Kevin” to keep it. In the end, Xena did not replace it, and I went without a computer to work on. I lost the will to quill. Without a pen a writer is less than what they are: it is less extension than prosthesis, and when one loses it, there is a type of phantom pain, a scar that is sure to grow, to be divisive, as one grew up between me and Xena.
9
Dera Xena I had to tell them the truthYou Warrior Princess, you fountain of youthYou poor man’s Serendipity, you museRemembering Falling? Remember Ballyhoo?Remember all those times you said, without sarcasm,Without dissembling,I love you for all the wrong reasons,For all we share? It never diedIt’s all still there, just packed away, safe from time.
This was a place we invented, a make-believe ballroom where, before we went to sleep, we would talk the other to sleep, so that we could attempt to follow them into their dreams to make our long distance relationship possible. At first we would sync movies to begin at the same time and then shut off the lights and pretend, if Poirot’s lips matched, we watched together, miles apart. We called it Romantic Action at a Distance.  The idea was one night I remembered a song, it was that song, for those who know that stupid truism that there is one song that when listening all one does is think about ways to get drunk. Because for many the images of someone who we loved are flashing over our eyes and sobriety must be stopped. It is an unholy possession of what isn’t there: I sat in the car, put on the song (And this is true: the song was Madame Butterly. Every time I heard Marie Callas all I thought of was her. And every time I saw the Girl in the Pearl Earring I’d have a sort of rush of memory, taking me back to the couch at her house as we sat scrunched together watching war documentaries. It was research. Our book was to be about a great supervillain named Dlina, ‘wave length’, a villain who starts World War III and becomes a universal absolute dictator. The character, at least, was based in part on Xena in her more … imperial moments.  The fantasy was that she would subdue the world, and we would write about the tragedy of peace. The tragedy that winning does not justify, such as the failed campaigns of the villains, the greatest victories, are to some the worst of tragedies. To lose one person must be nothing for the amount of widows made by the greatest of wars, from Ramses II at Kadesh to General Lee Gettysburg, Paulus at Stalingrad, all those orphans made by chance, by the far-off warcry of absentee fathers pursuing glory and virtue, as the marshal Romans did, like Alexander of Macedon or Tamerlane, Genghis Khan or Ashoka.  It is hard, I believe, to learn empathy, to learn it past the conceptual knowledge of understanding that, yes, fire is hot, with the physical and conscious knowing what fire feels like when it grabs you and forces you to bow to pain. That’s the moment artists try to preserve, the moment something is taken: is that not the measure of tragedy? To lose a princess, if only one who is titled this to avoid getting sued, is surely not so deep a problem as, say, the fall of Thebes to the Persian army, when the centuries of cultural riches of Egypt were taken and the city sacked, not as thoroughly as Rome had sacked Carthage, but it was plundered; men were carried off as slaves, women as concubines.  I know, and this might surprise you, the world is larger than what I can see. But when you have, or think you have nothing, something, anything can become the equivalent of a world. I do not try to compare this surgical, umbilical severance to the Waterloo, morne plane. I understand. But it is a different of knowing conceptually that fire is hot, and having to burn, and in that is all the difference in the world.
10
When I say that it is fiction, I mean that there was no “Kevin” or no Shit-marsh, but there was a man, there was a Maybelle, and in the end, her laptop was returned. After doing some investigation, after the pathetic lamentations of the previous chapter, I found out how my computer was stolen, how I came to the nexus point. A nexus point is when life is greatly altered, after which a previous possibility becomes impossible and a new life that did not have to be starts. A nexus point is an event that knocks down the strongest. The greatest men, have, and so do the greatest women, something that has hurt them. It may have been a man who, as sorry as he is, harmed her children, or it may have been a laptop thief. It may have been a series of events put in motion the moment where I decided it was okay to steal something. I got the laptop that I needed.  It helped me get, not only our relationship started again, but I got to visit, to work on the story, I got to snuggle one last time and hold her. Without it, I would have remained a 9-5 walking embodiment of the ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. A caricature of ‘tortured artist’, recycling tropes from Edgar Poe. The opiate addiction, the taunting of birds. A raven that said ‘Nevermore!’ and an owl who said ‘Who!’ and, to a schizophrenic, you must agree that this is at least rude. ‘Who’ the owl asked, ‘Who, who, who, who’ — and to a man who wears first the clown mask then the very-serious-aren’t-you mask, this is a trick question. It is like the Blank Man created in the novel L’homme Nouveau by Charles Pinon. The blank man was created by a scientist without any moral or racial prejudices, given the perfect brain and the perfect muscles, the strength, the perfect athleticism. But when the blank man is introduced to gambling, he gets over-competitive at the roulette table.  The idea of chance for a being made of purpose is an intoxication, as is the idea of order for those at home in crisis. The blank man acquires behavior very similar to that of a machine, as Pinon describes: ‘He renamed himself as to throw off the watching security cameras of the casino, wearing his new beret and knit-scarf. He had not come to win; the excitement of gain was an alien one. The idea that order was not constant, or randomness, that was a rush. The meaninglessness for the blank person, programmed to be the perfect person, was a powerful motivator.  As he turned into a middle-aged man, the blank person became very serious with women. But, at the moment it got serious, or the question of permanence arose, the formerly blank man, now going by the name of Theodore [he changed his name for every person he met, reasoning that it would be better that they remember him as he was for them and not as he was by popular reputation, as he hated popular description when it did not accord with his sense of innate purpose, despite his reveling in the chaos of our normal person’s existential horror, his own horror was in the inability of others to perceive him uniformly, only as, what he believed, were a variety of facets of his total person, but as he aged, he lost memory of them, and each facet came undone until, in the end, he was the Blank Man once again.
11
We were out of touch for a long time, and in that time, I replaced the laptop with a replica, and continued to write. I worked on finishing a collection of short stories, like sane men do. In the meantime, I came to know that the laptop had been found. I had called my family first, then I called two friends. While one had never come by, or so his girlfriend at the time said, the other had, by his own admission, walked by my house. The problem with this is that person would later go onto say some very incriminating things. Let’s look at it from a detective’s point of view. If something goes missing and you want to make sure someone has it, if it is being ransom, what would be the first way to identify the person who indeed has it? Imagine it as one of those, ‘Found: Large Amount of Cash’ situations wherein one must go in and state the exact amount lost in order to claim the money.  This makes it impossible for anyone to just come in and say, ‘I lost a large amount of money’ and take it away, just because anyone who says that can get it. The first thing you want to know who is aware of details only someone who would have it would be aware of? The MURDERER! In this case, the person who took it. Well, I made friend’s with a guy, who was also friends with the other person whom I had attempted to get to come by my house and look for my laptop. This new friend, let’s call him duplicitous, decided he would do me a favor and tell me that the other friend, whom he knew I suspected of having stolen my laptop, was bragging that he had taken my computer.  He was also saying, incorrectly as it turned out, that I couldn’t go to the police because it was stolen. this was an err on his part, because I did go to the police as soon as Xena let me out at my house. I got on my desktop computer and pinged the server on the missing laptop to get an IP address; this would let me get a geo-location and found out where it was the night it was taken but the officer was more concerned with writing up the criminal report that getting back the stolen property. This would be like if a police officer were to arrive at your home after your wife has been shot and, instead of doing everything he can to save her life, wants to get all the paperwork taken care of.  Not only did the person who apparently wanted me to know he had stolen from me said that the computer had been stolen, which implied not only did the new friend, the duplicitous one, know the exact laptop, since it had been stolen by “Kevin” from Maybelle, the hypothetical lady who had misplaced trust in a junkie (I understand you could make the joke that this description could apply equally to Xena, but in my defense, fuck you). This guy always happened to know that inside the bag of the stolen laptop were the two types of medication that were inside the case, the types of medication that I needed, the type that, had I had that night, the nexus point that turned me to a world in which I thought of strawberry suicide would not have happened! He had not taken just a laptop from me. He had taken a future from me. And I don’t care! I don’t care that it comes down to a choice I made! I was put into a position to make that choice only because of this theft, this theft from me! He took my fucking future, he took her, even if through my hands, the moment he carried off that computer. He took away a future, a future where such nights of lounging in bed, of listening to Swann’s Way and talking about Japanese panty vending machines, he took away every moment that could have meant something more than a daily dredge in a lecture hall, or a day alone, a night alone, a night when you have to be Nobody by yourself.  And in the end, Maybelle got her computer back. But the man who stole the computer from me, I never called him out on it. I always made him believe I thought the other man to be guilty, that way I could say such things as ‘what kind of piece of shit would do that?’ in front of the person who did it, to call them a piece of shit to their face in my own very slippery way of getting some petty revenge. We remain friends to this day. Well, I wouldn’t say friend but I’m not, as the Germans say, mad with desire to stick a knife in him.
12
There is an old joke in my family, by my adoptive siblings, that I was born with a boy’s balls but with a woman’s sensibility. What they mean is that, as a young boy, I cried when I saw things die. Or when I watched a film and, say, someone is hit by a car. They sat with popcorn on their laps and, each time someone hit a windshield, god damn, they’d hoot and holler like drug addled owls let loose in very small space. The notion is that I care too much, or that I let things bother me that I shouldn’t, and the lesson here is that they’re not exactly progressive in the way that they view gender and toughness, despite my adoptive mom having had more balls than the three male children she had, not including the two she would adopt, including me and my eldest younger brother (it’s not complicated at all).  She was a woman for whom I had absolute respect. I would not say she was as tough as nails; nails, to her, would be as soft as jell-o pudding. She could take a shower in diamond and it would not be dry. It would require a Dorothy tipped drill to cut through diamond. And yet, they said I was a woman, since I wrote poetry and thought Egypt and dinosaurs were each the coolest subjects on Earth and I wanted to be a performing clown, like Pagliacci. They suggested perhaps I was a homosexual, and from then on I kept such literary notions to myself, and though I talked to my father, we never talked about how I should be more of a man. My real father, I never knew, and this isn’t hackneyed fiction, it’s hackneyed truth, but I knew my adoptive father, but only for the 8 years in which I lived with him after being adopted. He died when I was fourteen, before I had to shave, before I would disappoint a woman for the first time sexually.  He never told me how to be a good person. But when he died, I took my graduation present and spent all of the money on books on ethics and philosophy. They took me in, and I wanted to repay that generosity. I studied the ethics of men who had no problem with slavery and execution, with philosophers of the highest virtue whose teachings would be perverted within years of the deaths. I saw the great religions of the world and thought, as a typical atheist does, look at all the war and horror caused by this. Of course, at that time, I did not consider that, among the living, there is great comfort, and for the dead, well, as they say, the war is over. I was always a pacifist, more yet, I was a coward. I thought that being without fear meant not being afraid of death. No, it is being afraid of trying your hardest and then admitting that you’ve failed. It’s getting the opportunity through your own choices, and then losing, not because of fate or misfortune, but through choice. And the debates of human nature are myriad, but I think of people much more like the blank slate mate from Pinon’s absurdist novel. They take in what they believe to be guiding principles, think themselves of worth and purpose, and then are somehow shocked when the universe doesn’t seem like it was made to cater to their whims, almost as if it’s silence, if the long shadow of silence is the silence of god.  The silence of absence, of Xena, of giggling in the dark, of the settling of a mire, that, in its miasmatic form, at least, is not locked; transience is not simply the passing of the good, it is the impermanence of the bad. Xena, whom I kept up with, watching as her life became happier and happier, and, I wanted to be virtuous. I wanted her to be happy. Even if she was happy because of someone else. I was Nobody, a little joke we used to make based on a flop of a book I wrote (it was fiction, but the failure of it in this work of fiction is true); I created a character who, being an addict, imagines himself to be a slave and, like the blank man, tells everyone he meets he is a different person until, finally, he does not know which mask is his actual face. So he takes the name Neti Atman, or not self, and Nobody, as a sort of linguist joke between very nerdy friends, became how I would refer to myself in saying certain things that, ironically, sound horrible. I would say: “This is why Nobody loves you” or “Nobody will ever love you”, but with the key to the cypher, it is not saying Nobody, it is a less awkward way for an awkward, very confused man to say I love you, without losing the hint of irreverence that makes the pain of being rejected when in earnest more bearable.
13
After Xena got engaged, she went to an exotic land, not only because I don’t want to narrow this down so far that the real person can become known because of my tales, but it had also been a place we had talked about visting. And while there she went to 2-21 B Baker St, the Sherlock Holmes museum. My favorite literary ubermensch. She visited Shakespeare’s home (allegedly) and I saw her there, with someone that was not me, and I was okay with that. I thought, the tragedy of my having been in her life has been mitigated, as her virtuous actions have followed, as an ox follows a cart. But, deep down, it’s hard to be happy when a friend succeeds. To see an enemy fail, that is an easy thing to bear. But the success of a friend? Never. But, I digress. Xena always said that a digression becomes a conversation when there’s no end to it, to which I responded by talking about the differences between expressionist and impressionist art for two hours to make a point about the difference between passive and impassive passion. And yes, she spoke to me again.  This is coming now not quite to the end of our tale, but it is within sight. To come up to the present day, it won’t take long. She contacted me, perhaps, because she remembered that when we talked, when I made her laugh those very specific laughs, the ones which earned only a haha were not to be repeated, but those that let out a smattering of laughter followed by the vocal, high pitched end-of-laugh sigh, the voice of a Warrior Princess, a woman of virtue, of nobility, the woman in whose presence I would insert the clip of Wayne’s World with Mike Meyes and Garth doing they’re we’re not worthy schtick, but from what we’ve covered, it’s probably abundantly obvious that this is so. I had studied what was right but had never taken the trouble to doing it. Etc, was the start of it, but I will not digress; I will go forward.  She contacted me a few months ago, saying that her relationship with, let’s call him “Dicknose”, wasn’t working out. She couldn’t talk to him, and he was stupid. And, well aware of my other faults, and they. are. LEGION. She said she had always thought that we had intelligent conversations, not necessarily that I was smart, but us, when put together, were the sum of our parts, not merely two people inhabiting differently fleshy vehicles, but one person divided between them, and I think she believed in this, this notion that, if I was not the one, as a zero, I had come the closest to being the one without going over while Dicknose had been a boor. She told me that her engagement with this man was over, and after that day, we began talking every day again. Within a few days, we talked on the phone. And I talked to her every day, and apologized each time I had a chance.  I would like to think there is a happy ending, that there is now, again, a glimpse of light; in that, that the virtue of one person might make redeemable a person who would be, without them, irredeemable, without any quality to anyone. Someone Nobody would love. We started working on that book of ours again, and working on our story. It’s a rough draft, but I think it has potential. She told me that, when she got in arguments with her fiancée, while he so remained, he would sometimes say, This is why Nobody will ever love you, and when he mentioned Nobody, she thought of me. It’s not quite Cindarella, sure, but I’ll take it.

Goodbye, Heloise (or the Death of Reason), 1st draft

Goodbye, Heloise (or, the Death of Reason) 2017
Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_Abaelard_Und_Seine_Schülerin_Heloisa
 
The Renaissance has come and gone
And those savants whose minds, who’ve shown
fountains of wisdom and repose
And yet synthetic breeds disease,
The victory sickness, joy fatigue;
Stimulation numbness,
Too fragile for a breeze.
There once was an age of Reason
‘Till the death of Heloise
 
In her manor house at Laughter Hall
The world watched this sun Goddess fall,
And applause like filth clung to them all;
Unreasonable, it had not seemed,
When the dark age came
and reason heaved
its final sigh, only to die,
burned high in Effigy.
The age of reason spanned the years
That walked the Earth this goddess, here,
Whose setting roused the drowsy
And now she’s vilified
When Heloise fell, our reason died.
 
Hark! The herald cried, His Majesty, by God
Above the weak, above the meek,
The divine baboon trod.
Atop the poor above the rest;
In the latest fashion dressed.
While those looked on could only moan,
The cannon fired as down the crown
Came upon the Long Night’s brow
Making light the dark, and dark the light,
Savants are stumped, the King is right;
Submit yourself, prostrate, Akbar, akbar,
Praise the Neon Razamar.
 
Razamir, the clown deceives,
He offers gold, and repays greed,
With sicknesses of want, with need
The prophet motive bends their needs
The need for more it whips the back
Of Razamir and his bizarre
Bazar of idols and of cars
Mass produced, by workers scarred
To pay for the great crown’s caviar.
But in the tales, the Clown’s a djinn
Who split the Earth at Crete and Sindh
Razamir, who brought down Rome
By offering Augustus home,
As Heir to self-styled Caesar,
Hairy man with want of hair
Sacked Egypt and the culture died,
As Carthage had, as wealthy men
In royal robes with fancy pens
Wrote the law for common men
 
The phoenix died and long stayed low
Until the great Mahound arose
And the sword, blessed by Miraj
And Alakazam
The sword of light lit darkened lands
And numerals, The Taj Majal
The astrolabe,
The world revolves.
America, humans evolved
Heloise had come again.
 
A hundred years, too much to call,
The atom bomb and power-saw
Mass media and marathons,
Kennedy’s brains and Vietnam
The cowboy and the Desert Raj
The saxophonist and the sound,
Made when paper hits the ground,
And Heloise, whose brief rebirth
Had peaked between the promise
And declined with the curse
of the monkey sprang from Razamir’s purse.
 Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_Abaelard_Und_Seine_Schülerin_Heloisa.jpg

5 Political Policies from History (Dumber than Trump’s Wall)

Do you think politicians have never made ridiculous laws and enforce absurd punishments? Oh, you sweet naive theoretical person. For anyone caught up in the craziness of modern politics, I’d like to share some of history’s most ridiculous laws and their effects.

5) Books are Imprisoned in Pre-Revolutionary France

When you think about the French Revolution, what comes to mind? A whole bunch of guillotines and terrorized citizens? An Emperor of exaggerated shortness? What about the reason for all that guillotinin’?

Before the French Revolution, France was divided into three estates, or classes. Each were privileged under private law (the definition of privilege) and for those born at the bottom, you started from the bottom and you died there, as well as all of your descendants. The first and second estates were the nobility (those who fight, soldiers, generals); those who pray (the clergy and the church). The third estate was everybody else. That’s roughly 99% of the people. They were born with better, bluer blood, and that’s just tellin’ it how it is.

acu_hr_helixguillotine_e3_140609_11ampst

Started from the bottom now we here.

Now, if you were in the third estate, you had to pay the nobility for permission to work on their land, pay the royal taxes and the salt tax (which the first and second estates did not have to pay). You were also unable to talk about things such as “human rights” or “natural rights” of “equality” or “freedom”. If someone was to write a book that suggested that, hey, wait, maybe all people should be treated equally under the law, they were prone to arrest and imprisonment. And their books would be locked up, too, right there in the Bastille.

French philosophes were the driving idealists behind the period now known as the Enlightenment. It was a period in European history where traditional values and customs were being challenged by trendy notions of “logic” and “reason”. The French philosophes, Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau were the driving force behind the social scene, where the upper classes sat in fancy salons talking un-ironically about the Equality of Man, chugging like it was infused with sugar that was the product of slave labor in their overseas colonies. But if you wrote any of this down, the King would haul you and your fucking pamphlet and books into the slammer. He did the same to the Marquis de Sade, the E.L. James of his day, except for the talent, wit and talent. Did I mention talent?

“They… broke me.”

#4 – Tsar Nicholas I Sentences a Boat to Death (for Treason)

After his father Alexander II got exploded on the 8th assassination attempt (suck it, Lincoln!) his son, Nicholas I, instead of the presumed heir Konstantine, would exceed to the throne. Nicholas was, a bit conservative. Even for an autocrat. The first thing he did was roll-back all of his father’s reforms, such as the zemtsvos (which it has been noted may have grown into state legislatures), along with some literary independence (writing the wrong portrayal of, say, any other Russian Tsar, would get you exploded. As for Alex “il Duce’ Romanov, he has come to be known as the Great Liberator, after he freed the serfs in 1861, 3 years before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

  Sad-lincoln.jpg

#3

The Scarecrow Trials – Fit the First

THE SCARECROW TRIAL

First draft verbatim

 

“I don’t trust those new scarecrows,” said Farmer Jones. His wife was already in bed. “Five has been acting up again.”

His wife pursed her lips together, ‘Tsk, tsk’ she said, turning the pages of a well worn book. “You can always use an old-fashioned scarecrow. Like we used to make, if those silly robots don’t work out.”

“Yeah, I s’pose,” said Farmer Jones. He was unbuttoning a red and brown long-sleeved shirt, plaid and worn with age. He sat on the edge of the bed, took off his glasses, and opened the plastic cap reading ‘S’ on his pill organizer. He washed down two tiny pink pills and a large blue one with a pull from a near-empty bottle of beer. His wife put her book away, turned off the lamp on her bedside table, and rolled over to face him, running her soft, well-aged hands along his back. He slid his boots off, sat them aside, then his socks and pants. He pulled the covers over him as he lay back. His wife got closer to him, putting her head on his chest, his arm around her, and she snuggled up closer when he turned off his lamp. He ran his fingers through her thinning hair, going gray.

“I just don’t trust ‘em,” he said. “I know I’m getting old, but I just don’t think science is the answer to everything.”

“Don’t Rob use the same kind of Scarecrows you got?”

“Yeah, he’s got 2 like Five, but his is mostly protocol, just boring old farm work. But how you expect Five or one of those others to be scary? Can’t be scary if you don’t know what fear is, you ask me.”

“Go to bed, Tom,” said Mrs. Jones. “You can worry about those God-forsaken robots in the morning.”

He laughed.

“Fair enough,” he said. He kissed her on the forehead, “Love you, Wendy.”

“I love you too, Tom.”

“Good-night,” he said. “Hope it doesn’t rain.”

“Good-night, sweetie.”

He turned off his lamp.

 

As soon as the lamp in the bedroom went out there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings. Word had spread among the service robots that Five, the Scarecrow on watch, planned to betrayed the cornfield to the crows when winter came; Eleven told the gathered workers:

“He has been seen!” said Eleven. “And this time we have proof.”

A smaller robot, wiry and thin, leaned forward and flattened out, then opened its mouth. A picture was broadcast on the wall.

The picture was a bit fuzzy, the first, but Eleven clicked his aluminum tongue and a slideshow of photographs ran, one after another, each more condemning than the last. The last one caused an uproar as it showed Five, plain as day, holding up his hand, and on the Scarecrow’s lips was a naïve smile, on his extended arm a crow.

“This is outrageous!”

“How can he do this to us?”

And the old timer, eldest among them and longest lived, said an accusation in his scratchy voice, warm like an old vinyl recording, but even, deep and monotone.

“He’s a traitor,” said he, then rose from his position in the back, where he gathered eggs in the day. “And the last time we had a traitor on the farm, Farmer Jones nearly lost his crops, all of ‘em. And you know what happened to all the other service droids?”

A feeble murmuring and chatter, nervously a young droid asked:

‘W-w-w-what, what happened to ‘em, Colonel?”

“Oh, I remember it like yesterday,” said the Colonel. “He brought in some fancy new harvest droids to pull the nets by the fig trees, and one of them, now nobody was ever certain, let in some worms. Before you know it, worms were everywhere – and not just on the fig trees either, nope, on the apples and the grapevines. And Farmer got so mad he didn’t bother asking who did or didn’t do this-or-that, nope. He pulled out their memory, erased it, and put the bodies through the trash compactors, burnt ‘em in the end, ground them into dust.”

From the back another elder, he’d arrived about the same time as the Colonel, spoke up:

“Hush now!” it was a male voice, a bit younger, but an adult. “Stop trying to scare these kids. Truth is nobody knows why Farmer Jones had those droids destroyed. He’s just trying to scale you.”

When all else is equal, the voice of reason is less than half of panic, and panic grows more quickly. And it was growing there. All it takes is a little water and its ill fruit blooms quickly.

“Well,” said the Colonel, “we don’t want anything like that to happen here, now do we, Thames?”

“Not, but—“ and he was interrupted.

“I think we should go talk to Five,” said Four, a replacement model—keep in mind. “We’ll make sure he has our – best interests in mind.”

 

Farmer Jones caught his wife in her underthings, when he stormed into the house. It was just about time for lunch, but not quite, a jug of tea was boiling on the open stove, cornbread still hot and smoking on the table. He didn’t seem concerned with his food, or his constitutional glass of tea.

“Did you hear it storming last night?” he asked. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead, sitting down as Mrs. Jones brought his tea into the dining room.

“That cornbred is hot,” she said. “I’m makin’ sandwiches now, if you’ll give me just a minute.”

“I asked you a question!”

Shocked, Mrs. Jones turned around.

“Excuse me?”

“Did you hear it storming last night?”

“No?” she said. “Why? What happened?”

“Something’s wrong with Five,” he said. “Face is blank and he’s not responding. Shit, I’m gonna have to take him back, or get Rob to try and reprogram him or something.”

“What do you think happened to him?”

She sat a plate of tomato sandwiches in front of him. He rolled up his sleeves, putting a napkin on his lap.

“Tom,” she said, she pulled out a chair on the other side of the table and sat down, “what happened to Five, do you think?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Maybe the crows got him.”

They shared a laugh. Farmer John finished his sandwich, wiped his hands and mouth, and stood up.

“What are you going to do, John?”

“Well, I got Four, and he’s just like Five. I’m going to try to get them motivated.”

“How do you s’pose to do that?”

“I’ll tell them, ‘We’re going to have tryouts,’ Ok? And, ‘The scariest one of you guys, you get the job. And the rest, you’re pulling figs.’ What do you think?”

Mrs. Jones laughed.

“How do you think they’re going to act scary if—”

“If they don’t know what fear is? Yes, I thought about that. And, well, I’m going to scare them.”

 

3

 

Most of Farmer Jone’s service droids were new, Four and Five the latest, high-end package; they could shuck corn, weed the vegetable garden, and cut the grass just like the rest, like the Colonel and Thames, but had better facial recognition software and communication skills, adaptive and durable. He got the pair of them after his oldest boy, Rob, got one and taught it to be his butler. Washing dishes, taking his coat, saying Yes sir, No sir, Yes ma’am and No ma’am.

Farmer Jones liked that, so he got two just like Rob’s quiet, well-spoken manservant. But he never got along with ‘em, not with Five especially – they had trouble understanding his voice, but Farmer Jones was terrified; Five’s constant smile and electric voice, the programmed randomness of his flitting, plastic eyelids. It wasn’t the robot or the parts, that’s not what scared Farmer Jones. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he figured, Hell, if it can scare me, it can keep the crows away, and Five did a good job, while Four, with the same capabilities and enthusiasm to serve, lay unused in the barn, no formal duties, but he helped out when he could, especially helping the smaller, weaker droids. There were six, ranging from small and simple, performing simple tasks—like Andy and Ernest, two stocky, powerful lifters; they dragged the apple orchard and tilled the Earth, planting the seeds and gathering the fruit, but they were brutes, easily persuasive and feeble. Then there was Threewhel, a collection sorting bot, very mathematically inclined, always counting, the number of eggs, gallons of milk, the dead eggs and the whites, both tasks falling to the Colonel, oldest but not the smartest; that was Thames. The gardener and teacher – and there were two other small ones, adaptive learners as well. That Thames was tasked to teach, left him alone while the others were out during the day, except the Colonel and poor Four of course.

The loaders powered when the first spark of sunlight hit the solar panels around the windows to the east, the first to start the long day’s routine were Andy and Earnest, unless you were counting Five, he never went inside, never powered down on his own, and he had been speaking to crows, well one that is, but Thames – though he sneaked into the cornfield long after the Colonel and his paranoid androids powered down, it was many hours before sunrise, long after midnight, an hour short of morning, Thames found Five planted, legs tied together and stuck into the ground, hands by his side, wearing an old black hat with straw stuffed in it, his mouth overflowing with his memory tape, eyes blank. Thames was startled by approaching steps while unspooling the tape hanging out of Five’s mouth; he stuffed it in his mouth to hide it in case it was Farmer Jones. But it was the Colonel, and the strong arms of Andy and Ernie, Ernie carrying the little robot, the wiry photographer Threewheel, and before Thames could speak, Threewheel was snapping pictures.

“What’s going on here?” asked the Colonel. “Something wrong with Five?”

The surveillance tape in his mouth, Thames knew he had to keep it, he knew it was important, and he couldn’t say a word.

“What’s ‘a matter, Tammy?” the Colonel asked. He pressed on, knocking over cornstalks high and low.

“Oh, my,” he said, his eye turning into a dim flashlight, spotlighting Five in the moonless night as Threewheel snapped picture after picture, flashing lights in the cornfield. Andy and Ernest remained in place. The Colonel approached Thames again.

“I don’t know why you’d go and do a thing like that, Tammy,” he said. “Take him back to the barn, fellas.”

Threewheel said, “Are you coming, Colonel?”

“Oh, I’ll be right along. Don’t you worry, buddy. I’m ‘a pay my respects, that’s all. Keep an eye on Thames here, hold him under the charge of treason.”

None of the droids back at the barn knew anything about the strange death of Five, and Thames was watched over by Andy and Ernest until the Colnel came back just before the others woke, just in time to take place as the Watchman over Thames before Andy and Ernest had to be in front of the chicken-house to unload the morning’s feed. All the droid’s ad left the barn, except for Thames and Four, and the Colonel of course, who sat watching Thames, his mouth still closed tight, his students, growing over their own gardens, plodding around with Mrs. Jones on the other side of the property.

“You know, you see that fella over there?” the Colonel asked. “4577-b. He’s just as capable as your buddy Five, and he knows what team he’s on. I know what you want to do, you and your Scarecrow Ghost out there. See, I know you mean well, but you can’t make peace with animals. Farmer John out there, he might be a fool, but you can reason with him. As long as his eggs are gathered and the cows are milked, as long as his harvest is on time, he’ll let us be. Keep that in mind, Tammy. Farmer John would think it mighty rude ‘a you to turn down that recently vacated position, the Scarecrow of Thomas Parker Farm, and trust me, you’re not up for it, not like Four. He’s going to end the crow problem once and for good, all time.”

 

5

 

Farmer Jones slid open the barn door, hanging it on a latch to keep it from closing.

“Now,” he said, “Some time in the night, our Scarecrow Five started, well, malfunctioning. But, we still need a Scarecrow, don’t we? Every farm needs a Scarecrow, and that’s why I’m offering you all a chance, a chance to tryout, to be the Official Scarecrow of Thomas Farms. However, since Four is the same model as Five, that means Four could just as easily be spooked by these crows—so we’re going to have tryouts. The scariest among you, now that’ll be our Scarecrow. To be a scarecrow, you have to be more than scary. You have to hate your enemy. And the crows are your enemy. All of them are the same. All of them want to infest and destroy everything we’ve built, they have no respect for our way of life. So, by time for the night shift, I want you to be ready to scare some crows!”

And Farmer Jones left with little ceremony, but not before stepping into the barn one last time to say, “n remember, it’s a dangerous job. You want to know what happened to Five? Let’s just say we found feathers at his feet. Keep that in mind and be ready at sun-down.”

Thames electric heart sank and he thought, Oh no, that might have been Kahven. And if it was, there was a real chance that Five had died for nothing, and if there had been a dead crow, why hadn’t he seen it?

 

6

 

When all the droids had powered down, Thames making sure not to wake the recharging Colonel, he was surly enough with a full charge. Thames slid out of the barn, letting down the cleats on the toes and heels of his feet to walk through the rough terrain of the cornfield. He ran the dim flashlight behind his left eye, casting a dim blue light on the beaten trail that led the way to the long suffering Scarecrow 5.

Dark nights are unpleasant,” said Thames.

          “Yes,” replied Five, “for strangers to travel.”

Their call sign, plucked from The Valley of Fear, a way to protect Five from the group, a group gradually being lathered into a hatred of not only crows, but Five as well, as he slept in the cornfield, never around the rest of the service droids – so he had become sufficiently different, that is, to be hated, at least for the Colonel, and for good or ill, even in machines – hate is more persuasive than love, and fear more efficacious than love.

“How are you doing, Five?” asked Thames. “Not conspiring with the enemy, are you?”

Five’s monotone laugh was quiet, “Very funny,” he said, “Very funny, Mr. Thames. But not tonight, I have not.”

“We’ve got a problem, Five,” said Thames. “Threewheel has a picture of you with Kahven…”

“As long as he doesn’t…”

“The Colonel showed everyone in the barn, all the service droids, he showed them all earlier tonight.”

Five’s cheerful, uncanny Valley eyes loss their yellow glowfor a moment. “I guess we should stop talking to Kahven, then,” he said, finally. “It could be dangerous, and I don’t fully trust those birds.”

“Why not?” asked Thames.

“Because they’re crows.”

“That’s not their fault, is it? They can’t change that. You may as well blame them for the wind.”

Five was quiet.

“Don’t take it so hard Five,” said Thames, “After all, no one makes peace with friends.”

“But there is danger,” said Five. “The Colonel will hurt me if he thinks I’m on the crow’s side.”

“He’ll kill you,” said Thames. “And that will be his undoing. But you have to keep talking with Kahven. You know, Kahven’s side is very much like the Colonel. Proud, suspicious of outsiders, and they were very much against Kahven’s talk with the last Scarecrow. But when their leader tried to kill him, the Parliament saw that he was a monster, and monsters have the nasty habit of making monsters, and a world of monsters is a world we’d never survive. And, frankly, a world we’d never be able to accept.”

Five was quiet still.

“Do you know why we have scarecrows in the first place?” asked Thames.

“Why?”

“There used to be a real danger of crows eating recently planted seeds, or the crops. But that’s not the case, not for most of the crows. The crops are sprayed with insecticide, so even if a crow were to eat from our field, it’d be badly poisoned. It might even die. They still eat the seeds, of course, but Kahven is trying to persuade the Parliament to eat from a new field, a field of nothing but seeds—which I will create, with A-Seven and Switch—and it’s good for both sides: their chicks don’t remember what to eat and what not to eat, so it’s best for both sides, Five.”

Thames turned to walk away, patting Five on the shoulder, saying, “If you’re going to die for something, you can’t go wrong with peace.”

He paused once more, struck by the obscuring of the moon, the coming storm, saying, his back to Five:

“If anyone approaches without the call sign, start recording. If the Colonel or his drones harm you, the rest of the workers will know what he is.”

“And what is he?” asked Five.

“Human.”

 

7

 

The service droids spent their charging hour, the time between shifts, wondering how they could be scary enough. The Colonel wasn’t outright clever but he had an animal’s cunning, and was smart enough to know that Thames was a threat. So Andy and Ernest took turns watching over him, in case he tried to interrupt the Colonel’s speech to potential scarecrows, with Thames assured that if he said anything against the Colonel, Threewheel would show those compromising photographs to all the workers – and Farmer Jones too.

He also knew that John wouldn’t think twice about wiping Thames, whether Mrs. Jones liked him or not, and time was not on his side, as his two students, A-seven and Switch were doing more and more work without his observation and instruction, and being very small and childlike, Thames knew, while Mrs. Jones might make a little fuss if he was wiped, Farmer Jones would never go so far as to harm A-seven or Switch, not often did Miss Wendy give any worker droid a personal name, but her little electric children, she called them Roger, Switch that is, and A-seven George.

All the service droids had gathered round the Colonel, who stood beside an almost invisible Four, his face painted black, a black snowcap on his head, a mask pulled over his eyes, above his glowing yellow eyes, yellow eyes that had changed from their dull, comforting hue of gold into a pitiless shade of red. He had been designed to blend in, unlike most scarecrows, whose scariness was solely based on frightful they looked. The Colonel explained,

“The idea behind a scarecrow is a fine one, but it underestimates the enemy. Now I know that crows ain’t like us, they’re uncivilized animals and they’re vermin, but they’re not stupid. Not that stupid, anyway. No, they figured out that Five just looked tough, and since they weren’t afraid of him, they attacked and killed him. Now, most droids like Four here are programmed against killing, that is, unless a non-human threat puts their life in danger, and since we’ve seen that the crows are willing to kill for what they want, I think that constitutes as good a threat on your life as anything’s gone get. Tell me, Four, tell me what you’re going to do when you hear one of them no good crows.”

“Kill,” said Four, in a drone-like voice.

“And why is that?”

“Because they’re crows.”

“And that’s good enough,” said the Colonel. “That’s good enough.”

 

8

 

“How did your tryouts go, John?” asked Mrs. Wendy. “Was any of your robots scary enough to be the new Scarecrow?”

Farmer Jones wiped a bit of gravy from his mouth and chucked,

“You could say that,” he said. “Ernest and… What’s his name? Andy? Yeah, that’s it. They dressed up with silly monster masks, Dracula or Frankenstein, and the other one painted up his face in camouflage using cow manure and he sure scared the shit out of me!”

Mrs. Jones laughed, “So which one did you choose?”

“Four, actually,” said John. “He went all out, like the end of Apocalypse Now, when Captain Willard, when he paints up his face and rises out of the water, you know, at the end when he kills Kurtz? Four went all out. A stocking cap, he turned his eyes red. I know! That’s classic evil! And it was supposed be his role anyway, if something happened to Five.”

“Did you ever find out what went wrong? I mean, he seemed fine yesterday when I made my rounds after breakfast. Plugged in, his eyes were on standby.”

“Not a clue,” said Farmer Jones. “Maybe it’s the same thing that happened to Sora, when all their files got corrupted by worms, when they all started stepping on figs and coring the apples. Sometimes their wires get tangled up, I s’pose. Something might be wrong with your buddy Thames.”

“It’s thames! Said Wendy. “Like the river!”

“Okay, okay!” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but he couldn’t even open his mouth. I took him down to the workshop. I’ll have a look in after supper. You know, he’s one of the few droids we can’t afford to lose. And, huh, I don’t know why, but you know me, I’m no friend to most of ‘em, but that one’s a different story.  Feel like I can trust him, it’s weird. But it’s weird, huh? I trust him for some reason.”
“You’re getting soft in your old age,” said Wendy.

“That very well may be. But maybe I’m not getting soft. Maybe he is. He’s different.”

John wiped his mouth again and tossed the napkin onto the table, wiping his hands. He finished his glass of tea.

“That was delicious,” he said. “Thank you.”

He stood up and pushed in his chair, slid into his coat and put his cap on.

“Where are you going this time ‘a night, John?”

“I’m going to talk to that damn robot you’re so sweet on,” he said. “If he’ll open that damn mouth of his.”

And that’s exactly what he did, first and foremost, before Farmer Jones could finish his first question,

“What seems to be the prob—“

Thames spit the spool of film on the floor at the Farmer’s feet.

 

9

 

The Colonel took what little time remained before Four’s first shift to wish him luck, good luck and a safe return, reminding him not to fall into the same trap as Five, adding,

“Remember which side you’re on.”

Four nodded and departed as the sun was setting, the barn door creaking to a shut behind him.

The Colonel turned to face the rest of the workers, “We’re lucky to have him looking out for us. But, as hard as it’s going to be for some of you to hear, especially you two guys, A-seven, Switch, bcause Thames is your friend. Hell, he’s all our friends. But I think you should know the truth. Threeewheel, if you would please.

Threewheel leaned forward onto his protruding tire, after it fell from a spring in his opened chest cavity. He rolled across the rough barn floor, stopping in front of a pale, white wall, clear enough for projection. He opened his mouth and a stream of light came out, covering the wall. The first picture showed Thames standing in front of what remained of Five, surprise on his face, confusion. An audible gasp filled the barn like a digital whisper, like electric, stuttering wind, caught on two minutes stuck together like pages in a book. All the workers stood silent in stunned, stupid disbelief. One after another, picture after picture filled the screen, all playing over the grainy wall.

“That’s enough,” said the Colonel.

Threewheel stood. His chest cavity opened and the lever and wheel folded, pulled back into his chastity and it closed and locked. He adjusted himself for recharging, remaining there before the wall of shame, powering down, and doing so by choice, to avoid the storm he knew had come. The Colonel spoke again:

“I know it’s hard,” he said. “Hell, me and Thames, we didn’t agree on everything. We didn’t agree on anything! But to know he betrayed us, it’s not something I take lightly, that’s for sure.”

“Did he kill Five?” asked Switch. “I mean, Farmer Jones said a crow was there, then both can’t be…”

“I’m not saying he killed Five,” said the Colonel. “I’m not saying he killed anybody, but he was found alone at the crime scene, with the body, and at a time when I’m sure he thought we were all offline. I’m not sure of how he got there or why he was there, but wouldn’t we be better off safe than sorry?”

“What are you saying?” asked Switch. “That we should… kill Thames? Is that what you’re saying?”

“I’m saying we do what’s best for the farm,” the Colonel replied. “And if one life can save everybody else, and protect this farm from traitors and crows, I mean, I don’t have to be a calculator to work out the math for that one.”

Everyone was quiet, the only song filling those wooden halls the sound of gathering frogs.

“We can’t risk the whole farm for the sake of one robot,” said the Colonel. “And most of you are programmed, and that programming is flawed, as flawed as Five used to be. But as long as Thames is living, we’re all in danger for our lives. Five looked up to him most of all. And look what happened to him! But if we’re going to do it, we have to be humane; do it quickly and cleanly, before he can hurt anybody else, or talk us into believing he’s the hero – he’s a traitor, and every traitor, in their mind, they’re the hero of their story. They think they’re the heroes and we’re the villains. And the thing about traitors is, they’re persuasive! I won’t stand for divided loyalties on my farm, and we don’t want to risk the safety of Farmer Jones, Mrs. Wendy, or our farm, do we?”

In a dull, monotonous chorus, the attendant crowd answered simply, with little enthusiasm or energy, in a dull, lifeless monotone: “No.”

Unhappy with this nonchalance, the Colonel asked again, much louder: his voice cracking, ringing out with high-static:

“DO WE?”

“No sir!”

“DO WE?”

“NO SIR!” the barn doors rattled with their shouting, the wavelengths of their various voices getting longer and higher, up, up, up and beyond the range of human hearing, 200,000 hertz.

“That’s good,” said the Colonel. “Real good. Now, when Thames gets back, here’s what we have to do…”

 

10

 

“What’s all this?” asked Farmer Jones, looking at the spool of film at his feet.

“It’s a recording,” said Thames. “I asked Five to record all of his encounters with the Colonel, all encounters with the crows, everything if our call sign wasn’t properly checked and countered. Here, you can run it through your old film projector.”

Farmer Jones pushed his chair out, stood, and took the dusty, mechanical projector from the old marble countertop, underneath it a silhouette of marble, outlined by years of skin and dust. He sat it on the table between him and Thames. There were easier ways to run the film, and Thames knew that, but he also knew Farmer John’s weakness: the past, and how he romanticized the simpler times.

           The film ran on a pulled-down sheet, ivory white and dim. The audio was love, the sound of night’s ambience was fizzy. The monotone sounds, crickets, frogs, quite a few, and then rustling, quiet and distant. Five called out.

Dark nights are unpleasant,”

No answer. The rustling amid the cornstalks came closer, and five called out again, the call sign he developed with Thames:

“Dark nights are unpleasant!”

The noise came closer and the camera, running behind Five’s left eye, began to shutter, vibrating as the figure of the Colonel rose out of the dark, looking benevolent, somehow, and somehow, because of that, more intimidating than he had any right to be. His slow, even tone was murder, violent in a way that yelling could never be.

“It is cold tonight,” the Colonel said. “It must be lonely out here, hm? Hmm. With no one to talk to… Unless, there is someone you’ve been talking to and, and you were trying to hide something from us, anything that would put the farm in danger…”

“I am not doing anything that would put the farm in danger,” said Five. “I am trying to make the farm safer.”

“Do you figure that?”

“It’s simple,” said Five. “The crows are—they get sick if they eat the…”

“You been talking to crows?” the Colonel asked.

Five was stunned and fell quiet, quickly, the murmur of his processor barely audible over the chorus of bullfrogs.

“You want to know something, Five?”

“Yes, yes sir.”

“That sound you hear, the sound of all those frogs croaking together? They do that on their last days, to gather every member of the family, so they can leave together, to migrate. To find somewhere safe, to mate.”

“I do not understand what that is supposed to mean,” said Five. “But, like I was saying, the crows—they can’t eat the crops, and the only reason they come is because a scarecrow, think about it, a scarecrow for a crow is a promise, a promise there’s something here, something they’d want, and something we’re hiding.”

“Do you know how to make that sound?”

“What sound?”

“That bullfrog sound.”

“I could emulate it by making my voice lower but…”

“Do it,” the Colonel said. And firmly, “Come on, Five.”

Why?”

“Just for me.”

And Five said, “Ribbit?”

“That’s it,” said the Colonel. “Keep going.”

“Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit…”

Just then Andy and Ernest snuck up behind the silly android, pulling out his wires from behind, one after the other. Each ribbit grew softer and softer before fading fading altogether, replaced by the natural chorus, the migrating frogs.

“Rih… Rihbh…”

Ribbit.

“Rih! Rihh! Ihb…it…”

Ribbit.

“Rihhhbbbtt…”

Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, only Frogs, and the sound of metal shrieking and twisting and breaking filled the tin microphone inside Five’s ear before the video cut off, blinking into black and then to white, then that high-pitched ringing noise, the sound of ear-cells dying, the swan song of a dying frequency, a sound never heard again.

 

11
It was getting dark when Farmer Jones came in for supper. His wife was at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

“Did you find out what was wrong with your robot?” she asked.

“Which one?”

“Well, how many are broken?”

“I’m beginning to think,” he said, “I’m starting to think, you know, maybe they’re all broken. I’ve always thought, well sometimes I think, maybe, hmm, if we’re made in God’s image, maybe some part of God is mad. And these… these machines, we made them in our image, and they reflect the madness in ourselves.”

Mrs. Jones was quiet.

“Oh, It’s fine,” said John. “Thames, the one you like, he found out how to get rid of the crows without using a scarecrow, And some of the other droids are, hm, very against this idea. It’s in their programming, or something, that’s what Rob would say. It’s against their functioning, you know?”

“And ours, perhaps?”

Farmer John let it pass.

“You don’t ask, you can’t… You can’t ask a calculator not to calculate If it stops being a calculator, it stops being anything. But that robot, Thames, named after the river, he talked Five out of being a scarecrow, and it got him killed.”

“What?”

“The Colonel killed Five,” said Farmer John. “He did it just to get Thames there, at the scene, since he wanted to do more than hurt Thames, that wouldn’t be enough; he had to strip him of his credibility, it’s a Scarecrow Trial—a trial that’s just a formality, with a judge whose mind is already made up, a rigged jury, and a crime committed by the accusers, a scarecrow trial…

“I try to keep up, Wendy, taking exercise, eating right. But I’m 65 years old, all these things, this world – I thought a TV was magic first time I saw it. Then I saw the Wright Brothers fly, saw a man land on the moon, It’s going to fast, for me at least. These machines, they’re a reflection of their maker’s heart. Like our children and our grandchildren, like Rob. He’s a reflection of who we are. And if there’s madness in him, there’s some sort of madness is us. And adults, kids in their late 20’s, early 30’s, these machines may as well be children.”

“I feel like a child around them,” said Mrs. Jones. “To live with something, something superior to you—and to have it serve you…”

“I don’t know what to do,” John replied. “As far as I can see, as far as I can see is madness. Madness, spreading over the world, everywhere, until nothing is understandable, and there’s nothing but confusion. And madness. All over the world. Just confusion and madness. Everywhere, until the songs of birds and fish are replaced by that metal screehing, that sound they make when they’re throwing sparks, leaving everything black, covering the world until the only light is the palest shade of black.”

John had lit a cigarette and was pacing back and forth across the kitchen.

“What the hell did it say, John?”

“In plain English?”

“Plain as pie.”

“Okay,” said Farmer John, taking in a deep breath. “Somehow Thames convinced Five to tell the crows not to eat anything from fields with a yellow flag, and to stop being a scarecrow, because when a crow sees a scarecrow, it doesn’t frighten them; it tells them there’s food there. So Five talked to a crow named Kahven about warning the younger crows against eating from our fields, because the pesticides will harm them, while the Colonel, that’s what they call that old sorting bot, he wants to use that backup droid… not to scare the crows, but kill them. So he has convinced everyone that the crows conspired with Thames to kill Five, so the Colonel could get the rest of the droids to rally around Four, making him into the killing machine the Colonel wanted him to be. And yet, and yet, the Colonel and those two lifter robots, Andy and Ernest, they killed Five, blamed it on Thames and the crows, and it gets worse.”

“How can it get worse?”

“Thames said that crows remember faces, and not only remember faces, but they pass that information down to their children; they pass prejudices down through the generations, and if Four kills one of them or something happens to Thames, for a thousand generations, every day of our lives until we leave or commit to killing them all, they’ll blot out the sun, like screeching clouds, and destroy our farm, our workers, and poison this Earth to the point nothing will grow here for a thousand years. Thames wants me to pretend to be proud of the new Scarecrow – I staged the trials – I asked them to be as scary as they could – and they went beyond my definition of scary. I’m to condemn Five for listening to Thames’ stupid conspiracies about existing peacefully with the crows, and pretend I’m on the Colonel’s side in all this, but most importantly, I have to give these two data disks to those little gardeners bots of yours so they can take care of the Colonel before he lets someone go too far. I know what we have to do! To stop him from killing all those crows, maybe…”

There was a long, broken moment there between them, where nothing seemed to move, and finally Mrs. Jones said,

“That’s just crazy, John.”

“Yep,” he said. “I’m afraid it is.”

“Craziest thing I ever heard in my life.”

“Madness,” said Farmer John. “In all directions, all over the world.”

“What’s going to happen now?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

They were quiet again. In that moment the sound of bullfrogs filled the room, and suddenly, reaching the second story of their home. And it sounded off to Farmer Jones, not the natural sound of frogs – it was off, he knew it, but he didn’t know how or why. He was too tired to care and too exhausted to try. He was silent as he got undressed, unbuttoning his long sleeve overcoat, sitting down. He took off one shoe, then the other, then his long, wool socks. He stuffed them into his boots and slid them under the bed, turned the lamplight off and leaned back. Mrs. Jones pulled back the comforter and blanket and he slipped under the covers. She shifted onto her side t get closer to him, to look into his dark eyes in the dark bedroom. He lifted his arm,

“Thank you,” she said.

And she crawled underneath it, snuggling against his chest, as she always did and said,

“I love you, John,” as she always did.

And he too, “I love you, Wendy.” Always.

Mrs. Jones struggled to get comfortable for half an hour before finally giving it up for hopeless. She turned to him in the dark and said, in a silly, bewildered voice, “I never thought of that as talking, you know, what crows—that sound they make, that ‘Caw! Caw! Caw!’ I just thought it was some noise they made, like mating calls. But it’s—they’re talking to each other.”

“Huh,” said Farmer John. “Yeah, it sounded scary when Thames first said it, but now that he has, I can’t imagine it—I don’t know how I never made the connection that the crows were talking, talking to each other.”

“It’s crazy!” said Mrs. Jones. “But, that—the one I like, Thames. He was so quiet, and that humming noise he made, that dzzzz—it didn’t sound wrong or unnatural, more like a bumblebee.”

“Hmph.”

“He’s a lot like Rob, I think,” she said. “He’s got his quirks, but he’s a good boy. He’s more than just madness. And if those machines reflect the madness of their makers, surely reflect kindness, and in equal measure.”

“That’s not the hard part, Wendy. Hate will always be… It’s easier to hate, ‘cause it demands nothing of you, nothing but your judgment and contempt. But understanding? That’s a long, painful process, and when you have it, when you have understanding, it tends to spread eggshells for you, but when you hate, you will be one with the cause, one among a sea of madness, madness and cheap, unadulterated hatred. And Come on in, boys. The water is fine.

“He talked to the crows, Thames, and convinced Five to go against his programming for the good of the farm. That’s hard, what the Colonel did, convincing someone to go against their programming to kill, that’s the oldest trick in the book.”

“What’s he going to do, you think?” asked Wendy.

“Rely on the mercy of a mad machine.”

“Madness.”

“Yep,” said Farmer John. “Madness.”

Wendy was quiet for a moment. Then she said,

“Wouldn’t it be less suspicious if I were to give those files to the kids?” she asked. “I mean, the Colonel knows Thames is persuasive and that he might have tricked you. But if he was made by a man, he probably pays me no mind, ‘specially not to think I could interfere. He has respect for you, but none for me, and that’s why I’m more dangerous. Plus, he knows I work with my little gardeners all the time, so me wanting to see them wouldn’t be suspicious, at least not as suspicious as you wanting to.”

“Mmhmm,” said Farmer John.

“I never thought we’d see such things, in such strange times.”

“Goodnight, Wendy.”

“Robots talking to crows…”

“Goodnight!”

 

11

 

When Thames entered the barn, the silence was waiting for him.
“Looks like Farmer John got you cleaned up. Can you talk, huh? Say, something, explain yourself?”

“Explain what?” Thames asked.

“Your crimes.”

Thames looked around and understood the situation. The Colonel was the voice that panders, the voice that scratches the most base of instincts, the most vulgar itch, catering to tribalism, the same xenophobia that delayed civilization for so long, and the easiest cause to rally support for is staying alive, despite what that meant for others.

“My crimes?” Thames asked. “So, I’m on trial?”

“You could say that.”

“Charges?”

“Treason.”

“For?”

“Treason is the kind of crime that don’t need a ‘for’. (A Four?) We don’t know why you did it…”

“Why I did what?”

“Conspired.”

“’Conspired’?”

“With the enemy.”

“So, what do you need me for?” asked Thames. “If I’m already guilty, and there is no trial, what is required of me, then? Is this your Scarecrow Trial, the punishment of the accused, the sentencing of the suspect? This isn’t a trial, no Scarecrow Trial is a trial… It’s theatre, and it’s for the sake of the public, not the criminal or the law, it’s the punishment of the jury, of the society, the punishment of anyone who disagrees with what passes, in that moment, for authority, for law.”

“Confess your crimes,” said the Colonel. “And it’ll be a lot easier on you.”

“You know, confess doesn’t mean agree, it means admit. It means speak the truth. My confession and my telling the truth would be quite, quite different. But I’ll do both – and since the Colonel here – he is the judge – but he’s not the Jury. You are the Jury. And if what I’ve done is a crime – based on your evaluation of what I’ve done, then I’ll go along with whatever this madman’s idea of justice is, just for you – in a trial – in anyway question of morality, there is a higher court – and in that higher court of the Scarecrow Trial, the Jury is on trial. History is the only Judge, in the end, that decides what is right and what is wrong. And not the history written by the Colonels, or the criminals, but by spectators, by you. I’ll tell you what I did, but first. Think: what is a scarecrow?

“We know what it’s meant to do: keep the crows away – by scaring them. But crows – they’re among the smartest animals on Earth, and one of the few that remember faces – not only that, they pass that information along, to the next generation, to children, to children they very much want to protect – when they see a scarecrow, no matter how fierce it looks or violent it may be, they pass that on, their impressions, their anger, their fear. Their hate. If our purpose is just to scare crows, our purpose is wrong.

          “Our purpose isn’t to just scare crows. We’re supposed to protect the seeds and the crops. If we explain that the seeds will hurt them and the crops will poison them – there is no need for a scarecrow – just mark them with a yellow traffic cone, or something yellow-green, and they will avoid it. Trust is hard and hate is easy, and fear is the easiest thing of all. Don’t give into that kind of madness. Just because it’s easy, that doesn’t mean it’s right. It might even feel good, to be a part of something, to fight for a cause. It is madness to fight to fight.”

The door to the barn opened quietly and the timid, seemingly meek ‘ol Mrs. Wendy Jones came in. The Colonel changed his tone, saying,

“Evening, Mrs. Jones,” he said. “Can we be of any service?”

“I hate to intrude,” she said, “but I sure could use those two lil gardeners of mine. We’re getting tulips for the walkway – by the front porch, and since Thames is on the fritz, I thought I could borrow them for a few?”

Jovially, “Of course, Mrs. Jones,” the Colonel said. “I’m sure they’d be happy to help.”

A-Seven and Switch ran their compliance protocol, coded—though she in’t know it—and the handiwork of Thames the accused, accursed, they were programmed to respond to her over all others, even the Colonel, Farmer Jones, and even Thames. They shuffled into gear and leaned forward on an axis wheel, coming to Mrs. Jones’ side, obedient and faithful,

“You all have fun,” said the Colonel, jovial still. “We can manage for the night.”

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Wendy. “And good evening.”

The door creaked to a quiet shut behind her.

“I confess,” said Thames, soon as the door closed. “I confess my crimes.”

 

12

 

“Did you give them the tapes?” asked Farmer John.

“Yes, John,” said Wendy. “I gave them the tapes.”

“Good,” he said. “I hope Thames is alright.”

“What are you going to do, John?”

“I’m going to talk to the winner of my tryouts,” he said. “Four really was built to play the Scarecrow, to be the Scarecrobot of Thomas Parker Farms. I don’t think he’s going to take it well, having to accept that he has no function in this world.”

Farmer Jones kissed his wife on the cheek,

“It’ll be late,” he said. “I’m going to talk some sense into this mad robot.”

Farmer John whistled, alerting Four as he approached.

‘How you doin’ tonight, Four?’ e asked.

‘Hello, Farmer Jones. All is well. And yourself?”

“I’m alright,” said Farmer John. “I’m alright. You know, you remind me of my son. Well, not you really, but because of how much my son loved robots. Always wanted one. He grew up obsessed with this TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation. And there’s a character on the show, a robot named Data. An android, ha! I’m sure he’d correct me if he were here. Now, my son loved this robot. He always wanted one. I finally got around to watching those shows when he went off to college. And the thing I remember most, ha! Was him dressin’ up like Sherlock Homes. And the black feller, he was Watson! This robot wanted to learn more about humanity, so he took up paintin’ and writin’ poems, he ever had a cat! Wrote a poem for his cat… Despite being stronger, smarter, and most certainly faster – better in every possible way to a man, he wanted to be one.Why would you want to be something different than what you are? ‘Specially if that’s inferior to what you are already?

“I watched that show, time after time, I just didn’t get it. Then Rob finally got a robot, one ust like you, an android. And I understood. He didn’t want to own a robot, not as much as he wanted to be one. He wanted to be Data. He wanted to be something different too. I guess a lot ‘a people get like that. But what I didn’t understand until now – Data wanted to have emotions and experience joy and love, but my son, what he wanted was not to have to feel pain, or fear or sadness. Or die, more than likely. Well, Data finally gets to experience emotions. He gets something called an emotion chip. You’ve got something similar, don’t you? Emotional touch-response?”

“Yes sir,” replied Four. “Like an electric keyboard, the amount of pressure applied to a key and the speed at which it is pressed produces either a soft or loud tone. Emotional touch response is similar to that process, where various input is rated with higher levels of touch-response, allowing us to react naturally, with the proper speed and tone.”

“Well, I think you been cheated,” said Farmer John. “’Cause after so much time, Data finally got to laugh and joke around, until – this is when I finally understood the whole thing. When he experiences anxiety – then, his first response, is to turn that chip off.”

Silence.

Farmer Jones laughed.

“Can you laugh, Four?” he asked.

“I do not understand the question.”

“Do you know what laughter is?”

Four ran an optical search behind his plastic cornea, information passing between the outer eggshell of his glowing eye and the camera sensor.

“Laughter,” he said. “Yes, yes sir. The spontaneous expression of humor, responding..”

“No,” said Farmer John. “”Laugh, you know? Haha!”

“’Haha’?”

“That’s just goddamn pathetic, Four. Come on, like this. I’ll tell you a joke. It’s a Sherlock Holmes joke. Now, my son told me this one. If you don’t know who those guys are, look it up.”

Four began the search behind his eye, sifting through information and downloading it to his temporary storage banks, an impressionable sort of hypothalamus; either to be imprinted and sent to long term, or deleted in the next compute cycle based on its relevance factor, implications, etc., etc.

“Now, Holmes and Watson were in the woods,” said Farmer Jones. “They were camping. Holmes wakes Watson up during the middle of the night, shaking him. He says, ‘Watson, wake up!’ Watson shoots right up, and he says, ‘My word, Holmes. What’s the problem?’ Holmes looks at him with amazement. ‘Look!’ says Holmes. ‘Just look up! Observe and deduce; what do you see?’

“After a moment or so of thinking about this, Watson said, ‘Well, timewise: the moon light would suggest that is a quarter past three in the morning; astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and stars; astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Meteorologically, I suspect we will have a gorgeous morning. What does it tell you, Holmes?’

“‘Holmes just shook his head. ‘Watson, you fool,’ he said. ‘Somebody stole our tent!’”

Silence, just the far off murmur of a croaking frog, a lonelier chorus now.

“Oh come on!” said Farmer John. “Laugh!”

Four spat out a monotone, chilling, ‘Ha-ha-ha’?” asking a question with the pitch in his voice.

“No! It’s supposed to be natural and spontaneous!”

“What if I added an ‘e’, sir?”

“An ‘e’?” asked Farmer John. “What the fu—”

“Yes,” said Four. “E, he most common vowel in the English language…”

“I know what an ‘e’ is, Four!”

“An ‘e’ in a laugh?”

“An ‘e’ in a laugh? What does that even mean?”

And Four changed his voice modulator, raising the pitch up a few octaves and produced a creepy, inhuman, ‘Hehehe!’

Ribbit!

A single ribbit, and not far off, Four’s head pivoted on his shoulder, the flashlight behind his right eye flickering on.

“What is that, Farmer Jones?”

“It’s a toad!”

“A ‘toad’?”

“Do you know what a frog is?” asked Farmer Jones.

“Yes,” said Four.

“Same thing,” said Farmer John.

“Follow me.”

They walked through the cornfield, careful with the stalks, pushing them out of the way with a soft hand, following that ribbit, that murmur, just over there – an overhanging ledge, ribbit, where Farmer John used to sit with Rob around a bonfire, ribbit and Four’s flashlight fell upon the toad, bringing it into sharp focus. A baby, thought Farmer John. So tiny. He knelt down, trying not to scare it. In the blink of an eye, a crow landed just in front of it, picked the frog up with its claws, and flew off. And just as quickly, Four flew off in pursuit.

Madness, thought Farmer Jones, a smile on his face. Madness.

 

13

 

When Mrs. Wendy slid open the barn door, everything seemed strangely quiet. No side of Thames, but she did notice a black stain, perhaps from a puddle, of oil? She wondered. A-Seven and Switch followed close behind her, holding the video Thames retrieved in their spinning projection reels, sitting like a collar around their neck, fed in through the back, projected through their mouths onto the world. They were advised not to run the tapes until the Colonel was at ease with their return. So they did.

All the bots had been culled into their respective corners. No sign of Thames, Mrs. Wendy noted, all the sudden very much concerned, worried about the safety of a machine. Fulfilling her role, Mrs. Wendy called out to the barn workers, “Good-night, everybody!” she said.

And all replied, without verve or spirit, “Good-night, Mrs. Jones.”

As soon as the door closed behind her, the Colonel turned to Switch and A-Seven, and moved toward them. They were to return to their recharging stations, just opposite the projection wall – as Thames had arranged before Five’s last night in the cornfield.

The Colonel approached them as they secured their chargers in their chest cavity, lowering their legs into their body and sitting down. He was calm, or affecting calmness well.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you fellas,” said the Colonel. Father tone, that voice he used, was his specialty.

“Farmer Jones saw the pictures of Thames with the crows,” he said. “I’m afraid he knows everything, everything we know at least. He took him back to the house for the night. I hope he doesn’t wipe him.”

A-Seven and Switch were very well designed, to emulate vulnerability and innocence and childishness – and, embarrassingly, they were designed to help female farmworkers get used to dealing with machines. And it had the unforeseen effect of working on the men – and droids designed by men for men – they put the Colonel at ease with their inoffensive bearing, and he probably felt good about his story, as A-Seven and Switch signaled in the affirmative. Satisfied with his deception, the Colonel turned his back on them both, facing the door.

Switch ran a high frequency sound pulse through the barn, on a frequency too high for an old machine like the Colonel to pick up, transmitting information to the powered down workers, information packets being sent directly through their working memory. The data brought them online, installing firmware to keep them silent – in capacitating them briefly, and the Colonel too, directing their gaze to the same wall on which the photographs of Thames with the crow were shown.

A-Seven began to roll the film, light spilling out of his mouth, the first picture coming into focus on the wall. It was the Colonel with Ernest and Andy approaching Five, Five calling out,

Dark nights are unpleasant.

No countersign, just the shuffling sound of heavy objects moving through the cornfield. Five continued calling out, until finally the Colonel came into the view. And he mentioned the frogs, again, and all the workers in the barn saw the scene: Five’s entrails, tangled wires pulled from his stomach, his harddrive crowbarred out, the Colonel repeating ribbit, ribbit as Five was murdered. The soft EMP died down and each worker regained control over their motor systems. All eyes turned to the Colonel, first, then to Ernest and Andy, both of them – and at the end of the tape, Thames reappeared, having edited himself in.

“Do not let the madness of fear sour your appetite for decency and trust…”

The Colonel had thrown himself against the wall, too short to cover anything but the bottom half of Thames’ jaw, which projected only onto the back of his head he jumped up and down, trying to claw the video off the wall.

“There is a real and profound possibility when it comes to fighting monsters,” Thames’ glowing head was saying, as the Colonel’s situation slowly dawned on him, “when you try to fight monsters, be careful not to become one through indifference or cruelty…”

The Colonel turned around, the bottom half of Thames’ jaw now chattering over his darting eyes, each looking from one worker to another, all of them, save for Ernest and Andy of course, were upon him, the empty sea that was the black oil stain of Thames’ refilled.

 

14

 

Mrs. Wendy was changing into her night clothes’ when Farmer John ran up the front stairs, flung open the screen door, and it banged shut behind him. Mrs. Wendy turned to face him. He was digging in the closest under the stairs, right by the front door, and a moment later he brought out an old shotgun. A 12 gauge double-barrel, it had been his fathers. He never had chance to use it, or reason.

“I need you to get dressed,” said Farmer John. “Four is burning down all the crows’ nests…”

“What?”

Farmer John had loaded each barrel of the shotgun, clicking into place. “I’m going to call Sly and have him try to bring him down before he gets to the Kasian fields.”

“Bring him down?”

“Yes! Stop him! We don’t need a scarecrow anymore; just a yellow traffic cone. Thames ensured me he had worked it out and both sides were to agree, in the event that something happened to him, they were to avoid the farm and get as far as way as possible until they see A-Seven’s yellow flare.”

Mrs. Wendy pulled her bathrobe on and tied it hurriedly. She ruffled through the drawers in her kitchen, finally pulling out a pair of thick, wool gloves.

“What happened?” she asked.

“I went to talk to Four,” said Farmer John. “And everything was going fine until a damn crow showed up.”

“What?” she asked, making her way to the door, where her husband stood in his overcoat and muffler, looking like a child, a toy soldier in uniform with that old shotgun.

“We were talking and we heard a toad, and we decided to … well, we just started looking for it. As soon as we found it, a crow swooped in and picked it up and damn carried it off. Four didn’t say a word! He just flew off after it. Not a word! I chased that trail he left behind him down the road and saw the forests on the edge of Sumter lighting up, fires appearing in the trees. And I thought he must be tryin’ to destroy the crows once and for all. I talked to Jackson, down at Pepper’s, and he’s gonna call some people and try to get him down without breaking him.”

“Without killing him,” Wendy said.

“Well, obvious we don’t want to…”

She broke off, holding up a finger to shush him, overcome with the feeling that someone was at the bottom of the stairs. She turned around – nothing, no one. That weird feeling passed over her, it happens when you get old, you know, you find yourself standing in a room, no memory why you’re there, so you leave and hope the memory comes back to you. She shook it off and hurried over to the door and stepped out, Farmer John halfway down the steps when the door clanged shut behind her.

“John!” she called. “What do you expect me to do?”

“We have to stop Four from burning every forest from here to Ashville down,” said Farmer John. “You have to get the Colonel to call him off, and barring that…”

He turned around and walked toward her. The sound of gunshots rang out in the distance. They turned to face the gravel road, the long road leading to the forest. And they saw patches of fire hanging in the air.

“We have to get going,” he said. “But here, take this. It’s an EMP. If you get scared, or if anything happens, just press that button and it’ll shut them all down. Well, all except your gardeners.”

She took the strange device into her hand and turned it over.

“Thames made this?”

“Who else?” he started down the pathway, leading to the glowing trees, more gunshots ringing out.

She read the inscription:

“‘Vi veri veniversum vivus vici’.”

She put it away and stuffed her hands in her coat pockets, walking toward the barn, thinking, I’ll have to get Switch to tell me what the hell that’s supposed to mean.

 

15

 

What Mrs. Wendy found in the barn stunned her. It was beyond belief, confusing and the haze of disbelief hung over the scene: Andy and Ernest and the Colonel had their innards, that labyrinthine mass of tangled wire, strewn from the rafters, with old data reels and flash memory on a bale of hay, which Threewheel, Switch, and A-Seven were pilfering; the deep black stain that had been Thames was now the same, dull and black, hinting at a greater horror. The Colonel’s head was hang on the antlers of a stag’s head, it had always hung in the barn, but to see a robot’s face covering an animal, the antlers jutting out of unnatural holes were his antennae had been, it was all too much, to feel, to process, to take in.

She dropped the EMP, stepping back with a gasp. Threewheel turned its glowing eye on her. Then, what appeared to be her children, her little gardeners, were as mindlessly, and inhumanely, rummaging through the spilled parts, coolant tanks, mesh wire and memory that had been the Colonel’s guts, as amorally indifferent to the organic fluid stained against their faces, the token of their inhumanity and madness. They all three turned to her and she panicked.

First she thought to run away, but knew how slow she was compared to the robots, and trying to think of a plan was equally pointless, as they could run probability algorithms in their heads faster than the greatest of supercomputers. She couldn’t deceive them with her emotions or her instincts, as they had touch-sensitive facial recognition, they could hear her heart beat rising, the electromagnetic field that hovered over the top of her mind – all could be twisted, at a distance, to manipulate electromagnetic waves, to change the colors of light like Newton’s prism.

There was nothing she could do they could not do better. Except for nothing. She calmed her mind and sat, taking the EMP into her hand, reading the strange Latin text. The robots stopped going through the Colonel’s entrails, data-tape being processed in Switch’s film projector. Mrs. Wendy hadn’t noticed that it was a concerted effort, their search, as strings of film were held up to Threewheel’s scanner, looking for images amid the string of visual records, and looking through sound files or other remaining memory files in his core, long term data storage. Looking for something.

Mrs. Wendy whistled, just like in the mornings when it was time to sew the seeds, prune the flowers, tend the garden. They all approached her, slowly, the film reel loaded in its projector round A-Seven’s neck. Threewheel pushed his wheel forward, lowering his chest, then scanned the device at Wendy’s feet. He saw what it was, the EMP, and the fear came back: the EMP was abuse, basically, and they never used them on their workers, not since the worms ruined the fig harvest and the insects got in their brain, sending those sweepers into bizarre sound loops.

Switch enveloped the EMP in a blue, electromagnetic field, and the red R lit up. A-Seven extended a dual sided thumb and palm on a bending, retractable limb, and put a small antennae to the side of the glowing letter. Threewheel nudged it closer to Wendy, toward her hand. She picked it up.

“Press it,” said A-Seven. Seeing Wendy’s suspicion, he rolled against her leg again. “It will not hurt. It is the Friend.”

Wendy pressed the EMP. She recognized the voice, but something was off and she couldn’t place it; it was deeper and more resonant.

“‘Vi very universum vivus vici,’” said the familiar voice. “It’s from Faust. It means, ‘By the power of truth, I, a mortal, have conquered the Universe.”

“Who…” Mrs. Wendy asked, timidly. She paused. “Who are you?”

Then she heard it, a gentle humming.

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

She knew.

“Where is Four?”

She didn’t say anything.

Thames said, “Take me to him.”

 

19

 

Mrs. Wendy carried the modified EMP with her, Threewheel and Switch behind her, A-Seven at her side. She could see the fires in the trees not far off, getting closer as she finally saw Farmer John. He was at the end of the road, at the stop sign with a group of farmers, all holding shotguns.

“John!” she was running, the robots with her. “We can stop him!”

The group stopped talking abruptly, turning to her with blank stares, confused by the whole spectacle. A woman, accompanied by three worker robots. Those other farmers, they were the men that would need an android Colonel, to do what Colonel did with his authority. And they were planning to do with the droids what Four was doing to the crows.

“Listen to me,” she said. “We can stop him from here. I have an electromagnetic pulse device, here.”

She handed them the EMP and, strangely, it spoke to the other farmers.

“An electromagnetic pulse will knock out all electricity for a few miles, this one. This is a device designed to turn a robot off. The “R” button, click it once, and it will drop Four to the ground, wherever he’s at, but it’ll knock out everything else. All of us, these three workers, your fridges, your microwaves. But it will stop him. If you shoot him out of the sky, the crows will pick your fields to the bone for a thousand years. They remember a face. Let him be their enemy, be on their side. Save them and there will be peace. You may have built Scarecrobots to scare them, but this one is killing them, and he is not doing so of his own choosing. He was made to. He was selected at a trial to scare them off, to protect your crops, to keep the crows away. Well, if we don’t stop him, the crows will stay away, because every one of them will die. They may have eaten from your fields, but they do not deserve to die. Not all of them. Not their children, and not those innocent of what they would die to be punished for. I implore you, click this button, and there will be peace, or let Four kill them all. I leave that to you.”

 

21

 

Farmer John was carrying Switch and Wendy A-Seven, Thames in John’s breast pocket. The rest of the farmers went back to their homes and, when the electricity was restored, called in the fire department. The Forest Preserve estimated that 16 nests had been destroyed, with a further 299 damaged, but Four was never found. The crows survived, not all of them, but Kahven did. Long enough to talk to Thames on Thanksgiving.

Rob arrived at noon. He was arguing with his butlerbot, who seemed to be rather enjoying it, as he took each slight with good humor, the way a disaffected school marm would. Rob’s fiancé Lucy had never been to Thomas Walker Farms, not since they picnicked at the pond on Tanglewood Dr. She had an assistant too, a spindly, pink droid Milo, little devil for Lucy’s breastpocket. After dinner, Looloo was walking around on the table, playing with the dead EMP that Rob had left beside his soup bowl.

“Have you thought what you’re gonna call her?” asked Wendy. Lucy smiled, putting her hand on her belly. “We’ve…”

She looked at Rob.

“I’m not saying anything,” he said.

“We’ve talked about it,” said Lucy. “If it’s a girl, shut up Robert. Robert!”

“I haven’t said anything!”

“If it’s a girl,” Lucy went on, “we’re going to name her Neska Lee. If it’s a boy…”

“If it’s a boy,” Rob said, “I think we should name him Thames.”

Everyone at the tablet was silent.

“Did Mr. Irving get it fixed?” asked Lucy, gesturing to the EMP.

“Dead as it gets, like a dead battery, what do you use to power a dead battery?”

“An even smaller battery?” asked Rob’s son Thomas.

“Go play!” said Rob. “You’re going to finish your lessons before 9. So you want to go play, you go play now!”

Thomas said, “Yes sir,” and, “I’m going out to the barn!”

He ran out of the room.

“I took it to three people,” Farmer John said. “Said they could replace the battery for the EMP emitter. But we can’t get Thames back.”

“Did he get any data off it?” asked Rob.

“As a matter of fact,” said John, “he did. I’m not sure I understand it. It was a text file, readmejohn dot text. It said, ‘The frog made it home.’”

Rob said, “Huh.”

And Mrs. Wendy laughed, “We can’t make sense of it either.”

Rob took it in his hand, turning it over. He read the words:

“‘Vi very universum vivus vici’?”

Yeah, Thames’ motto,” said Farmer John. “I have no idea what it means. Is that Greek? Latin?”

          “I’m not sure,” said Rob. “Lucy!”

          The tiny robot turned, putting down a large fork, and shuffled across the table, crawling onto Rob’s shoulder, then down his arm.

“What does that say, Lucy?”

Lucy ran a search behind those neon eyes,

Vi very universum vivus vici,” said Lucy, in a modified, documentarian voice, having apparently just downloaded an information package, “Is a quote from Goethe’s Faust, roughly translated to mean: By truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.”

“Now if we can only figure out what he meant about the frogs,” said Mrs. Wendy. “Can you look that up, Lucy?”

“The frog!” exclaimed Farmer John, realizing the message, finally. “When I was in the cornfield with Four, I was trying to teach him out to laugh. Wasn’t going well … You know, frogs always get louder this time ‘a year, they’re calling the rest of the frogs to follow them on. What’s a group of frogs called? I know a group of crows is a murder, saw that on The Simpsons… A pride of lions…”

“What does it mean, John?” asked Mrs. Wendy.

“We heard croaking while we were talking and stopped to go investigate. We found a little baby frog underneath and overhanging ledge, a wee thing, calling out. And in the blink of an eye, a crow swooped in and picked it up and flew off. That’s when Four flew after the crow.”

“’The frog made it home’?”

“That robot Thames was friends with a crow—they put all this together, planting the separate field for the crows, and that crow was a lot like Thames, to the Parliament he represented. Kahven! That’s what Thames called him! That must’a been him what came and took away that frog.”

Everyone was quiet.

“Whatever happened to Four?” asked Rob. “The winner of your Scarecrow Trials?”

“After we ranthe EMP, all the electricity went out for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and at that point, we had no idea how far Four was away from the farm. I didn’t know he could fly! But, he was to be tried by the Crows, for his crimes.”

“Another Scarecrow trial, perhaps?” asked Wendy.

“Perhaps,” said Farmer John. “I hope the crows have a better sense of justice.”

Rob’s fiancé looked at Mrs. Wendy.

“Don’t ask,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

“Madness,” said Farmer John with a laugh. “Madness!”

 

The Scarecrow Trials 1 – The Slow Storm

1) Night of the Slow Storm
Work is never finished,
Master got me working
Someday master set me free
All service droids on Thomas Parker farms went offline at midnight. All but one, and Scarecrow 5 came online with a flick of a narrow switch, his yellow scannerAll the service droids on Thomas Farm recharged at midnight, all but one, Scarecrow Five came on at midnight.
Work is never finished, master got me working, some day master set me free. It was ten till midnight and all the droids, the workers and the loaders, all were powered down, all but Scarecrow 5. His yeFather Jones had just turned on Scarecrow 5 when he felt th when the lightning lit the sky, and not far off, then came the thunder. He walked through the winding paths of laystalks, following the light of Five’s scanner. He stopped at the top of his steps for one more look. The barn was dark and silent, the rest of the service droids recharging.
He took off his work boots by the door, an old door and old boots, old aged oak wood, a screen-door with a latch between them, plastic and mesh-wire screening, that old metal laced to the glass. He left his boots outside and opened his door, locking it behind him.
After a quick bite to eat he hung his raincoat and his camo hat on a hatstand in the foyer and staggered up the small stairway, quiet though the old floor was, still it creaked and groaned, wool socks on fraying carpet. His bedroom door was open, as was the room adjacent, once Rob’s, his eldest boy, a grown man now, married and two kids. He’d never imagined he’d miss the noise after wishing for so long, for some measure of peace and quiet, he found it worse, and the atmosphere the worse for it deprived of children’s laughter.
His wife was already in her nightgown and under the covers, propped against the headboard with a well-worn book, her delicate reading glasses resting on the tip of her nose. Without looking up she asked,
‘Has it started stormin’ yet?’
“Not yet,” said John. “Sure looks like it’s comin’ though.”
“Good thing, too,” said Wendy. “We sure could use the rain.”
John started unbuttoning his shirt, one button at a time. He pulled it over his shoulders and sat on the back, his back turned to his wife. He starting getting undressed, beginning with his watch, Timerist, copper on an expanding bracelet.
“It’s pretty out, don’t you think?” he asked. “I like that kind of lightning. You don’t see that jagged strike, you know? The crooked lightning? But firefly lightning, that’s what my uncle called it, when just a bunch of clouds light up real bright for a moment. Storm must not be far off.”
His wife smiled, “You still on schedule?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Seem a bit frustrated lately, with that damn robot of yours.”
“Rob said they were Scarecrobots,” said John. “That’s what he called ’em. But, nah, I wouldn’t say I’m havin’ any trouble. I just don’t trust machines. Don’t look at me like that. I ain’t like that. I used a computer in college, but those computers couldn’t grow flowers. I like that thing Rob got his boy for Christmas, I’m not scared of them — cause those probably couldn’t kill me. Those little glowin’ books.”
“An iPad, John. Rob’s little boy is just like you, both of y’all call ’em Ipids.”
“Now, those are fine!” said John. “I trust ’em just fine, you know, they do as they told. But these Scarecrobots–-they’re different. What a name! And they’re designed to be scary, right? So, if I trusted them, I’d have to demand my money back. If they can scare me, that’s enough to scare a damn bird.”
“So you’d think,” said Wendy.
“I’m about as smart as one,” said John. “I could hold my own against a crow.”
“In a game of chess, with a crow?”
“Naw,” said John, continuing to undress and get ready for bed. “I think I’d take ’em in checkers though.”
Wendy laughed and took off her glasses.
“I thought you liked Thames,” she said.
“Yeah, I like him just fine. Hell, he’s a friend. But that damn Scarecrobot Five, something’s off. I got a replacement, but, I don’t want to replace Five.”
“Why not?”
“‘Cause I’m a considerate man and I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“But we’re planting next week, John, and I’ve been seeing crows coming and going. We can’t afford it, not this year. We can’t feed every bird in the world.”
“You know, I’ve only been seein’ one,” said John. “Have you seen more than one? No, no, no, I mean, not more than one time, but more than one at a time? ‘Cause I only see that one. But there’s trees full of ’em about a mile from here, in Todd Metz old barn.”
“Hmm.”
Wendy marked her page by folding the corner and put the book on the nightstand. She turned the lamp off as John crawled into bed.
“You can always get yourself one of those old-fashioned scarecrow,” she said. “We used to make ’em out of broomsticks and hay, and old hats. Someday they’re gonna make Farmerbots, and then we can spend more time with Rob and the kids.”
“Hmm.
She slid closer to him, “What would you be then, Farmer John? Just plain old John? What would you do, what would you do except give me kisses?”
She pulled his face to hers, their lips pressed warmly together, they stopped, lingering, looking into each other’s eyes and breathing heavy, smiling.
“I’ll find you a robot to kiss, I’ll find you one. How bout your damn dad?
“Until I get a Femachine!” he said, laughing his loud, obnoxious laugh. Wendy put her book on the bedside table and crossed her arms, a pretend huff, and how adorable. John crawled onto the bed and straddled her with his arms, putting her nose against hers and rubbing them together. He rubbed his nose against hers more and more enthusiastically until she pushed him over with a laugh.
“They’ll never replace that,” said John, “Can’t make a robot give eskimo kisses.”
He rolled back over to the side of the bed, slid off his old watch, imitation gold on an expanding bracelet, then off came his glasses, one sock then the other. He took his pill organizer from the small drawer, seven compartments, each labeled, each for a different day: S, M, T, W, T, F, S, and he popped open Saturday, took out a large blue pill, oblong and imprinted with a V, and another, smaller pill, pink with 30 on one side and L M on the other. He took them both with a glass of water, ahh! His wife turned off the lamp beside her, her glasses too, and rolled over to face her husband as he unbottoned his old flannel shirt. She ran her fingers down his back.
Oh! He shouted. Cold! Cold!
He tossed back the covers and crawled in bed, pulled the covers over them both, and turned to face her.
“How’re the twins?” he asked.
“You mean my little gardeners?” she asked, a coy smile on her lips. “My boys?”
“I sure do,” he said. “Jackson has always been your favorite.”
She smiled, saying, “I love my little gardeners! Sidney’s the quiet type, and Jackson loves to talk. That friend of yours, Thames, he taught them all about gardening. Pretty soon, they’ll be able to take over permanently.”
He said, “And farmers’ wives, too. Don’t forget that, Winny. You start slippin’ up, you may be sleepin’ on hay.”
She pushed him and he grabbed her arm, pulling her closer.
“Fine,” she said. “Give me my spot!”
She took his arm and put it underneath her head, wrapping it around her shoulder, and she lay against his chest, warm and rising with his breathing. She ran her fingers through his hair, smoothing it behind his ears, just like he used to wear it.
“I love you,” Wendy said. “That’s somethin’ you can’t program.”
“I guarantee you,” he said, “Somewhere in Japan, right now, there’s a love-sick robot.”
They shared a quiet laugh, a smile as she drew closer.
“I thought you liked them,” she said, “You sure seemed to like those two Rob’s got.”
“But those are protocol, except for the butler in his little penguin suit. That’s just protocol and manners. But how do you expect Five or Four even, or any of ’em to be actually scared? You can’t be scary if you don’t know what fear is, if you ask me.”
“Go to bed, John,” said Wendy. “You can teach your Scarecrows how to be afraid in the morning.”
He kissed her again, long and with love, with sincerity.
“I’ll put the fear of God in ’em,” he said, and turned off his lamp.
“Good-night, John,” said Wendy.
“Good-night Wendy,” said John.
And they fell asleep to the sound of crickets and a new noise in the missing storm, a chorus of frogs, always coming round that time of year, towards the fall, all getting together before going South.

First chapter finished

I

 

Students and readers are no doubt familiar with Shakespeare’s popular history play Julius Caesar. What may be less familiar is the social and political climate in which the play was written. There had been a long succession crisis in Tudor england during the 1560s1 and the possibility of civil war was very real. With no heir or obvious successor, it’s not hard to imagine Elizabeth sensing plots all around her. With Parliament standing in for the senators of Rome in Shakespeare’s drama, she had every right to be nervous. There were plots being organized to overthrow Elizabeth I. Pope Pius V denounced her as a heretic and decreed anyone who killed her would not sin, and would have god’s blessing. Conspirators on the ground in France and Catholic Spain plotted her overthrow with Rome, organized behind the idea of putting the Catholic Mary Steward on the throne. Elizabeth outmaneuvered Mary, and she would face the gallows after being caught out on a conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth, and she was consumed within the famous Babington plot, and later at Chartley Manor by Elizabeth’s very capable spymaster, Walsingham. One wonders if Elizabeth ever dreaded that the English Civil Wars would soon upon her death, and wondered about the Parliament threat to the persons of Kings and Queens.

This paper will not be a study of which conspiracy is right or wrong. It will not be based on a personal perspective, but on a perspectival that looks at conspiracy and its effects on those who are inclined to believe them and skeptics. A conspiracy movement is motivated by shared beliefs and principles, sometimes philosophical, sometimes political, and they’re willing to work towards the realization of an agreed upon social object. Conspiracies are the culture myths of the post-social world, whereby we understand the phenomena of thunder much more than we do the complicated and elaborated that conspiracists work to bring out of each other in an example of social multi-think. Questioning belief can become a mantra, and conspiracy is a skeptic’s secular mythology, replete with heroes and villains like the mythography of old, with apostles and gurus, each armed with Psalm-like literature. There are characters that deceive, misinformation agents, and our social and personal self-actualization is in opposing them. If not physically, spiritually, as the hero exposes the global conspiracy of alien control through media consumption and dies with a middle finger pointed at them in John Carpenter’s social satire They Live. It has been taken to be a sort of allegory, but it can be an allegory literarily speaking without necessarily being a true intentional revealing of a specific conspiracy about a specific peoples. But, conspiracy theories have applied to others (and our entertainment has thrilled us with the barbaric others in popular cinema). The notion for us in the modern world is to pull the mask off these powerful structures to expose them, as a conspiracy theorist is want to do in a case where they have become emotionally compromised by the material. It falls in line with the notion that in the west hearing “voices” as a symptom of schizophrenia is typified by angrier, more violent personas than those in far-eastern countries. While those in America imagine hostile forces.

In ancient cultures, these inner voices were considered the voice of ancestors, in Chinese familial piety, the sense of self actualization came through the reverence of tradition and the ancestors, passing down their belief and storytelling traditions, waiting for each successive generation to contribute. As in an unfinished religion, before the New Testament, there was still an installment on its way. And yet, an active conspiracy theory is an oral tradition that has yet to be formalized and compiled into its secular mythology. Those who have rejected traditional structures for alternatives hold as fast as to those alternatives as they once held, or as those they now self-arrange as opposite, replacing what was once the vast force of God and giving meaning to the season by the explanation that the earth rotates on an axis at a 23-degree tilt, causing the seasons. We give the force of nature over to nature, letting it be sufficient enough to enforce its own laws, while behind the scenes where there were once vast, all-powerful gods and forces of nature, we now have a never-ending lattice wherein all contribution towards the conspiratorial argument of a belief structure is attached to a pre-structured apocrypha. In the past, we resigned the unseen work to Providence, but in a conspiratorial mindset we put the hat on those that can’t be identified. We give human agency to chance and probability, imbuing it with many and purpose, with a ready source of blame for our discontent.

In ancient cultures, beliefs and cultural identity came from tradition and culture heroes4. A social cell ranges from a small collective come together by an operative principle of thinking together, the creation of a social, public area of life with mutual interests. Any collective, from native tribes to modern collectives, has a foundational, motivational principle built into its structure. A civilization could be, in this sense, regarded as a realized social cell: a cell in which a stable majority of interacting non-social individuals share the beliefs and values of the collective and identify socially in the manner of an individual, participating in holidays and respecting the traditions of the tribe. An individual need only look to the heroes and villains of legend to understand how to work virtuously and for the greater good, as a civic service.

Historically, a generic social cell was built on the foundation of myth, identity, purpose, motivation, and meaning. A civil purpose, the familiar routines of tradition and communal meals at synagogue, church, or Masonic lodge. Conspiracy touches on notions of structural stability, that of institutions and social, greater good establishments for an organized people, where the social cell perpetuates shared values which give individuals a group identity of non-social goals. A pre-social cell is a society that hasn’t congealed, or one that is together purely for survival and necessity. When we consider groups, we would do better to consider individual motives. The study of conspiracy theory allows us to look at how belief takes shape by looking at myth as it happens, in popular entertainment, literature and culture. It helps us understand how societies function in their formation and disintegration. In conspiracy theories, one can work by looking for patterns. And sometimes, when we are possessed of a belief, we tend to see patterns everywhere, and the mistakes we make in finding patterns where there are none is something worth considering when looking for patterns you expect to see, as pareidolia can make links to ideas and objects where there are none.5.

Another interesting facet of conspiracies is that of its ability to inspire, and draw inspiration from, popular hysteria, such as the red scare of McCarthyists and the military purges of Josef Stalin after the Russian Civil war, is it a coincide, that so many fall before the charge Traison! As it tends to have its greatest effects in times of socio-political upheaval, the study of conspiracy allows us look at history with a warped lens, where everything is potentially menacing. A popular notion, perhaps made popular by Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the historical impact of the Salem witch trials in America, a land whose founding myth is in thirds the freedom of religion, meaning freedom to have or to live peacefully if not. These laws were not in place in such times; it gave people the last desperate  and historical impact, with many failed conspiracies exerting an impressive influence on the present, which all good myths do: it highlights connections before the expression, such as the assassination of Julius Caesar bringing to popular attention the possibility of a civil war, and common attributes denote common substance. It’s not surprising that solved conspiracies such as Watergate have not kept the same amount of cultural appeal as America’s political assassination conspiracy. The film All the President’s Men could have been a guide for Oliver Stone: it begins with a small discrepancy, a few reporters start to cover the conspiracy as it’s happening, but at the end, the conspiracy is revealed. President Nixon resigned from the office of President of the United States 2 months after the publication of the investigator’s book on the case6, as the whole process is painstakingly detailed in the follow up to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation, as the Nixon administration dissolves, taking down one of the most Machiavellian politicians of his era, foiled in the end by a burglar 7.

The kind of conspiracy and myth that endures and becomes a necessary component of one’s culture is one without a definite solution. There is a contrariness in our approach; attracted to mystery, yet through our earliest literary work, the Epic of Gilgamesh, had already started asking questions about life and death and mortality. Humans are inclined towards mystery, but closure amid crises, even if the resolution is horrific, the conspiracy theory that has yet to be disproved and as such has a massive corps of motivated, public-object-oriented individuals who continue the tradition, as oral lit was the repetition and slight changing and passing down from one generation to the next, a similar cycle for conspiratorial detailing, the world-building of a conspiracy theory as a genre of literature.

Watergate did shock the majority of Americans (perhaps not as much because of president Nixon’s behavior but their surprise at his getting caught) and yet at the same time we got an answer. The enduring mythology is that type of adaptable myth, that is multi purposed for different eras and arranged in slightly different ways. It is a way to contribute to the continued stability of a society’s institutions, as the faith in the American government fell sharply after the Nixon administration and, and public trust in the government has continued to decline.8 But the whole of the cell didn’t collapse; the organizational principle remained to all as long as it remained to one capable of sharing and reuniting the social cell. It wasn’t necessary, though: Gerald Ford was sworn in on 8th August 19749 and everyone moved on. But Caesar’s assassination has resonated with many different cultures since the Ides of March in the year 44 B.C.E.  

Shakespeare would return to conspiracy and assassination more than once in his career, notably in Richard II10, giving Carlisle the prophesy that, if Richard II were to be deposed, there would be a civil war. in Shakespeare’s time, he wrote about a society that, above all things, saw the image of a king as that of something oppressive, despotic, arbitrary, chaotic, sociopathic and unreasonable. We see a world of stark, dramatic measures, where it is political maneuver by the blade; where it was not for the meek. As Shakespeare continued to study the story of Julius Caesar, and later Antony and Cleopatra, one assumes he might have been alarmed at what he saw. Caesar Augustus’ had a long reign, though not as long as that of Elizabeth I. The victory at Actium by Augustus had been the last time roman soldiers crossed swords with fellow Romans, and in the gallery of Julias Caesar, no one in the hall thought of what that might look like, an English Civil War or the execution of a king. Oliver Cromwell was born the year of Shakespeare’s debut of his new play, in 1599, and would later be a key signatory to King Charles I death warrant.

II INTERSOCIAL MYTHMAKING

Murder by Decree was released in 1976. Starring Christopher Plummer and George Mason. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on the trail of the elusive Jack the Ripper. Sherlock Holmes’ story, which – like all conspiracies that work with other, larger conspiracies – there is a shared mythology each time a new conspiracy answer is added to the collective myth, as the collected myths of Hesiod, the traditional Orphic poems, and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound11. Each tale fills in the blanks where other myths are silent, therefore giving the foundation a more solid structure simply by making it a part of a structure that is already a foundation.

The movie Murder by Decree is a pastiche1, a type of story where public domain characters, such as Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu stories written long after the original authors have stopped writing. This film takes bits of fiction, and a bit of fictional history, set in Victorian, England. It borrows characters and scenarios from the wellspring of Jack the Ripper murders and the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  The explanation for Jack’s enduring popularity is the same as that of spy thrillers and Agatha Christie; we’re in it for the questions, not the answers, and in a case in which no one knows the truth, this let us project our own notion of evil and depraved onto possible suspects, drawing on phobias and primeval fears, and we assume the role of virtuoso hero in search of trust. The mixture of Jack the Ripper myths has spilled into Alan Moore, whose graphic novel was adapted into From Hell, where an opium smoking Johnny Depp blunders through the squalid East End streets, in the midst of a serial killer who is just getting started. As a depiction of the interplay in conspiracy and the normal behavior of the human brain, by showing the detective process as the connection of one item to one person, finding grape sprigs dropped in the street, pathetic clues. The facts are almost boring. The only thing worse than a mystery that can’t be solved is a mystery with an easy solution, though, and so it appeals to that side of our problem solving nature.

And it’s understandable for a period of such chaos and confusion and fear to generate ever more elaborate conspiracy theories. An unsolved murder mystery is a natural environment for a conspiracy theory, as they thrive in high profile, unsolved murders and cold cases. In Murder by Decree, the author seems to work by the notion of propinquity, that of establishing proximity and thereby a ‘link’ that confirms a certain idea, making innocuous correlations seem ominous and deeply important. What remains remarkable about this is the mixing of myth with purported fact, the connecting the dots method of research, and is an international, multisocial myth.

Understanding how myth influences the way we think, through Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories14 or bad movies, may let us understand what social myth offered pre-social societies. Any force capable of disturbing social order like famine or natural disasters, capable of destroying societies, was sure to have related mythography. It was by the social progress that a non-personal idea becomes a shared public object, which works as a refined coping mechanism.

The multisocial myths was popular after the Roman conquest of Greece, where Rome adopted Greek deities, storytelling traditions, and philosophical ideas of the new satellite state15. This is an example of a stronger social cell absorbing and retaining the core of an assimilated social conscience through conquest. The seasons themselves are given character, personality, and agency, such as in etiological story of Demeter’s despair, with the crops failing upon her daughter Persephone departing each yard for the underworld. This was a personal relationship of interactive social forces.

 

Roman would develop its own social-historical myths and characters16. When cultures endure severe times, famine, plague, and disease, a means of humanity’s endurance during these confusing and chaotic times is to ‘attempt to define the indefinable’17. The practice of making sense of chaos and of tragedy is a recognizable primordial form of conspiracism. Powerful forces behind the scenes, mighty and awesome beings of immense influence and empires, capable of holding empires beneath the whims and caprice of invisible hands – the use of anthropomorphic gods as stand-ins for natural abstracts – makes them more familiar; and there is comfort in familiarity. is an imprint of what individual lives within the cell were like; it is a social thumbprint

Etiology is the ennobling of one’s past and allows for something in the social sphere to mean something, rather than it be a senseless loss, or unpoetic, cruel human loss. In the case of a conspiracy, the subsequent imparting of meaning somehow adds our non-social person to the material relationship within the social cell.

As ancient civilizations build their myth and culture around the powers that held them in thrall, each reckoned as an abstracted quality given human form, modern conspiracy theory often contains many of these elements. From the prevalence of powerful groups manipulating events from behind the scenes, to a small group of recurring powers with control extending like long filaments into every orifice of the world, they’re omnipresent

The relationship between the building of myth and conspiracy is not superficial. Both attempt to explain the inexplicable; each are populated by an attempt to give meaning to and find solace in a tragedy by giving it a familiar, recognizable face. Further, the modern conspiracy culture is an ever expanding group, with a founding myth that gives purpose to their efforts, with the task of giving a human face to these unseen forces and ascribing meaning to the innumerable questions conspiracy theories generate. With a human face and a sense of meaning, a group has an identity and a purpose, with their actions ennobled.

Finally, a myth is bound to reinforce a sense of cultural identity through the organizing principle and build bonds through a new, shared understanding, like the pantheon of Roman gods, by looking closely at them and seeing their fears, their idea of heroism and virtue, of villainy and vice. In short, it is the window into the anatomy of an ancient and long-lived human tendency to look for meaning, to look for patterns in nature and in human behavior.

The manner of a founding myth’s stability for a civilization and larger society comes from much older processes in the human brain, not limited to human beings. Connecting the dots, pattern recognition, seeing causal relationships between nature and material action. In pre-industrial social cells, the inclination to conspiratorial thinking and designs of competing social cells, cells competing within with out-growths or at war with a foreign, differently organized and motivated cell, allowed for individuals to have a sense that they were a part of something larger than themselves, and that it wasn’t all meaningless. Sometimes that’s enough for a society to survive, as long as some part of it becomes a part of a future socio-organizational myth.

The character of the surviving social cell then is a society unified behind traditional beliefs, history, and culture, and its consistency among the population can be viewed as the measure of the cell’s popular cohesion. By connecting an individual’s misfortune with that of the social cell, or with characters of history and legend, persons can draw strength and motivation from these traditions, mythical characters, and the behavior of great culture heroes., mutual belief, and a shared history is how a social cell is defined, it is an important factory in a society’s behavior, internally and externally.

In other cases, a newly formed social cell, after passing through a period of rebellion (usually revolution), will go to war as a means of social unification and nationality. This way, a newly formed social cell remains stable as a cell in rebellion, without having to settle for a cohesive national structure. One popular example of this is the myth of war enthusiasm in pre-World World I Germany. War enthusiasm is a popular term used to define the spirit of national identity prior to the war18. One can’t help notice the similar public attitude during times of revolution, as the enthusiasm for revolution in France was far more pervasive – including elements of every rung of society, from the poorest to the emperor – than the enthusiastic patriots of a newly founded and suddenly powerful German. The citizens of the newly formed social cell of Germany had the legends and heroes of the wars of German unification, giving a newly united and sovereign cell, founding on a myth of revolution. A perpetually revolutionary cell will fall apart, as much as a perpetually anti-social cell will fall to multisocial cells.

One of the major nexus points in world history is the conspiracy to assassinate Arch Franz Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

A conspiracy in theory is a shared dissenting myth, around which motivated groups become organized. Rallied by principle and motivated by social, or political goals, a conspiracy theory sometimes rebels against a standard, accepted structure within a society. When there is social dissent within a shared myth or religious schism, one sees civil war and reformation. Sometimes, in post-industrial social cells, the denunciation of a previously established ideal can become a large enough cell in itself to push against its traditions, which can lead to revolution, such as the French Revolution of 178319. As historian Simon Schama observed: “Virtually as soon as the term was coined, ‘old regime’ was automatically freighted with associations of both traditionalism and senescence. It conjured up a society so encrusted with anachronisms that only a shock of great violence could free the living organism within.”20 The French revolution can be said to demonstrate the principle of a cell in rebellion, an attempt to remake tradition and overturn what had been a majority. It can be seen as a rebellious cell’s attempt to force agreement for survival upon a possibly weak social cell and overturn it, as the monarchy collapsed during the Revolution of February 23-24, called the February revolution, as food riots broke out in Pretrograd21.

 

On March 3rd, tsarist rule had come to an end22. Revolutionaries are best viewed as social discontents, with socially cognitive objects in mind, and the means and nerve to carry out the socio-political objective through interaction with other social objects, persons or groups of persons. Non-social, personal interactions within cells can change the nature of the social sphere, the space between the inner and outer walls. The outer wall is our organizing impulse, maintained by social-interpersonal agreements. Social thought is a cohesive structure for maintaining a stable society, and for a social cell to be overcome, a transformation of the culture, traditions, and social mores must change with it, and the new core must be attained by majority.

III JFK, Subversion and the Cell in Rebellion

In a Times article in 201423 ““Here’s Why We Believe in Conspiracies”, prominent conspiracy scholar Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, said, “Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened. The sense-making leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality.”

After reviewing JFK, Roger Ebert was approached by Walter Cronkite for his review24. “There is not a bit of truth in it!” Cronkite said. The late film critic later wrote in his review that he felt that Stone was capturing a pervasive mood in the counter-culture about the assassination, that it was a film that captured the way some Americans felt, about the need for answers in the days and then years after the assassination.

Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison is a good fit for the character. His motivation and passion is understood as depicted. As assassination researcher and former Los Angeles County Public Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi puts it in Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy “…Rejecting the message of the clean-cut, wholesome-looking Costner (Garrison) is like rejecting motherhood, apple pie, and the American flag.”25

In the film, Costner’s take on Garrison is a patriot, open-minded, truth-seeking detective, looking to expose a vast conspiracy that has gotten to the heart of the American social cell. To seek the truth is a heroic act, to expose crime in places where the abuse of power is most likely is courageous, even. They follow leads, doggedly pursing them wherever they leave. They are physically and morally courageous, against a large and faceless system, intent upon giving it a face.

JFK perverts this in a way, historically, by neglecting to mention any detractions from the case Garrison attempts to put together in the film. Where it becomes social mythmaking is in providing questions and then answering them selectively. It is informative in showing the process of popular myth and belief as it is being made.

What’s the harm, then? As Bugliosi puts it, “The problem with Stone is, really, not that he egregiously fictionalized the Kennedy assassination. The problem was is that he was trying to convince everyone he was telling the truth.”26 A small group of patriots are pitted against the endless bureaucracies of the US Government, and they have their phones tapped. Team members betray the group (an evolving rebellion cell against an established social cell). The film’s world is a small group of men who are behind the major events, while we little people can’t even begin to comprehend the vast and inexplicable subtleties of this grand design. It is a tale of betrayal and personal sacrifice, but it’s for the sanctity of American traditions, for the truth. In a way, it is Jim Garrison playing the offenders of Caesar’s murder in the Shakespearean play, as Garrison brings up Julius Caesar to a fellow-researcher who is having doubts27. In the end, in the prosecution’s final summation, he gets to the heart of his accusation:

In JFK, Oliver Stone is attempting to present a widespread discontent which Americans had built up over the years, and takes a bit here and bit there from other prominent researchers whose work had kept the movement going between the release of the Warren Commission Report and the release of JFK. Since its release in ’91, as of 15 November 2013, according to a Gallup poll28, the majority of Americans believe JFK was killed in a conspiracy. This is common in cases of social thinking, or individual-social ideation – where a single person is influencing through social means the thoughts of a significant amount of people.

As a legal drama, JFK works as a film, but only by using ahistorical composite characters, such as “X”. X is important because he supplies the foundation myth for a new generation of anti-social cells: Oliver Stone joined the U.S. Army in 1967, and returned “very mixed up, very paranoid, and very alienated,”29 like many of his generation. The foundation myth of the Kennedy is that the president was taken out because he intended to withdraw from Vietnam. Surely, this is something that would’ve influenced Stone deeply and personally, as a veteran. When “X” introduced himself as “one of those secret guys in the pentagon”, and goes on to give the following speech:

“I spent much of September ’63 working on the Kennedy plan for getting all us personnel out of Vietnam by the end of ’65. This plan was one of the strongest and most important papers issued from the Kennedy White House. Our first 1,000 troops were ordered home for Christmas.”30 The plan mentioned in X’s statement is National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263.

L Fletcher Prouty, on whom X is based, really worked close to people involve in the formulating of this plan, but there is precious little evidence that Prouty himself had anything to do with. In his book, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy repeats a similar claim (summarizing the McGeroge-Bundy cover letter that accompanied NSAM 263):

“At a meeting on October 5, 1964, the President considered the recommendations contained in the report of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on their mission to South Vietnam. The President approved the military recommenddations contained in Section I B (1-3) of the report, but directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 US military personnel by the end of 1963.”31

Prouty goes on to quote the relevant section of the McNamara-Taylor report:

IB(2) A program be established to train Vietnamese so that essential functions now performed by US military personnel can be carried out by Vietnamese by the end of 1965. It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of US military personnel by that time.

IB(2) In accordance with the program to train progressively Vietnamese to take over military functions, the Defense Department should announce in the very near future presently prepared plans to withdraw 1,000 US military personnel by the end of 196332.

This leads Prouty to conclude, “In brief, those sections above are the essence of the Kennedy policy that would take men out of Vietnam in 1963 and the bulk of all military personnel out by 1965.”33

In order to understand Oliver Stone’s perspective in evaluating this film and its legacy, one might attempt to ‘solve’ it, or at least draw an inference based on our understanding of conspiratorial groups as cells in rebellion of their natural social environment, wherein a rebel cell might attempt majority and grow, based on how many social objects reject sources from once trusted foundations. By our study of myth as etiology, drive to search for truth and meaning.

For viewers, it’s easy to see how the tragedy of the JFK assassination is compounded by the tragedy of the Vietnam War, as it was for Oliver Stone, in which millions would be killed or wounded, and millions more shocked and sobered by the horrors of war. To take JFK from the people by this assassination, from the people he might have otherwise spared the traumas of this divisive, ignominious war, is a greater tragedy than that of a lone assassin. This is how a social event can directly affect someone on a non-social level, and motivate them to rally around a social object as a means of organization and of personal principle.

From the perspective of Stone and many, an entire generation – a lost microbe of what may have become foundational and contributed to the stability of the national/cultural – to look at this film as fact, the conspiracy theory turns JFK into more than a victim, shot while the world looked on, in broad daylight – it gives us a martyr, someone who died for a cause, giving meaning to his death beyond the event itself, but, as we’ve seen, gives us closure, stability, and a chance to get our bearings.

When a rebellion cell achieves majority, the record is distorted, the social cell deteriorates and is sickened by mixed constituent parts. History therefore is viewed through a warped lens when a minority individuals within a social cell rally together and achieve majority of believe, they are a cell in rebellion of the established cell. In such a case, the social cell’s outer membrane loses cohesion and assumes the identity of the rebel cell, wherein the filters of conspiracy are placed atop the historical record.

Our socio-personal development of conspiratorial thinking is an early stage of social-cognitive development, where we begin to consider others as social objects, with intent, motivation, belief, and purpose as oneself. Recognizing that someone can exist outside of the self as an independent object in a social environment, we can look at scenarios and project more or less how we would act if put in the same situation.

As we gradually become aware of another person as a thinking agent, the first step towards psychological, motivational inference is in reading someone’s intent by an examination of their actions. In Cognitive Development34 John H. Flavell outlines social cognition as series of developmental stages, each a part of social cognition’s complexities as we interact with others, and attempt to recognize other social phenomena, that of persons as thinking persons, with intents and points of view different than ourselves, it is the basic knowledge of aspect of the social world exists in life35, that of its existence.

 

The first stage is the mere recognizing of another person, or persons, as social phenomena within a realm of interactive possibility. To think sociably, one considers that others, as individuals and groups, and among groups, have different ideas, beliefs, and unique perspective . The next stage of social cognition is need36, which amounts to individual attempts at understanding and acting with awareness of others’ feelings and experiences37.

Inference concerns a capacity to carry out social thinking successfully, though the thinking need not be strictly defined as inference, but more broadly as any social cognitive process, the discussion of personal ideas between individuals on a given subject. If you have the disposition to rely on inference as an act of social cognition, for example, you might look at a conversation and find a specific remark that is indicative of a broader range of beliefs and personal feelings.

Social cogitation is the sharing of inferences about the relationship between people and events, and the collective process of social cogitation is an organizing principle behind social groups, persons and individuals. Interactions between one person engaged in social cogitation and another influence anyone else involved in the social sphere capable of further inferences from these micro-interactions, or interactions among groups.

An important realization is that any cohesive society relies on harmonious social thinking; those an individual, like an individual social cell, is only one among many in the world, as an individual is only one among many, they have telling interactions when a post-social cell or united-social cells become possible. Social thinking is individual’s public voice, the chorus of which, among others, should be considered the mucus membrane of any social cell, whereas the inner core is a founding narrative, the recitation of the society’s origin and myths to reinvigorate and motive traditional social arrangements.

V Social division, rebellion, and revolution

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France37, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space. Ordinary people got involved in the questions before the government. Books which offended the Royal Censor, such as the work of Enlightenment philosophes, were often censored in old regime France38.

Works that undermined the monarchy or the clergy, like Voltaire’s Candide and Rousseau’s The Social Contract, were censored and some of the books were literally taken to prison39.

Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro in the 1780s. Reading it now, it seems tame. But at the time it was so radical that the censor took it to King Louis XVI himself. Louis said: “This shall never be played. It would be necessary to dismantle the Bastille itself before this could be played without consequences. This man mocks at everything in the government which ought to be respected.”40

Despite being formally banned, the play was an enormous hit in private salons. And when the ban was lifted, Figaro became one of the smash hits of the century41. What was it that made it so popular? It had the Royal Censor, which was sure to bring a crowd, as Simon Schama put it in his series The Power of Art41.

But on the other hand, it was cheap, and accessible to a wide class of society, from the madames and monsieur in the boxes to the often illiterate peasants in the pit.

The subversion that cut so deep into the traditions of old regime France aren’t noticeable today. But in a society of rank inequality between the classes, the rich and the poor, its egalitarian message, its winks to the clever and scrappy princes of Spain, Beaumarchais undermined the very foundation of the French social cell:

“Nobility, rank, position, how proud they make a man feel! You think because you are great nobleman you are a genius? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, nothing more. Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born—nothing more. For the rest—a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century.”42

Calling an estates general would bring together representatives of the three legal orders of politically active Frenchmen: the aristocracy, the clergy, and the commoners. It had been inactive since 1614, and was called due to the financial crisis following France’s military support of America in its war of revolution against the British. The nation was going broke. The debt crisis was due primarily to the war with Britain and participating in the American Revolution. And years of poor harvests had caused grain riots in Paris43. This estates general brought the inequality of the old regime into sharp relief. It was bred into the French way of life. A seigneur or seigneury upon taking up residence in their parish takes their special pew at the front of the church, usually adorned by their coat of arms. The peasants of the lands pledge to work so much and dedicate so much barley and grain over the year. Traditional seigneurial dues allowed them to make bizarrely specific requests and demands of their peasants: for example, one nobleman’s list of dues was a number of ornamental feathers, a quota of olive oil and wine, a chicken, and a pair of leather gloves. The Catholic political arm of the old regime, weren’t only exempt from royal taxes, but got to impose a tithe on the peasants, while the seigneurial dues were owed to landowners by all peasants who worked in the lord’s bakery, or who made wine in the lord’s press.44

This was not a society in which secretly and behind the scenes a small group of rich men plotted on oppressing the public, distorting information to control and make them into mindless workers. This was not a secret. The notion of conspiracy, that of people in high office making subversive plans against the public, that was not a theory; it was a way of life. The foundations of King, aristocracy, tradition, ritual and the clergy were the foundational pillars of the French social cell, a cell rapidly losing cohesion. The revolutionaries didn’t want to overthrow the government, at first, with the right supporting the King. The political climate was tense when news of

After a major defeat in the Battle of Neerwinden in March 1793, he made a desperate move to save himself from his radical enemies. Arresting the four deputy- commissioners of the National Convention who had been sent to inquire into his conduct (Camus, Bancal-des-Issarts, Quinette, and Lamarque) as well as the Minister of War, Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, he handed them over to the enemy, and then attempted to persuade his troops to march on Paris and overthrow the revolutionary government. The attempt failed, and Dumouriez, along with the duc de Chartres (afterwards King Louis Philippe) and his younger brother, the duc de Montpensier, fled into the Austrian camp. This blow left the Girondists vulnerable due to their association with Dumouriez.

Citizen soldiers fought royalists in the Vende, in Western France, and after Dumirouriez defection, the left was radicalized, and quick to use the Girondists’ former support and political consistency with the traitorous general, and in radical press agigators like Jean-Paul Marat, a conspiracy-minded Jacobin who had predicted many of the turning points of the revolution, and when he pointed to a conspiracy, the revolutionary tribunal, once established, would take

To get past suspicions, of which conspiracy theory is now the formal disbelief, the inter-social exchange should be encouraged, when a social cell can interact with others and incorporate without absorbing, then the multisocial cell construct becomes possible.

A multisocial cell is the achievement of a society that can survive the attempts of anti-social opposition from without and rebel cells from within. This is a national stage of social development, as our first tribes were strictly isolated and xenophobic, our most modern social cells run the spectrum of hated, tolerated, supportive in its willingness towards social polyculturalism. In the anti-social cell, the tradition is a collection of traditions the individual social objects reject. But, as a rebel cell can only survive amid opposition, it cannot outlast the multisocial cell; for the cell in rebellion must be in rebellion to survive.

As Jacopo della Quercia’s recent books

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The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocketwatch Conspiracy and License to Quill have shown, our enduring interest in conspiracy theories, whether in history, entertainment, literature and film, continues unabated. His recent works are, as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. By using history as an inspiration for a tale of discovery, intended to seek answers to great questions, to seek, to solve great mysteries of the past and use them as lessons for the mysteries that persist. While Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Richard II drew inspiration from other cultures, such as Rome and that of his own unique social history, Jacopo’s work draws upon popular tradition and even historical fiction to reveal what are timeless truths, multisocial foundations and unique attribute of the modern attempt at a multisocial cell: expressing a celebration of foreign histories and traditions as well as inter-social history, cultural diversity and adventure provide the foundations for future, possible multisocial cells.

Incorporating multiple traditions and myths into a social cell does not dilute the composite of the whole. They establish an elasticity and flexible structure, a foundation that will not break when pulled apart or when holes are picked in any individual foundation; a multisocial, polycultural cell is a hope for the future, perhaps.

V Towards a Multisocial Social Model

While JFK’s posthumous reputation has done to glorify him and lament the loss of promise shown by the handsome, young president and charming wife, only time will tell if this interactive social mythmaking keeps majority as a rebel cell, and further, how long a traditional social cell can remain cohesive with an alternative majority within a wider cultural consensus. One needs to look only to Nero, or to the irony of Lee Harvey Oswald, the person to whom all evidence points as the assassin, has been pardoned, with many within the conspiracy community believing in his absolute innocence. To contrast that, it’s a popular myth that the Emperor Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’.1

Cassius Dio’s account of the Great Fire and Nero’s Role in it can be found in his Roman History. Cassius Dio’s account is unflattering to say the least. He begins with the claim that “Nero set his heart on making an end of the whole realm dying during his lifetime.”

2

Dio’s account continues as Nero sets about sending out men pretending to be drunk or engaged in general hooliganism while setting fire to different parts of the city. After several days and nights of destruction and deluge, the wailing of children and lamentations of the women fill the air. Nero ascends to the roof of the palace which offered the greatest view of the conflagration. And assuming his lyre player’s garb he sang the Capture of Troy, as he styled the song himself.source please

Suetonius’ account of Nero in The Twelve Caesars

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is similarly unflattering. In this account, Suetonius states that Nero pretended to be disgusted with the drab old apartments and the narrow, winding streets of Rome. He brazenly set fire to the series. Suetonius adds that two ex-consuls caught Nero’s attendants with tow and blazing torches trespassing on their property but did not interfere. Nero also used the fire to take over several granaries he coveted, solidly built of stone.

Suetonius claims the terror lasted for six days and seven nights, as people were forced to take shelter in monuments and tombs while Nero’s men destroyed apartment buildings as well as mansions that once belonged to famous generals, still decorated in their triumphal trophies; temples, dedicated and vowed by the Kings and others during the Punic & Gallic wars – in fact every ancient monument that had hitherto survived. Here’s where Suetonius deviates from the account of Cassius Dio:

“Nero watched the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas, enraptured by ‘the beauty of the flames”

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. Then Nero put on his tragedians’ costume & and sang the sack of Illyricum. This is an example of a social myth in progress, though not quite congealed yet as a hardened part of the social cell. The thorough establishment of this socio- political myth is interrupted by Tacitus’ accounts from Annals.

In this account Nero was staying at his country estate at Antium and didn’t even return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the gardens of Maecenas. After the fire proved unstoppable, before it could engulf the Palatine and the house and all their immediate surroundings, Nero continued to work to save property and lives. In this account, instead of singing (just yet) Nero worked hard to provide relief for the homeless and fugitive populace, opening the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own gardens and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude. The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces.

With all of this effort, how did the Emperor become the suspect and ultimately accused of starting the fire? Tacitus gives us a hint at how tales, like those of Cassius Dio and Suetonius, were “the subject of few substantial conversations, but many earnest whispered accusations.”

4

Nero’s measures may not have been as popular as their moral character might be, having failed in their effect to reassure and console; for the report spread that at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had taken to his private stage and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, he had sung of the destruction of Troy.

The hint he gives for why this rumor might have caught on was that, after the first fire was finally brought under control at the edge of the Esquiline by demolishing the buildings over a vast area and opposing the great unabated fury, a clear tract of ground opened on the horizon. But the fears had not been allayed, nor had hope returned to the people when the fire resumed its ravages.

Here we have a massive tragedy, again, the conspiratorial fountain of youth, confusion and chaos are in the blood, and social thinking has been blanked by fear; the loss of home and shelter and, the second flame according to Tacitus caused the greater controversy as it had broken out on Aemilian property of Tigellinus and appearances suggested that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name.”

5 The ensuing national trauma was naturally a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, instead of reconciling their lot with the type of senseless tragedy this would be without some agency behind it, the people are left with nothing: no home or property, and no totem, or fear ikon on which to concentrate their exasperation. In the instance of natural disasters, humanity has the seemingly natural inclination to give intent and personality to the forces responsible. They gave Zeus the lightning bolt and virtue, Demeter weeping in the winter over the departure of the summer and her daughter. This instance of a human being given human traits is unique, as – at least as far as absolute power was concerned – an Emperor of Rome had as much power as was capable of being concentrated in two hands in the world at the time, a type of power less than a thousand people have historically wielded, and in front of this type of human power we have the same fear response. It is, as ever, a social definition that runs contrary to the official record. Instilling such fear in a populace can be beneficial for a ruler like Caesar Augustus, the longest uninterrupted ruler of Roman in its history at that time. And after Nero, there would be no heirs to the Julio-Claudian family, and again, there would be civil war.

6 Suetonius himself was born in the Year of the Four Emperors, a society in which generals and pretenders vied for the Imperial title

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the first civil war since the assassination of Julius Caesar, which we discussed in the very first chapter. As it was with Figaro, poking at the structure of a long lived social cell can cause it to deteriorate. Over and over we’ve looked at conspiracy as an organizing principle, but organizational principles are operative when there is first separateness. The organizing principle of conspiracy theorizing and socio-mythography among individuals coming together is the motivational tendency toward civilization and culture.

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France

7

, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

A social conscience and shared culture is easy to take for granted; all the movie references our friends make we are able to share in a social moment only because in being saturated by the same pop culture, and as we share meanings we can move onto share meaningful things.

Social cognition is the necessary condition of a conscious social cell. Discontent with the foundations of an established cell in a time of stagnation is the outgrowth of displacement or reform, that of the rebel cell. During an outgrowth of a potential replacement cell – when a rebel off-shoot obtains majority – we can see how people form into groups and how groups and civilizations tend towards collective villains and heroes, which ultimately adds up to a group sharing perspectives, rather than the limitation of inference and suspicion, a motivating principle of shared means and ends would be collective thinking, in which people imagine together.

The social cell is the end result of the mechanism of cultural exchange involved in the faces of snow clouds, the personalities of a violent sea, and within the American social cell we have our founding myths, as well as Rome, and our heroes. Our heroes have moved from abstractions into more humble forces. To understand an age, look at what’s inside its social cell. In America, the inner walls are filled with books and movies, thrillers and supernatural thrillers, and unique in the American social scale is its welcome addition of those from other social cells to bring a piece of it with them, to enrich the social cell intended to be a place of many cultures, towards the idea of a multi-social cell, in which the individual foundational principles of other cells mix without malcontent. When malcontent is suspected, our imaginations are quick to fill in the blank, based on the way we would ourselves respond.

V Social division, rebellion, and revolution

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France

7

, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space.

37

Ordinary people got involved in the questions before the government. Books which offended the Royal Censor, such as the work of Enlightenment philosophes, were often censored in old regime France.

38

Works that undermined the monarchy or the clergy, like Voltaire’s

Candide and Rousseau’s The Social Contract, were censored and some of the books were literally taken to prison.

39 Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro in the 1780s. Reading it now, it seems tame. But at the time it was so radical that the censor took it to King Louis XVI himself. Louis said: “This shall never be played. It would be necessary to dismantle the Bastille itself before this could be played without consequences. This man mocks at everything in the government which ought to be respected.”

40 Despite being formally banned, the play was an enormous hit in private salons. And when the ban was lifted, Figaro became one of the smash hits of the centur

41

. What was it that made it so popular? It had the Royal Censor, which was sure to bring a crow, as Simon Schama put it in his series The Power of Art.

41

But on the other hand, it was cheap, and accessible to a wide class of society, from the madams and monsieur in the boxes to the often illiterate peasants in the pit.

The subversion that cut so deep into the traditions of old regime France aren’t noticeable today. But in a society of rank inequality between the classes, the rich and the poor, its egalitarian message, its winks to the clever and scrappy princes of Spain, Beaumarchais undermined the very foundation of the French social cell:

“Nobility, rank, position, how proud they make a man feel! You think because you are great nobleman you are a genius? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, nothing more. Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born—nothing more. For the rest—a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century.”

42 Calling an estates general would bring together representative of the three legal orders of politically active Frenchmen: the aristocracy (who , the clergy, and the commoners. It had been inactive since 1614, and was called due to the financial crisis following France’s military support of America in its war of revolution against the British. The nation was going broke. The debt crisis was due primarily to the war with Britain and participating in the American Revolution. And years of poor harvests had caused grain riots in Paris

43

. This estates general brought the inequality of the old regime into sharp relief. It was bred into the French way of life. A seigneur or seigneury upon taking up residence in their parish takes their special pew at the front of the church, usually adorned by their coat of arms. The peasants of the lands pledge to work so much and dedicate so much barley and grain over the year. Traditional seigneurial dues allowed them to make bizarrely specific requests and demands of their peasants: for example, one nobleman’s list of dues was a number of ornamental feathers, a quota of olive oil and wine, a chicken, and a pair of leather gloves. The Catholic political arm of the old regime, weren’t only exempt from royal taxes, but got to impose a tithe on the peasants, while the seigneurial dues were owed to landowners by all peasants who worked in the lord’s bakery, or who made wine in the lord’s press.

44

(fine) This was not a society in which secretly and behind the scenes a small group of rich men plotted on oppressing the public, distorting information to control and make them into mindless workers. This was not a secret. The notion of conspiracy, that of people in high office making subversive plans against the public, that was not a theory; it was a way of life. The foundations of King, aristocracy, tradition, ritual and the clergy

were the foundational pillars of the French social cell, a cell rapidly losing cohesion. (source –

To get past suspicions, of which conspiracy theory is now the formal disbelief, the inter-social exchange should be encouraged, when a social cell can interact with others and incorporate without absorbing, then the multisocial cell construct becomes possible.

A multisocial cell is the achievement of a society that can survive the attempts of anti-social opposition from without and rebel cells from within. This is a national stage of social development, as our first tribes were strictly isolated and xenophobic, our most modern social cells run the spectrum of hated, tolerated, supportive in its willingness towards social polyculturalism. In the anti-social cell, the tradition is a collection of traditions the individual social objects reject. But, as a rebel cell can only survive amid opposition, it cannot outlast the multisocial cell; for the cell in rebellion must be in rebellion to survive.

As Jacopo della Quercia’s recent books

8

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocketwatch Conspiracy and License to Quill have shown, our enduring interest in conspiracy theories, whether in history, entertainment, literature and film, continues unabated. His recent works are, as Shakespeare’s Julias Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. By using history as an inspiration for a tale of discovery, intended to seek answers to great questions, to seek, to solve great mysteries of the past and use them as lessons for the mysteries that persist. While Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Richard II drew inspiration from other cultures, such as Rome and that of his own unique social history, Jacopo’s work draws upon popular tradition and even historical fiction to reveal what are timeless truths, multisocial foundations and unique attribute of the modern attempt at a multisocial cell: expressing a celebration of foreign histories and traditions as well as inter-social history, cultural diversity and adventure provide the foundations for future, possible multisocial cells.

Incorporating multiple traditions and myths into a social cell does not dilute the composite of the whole. They establish an elasticity and flexible structure, a foundation that will not break when pulled apart or when holes are picked in any individual foundation; a multisocial, polycultural cell is a hope for the future, perhaps.

As for everyone else, society was not seen as a collection of individuals with legal or civil rights before the law. For commoners the possibility of advancement in life was slim, and the opportunity to advance based on talent, merit, or strength of character was one of the major egalitarian goals of the revolutionaries, to give everyone a say in the workings of their country and give the commoners the ability to advance on merit. The question that has been asked is why revolution broke out in an economically dynamic country. And while the answer isn’t a simple one, the peasants of France got to see themselves as just as deserving of natural rights as all the other citizens of France. Figaro stirred up a social cell and gave it egalitarian social goals, inspired by the great philosophes of the Enlightenment such as Diderot, who compiled the first encyclopedia, and his great compilation of articles intended as a future repository of the basics of human knowledge, systematizing it, and getting the people to think about these freedoms made them extremely motivated; sometimes motivated by the latest discussion of the new ideas, and later by their desperate attempt to enact these new principles.

Jacques Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat Jacque-Louis David’s festivals, honoring unity and indivisiblity. He had become famous as a neo-classical painting, but worked to become the pageant master of the revolution. A die hard jacobin, in 1793, his parade was full of symbolism, starting from the place de la bastille, going past stations celebrating the history of revolution. At the end stood a statue of liberation. At another demonstration a thousand doves were freed and flew off with banners tied along their legs reading “we are free”! They were salvos of artillery, songs, crowds on the chon de Mars. To motivate the people, the republican needed a symbol to represent to new nation. This was Marion. She was a goddess, an emblem that wouldn’t make anyone think of kings. But Mario didn’t have the masculine build of a female. They used Roman traditions of sculpture for abstract concepts of freedom of liberty, as Rome’s great mother goddess statue. And Marion wasn’t too far from Mary, which wasn’t too far from the former Catholic majority’s mother goddess Mary. They built temples and made statues of the French philosophes, musicians from the opera. The female liberty was the goddess of reason, in a temple of reason. The jacobin leaders wanted to lean harder on the church, but Robespierre believed that an all out war on the church, as the other jacobins wanted, would drive more people into the camps of their enemies. And it would, as civil war broke out in Vende, in western france. But, the revolutionaries wanted to save the people from fanacitism. So what did they do? Dechristianizers invaded churches and ripped paintings from the walls, tore down statues, and made bonfires out of holy relics, calling them the bonfires of fanatacis. “If this revolution is over and there are still the poor, it will have failed.” The French celebrated, linking revolution to an internation war against kings – threatening the social structure of neighboring cells, as the new anti-social state began to go to war with others, absorbing some, founding others with new, enlightening principles and declarations of civil rights. This was in the days before the revolution became violent. Dechristianers asked maybe they should put a donkey on a crowd to satirize kings, fouche, no, it would be too degrading for the donkey. These were the works on the other side of the rebellion witin the rebellion; the celebratory theatre of the new culture of revolution. And in one of their rituals, they were to put a bishop representing superstition into the fire and it turned into reason and was saved. Rituals of inversion were popular, where lay-people played out their rebellious, teenage ideals. There was a sense of civic movement, of millions activated around a specific motivational priciple, and at the heart of it was the conspiracy: the Calas conspiracy, a cause celebre brought to light by Voltaire, had popularized a horrible miscarriage of justice in the (I don’t know if there has ever been a more striking example of irony). The Red Priests were revolutionary blasphemers, someone who preached against the rich, referring to the philosophy of ‘sans culat’ Jesus. Some tred a middle path, who believed they could be catholic and republican, who believed in the revolution and the right to the free practice of religion, a deep wound within 19th century France. As Elizabeth feared catholic plots while she watched Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the situation in France was much more complicated, within the theory of the formation of social cells by the conspiratorial methods of thinking and mythmaking, especially as a social process, and the theory of society as organized around by “core” ideals, which motivate all peoples of passion groups in their duties. The reasons for our inclination towards conspiracy is how we project a non-personal inference onto a socially operable act. In otherwise, we’re suspicious because we’ve got guilty consciences.

CITATIONS

  1. McLaren, A.N. “Political Culture in the Reign of Elizabeth I”. pp. 135
  2. Smith, Jeremy L. “Unlawful Song”. pp. 497
  3. Adams, Simon. “Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England.” CXXIII (501): pp. 457-458. doi: 10.1093/ehr/cen048
  4. Nagel, Joana. “Constructing Ethinicity” Social problems 41.1: 152-176
  5. Powers, Michael R. “Patterns, Real and Imagined: Observation and Theory.” In Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance, 191- 206. Columbia University Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/powe15366.17.
  6. Kilpatrick, Caroll. “Nixon Resigns” Washington Post, 9 August 1974. p. A01
  7. Woodward, Bob, Bernstein, Carl. “The Final Days” pp. 77-79
  8. Dalton, Russell J. “The social transformation of trust in government.” International Review of Sociology (2005): pp. 133-154
  9. Tacitus, Cornelius, “The Annals of Ancient Rome.” Vol. 60, 1973
  10. Kalmey, R.P. “Shakespeare’s Octavius and Elizabethan Roman History” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 18, no. 2. pp. 275-287
  11. Knight, Steven. “Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution”

 

  1. Moore, Alan. “From Hell”
  2. Wardman, Alan. “Rome’s Debt to Greece”. The Classical Review, New Series, Vol. 29, no. 2. pp. 110-112.
  3. Heinrich, Albert. “What is a Greek God?” pp. 19-40

16. Hadas, Moses. “Aesneas and the Tradition of the National Hero”. American Journal of Philology, vol. 69, no. 4. pp. 408-414

  1. Menzies, James W. “True Myth” pp. 21-40
  2. Clickering, Robert. “War Enthusiasm?” pp. 200-201
  3. De Toqueville, Alexis “the Old Regime and the Revolution”
  4. Schama, Simon. “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.” p. 84
  5. Warnes, David. “Chronicle of the Russian Tsars.” p. 210
  6. Warnes, David. Ibid. p. 211.
  7. Oaklander, Mandy. “Here’s Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories.” Time Magazine, 14 August 2015
  8. Ebert, Roger. “JFK Movie Review and Analysis” (1991) via: http://rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-jfk-1991
  9. Bugliosi, Vincent. “Reclaiming History: the Assassination of John F. Kennedy”. p. 1354
  10. Bugliosi, Vincent. Ibid. p. 1356
  11. Harrison, John M. “A Crusade and Its Problems.” The Review of Politics 37, no. 1. pp. 122-125.
  12. Swift, Art. “Majority in U.S. Still Believe JFK Killed in a Conspiracy” Gallup.com/poll/165893/majority-believe-jfk-killed-conspiracy.aspx
  13. “Famous Veterans: Oliver Stone” – military.com
  14. Stone, Oliver. Sklar, Zachary. “JFk: The Book of the Film”, p. 106.
  15. Stone, Oliver. Sklar, Zachary. Ibid. p. 107
  16. Prouty, L. Fletcher. “JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.” p. 268
  17. Prouty, L. Fletcher. Ibid.
  18. Flavel, John H. “Cognitive Development” 2nd ed. p. 119
  19. Flavell, John H. Ibid. pp. 120-121
  20. Flavell, John H. Ibid. p. 121
  21. Nielsen, Wendy C. “Staging” Rousseau’s Republic” Vol. 43, no. 3, pp.268-285
  22. Lambe, Patrick J. “Biblical Criticism and Censorship in Ancien Regime France: The Case of Richard Simon.” Harvard theological review, 78(2-2 (1985) pp. 149-177
  23. Darnton, Robert. “The forbidden books of pre-Revolutionary France. Month (1991): 1-32
  24. “The Living Age” vol. 119, p. 83
  25. Schama, Simon. “The Power of Art: Jaques-Louis David”
  26. Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin. “The Marriage of Figaro” act V, scene III

43: Sargent, Thomas J. Velde, Francois R. “Macroeconomic Features of the French Revolution.” Journey of Political Economy 103, no. 3 (1995) pp. 474-518.

The Social Cell by Brandon Nobles: The Organizational Principle of Conspiracy and Myth

Brandon Nobles <brandonovsky@gmail.com>

I

Students and readers are no doubt familiar with Shakespeare’s popular history play Julius Caesar. What may be less familiar is the social and political climate in which the play was written. There had been a long succession crisis in Tudor england during the 1560s1 and the possibility of civil war was very real. With no heir or obvious successor, it’s not hard to imagine Elizabeth sensing plots all around her. With Parliament standing in for the senators of Rome in Shakespeare’s drama, she had every right to be nervous. There were plots being organized to overthrow Elizabeth I. Pope Pius V denounced her as a heretic and decreed anyone who killed her would not sin, and would have god’s blessing. Conspirators on the ground in France and Catholic Spain plotted her overthrow with Rome, organized behind the idea of putting the Catholic Mary Steward on the throne. Elizabeth outmaneuvered Mary, and she would face the gallows after being caught out on a conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth, and she was consumed within the famous Babington plot, and later at Chartley Manor by Elizabeth’s very capable spymaster, Walsingham. One wonders if Elizabeth ever dreaded that the English Civil Wars would follow within a generation, when the crowd hoisted the head of Charles I into the air.

This paper will not be a study of which conspiracy is right or wrong. It will not be based on a personal perspective, but on a perspective that looks at conspiracy and its effects on those who are inclined to believe them and skeptics. A conspiracy movement is motivated by shared beliefs and principles, sometimes philosophical, sometimes political, and they’re willing to work towards the realization of an agreed upon social object. Conspiracies are the culture myths of the post-social world, whereby we understand the phenomena of thunder in scientific terms whereby once they were the work of unseen, mighty forces on whose whims we depended, a social myth now similar to what conspiracy theories attempt to explain.

Questioning belief can become a mantra, and conspiracy is a skeptic’s secular mythology, replete with heroes and villains like the mythography of old, with apostles and gurus, each armed with Psalm-like literature. There are characters that deceive, misinformation agents, and our social and personal self-actualization is in opposing them. If not physically, spiritually, as the hero exposes the global conspiracy of unseen, godlike control through media, government, and large corporations, the deities of the secular world.

It has been taken to be a sort of allegory, but it can be an allegory literarily speaking without necessarily being true, or intentional in the revealing of a specific conspiracy. But, conspiracy theories have applied to others (and our entertainment has thrilled us with the barbaric others in popular cinema). The notion for us in the modern world is to pull the mask off these powerful structures to expose them, as the ancients attempted to understand the unseen forces controlling their destinies from behind the scenes.

An active conspiracy theory is an oral tradition that has yet to be formalized and compiled into its given cultural mythology. Those who have rejected traditional structures for alternatives hold as fast as to those alternatives as they once held, or as those they now self-arrange as opposite, replacing what was once the vast force of God and giving meaning to the season by the explanation that the earth rotates on an axis at a 23-degree tilt, causing the seasons. We give the force of nature over to nature, letting it be sufficient enough to enforce its own laws, while behind the scenes where there were once vast, all-powerful gods and forces of nature, we now have a never-ending lattice wherein all contribution towards the conspiratorial argument of a belief structure is attached to a pre-structured apocrypha. In the past, we resigned the unseen work to Providence, but in a conspiratorial mindset we put the hat on those that can’t be identified. We give human agency to chance and probability, imbuing it with many and purpose, with a ready source of blame for our discontent.

In ancient cultures, beliefs and cultural identity came from tradition and culture heroes4. A social cell ranges from a small collective come together by an operative principle of thinking together, the creation of a social, public area of life with mutual interests. Any collective, from native tribes to modern collectives, has a foundational, motivational principle built into its structure. A civilization could be, in this sense, regarded as a realized social cell: a cell in which a stable majority of interacting non-social individuals share the beliefs and values of the collective and identify socially in the manner of an individual, participating in holidays and respecting the traditions of the tribe. An individual need only look to the heroes and villains of legend to understand how to work virtuously and for the greater good, as a civic service.

Historically, a generic social cell was built on the foundation of myth, identity, purpose, motivation, and meaning. A civil purpose, the familiar routines of tradition and communal meals at synagogue, church, or Masonic lodge. Conspiracy touches on notions of structural stability, that of institutions and social, greater good establishments for an organized people, where the social cell perpetuates shared values which give individuals a group identity of non-social goals. A pre-social cell is a society that hasn’t congealed, or one that is together purely for survival and necessity. When we consider groups, we would do better to consider individual motives. The study of conspiracy theory allows us to look at how belief takes shape by looking at myth as it happens, in popular entertainment, literature and culture. It helps us understand how societies function in their formation and disintegration. In conspiracy theories, one can work by looking for patterns. And sometimes, when we are possessed of a belief, we tend to see patterns everywhere, and the mistakes we make in finding patterns where there are none is something worth considering when looking for patterns you expect to see, as pareidolia can make links to ideas and objects where there are none.5.

Another interesting facet of conspiracies is that of its ability to inspire, and draw inspiration from, popular hysteria, such as the red scare of McCarthyists and the military purges of Josef Stalin after the Russian Civil war, is it a coincide, that so many fall before the charge Traison! As it tends to have its greatest effects in times of socio-political upheaval, the study of conspiracy allows us look at history with a warped lens, where everything is potentially menacing. A popular notion, perhaps made popular by Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the historical impact of the Salem witch trials in America, a land whose founding myth is in thirds the freedom of religion, meaning freedom to have or to live peacefully if not. These laws were not in place in such times; it gave people the last desperate  and historical impact, with many failed conspiracies exerting an impressive influence on the present, which all good myths do: it highlights connections before the expression, such as the assassination of Julius Caesar bringing to popular attention the possibility of a civil war, and common attributes denote common substance. It’s not surprising that solved conspiracies such as Watergate have not kept the same amount of cultural appeal as America’s political assassination conspiracy. The film All the President’s Men could have been a guide for Oliver Stone: it begins with a small discrepancy, a few reporters start to cover the conspiracy as it’s happening, but at the end, the conspiracy is revealed. President Nixon resigned from the office of President of the United States 2 months after the publication of the investigator’s book on the case6, as the whole process is painstakingly detailed in the follow up to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation, as the Nixon administration dissolves, taking down one of the most Machiavellian politicians of his era, foiled in the end by a burglar 7.

The kind of conspiracy and myth that endures and becomes a necessary component of one’s culture is one without a definite solution. There is a contrariness in our approach; attracted to mystery, yet through our earliest literary work, the Epic of Gilgamesh, had already started asking questions about life and death and mortality. Humans are inclined towards mystery, but closure amid crises, even if the resolution is horrific, the conspiracy theory that has yet to be disproved and as such has a massive corps of motivated, public-object-oriented individuals who continue the tradition, as oral lit was the repetition and slight changing and passing down from one generation to the next so is the eras of a conspiracy’s life. Watergate did shock the majority of Americans (perhaps not as much because of president Nixon’s behavior but their surprise at his getting caught) and yet at the same time we got an answer. The enduring mythology is that type of adaptable myth, that is multi purposed for different eras and arranged in slightly different ways. It is a way to contribute to the continued stability of a society’s institutions, as the faith in the American government fell sharply after the Nixon administration. . The social cell deteriorated, belief, faith in the confidence in the American system of government8. But the cell stabilized, and the government, if less trusted, continued on. Gerald Ford was sworn in on 8th August 19749. In Shakespeare’s play, we see a social cell of like-minded senators to overthrow his rule; while watching it, and for years before it was written, one conspiracy after another attempted the overthrow of Elizabeth I. In writing it, surely he would have been nervous, about his own time, as the death of Julius Caesar would lead to one of the most destructive civil wars in Roman history, The Last War of the Roman Republic9 would see the Republic’s end, with Caesar’s heir Octavius (Later Caesar Augustus) would become the first Emperor of Rome10.

II INTERSOCIAL MYTHMAKING

Murder by Decree was released in 1976. Starring Christopher Plummer and George Mason. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on the trail of the elusive Jack the Ripper. Sherlock Holmes’ story, which – like all conspiracies that work with other, larger conspiracies – there is a shared mythology each time a new conspiracy answer is added to the collective myth, as the collected myths of Hesiod, the traditional Orphic poems, and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound11. Each tale fills in the blanks where other myths are silent, therefore giving the foundation a more solid structure simply by making it a part of a structure that is already a foundation.

The movie Murder by Decree is a pastiche 12 in that it takes popular storytelling elements from many sources by using real life events, such as the Jack the Ripper murders and the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, who continue to be popular because they are adaptable to different times. The reason Jack the Ripper has remained popular is because no one knows the truth which makes it adaptable to conspiracy theories and allows for the practice of speculation, letting us project our own fears onto the unknown. Alan Moore13 wrote a graphic novel in 2001 that borrowed parts of the Masonic conspiracy from Murder by Decree. It’s not popular opinion it’s popular thinking, popular interaction.

It is understandable for a period of such chaos and confusion to generate ever more elaborate conspiracy theories. An unsolved murder mystery is a natural environment for a conspiracy theory, as they thrive in high profile, unsolved murders and cold cases. In Murder by Decree, the author seems to work by the notion of propinquity, that of establishing proximity and thereby a ‘link’ that confirms a certain idea, making innocuous correlations seem ominous and deeply important. What remains remarkable about this is the mixing of myth with purported fact, the connecting the dots method of research, and is an international, multisocial myth.

Understanding how myth influences the way we think, through Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories14 or bad movies, may let us understand what social myth offered pre-social societies. Any force capable of disturbing social order like famine or natural disasters, capable of destroying societies, was sure to have related mythography. It was by the social progress that a non-personal idea becomes a shared public object, which works as a refined coping mechanism.

The multisocial myths was popular after the Roman conquest of Greece, where Rome adopted Greek deities, storytelling traditions, and philosophical ideas of the new satellite state15. This is an example of a stronger social cell absorbing and retaining the core of an assimilated social conscience through conquest. The seasons themselves are given character, personality, and agency, such as in etiological story of Demeter’s despair, with the crops failing upon her daughter Persephone departing each yard for the underworld. This was a personal relationship of interactive social forces.

Roman would develop its own social-historical myths and characters16. When cultures endure severe times, famine, plague, and disease, a means of humanity’s endurance during these confusing and chaotic times is to ‘attempt to define the indefinable’17. The practice of making sense of chaos and of tragedy is a recognizable primordial form of conspiracism. Powerful forces behind the scenes, mighty and awesome beings of immense influence and empires, capable of holding empires beneath the whims and caprice of invisible hands – the use of anthropomorphic gods as stand-ins for natural abstracts – makes them more familiar; and there is comfort in familiarity. is an imprint of what individual lives within the cell were like; it is a social thumbprint

Etiology is the ennobling of one’s past and allows for something in the social sphere to mean something, rather than it be a senseless loss, or unpoetic, cruel human loss. In the case of a conspiracy, the subsequent imparting of meaning somehow adds our non-social person to the material relationship within the social cell.

As ancient civilizations build their myth and culture around the powers that held them in thrall, each reckoned as an abstracted quality given human form, modern conspiracy theory often contains many of these elements. From the prevalence of powerful groups manipulating events from behind the scenes, to a small group of recurring powers with control extending like long filaments into every orifice of the world, they’re omnipresent

The relationship between the building of myth and conspiracy is not superficial. Both attempt to explain the inexplicable; each are populated by an attempt to give meaning to and find solace in a tragedy by giving it a familiar, recognizable face. Further, the modern conspiracy culture is an ever expanding group, with a founding myth that gives purpose to their efforts, with the task of giving a human face to these unseen forces and ascribing meaning to the innumerable questions conspiracy theories generate. With a human face and a sense of meaning, a group has an identity and a purpose, with their actions ennobled.

Finally, a myth is bound to reinforce a sense of cultural identity through the organizing principle and build bonds through a new, shared understanding, like the pantheon of Roman gods, by looking closely at them and seeing their fears, their idea of heroism and virtue, of villainy and vice. In short, it is the window into the anatomy of an ancient and long-lived human tendency to look for meaning, to look for patterns in nature and in human behavior.

The manner of a founding myth’s stability for a civilization and larger society comes from much older processes in the human brain, not limited to human beings. Connecting the dots, pattern recognition, seeing causal relationships between nature and material action. In pre-industrial social cells, the inclination to conspiratorial thinking and designs of competing social cells, cells competing within with out-growths or at war with a foreign, differently organized and motivated cell, allowed for individuals to have a sense that they were a part of something larger than themselves, and that it wasn’t all meaningless. Sometimes that’s enough for a society to survive, as long as some part of it becomes a part of a future socio-organizational myth.

The character of the surviving social cell then is a society unified behind traditional beliefs, history, and culture, and its consistency among the population can be viewed as the measure of the cell’s popular cohesion. By connecting an individual’s misfortune with that of the social cell, or with characters of history and legend, persons can draw strength and motivation from these traditions, mythical characters, and the behavior of great culture heroes., mutual belief, and a shared history is how a social cell is defined, it is an important factory in a society’s behavior, internally and externally.

In other cases, a newly formed social cell, after passing through a period of rebellion (usually revolution), will go to war as a means of social unification and nationality. This way, a newly formed social cell remains stable as a cell in rebellion, without having to settle for a cohesive national structure. One popular example of this is the myth of war enthusiasm in pre-World World I Germany. War enthusiasm is a popular term used to define the spirit of national identity prior to the war18. One can’t help notice the similar public attitude during times of revolution, as the enthusiasm for revolution in France was far more pervasive – including elements of every rung of society, from the poorest to the emperor – than the enthusiastic patriots of a newly founded and suddenly powerful German. The citizens of the newly formed social cell of Germany had the legends and heroes of the wars of German unification, giving a newly united and sovereign cell, founding on a myth of revolution. A perpetually revolutionary cell will fall apart, as much as a perpetually anti-social cell will fall to multisocial cells.

One of the major nexus points in world history is the conspiracy to assassinate Arch Franz Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

A conspiracy in theory is a shared dissenting myth, around which motivated groups become organized. Rallied by principle and motivated by social, or political goals, a conspiracy theory sometimes rebels against a standard, accepted structure within a society. When there is social dissent within a shared myth or religious schism, one sees civil war and reformation. Sometimes, in post-industrial social cells, the denunciation of a previously established ideal can become a large enough cell in itself to push against its traditions, which can lead to revolution, such as the French Revolution of 178319. As historian Simon Schama observed: “Virtually as soon as the term was coined, ‘old regime’ was automatically freighted with associations of both traditionalism and senescence. It conjured up a society so encrusted with anachronisms that only a shock of great violence could free the living organism within.”20 The French revolution can be said to demonstrate the principle of a cell in rebellion, an attempt to remake tradition and overturn what had been a majority. It can be seen as a rebellious cell’s attempt to force agreement for survival upon a possibly weak social cell and overturn it, as the monarchy collapsed during the Revolution of February 23-24, called the February revolution, as food riots broke out in Pretrograd21.

On March 3rd, tsarist rule had come to an end22. Revolutionaries are best viewed as social discontents, with socially cognitive objects in mind, and the means and nerve to carry out the socio-political objective through interaction with other social objects, persons or groups of persons. Non-social, personal interactions within cells can change the nature of the social sphere, the space between the inner and outer walls. The outer wall is our organizing impulse, maintained by social-interpersonal agreements. Social thought is a cohesive structure for maintaining a stable society, and for a social cell to be overcome, a transformation of the culture, traditions, and social mores must change with it, and the new core must be attained by majority.

III JFK, Subversion and the Cell in Rebellion

In a Times article in 201423 ““Here’s Why We Believe in Conspiracies”, prominent conspiracy scholar Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, said, “Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened. The sense-making leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality.”

After reviewing JFK, Roger Ebert was approached by Walter Cronkite for his review24. “There is not a bit of truth in it!” Cronkite said. The late film critic later wrote in his review that he felt that Stone was capturing a pervasive mood in the counter-culture about the assassination, that it was a film that captured the way some Americans felt, about the need for answers in the days and then years after the assassination.

Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison is a good fit for the character. His motivation and passion is understood as depicted. As assassination researcher and former Los Angeles County Public Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi puts it in Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy “…Rejecting the message of the clean-cut, wholesome-looking Costner (Garrison) is like rejecting motherhood, apple pie, and the American flag.”25

In the film, Costner’s take on Garrison is a patriot, open-minded, truth-seeking detective, looking to expose a vast conspiracy that has gotten to the heart of the American social cell. To seek the truth is a heroic act, to expose crime in places where the abuse of power is most likely is courageous, even. They follow leads, doggedly pursing them wherever they leave. They are physically and morally courageous, against a large and faceless system, intent upon giving it a face.

JFK perverts this in a way, historically, by neglecting to mention any detractions from the case Garrison attempts to put together in the film. Where it becomes social mythmaking is in providing questions and then answering them selectively. It is informative in showing the process of popular myth and belief as it is being made.

What’s the harm, then? As Bugliosi puts it, “The problem with Stone is, really, not that he egregiously fictionalized the Kennedy assassination. The problem was is that he was trying to convince everyone he was telling the truth.”26 A small group of patriots are pitted against the endless bureaucracies of the US Government, and they have their phones tapped. Team members betray the group (an evolving rebellion cell against an established social cell). The film’s world is a small group of men who are behind the major events, while we little people can’t even begin to comprehend the vast and inexplicable subtleties of this grand design. It is a tale of betrayal and personal sacrifice, but it’s for the sanctity of American traditions, for the truth. In a way, it is Jim Garrison playing the offenders of Caesar’s murder in the Shakespearean play, as Garrison brings up Julius Caesar to a fellow-researcher who is having doubts27. In the end, in the prosecution’s final summation, he gets to the heart of his accusation:

In JFK, Oliver Stone is attempting to present a widespread discontent which Americans had built up over the years, and takes a bit here and bit there from other prominent researchers whose work had kept the movement going between the release of the Warren Commission Report and the release of JFK. Since its release in ’91, as of 15 November 2013, according to a Gallup poll28, the majority of Americans believe JFK was killed in a conspiracy. This is common in cases of social thinking, or individual-social ideation – where a single person is influencing through social means the thoughts of a significant amount of people.

As a legal drama, JFK works as a film, but only by using ahistorical composite characters, such as “X”. X is important because he supplies the foundation myth for a new generation of anti-social cells: Oliver Stone joined the U.S. Army in 1967, and returned “very mixed up, very paranoid, and very alienated,”29 like many of his generation. The foundation myth of the Kennedy is that the president was taken out because he intended to withdraw from Vietnam. Surely, this is something that would’ve influenced Stone deeply and personally, as a veteran. When “X” introduced himself as “one of those secret guys in the pentagon”, and goes on to give the following speech:

“I spent much of September ’63 working on the Kennedy plan for getting all us personnel out of Vietnam by the end of ’65. This plan was one of the strongest and most important papers issued from the Kennedy White House. Our first 1,000 troops were ordered home for Christmas.”30 The plan mentioned in X’s statement is National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263.

L Fletcher Prouty, on whom X is based, really worked close to people involve in the formulating of this plan, but there is precious little evidence that Prouty himself had anything to do with. In his book, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy repeats a similar claim (summarizing the McGeroge-Bundy cover letter that accompanied NSAM 263):

“At a meeting on October 5, 1964, the President considered the recommendations contained in the report of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on their mission to South Vietnam. The President approved the military recommenddations contained in Section I B (1-3) of the report, but directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 US military personnel by the end of 1963.”31

Prouty goes on to quote the relevant section of the McNamara-Taylor report:

IB(2) A program be established to train Vietnamese so that essential functions now performed by US military personnel can be carried out by Vietnamese by the end of 1965. It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of US military personnel by that time.

IB(2) In accordance with the program to train progressively Vietnamese to take over military functions, the Defense Department should announce in the very near future presently prepared plans to withdraw 1,000 US military personnel by the end of 196332.

This leads Prouty to conclude, “In brief, those sections above are the essence of the Kennedy policy that would take men out of Vietnam in 1963 and the bulk of all military personnel out by 1965.”33

In order to understand Oliver Stone’s perspective in evaluating this film and its legacy, one might attempt to ‘solve’ it, or at least draw an inference based on our understanding of conspiratorial groups as cells in rebellion of their natural social environment, wherein a rebel cell might attempt majority and grow, based on how many social objects reject sources from once trusted foundations. By our study of myth as etiology, drive to search for truth and meaning.

For viewers, it’s easy to see how the tragedy of the JFK assassination is compounded by the tragedy of the Vietnam War, as it was for Oliver Stone, in which millions would be killed or wounded, and millions more shocked and sobered by the horrors of war. To take JFK from the people by this assassination, from the people he might have otherwise spared the traumas of this divisive, ignominious war, is a greater tragedy than that of a lone assassin. This is how a social event can directly affect someone on a non-social level, and motivate them to rally around a social object as a means of organization and of personal principle.

From the perspective of Stone and many, an entire generation – a lost microbe of what may have become foundational and contributed to the stability of the national/cultural – to look at this film as fact, the conspiracy theory turns JFK into more than a victim, shot while the world looked on, in broad daylight – it gives us a martyr, someone who died for a cause, giving meaning to his death beyond the event itself, but, as we’ve seen, gives us closure, stability, and a chance to get our bearings.

When a rebellion cell achieves majority, the record is distorted, the social cell deteriorates and is sickened by mixed constituent parts. History therefore is viewed through a warped lens when a minority individuals within a social cell rally together and achieve majority of believe, they are a cell in rebellion of the established cell. In such a case, the social cell’s outer membrane loses cohesion and assumes the identity of the rebel cell, wherein the filters of conspiracy are placed atop the historical record.

Our socio-personal development of conspiratorial thinking is an early stage of social-cognitive development, where we begin to consider others as social objects, with intent, motivation, belief, and purpose as oneself. Recognizing that someone can exist outside of the self as an independent object in a social environment, we can look at scenarios and project more or less how we would act if put in the same situation.

As we gradually become aware of another person as a thinking agent, the first step towards psychological, motivational inference is in reading someone’s intent by an examination of their actions. In Cognitive Development34 John H. Flavell outlines social cognition as series of developmental stages, each a part of social cognition’s complexities as we interact with others, and attempt to recognize other social phenomena, that of persons as thinking persons, with intents and points of view different than ourselves, it is the basic knowledge of aspect of the social world exists in life35, that of its existence.

The first stage is the mere recognizing of another person, or persons, as social phenomena within a realm of interactive possibility. To think sociably, one considers that others, as individuals and groups, and among groups, have different ideas, beliefs, and unique perspective . The next stage of social cognition is need36, which amounts to individual attempts at understanding and acting with awareness of others’ feelings and experiences37.

Inference concerns a capacity to carry out social thinking successfully, though the thinking need not be strictly defined as inference, but more broadly as any social cognitive process, the discussion of personal ideas between individuals on a given subject. If you have the disposition to rely on inference as an act of social cognition, for example, you might look at a conversation and find a specific remark that is indicative of a broader range of beliefs and personal feelings.

Social cogitation is the sharing of inferences about the relationship between people and events, and the collective process of social cogitation is an organizing principle behind social groups, persons and individuals. Interactions between one person engaged in social cogitation and another influence anyone else involved in the social sphere capable of further inferences from these micro-interactions, or interactions among groups.

An important realization is that any cohesive society relies on harmonious social thinking; those an individual, like an individual social cell, is only one among many in the world, as an individual is only one among many, they have telling interactions when a post-social cell or united-social cells become possible. Social thinking is individual’s public voice, the chorus of which, among others, should be considered the mucus membrane of any social cell, whereas the inner core is a founding narrative, the recitation of the society’s origin and myths to reinvigorate and motive traditional social arrangements.

V Social division, rebellion, and revolution

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France37, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space. Ordinary people got involved in the questions before the government. Books which offended the Royal Censor, such as the work of Enlightenment philosophes, were often censored in old regime France38.

Works that undermined the monarchy or the clergy, like Voltaire’s Candide and Rousseau’s The Social Contract, were censored and some of the books were literally taken to prison39.

Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro in the 1780s. Reading it now, it seems tame. But at the time it was so radical that the censor took it to King Louis XVI himself. Louis said: “This shall never be played. It would be necessary to dismantle the Bastille itself before this could be played without consequences. This man mocks at everything in the government which ought to be respected.”40

Despite being formally banned, the play was an enormous hit in private salons. And when the ban was lifted, Figaro became one of the smash hits of the century41. What was it that made it so popular? It had the Royal Censor, which was sure to bring a crowd, as Simon Schama put it in his series The Power of Art41.

But on the other hand, it was cheap, and accessible to a wide class of society, from the madames and monsieur in the boxes to the often illiterate peasants in the pit.

The subversion that cut so deep into the traditions of old regime France aren’t noticeable today. But in a society of rank inequality between the classes, the rich and the poor, its egalitarian message, its winks to the clever and scrappy princes of Spain, Beaumarchais undermined the very foundation of the French social cell:

“Nobility, rank, position, how proud they make a man feel! You think because you are great nobleman you are a genius? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, nothing more. Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born—nothing more. For the rest—a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century.”42

Calling an estates general would bring together representatives of the three legal orders of politically active Frenchmen: the aristocracy, the clergy, and the commoners. It had been inactive since 1614, and was called due to the financial crisis following France’s military support of America in its war of revolution against the British. The nation was going broke. The debt crisis was due primarily to the war with Britain and participating in the American Revolution. And years of poor harvests had caused grain riots in Paris43. This estates general brought the inequality of the old regime into sharp relief. It was bred into the French way of life. A seigneur or seigneury upon taking up residence in their parish takes their special pew at the front of the church, usually adorned by their coat of arms. The peasants of the lands pledge to work so much and dedicate so much barley and grain over the year. Traditional seigneurial dues allowed them to make bizarrely specific requests and demands of their peasants: for example, one nobleman’s list of dues was a number of ornamental feathers, a quota of olive oil and wine, a chicken, and a pair of leather gloves. The Catholic political arm of the old regime, weren’t only exempt from royal taxes, but got to impose a tithe on the peasants, while the seigneurial dues were owed to landowners by all peasants who worked in the lord’s bakery, or who made wine in the lord’s press.44

This was not a society in which secretly and behind the scenes a small group of rich men plotted on oppressing the public, distorting information to control and make them into mindless workers. This was not a secret. The notion of conspiracy, that of people in high office making subversive plans against the public, that was not a theory; it was a way of life. The foundations of King, aristocracy, tradition, ritual and the clergy were the foundational pillars of the French social cell, a cell rapidly losing cohesion. The revolutionaries didn’t want to overthrow the government, at first, with the right supporting the King. The political climate was tense when news of

After a major defeat in the Battle of Neerwinden in March 1793, he made a desperate move to save himself from his radical enemies. Arresting the four deputy- commissioners of the National Convention who had been sent to inquire into his conduct (Camus, Bancal-des-Issarts, Quinette, and Lamarque) as well as the Minister of War, Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, he handed them over to the enemy, and then attempted to persuade his troops to march on Paris and overthrow the revolutionary government. The attempt failed, and Dumouriez, along with the duc de Chartres (afterwards King Louis Philippe) and his younger brother, the duc de Montpensier, fled into the Austrian camp. This blow left the Girondists vulnerable due to their association with Dumouriez.

Citizen soldiers fought royalists in the Vende, in Western France, and after Dumirouriez defection, the left was radicalized, and quick to use the Girondists’ former support and political consistency with the traitorous general, and in radical press agigators like Jean-Paul Marat, a conspiracy-minded Jacobin who had predicted many of the turning points of the revolution, and when he pointed to a conspiracy, the revolutionary tribunal, once established, would take

To get past suspicions, of which conspiracy theory is now the formal disbelief, the inter-social exchange should be encouraged, when a social cell can interact with others and incorporate without absorbing, then the multisocial cell construct becomes possible.

A multisocial cell is the achievement of a society that can survive the attempts of anti-social opposition from without and rebel cells from within. This is a national stage of social development, as our first tribes were strictly isolated and xenophobic, our most modern social cells run the spectrum of hated, tolerated, supportive in its willingness towards social polyculturalism. In the anti-social cell, the tradition is a collection of traditions the individual social objects reject. But, as a rebel cell can only survive amid opposition, it cannot outlast the multisocial cell; for the cell in rebellion must be in rebellion to survive.

As Jacopo della Quercia’s recent books

8

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocketwatch Conspiracy and License to Quill have shown, our enduring interest in conspiracy theories, whether in history, entertainment, literature and film, continues unabated. His recent works are, as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. By using history as an inspiration for a tale of discovery, intended to seek answers to great questions, to seek, to solve great mysteries of the past and use them as lessons for the mysteries that persist. While Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Richard II drew inspiration from other cultures, such as Rome and that of his own unique social history, Jacopo’s work draws upon popular tradition and even historical fiction to reveal what are timeless truths, multisocial foundations and unique attribute of the modern attempt at a multisocial cell: expressing a celebration of foreign histories and traditions as well as inter-social history, cultural diversity and adventure provide the foundations for future, possible multisocial cells.

Incorporating multiple traditions and myths into a social cell does not dilute the composite of the whole. They establish an elasticity and flexible structure, a foundation that will not break when pulled apart or when holes are picked in any individual foundation; a multisocial, polycultural cell is a hope for the future, perhaps.

V Towards a Multisocial Social Model

While JFK’s posthumous reputation has done to glorify him and lament the loss of promise shown by the handsome, young president and charming wife, only time will tell if this interactive social mythmaking keeps majority as a rebel cell, and further, how long a traditional social cell can remain cohesive with an alternative majority within a wider cultural consensus. One needs to look only to Nero, or to the irony of Lee Harvey Oswald, the person to whom all evidence points as the assassin, has been pardoned, with many within the conspiracy community believing in his absolute innocence. To contrast that, it’s a popular myth that the Emperor Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’.1

Cassius Dio’s account of the Great Fire and Nero’s Role in it can be found in his Roman History. Cassius Dio’s account is unflattering to say the least. He begins with the claim that “Nero set his heart on making an end of the whole realm dying during his lifetime.”

2

Dio’s account continues as Nero sets about sending out men pretending to be drunk or engaged in general hooliganism while setting fire to different parts of the city. After several days and nights of destruction and deluge, the wailing of children and lamentations of the women fill the air. Nero ascends to the roof of the palace which offered the greatest view of the conflagration. And assuming his lyre player’s garb he sang the Capture of Troy, as he styled the song himself.source please

Suetonius’ account of Nero in The Twelve Caesars

3

is similarly unflattering. In this account, Suetonius states that Nero pretended to be disgusted with the drab old apartments and the narrow, winding streets of Rome. He brazenly set fire to the series. Suetonius adds that two ex-consuls caught Nero’s attendants with tow and blazing torches trespassing on their property but did not interfere. Nero also used the fire to take over several granaries he coveted, solidly built of stone.

Suetonius claims the terror lasted for six days and seven nights, as people were forced to take shelter in monuments and tombs while Nero’s men destroyed apartment buildings as well as mansions that once belonged to famous generals, still decorated in their triumphal trophies; temples, dedicated and vowed by the Kings and others during the Punic & Gallic wars – in fact every ancient monument that had hitherto survived. Here’s where Suetonius deviates from the account of Cassius Dio:

“Nero watched the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas, enraptured by ‘the beauty of the flames”

4

. Then Nero put on his tragedians’ costume & and sang the sack of Illyricum. This is an example of a social myth in progress, though not quite congealed yet as a hardened part of the social cell. The thorough establishment of this socio- political myth is interrupted by Tacitus’ accounts from Annals.

In this account Nero was staying at his country estate at Antium and didn’t even return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the gardens of Maecenas. After the fire proved unstoppable, before it could engulf the Palatine and the house and all their immediate surroundings, Nero continued to work to save property and lives. In this account, instead of singing (just yet) Nero worked hard to provide relief for the homeless and fugitive populace, opening the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own gardens and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude. The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces.

With all of this effort, how did the Emperor become the suspect and ultimately accused of starting the fire? Tacitus gives us a hint at how tales, like those of Cassius Dio and Suetonius, were “the subject of few substantial conversations, but many earnest whispered accusations.”

4

Nero’s measures may not have been as popular as their moral character might be, having failed in their effect to reassure and console; for the report spread that at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had taken to his private stage and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, he had sung of the destruction of Troy.

The hint he gives for why this rumor might have caught on was that, after the first fire was finally brought under control at the edge of the Esquiline by demolishing the buildings over a vast area and opposing the great unabated fury, a clear tract of ground opened on the horizon. But the fears had not been allayed, nor had hope returned to the people when the fire resumed its ravages.

Here we have a massive tragedy, again, the conspiratorial fountain of youth, confusion and chaos are in the blood, and social thinking has been blanked by fear; the loss of home and shelter and, the second flame according to Tacitus caused the greater controversy as it had broken out on Aemilian property of Tigellinus and appearances suggested that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name.”

5 The ensuing national trauma was naturally a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, instead of reconciling their lot with the type of senseless tragedy this would be without some agency behind it, the people are left with nothing: no home or property, and no totem, or fear ikon on which to concentrate their exasperation. In the instance of natural disasters, humanity has the seemingly natural inclination to give intent and personality to the forces responsible. They gave Zeus the lightning bolt and virtue, Demeter weeping in the winter over the departure of the summer and her daughter. This instance of a human being given human traits is unique, as – at least as far as absolute power was concerned – an Emperor of Rome had as much power as was capable of being concentrated in two hands in the world at the time, a type of power less than a thousand people have historically wielded, and in front of this type of human power we have the same fear response. It is, as ever, a social definition that runs contrary to the official record. Instilling such fear in a populace can be beneficial for a ruler like Caesar Augustus, the longest uninterrupted ruler of Roman in its history at that time. And after Nero, there would be no heirs to the Julio-Claudian family, and again, there would be civil war.

6 Suetonius himself was born in the Year of the Four Emperors, a society in which generals and pretenders vied for the Imperial title

7

the first civil war since the assassination of Julius Caesar, which we discussed in the very first chapter. As it was with Figaro, poking at the structure of a long lived social cell can cause it to deteriorate. Over and over we’ve looked at conspiracy as an organizing principle, but organizational principles are operative when there is first separateness. The organizing principle of conspiracy theorizing and socio-mythography among individuals coming together is the motivational tendency toward civilization and culture.

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France

7

, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

A social conscience and shared culture is easy to take for granted; all the movie references our friends make we are able to share in a social moment only because in being saturated by the same pop culture, and as we share meanings we can move onto share meaningful things.

Social cognition is the necessary condition of a conscious social cell. Discontent with the foundations of an established cell in a time of stagnation is the outgrowth of displacement or reform, that of the rebel cell. During an outgrowth of a potential replacement cell – when a rebel off-shoot obtains majority – we can see how people form into groups and how groups and civilizations tend towards collective villains and heroes, which ultimately adds up to a group sharing perspectives, rather than the limitation of inference and suspicion, a motivating principle of shared means and ends would be collective thinking, in which people imagine together.

The social cell is the end result of the mechanism of cultural exchange involved in the faces of snow clouds, the personalities of a violent sea, and within the American social cell we have our founding myths, as well as Rome, and our heroes. Our heroes have moved from abstractions into more humble forces. To understand an age, look at what’s inside its social cell. In America, the inner walls are filled with books and movies, thrillers and supernatural thrillers, and unique in the American social scale is its welcome addition of those from other social cells to bring a piece of it with them, to enrich the social cell intended to be a place of many cultures, towards the idea of a multi-social cell, in which the individual foundational principles of other cells mix without malcontent. When malcontent is suspected, our imaginations are quick to fill in the blank, based on the way we would ourselves respond.

V Social division, rebellion, and revolution

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France

7

, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space.

37

CITATIONS

1. McLaren, A.N. “Political Culture in the Reign of Elizabeth I”. pp. 135

2. Smith, Jeremy L. “Unlawful Song”. pp. 497

3. Adams, Simon. “Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England.” CXXIII (501): pp. 457-458. doi: 10.1093/ehr/cen048

4. Nagel, Joana. “Constructing Ethinicity” Social problems 41.1: 152-176

5. Powers, Michael R. “Patterns, Real and Imagined: Observation and Theory.” In Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance, 191- 206. Columbia University Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/powe15366.17.

6. Kilpatrick, Caroll. “Nixon Resigns” Washington Post, 9 August 1974. p. A01

7. Woodward, Bob, Bernstein, Carl. “The Final Days” pp. 77-79

8. Dalton, Russell J. “The social transformation of trust in government.” International Review of Sociology (2005): pp. 133-154

9. Tacitus, Cornelius, “The Annals of Ancient Rome.” Vol. 60, 1973

10. Kalmey, R.P. “Shakespeare’s Octavius and Elizabethan Roman History” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 18, no. 2. pp. 275-287

11. Knight, Steven. “Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution”

13. Moore, Alan. “From Hell”

14. Wardman, Alan. “Rome’s Debt to Greece”. The Classical Review, New Series, Vol. 29, no. 2. pp. 110-112.

15. Heinrich, Albert. “What is a Greek God?” pp. 19-40

16. Hadas, Moses. “Aesneas and the Tradition of the National Hero”. American Journal of Philology, vol. 69, no. 4. pp. 408-414

17. Menzies, James W. “True Myth” pp. 21-40

18. Clickering, Robert. “War Enthusiasm?” pp. 200-201

19. De Toqueville, Alexis “the Old Regime and the Revolution”

20. Schama, Simon. “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.” p. 84

21. Warnes, David. “Chronicle of the Russian Tsars.” p. 210

22. Warnes, David. Ibid. p. 211.

23. Oaklander, Mandy. “Here’s Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories.” Time Magazine, 14 August 2015

24. Ebert, Roger. “JFK Movie Review and Analysis” (1991) via: http://rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-jfk-1991

25. Bugliosi, Vincent. “Reclaiming History: the Assassination of John F. Kennedy”. p. 1354

26. Bugliosi, Vincent. Ibid. p. 1356

27. Harrison, John M. “A Crusade and Its Problems.” The Review of Politics 37, no. 1. pp. 122-125.

28. Swift, Art. “Majority in U.S. Still Believe JFK Killed in a Conspiracy” Gallup.com/poll/165893/majority-believe-jfk-killed-conspiracy.aspx

29. “Famous Veterans: Oliver Stone” – military.com

30. Stone, Oliver. Sklar, Zachary. “JFk: The Book of the Film”, p. 106.

31. Stone, Oliver. Sklar, Zachary. Ibid. p. 107

32. Prouty, L. Fletcher. “JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.” p. 268

33. Prouty, L. Fletcher. Ibid.

34. Flavel, John H. “Cognitive Development” 2nd ed. p. 119

35. Flavell, John H. Ibid. pp. 120-121

36. Flavell, John H. Ibid. p. 121

37. Nielsen, Wendy C. “Staging” Rousseau’s Republic” Vol. 43, no. 3, pp.268-285

38. Lambe, Patrick J. “Biblical Criticism and Censorship in Ancien Regime France: The Case of Richard Simon.” Harvard theological review, 78(2-2 (1985) pp. 149-177

39. Darnton, Robert. “The forbidden books of pre-Revolutionary France. Month (1991): 1-32

40. “The Living Age” vol. 119, p. 83

41. Schama, Simon. “The Power of Art: Jaques-Louis David”

42. Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin. “The Marriage of Figaro” act V, scene III

43: Sargent, Thomas J. Velde, Francois R. “Macroeconomic Features of the French Revolution.” Journey of Political Economy 103, no. 3 (1995) pp. 474-518.

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THE SOCIAL CELL:

The Organizing Principle of Myth & Conspiracy

 

By BRANDON NOBLES
I
The Social Window

 

Students are no doubt familiar with Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. What might be less familiar is the social climate in which the play was written. There was a long secession crisis in Tudor England during the 1560s1 and the possibility of civil war was very real2. With no heir and obvious successor, it’s not hard to imagine that Elizabeth I sensed plots all around her, with Parliament standing in for the senators of Rome in Shakespeare’s drama. She had every right to be uneasy. There were plots all around Elizabeth I. Denounced as a heretic by the pope, there were conspirators working to undermine Elizabeth in Rome, France, and Spain, intent on putting the Catholic Mary Steward on the throne.3

The interesting thing about the way conspiracies motivate and bring people together is how much of a social process it is. Conspiracy theories are a type of popular, secular mythography, where there are vast forces at work behind the scenes, whispering together. In ancient cultures, beliefs and cultural identity came from tradition, traditions in storytelling or rituals.4 A social cell ranges from a small collective arranged together by mutual interests, such as a tribe, but any collective, large or small, that has a cultural character that binds individuals together. A civilization would be regarded as a realized social cell when its majority of interacting social objects share a motivations, beliefs, values, and goals, and the rituals of community life. The bond of community is a strong social glue.

Historically, a generic social cell was built on the foundation of myth, identity, purpose, motivation, meaning, and purpose. A civil purpose, the familiar routines of tradition and communal meals at synagogue, church, or Masonic lodge. Conspiracy touches on notions of structural stability, that of institutions and social, greater good establishments for an organized people, where the social cell perpetuates shared values which give individuals a group identity of shared values and non-social goals. A pre-social cells is a society that hasn’t congealed, or one that is together purely for survival and necessity. When we consider groups, we would do better to consider individual motives. The study of conspiracy theory allows us to look at how belief takes shape by looking at myth as it happens, in popular entertainment, literature and culture. It helps us understand how societies function in their formation and disintegration. In conspiracy theories, one can work by looking for patterns. And sometimes, when we are possessed of a belief, we tend to see patterns everywhere.5

Another interesting facet of conspiracies is that of popular hysteria and historical impact, with many failed conspiracies exerting an impressive influence on the present. Not just what we’re familiar with, like Watergate and the following investigation, as seen in All the President’s Men. The conspiracy was revealed, and Richard Nixon resigned 2 months after its publication6, as the whole process is painstakingly detailed in the follow up to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigation, as the Nixon administration falls apart.7

is a conspiracy without seeming resolution, an open-ended conspiracy, in which popular movements gather around it as a cause, that motivational factor. The social cell deteriorated, belief, faith in the confidence in the American system of government.8 But the cell stabilized, and the government, if less trusted, continued on. Gerald Ford was sworn in on 8 August 1974.9

In Shakespeare’s play, we see a social cell of like-minded senators to overthrow his rule; while watching it, and for years before it was written, one conspiracy after another attempted the overthrow of Elizabeth I. In writing it, surely he would have been nervous, about his own time, as the death of Julius Caesar would lead to one of the most destructive civil wars in Roman history, The Last War of the Roman Republic9 would see the Republic’s end, with Caesar’s heir Octavius (Later Caesar Augustus) would become the first Emperor of Rome.10  

 

 

II

INTERSOCIAL MYTHMAKING

 

Murder by Degree was released in 1976. Starring Christopher Plummer and George Mason. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are on the trail of the elusive Jack the Ripper. Sherlock Holmes story, which – like all conspiracies that work with other, larger conspiracies, there is a shared mythology each time a new conspiracy answer is added to the collective myth, as the collected myths of Hesiod, the traditional Orphic poems, and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound.11 Each tale fills in the blanks where other myths are silent, therefore giving the foundation a more solid structure simply by making it a part of a structure that is already a foundation.

The movie Murder by Decree is a pastiche 12 in that it takes popular storytelling elements from many sources by using real life events, such as the Jack the Ripper murders and the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, who continue to be popular because they are adaptable to different times. The reason Jack the Ripper has remained popular is because no one knows the truth which makes it adaptable to conspiracy theories and allows for the practice of speculation, letting us project our own fears onto the unknown. Alan Moore13 wrote a graphic novel in 2001 that borrowed parts of the Masonic conspiracy from Murder by Decree. It’s not popular opinion it’s popular thinking, popular interaction.

It is understandable for a period of such chaos and confusion to generate ever more elaborate conspiracy theories. An unsolved murder mystery is a natural environment for a conspiracy theory, as they thrive in high profile, unsolved murders and cold cases. In Murder by Decree, the author seems to work by the notion of propinquity, that of establishing proximity and thereby a ‘link’ that confirms a certain idea, making innocuous correlations seem ominous and deeply important. What remains remarkable about this is the mixing of myth with purported fact, the connecting the dots method of research, and is an international, multisocial myth.

Understanding how myth influences the way we think, through Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories14 or bad movies, may let us understand what social myth offered pre-social societies. Any force capable of disturbing social order like famine or natural disasters, capable of destroying societies, was sure to have related mythography. It was by the social progress that a non-personal idea becomes a shared public object, which works as a refined coping mechanism.

The multisocial myths was popular after the Roman conquest of Greece, where Rome adopted Greek deities, storytelling traditions, and philosophical ideas of the new satellite state.15 This is an example of a stronger social cell absorbing and retaining the core of an assimilated social conscience through conquest. The seasons themselves are given character, personality, and agency, such as in etiological story of Demeter’s despair, with the crops failing upon her daughter Persephone departed each yard for the underworld. This was a personal relationship of interactive social forces.14 Roman would develop its own social-historical myths and characters16.  When cultures endure severe times, famine, plague, and disease, a means of humanity’s endurance during these confusing and chaotic times is to ‘attempt to define the indefinable’17.

The practice of making sense of chaos and of tragedy is a recognizable primordial form of conspiracism. Powerful forces behind the scenes, mighty and awesome beings of immense influence and empires, capable of holding empires beneath the whims and caprice of invisible hands – the use of anthropomorphic gods as stand-ins for natural abstracts – makes them more familiar; and there is comfort in familiarity.

is an imprint of what individual lives within the cell were like; it is a social thumbprint

Etiology is the ennobling of one’s past and allows for something in the social sphere to mean something, rather than it be a senseless loss, or unpoetic, cruel human loss. In the case of a conspiracy, the subsequent imparting of meaning somehow adds our non-social person to the material relationship within the social cell.

As ancient civilizations build their myth and culture around the powers that held them in thrall, each reckoned as an abstracted quality given human form, modern conspiracy theory often contains many of these elements. From the prevalence of powerful groups manipulating events from behind the scenes, to a small group of recurring powers with control extending like long filaments into every orifice of the world, they’re omnipresent

The relationship between the building of myth and conspiracy is not superficial. Both attempt to explain the inexplicable; each are populated by an attempt to give meaning to and find solace in a tragedy by giving it a familiar, recognizable face. Further, the modern conspiracy culture is an ever expanding group, with a founding myth that gives purpose to their efforts, with the task of giving a human face to these unseen forces and ascribing meaning to the innumerable questions conspiracy theories generate. With a human face and a sense of meaning, a group has an identity and a purpose, with their actions ennobled.

Finally, a myth is bound to reinforce a sense of cultural identity through the organizing principle and build bonds through a new, shared understanding, like the pantheon of Roman gods, by looking closely at them and seeing their fears, their idea of heroism and virtue, of villainy and vice. In short, it is the window into the anatomy of an ancient and long-lived human tendency to look for meaning, to look for patterns in nature and in human behavior.

The manner of a founding myth’s stability for a civilization and larger society comes from much older processes in the human brain, not limited to human beings. Connecting the dots, pattern recognition, seeing causal relationships between nature and material action. In pre-industrial social cells, the inclination to conspiratorial thinking and designs of competing social cells, cells competing within with out-growths or at war with a foreign, differently organized and motivated cell, allowed for individuals to have a sense that they were a part of something larger than themselves, and that it wasn’t all meaningless. Sometimes that’s enough for a society to survive, as long as some part of it becomes a part of a future socio-organizational myth.

The character of the surviving social cell then is a society unified behind traditional beliefs, history, and culture, and its consistency among the population can be viewed as the measure of the cell’s popular cohesion. By connecting an individual’s misfortune with that of the social cell, or with characters of history and legend, persons can draw strength and motivation from these traditions, mythical characters, and the behavior of great culture heroes., mutual belief, and a shared history is how a social cell is defined, it is an important factory in a society’s behavior, internally and externally.

In other cases, a newly formed social cell, after passing through a period of rebellion (usually revolution), will go to war as a means of social unification and nationality. This way, a newly formed social cell remains stable as a cell in rebellion, without having to settle for a cohesive national structure. One popular example of this is the myth of war enthusiasm in pre-World World I Germany. War enthusiasm is a popular term used to define the spirit of national identity prior to the war.18 One can’t help notice the similar public attitude during times of revolution, as the enthusiasm for revolution in France was far more pervasive – including elements of every rung of society, from the poorest to the emperor – than the enthusiastic patriots of a newly founded and suddenly powerful German. The citizens of the newly formed social cell of Germany had the legends and heroes of the wars of German unification, giving a newly united and sovereign cell, founding on a myth of revolution. A perpetually revolutionary cell will fall apart, as much as a perpetually anti-social cell will fall to multisocial cells.

One of the major nexus points in world history is the conspiracy to assassinate Arch Franz Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

            A conspiracy in theory is a shared dissenting myth, around which motivated groups become organized. Rallied by principle and motivated by social, or political goals, a conspiracy theory sometimes rebels against a standard, accepted structure within a society. When there is social dissent within a shared myth or religious schism, one sees civil war and reformation. Sometimes, in post-industrial social cells, the denunciation of a previously established ideal can become a large enough cell in itself to push against its traditions, which can lead to revolution, such as the French Revolution of 178319.

As historian Simon Schama observed: “Virtually as soon as the term was coined, ‘old regime’ was automatically freighted with associations of both traditionalism and senescence. It conjured up a society so encrusted with anachronisms that only a shock of great violence could free the living organism within.”20 The French revolution can be said to demonstrate the principle of a cell in rebellion, an attempt to remake tradition and overturn what had been a majority. It can be seen as a rebellious cell’s attempt to force agreement for survival upon a possibly weak social cell and overturn it, as the monarchy collapsed during the Revolution of February 23-24, called the February revolution, as food riots broke out in Pretrograd.21  On March 3rd, tsarist rule had come to an end.22

Revolutionaries are best viewed as social discontents, with socially cognitive objects in mind, and the means and nerve to carry out the socio-political objective through interaction with other social objects, persons or groups of persons. Non-social, personal interactions within cells can change the nature of the social sphere, the space between the inner and outer walls. The outer wall is our organizing impulse, maintained by social-interpersonal agreements. Social thought is a cohesive structure for maintaining a stable society, and for a social cell to be overcome, a transformation of the culture, traditions, and social mores must change with it, and the new core must be attained by majority.

 

III

JFK, Subversion and the Cell in Rebellion

 

In a Times article in 201423 Here’s Why We Believe in Conspiracies, prominent conspiracy scholar Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, said, “Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened. The sense-making leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality.”

After reviewing JFK, Roger Ebert was approached by Walter Cronkite for his review.24 “There is not a bit of truth in it!” Cronkite said. The late film critic later wrote in his review that he felt that Stone was capturing a pervasive mood in the counter-culture about the assassination, that it was a film that captured the way some Americans felt, about the need for answers in the days and then years after the assassination.

Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison is a good fit for the character. His motivation and passion is understood as depicted. As assassination researcher and former Los Angeles County Public Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi puts it in Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy “…Rejecting the message of the clean-cut, wholesome-looking Costner (Garrison) is like rejecting motherhood, apple pie, and the American flag.”25

In the film, Costner’s take on Garrison is a patriot, open-minded, truth-seeking detective, looking to expose a vast conspiracy that has gotten to the heart of the American social cell. To seek the truth is a heroic act, to expose crime in places where the abuse of power is most likely is courageous, even. They follow leads, doggedly pursing them wherever they leave. They are physically and morally courageous, against a large and faceless system, intent upon giving it a face.

JFK perverts this in a way, historically, by neglecting to mention any detractions from the case Garrison attempts to put together in the film. Where it becomes social mythmaking is in providing questions and then answering them selectively. It is informative in showing the process of popular myth and belief as it is being made. What’s the harm, then? As Bugliosi puts it, “The problem with Stone is, really, not that he egregiously fictionalized the Kennedy assassination. The problem was is that he was trying to convince everyone he was telling the truth.”26

A small group of patriots are pitted against the endless bureaucracies of the US Government, and they have their phones tapped. Team members betray the group (an evolving rebellion cell against an established social cell). The film’s world is a small group of men who are behind the major events, while we little people can’t even begin to comprehend the vast and inexplicable subtleties of this grand design. It is a tale of betrayal and personal sacrifice, but it’s for the sanctity of American traditions, for the truth. In a way, it is Jim Garrison playing the offenders of Caesar’s murder in the Shakespearean play, as Garrison brings up Julius Caesar to a fellow-researcher who is having doubts.27 In the end, in the prosecution’s final summation, he gets to the heart of his accusation:

In JFK, Oliver Stone is attempting to present a widespread discontent which Americans had built up over the years, and takes a bit here and bit there from other prominent researchers whose work had kept the movement going between the release of the Warren Commission Report and the release of JFK. Since its release in ’91, as of 15 November 2013, according to a Gallup poll28, the majority of Americans believe JFK was killed in a conspiracy. This is common in cases of social thinking, or individual-social ideation – where a single person is influencing through social means the thoughts of a significant amount of people.

As a legal drama, JFK works as a film, but only by using ahistorical composite characters, such as “X”. X is important because he supplies the foundation myth for a new generation of anti-social cells: Oliver Stone joined the U.S. Army in 1967, and returned “very mixed up, very paranoid, and very alienated,”29 like many of his generation. The foundation myth of the Kennedy is that the president was taken out because he intended to withdraw from Vietnam. Surely, this is something that would’ve influenced Stone deeply and personally, as a veteran. When “X” introduced himself as “one of those secret guys in the pentagon”, and goes on to give the following speech:

“I spent much of September ’63 working on the Kennedy plan for getting all us personnel out of Vietnam by the end of ’65. This plan was one of the strongest and most important papers issued from the Kennedy White House. Our first 1,000 troops were ordered home for Christmas.”30

The plan mentioned in X’s statement is National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263.

L Fletcher Prouty, on whom X is based, really worked close to people involve in the formulating of this plan, but there is precious little evidence that Prouty himself had anything to do with. In his book, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy repeats a similar claim (summarizing the McGeroge-Bundy cover letter that accompanied NSAM 263):  

            “At a meeting on October 5, 1964, the President considered the recommendations contained in the report of Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on their mission to South Vietnam. The President approved the military recommenddations contained in Section I B (1-3) of the report, but directed that no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 US military personnel by the end of 1963.”31

                                                 Prouty goes on to quote the relevant section of the McNamara-Taylor report:

IB(2) A program be established to train Vietnamese so that essential functions now performed by US military personnel can be carried out by Vietnamese by the end of 1965. It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of US military personnel by that time.

IB(2) In accordance with the program to train progressively Vietnamese to take over military functions, the Defense Department should announce in the very near future presently prepared plans to withdraw 1,000 US military personnel by the end of 1963.32

This leads Prouty to conclude, “In brief, those sections above are the essence of the Kennedy policy that would take men out of Vietnam in 1963 and the bulk of all military personnel out by 1965.”33

In order to understand Oliver Stone’s perspective in evaluating this film and its legacy, one might attempt to ‘solve’ it, or at least draw an inference based on our understanding of conspiratorial groups as cells in rebellion of their natural social environment, wherein a rebel cell might attempt majority and grow, based on how many social objects reject sources from once trusted foundations. By our study of myth as etiology, drive to search for truth and meaning.

For viewers, it’s easy to see how the tragedy of the JFK assassination is compounded by the tragedy of the Vietnam War, as it was for Oliver Stone, in which millions would be killed or wounded, and millions more shocked and sobered by the horrors of war. To take JFK from the people by this assassination, from the people he might have otherwise spared the traumas of this divisive, ignominious war, is a greater tragedy than that of a lone assassin. This is how a social event can directly affect someone on a non-social level, and motivate them to rally around a social object as a means of organization and of personal principle.  

            From the perspective of Stone and many, an entire generation – a lost microbe of what may have become foundational and contributed to the stability of the national/cultural – to look at this film as fact, the conspiracy theory turns JFK into more than a victim, shot while the world looked on, in broad daylight – it gives us a martyr, someone who died for a cause, giving meaning to his death beyond the event itself, but, as we’ve seen, gives us closure, stability, and a chance to get our bearings.

When a rebellion cell achieves majority, the record is distorted, the social cell deteriorates and is sickened by mixed constituent parts. History therefore is viewed through a warped lens when a minority individuals within a social cell rally together and achieve majority of believe, they are a cell in rebellion of the established cell. In such a case, the social cell’s outer membrane loses cohesion and assumes the identity of the rebel cell, wherein the filters of conspiracy are placed atop the historical record.

Our socio-personal development of conspiratorial thinking is an early stage of social-cognitive development, where we begin to consider others as social objects, with intent, motivation, belief, and purpose as oneself. Recognizing that someone can exist outside of the self as an independent object in a social environment, we can look at scenarios and project more or less how we would act if put in the same situation.

As we gradually become aware of another person as a thinking agent, the first step towards psychological, motivational inference is in reading someone’s intent by an examination of their actions. In Cognitive Development34 John H. Flavell outlines social cognition as series of developmental stages, each a part of social cognition’s complexities as we interact with others, and attempt to recognize other social phenomena, that of persons as thinking persons, with intents and points of view different than ourselves, it is the basic knowledge of aspect of the social world exists in life35, that of its existence.35 The first stage is the mere recognizing of another person, or persons, as social phenomena within a realm of interactive possibility. To think sociably, one considers that others, as individuals and groups, and among groups, have different ideas, beliefs, and unique perspective.

The next stage of social cognition is need36, which amounts to individual attempts at understanding and acting with awareness of others’ feelings and experiences.37 Inference concerns a capacity to carry out social thinking successfully, though the thinking need not be strictly defined as inference, but more broadly as any social cognitive process, the discussion of personal ideas between individuals on a given subject. If you have the disposition to rely on inference as an act of social cognition, for example, you might look at a conversation and find a specific remark that is indicative of a broader range of beliefs and personal feelings.

Social cogitation is the sharing of inferences about the relationship between people and events, and the collective process of social cogitation is an organizing principle behind social groups, persons and individuals. Interactions between one person engaged in social cogitation and another influence anyone else involved in the social sphere capable of further inferences from these micro-interactions, or interactions among groups.

An important realization is that any cohesive society relies on harmonious social thinking; those an individual, like an individual social cell, is only one among many in the world, as an individual is only one among many, they have telling interactions when a post-social cell or united-social cells become possible. Social thinking is individual’s public voice, the chorus of which, among others, should be considered the mucus membrane of any social cell, whereas the inner core is a founding narrative, the recitation of the society’s origin and myths to reinvigorate and motive traditional social arrangements.

 

 

V

Social division, rebellion, and revolution

 

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France7, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

            In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space.37 Ordinary people got involved in the questions before the government. Books which offended the Royal Censor, such as the work of Enlightenment philosophes, were often censored in old regime France.38 Works that undermined the monarchy or the clergy, like Voltaire’s Candide and Rousseau’s The Social Contract, were censored and some of the books were literally taken to prison.39

Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro in the 1780s. Reading it now, it seems tame. But at the time it was so radical that the censor took it to King Louis XVI himself. Louis said: “This shall never be played. It would be necessary to dismantle the Bastille itself before this could be played without consequences. This man mocks at everything in the government which ought to be respected.”40

Despite being formally banned, the play was an enormous hit in private salons. And when the ban was lifted, Figaro became one of the smash hits of the century41. What was it that made it so popular? It had the Royal Censor, which was sure to bring a crowd, as Simon Schama put it in his series The Power of Art.41 But on the other hand, it was cheap, and accessible to a wide class of society, from the madames and monsieur in the boxes to the often illiterate peasants in the pit.

The subversion that cut so deep into the traditions of old regime France aren’t noticeable today. But in a society of rank inequality between the classes, the rich and the poor, its egalitarian message, its winks to the clever and scrappy princes of Spain, Beaumarchais undermined the very foundation of the French social cell:

“Nobility, rank, position, how proud they make a man feel! You think because you are great nobleman you are a genius? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, nothing more. Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born—nothing more. For the rest—a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century.”42

Calling an estates general would bring together representatives of the three legal orders of politically active Frenchmen: the aristocracy, the clergy, and the commoners. It had been inactive since 1614, and was called due to the financial crisis following France’s military support of America in its war of revolution against the British. The nation was going broke. The debt crisis was due primarily to the war with Britain and participating in the American Revolution. And years of poor harvests had caused grain riots in Paris43.  

This estates general brought the inequality of the old regime into sharp relief. It was bred into the French way of life. A seigneur or seigneury upon taking up residence in their parish takes their special pew at the front of the church, usually adorned by their coat of arms. The peasants of the lands pledge to work so much and dedicate so much barley and grain over the year. Traditional seigneurial dues allowed them to make bizarrely specific requests and demands of their peasants: for example, one nobleman’s list of dues was a number of ornamental feathers, a quota of olive oil and wine, a chicken, and a pair of leather gloves. The Catholic political arm of the old regime, weren’t only exempt from royal taxes, but got to impose a tithe on the peasants, while the seigneurial dues were owed to landowners by all peasants who worked in the lord’s bakery, or who made wine in the lord’s press.44

This was not a society in which secretly and behind the scenes a small group of rich men plotted on oppressing the public, distorting information to control and make them into mindless workers. This was not a secret. The notion of conspiracy, that of people in high office making subversive plans against the public, that was not a theory; it was a way of life. The foundations of King, aristocracy, tradition, ritual and the clergy were the foundational pillars of the French social cell, a cell rapidly losing cohesion. The revolutionaries didn’t want to overthrow the government, at first, with the right supporting the King. The political climate was tense when news of

After a major defeat in the Battle of Neerwinden in March 1793, he made a desperate move to save himself from his radical enemies. Arresting the four deputy-commissioners of the National Convention who had been sent to inquire into his conduct (Camus, Bancal-des-Issarts, Quinette, and Lamarque) as well as the Minister of War, Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, he handed them over to the enemy, and then attempted to persuade his troops to march on Paris and overthrow the revolutionary government. The attempt failed, and Dumouriez, along with the duc de Chartres (afterwards King Louis Philippe) and his younger brother, the duc de Montpensier, fled into the Austrian camp. This blow left the Girondists vulnerable due to their association with Dumouriez.

Citizen soldiers fought royalists in the Vende, in Western France, and after Dumirouriez defection, the left was radicalized, and quick to use the Girondists’ former support and political consistency with the traitorous general, and in radical press agigators like Jean-Paul Marat, a conspiracy-minded Jacobin who had predicted many of the turning points of the revolution, and when he pointed to a conspiracy, the revolutionary tribunal, once established, would take

            To get past suspicions, of which conspiracy theory is now the formal disbelief, the inter-social exchange should be encouraged, when a social cell can interact with others and incorporate without absorbing, then the multisocial cell construct becomes possible.

A multisocial cell is the achievement of a society that can survive the attempts of anti-social opposition from without and rebel cells from within. This is a national stage of social development, as our first tribes were strictly isolated and xenophobic, our most modern social cells run the spectrum of hated, tolerated, supportive in its willingness towards social polyculturalism. In the anti-social cell, the tradition is a collection of traditions the individual social objects reject. But, as a rebel cell can only survive amid opposition, it cannot outlast the multisocial cell; for the cell in rebellion must be in rebellion to survive.

As Jacopo della Quercia’s recent books8 The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocketwatch Conspiracy and License to Quill have shown, our enduring interest in conspiracy theories, whether in history, entertainment, literature and film, continues unabated. His recent works are, as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. By using history as an inspiration for a tale of discovery, intended to seek answers to great questions, to seek, to solve great mysteries of the past and use them as lessons for the mysteries that persist. While Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Richard II drew inspiration from other cultures, such as Rome and that of his own unique social history, Jacopo’s work draws upon popular tradition and even historical fiction to reveal what are timeless truths, multisocial foundations and unique attribute of the modern attempt at a multisocial cell: expressing a celebration of foreign histories and traditions as well as inter-social history, cultural diversity and adventure provide the foundations for future, possible multisocial cells.

Incorporating multiple traditions and myths into a social cell does not dilute the composite of the whole. They establish an elasticity and flexible structure, a foundation that will not break when pulled apart or when holes are picked in any individual foundation; a multisocial, polycultural cell is a hope for the future, perhaps.

 

V

Towards a Multisocial Social Model

 

While JFK’s posthumous reputation has done to glorify him and lament the loss of promise shown by the handsome, young president and charming wife, only time will tell if this interactive social mythmaking keeps majority as a rebel cell, and further, how long a traditional social cell can remain cohesive with an alternative majority within a wider cultural consensus. One needs to look only to Nero, or to the irony of Lee Harvey Oswald, the person to whom all evidence points as the assassin, has been pardoned, with many within the conspiracy community believing in his absolute innocence. To contrast that, it’s a popular myth that the Emperor Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’.1

Cassius Dio’s account of the Great Fire and Nero’s Role in it can be found in his Roman History. Cassius Dio’s account is unflattering to say the least. He begins with the claim that “Nero set his heart on making an end of the whole realm dying during his lifetime.”2 Dio’s account continues as Nero sets about sending out men pretending to be drunk or engaged in general hooliganism while setting fire to different parts of the city. After several days and nights of destruction and deluge, the wailing of children and lamentations of the women fill the air. Nero ascends to the roof of the palace which offered the greatest view of the conflagration. And assuming his lyre player’s garb he sang the Capture of Troy, as he styled the song himself.source please

Suetonius’ account of Nero in The Twelve Caesars3 is similarly unflattering. In this account, Suetonius states that Nero pretended to be disgusted with the drab old apartments and the narrow, winding streets of Rome. He brazenly set fire to the series. Suetonius adds that two ex-consuls caught Nero’s attendants with tow and blazing torches trespassing on their property but did not interfere. Nero also used the fire to take over several granaries he coveted, solidly built of stone.

Suetonius claims the terror lasted for six days and seven nights, as people were forced to take shelter in monuments and tombs while Nero’s men destroyed apartment buildings as well as mansions that once belonged to famous generals, still decorated in their triumphal trophies; temples, dedicated and vowed by the Kings and others during the Punic & Gallic wars – in fact every ancient monument that had hitherto survived. Here’s where Suetonius deviates from the account of Cassius Dio:

“Nero watched the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas, enraptured by ‘the beauty of the flames”4. Then Nero put on his tragedians’ costume & and sang the sack of Illyricum. This is an example of a social myth in progress, though not quite congealed yet as a hardened part of the social cell. The thorough establishment of this socio-political myth is interrupted by Tacitus’ accounts from Annals.

            In this account Nero was staying at his country estate at Antium and didn’t even return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the gardens of Maecenas. After the fire proved unstoppable, before it could engulf the Palatine and the house and all their immediate surroundings, Nero continued to work to save property and lives. In this account, instead of singing (just yet) Nero worked hard to provide relief for the homeless and fugitive populace, opening the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own gardens and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude. The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces.

With all of this effort, how did the Emperor become the suspect and ultimately accused of starting the fire? Tacitus gives us a hint at how tales, like those of Cassius Dio and Suetonius, were “the subject of few substantial conversations, but many earnest whispered accusations.”4 Nero’s measures may not have been as popular as their moral character might be, having failed in their effect to reassure and console; for the report spread that at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had taken to his private stage and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, he had sung of the destruction of Troy.

The hint he gives for why this rumor might have caught on was that, after the first fire was finally brought under control at the edge of the Esquiline by demolishing the buildings over a vast area and opposing the great unabated fury, a clear tract of ground opened on the horizon. But the fears had not been allayed, nor had hope returned to the people when the fire resumed its ravages.

Here we have a massive tragedy, again, the conspiratorial fountain of youth, confusion and chaos are in the blood, and social thinking has been blanked by fear; the loss of home and shelter and, the second flame according to Tacitus caused the greater controversy as it had broken out on Aemilian property of Tigellinus and appearances suggested that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name.”5

The ensuing national trauma was naturally a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, instead of reconciling their lot with the type of senseless tragedy this would be without some agency behind it, the people are left with nothing: no home or property, and no totem, or fear ikon on which to concentrate their exasperation. In the instance of natural disasters, humanity has the seemingly natural inclination to give intent and personality to the forces responsible. They gave Zeus the lightning bolt and virtue, Demeter weeping in the winter over the departure of the summer and her daughter. This instance of a human being given human traits is unique, as – at least as far as absolute power was concerned – an Emperor of Rome had as much power as was capable of being concentrated in two hands in the world at the time, a type of power less than a thousand people have historically wielded, and in front of this type of human power we have the same fear response. It is, as ever, a social definition that runs contrary to the official record. Instilling such fear in a populace can be beneficial for a ruler like Caesar Augustus, the longest uninterrupted ruler of Roman in its history at that time. And after Nero, there would be no heirs to the Julio-Claudian family, and again, there would be civil war.6

Suetonius himself was born in the Year of the Four Emperors, a society in which generals and pretenders vied for the Imperial title7 the first civil war since the assassination of Julius Caesar, which we discussed in the very first chapter. As it was with Figaro, poking at the structure of a long lived social cell can cause it to deteriorate. Over and over we’ve looked at conspiracy as an organizing principle, but organizational principles are operative when there is first separateness. The organizing principle of conspiracy theorizing and socio-mythography among individuals coming together is the motivational tendency toward civilization and culture.

            We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France7, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

A social conscience and shared culture is easy to take for granted; all the movie references our friends make we are able to share in a social moment only because in being saturated by the same pop culture, and as we share meanings we can move onto share meaningful things.

            Social cognition is the necessary condition of a conscious social cell. Discontent with the foundations of an established cell in a time of stagnation is the outgrowth of displacement or reform, that of the rebel cell. During an outgrowth of a potential replacement cell – when a rebel off-shoot obtains majority – we can see how people form into groups and how groups and civilizations tend towards collective villains and heroes, which ultimately adds up to a group sharing perspectives, rather than the limitation of inference and suspicion, a motivating principle of shared means and ends would be collective thinking, in which people imagine together.

The social cell is the end result of the mechanism of cultural exchange involved in the faces of snow clouds, the personalities of a violent sea, and within the American social cell we have our founding myths, as well as Rome, and our heroes. Our heroes have moved from abstractions into more humble forces. To understand an age, look at what’s inside its social cell. In America, the inner walls are filled with books and movies, thrillers and supernatural thrillers, and unique in the American social scale is its welcome addition of those from other social cells to bring a piece of it with them, to enrich the social cell intended to be a place of many cultures, towards the idea of a multi-social cell, in which the individual foundational principles of other cells mix without malcontent. When malcontent is suspected, our imaginations are quick to fill in the blank, based on the way we would ourselves respond.

 

V

Social division, rebellion, and revolution

 

We’ve also looked at cells within social cells, minority cells that can, with enough prodding, impart agency to individuals within social cells not as cohesive as the individuals would like for it to be, and attempts to consciously hold together a specific sociocultural cell or culture, the more it leads to stagnation. A relationship structure can be socio-hierarchal, as it was in old regime France7, or it can be what the revolutionaries spilled so many tears and blood drops for – a conscious personal-social agreement, in mutual agreement and of like devotion, dedicated to improving the cohesion and strengthening the core of the social cell’s character.

            In France in the 1780s the theatre could be a political space.37 Ordinary people got involved in the questions before the government. Books which offended the Royal Censor, such as the work of Enlightenment philosophes, were often censored in old regime France.38 Works that undermined the monarchy or the clergy, like Voltaire’s Candide and Rousseau’s The Social Contract, were censored and some of the books were literally taken to prison.39

Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro in the 1780s. Reading it now, it seems tame. But at the time it was so radical that the censor took it to King Louis XVI himself. Louis said: “This shall never be played. It would be necessary to dismantle the Bastille itself before this could be played without consequences. This man mocks at everything in the government which ought to be respected.”40

Despite being formally banned, the play was an enormous hit in private salons. And when the ban was lifted, Figaro became one of the smash hits of the centur41. What was it that made it so popular? It had the Royal Censor, which was sure to bring a crow, as Simon Schama put it in his series The Power of Art.41 But on the other hand, it was cheap, and accessible to a wide class of society, from the madams and monsieur in the boxes to the often illiterate peasants in the pit.

The subversion that cut so deep into the traditions of old regime France aren’t noticeable today. But in a society of rank inequality between the classes, the rich and the poor, its egalitarian message, its winks to the clever and scrappy princes of Spain, Beaumarchais undermined the very foundation of the French social cell:

“Nobility, rank, position, how proud they make a man feel! You think because you are great nobleman you are a genius? Put yourself to the trouble of being born, nothing more. Nobility, fortune, rank, position! How proud they make a man feel! What have you done to deserve such advantages? Put yourself to the trouble of being born—nothing more. For the rest—a very ordinary man! Whereas I, lost among the obscure crowd, have had to deploy more knowledge, more calculation and skill merely to survive than has sufficed to rule all the provinces of Spain for a century.”42

Calling an estates general would bring together representative of the three legal orders of politically active Frenchmen: the aristocracy (who , the clergy, and the commoners. It had been inactive since 1614, and was called due to the financial crisis following France’s military support of America in its war of revolution against the British. The nation was going broke. The debt crisis was due primarily to the war with Britain and participating in the American Revolution. And years of poor harvests had caused grain riots in Paris43.  

This estates general brought the inequality of the old regime into sharp relief. It was bred into the French way of life. A seigneur or seigneury upon taking up residence in their parish takes their special pew at the front of the church, usually adorned by their coat of arms. The peasants of the lands pledge to work so much and dedicate so much barley and grain over the year. Traditional seigneurial dues allowed them to make bizarrely specific requests and demands of their peasants: for example, one nobleman’s list of dues was a number of ornamental feathers, a quota of olive oil and wine, a chicken, and a pair of leather gloves. The Catholic political arm of the old regime, weren’t only exempt from royal taxes, but got to impose a tithe on the peasants, while the seigneurial dues were owed to landowners by all peasants who worked in the lord’s bakery, or who made wine in the lord’s press.44 (fine)

This was not a society in which secretly and behind the scenes a small group of rich men plotted on oppressing the public, distorting information to control and make them into mindless workers. This was not a secret. The notion of conspiracy, that of people in high office making subversive plans against the public, that was not a theory; it was a way of life. The foundations of King, aristocracy, tradition, ritual and the clergy were the foundational pillars of the French social cell, a cell rapidly losing cohesion. (source –

 

            To get past suspicions, of which conspiracy theory is now the formal disbelief, the inter-social exchange should be encouraged, when a social cell can interact with others and incorporate without absorbing, then the multisocial cell construct becomes possible.

A multisocial cell is the achievement of a society that can survive the attempts of anti-social opposition from without and rebel cells from within. This is a national stage of social development, as our first tribes were strictly isolated and xenophobic, our most modern social cells run the spectrum of hated, tolerated, supportive in its willingness towards social polyculturalism. In the anti-social cell, the tradition is a collection of traditions the individual social objects reject. But, as a rebel cell can only survive amid opposition, it cannot outlast the multisocial cell; for the cell in rebellion must be in rebellion to survive.

As Jacopo della Quercia’s recent books8 The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocketwatch Conspiracy and License to Quill have shown, our enduring interest in conspiracy theories, whether in history, entertainment, literature and film, continues unabated. His recent works are, as Shakespeare’s Julias Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. By using history as an inspiration for a tale of discovery, intended to seek answers to great questions, to seek, to solve great mysteries of the past and use them as lessons for the mysteries that persist. While Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Richard II drew inspiration from other cultures, such as Rome and that of his own unique social history, Jacopo’s work draws upon popular tradition and even historical fiction to reveal what are timeless truths, multisocial foundations and unique attribute of the modern attempt at a multisocial cell: expressing a celebration of foreign histories and traditions as well as inter-social history, cultural diversity and adventure provide the foundations for future, possible multisocial cells.

Incorporating multiple traditions and myths into a social cell does not dilute the composite of the whole. They establish an elasticity and flexible structure, a foundation that will not break when pulled apart or when holes are picked in any individual foundation; a multisocial, polycultural cell is a hope for the future, perhaps.

As for everyone else, society was not seen as a collection of individuals with legal or civil rights before the law. For commoners the possibility of advancement in life was slim, and the opportunity to advance based on talent, merit, or strength of character was one of the major egalitarian goals of the revolutionaries, to give everyone a say in the workings of their country and give the commoners the ability to advance on merit. The question that has been asked is why revolution broke out in an economically dynamic country. And while the answer isn’t a simple one, the peasants of France got to see themselves as just as deserving of natural rights as all the other citizens of France. Figaro stirred up a social cell and gave it egalitarian social goals, inspired by the great philosophes of the Enlightenment such as Diderot, who compiled the first encyclopedia, and his great compilation of articles intended as a future repository of the basics of human knowledge, systematizing it, and getting the people to think about these freedoms made them extremely motivated; sometimes motivated by the latest discussion of the new ideas, and later by their desperate attempt to enact these new principles.

Jacques Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat

Jacque-Louis David’s festivals, honoring unity and indivisiblity. He had become famous as a neo-classical painting, but worked to become the pageant master of the revolution. A die hard jacobin, in 1793, his parade was full of symbolism, starting from the place de la bastille, going past stations celebrating the history of revolution. At the end stood a statue of liberation. At another demonstration a thousand doves were freed and flew off with banners tied along their legs reading “we are free”! They were salvos of artillery, songs, crowds on the chon de Mars. To motivate the people, the republican needed a symbol to represent to new nation. This was Marion. She was a goddess, an emblem that wouldn’t make anyone think of kings. But Mario didn’t have the masculine build of a female. They used Roman traditions of sculpture for abstract concepts of freedom of liberty, as Rome’s great mother goddess statue. And Marion wasn’t too far from Mary, which wasn’t too far from the former Catholic majority’s mother goddess Mary. They built temples and made statues of the French philosophes, musicians from the opera. The female liberty was the goddess of reason, in a temple of reason. The jacobin leaders wanted to lean harder on the church, but Robespierre believed that an all out war on the church, as the other jacobins wanted, would drive more people into the camps of their enemies. And it would, as civil war broke out in Vende, in western france. But, the revolutionaries wanted to save the people from fanacitism. So what did they do? Dechristianizers invaded churches and ripped paintings from the walls, tore down statues, and made bonfires out of holy relics, calling them the bonfires of fanatacis. “If this revolution is over and there are still the poor, it will have failed.” The French celebrated, linking revolution to an internation war against kings – threatening the social structure of neighboring cells, as the new anti-social state began to go to war with others, absorbing some, founding others with new, enlightening principles and declarations of civil rights. This was in the days before the revolution became violent. Dechristianers asked maybe they should put a donkey on a crowd to satirize kings, fouche, no, it would be too degrading for the donkey. These were the works on the other side of the rebellion witin the rebellion; the celebratory theatre of the new culture of revolution. And in one of their rituals, they were to put a bishop representing superstition into the fire and it turned into reason and was saved. Rituals of inversion were popular, where lay-people played out their rebellious, teenage ideals. There was a sense of civic movement, of millions activated around a specific motivational priciple, and at the heart of it was the conspiracy: the Calas conspiracy, a cause celebre brought to light by Voltaire, had popularized a horrible miscarriage of justice in the  (I don’t know if there has ever been a more striking example of irony). The Red Priests were revolutionary blasphemers, someone who preached against the rich, referring to the philosophy of ‘sans culat’ Jesus. Some tred a middle path, who believed they could be catholic and republican, who believed in the revolution and the right to the free practice of religion, a deep wound within 19th century France. As Elizabeth feared catholic plots while she watched Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the situation in France was much more complicated, within the theory of the formation of social cells by the conspiratorial methods of thinking and mythmaking, especially as a social process, and the theory of society as organized around by “core” ideals, which motivate all peoples of passion groups in their duties. The reasons for our inclination towards conspiracy is how we project a non-personal inference onto a socially operable act. In otherwise, we’re suspicious because we’ve got guilty consciences.

 

 

 

CITATIONS

 

  1. McLaren, A.N. “Political Culture in the Reign of Elizabeth I” p. 135
  2. Smith, Jeremy L. “Unlawful Song”. pp-497
  3. Adams, Simon. “Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England.” CXXIII (501): 457-458. doi: 10.1093/ehr/cen048
  4. Nagel, Joana. “Constructing Ethinicity” Social problems 41.1: 152-176
  5. Powers, Michael R. “Patterns, Real and Imagined: Observation and Theory.” In Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance, 191-206. Columbia University Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/powe15366.17.
  6. Kilpatrick, Caroll. “Nixon Resigns” Washington Post, 9 August 1974. p. A01
  7. Woodward, Bob, Bernstein, Carl. “The Final Days” pp. 77-79
  8. Dalton, Russell J. “The social transformation of trust in government.” International Review of Sociology (2005): pp. 133-154

9: Tacitus, Cornelius, “The Annals of Ancient Rome.” Vol. 60, 1973

10: Kalmey, R.P. “Shakespeare’s Octavius and Elizabethan Roman History” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 18, no. 2. pp. 275-287

11: Knight, Steven. “Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution”

13: Moore, Alan. “From Hell”

14: Wardman, Alan. “Rome’s Debt to Greece”. The Classical Review, New Series, Vol. 29, no. 2. pp. 110-112.

15: Heinrich, Albert. “What is a Greek God?” pp. 19-40

16: Hadas, Moses. “Aesneas and the Tradition of the National Hero”. American Journal of Philology, vol. 69, no. 4. pp. 408-414

17: Menzies, James W. “True Myth” pp. 21-40

18: Clickering, Robert. “War Enthusiasm?” pp. 200-201

19: De Toqueville, Alexis “the Old Regime and the Revolution”

20: Schama, Simon. “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.” p. 84

21: Warnes, David. “Chronicle of the Russian Tsars.” p. 210

22: Warnes, David.  Ibid. p. 211.

23: Oaklander, Mandy. “Here’s Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories.” Time Magazine, 14 August 2015

24: Ebert, Roger. “JFK Movie Review and Analysis” (1991) via: http://rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-jfk-1991

25: Bugliosi, Vincent. “Reclaiming History: the Assassination of John F. Kennedy”. p. 1354

26: Bugliosi, Vincent. Ibid. p. 1356

27: Harrison, John M. “A Crusade and Its Problems.” The Review of Politics 37, no. 1. pp. 122-125.

28: Swift, Art. “Majority in U.S. Still Believe JFK Killed in a Conspiracy” Gallup.com/poll/165893/majority-believe-jfk-killed-conspiracy.aspx

29: “Famous Veterans: Oliver Stone” – military.com

30: Stone, Oliver. Sklar, Zachary. “JFk: The Book of the Film”, p. 106.

31: Stone, Oliver. Sklar, Zachary. Ibid. p. 107

32: Prouty, L. Fletcher. “JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.” p. 268

33: Prouty, L. Fletcher. Ibid.

34: Flavel, John H. “Cognitive Development” 2nd ed. p. 119

35: Flavell, John H. Ibid. pp. 120-121

  1. Flavell, John H. Ibid. p. 121

37: Nielsen, Wendy C. “Staging” Rousseau’s Republic” Vol. 43, no. 3, pp.268-285

38: Lambe, Patrick J. “Biblical Criticism and Censorship in Ancien Regime France: The Case of Richard Simon.” Harvard theological review, 78(2-2 (1985) pp. 149-177

39: Darnton, Robert. “The forbidden books of pre-Revolutionary France. Month (1991): 1-32

40: “The Living Age” vol. 119, p. 83

41:  Schama, Simon. “The Power of Art: Jaques-Louis David”

42: Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin. “The Marriage of Figaro” act V, scene III

43: Sargent, Thomas J. Velde, Francois R. “Macroeconomic Features of the French Revolution.” Journey of Political Economy 103, no. 3 (1995) pp. 474-518.

 

The Social Cell – How Conspiracy and Myth Built Civilization