Simulacra as Crime

In my book “see my book” and this blog I have explored the simulacrum as a vivid replica of reality rather than reality itself and the confusion that causes and all the consequences that entails. Recently, we have seen instances where this confusion has turned upside down and has become criminal.

Earlier blogs explored “the selfie” and its ramifications, particularly for the young. Newer apps have expanded the purview of the Selfie. Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat allow users to live stream their videos. In at least two cases recently, crimes such as rape and corruption of minors have been recorded by someone who allowed the fore-mentioned crimes to proceed while they recorded and streamed them live. Two such cases have been brought before the courts and the accused face possible prison time if convicted.

Reporters have historically faced the moral dilemma when photographing or filming war, riots, etc. Do they continue filming or do they intervene? Today, almost everyone is equipped with a camera that takes both stills and videos. The moral dilemma is now upon us all.

The young believe everything must be photographed. “Something only becomes real if it is recorded in some way.”, is often quoted as the reason for such excess of recording. Thus the simulacrum (the photo or the video) becomes the real when looked upon, as opposed to the real event which lacks veracity when simply lived. Taking pictures on vacation is a bit like this, keeping the real alive in pictures to be viewed later. But in this long tradition, the picture is known as simply a prompt, a reminder. (I explore in my book and earlier blogs the issue of travel brochures being taken as the reality of travel destinations, and when the traveler goes to said destinations they want to visit the pictures. If the real vacation is not the brochure, the vacation is often deemed a disappointment.)

The picture, the video, the simulacrum as a truer reality is now pervasive among us all, particularly the young who have grown up with social media and everyone having a camera. The pocket phone is now almost more universally used as a camera and message sender than as its original purpose, making or receiving a phone call. The powerful need to record a moment so that one can re-live it even more powerfully as a picture or video is seductive, dangerous and almost psychologically perverse. This transmutation deserves deeper analysis than this short blog can avail. That one girl would video and live stream the rape of her friend rather than being outraged and intervening is a mind-boggling change of behavior created by technology. Our machines are warping us. This is but one compelling example.

That simulacra (which all photos and videos are) should evolve from accepted replication to more scintillating alter reality is a distress call. When pictures and phantasies are taken as more real, madness is upon us. Social media has become dangerous. When crimes are recorded without compunction, simulacra have become criminal.

Add the next revolution of VR where simulated reality surrounds you….add the ever improving CGI in movies that makes anything imaginable seem totally real….and the ever finer line between reality and imitation is shrinking if not gone. You now have the makings of a sensory shift that is both technical and existential….and dangerous.

THE SIMULACRUM RULES !!

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Epiphenomenon

This blog has focused on simulacra which are false alternative realities that are difficult to discern as false. There is another alternative reality that may not be false, but simply disconnected.

An epiphenomenon is a separate but included reality that has its own integrity and is not false. We can be engaged in an epiphenomenon and mistake it for a false sim. Such a moment may seem like a dream, a psychic disconnect.

Since this blog is also about the search for authenticity, I believe there is a revealing connection here. If one looks at art historically, it seems to often exist apart from or in the midst of destructive or unsupportive times. Whether the caves of Lascaux, or the Renaissance, or individual histories of artists, the creative moment and the resultant “art” is immune to the prevailing and often negative surroundings of the “artist”. I think the moment of personal creativity is a divorced, but authentic moment within an individual’s life that is a detached and isolated epiphenomenon.

There is no telling from where or when a creative moment may come. It is suddenly just there. Most artists or “creators” in science or mediums of various kinds will tell you that such moments exist out of time and place. It is a magical transformation. One exists outside of one’s everyday. But I would make the case that it is still connected to one’s own integrity and not a false simulacrum. It may be the very refuge from the false simulacra that this blog so reviles. It emerges wholly from within. It may be influenced by unconscious flows or lost memories, but it is integral. It is the fullest flower of personal authenticity, though it seems to exist in dislocated time and place. It would be well described as an epiphenomenon.

This adds a new component to our search for truth, self and authenticity. The very sense of detachment within an epiphenomenon may be the immunity we seek from false scripts imposed by others. This may be our internal refuge from “lifeastheater”. These “creative moments” should not be solely seen as moments of genius by select visionaries. They may reach to those heights. But they also exist for us all as truthful moments of self-inspection and honesty wherein we see ourselves and reveal ourselves with insights heretofore unseen.

The avenues to these moments are unpredictable and often surprising. They can occur in night dreams, day dreams, staring at clouds or seascapes, meditating or eating a Madeline. But they are treasures to be found and nurtured. Beware the dreaded simulacrum, but watch for and embrace the fecund epiphenomenon. It’s the epiphenomena in your life that may be the reservoirs of your authentic Self. Watch for them; live them; collect them; embrace them!

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BURNT, the Western

My book “see my book” and this blog talk about how social narratives influence our lives often without our knowing it. I talk about how the hidden narrative is perhaps more true and authentic than the “cover” narrative which, though ostensibly real, is in fact the false simulacrum.

So, having seen the new film, BURNT, I thought I would show you an example of this and what I think is the mythic narrative that underlies its action. (I apologize for any story revelations for those who have not yet seen it.) How do you make a movie about preparing food and keep it interesting and strong? Make it as a Western? The American Western is a genre that has been around for 200 years and has been absorbed into American mythology and its culture. BURNT employs a vast array of Western genre components; in plot and structure, it is a Western.

BURNT begins with the protagonist lost in a “40 day” trek into the wilderness to redeem himself after falling from grace and his pinnacle of success as a top chef. Only when he has shucked a million oysters is his spiritual penance satisfied, and he is pure again and ready to renew his search for the reclamation of his soul and his “top gun” status at the head of chefdom. Once purified, he goes on the quest for his supportive “posse”. The hired “guns” who will help him regain his top status again. This is the classic “Magnificent Seven” plot where once assembled, the group will rise again and conquer. As usual, in his search for former colleagues, the hero finds them each lost n their own personal fallen cul-de-sac, and they welcome him, their redeemer. Once assembled as a team, they are ready for mutual redemption and a rise to the top of the pack once again.

The Hero and his henchmen re-establish their power perch i.e., a new kitchen, but in a moment of hubris, discover that their old methods have become outdated during their hiatus, and newer tricks and skills must be learned. Think, the Wild Bunch. Reoriented, they are ready again to regain their status by defeating all other pretenders. BURNT has the requisite other top chef who has taken over the crown in our hero’s fall from grace. Their respective kitchens must go mano e mano. They must meet “in the street”. This is the juice of the movie and the main central plot in Act Two. The Pretender is vanquished. We see his moment of defeat and humiliation as he destroys his once proud restaurant.

In the meantime, there are several classic Western subplots. There is the Girl! The former sweetheart who was also lost in his first fall from grace. She reappears during his second coming, and discovers that in that process, he has meet Girl Number Two. There is the subplot of the sycophant “partner”. The Gabby Hayes role. Most Western and male heroes (see even Don Quixote and Sancho Panza) (Holmes and Watson) have their male subservient counterpart. The latent homosexual component is always assessed by the literary crowd, but it is never open in the classic narrative itself. Except in BURNT. Our protagonist’s partner, his financier and owner of the restaurant, is openly gay and openly in love with his chef. Welcome to modern times.

There are also other Western tropes, the tangential enemies that reappear….guys from the “other gangs”. In this movie, they are some drug thugs that are owed money by our hero. They threaten and beat him, but he will not be diverted from his path. And finally, there is the pivotal Western cliché. During our heroe’s first heroic success, he was helped to that success by an older mentor who shares his skills and teaches his pupil all he knows, because he sees in his pupil the ability to ascend and succeed even beyond the mentor’s status. Siegfried has been found. The moment always come when the mentor hands over his coveted pair of six guns to his pupil and successor. It’s the phallic pass through. In BURNT, that moment comes when his first girlfriend, who is the daughter of his mentor, reappears briefly to accept that she has lost him to his new and better love, and in that totemic moment, to hand over to the Top Chef, his mentor’s culinary knives. They are wrapped ceremoniously in their leather sheaf (holsters) and lovingly handed over to the Inheritor.

From that point on, you only have the wrap up. He is on an undisputable path and return to greatness. (His only competitor, the previous humiliated Number One, now has a scene in which he articulates the fact that our hero is without peer and he and others can only sit at his feet and learn from him and be taken to heights they could not have achieved on their own.) (I will not get into the Christ parallel here, but that too is a narrative that could be found in this movie as well)

The movie ends with complete Redemption: The Top Restaurant in London, a Michelin star, the girl and the respect of all. A happy ending to what is in fact a very good movie. Good direction, good photography and good acting. Bradley Cooper once again shows his outstanding acting chops……….but he only got the part because John Wayne was dead.

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Life as Theater vs Life is Theater

I have chosen Lifeastheater vs Lifeistheater as the title for my blog for particular purpose. I have chosen the simile over the metaphor for a particular focus.

“Life is theater”, implies that is it. Life is a dumb show, a Punch and Judy show, an existential nihilistic theater of the absurd. Whereas, “life as theater” implies that there is that, but there is also something else. The “as” suggests that there is something beyond the theatrical version of life. That life is not just a series of “performances” that we enact over days, weeks, months, years and decades. Rather, there is something beyond or beneath the surface of “life as theater”. For those of you who have been reading this blog or my book “see my book“, you know that that other life is one of “authenticity”. Life as theater and authentic life are the two opposed levels of living, elaborately discussed and analyzed here.

The Authentic Life is the one to which one should aspire. The inauthentic life is the one commonly given to us as a variety of “scripts” that are written for us by family, friends and society as large, both current and historical. To be able to discern the difference between the simulacra of false narratives and scripts that others would have us live, and the true script of our own authentic self is the purpose of my book
see my book” and blog. To achieve that clear-eyed status is no easy endeavor. To maintain it, if found, is equally hard. Everything, and most everybody, conspires against you. First, one has to achieve the clarity of mind to see the difference. And once having that, one must work diligently to maintain that clarity and use it to transform oneself into someone who is true and authentic.

A word here about selfishness. Much of this search for personal authenticity and the battle against others for your own selfhood might seem a trip toward and final residence in selfishness. That is the beginning of the search, but not the end. Having fought the battle for your own identity, the next level is to find within that authentic identity where you now belong in the world around you. Sans scripts, you now need to find where you belong and how you interact with your friends, your family and your society. This is the final task. Once free of scripts, your value is enhanced. Your contributions are more vital and honest. There is less subterfuge. There is more truth. This is the opposite of selfishness. This is where you want to be, and this is from where you can be a more successful and useful member of the world around you.

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Spotting the Dreaded Simulacra

I realize “simulacra” is an esoteric word, but I have yet to find a better one that captures what I think is its importance in this modern world. It is a replica of something. Philip Dick and the movie “Bladerunner” uses the term replicant to describe near human robots.

The presence of simulacra in our modern world is so prevalent that you must understand its subtleties and apply them all around you. In my previous blog I spoke of the disconnect between word and object. That is the first step in the creation of a simulacrum.

These are particularly present in our financial world, and interestingly in that vein, they also have a second reality of their own. The daily reports of our financial activity, i.e., the “stock market”, the Federal Reserve and its interest rate policies, the Eurozone and its fiscal policies as of late, corporate quarterly and annual reports are all simulacra. They are simulacra in that they propose to reflect the financial and mathematical reality of the financial condition of the country or of the European Union or a large corporation….but they don’t. They primarily represent themselves. When something that is created and it is said to accurately represent the reality it describes, and it doesn’t, then it is a simulacrum, a representation that is a false copy and does not in fact represent what it says it does.

The stock market is a simulacrum. It is the vast collection of all the simulacra that the above processes produce. It has been on a non-stop run up for 6 years (and in recent days seems to have come to an end). Yet in that time very few of the citizens of this country have reaped in their own reality the gains that the Fed and Wall Street says the country has produced. There is a disconnect between the Fed reports and Wall Street and the living reality of the people themselves. WS and the Fed say the economy is doing fine, but few who are living it would agree.

The Eurozone, particularly Greece, have been having real problems for years now. But as soon as the Greek bonds go from 40 cents on the dollar to 60 cents the EUB says things are getting better. Ask the Greek people. I don’t think they see it or live it. That is a huge disconnect. Studying the Eurozone through sovereign bond prices and bank balance sheets is a simulacrum.

Most simulacra in their falsity are dangerous and useless. Not so the ones described above. They have their own reality. An unusual duality. Most financial instruments created by Wall Street are simulacra. They claim to represent housing, or price movements or valuations. They seldom are accurate, but that doesn’t matter if people are willing to believe in them, buy them, sell them or trade them. Their structure is supposed to reflect underlying value. Based on that belief, they are traded, bought and sold. Money is made or lost in this process. That is the life blood of WS. WS believes that the simulacra represent reality until it doesn’t. In 2008, The whole financial world of home mortgages, subprime and the securitization of same, and the CDO’s and CDS’s that were supposed to represent reality suddenly didn’t….and everyone cried, “Oops!” at the same time and we had the Great Recession of 08 and 09 and beyond.

Those instruments never were real. They were all simulacra. The only difference was that banks all over the world believed they were real and invested in them. They had their own reality for some years, and many people made a lot of money by trading within that simulacrum. That’s the secondary reality I mentioned. For some years bankers and investors made real money from these false idols. Much of it was paper profit, i.e., ever ascending mark-ups of investment vehicles that then could be used as inflated collateral for yet other deals. You remember, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Bank of America, Lehman, Bear Stearns, all flush with success until they weren’t. What changed? The belief. The simulacra had no clothes! All these instruments were supposed to represent the housing market, except they didn’t. All these instruments were simulacra. ONCE NO ONE BELIEVED THEM, THEIR WORTHLESSNESS BECAME APPARENT.

The pity here is, that there are many many more simulacra in this world that threaten us because sufficient numbers believe in them to give them a temporary reality and seeming connection to real things. But as simulacra, we know they don’t represent the real thing, they are replicas and not real. In the previous post, I mentioned the Iran Nuke deal as a probable simulacrum that will never have an incumbent reality. Ad infinitum entitlement programs are simulacra that go un-confronted. There is a good chance the whole global warming premise is a gigantic simulacrum. Communism was a giant simulacrum that “worked” for 70 years, till it didn’t. Once the belief was gone it collapsed overnight just as Lehman Brothers did.

The world is rife with simulacra. Simulacra that pass themselves off as reality. There is a vast amount of money invested in these various simulacra. Those investors and those sellers are deeply committed to the illusions. They will not let you give them up easily. It is your job to test the simulacra for reality. Pinch it, prick it, question it, scratch it and question it again. The spin merchants, the internet sites, the statisticians, the advertisers, all are deeply invested in selling you their illusions. Spotting the simulacrum is your body armor. You are surrounded by people trying to enlist you in their simulacra. If you want to maintain your own authenticity, and protect your own reality, you must be able to spot the dreaded simulacra and deny it, splay it open and show its emptiness.

In an earlier blog I wrote that many simulacra are seductively pleasant to engage and “live in”. What’s more fun than investing in a “bull market”? Until it isn’t. A simulacrum is often a sweet Siren. Odysseus strapped himself to the mast. He knew the strength of the call. We are surrounded by the calls of sweet simulacra. You would do well to imitate Odysseus. Hold fast and resist!

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SEMIOTIC RUPTURE

It’s time to take this blog to its origins for a moment.  As the latest political season is upon us, authenticity becomes ever more an issue.  Critical theory and semiotics is the basis of this blog.  Semiotics is the study of words and meaning.  It is a deep and extensive linguistic study; we can only touch upon it here.

It begins with the study of the word and its object.  Often known as the signifier and the signified.  When simple and concrete, it is not very sophisticated.  Teaching the child the words “mama”, “papa”, apple, orange while pointing to its object is simple and direct.  When the object is no longer in the room, the signifier gets more complicated.  Equally when the signified is an abstract idea, the signifier becomes ever more elastic.  You can already see how the vastness opens before us.

Our world has become vastly more complicated and abstract.  Words struggle to capture things accurately.  So…many of the topics in the news today suffer within this context.  The Iran nuclear deal is a complete semiotic swamp.  Objectively, it doesn’t exist.  It can’t exist.  There are a thousand Iran nuke agreements.  One for every participant and scribe.  There are thousands more for every interpreter and critic.  There are only Iran nuke simulacra.  There is no original.

The same is true of Clinton’s emails.  The same is true of who and what Isis is.  It is the same for who and what Congress is.  They are ephemeral figments.  All truth and accuracy is lost or veiled.  Any connection to truth is lost or evasive.  The signifier no longer accurately describes the signified.  The connection between word and object has been ruptured.  Sometimes that is the sorry result of poor articulation; sometimes it is the very purpose.

The candidates themselves are also prone to this very rupture.  Authenticity is the accurate pairing of signifiers that define and represent the signified.  I believe that that is what is drawing people to Sanders and Trump.  They believe, at least so far, what you see is what you get.  A refreshing authenticity.  You can decide later whether you can live with that particular authenticity, but at least you feel it is honest.  Hilary is probably the least authentic candidate in that her semiotic rupture is the widest and most damning.  Lack of “trust” could be defined as the rupture between signifier and signified.

This topic gets only deeper and more complex.  Today I leave the above as food for thought.  We can come back around.  But for the reader to grasp this fundamental semantic idea is to have a fresh view of what we feel haunts us everyday as we try to relate to our political climate.  Semiotic authenticity or lack of same explains our current political malaise and doubt.  I hope it adds an arrow to your quiver.  I hope it illuminates the political haze.

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Political Correctness/ a Mega-script

There were once, only mega-scripts. People’s self definitions were shaped by mega-scripts, primarily religious. People saw themselves as fundamentally Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. It wasn’t until more modern times that these mega definitions lost some of their power. Social life became more complex, and smaller micro-scripts began to play a larger role in the definition of self. See my book “see my book” for a longer discussion of these many more modern scripts. But lately, we have begun to see the rise of a new pandemic mega-script…..PCism.

PC, I think, began in kindness. It began with good intentions. It hoped to make individuality more sustainable, safer, tolerable than ever before. It hoped to erase embarrassment, censure, bigotry, bullying. All admirable goals. But increasingly in the current decade, it has become more strident. Itself more intolerant. PC has become an Orwellian Overseer. It has become a bully that sought to end bullying. It has become intolerant while seeking to end intolerance. It has morphed into its own simulacrum. Its inability to see itself truly is evidence that it is now the simulacrum and not the original. The evil twin has taken its initial place. And it has now metastasized everywhere. It is now a mega-script. It is now a secular religion.

And who are the perpetrators of this new religion? Who are its keepers? Who makes up the new inclusions and restrictions? Self-appointed keepers and monitors are common. People in the media who have some visibility take it upon themselves to comment and circumscribe. Special interest groups with various agenda are guardians of the gate. In terms of numbers, I think these apostles are few, but their voice is powerful enough and broadcast wide enough to intimidate the many. The many also may be vulnerable because they see the good intention buried in the admonitions, but suffer silently under its wide arc of threat. A small but sufficient minority can impact public opinion through the many conduits of social media and through economic intimidation via product boycotts.  The fear that the PC police engender is perplexing in its strength and breadth.  I do think a large number of people passively embrace the good intentions of PC and slough off its intrusiveness and shrillness.  This blunts their readiness to speak up and oppose.  It is easier to go along silently.

But I think we are close to a tipping point.  Such a point always comes.  All strident movements eventually overplay their hand.  Push back will come.  It has already come in small doses.  (see the Islamic cartoon demonstrations)  The vast spectrum of forbidden words and phrases grows exponentially.  And it grows both in numbers and silliness.  (see pet companion versus pet owner)  Word control leads to thought control.  Control thought and you control the physical person.  Fascism and tyranny are built with these building blocks. America has always had the great ability to laugh at itself.  So we often do when pc gets silly.  But in some cultures both now and in the near past, breaches of such silliness were met with gulags, disappearances, imprisonment, beheading, and threats to family.

Thought control can look funny until you fear your neighbor’s wrath and betrayal.  Amusing until midnight knocks at doors.  Free speech is already in danger.  The words and conversations you can’t have in a public restaurant are many and growing.  The slope is slippery; the line fuzzy.  Being tactful is okay; being afraid is not. Losing your job or position because of some pc slip of the tongue or momentary mental lapse or perhaps even downright honesty of speech is life on the slippery slope of tyranny.

Ridicule is a powerful tool.  It emasculates and enervates the pompous and self-righteous.  Some healthy ridicule is in order here before it is too late.  I believe that we are near a crucial crux here.  As I said at the top, PC began in empathy and compassion.  It should stay within those parameters.  More than that has a corrosive effect on free speech.  There are boors who use free speech that causes discomfort just as much as those who overdo pc.  We should be able to tolerate both ends of those spectrums without fear.

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