From 9/11 to COVID-19
The events of September 11, 2001 completely shattered the public’s trust. The already widening cracks between us broke wide open. The aftermath was collective madness.
That day, many Americans who’d barely thought about Muslims, if they knew about them at all, learned to hate them. As more information emerged—swirling together with disinformation like chocolate-vanilla soft-serve pouring down the public’s maw—more Americans lost faith in the government, in the media, and in the Judeo-Christian God himself.
After the passage of the Patriot Act, the institution of TSA checkpoints in every airport, the open declaration of mass surveillance, and the overt threats of indefinite detention to anyone who steps out of line, it was obvious that the corporate state had no trust in us, either. Maybe they never did.
In the absence of reliable information about what happened that day, conspiracy theories filled the void.
Some thought the Bush Administration just let the terrorist attacks happen. Others claimed US intelligence agents were active participants.
The jet that hit the Pentagon wasn’t even a plane, some insisted—it was actually a missile. Just watch the security video. No, watch it again. Just watch it one more time! Are you blind?! Look closer.
A few rogue architects and engineers publicly declared that the Twin Towers falling into their own footprints had to be the result of controlled demolition. In the months leading up to 9/11, some speculated, covert operatives disguised as maintenance men managed to plant and wire up the explosives. After all, Building 7 was never hit by a plane, and it collapsed neat as you please. What other explanation could there be?
Apparently, the evil forces behind this plot convinced a gang of Islamic terrorists to hijack a few planes and fly them into the buildings—just for show. Or maybe those terrorists didn’t even exist, and the planes’ controls were hacked remotely. Or no, maybe there were no planes, and the endlessly repeated footage was actually computer generated imagery. Right? If they could put a liquid Terminator on the big screen, they could fake a few planes flying into buildings.
Why would anyone attack their own country, or let someone else do it, or hire set designers and professional actors to stage such a tragedy? In order to turn America into a police state and invade the Middle East. For oil, or geopolitical positioning, or something.
If these evil conspirators could pull off a heist like faking 9/11, you’d think they’d be better at military occupation and nation building. Maybe they just excel at subterfuge and suck at foreign policy.
The first 9/11 Truther that I ever encountered was a pudgy fifteen year-old with poofy hair. He broke the news only a month or two after the attacks. The kid was super-intelligent, socially repugnant, and probably autistic. He lived online, even back then.
At the time, we both attended a weekly gathering of atheistic scientists called “The Rationalists of East Tennessee.” It was convened by the Italian biologist turned philosopher, Massimo Pigliucci, whom I still respect despite our fundamental disagreements.
Pigliucci’s wife at the time was living proof that hot librarians really do exist. I’d see her at Earth First! meetings every now and again, but eventually their radicalism and hare-brained antics drove her away. Not that it mattered. The Patriot Act would soon freeze out every radical movement, from environmentalists and anti-globalists to racial identitarians.
The pudgy spergo’s mom would drop him off every Sunday. One morning in late 2001, after the group got finished bashing organized religion and worshiping science, the kid and I were talking to a nuclear physicist from Oak Ridge. The kid’s mom packed his lunch every day, and that morning he was munching on a bag of Cheetos. The crumbs tumbled down his face like burning rubble on the side of a collapsing building.
Talking with his mouth full, fake cheese powder crusted on his round jowls, the kid told me and the physicist confidently, “I’ll tell you this” munch munch munch “I’m in possession of over five thousand documents that prove” munch munch munch “that the Twin Tower attacks were an inside job.”
The physicist and I looked at each other with concern. The man was visibly uncomfortable. We both felt a little embarrassed for the portly boy. The physicist asked him:
“Where did you get these... ahem... documents?”
“On the Internet.” He wiped Cheeto dust all over his pants, leaving elongated orange handprints. “You can find any information you want on the Internet.”
The physicist looked at me and I couldn’t help but grin.
“I would be very skeptical of anything you find on the Internet,” the physicist warned the boy. “And I would be very careful of anyone trying to convince you that our own government is behind such a horrific act.”
The kid took a gulp from his Mountain Dew can, jammed a finger in his mouth, and dug out a soggy orange glob. He inspected the material as if it were thermite residue before licking it off and swallowing it. Then he said:
“I didn’t say it was our government.”
Twenty years later, I wonder if that pudgy kid is now a grown man with diabetes and still living the same basement. Is he convinced that COVID-19 was engineered and released intentionally in order to lock down the entire planet and initiate a one world technocratic order?
Is he avoiding the mRNA vaccines because they contain luciferase, nanobots, 5G-activated graphene, and mutagen that’ll turn you into a Manchurian ninja turtle?
Does his mom still drive him around?
These questions trouble me, but I’ll probably never know. In the absence of reliable information, all you can do is imagine the possibilities.
LGBTQ BDSM VR
One of the stated goals of virtual reality is to change the user’s psyche. Ongoing “therapeutic” uses include alleviating phobias and PTSD by allowing the patient to confront his or her fears in a safe space.
Having been psychologically conditioned in the virtual world, the patient can then change their actual behavior in the real world.
France 24 promises that “Art, terror and erections show VR potential at Venice”:
"Can you tell the difference between what is and isn't real?" intones Tilda Swinton as the room disintegrates into pixels. …
She narrates "Goliath", about a man's descent into schizophrenia, illustrated by startling visual effects and interactive experiences that illustrate his slippery hold on reality.
It premiered in the VR section of the Venice Film Festival which is running until Saturday.
It was far from the only intense experience on offer to those willing to don helmets and flail around in a booth.
"Container" was a particularly arresting experience.
One minute, the container is filling with water as a woman tries desperately to keep from drowning, then suddenly it becomes a massage parlour with a man trying to force a woman into sex, then suddenly a tiny sweatshop in which a family of garment workers are toiling away.
The viewer is so utterly immersed, effectively standing just centimetres away from the characters, that it feels viscerally, uncomfortably real.
I understand that these scenarios are supposed to evoke empathy. But why do I sense a more indulgent undertone to this up-close virtual snuff film?
One of the most daring at Venice was "In the Mist", which skirts a delicate line between art and porn.
Given that its 15-minute running time is almost entirely filled with naked men fellating and penetrating each other in a sauna, some might feel the line is crossed.
Michel Reilhac, Venice VR co-curator, insisted it should be seen as naked contemporary dance that "transcends sexuality", though he added that the porn industry was the only sector to turn a profit with VR for now.
A gay orgy that “transcends sexuality”?
Stunning and brave.
The “daring” face of freedom, opening wide to a new reality.
"You're tricking the limbic brain and you can't turn that off," said co-curator Liz Rosenthal.
Reilhac said things were now moving fast thanks to the surge of interest in "social VR", where people meet up for digital gaming and gigs -- a trend accelerated by the pandemic.
"It will become ubiquitous when the headsets become glasses," he said.
The business potential was underlined last month when Facebook -- which owns the Oculus headset firm -- unveiled "Horizon Workrooms" for people to collaborate virtually.
“Collaborate,” huh? Something tells me the toilet stalls in these “Horizon Workrooms” will have virtual holes cut between them.
An Allegory for Abortion
Medical experimentation tests our humanity. It also tests the humanity we ascribe to experimental subjects.
Latest article: “What’s It Like To Be A Blob Of Brain?” in Salvo
A scientific paper shouldn’t get you worked up, but “Human brain organoids assemble functionally integrated bilateral optic vesicles” really hit a nerve. It wasn’t the methodology or data that did it. Not really. It was a photograph. Figure 3A-ii to be precise.
The image is a small blob of brain, grown from induced pluripotent human stem cells, with two tiny black eyes peering out at the world. Little round teddy bear eyes. Innocent. Curious. Expectant. That’s how it seems, anyway. A pitiful disembodied being, fully sentient, trapped in a sterilized container until some unfeeling lab tech comes to perform a dissection.
Why would anyone bring this creature to life, monitor its development, cut it apart, analyze its features, then dump it down the drain with no eulogy?
So that one day the blind may see.
The Vulnerable Other Inside Our Heads
Anthropomorphic projection comes naturally to most human minds. It’s why we see faces in the clouds. It’s the reason a kid gets upset when someone punches her stuffed animal. Empathic projection is at the root of human conscience.
In the case of people bothered by lab-grown brains, some are appalled at the sacrilege, with no concern for the thing’s feelings. Some might fake outrage just to please other people. But I’d wager most feel true sympathy.
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